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Defensemen Profiles
In depth look at the prospects
6/19/04 - By James Weise - Sabrefans.com

1) Cam Barker – D – Shoots :L – 6’3” 214 lbs – Medicine Hat
2) Andrej Meszaros – D – Shoots: L – 6’ 198 lbs – Dukla Trencin
3) Ladislav Smid – D – Shoots: L – 6’3” 202 lbs – Liberec
4) AJ Thelen – D – Shoots: L – 6’3” 205 lbs – Michigan State
5) Boris Valabik – D – Shoots: L – 6’7” 212 lbs – Kitchener
6) Mike Green – D – Shoots: R – 6’1” 198 lbs – Saskatoon
7) Jeff Schultz – D – Shoots: L – 6’6” 212 lbs – Calgary
8) Kirill Lyamin – D – Shoots: L – 6’3” 198 lbs – CSKA
9) Johan Fransson – D – Shoots: L – 6’1” 183 lbs – Lulea
10) Wes O’Neill – D – Shoots: L – 6’4” 200 lbs – Notre Dame
11) Kyle Wharton – D – Shoots: L – 6’2” 185 lbs – Ottawa
12) Dmitri Vorobiev – D – Shoots: L – 6’2” 211 lbs - Lada Togliatti
13) Andy Rogers – D – Shoots: L – 6’5” 206 lbs – Calgary
14) Mark Fistric – D – Shoots: L – 6’2.5” 232 lbs – Vancouver
15) Sami Lepisto – D – Shoots: L – 6’ 176 lbs – Jokerit
16) Oscar Hedman – D – Shoots: L – 6’ 207 lbs – MoDo
17) Grant Lewis – D – Shoots: R – 6’3” 190 lbs – Dartmouth
18) Michal Sersen – D – Shoots: L – 6’1.5” 200 lbs – Rimouski
19) Brett Carson – D – Shoots: R – 6’4” 220 lbs – Calgary
20) Michael Funk – D – Shoots: L – 6’4” 199 lbs – Portland

Cam Barker has separated himself from the rest of the pack of defensemen in the eye’s of many. The big offensive minded defenseman from the Medicine Hat Tigers has a ton of skill and a nice shot. The biggest concern is a lack of consistency and a poor showing at the Memorial Cup. But, Barker is certainly a candidate to go either 3rd to Chicago or 4th to Columbus on draft day.

After Barker, the next 5 defensemen in the draft can be shuffled any which way. Next on my list is Andrej Meszaros. This Slovakian blueliner joined Alexander Ovechkin as the only 2004 Draft prospects to play at the recent World Championships. Most of the top prospects for this year were busy at the U-18 WCs. Meszaros has a solid two way game and could develop into a PP QB of the future for whatever team takes him in the 1st round this year.

Next on my list is Ladislav Smid. Smid is a guy who there are differing opinions on. Some believe he’s a guy that will be steady and unspectacular as a pro. While others believe he has some offensive upside. He’s got an NHL frame at 6’3” 202lbs. But he’ll likely take some more seasoning before he’s NHL ready.

AJ Thelen is a player that came out of nowhere this past season. Thelen entered the 03-04 season as one of the youngest players in NCAA Division 1 hockey. He left the season as one of the best offensive defensemen is all of college hockey. When John-Michael Liles left Michigan State for the Colorado Avalanche, he created a huge hole on the Spartans blueline. Well, Thelen stepped in and was named the CCHA’s offensive defenseman of the year and a 2nd team All-American. Needless to say, Thelen more than filled Liles’ skates this past season. AJ got a mid-1st round grade on my board, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his upside potential and size-skill mix saw him go off the board in the top 10 of the draft.

Boris Valabik is another guy that came from nowhere this past season. Valabik is the latest in a long line of absolutely huge (6’7” 212lbs) defensemen from Slovakia. Valabik gets compared a lot to countryman Zdeno Chara. But, there are questions about whether Valabik has an offensive upside to become as good as Chara has at the NHL level. One thing that there is no question about is whether Valabik is big and tough like Chara. Although he rarely fought before coming to the OHL, Valabik drop the gloves plenty this past season. Any team that is looking for a physical presence on their blueline will have to take a look at Valabik. And I’m expecting Valabik to go somewhere in the mid-1st round.

Mike Green was one ray of light in a bad season for the Saskatoon Blades. Green isn’t the biggest or most talented defenseman in the draft this year. But, he works really hard, he has a solid talent level, and is a natural leader. Add in that he’s the highest rated right handed shooting blueliner in this draft and Green should be a solid 1st round pick.

Jeff Schultz is another big blueliner in the 2004 Draft class. At 6’6” 212 lbs, there are few bigger. He has a lot of solid tools defensively and making the first pass coming out of his own zone. The biggest problem with Jeff is the fact that he doesn’t play as physical as you would like a player with his size to play. Any team looking for a solid defenseman with size and isn’t worried about his temperament should be licking their chops late in the 1st round.

Kirill Lyamin is a big (6’3” 198 lbs), strong, physical defenseman from Russia. Is more of a shooter than a playmaker in the offensive zone. And his defensive game is ahead of his offensive game at this point. He’s likely to be a late 1st to early 2nd round pick on draft day.

Johan Fransson is a smallish (6’1” 183 lbs), offensive minded defenseman from Sweden. His size and defensive ability are the two big knocks against him currently. Along with his penchant to hold onto the puck too long sometimes and getting into trouble. A team looking for a PP specialist for the future could use a 2nd round pick to get Fransson to fill the bill.

