The blog is back with the second mega-post in the regular season roundup and recap. Instead of just sticking with the CHL, we're going to expand it to the NCAA, Europe and U.S./Canada juniors and U.S. high schools in separate posts over the next week. Why? Because we're gluttons for punishment and you guys deserve as much info. as you can absorb!
With the playoffs kicking off here in North America, it's time to look at the 2011 NHL Draft's bigger names and try to project where they could go come Minnesota in June.
Here is the post we did in August tracking the bigger draft names in the WHL coming into it. As is the case every year, certain guys expected to have successful years didn't, while others who were down the list or not tracking at all elevated themselves to a high degree. Mark McNeill, anyone?
So, without further ado- here's the WHL regular season roundup based on what our sources are telling us. There are sure to be disagreements, but at the end of the day, NHL lists vary a great deal from team to team, so the more debate the better. This is just one perspective.
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C Red Deer- Has the 'Nuge played himself into the top spot when the 2011 draft opens up on June 24? We think he has. His goal scoring was down into January even though his outstanding assist totals were piling up. As if perhaps hearing the critics, RNH threw caution to the wind and just started firing the puck and finding the back of the net with alarming regularity. Nugent-Hopkins finished the season with 31 goals and 106 points in 75 games with the Rebels, precisely the kind of production expected of him when the season began. Although some will take issue with his power play production versus even strength, this guy is an elite skater with the elite hands, passing skills and shot that should see him go in the top-2 selections at the very least. Edmonton, assuming they maintain the top pick, has seen plenty of this dynamic young skater, and although we went on Nation Radio a few weeks ago and predicted Adam Larsson to the Oil, we've reversed our position and see RNH being the guy for them if they have the top pick. We've talked to several NHL scouts who are all saying the same thing: RNH has taken it to an entirely different level since February and makes perfect sense as the first overall pick for Edmonton. He simply has too much talent and upside not to go there, especially given the kind of awareness Oilers fans have of RNH this season. The thought of him with Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson or Jordan Eberle has to create visions of sugarplum pucks dancing in Steve Tambellini's head. His average size and slender frame is no major cause for concern- at the end of the day, he's a legit game-breaker and will adapt well to the NHL.
Stock Watch: Blue-chip; like the aforementioned Jonathan Huberdeau, an extended playoff run for Nugent-Hopkins and the Rebels will put him right with Taylor Hall in terms of the player who is freshest in the minds of scouts leading into the draft. Even if the Rebels come up short and don't advance far in the WHL postseason, we suspect that RNH has done enough already to sell himself to the teams picking 1st or 2nd.
Here's a terrific video produced by Aaron Vickers and the guys at Future Considerations Hockey on RNH. It will tell you everything you need to know about him.
2. Duncan Siemens, D Saskatoon- Admittedly, we haven't been as high on Siemens at this blog space as others, but it's time to face facts, and that is this: with his size, skating ability and pure toughness plus upside, it's hard to imagine any other player in the WHL being drafted ahead of the Blades d-man once RNH is off the board.He has a powerful stride and good lateral agility. The first-step quickness is still a work in progress, but it isn't a shortcoming. He's a tall and lean 6-3, 195-pounds, but when he fills out more, he'll be even more of a physical beast than he is now. His gap control is very good, and he plays a sound positional game. The points weren't really there at the beginning, but he came on better in the second half, and he finished with five goals, 38 assists for 43 points and 121 penalty minutes as one hard-nosed, tough mother. Another thing to like about him- he's a Sep. '93 birthdate, making him one of the youngest players in the class, and given his poise and edge, that's really saying something. The offensive upside is a question that is going to go on in NHL war rooms of teams that have a top-10 selection in this draft, but if Dylan McIlrath can go 10th overall, then Siemens, a very similar kind of player in terms of style and substance, but one who has more skill, could very well do the same or better. B2011DW is late to the party, but based on what we saw in the CHL Top Prospects Game and the fact that all we've heard about Siemens all season long speaks to a level of consistency that is laudable, we think he's a solid No. 2 in the WHL behind RNH. We're not sure we would take someone like Siemens at 7 or 8, but if he were to go that high, it would not surprise.
