Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Top 10 Players to Consider at 3rd Overall

If you're like me, then you like to do your own research about a player, combined with takes from a variety of sources, rather than just reading something and making a snap judgment.  It is in this light that today's article will not go in depth about who the Canadiens should take at third overall and why that player is better than all the rest.  Instead, it will give an overview of 10 guys, in a very rough order, about whom you should do some learning over the next 2 months in preparation for the NHL Entry Draft.  In early June, in the weeks leading up to the draft, once I've completed a more thorough analysis of some of these guys, I'll go over my take on who the team should pick and the players' respective strengths and weaknesses.

Without further ado, 10 "prizes" that might await the Habs for their season of hardship.

10. Olli Maatta, D, London Knights (OHL)

When preparing my final top 10 for the Habs' pick prior to last year's draft, I slanted it heavily towards forwards, indicating that was the direction I hoped the team would go.  We now know that the team went with a slider in defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, a pick which may work out well, but which also further accentuates the need to draft a forward this year.  Thus, though there are a number of high potential d-men available, only a few are listed here, with many like Morgan Rielly, Jacon Trouba, Griffin Reinhart, and Matthew Dumba being just as good - if not better - prospects than some of the players listed here, but not filling as much of a need in the organization's depth chart.

If the team does take a d-man though, it is likely that they are most familiar with Maatta, who plays for Jarred Tinordi's London Knights.  The Finnish-born two-way blueliner isn't quite as big as the towering Tinordi, but can handle his own at 6'2", 198 lbs.  On the stacked Knights roster, he finished an impressive +25 as a rookie, and has taken his game up another notch in the playoffs with 12 points in 10 games thus far.

9. Cody Ceci, D, Ottawa 67s (OHL)

Another defenseman who might get consideration is Ceci, who posted a major jump in the NHL Central Scouting Rankings, going from 16th amongst North American skaters at the midterm to 6th.  Ceci, like Beaulieu last year, is a late birthday, meaning he has already completed three full seasons in the Ontario League and will be eligible to jump to the AHL after just one more season of junior hockey.  His numbers this season were head-turning, with 60 points in 64 games ranking behind only Dougie Hamilton offensively. At 6'2", 203 lbs, he already possesses a very solid frame as well.

8. Zemgus Girgensons, C, Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)

Scouts have a very tough time comparing USHL players with CHL prospects and European youngsters as play in every league varies significantly.  As such, Girgensons is a bit of a wildcard in the first round, especially as some teams may be hesitant to draft a player of Latvian origin so early (see: the Anze Kopitar effect).  But Girgensons should go early, leading his club with 55 points in 49 games this season, and scoring 2 goals in 6 World Junior games on a weak Latvian squad.  A year earlier, he helped Latvia return to the U20 top division by scoring 4 goals and 7 points in 5 D1 games before his 17th birthday.  At 6'1", 182 lbs, Girgensons shows potential to fill out and become an imposing force down the middle.

7. Teuvo Teravainen, RW, Jokerit Helsinki (Finland)

At 5'10" and 185 lbs, Teravainen doesn't have the size the Canadiens are looking for, but there is little doubt in his skill.  At 17, after scoring 12 goals and 20 points in 11 Finish junior league games, he was called up to the men's league and produced 18 points in 40 games.  He picked it up further scoring 6 points in 9 SM-Liiga playoff games this year.

6. Brendan Gaunce, C, Belleville Bulls (OHL)

Gaunce is a big center like Hab fans have been clamouring for, with a strong 6'2", 205 lbs frame.  Not only did he increase his production from 36 points in 65 games a year ago to 68 in 68 this season (leading his team by 17 points), but he also went from a -31 to a +4.  Gaunce has shown some of what Brian Burke would call truculence, willing to drop the gloves when the need is there.  Anyone on this list here and lower would be a stretch at #3, and would likely mean the Canadiens traded down from where they stood.

5. Ryan Murray, D, Everett Silvertips (WHL)

Murray is seemingly the consensus top defenseman in the draft, so he may be the only blueliner that Hab fans would be able to digest the team taking.  He's not as big as the d-men lower on this list at 6'0", 185 lbs, but he is solid defensively and able to contribute up front with 31 points in 46 games this year (and 3 goals and 5 points in just 4 playoff games).  The word is that Kevin Lowe has approached Murray about playing for Team Canada at this year's World Championships, which will give all scouts a look at how he fares against older and bigger competition.

4. Radek Faksa, C, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

A native of Opava, Czech Republic, Faksa is another big center at 6'3", 202 lbs.  He crossed over to North America for this season and scored 29 goals and 67 points in 62 games as an OHL rookie.  On the downside, he did miss a bit of time with a concussion, and his scoring clip dipped in the playoffs with 5 points in 8 games.  Still, he plays a strong two-way game, so he may be the kind of complete player the Canadiens like.

3.  Filip Forsberg, LW, Leksand (Sweden)

A popular pick amongst Hab fans for the Canadiens selection, the young 6'1", 176 lbs Forsberg can play any forward position, though he spent most of this year on the wing.  Forsberg made his men's league debut a year ago at the age of just 16, and played 43 games for Leksand (which played in the second tier league since they had been demoted) this season, scoring 17 points against much older competition.  Forsberg won't turn 18 until August and possesses a high level of skill along with a coveted right-handed shot, but he failed to improve his ranking with just 1 assist in 6 games at this year's World Junior Championships.  Lots of potential as a future NHL two-way first liner, but his offensive upside remains a bit of a question mark since he has not dominated offensively on any major stage.  He needs to fill out, but the fact that he has competed against men has some believing he is reasonably close to NHL-ready.

1/2.  Alex Galchenyuk, C, Sarnia Sting (OHL) and Mikhail Grigorenko, C, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

Come June, I will make a pick between Galchenyuk and Grigorenko as to who I think would be the better choice for the Canadiens, but I'm not ready to make a call just yet.  Both are skilled centers, with Galcheyuk standing 6'1", 185 lbs, and Grigorenko 6'2", 191 lbs, but Galchenyuk is seen as the more complete two-way player of the two.  Grigorenko has the slightly flashier offensive numbers, scoring 85 points in 59 games this season on his way to being named QMJHL rookie of the year, but has also been criticized of disappearing at times, or being lazy.  Galchenyuk missed the vast majority of this season following knee surgery, but a year ago had 83 points in 68 games has an OHL rookie centering consensus number 1 pick Nail Yakupov (left off this list because he will be unavailable to Montreal unless the team trades up to first).  Some say he might have even been in the conversation for first overall had he played this season, while others wonder if his numbers were inflated from playing with Yakupov.  His work ethic and American development roots have many thinking he may be a Trevor Timmins type of guy.  With either of these young men, the Habs will be adding a potential superstar, though it should also be mentioned that there is no guarantee either is ready for a starring role this very Fall.

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