- Red Line Report, an independent scouting service, ranks five Pittsburgh natives among the top prospects for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
- Gibsonia’s Brandon Saad, currently ranked No. 5 overall by Red Line, is projected to be the highest-drafted Pittsburgh-born player ever.
- Of the five Pittsburgh prospects, Saad and Vince Trochek (Pittsburgh, Pa.) are teammates with Saginaw of the Ontario Hockey League, while J.T. Miller (Moon, Pa.), John Gibson (Whitehall, Pa.) and Barrett Kaib (Upper St. Clair, Pa.) play together on the United States National Team Development Program Under-18 squad.
Amateur hockey continues to stay on the rise in Pittsburgh, a point that’s certainly illustrated by the October edition of Red Line Report, an independent scouting service run by former NHL scout Kyle Woodlief.
|Gibsonia's Brandon Saad is Red Line Report's No. 5 ranked prospect for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft next June. |
According to Red Line’s October rankings, Pittsburgh is currently the home of two of the top 14 prospects for next June’s NHL Entry Draft – forward Brandon Saad (Gibsonia, Pa.), who is ranked No. 5 overall, and center J.T. Miller (Moon, Pa.), ranked No. 14 overall.
In addition to Saad and Miller, Pittsburgh has three additional players – goaltender John Gibson (No. 31 overall), center Vince Trocheck (No. 78) and defenseman Barrett Kaib (No. 107) – ranked among the top 107 draft-eligible prospects.
“The junior hockey program in Pittsburgh 10-15 years ago existed, but it wasn’t that strong,” Woodlief said. “Now, you are a full generation into it. There was never any question about there being a lack of talent in the area, it’s just that talent wasn’t playing hockey and didn’t have top-flight programs that they could stay home and develop in as they grew older throughout their teen years.
“Those players were either gravitating towards other sports or they weren’t really aware about going to play major junior hockey in Ontario. Now, those players can stay at home, get top-notch instruction and play.”
Saad, who turns 18 on Oct. 27, is currently playing for the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). The 6-foot-2, 200-pound forward ranks third on the team with seven goals and 13 points through 12 games.
Based upon Saad’s size, strength and gifted scoring touch, Woodlief expects him to stay ranked among the top-five or 10 players in the draft all the way until June – which should allow Saad to become the highest-drafted Pittsburgh-born player ever (R.J. Umberger, 16th overall; 2001; Vancouver).
“He drives to the net hard all the time – both with and without the puck,” Woodlief said. “He is a big guy who has really soft hands in front of the net. He has that finisher’s ability around the net. When you get that combination of size and finishing ability around the net, that’s what everybody is looking for.”
This season, Saad took his talents to the OHL after spending last season playing up a year on the United States National Team Development (NTDP) Under-18 squad. Woodlief believes jumping to the OHL was the perfect decision to enhance Saad’s development.
“Saginaw is going to be a pretty good team this year,” Woodlief said. “They have some other talented players around him there, so he doesn’t have to go in and light it up right away and be a savior. He can just be a complementary piece of the puzzle. He is going to get first-class coaching in addition to playing 70 games plus the playoffs. It was definitely the next step in his evolution.”
Miller, 17, spent last season with the U.S. NTDP Under-17 team. This season he is playing for the Under-18 squad, where he has registered four assists in three contests. Woodlief loves the creativity to score or create scoring chances for teammates that Miller provides.
“I think he is underrated in some circles,” Woodlief said. “He has pretty good size and he has very good puck skills. When he has the puck on his stick he is dangerous. He can finish himself or he can create chances for his linemates. I still say he is a very solid first-round pick.”
Gibson (Whitehall, Pa.), 17, is also in his second season with the national program. According to Woodlief, Gibson, who led the U.S. to gold medals at the 2010 World Under-18 Championships and the World Under-17 Challenge, is one of the fastest risers on his board.
|Goaltender John Gibson (Whitehall, Pa.) is ranked No. 31 overall by Red Line Report. |
“His improvement has been dramatic over the course of the past 18 months,” said Woodlief of Gibson, who stands 6-foot-3, 185 pounds. “He was always a taller kid who didn’t have great lateral agility or quickness because he had grown length wise, but his body hadn’t really grown into that. As he has grown into his frame and gotten stronger in the lower half of the body, he is much quicker and more nimble on his feet.”
Trocheck (Pittsburgh, Pa.), 17, is teammates with Saad in Saginaw. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound center ranks second on the Spirit in scoring with 14 points (6G-8A) through 13 games. Last season, Trocheck tallied 15 goals and 43 points in 68 games with Saginaw.
Although Trocheck is smaller in stature, his ability to make plays when paired up with elite talent makes him an intriguing prospect as he evolves into a point per game player during his second season in the OHL.
Kaib (Upper St. Clair, Pa.), 17, joins Miller and Gibson on the U.S. NTDP Under-18 team, where he has posted one assist through four contests. Last season, the 5-foot-10, 188-pound blueliner registered one assist and 34 penalty minutes in 20 games with the Under-17 squad.
“I really like him, even though he isn’t a tall guy,” Woodlief said. “He is very compactly built. He really likes to pack a wallop in his hits. His best skill is his passing ability. When he gets the puck in his own end, he makes a very quick read and then it’s out of the zone. He will go to the right place with the puck. He will make very firm, crisp passes.”Kyle Woodlief is a former NHL scout with the Nashville Predators. To get more 2011 NHL Entry Draft news from Woodlief, read his monthly column at USAToday.com or write to P.O. Box 522, Lake Placid, NY 12946 to subscribe to Red Line Report.