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Monday, April 11, 2011

Central North American Skaters final rankings: The next tier

In our last post, we looked at Central Scouting's top-10 North American skaters released today. Now, we'll look at the next tier of the first round, bringing you up to speed on most of the players from 11-30.

To see the Central final North American rankings, click on this link.

At 11, London Knights center Vladislav Namestnikov is a highly skilled and creative pivot who made the easy transition in his first North American season after coming over from Russia. Like Gabriel Landeskog, he has excellent command of the English language and speaks so well that aside from his slight accent, you would think he's just another kid from Oakville or even Milwaukee by the way he talks. He's also got the bloodlines: his father, Evgeny Namestnikov, was a defenseman played 43 NHL games with the Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders and Nashville Predators, but also spent more than 400 games in the AHL and IHL before returning to Russia. His mother's brother, is Vyacheslav Kozlov, the former Detroit Red Wings scorer and Stanley Cup champion.

Two intriguing defensemen are on the list at 12 and 13: Portland puck mover Joe Morrow, up four spots to 12 from mid-term and the huge but polarizing Jamie Oleksiak, who zipped up the rankings 14 spots from 27. Morrow has a big shot and sees the ice well with a good touch on the puck, while Oleksiak is a massive 6-7, 240-pounder with giant wingspan and good mobility and agility for such a huge kid. Some see real upside with him, but we have questions at this blog as to whether his decision-making, vision and overall feel for the game will allow him to be the Tyler Myers or Zdeno Chara-type player some are comparing him to. Oleksiak is a strong bet to play in the NHL, but if he's more of a role player, you don't want to spend a pick close to 10 on someone like that.

Two big centers with the same first name and some intriguing upside in Mark McNeill and Mark Scheifele are on the list at 14 and 16, as is winger Zack Phillips, the third Saint John player in the top-15. Phillips may not be a blazer, but as far as players with quick hands and the knack for being at the right place at the right time go in this class, there aren't many better than the former UMass recruit and Lawrence Academy standout who switched gears for major junior and a faster track to the NHL.

Brandon Saad fell down the list from 8 at mid-term to 19th. A poor finish and so-so playoffs likely contributed to the fall from grace for the power forward. We'll take a closer look at Saad and his declining stock in a later post.

Another big American who took an even more sizeable drop is Tyler Biggs (no pun intended), who went from 5th overall at mid-season to 22nd on the final list. Like Saad, we'll examine the reasons for this drop a little later on.

Biggs's NTDP teammate, J.T. Miller, dropped 10 spots from 13 to 23 likely on the lack of production. Although he has size and skills, he has yet to really put it all together and may be little more than a solid third-liner at the NHL level.

Defenseman Connor Murphy, who was an "LV" or limited viewing at mid-term because of a back injury, played his way into the top-25, and brings a lot of projectable tools and some offensive potential. The U18 tournament could make or break him as a legitimate rising star for this draft. He is just ahead of USHL rearguard Scott Mayfield, who is probably listed generously at 24, as his stock has taken a downturn based on assessments that he has not progressed much in Youngstown.

Matt Puempel is a curious selection at 28; he's up just one spot at 29, but it's hard to imagine that the 2010 CHL Rookie of the Year and a guy who scored 30+ in each of his two OHL seasons (and could have had 40 this year had he not been forced to shut it down with a hip injury when a month remained) would be drafted as low as the Central ranking indicates. Jeff Skinner redux, anyone?

Shane Prince also gets into the first round, moving up 9 spots from 35 to 26, which is good news for a skilled scoring winger. His size is the one real bugaboo, and he's been criticized for putting himself into vulnerable positions and getting lit up with big hits. He suffered shoulder and head injuries late in the season.

Swedish winger Rickard Rakell is another B2011DW favorite; a speedy, agitating forward who played very well at the WJC when Landeskog went down. He missed time due to a lower body injury, but got into the playoffs at the right moment, helping to defeat Kitchener in the opening series. He's not all that big or strong, but is capable of making big-time plays.

We will be back with more on Central's North American rankings later tonight.

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