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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A player to watch for 2012: Slater Koekkoek

Oh, howBruins fans might wish this kid was available for the 2011 NHL Draft!

Defenseman Slater Koekkoek (pronounced Kuh-KOOK) was the seventh overall selection of the Peterborough Petes of the OHL in last spring's Priority Selection and is one of those big, two-way defenders that is so important in today's NHL.

Sports Illustrated has a nice article in the newest issue (the one with Boise State on the cover) covering the NHL preview which features in-depth profiles on Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Tyler Myers and Erik Johnson (wow- three of those guys all came from that hellacious defense draft class of '08). The piece has four Hall of Fame defensemen breaking down the youngsters' games, with Boston legend Ray Bourque doing the honors for Myers. But, the reason I bring the article up is that because this is the new wave of the NHL: either you have one of these kinds of players on your roster or you don't. And those who don't will be handicapped going up against the teams who do.

The bottom line: finding the premo, skilled two-way defensemen with size and power is going to be the priority of just about every NHL team these days. In other words, if you aren't holding a draft pick that will land you one, don't expect to be able to trade up with a team who does without paying a true king's ransom. These guys are gold.

Which brings me back to Koekkoek. He's not huge-- only 6-2-- and at about 185 pounds has a lot of muscle-building ahead of him. But when you possess the skating (check out his burst in the video-- nice), footwork, puck skills and shot this kid apparently does, you're going to be in demand. Nasty temperament and edge to him, too-- he has 9 penalty minutes in just two games (one assist).

At 16, we're all going to have to wait for this one, but he has the look of someone who will be well worth it. TVCogeco has a very nice profile on him. It was posted on the OHL website. They do great work on the Petes, and some of the vids I used on Ryan Spooner are theirs as well (and you know, while I'm on the subject, 'Spoons' will probably enjoy having Koekkoek as a teammate.)

Video courtesy of TVCogecoOntario

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Zack Phillips: A guy you should know

New Brunswick native Zack Phillips spent the '08-09 season at Lawrence Academy at 15-16 yrs. old, but jumped up to the QMJHL last year, playing pretty well at a higher level (16 goals, 44 points).

Now, the Oct. '92 birthdate has a chance to elevate his draft stock enough to be a top-60 selection in June playing on the high-powered Saint John Sea Dogs along with fellow high-end draft hopefuls Tomas Jurco, Jonathan Huberdeau , Ryan Tesink and defenseman Nathan Beaulieu.

He's got a nice shot and good puck skills, but makes his bones playing with hustle and energy and by going hard to the net. His size isn't great (6-0, 180) but he's strong and well conditioned. He reminds me a little bit of Jared Knight in terms of style and substance and because he's a junior center who is more likely to play wing at the next level.

Phillips is off to a pretty good start this season with four goals in his first six games, and I think that you'll see him gain some traction in draft discussions as the season progresses even on a team as loaded as Saint John is.

He gained some valuable experience in his team's run to the Quebec league finals last spring, and that club looks formidable again. Phillips could make that jump from an intriguing player to scouts last season to one who will be a priority view along with Jurco and Huberdeau.

Phillips is still rounding out his game and learning how to be more assertive in certain situations, but at least in the early going, I'm hearing very good things about him. He's someone to keep an eye on this season, especially with his New England background-- you can bet that the Bruins got some good looks at him when he was with Lawrence two years ago and have kept tabs on him as he returned to the Maritimes.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday WHL watch: Myles Bell

Regina Pats defender Myles Bell is another one of those intriguing offensive upside-but- defensively shady-type prospects to keep an eye on. You can read more about him in my WHL preseason watch list post from August, but I got this via email from one of my contacts out in Western Canada this evening:

"Bell looks like he's going to score 20+ goals this year, maybe more. He's shooting the puck with authority and jumping into the play/leading the rush at the right time. Defense is still rough, but offensively, I think he's one of the better players coming out of the WHL this year. Will be interesting to see what he's looking like in January."

Bell isn't tall at 6-feet, but is stocky and has a strong lower body. You can see how strong he is on his skates when he fights and there are videos out there on YouTube available. And, he's a right shot, which is also appealing, especially if he can boost his offensive numbers from the 4 goals and 18 points he got last season. Right-shooting offensive 'D' are rarer commodities than their left-shot counterparts, so in Bell's case as our friends north of the border would say, "Bonus, eh?!"

Bell has two goals and three points in two games for the Pats this season. He tallied the lone Regina goal in their 3-1 loss to the Brandon Wheat Kings today.

Here's a look at his first WHL goal last season, also scored incidentally, against the Wheaties:

Hot start means Kitchener's Murphy living up to hype

Although he may not possess ideal size, Kitchener Rangers defenseman Ryan Murphy has been said to possess elite offensive skills and instincts from the defense position.

A brilliant skater who can absolutely move in all four directions, but who also has a superb passing touch and a wicked shot for someone under 6-feet, I've been told by more than one scout that Murphy has better offensive upside than Ryan Ellis, one of Nashville's top prospects and a first-round pick in 2009.

Well, Murphy came though for two goals and a helper in his team's 6-4 win Sunday over the Guelph Storm.

That gives him 2-2-4 in just two games in the very early going of the OHL campaign, making Murphy certainly a player to watch, especially if Toronto's first-round pick ends up being in the top-10 next June.

Now, Murphy is listed at 5-11, which really means that he's probably closer to 5-9 or 5-10. Unless he has some kind of neat growth spurt, were the Bruins to pick him he'd be the sixth in a grouping of Boston defense prospects who stand under 6-feet. What it will all come down to if the Bruins are going to consider Murphy with what looks like could take a top-10 pick to secure his rights, then they'll have to be convinced that he's a potential No. 1 or at the very least, a high-end No. 2.

I've gotten mixed reviews on his defense; some think he's fine and just needs to tweak/fine-tune his game while others aren't so charitable. And I'm also told not to hold the fact that he wasn't picked for Canada's 2010 Ivan Hlinka team against him-- that it was a personality conflict with the coach.

In any case, it will be fascinating to see where Murphy's final ranking lands him come June. If he keeps up the offense, it will be hard to deny him a rightful spot in the top-10 and maybe even top-five because with his pure speed, nifty passing and scorching shot, there's s a very good chance that he'll bring that impressive trifecta with him to the next level.

Why Ryan Spooner is on the verge of making the Bruins

If you're a long-time reader of the Bruins Draft Watch blog going back to last season, then you know that this space was making a big case for Boston to pick Peterborough Petes center Ryan Spooner in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He was discussed here, here, here, and here. (AUTHOR's NOTE-- And while I didn't talk about Spooner here, somehow, I was under the impression that I had pretty much missed the boat on Jared Knight last year. Well, not so fast. Shameless plug/Knight analysis here. Looks like the Bruins might have struck gold with these two second-rounders)

When the B's snapped Spooner up with the 45th overall pick in the middle of the second round last June, it stood out as one of the better value selections in the draft, and was really only made possible because of a collarbone fracture that cost him the entire second half of the '09-10 season. I have little doubt that had he stayed healthy, he would have shown enough to the NHL teams scouting him that he would have ended up either as a late-first, or early second-round pick.

Here's a pretty good video on Spooner and why the Bruins getting him where they did was a steal.

So, with Spooner, it's not a question of skill and ability in terms of his potential to be an NHL player one day, but more a question of when he would be deemed physically ready enough to make a go of it. Even after an outstanding development camp performance in Wilmington, Mass. in July and a nice second game (he scored both goals including the OT winner for Boston) of the rookie mini-series against the New York Islanders on Sep. 16, I was thinking that he'd be going back down to junior pretty quickly because even though he's been diligently working on adding strength to his small (5-10) and light frame, he's still pretty small.

Well, I was obviously wrong about that!

Spooner is the one Boston rookie up front who's literally seized the day and not only impressed the fans who've been watching him closely, but the head coach, who isn't an easy guy to please.

“He’s one of those players that’s really impressed me with the fact that he’s got unbelievable hockey sense,” Julien told the Boston media this week. “And sometimes you’ve got a player that has a lot of talent, a lot of skill, but the little details of the game he still has to figure out. This player here, to me, already has that part figured out."

Spooner, who is wearing No. 51 for the B's in his first pro training camp, hasn't looked out of place at all, and has attracted notice for his ability to create and make high-end plays on the offensive side of the house. For a team that was starved for offense the previous year, Spooner is the kind of forward who will tempt the club to keep him on, even if expecting him to be a consistently productive presence were he to crack the Boston lineup at 18 (he's one day older than Tyler Seguin and shares the same January 30 birthdate as Joe Colborne and Max Sauve, though Spooner is two years younger) might be a bridge too far.

At the same time, others beyond Julien have noted Spooner's upside and aren't all that concerned about how his lack of size will translate at the highest level. Here's NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire on him:

Now, he hasn't made the team yet. And, there's probably a pretty good chance that the Bruins will decide that he's better off going back to junior where he's sure to form a key part of a very nice offensive nucleus in Peterborough with Austin Watson and '11 hopeful Matt Puempel, who broke Spooner's team rookie scoring record last year.

But, Marc Savard's post-concussion problems have opened the door for a player like Spooner to, at the very least, get nine NHL games in with the big club so that the B's can better evaluate whether he's best served going back to the OHL or staying up with the big team. It's pretty obvious that Seguin is going to stick, but back on June 26, who knew that we'd be debating whether Spooner was going to make the final cut. He's already outlasted other players taken before he was, including his Petes teammate Watson, whom I believe would have been wearing a spoked-B had the team kept the 15th overall selection (dealt to Florida as part of the Nathan Horton trade). Watson fell to Nashville at 18th overall, and they got a nice bargain with him. But, Spooner's current status goes to show that size isn't everything. Spooner's skill and maturity/coachability are why he's knocking on the door of earning an NHL job.

