With the 2011 NHL Entry Draft coming up in a little less than three weeks, prospects are starting to fall into place and the anticipation for a few Badgers is starting to grow.
Two current Badgers, forward Michael Mersch and defenseman Frankie Simonelli are both draft eligible for the first time. Additionally, incoming forward recruits Brad Navin (Wapaca high school), Joseph LaBate (Academy of Holy Angels), and Brendan Woods (Muskegon, USHL) are all hoping to hear their names called when the NHL holds its draft in St. Paul on June 24th and 25th.
Mersch and LaBate are the only two Badgers who are all but guaranteed to be selected by an NHL franchise. When NHL Central Scouting released their final rankings for North American skaters in April LaBate was ranked as the #51 North American skater and Mersch #83. Woods (#147), Simonelli (#154), and Navin (#163) were also ranked by Central Scouting.
The NHL held it's combine in Toronto over the weekend and LaBate was the only player with Badger ties invited. LaBate tweeted after returning home, "NHL Combine was an amazing experience. Interviews went great and the fitness testing was tough but overall it was a successful week."
More on Wisconsin's NHL Draft prospects after the jump.
A handful of NHL Draft experts have been doing mock drafts and releasing their rankings online. Additionally a few free sites have scouting reports on some off the players. The following is a list of rankings that I've acquired so far.
Joseph LaBate, Center (Academy of Holy Angles)
NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term Rank: 60 (North American Skaters only)
NHL Central Scouting Final Rank: 51 (North American Skaters only)
Red Line Report: 65
LaBate has a great frame to work with as a forward, but still needs to grow into it as he refines his game. He skates very well for a big guy and has some solid grit to his game as well. Good touch around the net and has a very good shot which he loves to use. Still pretty raw, but has some very good upside.
LaBate held steady in our rankings this season and has definitely put his name on the map this season. He’s got the frame that will definitely interest NHL teams and his skating ability and willingness to play in front of the net will surely entice NHL teams as well. The Wisconsin commit will benefit from playing in the NCAA, where he’ll have an opportunity to add some much needed strength to his frame while playing against older players over the next 3-4 seasons.
Joseph LaBate is a big and very wiry-framed centerman who I've also seen line up on the wing. LaBate is a low-ceiling guy who will get by on his physical assets. He has a good stride and is moderately coordinated for a 6'4" forward at his age, but the skating tool is fringe and the feet look heavy. Joseph's puck skills look decent at best and he probably can't be guy who will be relied on to execute beyond the basics in that regard. He has a notable shot that generates solid power and good mechanics for a larger man, especially on his one-timer which he likes to unleash from the right circle on the power play. His physical game projects as plus as he uses his frame well and has a noticeable work ethic in that regard. It will really flourish once he fills out and gains better balance. His hockey sense is decent with the odd adjustment required such as penalty kill and defensive positioning; I would have wanted to see more of him, as the high school environment always makes it hard to evaluate that tool.
Projects as a solid big forward when he adds size to his already wide-bodied frame. He has a real nice quick & heavy shot, and uses the size he already has to his advantage in front and in the battle areas.
The Hockey Spy: 57
OK, big, real big, now look up at 6’4, a centerman to boot. Like him so far!!! And hard skills too, an RPG (that’s rocket propelled grenade for those of us without two tours in Afghanistan) for a shot, the soft hands that you sometimes wish your doctor had, the nice top speed of an SUV that isn’t worried about stopping anytime soon. He can also bring the physicality to his work that you want from a big guy but his lack of strength keeps that part of his game from being overpowering to date. Joseph will be attending The University of Wisconsin next year so he still has plenty of time to perfect that part of his game. He will also need to work on his acceleration but that may come naturally as he adds to his lower body strength.
*****Other scouting Reports on Labate*****
Has the combination of size and speed that drives scouts giddy. LaBate is a mature player that has developed nicely over his high school career. Is capable of getting dirty and playing a physical game or can step it up a notch and play with finesse. Has great one-on-one skills, having the ability to carve into a defense, picking apart every weakness.
LaBate has a cannon of a shot, which he is able to bury from outside the slot. LaBate shows no ill effects of a broken leg that made him miss most of the Midwest Elite League. As LaBate advances to the next level he must work on protecting the puck as he’s prone to turnovers.
At 6-4, 190-pounds, he's a stick figure right now, but dominating at the high school/prep level and when he fills out to his pro playing weight, look out. He has 20 goals in 19 games this season with 35 points. He went through a four-game stretch in which he potted nine goals, including a Texas hat trick (4 goals) against Blake.
