As far the back end goes for this June's draft the top 3 by most observers are Erik Gudbranson, Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley. The latter 2 I was lucky enough to watch this week at the Mastercard Memorial Cup. In their head to head match up both Fowler and Gormley were both very good, but in that game alone I give Gormley the edge. He was particularly good against Taylor Hall and seemed to be on the ice every second shift.
I've been lifting information from various NHL scouts all week long at the Keystone Centre and here's what I've gathered.
Most scouts like Gudbranson ahead of Fowler and Gormley, mostly because of his size and ability to at times play rough, although one western conference scout didn't think the Kingston Frontenac blueliner is as tough as people make him out to be. An eastern conference scout from a Canadian team wondered how much better Gudbranson would be if he wasn't playing for Doug Gilmour in Kingston, which is the first I've heard 'Killer's' coaching style criticized.
Next up from most NHL observers is Cam Fowler who some have compared to Scott Neidermayer. I've also heard from some that they see him as a more offensive Wade Redden. One western conference Canadian based scout thinks Fowler will be even better when Ryan Ellis isn't around as he'll get to handle the puck a lot more. There are flaws in Fowler's game though, one NHL management source didn't like his game against Calgary this week, thinking he stood around watching to much, while others point out his lack of grit. He did though have 55 points in 55 games with Windsor this year and until recently was thought to be the top rated defenceman for this June.
As for Gormley, he's likely the most well rounded of the 3, and as I pointed out plays a ton of minutes. 'He's a horse' said one scout emphatically, and repeated that statement several times during our conversation. Gormley is Wade Redden, but with more toughness. He rarely makes bad decisions and wasn't out of position once against Windsor Tuesday night. 'He's the safest of the 3' another scout said referring to Gormley's all around game.
I also talked with possible first overall pick Taylor Hall about the blueliners. Tuesday was Hall's first chance to face Gormley and while the Moncton rear guard did play Hall tough didn't find him as rough as Erik Gudbranson.
"I wouldn't say physical, but he certainly gets in your way and impedes you. I was really impressed with how he knocks down pucks and turns the play the other way really fast. I think those defenceman are harder to play against in their own end when they can turn it back on offence instead of trying to contain you. Gudbranson is a more physical player, Gormley just intercepts passes and just kind of reads the play better."Gudbranson is one inch and 10 pounds heavier then both Gormley and Fowler. Fowler is the best skater, while he and Gormley are very close when it comes to their offensive production. Gormley is the best minute muncher of the three.
When you break it all down the 3 are very close. It all depends on who's picking. Does Florida want a more steady all around guy like Gormley or Gudbranson to go along with the offensive Dmitri Kulikov they took last year? Columbus will surely for looking for the power play quarterback that is Cam Fowler, although Gormley also does run a fine power play. And is it time for the Islanders to spend a high end pick on their back end? I think so. Any of the 3 will look very good playing with Calvin de Haan down the road. If the above 3 teams all look to the 3 blueliners, it could mean Tampa gets a crack at Prince George Cougar power forward Brett Connolly, who would look very nice on the the left side with Steven Stamkos.
(All Photos: Aaron Bell OHL/CHL Images)