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Premium Article Conn Smythe Watch (06/07)

June 6, 2011
Top 100 NHL Draft Prospects
6-10

by Corey Pronman

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For a description of the methodology in these rankings, including the Projected Peak and Statistical Comparables (courtesy of Iain Fyffe), please see the Introduction. We'll be revealing more of the Top 100 every few days leading up to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Full list of Top 100 NHL Draft Prospects

6. Ryan Murphy, Defense, Kitchener-OHL

It's hard to start a write-up of Ryan Murphy without headlining his skating ability, as that tool is really what drives his value so much. It's a 65 grade tool and there is so much to like about how Ryan Murphy skates—his top speed, acceleration, lateral movement and edge control. He can get to top speed within a few strides that he generates off quick legs and that top speed is very dangerous to the point where he will make NHL defenders back up an extra few steps to keep him in front of them. Murphy moves well from a standstill and can make people miss by out-angling them and being elusive. Murphy also does not shy from using his best weapon, frequently taking the puck out from behind his net and taking it deep or skating around defenders in the offensive zone. Sometimes he can get overzealous when trying to create offense but he doesn't make a high amount of bad decisions either. Murphy's puck skills are plus, with his ability to handle the puck at high speed being very good. His passes are crisp and accurate with his distribution skills being quite very good and for a player commonly labeled a puck-rusher, he sees the ice at a high level too. That is a good sign as likely when he gets to the pro game, he will likely be coached into toning down some of his superman acts with the puck and having the ability to be an above-average playmaker will help his power play value. When Murphy has the puck, he has the look of a unique player in how he moves around, makes people miss, and is aware of his surroundings. His shot is decent, and when he gets a full wind-up he can put some fine velocity on it. The physical game is the biggest question mark on Murphy as he comes in at around 5'10", 165 lbs. and how he'll handle that aspect at the top level is the biggest deterrent to his draft value. To his credit, Murphy isn't afraid of contact but there are several times at the Junior level where bigger players would simply outmatch him. His defensive game has come a ways since last year as well. While I wouldn't say his positioning is good, it's decent for a Junior player but still grades as below-average. The lack of physical ability is the obvious liability going forward. He isn't exactly completely shy from playing physical but there is nothing that stands out in that regard and how he builds his body in the coming years will be a significant key to his pro career and a risk for whoever drafts him.

Ranking Explanation: When doing this ranking, I had my first major positional battle, so I had to take factors other than just pure skill set into account. In pure projections, I actually had Zibanejad over Murphy by a slight margin. Both of them are smart players who are great with the puck. Murphy is well above-average in skating and the opposite in the physical game, while Zibanejad is simply above-average at both. When it came to the end of the talent evaluation, Zibanejad came ahead by a slight margin without even taking into account his great intangibles. However, when I kept in mind that both are these players project towards the top-tier of production points, in today's NHL market defensemen are scarcer at the higher production points than forwards are, so thereby from a value standpoint, Murphy got a slight edge. While defenseman development is a concern, the fact Murphy's strength is in his offensive abilities will help him produce quicker as NHL coaches are more prone to playing offense and protecting defense if the skills are there.

