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Sunday, March 27, 2011

U.S. High School prospects 2010-11 season review

Welcome to the final installment of our comprehensive look at 2011 NHL Draft options from the various feeder leagues in hockey across North America and Europe.

This closes out the regular season series, and we'll be back with some shorter posts and content in the coming weeks. While fun, putting these reports together is extremely time-consuming and requires a lot of cross-coordination with our various sources.

Thanks for reading!

1. Mario Lucia, LW Wayzata H.S. (Minnesota)- The son of University of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia is arguably the top high school player for the 2011 draft, and as a junior, expected to play in the USHL next year before moving on to the NCAA ranks. He's 6-2 and about 185 and has excellent hockey sense and a real good shot. He was highly productive and looks like he could be a very good player eventually.

"I like Mario," said Max Giese, Red Line Report scout in the Midwest. "He looks like a second-round projection; I've seen nights when he's been dominant and nights when there doesn't appear to be a lot there. He lacks the physical strength and power in his stride, so he's going to take a long time for any team that drafts him." Lucia has the highest upside of any of the high school/prep players in class in our view based on what we're hearing, but if he does crack the 1st round, it would be like Brock Nelson last year- in the final pick or so. As a 31-60 selection, he's a nice option albeit one who will take the long road as Giese mentioned. He scored 30 goals and 54 points in 27 games for Wayzata.

2. Mike McKee, D Kent School (Connecticut)- We've covered McKee in great detail this month after watching him compete in the New England prep championship tournament for runner-up Kent. The Newmarket, Ontario native is a remarkable physical specimen (6-5, 230), who is literally a manchild and was able to ragdoll opponents in the prep ranks like one whenever he decided to do so. He's also an excellent skater who was able to jump up into the play and was quite noticeable at that level. The concerns with him stem from the hockey sense and whether he can process/make decisions quickly enough to play defense at the highest level. He is a converted forward, so scouts have to take that into account, but we don't know that we've seen more of a disparity in opinions with any player as we've discovered when talking to NHL sources about McKee.

3. Philippe Hudon, RW Choate Rosemary Hall (Connecticut)- Power forward and Cornell-bound prospect is from Quebec and is a bright, intelligent kid. Scored 10 goals and 20 points in 22 games for the Wild Boars- It was a disappointing year for Hudon, who didn't have the kind of dominant prep season expected of him in his third year at that level, and this will hurt him a bit when draft day comes. At 6-2, 185, he's got raw size and the frame to get much stronger. He's a good skater with nice initial burst and a top gear, but his agility and footwork could be improved as he continues to develop. Hudon handles the puck well and seems to have the size and skills to be a scorer, but simply hasn't developed the production in his game, finishing with 20, 19 and 20 points in each of his prep seasons. Has the size and skating to be an NHL player, but if you're looking for him to score for you, that is probably not likely to happen. Hard working, solid kid (even though he got into academic hot water as a junior) who is mature and wants to be a player. If he's more of a late-bloomer, could surprise at the next level, but scouts feel he should have done a lot more in prep.

4. Joseph LaBate, C Holy Angels Academy (Minnesota)- At 6-4, 180 pounds this Mr. Hockey finalist is a total stringbean, but has some of the nicest projectable physical upside of any of his peers. He's got a nose for the net and does some great work in close when the puck is on his stick. Pretty good skater, but needs to improve his initial burst and overall east-west mobility. Scouts think a lot of that will come when he adds strength and mass to his legs to generate more force behind his stride. He's going straight to the Wisconsin Badgers next season, and some scouts wonder if he's physically ready for that kind of challenge, but we'll find out.

"He's very talented and his nice offensive ability," Giese said of LaBate. "He's lanky and reminds me a lot of Nick Bjugstad in terms of his style and the fact that he needs to physically mature." On the downside, LaBate doesn't always play with the kind of hustle and intensity folks want to see from him. "He picks his spots, but when he's on his game, he's dangerous," said Giese.

5. Eddie Wittchow, D Burnsville H.S. (Minnesota)- B2011DW got a very nice tip on Wittchow back in early February and we made him one of our "sleeper alert" prospects- you can read the original post here. Suffice to say that the cat is out of the bag on this 6-3, 185-pounder, as NHL scouts flocked to see the Burnsville-Edina matchup in the Minnesota tourney recently. Unfortunately for Wittchow, we're told it was his worst game of the season. "The game was a good reminder that the kid is raw and is a project," Giese said of Wittchow's struggles against Edina. "Let's be patient with him."

He's an outstanding skater for a guy of his size and shows off some pretty good hockey sense and puck skills even if he is a late-bloomer and pretty raw product. Also in his favor, he's a mean and aggressive hitter; what's not to love about that, especially when he fills out to the 215-220 pounds he'll likely hit at his physical peak? We're not even sure where he will end up in the NCAA yet, he was that much of a recent find by scouts. In any case, we know that NHL clubs are hot on his trail and even though he had a rough game in the spotlight, Wittchow showed enough pure promise that he's going to be a pick in the draft. The only questions we need answered are- where and when will he go?

6. Petr Placek, RW Hotchkiss School (Connecticut)- Another disappointment in New England prep hockey this season along the lines of Hudon. The big and talented Czech winger battled two major obstacles this season" injuries and playing on a really poor team that didn't give him a lot of help. He missed time to a knee injury early and took a while to round into form. Even when he did, the aforementioned lack of depth forced Placek to try and do too much himself. He reminds us of Bobby Holik in terms of his skating in that he doesn't have a great first couple of steps, but once he gets going is very difficult to knock off stride. He's got a big shot but needs to work on accuracy and on taking the puck to the net more consistently. Like Kevin Hayes last year, when open lanes are there for him to drive through, he tends to spin off and try to work it from the outside. Not many perimeter players can finish from that far out, and Placek is no exception. With his size (6-4, 200) and strength, he should be doing a hell of a lot more in close than he does.

7. Colin Sullivan, D Avon Old Farms (Connecticut)- When we saw Sullivan help the Winged Beavers to the 2010 prep title a year ago, we saw a solid, decent player who was responsible in his own end but didn't do a great deal to stand out. What a difference a year makes! His skating noticeably improved, and it was impressive a year ago. He explodes out of a standstill or glide with a powerful stride and the ability to generate top speed very quickly. He's also tremendous on his edges, making very tight turns and able to shake would-be checkers with ease. In fact, we talked to one NHL scout who was staying at the same hotel when we were at the World Jr. Championship about Sullivan and all he wanted to talk about was the Yale recruit's wheels. On the downside, Sullivan was not all that productive this season and some scouts question his vision and hockey instincts to read the play and jump into the natural offensive flow. He's a solid defensive player otherwise, however. We talked to Sullivan's coach, John Gardner, who knows a thing or two about producing NHL players, having coached Brian Leetch and Jonathan Quick to name just two, and he said the most impressive thing about Sullivan's progress from last season to this was that he increased his skating speed and also got a lot stronger. Sullivan is a gym rat who works harder than anyone on the team at his off-ice conditioning. He's a solid 6-2, 205 right now and will still add some more mass to his frame. The big question Sullivan will have to answer is where he will play next season. He won't report to Yale until 2012, and can go back to AOF for a third season or may go out to the USHL- he's reportedly drawn a lot of interest from teams in that league.

8. Max Everson, D Edina H.S. (Minnesota)- He may not have slightly below average size at 6-0 and about 185 pounds, but Everson is a smart, instinctive, two-way defenseman. Nifty skater who isn't quite as explosive or dynamic as Sullivan but can bring the speed and carry the puck out on his own.

