Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chat With Future Considerations Chief Scout Dan Stewart

Recently, I had a chance to talk with Future Considerations chief scout, and blog friend, Dan Stewart about the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. FC just released their final ranking for the 2012 Draft, as well as their Entry Draft Guide (information below on how to purchase).

Dan always has great input on the OHL, so I hope you enjoy the below transcript where he talks about guys like Galchenyuk and Olli Maatta, as well as the Under 18's and OHL playoffs.

Brock Otten - Dan, since I know you're based out of Sarnia, it only makes sense to start off by asking you about Yakupov and Galchenyuk. Let's talk Nail first. Evaluate the year he had for us. Did his game really make significant strides this season?

Dan Stewart - Last year Nail was very impressive as an OHL rookie goal scorer with his flashy moves, quick feet, lightning quick shot release and his electric goal celebrations but this season he really turn himself into a better all-round hockey player. That is not to say he was not already an elite player his first year in the league as many in the business would have jumped at the chance to draft Yakupov second overall last season.

This season however, Nail’s game switched from where he would patrol the wing waiting for a scoring opportunity to materialize to one where he generated much of his own chances or generated chances for his line mates with strong playmaking skills. His game had some of the rough edges rounded off as he played a more complete game. He would consistently come back to help defensively, played with more consistent energy levels, looked for his passing options instead of taking 10+ shots a game himself, etc. In my opinion Nails progression has been consistently moving in the right direction.

BO - Do you have any concerns over his lackluster playoff performance?

DS - His playoff performance, as well as the remaining regular season games after the big hit he took from Owen Sounds Mike Halmo, has led many to believe Nail was playing with some concussion symptoms to end the year. You could tell the sharp decision making was not there nor was his willingness to engage in physical play like he normally would without hesitation. His playoff does nothing to diminish the body of work that was his previous two seasons in the league. Whether Nail will admit it or not he was held to limited ice against Saginaw because he looked off and to be still suffering some injury issues.

BO - What about his immediate future? What are the odds he's back in the OHL next season?

DS - Nail’s offensive game is NHL ready. The only way Nail Yakupov puts on a Sting jersey and steps on the RBC ice to play in the fall is if the NHL/NHLPA can not come to an agreement on a CBA. Nail has no option for AHL play so back to the OHL or a trip to Europe would be his only options. If he did not return, Sarnia would need to fill his import spot. They need to make a critical and calculated decision on whether to release his rights before the June import draft, similar to what the Kitchener Rangers did with Gabriel Landeskog before they picked Radek Faksa last year, or hold on to Nail and risk playing with an open import spot if the CBA is signed and the NHL opens on time.

BO - Alright let's shift to Galchenyuk. Just how big is the gap between Yakupov and Galchenyuk. If he plays all season, is there a chance he pushes Nail for first overall?

DS - In my opinion the gap between the two is not that vast. We have them ranked No. 1 and No. 2 overall in our final rankings. Yakupov is the more consistent offensive player but Galchenyuk is no slouch at putting pucks in the net himself.

I remember two years ago in Sarnia while they were playing the Erie Otters toward the end of the regular season, Alex put the team on his back, took control of the game, drove the net showing off his elite skills and scored three goals while adding a primary assist as he dominated the game in all three zones. He played physical and strong in that game showing his sky high NHL upside. He has that ability to take control and be dominant using his hands, size and offensive creativity.

BO - In your opinion, how did Galchenyuk do in his brief return from the knee injury?

DS - The return was more about the process of Alex getting on the ice than his actual performance in those few games. It takes a lot of mental strength and hard work to fight back from an injury like that and he earned the respect of scouts and NHL personnel everywhere with his determination during this time. On the ice he looked off as was to be expected but did show flashes of his elite abilities and with more ice time he could have done more damage in the playoffs.

BO - What do you make of Olli Maatta's terrific playoff performance for London? Has he thrown himself into consideration as the top defender available from the OHL?

DS - Maatta has really raised his game offensively this post season. He is hitting his breakout passes more consistently and jumping into the rush with more vigor. He has improved his draft stock with those who saw him as too vanilla earlier in the season and will likely be selected higher than most expect if he keeps up this pace. Very impressive play and has been a key part of London’s success.

Maatta is in the conversation for top OHL defender although Cody Ceci in Ottawa is still top on lots of lists. Matt Finn in Guelph is another top end guy from Ontario who should hear his name called in the first round as is wildcard Slater Koekkoek of Peterborough, who FC has ranked ahead of both Finn and Maatta. Koekkoek missed much of the season with a shoulder injury but we like the grit, skating ability and two-way upside he brings.

BO - What about the rest of the first year draft eligible Knights? How do you think Andreas Athanasiou, Chris Tierney, and Josh Anderson did in the playoffs and did they raise their draft stock?

DS - All of the draft eligible prospects looked good at one point or another with Anderson looking strong during the early rounds, Tierney standing out later and even Athanasiou turning up the play and working harder along the boards in the post season, an area of extreme frustration for some scouts this season when watching Double A.

The Rupert twins also had a nice post season playing their gritty, high energy style and producing well on the score sheet for Mark Hunter. Still not 100% convinced that they will translate to the NHL tempo or size playing their style of games but they are intriguing and I would not be surprised to see Ryan and maybe Matt as well selected in Pittsburgh.

BO - Do you think Michael Houser finally gets drafted this year? I mean, he had one heck of a season and has been just as dynamite in the playoffs.

DS - I really do not see Houser being picked his third time through even though he likely deserves to be. I think he is more likely to get a few invites after the draft and sign on with a minor league team to start his pro career.

BO - Are there any other draft eligible guys you feel really improved their stock with their performance in the OHL postseason?

