campbellandwales

A Final Look at Special Teams in 2009-10

In Hockey on September 5, 2010 at 4:29 pm

By Ryan Wagman

As I’m sure many of you have waited with bated breath for my final special teams rankings for the 2009-10 season, I would like to start off with an apology. With the post-season, comes a certain malaise, born of the knowledge that no matter how much we can write about hockey, think about hockey or argue/fight about it, there is no hockey. Just backroom drama.
So, too, is there backroom drama within this writer’s life. Since my last entry, my job description has changed drastically, I took on other hockey writing projects, first with draftamerica.com and now with premiumscouting.com, and I managed to squeeze in a short vacation in San Francisco with the Mrs.
Now tomorrow is Labour Day and many pre-season hockey rags are already out. My former colleagues at Hockey Prospectus (soon-to-be-formerly Puck Prospectus) are about to release their first ever annual.So without any further ado, (and no real commentary) I give to you last season’s final rankings.
Power Play Efficiency (the average time between goals when up by a man. Two man advantages are double-counted in time)
1) Was 382.266
2) SJ 449.877
3) Mon 453.719
4) Van 463.319
5) Phi 476.621
6) LA 476.797
7) Ana 477.190
8) TB 513.841
9) Det 522.593
10) NYR 534.200
11) Dal 535.525
12) Min 536.328
13) NJ 536.765
14) Clm 549.800
15) Col 551.429
16) Chi 560.442
17) Pit 568.643
18) Buf 571.945
19) Edm 583.115
20) StL 584.226
21) Car 594.589
22) Ott 595.449
23) Bos 612.818
24) Nas 620.213
25) Cal 653.023
26) Atl 653.520
27) NYI 658.061
28) Pho 686.000
29) Fla 700.467
30) Tor 758.523
Penalty Kill Efficiency (counted as with the Power Play, but in reverse)
1) StL 784.044
2) Buf 772.816
3) Bos 760.838
4) Chi 715.737
5) SJ 657.420
6) Ott 648.980
7) Pit 646.404
8) Pho 641.816
9) NYR 640.300
10) Det 627.302
11) Mon 594.642
12) NJ 592.000
13) Cal 585.778
14) Phi 585.649
15) Atl 582.561
16) Min 567.113
17) Van 543.220
18) Clm 531.738
19) LA 517.305
20) TB 511.831
21) Car 511.532
22) Col 503.083
23) Fla 485.793
24) Ana 473.821
25) Was 472.851
26) Edm 451.701
27) Dal 431.338
28) Nas 428.103
29) NYI 407.239
30) Tor 384.123
And the combined ranking, being the power play efficiency number, minus the penalty kill efficiency number. The lower the number, the better the organizations’ special teams were last season. This is as it is desirable to go longer between power play goals allowed by your team’s penalty killers, while you hope your team can score power play goals as often as possible
1) SJ -207.543
2) Buf -200.871
3) StL -199.818
4) Chi -155.295
5) Bos -148.020
6) Mon -140.923
7) Phi -109.028
8) NYR -106.100
9) Det -104.709
10) Was -90.585
11) Van -79.901
12) Pit -77.761
13) NJ -55.235
14) Ott -53.531
15) LA -40.508
16) Min -30.785
17) TB 2.010
18) Ana 3.369
19) Clm 18.062
20) Pho 44.184
21) Col 48.346
22) Cal 67.245
23) Atl 70.959
24) Car 83.057
25) Dal 104.187
26) Edm 131.414
27) Nas 192.110
28) Fla 214.674
29) NYI 250.822
30) Tor 374.400
OK, so I lied about the commentary. Now would be a good time to look at how my special team efficiency socres differ from the common version’s results.
Let’s start with the power play numbers. The traditional measures also had the Capitals as sporting the game’s best power play, clicking 25.2% of the time. That worked out to be over 15% better than the cluster of teams between 20.9-21.8%.
In that case, we agree again, as Washington’s power play score was also just over 15% better than the 2nd-ranked Sharks’ unit. At the other end of the spectrum, the traditional system does not quite appreciate how bad the lowly Leafs’ power play was last year. Scoring 14% of the time, they seemingly finished just below Florida, a difference of less than 1.5%. Looking at the game on a mor granular level, as I have attempted to do, shows the Buds to have fallen behind the Panthers by a much wider margin, being 7.65% less effective than Florida. The actual rankings don’t vary too much between the traditional system and mine, unless you’re a Sharks fan (move from 4th-2nd) or support the Rangers (13th-10th), but the granularity is interesting.
On the penalty kill, the changes in raw ranking are minimal, generally being the difference between placing in tight clusters, such as the Coyotes dropping from 6th in the traditional method to 8th here. They were in a cluster with the Rangers, Senators and Penguins that was separated by 0.4% in the traditional method and 8.5 seconds of efficiency here. Unlike the power play, there was not a single team that breezed past its peers like the Capitals. The Blues, leaders on both forms of measurements, were 1% more efficient than the 2nd-ranked Sabres in the traditional method and the same here. On the bottom, the Leafs (again – that must have been historically bad among special teams), were around 2% less likely to kill a penalty than the 29th ranked Islanders in the traditional method, while the granular data showed that they were, in fact, nearly 6% less efficient at killing penalties than the Isles, or any other team.
Looking at the universal special teams’ rankings, I never could have expected such a spread between best and worst of 581.943. Even if we remove the Leafs (I wish I could forget), we still end up with a number of 458.365. In seconds, that’s over 7.5 minutes of efficiency difference between the great San Jose and the poor Islanders. Nearly ten minutes if we include the Maple Leafs.
Before the 2010-11 season gets underway, let’s ponder the numbers and compare them to this summer’s transactions – did your team adjust based on their weaknesses in special teams play? How responsible was Chris Mason for the Blues’ ability to kill penalties? Evgeny Nabokov for the Sharks? Will a full season of Ilya Kovalchuk raise the Devils’ power play? Will a full season of Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel and a healthy Mike Komisarek and the absence of Vesa Toskala improve the fortunes of the Maple Leafs? I could go on, but you get the picture.
I hope to continue to track special teams efficiencies during 2010-11, to see if we can learn more, and frankly, because no one else is doing it.
Happy hockey everyone.

