American Prospect Update: 2012 NHL CSS Preliminary Rankings Reviewed

Through the efforts of the late E.J. McGuire, NHL Central Scouting lists have become more of a public affair. It brings attention to what CSS does, but more importantly, and I believe this was a big part of E.J.’s intent, it brings attention to the players. It informs the public of who these future NHL stars are, where they play and at the very least gives us an idea of how good these kids may be.

Earlier Thursday, the NHL released Central Scouting’s preliminary rankings for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. This set of rankings lists the top-25 Junior players for each league, while gives a letter grade to college players and ranks European players by country.

These rankings will be revised at the mid-term and then one more time in April as the final rankings. There will be a lot of movement between now and then, guaranteed. So it’s important to take these initial rankings with a grain of salt. That said, they still give us an idea where players stand in the eyes of scouts at this early stage, which is nice.

Coming up after the jump, a look at Americans ranked by Central Scouting…

NCAA

The NCAA players only get “watch list” status on this list, mainly because there aren’t a ton of draft-eligible players playing college hockey. In fact, a good portion of the players listed are in their second year of eligibility.

The lone American collegian to warrant an A rating from CSS was Wisconsin’s Jake McCabe. McCabe is in his first year of eligibility as a late 1993-born. He is a solid defenseman, who plays with grit and has shown some offensive ability. He played two years at the NTDP and was a pretty dependable rearguard. Not always noticeable, but sometimes you need a defenseman you don’t notice. He’s only gotten into five games with the Badgers this year because of a freak accident that left him with a cut tendon near his wrist and on the shelf for weeks. He’s still out. The missed time will hurt McCabe, but it could have been worse. When he returns, he should be able to live up to his A-rating and probably projects somewhere in the late second to early third round.

CSS also listed a pair of American B-rated prospects. The first was Brendan Woods, of the University of Wisconsin. Woods is actually in his third year of eligibility as a 1992 birth date. His size is a very attractive attribute, as he’s 6-3, 200 pounds.

The other is Austin Wuthrich, currently playing for Notre Dame. Wuthrich is also a second-year eligible. Last season at the NTDP, Wuthrich had a significant injury derail his season. With a healthy season under his belt, he’ll get drafted. Wuthrich probably would have gotten a shot at last year’s draft had he been able to play. He’s got a gritty style and possesses tremendous strength, particularly along the walls.

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The following is a comprehensive look at all of the ranked players in the North American Junior leagues. You’ll find some brief thoughts on the rankings for each league and then a few pieces of info about each player listed. With more than 30 players ranked, it gets a little lengthy, but instead of breaking it up into two posts, I figured I’d allow you to read as much as you want in one sitting. The players are listed by league, then by rank. Enjoy!

OHL

There was really only one surprise off of the Ontario Hockey League’s list. That was the absence of Windsor Spitfires defenseman Nick Ebert. Coming into this season, Ebert was thought a potential top-10 pick. I knew he had fallen out of favor with many evaluators, but I didn’t think it was this much. To not even be considered a Top-25 player in your own league is a pretty substantial blow. Here are the players that made the list.

2. Alex Galchenyuk – F – Despite not playing a single regular-season game, CSS wasn’t too afraid to slot Galchenyuk this high. His body of work is sparkling and his skill-set will keep him right in the top-10.

19. Brady Vail – F – Vail’s improvement from his first year in the O to his second has been substantial. He’s beginning to realize the potential many believed he had as a 15-year-old playing in Waterloo.

21. Dylan Blujus – D – The Brampton Battalion D-man has really turned some heads this year. His good size helps, but he’s also getting involved a bit more offensively with 14 points in 20 games. He’s already surpassed his goal total from last season with five. Most people would have called you crazy if you had Blujus ahead of Ebert on a list, but that just goes to show you how things have changed. Blujus warrants the high praise.

WHL

No Americans were listed in the Top-25 of the WHL. The number of top-end Americans choosing the WHL has seemingly gone down. There were really no high-profile American 1994-borns that went the WHL route.

QMJHL

The same is true for the QMJHL list. That should change next year as there are a number of gifted young Americans in the league, namely Adam Erne. The Q’s new-found focus on attracting American talent may change things down the road, but it is not very often to see a top American come out of the Q.

USHL

Obviously there are a lot of Americans on this list. However, there are a few surprises. The biggest one for me is the lack of Miles Koules on this list. Scouts seemed to like him a lot early in the season and he had a good showing at the RDO camp, which is what makes this a bit of a surprise. I was also a little surprised not to see NTDP D-men Connor Carrick and Matt Grzelcyk on this list, but not everybody can make it when there’s only 25 spots. I think both of those players will have a good chance of being drafted. But it’s early yet. A lot can change.

1. Jacob Trouba – D – It’s really no surprise to see Trouba earn the top spot. He’s shown improvement throughout the season and was pretty darn good to start. Trouba is not without deficiencies, but he has significantly minimized concerns about his hockey sense and D-zone play. Combine that with his already advanced skill set and there’s a bunch to like about what Trouba is and what he can be. He should remain in the top-10 conversation all year long.

4. Stefan Matteau – F – Matteau came into this U18 season rejuvenated. After a slow U17 campaign, he’s produced and showed the grittiness and physicality scouts want to see out of a player his size. He has a nice skill set, but if he can keep focused on a two-way game, he’ll find himself in a high position.

5. Brady Skjei – D – Skjei has been climbing charts all season long. His elite skating combined with size will likely keep him in consideration for the first round. This draft is incredibly deep on D, so Skjei has a lot of competition, but he’ll continue to attract a lot of looks.

6. Jordan Schmaltz – D – It’s been a bit of a tumble for Schmaltz, but not too far. His skill set and upside are big reasons he’ll stick around first-round conversations, but as I mentioned yesterday, he’ll need to pick it up a bit this year.

7 . Nicolas Kerdiles – F – Expect Kerdiles to continue to climb. For my money, outside of Galchenyuk, he’s the best American forward in this year’s class. His versatility and size are great. I’d like to see a little more edge to his game, but he plays smart. I really believe he’s a first-round caliber forward.

8 . Matthew DeBlouw – F – As far as I’ve seen, CSS seems to be the only group this high on DeBlouw. I still haven’t seen him play live myself, but it is not surprising to see him this high on the CSS list. They’ve liked him since the season began.

9. Brian Cooper – D – The smallish, speedy defenseman has seen his stock rise and fall a lot this year. The ninth ranking might be a little generous considering who is behind him, but Cooper possesses a few tools that are worth exploring for teams. He still needs to pick it up a bit this year or this high praise may not hold.

10. Patrick Sieloff – D – Perhaps the most physical American defenseman in this draft class, Sieloff should find himself climbing a few charts. I talked to one person about Sieloff who said, in jest (I think), there is concern one of his body checks may kill someone. He usually makes one seismic hit a game, but plays a really steady defensive style, too.

11. Robert Baillargeon – F – Coming over from high school hockey, Baillargeon needed some time to adjust, but by all accounts, he’s right where he needs to be now. He’s been a point-per-game player on one of the better offensive teams in the USHL with six goals and five assists in 11 games. The one thing Baillargeon will have to prove is that he is not just a product of a high-scoring team. That said, the skill set is right where it needs to be and he should continue to rise.

12. Nikolas Olsson – F – This was one of the surprises for me, as I had not heard very much buzz about Olsson. His three goals in 17 games for the NTDP don’t jump out at you and he’s not a very big kid. Olsson does have a fairly nice skill set though and perhaps CSS sees a fair amount of upside in the Cali-native. This was one of the inclusions that made me wonder why Koules was left off, mainly because Koules and Olsson are pretty comparable players.

13. Thomas DiPauli – F – I was pleasantly surprised to see DiPauli this high on the list. I hadn’t been hearing much buzz about his game, but I’ve liked the way he plays for a while. Especially now that he’s tacked on some weight from last year. He has eight points for the NTDP so far this year and is a really heady player. He’s still not a big guy, but DiPauli plays a fearless game and has a pretty keen ability to make plays.

14. A.J. Michaelson – F – As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Michaelson has really taken a tumble in the eyes of scouts. He’s struggled to produce in the USHL with Waterloo and didn’t register a single point at the WJAC. If he doesn’t turn it around soon, he’ll continue to slide. I’ve always been a fan of Michaelson’s game, so we’ll see what happens.

15. Zac Aston-Reese – F – Aston-Reese is an interesting prospect, because I’ve heard very mixed reviews. Some seem to like him a fair amount, but others didn’t really have any opinion at all. He’s not exactly a scorer, but he’s done enough to earn some recognition from CSS.

16. Gavin Stoick – D – Stoick is a recent convert to defense. The NTDP brought him in and immediately switched him to defense and the results have been positive. He’s still learning the position, but he’s huge at 6-3, 219. That’s the type of size and upside you take a chance on in the mid-to-late rounds.

17. Austyn Young – F – Young’s rise up the charts could continue. The reports out of the WJAC were mostly positive for Young. I think he looks pretty good as a later-round guy, but if he can continue a pretty strong start, he could get a lot more mid-round consideration.

18. Vince Hinostroza – F – Hinostroza doesn’t blow anyone away, but I wouldn’t think of that as a knock on his game. He’s another guy that I think a team should take a chance on due to the on-ice work ethic and his ability to compete. He does almost nothing great, but does a lot of things really well and offers some versatility.

20. Cam Darcy – F – It’s been a bit of a tumble for Darcy as well, after starting the season as an A-rated prospect. His production hasn’t been at a level most expected, but I don’t think Darcy will stay down for long. Once the U18 team plays more of its USHL schedule, Darcy might have more opportunities to show what he can do. He played well at the Four Nations and once he gets back to playing up to his standards, he’s a top-three round choice, no doubt.

