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Gallof: TSN’s McKenzie Touts Defensive Depth In NHL Draft; What Should Isles Do?

Hockey Guru Says Islanders' Options On Blueline At No. 4 Are Endless
Nail Yakupov

Russian star forward Nail Yakupov figures to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NHL Draft. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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By B.D. Gallof, WFAN.com

NEW YORK (WFAN) — Bob McKenzie is one of the most highly respected and watched hockey experts in all of North America.

Bob joined TSN in the 1980s after being editor-in-chief of The Hockey News for nine years. By now, most in Canada consider him a national treasure. As Don Cherry has become the Yin, the crabby uncle who will say anything and surprise everyone, Bob has been the Yang, the fatherly figure hockey dad, bringing an informed measured view to the masses.

Powered by McKenzie’s vast knowledge, TSN puts together a highly-popular draft guide every year and it has become a staple to anyone who is interested in the newest crop of kids who think themselves ready for the NHL.

Since the Islanders’ future rests on drafts as the foundation of the rebuild, who better to ask which direction they should go than the man largely considered as informed as any on television and in print?

What is your approach to scouting, video or live observation? How much work goes into your draft analysis for TSN? Could you give us a little explanation of the internal process?

McKenzie: “I am not a scout. I am not really evaluating players per se. I am basically a clearinghouse of information from NHL scouts who are evaluating them. I’ve developed good relationships with scouts over the years and they give me a pretty honest evaluation of where a player may be drafted and his strengths and weaknesses. The rankings we do for TSN involve getting 10 NHL scouts to provide a numerical ranking (either specific or a range) and I collect the results of that poll or survey and basically create a consensus draft ranking.

“It’s proven to be highly effective in terms of indicating where in the draft a player is likely to go. As a rule, of the top 30 players we rank, 25-plus end up going in the top 30 and while the percentages drop in the second round a little, it’s not uncommon to forecast 50 of the top 60 prospects.”

Last year a few picks ended up paying  immediate dividends in the NHL. Are there any players in this draft that you foresee potentially making that jump right away?

McKenzie: “Nail Yakupov is likely to play right away. Ditto for Ryan Murray. Others could, but the question is whether they should. But if we’ve learned anything from the post-lockout NHL, vis-à-vis the draft, it’s remarkable how many 18-year-olds step into the league and not only play but play well right away.”

Are there any potentially “elite” players in this draft class?

McKenzie: “I think there are elite players in ever draft; it’s just a matter of finding them. I would say, based on conversation with scouts, there are fewer potential elite prospects in this draft than others.

“Yakupov has been perceived most of the season as an elite guy, but his playoff concerned some scouts, so that ‘can’t miss’ franchise-type player may not be as obvious this year. I truly believe that if Nathan MacKinnon and/or Seth Jones were available this year instead of next year, they could be taken first overall ahead of Yakupov or anyone else.”

Edmonton has a multitude of forwards, and yet has the top pick in a draft with what you consider top forwards in the top 3. Do you foresee them or anyone else shifting spots, or can you never have enough?

McKenzie: “It’s a tough call for Edmonton. If they truly believe Yakupov is clearly the best prospect, they should take him. You don’t draft by position when you’re holding the top pick. That said, if you think Ryan Murray or Griffin Reinhart, both defensemen, are in the same class as Yakupov, then you step up and take one of them and not worry about others saying Yakupov is the clear or consensus choice at No. 1. It’s going to be very interesting to see which way Edmonton goes here.”

This has been called a deep defensive draft, do you agree?

McKenzie: “This is a very strong draft for defensemen.”

Do you agree with the draft philosophy that defensemen are harder to develop and for scouts to foresee their grip on the nuances of the game, where some teams seem to be cautious about taking them too early? Might we see some top 12 d-men drop much like in 2010?

McKenzie: “There’s no question it usually takes longer for a defenseman to develop than a forward and patience is required while a young defenseman learns the position, but I don’t think teams worry too much about that. Good defensemen are hard to find and this year there would appear to be a plethora of them in the top 20. So I think you’ll see teams step up and take them without much worry. There are so many different types of defensemen available, too. It’s a smorgasbord of d-men.

