The 2006 NHL Entry Draft is still nine months away, but the work of identifying the top players has already begun. Based on the International Scouting Services rankings, it looks like another strong year.
“There are a number of high-end players that could ultimately be stars in the NHL and a couple that could become superstars,” says Mark Seidel, Chief Scout for ISS.
The list is headed up by the American phenom Phil Kessel, who is the strong early favorite to be the first name called next June in Vancouver. The highly skilled USA product put on a show at the World Junior Championships last January in Grand Forks, North Dakota and he continues to get better all the time. Kessel is an offensive dynamo with blazing speed and acceleration. He is an explosive talent with fabulous wheels, maybe the best pure skater in the draft, and can make moves and create plays at top speed.
Close on his heels is the other young star from last January’s championships, Michael Frolik, who was the youngest player in the tourney and opened a lot of eyes in the scouting community. Next up is Jonathon Toews, the captain of the Canadian Under-18 team that won gold in Piestany, Slovakia this summer. Toews talent encompasses all facets of the game, with that talent being on display beginning this fall at perennial NCAA powerhouse, the Univeristy of North Dakota.
Starting the year at No. 4 is the next big thing from the Maritimes, James Sheppard. Sheppard can simply dominate with his size and strength and will become a prototypical power forward down the road. Rounding out the top five is Jordan Staal, the third player to come out of the Staal household/hockey factory in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
“He may ultimately prove to be the best of the three” says Seidel. “With his tremendous frame, long stride and great understanding of the game, the sky is the limit for him”.
Peter Mueller is ranked sixth by ISS. Mueller possesses some of the best intangibles and leadership qualities available this year — he’ll be a captain at every level. Slick playmaking center Bryan Little of the OHL’s Barrie Colts starts the year ranked eighth overall. Little sees everything develop quicker and moves the puck faster than anyone else can anticipate. This late ‘87 has taken the OHL by storm, and the new NHL rules will make him a deadly player.
When it comes to individual skills, big Finnish power forward Jesse Joensuu has scouts drooling. Listed at 6’4 and 194 pounds, he likes to demonstrate his strength on the ice. Defensemen have real trouble handling Joensuu in open ice or along the boards. The big Finn loves to go to the net.
Ranked 14th is Kyle Okposo, a physical specimen who reminds ISS scouts of Anthony Stewart. Okposo can simply go through guys; he is thick and very strong, has better skills then Stewart, but still lacks some overall refinement. He was very impressive at the Under-18 Junior World Cup held in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Rounding out the forwards ranked in ISS’s top 15 is Sweden’s playmaking center Nicklas Backstrom. His lofty ranking by ISS may surprise some experts, however, after watching his development over the past few years we feel he has the potential to be a star. Backstrom is a sound, two-way player with excellent playmaking instincts who boasts tremendous heart and leadership qualities.
This year’s blue line brigade rates as above average relative to other draft years. That’s due to a quintet of big, rangy rearguards with the type of size and skills that today’s prototypical NHL defender must possess. Leading the way is highly skilled American Erik Johnson, who at 6’4, 205 pounds still has a lot of filling out to do, but also has the most maturing to do, both physically and in his all-around game. He already has by far the most lethal power play point shot in the draft.
Next up is the Czech Republic’s huge and mobile David Ruzicka. Ruzicka, who is ranked ninth by ISS, is a mix of power, offensive skill, and toughness who can play in all situations. With his outstanding size and skills, Ruzicka has as much upside as any defenseman in this draft.
Next up in ISS’s pecking order is Brampton Battalion stud John DeGray. DeGray, who is ranked 11th overall, is going to play in the NHL for 12-15 years and be a very steady, consistent, solid citizen who can anchor the blue line. He’s not as dynamic as the other members of the top four, but has tremendous hockey sense and stamina, and is as reliable as they come in his own zone.
Another American defensive stud, Owen Sound’s smooth, puck-moving defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, is next up and one to watch. This smooth-skating defender has exceptional offensive upside. He stays in complete control at all times, and never panics. Sanguinetti is more than willing to join the rush, yet is solid defensively. He really can handle and pass the puck with the best of them in his age group. Although he has been tabbed as a guaranteed future pro, Sanguinetti still needs to get stronger.
Rounding out the rearguards ranked in ISS’s top 15 is the Kelowna Rockets’ Tysen Dowzak. Dowzak is a big, strong defenseman who is a good skater considering his size. He has good vision and usually makes the right play. Dowzak displays a calm demeanor and is able to think his way out of trouble, while possessing the ability to make quick decisions in tight situations. ISS feels Dowzak will be a quality professional player.
The following are the Top 15 Players, as ranked by ISS, heading into the 2005-06 season:
Rank Name2005-06 TeamCountry
1.Phil Kessel University of Minnesota USA
2.Michael Frolik Kladno Czech Republic
3.Jonathon Toews University of North Dakota Canada
4.James Sheppard Cape BretonCanada
5.Jordan Staal PeterboroughCanada
6.Peter Mueller Everett USA
7.Erik JohnsonUS Under 18USA
9.David Ruzicka KladnoCzech Republic
11. John DegrayBramptonCanada
12. Bobby SanguinettiOwen SoundUSA
13. Tysen Dowzak Kelowna Canada
14. Kyle OkposoDes MoinesUSA
15. Nicklas Backstrom Brynas Sweden
The ISS Future NHL Stars Report is designed to fulfill the needs of all hockey fans and fantasy draft participants. Our monthly bulletin will provide you with in-depth material. We publish nine issues per year (minimum eight pages per issue) beginning October 15th and ending in June.
• Ranking of the Top 50 NHL 2006 Entry Draft prospects
• Ranking of the Top 50 NHL Prospects (Under age 25)
• ISS profiles of the top 50 prospects for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft
• Inside information from the hockey scouting community
• Future Watch – spotlight on top prospects for the 2007 NHL Entry Draft
• Spotlight on upcoming 2006 CHL Priority Drafts (OHL, QMJHL, WHL)