Saturday, February 07, 2009

Home Stretch Update

The junior hockey regular season is ending soon (the Tier II leagues' seasons end in two weeks!), but it doesn't feel that late in the scouting season yet. That's because there's a lot of playoff action to come yet, which can often carry a lot of weight on final assessments of players. So, with the understanding that there's still a lot of games to be played by most prospects, here's an update on many of the prominent prospects. This isn't intended to be comprehensive, so if your favorite player/billet/son isn't mentioned, save the nasty comments for when I do run down your player in later posts.

Players Who Have Helped Themselves the Most

Evander Kane, Vancouver:
He was already top half of the first round on everyone's list last summer, but he's been far better than expected. His skating has improved dramatically in the last 18 months. Needs to keep up the effort level, though, as he's looked like he's been reading his own press clippings since he got back from the WJC. Probably moved up to the top five on almost everyone's list, but might be dropping back down a few spots now on many lists.

Scott Glennie, Brandon:
No one's asking if he's just riding Schenn's coattails anymore. Now some scouts are asking if it might be Glennie who was making Schenn look good. Tremendous speed plus good hands is a nice combination. I was hoping he'd go back to showing more of that grit he seemed to have last season, but now we're going to have to hope for a long playoff run by the Wheaties to get another look.

Cody Eakin, Swift Current:
Arguably has first round talent. Just needed to stay healthy, and while he's been on a shelf the couple times this season, he's been seen a lot. At this point, he's hard to slot and a bit of a wild card. Has had a couple of concussions over the last two seasons, so that is a serious concern.

Landon Ferraro, Red Deer:
Looked hopeless last season, but so much better this one. You wish he was on a better team, because given his effort level, he should be producing a lot more.

Ryan Button, Prince Albert:
Was merely a "need to keep an eye on" player coming into this season but has turned himself into a good middle rounder now. Hopefully the 3 assists last night will break that January slump.

Andrej Kudrna, Vancouver:
You mentally discount the good stats going into a viewing of him because you think he's benefitting playing on such a good team. But then you see a very good skater, decent size, and pretty good hockey sense and think, "why isn't this guy higher on my list?" On the other hand, the effort level has been wildly inconsistent - he's been a healthy scratch a few times.


Steady...But Haven't Improved Much, Either

Jared Cowen, Spokane:
Before the knee injury, he was arguably passed by a handful of players. Some scouts have expressed a slight concern about the lack of points as indication that his offensive upside may be limited. But now we've seen the last of him on the ice and he goes from being a safe top 5 or 10 pick to a bit of a wild card.

Brayden Schenn, Brandon: The good news with Schenn is that what you see is what you get. The bad news is...what you see is what you get. Some are beginning to question his upside. But even so, he looks like a solid third liner at worst. But do you spend a top five pick in this draft on a checking line guy? I say he's suffered from some unrealisticly high expectations coming into this season - he's going to play as a top two line scorer.

Stefan Elliott, Saskatoon:
Puck rushing defencemen are always at a premium, but there are questions about his skating and defensive zone play. Still looks like a last half of the first round guy, which is about where he was last summer. I have to admit he's slipping just a bit on my list, though.


Not Helping Themselves

Tommi Kivisto, Red Deer:
Where's the menacing open-ice hitter we saw in Finland last season? Well, okay, if you want to be a finesse defenceman, you better be an offensive whiz. But he hasn't been. Has been astoundingly bad in his own zone at times this season.

Tomas Vincour, Edmonton:
It's not really his fault - the effort level is there, but the skating just isn't. It's a major flaw. But the hands will still be worth a relatively early pick.

Ryan Howse, Chilliwack:
Looks like he thinks he's still playing Bantam hockey. The one-on-one moves just aren't working at this level. At some point he's got to learn to pass the puck. Maybe it's just a case of not having anyone worth passing to on that Bruins team, however.

Tyson Barrie, Kelowna:
I compared him to Thomas Hickey last season. I pretty much have to retract that. Has yet to show even the slightest interest in being adequate in his own end. But I still like him as a power play specialist.

Collin Bowman, Kelowna:
Maybe it was a case of too high expectations, but has really looked rough. Skating hasn't improved much, if at all.

Sena Acolatse, Seattle:
Probably not really his fault, but it's his third season in the league and just isn't a better player than he was at 16. Now being slotted in on the wing because of Seattle's logjam of d-men, and he just doesn't look right at forward. But he's a good fighter, and that might save him from too big a drop on draft day.

Garrett Mitchell, Regina:
Everyone wants to see a guy like this succeed, but he just doesn't have the natural talent. Was hoping he'd find a way to contribute on the scoresheet this season. But he just hasn't. But you'd still draft this guy somewhere just because he'll go to war for you.


Differing Opinion

Brayden McNabb, Kootenay:
Some are wary of his skating. Others don't mind it and see the a prototype rugged stay-at-home Western League defenceman (think Robyn Regehr). The concussion adds one more little thing to worry about.

Nathan Lieuwen, Kootenay:
Your opinion of him depends on what game you see him. It's easy to like the size and smooth movements around the crease. But he has a knack for making the tough saves and letting in the soft ones.

Jimmy Bubnick, Kamloops: Has been awful streaky this year. Skating has improved, but he still doesn't have much lateral quickness. Hard to figure what he's going to be at the next level - if he were 6-3 or bigger, you'd have an easier time projecting him as corner-digger and board-mucker.

Dylan Olsen, Camrose (AJHL):
I still worry about the skating. But the decision making is much better. Playing with a lot more confidence. He's going to be the first Tier II player drafted. And in recent years, that means first round.

Cass Mappin, Red Deer:
He's got a lot of talent, but he's not always putting in the effort. Someone is going to have to light a fire under this one to make a good prospect out of him.

Stefan Ulmer, Spokane:
Has certainly got rid of that fear and isn't playing soft and scared anymore. But I'm still not sure he's got the real elite skating and skill level for a smallish defenceman.

Brodie Melnychuk, Brandon:
I just don't see it. If he were an angry head-basher, I wouldn't mind the barely adequate skating. But he's just big. That's it. Admittedly, that's enough for some NHL teams.


Coming From Out of Nowhere

Carter Ashton, Lethbridge:
Easily the biggest, fastest riser of the season. Last season, he arguably looked like he could be a Bantam pick bust. Now he's moved squarely into the first round of the NHL Draft. I won't be surprised if he keeps rising right up to draft day, maybe even getting close to the top ten.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Dropping Like Flies

To scouts based in the west, the season-ending injuries to Spokane's Jared Cowen and Brandon's Scott Glennie are awfully disappointing.

Of course, every one is asking, "how far will they fall?" And NHL scouts are asking each other that exact question as well. The inevitable answer isn't very helpful: "it's hard to say."

For a talent like Cowen, who has been a consensus top five or ten pick in this draft class since he was 15 years old, the possibility is awfully intriguing to teams who expect drafting in the 10-20 range in the first round. The idea of a potential franchise defenceman falling into their laps in the middle of the first round is running around in the heads of a lot of head scouts right now.

So that fact alone might tell us Cowen won't do any sort of mega-slide - like out of the first round completely - on draft day. But unfortunately, he will slide some. Maybe it's only a few picks. Say he goes 8th/9th/10th...the commentators will say he was a top five pick who dropped because of the injury. But is that true? Maybe not. Even before the injury, a slight concern about his offensive upside had been slowly building among many scouts. Central's ranking of him at 7th (among North American Skaters - which arguably puts him outside the top ten overall) in the mid-term was not necessarily an outlier - I am certain some teams agreed with Central, mostly on questions about his offensive potential.

But if Cowen lasts beyond the top ten, we can say with certainty that the knee reconstruction was the factor in him dropping that far. What's Cowen's worst case on draft day? I'd guess about 20-25 overall is the lowest he'd drop. Somewhere around the 20th pick, you start getting to very good clubs that have strong NHL rosters and good depth in their farm systems - and for them, it's too enticing to add a potential top two blueliner to the depth chart. Even if you have to be patient and carfeful with him.

As for Glennie, it might actually hurt him more. He has been a steady riser through much of the season, and might have recently been creeping up into the first half of the first round. That rise has been at least interrupted for now. It's possible we haven't seen the last of Glennie - if the Wheat Kings make a long playoff run, Glennie could be back on the ice.

The long term concerns with an injury like Glennie's (broken bone in elbow) are much less serious than with Cowen's (major reconstructive knee surgery). But that still doesn't mean Glennie won't drop. Again, he may only drop a few spots - but like Cowen, you may never really know if the injury was a factor.

Imagine Glennie goes 22nd - is that a drop because of the injury? You can't know - he was probably somewhere around 15-20 on most lists before the injury - but even if he stayed healthy, he could have ended up going 22nd overall anyway.

One factor that should also help Glennie is that even if he doesn't return to the ice, he'll almost certainly be able to participate in the physical testing at Draft Combine at the end of May. Cowen will probably attend, but may not (and probably should not) participate in any physical testing.