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Monday, May 2, 2011

QMJHL playoffs update: Saint John Sea Dogs

Not surprisingly, the Saint John Sea Dogs await the winner of the Gatineau-Quebec playoff series to determine which team will capture the league's President's Cup trophy and represent the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in the 2011 Master Card Memorial Cup in Mississauga, Ontario.

The Sea Dogs had an amazing regular season, establishing themselves as the top team in the CHL with a 58-7-1-2 record.

Since the playoffs started, Saint John has steamrolled opponents, sweeping Cape Breton, beating Victoriaville by a 4-1 series score and then sweeping the Lewiston MAINE-iacs. IN 12 games, they've outscored their opponents by a 66-27 margin.

This team has an embarrassment of riches for the 2011 draft class, so here's a look at them and what they are doing in the 2011 postseason, with the draft seven weeks away.

Jonathan Huberdeau, C/W- It's safe to say that Saint John's leading scorer in the regular season (105 points) has established himself as a legitimate top-five option for the NHL draft next month. In 13 playoff games, he's scoring at nearly a 2 points per game clip (13 goals, 25 points 1.92 PPG) and has been Gerard Gallant's go-to guy up front. He tallied an overtime goal against Victoriaville, and anytime a player is scoring a goal per game as Huberdeau has done, he's going to be a hot commodity among NHL teams. We wouldn't be at surprised to see Huberdeau go third overall to Florida, but cannot envision that he will drop out of the top-five. He has all the natural size (though he's skinny and needs to get stronger), talent and a gamer's mentality you want in a stud forward. We love the way Huberdeau carries himself on and off the ice, and he's done precisely what B2011DW predicted for him back before the playoffs started: he's taken on a Taylor Hall-like scoring role on a deep playoff run. His heroics will be fresh in the minds of the scouts for teams in the top-five when they sit down for their final meetings to hash out their lists.
Prediction: Top-three pick in draft; too skilled, too productive, just too damn good to fall very far.

Zack Phillips, RW- A bit of a surprise to the general public when he appeared ninth overall on The Hockey News' 2011 Draft Preview which was released last week in Canada. However, some scouts are telling us that Phillips in the top-10 isn't much of a shocker to them given his big goal scoring potential and a natural nose for the net that players like Jeff Skinner have forced NHL teams to respect. Phillips is not an explosive player, and he's certainly benefited from skating alongside playmakers like Huberdeau and Michael Kirkpatrick this season, but to insinuate that he's not a lethal scoring threat is to sell the former Massachusetts prep player short. The former Lawrence Academy standout (19 goals, 48 points in 30 games) from Fredericton, NB was involved in a car accident that killed teammate Mark Frattaroli in September 2008 (Frattaroli was driving when the vehicle struck a tree). Zack is an October 1992 birthdate, so he's on the older scale of the 2011 class, but he had a tremendous season with 38 goals and 95 points. At 6-1, 195 pounds, he can drive hard to the net and has outstanding hands to finish off plays in close.
Prediction: 10-15 pick; NHL teams love goal scorers, and while he's not the best skater, his size, hands and hockey sense make too much sense for him to stick around on the board for long.

Nathan Beaulieu, D- Opinions on this defenseman are split, but when talking about players with a high ceiling and the ubiquitous scouting term "upside" this New Brunswick native has it. Although not as big as Dougie Hamilton, Beaulieu nonetheless plays big and brings a physical edge to his game with the ability to fight if provoked. In 13 games, he's tallied three goals and 14 points. Beaulieu is a fine skater and works very effectively on the point. His father, Jacques, used to be the Saint John head coach and is currently an assistant for Dale Hunter with the London Knights, so Beaulieu has grown up around high-level hockey and has had good coaching. Central had him fifth overall in their final rankings, but THN only had him 18th. He got off to a slow start this season offensively, and he could be a case of a pick-your-flavor player in terms of some NHL teams liking him a lot more than others.
Prediction: This one's tougher; internet chatter makes Beaulieu a candidate for top-10 selection in June, and he could get there, but we've heard enough lukewarm opinions on him from NHL sources which could mean he's closer 15-20 than 9 or 10. Solid first-rounder, but his ranking is all over the map.

Tomas Jurco, RW- Slovak winger scored 30 goals this season and has tallied six more in his club's 13 postseason games, posting 16 points. By now, Jurco's puckhandling exploits are legendary on You Tube. As far as slick, puck possession forwards with dynamic moves go, he is at the top of the 2011 class. We also liked his performance at the 2011 WJC and did not understand why his coach shorted him on ice time, especially on the power play. Yes, Jurco is a bit one-dimensional at this stage, but comes off like an affable kid who is willing to work on it and who wants to be a player. He's been overshadowed by Huberdeau and Phillips this year after being expected to vie for a top-10 draft selection, but Jurco is still a dangerous offensive player with the tools to be an impact scorer in the NHL one day.
Prediction: Late first-rounder, top-five in second at latest. Overall game is a question, but his offensive chops are so intriguing that it's hard to imagine one of those final-1st contenders not rolling the dice on this guy.

Scott Oke LW- Overrated on Central's final rankings, this winger has nice size at 6-2, and can skate well, but he's not had a lot of ice time given how talented his club is. His production barely registered on the radar given how high Central had him, and his playoff scoring totals reflect his reduced role on the club: 12 games, 1-4-5. With Oke, it's all about what he *could* become and his physical traits are admittedly intriguing, but he simply hasn't done enough to justify where they have him. And we believe his ultimate draft spot will reflect where NHL clubs more realistically have him.
Prediction: We'd be surprised if Oke goes anywhere before the late-3rd round, but his physical tools and measurables are better than that of teammate Tesink. Middle rounds seems more on target for Oke.

Ryan Tesink, LW- Like Oke Tesink was ranked too prominently by Central given his lack of numbers, and this kid has some major filling out to do. He has some skill and the instincts to play the game at the next level, but he doesn't have a lot of size or the frame to add the kind of weight and strength you want in a player, so he'll have his work cut out for him. In 13 games, Tesink has two goals and 3 points.
Prediction: We like Tesink's hockey sense and playmaking ability, but this kid is more like a 5th-7th-round project than anything else to us.

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