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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The NHL draft logo

We've gone to a new look on the site- taking out the Boston Bruins logo and alternate logo off and replacing it with the 2011 NHL Draft logo.

Yes, this is still the "Bruins" draft watch (at least through the 2011 draft), but the removal of the Boston symbols will hopefully make this more of a "neutral" looking site and won't scare off the non-Bruins fans who come across it.

As always, thanks for reading and the continued support of this blog.

Looks like this is going to be the last post of March- we'll kick April off with an interesting "Guy You Should Know" post from the OJHL and the previously promised look at some great teams in amateur hockey history and how team members fared in the NHL draft and in their playing careers.

A look at Team USA's '94 players

USA Hockey named several 1994 birthdates to the squad that will compete in the Under-18 Championship tournament in a few weeks.

The squad may not include Sarnia center Alex Galchenyuk, but USA Hockey has always taken a predominant majority of its NTDP roster to the U18s, and Galchenyuk is an OHL player who only recently declared his intention to represent the USA during international play.

Our view is that Galchenyuk is more talented than Nicolas Kerdiles, but it isn't always about talent. One of the reasons Team USA has been successful over the past two tourneys is because they have players who can execute the system to a tee and buy into the team dynamic. While there is little doubt that politics played into the decision to take Kerdiles or one of the lower-end '93s over Galchenyuk, it's hard to argue the decision too vociferously when you're looking at the program that has grabbed gold in both the '09 and '10 seasons.

So, with that in mind, here's a quick look at the youngest members of the Under-18 team who will likely be key contributors to the 2012 Team USA edition as well.

Seth Jones, D- The buzz is starting early for this 6-3, 195-pounder who is going to keep draftniks waiting until 2013 by virtue of his October, 1994 birthdate. The son of former NBA player Popeye Jones (who was a Boston Celtic for a short spell and involved in the infamous Rick Pitino trade that sent rookie Chauncey Billups out of Beantown before his career had barely begun) fell in love with hockey when his father played for the Toronto Raptors and carried it with him to Dallas. This offensive threat is a very nice skater with a long, fluid stride and the coordination and agility inherited from a big-time hoops player. In just 37 games with the Under-17 team this year, Jones has 21 points, which is outstanding production for a player so young. According to scouts, he sees the ice well, has an excellent touch on the puck for crisp breakouts and is isn't done growing, either. If he continues on his current developmental curve this kid will be a beast by the time his draft season rolls around.

Jacob Trouba, D- Another offensive defenseman with size and some bite to his game, this 2012-eligible from Michigan has been one of the Under-17 team's standouts for his consistency and skill this season. Red Line Report ranked him 6th overall among all the 2012 draft eligibles in the Feb. bulletin- the first look at next year's class. He split time this season between the U17 squad and the Under-18 team, so he's progressing nicely in the program. This kid has some impressive tools including his quickness, footwork, powerful shot and willingness to use his body to play a physical game. Trouba appears to have the makings of the kind of two-way defender NHL teams covet, but has a long way to go. Hockey sense and decision-making may be an issue for him, and this tournament will be a nice measuring stick to see how he does against an aggressive forecheck that limits his time and space. There is a lot to like with this player and scouts are looking forward to seeing him against elite competition with an unprecedented third straight gold medal on the line for USA.

Jake McCabe, D- Wisconsin native and Badger recruit is a solid, dependable player who doesn't have the same kind of potential 'wow' factor of Jones or Trouba, but brings a heady, steady defensive game despite being only average sized. Good mobility and an active stick; exhibits strong gap control and a good understanding of where he needs to be. Has a low center of gravity and is tough to knock off his skates- uses his body leverage effectively to separate bigger opponents from the puck. Tenacious; not fancy, just tough. EDIT: As pointed out by NF, McCabe is a late '93, which makes him a 2012 draft candidate, but technically not a '94.

Nick Kerdiles, F- At 6-1, 185, this California native has good size and offensive skills. He also competed for USA at the Five Nations, so he's the one '94 who has a realistic expectation of what he's in for. Poised, confident kid moves well with a rangy, loping stride and has a quick stick. When he takes the puck to the net, he's at his best. Works hard and willing to pay the price- not nearly as talented as Galchenyuk, but knows what is expected of him and what coach Ron Rolston needs him to do.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Team USA in Under-18 championship: Chance to threepeat

USA Hockey announced the roster for April's World Under-18 Championship squad, which will travel to Dresden, Germany to compete in the final IIHF tourney for most young draft eligibles before the 2011 NHL Draft.

Here's a quick look at some of the key roster players and what they bring to the mix. Not every roster player is featured here, but we're just going to cut to the chase and based on results, may cover some of the other players later on.

Not every player on the roster is a 2011 draft candidate, with a few '94s and even one late '94 (Seth Jones) who can't be drafted until 2013. In a later post, we'll take a 2012 and 2013 look ahead with some of the young players on the squad.

Conspicuously absent from the '94s is Sarnia Sting center Alex Galchenyuk, a Russian dual-citizen who recently declared his intention of playing for USA in the various international competitions. His omission is a topic for another day, but is certainly a hot button topic today.

Cole Bardreau, F- Hustling energy forward is a smart, gritty kid who can play a variety of roles for coach Ron Rolston and brings leadership and a sterling work ethic to the mix. Although undersized, he compensates for the lack of strength with his hockey sense and anticipation. He may not be a high-end NHL draft prospect, but he's such a competitor and smart player that he ends up being more than the sum of his parts at the end of the day. Scouts we've talked to essentially say the same thing: Bardreau doesn't have a ton of skill, but he's got a big heart. They don't want to like him, but after the game, they look back and he worked his bag off and made things happen. It's hard to say how attractive that will be to NHL teams come June, but he's certainly going to be a nice NCAA player for Cornell.

Tyler Biggs, F- If Coyotes defenseman Paul Bissonette has made a name for himself as "Biz Nasty" in the Twitterverse, then Biggs is your resident "Big Nasty" were he to decide to indulge in that social media platform. Biggs is a good skater, but his real value lies in his physical game and powerful shot. He's a momentum changer when he's banging bodies and making room for his linemates. He's shown a penchant to play with the kind of aggression and nastiness that NHL teams love. He doesn't have elite skills and the hockey sense is questionable, but Biggs's lure is such that he'll go in the first half of the 1st round or at least inside the top-20. Biggs is going to be a handful for the European opponents on the bigger ice surface in Germany, and he'll get an excellent challenge when USA takes on Canada.

Travis Boyd, F- The youngest player in 2011 draft class by virtue of Sep. 14, 1993 birthdate (the day before the cutoff), this Minnesotan could have been listed in the recent sleepers post on this blog because he is unranked by Central Scouting, but is likely on the radars of some NHL clubs as a late option. Talented byt not flashy, he has strong offensive hockey sense and makes underrated, smart plays all over the ice. He may be a tad overlooked up until now, but the Golden Gopher recruit could have a coming out party next month. He's someone to watch as a solid, well-rounded player who doesn't do anything exceptionally, but has no glaring holes in his game.

Ryan Haggerty, F- One of two New England natives on the roster (he and Paliotta are both from Connecticut), Haggerty is another unheralded, solid guy who can play a variety of roles, but doesn't bring any kind of real high-end upside to the mix. Smart, hard-working, gritty yet honest, his experience and strong performance in the Five Nations tourney in February is going to make him a useful if unspectacular part of a potential winning formula in April. He understands the system and plays it to a tee. Committed to RPI.

Rocco Grimaldi, F- This blog has covered Grimaldi in near excruciating detail of late, so there isn't much to say that we haven't already other than to opine that as the dynamic little California pepperpot goes, so do USA's hopes for a threepeat. He is absolutely suited for the wide-open play of the Under-18 tourney and could light it up the way he did in the Czech Republic last month. With his speed and skill, we believe he's going to keep raising his stock for the 2011 draft as the proverbial straw that stirs Team USA's drink on offense. If you love the USA, how can you not root for this epitome of the American dream?

Reid Boucher, F- Not very big, speedy or flashy, but this guy just knows how to get it done offensively. He led Team USA in scoring at the Five Nations and will need to again be a focal point for America's attack. Michigan State recruit is industrious and has off-the-charts hockey sense. He's not quite in Grimaldi's class offensively, but he is a dangerous scorer that opponents must account for.

Zac Larraza, F- As far as physical tools go, they don't come much better than this Arizonian. Good size? Check- 6-2, 195. Great skater? Check- rangy with quick burst and fluid stride and agility. Puck skills? Check- can make moves at speed and back defenses up. Where it gets dicey is in the intangibles department and thus far, he's not been able to put all of his impressive parts together. He's played better as the season progressed, and there is a lot of raw upside here, but some scouts just don't feel that he's ever going to get it. He's going to Denver University, so if he's going to develop into a legitimate NHL prospect, it will happen there or it won't happen anywhere. Worth a mid-round gamble because of what he brings to the table.

Adam Reid, F- Raw prospect has generated interest among NHL scouts because he's got the size, skill and upside to do more than he has in the NTDP to date. Northeastern recruit from California has a loping stride and brings some passion and intensity to the mix. He's a smart player who is starting to come on in terms of being a complete player as he grows into his nice 6-3 frame. He's more of a physical, grinding player, but with his hockey sense and soft hands, Reid could be much more even if the production hasn't arrived.

J.T. Miller, C- Another USA forward and draft prospect we've covered extensively on this blog, but Miller is heavy in the tools, not so accomplished with the production. This is a risky pick in the first round, but we're confident someone will take him because he is such a talented player. It isn't for a lack of trying that the offense has been slow in coming, and he's always willing to throw a hit or take the hit to make the play. He works hard, skates well and is a valuable presence. At the end of the day, however, you have to ask: "Where's the beef?" He and Grimaldi will get to keep working together with the Sioux in Grand Forks, N.D.

Blake Pietila, F- Stats do not tell the story for this strong defensive forward who brings a very high compete level and outstanding overall feel for the game. A relentless forechecker who has a knack for anticipating the play and intercepting errant passes, or forcing bad decisions because he's got such excellent closing ability and agility. One of the most dependable players on this squad, even if he doesn't put up big numbers. Michigan Tech is getting a good one in Pietila.

Connor Murphy, D- Team USA is thrilled to get this horse back just in time for the meaningful games. He was a big part of the silver medal-winning squad in Slovakia last August, and after battling back woes, got some action in at the Five Nations. He should have the rust knocked off his game in time to be one of the two-way anchors on defense. Good skater, big shot, solid positionally. Susceptible to the bad turnover when an aggressive forecheck takes away his time and space, but this kid could be a pretty high pick in June despite not having played many games.

Mike Paliotta, D- Solid, mobile shutdown defender has not put up the anticipated offense this season, but has the talent to be an effective player on the larger ice in Germany. We've liked Paliotta for some time, and he's a gutsy competitor who keeps it simple and doesn't try to do too much. He may not be the puck mover we thought when he was a prep standout a few years back, but he brings plenty to the table in terms of smarts and disciplined play.

Robbie Russo, D- USA needs Russo to step up and be for them what Adam Clendening was to the 2010 U18 champs. He can hit the long lead passes and has the vision/instincts to do more on the scoring ledger, so while this hasn't been a great year for the Notre Dame recruit, he has the potential to turn things around with a strong tournament. USA doesn't have the pure power shooters from the point that they did last year, so they'll need to get it done more with guile and smart distribution. It all starts with Russo and the team will be counting on him to make the right decisions.

John Gibson, G- Stud goalie is the workhorse that Team USA needs to jump on his back and ride all the way to a possible gold medal. If anyone can exhibit the requisite amount of skill and poise to win it all, Gibson can. We've talked about him enough, so check the labels and read up because aside from Grimaldi, Gibson is the one guy upon whose shoulders a threepeat rests.

Team USA announces roster for World Under-18 Championship

USA Hockey just announced its Under-18 roster for next month's World Under-18 tourney in Germany.

You can read the release here, and we'll be back later to update the blog with analysis on the roster players and what they bring to the table.

In the meantime, you can go back and read up on some of the guys who were featured in the U.S. Juniors regular season recap we posted to this blog last week.

The Americans have won the last two Under-18 championships played in the U.S. (North Dakota) and Belarus and if they capture the 2011 gold, it will be the first time ever that the U.S. has won three consecutive U18s.

The exhibition games begin April 9 and Team USA kicks off the tourney against Switzerland on Thursday, April 14.

This tournament is big because NHL teams use it as the final international yardstick by which to measure players who aren't in the CHL (excepting those whose teams did not make the playoffs or who get eliminated early). Every year it seems, there are several kids who have a knockout Under-18 and send their stock through the roof. Last year, Big Jack Campbell was the man for Team USA, but that entire defense corps it seemed launched it as a springboard to draft greatness as Derek Forbort and Jarred Tinordi both ended up in the first round while Justin Faulk and Jon Merrill were early second-round selections.

This year's Team USA entry doesn't have as dominant a defense, but is a solid group, has excellent goaltending and have some highly skilled forwards who can put the puck in the net and play efficiently in all zones.Tyler Biggs and Rocco Grimaldi headline the Team USA forwards who are expected to be first-round picks in June, but there are many other noteworthy players up and down the roster who warrant a closer look. Alex Galchenyuk is a curious omission from the roster as one of the more skilled and talented '94s available- we hope this doesn't drive him into the arms of the waiting Russians.

We'll be back with more insights on some of the individuals who didn't get as much coverage last week when we recapped the USHL, so be sure to stop back by this evening.

Also, check out Chris Peters' United States of Hockey blog, as a former media relations professional with the U.S. NTDP, he knows the program and these kids inside and out. He's already got his take up, so it's very nice reading until we can get our own recap up.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sleepers for 2011 draft

We'll give you a quick look at some potential sleepers for the 2011 NHL draft. This will wrap the individual player updates we've been bringing you for the past week or so, but hope the reports have been informative.

As always, thanks for reading and if you like the blog- please pass the link to your fellow draftnik friends.

Marek Tvrdon, LW Vancouver (WHL)- Not a sleeper in the sense that NHL scouts aren't tracking him, but the power forward from Slovakia got injured early in the season and missed the entire year after getting in just 12 games with the GIants (6-5-11). Physically mature at 6-2, 212 pounds, he's tough to contain when he works the puck along the walls and on the cycle. He lacks a quick initial burst, but is pretty agile for a guy his size and capable of making some elusive moves in the open ice. Quick stick and hard-shooter. Several NHL scouts really liked what they saw from him until he went down, so he could end up being a pick similar to Curtis Hamilton last season in terms of being one with a limited sample size, but who showed enough to go inside the top-60. If he drops, Tvrdon could end up being a very nice value pick for whichever team takes a chance.

Pontus Netterberg, RW HV 71 (SWE-Jr.)- February 1992 birthdate opened up some eyes at the World Jr. A Challenge in the fall; 6-2, 199-pound winger who likes to go to the net and has pretty good speed once he gets it cranked up. A hard shooter who picks his spots and hides his release point well. Can play a physical or a finesse game. Doesn't get much attention because he was passed up in 2010, but could be one of those mid-round steals that certain teams have made a living out of plucking from Europe, only to see them blossom and become big league players. Not a nasty, in-your-face kind of player, but will push back when riled up and exhibits excellent strength and a mean streak. Good, solid vision and hockey sense- more creative than he gets credit for. Scored 19 goals in 40 games for HV 71's Under-20 team and got in 3 games with the big club (1 assist) as well.

Daniel Pribyl, LW Sparta Prahia (CZE)- Beanpole (6-3, 190) winger is developing into a player worth keeping an eye on. With 25 goals and 54 points in 39 games with Sparta's top junior team this season, he saw a little bit of time with the Extraliga club. He's got a long stride even if he lacks explosive speed, has soft hands and the offensive instincts to cash in. He's got a lot to learn about the game and his defense is suspect at this point, but in time, after he gets stronger on his skates and gains more experience at a high level, Pribyl has some potential to compete for an NHL spot. Red Line Report has been all over Pribyl since December, and if he pans out, it will be another feather in the cap for their Eastern European scout.

Brady Brassart, C Spokane (WHL)- Slow to develop, the Chiefs' pivot has shown some flashes of what could be at times during the season. Scouts who have seen him acknowledge that he's got the skill set to be an NHL prospect and doubled his point production as a sophomore from 15 to 32 points. He isn't going to wow anyone with his production or upside, but he's made more of an effort to play at both ends and has demonstrated an edge to his game that wasn't there last season.

Dario Trutmann, D Plymouth (OHL)- Swiss defender missed being eligible for last year's NHL draft by just two days with a Sep. 17, 1992 birthdate. After scoring 8 goals and 23 points in 28 Swiss Jr. games for Zug, joined the Whalers and took a while to get his feet under him. Heady shutdown type who is capable of playing against bigger, more physical players despite being only 6-0 and about 185. Keeps defenders away from his net with good footwork and an active stick. Exhibits strong gap control. Confidence has grown by leaps and bounds and started moving the puck with more authority toward the end of the season, finishing with 6 goals and 19 points. We saw him at the WJC and he did very little to stand out, but did register four assists in six games. Swiss players are always tough to peg for the draft, but the ones who come over to North America are graded differently than the ones who stay home, so Trutmann just might get a call in June.

Zach Saar, LW Chicago (USHL)- As raw as they come, this 6-4, 193-pound native of Michigan and Little Caesar's minor midget grad toils for a last-place team and doesn't have much production to boot (3-4-7 in 28 games) but there is a lot to like about this kid's potential. He's a natural scorer who hasn't had a great deal of help with the Steel, but could be in for bigger things as he continues to mature and grow into his body. Hurt for much of the season, he's a hard worker who is willing to do anything for his team including dropping the gloves. His skating is average and could stand to improve- he's a bandy-legged skater. He's expected back in the USHL next season and while he would be a longshot to get picked in 2011 because of all the time he's missed, some team may have seen enough of him to take a late flyer on Saar. A June 1992 birthdate, he's already been passed over once, and if it happens again he'll be eligible again in 2012 before having to go the free agent route.

Sebastian Dyk, RW Malmö (SWE-2)- Failed to find the back of the net in 36 Allsvenskan games with the RedHawks (4 assists) but don't let those numbers fool you- this fast skater has some nice tools to develop into an interesting player over time. Another average-sized guy (6-0, 185) but plays with grit and determination; goes to the net hard and has some nice 1-on-1 moves in his arsenal. Most effective when he's banging bodies and grinding it out. Tends to disappear for long stretches, especially when he lowers his physical guard, but has some nice upside if he can improve the consistency.

John Gaudreau, LW Dubuque (USHL)- Tiny New Yorker is another longshot, but has put up amazing numbers for the Fighting Saints despite being about 5-6 and 145 pounds. He'll get much stronger and add another 30+ pounds, but when you consider that he's managed to score 35 goals and 69 points in 55 games as a flyweight in the rough-and-tumble USHL, it says a great deal about his speed, hands and creativity. This is a pure offensive presence and he showed off his potential at the Ivan Hlinka last August, as one of the most consistent forwards on Team USA, helping them to a silver medal. It's hard to imagine an NHL team drafting a guy with Gaudreau's vitals, but this kid has guts and flair- he's going to be a very good NCAA player and once he gets there and proves himself at that level, anything is possible.

Michael Houser, G London (OHL)- American passed over in 2010 has stood on his head for the Knights over much of the season, proving that the solid play he exhibited as Mike Hutchinson's backup last season was a good indication of what he can provide. He was eligible for the 2010 draft by just two days with a Sep. 13 birthdate, so it wouldn't be like he is too much of an overager for a team to grab him the second time around. Has nice size and athleticism and was a workhorse for the Knights, playing in 54 games and posting a .904 save percentage. In our view, this kid has shown enough to get a call on draft day- nice developmental potential as a long-term project.

Risers and fallers in 2011 draft

Time to look at some risers and fallers for the 2011 draft.

Up next will be a post with some sleeper picks for the class, and with that, should bring everyone up to speed on many of the top options for June. We will come back in May with a playoff review when the league championships are all in the books.


Ryan Sproul, D Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)- Hit a huge growth spurt and now stands at about 6-4 after being drafted by the Greyhounds at a little over 6-feet. Played in the OJHL before jumping to the OHL and showed a lot of promise as a mobile, agile two-way defenseman who came out of left field this season laboring for a non-playoff squad. He didn't suffer any ill-effects of the surge in height, and is a powerful skater with a long, fluid stride that scouts really like. When he adds strength and mass to his skinny frame, he'll be even more of a defensive horse than he is already. As one would imagine, he's got a big gun from the point, and just think how much more lethal it will be when he develops more oomph behind it. Very raw, but with one of the most intriguing projectable of any player in the OHL, this guy is going to be the subject of a lot of internet draft chatter between now and June 24-25.

Here's a nice feature on Sproul from Brock Otten's OHL Prospects blog

Seth Griffith, C/RW London (OHL)- Smallish but skilled forward came on strong for the Knights after a large chunk of veterans were traded away. Showed some chemistry with B's prospect Jared Knight and fellow 2011 draft prospect Vladislav Namestnikov. Quick and agile; handles the puck well and has the look of a dangerous scorer in the OHL over the next couple of years. His lacrosse background serves him well in hockey. A player to watch; was a sleeper but finished season with nearly point-per-game for London (22-40-62 in 68 games as a rookie), so he's on a lot of NHL radars now.

Rasmus Bengtsson, D Rögle (SWE-2)- Youngster has gained a lot of confidence playing in Sweden's Allsvenskan division against men: 45 games, 2-7-9. He's a good skater who plays a solid two-way game and has the size (6-2, 196) to be an effective NHL player eventually. Has a cannon of a shot, but could stand to improve quickness of his release and accuracy. Overall, he's an interesting developmental project as a player who needs to be a little more physical and assertive in his own end, but appears to have the tools to be an NHL prospect to watch.

Magnus Hellberg, G Almtuna (SWE-2)- A 1991 birthdate and late-bloomer who was passed over in 2009 and 2010, NHL teams won't make that mistake again in 2011. Huge at 6-5, 185 pounds and cat-quick between the pipes. Performed brilliantly for Almtuna in the Allsvenskan this season, posting a 2.04 GAA and .936 save percentage in 31 games. He was then loaned to IFK Kumla in the Division 1 league and posted a 2.01 GAA and .938 mark. With his superb athleticism, upside and performance, his developmental curve is straight up, not to mention as an older, more mature player, he's ready to come to the AHL next season and start right away.

