2011 Draft: Top 10 draft eligible NCAA prospects

By DJ Powers
Photo: The towering Jamie Oleksiak is the top ranked collegiate player eligible for the 2011 NHL draft. (Photo courtesy of gonu.com)

This year’s top ten group of collegians eligible for the NHL Draft consists of six forwards and five defensemen (two players are tied for 10th), all of whom have just completed their freshman year. These players represent four of the five NCAA conferences. Five of this year’s top ten players are from Hockey East, while four are from the WCHA and the remaining two are from the CCHA and the ECAC. Also noted is each player’s ranking on Central Scouting’s final rankings.

1. Jamie Oleksiak, D
Northeastern University
6’7/240 lbs.
Shoots: L
CS final ranking: 13th among North American skaters

Jamie Oleksiak saw his draft stock continually rise after completing an excellent rookie campaign, appearing in all 38 games for Northeastern this season and posting 13 points (four goals, nine assists). And his strong showing at the recent NHL Draft Combine in Toronto only enhanced his stock. Oleksiak led the Huskies with a plus-13 and was third on the team with 57 penalty minutes playing in all situations. He also logged upwards of 25-30 minutes per game as one of Northeastern’s top defensemen.

As good as Oleksiak was in the first half of the season, he was even better in the second half. An area where his progress was especially noticeable was the effective use of his enormous frame in defending against opposing players. Oleksiak thrived in Northeastern’s tight-checking system where the physical side of his game became more apparent. The one area where Oleksiak will need to continue to improve is his footwork, particularly his turns and pivots.

2. Adam Clendening, D
Boston University
5’11.25/190 lbs.
Shoots: R
CS final ranking: 45th among North American skaters

Adam Clendening came to Boston University last fall as one of the most highly-touted incoming freshmen and he didn’t disappoint. Clendening made an immediate impact on the Terriers’ blue line, leading Boston University in defenseman scoring and co-leading the team in rookie scoring with 26 points (five goals, 21 assists) playing in all 39 games. His 21 assists also led the team, while his plus-eight co-led the Terriers. Clendening earned a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie team after leading all conference rookie defensemen and finished third among all Hockey East defensemen with 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) in 27 conference games.

Clendening is an offensive defenseman blessed with superb puck-moving ability and on-ice vision. His excellent puck skills are one reason why many scouts are so high on Clendening. He can see plays develop and follows them quite well. He can also be found frequently jumping into plays too. Clendening’s ability to move the puck and patience with it makes him an ideal quarterback on the power play. He makes very good decisions with the puck and distributes the puck very well. Clendening can also control the tempo of the game from the blue line. He is an excellent skater with good speed that can keep up with many of the faster opposing forwards. He also transitions quite well too. One area where Clendening will need to improve is keeping his feet moving more consistently. While he is known for his offensive prowess, Clendening is also solid defensively. He doesn’t shy away from the physical side of the game and plays with a good deal of intensity. However, Clendening could stand to utilize his intensity and grit more to the benefit of his team. He possesses a very good shot and can get pucks to the net. As his rookie season at Boston University went along, one area that Clendening showed noticeable improvement in was the quality of shots he was taking.

Boston University head coach Jack Parker on Adam Clendening: "Adam was very, very valuable to our team. In the second semester of play began, he played extremely well in every facet of the game. I think the thing that makes Adam a great offensive defenseman is not just because he can go himself, but he can set up a lot of people and attack the (offensive) zone. Even before the puck gets on his stick, Adam knows where the best pass should be made and how quickly he’s going to make it. So Adam’s got an awful lot going for him."

3. Nick Shore, C
University of Denver
5’11.75/195 lbs.
Shoots: R
CS final ranking: 56th among North American skaters

Despite missing nine games with a wrist injury to open the season, Shore steadily became one of the key cogs that helped guide the Pioneers to their 22nd NCAA Tournament berth. Shore finished his rookie season with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 33 appearances and played much of the year centering Denver’s outstanding second line alongside fellow freshman Beau Bennett (PIT) and in the latter half, sophomore Chris Knowlton. Shore’s most memorable game came back on Feb. 5 versus arch-rival Colorado College. In that contest, Shore posted a pair goals in leading the Pioneers to a 5-3 victory that also helped Denver retain the coveted Gold Pan Trophy that the two teams vie for annually. The performance also earned Shore his lone WCHA Rookie of the Week honor on the season as well.

