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Tavares still No. 1 in Central Scouting's rankings

Tuesday, 11.18.2008 / 8:45 AM / 2009 NHL Entry Draft

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

John Tavares knows all about firsts.

He was the first to be granted exceptional-player status by the Canadian Hockey League. He was the first pick of the Ontario Hockey League Draft at age 15. He's long been the first name mentioned when talk has turned to the 2009 Entry Draft.

So it was no surprise that Tavares is the top-ranked player in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary ranking of the top OHL prospects for the 2009 Draft.

Central Scouting today released the first of its lists rating the top prospects for the 2009 Entry Draft, with Tuesday’s release ranking the top 25 skaters and the best goalies in the OHL, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. Also, the top European prospects were rated by country, and NCAA players were ranked by league.

Last month, Central Scouting released a Fall Watch List, which ranked North American players not playing in the Canadian Hockey League or the NCAA.

The 2009 draft prospects will have a long way to go to live up to the 2008 draft group, which placed 10 skaters on opening-night rosters.

"With 10 guys being on the starting rosters of the NHL, that is a lot to live up to," said NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire. "(It’s) more a credit to the exceptional year last year than any downturn this year. It’s a good draft this year. And who knows -- next October when the opening day (rosters) come out maybe there will be another 10."

Two of them for sure will be Tavares and Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman.

Tavares, a 6-foot, 200-pound center, is second in the OHL with 17 goals and third with 36 points. While not the strongest skater, Tavares is renowned for how well his playmaking, movement without the puck and hockey sense translate into superior offensive performances.

"The way he sees the ice and passes the puck through traffic, draw the comparison to whoever you want, but when you watched Wayne Gretzky, if you put your stick on the ice, you'd get the puck on your stick at some point," said Central Scouting's Chris Edwards. "John is phenomenal at getting the puck through traffic to his linemates, getting to openings. The way he reads the play and can get to where he figures the rebounds will be and bangs in the rebound. He's a real smart player."

Hedman is a 6-6, 220-pound defenseman whose strongest skill might be his skating. He has 8 points in 21 games playing against men with MODO in the Swedish Elite League, but recently suffered a separated shoulder that could sideline him for up to three weeks.

"For being that young, he's very mature, and he's big but moves like a smaller guy," said Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting. "Very mobile, and his puck sense is excellent. Hedman is dominating the game, playing on the first defense pair on MODO. He's playing around 20 minutes per game."

While it's almost a certainty Tavares and Hedman will be the first two picks when the 30 teams convene at the Bell Centre in Montreal on June 26-27 for the 2009 selection process, the order will likely remain in question all season.

"It can be interesting as it develops," said McGuire. "A lot will be made of the build-up to the (2009) World Junior Championship where they'll be playing head to head -- literally.

"It's a very true statement that will be repeated many times, but if a team needs a forward they'll lean toward Tavares, but if they need a defenseman they'll lean toward Hedman."

Tavares and Hedman are far from the only names teams will be discussing.

Following Tavares on the OHL list is Brampton Battalion center Matt Duchene. After a slow start, he has 6 goals and 21 points in his last 11 games, putting him fifth in the league with 31 points in 22 games. London Knights center Nazem Kadri, who joined Tavares as the only draft-eligible players invited to Team Canada's summer evaluation camp for the WJC, was ranked third. Kadri recently suffered a broken jaw and will be out 2-4 weeks.

It's only November, so these rankings are subject to change.

 
 
"If Matt Duchene or Nazem Kadri goes on a tear, they could surpass (Tavares)," said McGuire. "At this point it's close. … I think it's too early to lock Tavares into the No. 1 in North America. They'd have to get hot. Tavares, barring injury or illness, is going to continue at his pace. Those kids are really going to have to go beyond what they've done in the past."

Guelph Storm center Peter Holland was ranked No. 4, followed by Tavares' Oshawa teammate, Calvin de Haan. De Haan leads all OHL rookies and is third among the league's defensemen with 22 points. Peterborough Petes right wing Zack Kassian is No. 6.

Windsor Spitfires defenseman Ryan Ellis, who is bidding to become just the second blueliner to lead the OHL in scoring in 63 years, is ranked seventh. He's second in the league with 38 points, and his 25 assists lead the OHL. He also has a plus-23 rating.

Rounding out the OHL top 10 is Erie Otters center Ryan O'Reilly, Guelph left wing Taylor Beck and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds center Micheal Fine.

Edward Pasquale of the Saginaw Spirit was the top-ranked OHL goaltender, followed by the Owen Sound Attack's Scott Stajcer and Chris Perugini of the Ottawa 67s. Alain Valiquette of the Sudbury Wolves and Barrie’s Peter DiSalvo round out the Top 5.

The top four players from the QMJHL are defensemen, led by 6-foot-3, 214-pound Simon Despres of the Saint John Sea Dogs. In 26 games, Despres already has matched the 14 points he had all of last season.

"With 10 guys being on the starting rosters of the NHL, that is a lot to live up to.  (It’s) more a credit to the exceptional year last year than any downturn this year. It’s a good draft this year. And who knows -- next October when the opening day (rosters) come out maybe there will be another 10." -- NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire on the 2009 Entry Draft class

"I think for a potential pro player, he's got the size and mobility for that size that are impressive," said Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau. "I've seen him four games so far, and he never seems to make a bad play. He's never going to get 100 points, but definitely, when you want a guy to play defense, he's your guy. He does it all, he'll block shots, he moves the puck at the right time. He's been awesome."

