Sunday, February 12, 2012

Midseason Media Top 10 for 2012

With the Top Prospect's Game over and the OHL in the final stretch to the playoffs, it's time for a midseason update to our media top 10 for the upcoming 2012 NHL Entry Draft. That is, if there are even any healthy prospects left to rank. In case you've been in a coma or disconnected from the hockey world this year, injuries have taken over as top story of this year's draft class. Never before has a draft been so cursed with serious disability. It wouldn't surprise me this year, if for the first time, a player drafted in the first round has to use a wheelchair and ramp to get to the podium. To sum it up, as one contributor responded to my asking for his contribution in the article, "you mean we're still having a draft if all the players are injured?"

If you're unfamiliar with the blog, the media/scout list has become a bit of a tradition here. A poll is taken of some of the greatest minds the OHL has to offer and an accumulated (averaged) list is created.

HERE is the early season edition from November (Oh, how things have changed).

Helping out with this edition of the list are the following:

Neate Sager (Yahoo Sports, Buzzing the Net)
Corey Pronman (Hockey Prospectus)
David Burstyn (McKeen's Hockey)
Guy Flaming (The Pipeline Show & Coming Down the Pipe)
Dominic Tiano (2012 OHL Draft Eligible Players & The OHL Writers)
Sean LaFortune (Future Considerations)
Scott Campbell (The Scouting Report)
Grant Sonier (ESPN)
Patrick King (Sportsnet)
Ryan Kennedy (The Hockey News)

And naturally, my own rankings were used as part of the process.

Let's get to the list.

10. Daniil Zharkov - Belleville Bulls
Received Votes From: 4 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 8th (three times)/Outside the Top 10 (seven times)
Comments: Since returning from a broken collarbone suffered in the preseason, Zharkov has done nothing but perform and has shot himself quickly up the rankings. One contributor says that Zharkov is "vastly underrated and could be a big time scorer." Another contributor agrees, "over the past few months I’ve really gone out of my way to see more of him, and have been really impressed thus far. His combination of size, puck skills and mobility are extremely impressive, and rare for a player at this level. I look forward to seeing more of him as the year plays out, and look forward to seeing him to continue to develop. He is still pretty raw at this point, but I absolutely love his long term potential." How how's his hockey sense? "Zharkov has tremendous skill and has some physical parts to his game. While his hockey sense isn't great I don't think it's poor either," says another contributor. However, one contributor takes it even farther. "I question his ability to use his teammates. I think he has a good goal scorer's IQ and can create for himself, but I've yet to see him make his linemates better."

9. Malcolm Subban - Belleville Bulls
Received Votes From: 8 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 5th (two times)/Outside of the Top 10 (three times)
Comments: At this point, I'm not sure there is any debate as to who the top goaltender available from the OHL is. Heck, you could even extend that to the entire CHL, as one contributor says, "Subban is by far the best goalie available from the CHL." David Burstyn believes Belleville's record without Subban playing (10-18) is a testament to his ability. "Subban is a goalie that can steal games and that is a rarity in any draft for this position. His reflexes, athleticism and calmness in his crease all lend to success. When Subban is in the line up, the team plays differently as they know he will bail them out in most instances." Another contributor agrees. "Not having Subban sapped their swagger. He's a treat to watch for his reflexes, the way he takes away the entire bottom half of the net and just how quick he is in the goal." So why is he still being left off some lists? There seems to be two reoccurring thoughts. The first being the notion that goaltenders shouldn't be drafted as high as Subban is being ranked. "Maybe the first goalie taken in the draft. Not sure I would draft a goalie (that high) but someone will," says one contributor. The second is Subban's injury history which scares some people. "I don't really like the nagging injuries," says one contributor. "It scares me a little when young goaltenders are having groin issues (no pun intended). Considering Subban relies on his athleticism and quickness, I'd need to be guaranteed that this isn't a long term issue."

8. Slater Koekkoek - Peterborough Petes
Received Votes From: 9 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 3rd (one time)/Outside of the Top 10 (two times)
Comments: The first player on the list who hasn't played a ton this year due to a serious injury (shoulder surgery). The allure to Koekkoek is obviously his high end potential at both ends of the ice. From the contributor who ranked him 3rd. "Koekkoek is someone who I believe has as much upside as any of the D in the draft. He’s a big guy who skates extremely well and is very mobile. Sees the ice well and can make great outlet passes. His defense is improving and he shows good physicality. PP play is developing nicely as well. There are other D who are better than him today, but I like his ceiling at age 25 and beyond." Another contributor agrees, "Koekkoek has been a personal favorite of mine dating back to his days with the Notre Dame Hounds Midget program in Saskatchewan. I’ve always loved his ability to control the game from the back end, and his high long term projectable upside. Before his shoulder injury, I was really pushing him as a potential top 10 rated player. Will he go top ten? Probably not, but I think if a team picks him in the 15-20 range, they could really hit a home run with him." Not everyone is on board the Koekkoek train though. "I was underwhelmed with him before his injury. Since I won't see him again this season, he won't have the chance to change that perception in my mind," says one contributor. Another contributor agrees, to an extent. "When I saw him as a 16 year old, I was impressed. But in the limited times I saw him this year, I was unimpressed by his development. Could he be another one of those guys who peaked early? His injury prevents him from giving me a more positive memory of his play."

