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One-stop scouting: NHL GMs and scouts enjoy watching top prospects in OHL series

From left, Windsor Spitfires' Zack Kassian, Taylor Hall, Cam Fowler, Justin Shugg and Ryan Ellis celebrate after a goal during third period OHL hockey playoff action on Monday, April 5, 2010 in Windsor, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Plante

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From left, Windsor Spitfires' Zack Kassian, Taylor Hall, Cam Fowler, Justin Shugg and Ryan Ellis celebrate after a goal during third period OHL hockey playoff action on Monday, April 5, 2010 in Windsor, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Plante

WINDSOR, Ont. - With no playoff run to prepare for, Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini has shifted his focus to June's NHL draft.

Part of his homework has included scouting top prospects Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin in the Ontario Hockey League playoff series between the Windsor Spitfires and Plymouth Whalers.

"These games are a wonderful opportunity for NHL general managers to get out to see Hall and Seguin head to head," Tambellini said in phone interview this week. "Most of us do not get to go out and see these players first-hand for ourselves and to see them play in a series is just tremendous."

But Tambellini isn't alone. The talent-laden Western Conference semifinal has become one-stop scouting for several NHL clubs.

The final draft rankings will be released by NHL Central Scouting on Wednesday. In the mid-term rankings, Windsor winger Hall was ranked No. 1 followed by Plymouth centre Seguin in second spot. Windsor defenceman Cam Fowler was ranked third among North American skaters.

The draft lottery is slated for April 13 in New York where the last-place Oilers have a 48.2-per-cent chance of winning the first overall pick. If the ping-pong balls don't fall in their favour, they're still guaranteed at least the second pick.

"Not knowing which pick we will end up with does affect our scouting process," said Tambellini. "I would much rather have control over the situation right now."

Scott Howson, general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets, says seeing the top prospects as often as possible is crucial.

"It's all part of doing your homework," he said. "We are not in the mix right now to pick one of the top two players but we are close and if the draft lottery works out for us, we will get closer to being in the mix."

While Jim Nill acknowledges his team won't get a crack at Hall or Seguin, the Red Wings assistant general manager says there are other players in the series worth scouting.

"There are also other draft-eligible players on both teams to watch and these games are also a great chance to evaluate people that have already been drafted," said Nill. "The calibre of hockey is very good."

The Spitfires lead the series 3-0 heading into Game 4 on Wednesday in Plymouth.

Marcel Pronovost, a scout with the New Jersey Devils, relishes the opportunity to get a look at some top players during the Spitfires-Whalers series.

"We like to rate all the players each and every game they play," said Pronovost. "We take note of the importance of the game and who players are playing against and who is checking them."

Despite the fact that the Devils don't have a first-round pick in June, Pronovost has had plenty of work to do during the OHL series.

"I like to look at all the players, including the players who have already been drafted by other teams," he said. "You never know if your general manager is going to make a deal for another team's prospect and if he comes to you before making the deal, you better have a good read on that player."

Pronovost, a longtime Windsor resident who has seen both Hall and Seguin play countless times in recent seasons, also has a clear vision of both budding stars.

"Hall reminds me a lot of Guy Lafleur and he has since he came into the league," said the Hall of Fame defenceman. "He is a natural goal scorer and a tremendous skater with great acceleration."

Seguin, he says, is "a great playmaker who makes not only his linemates but all of his teammates better. He distributes the puck very well.

"Both are going to have long and productive careers in the National Hockey League."

The GM who will likely end up calling upon either player as his first-round selection in June agrees.

"Whoever has the first or second pick of the draft is not only going to add a great player to their team," said Tambellini. "They will be adding an outstanding person to their organization."

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