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Prospecting with Central Scouting

Tuesday, 03.30.2010 / 12:15 PM / Blog Central

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Prospecting with Central Scouting

The end is near
03.30.2010 / 12:15 p.m.

TORONTO -- Well, I think I've provided as much detail and information possible without actually giving away the secrets here within the Conn Smythe Board Room at NHL offices.

Here are a few stories that were produced Tuesday:

*Goalies Calvin Pickard and Jack Campbell might be first-round picks. Goalie scout Al Jensen compared Pickard to Evgeni Nabokov and Isles' Martin Biron. He likened Campbell to the style of Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury.

*Scouts already have top prospects in mind for 2011

*NTDP defender Jon Merrill is a possible early-round selection

It's been fun. The boys of Central Scouting are professionals, through and through. A special thanks to the entire group, including Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire, for allowing me to sit in and listen to all the "interesting" details. There were jokes, cracks, shouts and disapprovals. But, most importantly, everyone is confident in the final product which will be released on April 7. So, check back to NHL.com for all the details.

Please browse this string if you haven't already as there's plenty of interesting fodder within.

Be well and enjoy the playoffs!

High School hot shots
03.30.2010 / 11:15 a.m.

TORONTO - There were certainly a number of high-school prospects considered among the players to be ranked on the final list of 210 North American skaters to be released April 7 by the NHL's Central Scouting.

Since 2003, there have been 113 high school players drafted. Last year alone, 19 scholastic standouts heard their name called -- that's 11 percent of all North American players drafted.

Here's a breakdown of the top five scholastic players ranked on Central Scouting's mid-term report who could very well be selected during the 2010 Entry Draft, June 25-26, at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Each player listed is preceded by their mid-term ranking among North American skaters.

12-Nick Bjugstad, F, Blaine (Minn.) -- He became the only player from Blaine ever to win the Mr. Hockey Award as the most outstanding high school senior in the state of Minnesota. Bjugstad finished the regular season with 29 goals and 60 points in 25 games for Blaine (21-6-3). He added 5 goals and 9 points in five state playoff games, including 2 goals and 3 points in a 3-1 victory against Maple Grove in the Section 5AA championship on March 5.

"He's further along and more polished than (Boston's Blake) Wheeler," Central Scouting's Jack Barzee, who specializes in U.S.-based prospects, told NHL.com. "He's also a better skater than David Backes was at the same age (17). The only difference is Backes was thicker, but the ingredients are there. He wants the puck and wants to make plays. He's a blue-collar type kid who works his tail off."

17-Brock Nelson, F, Warroad (Minn.) -- Nelson, who plans on attending the University of North Dakota in the fall, had 39 goals and 73 points in 25 games this season.

"He could be a sleeper in the draft," Barzee said. "He's got an unbelievable set of hands and some good blood lines. He grandfather is Billy Christian and his uncle is David Christian. Brock's got the skating, the size, the hands, the playmaking and the goal-scoring ability. He's the whole package and when it comes together, he could be really dangerous. "

18-Kevin Hayes, F, Nobles (Mass.) -- NHL scout Gary Eggleston sees Hayes going somewhere in the middle of the first round -- perhaps to his hometown Boston Bruins. Exhibits good sense and vision and is a workhorse on the power play.

"He's a great skater with big, long strong stride and carries the puck very well," Eggleston said. "He's become an excellent passer and sees the ice very well. I wasn't sure a year ago that he might have had that asset, but he's turned out to be an excellent playmaker. He's got a great shot and can score goals. I think he's probably as satisfied setting up someone for a goal and he has a knack for finding open teammates around the goal."

Hayes, who'll attend Boston College in the fall, is the cousin of St. Louis Blues' forward Keith Tkachuk.

36-Max Gardiner, F, Minnetonka (Minn.) -- The University of Minnesota-bound Gardiner had 17 goals and 43 points in 17 games for Minnetonka this season. His brother, Jake, played defense at Minnetonka and was selected by the Anaheim Ducks with the 17th overall pick in the 2008 Entry Draft.

