Tuesday, July 29, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Ottawa Senators

Time to visit the nation's capital (Canada that is)! Ottawa is next on the list.

Ben Harpur - Guelph Storm
It was a decent year for Harpur. He started off very well, playing with a ton of confidence at both ends of the ice. He had 12 points in his first 17 games and was taking some chances offensively (be it creative passes, partial rushes, jumping up in the play), on top of playing well in his own end. But after those first few months, his offensive play trailed off a bit. Whether it was something the coaching staff asked of him, or a personal decision, Harpur became way less involved offensively as the season went on. And after the acquisition of Nick Ebert, Harpur (and his partner Phil Baltisberger) had their ice time (5 on 5) reduced and they essentially became Guelph's 3rd pairing. Harpur still saw a lot of time shorthanded, where he's a great asset. But all things considered, I don't know if he made significant strides this year (that's not to say that he took a step back, but more so he wasn't put in a position to massively improve). As a defensive player, he's a very intelligent positional defender who uses his long reach exceptionally well to take away passing lanes (thus his value on the PK). He also does a good job blocking shots. But, I'd still like to see him use that 6'6 frame to be a bit meaner near the crease. Next year will be a big one for Harpur. The Storm are set to lose three of their top four defenders (perhaps even all four if Zac Leslie turns pro). That's going to open up the opportunity for Harpur to see significantly more ice time. He's also likely to get powerplay time, which will do wonders for his confidence offensively. I think he's going to have a good year and I actually expect him to be around the 30-35 point mark.

Nick Paul - North Bay Battalion
One of the pieces acquired in the Jason Spezza deal, Paul is a very interesting prospect. Later in the season, he saw a full shift to center, where he centered Barclay Goodrow and Ben Thomson on North Bay's top line. This was great for his development and the trio really dominated the OHL playoffs, allowing North Bay to be the surprising victors of the Eastern Conference. Paul excels in the possession game, using his size very effectively to move the puck along the boards. He's also got good vision and is a smart player who can make plays coming off the wall. Late in the year, his game really elevated to another level because he began to drive the net more, having as much success in the center of the ice as he was below the hashmarks. Paul is also a committed two-way player and is relied upon heavily by Stan Butler to help shut down the opposition's best. Next year, it will be Paul's show to run in North Bay and I really look forward to seeing how he builds off the momentum of last year's late season surge. An offseason dedicated to continued improvements in his first few steps would really make him a more dangerous player. I think he's in for a big year. A 60 point year would definitely be a success (considering the Battalion haven't had a 70+ point player since Cody Hodgson).

*Of note, Senators 2013 pick, Tobias Lindberg is set to suit up for the Oshawa Generals next year. The Gennies will be counting on him to provide secondary scoring, likely as a top 6 winger.

Monday, July 28, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - New York Rangers

Off to the Big Apple, where they have few prospects playing in the OHL.

Troy Donnay - Erie Otters
Donnay is coming off a very solid 4th season in the OHL. For the vast majority of the season he partnered with the young Travis Dermott, a pairing which many Otters' fans probably would have considered Erie's top and most consistant pairing. Donnay also saw a ton of work shorthanded. I felt like he gained a lot of confidence in his puck skill this year, making crisper breakout passes and doing a better job fighting off forecheckers to make good plays. He's no offensive defenseman, but being able to make quicker decisions in his own end was an area that needed improvement previously. Defensively, I thought he played significantly meaner this year, finally using his 6'7 frame to push people around in the corners and in front of the net. I think by nature, he's still more of a positional guy who prefers to keep forwards honest with his long reach, but it was good to see him be more assertive too. Next year Donnay will have the opportunity to turn pro, which is what I expect will happen. Whether that means playing in Hartford or the ECHL remains the be seen. He remains a project, as he'll take him to adjust the pro game but he does have potential to be a reliable third pairing guy in the NHL.

Brandon Halverson - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
It was no surprise to see Halverson come off the draft board early in 2014, despite having played very little this past year. Off course, the Hounds rode veteran Matt Murray, a Penguins draft pick. Next year, Murray will be turning pro and it will be Halverson's show to run. And I know the Sault Ste. Marie organization has a ton of confidence in him. He's a super big kid who is still learning to properly use his size (challenging shooters, working angles, etc), but he got a lot better from the start of the OHL season to the end. The most noticeable component to his game is his ability to handle the puck. He really helps out his defense and has a ton of confidence making passes. Next year, Sault Ste. Marie should be good yet again and I expect Halverson will be central to that.

