Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pickin' Brains: Top WHL D-Man for 2011

Part one of this series came out last week with an in-depth report of how the scouting community views Oil Kings forward Dylan Wruck. Continuing the "Pickin' Brains" series, this week I'm revealing the results of the informal poll of scouts when asked to name the top WHL blueliner available in the Class of 2011.

It was a fairly simple question but I was very surprised by the results of the straw poll. My expectations were that one player would be the clear favourite but that another would get a vote or two. What actually came my way had me shaking my head.

Question #2: Of the WHL defencemen eligible for the 2011 NHL Draft, who is at the top of your own personal list?

The results after the click...

I want to remind you that this was worded to get the opinion of the individual scout and not the NHL team that he works for.

That said, opinions varied much more than I ever expected they would. The comments I received were extremely candid in some cases, often quite damning remarks, but interestingly enough, where one scout was really for or against a certain player there was another who completely contradicted those thoughts. It left me almost more uncertain than I was before I began making my rounds.

Who Is Top WHL D-Man for 2011?

"[Duncan] Siemens is clearly number one."

"Right now I have Joe Morrow in Portland as the top defenceman in the WHL. I have Duncan Siemens next."

"Siemens for me."

"I have Morrow ahead of Siemens."

"Siemens is the front runner to come out of the west but I wouldn’t call it a runaway. Joe Morrow has made himself a legitimate pick."

"Oh I don’t think there is any doubt; it’s David Musil."

"I really like Joe Morrow, a lot."

"Siemens and then [David] Musil."

"I see Siemens as considerably better than Morrow but they are next to each other on my WHL list."

The tally came out 5-4-1 in favor of Siemens over Morrow with the single mention for Musil. For all intents and purposes, the vote is basically split between 6'3, 200 lb Saskatoon Blades rearguard Duncan Siemens and 6'1, 200 lb Joe Morrow of the Portland Winterhawks. Both hail from Sherwood Park, both recorded over 40 points in the WHL this year but they play very differently.

It was really interesting when David Musil's name came up. The scout who said he was undoubtedly the best of the bunch, he was one of the the last guys that I spoke with and it was the first time anyone had even mentioned Musil. Because to that point it was just Siemens and Morrow, I thought he was joking but believe me, he wasn't. If 6'3, 200 lb Musil is still available when that team hits the podium...

Head to Head to Head

Similar numbers but two completely different players, I asked the scouts to describe and compare Siemens and Morrow. Because Musil's name was added to the mix, I'll offer up the comments on him as well.

"Both Siemens and Morrow are having good years. Joe Morrow is a really skilled defenceman, good skater, good mobility, moves the puck really well, good hockey sense."

"It will depend on what your team is looking for; if you want the skilled guy you go with Morrow, if you want a tough, physical defenceman who can put up some points then you might go with Siemens."

"I like [Musil's] size and I believe he thinks the game pretty well plus he can move the puck and find the open man. The obvious is that his feet are a concern – can he get back for pucks, can he handle speed on the rush or quickness down low?"

"I like Siemens and I think his game is where it needs to be to get to the next level. He’s a mean, hard-nosed defenceman. He still has lots to work on as far as when to use his aggression or not but his puck moving skills are good for the most part, good shot, passes well and he challenges guys all night long. He over commits sometimes but that happens with young guys."

"Morrow I really like and he’s putting up numbers but I thought he was selfish at the Top Prospects Game trying to do too much on the rushes and I question his hockey sense. I’ve seen him where he’s had chances to move the puck and yet he’s chosen to try and skate with it, he has to settle down and show that he has some hockey sense.

"I like [Musil] but I’m in the minority on our staff because of his skating. I think his positioning is really strong and I believe he’ll be a very good pro."

"Siemens is fortunate to be playing on a dominating team that scores a lot of goals. For me going forward, I don’t see him as a power play guy or a really creative, productive point getter at the next level. I see him as a hard, physical defender that can shutdown players and can make them pay a price. He has that fighting element and his skating is strong enough that he can defend in all areas of the ice. I don’t see enough to expect much passed the redline at the next level."

"Joe Morrow is just solid in every department. He plays the man very well and he’s strong defensively, smart passer, jumps into the play and he’s steady in all 3 zones. He’s also very smart."

"Siemens is a big guy, he’s tough, he’s got leadership qualities. I think he still has to figure out if he’s going to be an offensive defenceman or a defensive defenceman because he’s sort of caught in between right now. Saskatoon is a run and gun team and I don’t think that will be his forté moving forward."

