Top Americans in NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term Rankings

NHL Central Scouting released its mid-term rankings for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft today. It’s often a fun time to take a look at where some of these prospects stand. There’s still a lot of hockey left to be played, so its OK to take these rankings with a grain of salt. They almost always change by the final rankings.

Still, it’s a great chance for fans to get a quick look at the future of the NHL.

In this post I take a look at the Americans ranked in the top 30 in North America. I have some analysis on each player and where I think they may project at the end.

It was a pretty good showing for American players in this mid-term ranking. There were eight U.S. skaters among the top 30 in North America, while two U.S. goaltenders were slotted in the top five of the North American goalie rankings.

Coming up after the jump: The Americans in the Top 30…

No. 5 Tyler Biggs — U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP/USHL) — The surprise here isn’t that Tyler Biggs was highly rated, but that he was the first American listed, ahead of No. 8 Brandon Saad who has been having a great year in the OHL. Though both project as power forward-types, there are things that Biggs does that Saad doesn’t and clearly, those were big factors in his ranking. If you’ve ever seen Biggs play, you know he’s tough. I’ve been trying to find video evidence of some of his USHL fights, but have been unsuccessful. He tuned up several combatants last year, which I was able to see in person. He can really throw ’em. Additionally, he has skill. He currently has 18 points (10-8) in 31 games to go along with a team-high 88 PIM. Also of note: he’s the captain for the U18s at the NTDP, so there’s that maturity and leadership factor. There is a lot of development left with Biggs, but his size and strength are close to NHL ready. The rest of his game has a way to go to get to that NHL level, but he will continue to come along and I’m certain he’s a high first-round pick.

NHL Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee had this to say to NHL.com about Biggs:

“Biggs is another young player who has taken on the job as leader of his team, and does most of their fighting when they have to fight, if not all of it,” Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee told NHL.com. “I think the responsibility for standing up for teammates has taken a little away from his offensive finish … wearing that ‘C’ and doing those things. My gut feeling is that he’s on an uphill path.”

No. 8 Brandon Saad — Saginaw Spirit (OHL) — I wonder if Saad’s getting cut for the World Junior team had anything to do with his drop. By all accounts, he was the top American draft-eligible and in my mind still is. Not to take anything away from the very deserving Biggs. Wherever Saad has been, he’s produced points. He currently has 40 (21g-19a) in Saginaw. His speed and size make him an attractive power-forward option. He has a nose for the net and has no trouble out-maneuvering and out-working opposing defensemen. I believe Saad has a shot at the top-five still, though I’d be more certain had he been given a shot at the WJC. He’s tough to shut down, so I am sure his production will be consistent throughout the year.

No. 13 J.T. Miller — U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP/USHL) — There are a lot of things to like about Miller’s game. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s tough. On top of all that, he’s quite skilled. He only has five goals this year on an under-18 squad that has struggled to win, but there’s always something there. He’s gaining hockey intelligence in his second NTDP season and is learning to play smarter. His inability to consistently contribute offensively may lead to a late rankings slide, but just as easily he can get on a hot streak. He’s not finished developing physically or mentally, which might be a good thing for some NHL teams. I see him as a mid-to-late first-round pick.

No. 15 Scott Mayfield — Youngstown Phantoms (USHL) — This big, mobile defensemen has not had the offensive production this season that many thought might come, with just five points on the year. However, he’s a plus-3 on an offensively challenged Youngstown team and never backs down when the game gets hard. He has 92 penalty minutes on the season, so you know he’s not afraid to drop the mitts. I think he’d be a bit of a project after being drafted, which again might be a good thing. There’s clearly something to his game, but I don’t know that he’s unlocked it yet. I think we’ll see Mayfield drafted in the mid-first round. Should be a very interesting prospect to watch.