The Ottawa native worked hard on his physical conditioning over the summer in an elite fitness program in Canada' capital city. He told me about it before his standout two-goal performance against the Islanders:

"I think I just got stronger," he said when asked what the most significant improvement he'd made since being drafted was. "That was the big issue for me; I'm not the biggest guy, so I have to be as strong as I possibly can be. I did that.

"I was working (over the summer) with a guy named Jamie Smith at Peak Performance; he was great. It's a great gym-- there are two of them in Ottawa, I think. The trainer was a big help to me. I just kind of mixed his program with the one that the Bruins gave me. I also did lots of cardio to get ready for the shuttle run we had to do here, so it was a good time."

Spooner's revelations are a case in point as to why you can't judge a book by its cover, and making assumptions based on conventional logic (such as size), because without having the ability to measure the size of one's heart and desire, you can never account for someone who will force the team to sit up and take notice. Spooner has done that, and regardless of whether he sticks in Boston or is one of the final cuts and returns to the OHL, he'll no doubt be riding a tall wave of confidence going forward.

Of course, none of this is really new to Spooner. He's always been confident in his abilities and chances of reaching the NHL one day. This final video of him was shot in L.A. the day before the draft. He may not have been a first-rounder, but Spooner is proving that good things do in fact come to those who wait.

UPDATE-- Well, the B2011DW jinx is in effect-- Spooner went back to Peterborough today (Sep. 28th), but he opened a lot of eyes in Boston and did about as much to raise his stock within the Bruins organization as possible. He's got a bright future in hockey ahead of him.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Couturier edges Jurco in 7-6 head-to-head barnburner

Well, if you were interested in knowing whether the points would come for Sean Couturier and Tomas Jurco in the QMJHL this season, the early returns are good.

Couturier vaulted into the top-10 scoring list for the league after potting a goal and two assists in his Drummondville club's 7-6 shootout win over Jurco's very deep and skilled Saint John Sea Dogs (who took Moncton to the league finals last spring). Couturier now has seven goals and 11 points in seven games with the Voltigeurs after leading the league with 96 points last season, the first time a Q-league top gun has not broken the 100-point plateau.

Although Jurco scored in the shootout (and Couturier did not) it was not enough, as the rest of his mates were denied. Alexandre Comtois and Ondrej Palat scored for the home team.

Jurco has six goals in as many games for a total of nine points and is 12th in league scoring. These two were the preseason 1-2 players in the 'Q', although scouts will tell you that there is quite a bit of difference in terms of the size, skill and upside between the two. Another Sea Dog expected to go high in the draft tallied in this game as well-- tall but lanky pivot Jonathan Huberdeau, who is off to a hot start (5-5-10 in 6 games) also scored for Saint John.

Still, it's nice to see such an exciting contest featuring these two, and after tonight, it's sure to bring up the level of discussion and infuse some energy in the race between now and the draft.
I can tell you one thing-- I sure would have liked to be in the Marcel Dionne Centre in Drummondville for this one!

Pennsylvanians Trocheck and Saad provide all the offense in Saginaw win

Two Americans and natives of the Keystone State playing in the OHL-- Vince Trocheck and Brandon Saad-- tonight provided all the offense their Saginaw Spirit team needed in a 3-2 win over the Erie Otters in Saturday action.

Saad, who is widely believed to be a top-10 pick in the making for next June's draft, has that big body (6-2, 210) and skill that every NHL team is on the hunt for. He was held off the scoresheet in Saginaw's season opener, but broke through for a goal and assist tonight.

Trocheck scored twice for the Spirit, and doesn't have Saad's hype mainly because he doesn't have the size and power forward projection. However, Trocheck made a little noise at the Ivan Hlinka and is someone who can really flash the offensive characteristics and has a quick stick, especially between the hash marks.

Trocheck for a small guy can throw 'em, too. Here's the evidence.

Saad is obviously the one scouts are going to key on in Saginaw games, but given Trocheck's speed and opportunistic style, I wouldn't at all be surprised if they come away with some nice notes on the Pittsburgh native (his family moved to Michigan a few years ago where he could pursue his elite hockey options with the Little Caesar's program), too.

P.S.-- Although this is the 2011 draft watch blog, I can't help but notice that our young friend Jared Knight scored the winning goal in London's OT win over Sarnia tonight. He finished off a nice pass from Seth Griffith, who, you may have read about on this blog as a sleeper pick. Kudos to Jared for carrying over the positive energy he got from his first NHL training camp with the Bruins. I'm sure he would have liked to have stuck around in Beantown a little longer, but after reading about his interesting trip back to London from Boston, it's pretty obvious how much the Knights missed him and wanted him back in the lineup.

Think Dave Reid and the Peterborough Petes are feeling the same way about Ryan Spooner? You betcha, but after tonight's performance, he'll be sticking around in Boston a little longer.

Looking for some offense from the defense? Try Xavier Ouellet

You can read more about him in the B2011DW's QMJHL watch list published last month, but Montreal Juniors defenseman Xavier Ouellet is off to a scorching start in the 2010-11 season with 11 points (10 helpers) in five games to lead all Quebec defensemen.

At 6-1, 177-pounds, he's slight and has to get bigger/stronger (and faster), but is a premier passer and instinctive player. He's not likely to keep his torrid pace up, but with a team like the Bruins who are desperate for high-end puck movers and scoring threats from the blue line, Ouellet is definitely one to watch.

Now, an interesting stat, he's only a +3, so that tells me that he's either getting most of his points with the man advantage or he's got some issues on defense. I'll be trying to track down some scouting reviews on his defensive zone play here given that he's made such a positive splash in the early going. But, the positive vibes I heard about his ability to stretch the ice and set the table effectively were not far off the mark given the way he's burst out of the gates.

Keep an eye on this kid-- he'll be shooting up draft boards with this kind of production.

The 'Nuge tallies in WHL opener

Red Deer Rebels star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in his team's season opener and win over the Edmonton Oil Kings Friday night, and I expect that it will be just the first of many goals to come for the explosive, dynamic forward who can score at will and who thinks the game at an elite level.

The 'Nuge scored the winning goal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August, firing off a wrister from the right side that goalie Steve Michalek had no chance of stopping unless it hit him (it was the only goal he gave up in the 1-0 gold medal loss to Team Canada).

Also scoring in the season debut for the Rebels was 16-year-old Matt Dumba, who is already on the Bruins 2012 Draft Watch list as a highly skilled two-way defenseman. He could take the WHL by storm this season; I've seen some video on him, and he's got some high-end tools. We'll see if he can put it all together and maintain that all season in his first WHL campaign after seeing spot duty last year, but my guess is that we'll be hearing a lot more from Dumba in the next 12-18 months.

One interesting import this year is German center Marcel Noebels, who made a splash at the World Under-18s b-pool last year, but it wasn't enough for him to get picked in Los Angeles. He left the Krefeld Penguins and is now skating for the Seattle Thunderbirds. He tallied in the T-Birds' 4-3 loss last night, and made some noise in the preseason. I think with his size (6-2, 205) and good hockey sense and stick, he could make a solid run for the 2011 draft.

Speaking of imports, Slovak winger Marek Tvrdon had a nice night and debut for the Vancouver Giants, who stomped the Chiliwack Bruins to the tune of nine goals and a helper. Tvrdon tallied twice, including one goal set up by B's prospect Craig Cunningham, who was returned to the Gints just in time to put on the captain's 'C' and chip in a 1-1-2 line Friday. Tvrdon, and top defense prospect David Musil (who provided an assist in the game and finished with a +3 rating) have given the Giants a nice skill boost from Eastern Europe, it would appear.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tommy O'Regan: A guy you should know

This Bay Stater and '92 center was a player I was pretty high on after seeing him with St. Sebastian's last season.

He had nice size, jump and could really dangle in my lone viewing of him.

But the son of former BU star and NHL journeyman (Pittsburgh) Tom O'Regan who was a longtime scoring star in the German pro leagues, didn't show enough in prep last season to have his name called in L.A. despite leading the team with 21 goals and 42 points. The younger O'Regan is committed to Harvard University next year wasn't even nabbed with a seventh-round pick after I had him as the No. 8 prospect coming out of New England for the 2010 NHL draft class.

Well, recognizing that he didn't need to go back to the Arrows for another big scoring year but poor developmental one, he took a page out of Connor Brickley's book and is now in the USHL with the Omaha Lancers and skating with 2011 draft stud Seth Ambroz. Ambroz is off to a hot start already in the season and could score upwards of 60 goals this year if things break right for him.

But O'Regan is an intriguing prospect in himself. He's got the potential to play his well into a late-round selection next year because he has natural size and offensive talent. The knocks on the Dedham, Mass. native? His intensity and consistency ebb and flow like the tide, but if he can pull it together with the Lancers, he could end up being the beneficiary of a monster season with the help of Ambroz and co.

Every year, New England players who get snubbed in their first year find a way to make noise in the second (Mike Cichy, Jordan Samuels-Thomas, Chris Wagner), so O'Regan could follow that trend. Or, he might not get his name called at all and go the route of former Avon Old Farms captain Pat Mullane, a '90 who couldn't translate solid years at Omaha or Boston College into a draft ticket in '09 or '10.

In any case, O'Regan is one more local who is flying under the radar-- the local '93s are a weak class overall, so they need to be bolstered by some older guys and some non-natives playing in the region like Petr Placek, Mike McKee and Philippe Hudon.

Windsor still loaded for bear: look out OHL in 2011!

