*(Not affiliated with the Boston Bruins or the New England Hockey Journal)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

OHL Playoffs roundup: Mississauga vs. Owen Sound

In this post, we're going to look at the two remaining teams in the OHL facing off against one another in their league championship series, and the key 2011 draft eligibles represented on the rosters.

In the OHL, by virtue of Mississauga being the 2011 Master Card Memorial Cup host city and making it to the championship round, two of the classic junior tournament's participants are already assured. The St. Michaels Majors are taking on the Owen Sound Attack, who blitzed two-time defending champ the Windsor Spitfires in five games, including a 10-4 shellacking in the final contest. Speaking of blitzing, the Major have lost just one game- the second in their last series against the Niagara Ice Dogs, going a near-perfect 12-1 in what might be Dave Cameron's last hurrah before taking an NHL coaching job in the summer.

Out west the Kootenay Ice dispatched the Medicine Hat Tigers in four and await either the Portland Winterhawks or Spokane Chiefs, who are deadlocked at two games apiece (and play each other tonight). We'll save them for another time, once the Dub's final series lineups are set.

In Quebec the Saint John Juggernauts, er- the Sea Dogs- await the winner of the series between the Gatineau Olympiques and Quebec Remparts, but with the way the Maritimers have carved up the competition all year, it seems a given that last year's President's Cup runner-ups will be this year's Quebec representatives at the Memorial Cup.


Stuart Percy, D-
Solid, dependable defenseman who doesn't do much of anything flashy, but plays an intelligent and capable game on the back end. Efficient, quick puck mover who sees the ice well and makes the right decision. Crisp passer who can hit the outlet and get the transition kickstarted fast. Doesn't have a booming shot, but can get it through to the net where teammates can get sticks on it for deflections or get second and third chances on rebound opportunities. Isn't going to excite anyone in terms of being a defender with a lot of upside, but his maturity, calm and composure is a bonus. Teams win with a guy like Percy and if he can improve his skating and footwork, he has the makings of a good middle-pairing defender at the highest level. In 13 playoff games, Percey has a goal and 4 points and is a +4.

Dylan DeMelo, D- This average-sized defender has the tools to be an offensive-minded guy including excellent vision and passing skills. Not an outstanding skater, but fairly mobile with an ability to jump up into the rush. Defense needs a lot of work and hasn't produced to the point that his offensive dimension is strong enough to justify the risk with his lack of positional awareness. At 6-0, 187, needs to get a lot stronger. Buried on a very good team, but doesn't bring the kind of heady, steady play on the blue line that Percy does. Nowhere near the prospect is that his fellow defenseman is, but could end up being a late-bloomer/overage player if he can kick his point totals into high gear moving forward.

Joseph Cramarossa, C- Missed six games with the Majors but rounding into form despite not seeing action on the top two lines. Scored a nice shorthanded goal against the Niagara Ice Dogs and has impressed scouts with his hockey IQ and opportunistic play despite not getting a lot of looks on a loaded veteran team. Only has 2 goals and 3 points in 7 games, but has been a useful contributor on special teams. Bigger things could be in store for Cramarossa next season and beyond, as he gains seniority and will pick up more ice time and the chance to produce. This could be a classic case of a kid who is unappreciated because he plays on such a good teams, and the scouts who saw a lot of Missy this season and are projecting that kind of a rise for him from 18-20 could be the ones pounding the table for him come draft day. It will be interesting to see where he ends up.

Mika Partanen, LW- Mississauga picked up the 6-2 winger in last summer's import draft. Despite having decent wheels and skill level, the Oct '92 birthdate didn't have a big impact in scoring, with just 10 goals and 19 points in 54 games. He's had more of a role in the playoffs, tallying a pair of goals and 5 points in 11 of his team's 13 contests. Powerful strider who doesn't have an explosive burst, but can get from A to B pretty well and protects the puck when in the offensive zone. Scouts would like to see him shoot more, and his vision/instincts are a bit dodgy at this point. Tough to get a read on a guy who didn't play all that much, so more of Partanen is projection as opposed to production at this point. Could be a nice late-round sleeper for an NHL club with a strong presence in Ontario whose scouts saw him enough this season.

Owen Sound

Jordan Binnington, G-
The only draft eligible player on the Attack worth talking about, and he's taken a seat in the playoffs after being mediocre against London and giving way to Scott Stajcer and even Michael Zador, who closed the Knights out in the final two games of the series. Binnington is one of the better CHL goalies in what is a pretty mediocre draft crop this year and played well in the CHL Top Prospects Game in January. At 6-2, he's got a tall frame, but is lean, light and will need to get stronger in order to handle the heavy crease traffic he'll see at the higher levels. Decent developmental long-term prospect along the lines of an Andrew Raycroft type who could develop into a top-notch OHL netminder, but doesn't have any elite tools or upside that jumps out at you.

The Hockey News Draft Preview: Top 30

The Hockey News released its annual draft preview this week (its out in Canada but those of us in the U.S. will have to wait until later this week or next to get it) and their rankings continue the debate that started when Central Scouting released their final list earlier this month.

THN's list was compiled with the help of a survey done by a dozen or so NHL scouts according to the magazine, so there is some basis in reality with this list. At the same time, it just underscores how crazy this draft is going to be in terms of the way it breaks after the first two or three picks.

Thanks to blog friend Dom, B2011DW has the top-100, but we're just going to focus on the first round list for now. Would be interested in any reader comments as to what they think.

Here is the first round as THN has published:

1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C
2. Adam Larsson, D
3. Gabriel Landeskog, LW
4. Sean Couturier, C
5. Jonathan Huberdeau, LW
6. Ryan Strome, C
7. Ryan Murphy, D
8. Sven Bartschi, RW
9. Zack Phillips, RW
10. Dougie Hamilton, D
11. Mika Zibanejad, C
12. Duncan Siemens, D
13. Alexander Khokhlachev, C
14. Brandon Saad, RW
15. Joel Armia, LW
16. Mark McNeill, C
17. Jamie Oleksiak, D
18. Nathan Beaulieu, D
19. Nicklas Jensen, LW
20. Tyler Biggs, RW
21. Matt Puempel, RW
22. Jonas Brodin, D
23. David Musil, D
24. Scott Mayfield, D
25. Rickard Rakell, RW
26. Mario Lucia, RW
27. John Gibson , G
28. Tomas Jurco, LW
29. Christopher Gibson, G
30. Dmitri Jaskin, RW

Zack Phillips in the top-10 is the biggest surprise, but given his pure scoring ability, there could be some NHL clubs out there who are intrigued enough with his lethal hands and smarts even without the great skating ability to pick him much earlier than most conventional lists have him to date.

Dougie Hamilton seems too low at 10, but we have heard some things through the grapevine that could lend to his falling off a bit. How he does at the draft combine in terms of his testing and interviews will be important for him.

Sven Bartschi is also pretty high in our view, but there is no denying his offensive talent. Still, he's not a great skater considering he's undersized and there is some risk with him there. Some team would have to just love him for Bartschi to go top-10 in our estimation.

John Gibson in the first round is not a surprise. He's a first-round talent and our only feeling about him sliding out of the top-30 would be as a result of NHL teams not wanting to spend top picks on goalies. That said, he was so good at the U18s this month that he deserves to be a first-rounder.

Christopher Gibson, on the other hand, we don't see making the cut. He put up excellent numbers for Chicoutimi, but has some holes in his game and is probably a solid early second rounder.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Charles Orzetti: A Guy You Should Know

One overager who has escaped mention on this blog space is gigantic power forward Charles Orzetti.

The New Jersey native is 6-4, 215-pounds and coming off a solid, unspectacular season of 10 goals, 22 points on a stacked Jersey Hitmen EJHL club. He was also brought to the U.S NTDP for some games in the fall as an injury replacement, an excellent experience that earned Orzetti some notice by the coaching staff and gave him a shot in the arm for his confidence.

The February, 1992-born player was seen as an intriguing prospect to watch for the 2010 NHL draft in some circles, but during Hitmen training camp, he was reaching for a puck and was shoved from behind. He fell onto his shoulder and dislocated it, but also suffered a torn labrum that required season-ending surgery. Before he'd played a single regular season contest, it was over for Orzetti.

This year, he made a full recovery (after having a top surgeon perform the surgical procedure) and impressed scouts with his aggressive, physical style and wicked shot. His acceleration and agility is sluggish, but Bruins 2011 Draft Watch spoke to Orzetti this week, and he acknowledged his shortcomings in terms of his skating. He is putting a lot of work into improving his foot speed this summer and given that he has a good stride in terms of his mechanics, he should increase his mobility with some time and effort.