No. 25 Rocco Grimaldi — U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP/USHL) — This offensive dynamo is only this low because of his size. He may end up getting drafted in the 25-30 range because of his size. All I know is, whoever takes a stab at him is likely getting the next great little-big man. For two years, Grimaldi has been the offensive leader for the NTDP 1993-birth years. He’s got 37 points (22-15) in 31 games this year against International, College and USHL opponents. A surprise cut from the World Junior Team, Grimaldi continues to be a hard worker. Expect his stock to soar after the IIHF World Under-18 Championship.

No. 27 Jamie Oleksiak — Northeastern University (NCAA-HEA) — After coming out of nowhere to earn a spot at the U.S. National Junior Team pre-tournament camp, Oleksiak’s stock has skyrocketed. He’s 6-foot-7, 240 lbs and he can move. His footwork needs improvement, but don’t all big men’s? Still, he’s huge and scouts love that. He’s going to be a stay-at-home type of defender, who won’t give you a ton of offense, but he can get the puck up ice decently. Did I mention he’s big? We might see him fall to the second round, but he’s definitely on a lot of watch lists now.

No. 28 Seth Ambroz — Omaha Lancers (USHL) — If you would have told me Seth Ambroz was not going to be one of the top-10 North American skaters in October, I would have said you’re nuts. However, a slow offensive season at Omaha has caused this drop. He may even continue to fall. The knock on Ambroz has always been speed, though he possesses elite skill. His 23 points (12-11) in 23 games apparently isn’t cutting it for Central Scouting. It probably most has to do with the fact that he’s in his third USHL season and many figured he’d dominate in the league, but he hasn’t. I’d expect a strong second half from the big forward and a steady rise up the rankings and he should be at least a mid-first rounder come June.

No. 30 Mario Lucia — Wayzata H.S. (Minn.) — Mario Lucia is one of the best players in Minnesota High School hockey this year. As is often the case, you’ll find at least one top prep players in the state on this list. The son of University of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia has had quite the year. In fact, he even spent the first part of the year, before his high school season, with the NTDP in Ann Arbor and produced well there. That may have slightly contributed to his early positive reviews. I haven’t seen him play yet, so I don’t want to make any statements about his ability, but reports out of Ann Arbor were quite good. He’s also producing at over a point-per-game clip with Wayzata with 13 points in 11 games. Should he continue to produce, he will remain on a lot of scouts’ radars. Without having seen him, I don’t want to project where he’ll end up, but 30th seems fair right now.

NHL Central Scouting identified 34 goaltenders in its North American ranking. The U.S. has two of the top-five.

No. 1 John Gibson — U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP/USHL) — I’d be shocked if Gibson wasn’t the first goaltender taken this year. That said, I don’t know if any netminder will be a first-rounder this year at all, but I’d imagine if anything, he’s an early second rounder. He’s played well at the NTDP, often facing a ton of shots. His 3.25 GAA and .913 save percentage are pretty respectable for the competition he’s faced. He’s another guy that will be easier to gauge after the World Under-18 Championship.

Al Jenson, NHL Central Scouting’s goaltender expert gave NHL.com this scouting report:

“John has great net coverage and size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), and is very strong,” NHL Central Scouting goalie guru Al Jensen told NHL.com. “He’s sound technically, moves very well laterally and is controlled. He’s calm, not busy.”

No. 5 Matt McNeely — U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP/USHL) — It’s basically the same story for McNeely as it is for Gibson, though I think McNeely projects more in the late second to early fourth round range (Yeah, that’s a big range). When he plays with confidence, he’s as good as anybody. Though its tough to get confidence when being pelted night in and night out. Still, he’s a very good athlete and is getting a lot of quality time in net at the NTDP. He’s been splitting time with Gibson all year, so it will be interesting to see how the two are utilized at the Under-18 Championship in April, seeing as that event may be make or break for some players.

Said Jenson about McNeely:

“He has very quick feet and pads,” Jensen said of McNeely. “I see very good athleticism and he’s quick laterally. He relies on that quickness and plays determined.”

Overall it was a very good day for American players, even though there are more than a few that might be scratching their heads.

Later today, I take a look at some of the other prospects listed outside of the top 30, including who I think is the most likely to rise in the second half.

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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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