Draft Day – Final Rankings

In Hockey on June 25, 2010 at 8:40 am

Today is the day when boys become men, amateurs become professionals and hockey becomes Hollywood. I have spent the last two months compiling as much information as I could on our future heroes, and am proud to present here a composite ranking list that should reflect the ideas of the best and the brightest out there today.

Enjoy the show!

1 Hall, Taylor
2 Seguin, Tyler
3 Fowler, Cam
4 Gormley, Brandon
5 Gudbranson, Erik
6 Connolly, Brett
7 Niederreiter, Nino
8 Johansen, Ryan
9 Granlund, Mikael
10 Forbort, Derek
11 Tarasenko, Vladimir
12 Burmistrov, Alexander
13 Pysyk, Mark
14 Watson, Austin
15 Etem, Emerson
16 Skinner, Jeff
17 Kuznetsov, Evgeny
18 Bjugstad, Nick
19 Merrill, Jonathon
20 Sheahan, Riley
21 Campbell, Jack
22 Pitlick, Tyler
23 Schwartz, Jaden
24 Howden, Quinton
25 McFarland, John
26 McIlrath, Dylan
27 Toffoli, Tyler
28 Rensfeldt, Ludvig
29 Coyle, Charlie
30 Bennett, Beau
31 Tinordi, Jarred
32 Kabanov, Kirill
33 Galiev, Stanislav
34 Petrovic, Alexander
35 Nelson, Brock
36 Pickard, Calvin
37 Jarnkrok, Calle
38 Weal, Jordan
39 Straka, Petr
40 Hishon, Joey
41 Hayes, Kevin
42 Spooner, Ryan
43 Ross, Bradley
44 Zucker, Jason
45 Pulkkinen, Teemu
46 Faulk, Justin
47 Martindale, Ryan
48 Johns, Stephen
49 Telegin, Ivan
50 Nemeth, Patrik
51 Biega, Danny
52 Kuehnhackl, Tom
53 MacKenzie, Matt
54 Larsson, Johan
55 Kitsyn, Maxim
56 Knight, Jared
57 Culek, Jakub
58 McKegg, Greg
59 Marincin, Martin
60 Beukeboom, Brock
61 Holl, Justin
62 Bournival, Michael
63 Smith-Pelly, Devante
64 Hamilton, Curtis
65 Sundher, Kevin
66 Melchiori, Julian
67 Alt, Mark
68 Gauthier-Leduc, Jerome
69 Brickley, Connor
70 Gardiner, Max
71 Donskoi, Joonas
72 Basaraba, Joe
73 Smith, Dalton

Profiling Top Prospects

In Hockey on June 20, 2010 at 9:49 am

The following profiles were originally published on draftamerica.com in a different format. The players are listed in terms of their ranking as of mid-season. I will publish an updated draft list early this week in preparation of next weekend’s NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles. Without further ado, these are the names to watch next week, and why:

Taylor Hall

LW, Windsor Spitfires
Born Nov. 14, 1991  Draft Day Age=18.7
Ht/Wt…  6-1/185,   Shoots Left
2010 Regular Season: 57 games: 40 goals, 66 assists, 106 points, +46, 56 PIM

Seen as the favorite to be drafted at the top of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft for at least two years, Hall has put together a stellar draft-year to erase many concerns that he would slip behind Tyler Seguin this June. Hall was Team Canada’s only draft-year player at the WJC where he finished 2nd on a star-studded lineup (and 3rd overall in the tournament with 6 goals and 6 assists in 6 games. Hall is able to elevate his game above the crowd in large part due to his excellent skating ability highlighted by top-notch acceleration, allowing him to create plays before his opponent has even set their legs. More than skill, Hall excels as his desire to be the best does not allow him to coast on talent alone. Of course, that’s not all. Hall has what is widely considered to be an NHL-ready shot and release, great on-ice vision and outstanding hockey instincts.

On the downside, he could stand to gain 10 pounds, and do a bit more work in the defensive zone. But whoever drafts him, will do so looking for a 1st-line left winger. Hall should have a few more chances to make a good final impression, with his Windsor Spitfires beginning the OHL playoffs as the top seed in the Western Conference. A run to the Memorial Cup should cement Hall’s place as the first overall selection as long as the team drafting first is not dead-set on picking a centre.

Tyler Seguin
C, Plymouth Whalers
Born Jan. 31, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.4
Ht/Wt…  6-1/186,   Shoots Right

2010 Regular Season:  63 games: 48 goals, 58 assists, 106 points, +17, 54 PIM

Seguin (Say-gen) has spent of this year battling with Taylor Hall for the claim to be the top draft eligible prospect in the hockey world and he has not disappointed. In fact, the two 18-year-olds tied for the OHL scoring championship with 106 points each. Seguin, long known as this year’s top playmaker to Hall’s sniper, has actually out-goaled Hall 48-40, albeit in 6 extra games played. Whereas Hall was seen as the potential top pick as far back as 2008, Seguin has steadily raised his profile from the day when Plymouth chose him 9th in his OHL draft year. Playing with Plymouth meant that Seguin had to do more on his own, and he consistently rises to the challenge, playing substantial minutes for the Whalers in all situations (even strength, power play and penalty kill) and takes pride in his two-way game, as well as his strength in the faceoff.

There are many who feel that Seguin has the higher upside of the two skaters, in that he may truly take off once he is given more freedom to focus on the traditional offensive responsibilities of a first-line centre. Seguin has also been a team leader at most of his stops, from wearing the “C” for Plymouth, to his role on the national stage with Team Canada at the 2009 Ivan Hlinka Tournament or in this year’s top prospects game, lending weight to the comparisons he has received to Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman. If the team picking first wants a Centre, Seguin will be the guy. He’ll fall no later than 2nd overall.

Cam Fowler
D, Windsor Spitfires
Born Dec. 6, 1991  Draft Day Age=18.6
Ht/Wt…  6-2/190,   Shoots Left
2010 Regular Season:  55 games: 8 goals, 47 assists, 55 points, +38, 14 PIM

A teammate of Taylor Hall’s, Fowler left the vaunted US National Development program in Ann Arbor and a chance to play in the NCAA to suit up for Windsor in the OHL and the chance to play in probably the most competitive amateur hockey league in the world. Fowler has nearly lived up to the hype in his first season with the Spitfires, scoring at a point per game clip in helping Hall lead Windsor to the top seed in the Western Conference and a good chance to play for the Memorial Cup. Fowler is a plus skater and puck mover with a long reach. He has great ice vision and a hard slap shot that he can keep down and in play. Like most defensemen his age, he could use more strength, but his frame suggests that it will come soon. As seen by his low penalty minute total, Fowler is not considered a very physical defender and has been noted to defer to more experienced teammates (such as 2009 1st rounder Ryan Ellis) on more than one occasion. In that sense, Fowler is not everyone’s idea of a top pair blue-liner.

While Hall and Seguin are near locks to be the top two off the board in June, Fowler, once seen as a potential threat to the top, is now in danger of falling (not out of the top ten, but falling). In the minds of some, Fowler was hurt by simply not standing out at this year’s big showcase events in the CHL Top Prospect Game or in the World Junior Champinship, where Fowler had only 2 assists as the US took Gold and was overshadowed by much less heralded teammates like John Ramage and Jake Gardiner.

Brandon Gormley
D, Moncton Wildcats
Born Feb. 8, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.4
Ht/Wt…  6-2/190,   Shoots Left

2010 Regular Season:  58 games: 9 goals, 34 assists, 43 points, +31, 54 PIM
Gormley began his Junior career with very high expectations as the first overall pick in the QMJHL covering Quebec and Eastern Canada) draft in 2008 as a 16-year-old from Murray River, P.E.I (hometown of Brad Richards). Gormley did not disappoint, maturing to become one of the top prospects in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and a serious threat to be the first defenseman chosen. Used to playing with players up to 3 years older than him, Gormley took on a big role with the Wildcats immediately and has seen his status continue to rise in his draft year, nearly doubling his offensive output.

A strong two-way defender, Gormley has seen his offensive end play come on in leaps and bounds as he is more able to take advantage of his mobility, smooth skating and exemplary ice vision. Of course, he also has a booming shot indicating that he will be able to man the point. Gormley will get to extend his season a little longer as Moncton enters the QMJHL playoffs as the third seed and look to make a strong push for a spot in the Memorial Cup tournament. The intelligent defender has also earned accolades for his play in his own zone and his ability to control the gaps. The complete defenseman, Gormley should be able to combine his intelligence for the game with his obvious skills to be a blueline mainstay for years to come for the team smart enough to draft him.

Brett Connolly
RW, Prince George Cougars
Born May 2, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.1
Ht/Wt…  6-2/181,   Shoots Right

2010 Regular Season:  16 games: 10 goals, 9 assists, 19 points, -3, 8 PIM

Connolly has seen his stock suffer this year, and if you want to know why, check out his stat line below and to the right. He’s only played 16 games this year due to an injury. He originally hurt one of his hips last summer at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial and later hurt the other while overcompensating the first injury. The fact he is still rated this high is a testament to the raves he drew in his age 17 season with the Cougars when he scored 30 goals in 65 games and earning the CHL Rookie of the Year honours. His early success was thought to come from playing with Tampa Bay prospect Dana Tyrell, but an injury to his older linemate saw Connolly continue his stellar play and zoom up watch lists for this season.

The offensive talent must hope that his ability to suit up in a handful of games at season’s end will help convince scouts and GMs that he has not lost his scoring flair, awesome shot and world-class offensive positioning and that pre-draft physicals sign off on the talented, if mysterious winger. A clean bill of health could see Connolly keep his standing as a top-10, if not top-5 player. Remaining doubts could cause him to plummet.

Erik Gudbranson
D, Kingston Frontenacs
Born Jan. 7, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.5
Ht/Wt…  6-3/195,   Shoots Right

2010 Regular Season:  41 games: 2 goals, 21 assists, 23 points, +11, 68 PIM

Another top prospect to lose significant playing (and developmental) time to health concerns in his draft year, Gudbranson at least suffered from an illness that, now that he is fully recovered, should not effect him in the least going forward; Gudbranson missed over 20 games and the OHL Top Prospects game while recovering from mononucleosis.

Tall and rangy, with ample room to fill out his frame, Gudbranson is also a very strong and fast skater. Gudbranson, coached by former NHL All Star Doug Gilmour at Kingston is known as a very smart player who can fulfill top pairing blue-liner duties on both ends of the ice as he is both physical and a good puck mover. Although the Frontenacs were knocked out of the OHL playoffs in the first round by the favoured Mississauga squad, Gudbranson probably helped his stock with a number of very strong performances keeping his team in the hunt until the end. Many, including the experts at the Central Scouting Bureau now believe that Gudbranson may be the top defenseman in this year’s draft and he should not be viewed as any lower than third among eligible blue-liners.

