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June 22, 2010 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

2010 NHL Draft Preview

Forbort, Bjugstad Among Those to Watch

by Mark Bilotta/CHN Reporter

6-foot-5 defenseman Derek Forbort leads the class of incoming NCAA players in this year\'s NHL Draft prospects. Forbort will play for North Dakota in the fall.

6-foot-5 defenseman Derek Forbort leads the class of incoming NCAA players in this year's NHL Draft prospects. Forbort will play for North Dakota in the fall.

Most of the headlines about the 2010 NHL Draft will center on the battle for the No. 1 selection between Plymouth Whalers center Tyler Seguin and Windsor Spitfires left wing Taylor Hall. Assuredly it will be the toughest No. 1 selection since the 1987 NHL Draft when the Buffalo Sabres were forced to choose between Pierre Turgeon and Brendan Shanahan.

However, lost in all the Tyler vs. Taylor hype — not to mention the ongoing NCAA vs. Junior/U.S. vs. Canada Hockey Border War — is that this year expects to again see a high number of incoming NCAA talent selected in the draft. Perhaps not as many in the Top 10 as in some recent years, but certainly a fair share sprinkled in the first and other early rounds.

Chief among them is Duluth, Minm., native Derek Forbort, a 6-foot-5 defenseman bound for North Dakota in 2010. This past season, he played 65 games for the USNTDP squad, scoring 5 goals and 23 assists. By all accounts, Forbort grades out to be a first-round selection, ranked as the ninth-best skater in North America by Central Scouting.

TSN's Bob McKenzie has him selected to go No. 11 in his mock draft. McKenzie wrote, "Forbort isn’t as physically intimidating as U.S. Under-18 teammate Jarred Tinordi and he’s not as offensively gifted as teammate Jonathan Merrill and he doesn’t possess the hardest slapshot in the draft like teammate Justin Faulk, but with his size and mobility, scouts believe Forbort has greater potential than any of the stellar blueliners on what may be the best ever U.S. Under-18 squad and, therefore, is a legit threat to be a Top 10 pick."

Another top prospect to keep an eye on during the first round is Nick Bjugstad, a 6-5 Minneapolis native who is set to become a Minnesota Golden Gopher in the fall. Bjugstad made quite a name for himself at Blaine High School in Minnesota, where he accumulated 60 points (29 goals, 31 assists) in 25 games. He also won the vaunted Mr. Hockey Award as the top high school hockey player in the state, and accelerated his high schooling in order to attend Minnesota early.

Not lost on the Draft talent pool is goaltending, where two incoming collegians are ranked in the Top 10 in the Central Scouting goalie rankings: Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) and Sam Brittain (Denver). Gothberg played last season for Thief River Falls High School in Minnesota where he racked up an 18-8-1 record along with a 1.81 GAA and a .925 save percentage in 28 games. Brittain spent 2009-10 with the Canmore Eagles of the Alberta Junior Hockey League where he compiled a 3.27 GAA and .896 save percentage in 52 games.

In the 2009 NHL Draft, six players currently playing in the NCAA were selected, including 16th overall selection Nick Leddy (Minnesota), 18th selection Louis Leblanc (Harvard), 19th selection Chris Kreider (Boston College) and 22nd selection Jordan Schroeder (Minnesota). It would be hard to see that number increasing this season given the very strong rankings for major junior players like Hall, Seguin, Cam Fowler, Erik Gudbranson, Brett Connolly, and so on.

Keeping your eye on the subsequent rounds, here are a few additional NHL draft prospects bound for a college campus near you:

* RW Beau Bennett (Denver, 32nd among North American skaters) — Bennett received a good deal of attention after his 09-10 season with Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League, scoring 120 points in only 56 games (41 G, 79 A). Another notable name to accomplish that feat in the BCHL: Former Pioneer Tyler Bozak, now of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Bennett is a native of California, and is ranked No. 18 in the entire draft by McKenzie.

* C Tyler Pitlick (Minnesota State, 18th) — Had a 19-point (11 G, 8 A) freshman campaign in 38 games for the Mavericks. He is the nephew of former NHL defenseman Lance Pitlick.

* C Riley Sheahan (Notre Dame, 22nd) — Racked up 17 points (6 G, 11 A) in 37 games in his freshman year for the Fighting Irish. He was initially ranked 5th overall at the mid-year checkpoint, but the rise of major junior players in the rankings dropped him considerably, as did, perhaps, an off-ice underage drinking incident right after this season. McKenzie still has him going in the first round.

* D Jonathan Merrill (Michigan, 21st) — Paired one goal with eight assists and 12 penalty minutes in 22 games for the USA U-18 Team. The 6-3, 198-pound blueliner has been compared to NHL defenseman Jordan Leopold by Central Scouting. The only thing that dropped his stock was some off-ice behavioral incidents that led to an eight-game suspension last season by USA Hockey.

* D Stephen Johns (Notre Dame, 35th) — Was a teammate of Jonathan Merrill on the USA U-18 team, scoring one goal and seven assists and 29 penalty minutes in 23 games. The 6-3, 215-pound defensemen will play for the Irish by way of Wampum, Pa. – population: 600.

* RW Kevin Hayes (Boston College, 26th) — The top collegiate bound right wing in the draft, Hayes registered 67 points (25 G, 42 A) for Nobles Prep in 09-10. Hayes will be joining his brother Jimmy, a junior on the Eagles squad, making them the second pair of brothers on the team (Steven and Joe Whitney).

* G Martin Ouelette (Maine, 13th among North American goalies) — Ouelette posted a stellar high school record of 1.61 GAA and .925 GAA in 27 games for Kimball Union in New Hampshire. The 6-1, 160-pound netminder committed to Maine in April 2010. He will compete for minutes with sophomore Shawn Sirman, junior Josh Seeley and freshman Dan Sullivan in Orono.

* G Clay Witt (Northeastern, 17th among goalies) — Witt averaged 2.66 goals against while maintaining a save percentage of .906 for Sioux Falls of the USHL. Witt will likely act as the backup to sophomore Chris Rawlings for the Huskies in 2010-2011, splitting time with sophomore Bryan Mountain.

It should be noted that American Jack Campbell, who at one time was committed to Michigan before deciding to play in the OHL, is expected to go in the Top 10. The goaltender helped lead Team USA to a gold medal at the World Junior Championships in January.

Another non-NCAA American listed by McKenzie as a probable first-round picks is California native Emerson Etem. He also has USNTDP graduates Justin Faulk (Minnesota-Duluth) and Jarred Tinordi (Notre Dame) ranked highly.

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