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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

The B2011DW will be taking a brief hiatus today to travel to Toronto and celebrate the new year.

Tomorrow afternoon, I will be in Oshawa to take in the Oshawa Generals-Kitchener Rangers OHL game before heading back to home base on Sunday.

It has been genuinely awesome to be here first hand for the World Jr. tournament, and the valuable perspectives I've gained on these players while watching them live will help me when I watch the medal round on TV.

I will do detailed scouting reports on each 2011-eligible player worth noting at the end of it all in January, so stay tuned for that.

Plus, will have observations from the Generals-Rangers probably on Sunday sometime or Monday latest.

It's hard to believe that 2010 is coming to a close, but here we are on the eve of a new year.

I want to thank everyone for following and supporting this blog, and as we go into the dog days of winter and then the spring, things will be heating up here as we gear up for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Interview with Red Line Report Chief Scout and Publisher Kyle Woodlief; Part 3

B2011DW is back with the final installment of the interview conducted with Red Line Report sage Kyle Woodlief at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo.

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch: We've talked about players who are exceeding expectations. One player who seems to be on the opposite trajectory is Vancouver Giants defenseman David Musil. What are your thoughts on the season he's had and what he's going to have to do to improve his standing in the second half.

Kyle Woodlief: Well, it seems like his development has plateau'd. We all saw him as a 15-year-old playing in double under-agers and under-18 tournaments two years ago and you could see he had all the tools to be really special, but he hasn't really developed his offensive game. He doesn't shoot the puck very well. So, that's going to be a liability for him as a power play guy. So then you look at him as nothing more than number 2/number 3 guy who plays solid defense in his own end, which he does, and he plays physically. But, that's kind of why he's dropping down the list a little bit. You still like him and you still think he's going to be a quality NHLer, but I don't see the offensive upside there we all anticipated two, three years ago we might be seeing by this point.

B2011DW: Based on the standings, if the season ended today, the Bruins would own the third overall pick by virtue of that trade with Toronto, and their own pick, which as of today is 20th by virtue of their place atop the Northeast division standings. Would Musil be an OK value at 20 or even around 15 were the Bruins to take him there?

KW: I mean at 15 or 20 in the first round, if you can get a guy you can plug into your blue line for 10, 12 years, that's a great value. Any NHL team would sign up for that.

B2011DW: Some of the players who are kind of on the outside of that first round looking in that you've seen-- one in particular-- Joel Armia of Finland-- has he done some things in this tournament that has maybe earned him some consideration to move up in you standings, and why?

KW: Well, he had kind of a quiet game against Germany but I thought he played very well the other day against the Swiss. He was in there involved, banging, playing on the top line and using his size to get to the front of the net. He's got a really long, fluid stride and at 6-4, he handles the puck well. I think he's probably by the end of this tournament, he could make it into the back end of our first round (Editor's note- Armia was 33rd in Red Line's December rankings).

B2011DW: One player who I've noted seems to be rising on Red Line's list is someone from that other noted Scandinavian hockey power, Sweden: Rickard Rakell with the Plymouth Whalers and Sweden World Junior Team this year. Can you talk a bit about him and where is in your mindset right now?

KW: He's a hard nut! I mean, he just goes out there and he gives everything he's got every shift. He's a really intense player, which is what you love to see. He plays a North American style-- he's physical, he comes back and works just as hard in his own end as he does in the offensive end. He creates lots of havoc among defensemen and creates lots of turnovers that he turns into quality chances for both himself and his linemates. Has a better skill level than I thought when I first saw him last year. He's done nothing but improve in Plymouth all year, and there's no telling where he's going to wind up because we had him around 85 or 90 at the start of the year, and he's already knocking on the door of the first round. If he continues trajectory, I wouldn't be surprised if he's in the 20-25 range on our final list.

B2011DW: Final question, Kyle. Every year, you pick some "sleepers" and you've done well with a lot of those sleeper picks in past years. Assuming you were putting together your annual draft guide today, who are some of the players you would put in that sleeper category and call attention to?

KW: Well, if I had to pick some, Rakell, who we just touched upon would be one of them. He's been a sleeper already this year, so I might name him, and I might name the big kid Mike McKee down at Kent School. He's gigantic at 6-5, 230 pounds and he only shifted from left wing back to defense about a season-and-a-half ago, which I think some NHL teams aren't even fully aware of, yet. He's not good in his own end now, but you can see that he could be special because he's got those puckhandling skills that a left winger would have, but he's playing down on the backend now. So, he could be something because he's a really big guy who skates well, can quarterback your power play because he has a bullet shot and makes a really good first pass/sees the ice really well. He's got a really good chance if he can round out his game to be a special kind of guy.

B2011DW: Is it interesting to note that as an August 1993 birthdate, he's on the younger end of this draft class? Is his physical maturity remarkable for someone on the lower end of the group in terms of age?

KW: Yeah, it's unfortunate that he's playing at prep school because he doesn't even get to use the physicality. If you touch anybody at the prep level you seem to get a penalty. So, I worry that he's not developing properly as he should, although he is going to Northeastern, so he'll at least be in the Hockey East and not the Ivy League. He needs more and more games to acclimate and learn the finer points of the game, though, and he's not getting that at the prep level with a limited schedule.

Woodlief has left the WJC to attend the Under-17 tourney in Manitoba, so it gets to the matter of how hard he and his scouts work, and why he is a valued source when it comes to the NHL draft- he goes to the games and has a wealth of experience when it comes to scouting.

Interview with Red Line Report Chief Scout and Publisher Kyle Woodlief: Part 2

We resume the second part of our interview with Red Line Report's Kyle Woodlief, keeping along the Sweden theme and expanding out to other players of interest in the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch: Speaking of Swedes, Gabriel Landeskog-- he came over (to the OHL) last year, but this year has take it to a whole new level. What does he bring to the team that's going to draft him possibly in the top two or three picks in June?

Kyle Woodlief: I just love everything that I'm seeing out of Landeskog in Kitchener this year. He's a big kid who really likes to bang and get physical. I mean, he's one of the more physical Swedes you'll ever see. He plays a North American style. And, he's got the mix of size and skill that goes along with that physical toughness and aggression. He's a guy who, from the circles in buries his chances. He's got a really good scoring touch and he's very unselfish with the puck. He's a good playmaker; I think he's an underrated playmaker, and there's not very many weak areas of his game. He's a solid two-way player, he's big, he's strong, he's physical, he drives the net hard. He scores key goals. I don't think he's got quite as high a skill level as-- I've already said I don't see a Steve Stamkos or Matt Duchene in this crop-- I don't see him having quite the puck skills they have and the vision and creativity they have, but everything else is there. He's a guy who can probably play in the NHL next year.

B2011DW: One player you have higher than most is OHL defenseman Ryan Murphy probably because of the obvious skill level, skating and offensive upside. But what we've heard is that some NHL teams aren't sure whether he's be a regular rotation D or more of a specialist. Where do you see Murphy and what he does he need to do to stay around that top-five (RLR has him 6th overall in Decemeber)?

KW: There are two schools of thought on Murphy; he's not that strong in his own end. I mean, he's easily knocked off the puck and he'll take the puck and go with it all the time, so he needs to get better at refining his defensive techniques and paying a little more attention to what he needs to do in his own end. But, he's so dynamic. You look at a kid like Ryan Ellis; Murphy is so much of a better skater than Ellis will ever hope to be. And he's a lot more intelligent with the puck on his stick than Ellis and that's saying something, because Ellis is one of the most intelligent quarterbacks back there on the blue line that I have seen come along in the last 10 or 12 years. So, Murphy has all the things that Ellis does and much, much better skating ability with dynamic speed and acceleration. So, those are the things you accentuate. He's certainly going to be a power play quarterback who can quarterback a top power play in the NHL. The question is whether he-- he certainly has room to improve in his own end-- the question is will he take the coaching and will he get better at that? That's going to be the difference as to whether he's more of a specialist or a guy who puts up 20 minutes a night.

B2011DW: Right behind Murphy, you have a couple of teammates with the Niagara Ice Dogs who are doing great things in the OHL. You have Dougie Hamilton, the defenseman (7th) and Ryan Strome (8th). Are these guys two who have really exceeded your expectations for where you had them coming into the season?

KW: Absolutely, and Strome in particular. You saw him last year and you liked him, but I didn't think he was going to take it to this level this quickly. He's a guy who's got just great puck skills; he dangles with the puck and has got great speed. Really, he doesn't need any time or space to get his shot away. He has a knack for getting to open ice. So, he's the guy who's probably come up the list further than anybody this year to crack our top-10.

Hamilton...I love that kid. He's a two-way beast. He'll nail you, play physically in the defensive end, he can take the puck and go end-to-end with it. He can quarterback the power play. I think he's actually better as the triggerman on the power play-- he's got a big shot. He's approaching Larsson's level. Larsson's been there a couple of years, whereas Hamilton's development curve is heading straight up. So, Hamilton, I'd be shocked if he made it out of the top-eight picks this year.

We'll be back later with Part 3 to close the interview out with a player who is falling in the rankings but could be a nice value with Boston's first-round pick (assuming they keep it) and a couple of sleepers.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Interview with Red Line Report Chief Scout and Publisher Kyle Woodlief: Part 1

Okay, gang- last year I did one of these and it got great reviews, so after sitting next to Mr. Kyle Woodlief, former NHL scout for the Nashville Predators, USAToday hockey columnist and the tireless machine behind Red Line Report tonight during the Canada-Norway game at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, I was able to secure a long, and ultimately revealing interview about the 2011 draft class, Adam Larsson, Gabriel Landeskog and other top draft prospects.

I have to break it up into multiple parts, but the level of thought and detail that Kyle shared is indicative of his professionalism and experience in the hockey scouting business as his independent scouting review is now in its 18th season of publication (Woodlief has owned and operated it since 1998, however).

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch: Can you give us an assessment of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft class on the whole?

