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Monday, January 31, 2011

2003 NHL Draft Flashback: Patrice Bergeron

The news today that Patrice Bergeron was named the NHL's 1st Star for the month of January after posting 17 points and a +13 in 14 games for the Bruins was the first time he's taken top player honors at any point since his NHL career began in 2003-04.

In honor of Bergeron's recognition, I thought it would be a good time to reprint a Q & A I did with Patrice back in June 2003, the day after the B's made him the 45th overall selection.

It was the first exclusive interview he did with anyone in the Boston media (outside of the standard meet-the-press scrum that occurs right after the player gets picked), and sometimes you get lucky-- we both stayed at the same hotel and I managed to corner him that Sunday, back when the NHL draft was split between the two weekend days as opposed to Friday primetime and Saturday (and even before that, it all took place on a single marathon Saturday).

So, here it is-- an interview with Patrice Bergeron done for the old HockeyJournal.com-- now lost to cyberspace but luckily preserved on Hockey's Future Boards. The URL to the posting is here.

Patrice Bergeron is center of Boston’s attention at '03 draft
By Kirk Luedeke

A household name he wasn’t, but heading into the 2003 National Hockey League Entry Draft in Nashville, Acadie-Bathurst Titan Patrice Bergeron had a feeling that he might have a very good day when all was said and done. Just 45 selections into an event that would see nearly 300 young men from across North America and Europe have their names called by NHL teams, Bergeron’s wait was over, taken by the Boston Bruins mid-way through the second round.

Bergeron, who doesn’t turn 18 until next month, describes himself as a hard-working playmaker who finds more joy in setting up his teammates for goals than scoring them himself. Although a bit slight at 6-feet-0 and 180 pounds, Bergeron has drawn raves from scouts for his soft hands, creativity and ability to affect the tempo of the game when he controls the puck. One knock on the Quebec City native’s game is that he must get faster, particularly in his acceleration, if he is going to realize his immense potential.

The young center already has a pretty good grasp on the English language, despite not getting much of an opportunity to use it in his native Quebec. This should help reduce the effects of culture shock when he travels to Boston for his first professional training camp in the fall.

Although not widely known amongst draftniks, Bergeron impressed his coaches and scouts in the Quebec League playoffs, and appears to only be scratching the surface in terms of what he can become in the NHL someday. It will take a little time, but don’t be surprised if Bergeron arrives on the scene sooner than anticipated. He appears to have all the intangibles that you look for in a professional athlete, and his humble nature off the ice conceals a fierce competitor on it.

HockeyJournal.com sat down with Patrice Bergeron in the Millennium Maxwell House hotel in Nashville the day after the draft and talked shop with one of the newest Bruins in the system.

HockeyJournal.com: What was your overall impression of the Entry Draft and the atmosphere there? Was it everything you thought it would be?

Patrice Bergeron: It was a lot of fun to go there to Nashville and then to be picked in the second round by the Boston Bruins. I wasn’t too nervous, but still, you wait and you don’t know when you might get picked, so to hear my name in the second round was a great feeling for me.

HJC: You said in the initial interview after you were selected that you were from Quebec City. Are you from the city proper, or a suburb?

PB: I live in Sillery, Quebec. It is a town not too big, but outside Quebec City.

HJC: When did you start playing hockey?

PB: At the age of five.

HJC: Did you like the Quebec Nordiques back then?

PB: Yeah, I did. I liked (Joe) Sakic. He was probably the one I liked the most. But, I liked Adam Foote too. He worked really so hard and was a leader.

HJC: What was the difference for you, or the hardest thing to adjust to in your first season of major junior as opposed to what you were used to in midget hockey before?

PB: Probably the execution of the play was the hardest thing. You have to pass quicker, shoot quicker and all that kind of stuff.

HJC: How about the physical play and the fighting? Was that a change for you?

PB: Probably more the fights was the only difference because yes, the guys are bigger, but I was used to it. The physical stuff doesn’t bother me at all. It’s part of the game.

HJC: One of the NHL scouts who saw you play quite a bit this season said that you are very creative, and although you may not be the fastest skater, you slow the game down because you move side-to-side well and are able to hold the puck so you can make that key pass at the right moment for a good scoring chance. Do you think that’s a pretty accurate assessment of you and your play, and how much of that creativity that you possess is something that you were born with and just do when you’re out on the ice?

PB: Yeah, I think that is right. I think that a lot of what I do is natural, but I always work and prove my place. But I think that the things to look and slow down the play is natural, but the other parts of the game have to come when you work hard. It’s like when you learn on the job and as you work more, you get more confident and better at your job. With me, it’s the same thing.

HJC: What kind of a relationship do you have with your head coach in Bathurst, Real Paiement?

PB: It’s a great relationship. He helped me with a lot of things this year on the ice, but outside in general life. He’s a really good coach and I have a really great relationship with him.

HJC: That relationship probably showed through in the playoffs, when as a rookie, you were given a lot of ice time even though it was your first taste of the postseason, and you responded by playing a big role in your team’s success. How important was that faith he showed in you for your overall confidence?

PB: It gives me confidence. At the beginning of the year, he told me I would be on the third line, and improve my play and get experience and get confidence. He gives me so much confidence that I take my place and I graduate on the top line and get some ice time in the end of the regular season and playoffs.

HJC: As far as your offense goes, you’ve said you’re more of a playmaker, a passer- but when you are looking to shoot, what are you most comfortable with doing, and what shot have you had the most success with in game situations?

PB: My wrist shot. You know, a shot without showing the goalie you’re going to take a shot.

HJC: This summer, you said you wanted to work on your skating, but what are some of the other things you want to improve upon?

PB: My body and my physical strength. I got a physical trainer in Quebec City- his name is Raymond Veillette. He’s a very good guy- he has been training with Simon Gagne.

HJC: Gagne is an accomplished NHL player. Do you know him?

PB: It’s the first summer for me, but I’m not like his friend, but I do know him. I have a lot of respect for him because he works very hard and is a great NHL player even though some people say he couldn’t make it because he was small. I look at him and hope that I can be like that too, someday.

HJC: What are your expectations of your first professional training camp in September? Are you pretty excited about being able to put on that Bruins sweater and skate with guys like Joe Thornton, Glen Murray and the rest of the team?

PB: It’s a wonderful feeling for me. When you’re young, everybody dreams about it, but doesn’t thinks too much because it’s far and you don’t know what is going to happen. But now, I’m here, and I know it’s only the first step that I’m draft, there are a lot of things I have to do to move on. But to go to camp is going to be impressive. I just have to get as strong as I can in the summer, and work on my skating as much as I can. I won’t be able to be as good as I want in one summer- it takes some years to do that, but I think I will be improved and make a good impression in Boston. It is important to me that I just play my game, work hard and show them that I can play.

HJC: What are some of the things you like to do when you’re not playing hockey?

PB: I like to listen to rap music, like Eminem and DMX.

HJC: You seem to have a pretty good relationship with your older brother, Guillaume. Do you beat him up now that you got a little size on him?

PB: (chuckling) No, I don’t beat him up or anything. Yeah, we’re very close. He is focus in his studies right now. He goes to college for business in Quebec City.

HJC: Do you have any final thoughts on being a Bruin?

PB: Only that it’s a great feeling to be picked by the Bruins and I know that I can work very hard to prove to the fans that I’m a good player for the organization.

HJC: Sounds good, Patrice. Thanks for your time.

PB: It’s OK. Thank you.

The Patrice Bergeron File

Height: 6’0
Weight: 180
Shoots: Right
Born: July 25, 1985 in Quebec City, PQ
Got first pair of skates at age: 5
Favorite Movie: Dumb and Dumber
Siblings: Brother, Guillaume (19)
Hobbies: Soccer, listening to music

Joe LaBate: A Guy You Should Know

Do you like your centers big and skilled?

Then Minnesota ox Joseph LaBate of Holy Angels Academy is a player who should get the juices flowing.

At 6-4, 190-pounds, he's a stick figure right now, but dominating at the high school/prep level and when he fills out to his pro playing weight, look out. He has 20 goals in 19 games this season with 35 points. He went through a four-game stretch in which he potted nine goals, including a Texas hat trick (4 goals) against Blake.

Ranked behind Wayzata High winger Mario Lucia among Minnesota H.S. prospects on most scouting lists, LaBate is nevertheless flying under the radar a bit.

An effective net presence, LaBate uses his size to take away sight lines and has a quick stick. He lacks the strength to be a force right now, but is so much taller than most that he's still tough to move. Generates good power on his shot and it will only get heavier as he continues to add strength to his wiry frame. He does the dirty work in front of the net and in the corners. Like most big guys, he's able to use his big body to shield and protect the puck well, which allows his line to set up an effective cycle. He's gotten good marks for his hockey sense from scouts I've talked to as well.

Red Line Report has a nice write-up on him in the December issue (RLR breaks down the top-11 Minnesota prospects).

LaBate is an interesting player who isn't as heralded as other Minnesota prospects who have come down the line over the past several seasons, but has ability and some upside.

January gives way to "dog days" of winter

Today is the last day of January, and every year it signals my least favorite time of the season: the "dog days" of winter in February.

True, the Four Nations Cup will be played at the end of the month, but this is the time of year when the season seems to drag on interminably.

Not to fear, however. This blog will be firing out the posts and keeping you up to date on the players as we inch closer to draft day. And, I'll be in Boston in early March to take in the annual New England prep tourney extravaganza, even if it is a bit of a down year.

Plane tickets to Minnesota are purchased and the 2011 Draft Watch will be there once again to bring you a blow-by-blow account of the NHL Entry Draft. This time, we'll have some unique video content to offer you as this space is always looking to up the ante, raise the bar and make improvements that will keep you coming back for more as one of the internet's premiere NHL draft sites.

Be sure to sign up to be a "supporter" of this blog if you haven't done so already, and you can follow me on Twitter as well: @kluedeke29

Thanks for sticking around- there is plenty of good times coming down the pike, even in the middle of the dog days of winter.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

2012 draft watch: Nail Yakupov

Boston Bruins fans are probably a little spoiled now after two years of having a shot at a pick at the top of the 2010 and 2011 NHL Entry Drafts.

That's why Sarnia Sting superstar Nail Yakupov isn't likely to factor in many draft conversations the B's have next season.

That said, there's no reason not to bring you up to speed on the immensely skilled Russian winger and candidate for 1st overall selection in the 2012 draft. As an early October, 1993 birthdate, he missed the cutoff for the 2011 class by less than a month, and according to at least one NHL scout I talked to recently, he'd be a surefire top-three pick this year. The only thing stopping him from being the declarative 1st overall selection in June would be his status as a Russian, and even that may not hinder a team with the boldness and faith in him to throw caution to the wind and go for it.

"Yakupov is a game breaker," the NHL scout said earlier this week. "He's got a lot of speed, agility and can make all his moves when going balls out. He's got a natural knack for scoring and is a threat to score every single time he's out there. The defense is only so-so, but when you're talking about a player as dangerous as he is, you can live with that."

An outstanding skater, he's got a very fast burst and not only the top speed you want in your skill forwards, but the shifty, elusive east-west movement that make him very tough for defenders to contain. Although only 5-10, he's so quick that the size isn't an issue. When you hear scouts and hockey people talk about small players needing certain skating chops to alleviate concerns about them at the NHL level, Yakupov is the prototype player they're referring to.

His quick hands, dazzling puck skills and the ability to dangle allow him to create space for himself, and he's got the creativity to score by himself or set teammates up for quality chances. He's one of those guys who makes everyone around him better. 35 goals and 69 points in 45 OHL games as a 17-year-old...that's all you really need to know. He and countryman Alex Galchenyuk have formed a dynamic duo for the Sting, with the centerman Galchenyuk a few weeks away from turning 17 himself, having more size but less pure skill and upside than Yakupov. Regardless, he looks like a solid 1st-rounder in 2012.

Here are some videos on this guy, which seem to illustrate the classic "you can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him" sports axiom:

Here, he abuses 3rd overall pick in 2010 Erik Gudbranson for a goal vs. Kingston:

And not that he's good at it, but he drops the gloves here, which shows a competitiveness and drive every NHL team covets:

First career OHL goal...he's got 35 and counting as of this post:

Video rights belong to/courtesy of OHL/TVCogeco Ontario

QMJHL roundup: Couturier dominates, Sea Dogs keep trucking along

Drummondville center Sean Couturier had a bangup night against his dad's Acadie-Bathurst Titan (that's Patrice Bergeron's old junior club as all you hardcore draftniks out there certainly recall), posting a pair of goals and five points. Sylvain Couturier, as GM of the Titan, no doubt felt a twinge of fatherly pride to go with the chagrin of seeing his progeny smoke his team last night.

The outburst gives the big, talented Couturier 23 goals and 70 points in 40 games with the Voltigeurs this season. He's on pace to beat his league-leading 96-points last year if he can stay hot and consistent. He's sure to be a top pick in the NHL draft, regardless of the reports you may read that he's falling or the mock drafts you may see that have him dropping out of the top-three. Don't see that happening, even if I'm not bullish on his potential to be an elite player at the NHL level. I think he'll be a good one, but when you tank a season, you hope that you're getting a franchise cornerstone. I'm not sure that Couturier is that kind of player, but that doesn't mean he's going to fall in this draft class, either.

For more on Couturier's big night, you can read Neate Sager's excellent Buzzing the Net blog, where he named Sean the CHL's 1st star for Saturday.

In other 'Q' news, the Saint John Sea Dogs won their 40th game out of 48 total contests this season, pasting the Baie-Comeau Drakkar to a 6-1 score yesterday. Sick. Amazingly enough, they haven't run away with the field yet-- the Quebec Remparts are eight points behind them, so the league standings haven't become a laugher...yet.

Jonathan Huberdeau didn't register any points in the most recent win, but he's been steady as she goes all season, putting up 29 goals and 71 points in 47 contests. He's got the size (though lacks the weight and strength right now) and skill to be a top-six NHL forward someday. His stock continues to jet upward. Zack Phillips may have the quietest 29 goals of any player in the league, and after watching him in the Top Prospects Game, I can understand why there isn't a huge buzz on him. Sure, Sea Dogs supporters and close followers of the 'Q' can attest to his excellence, but he's one of these stealth guys who doesn't jump out at you until there's a play around the net and all of the sudden, he pounces on the puck and its in the back of the net.

Tomas Jurco has been a bit of a disappointment given the sky-high expectations, but his 17 goals, 35 points in 40 games may be more of a reflection of Saint John's ridiculous depth than anything else.

Here's a QMJHL website feature on Jurco, and you're also invited to check out the 5 Minutes in the box feature I did with him at the WJC.

Don't forget about Nathan Beaulieu, too-- the two-way defender is another Sea Dog who didn't register any points against the Drakkar, but has nine goals and 33 points in 47 games, not to mention a +30 rating. He's still working on his overall defensive play, but this guy has solid NHL defender for years written all over him. Really like his toughness as well. At 6-3 and only 191 pounds, he's going to get a lot stronger and heavier. When he does, people are going to be even less inclined to want to fight him.

Destry Straight: A Guy You Should Know

Coquitlam Express (BCHL) center Destry Straight makes his debut on Bruins 2011 Draft Watch at the end of January, and he's someone who could also be classified as a sleeper.

The 6-1 center is from West Vancouver and has 20 goals and 53 points in 49 games.

Earlier this fall, he committed to Boston College for the 2012 season, so he'll have another season of junior to play before he reports to the Hockey East. Red Line Report also mentioned that he was listed by the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, so he has some options if he decided against going the NCAA route.

Straight is good skater with a long, fluid stride with strong playmaking ability, vision and offensive hockey sense. On the downside, he's on the soft side and doesn't possess much in the way of strength. Tending to stay out of traffic and on the outside, scouts can be frustrated with his tendency to not take the puck to the net or use his prodigious offensive gifts more effectively. Defensively, he has a lot of work to do. RLR cited him as "one-dimensional" and without the big numbers in the BCHL to back it up, he's likely to fall down the boards a bit as a result.

If he were 5-9, people wouldn't be talking much about this player, but because he's got that tall 6-1 frame with potential to grow into his body better, he'll be on some lists come draft time. Clearly, though, Straight is a long-term project who will require a team to utilize a lot of time and patience with him.

One could say that he's a poor man's Joe Colborne at this point, though not possessing the same kind of dominant size the B's '08 first-rounder has. But, he's similar in terms of having the quick hands and offensive potential...he also is lacking in the kind of physical, go hard to the net kind of effort you want to see from a player like this. Colborne is still developing and evolving for Boston, showing the potential to be a force in the middle in flashes, but still not quite there. Straight will need a similar leap of faith for any NHL club who drafts him.

But, the potential payoff down the road is there. Therefore, he's someone to keep in mind if the value on the board is right.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Alexander Khokhlachev's 4-goal game vs. Kitchener

Russian winger and Windsor Spitfire Alexander Khokhlachev wasn't invited to the CHL Top Prospects Game earlier this month, but that doesn't mean that he won't be a high NHL draft pick.

In fact, I know that more than a few NHL scouts were really disappointed that he did not get the invite and several other players did over him. Oh, well-- what are you going to do, right?

But, the highly skilled Spitfire put on a clinic Friday night and our friend Jérôme B. already has the highlights over at his NHL Draft Video blog. I'm linking his site here directly so that in case you didn't know about it, you can go over to his blog and look around at the treasure trove of videos he has there.

You can also follow Jérôme on Twitter as @Jayhockey85

Anyway- Khokhlachev is pure skill, baby. I wouldn't at all be surprised if he goes top-10 in the NHL Draft come June. He's a game-breaker, and like Alexander Burmistrov, by coming over to North America has shown a commitment to playing here and will alleviate concerns about signability by doing so. He's one of those guys who, although is small, could be in the NHL next season because his speed and puck skills top shelf

But, don't take my word for it-- just see for yourself.

For your viewing pleasure: CHL Plays of the Week

Pretty thin for 2011 NHL draft candidates, but here are links to the CHL video Plays of the Week.

OHL highlights have only one player, and he's a sleeper/longshot draft candidate in Guelph Storm forward Cody McNaughton. McNaughton is an Oct. '92 birthdate meaning this is the first year he's draft eligible. Pretty play from him, but it's only his 9th goal in 46 games. Of course, anytime you use AC/DC in your highlight clips, I'm full on board with that. Beats the techno stuff the WHL used.

Here's the link to the OHL highlight vid.

Ove to the WHL, Marcel Noebels is the only 2011 draft candidate who scores on the clips. Noebels, as you may recall, is a German forward with good size and offensive capabilities, but was passed over in 2010. He had a decent enough WJC that he could get another look, but is a bit of a perimeter guy and some NHL scouts have used the kiss of death "soft" tag on him with me. We'll see if he does enough with the Thunderbirds to get a late-round flyer.

Here is the WHL highlight video link.

Moving onto the QMJHL, we have a couple of passed-over guys in Slovak winger Marek Hrivik and his Moncton teammate Alex Saulnier on the highlight film. And check out the Tomas Jurco assist to Michael Kirkpatrick, too. Pretty goal, nice pass from Jurco. Might have missed a couple of guys-- my French isn't so hot, so if I did, apologies...as they say in the Spartacus tv series.

Here are the highlight plays from the 'Q'

2012 draft watch: Martin Frk

Although Dmitri Jaskin was hurt an unable to attend the World Jr. Championships in Buffalo, Team Czech Republic did give a nice glimpse into the future of the next draft with 17-year-old Martin Frk, ( pronounced Firk), an October '93 BD who has been making a case as a top 2012 NHL draft candidate since last season and in particular, the 4 Nations Cup in Belarus.

Frk's height is pretty average (listed at 6-feet), but he has a thick body with a lot of natural strength. He's got powerful legs and enough upper body oomph to handle himself in the physical aspects of play along the walls. Playing for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL this season, he's done nothing to dissuade anyone of the notion that he's one of the top 2012-eligibles out there.

