So who will be the top-rated North American skater heading into the 2010 Entry Draft?
We'll know very soon as the scouting wizards from NHL Central Scouting will meet one final time ahead of the June 25-26 selection process in Los Angeles to set the final list of the top 210 skaters and 30 goalies in North America.
As usual, Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire will play the role of mediator during the six-day session. His scouting staff will debate, scrutinize and review the potential of the future NHL prospects from junior leagues throughout North America, from the best-known players in the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and United States Hockey League, right through to NCAA players, U.S. high school teams and those playing lower-level Canadian junior hockey.
"The biggest challenge for Central Scouting is trying to place a star player in a commonly acknowledged lower league where his skills have made him a star and project him to a tougher league," McGuire told NHL.com. "But we need to project three years down the line in the best League in the world, so the discussions get pretty heated but that's all part of the fun."
Plenty of prep work will be done prior to the start of the meetings, which convene Sunday, as scouts will have held a conference call to rank the top players of each league. According to McGuire, the "magic scouting number" for a particular player in each region is usually 7-8 views over the course of a season.
"We get our area-familiar guys together to present their list to the group and then have the cross-over guys ask, 'Why is Smith there and Jones not?'" McGuire said. "The cross-over guys are those who have an opportunity to see players from two different leagues. By the end of the afternoon, we begin to peel off the top of those agreed-upon area lists and feed the main product from which one list will emerge."
Dave Gregory, one of Central Scouting's computer gurus who filters scouting choices over the course of the meetings through a program called, Meeting Manager, knows how intense these meetings have become.
"Everyone can't see every player on the list, that's impossible," Gregory said. "So you have to seek similar guys or see as much cross-over games when you see guys in other regions. Because of time and budget, you can't completely integrate your list or see everybody in a cross-over, so we then have to count on each other's opinion and that's when it gets tough. But we're serious in what we do because we know the NHL relies on us for the most accurate reports possible."
The top 10 skaters on Central Scouting's midterm rankings of North Americans include Windsor Spitfires (OHL) left wing Taylor Hall, Plymouth Whalers (OHL) center Tyler Seguin
, Windsor Spitfires defenseman Cam Fowler
, Prince George Cougars (WHL) right wing Brett Connolly
, University of Notre Dame center Riley Sheahan
, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) defenseman Erik Gudbranson
, Barrie Colts (OHL) center Alexander Burmistrov
, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL) defenseman Brandon Gormley
, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) defenseman Mark Pysyk
and Sudbury Wolves (OHL) left wing John McFarland
"I watched Hall play again (last Thursday) and Seguin, and both, indeed, will be in a battle for that top spot," McGuire said. "After that, there will be a bit of another battle among the defensemen, with Brandon Gormley
, Cam Fowler
, Erik Gudbranson
, Derek Forbort
(USNTDP) and Pysyk."
It's always intriguing where the group will project injured players who were regarded highly on the midterm report. In 2009, scouts were in that exact dilemma with defenseman Jared Cowen
of the WHL's Spokane Chiefs and Edina (Minn.) high school power forward Zach Budish
. In the midterm report, Cowen was ranked seventh and Budish was 16th.
When the final scouting list was released, Cowen's season-ending knee injury dropped him two spots to No. 9, and Budish's knee injury cost him six spots to No. 22. At the draft, Cowen went ninth to the Ottawa Senators
while Budish was tabbed in the second round (No. 41) by the Nashville Predators
"The biggest challenge for Central Scouting is trying to place a star player in a commonly acknowledged lower league where his skills have made him a star and project him to a tougher league. But we need to project three years down the line in the best League in the world, so the discussions get pretty heated but that's all part of the fun." -- E.J. McGuire
Entering this year's meetings, injuries to No. 4 Connolly (hip), No. 9 Pysyk (concussion) and No. 37 Mark Alt
(shoulder) could raise a few red flags.
"Connolly has battled groin injuries all year and might be hurt by that fact," McGuire said. "He could drop down in the rating. Pundits say that if he was healthy all year, Brett Connelly would be mentioned in the same breath as a Tyler Seguin
and Taylor Hall."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale