Here's the final analysis post series of the 2011 CHL Top Prospects Game, closing out with the victorious Team Orr forwards.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C Saint John (QMJHL)-- The Ryan Strome of the Quebec league in terms of a player who is blowing expectations out of the water; Huberdeau is rising fast (and his 4th overall Central ranking is much more in line with his potential than where they had Strome) --just having a sensational season for the Sea Dogs. Watching him a little last year, you knew he had the height, hands and creativity to be a skilled offensive pivot, but the revelation this season has been the way he's filling the net. Wednesday's top prospects game was no exception, as he pounced on David Musil's rebound, patiently waited for a sprawling Christopher Gibson to take himself out of the play and then slid the puck into the open cage. That kind of poise and patience is a hallmark of any legitimate goal scorer. Huberdeau has a long, fluid stride and is one of those players who the puck seems to follow around the ice. He got into some physical shoving matches and didn't back down. His meteoric rise reminds me a bit of another Quebecois center in 2006- Derick Brassard, who secured top-10 draft billing with Columbus after an outstanding second-half of the season and playoffs. The difference with Huberdeau is-- he's been doing it all year. This kid is a stud; he plays with some real swagger and I love his intelligence and fire.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C Red Deer (WHL)-- B2011DW has been a fan of the 'Nuge since watching video of him from last season. Like Huberdeau, Team Orr's captain had a statement game in which he made a lot of things happen offensively for Orr. Granted, it was one game, and you can see why he's one of the top scorers amongst the draft-eligible forwards this year. He's an elite skater, with instant acceleration and outstanding top-end speed and the shifty elusiveness that you want to see from the small-to-average sized guys, which is what he is. RNH is a terrific puckhandler, and with his superior vision and offensive hockey sense, he's a going concern most nights. The top prospects game also revealed an aspect of a little of the frustration some scouts have expressed about him off-line: he made several brilliant plays to set up goals, but didn't show much finish and wasn't able to find the shooting lanes to provide evidence that his 13 goals this season are an aberration. There's some risk with the 'Nuge because as highly skilled as he is, his size deficit could work against him in the NHL. The curious lack of goal scoring (though he's coming through with more than an assist per game) is something that will be talked about in a lot of NHL war rooms this spring, but make no mistake-- he's a top-four pick come June.
Vladislav Namestnikov, C London (OHL)-- The Knights pivot got into the game ahead of another offensively gifted Russian in Windsor's Alexander Khokhlachev, but showed off some of his slick puck moves and offensive potential. He assisted on Dougie Hamilton's goal by gaining the zone along the right wall, putting on the brakes to shake the defender, and then hitting the Niagara defenseman with a perfect cross-ice feed that Hamilton was able to power through. You can see that he has magical hands and the ability to do some really cool things in the offensive zone because he's more of a slippery center who has that innate ability to elude the would-be checker and find his open teammate for a quality scoring chance. Namestnikov did not come off as well as RNH and Huberdeau, but he helped himself with an active, involved game.
Boone Jenner, C Oshawa (OHL)-- This game was very typical of what Jenner is as a player: solid, productive but unremarkable. Jenner isn't a great skater, but has gotten to the point at least where any deficiencies are not noticeable, according to one NHL scout who expressed some serious concerns before the season about Jenner's wheels. He does hustle, however, and his heart and willingness to work the proverbial bag off all the time go a long way toward erasing any concerns that may linger about the skating. He's a pretty straight-line player: A to B without a lot of flash and dash. And, you don't necessarily find yourself drawn to him during a game, but at the end of the night, you look at the boxscore and there he is, with a couple of points. That's how his top prospects performance looked on video-- you heard his name, but didn't really notice him all that much, until the puck ended up in the net and you realized that he was in on the play. He's got intangibles, and doesn't seem like much of a fit for the Bruins given how stacked they are at center, but you never know. One thing seems certain, though-- some NHL team will call Jenner's name early enough in the draft. The biggest question with him is upside, but given the work he's done to get his skating more where it needs to be, don't bet against this guy.
Lucas Lessio, C/W Oshawa (OHL)-- A fellow General with Jenner and Team Cherry forward Nicklas Jensen, Lessio is what I would call the "Anti-Jenner" in that he's about the same size as his fellow center (6-1, 190+) but certainly is blessed with an inordinate amount of natural skating ability and quick stick/offensive prowess. It's the work ethic, intensity and consistency which seem to be lacking. Lessio didn't do a whole lot in the game, to be honest. Yes, because he's got good wheels, you heard his name a few times and he was in and around the play in the Cherry end, but I thought his play was pretty similar to what I saw from him on New Year's Day. He's noticeable in stretches simply because he's too talented a player not to be, but he comes off lazy and uninvolved at times. I know this sounds bad, and in Lessio's defense, it's really hard to get a read on a player just by watching on television. This guy is a prototypical NHL forward in terms of the physical tools and skills, but he's got some maturing to do.
Colin Jacobs, C Seattle (WHL)-- A pretty nondescript performance overall, although the Texas native did show off some good skating ability playing on a line with Brandon Saad and Vince Trocheck. Watching him, I was reminded of what one NHL scout told me about Jacobs earlier this season: that he looks like a player with the size, skating and puck skills, but at the end of the day, he doesn't seem to accomplish a whole lot. Not a bad guy to take in the third-round maybe, but if you're talking top-60, there's some risk because of the inconsistent production.