As the youngest of any of the players in the 2011 WJC, Frk wasn't able to dominate, but his time will certainly come. He was playing on the lower lines of the Czech team, but managed to stand out in several games. He tallied two memorable goals in the preliminary round loss to Sweden, one of which was a one-timer in which he absolutely crushed the puck to the back of the net. His hand-eye coordination and the power he generates on his shot are a sight to behold.

He's got terrific offensive hockey instincts and sees the ice very well. He also seems to have that natural killer instinct that NHL teams covet; he protects the puck well in the offensive zone and drives hard to the net or can make some quick moves to shake defenders and create a little space for himself. Frk also has excellent hands and quickness with the stick-- he's able to handle it in tight and get excellent shots off

His skating isn't first-rate, but according to scouts, has improved since last season. He's not a bad skater, but could stand to pick up an extra step, but to be frank-- after watching him in Buffalo, didn't see any reason that the mobility will be a hindrance at the next level. He's got just minor improvements to make and if he continues on his development curve, will be fine in this regard.

He's also a chippy guy with some nastiness to his game. He'll need to pick his spots a little better, but he earned the ire of Canada fans when he speared Erik Gudbranson during the preliminary round.

This guy appears to have it all going for him. Unfortunately for NHL fans, the wait will be a little longer and a lot can happen between now and June, 2012. But, like Adam Larsson, he's made a big enough impression a 1.5 years out from his draft season that he'll be a hot topic of conversation a year from now.

John Moore @sportsandmoore.com has a very informative video on Frk over at YouTube. You gotta go there to see it, as it is proprietary and I don't want to post it here without permission.

Here's another John Moore interview with Frk, who doesn't speak English well enough yet to do these on his own, but expect him to have it down by the time the 2012 draft rolls around.

Frk shows off his deadly release on this one, from our friend Jerome at NHLDraftVideo

Friday, January 28, 2011

2 Minutes in the box with Mike Paliotta

U.S. NTDP defenseman Michael Paliotta is in his second season with the program after leaving his home in Westport, Connecticut and the Choate Rosemary Hall Wild Boars for the bigger challenge in Ann Arbor and the USHL (and NCAA and international play).

The 6-3, 196-pounder has good mobility and sound defensive instincts. His stock is a little down more because of the outstanding play of other 2011 draft prospects than anything he is or isn't doing. The lack of production is probably the biggest thing, but with Paliotta, he's got the size and wheels, so he shouldn't be on the board very long. First-round pick? Debateable. He's going to have to come on strong in the second half to do that, and a strong Four Nations and Under-18 Championship tourneys would go a long way to boosting his stock.

Bob McKenzie's mid-season TSN ranking had him closer to the end of the second round, which could very well be where he lands, but not a bad place for him to be.

I caught up to him recently to get his thoughts on his season, the program, and other things of note.

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch: Talk to us about who you are as a player and what you bring to the table for NHL team that drafts you.

Mike Paliotta: I’m a big, mobile defenseman that moves the puck well. I have a strong shot from the point and see the ice pretty well. I like to be physical, and my goal is to be a tough player to play against every time I’m out there.

B2011DW: So, you're a pretty physical player then?

MP: I would say so. I've got good size and have been working hard in the off-ice program here to build up my strength. I think playing against older, stronger players in the USHL and NCAA has definitely helped me in my own game and now in my second year here, I've learned a lot about leverage and using my size to make contact and separate players from the puck. It's something I would say I've gotten better at, but like anything else, I'm continuing to work on to try and improve.

B2011DW: What was the driving force behind your decision to leave home and the Founder's League in preps to join the NTDP?

MP: I felt like it was almost an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. In the long run, I think I’ll definitely benefit from playing against tougher competition. It’s a much higher level than prep hockey was, so as difficult as it was to leave my family and team, I’m pretty happy with how things are going.

B2011DW: How was the transition from being a pretty accomplished prep player to being on a team of highly-skilled players from around the country going up against older, more experienced players in the USHL and NCAA as well as international competition?

MP: That's pretty much it, right there. The older, stronger, more skilled players presented a pretty tough challenge at first. My (Under-17) year was a challenging time for the entire team. Playing against 20-year-olds in the USHL for any 16-year-old is definitely an adjustment to step in and play at a high level right away. It was tough at first not winning any games, and it was tough to get acclimated.

B2011DW: You committed to the University of Vermont. Why the Catamounts as opposed to the other schools who pursued you?

MP: I’d say the biggest thing was the coaching staff. They’ve built a winning program that attracts top players. Also, going back to the East Coast was important to me. I wanted to be closer to my family and being about four hours away from my town in Connecticut is just right.

B2011DW: So, growing up in Connecticut were you a Rangers fan? Whalers? Bruins?

MP: Definitely Rangers. I'm a huge Rangers fan. Guys like Brian Leetch and Mark Messier were big favorites of mine growing up. And obviously, Wayne Gretzky when he was with the team. I've always tried to emulate those guys for their professionalism and great play.

B2011DW: Have you ever met Brian Leetch? He's a fellow Nutmeg stater after all...

MP: No, I haven't had the opportunity to meet him, but he was definitely one of my favorite players and from what I've seen of him in interviews and other things, he seems like a great guy.

Paliotta is the consensus top New England-born player available in the 2011 NHL Draft, and he just might be flying under the radar a little more than he should. This spring will be a big test for him, but he's a bright, mature kid who is headed to a potential powerhouse Vermont team (in the next few years) in the fall.

He's certainly a player to keep an eye on, even if he may not have as high an upside as some of the other defensemen in this class.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Strome vs. Jared Knight and Seth Griffith

It's a Thursday night, and one game of interest to Bruins and 2011 NHL Draft fans is happening in St. Catharines, Ontario tonight between the London Knights and the home team Niagara Ice Dogs.

The Ice Dogs have two players who will likely be on the board when the Boston Bruins make their first pick, compliments of the Toronto Maple Leafs: defenseman Dougie Hamilton and center Ryan Strome.

Hamilton is the more obvious player of interest for the B's given their dearth of high-enders at the defense position in their system, but you never know-- Strome has played extremely well this season and despite his 19th overall ranking by Central Scouting earlier this month, many expect that Strome will be picked inside the top-10 in June. The Bruins don't need another center, but with Marc Savard's career in jeopardy, the organizational priorities just might shift a bit. The point being-- a lot can happen between now and June, so don't be so quick to dismiss Strome as an option should the Bruins opt to trade down. In any case, watch for the teams picking in that top-10 for the right fit, too.

You can read more about Hamilton in the "case for" post that went up a few days ago. I heard from Dougie himself on Twitter, and he was pleased with the work. Bottom line-- this blog puts a lot of time and effort into providing the best, most cutting-edge information, and I'm grateful for the continued support. I also want to thank the legions of Ice Dogs supporters who have discovered this blog and added their own traffic to the site. By now, you've figured out that this blog is not a part of the Boston Bruins, but I hope you will continue to visit for updates on Hamilton, Strome and other players of interest within your OHL sphere of influence.

As for Strome, well let's just say that he's been one of the more consistent and creative players in the OHL this season. With his good size and talent level, he's going to go earlier in the draft that his Central ranking would indicate. It's not as bad as Jeff Skinner from a year ago, but Strome is underrated.

As for the Bruins angle, prospect Jared Knight will be going up against the Ice Dogs tonight after leading his team to a come-from-behind victory a few days ago against Oshawa. Knight is clicking along offensively- his next goal will be his 20th of the season and he's rapidly closing in on 50 points. He only needs 58 to establish a new personal season high.

Another draft player who will be in the lineup for the Knights is Seth Griffith, who was one of our sleepers at the beginning of the season (thanks to blog friend Dominic T.). Griffith was named OHL player of the week, and although small, he's got some real offensive skill and could be one of those earlier-than-expected draft picks in 2011- much like his teammate Knight was.

This is one of those games that is sure to have some NHL scouts at, so hopefully, Dom, who I saw on Twitter is going to St. Catharines for, will post some thoughts and observations on it. I'll update the stats line later and reach out to a couple of my NHL sources to see if they attended and what their thoughts were as well.

Hella good game from the looks of it. Knights win 7-6 in shootout after tying it up with 11 seconds remaining in regulation. Vladislav Namestnikov got the decisive shootout tally in slick fashion. "Slick" is the word I keep hearing associated with Namestnikov's game.

2G, 1A for Knight, Strome had 1G, 2A and Hamilton 1G, 1A

Here's the boxscore.

Video highlights courtesy of TVCogecoOntario

Waffle Watch: 2011 Boston Bruins draft pick update the All-Star break edition; 27 Jan.

Well, the NHL regular season schedule is shut down until next week for the All-Star festivities in Raleigh, N.C. starting tomorrow.

I figured this was as good a time as any to update the Waffle Watch, given that there won't be any changes in the standings until Tuesday.

Toronto has lost three consecutive games and sits at 19-25-5 with 49 games in the books. They are only two points ahead of where they were a season ago, but the big difference between this year and last is the poor performances of Ottawa and New Jersey, which were not anticipated coming into the '10-11 campaign.

Tuesday night is a big deal in the standings watch because the Leafs are facing the Florida Panthers, who own a six-point lead and lost a 2-1 game to the Bruins last night, unable to solve Tim Thomas at the very end, though the Bruins certainly gave them their chances. I like the way the Panthers are playing right now-- they don't have much in the way of talent, but Tomas Vokoun keeps them in every game, and they work harder than most. Sheer work alone won't get you into the playoffs these days, but it will keep you ahead of Toronto in the standings.

That head-to-head matchup creates a four-win cushion for the 'Cats or moves Toronto to within two victories of moving into the 6th draft position and out of the lottery.

