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Posted On Saturday, 04.02.2011 / 2:00 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

The Moment of Truth - First Round projections

Just a quick break in the prospect action to admit that U.S. scout David Gregory and OHL scout Chris Edwards are doing a fabulous job in keeping the opening day of Central Scouting's meeting going in a nice, solid pace. Too many men behind-the-scenes, as well, to mention at this time.

Gregory just announced that league rankings have been established and now it's on to projecting the First Round -- The Moment of Truth has arrived. A vote was just taken between two players for the No. 1 slot ... sorry I cannot reveal at this time. I know, you hate me!

"This year's draft has a lot of quality players beyond pick No. 15 and some say well into round three," Gregory told NHL.com. "As in every season, there is a sleeper pick, who years later proves to be a dominant player in the NHL. This draft will be no different and the depth in the early rounds almost makes it a certainty. These players are spread out across junior leagues and high schools, making it difficult to decipher between them at times.

"But the quality of play has been very good throughout the season," he continued. "Each year there seems to be more and more players whose hockey skills are very strong as training and coaching improves at all levels. It occasionally takes a few years for this type of player to be playing regularly in the NHL but as indicated above it wouldn't be a surprise for someone outside of Round 1 to be playing within a year or two as well."
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Posted On Saturday, 04.02.2011 / 1:54 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

QMJHL and OHL players discussed after lunch break

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League are almost in the books. Once completed, the  boys will begin making their first-round projections - this should be good.

Chris Bordeleau, who spends most of his time viewing players in the 'Q', opened discussions with a solid evaluation of centers Jonathan Huberdeau and Sean Couturier. He spoke of Huberdeau's great hands around the net and Couturier's two-way acumen. Saint John defenseman Nathan Beaulieu has also been on the radar of every scout and his play was worthy of a lengthy discussion by those boys within the Conn Smythe Board Room.

Interesting comments made about Victoriaville's Phillip Danault, as well. Will he be able to withstand the physicality of the NHL?

The OHL discussion, headed by scout Chris Edwards, included some familiar names like Kitchener's Gabriel Landeskog (not much debate needed and for good reason). Additionally, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Murphy, Brandon Saad and Ryan Strome were hot topics.

Another interesting topic debated was which Russian would you take -- Vladislav Namestnikov of the London Knights or Alexander Khokhlachev of the Windsor Spitfires?

It's always interesting to learn where the group will project injured players who were regarded highly on the mid-term report. In 2010, Prince George Cougars forward Brett Connolly was limited to just 16 games in his draft year due to nagging hip flexor injury, but Central Scouting thought so highly of the Western Hockey League prospect that they still boosted him one rung in the final ranking to third overall among North American skaters.

Tampa Bay would ultimately select him with the sixth overall pick in the Draft.

When NHL Central Scouting released its mid-term rankings this past January, OHL forward Matt Puempel of Peterborough was No. 29 among North American skaters. His season would end 11 days before the start of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs after sustaining a hip injury that required surgery. Word is the injury shouldn't hurt Puempel's draft value. The 6-foot, 196-pound left wing had a team-leading 34 goals (15 power-play goals) and 69 points in 55 games for Peterborough this season.

"At this point, a season-ending injury won't affect our opinion (of Puempel)," Edwards told NHL.com in late February. "We have more than enough viewings on him. I have 14 viewings. He will be checked over at the (NHL Scouting) Combine (May 29-June 4) by the doctors and as long as it is not career-ending, it should not make much of a difference."

The fact Puempel was able to produce another 30-plus goal season was quite impressive, according to many of the scouts.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.02.2011 / 11:08 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

US-East players under the microscope

Those top prospects along the East are now up for debate.

That means scout Gary Eggleston is up. It seems towering 6-foot-7, 244-pound defenseman Jamieson Oleksiak was a favorite of all the evaluators present at the meeting. Oleksiak was rated No. 27 on Central Scouting's mid-term report. He played in every game at defense for Northeastern this season and finished with a team-best plus-13 rating. He was also the second-highest scoring defenseman with 4 goals and 9 assists.

There was also discussion of Philippe Hudon of Choate-Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. Hudon was rated No. 31 on the mid-term report. One player discussed in detail from the high school ranks was Exeter's Eric Neiley, a 5-10, 190-pound center. Neiley, committed to the University of Dartmouth next fall, was drafted by the Ontario Hockey League's Kingston Frontenacs in 2009 in the sixth round.

The focus has now shifted to the Quebec Major Hockey League -- a league that is chock-full of talent, including Drummondville's Sean Couturier and Saint John's Johathan Huberdeau, Nathan Beaulieu, Zack Phillips and Tomas Jurco and Victoriaville's Phillip Danault.

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Posted On Saturday, 04.02.2011 / 9:52 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

US-West players now being discussed

Central Scouting's Jack Barzee, who works the Midwest covering many of the US high schools in Minnesota and the United States Hockey League, is now stating his case for many of the players within that area.

Among the players under discussion are Mario Lucia of Wayzata High School and Seth Ambroz of the USHL's Omaha Lancers. The scouts are actually debating over which player should be ranked ahead of the other but, keep in mind, they both think highly of each player.

U.S. National Team Development Program standouts Tyler Biggs, Jonathan Miller, Rocco Grimaldi and Conner Murphy were discussed in detail. Biggs was rated No. 5 on Central Scouting's mid-term report.

It's great when scouts cross over into other regions other than their own because it makes for even better discussion and debate. That's what I'm noticing with those players in the U.S.-West region. Most of the scouts have seen those players from the USNTDP and have had discussions with coach Ron Rolston.

Lucia was rated No. 30 on Central Scouting's mid-term report and Ambroz was No. 28, so the players are certainly comparable when projecting pro prospects 3-4 years down the road. Youngstown Phantoms' defenseman Scott Mayfield, who, like Ambroz, has maintained a blog all season for NHL.com, was also evaluated.

Read Mayfield's blog here.

Read Ambroz blog here.

Many of the scouts had high praise for University of Denver forward Nicholas Shore, who was rated No. 38 on Central Scouting's mid-term report. In 33 games this year, Shore had 7 goals, 18 points and 91 shots on net. He also fired home 2 game-winners.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.02.2011 / 9:20 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

Western Hockey League opens CSS meeting

So, the meeting has begun here at the Conn Smythe Board Room at NHL Offices and the major topic right now are those Western Hockey League players just below the top-tiers performers within the league. Scouts B.J. MacDonald and Peter Sullivan, who each specialize in the 'Dub', are providing much of the commentary on the players.

The big names, of course, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Red Deer, Ty Rattie, Joe Morrow and Sven Baertschi of Portland, Duncan Siemens of Saskatoon, Mark McNeill of Prince Albert and David Musil of Vancouver. All the aformentioned were projected as possible first-round prospects at Central Scouting's mid-term release.

There is some heated discussion right now on players Joel Edmundson of Moose Jaw, Adam Lowry of Swift Current, Shane McColgan of Kelowna, Keegan Lowe of Edmonton, Sam Grist of Tri-City and Dylan Wruck of Edmonton.
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Posted On Friday, 04.01.2011 / 9:00 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

Gurus of NHL Central Scouting meet again

NHL Central Scouting is ready to rock at the Conn Smythe Board Room in Toronto this weekend to determine its final rankings of the top draft-eligible players on the board this June at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

On Saturday, the pro scouts will have a go at it to determine this year's final list of the top 210 draft-eligible skaters and 30 goalies from North America for the 2011 Entry Draft.

NHL.com will also be present for the opening three days of the meetings, providing exclusive coverage. The scouts will no doubt be in heated debate, unveiling the pros and cons of every player from all the major junior leagues throughout North America.

Discussions will heat up almost immediately on Saturday morning as the scouts debate over who should receive the No. 1 overall placement among North American skaters. The top five candidates expected to vie for that position will be Kitchener's Gabriel Landeskog, Red Deer's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Saint John's Jonathan Huberdeau and Drummondville's Sean Couturier. All were rated among the top four on Central Scouting's mid-term list.

"This meeting will be intense as are all our meetings," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "I expect that the discussion we have for the first round will go on longer than normal. There are three or four guys who could be considered for the top spot. All of these players are excellent prospects and will get all of the attention and consideration they deserve."

Keep checking the "Prospecting with Central Scouting" blog, which will be updated every few hours, beginning Saturday and concluding Monday, for up-to-the-minute developments as they happen.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.29.2011 / 11:17 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

A true sign of sportsmanship

One of the feel-good stories of the 2010-11 New Jersey scholastic ice hockey season was witnessing Delbarton Prep senior Peter McMullen score the game-winning goal in overtime to lead his team to a state Non-Public championship at Prudential Center in Newark on March 13.

