2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Dalton Thrower, D, Saskatoon (WHL)

Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is defender Dalton Thrower, ranked as the 26th best North American skater in the final CSS rankings. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab. We’re also working on a mock draft, which will be published in early June.

Many hockey insiders marvel at the talents of Red Deer defenseman Matthew Dumba. However, others question whether Dumba – at six-foot, 185 pounds – could withstand the pounding of a rigorous 82-game NHL schedule, playing as frenetically as he has over the past two-plus seasons in the Western Hockey League.

Saskatoon (WHL) defenseman Dalton Thrower finds himself in a similar boat as Dumba, yet not with the same fan-fare. Still, the six-foot, 190-pound Thrower’s play is synonymous with his name. The North Vancouver, British Columbia-native enjoys throwing his body around, engaging physically in a manner that set many-a-tone for his Blades over the past three seasons.

“I grew up a Canucks fan, watching (current Florida Panther and former Canucks defenseman) Jovo (Ed Jovanovski) play,” said the 18-year-old Thrower. “Right now, I love watching (current Canucks defenseman) Kevin Bieksa play. To read more of this story, click here

2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Derrick Pouliot, D, Portland (WHL)

Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is defender Derrick Pouliot, ranked as the 12th best North American skater in the final CSS rankings. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab. We’re also working on a mock draft, which will be published in early June.

As the Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers take aim on collision courses in their respective Conference Finals, the other 26 NHL organizations – thirsting for future postseason success – have already begun working diligently on their own particular offseason plans.

Having to decide which free agent – unrestricted or restricted – to either retain or pursue is a discussion that has been or should be bandied about in pro personnel offices throughout the league, with free agency commencing on July 1. However, what could determine the direction a specific organization might take in free agency could hinge on the success it has just a week earlier at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh.

Scouting departments have scoured talent all throughout Europe, Canada and the United States over the past 12-to-24 months, in hopes of finding that next diamond in the rough. Some organizations, such as Montreal, Buffalo and Toronto are seeking top-six forwards to complement a defense corps, budding with blue-chip talent. Other franchises, such as Tampa Bay, Columbus and the Islanders have accrued a bevy of young forwards over the past few drafts, yet lack the depth on the back-end to take that necessary step to pursue that coveted playoff berth.

Teams pursuing the next Drew Doughty, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Adam Larsson and Dan Girardi on defense need to look no further than Canada’s Western Hockey League (WHL), where an expected four blue-liners – Everett’s Ryan Murray, Moose Jaw’s Morgan Rielly, Edmonton’s Griffin Reinhart and Red Deer’s Matthew Dumba – could hear their names called amongst the draft’s top-10 overall selections.

Portland’s Derrick Pouliot, a six-foot, 190-pound defenseman, hailing from Weyburn, Saskatchewan, is making his case to be mentioned with the aforementioned quartet, after anchoring the Winterhawks’ defense through a second-consecutive WHL postseason run. To read more of this story, click here

2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Tom Wilson, F, Plymouth (OHL)

Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is forward Tom Wilson, ranked as the 15th best North American skater in the final CSS rankings. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab.

Despite failing to reach the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, the 2011-12 campaign did provide a record-setting moment for one New York Islander. Third-year forward Matt Martin’s 374 hits not only bested Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown’s 293 for tops in the NHL, it also eclipsed Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck’s previous NHL high-water mark of 356, set back in the 2008-09 season. Yet, there were many-a-night in which the Windsor, Ontario native was left alone on a proverbial island, forced to fend for himself against an opponent’s enforcer or two.

Stressing a dire need to add necessary bulk to its hockey club, the Islanders organization spent three of its first four selections in last year’s NHL Entry Draft on skillful teens with size – 6-foot-4, 205-pound defenseman Scott Mayfield, picked in the second round (34th overall), followed by 6-foot-3, 205-pound forward Johan Sundstrom, also chosen in the second round (50th overall) , concluding with 6-foot-4, 201-pound defenseman Andrey Pedan, chosen in the third round (63rd overall).

