DRAFT CENTRAL: The Top 3 D
By Jason Lockhart
With the Islanders set to pick seventh overall for this year's NHL Entry Draft on June 24, 2006, it's time to take a look at this year's top prospects. In our first installment, we feature the three defensemen - all American - slated to be selected in the First Round.
2005-2006 Team: USA National Team Development Program/Under-18 US World Junior National Team
2005-2006 Stats: USA NTDP - GP: 38, Goals: 11, Assists: 22, Points: 33/WJC - GP: 7, Goal: 1, Assists: 3, Points: 4, PIM: 18
Central Scouting Board North American Rank: 1st
Erik Johnson is regarded as the top defenseman in this year's draft and a potential franchise player. The Minnesota native has impressed scouts with his hard shot, smooth skating and physical play. There's very little chance he'll be there when the Islanders pick at seven because he's going at the top.
Ranked only 17th by the International Scouting Service as late as June 2005, Johnson has since improved his game in leaps and bounds. His play at this year's World Junior Championships in Vancouver locked Johnson into the one of the top positions. Despite the US Team's failure to medal, he was a bright spot at the tournament.
Central Scouting Service Director E.J. McGuire likens Johnson's game to Ottawa Senator, Wade Redden.
"He's good at everything - that's the amazing thing," one scout told The Hockey News. "He has flare. He can really skate and open up the ice."
The slick skating defenseman will attend the University Of Minnesota starting in the fall of 2006, assuming the NHL team that drafts him doesn't sign him first.
Lumberton, New Jersey
2005-2006 Team: Owen Sound (OHL)
2005-2006 Stats: GP: 68, Goals: 14, Assists: 51, Points: 65, PIM: 44
Central Scouting Board North American Rank: 12th
Bob Sanguinetti possesses what is important in the new NHL -- Speed. The polished skating defenseman has quick feet and an accurate breakout pass that is valuable to any team's transition game. Some scouts are wary of Sanguinetti's small frame and lack of physical presence, but have confidence that he can overcome his deficiencies by contributing offensively.
"He's a good skater and moves the puck well," one scout told The Hockey News. "And he had a very good playoff [this past season]. You like to see guys finish strong. Owen Sound upset (heavily favored) Kitchener and he was a major part of it."
2005-2006 Team: USA National Team Development Program
2005-2006 Stats: GP: 48, Goals: 6, Assists: 9, Points: 15, PIM: 41
Central Scouting Board North American Rank: 13th
Committed to Wisconsin next season, Nigel Williams has the speed and skill to be an NHLer in the future. His game has produced some comparisons to Chris Pronger, but scouts say he could be more aggressive - which says a lot by itself. Williams improved significantly playing with the National Developmental squad this past season and has a genuine shot at becoming a top four defenseman in the NHL.
"He is a little gangly, but he'll grow into his body," one scout told The Hockey News. "There is not much of a downside. He doesn't lack intensity, but I wish he was a little meaner."