"He's a totally different player from his brother all together," Barzee said. "He's a big rangy center who will probably be that big power winger in the pro ranks. He protects the puck, releases well and is very unselfish. His skating was coming along before he broke his wrist and got mononucleosis and then missed almost all of January."

Barzee compared Gardiner to former NHLer Keith Primeau.

"He is more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer, but he has a good shot," Barzee admitted. "Don't forget, he has a plate in his wrist so he just didn't have that same feel as he did prior to the injury."

Said Gardiner:
 
"I'm definitely a power-forward who can create traffic in front of the net and get the dirty goals," he told NHL.com. "I feel I have good vision and can see the ice very well. I'm working harder at my skating."

37-Mark Alt, D, Cretin-Derham (Minn.) -- Instead of following in the footsteps of his dad, John, an All-Pro offensive lineman with the Kansas City Chiefs for 13 seasons, Mark has decided to take his show on the ice. In the process, he'll forfeit a scholarship to play football at his dad's alma mater, Iowa, and instead attend the University of Minnesota to play hockey.

"He's got great speed and we let him go because he likes to cover a lot of ground," long-time Cretin coach Jim O'Neill said of his captain. "When you watch him, you notice him because he's big and loves to skate. It's not like he stays at home and does one thing. He's physical and can shoot well. His size and skating ability are what catches your eye."

What's in a name
03.30.2010 / 10:35 a.m.

TORONTO -- Great discussion this morning. Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire fired up the group by asking the boys to compare each player in the final top 40 to a current or past NHL star.

The top two forwards on the mid-term report, forwards Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, were compared to Zach Parise and Steve Yzerman, respectively. Talk about flipping a coin if you had the No. 1 pick in the draft! That's pretty good comparisons, huh!

A few other interesting comparisons to round out the top five of the mid-term report:

Defenseman Cam Fowler - Mike Green
Forward Brett Connolly - Peter Forsberg
Forward Riley Sheahan - Jordan Staal

Keep in mind, this was all brainstorming shout-outs. But it was intriguing. Thanks boys!

Scout Al Jensen is now up and discussing goalies. As expected, he's high on Calvin Pickard and Jack Campbell.

Final day at Central Scouting
03.30.2010 / 8:45 a.m.

TORONTO -- The boys' at Central Scouting will check over the 'Big Chart' this morning to make certain it's all good. All seven rounds have now been filled -- quite an accomplishment when you consider just two days ago the argument for either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin at No. 1 overall stalled the process by about 30 minutes.

Goalie scout Al Jensen will get his opportunity to dive into his area of expertise today and I honestly believe there will be some healthy debate over who should be considered No. 1 overall on the final chart -- Seattle's Calvin Pickard or U.S. Under-18 National Team Developmental Program keeper Jack Campbell. Pickard was given the nod over Campbell on the mid-term report in January.

I'll have a story up on the differing styles of each goalie and how that may play a part into which team actually takes them. Heck, I was naïve to think that so long as a goalie can stop the puck, he should be considered golden. Well, that just isn't the case anymore.

Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire sat down with me to go over the top 40 picks made by his group this week. Simply amazing to me how you can say a name and E.J. begins rattling off a scouting report as if he just saw the kid an hour ago. Ditto for Jensen, who provided me some great analysis of the top goalies to watch on Monday.

I'm putting the finishing touches on some other stories I'm working on and then I'll blog for the duration of my time here -- probably until noon -- in order to catch my flight out of Toronto.

Keep checking in from time to time.

… And in the OHL
03.29.2010 / 3:00 p.m.

TORONTO -- Ontario Hockey League scout Chris Edwards reminds us that Dalton Smith, the son of former NHLer Derrick Smith, could be a mid-to-late round pick in the draft.

Dalton Smith, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound left wing from the Ottawa 67's, has 21 goals, 44 points and 129 penalty minutes in 62 regular season games. He also sports an impressive plus-20 rating. In the playoffs, he's produced 2 goals, 3 points and 11 penalty minutes in 5 games.

