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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Ryan Murphy situation: Will he go to Buffalo?

Team Canada released its World Junior Selection Camp roster on Monday, and Kitchener Rangers defenseman Ryan Murphy was on it.

This is a departure from the Ivan Hlinka Under-18 final roster decision, in which Team Canada head scout (and former Los Angeles Kings amateur scouting director) Al Murray left Murphy out of the mix for the eventual gold medal champions. This curious decision, which received even more scrutiny because Murphy registered a hat trick and five points in the final scrimmage before the team was announced, is now a subject of debate again because a change in personnel for Team Canada now has Murphy coming to camp with a shot at making Canada's elite Under-20 team.

Kevin Prendergast replaced Murray in September as Team Canada's new head scout. Murray moved down to the Sunshine State to head up Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning's amateur scouting staff, while Prendergast was out of work after being let go from the last-place Edmonton Oilers during the off-season. He's the man who will have the most influence on the Under-20 club that will try to get back to the gold standard. He's at least recognized Murphy's potential to help this year's team that will seek to avenge the loss to Team USA in Buffalo. It's an intriguing development after he wasn't considered "good enough" to make the Under-18 squad in August. Funny, but what a difference three months makes!

Murphy is no shoe-in for Team Canada, especially with the presence of WJC veterans Ryan Ellis (Nashville) and Calvin DeHaan (NY Islanders). However, unless you've been living under a rock for the past 90 days, Murphy's blistering point totals should earn him serious consideration even if for a specialist's role as a 17-year-old with huge upside.

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch talked about Murphy's snub in August and invite to the U-20 camp to one NHL scout who has followed the defenseman closely in the OHL and various other venues, and who is also well-versed in the Team Canada selection process (not to mention having attended at least 15 of the WJC evaluation and selection camps over the years).

"It was a joke that (Murphy) didn't make that (Under-18) team for the Ivan Hlinka," the NHL scout said. "I've been to a lot of these camps and I don't think I've ever seen the kind of dominating performance Murphy put on in that final game. Ever. And we're talking about great NHL players who didn't do what Murphy did: not Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos or Drew Doughty. Ever. The domination that kid showed this past summer was a first for me."

While Murray never really did give an explanation for the decision, it was widely believed that Murphy's lack of size, defensive game and a possible personality conflict may have played into the snub.

"I've never heard a bad word said about the kid from anyone," the scout said. "Murray took kids with some questionable issues in the past to the Ivan Hlinka. He took kids with attitude concerns to the World Juniors. It isn't like Murphy is a bad kid at all, if anything, he's one of the best kids out there. So, you figure it had to be the defensive concerns as to why he was left off. What else could it be?"

Now, with Prendergast on board, and an OHL coach behind the bench for Team Canada in the Mississauga St. Mikes' Dave Cameron, Murphy is squarely in the mix thanks to those who have seen enough of him lighting up the league this year to know that he could be worth adding despite some long odds.

"The big issue is Ryan Ellis," said the scout. "He'll run one power play unit, and (Calvin) DeHaan will run the other, so where do you put Murphy? If it's me, I take him as my 7th and I get him in there with the man advantage whenever I can. If the power play's not working, then this is the kid who's going to make it go. And, he could do more than that."

Murphy certainly appears to be motivated about the Slovakia snub. By all accounts, there's no way he should have been left off that roster. Had Canada somehow lost the gold medal game to the USA (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored the only goal in a 1-0 decision), you would have heard the screams all the way from Oakville to Timmins. Canada prevailed, but if there was ever a time to take a bit of a chance and put a potential game-breaker onto the squad, even one as young as Murphy, it is now.

"This kid is (expletive) insane offensively," the scout said.

If he gets cut this time around, Kitchener coach Steve Spott may see an even more fired-up Murphy amp it up and take out those frustrations on the rest of the OHL field this winter.

Given that Cameron may have to face Murphy and the Rangers at some point in the playoffs, and even the Memorial Cup (Mississauga is host city), it might behoove the coach to take Murphy to Buffalo with him.

Monday, November 29, 2010

2011 Boston Bruins draft pick update; 29 Nov.

Although the Boston Bruins haven't had a great week and are currently sitting in eighth place for the final playoff spot, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been worse.

They have been shutout five times in 22 games this season, the most recent drubbing coming against Ottawa on Saturday, a 3-0 loss that has Leafs Nation in a tizzy.

With no 1st- and 3rd-round picks in 2011, the chances of building through the draft are diminished once again. And, Leafs GM Brian Burke doesn't have a war chest of assets from which to make the kinds of deals that will improve the team in the short term.

Make no mistake-- change is coming to the Air Canada Centre. Coach Ron Wilson is the easier move to make, though a painful one given the extremely close relationship between the two men going back to their Providence College days as members of the Friars. But beyond that, there isn't a lot Burke can do. He sold off myriad assets and players last season to bring in J.S. Giguere and Dion Phaneuf. And then he gave up an excellent young forward in Viktor Stalberg for Kris Versteeg over the summer. The former Boston draft choice and farmhand has been a lightning rod of criticism in Leafs Nation this season for his up-and-down play, and its beginning to look like he was in a nice situation in Chicago as a complementary player, and not a primetime guy who can shoulder the offensive load for the moribund Leafs.

Here are the facts as they stand with November giving way to December: The problems that ail the Leafs are the same as in Boston: scoring goals, not preventing them. And, no matter how good your goalies and team defense are, if you can't put the puck in the net, you're going to lose more than you win.

New Jersey is just one point behind Toronto to push the Leafs into 28th place, and the Oilers and Islanders are just three and four points away from 29th and 30th.

Right now, that's the one thing that gives Boston fans a reason to smile.

1st Round

4th overall- Toronto (19 points; 8-11-3)- Completes Phil Kessel trade.
15th overall- Boston (26 points; 12-8-2)

2nd Round

41st overall- Minnesota (24 points;11-9-2)- Completes Chuck Kobasew trade.
45th overall- Boston

3rd Round

79th overall- Phoenix (27 points; 11-6-5) - Completes Derek Morris trade.
Boston pick traded to Florida; Completes Nathan Horton deal

4th Round

105th overall- Boston

5th Round

135th overall- Boston

6th Round

165th overall- Boston

7th Round

Pick traded to Chicago (Zach Trotman)

State of the Boston Bruins: Scoring woes resurface, decisions loom

What is wrong with the Boston Bruins?

This is a team on paper that is as talented as any in the NHL this season, but the Jekyll and Hyde act is wearing thin on fans and likely management.

Unfortunately, the team's tenuous cap situation doesn't provide GM Peter Chiarelli with any real flexibility to do much beyond recalling players like Jamie Arniel (OK- he did it because Jordan Caron and David Krejci were out with the flu, but you get the idea).

The club's scoring woes are becoming an issue again, and the Freight Line horses who were so exciting in the month of October have largely cooled off (save for Milan Lucic, who is in the midst of a career year and did register an assist on the lone goal in Boston's 4-1 loss to Atlanta last night). Nathan Horton is on a cold streak, with no points in the last five games, and he hasn't scored since Boston's win over New Jersey on Nov. 15 (and even in that game he took a grand total of one shot, beating Marty Brodeur from the outside on a shot that the future Hall of Fame goalie usually eats up).

The B's are again under three goals a game on the average, and with Lucic leading the club with 19 points in 22 games, that's not enough to get things done. Granted, the eventual returns of the Marx Brothers-- Marc Savard and Marco Sturm-- should remedy some of the offensive problems, something is going to have to give on the Boston roster to get the team cap compliant.

Perhaps one way to look at the latest losing streak (0-2 with one goal scored in losses to Carolina and Atlanta since Thanksgiving) is that the changes Chiarelli will have to make in order to clear cap room for Savard and Sturm might not be as intensely scrutinized as they would have been when the Bruins were rolling and chemistry was excellent; considered a strength. What would have been an agonizing decision(s) a few weeks ago given how well the team was playing on the whole, will now be less of one.

The rookie Caron will probably be one to go, as his very good start offensively in October has dried up of late and he's an easy call to make to free up one of the forward roster spots. He can go down to Providence and play a lot and in all situations for Rob Murray-- that's a good thing. But his demotion will only address the place in the lineup, it doesn't do nearly enough to solve the cap problem the team faces.

Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler are two players who have picked up their play this season, but the big question remains: will it be enough. Although Ryders six goals and 13 points in 22 games is good for fourth (behind the ageless Mark Recchi with 15-- he keeps motoring along at soon-to-be 43) place on the club, but his minus-5 rating is the worst. Plus/minus is a tough stat to keep in context, but Ryder's salary has been a bugaboo for the club since last season, when his significant underperformance really began to hamstring the team. As for Wheeler, he's been a lot better than the start of the year since injuries forced his move to center, but five goals and nine points in22 games isn't exactly a torrid pace.

It just may be that Chiarelli can find some buyers who can at least take the cap hits off his hands for some kind of return, but the reality is, the Bruins GM is over a barrel on this and the rest of his contemporaries know it. They will wait him out and likely benefit from getting the forced roster reductions at just a waiver price, which will be tough for the team to swallow but is the reality of this cost-certain modern NHL world.

Although the GM has gotten some high marks for trades he's made to bring in talent, his cap management grades are much more in doubt. With about $4 million to shave according to CapGeek, Chiarelli doesn't have a lot of options in front of him.

