Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Thoughts on Ottawa from the Postseason

The first round of the OHL playoffs wrapped up yesterday with the Ice Dogs thrilling overtime victory over the Ottawa 67's in game 7. It was a back and forth series with neither team able to win back to back games.

It's always great to catch teams in the playoffs, in particular because you want to see their top players step up their game. It was also interesting because I had seen Ottawa several times during the regular season and by seeing them over an extended period, it provided a closer and perhaps more accurate look at some players.

Here are my thoughts on some of the Ottawa players during the series...

Julien Demers - Drafted by San Jose in 2008/146th

Demers had a fantastic series. He finished +4 with 11 assists, and actually lead the 67's in scoring during the series. He's a very smart defender who doesn't take liberties with the puck in his own end and who makes a solid first pass. He does an outstanding job of keeping the puck in the offensive zone, especially on the powerplay. His offensive anticipation is quite excellent. Defensively, he's solid positionally and does a good job of staying with his man. Demers is just a solid all around presence. If he could have played the full 60 minutes, Ottawa would have won this series. On the negative side, I'm not sure his skating has improved a whole lot this season. To an extent it limits his ability to be more involved offensively because he can't be as effective as a puck rusher. Also, he wasn't nearly as physical in the series as I've seen him before. However I know the coaching staff has been working with him on picking his spots better with the hits, as he had a tendency to take himself out of the play looking for the big hit. But I feel that removing that edge from his game isn't the answer either.

Logan Couture - Drafted by San Jose in 2007/9th

Couture had a solid series as well. Previously, I had never really been impressed with him, but he made me a fan in the series. He's a solid two way player who is incredibly smart on the ice and appears to be thinking the game on another level compared to his peers. He was nearly a constant offensive threat throughout the series. His speed and acceleration have definitely improved and he has the ability to deceive defenders with his change of pace and puckhandling ability. Couture is especially effective in working the cycle and putting himself in the "Gretzky" area behind the net, where he looks to find open teammates with great vision and playmaking ability. As mentioned, defensively he's a rock and is constantly supporting his blueline unit. The only downside for Logan in the series was that he did not have a good game 7 and you could tell it really killed him. He was considerably upset after the conclusion of the game, perhaps because he felt like he let Kilrea down in his last game. But he has nothing to feel shame about, every player has his off nights and he played hard and left it all on the ice.

Anthony Nigro - Drafted by St. Louis in 2008/155th

It's interesting comparing the Nigro from Guelph to the Nigro from Ottawa. They appear to be different players. Whether that points to an identity crisis or his flexibility, remains to be seen. The Nigro who played in Guelph was primarily a board and cycle player who was first back defensively and a stud penalty killer. The Nigro in Ottawa has become more of a crash the net power winger who does the dirty work for his teammates and gets into scoring lanes. Because Ottawa also has so many penalty killers, Nigro doesn't really see a lot of PK time either. He's still a responsible two way player though. Because of this difference, I'm not really sure what to make of his potential at the NHL level now. He probably still profiles best as third line winger, but with Logan Couture gone next season, it'll be interesting to see if he's the one who steps up offensively for Ottawa.

Corey Cowick - NHL Draft Eligible in 2009 (but born in 1989)

Cowick is eligible one last time for the NHL Draft this June and it'll be interesting to see the results. He's had quite the breakout season and has shown that he has a definite ability to deposit the puck in the net. Cowick finished the series with 7 goals, 6 of them on the powerplay. He's very elusive on the ice and seems to find the holes behind the defense that give him scoring opportunities. Skating is average, not a fault, but not a strength either. I think he has a chance of being one of those guys who is drafted as a re-entry in the later rounds. Should he not, well then he'll likely have a strong overage season next year in hopes of earning a contract.

Tyler Toffoli - NHL Draft Eligible in 2010

Toffoli was really impressive in the series, especially for a 1992. Sometimes these guys can get worn out due to the length of the season and tolls it can have. But Toffoli was playing the best hockey I've seen from him. It seems like Kilrea really trusted him too, as a few times when the Couture line was struggling, he would throw Toffoli up there to try and give it a spark. He's not a big guy right now, so at times he can look overmatched physically, but you can tell the skill level is there. Once he gets stronger, he's going to give himself more time and space to use his skill, which is ultimately going to increase his point totals. I think he's definitely one of the top 92's in the OHL and could be a good bet to lead Ottawa in scoring next season, his draft year.

Thomas Kiriakou - NHL Free Agent and Overager

Kiriakou had a good series too, netting 6 goals. As stated in my post about the top available overagers, I like Kiriakou, but I do question his NHL potential. He works hard at both ends of the ice, is great on faceoffs, and has some ability to put the puck in the net. He also increased the level of his physical play during the series, which was good to see. If he's going to get a shot in the NHL, he's going to have to improve his skating and increase his willingness to be more physical. In today's NHL, teams are looking for role players who can skate hard, play physical and chip in occasionally on offense, more so than the years before where teams iced 4th liners who they trusted simply not to screw up. With the shift to speed and energy, Kiriakou is going to have to prove he can score enough to play third line minutes, or bring some energy intangibles to the table in a depth role.

Ryan Martindale - NHL Draft Eligible in 2010

A late born 1991, Martindale actually really disappointed me in the series. But I'm going to keep in mind that he has recently come back from mono and isn't likely in top shape. I found him struggling to keep up with the play and finding ways to contribute. But in previous viewings, I liked his use of his size to create scoring opportunities for him and his linemates. We'll see how things go next year where he's got a chance to be a high pick if he can improve the consistency in his offensive game.

Marc Zanetti - NHL Draft Eligible in 2009

I'll be honest here. Zanetti did not have a strong series. He took some dumb penalties, he looked sloppy with the puck in his own zone, and seemed to lose the confidence of Kilrea throughout the series. He has some qualities you like to see in that he's a big guy who is mobile, physical and has shown some ability to handle the puck. I also find him to actually be a very solid one on one, positional defender. But as mentioned, he really struggled with making the right decisions with the puck in his own zone, and with attempting to carry it out of the zone. He also took a lot of lazy penalties that cost his team. Going into the series, I had Zanetti firmly in my top 30 for the OHL, but I'm not sure he's still there now. He has potential, but he really needs to refine his game.

Adam Courchaine - Signed by the Boston Bruins

Courchaine relieved Chris Perugini in game three of the series and didn't give up the starter spot the rest of the way. He was generally very solid and kept the 67's in some games. He's a big goaltender who likes to challenge shooters and who makes himself big in the net. His rebound control is generally pretty solid. However, his mobility looks somewhat questionable at times, as he appears slow to react to the play. It's hard to find those big, athletic netminders, and if you do, they generally aren't signed as free agents like Courchaine. So he's shown that he has some capabilities at the professional level. I'd expect him to be in the ECHL next year where he can really find his groove and work on some things.

Chris Perugini - NHL Draft Eligible in 2009

Like Zanetti, Perugini was a guy I had in my top 30 before the series, but has played himself out of it now. He did not have a strong series and he has a lot of holes in his game. On the positive, he is an incredibly athletic goaltender who can make some saves look easy with his mobility and anticipation. On the downside, his rebound control and overall technical ability really hurt him. He gives out so many juciy rebounds, his defense just can't clear them all. He needs to learn how to direct those into the corner and away from danger areas. His size has to be a concern as well, as the Dogs were really looking to go high on him while he was in net. At this point, I'm not sure if he's an NHL draft pick this year.

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