This blog obviously places an emphasis on the higher-round picks, but we are always on the lookout for legitimate draft options in the middle and later rounds.
William Kessel, F Green Bay (USHL)- Big (6-3, 200), productive winger isn't the greatest skater, but is effective because of his ability to read the play and know where to be, plus a set of soft mitts in close. This kid does nothing to really wow you, but has the natural size and upside to be an attractive raw and long-term project but one with some considerable payoff potential if he can get faster and improve his initial burst. Very effective when going to the net and setting up screens. Will get even stronger and add more mass to his large frame, making him even more of a handful for opposing defenses. "He's big, smart, heavy on his stick and a good scorer in close- opportunistic," said Chicago Steel Director of Player Personnel and Red Line Report scout Max Giese. ""Needs to be a hair nastier and get quicker," he added.
Craig Duininck, D Windsor (OHL)- There is nothing spectacular about this defender who is from Michigan and was on the Spitfires' Memorial Cup-winning team a year ago. At 6-1, 200 pounds he's got OK size and is a strong defensive player. He's one of those kids you don't tend to notice a lot, but in a good way, as he keeps things simple and conservative. For those who feel that "safe is death" in a hockey player, Duininck won't have much appeal on the surface, but with seven goals and 22 points, he nearly doubled his points production from a year ago. While we wouldn't quite go as far to say that he has real offensive upside, we do think he's in line for another points jump in a year, and is more of a Marc Cantin-type of player who isn't going to make a lot of mistakes and prides himself on his defensive game even if the production is nothing to write home about. You win with players like that, and Duininck has also shown a willingness to get his nose dirty and take one for the team. Solid mid-round pick who could eventually contribute in the NHL as a respected role player.
Joe Cramarossa, C Mississauga (OHL)- October '92 birthdate hasn't done a great deal to get anyone excited but has shown potential in flashes on the OHL's top club and a favorite to win the Memorial Cup (they have an automatic shot as host city, but will probably walk through the front door as OHL champ). He's got some two-way skills and hockey sense, according to one of our NHL sources, who also had this to say about Cramarossa: "He's a pretty good player. Unfortunately, he's stuck on a top team, so it's tough for him to get the ice time and be noticed as an 18-year-old, but he's done some good things as a solid skater who plays an intelligent game with an edge." The 12 goals and 32 points in 59 games is more reflective in his checking role, but this is a player who could blossom more offensively when given the opportunity for more minutes and a scoring role. His willingness to defend teammates (read: fight) makes him a wildcard as an off-the-board pick who could surprise folks in terms of where he gets drafted because he's overshadowed by so many other guys in Missy. Classic stealth/sleeper pick.
Dylan Walchuk, C Vernon (BCHL)- Size is a real issue with this productive BCHL standout and Feb. 1992 birthdate, but his work ethic, hockey sense and energy are not. Creative, speedy little cuss who is always hustling, always in the face of opponents on the forecheck, forcing turnovers and even capitalizing on those mistakes with goals or setups. Nonstop motor and always keeps his feet moving, the classic little buzzsaw/waterbug who forces opponents to the box not by being dirty or agitating, but with good old fashioned hustle and skill to get guys out of position to force the hooks, grabs and trips. Like most kids below 5-8, he lacks the strength to fight through the bigger, stronger defenders along the wall and in front of the net, though he gives it an effort. The question NHL teams will have to ask themselves is whether he has the skill to compensate for his lack of stature. We hear the heart and desire is not a question at all. Scored 24 goals and 56 points in 55 games for the Vipers and had a strong playoff run as well.
Matt Morris, G Dubuque (USHL)- Small, but agile, quick goalie and New Jersey native had a very good season for the surprising Fighting Saints, an expansion team that shocked a lot of people this season. A pure athletic talent who makes a lot of saves on instinct and reflex- technique and fundamentals have room to improve. Maine recruit is good and knows it, but we hear he needs to focus more on the work ethic and preparation side of things to maximize his potential. A little too Alfred E. Neumann at times and it has cost him in terms of subpar outings after excellent showings. Consistency a bit of a question mark, and with his smaller stature, is a draft longshot. However, he has the potential to develop into a very good NCAA goalie at Orono and could eventually become a free agent prospect if he's not drafted. Posted a .921 save percentage and won 23 games with a 2.17 GAA and 4 shutouts this season. Pretty good numbers, but size is the biggest bugaboo for NHL teams when drafting goalies. If he were 6-1, Morris would be a no-brainer.
Victor Mangs, D Malmo Jr. (SWE-Jr)- Massive at 6-5, 194 and a good skater who has some intriguing offensive potential if he can tighten up some other areas of his game. Overall awareness is suspect at times, and he tends to take too many risks with his rushes and pinches. Physicality is inconsistent as well, and he doesn't use his god-given size and power to clean out guys in front of the net and along the walls. Long stick and reach, plays effectively on defense when he keeps it simple, but appears to be stuck in that limbo where he hasn't figured out what kind of player he is yet. Passing needs to get better, but has a hand-held howitzer. Accuracy needs work, but there are plenty of measurables to earn this kid a late look at the draft.Besides, we love his last name and are dying to say, "S'okay Mangs!" when he makes a mistake.
Carter Sandlak, LW Belleville (OHL)- The son of former NHL player Jim Sandlak has the blood lines going for him at least, but didn't get much accomplished this year. He began the season with Guelph and was traded to the Bulls after 22 games and just 7 points. Played better in Belleville, but is still more of a foot soldier than a legitimate power forward. Of course, his dad was considered a disappointment in the NHL after being the fourth overall selection by the Vancouver Canucks in 1985. He had just one 20 goal season (during an era in the league when 20 was more like 10-15 today) amidst a 500+ game career and his son is likely more a chip off that block than a legitimate power forward with upside. Still, he thinks the game pretty well and is willing to work and get his nose dirty. Teams won't spend an early pick on him, but this kid has value as a draft prospect in the middle rounds.
Jean Francois Leblanc, Val-d'Or (QMJHL)- Big (6-4), rangy center doesn't play the power game but is a pretty heady player. Skating is an issue as he's slow off the mark and a bit gangly, but surprisingly good defensively (on a terrible defensive club we would add) and upped his second-year production from 16 points to 51 (in 53 games). Needs work on mechanics of his skating stride, but has decent hands and an ability to create. He isn't all that much a player to get excited about, but he's got that size and long limbs/reach you can't teach and is buried on a bad team in a hockey backwater. There could be more to this kid than meets the eye.
Josiah Didier, D Cedar Rapids (USHL)- Interesting prospect who may be one of the bigger stealth fighters coming out of the USHL this season. Nice size at 6-2, 200 and is pretty mobile, with a powerful stride and better agility, which makes him effective in the two-way game. Not a big point producer, yet the Colorado native still managed eight goals and 21 points as a rookie for the RoughRiders. Puck skills are improving as his passing ability, but has a good shot that he sneaks through on the point. Red Line Report has a nice writeup on him in their April issue thanks to the work of Giese. Might be worth keeping an eye on as we get closer to the draft. Very few public sources are talking about him, but we hear he's not a secret to the NHL scouting community. Raw, rough and a long way off, but certainly has the tools you look for in an NHL prospect.