Kyle Woodlief: I think at the top-end you've got the four guys with (Gabriel) Landeskog, (Sean) Couturier and (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins and (Adam) Larsson. They fairly separate themselves out from the pack. They're very good players, but there's nobody in that bunch-- you know, we're kind of spoiled these last few years-- there's nobody in that bunch that's going to be a (Steven) Stamkos or a (Matt) Duchene or (Victor) Hedman or anybody of that caliber. They're all solid players, there's not really that star magnitude to any of them.

I'm actually pleasantly surprised, though-- when it was coming into the season-- we all thought it was going to be kind of a down, kind of a weak year and as the season's gone on, a lot of guys have jumped up that we didn't expect to fill in that 25-50 range where we thought the depth would fall off severely. And I'm looking now at guys we have ranked in that range 25-50 and there's a lot of guys I like there. So, I think all the naysayers and doomsayers before the season may have gotten it a little premature. I think it's actually going to be a better crop this year than what we expected and on the whole at least an average crop.

B2011DW:In your October issue of this year, you headlined it with the words "Uninspiring Class." Has your outlook changed a bit in the months since?

KW: Yes, it definitely has. That (issue) was put out in the first week of October and we were only two, three weeks into the season at that point. And each league has seen guys that for me have been positive surprises jumping up. Guys like Mark McNeill and Kale Kessy out in the WHL, guys like Shane Prince in the OHL I don't want to say come out of nowhere, but it's just a heck of a lot better than I anticipated it being at the beginning of the season. I think you've got the whole contingent in Saint John and Shawinigan's got a pretty good group in the 'Q' as well, so there's definitely more depth filling in in those second- and third tiers.

B2011DW: Looking at your December rankings, you have Sean Couturier at the top which is probably no surprise given the expectations coming in, but Adam Larsson has fallen off (No. 4). Can you talk a little about the reasons for dropping him in your rankings and talk about what you've seen from him in the tournament here in Buffalo so far?

KW: I'll address this tournament so far first. He's actually rebounded well and he's playing very well here in this tournament. It's actually the best I've seen him play in any international tournament in more than a year. In all honesty, he'd been severely underwhelming in most of the international tournaments in the last year. I gave him a pass last Christmas because he was so young for the age group playing in the WJC out in Regina last year. He played awfully out in Regina last year, but I gave him a pass because he's so young. I thought the one international tournament he played well in was in Belarus in April (2010) and the World Under-18s, he played a solid tournament there. But, he was very mediocre, decidedly mediocre in Lake Placid this summer. And again, you kind of give him a pass because it's summer hockey but at some point, you want to see him show more. He went to Karlovy Vary (in Czech Republic) last month in November at the Under-20 tournament there and played very poorly. And that was the main reason for dropping him. We'd seen some uninspired performances in the last 12 months from him. I know my Swedish scout has told me that he's playing very well in league play over in Sweden so we all know it's there and what he can do when he's on top of his game. But, he needs to be on top of his game a bit more frequently than what we've seen from him if we're going to rank him in the top one or two.

B2011DW: A year ago, in some circles (this blog space included) Larsson was compared to Victor Hedman in terms of having that kind of potential in terms of being an NHL cornerstone. What are your thoughts on that now having had a year to watch him? Is the potential still there for him to be a high-end two way defenseman in this league?

KW: I never quite had him on that level. I always had Hedman as a notch above him and even frankly, Oliver Ekman-Larsson I think has more long-term upside than Adam Larsson does because of his unbelievable skating ability. I know a lot of people over in Sweden think that he has that sort of (cornerstone) potential. I think that he's going to be a really strong, solid defenseman in the NHL for a long time. But I don't know if I would ever see him as a true number one defenseman. I see him more as a number two who's going to eat a lot of minutes and be maybe a 40-45-point scorer. I don't see him being that number one guy who's going to come in and get 60-70 points and really lead a top power play. He makes a great first pass out of his own end. He plays solid, he plays physical. I'd like to see him, with his big body, to play physically a little more consistently along the walls and in front of the crease where he just kind of has a tendency to just lean on guys instead of getting aggressive with them. I think he's a legitimate 15-year NHL player and number two guy who, on a poor team, will maybe play as a number one from time to time. But I don't see him having that highest end that a Hedman or an Ekman-Larsson has.

That's it for part 1. I'll be back with part 2 to close it out tomorrow before I head to the Dwyer and HSBC arenas for the games.

2011 WJC player updates Days 2-4

Well, it's Wednesday here in Buffalo and not a great deal of good hockey today to get excited about.

The Finland-Germany game was on par with the game the Finns played against Switzerland yesterday. They won that one by a 4-0 score and beat Germany 4-1 after chasing starter Philipp Grubauer from the net (the second time in three starts he's gotten the hook in the tourney, btw).

Germany is a bad team, but Finland, as efficient as they are, just seem to suck the life out of their games. They wait for opponents to make mistakes and capitalize. This is much of a contrast to the blistering speed of the aggressive Swedish and Russian teams in Sweden's 2-0 win last night.

The Canada-Norway game later this evening didn't hold much hope for excitement...unless you're a Canadian and like Sega Genesis EA Sports NHL 94-like blowouts or something. And true to form, it was a total laugher, aided in the 1st period by horrendous goaltending from Soberg (who pulled himself after allowing five- most of them softies) and Volden (who promptly allowed two more softies). The final was 10-1 with Brayden Schenn finishing up a four-goal, five-point night, but not getting voted the game's 1st star by the "media" (I quote that because I am part of the "media" and have yet to get a vote sheet handed my way for any of these games. Not sure who's picking these gems, but I ain't part of it nor is anyone else I know here.)

So, after a not-so-great day of hockey, I'll pust some observations on the key 2011-eligible players here on the heels of three pretty good days with some moribund individual games in between.


Sven Bartschi, LW- This has not been a good tournament so far for the talented winger who is playing with countryman and Swiss team captain Nino Niederreiter in the WHL with Portland. Bartschi has nice wheels and hands, but has been a perimeter player here for the most part. Not very involved in the play beyond some flashes here and there, to say that Bartschi's been a disappointment is an understatement. That said, he's a nice kid who just got some help when he gets back to the Winterhawks in the form of B's prospect Craig Cunningham.

Gregory Hofmann, C-- Playing on the wing here in Buffalo more than up the middle, this kid has been a nice revelation. Possessing OK size, he's a good skater with rapid acceleration and pretty good east-west agility and shiftiness. He was particularly good in the first day win over Germany and less so in the shutout loss to Finland on Day 3. He handles the puck well and has several gears that he uses to go in and out of traffic and control the tempo, He made a terrific pass on Switzerland's first goal of the tournament and most folks you talk to in the scouting community here like him. The knocks? The Bruins have yet to draft a Swiss player in their history. He's playing on a line with a teammate on the Ambri Piotta pro team back home, so he does have some chemistry already established that most WJC players on these teams do not.


Tobias Rieder, LW-- Another disappointment, although Rieder came alive on the tourney's fourth day against Finland. He scored a highlight reel goal on Joni Ortio in the third period to break a 4-0 shutout bid and it was a beauty- he charged in alone at full speed, slowed, then put on a lightning deke backhand-to-forehand-to-backhand, and when Ortio pulled himself out of line with the net, Rieder slid the puck into the yawning cage. The skilled little winger also had several scoring chances against the Finns. That being said, his first two games were pretty poor and until today, he was right with Bartschi for tourney's most disappointing player award if I gave such an award out. His ice time has been sporadic at times, but Rieder simply hasn't done enough consistently to make a big case about it. He's definitely a player in terms of his skating and hands, but the energy I heard about him possessing in Kitchener hasn't been there. I've been left wanting more with him.


Joel Armia, RW-- At 6-3 and about 190, this guy has the size and goal scoring chops that NHL teams crave. He's shown off those raw tools pretty effectively in Buffalo, even though he has nothing to show for it. He got hosed on a goal called back against Switzerland when it should have counted (net knocked off purposely by Swiss player before puck crossed) and he was standing in front of Philipp Grubauer on a screen against Germany and credited with the goal only to have Joonas Nattinen get the nod later in the game for it. In the end, it doesn't really matter because anyone watching Armia closely has seen some good things. Red Line Report chief scout and publisher Kyle Woodlief will be by the B2011DW blog a little later to go into detail about Armia's game for you.


Gabriel Landeskog, RW-- To say that I'm choked about not getting to see Landeskog in this tourney live is an understatement. Aggravating a high ankle sprain he suffered in his final OHL game last week, this top 2011 draft candidate could be on the shelf for a long time. How will it affect his draft position if at all? We'll have to see. More on him later from Woodlief.

Adam Larsson, D-- Finally got to see him live in a very fast-paced and spirited 2-0 win over the Russians on Day 3 and wasn't disappointed. Again, I'll let Woodlief break down his game for you, and he really gave me a ton of stuff on him. But, bottom line- Larsson's looked like a high first-round pick this week and just needs to keep building on it. Now, having said that, some may be surprised to hear what Red Line's chief scout thinks about Larsson's upside/NHL projection. Kyle might be right, and he might be off, but the internet hype machine is a detriment to someone like Larsson because for the past 1.5 yrs, people have been thinking he's a future Niklas Lidstrom-type franchise cornerstone, and that simply may not be the case. He was good for me, but not fabulous. So therein lies the dilemma for scouts.

Rickard Rakell, RW-- When Gabriel Landeskog was lost for the WJC with a high ankle sprain, Team Sweden needed people to step up, and no player did more than Rakell against the Russians. Although only averaged sized, he was fast, intense, gritty, physical and really distinguished himself in all facets of the game except on the scoresheet. But one can't help but wonder whether with his speed and quick stick, whether some nice offensive performances are right around the corner. He's been good in Plymouth from what I hear, but if he maintains this sandpaper, edgy aspect to his game, Rakell will be a first-round pick in June.


Anton Burdasov, C--
Passed over twice in the draft, one can only wonder why, because even with the transfer/signability concerns, what NHL team doesn't want a guy who stands about 6-3, can really skate, handle the puck and play with a lot of energy. This guy, along with Vladimir Tarasenko, have been Russia's best players in the tourney. Others, like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov, have left me wanting more...a lot more. Burdasov may have some skeletons in the closet or something, but from a pure hockey standpoint, this guy seems like a third- or fourth-rounder to me. But, I'm not a pro scout, either.