Well, if you had any doubts about the Windsor Spitfires' ability to defend their Memorial Cup two-fer, then look no further than their comeback last night in the opening game of the 2010-11 OHL season, a 5-4 win over the Tyler Seguin-less Plymouth Whalers after falling behind 4-1.

Super Russian Alexander Khokhlachev, who electrified watchers with his preseason performance, scored in his OHL debut for the Spits. With his speed and pure skill, he's sure to be a B2011DW favorite. He and his team spoiled a great night from a pair of Plymouth Whalers in Garrett Meurs (three helpers) and Alex Aleardi (two goals). Aleardi is a small (listed at 5-9 and just 150 pounds), but skilled center from Michigan who was passed over in the draft and was acquired by Plymouth from Belleville last week. For more on Meurs, check out last month's OHL draft watch list-- he's in the top-10.

Whalers goalie Matt Mahalak faced just 22 shots (17 saves) and that was a tough performance to debut with, as expectations for him are very high this season. Windsor goalie Jack Campbell, the first-round selection of the Dallas Stars last June (11th overall), did what he does best: slam the door at crunch time. He was shaky early, but ended up making 27 saves on 31 shots to hold off the Whalers and secure the come-from-behind win.

So, in honor of Big Jack, here's his unofficial B2011DW theme song, even though his draft story is closed.

Pumped for Puempel

2010 CHL Rookie of the Year Matt Puempel sent a message in the first OHL game of the season last night, scoring a natural hat trick in the third period but just coming up short with the (Ryan Spooner-less) Peterborough Petes in a 5-4 loss to the Oshawa Generals.

The kid looked real good. He's got an NHL-caliber release and shot. Check the highlights below.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Major junior 2010-11 kicks off tonight

It's time to put away all the pre-season projections and start looking at where the proverbial rubber meets the road.

The (UPDATE-- the OHL) begins tonight, and with it, a good percentage of the hopes and dreams of the Bruins 2011 Draft Watch. The WHL begins Friday, September 24, and the QMJHL, as pointed out by an astute reader, has been ongoing for a while with four games in the books for the teams.

So, in honor of the new season, here's a little Black Eyed Peas to get you going.

Let's Get It Started

Bruins announce promotions in scouting department

The Boston Bruins announced in a team release today a pair of interesting moves which will have an effect on the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Scott Fitzgerald was named the team's Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting. "Fitzy" comes from an extensive hockey background in the Boston area: he is Tom Fitzgerald's brother, Ryan Fitzgerald's uncle and a cousin of Blackhawks first-rounder Kevin Hayes and recently acquired older brother Jimmy. He'll be Wayne Smith's no. 2 man and will be based out of Boston, giving him an extensive scouting portfolio in the North America. He's been the B's main man in New England over the past four seasons, so it's nice to seem him get the recognition for his efforts with the promotion.

Also announced was the naming of Ryan Nadeau to the scouting staff in addition to his title as Director of Hockey Administratin-- he'll cover college prospects in the Eastern U.S. region and Canada. Ryan is a great guy-- he first joined the Bruins organization as their media relations director in 2003 and then joined the hockey operations staff in 2006. He's worked his way up in the organization the old fashioned way and is now being given an opportunity to have a direct impact on the team's future.

Congratulations to both Fitzgerald and Nadeau-- knowing both of them personally, it's a real pleasure to be able to devote some space to them on this blog, as I have confidence that they will strengthen an already successful amateur scouting operation for the Bruins.

The kids looked good in Montreal

Just a quick post on a few thoughts about last night's 4-2 win by the Boston Bruins over the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

First of all, Nathan Horton has been all smiles since arriving in Boston, and he gave an indication of what could be in store (provided he can remain healthy) when he unloaded that big league heavy wrister past Carey Price just 1:33 in. Regardless of how his NHL career has gone, he was the third overall pick for a reason, and you saw one of the key factors of that selection with that shot. When he gets up his head of steam like he did, and has the time and space to generate the unreal power and torque on the shot, it becomes exceedingly difficult for any goalie to stop.

Tyler Seguin assisted on Johnny Boychuk's goal (and Boychuk has looked like a total stud in the camp sessions so far-- he looks like he picked up a step since last spring, and is really putting in a visible effort), and was OK-- solid-- but not spectacular. He's obviously learning, but didn't look at all out of place last night. I've said it before and will again-- he'll be in Boston simply because he's too good to go back to junior and the Bruins will want to control his development as opposed to giving up control to the Plymouth Whalers. Nothing against his junior team, of course, but Seguin is the crown jewel of Boston's future, so they'll want to exert as much influence on him as they can. Sending him back to the OHL risks stagnation and they won't allow that. UPDATE-- I've seen some real harsh criticisms of Seguin on the internet today and I honestly don't get it. He wasn't that bad, although admittedly, I was watching a stream. But, I think the critiques are once again a product of the enormous expectations. I thought some of the same criticisms I saw from people of him in the rookie games were over the top, so I guess we'll have to see how it all plays out from here.

Matt Bartkowski continues to impress. Logged over 18 minutes of ice time and finished the night with a +2 rating. Now that I'm watching him closely, I think he could see NHL games in Boston this year if injuries take a toll. Bartkowski is a guy this blogger wasn't thrilled with when the deal with Florida went down, but I have to eat crow and admit to doing a complete 180 on it, especially with Dennis Seidenberg signed to a cap-friendly extension. Peter Chiarelli and his scouts deserve a lot of credit for both Seids and Bartkowski, who looks like a 3-4 year pro out there-- not a player just a few months removed from patrolling the Ohio St. blue line.

Adam McQuaid was also good last night and he's going to be the seventh defenseman and NHL understudy a la Boychuk last season. Would rather he played in Providence, but the B's can't slide him past the rest of the league on waivers-- someone would snap him up quickly. So, he'll sit, but the moment someone on 'D' goes out with injury, he'll be in, and he looks to have built on what was some solid spot duty last season.

Nice to see Ryan Spooner still with the team. He's still pretty small, although it was evident to me that he's been working hard in the offseason to build up his strength. There is no denying his skills/talent and he'll go back to Peterborough soon because there are too many guys in Boston for him to have a legitimate shot at making the team right now. But make no mistake-- the longer he's around to get in some exhibition games and be around the team, the better his confidence and perspective will be going back to junior.

Tuukka Rask isn't a "kid" at 23 anymore, but his performance last night has to have Bruins fans giddy with what could be a huge year for him. He's been lights-out in camp and last night, he made a mockery of Montreal's goalies. The more you see Rask, the less important, you come to realize, is the need for Boston to spend a high draft pick on a goalie. Obviously, if there is a value selection sitting there in June, they'll consider it, but with Hutch just starting up on the pro side, and sixth-rounder Zane Gothberg on the five-year plan, that pretty much frees up the B's to focus 2011 on shoring up the defense.

That's why I'm labeling the 2011 draft watch the "year of the blue liner" in anticipation that the B's will add at least one high-end talent on defense, and probably several others with raw, but bankable potential. Of course, don't expect them to keep all five of their picks in the first three rounds in the process, but they're going to make sure they come away with some upside and skill at the position.

Although I've seen him ranked all over the map in the pre-season, I'm betting that Youngstown's Scott Mayfield will make a run as one of the higher-end guys in this draft. He's got the size, mobility, intelligence and a little snarl to really appeal to scouts. Kitchener's Ryan Murphy is another hyped kid and rightfully so with his skating and puck skills, but the Bruins already have five sub-6-foot prospects on 'D' (seven when you include the two in Boston's top-six in Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick) Will they really spend a high pick on Murphy (assuming he's available)? That's the question he'll have to answer this season.

And of course, Adam Larsson is the big prize on defense-- a future franchise cornerstone for whichever team finishes last overall. Yes, before the season has begun, I'm predicting that Larsson will be selected ahead of the likes of Sean Couturier and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, neither of whom have the sustained and bankable stardom that John Tavares had in '09 when Victor Hedman could have been the No. 1 pick. And, don't forget about David Musil, either. The Vancouver Giants star has a world of size and talent, but has more to prove this year than any other player in the top-five because some warts on his game have already been identified by scouts (namely intensity and decision-making), so he'll be closely scrutinized. Still, with that kind of raw talent and superior bloodlines, hard to imagine he'll slip very far if at all.

Other guys to watch: slick, skilled Russian d-man Andrei Pedan, who is with the OHL's Guelph Storm, a pair of big and talented but raw players in Dougie Hamilton (Niagara- OHL) and Dillon Simpson (University of North Dakota) and smallish puck mover Adam Clendening, whom the Bruins will get a lot of viewings in over at Commonwealth Ave. There's also Scott Harrington of London, who has size and skill, but who right now isn't being projected as having a lot of offensive upside from the scouts I've talked to. Would be nice to see him exceed expectations and put up some numbers and jump into the race as a legit. candidate to be a No. 1 or high-end No. 2 NHL defenseman.

Should be a great year to focus on d-men and see which cream rises to the top!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Added labels tab-- Giggity giggity goo!

Look right and you'll see that I added a labels section to this post, which is good news for you, because it will allow you to better track the individual prospects throughout the course of the season.

Slowly but surely figuring out this blogging thing.

Matt Mahalak: A guy you should know

The B's aren't likely in the market for a goalie (at least not one they have to spend a high pick on), but Matt Mahalak is nonetheless an intriguing option were they to be lloking at a late-1st or early 2nd selection (and assuming he doesn't pull a Jack Campbell and zoom up the draft boards with a terrific season)

Red Line Report has him as their top goaltending prospect as of now in their September issue, and sixth overall on the OHL list (not including the imports like Nicklas Jensen, Tobias Rieder, Alex Khoklachev, Andrei Pedan, and Slava Namestnikov, all of whom are in their first OHL season).