With an eye towards this June’s NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh, the Islanders organization – selecting fourth overall – will have its choice of either adding another top-six forward to its stable of raw, yet highly-touted core of forwards – Leksands IF (SWE) winger Filip Forsberg, Quebec (QMJHL) center Mikhail Grigorenko and Sarnia (OHL) center Alex Galchenyuk are all viable options – or address a pressing need on the blue-line – Everett (WHL) defenseman Ryan Murray, Red Deer (WHL) blue-liner Matthew Dumba or Moose Jaw (WHL) rear-guarder Morgan Rielly have all been mentioned as potential top-five picks. To read more of this story, click here

2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Brendan Gaunce, F, Belleville (OHL)

Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is forward Brendan Gaunce, ranked as the 13th best North American skater in the final CSS rankings. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab.

Belleville (OHL) Bulls head coach George Burnett never second-guessed his decision in naming then 17-year-old Brendan Gaunce an assistant captain in just his second junior hockey league season. Now, many National Hockey League scouts are touting the Markham, Ontario native’s leadership skills and believe that his attributes – both on and off the ice – should translate into the quintessential captain on the professional level in the not-so-distant future.

“From the moment he stepped into our locker room, he had all the qualities that you would want in a leader,” said Burnett, a 21-year coaching veteran, who has spent the past eight seasons behind the bench in Belleville. “He’s a guy who always wants to be in key situations.

“From his skating to his grit to his overall compete level, Brendan possesses the great habits that you would want in a hockey player,”

Compared most favorably with current Pittsburgh Penguin center Jordan Staal – a second overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft – due to his size, superior skating ability and overall skill-set, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Gaunce possesses the hockey pedigree that professional organizations salivate over. It is however the drive that the now 18-year-old center is blessed with that may catapult his draft standing from what was thought to be a mid-to-late first round pick into a top-10 overall selection in June’s Entry Draft in Pittsburgh. To read more of this story, click here

2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Olli Maatta, D, London (OHL)

Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is defender Olli Maatta, ranked as the 8th best North American skater in the final CSS rankings. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab.

Having been selected first overall in last summer’s Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Import Draft, a then 16-year-old Olli Maatta undoubtedly felt the pressure to play up to that top billing. The Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights felt confident in its evaluation of the Finnish-born import that it traded third-year defenseman Reid McNeil, along with its own first round pick (25th overall) and 2013 second and third round picks to climb up to the top of the draft board and select the then 6-foot-2, 198-pound defenseman.

“(London general manager and coach) Mark Hunter came to watch me play at the (2011) World Junior Championships, and all I knew about them (London) was that they were a pretty good team,” said the mild-mannered, yet confident Maatta. “For me and the development of my game, I knew that I really wanted to play Canadian style hockey.

“The chance to come here and play on a smaller rink was very appealing. The game is so much faster … it is definitely more interesting to play.”

While he didn’t see much of the ice in Finland’s six tournament games, Maatta, alike past and current NHL greats Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby, did have the opportunity to hone his entire hockey repertoire – as just a 16-year-old – against players who were primarily 18 and 19 years old.

“Olli is a very focused, level-headed kid,” said Knights third-year assistant coach Misha Donskov, who also serves as Hunter’s assistant general manager. “He’s very cerebral, with a very high hockey IQ.

“We knew when we drafted him that the transition from playing in Finland to playing here (in London) would be seamless, because of his work ethic. He’s a tireless worker.” To read more of this story, click here

2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Matt Finn, D, Guelph (OHL)

Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is defender Matt Finn, ranked as the 16th best North American skater in the final CSS rankings. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab.

When the Islanders selected Guelph (OHL) defenseman Andrey Pedan in the third round – 63rd pick – of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, they were looking to add some much-needed muscle to a blue line that lacked the beef to compete in the physically-imposing Atlantic Division.