21. Frank Vatrano – F – Sometimes all you need is one true elite tool that will give you a chance. Vatrano possesses an elite shot. He’s only scored three goals this year, but there’s reason to believe that production will go up. On top of that, Vatrano is a very strong kid. If his production picks up, I think his draft stock will raise with it.

22. Dakota Mermis – D – Memis is an under-sized offensive defenseman. He has six points so far this season, but because of his lack of size, he has to pick it up a bit. He skates very well and does possess some good offensive instincts. He’s got an uphill battle, but looks up to it.

23. Quentin Shore – F – In the mold of his older brothers, Nick and Drew, Quentin Shore is a good-sized, smart centerman. He can make plays and has a pretty good hockey brain. He might not get the high selections like Drew (2nd round) and Nick (4th round), but he certainly looks to be a solid draft choice.

24. Cliff Watson – D – Watson began the year as an A-rated prospect coming out of Wisconsin high school hockey. The adjustment to the USHL has been a rough one for Watson and it doesn’t help he’s on a struggling team. He’s posted one assist and a minus-6 rating. What he has going for him is good size and if he can continue to develop, he might be worth a late-round stab.

25. Riley Barber – F – I was a bit surprised to see Barber this low. I get that he’s not the biggest guy, but all he’s done is produce for Team USA. With seven goals and five assists, he’s tied for the U18 point lead. I don’t believe this is a ranking that fits with what Barber has done and where I think he’ll be in the future rankings.

USHL Goaltenders

1. Jon Gillies  – The Indiana goaltender has bounced back nicely from an utterly dreadful performance at the Ivan Hlinka (can’t put it all on him with a D that really struggled in that tourney). He’s a giant, at 6-5, 215, and on one of the USHL’s best teams. His 2.27 GAA and .919 save percentage are pretty solid numbers, but the only ones that likely matter are 6-5, 215. The NHL covets size in its goaltenders, and clearly that’s a huge advantage for Gillies over the entire field.

2. Collin Olson – Olson will likely be in a season-long battle with Gillies. At the end of the day, I think Olson might be the better goalie now, but Gillies has the upside and size advantage. Olson’s numbers also aren’t great, but that shouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent in a weak year for goaltenders.

3. Alex Lyon – Lyon is a second-year eligible player, but has proven to be solid in his first season in the USHL with Omaha. His 2.28 GAA and .920 save percentage look nice. Now that he’s proving himself at the Junior level, he’ll get more looks.

4. Stephon Williams – Playing on a fairly average team in Sioux Falls, Williams has been pretty good between the pipes. Also in his second year of eligibility, Williams has shown some improvement. He’s got good size and decent numbers in his second USHL season.

5. Jared Rutledge – I believe Rutledge is one of the more underrated goalies in this entire draft. He’s the smallest of these previous listed goaltenders, but perhaps the best technically. The size concerns are valid, due to the NHL’s premium on big goalies, but I think Rutledge is still worth a very long look. In my viewings, I’ve loved the way he tracks the puck and controls rebounds. He’s the type of goalie you can put faith in to make the big saves and limit mistakes.

6. Matt Morris – Coming off of a championship season with Dubuque, the second-year eligible goaltender is off to a really solid start. However, Morris is splitting time with Gabe Antoni, who has actually seen more game action.  Not sure what that will do to Morris’ draft stock.

SWEDEN

A dual-citizen, Henrik Samuelsson left the U.S. to play for his father, Ulf. He was ranked sixth among all prospects playing in Sweden.

6. Henrik Samuelsson – Playing for MODO in the Swedish Elite League, Samuelsson has been slightly over-matched physically, based on reports. Last year, when playing against his own age group, he was a man among boys, but the tables have turned a bit. He’s got two assists in SEL action and a goal and assist at the Swedish junior level. It was an interesting decision for him to leave in his draft season, but clearly playing for his father was important to him. We’ll see how it affects his draft stock.

There it is… your comprehensive look at a ranking that will likely change drastically between now and the mid-term, but it’s always fun to look at and see where some of these guys stand in the eyes of the guys who watch them regularly.

Now everyone, take a break… grab some water, maybe get yourself a snack, or possibly take a nap. Now if you’ll excuse me… I’m going to go make a sandwich.

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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.
This entry was posted in American Prospects, Junior Hockey, NCAA, NHL, NHL Draft, NTDP. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to American Prospect Update: 2012 NHL CSS Preliminary Rankings Reviewed

  1. Woody says:

    I think one of the main reasons for the lack of Americans in the WHL is that the WHL’s territory in the US doesn’t include the major hockey producing regions of the US like Minnesota, Michigan, New York etc. I’ve kept an eye out on some of the past Bantam drafts in the WHL and the players are coming from states like Arizona, California, Washington etc, which I think we all know aren’t going to be producing as many high end prospects as Minnesota.

  2. Pingback: Game Day: Minnesota State-Mankato at UMD | Rink and Run

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