The next installment of our Scout Series looking ahead to the NHL Entry Draft in June takes us south of the border to American born players skating in the USHL and NCAA.
Andrew Weiss of Future Considerations was kind enough to join us and chat prospects from the Red, White and Blue. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @WeissFC:
Christian: USA Hockey contributes a couple first rounders to the NHL Draft most every year among great depth picks, what do you think the strength of this draft class is as a whole?.
Andrew: I think it is a pretty mixed bag of players at the USA ranks in this year’s draft class. Compared to year’s past, the depth amongst the USA players is definitely not there though.
In a draft that does not have a lot of high end talent, I think staffs are going to be looking at giving preference to guys who are considered safer picks in the top 30. That said, a guy like Dylan Larkin is probably one of the safer picks I have seen over the last couple of years and will provide teams with that option. Then there are players like Sonny Milano who is an electrifying player but has some red flags in his game. The same can be said about Alex Tuch and some of the aspects of his game that still need to be rounded out.
C: Dylan Larkin and Alex Tuch have jostled for position as the top power forward, and overall, USHLers in the 2014 Draft, which do you think has come out on top?
A: If I am picking I am going with Dylan Larkin. For one, he is a much safer player and there are no concerns that his offensive ability that was seen this year will not tail off as he continues to develop. I am not as concerned as others that Tuch’s offensive ability is extremely enhanced because he played with Milano and Eichel all year, but I still understand the concerns. Overall though, Larkin is a much better all-around player than Tuch, but that is no disrespect to Tuch either because I think he is/can be a very special player too.
C: Sonny Milano is another guy who’s been in the conversation as the best American born skater in this draft, how close to the other two is he, or do you in fact see him as the best American in the draft?
A: For me personally I think there is a gap between Milano and Larkin and a slight gap between Milano and Tuch. Last year and early on this year it is hard not to get excited about what Milano brings to the rink with his skating and offensive skill set, but like so many players in this year’s draft there are concerns in his game. I think Milano can get tunnel vision at times with the puck and defensively he could dedicate himself more and those areas, especially the later, concern me. Going back to the question, I think Milano is the third best American prospect and provides good value in the later half to third of the round.
C: On Milano: he piled up points but played most his season along side top 2015 prospect Jack Eichel. How much of Milano’s production came from playing with an elite talent such as Eichel, and do you think he’s a different player without Eichel alongside him?
A: I do not think there are many Midwest USA scouts who doubt Milano’s ability to create offense by himself and I am certainly not one of them. Case in point, even though it was almost a year ago, was his play during the last half of his U17 season in which Eichel was on the U18 team. I was able to watch Milano a couple of times in these games and he was the catalyst for a lot of the team’s offense on a team that really struggled to find offense.
C: Thatcher Demko established himself as the top goaltender in this draft well before picks for the 2013 draft were made, has he played like the blue chip goaltender he’s regarded to be this year? Is he worth being a 1st round pick?
A: Despite being the youngest player in college hockey, Demko had a very good season. There was very little struggle seen in my viewings that made him look like a freshman with Boston College this season. As for being a first round pick, it is tough to say because I think it will come down to whether or not a team in the last third of the first round believes they need a high end goalie in their prospect group. There’s little doubting on my end that he is not a top 30 talent in this year’s draft.
C: Jack Dougherty appears to have established himself as the top regaurd from the US this draft, what can you tell us about him?
A: Dougherty was a guy who I watched a couple of times at St. Thomas (Minn.) Academy the last two years and thought he was a very good player, but never thought he would be in contention for a Friday night selection heading into this year. That said, this year he has really elevated his game into a player who deserves first round draft talk. He is a very reliable defenseman with a good all-around game. He is also a player who can come in and run a power-play and will likely do so fairly early into this college career at Wisconsin. I think another feather in his cap was watching him play with the team’s weaker defensemen whether it be at the All-American Prospects Game or at the NTDP and still looking good defensively all while providing support to his partner. You look at the development path Jake McCabe had at Wisconsin and I see a very similar track for Dougherty.
C: The Flames hold two 2nd round picks this year and Nick Schmaltz is an electric offensive player that could be available in that range, what are your thoughts on slick pivot?
A: Assuming Schmaltz is still there, I think he would definitely provide good value in the second round for any team. He was a disappointment for me as the season wore on particularly in the last month of the season’s viewings of him. That said, his offensive ability when he’s on his game is something that is going to be highly coveted by NHL teams. There is no denying his vision, goal scoring ability, and overall puck skills and this was on full display at the World Junior A Challenge when he was the best player on the ice despite being one of the youngest. The big concern I saw with Schmaltz that many may not be talking about is between his ears with his mental ability when times get tough. I saw what I call the “snowball effect” at least three games this year where several bad shifts early would dictate the way he was going to play the rest of the night. I still think a team may take a chance on him late in the first, but I think is better suited to be taken early in the second.
C: Which American born 2014 eligibles have surprised you this season and bumped up their draft stock?
