Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Thoughts on the Niagara Ice Dogs Thus Far

Living in the Niagara area, the OHL team I've been following for the past two years has been the Niagara Ice Dogs. Any game reports (for the most part), that I post here come from watching teams play the Ice Dogs. At risk of sounding redundant, I rarely post my thoughts on Niagara players. However the Dogs have a lot of very interesting players on their roster this year...

Here are my thoughts on some of the Ice Dogs at the quarter mark of the season...

Drew Schiestel (Drafted 2007 by Buffalo/59th)

Drew is easily the heart and soul of Niagara's defense without Alex Pietrangelo. For the first half of last year, Schiestel was terrible. He was even close to being a healthy scratch a few times. But a light bulb went off eventually and Schiestel became a different player. When he's at his best, he's a slick skating defenseman who leads the rush, quarterbacks the powerplay with ease, is sound defensively and takes the body. He's one of the best skaters in the OHL period, nevermind for a defenseman. Only Sarnia's Mark Katic gives him a run as a defenseman. However he does still have some consistency issues. At times, he does appear to coast, especially defensively. And other times he's rather passive physically and fails to get involved. But he can be a difference maker offensively at any time with his puck rushing ability. This year he's been outstanding offensively. He's improved his work on the powerplay, as he does a great job getting his shot through to the net. A lot of his assists this year have come from either tips off his shots from the point, or from rebounds. He is an Ice Dog worst -9. For most players this could be a troubling stat. However a lot of this comes from the fact that Drew likes to take chances. When the team is struggling offensively, Drew can tend to try to do too much. He''ll rush the puck everytime and occasionally get caught up the ice. However, I'm not really worried about this at the next level. I'm not sure how to profile Drew for the NHL. He's got all these offensive tools, size, skating ability and potential to improve defensively. However, I'm not really sure how he's going to fit into an NHL role. I think the best thing to say is that we'll wait and see. He could end up developing into a premier puck moving defenseman, if his defensive game improves more.

Andrew Agozzino (Draft Eligible 2009)

If he wasn't 5'9, Agozzino would easily be considered a first round selection for the upcoming draft. That being said, if he continues at his current pace, he should still be considered. While he is considerably undersized, he's an outstanding skater who has greatly improved his strength and stability this year. He drives hard to the net and is not afraid of contact. He rarely misses a chance to score and has great hands, especially in the slot and infront of the crease. Agozzino is also excellent defensively and is one of the Dogs premier penalty killers. The combination of all these factors should make him an attractive NHL selection despite his small stature. He's the type of player who is built for today's NHL game. That being said, I am slightly worried about his NHL potential. At 5'9, can he continue to play the game he does in the OHL. While he does have offensive skills, I don't think he has the raw offensive ability to be a first line forward in the NHL. That means he's going to continue to have to play with a little sandpaper and continue to drive to the net and be effective near the crease. He's also going to have to transfer his defensive prowess to the next level. If he can do this, he should be able to become a solid NHL fixture.

Mathew Sisca (Draft Eligible 2009)

Sisca is even smaller than Agozzino. And he looks it. At 5'8, Sisca is also a great skater, but doesn't quite have the strength and stability that Aggy does. Nor does he attack the net with such confidence. However, Sisca has proven to be an excellent playmaker and offensive player. He loves to explode down the wing and release his hard shot. He's got great on ice vision and has even been used on the point on the powerplay. He had a lot of injury problems last year, so he's still finding his feet. Is he a potential NHL draft pick? I'd say yes, but only in the later rounds.

Alex Friesen (Draft Eligible 2009)

Another of the Ice Dogs mini mights that are eligible for the draft. Friesen is a fairly similar player to Agozzino. He's lightning quick, he isn't afraid to go to the net and he plays with sandpaper. There are a couple main differences in their game. For one Friesen doesn't yet have the strength that Agozzino does. He can get pushed off the puck at times and isn't as great at winning battles in the corners. Friesen is also not as good defensively as Agozzino, although he isn't terrible either. And the main difference is that Friesen just hasn't been able to translate his offensive ability to solid point totals just yet. Friesen definitely has the skills, but he's been relatively snakebitten thus far. I think he definitely leads the team in posts hit and being robbed by opposing goalies. He has been hitting the scoresheet a lot more often lately, since being put on the same line as Agozzino. Since they play a similar game, they tend to complement each other well. If he can finish out the season strong, I think he's a potential middle of the draft selection.

Chris DeSousa (Draft Eligible 2009)

The last of the four Niagara 2009 mini forwards. DeSousa has easily been the most disappointing thus far. After watching him last season, I expected him to take a step forward offensively this year and really become a leader of this team. However, he's definitely struggled out of the gate. Through the beginning part of the season, he wasn't playing with as much intensity as I had seen before, and offensively he was generating next to nothing. In the past couple weeks, he has defenitely picked up his play though. At his best, DeSousa is an extremely physical player who can lay the body and will drop the gloves. He also is excellent defensively and next to Agozzino, is the Dogs best penalty killing forward. His skating is solid and for a 5'9 guy, he's got a lot of balance to his stride. Offensively, he's not creative and is a pure up and down type player, but he's got good hands and can drive to the net and finish off plays. I think he's got a shot at being drafted because he could develop into a solid NHL pest/agitator.