When Savard and Sturm do make it back, the team and its fans can only hope that they won't be too long in making meaningful contributions, because these days, the Bruins need to be a lot more of a strong, snarling Mr. Hyde than the mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Central Scouting Preliminary Rankings: The USHL Pt. 2

Good Sunday morning!

B2011DW is back with the second part of the USHL and final part in our Central Scouting preliminary breakdown. I previously brought you the top-five and I'll review the guys from 6-25 plus a few of the goalies. I won't hit all of the players, as several scouts have told me that a good number of these guys don't belong and aren't legitimate pro prospects. Once again, I want to thank my sources for providing so many good insights on players who aren't as easy to see. Red Line Report's Max Giese is one of the best young talent hounds out there with a tremendous work ethic and keen eye for hockey, while my NHL scouts are proven over time. I just wish sometimes that I could name them in these reports because they deserve credit for their many hits over the years. Giese, a former goaltender from Janesville, Wisconsin, is like a lot of goalies out there-- he spent a lot of time watching the game and gaining insights that many skaters don't get because of the fast-paced nature of hockey. And, like all NHL scouts out there, he's logging countless miles on his car traveling to far-flung midwestern hockey outlets.

So, getting going, we'll kick off with a player I'm pretty familiar with in former Choate Rosemary Hall standout Mike Paliotta, who is the one player from New England (Westport, Conn.) who has a legitimate shot at being a first-round draft pick in June. The Wild Boars' loss was the U.S. NTDP's gain when Paliotta went out to Ann Arbor a year ago, and the University of Vermont recruit may not be flashy or spectacular, but he has the size and mobility to get the job done in the NHL. He has solid No. 2/3 upside and is working as the U.S. Under-18 team's triggerman on the power play.

"He's shown a lot of improvement (since September)," Giese said. "He's really committed to his role. He's a big kid (6-3, 196) who moves pretty well on his feet. I'd say he's above average for his size (as a skater) and has taken his physical game up a notch. He's trying to play that same kind of role for the Under-18 team that Jarred Tinordi did last year."

Giese was quick to point out that Paliotta doesn't have Tinordi's intimidating physical presence, but he may have more skill when it comes to skating and moving the puck than the Montreal first-rounder.

"He makes a good first pass," said Giese. "He gets into a little bit of trouble when he gets the puck and stops moving his feet; those passing windows tend to close up. So, Paliotta is going to need to keep moving his feet. Overall, though, these are things he'll improve with good coaching and experience. I'd say that he's rising up (the various) lists."

Paliotta's teammate, Adam Reid, is seventh on the Central list for the USHL and makes his debut on Bruins2011DraftWatch on this post. Here is what was published in Red Line Report's November issue recap of the U.S. NTDP draft eligible players:

Rangy and industrious two-way winger. Stronger on his feet with improved balance and top-end speed, but still has some awkward moments and needs to get quicker out of the gate... Tall and needs to fill out. Not a malicious hitter, though he uses his size well doing the dirty jobs along the boards.

Not a complete report, as the information RLR publishes is proprietary, but you get the picture. Reid has some interesting, if raw potential.

At eight, Central has Michigander Sean Kuraly, who skates for the Indianapolis Ice on the list. Here's where some of the divergence of opinions comes in. Although Kuraly skated for the silver medal U.S. squad at the Ivan Hlinka a few months ago, he's not exactly a favorite among scouts B2011DW has spoken to.

"I don't see much upside with Kuraly," said an NHL scout familiar with him from international competition. 'He skates well enough, but I don't think he's got the hands and puck skills to get the job done at the NHL level."

Giese concurred.

"He's nothing more than a checker in my view and one who's high maintenance," he said. "Not sure how he ends up higher than some of the other players on the list."

Fargo Force winger Colten St. Clair is another low-upside, two-way forward who has been uneven in his performance thus far.

"He can skate and has good defensive awareness," said the NHL scout. "But he kills his teams with undisciplined penalties and has got to figure out how to maintain the compete levels over a full game. I just don't see that from him-- the consistency and intensity given the style of hockey he plays."

St. Clair has a gritty element to his game, but at the same time, it's not to the degree that would see him drafted a lot higher than his skill level would warrant.

"(St. Clair) is good, but he's not Connor Brickley tough," Giese said. Brickley, a former Belmont Hill standout before going to the USHL last year, was a second-round pick by the Florida Panthers.

Rounding out the top-10 is U.S. NTDP defenseman Robbie Russo, who has been the PP quarterback for the Under-18 team this year and is respected for his solid all-around play and character. He's heading to Notre Dame and should be an excellent addition for the Fighting Irish.

"He's playing well and I'd expect him to be an early second-rounder," said Giese of Russo. "He reminds me a lot of Matt Carle-- he's not the biggest (5-11, 190), most explosive defenseman out there, but he's very intelligent and calculated with his puck movement."

Yes, Russo is an adept puck-mover, which should pick up the antennae of Bruins fans who know their team desperately needs players on the back-end who can jumpstart the attack with clean breakout leads. Unfortunately, Russo's lack of size works against him as a Boston option, given the multiple sub-six footers they have in their system right now.

"I like him OK," Giese said. "But he doesn't really light a fire under me. I would imagine that NHL teams like him, but if I were with a team, he wouldn't be my guy. Not taking anything away from him as a player, but he just doesn't have the kind of dynamic game that I would want to spend a second-round pick on."

For the most part, this covers the high-enders coming out of the USHL, although B2011DW fave Joakim Ryan gets a mention here. The son of a Swedish tennis pro mother and sports agent dad who is a dual U.S.-Swedish citizen, Ryan grew up in N.J. and is now scouting for Dubuque.

"He's an interesting kid," said an NHL scout. "He's coming out of New Jersey high school hockey and midget AAA, so he's pretty raw right now. He's lean and lacking in functional strength, but he's a fine skater and sees the ice well. I'm still surprised that he didn't get a better look for Team USA."

The scout is referring to the fact that Ryan was cut from Team USA Ivan Hlinka tryout evaluations and was subsequently added to Team Sweden. He could still technically play for USA because Hlinka isn't a sanctioned IIHF event, but it appears that Ryan found himself a home with the Tri-Kronor and will stick with his mother's country even though he's a Jersey boy. Don't expect a high draft flyer on Ryan, but he's got some interesting potential and is one to keep an eye on.

25th-ranked Cason Hohmann is bound for Boston University next season and was one of the USA's most noticeable forwards at the Hlinka, but he's so small that in the eyes of some, is not a legitimate NHL prospect.

"His playmaking skill is legit, but he's so small and won't go into traffic," Giese said. "I think he'll be a great college player and may even have a nice AHL career, but he's been too soft and is too small for me to be comfortable with his long-term NHL potential."

Limited viewing players who have missed time because of injuries are a pair of U.S. NTDP guys in forward Zac Larraza and defenseman Connor Murphy. Larraza has nice size and skills, but hasn't been able to put it together yet and remains a potential high upside wildcard who has not delivered. Murphy is the son of former Bruins defenseman and current Florida Panthers assistant Gord Murphy (he played for the Panthers as well). Murphy has very good size and two-way potential; he was one of the best defenders at the Hlinka in August, but he can't stay healthy. Last year, he ruptured his spleen and missed most of the season. This year, it's been a wonky back, so teams will be risking a high pick on a fragile player who simply hasn't had a lot of viewings. Watch for him to slip unless he can come back and reassure scouts with strong play.

As far as goalies go, U.S. NTDP star John Gibson is at the top and is undisputed in that regard according to multiple scouts.

At 6-3, 200 pounds, the Pennsylvanian is highly athletic and takes up a lot of the net. He has outstanding technique and is mentally tough, about as good a combination as you can have when it comes to projecting goalies.

"He makes it look so easy," said Giese. "But he's got to do it on the big stage. Yes, he won gold at the Under-17 (tournament), but with Jack Campbell ahead of him, he hasn't been able to do it in the bigger international tourneys. I think that he's proven himself in the USHL, but until scouts see him do it at a higher level, his ranking is going to be down a bit."

Campbell's stranglehold on the playing time for the big international competitions is both a blessing and curse for the other fine young American goalies in the chute, but Gibson should get his chance this season, even if it isn't going to be at the WJC in Buffalo. If he performs to expectations, then watch for him to entrench himself in the top-30. Gibson has a verbal commitment to Ohio State, but watch for him to possibly jump to the OHL like Campbell did depending on the kind of advice he gets.

Virginia native Jay Williams of the Waterloo Black Hawks is No. 2, and the former prep star got a chance to play a bit at the Hlinka before getting supplanted by Loomis-Chaffee's Steve Michalek. Williams isn't huge, but is very quick, positionally-sound player who is a throwback to the days of Mike Vernon and Andy Moog being among the top netminders in the NHL.

"He's an interesting guy, but very, very raw," said an NHL scout who attended the Ivan Hlinka in Slovakia. "He had a chance to take the ball and run with it (in August) and lost the job to Michalek, so I think that set him back a bit."

He's not been great in the early going of the USHL: in six games, he has just a 3.87 GAA, .858 save percentage and 2-3 record for the Black Hawks.

Gibson's backup, Matt McNeely rounds out the goalie top-three and should be ranked ahead of Williams. Like Gibson, McNeely is big (6-3) and fills the net, but his technique is not as strong. The Minnesota-Duluth recruit has a lot of raw potential, but rebound control is weak and he's not going to get the kind of playing time this season to make a big move up the rankings.

