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Late-rising NHL draft prospects

3/7/2013

The 2013 NHL draft class is being talked about as one of the deepest in recent memory in terms of talent. There is little doubt that the very top of the draft board features prospects with game-changing talent, with names like Nate MacKinnon and Seth Jones being labeled as franchise players.

In addition to the top prospects, there are a number of players who continue to climb the draft ladder based on recent strong play. Now that we are near the end of the amateur season, here is a look at five late-rising players who are climbing up the draft rankings.

Valentin Zykov, RW, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)

Draft projection: 25-45

Everything has come together this season for the Russian forward who, prior to coming North America, had international showings that generated little talk about him being drafted. Zykov (6-foot, 210 pounds) is very strong on the puck and shows offensive touch, but most impressive for me is his willingness to work hard. I have yet to see him take a shift off. "He doesn't care about what he did prior to this season," said an Eastern Conference scout. "His play this year warrants serious consideration to be taken in the top two rounds." In 63 games, he has 73 points on 39 goals and 34 assists.

Jimmy Lodge, C, Saginaw (OHL)

Draft projection: 30-45

This American-born forward (6-1, 154) has been on a steady climb up the draft board and is now in the conversation as a potential late first- or second-round pick. Lodge's weight might indicate that he is under developed, but the tall, skinny Pennsylvania native is working through it and is impressing scouts along the way. "Look at his numbers and what he is doing right now, and then project him with 25-30 pounds of added strength," said a Western Conference scout. In 58 games, Lodge has 63 points on 26 goals and 37 assists. Last season, he had just 12 points in 45 games.

Samuel Morin, D, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)

Draft projection: 31-60

An untimely shoulder injury for this giant D-man (6-7, 200) has cooled off some of the talk about his recent performances, especially his stellar play at January's CHL Top Prospects Game. Regardless, Morin's impressive footwork and size has many teams considering taking him far higher than he was pegged prior to the prospect game, where, skating with an impressive cast of players, the Quebec native showed great range and mobility along with solid puck movement. It is not hard to imagine this kid being 240-250 pounds when he is done growing. Morin is not going to play like Zdeno Chara and punish players, but he looks like he could develop into big, gritty defensive D-man. He has 16 points (four goals and 12 assists) in 45 games.

Nicolas Petan, C, Portland (WHL)

Draft projection: 31-60

We don't have to look very far for proof that small players can be successful in the NHL. Cory Conacher and Brendan Gallagher are having exceptional rookie campaigns, and this has many scouts talking about Petan (5-9, 165), a small center who has piled up 111 points in 67 games. Last year, he had just an average under-age season, producing 35 points. This breakout campaign is about more than generating points. "He obviously has offensive instincts and skills, but he plays really hard and has shown excellent compete," a scout said. Gallagher was drafted in the fifth round, and Conacher was never drafted. NHL teams will make sure they know everything there is to know about this point-producing machine, and don't expect him to be available after the second round.

Brett Pesce, D, University of New Hampshire

Draft projection: 45-60

Size and mobility are a great combination, especially when you add a deep understanding of the game -- all of which the 6-3, 170 Pesce possesses. If you are going to measure this kid on statistics alone, then you will not be impressed, as he has just one goal and three assists in 31 games this season. The Tarrytown, N.Y., native is an 18-year-old defenseman who is attracting late attention from many scouts around the league. "He moves as well as [fellow prospect] Darnell Nurse, who most have as a top-20 pick, and his hockey IQ is very high, so why should he not be considered a high pick in this draft?" asked a Western Conference scout. For me, he does not play with the same edge as Nurse, but his footwork and decision-making are key assets. The fact that Pesce competes against players as much five years older than him adds to his projection. He has a lot of room to grow and get stronger, and I feel he could go a lot higher than many are predicting.