Bolt Prospects 2011 NHL Entry Draft Preview: Centers

When your team has Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier up the middle on your roster at the NHL level, it's hard to classify the center position as a dire need. Indeed, should Steve Yzerman succeed in locking Stamkos up to a long-term deal, the Lightning should have their scoring line centerman spots well taken care of for the next half a decade. However, the Lightning need depth, particularly for future postseason campaigns when lower-liners can often be the difference between advancing and going home, and right now the Lightning organization doesn't possess that depth.

The Lightning do have some prospects of note in Harvard pivotman Alex Killorn, who can play both left wing and center, WHL scoring title runner-up Tyler Johnson, and Miami of Ohio incoming freshman Jimmy Mullin, who can play both right wing and center. But, like the Lightning's defense, there are no blue chippers in the crop that appear to be sure-fire NHLers. For that reason, we rate center as the third most pressing need for the Lightning organization going into the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Here are 7 players we feel might be available and attractive to the Lightning at their 1st round pick on draft night:

Name: Rocco Grimaldi
Position: Center
Shoots: Right
Height: 5.06
Weight: 163
Born: 2/8/1993, Anaheim, CA
Last Team: USNTDP (USA)
Rankings: CSS 32 (NA Skaters), RLR 10 (Overall), THN 32 (Overall)

The closest thing to Martin St. Louis since Martin St. Louis is mighty mite Rocco Grimaldi of the US National Talent Development Program. Grimaldi combines blazing speed, great hands, a wicked shot, and the compete-level of a demon. If he was 4 inches taller, we suspect he'd be competing to be the #1 overall pick. As it is, though, the Lightning may get the opportunity to steal Grimaldi at the 27th overall pick. Like St. Louis, Grimaldi intends to pursue the NCAA path as he is committed to North Dakota of the WCHA next year where he'll join current Lightning prospect centerman Brendan O'Donnell. He needs to continue to get stronger, which is an inevitability in the typical weight training programs of college teams these days, and he'll probably have to switch to the wing as a pro, but he's got the potential to be a star. A real Bolt Prospects favorite.

Name: Boone Jenner
Position: Center
Shoots: Left
Height: 6.01
Weight: 204
Born: 6/15/1993, Dorchester, ON
Last Team: Oshawa (OHL)
Rankings: CSS 18 (NA Skaters), RLR 32 (Overall), THN 40 (Overall)

Those looking to add leadership to their organization should consider Oshawa centerman Boone Jenner. Jenner is a tough, competitive, honest hockey player with a well-rounded game. He probably tops out as a third-line center in the NHL due to his limited offensive creativity and sub-par speed, but he's never going to give less than his best effort.

Name: Alex Khoklachev
Position: Center
Shoots: Left
Height: 5.10
Weight: 188
Born: 9/9/1993, Moscow, Russia
Last Team: Windsor (OHL)
Rankings: CSS 29 (NA Skaters), RLR 13 (Overall), THN 13 (Overall)

There may be just 1 Russian born player selected in the 1st round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and that young man will likely be Alex Kohklachev of the Windsor Spitfires. Like Alex Burmistrov last year, Kohoklachev is a shifty, undersized playmaker with a knack for setting up his teammates. He's also one of those rare players capable of lugging the puck into the opposition zone. Other than his size, his only other major liabilities are that he often looks lost in the defensive third, and while his speed is good, he's not necessarily got game breaking acceleration. Still, when scouts throw out comparisons to the likes of Marc Savard and Tomas Plekanec, that should tell you what kind of a setup man the team who selects him is getting. We suspect he will be gone by the time the Lightning pick, but there's an outside chance he'll be available.

Name: Mark McNeil
Position: Center
Shoots: Right
Height: 6.02
Weight: 201
Born: 2/22/1993, Langley, BC
Last Team: Prince Albert (WHL)
Rankings: CSS 14 (NA Skaters), RLR 16 (Overall), THN 16 (Overall)

NHL teams will be very attracted to the pro-style, north-south game of Prince Albert centerman Mark McNeil. He's not a wiggler or a dangler. He goes to the net and arrives in ill humor, stopping occasionally to distribute the puck deftly to his wingers along the way. He also plays an honest game defensively, as well, and is very strong on faceoffs. At a minimum, he's probably a 2nd/3rd line tweener, with the chance he could become a dominant power center as he learns to use his size and strength even more to his advantage. We suspect he will be gone by the time the Lightning pick, but there's an outside chance he'll be available.

