Got a chance to see the new look Mississauga Majors play against the (at the time) Eastern Conference leading Brampton Battalion last night.
I say new look Mississauga Majors because the team has undergone quite the dramatic overhaul in the past few days. Gone are veterans (and important members of last year's Memorial Cup squad) J.P. Anderson, Joseph Cramarossa, and Derek Schoenmakers. In are a whole slew of draft picks and Kris Kontos and Brandon Maxwell. This probably isn't the last of the deals too, as I'd expect that the likes of Riley Brace and Jordan Mayer are still on the market.
Some saw these trades as a rebuild. But, really (and as the team's performance last night indicated), it's more of a retool. By trading the above guys, the Majors aren't going to suddenly be the worst team in the Eastern Conference. If anything, I'd argue that Kontos could even be an upgrade over Schoenmakers, while Maxwell and Anderson aren't separated by much at this point. And Cramarossa, thanks to injuries and suspension, has barely played for Missy this year. General Manager (and Head Coach) James Boyd definitely did a great job with these trades so far.
It was definitely a good game with a high intensity level and some great back and forth action. Perhaps most disappointing for me were some of the injuries in the game. Obviously I knew Stuart Percy would be out as he continues to nurse the injuries he suffered thanks to Andrew Crescenzi's hit from behind (sprained wrist mostly). But Brampton was missing two of the guys I was hoping to see most, defenseman Marcus McIvor and rookie forward Brandon Robinson. McIvor is apparently out with a high ankle sprain he got working out, while Robinson remains sidelined with a concussion he incurred at the Under 17's.
The Majors ended up winning the game 3-2 in a shootout, backstopped by some excellent goaltending from Brandon Maxwell in his Mississauga debut. The win moved the Majors ahead of the surging Oshawa Generals (5 game winning streak) into 8th in the East...for now. With all their injuries and trade requests (Austin Watson), it wouldn't surprise me if the Petes were the ones falling out of favor in the Eastern playoff race come March.
Some player reports...
#6 - Dylan Blujus (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
Blujus picked up two assists in the game, although neither was particularly pretty. The first was a point shot that went well wide (not purposely) and came back to Barclay Goodrow for his first goal. The second was off a dump in from the point that Ian Watters got possession of, only to hand off to Goodrow for his second of the game. Blujus does show good smarts on the point and can make a good first pass. But he's definitely not a dynamic player. Defensively, he wasn't noticeable, good or bad. But he didn't really get a ton of ice time 5 on 5, paired with rookie Brenden Miller (while his regular partner Marcus McIvor is out). He did play on the penalty kill though and looked fairly solid there. But he's definitely an awkward skater and could use to be more assertive along the wall and in front of the net in the defensive end...especially given his size.
#10 - Philip Lane (Drafted by Phoenix)
I didn't notice him as much as the last time I saw Brampton play this year, but he definitely looks better this year. His best work was done on the penalty kill, where he was aggressive on the forecheck and did good to make it very hard for Missy to gain the zone. Brampton has the best PK in the league, and there's no doubt he's been a big part of that. He's playing on the team's 2nd line with Patrik Machac and Mitchell Porowski and didn't get a ton of help from his linemates. Even if the stats aren't saying it, it's been a good year for Lane after last year's disappointing effort.
#11 - Patrik Machac (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
Honestly, outside of a nice shootout goal, he was pretty invisible. I saw him earlier in the season and was very impressed, but it appears he's in a bit of a funk. Hasn't scored in his last 14 games. The speed, tenacity, and energy I saw at the beginning of the year just wasn't there.
#16 - Sam Carrick (Drafted by Toronto)
The best player on the ice for Brampton. He looks great...and more focused this year. In the past I've been critical of him because I felt like he was spending too much time running around the ice being a pest and fighting...and not enough time using his offensive gifts. This year when I've seen him, he's managed to find that great balance. Firstly, he looks a lot faster. In the first, he took the puck near Brampton's net, turned on the burners up to the red line, and worked a give and go with Barclay Goodrow that saw Carrick take the puck hard to the net for a scoring opportunity. He used his speed all night to drive the outside, hard to the net and created a lot of scoring chances from it. He worked the boards and the cycle effectively and was a real menace for Mississauga's defenseman. He also looked great defensively and on the penalty kill and was really all over the ice. It's great to see him taking that step forward as last year really wasn't a strong one for him. He finished the game with a secondary assist on the first Goodrow goal.
