The 2010 OHL playoffs are winding down. We're now in the Conference Finals and thus far, I'm not really sure there have been too many surprises. In the East, we've got the match up of the two teams everyone expected to see; Barrie and Mississauga. In the West, we've got Windsor going up against Kitchener...perhaps a mild surprise but realistically there were a handful of team that had the chance to go up against the Spits in the West final. However, even though there haven't really been to many surprises, that doesn't mean that there haven't been some good stories.
I present to you a look at ten of those stories, in no particular order.
Jeff Skinner's Scoring
No individual player has had as good a playoffs as Skinner has to date. He has 16 goals in 15 games now, including 4 in the first two games of the West finals. Needless to say, he's been a beast. All season long, I've felt like he's been massively underrated by those ranking the NHL draft (especially by NHL Central Scouting). We hear concerns about his size and lack of acceleration and straight ahead speed. But we don't hear enough about his ability to fight through traffic and get himself in goal areas. Windsor has some of the best defensive forwards in the league (Scott Timmins, Eric Wellwood, Adam Henrique), and so far Skinner has been able to elude all of them. He may not be the fastest skater, but that doesn't make him a poor skater overall. His ability to turn and maneuver in close to the net (agility) is second to none. Not to mention that he's been taking an absolute beating these entire playoffs, but continues to get back up and go right to those danger areas. If his performance in these playoffs does not elevate him into the first half of the NHL first round, I'd be very surprised.
Jared Knight's Breakout
Another draft eligible player who's suffered from a lack of attention this year is London's Knight. While Skinner has his concerns over size and speed, I'm not entirely sure what's prevented Knight from receiving more hype. Sure he's averaged size, and sure he has diabetes, but he's ferocious in his pursuit of goals and is aggressive in attacking the net like few peers available from the OHL. He's turned this into a tremendous performance in these OHL playoffs with 10 goals in 12 playoff games. And even though his Knights have been eliminated, I think NHL scouts would have had to take notice of his ability to turn up the heat when it mattered most. I think he's definitely cemented his place in the first two rounds of the NHL draft...even if he failed to earn an invite to the NHL combine.
Lack of Star Goaltending
Now let me get this point straight. I don't mean to say we haven't had some electrifying goaltending performances...which we have (see Scott Wedgewood vs. Windsor as an example). What I mean to say is that we haven't had a goaltender who has come out and stolen games for his team all the way thus far. Guys like Mavric Parks, Brandon Maxwell, and Petr Mrazek have strung together some good games, but they've also had mediocre ones too. The games have been relatively high scoring so far and many teams have had to change goaltenders at some point during their series'. Is there a goaltender in the Conference finals who's going to put his team on his back and bring them to the Memorial Cup, or are we going to continue to see big offensive performances?
Kitchener over Windsor 2-0
Who would have thought? Especially considering that Windsor had just finished running over Erie and Plymouth, while Kitchener had to go through war (and 13 games) to get by Saginaw and London. But the Rangers have man handled the Spitfires offensively. They are winning all the loose puck battles, they are out skating the Spits, and they are finishing all of their chances. Philip Grubauer hasn't even been that bad in the series (although he hasn't been great either). The Windsor defense definitely has to share fault as they have been atrocious thus far and have not been able to contain Kitchener's best forwards (or John Moore and Ryan Murphy from the back end). Let's be honest, with the way Kitchener's offense is clicking right now, it's going to be very difficult for Windsor to win 4 of the next 5. If there is one team in the OHL that can do it, it's definitely Windsor, but as of right now, I'm not liking their odds.
The Ryan Murphy Show
Just how good is this kid? 5 goals and 9 assists in 15 playoff games thus far. Yes...he's undersized for the defensive position, but he's made tremendous strides defensively this year and is definitely not a defensive liability. And offensively...well it's been quite some time since a 16 year old rookie defenseman has been able to bring the puck up ice like Murphy does. I'm not even sure Drew Doughty was this dynamic offensively in his rookie season. His ability to transition from the defensive end to the opposing blueline so quickly is one of the main reasons Windsor is down 2-0 so far. He's a game changer and regardless of his size, if he continues to play like this, he's going to be a top pick in 2011. Once you get Grapes' attention, it's game over.
Lack of Upsets in Round 1
If we fast forward to the start of the playoffs, one of my readers said he/she felt like the parity between the OHL's top teams and those near the bottom of the playoffs was as big as they could remember. Naturally, I somewhat disagreed and have since eaten crow. The favored teams in this league completely ran over the weaker competition in round 1, save maybe the Kitchener/Saginaw series and the Brampton/Kingston series. Not a single upset victory (unless you consider Brampton's victory an upset...which most won't). So while this wasn't surprising for most of you, I think it's definitely still a story.
Windsor Running Over Plymouth
Mike Vellucci and the Plymouth Whalers played the Windsor Spitfires very tough during the regular season. They went out and acquired big physical forwards in Phil McRae, James Livingston, and Josh Brittain to try and take it to Windsor. And what did they get for it in round 2? Getting outscored 18-6 in four games on the way to a four game sweep. Not to mention that we had the hype of the Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin battle for first overall showcased. Seguin went on to go pointless in the series...which prompted many to assume he was injured. Either way, I think Windsor's ability to run over the Whalers was definitely surprising and a big story considering all the story lines centered around it.
J.P. Anderson Takes over for Chris Carrozzi...Again
Last year, Anderson played 26 games in the regular season and was clearly the back up as an OHL rookie. Come the playoffs, starter Chris Carrozzi struggled and Anderson went in to save the day. Which he did, putting forth some of the greater goaltending performances I've ever seen in the OHL playoffs where he lead the Majors to the second round and a near victory over the eventual East Champs in Brampton. This year, Carrozzi and Anderson were platooned. However, I think it's not controversial to say Carrozzi had the better season and as a result got the starting gig for the 2010 playoffs. But after some lukewarm performances (both by him and the team), Cameron went back to Anderson who has since gotten the team to the East finals. He's been quite good in the series against Barrie so far...even facing 58 shots and stopping 55 last night. But Carrozzi has to feel pretty helpless after losing the playoff starting gig again.
Nazem Kadri Falls to Kitchener
Nazem Kadri was absolutely sensational to start these playoffs. He had 14 points in the 5 game series against Guelph and was completely dominant. It looked like that was going to continue into the Kitchener series too, as he had 11 points in the first 4 games. But for as good as he was to start the playoffs, people are only going to remember how poor he played in the final three games of the series, where Kitchener held him goalless, to two points, and a combined -6. So while Kadri still leads the 2010 playoffs in scoring (despite London being eliminated), will people remember how dominant he was in the first 10 games? Or will people remember the end of the Kitchener series?
The Barrie Colts Aren't About to Choke
While Barrie dominated the regular season in the Eastern Conference and loaded up their line up for a run to the Memorial Cup, I think a lot of people were still eager to see how they'd perform under the pressure of the OHL playoffs. No more wondering. It's pretty obvious they are for real and are playing for keeps. They ran over Barrie and Brampton in round 1 and 2, and outshot the defensive first Mississauga Majors 55-34 on the way to a 2-1 series lead last night. They have shown an ability to play offensively, defensively and physically. And their powerplay continues to function at an obscene level (around 34%). These Colts definitely look like they've got a chance to match what Sheldon Keefe's 2000 Colts did in making the Memorial Cup.
Anything you think I've missed?