Tomas Jurco, RW--
This very skilled kid hasn't gotten much of a chance as one of the younger players on Team Slovakia, which is a shame. Fast, extremely deft with the puck and creative, in limited shifts, he managed to create several quality/noticeable scoring chances against the Germans in a 2-1 overtime victory. He's already well acquainted with the North American aspects of hockey having spent a year-plus with the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs and just seems to have all the tools to be an offensive threat in the NHL one day. He's not huge and has a lot of filling out to do.

Peter Ceresnak, D-- The seventh D hasn't played but with Martin Marincin suspended for his hit to the head of Jason Zucker over the next four games, the big, shutdown defender will get his chance here in Buffalo.


Sean Couturier, C--
Considered by many to be the one candidate most likely for top billing in 2011 hasn't done much in the tournament. Some of it is a reflection of his role and ice time as Canada's youngest player, but some of it is Couturier. He's just kind of there. He was fine in the first win over Russia, but has been barely noticeable in the victories over Czech Republic and Norway. He doesn't look like a very dominant player right now-- he's got the size and moves OK, but his play has been on the tentative side as if he doesn't want to make a mistake. He was barely noticeable in the 10-1 shellacking of Norway and this after he got more ice time with the absence of Jaden Schwartz and Matt Kassian (and even Cody Eakin who got injured in the 1st and did not return)from the lineup.(Note- to save the the time of outraged readers who will post comments to inevitably point out that he scored his first goal of the WJC in this game-- well, yes, he did. But it's what he didn't do in the first two periods I was talking about. He's capable of so much more than we got tonight.)

I'll be back with more detailed reports on these players and others when the tournament concludes, but it's a good start.

5 Minutes in the Box with: Tomas Jurco

Last season, I did "2 Minutes in the Box with" Q & A features, and I figured now was as good a time as any to resurrect that.

NHL.com's Mike Morreale and I pinned down Slovak winger Tomas Jurco for about five minutes after his team's overtime victory against Germany the other night, so rather than just sift through my questions, I thought I would post the entire transcript for all to see.

Most of these Q&As won't run as long as this one did, and are therefore more of the two-minute minor variety. But, Jurco was extremely accomodating, and I would venture to say that this is one of the more detailed looks at a top 2011 draft candidate. Admittedly, didn't see him in action against USA, so my thoughts are based on video I've seen of him in Saint John and his limited ice time against Germany.

Tomas Jurco; 12/27/10- Buffalo, NY
Slovakia 2, Germany 1 (OT)

Q1: How important was it for Slovakia to get the win in the first game of the tournament tonight?

Tomas Jurco: Yeah, sure- it was a pretty hard game and it we stayed focused until the end and we won. It was obviously a really big win for us.

Q2: How huge was the goaltender for you tonight?

TJ: Our goalie was awesome. He had a few great saves and we really appreciate it. He’s a really good guy and a goalie so it’s even better for us.

Q3: How’s his (Dominik Riecicky’s) English?

TJ: His English? He doesn’t speak. (laughs)

Q4: If he plays like that tomorrow night against the U.S. would you give your team a shot?

TJ: Oh, sure. If he plays like he did tonight, I would say it’s going to be really hard games for USA. I think we can play really good defensively we can even beat the USA.

Q5: How about this tournament for you, Tomas? What were your expectations coming in; what were your personal goals for this tournament? Did you set anything for yourself?

TJ: I didn’t really have any goals for myself. The big goal for us is to go as far as we can and maybe get the medal.

Q6: How important has it been for you to be in North America? This is now your second season after coming over from Slovakia- how has that helped you play on this ice surface?

TJ: I think it’s really helped me a lot to get used to the size of the rink and just help with the zones. The neutral zone is smaller; it’s really hard for a European player so I feel real confident right now.

Q7: Culturally too? An adjustment coming over from Europe and being in Saint John- has it been, was it a real change for you culturally with learning the language and all?

TJ: Yeah. When I first came I didn’t really speak English. It was really hard to learn to speak English. At first, I would say the hardest thing then I had to get used to was the league and the off-sides and different play. After first half of the season, I get used to it and it’s much better now.

Q8: Tomas, how about you physically? Do you enjoy the physical aspect of the game; do you get into the corners? Is that part of your game?

TJ: I wouldn’t say I’m like a really physical guy. I would say I’m more like skills, skating and that type of player. But I’m not afraid to get hit and all those things.

Q9: How about playing in Saint John with your teammates there- you’ve got quite a team. What’s it like to be a part of that and are you optimistic that the team can make a run this year?

TJ: The atmosphere there is really good and we are on winning streak, so I hope we are going to continue like that. And hopefully win the league and get to the Mem. Cup.

Q10: Did you have any hockey idols that you looked up to and tried to pattern your game after?

TJ: When I was young, maybe like 13, I liked, I still like Sidney Crosby. But now, I like Slovakian players in the NHL. I like Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa.

Q11: How about that shootout goal? That thing is a Youtube sensation- were you caught up by Youtube and that goal? Do a lot of people talk about that? Do you recall the play and how fun it was to score that goal?

TJ: Yeah. I was remembering it and it was really great feelings right after. It didn’t have that much attention before; I would say this year it got more attention than last year. But I’m really happy for that and we’ll see, maybe I’m going to repeat it sometime.

Q12: Did you know you were going to make that move?

TJ: Yeah, I knew that. I would say I made that move when I was little. When I was little, I used to play ball hockey and I tried all those moves. So, I tried it in a game and it worked, so I’m really happy.

Q13: What has been the most interesting story or experience you’ve had since coming over to the Quebec League? Anything out of the ordinary?

TJ: Ah, no. Not really.

Q14: Just one of the guys?

TJ: Yeah, I’m just one of the guys. We have a really good team and the guys are happy with everything.

Q15: How about (Jonathan) Huberdeau? He’s having a heck of a season.

TJ: Yeah, Jonathan Huberdeau is having a really good year. He’s got lots of points so it can help him a lot this year for his draft year.

Q16: Are you excited to both be there experiencing (the draft) together?

TJ: Sure. It’s really good to play with the players like that: Jonathan Huberdeau, Zack Phillips, Nathan Beaulieu—we’re all four prospects for this year, so it’s really exciting to play there. For sure it’s got the good side, but it’s got a worse side for all those players to be together so they don’t get that much ice time. If you gotta fight for the ice time, it’s really hard, so it’s better for the team.

Q17: Are you on a line with Zack Phillips?

TJ: I used to play with Zack Phillips and Jonathan Huberdeau, but now I play with Stanislav Galiev and Michael Kirkpatrick. We switched the lines.

Here's the aforementioned YouTube sensation shootout vid for those who haven't seen it.

WJC updates forthcoming

Draft watch fans-- the action and games have been fast and furious.

I haven't had a chance to update the blog as much as I would like because of my commitments to New England and New York Hockey Journals, but keep checking back, as I will do some player notes here today based on the last two days of action.

First up, however, is a Q & A with Slovak winger Tomas Jurco from two nights ago after their win over Germany, so once that is posted, I'll get more player updates on the blog when I'm at the HSBC Arena.

As one media colleague, this is nonstop, so hang in there.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Waffle Watch: 2011 Boston Bruins draft pick update 27 Dec.

Welcome to the final draft pick update for the 2010 calendar year! It's hard to believe that 2011 is upon us, but by this time next week, that's precisely where we'll be. That much closer to the draft in St. Paul come June.

The bad news for the Waffle Watch was that the Toronto Maple Leafs went up against the only team in the NHL that can make the moribund Leafs lineup seem appetizing: the New Jersey Devils.

Off since a bad loss last week to Vancouver, the Leafs went into Newark last night and thrashed the hapless Devils at home to the tune of a 4-1 score. They didn't escape the Garden State unscathed, however. With the bad snowstorm pelting parts of the Eastern Seaboard, the team bus got stuck in a snow bank after the game and the team didn't arrive at their hotel until after 3:30 a.m. All told, however, the Waffle Warriors will take the win.

Leafs' win coupled with brutal Edmonton loss, propels the Leaf into the 26th spot in the NHL standings. They both have played 34 games and both have 30 points, but Toronto wins the tie-breaker. The Oil need to pick it up to keep the Waffle Watch tank vibe in full effect.

The good news is, buoyed by the outstanding play of NHL 1st star Dwayne Roloson, the New York Islanders, in the league cellar since the second week of October, won three games last week to cut Toronto's lead to just six points in the standings.

What to do about the Devils?

Clearly, Jacques Lemaire's undistinguished start as the new head coach after Lou Lamoriello fired John MacLean (two days before Christmas I might add) shows that NJ's problems are beyond what any guy behind the bench can fix. Marty Brodeur's game has gone south this season and there simply aren't enough players on the back end who can compensate for his losing a couple of steps. Although the forwards are good on paper, they aren't scoring. All told, it's a recipe for disaster.

With just 20 points, the Devils are fading fast. The amazing thing is, as bad as they've played, they're only 10 points behind the Leafs in the standings. Bruins fans should take heart that the Toronto pick is still shaping up as a good one. Of course, there are only 10 points separating the Leafs in 26th from the Bruins in 15th (14th by virtue of points, but the B's are the eighth seed and therefore would pick in the first playoff spot- 15). And then there's always the lottery for better or for potentially worse.

Here are the picks if the season ended today:

1st Round
4th overall- Toronto (30 points; 13-17-4)- Completes Phil Kessel trade.
15th overall- Boston (40 points; 18-11-4)

2nd Round
40th overall- Minnesota (36 points;16-14-4)- Completes Chuck Kobasew trade.
45th overall- Boston

3rd Round
72nd overall- Phoenix (39 points; 16-11-7) - Completes Derek Morris trade.
Boston pick traded to Florida; Completes Nathan Horton deal

4th Round
105th overall- Boston

5th Round
135th overall- Boston

6th Round
165th overall- Boston

7th Round
186th overall- Florida (conditional)- Jeff LoVecchio, Jordan Knackstedt to Panthers for Sean Zimmerman, cond. 7th
Boston pick traded to Chicago (Zach Trotman)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Live from Buffalo-- 2011 World Junior Championships: Day 1

The 2011 World Junior Championships opened today in Buffalo, N.Y. at the HSBC Arena, and we had three games in a full docket.