Stock watch: Up; playoff hockey is made for a guy like Siemens, so he should elevate his standing even more. Production could be the icing on the cake that pushes him inside the top-10, but even if he doesn't go that high, we can't envision a scenario in which he drops past 15. He could end up being a solid,middle-pairing guy in the NHL, but his potential to be more plus toughness quotient means that he'll go higher than lower in our opinion.
Here's a video produced by the Saskatoon Blades on their 3rd overall pick in the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft. It's a little dated, but you can see where the hype is coming from.
3. Mark McNeill, C Prince Albert- How do you spell stud? No player in the WHL has done more to help himself for the draft this season than the big, skilled and tough Raiders pivot who finished second on his team in scoring. His 32 goals and 81 points in 70 games this season only tell part of the story. He hit a growth spurt over the last year or so, growing to about 6-2 and 210 pounds, an already physically mature and smart player who plays a complete two-way game. He can score, hit and fight, though opponents figured out pretty quickly that McNeill was not a guy they wanted to provoke, so he hasn't had a ton of work in the fisticuffs department. His real value is in hockey sense and soft hands. He's extremely strong on his skates and shields/protects the puck well when he has possession in the o-zone. He's not a big hitter, but with his size and penchant for playing with an edge, we think it's in him to be that nasty, in-your-face guy if the right team can coax it out of him. He plays with a lot of energy and hustle; not a great skater, but he does have a fluid, powerful stride. With his natural strong core, he's able to generate a lot of power and can be a load for opponents to contain.
Stock watch: Holding steady; any team picking late in the 1st round hoping to steal him in the bottom 5-10 picks has missed the boat with this guy. With his all-around size, skill and edge, he's a prime candidate to come off the board inside the top-20. The big question then becomes, where will he go? We know of several NHL teams that love him, so if there's a candidate you see someone move up to get, it could be McNeill.
This fight video from hockeyfightsplus will give you an indication of why NHL teams are salivating over him given his skill package to go with the toughness.
4. Ty Rattie, RW Portland- The Alberta scoring machine was at one time on a real tear and was in the top-three for scoring in the WHL before tailing off, but there is still a great deal to like about this creative, dynamic playmaking winger. With 28 goals and 51 assists for 79 points in 67 games this season, he more than doubled his 37-point output as a rookie and came a long way with his overall game. One NHL scout told us back in December that he was really taken aback at how much more refined Rattie's game was this season after he'd been more of a hotdog as a rookie, doing a lot of flashy, individual things that worked for him in bantam, but didn't as a rookie in the WHL. Linemate Sven Bartschi raved to B2011DW at the WJC about Rattie's playmaking skills and overal ability (more on Bartschi later) to generate offense for the stacked Winterhawks. Rattie also plays with a bit of an edge and does his share of agitating. It's a shame that he was unable to keep up his torrid scoring pace, but he certainly showed scouts why he was one of the most accomplished scorers to ever come out of Alberta bantams and bigger point production totals are in store. His defense is still improving, but he showed a willingness to hustle and backcheck, and has come a considerable distance in a short amount of time. He doesn't have a lot of size at just 6-0, and 165, but with his slippery elusiveness plus high-end puck skills, vision and tenacity the size thing is not a big detriment given what he brings to the table.
Stock watch: He's probably getting lost in the shuffle a bit with the way RNH and Siemens have come on since the Top Prospects Game, but if Portland can go far in the postseason, Rattie could remind scouts why he was a big-time point-getter at the start of the year. We really like this kid.
Open Ice has a nice profile on Rattie done at the Top Prospects Game here.
