Big thank you to Mark Seidel, Chief Scout of North American Central Scouting and contributor to The Hockey News, for taking the time to chat about the upcoming 2010 NHL Entry Draft. His agency’s latest rankings can be seen here on THN. This time around, Leaf fans won’t be having the opportunity of watching one of the draft’s elite youngsters, such as projected top pick Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall, fall into their lap. But nonetheless, the draft is always a hot topic in the hockey world.
Q -Â Mark, thanks for taking the time. To begin with, how did you get started with North American Central Scouting?
A -Â Well Alex, I originally worked with ISS and Redline for a number of years before I was hired into the NHL by Minnesota. After we eventually parted ways, I decided to explore the virtues of a self-made business and started up my own agency: NACS. Essentially, we provide scouting services and player rankings for all levels including Major Junior, NCAA, and NHL.
Q -Â I see you’ve released some preliminary rankings for the upcoming Entry Draft next June. What are your general impressions of the upcoming 2010 class? How does it compare with previous years in terms of depth through the later rounds and elite talent at the top?
A -Â I’d say it’s a good draft class, certainly with an enviable amount of elite talent at the top. You’ve got 3 kids in Seguin, Fowler, and Hall that are going to be special, special players in the NHL for a long time. Even guys like Kabanov or Mcfarland, who are projected to go in the 6-7 range, are players who could be top 3 talents in most years. Overall, I’d say there is some nice depth in this class, especially for teams looking to find defensemen and goaltenders later on.
Q -Â You mentioned him already, but Tyler Seguin – is he for real? For those who don’t follow junior hockey as closely, this guy really seems to have come out of nowhere to join the discussion for the 1st overall pick, much like Brampton’s Matt Duchene did last year. What kind of skillset does Tyler bring to the ice?
A -Â Tyler is certainly a very special player and he is indeed for real. There’s been some preliminary talk of comparisons being drawn to Steve Yzerman, and that kind of lofty praise is generally unfit for such young players. Tyler’s posted fantastic numbers this season, made all the more impressive by the fact that he’s limited a little bit by his teammates, especially when you look at the kind of talent Taylor Hall gets to play with in Windsor. Last year, Seguin played with Matt Caria and Chris Terry for Plymouth, and there was a feeling that maybe those guys were carrying him a little bit, but with their graduation this year and Tyler’s breakout performance, I think we can safely put that notion to rest. You throw in a fantastic set of on-ice skills, success on the statsheet, and an excellent Ivan Hlinka tournament last year, and you’ve got the makings of a bonafide primetime prospect.
Q -Â Aside from the OHL snipers you’ve mentioned, it appears that there will be a lot of high-end offensive talent coming from the Russian ranks this year as well. Tarasenko, Gailev, Kabanov, or Burmistrov are just a few of the names scattered throughout the first round. Do any of these players project as elite offensive talents at the NHL level?
A -Â Tarasenko or Kabanov certainly possess a ton of offensive ability and projection down the road. Even Burmistrov has been quite impressive thus far in limited action in the OHL. I will tell you this: the draft this year should be very interesting to watch because of the amount of Russian talent available and the lack of a transfer agreement with the NHL. Personally, I think it’ll get resolved because of the threat of the 2014 Winter Olympics, but if not, then some lucky team is going to get a steal with a heckuva player like Florida did last year with Kulikov way down at #14. In my April mock draft, I stated that Kulikov was arguably the 2nd best defender in the entire draft.
Q -Â While we’re talking about elite players, here’s an interesting exercise. The past 2-3 drafts have really produced some standout talent in the first couple picks, but how do they compare against each other? In terms of forwards, how would you rank Hall, Tavares, Stamkos, Seguin and Duchene?
A -Â Haha, oh man. Great question. I’d have to go with Stamkos at #1, Tavares at #2, Duchene at #3, Seguin at #4, and Hall at #5. Seguin and Hall are special talents, but those three other guys are on another level.
Q -Â What about defensemen? Doughty, Hedman or Fowler? Hedman’s got that great size and projectability, Fowler’s silky smooth on the back end with the ability to put up a ton of points, and Doughty has looked fantastic for the Kings thus far. I hear he’s even being considered as a darkhorse candidate for the Canadian Olympic team, which would be a pretty ridiculous feat for a nineteen year old.
