Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

Perception is everything when it comes to scouting 17 and 18-year-old hockey players – and the only real certainty is that you just don’t know how a player will turn out.

The microscope intensifies at this time of the season – with six months in the books – as every facet of a player’s game being dissected and chewed up and whatever is left – in the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – must be the truth.

However, along with clarity also comes skepticism and doubts about whether they will ultimately fall short of fulfilling potential.

As is the case with every draft class, the shine has rubbed off for some of this year’s first-round candidates, having had holes and shortcomings exposed.

Initially presumed a sure-fire NHL prospect, but now veering towards ‘boom-or-bust’ territory.

Certainly Russian thoroughbred Valeri Nichushkin headed down that path before restoring his stock with a ‘man-against-boys’ performance at the U-18 Five Nations earlier this month in Sweden. Nichushkin entered this season as a probable top ten pick, so his major rise is more a re-adjustment than a sudden epiphany.

GAUTHIER SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW

Rimouski center Frederik Gauthier is one of the developing wildcards for this draft. There was talk over the opening months that Gauthier might challenge the top 10 as he appeared to be shaping into a big two-way force. However, since suffering a broken jaw, his play has regressed alarmingly with the edgy physical side he displayed earlier giving way to a more tentative version. He’s also let his defensive play slide, an area once considered a given area of strength.

There are also growing concerns about Prince Albert blueliner Josh Morrissey and specifically whether he will develop the strength and jam to defend at the next level. There’s not much push-back to his game and his lean body is getting knocked around pretty good as the playoff race thickens.

Medicine Hat winger Hunter Shinkaruk can expect a similar rough ride against NHL bodies, however his stock has softened over questions about his vision and game sense – even despite the impressive stat totals. A strong playoff push from Shinkaruk would help put him back in the top-ten discussions.

It hasn’t been a great campaign for Andre Burakowsky of Malmo, a significant faller in this month’s McKeen’s top 30 rankings. A detailed report on Burakowsky and his progress to date will be published shortly on the site.

THERE A NURSE IS IN THE HOUSE

Along with Nichushkin, another heavy mover this month was Sault Ste Marie defenseman Darnell Nurse whose game has blossomed recently under the tutelage of Greyhounds coach and former NHLer Sheldon Keefe. Nurse has advanced his game further than many of his peers – and ditto for Halifax wizard Jonathan Drouin whose progress appears to have no bounds. Drouin is currently riding a phenomenal 24-game scoring streak (22-32-54) – and has left no choice but to bump him ahead of injured teammate Nathan MacKinnon.

The only newcomer to the top 30 this month is Owen Sound defenseman Chris Bigras, a steady riser all season, bumping Guelph’s Jason Dickinson.

RANK LAST PLAYER POS HT/WT BORN TM (LG) GP-G-A-PTS
1 1 Seth Jones D 6-3/205 10-3-1994 Portland (WHL) 55-10-38-48
2 3 Jonathan Drouin LW 5-11/185 3-28-1995 Halifax (QMJHL) 43-37-57-94
3 2 Nathan MacKinnon C 6-0/180 9-1-1995 Halifax (QMJHL) 41-28-41-69
4 4 Elias Lindholm C 6-0/190 12-2-1994 Brynas (Swe) 48-11-19-30
5 5 Aleksander Barkov C 6-2/210 9-2-1995 Tappara (Fin) 49-21-25-46
6 6 Ryan Pulock D 6-0/210 10-6-1994 Brandon (WHL) 53-14-29-43
7 7 Sean Monahan C 6-2/190 10-12-1994 Ottawa (OHL) 50-26-43-69
8 19 Valeri Nichushkin RW 6-4/195 3-4-1995 Traktor (KHL) 18-4-2-6
9 15 Darnell Nurse D 6-3/190 2-4-1995 Sault Ste Marie (OHL) 60-11-25-36
10 8 Adam Erne LW 6-1/195 4-20-1995 Quebec (QMJHL) 60-25-41-66
11 10 Rasmus Ristolainen D 6-3/205 10-27-1994 TPS Turku (Fin) 47-2-11-13
12 11 Valentin Zykov LW 6-0/210 5-15-1995 Baie-Comeau (QMJHL) 59-35-34-69
13 13 Anthony Mantha RW 6-4/200 9-16-1994 Val d’Or (QMJHL) 60-45-37-82
14 9 Hunter Shinkaruk LW 5-10/180 10-13-1994 Medicine Hat (WHL) 57-32-41-73
15 17 Mirco Mueller D 6-3/185 3-21-1995 Everett (WHL) 54-6-19-25
16 22 Robert Hagg D 6-2/200 2-8-1995 MoDo (Swe) 25-0-1-1
17 14 Nikita Zadorov D 6-5/230 4-15-1995 London (OHL) 54-5-17-22
18 20 Alexander Wennberg C 6-1/190 9-22-1994 Djurgardens (Swe 2) 45-14-17-31
19 12 Frederik Gauthier C 6-5/210 4-26-1995 Rimouski (QMJHL) 55-19-37-56
20 23 Bo Horvat C 6-0/200 4-5-1995 London (OHL) 59-28-27-55
21 21 Max Domi C 5-9/195 3-2-1995 London (OHL) 56-35-40-75
22 16 Andre Burakowsky LW 6-1/180 2-9-1995 Malmo (Swe 2) 42-4-7-11
23 18 Josh Morrissey D 6-0/185 3-28-1995 Prince Albert (WHL) 62-15-28-43
24 27 Kerby Rychel LW 6-1/200 10-7-1994 Windsor (OHL) 60-35-42-77
25 24 Curtis Lazar C 6-0/195 2-2-1995 Edmonton (WHL) 65-34-18-52
26 25 Zachary Fucale G 6-1/180 5-28-1995 Halifax (QMJHL) 39-5-2, 2.39
27 26 Linus Arnesson D 6-1/190 9-21-1994 Djurgardens (Swe 2) 30-0-1-1
28 28 Eric Comrie G 6-1/170 7-6-1995 Tri-City (WHL) 20-14-3, 2.62
29 29 Ryan Hartman C 5-11/185 9-20-1994 Plymouth (OHL) 51-23-34-57
30 NR Chris Bigras D 6-0/190 2-22-1995 Owen Sound (OHL) 59-6-25-31
    * Goalies (W-L-T, GA)
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