Kirill Kabanov
LW, Moncton Wildcats
Born Jul. 16, 1992  Draft Day Age=17.11
Ht/Wt…  6-3/176,   Shoots Right

2010 Regular Season:  22 games: 10 goals, 13 assists, 23 points, +4, 34 PIM

Perhaps Kabanov is amateur hockey’s closest thing to a player with million dollar talent and a ten cent head, his stock has fallen heavily in his draft year and most experts doubt he will still be taken in the first round at all. But if he does fall, it will likely not have much to do with his hockey playing ability. Before this season began, many pundits were calling Kabanov the most hyped junior-aged player out of Russia since the days of Ovechkin and Malkin. Tall and lean, Kabanov is an explosive skater with excellent stick handling ability that allows him to dazzle at high speeds, leading to a number of embarrassed defenders, deked out of their jock straps. While he will need to beef up before going pro, Kabanov is not afraid of playing a physical brand of hockey when required.

Even earlier, though, there were questions about Kabanov’s commitment level. Both on and off the ice, he skates to his own tune. Originally a member of Moscow Spartak, Kabanov was traded to Ufa Salavat (KHL), which triggered an out clause in his contract which allowed the youngster to follow his hockey dreams to Canada to suit up for the Wildcats, settled after a dispute brought to the IIHF. With a draft year riddled by a wrist injury, and after being a healthy scratch for Moncton during the early rounds of the QMJHL playoffs, Kabanov was allowed to return to Russia to participate in the U-18 World Championships. Yet within days of arriving in Russia, Kabanov was removed from the national team in a mysterious move, claimed by some to be due to his attitude as being a star, by others as a case of Kabanov quitting on the team and by others as a young man being blacklisted by his homeland for preferring Moncton over Salavat. On talent alone, Kabanov is a top-10 pick. How teams weight his off-ice actions will determine how close his draft slot matches his talent level.

Mikael Granlund
C, HIFK Helsinki
Born Feb. 26, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.4
Ht/Wt…  5-10/176, Shoots Left

2010 Regular Season:  43 games: 13 goals, 27 assists, 40 points, 2 PIM
From the beginning of his draft year and up through his inclusion in Finland’s entry in this year’s U-18 World Championships in Belarus, Granlund has been the near unanimous choice for the top skater to come out of Europe this year. Many scouts are also of a mind that Granlund may be the best talent to ever come out of Finland, very heady praise for a country with super-stars such as the Jari Kurri, Teemu Selanne and the Koivu brothers among their ranks. Granlund is an elite playmaker and skater, who, playing at age 18 in the Finnish Elite League against players many years older and more physically mature, has been largely able to negate his size disadvantage. In fact, his lack of size may be his sole drawback at this point.

Granlund, scoring nearly two per game as a Junior, elicited a fair amount of controversy in his native Finland, when his rights were picked up by powerhouse HIFK Helsinki from his native team of Karpat, who were understandably loath to give him up. Despite missing a fair chunk of his first season with the men due to injury, Granlund still impressed mightily with his nearly per-per-game pace. To contrast with a fairly recent high draft pick forward who played in Finland’s top league in his draft year (there weren’t many), Sean Bergenheim scored only 4 points in his 28 games as an under-ager in the Finnish Elite League in 2001-02. Similarly, Mikko Koivu, drafted one year earlier, scored only a single point in 21 games for TPS Turku before being drafted 6th overall by the Wild.

The playmaking Granlund has exceptional skating ability and hockey dexterity who sees the ice extremely well and has a knack at creating plays for his linemates. He also has a strong wrist shot. His hands are soft, but he can play with a bit of grit and sandpaper when he has to. If he is teamed with bigger wingers who can create some space for him, Granlund can be a genuine first line centre. He is simply one of the most talented players eligible for this year’s draft.

Mark Pysyk

D, Edmonton Oil Kings
Born Jan. 11, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.5
Ht/Wt…  6-2/178,   Shoots Right

2010 Regular Season:  48 games: 7 goals, 17 assists, 24 points, -19, 47 PIM

Mark Pysyk may have the total package NHL team’s look for in a steady top-4 defender, bringing a package that includes top flight skating, height and a frame that will to be tougher to play against as he fills out, the ability to man the point on the power play as well as kill penalties. The brainy Pysyk, awarded the top Scholastic player for his Junior Oil Kings (aws well as top defenseman and team MVP) uses his intelligence on the ice with his ability to control the game from the back. Unfortunately, like many of the other top candidates for this year’s draft, Pysyk missed substantial amounts of his draft season due to injury; in Pysyk’s case, a broken ankle suffered in late January caused him to miss the rest of the cellar-dwelling Oil Kings season and potentially hurt his draft stock. As you may have been able to guess with his taking team MVP honours, the Oil Kings were a poor outfit, with or without Pysyk, which likely plays a big role in his largely being out of the draft spotlight even as he may yet be taken with a top-10 selection.

As the 3rd overall choice of the WHL draft in 2007, Pysyk joined his hometown Oil Kings, at the time an expansion franchise. While the Oil Kings have not been able to cement a place as serious contenders at the WHL level in Pysyk’s time with the club, it is through no fault of his own as he has more than lived up to his status as a 16-year-old with his calm and steady play. Pysyk has ample experience playing and succeeding in all game situations. His increased scoring rate (up nearly 50% in points-per-game from the last year) bodes well for his abilities as a puck mover. The team that believes in his ability to improve his skating (perhaps his biggest shortcoming) will have a shutdown defender who handles man-on-man coverage exceptionally well and whose game is expected to suit the professional level very well.

