If you are looking for information on 2011 NHL Draft Prospects and haven't heeded my advice and viewed the content on Kirk Luedeke's Bruins 2011 Draft Watch Blog, then I implore you to go there. There is tons of great information on prospects like Jonathan Huberdeau, Nathan Beaulieu, Doug Hamilton and more. It's first-hand, in-depth analysis from a person who has been in this business for a long time, who really knows hockey and most importantly knows what scouts look for in prospective players. Before you read on, here is a feature that Kirk did with the OHL Prospects Blogwhich discussed what scouts are looking for.
Besides his prospect blog, Kirk also writes about the Devils, Bruins, and more for the New England Hockey Journal and the New York Hockey Journal. He wrote a great piece on Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur that you can read here
Kirk was kind enough to give me some time during the busy part of his year to chat about the 2011 NHL Draft. In what will be a two part series Kirk and I talk about topics ranging from the draft combine to Sean Couturier's skating abilities. Head after the jump for more!!!
Tom Stivali: Kirk, with the draft quickly approaching the same names keep popping up. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, Gabriel Landeskog, Sean Couturier, Ryan Murphy, Jonathan Huberdeau, etc. The popular opinion among those who have put together mock drafts is that Edmonton will take RNH and the Avalanche will select Landeskog. Is this how you see the top two picks playing out?
Kirk Luedeke:Count me in with those who see that playing out in Minnesota on June 24.
NH is widely considered the best player in the draft. While Edmonton could certainly use a defenseman, Adam Larsson doesn't have the same kind of major league potential of the Red Deer centerman, not to mention that RNH is a star just down the road in Alberta. While fan influence is a secondary consideration, it is still a consideration when the team sits down to finalize its list and make the big decision.
After seeing Larsson in the WJC, he strikes me more as a safe guy/complementary player, whereas RNH has the kind of skill that the Oilers could possibly build around. He's not as dynamic an upside player as Steven Stamkos, but he can score and with the talent they're assembling up front, could be a good one. Larsson is a very good player, but he doesn't appear to me to have that kind of cornerstone kind of potential. They could take him No. 1, but I don't know that it would be a very popular pick. Expectations and pressure will be huge for whomever the Oilers pick, but the second-guessing if they opt for RNH would be much less than if they go with Larsson or anyone else.
As for Landeskog, he's precisely the kind of player the Colorado Avalanche want and need. I can envision him playing in the NHL next season with his refined power game, character and maturity. He doesn't have the elite skill level of other players in class, but as the total package, there are none better. At the beginning of the year, I saw him play and likened him to a Mats Sundin/Brendan Shanahan hybrid. He's not quite as big as both guys or as skilled, but is every bit as powerful and just a tough competitor and leader. You take a guy like Landeskog and put him with Matt Duchene and he's going to do some damage in the NHL. Maybe not right away, but I don't think you can miss with this player. He's a coach's dream and will be a huge fan favorite there for the way he plays and for his off-ice demeanor. Simply put, you win with guys like Landeskog, and while he may not be the flashy sportscar of other draft prospects, he's that powerful engine who you can drive for yours with minimal maintenance and is always going to be there for you when you need him.
Given the lack of elite guys in this class as a whole (though the depth is strong), I would have zero problem taking Gabriel Landeskog second overall. You're getting a winner and a guy who can play right away. Steve Spott is an excellent developer of talent in Kitchener, and NHL teams respect the program he has in place there. All of that is highly appealing given Colorado's situation.
Tom Stivali: After the consensus top two, the draft can go in a number of directions. I can see the players that will probably get drafted in the 3-10 slots go to a number of different clubs. One player who was ranked number two when the Mid-Term Rankings were released was Sean Couturier. He dropped a few spots in the final rankings and concerns have been raised about his skating. Describe for our readers what it means when a scout has concerns about a player's skating. As far as I can tell he can skate fine, so what can't I see that everyone else is seeing? Is this fixable with coaching?
