Scout’s Perch: Raw talent the main course at Flood-Marr

By Josh Deitell

Tyler Hill - Hotchkiss School

Photo: Hotchkiss School forward Tyler Hill is one of the more highly regarded 2013 NHL Draft prospects from the New England prep schools (courtesy of Dave Arnold Photography)

For 48 years, Milton Academy and Noble and Greenough School have co-hosted a holiday tournament that has attracted 49 different schools and amateur hockey teams from the United States, Canada, and Sweden. In addition to the six New England states, representatives have come from California, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania to play.

Since 1994, the tournament’s eight participants have been constant. The games weigh in the standings the same as any other regular season contests, but there is a noticeable competitive air driven by tradition that elevates the Flood-Marr for the players involved. It’s become a weekend full of rivalry match-ups. As a result, it’s an interesting place to judge prospects.

Like any other tournament, there is the inherent danger of putting too much stock into a player’s performance over the span of just a few days. Seeing a player for four viewings might seem like a good sample size. It is and it isn’t. The same factors that limit the effectiveness of judging a player based on one viewing still apply when the time frame is so limited, maybe more so. A puck off the wrong part of the foot in practice, a cold, a bad breakup … all seemingly minor things that can greatly affect performance, even if only for a day or a weekend at a time. Consistency is arguably the most prized attribute in hockey and as a result, watching a player four times on a monthly basis paints a clearer picture than watching him four times in a weekend, although it is good to see if and how well players endure through the challenge of playing five games in three days.

A further challenge with high school/prep hockey is trying to figure out how much the level of competition is a factor. With an incredible variance in skill level between the top and bottom teams, stats are not as informative as they seem. A player can easily inflate his numbers with big games against inferior competition while struggling against stronger opponents. Firsthand viewings help to combat these imbalances, but tempering impressions based on opponents is no easy task.

The New England Prep School Ice Hockey Association (or NEPSIHA) has developed a ranking method that is much like the BCS to deal with the issue of team disparity. To give you an example of how complicated the NEPSIHA system can be, one only has to look to last year’s prep playoffs. Kimball Union was one of the top teams in prep hockey last year and looked poised to secure a spot in the eight-team Stuart/Corkery (elite prep) tournament, ranked 7th with the RPI (which represents wins/losses and strength of schedule with a number) tiebreaker in a three-way tie with Cushing and Avon. However, when Gunnery beat Berkshire on the final day of the regular season, the mathematical swing pushed Avon into 7th and forced Kimball Union into a tie for 8th with Cushing Academy. The two-way tiebreaker, however, is not RPI but head-to-head, and Cushing won both match-ups between the two teams. Therefore, Cushing secured the tournament seed and Kimball Union was relegated to the Piatelli/Simmons Small School Tournament.

In another strange situation, Millbrook secured the 8th and final seed in the Piatelli/Simmons Tournament with a 10-14-3 record as a result of their strong schedule, but were disqualified as a result of a rule stating that “no team with a losing record” shall be allowed to compete in post-season play. They were undone by playing against teams that were too good. What these situations mean is that every game, whether early season or down the stretch, can be the deciding factor between playing for the league championship and sitting on the sidelines in the playoffs.

With the amount of variables at this level, projection is king. Minnesota high school blueliner Jake Gardiner was an Anaheim Ducks first round pick in 2008, despite switching from forward to defense during the 2007-08 season. Conversely, the Los Angeles Kings selected Brian Boyle 26th overall in 2003 out of Saint Sebastian’s from Massachusetts, then spent excessive energy trying to convert him into a defenseman. Both players showed intriguing attributes pre-Draft and the hope was that they could refine their games in college. The most common words associated with high school/prep players are “raw” and “project.” They are mold-able clay, rather than polished products.

The players most likely to have success from this level not only perform well against their peers, but also are hardworking and coach-able. Save for fleeting flashes of brilliance, high school hockey is not sexy. It’s a lot of hardworking teenagers playing for mostly quiet crowds in freezing cold rinks, which has a certain purity to it. Most players who skate on these teams will never play professional hockey. Many are instead playing for a college scholarship. As a result, every game is not only an opportunity to briefly extend their hockey career, but also secure a livelihood in the future by earning a degree while playing puck.

Below is some thumbnails on notable players that took part in the 2012 Flood-Marr Holiday Tournament.

9 Will Toffey, D (uncommitted)
6’1, 185 lbs, b. 12/31/1994 [2013]
Very smooth, offensive-minded defenseman … Plays the full rink … Fantastic skater, great edges, good acceleration … Comfortable with the puck at high speed … Makes quick, crisp outlet passes and finds seams on the power-play … Jumps into the attack frequently, protects the puck well and gets the puck deep when he runs out of space … Frequently chased the puck deep in such instances, usually made good contact but sometimes over-committed himself … Tended to be a little overzealous offensively … Projects as a two-way player but needs some work in his own end as he tends to be too lax in front of his net … Physical on the boards, tough to play against in bursts … Too aggressive on the PK, takes himself out of position … Makes up for lapses with reflexes, but that won’t work at higher levels.2

2 Ryan Segalla, D (UConn ‘14)
6’2, 194 lbs, b. 12/29/1994 [2013]
Two-way defenseman with a mean streak … Very physical, tough to play against, finishes every check … Good stick in his zone, very active in lanes … Protects the net front … Smooth skater, good stride and strong on his feet … Hard wrister and slapshot, quick release … Makes good decisions with the puck at the point … Takes himself out of position to play the body often … His reads were questionable overall, especially against the rush and with the puck in his own end … Liked to go end-to-end and has the ability to get by forecheckers but tended to make one move too many, had trouble when forced to make a decision against strong pressure … Outlet passes were frequently risky … Discipline is a concern, multiple boarding penalties and lost his cool on a couple occasions …   Tantalizes with upside but his over-aggressiveness is a concern.

Kimball Union
10 AJ Greer, LW (Penn State ’14)
6’3, 188 lbs, b. 12/4/1996 [2015]
Raw but budding power forward … Good hands in tight … Works well in cycle … Strong on the boards … Goes hard to the net … Plays on the PK, responsible defensively … One to watch for the future.

1 Sean Orlando, C (uncommitted)
6’1, 190 lbs, b. 12/29/1994 [2013]
Shifty two-way talent … Great vision, moves the puck well in the cycle and makes great reads with the puck in the neutral zone … Quick hands, very difficult to defend against on the rush and hard to check on the boards … Good wrist shot, hard and accurate … Plays the whole rink, responsible defensively … Tried to do a little too much at times.

16 David Hallisey, RW (Princeton ‘14)
5’11, 180 lbs, b. 8/18/1994 [Passed over 2012]
Honest, hard-working two-way player … Good feet, quick first steps and strong on his skates … Works well in a cycle, difficult to deal with in front of the net … Takes the puck strong to the outside and protects well … Very aware of his teammates and makes hard, accurate passes … Good stick in the neutral zone … Finishes his checks … Backchecks hard … Should have success at the college level, plays a pro-style game.

24 Mario Benicky, LW (uncommitted)
6’2, 187 lbs, b. 2/4/1995 [2013]
Big power forward type with upside … Bullish on the boards and a menace in the low slot … Acceleration is lacking but has a good stride and when he builds up speed, watch out … Good work protecting the puck down the wing … Surprisingly quick hands for a big guy … Good passer, good decisions with puck in outnumbered attack situations … Freed his stick up in front of the net for passes … Worked well in cycle … Had shifts where he was much too stationary in the offensive zone … Slow first few steps are a concern.

8 Tyler Hill, LW (uncommitted)
6’6, 225 lbs, b. 4/13/1995 [2013]
Big skilled forward who’s still rough around the edges … Was a tale of two players in tourney … Early on, was tentative with iffy balance … Used size in bursts thru middle, down outside, and along boards but was not decisive or aggressive … Feet were slow and puck control was lacking, hands looked unpolished … Later in tourney came into his own … Showed surprising shiftiness, great burst quickness with the puck on his stick … Used his reach and quick hands to dangle in neutral zone and inside blueline, creating numerous scoring opportunities for himself … Wrister is hard and accurate, releases quickly and deceptively … Worked hard in corners, played physical along the boards, very difficult to get off puck, fought thru checks … Good PKer and in defensive zone, utilizes his reach, a little stationary … Even at the top of his game had some issues … Lacks killer instinct overall (reminds of Brian Boyle but with more upside) … Was used on the point on the power-play and was dreadful, exposed by PK forwards for multiple SH scoring chances … Major project but intrigues with skill, speed for size, and intimidating strength when utilized … Injured in knee-on-knee collision towards end of tourney.

25 Wiley Sherman, D (Harvard ‘14)
6’6, 210 lbs, b. 5/24/1995 [2013]
Big, steady, two-way defenseman with upside … Skating is a strength, especially for size … Good stride, speed, edges … Calming presence, good keeps at point and good decisions with puck in defensive zone … Safe in his end, puck off glass under pressure and simple passes … Good point shot, wrist + slap … Rock defensively late in games, coach made concerted effort to keep him on ice in last couple minutes.