Projected Peak GVT: 8.7

Statistical Comparable: Chris Snell

7. Mika Zibanejad, Left Wing, Djurgarden-SEL

Mika Zibanejad is a player who is just fun to watch. His combination of skill and work ethic make him a pest and a scoring threat on every shift that he's out on the ice for. He's a solid skater, with a smooth extension on every stride. Zibanejad consistently keeps his feet moving and is well conditioned which lets him jet up and down the ice for extended periods of time. Zibanejad has 55 puck skills and will on occasion flash plus. He can make noticeable moves with the puck when standing still and moving in full stride. He's a sneaky good passer as well and more than once I've seen Zibanejad thread a seeing eye bullet pass through traffic that caught the defense completely off guard. At times though, he does get a little too cute with his passes. His shot is solid to above-average, with a noticeably hard wrist shot and mechanics that let him get shots off from non-ideal stances and he has been used as a trigger man on the power play. Zibanejad projects as an above-average physical player, but at the moment still has a thin frame and a major need to bulk up. Despite that, he is a tremendous forechecker who causes many a turnover with how he physically pressures the opponents. He's very smart with his stick, getting it in lanes and causing disruption. When you top it off with the fact he runs into any opponent who has the puck and with his relentless motor in both ends he has high-end upside as a defensive forward and penalty killer. He should fast track to the next level, and could be a top-tier two-way forward in the NHL who can line up at center or wing.

Projected Peak GVT: 9.0

Statistical Comparable: Niklas Sundstrom

Ranking Explanation: Zibanejad rose to this point on my list thanks to a skill set that is above-average in just about every regard, and intangibles that are just off the chart. In comparing him to Beaulieu it wasn't really that close. Zibanejad is significantly better in the possession game, and the only area where Beaulieu exceeded him was in skating by a full grade, but that wasn't enough to top everything Zibanejad brought to the table. This was one of my easier rankings to do. Zibanejad arguably in pure talent could go toe-to-toe with Larsson and Murphy and get to fifth overall but as said before the market values play a part with this ranking more than talent.

8. Nathan Beaulieu, Defense, Saint John-QMJHL

The top defense prospect and late '92 birthdate followed up a 12-goal, 45-point season in 2009-10 with…. well another 12-goal, 45-point season in 2010-11. Nathan Beaulieu is an above-average skater who flashes plus when he gets going in a straight line, but still moves very freely and smoothly in other directions with an impressive first few steps. His skating is his best tool and he doesn't refrain from using it either by rushing the puck up, pinching in, or going out of position to get to a puck that most QMJHL players wouldn't be able to get. His puck skills are above-average which let him be an effective rushing defenseman in regards to being able to go around the opposition. He frequently executes above-average passes and while his vision does show plus ability, his passing ability is not at that level yet and at times, he turns the puck over going for the perfect pass or takes too much time looking down his target. Beaulieu has a solid shot which has decent accuracy to put through traffic and zip when he has a lane to let it fly although I don't see him being a significant triggerman at the next level. Nathan doesn't shy from the physical game and will frequently throw his body around, even at times landing some highlight crunches. However his strength is lacking and opposing forwards are able to shrug him off during battles. Beaulieu's defensive game is decent and until his strength improves his stick-checking ability is good enough to help him maintain an average level, but with his skating ability and improved physical game would do wonders in that area.

Projected Peak GVT: 5.4

Statistical Comparable: Stephane Robidas

Ranking Explanation: Beaulieu certainly didn't put up the statistical performance throughout the season to warrant this type of ranking for a defender without standout defensive tools, but this ranking is more tools-based than performance-based. When comparing him to McNeill, like with Zibanejad vs. Murphy, I actually had McNeill over Beaulieu by a slight yet noticeable margin. McNeill is a better possession player, has better physical tools, better intangibles, and is a better scorer while Beaulieu's only edge was in his skating. This isn't to say there is a wide difference between the two as the discrepancies between tools were usually very small, but five small won battles versus one is still a win. This goes back to market values, as in today's NHL market a first pairing defenseman with offensive tools (upside, not projection) has more value/Goals Versus Salary value than a below-average first line or above-average second line center. The difference between the two prospects wasn't enough to overcome that fact.