7. Matt Finn - Guelph Storm
Received Votes From: 10 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 5th (three times)/Outside of the Top 10 (one time)
Comments: The "Dorsal Finn," as Garyboy on HFboards calls him (shout out for the great nickname), has been another steady riser this year for the progression he has shown in one calendar year. Pegged as a bit of a "safe bet" by many, perhaps he's starting to change his perception in the eye's of scouts. "Coming out of Minor Midget, I had him tabbed as an intelligent defenceman who would be a solid two way defenceman, and perhaps a bottom pairing NHL defenceman. However, this season he has blossomed. His vision with the puck and his ability to make strong, quick decisions have impressed, as has his decision making with the puck. He has really progressed offensively over the past two years, and has really pushed himself into the discussion among the top defenceman in this draft," says one contributor. Another contributor loves his "honest approach" to the game and that "he's not big in size, but big at heart, playing the game with a fair bit of bite." David Burstyn isn't enamored with his skating ability, but believes in his potential. "He was exposed a little bit due to his foot speed at the Top Prospects game but he also made several nice plays to redeem himself. If Finn was two inches taller, its quite conceivable that he would be in discussion as a top 15 pick." His lack of "elite" size does seem to be a big of a drawback. One contributor says, "Cody Ceci is still the number one defenseman from the OHL, ahead of Finn, for me. Finn's size scares me a bit in terms of his ability to transfer his strong defensive play to the NHL level."

6. Olli Maatta - London Knights
Received Votes From: 11 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2nd (one time)/9th (three times)
Comments: The smooth skating Finnish defenseman has been a consistent member of this list all season, with his steady play in his own zone. As one contributor put it, "his excellent skating ability is only surpassed by his high hockey IQ." Another contributor says, "Maatta is underappreciated as he’s not spectacular offensively, but he’s the type of guy who could quietly have an impressive 15-year NHL career. Excellent positioning and decision-making and makes the game simple with the little plays he makes. He’s not the “sexy” pick with this year’s defensemen, but he’s got the ability to play a Top 4 role for a long time." Maatta's defensive game, skating ability and size combination has kind of given him that "safe pick tag." Some are a bit worried about his offensive game though. "He has a solid level of compete to his game but shows he is lacking an offensive dimension," says a contributor. But not everyone is willing to give up on his upside. "I think he has more offensive potential than people give him credit for. He can skate the puck out of trouble and is gaining the confidence to jump up into the rush more. I like him because he's a safe pick...but one that isn't without some nice upside."

5. Brendan Gaunce - Belleville Bulls
Received Votes From: 11 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 3rd (three times)/7th (one time)
Comments: The younger brother of former Mississauga Major Cameron Gaunce, Brendan has certainly made a name for himself during his brief OHL career. A power center who can do a little bit of everything, many are impressed with his two-way play and overall game. He's a true character player, as demonstrated by the following comments I heard about him. "I've been really taken by his personality and character and I think that will win him over in combine interviews too, " says one contributor. Another says, "he's the type of player you want on your team for a playoff drive." "I know it's a football term, but he has a great motor. Can go into the corners and out muscle guys from the puck and then take it to the net to create chances. He's also good at finding space to set up for the one-timer. He makes the other two young men on his line better," says another contributor. But Gaunce isn't without his criticisms. As one contributor says "Brendan Gaunce has been one of the most polarizing players in the rinks. Most either will love his intangibles and intelligence, while others wonder if he will be anything more then a good third line centre." The same contributor isn't convinced about his long term upside. "I continue to have questions with his long-term projectable role in the NHL. I wonder if his puck skills will translate at the next level, and I wonder about his footwork and mobility, and how that will translate to the NHL. I appreciate his intelligence level and his ability to play a smart two way game, but I still need to see more out of him to put him higher on my list." Some have been left a little underwhelmed by his performance as of late, but David Burstyn is quick to point out that Gaunce, "is being used in every situation by the Bulls and is, in all likelihood, exhausted." He continues, "he did well on the Next Testing (at the Top Prospect's Game), finishing first in 9 of the 14 categories on his team. Gaunce needs to improve on his skating, in particular his first step quickness but he is blessed with incredible hockey sense and anticipates plays better than his peers to stay involved in the action." There was a prospect who received some of the same praise and criticism a few years ago, one contributor is quick to point out. "I was hard on Ryan O’Reilly and I’m not going to make the same mistake with Gaunce," he says. That same Ryan O'Reilly who is leading the surprise Colorado Avalanche in scoring and is on pace for close to a 60 point season.

