Bolt Prospects 2011 NHL Entry Draft Preview: Defensemen
The scouting community's general consensus for the whole draft class is that it is not top heavy, but it is incredibly deep. Nowhere is that more evident than on the blueline, where Skelleftea's Adam Larsson, Kitchener's Ryan Murphy, and Niagara's Dougie Hamilton look like the only locks to go in the lottery picks. However, beyond those three blue chippers, the list of quality defenseman prospects is long enough that teams picking in the 3rd round may still have access to some quality talent. Most interestingly, there's not a draft in the last decade that's had as many quality, mobile, puck-moving defensemen as this one, which may be a particular benefit for the Lightning.
As we discussed in yesterday's Introduction and Goaltenders posting, the Tampa Bay Lightning's biggest hole, prospect-wise, is probably on defense. And, there's probably a little more urgency to fill that hole given there are some aging veterans on defense on the big club like Pavel Kubina, Mattias Ohlund, and Brett Clark. There's also the matter of the Lightning's switch to the 1-3-1, which is predicated on having mobile puck moving blueliners and doesn't have as much use for the big redwoods like Andy Rogers or Vladimir Mihalik that the Lightning used to pick. The organization does boast a couple of quality defenseman prospects in heady two-way defender Mark Barberio and rough-and-tumble Radko Gudas, both of whom had very respectable rookie seasons with Norfolk in the AHL this year. Behind them, the Lightning have already started to add to their depth by adding mobile puck movers Adam Janosik, Charles Landry, Geoffrey Schemitsch. But there are no blue chippers in the organization that seem like locks for the NHL, and the team could definitely use prospects of that nature for future salary cap purposes. Toward that end, here are 10 prospects that might be viable alternatives for the Lightning at pick 27 on Friday night:
Name: Nathan Beaulieu
Born: 12/5/1992, Strathroy, ON
Last Team: St. John (QMJHL)
Rankings: CSS 5 (NA Skaters), RLR 18 (Overall), THN 18 (Overall)
For those looking for a prospect who is a risk taker with offensive flair, look no farther than quick, aggressive St. John defender Nathan Beaulieu. Playing on a Sea Dogs team that was loaded that could yield as many as 4 1st round picks in this draft, Beaulieu's go-go style allowed him to put up 45 points in 65 games this year. He's got just about everything you would want offensively: quick feet, good vision, is a smart puck distributor, is not shy to jump in the play, and a heavy and accurate shot. All that talent sometimes gets him in trouble, though, because he has shown a tendency to get caught when he joins the rush or pinches in. He competes hard and isn't afraid to get dirty, but his defensive zone instincts are nowhere near as developed as his game in the offensive third and he occasionally looks lost in coverage in his own end.
Name: Jonas Brodin
Born: 7/12/1993, Karlstad, Sweden
Last Team: Farjestad (SWE)
Rankings: CSS 3 (European Skaters), RLR 26 (Overall), THN 22 (Overall)
A Bolt Prospects favorite heading into this draft, Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin is a mobile, heady defender who already seems to possess a post-graduate level degree in hockey sense in his own third of the rink at the young age of 17. Playing in a league against grown men in Sweden, Brodin's already won a championship with Farjestad and established himself as a competent, reliable defender who has a good stick and good gap control. He needs to get bigger and stronger and develop more of a physical edge when he makes the leap to North America, and he hasn't been asked to do much offensively at this point of his career, but he has the look of a player who should grow into a solid 25-35 point a year, two-way defenseman in the NHL. He might be the most bust-proof prospect of those we're presenting today, and if he slips to pick 27 he should be a very attractive option for the Lightning.