"He had a very good state tournament," Giese said. "He's very smart and poised; he moves the puck well and is one of those steady guys who makes the right decisions." He logged a lot of minutes and was a leader for Edina this season, a perennial contender in Minnesota H.S. competition. Interestingly enough, Everson is taking his game to Harvard next season instead of following the more traditional path of big ticket hockey schools in Minnesota, North Dakota or Wisconsin like many of his peers. Not a ton of upside with this kid, but is just one of those guys who has so many nice intangibles that he could eventually force an NHL team to give him a spot.

9. Robby O'Gara, D Milton Academy (Massachusetts)- We really liked this smooth, mobile defensive-minded rearguard with some offensive upside when we watched him help lead his team to the 2011 prep title in Salem, NH. The native of Long Island didn't have a great deal of points for the Milton Academy Mustangs, but he did assist on the championship-winning goal scored by Sean Okita earlier this month. O'Gara isn't a dynamic skater, but he has a long, fluid stride and has very good footwork with superb four-way mobility. He's sharp and disciplined; you won't see him gambling with the puck or making too many bad decisions. O'Gara plays a responsible, physical game in his own end, using his 6-3, 190-pound body to separate opponents from the puck. He's quietly intense, fighting for loose pucks and using his long reach to gain an advantage. One more Yale recruit (and we'll cover yet another Yalie just a few spots lower) to add to the mix of a neat corps of mobile guys with size that Keith Allain is assembling in New Haven.

10. Steven Fogarty, C Edina H.S. (Minnesota)- Underrated and skilled centerman with size makes his B2011DW debut on this post and has some real interesting long-term potential. The proverbial rink rat who eats, sleeps, breathes hockey- Fogarty finished his HS career at Edina and then jumped to the Chicago Steel of the USHL, where he's been drinking from the fire hose of late. You have to credit the kid for risking his draft stock a little, which was pretty high given how well he played as a senior, by going to the USHL where his lack of strength and defensive awareness is being exposed a bit on a weak team and against older, stronger players. Still, there is a lot to like about this playmaking pivot who has a long stride and gets up the ice quickly. He has soft hands and superb vision for finding teammates in open ice. His work ethic is laudable- he wants to play and loves to compete; goes above and beyond to make himself better and put himself into situations that will put him in position to improve. He's raw and needs significant work, but will spend the entire 2011-12 season in the USHL. At 6-1, 195, he's got the physical tools to be a solid NHL prospect and watch for him to go relatively high (3rd-4th rounds) in the draft.

11. Jimmy Vesey, LW Belmont Hill Academy (Massachusetts)- The son of former NHL forward Jim Vesey is an impressive scoring winger coming out of New England this season. Although he told B2011DW that his team didn't keep stats this season per the suggestion of the captain and voted on by the team, Vesey scored about 28 goals for Belmont Hill, who advanced to the large school semi-final before falling to eventual champion Westminster School. He's a pretty good skater who could stand to pick up a first step or two, but has good straight-line speed and is a shifty, elusive guy when he has the puck on his stick. He has excellent hockey sense and is one of those guys who always seems to be around the puck when you watch him. He has good hands, but admittedly in the semi-final game, seemed to let the pressure get to him, as he was unable to finish several chances in close. He had a much stronger offensive performance in the Beantown Classic exhibition tournament a couple of weeks later, making a lot happen on a line with fellow prep schooler Nick Bligh. Some scouts have said Vesey is soft, but we didn't see any of that. If anything, he is willing to initiate contact and make some hits, but at 6-2, 185 is still growing into his body and improving his strength. Vesey is a hard worker and he gets a lot of that from his dad who came from very humble roots to make himself into an NHL player after a stellar collegiate career at Merrimack College in the mid-80s. It looks like Vesey will not be back in prep next season, and his situation is up in the air in terms of where he'll end up as numerous USHL teams are interested. He will be at Harvard in the fall of 2012. This kid is a legitimate sleeper in the draft- we've heard him described as a poor man's Charlie Coyle and we have no issue with that assessment.

