HOCKEY'S FUTURE: Prestige and pressure, part 3

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No matter where players get taken in the first round of the National Hockey League Entry Draft, they all earn a certain amount of prestige. They also have to deal with the pressure of eventually cracking their respective NHL team lineups. Following is a rundown of picks 21 to 30 from the first round of last weekend's NHL Entry Draft at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville. The Boston used the 21st overall pick to take defenseman Mark Stuart out of Colorado College. The 6-foot-1, 209-pound blueliner isn't sure what sort of timeline he'll follow as to when he'll be ready to play for the . "I think I still have some developing to do as a player, and it depends on what the team needs as far when they want to bring me up," Stuart said. "But I'm going to try to be as ready as possible." With their first pick of the 2003 draft at 22 overall, the Edmonton selected Marc-Antoine Pouliot of the Rimouski Oceanic. "I started to have butterflies," Pouliot said of waiting for his name to be called. "When they picked me, it was awesome." The 6-foot-1, 188-pound center said he's proud of his work ethic, which is something he'll need in order to make the jump to the NHL. "I skate well, but I need to improve more for the pro level," he said. With the 23rd pick, many people predicted that the Vancouver might choose highly-touted forward Jeff Tambellini, whose dad Steve Tambellini is the director of player personnel for the . Instead, the chose Ohio State defenseman Ryan Kesler, who their scouts had rated slightly ahead of Tambellini. "I'm happy I got picked in the first round," Kesler told reporters after hearing his name called. "It gets it over with quicker, all the pressure is off of my shoulders now." Now, he's got to work on making the jump from the college ranks to the NHL. "It depends on how this summer goes," said the 6-foot-2, 195-pound blueliner of his projected timeline. "If I'm back at school, I'm back at school. I really haven't thought about it much. I'm just concentrating on getting better right now." With their second pick of the first round, the Philadelphia chose Mike Richards, who recently helped his Kitchener win a Memorial Cup. "Being with Kitchener, it's a great organization and playing in the Memorial Cup really helped my chances out," said the 5-foot-11, 185-pound forward from Kenora, Ont. "It gave the scouts more of a chance to see me and I think it really helped me out." Often compared to , Richards describes himself as a physical player with lots of intensity. "Game in and game out, that's what I try to do and I think I'll fit in well with Philadelphia," he said, noting he's looking forward to his first training camp with the . "I just try to play my game. Not having the pressure on me might be a good thing. I'm just trying to take it one step at a time."
The Florida used their second pick of Round 1 to select power forward Anthony Stewart of the Kingston Frontenacs. "Florida has a young team," an excited Stewart told a throng of reporters. "A lot of their young guys are stepping up. I feel physically ready to step in and it's just a matter of getting my opportunity to prove my worth. I'll be ready for training camp in September." Weighing in at 239 pounds to go along with his 6-foot-2 frame, Stewart is a deceptively fast skater for his size. "It's one of my assets and I'm just trying to get faster and faster," Stewart said, adding that he's also going to work on being more effective at using his size "by initiating contact and just being more intimidating out there. And also, you've got to be consistent to play in the NHL, so I've got to work on that, but I feel with the opportunity I can prove that I can do that." Speaking of size, the Los Angeles selected the tallest player in the first round with the 26th player overall. Although he just graduated from playing high school hockey, there's lots to like about Brian Boyle, who stands almost 6-foot-6 and weighs in at 222 pounds. "Every part of my game needs work especially getting up to tempo, getting faster," said Boyle. "I need to get stronger and faster for the most part — polish up all the rest of the good things about me and work on anything else." After dominating the high school ranks at St. Sebastian's in eastern Massachusetts (32 goals and 31 assists in 31 games), Boyle is looking forward to playing at Boston College next season. "Next year it's going to be fun," he said, noting he's looking forward to "bang people around and it's going to be a physical game." The also owned the 27th pick (their third of the first round) and they used it to take Jeff Tambellini, who led the University of Michigan Wolverines in scoring with 26 goals and 19 assists during his rookie college campaign While lauded for his offensive exploits, the 5-foot-11, 186-pound forward has also received praise from scouts for his defensive awareness. "To be a complete player is so important, because in today's game you have to be so sound in both ends of the ice," Tambellini said. "You don't get that opportunity to perform in the offensive zone if you can't be reliable in the defensive zone. That's one thing that (coach Red Berenson) has helped me with and hopefully it pays off down the line." As for a timeline to make it to the NHL, Tambellini isn't in a rush. "That's something I assess every year and right now I'm going to go back to Michigan for another year," he said. "Each year I kind of just look at it and see what the right situation is for me. When the time is right, I'll know." The Anaheim traded up to select London Knights forward Corey Perry with the 28th pick of the first round. "I'm pretty excited," said the 6-foot-2, 184-pound winger, who hails from Peterborough, Ont. "Anaheim took a chance on me — trading two second round picks to trade up with Dallas. I think they made a good move." Over the summer, Perry said he'll be working out in London to get stronger in anticipation of another season with the Knights. "I expect to (go back to London), at least probably another year, maybe two years," he said. "And then I'll hopefully make that jump. You never know." With the 29th pick, the Ottawa chose Boston College winger Patrick Eaves, who was the fourth son of a former NHLer taken in the first round. "They're a great team and I'm just happy to be a part of the organization," Eaves said of the Sens. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound forward, son of former pro Mike Eaves, is looking forward to going back to Boston College for another season. "Yeah, I'm going right back to school," he said. "We have a great team next year, a great bunch of guys. I can't ask for anything more. College is really fun and education is very important nowadays. I just want to get back next year and help my team to have a great year." The St. Louis used the last pick of the first round (30th overall) to select Shawn Belle, a swift skating defenseman from the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. "I felt that in the back of my mind that St. Louis would choose me since they watched me closely during the fitness testing," said Belle, who scored seven goals and added 14 assists in 66 games with the Americans this past season. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound blueliner expects to head back to Tri-City for at least one more season before turning professional. "My goal is to improve my offensive numbers and my decision making," he said. Each of the 30 prospects chosen in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft can bask in the glory of their noteworthy accomplishment. But they all have a long road ahead of them to prove that they now belong in the NHL. Laurence Heinen is the managing editor of Hockey's Future, the No. 1 source for prospect information from around the world in print and on the web at www.hockeysfuture.com.
Tagged: Bruins, Oilers, Kings, Rangers, Senators, Flyers, Sharks, Blues, Canucks, Ducks, Panthers, Mike Ricci

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