“On the flip side, there’s never been a worse year for Canadian forwards in the draft. Belleville’s Brendan Gaunce is the top-ranked Canadian forward and I would project him to be a mid-to-late first rounder. The lowest-drafted Canadian forward ever is Kris Beech (Washington) and he went seventh overall. That record is likely to be broken this year. It’s just a really strong cycle of defenseman and weak cycle of forwards.”

Of course, just about every Isles fan is demanding a defenseman, thinking of what is needed on NHL level right away, despite that it takes years to develop. However, let’s play devil’s advocate and say they go for a d-man with the No. 4 pick … who should be on their radar?

McKenzie: “The top-ranked defensemen are: Ryan Murray, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly, Jacob Trouba, Matt Dumba, Olli Maatta and Cody Ceci. They could take any one of those guys and they’d be getting a defenseman scouts think are amongst the very best, depending upon the style of player you prefer.”

How about on offense? Anyone that Long Island might covet or who makes the most sense?

McKenzie: “If the Islanders opt for a forward, the obvious choices, assuming Yakupov is gone, would be Filip Forsberg, the big Swedish winger, Alex Galchenyuk, the offensive center who plays alongside Yakupov in Sarnia, or maybe Teuvo Teravainen, the diminutive Finn whose stock is skyrocketing. Big Russian center Mikhail Grigorenko, who plays in Quebec, is also a consideration but I suspect his stock may fall and take him out of the top 5 and maybe even out of the top 10.”

What are the similarities and differences between the three forwards: Grigorenko, Galchenyuk, and Forsberg?

McKenzie: “Grigorenko and Galchenyuk are both big point-producing classic offensive centers, while Forsberg is a strong two-way winger.”

And how difficult was it estimating Galchenyuk’s draft value and projection when there is no adequate sample size for this past season due to injury?

McKenzie: “Well, scouts were thrilled to see him back for the OHL playoffs, short as it was. He looked as though he was skating well and showing no ill effects from the ACL surgery, so I don’t think teams will be too worried about taking him, especially if the team doctors got a good look at his knee during the Combine.”

There seems to be a noted increase in Teuvo Teravainen’s stock value late in the game. Is he the real deal?

McKenzie: “The scouts I talk to say he’s the real deal in terms of being a guy who can be a top 6 skilled NHL forward.”

How valuable do you really think the NHL Combine is? Have you ever, or would you ever, especially if it was earlier in year, change rankings based on combine performance? Isn’t it tough when junior teams play right to combine, while college and others might have not played for a month, and yet all are compared equally?

McKenzie: “The Combine is just an opportunity to get more data. If there are any physical limitations or issues, they crop up at the Combine. But Jonathan Huberdeau was terrible in just about every test — he was physically immature and had just finished the Memorial Cup last year — but that wasn’t going to influence the Florida Panthers or anyone else.”

To what degree do others evaluations affect your own? If someone you respect rates someone highly that you do not, do you take a second look?

McKenzie: “No. I just talk to the scouts, crunch the numbers and come up with a list. It’s a highly objective exercise. Very little in the way of subjectivity. The numbers are the numbers.”

If you were to predict some guys outside the top 10 who could get picked earlier, who would they be and why?

McKenzie: “I guess that depends on whose top 10 list you’re going by. I think any one of top 15 guys could go in the top 10. Nothing would be considered a surprise this year. It’s pretty wide open, even at the top of the draft.”

A big thanks to Bob McKenzie. Stay turned for more from draft gurus as they give their take on the Islanders and the upcoming draft class. If you haven’t checked them out, see HockeyProspectus draft guru Corey Pronman’s take on the Islanders prospects and draft options.

Also, soon after the draft I’ll start looking at who the Islanders might target during free agency as GM Garth Snow looks to take on what might be an impossible mission.

Read more columns from B.D. Gallof and follow him on Twitter at @BDGallof

Which way do you think the Islanders will go with their first pick in the draft? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …