This weekend, the Niagara Ice Dogs took on a couple of non conference teams in the Sarnia Sting, and Windsor Spitfires. It gave me great opportunity to catch a glimpse at a few players that I haven't had a chance to see this season, at least in regular OHL play. On Friday night, the Dogs defeated the Sting 2-1 in a relatively boring game. On Saturday night, they lost 8-4 to Windsor. They played hard against Windsor and hung with them for two and a half periods until the Spits finally blew things out of reach.
Thoughts from Friday, December 5, 2008 against Sarnia.
Jamie Arniel (Drafted in 2008 by Boston/97th)
Arniel was very good tonight. In fact, I was impressed with his play at the ADT Challenge as well. He appears to be on the right track to putting that whole Guelph situation at the back of scouts minds and really making his play the sole focus. In seasons past, I've always been critical of his effort and it's consistency. I thought he had a tendency to take shifts, or even periods off. But in the two times I've seen him this season so far, he seems to be playing much harder and could be evidence to why he's posting over point per game numbers for the first time in his OHL career. He works hard in the corners, he has good speed which he uses to carry the puck and he has relatively good hands in close. He also has been working on his defensive game and becoming more involved physically. He's starting to turn himself into a complete player, which is ultimately what he needs to do to succeed at the next level. I'm not sure his offensive skills are good enough alone for him to succeed in the NHL. I see him as a future 3rd liner who works hard for his goals and is an asset to his team in all areas. His addition to the Team Canada selection camp roster is a testament to his coming of age and his improvement as a hockey player.
Michael Neal (Drafted in 2007 by Dallas, 149th)
After being drafted by Dallas (obviously same team who has his brother James), Neal missed the entire 2007-08 season, save a few playoff games, due to a knee injury. That really hurt his development. The season after a player is drafted is often the season where they take the biggest steps forward and learn to work on the things that they need to improve upon to become NHL players. Getting a taste of the show at prospect camps often gives players that final motivation to get better. Neal unfortunately did not have that chance, until before this season. He's not really putting up many points, and nor do I think he ever will. But he's actually a pretty similar player to his brother. He appears to be a great skater, he takes the body hard and he has solid puck carrying ability. The only difference really appears to be James finishing ability and offensive hockey sense is/was much higher. Neal was actually very good tonight, perhaps Sarnia's best player tonight for me. I'd say it's probably borderline for Dallas if they sign him this offseason, but with James in Dallas thriving, they may not want to upset one of their core young players by not retaining his brother. If he does end up getting a contract from Dallas, I think he could actually be an NHL player. With the game today being built on speed and the forecheck, Michael Neal could have a place as a 4th liner/depth player.
Mark Katic (Drafted in 2007 by the New York Islanders, 62nd)
Katic was alright tonight. I've actually never been the biggest fan of his play, but I'm starting to come around. It's not that I don't like him as a player, it's more that I've always felt he was overrated and that ultimately his NHL potential was overrated too. I think his defensive game has come leaps and bounds, and that he's proven now to be a very smart defender who has good positioning and uses an active stick to break up plays. And he's obviously an outstanding skater who can lead the rush. However, I'm not sure his offensive abilities will translate to him putting up a lot of points in the NHL. Maybe it's just me, but I've always looked at him and thought he could be hitting the scoresheet more often, but he doesn't really. To me, I think that offensively he doesn't think the game at the same level as guys who are able to step into the NHL and start putting up the points in a faster and more aggressive game. An example tonight was near the end of the game, Sarnia is trying to get the puck up ice to try and tie the game and Katic is spending the entire time skating around in his own end, moving around the forecheck. He could have beat the attack by simply making a pass to a teammate or gaining the line and dumping it in, but instead was skating around aimlessly. I think that ultimately, Katic will find his role in the NHL, as one of those steady, yet non flashy number 4 or 5 defenseman. Does a little bit of everything, but never really puts up the big points.
Justin DiBenedetto (Drafted in 2008 by the New York Islanders/175th)
DiBenedetto was invisible for me tonight. I've seen him better obviously, but tonight he did not make an impact. As I mentioned before, it was a pretty boring game and neither team could really get anything going off the rush. He's obviously taken a big step forward this season without Stamkos and shown people that he's not the next Dany Roussin (off collar reference for some of you out there). Not much more to say here.
