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Friday, February 4, 2011

A glimpse at some overage prospects for 2011 draft

Every year, there are a certain number of players who are selected after having been passed over in previous drafts.

The Bruins have made this a recent trend, going back to the 2008 draft, when they selected forward Nick Tremblay of the Smith's Falls Bears, a 1988 birthdate originally eligible in 2006. In 2009, they followed up with Windsor pugilist Lane MacDermid, a 1989 birthdate, and in 2010, they took overagers with consecutive picks in the 4th and 5th rounds: Craig Cunningham and Justin Florek, both '90s originally eligible in 2008. They also added two more overaged defensemen late with Russian defenseman Maxim Chudinov and NCAA player Zach Trotman both in the 7th.

The B's aren't the only team who has adopted this tactic, as some players simply are late-bloomers who don't assert themselves until after their first year or two of eligibility has passed. Another factor is that by selecting an overage player, the team gets a prospect who is either immediately AHL-eligible or closer to that time window of being able to go into the system and contribute sooner than many of the 17- or 18-year-olds taken in their first draft season.

Whether you happen to agree with this draft strategy or not, the Bruins aren't the only ones who use it. And, it certainly appears to be here to stay, as teams have a limited amount of contracts to dole out and because of the CBA, don't have to invest a full three-year entry-level contract (ELC) to older players in some cases. It's about flexibility and finding diamonds in the rough. Thus far, none of Boston's overagers have inserted themselves into the NHL mix, but after watching MacDermid improve by leaps and bounds from his first pro season to the second, he could make it payoff.

Here are just a few names of potential overage selections in this 2011 draft class. There are more, and as we get closer to June, I'll update the list to include more players as any emerge in the discussions going forward.

Jonathan Johansson, C Brampton Battalion- The big (6-4, 210) Swede is a 1991 birthdate who was passed over in both the '09 and '10 drafts, but has now elevated his exposure by coming over to play in the OHL. He has four goals and 14 points in 26 games-- not great numbers, but his size alone could see him drafted on the third try.

Pathrik Westerholm, LW Malmo (SWE-2)- A very productive player for Malmo (the team that Carl Soderberg plays on), Westerholm has five goals and 15 points for the Allsvenskan senior squad this season after scoring 25 in 20 with the J20 team. He's a skilled stickhandler and shooter who has just average size. An early 1992, this is his second kick at the can.

Chase Balisy, F Western Michigan (CCHA)- At one time a well-discussed prospect for the 2010 NHL draft because of his speed and playmaking skills, he fell off the map last year after he struggled with the USA NTDP Under-18 team. In retrospect, he might have gotten lost in the shuffle on a very deep squad, because he's been outstanding as freshman at Western Michigan University this season with10 goals and 26 points in 28 games, recently named CCHA's top freshman.

John Norman, LW Djurgarden (SEL)- He sounds like a pro golfer as opposed to a Swedish hockey player, but this good skater could be one of those late bloomers you always hear about. Only has average size, but with five goals and 13 points in the Eliteserien, is worth a later-round look given his strong offensive instincts and potential upside.

Anton Burdasov, RW Chelyabinsk (KHL)- With a 6-3 frame and speed to burn, after watching him in the WJC, the twice passed-over (1991 BD) Burdasov likely has some appeal to NHL teams willing to take a risk by spending a later pick on a player with some real upside. He wasn't at all productive (1 assist, 7 games) in Buffalo, but anyone who actually watched him and isn't just looking at the stats line knows that he has some real skill. He was one of Russia's best players in the preliminary round 2-0 loss to Sweden, but had nothing to show for the several outstanding plays he made.

Nikita Dvurechensky, LW Moscow Dynamo (KHL)- Like Burdasov, Dvurechensky was passed up twice but showed more offensive flair than his counterpart at the WJC with 3-3-6. He's not as good a skater as Burdasov in my opinion, but has a better net presence and was more opportunistic, finishing off some key plays. He's the son of Russian hockey pro Kirill Dvurechensky, so he's got bloodlines going for him as well.

Denis Golubev, C Ak Bars Kazan (KHL)- The third of three gold medal-winning Russians with no NHL draft rights, this guy is smaller than the other two, but more skilled and dynamic. He scored some big goals for Team Russia at the WJC and can really scoot and move laterally. He's an agitating, pesky little guy to play against, too.

