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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Central Scouting Preliminary Rankings: The WHL Pt. 1

Welcome to Chapter 1 of a two-part breakdown of Central Scouting's Western Hockey League preliminary rankings. I know I said this would close out the series, but I'll actually do that with the USHL, coming in the next 1-2 days.

B2011DW managed to talk to at least three different NHL scouting sources about this list, plus an independent one thrown in for good measure. It's an interesting list, and one scout said that after eight (Duncan Siemens) it is almost as if Central "drew a big line across the list and said, 'Here's a really big dropoff.'"

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at the top is a no-brainer. He's in discussions as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the June NHL draft, but one scout cautioned that the ultra-talented (but smallish with a slight frame) center has not done a lot to separate himself from the pack to provide the impetus for the team holding the top pick, whoever that ends up being, to take him there. At the same time, the scout said that even if Nugent-Hopkins doesn't erupt over the season's second-half to position himself for top consideration, he doesn't see the Red Deer standout falling much at all because he does all of the offensive things at such a high, high level. The skill package is elite as is the hockey sense, and even though a lot of his early year production has come with the man advantage, he's just not going to drop very far if at all.

Things get interesting with the No. 2 player on the list, Portland winger Sven Bartschi, who edged teammate Ty Rattie, much to the consternation of several of the sources. Bartschi is Swiss, but unlike Winterhawks mate Nino Niederreiter, does not play with that edge that saw his countryman go to the New York Islanders with the fifth overall pick last June. While he has excellent speed and hands, he's undersized and one scout said that he doesn't have anywhere near Rattie's creativity or elite hands/wheels/vision.

"(Bartschi) is a good two inches smaller than Rattie," the NHL scout said. "Rattie makes everything happen out there, while Bartschi tends to benefit from it. Bartschi's probably closer to 5-9, while Rattie is maybe a shade under 6-foot, but (Bartschi) plays like he's 5-9; he doesn't like to get hit and won't go into the dirty areas, which is something Rattie excels at."

Rattie is only two points (39) behind Boston prospect Craig Cunningham for the WHL scoring lead, and has been a revelation this season with his tenacious, complete game compared to the hot doggery and one-dimensional side he showed as a rookie.

"It only takes one game to watch Rattie and you can tell he's great," the scout said. "You don't get that from watching Bartschi, I'm afraid. He'll go where he's told, but he requires direction, whereas Rattie just understands the flow and gets there, usually making the play when he does."

After Rattie at No. 3, Central has big, skilled defenseman David Musil next. Musil is a focal point this season because so much was expected of him but all four sources who weighed in on the analysis all say he's not playing well enough to merit consideration in the top-five and could see a precipitous drop by the team the draft rolls around.

Musil's large frame (almost 6-4), skating and hands are a scout's dream, but he seems to be lacking in the kinds of intangibles that would see him maximize his impressive natural gifts such as fire and desire.

"It looks to me like he put on some weight," one NHL scout said. "He's a little slower than I remember him being last year, but unfortunately, he's still playing with a lack of passion I saw a season ago."

Musil's hands and vision make him a superb candidate to run the power play, but his lack of physical game and sense of urgency have soured people on him in the early going.

"He's about 6-4, but he plays like he's 6-feet tall," said another scout. "He doesn't use his size at all."

Another NHL scout was critical of Musil as well.

"You want more out of him," he said. "He's weird in that he comes across as a stay-at-home defender who isn't going to do much, and then he gets the puck and all of the sudden, he's playing with a lot more energy. Don't know what to make of that, really, but it's not what I would call a strength."

If anyone can get the most out of a player, it is Vancouver Giants head coach Don Hay, but even with the skills, the lack of hustle, questionable conditioning and mediocre overall play have Musil trending downward despite the freakishly good athletic genes between former NHL defenseman (and Edmonton scout) Frantisek Musil and tennis pro (and sister of former NHL star Bobby Holik) mom Andrea Holikova-Musil.

Rounding out No. 5 is one of the previously-kept secrets, Portland d-man Joe Morrow, but the cat is now out of the bag on this guy, who could be a top-20 pick when all is said and done. Morrow may be the most underrated puck-moving defenseman in the draft right now, though one could argue now that Central has him as high as five that he is no longer under the radar. He has a cannon for a shot, and has some serious NHL upside.

"I love his game," one independent scout said of Morrow. "This is a guy who skates well, makes that outstanding first pass and can really fire the puck from the point. He's only OK defensively, but it's all things that coaches can address at the next level."

Another NHL scout acknowledged the howitzer drive of Morrow's. "He's a little too happy with the velocity of his shot," he said. "There are times when he could take something off it and try to hit the corners or get it off a little faster, but he goes all the way back (with the stick) every time. It's funny, because I think goalies are afraid of his shot. You can tell by the body language that when his stick goes up, they're tensing up and just praying that one of their 'D' are going to jump in front of it."