Wes O’Neill was a highly touted incoming freshman a year ago when he started at Notre Dame. A year later, O’Neill has been overshadowed by AJ Thelen at Michigan State and there are a lot of questions being asked about his future heading into the draft. O’Neill is a player that has the size, strength, shot, and passing ability to be a future NHLer. The questions are about his skating and decision making ability. One hope is that O’Neill will get back on track once a nagging shoulder injury is allowed to heal. O’Neill could turn into a 2nd round steal if the injury is what held his development back this past season.

Kyle Wharton is a bigger defenseman (6’2” 185 lbs) that plays an offensive game at this point. His defensive coverage sometimes leaves much to be desired. He also doesn’t play as physical a game as a guy with size should. He has the potential to be a nice 2nd round pick.

Dmitri Vorobiev is a big (6’2” 211 lbs) Russian defenseman who has a mixed report card out there. Some see him as a hard nosed, physical blueliner. While others see him more as a guy that doesn’t stand out too much and doesn’t have a huge upside. While others see him as a guy with a huge point shot that could be valuable on the PP. He’s got a 2nd round grade on my board. After that we’ll have to wait and see.

Andy Rogers is a big (6’5” 206 lbs) defenseman who projects to be more of a stay at home defenseman. His puck skills are said to be improving, but not to the point where he’ll be running an NHL PP anytime soon. He is said to be willing to play a physical game, but most feel that they’d like to see him play physical on a much more consistent basis. Rogers is a guy that has improved to the point that he could be a 2nd round pick.

Mark Fistric is the answer for any team looking for a tough policeman on the blueline. Fistric isn’t the most mobile defenseman. And he isn’t the most skilled defenseman. But, he could be in the running for the toughest defenseman in this draft class. Mark is a player that could go in the 2nd or 3rd round this year.

Sami Lepisto is a player who isn’t getting as much pre-draft hype as you’d expect of someone that won the Best Defenseman award at this year’s U-20 WCs. But, there are some very good reasons. First, Lepisto turns 20yo in October and many wonder if he’s about as good as he’ll get. Second, at 6’ and 176 lbs, Lepisto is far from the biggest player in the draft. And a less than productive with Jokerit (53gp 3g 4a 7pts) has some wondering if his WJC performance was a flash in the pan. Some team is likely to roll the dice on Lepisto in the 2nd or 3rd round.

Oscar Hedman is another offensive minded defenseman that has some skeptics. The main question with regards to Hedman is his dedication to fitness. He’s got some offensive tools and he could one day end up being a PP QB. If he’s not a bust, of course. He’s another guy that has gotten a 3rd round grade on my board.

Grant Lewis plays at Dartmouth College. Last year saw Hugh Jessiman get drafted out of Dartmouth by the NY Rangers. And some are wondering how much of Lewis’ offensive production this season was because of his natural talent and how much was a by-product of quarterbacking a PP that featured Hugh Jessiman. The grades on Lewis were rather mixed. He’s a 3rd rounder on out board by virtue of some people thinking he’s a 2nd round talent and others believing he’s a 4th round talent.

Michal Sersen is a finesse, offensive minded defenseman from the Rimouski Oceanic. This Slovakian import struggled with injuries this season. He lacks upper body strength, can be pushed around, and does not play a physical game. He does have a big shot and can get it off. Will likely be a PP specialist as a pro. Sersen has a 3rd round grade on my board.

Brett Carson of the Calgary Hitmen is another big defenseman that plays a small man’s game. At 6’4” 220 lbs, Carson has the frame to play a rugged game. But, he’s a guy that doesn’t play the body nearly as much as you’d like. Add in questions about his hockey sense, and Carson is a guy that could fall out of the first day of the draft. Or, he could be a guy that a team rolls the dice on late on day 1.

Michael Funk of the Portland Winterhawks is a guy that has all the tools, but has yet to figure it all out. He’s got a nice frame at 6’4” 199 lbs. He also has solid skating ability for a player of his size. The biggest issues with Funk are a lack of hockey sense and the fact that he doesn’t play well under pressure. If he figures out how to play and deal with pressure, he could turn into a late 1st doy or early 2nd day gem.

Best of the rest:
Mitch Maunu of the Windsor Spitfires and Roman Polak of the Czech Republic are tough defensemen that could add some grit to a team’s blueline. David Schulz of the Swift Current Broncos is another big defenseman that you would hope would be meaner. Sweden’s Rickard Demen-Willaume is a 2nd day sleeper that could add a big, mobile defenseman to a team. Max Gordichuk is a huge blueliner at 6’6” 210 lbs.

And two of my favorite sleepers in this draft are Kyle Radke and Jeff Likens. Radke played Jr A hockey in Grande Prairie and is headed to North Dakota to play for Dean Blais. Radke has a nice blend of offensive skills and defensive grit. While not big at 6’ 190 lbs, he has been a really effective player and would be worth a 2nd day pick. He was named the top defenseman at the Royal Bank Cup that featured the best Jr A teams from Canada.

Likens is a guy that has gotten overshadowed by his teammate with a famous last name: Ryan Suter. Likens and Suter came up together at the USNTDP and both headed off to Wisconsin last year. Jeff had a solid season for the Badgers offensively and was a late addition to the US team that won the gold at the U-20 WCs. The biggest knock against Likens is that he’s not big (5’11” 173 lbs). But, to me he’s worth an 8th or 9th round pick. Especially when I watch Brian Rafalski play the game.

Bloodlines:
Who is that Texas Tornado teammate of Vince Goulet that also has a father that played in the NHL? Well, it would be Trevor Ludwig, the son of former Stars defenseman Craid Ludwig. Like Goulet, Ludwig isn’t expected to be drafted according to my rankings. But some time, it’s not what you know, but who you know. Just ask Mike Piazza.







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