2006 Entry Draft Preview: The Forwards Pt. 1

Two for the price of one? That's what you get tonight on Bolt Prospects. We have already previewed available goaltenders and defensemen for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and now we'll begin with some of the forwards. Without a doubt the strength of this draft is up front, particularly at center where as many as ten pivot men could go off the board in the first half of round one. This is particularly good news for the Lightning because one of their primary needs is at the center position, particularly the need for a playmaking center. After years of giving the forward position lower priority, due partly to a young NHL corps of forwards including Lecavalier and Richards, the Lightning devoted much of their 2005 draft to the position in what can only be called a monumental success. [url=radek-smolenak]Radek Smolenak[/url], [url=blair-jones]Blair Jones[/url], [url=marek-kvapil]Marek Kvapil[/url] and [url=stanislav-lascek]Stanislav Lascek[/url] already look like solid picks while [url=chris-lawrence]Chris Lawrence[/url] and Marek Bartanus showed signs of life in the second half of the season. Still, Jones is the lone scoring line center prospect of any note and Bolt Prospects still ranks goal scoring winger as a secondary need for the organization. [b]Name: Bryan Little Position: Center Shoots: Right Height: 5'10" Weight: 190 lbs Born: 11/12/87 Rankings: #7 North American Skater (CSS), #9 Overall (THN), #10 Overall (Red Line), #13 Overall (TSN.ca/ISS)[/b] [i]Barrie (OHL) 64 GP, 42-67-109, 99 PIM, +26[/i] Bryan Little is a hockey player. Period. He doesn't have ideal size. He doesn't have ideal speed. But, if you're putting together a team you need a heady, skilled player like Little to lead you to victory. He overcomes average skating ability by having a motor that doesn't quit and, according to THN, he "oozes leadership". He is a very gifted playmaker but also possesses an NHL shot and is deadly from the top of the circles. He also is good on faceoffs and is a strong defensive player as well. Put simply, he's smarter than 99% of his opponents and when you can outthink your opposition, the physical game will follow. It's probably wishful thinking that Little will fall to 15, but if he does the Lightning should seriously consider snapping him up. Redline compares Little to New Jersey's Scott Gomez and Atlanta's Marc Savard. [b]Strengths:[/b] [i]Smart player who is a tireless worker with a motor that never stops running. Equally adept as a playmaker and a finisher. Deadly accurate goal scorer from the top of the circles in.[/i] [b]Weaknesses:[/b] [i]Small player who is considered only an average skater.[/i] [b]CHL Top Prospects Skills Testing:[/b] [i]60 ft Dash: 3.008 seconds, 150 ft Dash: 5.867 seconds, Slap Shot: 87.9 mph, Full Lap: 14.705 seconds, Puck Control: 17.632 seconds[/i] [b]Name: James Sheppard Position: Center Shoots: Left Height: 6'1.5" Weight: 204 lbs Born: 4/25/88 Rankings: #9 North American Skater (CSS), #13 Overall (THN), #14 Overall (Red Line), #7 Skater (TSN.ca/ISS)[/b] [i]Cape Breton (QMJHL) 66 GP, 30-54-84, 78 PIM, +3[/i] Look out for those Maritimers. Hailing from the town of Sackville, Nova Scotia comes center James Sheppard, a big talented two-way center who finished second in scoring for Cape Breton of the QMJHL this season. It doesn't show in his penalty minute totals, but Sheppard plays a very strong physical game. He uses his size and strength very effectively to shield the puck and bull his way to scoring areas. Like Little he has a motor that won't stop running and he also exudes leadership ability. He can be used in all facets of the game effectively: even strength, power play and penalty kill. The downside is that Sheppard is a mediocre skater with poor acceleration. Still, Red Line projects Sheppard as a two-way second line power center at the next level comparable to long time NHL star Kirk Muller. He also is probably a long shot to slip to the Lightning's pick at 15. [b]Strengths:[/b] [i]Hard worker. Strong in the physical game but disciplined. Difficult to knock off the puck. Good leader.[/i] [b]Weaknesses:[/b] Big, slow feet.[/i] [b]CHL Top Prospects Skills Testing:[/b] [i]60 ft Dash: 3.059 seconds, 150 ft Dash: 6.040 seconds, Slap Shot: 84.8 mph, Full Lap: 14.398 seconds, Puck Control: 17.649 seconds[/i] [b]Name: Cory Emmerton Position: Center/Left Wing Shoots: Left Height: 5'11.5" Weight: 177 lbs Born: 6/1/88 Rankings: #10 North American Skater (CSS), #22 Overall (THN), #43 Overall (Red Line), #25 Skater (TSN.ca/ISS)[/b] [i]Kingston (OHL) 66 GP, 26-64-90, 32 PIM, +37[/i] After a dynamite season in which he lead the Kingston Frontenacs in scoring, no player hurt his draft stock at the U18 World Junior Championships more than Cory Emmerton. Many scouts were rooting for the hard working, pesky little Ontario native but could not overlook his invisible performance in the U18's, a performance which may cost Emmerton a fall of as much as a round on draft day. Still, there's a lot to like with Emmerton. He is one of the fastest players in the draft and like Little and Sheppard never stops working hard. He's a sneaky smart player who plays a good two-way game and is excellent at turning defense into offense. Despite his size he isn't afraid to go into high traffic areas and he has a decent snap shot. He isn't the most naturally skilled player however and must outwork his opponents to be successful. Red Line compares Emmerton to a poor man's version of Philadelphia's Mike Richards. The Lightning undoubtedly got a good look at Emmerton who played with Radek Smolenak this season. No doubt they liked what they saw, but did they like it enough to reach for him at 15? [b]Strengths:[/b] [i]Outstanding skater. Great work ethic. Smart, pesky player who turns defense into offensive chances. Can be used in all facets of the game.[/i] [b]Weaknesses:[/b] [i]Very undersized. Skill set is not overwhelming and must outwork his opposition to be successful.[/i] [b]CHL Top Prospects Skills Testing:[/b] [i]60 ft Dash: 3.070 seconds, 150 ft Dash: 5.980 seconds, Slap Shot: 87.7 mph, Full Lap: 15.010 seconds, Puck Control: 17.885 seconds[/i]