Nino Niederreiter

LW, Portland Winterhawks
Born Sep. 8, 1992  Draft Day Age=17.9
Ht/Wt…  6-2/203,   Shoots Left

2010 Regular Season:  65 games: 36 goals, 24 assists, 60 points, 11, 68 PIM

Niederreiter was, for a time the most talked about draft eligible Junior-aged player this year as his solid play for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks was brushed aside by his electrifying performances at the CHL All-Star game (see the video linked here for his incredible shootout goal in the skills competition) and dominance at the World Junior Championships as he led the upstart Swiss squad over the favoured Russians and into the tournament’s quarterfinals. Neiderreiter may be this year’s prototypical power forward, combining top-shelf hockey skills with a level of toughness and size that has some thinking he could be ready sooner than most 2010 draftees to suit up for the NHL team lucky (and smart) enough to draft him in the first half of the first round. Nino is fully expected to gain the distinction as the highest ever drafted Swiss-native, beating out Michel Riesen, drafted 14th overall by the Oilers in 1997.
In his first year playing in the CHL after coming over to the Winterhawks in the Import Draft from small Chur, Switzerland, Niederreiter has won over legions of followers with his play, at turns physical and remarkably deft, with great offensive instincts and steadily improving two-way play. Nino is a solid skater who admittedly tries to pattern his game after Tampa Bay star Vinny Lecavalier, with a lot of shifty movement and an eagerness to battle in the corners, giving and receiving bodychecks. His quick hands and strong shot also help Niederreiter force the play towards the opposition’s goal crease, traits that should help him greatly at the next level.

Vladimir Tarasenko

RW, Sibir Novosibirsk
Born Dec. 13, 1991  Draft Day Age=18.6
Ht/Wt…  5-11/202,   Shoots Left

2010 Regular Season:  42 games: 13 goals, 11 assists, 24 points, 18 PIM

For the team least concerned about the difficulties faced in bringing a young player over from the KHL, Tarasenko now seems like the best bet to make it it big if he makes it over the pond. Unlike many young players playing in Russia, Tarasenko played with the men in Russia’s top league, featuring on Novosibirsk’s second line as an 18-year-old. Tarasenko has a nose for the play, with great anticipation coupled with natural aggression. While not a large player, he is still growing and knows how to use his body to help him on the puck and has an improving defensive aspect to his game, often helping his teammates kill penalties.

Tarasenko is seen as a dynamic player, with the offensive acumen to be a top-six NHL forward as he matures. His skating ability is top-of-the-line in terms of both speed and side-to-side agility. His hands are soft and his stickwork is quick allowing him to carry the puck into the zone or into traffic and a quick shot release when the opportunity presents itself. As seen in one of the videos below, he is not afraid to carry the puck all the way to the net. There are some who believe that, if it were not for the inherent difficulties in drafting top Russian prospects, Tarasenko would be discussed with Hall and Seguin for the very top of the draft. As it is, the current level of fear in this area may cause his draft day stock to fall.

John McFarland

C, Sudbury Wolves
Born Apr. 2, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.2
Ht/Wt…  6-0/185,   Shoots Right

2010 Regular Season:  64 games: 20 goals, 30 assists, 50 points, -17, 70 PIM

Sometimes small trees grow from large acorns. Such is the status of John McFarland’s amateur career. After failing to be granted Exceptional Player status (as with John Taveras earlier) to gain early entry into the OHL the young phenom was the consensus /1 overall pick in the OHL entry draft in 2008, creating immediate high expectations with the Sudbury Wolves. His play helped the Wolves rise from the Eastern Conference basement, and into the playoffs from the 8th (final) seed in his first year with the team. Unfortunately, that was as high as McFarland could take them, as both of his OHL seasons have culminated in 8th place regular finishes and a first round ouster in the playoffs. Suffice to say that John McFarland has underwhelmed in his OHL career, tantalising with is skill but never living up to the early hype. Scouts still believe that McFarland ranks in the top 5 on skill alone, but that, for a myriad of reasons, he has not been able to put it all together in a package suitable for a top-5 selection.

McFarland is an exceptional skater, with a great wrist shot, the full package of hockey skills and sense and the experience of playing in all hockey situations. But there has always been something to hold him back. Some think the issue is with his desire-level, as he tends to look like he`d rather be somewhere else while on the ice. Others have noted that he does not take full advantage of his teammates, trying to do too much on his own, often to his great detriment. His compete-level often makes his hockey sense drop, as he can lose his positional sense and fail in two-way assignments. Some players of this ilk need to be humbled before they realize what needs to happen to excel at the next level. That may be all that stands between failure to launch and NHL superstardom for the talented, yet enigmatic John McFarland.

Derek Forbort

D, USNTDP
Born Mar. 4, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.3
Ht/Wt…  6-5/198,   Shoots Left

2010 Regular Season:  65 games: 5 goals, 23 assists, 28 points, 46 PIM

Currently leading the argument for the best draft eligible player at the prestigious US. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Forbort figures to go in the top half of the first round (if not the top ten) before undertaking a collegiate career at NCAA hockey powerhouse University of North Dakota. In fact, playing alongside other top blueline prospects such as Jarred Tinordi, Jon Merrill, Justin Faulk and Stephen Johns and still managing to overshadow them all regularly may allow Forbort to be drafted higher than anyone expects. Forbort may end up the highest drafted defenseman, period.

The package most obviously starts with his prototype size; he’s very tall and still filling out. His use of that seize on the defensive game is exemplary. His long reach helps him become a great poke-checker, and he is fearless in laying out to block opposing shots on goal. He will also make opposing forwards pay for trying to stand up in front of Forbort’s goalie. Scouts have also commented on Forbort being a great skater, with the obvious caveat, for his size. This certainly helps in his defensive game, as his great backwards skating, in combination with his innate sense for the game allows him to anticipate shots or passes in odd-man rush situations. Forbort is more than just a stay-at-home defensemen, however, as he is lauded for his puck moving skills and extremely hard slapshot from the point which has earned him four power play goals for the USNTDP this year. Forbort projects as a definite top-four defenseman at the next level and any further improvement to his offensive game could see him emerge as a top-pairing blueliner.