4. Radek Faksa - Kitchener Rangers
Received Votes From: 11 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2nd (two times)/8th (one time)
Comments: Faksa is another guy who is quickly climbing the charts. He didn't even get a vote for the top 10 in our early season list, but now he's all the way up to 4th. If anything, he's an endorsement as to why coming over to the CHL can be a smart choice for some European players, as one contributor suggests. " I’m not sure if there is a player in the CHL who has benefitted more from playing in North America this season then Faska, and I’m very intrigued as to how he finishes off the season. What impresses me the most with Faska is his combination of aggressive, physical play with strong puck skills. I love his talent level, but more then that, I love how he doesn’t shy away from contact, and how he can drive the net and generate offense chances off of the rush." His strong play away from the puck has definitely endeared him to David Burstyn. "His board play may be one of the best in the draft. He uses his size so well and is a diligent back checker. Faksa also has presence down low and can make plays in front of the net." Another contributor says, "I absolutely love this guy. He's going to be an excellent NHL player. He might not be as mean, but think Bobby Holik in his prime with New Jersey. The type of guy who has size and uses it for all the right reasons offensively, but who also has the puck and skating skill to make his linemates better." But not everyone is convinced. "Faksa is a player who I haven’t seen blow me away personally, but apparently he’s having good games that I’m not seeing." A few others point to his disappointing performance at the Under 20's as a suggestion that he might be a bit "overrated."

3. Cody Ceci - Ottawa 67's
Received Votes From: 11 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2nd (one time)/6th (two times)
Comments: Ceci is a testament to why the late birthday rule can be of great benefit, as he's really exploded in his third OHL season. He's been up near the top of the league's defenseman scoring all season long, pacing with Dougie Hamilton (a top 10 selection in his own right). It's that progression that has really impressed scouts. "I love how much confidence he's gained offensively this year. He looks like a different player. From a guy I had pegged for the late first/early second before the season, to a possible top 10 pick now." "Not sure why Ceci doesn't get some love in some circles. He has very good size. Plays in any situation. Is a very good power play quarterback. Strong defensively. And his recent injury and Ottawa's play shows exactly how much he means to them on the back end," says another contributor. While Ceci, Maatta and Finn seem to be splitting votes in some circles, another contributor is certain, "No question for me that he's the top blueliner in the OHL. Total package." Even if he appears to be the total package, there are a few who do have concerns. "My concern with Ceci is that he’s closer to his ceiling than others and I’m not sure he has as much high-end upside moving forward," says one contributor. Another agrees. "Don't get me wrong, I like Ceci, but I'm not convinced he profiles as a top end NHL defenseman. I'm a little worried about his inability to use his size as an advantage defensively." But one thing is for sure, he's going to get the chance to show what he's made of, as one contributor points out. "As the 67's make a push for the J.Ross Robertson Cup, Ceci will be given even more opportunity to show why he deserves to be put in the same conversation as other top defence prospects like Morgan Reilly, Matt Dumba and Griffin Rienhart."

2. Alex Galchenyuk - Sarnia Sting
Received Votes From: 11 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2nd (seven times)/4th (one time)
Comments: In a lot of ways, Galchenyuk is lucky that this draft is known for all of its defensive talent and a lack of truly exceptional forward talent. Galchenyuk's knee injury and subsequent lack of playing time (sidelined all year thus far) hasn't really hurt him all that much. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that he's working towards a March return. As one contributor suggests, this is a big gamble for him. "Much of his draft status could hinge on the way he plays to finish this season, when he does come back." Another agrees. "What if he returns and plays terrible? It's a huge risk. Some would still be impressed by his commitment and work ethic. Others might be soured/scared off, believing that the knee injury has negatively impacted his potential. The kid has balls that's for sure." One contributor who's in the former category of the previous comment, suggests people are forgetting that some had Galchenyuk rated ahead of Yakupov at the end of last season. "Count me in the group who had Galchenyuk ahead of Yakupov coming into the season, but it’s tough to move him up when he hasn’t played a regular season game this year. Galchenyuk should get in the lineup before the playoffs end, but if he doesn’t light it up I’m not going to be too concerned given his layoff." Another contributor agrees. "He wrecked a knee, but that's not going to wreck his vision and how he sees the ice." Ditto for another contributor. "This kid has insane offensive creativity and if he was healthy, he'd be pushing for the top spot in the draft. A lot of people are forgetting that. He's certainly better than Grigorenko IMO." Here's hoping for a return, and a productive one, in March so that Galchenyuk can reaffirm his placement as one of the top player's in this draft.

