SCOUTING REPORT

Jason Gregor
May 21 2012 10:49PM

Scouting isn't an exact science. Every scout has stories of a player they loved who never panned out, or a guy they weren't high on who played 10 years in the Show. There are rare exceptions, Sidney Crosby, where every scout ranks him #1 and labels him "can't miss."

Those players are very, very rare, and no player in the 2012 is a lock to be the next Crosby, but this draft class has a lot of very good to great players, and as usual not everyone has them ranked in the same spot.

I caught up with Mark Edwards from hockeyprospect.com and got his thoughts on a bunch of players, but we focused mainly on centres and D-men.

Hockeyprospect won't release their final rankings and complete draft guide until June, but Edwards chatted about who they liked, and why they recently ranked Alex Galchenyuk #1.

Jason Gregor: Did you move him up because he's a centreman, and you look at the potential value of a centreman being higher than a winger?

Mark Edwards: Yeah, I guess that would be one of the factors. I mean, we had Tyler Seguin ranked first over Hall which, you know; most had Hall at number 1. You could kind of look at it, I guess, similar to that. I like the fact that he's a big 6’2” centreman. I think he's a little more dynamic and makes players around him a little better than, say, Yakupov does. I'm not trying to sound sour on Yakupov, but you've got to put someone there.

JG: What about the injury factor for Galchenyuk? Is that a concern?

ME: Not a concern for me. And I spoke to one NHL team with a top eight pick, and he said he had absolutely no concerns at all.

JG: What's the best part of his game?

ME: I think just he's smart. He's a lot faster player than a lot of people think. He's powerful, and he's a great distributor of the puck.

JG: What about a weakness?

ME: I think his biggest weakness is probably that he needs to get better defensively. He made some strides early in the season before he was hurt, which wasn't a big stretch, and he actually showed signs of showing a little more commitment to defence in his brief return. And I saw two of his games. One of our scouts is based in Sarnia who saw him 40 times last year and saw every game in his return, so we're pretty much all over the Sarnia boys.

JG: What's the best element of Yakupov’s game, and what are his weaknesses?

ME: I think the best element of his game is just his pure goal scoring ability and his powerful bursts down the wing, his ability to create scoring chances all on his own. I think the weakness would be probably still distributing the puck a little bit. And I think you have to start to worry about the way he plays, with his aggressive style at 5’ 10 ½” and the injury concerns he had this year.

JG: Okay. Let's talk about the centre position. Galchenyuk is number 1 on your list then, who would be the next best centre in your mind?

ME: I really like Zemgus Girgensons from the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the United States Hockey League. He's got the top 6 scoring ability; and he plays a very physical brand of hockey - hard working, very, very good in all three zones. And he's just got that killer instinct and that will to succeed. I think he did a whole lot this year without a whole lot of help with him.

JG: How do you separate that, the quality of linemates, when it comes to looking at young players and projecting where they'll be in the future?

ME: It's always a factor, just like it is with being on weak teams. You know, maybe not just linemates, but I think weak teams. He wasn't on a brutal team, but they weren't as strong as last year. But whenever I watched Zemgus, I didn't think he had a whole lot of help around him, and they were definitely a much, much weaker team when he was occasionally out with some injuries. I really feel like he's one of the high‑end players that's been underrated by a lot of folks.

JG: What are your thoughts on Grigorenko?

ME: I'm not a fan at all, not a fan at all. He's got the elite skill, but he doesn't have that same desire. He would be the polar opposite of Girgensons' work. Girgensons will go through a brick wall to succeed. I just find flashes of brilliance from Grigorenko but then other times you wouldn't want to give him another shift.

JG: What about Radek Faksa from Kitchener?

ME: Faksa is a player that I think could go in the top 10. We've got him a little lower than that just because of consistency. There were games where I absolutely loved him and I can see him going in a top-five spot. There were other games where I could see him probably going in the early 20s just because of the lack of that high‑end potential game after game after game. And I saw Kitchener a lot. They're an hour away.

JG: There is another centreman in the OHL I'm guessing you saw a fair amount out of Belleville, Brendan Gaunce. What are your thoughts on him?

ME: Yeah. Brendan Gaunce, really good kid. I've spoke to him a lot this year because we're doing a book. I've got an author doing a book on him. We've interviewed him once a week all year, so he’s a kid I'm really familiar with. He is more of a second line centre or maybe even a third line centre in the NHL. He's very, very smart.

I call him a coach's type player, where you would have him out on power play but also have him out in last minute of the game. You just know he's going to execute and be in the right spot. He makes very few mental errors. NHL shot already, big kid, just probably doesn't have the same level of scoring as a guy like a Galchenyuk.

JG: It looks like there's probably going to be eight or more D-men taken in the first 15 picks. Right now who do you have as the highest ranked defenceman?

ME: We really like Griffin Reinhart.

JG: What about Reinhart puts him ahead of guys like a Ryan Murray, Matt Dumba, Morgan Rielly etc?

ME: Well, I'll qualify and say that with Reinhart, Murray, Trouba, Rielly or Pouliot, I think you could throw a blanket over them; and if any team took any one of those as the first guy off the board, I wouldn't really argue a whole lot. For me, Reinhart with that 6’ 4” size, his offensive abilities, the way he plays in his own zone ‑ I just really try and always find the smartest guys, and I think he and Murray are the two guys that are the smartest of the bunch.

And then I just throw in that extra size capability and the fact that Reinhart hasn't done a whole lot of training in off-seasons during his whole career thus far. He'll start like his brother (Max) did after he's been drafted, and I just see the upside being a little bit better. I mean, we're talking one ranking notch.