A: Defenseman Blake Siebenaler who played his first full season of junior hockey with the Niagara IceDogs comes to mind. He is a player I saw a lot of when he was younger and quite a bit last year as he split time between the Belle Tire U16s and the Indiana Ice. I think a lot of it may have been his struggle to transition from playing against 15 and 16-year-olds one weekend and then playing against the top junior players in America the next, but I saw a player who struggled a bit and was slated to be a late round selection at best when I did my preliminary 2014 outlook. Siebenaler was very impressive this season who can skate like the wind and is very smart offensively. The defensive aspect of his game is still rounding out, but this really is not a huge surprise with him having made the transition from forward to defense just two and a half years ago. He is a player with tremendous upside and will go before the third round is complete.
He may have been a player who got lost in the depth of last year’s NTDP forward crop, but I did not see a ton that was notable from Shane Eiserman last season with the NTDP U18’s. As a late 1995-birth-year, Eiserman went to Dubuque this season to finish high school and was a big bright spot for the Fighting Saints. The power forward is a bull in a china shop and showed a great two-way game this season. His skating is also very good too. The only question I have is how well his offense game will translate to the pro game. Even so, I really like Eiserman in the second round.
C: Which have disappointed?
A: Jack Glover was a guy who I believed was a lock for the first round after watching him several times with the NTDP U17 team last year. He showed a unique dynamic of size, elite skating ability, and outstanding puck skills. This year, for the majority of the season his puck skills were a real struggle and he never looked comfortable with the puck in the viewings I had. At the same time though, one NHL scout I talked to about Glover said you need to focus on what he can do which is a very valid point. There’s no denying his skating ability, he is also pretty reliable in his own end, and you cannot teach size (6’3”, 195). I think he is a player that could sneak into the second round but if I had to bet I think he will be a top 90 pick. It also helps seeing the track record University of Minnesota Associate Head Coach Mike Guentzel has done with the defensemen and knowing Glover will be in a good spot helps.
It is always tough for me to see Western Conference prospects so I did not see much of Ryan Mantha when he played for Sioux City last year. Even so, a lot of scouts really had liked his game heading into this year. Watching him earlier in the year at the All-American Prospects Game and World Junior A Challenge provided a lot of disappointments in the hype. When he was traded to Indiana at the deadline I really got a lot of second half viewings of the physically gifted defenseman. I think his puck skills improved a little bit with the help of former NHL defenseman and Indiana coach Jeff Brown, but they still need work. He is also very inconsistent with his physical play which is disappointing considering his size. It will be interesting to see where Mantha ends up going next month and I do not think it is out the question he may be passed on this year.
C: The 1st round always holds a lot of weight with fans, but the later rounds often offer solid value as well, who are some potential gems that are currently ranked outside the Top 30?
A: I think Eden Prairie (Minn.) High School’s Luc Snuggerud is a player who has tremendous upside and will be a second or third round selection. I really liked his offensive and skating ability when watching the Eagles play this season and I also heard he was strong in his season ending stint with Omaha (USHL). Another player I really liked who I think it pretty under rated and provides a lot of upside is Maxim Letunov. He is extremely skilled offensively, but still needs to fill out and get stronger. Once he fills out his 6’3” frame and becomes tougher to play against he could develop into a middle round steal I think.
C: Who are some American prospects you see as overrated?
A: Schmaltz and Glover, as were already mentioned above.
C: How does the 2014 American class compare to recent ones? Do you buy the notion that 2014 is a weak draft?
A: I definitely think it is a down year aside from some of the high-to-middle end players eligible at the NTDP. I think this year it was much easier than years in the past to spot glaring holes in players’ games compared to years in the past. I think the number of Americans drafted will be down only a little bit, but it will be the later round picks that bring the number drafted close to previous marks.
C: Are there any second or third time eligibles that have made a considerable case this year to finally be picked?
A: While he is not an American, 1994-birth-year Brandon Montour was the USHL Player of the Year and came out of nowhere to be a player, much like a Shayne Gotisbehere, to provide tremendous early-middle round value. He is very gifted offensively and logged a ton of minutes for Waterloo in my viewings of him during the Clark Cup Final last weekend. Neal Pionk was a player who I really liked last season during his senior year at Hermantown (Minn.) HS and was surprised he did not get drafted. He had a very good year for Sioux City and I came away from the World Junior A Challenge very impressed with his development from the Minnesota High School tournament when I first saw him. Though he is a bit undersized, I think he provides good value in a weak draft in his second year of eligibility.
C: Who’s your favourite eligible and why?
A: I really like how NTDP defenseman Jon MacLeod showed early in the season. He is easily the most physical defenseman I have seen since Pat Sieloff and is simply a tough player to play against. He lacks offensive skill that is going to be shown on the score sheets, but he makes the plays the start the offensive plays whether that is creating a turnover or making the smart breakout pass to get the puck out of the defensive zone.