|Central Scouting ranked Colin Wilson 10th among North American skaters.
But last season with the U.S. National Team Development Program, Wilson was stuck behind James van Riemsdyk, a 6-3, 190-pound player with a similar style.
While van Riemsdyk was taken by the Philadelphia Flyers with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Wilson had to look forward to college. Born six months after van Riemsdyk and a month later than the cutoff for '07 draft, Wilson accepted a scholarship from Boston University.
While van Riemsdyk was a heralded freshman at the University of New Hampshire, it was Wilson's turn to be a star. He finished third on the Terriers with 35 points – 12 goals and 23 assists – and earned recognition as New England's college hockey Rookie of the Year, as well as Hockey East Rookie of the Year.
van Riemsdyk, who was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team, had 11 goals, 23 assists and 34 points.
Scouts point to Wilson's decision leave the NTDP for the NCAA as a major reason he could be a top-10 selection at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, to be held June 20-21 in Ottawa. He was the 10th-ranked North American skater in Central Scouting's final rankings, which were released Thursday.
"Colin Wilson is meeting every challenge that's coming his way as he steps up," said Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire. "If he had stayed another year with the U.S. Under-18 team, I don't think he'd be up there. Right now, he's up to three years younger than his opponents and his peers."
And he's excelling.
"I like his overall game," said Gary Egglestone, who scouts eastern U.S. prospects for Central Scouting. "His skill level is excellent, he has great hands, incredible vision, he sees the puck flow very, very well. Excellent hockey sense, very good hands, quick feet. There's been a bit of a question about his skating. He's a big kid, but in tight traffic his foot speed is excellent. He moves quickly from Point A to Point B, gets himself in and out of trouble.
"He has very fast feet, quick feet. In open ice, in backchecking, he's been a little bit behind, but he's still very good in recognizing transition. He's still the first guy on the puck in the corners, controls the puck behind the net and in the corners very well. Controls it and makes a play."
Even more impressive was how Wilson jelled with any linemates, as he seamlessly moved up and down the Terriers' lineup.
"He turned out to be a point-per-game guy for Boston University as a freshman and he was moved several times from line to line," said Egglestone. "He played with different wingers all the time and it didn't affect his game at all."
As a 17-year-old freshman, adjusting to college life wasn't easy, but Wilson said things started to click when he returned from playing for the U.S. team at the World Junior Championships, where he tied for the tournament lead with six goals in six games as the Americans finished fourth.
"My trainer and a senior on our team came up to me and said it was nice watching you grow here," Wilson said. "At the beginning of the year I was having trouble talking to a guy (who was) 24. Coming in at 17 and getting into the social life (was tough). Off the ice, it's socializing, being more mature. When I got back from World Junior Championships – right before the World Junior Championships I was playing real well, felt like I was part of the team. Right after I got back, I got back into the gritty, confident player. I felt I was making the right reads and really helping the team."
"Up until I went to the National Team Development Program, he was my coach," said Wilson. "After a game, his advice is the one I took most seriously because he had a background of playing in the NHL. He helped in developing my all-around game."
"He skates as well as anyone in the draft," said McGuire. "Size, bloodlines. I really think the odds are in Colin Wilson's corner with having Carey Wilson as a father."
Head to head against van Riemsdyk, Wilson did more than just hold his own. While UNH won all three matches, Wilson had a goal and three assists, while van Riemsdyk had two goals and two assists.
The two remain friendly, making their meetings more fun than anything else.
"Our lines never really matched," said Wilson. "We only had about four or five shifts against each other, but we would talk before the games, we'd go for the big hit on each other. I laid one out on him (but) it wasn't that big of a hit. It was funny, during warmups I'm getting ready for a game, but when you see a kid you played with on a line, you get some smiles. He's one of my best friends (but) when I saw him in the corner, I knew his number and would hit him."
"It's a good comparison," said Egglestone. "van Riemsdyk might have a little more scoring ability, but all in all, they're similar in overall ability. There's not a lot of difference between them."
McGuire thinks Wilson could have one more advantage over his more-heralded former teammate – Wilson could reach the NHL first.
"(van Riemsdyk) went to New Hampshire and he's playing OK," said McGuire. "I would say Wilson met the challenge."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.