#23 - Barclay Goodrow (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012, second year eligibility)
I was surprised that Goodrow didn't get drafted in the later rounds last year. Size and a goal scorer's touch are often a good enough combination to have your named called...even if you have some skating concerns like Goodrow. This year Goodrow looks great. It's clear he worked on his skating in the offseason. He's still not a burner, but his acceleration and ability to find holes appears stronger. He's also upped the physical play (absolutely destroying a Majors player...either Kuptsov or Kopstals in the first period). The subtle improvements in his game this year could have him get his named called this time around. The first goal he scored, he took a carom off the end boards and put it home using two whacks at the side of the net. The second was more of a finesse play, taking the puck from behind the net, swinging around and rifling a wrister to the far top corner over Maxwell.
#2 - Dylan DeMelo (Drafted by San Jose)
I thought DeMelo was better with the puck last night, than he has been in my other viewings this year. He only had one minor turnover in the first, and did a pretty good job of handling Brampton's stiff forecheck the rest of the game. He's not afraid to jump up into the rush and had a couple of nice scoring opportunities by being the trailer on the play. I did feel like he struggled defensively though. He and partner Alex Cord had a really tough time containing the Carrick, Goodrow, Watters line and were getting pushed around a lot in the corners and in front of the net. On Goodrow's 2nd goal, DeMelo was caught stuck behind the net after he made a weak effort to try and stop Goodrow's progress. He did earn a secondary assist on Jamie Wise's powerplay marker in the second.
#4 - Trevor Carrick (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
I thought he was the best defenseman on the ice for either team on the night. Saw him earlier in the year, and came away lukewarm. This time, he was dynamite at both end's of the ice. He saw a LOT of playing time too, dare I say the most of any Majors' defenseman. Defensively, he was rock solid. He had a couple of nice hits and defended the front of the net well. I was also impressed with his mobility. In the third, his brother (Sam) got a burst of speed to the outside, but Trevor stayed with him, angled him towards the boards and finished him hard...separating him from the puck. Offensively, he didn't look like a guy with only 4 points on the year. He was up on the rush quite frequently and looked comfortable controlling the point on the powerplay. I know Majors fans have been impressed with him this year (and obviously Central Scouting since they had him high in their preliminary rankings), so perhaps it's a case of stats not telling the whole story.
#13 - Sergey Kuptsov (NHL Draft Eligible in 2013)
A late birthday, Kuptsov isn't eligible until next year. At the beginning of the year, I was incredibly impressed with his play. But the last few times I've seen him, he's been virtually invisible. He was much better last night though. I just wish he got more ice time. Don't really understand why he's not on the powerplay. Regardless, he was very active on the forecheck and is quite a good skater for a big guy. In the third, he came into the Brampton zone hard, forced a turnover in the corner and went straight to the net where he deflected a Jacob Graves point shot. He's definitely a big fan of going hard to the net and I think he's got the hands to be a good goal scorer in this league. James Boyd, get this guy some more ice time! I'm interested to see where his development takes him next year.
#16 - Kristoff Kontos (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
More proof that stats don't tell the whole story. Kontos was the best player on the ice for the Majors. Not sure what happened in Sudbury, but he has to be happy with the fresh start, where he was slotted onto the first line with Riley Brace and Jordan Mayer. The trio had instant chemistry and created a ton of great scoring chances on the night. Kontos looked great working off the rush and used his speed to go wide on Brampton's defenders (showing perhaps a bit of an extra gear I didn't know he had). Had a couple of great chances beating Brampton's defenders to the net. He was also solid along the boards in gaining possession of loose pucks and keeping possession in the offensive zone. One play in particular stands out, where he forced a turnover on the forecheck, kept possession long enough to feed a streaking Brace who created an odd man scoring opportunity. A very impressive debut.
#21 - Scott Teskey (NHL Draft Eligible in 2013)
The Majors first rounder from this year's priority draft, Teskey appears to be coming into his own a little bit. He's shown better and better every time I've seen him. He was playing with Kuptsov (on what appeared to be the team's 3rd line) and the two seem to have good chemistry. Both are very quick and show well on the forecheck. Another guy I wanted to see more, but who received little ice time despite his solid play. He looks like a real bright spot for the Majors moving forward.
#25 - Riley Brace (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012, third year of eligibility)
With the year he's having offensively, I've had people ask me about his chances of being drafted this year as a re-entry (or draft overager, whatever you want to call him). Truthfully, I'm not particularly sure. Brace is a different player this year. The past few years, he's been a hard working, strong two way winger who you could have called a stereotypical grinder. This year, the offensive game has flourished, but has it come at a price? He remains a great penalty killer, but in the times I've seen him this year, I think he's taken a bit of a step backward in his play away from the puck...to increase his offensive output. Take last night for example, for every excellent play he made offensively to create a chance (usually off the rush), he had a turnover in the neutral or defensive zone. At times, I feel like he's trying to do too much offensively (probably because he has to on a team with little difference makers). But he's definitely shown he's got some good hands and offensive instincts this year. He worked very well with Kontos on the night and the two were very dangerous off the rush. It'll be interesting to see if he's still a Major, this time next week.