Andrey Pedan, D Guelph (OHL)- Big Russian defenseman (6-4, 195) came into the OHL this year with a lot of hype after an outstanding Ivan Hlinka tourney for Team Russia and only managed to score two goals and 12 points in 51 games, with both tallies coming at the very end of the season. Interestingly enough, he's already posted five points in just three playoff games and his stock is on the rebound. NHL teams liked his size and mobility/agility as an effective shutdown 'D', but he had shown very little offensive element to his performance to justify a high pick. Now, with Pedan starting to bring the offense at crunch time, he's elevating his profile at just the right time.

Zach Franko, LW Kelowna (WHL)- A smaller guy at 5-11, 160, but shifty, fast and a very good puckhandler. Franko, like teammate Shane McColgan, got off to a slow start offensively, but really came on over the second half for the Rockets and will no doubt be on a lot of teams' boards come June. He finished the year with 22 goals and 53 points in 72 games, but has fine hockey sense and vision to go with his wheels and quick stick. He's got to get much stronger, but he could explode offensively in the WHL over the next 1-2 years.

Mitch Elliot, LW Seattle (WHL)- Behemoth winger at 6-5, 215 pounds has legitimate toughness but a modicum of skill as well. He hasn't been very productive with the non-playoff Thunderbirds over the past couple of season, scoring just 6 goals and 17 points in 128 games to go with 157 penalty minutes. Elliot's upside is limited, but he skates pretty well for such a big guy and NHL teams do love their tough wingers.


Alan Quine, C Peterborough (OHL)-
This skilled pivot with a high hockey IQ came into the year as a first-round projection, but got off to a slow start with Kingston and never recovered. He was on the gold medal team at the Ivan Hlinka tourney, and was eventually traded to Peterborough for Ryan Spooner. He finished the season with 26 goals and 53 points in 69 games split between the Frontenacs and Petes. He has tremendous vision and high-end passing skills with a quick release and accurate shot. Unfortunately, defense is not his strong suit, and his average size (6-0, 180) doesn't make for a very physical player. Quine could be one of those one-dimensional guys who is doomed to be a minor leaguer, but if he ever figures out how to round out his game, he certainly has the talent to be a top-six NHL forward.

Garrett Meurs, C Plymouth (OHL)- Another disappointment like Quine in that Meurs was a playmaking pivot from whom bigger things were expected after a 16-goal, 34-point rookie campaign with the Whalers. The 5-11, 172-pounder only managed 10 goals and 40 points in 2011, but played better hockey near the end of the season after looking listless and ineffective for much of the time. Meurs is a talented forward who isn't the prettiest-looking skater, but manages to get where he needs to go. Needs to improve first step in the eyes of several scouts, who feel his skating will hold him back at the next level. Shows the intangibles you want like vision, offensive instincts and has a feisty side despite not being the biggest guy out there. Another member of Team Canada's Ivan Hlinka champion last August, Meurs must get a lot stronger. His stock is on the wane, but if he gets back on his developmental track, he's got potential as a later value pick in this class.

Jesse Forsberg, D Prince George (WHL)- Smallish defender at 6-0, 195 pounds was one of the higher-rated players in the WHL coming into it, but pretty much fell off the map with a subpar offensive season and a weird, hunched-over skating style that is a turnoff for scouts. Works hard and plays a gritty, hard-nosed game despite a lack of height and power, but is pretty limited in terms of his puck-moving ability and upside at the next level. Could force his way into the NHL much like Andrew Ference did, but Ference at least put up some pretty good numbers in Portland back in the day. Forsberg's 2 goals and 16 points at the junior level will give pause to any team thinking of drafting him in the top-100, but he has the kind of edge and work ethic to make himself a player one day. Worth the risk after the third round.

Austen Brassard, RW Belleville (OHL)- A frustrating tease, in the words of one NHL scout. This 6-2, 190-pound winger put up 17 points in just 26 games last season after being traded from Windsor to the Bulls, so the conventional thinking was that Brassard would make the obvious jump in production this year. Didn't happen. With 19 goals and 34 points in 67 games, the talent is not an issue, as he's a pretty good skater and has the quick hands and nose for the net, but brings a maddening inconsistency and penchant for disappearing for large stretches to the mix. Brassard is capable of doing so much more, but is largely undelivered potential at this point. He's worth a gamble with a later-round pick like the sixth the B's spent on Tyler Randell two years ago, but the light may never come on for Brassard.

Scott Harrington, D London (OHL)- First-round talent had high hopes this year and looked like a good bet to deliver after a solid Ivan Hlinka performance in August. Unfortunately, Harrington struggled with the defensive aspect of his game this season, which was a strength last season, and according to scouts, showed off some indecisive play early on and never really found his groove. Although mobile with crisp change-of-direction ability, Harrington was never thought of as an offensive player, but his gap control, positioning, smarts and work ethic all drew raves last year. This season, he regressed and seemed to let the pressure of his draft year and London's struggles get to him. He could be a solid pro if he can get back to his previous level, but that will require a club who saw enough of him last year to be confident he can get his mojo back.

Andrei Makarov, G Lewiston (QMJHL)- Highly athletic Russian goalie carried high expectations all the way to Maine, but played so poorly early in the season that even his late resurgence may not be enough to see him picked. His poor technique and lack of fundamentals were exposed early on, but to his credit, he battled and tried to work through it. Showed improvement as the season wore on, and he could be one of these guys who goes the distance because he has such natural size, flexibility and is a bit of an acrobat in net. He's going to require a great deal of time and patience, but the payoff could be big.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The next tier of draft options: CHL

This post is a follow-on to the regular season recap we did last week on the QMJHL, WHL and OHL in which we posted some of the players who are, in our view (bolstered by the opinions of NHL and independent scouting sources we used) the best options from those leagues in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

However, what about the players who were close, but just missed the cut? We'll profile some of those guys, many of whom will be second- and third-round picks in June here.

In the coming days, we'll profile more interesting players and sleepers from some of the other ranks like Europe, the USHL and CJHL for you.

We'll also get to some players who, for whatever reason, have fallen off during the 2010-11 season and for that reason, aren't likely to be first-round or perhaps even second-round draft picks.

You'll note that the predominance of OHL players on this particular list demonstrates the superior depth in that league's draft class.

Rickard Rakell, RW/C Plymouth (OHL)- Skilled and agitating Swedish winger took a page from the Gabriel Landeskog book and came over to North America this season. He's got above average size (6-1, 190), and in scouts' eyes is a good skater with quickness, speed and agility in his favor. He's a solid puckhandler and put up decent numbers for the Whalers in his first OHL campaign, scoring 19 goals and 43 points in 49 games. He went out of the lineup with a lower body injury in mid-February and has not yet played in the first round of his team's playoff series against Kitchener. His shot/release is not a strong suit, and Rakell's ultimate offensive upside at the NHL level could be what prevents him from being a first-round draft pick. However, he's a gritty, gutsy competitor who played well at the WJC as a Landeskog-lite when the Kitchener captain went down early.

Stefan Noesen, LW Plymouth (OHL)- The native of Plano, a suburb of Dallas, Texas had a breakthrough season in his second year at this level, shattering his previous season's scoring total of eight total points with a 34-43-77 stats line in 68 games. A decent skater who doesn't possess great acceleration or agility but is good in a straight line and is a powerful player who will drive to the net. Despite being a winger, took faceoffs this season during certain situations and proved himself to be a versatile and reliable player for coach Mike Vellucci. What's more, his improved intensity and willingness to do the little things made him one of Plymouth's most consistent players all season. Scouts don't see Noesen as a naturally instinctive player who sees the ice well and can create offense for himself. His scoring upside at the highest level is a bit of a question, but he has the look of a guy who can get it done as a grinder in the NHL level at least.

Shane Prince, LW Ottawa (OHL)- Undersized playmaking winger is a B2011DW favorite for his speed, skills and competitiveness. Shows a nice initial burst and not only has a top gear, but is also shifty and quick- able to shake defenders when he has time and space to work with. Soft hands and terrific vision complimented his linemates Tyler Toffoli and Ryan Martindale nicely. Finished the season with 25 goals and 88 points in 59 games with the 67's but battled a shoulder injury and then got blasted by Niagara defenseman Tim Billingsley, which kept him out for a few more contests late in the season (while Billingsley received a 10-game ban from the OHL). On the downside, Prince is not much of a physical player and because of the durability issues, his stock could take a hit.

Daniel Catenacci, C/LW Saulte Ste. Marie (OHL)- Another small, but super-skilled player who was previously the top pick in the 2009 OHL draft. This kid has tremendous wheels and hands- he can do pretty much anything he wants with the puck on his stick and has been a highly impressive scoring presence this season on a poor Greyhounds teamm scoring 26 goals and 71 points in 67 games. He also plays a feisty, edgy game, having racked up 117 minutes in penalties. Scouts are a little concerned with Catenacci's sense and ability to use his teammates effectively, as he tends to be a one-man show at times and fails to utilize the other members of his team properly. With his wheels and high-end puck skills and shot, he's going to be an intriguing option for any NHL team in the second round, possibly even late first if they believe in his upside enough, but he carries some risk as a boom-or-bust prospect.

Shane McColgan, RW Kelowna (WHL)- Yet another small, but highly skilled player for the draft. McColgan came into the season as one of the 2011 class's bigger, more recognizable names coming out of the WHL. After a disastrous start, McColgan turned it on down the stretch, finishing as a point-per-game player with 21 goals and 66 points in 67 games. He's an excellent skater with the ability to back defenses up with his speed and hands. The biggest thing with him has been the fact that his offense has not taken the anticipated jump from last season, and when you're dealing with undersized players, they must demonstrate enough offensive upside to justify the risks that come with taking them high. Unfortunately, his size is a major issue with scouts, who don't see that he has any more room to grow into a 5-10, 170-pound frame.

"My concern is that he's as big as he's going to be," said one NHL scout when asked about McColgan. "That means he's already way behind the power curve and if he isn't going to get much stronger, then it's an issue."

Stuart Percy, D Mississauga (OHL)- If ever there was a textbook example of a player who goes out and brings a consistency without fanfare and excitement, it is this defenseman. Efficiency is the name of the game with Percy; he sees the ice well and makes rapid yet calculated decisions. He had a strong performance in the CHL Top Prospects Game as a player who just went out and got the job done effectively in terms of his positioning and decision-making. One NHL scout told B2011DW back in the summer after seeing Percy skate at Team Canada evaluation camp for the Ivan Hlinka tourney that he was fairly mobile, poised and effective with making crisp breakout passes. Every team needs players like Percy, who can perform with minimal mistakes. He isn't going to be a No. 1 or 2 in the NHL, but he could develop into a No. 3 and anchor for a middle pairing some day. If not, he's a quality depth guy that good clubs win with, and as a member of Memorial Cup tournament host Mississauga, scouts will get an extended look at him this spring.