5. Sven Bartschi, LW Portland- He may be only about 5-10 and 180 pounds, but this Swiss sniper can really put the puck in the net! The Swiss rookie finished just second in team scoring behind No. 4 overall pick in last year's draft Ryan Johansen (Columbus), potting 34 goals and 85 points in 66 games for the offensive powerhouse Winterhawks. An excellent skater who can explode to top speed in just a few strides, he has a heavy, accurate shot that he loves to rip coming off the rush. Very good puck skills as Bartschi showed at the CHL Top Prospects Game. He can also put it just about anywhere. If there's a knock on him it's that he does have a tendency to play a perimeter game and stay away from the dirty areas of the ice. At this level, he can get away with it because he's so adept at ripping the puck or setting up teammates in prime scoring position. As he moves up into the pros, he'll have a harder time beating goalies from the outside, so we'd like to see him show more of a willingness to go into traffic and take the puck to the net. That said, he's a solid kid who is passionate and plays with a lot of natural exuberance. He has a big smile on his face most of the time, and his attitude reminds us a lot of his countryman and teammate Nino Niederreiter in that regard. When it comes to Swiss players who come to North America to compete in their draft year, it says a lot about their commitment and desire to be NHL players. Bartschi is a solid 1st-round option, but where he goes is anyone's guess. It will take a certain team liking him more than others to go inside the top-15, but he won't slip out of the top-30...the skill and production is simply too alluring.
Stock watch: Up; he was consistent and productive the entire season. If he can kick it up a notch in the playoffs, he'll likely be picked before linemate Rattie.
Here's a light little video produced by a Country music station in Portland, but you get a nice glimpse of who he is off the ice.
Bonus video showing Rattie and Bartschi both in a shootout.
6. David Musil, D Vancouver- We missed Musil the first time we did this, but caught ourselves. Whew! At 6-3, 195, the son of former NHL defenseman (and current Edmonton Oilers scout) Frantisek Musil and Andrea Holikova-Musil (Bobby Holik's sister) has some of the best bloodlines in this draft class. He's a good skater for a player of his size and has all the physical tools and attributes a team looks for, yet his stock has dropped this season after being considered a potential preseason top-5 for 2011. Why? According to one NHL scout, he has the talent, but just doesn't seem to play withe the kind of intensity, passion or sense of urgency you look for. "He has the look of a guy who things have come pretty easy to him most of his life and maybe they have," the scout said. "But, he makes some questionable decisions and just hasn't taken control of games like the player we saw last year and before. He's capable of more, but I just haven't seen it from him enough." Musil has a big, booming shot that hurts, but his windup is excessive and release extended, allowing players to clog shooting lanes or rush him altogether. His hockey sense is just OK- he doesn't seem to sense the openings and exploit them and one wonders how well he sees the ice or reads the play. Defensively, he's solid- he uses his mobility and size to leverage guys away from the net and keep forwards to the outside. He's also getting very good coaching there in Vancouver under Don Hay, so he's a good player overall who's a bit of a disappointment more because the big expectations weren't met than anything else. Musil is probably going to play in the NHL because he's as good a physical specimen and athlete that you can find, but if you're looking for a projectable No. 1 or No. 2, this kid may be more of a gamble than teams are willing to take with a high pick. He finished the year with 6 goals and 25 points in 62 games and missed time including the WJC (where he would have played for the Czech Republic) with injury.
Here's a report from the Vancouver Giants on him. Spitting image of his old man when Papa Frank was playing for the North Stars.
7. Mike St. Croix, C Edmonton- Like McNeill, St. Croix is to be commended for picking up his game and making a statement to scouts as the season went on. Coming into it, the season, the Winnipeg native had high offensive expectations given the flashes he showed as a rookie with the Oil Kings last year. He got off to a slow start, and compounded with some indifferent defensive play, was headed down in some NHL teams' eyes until he turned things around at mid-season and finished the year strong. A very good skater who can dangle with the best of them, he's got a lightning release and just seems to have that sixth sense around the net when it comes to scoring goals or setting them up. He tallied 27 markers and 75 points in 68 games, finishing just three points off the scoring lead to Dylan Wruck. His willingness to get his nose dirty and play more responsible in all zones is precisely why his stock is up these days. Will it be enough to get him into the first round? That remains to be seen, but even if he doesn't crack the Friday night lineup, he won't be around long on Saturday, as he has some of the best natural upside of any in this class. His average size (5-11, 165) hurts him- he needs to get a lot stronger, but that should come in time.