Kirk Luedeke: Skating deficiencies come in different categories/varieties depending on the player, but in Couturier's case, he lacks a quick initial burst and the ability to accelerate rapidly in short areas. Quick stops/starts/changes of direction are a challenge for him. You will hear scouts use the phrase: "has heavy boots" which usually means that a player doesn't explode from a standstill and generate top speed in the first few strides, but rather labors to get that head of steam going.
This is a pretty common thing with a player of Couturier's size, however, and can be improved with power skating work/improvements to mechanics and also off-ice plyometrics and ladder work to increase footspeed/agility. Milan Lucic told me that his off-season grass drills and plyometrics work (along with the power skating he does) has been instrumental in his success in the NHL after being red-flagged during his draft season for skating/mobility. Because Couturier's speed is fine when he gets going, he doesn't have all that far to go.
When you watch Couturier on video, which is what I assume you are seeing, he's already moving and in stride with or without the puck (when he's about to receive the pass), so you aren't going to see much wrong with him without seeing how he looks coming out of the gate from a stop, or during sequences where he's having to make rapid changes in direction. That's where the criticisms of his mobility tend to originate.
In my view, he's not a terrible skater, but the lack of suddenness is evident and he'll never be considered a "plus-skater" no matter how much work he puts into it. When you're looking at drafting a player with the first or second overall pick, these are the kinds of things that teams/scouts will obsess about because his stride is a little funky, and he makes slower, wide turns at times. That said, if Couturier picks up a step or two, he'll be fine. I heard the same exact things about Patrice Bergeron when he was drafted, and the difference between Couturier and Bergeron (aside from the draft position) is about six inches and some considerable offensive upside. Because of where Couturier stands to be drafted, the stakes are higher for him.
By all accounts, he's a good kid and willing to work, so the skating is only a part of his stock drop off. I think some of it also has to do with scouts having seen him more as a late '92 whereby there are some projections that see him as a second-line center. If that's where you see him in the NHL, then there might be someone else you see with a higher upside, and that could be a source of the talk of him falling.
To be honest, I don't think Couturier will fall all that far. His hockey sense and hands are outstanding, and he's got the right character/intangibles that teams desire. I'd be surprised if he drops out of the top-four, and if he does, then whomever gets him beyond that will have a real nice value selection.
Tom: Kirk, this draft offers 5-6 quality defensemen who could really end up going in any order. Even though Adam Larsson is the consensus favorite you also have Dougie Hamiliton (who I think is your favorite defenseman in this class), Ryan Murphy, Nathan Beaulieu, and Duncan Siemens that could all potentially go within the top 10-12 picks. Is Larsson your top ranked defenseman? If he is, you mentioned earlier that you see him as a very good complimentary player. Do you feel that any of the other defensemen offer a higher upside than the Swedish defender?
Kirk: Larsson is still my top guy because of the complete package he brings to the team who picks him. Not to mention the fact that my projection may be on the conservative side. If he develops into more than just a complementary player, then he could end up being very good. Right now, going off of what we know, it's hard to say for sure, but the tools are certainly there. He had a excellent offensive season a year ago, but really fell off with his numbers this time around. I think a lot of that had to do with nagging injuries and also perhaps the pressure that comes with performing in the draft season. Larsson set the bar really, really high as a 16-17-year-old, so unfortunately for him, there was no place for him to go but down.
I like Hamilton's upside. I believe that he and Ryan Murphy have the highest ceilings of any of the defensemen including Larsson, but both have their drawbacks. In Hamilton's case, it's his natural awareness and positional savvy. One thing to keep in mind with him was that he is a converted forward, so he's still learning the defense position. Some scouts have expressed concerns about his hockey sense and whether he can process quickly enough to be the sum of his impressive parts.
Murphy's drawbacks are his size and overall defensive acumen- more in terms of his physical limitations when you talk about defenders being responsible for handling wingers that are bigger, faster, stronger than ever. He's going to have his hands full, even if he ends up being 5-11, 190 pounds or so at his peak of maturity. I see a lot of Phil Housley in him when I watch Murphy play, though- and I think any team who could get a guy with that kind of potential in the top-10 would be pretty happy with that.
