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Thursday, September 2, 2010

B2011DW's Official New England Prep/Junior Watch List

This post is reprinted from my Kirk's Call blog on the New England Hockey Journal website:

As the 2010-11 hockey campaign gets set to open this month (Europe) and next in North America, it is time to start looking at the 2011 NHL draft class.

Unlike 2009, when the New England region had a top-20 selection (Boxford’s Chris Kreider- 19th to the Rangers) and hits in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, and 2010, with a pair of late first-rounders in Kevin Hayes(Dorchester, Mass.) and Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.) to the Blackhawks and Sharks respectively, the 2011 crop may not be as prolific.

One player who left the area last year to skate for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. is defenseman Mike Paliotta (Westport, Conn.) who played for Choate Rosemary in the 08-09 season before joining the Under-17 team. Paliotta has nice size (6-3, 185) and skates very well, although the offensive numbers have not yet come for him. If he can get a little more going on the scoresheet this season with the Under-18 squad, his upside could carry him to a first-round grade. The University of Vermont recruit is the hockeyjournal.com preseason No. 1 prospect for the 2011 NHL draft.

Another defenseman worth following is Avon Old Farms standout Colin Sullivan (Milford, Conn.), who helped the Winged Beavers to the 2010 prep championship last spring with a solid performance. He’s got some good wheels, plays a smart positional game and has some interesting potential, but will need to have a dominant year to raise his draft profile. Right now, he’s looking like a solid mid-round option, but could crack the top-60 with a strong campaign.

Keep an eye on small but talented forward Alex Gacek (Dracut, Mass.) who tore it up for the EJHL champion NH Jr. Monarchs last season. He’s under 6-feet and isn’t a great skater, but like other NHL scoring stars who have overcome size and mobility concerns in the past and present like Adam Oates and Marc Savard, Gacek has special instincts and that unquantifiable knack for finding the back of the net. He could develop into a special player in time.

Gacek’s Monarchs teammate, Chris Eiserman(Newburyport, Mass.) got a chance to shine early last season when No. 1 netminder Brian Billett (Kennebunk, Me.) went down with an ankle injury. The crease will be crowded in Hooksett with Billett, the reigning league goalie of the year (and unconscionable draft snub) slated to come back for another season. Eiserman has some impressive potential, but playing time will be an issue if the status quo holds.

Goalie Steve Michalek (Glastonbury, Conn.) plays for Loomis-Chaffee and made a name for himself on the silver medal-winning U.S. team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament last season and will get a longer look from scouts this season.

There is one very intriguing player in the area who attracted a lot of notice at last month’s NHL Research and Development Camp in Toronto. Newmarket, Ontario native Mike McKee, a defenseman for the Kent Lions under Matt Herr (Kent, Conn.) is already 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, but skates extremely well. The Northeastern recruit had NHL scouts in a tizzy after looking very poised as a pairing with Scott Mayfield, and if he returns to the prep ranks this year, will have a lot of talent hounds following him.

Another potential first-round prospect in the New England prep ranks is Quebec native Philippe Hudon, who skated with Paliotta at Choate two years ago and brings a highly polished offensive game. He got into academic trouble last spring and was suspended from the team’s successful large school tournament run, costing him a chance to showcase himself for NHL scouts in attendance. This is a big year for the Cornell recruit for obvious reasons.

Although the season has yet to start, there isn’t a lot of excitement surrounding the 2011 New England draft class, but watch out for 2012, when the ’94s are expected to make a big splash. Malden Catholic scoring star Ryan Fitzgerald (North Reading, Mass.), and new NTDP recruits Brendan Silk (Melrose, Mass.), two-way defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.), Cam Darcy (South Boston, Mass.) and Frankie Vatrano (East Longmeadow, Mass.) bring one of the strongest New England contingents to Ann Arbor in the program’s 12-year history. They’ll have a shot at landing in the first-three rounds of the 2012 NHL lottery if they continue their upward developmental curves.

Also of note for 2012 is Jr. Monarchs forward Brian Morgan (Windham, N.H.) and defenseman Teddy Doherty (Hopkinton, Mass.) who along with Fitzgerald were on the Sean Tremblay (Newburyport, Mass.)-coached U.S. Under-17 select squad that took first place at the Five Nations tourney in Switzerland last month.

EDIT: Two non-New England natives who could be attracting hockey and 2011 draft headlines this season are defenseman Adam Clendening and forward Matt Nieto, both of whom graduated from the U.S. NTDP and were a part of the gold medal-winning Under-18 team last spring. Clendening doesn't have great size, but is an extremely skilled and intelligent defenseman who can move the puck effectively and could be an immediate impact player for the Terriers. Nieto has some real offensive skill and can really skate, but needs to fill out and add a lot of strength to his lithe frame. Both players could boost their draft stock if they have strong freshman campaigns at such an accomplished level like the Hockey East this year.

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