New Jersey, whose five-game winning streak was snapped by Detroit in a close game last night, is taking on Ottawa, in another huge game that will only help. If NJ wins, they pull to within six points of Toronto (assuming the Leafs lose to Florida). If Ottawa wins, they leapfrog Toronto (if the Leafs lose in regulation) into the fifth slot and the Leafs drop to No. 4. Edmonton is only five points from Toronto, but I don't see them doing very well this winter- just a feeling that they will go into the tank like they did a year ago. Islanders...well, let's just say that they have an incentive to not move up in the standings, and even with rookie Kevin Poulin playing well for them in net, the chances of them pushing past Toronto are pretty slim.

So, with that in mind, here are your updated draft standings as we do the All-Star break.

1st Round
5th overall- Toronto (43 points; 19-25-5)- Completes Phil Kessel trade.
25th overall- Boston (63 points; 28-15-7) (Boston moves to 25th by virtue of third seed- Northeast Division lead with fewest points of division leaders even though technically lower than other teams in standings)

2nd Round
42nd overall- Minnesota (55 points;25-19-5)- Completes Chuck Kobasew trade.
55th overall- Boston

3rd Round
78th overall- Phoenix (59 points; 25-17-9) - Completes Derek Morris trade.
Boston pick traded to Florida; Completes Nathan Horton deal

4th Round
115th overall- Boston

5th Round
145th overall- Boston

6th Round
175th overall- Boston

7th Round
186th overall- Florida (conditional 36 pts; 17-17-2)- Jeff LoVecchio, Jordan Knackstedt to Panthers for Sean Zimmerman, cond. 7th
Boston pick traded to Chicago (Zach Trotman)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rocco Grimaldi: A Guy You Should Know

By now most of you have heard of the mini-dynamo named Rocco Grimaldi, but for those who haven't, he's the best NHL draft prospect to look like Brian Gionta since...well, Brian Gionta (can you believe it's been 13 years since New Jersey took a chance on the current Montreal captain?).

The Southern California kid is a veteran of the U.S. NTDP and decided to take his high-end offensive game to the University of North Dakota next season. The prediction here is that he's going to shoot the lights out in the WCHA. Maybe not right away, but it won't take him long.

Grimaldi is explosive, lightning-fast and extremely balanced and strong on his skates. Think of Jeff Skinner, only with breakaway speed, and you start to get the picture of what this kid can do on his edges and with his very powerful lower trunk. Grimaldi has drive, a love for the game and very good vision and offensive hockey sense. A very quick stick, rapid-fire release and impressive power that he generates on a big, heavy shot that belies his size are all factors that make him one of the most dangerous scorers to come out of the U.S. NTDP in a few years. His ability to control the tempo of a game all speak very well for him.

Now, for the bad news: Grimaldi is small. As in tiny. As in, that 5-6, 160-pound listing may be generous. There is definitely a place in the NHL these days for the highly-skilled small man, and Grimaldi is just that. At the same time, expecting him to be drafted where his pure talent and potential should land him is probably a bridge too far.

Where will he be drafted in June? This blog has no idea. It's all going to come down to a team who a. believes in him completely and has no doubt he can take on the challenge of the NHL, and b. one who has enough picks in this draft that spending one on a higher-risk/reward pick like Grimaldi won't set them back. But, be sure to keep an eye on this kid, because he's pretty special. If nothing else, he's going to be one hell of an exciting player in the NCAA. Beyond that, we'll all have to wait and see.

Here's a nice goal video at last April's Under-18s courtesy of Jerome at the NHLDraftVideo blog:

Caryn Switaj of USA Hockey was nice enough to provide a link to an article and video she did on Rocco earlier this season. Worth checking out.

If life imitated art...

...the hockey draft would be this Ronnie James Dio (RIP) song:

To be completely honest, I was just trying to come up with an excuse to post a Dio video on my blog, but it works.

Boston Bruins Prospect Roundup: Midseason edition

I posted an update on Boston Bruins prospects over at HockeyJournal.com, but thought I would re-post some of it here for those interested.

Boston Bruins Prospect Roundup
With the 2010-11 hockey season past it’s halfway point, it is time to do a Boston Bruins prospect stats roundup and quick update.

1. Jordan Caron, RW Providence Bruins (AHL) 6-2, 202

Boston (NHL) GP 20 G 3 A 4 PTS 7 PIM 6

Providence (AHL) GP 22 G 5 A 8 PTS 13 PIM 12

Caron impressed with the big club after beginning the season in Boston but got off to a slow start offensively when sent to Providence. He’s been rounding into form much better over the past month.

2. Jared Knight, RW London Knights (OHL) 5-11, 200

London (OHL) GP 44 G 19 A 29 PTS 48 PIM 29

An injured foot at Bruins training camp slowed him down to start the season, but Knight has been on a tear since the calendar switched over to 2011. The 32nd overall pick by Boston and 2010 has been London’s big leader since several key veterans were dealt at the OHL trade deadline.

3. Max Sauve, LW Providence Bruins 6-2, 190

Providence (AHL) GP 26 G 12 A 5 PTS 17 PIM 8

After missing nearly two months with a broken wrist, Sauve has returned to action with a flourish, establishing himself as Providence’s most dangerous offensive player. His speed, hands and attacking style make him one of Rob Murray’s few game-breakers, but his ability to stay healthy is biggest question mark going forward.

4. Ryan Spooner, C Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) 5-10, 180

Peterborough (OHL) GP 14 G 10 A 9 PTS 19 PIM 2

Kingston (OHL) GP 27 G 17 A 15 PTS 32 PIM 2

The most dynamic and offensively gifted of Boston’s prospects forced a trade from Peterborough and has ridden a roller coaster of highs and lows with Doug Gilmour’s Frontenacs squad. After racking up five goals and nine points in three games last weekend, he appears to be back on track, but still must work on his defensive zone play.

5. Joe Colborne, C Providence Bruins (AHL) 6-5, 220

Providence (AHL) GP 45 G 11 A 13 PTS 24 PIM 28

It’s been an up-and-down season for the rookie pro who has impressive size and skills, but struggles to maintain consistency and intensity levels despite some highlight plays on offense. Colborne is a hard worker off the ice, but that attitude does not always show in games, where he can look like he’s floating and uninvolved in the physical game.

6. Jamie Arniel, C Providence Bruins (AHL) 5-11, 190

Boston (NHL) GP 1 G 0 A 0 PTS 0 PIM 0

Providence (AHL) GP 44 G 14 A 15 PTS 29 PIM 14

Already having eclipsed his output from ‘09-10 (12 goals, 28 points), Arniel has been Providence’s most consistent forward. It’s been a strong sophomore campaign for the two-way center, who played his 1st NHL game as an injury recall and was recently named to the AHL All-Star Game to replace Steven Kampfer, who looks to be with Boston for the duration.

7. Matt Bartkowski, D Providence Bruins (AHL) 6-2, 205

Boston (NHL) GP 2 G 0 A 0 PTS 0 PIM 2

Providence (AHL) GP 39 G 4 A 10 PTS 14 PIM 27

After being the last cut at training camp, Bartkowski struggled a little in Providence to start the season, but has played well since making adjustments. With good size, mobility and an edge, he earned a couple of callups to Boston (both games came against his hometown Pittsburgh Penguins) and is on the right track to be an NHL regular soon.

8. David Warsofsky, D Boston University Terriers (Hockey East) 5-9, 175

Boston University (HE) GP 24 G 6 A 12 PTS 18 PIM 30

Marshfield, Mass. native acquired from St. Louis in a trade for Vladimir Sobotka last June is small but skilled, scrappy and a natural leader on that Terriers squad as a junior. His goal production is down from a year ago (12), but is on pace to pass his season best of 23 points set as both a freshman and sophomore. If the junior offensive defender returns to BU for his senior season, he’s a strong candidate to be coach Jack Parker’s (Somerville, Mass.) captain.

9. Yury Alexandrov, D Providence Bruins (AHL) 6-0, 190

Providence (AHL) GP 43 G 5 A 9 PTS 14 PIM 24

It’s hard to get a read on the former second-round selection in 2006. He’s not a dynamic skater by any means, but has very good hands and offensive hockey sense. He moves the puck well and is involved in transition, but defense is an issue. Came to North America playing a man-to-man style as opposed to zone, and his coaches believe that he was a little lost in translation at first. Although learning English, the adjustment to the AHL has been slower in coming than hoped, but the Russian has a good attitude and has been willing to work.

10. Ryan Button, D Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL) 6-1, 190

Prince Albert (WHL) GP 44 G 3 A 20 PTS 23 PIM 31

Seattle (WHL) GP 5 G 0 A 2 PTS 2 PIM 8

Moved from the constraints of Prince Albert’s defense-first system at the WHL trade deadline, Button was adjusting to his new team in Seattle when he suffered an upper body injury and will be out another few weeks. Button’s potential should not be judged on the statistical output: he’s a very good skater who makes a strong first-pass and has two-way potential at the highest level. It’s been hard to get a read on him and until he goes to Providence and can perhaps spread his wings a bit, the outlook is conservative.

You can read about 11-35 in the original post found here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bruins 2011 Draft: The Case for Dougie Hamilton

In December, we debuted a new monthly feature on the Bruins 2011 Draft Watch blog: the "case for" series, where we take a strong position on a particular player who will likely be available to the team with that first-round pick of Toronto's.

The idea is to use the kind of reasoning, metrics and techniques that NHL teams use in the process of evaluating players for the draft and building their lists to make an effective argument for why the player would make sense for Boston.

At the time of this post's creation, the Bruins would currently own the fifth overall selection in the 2011 draft. This does not take the lottery into account, which will be held after the the end of the regular season. A team can move up a maximum of four spots, so the B's do have a chance to secure the top overall selection, even if their odds are not in their favor (8.1% as the 5th position).

So, without further ado, here is the January edition of what is a complete analysis that can be applied to most NHL teams in terms of thought process, even if you aren't a Bruins fan.

It is time to make the case for: Niagara Ice Dogs defenseman Dougie Hamilton.