Orzetti relishes putting his big body into situations where contact is warranted, and is very difficult to contain, especially when cycling the puck and working along the walls where his strength and tenacity often works in his favor.

The Yale University recruit comes from an intriguing family: his father, Ed, is a West Point graduate who flew scout helicopters for the U.S. Army before leaving for the private sector. Older brother Michael is about to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md. with a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps (he's also USNA '11 class president). Younger sister Nicole is a lacrosse star at a private school in New Jersey as well.

Orzetti is largely a forgotten prospect in draft discussions because he lost an entire year in his development, but don't think for a second that NHL clubs have forgotten about him. Whether he's done enough to get a call at the 2011 draft remains to be seen, but we're guessing that his background, work ethic and the one thing he has that most don't- his size- gives enough incentive for one of the 30 teams to give him a shot.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bruins 2011 Draft: The Case for Mika Zibanejad

The fifth in the series where Bruins 2011 Draft Watch focuses on the details of a specific player we see as worthy of gaining the attention of Boston fans given where the team is picking with the ninth overall selection.

This is the first case for post that has been done with Boston's draft position locked in at 9.

Dateline: X-Cel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota June 24, 2011

After looking like the team would possess a top-five pick for much of the 2010-11 hockey season, the Boston Bruins watched the Toronto Maple Leafs get hot in March and April to push that selection to ninth overall. Nobody knows if the B's make an attempt to trade up as the first eight players come off the board: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau, Adam Larsson, Sean Couturier, Ryan Strome, Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Murphy have all had their names called, the so-called 'Elite 8" has unfolded as anticipated, and Boston will have to look to the next tier to choose from.

When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces to the rest of the building that the Boston Bruins are now on the clock with the ninth overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the team wastes little time in moving to the stage to make their pick.

The Bruins, an organization that has seen its top center in Marc Savard's future placed in doubt as a result of a head hit from Matt Cooke in the spring of 2010. While the defense position appears to be an obvious need, so too, could be a legitimate scoring center with some size and bite.

No other player addresses this skill package quite as nicely as Swedish pivot Mika Zibanejad. (Zee-bahni-yad)

Boston Bruins organizational team and front office walk to the stage from their table, holding a Boston Bruins jersey with the digits "11" stitched onto on the back and sleeves. General Manager Peter Chiarelli takes the stage and walks to the podium to announce the pick.

After the initial pleasantries of thanking the city of Minneapolis/St. Paul and host Minnesota Wild, Chiarelli gets down to business.

"With the ninth pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins select, from the Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League...center Mika Zibanejad."

Mika Zibanejad, Center/Wing Djurgarden (Sweden Elitserien)


6-2 Weight: 192 Shoots: Right
Born: April 18, 1993 in Huddinge, Sweden

2010-11 Djurgarden (SEL) GP: 26 G: 5 A: 4 PTS: 9 PIM: 2

Born in Sweden of Iranian and Finnish parentage. Half-brother Monir Kalgoum, plays professional hockey in the UK for the Milton Keynes Lightning of the English Premier League. Started out in the Hammarby IF system (at age 6) until 2008 when he shifted to AIK IF after Hammarby went insolvent. Acquired by Djurgarden during the '09-10 season and broke through on the top pro squad in '10-11 after starting the year in the Under-20 junior ranks. A 2010 KHL draft pick of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Signed two-year contract with Djurgarden which will run through 2013 season. A final cut of the 2011 Swedish World Junior (Under 20) team. Earned a silver medal with the Swedish Under-18 squad in Germany, just 1:29 from beating the Americans for gold, leading the team in scoring with 8 points (4 goals) in six games (tied with Gustav Bjorklund). Speaks Swedish, English and Finnish.

Strengths:The best Europe-based forward prospect for 2011 and zooming up boards a legitimate power center option. Outstanding pivot with size, skating, sense, shot and spirit. Not a blazing fast skater, but has a fluid stride that will get more powerful as he gets stronger in his leg drive. Has very good edge control and leans into players, using his strength and power to go to the net. Has the ability to separate with breakway speed, but is more of a straight ahead player than a shifty, elusive one. Already plays a physical game and still has some growing and filling out to do. Willing and energetic hitter. Excellent puckhandler who sees the ice well, has soft hands and a quick, heavy shot. Knows how to find the soft areas of the offensive zone and isn't afraid to unload when the shooting lanes are there. Slick passer/playmaker as well. Plays with some fire and competitiveness- wants to be the best player on the ice and has some real swagger and personality. Good, solid defensive awareness. Not a stellar defensive player, but will backcheck and play responsibly in his own end. A kid who exudes personality, passion and determination- you can read it in his face and actions on the ice.

Here are some links to video of Zibanejad for evidence:

Here's a nice compilation video posted by our good friend (and Habs fan) Jerome B. at his NHL Draft Video blog

YouTube video of a big hit Zibanejad makes in the SEL on John Klingberg

Zibanejad owns Adam Larsson on this play. Unreal stutter-step to move by the top-ranked Euro for 2011

Steals the puck from behind and then converts it for a goal.

Weaknesses: Not many weaknesses to find in Zibanejad's game. Initial quickness and first step need to improve along with agility and footwork, but is a wide-base skater with solid technique and fundamentals, so he should be able to address this with speed/agility drills and off-ice plyometrics. Also has a bit of a temper- must learn to keep his emotions in check at times.

Style Compares to: Jeff Carter

Why the Bruins would pick Zibanejad: If a big-time defenseman like Ryan Murphy or Dougie Hamilton isn't available, then the choice might come down to Zibanejad and Nathan Beaulieu or Duncan Siemens. While both are accomplished defenders in their own right, they don't quite carry the same cachet with scouts and Zibanejad's upside could be the tipping point for the Bruins. Savard is a major issue for Boston right now- should he hang up the skates, then the team's depth and strength up the middle takes a hit. Additionally, Zibanejad is a versatile enough forward to play the wing if need be.

Why the Bruins would not pick Zibanejad: If Zibanejad is a surprise wildcard pick earlier than nine that would be the biggest obstacle, but beyond that, the B's have not spent a first-round pick on a European player since Hannu Toivonen in 2002. We know they have spent extensive time in Ontario this season, and it would lead one to believe that with the emphasis, they are looking hard at going OHL with their top pick. Whether they move to make that happen, can sit tight for the player they want to drop to them at nine, or are OK with going Euro in the top-10 remains to be seen.

What scouts/coaches are saying:

"Zibanejad is a high-end guy- he's a top-15 pick, no question. If he's there at nine, the Bruins have to consider him."- NHL scout to Bruins2011DraftWatch, April 2011

"Mika's a real power forward but also has soft hands, good vision and fine skating skills. He has tremendous balance and is hard to knock off the puck. He's very strong in the battles along the boards, finishes checks with authority and has a heavy shot that he gets off quickly."- NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb To read Mike G. Morreale's NHL.com article on Zibanejad click here

"Suffered due to playing on the wing with struggling (Victor) Rask who was unable to deliver the puck. Very good hands, receives tough passes well in stride. Makes saucer passes through traffic. Has vision and creativity- frankly is more natural at centre. Drives the net hard."- Red Line Report, March, 2011

"Continues to elevate his stock at this tournament as he has done for most of the season. Had an explosive game versus Norway and leads Team Sweden in scoring with four goals and seven points in four contests. Zibanejad has been a B2011DW favorite because he can skate and has good hands, but brings size and a high energy level with him to the ice. This is a kid who loves to play and never stops moving his feet. He goes hard to the net, does the honest work in the corners and loves to use the body. He's nowhere near as as strong as he will be, so it's encouraging to see how effective he is on the physical side of things already. The only real concerns with the Persian Prince (his father is Iranian) is whether his abilities will translate into a high-end scorer at the NHL level. Most think he has solid top-six forward potential, but that's what will see him earn a draft grade around or even inside the top-10."- Bruins 2011 Draft Watch; April, 2011

Zibanejad in his own words:

"I watch Sidney Crosby for the work he does at center. I watch Alex Ovechkin for the way he scores goals and I watch Pat Kane for the way he stickhandles. I'm not that type of guy to just look for the big hits. I try to play physical but that's only because I want the puck back. Sometimes you have to finish your checks on defensemen in order to tire them out."- Mika Zibanejad to NHL.com, March 2011

"I had the opportunity to play with some great players so that helped me in getting the points that I got. I felt I fit right in to playing on the smaller (North American) rinks, too."- Zibanejad to NHL.com, March 2011 (on World Under-17 Challenge experience)

Bust factor: Low; The "Persian Prince" (our special nod to him given his father's Iranian heritage) has the look of a legitimate NHL player because of his size, skill set and drive. The only real questions about him revolve around whether he can be the kind of productive top-2 center and special teams ace, but his play in Sweden's top league has done nothing to concern scouts. He smoked Adam Larsson on a breakaway play and when is on top of things, plays with the pure confidence and poise of a game-breaker.

