(Barrie Colts center Alexander Burmistrov)
The CHL playoffs are over- with one exception- but the fun isn't with the Memorial Cup just around the corner. Who has seen their stock improve with prolonged playoff runs, and dip with a less-than-spectacular showing at the World U18s?
1. Edmonton Oilers- Taylor Hall (Windsor Spitfires OHL)
Playoff Stats: 19 GP, 17-18-35, +17, 32 PIM
Team and linemate Adam Henrique may have taken home OHL playoff MVP honors with 20 goals in just 19 games, but as you can read about today in Ryan Van Horne's excellent article, the New Jersey Devils prospect will never be confused with a 50-goal scorer. That Henrique had so many clean looks at the goal was the result of Taylor Hall's speed, hard work and tremendous playmaking ability. Playing with his trademark reckless abandonment, Hall led the OHL in playoff points once again enroute to a convincing sweep of Barrie in the Robertson Cup Finals.
With that marquee performance, Hall should have locked up first overall honors. He's simply everything the Edmonton Oilers are not- explosively skilled and fast, over 5'11, clutch, and a winner. But talk in the media about the Oilers addressing needs with right-handed center Tyler Seguin has failed to abate. Still, Hall has done almost everything possible to assure being the first pick- shy of winning a second straight Memorial Cup, a wholly attainable task.
2. Boston Bruins- C Tyler Seguin (Plymouth Whalers OHL)
Playoff Stats: 9 GP, 5-5-10, -5, 8 PIM
In sharp contrast to Hall and his loaded Spitfires, the playoffs ended long ago for Tyler Seguin. Out-scored in the Windsor-Plymouth series by three teammates, critics contend that while the Whalers were always David versus Goliath, there was more he could have done.
But what's done is done. Playing just a little too long to be available for the U18s, Seguin's season is over but for the Combine. Once again not expected to out-perform Hall- a world-class athlete, let alone hockey player- Seguin could turn a heads by showing his underdeveloped frame has some untapped torque.
3. Florida Panthers- D Cam Fowler (Windsor Spitfires OHL)
Playoff Stats: 19 GP, 3-11-14, -2, 10 PIM
Allusions to the 2004 Draft are not new; finishing just out of the goldmine that was a forward class headlined by Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, the Chicago Blackhawks were forced to be patient when they dropped a spot and had to settle with defender Cam Barker. The Panthers are in a similar position. With only a couple moves separating them from being a lottery contender for the next five years, the Panthers will hope Fowler is the last time they pick this low lest fans continue to stay away.
Plagued by poor mistakes in his end that were only magnified by goaltending in the Windsor-Kitchener series, Fowler emerged unscathed and most likely a better, more experienced player for having faced such adversity. While not perfect in the OHL Finals he looked more like the two-way specialist that so effectively neutralized opponents around the Team USA net while aiding in the transition game. However, while he scored a pair of key goals in the Robertson Cup-clinching game, Fowler's shot is still a major barrier between him coming more than a 35-40 point player in the National Hockey League.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets- C Alexander Burmistrov (Barrie Colts OHL)
Playoff Stats: 17 GP, 8-8-16, +11, 22 PIM
Posting only two points a minus rating is not typically the way one gains fans during a playoff series, but Russian pivot Alexander Burmistrov likely converted even a few Windsor fans with his dynamic play during the OHL Finals. Although held at bay throughout the short series, Burmistrov nevertheless dazzled with his fine puck control skills and pinpoint passing- all while having to endure physical punishment at the hands of whoever happened to be covering him.
Burmistrov chose the right time to show his distinctly European flair has the chance of at least being somewhat effective on North American rinks; his stock wasn't necessarily flagging, but he simply had not drawn much attention outside of Barrie. He is now a legitimate top-five player and can only further cement that with a passable Combine.
5. New York Islanders- D Erik Gudbranson (Kitchener Rangers OHL)
Playoff Stats: 7 GP, 1-2-3, 0, 6 PIM
U18 Stats: 6 GP, 0-1-1, +2, 4 PIM
Much has already been written in this column about Erik Gudbranson's season and the trials and tribulations that beset him. But Gudbranson had the chance to build off of a strong finish in the OHL playoffs with a dynamite U18s in Belarus, and he did not manage to do so.
