This week I will be sharing some notes on Division-I College games I have observed over the last few weeks. How could you not love college hockey and from an entertainment standpoint, itís an area of hockey that is underrated in the mainstream. Thereís always hype for the Under-20 tournament as well as the Memorial Cup, but those of you who donít watch the Frozen Four are doing yourselves a disservice. There are some very talented players in the NCAA, who exhibit higher physical maturity than you see from players in Junior, which results in everyone getting to watch a quality product on the ice.
Chris Kreider, Left Wing, New York Rangers (Boston College)
When you take a kid out of a U.S. high school, you typically expect to see a fair amount of rawness in their game because of the poor competition theyíre up against on a daily basis, the small number of games played and an overall bad hockey environment for a pro prospect. As long as the tools are there, if the prospect learns the game correctly, one can be optimistic about said prospect. In Kreiderís case the tools are there, and his skating and shot tools are both definite plusses. On more than one occasion I saw him breaking away into open ice to get off a shooting opportunity. Chris has also gotten stronger, one time after he let a shot go near the dot from the left circle, a defender about his size tried to check him but Kreider followed through with his shoulder and planted the guy on his rear-end. Kreiderís hockey sense though is still very off. His positioning at times was horrid, especially on the power play where he hung his teammates out to dry on missed cycles and he made some questionable decisions with the puck. As stated previously, rawness is typical with high school guys. Heís only 1.5 years removed and there have been subtle improvements, but the longer this goes without correction, the more I get concerned that this isnít just a high school thing.
Charlie Coyle, Right Wing, San Jose Sharks (Boston University)
Coyle, a first rounder from the 2010 Draft is listed as a right winger, but lined up at center in the game versus the University of Massachusetts. Coyle is listed at about 6í2Ē, 200 lbs. but he had the most filled out frame of anyone on the ice as an 18 year old freshman. His skating and speed was less impressive than in the past, but the leg power was still solid. Coyle utilized his big body very well to protect the puck and frequently skated on his off-wing and either turned around and shielded the puck, or found a way to see a lane and distribute it. While his puck-handling skills were impressive, his passes were off and somewhat choppy. Coyle was able to score a goal by establishing himself well in front of the net and tipping a point shot in. He also had a couple of other quality scoring chances, but he was unable to elevate his wrist shots well enough to get it past the goalie. The coaching staff at BU has put a fair amount of responsibility on the freshmanís shoulders and so far this season all heís done is earn it.
Derek Forbort, Defense, Los Angeles Kings (North Dakota)
A first round pick of the Kings in 2010, Forbort was a touted defender coming out of the USNTDP, with tools that project as a 2-3 and a game that was more advanced than the average defender his age. Highly touted by some scouts for his overall game, he may move quickly to higher levels, which is a big reason why I had him among the top 30 prospects in Hockey Prospectus 2010-11. However after viewings in the recent U-20 camp, seeing him against college competition and after hearing from people whoíve watched him play in the NCAA that initial projection may have been a bit off. The desirable tools are there, above-average skating, frame, and passing ability that can be suited for a pro-level top four. However on the flipside Forbortís hockey sense has just been significantly off in recent games. He consistently made poor decisions, be it tossing a puck into legs from the blueline, not anticipating a pressuring forechecker, forcing passes into lanes that werenít there, etc. Forbort is still a very desirable prospect, but itís looking like he could be several years away.
Justin Holl, Defense, Chicago Blackhawks (Minnesota)
Holl was another 2010 pick, a 2nd rounder out of high school and out of the gates thus far he has been nothing but impressive. His offensive numbers last year in high school (17-14-31 in 25 GP) even surpassed that of 2009 high school first rounder and current Blackhawks prospect Nick Leddy (8-29-37 in 25 GP), of course sample size amongst many other factors at the high school level makes objective analysis moot for a comparison such as that. Both prospects actually went to the same college, but Holl has looked better than Leddy ever did. Holl isnít a flashy skater, but his stride is nice and compact with the ability to get where he needs to go and when he wants to he could join the rush. For a guy just removed from high school, I have been impressed with his hockey sense. His defensive positioning, stick-work, and decisions with the puck on top of his impressive puck-distribution ability is not close to where Iíd imagine it would be. He was consistently in the right places, caused many a turnover for the opposition and made several mid-distance passes with relative ease and crispness.