A -Â Hmm…. this is a tough one. I think when it’s all said and done, Hedman is going to be a franchise, Hall of Fame type of talent for Tampa, but I would still take Drew Doughty first and I’d rank Fowler at #3. I recently ranked Doughty as the top defenseman under the age of 22 for The Hockey News, and I’m sticking with that. That tells you how much I think of Drew and the kind of player he’s going to be down the road.
Q -Â Speaking of last year’s group, who do you think might be this year’s “Ryan O’Reilly”; not exactly a top 5 or even top 10 talent, but someone who can make an immediate impact as early as next season? It’s amazing to think that O’Reilly fell to the 2nd round, after a great season for Erie, a strong CHL All-Stars game, not to mention having the heart and character of a champion.
A -Â Â Oh boy, that’s a tough question, but a very good one. Let’s see… there’s this kid named Andrew Yogan I really like, coincidentally from the same Erie team that O’Reilly played on. I’ve currently got Yogan ranked just outside of the 1st round, so unfortunately not somewhere the Leafs will be picking, but he is a skilled player with some untapped potential. He reminds me a lot of Wayne Simmonds, the tough LA kid who many figured would be sent back to either junior or the AHL, but managed to play his way onto that team because of nice skill and solid character.
Q – Â What about Charles Inglis out of Saskatoon, ranked #44 on your list? I’ve heard some good things about him as well; described as player with decent skill and the kind of “pest-like” qualities a lot of teams love. Reminds me of Cody Eakin last year, who dropped all the way to Washington at #85 for some reason, despite a strong season, a good showing at the CHL Stars game, and a skillset and work ethic that should translate well to the NHL. I think a lot of these “character” guys in the middle round will usually get shortchanged somewhat because teams will tend to look for the “homerun” talents with those picks.
A -Â Oh yeah, definitely. Inglis is certainly someone to watch out for and sadly, is one of those candidates who could drop in the draft and will prove to be a steal for somebody if he does. He’s not 6’3 or 6’2, but he can do a lot of good things to help a team win. I tend to like smaller players, because I feel they get undervalued come draft time because teams fall in love with the projection of bigger guys who don’t seem to bring a whole lot. Guys like Drury and Gionta are examples of players who have shown that work ethic, determination, and strong commitment to two-way play is what determines your ability to succeed at the NHL level.. not your size.
Q – Here’s an interesting question from one our readers, and one that you were probably expecting at some point. Where would a player of Phil Kessel’s talent and projection rank in this year’s draft class?
A -Â Kessel’s talent has never been an issue in the eyes of any scout, but the off-ice question marks have been following him for a long time since his time in the NCAA and even at the World Juniors. In terms of on-ice talent, there isn’t a player in this draft that comes close to what Phil can do with the puck. Definitely the consensus 1st overall pick if that were the only criteria. However,Â factoring in some of those off-ice concerns, you would probably see him being taken at #4 overall in this draft, just a notch under the likes of Seguin, Hall and Fowler. If the Leafs are confident that they can get those question marks resolved, then they’ve got themselves a tremendous player.
Q -Â It might be a little early for this one, but are there any preliminary names beginning to surface as potneital sleepers to watch out for in the middle rounds? With no picks in the top 2 rounds, Leaf fans are on the edge of their seats for your answer to this one.
A -Â Well, I’ll try not to disappoint then. Let’s see… I like a kid by the name of Joel Vienneau, from Hearst, Ontario, who plays Tier II for Kingston. He’s a big goalie, somewhere between 6’3 – 6’5, who is a big-time sleeper prospect. I do think he’s listed on Central Scouting’s preliminary list of players to watch though. Another guy to look for would be Christian Thomas who’s currently lighting it up for Oshawa, and yes, that’s Stumpy’s son. He’s got the bloodlines, and he’s another of those undersized players with a lot of skill. He reminds me of Edmonton’s Sam Gagner: a little on the small side, but possessing a ton of hockey IQ. I think he could be a good one.
Q -Â Depending on how Gustavsson handles the rest of this season, the Leafs may find themselves looking for a netminder of the future via the draft come June. I’ve heard some good things about Calvin Pickard, the younger brother of Nashville 1st rounder, Chet Pickard. How does this year’s class stack up between the pipes?