Russian-born Dmitry Kulikov of the Drummondville Voltigeurs, who is second among the league's defensemen with 22 points in 20 games, is second. Shawinigan teammates Gabriel Lemieux and Charles-Olivier Roussel are ranked third and fourth, and Rimouski Oceanic center Jordan Caron, the top-rated forward on the list, is No. 5. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound center has 13 points in 12 games, but has missed time with an injury.

Shawinigan placed four players among the top 25. Besides Lemieux and Roussel, center Philippe Paradis was ranked sixth, and defenseman Brad Yetman was No. 19.

Rounding out the QMJHL top 10 are No. 7 Lewiston defenseman Eric Gelinas, Quebec center David Gilbert, Chicoutimi center Michal Hlinka and Rouyn-Noranda defenseman Niclas Deslauriers.

Olivier Roy of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles is the top-rated QMJHL goaltender. Jean-Sebastien Boucher of Val d'Or is second, followed by Saint John's Karel St-Laurent, Chicoutimi's Sean Coulton, and Jean-Francois Berube of the Montreal Juniors.

Roy drew the scouts attention last season when he had 27 wins, a 2.87 goals-against average and four shutouts. This season he's second in the league with 13 wins with a 3.07 GAA.

"I think he was good as an underager," said Bordeleau. "Sometimes what happens is we don't watch them as closely as the guys drafted the same year. Last year we watched him and he was awesome. He came in this year and he's doing the same thing. He catches your attention. He's steady and he plays well all the time."

A defenseman heads the WHL list as well, with 6-foot-5, 218-pound Jared Cowen of the Spokane Chiefs leading that circuit. Cowen has 3 goals, 8 points and a plus-8 rating through 22 games.

Vancouver Giants center Evander Kane, the WHL's leading scorer with 36 points, is second.

"The way he sees the ice and passes the puck through traffic, draw the comparison to whoever you want, but when you watched Wayne Gretzky, if you put your stick on the ice, you'd get the puck on your stick at some point. John is phenomenal at getting the puck through traffic to his linemates, getting to openings. The way he reads the play and can get to where he figures the rebounds will be and bangs in the rebound. He's a real smart player."
-- Central Scouting's Chris Edwards on John Tavares
"Cowen has an offensive upside to him as well as size," said McGuire. "I really think the combination of them both is why right now, in mid-November, why he (Cowen) is a notch ahead of Evander Kane.

Brandon Wheat Kings center Brayden Schenn and Scott Glennie are ranked third and fourth, followed by Saskatoon Blades defenseman Stefan Elliot. Elliot ranks sixth among WHL defensemen with 20 points in 24 games.

Rounding out the WHL top 10 are Lethbridge right wing Carter Ashton, Red Deer defenseman Tommi Kivisto, Kelowna defenseman Tyson Barrie, Red Deer center Landon Ferraro, and Prince Albert defenseman Ryan Button.

There are a few familiar names among the top WHL players. Schenn, who has 21 points in 20 games, is the younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman and 2008 first-round pick Luke Schenn. Barrie, who leads WHL defensemen with 24 points in 23 games, is the son of Tampa Bay Lightning owner and former NHL player Len Barrie. Ferraro is the son of former two-time 40-goal scorer Ray Ferraro.

Some OHL skaters have pretty strong bloodlines as well. Belleville Bulls defenseman Bjorn Krupp, the No. 15 skater, is the son of long-time NHL defenseman Uwe Krupp. Marcus Foligno of the Sudbury Wolves, ranked No. 16 in the OHL is the son of former NHL forward and current Sudbury coach Mike Foligno, and the younger brother of Ottawa Senators forward Nick Foligno.

The Kootenay Ice's Nathan Lieuwen is the WHL's top-rated goaltender, followed by the Kamloops Blazers' Jon Gorenheyde, Damien Ketlo of the Regina Pats, Red Deer's Darcy Kuemper, and Vancouver's Jamie Tucker, who leads the WHL with a 1.52 goals-against average, although he's played just eight games.

Red Deer had the most players ranked among the three Canadian Hockey Leagues with five -- Kivisto, Ferraro, left wing Cassidy Mappin (No. 13), right wing Willie Coetzee (No. 19) and Kuemper.

"It's a very true statement that will be repeated many times, but if a team needs a forward they'll lean toward Tavares, but if they need a defenseman they'll lean toward Hedman."
--
E.J. McGuire on who will be selected first overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft

Aside from Hedman, the top players among the European group are Swedish.

Djurgarden center Jacob Josefson and Timra forward Magnus Paajarvi are next on the list. Also highly regarded is goaltender Robin Lehner, who plays for Frolunda's junior team.

"Josefson is a complete player, very smart, his hockey sense is unbelievable," said Stubb of the 6-foot, 187-pounder who has 4 goals and 7 points in 22 games in the Swedish Elite League.

The top non-Swede is Czech forward Richard Panik. After scoring 5 goals in 7 games for Trinec's junior team, the 6-1, 202-pounder recently was promoted to the Czech Extraliga.

The top NCAA player is the University of Minnesota's Jordan Schroeder. The 5-foot-8, 175-pound center has 10 assists, 14 points and plus-10 rating in 10 games.

Central Scouting will release their mid-term rankings in January, followed by their final rankings in early April.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.