Friday, June 24, 2011

2011 NHL Entry Draft: Sleeping Studs

As both a fan of the underdog stories and a believer that drafting well wins (in the NHL, junior ranks and even in fantasy sports), I present to you my list of 10 sleepers to keep an eye on during this year's NHL Entry Draft.

Adam Clendening (D, Boston University - NCAA)
I had Clendening going to the Red Wings at #24 in my mock draft, but that is probably, in all honesty, just wishful thinking on my part. The #45-ranked North American skater according to the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau (CSB), Clendening has been nothing short of an offensive spark plug the past two seasons.

After splitting the '08-'09 season between the U17 and U18 teams of the US National Training and Development Program (USNTDP), Clendening led the '09-'10 U18 team in defensive scoring with 14 goals and 35 assists for 49 points in 65 games. Not only did his offense out-do that of 5 of the 2010 draft's top 60 picks, Clendening had more assists than the second-leading defenceman had points (Justin Faulk - 33 points in 60 games).

To wrap up the '09-'10 season, Adam represented the United States internationally in the U18 tournament where he led all offensive categories for defencemen, finished tied for the team lead in scoring, and made the tourney's all-star team as a gold-medal winner.

This season saw Clendening make the move to NCAA hockey, playing in his freshman year with Boston University. With 26 points in 39 games, Adam finished 5th in team scoring and ended up making Hockey East's All-Rookie Team with an honourable mention for their All-Star Team.

Basically, Clendening has all of the tools to be a very effective offensive defenceman in the NHL and even possesses decent size for a player of his ilk. I'd be surprised if he was taken in the top 50 picks, but he could end up being one of the top players from this draft.

Matthew Nieto (LW, Boston University - NCAA)
One of Clendening's teammates from the past three seasons is in a very similar boat: underrated for no apparent reason.

In '08-'09 Nieto played the majority of the season for the USNTDP's U17 team, where he finished third in team scoring and first in points per game with 53 points in 51 games. As a comparison, Nieto's point totals matched that of 2010 first round pick Emerson Etem even though Nieto played in 8 fewer games.

The '09-'10 season was much of the same for Matt: as a key contributor for the USNTDP's U18 team he finished third in team scoring and first in points per game with 54 points in 54 games. Internationally, Nieto came up short, posting only 4 points in 7 games for the American champions.

Nieto made his freshman debut for the Terriers this season in a depth role, playing along-side fellow '11-eligible forward Sahir Gill. In his role as a secondary scoring option, Nieto performed quite well, totaling 23 points in 39 games.

Nieto's looking like a third round pick at this point in time, but his upside as a NHLer is quite high: even if he doesn't turn into an offensive contributor in a team's top 6, he should be able to make the pros in a checking role.

Miikka Salomaki (RW, Karpat - FIN-SML)
At this time last year I said Salomäki "definitely has a lot of potential for the 2011 NHL draft as one of Finland's top forwards, and will likely try to break into the men's SM-Liiga next season." Sure enough, Salomaki played 40 games for Karpat, getting 10 points in the process. Miikka also played a depth role for Finland in this year's U20 World Junior Championship, scoring 3 points in 6 games as a 17 year old.

I can't wait to see which team takes a flyer on Salomaki's massive upside: I think this is only the beginning for this young Finn.

Michael St. Croix (C, Edmonton - WHL)
The #4 pick in the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft, behind the likes of Nugent-Hopkins, Rattie, and Siemens, was none other than Michael St. Croix - a solid two-way forward with an ever-improving offensive game. St. Croix has a history of putting up big point totals: after being drafted by Edmonton in the WHL Bantam Draft, Michael amassed 88 in 35 games of Manitoba Midget play.

The Oil Kings are an up-and-coming team in the WHL, so look for St. Croix's stock to rise much like current WHLer Cody Eakin.

Nick Cousins (C, Sault Ste. Marie - OHL)
Cousins is exactly the type of player teams should be looking to take a chance on in the mid rounds of the 2011 NHL Draft. Cousins's total production more than doubled this season playing with fellow '11 draftee Daniel Catenacci and OHL veteran Vern Cooper. Missing out on the OHL playoffs, Cousins went on to represent Team Canada at the U18 Championships where he finished tied with Mark Scheifele for 3rd in team scoring.

Alan Quine (C, Peterborough - OHL)
Another OHLer, another native of Belleville, Ontario. Quine's total numbers won't stand out - but that's totally because of his slow start in a depth role with the Kingston Frontenacs. Alan had the chance to strut his stuff after being traded to Peterborough and did not disappoint, posting 42 points in 52 games for a very weak squad. Quine played well enough to impress Team Canada brass, making the U18 team and finishing the tournament with a respectable 7 points in 7 games.

Victor Berglind (D, Brynäs - SWE-U20)
Berglind played an integral role for Brynäs's U20 squad this season, finishing 4th in team scoring with 33 points in 36 games as a defenceman. Doing so ended up providing Victor with the opportunity to get into 18 games for Brynäs's Elitserien squad, showing he can handle the rigour of playing against men as a rather-small defender.

Look for a team to use a mid-to-late pick on Berglind much like Detroit did with Adam Almqvist in '09.

Yannick Veilleux (LW, Shawinigan - QMJHL)
Veilleux, the former #2 overall pick in the 2009 QMJHL Midget Draft, has good size and put up some solid point totals in his second year with the Cataractes. With the guaranteed opportunity
to play in next year's Memorial Cup, I can see a team taking a chance on Yannick and watch his stock rise playing on what should be a very good team in the Q.

Dillon Simpson (D, University of North Dakota - NCAA)
I don't really have much to say about Simpson that can't be found out on the interwebs (that's part of having a dad who is a former NHLer and is now an active part of the media). What I will say though is Simpson had a very good freshman season on a very good North Dakota team. He'll have plenty of time to develop and could surprise down the road as a very serviceable two-way defenceman.

Seth Griffith (C, London - OHL)
Griffith posted a very solid season for a Knights team that in many ways exceeded expectations. Seth showed very good chemistry with Boston prospect Jared Knight and '11 top-60 hopeful Vladimir Namestnikov, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a team draft Griffith to keep the chemistry blossoming.

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