Name: Oscar Klefbom
Born: 7/20/1993, Karlstad, Sweden
Last Team: Farjestad (SWE)
Rankings: CSS 6 (European Skaters), RLR 11 (Overall), THN 37 (Overall)
Another Bolt Prospects favorite is Brodin's teammate Oscar Klefbom, who some scouts think may end up being better than some of the defenders in the top-3 of this draft. Also, at just 17 years old and because Klefbom's defensive game is not as mature as Brodin's, he hasn't seen as much ice time in the Elitserien, which has made him a bit of a mystery man. However, he's played very well in international tournaments, including captaining Sweden's U18 World Junior Championships entrant, showing he has most of the parts you'd want in an elite level defenseman. Already standing at 6'4" and 200 pounds, Klefbom's got excellent size and strength and is a powerful, smooth skater who is a very good passer. He's also shown flashes of the ability to carry the puck up the ice and has a hard shot and a good one-timer on the power play. He needs a lot of polish in the defensive third that will have to come with time, but he could become Victor Hedman-lite after a solid 3 or so years of development. In some ways, the duo of Brodin and Klefbom reminds us of two Swedish defenders from the 2009 draft: Tim Erixon and David Rundblad. Both have shown solid development over the past two seasons with Erixon being the more steady, low-risk two-way defender while the higher-risk, more offensive-minded Rundblad lost his mind this year putting up 50 points in 55 games for Skelleftea. Think of Brodin as this year's Erixon and Klefbom as this year's Rundblad.
Name: Scott Mayfield
Born: 10/14/1992, St. Louis, MO
Last Team: Youngstown (USHL)
Rankings: CSS 24 (NA Skaters), RLR 35 (Overall), THN 14 (Overall)
For those looking for a raw project, there's big, smooth skating American defenseman Scott Mayfield out of Youngstown in the USHL. Mayfield has a big frame and is a fantastic skater. He had a very strong showing at the NHL Combine and exhibits freakish athleticism. He shows an ever-developing physical edge to his game and likes to take the body. His hockey sense hasn't caught up to his athletic gifts, though, in both the offensive and defensive thirds of the rink. He has a tendency to get lost in his own zone and, while he shows flashes of being able to carry the puck offensively, he seems to lack the instinct of when to push the play and what to do with the puck when he gets there. Mayfield is committed to the University of Denver with an outside chance that he goes to Kitchener of the OHL, which holds his Canadian junior rights. Wherever he goes, the team that selects him is going to have to be committed to a very patient approach because he's got a lot of growing to do, mentally, in his game. But, he's a hard worker so he has a chance.
Name: Joe Morrow
Born: 12/9/1992, Sherwood Park, AB
Last Team: Portland (WHL)
Rankings: CSS 12 (NA Skaters), RLR 30 (Overall), THN 34 (Overall)
Portland defenseman Joe Morrow is another nugget in a 2011 draft class that is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to offensive defensemen. Morrow's another strong-skating, puck rushing defender who loves to carry the puck and push the play. His advantage over some of his contemporaries in this draft is that his game has a little more edge and he has superior upper body strength and a booming point shot on the power play. However, like Beaulieau and some of the others, he still needs a lot of refinement in his game in the defensive third.
Name: Connor Murphy
Born: 3/25/1993, Dublin, OH
Last Team: USNTDP (USA)
Rankings: CSS 25 (NA Skaters), RLR 41 (Overall), THN 55 (Overall)
Another Bolt Prospects favorite, injury problems have diminished the stock of defenseman Connor Murphy, son of former NHL defenseman Gord Murphy. He's actually bigger, stronger, and a better skater than his father was, but his poise in his own end is a chip off the old block. He has good gap control and isn't afraid to take out people along the wall, a trait that will improve as he adds more muscle. He's a good passer and a good decision-maker on breakout passes and shows flashes of being able to carry the puck and does possess a hard point shot, but somewhat like Mayfield he doesn't quite know what to do yet when he pushes the play. The red flag is a bad back, but if he can stay healthy he has been compared to Edmonton defenseman Ryan Whitney.
Name: David Musil
Born: 4/9/1993, Delta, BC
Last Team: Vancouver (WHL)
Rankings: CSS 38 (NA Skaters), RLR 17 (Overall), THN 23 (Overall)
In a draft dominated by offensive-minded defenseman, one or two prospects stand alone to carry the banner for the stay-at-homers. One of those prospects is big Vancouver defenseman David Musil, son of former NHL blueliner Frantsiek Musil. Musil is big, physical, and excellent at reading the play defensively. He plays a simple game and moves the puck effectively on the first pass out of the zone, but will never have any ambitions to carry the puck or quarterback an NHL power play. He's just a good, honest, solid, stay-at-home defenseman with excellent leadership traits, not unlike former Lightning defenseman Jassen Cullimore. He is devoid of sizzle, but he'll probably play double-digit years in the league and give his team 18-20 quality minutes a night. But will he resurrect bad memories of Phil Esposito and Terry Crisp fighting whether or not to add Frank Musil via trade? That's the most important question.