Although passable in almost every dimension OHL followers have come to know him for, Gudbranson failed to impose much more on games. He was noticeably softer when it came to initiating physical contact and did not contribute as much offensively as he could have, despite being brought more to babysit offensive defenders like Ryan O'Connor and Ryan Murphy.
Gudbranson could still be a top five selection, but that he could not raise his level of play once again- or even show flashes of the potential he possesses- is a potential red flag for those expecting much more than a steady defensive player.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning- D Brandon Gormley (Moncton Wildcats QMJHL)
Playoff Stats: 19 GP, 2-15-17, 8 PIM, +12
Truthfully, there's no reason other than a Garth Snowian-esque hunch that Gudbranson has a future as a top-pairing player that he should go ahead of Brandon Gormley. Close physically and a dynamic offensive player, Gormley has stepped up with Moncton in the playoffs and shown the ability to dominate the transition game he flashed briefly in his 16-year-old season. Although not as active offensively as he still could allow himself to be thanks to his tremendous skating ability, Gormley is gradually rounding out every weak spot enroute to a Mem Cup run.
7. Carolina Hurricanes- RW Brett Connolly (Prince George WHL)
Playoff Stats: N/A
U18 Stats: 4 GP, 1-0-1, 10 PIM
Yikes. There is all there is to say about Brett Connolly's showing in Belarus. Expected to be the tournament that changed the tide in the thinking of scouts-the tournament where the young winger could demonstrate both his boundless skill and stabilized hip- the U18s turned into a nightmare that saw Connolly scratched in the final two contests.
Like his other attempts at playing, if the hip was truly an issue this time around, there was simply no reason to lace them up. Those who placed a great deal of importance on his showing did so with the mindset that he was actually healthy, a reasonable conclusion given his strong return in the waning days of the WHL season. But while Connolly's courage is admirable, he simply needed to stop playing before he permanently hurt his hip or reputation or both. As it is, the damage may have been done.
Connolly's camp certainly did him no favors by continually feeding the line that the hip is of no real concern in the years to come, as assurances he was really good to go each time he came back were quickly proven wrong.
8. Atlanta Thrashers- RW/LW Nino Niederreiter (Portland Winterhawks WHL)
Playoff Stats: 13 GP, 8-8-16, +1, 16 PIM
Although the disappointment at having their Cinderella run to the WHL finals end in the semis, the Portland Winterhawks and star winger Nino Niederreiter had little to be ashamed about. 'El Nino' was particularly effective both during the regular season and the playoffs, showing little fatigue from a long year that has also included a stellar WJC showing.
However, the 2009-10 season is not over quite yet for Niederreiter. Named to Switzerland's roster for the upcoming IIHF World Ice Hockey Championship, Niederreiter is set to have his name appear in the record book as the youngest player ever to represent his country at the event, usurping Marcel Goc's mark of 17 years, seven months and 22 days.
9. Minnesota Wild- C Ryan Johansen (Portland Winterhawks WHL)
Playoff Stats: 13 GP, 6-12-18, +3, 18 PIM
The only other Portland Winterhawk who saw his stock rise higher during the playoffs was none other than linemate Ryan Johansen. Praised greatly by us during the year for his pro-level puck protection skills, leadership and underrated release, Johansen utilized all of those elements enroute to a team-leading eighteen points.
While the Minnesota Wild are set at center for a long time thanks to a series of Drafts that have seen Colton Gillies, James Sheppard and- some years ago- Mikko Koivu join the roster, 6'3, 198 lbs centers don't grow on trees, and neither Gillies nor Sheppard have been able to develop into much more than suitable bottom nine forwards. If Johansen develops into the dynamite power center he has every chance of being, having bridge the skill gap between Koivu on the 1st line and Gillies and Sheppard on the third and fourth respectively.
10. New York Rangers- C Jeff Skinner (Kitchener Rangers OHL)
Playoff Stats: 20 GP, 20-13-33, +3, 14 PIM
How good was Jeff Skinner's playoffs? Well, for starters, he was the OHL playoff points and goals leader even when Game 2 of the Robertson Cup Finals got underway and he was on neither team playing in it. Skinner's performance ranks among the most impressive of all-time, and it's simply a shame we'll never know how many more he could have potted in a six or seven game series against Barrie.
