The Red Line Report is, in my view, the premier independent scouting service out there, now in its 17th year of publication and based out of Lake Placid, NY. Red Line created the business model that others have followed, styling itself as the NHL's "31st" team, rating draft prospects top-to-bottom every year the same way the big league clubs do. (Of course Red Line's rankings are based purely on talent and upside plus intangible factors- they don't have the same kind of economic/signiability concerns that real NHL teams do)
Chief scout and publisher Kyle Woodlief has NHL experience as a scout with the expansion Nashville Predators to draw from before taking over the reins of Red Line in 1998, but his staff, which has graduated multiple scouts to NHL teams over the years, forms the nucleus of an organization who get to the junior, collegiate, international games and tournaments on a global scale unmatched by any other. At times controversial for its candor, Red Line nevertheless understands the amateur scouting business like no other outside the NHL ranks, and provides a comprehensive look at the NHL's future on an annual basis.
Mike Remmerde has worked the WHL beat from the U.S. Pacific Northwest for Red Line since 1996-97, and there aren't many scouts who are more knowledgeable and have a solid read on the WHL (and BCHL) pulse than he does. I had the chance to talk to the Portland-based scout the other day and get a comprehensive breakdown of what is coming out of the WHL and Western Canada/U.S. in the first couple of rounds for 2010.
Here are some of his thoughts on the top WHL prospects (based on RLR's Feb. rankings)
Nino Niederreiter, RW Portland Winterhawks 6-1, 207, 8 Sep 92, (3rd overall)
He's a star here in Portland. The (Winterhawks) are assuming they'll have him for one more year (2010-11) if that because he's certainly got first-line offensive ability. He's so dynamic and can score in a lot of different ways. He's erasing that Swiss stigma- the reputation for producing soft players who aren't really committed to playing a North American-style game and don't make an impact in the NHL. Niederreiter and Luca Sbisa (who interestingly enough was traded to Portland in Jan.) are two guys who will have probably completely erased that stigma when all is said and done.
The problem with Niederreiter is his first couple of steps. He has good speed when he gets going and is able to get through the neutral zone, but his initial burst isn't what it could be. Other than that, there's nothing not to like. He can score in a variety of ways and he's a gritty guy who loves to throw the body around and is very effective in all zones.- Mike Remmerde
Stats through 26 Feb:
GP- 57 G- 33 A- 21 PTS- 54 PIM- 68
Emerson Etem, C Medicine Hat Tigers, 6-0, 195 16 Jun 92 (11th overall)
Etem's interesting because the first thing you have to mention about him is the skating. Everyone says he has fantastic speed, with an explosive initial burst and extra separation gear- all the things you want in a dangerous offensive player. Some look at his stride and say, "That is an ugly, awkward stride," but having seen how much speed he generates, I personally don't care because he still beats everyone down the ice.
He's still playing the game like an elite bantam player, which is something to watch. Normally, when players move up to the WHL, the skill level forces them to become more creative and work more within the team concept, and all of the flashy, individual things they could get away with in bantam go by the wayside. With Etem, he's still been playing a lot like he did as an elite bantam-- he hasn't had to make that adjustment yet. He's got that speed plus excellent hands in close...he's jsut a fantastic finisher in close. He's tremendous on special teams-- on the power play and he's also a very good penalty killer who's dangerous because he can anticipate the blocked shot, and then when he gets a step on the opposing player and beats him to the puck, he's gone.
On the downside, he doesn't initiate contact much, but he doesn't avoid traffic either. There is some risk to his game, though. He's got bust risk, which is different from Niederreiter, who may or may not be a top offensive player in the NHL, but will play because he can make it as a high-energy checker. Etem on the other hand might not make it because I'm not sure he'll be able to figure out the other parts of the game at even strength, and at a higher level when he can't just just beat people with his speed alone, will he figure out how to pass better, use his teammates more and make the adjustments in his approach that will allow him to develop into a scorer in the NHL?- MR
Stats through Feb 26
GP- 64 G- 33 A- 26 PTS- 59 PIM- 20
Brett Connollly, LW Prince George Cougars 6-2, 185 2 May 92 (14th overall)
It's been a tough year for Brett. I actually got to see him twice this year before the hip problems flared up for him. It's strange that he's the guy who's slipping because coming into the season, he was far and away the surest bet to come out of the WHL for the draft. The big question with the hips is it going to be chronic? When it was the one hip, you didn't hear a whole lot of concern, but now that he's having the same kind of problem with the other, that's kind of the exclamation point in everyone's minds-- now you're thinking that it's a congenital/structural problem and that's when he started to slide.
Hip problems aside, he's a complete player; his hockey sense is fantastic. He's very good skater, but he got even better this year than he was last season (when he scored 35 goals as a rookie). He's quicker off the mark, and he's especially good at handling the puck at top speed. He can pass well, uses his teammates effectively, plays well defensively and will backcheck, too. He's complete, he's elite, he's dynamic. He may not be as flashy as Niederreiter, so even with the concerns, I don't think he'll slide too far. NHL teams picking anywhere from 10-20 have to be excited at the prospect of getting him, even with the risk involved, because he'll be the only real legitimate top-line talent available there if he slides.- MR
Stats through Feb. 26
GP- 12 G- 7 A- 6 PTS- 13 PIM- 8
Calvin Pickard, G Seattle Thunderbirds 6-0, 207 15 Apr 92 (18th overall)
I think he's a first-round talent, absolutely-- he's just excellent. His older brother (Chet- first-round pick of Nashville in '08) was so good in the second half of that season and in the playoffs-- but Calvin has been playing at that level all year and on a pretty poor team. Some guys question his athletic ability, his raw quickness, but I take a different view. I think that because his positioning is so good, and he's so technically sound, he doesn't need to use that quickness as much. I think he has it, but he's just so advanced in terms of his positioning and staying square to the shooter that the reflexes don't jump out at you.
I think he's maybe had a lot of advanced (goaltending) coaching at a young age...either that or he got all the "how-to" goaltending DVDs and watched them religiously (laughs). But, seriously-- he's a guy who is so effective and keeps his team in every game, which is important because Seattle's just not very good. - MR
Stats through Feb. 26
GP- 54 MIN 3210 GAA- 3.03 W- 14 L- 29 T-11 SVS- 1714 SO- 3 SPCT- .914
Quinton Howden, LW Moose Jaw Warriors 6-2, 183 21 Jan 92 (22nd overall)
He's tough to figure out-- I'm still not sure what he brings. He's a big guy who doesn't play all that big. He's a fantastic skater and good shooter who plays with the right energy most of the time. But, he's still a hard guy to figure. He looks a little one-dimensional; he plays with Jason Bast and around Christmas when Bast got hurt and missed a couple of weeks, Howden really struggled offensively-- that's a concern. At the next level, he'll be around skilled guys, so maybe it's not an issue, but he's just someone I have a hard time getting passionate about. If I were sitting at an NHL table at the draft, I don't know that I'd be pounding the table for this guy.
I also wonder about his hockey sense a bit. A lot of his goals come from odd-man rushes and breaks from in behind the D where he can get in close and put it away, but I don't see a lot of creativity and puck distribution from him. Now that being said, he has a terrific shot-- that ability to shoot the puck would put him in the top-15 alone, but the other things about his game...that's why he's further down the list for me. - MR
Stats through Feb. 26
GP- 61 G- 27 A- 37 PTS- 64 PIM- 42
That's the WHL top-five. I'll be back later this weekend with Mike's thoughts on the next five: Brad Ross, Dylan McIlrath, Alex Petrovic, Ryan Johansen and Mark Pysyk.