Had a chance to see the Northeastern Huskies take on the Boston University Terriers at Agganis Arena in Boston last weekend. What follows are reports on three key 2011 draft-eligibles who played in the game we saw.
The game itself, a Northeastern victory, was a ragged, penalty-filled affair that didn't lend itself to much fun from a scouting perspective, as the 2011 players were limited in terms of ice time and ability to get untracked show off their best attributes.
Jamie Oleksiak, D Northeastern University (Hockey East)
Huge kid at 6-7, 240 pounds and may not be done growing. Pretty mobile for someone so big, and more importantly, so young. Many guys Oleksiak's size are very gangly and still developing their coordination for their big bodies. He's already pretty much there and has a long, fluid stride and better footwork at this stage than most would think. He covers a lot of ground with the long stride and power behind it. Massive wingspan and long stick make it virtually impossible for opponents to beat him to the outside. Mobility makes it a challenge for them to go inside on him as well. With more work on his skating, could be even more mobile and difficult to beat. Working on his reads and progressions- still a work in progress who sometimes tries to do too much in his own end- needs to keep things simple. Decent passer on short to intermediate feeds, but on-ice vision is questionable and lacks the accuracy to stretch opposing defenses with long leads. As can be expected, has a big drive given all the power and torque he can generate on his twig. Needs to work on improving the accuracy and release. Important to avoid the lazy comparisons to Zdeno Chara or Tyler Myers because of size/mobility alone- those guys are more skilled with the puck and shooting skills than Oleksiak and he has a long way to go to reach that level. Oleksiak has upside, but may end up being more of a shutdown guy in the NHL. One thing he has going for him that most will never achieve no matter how well they are coached or how hard they work is that monstrous size. That should get him to the NHL, but still a wildcard in terms of what he's going to be at that level. Oleksiak will be a first-round pick, but based on what we've seen in multiple viewings this season, we'd take him at the end of the round instead of earlier. There is some risk that he'll be more Hal Gill than Chara, but he's at least made himself into a top-30 option with his potential, and Gill has fashioned a nice NHL career dating back to his league debut in 1997 with Boston.
Matt Nieto, LW Boston University (Hockey East)
The California winger is small, but very talented and is coming on strong after a tough start (3 points in first 12 NCAA games with the Terriers), having scored two goals and 9 points in last eight games. Nieto's wheels are first-rate: he has a very quick burst and accelerates to top speed quickly. He's also shifty and elusive, able to burn opponents in a footrace or turn them inside-out with a dazzling array of weaves and tight turns on his edges. One of those players who immediately draws you in with his skating- fun to watch when he revs it up and takes it up ice. He has a very quick stick and can handle the puck effectively at top speed. A legitimate breakaway threat and game-changer. When on his game, he's backing defenders up and using an array of head and body fakes to create space for himself. Creative and sees the ice pretty well. His a lightning release and very soft touch/knack for finding soft spots in defenses with his passes. Competed hard around the puck, but needs to pick up the intensity away from the play. Nieto is only average-sized and like most players his age, needs to get stronger/add mass to his small frame in order to handle the rigors of pro hockey. Was inconsistent in his willingness to do the dirty work in the corners and probably needs continued adjusting to the level of competition in the HE.
Here's a vid of Nieto scoring against BC from NHLDraftVideo (Jerome B.)
Adam Clendening, D Boston University (Hockey East)
Not a great game from Clendening, who started better than Nieto did at the beginning of the year, but who seems to have stalled a bit in recent viewings. Listed at 6-0, but is closer to 5-10 in reality and out of skates. Skating is OK- but Clendening lacks the explosiveness and pure speed you want to see from undersized defenders. He is more quick than fast- elusive and very good with his edgework. Pivots and turns are very good; he changes direction well and can transition quickly. Excellent stick and on-ice vision for making long leads and crisp breakouts. A superb passer who can tic-tac-toe with the best of them. Smart and instinctive; reads the developing play well, which allows him to beat checkers despite not having great wheels. Shot is average; projected as a better distributor/set-up guy on the PP than triggerman at the next level. Does have a quick release, but lacks the power and velocity you want to see from the point. Good, solid competitor; has strong intangibles like work ethic and a winning attitude. The real issue with Clendening is the lack of size, explosiveness and power. Justin Faulk is a better skater and has a bomb for a shot, two areas the BU defender is not as proficient in. Faulk was an early second-round selection last June (Carolina), so although the two draft classes are different, we wouldn't be surprised to see Clendening drop a little further than anticipated because of concerns about the size/mobility. There is no denying he can move the puck and set up the play, but as he moves up in levels and faces bigger, stronger, smarter players, it will become more and more difficult for Clendening to beat opponents with his sense and stick. He's a solid prospect, but like Oleksiak (though for different reasons), Clendening is more of a wildcard at this stage. You might see a team with a surplus of picks like Florida or Ottawa take him early in the second, but teams with limited selections may stay away from him until later in the second or third rounds.
Here's a highlight vid from HockeyEast Online- check out the great homerun pass he makes to Alex Chiasson at about the 1:52 mark.
Here is a post-game video featuring both Clendening and Nieto side-by-side.
Sahir Gill, F Boston University
Undersized winger and overager from British Columbia and the BCHL's Vernon Vipers can really fly. He's been involved in the BU offense quite a bit as a freshman and has quick burst and separation gear. Anticipates the play on offense and stays involved when the play transitions from his own end. Possesses nice offensive hockey sense and a nose for the net. Plays a chippy, borderline dirty style, but holds his own despite the lack of size. Could be a late-blooming diamond-in-the rough. Didn't key on him a lot, but could be a solid mid-to-late round sleeper for a team willing to spend time letting him develop in the NCAA and in minor pro before he's ready to make an impact.
Here's another HockeyEastOnline video from YouTube that shows highlights from last Friday's game against NU. Gill shows nice finish on a shortie from Nieto on the game's winning tally.