Brett Ritchie, RW Sarnia (OHL)- Big power forward prospect didn't take the steps NHL scouts were hoping for, but is an intriguing project player because he does have a good deal of potential given his impressive size and good stick. He battled a slow start and a bout of mononucleosis in January, which forced him through a middle stretch of being less than 100 percent. Like many big men, his first step is sluggish and he doesn't have quick turning ability or lateral agility in abundance. Once he gets going, his speed is fine enough, and with his size, he can be a load to contain. Ritchie is pretty strong on his skates, and like most power forwards, is a horse along the wall and down low. He protects the puck well and bulls his way to the net when he's on his game. When not firing on all cylinders, Ritchie is out on the perimeter and not using his natural size and strength to grind it out and wear down defenses. The 6-3, 200-pounder scored 21 goals and 41 points in 49 games with the Sting this season. He's not a huge thumper, but does use his body effectively enough to create some space for himself and his linemates. There's a lot of raw untapped potential with Ritchie and our guess is that NHL clubs are hoping he slides in the draft to where he can be a steal.

Nick Cousins, C Sault Ste Marie (OHL)- Undersized pivot makes his long overdue B2011DW debut on this post after posting 29 goals and 68 points in 68 games with the woeful Greyhounds this season. He's listed at 5-11 and 170, but is smaller than that and doesn't have a lot of room to get much bigger if he doesn't hit a late growth spurt. He has nice wheels, quick hands and very good offensive hockey sense. Even better, his defensive awareness and overall game improved from his first season in the OHL. Cousins is one of these guys you aren't hearing a great deal about, but could end up being a draft day bargain the way Greg McKegg worked out last June, falling into the third round where Toronto snatched the Erie star. If Cousins were a couple of inches taller and about 15 pounds heavier, he'd be one of the more talked about OHL guys in the 2011 class.

Vince Trocheck, C Saginaw (OHL)- Gritty, tenacious Pennsylvania center doesn't have ideal size or speed, but his quick stick, accurate shot and hockey sense all combine to make him an interesting if polarizing prospect among scouts who seem to constantly revise their opinions on him. He finished the season with 26 goals and 62 points in 66 games with the Spirit, which was a bit disappointing given his start and what expectations were for him. Even without the big numbers, he's a hustling, high-energy player who gives his all. It's hard to count guys like that out. An extended and productive postseason for Trocheck could put him solidly in the draft's 2nd round.

Tobias Rieder, RW Kitchener (OHL)- After a blazing start, the skilled German's production tailed off after the WJC and with his lack of size, he's a bit of a wildcard right now in terms of where he'll go in the draft. He finished the year with 23 goals and 49 points in 65 games for the Rangers. We saw him at the WJC and he struggled to handle the speed, pace and power of the older players on one of the tourney's weak sisters. He did score a highlight reel breakaway goal, so the puck skills and finishing ability are there in flashes. At 5-10, 165 however, he reportedly had trouble keeping weight on during the season and simply doesn't have the functional strength to run with the big dogs; he's going to require a lot of time and patience.

Anton Zlobin, LW Shawinigan (QMJHL)- Highly skilled Russian didn't get a ton of press playing for the Cataractes, but showed off some interesting long-term potential as a goal scorer. Superb hands, shot and offensive instincts. A human highlight reel, and when he gets it revved up with some open ice to work with, watch out. Finished the season with 23 goals and 45 points in 59 games. He took some adjustment time and also had some injury issues- he's very average sized at about 6-0, 170 pounds. But as far as talent and upside go, he's flying under the radar in the Quebec League class.

Todd Fiddler, LW Prince Albert (WHL)- Pretty averaged sized at just over 6-feet, but plays a very physical aggressive style and has stepped up his game in the WHL playoffs for the Raiders, scoring a pair of goals in one game to even the series against top-seeded Saskatoon (he has 3 in four games). His skating, mainly heavy boots, lack of quick acceleration and separation is what has prevented him from being mentioned in a lot of draft talk which has especially been dominated in PA by Mark McNeill, but Fiddler has some real upside if he can pick up a step. He has a rocket shot and a nice release, accounting for 23 goals this season. He's one of these guys whose production will probably take off because he has the hands and awareness to be a nice offensive player. Given his lack of size and skating, he's flying under the radar, but if scouts are convinced that he can get quicker/faster, then don't be surprised to see him go off the board as early as the first half of the 3rd round. Yes, we know that's pretty high, but if he can keep putting the puck in the net during the playoffs against top competition, that will go a long way with scouts, who have been all over the Blades-Raiders because of McNeill and Duncan Siemens, but may come away saying, "You know, that Fiddler kid is pretty freaking nice as well."

Waffle Watch: 2011 Boston Bruins draft pick update 28 Mar.

Welcome to the last Waffle Watch draft pick update of March. It's hard to believe, but we're in single digits for games left in the season and less than two weeks away from finishing out the 2010-11 regular season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have continued to win hockey games behind the goaltending of James Reimer and some opportunistic scoring. They aren't going to make the playoffs, but the nonplayoff clubs pick 1-14, so it isn't outside the realm of reason to think that they could end up with the 11th or 12th pick if Carolina and Minnesota go south in the standings over the final 7 games. They both have a game in hand on the Leafs, who have six to go and could finish with 90 points if they go 6-0. Because of Buffalo's recent winning streak, that's not likely going to be enough to get them in- Buffalo only needs six points in 7 games to clinch the eighth spot in the East.

The good news for Bruins fans is that the depth of this draft class is pretty good, so while everyone got spoiled last year with the Tyler Seguin watch, the B's are looking at someone like Ryan Murphy and Dougie Hamilton, or perhaps Brandon Saad or Mika Zibanejad or even Matt Puempel the closer they get to 10th overall.

The CHL playoffs are in full swing, as is the NCAA tournament, which established its Frozen Four bracket over the weekend in shocking fashion with some frontrunners in the Hockey East going down in flames. Michigan, North Dakota, Notre Dame and Minnesota-Duluth are your 2011 contenders for the national championship. Not a Hockey East club in the bunch after UNH lost to the Fighting Irish yesterday.

The weather's getting warmer, the NHL draft lottery will be on April 12th and while the Leafs have played that Boston pick out of the lottery, the Bruins are in the dance officially after beating Philly last night and just need a few more wins to wrap up the Northeast and the third seed in the East.

Life is good.

And that's the weekly commentary- now for the Bruins pick update.

2011 Boston Bruins draft picks 6 total picks plus one pending conditional 7th from FLA)

1st Round
10th overall- Toronto (78 points; 34-32-10)- Completes Phil Kessel trade.

2nd Round
41st overall- Minnesota (78 points;35-32-8)- Completes Chuck Kobasew trade.

3rd Round
83rd overall- Phoenix (93 points; 41-25-11) - Completes Derek Morris trade.

4th Round
115th overall- Boston (94 points; 42-23-10)

5th Round
145th overall- Boston

6th Round
175th overall- Boston

7th Round
184th overall- Florida (conditional 69 pts; 29-36-11)- Jeff LoVecchio, Jordan Knackstedt to Panthers for Sean Zimmerman, cond. 7th

Traded Picks- 2011 (4 Boston 2011 picks traded in Rounds 1-3, 7)

1st Round
25th overall- Boston pick Traded to Toronto for Tomas Kaberle

2nd Round
55th overall- Boston pick Traded to Ottawa for Chris Kelly

3rd round
85th overall Boston pick traded to Florida; Completes Nathan Horton deal

7th round
205th overall Boston pick traded to Chicago (Zach Trotman)

Boston Bruins 2012 Draft Picks

2nd- Traded to TOR; conditional: If BOS makes Stanley Cup final or Kaberle re-signed, pick goes to Leafs

Sunday, March 27, 2011

NHL season winding down

April is almost here! What will the next two weeks hold?

Will the Toronto pick be inside the top-10, or will the Leafs manage to get it up around 11 or 12?

Should be an interesting finish, and the depth of this draft means the Bruins will still end up with a nice prospect with that Leafs pick, even if it isn't as high as it was looking back in January. Credit the Leafs for picking it up and getting a lot of mileage behind James Reimer.

This week, we'll have updated picks for you, some sleeper players in every league that we didn't cover in our recent series of the CHL, NCAA, Europe, juniors and high school prospects.

We're also going to take a look at some of the more dominant teams in history and how they did in the draft/what kinds of NHL careers their players went on to have. Right now, thinking the '79 Brandon Wheat Kings are up there, as will be the '88 Windsor Spitfires. And, we'll even go to the NCAA for the '87 University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux also known as the "Hrkac Circus" in honor of Hobey Baker winner Tony Hrkac.

If there is anything you, the readership would like to see- drop it in the comments section below and we'll try to do it. Sorry- no CHL free agent roundup- that is a bridge too far and is in the "too hard to do" category given the resources on hand- but if there are particular players you're interested in or storylines you'd like to see fleshed out, we'll see what we can do.

U.S. High School prospects 2010-11 season review

Welcome to the final installment of our comprehensive look at 2011 NHL Draft options from the various feeder leagues in hockey across North America and Europe.

This closes out the regular season series, and we'll be back with some shorter posts and content in the coming weeks. While fun, putting these reports together is extremely time-consuming and requires a lot of cross-coordination with our various sources.

Thanks for reading!

1. Mario Lucia, LW Wayzata H.S. (Minnesota)- The son of University of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia is arguably the top high school player for the 2011 draft, and as a junior, expected to play in the USHL next year before moving on to the NCAA ranks. He's 6-2 and about 185 and has excellent hockey sense and a real good shot. He was highly productive and looks like he could be a very good player eventually.

"I like Mario," said Max Giese, Red Line Report scout in the Midwest. "He looks like a second-round projection; I've seen nights when he's been dominant and nights when there doesn't appear to be a lot there. He lacks the physical strength and power in his stride, so he's going to take a long time for any team that drafts him." Lucia has the highest upside of any of the high school/prep players in class in our view based on what we're hearing, but if he does crack the 1st round, it would be like Brock Nelson last year- in the final pick or so. As a 31-60 selection, he's a nice option albeit one who will take the long road as Giese mentioned. He scored 30 goals and 54 points in 27 games for Wayzata.

2. Mike McKee, D Kent School (Connecticut)- We've covered McKee in great detail this month after watching him compete in the New England prep championship tournament for runner-up Kent. The Newmarket, Ontario native is a remarkable physical specimen (6-5, 230), who is literally a manchild and was able to ragdoll opponents in the prep ranks like one whenever he decided to do so. He's also an excellent skater who was able to jump up into the play and was quite noticeable at that level. The concerns with him stem from the hockey sense and whether he can process/make decisions quickly enough to play defense at the highest level. He is a converted forward, so scouts have to take that into account, but we don't know that we've seen more of a disparity in opinions with any player as we've discovered when talking to NHL sources about McKee.

3. Philippe Hudon, RW Choate Rosemary Hall (Connecticut)- Power forward and Cornell-bound prospect is from Quebec and is a bright, intelligent kid. Scored 10 goals and 20 points in 22 games for the Wild Boars- It was a disappointing year for Hudon, who didn't have the kind of dominant prep season expected of him in his third year at that level, and this will hurt him a bit when draft day comes. At 6-2, 185, he's got raw size and the frame to get much stronger. He's a good skater with nice initial burst and a top gear, but his agility and footwork could be improved as he continues to develop. Hudon handles the puck well and seems to have the size and skills to be a scorer, but simply hasn't developed the production in his game, finishing with 20, 19 and 20 points in each of his prep seasons. Has the size and skating to be an NHL player, but if you're looking for him to score for you, that is probably not likely to happen. Hard working, solid kid (even though he got into academic hot water as a junior) who is mature and wants to be a player. If he's more of a late-bloomer, could surprise at the next level, but scouts feel he should have done a lot more in prep.