Well, that's a wrap on this series. I hope this has served its purpose to bring you up to speed on some of the players you should be tracking as we start to head into the winter stretch. B2011DW will return with the same kind of analysis and updates when Central releases their mid-term and final rankings.

As always, comments are welcome and if there is anyone you'd like to learn more about, shoot me a note and I'll see what I can do.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Central Scouting Preliminary Rankings: The USHL Pt. 1

Back from the Thanksgiving vacation in the non-hockey hotbed of the great plains. The compressed travel and visitation schedule was a bear, but I still had time to track down a Bruins prospect (Zane Gothberg) and a scout or three to talk about the USHL rankings put out by Central Scouting a few weeks back.

At the top of the list is power winger Tyler Biggs of the U.S. NTDP Under-18 team. Twitter debates with other draft pundits aside, and I'll admit to not being above the fray when it comes to hyperbole at times, this is the kind of player who because of his size, ability and natural aggressiveness and snarl, should go higher than some think because NHL teams do love their power forwards with legitimate toughness.

Red Line Report scout Max Giese has been following Biggs for several seasons now, and had this to say about the son of former Cincinnati Cylcones (IHL) standout Don Biggs:

"He's right up there (at the top of the USHL list) and could be the best choice of this bunch to be a good pro," Giese told B2011DW. "He's a fast, mean, physical in-your-face guy with some leadership qualities. If there's a knock on him it's that he doesn't have the real skills or finesse to his game, and he doesn't always bring that competitiveness on every shift. The consistency is not always there."

Biggs has six goals and 10 points in 19 games with the U-18 team; his 68 penalty minutes leads the squad by a significant margin.

Again, he has a tendency to sleepwalk through games sometimes, but if he gets going, he has the ability to dictate the flow and tempo with his ferocity. If he brought it on a more consistent basis, he'd probably be rated a lot higher on most boards. Still, don't be surprised to see him go somewhere around pick 20 because of the potential upside.

"We're keeping an eye on Biggs," said one NHL scout for a Western Conference team. "He's got the size, is a pretty good skater and has that natural toughness that you either have or you don't-- a coach can't instill that in a guy. We like the bloodlines, too. This is a kid who has some real potential even if its raw. Would we like to see him turn it on more? Yes. But, overall, we think he's going to be a player."

Jonathan "J.T." Miller is second and this is a heck of a hockey player on skills and talent alone. Said by one scout to be above average to exceptional in just about every measurable aspect of the game, his production hasn't been commensurate with the kind of player Miller is.

The Pittsburgh area native has been on a high developmental trajectory for several years, and given his good size (6-1, 198) and high talent level, it's hard to see him slip all that far down the draft boards in the first round. At the same time, with two goals and 15 points in 19 games, he's capable of more.

"He's playing well and you can chalk it up to bounces not going his way," said Giese. "But at some point, you have to ask, 'Where is the production?'"

Seth Ambroz is next at third on Central's list, and the New Prague, Minnesota native has long been seen as one of the better power forward prospects available in the 2011 draft.

"When you hear scouts talking about a player who has 'plateau'd' then you should open up a book and see Ambroz's picture there," the NHL scout said. "He's essentially the same player he was a couple of years ago: real nice size, hands, not-so-good wheels and a whole lot of question marks about the desire and work ethic."

Now in his third season with the Omaha Lancers, the 6-3, 200-pound winger isn't tearing it up by any stretch of the imagination. His five goals and nine points in 12 games is decidedly pedestrian and only good for fourth on his team's scoring list. He's behind the passed over in 2010 former St. Sebastian's star Tommy O'Regan in scoring, even.

"Some guys still like him," Giese said. "He's very difficult to move from in front of the net and has an excellent release, but his skating hasn't improved. And, I wish he would do more in the corners. Too often, he's standing around in front of the net and letting his 5-8 teammates do all the work for loose pucks in the corners."

Even with the criticisms, Ambroz has likely done enough in past seasons that some NHL team will step up to the plate, believing that they can harness his size and ability effectively enough to get him to play with more of a sense of urgency.

"He will play in the NHL and he'll score some goals, too," said Giese. "But he hasn't put in the work; he's not anywhere near the player he should be right now."

After Ambroz, Youngstown Phantoms defenseman Scott Mayfield is next on the list. As far as raw, projectable talent goes, you won't find many defensemen in this draft with the size, skating and offensive potential that Mayfield has. Unfortunately, he plays on a poor team and isn't getting the kind of coaching that is allowing him to effectively address his flaws, which means downgrades for some NHL teams scouting him.

"(Mayfield's) a second-rounder for some," said Giese. "But he's exactly what the pros are looking for: great size (6-4) with still a lot of weight to add to that frame, really good skater. I'm not saying he's Jay Bouwmeester, but with that size and skating combination, I'd say he's right up there with (Niagara defenseman) Dougie Hamilton."

One thing that helps Mayfield's case is the fact that a lot of NHL scouts got a nice look at him at the Research and Development Camp back in late August.

"He opened up some eyes there in Toronto," said one NHL scout who attended. "He's got that long, powerful stride, makes the good first pass and has a nice reach. He's raw, but you can coach the flaws out of him. You can't coach that big frame and edge he plays with."

It will be very interesting to see where Mayfield goes in the 2011 draft, because opinions are pretty divergent on him. Like Derek Forbort last year, he's got the size and upside, though Giese feels that Mayfield doesn't quite have Forbort's polish. Still, Mayfield, like Forbort last season, won't be at the top of many draft discussions when it comes to defensemen, but does bring interesting upside that will keep people talking. His OHL rights are owned by the high-powered Kitchener Rangers, but he has at least up until now, seemed intent on playing out the string in the USHL to protect his NCAA eligibility. The St. Louis native is committed to the University of Denver for next season.

The small, but dynamic Rocco Grimaldi rounds out the USHL top-five. As far as skills go, Grimaldi belongs in the top-10 in terms of pure talent, but at barely 5-6 (if that), his size will drop him because he brings too much risk to take as high as his ability would normally allow.

The SoCal native and North Dakota recruit is a fascinating story, because he has the ability and a huge heart that you would think should help him overcome the significant size concerns.

"He has the passion and drive that reminds me of Sidney Crosby," said Giese. "He always expects himself to make the play, to put the puck in the net. His dedication is there, too: he's a rinkrat and gym rat and does all the things you want from a player. "

Giese then related how Grimaldi struggled in a recent game against the Chicago Steel, in which he was effectively neutralized by an effective defense that didn't have any real big, physical "monsters" on the blue line, which raises concerns of what Grimaldi will face at the pro level.

"I think he'll be a great college player and fan favorite," Giese said of Grimaldi, who leads the U-18 team in scoring with 16 goals and 26 points in as many games. "But I think his growing pains at the pro level will be the same ones Nathan Gerbe's had. It's a concern when you're looking at drafting a player like him with an early pick."

We'll wrap up the Central Scouting series with Part 2 of the USHL, taking you through some of the rest of the list (but not all) and a look at a couple of the goalies.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Taking a few days off

With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, I'm not going to get the USHL update and analysis done prior to turkey day, so I'm just going to sign off for a few days and will try to get it posted before the weekend is up.

Between school and everything else, I won't be able to devote as much time to the B2011DW for the rest of the workweek so I'm shutting it down. But will be right back at it by Sunday and next week.

As always, I thank you for your support and continued readership.

Monday, November 22, 2010

2011 Boston Bruins draft pick update; 22 Nov.

Despite a pair of wins last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still in 26th place in the NHL standings as of today.

Saturday was a tough night for Bruins fans, as they not only had to decide between the lesser of two evils in a Canadiens-Leafs matchup, but had to see the B's come out on the short end of a 4-3 shootout loss to the white-hot L.A. Kings (and let's give it up for my boy, Hamden, Conn.'s own Jonathan Quick, who I was huge on since his dominant puckstopping days at Avon Old Farms. He's living proof that as much shi-ite that the NEPSIHA gets in the scouting community and among many draft fans as a lower level of competition, it still can produce fine NHL talent, but I digress). I give the B's credit for battling back from an 0-3 hole to tie it, but the shootout performers get big razzberries for continuing to shoot five-hole from the outside on Quick when he was eating that garbage up. Very curious shot selection by veteran players who should know better (Welcome back, David Krejci, but I'm talking to you).

Carey Price continued his outstanding play this season with his fourth shutout, blanking the Leafs now for the fourth time this season.

The Leafs are home tonight against the Dallas Stars and then go on the road Friday and Saturday to face division opponents Buffalo and Ottawa, both of whom are playing better since the last time they faced Toronto.

Edmonton's victory over Anaheim last night has pulled them to within three points of the Leafs, but the Devils and Islanders (12 points each) really look like lost causes at this point. A shame because both teams have talent, but there is a malaise permeating both clubs. I thought firing Scott Gordon exhibited the inherent unfairness that is being an NHL coach sometimes, and the Devils have just gotten one turn of rotten luck after another in the early going, losing one star player after another and getting very little return on investment for the megacontract they handed out over the summer to Ilya Kovalchuk. The fact is-- the Devils just don't have any depth to counterbalance the loss of key guys like Zach Parise, Marty Brodeur (whose best days are clearly behind him even when healthy) and Brian Rolston (who's back after hernia surgery, but not 100 percent).