The Verdict: If you are the kind of person who looks for those swing-for-the-fences type picks, then Zibanejad is up your alley. He plays more of a North American game, so his transition (when it happens) should not be a tough one. He's an intelligent kid who brings the kind of character and leadership attributes teams are looking to acquire. His body language speaks volumes- you can see how much he loves the game and how much he wants the puck on his stick in key situations even without a play-by-play (or in some cases broadcasts in Swedish). More important, he brings the kind of size and power game at the center position that the Bruins don't currently have on their team or in their system after 6-5 pivot Joe Colborne was traded to Toronto (though it has been pointed out to us that there isn't much power in Colborne's game, Boston's centers are short on size). Zibanejad makes all sorts of sense for Boston, but with the team being so Europe-averse in recent seasons, there is no telling if the organization values him as a prospect as much as we do.

Opening up a can of wow

The hockey version of Red Sox-Yankees is in the books, and it was one for the ages. The Boston Bruins blew two leads at the TD Garden to the resilient Montreal Canadiens, but ultimately got the goaltending when they needed it and a huge overtime blast by Nathan Horton to advance in the 2011 NHL playoffs.

As has been the case for some time now, the B's tested their fans' faith along the way.

After dropping both home games to start the series, the Bruins won the next three to take the lead, but couldn't solve Carey Price in Montreal during Game 6, leading to the Boston showdown last night for all the marbles.

Here are a couple of quick thoughts:

1. Until last night, the Bruins were 0-26 lifetime when losing the first two games of any playoff series. Streaks are meant to be broken. Just as the B's had never lost a playoff series when up 3-1 to Montreal back in 2004 (and they set an even more ignominious mark when they blew the 3-0 series lead to Philly a year ago), all things must eventually end. We knew the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would eventually return a kick for a TD (though it took them more than 30 years to do it), and so it was time for the Bruins to get the monkey off their backs. Largely thanks to Nathan Horton's two sudden death winners, they got it done.

2. Say what you will about Claude Julien, but the guys play for him. When he was coach of the Canadiens in 2004, his club overcame a 3-1 series deficit, and last night, he returned the favor.

3. Nathan Horton has just 7 career playoff games under his belt, but he's already moved to the top of Boston's active leaders in playoff OT goals with two (tied with Michael Ryder). This puts him ahead of stalwarts Mark Recchi (and his more than 170 career playoff games) and Patrice Bergeron to name a few. Horton didn't have a monster series- he was invisible for long stretches- but he came through huge when his team needed him. This is why the Bruins traded for him last June, and why we expect that Horton will continue to smile in Boston. The playoff beard looks good on him.

4. Tim Thomas is not for the faint of heart. Dennis Seidenberg nearly added another inglorious chapter to the Boston-Montreal rivalry when a live rebound in OT came off Thomas's right pad, hit Seidenberg's skate and was on the way into the open right side of the cage before the two combined to steer it away. Had the puck gone in, fans would have blamed Thomas and the "he can't win a big game" screeches would have reached a fever pitch. With 14 career playoff wins and counting, Thomas is now in the top-five all-time for the Bruins. You have to give Boston a decided edge over Philadelphia in the second round for the head-to-head goaltending matchup. Now is the time for Thomas to lay the critics and doubts to rest.

5. Bruins went 0-for-21 on the power play. That's got to change if they even want a sniff of getting past the Flyers. Tomas Kaberle has been a huge disappointment, but there's time for him to get untracked.

6. The 2011 first round was one of the best single rounds of playoff hockey in NHL history. Tough act to follow, but we'll see it get underway Friday and Saturday when the second round kicks in. Bruins are in Philly to try to make amends for 2010.

Let the games begin.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

FASTHockey.com U18 play by play/color man Chris Peters checks in

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch is pleased to bring you an interview we did with Chris Peters, the play by play commentator for the FASTHockey.com broadcasts of Team USA games at the World Under-18 Championship in Crimmitschau, Germany. He was a one-man show over there and did a great job to bring a passionate and informed call of the Team USA games.

Chris knows the NTDP inside and out, having spent the previous three years as the team's communications and marketing director and brings great knowledge of the program and players in addition to his own passion for hockey.

Chris is also the publisher of the outstanding hockey blog The United States of Hockey. If you haven't bookmarked it, you should. When it comes to American NTDP and NCAA players, it is one of the best resources out there given his background, knowledge and familiarity with so many players who are in Ann Arbor or graduated from the program and are out in the NCAA and pro ranks.

We had a long talk about Team USA and the outstanding performance they had in Germany to win a consecutive third gold medal at the annual IIHF spring competition. It was the first time for any USA Hockey team to three-peat in an IIHF event, and the American players made it their mission to achieve this first.

Without further ado, we'll bring you Chris Peters in his own words

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch: Having been a part of the NTDP, was it a little strange for you to be there not as a member of the team but as a broadcaster and part of the media?

Chris Peters: Yes and no- there were a few differences that made for a new experience, but I knew the staff and I knew the kids (from their time on the Under-17 team a year ago), so I didn't feel like an outsider. At the same time, I tried to maintain a safe distance and didn't want to try and be a part of the staff.

It was nice for me to see the difference for the players from year one to two and how they had grown. It was great to see how much bigger and better they've gotten since their time on the Under-17 squad and doing this allowed me to see that process and be a part of it. Most times, a broadcaster will parachute in, do a few interviews and is gone, but I was always with them, and that was the unique thing about the process.

It was a lot of fun- everyone wanted to make sure I got what I needed and it was just a great time given the way everything went.

B2011DW: Before we get to the specific players, can you talk about the program and team, the coaches and so on- what do you attribute the success the NTDP has had to?

CP: I think this team was unique. They didn't have three main lines to do the scoring for them; they counted on everyone to give them the offense they needed and make the plays in any situation. They had seven effective players on defense, not one guy who can be out there in any situation, or at least that was the perception. I remember that when they had the selection for these players two years ago, the team was put together knowing that they weren't assembling high-end skill guys at every position. Sure, you had players like Rocco Grimaldi and J.T. Miller up front, but you also had guys like Adam Reid, who played on the fourth line (in Germany) but had three goals, and Dan Carlson who also made contributions to the successful tournament.

This was the first team that I can recall in the last several years that was made up completely of NTDP kids. It worked well because they had great chemistry, were really tight as a group and had played together for a long time.

I would also add that (coach) Ron Rolston deserves a heck of a lot of credit. Two years ago, when he was coaching the '91 group at the Under 18s, not a lot of people expected them to win it on home soil in North Dakota. I think people said they were a favorite, but they were not the favorite. At the end of it, they won it all, just like they did this time around in Germany, with a completely different team. He gets the most out of the talent he has to work with and his work and preparation is unbelievable. He's one of the most cerebral coaches I've seen- he knows his players and teams and understands how to get them to play disciplined, winning hockey. I don't think he gets enough recognition for how good a coach he is.

B2011DW: John Gibson- tournament top goalie and a major reason why USA won it all. What are your thoughts on him?

CP: With Gibson, he's been overshadowed by Jack Campbell. But Gibby didn't have the same opportunities Jack did in terms of being an underager at the Under 20, winning a couple of golds at the Under 18 in 2009 and 2010, but they are similar players. Gibson is so athletic, so composed. He instills a lot of confidence in the skaters, too- the defensemen know that they can take some chances with him back there as the last line of defense. He's not the best puckhandler, though he did move it a little, but he kept things simple for the most part. He bailed out the 'D' with big saves, and even when he gave up a goal, his body language was terrific. He just oozed confidence and when his teammates saw that, they realized that everything was fine and they were still in position to win the game. When you see that kind of calm in your goalie, I think it relaxes you to the point that you can go out and believe that you'll get the lead back on the next shift, and it's huge.

