June 23, 2003
Where Will They Go? INCH's Mock Draft

We've given you the professional scouts' take on the top college prospects eligible for this weekend's National Hockey League Entry Draft. We've presented mock drafts from a number of media outlets across North America. We've even you given you a look at the thoughts of Michigan goaltender Al Montoya as the draft approaches.

Now we're here to tackle the question everyone wants to know: which teams will choose the top college skaters in Raleigh this weekend? Using research, speculation and intuition, INCH takes a shot at forecasting the futures of college prospects through the first three rounds.



Al Montoya

On a few occasions, we've asked what you get the team that has everything. In the Rangers' case, we'd like to know which way the team that needs everything – and then some – will go. With Dan Blackburn coming back from an injury that kept him out all of last season and Mike Dunham being, well, Mike Dunham, the Blue Shirts are in need of a goalie prospect. On the ice, Montoya is certainly up to the task of being a No. 1 netminder. Perhaps more important, he's got the confidence and personality to handle the rigors of playing in Gotham. Besides, look at that face...if he could someday lead the Rangers to the Cup, he'd be bigger than Derek Jeter. He's already got a better glove.

Projection: New York Rangers, first round, fifth overall

A.J. Thelen
Michigan State
Some prognosticators have knocked his skating ability and defensive zone awareness. That said, Thelen scored a boatload of points from the blue line for one of the nation's top 15 teams as a 17-year-old freshman. A group of three seem likely suitors for Thelen's services – Anaheim (ninth), Atlanta (10th) and Minnesota (12th). Unless the Thrashers or Wild move up, he'll end up with the Mighty Ducks.

Projection: Anaheim, first round, ninth overall

Drew Stafford
North Dakota
If you paid close attention to the pre-draft banter regarding Stafford, you've learned that a) he's big and b) his uncle was an equipment manager for Edmonton. Let's focus on that first one, though. At roughly 6-2, 200 pounds, Stafford would seem like the prototypical power forward and he did score 32 points in 36 games for North Dakota. As you read in our Scout's Take, Stafford is at worst a big, rugged winger who can be trusted in crucial situations. Unless Thelen somehow falls to the 12th spot, Minnesota – a team in dire need of size up front – will pick Stafford.

Projection: Minnesota, first round, 12th overall 

Travis Zajac
Salmon Arm (BCHL)
The North Dakota-bound Zajac has been trumpeted as the heir apparent to the departed Zach Parise, and with good reason. The 6-2, 205-pound centerman averaged nearly two points a game with Salmon Arm, scoring 112 points in 59 outings. There are those who question his abilities because he played in the BCHL, a league that is to defense what Paris Hilton is to conservative clothing. While he could be chosen as high as 15th by Nashville, our hunch is that New Jersey will tab Zajac with the 22nd pick. Besides, doesn't he seem like a bold Lou Lamoriello pick?

Projection: New Jersey, first round, 22nd overall

Blake Wheeler
Breck (Minn.) HS
If you're a team that has the luxury of letting prospects develop for a few years before summoning them to the NHL, then Wheeler's your guy. He's a wispy 6-3 1/2 and 185 pounds who scored 100 points in 30 games for Breck H.S. in suburban Minneapolis and will spend another year in juniors before enrolling at Minnesota the following season. An organization with few pressing needs can afford to snatch Wheeler early and salt him away until he's ready to make the jump. San Jose could very well be that team.

Projection: San Jose, first round, 28th overall

Cory Schneider
Phillips Andover
He's ranked seventh among North American goaltenders by Central Scouting, but Schneider, whose stock just seems to keep rising, should be among the top five goalies taken on Saturday. It helps that the lasting impression he gave scouts was a dominant performance at the Under-18 World Championship. He took silver there, and we think the team that took the big silver cup in the NHL will have an eye on him, especially without a top-flight goaltending prospect in the system for the post-Bulin Wall era.

Projection: Tampa Bay, first round, 30th overall

Grant Lewis
If the Wild can't get a puck-moving defenseman in Thelen in round one, they may turn to the next best thing among NCAA prospects in Lewis here. Despite averaging nearly a point per game for the Big Green, his offensive skills aren't in Thelen's category, which is why he'll still be available in round two. But he's got a more well-rounded game, and like Thelen, was an all-conference player as a freshman.

Projection: Minnesota, second round, 42nd overall

Wes O' Neill
Notre Dame

Opinions on O'Neill run the gamut from bit player to future standout. He was one of 44 players – and one of two collegians, with Zajac – invited to try out for Canada's national junior team, so he must be doing something right. He's not as physical as you'd expect a 6-4, 200-pound defenseman to be, but his skating is better than he's given credit for. The second youngest player in college hockey last season behind A.J. Thelen, he'll bulk up as he gets older. Bottom line: you can't teach size, and that's why the Rangers, with seven of the first 51 picks in this year's draft, will grab him midway through the second round.

Projection: New York Rangers, second round, 46th overall

David Booth
Michigan State

The Panthers, with a college connection of Mike Keenan and Jacques Martin calling the shots now, could have a chance to scoop up a potential first-round talent here midway through the second. Booth, who would have gone in round one if he'd been able to opt-in a year ago, faltered as a sophomore thanks to injuries. He's got goal-scoring ability and can play a good two-way game as well, as he showed at the World Junior Championship.

Projection: Florida, second round, 50th overall

Kris Chucko
Salmon Arm (BCHL)

A running mate of Zajac's with Salmon Arm, Chucko also posted impressive offensive totals with 87 points in 53 contests. The Minnesota recruit is big (6-2) and young (he just turned 18 in March), so he'll likely tack on some extra bulk to the 190 pounds he currently carries. Among his selling points – he plays a quality two-way game, has great leadership abilities and boasts a strong work ethic (and a great hockey name, to boot). With questions about Peter Forsberg's future in Colorado lingering, Joe Sakic getting older and the organization's cupboard bereft of talent up front, Chucko would be a nice addition for the Avs.

Projection: Colorado, second round, 55th overall

Mike Lundin


Lundin's late-season surge, especially his solid play throughout the NCAA Tournament, may get his name called before this point. But assuming he's still available, Anaheim would be wise to grab him. Al Coates, filling the GM shoes of departed Bryan Murray, is faced with an organizational depth chart that features an aging defense corps, and precious few prospects in line to step in. Lundin could join the likes of Paul Kariya, Keith Carney and Dustin Penner on the long road from Orono to Anaheim.

Projection: Anaheim, third round, 75th overall

Brian Ihnacak

Columbus hasn't exactly rushed to pick collegians of late, with more picks coming from UMass in the last two years (Kevin Jarman and Greg Mauldin) than the rest of college hockey combined. Still, that's more attention paid to college than you usually find with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the sentimental destination for Ihnacak, whose father played for the Leafs. The Leafs, with precious few picks thanks to trades, can't afford to choose with their hearts, and the Blue Jackets, who need skill players, can't afford to pass on Ihnacak.

Projection: Columbus, third round, 98th overall

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