So, on that note, the Toronto pick may be a top-three, but realistically, barring a major turnaround, I don't see the Leafs being as poor as the 1-2 cellar dwellers right now.

1st Round

4th overall- Toronto (17 points; 7-9-3)- Completes Phil Kessel trade.
22nd overall- Boston (24 points; 11-5-2)

2nd Round

44th overall- Minnesota (22 points; 10-7-2)- Completes Chuck Kobasew trade.
52nd overall- Boston

3rd Round

83rd overall- Phoenix (25 points; 10-5-5) - Completes Derek Morris trade.
Boston pick traded to Florida; Completes Nathan Horton deal

4th Round

112th overall- Boston

5th Round

142nd overall- Boston

6th Round

172nd overall- Boston

7th Round

Pick traded to Chicago (Zach Trotman)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Central Scouting Preliminary Rankings: The WHL Pt. 2

We're back with the second part of the WHL analysis of Central Scouting's preliminary list and we'll go from No. 9 and down through the rest of the players.

At ninth, Central has Portland Winterhawks defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon, and here is where the NHL scouts broke ranks.

"I don't really see it to be honest," one said. "If he's actually closer to 6-1 or 6-2, then he's maybe a prospect, but he looks more like he's 5-11, and 6-feet. He goes out and hits guys, but players who don't have much in the way of puck skills are hard to get excited about, and that's Wotherspoon's biggest issue; he doesn't have the puck skill."

The scout went on to say that if he were closer to 6-4, then Wotherspoon this high would make sense because he would have the chance to be that big, shutdown defender with some mobility. But the reality is that he's more of a 'tweener than anything else, and that doesn't bode well for Wotherspoon's NHL potential.

At 10 is Seattle center Colin Jacobs, a Texas kid who came into the season with high expectations, but who stumbled out of the gate. He didn't register many points in the early going, but has heated up this month, posting 18 points (eight goals) in 21 games.

"He's one of those guys who gets a ton of ice time and looks like he should be a player," an NHL scout said. "He wasn't producing early, but I'll say that his skating has improved a bit from last year. And he plays with some swagger. I like the fact that he seems to know he's the best player on the ice."

At 11, Kale Kessy is one player B2011DW has had eyes on as a power forward prospect who brings a similar kind of offensive element and toughness to Milan Lucic. The similarities between Kessy and Lucic are eerie: neither player was picked in the WHL bantam draft, but were picked up by their hometown clubs the Medicine Hat Tigers and Vancouver Giants because they hung around the local rinks and showed enough to the GMs and coaches to get a shot. Neither was a very good skater coming out of junior; Lucic had good straight line speed, but had problems with his starts, stops and turns. Kessy's burst and straight-line speed is poor, but he's more agile and can turn defenders better than Lucic could. Both have nice hands and the ability to set up the play and finish. And, both can really fight.

What does that mean for Kessy? Late first-round or top-half of the second round. Book it. NHL teams absolutely covet the guy who can hit, fight and score-- and they've seen enough of Lucic to know the kind of value he brings as a momentum changer.

"I like that guy a lot," said one scout when asked about Kessy. "They don't give him enough credit for his skills, smarts."

After Kessy at 12 is 5-10 Seattle winger Luke Lockhart, another Central head-scratcher.

"Lockhart's a good junior player; that's it," said a scout. "Is he a pro prospect? I don't know. He's a very finesse player who doesn't like to go into the dirty areas of the ice."

German import and fellow Thunderbird Marcel Noebels is next at 13. While skilled, Noebels has not shown much of an inclination to play a physical game or get his nose dirty. That might be why the 6-2, 195-pounder was completely passed over in last year's NHL draft.

Swift Current's Adam Lowry is an interesting prospect at 14. He doesn't have great upside, but works very hard along the boards and is a raw prospect who hit a huge growth spurt over a couple of years and is still very gangly and growing into his new body. The son of former NHLer Dave Lowry is one of those long-term project players who could pay off nicely if you're looking for a versatile, hard-nosed grinder who can do all the little things that helps teams win. Hmmm. Sounds like his old man, doesn't it?

Kelowna mighty mite Shane McColgan is way down the list at 15 for a couple of reasons, the scouts surmised. The biggest factor has been his lack of production this season. Since starting sluggish and then being diagnosed with tonsilitis and missing the first few weeks recovering from surgery, he's not been able to generate the expected offense in this, his draft year. Don't be mistaken, though-- the California kid is super-skilled. But the other big factor in his drop is that he's only about 5-8 (yes, he's listed at 5-11, but he might have been standing on a couple of encyclopedias) and he has not grown since he came into the WHL at the end of the '09 season.

"I don't know if that surgery is one of those things that takes a lot out of you, but he just looks like he's lost a step," one scout said. "When you're his size, you gotta have that speed."

Mike St. Croix is 17th and the Edmonton Oil Kings forward has some skill, but has been largely inconsistent and plays poorly on defense this year. Someone will take a flyer on him at some point, but he hasn't gotten rave reviews from any of the scouts I've talked to. The words "lazy", "uninspired", "selfish" and "dog" have come up at various times while in discussion about him.

Chiliwack defenseman Mitch Topping is pretty far down the list at 18, but is one to watch because he was a high bantam draft pick and has some skill, even if he hasn't set the world on fire for the Bruins.

"He's a little soft, but every once in a while, he'll make a great pass and you'll wonder where that came from," a scout said. "He's a big-time puck mover, but he's not a go-go-go guy you have to hold back; he tries to be responsible."

Reece Scarlett at 20 is indicative of the disappointment the Swift Current defenseman has been thus far, but he does have some intriguing tools. Given some time and a low-pressure situation in which to develop, he could end up being a player. But, he's not likely to be a high draft pick unless some team really reaches. And, anything's possible, because Scarlett (what a great name, eh?) has shown some upside in flashes.

"He's small, thin, slightly built," one scout said. "I do see some raw ingredients for a pretty good player, but a lot would have to come together. He seems to have the ability to think the game, but I'm left wanting more."

Slovak winger Marek Tvrdon was off to a very nice start before suffering a terrible injury to the labrum that is expected to force him to miss the rest of the season. Although not confirmed, I'm told that the muscle was pulled completely from the bone, which is shame. Tvrdon only got 12 games in (six goals, 11 points), so whatever notes scouts had on him is what they will have to go with. But, as was the case with Curtis Hamilton last year, don't be surprised to see a team with extra picks grab him earlier than expected. His size and skill package is going to be far too enticing to let him sit for very long.

The goalie crop is very "ehhh" this year in the WHL- there are no Calvin Pickards in the bunch. Eric Williams of Prince George is No. 2 and has some nice quickness, and Vancouver's Brendan Jensen has some raw upside, but there are no top-end guys to speak of right now.

That closes out the WHL breakdown. Next up, the USHL.

Central Scouting Preliminary Rankings: The WHL Pt. 1

Welcome to Chapter 1 of a two-part breakdown of Central Scouting's Western Hockey League preliminary rankings. I know I said this would close out the series, but I'll actually do that with the USHL, coming in the next 1-2 days.

B2011DW managed to talk to at least three different NHL scouting sources about this list, plus an independent one thrown in for good measure. It's an interesting list, and one scout said that after eight (Duncan Siemens) it is almost as if Central "drew a big line across the list and said, 'Here's a really big dropoff.'"

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at the top is a no-brainer. He's in discussions as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the June NHL draft, but one scout cautioned that the ultra-talented (but smallish with a slight frame) center has not done a lot to separate himself from the pack to provide the impetus for the team holding the top pick, whoever that ends up being, to take him there. At the same time, the scout said that even if Nugent-Hopkins doesn't erupt over the season's second-half to position himself for top consideration, he doesn't see the Red Deer standout falling much at all because he does all of the offensive things at such a high, high level. The skill package is elite as is the hockey sense, and even though a lot of his early year production has come with the man advantage, he's just not going to drop very far if at all.

Things get interesting with the No. 2 player on the list, Portland winger Sven Bartschi, who edged teammate Ty Rattie, much to the consternation of several of the sources. Bartschi is Swiss, but unlike Winterhawks mate Nino Niederreiter, does not play with that edge that saw his countryman go to the New York Islanders with the fifth overall pick last June. While he has excellent speed and hands, he's undersized and one scout said that he doesn't have anywhere near Rattie's creativity or elite hands/wheels/vision.

"(Bartschi) is a good two inches smaller than Rattie," the NHL scout said. "Rattie makes everything happen out there, while Bartschi tends to benefit from it. Bartschi's probably closer to 5-9, while Rattie is maybe a shade under 6-foot, but (Bartschi) plays like he's 5-9; he doesn't like to get hit and won't go into the dirty areas, which is something Rattie excels at."

Rattie is only two points (39) behind Boston prospect Craig Cunningham for the WHL scoring lead, and has been a revelation this season with his tenacious, complete game compared to the hot doggery and one-dimensional side he showed as a rookie.

"It only takes one game to watch Rattie and you can tell he's great," the scout said. "You don't get that from watching Bartschi, I'm afraid. He'll go where he's told, but he requires direction, whereas Rattie just understands the flow and gets there, usually making the play when he does."

