Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Red Line Report Releases December Rankings: Hall Back On Top

The latest issue of Red Line Report's monthly rankings is out, and well, what can I say? Taylor Hall is deservedly back on top of the 2010 draft class standings.

Hall is one of those players who can bring even the most curmudgeonly of hockey fans out of their seat with his speed, skill and flash. Oh, and did I mention that he makes the invincible-looking Team Canada World Junior Team that much more unbeatable? And speaking of Team Canada, Bruins prospect Jordan Caron made the team announced today, so congratulations to Jordan, who was also traded from the Rimouski Oceanic to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and will report to that team after the WJC tourney in January.

I'll have interviews with Hall and Cam Fowler (who departed today for the U.S. WJC Final Eval Camp at Lake Placid today) soon, so looking forward to talking to both and sharing their thoughts with my faithful readership. In all honesty- it's looking less and less likely that the Bruins will have a shot at Hall and Fowler, but it never hurts to dream big, right?

Red Line's December issue is historically one of their best because they post the first half assessments of the WHL and QMJHL players (with OHL to follow in January along with the WJC recaps). Their updated top-five is as follows:

1. Taylor Hall, LW Windsor (OHL)
2. Tyler Seguin, C Plymouth (OHL)
3. Cam Fowler, D Windsor (OHL)
4. Mikael Granlund, C HIFK Helsinki (Finland SM-Liiga)
5. Brandon Gormley, D Moncton (QMJHL)

A few notes: Russian Kirill Kabanov suffered a big wrist injury which has shelved him and dropped him down the rankings a bit. His fall is owed more to the outstanding play of teammate Gormley, who is clearly the second-best defenseman available in the draft after Fowler and could possibly be every bit as good in the NHL one day. Small but uber-skilled Mikael Granlund has been outstanding playing against men in Finland's highest league. He's silky-smooth and looks to have all the goods to make an NHL impact right away for whichever team lands him.

Portland right winger Nino Niederreiter has made a huge jump in the Red Line rankings, vaulting from 20 to 12, which is sad news for B's fans who were hoping they might get him with Boston's first-round pick. The cat is out of the bag on the Swiss forward who plays hockey with the passion and jam of a Western Canadian farm kid, and who will make some NHL team happy some day. He's a fine skater, but his real strengths are a wicked shot and release, excellent hockey sense and his premptive, hit-first style and willingness to go into the dirty areas of the ice.

After injured Prince George winger Brett Connolly, Niederreiter is Red Line's No. 2-ranked WHL prospect, which is saying something because one of Red Line's top/most experienced scouts is based out of Portland, so he sees Niederreiter quite a bit. If there were any major warts on this kid's game, he would've seen them by now.

One player who might bear watching with Boston's second first-rounder is Niederreiter's teammate, offensive defenseman Troy Rutkowski, who is Red Line's No. 6 guy out of the WHL right now. At 6-2, 210, he's got excellent size, mobility and a willingness to rush the puck. His production has dipped recently due to a desire to play more of a defensive game, but he's one of those guys who makes this draft such an deep and intriguing class.

And while we're on the subject of the Winterhawks, they have no fewer than FOUR of Red Line's top-10 WHL prospects at! If you're on the left coast and can get to a Portland game, they've got to be worth making the effort to go see (LW Brad Ross at 8 and C Ryan Johansen at 10).

Don't forget about Moose Jaw winger Quinton Howden, who hasn't had a great season given the expectations going in as a former top overall bantam draft pick, but he's got the size and skills to develop into an outstanding pro, and he's currently projected near the end of round 1.

Finally, for those who love 'em tough- check out Moose Jaw defender Dylan McIlrath, who at 17 is one of the most feared fighters in the Dub, and who has been beating on 19-year-old opponents. Red Line said that he's the toughest under-18 prospect since Scott Parker, which is really saying something (Red Line called him a "baggage smasher"- LOVE it!). Plus, he's a very good skater for his size. Don't expect much offensive upside, but that mobility and ferocity will probably see McIlrath get picked somewhere in the top-30.

For more on the Red Line Report, be sure to check out their website at:

That's it for now, but as the hockey season heats up, the 2010 draft coverage here is only going to get more in-depth and intense, so be sure to stick around!

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