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

Adam Larsson, Gabriel Landeskog, Sean Couturier and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have all heard their names called and taken their places on the draft stage in Minnesota. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman notifies the building that the Boston Bruins are now on the clock with the fifth overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

It is widely believed that the Bruins wanted Landeskog with their first selection, but being unable to make a move up to get the talented Swedish power forward, have now set their sights on their second target, one who will best address an organizational need to their line of thinking.

After a few minutes of discussing possibly moving down from the fifth spot and fielding final offers from prospective teams, the Boston Bruins organizational team and front office walk to the stage from their table, holding a Boston Bruins jersey with the digits "11" emblazoned on the back and sleeves, but GM Peter Chiarelli is careful to keep the nameplate the team has had made obstructed and hidden from the view of prying eyes until he makes the official announcement.

Taking the stage along with Charlie Jacobs, President Cam Neely, both Assistant GMs in Jim Benning and Don Sweeney, plus player personnel director Scott Bradley and amateur scouting chief Wayne Smith, Chiarelli walks to the podium to announce the pick.

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

"With the fifth pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins select, from the Niagara Ice Dogs of the Ontario Hockey League...defenseman Dougie Hamilton."

Although the diminutive but ultra-skilled defenseman Ryan Murphy is rapidly becoming a household name among hardcore Bruins fans who are paying attention to the NHL draft and permutations, Hamilton has a physical package that Murphy can never possess: a 6-4 frame with the potential to play at 220-230 pounds when he reaches his maturation peak. Murphy's time will come in a future edition of the "case for" series, but for January, the argument will be made for his OHL rival, Hamilton.

Dougie Hamilton, D Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL)


Height: 6-4 Weight: 195 Shoots: Right
Born: June 17, 1993 in Toronto, Ontario

Son of Doug and Lynn Hamilton, both Canadian Olympians and standouts in World Championship competition for their respective sports, neither of which was hockey (Doug in rowing, Lynn in basketball). Older brother and Niagara teammate Freddie was a fifth-round selection (129th overall) of the San Jose Sharks in 2010. Was a 2nd Team OHL All-Rookie and Ice Dogs Rookie of the Year in the '09-10 season. Also earned the OHL's recognition for top scholastic player (Ivan Tennant Award) with a 97 percent average at Governor Simcoe School in St. Catharines,Ontario where the Ice Dogs are based and captured the award again in '10-11. Scored 3 goals and 16 points as a rookie, and already has 8 goals, 41 points in 44 games in his second OHL season in a dramatic jump in offensive production over just one season. Participated in the NHL's first Research and Development Camp held in Toronto back in August. Won a gold medal for Team Canada's Under-18 Team at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in Slovakia in August.

Strengths: Sizeable frame with long limbs; grew about two inches and added about 10 pounds of muscle last summer-- developing on an impressive physical curve, with another expected jump when he turns 18 in June. Very good skater with strong, power-generating stride and the ability to cover a lot of ground. Good footwork and directional change ability despite his size and high center of gravity. A right-shooting defenseman who generates very good power and torque on his shot. Unleashed a howitzer drive in the Top Prospects Game that eluded goaltender David Honzik and clanked in off the far post-- a testament to his potential as a power play triggerman at the highest level. Aggressive in the offensive zone; will jump on loose pucks and take them to the net; has become increasingly involved in the Niagara attack and is producing at nearly a point-per-game. Makes a pretty strong, crisp first pass and can help with the transition game. Good physical presence: will use his size to staple opponents to the boards. Not a huge open-ice hitter, but initiates contact and embraces the tighter-checking situations. Bright, intelligent kid who carries himself well and is a good teammate. Learns from his mistakes. Tremendous athletic bloodlines passed down from both father and mother; grew up in a disciplined house and already understands the commitment and dedication needed to be a top echelon athlete.

Here are some video clips of Hamilton doing what he does best:

Goal against Oshawa on pass from older brother Freddie (goal clips thanks to NHLDraftVideo)

One more on a feed from fellow draft candidate Ryan Strome:

Top-shelf sauce against Sudbury

NHL.com video on Hamilton: In his own words (courtesy NHL.com)

Weaknesses: Defense is a work in progress: switched from forward to defense at about 13-14 years of age, so is still figuring out the nuances. Prone to trying to do too much in his own end, can get to running around-- needs to keep things simple. Not much of a fighter; will drop the gloves if provoked, but technique is lacking and does not appear comfortable in that kind of setting, using size/strength to grapple as opposed to punching effectively.

Style Compares to: Jay Bouwmeester. Although not as outstanding a skater as the Calgary Flames standout, Hamilton moves very well for someone with his size.

Why the Bruins would pick Hamilton: He may not have Murphy's dynamic, game-breaking element, but Dougie has what Murphy, no matter how hard he works, can never possess: prototypical NHL size and strength to play the defense position. Even if Hamilton's upside is not as high as Murphy's, he's a safer pick because he's clearly going to play in an NHL team's rotation somewhere and the worry that he might only be a specialist doesn't factor into the argument for Hamilton. He's a Bruins type of player in that he's big, skates well, has a high character and also fits an organizational need. The B's have a group of middle tier defenders in their system, but no clear-cut blue-chippers at the position. David Warsofsky shows a lot of promise offensively, but his size works against him. Matt Bartkowski and Ryan Button have decent enough size and skill, but lack the pure upside to be much more than No. 3/4 projections right now. Hamilton would instantly move to the top of the team's depth chart for defensemen given his all-around package of size, production and intelligence.

Why the Bruins would not pick Hamilton: If they have a player like Murphy rated higher and believe in the Kitchener defender's potential to be an NHL regular, then Hamilton would be a step down, and the B's would likely opt for the little dynamo. As strong as Hamilton is as a two-way blue liner, he's not all that instinctive and is still learning the position (just as Murphy is), so the fear in some circles is that Hamilton could be a 'tweener who brings good size and mobility to the mix, but never quite figures it out. Based on what we're hearing from scouts, that should not be an issue, but he's still a bit raw and is probably not ready to step in and play right away.

What scouts are saying:

"Hamilton...I love that kid. He's a two-way beast. He'll nail you, play physically in the defensive end, he can take the puck and go end-to-end with it. He can quarterback the power play. I think he's actually better as the triggerman on the power play-- he's got a big shot. He's approaching Larsson's level. Larsson's been there a couple of years, whereas Hamilton's development curve is heading straight up. So, Hamilton, I'd be shocked if he made it out of the top-eight picks this year."- Kyle Woodlief, Chief Scout and Publisher, Red Line Report; December 2010

"Dougie's size and mobility are his best attributes. He's got a long reach as well, which makes it really difficult for opponents to get by him. I have to say I've been pleasantly surprised at the offense from him this season- I didn't see that coming based on last year. That said, is it going to translate to the NHL? That's a debate we've had and will continue to talk about, because it's going to play into how high he goes in the draft. Obviously, if you think he's going to put up numbers in the NHL, then you're looking at a top-five pick, easily. But, if not, then you've got some tougher decisions to make with him, I think."- NHL scout to Bruins 2011 Draft Watch; January 2011

Bust factor: Low to medium; Hamilton will play in the NHL; he's too big and mobile not to at least reach that level. But, the team who drafts him does so thinking they are getting a solid No. 2 maybe even a No. 1 someday. So, if he fails to live up to those expectations, depending on where he gets picked, Hamilton could be a bit of a disappointment someday. However, given his intelligence and work ethic, it's tough to bet against him.

The Verdict: If you factor organizational need into the equation, you can make a convincing case for Hamilton as Boston's best player available (BPA) at fifth overall, even if he lacks the game-breaker element of a Murphy. It would be hard for a team like the Bruins to pass on Hamilton's enticing package, and the thought of one day pairing him with Zdeno Chara, where he can be both a shutdown-type of player with the ability to get the puck up the ice and help with the attack is something that the Bruins desperately need. Even if he's playing on a different pairing than Chara, Hamilton's 6-4 frame would make him one of Boston's bigger guys and a threat to break it out. The fact that he shoots right is even more appealing, giving the Bruins two powerful shooters from the point to feed off each other.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Red Line Report scout Radim Jelinek interview: 2011 Eastern Europe draft prospects midseason report Pt. 2

We're back with the second part of the interview with Red Line Report Czech/Slovak scout Radim Jelinek.

Be sure to check out Part 1 if you haven't seen it yet.

This is a pretty lean year for Czech and Slovak players in the NHL draft who aren't already over in North America this season, playing major junior hockey and in Czech forward Petr Placek's case, prep hockey in New England for Damon White's Hotchkiss club.

Radim will now detail the Slovak and Russian crops and we'll look ahead to 2012 and beyond, with a taste of things to come in the future out of Eastern Europe.

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch: With Slovak forwards Tomas Jurco and Marek Tvrdon (among others) in North America this season (and Tvrdon injured for the rest of the year), is defenseman Peter Ceresnak someone to keep an eye on as a draft option from Slovakia who is still playing in Europe this season?

Radim Jelinek: I won´t be surprised if Ceresnak is first and the only one Slovak still playing in Europe selected in June in Minnesota. However I´m not a big fan of him and I´m personally much more interested in 6-4 tall D from Kosice Martin Gernat who also belongs into the group of sleepers I mentioned in previous answer. Gernat is a smooth skater with fluid stride and decent footwork for his size. Has very good vision and hands, moves the puck well, handles the puck with confidence making solid decision with puck. Likes to join the rush regularly and shows good instinct in sliding from the point into scoring positions. Just started developing physical play in his game, still very inconsistent using his body, needs to play aggressive, physical game all the time. When he uses it then he is tough to beat 1 on 1, angles forwards to the outside, tights forward up at the boards, hits hard. Lacks strength right now and still growing but has frame to fill it out. D-zone coverage is still very average, needs to read the play better defensively, improve positional play and play much tighter game. Very raw but I like his progress throughout the season and see some similar things in his game as in Martin Marincin´s. He is far from him as Marincin was first rounder in my eyes while Gernat is later-round pick but upside is there.