*Of note, 4th rounder Ryan Mantha has signed with the Niagara IceDogs and will be suiting up for them next year. They have a young, but deep defense so it will be tough for Mantha to crack into the top 4. But he should see some power play time if he's able to show competence in those situations.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - New York Islanders

The New York Islanders have one of the strongest crops of OHL prospects in the NHL and have certainly found success scouting the league the last few years. They are up next.

Adam Pelech - Erie Otters
I'm a huge fan of Pelech. I have been since he stepped into the league as a 16 year old (see here). Each year in the OHL he got better. This year was no different, exhibiting confidence in his offensive game and establishing himself as a terrific two-way defender who could lead the rush, make a great breakout pass, and run the point on the power play, ALMOST as well as he defends in his own end. Defensively, he's a rock who rarely makes mistakes and who has the size and tenacity to take away space from opposing forwards. I will admit that he wasn't terrific in the playoffs for Erie, but to me he looked tired after playing nearly every OHL game (except the ones he missed around the holidays) and suiting up for Canada at the WJC's. I don't think that reflects his potential as a pro player. The question is, where will he play this year? The Islanders have SO many good defensive prospects and even more turning pro this year with Pelech (Reinhart, Pokka, Pulock). There are legitimately 10 solid players fighting for spots on Bridgeport's defence. Of course Pelech could go back to juniors for his overage year, but I don't see the point in that. I think he'd be better off splitting time between the ECHL and the AHL, where he can learn to adapt to the speed of the pro game, which will be his biggest challenge.

Jesse Graham - Saginaw Spirit
Graham had by far his best season yet this past year, finishing it out with Saginaw after a midseason trade from Niagara. Graham's skating remains his biggest asset, but he's worked hard to improve his shot and confidence in jumping up into the rush to use it or to make plays. Defensively, he grew a lot as a player, finally able to win battles in the corners and in front of the net and doing a much better job as a one on one defender. Saginaw's defence would have been an absolute mess without him this year. He even finished off the year strong in Bridgeport, proving that he has the ability to carry over his skill set to the pros. As we look ahead to this year, Graham is facing the same problem as Pelech. Where does he play? On one hand, Graham probably has a leg up on Pelech because he's already seen time in the AHL and has made himself visible to the coaching staff. On the other hand, he's probably not as physically ready as Pelech is and wouldn't be hindered from playing an overage year in the OHL with Saginaw. My guess is that he stays in the pros though, even if it means (like Pelech), shuttling between the ECHL and the AHL.

Victor Crus-Rydberg - Plymouth Whalers
Honestly, I expected more from Crus-Rydberg this year. Plymouth had a lot of struggles putting up a consistent effort offensively this year and part of that has to fall on guys like Rydberg who were not able to provide secondary scoring. Rydberg seems to have some talent, particularly as a playmaker. He's capable making a nice pass and occasionally shows flashes of being able to lead entry into the zone. But, there were too many times where he was completely invisible when I saw Plymouth this year, making little impact at either end of the ice. His intensity level needs to increase. He'll be back in Plymouth next year where he'll be expected to be either the 1st or 2nd line center (depends on Sonny Milano). The Whalers could be a great team next year if they can get a more consistent effort out of guys like Crus-Rydberg, Mistele, etc.

Michael Dal Colle - Oshawa Generals
Obviously Dal Colle had a great year with Oshawa. He got off to a torrid pace and led the Generals to a hot start without Scott Laughton to start the year. The Generals ended up being the surprise of the OHL, all thanks to Dal Colle's progression and breakout as a star. By now, it's obvious as to what he does best. His shot, and release, are pro caliber. His skating continues to get better. He makes plays happen with the puck and sees the ice very well. There is room for improvement in other areas though. For a big guy, I'd love to see him play with more intensity without the puck. And his defensive abilities and awareness need attention. He'll likely return to Oshawa next year (I'd be surprised if he sticks in NYI) and I'm excited for that. I actually thought Dal Colle played his best hockey when Laughton was gone and the team was his, which will be the case next year. I look for him to really light it up in 2014/2015, with a 100 point season and a 50 goal year well within his grasp.

