Prospects in general are always a challenge to figure out. Even if you do have the means and abilities to scout out a player in person and by videotape, there's so many variables to consider in terms of whether a player has the potential to play in a few years. It's even more of a challenge when you consider that prospects play in different leagues of varying difficulty and in different roles across the various teams within that league. The weaker the competition, the bigger challenge it is to predict whether a player will develop to a point where he can handle tougher competition. Maybe he can, maybe he won't, but the current evidence. This point especially applies to those draft eligible prospects coming out of high schools and prep schools. The main question of, "Can the player perform this well at the next level, instead of at a place where he's a man among boys?" looms large.
Today's 2011 NHL Entry Draft prospect profile, center Nick Bligh, has that question surrounding him every time a scout considers the player. As we'll find out after the jump, we'll learn why it's a bigger question for him than other high/prep school-based prospects.
Who is Nick Bligh?
His prospect card at NHL.com gives the basics about Nick Bligh. He's not big, standing officially at 5'11" and 160 pounds. He racked up a lot of points, 27 goals and 37 assists, at center for the Dexter School in Massachusetts. Central Scouting Services didn't rank him all that high at the midterm at 123rd among North American skaters and dropped him to 171st in their final rankings. He's not exactly a touted prospect.
It's a prep school in Brookline that stomped all over their competition en route to a 20-4-3 record in this past season. Dexter topped it off with their first NEPSHIA Piatelli/Simmons small school tournament championship by whipping New Hampton School 8-1 in the final. Based on Kirk Luedeke's article about the NEPSHIA tourneys in the New England Hockey Journal, Bligh put up 4 assists in the final game and 2 goals in the semi-final game the day before. He was a point-machine for Dexter and did so all the way to the end.
Luedeke's article also pointed out that Bligh will return to the Dexter School for next season. While he's eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, he's actually a junior. He is committed to Dartmouth for their 2012 class, though; but he's going to be the feature forward on a what could be another strong Dexter team again. I know this section is supposed to be an overview of who the player is, but I must say, that's a pretty big red flag.
A Little Video?
There really isn't anything readily available outside of some bizarre claims of Australian political treason. Fortunately, Kirk Luedeke did a quick interview with Bligh after a game and embedded the video at the end of this post, so please check that out.
What Kirk Luedeke Has Said About Nick Bligh
There's not a lot of available information out there for Nick Bligh, and given that Kirk Luedeke (Bruins 2011 Draft Watch, knower of prospects well-known and otherwise) does focus on the New England region, I might as well focus on his opinion since he's seen him and has been willing to say so. Luedeke's a fan of Bligh, as he made him the subject of one of his "A Guy You Should Know" pieces after sparkling in the NEPSHIA tournament. He raved about the good qualities of Bligh as such, however he notes why he's not as well regarded:
He's about 6-feet tall and pretty slight, with slender frame that will require some mass and strength at the next level. That said, Bligh is about as slick and skilled as they come. He's a good skater, though not overly explosive. However, he's extremely shifty and loves to take the puck into traffic, where he pulls defenders to him then dishes to wide open teammates. He has tremendous on-ice vision and offensive instincts and a soft touch with his stick. He's also willing to stick his nose in and initiate contact, though he doesn't have the strength yet to be able to throw his weight around in the more physical contests. He's also very good on faceoffs and plays a solid game in all three zones. All in all, from a hockey perspective, there are not many flaws in Bligh's body of work.
He is scheduled to return to Dexter for his senior season, and that will probably not play all that well with NHL scouts who would want to see him challenged at a tougher level. That said, Bligh is committed to the school and its excellent academics, and has made a verbal to attend Dartmouth in 2012.
While they are very impressive findings, the looming question from the introduction certainly applies to each of them. Would he be as shifty of a skater at a higher level? Would he be as brave to take the puck to the net in a tougher league? Would he be as solid in all three zones in a league where the game is just faster? How well would his vision, soft hands, and offensive awareness carry over to a situation where the defenders are bigger, badder, and/or better?
The correct answer to any of them is "Maybe?" I would be lying if I didn't say that there's not a whole lot of reason to be confident given that he has displayed all of this at the New England prep school level and will get to do it for another season. Those questions will likely remain unanswered until he actually gets to Dartmouth.
Bottom line: Bligh was right up there with Boo Nieves [2012 draft eligible, plays for Kent School] as one of the NEPSIHA tourney's most consistent and dangerous forwards. He doesn't have the flash and speed of Nieves, but he is one of the most cerebral players we saw in any of the games, period. His high-end hockey sense, soft hands and excellent work ethic should translate into him being a very good college hockey player. Even if Bligh isn't drafted in June, keep an eye on this outstanding young man in the future. In time, he could work his way into the pro mix with a free agent contract and make some noise. We just can't say enough about him as a player and person.
While Luedeke is a fan and I can understand with his reasoning, his conclusion of "being a very good college hockey player" doesn't really make me feel any better about him as a prospect for this upcoming draft.
An Opinion of Sorts
A part of me just wants to tell you to read the opinion I had for Peter McMullen and change it slightly because the general point applies. This guy is going to be a late draft pick at best. Tom would agree since he lumped Bligh with McMullen as potential sixth rounders; and like with McMullen, I would argue that both would be more appropriate for a seventh round pick for New Jersey.
Then again, McMullen's going to go to the next level very soon, and at Boston College at that. Bligh still has another season before he jumps up to the NCAA. While I'm sure Dexter's hockey team will be pleased and I respect and appreciate his focus on academics along with hockey, what exactly would he develop at Dexter? How would he improve upon being a top scorer on a team that's likely going to be strong again next season? Unless I'm missing something, I'm not really sure what he has left to prove at that level from a hockey standpoint.
Ultimately, this and the general questions that surround high school prospects, it's pretty much guaranteed that he'll be a long shot. Whoever drafts him will have to be both patient (waiting to go Dartmouth and then playing there) and hopeful (that he develops within those 5 years into a pro player). This would be fine for a late pick, like a sixth or a seventh rounder. However, as Luedeke even noted, it's entirely possible he gets passed over in 2011 with teams still looking at his progress as a college player and then trying to sign him afterward. At least then, teams will have a good idea of who he is as a player.
In the meantime, Bligh would be wise to hit the gym in addition to the books so when he does enter Dartmouth, he'll be ready for an increase in physical play along with the more difficult competition.
Now that you've read what little is available about Nick Bligh, I want to know what you think. Would you want to see the Devils spend a late round pick on him knowing that he's not going to college for another season and is a long term project? Did you see Bligh play or know of any other good reports on him? If so, then please share them in the comments along with other thoughts on Bligh. Thanks for reading.