Sunday, January 18, 2009

Niagara Ice Dogs Mid-season Report

Much like Ryan, I get to see a lot of one OHL team in particular due to the fact that I live in the Niagara region and therefore the team I get to see the most is the Niagara Ice Dogs. Since it would be redundant for me to report on them each game, I tend not to focus on them. Instead, I wrote a report about 1/4 into the season on the Ice Dogs, and this can be found here.

The following is my midterm report on some of the more important prospects on the team...

Alex Friesen - NHL Draft Eligible in 2009

Friesen is one of several undersized draft eligible forwards on the team. He also has the lowest chance of getting drafted. While he's quick on his feet, is fearless in attacking the net, and can show some flashes of skill, he is ultimately not skilled enough to be a scoring forward at the professional level. Friesen's only hope is to improve his play defensively, and become more aggressive physically. Only then, in combination with his speed and work ethic, will he be able to find a measure of success at the next level. As mentioned, he does show some skill at times, however, he has trouble finishing off plays. I find that he gets outmuscled too, and perhaps rushes his scoring chances in fear of being taken off the puck. I think with added strength and confidence, he will one day be a quality OHL contributor, however, I don't see him being much of a pro prospect.

Andrew Agozzino - NHL Draft Eligible in 2009

Another undersized forward, Agozzino has been the Ice Dogs most consistent offensive performer this season. He's elusive and quick on his feet, and he's not afraid to go to the net, with or without the puck. He is a good stick handler and despite his size, does a pretty good job shielding the puck with his body as he goes hard to the net. He's got a great shot, that he gets off quickly, as evidenced by his team leading (tied with DeSousa) 23 goals. Aggy is also a solid two way player who's one of the Ice Dogs better penalty killers, notching 3 shorties this season. As for the negatives, I think Aggy needs to become a better all around offensive player. As of right now, he's strictly a north-south player who skates hard up and down the ice, creating chances off the rush. However, once the offense sets up, he can tend to disappear. He just needs to do better with the cycle and get himself into scoring positions more. Closely related, I find that at times he seems lost in the offensive zone when he doesn't have the puck on his stick, and when he does have the puck on his stick, he makes questionable decisions. I think Aggy would really benefit from having a top quality offensive player at center who can feed him the puck. Perhaps these negatives are what CSB believes is holding him back from cracking their mid term rankings, or maybe it's size. Either way, they don't see him as an NHL draft pick currently. Of course, I'd have to disagree as I think someone takes him, but I'd be surprised if it was anything higher than a 6-7 rounder.

Freddie Hamilton - NHL Draft Eligible in 2010

Hamilton, the Dogs first round selection in the 2008 Priority draft, has been a very useful player this season. He does all the little things right and is a very smart player for his age. He's a solid two way player who sees the ice well in setting up his teammates, and has played on nearly every line in every situation for the Dogs this season. He was also a member of the Gold medal winning Team Ontario team at the recent World Under 17 Hockey Challenge. Right now, a few things are preventing him from being more involved offensively. He needs to improve his strength for one, but what 16 year old doesn't. He gets muscled off the puck easily in the offensive zone and as of right now is purely an opportunist incapable of creating his own offensive chances. He also needs to improve his skating which is only adequate as of right now. I think next year, we'll see more out of him in his draft season.