2 Connor Light, D (uncommitted)
6’5, 205 lbs, b. 1/1/1995 [2013]
Intimidating two-way defenseman … Good skater, can skate the puck out of danger and join the attack … Went end-to-end when given space, strong thru neutral zone with puck, normally gained line and dumped deep … Pinches like a freight train, very decisive and picked his spots well … Hard to play against, takes body hard and protects his net front … Hard to beat on rush, good positioning and long stick, angles off well … Overaggressive at times … Hurt himself midway thru tourney throwing a big hit where opponent unfortunately made contact w/ his head.

9 Eddie Ellis, C (Harvard ’14)
6’2, 200 lbs, b. 1/12/1995 [2013]
Highly skilled center but inconsistent with effort … Disappeared for periods at a time … D coverage was consistently iffy, floats and fixates on puck … Tantalizes with upside but inconsistency is an issue … Top 50 talent when at his best. ***When on his game: Instinctual offensive player with intimidating skill, speed, and intensity … Strong skater, very agile and deceptively quick (slight hitch in stride at full acceleration) … Great passes, finds seams with crisp hard feeds and capable of well-timed dishes into space and drop passes … Uses his reach to protect well or change direction of shot/attack … Has arsenal of dangles … Head-up shooter, quick release and good velocity on wrist/snap shots … Good on power-play, very active … Forechecks hard. ***When off his game: Unsure on skates, indecisive, overzealous … Whiffed on scoring chances … Gave the puck away in all three zones trying to do too much … Frustrated.

15 Michael Kim, D (uncommitted)
5’11, 200 lbs, b. 6/28/1995 [2013]
Physical two-way defenseman with good instincts and skill … Good skater, quick feet and edges, very strong on his feet … Can explode into space with puck thanks to first two step quickness … Physical on the boards and in front, defends well against much bigger players with good positioning … Does damage with hits, finishes hard … Battler, wins 50/50s with frequency… Strong neutral zone play on both sides of the puck … Active stick, chops and pokes … Good lane coverage … Blocks shots in key moments … Very capable puckhandler … Strong vs. forecheck, good decisions and outlets … Joins rush and goes end-to-end when given space … Had one hero shift where he burned three players and ripped a slapshot home … Plays the point well but can also think like a forward in the offensive zone, useful when team is behind or needs boots … Good pinches … Quick wrister and hard slapshot … Can play both sides (LD/RD) … Floats a lot in the neutral zone and defensive zone (walks line between efficient and lazy) … Worked harder in some games than others … Not the biggest guy but loved the way he played in this tournament.

18 Anthony Sabitsky, F (uncommitted)
5’10, 170 lbs, b. 2/23/1994 [Passed over 2012]
Consistently Milton’s best offensive player in this tournament … Quick skilled forward with good finesse skill … Was able to penetrate the high slot with speed on the rush on numerous occasions thanks to quick stickhandling maneuvers … Made some outstanding passes, both from standstill and at high speed … Good puck recognition in traffic, picked pucks out of crowds … Great wrist shot, quick release with good velocity and accuracy.

26 Conner Wynne, D (uncommitted)
5’10, 170 lbs, b. 10/29/1995 [2014]
Shifty, gifted offensive defenseman … Good passer, quick outlets … Great on the power-play, runs the ship: on one occasion the coach yelled “Conner, stay out the whole time!” … Overpowered and outsmarted by bigger and older players, should only get better with experience.

27 Colin White, RW (BC ’16)
6’1, 175 lbs, b. 1/30/1997 [2016]
One of the top prospects in his age group, already committed to BC this past spring … Power forward type, not huge (yet?) but he protects the puck well and plays with great drive … Great shooter, good variety and selection … Will be more effective as he matures, but is already a top player at this level as a freshman and impressed last year as an eighth-grader playing up.

19 Alex Gonye, LW (Union ’13)
6’1, 180 lbs, b. 2/10/1994 [Passed over in 2012]
Skilled offensive forward who was not always involved enough … Good skater, stride is smooth and efficient, but lacks explosiveness … Can stickhandle in tight and pass through sticks/legs … Capable of great individual efforts 1v1 or even 1v2 … Good stick in neutral and defensive zones … Defensive effort was inconsistent, often seemed to be waiting for offense to restart … Did not go to dirty areas with frequency … Still lanky.

Scout's Perch will be a regular feature over the course of the 2012-13 season with Josh Deitell providing his observations from the road as he scouts various players eligible primarily for the 2013 NHL Draft. Follow Josh on Twitter via @jdeitell.