The Swiss and Germans faced off first, with the game starting at 12:30.

The game featured four draft eligibles on the radar: Tobias Rieder and Marcel Noebels ('92) for Germany and Sven Bartschi and Gregory Hofmann on Team Switerzland.

Hofmann had the edge in play throughout the game-- the 6-0, 170-pounder is a late '92 who plays for Ambri of the Swiss top pro league. He's a good skater who accelerates to speed quickly and kept his feet moving throughout the game. Hoffman played with a lot of energy and enthusiasm throughout and had a nice primary assist on the game's 1st goal when he was deep in the Germany zone after blowing a tire. He sucked the German D toward him and then found a wide-open Inti Pestoni, who skated in, cut left and deposited a backhander behind Philipp Grubauer (who would be chased from the nets for Germany after allowing 4 goals on 9 shots).

Bartschi showed off his nice wheels and hands at times, but didn't get a whole lot going in this game. He spent a lot of time on the perimeter, and although noticeable with his skills, he didn't accomplish much.

Same was true for Rieder, whose ice time was reduced significantly in the first because of Germany's penalty troubles (they allowed three power play goals against). Like Bartschi, he didn't do a whole lot, but there were a few plays where you could see the ability. On one play down behind the goal line near the Swiss net, he put on a nice display of puckhandling and skating in a tight space to throw the defender off, but it didn't amount to anything.

Noebels, who went undrafted last summer and has the reputation as being a soft perimeter player, was voted Germany's player of the game after a goal and assist in the loss. His goal was scored after he drove hard to the net and put in a rebound. He's an interesting guy to watch going forward perhaps as a late-round look from someone. He played with some passion and drive today after the Germans looked cooked in the 1st period. Nice comeback, even if it fell short.

In the Canada-Russia game, only Sean Couturier was the 2011 prospect playing. He was fine-- didn't do a lot to stand out, but you can see he has the potential to be a real player down the road. His feet are a little heavy, but he's a fine skater once he gets going in a straight line. As he matures and adds more power to his lower body, I don't think the skating will be an issue at the next level. With most younger players, ice time tends to be tough to come by in this tournament, so it will be interesting to see how Canada employs him going forward.

In USA-Finland, the Finns had Joel Armia and Miikka Salomaki from the 1993-birth year group in the game. As you know from reading the blog, Team USA's 2011-eligible contingent: (Dean Wormer voice) Zero point zero.

Armia has nice size and a nice, long skating stride. His initial burst and acceleration is a little rough, but he can cover a lot of ground with that 6-4 frame. He possesses quick hands and a pretty good stick. He had a tough time getting much going in terms of the quality scoring chances tonight (I sense a recurring theme for the day), but you can see why he's generating some buzz this season.

All in all, the games today were pretty sloppy, "ragged" (as one scout told me) affairs-- to be expected for the first contests of the tournament with many of these teams still trying to develop the chemistry that could help take them all the way.

From a purely 2011 draft watching perspective, we'll hope that some of these guys eligible will get a little more time and space to show what they're capable of. For the most part, today was a pretty underwhelming affair as far as the draft prospects go.

I had an uneventful trip here, and let's face it-- anytime you can get off the plane, go straight to the rink and be watching high-level hockey within an hour or so, it's a pretty good day. Tomorrow's schedule promises to be lighter, so looking forward to getting caught up on everything.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Boxing Day

This is a pre-emptive post before I head out tomorrow for the Canadian holiday Boxing Day.

If you're an American and you know about Boxing Day, chances are, you're either A. Have family from Canada or B. You're a hockey fan.

The great thing about Boxing Day is that it marks the beginning of the World Junior Championships every year. It may not be the best tourney to go and see the draft-eligibles, but it is the best exhibition of non-NHL talent every year.

So, ny busy day begins with a quick flight to Buffalo (I hope) and checking in at HSBC Arena pretty soon after touching down to catch the Germany-Switzerland game at 12:30. That will be followed by Canada-Russia at 4, and then the night cap- USA-Finland at 8.

Crazy day, but wouldn't have it any other way. As far as prospects for the 2011 draft are concerned, Tobias Rieder and Sven Bartschi are first up. Then it's Sean Couturier (the Russians brought a roster comprised almost entirely of 1991-birthdates, with the exception of Caps first-rounder Evgeny Kuznetsov). Like the USA, they're not a lot of fun watching if you're looking for guys in the 2011 draft class. Finland has Joel Armia, who looks like he's headed for the 1st round, goalie Samu Perhonen (don't know how much playing time he'll get).

Let the fun begin.

Merry Christmas

I hope you and yours had a great holiday and restful time.

Getting ready to head to Buffalo tomorrow morning, so no more blogging until I get on the ground there and can start in with the WJC coverage.

Again, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. As always, thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Midseason Bruins prospect update

The 2010-11 is just about halfway through so I figured it was time for a prospect update. For those of you with access to the New England Hockey Journal, my annual (since 2000) Bruins top-10 prospects feature will run in the January 2011 issue, due out the second week of the month. For those without, I expect it will appear on the www.hockeyjournal.com later in the month so keep checking back.

I won't steal the thunder, so what I have done instead is to post my pre-season ranking with a stock watch next to each name. Once the top-10 is published and on the street, I'll do a revised post in January for the B's mid-season prospect rankings so you can see how much players moved up, down and graduated.

Of course, this is all highly subjective. I've seen most of the players in some shape or form either via development camp, rookie games, training camp, live NHL and AHL games or video. But, even with those viewings there are bound to be disagreements over where certain players are on the list. Until these guys prove themselves (or not) there is no way to know if the rankings and projections are justified, but opinions need to be defended nonetheless.

So, with that in mind, here is the re-post of the pre-season ranked Bruins prospects, along with notes and observations from this season after August when the list was generated.

1. Tyler Seguin, C/W (graduated)
Not surprisingly-- made the team out of camp and has shown flashes of his myriad hockey gifts even without ice time/role to put up consistent production.

2. Joe Colborne, C
From a purely skills/physical standpoint, Colborne deserves a place near the top of the Boston depth chart. But, he's brought an uneven performance to the ice with him in 1st pro season. Stock watch: Down

3. Jordan Caron, RW
Made the NHL out of camp and played 20 games with the Bruins before Marc Savard's return resulted in his being sent down to Providence. Hasn't had the anticipated production numbers to show for it in AHL, but still very well-rounded player with bright future. Stock watch: Up

4. Max Sauve, LW
Speed scoring in spades, but for second consecutive season, missed extended time with an injury. Last year it was an ankle, this time, a wrist, but this guy is one of the most skilled, dangerous scorers in the organization. That said, he must prove he's not deserving of "injury prone" moniker. Stock watch: Up

5. Jared Knight, RW
Goal numbers are down, but second-rounder is playing a better overall game on pace for a modest bump in point totals. Stock watch: Up

6. Ryan Button, D
WHL defenseman has the skill to be a two-way threat at next level, but his role in Prince Albert's system is reflected in the middle-of-the-pack numbers. Won't know what he's capable of until he goes pro and is allowed to spread the wings a bit. Stock watch: Down

7. Brad Marchand, LW (graduated)
Proved he belongs in the NHL with excellent start to 10-11 season; among all NHL leaders in shorthanded points, playing with speed, tenacity and jam.

8. Ryan Spooner, C/W
Small, but uber-skilled forward raised eyebrows with a trade request that sent him to Kingston. One of Boston's most dynamic offensive talents in the system, but must learn to play a more complete game at both ends. Stock watch: Up

9. Yury Alexandrov, D
A slow start raised doubts, but the talented Russian is showing why he was a high second-rounder. Must continue to get stronger, adapt to the zone game and culture in North America, but coming around as a potential puck mover. Stock watch: Steady

10. Zach Hamill, C
One goal in 28 AHL games. Does anything else need to be said for the one-time top-10 pick drafted for offensive ability right now? Stock watch: Bottoming out

11. David Warsofsky, D
Point-per-game pace is indicative of his tremendous speed and talent. Whether the Marshfield native can translate that upside in the pros is the big question, but he deserves spot inside top-10 of Bruins prospect depth chart right now. Stock watch: Up

12. Adam McQuaid, D (graduated)
Solid stay-at-homer got his chance to play when Johnny Boychuk broke his forearm on a slash. That paved the way for Matt Hunwick trade to Coloroado. Five fights and dependable play makes him an ideal No. 6-- just don't expect a lot out of him.

