I think by now most people consider Saskatoon Blades rearguard Duncan Siemens to be the best available player out of the WHL at that position when it comes to the 2011 NHL Draft. I'm not going to suggest he's not but surprisingly, a recent exercise in brain picking I performed has led me to believe that the high praise isn't unanimous after all.
Siemens was taken 3rd overall in 2008 during the WHL Bantam Draft so expectations have always been high for him. Even when he was playing minor league hockey around Sherwood Park, his name was bandied about as one to watch for in years to come.
He has largely lived up to those lofty expectations. He's now midway through his second WHL season after a 20-point campaign as a rookie. He also collected 89 PIMs last year and quickly earned the reputation as someone you needed to keep a sharp eye on. He's already surpassed last year's totals and is on pace for 40-50 points.
I recently chatted with Siemens about the Top Prospects Game and specifically his scrap with David Musil. I asked the big blueliner if he went into the event with the intention of fighting someone. He didn't confirm nor deny it but mentioned that Kelowna forward Shane McColgan "started it" the night before during the skills event. Apparently the diminutive Californian got into it with Siemens by way of some hacking and slashing. (Only got one side of this story and of course there was no TV coverage so take that as it is.)
But Siemens is in the 6'4 and 200 lb range and isn't of the mind to back down from anyone no matter what their size (or lack there of) may be. If somebody starts something with him, he's more than willing to take it up with them.
Anyway, during the actual game, Siemens said he was getting chirped by the opposing bench and so let them know that he was game should anyone want to step up on the ice. When he found himself tangled up with both Sven Bartschi and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins he told me he was in the unenviable position of facing players not known to be fighters but yet not exactly being able to walk away either. "Thankfully I saw Musil coming in from off the bench" who Siemens gladly squared off with.
Most scouts I've spoken with about Siemens are really high on him; as in top-10 high.
Yet one was candid with me and said that the Blades blueliner is far from a slam dunk. "He's a great passer and skater but his play in his own end needs a lot of work."
I watched Siemens intently on Wednesday, my first live viewing of him this season, and sure enough he was strong offensively but did have a some rough play defensively on the night. The best example of that comes at :42 of the video here. Ironically, that's Siemen's good buddy and noted offensive star Mark Pysyk (note the sarcasm for the latter comment) that absolutely walks around him and buries a beauty past the netminder - only his 2nd goal of the year.
It's worth considering; have Siemen's many obvious talents overshadowed the flaws in his game? Would anyone go as far as to suggest that he's over-rated?
For me, he's still the best available blueliner in the WHL that I've seen this year but that's without the chance to watch Portland's Joe Morrow. I'd be interested to hear what others have to say though.
(Photos: Saskatoon Blades, Aaron Bell CHL Images)