Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Thoughts on Game 4 of the ADT Challenge - OHL vs. Russian Selects in St. Catharines
Monday night, the OHL all stars and the Russian selects took to the ice in St. Catharines for game 4 of the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge. It was another exciting game that was incredibly hard hitting and saw the OHL remain unbeaten against the Russian selects in the history of the ADT Challenge. Team OHL took the game by a score of 3-2, however the game remained tied for over 2 and a half periods and was an immensely close battle.
Here are my exact thoughts on the OHL players who took to the ice:
Mike Murphy - Belleville Bulls (Drafted in 2008 by Carolina/165th)
I think that it is safe to say that Murphy has made his name known to pretty much any fan of the OHL by now. After struggling during his original draft year in 2006-07, Murphy has emerged as arguably the best netminder in the OHL and one of the best in the CHL. He's absolutely electric on the ice and makes at least one highlight reel save every game. Tonight was no exception. After some great passing, the Russians got an open player the puck in the slot and he had all day to put it home. He tried to put it top corner, glove side, but Murphy made an unbelievable stop. He didn't catch it cleanly, knocking it up in the air and behind him. If it weren't for defenseman P.K. Subban clearing the puck out, it probably would have dribbled over the line, but the fact that Murphy was able to get glove on it at all was outstanding. The main knock I always hear about Murphy in the scouting community is that he's such an unconventional goaltender and that they fear some of his technique (or lack there of), will not carry over well to the NHL where the shooters are more accurate and quicker. But at the end of the day, I see a goalie who's probably the most athletic and agile I've ever see at the position from the OHL, and one who anticipates the play so well. So while his technique may not be by the book, and he may go down early, and he may flop, but the fact that he has these flaws and he's so good speaks volumes to his talent level. I really hope Murphy gets a crack at team Canada for the WJC's.
Trevor Cann - London Knights (Drafted in 2007 by Colorado/49th)
After a trade to London a few weeks back, Caan has been absolutely outstanding (if he wasn't before with Peterborough). In 7 games with London, Cann has yet to be beaten and has a GAA under 2. Cann is essentially the exact opposite of Mike Murphy. A relatively flawless technical, butterfly goaltender who challenges shooters, lets out few rebounds and plays the angles well. He was pretty solid tonight, just as Murphy was. I feel that because he's kind of toiled in Peterborough, his star has somewhat fallen in the NHL and common prospect community. In that sense, he's become a relatively unappreciated prospect. Cann is just a really solid overall goaltender who doesn't have a lot of flaws and IMO shouldn't have a lot of trouble transitioning to the next level.
Michael Del Zotto - Oshawa Generals (Drafted in 2008 by New York Rangers/20th)
I find Del Zotto frustrating to watch. He's a jekyl and hide for me. At times I find him to be a difference maker on the ice, and at others I find him to be a liability. For example, tonight he laid two gigantic hits along the boards. These hits completely took the Russian player out of the play and stopped the Russian cycle before it even started. But then in other instances tonight, he was incredibly passive along the boards and let the Russians walk all over him. He would play a step away from the boards and use his stick instead of his body to attempt to dislodge the puck. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out which way is more effective. The question I ask is, why doesn't Del Zotto take the body consistently? He was a lot better with the puck tonight though, making better decisions and taking a few chances in joining/leading the rush. He's obviously a lock to make the tryout camp for team Canada, but I think he needs to show the coaching staff that he can be a more consistent player before he's considered a lock. I honestly think that he could be one of those "surprise" cuts that we always see every year, where the casual fan gets up in arms because of how high profile the player is. But the WJC is such a physical tournament, we need defenseman who are going to engage everytime along the boards and not play a passive game. And if we are taking a guy to play as the 7th defenseman and see only powerplay time, quite frankly I'd probably rather take Ryan Ellis. But if he can show the coaching staff that he will take the body consistently, and quite often we do see this as non physical players suddenly become physical due to the nature of the tournament, than I'd consider him closer to a lock to break camp. It's up in the air for me.