Daniel Catenacci, LW Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)-- The top pick in the OHL Priority Selection two years ago looked precisely like the No. 1 guy in this game, dazzling with his speed and killer instinct on the shorthanded goal scored in the 1st period to take the wind out of Team Cherry's sails after they dominated territorially and in the first five to ten minutes. Although small, Catenacci is highly dynamic and has gotten a chance to spread his wings this season according to reports from scouts. He's susceptible to being out-muscled along the boards and in the dirty areas in front of the net, but he's active, involved and hustles. Catenacci made the most of his chance at the Ivan Hlinka in August and has carried over that gold medal pedigree with the Greyhounds this season to force his way into the draft picture after many NHL teams had him as barely a blip on the radars prior to August. His stock will continue to rise after this game.
Brandon Saad, RW Saginaw (OHL)-- The American power winger from Pennsylvania didn't have a flashy game, but he stood out with his size, strength, and ability to cycle the puck and control the play down low. When Cherry was running the table on Orr early, it was Saad who bought his team some time to regroup by maintaining puck possession in the Cherry zone and creating an early scoring chance that took some pressure off of Liam Liston and the Orr defense. You didn't see much of the offense that is so appealing and why he looks to be a top-10 pick in June, but Saad was solid. He's one guy I wish would have been in Buffalo for Team USA at the WJC not only for the chance to see him, but because there wasn't enough of a size/skill element on the wings. USA was big up the middle, but I think Jim Johannson and company blew it with their winger makeup-- too many small, slick guys, not enough beef. No offense intended to Chris Brown, but he didn't have the pure skill and scoring upside Saad would have brought in addition to his wide body and ability to aid int he puck possession game. He'll be in Calgary for sure in 2012, unless he happens to be skating for an NHL team somewhere, which doesn't seem probable, but you never know.
Vince Trocheck, LW Saginaw (OHL)-- Saad's teammate and fellow Keystone stater had a solid game and scored a goal that he probably should not have, but that's what happens when the defender (Myles Bell) is asleep at the switch and let's you get in behind him, while the goalie is playing so deep in his net, he has no chance to react to the perfect backhand shot coming his way. That's what Trocheck did to David Honzik, but that kind of opportunistic scoring is what Trocheck tends to do. He doesn't have much in the way of size, but is a live skater and plays bigger than his 5-10 frame should allow. This kid looks to be more than the sum of his parts, and it will be interesting to see where he's drafted. If a team loves him enough, look at the early 2nd, maybe even late 1st. But, if he slips past 50 like Jason Zucker did last season, Trocheck could be a steal.
Sven Bartschi, LW Portland (WHL)-- The Winterhawk scoring winger showed that he has a knack for closing out the play when high-end table setters give him an opportunity. Bartschi and RNH combined on Team Orr's second goal, a play Gibson had no chance on after the Red Deer center forced the Cherry goalie to play him all the way before dishing to his driving Swiss linemate who didn't miss. The speed, hands and offensive capability I saw from Bartschi in Buffalo was on display in the top prospects game. So was the tendency to play out on the perimeter. He did get into a dustup with Duncan Siemens behind the Cherry net, but was happy to see Musil jump in and take on the hard-nosed Saskatoon rearguard. Bartschi is a gifted scorer, but he doesn't have countryman and Portland teammate Nino Niederreiter's edge or grit. Sven doesn't have Niederreiter's size, and is a decent, polite chap, but if I were on an NHL scouting staff, I wouldn't be in favor of drafting him in the first round. It's an opinion I know for a fact NHL teams don't share-- he'll go in the top-30 come June, but at the end of the day, even with the goal, I saw nothing addressed about the concerns I had from watching the WJC late last month.
Shane McColgan, RW Kelowna (WHL)-- The smallest and lowest-ranked (102nd) by Central player in the game showed some energy and feistiness. There isn't a whole lot else to say-- the concerns about the size at the NHL level are founded. He doesn't appear to have any more growing to do, and he may not be skilled enough to be the kind of difference-maker at that level. Time will tell, but he didn't get a ton of ice time to show a great deal to those who watched.
Zack Phillips, LW Saint John (QMJHL)-- Like Jenner, Phillips had the kind of top prospects game that scouts have seen from him in Saint John. He's not the fastest guy out there or all that dynamic, but man-- when he's around the net and the puck is nearby, chances are, it will be behind the goalie soon. He finished off a nice play with RNH when the diminutive center took the puck hard to the net, backing Honzik deep into the cage along the goal line. Phillips pounced on the loose puck sitting in front of the Cherry netminder and calmly flipped it over the Czech goalie (and that guy does take up a good portion of the net even when down). It was as unspectacular a score that you'll see, but it gets to what Phillips is: a smart, opportunistic player who happens to make the most of his chances. I understand he's been playing more of the center role in Saint John, with Huberdeau on the wing, but Phillips will be a winger in the pros.
Well-- there you have it.
Will try to get some more viewings of the games and see what else I can come up with, but time to move on with the second half of the season. Will have many more posts to keep things rolling all through winter and into the spring when things heat up, so keep coming back for more- this blog space will deliver the kind of in-depth NHL draft coverage the hardest of the hardcore hockey fans crave and demand!