Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thoughts on London from January 22 and 23

This past Thursday and Friday, the Niagara Ice Dogs had a home and home series with the London Knights. These two games would be the only time these teams would meet in the regular season. On Thursday, the Knights came to St. Catharines and were defeated 5-2 in a game largely dominated by the Dogs, who got solid goaltending from Jeremy Smith and a hat trick from import Marco Insam. On Friday, the Dogs traveled to London and again got the best of the Knights, taking the game 6-4. Friday's game was largely dominated by the Knights as they outshot the Dogs 52-21, however goaltending was the difference. The Knights got atrocious goaltending from rookie Torrin Lauziere, who was pulled to start the third period, while the Dogs got another solid performance from Jeremy Smith. John Tavares was a combined -7 in the two games and was completely shut down by Alex Pietrangelo, Drew Schiestel and the entire Niagara defense.

Since this was likely my only chance to see the Knights this season, here are my thoughts...

Michael Del Zotto - Drafted by the New York Rangers in 2008/20th

As you may have noted through my past observations, I'm not MDZ's biggest supporter. He was terrible in the first game, but fairly solid in the second game. In the first game, he made several questionable decisions with the puck, one a terrible breakout pass which was intercepted by Andrew Agozzino, and gave him a partial breakaway (although he did not score). He was terrible defenzively, leaving his partner John Carlson largely out to dry. In particular, he seemed to lose his man and was soft in board play and in play near the crease. He's not a big guy, so if he doesn't want to play physical, he's got to be more aware and use his positioning and stick to cover his zone. Yet at times, it seems like he gets overwhelmed. He even struggled with quarterbacking the powerplay and had trouble keeping the puck in the zone. In the second game, he was more composed with the puck and played a steadier defensive game. At times, engaging in the corners. In the end, I'll say the same thing I always say with MDZ. I have concerns over his longterm NHL potential. If you look at a guy like Bob Sanguinetti, he made great strides defensively over the course of his OHL career. Where as MDZ has yet to take that step forward.

John Carlson - Drafted by the Washington Capitals in 2008/27th

If I'm drafting 2008 over again, I definitely take this kid ahead of MDZ. He was outstanding in both games. He's aggressive at both ends of the ice. He's not afraid to take the puck hard to the net and join into the rush, however he picks his spots well. He shows great speed and closing ability, especially for a bigger guy. Carlson was very poised in running the point on the powerplay and showed the ability to read the defense and get shots off quickly. He's also incredibly strong on the puck and was able to win many battles along the boards. Defensively, he was great. Showed great positioning and engaged players physically, both in the corners and near the crease. This guy is the total package IMO, and for what it's worth, I think he might just be the best defenseman in the OHL.

Kevin Montgomery - Drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 2006/110th

Montgomery has returned for his overage season after the Avs decided he wasn't ready to play in Lake Erie (AHL) yet. He's a quiet player in that you don't really notice him, but he's smart with the puck and makes good decisions in the defensive zone. He only played in Friday's game, not sure why he was out Thursday. In the end, I'm just not sure where he fits in at the NHL level. While he's a slick skater and a capable puck mover, he doesn't have the raw offensive ability that would allow him to be a big time point producer at the next level. He's not going to be a shut down type of defenseman either. So he's a bit of tweener for me. To be honest, I don't see him being more than a 7th or depth defenseman on a good NHL team, similar to a guy like Danny Richmond (a former Knight).

John Tavares - NHL Draft Eligible in 2009

I'm not really going to go in depth about Tavares. We all know enough about him and it's clear that he did not have a very strong showing in these two games. Coming into the home and home series, he had 7 goals in 3 games with the Knights. He was mostly invisible through these two games and there appeared to be some serious gelling problems with him and his linemmates. I don't think him and Kadri fit well together on a line, because they are both guys who want the puck on their stick at all times. Two bad games don't change his draft standing.

Phil Varone - NHL Draft Eligible in 2009

Varone is an undersized, hard working forward. He's got great speed and he attacks the zone with authority. He's a solid two way player who's often the first forward back. While he didn't hit the scoresheet in either game, I thought he was impressive in generating some scoring chances by his aggressiveness in the offensive zone. At this point, because of his size and the fact that I'm not sure he's more than a 3rd liner in the NHL, I don't know where he ends up getting drafted. If I were a betting man, I'd probably put him near the back of the draft with a guy like Niagara's Andrew Agozzino, who is a pretty similar player.

Zac Rinaldo - Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2008/178th

Rinaldo, recently acquired from the Majors, was probably both London's most effective forward and their least effective forward at the same time. First the good. He was buzzing around the ice in both games, hitting everything that moved. He laid out a couple huge hits in both games and really gets under the skin of his opponents. He also has the ability to drive to the net with the puck, as he's actually not a terrible puckhandler. Because of this, he also works the cycle well. These type of things bode well for his future in the NHL as at least an energy player. On the downside, he really hurt London with some undisciplined plays. He had 5 minor penalties over the course of the two games. While Niagara failed to capitalize on any of those powerplay opportunities, they still proved to stop the momentum London was building up. And while two of those penalties were very questionable, the other three were legit. He needs to play more controlled. I'm sure that Dale Hunter won't mind the odd charging or hit to the head penalty, but it's the hooks, trips, elbows, and other penalties taken out of frustration that must really anger his new coach.

Phil McRae - Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 2008/33rd

I like Phil McRae. Was impressed in the times I saw him last season. And he was fairly good in these two games. He skates hard, and skates well for a big man. Offensively, he seems to know where to be on the ice to finish off scoring chances and is very elusive. He can also drive to the net with the puck on his stick and does a great job protecting the puck with his body. It's clear that he's gotten a lot stronger this season, and thus this serves as an explanation as to why his offensive production has exploded and taken that next step. I do have one concern though, but it is more to do with Coach Dale Hunter's use of McRae. He didn't get nearly as much ice time as I figured he would and really appears to have been hurt by the Tavares' acquisition.

Nazem Kadri - NHL Draft Eligible in 2009

I'm sorry, but I'm still not impressed by him. Wasn't last season. Not this season. I know Ryan Yessie has been telling me about how unimpressed he's been with him this season too. Sure the guy has great hands. He dekes through a couple players every shift. However, it's all flash and no dash for me. He dekes through the first two guys, but nothing comes of it as he attempts to deke through the third, fails and turns the puck over. Part of the reason the Tavares/Kadri line really couldn't get anything going was on him, IMO. I can't count how many times that line failed to gain entry into the offenzive zone because Kadri tried to bring the puck over the blueline and failed. Defensively, he was terrible too, in the Thursday game especially. Two of the goals against London were directly his fault. On one play, he lost track of his man as he cut towards the front of the net. On the other play, he was simply lazy and his man beat him to the blueline where he was able to unload a slapper to the back of the net. And while the man I'm talking about was Marco Insam, who's much bigger than Kadri, it was the lack of effort that discouraged me.

Justin Taylor - Drafted by the Washington Capitals in 2007/180th

Taylor is a fairly decent player. He shows some good offensive instincts and despite his size, is fearless in his play. You'll often find him near the front of the crease and he does a good job working the corners. He's an average skater, however is definitely a more dangerous player once the offensive attack sets up shop. I like his attitude and his effort, however I'm just not sure where he fits in at the NHL level. He's another guy I see as a bit of a tweener. He's not a good enough offensive player to play a scoring line role, and he's not big enough, fast enough or strong enough to play a checking role.

Jared Knight - NHL Draft Eligible in 2010

Knight was alright in Thursday's game, and showed some horns by checking Drew Schiestel hard into the boards, leading to a quick tussle with Andrew Agozzino. He didn't get a lot of ice time though. On Friday, he was excellent, maybe the Knights best forward. He is undersized, but he's rather fearless and drives hard to the net and is willing to throw whatever weight he has around. He's almost like a miniature power forward, who wile undersized, does seem to like to play a bit of a power game. This guy is going to be a big player for London next season when the likes of Tavares, Taylor, and others leave.

Trevor Cann - Drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 2007/49th

Got badly outplayed by fellow 2007 2nd rounder Jeremy Smith. I know a lot of Knights fans have been rather unimpressed by Cann thus far. It's hard to imagine why his statline has gotten worse after the transfer from Peterborough to London. He really only played the Thursday game, however let 1 goal in on 2 shots on Friday after coming in to play the 3rd period. But something doesn't seem right, as he didn't look like the same goalie I saw play numerous times in Peterborough. He looks timid and isn't challenging shooters as much as he was, and he's going down to early and being beaten both low close to the post, and to the top of the net. His rebound control, which I once considered a strength, did not look very good on Thursday. Maybe it's a confidence thing or just a bad run as he has a .891 save % in January. I think he's still capable of being an NHL netminder, but he's going to take some time.

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