After Rattie at No. 3, Central has big, skilled defenseman David Musil next. Musil is a focal point this season because so much was expected of him but all four sources who weighed in on the analysis all say he's not playing well enough to merit consideration in the top-five and could see a precipitous drop by the team the draft rolls around.

Musil's large frame (almost 6-4), skating and hands are a scout's dream, but he seems to be lacking in the kinds of intangibles that would see him maximize his impressive natural gifts such as fire and desire.

"It looks to me like he put on some weight," one NHL scout said. "He's a little slower than I remember him being last year, but unfortunately, he's still playing with a lack of passion I saw a season ago."

Musil's hands and vision make him a superb candidate to run the power play, but his lack of physical game and sense of urgency have soured people on him in the early going.

"He's about 6-4, but he plays like he's 6-feet tall," said another scout. "He doesn't use his size at all."

Another NHL scout was critical of Musil as well.

"You want more out of him," he said. "He's weird in that he comes across as a stay-at-home defender who isn't going to do much, and then he gets the puck and all of the sudden, he's playing with a lot more energy. Don't know what to make of that, really, but it's not what I would call a strength."

If anyone can get the most out of a player, it is Vancouver Giants head coach Don Hay, but even with the skills, the lack of hustle, questionable conditioning and mediocre overall play have Musil trending downward despite the freakishly good athletic genes between former NHL defenseman (and Edmonton scout) Frantisek Musil and tennis pro (and sister of former NHL star Bobby Holik) mom Andrea Holikova-Musil.

Rounding out No. 5 is one of the previously-kept secrets, Portland d-man Joe Morrow, but the cat is now out of the bag on this guy, who could be a top-20 pick when all is said and done. Morrow may be the most underrated puck-moving defenseman in the draft right now, though one could argue now that Central has him as high as five that he is no longer under the radar. He has a cannon for a shot, and has some serious NHL upside.

"I love his game," one independent scout said of Morrow. "This is a guy who skates well, makes that outstanding first pass and can really fire the puck from the point. He's only OK defensively, but it's all things that coaches can address at the next level."

Another NHL scout acknowledged the howitzer drive of Morrow's. "He's a little too happy with the velocity of his shot," he said. "There are times when he could take something off it and try to hit the corners or get it off a little faster, but he goes all the way back (with the stick) every time. It's funny, because I think goalies are afraid of his shot. You can tell by the body language that when his stick goes up, they're tensing up and just praying that one of their 'D' are going to jump in front of it."

After Morrow at No. 6 is another secret no longer, Prince Albert center Mark McNeill, who like Rattie, has really come on in his second WHL campaign. Already a physical specimen at 6-2 and nearly 210 pounds at age 17, this kid is going to get a lot stronger before all is said and done. He's a nice blend of skill (though he's not an elite skill level player like the 'Nuge or Rattie), physical play and fighting ability. His 27 points in 23 games with the Raiders is impressive when you consider that the team has trouble scoring goals.

"He's still a wildcard," an NHL scout said. "But if McNeill keeps this up, everyone's going to have a real good idea of who he is and he'll end up going pretty high in the draft."

Regina defenseman Myles Bell is a B2011DW favorite, and is ranked at No. 7, controversial in that he's ahead of Siemens from Saskatoon, who many consider a better NHL prospect.

With Bell, it's more a matter of a maddening lack of consistency. He's got some nice numbers so far-- six goals and 16 points in 23 games with the Regina Pats, which is just two less than he had all of last year. However, he's not a great skater (though his straight-ahead speed when he has the puck is quite good), and lacks the kind of defensive awareness you want in a player at the next level. He's been compared to Mike Green without the high-end speed, because when on his game, Bell can rush the puck and make things happen in dynamic fashion.

"With all of his talents, at the end of the day, he just doesn't do much when I see him," an NHL scout said. "What's worse, he's looked flat and lazy at times. He's a productive player, but you need to see more effort, more of a sense of urgency from him and you don't always get that with Bell."

Rounding out coverage of Part 1 of the WHL is Saskatoon Blades defenseman Duncan Siemens, who many feel is too low at No. 8 on Central's list. At the same time, some independent lists out there have him inside the top-10 and hovering around No. 5 overall, which is too high for this solid, if unspectacular prospect.

"Fifth overall, no way-- but I like him," said an NHL scout. "He's one of these guys who's easy to slot right in the middle of the first round unless he has a Dylan McIlrath-like second half where you're wondering where all the points came from."

Another NHL talent evaluator was pretty effusive in his praise of Siemens as a good skater with size and an edge even if the offense hasn't been there.

"He's not putting up points," the scout said. "He's about 6-3 and skinny as a rail, but he's got that frame to grow into about 210-215 pounds eventually. He's a good, fluid skater, and the thing is, he tries to play a physical style now, which means he'll be a physical player at the next level, which is good. There are no real flaws to him, and you don't see anything from him that isn't coachable."

One independent scout was less-enthused.

"I just don't see much upside with this guy," he said of Siemens. "He'll fight, but he doesn't relish it the way (Dylan) McIlrath does. He's a good skater and passer, but he can't seem to translate those skills into production. I see a middle-of-the road NHL defenseman who will log you some minutes, but isn't going to be a top-pairing guy or someone who is going to give a team that extra dimension on offense everyone is looking for."

The source did admit that Siemens is a solid NHL prospect, however, and worthy of selection in the first round. And, like Nashville All-Star Shea Weber (a 2nd-round pick in '03 for the same kinds of reasons), he's one of these players who, if he starts picking up the points, will move to the top of prospect discussions because of everything else he brings to the table.

Stay tuned for Part 2 and the final portion of the Central Scouting series-- the USHL this weekend!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Central Scouting Preliminary Rankings: Europe

It's time to fly across the Atlantic Ocean for a little glimpse into the European buffet and compare the 2011 draft class against Central Scouting's overseas rankings.

Sweden, once again, is the NHL's volume dealer when it comes to imports. Between stud d-man Adam Larsson and forwards Victor Rask and Mika Zibanejad, the scary thing is, possibly the best Swede-- Kitchener forward Gabriel Landeskog, doesn't even count against the his native country's list because he's in the OHL. Between Larsson and Landeskog, we could be looking at two Swedes going 1-2 for the first time in, well, ever. The real strength of the Swedish group is their depth, and they could challenge '09 for the most Swedes ever taken in a single year.

I'm sure Sean Couturier and maybe even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will have something to say about that. But you never know with these things. It's all going to come down to who is picking first overall, and what their organizational philosophy is.

Finland has some nice offerings, too, mainly in the form of skilled power forward Joel Armia. Eastern Europe is a bit thin, but we'll cover some of the bases there as well, so buckle up and enjoy.

Adam Larsson tops the list from Sweden, and much has been written about the 6-3, 200-pound defenseman already. Despite what you hear, he's not really falling in the conventional sense-- it's just that he had such a standout SEL season as a 16-17-year-old, that the old scouting adage that there's no place to go but down from a performance like that holds true. He's still the same fluid skater with the big shot and the hands/vision/sense to run the power play and start the transition from defense to offense in an instant. He's now being nitpicked, and doesn't have the production he did a year ago, but make no mistake-- he's still one of the draft's big three.

Moving on, Jonas Brodin is No. 2 on the Central list from Sweden, and you can check out the B2011DW "A guy you should know" label for a more detailed post breaking down his game. Suffice to say that this blog space is not at all surprised that he'd be the No. 2 guy behind Larsson, but at the same time, not sure how Central can drop Victor Rask down to 4. Brodin is solid, a guy you win with, but he's not going to wow anyone either. Interesting selection.

Mika Zibanejad of the Djurgarden Jr. team is next. This guy has the size and skills, and from what I hear, is coming on after a sluggish start and mediocre Ivan Hlinka tourney in August. He's got amazing hands and when he's flying through the neutral zone, handling the puck at top speed and then wiring it top shelf, he becomes a scout's dream. He just needs to work on his intensity, consistency and for the love of Pete-- put some meat on those bones.

Leksand center Victor Rask is the preseason "hyped" player whose performance has not merited a place at the top, but (and he's not related to Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, btw- the NHL player's a Finn and his brother, Joonas is a 2010 Nashville draft pick) should not be overlooked. He was a horse for Team Sweden last spring at the World Under-18s, and he has some real high-end skills. He looks to be suffering from the draft year malaise-- it happens. But, some team could end up stealing him if he falls too far past the 10-15 range (assuming he falls, that is)

Joachim Nermark rounds out the Sweden top-five and he's a legitimate scorer who probably deserves to be a little higher. He's seen action in the SEL this season and was one opportunistic scorer in the Ivan Hlinka. Keep an eye on him, because he might drop down a little but end up being one of those guys who shows up to his first NHL camp and surprises everyone with his skill and poise-- much like Marcus Johansson did for the Washington Capitals this past fall.

Other Swedes of note: offensive defenseman Oscar Klefbom (7), Rasmus Bengtsson (10), along with forwards Viktor Arvidsson (12), Victor Berglind (14).

Sliding over to Finland, Joel Armia deserves his spot at the top. He's the best Finnish prospect by a country mile, and his outstanding start against men in the SM-Liiga is moving him up draft boards in North America. He's got that nice 6-3 frame that will fill out in time, is a good skater for a big man and has magical hands and a finishing touch.

