Aside from Red Line's annual draft guide published in June (for my money- there is no better product out there detailing the draft class for the general public), their January issue is the one I look forward to the most.
Because obvious World Junior Championship (Under-20) coverage aside, we're at the halfway point of the season, and the January rankings give you a pretty solid glimpse at where the players are going to fall come June. You'll see another rankings tweak in May after the April World Under-18 Championship tourney (USA won it in Fargo, N.D. last year), but January is the month where Red Line's scouts ramp it up and bring their 'A' game.
So, with that in mind- some thoughts on the rankings themselves.
The top-three is unchanged from December: Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin and Cam Fowler lead the 2010 pack.
However, injuries to and an uninspiring WJC performance from Mikael Granlund dropped the Finnish forward down from No. 4 last month to No. 8. He swapped places with Russian forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who had a nice individual performance in the same tourney even though his team crashed and burned. Moncton defenseman Brandon Gormley who has the makings of a stud on defense who may not be as far away from Fowler as many think rounds out the top-five.
The sixth spot on the rankings is held by Minnesota native Derek Forbort, who is another impressive physical specimen, left the high school ranks in the land of 10,000 lakes for Ann Arbor and the U.S. Under-18 Team and by all accounts is playing very well for them. He doesn't get the attention that Fowler and Gormley do because they're in major junior, and because he's more of a project who's going to do some NCAA time, but who wouldn't want a 6-foot-4 defender who can really skate, bang and play a strong two-way game in their system?
Some other key risers this month are Nino Niederreiter, who has gotten a lot of attention on this space. He's up three spots from 12 to 9. Another B2010DW fave is Kitchener scoring ace Jeff Skinner, who is up to 14 from 19 and for my money- the most ridiculous of Central Scouting's rankings. No way he's the 47th-ranked North American, regardless of whether you think he can play defense or not. Jack Campbell made a sizeable jump to 15 from 27 after his WJC performance, coming off the bench to key the Americans to only their second gold medal in the 30-odd years the Under-20 tourney has been in existence.
Speaking of Campbell, here is what his USA teammate and current Washington Capital John Carlson had to say about him last night in DC: "He's a great goalie and he's a young goalie, too. He's going to be a star one day. He stood on his head- I thought he played a great tournament. We were there because of him."
According to Red Line, Campbell may be the only 17-year-old goalie in the history of the tournament to be in net for a gold medal victory. We won't mention that he was only three days away from turning 18 when he put the medal around his neck, but it bears mentioning again that he was the winning goalie in last spring's under-18 tourney and has forged a reputation for winning the big games. Some NHL team is going to grab him earlier than people think.
Moose Jaw forward Quinton Howden, a nice blend of size and skills appears to be turning it on and is up to 22 from 27.
Falling this month were Granlund as already mentioned. Minnetonka H.S. forward Max Gardiner (brother of Anaheim '08 first-rounder and U.S. WJC team member Jake Gardiner) suffered an injury and is out for much of the high school season. He dropped from 15 to 24 as a result.
Speaking of injuries to key players, Kirill Kabanov, who recently got the cast off his wrist and hopes to get back into action by February. It's been a tough draft year for the uber-skilled Russian: he missed the first month in Moncton waiting for the IIHF to rule in his favor to allow him to play in the QMJHL, and then got 11 games in (14 points) before hurting the wrist. Who knows how effective he'll be when he gets back, but any NHL team looking to spend a high pick on him will be leery of the injury and the fact that his Russian status makes him more of a risk than most.
In a shameless pat on the back, it was also nice to see that Red Line's scouting reports on the key WJC 2010 draft eligibles resembled mine. It just means that we saw a lot of the same things, but for a rank amateur like me- it also represents continued growth and understanding of the game. I give them the definitive nod because they were there in person and I was not, to say nothing of their professionalism and established credentials as scouts. But, my scouting reports are a nice place to start if you're looking for information on some of the key 2010 prospects, but didn't get a chance to see any of the games.
As always if you have an interest in finding out more about Red Line Report and their pay service, you can go to http://www.redlinereport.com/
Kyle Woodlief will publish his monthly USA Today column in the next 1-2 weeks, but for now, this will give you a nice head start on where he and his publication stands on the draft.