American Prospect Update: A Scout’s View of 2012 Class, U.S. Prospects

After a few weeks off, the American Prospect Update has returned to its normal slot on Wednesdays here on United States of Hockey. There hasn’t been a lot of movement among the rankings and schools of thought, so I figured it was time to bring in an expert.

I enlisted the help of a Western Conference scout to help talk a bit about the 2012 NHL Draft class as a whole, and give some reports on some American prospects he’s seen so far this year.

Last year, around this time, it looked as though the 2012 Draft was going to be long on high-end talent, with great depth. This year, it’s becoming more clear that there is a fair amount of that high-end talent, but a shallow player pool.

The scout agreed saying, “After the first 25 players, there’s a bit of a drop. Once you get past 40 or 50, there’s a huge drop.”

That significant drop off after the first 40-50 players means that there will be some tough decisions from the second round on.

“I think it is going to be hard to find value late,” said the scout. “There are going to be kids that you take educated guesses on that you could go either way. The history of these kids is going to be huge.”

Coming up after the jump our Western Conference scout shares some thoughts on the top Americans in the Ontario Hockey League and NTDP.

There aren’t a lot of high-end American draft-eligibles playing in the CHL this year, outside of Alex Galchenyuck, who’s been sidelined all season with an injury. That said, there are a few potential second- or third-round-type picks in the OHL that could make a late push to shoot up some charts. Here’s what our Western Conference scout had to say about them.

Brady Vail — F — Windsor Spitfires — Vail has had a breakout season for Windsor after a sluggish rookie campaign in 2010-11. With just 10 points last year, Vail has put up 45 this season including 19 goals. I was told Vail spent time in Windsor this off season working out and apparently it has gone a long way in him showing this improvement. In addition to his productivity, Vail has shown a very sound two-way game, often matching up with the opposing team’s top lines. Vail was ranked 32nd by NHL Central Scouting at the mid-term and looks like a very sound second-round selection.

Says the scout: “Early[in the season] he was dominant. He was able to shut top players down. He’s gone head-to-head with [Nail] Yakupov and [Brendan] Gaunce and [J.T.] Miller. He was very, very good as a shut-down guy. Now I think, just because of the time of year and playing the season that he’s played and having had to play against so many top players has worn on him a bit, but he’s still a productive player. His skating is awkward. It’s not smooth or fluid. He has to work hard to play with pace and that will be the biggest evaluation thing. Can he do that at the next level? He’s smart and his stick skills are there.”

Ben Johnson — F — Windsor Spitfires — Johnson is an awfully intriguing prospect and he’s been turning more and more heads as the season has gone on. Just a year removed from playing for Calumet High School in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Johnson has shaken off early struggles to produce at the OHL level. His stats are not eye-popping, but 15 goals in a year in which he’s basically had to adjust on the job is solid enough. Central Scouting slotted Johnson at 49th at the mid-term among North American skaters.

Says the scout: “He’s interesting. He’s fluid, he’s got energy, he’s got glide on his skates, and he’s a tireless worker. It’s been a big, huge jump for him to come from high school hockey to the OHL. I think to his credit, I saw him struggle early as far as adapting to the speed, but he’s come on of late, which goes to show there might be more to give there. There’s still a lot to be learned for Johnson, but he can skate and he can play with pace and separation. He can play at the next level because of his skating, but is he a top six forward with questionable production or does he fit a bottom six role? Maybe, but I don’t know if he’s that gritty and dirty. He’s having success based on his skating, but I don’t know if he can think the game enough yet.”

Dylan Blujus — D — Brampton Battalion — It’s been an interesting year following Blujus, who looks like he might fall in the late-second, or early-third round of the draft, but one thing that’s undeniable is his size. He’s got a pro frame already, but has also shown good offense. Blujus has put up 33 points including seven goals and is a plus-7 so far for Brampton. Central Scouting slotted him at No. 52 in the mid-term.

Says the scout: “His physical package is very intriguing. He’s big and mobile. He’s offensive minded moves the puck well. He’s sound on the power play and that’s really where he shines. I’ve been up and down on him based on his five-on-five play. When he’s got a chip on his shoulder, he’s dominant. There are other nights where his gaps are big and loose, so he’s just a big body and he’s out there.”

