Okay, gang- last year I did one of these and it got great reviews, so after sitting next to Mr. Kyle Woodlief, former NHL scout for the Nashville Predators, USAToday hockey columnist and the tireless machine behind Red Line Report tonight during the Canada-Norway game at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, I was able to secure a long, and ultimately revealing interview about the 2011 draft class, Adam Larsson, Gabriel Landeskog and other top draft prospects.
I have to break it up into multiple parts, but the level of thought and detail that Kyle shared is indicative of his professionalism and experience in the hockey scouting business as his independent scouting review is now in its 18th season of publication (Woodlief has owned and operated it since 1998, however).
Bruins 2011 Draft Watch: Can you give us an assessment of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft class on the whole?
Kyle Woodlief: I think at the top-end you've got the four guys with (Gabriel) Landeskog, (Sean) Couturier and (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins and (Adam) Larsson. They fairly separate themselves out from the pack. They're very good players, but there's nobody in that bunch-- you know, we're kind of spoiled these last few years-- there's nobody in that bunch that's going to be a (Steven) Stamkos or a (Matt) Duchene or (Victor) Hedman or anybody of that caliber. They're all solid players, there's not really that star magnitude to any of them.
I'm actually pleasantly surprised, though-- when it was coming into the season-- we all thought it was going to be kind of a down, kind of a weak year and as the season's gone on, a lot of guys have jumped up that we didn't expect to fill in that 25-50 range where we thought the depth would fall off severely. And I'm looking now at guys we have ranked in that range 25-50 and there's a lot of guys I like there. So, I think all the naysayers and doomsayers before the season may have gotten it a little premature. I think it's actually going to be a better crop this year than what we expected and on the whole at least an average crop.
B2011DW:In your October issue of this year, you headlined it with the words "Uninspiring Class." Has your outlook changed a bit in the months since?
KW: Yes, it definitely has. That (issue) was put out in the first week of October and we were only two, three weeks into the season at that point. And each league has seen guys that for me have been positive surprises jumping up. Guys like Mark McNeill and Kale Kessy out in the WHL, guys like Shane Prince in the OHL I don't want to say come out of nowhere, but it's just a heck of a lot better than I anticipated it being at the beginning of the season. I think you've got the whole contingent in Saint John and Shawinigan's got a pretty good group in the 'Q' as well, so there's definitely more depth filling in in those second- and third tiers.
B2011DW: Looking at your December rankings, you have Sean Couturier at the top which is probably no surprise given the expectations coming in, but Adam Larsson has fallen off (No. 4). Can you talk a little about the reasons for dropping him in your rankings and talk about what you've seen from him in the tournament here in Buffalo so far?
KW: I'll address this tournament so far first. He's actually rebounded well and he's playing very well here in this tournament. It's actually the best I've seen him play in any international tournament in more than a year. In all honesty, he'd been severely underwhelming in most of the international tournaments in the last year. I gave him a pass last Christmas because he was so young for the age group playing in the WJC out in Regina last year. He played awfully out in Regina last year, but I gave him a pass because he's so young. I thought the one international tournament he played well in was in Belarus in April (2010) and the World Under-18s, he played a solid tournament there. But, he was very mediocre, decidedly mediocre in Lake Placid this summer. And again, you kind of give him a pass because it's summer hockey but at some point, you want to see him show more. He went to Karlovy Vary (in Czech Republic) last month in November at the Under-20 tournament there and played very poorly. And that was the main reason for dropping him. We'd seen some uninspired performances in the last 12 months from him. I know my Swedish scout has told me that he's playing very well in league play over in Sweden so we all know it's there and what he can do when he's on top of his game. But, he needs to be on top of his game a bit more frequently than what we've seen from him if we're going to rank him in the top one or two.
B2011DW: A year ago, in some circles (this blog space included) Larsson was compared to Victor Hedman in terms of having that kind of potential in terms of being an NHL cornerstone. What are your thoughts on that now having had a year to watch him? Is the potential still there for him to be a high-end two way defenseman in this league?
KW: I never quite had him on that level. I always had Hedman as a notch above him and even frankly, Oliver Ekman-Larsson I think has more long-term upside than Adam Larsson does because of his unbelievable skating ability. I know a lot of people over in Sweden think that he has that sort of (cornerstone) potential. I think that he's going to be a really strong, solid defenseman in the NHL for a long time. But I don't know if I would ever see him as a true number one defenseman. I see him more as a number two who's going to eat a lot of minutes and be maybe a 40-45-point scorer. I don't see him being that number one guy who's going to come in and get 60-70 points and really lead a top power play. He makes a great first pass out of his own end. He plays solid, he plays physical. I'd like to see him, with his big body, to play physically a little more consistently along the walls and in front of the crease where he just kind of has a tendency to just lean on guys instead of getting aggressive with them. I think he's a legitimate 15-year NHL player and number two guy who, on a poor team, will maybe play as a number one from time to time. But I don't see him having that highest end that a Hedman or an Ekman-Larsson has.
That's it for part 1. I'll be back with part 2 to close it out tomorrow before I head to the Dwyer and HSBC arenas for the games.