Shore’s early season injury did not slow his development. Like virtually all of the other collegiate invitees, Shore performed well at the recent NHL Combine and that has simply added to his already-high draft stock. As his confidence level grew over the course of the season, so did his overall play. And that proved to be invaluable to Denver’s success. Two areas where it was particularly evident were in his more creative playmaking and stronger defensive side. If there is any area that Shore could stand to improve, it would be in shooting the puck more often.

4. Matt Nieto, LW
Boston University
5’10.5/175 lbs.
Shoots: L
CS final ranking: 43rd among North American skaters

After a strong start to his freshman campaign, Matt Nieto‘s performance at mid-season took a dip and so did his draft stock. But Nieto enjoyed a strong finish at Boston University in the latter half of the season and that sent his draft stock rising again. He finished the 2010-11 season posting 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) playing in all 39 games. Nieto played much of the latter half of the season on the Terriers’ top-scoring line alongside sophomore Alex Chiasson (DAL) and junior Corey Trivino (NYI).

Where Nieto made his greatest improvement in the second half with Boston University was in bringing some consistency to his game. He began to use his blazing speed more advantageously by creating more offensive opportunities. Nieto will need to try to maintain that consistency and use his arsenal of skills effectively to succeed in not only with his remaining time at Boston University, but at the next level as well.

Boston University head coach Jack Parker on Matt Nieto: "In the last ten games or so of the season, Matt was one of the best forwards on our team and was no question, one of the best forwards in our league. His biggest problem was he wasn’t using his skating ability in every phase of his game like he does on the offensive side. And that’s what is going to get Matt to become a great player, and a real dominate player. If he does that, he’ll be absolutely fabulous. Matt is going to be a great pro I think because his upside is terrific."

5. Patrick Koudys, D
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
6’4/210 lbs.
Shoots: L
CS final ranking: 76th among North American skaters

Patrick Koudys was one of the youngest players in the NCAA this season and was somewhat of an unknown outside the RPI hockey community. But scouts have kept close tabs on the Smithville, ONT native and his progress. His strong showing at the recent NHL Draft Combine seems to have helped boost his stock a bit as well. And if what he has shown glimpses of at RPI this season is any indication, he looks to have a bright future ahead of him. Koudys (pronounced "cow-dice") played in 31 games for the Engineers, posting three points (one goal, two assists). His first and only collegiate goal came back on Dec. 4 versus Brown.

Koudys is a smart, hard-working defenseman with good size that could potentially blossom into an excellent two-way defenseman. The thing that immediately jumps out about Koudys is his size. At 18 years old, he already possesses a pro-style frame that simply needs to continue to develop and get stronger. He utilizes his frame and long reach quite effectively too. Where it is particularly noticeable is in one-on-one situations. During his first season at RPI, two areas where Koudys made great strides were in his shooting and being more physical. Koudys possesses a cannon-like shot that got better as the season went along. He also possesses remarkably good puck skills. He moves and distributes the puck quite well. And while it really didn’t show on the stat sheet this season, Koudys does have some outstanding offensive ability that will become more evident as his collegiate career progresses. One area that Koudys will need to improve to be successful at the next level is his foot speed. He moves quite well for a big man, but lacks the necessary speed.

RPI head coach Seth Appert on Patrick Koudys: "I think at times, Patty was challenged by the speed, size and strength of the players at this level, but over the course of the season, he started catching up and became a very effective college defenseman. He’s very impressive in his work ethic and attention to detail and those things are going to win out in the end. I think his talent, mind for the game, and work ethic are real special, and we’re expecting great things from him in the next couple of years."

6. Chase Balisy, C
Western Michigan University
6’0/171 lbs.
Shoots: L
CS final ranking: N/A

Although he is the only player among this year’s top draft-eligible group that doesn’t appear on Central Scouting’s final ranking, Chase Balisy could potentially be selected in the mid-to-latter rounds of the upcoming NHL Draft. Balisy got many scouts’ attention after completing an impressive freshman campaign where he helped guide Western Michigan to their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1996. The Rancho Santa Margarita, CA native earned a spot on the CCHA All-Rookie team after leading all Broncos freshmen with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 42 games centering one of the CCHA’s best young lines. His 12 goals were second on the team. Balisy proved to be especially good in CCHA play, finishing third among all rookies with 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) in 27 conference games. His best month came back in January when he posted 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in eight games for the Broncos. The performance also garnered Balisy the CCHA’s Rookie of the Month honor as well.

Balisy is an intelligent, playmaking center that is really fun to watch. Two attributes that separate Balisy from many other freshmen are his ability to control the tempo of the game and the fact that he can make other players around him better. He possesses great hands and excellent puck-moving ability. He can make some of the prettiest tape-to-tape passes too. Balisy has great vision and follows plays exceedingly well. He is a very good skater that does a good job of consistently keeping his feet moving. He is also quite good in transition as well. Balisy’s elusiveness and ability to move effectively through traffic makes him a difficult player to contain. As good as Balisy is offensively, he is equally good defensively. At Western Michigan this season, he proved to be an outstanding penalty killer who isn’t afraid to block shots or deliver checks when necessary. He’s not one to give up easily in battles for pucks either. Balisy is also very good on face-offs and supports plays really well too. Like most freshmen in college hockey, adding size and strength will be crucial to his future success.

Western Michigan head coach Jeff Blashill on Chase Balisy: "Chase has an elite mind for the game. I think his hockey smarts and his hockey IQ are outstanding. He is one of those guys that has a great pressure point because he doesn’t give up the puck easily. I thought that he had gotten stronger and quicker over the course of the season. That added strength and quickness allowed Chase to be a real elite freshman. And I think as he continues to add that strength and quickness, it will allow him to be an elite player in college and have a great chance at becoming an NHL player."

7. Mike Pereira, LW
University of Massachusetts
5’11/180 lbs.
Shoots: L
CS final ranking: 114th among North American skaters

This season, Hockey East featured many outstanding rookies and few were better than UMass freshman Mike Pereira. The West Haven, CT native led all Minutemen rookies with 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) in 34 games. His 12 goals co-led the team, while his plus-3 was second on the team. Pereira was the runner-up as Hockey East Rookie of the Year and he was a unanimous selection to the Hockey East All-Rookie team. His best month of the season came back in November when he posted six points (four goals, two assists) in four games for UMass. The performance earned Pereira Hockey East’s Rookie of the Month honor.

Pereira is a dynamic winger that possesses excellent speed, vision and hockey sense. He is a player that can make things happen every time he’s on the ice. Pereira’s best attribute is his skating and what makes him so dangerous is how he utilizes his speed. He has excellent acceleration and a great first gear. Pereira has the ability to make plays at high speeds and can do so in any type of situation. He also has good balance and is remarkably strong on his skates. During his first season with UMass, Pereira also proved to be a clutch scorer that is very good around the net. He has really nice hands and excellent finishing ability. He can make really nice passes and is a superb stick-handler. He also possesses a good, quick shot too. As good as Pereira is offensively, he is equally good defensively. He does a very good job of supporting the defense. At 5’11, Pereira is considered undersized, but he has actually used his small stature to great advantage this season. His quickness coupled with his creativity and tenacity makes him a difficult player to defend against. As Pereira continues to add size and strength to his frame, it will not only make better but even more dangerous as well.

UMass head coach Don Cahoon on Mike Pereira: "We had high hopes for Mike being able to utilize his skills with the puck for us and that definitely turned out to be the case. He has a creative depth that you really don’t teach. Mike sees things develop. He has the ability that most kids don’t have in being able to integrate his skill sets and his timing. I think that’s what allows Mike to make the plays that other people can’t. He was very big in big moments for us. I think Mike’s creativity and cleverness in the all-important, grade "A" area around the net makes him especially effective."