In case you missed it, two features filed earlier today from the old board room at NHL offices are up on NHL.com right now.

*Will the next Russian star emerge from the 2010 Draft?

*Russia's Kirill Kabanov will likely drop in the final rankings.

A Sutter and a Smasher
03.29.2010 / 2:15 p.m.

TORONTO -- Western Hockey League scouts B.J. MacDonald and Peter Sullivan brought up some interesting points that I wanted to post before I move on to something else.

The first was the fact Lethbridge right wing Brody Sutter, the son of Calgary scout Duane Sutter, could be be a late-round possibility at the June draft. The young Sutter even wears the number 19, the same number his father wore while playing junior hockey in Lethbridge. Sutter produced 5 goals and 14 points in 72 games and accrued 42 penalty minutes.

The second name I wanted to get out there was Tyler Stahl, a 6-foot-2, 201-pound defenseman from Chilliwack. In 59 games, the kid has just six assists with 146 penalty minutes and, according to both Sullivan and MacDonald, is the second-best open-ice hitter in the WHL -- behind Radko Gudas of Everett. Gudas has 7 goals, 37 points and 151 penalty minutes in 65 games.

"People would call the arena before coming to the game and ask if Stahl would be dressing or not," said one scout.

Anyway, two players I thought would arouse your curiosity…

The discussion continues …
03.29.2010 / 2:11 p.m.

Don't fret. I haven't been ignoring you. It's just that the gang here at Central Scouting is still moving along with the overall list. I'm looking at the top 65 at this stage but Director of Scouting E.J. McGuire is making sure the boys are checking their lists twice to make certain NO ONE falls through the cracks.

As I'm sitting here listening to the group, I can't help but be impressed with the commentary and debate going on. This is not easy and the gang wants to get it right, there's no question about that. We're dealing with six different leagues, including the National Team Developmental Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. But it's relatively seamless with regard to placing players here or there despite that fact.

Just about all the scouts have gotten out to see cross over games in addition to their assigned areas and that is such a huge help when formulating opinions. I'm still waiting for the goaltending portion of the meeting -- that's Al Jensen's time to shine.

I have spoken to most of the scouts and will provide a few names to look out for in 2011. It looks like the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will have plenty of high-caliber prospects with the majority coming from the St. John Sea Dogs.

If you haven't seen it yet, a few of us tried our hand at playing GM and projecting who would go where at the 2010 Draft. The mock selections can be viewed here…don't laugh too hard.

The league lists
03.29.2010 / 8:30 a.m.

TORONTO -- Hello everyone! I'm back at the Conn Smythe Board Room at NHL offices on this Monday morning.

As promised, the league lists for the WHL, OHL, QMJHL, USA East, USA West and Canadian Jr/Midget are locked and loaded and ready for your viewing pleasure.

All the players under each league were voted into the top 10 of that particular league and, according to Central Scouting, were exceptional among their peers. In an effort to keep these lists somewhat confidential, I have listed the players in alphabetical order instead of in the numeric fashion they were assigned by Central Scouting. The scouts also put together a top 40 overall list on Sunday that they will mull over one final time before continuing the process today.

In case you missed some of my posts on Sunday, the debate over Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall raged on for approximately 15 minutes -- fantastic stuff too. The discussion went even deeper when OHL defensemen Cam Fowler and Erik Gudbranson were the centerpieces. There were times when the scouts disagreed with one another but nothing is ever taken personal. The respect in this room is unmistakable!

Keep in mind, this is the closest thing you'll get to a finalized list until the actual 'Big Chart' is released on April 7. The numeral in (parenthesis) beside each league represents the number of potential first-round picks within that league's top 10.

