With the draft drawing scheduled for TSN later today, Tuesday, April 12th, it seems fitting that the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau has just released it's final rankings for the 2010-11 season, with a few major shifts since the Mid-Term numbers were released. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made the jump from 3rd to 1st in the North American Skater rankings, leapfrogging Kitchener Ranger, and Swedish standout Gabriel Landeskog in the process. Amongst European Skaters, defender Adam Larsson retained top spot, and most of the major shifts came further down the prospect chart.
In addition to the rankings themselves, there are also two mock drafts posted on the NHL draft site. One conducted by a Western Conference Scout, another conducted by an Eastern Conference scout. The Leafs are currently in possession of the Boston Bruins, and Philadelphia Flyers first round picks as a result of the Kaberle and Versteeg trades earlier this past season. Currently those picks are projected to fall 23rd (Bruins) and 29th (Flyers).
The scouts have predicted the Leafs selecting the following four players:
Mika Zibanejad, C, Djugarden (SWE)
Boone Jenner, C, Oshawa (OHL)
Joel Armia, RW, Assat Pori (FIN)
Zack Phillips, C, Saint John (QMJHL)
Read on after the jump for a brief rundown on the players the scouts have pencilled in, and some picks I personally will have my eye on come draft day.
Mika Zibanejad, C, Djugarden (SWE)
The odds of Zibanejad dropping to the Leafs at the 23rd overall slot in the draft are pretty low. He is currently ranked 2nd overall amongst European Skaters, and is the top forward. He was ranked 3rd in the Midterm Rankings, and has only improved his standing with a solid season with Djugarden in the Swedish Elite League (SEL). He played 21 regular season games with the men's side and produced 5 goals and 9 points, and then an additional 7 playoff games with another goal and assist (total 0.21 gpg, 0.39 ppg). All of this as a 17 year old in his first year amongst men.
Consider that when Magnus Pääjärvi played at the same age he produced 7 goals and 17 points in 50 regular season games and then one more goal in 7 playoff games for Timrå in the SEL (total 0.14 gpg, 0.32 ppg). Despite playing fewer games, Zibanejad produced more regularly than MPS, but he was playing on what is a traditionally superior club in Sweden.
Scouting reports from Europe describe him as follows:
Zibanejad is a very skilled center with great hockey sense and hands. He plays the game of a modern power forward, has a big frame and skates very well. Goes into heavy traffic without thinking twice. Will initiate physical play. Takes his defensive responsibilities seriously. A terrific faceoff man.
- EliteProspects.com, 2011
Mika's a real power forward but also has soft hands, good vision and fine skating skills...He has tremendous balance and is hard to knock off the puck. He's very strong in the battles along the boards, finishes checks with authority and has a heavy shot that he gets off quickly.
- NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb
Zibanejad would also be the second Leaf with ties to the Middle East as his father is Iranian, while his mother is Finnish. His size at 6'2" and 192 lbs would make him a legitimate top line C prospect, and he would give the Leafs a solid scoring threat with size going forwards in addition to prospects like Joe Colborne and Nazem Kadri. He gave the following quote to NHL.com regarding who he patterns himself after:
I watch Sidney Crosby for the work he does at center; I watch Alex Ovechkin for the way he scores goals and I watch Pat Kane for the way he stickhandles...I'm not that type of guy to just look for the big hits. I try to play physical but that's only because I want the puck back. Sometimes you have to finish your checks on defensemen in order to tire them out.
- Mika Zibanejad, 2011
Expect Zibanejad to develop into a top 6 forward in the future, and possibly a top line producer. I don't personally think he's likely to drop all the way to 23 but stranger things have happened. Here is a video that highlights his physical play:
Lastly here's the video for his highlight reel 5th and final goal of the season:
Boone Jenner, C, Oshawa (OHL)
Jenner is described as a powerful centre who protects the puck well, has a good shot, and plays with a decent level of physicality. He's considered defensively responsible, and has decent hands to go with his physical play. It is possible that he will plateau as a 3rd line forward, but he has offensive potential and could develop into a physical forward in the top 6. He has been compared to Zach Kassian with a bit cleaner game.
He skated at the World-U17 championships last year, and produced 4 points in 6 games. He put up decent points as an OHL rookie with 19 goals and 49 points in 65 games. This year in his second full year he posted 25 goals and 66 points in 64 games. So far in the post season he has posted an impressive 6 goals and 10 points in 8 games as the Generals are down 2 games to 1 in the 2nd round of the OHL playoffs against the Niagara Ice Dogs.
Here's a highlight of a goal he scored vs. Saginaw.
Hopefully he can produce like this in the NHL if he is drafted by the Leafs.
Joel Armia, RW, Assat Pori (FIN)
Another Finnish connection is found in Joel Armia. Assat Pori, the same team that Jussi Rynnas suited up for prior to crossing the pond to play for the Marlies, has seen the meteoric rise of the Finnish 17 year old. He was promoted onto the team's first line within a month of joining the men's side, and he has followed that up with some very solid production, firing home 18 goals and adding 11 assists for 29 points in 48 regular season games. He has also added another 2 goals in 5 playoff games.
He was ranked 2nd amongst European Skaters at the Midterm, and has since dropped to 4th, but he remains the highest ranked Finn amongst draft prospects. The speed at which he has adjusted to the increased speed, size, and physicality of the men's division in the SM-Liiga impressed his coach significantly.
Day by day he was getting better, and what I mean by better is his puck handling … He has great hands and a good hockey sense... He has surprised everyone in the whole country, especially the hockey people.
We have a great program here, play three games a week and practice with the weights. He needs another year or two to get better. He takes good care of himself. He loves hockey so much. We had two all-time winters (in Finland), so the natural ice was great outdoors. When we were done with our four hours of practice, Joel would continue playing on the natural ice all the time. I've seen so much potential in all categories of his game -- the big challenge for him is to improve over his rookie season.
I consider him a first- or second-round pick, for sure.
He's going to be a different kind of Finn in the NHL. He just needs to add a couple more kilos to that frame of his. I know there have been comparisons to Teemu Selanne, but while they both have that sniper mentality, Teemu was quicker when he arrived in the NHL.
The thing I like about Joel is he's very humble. He wants to know what I expect and he's willing and ready to execute it. That tells me he really wants to learn how to play, how to be a better hockey player.
- Pekka Rautakallio, Head Coach, Assat Pori, 2011 (former NHL All-Star with Calgary)
At the World-U17 Challenge he posted 5 goals and 8 points in 5 games, but at the WJC-U20 he only produced a disappointing single assist and no goals as the Finns finished the tournament in 6th place. Standing 6'3" and 191 lbs, he could continue to fill out, but he obviously uses his size to his advantage. He could again provide the Leafs with some size and scoring up front as a top 6 forward. Here is what some NHL scouts had to say on his performance from this past year:
He did not play quite as well as I expected (at WJC)... I was hoping to see more; he's been scoring unbelievably good in the Finnish league. Obviously he's big, but needs to fill out. His skating is good and he goes to the net well. Maybe I expected him to do a little more with the puck, be a little more creative. He's a solid draft pick and he'll go high in the draft. It might have been a bit of culture shock for him playing in a big tournament in North America. Armia will be back at World Juniors next year, though, and be much improved.
- NHL Scout, Western Conference Team
Overall he improved by leaps and bounds in the past year. Originally not even slated to make the Finnish World Juniors entry, his drastic development made it virtually impossible to keep him off the team. He also improved in all areas of the ice, with great attention to detail in his own end in addition to improving offensive aspects of his game. His heavy wrist shot and shoot first mentality will probably serve him reasonably well as he develops into an NHL player. He may not be as creative as many other top prospects, but he thinks the game well and knows where to be on the ice to produce.
He's big and tall but surprisingly mobile for a player of his size. He's a sniper with a good selection of shots. You might have to look for him during some shifts, but then, suddenly, he scores the winner."
He has a very good feel for the game and moving the puck well with his linemates. He has a heavy wrist shot that he gets off quickly and is always looking for the empty spots on the ice.
- Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting
Here is a video summarizing Armia's season:
Zack Phillips, C, Saint John (QMJHL)
A productive offensive player, Phillips lacks the size of the other three prospects mentioned, standing only 6'1" and 180 lbs or so. What he lacks in size though, he makes up for in offensive chops. Chops as in 38 goals and 95 points in 67 games for the Sea Dogs, finishing 7th overall in the QMJHL in scoring, one point behind other top prospect Sean Couturier. He currently ranks 5th in the QMJHL playoffs in scoring with 4 goals and 12 points in 6 games.
Phillips has followed an interesting path to his current position amongst draft eligible players, and it may sound familiar to Leaf fans with knowledge of the career paths followed by prospects Jerry D'amigo and Kenny Ryan, both of whom played or declared for NCAA schools prior to making the switch to CHL teams (Kitchener and Windsor respectively).
