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2009 Draft Breakdown: Defense

Thursday, 06.25.2009 / 9:00 AM / 2009 NHL Entry Draft
By Brad Boron  - chicagoblackhawks.com
Assuming the Blackhawks keep the 28th overall selection in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, its safe to assume that the players who scouts regard as the “top-level prospects,” including John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene, won't end up in the Indian head sweater. So who are the players who could realistically still be there at #28?

chicagoblackhawks.com breaks down two of the Hawks’ biggest organizational needs -- center and defense -- and the players who could fill them, as well as the case for and against their selection by Chicago.

Today's position: defenseman.

David Rundblad – Skelleftea (SWE)
Europe, and Sweden in particular, is loaded with talented defensemen in this year’s draft class, so it’s not a knock on Rundblad to say that he is the third-best European d-men on most draft boards, or that he will probably be the fifth drafted overall, if not lower. But given the right situation, he could be a team’s best offensive defenseman for a long time. Rundblad is a great skater and has always been comfortable leading the rush on the power play, even as a young player in Sweden’s top league.

The case for Rundblad: Any team in the league would be thrilled to have a dynamic offensive presence on the blue line, and most reports say that aside from Victor Hedman, Rundblad may be the best scoring defenseman in the draft.

The case against: Rundblad is seen as a boom-or-bust pick in many circles; he could be the next Mike Green or he could be a career underachiever. Defensively, he is still very raw, so he won’t immediately be a factor at the other end of the ice.

Stefan Elliott – Saskatoon (WHL)
Elliott could be one of the wildcards of the draft; some scouting services place him in the top 20, but many have dropped him out of the first round.  He is smart with the puck, but critics point to his so-so play in his own end and poor defensive reads as red flags. The Vancouver native may never be outstanding at either end of the ice, but pair him with the right partner and he could be a sturdy blueliner for any team.

The case for Elliott: He may not have the high-reward potential of a lot of the other defensemen on the board, but Elliott can be a very reliable defenseman on most teams. He does a little bit of everything: open up passing lanes on offense, lead or support a power play, be strong on the backcheck. He would probably need a stay-at-home partner to make up for his defensive shortcomings, but he can help a lot of teams with his good passing and hockey knowledge on offense.

The case against: Elliott’s stock has fallen a bit, to the point where he might be a second-rounder. His defensive play has scared some teams off, as has his lack of a tough, physical game. Elliott may never be a complete two-way defenseman, and some teams may prefer a prospect whose potential is higher.

Calvin de Haan – Oshawa (OHL)
The player who might be the hidden gem of the first round, de Haan sets himself apart with his finesse and hockey acumen. Known for his smart passes and impressive touch, the Ottawa native would probably be a top-10 pick if he were a little bigger, but he could still be great if he develops his body a little bit more. If he hits his ceiling, some team will have a great power play QB for the next decade or longer.

The case for de Haan: The Blackhawks, as much as any team in the league, look for players with brains to match their talent, and de Haan has plenty of both. If he works on his strength, adding more muscle to his 6-foot, 171-pound frame, he might make a lot of teams regret not choosing him.

The case against: While he is a fluid skater, de Haan doesn’t possess the top-tier speed of a lot of the best defensemen in the draft. If he can’t bulk up his otherwise wiry frame, he may be a non-factor in his own end.

Tim Erixon – Skelleftea (SWE)
A smart defenseman with NHL bloodlines -- his father, Jan, played over 550 games with the Rangers -- Erixon is viewed as one of the safest picks in the draft. A good mix of size, speed and strength, the younger Erixon has proven himself to be a versatile blueliner who can contribute on the power play and still get back to defend his zone. He may never be a stud, but Erixon should be a productive top-four defenseman in his NHL career.

The case for Erixon: Any team who drafts Erixon knows what they’re getting in the Swede: a solid defenseman who can help out in all three zones. If the Hawks are looking for a safe pick late in the first round, Erixon should definitely be in the discussion.

The case against: Erixon does a lot of things well, but isn’t really the best at any of them. David Rundblad is a better offensive prospect, John Moore is a better skater, de Haan likely has better skills with the puck and Simon Depres might be a better shutdown defender. If a team is looking for a player to specialize in one phase of the game, Erixon might be overlooked.

Simon Despres – Saint John (QMJHL)
Many scouts have a mixed reaction to Despres’ game: some praise his above-average defense and his willingness to take a tough hit or block a shot, while others see great tools but think that the Laval, Quebec native’s game has stagnated and wonder whether he’s motivated enough to improve. Despres can be a strong shutdown specialist, but the question is whether he can play as physically as he needs to on a daily basis.

The case for Despres: There is still a place in the NHL for a true defensive defenseman, and Despres might fit that bill. He probably won’t be productive on the offensive end, but he could still be a valuable asset on most teams.

The case against: This year was supposed to be a big one for Despres, but he disappeared for large stretches during the season. Many facets of his game, including his shot and physical presence, haven’t improved as many had hoped. Can he stay committed enough to improve at the next level?

Honorable Mentions:
Nick Leddy – Eden Prairie (Minn.) H.S.
Dylan Olsen – Camrose (AJHL)
Eric Gelinas – Lewiston (QMJHL)
Charles-Olivier Roussel – Shawinigan (QMJHL)