Much to the delight of the organization, the Lithuanian-born Pedan – playing in just his second full season in North America – has adjusted exceedingly well in his unfamiliar surroundings. Off the ice, he has “fit right in”, according to Guelph second-year head coach Scott Walker. On the ice – more importantly – Pedan’s bond with defensive partner Matt Finn has not only elevated the overall play of the 18-year-old Islander prospect, it has also given the 30 NHL scouting departments an important look-see at what many draft prognosticators believe could be the most unheralded defensive prospect to have his name called at this June’s NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh.

“Matt Finn is 17 (turned 18 on February 24) going on 27,” said Guelph second-year general manager Mike Kelly, formerly a professional scout with the Carolina Hurricanes. “He is well above the maturity level of any kid that I have ever come across.

“He came here at 16 years old, and has been our #1 defenseman from day one.”

Born in Toronto, Finn began skating at four, and quickly grew fond of every moment he spent on the ice.

“I grew up watching hockey with my dad,” said Finn, a life-long Toronto Maple Leafs fan and an admirer of former Leaf and Islander defenseman Bryan McCabe. “So for me, when I started to skate, it was a dream come true.” To read more of this story, click here

2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Cody Ceci, D, Ottawa (OHL)

Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is defender Cody Ceci, ranked as the sixth best North American skater in the final CSS rankings. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab.

Ryan Strome’s ascension up the 2011 NHL Entry Draft board came as a result of a breakout 2010-11 season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Niagara Ice Dogs, where he nearly quadrupled his previous season’s point total (106 vs. 27). Projected by many draft experts to be slotted in the latter part of the first round as the season commenced, Strome was eventually chosen fifth overall by the Islanders.

Sarnia (OHL) scoring winger Nail Yakupov, Everett (WHL) defenseman Ryan Murray and Quebec (QMJHL) playmaking center Mikhail Grigorenko were all projected to be top-five selections last fall, and undoubtedly will be picked in that range this June in Pittsburgh. Yet, alike Strome’s meteoric rise last spring, this 2012 NHL Entry Draft class also has its share of fast risers, stemming from their own stellar 2011-12 campaigns.

Cody Ceci, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound defenseman, entered his third season with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s with lofty goals. Having only collected 46 points – 13 goals and 33 assists – in his first two OHL regular seasons (132 games), the former first round selection (16th overall) in the 2009 OHL Draft was looking to be more active offensively, and in turn make a name for himself in an expected defensive-laden opening round.

“While not affecting my game, I was definitely projecting myself against the other defensemen who were looked at as top-20 picks,” said the Orleans, Ontario native Ceci. “But my main goal this season was to stay healthy, improve on my skills and help my team win.” To read more of this story, click here

2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Jacob Trouba, D, USNTDP (USHL)

As Jacob Trouba turned five years old, he joined his older brother T.J. at a local rink in Troy, Michigan with lofty dreams of playing professional hockey one day. Unbeknownst to Trouba, that first step onto the ice – playing against kids two-to-three years older – would prove to be a pivotal springboard to what many prognosticators believe could be a highly productive NHL career.

One of a handful of talented, young defensemen expected to be selected near the top of June’s NHL entry draft board, Trouba’s all-around skill-set has many in-the-know predicting his upside – when fully developed – might just be better than the rest.

“Rochester, Michigan (approximately 10 minutes from Troy) is a big hockey area,” said the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Trouba, just a few days before traveling with Team USA to compete at the World Under-18 Hockey Championships in the Czech Republic. “And playing with older kids, like my brother T.J. – who was a big influence on me – really helped me develop my game.”

Trouba would continue to hone his skills locally for the next three years, before playing one season in the Little Caesar’s Amateur Hockey League (LCAHL) – the nation’s largest amateur youth hockey league, pitting players from all around the America’s Midwestern States.

As a sixth grader, having also competed locally in soccer, baseball and basketball, Trouba decided that he was ready to solely concentrate on hockey. He signed up at Compuware Sports Arena’s AAA Hockey Organization, located in neighboring Plymouth, Michigan.

“It wasn’t a real hard decision to give up on the other sports,” said Trouba. “And by playing at Compuware, I was playing against a higher level of competition.”

