NHL Draft preview: Sharks' focus is defense

NHL Draft preview: Sharks' focus is defense
June 24, 2011, 1:20 am
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June 23, 2011SHARKS PAGE SHARKSVIDEO
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Ryan OHalloranCSNWashington.com

MINNEAPOLIS Even though Sharks general manager Doug Wilson told reporters earlier this week he had talked to each of his 29 colleagues about trading draft picks or players, he undoubtedly wasnt as busy as Philadelphia counterpart Paul Holmgren.

The NHL Draft weekend got off to a rousing start Thursday in the Twin Cities when Holmgren changed the look of the Flyers and the complexion of the Pacific Division.

In three separate transactions, Holmgren dealt captain Mike Richards to Los Angeles for Braydon Schenn and Wayne Simmonds; traded Richards best friend, Jeff Carter, to Columbus; and signed goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, 51 million contract.

The Sharks certainly took notice of the Kings acquiring a heart-and-soul player like Richards, who theyll have to deal with six times per season, starting with the teams Nov. 7 meeting.

Unless Wilson or another GM drops another bombshell, the focus is likely to return to the first round, which starts Friday night in St. Paul.

The Sharks have the 28th pick for the second straight year.

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According to various scouting outlets, the Sharks should be targeting defense for the short- and long-term.

A survey of five mock drafts had the Sharks taking five different players: Oshawa forward Nicklas Jensen, Victoriaville left winger Phillip Danault, Northeastern University defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, Ottawa center Shane Prince or Saint John right winger Tomas Jurco.

Jensen and Jurco represent one of the storylines of this draft in general and the first round in particular: European-born skaters coming to major junior hockey in North America.

Joining Jensen (scouts love that the native of Denmark can play all three forward positions) and Jurco (57 goals in two years for the Slovakian) in that group are Gabriel Landeskog (Sweden), Sven Baerstchi (Switzerland) Alexander Khokhlachev (Russia), Rickard Rakell (Sweden), Tomas Jurco (Slovakia) and Christopher Gibson (Finland).

I hope so, Landeskog said of more European players coming over. It can be a good thing for players all over Europe to move over here and try the life. Having said that, its not the best thing for everybody. Prospect Adam Larsson is a great example of staying home and succeeding.

Back in the day, it was rare for a European player to try the rigors of major junior hockey, a game that is more physical and played on a smaller rink ice surface and a season that could stretch to nearly 85 games.

But those challenges havent scared many top prospects.

Only five Europeans went in last years first round and two played major junior. That number figures to grow during Fridays opening round in St. Paul, Minn.

Larsson, a 6-foot-3 defenseman who opted to stay at home to play, will likely be the first European off the board, perhaps as early as No. 2 to Colorado.

Landeskog could be gone in the top five after putting up seasons of 46 and 66 points for Kitchener and becoming the teams first European-born captain.

I didnt really plan anything like this, he said. I thought it was the best thing for my development and looking back, it was the right decision. I didnt only develop as a player but as a person, I matured a lot.

But things didnt start out great. Even though he speaks fluent English, there were growing pains early.

My first half of my first season wasnt great, Landeskog said. I had a lot of tough times, a couple of slumps and I didnt know how to handle them. But thats what my goals were to learn how to handle all that and other situations.

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Baerstchi followed countryman Nino Niederreiters route leaving Switzerland to play for Portland of the Western Hockey League. Niederreiter went fifth overall to the Islanders last year. Baerstchi arrived last fall and totaled 85 points in 66 games.

The coaches helped me a lot and the whole team did its not easy to come from the big rink to the small rink, he said. I hit the boards a couple times.

Baerstchi said he felt comfortable right away. The first time on the ice with those guys, I felt great an after a couple weeks. I really got used to it and was right into the North American style.

Although the Europeans have gathered momentum, its a Canadian who is expected to go first. Edmonton is likely to choose center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first, the first player from British Columbia to be the No. 1 overall pick.

Nugent-Hopkins would join last years first pick, Taylor Hall, on a young Oilers team in rebuild mode.

I just want to go to a team that wants me there, he said. Going to Edmonton would be great because theyre such a good, talented team and has promise for the future.