Andrew Shaw - NHL Draft Eligible in 2009

Still a favourite of mine, Shaw has improved tremendously as the season has gone along. At the beginning of the season, he was in and out of the lineup and was having to rely on his fists to keep him in their consistently. However, he's improved his offensive production each month, and has slowly been earning more ice time, including some powerplay and shorthanded time, from coach Cheech. He's a fearless forechecker who's often the first forward into the offensive zone, and he hits hard, despite not being very strong yet. Let's not forget this is an OHL rookie here. Shaw is very skilled, and I'm confident that if he had more skilled linemates, he'd have more points. He sees the ice very well and is an excellent playmaker. He's also adequate defensively and makes an effort to come back to the defensive zone. Did I mention that this guy fights too and is not afraid to stick up for his teammates? He's quite a complete player. So what's holding him back? Easily strength. As of right now, for the type of game he plays, he's just not strong enough. Their is no coincidence that he has improved every month over the course of the season. The Ice Dogs have him on a strength program and as he gets stronger, he becomes more confident in playing the type of game he excels at. I think he breaks out big time next year with a summer of training. I think if he can continue to improve his offensive production through to the end of the season, he has a chance to get himself drafted.

Marco Insam - NHL Draft Eligible in 2009 (but DOB: 1989)

Insam is the Dogs import selection from this past year. He's a big Italian winger who lumbers up and down the ice with authority. He does have some skating issues, but most is due to a slow first few steps. Once he gets moving, his top speed isn't concerning for a man his size. But he bangs around and can lay out some monster hits. He's really improved offensively from the start of the season and actually has 6 goals in his last 9 games. He has one heck of a cannon of a shot, both his slapper and his wrister. However, he does need to improve on his ability to get it on net. One thing, I'd like to see Insam do more of is crash the net and be a big presence in the crease. He's quite the imposing figure, yet I find too often he stays to the perimeter hoping someone will hit him for the one timer. While getting himself into position to unload his weapon has to be a priority for him, with his size he also needs to crash the net and pick up some easier goals. He has been doing this a little more lately, but not enough IMO. As of this point, I think the Dogs have to be happy with their import selection, and he's likely a guy who comes back as an overager next season and has a big impact. As for being a pro prospect, I'd say not likely, unless he can improve on some areas.

Chris DeSousa - NHL Draft Eligible in 2009

DeSousa might be the most legit NHL prospect of the mini quad (Aggy, DeSousa, Friesen, and Sisca). Like the others, he's fearless and drives hard to the net with and without the puck. However, unlike the others, he's a top notch body checker and a quality pest. He loves to get under the skin of opponents and is not afraid to drop the mitts. DeSousa's biggest asset is definitely his shot, which is NHL caliber. He gets it off very quickly, and it's very accurate. Actually, other than a slow start, DeSousa has been one of the best goal scorers in the OHL this season. If you were to take his scoring per game since November and adapt it to the whole season, he'd be 2nd in the OHL in goals. His speed is average, but he has great anticipation and reads the play well, setting himself up to get his shots off. I was more surprised that DeSousa was left off the CSB midterm ranking than Agozzino, but perhaps being a late 1990 and undersized went against him. That being said, I'd be very surprised and disappointed if he wasn't drafted in June, especially if he can continue to score goals while playing an aggresive in your face game.

Matthew Sisca - NHL Draft Eligible in 2009

Sisca is the fourth member of the mini quad. He's put up some good offensive stats this season and he thinks the game quite well. He reacts well to the play and does a good job of finding his teammates. Overall, he's just a solid offensive player who does most things well, but nothing exceptionally. I think that their are some things that hold him back from being considered a legitimate professional prospect. For one, he's small and he plays small. He doesn't drive to the net with the puck on his stick, is easily muscled off the puck, and easily pushed around in the slot. He's also only an adequate skater who doesn't have that top gear a lot of smaller offensive players need to survive at the next level. And while he's improved his defensive play since a benching from coach Cheech, he's still a rather one dimensional player who misses assignments on a regular basis. His offensive production has greatly cooled off of late too, after his hot start. I think he can be a quality OHL contributor in the future for what is likely a strong Niagara team (with all these quality 1990's and 1991's), but a serious professional prospect he is not.