Alexander Burmistrov

C, Barrie Colts
Born Oct. 21, 1991  Draft Day Age=18.8
Ht/Wt…  6-0/170,   Shoots Left

2010 Regular Season:  62 games: 22 goals, 43 assists, 65 points, 32, 49 PIM

While many NHL teams have expressed fear at drafting Russian players early due to concerns about their ability to sway them over to the NHL, they should have no such worry over Burmistrov. The talented centre has been very clear over the past year that his goal is to play in the NHL, and he was one of the handful of Russian Juniors to make the jump to the CHL for their draft year. In spite of difficulties getting acclimated to a new culture and language, Burmistrov impressed his coaches, teammates and scouts with his willingness to learn the North American game as well as his use of the skills that he brought with him from Mother Russia, namely his superior skating, hockey IQ, vision and passing ability.

His debut season in the was nearly as good as could be imagined, as the Barrie Colts had the best record in the league and made it to the OHL Finals, before falling to the reigning Memorial Cup Champs, the Windsor Spitfires of Taylor Hall and Cam Fowler. Burmistrov was a critical figure on the powerhouse Colts, scoring over 1 point per game, a great sign for an OHL player in his draft year. He consistently impressed with his creativity and reflexes, and all around play, showing a willingness to play physical, even when his opponent held a great size advantage over him. And that brings us to his biggest weakness (outside of Passport fear). Alexander Burmistrov is pretty small. The listed weight above may be more than 10 pounds too generous and he will need to add more muscle before he can take his sublime skills to the next level. But once he does mature physically, the team who drafted him will not have any cause for regret.

Jon Merrill

D, USNDTP
Born Feb. 3, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.4
Ht/Wt…  6-3/198,   Shoots Left

2010 Regular Season:  22 games: 1 goals, 8 assists, 9 points, 12 PIM

Another all-around defensemen out of the US NTDP hockey factory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, there is not much that separates Merrill from the higher-rated defensemen on this list. In fact, thanks to a very strong showing at the recently completed U-18 tournament in Minsk, Belarus, there are scouts who believe that Merrill will go higher than his current position. His NHL size (assuming he fills out his frame), solid skating ability and especially hockey intelligence which he puts to good use in and around the puck. As the quarterback of the American team power play, he was able to show off this skill plenty. Also receiving high grades for his dedication to the game, he can be expected to maximize his natural talents as he moves his career forward, starting with an indeterminate stint with the University of Michigan next season.

Merrill would seem to be the right pick for a team that wants a safe pick on the blueline. Admittedly not blessed with the high-end talent that some others (including teammate Derek Forbort) have, Merrill recognizes that he will have to augment his skills with his mental game, thinking one step ahead of the opposition to succeed. This is already coming to the fore when Merrill is charged with moving the puck, whether carrying past the opposition blueline or pushing it forward with accuracy and force to one of his charging teammates. His intelligence allows him to play above his age, playing with the US U-18 team as a 17-year-old, and being one of two 18 year-old defencemen for the US in the WJC (20 and under) tournament. It seems he has shaken the potential bad rap a mid-season disciplinary suspension may have given him. The rough spots in his defensive game should be ironed out with the higher level coaching he is bound to receive soon.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

RW, Traktor Chelyabinsk
Born May 19, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.1
Ht/Wt…  6-1/176,   Shoots Left

2010 Regular Season:  35 games: 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, 10 PIM

Oh, dear. By many accounts one of the top Russian prospects for the 2010 draft, Kuznetsov has recently ensured that he will not be drafted in a position commensurate with his talent as he re-signed with his KHL club for another two years. Bear in mind the stats below come from playing in the KHL, with seasoned pros. On the face of it, that alone may not be enough to cause his stock to plunge, but if his words to be believed, he would not guarantee a willingness to come to North America even after that time. He will, however, partake in the upcoming Draft Combine and plans to be present in Los Angeles. He’ll probably have to wait. Where he could have previously been selected in the top half of the 1st round, he is now more likely to sit until the 3rd round (at least) for a team who can take a risk on the talented Kuznetsov.

Now about the player. Evgeny Kuznetsov is an absolutely explosive skater with great hands enabling him to create wondrous offensive chances. On the other hand, he’s not very big and has a reputation for putting his energies to poor use, such as immature outbursts and needless penalties. He earlier this year gave scouts a reason for considering drafting him very early with a stellar showing at the WJC making the tournament All Star team – the second year in a row Kuznetsov has starred at the prestigious event. His high-end offensive talent will make him a gamble that some team will be happy taking.

Emerson Etem

C, Medicine Hat Tigers
Born June 16, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.0
Ht/Wt…  6-0/194,   Shoots Right

2010 Regular Season:  72 games: 37 goals, 28 assists, 65 points, 8, 26 PIM

In discussing Etem, the first comment people have is about his skating. While some find his stride a little awkward and strange, most simply note that he has blazing speed (see the second video clip below). The only prospect may be able to defeat Etem in a race would be Taylor Hall. This may be partially explained by his background. Coming from California, Etem began his love affair with the game as an inline skater. As he takes the game seriously, Etem left home at 14 to play with Minnesoate high school power-house Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Etem also gave up his membership in the vaunted USNTDP for the heightened atmosphere of the WHL with Medicine Hat. He had a stellar debut season, potting a very impressive 37 goals for the Tigers.

Etem also shines with his intangibles as his hard work, on and off the ice have made him a force at the Junior level along the boards and a player coaches can trust. His speed, combined with his great shot release, have made him one of the WHL’s top snipers from his debut at the level. He is also very offensively creative, which combines with his other attributes to make him a very dangerous player to face. His athletic bloodlines (both parents were top-class rowers) and heady, intelligent both portend to his ability to turn his now skills into future on-ice results. His main drawbacks at this point are general tendencies to be less lax in his defensive, especially when it comes to checking the opposition. That said, his aggressive nature on offense suggest that could change.