Here's a lengthy radio interview and video with St. Croix from Athlete's Angle. Gotta love the "playoffs playoffs?" Jim Mora soundbite in there- never gets old.
8. Joe Morrow, D Portland- Another guy who may have been flying under the radar when the season began, no longer. NHL teams are not going to steal this guy, who has the look of developing into a solid No. 2 at the NHL level one day. A fine skater who sees the ice extremely well and loves to rush the puck. Morrow is a very good passer and has a point cannon that he gets off quickly. Sometimes, he is too much in love with his shot, says one NHL scout, who wanted to see him switch things up a bit and not go for the big slapper all the time, but admitted he was nitpicking the rangy defender with size's (6-1, 200) game. Morrow's defense and positioning are not as strong as the offensive element to his game, but NHL teams will covet that guy who can move the puck effectively, knowing that is a much tougher element to find. They can always pair a player like that with a stronger defensive partner, but legitimate PMD's are at a premium these days, so don't expect Morrow to last that long beyond the 1st round if he even slips out of the top-30. He's got an edge to him as well, but doesn't have much ability as a fighter- his real value is in his skill game.
Morrow is on a radio show here in this video, so you can see him in an interview setting.
9. Colin Jacobs, C Seattle- On talent alone, this 6-2, 195-pounder from Texas probably belongs here, but some of the scouts we've talked to aren't sold on his upside at the NHL level. The old scouting kiss of death- "looks like a player but don't know if he will be one" is something we've heard several times with Jacobs. That said, he can skate well, has some stickhandling ability and definitely likes to use his big frame to bang bodies. He cut down on his penalty minutes this season by playing a more clean, disciplined style which is good news for him and the Thunderbirds. His production was a disappointment, however- 22 goals and 44 points in 68 games. More was expected of this kid, who was seen as a solid early second-rounder prior to the start of the year. Where will he end up in June? Probably in the second round somewhere, but he could drop toward the bottom 10 and be closer to 60 or might be an early third-rounder. His development time in Texas/lack of elite competition early has caused some scouts to question his awareness and ability to process quickly, but he does have a solid work ethic and could develop a better defensive positional game, whether the natural sense is there or not.
You can get a little bit of an appreciation for what Jacobs can do at the junior level with this vid from NHLDraftVideo. Goes hard to the net and outworks defenders to put it in, but what you see is pretty much what you get.
10. Myles Bell, D Regina- Admittedly, B2011DW was a fan of Bell's game early in the season, but his production really tailed off as the Pats' season went south. He's an intriguing player who can move well enough and likes to carry the puck into the offensive zone. But, Bell is not a speed burner, which can lead to his being caught up ice. He also doesn't have a lot of height, even though he is a stout 210 pounds and built more like a bowling ball at 6-feet. This very good puckhandler isn't afraid to take chances and is dangerous on the power play. He's got some fight in him, too, which is always a bonus for NHL clubs. The problem starts with his defensive play, as multiple scouts have dinged him for an indifference and even more damning, at times clueless approach that takes him out of position and leads to goals against. He's one of these guys who looks a lot like a specialist- you can have him out there in certain situations and he'll move the puck well and make a good power play QB, but whether he can take a regular NHL is in doubt. Players like that, especially because he lacks ideal size, are becoming less and less valuable as NHL clubs are looking to maximize bang for the buck. So, if Bell slips a little more than anticipated, don't be surprised. There is some upside with his offensive game, but his overall play leaves a good bit to be desired, apparently.
Here's a video of Bell doing what he does best- going end-to-end with the puck Even here, you can see the lack of speed, but he's one of those guys who compensates with his offensive sense, ability to see holes open and handle the puck to get there.
