Checking in from the Nation's capital today! You're up Ottawa.
Stefan Noesen - Plymouth Whalers
Noesen had a terrific year in Plymouth. He's so much more talented offensively than people give him credit for. His hands and vision are definitely above average. He's capable of hurting you in so many different ways. This year, he was clearly stronger and as a result was much more effective in taking the puck to the net. He's also a strong puck handler and is able to protect the puck very well. He's hard to stop off the rush. But Noesen is also an opportunist who looks for holes and has a shot to take advantage of his scoring opportunities. He also makes those he plays with better by winning battles in the corners and by creating space. This year he was noticeably more physical and really thrived on the physical aspects of the game. I'm a big fan of this kid. In the playoffs this past year, he was an absolute unstoppable force before going down with a hand injury. I think he's going to be a monster next year for a Plymouth squad who could challenge for the Memorial Cup. I definitely think he could put up 90 points and inch close to or reach the top 10 in league scoring.
Matt Puempel - Peterborough Petes
It just wasn't a good year for Puempel. Just when it looked like he was getting things going (stretch of 11 goals in 15 games), he got suspended 8 games for a head check. Then upon returning, ironically, suffered a concussion himself and missed the rest of the year. He's a very dangerous goal scorer, and he looked like he was taking some steps to improving his play away from the puck, before his season was cut short. The head check suspension was no fluke, as he was making an effort to be a bit more physical to create room for himself offensively. Things in Peterborough just haven't gone well for him so it really came as no surprise when he was dealt to Kitchener. It will be good for him to open up a new chapter in his OHL career. In Kitchener, he'll have a strong supporting cast on a team with Memorial Cup aspirations. They will be counting on him to be a true offensive force and I expect him to live up to that expectation. Puempel needs to take that next step, which is to be one of the better offensive players in the league. At this point, I think expecting him to hit the 80 point mark isn't unreasonable. That is, if he can stay healthy.
Shane Prince - Ottawa 67's
Prince really impressed me this year. I wasn't completely sold in his draft year. But he was fantastic this year and I think he improved a lot. He's always been a little waterbug who finds himself involved in every play. His vision, anticipation and playmaking ability hasn't been questioned. It's always been an asset. But this year he looked way more confident to create his own scoring chances. It wasn't a case of winning a loose puck battle, and then looking around to find an open teammate, as was the case in his draft year. This year, it was win the battle, and without hesitation, take the puck hard to the net and bring the defense to him. By becoming a little more selfish as a goal scorer, he opened up passing lanes too, and made himself a multidimensional offensive player. The Sens gave Prince his ELC and I'd expect him to begin his pro career in Binghampton this year. I'm not sure how he'd benefit from going back to Ottawa for his overage year. He needs a new challenge and to figure out how to adjust to the quicker and stronger pro game. Ottawa looks to have a lot of prospects taking that next step this year, so Prince is going to have to battle for playing time. Even if he's not in the top 6, he'll likely still be able to make an impact on the lower lines with his forechecking ability and puck possession game. I think his offensive output will depend on the type of powerplay time he sees. Realistically, a 40-50 point season would probably be considered a success.
Cody Ceci - Ottawa 67's
Originally I felt like Ceci could probably challenge for a roster spot this year. He's physically ready for the pro game and plays a pretty mature game. But then Ottawa went out and added Marc Methot and Mike Lundin to fill some holes. I just don't see the room now. That being said, going back to Ottawa for another year won't hurt Ceci, who does have some things to improve on. He's terrific offensively, but I think there's still room to grow in his puck rushing game. I also think he could stand to use his size and strength more in the defensive end. I'd love to see him gain the confidence to start really pushing people around. The 67's are in an interesting spot next year. They'll have some talented players on their roster, but they'll also have a lot of holes in their line up that I don't think they can fill. Luckily for them, the East is really wide open as of now, so they'll just have to bank on their veteran players (like Ceci) to lead them to success. I'd definitely expect Ceci to be among the league leaders in defenseman scoring.
Jarrod Maidens - Owen Sound Attack
I think it goes without saying that this is a big year for Maidens. He suffered a very serious concussion last year that eliminated most of his season. Before the concussion he was being considered a possible first round player. However, he's still not symptom free, and his readiness for training camp in September is still up in the air. At this point, I think you just have to hope Maidens can come back at some point next year, and by the end of the 2012/2013 season, be able to say that he's back to playing at 100%. If he can just return to the ice and play reasonably well next year, that'd be a triumph. He's got a lot of potential as a big goal scoring center. But patience will be key with his development.