Benjamin Conz, G Langnau (SUI)- Short and dumpy doesn't play all that well when it comes to NHL teams deciding whether to spend a draft pick on a goalie, but the fire hydrant-shaped Conz just may have force someone's hand after two consecutive strong WJC showings in net. The guy just knows how to stop a puck and is much quicker and athletic than his short, squat build would leave you to believe. Switzerland has emerged as a hockey country with players proving they can hack it in the NHL and North America, so why not take a chance with Conz?

Tomas Filippi, C Quebec (QMJHL)- At 6-1, the very skilled Czech has all the tools to be an NHL player including speed and very quick hands, but was passed over last year primarily because of his lackadaisical attitude at times and soft play. To his credit, he came over to North America and has been much more consistent this season for the Remparts, scoring 20 goals and 40 points in 42 games. That just might be enough to earn him a late-round grade, but the compete levels will dominate discussions in NHL war rooms. He's still a bit of a risk.

Marcel Noebels, C Seattle (WHL)- The big, offensively capable German had a strong showing at the WJC and has 18 goals for the Seattle Thunderbirds this year. When he goes hard to the net, he's tough to contain, and he has a nice nose for the net with a quick release on his shot. He tends to be a perimeter guy, however, and some NHL scouts have said he's pretty soft. We'll see if the talent and solid production is enough to get him drafted this time around.

Marek Hrivik, LW Moncton (QMJHL)- Going to beat the drum on this guy till the cows come home. He was one of the very disappointing Slovak WJC team's most visible players. Twice passed over, he has a bomb of a shot and can score from just about anywhere. His skating isn't the greatest, but has gotten better. He doesn't have the greatest reputation for going into the dirty areas of the ice or doing the little things, but it's hard to overlook 47 goals and counting over the past season-plus with Moncton.

Andrej Kudrna, LW Red Deer (WHL)- Even more productive than Hrivik, this fellow Slovak has the kind of size (6-3, 205) and hands NHL scouts drool over. His skating is still pretty rough, but it's hard to argue with the numbers he's put up in each of the last two seasons for Red Deer in terms of being deserving of a late look. Didn't stand out much at the WJC, but there's some upside with this one.

Oula Palve, F Jyvaskyla (FInland Jr.)- Small, skilled forward and 1992 is playing well for JYP's junior team, and with Boston's relationship with that club, you might see something shake out in the later rounds if someone else doesn't jump on him first. Good skater with a knack for scoring goals- has 16 in 26 this season and should be on the SM-Liiga squad next season. Needs to get a lot stronger, but flying under the radar in most circles.

Sahir Gill, Boston University (HE)- Gill's lack of expected production in the USHL last year dropped him out of the 2010 draft, but the heady playmaker has opened some eyes as a freshman on the Terriers this season. Not very big, he's still a bit of a longshot and may have to go the free agency route after the NCAA, but he's making more of an impact than expected this season.

Mike Pereira, LW UMass (HE)- Carried Avon Old Farms to their eighth prep title in 29 years last spring with a dominant offensive performance, but got nary a taker in L.A. Smallish forward is an explosive skater and deadly finisher when the game is on the line. Outplayed 1st-round pick Kevin Hayes by a wide margin in the prep semifinal contest and took it up a notch in the championship game. Proving he can score at the NCAA level as well, with 10 goals, 20 points as a freshman for Toot Cahoon's Minutemen. There were rumblings last year that he was a selfish player, but isn't that what most scorers are? Have to think he's going to get picked this year given his production in the Hockey East along with the blazing speed and hands.

Alex and Allain Saulnier, C, RW Moncton (QMJHL)- The dynamic duo of twin brothers have stepped it up this season. Alex is a very skilled pivot and has been a star for Danny Flynn's Wildcats along with twin brother Allain. The two were tremendous in Quebec as midget players, and have taken a much more prominent role this season. Unfortunately, size (5-10, 160) and lack of strength is a real issue for both. Alex has 20 goals and 64 points this season in 50 games, leading the team in scoring. Allain is second with 24 goals and 57 points.

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