P.K. Subban - Belleville Bulls (Drafted in 2007 by Montreal/43rd)
Subban is of course a returning player from last years gold medal winning WJC team. I thought he played a great game tonight. He's really learned to use his strong skating ability to improve his defensive game. He closes off lanes and he's winning more battles in the corners due to increased strength. I find that he's taking better care of the puck and making less mistakes and careless passes. He's still prone to the odd bonehead blunder with the puck, but for the most part is starting to make the safe play and picking his spots better to pinch. He scored a nice goal on the powerplay with a great low one timer that found the back of the net. For my money, he was the best defenseman for the OHL tonight.
Ryan Ellis - Windsor Spitfires (NHL Draft eligible in 2009)
Maybe it was just me, but I found that Ellis didn't play a whole lot at even strength tonight, and if he did, I didn't really notice him. He did play a ton on the powerplay though, so perhaps team Canada brass is trying guage how he reacts to being that powerplay specialist. He still looks great running the powerplay and is definitely most comfortable then. He did see one shift of penalty killing time in the second, but it just so happened to be when the Russians scored a powerplay goal on Mike Murphy. And Ellis was partially to blame, as he looked kind of lost in defensive zone coverage and a man ended up wide open in the slot. He's got loads of offensive talent, and I wouldn't hesitate to draft him, even with his size concerns, but there is no denying that he needs to improve his defensive play off the puck and in coverage.
Shawn Lalonde - Belleville Bulls (Drafted in 2008 by Chicago/68th)
I thought Lalonde was just ok tonight. He's not in any way a flashy player and is the type of guy you don't really notice much on the ice. In a sense that is a compliment because it means he's not making any mistakes and is playing a safe game. On the powerplay, he made a great pass to Bulls teammate Subban for that aforementioned one time goal. He's very smart with the puck in general and has a good knack for finding his open teammates. Defensively, he was just ok tonight, looking a bit overwhelmed at times, especially in battles along the corners. In times I've seen him though, he's shown to be a much more capable defensive player who again makes the smart players and is great in using an active stick to get forwards off the puck.
Alex Pietrangelo - Niagara Ice Dogs (Drafted in 2008 by St. Louis/4th)
To be honest, I was a little bit unwhelmed by Petro tonight. It's not that he was bad, but maybe my expectations were a little bit too high. These high expectations were warranted because since his return from the NHL, Pietrangelo has been a man among boys with the Ice Dogs. He's got 3 goals and 6 assists in only 4 games and has been rushing the puck up the ice with ease. He pretty much does anything he wants on the ice because no one is able to stop him. And while he was effective in rushing the puck up the ice, I found that at times he tried to do too much with it and ended up turning it over once he breached the offensive zone. In OHL games he can get away with having the puck on his stick until someone gets open, but against higher competition, that won't work everytime. He did make a great play offensively on the Agozzino goal. He made a great pinch to force a turnover and immediately found Aggy in the slot for a slot that went just under the blocker of Gayduchenko. Defensively, he was solid, although you always want to see Alex take the body and using his size more. Like I said, Pietrangelo was good, but I expected him to be great. Perhaps just too high of expectations because of what I've been seing in his first four games back with the Ice Dogs.
Cameron Gaunce - Mississauga Majors (Drafted in 2008 by Colorado/50th)
Gaunce didn't see nearly the same amount of ice time that he did in the Guelph game. He didn't really do anything to stand out tonight, in a good or bad way. He was on the ice when Russia scored their first goal, and could be blamed along with Ellis for missing coverage. I said it previously, that I've found Gaunce can fall asleep at times in the defensive zone. But he's very smart with the puck and doesn't make mistakes with his passes. Just that defensively he needs to focus a little more.
Mark Katic - Sarnia Sting (Drafted in 2007 by the New York Islanders/62nd)
Katic has really grown on me as a prospect. I think the problem is that I always expected or wanted him to do more offensively than he did. But I'm not entirely sure that's his game. He doesn't take nearly as many chances as some of the other offensive blueliners in the OHL do, instead electing to be precise with the puck. The thing you notice right away about Katic is his skating ability, which is definitely at or near the top of the OHL among defenseman (along with the likes of Subban, Pietrangelo and the absent Drew Schiestel). He's much improved defensively and anticipates the play really well. He's disciplined because he doesn't put himself in position to get beat, and is instead able to use an active stick to break up the play. For such a great skater, I almost wish he would take more chances offensively on the rush, but to each is own. Even though he's put up some good offensive stats in the OHL, I'm not sure I expect him to become a big time scorer in the NHL. I see him taking on more of a role like Bret Hedican. Someone who can move the puck and who uses his skating to play solid at both ends, but is not someone who's going to put up a ton of points. For what it's worth, I thought he was the second best defenseman on the ice for the OHL behind Subban.