Trouba would excel in five seasons at Compuware, winning National Championships in both the Under-12 (2007) and Under-14 (2009) levels.

“The core group of guys at Compuware made the entire experience a lot of fun,” said Trouba.

As a 16-year-old, Trouba – with options of playing Major Junior Hockey up north in the various Canadian Hockey Leagues – decided to stray just an hour away from home and enroll in the USA Hockey National Team Developmental Program (USNTDP) in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“The USNTDP was the best place for me,” said Trouba. “They have the best trainers, and they give me the best tools to succeed.”

In his rookie season at the USNTDP, Trouba split time between the program’s USHL team and both the Under-17 and Under-18 teams.

In 31 games with the USHL team, Trouba collected seven points – three goals and four assists. In 37 games with the Under-17 squad, he registered 19 points – six goals and 13 assists. He concluded an exhausting 86-game schedule, playing 18 games with the Under-18 team, scoring two goals and adding five assists.

Furthermore, Trouba played for the U.S. in both the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge – earning a silver medal, while collecting nine points (two goals and seven assists) in five games – and the 2011 Under-18 World Junior Championships – winning gold, while potting one goal in six games.

“Playing on both the under-17 and under-18 teams was definitely a challenge for me,” said Trouba, who grinded out nine games in a span of 10 days. “But it was also the first time that I had a chance to play internationally, and in a different role.

“I was asked to be more of a physical defenseman.”

Playing for the under-18 team also gave Trouba an opportunity to compete under the tutelage of seven-year NHL veteran Danton Cole. Cole, who recorded 118 points – 58 goals and 60 assists – in 318 NHL games, quickly grew fond of his teenage blue-liner.

“When I first started coaching Jacob, I noticed how mature – hockey-wise – he was,” said Cole, who joined the USNTDP program, after resigning as head coach at the University of Alabama in Huntsville after three seasons. “He’s not a rah-rah guy, but he’s a good leader in our room. The other guys really like him.”

Following an eventful rookie season, Trouba returned this fall to the USNTDP as a full-fledged member of the Under-18 team.

Cole noticed the progression immediately.

“Jacob came in and has become a complete 200-foot player,” said Cole, who likens Trouba’s game to that of current Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger. “While Jacob isn’t as physically imposing as Chris is right now, based on his current body frame, Jacob could easily gain 20-to-25 pounds of muscle and not lose any of the intangibles that make him a complete defenseman.”

Trouba collected 29 points – eight goals and 21 assists – in 48 regular season games for the U-18 team, while playing upwards of 25-minutes a night against the opponent’s top offensive unit.

“My skating has improved, and I have noticed that everything about me has become stronger,” said Trouba, who as a self-proclaimed Detroit Red Wings fan, has always marveled at the way the 20-year NHL veteran Nicklas Lidstrom has played, based on his ability to always be at the right place at the right time. “But I know that I have to improve my lateral movement.”

Last December, the then 17-year-old Trouba earned a coveted spot for Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championships in Calgary. Despite finishing a disappointing seventh place, the experience was invaluable to the squad’s youngest member.

“The world juniors were tough,” said Trouba. “It was definitely not the result we wanted.

“But for me personally, it was great experience to play with and against older guys.”

That physical presence and hockey acumen are two of the reasons why TSN’s Craig Button has pegged Trouba as his 13th best prospect – eighth amongst defensemen – in June’s draft in Pittsburgh. However, many insiders believe Trouba is a shoe-in to be picked in the draft’s top ten.

Cole also believes that Trouba’s potential is still yet untapped.

“It is important that whichever team drafts Jacob, they allow him to fully develop,” said Cole. “But his play in the Under-20 tournament surely separates him from others in the class.”

Likewise, Trouba is unfazed by all the draft talk, and believes his dream to play in the NHL will come in due time.

“I don’t really look at mock drafts. It doesn’t make me a better player – either way,” said Trouba, who will enroll at the University of Michigan this fall, after signing his Letter of Intent to play for NCAA legendary head coach Red Berenson and the Wolverines last fall. “My timeline is to play this fall at Michigan.

