Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Central Scouting Releases Mid-term Rankings

A total of 40 WHL skaters are ranked by NHL's Central Scouting as the midway point of the junior season has come and gone. To go along with that, the WHL also has 5 goaltenders ranked by the organization.

By this point in time most scouts have had a chance to see atleast every team in their area atleast a few times and it's now the point in the season where some solid opinions on players can be made.

Ranking just under 400 players is no easy task. Over the last two years I have gone out and ranked my top 30-40 WHL players ahead of the draft and even that can be a struggle, so I won't be too strong in my opinions of CS today. I will highlight a few things I like and some I don't like.

For the record, the full lists can be found through the link on this page: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=610982

Observations:

- A total of 39 skaters from the WHL are ranked among North American skaters, while newcomer to the WHL Henrik Samuelsson is ranked as a European skater (that means there are actually 40 WHLers ranked as skaters). He recently left the MoDo program in Sweden to join the Edmonton Oil Kings, leaving the team coached by his father Ulf. He was born in Phoenix and spent the last few years in the USA U-17 and U-18 programs.

- The WHL has 5 goaltenders ranked on the list in the order of Andrey Makarov (Saskatoon), Patrik Bartosak (Red Deer), Chris Driedger (Calgary), Mackenzie Skapski (Kootenay) and Cole Holowenko (Prince Albert). In my opinion, the top three are likely the only guys who will have their names called come June.

- I would also agree with their current order of the NA goalie ranking, although I know that many people out there have very high opinions on Driedger. He's never blown me away in my viewings and seems to struggle a ton with consistency. I like his size, just like I do with the two European overage goalies currently ranked ahead of him. Those three could realistically picked in any order in the draft, especially considering Makarov and Bartosak have also battled injury.

- It's interesting to see 5 WHL defenceman inside the top 10 for North American skaters. The order of Murray, Rielly, Dumba, Reinhart, Pouliot is fairly close to what I currently have. The way I have them ranked as of today is Murray, Dumba, Reinhart (by a hair over Rielly), Rielly, Sissons and Pouliot. Yes, I have Kelowna captain Colton Sissons inside my WHL top 5.

- I am pretty shocked to see guys like Mike Winther (Prince Albert), Chandler Stephenson (Regina) and Tyrel Seaman (Brandon) ranked as high as they are at 26th, 36th and 50th respectively. Winther has been red-hot since late November and showing he can score, but he still battles from consistency issues and a lack of size, strength and overall grit. Stephenson has grown around two inches since late last year and that's great for him because he needed it, but I'm still not convinced he has the footspeed to be a scorer at the NHL level. Seaman is a guy that has never really impressed me. With that being said, I know Kelly McCrimmon in Brandon adores him as a player, so maybe I just haven't seen him at his best.

- Coda Gordon comes in at 38th among WHL skaters and I still have yet to see the budding powerforward. I've only watched one Broncos game this year and Gordon was out either sick or injured from that game. I've heard great things about his size, physical play and hockey smarts though. Sounds like an intriguing 17 year old WHL rookie.

- One positional battle I've followed all year is Tim Bozon (Kamloops) vs. Dominik Volek (Regina). Both guys are sons of former NHLers and both are very solid players. Bozon is the higher calibre offensive player, while Volek is more physical and more well rounded. I have Volek currently ranked just ahead of Bozon, just because he seems to make a difference in every single situation he plays in, even if he isn't scoring. Bozon is definitely a fun one to watch, though. Great wheels and very neat hands. He also speaks 4 languages. CS has Volek 95th and Bozon 39th.

- Another positional battle I've been following is Dalton Thrower (Saskatoon) vs. Damon Severson (Kelowna). Both are defenceman who skate well, move the puck and play physical. Severson has the size edge while Thrower seems to be a better offensive player. Both are also the coveted right-handed shooting defender. CS has Thrower ranked 30th and Severson 46th.

- Lukas Sutter is ranked lower than I expected at 86th. He's been the Blades best player since late November and seems to be gaining major steam in his rankings elsewhere. I think by the end of the year we see him as an early 3rd rounder. He's the son of former NHLer Rich Sutter.

- Good to see Brandon Troock crack the list at 90th. The big forward has only played 39 career WHL games in parts of three seasons because of injury, but those games have obviously been impressive enough to keep him ranked. I saw him once this year and he was awesome. I would have him ranked in my 3rd round right now, even though he's currently hurt, again.

- Two solid Edmonton Oil Kings come in at 91st and 92nd. Both are defenceman. Ashton Sautner is a big, smooth skating defender while Cody Corbett is physical and safe two way guy. I have Sautner ranked ahead of Corbett by quite a bit just because Sautner is a better skater and puck mover. He's also bigger than the 6'0 he's listed as by CS.