Marco Insam (Draft Eligible 2009, 1989 born)

Insam is the Ice Dogs Euro import this year. He was brought over from Italy and has actually been way better than expected. At the beginning of the year he looked out of place, but was apparently playing with a cracked rib and eventually missed some time. Since returning, he's been a completely different player. He's a big mother who hits like a train and is a physical force. He's nearly impossible to beat in the corners and he's great in the slot. His skating isn't tremendous but it's not completely terrible either. The main weapon of Insam is his shot. This guy has an NHL shot. While I've never seen it gunned before, I would be willing to bet it's the hardest on the team and one of the hardest in the OHL. His wrist shot is incredibly hard as well. He has 5 goals in his last 5 games. Probably not on anyone's radar yet, but if he can become a more consistent player, I think he'll start getting more attention.

Andrew Shaw (Draft Eligible 2009)

He's got 2 goals and 0 assists so far this year. So why am I writing about him? He's become my favourite player on this team. He's an OHL rookie who's actually a roller hockey star. He played tier 2 last year. The only reason he has yet to start hitting the scoresheet more is because he's playing 3rd-4th line minutes and not playing with the team's offensive stars. He skates incredibly well. He's got great puck skills and goes hard to the net. He wins the battles in the corners and he fights. He's like a little ball of energy (well 5'11, not quite as little as the other four). Kory Nagy proved last year that players can get drafted without having a solid regular season showing. I hope someone is scouting this kid and I hope he starts getting more ice time, because he's a player.

Andrew Merrett (Draft Eligible 2009, born in 1989)

A lot more was expected of Merrett this year after breaking out last year. He even managed to earn an invite to the BlueJackets prospect camp this past offseason. However he just hasn't had the same impact this year thus far. He's a big guy and he has good hands and a good shot. But he has some major shortcomings. For one, his skating is quite poor. He's having trouble keeping up with a Niagara team which is essentially filled with speedsters. He also is nearly incapable of creating an offensive chance for himself. He's got one job and one job only, and that's to bang home rebounds and crowd the crease. Niagara's version of Tomas Holmstrom I guess you could say. In times I saw him last year I thought he might be able to develop into a pro prospect. But now I'm being lead to believe his production last year was a result of some of the talented players he was playing with like Mike Swift or Stefan Legein.

Josh Day (Overager)

A lot was made of Day last year. He was Alex Pietrangelo's defense partner in Niagara and he looked good beside him. He was the steady, calming influence for the young Petro. He ended up finishing the season with a great plus/minus and there was a lot of talk he was going to be signed to an NHL contract. He never signed a contract but he ended up getting the invite to the camp of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but was unfortunately not able to earn a contract from them or their AHL affiliate. He returned to Niagara about three weeks ago and has been adequate since. Personally, I've never been a fan. At least a fan of him having the potential to be an NHL defenseman. I thought he was incredibly overrated last year while playing with Petro. He is relatively steady defensively, he can contribute on the rush and he's a good leader, but at the end of the day, I think every OHL or CHL team has a player like him. Good junior player, but not someone who is going to make an impact at the next level.

John Cullen (Draft Eligible 2009)

Cullen is a goaltender the Ice Dogs found playing Tier 2 in the United States and brought him into the fold this year. He's had his ups and downs, but he has the potential to be a good goaltender, especially only being a 1991. He's very quick and agile and moves around his crease very well. He anticipates the play and is very vocal on the ice, which is great for such a young kid. He's made some improvements on his rebound control so far this season, as well as his ability to play the angles and challenge shooters. You can tell the goaltending coaches are really working with him. The only thing he's really struggled with thus far is shootouts. He's essentially been embarassed in the shootouts that he has participated in. He flops around and goes down way to early and gets caught out of position. Unfortunately, this area of his game can be exposed at times in regular gameplay as well. He has a tendency to hit the butterfly too early and teams have been going high on him. However, he is improving. Is he someone that could get drafted? Probably not this year, but he's a very raw athlete and I think that he'll only get better as his OHL career goes on. Who knows though, maybe he continues to improve as the season goes on and puts himself among the top eligible OHL goaltenders.

Jay Gilbert (Draft Eligible 2009)

Gilbert is a big strapping defenseman who has slowly seen an increasing role with the Dogs. At the beginning of the year, he struggled at times. He had a tendency to overhandle the puck and panic, leading to turnovers or failed breakouts. He also was getting caught out of position going for hits. However, he's getting better as the season goes along. He's picking his spots better in being physical and he's keeping it simple with the puck. His skating is not amazing, but it's not the worst I've seen for a big defender. The reality is that size can sell for defenseman. Big, physical guys do have a tendency to get drafted. I'd say keep an eye on him.

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