1. Nail Yakupov - Sarnia Sting
Received Votes From: 11 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: Unanimously Ranked 1st (11 out of 11)
Comments: With Galchenyuk injured, it's been the Yakupov show all season long. This ranking obviously comes as no surprise. He's the total package offensively, as David Burstyn alluded to. "
His skating especially his diangle cuts and first step quickness are sensational. He has only played 29 games this season but currently has the highest points per game with 1.89 in the entire OHL. When he is on the ice he flat out intimidates the opposition. He can blow right by a defender or he can deliver a razor sharp pass to a team mate for a goal. Has the most developed offensive hockey sense of any prospect in the draft." You aren't going to find any disagreement there, with comments ranging from, "a pure game-breaker. He'll be the face of a franchise in desperate need of one," to "his ability to make skilled plays at high speeds is unmatched by anyone else is the league, let along any other draft eligible players." The only real concern moving forward has to be his ability to play the game he does, at his size, at the NHL level. One contributor sums up the concerns of a few quite nicely. "I have some concerns about how his body will hold up in the NHL with his playing style but that’s a risk a team will have to take." After all, "Yakupov is a game changer, and the only one in this class that can change a game on his own," as said by another contributor.

Honorable Mention:

Tanner Pearson (4 votes)
"I don't know what his long term upside is but his development over the last year is enticing."

"I think he's legit. His hockey sense is very, very good and in combination with his play away from the puck and quick release, this makes him a probable goal scorer at the next level."

Tom Wilson (3 votes)
"His role in Plymouth might obscure what his true offensive skill is, but he'll be a good safe pick because he meets the physical specs to play in the NHL and he's come from a very respected Whalers program that turns out good all-around players who can turn pro relatively quickly."

"Very few players in this draft, if any, show as much willingness to play tough like this big winger."

Jarrod Maidens (2 votes)
"Having missed the last two months with a concussion, it's hard to say how that will affect his draft ranking in June. but you can't argue what Maidens brings on the ice. Hard worker with a superb, deceptive shot, pure goal scorer with excellent hockey sense. He's not afraid to go to the dirty areas and has some good leadership qualities."

"Big center has great reach and has already proved to be a pressure performer."

Adam Pelech (2 votes)
"Much like Maatta, Pelech is a player who is probably looked at with a lot more value from NHL teams than most fans. Has been one of the few bright spots on a terrible Erie team this year, and is often one of the top players on the ice at 17. Plays a great shut-down game defensively and does a good job of neutralizing opposing forwards. Offensive upside isn’t anything to write home about, but he is adept in the transition game and won’t be a liability."

"Will certainly not impress with his skating but when you watch closely, he is impressive with his Defensive thinking and positioning. A true battler and gritty defender. With improved skating he will surprise a lot of people."

Gemel Smith (2 votes)
"He's small, but he works so hard and finds the little openings. He's a big reason Owen Sound has managed to stay as high in the standings as they are, although obviously Mike Halmo and Scott Stajcer are their MVPs. I've liked Smith more than teammate Jarred Maidens all along."

"The only thing that will realistically keep Smith from ranking this high is his size. It's not his 5'11 that is the problem but his 160 pounds. But let's just leave that aside for a moment. He's an exceptional skater with excellent speed, Tenacious, pesky, will go to dirty areas, creates chances for himself and his teammates almost every time he steps onto the ice. He has a very high hockey IQ and is one of the hardest workers you will ever come across. If he could add 30 pounds it would be great. But then the question becomes: "how much will that change his game?"


Thanks again to all the contributors. Just a few things to plug.

Hockey Prospectus (and Corey Pronman) have released this midseason top 50 for the 2012 Draft. Be sure to check it out.

You can preorder the McKeen's Draft Guide now (headed by David Burstyn). GO HERE, to do so.

Future Considerations (of which Sean LaFortune is a contributor) has a midterm report and season pass you can purchase for a low fee. You can GO HERE, to do that.

ESPN (and Grant Sonier) has also released their midterm Top 50 for the NHL Draft. You can check that out here (with the small purchase of being an ESPN insider, which is worth it for the content you get). You can also go here to get more info on the draft from ESPN.

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