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Monday, January 10, 2011

Analysis of Central Scouting's North American rankings: top-10

The NHL's Central Scouting Service has release their midseason rankings, and director E.J. Maguire was just on NHL Live with Don LaGreca and Billy Jaffe. He talked about a wide range of topics including the fact that they do their midseason list so that they can help NHL clubs form their own opinions on players whether they agree with the rankings or not.

NHL.com's Mike Morreale has a good handle on the situation and interviewed Maguire on the rankings. Here's one nugget in his piece that caught my interest:

"I would say at this point, with the number of viewings our scouts have had, as many as eight players could be taken first," McGuire told NHL.com. "The depth goes right through this draft. A cynic or somebody who's characterizing this as a non-Sidney Crosby draft year only needs to know that whoever emerges in April at No. 5 on our list (Central Scouting's final rankings), and in St. Paul as the No. 5 pick, could eventually be a better NHL player than No. 1. That said, this isn't a Crosby draft year."

Do yourself a favor and go read Morreale's coverage on NHL.com here.

Not surprising is Kitchener Rangers captain Gabriel Landeskog being atop the list. He's the 2011 draft's most complete package of size, skills, toughness and character/leadership. Some guys are bigger, some have more offensive upside, but no one...NO ONE...possesses Landeskog's package of all the desireable attributes in a player.

Sean Couturier is second on the list, the lone 2011-eligible to make Canada's silver medal-winning WJC squad. I'll have more on him later, but he's kind of falling down a bit because he's not that great a skater and didn't do a ton to stand out at the WJC. Now granted, his role was limited, but contrast Couturier's performance to that of Taylor Hall's a year ago, and you can see why there are some doubts emerging about Couturier. He's going to be a good player, but when you're picking at the top of the draft, you're looking for more than just "good."

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is third, and the small but explosive Red Deer center is a bit of a conundrum this season. With only 10 goals in 39 games for the Rebels, you're talking about a goal scorer who isn't putting the puck in the net. On pure skill, you obviously jump on this guy in the top-three, but the lack of production is raising questions about his long-term potential and also an indicator that whichever team picks him could have to wait a couple of years before he's physically ready for the NHL grind. I loved this player coming out of the Ivan Hlinka, where he was money and filled the net, including ripping the gold medal-winning shot from the outside against USA goalie Steve Michalek in a 1-0 game. Where has the scoring gone this season in the Dub, though? Talking to several scouts out west, they've all told me that they're left wanting more , so it will be interesting to see how the 'Nuge does down the stretch.

I like Central's call at 4th with Saint John center Jonathan Huberdeau. Although thin as a rail, this kid can really bring it. Very good skater, hands and hockey sense. He was seen as more of a playmaker last season, but this year, he's been finishing off the play as well for the powerhouse Sea Dogs. Scoring the goals is going to get you noticed in a hurry-- just look what it did for Tyler Seguin a year ago, Now, he may not have Seguin's pure talent (or does he?), but Huberdeau is one of those guys who looks to be on the rise in a big way. I thought he'd be one of those "value" picks closer to 10-15, but after this ranking, doesn't look to be the case. Betting that an NHL team will jump on him fast.

U.S. NTDP (Under-18) Tyler Biggs at fifth overall is sure to bring controversy. I like this player based purely on what I've been told about him and have seen on video. His a big, wide-bodied power forward who can control the flow of the game with his physical style and decent skill level. However, he doesn't possess elite hands and he's got a maddening tendency to sleepwalk at times. I'm told he's brutal when cruising along and not making himself a factor, so while Biggs has the physical upside to be a player, he's going to have to learn to raise the intensity bar if he's ever going to maximize his physical gifts.

Swiss forward Sven Bartschi is sixth on the list, and I would attribute that to his productive play in Portland of the WHL this season, because if it were based on his performance at the WJC, he'd be a third-round prospect in my opinion. He was next to invisible during the preliminary round save for the game against Slovakia, and while he clearly has very good wheels and hands, he spent most of his time out on the perimeter. Seems like a nice enough kid, but he played soft. And soft doesn't belong so high on the list.

B2011DW favorite Dougie Hamilton is seventh, and I would have him ahead of both Bartschi and Biggs if it were up to me. 6-4 d-men don't grow on trees, and while he doesn't have a high-end skill level, he's got good feet/mobility and is a heady player. His 34 points in 38 games is pretty solid production for a 17-year-old defender, especially in the OHL, where he plays for the Niagara Ice Dogs.

At eight and nine we have American power forward Brandon Saad (really surprised Biggs is ahead of him to be honest) and Quebec League defender Nathan Beaulieu. Now if you've read this blog, you know that we have plenty of love for Beaulieu, but not at Ryan Murphy's expense (more on that later). Saad is closer to the top-five than the top-10 and has been pretty consistent for Saginaw this season. In fact, if the Bruins can't get Landeskog, don't be surprised to see them opt for Saad if their top choice at defense is not on the board when they pick. Beaulieu is a pretty good two-way defender with size who's been up-and-down this season with his play. On pure projections, he's probably close, but if you want an indication of how he's played overall, then he doesn't belong in the top-10, period.

Finally, Murphy closes it out at 10th overall for North American skaters. This is a better showing than when Central had him eighth on their OHL-exclusive preliminary rankings to start the year, but I'd have him ahead of several players including Beaulieu, Bartschi and Biggs at the very least. Murphy is a game-breaker and even with his small size, has elite skills and can control the tempo of the game with his energetic, lightning-quick style.

Well, that's the top-10. I'm going to take a break and then get back to the top 11-30 and then do the rest of the list/sleepers and goalies later.

I'll take on the European CS list tomorrow.

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