The U.S. National Team Development Program ended up winning the Five Nations tournament in the Czech Republic back before our first mock draft last week. That gave our network of scouts a little longer to fine-tune their assessments of the top prospects in the field. Verbatim reports from the NHL talent scouts on hand at the tournament follow.
Rocco Grimaldi, USNTDP: "The best player in the tournament in terms of getting things done -- not the best NHL prospect, but just very effective against kids in his age group."
Said one scout who scouted Rocco Grimaldi extensively: "He's ahead of Brian Gionta at the same stage in terms of skating and skills, but he doesn't know the game as well as Gionta does. Against draft-eligible kids he doesn't get pushed off the puck and he has a wide stance that gives him real balance. That also keeps him so low that he's hard to hit. When he has played against college players [with the USNTDP] it's a different story. Other [USNTDP players] struggle with the physical play against the older players too but you just can't see him growing enough or getting that much stronger that he'll be able to fight through it. He's not a jockey. He's more like a bowling ball."
The doubters will say that Grimaldi doesn't share the puck as much as he could, or should. They'll also always drag height into the equation. Those who are keenly interested though point to Gionta or Tyler Ennis in Buffalo as height-challenged guys that are effective in the league.
Coming out of the Five Nations, those scouts who didn't list him among their top prospects before weren't about to change their minds -- he could have lit up the tournament and they wouldn't have budged. But those who are open to a 5-foot-6 guy with great speed are grading him up at this point. The tournament might solidify his place in the No. 25-to-35 range.
Stockwatch: Up with a small-caliber bullet
One scout says: "Both are big enough, skate well enough and have decent skill sets ... but in terms of making things happen, they leave you wanting them to do more. They both look like they have a third-line game. Is that what you're looking at in the top 20? It shouldn't be. If [a team is] it might be a reflection of the [lack of depth] of the draft as much as the player's talent."
Miller has had a discipline problem or two in Ann Arbor. It has caused the stock of skilled kids (see Kyle Palmieri) to drop in the past and make them good value when they're available late in the first or in the second. Nonetheless, neither of these two is in the same bracket as Palmieri or, say, Jeremy Morin in terms of finishing. Biggs and Miller do a lot of things well and actually looked good enough at the Five Nations -- they just failed to show what they needed to if they wanted to move into the top 15. It seems to me that Biggs will go in the top 20 and Miller 25-to-40, unless they show something at the World U-18s that they haven't shown so far.
Stockwatch: Holding steady for both
Mika Zibanejad, Sweden: As one scout notes, Zibanejad is, "Physically a man among boys in this tournament." He adds, "He actually looks like it with a five o'clock shadow and everything. A lot of kids, espcially the Scandinavian kids, tend to physically mature a little later than the North American kids. [Zibanejad] is the exception ...
"... He's in the same bracket as Biggs and Miller. He's a more effective player than they are but does he have the skill set to be a scorer at the next level? It looks like he excels at [the under-18 level] simply because of the physical advantages he has over the rest of the average kids in tournaments like this. He didn't really show the high-end skill set [in the Czech Republic] that you'd be looking for in a top-15 player, but the tournament is a pretty narrow window. Like Biggs and Miller, Zibanejad will have a better chance to show what he can do at the World U-18s -- with more games and with linemates that he'll be able to develop chemistry with."
Stockwatch: Perhaps already peaked
About the Russian team: "Honestly, the tournament isn't a good tool for evaluating the Russians. They don't put very much emphasis on the tournament ... They'll sandbag you -- their team will look entirely different at the worlds than it did in the Czech Republic."
Russian U-18 stockwatch: Insufficient information