“Whether it is two or three years, I want to leave Michigan being fully ready to step onto an NHL ice.”

Will Trouba’s commitment to play next season and beyond in Ann Arbor cause the Islanders to steer clear? With a dire need for a physical presence on the blue-line, could the Islanders ill-afford to shy away from Trouba? Could the Islanders trade back a few spots and still get a potential top-pairing defenseman to team with 21-year-old Travis Hamonic?

“The Islanders have a great organization,” said Trouba. “And playing in a city like New York would be pretty cool.”

Presently, Trouba and his under-18 U.S. mates are 4-0 in preliminary games in the Czech Republic, including an impressive 5-3 victory over potential 2012 top-10 draftee Matthew Dumba and Team Canada on Tuesday.

Trouba has a goal and two assists in four games. By virtue of winning all four of its preliminary games, the U.S. have automatically advanced into Friday afternoon’s semifinal. The team is seeking their fourth straight Gold Medal.

The NHL Draft is just 65 days away.

2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Alex Galchenyuk, F, Sarnia (OHL)

Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is forward Alex Galchenyuk, ranked as the fourth best North American skater in the final CSS rankings. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab.

As Alexander Galchenyuk’s professional hockey career was transitioning from a seven-year stay (1985-92) with HC Dynamo Moscow in the now defunct Russian Super League to a brief two-year stint (1992-94) with the International Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals, a miracle fell upon the then 27-year-old Belarusian.

Born February 12, 1994 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Alex Jr. would quickly become acclimated with the life of a hockey player. As his father was continuing onward with his playing career, the family would make stops in Germany, back to Wisconsin, Michigan, Russia, Italy and finally settling in Belarus where Galchenyuk Sr. would play his 21st and final season by splitting time with Dinamo Minsk and Neman Grodno in the Belarusian Hockey League. He retired following the 2006-07 season with 233 goals and 466 assists in 956 career games.

Galchenyuk was born with a hockey stick in hand and skates on his toddler feet. He was just 18 months old, when his father – while playing for the Madison (Wisconsin) Monsters of the Colonial Hockey League – introduced him to his first sheet of ice. To read more of this story, click here

2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Morgan Rielly, D, Moose Jaw (WHL)

Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is defender Morgan Rielly, ranked as the fifth best North American skater in the CSS mid-term rankings. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab.

Brian Leetch is widely recognized as one of the top defensemen in NHL history. His skill-set, along with a silent, yet deadly demeanor were immense factors in helping the New York Rangers slay a 54-year drought and capture the 1994 Stanley Cup. For Moose Jaw (WHL) first-year head coach Mike Stothers, a professional hockey player and coach for the past three decades, he can see the traits that made Leetch a 2009 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee in his 18-year old defenseman and isn’t afraid to lead the Morgan Rielly campaign with the 2012 NHL Entry Draft quickly approaching.

“Morgan reminds me of Brian Leetch when he played with the Rangers,” said Stothers, whose 12-year playing career included stops in Philadelphia and Toronto, before turning to the coaching ranks where he has served as an assistant and head coach on the AHL, OHL and NHL levels. “They both have the same size and body structure. Morgan is agile and elusive because of that powerful skating stride.”

Yet, despite the fact that Morgan Reilly’s junior season was cut short – 18 games in – by a season-ending torn ACL in a regular season game against Calgary back in November, scouts haven’t wavered in their praise of the six-foot, 202-pound blue-liner.

Regarded by many insiders as the most gifted offensive-defenseman in this year’s draft class, TSN’s Craig Button has pegged Rielly as his fourth overall prospect – second behind Red Deer’s Matthew Dumba amongst defensemen – in this June’s NHL entry draft in Pittsburgh.

“In his 18 games, before he got injured, Morgan was improving his overall defensive zone responsibilities,” said Stothers. “While being blessed with great vision, offensively, he knows the importance to positioning in the defensive zone.” To read more of this story, click here