Matt Martin (Drafted in 2008 by the New York Islanders/148th)
Similar to DiBenedetto, Martin didn't make much of an impact for me. He was aggressive on the forecheck and he was playing physical, but didn't have the puck on his stick very much tonight. I think the Isles have to be happy with the fact that he's taken the next step offensively this year and that he's apparently cut down on some of those undisciplined penalties. Again not a lot to say here.
Miroslav Preisinger (NHL Draft Eligible in 2009)
I had heard a lot of good things about Preisinger from our contributor Ryan Yessie, but he was pretty disappointing for me tonight. He did have one very nice hit and showed a willingness to get involved physically, which is something you like to see from European finesse players. But Preisinger showed me nothing offensively. I can't say I even remember him touching the puck in the offensive zone tonight. Judging by his offensive stats, he's been quite the enigma this season. To get drafted, he's going to need to show a lot more than 2 goals in the second half of the season.
Gregg Sutch (NHL Draft Eligible in 2010)
Sutch was another guy who was completely invisible tonight. As a recently named member of Team Ontario for the Under 17's, I was expecting a more involved showing for Sutch. But he looked relatively soft in the corners and was outmuscled easily by the Ice Dog defenders. As such, he was another guy who didn't really make any noise offensively tonight.
Thoughts from Saturday, December 6, 2008 against Windsor.
Taylor Hall (NHL Draft Eligible in 2010)
What else is there to say about this kid. He's unreal. Everytime he was on the ice tonight, he controlled the play. It was almost as if his linemmates were along for the ride. He skates effortlessly with the puck and makes defenders miss nearly every time he touches the puck. The encouraging thing about him, is that everytime he has the puck on his stick, he's looking to drive to the net for a scoring opportunity. Pretty much no one could touch him tonight. It's almost unfair that this kid has another year of OHL hockey to play before his draft year.
Ryan Ellis (NHL Draft Eligible in 2009)
I was not impressed by Ellis tonight. After coming away impressed with his play in the OHL last season, and at the Under 18's, I've found him generally underwhelming this season. I think the main difference is defensively and physically. Last season, in particular at the Under 18's, I saw him taking the body with authority and being involved physically. This season, I've yet to see that same aggressiveness. Tonight he was completely passive, and often times it looked like he was waiting for defense partner Rob Kwiet to make the play so that he could get open for a pass and lead the rush. He was also completely ineffective at rushing the puck tonight and was often left out of position defensively because he was taking liberties with the puck. He's still a treat to watch on the powerplay and his shot is an A+. He gets it through everytime. But the last few times I've seen him play now, I find myself asking the question. Is he only a future powerplay quarterback? He needs to find that aggressiveness in his play again in order to find success in every situation at the next level.
Rob Kwiet (Overager and NHL free agent)
Many believe Kwiet to be the best available overage player in the OHL this season. He sure plays a lot for Windsor, at times it seems like he never leaves the ice. He's a great skater and he makes a very good first pass. Defensively, he engages the puck carrier and does a relatively good job with coverage for a mainly offensive defenseman. The big question is, does he have a future at the next level? I'm just not quite sure. He has some good intangibles, but nothing has ever screamed, NHL player to me. I've seen Kwiet play a lot in his OHL days, due to his time with the Majors before. I think he's still got a shot to get himself an NHL contract, but I'm not sure he's ever going to be more than a depth player.
Adam Henrique (Drafted in 2008 by New Jersey/82nd)
Henrique was quite good tonight. He's quite the speedster and has outstanding acceleration. At one point, he blew by and Ice Dog defender coming off the wing, and put a good shot at goaltender John Cullen. He was also very aggressive at driving to the net, picking up two goaltender interference penalties. At this point, I think the Devils have to be very happy with his progression this season, as he's producing at over a point a game.
Jesse Blacker (NHL Draft eligible in 2009)
Blacker was ranked 19th on the CSB's preliminary draft list for the OHL, which was surprising to me. He was however relatively impressive in this game. He showed very good speed in rushing the puck and a willingness to jump up into the attack. He was almost too aggressive in that respect. A few times he was caught up ice, which lead to an odd man rush for the Ice Dogs. However, as a young and inexperienced player (only 47 OHL games under his belt to date), he's going to learn to pick his spots better. I liked how he was not afraid to engage his man in the corner and how he came away with the puck nearly everytime in those one on one battles. I think that because he and defense partner Mark Cundari are playing second fiddle to Ellis and Kwiet right now, his offensive stats are a little bit underwhelming. But he's clearly got talent and I think someone is going to take this kid in the first three rounds on draft day.