B2011DW: Did J.T. Miller's performance there solidify him as a first-round pick in your view?

CP: It's funny, because the first couple of games with J.T. I thought that aside from the points, he actually didn't play all that well. However, as the tournament went on, he became more and more of a force, and I think he bought into playing gold medal hockey. He really picked it up because as other teams focused on stopping Rocco Grimaldi, Miller started getting a lot of looks as a result to the respect given to Rocco, and that opened things up for J.T. It gave him a chance to put his stamp on the tournament in terms of being physical, playing smart, keeping it simple and being patient. One play that really stands out to me is the gold medal game when he made the pass to Reid Boucher for the tying goal. Rocco was breaking to the net as well, but he was a lot closer to Miller, and would have had to beat a few guys to get into scoring position. Miller held the puck and waited that extra second for 'Bouch' to break into the clear and then sent it across the ice to him in the perfect spot for him to make the play.

When Miller is thinking right, he's so good. It's the best I've seen him play. I think that maybe earlier in the season, Miller was under too much pressure to be the focal point of the offense on that top line and it wasn't going in for him. He was probably pressing more than he should have. But here, he kept things simple and used his skills and smarts to make some big plays when his team needed them.

B2011DW: You mentioned Reid Boucher...he had a tremendous tournament. Based on what you know and have seen, how good is this kid?

CP: Wow, yeah. The thing Reid brings to the table every single night regardless is the ability to score from anywhere. When I look at his pure scoring ability, I would say that it's the best I've seen in the program. Ever. Jeremy Morin was close, but honestly I would say that Boucher is better in terms of his release, his accuracy and his big-game ability to put the puck in the net when the game is on the line. I talked to Ron Rolston about it and he agreed that Boucher is up there; he knew Phil Kessel before I arrived to the program, but he's in that kind of company. The big thing about what he did in Germany is that of his eight goals, only two of them didn't factor into the game. I know one of those goals came against Slovakia in a blowout, but just about everything else had a big impact on the wins. The thing is- when you play with Rocco, you're going to get a lot of looks. And Bouch's skating has improved to where he can get in position to make the play with a guy so dynamic. If Bouch is with a pass-first playmaker, he could score 40 goals one day.

B2011DW: Speaking of Rocco, the numbers weren't there for Grimaldi because he got so much attention, but he seemed to contribute in other ways- defensively, the PK, etc. What did you see?

CP: I agree with that. I think that for a few games he maybe wasn't as engaged as much defensively, but that was probably because they needed him to be an offensive presence. One of the things he did that really jumped out at me was the work Rocco did on faceoffs. He won some big draws at key moments. One play that stood out happened in the Canada game, when Travis Ewanyk was winning something like 80 percent of the faceoffs and was just a monster. There was a draw in Canada's end and Ewanyk won it, but Grimaldi got in on him, knocked him off the puck and then Miller was able to get it to Bouch for a goal. Rocco's mindset all along was that even if he lost the faceoff, which wasn't often, he was going to track the puck and still try and get there first.

I think he want to be better in the tournament at the goal scoring and production, but teams made a concerted effort not to let Rocco beat them. Even then, he found ways to get it done. The Connor Murphy goal at the beginning of the third period against Sweden was a good example- Grimaldi's pass out front to him for the shot that went in was perfect with the way he one-touched to him, but the bigger thing I noticed when I went back and looked at the film was the way he protected the puck, shielded it so that the defender had no chance to prevent it from getting to Murphy. We expected to see more offensively from him, but in the end, he did a lot of things that helped the team win and that's what's most important to him.

B2011DW: Let's shift gears to the defensemen for a bit. Robbie Russo seemed to have just the right performance and the absolute right time and looked so confident out there. You thoughts on Robbie and his play?

CP: Robbie's always been a confident kid. He may have been a little frustrated at the way things went for him this season, but in this tourney he just took over games. If the puck was in his zone his attitude was that he was going to get it, or if the other team had it, he was going to take it away from them.In the offensive zone, he was outstanding with his vision and patience and ability to pass the puck to the right guy at the right time. He also had the ability to create space for himself- he would have the puck coming out of his end and he had the skill and patience to swing back into the zone and come back out with speed. This was the best I've seen him- he was calm under pressure, there was no panic level in his game; he just kept it simple, made the smart play and tried not to be flashy. His skating is really good- he was an easy choice as one of the three top players for USA in my opinion. Another thing- he started out on the point of the power play, but they moved him against the wall, which worked out great, shifting Rocco to the point. Robbie was incredible on the wall in terms of creating lanes, going up and down the boards, and then he would spin around, throw off his man and open up the lane. He had a tremendous tournament, and I can't say it enough.

B2011DW: And Connor Murphy? Another kid who really helped himself?

CP: Absolutely! He's one of the smartest kids out there and the fact that his instincts are so good even though he hasn't played a lot of hockey over the past two-and-a-half years is saying a lot about him. I don't think he's played more than maybe 15 games in that span prior to the tourney because of injuries, and yet he still had time to be that good? It makes me wonder if he can stay healthy how good he can be. He's real good with his stick defensively, clogging up lanes and he not a physical guy, but he can take hits and will take them to make the play. I noticed this a lot against Canada, where they really seemed to go after him. He's got a very nice skill package and game, and the injury thing is really the only obstacle I think to where he might be drafted, whether it happen for him in the first round or maybe a little later. But the thing about Connor and the other kids with dads who played pro hockey is that they understand what they need to do to make it to be a professional. They've been around the game, carry themselves so well and are pretty serious and mature about it. Connor is one of those guys who just really impresses you in interviews with his intelligence and manner.

B2011DW: OK- last question. Tyler Biggs. He's been the internet whipping boy of late, but is it deserved?

CP: The thing with Tyler is that he was completely mis-labeled to begin with as a top-10 pick for a guy who plays the way he does. That said, I still feel there is value to him in the first round. After last year, I had a higher opinion of his offensive upside coming into this season than he's showed- I was thinking that he maybe had a 20-25 goal upside. I'm not sure he'll be successful with that because he doesn't have great hands. He may not skate all that fast, but he's a powerful skater who closes on guys real well and his north-south game is really good.

He was not done any favors with that 5th-best prospect ranking from Central Scouting at mid-term, and he's been dinged up this year too, but he plays through it without complaining. Thing is, if you went to see him when he wasn't at his best, then you probably weren't seeing the kind of performance he's capable of. He's a good leader and plays a determined style of hockey. He played on a line with Travis Boyd- he's a real good player and a guy I think is underrated (by Central). He's not real fast, but is very skilled and made a lot of creative plays. Biggs also skated with Nic Kerdiles, so there was some talent on that line, and I would say that in the last two games, that was as good a unit as the Boucher-Grimaldi-Miller line. Biggs can play defensively, is tough and works hard at his game.

Again, I think there is first-round value for him, but expectations were set too high for the style of player he is.

B2011DW wants to thank Chris for taking the time to have such a productive chat. We'll have to do it again sometime.

Be sure to visit his blog if you have not done so already!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Under the radar, but watch 'em

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.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Jordan Ruby: A Guy You Should Know

One goaltender who has been completely overlooked on Bruins 2011 Draft Watch is Wellington (OJHL) standout Jordan Ruby.

This 6-1, 190-pound late-bloomer is a February 1991 birthdate who put up outstanding numbers this season in 35 games, posting a .932 save percentage, 2.21 GAA and 3 white washes for the Dukes (where he teammates include Brian Bunnett, a previous B2011DW "Guy You Should Know) and a 26-5 record.

Ruby was excellent at last fall's World Jr. A Challenge, leading Team Canada East to a silver medal (though he did blow a lead in the gold medal game, allowing USA to steal the victory) and earning OJHL Top Goalie honors. Ruby was also a runner-up for OJHL MVP this season, and was also the 2011 Dudley Hewitt Cup MVP in the Central Canada Jr. A Championship with a 4-1 record, 1.67 GAA and .931 save percentage.

The book on Ruby is that he's one of these diamonds-in-the-rough who has all of the major attributes NHL teams look for in goaltenders: good height, long limbs, athleticism and quickness. Has extremely fast pads and excellent recovery skills. Pretty good at directing rebounds into corners and away from the slot. Sees the play developing and anticipates well. Shakes off bad goals and plays well in the clutch. Consistent; doesn't get into slumps because he has a short memory and works hard at his craft. Not much of a puckhandler and will need to work on making the basic and simple plays when the puck is driven into the zone around the end boards. Aside from that skill, which has become less and less important for goalies with the advent of the trapezoid, this is quite a strong prospect.