4. Joseph LaBate, C Holy Angels Academy (Minnesota)- At 6-4, 180 pounds this Mr. Hockey finalist is a total stringbean, but has some of the nicest projectable physical upside of any of his peers. He's got a nose for the net and does some great work in close when the puck is on his stick. Pretty good skater, but needs to improve his initial burst and overall east-west mobility. Scouts think a lot of that will come when he adds strength and mass to his legs to generate more force behind his stride. He's going straight to the Wisconsin Badgers next season, and some scouts wonder if he's physically ready for that kind of challenge, but we'll find out.

"He's very talented and his nice offensive ability," Giese said of LaBate. "He's lanky and reminds me a lot of Nick Bjugstad in terms of his style and the fact that he needs to physically mature." On the downside, LaBate doesn't always play with the kind of hustle and intensity folks want to see from him. "He picks his spots, but when he's on his game, he's dangerous," said Giese.

5. Eddie Wittchow, D Burnsville H.S. (Minnesota)- B2011DW got a very nice tip on Wittchow back in early February and we made him one of our "sleeper alert" prospects- you can read the original post here. Suffice to say that the cat is out of the bag on this 6-3, 185-pounder, as NHL scouts flocked to see the Burnsville-Edina matchup in the Minnesota tourney recently. Unfortunately for Wittchow, we're told it was his worst game of the season. "The game was a good reminder that the kid is raw and is a project," Giese said of Wittchow's struggles against Edina. "Let's be patient with him."

He's an outstanding skater for a guy of his size and shows off some pretty good hockey sense and puck skills even if he is a late-bloomer and pretty raw product. Also in his favor, he's a mean and aggressive hitter; what's not to love about that, especially when he fills out to the 215-220 pounds he'll likely hit at his physical peak? We're not even sure where he will end up in the NCAA yet, he was that much of a recent find by scouts. In any case, we know that NHL clubs are hot on his trail and even though he had a rough game in the spotlight, Wittchow showed enough pure promise that he's going to be a pick in the draft. The only questions we need answered are- where and when will he go?

6. Petr Placek, RW Hotchkiss School (Connecticut)- Another disappointment in New England prep hockey this season along the lines of Hudon. The big and talented Czech winger battled two major obstacles this season" injuries and playing on a really poor team that didn't give him a lot of help. He missed time to a knee injury early and took a while to round into form. Even when he did, the aforementioned lack of depth forced Placek to try and do too much himself. He reminds us of Bobby Holik in terms of his skating in that he doesn't have a great first couple of steps, but once he gets going is very difficult to knock off stride. He's got a big shot but needs to work on accuracy and on taking the puck to the net more consistently. Like Kevin Hayes last year, when open lanes are there for him to drive through, he tends to spin off and try to work it from the outside. Not many perimeter players can finish from that far out, and Placek is no exception. With his size (6-4, 200) and strength, he should be doing a hell of a lot more in close than he does.

7. Colin Sullivan, D Avon Old Farms (Connecticut)- When we saw Sullivan help the Winged Beavers to the 2010 prep title a year ago, we saw a solid, decent player who was responsible in his own end but didn't do a great deal to stand out. What a difference a year makes! His skating noticeably improved, and it was impressive a year ago. He explodes out of a standstill or glide with a powerful stride and the ability to generate top speed very quickly. He's also tremendous on his edges, making very tight turns and able to shake would-be checkers with ease. In fact, we talked to one NHL scout who was staying at the same hotel when we were at the World Jr. Championship about Sullivan and all he wanted to talk about was the Yale recruit's wheels. On the downside, Sullivan was not all that productive this season and some scouts question his vision and hockey instincts to read the play and jump into the natural offensive flow. He's a solid defensive player otherwise, however. We talked to Sullivan's coach, John Gardner, who knows a thing or two about producing NHL players, having coached Brian Leetch and Jonathan Quick to name just two, and he said the most impressive thing about Sullivan's progress from last season to this was that he increased his skating speed and also got a lot stronger. Sullivan is a gym rat who works harder than anyone on the team at his off-ice conditioning. He's a solid 6-2, 205 right now and will still add some more mass to his frame. The big question Sullivan will have to answer is where he will play next season. He won't report to Yale until 2012, and can go back to AOF for a third season or may go out to the USHL- he's reportedly drawn a lot of interest from teams in that league.

8. Max Everson, D Edina H.S. (Minnesota)- He may not have slightly below average size at 6-0 and about 185 pounds, but Everson is a smart, instinctive, two-way defenseman. Nifty skater who isn't quite as explosive or dynamic as Sullivan but can bring the speed and carry the puck out on his own.

"He had a very good state tournament," Giese said. "He's very smart and poised; he moves the puck well and is one of those steady guys who makes the right decisions." He logged a lot of minutes and was a leader for Edina this season, a perennial contender in Minnesota H.S. competition. Interestingly enough, Everson is taking his game to Harvard next season instead of following the more traditional path of big ticket hockey schools in Minnesota, North Dakota or Wisconsin like many of his peers. Not a ton of upside with this kid, but is just one of those guys who has so many nice intangibles that he could eventually force an NHL team to give him a spot.

9. Robby O'Gara, D Milton Academy (Massachusetts)- We really liked this smooth, mobile defensive-minded rearguard with some offensive upside when we watched him help lead his team to the 2011 prep title in Salem, NH. The native of Long Island didn't have a great deal of points for the Milton Academy Mustangs, but he did assist on the championship-winning goal scored by Sean Okita earlier this month. O'Gara isn't a dynamic skater, but he has a long, fluid stride and has very good footwork with superb four-way mobility. He's sharp and disciplined; you won't see him gambling with the puck or making too many bad decisions. O'Gara plays a responsible, physical game in his own end, using his 6-3, 190-pound body to separate opponents from the puck. He's quietly intense, fighting for loose pucks and using his long reach to gain an advantage. One more Yale recruit (and we'll cover yet another Yalie just a few spots lower) to add to the mix of a neat corps of mobile guys with size that Keith Allain is assembling in New Haven.

10. Steven Fogarty, C Edina H.S. (Minnesota)- Underrated and skilled centerman with size makes his B2011DW debut on this post and has some real interesting long-term potential. The proverbial rink rat who eats, sleeps, breathes hockey- Fogarty finished his HS career at Edina and then jumped to the Chicago Steel of the USHL, where he's been drinking from the fire hose of late. You have to credit the kid for risking his draft stock a little, which was pretty high given how well he played as a senior, by going to the USHL where his lack of strength and defensive awareness is being exposed a bit on a weak team and against older, stronger players. Still, there is a lot to like about this playmaking pivot who has a long stride and gets up the ice quickly. He has soft hands and superb vision for finding teammates in open ice. His work ethic is laudable- he wants to play and loves to compete; goes above and beyond to make himself better and put himself into situations that will put him in position to improve. He's raw and needs significant work, but will spend the entire 2011-12 season in the USHL. At 6-1, 195, he's got the physical tools to be a solid NHL prospect and watch for him to go relatively high (3rd-4th rounds) in the draft.

11. Jimmy Vesey, LW Belmont Hill Academy (Massachusetts)- The son of former NHL forward Jim Vesey is an impressive scoring winger coming out of New England this season. Although he told B2011DW that his team didn't keep stats this season per the suggestion of the captain and voted on by the team, Vesey scored about 28 goals for Belmont Hill, who advanced to the large school semi-final before falling to eventual champion Westminster School. He's a pretty good skater who could stand to pick up a first step or two, but has good straight-line speed and is a shifty, elusive guy when he has the puck on his stick. He has excellent hockey sense and is one of those guys who always seems to be around the puck when you watch him. He has good hands, but admittedly in the semi-final game, seemed to let the pressure get to him, as he was unable to finish several chances in close. He had a much stronger offensive performance in the Beantown Classic exhibition tournament a couple of weeks later, making a lot happen on a line with fellow prep schooler Nick Bligh. Some scouts have said Vesey is soft, but we didn't see any of that. If anything, he is willing to initiate contact and make some hits, but at 6-2, 185 is still growing into his body and improving his strength. Vesey is a hard worker and he gets a lot of that from his dad who came from very humble roots to make himself into an NHL player after a stellar collegiate career at Merrimack College in the mid-80s. It looks like Vesey will not be back in prep next season, and his situation is up in the air in terms of where he'll end up as numerous USHL teams are interested. He will be at Harvard in the fall of 2012. This kid is a legitimate sleeper in the draft- we've heard him described as a poor man's Charlie Coyle and we have no issue with that assessment.

12. Matt Killian, D Delbarton School (New Jersey)- Good skater and bright kid who plays for the New Jersey powerhouse Delbarton Green Wave, who recently won yet another state title. He's a pretty steady, unspectacular kind of defender who moves well and is a fluid skater, but doesn't really rush the puck a ton or demonstrate a kind of dangerous offensive element to his game that will translate at the next level. Admittedly, the game we saw Killian last play in February was a brutal, one-sided affair. And, you can clearly see that the kid has the size, wheels and poise to play the game well. It's just exceedingly difficult to get a read on his upside given the level of competition he faced on most nights. Killian is going to Yale, and the idea of him one day forming a potential three-of-six Bulldog defenders on the backline is intriguing indeed as all three can skate well and bring good size to the mix. Killian is safe and steady, but is another long-term project player who is going to require much time and patience to develop properly.

13. Kyle Rau, C Eden Prairie H.S. (Minnesota)- Winner of the 2011 Mr. Hockey award as top Minnesota high school senior, Rau scored 41 goals and 81 points, even scoring the 2A state championship-winning goal in OT for Eden Prairie. This kid is a real winner, but at 5-8, doesn't project as a high-end NHL draft prospect. He's headed to the University of Minnesota and will have to work his backside off to put himself into the big league mix. More of a shifty skater than a blazer, he's an outstanding stickhandler with terrific offensive hockey sense as is as productive as they come. He finished out the season in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampeders. Could be another Cam Atkinson- undersized high school ace scorer who went in the 6th-round to Columbus in '08 after gazillions of points at AOF, and just signed after back-to-back 30-goal seasons at Boston College.

14. Tony Cameranesi, C Wayzata H.S. (Minnesota)- The 5-9, 160-pounder is on this list for one reason and one only: his skating. He is perhaps the best skater in the entire draft with tremendous acceleration, speed and agility. He plays with a high energy level and never stops moving his feet. The explosive little waterbug is going to the University of Minnesota-Duluth and is a draft wildcard for sure, but is someone to watch as he matures and develops. If he can prove he has the sense to go with his wheels, he could get a shot in the big show eventually.

15. Steve Michalek, G Loomis-Chaffee- Admittedly, a B2011DW fave because he makes a living out of standing on his head, this Harvard-bound goalie was tremendous at the Ivan Hlinka. We love his size and competitiveness and athleticism. His technique will need refining as he has a tendency to overcommit to the shooter and get himself out of position for the trailer and backdoor play, but we like him a lot as a draft darkhorse because he was under siege all season, yet kept his team competitive and demonstrated remarkable mental toughness to stay composed. A real battler and competitor with a ton of raw potential.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

U.S. and Canada Juniors 2010-11 regular season roundup

We're checking back in with another installment of player recaps for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft from the USHL, CJHL and EJHL for regular season.

It is a down year for most of the Jr. A and Tier 2 leagues this year according to multiple NHL and independent sources we've talked to, but there is still talent to be had. Nobody's going to make an immediate impact, but teams looking for developmental projects with some upside can find some guys as long as they are willing to be patient and accept some risk.

We polled several NHL scouts with junior knowledge as well as Red Line Report's Max Giese, who has the pulse on the USHL and NCAA in the midwest.

"Overall it's a pretty bad year," Giese told B2011DW of the USHL draft crop. "The top guys let you down a bit this year and there were not many pleasant surprises, either. People were saying a few years ago that the '93s were not a great class as a whole, and based on what I've seen from them in the USHL, those thoughts are on the mark."

So, with that in mind- here is the Jr. A/Tier 2 review for 2011:

1. Tyler Biggs, RW U.S. NTDP (USHL)- In the minds of several of our panel, Biggs is the best player to come out of the USHL and all of Jr. A/Tier 2 this season. Much of the discussion around the son of former minor league star Don Biggs has centered around the fact that he's being projected as more of a third-line player in the NHL. At 6-2, 210 the younger Biggs has the size and plays with a real aggressive mean streak and chip on his shoulder. He sleepwalks at times, which has been a drawback, but has pretty quick hands and a powerful shot. When he's on his game, Biggs is a hitter and throws his body around in intimidating fashion. His skating's not an issue, but the real concern teams have on him is with his hockey sense; he's not very creative and pretty much just drives the puck to the net but doesn't see the ice all that well and isn't able to get much done on his own.

The questions about his creativity are what lead Biggs to be seen as a 3rd/4th-line kind of checker/banger at the NHL level. But with just 7 goals and 11 points in 20 USHL games this year with the Under-18 team, the Miami University (OH) recruit is a bit of a wildcard- he could be a Milan Lucic kind of guy, or he might end up being Mike Brown. That's where Biggs will require a leap of faith for an NHL team to take him earlier. You might see a similar effect to Adam Clendening, where a team with several picks in each of the first two rounds gambles on a player like Biggs, whereas a club with just one in the 1st or 2nd shies away from him because they don't think they can afford to spend the pick on a guy who may just be lower-end grinder. It's all going to come down to how an NHL team views Biggs- if that staff sees a bigger picture upside with him, he could be a top-15 pick, but it's going to take a team really believing in him to do that because the conventional wisdom just doesn't see him achieving true power forward status.

2. Scott Mayfield, D Youngstown (USHL)- It has been a confounding year for the St. Louis native and Denver University recruit who wowed NHL scouts at the Research & Development Camp last August by forming a massive but mobile shutdown pairing with Mike McKee. At 6-4, 200 pounds Mayfield has size and skating ability plus good puck skills and above average hockey sense going for him. He also plays a physical, hard-nosed game and is a pretty complete two-way defenseman when on his game. Unfortunately, he's playing on one of the worst USHL teams in Youngstown and hasn't gotten much help in terms of development this season, which has ultimately hurt his stock a bit after posting just 6 goals and 13 points in 45 games with the Phantoms this season after an impressive 10-12-22 campaign as a rookie last year.

"He came to the USHL as a late-bloomer needing some coaching and development and didn't get it," said one scout commenting on the Youngstown situation. "On top of that, they had him playing about 30 minutes a night, so he was gassed and prone to making mistakes. He just doesn't have much help on that team." The good news for Mayfield is that by going to DU, he will be on one of the top NCAA programs in terms of developing and preparing its players for the pro hockey ranks. Coach George Gwozdecky is one of the most respected coaches among NHL teams in that regard.

Giese has seen a lot of Mayfield going back to last season and had this to say about him: "He's definitely number one in the USHL (in my opinion) and has got by far the most upside of any of the kids," Giese told B2011DW. "He's massive, is an excellent skater, moves the puck pretty good and plays with some real physical aggression. If you're an NHL team and are thinking big picture, he's still a first-round pick and when he gets to a new location, he could be one of those players people are going to look back on and wonder why he went lower in the draft, which is the way things look for him right now."

USHL Radio Show interviews Mayfield back in November.

3. J.T. Miller, C U.S. NTDP (USHL)- Disappointing season for a player who has all the physical tools and skills to be a high-end NHL prospect, but who probably lacks the pure hockey sense to ever be the sum of his very impressive parts. Another Ohio native like Biggs, Miller is 6-1, 198 pounds with room to fill out and add strength to his lean but athletic frame. He's a very good skater with acceleration and agility, as well as that second gear that allows him to gain separation in the open ice. Miller is also a slick puckhandler who can make an array of moves to shake defenders or open up space for him on the ice. Some reports have him possessing solid vision and sense, but other scouts disagree, feeling that he's too talented a player to not have had more production and success given his high-end talent level. It's a difference of opinion, and likely the NHL team that pounces on Miller is going to be on the side of those who feel his instincts are fine. Still, with just 3 goals and 15 points in 21 USHL games this year, Miller is only fourth on his team in scoring. As some of the critics have said- he may not be much more than a 3rd-liner in the NHL.

4. Rocco Grimaldi, U.S. NTDP (USHL)- The U.S. team's top scorer and pure talent is an exciting player to watch and plays with so much passion and energy its hard not to root for him. He had a terrific Five Nations performance in February and in 23 USHL games this season has 12 goals and 25 points, which is pretty good considering he is just 5-6 and about 160. Where the concerns come in are tied to how he projects in the NHL. Few doubt that he's going to be an impactful and productive NCAA player right off the bat because his speed, hands and hockey IQ are all top caliber. But the worry is that he doesn't appear to have any more growing to do or weight/mass to add on his tiny frame, meaning that he's likely going to have to play in the pros at 160-170 pounds. That's tough for NHL clubs, even with they love a player's skill, to bite the bullet on, especially with so much at stake in terms of fewer picks in a seven-round draft and the salary cap making organization building from within so much more important than it used to be when teams could cover draft mistakes with cash.

Make no mistake- Grimaldi has the skill to be an NHL player, and with his heart, he probably will be one someday. But, he is still a risk of a player when you're talking about taking him in the top-15 or 20. "To me what he did in Europe is not a big surprise," Giese said of Grimaldi. "That's where he thrives- on the wider ice surface, playing other skill teams like Sweden and Russia. When you're scouting him, you're not projecting him as an international player, but in the NHL, so the questions you have to answer are: will he find a way in the NHL?"

Jerome at NHL Draft Video has this shootout goal from Grimaldi for us.

5. John Gibson, G U.S. NTDP (USHL)- This Pittsburgh native and University of Michigan recruit (after he broke verbal commitment with Ohio State) will battle Samu Perhonen for top goalie honors for this class in our view. At 6-3, 185 he's got the ideal size and athleticism for the position. He's lean, but guys like Tuukka Rask have proven that speed and power need not be sacrificed for mass. Scouts like his poise and competitiveness. He's similar to Dallas first-rounder Jack Campbell in terms of mental makeup and work ethic. We covered Gibson and the goalie class pretty extensively, so there isn't much else to say about Gibson other than he's the cream of the USHL crop as far as goalies go, and could carry that over to the entire 2011 class. But, because teams are figuring out more and more that high picks need not be invested in goalies, Gibson could fall into the second round. In 17 USHL games, he is 9-4-3 with a 2.38 GAA and .926 save percentage. He was excellent at the Five Nations in February and if USA is going to win an unprecedented (for USA Hockey) third consecutive gold medal at the World Under-18 Championship next month, Gibson will have to steal the show like Campbell did a year ago in Belarus. Tall order, but he has the potential to do it.

6. Seth Ambroz, RW Omaha (USHL)- Along with Victor Rask and Shane McColgan, Ambroz is one of the 2011 draft's most disappointing players. A manchild who emerged several years ago as a physically dominant power winger with high upside as a scorer simply has not progressed and in fact, has regressed in the eyes of many scouts, including Giese. At 6-3, 211 the feeling is that he's already reached his physical peak and isn't going to grow more or get much stronger than he already is. His skating is a major red flag, as he not only lacks first step quickness, but doesn't get up to speed all that well and is constantly trailing the play. He has tremendous hands and a wicked release and powerful shot, but lacks the creativity and sense to get into position to use it as much as he should.

He may have size, but scouts are concerned that he hasn't used it much this season, which is a huge drawback to a player like him given what was expected. There's also an issue of work ethic, which has been said in more than one circle- over the summers, Ambroz has passed on offers to do some elite level developmental work in favor of staying home in Minnesota. If he were an elite product, that would be one thing, but he's got some real holes in his game and putting in the work would have sent the right message to NHL teams. Someone is going to take him pretty high because of the prodigious size and potential upside, but with just 21 goals and 40 points in 51 games for Omaha, so much more was expected. If Ambroz ends up being a bust, it won't come as a surprise for many folks who have followed him. Overrated if anyone is talking about him in the top-30. Probably doesn't even become a legitimate value pick until the mid-3rd round or so.

Jerome has a compilation vid on Ambroz from late last season when he was being viewed as a 1st rounder. Good stuff

7. Mike Paliotta, D U.S. NTDP (USHL)- We really like and respect Paliotta here at B2011DW after watching him two years ago at Choate, but his stock has fallen off a bit this season after he was being projected as a potential first-round pick coming into the campaign. He's big and mobile; at about 6-4, 195 he's got to get stronger and will be an even better skater when he can generate more power in his long, fluid stride. He's solid in his own end and has the look of a strong positional defender at the very least when you factor in his mobility and decent footwork. He's only an average passer and simply hasn't taken that anticipated in the offensive aspects of his game to justify a first-round selection. The second round could also be in jeopardy for him much like what happened with Penguins farmhand and former BU Terrier Brian Strait in 2006- a player who was seen as a solid top-60 pick, but fell to the early third round because of concerns about the offensive upside and a lack of production during his draft year, which incidentally, was also in Ann Arbor with the NTDP. In 24 USHL games, Paliotta has just 4 assists. He's a solid, intelligent kid and is headed to University of Vermont next fall, but the concerns about his puck skills and vision/instincts are going to drop him in our estimation.

8. Destry Straight, C Coquitlam (BCHL)- The first non-USHLer comes to us by way of the BCHL, the league that produced last year's first-rounder Beau Bennett for Pittsburgh. Boston College recruit has nice height (6-1) and hockey skills, but is very slender and not all that strong. He's got a lot of work to do off the ice and is a long-term investment kind of player for whichever team drafts him. He was productive for the Express this season with 26 goals and 67 points in 59 games. The West Vancouver native brings good hands and creativity to the mix as an effective playmaker who is always around the puck, but does not play a very physical game at all mainly because he's a stringbean right now who is physically underdeveloped. He brings some interesting potential to the mix even if he is on the long road to pro hockey.