A -Â Jack Campbell seems to have emerged as the consensus top goaltender so far, likely positioning himself somewhere in the late 1st round. He’s from the US Development program, and has drawn some positive comparisons to Rick DiPietro (minus the injuries of course). He’s got phenomenal physical tools, but his best asset is likely his mental makeup. He’s such a confident kid and very mature based on what we’ve gathered in a few interviews. But there are certainly a number of quality goaltenders in this year’s class, and Pickard’s another one of them. We have Pickard JUST outside our top 50 rankings right now but he is on the rise.
Q -Â We know that Burke loves to draft out of the North American ranks whenever possible, because those players tend to embody the qualities that he wants his teams to play with, and that was fairly obvious with their ’09 crop. Among the European, NCAA, and Major Junior ranks, is there one source of draftees that stands out as particularly stronger than others for 2010?
A-Â I’d say this year is quite deep for North American talent certainly. There are a lot of high-end players coming out of Major Junior, and it appears that the Ontario Hockey League will be producing the 1st overall pick for the 4th straight season. Last year saw an unusually deep crop of Swedish players coming out of Europe, whereas we’ll likely see a bevy of talented Russians highlighting the top of this year’s class. There is also a strong group of high schoolers out of Minnesota as well as a few intriguing Finnish players to look out for as well.
Q -Â Being obviously very familiar with USA Hockey, Burke dipped twice into the talent pool that is the US Development program for wingers Kenny Ryan and Jerry D’Amigo last season, both of whom have yielded early positive returns. Add in names like Palmieri, Morin, and Shore, and you’ve got a pretty strong ’09 class. With as many as 6 players in your top 32 so far, it appears as though the US-NTDP is primed to produce another strong group of quality players in 2010.
A -Â Oh, absolutely. USA Hockey is putting more and more money into these development programs every year, and the results are starting to show. And you’re right, this year’s group appears very strong. I’ve got a pair of big-bodied defensemen in Forbort and Merrill in the mid 1st round of the upcoming draft, as blueliners who can really skate and possess considerable upside. Then you’ve got Campbell whom I’ve already mentioned as the consensus top goaltender as well. The advantages of the way USA Hockey develops talent is that you can get the best players together and have them eat, sleep, and play together. Comparing that to the development track record of the USHL for example, and you’ll really see a difference.
Q -Â Last year, you had Kadri going to the Oilers at #10 in your mock draft and predicted that they would love his savvy and nastiness over there. Were you surprised to see Nazem go as high as #7 to Toronto, especially when a talent like Pajaarvi-Svensson was still on the board? I believe you had MPS as the 4th best talent in your rankings.
A -Â Well I was, and I wasn’t. I mean, sure, you’re always surprised when the draft doesn’t go according to your rankings, or else I would’ve had Kadri at #7 myself. But I will tell you that the more homework you do about Kadri, the more you get to know him and learn about his habits and background, the more you begin to appreciate him as a person and as a player. I know that Dave Morrisonn and his group, are right up there at the front of the pack when it comes to doing your homework for scouting players. If those guys like him, they’ve certainly got good reason to, and I think Leaf fans can attest to that after seeing how impressive Kadri was during the preseason.
Q -Â Do you agree with the decision to send him back to junior? Was he not ready for the NHL, and how has he looked so far back in London?
A -Â Well Ron Wilson did say that they want Kadri to go back and dominate the junior ranks to the tune of 100 points or something like that. My concern with that is that like Seguin, Kadri is one of those special talents that you need to surround with elite talent in order to really bring him along development-wise. We saw how he stepped his game to another level when he had NHL calibre wingers flanking him on either side. I think sending him down was the safer decision for sure, because he could use time to get stronger physically. I think it was probably the best long-term decision for the Maple Leafs, but it is by no means a perfect one.
Q -Â Jesse Blacker’s another kid who really opened up some eyes at the Leafs’ rookie tournament and camp this fall. Strong two-way game, plays the angles well, and has a bomb from the point. What are your thoughts on him?
A -Â I’ve always loved that pick for the Leafs. Tremendous value at that spot in the draft. I’ve loved Blacker since his midget days playing for the Toronto Red Wings. It was unfortunate for everyone involved that Windsor was so deep with Cundari, Fowler and Ellis, where Blacker couldn’t get the ice-time he needed to be at his best. The move to Owen Sound should help him in that regard, but like Kadri, he’s not going to have the teammates around him to help him take his game to that next level.
Q -Â That’s it from me. Thanks a lot for your time Mark, we really appreciate it. Best of luck with your work the rest of the year and we hope to hear from you again soon.
A – No problem Alex. Anytime.