2013 Draft Eligibles: Fighting Five in the ’13 draft class

With the final prospect profile before the 2013 NHL draft I’ve decided to shed light on five lesser-known prospects worth watching come draft day. Each brings a unique skill-set to the team that will select them, yet most of these players will fall out of the first round. Don’t get me wrong, these young guys have NHL-caliber abilities, but given the vast depth of this year’s draft class most of the names below will hear their names called after the top 30 selections are made.

 

Samuel Morin, D, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL) (6’7” 200 lbs.)

The towering defenseman is very hard to miss. Scouts have been high on Morin since he was selected seventh overall by Rimouski in the 2011 QMJHL Entry Draft. Furthering his hype, the lefty blueliner played well enough in 62 games as a rookie to earn QMJHL-All Rookie Team honors. Despite no goals and just eight assists in his first year Morin garnered plenty of attention for his defensive play. A late-season injury cost the Quebec native the majority of his first QMJHL playoff experience, but a surprising run by the Oceanic to the league finals allowed Morin to see time in 10 playoff contests.

Image courtesy of L’avantage.qc.ca

Morin has been a steady presence on the blueline for the Oceanic, regularly logging heavy minutes against the league’s top offensive units. This season the skyscraper on the point produced four goals and 12 assists through 46 games in the regular season. Offensive output isn’t Morin’s forte although he can hold his own with the puck on his stick. His extremely long reach and physical strength allows the defenseman to win most battles along the walls. Morin is a space-eater in his own zone, and can turn the play up ice quickly with a strong outlet pass. In the final CSS rankings, Central Scouting has Morin listed as the 23rd ranked player among North American skaters. I have Morin ranked 26th overall in my Top 30 prospect rankings and slated him 25th overall to Montreal in my latest mock draft.

Plus, given his size one would expect he is a skilled fighter. For further proof see this fight against Kurt Etchegary of the Quebec Remparts.

 

Jimmy Lodge, C, Saginaw Spirit (OHL) (6’1” 154 lbs.)

Here is a name most Pennsylvanians do not know despite the fact that Jimmy Lodge was born in Downingtown. The Saginaw center moved to Toronto at age 13 to attend the PEAC school for talented young hockey players. Although the States lost a talent, Canada adopted a new hockey son. Lodge was drafted 62nd overall in the 2011 OHL Priority Draft by Saginaw after excelling with the Toronto Titans in the GTHL. The righty played in 45 regular season games in his rookie season tallying eight goals and just 12 points. He played sparingly throughout the Spirit’s playoff run, earning zero points in 11 games.

Image courtesy of Terry Wilson / OHL Images

This season Lodge flourished with increased ice time, showing off his offensive prowess. Following in the footsteps of two elder Pennsylvania natives (Brandon Saad and Vincent Trocheck) Lodge cemented himself with Saginaw. The reedy center was promoted to the team’s number one faceoff man and leader up the middle when Saginaw traded Trocheck to Plymouth in January. Lodge’s numbers skyrocketed along with his draft stock as he went on a tear throughout the second half of the season. His 28 goals and 39 assists were good for third on the team. Although Lodge desperately needs to add some bulk to his frame, he earns his goals by driving to the net. His passing ability is exceptional, making him one of the better playmakers in this year’s draft class. Central Scouting ranked Lodge as the 21st overall North American skater in its final rankings.

 

Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL) (5’11” 163 lbs.)

The Danish Dangler weaved his way through the Western Hockey League this year as a rookie import from Denmark. Bjorkstrand’s talents were put on display against lesser talent in the Denmark junior leagues before Portland recognized his potential and selected him 26th overall in the 2012 CHL Import Draft. In his first season in North America the Danish winger excelled for the Winterhawks scoring 31 goals and 63 points in 65 regular season games. On the loaded Portland squad Bjorkstrand’s rookie success went relatively unnoticed, but his presence was felt in the lineup. In 21 WHL playoff games the righty scored eight goals and 19 points. He added another three points in five Memorial Cup games for the WHL champs.