9. Colten St. Clair, C Fargo (USHL)- Although not very big at 5-11, 190 pounds, St. Clair is strong on his skates and has the ability to get up under bigger guys who try to take runs at him to stay on his feet. He plays a physical style and shows off a good energy level. Ryan Clark, a hockey writer who covers the Fargo Force said that St. Clair has shown some good potential in flashes, but he is still a work in progress overall. Scouts we've talked to are only lukewarm on St. Clair, however and see him as more of a defensive player with limited NHL upside. The Arizona native has the look of a guy who will be a solid NCAA player and journeyman pro in the minor leagues, but simply does not possess the high-end skill set to be a long-term NHL player. At the same time, his effort and energy level is an asset and he could work hard enough to surprise. Longshot, but worth putting in the top-10 for now. Battled injuries this season- tallied 11 goals and 25 points in 39 games playing on the same team as Bruins prospect "the great" Zane Gothberg.

10. Evan Rodrigues, C Georgetown (OJHL)- Skilled little guy who has some real speed and hands, scoring 21 goals and 54 points for the Raiders this season in just 37 games. He's creative and always looking to score, but at 5-10, 170 is not strong and scouts we've talked to consider him to be a pretty soft player. Another undersized player who has missed time to injuries this season, his production in the OJHL is certainly a quality aspect to him- he tallied 20 goals and 51 points last season (in 56 games), so his developmental curve has been on an upward path. Intriguing late-round option and someone could jump up to take him as early as the 4th round.

11. Reid Boucher, LW U.S. NTDP (USHL)- Another small guy who just knows how to put the puck in the net. Led all scorers at the Five Nations in February. Different from Grimaldi in that he lacks Rocco's explosiveness and dynamic element, but uses his quickness, agility and killer instinct to bury chances in close. Has a very quick stick and is able to fight off defenders to get his lumber on the puck and get it on net in tight quarters. High compete level and just doesn't quit on a play even though he's smaller than most of the guys he's going up against. Low center of gravity makes him difficult to knock off stride and he keeps his feet moving. Going to Michigan State and should be a popular and productive player there for the Spartans. Scored 14 goals and 20 points in 24 USHL contests for the Under-18 team this season. As a Sep. 8, 1993 birthdate, one of the youngest players in the 2011 draft.

12. Connor Murphy, D U.S. NTDP (USHL)- If not for a back injury that kept him out for most of the year, Murphy would likely be higher on this list. At 6-3, 200 pounds, and with his NHL bloodlines, he's got plenty of the right attributes NHL teams love, even if he didn't get many games in. He played a very good Ivan Hlinka tourney in August, showing off good skating ability, a powerful shot and good defense in terms of exhibiting proper gap control, an active stick and taking the body. His hockey sense is a bit of a question at this point. He isn't the best player under pressure and in the face of an aggressive forecheck. His durability is also an issue; last season a spleen injury kept him out for extended action (2 games in USHL with Under-17 team) and this season, he only managed 9 total USHL games, but has scored 3 goals and 4 points for the Under-18 squad. He played in the Five Nations and acquitted himself well after being on the shelf for so long. This is the kind of player who is going to go off the board earlier than anticipated because even with the injury concerns, he simply has too much going for him in terms of physical attributes and upside.

13. Robbie Russo, D U.S. NTDP (USHL)-Smallish (5-11, 190) two-way defender is popular on some lists, but we're not among them. Too many of our sources question Russo's overall upside and inability to get much done offensively. As much as you hate to bang on a guy, he just does absolutely nothing for us as someone who lacks the size, speed and creativity to be the guy he's being hyped as: a puck mover with two-way potential in the NHL. He'll go to Notre Dame and perhaps elevate his pro potential there, but this season has been a wash, with just 6 assists in 24 USHL games with the Under-18 team.

14. Matthew Peca, LW Pembroke (CJHL)- Dynamic and hustling little bugger is only 5-9, 165 pounds but plays with a lot of energy and hustle. He scored 26 goals and 72 points for the Pembroke Lumber Kings at a much lower level than most draft prospects, but with his wheels, hockey sense and attitude is one of those guys you root for to achieve an NHL spot one day despite being a longshot. Red Line Report lauded him for his vision and soft hands. Made a name for himself at the World Jr. A Challenge. He was 110th on RLR's March rankings, and given that his coach, Sheldon Keefe, has said that plenty of NHL scouts have come out to see him this season, he should get picked up at some point. He is not related to former NHL player Michael Peca, but plays a similar style. Going to Quinnipiac for college next season and watch for him to be a successful player there given his all-around game and high compete levels.

15. Brennan Serville, D Stouffville (OJHL)- Good-sized defender at 6-3, 180 plays a pretty simple, no-frills game. Uses his body and reach to keep opponents away from the prime scoring areas of the ice. Nothing flashy, just rugged and honest. A good, not great skater; decent enough footwork, and not lumbering or awkward in his movements. Suffered an -ahem- gruesome lower body/groin injury from an errant skate blade at the World Jr. A Challenge and missed a lot of action there because of it but is OK (whew!). He's a University of Michigan recruit and should remind Wolverines fans a lot of former UM defender Mark Mitera. Was originally drafted in the OHL by the Sudbury Wolves but appears pretty committed to going the NCAA route. The Pickering, Ontario native had 3 goals and 30 points in 36 games with the Spirit this season, with a 1-8-9 line in 16 postseason games.

16. Charles Orzetti, LW New Jersey Hitmen (EJHL)- Gigantic winger (6-4, 220) from New Jersey is all raw potential and intriguing potential at this point. The Feb. 1992 birthdate and former Delbarton School standout missed all of last season with an injury and therefore was not drafted, but after 10 goals and 22 points in 29 games in the EJHL, he might get a very late look. Yale recruit is not much of a skater, but plays with an edge and has good hands in close. If he can pick up a few steps and continue playing a hard-nosed, physical game, he has potential as a lower-line player who brings toughness to the mix for his NHL club.

17. Brian Billett, G N.H. Jr. Monarchs (EJHL)- If you followed read B2010DW last season, you know how much we loved Billett. Much to our chagrin, the 6-1 netminder from Maine by way of Florida and South Carolina (his dad was in the Navy) was passed over in the draft after leading the Monarchs to the 2010 EJHL title, and the national Tier II Jr. championship in 2009. Well, he did it again this season- capturing another EJHL championship for the Monarchs and will go to Boston College, whose season ended on a crushing note to Colorado College last night. He's a butterfly goalie who manages to stay calm and composed in big games. This season, he went 19-2-1 with a 1.93 GAA and .930 save percentage. In the playoffs he was even better, going 6-0 with a 1.66 GAA and .950 save percentage. If we were on an NHL staff he would have been picked in 2010, so the question is- will some team step up to grab him. It isn't like he's a small guy a la John Muse and since 2009, he's gone 40-4-4 for Sean Tremblays powerhouse Monarchs, but the thing is- despite not seeing a lot of shots, he still makes the big stops and keeps his save percentage above 93 percent- that's remarkable for a team that doesn't give up a lot of scoring opportunities. He's a solid citizen and deserves a chance- we're still believers.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

European draft prospects 2010-11 roundup

B2011DW has looked at the top (in our view) draft eligible players all three of the CHL's leagues and the NCAA class, so for this post, we're going to fly across the Atlantic to see how the European prospects are faring.

It's a strong year for Sweden (and Gabriel Landeskog isn't even in this particular Sweden post, but is part of the gold class overall), but several of the other European nations have their best players skating in North America this season (Alex Khokhlachev, Vladdy Namestnikov, David Musil, Sven Bartschi, Nicklas Jensen, Tomas Jurco, Tobias Rieder, David Honzik, Petr Placek and Christopher Gibson to name just a few).

Sweden is leading the way, but these things go in cycles, and there are some interesting players to be had from other countries- NHL teams will just have to dig a little more to find those diamonds-in-the-rough.

1. Adam Larsson, D Skellefteå (SEL)- Still the beast- er- best European prospect for the 2011 draft. Smooth, skilled defenseman has playing against men since age 16. He's 6-3, 220 pounds- a mature, poised, confident kid even though he had a down year (1 goal, 9 points in 37 games) compared to his rookie campaign in the SEL (4-13-17 in 49 contests). Larsson had some up-and-down performances in international tournaments, but saved some of his best for the World Jr. Championship. He showed off his powerful stride and ability to move well laterally, and was especially good at moving the puck and making outlet passes. Larsson is a smart guy who sees the ice well and has a high panic point, meaning he'll hold onto the puck until the last possible second for his teammates to get open, meaning he often takes a good amount of hits over the course of a game and season. He also has a booming shot and can score his share of them from the point. Larsson was not a dominating player, but that's not really his game. On the downside, he's struggled with injuries this year- missing time because of an injury and he got banged up in a March 22 playoff game against Luleå, injuring his shoulder and not dressing for the next contest. Like many kids who emerge as draft frontrunners early, he's had his game nitpicked and some wonder if he can truly be a legitimate No. 1 two-way cornerstone at the NHL level, but he has all the tools to be very, very good regardless. Several NHL scouts we've spoken to feel that Larsson is getting the typical treatment most get when they've been in the spotlight so long- every aspect of their game gets laid bare. Save for the rare player like Sidney Crosby, most draft prospects can't stand up under that kind of intense scrutiny without some warts being discovered.

Stock Watch: Up, despite injury situation. You're looking at the first or second overall pick with this kid- make no mistake about that. It will be interesting to see how he develops at the NHL level, but given his pro experience abroad, don't be surprised to see him in the big show as early as next season if his contract situation permits. He has the physical and mental makeup to play right away.

Here's an interesting video produced by a Skelleftea Sweden-based TV crew w/ analysis of Adam Larsson at 2:20 mark by Ottawa Senators scout Pierre Dorion- he also reviews David Rundblad, a Sens prospect.

2. Mika Zibanejad, C/LW Djurgården (SEL)- A B2011DW favorite going back to last season when we heard raves about him in the World Under-17s, we hyped him before the Ivan Hlinka, and he didn't have a great tournament. However, the youngster has seized control of his draft fortunes this season. Zibanejad, who comes from Iranian-Finnish stock but is all Swede, has been the anti-Victor Rask in terms of elevating his stock. He's a smart. energetic, passionate player who takes those intangibles and brews a nice concoction with his impressive physical and skills package. Versatility is also a bonus for Zibanejad who can play center or either wing as right-shooting player. He's a long strider who gets up and down the surface quickly and at 6-2, 192 pounds has plenty of room to fill out and get stronger. Zibanejad has soft hands and the vision/instincts to make plays all over the ice. He's also got a hard, heavy shot that he uses to great effect, sometimes seeing time at the point on the power play. We've seen him move fluidly and effortlessly from the point to the middle of the slot and uncork some nice drives, so he's a dangerous offensive player that defenses must account for. He's a banger and relishes physical contact. Zibanejad just oozes star quality, and we're sure that when you get a good look at him, you'll quickly see why so many are high on him right now. We're hearing that scouts have him near the top of watch lists for next month's Under-18 Championship in Germany- if he has a great tourney, don't be surprised to see him crack the top-10 at the NHL draft in June. Yes, he's riding that kind of a wave right now. Zibanejad played 26 games in the SEL with Djurgården, scoring 5 goals and 9 points, respectable totals considering he doesn't even turn 18 until next month. He put up 12 goals and 21 points in 27 games with Djurgården's Under-20 team and added 1-1-2 totals in 7 playoff games.