He's got live size (6-2, 185), athletic ability and a good technique/fundamentals base.

He'll be with the Plymouth Whalers this season after playing for Youngstown of the USHL last year. I can tell you that the OHL brass has their eyes on him as one of the best goalie prospects to come out of that league this year, and it will be interesting to see if he can out-duel Belleville's Tyson Teichmann for the honor of first off the board from the 'O' next June. Teichmann, you may recall, backstopped Canada to gold at the Ivan Hlinka tourney, but I've not heard as good things about his natural talent and fundamentals as I have about Mahalak.

Mahalak takes away a lot of the net, has quick legs and a nice glove. If he can put it all together for Mike Vellucci's club, who stand to be without uber-scorer Tyler Seguin this year, he could really be one of the draft's risers if he can carry the mail for a team whose offense is going to take a big hit.

But if not, the Bruins could steal him with one of their bonus (read: Minnesota's 2nd rounder) picks in this draft. Mahalak, at least as we prepare to begin the OHL season on Thursday, has the potential to be a real star. But every year, players who are highly-touted going in, struggle to meet the crushing expectations and fall down the board. Kevin Poulin to the NY Islanders late in '08 is a good example of this, so keep an eye on Mahalak.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Connor Murphy: A guy you should know

Defenseman Connor Murphy is a rising star in the 2011 draft class, and if his last name rings a bell with Bruins fans, it should-- he's the son of former Boston defenseman and current Florida Panthers assistant coach Gord Murphy.

Murphy has burst onto the scene for the 2010-11 campaign after opening up a lot of eyes at the Ivan Hlinka tournament last month. He scored a huge overtime goal over Sweden with a booming shot less than a minute into the extra session, and after an injury-riddled '09-10 campaign, is really coming on strong as a two-way defenseman with size and potential.

He's with the U.S. NTDP this year after coming out of the Columbus Blue Jackets AAA midget program in Ohio, and he's got the size and mobility that NHL teams covet. The Bruins who are known for their gravitation toward bloodlines picks, know all about papa Gord, who never really got a chance to settle into a role in Boston after being a part of the trade that sent popular (oh and did I mention NHLPA player rep?) Garry Galley and Wes Walz to Philadelphia during the 1991-92 season. By June, 1993, Murphy was gone to Dallas along with Andy Moog for Jon Casey, one of Harry Sinden's worst trades in his long and sometimes turbulent tenure as GM and President. Although Murphy would return to Boston in 2002 for a few games at the tail end of his career, his son is said to have better offensive potential than his old man.

His long limbs allow him to generate a powerful stride and effective reach, and he can really put some mustard on his shot. He's raw, but brings some intriguing upside and will be on the "Derek Forbort watch" this season as a defenseman with the kind of size and offensive ability that should see his stock rise dramatically, even if he is a bit raw. He's a bit like his dad in that he's got that nice size (6-3, 195), but tends to use his stick and play a less snarly, physical style as opposed to leveraging the body and using his strength to separate the puck from opponents. If he were more of a hitter, then he'd be much more touted than he is right now.

Does he have No. 1 chops in the NHL? That's a question he'll have the whole year to make a case for, but as we prepare to go full bore into the start of the season, Murphy is definitely a guy you should know!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Randell on Ryan Murphy

Randell also had a few things to say about Rangers teammate Ryan Murphy, an undersized but highly-skilled defenseman with elite offensive abilities.

"Ryan is a skill player for sure. He's a great player who's going to go high (in the draft) and have a great career in hockey. Murphy's a great offensive defenseman, but he can also play back, too. He's got a great shot from the point on the power play. He can pretty much do it all."

Yes, he can.

Back to the 2011 draft watch: Bruins prospect Tyler Randell on Gabriel Landeskog

Chatted with Kitchener Rangers winger Tyler Randell about his Rangers teammate, expected to be a top-10 pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Randell is in Boston for training camp and was the team's sixth-round selection in the 2009 NHL Draft.

Here is what he had to say about the Swedish power forward:

"Landeskog is a hard-working forward who is good on the forecheck and has great patience in the offensive zone. He's got some real skill with the puck, too. He's definitely tough for a Swedish player and it's good to see that we have some other tough guys up front. He'll get the job done finishing checks and he'll fight if he needs to."

Bruins fans will love this:

Bruins training camp updates; Sunday 9/19

I won't get into too much here on the blog, but I've enjoyed the last couple of days at the TD Garden. Time to head home, but this has been a productive visit.

If you want to read more about what was going on there with some of the prospects, then hop on over to http://www.hockeyjournal.com/ and check out the Kirk's Call blog section.

I'll list a couple of the young prospect standouts and why I think they're worth following over the next few seasons. Remember, these comments are generated from a relatively small sample size. If I'm bringing up players covered in previous ground on this blog in the last few days, it's because they did even more to stand out in positive fashion during the weekend on-ice sessions.


Jordan Caron, RW-- Providence head coach Rob Murray likes to use the term "pro-ready" to describe prospects who come up from the amateur ranks with physical and emotional maturity, an advanced game and the kinds of intangibles to make an immediate impact either at the AHL or NHL level. Caron is one of those. He's also a versatile wing who can play on any line. He uses his wide body to protect the puck and set up an effective cycle down low. He's one of the youngsters who could make the Boston roster this year and no one would bat an eye. But if he goes down to Providence, that isn't a bad thing, either.

Joe Colborne, C-- You can see why this kid went 16th overall, because on hockey skills alone, he's a neat prospect. He's huge, has a long, loping stride and glides effortlessly along covering a lot of ground that takes smaller players twice the amount of choppy strides to equal. It's early, but he looks good (aside from having to wear the full face shield). He's a likeable kid with NHL skills, but he has yet to prove himself against big league competition where the going's gonna get tough.

Antoine Roussel, LW-- Gritty little cuss (who turns 21 in Nov.) can really skate and plays with a lot of energy. Watching him in the rookie games and in the main camp sessions it doesn't make any sense that he went undrafted. He's a relentless forechecker, is all over the ice and neve moves his feet, and seems to be able to get into the avenues of approach and disrupt the play from developing smoothly up the ice. Boston has about four contracts left to hand out under their 50-deal ceiling. Based on what I've seen from Roussel, he should get one. Now. UPDATE: I found out that Roussel is on an AHL contract, so that could turn into something more down the road. He'll go to Providence for the time being, and if he impresses, could earn an NHL deal.

Max Sauve, LW-- Two players born in France appearing on the same "hot" list? Believe it. Sauve has been the best of Boston's young forwards at camp this year, but he has some options, whereas Tyler Seguin does not. Therefore, Sauve could be the odd-man out to go down to the AHL rather than win a spot in Boston. On the other hand, if you believe that Marc Savard's concussion symptoms have opened up a top-six spot, then Sauve could be the guy to win it so long as he keeps blazing up the ice at max. effort and generates some offense in the exhibition games. So far in two days of training camp sessions, he's done nothing to hurt himself.

Tyler Seguin, C-- He's skilled, no doubt. But a work in progress. He does things that you can't teach and does them at lightning speed, so it's easy to criticize when plays don't result in goals. But, the option between keeping him in Boston and sending him back to dominate teenagers isn't really a choice at all. So, if you're one of those people who thinks Seguin needs to "earn it" then you need to get over it. He's skilled enough to play in the NHL and that's where he's going to be this season. Sending him back to Plymouth does nothing for his development and sometimes, that's just the business side of things. The better players don't always get the NHL jobs, but so long as they keep plugging away, their time will come.


Yury Alexandrov, D-- Seeing the contrast between David Krejci's tree-trunk legs and Alexandrov's spindly appendages on Sunday underscored the need this Russian has to hit the weights and add strength. What he does well: use his stick to break up opportunities and has the instincts to make unreal plays that amaze. That said, his defense needs a lot of work, as does his conditioning, and while he's looking better and better as each session progresses and he gains more familiarity and better fitness levels, he's not ready for an NHL position.

Matt Bartkowski, D-- In this blogger's mind, he edges Steve Kampfer by a nose for the award given to the best of the defense prospects. This is one mature, advanced defenseman who appears to already have a strong grasp of positioning, body leverage and stick checking. Oh, and he's about 6-1 and moves quite nicely, with good speed and agility in his footwork. This guy is so much better than advertised as a seventh-round pick, and while I have yet to see the big hits/toughness we heard about at Ohio State when the B's acquired his rights, he's been more than a pleasant surprise as far as his essential skills go.

Steve Kampfer, D-- Some like this undersized, but competitive defender more than Bartkowski, which is fine. The Michigan product is more mobile and aggressive offensively than his Ohio State counterpart, but doesn't have Bartkowski's natural size or strength. He's a leader and one of those "pro-ready" players Murray talks about. It's an interesting bond between the two collegians, as the B's acquired both at the deadline from teams who didn't want them. He's got a nice set of wheels and isn't afraid to rush the puck. I don't know that he's going to put up the kind of points that you want from an "offensive defenseman" but he looks to be a two-way hybrid who will be able to chip in some modest points and play responsibly in his own end.


Mike Hutchinson, G-- "Hutch" is really the only goalie worth discussing at this point. He made huge inroads in his rookie game virtuoso performance and should get some serious consideration to be Nolan Schaefer's backup in Providence. He's nowhere near ready for an NHL discussion, but he's got the size, athleticism and has shown some surprising mental toughness that his easy, sunny disposition conceals.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Back from TD Garden

Well, it was an eventful day at the TD Garden at any rate.