There isn't much depth in the Finland crop, although Mikael Granlund's younger brother Markus Granlund, is third on Central's list. Markus has nowhere near his older brother's innate hockey sense that saw him go top-10 to Minnesota in the June NHL draft, but he's a better skater. Like his bro- he's small. He turned some heads at the World Under-18s last April.

Finland has two interesting prospects in net-- the aptly named Samu Perhonen (which means 'butterfly' in Finnish) and Richard Ullberg. Perhonen plays for JYP Jr. which is interesting in that it is the club that the Bruins signed an transfer agreement with this year. You can bet that the B's are getting a nice look at Perhonen this season, and you wonder if he will end up hearing his name called at some point. At the goalie position, it will be all about value, and it is hardly worth discussing a netminder for Boston in the first three or four rounds, but we'll see where Perhonen grades out. Ullberg has gotten some mention on this blog previously for being that prototypical Finnish butterfly-style goalie with some quickness and upside.

Central's top player coming out of the Czech Republic is winger Dmitrij Jaskin, who plays for Slavia Praha (Prague) of the Czech Extraliga. He signed a four-year deal there rather than come to North America, so that will be something for NHL teams to note, but he goes hard to the net and plays that crashing kind of power forward game.

Vaclav Tomek at two is interesting, because Red Line Report had him 12th on their combined Czech Republic/Slovakia list. He's described as a good skater and hard worker/hustling two-way player, but the center lacks the creativity and hands to be considered a legitimate scoring option/top-six forward at the NHL level. Think Vladimir Sobotka without the sandpaper.

Lukas Kralik and Michael Svihalek, two of the more talented (but flawed) offensive Czechs in Red Line's view, are 8th and 10th.

In net, Jaroslav Pavelka is the top Czech on Central's list and has showed promise as a rangy, athletic goalie who is raw but has some nice long-term potential.

Slovak defenseman Peter Ceresnak heads that country's list-- he's a slightly smaller Martin Marincin with a little less offensive upside, but who plays a more aggressive, physical game. He can move the puck well, but is more of a stay-at-home shutdown guy who relishes contact and clearing the front of his net or stapling guys along the boards.

The best players from Denmark (Nicklas Jensen) and Germany (Tobias Rieder) are in the OHL, so not much to say about anyone on those respective lists for Central at present.

Maxim Shalunov is at the top of Russia's list, and again, the top Russians are all over in North America this season-- Vladislav Namestnikov, Alexander Khoklachev, Andrey Pedan, Andrei Markarov, Anton Zlobin and so on.

I talked to one scout recently who saw Shalunov in international play and this is what he said: "Classic Russian player; end-to-end all the time, very good skater. Not very creative, but knows how to go to the net."

Defenseman Zahar Arzamastsev was on the Russian squad that beat the CHL in the Subway Super Series (with two wins over the WHL after beating the QMJHL 2-0, going 0-2 to the OHL). The book on him is that he's a mobile puck mover with the skills to be a good one, but to be honest, I didn't see it on video of any of the Super Series games I watched. Seemed invisible.

Finally, we go to Switzerland for defenseman Dean Kukan. This solid all-around player isn't a flashy offensive guy, nor is he a top shutdown defender. But, he's a fluid skater who understands positioning and can move the puck pretty well. The Bruins have no track record of drafting a player from Switzerland, and Kukan isn't likely to be a guy who would buck the trend, but you never know.

Well, that about does it for Europe. There are so many more names to cover, but information is not as forthcoming about some of these guys as the ones in North America. I will do my level best to flesh out the scouting reports on the middle tier guys and lesser lights in the coming months.

As always, thanks for reading and keep putting the word out for NHL draft fans of all stripes- don't let the Bruins-centric format fool you. This is a blog for *any* NHL fan who wants a sneak peak at the kids who will be donning jerseys at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul come late June.

Up next is the WHL, which will close out the series. Hope you've enjoyed it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Central Scouting Preliminary Rankings: the OHL Pt. 2

This is part 2 of the Central Scouting's OHL preliminary list, covering 11-25 and the goaltenders.

Russians Vladislav Namestnikov (London) and Alexander Khokhlachev (Windsor) are 11 and 12 on the list respectively and are two very skilled and impressive prospects. Namestnikov had a slow start in his adjustment to the OHL, but has come on of late for the Knights. One scout saw him this week and described him as "very slick", vowing to move him up in his rankings. Khokhlachev got off to a great start and has continued his torrid scoring pace with nine goals and 28 points in 19 games with the Spits. He doesn't have a lot of size, but is explosive, creative and deadly with the puck.

Stefan Noesen and Swede Rickard Rakell are both with the Plymouth Whalers and are having solid, if unspectacular seasons. Noesen is a Texas native who has come on in impressive fashion in his second OHL season leading the team in scoring with 23 points, while Rakell is in his first North American campaign after taking a page from Landeskog's book. He's got nice speed and hands, but must get stronger before he'll be ready to compete for NHL employment.

London defenseman Scott Harrington rounds out the top-15, and has had an up-and-down season thus far. Although big, mobile and skilled enough to be a stalwart two-way defenseman, reports are that he's just not put it together enough this season. And, the hockey sense is a bit questionable, too. Will he have the vision and split-second decision-making skills to be a factor at the next level?

Oshawa's Lucas Lessio at 17 was a surprise as a player a bit low for what has been said of him on the street. Another Oshawa forward, he's not quite at a point-per-game clip with 15 in 20 games, but when on his game is a horse. If he can find better consistency the rest of the way, he should rise.

Shane Prince at 18 is an interesting option; although small, he's very fast and has been an opportunistic scorer and fan favorite in Ottawa this season. One scout still felt Prince was too high, even at 18 though.

Barrie center Mark Scheifele is 19th on the Central list and is attracting attention from some of the independent scouting sources as an intriguing draft prospect. That said, our source is not sold.

"I know a lot of guys out there like (Scheifele), but he doesn't do much for me," the NHL scout said. "I see him as a mid-rounder and just don't think much of his overall game and potential."

Garrett Meurs (21), David Broll (24) and Austen Brassard (25) are all preseason contenders who finished in the top-25.

Meurs hasn't been able to get it going after being seen as the player most likely to lead the Whalers in scoring after Tyler Seguin's departure. He has fine skill and is a nice playmaker, but simply hasn't gotten untracked.

Broll is a big, aggressive power forward for the Erie Otters, but his skating is poor with very little initial burst and a lumbering stride/heavy feet. Unless he can pick up a step, he'll be graded down significantly as a legitimate top-two round player.

Brassard is cut from the same cloth as Broll and it's really a six one way, half-dozen the other with these two, because it all comes down to personal preference as both bring a similar kind of style and upside to the mix.

Notable omissions were center Alan Quine, who was dealt to Peterborough for Spooner, and Mississauga defenseman Stuart Percy.

"Quine could end up being this year's Joey Hishon," the scout said, pointing out that Hishon, a first-round pick of Colorado last season was not in Central's OHL preliminary rankings a year ago. "Percy plays on a very defensive club and hasn't put up much in the way of numbers. I'm a little surprised he's not on the list, but you can make a case as to why he's not."

As far as goalies go, Owen Sound's Jordan Binnington was No. 1, followed by Matt Mahalak of Plymouth, who has been a major disappointment after coming into the season with a lot of hype. In only six games, Mahalak has a horrific .828 save percentage for the Whalers and has sat while No. 1 Scott Wedgewood (New Jersey prospect) has taken the ball and run with it. Mahalak could be one of those goalies you see every year: they come into their draft season with a ton of promise, don't live up to it and fall in the draft, only to resurrect their stock and status the following year and play their way into top prospect discussions later when the pressure of the draft season is behind them. The Islanders' Kevin Poulin comes to mind. Belleville's Tyson Teichmann, who captured gold for Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka in August, is another disappointment this season and was seventh out of eight on the list.

That's a wrap on the OHL list-- I hope you were able to get through this and found the insights informative.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Central Scouting Preliminary Rankings: the OHL Pt. 1

I'm back with the breakdown of Central Scouting's views on the OHL.

Once again, the OHL looks to be the premiere pipeline for talent into the NHL, as we could possibly see half of the first 30 selections in the 2011 draft come from that league. There is still a lot of hockey to be played between now and June, but once again the OHL looks to have produced a bumper crop.

Gabriel Landeskog is king of the hill for now, coming out No. 1 on the list out of the gate. While this may have come as a bit of a surprise to some, it wasn't for this blog space, who actually ranked Landeskog as the top OHL draft prospect in a media survey last month on the OHL Prospects blog. Simply put, he's the complete package of size, skill, scoring, spirit and sense-- a five-tool winger who came over from Sweden and proved his mettle in North America so much that Steve Spott named him captain of the storied Kitchener Rangers hockey club. It says a lot about a player who can steal some of the spotlight away from what teammate Ryan Murphy has been doing this season, but Landeskog has done just that.

"I love this kid," one NHL scout told B2011DW. "He's very talented and is such a competitor. Every time you see him, you appreciate what he brings to the table even more."

Right after Landeskog is another power winger in Pennsylvania native Brandon Saad of the Saginaw Spirit. Saad topped many preseason OHL draft lists, but Landeskog's superior production has earned him the edge over Saad for now, even though the two are very similar players in terms of style and substance.

Here is what Red Line Report had to say about Saad back in September: Has all the tools to become a premiere pro talent- great size and strength, a nose for the net, good hands and vision plus a high compete level.

After Saad, big, skilled Niagara defenseman Dougie Hamilton rounds out the top-three. Again, no real surprise for this blogger. I've been hearing a steady buzz on this kid since August-- 6-4 defenders like Hamilton who can skate and even chip in the points are always a hot commodity. It's certainly not unanimous-- Hamilton has his critics, but I'm getting enough of a sampling of NHL opinions to tell me that come draft day, this youngster's wait is not going to be a long one, even with some of the doubts been circulated out in the blogosphere.

"You can't teach his size or skating ability," the NHL scout said of Hamilton. "I don't see how anyone could have him much lower given that he not only has the tools to be a top pro, but is only about three points away from surpassing his totals from last season. That's a pretty nice improvement right there."

Hamilton's Ice Dogs teammate, center Ryan Strome is fourth on Central's list, and could just be the entire 2011 draft's biggest riser. This is one kid few were talking about before the start of the season, but he exploded out of the gate offensively and has been a model of consistency over the two months of OHL play.

"Strome is tearing it up," said the scout. "It makes sense to have him there."

Things got interesting at No. 5, where Central has Saginaw winger Vincent Trocheck there ahead of notables such as Tobias Rieder, Ryan Murphy, Nicklas Jensen and Matt Puempel. The undersized but skilled Trocheck is fast and plays with some jam, but putting him ahead of the others in the pecking order created a bit of a kerfuffle when the list hit the streets.

"Having Trocheck at five is crazy and I like him," the scout said.

German winger Tobias Rieder is the second of Kitchener's sublime import duo, and may well be the best player to ever come out of that country when all is said and done. The speedy and ultra-skilled forward showed no transition struggles and has been a crucial element in keeping Kitchener's high-octane offense going, especially with the loss of 50-goal man Jeff Skinner to the Carolina Hurricanes. We're not saying Rieder is the next Skinner (he's got similar size and can really fly; doesn't have quite the sublime hands/hockey sense though), but he's one heck of a scoring talent, and hockey is in his blood. This is a kid who is absolutely driven to be in the NHL one day, and based on early returns, he's going to get there.

Oshawa center Boone Jenner was seventh, the second head-scratcher after Trocheck. Yes, Jenner is a character guy and has some excellent hands and scoring instincts, but his skating is mediocre (though hearing it has improved from last season). The thing with Jenner is some questionable upside at the pro level. This is a guy with five goals and 12 points in 18 OHL games. When you compare his numbers to what the other guys behind him are doing, it doesn't make a lot of sense, especially since Oshawa has a pretty loaded group of forwards.

At eight is Kitchener defenseman Ryan Murphy, the third Ranger in the top-10. What the diminutive but uber-skilled defenseman is doing in the OHL scoring race is truly remarkable. He currently sits third overall in the league with 11 goals and 35 points in just 20 games-- truly sick numbers for a blue liner (he's got just one goal less than Jenner has points-- think about that for a second).

Murphy is probably the draft's most polarizing figure right now. His skating and puck skills are elite; his offensive hockey sense off the charts. He can control the offensive tempo of a game like no other player at his position. He's even improved his defensive play from last year to this. Don Cherry went on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday and predicted that Murphy would be the No. 1 overall pick in June.

Yet, there are doubts, especially among some in the NHL scouting community. Here is one experienced and greatly respected talent hound's take on Murphy, and it's similar to others B2011DW has heard off the record.

"Ryan Murphy at the end of the day should be fourth on the Central List in my opinion," the scout said. "If you're a team like the Bruins, it's all gravy at this point, right? You've gotten a player like Tyler Seguin, so why not roll the dice a little bit on a player like Murphy if he's there (with that Toronto pick)?

"It all boils down to this: Can he play 5-on-5 in the NHL? I would say that if you pair him with Zdeno Chara then the answer is: Yes, he can. (My team) doesn't have Zdeno Chara, though, and the Bruins do. You can give Chara all of the physical, defensive responsibilities and then let Murphy do what he does best and it isn't going to kill you."

Murphy's offensive game is so dynamic, explosive, insert any other superlative here, that his ranking on independent scouting services and internet messageboards and fansites swings wildly between where Central and some NHL clubs I've managed to poll have him. What accounts for the divergence of opinion?

It's simple, really-- the independent scouting services can afford to rank him high and focus on his tools and otherworldly offensive capabilities because they aren't a team who has to decide where Murphy fits with their overall dynamic and whether his 5-on-5 play is going to be good enough to earn him the kind of minutes and regular shift that justifies taking him inside the top-five at draft time.

Murphy's role of a specialist has often been compared to Windsor defenseman and Nashville '09 first-rounder Ryan Ellis, but some don't like that comparable because Murphy is so much better a skater than Ellis. There are other reasons scouts out there like Murphy better than Ellis, too.

"There's a high energy and passion to Murphy's game that he brings every night," the scout said. "Ellis simply doesn't have it."

Danish forward Nicklas Jensen and 2010 CHL Rookie of the Year Matt Puempel round out Central's preliminary top-10.

Jensen has size and all-around skill; he's adjusted pretty quickly to the OHL after coming over from Denmark with seven goals and 17 points for the Generals. He's a bit like a Landeskog-lite in that he's big (6-3 with room to fill out) and can make things happen on offense, but doesn't have Landeskog's toughness or grit. Still, he's one of those high-upside developmental players NHL teams love.

Puempel's stock has been on the decline since the 2010 Ivan Hlinka and July evaluation camp, where he did not perform to expectations. Although he potted a hat trick in Peterborough's opening game of the season, it has been a few months of disappointment since. Puempel lost teammate and leading scorer Ryan Spooner to requested trade to Kingston, and the Petes don't have much going for them as the East Division's cellar-dweller. In 18 games since the hatty, Puempel has nine goals. Not bad, but not the expected jump from the 34 he scored as a rookie last season. His drop off in value shouldn't cause too precipitous a fall, because even though his effort has been uneven in the eyes of some scouts this season, Puempel is still a talented scorer and someone will likely jump on him inside the top-10 or just outside. If he gets it going offensively, then he could see a nice boost. Either way, seeing him No. 10 on Central's list was a mild surprise, as one would think he would be closer to five.

I will break this post into two parts to better cover 11-20 and the OHL goalies without subjecting you loyal readers to the internet version of "War and Peace"

Central Scouting Watch List: NCAA

Because this blog still waiting to hear from a couple of key sources, we're going to hold off on the OHL and WHL Central Scouting rankings analysis and jump to the NCAA. We won't cover all the ground out there, but will hit the highlights in hopes of filling in the blanks later.

Starting in the Hockey East, there are three 'A' players Central has identified, two of whom come from a rapidly rising Boston University program, just two years removed from a national championship (and oh what a glorious game that was to see live but I digress).

Defenseman Adam Clendening is a New Yorker and U.S. NTDP product who is one of the best puck-moving defensemen available in the entire draft, not to mention the NCAA ranks. As an Oct. '92 birthdate, he just missed out on the 2010 NHL draft, but is in a good situation on Commonwealth Ave. playing for legendary coach Jack Parker. Not big at 5-11, 187 pounds, Clendening is a very good skater with the vision and instincts to ignite the transition and attack. As a member of Team USA's dominant, suffocating defense in last spring's Under-18 gold medal squad, he's seen international competition at the highest level among his peers and acquitted himself extremely well in that tourney. With five assists in 10 games with the Terriers, he's been steady as she goes as a freshman and better things are in store.

"You can see that he oozes hockey sense," one NHL scout who saw Clendening in Belarus last spring said. "He's a bright, cerebral player who can dissect opposing defenses and get pucks out of his zone quickly."

Clendening's teammate, Matt Nieto, is another player to watch. The speedy, explosive forward can pile up the points, but the offense is yet to come for him at BU (1 goal, 2 points in 10 contests). Another late '92, Nieto has a significant amount of potential but may be a longer-term kind of project who will need at least three years in the NCAA followed by a minors stint before he's ready for the NHL grind.

"Nieto was one of the more dynamic American forwards coming out of Ann Arbor," the scout said. "He's got to watch the compete levels and consistency, but when he's on his game, he can skate with anyone and score goals at will. Very talented guy with upside."

Northeastern defenseman Jamie Oleksiak rounds out the HE watch list. The Ontario native and USHL product is raw, but at 6-7 and 244-pounds is a physical beast who will get picked just for his size from the looks of it. Where he goes in the draft, however, will depend on his play for the Huskies this season. His mobility is surprisingly good for a big man, although he does need to improve his agility and pivots/turns. But as far as straight-line speed goes, that long, powerful stride of his covers a lot of ice quickly. There isn't much offensive upside with Oleksiak-- he scored just two goals in 82 USHL games over three seasons with the Chicago Steel and Sioux Falls Stampede, and in 10 NCAA games he's posted a 1-1-2 line. But, if he can be that shutdown guy with a condor wingspan and an edge to his game (a work in progress), he'll go in the top-three rounds.

