TORONTO -- Inquiring minds would like to know if Carolina Hurricanes Director of Amateur Scouting Tony MacDonald has another Jeff Skinner up his sleeve.
If he does, he wasn't sharing with NHL.com in an exclusive interview from the NHL Scouting Combine last week. Then again, who would blame him.
Chosen with the seventh pick last June, Skinner went on to lead all rookies in points (63), rank second in assists (32) and third in goals (31) in 2010-11. Despite being the League's youngest player, his performance over the first half of the season earned him a berth in the 2011 NHL All-Star Game before a hometown crowd in Raleigh.
Skinner was rated 34th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting heading into the 2010 draft, but accurately deemed one of the top North Americans by MacDonald. He was one of only three players -- along with Edmonton's Taylor Hall and Boston's Tyler Seguin, the top two picks -- drafted among the top seven selections to play a full season in the NHL.
"Finding a goal-scorer and guys who are offensively productive are hard to come by," MacDonald told NHL.com. "I know defensemen and goalies are integral parts of any team, but I think it's really, really hard to score goals in the NHL today."
MacDonald wouldn't admit to or deny that another Skinner-type prospect is lurking this year.
"I guess there could be, but there aren't many kids ready to step in and play right away," MacDonald said. "This is a much better draft than I think people thought it was going to be coming into the season. It's a deeper draft, but it's probably one of those drafts where the player at No. 20 is going to be much like the player at No. 50 and maybe the player at No. 50 will be as good or better. I think the first two or three guys are pretty easy, but after that there's a group of players that have different things to offer depending on what it is you're looking for."
With the 12th pick in this year's first round, MacDonald is pretty confident the organization will tab a quality player.
"We had a conversation with Gabriel Landeskog," MacDonald said. "I told Gabriel, we're picking 12th, so we don't expect to see you at No. 12, but wanted to meet you and just get to know you a little better. You're one of the best at the draft and it's always good to compare personalities, the presence he has during the interview as compared to someone else. We just covered our bases like that, but we're not going to see him unless we move up."
Another player MacDonald doesn't expect to see is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was rated No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters.
"He's a terrific player with tremendous vision and creativity," MacDonald said. "He's one of those players who can influence a game by himself. He could be a game-changer, a difference-maker. He's tough to defend one-on-one and puts defensemen on their heels. The thing is, you have to play him pretty tight otherwise he's going to burn you or make something happen. He's not a physical load at this point, but that's not an issue. He's a strong guy for his size and quickness, and he's a player who should be able to step in and play right away."
While Skinner proved to have the skills required to play at the NHL level at age 18, MacDonald admitted it wouldn't have been made possible without an equal amount of determination and effort.
Jeff Skinner (Photo credit: Aaron Bell/OHL Images)
"In Jeff Skinner's case, he deserves a lot of credit for the preparation he put in, the training he did in the summer," MacDonald said. "He made sure he was going to give himself the best possible chance to come in and play on our team, so he did a lot of extra work to ensure that would happen. When a player does that, it allows you to put your best foot forward. He got off to a good start in Traverse City (Mich.) and took it from there."
Not until MacDonald witnessed Skinner's relentless motor in the playoffs did he decide this was the guy the 'Canes needed. Skinner played a big part in helping lead the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers to the Western Conference finals against the Windsor Spitfires -- losing a dramatic seven-game series to the eventual Memorial Cup champion. In 20 postseason games, Skinner piled up 20 goals and 13 assists.
"What really stood out was his ability to finish and that competitive edge he brought to the table," he said. "Every time he got the puck, from the blue line in, there was a chance something is going to happen."
MacDonald was asked if he had a similar feeling about a particular player in this year's CHL playoffs.
"I would say so, yes -- there were two or three kids that come to mind that I think boosted their stock through solid playoff performances," he admitted.
As is the case with most NHL teams, the Hurricanes are firm believers in taking the best-available-player approach when choosing at the draft.
"There are guys that we think we like that are going to be there in the third or fourth rounds and we'll still be really happy to get," MacDonald said. "I know even through the seventh round you're always thinking your guys are all going to play. But the truth of the matter is that's a long shot. There's some depth right through the middle rounds this year and that's what makes this draft, a good draft."
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