- At 165th Jaynen Rissling has to be considered a super sleeper. I loved his game as a 16 year old last year in Calgary and it has dropped a bit so far this year, mostly due to skating concerns. I'm pretty sure he grew 2-3 inches since the middle of last year and also added 10-12 pounds over the summer, so that's a reason why he hasn't looked as smooth. But, he plays mean, has a great frame, isn't afraid to jump into the rush and should be ranked higher than they have him.

- There are two WHL guys that are pretty big omissions on this list. Ryan Olsen (Saskatoon) and Brandon Magee (Victoria) both haven't appeared. Olsen's game hasn't translated as well as it should have, but he's still a big kid who skates well and is starting to play more physical. Magee is very tiny, but he's dangerous offensively and already matched his point totals from last year in half as many games.

- I really like Ville Pokka of Finland, so it's good to see him ranked 5th among Euro skaters. I liked him at the U-17's in the summer and he looked great once again at the 2012 WJHC. He's not the best skater, but he moves the puck well and has a cannon of a shot. I could see him being a late 1st or early 2nd rounder.

- I really don't understand how Radek Faksa can be the 4th ranked NA Skater. I heard the rave reviews he was getting in November while playing for Kitchener, but I just did not see anything outstanding from him at the WJHC. He's big and rangy, but I just didn't see enough compete from him for my liking. Maybe he's a guy that grows on you, but he'll have to show me more for me to have him ranked inside the top 10-15 of the NHL draft.


Those are my thoughts for today. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Officially On The Radar: Mike Winther

One of the hottest prospects in the WHL over the last two months has been Prince Albert Raiders forward Mike Winther.

I've seen Winther a ton over the last year and a half and I have been known to be fairly hard on him. Last season on a fairly mediocre Raiders club I felt he didn't step up and fill the role that he needed to. He never did enough to jump out at me.

But, he's taken the next step in his development this season and really showing me what he can do. He's got average size at 5'11 but he has great speed and the ability to beat people off the rush.

To go along with his game breaking speed, he's got great puck skills and an excellent release on his shot. He's showing more improvement in his decision making, hockey smarts and play away from the puck, but those are all areas of his game that he still needs to work on.

The biggest knock I have against him right now is really his lack of size and strength. To start this year he weighed in at only 170 pounds and I doubt he's gained much since then. He consistently gets knocked off the puck along the boards and I've seen him struggle trying to defend bigger and stronger opponents. Will this be a longterm problem? I don't think so, but it is a current concern.

As far as pro potential, I like the offence that Winther brings. The way he plays the game, I think he would suit the pro game better as a winger than a centerman, but I still think he has time to learn more about playing the game up the middle. I personally have him ranked to go somewhere in the third or early fourth round of the NHL draft, but I think there will be several teams who like him more than I do.

If he continues to play well and provide goal scoring to the Raiders, I could see a team taking him inside the top 90 of the 2012 NHL Draft.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Officially On The Radar: Griffin Reinhart

One of the most intriguing prospects to come out of the Western Hockey League for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft is undoubtedly Griffin Reinhart.

Reinhart's a big defenceman for one of the top teams in the league, the Edmonton Oil Kings. At the start of the season, Reinhart was measured at 6'4 and just a shade under 210 pounds. With that type of frame, his skating has been something that has raised some concerns.

Last season as a 16 year old, I thought it was great. A late season injury seemed to slow him down as he looked a step behind at the Ivan Hlinka tournament over the summer. Even early this year it looked to be holding him back. But, it's an area of his game that has steadily improved as the year has gone on.

He is really making his name as a two-way defenceman. Reinhart is a great passer with excellent vision. Known for a strong and accurate first pass. He also excels at keeping the puck in at the offensive blueline while quarterbacking the powerplay. Excellent body position in this situation and great hand eye co-ordination. A good shot, although he doesn’t use it enough. A nice physical player as he isn’t afraid to battle hard in the corners and along the boards. With that being said, I would like to see him throw his weight around much more than he does.

These 'On The Radar' posts have normally been reserved for more under the radar guys, but I find it's a good outlet to get all prospects names out there and allow more people to learn about them.

With his size and bloodlines (two brothers in the WHL, a former NHLer for a father) several NHL teams will be tempted to take him in the top 10. I currently have him ranked 3rd among WHL skaters behind Mathew Dumba and Ryan Murray. When it's all said and done I wouldn't be shocked to see him end up as the top defender to come out of the 2012 NHL Draft class.