The Wellington website had this to say about Ruby from his coach, Marty Abrams: "Jordan has established himself as one of the elite goaltenders across the country playing in the CJAHL. He gives us a chance to win every night and as a Coach, that's all I can ask for. He is also one of the hardest working members of the Dukes."

Central moved Ruby up 12 spots from 26 at mid-term to 14. He has the look of a solid option in the fifth to seventh rounds, but might get passed on and have to go the free agency route. This is his final year of eligibility for the NHL Entry Draft.

The Tavistock, Ontario native is headed for the Rochester Institute of Technology (R.I.T.) in the fall. A year ago, the Tigers were the NCAA's Cinderella team, knocking off Denver University and UNH to reach the Frozen Four before turning into pumpkins against University of Wisconsin.

We found this YouTube video of Ruby and the Dukes (white jerseys) against the Kingston Voyageurs.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

2011 World Under-18 Championship: Sleepers

We're back with a look at a few sleepers who weren't big names for the 2011 NHL Draft, but may have done enough to raise their stock as solid selections worth spending picks on.


Nick Cousins, F Canada- One of the most impressive forwards for Team Canada at the tournament, scoring four goals and eight points and far outshining higher-profile Soo teammate Daniel Catenacci (to put it charitably). Fast, agile and bright- Cousins has quick hands and made money by going to the net throughout and paying the price to make the play. We can't say enough about how good this kid looked- didn't get a lot of attention because of where he plays in the OHL, but scouts are certainly tracking him now.

Gustav Björklund, F Sweden- Small, but speedy winger shared the team lead in points with Mika Zibanejad with eight. Darting, opportunistic little guy who displayed nice hockey sense and a nose for the net. Accurate shot with a quick release. We didn't even know who this kid was before the tourney, but we do now. His second period goal was nearly the game-winner for the Swedes.

Albin Blomkvist, D Sweden- Another revelation for B2011DW. Big kid at 6-3, 196, skated well and scored a nice goal against the Americans by jumping in from the point and wiring a hard wrister through a screen to beat John Gibson cleanly to the glove side. From what we saw, played with a bit of an edge. Makes some big hits and plays with some meanness to his game. Solid breakout passer and looked like some solid long-term developmental potential with this kid.

Markus Granlund, F Finland- Small playmaker showed intelligence, patience and soft hands for setting up the play. Obviously nowhere near the talent of his older brother Mikael, but blood lines could come into play with this guy. Not very strong- gets knocked off the puck and tends to play out on the perimeter as many smaller dudes do, but he was consistent and worked hard for the overmatched Finns who were playing from behind too much of the time because of the lack of good goaltending. Strong competitor who has some of his brother's positive characteristics and could make himself into a similar if lower-end player eventually.

Steffen Soberg, G Norway- Sub 6-footer is extremely agile, quick and real competitor despite playing for cellar-dweller Norway. Posted a 1-5 record, yet kept his team in every game we saw, posting a .930 save percentage even though he gave up an average of 3.90 goals. Wow. 317 shots against in just six games means he was saw 50 or more shots in every single game (including a tourney-high 63 unloaded on him by Canada), stopping 295 of them. His size works against him, as does the fact that he comes from Norway (ED. note: We don't mean this as a swipe at Norway- sure it is a delightful country with terrific people, but from an NHL standpoint, it is not seen as a prime producer of hockey talent and the lack of talent was reflected in the team's record at the WJC and U18), but could he be a late-round flyer? Possibly. All European players must be drafted, so fans need not wonder if an NHL team can invite Soberg to camp and sign him as a free agent if he gets passed over. It's draft or bust when it comes to Euros, so keep an eye on this guy. He did have a tremendous tourney, finishing second to only Andrei Vasilevski (.936) in save percentage

2011 World Under-18: Risers and Fallers

The 2011 World Under-18 Championship is in the books, and Team USA achieved a first- winning three consecutive gold medals for the first time in USA Hockey history.

The 2009 squad did it on home soil in North Dakota, winning gold mainly thanks to 17-year-old Jack Campbell's arrival on the international stage as a force to be reckoned with, the precursor to the following season when he would capture championships at the 2010 Under-20 and again the Under-18 tourney in Belarus.

This time, the USA team, not considered by most as exceptional as the force of nature that blew through the field a year ago, got the goaltending from new star John Gibson, and then a host of balanced, opportunistic two-way play by the rest of the team led by forwards J.T. Miller (leading scorer with 13 points in six games), Reid Boucher (top goal-getter with eight), Robbie Russo (captain and strong two-way performance- eight points, +5 rating) and of course, the heroics of Rocco Grimaldi, who may not have shot out the lights on the scoreboard, but made myriad contributions to the championship in other areas.

Still, Team Sweden came to within just 1:29 of capturing that country's first gold medal in Under-18 tournament history (remarkable that the Tre Kronor have never accomplished this feat given Sweden's status as a two-time Olympic champion and global hockey power).

The defense corps, led by Jonas Brodin and captain Oscar Klefbom, performed in outstanding fashion throughout the tourney. Along with Rasmus Bengtsson and Albin Blomkvist, they formed one of the most effective top-four back line units you will see in hockey. The Swedish D didn't make many mistakes, but unfortunately when they did, it resulted in a spectacularly devastating loss at the hands of the Americans in overtime.

Russia captured bronze, and got a ridiculous offensive explosion from forward Nikita Kucherov, scoring 11 goals and 21 points in just 8 games. It was Alexander Ovechkin-like production, and the enigmatic winger certainly succeeded in raising his stock for the 2011 draft. Just how much, remains to be seen, however. More on Kucherov later.

Other big stories for the Russians were the performances of 2012 eligibles Nail Yakupov (6 goals, 13 points) and Mikhail Grigorenko (4 goals, 18 points) in seven games. Yakupov started slowly, but came on strong in the final couple of games of the the preliminary round and in the last two against Sweden and Canada. Grigorenko was consistently excellent throughout, and we could be looking at a possible 1-2 Russian class of Yakupov and Grigorenko or vice versa just as we saw in 2004 with Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Of course, if Canadian stud defender Ryan Murray has anything to say about it, he'll crash the top-two party in 2012. He was tremendous as the captain and as a stalwart dual-threat on the back end. Although Ryan Murphy won top defenseman honors with a brilliant 13-point performance to set a Team Canada scoring record (that's right- forwards too- Murphy scored more points than any Canadian player in U18 tourney history- wow!), it took Murphy's four-point day in a losing cause for the bronze medal to secure the honors, otherwise, it just might have been Murray.

Once again, the history of the U18 tourney having positive and negative effects on the upcoming draft class proved true, and scouts are no doubt eagerly anticipating the race to 2012, with so many intriguing story lines emerging in Germany.

Now, let's look at some players who helped and hurt themselves in this tournament in our view. We can't dedicate this space to each and every one, so consider this the cliff's notes version.


Nikita Kucherov, F Russia- We're going to start calling him "Midas" because everything he touched turned to gold. Unbelievable offensive performance by one of the more skilled prospects in the entire class, but who hurt his standing this season by looking disinterested and acting at times petulant in earlier tournaments. Kucherov saved his best for last, putting on a tour-de-force that no doubt will have some NHL teams who do not fear drafting out of Europe readjusting their previous thinking on him. Before the tourney we would have thought there was no way Kucherov would be a first-round pick, but if you're a club picking in the final few spots of this draft, why wouldn't try to swing for the fences? If he does drop into the second, the wait won't be a long one. Showed enough game-breaking speed, quick hands and an absolutely serial killer instinct when it came to finishing off chances.

Ryan Murphy, D Canada- When you've been one of the most talked-about prospects for the top-10 of the NHL draft all season, is it actually possible to raise your stock? Well, the Aurora, Ontario native and Kitchener Rangers star did it in Germany. The production was record-setting in itself, but it was how Murphy scored the points that had tongues a-wagging. Whether firing up the ice like he had rockets on his skates, or slithering through defenses while showing off several gears and superlative edge control/balance or making 360-degree spin moves and blind passes on the stick tape of teammates, Murphy was as dynamic as they come. Bruins fans who were hoping he would fall to the ninth spot now can only hope that if he is Boston's target, that the team can move up to secure him, because we just don't see him dropping very far out of the top-five (if at all even) after the kind of season, OHL playoffs and now Under-18 performance he just had. In fact, B2011DW wouldn't be at all surprised if the New Jersey Devils grabbed him as high as fourth overall. Sure, it will depend on who drops to them, but for a team who knew exactly what it had with Scott Niedermayer for over a decade, this kid's high-end offensive chops aren't far off.

