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As the 2011 NHL Draft nears, hockey fans salivate at the thought of tomorrow’s stars donning their team’s jersey.

Obviously, the big names are out there for everyone, even the casual hockey fan, to see.

Ryan Nugent Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Adam Larsson, the names that have been talked about from day one of this season.

There are guys such as Jonathan Huburdeau, that come seemingly out of nowhere and find themselves ranked at the top of the board.

And then there are guys who have completely dropped off. Suddenly, it’s become very hard to spot Ottawa 67’s left winger Shane Prince. That could be a reference to his size, or his spot in assorted draft rankings.

For whatever reason, scouts just don’t seem to be talking about Shane Prince anymore. Perhaps it’s because of his size, perhaps it’s because of his recent injury, but that’s where the negatives end for the shifty forward.

But just to cover all the bases, I will look at the knocks against Prince.

The OHL’s website has him very generously listed at 5’11, 185 pounds. It could just be that he looks that much smaller playing alongside 6’4 center Ryan Martindale (Edmonton prospect), but you get the point, Prince is not a big player.

The major concern facing Prince is his most recent injury, a concussion suffered late in the season.

Prince returned for Ottawa’s last three playoff games, but was unable to provide any offence, often looking afraid to carry the puck across the opposing line.

But who can blame him? On March 11th, Prince found himself with his head down, and Niagara overaged defenceman Tim Billingsley, with a history of cheap hits in the OHL, threw a vicious, predatory headshot, knocking Prince unconscious.

67’s defenceman Jake Cardwell rushed in and pummeled Billingsley, and Billingsley was eventually handed a 13-game suspension, but the damage had been done.
Now, scouts sit and wonder if Prince will ever be the same.

However, it’s no doubt that the native of Spencerport, New York has come a long way in the past year. His 130 points in 187 games in the OHL doesn’t exactly jump off the page at you, but his stats from this past year certainly do.

Playing on Ottawa’s top line alongside Martindale and the OHL’s leading scorer, Los Angeles 2010 draft choice Tyler Toffoli, Prince completely shattered his previous career-high 30 points, when he finished this season with 25 goals and 63 assists in just 59 games.

The other two players on the line were made out to look like the star players. It’s hard to top Toffoli’s 57 goals. And Martindale was the star player that did everything asked of him. But Prince was the player who brought it all together.

A perfect comparison is Flyers forward Ville Leino. He doesn’t have blazing speed. He doesn’t have a rocket for a shot. He isn’t overly physical. He beats you with puck possession and hard work.

When watching Prince or Leino, you notice two similar players who will almost always make the smart, creative play with the puck. They aren’t superstars. But they’re great to have, and are capable of playing on a team’s top line.

Even though he’s fallen dramatically in draft rankings (The Hockey News had him ranked #19, now he’s fallen to #58), Prince will very likely get to experience something that, unfortunately, Leino never did, getting drafted.

Assuming he is drafted in the second or third round of the NHL entry draft (remember, Toffoli went #44, Martindale #61, he could beat both of them), it will be a special moment for Shane and the rest of the Prince family, who have definitely gone through a tough time in the past three months.

But you’ve seen it from Leino, and now you could see it happen again. He may be a longshot and a few years from being NHL-ready, but if a team gives Shane Prince a legitimate chance to succeed, he will make the most of it.
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