Today I had the pleasure to have an extended talk with Kyle Woodlief, Chief Scout and Publisher of the Red Line Report, the premier independent scouting service for hockey. Kyle has been running the show at Red Line since 1998, and I've enjoyed getting to know him and his scouts since becoming a subscriber in 2000 and attending many of the NHL drafts each June.
Regardless of what you happen to think of Kyle's and his staff's opinions on players, you can be assured that they are seeing an enormous amount of hockey games across the globe and are in attendance at all major international tournaments as well as major junior, college, tier 2 and junior B, prep hockey games and so on. These guys leave no stone unturned, so there is always a wealth of information in every monthly Red Line Report bulletin.
I talked to Kyle about a variety of subjects today, so without further ado, here is the transcript of our chat:
Bruins2010DraftWatch: How is the Class of 2010 shaping up overall?
Kyle Woodlief: I think it's a pretty good crop, a fairly deep crop and I really like a few of the players at the top. (Center) Tyler Seguin is going to be a top forward someday with his outstanding two-way game and upside. (Taylor) Hall (LW) is a high-end skills guy who can score and bring a lot of speed and offense to any situation, and there's (Cam) Fowler if you're looking for a top defenseman who can do everything and run your power play, so this is a draft group that is as strong at the top as any in recent memory.
B2101DW: Like Drew Doughty and Zach Bogosian, does Cam Fowler have the same kind of potential to be an impact NHL defenseman right away?
KW: Yes- absolutely. I think he does. In this class, I see Fowler as the only d-man I would compare to that crop of defensemen who came out in 2008. What I like about him, beyond his obvious skills and potential, is the fact that as a late '91 he played a full schedule with the U.S. NTDP last year, and this year, could play close to 90 games. You figure that he's going to get about 70 with Windsor in the regular season and I'd be shocked if they didn't at least reach the conference finals. If they win the OHL, then they'd play in the Memorial Cup, so between the regular schedule, the full slate of international tournaments he played in last year and then the games he'll get with Windsor this season, you're looking at about 160 games of high-level hockey in the past two years. I don't think he would need that extra year of major junior eligibility, and it's likely that depending on which NHL team drafts him, he'll be able to make the immediate jump.
B2010DW: Red Line has Tyler Seguin over Taylor Hall as the top player available in the draft;(Editors' note: So does Central Scouting, who released their midterm rankings today. More on that later) Why Seguin over Hall, who has certainly been a fan favorite to be the No. 1 pick in June?
KW: (Seguin's) just a smarter, better player overall. He's got the two-way game and is a tremendous hockey player who thinks the game as well as he plays it. Hall's skills are elite and he's more polished at this stage of his career, but in my opinion, Seguin does more to win hockey games on a nightly basis than Hall does. His developmental curve is a straight line heading upward right now, and I just really like his upside and potential to be a star performer at the NHL level one day.
B2010DW: What are your thoughts on Moncton's Kirill Kabanov (LW) and his upside? (Kabanov is ranked 4th overall on RLR's Nov. list)
KW:He's got a huge upside; his puck skills are ridiculous- his stick is like a magnet for the puck. He makes plays at top speed and will control the offensive flow of the play. He's got some filling out to do- he's only about 172 pounds right now, but when he does, I think you'll see something special because he's got incredibly soft hands and is unselfish with the puck. He's very creative and is silky smooth out there with the puck. He's got a funky-looking stride, but he's really fast and always seems to get to the puck first. I also like the fact that he plays with a chippy edge, even though he doesn't have the strength right now to really be able to get away with playing that kind of style. It will come for him when he adds the pounds to that 6-3 frame of his. One thing that is a bit of a problem for him right now is that he tends to let his emotions get the best of him at times. He's got to work on his discipline and not getting too involved emotionally when things aren't going well, but other than that, he's got a tremendous skill level, speaks English very well, and has really fit into that Moncton dressing room. He's a guy who missed the first month or so of the season while waiting for the IIHF appeal to go through, but he didn't miss a beat, and you can see his potential whenever he's on the ice.
B2010DW: You have Kingston (OHL) defenseman Eric Gudbranson ranked closer to 20th than 10th. Is it because of his injuries that he's fallen off a bit, or is there more to it
KW: No, it's because he's been hurt- he just hasn't played much this year. He's been out for three weeks or so, so that injury has held him back a bit. He's not quite the sum of his parts yet. He's a huge kid who makes a good first pass, but he hasn't fully asserted himself in the offensive end yet in the limited amount of time we've been able to see him, so when he comes back, we'll be looking at how he does in that regard. He certainly has the potential to climb above 20, and if he can come back strong and assert himself more, you might see that. But, he's not playing, and other guys are and have gotten off to good starts, so you have to put him down a bit when you have other players performing at or above expectations.
B2010DW: Who do you see as some of the biggest risers in this year's crop?
