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All things equal, scouts favor center over wing

by Adam Kimelman
Center ahead of left wing.

For the experts at NHL Central Scouting, that's what it came down to when they met to set the top of their final ranking of North American skaters for the 2010 Entry Draft.

After hours of discussion, the decision was made to rank Plymouth Whalers center Tyler Seguin No. 1, with Windsor Spitfires left wing Taylor Hall a very close No. 2.

"The full season of body of work that said he (Seguin) is going to be a great player in the National Hockey League," Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire told "So is Taylor Hall. In our mind, other than the position, they are equal.

"They're equal, but we can't sit on the fence, and we went with the right-shot center."

"Sometimes the center has a little bit more of an influence on a line and the game because he controls the puck a little more, so that might have been the difference, too," added WHL scout B.J. MacDonald.

The order is reversed from where they stood in the midterm rankings, which were released in January, which in turn reversed the order they stood when the preliminary rankings for the Ontario Hockey League were published in November.

Seguin and Hall have been linked almost all season. They each finished with an OHL-best 106 points. Seguin was third in the league with 48 goals -- eight more than Hall -- while Hall led the OHL with 66 assists -- eight more than Seguin.

Hall earned his points skating with most of the same players that won last season's OHL and Memorial Cup titles; Seguin played 63 games -- six more than Hall's 57 -- but scored his 106 points without nearly the star-studded cast in Plymouth.

Hall also had a star turn at the 2010 World Junior Championship, playing on a top line, scoring 6 goals and 12 points in six games and earning recognition as one of Canada's three best players for the tournament. Seguin was one of the team's final cuts, but McGuire said WJC play didn't really enter the equation, owing to the fact that positionally speaking, there were more openings for wingers than for centers.

They also were named captains for the opposing teams in January's CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. Seguin went scoreless and was a minus-2, while Hall had an assist on Ryan Spooner's game-winning goal.

"The fact Seguin is only in his second year (in the OHL) and producing impressed me," Chris Edwards, Central Scouting's OHL scout, told "Hall's in his third year and that's not any fault of his since he's a late birthday (Nov. 14, 1991). Really, though, whoever gets one and whoever gets the other is going to be very happy. They are both outstanding franchise players."

So how did Central Scouting separate the two? Not easily.

"It was a hand vote of nine guys and it was 5-4," McGuire said. "And the next morning, if I had taken the vote again, it would have been 5-4 the other way."

McGuire said in the six years he's headed Central Scouting, it's the closest he's seen the discussion between two players. But in the end, it was the position of the player that cemented the ranking order.

"Both (Victor) Hedman and (John) Tavares were a lot closer than the pundits think," McGuire said of the first two picks of the 2009 Entry Draft. "But for the position, there was nothing to separate Tavares and Hedman last year. Both (Hall and Seguin) play forward, but one plays a real specialty position of center."

Prince George Cougars right wing Brett Connolly and four high-end defensemen -- the Kingston Frontenacs' Erik Gudbranson, Hall's Windsor teammate Cam Fowler, the Moncton Wildcats' Brandon Gormley and the Edmonton Oil Kings' Mark Pysyk -- were next in the ranking, but in McGuire's mind, it's a two-man race for the No. 1 draft pick.

"Even if a team needs a defenseman, they will pick one of these two kids (Hall or Seguin)," McGuire said.

So which of the two kids will go No. 1 when the League convenes at Staples Center in Los Angeles June 25-26? The Edmonton Oilers will have the best chance of winning the first pick in the NHL Draft Lottery, but GMs from the other teams near the bottom of the League standings will be watching closely, as all it takes is one ping-pong ball to bounce the right way for a franchise-changing player to land in your lap -- just ask the Chicago Blackhawks, who in 2007 had the worst chance of winning the lottery, and ended up taking Patrick Kane with the first pick.

Coincidentally, the thought process that went into the '07 draft might relate best to the teams mulling over the first choices this year. Three years ago, Chicago had to decide between Central Scouting's top three skaters -- all forwards -- Kyle Turris, Kane and James van Riemsdyk.

About the only advice McGuire could give would be to pick one and stick with him.

"When I watch Seguin, I walk out of the building and say he's our man," McGuire said. "About six days later I'm in Windsor and walk out of the building and say (Hall's) our man. That's how close they are. Watch one and you'll be convinced he's the guy, but then don't go watch the other guy because then you'll be convinced he's the guy."

Contact Adam Kimelman at
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