While Kitchener couldn't disrupt the perennial powerhouse that is Windsor- despite a commanding three games to none lead- Skinner can hardly be faulted for that. While his defensive play lagged as the Rangers were lured into playing run-and-gun hockey as the Spits came back, Skinner's play away from the puck was a major reason why Windsor fell so far back in the first place.
Comparisons to Brett hull have run rampant even before his star-making playoffs, but there's perhaps a better one. Another under-sized forward with a cannon of a shot and a penchant for coming up big despite perceived skating deficiencies, Zach Parise was the 17th overall pick in 2003 despite being even then a top-ten or five talent. The same could be said of Skinner, and if Parise's domination of the Rangers and Islanders- along with just about every team- has taught Glen Sather anything, it's not to make the same mistake.
11. Dallas Stars- G Jack Campbell (USNTDP U18)
Playoff Stats- N/A
U18 Stats- 6 GP, 0.83 GAA, 0.965 Sv%
Yes, are you reading that right. Team USA had the entire world's number during the Under-18s, and no one was better than Jack Campbell. Named Top Goaltender of the tournament- a foregone conclusion if you read our U18 preview- Campbell basically repeated his illustrious 2009 showing but with a year's worth of maturity. Ouch.
There is simply nothing left for Campbell to prove against his age group- or the one above his, for that matter- and while goaltenders are typically not a great choice in the top fifteen, Campbell is the best at his position by so much that he's better than the next- or second-best options at others. While the Dallas Stars have a temporary stop-gap in former Finnish phenom Kari Lehtonen, inconsistency and health issues coupled with a decided lack of depth at the position throughout the organization make Campbell an enticing choice.
12. Anaheim Ducks- C/RW Austin Watson (Peterborough Petes OHL)
Playoff Stats- 4 GP, 2-0-2, -4, 2 PIM
U18 Stats- 7 GP, 2-1-3, +2, 33 PIM
On the one hand, American forward Austin Watson had a golden opportunity to prove he could perform consistently at an elite level against his age group in Belarus, and he failed to do it. Watson matched his OHL playoff goal output, but needed an additional three games to do it. However, on the other hand, Watson did demonstrate a mean streak otherwise missing from his diverse skillset. Watson probably missed a golden opportunity to increase his stock to top ten status, but he's a safe choice within the top fifteen at this point.
13. Phoenix Coyotes- RW Vladimir Tarasenko (Sibir KHL)
Playoff Stats- N/A
U18 Stats- DNP
There will be no further change in Vladimir Tarasenko’s status this season until the combine and/or another bit of breaking news out of Russia. While head coach Slava Bykov went with a decidely younger approach in building the national team for the upcoming Worlds, Tarasenko did not earn an invite as some had hoped he might. The talented forward is still the best bet to be selected by a team that has both the prospect depth and team environment- both external and internal- suited to a Russian with no firm North American commitments.
14. St. Louis Blues- C/RW Mikael Granlund (HIFK SM-Liiga)
Playoff Stats- 6 GP, 1-5-6, 0 PIM
U18 Stats- DNP 6 GP, 4-9-13, 0 PIM
Picking outside the top ten has proven to be a boon. Players conventional wisdom says lack a certain element or two to become NHLers despite overarching skill tend to fall- one needs only to think of Zach Parise (17th, 2003) Anze Kopitar (11th, 2005) and Bryan Little (13th, 2006). Mikael Granlund fits the pattern perfectly. Undersized and not yet an elite skater- although still quite speedy- as we’ve described in-depth all year, Granlund nevertheless has the heart, grit, skill and hockey sense to overcome any obstacles in his path should he choose to do so.
Like the Kings circa 2007 and 2008, the Blues are close but not quite there. While much rests on their existing young core, the team could still use one or two more game-breakers before it could be said to be ready for prime-time. Granlund has the potential to be the best Finnish forward since Teemu Selanne, and would fit seamlessly into the Blues’ future.