"I don’t think Siemens or Morrow are there yet. They all bring something but Musil brings more of a combination of things. Big bodied, very strong. Certainly has to improve but he has to carry his team; as he plays so too does the team. The other two guys are supporting cast members and that’s an easier situation to play in."

"Joe Morrow can skate pucks out of trouble and defends really well because of his mobility. His passing skills and vision are sharp; I’ve seen him make the 100 ft. pass and spring an open guy in for the breakaway. He fires rockets from the blueline so he’s always someone you have to pay attention too although I thought he’d have more goals than he does. He gets a little twisted around in his own end some times but I don’t think it’s a big concern."

"Siemens is a better skater, quicker mind and he distributes the puck better. Morrow is stronger but once Siemens fully develops he’s going to be a horse. He hits you with full body contact. Siemens is a top-4 defenceman easy, Morrow might be more of a 5 or 6. Morrow has a NHL shot, it’s better than Siemens’s – a good shot compared to a great shot."

"Musil has major skating issues that drive me crazy. Yet, he’s so big and strong and he gets lots of ice time. He’s in the conversation for us."

"I think Duncan Siemens, with time, could develop into a pretty good 5/6 guy because he has size and he can skate. He has to learn how to play in his own end better and he has to be safer around his net. He gets lost when the opposition gets deep and starts to cycle and that you can’t do in the NHL, you have to know what is your job and what is someone else’s job. You can’t run around and chase the puck like he does."

"Morrow is a throwback to the way I like defencemen - shutdown, tough enough, smart enough, good shot, he’s a guy that when he’s on the ice, you feel very safe that nothing wrong is going to happen."

"I think [Morrow] is a very safe, smart, mid-sized d-man. I have him ahead of Siemens and it’s for that reason, there isn’t a lot of work that you are going to have to do with Morrow as he continues to evolve. You won’t have to diagram stuff out, go over tapes, he’s already got a great understanding of what it takes to play as a defenceman. He's a natural."

"Musil... I am not a big time Musil fan. I think the big thing with him, he’ll get drafted based of genetics and his size. In time when he betters his skating and can get to pucks faster, he could end up being a safe 5/6 guy somewhere. Frankly, I wish him all the best... as a character guy I know that he’s well liked by his teammates but when I see him on the ice and I watch him play... he’s not very bright. He’s not smart enough defensively."

The Pecking Order

Sounds like 3 pretty different defencemen and it might depend on which team is up next to determine which one will get drafted in what order. There isn't really a consensus as to the order they'd be ranked either. All 3 took part in the CHL Top Prospect Game, in fact Musil and Siemens came to blows at the showcase event (below). Has any of the three distanced himself from the pack though when it comes to the draft?

"Morrow and Siemens are in my top 15 but Musil is farther down the list, more in the 25-30 range."

"I think Morrow is near the bottom of the 1st round and if he slipped into the 2nd it wouldn’t be a surprise to me. Siemen's I have in my top 10. Musil is a 2nd rounder for me."

"I would be extremely happy with Morrow in the latter half of the 1st round but Siemens would be a top-10 pick for me, no worse that top-15."

The Bottom Line

We're probably talking about 3 first round picks here but the exact order isn't, as of yet, obvious to predict. None of them will be selected before Swede Adam Larsson and it's debatable whether Saint John Sea Dog Nathan Beaulieu, Niagara's Dougie Hamilton and Kitchener's Ryan Murphy all rank ahead of the WHL trio as well.

According to Central Scouting's mid-term rankings, they don't. All four of the above defenders were raked ahead of the WHL guys. Siemen and Morrow sandwiched another blueliner, the USHL's Scott Mayfield, on the ranking as they came in 14th, 15th and 16th respectively. Musil was slotted 26th, one place ahead of collegian Jamie Oleksiak.

Suffice to say that there are several intriguing defencemen in the Class of 2011 and they bring to the table a wide, varying assortment of skills and will play very different roles. Because of that, a player's worth on draft day is going to be extremely subjective and will definitely depend on the team that is at the podium at that specific time.


Greg said...

An excellent piece of work.
Thank you!

SumOil said...

A very interesting and an excellent one indeed.
How does Siemens measure upto Teubert?

Maurey Loeffler said...

Siemens is one of the youngest players in the draft... if he was a few days younger he would have another year to develop before being a prospect. If you give him that extra year I bet he would be a more mature player and a definite top 5.