Although this wasn't as good a year talent-wise as in the previous couple of NEPSIHA tournaments, there were enough NHL draft prospects competing to make the trip worthwhile.
The most visible 2011 prospect in both stature and on the Central and Red Line Report rankings was Kent School defenseman Mike McKee, a manchild at 6-5, 230 pounds, and those are legit vitals, not inflated; he is one big boy. Teammate Boo Nieves was also quite good in the competition, but he's a year away as a '94. Depending on where he plays next year, Nieves could very well land in the first round.
Another player who was pretty impressive as a solid, unspectacular defenseman with some upside was Milton's Robby O'Gara. He's lean but is about 6-2 or 6-3 and is extremely smart. He has a long, smooth skating stride and will jump up into the play on occasion. He doesn't have teammate Pat McNally's points or aggressive style, but we think O'Gara is going to be a better pro because he's much more disciplined.
Dexter School's Nick Bligh was excellent, racking up two goals and four assists in the semi-final and championship games of the Piatelli/Simmons small school tourney. The very bright, but physically slight centerman has the skills and production in his favor, but NHL scouts mark him down for the level of competition and the fact that he's lacking in strength right now. His plan to return to Dexter for his senior season will also work against him, but he's a quality kid who doesn't seem too bothered by that and is focused on the academics and getting ready for his next challenge at Dartmouth.
Belmont Hill winger Jimmy Vesey showed off the kinds of tools that will stand him in good stead as a collegian and might even get him an NHL look at the draft, but his game against Westminster in the semi-final contest was a disappointing one and didn't allow him to spread his wings. His impact and compete levels in the game wavered, but you could clearly see that he was 28-goal scorer during the season.
For more on Milton's win over Kent, you can follow this link.
Also, for the scoop on Dexter and Westminster victories in the small and large school tourneys, slide on over here.
Below are some scouting reports on two key players for Kent, McKee and Nieves, who unfortunately is not a member of the 2011 draft class.
Mike McKee, D Kent School
At 6-5, 230, tremendous size and physical maturity for a kid who won't turn 18 until August. Newmarket, Ontario native is an excellent skater for his size, with good first step and a powerful stride. Very good balance and lateral agility/edgework as well.
Has a big shot, but doesn't use it all that much, preferring to distribute the puck. Nice heavy wrist shot that he shoots low on net for deflections. Average passer; can make the basic plays and short-to-intermediate breakouts but doesn't stand out as an exceptional puck mover who can stretch defenses. Hockey sense and vision are questionable. Seems to take a while to process and misses open teammates and passing windows. Used by coach Matt Herr to set up the screen in front of the goaltender when Kent was on the power play, taking away the goaltender's sight lines. Powerful bodychecker who played with a nasty edge in both weekend tournament games. Was penalized at least twice for being a manchild who crushed kids about 100 pounds lighter with clean hits rather than playing dirty. In the championship game, crashed the Milton net, brushing goaltender Sean Dougherty. He then took on three Milton players who swarmed him, knocking all three to the ice at various times while not giving any ground. Got a 4-minute roughing penalty for his efforts, but the way he manhandled those guys sent a clear message. Whispers from NHL scouts at the tournament say that he might be best off converting back to forward (he is in his second full season on D after switching) because of the concerns about his instincts for the game and concerns with processing what goes on. One thing is for certain: after watching McKee, there is nothing more for him to do at the prep level. He needs to move on and up (Ottawa owns his OHL rights, Lincoln his USHL rights) for the sake of his development and viability as an NHL prospect going forward. He was only 113th on Central's mid-term list for North American skaters, but have to believe the size and physical tools will see him come off the board as high as the second round. If he develops an ability to fight, he could be an even more valuable commodity.
Cristoval "Boo" Nieves, RW Kent
A 2012-eligible, but excellent NHL prospect given his natural size, skating and offensive skills. At 6-3, 185 has the frame to be an attractive option in the pros when he fills out. Outstanding skater who accelerates quickly and is extremely agile and elusive. Explosive burst and separation gear; can turn defenders easily as he attacks with speed to the outside and isn't afraid to go into traffic. Excellent stickhandler; confident with the puck and wants it on his stick. Highly creative and just seems to have a knack for making plays all over the offensive zone. Scored a brilliant goal in the semi-final game when he gained the zone by himself, skated around the back of the net and then after being stuffed, found the rebound and subsequent clearing attempts by Salisbury out in the high slot, roofing a backhander that the sprawling Gabe Antoni had no chance on. After hearing the buzz on this guy for several years, you could see it all coming together for him at the right time. Could be a top-30 pick next year, even if he stays at Kent. Other forwards in recent years with the skills to be first-rounders have been picked (Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes), so as long as he produces, Nieves has a shot to do it. Has legitimate NHL upside. Was Kent's best player and if he returns to Kent, could really tear it up next season. OHL rights owned by Niagara IceDogs, but committed to University of Michigan in 2012.