In every NHL Draft, there are inevitably a handful of non first-round picks (and sometimes even an undrafted player or two) who go on to outshine players who entered the draft with much more hype. Draft day is a start, not an end point.
Remember: These are teenaged players, whose development is still a work in progress. There is a lot of guesswork involved in projecting the floor and ceiling of a prospect's potential. The outlook can -- and often will -- change over the next several years after the Draft. Teenaged goalies and defensemen are notoriously tough to project.
When it comes to identifying possible Draft-day sleepers who will go on to enjoy significant NHL careers, there are many different reasons why players can tumble in the Draft. There could be an injury concern from the previous season or a question mark about a highly skilled player's size or skating. Perhaps its a European player who has not gotten national team exposure or a North American player who has played in a less-prestigious league. Maybe it's a player who has ideal physical attributes but whose game is unrefined.
What separates a bonafide first-round pick from a potential latter-round selection isn't always the talent level or work ethic. Rather, it's that the first-rounders usually have a little more refinement at their current level of development and/or have been more widely scouted over the past year or two. In terms of potential sleepers in the 2013 Draft, the pool of available players contains the normal array of less-heralded young talents who the potential to become solid pros.
Following is an extensive (but far from complete) set of profiles of "sleeper" draft candidates. It is certainly not intended a prediction on whom the Flyers may take in the second round and beyond. Also note that these listings are not "rankings" per se, but I did try to mention some of more commonly projected potential late 1st round to 2nd round picks within the earlier few entries.
Today's blog will look at defensemen that I didn't mention in my May 2 blog
on defensemen who might be candidates for the 11th overall pick. These players span the gamut of players who could go later in the first round to numerous potential second-round to middle-round picks and a few dark horses who may or may not be drafted at all. If there is enough reader interest in this blog, I will write up similar ones for forwards and goaltenders in the weeks ahead before the Draft.
DEFENSEMEN IN NORTH AMERICAN JUNIOR/COLLEGIATE LEAGUES
: Mueller is another player who could go either in the first or second round. The natural tendency is to compare the Everett Silvertips blueliner to a fellow Swiss player, ex-Flyers defenseman Luca Sbisa, in his Draft year. Mueller has size, speed and good all-around skills with the potential to be a productive two-way defenseman at the professional level.
: One of the best skaters in the draft, some projections have Bowey as a first-round pick and most have him off the board within the top 45 picks. I've only seen one list (Chris Peters' rankings on CBSsports.com) that omits him from the top 50. Bowey is best known as a puck mover and passer, but has the tools to become an all-situations defenseman. He gets a lot of movement on his shots from the point, with his shooting ability likened by one scout to young Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug. There are some question marks about "brain cramp" turnovers and blown coverages, but it should be noted that Bowey was a plus-41 this season for a powerhouse Kelowna Rockets team.
: The Owen Sound blueliner is a good example of the type of player who may not be a "swing for the fences" type of pick but who has the potential to attain NHL longevity. He skates well and moves the puck efficiently, but currently seems unlikely to become a big point-getter at the pro level. He has average size for a modern-day NHL defenseman (6-foot-1 and a frame to play at around 200 pounds as he continues to fill out and add muscle). What could set him apart from defensemen who will go earlier in the Draft is that Bigras plays with a high degree of hockey sense. He is positionally smart, takes good care of the puck and knows when it's smart to pinch and when it makes sense to lay back. Bigras makes a good first pass and can also catch other teams napping with a tape-to-tape stretch pass. Don't expect him to be a big hitter but he's not afraid of contact.
: Like Bigras, McCoshen is a pretty safe pick relative to his projected draft position as a late first-round to late second-round. He has good size, good mobility, and a good head for the game. The Waterloo defenseman moves the puck well and has been a solid offensive contributor at the USHL level (11 goals, 44 points in 53 games). He has committed to Boston College, which would enable the NHL team that drafts McCoshen to evaluate him for the duration of his NCAA eligibility. McCoshen is a product of the famed Shattuck St. Mary's prep school hockey program that has contributed to the development of a host of past and present NHL players.
: The younger brother of Montreal defenseman P.K. and Bruins goaltending prospect Malcolm, Subban is a highly skilled offensive defenseman with one major drawback: He is severely undersized. If a team is willing to take a chance on the 5-foot-9, 175-pound blueliner, they will hope that his speed, puck skills and high degree of competitiveness will compensate. He does have the potential to develop deceptive strength with a low center of gravity (ala Kimmo Timonen) but he'll need to be paired with a big, stay-at-home type of defense partner.
: A Czech import who quietly put together a very solid season for the QMJHL's Rimouski Oceanic after playing 10 games in the Extraliga the previous year with Sparta Prague, Kostalek fits the classic mold of a puck-moving European-trained defenseman. He is a good passer who makes intelligent coverage reads and is unafraid to take a hit to get the puck to safety.
: A Kelowna teammate of the more highly touted Bowie, Lees is the youngest member of the 2013 Draft pool. He was born on Sept. 14, 1995. Had he been born one day later, he would not have been draft-eligible until 2014. Lees and and Bowie produced identical point totals this year (12 goals, 30 points). However, Lees is undersized and, while Lees is a mobile blueliner in his own right, Bowie has elite speed. Lees needs to continue to refine his defensive game and add some muscle. I would liken Lees to a righthanded shooting version of Flyers 2012 third-round selection Shayne Gostisbehere.
: A Brandon Wheat Kings teammate of potential top 10-15 pick Ryan Pulock, Roy is another offensive-minded defenseman. He loves to push the attack and to play aggressively in general. Roy bagged 17 goals this year. Playing on a bad club that struggled teamwide to keep pucks out of their own net, one would expect Roy to have a less-than-stellar plus-minus rating. However, his minus-32 rating the 2012-13 season is still rather cringe-worthy and suggests that he still has a long way to go to becoming a complete defenseman. Pulock has a higher degree of demonstrated hockey sense.
: A member of Team Canada's gold-medal winning entry at the Under-18 World Championships, Heatherington was also a major minutes-eating defenseman on the WHL's Swift Current Broncos. In the WHL, he was paired with New Jersey Devils prospect Reece Scarlett, and frequently saw the ice against other team's top lines. Heatherington is not expected to be an offensive defenseman but make a good first pass and is considered an above-average skater (especially for a player with a 6-foot-4 frame). Heatherington keeps things simple and is considered a good coverage defenseman who also competes hard and has a little bit of nastiness to his game.
: In my previous blog on draft-eligible defensemen who are potential first-round to early second-round picks, I mentioned USNTD product Steve Santini. The next six profiles are of other Draft-eligible defensemen from the national team program. Minnentonka High School product Vannelli has high-end raw physical tools, especially in term of his offensive upside: Bigger-than-average frame, an outstanding skater, plus-shooter, plus-puckhandler, plus-passer. However, these tools are all still raw and will need to be nurtured over multiple years against higher-grade opposition. He is NOT a player who will step into the NHL lineup in the next year or two. As Vannelli moves higher on the hockey ladder, he will need to make fewer low-percentage plays with the puck (although he is not considered a liability in the defensive zone). In terms of pure future upside as a potential "home run" pick, he could easily end up outshining Santini and the other USNTD players profiled below. Vannelli has committed to the University of Minnesota.
: Butcher is one of the fastest-rising players from the U.S. National Team Development Program, jumping 83 spots from his midterm (#173) to final (#80) Central Scouting ratings. He further helped his stock with a strong performance at the U18 Worlds for silver medalist Team USA, which included a pair of goals and four points. An offensive-minded defenseman, Butcher is a plus-rated skater with above average puck skills. The drawbacks are a lack of size (5-foot-11, 174 pounds) and a reputation for spotty defensive decision-making. He is committed to the University of Denver next season.
: USNTD product Thompson is one of the youngest members of the 2013 Draft crop (born Sept. 14, 1995). Ranked 53rd in the final CSB North American ratings, Thompson is a mobile puck-mover who has some upside to develop into a two-way defenseman with secondary power play potential. He needs to add strength to his average-sized frame but is generally considered a safe pick relative to his current projection as a late second-round to third-round pick, which is a better lower from where he generally pegged before the season. Thompson has committed to the University of North Dakota.
: USNTD defenseman Clifton is not a big-framed player (6-foot, 167 poubds) but he is fearless, aggressive, deceptively strong and highly competitive. He also has good mobility but could stand to play a little more under control. The New Jersey native has committed to Quinnipiac University. Clifton played in the 2013 U18 Worlds and was ranked 83rd in the final Central Scouting North American skater list.
: Yet another USNTD program player who played in the U18 Worlds, Ausmus is a steady defensive defenseman who plays an intelligent positional game with a bit of physicality. At the U18 Worlds, Ausmus was frequently matched against other teams' top offensive players and averaged over 21 minutes per game. Ausmus is considered an average skater and puckhandler, which knocked his rankings down to 148th on the final CSB list. In actual game action, however, he doesn't make many mistakes with or without the puck. Along with Butcher, he is committed to the University of Denver.
: USNTD defenseman Lewis is a no-frills defensive defenseman with an NHL-type of frame and upside as a positionally sound and physically sturdy shot-blocker who can kill penalties. Not a great puckhandler but he generally makes a good first pass and does not panic under pressure. Just don't look for much offensive upside. He played his role well at the U18 Worlds for Team USA despite playing through injury. Some scouts see future secondary shutdown defenseman potential at the pro level. He has committed to Cornell University.
: Yet another defenseman who came from the UNDTD program, Downing played the past two seasons for the USHL's Dubuque Fighting Saints. If you are looking for a big-framed defense prospect with above average mobility and a mean streak, Downing could fit the bill as a potential third-round selection. There isn't any huge offensive upside here in terms of being a pro-level power play regular but Downing is a good passer. He has a tendency sometimes to get out of position but was a plus-16 for his first-place club, which is coached by former Flyers player Jim Montgomery. Ranked 49th in both the midseason and final CSB North American skater list, Michigan native Downing has committed to the University of Michigan.
: A true freshman this season the University of New Hampshire, Pesce stepped right into the lineup and was exceptionally consistent for such a young defenseman. The former Jersey Hitmen blueliner is reliable in his own end of the ice and poised under forechecking pressure. He plays with grit and is willing to sacrifice his body and engage physically with big forwards in the trenches. The 6-foot-3 defenseman does not have elite speed but is strong on his skates. Pesce's offensive upside may be limited but has a high degree of hockey sense.
: The Swedish-born defenseman has been playing in North America for the last three seasons, and is coming off an excellent USHL campaign for the Green Bay Gamblers. Above-average mobility, poise with the puck and two-way potential with some power play upside are his main calling cards. He still needs to improve his physical play but will not get pushed around. He has committed to Colorado College.
: A big Finn who came to North America this past season to play collegiate hockey for Boston University, the 20-year-old Oksanen is one of the oldest draft-eligible players who could draw some interest this year. The NCAA suspended him two games early in the season because of his past affiliation with a Finnish pro team (Espoo Blues), although he never played in a regular season SM-liiga game. A converted forward, Oksanen is a good stickhandler. He had some early trouble adapting to the collegiate game, especially on the defensive side of the puck, but improved over the course of the season. By the end of the year, Oksanen frequently worked a point on BU's first power play unit in tandem with sophomore forward Evan Rodrigues. Oksanen loves to one-time the puck and can overpower a goalie when he has open shot and his heavy shot frequently produces rebound opportunities. A few times, he broke teammates' sticks when they attempted deflections. Oksanen could still use improvement in his defensive coverages and physical play, considering the 6-foot-3 and 205 pound frame he carries.
: A Swiss import who played NLA hockey for the Kloten Flyers, Marti came to North America this year for an junior season in the hopes of improving his chances at drawing interest from NHL teams. The 6-foot-3 back spent the season with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, posting 14 points (five goals) and a plus-25 rating in 46 games. Marti turned 20 years old in March. Given the extremely close ties between Armada president and general manager Joel Bouchard -- who serves as one of the lead instructors at the Flyers' prospect camp in July -- and Flyers' Director of Player Development Ian Laperriere, there is no doubt that the Flyers have an extremely thorough scouting report on Marti at their disposal if he holds any interest to the Philadelphia scouts and decision makers.
: Depending on the scouting source, Diaby is described either as a potential sleeper with second-pairing pro upside as a defensive defenseman or as a fringe prospect who could struggle to deal with the skill of pro players. He had a huge frame (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) and the toughness to make use of it. Diaby will gladly drop the gloves or deliver a big hit. His skating still needs work and although he ranked second in scoring among defensemen on his Victoriaville team with 26 points (four goals, 22 assists), his puck skills are strictly average. Diaby was a plus-12 in 67 regular season games this season, but his positional game is still a work in progress.
: Another big (6-foot-3, 205 pound) defenseman with an equally sizable mean streak, Geertsen is a fearsome open ice hitter with deceptive quickness. He has some shutdown defender potential but little to no offensive upside. You will never see Geertsen lead the rush up the ice or attempt home run passes to spring teammates on breakaways. His first-pass ability is adequate but could stand further improvement. What you will see him do is clear traffic from in front of his net, punish opposing forwards and fearlessly block shots.
: Very much an opposite type of defenseman than Diaby or Geertsen, Mermis is an undersized (5-foot-10, 180 pound) puck moving specialist who was bypassed in last year's Draft. He has generally been a solid contributor to the OHL champion London Knights after leaving the University of Denver earlier this season.
: A highly-touted bantam player who was chosen fifth overall in the 2011 QMJHL Entry Draft, Murphy has become a steady if unspectacular two-way defenseman. He was a nice addition to the QMJHL champion Halifax Mooseheads' blueline this season after coming over from Val-d'Or midway through the season.
: First-year Rimouski defensemen Gravel showed hints of emerging as a significant offensive threat in years to come and is already a promising two-way prospect. He still could improve his footwork to smooth out his skating, and has strictly average size.
: A heady defender who served as an assistant captain for the WHL's Red Deer Rebels, Doetzel plays a gritty style of defense. He missed time early in the season due to a broken jaw. Prior to the CHL season, he was a member of Team Canada at the annual Ivan Hlinka Tournament, playing a lot of minutes for the gold medal winners.
: A western Pennsylvania native, Liberati debuted in the OHL this season with the London Knights. Liberati, 17, overcame some early-season struggles to earn a starting role with the London Knights. He struggled to get into the lineup early in the season but eventually became a regular in the lineup. He is a plus skater with upside as a puck mover. At 6-foot, 195 pounds, he has an average-size frame but there's room to add some additional strength. Although not especially physical, he doesn't back down when challenged.
: The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Wheaton is teammates with the more polished Bowie. Wheaton got off to a slow start in his first major junior season but came along steadily as the season progressed. Despite missing time with an injury that will require off-season surgery, Wheaton returned to the lineup for his team's final four games of the WHL playoffs. The defensive defenseman was a plus-20 in 39 regular season games.
:Every Draft has a few players who are strictly project players chosen in the hopes that their games will someday catch up to their raw physical attributes. The 6-foot-5 McNulty tallied eight goals and 70 penalty minutes in 52 games for Prince George this year but there are many rough edges in his game to be smoothed out on both sides of the puck.
: Another hulking specimen at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, Hauf is a raw defenseman who moves better than most players his size. Once compared to Ottawa Senators defenseman Jared Cowen (a first-round pick in 2009), Hauf has not demonstrated nearly as much skill with the puck as Cowen displayed in his junior career. He has focused instead of trying to become a shutdown defensive defenseman. There is still work needed to get there, but the potential is there.
: Corbett came into his own as a regular for the OHL's Sudbury Wolves in his third major junior season after sparing use his first two years. He worked his way into the team's top pairing. He proved to be a reliable defensive player with some physicality to his game despite moderate PIM totals. Primarily a stay-at-home type, he has some untapped offensive upside and received power play time this past season.
:One of those heart-and-soul character players whom it is easy to root for, the Brampton Batallion blueliner has battled the odds to make it as far as he already has. He had a very difficult upbringing as a child and channeled it in a positive direction. Apart from imposing size (6-foot-2, 228 pounds), Bell, who grew up as a Flyers fan, has modest natural hockey skills which is why he's been bypassed twice in the NHL Draft. Even so, he has become a productive two-way OHL defenseman who improves each season. He will engage physically, dropping the gloves this season with Flyers enforcer prospect Derek Mathers. Bell also used his heavy shot to score nine goals this season but it takes him awhile to wind up and fire. Lack of mobility is the biggest drawback to his game. Whatever his limitations, Bell works tirelessly to improve his game and is known as a player who cares deeply about his teammates and is involved in numerous activities in his community.
: Another player who has been bypassed in previous Drafts, the 19-year-old Sarnia Sting defenseman is a skillful offensive defenseman (11 goals, 44 points in 57 regular season games in 2012-13, two points in three playoff games). He skates well and is an impressive stickhandler. The rest of his game get him in troubel, as he is prone to turnovers and getting caught up ice on pinch attempts. He lacks much of a physical game although he has a reasonably big frame (6-foot-1, 188 pounds). If he is selected in the Draft this time around, Basso will have to show commitment to improving his all-around game and could require more than one season at the minor league level.
DEFENSEMEN IN EUROPEAN PRO LEAGUES
: The 18-year-old is already a KHL mainstay for Dynamo Moscow and played well for Team Russia at the most recent Under-20 World Championships (AKA, World Junior Championships). He is a heady defender with good speed and two-way upside.
: At age 20, Yarullin is one of the oldest draft-eligible players this year after being bypassed in each of the last two NHL Drafts. There's a chance he'll be chosen this time around after playing a strong World Junior Championship tourney for bronze-medalist Russia, which included three goals and five points in seven games. Yarullin dressed in 28 KHL games this year for Ak Bars Kazan, receiving third-pairing ice time (which is the norm for young defensemen at that level).
: Westlund drew attention in Sweden at age 16 when he had a dominant two-way performance at the famed TV-Puck tournament. Now 18, he's a regular in Elitserien for Färjestad, dressing in 26 regular season games and six playoff games in addition to suiting up for 33 games for the J20 team. Westlund was also a member of Team Sweden's bronze-medal winning team at the U18 Worlds. He does not have a big frame (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) and is not expected to be a big point producer but has a package of all-around attributes -- skating, defending, passing, work ethic -- that makes it likely he'll be taken by an NHL team at some point in the upcoming Draft.
: A fast-rising 18-year-old defenseman, Cederholm played at three different level (J18, J20 and Elitserien) this year in the Rögle organization. Very good size and possesses a combination of above-average skating and a willingness to engage in physical play around the net. He is said to possess a heavy shot but lacks a quick release.
: Arnesson has played quite a few games with the Djurgården senior team over the last two seasons and was a member of Team Sweden at the WJC. Arnesson possesses good size, and even in limited viewings it seemed clear that he is a smart positional defenseman and makes a crisp first pass. Arnesson generally keeps things simple and, if anything, could stand to be a little more aggressive.
: If Stencel were a 6-foot-2 North American, he'd be a potential second-round pick based upon his wizardry with the puck on his stick, quick shot release and skating ability. However, as a 5-foot-9, 175-pound player in Europe, he's strictly a dark horse prospect. Stencel is already a regular for Czech Extraliga team HC Vitkovice, which is still a meaningful accomplishment despite the decline since the early 2000s in the quality of the once-formidable circuit. Stencel played in both the U18 and U20 World Championships. He has good offensive anticipation and is a very good stickhandler but needs continued improvement on the defensive side of the puck. He has a quick stick, however, and is adept at poke checks and stick blocks on opposing shots. Bigger players sometimes try to push Stencel around and, although he is not a physical player by any means, he is not shy about using his elbows or stick make them think twice.
: Another severely undersized back, Pettersson is more of an all-around player than Stencel. Pettersson had an excellent J20 SuperElit season for Linköping and moved up to play 18 games at the Elitserien level.
: The Norwegian defenseman graduated from Sweden's SuperElit (J20) level this season to dress in 17 regular season games and four playoff matches for Brynäs. He has excellent wheels and passing skills. Lack of size works against him and he has to succeed with finesse.
: An offensive-minded defenseman at the SuperElit (J20) level in Sweden, Borgman dressed in three Elitserien games and a pair of Kvalserien games for Timrå this season. He also earned a spot on Sweden's U18 World Championship team. Borgman is a bit undersized (5-foot-11) but has a stocky build and a bit of a chippy streak. His development will require patience but is very adept with the puck on his stick and has the potential to eventually become a good two-way defenseman.
: Djuse went undrafted last year but his play at the WJC for silver medalist Team Sweden may have caught some eyes. The 19-year-old is a mainstay for Swedish minor league (Allsvenskan) team Södertälje SK. Average to below-average size but is an adept offensive defenseman. He likes to push the attack with stretch passes and gets his shots on net on the power play. Defensively, he's strictly average but has shown some improvement on what was always considered the weakest part of his game.
: A teammate of Djuse on SSK, Press graduated from the SuperElit level to Allsvenskan this season. Press, who also played forward at the junior level, has a booming righthanded shot and a good frame for the professional game. The 18-year-old still has rough edges to smooth out in his game -- defensive play, skating efficiency -- and will require patience in his development.
: A Rögle teammate of Cederholm, the 18-year-old Hansson dressed in nine Elitserien games and six postseason games this year. He is known as an adept breakout passer and a combination of mobility and defensive acumen. He does not shoot particularly hard but gets the puck on net.
: Now 19 years old, Riikola was bypassed in the 2013 Draft but could a low-risk pick in the mid-to-late rounds of this year's Draft. Over the course of the past season, Riikola broke into the SM-liiga. Between September and January, he dressed in 20 games for KalPa Kuopio (the club owned in majority by former Flyers forward Sami Kapanen and in minority by current Flyers players Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell), averaging 15:16 of ice time and compiling six assists while generating 37 shots on goal. He also played in the World Junior Championships for Team Finland. Riikola has below-average physical strength and would need to add considerable muscle to his frame but has underrated puck skills.
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