13. Jamie Arniel, C
Moving up the depth chart with his excellent two-way contributions and offensive production as Providence's leading goal scorer. Already has gotten an NHL game under his belt in two call ups-- should be ready for regular look next season. Stock watch: Up

14. Tommy Cross, D
Size, talent and injury prone. Cross on the shelf for an extended period of time once again. Will Boston ever get their money's worth (35th overall pick) out of the BC assistant captain? Doesn't look like it. Stock watch: Down

15. Michael Hutchinson, G
Beat out two more experienced (but limited) goalie options to win job as Nolan Schaefer's backup in Providence this season; has shown glimpses of his skill and upside, but is still too green, inconsistent to project even with some solid starts, wins in AHL as a rookie. Stock watch: Holding steady

16. Alexander Fallstrom, RW
Big winger with jam hasn't made much of an impact as a sophomore. Is going to be a grinder at the NHL if he makes it, but let's face it: More expected of him at Harvard. Stock watch: Down

17. Andrew Bodnarchuk, D
Undersized stay-at-home got a chance to play in the NHL to close out last season, but what are his chances for making an impact in the Bruins organization at this point? Despite the good wheels, doesn't have much of an upside. Stock watch: Down

18. Steven Kampfer, D
Has managed to leapfrog Bodnarchuk because Kampfer brings the offensive element to the table that the former QMJHL defenseman does not. Up in Boston and playing well enough because he can carry the puck and help the limited transition game for the Bruins right now. Stock watch: Up

19. Yannick Riendeau, RW
Hands and hockey sense are above average, but size and skating negate those advantages. Down in the ECHL right now and with Providence's scoring woes ongoing, that he hasn't gotten more of a chance to kickstart the offense speaks to where his stock is right now. Stock watch: Down

20. Jeff Penner, D
Another skilled, but undersized defenseman for Boston-- Penner is having a decent season, but still isn't seen as much of a viable option at the NHL level for Boston. Stock watch: Holding steady as AHL roster filler

21. Mikko Lehtonen, RW
A surprisingly effective offensive season in the Swedish Elite League still doesn't address the fact that the big, talented Finn doesn't play defense or bring enough intensity to the mix. Don't expect the Bruins to suddenly bring him over and put him into the picture even with the big numbers in SEL. Stock watch: Down

22. Matt Bartkowski, D
One of the biggest risers in the organization after a great training camp. Upside is a question mark, and he did struggle a bit in Providence when first returned after Boston's trip to Europe, he's got some size, toughness and solid mobility/puck distribution. Stock watch: Up

23. Craig Cunningham, LW
Has cooled considerably after hot offensive start for WHL as Vancouver Giants captain. Good player, but expectations for the undersized, hard-working forward in the pros need to be tempered. Has a shot as a third- or fourth-liner, but junior numbers not likely to carry over at next level. Stock watch: Up

24. Matt Dalton, G
Couldn't beat Hutchinson as the AHL backup, so is down in ECHL this season. Free agent out of Bemidji State two years ago isn't in the picture right now. Stock watch: Down

25. Lane MacDermid, LW
Significant improvement in skating and puck skills at camp demonstrate his excellent work ethic. He'll likely replace Shawn Thornton on Boston's fourth line one day...assuming Sugar slows down, which he shows no sign of lately. Stock watch: Up

26. Zane Gothberg, G
As raw as a steak tare tare, but this goalie has that special "it" that usually sees players at the position beat long odds to make it over time (see: Thomas, Tim). With no pressure on him whatsoever, Bruins can be patient and just let him develop. Coming around in first USHL season after struggling initially. Stock watch: Up

27. Jeff LoVecchio, LW- Traded

28. Tyler Randell, RW
Hard working, but limited and with a grinder role on Steve Spott's high-flying Kitchener club, isn't going to get many points. Still, has a good shot and will fight/play it rough, so with some recent trades to free up some space near the bottom of the depth chart, why not sign him and see whether he can play his way into the NHL picture? Stock watch: Holding steady

29. Jordan Knackstedt, RW- Traded

30. Maxim Chudinov, D
As the go-to guy offensively on Cherepovets's blue line, this undersized, but impressive specimen bears a lot of watching. He's moved into Boston's top-15 and could be even higher by this time next year, even though he isn't coming over until 2012 at the earliest due to contractual obligations. Stock watch: Up

31. Justin Florek, LW
His junior season at NMU has been much like his career to date: unspectacular. His production numbers are a little off from where he was a year ago and it's still hard to project where he'll be as a pro. Stock watch: Down

32. Nick Tremblay, C
Has equalled his career-best total for goals in a season (4) in just 16 games, and has 10 points overall, but still not establishing himself as a force at the NCAA level. His speed will always earn him consideration in any prospect talks, but he's limited beyond the wheels. Stock watch: Holding steady

33. Zach Trotman, D
Last pick in 2010 draft has put together a nice sophomore season at Lake Superior with 10 points in 19 games. Very raw and developing on a long-term track, but has scored some nice goals this season. Stock watch: Up

34. Levi Nelson, C- Traded

35. Ben Sexton, C
Injury derailed a good start to his NCAA season. Still very much a long shot in the Bruins organization, but has some tools to make a run eventually. Stock watch: Up

Going to hold off on the 36-41 players. None have progressed to the point that they warrant a write up at this point.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2011 WJC Team USA Analysis: Forwards

Christopher Walken: I have a fever, and the only cure is...more Rocco Grimaldi!

Eehhhh...well, maybe not this year.

Surprising cuts by the U.S. National Junior Team today included Grimaldi and power forward and 2011 top prospect Brandon Saad.

That said, the Americans have quite a potent group of players up front, both in terms of returning gold medalists and new guys to the WJC.

Let's take a look at 'em:


Drew Shore, C-- Panthers prospect has all the physical tools to be an impact player in Buffalo for USA. He's been an outstanding player at DU this year and he presents a matchup problem because of his size and skating ability. During his draft year, there were questions about his intensity and consistency, but he's taken that next step since joining the Program in Denver.

Nick Bjugstad, C-- Florida's second selection last June after Erik Gudbranson (who will be there for Team Canada) Bjugstad has enormous potential (pun intended) and was a dominant high schooler in Minnesota last season, winning the prestigious Mr. Hockey award. Nephew of former U.S. Olympian and NHLer Scott Bjugstad, this guy has the size, skating and hands to be an impact offensive player. Interestingly enough, he was on the 2009 Ivan Hlinka team, but was left home for the Under-18 Championships last spring in Belarus in favor of Connor Brickley (who didn't make the WJC cut today) and Austin Watson (picked ahead of Bjugstad by Nashville, but didn't even make the prelim roster). That just goes to show you that things do change and you get evaluated based on what you show the team now, not last year.

Charlie Coyle, C-- If you read the B2010DW blog last year, then you know how much I loved this guy. His freshman season at BU has been a validation of the San Jose Sharks taking him near the end of the first round, just a few selections after Kevin Hayes, the only other New Englander taken in the first 30 by Chicago. Coyle doesn't have the greatest burst, but he has very good straight-line speed and is a real competitor. He initiates contact, goes hard to the net and has very nice hands. Being Tony Amonte's cousin is a nice touch, too. He may not have Amonte's wheels, but Coyle is a real player and terrific pro prospect who's made an immediate impact on Comm. Ave.

Brock Nelson, C-- I talked to one scout in L.A. last June who just raved and raved about the former Warroad High scoring hero and current North Dakota freshman. Big (though he needs to fill out his 6-3 frame quite a bit), strong, skilled, excellent hockey sense. Like Bjugstad and Coyle, he's got the bloodlines as nephew of Miracle on Ice Olympian and NHL 40-goal man Dave Christian. The numbers aren't there at the D1 level yet (ditto Bjugstad at Minnesota), but they'll come.

All four of these pivots are big, strong, skilled. Shore and Coyle are the more dangerous offensive threats, but with Bjugstad and Nelson, it's all about the upside.


We'll start with the returning players here.

Jason Zucker, F-- How do I love (pure mancrush here, nothing else) thee? Let me count the ways. Skating? Check. Hands? Check. Hockey sense? Check. Tenacity? Check. Intelligence? Check. Character? Check. The only thing he lacks is size. But, his heart is bigger than most and I said it before-- this kid gave me one of the most impressive interviews I've conducted. Ever. In more than a decade of doing this. He was impactful last season as the youngest player on the WJC team, and that's only one reason why Minnesota took him in the 2nd round. He'll do even more this time around.

Jeremy Morin, F-- Like Leddy, he has NHL experience with Chicago and an NHL goal under his belt. "Jet" played for Kitchener last season and was another guy who had a strong WJC. Team USA is going to get a lot of mileage from this guy. He's skilled, competitive and just one hell of a shooter. You talk about players who have the puck follow them around the ice. Morin is one of those guys. Power play stud, should be able to play a lot of minutes in all situations for Keith Allain.

Kyle Palmieri, F-- Not big, but a real offensive threat. He's one of these guys who can do a lot and has been quite productive. Another NHL/AHL player who will bring some real skill and experience to the mix with him. Like Morin, he's gotten the NHL goal monkey off his back with Anaheim and had 9 markers and 13 points in 20 games with their Syracuse AHL affiliate after leaving Notre Dame. He'll see a lot of ice and can kill penalties. Watch him as a threat to score shorthanded.

Jerry D'Amigo, F-- This guy was money for Team USA last year. The Toronto Maple Leafs sixth-round draft pick in '09 played one year at RPI before turning pro with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL this year. Although he isn't all that tall, he's got a powerful build and is very tough to knock off the puck. He's not lit it up in the AHL, but he'll prove his worth again in this tournament.

Chris Kreider, F-- One of two Boxford, Massachusetts natives on the roster, both of whom belong to the NY Rangers (Ryan Bourque being the other). How rare is that? What's more rare is Kreider's speed and explosive leg drive. This kid is just a beautiful skater and he showed it last year at the WJC, using his wheels to score six goals. Kreider has a pretty good shot-- it isn't overpowering, but he gets it off quickly and has improved the accuracy on it. His hockey sense is still a hot debate among scouts-- does he have the vision and creativity to maximize his impressive physical gifts? He still needs to prove that and started slowly at BC for the second consecutive season. That said, this is a great kid, who comes from a real good family. He's humble and a terrific teammate. He could sit on the bench and he'd help that club.

Ryan Bourque, F-- Small, speedy checking two-way winger is back for another go. He's playing well for the Quebec Remparts this season- 20 goals in 27 games already one more than he scored all of last season. He's a buzzsaw little guy and a valuable penalty killer even without the size and strength because he has Papa Bear Ray's hockey sense. His international experience and ability to play that system the U.S. employs is his biggest asset. He just needs to play a disciplined game and not hurt the team with bad penalties.

Here come the new guys:

Emerson Etem, F-- I liked him pretty well as a first-round prospect and he slipped all the way down to 29th overall for the local Anaheim Ducks, a dream kind of situation for him in retrospect. His explosive speed and ability to generate instant offense makes him an intriguing player to watch this tourney. Talk about bloodlines-- mom, Pat, was an Olympic rower while dad was on the Navy crew team. Older brother and sister are both elite athletes (rowers as well) and Etem is a chip off the old block. What I like about Emerson is that he sacrificed a great deal to pursue his hockey dreams, leaving home at a young age (like Zucker) and bouncing around to hockey hotbeds to get into the elite level competition. That speaks well to the commitment Etem has and I think he and Kreider are going to give opponents fits.