11. Kale Kessy, LW Medicine Hat- We admittedly have a bit of a mancrush on Kessy, who is drawing comparisons to Milan Lucic according to the latest issue of Red Line Report. He doesn't get much of an opportunity to play an offensive role for the Tigers given their high-octane attack, but he's quietly scored some nice goals and certainly brings that legitimate toughness power forwards need to be able to change the flow of a game with a big hit, a fight and even a goal. Kessy is a decent skater, but needs to improve his lateral movement and get a little stronger on his skates. The fact that he's 6-2, but only about 175 has a lot to do with this- as he fills out and gains upper and lower body strength, he'll be better as he drives the net and a tougher customer when the gloves come off. He's also a pretty good shooter and puckhandler; not great, but he can make things happen in close. He's under the radar in terms of not being much of a draft name, but he's in the top-10 because he's got that developmental promise that Lucic turned into a household name. Don't be surprised to see Kessy come off the board much earlier than anticipated given his Central Scouting ranking and where other services have him. Red Line was the only service to peg Lucic as a potential top-50 pick, and they're on the Kessy bandwagon, so why not have him here? We've also heard from at least two NHL scouts who really like him as well and see the same kind of upside- Kessy fought so well last year that he earned himself some space and respect this year. That's saying something.
Here's just one of many fight videos you can access on Kessy over at YouTube. He's a lot like the old Primus song "Jerry Was A Racecar Driver" in that he may not win all of them, but he never gets manhandled or destroyed. A lot of pure toughness with this guy.
12. Adam Lowry, LW Swift Current- At 6-4, the son of former NHLer Dave Lowry has very nice size for the big league, although he has a lot of growing/filling out to do. He's still quite gangly and needs to improve his stride and overall speed and lateral quickness, but Lowry has very good hockey sense and plays a physical game despite his lack of mass and weight right now. Stats were nothing to get excited about (61-17-22-39 on a weak team), but he's got some raw potential and promise, plus the NHL bloodlines that teams love. He's a longer-term project who will require faith and patience, but could be a good one once his coordination gets more in line with his big body.
13. Reece Scarlett, D Swift Current- The offense didn't come as expected for this very averaged-sized defenseman who is a very good skater and puckhandler. His six goals and 24 points in 72 games for the Broncos helped to drop him down the draft lists after some early season promise, but he could be an interesting longer-term project pick for a team that has the stones to take him in the second round. He makes a nice breakout pass and seems to have the vision and hockey sense to be a legit PMD at the next level. The size is a concern, but he's a smart player who has some raw, projectable upside. If he slips to the third or fourth rounds, it might be an ideal scenario for him, as there will be very little pressure on him to develop and perform. He's a good, solid kid who sticks up for his teammates, but had his hands full on a pretty inexperienced team. Will be interesting to see how he does moving forward.
Overagers worth a look:
Brendan Shinnimin, C Tri-City- Small, but feisty and skilled center finished sixth in WHL scoring this year with 34 goals and 96 points for the Americans. The '91 birthdate followed up a solid 82 point season in 2010. Has speed and hands, and was suspended 12 games for a vicious hit from behind on Josh Nicholls. Very good hockey sense and could be a draft option after improving on his point totals.
Andrej Kudrna, LW Red Deer- Good size and skill for this Slovak, but compete levels have been questioned over the years. His production is what could see him get drafted, as he has been a consistent point producer in the WHL with Vancouver and Red Deer, but the lack of intensity is clearly what has kept NHL teams away. Did he do enough this season to get one last look?
Marcel Noebels, RW Seattle- Knocked for skating and soft play, this German is a 1992 who was passed over last season, but has some potential given that he was arguably Germany's best player at the WJC. He took the puck to the net hard and was involved throughout the games on one of the weaker teams there. With 25 goals and 49 points in 65 games, he did pretty well in North America for the T-Birds. He's a better skater than we thought, and at 6-3, 210 brings the kind of size that gives him a shot.