Editor’s note: This is the third of four installments in a series of stories highlighting and profiling the top available prospects in this year’s NHL Draft, to be held at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh on June 22-23. BlueJackets.com will bring you insight from the club’s hockey operations staff and around the hockey world as we get set for the draft weekend.
“SKILL AND MORE SKILL”
This week’s draft spotlight takes an in-depth look at two players that, while at different positions on the ice, have risen up the draft board thanks to natural-born talent and an uncanny ability to play hockey at “full bore” and without fear.
Scouts have had a keen eye on center Mikhail Grigorenko for some time – and for good reason. The big-time pivot from the Quebec Remparts appears to have all the tools in the box that would make him a legitimate scoring threat in the National Hockey League, and his head coach – legendary goaltender Patrick Roy – will be the first to tell you Grigorenko has what it takes. For starters, he’s got the ideal frame (6-foot-3, 200 lbs.) to both create space with the puck and play in high-traffic areas of the ice. Then you have the skating: scouts have mentioned Grigorenko’s ability to make plays at top speed, while also making sure his speed away from the puck is at a high tempo, as well.
Grigorenko recently had to face tough questions from the media about alleged attitude issues while playing for the Remparts – but Roy was quick to go public and refute the reports. Instead of dwell on the speculation, Grigorenko took the annual Scouting Combine and showed well. He finished third overall among North American skaters in Central Scouting’s final pre-draft rankings after leading all QMJHL rookies with 85 points (40 goals, 45 assists) in 59 games.
There’s definitely an element of flash and glamour to Rielly’s game, too. The second-highest ranked defenseman in Central Scouting’s final ranking (fifth overall), Rielly had to overcome a devastating ACL injury early in the 2011-12 season which only allowed him to play 18 games in his draft year. For a lot of prospects, that could be a hard thing to overcome – but not when you have the game-breaking ability from the back end that Rielly does.
Due to his limited sample size of in-game action at the WHL level, Rielly’s high draft stock has much to do with his sky-high ceiling. Many scouts believe he can be a top-pairing defenseman that not only moves the puck with aplomb and can put up solid offensive numbers, but is capable of reading the play and being in the right spot while playing defense.
NHL Central Scouting’s Blair MacDonald on Morgan Rielly: "I've seen Rielly do things on the ice that nobody else was doing. I saw him make those little passes to guys who weren't expecting the puck to get there. He's the type of player who can lead the rush and he'll be the first guy back. I think his creativity makes him one of the top players in the league. He's like a chess player; he's thinking one or two moves ahead. He sees stuff coming that a lot of players don't see."
NHL Central Scouting’s David Gregory on Mikhail Grigorenko: “He's the type of player that controls the whole pace of the game. He can play with the puck at the same pace he plays without the puck. He sees the ice and opportunities really well. He can hang onto it longer than most players; some players might feel that they have to move it quickly, but Mikhail has the patience and the ability to see opportunities and let them develop, which is a special skill. He's got a big, long reach and an ability to move in traffic with his size. He's the kind of forward who will control the play and make things happen."
Regardless of where these two players are selected in the draft order, their new NHL clubs can take solace in the fact that both are excellent prospects and have every reason to be impact players at the next level. Could there be surprises once things get going on the draft floor in Pittsburgh? Absolutely, and it should not come as a surprise if either of these players are selected above (or maybe below) their final ranking by Central Scouting.
There are two differing dynamics at play, too: a team that sorely needs a scoring center could trade up and attempt to draft Grigorenko, or those same interested clubs could wait and see if he ends up sliding down the board – much like Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler did in 2010 (12th overall). At the time, many had questions about why Fowler fell from his projected top-five slot, but the Ducks ended up getting a solid young blue liner as a result.
The same goes for Rielly. Will his injury-plagued 2011-12 season have a profound impact on where he goes in the first round, or is the multi-faceted skill set too much for an NHL general manager to pass up, especially with a young defenseman? Two exciting young players like Grigorenko and Rielly will only add to the drama as the first round gets under way in just over a week’s time.
TALE OF THE TAPE
MORGAN RIELLY | DEFENSEMAN
MOOSE JAW WARRIORS (WHL)
STATS: 3-15-18 in 18 GP
2011-12 FINAL RANKING: 5
MIKHAIL GRIGORENKO | CENTER
QUEBEC REMPARTS (QMJHL)
STATS: 40-45-85 in 59 GP
2011-12 FINAL RANKING: 3Follow @BlueJacketsNHL on Twitter, and use the hashtag #CBJLIKE Columbus Blue Jackets on Facebook