Just in time for the long weekend in the U.S., Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and the Memorial Cup semifinal match between Mississauga and Kootenay (with Saint John facing the winner on Sunday) Bruins 2011 Draft Watch is here to bring you the fourth installment of our top-50 (plus honorable mentions) for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
30. John Gibson, G U.S. NTDP (USHL) 6-3, 200 07/14/1993
On pure talent alone, Gibson is more of a top-20 pick than anything else. But here at B2011DW, we'd be remiss if we didn't at least take the latest NHL drafting trends into consideration, and that means that Gibson could be the victim of a pervasive thought we've been hearing over and over with NHL scouts this season: that taking a goaltender high in the draft is not a good use of assets considering all of the successful goalies this season who were not first- or second-round picks. Only one of the four netminders in the NHL semifinal series (Roberto Luongo- 4th overall in 1997) was a top-60 pick (Tim Thomas- 217th overall in 1994, Dwayne Roloson, Antti Niemi- undrafted free agents). That said, Gibson is by far the best of the 2011 crop in our view and deserves to be picked in the first round if a team values him there enough. He's got the size, quickness and athleticism that is a requisite for being a high draft pick these days, and even better, Gibson plays with a calm and poise that is a sight to behold. No moment seems too overwhelming to him. He won back-to-back overtime games in the U-18 against Canada (after an epic collapse in the third) and against Sweden (after his team came back from being two goals down in the third) to clinch the gold medal. As the tournament's best goalie, Gibson lived up to every inch of the buzz preceding him. The Pittsburgh native de-committed from Ohio State in favor of Michigan, so those Wolverines-Buckeyes games ought to be real interesting. When on top of his game, like he was all throughout the Worlds, he looms large in net and swallows up rebounds. He could have a sign put up in his crease that says "Abandon all hope ye who enter here" because he's that intimidating.
29. Vladislav Namestnikov, C London (OHL)5-11, 170 11/22/1992
Skill and NHL bloodlines flow strong through this prospect. His father, Evgeny, was a journeyman defender in the NHL, AHL, and IHL- the son was raised for a big chunk of his early life in North American while dad was playing. His uncle, Slava Kozlov, won multiple Stanley Cups with Detroit and was one of the most skilled players in the NHL at his peak. Namestnikov is a serious skater with all the tools in the box when it comes to his feet- quick burst, top speed, shiftiness and agility. When carrying the puck at full gallop, he's very difficult to contain. His biggest challenge is getting stronger and filling out a slight frame. He got knocked around a bit this year, but made a quick transition to the North American game given his command of the language and ease with having played in North American rinks growing up. With his hands and offensive hockey sense, this guy has some real pro potential, but like many young scoring forwards he needs to work on the defensive aspects of his game. There could be a real nice payoff down the road with this player.
"He's a great teammate and works real hard," Boston Bruins prospect and London forward Jared Knight told B2011DW recently. "In practice it's fun to watch him handle the puck because he's got some sick mitts. He plays hard and isn't afraid to drive the net."
28. Jonas Brodin, D Farjestad (SEL) 6-1, 175 07/12/1993
At 28, it would appear that this extremely bright Swedish defender's stock is down. It's isn't, but he's more a victim of his solid all-around game but lack of production than anything else. It's all about projection with this potential stud, but after watching what was a promising and underrated performance at the World Under-18s last month, we're not seeing the dynamic upside with him that we see from others. His hockey sense is tremendous- by far the best aspect of Brodin's game. He can diagram a play instantly and move the puck with authority. The numbers aren't there because he was playing against men this year as a 17-year-old but should come. Oh, and did we mention that he helped lead the team to the SEL championship? He's highly mobile and agile with excellent footwork. He doesn't stand out as much as teammate and fellow draft prospect Oscar Klefbom, but he processes his reads and decisions at a higher level. Brodin is a solid player whom we feel is going to be good, but not great. When looking at projectable upside, we have Klefbom higher, but Brodin is the safer player less likely to hit a bust factor. If ever there was a pick your flavor situation with two players- this is it.
