To nobody's surprise, Red Deer Rebels center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sits atop the NHL Central Scouting Service's final rankings for North American skaters for the 2010-11 season. The list was released today, and featured some interesting movement, as RNH moved up to the top spot from his mid-term position of No. 3 after a tremendous second half that saw him hit the century mark for points (31 goals, 106 points) to tie Ryan Strome for most points by a CHL draft eligible this season.
You can see the entire list here, but this post will attempt to shed some light on some key areas until we can track down some NHL sources to weigh in with their opinions.
RNH is a dynamic, game-breaking talent who belongs at the top of the list. Some have made interesting observations about his production, both predominant success with the man advantage and in terms of him requiring room to operate. In all honesty, the NHL and independent scouts we've spoken to have raved about his pure skill and ability to get it done, so the only real concern with him right now is putting some size on his very slender frame. Even with some of the doubts, RNH has still managed to put the puck in the net and set up myriad other goals, so as far as we're concerned, he deserves his spot atop the NA skaters list.
His ascendance displaces Kitchener Rangers captain Gabriel Landeskog, whose club was knocked out of the first round of the OHL playoffs in seven games by the upstart Plymouth Whalers. Landeskog is No. 2 after a 36-goal, 66-point season hampered by a high ankle sprain suffered in December, which kept him out of the World Jr. Championship in Buffalo and forced him to miss about six weeks.
Jonathan Huberdeau moved up one spot from his fourth spot at mid-term, and the Saint John Sea Dogs standout with his 105 points is primed to land inside the top-five or just outside if he drops slightly.
The first two defensemen in North America appear at 4th and 5th- Dougie Hamilton, who has been steadily tracked all year on this blog, and Nathan Beaulieu, another member of the juggernaut Saint John team that steamrolled the QMJHL this season. Hamilton is 6-4 and skates very well, though some scouts question his vision and hockey sense (yet he still managed to score 58 points this season). Beaulieu isn't as big as Hamilton, but has excellent skating and puck moving ability, some nastiness and might be a little more rounded at this stage than Hamilton is.
Sean Couturier fell down to No. 6 on the list, which is consistent with some of the buzz we've been hearing on him. However, it's hard to imagine he'll fall very far come draft day. He's simply too big, talented and promising to take a major nosedive as other highly-touted prospects have done in the past. He's not the best skater, but let's be frank: it's not a major flaw and is correctible with some work on mechanics. He has the size and power to be a legitimate power forward and top-six player for years in this league, and we don't put a lot of stock in his WJC performance because of the role he was given. Yes, he could have produced more because the opportunities were there for him, and that was noted back in January when we published our notes. But at the same time, the fact that he generated those scoring chances counts as well. He battled mononucleosis which has a debilitating effect on any athlete, so in our view Couturier is not going to have the kind of fall the rumor mongers will predict for him. If he gets out of the top-five, then whoever snags him shortly thereafter is getting some nice value.
We're surprised to see Swiss winger Sven Bartschi ahead of Ryan Strome on the list at 7 and 8, however. Strome is someone who produced from wire to wire and lost the OHL scoring championship on the very last day of the season when Tyler Toffoli and Jason Akeson had big days. Bartschi is skilled, but he's on the small side and we don't like his perimeter game. Strome can do a little bit of everything and has some real high-end hockey sense and a nonstop motor. We're highly doubtful that Bartschi will get picked ahead of Strome on June 24, though we do feel Bartschi is a solid first-round player.
Two intriguing defensemen are 9th and 10th on the list: Ryan Murphy, whom we profiled in detail here last week, and the player this blog has more posts on than anyone else, needs no major introduction if you're a long-time reader of this space. His lack of size and functional strength continue to be the only drawbacks to this player, who tore it up in the first-round loss to Plymouth and convinced several NHL scouts we've talked to, among others in the independent community, that he deserves to be closer to 5 than 10 on draft day. We believe that the Bruins have a genuine interest in Murphy among other players, so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Duncan Siemens is more the thunder to Murphy's lightning. If Murphy is the small, dynamic guy, Siemens brings the lumber with his mobility and tough edge. A very good skater lacking only minor issues (and even that is debateable), Siemens may not have Murphy's game-breaking element, but he's big, fiery and has some upside. A player who can do it all including fight, he was actually seen on camera giving Murphy fighting tips when the two played together on Team Cherry during the CHL Top Prospects Game. Siemens dropped the gloves with David Musil in that game and is one of those guys who at first doesn't seem like much, but really grows on you in time. At nearly 6-3, and 192 pounds, he has a lot of room to grow, and scouts love his zeal and passion for the game.
As you can see from the top-10, this is a pretty solid class. We'll have much more later this evening, when we break down more of the North American skaters, but we wanted to get this post up and to you for quick digestion before we take on the bulk of the list in the next post.