Central Scouting Reaction

NHL Central Scouting Services unveiled it’s final rankings for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. As is the case with any comprehensive ranking, it’s kind of tough to judge.

I don’t envy the job of CSS in having to rank every draft-eligible player available. How does one accurately do that? In many cases, CSS has been very much in line with what the NHL Draft actually looks like. Other times, you have a Jeff Skinner situation in which CSS ranks him well out of the first round, but he ends up being the seventh overall pick in 2010 and probably wins a Calder Trophy. That’s just the nature of the scouting game.

The talk around Germany has been just how crazy this year’s draft could be. The lack of depth and variety of talent could make for some very interesting selections along the way.

Since my main focus right now is preparing for the World Under-18 Championship, I’ll have to keep this post brief. Coming up after the jump, I’ve got some quick thoughts on the CSS North American rankings.

Americans in the Top 30

There are seven American players listed in the first 30 North American skaters, none of which are found in the top 10. Additionally, there are three Americans among the top five North American goaltenders.

Leading it off is the big defenseman from Northeastern, Jamie Oleksiak, at No. 13. There have been a lot of comparisons to Zdeno Chara and Tyler Myers, as it appears Oleksiak’s upside is very high. I was a bit surprised to see him this highly ranked, but he’s been on a meteoric rise since December, so I guess I shouldn’t be.

Brandon Saad and Tyler Biggs both took a tumble down the rankings from the mid-term. Saad was ranked No. 9 in the mid-term, but slipped to 18th. A slow couple of months offensively did Saad in. He’s still a first-round talent. His health has been an issue this year, which may have been cause for the slow production.

Biggs was the top-rated American in the mid-term at No. 5. Many at the time thought that was far too high to rank the big power forward. He now comes in at No. 23. Based on the way he plays the game, he may end up going a bit higher than he’s ranked, but perhaps the expectations were a little too high to begin with. A good showing at the World U18 Championship and Biggs should be back on track and looking at a middle-first round selection.

J.T. Miller is right behind his USA teammate at No. 23. He also fell from his previous ranking, when he came in at No. 13. His size, strength speed are there. I think scouts want to see more in the way of hockey sense and ice awareness out of Miller. He still appears to be a first-round talent with a high ceiling. The more he rounds out his game, the bigger the threat he’ll be in the future.

Scott Mayfield continued the trend of Americans slipping downward. At the mid-term the Youngstown blueliner was listed at No. 15, he now sits at No. 24. His size and skill are going to keep him in the first round, you’d think, so I’m not too alarmed by the fall. I don’t think many of these backslides into lower rankings are indicative of poor play, but is more a result of other players elevating their game in the second half.

Connor Murphy came in at No. 25 after not being listed at the mid-term due to injury. Scouts hadn’t seen Murphy prior to the mid-term except for when he skated for the U18 Select Team at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in August. Obviously, Murphy showed them he’s healthy enough and at a high enough level to be a first-round talent. If the big defenseman has a good tournament in Germany, he may just end up as a first-rounder.

Shane Prince had been trending downward in some circles, but not for Central Scouting. He came in at No. 26 on the final ranking, up nine spots from the mid-term. An early ouster from the OHL Playoffs won’t help the skilled forward much, but this ranking is something to be excited about. We’ll see if NHL teams are first-round believers like CSS seems to be.

John Gibson retained the No. 1 spot among North American goalies, unsurprisingly. Previously thought to be a year in which goaltenders may not go in the first round, Gibson has continually made a case to change that assumption. His size, positioning and underrated athleticism make it easy to see why he’s the top-rated goalie. If he comes out and has a great U18 World Championship, it might not be whether or not he goes in the first round, but how high.

Matt McNeely moved up a spot to No. 4 on the CSS North American goaltender rankings. He’s been the U18 team’s No. 2 guy, but has played more than enough for scouts to know about his talent. I think he’ll be a mid-round selection come June, but whoever gets him will be happy to have a goaltender of his caliber in the pipeline.

Stephen Michalek, of Loomis-Chaffee, a Connecticut prep school, came in at No. 5, also moving up one spot. I haven’t seen him yet and haven’t heard a lot about his game, but clearly a top-five ranking among goalies in North American is pretty darn impressive for a prep netminder.

Surprises

Alright, here’s one I can’t figure out. Rocco Grimaldi is ranked No. 32 by CSS after coming in at No. 25 at the midterm. If anything, his ranking should have gone up and I think come draft day, he’ll be a mid-first rounder.  He’s a goal-scoring machine on a team that doesn’t score many goals and he’s made the players around him better. Like I said, it’s a tough job CSS has, but this might be looked at as a bit of an underestimation of Grimaldi’s talent. While it’s high-second round, which is normally reasonable for a small, but skilled forward, Grimaldi isn’t just any small, but skilled forward.

Seth Ambroz was listed at 31. This wasn’t as much of a surprise as many of the hockey people I’ve talked to believe that he’s a safe bet to miss the first round. Still, it seemed like CSS was an Ambroz fan and I thought he’d be in the first-round conversation. I’m sure a lot of teams still like him, but his skating is still an issue and the numbers aren’t where they need to be to quiet those concerns.

Some might say that Prince’s inclusion in the first 30 is a surprise, and I think I’m with them. Especially since Stefan Noesen of the Plymouth Whalers was ranked 35 in the final, up 12 spots from the midterm. There are some folks that believe Noesen can sneak into the first round based on his strong play for the Whalers in the late goings of the season. I also think, based on his size and talent level, he may have more NHL upside than Prince. We’ll have to see where those two end up in June, but I’d imagine they won’t be selected too far apart from each other.

Mario Lucia was listed at No. 34, down just four spots from his previous ranking. He’s another guy that seems to have fallen out of favor in some circles. I believe he will be a second-round pick, but may not be as high as he’s ranked by CSS.

Good To See

BU freshmen Matt Nieto and Adam Clendening both looked like they were slotted where they should be by CSS, who were not too keen on either prospect in the midterm. Clendening had the big jump from the mid-term, moving up 16 spots to No. 45. His offensive abilities really came out in the second half of the season for BU and he’s moving on up in a lot of people’s eyes. Nieto jumped eight spots between rankings. I think the higher rankings were earned by both players as each turned it up in the second half.

One of the biggest risers of the whole thing was Duluth native and Green Bay Gambler Andy Welinski. Ranked at No. 103 in the mid-term, Welinski found himself at No. 48 in the final rankings. Quite a jump. Being a solid defenseman on one of the better teams in the USHL shouldn’t be overlooked, and clearly it wasn’t this time around.

Robbie Russo also rose up the charts, 23 spots to No. 55. I always thought he was way too low in the initial draft rankings, but he’s obviously back in a more reasonable position now. I think he’ll remain a second-round selection come Draft day. A good U18 tournament might help assure him of that.

There’s a lot more to talk about in the lower rankings as well, but we’ll save that for another time. As I mentioned, CSS has a tough job to do and I wouldn’t want to trade places with them. You can never be fully right in the eyes of the public, but it’s still nice that all of us have a chance to see what scouts are thinking in such a way.

Coming up later, I’ll have more Men’s World Under-18 Championship coverage with a preview of Team USA’s tournament-opening tilt with Switzerland (Thursday, 1:30 p.m. EDT on FASTHockey).

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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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