Eligibles provide plenty of surprises

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Just two months into the season, the 2013 NHL Draft has the look of a very strong group and as scouting director of Future Considerations, I find it both exciting and encouraging.

Top performers like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Drouin, Elias Lindholm and Max Domi have put in spectacular performances, but there are also hidden gems who have started to climb the rankings from outside the first round.

Some early risers that have caught my eye consist of a big French Canadian power centre, an energetic power winger who will take on all comers, a smart, two-way threat with strong bloodlines, a skilled smooth-skating defender out of the ‘State of Hockey’, a skilled forward with boat loads of potential and a power forward with high end finishing skill.

Rimouski rookie forward Frederik Gauthier, a six-foot-five centre who dominated Quebec Junior AAA play and won league MVP last year, has stated stronger than most anticipated he would early in his QMJHL debut. This season he has made the Rimouski Oceanic a must see for scouts and is our top riser out east.

Gauthier is a big, strapping kid who skates well, plays using his large frame to his advantage, is strong defensively and can put the puck in the net. He will be on everyone’s draft radar soon enough if not already. Gautheir has been a big riser early this season for us and sits just outside our Top-30 at the moment, a place he will likely not be much longer if he keeps up his play.

Coming down the pipe as the next big time hockey agitator comes Jackson Houck, one gritty and agitating forward. The Vancouver Giants right wing has been compared to NHLer Cal Clutterbuck by one FC WHL scout as he plays a hard nosed game, delivering devastating hits, dropping the gloves and scoring the odd tally.

His ability to make an impact a game in many ways makes him extremely valuable. His shot is deceptive, meaning quick off his stick with heavy velocity and he actually enjoys getting his nose dirty and giving abuse. He can play in any situation asked of him and does so with high energy levels and good smarts. Who doesn’t like the gritty, scrappy forwards who can also put up points? Look for NHL teams to be moving Houck up their boards as he could be a hot commodity come draft day.

Last year and even coming into this season, Ryan Fitzgerald was someone our scouts liked as his skill level and intangibles were seen as high-end, His size, however, was an issue that we believed would keep him from getting close to the first round.

Dominating the Eastern Junior Hockey League early, having a strong showing and taking home the MVP award at the All-American Prospects game and even getting a cup of coffee with the NTDP’s Under-18 squad against some NCAA competition has really opened the eyes of our scouts to his potential.

Fitzgerald’s hockey sense and smarts might be some of the best in this draft class. You can see he has had some strong coaching behind him as he has developed and he has the offensive skills and work ethic to compliment and really thrive at the next level.

Joining Fitzgerald in getting in a couple games this past month with the NTDP U18’s squad is another prospect who is sliding under the radar a tad in Edina Hornets centre Connor Hurley. Hurley has impressed our scouts since early last year and has done nothing but improve his game since.

He possesses good size at six-foot-two, but could use more muscle mass throughout his frame. We believe Hurley’s offensive skills will translate well to the NHL as he displays the effort levels needed to succeed. His hockey sense and hand skills are high-end as is his skating ability and grit when battling along the boards. He has the look of the prospect that could play a strong two-way game on your third line or develop into a ‘where did this kid come from’ type top-six scorer.

His hard working games with the USNTDP showed that he is not a scoring line or bust type prospect.

Along with Hurley, Minnesota also has a rising blueliner in the mix early as Minnetonka’s Tom Vannelli has really stolen the show early in the Upper Midwest Elite League play. Vannelli was one of the best players at the Selects in Rochester, NY and earned himself a spot on Team USA’s Ivan Hlinka team.

Vannelli has impressed as he utilizes his six-foot-two frame, elite all-encompassing mobility and smarts to play a complete game, dominating UMWEHL play by consistently generating offence and getting in lanes defensively. His development trajectory has been pointed straight up and has many thinking it is about time that another Minnesota defenseman should be selected in the first round.

Starting with a QMJHL riser, it’s only fitting we finish with one as well.

Val-d ’Or Foreurs winger Anthony Mantha has been a personal favorite of mine for the past two seasons and has just jumped out of the gate fast early this year.

Mantha is putting up tallies at almost a goal-per-game clip while maintaining his strong, all-round game. His best assets are his fast feet, using his size to his advantage, puck protection skills and a pro ready shot. He quickly endears himself to his teammates, willing to drop the mitts and stand up for himself and his fellow Foreurs.

Join me again next month as Future Considerations looks forward to the games that will bring more impressive talent to light. Until next month, see you at the rink.

Dan Stewart
Director of Scouting

As always if you have any questions regarding the draft or its prospects, feel free to email me at danstewart@futureconsiderations.ca and I will do my best to address them in my next column.

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