Name: Jamie Oleksiak
Born: 12/21/1992, Toronto, ON
Last Team: Northeastern (HEast)
Rankings: CSS 13 (NA Skaters), RLR 28 (Overall), THN 17 (Overall)
Every year's draft has the obligatory "next Zdeno Chara/Tyler Myers" really, really big guy, and this year's is Northeastern defenseman Jamie Oleksiak. Standing at a ginormous 6'7" and 244 pounds, Oleksiak has surprising speed and agility and makes a good first pass out of the zone. He's also very poised in his own third, which is rare for 18-19 year olds in their freshman season in the NCAA. Despite his size, though, he's not a bone-crusher and his offensive game is very raw. There does seem to be more to his game than the Vladimir Mihaliks and Boris Valabiks of past drafts, but we at Bolt Prospects find it hard to get excited after being stung by the likes of Kristian Kudroc, Andy Rogers, and Vladimir Mihalik himself, in the past. We confess, we're a little cynical about big defensemen, although we look forward to hearing Pierre McGuire shriek "He's a monster!" and, "He eats people!" on draft night.
Name: Duncan Siemens
Born: 9/7/1993, Sherwood Park, AB
Last Team: Saskatoon (WHL)
Rankings: CSS 10 (NA Skaters), RLR 24 (Overall), THN 12 (Overall)
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with David Musil against the overwhelming tide of offensive defensemen in this draft is Saskatoon defender Duncan Siemens. True, he put up 43 points this season with Saskatoon, but bear in mind he did so while paired with ex-Bolt Prospects favorite Stefan Elliot, who, like David Rundblad, also lost his mind statistically this year with 31 goals and 80 points. Having to cover for an offensive juggernaut like Elliot all year, Siemens showed fantastic poise and gap control in his own third and he's very willing, physically. He's got good mobility once he gets going, but his first step is a tad slow and he's competent, but not terribly creative or confident offensively. There are 30 teams in the NHL looking for another Chris Phillips, though, and that's just what Duncan Siemens might be.
Name: Ryan Sproul
Born: 1/13/1993, Mississauga, ON
Last Team: Sault Ste Marie (OHL)
Rankings: CSS 54 (NA Skaters), RLR 67 (Overall), THN NR (Overall)
Darkhorse time! One of the real risers in this season's defenseman crop is big, mobile Sault Ste Marie blueliner Ryan Sproul. He's got Bambi legs and needs to improve his leg drive, but he's got above average speed and shows good offensive instincts, particularly on the power play. His shot is booming and accurate, as evidenced by his 14 goals on an awful Greyhounds team. Yes, always beware of the best players on a bad team, and yes, Sproul's game is raw as sushi in his own third, but he could be an excellent second round pick for the Lightning with the upside of an Alexander Edler-type defenseman.
D Zakhar Arzamastsev, 6.02 205 lbs, Novokuznetsk (RUS): Borderline Russian prospects are radioactive these days, but he's a strong skating two-way defenseman with decent size.
D Adam Clendening, 5.11 190 lbs, Boston University (HEast): Runs a power play well and plays with some jam, but doesn't have quite the quickness you want from a smallish defenseman.
D Stuart Percy, 6.0 186 lbs, Mississauga (OHL): Benefited greatly from a solid Memorial Cup performance. Solid, mature defensive-minded defenseman who can be used in any situation.
D Reece Scarlett, 6.0 164 lbs, Swift Current (WHL): Similar to Percy, although maybe a little better skater than Percy.
D Colin Sullivan, 6.0 190 lbs, Avon Old Farms (USHS): Fantastic skater who could be everything that another Connecticut high schooler, Kevin Quick, has turned out not to be for the Lightning organization.