McMullen, rated No. 144 on NHL Central Scouting's mid-term rankings, is the grandson of the late Dr. John McMullen -- the man responsible for bringing professional hockey to the Garden State in 1982. He finished the season as the leading scorer for the state's No. 1-ranked team, with career-highs in goals (25) and points (45).

But, the story didn't end after McMullen connected 4:41 into the extra period of a 3-2 victory over St. Augustine Prep of Richland, N.J.

In one of the greatest displays of sportsmanship that you'll see at any level of any sport, St. Augustine senior goalie Joe Pantalone presented McMullen the puck the latter put behind him when the two got together during the ceremonial handshake.

"I thought about it being a player's dream to score a goal in overtime like that to win a state championship," Pantalone told Paul Bruno of The Star-Ledger. "Even though we had lost, I felt I had to get that puck and give it to Pete (McMullen). He made a great shot and he deserved to have that puck."

Pantalone, who made 37 saves in the loss, isn't projected to be drafted by an NHL team this June. It certainly doesn't discount the noble gesture that any NHL scout or General Manager would appreciate, however. He was named The Star-Ledger's Hockey Sportsman of the Year.

When told of Pantalone's courtesy, Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel was thrilled.

"It was a tremendous gesture of sportsmanship during a very difficult moment for an athlete," Shatel told Bruno. "It really was pretty extraordinary for him to do that, and it says a lot about that young man's character. It goes to show what (St. Augustine coach) Tim Fingerhut is teaching his players and it's a credit to the entire St. Augustine program."

The victory gave Delbarton (24-3-2) an unprecedented fourth straight Non-Public championship. In the OT, McMullen charged the cage and swept home a pass from John Baiocco past Pantalone. McMullen will attend Boston College in the fall. According to The Ledger, Pantalone might continue his career at Middlebury or Merrimack, or he might play junior hockey next season.

"We lost the game and it was a huge disappointment, but I think it shows nothing is ever as bad as it seems," Pantalone said. "You can always turn something negative into a positive. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Things get thrown at you in life, so you can either pack it in or work harder and make it a positive. I feel like the friendship that Pete (McMullen) and I can have now is something to gain from this."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Thursday, 03.24.2011 / 6:14 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

WHL announces 2011 All-Star Teams, Award nominees

The Western Hockey League released the 2010-11 WHL Conference First and Second All-Stars and the Conference finalists for the 2011 WHL Awards. The WHL Player of the Year finalists will be announced April 20. The winners of those awards and the WHL Player of the Year will be announced at the Awards Luncheon in Calgary, Alberta, on May 4.

Portland Winterhawks forward Sven Baertschi, who represented his native Switzerland in the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., in January is up for WHL Rookie of the Year honors. Bartschi, who led all first-year players in the League with 34 goals and 85 points, is projected to be selected in the opening round of the 2011 Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn., this June.

Another top 2011 prospect, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels, was named to the Eastern Conference First Team All Stars. As a rookie last season, Nugent-Hopkins finished second on the team in scoring with 65 points, including 24 goals, in 67 games to earn WHL's Rookie of Year Award and help the Rebels reach the playoffs for the first time in three years.

This year, Nugent-Hopkins, projected to go among the top three picks in the June draft, erupted for 31 goals and 106 points in 69 games.

WHL EASTERN CONFERENCE ALL-STAR TEAMS
FIRST ALL-STAR TEAM

Goaltender – Darcy Kuemper (Saskatoon, SK), Red Deer Rebels*
Defenceman – Stefan Elliott (North Vancouver, BC), Saskatoon Blades*
Defenceman – Brayden McNabb (Davidson, SK), Kootenay Ice*
Forward – Linden Vey (Wakaw, SK), Medicine Hat Tigers*
Forward – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Burnaby, BC), Red Deer Rebels
Forward – Mark Stone (Winnipeg, MB), Brandon Wheat Kings

SECOND ALL-STAR TEAM
Goaltender – Tyler Bunz (St. Albert, AB), Medicine Hat Tigers
Defenceman – Alex Petrovic (Edmonton, AB), Red Deer Rebels
Defenceman – Duncan Siemens (Sherwood Park, AB), Saskatoon Blades
Forward – Cody Eakin (Winnipeg, MB), Kootenay Ice
Forward – Brayden Schenn (Saskatoon, SK), Saskatoon Blades
Forward – Quinton Howden (Oak Bank, MB), Moose Jaw Warriors

