Draft eligible dark horses

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Welcome to the first of two special Hot Lists, dedicated exclusively to the 2011 draft in Minnesota. This week, we’ll take a look at some under-the-radar prospects - players either specifically mentioned by NHL scouts in interviews without being prompted or personal hunches we think may pan out. Our spotlight player is an exception, however; there’s no question he’ll be going in the first couple rounds.

Connor Murphy, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)

The only reason Murphy wasn’t slotted high in Central Scouting’s mid-term ranking is that he had an “LV” beside his name, as in “limited viewing.” A back injury derailed his season, but when the versatile blueliner got his chance to shine at the world under-18s, he did so with aplomb. The draft combine then served as his closing argument to NHL teams.

“It was important, just to clarify what the injury was,” Murphy said. “To let them know I’m clear, I’ve been clear for a while and I’m pain-free. I let them know I’ve had this setback, but I’m putting it in the past now.”

The son of former NHLer Gord Murphy, Connor tested well at the combine, registering one of the lowest body fat indexes in the field and a top-10 wingspan. But obviously the on-ice skills will be more important in the long run and Murphy thinks he has a lot to offer there, as well.

“Probably my smarts and my decision-making,” Murphy said when asked about his strengths. “I know the game pretty well and for me it’s just the physical development that needs to get higher.”

That will come with time, particularly since Murphy will be attending Miami University next season, alongside a pretty sweet recruiting class that also includes NTDP teammate Tyler Biggs.

“Yeah, I’m pumped - he’s my roommate, actually,” Murphy said. “I’m really excited for him to be playing with me at Miami. It’s somewhere I really love as a school and I’ve been attached to for a couple years now and I can’t wait to get in for next season.”

With the RedHawks already a force, a lot of hockey followers can’t wait to see that reloaded lineup.

Jimmy Vesey, LW – Belmont Hill (Mass. HS)

The son of former Merrimack star Jim Vesey (who had a cup of coffee in the NHL), this mid-sized left winger has a high hockey IQ, works wonders on the cycle and brings grit and skill to the table. One scout called him the “best-kept secret in the draft.”

Travis Ewanyk, C – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

A lot of momentum has been gathering behind Ewanyk and his inclusion on Canada’s world under-18 team certainly helped matters. Touted as a battle-ready two-way center, Ewanyk is a fiend in the corners and isn’t afraid to head to the front of the net. He also truly seems to enjoy dropping the gloves and he’s pretty good when he does.

Neal Goff, D – Stillwater Ponies (Minn. HS)

While he may be a long-term project, there’s a lot of upside to the 6-foot-5 Goff. One scout loved his long, beautiful stride and excellent lateral movement from the blueline, but the kid is still raw. Hockey sense and his hands need work, so he’s the type of pick teams wouldn’t expect to harvest for several years. Ex-NHL defenseman and U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Housley coached Goff this season.

Frankie Corrado, D – Sudbury Wolves (OHL)

On a team that did little before a remarkable Round 1 upset over Ottawa, Corrado caught the eye of at least one NHL scout, who lauded him as a real steady player. Offensively, the mid-sized blueliner tripled his production year-over-year, ending his sophomore campaign with 30 points.

Steffen Soberg, G – Manglerud Stars (Nor.)

Soberg parlayed a batten-down-the-hatches performance at the world under-18s into big buzz, culminating in International Scouting Services anointing him the top European-based goaltender around in its May ranking. The 5-foot-11 netminder also nabbed rookie of the year honors back in Norway’s top league.

Kyle Rau, C – Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)

Rau almost began the year in Sioux Falls, but popped back to high school at the last minute. The decision was a good one, as the diminutive center led his Eden Prairie Eagles to Minnesota’s coveted state championship title, where Rau scored the clinching goal. After that, he joined Sioux Falls and promptly led the United States League playoffs in scoring, despite his team not making the final. Scouts are divided on Rau because of his size and playing style (some think he’s on the perimeter too much), but not every team has to like him come draft day.

Troy Vance, D – Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)

After starting off the year with Philadelphia of the Eastern Junior League, Vance stepped up to Victoriaville when the Tigres hit injury problems. A tower of power at 6-foot-5, 203 pounds, Vance stayed in the top-six for the playoffs, registering one goal and four points in nine games. Scouts want to see more hockey sense from the young American, but his physical game and skills are his positives.

Derek Mathers, RW – Peterborough Petes (OHL)

Specialty can win over general skills in the draft and Mathers will no doubt set off a game of chicken among teams in the middle rounds. The pre-eminent fighter available this year, the 6-foot-3, 226-pound brawler also has a dash of skill to his game, which is key these days. One scout figures Mathers will go several rounds earlier than expected.

John Gaudreau, C – Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)

Winning a Clark Cup with the Fighting Saints and leading the team in playoff scoring can’t hurt Gaudreau’s standing and while size is a concern (he’s 5-foot-6, 141 pounds), results are results. One scout called the diminutive goal-scorer Team USA’s best player at the Ivan Hlinka tournament back in August.

The Hot List, a roundup of minor league, junior, college and high school players we’re excited to one day see in the NHL, appears every Tuesday only on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.

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