An effective net presence, LaBate uses his size to take away sight lines and has a quick stick. He lacks the strength to be a force right now, but is so much taller than most that he's still tough to move. Generates good power on his shot and it will only get heavier as he continues to add strength to his wiry frame. He does the dirty work in front of the net and in the corners. Like most big guys, he's able to use his big body to shield and protect the puck well, which allows his line to set up an effective cycle. He's gotten good marks for his hockey sense from scouts I've talked to as well.
He's committed to Wisconsin after producing 29 goals, 23 assists and a plus-27 rating in 26 games for the Stars. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound center failed to score a point only three times all season.
"He has unbelievable skill, is a great skater and possesses really good hands," said Central Scouting's Jack Barzee. "He can shoot the puck and is very unselfish."
Michael Mersch, Left Wing (Wisconsin Badgers)
NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term Rank: 62 (North American Skaters only)
NHL Central Scouting Final Rank:83 (North American Skaters only)
Red Line Report: 50
Similar in style to (Detroit power forward) Tomas Holmstrom, just not as nasty. Strong as an ox with soft hands and a nose for the net. Skating needs a lot of work, but when he's in a race for the puck, he ends up there first. From the waist up, he's a first-rounder. From the waist down is where he's going to need to focus his development to become a good pro.
Mersch certainly won’t be a player that fools you into thinking top line NHL player due to his skating concerns, but he makes up for it in other areas. Mersch is a gritty forward who does the little things well and wins battles around the ice. If his offensive game comes around, he could be serviceable as a player that can stand in front of the net and muck it out in the dirty areas of the ice. If not, he has the mindset where he could be an effective grinder.
Michael Mersch didn't have a great year from a counting statistics viewpoint, but his rapid physical development and how well he fit in the college game was reason for optimism. He skates at a decent level, and looks like he will be able to move with pros just fine. Mersch's puck skills are average, although he does look uncoordinated at times and his hands shine more when he's playing in front of the net on the power play rather than creating in open ice. He can be adequate though in regards to distributing, but I'm not sure he will be pro-average at that. His frame is already remarkably filled out for a first-time draft eligible, and he's one of the bigger players in the NCAA as a freshman at only 6'2". Mersch can be a handful to deal with in the physical areas, although his strength is not all the way there yet. There is little doubt though by the time he is 20 he will be a physically dominant college player and projects as a solid-average player in that regard in the pro game. He works hard, and all his traits point towards at least a fourth line pro, and possibly more than that if his defensive game is refined.
From the Chicago Suburb of Park Ridge, he has showed improvement starting with the 2009 World U-17's, and led the Wisconsin team with a plus 23.
*****Other scouting Reports on Mersch*****
This two-way center is one of the draft's true stealth fighters. At 6-1, 195, he has nice size, is a good skater and plays an honest, hard-working game in all zones. Mersch's numbers aren't much to get excited about- 8 goals, 19 points with the Badgers this season in 41 games. But, to focus on the stats is not to see the longer-term potential in this kid's game. He's lacking in lower body drive and physical mass. When he gets stronger, he's going to generate more power in his skating stride and be stronger on the puck. Scouts we talked to said that he was on the wrong side of many physical matchups this season, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. When he gets more mature and experienced, we could see Mersch becoming a solid scorer at this level and looks like he'll eventually be a steady 3rd-line guy in the NHL with enough skill to possibly break into a team's top-six at some point.
Frankie Simonelli, Defense (Wisconsin Badgers)
NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term Rank: 92 (North American Skaters only)
NHL Central Scouting Final Rank: 154 (North American Skaters only)
Red Line Report: 127
From Bensenville, a Chicago suburb, former Team Illinois member, and a consistent force on Team USA has been playing hockey since he was two. Filled out the third pairing at Wisconsin in front of a veteran back line. Has upside as he gets more ice.
*****Other scouting Reports on Simonelli*****
Another undersized defender who has some real good wheels, Simonelli is a U.S. NTDP product like Nieto, Clendening, Mersch and Shore (are we sensing a trend here?) However, scouts we've talked to don't have great things to say about his instincts and vision. Despite his mobility and good puck skills, he didn't produce much in the NTDP and had 2 goals 11 points in 39 games this year as a freshman. Said to have a tendency to force things that aren't there, he makes too many mistakes and is a draft wildcard- might not get picked at all. He'll be a serviceable NCAA player in the next couple of years, though.
Brad Navin, Forward (Waupaca)
NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term Rank: 150 (North American Skaters only)
NHL Central Scouting Final Rank: 163 (North American Skaters only)
Brendan Woods, Forward (Muskegon, USHL)
NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term Rank: 156 (North American Skaters only)
NHL Central Scouting Final Rank: 147 (North American Skaters only)
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