Name: Vladislav Namestnikov
Position: Center
Shoots: Left
Height: 6.00
Weight: 166
Born: 11/22/1992, Voskresensk, Russia
Last Team: London (OHL)
Rankings: CSS 11 (NA Skaters), RLR 25 (Overall), THN 36 (Overall)

If there's a second Russian-born player selected in the 1st round of this draft, it'll likely be aggravating London Knights pest Vladislav Namestnikov. The nephew of former NHLer Slava Kozlov, Namestnikov plays with far more edge than the typical Russian player and loves to chirp at the opposition. He competes hard and is a nifty stickhandler, although he tends to be a bit of a puckhog. He's also competent defensively, but he lacks the high-end speed and lateral agility you might want from an undersized player. Unlike Khoklachev, he also struggles to get out of the way of oncoming checkers, which is dangerous for an agitator who weighs in at just 166 pounds. He must get stronger and more street savvy, so to speak, to survive the pro game.

Name: Zack Phillips
Position: Center
Shoots: Right
Height: 6.01
Weight: 181
Born: 10/28/1992, Fredericton, NB
Last Team: St. John (QMJHL)
Rankings: CSS 15 (NA Skaters), RLR 34 (Overall), THN 9 (Overall)

One of up to 4 St. John Sea Dogs that may go in the 1st round on draft day, Zack Phillips may be the headiest player of the bunch. Phillips can play both center and right wing and has an excellent knack for reading the play in the offensive zone and finding open holes from which to score. Coming into the season, he had more of a reputation as an Adam Oates style playmaker, but he was more of a finisher as the season wore on as his quick release led to 38 goals in 67 games. The negatives are that the slightly built Phillips isn't very strong physically and needs to work on his defensive zone coverage and faceoffs, if he stays at center as a pro. More importantly though, he's a mediocre skater who seems to have a choppy stride that is too far up on his toes with each step. Scouts seem split on Phillips. His scouting report is reminiscent of a young Brad Richards, but because he's not overly gifted athletically, there's a chance the team taking him could find him a bit wanting in the end. We suspect he will be gone by the time the Lightning pick, but there's an outside chance he'll be available.

Name: Mark Schiefele
Position: Center
Shoots: Right
Height: 6.02
Weight: 182
Born: 3/15/1993, Kitchener, ON
Last Team: Barrie (OHL)
Rankings: CSS 16 (NA Skaters), RLR 12 (Overall), THN 41 (Overall)

Another budding power center is Mark Schiefele of Barrie, who draws comparisons to another late bloomer: Jeff Carter of Philadelphia. Schiefele has a long smooth stride, but unlike Carter he's more of a setup man with elite-level vision and playmaking ability in the offensive zone. He should get faster and stronger as he grows into his body and has a ton of upside. NHL teams are a little leery of Schiefele because he played for such a terrible team in Barrie, which likely inflated his numbers, but he was strong for the Canadians at the U18 World Junior Championships, showing his talent may be no illusion. We suspect he will be gone by the time the Lightning pick, but there's an outside chance he'll be available.

Bonus Picks:
C Philip Danault, Victoriaville (QMJHL): Hard working, shifty centerman with great offensive instincts, but devoid of upper-body strength.
C Travis Ewanyk, Edmonton (WHL): Physically tough, hard working centerman could be a future captain.
C Colin Jacobs, Seattle (WHL): Tough Texan has a good skill level, but lacks the creativity to apply it. He is a hard worker and will apply himself physically, though.
C Victor Rask, Leksand (SWE): Was thought to be a potential lottery pick heading into the year, but he lacks the compete-level and extra gear despite being strong as an ox on the puck when he's motivated.