8. Michael Mersch, LW
University of Wisconsin
6’1/196 lbs.
Shoots: L
CS final ranking: 83rd among North American skaters

Michael Mersch was named the recipient of Wisconsin’s Coyne Memorial Award as the team’s most consistent player this season. He led the Badgers with a plus-23 and led the team in rookie goal scoring with eight. Mersch played in all 41 games for Wisconsin this season, posting 19 points. His three game-winning goals tied him for second on the team as well. Mersch’s most memorable game came back on Nov. 5 at arch-rival Minnesota. He posted two goals, including the game-winner in the Badgers’ 6-0 victory.

Mersch is a power forward that thrives in the physical game. One area where Mersch was quite effective this season was playing around the net. He’s not afraid to take the punishment in front of the net to make plays. He possesses really nice hands and moves the puck really well. He also possesses a powerful shot too. Mersch is tenacious in his battles for pucks and that has paid dividends for Wisconsin this season. He has shown that he can be a clutch scorer. He follows and stays with plays quite well. Mersch is a hard-worker and a competitor who can often be found scoring the so-called "garbage" goals. He thinks the game remarkably well and possesses good hockey sense. One of Mersch’s attributes that has gotten the attention of many in the scouting community is his aggressive style of play. He’s not afraid to mix things up and can deliver some punishing checks as well. Mersch’s most glaring weakness is his skating. While he gets around the rink quite well, he isn’t the prettiest skater. He skates with strong strides that tend to be a bit choppy and lacking in speed. As Mersch continues to grow into his 6’1 frame, it will go a long way in making him a better skater.

Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves on Michael Mersch: "Mike has got a good opportunity to become a pretty good power forward. He’s a big lad. When he is physical, he can be very effective. The other thing about Michael is that when you watch him closely enough, he does have a feel for the game. He understands how the game comes together. That is one reason that people look at Michael. I think the thing that most people don’t see about Michael is the great work ethic that he has. He’s a persistent, dogged worker on and off the ice."

9. Dillon Simpson, D
University of North Dakota
6’2/205 lbs.
Shoots: L
CS final ranking: 157th among North American skaters

Dillon Simpson was the youngest player to play in the NCAA this season and showed glimpses of the tremendous upside and potential that he has. He is the son of former NHLer and Michigan State standout Craig Simpson. Dillon Simpson appeared in 30 games for North Dakota season, posting ten points (two goals, eight assists), seeing primarily spot duty. An illness in late January/early February also contributed to his shortened season. Simpson finished the season with a plus-11 as well. He posted his first collegiate point, a goal, versus Denver back on Oct. 29. One of Simpson’s most notable performances came on Jan. 8 versus Robert Morris, posting a pair of assists that helped guide the Fighting Sioux to a resounding 8-0 victory.

Simpson is a converted defenseman (he’s played defense since age 11) that possesses some terrific hands and great hockey sense. He also has great on-ice vision too. He moves the puck really well and has demonstrated to be quite poised with it. Simpson also has a very good stick. He isn’t afraid to jump up and join the play. Simpson moves well with the puck, makes good outlet passes and has shown that he can also make plays. During his first season at North Dakota, one thing Simpson did quite well was keeping his game simple. He is solid defensively and does a good job of taking care of his own zone. Two areas where Simpson will need to improve are his skating and adding some physicality to his game. While not a terrible skater, Simpson will need to develop some more speed as well as smooth out and strength his strides to be effective at the next level. As Simpson continues to grow into his 6’2 frame, the added size and strength not only will help his skating, but it will also go a long way in allowing him to use his body more effectively in all areas of the ice.

North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol on Dillon Simpson: "Dillon came in as a 17-year-old, but a very mature young man. He’s made great progress. Dillon became a fixture on for us on our blue line down the stretch until the last few games of the season, but he has extremely high-end hockey sense and playmaking ability. He’s a guy that, no question, is ready to step into a top two or three role with us. He plays a good two-way role and can play a role on the power play as well. Dillon’s got a very bright future ahead of him."

