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Elite Prospects dissect strengths for Central Scouting

by Mike G. Morreale
TORONTO -- Prior to the start of every season, NHL Central Scouting is usually making its rounds to not only to catch a glimpse of the top prospects in the world but to have them fill out some necessary paperwork.
So, long before Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers, Sean Couturier of the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels, Jonathan Huberdeau of the Saint John Sea Dogs and Tyler Biggs of the U.S. National Team Development Program are beginning a new season, they've encountered "the questionnaire."
There's a good chance one of the aforementioned players, all among the top five North American skaters on Central Scouting's mid-term list in January, will earn the No. 1 rating when the final release is made in two weeks.
"Nobody is the clear-cut but that's what makes it good for the club teams," NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told "The option is out there. Now they really have to do their homework and we have to do our homework too. It's not as clear-cut a decision like a Sidney Crosby. I think any players in the top five can be recognized as the No. 1 pick overall."

One of the more intriguing responses on the questionnaire happens to be in the sections that ask each prospect for their strongest asset on the ice and that NHL player he feels he would most resemble. The self-assessments, for the most part, were pretty accurate. Two players -- Landeskog and Biggs -- made comparisons to Calgary captain Jarome Iginla. Meanwhile, Nugent-Hopkins and Huberdeau each listed "vision" as one of their strongest traits.
Actually, the scouts seemed to think each player wasn't too far off in their responses.
Here's a summary of what each of the top five prospects provided on their questionnaire followed by an evaluation of that response from NHL Central Scouting. Players are listed in the order they were ranked at the mid-term.
1. Gabriel Landeskog (Kitchener Rangers, OHL)

2010-11: 53 games, 36 goals, 30 assists, 66 points, plus-27, 61 penalty minutes
Comparison: Jarome Iginla or Mike Richards.
Best asset: "Strong, good shot, physical, good on the penalty-kill and in front of the net."
NHL Central Scouting: "Gabriel does remind me of former Kitchener Ranger (and Philadelphia Flyers captain) Mike Richards," Sullivan said. "He sticks up for his teammates and is as strong at both ends of the rink as any player in the draft this year. He competes as hard if not harder than anybody. He's got all the assets that you need to be a team leader and, for a potential No. 1 overall, that's what you would want."
"Gabriel's very solid in all those areas (in best assets) with a really good shot," OHL scout Chris Edwards said. "He uses that shot well coming in off the wing. He gets it on net with a hard shot. I couldn't say anything more, he nailed it when he said that about himself."
2. Sean Couturier (Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL)

2010-11: 58 games, 36 goals, 60 assists, 96 points, plus-55, 4 shorthanded goals
Comparison: Jordan Staal.
Best asset: "Read the play, good puck protection, reliable in the defensive zone."
NHL Central Scouting: "He's able to read and protect but more than anything, I don't think anyone plays the defensive part of the game in his own end better than Sean," Quebec Major Junior Hockey League scout Chris Bordeleau told "I do think at this point, what's holding him back might be his quickness in skating. Other than that, he's a good player and we'll see what happens at the final release. I know he should be a good player."
3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Red Deer Rebels, WHL)

2010-11: 69 games, 31 goals, 75 assists, 106 points, plus-30, 11 power-play goals
Comparison: Pavel Datysuk.
Best asset: "Good vision, quickness."
NHL Central Scouting: "Ryan's assessment is as good as it comes," Western Hockey League scout Peter Sullivan told "A couple of people high up -- and not naming names -- said Hopkins has the best vision since No. 99 (Wayne Gretzky). That's the highest compliment you can get. But the other thing Ryan should have said about himself is the way he competes. He never takes a night off and he works as hard in his own end as he does in the offensive zone and that takes a special player with a special set of skills to do that."
"You get a player like (Nugent-Hopkins) … you pair him with an Iginla or somebody that," WHL scout B.J. MacDonald said. "It could be a phenomenal combination because a center like that, who can dish like that, is what a lot of teams strive to get. They want that center who not only could make players around him better, but both linemates. He can dish both right or left, either on his backhand or forehand with that kind of vision. But not just the vision, but the fact he can lay that puck between the skate boot and the skate blade -- that's hard to find."
4. Jonathan Huberdeau (Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL)

2010-11: 67 games, 43 goals, 62 assists, 105 points, plus-59, 88 penalty minutes, 13 power-play goals
Comparison: Mike Riberio.
Best asset: "Good vision and can play both sides of the puck."
NHL Central Scouting: "I think Jonathan's assessment was very fair but he's also very gritty," Bordeleau said. "He doesn't take anything. That's one of the qualities you need to play at the next level. He's got that and, to me, his hands are just so quick now. He's got NHL hands, great upside."
5. Tyler Biggs (U.S. National Team Development Program, USHL)

47 games, 17 goals, 11 assists, 28 points, 110 penalty minutes
Comparison: Jarome Iginla.
Best asset: "My size and strength."
NHL Central Scouting: "He can pay that style of game (size and strength)," scout Gary Eggleston told "He is a big strong kid and plays aggressively. He plays really hard all the time and establishes a tone for the game every time he's on the ice. Right now, I see him as a second-line type of player right now."
"I think his size, skating ability and physical presence are his biggest assets," scout Jack Barzee said. "I still think there's still more to be tapped in his offensive game. I don't think he's fully accomplished that (offensive game) this year, but that's a projection with him. He's a take charge guy and leader, on and off the ice. He has a lot on his shoulders right now with the draft and pressure of this whole thing, but there's no denying his potential."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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