2009 NHL Entry Draft: Louis Leblanc and the USHL Forwards

Historically, the USHL hasn't recieved a lot of respect at the NHL draft, but in recent times that's changed somewhat.  Kyle Okposo (pictured above) was taken 7th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2006 draft, and the last few drafts have seen other players taken early, like Capitals prospect John Carlson (27th overall in 2008) and Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty (22nd overall in 2007).

USHL Rookie of the Year Louis Leblanc has a good chance of sneaking into the bottom half of the first round, and there are some other players of interest - players we'll consider after the jump. 

  1. Michael Cichy: 50G – 62A – 112PTS (166th NA)
  2. Steven Whitney: 27G – 68A – 95PTS (197th NA)
  3. Patrick Mullane: 35G – 52A – 87PTS (165th NA)
  4. Louis LeBlanc: 40G – 44A – 84PTS (13th NA)
  5. Jordan Samuels-Thomas: 44G – 31A – 75PTS (190th NA)
  6. Alex Chiasson: 25G – 48A – 73PTS (34th NA)
  7. David Gerths: 19G – 38A – 57PTS (88th NA)
  8. Josh Birkholz: 32G – 23A – 55PTS (43rd NA)
  9. Jeff Costello: 36G – 14A – 50PTS (50th NA)
  10. Keegan Flaherty: 24G – 16A – 40PTS (109th NA)
  11. Alexander Krushelnyski: 15G – 24A – 39PTS (203rd NA)
  12. Garrett Peterson: 12G – 22A – 34PTS (80th NA)
  13. Ryan Daugherty: 11G – 18A – 29PTS (78th NA)
  14. Oleg Lee: 12G – 16A – 28PTS (156th NA)
  15. Nick Oliver: 7G – 7A – 14PTS (82nd NA)
  16. Berkley Scott: 0G – 14A – 14PTS (125th NA)

Leblanc, Birkholz, and Chiasson

Andrew's Dallas Stars page has a nice summary of the various reports on Leblanc.  Red Line Report just loves him; their quote is worth reprinting in full:

"Plays with a fiery edge to his game, with his emotions just barely under control enough be a major pain in the ass to his opponents, while not undermining his own team's discipline. ... Passionate and has a world of skill. ... Has outstanding puck skills and playmaking ability. Rips a fine assortment of shots with accuracy and will from any angle."

Leblanc's more of a two-way forward than a pure offensive guy, but his offensive numbers weren't all that bad either.  THN has him at 29th overall, and TSN a little higher; it's probably fair to slot him just outside the top twenty at this point.  I like him quite a bit, although I wonder if he has the offensive game that a high draft pick really should have.   

Josh Birkholz is a different kettle of fish.  Hockey's Future describes him as a "perimeter player", while the scouts THN talked to praised his shot and his speed but not much else.  He occasionally spent times on the fourth line in Fargo because of flagging effort, and at this point he's a project.

THN doesn't like Alex Chiasson, slotting him for a nearly third-round pick, but I can't see why they slot him under Birkholz.  Not only were his points totals much higher, plus he's got great size (6'4", 187lbs).  The Terrier Hockey Fan Blog did up a nice profile which included this quote from an NHL scout (a quote which neatly summarizes most of the other reports I could find):

While his skating needs to gain a step, he has really nice hands and puck skills. Alex has to mature a little in gaining some strength, but he is a solid competitor who comes to play every game, every shift. He’s very good on faceoffs, has creative puck skills, works the corners, and goes hard to the net. He has all the assets to make a very good college player and solid potential to play at the next level. He is a great kid, is having a solid year in the USHL; if Bonino and Wilson stay, BU will be endowed with three outstanding centers.

That scout is probably understating Chiasson's difficulties with skating; that said, I agree with CSB that he's a better project than Birkholz.

The Rest

  • Ryan Daugherty's a big guy who skates well, but in addition to being slated for summer knee surgery he wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire offensively.  He doesn't strike me as being a compelling prospect; this seems like a situation where scouts are looking at a big guy who skates and projecting results based on that pair of qualities, despite the fact that he hasn't produced to date.
  • Mike Cichy was passed over in the 2008 draft, but he made significant offensive gains this season.  I'm not sure which statistics to use; the ones listed at CSB are very impressive, the ones at HockeyDB less so.  Given that watching prospects is CSB's primary function, I've defaulted to their numbers.  His step forward may end with him getting drafted, although I wouldn't bet heavy money on it.
  • Steven Whitney split his season between high school hockey and the USHL, so don't read too much into his numbers (based on just a dozen games or so).  He might be a sleeper, but given how tiny he is I doubt he gets drafted, at least this year.  McKeen's had a good Q&A session with him.
  • Patrick Mullane's another player who was passed over in last year's draft; once again he's on the fringe and may go unselected a second time.
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