T10. Sahir Gill, C
Boston University
5’10/180 lbs.
Shoots: L
CS final ranking: 110th among North American skaters

On a Boston University roster that featured many excellent freshmen this season, Sahir Gill was one that many tended to overlook, but the scouting community wasn’t among them. Gill finished an outstanding rookie campaign with 25 points (six goals, 19 assists) in 39 games and co-led the team with a plus-eight. Gill enjoyed his best month of the season back in October when he posted eight points (three goals, five assists) in seven games. The performance also earned him Hockey East’s Rookie of the Month honor as well.

Gill is a smart, multi-dimensional forward with loads of energy. He is equally at home playing either at center or on wing. He is good on draws and supports plays really well. Gill is a player that can play and thrive in any type of situation because he possesses a nice balance of offensive ability and defensive awareness. He is an excellent playmaker and also has the ability to finish plays too. One of Gill’s best attributes is his strong forechecking ability and it is one reason why he can be difficult to play against. Gill is an excellent skater. He possesses good speed and accelerates well, but will need to develop more quickness in his feet. He is also strong in transition and makes good decisions with the puck too. An area where Gill began to really make his mark with Boston University this season was his willingness to go into high traffic areas to make plays. He is quite good around the net, in the corner and along the boards. Gill is a competitor who isn’t afraid to mix things up and possesses a junkyard dog type of mentality when battling for pucks. He also has a very good stick and utilizes it quite well both offensively and defensively. Gill possesses a really nice shot and can get pucks to the net, but could stand to shoot the puck a bit more.

Boston University head coach Jack Parker on Sahir Gill: "Sahir is a very, very smart player. He can put up the points and with his skating ability, Sahir can become a pro prospect. Sometimes Sahir plays a little bit on the defensive side too much and we try to encourage him to play more on the offensive side for us. He’s a better offensive player when he’s thinking that way. He got an awful lot of ice time for a freshman and he produced for us at times. I think Sahir will become a big scorer in this league in the future."

T10. Frankie Simonelli, D
University of Wisconsin
5’10/200 lbs.
Shoots: R
CS final ranking: 154th among North American skaters

With two of the nation’s top rearguards playing for Wisconsin this season, it was easy for many to overlook the rest of the Badgers defensive corps. But one Wisconsin defenseman that has gotten the attention of the scouting community is Frankie Simonelli. The Bensenville, Ill native played in 39 games this season, posting 11 points (two goals, nine assists). Simonelli’s first collegiate goal came back on Nov. 27 versus Michigan State in the College Hockey Showcase. His most memorable game was against UMass on Dec. 30, posting a goal and two assists in the Badgers’ 5-1 win.

Simonelli is a smart, puck-moving defenseman that plays a solid two-way game. Simonelli’s best attribute his blistering shot. He can really fire the biscuit, but could stand to do it more often. He moves the puck quite well, showing both poise and patience with it. He can also make some really nice outlet passes too. Simonelli possesses good vision and follows plays really well. Perhaps his most underrated attribute is his understanding of how to play away from the puck. In his first season at Wisconsin, Simonelli did a very good job of simplifying his game and taking care of his own zone. He’s shown that he can make good, smart decisions too. Simonelli’s skating is quite good, but where he will need to improve to be successful at the next level will be in his footwork, particularly in his turns and pivots. He will also need to add some quickness as well. Although Simonelli didn’t put up a lot of points this season, he does possess some terrific offensive ability. He does a good job of supporting and staying with plays. While Simonelli’s size may dissuade some NHL teams, his skill set and potential could make him an attractive, late-round selection for a team willing to take a chance on a smaller defenseman.

Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves on Frankie Simonelli: "Frankie is a real competitive young man with a big shot from the point. He’s got a good sense for the game as well. Frankie is not going to be a guy that is going to go coast-to-coast. He definitely has an offensive side because he understands how to support the rush and he has a natural gift with that heavy shot of his. Frankie also understands how to play without the puck and I think that’s what makes him attractive as a potential selection for the NHL Draft."

Other notables: Matt Bailey, C/RW – University of Alaska-Anchorage; Jared Coreau, G – Northern Michigan University; Alex Lippincott, C – The Ohio State University; Josh Thorimbert, G – Colorado College; T.J. Tynan, C – University of Notre Dame; Will Yanakeff, G – Michigan State University