Last night in Guelph, the Ontario Hockey League all stars took on the Russian selects in game 3 of the ADT-Canada/Russia Challenge. It was a pretty exciting game that had a bit of everything. Lead changes, heavy hitting and some real quality goals. The OHL took the game 6-3, overcoming a 3-2 deficit more than half way through the second period. I thought a lot of the OHL players looked both good and bad at times, with some sloppy play which I'm hoping doesn't carry over to game 4 in Niagara.
Here are my exact thoughts on the OHL players who took to the ice last night:
Chris Carrozzi - Mississauga Majors (Drafted 2008 by Atlanta/154th)
Neither goalie was really tested all that much. Carrozzi faced 8 shots in his 30 minutes of ice time. However, he did let in all three of the goals against. Only one of those was completely unstoppable, a nice passing play on the Russian powerplay finished by Nikita Klyukin. The other two were shots that I felt a stronger goalie might have had. The Grachev goal was scored on a breakaway where Grachev deked Carrozzi to the side and slid the puck five hole. The other goal was scored as Evgeny Dadonov cut across the middle of the ice and put the puck between Carrozzi's five hole as he was moving side to side. I've seen these types of goals scored before on Carrozzi, as teams have had a tendency to exploit a weak five hole on him, especially while he is in motion. He needs to do a much better job of moving his stick with his body to cover up the area. And while he does a good job of making himself big to shooters, he can also tend to give up juicy rebounds. I think he can be a decent goalie at the next level, but only if he improves his mechanics, in particular his ability to make and read those reaction type saves.
Tyler Beskorowany - Owen Sound Attack (Drafted 2008 by Dallas/59th)
Was tested even less than Carrozzi was, despite seing the same amount of rubber in the same amount of minutes. But the majority of his 8 shots were from the perimeter and little challenge for him. In particular, I thought he made one nice save on a similar play as the Dadonov goal that Carrozzi let in. A Russian player cut across the middle and tried to sneak one low, but Beskorowany stuck out the leg and made a nice kick save that was a little more difficult than it looked. The thing I like about Beskorowany and was probably the main reason as to why he was such a high draft pick, is that while he's a big man, he moves very well in his crease. In the times that I've seen him (which is relatively little), he's shown to anticipate the play really well and control his rebounds. Because he plays in Owen Sound and he's not posting a great G.A.A., he's never going to get the hype that others in the league do. But he's a great goalie prospect, make no mistake about it.
Michael Del Zotto - Oshawa Generals (Drafted in 2008 by New York Rangers/20th)
I'll admit right now, I've never been the biggest fan of his play. The main problem I have is his transition ability to the NHL. I've always felt that his skating wasn't good or explosive enough to allow him to play a puck rushing game in the NHL. I still stand by this point. That's not to say that Del Zotto is a terrible skater, but if you look at the best puck rushing defenseman in the NHL, Dan Boyle, Jay Bouwmeester, Brent Burns, etc. They are all outstanding skaters with an explosive acceleration. I just don't see that level of skating ability in Del Zotto. In tonight's game, I thought he looked pretty poor, to be honest. I felt he made some poor decisions with the puck and he didn't look incredibly comfortable running the powerplay tonight. He never really took any chances with the puck either and wasn't very aggressive on the rush. I'm not sure whether he was trying to prove to the scouts in attendance that he can play the safe game, but in the end, that's not his game at all and it's not why the Rangers drafted him so high. He needs to take risks and jump into the play because if he's not hitting the scoresheet and stretching the neutral zone defense, he's not all that effective of a player.
Ryan Ellis - Windsor Spitfires (NHL Draft Eligible 2009)
Ellis showed a lot of skill tonight and he showed the casual fan why he's putting up so many points in Windsor. He also showed the casual fan as to why he's yet to be rated as high as he should be. Ellis takes chances, there is no doubt about it. And he can get caught up ice, leading to odd man rushes. But if he can help score 2 goals for every opposing goal he aids, he's going to attract a lot of attention. On the rush, he's got great wheels and an even better set of hands. He can stickhandle through a phonebooth and showcased this with one great rush early in the game. On the powerplay, he was effective and showed his ability to get his great shot through a crowd. Whenever he lets his shot go, it's almost as if it's magnetically attracted to the net. However, defensively he made a bad pinch and got caught up ice leading to an odd man rush. But in the defensive zone, I think he's made strides. His man coverage has improved, as has his play along the boards. He has to continue to show scouts that he can work on his defensive game and that he can overcome his size to become an NHL defenseman.