KW: I think Emerson Etem (Center- Red Line's 10th overall player for Nov.) is a real riser. He left the U.S. team to go to Medicine Hat of the Dub, and I thought it would take him a while to get used to the physical aspects of the WHL, but he's come through like a champ. He's scoring a lot of goals and competing hard, which is something I just didn't see him do a lot playing on the U.S. Under-17 team because he was more talented than a lot of the players he skated with and against. But, to his credit, he's been bringing a high effort level so far, and you're seeing it pay off for him on the scoresheet. Another player I really like as someone who has risen up the rankings is the Russian Alexander Burmistrov (C- 19th), who is off to an excellent start with the Barrie Colts (OHL). He's a little on the small side, so we wanted to see how he handled himself in the OHL and our early rankings reflected that, but he's played extremely well and really done a good job for Barrie, so I've been impressed with him. Probably the biggest surprise so far has been the play of another Russian in the OHL: Saginaw's Ivan Telegin (C- 28th), who, coming into the season was someone we saw as someone who had the tools, but lacked the scoring and finish to be a top-six kind of forward. We saw him last year in Russia, and we liked his skills except for the fact that he just couldn't seem to finish, so the question was- is he more of a third-line checking guy? But this year, he's been lighting it up with Saginaw (16 goals in 22 games) as a rookie, so given the tools he's already shown, it's very much a pleasant surprise to see him finishing as well as he has so far.
B2010DW: If the season ended today, the Bruins would be picking 2nd and 9th overall. Going by Red Line's rankings, they'd be looking at Taylor Hall (2) or Cam Fowler (3) and huge, skilled defenseman Derek Forbort (9) or Emerson Etem (10). Let's assume they were to pick Fowler 2nd and Etem 9th. In your opinion, what would the Bruins be getting with those two?
KW: In Cam Fowler, you have a defenseman who can come in right away and apprentice under Zdeno Chara, but not be the focal point of the defense for his team right away. He wouldn't have the kind of pressure of being a high pick and the team needing him to step up right away and run the power play and be everything to that back end, and plus- it's a pretty good situation for Fowler to learn the game from a someone who's a pretty fine defenseman in his own right (laughs). I think not having that added pressure of having to perform as a No. 1 d-man right away would be the right kind of environment for Fowler, and I would expect he'd respond to it pretty well. Etem wouldn't likely make the club right away and would go back to junior for one more year of seasoning, but the Bruins would be getting a guy who will add a lot of speed to the attack. He'd be a nice replacement for Phil Kessel's speed, although I don't know that Etem possesses the same kind of dynamic scoring ability that Kessel does. Still, he's an excellent prospect, and for Boston to get those guys would bode well for the team in the future.
B2010DW: Who are some of the players who might be flying under the radar a bit for you?
KW: A couple come to mind: Ryan Johansen (LW- ranked 47th) of Portland in the WHL was playing Tier 2 last year in the BCHL, but has made a seamless transition to the Dub and has impressed early. Another player I like is the big German defenseman Konrad Abeltshauser (42nd) of Halifax (QMJHL). He had a broken wrist early in the year and was expected to miss 4-6 weeks, but came back in three, which shows me that he's got some real toughness and commitment to his team. He's quarterbacking the power play and has shown some good skills playing on a bad team. Again, I like the fact that he worked hard to get back into the lineup, which shows me he's a tough kid who really wants to play. That kind of thing matters to NHL teams, who are looking for dedicated players.
B2010DW: Looking ahead to 2011, how does that class stack up in the early going? Is it as weak as some have said it is?
KW: It's still pretty early in the season, and I haven't turned my attention to the '93s all that much yet. I probably won't focus on them until I go to Timmins, Ont. next month for the World Under-17 Challenge, but there are a few guys who have caught our attention: German forward Tobias Rieder is someone we'll be watching closely, and there are a couple of late '92s on the U.S. team who have some potential as well. Matthew Nieto, Nick Shore, whom I like better than his older brothers, and Michael Mersch are three forwards who represent some pretty good talent coming out of that program. Shane McColgan is speedy kid with a world of talent who is doing well in the WHL, and one more native Californian in a growing line of really talented players to come out of that state.
We also talked about Moncton defenseman Brandon Gormley, Red Line's 7th-ranked player and second defender after Fowler. Kyle saw him last night in the QMJHL vs. Russia game in Drummondville and was impressed with the former top bantam pick two years ago. Of course, the caveat to the assessment was that the Quebec team hammered the hapless Russians, and Woodlief said just about every player on the 'Q' squad stood out/had a good game (to include current B's prospects Max Sauve and Jordan Caron).
Here's how Woodlief sees Gormley as of right now: "He's a solid d-man with good hockey skills and sense. I don't think he has the mindset to be a shutdown, physical defender at the NHL level, but he'll be a solid two way guy who can put up about 50 points, but not a 60-70-point, shutdown type of player."
As always, I want to thank Kyle for being so generous with his time and free with his opinions and views on the players. As the season progresses, I'll talk to Kyle again, as well as some of his regional scouts, who are so integral to Red Line's rankings and final draft guide in June.
If you are interested in what Red Line has to offer, you can visit the website at: http://www.redlinereport.com/
I'll be back a little later with comments on Central Scoutings preliminary rankings once I've had a chance to digest them. Thanks for reading!