Inexact Science, Vol. 2

If we had a draft preview, you know it’d be something cynical like this “Alex Daigle or Chris Pronger?” piece from TSN.

For the record, This Space has gone back and forth for months between “how can you pass up a goal-scorer?” and “how can you pass up that defenseman?” — and I’m not sure there aren’t a few people in the Islanders’ organization asking that second question, not that they necessarily have a say in the matter. Were I an economist, I’d think about doing a cost-benefit kind of thing based on unrestricted free agency at 25: Figure the defenseman will blossom a little later, while the scorer will ultimately cost more to keep (if he’s keepable). But I’m not an economist. And you can’t be sure what the business landscape will look like in seven years, either. And since this is in theory a blog about the Sound Tigers, I’m not concerned in the slightest, because the only way you figure any of the three plays here is if there’s another NHL preseason game at the arena.

In lieu of that, we’ll go back to our irregular feature, Inexact Science. (By “irregular,” I mean “this is it.”) This time, and less coincidentally this time, we’ll look back at the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, 10 years ago and 10 years after our last example. When packing up a bunch of old issues of The Hockey News, we kept the 1999 draft preview out. And have been meaning to do this for a while. Anyway.

“The 1999 NHL entry draft is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in years,” wrote Bob McKenzie. There was no good consensus for the No. 1 pick, there was a brothers act with the “will they wind up in the same organization?” question, there was a thought that talent ran deep but unpredictably. (Wait, what year was this?)

The brothers, obviously, wound up together and are seeking lots of money to remain together. The initial draft order was Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Vancouver, lottery-winner Chicago; the Sedin shuffle put the first pick in Atlanta’s hands, shipped Bryan McCabe to Chicago, flipped all kinds of assets to Tampa Bay.

Three of the 28 first-rounders did not play in the NHL. And we’ve reached a point where a few of these names figure in local history in prominent fashion.

As you may notice, the move to the new server has taken 8 (parenthesis) and turned it into a smily-face with sunglasses, which is petrifying and disappointing. We’ll have to be alert.

Here’s THN’s rankings, followed by (the team that picked him and where).

1) Pavel Brendl (N.Y. Rangers, 4). The pure goal scorer. “The knock on Pavel Brendl is he’s a one-dimensional player, but what a dimension it is.” I seem to remember lots of talk about two other dimensions eventually. Anyway, he played 78 NHL games, scoring but 11 goals and 11 assists. He has scored in Europe, though. “He’s Alexander Mogilny,” one scout told THN, “and that isn’t meant to be a compliment.” His various NHL teams would have taken Mogilny.

2) Daniel Sedin (Vancouver, 2). They wondered how he’d handle playing without his brother and how he’d handle the NHL game. One question never had to be answered. The other, 462 points later, seems to be satisfactory.

3) Patrik Stefan (Atlanta, 1). They were worried about his concussion history; otherwise, he was probably the best all-around player. He did make it through more than 400 NHL games.

4) Henrik Sedin (Vancouver, 3). “If (he’s a cut below Daniel), it’s more like a nick than a cut.” He has two fewer points than Daniel in his NHL career. Yeah.

5) Jamie Lundmark (N.Y. Rangers, 9). “Character and heart,” a scout said, and the Rangers traded up (using Marc Savard) to catch him as he slipped. THN suggested patience with him. He has 87 points in 259 NHL games.

6) Kris Beech (Washington, 7). “This is a low-risk pick,” one scout said. That was the clear consensus, but Beech, traded for Jaromir Jagr, had nearly a third of his NHL games three years ago when he returned to Washington. He played last year in Sweden.

7) Tim Connolly (N.Y. Islanders, 5). Speaking of concussions. He was coming off a broken leg then; other injuries have limited him in recent years, though he’s a reliable player when healthy.

8 ) Denis Shvidki (Florida, 12). His stock fell despite 94 points in the OHL. He is back in Russia.

9) Oleg Saprykin (Calgary, 11). The Flames plucked him up with the pick they got from the Rangers in the Lundmark swap. Played over 300 NHL games before going back to Russia.

10) Taylor Pyatt (N.Y. Islanders, 8th). Bridging two eras, the Isles got this eighth pick in the Ziggy Palffy trade, then dealt Pyatt in the Michael Peca deal. He appeared to be the complete package. Indeed, among 1999 first-rounders, only the Sedins have played more NHL games.

11) Brian Finley (Nashville, 6). Finley vs. the 21st-ranked prospect (no spoilers) was compared to 1990’s Trevor Kidd and Martin Brodeur debate. These two goalies combined for 16 NHL games… so that comparison may’ve been a bit inapt. Groin problems hurt him.

12) Jani Rita (Edmonton, 13). The writeup talks about a World Junior Championship goal he scored on the rush, a “long laser blast under the crossbar that overwhelmed U.S. goalie Chris Madden.” Rita has been back home in Finland for three years.

13) Kirill Safronov (Phoenix, 19). I remember liking this kid in Springfield and then winning the Calder Cup with Chicago in 2001-02. He was touted as a stay-at-home defenseman with mobility. He played 35 NHL games. Shows what I know. Has been back in Russia since the lockout.

14) Jeff Jillson (San Jose, 14). Always on the verge, wasn’t he? Had improved a lot going into the draft, and was the second-rated defenseman behind Safronov. (We’ll get to the defenseman who was actually picked first.)

