Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NHL Central Scouting's Preliminary Rankings for 2013

The Preliminary rankings for the 2013 Entry Draft were released today by NHL Central Scouting.

For those unfamiliar, every November Central Scouting releases a preliminary list divided by region.

The following is their list for the OHL.

1. Sean Monahan
2. Darnell Nurse
3. Kerby Rychel
4. Max Domi
5. Bo Horvat
6. Jason Dickinson
7. Nikita Zadorov
8. Stephen Harper
9. Justin Bailey
10. Chris Bigras
11. Ryan Hartman
12. Ryan Kujawinski
13. Cole Cassels
14. Jimmy Lodge
15. Zach Nastasiuk
16. Remi Elie
17. Jordan Subban
18. Nick Moutrey
19. Nicholas Paul
20. Josh Burnside
21. Hunter Garlent
22. Erik Bradford
23. Ben Harpur
24. Mark Raycroft
25. Sergei Kuptsov

1. Spencer Martin
2. Michael Giugovaz
3. Alex Fotinos
4. Jordan DeKort
5. Jake Patterson
6. Jacob Blair

My Comments are as follows:

  1. I don't really have much of an issue with these rankings. In fact, I'd say they resemble my own rankings more than any preliminary CSS list than I can remember. 
  2. The biggest problem I have is with Ryan Kujawinski's placement. I just don't see how guys like Stephen Harper and Justin Bailey are ahead of him, considering they have similar skill sets, yet are not producing as well. I've been a tad underwhelmed by his production this year, but he's still better (and a better NHL prospect) than several of the guys they have listed ahead of him (at least IMO).
  3. Everyone seems to be talking about Subban's ranking. It's not surprising at all. Central Scouting puts a lot of emphasis on size, and Subban just doesn't have it. Same reason Sergei Tolchinsky is nowhere to be found on this list (another thing people are talking about).
  4. A little surprised to not see Jordan Maletta on here (or Baptiste), but there's no question they've underperformed this year.

If you want to see the entire North American list, check out the link here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Team Ontario for Under 17's

The roster for Team Ontario's entry at this year's Under 17 World Challenge was released today (via twitter).

Here's how it shapes up:

Brent Moran
Matthew Mancina (Guelph pick, playing for Leamington of GOJHL currently)

Roland McKeown
Brandon Prophet
Conor Cummins
Aaron Ekblad
Jacob Middleton
Daniel De Sousa
Dylan DiPerna

Connor McDavid
Eric Cornel
Sam Bennett
Jared McCann
Nic Petti
Spencer Watson
Josh Ho-Sang
Michael Dal Colle
Brett Hargrave
Robbi Fabbri
Dante Salituro
Damian Bourne
Jaden Lindo

Team Ontario has received a medal in 5 straight years (including 3 golds in that span), but they'll be looking for a bit of revenge after grabbing the bronze last year (Team Russia defeated Team USA in last year's final).

For those looking for confirmation, check the OHL's twitter feed.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Most Improved Players of 2012-2013 (at least so far)

This is the first Sunday Top 10 of the regular season, after my top 10 preseason performers list from September. I figured it would only be fitting to highlight some of the players I've felt have taken massive steps forward this year. We're nearly a third of the way into the season, so I think it's fair to begin to evaluate (and commend) specific performances.

I give you my top 10 most improved players for 2012-2013. The key is "most," since many of the players in this league improve from year to year.

10. Darnell Nurse - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Truthfully, it seems like it's mostly a confidence boost. I'm seeing a totally different player out on the ice this year. And that's to be expected, considering Nurse is a talented sophomore. If he wasn't receiving consideration for this list, some red flags would likely need to be thrown. Offensively, he's so much more involved. He not only leads the rush and quarterback's the powerplay, but he's also aggressive in jumping up in the attack looking for scoring opportunities. Defensively, he's still a bit raw, but his confidence in using his size has skyrocketed. He's become a physical force and is tossing aside players with conviction. I'm sure added strength this offseason also plays a part in these improvements too. The key will be maintaining this level of play once he's bumped down the depth chart following the return of Ryan Sproul.

9. Mitchell Theoret - Niagara IceDogs
Last year was a bit of a disaster for Theoret. As a draft eligible forward he was effective in a limited role, providing energy, physicality, and puck possession support. But following his selection by the Isles in 2011, things went down hill. He was given more offensive responsibility last year and it sucked the life from his game. Quite frankly, he looked moderately lost. This year, he's returned to keeping things simple and playing to his strengths, all the while adding a new sense of confidence offensively. He's currently playing as part of the hottest line in the OHL (with Strome and Brett Ritchie). Some people might see him leeching off that duo, but he's an equally integral part of the trio. His size and physicality opens up lanes for Strome and Ritchie. His board work helps to tire down defenses. And he's getting himself into great positions to score. A great resurgence for Theo.

8. Brady Vail - Windsor Spitfires
On a team full of terrific offensive players, it's the Spits best two way player who has taken his offensive game to the next level. Vail has a new found confidence in the offensive end, and has become a very effective player off the rush (thanks to what appears to be some strong skating and strength work this offseason). The Spits haven't had a great season, and some of the team's best players have been wildly inconsistent, but one of the main reasons the club still sits at .500 is the emergence of Vail as (arguably) the team's top offensive weapon.

7. Jason Dickinson - Guelph Storm
I've really liked what I've seen of Dickinson this year. I think he's emerging as a potential top 15-20 pick for 2013. One of the main reasons the Storm have been one of the top teams in the league this year has been the improvements and maturity displayed by their younger players. Dickinson has become a consistently dangerous offensive player who's speed, puck handling ability, vision, and tenacity make him a player to watch. Truthfully, I could have probably made a list of just Storm players for this (as you can tell by the honorable mentions)!

6. Jordan Binnington - Owen Sound Attack
Binnington has always had the talent to succeed in this league, but it's been his level of consistency from month to month that has always prevented him from reaching that upper echelon. This year's start would suggest that he's focused and determined to challenge for the league's top netminder nod. Last night's win against the Greyhounds was actually the first time this season that Binnington had allowed more than 3 goals in a game. He's been a rock and has thrown his hat into the ring for a chance at representing Canada at the WJC's.

5. Brett Ritchie - Niagara IceDogs
Similar to Binnington above him, Ritchie has long been the guy who had all the talent but who just wasn't able to string together consistent performances. I thought that he played well after the trade to Niagara last year, but the offensive production wasn't always representative of that. This year, he's flat out dominating alongside Ryan Strome and Mitchell Theoret. There are three things I've noticed about his game that seem to explain the elevation of his production. One, he just looks hungrier out there. He's skating hard, hitting harder and has been way more aggressive with the puck on his stick. Two, he looks stronger and in better shape. He's able to sustain pressure in the offensive end longer, and he's finishing games just as well as he's starting them. Three, his skating looks to have added an extra gear, which is helping him to get better separation off the rush and on drives to the net.

4. Anthony Camara - Barrie Colts
He's already only two goals away from tying his career high (16). He's a no-brainer for this list. From what I've seen, nearly every aspect of Camara's game has taken a step forward. He's become one of the league's top net presences because of his persistence, strength, and hands in close. I think one of the biggest reasons he's putting up more points is because he's improved his ability to carry the puck. I've felt like this was an area that always held him back from being more involved, but this year he looks way more sure handed and confident. When you factor in all the things he does to involve himself away from the puck, it helps to explain why the Bruins are quite excited about this player.

3. Spencer Martin - Mississauga Steelheads
Quite the transformation for Martin in his second year in the league. He went from a fresh faced rookie who (at times) looked a little over his head, too one of the league's top netminders as a sophomore. I've been incredibly impressed by his poise and confidence in the crease this season. The Steelheads have the third best winning percentage in the entire OHL and he's been the main reason. Martin challenges shooters, soaks up rebounds and follows the play with the aptitude of a 5 year veteran. I can't say enough good things about him and the things he's done this year for Mississauga.

2. Tyler Graovac - Ottawa 67's
While I'm still not quite sure what to make of his NHL potential, you've got to give it up to the improvements he's shown this season. He's gone from a guy unlikely to get an NHL contract to the league's leading goal scorer. He's still not the most physical player, but he's learned to use his size to be more effective in the slot and in protecting the puck to get shots off. He's also playing less of a perimeter game and has added strength to make him a more effective player along the wall. And for those saying he's mooching off of Sean Monahan, the two only play together on the powerplay (where only 5 of his 18 goals have come from).

1. Boone Jenner - Oshawa Generals
It might surprise some people to see Jenner this high on the list. It's not as if Jenner was chopped liver last year when he was one of the league's premier two way players and a valuable member of the World Junior team. But I've been blown away by his ability to find yet another level to his game this year. The case could be made to suggest that Jenner is the best player in the OHL right now (over the likes of Scheifele, Strome, Hamilton, etc). He's been an unstoppable force. His skating looks significantly more explosive and he's become maybe the most aggressive player in the league with the puck on his stick. He's also really improved his ability to create offense off the rush and his shot looks way better, especially his release. He's still doing all the things he did well before, it's just that now he's doing them better than anyone else. When (or if) the NHL starts up, I'd actually be surprised if he's not in Columbus.

Honorable Mentions:

Cody Payne - Plymouth Whalers
He's still playing that rigorous, in your face style, but he's learned how to channel his tenacity to help him at the offensive end. He's become a quality offensive threat, especially in close to the net where he's become quite a competent crease crasher. But he's also improved his ability to handle the puck which has involved him in more aspects of the offensive scheme.

Justin Auger - Guelph Storm
He's a behemoth and one I thought a team might take a chance on last year at the draft. But he's come back strong this year and looks like a different player. His skating has improved massively, to the point where he can now be an effective player off the rush. He's also gotten stronger and is using his size more to win battles along the boards and work the cycle. Auger is really learning how to play a pro style game and I think he'll be rewarded come June 2013.