12. Matt Killian, D Delbarton School (New Jersey)- Good skater and bright kid who plays for the New Jersey powerhouse Delbarton Green Wave, who recently won yet another state title. He's a pretty steady, unspectacular kind of defender who moves well and is a fluid skater, but doesn't really rush the puck a ton or demonstrate a kind of dangerous offensive element to his game that will translate at the next level. Admittedly, the game we saw Killian last play in February was a brutal, one-sided affair. And, you can clearly see that the kid has the size, wheels and poise to play the game well. It's just exceedingly difficult to get a read on his upside given the level of competition he faced on most nights. Killian is going to Yale, and the idea of him one day forming a potential three-of-six Bulldog defenders on the backline is intriguing indeed as all three can skate well and bring good size to the mix. Killian is safe and steady, but is another long-term project player who is going to require much time and patience to develop properly.

13. Kyle Rau, C Eden Prairie H.S. (Minnesota)- Winner of the 2011 Mr. Hockey award as top Minnesota high school senior, Rau scored 41 goals and 81 points, even scoring the 2A state championship-winning goal in OT for Eden Prairie. This kid is a real winner, but at 5-8, doesn't project as a high-end NHL draft prospect. He's headed to the University of Minnesota and will have to work his backside off to put himself into the big league mix. More of a shifty skater than a blazer, he's an outstanding stickhandler with terrific offensive hockey sense as is as productive as they come. He finished out the season in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampeders. Could be another Cam Atkinson- undersized high school ace scorer who went in the 6th-round to Columbus in '08 after gazillions of points at AOF, and just signed after back-to-back 30-goal seasons at Boston College.

14. Tony Cameranesi, C Wayzata H.S. (Minnesota)- The 5-9, 160-pounder is on this list for one reason and one only: his skating. He is perhaps the best skater in the entire draft with tremendous acceleration, speed and agility. He plays with a high energy level and never stops moving his feet. The explosive little waterbug is going to the University of Minnesota-Duluth and is a draft wildcard for sure, but is someone to watch as he matures and develops. If he can prove he has the sense to go with his wheels, he could get a shot in the big show eventually.

15. Steve Michalek, G Loomis-Chaffee- Admittedly, a B2011DW fave because he makes a living out of standing on his head, this Harvard-bound goalie was tremendous at the Ivan Hlinka. We love his size and competitiveness and athleticism. His technique will need refining as he has a tendency to overcommit to the shooter and get himself out of position for the trailer and backdoor play, but we like him a lot as a draft darkhorse because he was under siege all season, yet kept his team competitive and demonstrated remarkable mental toughness to stay composed. A real battler and competitor with a ton of raw potential.


  1. Wow, sounds like it's really high skating standard among the HS eligibles this year, almost every guy you mentioned appears to be a good or even excellent skater. Interesting! Is this due to a fact that perhaps high school players practice skating overall more than in other leagues? Just guessing, because it definitely sounds like it is a tremendously high skating ability standard among the HS draft eligibles.

  2. I think it's a reflection of a recent trend toward improving hockey skills in North America after seeing so many European players come over to compete in the NHL and other professional leagues as plus-skaters. We recognized that some of our developmental programs were lacking and a greater emphasis has been placed on skating in the intervening years.

  3. Ah, I see. Well, it sure looks like it has given results. Interesting phenomenon, no doubt!

    The game is improvig when players from different hockey continents could take advantage and learn from each other. For example, Swedish hockey is getting more and more influenced by the North American more kind of "crash the net", physical type of game. Swedish players are also nowadays more specialized on their strengths in young ages, to become skilled offensive players or more defensive, checking line guys, and in that way find your role in the team.

    Ten years ago, Swedish players would in young ages be trained to be good on everything and mostly working on reducing your deficiencies instead of improving your strongest assets and be specialized on one aspect of the game. Today though, you could clearly see a difference in the developing of young players here in Sweden, and that is in my opinion perhaps one of the biggest reasons to why Swedish talents are better that ever before.