NHL Draft: Ranking the Top 15 American Eligibles — Part II (9-15)

Previously on The United States of Hockey… I unveiled the first eight players listed on my list of the Top 15 Americans eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Now it’s time for the conclusion.

Some of my choices for the second half might be a little bit off the beaten path, but that’s because I think in an unpredictable year, sometimes you just have to go with your gut. There’s still a ton of value, but I’ve had a hard time determining just who’s more valuable than who.

So instead of stalling any further, here’s a look at the last six players on my list and a few honorable mentions for good measure.

DISCLAIMER REMINDER: This is not the order in which I think these players will be or even should be drafted. I can’t get in the minds of NHL GMs or make their decisions for them. It is merely my personal ranking based on what I know of the players. So relax… then go ahead and tell me why I’m wrong in the comments if you must.

9. F Stefan Noesen — Plano, Texas — Plymouth Whalers

It’s hard to argue with the season Noesen had. The Whalers were without their all-everything forward Tyler Seguin last year, but they got an inspired effort from the solidly built Noesen. After a tepid first season in the OHL, Noesen exploded to lead the team with 34 goals and 77 points. He continued his inspired play in the playoffs with 11 points.

Noesen is a strong, hard-working player and obviously knows how to find the net. The strength is what puts him ahead of the rest for me. He goes to the hard areas and plays tough.

The season he had in Plymouth last year can only build confidence and he’s a candidate for the U.S. National Junior Team this year. Next season could be a big one for Noesen, but he’s done enough in 2010-11 to prove he’s worth an early-round selection and could be among the first Americans picked, if not the first, in the second round.

2010-11 (w/playoffs): 79 GP, 40-48–88, 96 PIM, 12 PPG, 1 SHG, 5 GWG, 1.13 pts/gm

10. D Adam Clendening — Niagara Falls, N.Y. — Boston University

A brilliant puck-moving defenseman, Clendening has a desirable offensive game. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in skill. Clendening has always had tremendous vision and poise with the puck that is not common in undersized defensemen.

His skating probably isn’t where it needs to be, but he is by no means slow. Clendening is smooth on the ice, sometimes too smooth. He’s a bit of a risk taker at times, but as he continues to mature he might pick his spots a little better

He also has a very underrated shot. His release is filthy, but he’s not going to shoot just to shoot. Clendening’s passes are crisp and accurate, and he can help the forwards transition to offense pretty quickly.

Another plus for Clendening is that he’s at a school that has had no trouble producing solid professional hockey players. Another few years at BU and he won’t be far off from NHL-ready.

2010-11: 39 GP, 5-21–26, 80 PIM, 1 PPG, 0 SHG, 1 GWG, 0.67 pts/gm

11. F T.J. Tynan — Orland Park, Ill. — University of Notre Dame

You might call this a high slot for the small forward, but the performance he put on last season was anything but small. Leading the nation’s freshmen in scoring with a stunning 54 points, Tynan lit the CCHA on fire.

After getting passed over in 2010, he’s improved in all of the areas he needed to, particularly his skating. He can really wheel, which you have to do if you’re a little guy. He’s also bulked up a little bit from his USHL days and appears to have proven his point production in his one year of Junior hockey was no fluke.

His size broadens the range in which teams might be willing to select him, but I’ve talked to a few people that think he could sneak into the late second round, though third round is appearing most realistic.

2010-11: 44 GP, 23-41–54, 36 PIM, 5 PPG, 2 SHG, 2 GWG, 1.23 pts/gm

12. Seth Ambroz — New Prague, Minn. — Omaha Lancers

Seth Ambroz was looking like a star coming into this season. So much so that he made the header of NHL.com’s Draft page. Unfortunately for Ambroz, along the way, it seemed like everyone had caught up to him and now have surpassed him.

It’s not totally on Ambroz. Playing in the USHL as a 15-year-old that looked like an 18-year-old, he was physically ready for the challenge and had the skill and maturity to excel. So what’s the problem? An early maturation, not necessarily a degradation of skill over time, is what hampers the big forward right now. As his peers grew around him, he looked less and less like the dominant force he appeared to be at such a young age. There may be some concern that Ambroz has peaked physically and therefore his upside is limited.

Though he was caught by his peers physically, Ambroz brings an element of toughness to go along with outstanding offensive skill. That’s what keeps him an attractive option for any team with an early second-round pick. Though no longer looking like a first-round option, Ambroz has value.

I love the way he plays. He’s mean, he’ll fight and he’s proven that he can score. The only real concerning flaw in Ambroz’s game is his skating at this point. If he can find a way to improve in that department, and he’ll have room to do so on the big ice at Minnesota, none of us will be talking about how he missed the first round. We’ll probably be wondering just how soon he’ll sign his first contract.

2010-11 (w/playoffs): 59 GP, 26-22–48, 89 PIM, 8 PPG, 1 SHG, 2 GWG, 0.81 pts/gm

13. Mario Lucia — Plymouth, Minn. — Wayzata H.S.

I nearly listed Lucia ahead of Ambroz because the Wayzata forward looks to possess a really positive upside. At 6-2, 185, there’s room for Lucia to fill out and continue to build strength, which would go along really nicely with his pretty solid skill set. Only a high school junior last season, he was one of Minnesota High School hockey’s best players.

In year’s past it was almost automatic that the State of Hockey’s best prep player was a first rounder. In fact, going back to 2004, every first round has had one Minnesota high schooler. That likely won’t be the case this year, but it doesn’t mean Lucia won’t be a great pick up for an NHL team in the early second round.

Lucia’s upside is where his true value lies. He’s got enough skills and ability now, but with a few more years of growth and development, he could be really something.

Interestingly enough, Lucia is debating between playing with the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers or the BCHL’s Penticton Vees before stepping into a yet-to-be-decided college team. It’s actually a pretty big decision as the NHL team that drafts him will be following his developmental path with great interest. As will prospect junkies around the U.S.

2010-11 (w/playoffs): 30 GP, 35-26–61, 18 PIM, 5 PPG, 2 SHG, 2 GWG, 2.03 pts/gm

14. Shane Prince — Spencerport, N.Y. — Ottawa 67’s

An 88-point regular season with Ottawa was enough to turn plenty of heads for Shane Prince. Skepticism of his statistical output is certainly warranted given that he played with the OHL’s leading goal scorer, however Prince’s skills are not to be overlooked.

He’s a gifted playmaker that undoubtedly helped the slick-shooting Tyler Toffoli earn a share of the OHL’s scoring title, if only a little. Prince also has a pretty nice shot with a quick enough release. I also like his patience and poise with the puck. I haven’t seen as much of Prince as most of the other prospects, but what I have seen I’ve liked. He’s got a solid chance to be a Top-6 forward. The only thing that worries me is that he has just as much chance to never make it at all.

2010-11 (w/playoffs): 62 GP, 26-63–89, 18 PIM, 3 PPG, 1 SHG, 6 GWG, 1.43 pts/gm

15. Robbie Russo — Westmont, Ill. — U.S. Nat’l U18 Team

He might be one of the U.S. players that seemingly gets lost in the mix when talking about Draft-eligibles. He’s not a guy teams should be sleeping on, though. He’s a mature hockey player with room to grow.

Though Russo lacks size, he’s very strong on his skates. However, his best attribute is his calm-under-pressure and poise in his distribution of the puck. Russo is a smooth skater as well and can use his legs to get himself out of tight spots. He also shoots the puck really well, but is patient and selective about when he takes it.

I’d expect him to continue to grow as a player at the University of Notre Dame. He’s probably not the type of player you’ll want to rush to the pros, but he’s probably not incredibly far off either. Russo proved at the World Under-18s that he is who we thought he was.

2010-11:  60 GP, 4-26–30, 27 PIM, 2 PPG, 0 SHG, 1 GWG, 0.50 pts/gm

Honorable Mention:

Matt Nieto — Long Beach, Calif. — Boston University

A speedy, athletic forward, Nieto doesn’t have great size. However, he’s continued to build strength at BU and looks to have a fair amount of upside. It was a tough pill for me to swallow to leave him off of my Top 15.

Shane McColgan — Manhattan Beach, Calif. — Kelowna Rockets

McColgan is undersized, but is offensively dynamic. His 19-point performance in 10 WHL playoff games turned a lot of heads and reminded us why many had him as one of the best overall American 1993-borns. Very solid prospect who could be a great get around the third round.

Reid Boucher — Grand Ledge, Mich. — U.S. Nat’l U18 Team

I don’t feel I am exaggerating when I say Reid Boucher is one of the absolute best scorers available in this draft. He’s a natural at putting the puck in the net. His sick release and deadly accuracy, as well as his clutch performance should not be undervalued. His size isn’t as desirable, but boy can this kid shoot.

Nick Shore — Denver, Colo. — University of Denver

Despite injury, Shore had a pretty solid freshman outing at Denver. He’s a gifted playmaker, who is almost unselfish to a fault. Shore’s been criticized for his pass-first mentality, but he’s a really terrific distributor. He could sneak into the second round still.

Joseph LaBate — Eagan, Minn. — Holy Angels

LaBate is another solid Minnesota high school product with a 6-4, 195-pound frame. He put up 50-plus points for Holy Angels in his senior year and has generated some solid buzz for himself. If he continues to fill out and keeps his physical edge at the University of Wisconsin, he could be a nice find for a team in the early rounds.

Mike Paliotta — Westport, Conn. — U.S. Nat’l U18 Team

Paliotta is another high-upside defenseman. Because of his great size and added grit to his game, a lot of scouts loved the way he improved over the last year. He’s still got a ways to go to be an NHL defenseman, but there’s a lot of room for him to grow his game.

There you have it. These are the top American-born players, in my mind, available for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. It’s a solid group, and while it may lack the star power of previous classes, there’s a lot of value to be found.

More 2011 NHL Entry Draft coverage to follow today. Stay tuned.

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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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