Stock Watch: Just call Zibanejad the Ryan Strome and Jonathan Huberdeau of the Euro draft eligibles. If he has a strong U-18, he'd better be someone you get very familiar with for the top third of your NHL mock drafts.

Here is Zibanejad putting John Klingberg into the bench. Nice play.

Here's a nice highlight reel goal of Zibanejad abusing Larsson with an inside move after taking the homerun pass and then finishing it off.

3. Joel Armia, RW Ässät Pori (FIN SM-Liiga)- This 6-3, 190-pound winger had a nice rookie season playing in Finland's top pro league with Ässät, scoring 18 goals and 29 points. He's tall and lean, needing to add a lot of bulk and functional strength to his frame. He's got an efficient skating stride, which is pretty to watch and stands him in good stead heading into the draft. He handles the puck well and with confidence. In fact, his English isn't all that great, but when we talked to him at the WJC in Buffalo, he lit up and was most animated when discussing the black biscuit: "I want the puck," Armia first declared, then thought about it. "I like the puck. I'm good with the puck." Yes, he is- trust us. His work wasn't rewarded with any goals, but you can see the raw potential there with him. He faded in the later tourney games, and from what we hear, did the same in Finland as the grind got to him. He's not a very physical player, but doesn't avoid contact either. When he gets stronger, he should be able to hold his own better along the walls. Personally, B2011DW doesn't get the feelings about Armia going inside the top-10- we understand the skill level and all, but on a more personal level, we just feel stronger about a player like Zibanejad who is nearly as big, but who just plays on another level in terms of his energy and enthusiasm. This isn't to say Armia isn't a solid top-20, but scouting hockey sometimes is about gut feelings and personal preferences, and we feel Zibanejad projects as a better NHL player than Armia does.

Stock Watch: Steady to down; Started fast, but hit the rookie wall, which is understandable for a 17-year-old playing against men. At the same time, we feel Armia is overrated; we like him as an NHL prospect, just not in the top-10 where some sources have him. He might crack it, but he'll need a dominant performance in Germany next month to do it, we think.

Here's a video of his first pro goal last season- very nice hands for sure.

4. Jonas Brodin, D Färjestad (SEL)- This defenseman isn't going to win any beauty pageants, but he's a good two-way defender who does everything at a high level and held his own in the Eliteserien this year. He's a good skater with four-way mobility and solid footwork. He sees the ice and anticipates well, moving the puck smartly and making the right decisions. Brodin plays a very disciplined, mature game and scouts say that as he hit his stride in the SEL, he started showing off the offensive tools in his repertoire. He didn't score any goals (4 assists) in his 42 pro games this season (but he did get one in the playoffs), and he's more like a Tomas Kaberle who makes excellent passes and reads the flow of the game, exploiting openings as opposed to a flashy gunner who's throwing the puck to the net all the time. Brodin is just a solid, solid player and we regret that he got sent home as the last cut on Sweden's Under-20 team at the WJC in Buffalo, because he would have provided some real poise and a steady hand there.

Stock Watch: Down from where it was most of the year, but mostly because of the play of guys like Zibanejad and Oscar Klefbom, who have stolen the spotlight for their flashy, dynamic elements. Some team will certainly recognize Brodin's value and take him high enough- we think 1st round, but not sure where he shakes out. Early 2nd at the latest.

5. Oscar Klefbom, D Färjestad (SEL)- At 6-3, 201 pounds, this flashy defender is the young Yin in Färjestad to Brodin's Yang in that he's a more noticeable presence on the offensive side of things. An excellent passer and puck mover, Klefbom jumps into the play more aggressively, and we're told that his confidence soared by leaps and bounds once he got used to the higher demands of the SEL after coming up from the J18 team. He's got some growing and filling out to do, but plays a more physical game than many thought and will get better as he grows stronger and more experienced. His hockey sense is OK- he's not as naturally instinctive and poised as Brodin is in the eyes of one NHL scout out of Europe we spoke to, but he's very good at activating at the right times when the openings are there. Defensively, he's coming along and just might carry a higher overall upside and earlier draft grade than Brodin when June rolls around. He missed time at the Five Nations, but made a big impression on scouts when he got into it late. Again, the Under-18 tournament will have an impact on how teams view a guy like Klefbom, who is more of a swing-for-the-fences guy than the safer, steadier Brodin is.

This video is in Swedish, but it does give some nice looks at footage of him in game action and practice.

6. Dmitri Jaskin, RW Slavia Praha (CZE- Extraliga)- B2011DW recently had a comprehensive post on Jaskin, so we won't cover the same ground other than to say that outside of Scandinavia, Jaskin is the next best European 2011 draft prospect in our view. The Czech power winger is back from a knee injury, which not only took him out of action for several months, but also hampered his mobility, which wasn't great to begin with. In fact, the skating is really the only issue scouts are finding with this horse who bangs bodies, works extremely hard and has soft hands and a lethal release in close. He's never going to be a plus-skater, but if he can improve on his agility the way Milan Lucic has, a guy with the quick mitts and offensive hockey sense he possesses can do some damage. Unlike former Bruins 2002 draft bust (and that was most of the class to be frank) Jan Kubista, Jaskin has a serious work ethic and will address his shortcomings in some fashion. He scored 3 goals and 10 points in 33 games in Czech Republic's top pro league this season.

7. Victor Rask, C Leksand (SWE-2)- Every year, the draft has several confounding prospects who plummet in the rankings after being seen as sure bets to go at or near the top. Rask is the 2011 poster child for that annual effect. He had a particularly bad performance in February's Five Nations tourney, which, when factored in with the rest of his mediocrity this season, has caused him to fall down more than a few draft boards. At 6-2, 190, he has long limbs, an athletic frame and the near perfect physical attributes for the modern NHL center. The problem is, he's not very strong and despite being highly creative and a superb puckhandler, hasn't done a great job of getting his wingers the puck this season or showing off the kind of high-end skills that had scouts drooling last year. His skating is a bit of an issue, with a choppy stride and lack of initial quickness, but is something he can remedy with work on the technique, because the power will come in time. The question becomes- do you spend a high (top-10) pick on a player who very well might have peaked, or is he one of those guys who is simply not delivering during the pressure-packed draft season and will get back on track next season and beyond? There is no denying the upside because he is a legitimate talent who has exhibited outstanding physical traits and immeasurables such as his offensive sense and vision. His 5 goals and 11 points in 37 games in the Allsvenskan or second pro division was disappointing, and he was sent down to the junior club, where he scored 3 goals and 12 points in 13 games with the J20 squad.

8. Samu Perhonen, G Jyvaskyla (FIN- Jr.)- Like Jaskin, B2011DW has broken down Perhonen's game before. He's a classic Finnish butterfly goalie with ideal height at 6-3 with the long arms and legs that take up so much of the net and don't require the distance coverage of short-limbed goalies. He posted a solid 2.72 GAA and .922 save percentage for JYP's junior (under20) team and followed it up by stopping 93 percent of the shots he's faced in the playoffs. He could be good enough to push John Gibson for top billing among goalies in this draft class and in all likelihood is a solid second-round selection with a chance of maybe breaking into the late-1st round if a more successful NHL club wanted to invest the time and accept some risk on a goalie with a potentially high payoff.

9. Gregory Hofmann, C/W Ambri-Piotta (SUI)- B2011DW's favorite draft eligible at the 2011 WJC in Buffalo by a wide margin. There is so much to like about this player, but unfortunately, he's going to encounter some of the Swiss bias that permeates the NHL because unlike guys like Luca Sbisa, Nino Niederreiter and Sven Bartschi, he isn't over in North America, alleviating concerns about commitment and dedication. Good skater with jump and a wide skating base. Fluid movement and attacks aggressively into the teeth of defenses. Has a quick stick and is very opportunistic around the net. Works hard and willing to take the hit to make the play. Creative and hard-working; doesn't wait for teammates to get him the puck; willing to do the dirty work. Not very tall or strong- looks like he's about 14 or 15. Nice kid- doesn't speak English all that well, but was better at it than he gave himself credit for. No major warts on his game, and if he was a Canadian, he'd be a surefire early 2nd-rounder with strong 1st-round potential. Because of where he comes from, he'll slide a little more than he should we think. IN 41 games with the Ambri senior team, he scored 3 goals and 12 points, and added a goal and 4 points at the WJC.

10. Zakhar Arzamastsev, D Novokusznetsk (KHL)- Average-sized defender (6-0, 180) is mobile, smart and carries some upside. He's not a blazing skater, but is fast enough and brings nice footwork and lateral movement to the mix. He keeps his head up and is an intelligent player who reads the play well and moves the puck to the right spaces on the ice. He made the victorious Russian squad at the CHL Subway Series, and was one of the final cuts on Team Russia's gold medal-winning WJC squad. What makes him impressive is that he was the youngest player on the Subway Team and would have been the youngest on the WJC team by a wide margin. He didn't do a lot to stand out in the Subway Series, but played pretty mistake-free hockey. He's been a tough view for NHL scouts playing in Siberia this season posting 3-5-8 totals in 47 games for Novokuznetsk, so where he goes in the draft is anyone's guess. Red Line has him 54th in March, but the Russians tend to slide in recent seasons and we see no real reason for Arzamastsev to be a trend bucker this time. He could be a mid-to-late-round gem, though and has a good reputation off the ice as a passionate, dedicated player.

11. Maxim Shalunov, RW Chelyabinsk (KHL)- One NHL scout told us that Shalunov is the "classic" Russian winger- he goes end-to-end with his terrific wheels and ability to stickhandle through a maze of bodies. Unfortunately, his hockey sense and vision are not first-rate, and when combined with the fact that he's a Russian playing in Russia (he spent most of the year on Chelyabinsk's second division team going 11-13-24 in 38 games but did see 6 KHL games of action 0-1-1) makes the idea of drafting him more of an iffy proposition. Red Line Report perhaps said it best in the March issue after seeing Shalunov at the Five Nations: "Absolutely outstanding raw tools, but no toolbox." And therein lies the rub in a seven-round draft: can a team really afford to roll the dice on a guy who has high-end talent and skills, but lacks the sense and may not ever even come over? His upside is what keeps him just outside the top-10 for Europe, but realistically, we wouldn't be at all surprised if he gets passed over or is a late, late pick in June at best.

12. Joachim Nermark, C Linköping (SWE- Jr.)- After a dominant Ivan Hlinka tourney in August where everything Nermark seemed to touch turned to gold, he had a tough season. He played 12 games on Linköping's SEL entry (1 assist) but spent most of the year on the J20 team, tallying 8 goals and 26 points in 37 games. He's a skilled and creative player by all accounts, but didn't show much of the creativity and magic he did on the Under-18 Team. Nermark is no slouch and could be a nice developmental find in the 2nd round for a team willing to gamble a little (hello, Detroit?) on a player with his potential, but scouts we've talked to are pretty perplexed as to what happened to him after showing so much promise.