Sunday, April 4, 2010

Prospectin' on Easter Sunday

Not surprisingly, the Bruins cancelled practice today, which is just as is Easter after all, and they did get in late last night to Washington D.C. after needing overtime to get out of Toronto.

I figured it would be a good time to talk about a couple of players I haven't given much attention to in this blog, but who are on the rise after solid seasons.

First up is the OHL, where Erie Otters center Greg McKegg surprised a lot of people with a quietly productive season (37 goals, 85 points in 67 games). Often the best player in each game he played, McKegg is not all that big at a hair over 6-feet and only 185 pounds, but he plays a surprisingly physical game and oozes hockey sense and offensive awareness. He has a nonstop motor and is extremely smart and instinctive. He played well in a four-game sweep in which his team was overmatched, scoring two goals and three points. The downside? His skating and size are very average, which is why you haven't heard much about him outside of OHL circles-- Ontario league watchers are very familiar with him. In fact, the similarities between McKegg and current NHLer Brad Boyes are pretty eerie-- right down to the fact that they both skated for the same major junior club. McKegg is probably not the pure puck wizard Boyes was at the same age, but he's close and he has the character as well. Look for him to go early in the second round, and possibly late in the first if one of the NHL's better clubs sees the potential in bringing this winner on board.

London Knights center Jared Knight is also an interesting prospect and one to keep an eye on. The diminutive Michigander from Battle Creek, home of Kellogg's cereals, put up 36 goals this year (in 63 games) after a slow start and diabetes diagnosis (which explains a lot of why he looked out of it early on). Although he doesn't possess the speed and explosiveness you want from an undersized forward, Knight makes up for that with an intensity that few of his peers can match. He works extremely hard along the boards and in front of the net...his feet never stop moving. Knight is a natural goal scorer who likes to shoot first, and has really upped the ante in the post season, with six tallies in just seven games (along with 11 points). He was particularly effective in the first round against Sault Ste. Marie, when he and Nazem Kadri worked together to say "Knight-knight" to the Greyhounds in just five games (OK- terrible pun/joke-- I admit it). He's another solid second-rounder and might be a guy who appeals to Boston because of his ability to score. Will probably be able to play wing in the pros.

Also a tad overlooked on this space has been the play of Russian center Ivan Telegin, who was mentioned in a November interview with Kyle Woodlief of Red Line Report here as one of the year's best surprises in the early going. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Telegin has prototypical size for a guy who plays up the middle, and last year, Woodlief said that the knock on Telegin was a lack of finishing skills. He was solid this season for the Saginaw Spirit, finding the back of the net 26 times for a 44-point total in 51 games. He's a very good skater with the vision and instincts to be an offensive performer, but admittedly, he cooled off considerably after a hot start, and didn't have a very good playoffs, with only a goal and an assist in six games. Telegin, given his uneven production this season, not to mention the automatic risk any NHL team incurs in picking a Russian, even though Telegin came over to North America, make him a likely second- or third-round selection, even though he has the size and upside to go inside the top-30 picks on pure projectionable talent alone.

In the Western Hockey League, I've done a little more diligence, particularly with the outstanding two-part interview series I conducted with Red Line Report WHL/BCHL scout Mike Remmerde back in February.

One player who didn't any mention and should have before now is Chiliwack Bruins center Kevin Sundher. A superb skater with blazing high-end speed and explosiveness, Sundher can back up defenders with his quickness and has shown a willingness to drive to the net, even though he isn't blessed with ideal size. Sundher's 25 goals and 61 points in 72 games aren't going to jump out at anyone, but one scout I talked to who covers the west, seems to think he's pretty underrated, and as long as he can stay healthy, is a prime candidate to start putting up big numbers after he gets drafted a la Jordan Eberle. All of the talent, skill, character and instincts are there for him to develop into a pretty good NHL prospect, but Sundher is a project pick who could go inside the first 10-15 picks in the second round if not a tad higher. His size (6-feet, 190) is only average, but with his wheels, it's not all that much of an issue.

Curtis Hamilton of the Saskatoon Blades suffered a nightmare, injury-plagued season with two collarbone breaks, the second of which ended his season just after the new year. Considered a wide-bodied winger with solid skills (OK skater, good shot, has a nose for the net) if not a high-end package of hockey tools, Hamilton is one of those guys who will drop because he simply didn't play enough in his draft season, but could end up being much better than a lot of the players who will be picked before him. If he's there early in the fourth round when Boston's pick (via Carolina in the Aaron Ward trade) comes around he'd be hard to pass up, because he fits the mold of what the B's are trying to do in terms of adding size, skill and scoring to the wings. He scored 20 goals in 58 games in 08-09, but only seven tallies in 26 contests this year, so Hamilton does not come without risk, and is why he will fall on draft day.

I'm so sick of talking about Kirill Kabanov, so I will no longer do so unless he provides a reason in the Under-18 Championships starting with exhibition games next week. But, the Quebec league isn't hurting for other decent prospects this year.

Montreal Juniors winger Guillaume Asselin is an intriguing player who doesn't get much attention, but may have some of the best hockey sense of any player in the draft this year. At 5-10, 192, he needs it, as he is a decent skater but doesn't have dynamic skills. He has a high panic point/threshold, meaning he'll hold onto the puck that extra second in order for passing lanes and seams to open up for his teammates, even though he knows that by doing so, he'll probably get blown up when his opponent finishes the check. His numbers (19 goals, 42 points in 66 games) are nothing to write home about, but he played on a bad team that did not see one single point-per-game player on the roster. Put Asselin on a solid club, and you'll likely see much different results. He works hard and has the kind of character you look for. He's probably a late-third rounder at best, but is not a bad option in the fourth if there.

Michael Bournival of Shawinigan may be the Patrice Bergeron clone of 2010. Not very big at 5-10/11-ish, he isn't a great skater either, which gives scouts pause, even though he had a productive season with 24 goals and 62 points in 58 games for the Cataractes. He's very smart, with outstanding vision, and hustles around the ice on every shift. He's a solid two-way player and has a nice, heavy shot with a quick release. He doesn't have Bergeron's passing acumen, but he quietly leads by example. His low center of gravity makes him tough to knock off the puck.

Well, that about does it for the CHL roundup...I've gone through all three major junior leagues in Canada and identified several players from each who may be flying under the radar a bit. None of these prospects are solid bets for the first round, but one or two might surprise. Many of them are more likely to be had in the 2nd, 3rd or later rounds, but for one reason or another bring the kind of appeal that merits watching between now and the draft.

With the Under-18 Championships around the corner, I'll be posting reports and notes on a lot of the U.S. NTDP guys who are on the USA squad in Belarus, along with some of the European players who haven't gotten much attention lately.

Hope you all had a nice, restful Sunday. Will be back with more on the 2010 draft as the Bruins enter the final stretch week to determine their postseason fate. I'll liveblog the B's-Caps game tomorrow night at Verizon for those interested, and a win on the road against the best in the East could go a long way toward securing one of the conference's final playoff spots for Boston.

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