We’ve reached the halfway point of the season for most of the leagues that house players eligible for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. As such, NHL Central Scouting Services released its mid-term rankings Wednesday morning.
Central scouting listed 212 North American skaters and 36 North American goaltenders at the mid-term. Unlike lists unveiled earlier in the year, this is our first glimpse at where Central Scouting feels these players stack up. This is not broken down by league and there are no letter grades. The Central Scouting list could be treated like one NHL team’s draft board. So in the eyes of Central Scouting, if the draft were held tomorrow, this would be the order in which they’d select players if they were only picking from North American players. Keep in mind, there’s also a complete European list, so you’d have to remember that there are several Europeans that will earn high draft selections, thus altering this order a bit.
Coming up after the jump, a look at how American prospects fared in Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings.
There were five Americans listed among the Top 30 of North American skaters. Here’s a look at each.
9. Jacob Trouba — D — Trouba’s play at the World Junior Championship solidified what many believed. While he lacks polish in certain areas, his physical game is off the charts and his skating is approaching a pro level. He didn’t get many chances to flash his offensive game, but that’s an area scouts want to see more from Trouba. He’s already vastly improved from his U17 year to his U18 year, and is trending up developmentally. He should be able to hang around the top-10 discussion the rest of the way.
13. Stefan Matteau — F — Matteau made a little bit of news already yesterday, when he announced on Twitter that he is going to play for Blainville-Boisbriand Aramada in the QMJHL next season and not the University of North Dakota, where he had
verbally committed already signed a National Letter of Intent (h/t Gordie). Today, he makes news because of this high ranking. This is a bit of a surprise. While Matteau has led the U.S. National Under-18 Team in scoring at the National Team Development Program, he hasn’t been offensively dominant. Many have believed that Matteau has very high upside, with his growing frame and good offensive tools. The son of Stephane Matteau has great size and can make plays by using his body. I’ll be interested to see if this ranking holds, but like Trouba, Matteau’s development is trending up.
18. Brady Skjei — D — I’ve been high on Skjei all year for one reason. He’s probably among the best skaters in this entire draft class, and may have the best wheels of any blue liner. Clearly, CSS agrees. He has good size at 6-2, 200, so that is another big reason he can potentially sustain a first-round projection. It’s not just that Skjei is a good skater, he’s a smart skater. He can use his feet to get out of tight situations, or create room for himself. He’s got a low panic-level, which allows him to make good decisions and isn’t afraid to jump into the rush. He isn’t what I’d call a pure offensive defenseman, but he’s got ability at both ends.
27. Nic Kerdiles — F — Kerdiles has size, he can skate and he’s versatile. Good at both ends of the ice, Kerdiles has defensive responsibility to go along with goal-scoring prowess. He doesn’t have top-end puck skills, but he is able to make plays by getting to the net and using his body to his advantage. He’ll also finish a good portion of his chances. He leads the NTDP with 12 goals and has scored in several of the games against top college opponents. Kerdiles is going to have to work much of the second half to sustain a first-round projection, but he definitely has the ability to stay in the conversation and a good showing at the World U18s could solidify his status as a top-30 player.
LV. Alex Galchenyuk — F — The Sarnia Sting forward has been out the entire regular season with an injury, hence the LV for limited viewing. That said, he’s a top-10, maybe even a top-five talent. As long as he gets back to health on schedule and is able to play a few games with Sarnia to show he hasn’t lost his step, he should be in the clear. Teams won’t mind taking a risk on him because of his high-end puck skills, scoring ability and vision. In a weaker year for forwards, Galchenyuk should be an easy first-rounder still.
Several Americans found themselves in the 30-60 range among North American skaters. Some may have a chance to earn a few more first-round looks, but many of these projections look safe.
31. Boo Nieves — F — The top prep player in the United States has kept himself in, or around first-round conversation all year. Nieves has good size and tremendous puck skills, though he is playing at a level he should dominate. He still has the potential to sneak into the first round, though I believe he’s a prime early-to-mid second round candidate.
32. Brady Vail – F — The Windsor Spitfires center is finally beginning to realize his potential after a couple of less-than-productive seasons at the USHL and OHL levels. Vail has already tripled his offensive output from last season with 31 points in 42 OHL games. A strong second half would solidify Vail as a strong second-round candidate.
34. Patrick Sieloff — D — Sieloff’s ascent up draft charts continues on. His great size and tremendous physical game have made him an attractive option. There’s not much offense in Sieloff’s game, which is why he’ll probably go no higher than the second round, but he is a steady defenseman, who has experienced tremendous growth developmentally over the last season.
35. Jordan Schmaltz — D — Some of you might be wondering if this is too low for Schmaltz. Based on his first-half performance, I think this is probably just right. Though as my buddy Ryan S. Clark wrote, Schmaltz tends to come alive in the second half of the season. He leads USHL defenseman in goals and points, which is what you’d expect. A good second half could vault Schmaltz back into first-round consideration, but there’s a very good chance this is an accurate projection of where he’ll end up in June.
37. Matt DeBlouw – F — CSS has been high on DeBlouw all season long, and of all the draft rankings I’ve viewed from scouting services, they seem to be the only ones. DeBlouw isn’t overly big, at 6-0, 170 and only has 10 points so far for the Muskegon Lumberjacks. I still don’t have a good enough read on DeBlouw myself, but he’s consistently been on Central Scouting’s radar this season.
EDIT: 41. Sam Kurker — F — Thanks to Chris for bringing this up in the comments. Somehow, I glanced passed Kurker and Brian Hart (who comes up in a bit) in the Top 60. Kurker was part of the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka team in August and has great size at 6-2, 200. He currently plays for St. John’s Prep in Massachusetts. The Ivan Hlinka wasn’t exactly a great tournament for most of Team USA, but Kurker is dominating at St. John’s right now and will continue to climb the charts.
43. Robbie Baillargeon — F — Had Baillargeon stayed in Massachusetts playing prep hockey, he might not have found himself in the top-50 of North American skaters. He would have produced, but the fact that he’s showing he can produce in the tough-to-score-in USHL, it only solidified the belief he’s a legit prospect. He was an A-rated prospect coming into the season, but his 27 points in 28 USHL games for Indiana is proof he can produce against tougher competition.
44. Zack Stepan — F — Currently leading the Shattuck prep team with 52 points in 35 games, Stepan has been on the rise. The cousin of New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan is beginning to make a name for himself in scouting circles. Of those 52 points, 35 are assists. He’s definitely becoming a player a lot of people will be watching in the second half.
47. Jake McCabe — D — Despite having his freshman season slowed at Wisconsin due to injury, McCabe is back on the ice and should remain a solid prospect. He’s a steady defenseman that has improving offensive instincts. McCabe can be physical, and he brings a lot of strength. He accelerated his schooling to join Wisconsin this year and hasn’t looked a bit out of place in the speedy WCHA.
51. Brian Cooper — D — After a very slow start to the season, Cooper’s game is beginning to pick up. His point production is rather low for a smaller defenseman, but his defensive game has improved, so that’s a fair trade off. Still, at his size, you have to be productive in more ways than one. At this point, he’s on pace for a season similar to last year’s, which isn’t bad, but may not be good enough to keep him in the second round range.
52. Dylan Blujus — D — With good size and an improving offensive game, Blujus will probably find himself hanging around the second- or third-round range. He’s already surpassed his offensive production from last season with 27 points in 40 games, including 21 assists.
EDIT: 60. Brian Hart — F — A co-captain at Exeter, Hart is another big body from the New England Prep ranks at 6-2, 216. This could be a stronger draft for the eastern prep players and Hart is firmly in that mix. He was a standout last season and has helped Exeter to an 11-1-1 record so far this season. Sustaining his current performance should keep Hart firmly in the Top-60 mix.
Now a look at other notables:
70. Nick Ebert — D — At one point, it was believed that Ebert was a potential top-5 pick in this draft, but his stock has fallen precipitously. He’s well off his offensive pace from his outstanding rookie season in the OHL in which he posted 40 points in 64 games. Through 42 games this season, he’s put up only 19 points. It’s going to take a lot for Ebert to crawl back into top-two-round contention, but he’s shown in the past that he has the ability to be that type of player.
72. Thomas DiPauli — The NTDP forward has shot up the charts thanks to his high-end offensive skills and solid vision. He’s also got a great on-ice work ethic. Though he’s posted only 15 points so far this season, DiPauli seems to have the tools to do some damage offensively in the future. He’ll likely remain around the third-round conversation.
78. Max Iafrate — D — The son of the NHL’s most legendary skullet, Al Iafrate, is garnering a lot more draft attention. A trade from Plymouth to Kitchener prior to the season may have been just want the doctor ordered for Max Iafrate. He’s 6-2, 220 and skates well enough, so a good second half with the perennial contending Rangers should help.
83. A.J. Michaelson — F — After dominating the Minnesota high school level for the last two years, Michaelson’s struggled to find his offensive game with the Waterloo Blackhawks. A mere seven points and just one goal in 25 games is falling well below the expectations of a player that was at one point the best in his age group. Unless he turns it around, he could continue to slide down the list.
103. Cam Darcy — F — Another player that has fallen considerably since being named an A-rated prospect in NHL Central Scouting’s watch list, Darcy has struggled this season. With just eight points in 32 games, there’s concern that earlier projections of his offensive abilities were exaggerated. That may be true, but Darcy still brings good size and strength and solid physical play. His skill set may more accurately project in the mid-range of this draft and this ranking is evidence of that.