WHL WESTERN CONFERENCE ALL-STAR TEAMS
FIRST ALL-STAR TEAM

Goaltender – James Reid (Calgary, AB), Spokane Chiefs
Defenceman – Tyson Barrie (Victoria, BC), Kelowna Rockets
Defenceman – Jared Cowen (Allan, SK), Spokane Chiefs
Forward – Brendan Gallagher (Delta, BC), Vancouver Giants
Forward – Tyler Johnson (Spokane, WA), Spokane Chiefs
Forward – Ryan Johansen (Port Moody, BC), Portland Winterhawks

SECOND ALL-STAR TEAM
Goaltender – Calvin Pickard (Winnipeg, MB), Seattle Thunderbirds
Defenceman – Brenden Kichton (Spruce Grove, AB), Spokane Chiefs
Defenceman – Ryan Murray (White City, SK), Everett Silvertips
Forward – Brendan Shinnimin (Winnipeg, MB), Tri-City Americans
Forward – Brendan Ranford (Edmonton, AB), Kamloops Blazers
Forward – Ryan Howse (Prince George, BC), Chilliwack Bruins

*indicates unanimous selection
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Posted On Thursday, 03.24.2011 / 2:27 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

Euro prospect Adam Larsson out with shoulder injury

In a season where defenseman Adam Larsson wants to prove to the hockey world just how valuable an asset he could be in his draft year, the big Swede is doing it the hard way.

For the second time this season, Larsson was sidelined by injury on Tuesday and Thursday during Skelleftea's semifinal round matchup with Lulea in the Elitserien playoffs. According to NHL European Scouting director Goran Stubb, Larsson left the second period of Tuesday's game with a shoulder injury. Projected to be drafted among the top three in June, Larsson was held out of practice for precautionary reasons on Wednesday and never dressed for Game 2 against Lulea on Thursday.

The winner will face either Farjestad or AIK for the Swedish Elite League championship beginning April 5.

Larsson represented Sweden at the 2010 and 2011 World Junior Championship, finishing as the team's highest scoring defender at the tournament this past season with 1 goal and 4 points. He produced 7 assists, 9 points and 41 penalty minutes in 37 regular-season games this season.

A groin injury kept the 6-foot-3, 200-pound blue liner sidelined much of the regular season. He did play in the semifinals and bronze-medal game at the WJC, but supposedly pushed it a little too much. It probably didn't help that he was on the receiving end of a booming check by Team Canada and Columbus Blue Jackets draftee Ryan Johanson in the tournament semifinal.

But Larsson has rebounded nicely and, prior to suffering his shoulder injury on Tuesday, was playing his best hockey of late. It'll be interesting to see how he responds when he does return to the lineup.

"He's a big, complete package with a great future in hockey," Stubb told NHL.com. "It's not easy for a player with his talent to improve every year. He's been on his own high level already for three years. Perhaps there's too many "experts" expecting too much from him ... forgetting that he is only 18."

Two of Larsson's teammates on this year's Swedish National Junior Team praised their impressive young defenseman when asked for comparisons to Tampa Bay Lightning defender Victor Hedman.

"I think Adam is better than Hedman, but that's my opinion," said Larsson's WJC defensive partner and Sweden's alternate captain, Fredrik Styrman."He's more stick handling and can move the puck quick. That's the big thing, and he can hit too. He's a strong guy and he's big. I think he has a great future (in North America)."

Goalie Robin Lehner, who was drafted in the second round by the Ottawa Senators in 2009, feels very confident with Larsson patrolling his end.

"Hedman was big, of course, and strong and Adam is smaller but he makes up for that with smartness," Lehner told NHL.com. "He's really smart with the puck and tough. He won't back down from anything and even fought a 30-year-old in Swedish league. He just has this glow in his eyes … you know he's going to be a great player."

Former NHL GM Craig Button, who works as a hockey analyst for 'NHL On The Fly' and the NHL Network, has been impressed with Larsson's determination and grit. He has him ranked No. 3 on his draft board behind only Ryan-Nugent Hopkins of Red Deer (WHL) and Gabriel Landeskog of Kitchener (OHL).

