A look to the '08 draft
With draft picks being the currency of choice when it comes to restricted free agents, there's been more than a little attention paid to the strength of next year's NHL entry draft.
Ottawa 2008 has been lauded as a deep draft for some time now, and the majority of the top prospects are all playing big roles in the Canadian Hockey League right now. Here's my brief look at the player currently pegged for the No. 1 spot, Steve Stamkos, over at FanHouse today.
Other 17-year-old stars likely to be picked right up at the top include defencemen Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo and Mike Del Zotto, and centre Kyle Beach — all four of whom put up big point totals for youngsters at the major junior level.
Stamkos is currently impressing with the Canadian national under-18 team, which is in camp right now in Calgary in preparation for the Ivan Hlinka Under-18 Memorial Tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic later this month. Next spring, they'll take part in the world U-18 tournament.
It's a group that includes all of the above standouts (aside from Doughty, who is ineligible because he was born late in 1989). The biggest 'name' just might be David Toews, whose brother Jonathan starred with the world junior team earlier this year in Sweden.
Some of these kids turned 16 in the past few months, but they're already competing for those coveted world junior team spots. Making it big at the Under-18 tournaments opens a lot of doors, as the circuit is heavily frequented by NHL scouts and is often the first route for 'undiscovered' young hockey players to make it big. Do well there, and you're almost guaranteed of an invite to the Under-20 selection camp.
Amateur scouting is getting more and more developed and refined in hockey, however, and we're starting to see the major junior machine in this country producing scouting reports of the top bantam and midget players, some of whom are just 13-years-old.