132. Jake Bischoff — F — What makes Jake Bischoff so notable? At 132, he is the first current Minnesota high school hockey player on NHL Central Scouting’s list. Coming into the year, with so many of Minnesota’s top draft-eligibles playing outside the high school ranks, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Is this an anomoly or the start of a trend? Hard to say, but this looks to be one of the worst drafts in recent memory for Minnesota high schools.
141. Riley Barber — F — This is a player I’ve highlighted as one I believe will raise up the charts from this current projection. He has 11 goals for the NTDP U18s this year and will have two big chances to showcase himself at the U18 Five Nations Tournament in February and the World U18 Championship. I believe he’s just beginning to tap into his offensive potential and if he’s this low on Draft day, it will be a steal.
151. Miles Koules — F — Another guy who I thought was a bit low given his momentum coming into the season. Koules hasn’t produced up to expectations, but still has 10 assists and has continually improved his play-making abilities. He has good vision and pretty decent puck skills. Like Barber, a good showing at either upcoming international tournament could change this big time.
164. Jimmy Vesey — F — This is another player I believe we’ll see shoot up the charts in a big way during the second half. Currently skating for the South Shore Kings in the EJHL, the same outfit that helped Charlie Coyle become a first-rounder in 2010, Vesey has 58 points in 32 games. The EJ is typically a high-scoring league, but Vesey is flat dominating right now. He leads the league in scoring. Also, he’s got a good frame at 6-2, 185. He’s in his second year of eligibility and should get a good long look this time around.
NR Matt Grzelcyk — I wasn’t necessarily surprised to see Grzelcyk off the list, but I believe he deserves a spot. Despite the lack of size for a defenceman, Grzelcyk is offensively gifted. I’ve been told many times by various USA staffers that his puck skills are off the charts. Add in that he makes sound decisions with the puck and finds open teammates with regularity, and you’ve got yourself a kid worth taking a late-round flyer on. There might be an NHL team out there that feels the same way. It’s a low risk, high reward pick.
EDIT: 33. Henrik Samuelsson — F — I also inadvertently left off Henrik Samuelsson from the initial list, because he was on the list of European skaters. Samuelsson has played for the U.S. internationally, but spent the first half of this season in Sweden playing for MoDo. After struggling to adjust to the pro game, Samuelsson is coming back to North America. He will finish out the year with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings. This should help his draft stock, as he’ll probably get a lot more looks and fare better against players similar in age.
The goaltenders are separated, and by many accounts this is going to be a weaker year for North American goaltenders and we are unlikely to see any North Americans go in the first round. Here’s a few on the list.
4. Jon Gillies — The big man from the Indiana Ice has been one of the best goaltenders in the USHL. With the Ivan Hlinka still in the minds of scouts, Gillies will have to continue to play exceptionally. He certainly has the ability to do so. He’s getting the majority of time in net for the Ice and if he keeps up this pace is going to hear his name called in the mid-rounds of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
9. Collin Olson — Olson has put up good numbers with a 2.41 goals-against and .899 save percentage against the tough combination of USHL and NCAA competition. Improved play in USHL games in the second half will help. He’ll also have a great shot during international tournaments to impress.
19. Alex Lyon — Lyon has helped the Omaha Lancers to the top of the USHL’s Western Conference. He’s got a young 1995-born tender behind him in Thatcher Demko, so Lyon will continue to be the go-to guy. A good showing the rest of the season and a potential deep run in the playoffs are going to help ensure he gets taken in his second year of eligibility.
34. Matt McNeely — Like Lyon, McNeely is in his second year of eligibility. He’s had to take a bit of a back seat to Alex Hildebrand in Cedar Rapids this year and that could really hurt his chances. Still, McNeely has the skills of a potential high end goaltender. If he gets more opportunities in net, his draft fortunes may improve.
36. Jared Rutledge — I was a little surprised to see Rutledge so low among these goaltenders. Despite the fact that he lacks size, he’s a technically sound goaltender. His 2.79 GAA and .901 save percentage gives him solid stats in the typically difficult U18 season at the NTDP. While he may not end up getting drafted, I have a hard time believing he’s the 36th best goaltender in North America right now. He and Olson will be pushing each other for playing time as the season wears on. Should be interesting to watch.
There’s plenty more players that could have been highlighted, and these CSS mid-term rankings will continue to be part of future American Prospect Updates.
We should be back to the American Prospect Update being a weekly thing now that the World Juniors have concluded. It’s good to be back.
Coming up next week in the American Prospect Update, I’ll reveal my mid-season All-America team.