Joshua Ho-Sang - Windsor Spitfires
I was so happy to see Ho-Sang drafted in the first round after all the negative attention he was getting leading up to the draft. He earned it and he made a fan out of me this year after failing to impress me in his rookie year. His game really did improve a lot this past year. While he still has a ways to go in being able to display patience and poise with the puck, and utilizing his teammates, those areas grew exponentially this year. In his rookie year, it seemed like every possession ended with a turnover after one move too many, or a cut into traffic that saw him get physically manhandled. This past year, he cut down on the turnovers and was so much better in finding open space and using his gifted puck carrying skill to create time and space for him and his line mates. You absolutely can not teach the things he's capable of doing. The key for him is maintaining composure. Towards the end of this year (regular season and playoffs), he fell back into some bad habits and really struggled. He also picked up that suspension (which has thankfully been reduced to only 6 games to start the year). As he goes into next year with Windsor, he needs to relax and let the game come to him. He needs to learn to slow the game down and change pace. Improving his play without the puck and developing as an overall player is also key. The Spits will go as far as Ho-Sang takes them next year. Without a strong supporting cast, he'll be keyed in on by opposing defences. While it would be nice to see him crack the 100 point barrier, I'm not sure I see it happening next year. If he can replicate the offensive success of this past year, while rounding out his game, it will be a successful year.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - New Jersey Devils

The New Jersey Devils are up next.

Ryan Kujawinski - Kingston Frontenacs
It was a tough year for Kujawinski as he missed nearly two dozen games with a hand and knee injury. As such, he was never really able to find a groove. When he returned late in the year, he was great (closing out the regular season with 12 points in 10 games) and his presence was felt noticeably in the Kingston line-up. He remains a project and a player who is still trying to play up to this potential. He's got great skill, size, and flashes intensity away from the puck, but the consistency still isn't there (mostly due to injuries). So...what's next? I think there a variety of things that need to be addressed (keep in mind I'm a fan of his dating back to his draft year). Firstly, he needs to stay healthy. Secondly, he needs to keep working on improving his skating. Thirdly, he needs to find a permanent position, having gone back and forth between center and the wing. Fourthly, he needs to utilize his size consistently, both with and without the puck. If all of those things can come to fruition this year (and they definitely can), he'll be in for a big year (think 35/35). The Fronts definitely need him to finally step up to take the load off of Sam Bennett. A lack of consistent secondary scoring was one of the main reasons that they were unable to escape the first round this past year.

Ben Johnson - Windsor Spitfires
Johnson had a pretty good year with Windsor, all things considered. He was consistently one of their better players and set career highs in every offensive category. His biggest weapon remains his speed and his ability to disrupt on the forecheck and on drives to the net. As he turns pro this season and suits up for Albany, it will be all about developing an identity as a pro player. He has decent hands, and obviously speed, but I don't think he's skilled enough to play a top 6 role. In order to become a competent 3rd/4th line player in the NHL, he's going to have to work hard to improve his two-way game, and become more of a consistent factor physically. With his speed he should focus on becoming a high energy guy who can help to create offence off of turnovers. And that's likely to be the precise role asked of him in Albany.

Ben Thomson - North Bay Battalion
Tale of two seasons for Thomson. In Kitchener he struggled, just like the rest of the team. After being acquired by North Bay, he took off, growing leaps and bounds as a player. Unlike Johnson, Thomson has a clear identity as a pro player. He is a checking line prospect who uses his size to win battles in the corners and in front of the net. Along with line mates Barclay Goodrow and Nick Paul, Thomson wrecked havoc on opposing defences in the second half of the year and in the playoffs. The three of them tired out the opposition by working the cycle game endlessly. They also did this, quite often, while matching up against the opposition's best, in order to keep play out of their end. Thomson will also be turning pro and heading to Albany this year. He needs to continue to work on his skating and will likely need time to get used to the speed of the pro game (decision making wise). That said, with his size, if utilized properly, he could be an effective role player next year with the potential to become more in the future.

Connor Chatham - Plymouth Whalers
I definitely like Chatham as a player and I look forward to his progression in Plymouth. He's a very interesting prospect because of the physical intangibles he brings, along with the growing confidence in his offensive abilities. This year with Plymouth, he had a pretty successful rookie season in the OHL, that saw his offensive game really improve from the start of the season to the end. By season's end, he was comfortable using his size to take the puck to the net and flashed decent skill with the puck and some finishing skills. Problem is, I found that he wasn't able to balance/blend his physical game with his offensive game. When he was on offensively, he wasn't a factor physically. When he was off offensively, it was because he was laying the body and really wrecking havoc. Finding the confidence to do both of these things consistently is something that takes time to develop in power forward/winger prospects. Hopefully Chatham can do this next year in Plymouth, where he'll have a great chance to play a top 6 role. I think he's definitely capable of a 25/25 year.