15) Scott Kelman (Phoenix, 15). Never played in the NHL. Was in North America every year until this past one and hasn’t played 100 AHL games. “He competes hard, he’s a character guy in the mold of a Rod Brind’Amour or Manny Malhotra, but he just isn’t much of an offensive threat,” one scout said.

16) Steve McCarthy (Chicago, 23). Compared to Daryl Sydor. He graduated to the NHL in 2002-03 and was there until going to Russia last year.

17) Michal Sivek (Washington, 29). One of the three Washington picks from this year that were traded for Jagr. Didn’t know his dad was rich, as the bio tells.

18) Barret Jackman (St. Louis, 17). His size was a knock, at 6-feet. It’s a shame he has only scraped out almost 400 NHL games.

19) Barrett Heisten (Buffalo, 20). “He’s not very creative at all, but he plays hard and never backs down,” a scout said. Heisten left Maine, didn’t sign with Buffalo, became a free agent under the Van Ryn rule, signed with the Rangers, got traded to Dallas in his first year, came here for the lockout year, wound up in the Coast. His biggest offensive year in the AHL was 20 points in Utah, though he missed that by a point here. He played hard. He never backed down.

20) Martin Havlat (Ottawa, 26). “Something of a wild card,” THN said (without a photo): The scouts couldn’t agree on him. But only the Sedins have more NHL points among first rounders. (There’s a seventh-rounder who has more, but we’ll get to him: You can probably guess his organization already, if you don’t know his name.)

21) Maxime Ouellet (Philadelphia, 22). An almost-Sound Tiger, he’s the one who was in competition with Brian Finley. Well, he had 12 NHL games. So highly regarded, but it never quite happened.

22) Branislav Mezei (N.Y. Islanders, 10). “Divergent opinion,” THN reported. One scout said he’d be a second-rounder. The Islanders picked him in the top half of the first with a pick they’d acquired for Trevor Linden. The size was obvious. The mobility was a plus. The talent was a question mark. Still, he parlayed all that into 240 NHL games and a contract in the KHL last year.

23) Konstantin Koltsov (Pittsburgh, 18). Oh, jeez, I’ve just made you lose your breakfast, didn’t I? Sorry. Fast skater, “doesn’t always show up,” a scout said. Went back to Russia in 2006.

24) Ross Lupaschuk (Washington, 34). The third of the Jagr-trade trio was thought to have more offense in him than he’d shown. He did, but he has used it in Europe the past few years after playing just three NHL games.

25) Martin Grenier (Colorado, 45). Toughness? No question. Everything else? That was questioned. He fell to the second round and has made it to 18 NHL games.

26) Evgeny Konstantinov (Tampa Bay, 67). He fell all the way to the top of the third round and actually has more NHL penalty minutes (2) than games (1). THN dropped the name “Evgeny Riabchikov” in the writeup. They thought he’d be better than Ryabchikov. Well, Ryabchikov didn’t make the NHL.

27) Brett Lysak (Carolina, 49). Another with only two NHL games, he spent three years in Lowell before going to Europe. Thought to be a step slow then.

28) Mikhail Kuleshov (Colorado, 25). Hey, we’re up to three NHL games. Kuleshov was called a wild card in the same class as Havlat and Koltsov. Motivation was a question. Kuleshov’s last listed season was in Belarus in 2005-06.

Two other actual first-round picks didn’t play in the NHL: Luca Cereda (who played with St. John’s against the Sound Tigers in Bridgeport’s first two seasons) and Ari Ahonen (the goalie played several years in Albany before returning to Europe).

THN ranked the second rounders, too. In order: David Tanabe, David Inman, Alexander Buturlin, Jordan Leopold (“he’s only 6-feet tall”), Nolan Yonkman, Doug Janik, Luke Sellars, Cereda, Matt Murley, Mike Zigomanis, Mike Commodore (“he is a big, tough defenseman who can punish,” said a scout), Alexei Semenov, Charlie Stephens, Matt Carkner (“he has major-league toughness,” but concerns about mobility), Alex Auld (“he’s huge”), Peter Reynolds, Kristian Kudroc, Dmitri Levinski, Brad Ralph, Sheldon Keefe, Simon Lajeunesse, Zdenek Blatny, Dan Jancevski (“There’s a little bit of Eddie Jovanovski in Jancevski,” a scout said), Ed Hill, Chris Kelly, Michael Ryan, Peter Smrek and one Mike Comrie (who didn’t go until 91: “this is still one heckuva player,” a scout said after an underwhelming year at Michigan). Among their next group were Adam Hall and Niklas Hagman.

There were a few late-round gems in this crop, including Ryan Miller, Ryan Malone, Tom Kostopoulos, Martin Erat, Radim Vrbata, and a couple for the Islanders, Radek Martinek and — with 240 NHL games, you could argue him — Juraj Kolnik. And, of course, Detroit found one, rated 41st among European skaters by Central Scouting, this guy named Zetterberg. (Zetterberg wasn’t on THN’s five-man “looking for diamond in European rough” list, but the story above it mentioned that teams were looking at this North-American-born defenseman who’d been playing in Finland, Brian Rafalski.)

So what’s my point? Ah, you’re looking for too much if you’re looking for a point. I’ve gone after it a couple of times before.

It’ll be an interesting evening, to see what direction the Islanders will go, to see what deals may fall out. Tomorrow’s rounds will produce lots of future NHLers and AHLers. But which ones will be which? Character goes bust. Talent goes bust. It’s hard to predict. It’ll drive you nuts if you let it.

Aw, heck: If you’re a draftnik? Merry Christmas.

Michael Fornabaio