The NHL's Central Scouting Service released their preliminary domestic and international rankings on Tuesday, adding those to the watch lists for the other lower-end North American leagues published last month.
The first thing that jumped out to everyone is that Central shares Red Line Report's opinion on Tyler Seguin. The Plymouth Whalers (OHL) pivot was No. 1 overall- one spot ahead of Windsor's uber-skilled winger Taylor Hall.
Not surprisingly, Seguin, Hall and Windsor d-man Cam Fowler are 1-2-3 on Central's OHL list, and I wouldn't expect much movement there by the end of the season, except for a flip-flop between Seguin and Hall depending on how things go. Injured defenseman Erik Gudbranson and Barrie forward Alexander Burmistrov (both mentioned by Kyle Woodlief in the interview earlier this week) round out the OHL's top-five. Burmistrov is the real deal, and he looks like legitimate blue-chip stock.
One curious OHL omission I thought was Owen Sound's Joey Hishon, who, like Gudbrandson has been injured, but to leave him off the list completely seems a bit strange (he was an 80-point scorer last season). He's someone to watch this year if he can get back into the swing of things, but a team with multiple second-round picks (hint, hint) could end up getting good value with Hishon if he somehow drops out of the top-30 (which I would doubt- some team would do well to snag him in the bottom third of the 1st at least).
Another OHL player I really like and disagree with Red Line about (they have him outside their top-20) is John McFarland of the Sudbury Wolves. He's right behind Burmistrov, and unless something drastic happens between now and June, I can't see him dropping much beyond the top-10.
In the Quebec League, the Moncton Wildcats are like the Windsor Spitfires (Hall and Fowler) in that they have a pair of prospect gems playing for them, both of whom could possibly end up in the top-five come June.
Defenseman Brandon Gormley, who was the top pick in the QMJHL midget draft two years ago, sits atop Central's list for Quebec players. The slick skater with size and good offensive instincts has a high upside, but Woodlief doesn't quite see him in the same class as Fowler, who projects as a legitimate two-way, shutdown defender in the NHL. Still, Gormley has a lot of skill and potential and is someone to keep an eye on.
Kirill Kabanov is right behind Gormley as the top QMJHL prospect, and if you haven't read Woodlief's comments about him in the interview I did, take the time to check them out. He's highly complimentary of the Russian, and pretty much torpedoes any of the rumors that Kabanov is having issues with Danny Flynn (Moncton coach) and problems adjusting to North America. He had a brilliant spotlight profile on Kabanov in the November issue.
Another Russian and player to watch from the Q this year is Saint John winger Stanislav Galiev, who jumped up a level to major junior after skating in the USHL last season.
The WHL is curious, with injured Prince George winger Brett Connolly at the top, followed by underachieving Edmonton Oil Kings defender Mark Pysyk. Connolly can be forgiven his slow start, but I've had at least one source who scouts the WHL tell me that Pysyk has the talent to be a big leaguer, but just doesn't seem to demonstrate the intensity, consistency or hockey sense that you want from a top defenseman.
California native Emerson Etem was the fourth-ranked WHLer, but if he keeps scoring goals at Medicine Hat, he'll end up higher on the final list.
Another WHL player I've been following since last season when his name caught my eye is Swiss winger Nino Niederreiter, who plays the North American-style hockey already and has impressed onlookers with the Portland Winterhawks. He's got a great name, but that game of his is nothing to sneeze at, either. Central has him sixth in the Dub, and if he keeps it up, he'll keep anyone trying to knock him down the rankings at bay.
The USHL list has a real-world Mutt and Jeff in the top-two spots: Huge and skilled Minnesota defender Derek Forbort, who left the HS ranks to play for the U.S. NTDP (Under-18 Team) at Ann Arbor, Mich., with the small but dynamic Jaden Schwartz of Tri-City behind him. Schwartz is another guy I meant to ask Woodlief about but ran out of time, so I'll follow up later on this season. Red Line has him just outside the top-10, so he's got some legit skills.
Aside from Finland's Mikael Granlund, who I understand reminds some of a young Saku Koivu, I'm not overly familiar with the European entries for this year's draft. Russian Vladimir Tarasenko of Novosibirsk is the other player vying with Granlund for top international billing.
That will change when I get a chance to see the WJCs and start talking to my scout contacts over there, but the bottom line is: the North American crop of players is stronger this year, with some of the best Euros over and playing major junior (Kabanov, Burmistrov, Galiev, Niederreiter, Petr Straka), the domestic lists are going to dominate draft conversations between now and the big event.