By now, you've heard the news that Marc Savard recently (as of a few weeks) started feeling symptoms related to postconcussion syndrome. GM Peter Chiarelli announced that news to us today, and there's plenty out there on it, so I won't re-hash but rather will wish Savvy a speedy recovery and hope he checks out well medically this weekend. Head/brain injuries are serious things, and there is so much science/medicine doesn't know, so I hope you'll join this blogger in wishing him the best.

It was nice seeing Patrice Bergeron again and he looks to be in great shape; ready to get things going. I've known him since before he ever skated his first shift as a Bruin, so to think that he and Tim Thomas are now the longest-tenured members of the team is remarkable. It seems like yesterday that he was a rookie living with Marty Lapointe and filming license plate commercials while driving a Zamboni around Beantown with fellow rookie (and Calder Trophy winner) Andrew Raycroft but it's been seven years, and he just turned 25 in July.

Mark Stuart is also ready to go...not having him at 100 percent for the playoffs last year was a tough blow to the team, so here's to him returning to his iron man form. Speaking of iron men, I met the NHL's all-time consecutive games leader, B's assistant coach Doug Jarvis, last night. Heck of a nice guy, and when he played one of the best defensive forwards in the game-- just like his predecessor, Craig Ramsay. The Bruins are no doubt hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and that Jarvis can have the kind of impact and influence had on the team. Ramsay, is credited in hockey circles, with being the one most responsible for helping turn Johnny Boychuk from career minor leaguer to legitimate NHL defenseman and playoff stalwart.

Matt Delahey, Alain Goulet, Joe Pleckaitis, Yannick Riendeau and Walker Wintoneak were all released and not invited to main camp today. Goulet is on an AHL contract, so he'll go to Providence, as will Riendeau, who is on an NHL deal, but apparently wasn't deemed ready enough to seriously compete for a job in Boston, so he goes down as well. No word on the other three, as they were camp invites, but don't be surprised to see them at least get a shot in Providence, as Rob Murray is now familiar with them. If not, then you know where they stand with "Murr", at least.

Antoine Roussel, on the other hand, apparently showed a lot to the B's coaches, because he's the lone camp invite still standing, and is in Boston in lieu of one forward with an actual two-way contract (Riendeau). As advertised, Roussel plays like a young Steve Begin. Fights like him, too. He gave a good effort against Travis Hamonic the other night, but Hams tuned him pretty good. Still, I'm a little intrigued about this player. He scored 24 goals with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens last year...might the Bruins have uncovered a diamond-in-the-rough? Probably not, but hockey's funny-- there are no shortage of players who have been overlooked and undervalued yet gone on to have very good NHL careers. Begin wasn't one of them-- Calgary took him in the second round of the 1996 draft, which was one of the shallowest classes in history. But if Roussel turns out to be something, even a clutch performer in Providence, then the B's amateur scouting staff will have done it again.

Well, it's Friday in the middle of September and the long wait is over. Hockey is about to be back in Boston. It all begins tomorrow.

Twittering away and going to B's player media availability today

I'm catching up on Twitter today, and just sent a shotgun blast of tweets that some may find interesting.

So, if you're a follower, check it out when you have time.

If you're not a follower (shame on you), you can catch me at KirkNEHJ

Heading down to TD Garden in a few to meet with the Bruins vets. They're doing their fitness testing there this morning and will be around to do interviews afterward.

The real fun/work begins tomorrow with the training camp sessions open to the public. I expect a big crowd given what we saw in the rookie games this week. There is a palpable hockey/Bruins buzz in this town right now. It helps that the Red Sox are out of postseason contention, but this team has an opportunity to capture the attention and imagination of the Boston sports scene (of course, the Patriots will have something to say about that).

But, in the words of that sage philosopher Larry the Cable Guy: Git r done!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bruins-Islanders Rookie Game Observations Sep. 16 B's 2, Isles 1 (OT)

Going to keep this a leaner, tighter post, as there is no real need to get into the nuts and bolts of the game tonight. It wasn't as high-scoring, but there was definitely some interesting story lines to look at.

Max Sauve, LW-- Hands-down, the best Boston forward both nights to this blogger's eye. Sauve's speed is one thing, but his creativity is something else. Back when the Bruins drafted him in the second round in '08, I asked an NHL scout familiar with him what he liked about Sauve the most. While he acknowledged the speed, the scout said too many fixated on it, and that Sauve was actually one of the more underrated passer/playmakers in the class. Well, tonight we saw that creativity on display with sole assists on both Spooner goals. Sauve was a legitimate threat every time he was out there. He backed defenders up and just seemed to make the right decisions with and without the puck. He did himself a big favor going into main camp. He's still likely ticketed for Providence, but he'll see a lot of ice time there.

Ryan Spooner, C-- He scored two goals tonight which was good for the Bruins, but wasn't involved all that much throughout the game beyond the two excellent strikes. Rob Murray was absolutely right when he said that Spooner is a player who needs the puck. His skill level is so high, however, that he can change the complexion of a game with just a flick of the wrist or swing of the stick. He's going to have to keep working on competing away from the puck, but tonight, he was able to break through and get it done.

Jared Knight, RW-- He wasn't able to break through scoring-wise, but Knight showed some grit and scrapiness that will serve him well down the line. He's a competitor-- on one occasion, he went to the net hard and drilled it off its moorings, which shows you how much he wanted to pot one for the Boston fans tonight. It didn't happen, but there is a lot to like about this player and he's only going to get better.

Matt Bartkowski, D-- Was probably Boston's best defenseman all night. He was involved in the play at both ends of the ice, made smart decisions and activated well on the transition. This is a guy who has pretty good footwork and seems to be a player who has the vision and instincts to be a versatile option because of his strength and smarts. Whenever this blogger noted a particularly strong play to either separate an Islander from the puck or take away a passing option, it was usually No. 43 who was directly involved. This kid's going to log a lot of minutes for Murray on the farm this year and could be closer to seeing spot duty in Boston than many think.

Mike Hutchinson, G-- He gave up the soft goal to Tony Romano early because he thinks he was off his angle too much, but no matter. Hutch completely slammed the door and threw away the key, as the Isles could not get anything else past him. This kid comes off as so very nice and polite every time you see him off the ice, but make no mistake-- he's a fierce competitor and showed that side well tonight. I can only imagine that fans who groaned when he surrendered the early tally came away from the game at its conclusion with some grudging admiration. The real question for Hutch is whether he can address the inconsistency that has plagued him to date in his junior career. He can be so strong one night and mediocre the next, but games like this one do a lot to show you his sizeable potential when he's on top of things.

Lane MacDermid, LW-- THE surprise of the rookie games for this blogger. His footspeed and skating has noticeably improved, and he's also worked on his shot and puckhandling. Let's face it-- he's never going to be a top option up front, but he skates hard and gives everything he has; the ultimate team player. Oh, and he was not only killing penalties in both games, but doing it effectively with an aggressive forecheck on the puck carrier, forcing mistakes and turnovers with his tenacity. He fought Travis Hamonic, which resulted in the Isles No. 2 d-man getting the boot with six minutes left in the second period (he fought Antoine Roussel Wednesday) for the two-fight rule. But MacDermid's contributions went way beyond the fighting, which was the surprise, because based on what we saw a year ago at training camp, this player has come a long way in a short time. He's going to play in the NHL.

Well, that about does it. Wrapping it up from TD Garden. I'll be back with some more commentary later, but this should be enough to sink your teeth into for a while.

New look to blog- hope you like it

The good news about interacting with people who read this blog is that I get a lot of nice comments about the content.

The bad news is that a few weren't so crazy about the design and layout and shared that feedback with me, so I've gone back to white vanilla background in hopes that it will be a little easier on the eyes.

And to those who liked the old new look, as they like to say on my favorite Starz original series Spartacus Blood and Sand...Apologies.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bruins-Islanders Rookie Game Observations Sep. 15 B's 5, Isles 2

BOSTON-- The Boston Bruins and New York Islanders rookies faced off against one another at the TD Garden in the first of two games on back-to-back nights between the NHL hopefuls and wannabes. The B's took care of business, getting a hat trick from '09 first-rounder Jordan Caron, and carrying play for much of the contest.

Announced attendance for tonight was 11, 571...who says that the Bruins don't generate a lot of buzz in Boston these days?

The line combinations for both teams:

Boston Bruins

64 Lane MacDermid (A)-39 Joe Colborne- 38 Jordan Caron

50 Jared Knight- 19 Tyler Seguin- 72 Jamie Arniel

74 Max Sauve- 51 Ryan Spooner- 66 Tyler Randell

82 Antoine Roussel- 61 Craig Cunningham- 86 Joe Pleckaitis

81 Matt Delahey- 47 Steven Kampfer (C)

43 Matt Bartkowski- 78 Ryan Button

79 Ryan Donald- 41 Yury Alexandrov

71 Adam Courchaine

New York Islanders

37 Kirill Kabanov- 45 David Ullstrom- 25 Nino Niederreiter

49 Rhett Rakhshani- 53 Casey Cizikas- 41 Robin Figren

81 Justin Dibenedetto- 54 Tony Romano- 6 Steve Tarasuk

62 Alex O'Neil-64 Justin Taylor

3 Calvin De Haan- 36 Travis Hamonic

71 Mark Katic- 48 Anton Klementiev

63 Corey Syvret- 61 Tony DeHart

1- Mikko Koskinen

1st Period

The game started pretty slowly with both teams a little tentative and feeling each other out. Not much to report, as the guys expected to stand out really didn't. Max Sauve had one nice shift where he undressed the Isles' top defensive pairing of Calvin De Haan and Travis Hamonic, but couldn't ge the puck past Mikko Koskinen, who was excellent throughout.