Alex Pietrangelo - NHL Drafted in 2008 by St. Louis/4th

Petro has single handidly made the Ice Dogs a better team. He has changed the dynamic of the team and has brought stability to a defense which has largely been a mess this season due to injury and lack of experience. He's such a dynamic offensive player who anticipates the play so well, it's not fair. He joins the rush at will, and when he wants to, he can use his strong skating and stickhandling ability to gain the offensive zone. Speaking of his puck carrying ability, he consistently makes players miss and creates many chances off his strong rushes. He's also using his shot WAY more this season, and is not afraid to put the puck on net. On the downside, I don't think Petro's defensive game has made any strides this season. He's a smart player, but he'd much rather be leading the rush than staying behind. And while this is clearly what makes him a strong prospect, he needs to pick his spots better and he needs to make more of an effort defensively. Since he's returned from the World Juniors, he's done a much better job of this, which is promising because he does have the potential to be a strong defender both ways because of his skating ability. As of this point, the one thing everyone always brings up is his lack of physicality, despite his size. I think it's safe to say Petro will never be a physical player and people just need to move on. He's much more of a positional defender ala Jay Bouwmeester, and if that's what works for him, than so be it. A strong prospect with a very bright future.

Drew Schiestel - NHL Drafted in 2007 by Buffalo/59th

Schiestel has been kind of up and down this season. Offensively, he's great. He's one of the better skaters in the OHL and he moves around the ice effortlessly. He leads the rush with confidence and has no trouble gaining the offensive zone. However, one thing that I've always felt held Schiestel back, is what he does with the puck once he gains the zone. A guy like Petro rushes into the offensive zone with authority and drives hard to the net and isn't afraid to take it end to end. This often results in a strong scoring chance. Schiestel will rush the puck up the ice with ease, gain the zone, but then ease off and dump the puck in or pass it off, instead of taking it all the way to the net with momentum. He has the skills to do this, but he doesn't, so often these fancy rushes result in nothing. He also needs to work on his shot, in particular with his ability to get it through to the net. His shot drifts high on him a lot, and he needs to focus on keeping it low and on net. Defensively, he's up and down. Sometimes you'll find him making great plays and playing strong off the puck. Other times, he'll look disinterested and lose his man in coverage. He's also developed a bit of a habit of taking undisciplined penalties in his own zone, perhaps out of laziness or frustration. When he focuses, and when he engages physically, he's a quality defender. In the end with Schiestel, it's all about consistency and he needs to develop it.

Mark Visentin - NHL Draft Eligible in 2010

Visentin will be one of the youngest players available for the 2010 draft, so he's got a lot of maturing to do. It has been surprising enough that he has been able to earn a spot on the Ice Dogs roster this season after being the club's 3rd round pick in the 2008 Priority draft. It's been quite the year for Visentin, as he was actually the back up for the aforementioned gold medal winning Ontario squad at the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge. His play, well it's shown promise. He's solid positionally in that he anticipates the play well, and he moves well in his crease. He just needs to work on some of the things that come with more experience. He needs to challenge shooters more by coming out and reading the angles. He needs to control rebounds better. And he needs to improve his five hole and his glove hand. But, very rarely do 16 year old goaltenders look great in the OHL, or CHL for that matter. He's got a lot to learn, but he's got a solid foundation to work with. With Jeremy Smith in Niagara now, he's also got a good teacher for the rest of the season.

Jeremy Smith - NHL Drafted in 2007 by Nashville/54th

Smith has been a revelation since coming over to Niagara at the trade deadline. He's 4-1 and the Ice Dogs are playing their best hockey of the season in front of them. I'm not sure how he was struggling so much in Plymouth, but he has to be glad to have been given a second life. Smith's two best assets are his positioning and his rebound control. He comes out to challenge shooters, but also reacts well by having quick feet. He rarely coughs up a big rebound and does a great job of directing shots to the corners. I think, like any butterfly goaltender, he has some problems with the top of the net, and as the season goes along, it'll be interesting to see how much that may get abused. But you can't argue with results, and Smith has brought a calming presence to the Dogs, and with him in net, they may be a legit playoff threat.

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