Nick Ebert — D — Windsor Spitfires — It’s been a bit of a Windsor party so far, but that seems to be where the very few U.S. CHL prospects are this year. Ebert has been on a bit of slide all season, despite an incredible rookie campaign. Windsor had a lot of star veteran players on last year’s squad and the scout mentioned that was a huge factor in Ebert’s success. Without the safety net of a guy like Ryan Ellis, Ebert’s been exposed a little bit. He isn’t having what would be considered a bad year with 36 points including 30 assists, it’s just not meeting expectations. He’s still a very strong prospect, though Central Scouting listed Ebert at No. 70.

Scout says: “He’s got a pro body. He’s had the luxury of playing with some good players, so he’s learned a lot. His overall hockey sense is average. He’s got the physical attributes. He’s strong, he’s thick, he can shoot the puck. I think where he’s being exposed a bit this year is the way he processes the game. He’s a bit one-dimensional.”

There aren’t many prospects currently playing college hockey available for the draft, but with a seemingly shallow pool, Notre Dame freshman forward Austin Wuthrich could find a place in the mid-rounds in his second year of eligibility.

Says the scout: “He’s got competitive nature, instincts, he knows how to the game. His change of direction and skating are the biggest concerns. He’s had some injuries [a broken leg last year] and his development may have been hampered by that. He can play a grind-it-out type of game. He’s smart, he’s instinctual. The transition footwork is going to be needed to be evaluated further. “

The scout also spoke a bit about a few of the National Team Development Program players.

Stefan Matteau — F — U.S. U18s — No one has been arguing about the physical tools Matteau possesses, but his high penalty minutes may be a concern. The high number of PIMs hasn’t come from fighting so much as it’s come from 10-minute and game misconducts. Matteau has 80 PIM in just 11 USHL games. Despite that concern, the scout believes he could go anywhere from 15-25 in the first round.

Scout says: “He’s a first-round talent. He’s got everything: power, speed, shot. He’s got all the intangibles you want in a first-rounder. He can play physical, he can play a puck-possession game.  It’s just, does he have the emotional control button in his tool box? I don’t know that.”

Nicolas Kerdiles — F — U.S. U18s — Kerdiles has been in and out of first-round projections all year, but he’s shown some really strong offense. His 32 points lead a U18 offense that has struggled this year.

Says the scout: “He has some power-forward attributes. He’s a competitor. The things that are being evaluated on him is foot speed and agility. He’s got a good wide base, but he doesn’t have a lot of agility. He has to play a north south game, when he’s on, but he’s not always on. At the next level, I think he’s going to have to be a winger, just because the more simple it is and the less he has to complicate it with his skating deficiencies, the better he’ll be. He can possess and protect the puck well and make plays. He’s another that I think is a late-first round pick.”

Patrick Sieloff — D — U.S. U18s — Despite being overshadowed by Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei, along with 2013-eligible Seth Jones, more scouts are taking notice of big Pat Sieloff. He’s a physical presence and plays with heaping amounts of grit. He also isn’t afraid to block a shot with his head.

Says the scout: “He wears his emotions on his sleeve. He’s a competitor, he’s tough, he’s gritty. There are not a lot of guys that I’ve seen that play with that pop. As much of a competitor that he is, he needs to learn sometimes less is more. Sometimes he goes out of the way trying to kill somebody and hurts himself. I think he’s a second round pick.”

The scout also mentioned that little heralded and often overlooked defensemen Connor Carrick and Matthew Grzlecyk are deserving of late-round picks.

On Carrick: “He’ll probably be a late pick. He’s thick, he moves the puck well, he has offensive instincts, he can shoot it. He has some holes away from the puck.” The scout also said he thinks another year of development in college (he’s committed to Michigan) could go a long way, but feels Carrick’s the type of guy that can step in and contribute immediately on a college team.

On Grzlecyk: “He’s 5-9 and a lot of guys are going to be turned off by him, but he reads the play well, he anticipates, he jumps routes. He’s one of those kids that in a couple years, if somebody doesn’t draft him, they’ll be going after him as a free agent. He thinks the game at such a high level. You’ve got to take that into account.”

It’s going to be an interesting last few months of the season with the playoff push, postseason and World Under-18 Championship all looming as key evaluation periods. This draft doesn’t necessarily look like a top-to-bottom great draft, but there’s some exciting prospects at the top. It will be interesting to see what teams will do in search of great value in the late rounds, when the pickins are a bit slim.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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