Beaulieu gets high marks as well, though he played on a super team and didn't have the kinds of numbers scouts expected to see. He doesn't have the dynamic upside of a Murphy, Hamilton- and is not quite as skilled/poised as Larsson, but he's a character guy and coach's kid who knows what it takes to be a player. I think he's one of the more underrated pure puck movers in this draft.
And don't forget about Portland's Joe Morrow. I think he could be a surprise pick in terms of how high he goes. Top-15 would not surprise me given the demand that skilled puck movers bring on the market, and he's had a real good playoffs. Last impressions count for a heck of a lot among scouts.
Tom: With Hamilton, can you see him having a Cam Fowler like fall out of the top 10 because of those question marks? If it's not Hamilton who do you think might slip down 5-7 slots on where he was supposed to go? On the flip side who is this year's Jeff Skinner, who gets drafted much earlier than the latest rankings suggest he might be? My personal picks are Ryan Murphy as the guy who slips and Connor Murphy as this year's Jeff Skinner.
Kirk: As far as Hamilton falling out of the top-10, I suppose it is possible, but based on what I'm hearing from my sources, I don't see it happening.If anything, Fowler's success is a reminder to NHL teams of just how valuable players with his skill set are, and that a player with that kind of skill and talent can make an immediate impact. In hindsight, it's unbelievable that Fowler went that low. Hamilton has enough upside in him that I can't imagine he would suffer a similar drop this time around.
The Jeff Skinner thing is interesting because him going that high was not really that much of a surprise to those of us who were paying attention. I said multiple times throughout the season that Central's mid-term and final rankings for him were criminally low, and talked to numerous NHL scouts who were highly critical of where they had Skinner. I talked to Skinner's coach a couple of weeks before the draft and he told me then that Jeff was going to be a top-10 pick, so in the end, his going 7th overall to Carolina was not that major of a shocker for me. The kind of immediate impact and success he had as an 18-year-old rookie and Calder Trophy candidate was what I didn't quite see coming.
If I had to pick a couple of guys that we could see come off the board sooner than many are predicting based on Central's lists and others out there, I could see Saint John forward Zack Phillips being a good choice. Like Skinner, he's not the best skater, but he has sublime hands and just knows where he needs to be for the prime scoring chances. He didn't put up the same kind of numbers Skinner did a year ago, but 38 goals is still a nice feather in the cap, and he's bigger than the Hurricanes winger is. Phillips is 9th on THN's Draft Preview that just hit the streets and while that looks pretty high, I could see why NHL teams are high on him because all the guy seems to do is score.
Another player I see being picked surprisingly high is Swedish defender Oscar Klefbom. He doesn't get a lot of attention, but this is a guy who has size, can skate, fire the puck and has some pretty underrated passing/puck-moving skills. He's under the radar a bit, but it wouldn't at all come as a shocker if some team jumped on him in the top-20, because like Joe Morrow, he represents that next tier of two-way puck-movers and demand is high for those kinds of players these days. Teams will jump on that early, because if you wait too long, you can get shut out of the market altogether.
Connor Murphy is also going to go higher than he probably should as you mentioned. From a size and talent perspective, there's no issue with him being a first-round pick, it's just that he's played very little hockey over the past three or so years, so there's some risk with him in terms of durability The spleen injury seems to be one of those dumb luck things, but teams will want to take a real close look at the back problems he's had to make sure he doesn't have a chronic condition.
If everything checks out, then I think you're right- someone will roll the dice on him much earlier than many would expect. Risky business, but there's a potential payoff there if he can stay healthy. He's a better skater than his old man and has offensive potential at the next level, plus he just has this penchant for scoring big goals. He nailed the OT winner in Crimmitschau last month for gold, and also got a huge sudden death marker in Slovakia at the Ivan Hlinka tourney last August.
Part 2 to follow tomorrow.