Been busy as heck lately so I haven't had time to go check out a game live in a few weeks, so you'll have to settle for a report based on action caught from the OHL Action Pack! Hadn't seen Plymouth in a little while so I figured I'd catch the Whalers take on the IceDogs in Niagara.
Was an...interesting game to say the least. From a fan angle it was frustrating to watch so I can't imagine what the coaches were feeling. Well actually, I can imagine what Whalers Coach/GM Mike Vellucci was feeling because everyone got to see it at the end of the second period when he was ejected from the game for arguing with referee Mike Bolibruck. Really can't say I blame him. Way too many questionable calls, especially against the Whalers. Hooking was being called on players just trying to gain body position on opposing players. Then there was the terrible no goal call on Robbie Czarnik's shorthanded backhand that very clearly went into the net. Admittedly, this wasn't necessarily the fault of the referee, since he do go upstairs for it, but all those things just added up for Vellucci and he lost it. Nothing I hate more than watching an OHL game where the referee takes the game out of the players hands and puts it in his own. Just let them play, we don't need a game in which half of it was played 5 on 4. I don't like ranting about the refs very often because, quite frankly, they've got one heck of a tough job. But tonight's game was really bad.
As for the game itself, the Dogs largely dominated the play thanks in part to the number of powerplays they received. An impressive performance for Niagara who's looking to get back in the race for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. Once the Pietrangelo and DeSousa deals are completed (plus whoever else Niagara deals), this team could actually be better than they currently are, despite the fact you would label it as an act of selling. DeSousa is at home awaiting a trade and Petro hasn't played for Niagara all year. If they can add a couple more talented bodies to their roster, they'll be better off.
Some individual player performances (mostly Plymouth since I just saw Niagara).
Colin MacDonald (2010)
I've been reading and hearing a lot of talk starting to generate about this kid and his status for the 2010 draft. Plymouth fans in particular seem to hold him in very high regard. In a way, I don't think I'd really notice him if I wasn't actually paying attention to him, which...I think is a compliment. It means he's not making mistakes. Very good size, solid mobility, seems to make the smart play with the puck. Just a very quietly effective defender. On one particular play, he did a great job staying with the Dogs best skater (Alex Friesen) as he attacked on the rush, staying in front of him by moving efficiently backwards and laterally. However in the first period he did get beat to the outside by Dogs forward Andrew Agozzino as he failed to keep his feet moving. Second time I've noticed him get caught flat footed this season. He needs to be ready at all times defensively and seems to be somewhat vulnerable to players who suddenly turn on the jets at the blueline. The only thing I can really say is that if he were more physical, he'd easily be on the draft radar. That package of size, mobility and aggression gets you drafted high (just as Matt Clark), but without that aggression in his game, he'll have a harder time getting attention.
Austin Levi (2010)
I still don't really know what to make of Levi. Like MacDonald, I find myself enamored with his combination of size and mobility. He's also a more physically engaged player and it seems to me that eventually he'll develop into a guy who'll take the body hard. I think he's also got offensive potential as he can rush the puck and can run the point on the powerplay. But right now, it seems to be all about projection, rather than current ability. I just don't know if he project as an offensive defenseman, or a stay at home defenseman. He didn't have a good game either. When he rushes the puck, he seems to do so in an ineffective fashion. In a way, it seems like he really is "rushing" the play. Gets up ice as fast as he can, almost just to avoid falling under the trap of the forecheck. It's more out of desperation, it feels or looks forced. Perhaps that's a confidence issue. Defensively, he got abused on the game winning goal by Andrew Shaw. Got caught in the offensive zone, and lost his man behind him. Shaw picked up the pass and went away on the breakaway for the goal. There are things to like about Levi, those sort of natural physical gifts, but the rawness to his game makes me queezy. Plymouth fans, what's the deal, what do you think?
Tyler Seguin (2010)
Had a good, but not great game. Was really strong in the first half, but seemed distracted by the officiating in the second half. In the first half, had a couple of absolutely beautiful rushes into the offensive zone. His ability to pick up the puck, get to top speed quickly, and handle the puck at that top speed is what sets him apart from others in his age group. Just blew right past Dougie Hamilton and Reggie Traccitto, picking up the puck at the blueline and splitting the D to go in alone on Visentin who made a nice toe save. Later in the period he made a beautiful cross ice feed to Beau Schmitz for a one timer goal on the powerplay. His on ice vision and overall hockey intelligence is through the roof. Even though I still prefer Taylor Hall (as an NHL draft selection), the debate between these two will rage on until June.
