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Hall and Connolly among junior stars to watch

by Adam Kimelman /
The summer is in full swing in North America. However, for the next crop of NHL hopefuls, the real work is about to begin.

Training camps for the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League open in August. There are also are junior evaluation camps as well as the first major international event, the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament, Aug. 12-16 in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

NHL Central Scouting has released a list of North American players to watch leading into the 2010 Entry Draft. The list includes players in all U.S. and Canada junior leagues, as well as the U.S. National Team Development Program.

At the top of any list of top prospects for next June's draft has to be Windsor Spitfires center Taylor Hall. In 63 games last season, Hall had 38 goals and 90 points, ranking in the top 10 in the Ontario Hockey League in both categories. He then led the OHL in the playoffs with 16 goals and 36 points in 20 games, and finished his season with 8 points in six games as Windsor won the Memorial Cup. He was named the tournament MVP.

Hall also is the only 2010 draft-eligible player on the list of invitees to Canada's National Junior Team development camp next month in Saskatoon.

"He's a brilliant skater, fast skater, a scorer -- he does it all," Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire told

"This guy is a high-end prospect, there's no two ways about it," added Central Scouting's Chris Edwards. "Puck skills, skating -- there's really nothing you don't like about the guy."

Another player from the OHL to keep an eye on is Sudbury Wolves center John McFarland. The 5-foot-11 1/2, 193-pounder had 21 goals and 52 points in 58 regular-season games, but his breakout came in the spring for Canada at the World Under-18 Championship. McFarland was second on the team with 5 assists and 8 points.

"He's just a good player," McGuire said. "An all-around good skater, he jumps out at you, good stats. He's going to be good next year."

Also worth watching is Erik Gudbranson of the Kingston Frontenacs. The 6-3 1/4, 184-pound defenseman had 4 points and a plus-5 rating in six games for Canada at the U-18 tournament.

"He's a real big kid, and I'm expecting that to be even bigger in a month or so," Edwards said. "He's a guy that for a while was captain of Kingston. He's a guy very well-respected down there, everyone likes him. He's a big guy, really moves well, and his improvement last year from the beginning of the season to end is significant. He's going to be a guy that I'm expecting to come out and play well this year."

Other OHL players that scouts will be heading out to see include Mississauga goaltender J.P. Anderson, who won the F.W. Dinty Moore Trophy for being the rookie goaltender with the lowest goals-against average last season (2.94); Peterborough Petes center Ryan Spooner, who had 30 goals in 62 games last season; Ottawa 67s right wing Tyler Toffoli, who was a point-per-game player in the postseason; Plymouth Whalers center Tyler Seguin, who had 16 points in 16 playoff games; and Windsor's Austin Watson, a 6-2 1/2, 174-pound right wing who had 29 points last season, and dazzled scouts at a U.S. development camp last week in Rochester, N.Y.

Cam Fowler, a defenseman with the U.S. Under-18 team last season, had 32 assists and 40 points in 47 games last season; he will play for Windsor this season.

"He'll be a big, solid defenseman in the league," Edwards said. "His puckhandling and poise is very good. I'd expect him to be a top-two guy in Windsor this year on defense. With him, there's not much not to like. He's a physical guy, uses his size well, his mobility and speed -- he's a very good skater."

Prince George Cougars left wing Brett Connolly is among the most interesting players in the WHL. The 6-1, 160-pounder had 30 goals and 60 points in 65 games and was named WHL and Canadian Hockey League Rookie of the Year.

"He's going to be a special player," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told "From what I've seen … he's got it all. He can make things happen all by himself.

"This guy is a high-end prospect, there's no two ways about it. Puck skills, skating -- there's really nothing you don't like about the guy."
-- Chris Edwards, on Taylor Hall

"Just from seeing his on-ice character and the way he handles himself, I don't think he'll have a problem being the (team's) go-to guy. He looks like he's going to be a natural leader. There aren't too many 16-year-olds that can step up and be a leader for a team, especially in the (WHL). He's just a young kid, but he showed up to play every night for them."

Also worth keeping an eye on is Red Deer Rebels defenseman Alexander Petrovic. A 6-3 1/4, 185-pounder, he had 13 points and 70 penalty minutes in 66 games last season.

"I like him; he's going to be good," MacDonald said. "I like his on-ice attitude; he's got a bit of an edge to him. He uses his size. He also looks to be a take-charge guy. Every time I saw Red Deer, I'm looking at the 1991s (birth year), but he jumped out every game. I think he'll go well this year."

Chilliwack Bruins center Kevin Sundher was second on his team last season with 39 points, and more is expected this season.

"He's a good little player (5-11, 182)," MacDonald said. "(Chilliwack) had a tough year last year, but he's a good little player, good little playmaker, plays with a lot of spunk. He goes into the dirty areas. I think this year he'll be more of an impact guy."

Other players to keep an eye on include Saskatoon Blades left wing Curtis Hamilton, who had 48 points in 58 games last season; Moose Jaw Warriors center Quinton Howden, who had 30 points in 62 games; and Seattle Thunderbirds goalie Calvin Pickard, the younger brother of Nashville Predators prospect Chet Pickard.

One of the most interesting players from the QMJHL is the Val d'Or Foreurs' Cedrick Henley. The 6-4, 182-pound left wing had 7 goals and 19 points in 61 games last season, but projects to bigger things in 2009-10.

"He's a big kid and there's potential there," Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau told "He's a guy with great size, and he's a good skater. He can play tough. The best is yet to come for a kid like that."

Another player from the QMJHL to watch is Moncton Wildcats defenseman Brandon Gormley. A 6-1, 180-pounder, Gormley was in the top five among rookie blueliners in goals (7), assists (20) and points (27), and he was a plus-9 en route to being named to the league's all-rookie team in 2008-09.

Also worth watching are Chicoutimi Sagueneens defenseman Yousseff Kabbaj, a 6-foot-1 1/2, 181-pounder regarded for his skating; Montreal Juniors forwards Guillaume Asselin, who had 18 goals last season, and Louis-Marc Aubry, who had 22 points; and Baie-Comeau Drakkar right wing Marc-Olivier Mimar, who also had 22 points.

Other players outside the Canadian Hockey League that fans will be hearing more of include Danny Biega, a defenseman at the Salisbury School in Connecticut who's bound for Harvard next fall; Minnetonka (Minn.) High School forward Max Gardiner, the younger brother of Anaheim Ducks prospect Jake Gardiner; and Stanislav Galiev, a Russian-born right wing who played with the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League last season and was the first pick in the CHL import draft by the Saint John Sea Dogs.

Contact Adam Kimelman at

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