Richard Greenop (Drafted in 2007 by Chicago/156th)
I think that it's needless to say that the Hawks did not draft Greenop for his offensive ability. He is what he is. He's a big gu, who skates reasonably well for his size, and who can throw his body around and be aggressive on the forecheck. He's also a pretty good fighter who's not afraid to drop the mitts. That being said, I'm sure they'd be lying if the Hawks told you they were happy with his offensive progression. Even a 4th line scrapper, in this day and age, needs to have some offensive skill to survive in the NHL. With the decreasing role that heavyweights are playing, you need to bring other things to the table besides fighting in order to see more than 2-3 minutes of ice per game. Personally, I don't think Greenop is an NHL player, at least not a regular one, for that reason.
Justin Shugg (NHL Draft eligible in 2010)
I think that a lot more has been expected of Shugg, considering he was a top 10 Priority selection in 2007 by Oshawa. Especially considering that he was playing well for Oshawa in his rookie season before the trade to Windsor. In this game, Shugg skated on the top line with Taylor Hall and was actually relatively impressive. He showed good skating ability in keeping up with Hall, and a willingness to go into the corners for the puck. He also made a nice play on his goal, as he showed good anticipation. Ice Dogs goaltender attempted to clear a rebound out of his crease, but Shugg cut out from behind the net and knocked the puck down in mid air and put it fivehole on Cullen as he was still down in his butterfly. I think that he has some skill and he has potential. Since his draft year isn't until 2010 because of a late birthday, he's still got a shot to bring up his game and get himself on the scouting map. A trade (which has been much rumoured), to a team with less scoring depth might not hurt either.
Mark Cundari (Signed by the St. Louis Blues as a free agent)
Cundari earned himself a contract by playing very well at the Blues prospect camp this past offseason. I felt that he was very impressive in the times I saw him last year, and in the ADT this season. But he did not have a great game. He does take the body very well and has an underrated ability to move the puck, but tonight his one on one play was exposed a little bit. He was made a fool by Alex Pietrangelo on one rush, where he tried to play the puck instead of taking the body and Petro deked him out of his skates (Cundari actually got so crossed up, he fell over). On another occasion he tried for a big hit as a player crossed the red line, missed and took himself completely out of position as the Ice Dogs came back on a 2 on 1. But one thing that impressed me was that I think he realized what he had done wrong earlier. Later in the game, Ice Dog forward Chris Desousa tried the same move Petro did, but Cundari this time played the man and sent Desousa to the ice, voiding the scoring chance. I think he was a solid signing by the Blues, even if he does have some things to work on.
Austin Watson (NHL Draft eligible in 2010)
This kid is going to be a great player. For a 1992, his strength on the drive and in the corners is unreal. He worked the cycle well all night and showed great speed as he drove hard to the net. He also wasn't afraid to take a beating in front of the net to cause a screen. While he didn't hit the scoresheet, I thought he was definitely visible. I think he's going to be a very high pick in 2010, thanks to his combination of size and skill.
Greg Nemisz (Drafted in 2008 by Calgary/25th)
Nemisz was good tonight. I think his skating and first step are much improved this season, and he now skates fairly well for a big man. He's always aggressive on the forecheck and is often the first opposing player in the zone to work the cycle. Still though, and maybe I have unfair expectations, I want to see him use his big body more offensively. I think he could stand to use his size more as he drives to the net, shielding the puck with his body. I also think he needs to become more involved in front of the net, screening the goal and looking for rebounds. He has good puck skills and he has good hands, I just want to see him taking that next step. I'm not saying he needs to start playing like the next Brendan Shanahan. But at the same time, I don't think his offensive skills are good enough for him to play a more finesse game at the next level. He needs to get start getting a little more dirty.
Dale Mitchell (Drafted in 2007 by Toronto/74th)
Mitchell is always a fun player to watch. He's like a little wrecking ball of energy. Always keeps his feet moving, always attacking, and is a relentless forechecker because of it. Is also an aggressive body checker who is constantly looking for someone with their head down. He's got above average speed which he uses to come off the wing, and actually has a very hard, and often accurate shot. Likely is going to be one of those fan favourite type energy players in the NHL, as long as he can continue to play his style without injury.
Just something else to mention. Windsor's goaltending was terrible in this game. Engelage was pulled entering the 2nd period after giving up two real softies, and Gleeson wasn't a whole lot better as he gave up a real softie too. There has been a lot of talk about Windsor trying to improve in net, and now I see why. If they want to be serious Memorial Cup contenders, they've got to do something.