JG: Any concerns about his game?

ME: Due to his size, right now his feet are the weakness. But like I said, he's never done any major sort of training in the summers. He and his brother do other things. When Max was drafted, he started to work on skating more, and I think you will see Griffin do the same thing. After he goes off the board in June, he'll probably do some work on his footwork this summer and make progress, as his brother did.

JG: Now, you listed a lot of defencemen, but you didn’t have Dumba in with the guys like Trouba, Rielly, Murray and Reinhart. Do you have any concerns about his game?

ME: We like him. I have him that one slight notch behind that pack just simply because I don't think he has the same level of hockey IQ as those other guys. I don't think he plays as smart a game. I think the areas he could lead in are shooting, his offensive capabilities, his skating and hitting. He is truly high, high end, but I think his weaknesses are a bigger dropoff, and that's some of the defensive mistakes and liabilities. Can he get better at that? Obviously he can, but in this particular year he's up against some pretty stiff competition.

JG: Give me your thoughts on the diminutive Tarvainen who is playing in Finland right now. He's only listed at 160 pounds. He's 5’ 10” and he’s got a ridiculous amount of skill. Who does he remind you of, and is this a guy that likely is going to take a few years before coming into his own?

ME: I absolutely love him. I went to the Czech Republic, and I just couldn't get enough of watching him. He almost looked like he was playing ‑ you know, just playing pickup on a Sunday morning with some guys that were beneath his skill level and taking it easy at times. The puck was on a string. His vision stood out for me, the play‑making ability, just the plays that all of a sudden came out of nowhere when he had a guy draped on top of him and how quickly he could spin out of a corner and spin out of a check. He really, really impressed me. I think he's one of the elite, skilled with the puck, playmakers and scorers in this draft.

JG: What about Forsberg from Sweden?

ME: Really like him. He brings more of the power down the wing style. I think he needs a good centreman to bring out the best of him. He was excellent as well in the Czech Republic. He had an elite centreman on his line at that tournament, who was actually a late '94 and will go next year and we've got highly ranked for next year, Elias Lindholm.

Lindholm brought out the best in Forsberg. It was the best I've seen Forsberg. He's a kid who will mix it up. He wins his own pucks. He can flat out score. You get the puck inside the house, around the net, and he just finishes.

JG: What about surprise picks? Any guys who are maybe mid first‑rounders to late first‑rounders who you think will be solid late first rounders.?

ME: A winger that I coached, actually, a couple of years ago, University of Michigan, Phil DiGiuseppe, might be towards the end of the first round. I think that he might surprise some people when he gets a couple more years under his belt. He has high, high‑end scoring ability. He's got a real burst of speed through the neutral zone, and he’s a very smart player. I know him personally, so I know his commitment level. He's a good kid and a kid that's going to just keep getting better.

Another is a Stanstead College kid, Mark Jankowski, it will be interesting to see where he comes off the board. Scouts had to watch him play against inferior opponents so they had to judge him on skill alone. I thought he had a pretty high level of skill. I'm not sure where he'll end up coming off the board. Someone might get him in the second round somewhere, maybe even later than that. We'll have to find out. But he's another player that I think might be a steal a little bit later on.

Other forwards? You know, Sebastian Collberg, the Swede, the undersized Swede, has very, very high‑end skill. Size concerns will be there, because he is really tiny. But if he gets a little bit bigger, he could be one. Tanner Pearson will be interesting, the overage player, and to see where he goes off. Will he go in the first round or into the second? He's put up some huge numbers this year.

JG: And he's an overager, and because of that many expect he should be dominating. So how much does that hurt him in the eyes of scouts?

ME: It hurts him for us. We're not dropping him to the fifth round or anything, but it does hurt him for us because he does have two extra years. If you pick a name out of your hat here, a forward, and add two years development, what kind of numbers is he going to put up in his respective league? And that's kind of how we look at it in the situation. He obviously played well in the World Juniors, and he's a great talent, but I think it would be silly not to think about the extra two years development he's had, and the clear strength advantage. I mean, he's more of a man, so to speak.

JG: What about some other D-men who haven’t been talked about a lot. Guys who have underrated offensively or a very steady defenseman who just shuts down the opposition and likely won’t put up a lot of points.

ME: Matt Finn with the goal scoring. He's got some size. You know, pretty steady player.

Slater Koekkoek might go a little bit earlier than that with the Peterborough Petes. He's another one of the top guys that was injured. He's got some offensive abilities, too, but people underrate his defensive skill.

Patrick Sieloff of the United States program. Now, he's the definition of a defensive defenceman, a shutdown guy. I really like him, and he’s a real physical kid, one of the tougher D in the draft, but he probably levels out at 6 feet.

JG: Cody Ceci is an interesting player for me. He was rated higher earlier and now is out of the top-ten in some people’s eyes. Is a top-pairing guy, or more of a solid #3 or #4 D-man?

ME: He'll go off the board in the top 20 for sure. He's got some offensive ability and a really good shot. If I had to pick negatives ‑ they're not huge, huge weaknesses, but if I had to pick negatives, I would say a little bit of a footspeed issue. Coming off the wall on the power play, he's not the quickest guy getting to the middle. And he's a little bit too nice. I'd like him to be a little bit more of a nastier player and use that size. He can move the puck. He can carry it up ice, and despite the fact that he's not overly physical and mean, he contains guys along the walls and does his job.

Some interesting thoughts and great insight on a some players who will hear their name called sometime in the first round, and possibly a bit later.

I'll be chatting with more independent scouts in the next few weeks. If there are a few specific players that you'd like to get a scouting report on, let me know and I'll include it in the the upcoming weeks.

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor