Thursday, February 16, 2012

Officially On The Radar: Morgan Rielly

The 2012 NHL Draft class has been famous for two main things.

1. A large haul of impressive defenceman.

2. Severe injuries to top prospects.

Morgan Rielly fits into both of those categories. Luckily for me, I had the chance to see Rielly 8 times live last season when he was a 16 year old rookie for the Moose Jaw Warriors and another 2 times live this year before he suffered a severe ACL injury in early November.

Rielly is surely not alone in the injury category as approximately a dozen top ranked 2012 draft prospects have been hurt at various times this season.

The one big question many will have with Rielly's recovery is if his knee injury will effect his skating. His mobility on the ice is clearly his number trait as a defender as he's very agile, has great acceleration and has the ability to take extra risks offensively because he has the skating stride to get him back to the blueline if needed.

So far, it doesn't look like the injury has altered his draft stock. On Bob McKenzie's preseason ranking, Rielly was listed at 7th overall among 2012 eligible players. In his latest midseason ranking had him 8th. That's not too bad considering the kid hasn't laced up his skates and played a game since November 6th, a game where he had 2 assists before getting hurt.

Central Scouting also continues to view Rielly very positively, having him holding steady at 5th overall in their North American rankings.

I have my concerns about how he will recover, but if he can come back 100% healthy and regain his old form, there is a ton to like about this kid. He's listed at 6'0 and I wish he was just a bit bigger, but he's not small by any stretch.

As mentioned, his offensive ability is right near the top of the class in regards to blueliners. He had 18 points in 18 games before being hurt this year and was well on his way to improving on his career high of 28 points, set as a 16 year old last year.

Away from the puck he had also grown leaps and bounds. As a 16 year old he often looked pretty lost in his own zone, running around a bit and losing one on one battles. That seemed to change this year. He's got a great stick and was really learning to use his added strength more to go along with his improving positioning.

There's no doubt that when it's all said and done and some team drafts Rielly inside the top 10-12 in the NHL draft, they are going to get a hell of a player. He might not have the poise of Ryan Murray or the explosiveness of Mathew Dumba, but he's a great offensive defenceman who was well on his way to proving himself in his own zone.

Despite a tough injury this year, Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors is Officially On The Radar.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Officially On The Radar: Ryan Murray

Coming into this season Ryan Murray seemed to be two steps ahead of the rest of the draft class from the WHL.

Now that we're closing in on the playoffs, I can say that my feelings haven't changed one bit. Not only is Murray an excellent example of a two way defenceman, he's also likely the most NHL ready blueliner to come out of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Murray missed the cutoff for the 2011 NHL Draft by only 12 days, meaning he is one of the older players in 2012's class. It also means that he's had that extra 6-12 months to display his talents, when compared to many of his counterparts.

But, don't let that fool you. That's not the main reason why he's considered tops in the class. He's ranked 1st on almost every list in regards to defenceman simply because he's very talented and he projects well to the pro game.

When watching Murray, the first thing that comes to the forefront is his skating. He's an excellent skater and really makes things look effortless out on the ice. He uses that ability to lead the rush and jump into the rush. He also puts up offence because he's a strong passer and has a very good shot from the point.

His numbers might be a bit disappointing (21 points in 30 games so far for Everett), but I can assure you it's not because of a lack of skill. If he wasn't playing on a team that had 17 more losses than wins and scored the third fewest goals of any WHL club, we'd see point per game numbers from Murray, if not better than that.

The kid really is the total package as he's also more than capable as a defender. He's not overly physical but he's excellent in his positioning and stick work. His skating also comes to the forefront on the defensive side of the puck.

He also comes with leadership capabilities, as he's the captain for the Silvertips. That's an honour he's had since he was a young 17 year old, a feat not often seen in junior hockey.

Overall I don't have many knocks on Murray. If there was one complaint, it would be that he plays a very vanilla game. He won't wow you shift after shift, he's just very calculated and rarely makes mistakes. I would also like to see him be a bit more aggressive on the offensive side of the puck.

Will Ryan Murray be the first defenceman drafted in the 2012 NHL Draft? I sure think so as it's pretty tough to pass on a guy that plays very similarly to NHL great Scott Niedermayer.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Officially On The Radar: Steven Hodges

When it comes to the newest WHL team, the Victoria Royals, they definitely have some solid young talent.