Chris Brown, F-- This power forward and Phoenix Coyotes prospect by way of the University of Michigan and Flower Mound, Texas will bring the size and jam, but his skill level/production is limited. I was never all that big a fan because I saw him take some undisciplined penalties in his draft year. He'll need to play it smart and keep things simple. There is a place for Brown on this club, especially since they cut Saad, but he's going to have to be smart about it.

Mitch Callahan, F-- This Kelowna Rockets buzzsaw is a productive agitator despite being only about 5-11, 175. The Detroit Red Wings have a nice find with this Southern California native and he's going to bring speed and versatility to the lineup. He's tough little nut, too. And you need at least one of these guys to win tourneys like the WJC.

That's a wrap. Looking forward to covering this team in the coming days, so if you have any questions or input, fire away!

2011 Home Hardware CHL Top Prospects Game rosters announced

It's Team Cherry vs. Team Orr one more time.

I believe the wide-open All-Star Game-like format will allow Ryan Murphy to dazzle. Joe Morrow is a highly underrated puck mover as well. Myles Bell can do a fair bit of rushing the puck as well, just don't expect him to play much D. Plus. they do have a nice shutdown guy in Duncan Siemens.

In net, Q goalies David Honzik and Christopher Gibson, both imports from Czech Republic and Finland respectively, will hold them in and give them a shot to blow this one open.

At forward, what more do you need? Sean Couturier...Gabriel Landeskog....Matt Puempel....Ryan Strome....Ty Rattie....Tobias Rieder....Oy vay! Team Orr is going to have its hands full!!!

I don't think they have enough speed to counter that attack that Team Cherry is going to bring at them. Doug Gilmour will coach Orr.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Brandon Saad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vladislav Namestnikov are some of the squad's most talented forwards, but I'm not sure they can match Cherry's depth. And on D, there are some interesting options...Dougie Hamilton, Nathan Beaulieu, the falling David Musil...but they're going to have their hands full. In net, Jordan Binnington and Liam Liston better bring the A-game.

Big omission: Ottawa 67's forward Shane Prince. Although small, he's highly skilled and fast. He's only a few points off the OHL scoring lead. But, his not being named is very telling about where he's viewed by NHL teams. They get polled to see who they want in the game-- if Prince didn't make the cut, it means more teams than not snubbed him. My guess: injuries will get him in there nonetheless as a fill-in. Happens every year.

NHL Network broadcasts the game for us Yanks south of the border. Rogers Sportsnet I believe for that great country to our north. Game to be played Wednesday, January 19th

B2011DW "Waffle Watch" Makes Sports Illustrated Column

I wasn't aware that the "Waffle Watch" had gained national traction, but it has.

That said, a little disappointed that I am characterized as a "Bruins fan" since anyone who has followed and read this blog knows that the content transcends fanboy-dom, but yes, I still have my Bruins fancard, so he isn't wrong, either.

That said, it's precisely why the "Bruins 2011 Draft Watch" is going to be no more and this blog will become a much more generic "NHL Draft Watch" site after this season so that fans of the NHL's other 29 teams aren't scared away by all the logos and Bruins-centric coverage. I want this blog to be one of the most talked-about and referred when it comes to talk of each impending NHL draft, so certain changes must be made.

But, it's nice to get some exposure and as always, I immensely appreciate all the great support I've gotten from those who have been here since Day 1 (Columbus Day '09 for those keeping track) and those who are just hopping on the bandwagon.

That said, the tenor of the blog won't change all that much, my dear readers.

2011 WJC Team USA Analysis: Goaltenders and Defensemen

The U.S. National Junior Team is in good position to defend its title won last year in a hostile environment in Saskatoon (Nobody gets up for the WJC like the Canadians, and they were in full-throated roar for that gold medal game).

Team USA isn't taking any chances with the younger kids, as every member of the 2011 squad already is property of an NHL team, save for backup goalie Andy Iles, who deserves to be there by virtue of his talent, commitment and experience (his lack of size prevents him from being considered a legitimate pro prospect, but you're likely to hear from him at some point).

So, with that in mind. Here's an initial look at the Team USA roster that stacks up on paper with the best and favorites given the balance of skill, size, pro experience and familiarity with the systems that have brought USA Hockey a ton of international success in recent years.


Jack Campbell, G-- He was Mr. Everything for USA Hockey over the past several years, leading the Americans to consecutive gold medals in the Under-18s and their first Under-20 gold since 2004, breaking Canada's stranglehold of five straight championships. Campbell is big, athletic and simply money when it comes to international play. He's struggled to meet expectations for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, but he's still an immensely talented player who will be at home in his element in this tourney. He's got a ton of expectations on him both as a Dallas Stars 1st-rounder last June and as his team's go-to guy in net. As Campbell goes, so go USA's title hopes.

Andy Iles, G-- Campbell's backup on the U.S. Under-18 team last year is an excellent goalie in his own right. He was tremendous in leading the Salisbury School to the 2009 NEPSIHA championship and has some of the quickest pads I've ever seen in any goalie. The size works against him, but he's a battler and smart kid (doing well as a freshman at Cornell). If he sees the puck, he stops it. Unfortunately, because he's only about 5-8, when teams crash the net and take away his sight lines, he becomes vulnerable.


John Ramage, D-- The only returning defender from last year's champion, Ramage is as solid and savvy as they come. He's not spectacular out there, but the old adage that a defenseman is doing his job best if you don't notice him holds true for Ramage. He was a rock in Saskatoon and will be another key cog for USA this time around. Calgary prospect.

Jon Merrill, D-- He had off-ice troubles that dogged him last year, but the big, skilled Michigander is proving his worth this season with the University of Michigan (last seen potting two goals in the Big Chill win over hated rival Michigan State). New Jersey prospect should make that Devils team sooner rather than later because of the dire straits they're in with a lumbering backline that can't move the puck. This will be a huge audition for him on the world stage, and believe me-- Lou Lamoriello's lieutenant and longtime scouting confidant David Conte will be watching.

Nick Leddy, D-- 2009 Minnesota Mr. Hockey was drafted by his home team the Wild, but traded to Chicago less than a year later. He's already gotten some NHL experience (1 goal in six games) at the tender age of 19, and brings legitimate speed and world class offense from the blue line despite the diminutive package. He may not have as much international play under his belt as others, but make no mistake-- this guy can play.

Derek Forbort, D-- 2010 1st-round pick by the Los Angeles Kings (in Boston's 15th overall draft slot after Dean Lombardi made a deal with Florida to move up) was said to have potentially the biggest upside of any defender in the draft with his size (6-5, 200) and ability. He has nine assists in 15 games with the University of North Dakota Sioux and was a stalwart for the U.S. Under-18 team last year. This is going to be an excellent challenge for him.

Justin Faulk, D-- Carolina got themselves a great value with this player in the second round, and he was a serious draft candidate for the Bruins, having been brought in to Boston for a look. Although he comes in a small package, he plays much bigger than his 5-11 (listed) frame and is having a tremendous freshman year for Minnesota-Duluth, with 15 points in 18 games. He has a big, powerful shot and is going to run one of USA's power plays. Think of him as an American version of Ryan Ellis-- maybe not as skilled/productive offensively, but better defensively. Character guy, too. He's going to see a lot of action.

Brian Dumoulin, D-- Another Hurricanes prospect on D, this Boston College standout has very good size and skating ability. He's a two-way horse like Forbort, though he doesn't have as much international experience. Dumoulin really exploded onto the scene in 2009 as a member of the N.H. Jr. Monarchs (EJHL) after leading his Biddeford, Maine H.S. team to a state championship at a much lower level of competition. Because of his 6-3 frame and wheels, you just knew he was going to be a pretty high pick, even if he hadn't faced elite competition at the time of the draft. Since then, he's proven himself at the NCAA D. 1 level with a national title last spring and is a nice selection for USA.

Patrick Wey, D-- Dumoulin's BC teammate is a fourth-rounder of Washington's in '09 and from Pittsburgh. He projects as the 7th defender-- just a no-frills package of heady, stay-at-home defense. Solid skater, who does his job effectively without fanfare. Don't know how many games he'll get into or how many minutes he'll log, but should anyone go down or struggle, coach Keith Allain has a solid option with Wey.

Will be back with writeups on the forwards later.

Chris Peters has his thoughts and notes up on the roster over at his blog and it's worth reading. I'll try not to lift any of his material when I do my forwards breakdown. Lol.

Team USA WJC roster named- (sigh) not one 2011 eligible makes cut

Team USA is in it to win it, and as such, they released all four 2011 draft-eligible players from the preliminary roster today: defensemen Jamie Oleksiak and Adam Clendening. forwards Brandon Saad and Rocco Grimaldi. None of them will be in Buffalo.

The 2011 National Junior Team was announced by USA Hockey this morning via Facebook and it's comprised of all returning members of the gold medal-winning 2010 team, plus already drafted players like Nick Bjugstad, Charlie Coyle, Jon Merrill, Nick Leddy, Brian Dumoulin, Emerson Etem, Chris Brown, etc.

A major disappointment from a scouting perspective, as getting the opportunity to see these guys was something I was looking forward to. I suspect I'm not the only one, but it was a tough cut to make, obviously.

They put the team together they believe gives USA the best chance to win, not the one that amateur scouts wanted to see.

So, there it is.

I'll have more on Team USA later when I can digest the players a bit and analyze what this team is going to bring to the table. Still going to be a very fun and exciting tournament!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Team USA final roster to be named Wednesday

Well, we're a little more than 24 hours out before we determine the final 22-player U.S. National Junior roster that will defend the gold medal that John Carlson's overtime goal secured a year ago. (Carlson is a stud-- being around him in Washington gives some neat insights into the rookie and what he brings to the table offensively and defensively. If only the Bruins had a crystal ball with them in 2008, but Washington got themselves a real good one.)

The returning guys are a lock, including Jeremy Morin, who was released by Chicago to play.

