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Center Profiles
In depth look at the prospects
6/19/04 - By James Weise -

Evgeni Malkin – C – Shoots :L – 6’3” 186 lbs – Magnitogorsk
2) Rostislav Olesz – C – Shoots :L – 6’1” 202 lbs – Vitkovice
3) Robbie Schremp – C – Shoots: L – 5’11” 197 – London
4) Kyle Chipchura – C – Shoots: L – 6’2” 197 lbs – Prince Albert
5) Dave Bolland – C – Shoots: R – 5’11” 171 lbs – London
6) Petteri Nokelainen – C – Shoots: R – 6’1” 190 lbs – SaiPa
7) Jakub Sindel – C – Shoots: R – 6’ 172 lbs – Sparta Praha
8) Bruce Graham – C – Shoots: L – 6’6” 220 – Moncton
9) Travis Zajac – C – Shoots: R – 6’2” 205 lbs – Salmon Arm (North Dakota)
10) Johannes Salmonsson – C – Shoots: L – 6’2” 183 lbs – Djurgarden

There isn’t a large amount of debate about who the best center in this year’s draft is. Evgeni Malkin has stepped up to claim the title of the 2nd best player in this year’s draft and the best center available. The big Russian has gotten compared to players like Vincent Lecavalier and Joe Thornton by some in the scouting community and is expected to be taken 2nd overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Rostislav Olesz is a player that has separated himself as the 2nd best center in the draft. Olesz has a nice mix of size, leadership, and playmaking ability that should make him a top 10 overall pick on draft day. The biggest concern with Olesz is the fact that he has been slow to heal from the concussion he suffered at the U-20 World Championships when he was leveled by Dion Phaneuf.

Robbie Schremp is the enigma of this class. His stock has fallen from the start of the year. Schremp’s fall started when he, on the advice of his agent, requested a trade out of Mississauga. Then, Schremp was benched in the OHL playoffs due to a lack of solid defensive play. Nobody is denying Schremp’s immense offensive talent. The issue is all about his attitude and character. And showing up looking soft to the NHL pre-draft didn’t help. With the Rangers owning two first round picks this year, I wouldn’t be too surprised if they rolled the dice on the talented center. Especially, if Olesz is off the board at the time that the Rangers are on the clock.

Kyle Chipchura was the highest rated North American skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting when their mid-term rankings came out. But a poor year offensively (64 gp 15g 33a 49pts) has led Kyle’s offensive upside to be questioned and his draft stock to fall. Chipchura is a safe pick in that he has the size and character to be a likely NHL player down the road. The question is whether he has the offensive talent to be a top 2 line center or whether his upside is to be a 3rd line center that gives a team gritty, physical play and a character guy in the room.

Dave Bolland could be seen as Robbie Schremp’s alter ego. Bolland has been described by some as a guy that doesn’t look pretty, but he gets the job done. He’s not big and his skating isn’t pretty, but he has been productive. The big question here is whether he’ll be able to play the same sort of game at the next level given his lack of size and a lack of speed. But a team that looks at the size of Bolland’s heart more than how big he is right now, could roll the dice on him in the mid to late 1st round. Bolland is also the type of player that might make a better RW in the pros than a center.

Petteri Nokelainen is another guy that is getting the safe pick label. He’s a hard worker, plays an honest physical game, but likely won’t have top end scoring ability in the pros. He’s also a player that could be a RW in the pros as well as a center.

Jakub Sindel is a guy that falls into the offensively skilled, but small and soft category. He’s got legitimate top 2 line scoring talent. But his lack of size and defensive awareness could see him fall to the late 1st to early 2nd round on draft day. But, his offensive skill could see him go earlier as this draft looks to have more grinding type players available than pure skill guys like Sindel.

There is one word to sum up Bruce Graham: huge. He could be compared somewhat to late 2003 1st round pick Brian Boyle. At 6’6” and 220 lbs, Graham certainly has NHL size. The one thing that makes him a risky pick is that a decision on whether to sign Graham will have to be made in 2 years as he’s a CHL product. He’s another guy that could be taken by a team with multiple 1st round picks as he’s another boom or bust type prospect.

Travis Zajac is a player that really interests me. He’s got nice size at 6’2” 205 lbs. He had a huge offensive season in Jr A this past year (59gp 43g 69a 112pts). And he’s headed off to North Dakota next season. With the Fighting Sioux losing their #1 center (Zach Parise) to the NJ Devils, Zajac may get a lot more ice time this year than he originally expected. Zajac is a guy that could turn out to be a steal as a late 1st or early 2nd round pick.

Johannes Salmonsson had an injury marred season. But, he has the raw offensive talent to be a 2nd round pick this season. He’s another guy that could be a value pick if the injuries heal and he develops the way people expected heading into this season.

The rest of the class:
There are few center prospects outside of the top 10 that really have a nice mix of skill and size. Although, Carl Soderberg could be the one exception at 6’3” 198 lbs.

Some of the smaller, offensive minded pivots are Evan McGrath of the Kitchener Rangers, Peter Tsimikalis of the Ottawa 67s, and Brian Ihnacak of Brown University.

Some of the bigger, more rugged centers are Vaclav Meidl of the Plymouth Whalers, Aki Seitsonen of the Prince Albert Raiders, and Jan Steber of the Halifax Mooseheads.

And then there are some character players that aren’t huge or exceptionally talented, but are hard working honet players. Mikhail Yunkov from Russia, Tyler Haskins of the St Mike’s Majors, and Alexander Plyuschev from Russia would fall into this category.

Ray Bourque’s son Chris is expected to be a 2nd day pick. Chris isn’t big at 5’8” 162 lbs and is known to play a chippy style of game. He’s headed to Boston University to play for Jack Parker and is a player that will probably take the full 4 years of college before the team that drafts him decides whether to sign him or not.

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