"I like him for the completeness of his game," Button said. "He's a guy that can play defensively. He's got the size (6-3, 200) and poise defensively, but offensively, he knows how to create chances. He's got a great shot, he can pass the puck and jump into the attack. He can make good decisions and, for an 18-year-old defenseman, sometimes you're looking for that player who has to make better decisions. I really like the way he gets himself into position defensively and offensively, and he can control the game. Those types of players, who can play a lot of minutes, are hard to find."

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.22.2011 / 10:59 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

QMJHL announces finalists for Golden Puck Awards

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League on Tuesday released the list of nominees for the 2011 Golden Puck Awards. Each year, the QMJHL honors its most deserving athletes, teams and personalities at its awards banquet, which will be held April 6 at the Hyatt-Regency hotel in downtown Montreal.

There are several 2011 draft-eligible players up for awards, including nine from the Saint John Sea Dogs. The nominees for Top Professional Prospect included Saint John forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman Nathan Beaulieu and Drummondville forward Sean Couturier. Huberdeau, who is considered by many to be a top 5 pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, finished with a franchise-record 105 points on 43 goals, 62 assists in 67 games. Couturier produced 36 goals, 96 points in 58 contests and Beaulieu had 12 goals, 45 points in 65 games.

Here are this year's nominees:

Michel-Brière Trophy - Most Valuable Player
Sean Couturier (2011 draft eligible) - Drummondville Voltigeurs
Philip-Michaël Devos - Gatineau Olympiques / Victoriaville Tigres
Jonathan Huberdeau (2011 draft eligible) - Saint John Sea Dogs

RDS Cup - Rookie of the Year
Martin Frk - Halifax Mooseheads
Charles Hudon - Chicoutimi Saguenéens
Zach O’Brien - Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Domenic Graham - Drummondville Voltigeurs  
David Honzik - Victoriaville Tigres
Dominic Poulin - Chicoutimi Saguenéens

Émile « Butch » Bouchard Trophy - Best Defenseman
Brandon Gormley - Moncton Wildcats
Simon Després - Saint John Sea Dogs
Ryan Kavanagh - Shawinigan Cataractes / Rimouski Océanic

Frank-J.-Selke Trophy - Sportsman of the Year
Philip-Michaël Devos - Gatineau Olympiques / Victoriaville Tigres
Zach O’Brien - Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Zack Phillips (2011 draft eligible) - Saint John Sea Dogs

Michael-Bossy Trophy - Top Professional Prospect
Nathan Beaulieu (2011 draft eligible) - Saint John Sea Dogs
Sean Couturier  (2011 draft eligible) - Drummondville Voltigeurs
Jonathan Huberdeau (2011 draft eligible) - Saint John Sea Dogs

Ron-Lapointe Trophy - Coach of the Year
Mario Duhamel - Drummondville Voltigeurs
Gérard Gallant - Saint John Sea Dogs
Patrick Roy - Québec Remparts

Maurice-Filion Trophy - General Manager of the Year
Sylvain Couturier - Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Mike Kelly - Saint John Sea Dogs
Pascal Vincent - Montreal Juniors

Paul-Dumont Trophy – Personality of the year
Sean Couturier (2011 draft eligible) - Drummondville Voltigeurs
Jonathan Huberdeau (2011 draft eligible) - Saint John Sea Dogs
Louis Leblanc - Montreal Junior

Humanitarian Award
Alex Émond - Rimouski Océanic
Kirill Kabanov - Lewiston MAINEiacs
Gabriel Lemieux - Shawinigan Cataractes

Michel-Bergeron Trophy - Offensive Rookie of the Year
Martin Frk - Halifax Mooseheads
Charles Hudon - Chicoutimi Saguenéens
Zach O’Brien - Acadie-Bathurst Titan

Raymond-Lagacé Trophy - Defensive rookie of the year
Domenic Graham - Drummondville Voltigeurs
David Honzik - Victoriaville Tigres
Dominic Poulin - Chicoutimi Saguenéens

Guy-Carbonneau Trophy - Best defensive forward
Michael Kirkpatrick - Saint John Sea Dogs
Phillip Danault (2011 draft eligible) - Victoriaville Tigres
Frédérick Roy - Québec Remparts

Kevin-Lowe Trophy - Best defensive defenseman
Samuel Finn - Lewiston MAINEiacs
Charles Landry - Montreal Junior
Andrew Randazzo - Drummondville Voltigeurs
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