While the most visible pick undoubtedly will be the top choice, there will be plenty of other talented prospects on the board when the 2010 Entry Draft is held June 25-26 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
NHL Central Scouting's top evaluators made that point rather clear at their offices in Toronto last month during the final meetings to determine North America's top draft-eligible players.
Those results were made public Wednesday, when Central Scouting released its final ranking list of the continent's best 210 skaters and top 30 goalies, as well as the best 150 international skaters and 10 best goaltenders.
The battle at the top of the North American list was as close as it's ever been, with Tyler Seguin of the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers earning the nod over Taylor Hall
of the OHL's Windsor Spitfires. Seguin, one of 19 players among the top 30 to improve on their midterm ranking, had been No. 2 on Central Scouting's midterm list, which was released in January.
"The confidence I have in this is that, I think they're so close, they could be flip-flopped," Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire told NHL.com. "I don't think that's at all being wishy-washy about it, but there may be something that a team sees that may sway them thismuch in order to pick one over the other."
If not for hip and groin injuries that limited him much of the season, Central Scouting's third-rated prospect, right wing Brett Connolly of the Western Hockey League's Prince George Cougars, might have been in the Seguin-Hall conversation for the No. 1 spot. Still, despite playing only 16 games this season he had 10 goals and 19 points and went from fourth on January's midterm report to third on the final list.
"I think it would have been really interesting if he'd been healthy all year," B.J. MacDonald, one Central Scouting's WHL scouts, said. "Clearly from the start of the year, the top three guys (Seguin, Hall and Connolly) were sort of identified even before the season started. I saw (Connolly) seven times during the year and I'm happy where he ended up (at No. 3). I think a lot of teams might still have a lot of question marks about him because any time a player is out that long, they're going to wonder if the injury will linger or not. But when he came back before the end of the season, he still dominated play and elevated the play of his teammates. He will be an impact player."
All eyes will be on Connolly at the 2010 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Belarus later this month, when he suits up for Team Canada. Connolly was Canadian Hockey League Rookie of the Year last season with 30 goals in 65 games.
The first defenseman in the ranking is Erik Gudbranson of the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs. The hulking 6-foot-3 3/4, 195-pound Ottawa native is No. 4, after being No. 6 on the midterm list. He's followed in the final ranking by three other defensemen -- No. 5 Cam Fowler of Windsor, No. 6 Brandon Gormley of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Moncton Wildcats and No. 7 Mark Pysyk of the Western Hockey League's Edmonton Oil Kings. Fowler slipped from third on the midterm report, while Gormley and Pysyk each jumped two spots.
Gormley, who moved up from sixth, is the top-rated player from the QMJHL.
"I like everything about Brandon," said Chris Bordeleau, Central Scouting's QMJHL scout. "He has good size (6-2, 185), is a good skater, good passer and can play a very good defensive game."
Austin Watson of Peterborough (OHL) received plenty of praise at the final meeting, so much so that the 6-3 1/4, 185-pound forward catapulted 11 spots, from 25th in the midterm to 14th on the final list after notching 20 goals and 54 points in 52 games this season.
Watson started the season with Hall and Fowler in Windsor, but a late-season trade to Peterborough thrust him into the spotlight, where he shined. After recovering from a broken ankle suffered in January's CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, he finished with 8 goals and 19 points in his last seven games.
"Austin battled injuries throughout the year, but when he came back from a broken ankle and a trade from Windsor to Peterborough, he battled opponents with high energy," McGuire said. "He has an NHL shot and just keeps getting better, which is why he made the big jump."
Making the biggest jump into the top 30 was WHL center Jordan Weal of the Regina Pats. Weal, who had 35 goals and 102 points (1.42 points per game) this season, shot up the ladder from 45th in January to 30th on the final list.
"Jordan certainly played himself up into that position after the question marks we had beside his name at midterm," McGuire said. "Because of his size (5-9 1/2, 162), we normally put a player in a lower position at midterm in the hope he'll play himself into an even better position and Jordan didn't disappoint. With any small player, you've got to be a high point-producer and he certainly was."
"We thought if (Weal) continued his standard of play he could play his way up the list and he did just that," MacDonald said. "His compete levels were outstanding. He plays bigger than his size and we felt he deserved to move up."
The first player listed from the United States National Team Developmental Program is defenseman Derek Forbort, who moved from 11th to ninth. Blaine (Minn.) High School's Nick Bjugstad, who was named Mr. Hockey as the top senior in the state, is the first scholastic player on the board, at No. 13.
Russian forward Kirill Kabanov plummeted from No. 15 in the midterm to No. 31 after he opted to return to Russia to train for the World Under-18 Championship instead of remaining with Moncton for the QMJHL playoffs.
"We penalized Kirill Kabanov to the top of the second round," McGuire said. "His skill has him in the Connolly-Emerson Etem range. His raw skill when he's playing the game of hockey almost has him in the Hall-Seguin area."
Center Alexander Burmistrov of the OHL's Barrie Colts is the first Russian-born player, listed at No. 11. Burmistrov (22 goals, 65 points in 62 games) had 3 goals and 4 points in six games at the World Junior Championship in Saskatoon in January.
There was no change at the top of Central Scouting's final goaltender rankings as Calvin Pickard of the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds and Jack Campbell of the USNTDP earned the top two slots -- just as they did on the midterm report. Rounding out the top five are Kent Simpson of the WHL's Everett Silvertips, Mark Visentin of the OHL's Niagara IceDogs (OHL), Louis Domingue of the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL.
Finnish-born forward Mikael Granlund, who plays for HIFK in Finland's top league, is Central Scouting's top-rated international skater, repeating his spot from the midterm. He's followed by the top-rated Russian skater, right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who plays for Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL). Another Russian, center, Evgeny Kuznetsov of Chelyabinsk Traktor (KHL) is No. 3.
Calle Jarnkrok, who plays for Brynas in the top Swedish junior league, rocketed up the rankings, from No. 21 in the midterm to No. 4 in the final rankings. He's followed by teammate Ludvig Rensfeldt, a left wing who also was No. 5 in the midterm list.
Sami Aittokallio, who plays for Ilves Jr. in Finland, is the top-rated international goaltender. He moved up one spot from the midterm rankings. Rounding out the top five are Fredrik Pettersson-Wentzel of Almtuna (Sweden, second division); Benjamin Conz of Langnau (Switzerland), who was voted the top goaltender at the World Junior Championship; Lars Volden of Stavanger (Norway); and Johan Gustafsson of Farjestad Jr. (Sweden).Contact Mike G. Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer