Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thoughts on Sudbury and Brampton from October 18

I hadn't had the chance to see Sudbury yet this season so I caught this one on the OHL Action Pak this afternoon. The Wolves were losers of seven straight games coming into this one. Meanwhile, the Battalion were coming off 3 wins in their last four and showing massive improvement at the offensive end. One would have thought that this one had the potential to get ugly for Sudbury, a team in the dumps coming in to play a team riding a high. But the Wolves hung tight, got some great goaltending and came out on top by a score of 3-0.

The Wolves are an interesting team. They have talent, especially at the offensive end. Obviously their defense and goaltending would have to be considered average, but their talent and depth at forward should be able to make up for it in a lot of situations. While the shot total was grossly in favor of the Battalion, I don't feel like the Wolves got grossly outplayed. They definitely got good goaltending from Alain Valiquette, which was refreshing to see. Valiquette was brutal against Niagara last night from everything I've heard, so it's good to see him bounce back. One thing that perplexes me a little bit is how good the Wolves penalty kill has been, yet how poor their goals against has been. Teams are beating the Wolves five on five and not with the man advantage, which is a bit of a rarity in a league where a good powerplay is so important. So why can't the Wolves play as good defensively five on five, as they do when they play with a man in the box? To me, that screams a team that is pressing and making things more complicated than they should be. With the Stepanov and Rinke incident, you have to think there is something slightly rotten behind the scenes and that probably compounds the on ice problems too. A win like they got today has the potential to get this team back on track, like they were in the first 5 or 6 games of the season.

The Battalion were visibly frustrated during the game. They had their offensive chances, but they just couldn't bury them. A lot of pucks bouncing over sticks on juicy rebounds, or shots fanned on in close to the net. While they only gave up 14 shots, a couple of bad defensive breakdowns cost them. More than likely this is how the Battalion season will go for the rest of the year. Some really good games, and some really poor ones. I look at them similar to the Kitchener Rangers of last year. A lot of quality young talent mixed with some veteran players, but inconsistent in their ability to generate offense. This team has the potential to be really good next year though (especially if an eventual Cody Hodgson trade nets them some really valuable assets).

Some thoughts on individual players...

Brampton Battalion

Matt Clark (ANA)
Clark had a good game. I think he's a solid NHL prospect for the different things he brings to the table. He's got great size and isn't afraid to use it. He absolutely leveled John McFarland behind the net with a clean hit, as McFarland brought the puck to the area with his head down. He had a couple other nice hits too, and he's generally intelligent about it too. He's not one of those guys who runs around looking to hit someone, taking himself out of position for it. He played on the first powerplay unit and I thought did a good job. He gets his point shot through to the net very well and it could have resulted in a few goals had the Battalion done a better job of getting forwards in front of the net, and if they could have done a better job of finishing off rebounds. On one occasion Clark out waited the forward at the top kill and put a good low shot through to the net. The rebound went right to Phil Lane for the easy tap in but it jumped over his stick and he didn't get a shot off. For his size, he's a good skater too. On one occasion he did get beaten by John McFarland (perhaps redemption for the hit) as he drove to the net, and Clark was forced to take a penalty. But McFarland is one of the better skaters in the league, so I'm not sure it's something to be too ashamed of. He just needs to remember to keep his feet moving.

Cameron Wind (2010)
Wind had limited OHL experience before this season but has done very well with an increased role in Brampton. He's a solid two way defender who I think is just starting to gain confidence in his offensive abilities. The thing that impresses me about Wind is his hockey sense. He always seems to be at the point to prevent the puck from getting out of the zone, and he's starting to get more confidence in pinching in. He also does a good job of getting his point shot through to the net, as he did on several occasions today. His looks fine too. Seen him play a few times now this year and I continue to come away impressed. Looks like a potential NHL draft pick to me.