Western Hockey League (10)
Brett Connolly
Emerson Etem
Curtis Hamilton
Quinton Howden
Ryan Johansen
Dylan McIlrath
Nino Niederreiter
Alexander Petrovic
Mark Pysyk
Jordan Weal

USA West (10)
Mark Alt
Bill Arnold
Nick Bjugstad
Derek Forbort
Stephen Johns
Jon Merrill
Brock Nelson
Tyler Pitlick
Jaden Schwartz
Riley Sheahan

Canadian Juniors/Midgets (1)
Jesse Beamish
Beau Bennett
Colin Campbell
Luke Curadi
Grayson Downing
Alexander Guptill
Isaac Macleod
Mark MacMillan
Julian Melchiori
Peter Stoykewych

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (3)
Louis-Marc Aubry
Michael Bournival
Michael Chaput
Jakub Culek
Stanislav Galiev
Jerome Gauthier-Leduc
Brandon Gormley
Kirill Kabanov
Stephen Macaulay
Petr Straka

USA East (2)
Kenneth Agostino
Danny Biega
Charlie Coyle
Garnet Hathaway
Kevin Hayes
Raman Hrabarenka
Patrick McNally
Mike Pereira
Casey Thrush
Matthew White

Ontario Hockey League (10)
Alexander Burmistrov
Cam Fowler
Erik Gudbranson
Taylor Hall
Ryan Martindale
John McFarland
Tyler Seguin
Ivan Telegin
Tyler Toffoli
Austin Watson

Voting continues in Conn Smythe Board Room
03.28.2010 / 5:57 p.m.

TORONTO - The members of Central Scouting aren't quitting yet. Even after establishing the top players from all six major leagues in North America, the boys are now hoping to string together the top 40 overall before finally calling it a day. This process should be a tad easier as scouts will determine the next-best possible player from the lists compiled from each league.

We're not only 15 minutes into the process and the top 10 has been finalized! The boys are really cranking it out while computer IT expert Jack Gerien assists.

Riveting debate among OHL standouts
03.28.2010 / 5:08 p.m.

TORONTO - I wish I could provide more detail but the debate over who should be No. 1 among those Ontario Hockey League standouts has been settled.

I'll list the top 10 later on (in alphabetically order). I can say this much, as it shouldn't be too much of a shock -- it came down to a showdown between Windsor's Taylor Hall and Plymouth's Tyler Seguin. Hall and Seguin were ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on the mid-term report. Head OHL scout Chris Edwards basically headed the meeting.

After approximately 15 minutes of discussion and debate over the two forwards, Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire posed the following:

"Ok boys! You're the GM of the team holding the No. 1 pick in this year's draft and you're contract expires in three years. You will need to meet with your owner in your third year and explain your choice in the 2010 Draft. Who do you feel will be your man?"

A show of hands from each of the nine scouts ultimately determined who would be listed No. 1 for the OHL and, for all purposes, No. 1 on Central Scouting's final overall list to be released on April 7.

I have to admit. I was on pins and needless as McGuire counted hands for each standout player. Both players were compared to Steven Stamkos. The mood then shifted to OHL defensemen for the next 20 minutes as Windsor's Cam Fowler and Kingston's Erik Gudbranson were the primary targets.

Basically, and all the scouts were in agreement, Gudbranson provides that stay-at-home play that teams can build their defense around. Fowler is that exceptional offensive-defenseman in the Phil Housley or Brian Leetch mold.

Wish I could provide more, but I'm restricted here folks. If anything else, it certainly gives you some idea how difficult these decisions are. Keep in mind, I counted 5 hand-votes taken by McGuire during those head-to-head battles among the OHL players.

USA-Hockey West on the table
03.28.2010 / 11:55 a.m.

TORONTO - Jack Barzee, who scouts the Mid-West, is now up and the debate is raging among the group.

The US-West players include those from the United States Hockey League, those colleges, the National Team Developmental Program and high school players -- mostly from Minnesota.

There were some tough choices on a few of the NTDP players. I have to believe it's pretty difficult to judge high school players with those collegians, the USHL and the NTDP. The USHL's Jaden Schwartz was spoke of very highly. He was the first USHL player to be discussed, as were scholastic stars Mark Alt of Cretin-Derham, Nick Bjugstad of Blaine and Brock Nelson of Warroad.

By the way, I was informed that CSS's final list will be released April 7.

The Combine will be held May 24-29 at the Westin Bristol Place in Toronto. The Euros are scheduled to arrive May 23 and North Americans on May 24. Testing begins May 28.

I would also like to make mention of another key player in the CSS meetings. Bob Obringer is the technical mastermind behind the creation of the entire central scouting system, including what the scouts are using here. The system is the result of three years of clear vision on the part of E.J. McGuire and central scouting and Obringer's technical expertise. Obringer is participating and supporting the meetings, and while not present physically is just as much a part of the meetings as those in the room.

So a special shout out to Bob!

WHL scouts taking charge
03.28.2010 / 9:55 a.m.

TORONTO -- Great discussion from Western Hockey League scouts Peter Sullivan and B.J. MacDonald. Of course, right wing Brett Connolly of Prince George and defenseman Mark Pysyk of Edmonton, who were rated Nos. 4 and 9 on the mid-term rankings, were discussed in detail. Oh, so was Nino Niederreiter of Portland.

I'll list the top 10 (in alphabetical order) when it becomes official but one interesting note was how impressed the boys were with the improvement of Kelowna's Brett Bulmer, a 6-foot-2 1/4, 175-pound right wing.

Bulmer was listed No. 164 on the mid-term report among North Americans, but based on the discussions, it wouldn't surprise me if he makes a jump. He apparently had quite a second half of the season in Kelowna and finished with 13 goals, 40 points and 95 penalty minutes in 65 games this season.

Canadian juniors/midgets and WHL discussion
03.28.2010 / 09:21 a.m.

TORONTO -- The boys have been discussing the Canadian juniors and midgets and continue to do so. Players discussed in detail included (in alphabetical order) Beau Bennett of Penticton, Jesse Beamish, Luke Curadi of Penticton, Colin Campbell of Vaughan, Grayson Downing of Westside and Maxime Dumond.

They are shifting gears to the WHL and there's an interesting debate on the impact of "small" players in the juniors. Scout Chris Edwards is making a very good point that sometimes names like "Martin St. Louis" are thrown around too loosely. In other words, you can't just say that a particular "smallish" player performs like St. Louis because St. Louis is a different breed of player -- he battles and is black and blue every night. He's unlike any "small" player to ever play in the League.

Most "smallish" players will never reach the intensity level of St. Louis, but there is a chance. All good points.

Injuries also coming into focus. In the WHL discussion, will Brett Connolly's ailment hurt him in the final rankings? He's an exceptional player. Mark Pysyk also was injured with a broken foot -- does he drop? Interesting debate and discussion.

Preparing to go
03.28.2010 / 8:06 a.m.

TORONTO - Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire made his formal introductions and we're set to go here at the Conn Smyth Board Room at the NHL offices in Toronto.

David Gregory is reviewing the software the boys will use in putting together this year's final rankings list of the top 210 North American skaters and 30 goalies.

Here are the scouts present and who I'll be dealing with during my three-day stay.

Jack Barzee - USA Hockey - West
Gary Eggleston - USA Hockey - East
Chris Bordeleau - QMJHL
Chris Edwards - OHL/OPJHL
Al Jensen - All goalies
B.J. MacDonald - WHL/OHL/BCHL
Peter Sullivan - WHL

Not to be forgotten are Central Scouting information guru Luke McGoey and Central Scouting coordinator Nathan Ogilvie-Harris are also front and center and play big roles during the week-long meetings. Computer IT's Jack Gerien and David Gregory are also on hand to assist with any questions.

Touchdown in Toronto
03.27.2010 / 6:00 p.m.

TORONTO - Well, I've arrived in downtown Toronto and have a stunning view of Lake Ontario and the Air Canada Centre out my hotel window.

