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Insider

Huberdeau's stock can't get any higher

5/31/2011

The last game of junior hockey's 2010-11 season, Saint John's 3-1 victory over host Mississauga in the Memorial Cup final, was suspenseful enough, but something less than a classic. If the game will be remembered down the line it will mostly be on account of the public emergence of Jonathan Huberdeau, who scored the final goal on an impressive deke around a flailing Majors goaltender J.P. Anderson. For that goal and for a few other moments Huberdeau deservedly won the player-of-the-tournament award for the very young Sea Dogs team that dominated the QMJHL this season and the championship tournament. Will Huberdeau be back to help Saint John repeat? Here's what scouts are saying about his -- and a few other of Saint John's top players' -- draft stock.

Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Saint John (QMJHL)

At the start of the season Huberdeau was a possible top-10 pick. Now he's at least in the conversation as a top-three selection. Among elite draft-eligible prospects few have advanced their stock like Huberdeau has. (Among likely or possible top-10s only Ryan Strome and Huberdeau's team-mate Nathan Beaulieu have spiked up so sharply, though they started from farther back.)

"It's not like he takes shifts off but it seems like he just stays in play for a while and then takes off and does something special," said a scout last night. "At first he surprises you but after you've seen it awhile you know it's coming. With (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins it's there from the start, the moment the puck hits his stick, the idea that it's the start of something special. With Huberdeau you don't know what it is until it's already happened."

Scouts I talked to Sunday night maintained that Huberdeau would be best served by another year of junior. "He's not physically mature enough, not strong enough to play at the next level, not like (Taylor) Hall and (Tyler) Seguin were at this time last year," one scouting director said. Good in theory but I'd be surprised to see Huberdeau play another game for the Sea Dogs. Would he be back in junior if New Jersey passes over Adam Larsson (who has been the subject of some discouraging words) and taps Huberdeau? There was no getting a word out of Devils scouting director David Conte, an interested spectator at last night's game. But New Jersey, for one, is a franchise that's willing to wait out development.

Stock watch: Maxed out

Zack Phillips, C, Saint John (QMJHL)

Phillips got a little love from scouts in attendance. One told me that his own staff is highly divided on him. "His skating is still the critical factor," said the scout. "It doesn't bother me that much. Playing beside Huberdeau doesn't hurt him. But I can understand teams or scouts who might back away because they feel that they already have a player (in that skills profile)." Phillips played hurt in this tournament and still wound up with the Cup-winning goal, toe with Michael Kirkpatrick being tick and Huberdeau tack on a passing play that happened so fast you'd have missed it if you blinked.

Stock watch: Not for every portfolio

Nathan Beaulieu, D, Saint John (QMJHL)

I didn't like Nathan Beaulieu's game as much as other times I've seen him. He had a confident start but then a few run-around moments in his own end. One scout I talked to last week noted that Beaulieu's point total with a powerhouse team was less than you'd expect. It made me go back to my notes and I couldn't find anything that jumped out to me. Maybe it's a case of him being creative with the puck in his own end or between the bluelines but less so inside the opponent's blueline and that would make him closer to a No. 3 or 4 defenseman than a top pair blueliner. That's how it looked last night.

Stock watch: Holding

Tomas Jurco, RW, Saint John (QMJHL)

All scouts I talked to in Mississauga liked his game late in the season and in the tournament. "A lot of skill and really good signs that it's coming together," one said admiringly. "He could have an impact like Stanislav Galiev had for Saint John this year."

Stock watch: It's finally catching up to his ability

Other Saint John players

• The aforementioned Galiev, a Washington third-rounder last year, was pretty dynamic looking and threatening though he looked a little over-dramatic on a couple of hits in attempts to draw penalties.

• The best and most unlikely goal of the night came off the stick of defenseman Simon Depres, a Pittsburgh first-rounder a couple of years ago. While on the penalty kill a couple of minutes into the game, Depres forced a turnover in the neutral zone and took off, alone, on a rush. It looked like it should have been a routine one-on-one lockdown for Mississauga defenseman, Stuart Percy, whose previous games were pretty impressive and helped his draft stock, maybe moving him close to the middle of the second round. And it also looked like Percy had done pretty good job pushing Depres off to his left. But Depres, from a sharp angle, fired a shot that beat Mississauga goalie J.P. Anderson on high on the far side, over his glove and into the top corner.