Best scoring chance, Bruins: Jamie Arniel had Koskinen beaten, but rang a backhand shot off the post.

Best scoring chance, Islanders: Casey Cizikas returned the favor, ringing the iron behind Adam Courchaine, and then Cizikas got the rebound out front to Rhett Rakhshani, who was stopped with a quick pad save by Courchaine to keep it 0-0.

Who, me? Tyler Seguin was whistled for interference late in the period and he stood for a few moments with his hands upturned, incredulous. As if to say, what'd I do? The Islanders did not convert with the man advantage, which carried over to the second frame.

2nd Period

Jordan Caron got things going with a goal to make it 1-0, redirecting a screaming shot from camp invite Matt Delahey early in the session, at 1:01. Joe Colborne got the other helper, setting the play up by gaining the zone and then leaving the puck in the middle for Delahey.

Sauve extended the lead to 2-0 when he fired home the rebound of a Tyler Randell shot after the two broke in. Sauve fired it in the open side when Koskinen was unable to control Randell's initial drive from inside the left circle. Sauve used his speed to get a step on the defender and cashed in at 9:26.

Islanders top draft pick (5th overall) in June, Nino Niederreiter, cut the lead to one goal at 11:51 when he deflected a low Hamonic point drive past Courchaine while standing just off from the right post.

2009 fourth-rounder Lane MacDermid restored the two-goal lead for Boston when he took a long lead pass from Seguin, galloped into the Islanders zone and ripped a cannon shot that off the far post that bounced into the cage.

Bring on the fisticuffs:

Two fights broke out in the second, the first between camp invite Antoine Roussel, whose playing style resembles Steve Begin, another scrappy, undersized forward who came out of the Quebec junior league. He fought Hamonic, who got the upper hand early with a flurry of punches before the two went to the ice, with Roussel landing on top.

The second bout occurred between Ryan Donald and Alex O'Neil, who was brought in by the Islanders from the Brampton Battalion of the OHL to handle pugilistic duties (129 penalty minutes against one goal last season). O'Neil, a veteran battler, gained an early edge and hammered away on the game, but inexperienced Donald (they don't allow fighting much at Yale). But Donald hung in there at least, and showed a willingness to engage. Here's guessing that MacDermid took O'Neil's No. 62 and will extend a dance invitation at some point tomorrow.

3rd Period

The Islanders made it a 3-2 game at 7:44 of the final frame when Robin Figren shook loose from his man banged home a pass from Justin Taylor after Courchaine was forced to cover the puck carrier (Taylor).

Caron tallied his second of the night on a perfect cross-ice feed from Seguin and Arniel. It was a power play goal at 11:31 thanks to a major penalty (see below) that knocked Colborne out of the game.

Bring on the fisticuffs:

Tyler Randell and Nino Niederreiter had a spirited fight a few moments later at 8:39. Give Niederreiter credit for dropping the gloves, but Randell beat him pretty soundly. Niederreiter's quote after the game was classic rookie speak: "It was my first fight so I had no idea what to do by try my best and try to kick some ass."

Randell tuned him, but the fact that he went after Randell in the first place after the Bruins forward had knocked down David Ullstrom gets to one of the reasons the Isles took him so high in the first place: He's a real competitor and will do what it takes to win or defend his mates.

Matt Delahey and Tony DeHart went at it at 15:18, after the two had an altercation in the Islanders zone and Delahey buzzed him several times before the two dropped the gloves. It was a pretty decisive win for Delahey who certainly looked like he'd had a few of those in his WHL career.

Beantown M*A*S*H: Colborne took a vicious elbow from Justin Dibenedetto that opened him up and left a considerable amount of his blood on the ice near the blue line (right side) of the Islanders' zone. I didn't see the play, but Dibenedetto got a five-minute major and game misconduct. It was later rumored that Colborne was actually clipped by a teammate's stick (MacDermid was the closest player to the collision between Colborne and Dibenedetto), but MacDermid didn't see what happened, nor was he aware of the possibility that his stick caused the damage. Peter Chiarelli said afterward that Colborne had what appeared to be a broken nose, needed stitches to close some gashes in his face and had chipped a tooth. He is lucid and will be seen at a local hospital to ensure he did not suffer a concussion; he is not expected to play tomorrow.


Jordan Caron, RW-- He scored the first and last (empty net) goals of the game, and added a power play marker in between. "Yeah, for sure I think everybody dreams and would wish it would happen to them," he said when asked about his hatty. He may not be flashy, but he goes to the net and has the hands to make things happen when he gets there.

Adam Courchaine, G-- I've been tough on him on this blog space because he had consistency issues in junior, but tonight, he played well. He was in position all night and made the stops he had to. He didn't have a chance on either Islanders tally.

Max Sauve, LW-- They say that speed kills, and Sauve did just that to the Islanders all night long. He's fast, skilled and spirited-- a lot to like with this kid. Let's go!

Lane MacDermid, LW-- He unleashed a major howitzer for the game-winner, but he looks like he's improved his skating (noticeably) since last season and played a solid game in all facets. No fights for him tonight, but tune in tomorrow.

The Boston D-- They kept it simple and were solid all night, moving the puck and preventing the Islanders forwards from getting into a rhythm.

Nino Niederreiter, RW-- He had the goal and the fight-- he was only lacking the assist to make Gordie Howe proud. But, tonight, he showed people why he went fifth overall in last June's draft: the kid is a gamer.

It was a quiet night for buzzworthy forwards Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner, who electrified B's development camp in July.

Leaving for Boston this morning

Well, faithful readers--

I'm off to Boston this morning for the Bruins-Islanders rookie games tonight and tomorrow, and then the first weekend of the Bruins main camp sessions to be held at TD Garden.

I did this last year, and while it isn't going to provide any real perspective on the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, since this is a Bruins-centric blog, and we're not yet in the regular season here in North America, I thought you wouldn't mind me spending the bulk of the next week covering down on some of the B's young prospects and how they look: a. Against their peers wearing the blue, orange and white, and b. Against the Bruins veteran players.

Last year, '09 third-rounder Ryan Button played well at the rookie tournament played in Kitchener, Ontario, but struggled to find his rhythm when he went up against the Boston roster guys. Of course, it can be a bit overwhelming when your first drill is a 2-on-1 and Mark Recchi and Patrice Bergeron are coming right at you. But, expect no such jitters from Button this time around.

It will be interesting to see how Joe Colborne and Jordan Caron fare; both are going up against NHL veterans for the first time, as Colborne was in the NCAA and not eligible to participate in the previous two camps, while Caron was in Boston a year ago, but unable to participate in on-ice activities because of a broken collarbone he suffered at Team Canada World Jr. Evaluation Camp.

Anyway-- I'll be in Boston for the next five days, so feel free to drop me a line, and if you happen to see me in and around the various events, be sure to say hello.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Marek Tvrdon: A guy you should know

Tomas Jurco is the nom d'jour as far as forwards from Slovakia playing in the CHL go, but keep a close eye out for countryman Marek Tvrdon, who was one of the more impressive Slovaks in multiple international tournaments last year and is going to be showcasing his talents with the WHL's Vancouver Giants this season.

Right now, the 6-2, 180-pound left winger is seen as a potential second-rounder by some, but he has the hockey skills and intangibles to move up if he can make a seamless transition to the WHL, much like Nino Niederreiter did last year.

Tvrdon, who played for the Nitra junior team last season, is going to be able to pack on mass to his sizeable frame and is strong on his skates, even if he is on the lanky side. He has nice high-end speed but could stand to improve his first few steps and turns/change of direction. He can generate offense on the fly and has soft hands for passing and shooting. He uses his size and strength to shield the puck and power through checks. He can take the puck to the net but has to show more consistency and a willingness to bowl defenders over when the opportunity presents itself, as he's not all that effective on the perimeter. Smart, instinctive player who can dictate the offensive tempo of a game, but doesn't always bring his 'A' game.

One thing's for sure: Giants coach Don Hay will get the most out of his talent and force Tvrdon to work for it. The youngster has demonstrated in the past that when he's hungry, he's among the most talented and dangerous forwards in the '11 class. But, how much he wants it and whether he can put it all together in a game-by-game basis is what will determine how early he goes off the board in Minnesota.

One more USHL sleeper: Colten St. Clair

This late November '92 birthdate and Arizona native wasn't eligible for the 2010 draft, and although plans to be at North Dakota appear to have fallen through, Colten St. Clair could move up a lot of draft boards with a breakout year for the Fargo Force (where he'll skate in front of B's prospect Zane Gothberg).

This is a solid two-way forward who doesn't have great size (5-11, 190), but skates well and plays an up-tempo, high-energy game. His feet are always moving, and he has very good vision; his ability to contribute positively with and without the puck make him an interesting option after the second round (as currently projected). He scored 17 and 15 goals respectively in two USHL seasons and could post 20-25 this year.

"He's probably a third-rounder in my book because he's not gifted enough offensively," Red Line scout Max Giese said. "He's also lacks (Florida 2nd-rounder) Connor Brickley's edge, but is a really smart two-way player and competes hard."

USHL Sleepers Alert: Brendan Woods, Casey Thrush

Two '92 birthdates who were passed over in the 2010 NHL Draft, but who just might hear their names called in Minnesota if they have the kind of seasons they're capable of are a pair of USHL forwards in Brendan Woods and Casey Thrush.