9. Mark McNeill, Center, Prince Albert-WHL

Mark McNeill has been one of the major risers in this year's class who looks like a very projectable player at the next level. McNeill is a solid skater who gets up to a notable top speed and flashes decent agility. He displays good conditioning and it is apparent in how he flies up the ice end-to-end for full games. I don't think he'll be turning defenders around at the next level, but he's going to be able to skate with the average pro. Mark has above-average puck skills with the ability to be hard on the puck and protect it, flash a solid deke, and make heady distributions with spurts of above-average ability in that department. While I have not seen him get enough scoring chances to get an accurate read of his shot, scouts I've talked to rave about his shot mechanics and his placement ability with it. McNeill's best quality is in regards to his hockey sense, as he thinks the game at a notably above-average level and has a very advanced defensive game for a pre-draft prospect. He comes back and supports his defenders on every shift with good positional and physical play and rarely leaves the zone until he's sure there's no threat, but yet still puts offensive puck possession pressure on the opposition. There are very few holes in Mark's game, and he's a prospect that can fast track to the NHL and be playing scoring minutes within a couple of years.

Projected Peak GVT: 6.2

Statistical Comparable: Josh Holden

Ranking Explanation: McNeill found his way to the number nine spot thanks to his well-rounded game without a glaring weakness in his skill set, good intangibles and the fact that he's a very projectable player to reach his upside. When comparing him to Grimaldi, I was putting him side-by-side with a prospect who has one of the best upsides in the draft. Not surprisingly, I had Grimaldi as a better puck possessor, but not as much as one would think because McNeill's very good hockey sense helped keep the race tight in that regard, and his advanced all-around game really helps drive significant value for him. Grimaldi was a grade and a bit better in the skating and shooting department. However, the fact that Grimaldi was not able to run away but just simply be better in the skills department made that gaping hole in the physical game lead to a slight edge for McNeill.

10. Rocco Grimaldi, Center, USA Under-18-USHL

The most common phrase I hear in reference to Rocco Grimaldi when I talk to scouts usually goes along the lines of, "If only he was 5'11", then he'd go first overall." He is one of the, if not the most gifted player in this draft class from a pure hockey skills perspective. Grimaldi's a true plus skater with well above-average acceleration and gets to a plus top speed after a handful of strides. He's agile standing still and in motion, and I've seen him out-skate a defender chasing him skating forward while he was merely side stepping. He possesses plus puck skills and in regards to when the puck is on his stick, there's really not a single area where there's an issue. His hand-eye coordination, stick-handling, passing, even to a degree his puck protection is all there and at a desirable level. Grimaldi's shot is also at a plus level, and he can score with his wrist shot or slapper from well beyond the crease area and he generates a large amount of power on all his shots. He thinks the game at a solid to above-average level, has notable vision with the puck that allows to him execute plus passes regularly, although I have at times seem him force plays here and there. He's solid defensively, and is effective at even-strength and on the penalty kill in that regard. Grimaldi's intangibles are off the charts; he simply flies up and down the ice and does whatever it takes to get the puck off players. Despite the 5'6" frame, he regularly challenges players much bigger than him and wins his fair share of battles although not enough to erase the liability. The frame will continue to hamper his absolute potential for his entire career, but if there was ever an ideal model of a player who could overcome being well below-average size-wise, that player would be Rocco Grimaldi.

Ranking Explanation: I can understand the skepticism by some of having a 5'6" forward this high, so it would be best for me to state my philosophy in regards to size. I do not see size, or for the matter of fact any one tool and more specific a lack of a tool, as a reason to write off a prospect. A prospect's skill set is a combination of many qualities and if they're 50/50 or 65/35, if it the ends it equals 100 that's all I care about. Having a major liability in one key area can be supported if one is very strong in many other areas, and for Grimaldi, that's the case. He's above-average to well above-average in just about every tool minus size and has off the charts intangibles. That's the recipe to overcome well below-average size. In regards to comparing him to Khokhlachev, here we had two smallish, skilled centers going head-to-head. I had Khokhlachev as a better puck possessor by the slimmest of margins, but the fact that Grimaldi was significantly better in the skating, work ethic and scoring departments and that the size difference wasn't that big, gave Grimaldi the edge back.

Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Corey by clicking here or click here to see Corey's other articles.

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