Friday, July 25, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Nashville Predators

Only one OHL prospect for the Nashville Predators

Mikko Vainonen - Kingston Frontenacs
Vainonen had a decent year with Kingston. On paper, it looks like a pretty stagnant year, but there's more to it than that. While his offensive game did not take any steps forward, I did feel that his defensive game did. For one, he looked a little quicker and more mobile. It's clear he's been working on his skating. He still needs to continue to improve it, but it's getting better. Vainonen was also way more confident in asserting himself physically. He was much more aggressive in the corners and was more effective in crease battles. He's a got a solid head for the game as a defensive player and could have a future as a shutdown defender at the NHL level if he continues to improve his skating and his puck skills. He'll start his pro career in Milwaukee this year. I think a realistic goal is for him to just get in games consistently in Milwaukee and stay out of the press box.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Montreal Canadiens

La prochaine est Les Canadiens de Montreal

Michael McCarron - London Knights
After being very impressed with him at the U18's, I was quite excited to see him play for London this year. But, he was a pretty big letdown. His ice time was fairly limited this year because he just wasn't very effective. In particular, he seemed to struggle with the cerebral aspects of the game (turnovers, missed assignments, poor shot selection, etc). The skill set appears to be there because he flashed great things, but the head might not be. THAT SAID, we'd all be fools to count him out after one poor season. There have been numerous cases of players coming from the USHL or the development program with lots of hype, only for them to struggle in their first year. But most bounced back in their second, as they gained confidence (see current Canadien Jarred Tinordi). I've heard lots of great things from Montreal's development camp, suggesting that McCarron could be ready for a breakout. There will be an opportunity for him to get more ice time next year, especially on the powerplay. BUT, London is a deep team where the competition will be fierce to replace the likes of Chris Tierney, Josh Anderson, Gemel Smith, and perhaps others. So...what to expect? I think a realistic expectation is a 25/25 year, but he's certainly capable of even more than that.

Connor Crisp - Sudbury Wolves
It was a pretty good year for Crisp, who was essentially the leader of Sudbury's 2nd offensive unit. Was there a massive amount of improvement? Probably not. I think he looked noticeably more confident with the puck this year, which resulted in him being a bit of a more well rounded offensive guy who could create in a variety of ways (rather than just as a net crasher). I'd be very surprised if he's not in the AHL next year with Hamilton, where he'll take on a checking line role and try to provide a bit of scoring. Realistically, he's probably not that far from being a contributor on an NHL fourth line, but I think it'd be smart to leave him in the AHL for a bit to let him develop confidence in his offensive game at that level. He has the potential to be more than just a 4th line grinder/enforcer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild are the next team featured.

Kurtis Gabriel - Owen Sound Attack
I think Gabriel is one of those guys who could make a better pro player than an OHL player. It's rare, but it happens. Even as an overage player, his offensive numbers didn't jump through the roof (although his assist totals did I suppose). His career OHL high was 16 goals, which was this year. But he plays a very pro ready game and is the type of player that coaches love and will move up the ladder quickly. He's got great size, he skates pretty well, he hits, he defends, he works the boards, and he drives the net. Anything that needs to be done to help the team win, Gabriel can do it. Is he exceptionally skilled with the puck? No. He plays a simple game and excels in the dump and chase. Does he have huge goal scoring potential? No. His shot, hands, and anticipation are all average for the OHL level. But, as stated, even if he doesn't have a lot of potential, he seems like a good candidate to move quickly to the NHL as a 4th line checker and penalty killer. I'd be willing to bet he even gets in a few NHL games already this year.

Zack Mitchell - Guelph Storm
Great signing by the Wild. Always liked him as an OHL player. Have to admit though, I'd kind of felt that he was more of a good junior scorer and not much else. But, in the second half of the OHL season and especially the playoffs, he changed my opinion. I actually think he could develop into a solid pro player. Mitchell's greatest asset is his hockey sense. He's an exceptionally smart player who sees the ice well and was terrific with Robby Fabbri and Kerby Rychel late in the year. He'll have to get quicker and stronger, but his two-way game and play without the puck greatly improved in his overage season. I'm quite eager to see how he plays in his first pro season in the Minnesota system. Hopefully it's at the AHL level where he can get a chance playing with some higher skilled players. He might have to adapt his game a bit to become more of a grinder at first though (I think back to former Oiler Liam Reddox).

*Of note, 7th rounder Pavel Jenys will likely be suiting up for the Sudbury Wolves next year after being selected in the Import draft. He'll have a chance to be the team's number 2 center behind Mathew Campagna.