The CHL Top Prospects game took place on Wednesday January 19th with a large number of the best 2011 Entry Draft prospects taking the ice in one of the marquee events leading up to the draft. You always have to approach this game carefully when analyzing it as these playersoutside the ones who have played together for Canada's Program of Excellence or the rare few who play on the same teamare literally put together and then thrown into the fire. This makes analyzing things like positional play and hockey sense hard at times because a fair amount can be due to unfamiliarity. The following are my thoughts on players from the game.
Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Center, Red Deer (WHL)
Nugent-Hopkins was more of the same for anyone who has seen him the last few years. He has true plus-plus puck skills and showed his great combination of vision, hands and passing ability. While not a plus skater speed-wise (he's still above average), his agility and edge control is way above average, which when combined with his puck skills, lets him be so elusive to defenders and creates a large amount of space for himself. On Zach Phillips' goal, he went hard to the net well and drew attention from defenders, which for a guy who has drawn concerns about his frame is exactly the kind of play you like to see. Behind Adam Larsson, I have Ryan as my likely #2 in the Draft. At the moment, it's between those two and Ryan Murphy in my opinion for the top three spots.
Ryan Murphy, Defenseman, Kitchener (OHL)
Speaking of Murphy, the toolsy blueliner showed to those unacquainted with him why he is so highly touted. His skating and puck skills are both plus toolsone could make a case they're above plus leveland he used both of them to be dangerous every time he was on the ice, even if at times he tried to do too much. He's very hard to check for opposing players, be it when he's rushing the puck or if you're trying to pressure him. When defenders got within two feet of him, he was easily erased off the puck, but that wasn't exactly an easy feat. He has the highest ceiling in the entire draft class in my opinion.
Nicklas Jensen, Left Wing, Oshawa (OHL)
Jensen is a very well-rounded prospect who has turned heads after coming over from Denmark. His speed isn't at a pro-average level yet, but his skating mechanics look good and once his legs get stronger it has the chance to get to that level. He showed solid puck skills and an above average if not plus shot. His technique on his shot is very good as his weight distribution and release are very refined. He showed a decent effort defensively too. One of the only blips I saw from Jensen was the fact that he made a couple of poor decisions with the puck in high percentage areas, which nearly led to scoring chances against.
Duncan Siemens, Defenseman, Saskatoon (WHL)
Siemens had a solid showing. He displayed above average skating for a big man, a smart defensive game and is a player who utilizes his physical assets well. He was winning battles in the dirty areas and separating players from pucks. His offensive skills are fringe at best, but his vision and hockey sense helped him be able to be a moderate distributor of the puck and anticipate when to jump into the play.
Joe Morrow, Defenseman, Portland (WHL)
Morrow's stock has risen up the charts with a good year scoring-wise for the powerhouse Winterhawks. His skating looked fairnothing to make me make a firm declaration in any directionbut I would definitely say around average and if not a tad below. There was a couple instances where he simply tried to do too much on the ice, but that is sometimes a result of the environment in these hyped up mass viewing events. He is definitely a player who likes to get involved in the offense, although I'm not sure his raw tools are good enough to be successful at doing that at the next level. Throughout the course of the game he did flash pro-level puck skills, and his distribution abilities were notable.
Sean Couturier, Center, Drummondville (QMJHL)
Couturier didn't really jump out like Nugent-Hopkins or Ryan Muprhy, but Sean doesn't have that kind of game that is explosive or flashy even as one of the top players in the game. His assets are things like his smarts, frame and hand-eye coordination, and he put those to good use. He protected the puck well when he had it, drew one penalty by outangling a defender with his body, and showed solid decision-making. His skating is an obvious concern, and it will be one of the major detriments to his stock come June.
David Musil, Defenseman, Vancouver (WHL)
One of the best defensive players in the draft class had his usual stuff on display in this game yet again, as Musil was a rock on the backend. He's very calm either when he has the puck or when a forward is rushing in on him. Musil used his body well, not trying to overhit and go out of position, yet effectively closing gaps and separating players from pucks. He was getting in lanes and blocking shots, and overall kept the shot flow against his team low while he was on the ice. His skating stride left a little to be desired, but a small complaint in what looks like a pretty advanced player.
Jonathan Huberdeau, Center, Saint John (QMJHL)
Huberdeau has been of the season's biggest risers and has switched the debate from whether or not he will go in the first round to exactly how high he will go in the first. Jonathan just bleeds puck skillswhen he gets the puck, his teammates just need to get open as Huberdeau's hands and creativity are so good he seems to create at a whim. His skating is fair and his frame needs some work, but there's no denying Jonathan's skills.
Nathan Beaulieu, Defenseman, Saint John (QMJHL)
Huburdeau's teammate on the loaded Saint John Sea Dogs, Beaulieu seems to be on a steady path to being selected in the first round thanks to his above average skating and puck skills. He loves to jump up and get involved offensively and he did so on more than occasion during this game. On the goal he scored, Beaulieu pinched in from the point and wristed it past a screened goalie from the top of the slot. Throughout the game Nathan's decisions weren't the best though; he had a few giveaways during the game, be it errant passes, rushing into traffic, or just being lackadaisical.
Also, in case anyone was wondering, I opted against doing a Mid-Year Draft Rankings due to the fact there were a few WHL guys I did not feel comfortable ranking without watching more. I still intend to do a Top 100 at the end of the year with full reports and explanations.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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