Quinton Howden

LW, Moose Jaw Warriors
Born Jan. 21, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.5
Ht/Wt…  6-3/183,   Shoots Left

2010 Regular Season:  65 games: 28 goals, 37 assists, 65 points, 14, 14 PIM

A fast, big-bodied, power forward type, Howden has earned Moose Jaw’s trust after they traded up in the 2007 WHL Bantam Draft to make the 15-year-old the league’s top selection. He has not only helped orchestrate a quick turn-around for the temporarily struggling Moose Jaw franchise, but his consistent play has almost guaranteed a first round selection at the upcoming NHL Amateur Draft. Howden’s combination of size and skill allow him to be employed as either a top-6 forward, using his offensive weapons (speed, stickhandling, nose for the net) to good effect, or as a third line checker, where his good character and brawn promise a player who is engaged at both ends of the ice.

Perhaps Howden’s most noticeable asset is his skating ability. He accelerates effortlessly, which has often helped his team transition smoothly from the defensive zone into an offensive rush. His soft hands aid in receiving and making those crucial outlet passes. He also turned some heads at the CHL Top Prospect Game, winning the shooting accuracy skill competition. Howden’s stock was further raised by is steady play at the amateur game’s higher levels, as he was recently one of (if not the) best players on the disappointing Canadian Roster at the 2010 World U-18 Championships in Belarus. He is not the most exciting player available in this year’s draft, but he may be the one most prepared for life in the NHL.

Jeff Skinner

C, Kitchener Rangers
Born May 16, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.1
Ht/Wt…  5-10/197,   Shoots Left

2010 Regular Season:  64 games: 50 goals, 40 assists, 90 points, 7, 72 PIM

As the second leading scorer in the OHL in his draft year (Bryan Cameron, the one guy ahead of him, was an over-aged player), Skinner was destined to turn some heads. CSS certainly agreed, as Skinner made one of the biggest leaps between their midterm and final draft rankings. There are some who think that CSS still underrates the smallish sniper. Those voices are louder now that Skinner scored an amazing 20 goals in 20 OHL playoff games, before his Kitchener Rangers fell to the eventual Memorial Cup champs from Windsor. Ignoring for a moment his breathtaking goal-scoring prowess and his less-than-ideal size for an NHL forward, many scouts point to Skinner’s toughness as a key element that helps his game play better than his skills may inherently allow – and those skills are pretty good to start with!

Jeff Skinner gets further passing grades for his on-ice vision, something which attributes to his ability to improve the play of his linemates. With his goalscoring exploits, there should be no real question about his offensive ability. His background as a top figure skater speaks to his ability to move his feet on the ice and those 50 regular season and20 post-season goals offer a stark reminder that this is a skater who knows how to finish with a snap shot that some deem NHL-ready. Those who don’t see future greatness in Skinner point out his size (or lack thereof) and, oddly enough, his skating ability. The figure skating past, which should provide him with a weapon as far as dexterity goes, does not necessarily give him the first step quickness that scouts covet. There are likely enough organizations who can see past those limitations and see in Skinner a future top-six forward who production will always outweigh his perceived abilities.

Riley Sheahan

C, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Born Dec. 7, 1991  Draft Day Age=18.7
Ht/Wt…  6-2/200,   Shoots Left

2010 Regular Season:  37 games: 6 goals, 11 assists, 17 points, -12, 22 PIM

A rare first-time draft eligible player from the ranks of the NCAA, Sheahan is a big man with great hands, impressive skills with the puck and a good understanding of the game of hockey, demonstrated by his performing in all game situations this year as a freshman. That, in a nutshell, is the positive with Sheahan. Unfortunately for the young center, he has also amassed negatives both on and off the ice this season. First, his overall play with Notre Dame was disappointing for a prospect once considered to be one of the top ten prospects in this draft. Those who want to hold on to their view of Sheahan as a young phenom will blame the system at Notre Dame, which is not known for preparing its players for the NHL, especially offensively as they play a very defense-heavy brand of hockey. Others, turned off by his play, will point to his recent arrest for underage drinking, along with teammate and Anaheim Ducks prospect, Kyle Palmieri.

Whether you are in the optimist or pessimist camp regarding Sheahan, while many of the CHL and USHL prospects were lining up against kids sometimes two years younger, Sheahan was generally one of the youngest players on the ice whenever he played. This fact alone makes his ability to play on the second forward line, taking shifts both on the power play as well as the penalty kill all the more impressive. He was impressed scouts and coaches with his stick work, being not only slick, but more importantly, smart, knowing when to dangle and when to protect, contributing greatly to his ability as a playmaker. The team that selects Sheahan, who may yet drop in the draft if General Managers are not convinced that his off-ice transgression were only a one-time youthful indiscretion, will be rewarded with one of this year’s best all-round players, who just needs some more seasoning to step right into a second or third line spot in the NHL.

Nick Bjugstad

C, Blaine HS (Minn)
Born Jul. 17, 1992  Draft Day Age=17.11
Ht/Wt…  6-5/190,   Shoots Right

2010 Regular Season:  25 games: 29 goals, 31 assists, 60 points, 24 PIM

In winning Minnesota’s highly coveted Mr. Hockey award this year, Bjugstad was truly a man among boys. Averaging over one goal and over two points per game for Blaine HS, Bjugstad has fast tracked his education to put himself in position to attend the University of Minnesota next year. This, in comparison to his cohort, Brock Nelson, who will need another year of seasoning in the USHL before skating in the NCAA. One of the biggest complaints among scouts looking at high school prospects is that they are often surrounded by much weaker competition, as Bjugstad would frequently be competing against 14-year-old freshmen, while CHL prospects get to stand in comparison to players aged 16-20. This dichotomy leaves many scouts unsure if his numbers and overall performance are indicative of his true skill level, or from simply being matched up against players much younger, and much smaller than his 6’-5” stature.