On the other hand, Ceresnak is already well built physically, strong on skates. Feet are a bit slow and heavy, passes are firm and can make good outlet but not smart or creative with puck. Defensively he is strong in battles and is tough to beat in 1 on 1 situations. However doesn´t read the play in own zone, when opposing forwards start cycling, collide each other, shift spots then he is not able to read those situations properly, picks up wrong player consistently, gets out of position, wanders around own zone without his player.

B2011DW: How does the crop of Russian players look to you this season? Maxim Shalunov and Zakhar Arzamastsev are the highest-ranked players who stayed in Russia-- can you talk about those two and what chances they have to be drafted in June?

RJ: As I already said before, I personally consider Russian crop without all CHL-ers as extremely weak. I don´t see many NHL prospects behind Shalunov and Arzamastsev, at least those who are first year eligible. Both mentioned guys are the best Russians, at least for now.

Shalunov has first round tools but no toolbox, classical Russian enigmatic player. February´s Five nation tournament and then World U-18 champs could have great impact on where he is selected in June. He is a big, powerful winger built like a tank, when he plays with passion he goes through checks, finishes checks and drives the net hard. Soft hands, can beat D with variety of moves off the rush and cuts to the net from wide. Hard wrist shot with quick release. Deceptive skater, first steps are very short and stride is wide and a bit short but has actually good speed and strong on skates. Problem is that he lacks intensity, invisible for longer periods with zero effort off the puck. Lazy on backcheck and plays very selfishly trying low percentage 1 on 1 flashy moves all the time.

Arzamastsev is more of offensive D who runs the PP well, sees the ice well and can make good first pass out of zone. Handles the puck well and good thought process with puck. Okay skater, doesn´t initiate contact much but not afraid of physical play. From mid to later-round prospect. Last guy I should mention is winger Nikita Kucherov. Not big but doesn´t stop trying to make something offensively, good skills. Has good hands and quick and shifty skater, creates separation and moves his feet. Not more then potential late-rounder though.

B2011DW: With high-end Russians like Alexander Khokhlachev and Vladislav Namestnikov in North America this season, have you heard talk of more Russian and Eastern European players like G David Honzik leaving their clubs to play in the CHL to try and improve their chances of being picked high in the NHL?

RJ: I haven´t heard anything particular yet, no specific names but I don´t doubt that tendency from several previous seasons will continue and some of the top Czechs and Russians(and also some other who should better stay home) will come over next summer. One of the reason for so many Russians coming over to play in CHL nowadays could be the fact the if they leave as 17 year old and spend three years there, then they become free agent in KHL.

By the way, annual exodus of majority of top Czech/Slovakian NHL prospect to CHL before their draft year became big problem(along with outdated system of players development and inability to bring up new generation of good players) for future of many Czechoslovakian NHL scouts. I counted 8 local scouts losing their job mostly because of that in last couple of years. Scouts understand reasons why very young players tend to leave so early and mostly approve of that step but in the end they get into very bad situation (partially) because of that.

B2011: Kosice defenseman Tomas Tkac is 144th on the Red Line rankings this month; a 6-5, 180-pounder is interesting. What can you tell people about his game and possible upside?

RJ: Uff, I was probably too ecstatic after first two viewing before Christmas. Tall guy who came absolutely out of nowhere, just converted into defenceman… Early on he impressed me with solid thought process with the puck, decent mobility for huge D, steady puck movement, willingness to get involved physically in battles. However when I have seen him this month, he looked very awkward, lacking coordination, choppy handling the puck, having no idea how to play defence in own zone. I still think that he is worth of keeping an eyes on him next year if there is any progress in his game but right now Ican´t imagine him as legitimate draft prospect.

B2011DW: Looking ahead to 2012 and beyond, Martin Frk is certainly one player attracting attention, but are there players still over in your area of expertise in Europe who are worth noting and keeping an eye on 18 months from now?

RJ: There are certainly prospects worth of keeping an eye for 2012 but I haven´t seen another Dmitri Jaskin yet. Actually 94´birthyear is considered as weaker in Czech. Tomas Hertl(late 93´) is probably the best but needs to stay healthy. He is big and strong creative playmaker with soft hands, excellent stick skills, vision, smartness. Smooth skater with speed, agility, balance. Slick with puck in tight, tough to separate off the puck, shields the puck very well.

I also like natural tools of tall goalie Marek Langhammer, puck skills and offensive upside of tall D Ronald Knot, Michal Plutnar and Karel Plasil. Among forwards I could mention names like Radek Faksa, Dominik Volek(David Volek´s son) or Patrik Machac but I don´t see another Michal Frolik, Jakub Voracek or David Krejci. I should also note that outside of Frk, several other promising 2012 eligible already play in USHL: Zehnal twins or Adam Chlapik.

It looks like very poor year for Slovaks next season conversely to 2013 which could be strong year for Slovakian forwards(but many things could happen in next 30 months) with names like Marko Dano, Matej Paulovic, Tomas Torok, Martin Reway, Patrik Koys.

Special thanks once again to Radim for taking time out of his busy schedule to provide such detailed answers on players that most of us have little to no access to.

If you have any specific questions, email me or post comment and I will try to pass them along to Radim for clarification.

Be sure to visit the Draft Watch blog tomorrow (Tuesday) for the next part in the "Case For" series, where we will break out a candidate for that Toronto pick at the top of the 1st round and why that player would make sense for Boston.

For Red Line Report subscription information, you can visit their website at www.redlinereport.com

Waffle Watch: 2011 Boston Bruins draft pick update; 24 Jan.

Pretty good week for the Waffle Watch--

The Maple Leafs managed just one win in three, while the New Jersey Devils gained some ground, winning three and pulling to within eight points of Toronto. If only the Devils hadn't tanked so badly after Jacques Lemaire's arrival, losing seven of eight in late Dec./early Jan. to fall deep into the cellar. They're now just one point behind Edmonton and two behind the Islanders...playing themselves out of that top overall pick.

The Florida Panthers are four points ahead of the Leafs for the sixth draft position, and Buffalo has a three-win lead. The bad news is that the Ottawa Senators look like they are solidly in the tank, along with Edmonton. The chances of Ottawa finishing higher than Toronto seem to be right where the New York Jets visions of a Super Bowl parade this year are- not happening.

As for the Islanders, they put in a claim for goaltender Evgeni Nabokov after the Detroit Red Wings signed him, but the Russian veteran has refused to report. Nabokov on Long Island likely would have helped them gain some points in the standings, but it appears that ship has sailed. As a side note, Nabokov's lack of professionalism almost makes you hope he never plays another NHL game again. Yes, he signed to play with Detroit, but he handled the situation about as poorly as anyone could, refusing to take Islanders GM Garth Snow's calls yet trumpeting his intentions to sit out to media sources who tracked him down. Weak. Sauce.

So that means that in all likelihood, the best Boston can hope for is the 5th overall selection, which will probably put them square in the running for defensemen Dougie Hamilton or Ryan Murphy, or power forward Brandon Saad. If they want to get Gabriel Landeskog, they'll need to win the lottery or make a trade up a few spots to get the Kitchener captain.

Worst case is the Bruins falling to 7th or 8th, but Toronto would need to go on a heck of a run to catch the teams ahead of them. Possible, but harder to do for them to gain that kind of ground with the team they have.

We shall see.

1st Round
5th overall- Toronto (43 points; 19-23-5)- Completes Phil Kessel trade.
25th overall- Boston (61 points; 27-14-7) (Boston moves to 25th by virtue of third seed- Northeast Division lead with fewest points of division leaders even though technically lower than other teams in standings)

2nd Round
43rd overall- Minnesota (53 points;24-19-5)- Completes Chuck Kobasew trade.
55th overall- Boston

3rd Round
78th overall- Phoenix (57 points; 24-16-9) - Completes Derek Morris trade.
Boston pick traded to Florida; Completes Nathan Horton deal

4th Round
115th overall- Boston

5th Round
145th overall- Boston

6th Round
175th overall- Boston

7th Round
186th overall- Florida (conditional 36 pts; 17-17-2)- Jeff LoVecchio, Jordan Knackstedt to Panthers for Sean Zimmerman, cond. 7th
Boston pick traded to Chicago (Zach Trotman)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Red Line Report scout Radim Jelinek interview: 2011 Eastern Europe draft prospects midseason report Pt. 1

As promised, here is part 1 of the interview I just conducted with Radim Jelinek, Czech/Slovak scout for Red Line Report in his 9th season with the independent draft review. In his own words:

I´m based on the east of Czech republic covering all action in Czech republic and Slovakia. I scout professional and junior (U-20, U-18) leagues in both countries and take all international actions held in both countries. Plus if there is any interesting event/prospect in neighboring countries(Germany, Austria, Poland) than I even go there to cover it.

As mentioned in the previous post, Radim has a very good reputation in the business and has a nice eye for talent. I'll let him do the rest of the talking.

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch: How would you characterize the 2011 NHL Draft class from Eastern Europe based on what you have seen so far? How does it compare to past classes in terms of depth?

Radim Jelinek: It´s poor year for Russia unless there are some hidden gems deep in Russia, prospects who haven´t appeared on international stage yet. It´s necessary to say that this year´s crop would be much better with all Russians already playing in CHL ((Vladislav) Namestnikov, (Andrey) Pedan, (Alexander) Khokhlachev, (Anton) Zlobin, Kuvaev, (Andrei) Makarov). Still even with all those mentioned names, Russia would lack depth. Russian hockey is still able to produce a few top NHL prospects every year but they don´t produce by far as many NHL prospects as in the past, (and they) especially stopped producing good defencemen.

As far as Czech and Slovaks, it is concerning; it´s slightly better than in previous two or three years in terms of depth, there are more prospects who are worth of scouting then in previous years but barring Dmitri Jaskin they are mostly sleepers and long-term projects who won´t be more than later round picks and I actually don´t expect many of them being picked up in June. Speaking about top prospects however, it´s as bad as in several previous seasons, Jaskin is alone this year as well as Martin Marincin a year before. And two years before there were only Panik and Tatar. I have to remark again that things would look differently with (David) Musil, (Tomas) Jurco, (Marek) Tvrdon, (David) Honzik (all having left Europe and playing in the CHL) and some other less heralded kids(Stransky, Galansky, Matej Machovsky, Hrbas, Uher).

B2011DW: In the January issue of Red Line Report, Dmitri Jaskin is 35th overall. Does that have more to do with the fact that he's been injured while other players on the list have been able to perform?

RJ: Absolutely. And actually, no way there is 34 better prospects than Jaskin. I believe he would be top 20 right now if he had not hurt his knee in November. I´m big fan of guys like (Tobias) Rieder or (Sven) Bärtschi but if I could judge them by last season(which could be misguided) and compare them with Jaskin, then I would definitely prefer Jaskin over the mentioned pair. Right now I rate Jaskin higher than Joel Armia, another big European winger.

B2011DW: For those not familiar with Jaskin, can you talk a little bit about what kind of player he is and how he projects in the NHL in your opinion?

RJ: Jaskin is a complete package; skating is a certain drawback, as he lacks smooth stride and looks awkward at times but has deceptive speed, is strong on his skates and is able to get where he needs to be. He is strong on the puck, tough to separate off the puck down low. Goes through checks and tough to handle physically, shields the puck well. Excellent puck puck control in tight space and very good hands in close to the net. Very creative with the puck, anticipates well, has vision and soft hands, passes are crisp. Drives the net, very instinctive player around the net with scoring touch, looks for tips and rebounds close to the net. Quick release of his wrist shot. Finishes all checks causing (defenders) to throw the puck away, creating turnovers plus absorbs checks well, tough to knock him down.Very solid defensively, responsible in own zone and make good decision with puck in own zone showing poise and hockey sense, smart and poised with puck around own blue line, does even the small things well. Has enthusiasm for the game, always plays hard, strong competitor, plays with heart and character.

B2011DW: After Jaskin, who are the players from the Czech Republic you're keeping an eye on for the 2011 draft? Where do you think they stand a chance of being picked in the draft?

RJ: After Jaskin, there is bunch of prospects who I regard as sleepers; guys with long-term potential/upside however alll having serious flaw. Here belongs: Jaroslav Pavelka, athletic, flexible goalie with quick gloves, strong reflexes and excellent legs. Needs to work on technique and improve reading and anticipation. Already 6-1 with potential to add another inch or two.

Then there is the revelation of this season, tall and lanky scoring winger Daniel Pribyl. Has quick and soft hands, beats D regularly 1 on 1 with nifty moves and dekes off the rush and creates separation in tight with strong puck control and finesse stick skills. Smart and quick release of wrist shot. Not developed physically yet and doesn´t use his size enough, okay in puck pursuit and not afraid to play in traffic but rarely finishes checks and doesn´t win many battles for puck. Next, undersized winger Tomas Hyka who is smart, skilled, instinctive but physically very weak, and doesn´t like to take hit/avoids contact at times. Soft touch on his passes, quick soft hands, slick with puck, anticipates very well. Very good wheels, quick burst of speed and first steps, agile. Smooth handling the puck in top speed, has vision finishing touch , makes creative sets-up through traffic.

My personal ultimate sleeper is for the second season in row 92´born playmaking center Tomas Nosek who has skills, size, smartness, vision, skating, creativity to be NHL player. The question is if he has enough determination and heart to make it. Long term project who will need time to develop but has all the tools to be player in about five years, plus has made nice improvement since injury-plagued last season.

And there are some other players who could hear their name pronounced in June in at the draft table like center Lukas Sedlak(biggest disappointment of the season), enigmatic winger Vaclav Tomek, hardworking, character defenceman Tomas Pavelka, soon (to be) 20-year-old puck moving D Jakub Jerabek or pair of older goalies Marek Mazanec(despite of subpar World juniors) – Roman Will. However unless they really dazzle at international stage in remainder of the season, no one will be more than later-round pick.

My personal opinion is that while 10 years ago Czech prospects were slightly overrated as Czech reigned the world of hockey, now they are on the contrary slightly underrated and underscouted as a result of a big crisis of Czech hockey. Undoubtedly some of the mentioned guys would have better chance to get drafted if they were Swedes and not Czechs.

We'll have Part 2-- a look at Slovakia and some options for 2012 and beyond on Monday.

For Red Line Report subscription information, you can visit their website at www.redlinereport.com

2011 draft Eastern Europe midseason prospects review coming soon

This is a teaser post just to let you know that I conducted an interview with Red Line Report scout Radim Jelinek about the draft options from Czech/Slovakia and more and will have that two-part series up tonight and concluding tomorrow.

Be sure to check back here this evening for Part 1, and then Monday for Part 2. Monday's always a heavy content day for the Draft Watch blog what, with the Waffle Watch update and news from the weekend games hitting the street.

But, trust me-- you'll want to read what Radim is saying because he's always had excellent insights. He was saying that David Krejci and Vladimir Sobotka were the real deal before anyone in North America even got a look at them. Conversely, he went out of his way to tell me how bad a pick Lukas Vantuch was when the Bruins made it back in 2005.

So, he's done good work for Red Line since 2002, and will bring you some nice detail and perspective on his area of expertise.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

You knew Nathan Beaulieu was a good defenseman...

...but did you know how well he could lay the smackdown?

If you're a Sea Dogs supporter, you're probably well aware of the fact that he can throw 'em, but for the rest of you, here's a little treat from today's game vs. Chicoutimi.

Alexandre Roy's face definitely got the worst of that exchange with Nathan Beaulieu. I'm no fight expert, but I would have to say that it was a bad move on Roy's part to stick his glove in Beaulieu's face...and then keep it there. Just sayin'.

Beaulieu is coming on after a tough start this season, and he's a guy to watch on that Saint John ensemble cast Gerard Gallant has rolling there in the Maritimes.

Thanks to hockeyfightsplus for the video.

Jagger Dirk: A Guy You Should Know

He's probably the best name to come along in the NHL draft since Wacey Rabbit, but Kootenay defenseman Jagger Dirk is quietly making a name for himself in the WHL.

If the last name sounds familiar, it's because his father, Robert Dirk, was a solid, dependable NHL defenseman who played more than 400 games for the Blues, Canucks, Blackhawks, Ducks and Canadiens in the late 80's through mid-90's.

The younger Dirk doesn't possess impressive size- listed at only around 6-feet and 180 pounds, but his pops played at 6-4, 210 so chances are, he hasn't quite finished growing, even though he'll likely top out at 6-1 or 6-2 if he isn't done. His skating is average-- unremarkable, but not flawed. He makes up for any perceived lack of jump or burst with good anticipation and on-ice judgment.

Dirk's game is all about smarts and positioning at this point. He's not a high-profile player who racks up a lot of points for the Ice, but uses body leverage and his stick to neutralize chances. His four goals and 15 points in 46 games is nothing to write home about, but this is a 17-year-old defender we're talking about. There could be some upside with this kid.

Red Line Report has Dirk 14th on their mid-season WHL prospects update, published in their January 2011 issue, and while Dirk doesn't look to be a guy you would take in the top-90, starting in Round 4, he could become an attractive option for any team looking for a potential minute-eater and mid-to-late round gem. RLR says he needs to improve his physicality, but as I recall when watching his dad, he wasn't a big hitter either-- just used his size and strength to rub opponents out or pin them along the boards. Strong defense isn't always about laying the big hits, and the junior Dirk appears to have a good feel for the defensive side of things and is a good teammate. Oh, and he'll drop the gloves, too-- always a bonus for those fans of "old time hockey".

If he were bigger, I would expect that Dirk would be higher in the rankings. Central didn't list him in their top-210 for mid-season, but then again, a year ago, they didn't have Dirk's Kootenay teammate, Joey Leach, anywhere on their mid-term list either, and by the final rankings, Leach was a big entry on their list. Leach went a lot higher to Calgary in the 2010 draft- 3rd round, 73rd overall. Central loves Portland D Tyler Wotherspoon, who is 33rd on their overall list, but other NHL scouting sources and even Red Line aren't huge fans of Wotherspoon and his lack of upside at this point- RLR has Wotherspoon just 19th on their WHL list- 106th overall.

Dirk is 74th overall on the RLR January rankings, which is probably higher than he'll go come June. But the thing about scouting in hockey is that there are often times players who may get on a team's wish list, even when it appears nobody else is onto them. Dirk may just be a Red Line fave, but don't discount Western scouts for NHL clubs seeing the potential in his heady, selfless game, either.

So, keep an eye on Jagger Dirk, if for no other reason, his name will stick with you, and we'll see if his name is called in Minnesota and where. He seems to have many of the qualities NHL teams are looking for in their defenders.

Here's a fight between two kids whose dads skated against one another in Dirk and Keegan Lowe (son of Kevin)

Dirk loses this one, but comes to the defense of his teammate and gave away a lot of size and reach

Friday, January 21, 2011

Guess who's 4-0-1 in their last five games?

The New Jersey Devils, that's who!

They're still in the NHL's cellar with just 31 points, and that horrific seven losses in Jacques Lemaire's first 8 games as coach really put them behind the 8-ball.

But, they're only 6 wins- 12 points behind the Leafs. Um, yeah- that's a lot of ground to make up and expect the Devils to have a legitimate chance to not only catch the Leafs, but push them down in the standings. But if you're a Bruins fan, then just watch this clip and let the powers of positivity and optimism flow through you! (And remember- Zach Parise will be back in March for a boost assuming Lou Lamoriello doesn't blow it up)

CHL Top Prospects Game Analysis: Team Orr- the forwards

Here's the final analysis post series of the 2011 CHL Top Prospects Game, closing out with the victorious Team Orr forwards.