From a 2011 draft perspective, really hoping that Brandon Saad, Adam Clendening and Rocco Grimaldi make the final cut. All three bring a little something different to the table-- Saad the big, skilled power forward, Clendening the smooth, heady puck mover and Grimaldi, the dynamic, brilliant little waterbug. My guess is that they'll be in Buffalo. All three have gold medals for USA in the Under-18 tourney and have the kind of upside that will give Team USA a real good chance to take home the gold in consecutive years for the first time in USA Hockey history. Of the three, I think Clendening is the one who is on the bubble the most because of the size factor (5-11, 190), but the good news for him is that only one returning D (John Ramage) is a lock, meaning that he's in open competition with the other eight for those final six slots.

Norway-USA exhibition game postponed due to lost luggage/equipment for the Norway team. Yeesh. Good one, airline. You have a high-profile team traveling to the U.S. and you bungle that...not so hot.

For more on the WJC and Team USA, check out Chris Peters' "United States of Hockey" blog and Alex Clark's USA Hockey WJC blog among many others (Chris has kindly provided some links on his USoH blog, so surf away).

I'll be leaving next Sunday morning, day after Christmas, for Buffalo, so this blog will be very active through New Year's. Wish I could stay for the medal round, but not in the cards this time. Still, you'll get comprehensive scouting reports on *every* 2011 draft-eligible there, so keep spreading the word.

If you haven't done so already, sign up to follow this blog (my 2010 Draft Watch had 59 followers when I shifted over to 2011 but only 26 here right now...let's pick up some momentum here!) and my Twitter account: @kluedeke29

Monday, December 20, 2010

Waffle Watch: 2011 Boston Bruins draft pick update; 20 Dec.

The Toronto Maple Leafs had a tough week in their Western Canada road swing, getting manhandled by Calgary and Vancouver.

Things don't get any easier with white-hot Ondrej Pavelec (sporting a .944 save percentage right now) and the surging Atlanta Thrashers coming to town tonight. Looks like J.S. Giguere might be done for the season, which puts a lot of pressure on Johan "the Monster" Gustavsson. He's a good goalie with some real talent, but he still lacks big league experience and this team isn't going to score him many goals. The immense pressure he'll be under every night not to allow more than 1 goal will be a huge test for the immensely talented Swede. Might we see a move for free agent veteran Evgeni Nabokov?

Again, goaltending and defense isn't as big a problem as the lack of offense is. Even if they do get Nabokov, the Leafs still need to find a way to score goals more than preventing them.

Tough test tonight for the fragile Leafs-- as his agent, Allan Walsh likes to say, Altlanta's netminder is "Pavelectric" and when you're getting hat tricks from Eric Boulton, then you know your offense is firing on all cylinders. This Thrashers team is going to give the Washington Capitals a run for their money in the Southeast Division.

Here's the draft pick update if the season ended today. The Leafs are actually one point behind their pace from last season at the same time, but the poor performances by the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils, and inability of the teams around the Leafs to put any distance between them in the standings, makes the draft watch (or is it the Waffle Watch?) this season a much more iffy proposition. Still, this draft is four deep (Couturier, Larsson, Landeskog Nugent-Hopkins), so if the Leafs can't keep up, the B's have got a very good chance to land another high-end player for the second consecutive season.

Time to head to the store for more Eggos, perhaps?

1st Round

3rd overall- Toronto (28 points; 12-16-4)- Completes Phil Kessel trade.
16th overall- Boston (38 points; 17-10-4)

2nd Round

39th overall- Minnesota (32 points;14-13-4)- Completes Chuck Kobasew trade.
46th overall- Boston

3rd Round

73rd overall- Phoenix (37 points; 15-9-7) - Completes Derek Morris trade.
Boston pick traded to Florida; Completes Nathan Horton deal

4th Round

106th overall- Boston

5th Round

136th overall- Boston

6th Round

166th overall- Boston

7th Round

184th overall- Florida (conditional)- Jeff LoVecchio, Jordan Knackstedt to Panthers for Sean Zimmerman, cond. 7th
Boston pick traded to Chicago (Zach Trotman)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bruins 2011 Draft: The Case for Gabriel Landeskog

Welcome to the newest series on Bruins 2011 Draft Watch!

Once a month, we'll profile a player who could be the target of that Toronto 2011 first-round pick the Boston Bruins own. The idea is to base it on where the pick is, do some analysis on the player and where he might fit into Boston's system.

The idea is to raise this blog's profile even higher for hardcore Boston Bruins fans who are into the draft, and NHL draft fans in general, as even this has a Boston flavor, you can still learn a great deal about the players that *your* team may have a shot at. If you like the series, I'd ask that you pass on the link and help get the word out for those who have a serious interest in the NHL draft and who want unique content you won't find anywhere else.

So, with that in mind, here it is: the case for Gabriel Landeskog.

A possible future in Boston Bruins history:

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

Center Sean Couturier and defenseman Adam Larsson have already heard their names called by the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils. After having had their photos taken on the main stage and exited stage left, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces that the Boston Bruins are now on the clock with the third selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli takes the podium along with owner Charlie Jacobs, President Cam Neely, Assistant GMs Jim Benning, Don Sweeney, Director of Player Personnel Scott Bradley and Director of Amateur Scouting Wayne Smith.

"With the third pick on the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins are pleased to select...from the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League...right wing Gabriel Landeskog."

And with that, the Bruins confound certain fans who are convinced that they would take a defenseman with the second first-round pick obtained from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the September 2009 trade that sent Phil Kessel to Leafland. But, to view the third overall selection in such a black and white context as to judge it as a success or failure based on whether it is spent on the defense position is to not understand the long-established draft methods and philosophy of the Boston Bruins hockey club. Their belief in drafting the best available player at the top of the lottery will always be mitigated by organizational needs, but in Landeskog's case, he's such an enticing package and solid bet to perform that it would be hard to believe they would "settle" for a defenseman if Landeskog is in fact, near the top of their draft board.

This post will make the case for Landeskog as that BPA, and when you have finished reading, the added perspective will arm you with the tools to have a better understanding of what a player of his caliber could add to the Boston mix for the future and why he would be a superb choice for the team even if he will not address the immediate need for a skilled, puck-moving defenseman.

Gabriel Landeskog, RW Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

Height 6-1, Weight: 207 Shoots: Left
Born: November 23, 1992 in Stockholm, Sweden

Originally property of the Djurgardens IF Stockholm hockey system, even playing for them for a few games in '08-09, becoming the youngest player ever to suit up for that Elite League team (3 games -1 assist) at age 16. Landeskog opted to come to North America in 2009 when the Kitchener Rangers traded for his rights with the Plymouth Whalers after that club made him the 3rd overall selection in the 2009 CHL Import Draft. Named Kitchener Rookie of the Year after 24 goals and 46 points in 61 games last season. Named to OHL All-Rookie Team. Named team captain by Kitchener Rangers Head Coach/General Manager Steve Spott on October 24, 2010. First European captain in team history. As of 18 Dec. 2010- had 25 goals and 45 points-- already exceeding rookie goal totals and just one point off of entire point total from rookie season. His hockey idols growing up: Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin. Now: Jarome Iginla, Mike Richards.

Strengths: A good skater with a long, powerful stride and strong balance. Good four-way change of direction. Hustles on every shift; plays with energy. Possesses an accurate shot. Underrated backhand-- can sky it up under the crossbar with limited time and space. Good passer and unselfish-- looks to find open teammates for scoring chances. Physical presence who relishes the hitting aspect of hockey and won't hesitate to fight if the situation warrants. Disciplined, plays in control despite his "angry" style. Tremendous leadership and intangibles: unparalleled work ethic, intelligence, sets the example with offensive and physical play, has mastered English and is "just one of the guys."

Need evidence? Here you go:

Two goals scored: one from the outside on a quick wrister, the other from in close with that sublime backhand discussed earlier. (Courtesy Kitchener Rangers, NHLDraftVideo)

One look at how quickly he comes to the aid of his teammate and how well he tunes overage player Jake Muzzin is really all you need to see in that vid to see why he was named captain.

Weaknesses: Initial first-step quickness is fine, but could stand to improve to get a little faster out of the gate. Shot isn't overpowering-- even with its quick release and accuracy-- not all that heavy.

Style Compares to: Mats Sundin/Brendan Shanahan hybrid. Has the size, skill, toughness to do it all. A born leader who is only going to get better. Doesn't have Sundin's high-end upside, but isn't that far off. Not quite as tough as Shanahan, but will take on all comers.

Why the Bruins would pick him: You can certainly make the case for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at No. 3 overall, but the 'Nuge is a small guy with outrageous offensive skills. Landeskog doesn't have that elite finishing/set-up ability, but he does all the other things better than the Red Deer star and No. 1 overall WHL Bantam Draft pick. The B's took their centerpiece of the future with Tyler Seguin. Now, imagine getting a legitimate, premium power forward to ride shotgun with Seguin for years to come? With skilled, but undersized options in the system like Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner, why wouldn't the Bruins add a bruising, hyper-competitive, tough, finishing power winger to the mix? He's a prototype Bruins type of player: he can skate, score, hit, fight, lead by example-- and those guys are pure gold in the NHL these days.

Why the Bruins would not pick him: If you go purely by upside, Nugent-Hopkins is the more skilled player and is a whirling dervish on offense with his blazing speed and ability to make plays in any gear. Dougie Hamilton or Kitchener teammate Ryan Murphy are two skilled two-way defensemen who would better address an organizational need than Landeskog would: he's more of a luxury at this stage. Hamilton is huge, while Murphy isn't but has the highest offensive/puck-moving potential of any defender in the entire draft class.

What scouts are saying:
"Extremely fit and strong, wins nearly every corner battle and isn't afraid to dust it up when necessary. Great teammate who plays with a contagious enthusiasm for the game. Should put up much better numbers this year now that he'll be seeing first line and PP duty."- Red Line Report, September 2010

Bust factor: Low He's got the size and ability to project solidly into the top-six both as a right wing and special teams ace. But, his immeasurables are off the charts, so even if he doesn't live up to the offensive billing, he's going to be a solid third-line NHL player simply because he can play the finesse, high-energy, or grinding, in-your-face game.