Phillips originally hails from Fredricton, NB, and he travelled to the US to play at Eaglebrook pre-prep school in Deerfield, Massachussets as a 13 year old, where he had the opportunity to play against the top Midget-AAA teams in the Boston area. He posted a rookie season of 23 goals and 56 points in 46 games, followed by a standout campaign in his second year with 23 goals and 72 points in only 44 games as an Alternate Captain with the team.
He then moved on Lawrence Academy Prep in Groton, Massachusetts, and in his first season posted 18 goals and 46 points, earning a top 10 ranking in scoring amongst New England prep schools, and 1st team all-star selection. After one year he declared his commitment to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in the NCAA Hockey East division, but prior to his first year declared that he was instead moving to the QMJHL to join the Saint John Sea Dogs, one of the top programs in Canada. Saint John finished 1st overall in the Q this year, and has a solid chance to move on to the Memorial Cup. They are coached by former Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Gerard Gallant, and Leafs fans may remember them as the team of former Leaf prospect Chris DiDomenico.
Phillips has demonstrated very solid offensive instincts and has worked very hard at his 2-way play this past season. He's currently playing on a line with 2010 Washington Capitals 3rd round pick Stanislav Galiev, and top scorer Jonathan Huberdeau who has 7 goals and 16 points in only 6 playoff games. Here is how his coach and scouts have described Phillips:
He is ... a smooth skating player who has strong finishing abilities, but can also create opportunities for his linemates. He is not overly sizeable at 6-feet and 180 pounds, but will grow into his frame and top out closer to the 200-pound mark.
- Greg Thomson, TrueHockey.com, 2011
He’s going to be a two-way player that is going to be very offensively talented. The thing about Zack is, you want to say he is a great passer, but he scores some real nice goals... he’s got a great shot. I think he’s going to be a real good, solid worst case scenario second line guy and he could be a first line guy.
His vision with the puck and [ability to perform as a] power play type of guy. He’s got a good chance to be great.
- Gerard Gallant, interview with TrueHockey.com, 2011
Here's a video to give you an idea of Phillips' play this past season with Saint John:
Other Players of Note...
Which brings me to the final section where I said I would throw a few names your way that I've had my eye on. Here you go. I'll let you guys do some of the work finding further info on these players (I'll probably pass on more of my reasoning as we get closer to the draft though).
Jamieson Oleksiak of Northeastern University in Hockey East of the NCAA is a beast of a physical presence on the blue line. He's listed as 6'7" and 244 lbs, and that's frankly exactly the type of blue liner Burke likes to keep his eye on. His offensive skill set is minimal, but with the wingspan and size that comes with a player like that, if he can skate and stickhandle reasonably well, he's going to probably make it to the NHL.
Tomas Jurco of the Saint John Sea Dogs is another offensive prospect out of Slovakia. He's 6'2" and 187 lbs with room to fill out, and he posted 31 goals and 56 points in 60 games as a rookie in the QMJHL. He'll continue to improve with time, and his puck skills are already quite developed. He's already a Youtube star for his "magician" puck handling, and he could easily bolster the Leafs skill contingent.
Dmitrij Jaskin was drafted 1st overall in the KHL draft by Sibir Novobrisk last year, and 60th overall by the Calgary Hitmen in the CHL import draft. He's 6'3" and 198 lbs, and he played a full season in the Czech Extraliga for HC Slavia Praha (Prague) against men this past year, posting 3 goals and 10 points in 33 games. He was born in Omsk, Russia, but grew up in the Czech Republic, so indications on the league he's likely to play in are murky at this point. This could affect his draft stock in the NHL, and he is currently listed 5th amongst European Skaters, which was the same position he was in at the Midterm.
Nikita Kucherov came from nowhere, not even listed on the Midterm rankings. He has risen all the way to 17th amongst European skaters, but his small stature at 5'10" and 163 lbs will likely keep him from climbing far up the draft rankings. He had 27 goals and 58 points in 41 games with CSKA-2 in the Russian Jr. league so he may not be able to translate his offense to a more physical level of play. That being said, he has leadership skills as he was captain of his team, and he as named a league all-star this season. He will likely be promoted full time to CSKA's men's side next season. He played 8 games in the KHL this year and only posted 2 assists.
Ok that's enough Youtubage and prospect news for now. Enjoy the clips, and post your own feelings about what you see and what you're thinking. Let's get the talk going about what to do with these draft picks.
- Interviews with NHL.com, TrueHockey.com, and EliteProspects.com were used in this posting.