UMass-Amherst forward Mike Pereira is on the 'B' list for the HE-- and to be frank, B2011DW was stunned that the explosive winger who carried the Avon Old Farms Winged Beavers on his back to the 2010 prep championship was not picked in the NHL draft last June. He's not big, but his wheels are high-end, and he's as opportunistic a scorer as you will find. With five goals in his first eight games for the Minutemen, I think some NHL team will realize its mistake and snap him up come June. BU forward Sahir Gill and Nick Sorkin are on the 'C' list and were also passed over in previous drafts. Gill's hot start could get him a look. Sorkin, who played high school hockey in Silver Spring, Md. before going to the USHL for a tuneup and is now at UNH, is tall and raw. Look for him to go the free agency route when his NCAA career is done.

In the ECAC, RPI defender Pat Koudys is listed as a 'B' player, but with his size and mobility, he could end up going higher than people are projecting. The ECAC has fallen on hard times in terms of where NHL teams view players coming out of that league given competition and games played, but Koudys comes out of the OJHL with top defenseman accolades and at 6-4, 195, will play at around 220-230 pounds when he reaches his physical peak. He's not managed a point in eight NCAA games, but with his skill set, he should get on the board soon.

Jumping out to the WCHA, there are four 'A' players, three of whom we'll discuss briefly.

Denver University's Nick Shore is flying under the radar in most public draft discussions these days, but we're hearing that NHL teams are onto the skilled, intelligent NTDP product.
Red Line Report scout Max Giese said before the season that he saw Shore as a first-round player with the talent, work ethic and two-way game to break into the top-30 over bigger, more widely-known names. Shore is just getting back from being on the injury report, (3-0-0), but watch for him to boost his stock as the Pioneers' season gets rolling. Even if he doesn't get intot he 1st, its hard to imagine he'll drop far into the 2nd round of the draft because of his versatility and value.

University of Wisconisn forward Michael Mersch's stock is also on the up and up.

"Mersch is just getting better and better and is now on the Badgers' first powerplay unit as its' net presence," Giese said via email recently. "He doesn't even shave yet and he's already a broad, thick kid and will get bigger. His nose for the net and soft hands are what endears him most to NHL guys, but he gets underrated as a set-up man."

Mersch doesn't get much pub as a legitimate top-30 draft candidate, and is more likely to fall into the bottom half of the second round. But, if you put faith in that view, the team who gets him might be getting a steal.

On the downside and disappointing to hear, is Giese's assessment of Dillon Simpson, who was recently pegged on this blog as a potential first-round pick for the Bruins in a mock draft.

"He's a smart player defensively, rarely out of position; but he's a pretty bad skater and he doesn't have any poise moving the puck," Giese said. "He's a slushy skater with a short and sluggish stride. His hands are stiff, he struggles to put passes on the tape and he always hurries to get the puck off of his stick. He's getting the ice time right now because of North Dakota's injuries."

As for the CCHA, apologies. This blog space does not know enough about Kevin Clare, Jacob Fallon, (both with University of Michigan), Thomas Tynan (Notre Dame) and the rest of the 'C' players on that list. I will get updates on them as the season goes on.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Central Scouting Preliminary Rankings: The QMJHL

E.J. Maguire and his Central Scouting staff have made public their preliminary lists for all of the major junior leagues and USHL, as well as Europe today, and not surprisingly, there is no shortage of controversy and disagreement.

Bruins2011DraftWatch kicks off the analysis of the rankings with the QMJHL and will look at each league separately so as not to create an unreadable mishmash of comments and draft thoughts.

It's no surprise that Sean Couturier sits atop the 'Q' ranking, as he's been on scouts' radars for quite some time now. The big, skilled center just got an audition for scouts during the Subway Super Series against Team Russia and the reviews on his performance were mixed.

"He showed off his impressive size and potential at times," one NHL scout who covers the Quebec and the Maritimes for a Western Conference team told B2011DW via email today. "But he didn't control the play as often or with the consistency that I've come to expect. I still think he's the best player to come out of the (QMJHL) since Sidney Crosby, but his average footspeed got exposed a bit against the quicker, faster Russian squad."

Couturier is still a heck of a talent and draft prospect-- he'll be at the top of the debate all year without a doubt. But, perhaps the Subway Series is the first inkling that the gulf between him and other contenders for the top spot such as Adam Larsson and even Gabriel Landeskog is not as wide as many would think.

A pair of Saint John (New Brunswick) Sea Dogs follow Couturier on the list-- center Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman Nathan Beaulieu. Huberdeau is a tall, skinny playmaker who has had an excellent offensive campaign thus far, leading the team ins scoring with 15 goals and 30 points in 23 games. Coming into the season, Huberdeau was known for his high-end hockey sense as more of a setup man, but he's found the back of the net as often, and players who show balance between goals and assists are always coveted commodities.

"We knew he had the offense prior to the season," the scout said when asked about Huberdeau. "But the goal scoring has been a bonus. He's a very smart, instinctive player. I think he's still learning and needs to improve his complete game, but he's on the rise with the kind of start he's had."

Beaulieu has struggled to live up to the expectations that preceded him after an outstanding summer Team Canada WJC Evaluation Camp. His three goals and 12 points are OK, but looking beyond the stats, you have a nice blend of size (6-3, 191), skating and passion. He may not have elite puck skills, but he's better than his numbers indicate and could develop into an excellent NHL defenseman in time.

"Beaulieu is a very good skater," the scout said. "He didn't get off to a great start, but he's done better over the last month or so, and has the skills to be a fine NHL prospect. I'm not sure of his upside, but with his size and mobility, he's up there."

Rounding out the top-five of Quebec players are a couple of offensively talented wingers in Phillip Danault (Victoriaville) and Olivier Archambault (Vald-d'Or). Neither possesses blazing speed, but have a keen offensive intellect that keeps them in the middle of the action at all times.

"They're smaller guys who know how to score," said the scout. "I'm a little less impressed with their overall defensive efforts and they need to get a lot stronger. But at least in the Quebec League, they are pretty effective."

One player who fell further than expected was Saint John's Tomas Jurco, the third draft prospect from a loaded team that had seven- count 'em- SEVEN players in Central's QMJHL top-25 list.

Jurco is a late-'92 from Slovakia who came over to the Sea Dogs last year and made the adjustment to the North American game pretty readily. He's a puckhandling wizard/freak who is highly effective in traffic and in front of the net. At 6-2, 193 pounds (and he's probably closer to 185 when all is said and done), he's slight and needs to get stronger, but his 12 goals are a little less than half of what he put up all of last season, so he should have 35-40 if all goes well.

"I'm surprised he's lower than Danault and Archambault," the scout said. "It may have to do with his defensive game, which is not as strong, but he does have so much potential offensively. We have him higher than that."

Montreal Juniors defenseman Xavier Ouellet got off to a blazing start offensively and has come down to earth, but is still scoring at about a point-per-game clip (2 goals, 21 points- 23 games) for the club known formerly as the Fog Devils. Ouellet could be one of those prospects who is a better hockey player than an athlete. He doesn't possess great size, or speed and mobility or even an overpowering shot, but he still manages to make the effective first pass and distribute the puck well from the point.

"Every time I've gone to see him, I wanted to grade him down for something but so far it hasn't happened," the scout said. "He's not an explosive skater, but he gets where he needs to go. He doesn't have any real skills that jump out at you, but then he'll make a nice pass and the puck is in the net. He's smart positionally and takes good angles to compensate for the smaller size."

Rounding out the top-10 is Shawinigan power winger Maximilien Le Sieur who is second behind Michael Bournival on the team in scoring with 11 goals and 24 points. Although not tall, Le Sieur is built like a bowling ball and brings some toughness to the table.

"He's got some heavy feet but there's some interesting potential there," the scout said.
Another pair of Sea Dogs in Scott Oke and Ryan Tesink are 9th and 10th-- just ahead of teammate Zack Phillips who was surprisingly not in the top-10. Oke is a lanky winger with very raw, projectable potential, but his three goals and four points in 20 games for Saint John makes his presence in the top-10 is intriguing to say the least. Tesink and Phillips are higher on the depth chart and have been much more involved in the offense, posting 15 points and 24 points respectively. Phillips has already admitted disappointment in where he was ranked, so it will be interesting to see how he responds to the slight.

Moving on to the goaltenders, Finnish netminder Christopher Gibson (the son of a British ex-pat father and mother from Finland) tops the list. He's outperformed fellow draft eligible Robin Gusse in Chicoutimi, posting an outstanding .928 save percentage and 7-6-3 record with 2.20 GAA on a poor team.

"Gibson is that prototype butterfly goalie with size and athleticism from Finland," said the scout. "He came from the Notre Dame Hounds program and won a championship for them there, so he's very accomplished and proving himself in the Quebec league on a team that doesn't score a lot."

Also in the mix for top-two round consideration is Czech goalie David Honzik, who left Europe to play for the Victoriaville Tigres this season. He's struggled a bit with the transition this season, but with a 6-3 frame and terrific athleticism, Honzik is a long-term project who could pay big dividends along the lines of a Jaroslav Halak down the road so long as the team that drafts him is willing to be patient and develop him. Long-limbed and instinctive, he has nice potential so long as you get past the pedestrian stats.

While there are certainly some interesting prospects in the QMJHL this season, Central it appears that got their top-three right. In terms of pure talent and pro potential, Couturier, Huberdeau and Beaulieu are the best that league has to offer. This blog would have Jurco at four, but that's certainly up for debate.

One thing to remember with the CSS preliminary rankings is that they have less to do with performance and more to do with getting names out there for the NHL teams to consider. Of course, that's the party line. (wink wink, nod nod)