James Livingston - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Drafted in 2008 by St. Louis/70th)
Livingston was a super late addition to this game after Matt Duchene hurt his shoulder during weekend action. But I bet the OHL coaching staff is happy that he was there. Livingston was all over the ice tonight, playing great offensively on a line with John Tavares, and being incredibly physical and doing the dirty work in the corners. On the Tavares goal, he did a great job to come up with the puck, skate down the wing and get a great pass to Taylor Hall, who subsequently tapped it off to Tavares for the goal. For a big guy he makes good plays at full speed and has great hands. Livingston reminds me exactly of James Neal, who's found great success at the next level thus far. A great selection by the Blues who is only going to get better as he's able to find some consistency offensively.
Jamie Arniel - Sarnia Sting (Drafted in 2008 by Boston/97th)
Arniel is still working hard to improve his image after that rough fallout with Guelph. This no doubt played into him falling on draft day last year, all the way to the 4th round after being considered for the first round to start the season. But I think his hard work is starting to pay off. He's quietly having a strong season for Sarnia and is starting to put in a more consistent effort. He had a solid game tonight, playing in all situations for team OHL and showing some good speed in carrying the puck into the offensive zone, and on the penalty kill. He also worked the cycle well and looks to have improved his strength and conditioning from last season. Hopefully he continues to put everything back on track.
Zack Kassian - Peterborough Petes (NHL Draft eligible in 2009)
Kassian was also pretty good tonight for me. Big guy, physical, good puck skills, good speed. A real solid throwback to the power forward prospect of yesterday. He had a couple shots on net tonight and was great infront of the net trying to cause a distraction for Gayduchenko. I don't think he's at the level to make team Canada as of now, but he's the type of player who will be making that team in the future and playing a big role as he matures and learns to dominate using his size.
Andrew Agozzino - Niagara Ice Dogs (NHL Draft eligible in 2009)
I think Agozzino felt like he had a lot to prove tonight, after being left of the CSB's preliminary OHL draft list for the 2009 entry draft. He's undersized, but he's very quick and very elusive. He finds his way into scoring areas and loves to get dirty. He'll sacrifice himself to make a play, which is something I need to see if I'm drafting an undersized player. On top of all that, he's got an excellent wrister, that he needs very little room to get off. And on top of that, he's a quality two way player who makes an effort to back check, and who uses his speed to forecheck hard on the penalty kill. I really felt he should have been ranked by the CSB on their list, and I'd be surprised if he doesn't get ranked ahead of some of those guys on their end of the year list when he can make more of a lasting impression on them.
Cody Hodgson - Brampton Battalion (Drafted in 2008 by Vancouver/10th)
Hodgson wasn't as effective as he was in the first OHL/Russia game in Guelph, but he still played a relatively strong game. He was kind of invisible offensively in stretches, but he was always noticeable defensively as the first forward back and playing hard on the penalty kill. Even if he wasn't great offensively tonight, I'm pretty sure Hodgson impressed the team Canada brass enough at the Guelph game for him to be considered a virtual lock for a position on the WJC team.
Bryan Cameron - Belleville Bulls (Drafted in 2007 by Los Angeles/82nd)
For my money, Cameron is the most underrated player in the OHL. He's by no means flashy, but he manages to put up points. The main reason for this is that he's an incredibly smart hockey player who finds his way into open areas, anticipates the play and has great hands in close to the net. Just knows where to be to score goals. He finished in the top 10 last year in goals and currently leads the OHL in goals this season. Just one of the quiestest, yet most effective players. I think he's going to be a solid professional player to because of his strong all around game and his hockey IQ. I really hope he gets an invite to the training camp for team Canada because he deserves it, especially off his play in this game where he was all over the ice creating scoring chances and putting himself in position to get a shot on net.