DS - Back in London Seth Griffith, approaching his second entry draft after being passed over, really put an exclamation mark on his season with strong play producing ten goals and twenty-three points in nineteen games. NHL teams are still concerned with his size but not enough that his offensive skill will go unnoticed this time.

Tom Wilson of Plymouth turned his game up and scored at a point per game clip, something scouts were anxious to see. He likely drove his draft stock into the middle of the first round because of his impressive post season play.

Niagara’s Jesse Graham played well on the Ice Dogs blue line, manning the Power Play and playing a strong offensive generating role with his passing ability and heady reads.

Puck stoppers Jake Paterson of Saginaw and Barrie’s Mathias Niederberger both played huge for their squads in the post season as well. Niederberger is in tough to hear his name called in Pittsburgh as he lacks ideal size and net coverage despite being acrobatic and making flashy saves due to his quickness and athleticism. After being passed over he could get a pro camp invite this summer.

Paterson on the other hand will get drafted and it could be rather high after he turned in a strong post-season performance. He is a strong positional stopper who makes the first save and shows solid rebound control, dramatically limiting opponents second or third changes.

BO - Let's shift to the Under 18's really quickly. Did any OHL players really improve their stock at the event in your opinion?

DS - Unfortunately for me, I was unable to attend this event but Future Considerations was in attendance as our Slovakian guy, Pavol Balaz, was in attendance and also shot some video which he sent to me as this is a big time scouting event.

Centre Scott Laughton of Oshawa was my top OHL performer eligible for the 2012 draft with 2013 eligible winger Kerby Rychel right behind him. Laughton was a bull in all three zones finishing checks and fighting for pucks. Laughton will make a Scouting Director look like a genius one day as he brings all the elements every team needs to win in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

BO - The Draft combine is approaching. Here's an interesting question for you. If you could sit in on any OHL player's interview, who's would it be and why?

DS - I would love to be a fly on the wall for a few OHL’ers interviews like the injured guys Galchenyuk, Koekkoek, Owen Sounds Jarrod Maidens and Kitchener’s Matia Marcantuoni. Also, those whose character has been questioned like a Dane Fox in Erie as well as those who might have left something to be desired with their on ice play over the season such as Andreas Athanasiou. It would also be real interesting to see the teams try and stump Yakupov with off the wall questions.

BO - Earlier I asked you about the defenseman from the OHL, but what about the forward group. Who's the best forward behind the Sarnia duo?

DS - After both Yakupov and Galchenyuk the potential for many high scoring forwards coming out of the Ontario Hockey League looks a little thin this year. The likes of Kitchener’s Radek Faksa, Belleville’s Brendan Gaunce, Plymouth’s Tom Wilson, and Oshawa’s Scott Laughton all have some nice second and third line, two-way talent but look to lack the high end skills needed to be a big point producers at the next level.

The depth at forward however is good as there does not look like there will be much that separates a Brady Vail who ranks fifty-first and a Scott Laughton ranked thirty-first when evaluating what role they will likely play at the NHL level. While there are many other wildcards who have nice potential as top six forwards, there are also multiple holes in these same prospects games that could hold them back. This lack of high end talent at the forward position has kept our scouts optimism tempered throughout the season.

BO - Injuries have obviously been a big theme of this year's draft. What are your thoughts on the guys who played little this year; Matia Marcantuoni, Slater Koekkoek, Jarrod Maidens?

DS - While these prospects are somewhat wildcard types because of their limited ice this year, these guys have been under the microscope since their midget days so we all know what they can do on the ice already. The real question is what the missed time might have done to them psychologically. It can really do a number on a kid who has been consumed by hockey 24/7 for the majority of their lives to suddenly be on the sideline for an extended period of time. If these guys can come back strong it speaks volumes with regards to their strong mental makeup and character.

BO - Are there any "sleepers" you're really high on this year from the OHL; guys who are flying under the radar right now?

DS - Sure there are always sleepers in every draft crop. For most the season London’s Josh Anderson was a sleeper but his late season play squashed that notion as many see his development trajectory in a sky high direction. Guelph’s big man Justin Auger with his size, reach and hands around the net. Saginaw’s Justin Kea is another fellow who showed flashes but not consistently enough. Warren Steele in Kingston and Zach Leslie in Guelph are two defenders who could really make scouts look back and wonder why they did not rate them higher. Per the above question Jarrod Maidens is also a sleeper, only because of his injury and what will his game look like when he gets back to playing.

BO - Thanks for taking the time to do this Dan. Always love chatting with you and getting your insight. Tell us how we can order the Future Considerations Draft Guide.

Thanks for asking Brock, always a pleasure.

FC’s 2012 NHL Entry Draft Guide will include a ranking of the top 210 prospects eligible for the draft, including in depth profiles on the top-125 eligibles and extended profiles on the remaining 75 players.
The Guide will also include features on Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Tom Wilson of the Plymouth Whalers, Indiana Ice standout Cristoval ‘Boo’ Nieves, as well as NTDP teammates Miles Koules and Steffan Matteau. Subscribers will also get a special look inside the Future Considerations war room, where FC scouts battled over the rankings, as well as a special look at the art of drafting goaltenders from The Goalie Guild‘s Justin Goldman.

The draft’s top sleepers, overagers and our always highly anticipated 2012 NHL Entry Draft mock will also be included in ‘The Guide. As always, subscribers will also get an extensive and exclusive look at what tomorrow brings, with an in-depth look at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and a preview of what 2014 has to offer.

Just head on over to to order the guide for just $19.99 and get your chance to win Griffin Reinhart’s game-worn helmet from the 2012 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game!

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