The Verdict: The real question facing the Bruins if they are picking third and Landeskog on the board is: how badly do they want a defenseman? If Hamilton or Murphy are the BPAs on their list, then obviously, Landeskog drops, (but won't make it out of the top-five). But the thinking here is, as good as Hamilton and Murphy have looked, they aren't the total package that Landeskog is. Simply put, this guy is a total winner, and the thought of putting a player of his caliber out there with Seguin, Marc Savard, Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, etc. would create matchup nightmares for opposing coaches.

Still not convinced? Then this TSN feature should close the deal for you.
(They took it off their site, but this is a YouTube special and worth watching)

We will be back in late January, 2011 for the next installment of "Bruins 2011 Draft: The Case For" and will take you all the way to the draft every month.

A closer look at the QMJHL top-five (Mid-season edition)

Was told that I spend too much time on the OHL and not enough on the QMJHL and WHL on this blog, so here's an attempt to remedy that situation. (Appreciate the feedback, btw- always looking to make this blog better and more appealing to the readership, so please continue to post comments direct to the blog here or email me or PM me over at HFBoards username Kirk- NEHJ or hit me up at Twitter @kluedeke29 if there is something in particular you are looking for)

Also- I'm crafting a new exclusive prospect info. series here on B2011DW called the "Case For" where I will profile one player in-depth every month with detailed analysis on strengths, weaknesses, where that player projects in the NHL, how long before making an impact, scout quotes, etc. Even if you aren't a Bruins fan but read this blog, you're sure to find the series informative, as much of what NHL teams look for in the draft tend to be similar, so you can draw logic lines between what I write and what your team is seeking as you read.

First up in the series is Kitchener Rangers' captain and all-star winger Gabriel Landeskog, whom I will be checking out at the WJC in Buffalo next week. How awesome is that going to be?

In the meantime, though-- I owe you a QMJHL update, so here are some notes on the top 'Q' draft eligibles as we roll into the holiday break and WJC.

1. Sean Couturier, C Drummondville-- Still the odds-on fave to be the top overall selection in June's entry draft. It is rare for players to have the size, skill, instincts package that Couturier does. Like Sidney Crosby, who incidentally, Couturier is linked to as the best prospect to come out of the 'Q' since Crosby did it with Rimouski in 2005, Couturier is the son of a journeyman pro hockey player who never really did much. Their progenies are special players who (in Couturier's case-- Crosby is obviously already there) seem destined for stardom. Couturier is an excellent puckhandler who can do it all- make moves in open ice or in tight traffic, rip off a rocket shot or soft-touch it to teammates for the easy score. His vision and offensive hockey sense are elite right now-- he can do pretty much whatever he wants to dictate the tempo/flow at this level. His skating is only average, however. He has a lumbering first few steps and lacks the explosion/suddenness that scouts would love to see. That said, he's still such a physical and instinctive specimen that it's hard to imagine that he'll lose his top billing between now and June.

Scout's take: "What else do you want to see from him? Led the league in scoring last year at 17; great size, hands. Great hockey IQ, strong as an ox and plays a good game without the puck. He's really hitting his stride now, and I think the WJC will be an excellent test for him. I expect him to demonstrate his worth, even if he may not see as much ice time as some of the more senior/experienced players on Team Canada."- NHL scout, Western Conf. team

2. Jonathan Huberdeau, C Saint John-- He's actually got more points than Couturier does (54 to 52 but in 34 GP as opposed to 32 for Couturier), but this ultra-talented center is moving on up the draft boards and is going to be a high pick in Minnesota. Huberdeau came into the season with the reputation as being more of a playmaker than finisher, but he's annihilated that perception with 24 goals so far to go with his 30 helpers. His vision and creativity allow him to give opposing teams fits, and after a slow start, the Sea Dogs, who are just sickeningly loaded with 2011 draft eligible talent, have really come on. He's tall but extremely lanky, and even with his terrific skill set, Huberdeau is going to be a longer-term project for whichever NHL team drafts him because he's only around 160 pounds and has a ton of off-ice work to do before he'll be ready to make a run at an NHL job. Defensive game is only average and he'll have to work on that, but he's so good with the puck in the offensive zone, that the overall game is barely a blip on the radar for him.

Scout's take: "I really liked Huberdeau coming into the year, but had no idea he was going to score as much as he has. This is a kid who just naturally gravitates to the areas of the ice where he can either put the puck in the net or get it to a teammate who finishes off the play. I like what he and Zack Phillips are doing and really think Huberdeau is primed for a big second half."- NHL scout, Western Conf. team

3. Nathan Beaulieu, D Saint John-- Excellent two-way defenseman who didn't have a great start, but has pulled it together over the last couple of months. Very good size, but fine skater with solid footwork and the ability to get the puck up the ice quickly and lead the rush. Solid defensively; it isn't his strong suit-- transition game and getting the puck up ice/generating offense from the blue line is. But, he's not a liability in his own end and uses his active stick to take away passing lanes and force turnovers. His six goals and 22 points in 34 games is solid production, but he's capable of doing more in the second half. His +25 rating is indicative of his ability to start the attack and his supremely talented forwards have been able to get it into the net at the other end. Even though you can make the case that Tomas Jurco should be No. 3, I tend to value that potential high-end PMD, which is what Beaulieu is, a little more than the super stickhandling Slovak forward. But, the margin between the two is very close and you can go either way.

Scout's take: "He's the best puck-moving defenseman in the Quebec League, and I think he's underrated when it comes to talking about the best guys in the draft overall in that category. He's got the size, skating and strength to be very effective. His puck distribution is very good and his shot is improving. He still needs to get it off a little faster, but is coming along. He's pretty tough, too-- will fight to defend his teammates and does the little things to win. Smart player."- NHL scout, Eastern Conf. team

4. Tomas Jurco, RW Saint John-- Yes, dear, we're talking about another Saint John Sea Dog here. Jurco has been a big story in draft discussions since last season, when he came over to Saint John and demonstrated his sublime puckhandling talents. Not an explosive skater, but pretty good speed and agility-- one of those more quick/elusive than fast players who turns defenders one way and the other before taking the puck to the net. Good character kid who learned English quickly and made a seamless transition. Creative and absolutely unreal with the slick puck moves in close/traffic while playing the off-wing. Doesn't have a big shot, but qets it off quickly and with nice accuracy-- can pick the corners. Only OK defensively-- not a liability, but you can definitely tell that the effort level in his own end isn't quite what it is when on the attack. But, he'll get better at it...has a solid feel for his responsibilities and has the work ethic to get the job done as he matures.

Scout's take: "Intelligent and competitive Slovak winger. Tenacious and persistent on the forecheck. Smooth skater with power in his stride. Good set-up man who is unselfish to a fault; does the hard work digging loose pucks free and getting it to linemates in good scoring territory. "- Red Line Report, December issue

5. Zack Phillips, RW Saint John-- Former New England prep player's offense has skyrocketed over the past 45 days...went from being an up-and-down scoring presence to a dynamic, lethal, consistent killer with Huberdeau. He has 25 goals, 51 points in 34 games-- eight goals more than Jurco does. At only 6-0, 180 his size is average as is the skating, but when it comes to being in the right place at the right time, Phillips has that down pat-- a real knack for the offensive aspects of hockey. Keeps his stick on the ice and is very opportunistic around the net. Showing that he made the right move by leaving Lawrence Academy for the Quebec League, Phillips is tearing it up. Just think of the sick stats he would have put up for the Spartans had he stuck around...but the level of competition would have dinged him. The size and lack of dynamic skating will bring his draft stock down a bit, but if Phillips keeps putting up the big points, he seems destined for second-round draft status at least.

Scout's take-- "The first few times I saw him, Phillips didn't do much, but he definitely grewon me. You look at him and he's not as obvious a player as Huberdeau and Jurco, but at the end of the night, you look at the scoresheet and he's got a couple of goals. He plays an honest game and is one of those players who just seems to get it done when the puck is on his stick around the net."- NHL scout, Eastern conf. team

Other QMJHL players to watch:

David Honzik, G Victoriaville-- Czech goalie has size and lots of talent. Pretty focused kid with long limbs/athleticism. Stops the puck well, but needs work on the other aspects of the game like puckhandling/slowing down end-arounds.

Phillip Danault, LW- Victoriaville-- Little winger has some real offensive hockey tools and is making them work this season. Some (RLR) have questioned how well his small size and overall skill level will translate in the pros, but can't argue with the production: 13G, 40 points in 34 games for the Tigres. Like old NHL coach Michel Bergeron, Danault's nickname should be: Le Petit Tigre

Xavier Ouellet, D Montreal-- Another skilled puck-mover, this one doesn't have the size, skating or pure upside of Bealieu. Still Ouellet is underrated. He has terrific vision and the ability to distribute the puck extremely well on the PP. Someone will fall in love with him for the draft, but how high he goes is up for debate because he's much stronger in the intangibles than the measurables.

Christopher Gibson, G Chicoutimi-- Another import goalie, Gibson is the Finnish son of a British ex-pat who helped the Notre Dame Hounds to the Midget AAA championship (with Jaden Schwartz) before taking his talents to Chicoutimi. Like most Finns, he's tall, athletic butterfly goalie who takes up a lot of the net. His .928 save percentage on a bad team is a true testament to this kid's talent and upside.

Olivier Archambault, LW Val-d'Or-- Skilled winger has a lot of offensive potential, but is small and may have trouble translating that upside in the pro ranks much like Danault. He's got some real pluck and hard not to notice him, but doesn't have the top-shelf skills to say that he'll be a draft pick for sure.

Anton Zlobin, LW Shawinigan-- Wrote skilled Russian and breakaway ace up in a recent edition of "A Guy You Should Know" so check it out-- see labels over the the right.

Jimmy Appleby, G Quebec-- The tiny goalie is nowhere on anyone's draft radar, but he's extremely quick and has played well as the Remparts' backup. 2 shutouts in six games and he reminds me of Mike Vernon. Not saying he'll get drafted, but keep an eye on him nonetheless.