Taylor Hall - Windsor Spitfires (NHL Draft eligible in 2010)
Now hear me out. Hall is a great player, and I've talked in length about this before. But right now, I'm just not sure if he's ready to play in the WJC's. Offensive skill by leaps and bounds, speed to burn and the knack to create offense off the rush. But against good competition tonight, he again had a lot of turnovers in the neutral zone as he tried to do to much in terms of carrying the puck. We've seen year after year, that 17 year olds do not generally fair well at this tournament. It's usually an 18 and 19 year old tournament. While Hall has the skill, I'm not sure he has the maturity in his game to be able to handle the tough rigors of that competition. Not to mention, he has a lot of work to do on his defensive game. I'm sure he'll get the invite, but I wouldn't be surprised if team Canada tells him to wait till next year.
Greg Nemisz - Windsor Spitfires (Drafted in 2008 by Calgary/25th)
I thought Nemisz was pretty invisible tonight. He wasn't nearly as effective in generating scoring opportunities off the forecheck, nor was he as physical. As I mentioned previously, I'd really like to see Nemisz taking the body more and being more aggressive considering his size. His skating deficiences were a little over blown last year before the draft, as I think he's a slightly awkward skater, but not necessarily an ineffective one. Was much better in the Guelph game for me.
Logan Couture - Ottawa 67's (Drafted in 2007 by San Jose/9th)
Couture was also pretty invisible for me tonight. I don't think he got a whole lot of ice time either. While he shows good speed and he's by no means a one dimensional player, I think at some point you have to figure out why he's not putting up more points on the board. I find myself repeating what I said last time. I'm just not sure his hockey sense is as high as it needs to be for someone who's going to be expected to score a lot of points. Logan is really starting to remind me of when Boyd Devereaux used to play for the Kitchener Rangers. Lots of speed, an ability to play both ways, but something was missing preventing him from really hitting the scoresheet on a consistent basis.
John Tavares - Oshawa Generals (NHL Draft Eligible in 2009)
I mean, what else can be said about Tavares that hasn't already been said. Guys a great talent, he's worked hard to become a more complete player, yet he finds himself falling in the rankings. The bottom line is he knows how to find the back of the net and he knows how to make his teammates better. I want to bring up two points, rather than ranting about his skill set. For one, a very encouraging sight to see was Tavares out at the end of the game protecting that 3-2 lead. It tells you that the coaching staff has confidence in Tavares' defensive ability, which is not something you could have said two years ago. And secondly, did anyone see Tavares' rush in the first period. Blueline to blueline, through two Russian players. Tell me this guys skating is a problem. He's got the skating ability, I think it's more that people confuse his will to slow the game down, with an inability to skate fast. He's not generally flashy and he's not generally the type of player who tries to generate offense off the rush. He likes to slow things down and set up in the offensive zone. Because people don't generally see him skating and carrying the puck at full speed, I think this misconception that he can't skate arose.
Eric O'Dell - Sudbury Wolves (Drafted in 2008 by Anaheim/38th)
I thought O'Dell played a very solid game. Offensively, he was a little snake bitten and missed out on a few chances as he had the puck roll off or bounce over his stick. But he has good hands, I think that maybe he was pressing to impress a little too much. Defensively, I thought he was great, especially on the penalty kill. He's got a really active stick and puts a lot of pressure on the puck carrier, especially as the lead forechecker into the offensive zone. I'm really pulling for this guy to make Team Canada in one of those slots generally reserved for the "shut down 3rd liners."
Stefan Della Rovere - Barrie Colts (Drafted in 2008 by Washington/204th)
And the player of the game for me goes to....Stefan Della Rovere. He didn't hit the scoresheet, but this guy was a force everytime he hit the ice. He worked down the opposing defenses all night because of his work on the cycle. He also put a lot of fear in the Russians because of the way he was throwing around his body. He had every Russian player playing with their head up and rushing plays to avoid the hit, everytime he was on the ice. He was a big difference maker. He's another guy I'm really pulling to make team Canada and I hope he opened some eyes tonight as he was another injury replacement, filling in for Nazem Kadri.
The official game report can be found here.
In the end, it was a great couple of games to watch between the OHL all stars and the Russian Selects. I'm incredibly happy that the Russians are starting to take this series a little more seriously and are sending better teams.
Stay tuned for a small right up on some of the Russian players I thought stood out in the series.