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Beyond the Jones-MacKinnon-Drouin big 3, some volatility among Central Scouting’s top prospects

Rimouski's 6-foot-6 Samuel Morin is an intriguing first-round possibility (Francis Vachon, The Canadian Press)Think of a NHL draft ranking like a pyramid. There is the crème de la crème, the " guys you build a team around" type. Then there are, depending on the depth of that year's class, the 10-15 hopefuls who are high-end because they scream safe pick, no red flags here — think the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds' Darnell Nurse Ottawa 67's Sean Monahan or London Knights' Bo Horvat. Or they have that the high ceiling of a possible home run pick — think the Val-d'Or Foreurs' 50-goal scorer Anthony Mantha or the Baie-Comeau Drakkar's Valentin Zykov.

Then there is another strata of players who could fall anywhere from the 'late middle' of Round 1 to the end of second or early third, depending on the needs and wants of 30 NHL teams. Beyond that is a wider group of later round lottery tickets teams will throw darts when the draft takes place June 30 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.; some from that group will pan out and have people wondering five years later how they were available at 118th overall. (Check where Sergey Tolchinsky is ranked.) For others, the zenith of their hockey career will be getting called to the podium at 18 years old.

Scouting is so thorough that one suspects teenaged players are sorted into those four groups very early in the evaluation process. Still, as the release of today's rankings shows, a few players made the push to that next tier. Here's a look at North American players in the top two rounds who had the greatest movement, in either direction, from January to April.

Moved up

4. Darnell Nurse, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenceman (ninth in January) — Arguably, it might be more difficult to go from fringe top-10 choice to top-5 possibility. There is just so much to like about Nurse, who is nimble as a 6-foot-3, 185-pound defenceman and already contributes in all facets on the ice, while also being willing to show an edge when it's needed. Helping the Greyhounds scoot up from ninth in a tough conference to December to sixth, with a tough-out playoff series against a very good Owen Sound Attack team, also helped confirm what Nurse does to improve the lot of his teams.

Nurse's 'family of athletes' background should cover any questions about being ready to manage the leap from major junior to the big leagues. Just don't expect it all at once. Dougie Hamilton needed that 18-year-old season in the OHL before he went up to the Boston Bruins to stay, you know.

13. Zach Nastasiuk, Owen Sound Attack centre (33rd in Jan.) — Comparisons are dicey, but going forward it might be fun to compare Nastasiuk with vis-à-vis the Kitchener Rangers' Justin Bailey, another big forward in the same division who is 38th on the CSS list. Nastasiuk, as a sophomore in the OHL instead of a 17-year-old newcomer like Bailey, found his role as a two-way centre for a close-checking Attack team built around goaltending. The Barrie, Ont., native who's a son of a former CFL player (like Darnell Nurse) began to play like a big-framed 6-foot-1, 191-pound teen should play. He was also among Owen Sound's top playoff scorers with 11 in 12 games. The 6-3, 186-pound Bailey flashed high-end potential by times for Kitchener. It's not always about who figures it out first.

23. Samuel Morin, Rimouski Océanic defenceman (76th in Jan.) — When Morin enters a room, he fills it. The 6-foot-6¼, 202-pound D-man has evidently allayed the usual concerns about agility and mobility that crop up with freaky-big youngsters. Big Sam's mean streak might be cause for some confirmation bias, but the St-Henri, Que., native made progress over his sophomore season despite missing all of February due to injury. Morin came back no worse for wear; he even collected seven points in Rimouski's six-game playoff loss to Gatineau before jetting to Russia with Canada's under-18 team.

The Océanic have seven players ranked, including No. 8 domestic skater Frédérik Gauthier, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound centre. Being on a must-see team might have helped compensate for the games Morin missed.

28. Laurent Dauphin, Chicoutimi Saguenéens centre (41st in Jan.) — Remember when Dauphin was the last-minute injury replacement for the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game and he ended up being the man of the match? That did not happen in a vacuum. He is on the compact side at 6-foot, 166 pounds, but seems like the classy crafty centre from the Q teams ignore at their peril.

A contemporary example of the breed is former Saguenéen Jean-Gabriel Pageau. In 2011, Pageau was not even ranked by Central Scouting, but the Ottawa Senators took him 96th overall. Pageau's now in the NHL. That's not to say it will repeat itself.

29. John Hayden, U.S. under-18 team centre (59th in Jan.) — The Yale University commit is 6-foot-3 and 221 pounds, so it was mostly a matter of seeing whether his game would catch up to his body. Evidently, it has, since Hayden has contributed for Team USA at the IIHF world U18 championship in Sochi, Russia, where it appears the Yanks are in tough to win their fifth consecutive gold medal.

Hayden has a fun choice to make after he is drafted. He can either join NCAA champion Yale in his home state of Connecticut or play major junior with the Halifax Mooseheads, who could also be coming off a banner season.

Not moved down, just re-sorted

26. Adam Erne, Quebec Remparts left wing (13th in Jan.) — The turmoil in Quebec caught up with their draft-year cohort. Erne, Swedish forward Nick Sorensen (48th from 27th at the midterm), speedy wing Anthony Duclair (57th from 35th) and centre Kurt Etchegary (72nd from 52nd, although he was injured much of the season) all took a tumble. Erne might not have shown enough of a wow factor to stay up in that top tier, but the rugged two-way wing could still be a value pick for a team which believes he checks out in the intangibles category.

27. Josh Morrissey, Prince Albert Raiders defenceman (11th in Jan.) — There is still a lot to love about Morrissey, who is a fantastic skater with great vision, which he has shown off for Team Canada over at the U18s in Sochi. Morrissey's 15-goal, 47-point, plus-14 statline across 70 games for P.A. is still very heady for a 17-year-old.

Between Seattle's Shea Theodore, Everett's Mirco Mueller and Brandon's Ryan Pulock, the WHL has plenty to offer in two-way defenceman. Plus there is apparently this Seth Jones fellow in Portland, whom Jay-Z wants to get to know.

30. Jason Dickinson, Guelph Storm centre (16th in Jan.) — Quebec's promise going poof drew more eyeballs, especially with the whole distraction of Mikhail Grigorenko going off to Buffalo and then returning. The Storm don't have a similar marquee player, but they weren't able to run with the big dogs in the OHL's cutthroat Midwest Division. That led to most of the Storm's draft-eligible players being moved down. Dickinson has scoring ability, but had 14- and eight-game droughts in the second half. He was not the sole actor in creating those cherry-picked statistics, but it gives pause to wonder.

Point being, if Dickinson picks up the production in his post-draft season, someone might feel foolish for passing him up.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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