I'm headed out to get some grub (off a suggestion provided by fellow NHL.com buddy Shawn Roarke) but decided I'd check in before tomorrow's big day inside the Conn Smythe Board Room at the NHL offices located at ACC where the NHL Central Scouting Service will begin the necessary steps in finalizing the final list of North American skaters and goalies for the 2010 Entry Draft.

I'll file as many updates as possible in the blog during my three-day stay. I hope to provide you with some details and insight you might not get anywhere else, so check back often. I've also been given the 'green light' to post the top players selected by the CSS in each league (OHL, WHL, QMJHL, US-Hockey East, US-Hockey West). However, I will list the top 10 players in each league alphabetically, instead of their numerical order as the lists aren't supposed to be released until the middle of next month. But, listing the names alphabetically will at least give you some idea what to expect.

A few story lines I'm seeking:

* Will the decision made by Kirill Kabanov to leave the QMJHL and return to his native Russia last week hurt his final ranking? Kabanov was the top-rated 'Q' skater at No. 15 on the mid-term ranking.

* While I'm on the topic of Russian players, I'm always fascinated with the thought the upcoming draft could usher in the next Ovechkin, Malkin, Datsyuk or Semin. I'll dive in and find out.

* Those who know me certainly realize I'll never leave a scouting meeting or draft without polishing off a story on the top high school players in the land. So expect a rundown of those scholastic Minnesota whiz kids on skates -- possibly two of which might be tabbed in the first round in June. One such performer is Minnesota's Mr. Hockey Award-winner Nick Bjugstad.

Well, I have a few other ideas raging through the brain but I'll hold off from divulging my complete itinerary. Again, in addition to a few features, I'll try and update the "Prospecting with Central Scouting" blog as much as possible; in addition to providing some tweets here and there at @mike_morreale.

Here are a few interesting stories/highlights to keep you busy until Sunday…

* Moncton defenseman Brandon Gormley is the top-rated QMJHL D-man on the mid-term list.

* Highlights of NTDP goalie Jack Campbell, who is a likely first-round draft selection.

* Taylor Hall talks about the pressure of being a top draft pick.

* Notre Dame's Riley Sheahan should be the first collegiate player off the draft board come June.

NHL's Central Scouting gurus ready for big week

03.26.2010 / 12:00 p.m.

TORONTO - Believe it or not, The 'Boys of Summer' are actually set to congregate in the spring at the Conn Smythe Board Room in Toronto this week.

On Sunday, Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire will play his usual role as mediator as those professional scouts 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 2010 Entry Draft in Los Angeles, June 25-26.

Discussions will heat up almost immediately on Sunday when the scouts debate over who's No. 1 overall. The top two candidates expected to vie for that position will be Windsor's Taylor Hall and Plymouth's Tyler Seguin, who were listed Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on Central Scouting's mid-term list.

Defenseman Cam Fowler, Hall's teammate in Windsor, is favored to get the nod as the top-rated blue liner on the board. Prospects Calvin Pickard of the Seattle Thunderbirds and Jack Campbell of the U-18 National Team Developmental Program are in the running for top honors among goaltenders. Pickard's older brother, Chet, a goalie with the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals, was selected by the Nashville Predators in the first round of the 2008 Entry Draft.

In addition to timely features, I'll be on site at the NHL's scouting offices in Toronto to provide you with all the saucy details. Keep checking the "Prospecting with Central Scouting" blog, which will be updated every few hours beginning on Sunday and concluding Tuesday, for up-to-the-minute developments as they happen.

Here are a few features to whet your appetite while I'm lugging my suitcase at the airport en route to Toronto:

NHL Draft Site main page

Central Scouting setting final draft list

Windsor's Hall, Fowler at the top of CSS list

Watch prospect Tyler Seguin at work


I'll check in on Saturday before being reunited with my friends from Central Scouting on Sunday morning.
Quote of the Day

He's able to play now, we just want to see other guys. We know what he can do.

— Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper on not rushing Steven Stamkos onto the ice