Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sean Keogh's Thoughts on London and Ottawa from January 17

For those that follow the blog, or have followed it over the course of the last year, Sean Keogh was once a frequent contributor. A former writer at HockeysFuture (like myself), Keogh has a tremendous eye for the game and is someone I really trust for an opinion on a certain player. To make a long story short, Sean has moved to Switzerland for school purposes (Masters) and thus hasn't been able to watch the OHL. But now that he's on his January hiatus/holiday back home in Ottawa, he's been able to catch up on a few games. I welcome anything he can provide! Here's his report from last weekend's game between the Knights and 67's.

London Knights vs. Ottawa 67s – January 17th, 2010

Unfortunately I have not been able to contribute to the blog this year because I am now living in Switzerland, however I have been home for the month of January. On Sunday I was able to catch the 67s hosting the London Knights, in what was an exciting, competitive match between two division-leading clubs. The final score was 3-2 for the 67s, with the tie being broken in a shootout.

From a prospect-viewing standpoint, it was an unusually uninteresting London team that played on Sunday, at least compared to most years. With Phil Varone injured, and Phil McRae and Zac Rinaldo dealt at the deadline, the 67s were probably the more intriguing team from a viewing perspective.

London Knights

Nazem Kadri (TOR)

On Sunday, Kadri was if nothing else very involved in the play. He notched London’s first goal and was their most noticeable player. Perhaps the most notable play was when Kadri crashed into 67s goalie Petr Mrazek and fought Tyler Cuma as a result. Depending on how you saw it, Kadri either had no chance to get out of the way or gave Mrazek an extra shot for good measure. Overall Kadri handled the puck a lot, saw lots of ice-time and was probably the most dangerous player as well. Whether you call it feisty or chippy, Kadri also went for a couple of big hits and tried to stir things up a few other times. With all that being said, there was a downside to Kadri’s play on Sunday. First of all, he throws the puck away far too often and did not use his teammates very well when in the zone. While he is a gifted skater and confident puck-carrier, he is really not a natural puck-distributing center at all. Also, while his feistiness is encouraging, at times it also came off as immaturity, as Kadri whined and complained to referees much of the night. Brock and others have expressed concerns over Kadri’s offensive awareness and hockey sense on this blog in the past, and this game did little to change my mind on that issue. That being said, I think questions about immaturity and offensive upside will really be put to the test next year when Kadri plays professional hockey.

Michael Hutchinson (BOS)

The Knights were outshot and to a fair extent outplayed on Sunday, which meant Hutchinson was fairly busy. He stopped 40 of 42 shots, and both goals he let in were on the powerplay, so it was hard to fault him for either of them. Hutchinson takes up a lot of the net and seemed positionally sound, but did have a couple of lapses where he misjudged the puck and didn’t freeze it. In all honesty, it was hard to get a good read on Hutchinson from where I was seated, but he certainly looked like a solid goalie prospect on Sunday.

Jared Knight (2010)

I came in hoping to see a good outing from Jared Knight, but I think overall he had a quiet night. He showed some jump in the first period, and in particular had one nice burst of speed where he burnt 67s blueliner Marc Zanetti with speed wide. Zanetti was forced to take a holding penalty but Knight also got called for a dive and then a ten-minute misconduct for complaining. I thought I would see more of Knight after that, but he’s been getting better as the season goes along and already had three goals on the weekend, so he can be excused for having an off-game.

Reid McNeill (2010)

This is a player who was not on my radar until after consulting the Central Scouting List to be honest, and truthfully I cannot remember noticing McNeill during the game on Sunday. A stay-at-home guy, obviously McNeill was not likely to make an impact offensively, but his defensive play did not stand out either, which is obviously not necessarily a bad thing.

Justin Taylor (Free Agent)

After Washington opted not to sign him last spring, and Taylor re-entered the draft only to go unclaimed, he came back to London to play as an overager. I have always respected Taylor but have never been convinced of his professional potential. Once again Taylor played a solid respectable game, and at this level he is useful offensively, but if he wants to get back into the plans of an NHL franchise, he will have to overachieve unless he gets a surprise entry-level contract offer.

Steven Tarasuk (Free Agent)

An overager who is playing for a contract essentially, Tarasuk was easily the most noticeable and dangerous Knights blueliner. In fact only Kadri was better offensively for London. He was a +2 on the night and picked up 4 PIMs, including getting into a wrestling match with a much bigger Julien Demers at the end of regulation. Tarasuk has some nice offensive skills and has developed in to a very good defenceman at this level, but is probably not good enough or big enough to get an entry-level deal at this point.

Ottawa 67s

Tyler Cuma (MIN)

It has been well documented how Cuma has struggled to regain his game after knee injuries last year. Although this was not my first game watching Cuma and 67s this

month, it was my best live look of the year. Cuma had a fairly good game, and is certainly a valuable and positive contributor to the 67s blueline. His most notable moment was the fight he had with Nazem Kadri. Admirable as it was for Cuma to stand up for his goaltender, the two-five-and-ten that he got as a result meant he was in the penalty box for most of the third period and overtime. It was evident how important Cuma was to stabilizing the second pairing when he was unavailable. With that being said, I am still not sure Cuma is even as good as he was in his draft year. Although he is solid defensively and is playing with even more of a physical edge than I remembered, gone is the silky smooth offensive confidence. Although Cuma had several nice breakout passes and is still capable of contributing offensively at the OHL level, I am nowhere near as optimistic about his NHL potential in that regard as I was in Cuma’s draft year. He should still be an NHL defenceman, but his ceiling may simply be lower than expected in his draft year.