For Chicago Steel winger Woods, it was mostly a lost season because of broken femur that cost him half the year. At 6-2, 195 pounds, he has the kind of size NHL teams are always looking for. Although not an outstanding skater, he generates power in his lower leg drive and can get where he needs to go. He finished the 09-10 campaign strong, but was unable to do enough to earn a draft call from any of the NHL's 30 teams. The guess here is twice-snubbed guys like Craig Cunningham and Justin Florek can get picked in the middle rounds by the B's, then a player like Woods has more than a fighting chance so long as he can stay healthy and productive.

"I thought Woods was one of the better forwards in the USHL at the end of last season," Red Line Report's Max Giese said recently. "If he can play a full season and build on last year, then I think he'll get drafted in June."

Thrush is a little different story. One of two players I actually scouted in the Washington D.C. region last season (Washington Jr. Nationals forward David Bondra the son of-- you guessed it-- Peter Bondra, being the other), Thrush had all the tools to be a mid-to-late draft pick, but was likely passed over because of several factors including level of competition (he played for Team Maryland AAA now known as the D.C. Capitals) and the fact that although he has a great set of wheels and was dominant against a bunch of JAGs, he was often times a one-man show who tried to do it all himself and wasn't so hot away from the puck (translation: the hockey sense just isn't there). The UNH recruit for '11 has the size and ability, and to be honest, I was a little surprised that some team didn't at least take a seventh-round flier on Thrush in L.A.

I think that if he can post even average numbers in the USHL this season that he'll get picked in Minnesota just because 6-foot plus forwards with the kind of speed and soft hands Thrush has don't grow on trees. He'll have his work cut out for him as a member of the expansion Muskegon Lumberjacks, though. Like Silver Spring, Md. native and fellow UNH aspirant Nick Sorkin, who dominated the local hockey circuit two years ago but got nary a draft whiff in '09 (or '10 for that matter), Thrush must overcome the stigma of coming from a hockey no-man's land and being that proverbial big fish in a small pond. The good news is that he should benefit from solid ice time on a team that isn't going to be very competitive, but sometimes, those are the best situations for players like Thrush.

Giese, who saw Thrush in action last year, concurred saying: "He's got to learn to use his teammates more. It's hard for me to understand how a player with as much talent as he has simply didn't make anyone around him better."

When Giese said that, the light went on for me as well, because in watching Thrush myself, there was something nagging at me that I couldn't quite put my finger on despite the fact that I was clearly looking at a skilled forward.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Vladislav Namestnikov: A guy you should know

I'm happy to kick off my "Guy you should know" series this year with London Knights center Vladislav Namestnikov, a highly skilled playmaking pivot who looks like a solid first-rounder going into the season.

Namestnikov comes from excellent hockey and athletic stock: his father, Evgeny Namestnikov, was a Vancouver Canucks draft pick who played 43 NHL games with the Canucks, New York Islanders and Nashville Predators from 1993-2000, spending a lot of those years in AHL hubs like Syracuse, Salt Lake City, Lowell and Milwaukee. His mother is longtime NHL forward and Stanley Cup champion with Detroit Vyacheslav "Slava" Kozlov's sister; she was an elite figure skater in Voskresensk, where the younger Namestnikov was born.

A November '92 birthdate, Namestnikov got some very good experience last season playing against men with Khimik Voskresensk (EDIT-- he played in the 2nd division- not KHL), not looking out of place while showing off high-end passing and playmaking skills. A good skater, he doesn't have explosive speed or a dynamic separation gear, but is quick, shifty, elusive and opportunistic. He's more a set-up man than a finisher, but can put the puck in the net with a snappy release on his wrister. It will be interesting to see the breakdown in his production in the OHL this season split between goals and assists. He's shown a penchant for taking the puck into traffic and driving to the net, so it will be interesting to see whether he continues to eschew the perimeter game in London, as in the trenches is where the proverbial bread is buttered.

Culturally, Namestnikov is about as adapted to North America for a Russian as it can get. There are videos out there that show him being interviewed and he speaks flawless English with an almost untraceable accent because of all the time he spent in the U.S. as a youngster while his father was skating in the AHL and NHL.

He's not all that big at 5-11, 165 (and his pop was an undersized d-man when he played as was uncle Slava so he gets no help from the family gene pool there), and he's going to have to add strength and mass.

Namestnikov is one of two very high profile Russians (Windsor C Alex Khokhlachev being the other) who are following the Alexander Burmistrov blueprint (Atlanta's top-10 selection last June) and coming to the OHL where their exposure will not only increase a hundredfold from their peers who stay home, but they'll also have a chance to demonstrate how well their games translate in North America and can openly dialogue with NHL clubs to alleviate signability concerns. Neither player is all that big, so when teams factor their Russian pro experience and then look at how they handle the rigors of the heavy CHL schedule and more physical style, this goes a long way to making sure that getting drafted happens sooner rather than later and is going to be an interesting trend to watch in the continued absence of a transfer agreement between the NHL and Russia.

Namestnikov is going to one of the crown jewel franchises of the CHL in terms of cultivating and developing NHL talent, and through the Hunter brothers, he'll get all the help and tools he needs to not only hone his overall game and skills, but raise his profile. Ditto Khokhlachev in Windsor.

It would not be a surprise to see Namestnikov become one of the OHL's most productive passers, and his presence there should perk up Bruins fans, who have a vested interest in his passing skills especially should he replace Nazem Kadri as Jared Knight's set-up man.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A prep player overlooked: Petr Placek

It's kinda hard to do when the guy is 6-4 and 200 pounds, but Hotchkiss right winger Petr Placek got nary a mention when I listed the New England prep players to watch. And it isn't like he's a sleeper, either. The Harvard ('11) recruit scored 16 goals in 24 games last season and has improved his skating and agility/coordination since showing up two years ago from his native Czech Republic as a gangly 15-year-old (Dec. '92 birthdate).

Like a lot of big wingers, his first few steps aren't great, but once he gets up a good head of steam, he can make things happen at speed and goes hard to the net. A horse along the walls and down low, Placek could put up explosive numbers this season for coach Damon White's crew.

Everyone raves about Placek's intelligence, work ethic and grace under pressure, so we could be looking at a potential first-round pick in 2011 or solid second-rounder. Keep and eye on this one.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

B2011DW's Official 2010-11 USHL/U.S. college/U.S. juniors Watch List

I'm here with the last of the preseason watch lists. I hope you have enjoyed this series, and be sure to look back on these posts when the season is over, as it will be interesting to see which players lived up to the hype, which ones didn't and those who weren't even listed, but broke into the mainstream with standout performances.

I had the good fortune of having a very productive talk with Max Giese, formerly of McKeen's who is now a Red Line Report scout and covers the USHL and U.S. colleges and even some Canadian juniors. Giese is extremely astute and knows a great deal about the players featured on this particular watch list. He has kindly given his permission for me to quote him extensively on his preseason opinions of the top players projected to come out of the collegiate and junior circuit this year, and like me, Giese is ready for the season to get underway.

The USHL has a trio of very talented players with a lot of size and skill-- two wingers and a defenseman-- in Seth Ambroz, Tyler Biggs and Scott Mayfield, plus the normal contingent of U.S. NTDP prospects who are always in the draft mix in the first few rounds and beyond. Ambroz is the big name, but Mayfield may be the best of anyone coming out of the 'U' this year and has a decision to make as to whether he goes the NCAA route with Denver University, or goes to the OHL with the Kitchener Rangers.

As far as U.S. collegians go, Boston University's Adam Clendening is top dog on this list, but one notable omission is skilled two-way North Dakota defenseman Dillon Simpson (son of former NHL sniper and Bruin killer Craig Simpson) is actually ranked higher on some lists I've seen (notably Red Line Report, who had Simpson 19th in August). But because I have yet to see Simpson and have not been able to find anyone who actually has seen him, I don't have him in the top-10 even though he probably very much should be based on some of the preliminary rankings go. As soon as I or someone I know gets eyes on Simpson, I'll post a scouting report on him.

In eight days, I'll be in Boston checking out the B's prospects vs. the young Islanders, and then the rest of the Bruins vets when they report for the first weekend of main camp. Before we know it, the NHL season will be in full swing, and we can look forward to tracking the progress of those 1st and 2nd-round picks Toronto and Minnesota owe Boston.

But first, here's the last of our unfinished summer business...enjoy!

1. Seth Ambroz, RW Omaha Lancers (USHL)-- At 6-3, 205 pounds, Ambroz is a man among boys and has been the same physical presence now for about three years. A formidable power forward in the making, Ambroz is very strong and has the kind of wicked shot and physical game that should be highly appealing to NHL clubs. Now entering his third season for Omaha in the USHL, he should put up some gaudy numbers provided he stays healthy as a primer for the University of Minnesota next year. Ambroz is not without some faults, however. He's got a pretty slow first step and lacks the kind of balance and agility you want in a pro winger. According to some, he tends to take the summers off, and hasn't really addressed the lack of quickness on his skates. Not only is he a notoriously slow starter when it comes to breaking out from a standstill, but that also applies to his play at the start of the season as well, so scouts will be watching early.

"His biggest issue is that he really lacks quickness out of the gate," Giese told B2011DW. "It's an issue that most expected him to work on, and in the three years I've been watching him, I haven't really seen a lot of improvement in, so I think it will be something scouts focus on. He's one of those guys the game comes pretty easy for and he plays effectively at both ends of the rink. He's more of a shooter than a playmaker at this stage of his development."

Even with the initial burst concerns, Ambroz still is a prime candidate to go in the top-half of the opening round in his home state next June, and if he has the kind of big production that is expected of him, you might see him crack the top-10.

2. Scott Mayfield, D Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)-- The St. Louis native's stock shot up a bit with NHL scouts last month when he went to Toronto to participate in the inaugural Research and Development Camp and formed a formidable pairing with Mike McKee. He's got a lot of mass to pack onto his 6-4 frame, but he moves extremely well and shows some nice polish at both ends of the ice. Although committed to Denver, you could see Mayfield instead go to the OHL to join powerhouse Kitchener in the 11-12 campaign, so that will be an interesting development to watch.