Gustav Nyquist, Right Wing, Detroit Red Wings (Maine)
Nyquist looked good in his game versus North Dakota. The Red Wings prospect is expected to be an offensive dynamo this year after dominating the college ranks the season prior and heís certainly lived up to the billing as he had multiple scoring chances in this game. He generates a good extra gear in his step when he gets going, which lets him get around defenders. Gustav used his body well to protect the puck, on multiple occasions using a stiff-arm. His shot was underwhelming, but the goal he scored in this game was not a result of good finishing but rather from out-skating a defender to the puck after blocking a shot and seeing it deflect to the other end of the ice, forcing the goalie to come out and play the puck. Afterwards, he read the dump, blocked the puck and threw the puck into the empty-net.
Matt Donovan, Defense, New York Islanders (Denver)
A fourth round pick from 2008 and one of the USAís surprise performers at the recent U-20, there have been a few people in the scouting community raving about Matt Donovan. One NHL scout I talked to told me that he went to some games intending to watch one of his teamís prospects, but every time he looked there was Matt Donovan making people notice him. Iíve observed three of Donovanís games the past week, one bad and two good and in all I saw the plus puck skills that are making people talk. He likes being the guy with the puck, and has the hands to do some good things with it. At one point this weekend, he went end to end on a beautiful goal against North Dakota. His skating is good at a pro level yet nothing that puts him over the top. For a 6í0Ē, 190 lbs. defenseman, he has gotten stronger over the years and for a í90 birth date in his second NCAA season, he is showing the muscle to help overcome his frame in the physical aspects as he progresses to the pro game. A common fault Iíve seen with Donovan is he tries to over-do it with the puck and it usually results in poor and sometimes costly turnovers.
Jaden Schwartz, Center, St. Louis Blues (Colorado College)
Schwartz is listed as a center and has played that position before, but the recent 14th overall pick has been lining up at wing for Colorado College. Jadenís main strength by far is his puck skills. He creates space for himself when he is carrying the puck as he has the vision and coordination to navigate through several players. Jaden shows fine patience with the puck, keeping his head up while moving and protecting the puck until a lane opens up for him to thread the puck into. His passes are very crisp and for the most part on target. For a smaller forward, he comes out of the corners with the puck against bigger guys at a higher rate than youíd expect. Schwartz is capable of finding a way to slip into a battle in order to go after the puck without getting physical along the boards. Schwartz does not shy away from the physical play though, as this past weekend several goals from him were a result of just going to the net. His skating is the main concern I have with Jaden, as his skating as a whole isnít very desirable and could be considered fringe-average. When he gets moving in a straight line it can pass off as decent though.
Beau Bennett, Right Wing, Pittsburgh Penguins (Denver)
I wasnít that high on Bennett going into the 2010 draft, but the consensus opinion at the time said he was a first round pick, which he ended up being. I can see the arguments as he has some impressive offensive capabilities. He moves pretty well and is on par with pro level skaters, but he is also possibly above-average. As he grows into his legs Iím sure heíll establish himself more so in the latter. He made some fantastic puck displays in a game I watched, including a behind the back pass that stretched the horizontal length of the ice and right onto the tape, as well as an impressive quick-stop deke on the rush that helped set up a scoring chance. Bennett though looks like heís a ways away from the NHL. His hockey sense is underdeveloped, as well as his frame and both those aspects have to be improved before heís ready to take the next step. Heís looked like a perimeter player this season based on several viewings at the college level and from this yearís U-20 camp.
Jason Zucker, Right Wing, Minnesota Wild (Denver)
In several viewings of Zucker this season, Jason has done nothing but impress. He had to wait until the end of the 2nd round in the 2010 draft to hear his name but the Las Vegas native is showing signs he may be destined for an NHL job. His projection has always included being a tenacious forward, with good penalty killing skills, but the scoring upside has always been in question. He scored 29 goals last year for the USNTDP and has 5 goals and 6 points in 8 games so far as an 18 year old freshman. The sample size is an obvious deterrent, but the way Zucker has played in those games behind the raw scoring numbers is what makes him impressive. He moves well, and is able to pressure opponents into turnovers. He also shows no fear in going to the high percentage areas and finding success despite a frame that still needs filling out. He generates numerous scoring chances when he combines his speed, tenacity and anticipation, never mind the fact that he has a fairly good shot. Jasonís offensive upside is showing glimpses of promise and while he isnít a guy who can take over a game there are numerous qualities to him that can make him a desirable prospect.
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Corey Pronman is an author of Puck Prospectus, runs the statistical hockey site The Hock Project and is a writer for Premium Scouting. You can contact him at CPronman@gmail.com.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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