Nick Crawford - Saginaw Spirit (Drafted in 2008 by Buffalo/164th)
Crawford did not have a good game. Could definitely have been nerves. He made a few brutal passes in his own zone that lead to turnovers. He was also highly ineffective while running the point on the powerplay, failing to keep the puck inside the zone on numerous occasions. Defensively, he was outmuscled along the boards by some of the stronger Russian players and really looked over matched. Perhaps it was nerves because when I saw him earlier this year, he looked a lot better and way more composed with the puck. I wouldn't take this game as an indicator of his talent level.
Cameron Gaunce - Mississauga Majors (Drafted in 2008 by Colorado/50th)
Gaunce is a personal favourite of mine. He has some faults, but I think he's got definite NHL potential if he can tweak some things. For one, offensively he's incredibly smart. He plain and simple knows what to do with the puck in the offensive zone. He made one great play in particular when he kept the puck in offensive zone at the blueline and made a crisp pass to Casey Cizikas, who then dished to Dale Mitchell for a goal top shelf. But it was the fact that Gaunce made the decision to hit Cizikas while under pressure to keep the puck in at the blueline. While he isn't the world's greatest skater, the pusk rushing thing isn't necessarily his game. He's more effective once the zone sets up. Defensively, he can be a bit erratic. I've found that he has a tendency to float a bit and leave his man in coverage, but that's just a focus thing. I've also heard that he could stand to improve his conditioning, although has apparently improved it going into this season. Tonight, I thought he was the best defensive defenseman for the OHL. He made smart plays with the puck in his own zone leading to the breakout and he never turned the puck over despite some relentless forechecking by the Russians. I don't know if he's the type of guy who's going to make a huge impact in the NHL, but at the same time, I'd be surprised if he doesn't become that dependable NHL regular.
Mark Cundari - Windsor Spitfires (FA Signing by St. Louis)
Cundari signed with the Blues during the two week period after the draft during prospect camps, that allows undrafted, yet draft eligible players to sign NHL contracts (Barrie's Brian Lashoff also signed during this period). He's really come along way during his OHL career. He plays the game really hard and is a physically imposing player despite being somewhat undersized at 5'10. Offensively, he's gained a lot more confidence in his abilities, in particular with running the powerplay in Windsor with Ryan Ellis. We didn't really see any offense from Cundari tonight as he tried to make things simple. He did play a good defensive game though, and was very physical, in particular along the boards where he rarely lost battles for the puck in his own zone. What makes him an attractive NHL prospect is that he's a good skater, which allows him to play aggressive defensively in closing lanes. A real underrated prospect.
Tyler Cuma - Ottawa 67's (Drafted in 2008 by Minnesota/23rd)
Cuma hasn't really had a great start to the OHL season. His offensive stats are incredibly underwhelming. While I haven't seen him play yet this year (was not back from Minnesota yet when I saw Ottawa play twice), I've heard that he's been focusing a lot more on defense and playing a really safe game thus far, which would explain his lack of offense. However, I don't think he's ever going to be a big scorer. He's always going to be the type of guy who puts up way more assists than goals. He is however a great skater who can surprise you with a very nice rush up ice, like he did in this game. He exploded through the neutral zone and over the blueline, going through a few Russians to get a scoring chance. However, that's not something you will see a lot. Defensively, the only negative I've seen from him is that he can be taken out of position going for the big hit. This was seen in this game, as Cuma tried for a big hit, missed, leading to a two on one. But he also made a great play defensively to save a likely goal infront of the net by anticipating a pass and blocking it. He was physical all game, actually hitting on a couple of those big hits. Cuma is just a solid defensive prospect, the type of player who's team makes the playoffs.
T.J. Brodie - Saginaw Spirit (Drafted in 2008 by Calgary/114th)
Brodie is the type of player scouts love. He shows progression and improvement. Brodie was drafted last year after having a pretty successful rookie OHL season (after playing only 20 games the year before that). He's a two way blueliner who can do a little bit of everything. This was my first game seing Brodie this year after he sat out Saginaw's game vs. Niagara earlier this season. In my opinion, he didn't have a terrific game. While he was pretty good defensively and didn't make any glaring mistakes, I felt that he might have been trying to do to much offensively. On the powerplay, he did not look comfortable at all. Constantly fumbled the puck at the blueline and failed to keep possession. He made a few nice plays with passes off the boards to hit forwards on the rush and showed some poise in that regard. But in the end, I was hoping he would show a little more and give people the chance to remember his name.