Bjugstad often plays much faster than he looks, with great reach and anticipation of the play before him. He displays very good stick and puck handling skills which are expected will help him at the next level. Bjugstad also deservedly gets praise for his level of maturity and determination, as even though he turned down the USNTDP to remain at Blaine, he went the extra mile both to ensure his eligibility for the NCAA next season as well as ensuring he followed the same training and dietary regime the USNTDP would at Ann Arbor. Bjugstad first showed signs of what he might be in his freshman year when his booming shot belied his youth and skinny (at the time) frame. He is expected to continue filling out as he matures and some feel that he will eventually leave the centre position for a spot on the wing. For a team selecting in the middle of the first round and beyond, a patient approach to Bjugstad will reap a tremendous talent down the road.

Stanislav Galiev

C, Saint John Sea Dogs
Born Jan. 17, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.5
Ht/Wt…  6-1/178,   Shoots Right

2010 Regular Season:  67 games: 15 goals, 45 assists, 60 points, +41, 38 PIM

If there’s any Russian prospect who teams should not fear losing to the KHL, it’s Stanislav Galiev. That alone might see him selected ahead of some of his more talented countrymen (yes – I’m referring to Kirill Kabanov here). Galiev left Russia at the age of 16 to suit up for the Indiana Ice of the USHL. Following an impressive season there, the Saint John Sea Dogs made the young center the top pick in the CHL Import Draft for foreign born players. Playing on an older team for each of the last two seasons, scouts have not had the chance to see if Galiev has front line talent, as he’s generally been relegated to the second line. That said, in spite of his numbers, Galiev has shown the skills to produce even more down the road.

As is, Galiev is a very talented player. He has sharp offensive instincts allowing to find the open man, or an opening seam for his team to generate offense. He can also take advantage of an opportunity for himself, finding openings in the defense to drive shots to the net. He’s a smart stickhandler and strong skater, with excellent acceleration. As shown in two of the videos linked below, Galiev uses his relative size to gain position in the offensive zone and isn’t afraid to play in the dirty areas of the ice. Willing to play in his own zone, Galiev still has some room for improvement in that area, although he certainly shows the drive to succeed there as well. Wherever he ends up, Galiev represents a good blend of high upside with many projecting great improvement from him once he is able to settle in at a given level of play, and a high floor, as his future employers should be secure in the knowledge that he will not be returning to Russia anytime soon.

Jaden Schwartz

C, Tri City Storm
Born Jun. 25, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.0

Ht/Wt…  5-10/180,   Shoots Left

2010 Regular Season:  60 games: 33 goals, 50 assists, 83 points, -6, 18 PIM

Jaden Schwartz may have the most unforgettable birthday of his life this year, as Day one of the 2010 draft falls on Jaden’s 18th birthday. Not the biggest of prospects, the recent success of smaller players such as Patrick Kane and Steven Stamkos should provide enough clues that the right player will no longer be held back just because he stands under 6’ tall and weighs in at under 200 lbs. The question is whether Schwartz is, in fact, the right player. His production says he might be. In is rookie season in the USHL, he led the league in scoring, with numbers that have not been bested since Thomas Vanek in 2001-02, before he was selected as the 5th overall player in that draft. And remember – Vanek was then in his 3rd year of USHL play and he has since gone on to record two 40-goal season in the NHL for the Buffalo Sabres.

Schwartz is the type of player who sees the game slower than everyone else. In other words, he seems to be thinking two strides quicker than the opposition. That, combined with NHL-calibre hands make Schwartz a good candidate to be the next little big man on the ice. Schwartz also impresses everyone who crosses his path by his demeanour, as he is extremely humble for a player who led his league in scoring (against generally older competition) as a rookie. He plays in all aspects of the game, both special teams and in the dirty areas of the ice. The team that drafts him, however, will do so for his offensive upside, as Schwartz has a hard, accurate shot, equal passing ability and sublime puck-handling skills. The cast he wore to the recent NHL Draft Combine is a testament to his willingness to play defensive, as it was earned blocking a shot in the USHL playoffs. If he were a stronger skater, he would likely be mentioned as a likely top-ten pick. As is, no one should be him surprised to be given a new NHL jersey for his birthday. Schwartz is committed to playing for Colorado College in the NCAA next season.

Ryan Spooner

C, Peterborough Petes
Born Jan. 30, 1992  Draft Day Age=18.5
Ht/Wt…  5-11/174,   Shoots Left

2010 Regular Season:  47 games: 19 goals, 35 assists, 54 points, -5, 12 PIM

Another in a group of smallish offensive forwards at this year’s draft, Ryan Spooner was also hurt this year (in more ways than one) when he broke his collarbone right after the CHL Top Prospects game. He managed to return for the last three games of the Petes’ short playoff run, but it may have been too late to regain his earlier standing as a top prospect. Above all else, Spooner is an offensive player. With a weakened collarbone, he was not able to show his full skill set in the minimal time remaining in his season, neither in the OHL playoffs nor in the World U-18 postseason tournament. The shame of it is, before the injury, Spooner had been building nicely on his fine rookie season in Peterborough, when he scored 30 goals and complied 58 points in 62 games. Scoring over one point per game in his draft eligible season often portends to a player’s ability to continue producing as a top six forward at the next level.

Spooner’s production is largely a mix of his world class hands and hockey sense. While not big, he is not afraid of fighting for the puck, knowing that if he wins, he can quickly create an exciting scoring opportunity for his team, such as his shorthanded game winner in the CHL Top Prospects game this year. In his abbreviated draft year, Spooner showed more determination to developing into a complete player, becoming more involved in the defensive side of the game. If Spooner drops out of the first round, as many are now expecting, the team who drafts him may have one of the steals of the draft as long s he can prevent his stature from becoming an on-ice hindrance.

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