J.T. Miller, C USA- One of the bigger disappointments this season for the U.S. NTDP because his production never seemed to be commensurate with his excellent physical tools, Miller finally broke through with the kind of dominant, consistent scoring performance scouts have been waiting for. The 6-1 center from Ohio scored four goals (and some big ones at that) and was a consistent passer and playmaker. The top line of Miller, Boucher and Grimaldi gave other teams fits throughout the tourney and Miller was often the one who found himself with the time and space to make things happen with. To his credit, he did. It helped to have a linemate in Boucher who was shooting the lights out in critical situations, but Miller looked and played like a solid first-round pick. Someone who liked his tools but was concerned with the lack of production just might have seen enough to grab him top-20. Even if he slips out of that bracket, we can't imagine he'd miss on the opening 30 picks. Too much talent and upside there.

Jonas Brodin, D Sweden- The controller; we were pretty impressed at how smoothly and effectively Brodin took charge of the Swedish defense corps, turning them into the prettiest transition unit in the entire field. The way Sweden broke out of their end was poetry in motion, and it all started with Brodin who isn't a flashy player (just one assist in four games), but seems to see the ice and think many steps ahead of everyone else like a chess grandmaster. He's got the head and feet to orchestrate the attack, even if he lacks the strength and overpowering shot to be a big point getter. If intelligent puck movers are at a premium, then don't expect Brodin to last very long on June 24th- he's slick and when it comes down to it, a pretty commanding presence. He doesn't get enough credit for what he brings to the table in our view.

Mark Scheifele, C Canada- Young colt lived up to his Barrie namesake with a very good offensive performance. Scored one of the more memorable goals of anyone in the tourney against Finland when he read a bungled pass, split the defense, fought off a hook from behind and still managed to put the puck in the net with a nice backhand deke. 6-3 guys don't typically move the way he does with that ability to separate, so there is a lot of raw material to work with. At about 175, he's nowhere near as strong as he needs to be. However, he more than solidified a first-round draft grade in our view. He's a poor man's Ryan Johansen at this stage we feel- won't go as high, but his progress and potentially high ceiling will see him picked ahead of other higher-profile players who are bigger names and have been in draft discussions longer. Classic guy who came into the U18s with some questions to answer and passed with flying colors. Happens every year.

Joel Armia, F Finland- Took charge up front for Finland and proved himself a solid first-round selection with his offensive performance. His big frame needs work to add mass and strength, but he's got a long stride and the ability to generate speed and separation. He's still a little gangly and not overly strong on his skates, but getting there. A vicious killer between the hashmarks- wants the puck and knows what to do with it when he gets it. One of the best pure goal scorers in the draft and impressed us with his vision and playmaking skills in this tourney as well. Creative and a better puck distributor than we gave him credit for. Not very physical, but not a soft player, either. Uses his trunk and long limbs to create space and bull his way to the net. Doesn't speak English very well yet, but uses two very important words often: "puck" and "score". His effort without the puck is what is holding him back from a top-10 selection in our view. He can be lackadaisical and is inconsistent in his backchecking efforts. If its a maturity thing, he could be a homerun pick, but if he's only motivated offensively, then he's a one-dimensional guy and may never be as good a player as he should be.

Victor Rask, C Sweden- Got his sliding value going in the other direction with a very good preliminary round performance, especially against Canada to earn the top seed in group. Big, offensively-savy centerman who isn't a great skater but gets from point A to B well enough. He'll get more balanced and stronger on his skates, and while he'll never be a speed demon, he goes to the net with some power. Soft hands for passing and can unleash a good, heavy shot. Not much of a showing against the USA in the gold medal game, but we're grading the overall tournament performance and he did some nice things reminiscent of what scouts were expecting from him after his performance in this same tournament a year ago. Will some team take him in the 1st round? Possibly- don't bet against it. However, his season overall is still a disappointment given the expectations he had coming in. Good rebound, but he won't get anywhere near the bounce of a Kucherov, for example.

Reid Boucher, F USA- Gutsy little scorer found the back of the net eight times in the tournament, which wasn't at the top of the charts, but his timing was tremendous. Michigan State recruit is undersized and not all that fast a skater, but he more than makes up with it for his natural anticipation and knack for finding open ice and a wicked shot that he can unleash from anywhere. He did this at the Five Nations in February and raised a few eyebrows, but the encore performance on an even bigger stage should have done enough to see him secure second-round status. Scorers like Boucher don't grow on trees, and while he's not the showman Grimaldi is in terms of being noticeable on every shift, he's highly dangerous and just knows how to be clutch. Also led his team in plus/minus with +9, so he's responsible defensively and kills penalties, too. One of Ron Rolston's go-to guys who delivered.

John Gibson, G USA- What more can we say about this guy that we haven't already? Super size, quickness and technique. Makes things look easy when they aren't. But the best thing about him is his calm and poise. He weathered the storm of a Canada comeback yesterday to secure an overtime win, then hung in with his team down a couple of goals to make every stop the rest of the way in yet another overtime victory to clinch gold. We were looking for him to step out from behind Campbell's international shadow, and the Pittsburgh native did precisely that. Awesome performance from the tournament's top netminder, and he's all but sewn up status as the first goaltender off the board in June.

Robbie Russo, D USA- It's no secret that B2011DW was pretty critical of Russo's performance during earlier viewings of him this season, and we weren't hearing great things about him from sources either. But, he pulled it together in time to have an excellent tournament befitting of some of the hype. He's headed to Notre Dame next season and should make a pretty immediate impact if he plays in the NCAA like he did in Germany. Smart, crisp puck mover all tournament long and worked with Connor Murphy to set up the winning goal against Sweden. Wasn't as strong as the tourney went on as he was in the beginning, but what can we say? He at least looked like the PMD some circles were hyping him as.

Connor Murphy, D USA- This was a make-or-break tourney for Murphy to land in the top-60 and he looks to have made it. Big, talented two-way defender who won't put up a ton of points, but is an effective point man with a big shot. Miami University recruit is staying in his home state to play for the Redhawks, and the only real questions he needs to answer are ones about his durability. Kid can play and looks to have more offensive potential than his dad, Gord, who was a solid NHL stay-at-homer in his day.

Dmitrij Jaskin, F CZE- Power winger helped himself with four goals in five games, showing off his wicked release and powerful shot. Heavy feet, yes, but competes hard and is a physical player with a North American flavor to his game already. Below average skaters always have it in tough to make it in the NHL, which is a skating man's league, but when they are big, strong, intelligent and passionate about the game the way Jaskin is, they usually find a way to make it. If he could get a little faster he has top-six potential for sure.


Tyler Biggs, F USA- Tough tournament for a kid who is unfairly becoming a whipping boy, but we also have to call it the way we see it. He hurt his team with way too many penalties. Now in fairness, some of the calls that went against him were the classic- he's bigger (no pun intended) than the other guy and the hits looked worse than they were- type infractions that tend to get whistled more during international play. However, he also took his share of lazy, undisciplined calls and that's what drives us crazy. The roughing call he took against Canada just after Boucher made it 4-1 was particularly galling because it was completely unnecessary and also sparked that team's comeback. Biggs is a powerful skater with a heavy shot, but we didn't see him creating much on his own offensively other than scoring the winning goal against Canada in OT that several onlookers felt goaltender Malcolm Subban should have stopped. Biggs was unfairly rated too high by Central scouting at mid-term and he's the easy target right now because he didn't produce consistently while others on his squad did. Right or wrong, fair or unfair- it is what it is.

Joachim Nermark, F SWE- Ugh. Just a disappointing showing for a guy who was tremendous at the Ivan Hlinka but has been all downhill since. One goal in five games...invisible against the USA. One scout we talked to said, 'We have no use for him." Ouch. He may yet be a top-60 pick because of what he did in Slovakia, but we wouldn't touch him in that range based on what we saw here. Risky pick and we're not even sure of the payoff. Did not help himself at all.

Samu Perhonen, G FIN- Brutal is a polite way to put this promising netminder's performance. He was shaky from jump street against Canada and never recovered, stopping a putrid 87.5% of his shots and going 2-2 in the process. We thought this cat would challenge Gibson for top netminder honors at the 2011 draft, and now we don't even think Perhonen will be the first European picked (Magnus Hellberg). He's still a top-two or three-round pick, but after seeing him and Gibson in the same competition, they seem light years apart. Perhonen's lack of poise was what was particularly troublesome- just couldn't seem to make the big save when his team needed it. However, Perhonen still has the size and athletic ability/upside to be a high-end stopper in the NHL one day. If he slides, that could be great news for the team that grabs him.

Reece Scarlett, D CAN- Has showed some impressive traits and potential in flashes, but this was a tough tourney for the WHL defender. He's not where he needs to be in terms of his physical development and strength. He also made some bad pinches and decisions that proved costly. Seemed hesitant at times and was caught in no man's land. Real smooth stride and mobility, but in this game, that split second delayed reaction will burn you even if you skate well. He wasn't quite ready for primetime and opponents exploited him.

Daniel Catenacci, F CAN- Just two assists for this speedy, skilled and even dynamic forward were a major disappointment. Capable of so much more, yet went invisible for long stretches. On top of that, took a lot of bad penalties and never could seem to get out of his own way. All of this from a guy some on the internet are talking about as a potential first-rounder in June? We don't think so. Soo Greyhounds teammate Nick Cousins skated circles around him (4-4-8) and was one of the guys who emerged as a big-time clutch performer.

Miikka Salomaki, F FIN- We weren't very impressed with this guy's NHL upside, but kept hearing that teams were keeping an eye out for him. Well, after watching him at the WJC over the winter and on video at the U18s, we can't see him being a top-three round pick. He might get there, but that could be a mistake. Doesn't do anything particularly well, and just seems like a solid Euro leaguer and nothing more.

B2011DW will be back with a look at some sleepers who may have emerged from the shadows a bit, and even if some were more known, appear to have the inside track on hearing their names called in Minnesota.

Three-peat for USA at World Under-18s

Defenseman Connor Murphy had the game of his young life, scoring twice including an overtime strike to give Team USA a come-from-behind sudden death victory over Sweden by a 4-3 score.

The goal had a little controversy in that it was scored as an American power play expired. Swedish captain Oscar Klefbom was called for holding when he took down Rocco Grimaldi as the little dynamo drove to the net for a scoring chance.

Murphy rifled a blast into the far side past netminder Niklas Lundstrom after his initial drive was blocked. When the puck bounced right back onto his stick, he re-cocked and fired, catching Lundstrom on his knees in anticipation of the initial shot. The goaltender may have been screened by the prone defenseman and didn't see the puck come screaming off of Murphy's stick until it was too late to react.

USA never led in the contest, falling behind in the first period on an early goal by Filip Forsberg. '94 defenseman Jacob Trouba tied the game with just eight seconds left in the opening frame with his only goal of the tourney.

Sweden got it going later in the second when Albin Blomkvist took a pass at the point, stepped up into the zone and ripped a hard wrist shot that beat goaltender John Gibson high to the glove side. Moments later, Gustav Björklund took a drop pass on a Sweden rush and fired it home to give his team what looked like an insurmountable 3-1 lead with 20 minutes left.

However, Murphy started the comeback with a score in the first two minutes of the final period to give the Americans hope. Although they had chances, they couldn't solve Lundstrom as time bled off the final clock and it appeared that Sweden would grab its first-ever Under-18 gold medal.

However, with just 1:29 left in the game, Reid Boucher, whose name was synonymous with "clutch" all tournament long, took a J.T. Miller pass, broke into the clear on a 2-on-1, and wired the puck into the net to send the game to overtime.

When Murphy scored, he secured USA Hockey's first-ever three-peat at the IIHF's Under-18 Championship. Coach Ron Rolston also earned his third gold medal.

For Sweden, it was a tough way to lose- getting called in overtime, but they played with fire all game, taking Grimaldi down in several cases, and not getting called for it. While one might argue that the penalties should have been called then and not in OT, the flip side of that argument is that the Swedes knew they were playing a dangerous game. By continuing to test the referees' patience, they finally got burned.

Miller, Gibson and defenseman/team captain Robbie Russo were named Team USA's three best players for the tournament, while Gibson also earned all-tournament honors as top goalie. Ryan Murphy (Canada) and Nikita Kucherov were named top defenseman and forward.

In any case, B2011DW salutes Team USA and all the teams for an excellent tournament. We will have more in-depth player recaps and observations to bring you in the coming days, but for now, the focus will shift back to the CHL playoffs, with all major junior leagues playing their respective semifinal series.

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch weighs in on scouting characteristics

We're the furthest thing from an NHL scout/expert, but Brock Otten asked for some panel assistance on a pretty interesting post he's done up on hockey attributes that scouts look for.

Have a look at this post on his excellent OHL Prospects blog- perhaps it serves as some food for thought.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter; World Under-18s wrap today

A year ago, Bruins 2010 Draft Watch posted this dandy on Easter Sunday:

London Knights center Jared Knight is also an interesting prospect and one to keep an eye on. The diminutive Michigander from Battle Creek, home of Kellogg's cereals, put up 36 goals this year (in 63 games) after a slow start and diabetes diagnosis (which explains a lot of why he looked out of it early on). Although he doesn't possess the speed and explosiveness you want from an undersized forward, Knight makes up for that with an intensity that few of his peers can match. He works extremely hard along the boards and in front of the net...his feet never stop moving. Knight is a natural goal scorer who likes to shoot first, and has really upped the ante in the post season, with six tallies in just seven games (along with 11 points). He was particularly effective in the first round against Sault Ste. Marie, when he and Nazem Kadri worked together to say "Knight-knight" to the Greyhounds in just five games (OK- terrible pun/joke-- I admit it). He's another solid second-rounder and might be a guy who appeals to Boston because of his ability to score. Will probably be able to play wing in the pros.

You can read the post here in its entirety if you like.

Easter comes much later this year (20 days to be exact), and Easter Sunday in 2011 will crown the World Under-18 champion. It all comes down to USA and Sweden.

That will be the focus of the blog today, and we'll get game notes up after it is in the books.

Next week we'll wrap coverage of the Under-18s with more player reports and feedback from scouts as they make their way back from across the pond.

Until then, regardless of your belief system, we hope you have a relaxing day.

Are you not entertained?

Bruins win Game 3 in double-OT thanks to Nathan Horton's first-ever sudden death postseason tally. Tim Thomas had some adventurous moments out of his net, but made the save of the season on Brian Gionta just moments before Horton ended it.

But, if not for this guy, the game doesn't go to OT, and the Habs have all the mojo going back to the Bell Centre. Michael Ryder put all those games in net as a ball hockey 'tender to good use and may have saved Boston's season.

Bruins up 3-2 with a chance to advance Tuesday if they can win on the road again.

Love playoff hockey!

World Under-18 Semifinals: USA, Sweden, advance to gold medal game

Sweden defeated Russia by a 3-1 score in a game that got ugly late. It was unfortunate to see some of the tomfoolery a couple of Russian players engaged in at the end, but up to that point, the two sides played hard. Ultimately, that Swedish defense prevailed.

Then, the Americans and Canadians played a game for the ages, with Canada surging back from a three-goal deficit in the third period to force overtime.

Tyler Biggs, who had been quiet all tournament offensively, and could have been one of the goats because of a bad penalty that led to a Canada power play goal to get them back in it, then beat Malcolm Subban with a high bullet blocker side in sudden death to grab a 5-4 victory and propel the Americans to a gold medal rematch with Sweden for the second year in a row.

After Brett Ritchie and J.T. Miller exchanged goals in the first period for a 1-1 score, Team USA dialed up the heat in the second frame, taking over momentum in the contest.

USA got another fabulous slot goal from Reid Boucher late in the second period to take a 2-1 lead after falling behind 1-0 in the opening frame. But the Americans tallied two short-handed goals in the same penalty kill in the third period to take a commanding 4-1 advantage.

Although Ritchie (2 goals) scored on a power play soon after Boucher's second goal of the game to cut the lead to two on what was a bad roughing penalty for Biggs, USA leaned on John Gibson did his best keep the Canadians at bay.

Unfortunately for the Americans, with Subban pulled with about three minutes remaining and the Canadians putting sustained offensive pressure on, Cole Bardreau made a costly mistake, scaling the puck over the glass to give Canada a 6-on-4 advantage. Ryan Murray, who looked every bit like a contender for first overall pick in 2012 today with a monster game at both ends, scored on a shot from near the blue line to make it 4-3.

Then, with Subban out again for the extra attacker, Murray got the puck to the net and Mark Scheifele ended up jamming it home for an improbable and outstanding comeback.

Reid Boucher, F- Player of the game for USA had a near carbon-copy of his winner against Russia late in the 2nd period; after taking a pass from Miller, he just ripped a high shot glove side that Subban had no chance on. Watching him play with Grimaldi is illuminating; Rocco is so amazingly fast and explosive, while Boucher is not. However, it doesn't matter because Boucher thinks the game so well and seems to make recognitions well ahead of most opponents. In short, he finds ways to isolate himself in prime scoring areas in the offensive zone, and then when the puck is anywhere near him, he makes his chances count.

J.T. Miller, F- Monster game from Miller, who showed every scout in attendance today why he's been talked about as a first-round pick for much of the year. Got USA on the board with a great rush and five-hole snipe. He then assisted on both goals by Boucher, one with a perfect feed from behind the net after Grimaldi knocked down Scheifele to allow Miller to gain possession, and then in the third while on the PK, when Miller drew an offensive zone draw right to his linemate, who buried it. Miller leads Team USA in scoring with four goals and 11 points in just five, that's right- five games. With his size (6-1), skating/speed, shot, puck skills and hockey IQ, Miller is putting on a show at absolutely the perfect time. Hello, top-30.

Tyler Biggs, F- We haven't had a lot to say about Biggs in the tourney because, well, frankly- he hasn't scored much and has taken entirely too many bad penalties. Some of it, you chalk up to him playing like the manchild he is and some of the international on-ice officials' tendency to make ridiculously bad calls when he blows a 150-pound kid up with a clean hit. That said, Biggs came through with an overtime dagger and at the end of the day, he's shown flashes of being a potential top-six power forward who can do a little bit of everything. Hands are still stiff, and scouts are going to continue to question the hockey sense, but after he hurt his team with an undisciplined penalty, he bounced back with the biggest goal of his young career. There's a lot to be said for that.

Rocco Grimaldi, F-Every time we watch him, we marvel at how noticeable and dynamic a little player he is. He didn't get on the scoresheet a bunch today, but he made a lot of plays defensively and on the PK to balance it out. He's still got issues with the size and strength, but he plays with so much intensity, and the fact that he made noticeable plays to knock Scheifele off the puck (leading directly to a Boucher goal) and then did it later to Travis Ewanyk, another guy much bigger than he, you have to give the youngster credit. Even if the points aren't coming in bunches (2 goals, 5 assists) he's doing a bunch of other things to help his team winner.

Zac Larraza, F- Scored a nice shorthanded goal on a jailbreak after he blocked a Reece Scarlett shot at the point and the Canadian defenseman stumbled as he tried to change direction when Larraza corralled it and took off up the ice. He's been a solid, underrated presence for this U.S. team. Not sold on his upside, but he looks like he could be an effective role player in the NHL one day.

Mike Paliotta, D- Kept it safe, simple and made a few memorable defensive plays. Also executed several nice stretch passes that didn't amount to goals, but showed he can make the breakout. Smooth, fluid skater who can transition effortlessly. Not a huge physical presence, but uses his size effectively to keep opponents away from the net and pin them against the boards. The lack of production/offensive dimension to his game is what will prevent him from being a first- or even second-round pick, but this future Vermont Catamount has enough in terms of his physical package and skating ability to be a defender at the highest level. He may just be another safe, unspectacular guy, however. Nothing wrong with that, but we saw him as bringing more to the table than that coming into the season.

Seth Jones, D- (2013 eligible) This sixteen-year-old has stud written all over him. He's already 6-3, and his dad, Popeye Jones, was about 6-8 when he played in the NBA, so we could see another three or more inches added to the youngster's height. He's an excellent skater with a wide base, good acceleration and balance. He handles the puck confidently and is effective at rushing it or moving it on the breakout. Likes to jump up into the play and has a pretty good shot already; it will develop more power and velocity as he gets older. Unfortunately, as a late '94, he won't even be draft eligible until 2013. That's going to give scouts plenty of time to pick apart his game, but for now, this young man who developed his passion for hockey in Toronto and Dallas (he calls Plano, TX home) has all the makings of a high-end prospect and definitely a player to watch in the next 26 months. One of our NHL scouting sources at the tourney texted to us today that Jones was one of the USA's best players, singling him out for praise.

John Gibson, G- If you're thinking that it was Gibson's fault that the Canadians forced overtime, you would be wrong. We asked a Western Conference NHL scout who is in Germany if Gibson was shaky and his response was an emphatic 'no'. When we opined that he was doing a good Jack Campbell impression in response, here is what the scout texted back to us: "Yes, but much more controlled (in his movements). Although not as invincible as Campbell a year ago." Then he added, "Gibson kept it together while his team fell apart."

Mark Scheifele, F- Solidifying his 1st-round stock with his performance in Germany, Scheifele did it again today, banging home a shot off the post in a wild scramble late in regulation to force OT. That gives him six goals in as many games in the tourney, and with his size and tools- a long, loping stride, quick hands and offensive instincts, this guy just has the look of an NHL player in time. He played for a poor team in Barrie this season, but still managed to make a name for himself.

Brett Ritchie, F- Power forward had a lot of interest coming into the season, but started sluggishly and was just coming on strong in January when he was felled by a bout with mono. Now only beginning to have his full strength and zip, it has showed in Germany, especially today, when he tallied a pair of power play markers. He's an OK skater, but is real strong on the puck and does the heavy lifting along the walls and in front of the net. Has a quick stick and keeps his big body planted in front of the net. Still raw and developing his overall game, this Sarnia Sting winger should secure second-round billing at least after the way he's played over the past 10 days.

Alan Quine, C- The Peterborough pivot may not be much of a defensive player, but he has legitimate skill as a playmaker. Small and not very strong, he nonetheless manages to pinball his way through the offensive zone with some dazzling agility and quickness at times. Puck is on his stick like a magnet as he slices defenses and then gets it out in front where his linemates can cash in. Superior vision, offensive feel and the soft touch to exploit seams in the o-zone. Had three helpers today...especially effective with the man advantage when he has more time and space to work with. Not impressive at all in his own end; does not look comfortable and will delay in picking up his man. There is some real unharnessed offensive potential with Quine, but he's going to need a lot of time and TLC by whichever NHL team drafts him. He looked like a first-rounder coming into the season, but lack of production and inconsistency dropped him. How low he goes remains to be seen, but if hockey was only played in the offensive end, then Quine would get a first-round grade.

Travis Ewanyk, C- Big, raw horse in the middle for Canada. A pure checker in this tourney with only one assist to show for his efforts, but excellent on faceoffs and earning a regular shift with his energy, hustle and smarts. Not all that exciting a player- good hitter in the open ice and mucks along the walls like you need him to, but seems to possess the toolbox to be an NHL player in time. He'll have to pay his dues, but there is a lot to like about this guy.

Ryan Murphy, D- Along with 'D' partner Murray, the Kitchener standout is leading Canada in scoring with three goals and nine points in six games. Although he was caught up ice and ended up in no-man's land when Biggs scored in OT, Murphy continued to show why he is one of the 2011 draft's most talked-about prospects. Tremendous skater who can rush the puck at will or move it to a breaking teammate just as effectively. Sees, feels and reacts to the game so instinctively; most can only dream of having his skill and awareness. Will get in trouble with his aggressiveness and attacking mindset, but such a talented offensive player that coaches can deal with that.

Ryan Murray, D- (2012 eligible) Terrific game from the captain, who just missed the 2011 draft by a couple of days, but is expected to be a top-three selection a year from now. Skilled, two-way defender plays a polished game and brings all the intangibles you want like hockey sense, determination and leadership. On one play, took the pass at his own blue line and then proceeded to skate through the entire U.S. squad, showing off impressive acceleration, superior edge control and stickhandling ability. Smart positionally and has the size and strength to be an excellent defensive player to go with his impressive offensive upside. Tied with Murphy for the team lead in scoring with nine points.

Canada plays Russia in the bronze medal game, while USA plays Sweden at 12:30 EST tomorrow, Easter Sunday.

Be on the lookout for Swedish forward William Karlsson, a skilled and heady centerman who has really come on playing for Vasteras Jr. team this season. He's having a strong tournament.

If the USA can win, it will be the first time ever that the U.S. has won three consecutive Under-18 championships.