Thursday, January 7, 2010

World Junior 2010-Eligible Scouting Reports: Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter

OK, here are some of my scouting reports on several draft eligible prospects for 2010. These are my own amateur opinion based on what I watched on television for this tournament only and are not all-encompassing. Nor am I profiling every single 2010-eligible player for the draft. There are several undrafted prospects on each squad that I chose not to profile simply because I didn't pay enough attention to them, nor did they catch my eye enough to make the cut.

Finland and Switzerland both have two guaranteed first-round picks in Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter respectively. The Finns missed out on the services of the injured Teemu Pulkkinen, who was injured and didn't make the trip.

Granlund is the higher-rated of the two for now, but the Swiss tank did a great deal more to elevate his draft profile in the WJC than his Finnish counterpart. Both look like locks for the top-10 unless something drastic happens from here on out.

I will continue with Russia and Slovakia later, before wrapping up with Canada and USA. Sweden has no 2010 eligibles, but I will go ahead and submit a report on 2011 prospect Adam Larsson, a silky-smooth defenseman who is arguably the top candidate for next year's draft class and made Team Sweden as a 16-year-old, no easy feat.

Mikael Granlund, LW, 5-9, 170 Finland (26 Feb 1992):

Puck wizard with an extremely soft touch and superior on-ice vision. Good skater, but lacks explosive first step you want to see from a player of his size. Agile and elusive. Quick stick and able to make plays in tight. Underrated shooter who has a quick release and pinpoint accuracy. Struggled to find open ice against Team USA in WJC quarterfinal; needs to improve strength and willingness to battle for loose pucks. Uneven tournament: showed flashes of elite offensive ability and dominance against weaker opponents, but unable to elevate his play when the checking picked up.

Overview: Granlund is one of the top prospects for the 2010 draft because of his top-shelf offensive skills and the fact that he's nearly a point-per-game player against men for HIFK in Finland's top SM-Liiga. However, Granlund missed out on the opportunity to really boost his stock in Regina. His uneven performance opens up a few questions, even though he's only 17 and has potentially three more years in this tournament to get significantly better. He was mediocre defensively, but not a liability. In a game where he had a chance to make a statement against the Americans, he was largely invisible.

Nino Niederreiter, LW, 6-2, 203, Switzerland (8 Sep 1992):

On scouts' radar since standing out last season in several international competitions including the Under-18 Championship in Fargo, N.D. and the Ivan Hlinka Tourney in Piestany last August. Big, strong and built like a tank. Plays hockey like he was born and raised in Western Canada instead of the Swiss Alps. Hard-nosed and gritty; willingly goes into traffic and the dirty areas of the ice. Fights for loose pucks along the boards and wins his fair share. Above average skater with excellent straight-line speed and agility, but a below average first-step. Cannon of a shot; hard, powerful, accurate. Scored several goals from near the point or in the high slot by blowing the puck by helpless netminders. Tremendous compete level; doesn't take shifts off. Overcame a mediocre first game against the U.S. (6-0 loss) by becoming Switzerland's most consistent and dangerous forward. Thrives in the clutch: scored late in the quarterfinal against Russia to send the game to OT, then converted in sudden death. Did not give up in bronze medal game blowout against Sweden: skated hard from start to finish, ending the tournament with six goals.

Overview: There is a lot to like about "El Nino" (I always think of the late Chris Farley and his "I am El Niño...El Niño is Spanish for 'The Niño!'" skit on SNL when I type that), whose game is suited perfectly for the NHL. He has the size and skill level to be an impact scorer, but his hard-nosed style and effort will allow him to play a lesser role when he first breaks in if he isn't ready for primetime top-six minutes. Niederreiter was 47th overall on Red Line's rankings in August, and since the season began, has moved all the way up to 12th (in the December issue- January rankings are yet to be released). He boosted his stock in Saskatoon and looks to be every bit the player he's shown himself to be during a 23-goal (and counting) rookie season with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. His skating deficiencies are very minor ones and easily addressed. Look for him to break into the top-10 in the 2010 draft rankings this winter and ride that wave all the way to the big event in June.

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