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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Central North American final rankings: Goalies and sleepers

We're not going to spend a great deal of time on the goaltenders in this post, because this blog has covered the key netminders in detail just last month.

The Gibsons- John and Christopher- top the list, with the American who compares to Jack Campbell getting the edge. He's big, quick and has the composure under fire that NHL teams love. His fundamentals are sound, and he's put up impressive numbers in the USHL this season and in international tournaments. The Under18 tournament is going to be a major factor in where he goes- whether he can slip into the first round, or is a solid early second-round pick in our view.

"(John) Gibson's the most talented goalie in this class," one NHL scout told B2011DW recently. "But I think he'll take a hit in terms of where he goes because of the struggles (Jack) Campbell had making the jump to the OHL. There are a lot of top goalies in the NHL who weren't first- or second-round picks, and I think you're going to see a trend where clubs spend the early picks on skill position players and find some project guys later on."

We've talked before about how teams are figuring out that they don't need to spend high draft picks on goalies given the risk these players pose as teens and how they develop later.

Christopher Gibson also put up excellent numbers with a pretty average to below average team in Chicoutimi, but Red Line Report had him in the April "overrated" section and picked apart his game, namely his lack of smooth, economical lateral movement and a weak glove hand. It will be interesting to see if NHL teams share this view and the Finnish native drops a bit lower than expected.

The Owen Sound (OHL) Attack's Jordan Binnington rounds out the top-three for North American goalies. He's been fairly mediocre in the OHL playoffs thus far, posting a 2-2 record, 3.91 GAA and .864 save percentage. Scott Stajcer is back in action from injury and playing well for the Attack who lead their second-round series over Plymouth, 3-0.

J. Gibson's backup at the NTDP, Matt McNeely is No. 4 on Central's list and this makes sense. Even though he doesn't see a ton of playing time, he's big, athletic and has a lot of raw potential in time. The University of Minnesota-Duluth recruit isn't as refined a product as Gibson is at this stage, but brings similar attributes to the table. Not quite the technician, he nevertheless should develop into a pretty nice prospect in the next several years.

B2011DW favorite Steve Michalek rounds out the top-five. He confirmed to us Monday that he has been invited to the NHL's draft combine and is looking forward to the challenge of proving to NHL teams that he's an excellent athlete and goaltender at the testing portion. He saw more rubber than just about anyone last season, averaging nearly 50 shots on goal per contest, and still managed to stop nearly 92 percent of them. He's tall, has quick pads and takes up a lot of the net. He played very well for Team USA in August, leading them to a silver medal at the Ivan Hlinka. Some criticize his tendency to overcommit on shots and leave the backdoor open, but he has some serious mental toughness and is a highly competitive and intelligent kid. He'll be at Harvard next season.

Liam Liston (9) Matej Matovsky (11) and David Honzik (13) took big dives down the Central rankings- Matovsky from 3, Liston from 4 and Honzik from 5 at mid-season- and we're not sure why. Honzik has been terrific in the QMJHL playoffs and had a solid season after struggling a bit early with the transition, while Matovsky is seen as a pretty underrated goalie with all the physical tools. He reversed his fortunes after getting traded to Brampton and finished strong.

Edmonton goalie Laurent Brossoit moved up six spots from 13 at halfway point and is another big, athletic netminder with upside. Though we'll admit we're not sure how he leapfrogged the aforementioned Liston, Matovsky and Honzik. And based on what we've been told from NHL scouts out west, they're not sure about Central's reasoning either.

One curious omission from the final list: Robert Steeves of the QMJHL who didn't see a lot of action, but probably should be on there based on his raw upside and potential, even though he didn't see a lot of action playing for the Bathurst Titan this year.

Sleepers

We'll come back with a few more later once we've covered Europe and had some time to digest the list in more detail, but here are a few sleepers we think Central has pretty low who might get a call in June.

Jim Vesey, LW Belmont Hill (High-MA)- We've done some research, and Vesey's numbers are more like: 28 goals, 49 points in 32 games and not the 23, 35 points Central has for him. The problem is that the team made a decision not to turn in scoresheets after games so that guys weren't focused on their stats, but the downside is that the team's most productive player is getting shorted and given the view on competition level, that hurts Vesey a bit. He has nice size, hands and excellent hockey sense. His dad, Jim Sr., is from Charlestown, Mass. and was a legend at Merrimack College in the mid-80's when he racked up goals and points in bunches. His son is a better skater than he was, and the senior Vesey tallied 126 goals in three seasons with the IHL's Peoria Rivermen when he was a Blues farmhand in the late 80's. Jimmy is proving that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and has some real potential for an NHL team that can look past the competition level and envision him as a long-term prospect worth investing a pick on. We think 150 is too low for this player, but also recognize that Vesey is not a sure bet to be drafted.

Troy Vance, D Victoriaville (QMJHL)- Gigantic 6-6 defenseman joined les Tigres at mid-season and was a revelation as a hard-nosed shutdown defender with some decent mobility and better skills than his statistics might indicate. The New York native who grew up in Pennsylvania needs to improve his footwork and get a little stronger on his skates, but he has some potential as a sleeper and poor man's Jamie Oleksiak at least. His size can't be taught, and while extremely raw, has the kind of projectable tools NHL clubs are willing to take a chance on.

Dylan Willick, LW Kamloops (WHL)- After getting snubbed on Central's mid-term rankings, Willick makes his debut at 164. We talked about him recently as a guy you should know, and after doing more looking into him, feel he is a promising mid-round draft option because he is more than the sum of his parts. He may not be all that big at 5-10, but he's a solid 191-pounds can really skate, has a nonstop motor and is an intelligent player. We like the way he closed out the season and is a character player- we have yet to find anyone who will say a bad word about his attitude or compete level. When we look at Willick, we keep thinking of the old scouting adage that says those who want to be a player badly enough, usually get there.

Joakim Ryan, D Dubuque (USHL)- New Jersey-born and raised defender has some raw potential and excellent bloodlines as son of Swedish tennish pro Catherine Lindqvist. He's small at 5-10, but skates very well and moves the puck effectively. He tallied 3 goals and 32 points in 53 points with the Fighting Saints as a rookie. He needs to get stronger and work on adding velocity to his shot, but he's a smart, hard-working player. He was snubbed by Team USA, so accepted an invite from Team Sweden to play for them in the Ivan Hlinka in August.

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