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Monday, April 11, 2011

Central North American Skaters rankings: The rank and file

We're back with our ongoing analysis of Central Scouting's release of their North American skaters list. We won't hit it from top-to-bottom, but the focus of this post will be to identify other name players who have either slipped, and some who have made significant jumps on the list.

At the top of the second round,Seth Ambroz is one of the bigger fallers in the 2011 class, even though he still stands to be taken earlier than his performance this season and that fact that it appears that he's plateau'd should warrant. We don't want to hammer the Minnesota power forward, but when we hear the same things from various sources about a lack of progress, his poor skating and an overall mediocre level of commitment and effort. If the shoe fits, wear it, Seth. We don't want to hear about summers off hanging out with friends when guys like Jason Zucker and Shane Prince are leaving home at young ages to pursue their hockey dreams and busting their humps to address the holes in their game because their lack of God-given size and natural strength handicaps them in this sport. So, Ambroz is a teenager and should be allowed to be a kid. Yep- we get that. We also get that while he's been off taking it easy and not improving his skating skills over the past several seasons, other kids have been working their bags off to pass him up. And this year, you've seen exactly that.

Make no mistake- Ambroz will be a top-60 pick. He could even be a top-40. But if he goes there, it will be because an NHL team is convinced they can flip the lightswitch on, and it will likely be a club that has a few extra picks they can afford to gamble with. Ambroz has all the tools- it's the toolbox and inner fire we're worried about. But, he has ample time to get it together and become the kind of player scouts were drooling over in the previous three years when he emerged as a 15-year-old.

One big riser on Central's rankings, and likely most team draft lists, is rugged WHL defenseman Joel Edmundson. We have nary a word on the WHL rookie for Moose Jaw, but he jumped 36 spots from 69 at mid-term to 33. For some dope on him, we went to the April issue of Red Line Report, which featured him the monthly "risers" section and in the April annual "underrated" section of their underrated/overrated review. At 6-5, he's got prototypical size and pretty mobile for a player of his size. Because he's a bit of a late-bloomer, only in his first major junior season, he's had a bit of a steep learning curve and has some issues with mistakes made from a lack of experience (gap control). However, he plays like his size and if you have faith that his development curve will continue upward, he should go off the board pretty early.

Stefan Noesen is on the list at 35, and the Plymouth Whalers power forward has helped himself immensely with his productive season and the strong playoff round he had against Kitchener. He works hard and gets the most out of his skills, banging bodies, clearing space for his linemates and providing opportunistic offense with a quick stick and heavy shot.

"Noesen is a riser," said one NHL scout we talked to when the Central List came out. "I wouldn't at all be surprised to see NHL teams that have him in their first round. He came a long way this year."

Cape Breton forward Logan Shaw is a legitimate sleeper and underrated right winger who played on a poor team, but showed off some progress. He's still quite lanky at 6-3 and only about 180 pounds, but will put on considerable weight and strength. He's an above average skater, but has good hands and anticipation, putting together a solid offensive season for the moribund Screaming Eagles with 26 goals and 46 points. He's a classic project pick, but one who could pay off for a team gutsy enough to pick him sooner rather than later because scouts weren't exactly flocking to Cape Breton this season.

Saint John's Scott Oke is on the list at 44, ahead of Oshawa forward Lucas Lessio, who has legitimate skills but has had issues with intensity and compete levels this year. One NHL scout finds this a bit ridiculous (his words not ours). He openly wondered if Central's Quebec scout only watched the Sea Dogs this year based on the fact that a kid with five goals and 10 points in 54 games with just 15 penalty minutes came away with a second-round grade.

"He's big and can skate," the scout said of Oke. "But he played on the third- and fourth lines on the best team in Canada. I don't know that you make such a leap of faith for a kid who scored a total of five goals and 10 points, three of which came in one game. I would probably have Oke 100 spots lower."

The scout viewed Ryan Tesink, another Sea Dog who checked in at 47, but had eight goals and 35 points much the same way. In fairness, both players had a tough time cracking an elite lineup, but while Tesink showed flashes of some offensive talent and creativity, he's only about 160 pounds and not all that tall, so he has major physical and conditioning work to do.

Another huge riser on the blue line in the second round is Sault Ste. Marie's Ryan Sproul, who was also a RLR riser in April. He moved up 70 spots from 124 to 54 and has a lot of NHL scouts buzzing. Unfortunately, his Greyhounds didn't make the playoffs, and he was a curious omission from Team Canada's Under-18 squad, so whichever NHL team got to see him the most in one of the OHL's tougher draws is the team that will hold an advantage on where to value him going into the draft. The question then becomes- where do the NHL teams out there see him? He scored his first goal at the end of November and finished with 14, which tells you a lot about how meteoric a rise he's had.

Green Bay (USHL) defenseman Andy Welinski is another big mover up the list, moving from 103 to 48. At 6-1, 192, he's got the size and will add a few pounds as he gets stronger/physically matures. He plays with his head up and sees the ice well, using his vision and strong skating ability to make plays at both ends of the ice. He's more of a defender at this stage of his development, using his stick to take away lanes and exhibiting strong gap control, but there is a bit of untapped offensive potential as well, shown in the strong second half he had for the Gamblers. One scout we talked to doesn't see what the fuss is about with Welinski given his numbers, however.

The third round has some interesting players who are both risers and fallers. The latter category has Seattle center Colin Jacobs, who has good size, talent and upside, but who wasn't able to put it together this season for the non-playoff Thunderbirds. One NHL scout told us earlier this season that Jacobs is the classic guy who "looks like a player, but may not ever be one" because of a lack of hockey sense.

Edmonton's Travis Ewanyk, on the other hand, is trending upward as a big kid and decent skater who plays a power game. He's in Germany for the U18 tournament and could raise his stock even more after a 16 goal, 27-point season.

Also keep an eye out on three skilled, but smallish OHL forwards in this round ranked 71-73: Nick Cousins (buried in the Soo but underrated), Alan Quine (who did not meet expectations but has legitimate scoring upside) and Tobias Rieder (small, but skilled and industrious).

Sudbury defender Justin Sefton is 89th on the list after not being ranked (as is U.S. forward Austin Wuthrich), but an NHL scout chuckled when Sefton's name came up. "Real tough kid but he can't skate," he said. He wouldn't come out and say it, but we think that Sefton's powerful KO of David Broll back in early March has more to do with it than anything else. Sefton's lack of mobility isn't enough to off-set any size/toughness advantage he brings to the mix to have him this high in the scout's view.

Scott Harrington's spot in the fourth round is reflective of his fall from first-round candidate this season to later-round reclamation project for the team that invests a pick on him.

Kale Kessy, the hard-nosed Medicine Hat winger came in at 101, and an NHL scout thought that was too low. "Someone will take him higher because they see him as a poor man's Milan Lucic right now," he said. "Teams are looking for that legitimately tough guy who can score some goals and change the pace of a game and Kessy has that kind of potential."

On the flip side, we interviewed a WHL player recently and asked him about Kessy. He had no idea who we were talking about, which seemed strange, but there it is. Apparently, Kessy didn't have the same impact on this particular Dub skater as he's made on scouts who have watched the Hat play this season.

We will wrap up the North American season with a look at the goalies and some sleepers to keep an eye on.

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