-The Steelers had what appears at first glance to be a very fine draft. G David DeCastro should make a huge impact as a rookie – he’s been compared favorably to Alan Faneca – but the key pick in this draft will be their second-rounder, tackle Mike Adams. No one questions the talent, but he dropped into the second round due to a positive marijuana test. The Steelers believe that was a fluke – Adams reportedly drove down to apologize to the Steelers personally – and if they are correct, the offensive line could go from a relative weakness to a strength immediately.
-There are two keys to successful drafting in my opinion – nailing first-round picks, of course (early busts can cripple a team), but just as important is hitting the occasional late-round steal. Look around the NHL, NFL and MLB and you will see many players taken late who became stars. In the NFL Hines Ward, Jared Allen, Arian Foster, and Tom Brady stand out as recent examples. Pittsburgh’s draft will get an ‘A’ grade if Adams and DeCastro live up to their billing – but if they’ve found even one additional starter with their other seven picks, this could be an exceptional draft.
-In Philly, the Eagles correctly prioritized upgrading their front seven on defense – they held three picks in the top 59, and they acquired two defensive linemen and an inside linebacker. Fletcher Cox should become the disruptive force the Eagles love to have on the interior d-line, and Mychael Kendricks might be able to step in right away at ILB. Andy Reid took Arizona QB Nick Foles in the third round, and he becomes the heir apparent to Michael Vick down the road.
-Elsewhere in the NFL: I hope Andrew Luck can take a beating, because he’s in for a very long season in Indy. Keep in mind that Peyton Manning also endured a very rough rookie season, so try to withhold judgment until the front office puts more talent around him…Robert Griffin better be the second coming of Joe Montana or Dan Marino considering the price Washington paid to get him. St. Louis made a GREAT deal there, the kind of deal that can re-energize a franchise for years if they capitalize on the acquired picks…Cleveland taking a running back and a 28-year-old rookie QB really surprised me, apparently they think they are very close to competing – I think both picks were questionable at best.
-Moving on to the NHL (and please note, I’m typing this Tuesday night): I said before the playoffs started that I thought Washington would have beaten the Rangers had they met in Round 1, and nothing I saw in that round changed my mind – the Rangers struggled mightily with the plucky Senators, while the Caps knocked off the defending champs with some fantastic defense and goaltending. I expect Caps’ rookie goalie Braden Holtby to give up a few more goals than he did against Boston, but I also expect Alex Ovechkin to get hot and carry the Caps for a couple of games.
-New Jersey is an ideal matchup for the Flyers – they are not nearly as physical or skilled as Pittsburgh, they get no scoring from their defense and not much from their bottom-six forwards, and Martin Brodeur is simply not the goalie he was even four years ago. The Flyers’ weaknesses in goal and in their own end are unlikely to be consistently exploited by the Devils – Philly is too inconsistent to sweep the Devils, but a Flyers win in five or six games seems almost inevitable. In fact, while I know ANYTHING is possible in the NHL playoffs, with the Bruins, Penguins, Canucks, and Red Wings gone the Flyers have to be considered prohibitive favorites to win the Cup at this point.
-Out west, I expected the Blues-Kings series to be a low-scoring affair…apparently the Kings didn’t get the memo, as they have torched the stingy Blues for eight goals on the road, taking a commanding 2-0 series lead. With the Blues’ best goalie, Jaroslav Halak, out for the rest of the series I expect the Kings to close St. Louis out in six games or less.
-Wednesday’s Phoenix-Nashville game will, in my opinion, decide that series – obviously if the Coyotes go up 3-0 the series is over, and even though the game is in Nashville I think Phoenix has a large advantage since Radulov and Kostitsyn have been suspended by Nashville. Neither team has played the kind of smart, defensive hockey they were known for all season, but if Nashville can grind out a win in Game 3, I expect this to be a long series, most likely going seven games.
I’ll be on vacation next week, but in two weeks we will preview the NHL conference finals – and a review of baseball’s first 6-8 weeks is coming soon as well!
Dave Glass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.