27. Scott Mayfield, D Youngstown (USHL) 6-4, 200 10/14/1992
On talent and upside alone, Mayfield should be higher on the list, but it's been a tough season for the St. Louis native. To say he's been in a tough spot for development for the past couple of seasons is about as far as we're willing to go. The long and short of this late '92 is that he's a highly impressive player as far as pure projection goes, but the feeling by many in the NHL scouting community is that he simply has not progressed the way he should have based on the way he looked a year ago in August at the Eight Nations tourney and even this past August when he participated in the NHL's Research and Development Camp in Toronto. He's a very good skater with the fluid stride and lateral agility team's love to see in a big man. He can move the puck effectively and has a nice shot that he generates some real power on. It will become even more dangerous as he adds strength and mass to his long, lanky frame. Right now, Mayfield is extremely raw and prone to poor decisions because his team has struggled so much. One NHL scout said that he sees so much ice time that it's easy to lay his flaws bare, and because he has very little help around him, some are concerned about the effect on his psyche.
Another big league scout who saw him for the R & D camp and then again in March had this to say: "It was shocking how bad he was. I saw no progression from when I saw him before and the decision-making was particularly troublesome."
The good news for Mayfield is that he's going an excellent hockey program in Denver under DU coach George Gwozdecky. If anyone can get him ready for the NHL the Pioneers can.
26. Alex Khokhlachev, C Windsor (OHL) 5-10, 175 05/09/1993
Supremely talented, and could go significantly higher than where we have him because of his elite skill and explosiveness. B2011DW has some concerns about the other areas of his game, specifically, intensity, consistency and overall effort levels in the areas of the rink where his skill set doesn't translate as well (along the boards and in front of the net). He's not very big, but has very good acceleration, separation gear and even the shifty elusiveness that so many European players possess. When at his best, he's flying around the ice, turning defenders inside out and wiring pucks to the back of the net from just about any spot in the offensive zone. One NHL scout we know absolutely loved Khokhlachev at the beginning of the year given how seamless his transition was to the OHL, but as the season wore on and he saw him more and more, the red flags started to surface about his overall intensity and willingness to compete when the going gets rough. Solid two-way player...when he wants to be. If he tightens it up in all zones and on most of his shifts, he's easily a top-10 talent in this class.
25. Tyler Biggs, RW U.S. NTDP (USHL) 6-2, 210 04/30/1993
Victimized by unrealistic expectations, Biggs could end up proving a lot of the critics wrong. We don't buy into the belief that he killed his stock at the World Under-18 tourney- we just don't feel that it was as high with the NHL teams out there as Central scouting led everyone to believe when they ranked him fifth overall among North American skaters on their midterm list. He lives up to his last name- a powerful skater and battering ram who plays the game like a legitimate power forward. When Biggs is on top of his game, he bulls his way to the net, spins and cycles effortlessly while protecting the puck from defenders powerless to separate him from it, and unleashes a rocket shot that is heavy and hurts. Unfortunately, scouts are unsure of his hockey sense and ability to create for himself. That's one of those aspects of hockey that is extremely tough to project and Biggs could very well end up being a legitimate top-six forward someday- he can skate, hit and fight. But there are enough concerns about his upside that keep him from being a top-20 guy in our view. However, he is extremely close- the margin between his not making the cut is razor-thin as any one of the players ahead of him at 21-24 could all make the case to be inside the top-20. He's a good player, but how good is the big question on draft day.
24. Zack Phillips, C Saint John (QMJHL) 6-1, 190 10/28/1992
This scoring stud lost some effectiveness down the stretch with a shoulder injury he suffered in the President's Cup final series against Gatineau. As such he hasn't been able to shine as brightly in the Memorial Cup as he did during the regular season when he and linemates Jonathan Huberdeau and Michael Kirkpatrick destroyed opposing defenses and netminders. The biggest knock on Phillips is his lack of speed and explosiveness, but the NHL is full of guys who don't have the most dynamic skating ability. Where he compensates is with his hands and elite hockey sense- Phillips may be the most opportunistic scorer of any prospect in this entire class. He drives the net honestly and often times finds results. One of the questions scouts have is whether Phillips can do it on a team without the pure talent and depth he has surrounding him in St. John. We think he'll do it no matter who he's with, whether at the center position or on the wing at the next level. He was the ninth-ranked player in THN's draft issue and while we feel that is a bit high, we could see how an NHL team in need for some legit scoring chops might have him as a solid top-15 pick this year.