Garrett Meurs (2011)
Meurs might just be the most offensively talented 1993 in the league. He has incredible offensive skills and in a way, I think playing in Plymouth and in Tyler Seguin's shadow has prevented him from receiving the attention that Boone Jenner and Matt Puempel have. His hands in close to the net are top notch and he puts himself in good positions to capitalize on offensive opportunities, which tells me he has a high hockey IQ. Until the end of the season, it's just going to be about refining his game. Limiting turnovers in the offensive zone, doing a better job in the corners, getting back defensively. A lot of potential with Meurs.
Jamie Devane (TOR)
I'm just not sure Devane is ever going to be able to live up to the fact that he was drafted as high as he was in the NHL. As an OHL player, he has effective traits. He hits hard and he hits smart (doesn't take himself out of position looking for the big hit). He's responsible defensively and is a good penalty killer. Actually had a great chance shorthanded as he stole the puck, fought through a check and put a good shot on net that Visentin gloved. He's also not afraid to be the bear in front of the net. But as far as being an NHL player, I still don't think I see the upside. There are a ton of players across the CHL who can give you the exact same things Devane can and none of them will see life outside the CIS. The offensive hockey sense doesn't seem to be there. In the offensive end, he skates around or goes straight to the net, but he's not really involved offensively. As a forechecker, he could really stand to develop into a higher energy player who attacks the opposition. And when he does get offensive opportunities, I don't think he has the hands to be a goal scorer. Realistically, is he any different of a player than current Leaf farm hand (and former OHL'er) Andre Deveaux? And even then, Deveaux actually had finishing ability in close in the OHL.
Robbie Czarnik (LAK)
Really liked what I saw from Czarnik. First time I've seen him play since the 2008 Under 18's (where he was excellent for a bronze medal winning American team). Was on a rotation with Garrett Meurs and Josh Brittain as the guys who saw time with Tyler Seguin. Had really good speed and had no qualms about using it to take the puck hard to the net. Shorthanded in the second period, he took advantage of a turnover (and a bad pinch by Matt Petgrave) and took the puck the other way on a one on one rush. Made a nice move to get around Dougie Hamilton, freeing up some space for himself to get a nice backhand off on the way to the net. The shot beat Visentin and went off the inside of the post and in...however it was called a no goal (despite the obvious replay of it being over the line). All game he was involved near the puck, whether it be offensively or defensively. He seems to be a great pick up for the Whalers and also seems to have some chemistry with Tyler Seguin which bodes well for his production in the second half.
Josh Brittain (ANA)
Brittain had a fairly effective game. Played within his strengths, took the body, had a few scoring chances and managed to avoid taking one of the games 19 minor penalties. I think the Ducks still have to be disappointed in his offensive production this season. Dare I say he might be in danger of not receiving a contract offer from them?
Scott Wedgewood (2010)
As the back up to probably the best goalie in the OHL (Matt Hackett), you aren't going to get a lot of playing time. But Wedgewood does seem to be making the most of it. He started tonight and played a solid game. He didn't make any really big saves, but he made the ones he had to. Comes out to cut down angles, controlled his rebounds relatively well (save the first Andrew Fritsch goal). Seems to have good mobility. As one of the youngest 1992's available this year, I'm sure he's got NHL scouts looking at him, when they do actually get the chance to see him play. Made 30 of 33 saves and took the loss.
Andrew Fritsch (2011)
The Dogs 3rd rounder from 2009, Fritsch has had a solid season thus far. In fact, not much has been made about his play despite the fact that he's currently 4th among 1993's in goal scoring with 10. Now, a lot of that has to do with his current hot streak, but it's no fluke. Fritsch has very good goal scoring instincts and will absolutely develop into a quality goal scorer in this league. He finds the open ice well and is developing into a player who can work a cycle and outwork a defense for his offensive chances. With improved strength will come an improved shot and that will allow him to take even greater advantage of the positions to score he puts himself in. I think he's a 1993 to keep an eye on.
Mark Visentin (2010)
Arguably the top goalie available from the OHL this year, Visentin has earned himself that trip to the CHL Top Prospects Game. He's improved leaps and bounds from last year, where at times he looked over matched in the league. While he was always mobile in his crease, his overall improvement comes from improvement in two areas specifically. One is just overall confidence. He looks much calmer in net. He didn't have to make a lot of saves tonight, but he was there when he needed to be, robbing Seguin on a breakaway and Devane in close with huge saves. The other thing is rebound control. He's knocking pucks to the corner and he's dictating the pace of play. Made a tremendous recognition play on the Andrew Shaw game winner. Plymouth made a long shoot in on net that Visentin used his blocker to deflect up to Dylan MacEachern at the blueline. He recognized the opportunity for Shaw's break and used the rebound to spring the play into action. It's those little things and the massive improvement that have lead to NHL Central Scouting having such a high opinion of him. Made 18 of 20 saves for the win.
Thoughts? Questions? Comments?