Matt Duchene - Brampton Battalion (NHL Draft Eligible in 2009)
I felt that he got better as the game went along. In the first period, I thought he might have been trying too hard and was attempting to make the difficult/highlight reel play instead of making the safe one. But he got better and better every period and by the end of the game had become an offensive threat every time he touched the ice. He made one great pass at the end of the game on the powerplay to give teammate Cody Hodgson a tap in goal. Duchene is a talented player. He uses great speed to create scoring chances off the rush and has great on ice vision. He's been playing a lot of center lately, but I'm not sure he projects as a center in the NHL.
Casey Cizikas - Mississauga Majors (NHL Draft Eligible in 2009)
Cizikas has been getting a lot of flak lately for his play. Most recently in Redline report, a top scouting service, they called him out for his lack of effort at both ends of the ice and his lack of offensive creativity. In my previous viewings, I'd both agree and disagree. I've never seen Cizikas show a lack of effort defensively, however I do agree about concerns over his offensive potential. I thought he played a great game though. He was aggressive on the forecheck and made some very good plays defensively and on the penalty kill. He made a really nice pass on the previously mentioned Dale Mitchell goal. While he may be catching some criticism for his play, in the end I think teams know what they will be getting with Cizikas when they draft him. He can work hard and be the first forward in the offensive zone, he can play both ways, and he has good enough hands to make plays infront of the net. While he may not be a future first liner in the making, he's definitely an NHL draft pick.
Peter Holland - Guelph Storm (NHL Draft Eligible in 2009)
I thought Holland was pretty invisible tonight actually. He had a couple good shifts early in the game, where he was playing his game on the cycle and creating offensive opportunities. But as the Russians began to win battles in the corners, Holland became a lot less effective. As I've seen him play well and be an effective player in the offensive, I know what he's capable of. For the casual fan, don't judge him on his lack of impact tonight.
Anthony Nigro - Guelph Storm (Drafted in 2008 by St. Louis/155th)
This isn't really going to be the type of game where Nigro stands out. He's a good player and prospect though. He works very hard, is a beast in the corners and is one of the best defensive forwards in the Ontario Hockey league. Tonight, while he wasn't a factor offensively, he managed to play physical and did a good job working the cycle. Every year, the Canadian Junior team takes players like Nigro to play a role, much to the surprise of the common fan. But don't be surprised if this guy does find a place on that team someday.
Cody Hodgson - Brampton Battalion (Drafted in 2008 by Vancouver/10th)
Two goals and an assist goes a long way in proving team Canada brass that you belong on their team. Hodgson was all over the ice tonight. Even though his goals were more due to the good plays of others, Hodgson still showed that he can finish off scoring chances, but also create them for his linemates. He completely took over the game in the third period. Was deking through Russian defenders left and right, and creating scoring chances front and center. Hodgson has been incredible since returning to the OHL from an extended stay in Vancouver. Tonight I think he made a lot of Canucks fans happy.
Taylor Hall - Windsor Spitfires (NHL Draft Eligible in 2010)
Outside of one rediculous rush up the ice and a post hit, Hall was not very good in the game. On that rush, he showed great speed, beating a Russian defender to the outside, dragged and fired a wicked wrist shot that beat Russian goalie Alex Pechurski, but not the post. That rush completely brought the fans out of their seats and I started getting the feeling that the game was going to serve as the Taylor Hall show. But he kind of disappeared the rest of the game. Was ineffective in keeping possession in the offensive zone, and made a couple terrible plays on the breakout leading to turnovers due to careless passing. You'd have to think the kids nerves were a little wrecked. I'd expect him to come out much better in the Niagara game.
Greg Nemisz - Windsor Spitfires (Drafted in 2008 by Calgary/25th)
Nemisz was pretty good tonight. I thought that his skating looked a lot better than it did last season. He was effective on the forecheck and in the cycle along the boards and was often the first man in the offensive zone fighting for the puck. The only criticism I always seem to have about Nemisz's game is that for a big man, he doesn't really use his size all that much. While he can overpower along the boards, he doesn't drive to the net hard, nor does he become incredibly involved physically. I'd like to see him get his nose dirty and get more goals by banging in the crease.