Leading the charge in that area might just be centre Steven Hodges.

The 5'11, 167 pound native of Delta, BC is having a very strong draft year for the Royals, posting 17 goals and 36 points at the time of me writing this article.

But, what's even more impressive about his game is his play away from the puck. As mentioned, he's not the biggest of players but that doesn't stop him from grinding, going to the corners and to the front of the net.

To go along with his work ethic, he's a player that constantly has his head on a swivel and clearly has a ton of hockey sense. His vision is also a strong asset, not only being able to see open players, but being able to get them the puck in a proper scoring position. He's taken leaps and bounds in regards to his offensive output over the last 12 months and it's a trend that will surely continue as the Royals young group matures and gets better together. His spot firmly entrenched in the top 6 forward group will also allow him to see big minutes on both sides of the puck against the top forwards and defenceman from across the WHL.

Hodges might not be the most talented offensive talent to come out of the WHL for to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but his ability to compete hard and stay committed to the game in all 3 zones makes him a player to watch. Steven Hodges is On The Radar.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Officially On The Radar: Logan McVeigh

In my opinion, Logan McVeigh of the Prince Albert Raiders is one of the most underrated WHL forwards for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

McVeigh is a forward who seemingly can play as effectively as both a winger and a centre. He's got solid size, being listed at 6'1 and 195 pounds.

His numbers don't exactly jump off the page at you, posting 10 goals and 27 points so far this season in 47 games split between the Raiders and the Kamloops Blazers. What does impress me is his ability to make a difference in games that he isn't necessarily scoring in. He's a very hard worker, finishes his checks, skates well and takes the puck to the net.

I've had the chance to see him live three times so far this year, with another couple viewings online. He always catches my eye. He's a fairly simple hockey player, but that's why he is so effective. He doesn't overthink the game and try to do too much. He simply goes out and plays the game hard and effectively.

I like his versatility, being able to play the powerplay and the penalty kill, also being able to be used as a winger or as a center. His goal scoring touch is also there. I've seen him score in a couple of different ways this year, scoring a deflection goal and also wiring a wrist shot high past the goalie. His offensive totals have also increased since his trade to the Raiders. More minutes has equaled more production as he has 5 goals in 13 games as a Raider compared to 5 in 34 games as a Blazer.

As of right now, he really fits into that middle ground with several of the other WHL forwards set to be drafted this year. Where does he stand in relation to guys like Mike Winther, Lukas Sutter, Tim Bozon, Chandler Stephenson or Dominik Volek? It's hard to say but I do think at this point he's flying under the radar when it comes to the draft. He's simple, but he's very effective. His work ethic has caught my eye, putting him On The Radar.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Officially On The Radar: Graham Black

Not many players have risen up the rankings over the last 10 months as much as Graham Black has.

The Swift Current Broncos forward has had an amazingly strong year, putting him in an interesting spot.

At this time last year, he wasn't even in the WHL. In fact, he made his debut as a 17 year old rookie last March, playing 6 games and posting 2 points with the Broncos.

That also means that this year, Graham is an overager in regards to the draft. That makes his position on scouting lists even more intriguing.

I've had the chance to see him three times this year, with my fourth viewing taking place tonight. One thing has become apparent from this left-handed centre from Regina, he's one of the best defensive draft eligible players from the WHL. He's a very strong skater with excellent edge work, acceleration and overall speed. I've seen him use his speed breaking up the middle or down the wing, he can burn you in a variety of ways. He also uses his excellent skating to show off his committed defensive play, often backchecking hard and defending his ice well.

He's got strong playmaking skills and enough size and reach to use his body to shield the puck from defenders. He's not the biggest of players at only 6'0 and 173 pounds, but it doesn't stop him from playing physical and being a very good defensive player.

On the offensive side of the puck he also has very good puck skills, showing off a hard and accurate wrist shot along with great passing. In my most recent viewing, he held off a defender with one hand while circling the net before dishing the puck in front for a one-timer goal. It was an impressive play that really makes you think about what could be possible once he gets more experienced, bigger and stronger.

Black's been ranked by Central Scouting, so he's definitely on the radar. I have to concur when saying he's going to have his name called come the June 2012 NHL Entry Draft. How high will he go? I would imagine somewhere around the 5th round, but maybe higher. One thing is for sure though, Graham Black is Officially On The Radar.