Jonathan Huberdeau, C Saint John (QMJHL)-- The Ryan Strome of the Quebec league in terms of a player who is blowing expectations out of the water; Huberdeau is rising fast (and his 4th overall Central ranking is much more in line with his potential than where they had Strome) --just having a sensational season for the Sea Dogs. Watching him a little last year, you knew he had the height, hands and creativity to be a skilled offensive pivot, but the revelation this season has been the way he's filling the net. Wednesday's top prospects game was no exception, as he pounced on David Musil's rebound, patiently waited for a sprawling Christopher Gibson to take himself out of the play and then slid the puck into the open cage. That kind of poise and patience is a hallmark of any legitimate goal scorer. Huberdeau has a long, fluid stride and is one of those players who the puck seems to follow around the ice. He got into some physical shoving matches and didn't back down. His meteoric rise reminds me a bit of another Quebecois center in 2006- Derick Brassard, who secured top-10 draft billing with Columbus after an outstanding second-half of the season and playoffs. The difference with Huberdeau is-- he's been doing it all year. This kid is a stud; he plays with some real swagger and I love his intelligence and fire.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C Red Deer (WHL)-- B2011DW has been a fan of the 'Nuge since watching video of him from last season. Like Huberdeau, Team Orr's captain had a statement game in which he made a lot of things happen offensively for Orr. Granted, it was one game, and you can see why he's one of the top scorers amongst the draft-eligible forwards this year. He's an elite skater, with instant acceleration and outstanding top-end speed and the shifty elusiveness that you want to see from the small-to-average sized guys, which is what he is. RNH is a terrific puckhandler, and with his superior vision and offensive hockey sense, he's a going concern most nights. The top prospects game also revealed an aspect of a little of the frustration some scouts have expressed about him off-line: he made several brilliant plays to set up goals, but didn't show much finish and wasn't able to find the shooting lanes to provide evidence that his 13 goals this season are an aberration. There's some risk with the 'Nuge because as highly skilled as he is, his size deficit could work against him in the NHL. The curious lack of goal scoring (though he's coming through with more than an assist per game) is something that will be talked about in a lot of NHL war rooms this spring, but make no mistake-- he's a top-four pick come June.

Vladislav Namestnikov, C London (OHL)-- The Knights pivot got into the game ahead of another offensively gifted Russian in Windsor's Alexander Khokhlachev, but showed off some of his slick puck moves and offensive potential. He assisted on Dougie Hamilton's goal by gaining the zone along the right wall, putting on the brakes to shake the defender, and then hitting the Niagara defenseman with a perfect cross-ice feed that Hamilton was able to power through. You can see that he has magical hands and the ability to do some really cool things in the offensive zone because he's more of a slippery center who has that innate ability to elude the would-be checker and find his open teammate for a quality scoring chance. Namestnikov did not come off as well as RNH and Huberdeau, but he helped himself with an active, involved game.

Boone Jenner, C Oshawa (OHL)-- This game was very typical of what Jenner is as a player: solid, productive but unremarkable. Jenner isn't a great skater, but has gotten to the point at least where any deficiencies are not noticeable, according to one NHL scout who expressed some serious concerns before the season about Jenner's wheels. He does hustle, however, and his heart and willingness to work the proverbial bag off all the time go a long way toward erasing any concerns that may linger about the skating. He's a pretty straight-line player: A to B without a lot of flash and dash. And, you don't necessarily find yourself drawn to him during a game, but at the end of the night, you look at the boxscore and there he is, with a couple of points. That's how his top prospects performance looked on video-- you heard his name, but didn't really notice him all that much, until the puck ended up in the net and you realized that he was in on the play. He's got intangibles, and doesn't seem like much of a fit for the Bruins given how stacked they are at center, but you never know. One thing seems certain, though-- some NHL team will call Jenner's name early enough in the draft. The biggest question with him is upside, but given the work he's done to get his skating more where it needs to be, don't bet against this guy.

Lucas Lessio, C/W Oshawa (OHL)-- A fellow General with Jenner and Team Cherry forward Nicklas Jensen, Lessio is what I would call the "Anti-Jenner" in that he's about the same size as his fellow center (6-1, 190+) but certainly is blessed with an inordinate amount of natural skating ability and quick stick/offensive prowess. It's the work ethic, intensity and consistency which seem to be lacking. Lessio didn't do a whole lot in the game, to be honest. Yes, because he's got good wheels, you heard his name a few times and he was in and around the play in the Cherry end, but I thought his play was pretty similar to what I saw from him on New Year's Day. He's noticeable in stretches simply because he's too talented a player not to be, but he comes off lazy and uninvolved at times. I know this sounds bad, and in Lessio's defense, it's really hard to get a read on a player just by watching on television. This guy is a prototypical NHL forward in terms of the physical tools and skills, but he's got some maturing to do.

Colin Jacobs, C Seattle (WHL)-- A pretty nondescript performance overall, although the Texas native did show off some good skating ability playing on a line with Brandon Saad and Vince Trocheck. Watching him, I was reminded of what one NHL scout told me about Jacobs earlier this season: that he looks like a player with the size, skating and puck skills, but at the end of the day, he doesn't seem to accomplish a whole lot. Not a bad guy to take in the third-round maybe, but if you're talking top-60, there's some risk because of the inconsistent production.

Daniel Catenacci, LW Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)-- The top pick in the OHL Priority Selection two years ago looked precisely like the No. 1 guy in this game, dazzling with his speed and killer instinct on the shorthanded goal scored in the 1st period to take the wind out of Team Cherry's sails after they dominated territorially and in the first five to ten minutes. Although small, Catenacci is highly dynamic and has gotten a chance to spread his wings this season according to reports from scouts. He's susceptible to being out-muscled along the boards and in the dirty areas in front of the net, but he's active, involved and hustles. Catenacci made the most of his chance at the Ivan Hlinka in August and has carried over that gold medal pedigree with the Greyhounds this season to force his way into the draft picture after many NHL teams had him as barely a blip on the radars prior to August. His stock will continue to rise after this game.

Brandon Saad, RW Saginaw (OHL)-- The American power winger from Pennsylvania didn't have a flashy game, but he stood out with his size, strength, and ability to cycle the puck and control the play down low. When Cherry was running the table on Orr early, it was Saad who bought his team some time to regroup by maintaining puck possession in the Cherry zone and creating an early scoring chance that took some pressure off of Liam Liston and the Orr defense. You didn't see much of the offense that is so appealing and why he looks to be a top-10 pick in June, but Saad was solid. He's one guy I wish would have been in Buffalo for Team USA at the WJC not only for the chance to see him, but because there wasn't enough of a size/skill element on the wings. USA was big up the middle, but I think Jim Johannson and company blew it with their winger makeup-- too many small, slick guys, not enough beef. No offense intended to Chris Brown, but he didn't have the pure skill and scoring upside Saad would have brought in addition to his wide body and ability to aid int he puck possession game. He'll be in Calgary for sure in 2012, unless he happens to be skating for an NHL team somewhere, which doesn't seem probable, but you never know.

Vince Trocheck, LW Saginaw (OHL)-- Saad's teammate and fellow Keystone stater had a solid game and scored a goal that he probably should not have, but that's what happens when the defender (Myles Bell) is asleep at the switch and let's you get in behind him, while the goalie is playing so deep in his net, he has no chance to react to the perfect backhand shot coming his way. That's what Trocheck did to David Honzik, but that kind of opportunistic scoring is what Trocheck tends to do. He doesn't have much in the way of size, but is a live skater and plays bigger than his 5-10 frame should allow. This kid looks to be more than the sum of his parts, and it will be interesting to see where he's drafted. If a team loves him enough, look at the early 2nd, maybe even late 1st. But, if he slips past 50 like Jason Zucker did last season, Trocheck could be a steal.

Sven Bartschi, LW Portland (WHL)-- The Winterhawk scoring winger showed that he has a knack for closing out the play when high-end table setters give him an opportunity. Bartschi and RNH combined on Team Orr's second goal, a play Gibson had no chance on after the Red Deer center forced the Cherry goalie to play him all the way before dishing to his driving Swiss linemate who didn't miss. The speed, hands and offensive capability I saw from Bartschi in Buffalo was on display in the top prospects game. So was the tendency to play out on the perimeter. He did get into a dustup with Duncan Siemens behind the Cherry net, but was happy to see Musil jump in and take on the hard-nosed Saskatoon rearguard. Bartschi is a gifted scorer, but he doesn't have countryman and Portland teammate Nino Niederreiter's edge or grit. Sven doesn't have Niederreiter's size, and is a decent, polite chap, but if I were on an NHL scouting staff, I wouldn't be in favor of drafting him in the first round. It's an opinion I know for a fact NHL teams don't share-- he'll go in the top-30 come June, but at the end of the day, even with the goal, I saw nothing addressed about the concerns I had from watching the WJC late last month.

Shane McColgan, RW Kelowna (WHL)-- The smallest and lowest-ranked (102nd) by Central player in the game showed some energy and feistiness. There isn't a whole lot else to say-- the concerns about the size at the NHL level are founded. He doesn't appear to have any more growing to do, and he may not be skilled enough to be the kind of difference-maker at that level. Time will tell, but he didn't get a ton of ice time to show a great deal to those who watched.

Zack Phillips, LW Saint John (QMJHL)-- Like Jenner, Phillips had the kind of top prospects game that scouts have seen from him in Saint John. He's not the fastest guy out there or all that dynamic, but man-- when he's around the net and the puck is nearby, chances are, it will be behind the goalie soon. He finished off a nice play with RNH when the diminutive center took the puck hard to the net, backing Honzik deep into the cage along the goal line. Phillips pounced on the loose puck sitting in front of the Cherry netminder and calmly flipped it over the Czech goalie (and that guy does take up a good portion of the net even when down). It was as unspectacular a score that you'll see, but it gets to what Phillips is: a smart, opportunistic player who happens to make the most of his chances. I understand he's been playing more of the center role in Saint John, with Huberdeau on the wing, but Phillips will be a winger in the pros.

Well-- there you have it.

Will try to get some more viewings of the games and see what else I can come up with, but time to move on with the second half of the season. Will have many more posts to keep things rolling all through winter and into the spring when things heat up, so keep coming back for more- this blog space will deliver the kind of in-depth NHL draft coverage the hardest of the hardcore hockey fans crave and demand!