23. Matt Puempel, LW Peterborough (OHL) 6-0, 170 01/30/1993
One player we generally wanted to have higher, but simply couldn't do so based on lack of viewing opportunities. B2011DW fully recognizes that the Petes standout who scored back-to-back 30-goal seasons with his club who could have had 40+ goals this year if not for a bone chip in his hip that shelved him for surgery with about a month to go is a high-end scoring talent. The 2010 CHL Rookie of the Year has unreal hands and offensive hockey sense. He can snipe pucks from anywhere in the offensive zone and does the unexplainable- able to fire the puck from seemingly impossible angles and situations. He ripped a bullet from the right side less than a minute into the gold medal game of the Ivan Hlinka in what ended up being a 1-0 win for Canada (who has owned that non-IIHF tourney since its inception btw). Where Puempel loses his shine is in the fact that he is of extremely average size, strength, skating ability and compete level. He's not poor in any of those areas, but NHL scouts look at him and keep thinking how much more dangerous and effective he could be if he just tried a little harder, had an extra step and adds the extra mass that's expected before he hits his physical peak. We don't think the hip injury will hurt him much at the draft- we're told it isn't a chronic condition and whichever team drafts him will do so based on everything they've seen from him over two seasons, not what he might have accomplished in the last month for a non-playoff team.
22. Jonathan "J.T." Miller, C/RW U.S. NTDP (USHL) 6-1, 198 03/14/1993
We're not as bullish on Miller as others are, but we agonized over whether to include the immensely talented Ohio native who played his minor hockey for the Pittsburgh Hornets organization after his explosion at the Under-18s in April. All year, we watched Miller and recognized his excellent size, skating, hands and sense, but wondered why he was having so much trouble translating his myriad natural gifts into production. Miller showed what he's capable of when he led Team USA in scoring en route to an unprecedented third consecutive gold medal at that tourney by the Americans. When on top of his game, he can back defenses up with his ability to handle the puck at top speed. He uses his big frame to shield the puck well and can hit open teammates with pinpoint passes. He and Rocco Grimaldi teamed up with Reid Boucher for a memorable goal against Canada- Grimaldi blew Travis Ewanyk off the puck with a big hit behind the net. As it skittered to Miller, he already knew where Boucher was just inside the left circle and zipped a crisp pass right into Boucher's wheelhouse. In a split second, it was by Malcolm Subban. Those are the kinds of plays Miller didn't make with enough regularity this season, but we wouldn't at all be surprised if an NHL club jumped on him in the top-15. The skills are there, we're just not sure about the rest of the package to be able to score consistently at the highest level.
21. Joel Armia, RW Assat Pori (FIN) 6-3, 198 05/31/1993
Another toolsy prospect that B2011DW will no doubt be second-guessed on, we've seen him live and we've seen him on video and sorry to all the Finnish hockey fans out there, but we just can't get on board with this guy in the top-20. We suspect an NHL club will jump on him in the top-15 because of his intriguing mix of size and scoring upside. That said, he's risky because to us, he looks a lot like a more skilled Mikko Lehtonen, who scored goals, but also went through the motions for two seasons as a member of the Providence Bruins before tearing it up in the Swedish Elite League this past year. The Bruins traded Lehtonen's rights to the Minnesota Wild, but like Lehtonen, Armia is an alternately a dazzling and frustrating player to watch. Whenever the puck is near him in the offensive zone, he's a threat to put it in the back of the net. He uses his large frame to fight off checkers and has a quick stick with laser-like release. However, when you watch the rest of his body of work, you keep wondering: "Where's the beef?" He doesn't backcheck much and just looks lazy skating up and down the wing at times. There's no denying the killer instincts offensively, but he's not nearly as talented as he and his fans think he is that he can get away with his lackadaisical approach to play in the neutral zone or his own end. Armia has the potential to blow this scouting report out of the water, but we gave him the benefit of the doubt several times. In the end, his uneven compete level and a lack of seeing him ever really take charge in any game we watched him play has him just outside the top-20.