Image courtesy of Bryan Heim

Bjorkstrand is a strong winger for his size, but will still need to add more bulk before playing in the NHL. Still, he is fearless going into the corners and has the hands to stickhandle in a phone booth. He was the beneficiary of having a playmaking center who got him the puck often along the wall. Bjorkstrand has a sniper’s release and a deceivingly strong shot. The winger doesn’t forget his defensive responsibilities either as evident by his plus-38 rating this year. Some scouts question his skating ability, but that is because of his unusual stride. He doesn’t lack foot-speed or quickness, but he may not look pretty getting from point A to point B. Bjorkstrand was ranked as the 36th overall North American skater in the CSS final rankings.

 

Brett Pesce, D, University of New Hampshire (HE) (6’3” 174 lbs.)

For Flyers fans out there, think of Pesce as a 6’3” version of Shayne Gostisbehere: fluid skating ability, great on-ice vision and the mind of a forward playing defense. Yes, Gostisbehere is still at Union College and hasn’t cemented himself in the Flyers lineup yet. But, the potential is there and the talent he displayed in international competition against the world’s best prospects should excite the Flyers faithful. The thought of a similar NCAA defenseman with a much larger frame and excellent hockey I.Q. should entice those fans even more.

Pesce is one of the fastest rising players, in my mind, in the 2013 draft class. NCAA prospects tend to lack the gleam and luster scouts salivate over. In most cases these players fall out of the first round. Gostisbehere was a third round selection in the 2012 NHL draft and is on par for the usual draft slot of NCAA players. Scouts complain about the level of competition being below that of the major junior ranks or the professional levels overseas, but that doesn’t take anything away from the individual’s ability.

Image courtesy of AP

It is very uncommon for a true freshman to log heavy minutes in the Hockey East conference. Pesce played in all scenarios against the nation’s best collegiate prospects and held his own. His maturity and hockey sense at his age is off the charts, and shows in his responsible handling of the puck. The Wildcat defenseman is an excellent puck-mover with rare offensive abilities for a blueliner of his size. His decision-making rivals any defenseman in college hockey and is vastly underrated by scouts entering this year’s draft. Pesce was also an integral cog on New Hampshire’s power-play this season and developed such confidence that he was calling for the puck by year’s end.

Central Scouting ranked Pesce as the 40th North American skater in its final rankings. I think with more seasoning at New Hampshire to add bulk and hone his craft, Pesce will develop into one of the best NHL defensemen to come out of this deep draft class. He can be a steal for a team willing to wait for him as he flourishes with one of the nation’s best college hockey programs.

 

Tommy Vannelli, D, Minnetonka (MN.) (6’2” 170 lbs.)

Connor Hurley, C, Edina High (MN.) (6’0” 181 lbs.)

I said five prospects above and I lied. But, I am coupling these two Minnesota high school standouts into one for this profile. Ranked back-to-back in CSS final rankings (Vannelli – 44th; Hurley – 45th) these Minnesotans cant seem to separate themselves. It is very difficult to properly scout American high school players given the level of competition and the maturation process they have let to fully embark on. They will most likely be completely different players by the time they weave through college and perhaps into the NHL. Nonetheless, scouts and teams love turning coal into diamonds, no matter how long the process takes.

Image courtesy of Katherine Matthews

Vannelli is a big defenseman at his age and has the reach and range to coincide. Following Vannelli’s high school career at Minnetonka he joined the U.S. U-18 team and fell under the tutelage of coach Don Granato. Vannelli flashes an offensive upside from his defensive position while in high school, but took time to adjust to the speed and level of competition in the USHL. There is no telling whether Vannelli’s offensive game will stay with him as he develops as a player, but he is headed to one of the most prestigious college hockey programs in the nation. The University of Minnesota commit will stay in his home state to continue honing his skills and increase his chances to play in the NHL.

Image courtesy of Adam Crane

Hurley is a natural point-producer from the center position. As a junior he led the Edina High Hornets to the Minnesota AA state championship. After his high school career ended, Hurley pleased scouts by making his USHL debut with the Muskegon Lumberjacks. The third overall selection of the 2012 USHL Entry Draft scored one goal and added eight assists in 14 total games with the Lumberjacks. The September ’95 birthday is one of the youngest players in this year’s draft class. He is labeled as a two-way player currently and has tremendous potential, but it is very difficult to gauge what type of player he will be three-four years down the road. Hurley is committed to play college hockey at Notre Dame, where some scouts wonder how he will adjust to the defensive system.