Starting in the Hockey East, there are three 'A' players Central has identified, two of whom come from a rapidly rising Boston University program, just two years removed from a national championship (and oh what a glorious game that was to see live but I digress).
Defenseman Adam Clendening is a New Yorker and U.S. NTDP product who is one of the best puck-moving defensemen available in the entire draft, not to mention the NCAA ranks. As an Oct. '92 birthdate, he just missed out on the 2010 NHL draft, but is in a good situation on Commonwealth Ave. playing for legendary coach Jack Parker. Not big at 5-11, 187 pounds, Clendening is a very good skater with the vision and instincts to ignite the transition and attack. As a member of Team USA's dominant, suffocating defense in last spring's Under-18 gold medal squad, he's seen international competition at the highest level among his peers and acquitted himself extremely well in that tourney. With five assists in 10 games with the Terriers, he's been steady as she goes as a freshman and better things are in store.
"You can see that he oozes hockey sense," one NHL scout who saw Clendening in Belarus last spring said. "He's a bright, cerebral player who can dissect opposing defenses and get pucks out of his zone quickly."
Clendening's teammate, Matt Nieto, is another player to watch. The speedy, explosive forward can pile up the points, but the offense is yet to come for him at BU (1 goal, 2 points in 10 contests). Another late '92, Nieto has a significant amount of potential but may be a longer-term kind of project who will need at least three years in the NCAA followed by a minors stint before he's ready for the NHL grind.
"Nieto was one of the more dynamic American forwards coming out of Ann Arbor," the scout said. "He's got to watch the compete levels and consistency, but when he's on his game, he can skate with anyone and score goals at will. Very talented guy with upside."
Northeastern defenseman Jamie Oleksiak rounds out the HE watch list. The Ontario native and USHL product is raw, but at 6-7 and 244-pounds is a physical beast who will get picked just for his size from the looks of it. Where he goes in the draft, however, will depend on his play for the Huskies this season. His mobility is surprisingly good for a big man, although he does need to improve his agility and pivots/turns. But as far as straight-line speed goes, that long, powerful stride of his covers a lot of ice quickly. There isn't much offensive upside with Oleksiak-- he scored just two goals in 82 USHL games over three seasons with the Chicago Steel and Sioux Falls Stampede, and in 10 NCAA games he's posted a 1-1-2 line. But, if he can be that shutdown guy with a condor wingspan and an edge to his game (a work in progress), he'll go in the top-three rounds.
UMass-Amherst forward Mike Pereira is on the 'B' list for the HE-- and to be frank, B2011DW was stunned that the explosive winger who carried the Avon Old Farms Winged Beavers on his back to the 2010 prep championship was not picked in the NHL draft last June. He's not big, but his wheels are high-end, and he's as opportunistic a scorer as you will find. With five goals in his first eight games for the Minutemen, I think some NHL team will realize its mistake and snap him up come June. BU forward Sahir Gill and Nick Sorkin are on the 'C' list and were also passed over in previous drafts. Gill's hot start could get him a look. Sorkin, who played high school hockey in Silver Spring, Md. before going to the USHL for a tuneup and is now at UNH, is tall and raw. Look for him to go the free agency route when his NCAA career is done.
In the ECAC, RPI defender Pat Koudys is listed as a 'B' player, but with his size and mobility, he could end up going higher than people are projecting. The ECAC has fallen on hard times in terms of where NHL teams view players coming out of that league given competition and games played, but Koudys comes out of the OJHL with top defenseman accolades and at 6-4, 195, will play at around 220-230 pounds when he reaches his physical peak. He's not managed a point in eight NCAA games, but with his skill set, he should get on the board soon.
Jumping out to the WCHA, there are four 'A' players, three of whom we'll discuss briefly.
Denver University's Nick Shore is flying under the radar in most public draft discussions these days, but we're hearing that NHL teams are onto the skilled, intelligent NTDP product.
Red Line Report scout Max Giese said before the season that he saw Shore as a first-round player with the talent, work ethic and two-way game to break into the top-30 over bigger, more widely-known names. Shore is just getting back from being on the injury report, (3-0-0), but watch for him to boost his stock as the Pioneers' season gets rolling. Even if he doesn't get intot he 1st, its hard to imagine he'll drop far into the 2nd round of the draft because of his versatility and value.
University of Wisconisn forward Michael Mersch's stock is also on the up and up.