"Mayfield's had a mountain of improvement," Giese said of having seen Mayfield from the beginning of his USHL career a year ago. "Everytime you see him, you notice that he's a really good skater and has nice offensive skills. I like that he's assertive with the puck; he came into Youngstown and was running their power play from the get-go and playing about 30 minutes a night for them in all situations."

Mayfield's size and mobility are of obvious interest to NHL teams, but the fact that he can play both defense and generate offense is going to see him off the board early in June if he continues to progress. "I think he's the best USHL defenseman since John Carlson," said Giese. "He's more advanced defensively than Carlson was (in his draft year), but not quite as skilled offensively."

3. Tyler Biggs, RW U.S. NTDP Under-18 (USHL)-- You may not have heard much about this power winger in the making, but if Biggs can live up to the tantalizing potential he flashed last season, he could end up going in the top half of the NHL draft next summer. At 6-2, 205, he'll add more muscle to his frame, but has the size and strength to be a horse along the boards. Skill-wise, he's a solid stickhandler and has an NHL-caliber shot already, with a quick release and a lot of power on it. He's very physical and uses his size and strength to intimidate opponents. The biggest drawback for him, and likely the reason that there hasn't been more buzz on him thus far is the fact that he's been pretty inconsistent and doesn't always bring his best to every situation.

"He can flat-out dominate with his skills and physical play," Giese said. "The problem is-- he turns it on and off. When the switch goes on, he's often the best player on the ice. When the switch is off, you don't notice him."

Biggs has the hockey bloodlines, too; he's the son of former NHL journeyman and AHL/IHL Cincinnati Cyclones scoring ace Don Biggs, and although born in Binghamton, N.Y. was raised in southern Ohio.

"When he's on his game, he's really strong," said Giese. "I've seen him hurt older kids; he knocked out (Anaheim Ducks prospect) Kevin Lind in a fight last year. He's almost underappreciated in the NTDP because they don't fight there all that much."

Interestingly enough, one of Biggs's three fights last season (in addition to Lind) came against Mayfield. With the snarl and the skill, if Biggs can be a consistent force this season, then the buzz on him will be palpable as he rides that wave into the first round.

4. J.T. Miller, C U.S. NTDP Under-18 (USHL)-- Talented center from Eastern Ohio and the Pittsburgh Hornets developmental organization is highly-ranked, but a lot is riding for him in his draft year. If Ambroz and Biggs are the hulking, physical power forward types, Miller is a more cerebral, skill player with a well-rounded game, but who does not project as a huge point getter in the pros. At 6-1, 190 pounds he has nice size with room to fill out and is a good skater. He comes from the same region of the country that fellow 2011 prospect Brandon Saad does, and the two competed against one another as youths.

"With me it's all about preferences," Giese said when asked about Miller. "He's in the group with Biggs, but he's more of a finesse two-way guy and not a physical or dominant shutdown center. He's a skilled two-way forward and there's some upside there."

5. Mike Paliotta, D U.S. NTDP Under-18 (USHL)-- The Westport, Conn. native and former Choate Rosemary Hall standout left home for Ann Arbor and the national program last year and it's paying off for him, as he's done well against the bigger, stronger, more skilled competition in the USHL not found in New England prep ranks these days. At 6-3, he's still filling out, but skates real well and is fluid, with a long stride and very good balance, agility and the footwork. He had a tough transition early on, but progressed well on the Under-17 team last year and looks like a solid first-round pick in the second half if he continues to develop. He's probably not going to be a big point getter at the next level, but his skills will see him drafted early. Paliotta will return to New England next year, when he joins Kevin Sneddon's Vermont Catamounts program in the Hockey East.

"I saw him in late February and he was by far the best defenseman on the ice," Giese said, noting the major improvement from the start of the year. "He's big, is a rangy skater and has a good stick; he can make that first pass. He doesn't have the tantalizing upside that Derek Forbort did, but I think that once the top defenders go in the draft, NHL teams picking later in the first round will identify this guy as someone who can help."

6. Adam Clendening, D Boston University (HE)-- The first NCAA entry on this list (and again-- note the Dillon Simpson caveat above) is a skilled defender who, if he were a few inches taller, would likely carry a better draft projection. Listed at 5-11 and 190-pounds, the size won't be an issue for him in the NCAA this year and he should complement David Warsofsky nicely as far as bringing offense from the blue line goes. The New York native is a solid skater who may not possess elite speed, but can move and turn well. His best attributes are his passing and puck skills; he can put the biscuit anywhere it needs to go and sees the ice extremely well. A polished player who did well for USA at the Under-18 championship last spring, winning a gold medal in the process, you should probably see an immediate impact from him on the Terrier blue line. I brought up 2010 second-round pick and fellow NTDP grad Justin Faulk asked for a comparison with Clendening to Giese and he had this interesting insight on the two:

"Clendening can't pound it like Faulk can," he said referring to the diminutive Minnesotan's rocket shot. "But he can hit seams and thread the needle creatively. Clendening isn't as physical as Faulk and is more of a player who will be in proper position and use his stick. I expect immediate success for him at BU."

7. Nick Shore, C Denver University (WCHA)-- The younger brother of '09 Florida second-rounder Drew Shore, Nick is a different player from his older brother in that he doesn't have the size or quite the pure hockey skills, but is more of a mature and intelligent player at this stage of his development. A hard-working and productive graduate of the NTDP, he's ready to take on the college hockey challenge there in his native state of Colorado and could make a splash right away because of his advanced approach and hockey intellect.

"He has really good hands and hockey sense," Giese said of the younger Shore. "Because of his intelligence and poise with the puck, I could see him moving into the first round if he has the kind of season I think he's capable of at DU."

8. Robbie Russo, D U.S. NTDP Under-18 (USHL)-- Cut from the Clendening mold, this smallish but skilled defenseman sees the ice well and is an adept passer. He doesn't have great size (6-0, 180), nor is he a blazing skater, but because he's strong on his skates and possesses the right instincts for the game, he's able to move the puck and play a solid two-way game. He'll quarterback the Under-18 team's power play this year, but according to Giese is more of a gap and stick defender as opposed to a physical, hitting one. Russo could be a second- or third-round pick in June, and will have to make his money on the international scene this year to raise his profile.

9. Matt Nieto, LW Boston University (HE)-- Small but skilled offensive dynamo will infuse some excitement into a Terriers team that is just two seasons removed from a national championship. Another NTDP product and member of that gold medal Under-18 team last spring, Nieto has explosive speed and production potential, but doesn't always bring it on every shift. He'll have to prove his consistency and is in a pretty good situation to do just that.

10. John Gibson, G U.S. NTDP Under-18 (USHL)-- A tall, athletic goalie (6-3) who has reportedly improved his technique considerably over the last several seasons, Gibson is in position to move rapidly up the draft boards if he can consistently demonstrate his prowess between the pipes given that Jack Campbell is now in the OHL. He has a compact butterfly and moves well laterally, staying square to the shooter and remaining patient. He's going to have to earn the playing time and then perform to get himself into the first round, but he has the physical and mental chops to do it.

"He has ice in his veins," Giese said. "You can't teach a goalie to be composed in big games or make huge saves when his team needs him the most, so he's got that going for him in addition to the skill."

Others of note:

Dillon Simpson, D University of North Dakota (WCHA)-- We'll post more on him as the season progresses, but with the skill and blood lines, this kid could turn some heads for the draft.

Zac Larraza LW U.S. NTDP Under-18 (USHL)-- Big, lanky kid came to Ann Arbor from Arizona with high expectations and hasn't quite met them yet. Described by one scout as "all arms and legs," he has a lot of physical maturing to do, but skates well and brings a good skill level to the table. If he can put it all together this year and produce, you could see him make a run up the draft boards.

Jamie Oleksiak, D Northeastern University (HE)-- The Huskies are mining the Toronto area (see: McKee, Mike) for some gems, and this 6-7, 220-pounder who comes by way of Sioux Falls of the USHL is raw, but has some intriguing potential. The wingspan is gi-normous as one would expect for someone of Hal Gill's height, but he also moves pretty well for such a big man (less speed, but effective edgework). He's got a little puck skills, but is a work in progress who needs to improve speed of decisions and bring a more consistent physical presence.

Mike Mersch, LW University of Wisconsin (WCHA)-- Sound all-around winger isn't going to dazzle, but has good hands and a knack for making plays. He needs to get stronger, and that will come in time, but thinks the game well and how his draft goes will be largely dependent on how Mike Eaves uses him as a freshman.

Frankie Simonelli, D University of Wisconsin (WCHA)-- Another small, skilled defender who is a good four-way skater and can move the puck well. The Illinois native gets lost in the shuffle a bit, but is a strong two-way defender and has some interesting upside.

Cason Hohmann, RW Cedar Rapids (USHL)-- Tiny but highly skilled energy forward had a fine Ivan Hlinka tourney for Team USA, but may get passed over in draft because of concerns about size, lack of explosive jump. He's instinctive, feisty, has terrific hands and can really finish, but will need to put up huge points this year to hear his name called. Boston University recruit will be in Beantown for the 11-12 season.

Rocco Grimaldi, C U.S. NTDP Under-18 (USHL)-- Another extremely small, skilled forward, Grimaldi is the latest in the wave of NHL prospects from Southern California. He's dangerous and productive, but is also an outstanding skater. That gives him an edge when determining whether an NHL team will spend a draft pick on a player who is so undersized.