After Morrow at No. 6 is another secret no longer, Prince Albert center Mark McNeill, who like Rattie, has really come on in his second WHL campaign. Already a physical specimen at 6-2 and nearly 210 pounds at age 17, this kid is going to get a lot stronger before all is said and done. He's a nice blend of skill (though he's not an elite skill level player like the 'Nuge or Rattie), physical play and fighting ability. His 27 points in 23 games with the Raiders is impressive when you consider that the team has trouble scoring goals.

"He's still a wildcard," an NHL scout said. "But if McNeill keeps this up, everyone's going to have a real good idea of who he is and he'll end up going pretty high in the draft."

Regina defenseman Myles Bell is a B2011DW favorite, and is ranked at No. 7, controversial in that he's ahead of Siemens from Saskatoon, who many consider a better NHL prospect.

With Bell, it's more a matter of a maddening lack of consistency. He's got some nice numbers so far-- six goals and 16 points in 23 games with the Regina Pats, which is just two less than he had all of last year. However, he's not a great skater (though his straight-ahead speed when he has the puck is quite good), and lacks the kind of defensive awareness you want in a player at the next level. He's been compared to Mike Green without the high-end speed, because when on his game, Bell can rush the puck and make things happen in dynamic fashion.

"With all of his talents, at the end of the day, he just doesn't do much when I see him," an NHL scout said. "What's worse, he's looked flat and lazy at times. He's a productive player, but you need to see more effort, more of a sense of urgency from him and you don't always get that with Bell."

Rounding out coverage of Part 1 of the WHL is Saskatoon Blades defenseman Duncan Siemens, who many feel is too low at No. 8 on Central's list. At the same time, some independent lists out there have him inside the top-10 and hovering around No. 5 overall, which is too high for this solid, if unspectacular prospect.

"Fifth overall, no way-- but I like him," said an NHL scout. "He's one of these guys who's easy to slot right in the middle of the first round unless he has a Dylan McIlrath-like second half where you're wondering where all the points came from."

Another NHL talent evaluator was pretty effusive in his praise of Siemens as a good skater with size and an edge even if the offense hasn't been there.

"He's not putting up points," the scout said. "He's about 6-3 and skinny as a rail, but he's got that frame to grow into about 210-215 pounds eventually. He's a good, fluid skater, and the thing is, he tries to play a physical style now, which means he'll be a physical player at the next level, which is good. There are no real flaws to him, and you don't see anything from him that isn't coachable."

One independent scout was less-enthused.

"I just don't see much upside with this guy," he said of Siemens. "He'll fight, but he doesn't relish it the way (Dylan) McIlrath does. He's a good skater and passer, but he can't seem to translate those skills into production. I see a middle-of-the road NHL defenseman who will log you some minutes, but isn't going to be a top-pairing guy or someone who is going to give a team that extra dimension on offense everyone is looking for."

The source did admit that Siemens is a solid NHL prospect, however, and worthy of selection in the first round. And, like Nashville All-Star Shea Weber (a 2nd-round pick in '03 for the same kinds of reasons), he's one of these players who, if he starts picking up the points, will move to the top of prospect discussions because of everything else he brings to the table.

Stay tuned for Part 2 and the final portion of the Central Scouting series-- the USHL this weekend!


  1. Kirk, i realize you can't say a lot about the conversations you had with your sources and respect that. I'm wondering if you can reveal something for me about Musil that won't infringe on that.

    Is he possibly in a situation that he is unhappy with and maybe a change of scenery is what he needs? Or is it maybe character issues, not to the extent of Kabanov, but something that impede his progress?

    With all the hype that surrounded him a year ago and all the good things that were said about him, I hope its just a nagging injury that's affecting his play somewhat and not something else that would affect him in a negative way.

  2. Well, I don't have much insight into that, but he's got ties to the Vancouver area through his family and Don Hay is one heck of a coach-- I can't imagine that it's a scenery thing, but anything's possible.

    He's one of these players who hockey has come naturally for his entire life from what I understand. Always been the best player on his team and so on-- sometimes, when it comes easy for these kids, they hit a wall when everyone else catches up to them, or the other guys out there who might not have the talent, work harder and end up performing better.

    I don't know what it is to be sure, and neither do those outside Musil himself and maybe his close circle of friends and family. But, troubled by what the one scout said about his being overweight to start the year-- that's just something that isn't acceptable in this day and age, and I hope the kid works it out and finds his game. But, if you're picking top-five in this draft, he's got some red flags right now, compared to the other guys who are performing at or above expected levels.