Julien Demers (SJ)

The game’s third star, Demers was his usual steady self. He scored the first 67s goal on the powerplay, as he wristed a point shot past Hutchinson. With Cuma’s penalty and an extra five minutes of overtime, Demers must have played 35 minutes in the game, and as he did all of last year, was the key guy for the 67s in all situations. In short, Demers looked exactly as he did all of last year, which is both a good and bad thing. The good is that Demers is a very good junior defenceman and a rock in his own zone. The bad is that I am starting to wonder how much more Demers can improve, and whether or not his development has plateaued. Being an overager, perhaps he simply needs to be challenged at the next level, but I think it comes down to carving out a niche. I do not see the offence translating to the next level in any big way, and wonder if Demers is big enough or fast enough to be a stay-at-home guy in the NHL. That being said, San Jose should sign him to a contract because Demers is a better prospect than Derek Joslin was at the same point, so perhaps all Demers needs is some AHL development time.

Anthony Nigro (STL)

The other goal scorer on the game for the 67s, Nigro had a solid game. He is not as dangerous a player as he was last year while on Couture’s wing though, because neither Ryan Martindale nor Cody Lindsay have anywhere near the natural playmaking ability that Couture had. But he worked hard down low all night and went to the net creating several chances. Nigro is without a contract and I think in many ways is a comparable player to Justin Taylor. In Ottawa, Nigro has played a more offensive role, but while his shot is fairly good, he is not really an offensive prospect at the next level. While his all-round play is always solid, I wonder if the Blues see enough there to give him a contract.

Corey Cowick (OTT)

Playing only his fifth game back after a major shoulder injury, Cowick did not register a point and may have had his quietest game since returning from injury. He has five goals in five games this season, but it is his physical play that has stood out. In this game he absolutely destroyed the pint-sized Daniel Erlich on a clean open-ice hit, and was a consistent physical presence all night. Cowick got away from his physical play last year, playing more of a finesse offensive game as the season wore on, and I wonder if the reason was the shoulder, as it was a nagging issue that kept him out of the AHL on a pro tryout when the season ended. His skating also seemed slightly improved, and while last year I wondered what he offered to an NHL club like Ottawa that drafted him, I am somewhat changing my mind after seeing him throw his weight around.

Tyler Toffoli (2010)

Although he did not end up on the scoresheet, I thought Toffoli might have been the most dangerous 67s forward on the afternoon. He is a potential late first round pick this spring and in this game he showed why. Toffoli had a couple of nice rushes, found a couple of nice seams while already controlling the zone, and created offence on a good number of his shifts. As an offensive prospect, Toffoli is a classic jack-of-all-trades, master of none. His only standout quality is great hockey sense, although his shot does look even more dangerous than last year. He ripped a couple of shots from the half-boards, and if he is developing in to more of a shooter, that could help his draft stock. What I think holds Toffoli back at times is his skating. He had several nice rushes, and can beat players with speed once he gets going, but he lacks the acceleration to do that often or easily.

Ryan Martindale (2010)

I thought Toffoli had a better game on Sunday, but I actually believe Martindale is the better prospect. He picked up an assist on the Demers goal, but did not have any real standout plays otherwise. There are many things to like about Martindale, he has good size, soft hands, all-round offensive skills and very good intelligence. I actually think his hockey sense has been underrated, both offensively and defensively. On Sunday he once again showed that coming back on the backcheck, he is very adept at picking up the third man on the rush. The two knocks on Martindale were evident in this game though, skating and intensity. Although he is actually very good at handling the puck and making plays on the move, he lacks the skating to pull away from people and as a result he is not that effective on the rush. Martindale also has a tendency to look like he is floating. It is a kind of casual, almost lackadaisical style that has been associated with guys like Logan Couture and more recently Peter Holland, although Martindale is not quite as gifted as either of them.

Dalton Smith (2010)

I think Cowick’s return has been a bad thing for Dalton Smith. He is back on the third line and with two very good scoring lines, the 67s are not really asking the third line to do much more than provide some energy and play even hockey. As a result, there was not a lot to report on from Sunday when it comes to Smith. He works hard, bangs and crashes and is an effective third liner for the 67s, but his goal production this year and his draft stock suggest that in a different role, maybe with better linemates, he is capable of more.

Petr Mrazek (2010)

Although Hutchinson faced more shots and was generally busier than Mrazek, I thought Mrazek made as many big saves and was as impressive overall despite being younger and much less experienced. Stopping 32 of 34 shots, Mrazek made all the routine saves and a couple unexpected ones, and was lights out in the shootout, stopping all three London shooters. Although only average in size, Mrazek is quick, athletic and positionally sound. He also showed a pretty effective pokecheck a few times, a sign of confidence I think. Personally I find it hard to evaluate a goalie based on only one game, but Mrazek definitely looks like a better prospect for the draft than Chris Perugini was last year.

Thanks to Sean for the great report, hoping it's not his last while he's home! He welcomes any questions or comments!

1 comment:

RedwhiteandGreen said...

Sean's is the first mention I've seen of Reid McNeill. I hadn't noticed he was ranked 171 by NCS either. His plus minus (+10) looks like it's second best among draft eligible defenseman. Only Fowler's is higher. There are only a handful (just talking 2010 defense drafters) that are above zero at this point in the season, so I'd be interested to hear more about McNeill as the season goes on.