Philip Lane (2010)
Lane had a bit of a tough game. He had a couple glorious scoring chances, but he just couldn't get the puck to settle down for him. The aforementioned Clark rebound was a gift, but he couldn't put it home. That being said, the effort was there and I think he's got a lot of potential in this league. He's a solid power forward prospect and a guy who will get better offensively with added strength. He's always active on the forecheck and he goes to the front of the net with his stick on the ice. Near the end of the game when Brampton was trying to drum up some offense, he was doing a very good job of working the cycle and seems to be one of those forwards who always comes away with loose pucks against the boards. Like any OHL rookie, I think he's going to be an even better at game 60 of this season.

Sam Carrick (2010)
I think Carrick is really starting to come into his own. He's been on fire lately with a couple of hat tricks and I think he's starting to gain confidence in his offensive abilities. With that added offensive confidence, I think other parts of his game are starting to develop too. He was a lot more physical today than I've seen him previously. Always a solid two way player, Carrick was taking the body today and laid a couple really nice hits. An average skater, but he does a good job of protecting the puck. On one nice rush up the ice, he used the defender as a screen and put a good, low, hard shot on net that generated a juicy rebound. But the Battalion forward (I believe it was Sean Jones) couldn't put it home. I think he's a guy who will continue to climb in the draft rankings.

Patrick Killeen (PIT)
Considering that he only faced 14 shots tonight but took the loss, you'd have to think Killeen played a poor game. I wouldn't say he did. The first goal was a tap in at the side of the net that he had no chance on. The second goal was a screen shot from the point that had eyes for the net. Again little chance. The third goal he probably misplayed a little bit, as I think he went down a little early and went for the pokecheck, missed and the Sudbury forward (Tarini) slid the puck by him. But the majority of Sudbury's shots were solid scoring chances and he did a good job of making some big saves to keep his team in the game. One was a solid stop on a two on one by Eric O'Dell and John Kurtz, as he eventually stoned Kurtz sliding across the ice showing good mobility. He's played very well on the whole this year and he's giving Brampton a chance to win every game he starts. He stopped 11 of 14 shots and took the loss.

Sudbury Wolves

Justin Sefton (2011)
This kid does not look or play like a 16 year old rookie. The 5th overall pick in 2009, Sefton is a physical beast. He's already strong enough and has enough conviction to push people around. He was very physical and did a great job of winning battles in the corners and bullying forwards in front of the net. By the time he's 18 or 19, he's going to be a beast at the defensive end. On the negative side, it does look like he needs to improve his skating, in particular his lateral and backwards mobility. Now don't be alarmed, he's no Devereaux Heshmatpour (gotta be some of you who get that reference), but he did get exposed once going backwards. The Brampton forward flew by him on the dump in, got the puck and then perhaps in frustration, Sefton took a bad penalty by pushing him into the boards from behind. I was a little bit underwhelmed by him offensively too, but at this point he seems more defensively focused. Nothing wrong with that.

John Kurtz (Overage Free Agent)
I think John Kurtz has the potential to make a solid professional hockey player. He'll never be more than a role player, but he has the on ice intelligence to make it in that capacity despite no above average offensive qualities. Kurtz's biggest strength is his two way player. He always seem to be in the right place on the ice at both ends, and I think this can be attributed to his hockey sense. Failed to convert on the Eric O'Dell two on one, but had a couple other solid opportunities to score. On one occasion he found a lane going to the net and got a good shot off only to be stoned by Killeen. He does everything well, which allows him to overcome his only modest skating ability. Got a tryout from the Maple Leafs this offseason, so hopefully he's able to catch on somewhere after this season is over.

John McFarland (2010)
He and Eric O'Dell were the most dangerous players on the ice tonight. This was probably McFarland's best game that I've ever personally witnessed. He was simply all over the ice. Was vicious on the forecheck, performed well on the penalty kill, laid a few nice hits. The move to the wing really suits him as it allows him to use his speed to fly down the side and to the net. Lately I've read a lot of people criticize his offensive potential and overall skill set. I've seen claims of "I don't think he belongs in the top 10 because he's not as naturally skilled as some of the other players available." I think that's bologna and I have no idea where these unfounded claims come from. I do agree that his hockey sense can come into question at times, as he'll fail to make things out of his rushes and fail to find the puck in tight situations. However his skill level should never come into question. Nor should his on ice vision with the puck. Made three absolutely beautiful passes today, two of which led to goals. The first was to Eric O'Dell, as he found him at the side of the net from all the way across the ice at the other point. Tape to tape, to the back of the net. On the second, he sprung O'Dell and Kurtz on the two on one with a beautiful tip pass to send O'Dell away with the puck. On the third, he drew the attention of the defense and gave it to Kyle Tarini for the walk in goal. For a player who's had some question marks about the way he uses his teammates, he certainly did well today. His goal was a screen shot from the point where he just tried to put the puck on net but ended up putting it in the net. He finished the game with 1 goal and 2 assists.

Jared Staal (PHX)
Staal is kind of frustrating to watch in all honesty. He has potential, but his skating still holds him back. He really does look like he's skating in molasses out there and his lack of speed burst prevents him from using his size on the way to the net. It also prevents him from being heavily involved on the forecheck. I just know that if he were a better and more explosive skater, he'd be such a quality player. This is because he is solid on the boards and in front of the net. He has good offensive instincts and does tend to make the most of his opportunities...when he gets them. On McFarland's point shot goal, he did all the work to gain possession of the puck along the boards and made a nice pass to McFarland. With the way the NHL game has evolved, I do think he could have a tough time keeping up with the pace enough to be a scoring line forward. But because of his hockey sense and board play, he could develop into a solid role player. He finished with an assist.

Daniel Maggio (NYR)
Finally healthy and playing with confidence, the former 7th overall Priority selection is off to a great start this season. He's Sudbury's number one defenseman and played a large majority of the game. He was incredibly physical and punished the Battalion forwards all night. On one occasion in particular, A Brampton forward (I believe Thomas Stajan) tried to get by him, failed and Maggio rode him right into the boards, erasing him from the play. He was very impressive defensively today. Offensively, he was just as equally impressive. He runs the powerplay very well and seems to have a really hard point shot. He could stand to do a better job of getting it through to the net, but that's minor nitpicking. He also showed a lot of confidence in bringing the puck up the ice. With great size, he's fairly mobile too (although no one will confuse him for Scott Niedermayer either). A really solid game from Maggio and it looks like he's progressed well this year. He finished the game with an assist.

Marcus Foligno (BUF)
Foligno has had a really disappointing start to the 2009 season, at least offensively. I think a lot of people, myself included, expected him to take some steps forward offensively this year. His skating doesn't look like it's improved and that appears to be what's holding him back. Like Staal, he couldn't be as effective in the offensive zone because of his failure to beat defenders to the puck. A real effective player along the boards, Foligno wasn't a factor in the cycle because Brampton's defenders were able to move the puck before he could get to them. On the positive side, he was excellent on the penalty kill. His strength away from the puck really allows him to be a factor at the top of the box. While his offensive game seems to have stalled, his two way ability seems to be blossoming. Maybe Buffalo sees him as an eventual replacement for Paul Gaustad?

Eric O'Dell (ATL)
As mentioned, he was incredibly dangerous today. He's a hawk on the puck and always seems to be around it. Not the world's best skater, O'Dell is still elusive on the ice and manages to give himself space on the ice to make offensive plays. Had an easy goal off the McFarland feed in the first. Made an incredibly nice pass to John Kurtz on the two on one, feathering it over the defender's stick, but Kurtz couldn't finish the play off. Later in the third, he made a tremendous play to charge into the offensive zone, lift the defender's stick, steal the puck and head in on net. But he missed the net on his shot as he tried to go top corner. He actually missed the net on a few chances in close too, so that's something he's got to work on. O'Dell is also a solid two way player and is quite often the first forward back. Made a really nice play to save a defenseman who got caught pinching, as he came back hard to disrupt the pass to the open wing. One thing that's always left me a little bit perplexed is his inconsistent physical game. When he played Under 18's in 2008, he was a physical force and threw his weight around with ease. But in the OHL, this side of his game has always been rare. If he could add that side to his game, he'd be a dominant player in the OHL on a night to night basis. He finished the game with the game winning goal.

Thoughts on Sudbury, or anything else mentioned?

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