Dale Mitchell - Windsor Spitfires (Drafted in 2007 by Toronto/74th)
Quite frankly, I was a little surprised when Mitchell was named to play in this game. I thought there could have been better choices. However, I felt he was one of the best forwards for the OHL tonight. He showed great speed and a willingness to get his nose dirty. He crashed the net hard and was overall quite the pest. On his goal off that nice feed from Cizikas, he absolutely roofed the puck top shelf on Pechurski. Was a real goal scorer's goal, waiting out the goaltender to go down and roofing it. Mitchell is a real solid player who's finding more consistency in his game since the trade to Windsor. He's looking like a good pick for Toronto and is likely a future fan favourite.
Logan Couture - Ottawa 67's (Drafted in 2007 by San Jose/9th)
As the highest NHL draft selection playing in the game for the OHL, you had to expect that Couture would have been an impact player. But that was not the case, nor has it been the case this season. Couture's numbers have been decreasing every year since his draft season, and I've even heard people say that he actually hasn't yet been as good as he was in his rookie OHL season. He's had some injury problems, as well as mono, but in the end these can not be excuses. He's got to work harder and he's got to start showing people why he was such a high draft pick. Yes he has good speed and he can be an effective two way player, but offensively he was completely invisible tonight. At what point do we begin criticizing Couture's offensive hockey sense and start to believe that he's never going to be an impact player at the next level?
John Tavares - Oshawa Generals (NHL Draft Eligible in 2009)
Ok so John Tavares had two goals and an assist. But am I the only one who thought he didn't have a great game. Yes he showed that his defensive game and his first step have improved. Yes, he put a great shot past Pechurski in the first. And yes, he crashed the net hard looking for loose pucks and showed great determination at the offensive end. However, I also thought he was incredibly selfish with the puck and quite often ruined good scoring chances by holding on to the puck and becoming too predictable. On one two on one, you could tell he was going to shoot it the whole way. The Russian defenseman didn't even play it that well, and eventually just slid infront of Tavares' shot to break up the play. I know that John has had a lot of pressure placed on him this season, and that he has to be feeling pretty crappy about the fact that a lot of scouting agencies now have him at number two behind Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman. And I do think that this influenced his game tonight. I think that perhaps John was trying to hard to show the scouts that he can play the flashy game and that he can be an electrifying offensive player. The one thing I always here about Tavares from people who see him for the first time is, "well I didn't really notice him that much, but he had 2 goals and 2 assists." It's because he kind of sneaks in there and tends to hit that scoresheet. He's not flashy, but productive. I think tonight he tried to misdirect that conception and I felt that he looked like a worse player and a worse teammate for it.
Josh Brittain - Kingston Frontenacs (Drafted in 2008 by Anaheim/71st)
I thought Brittain was very effective tonight. He showed good speed, especially in using his big frame to drive to the net. And he's actually a very smart offensive player who knows where to go on the ice to put himself in scoring positions. He's the type of player I wish Greg Nemisz would be. Playing on Kingston has kind of buried Brittain, but I think Killer should do wonders for his game. Anaheim got a real steal in 2008, and Brittain is a developing power forward whom I liken a lot to the way James Neal progressed in Plymouth.
Ryan O'Reilly - Erie Otters (NHL Draft Eligible in 2009)I have some concerns with O'Reilly's game translating to the NHL. They are in fact the exact criticisms that Ryan's older brother Cal faced in his OHL days with Windsor. Just to show you how much the NHL draft philosophy has changed, Cal was a fifth round pick back in 2005, where as Ryan is being touted as a potential first round pick, despite being pretty much the same player. Ryan is a great playmaker, although he has a tendency to look pass first and is almost timid at times in shooting the puck. Ryan's biggest concern, and I think it was evident in this game, is that his skating and acceleration are average to below average. He's just not a very effective player in the transition game. He's much more effective offensively once the offense sets up. He also needs to be less of a perimeter player and learn to use that 6 ft, 200lbs frame to attack the net a little more. I think Ryan is a good player, and Cal has done great for himself in the AHL thus far, but as of this point I'm just not sure I see him as a first round talent considering his flaws.
That's all for now, I plan on reviewing the Russian Selects as a group after the Niagara game, which takes place Monday night. It'll be interesting to see how the Russian players react to the small ice in the Gatorade Garden City Complex.
BTW the official game report for the Guleph game can be found here.