Chris Festarini - Niagara IceDogs
Most of the improvement came last year post trade to Niagara, where he started to show why he was such a highly touted OHL draft prospect once upon a time ago. This year he's embraced the starting role in Niagara and is playing with a lot of confidence. He's been quietly very solid for the Dogs. The big difference I've noticed is his ability to control rebounds has greatly improved over the last year or so.

Zac Leslie - Guelph Storm
Another Guelph player. And another Guelph player who was (perhaps surprisingly) passed over at last year's draft. Leslie has been a much more confident player at both ends of the ice this year. He's taken his offensive game to the next level and is involving himself in the attack with greater frequency. Defensively, he's playing with more of a consistent edge.

Scott Sabourin - Oshawa Generals
The overager worked hard to earn a spot (beating out Emerson Clark) and is already only one goal away from tying his career high (10). He's being rewarded with powerplay time where he's embracing his role as a crease crasher and disturber.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Game Report: Steelheads & Otters from November 4

My first game report of the season! Fear not though, I have obviously been watching games. This is just the first report I've decided to write.

I, along with many other people in the GTA (including the likes of Steve Stamkos, Gary Roberts, and Joe Nieuwendyk), traveled to the Hershey Center to catch a glimpse at 15 year old phenom Connor McDavid. The Steelheads (I think I've wrote Majors already three times and corrected myself) dominated the exhausted Otters, outshooting them 55-22, and outscoring them 4-1. In all honesty, the score could have been much more lopsided had it none been for the great goaltending provided by Devin Williams. It's hard to blame the Otters. They were playing their 3rd game in three nights, with the first two games coming against the Owen Sound Attack, possibly the hardest working team in the OHL.

So was this game truly a good measuring stick for players? Hard to say, but I'm going to provide you with some player reports anyway.

Mississauga Steelheads

#2 - Dylan DeMelo (San Jose Sharks) 
DeMelo had a great game and appears to be building off the confidence he gained last season. He made great strides last year and has continued his strong play into this year so far. He looks very confident with the puck this year. I've seen the Steelheads a few times this year and I've yet to see him turn the puck over in his own end. This used to be a real problem for him. But he's skating himself out of jams and making smart decisions with passes. He had a secondary assist on Smoskowitz's second goal, and scored by pinching in and pouncing on a loose puck near the crease while on the powerplay. Defensively, he was terrific. Nearly all of Mississauga's defensive players shone today, as Erie had a real tough time mustering the energy to keep possession in the offensive end.

#4 - Trevor Carrick (Carolina Hurricanes)
Carrick has done well to increase his offensive production thus far this year, and is seeing lots of time on the powerplay. Offensively, he was pretty good today. He did have one turnover at the point which lead to an odd man rush, but it was more the fault of Brett Foy for a bad pass which put Carrick in an awkward position. He gained an assist on the powerplay, working a give and go up top with Kris Kontos. He's playing 5 on 5 with Alex Cord, which is giving him lots of opportunities to work on his puck rushing skills. Defensively, I felt like he was one of the few Steelheads defenders to get exposed today. There were a few times where he was beaten off the rush and wasn't able to stay with a forward going to the net. When the play slowed down, he was good and was able to win his battles in the corners and was a physical presence, but those defensive lapses off the rush were things that plagued him last year too. He'll need to continue to work on that.

#15 - Josh Burnside (Draft Eligible in 2013)
I continue to be impressed with Burnside. Three things really stick out when you watch him play. The first is his speed. He's got a terrific extra gear and really creates space by stretching out the opposing defense. The second is how well he moves without the puck offensively. He gets himself in great scoring position. He was wide open twice in the slot in the game today, but both times he was spotted too late by the puck carrier (Brace and Smoskowitz). The third is how aggressive he is in getting to the net. He's a real crease crasher and relishes the role of being a pain in the neck of opposing goalies. He was a factor while playing with Brace and Smoskowitz, even though he didn't get any points. The biggest thing for him moving forward will be added strength. He still loses too many battles in the corners and isn't as effective as a forechecker as he could be because of this.

#21 - Damian Bourne (Draft Eligible in 2014)
What a mammoth. Bourne has definitely been one of the most impressive 1996's in the league this year. I remember hearing a lot of whispers about people feeling like he was overrated going into the draft, that he was only a product of his size and the fact that he was bigger than other midget players. But he's been pretty damn effective for Mississauga so far. He really is massive and he already uses his size really well, both with and without the puck. He's already hard to move from the front of the net, and he's hard to get the puck away from in the corners. He's also a physical player and had a couple of really nice hits today. For a big guy, I also think he sees the ice well. He seems smart in picking his spots in driving hard to the net. The skating needs to improve, but all things considered, he's been a very impressive rookie. He earned a secondary assist on Kontos' powerplay goal.

#23 - Dylan Smoskowitz (Draft Eligible in 2013, 3rd time eligible)
Pretty hard to ignore him at this point. 11 goals in 12 games since the trade from Barrie. He's a talented offensive player who just got himself in Dale Hawerchuk's doghouse. He's got great chemistry with Riley Brace (call them the 'stache brothers). The question is, if he continues to score at this pace, is he someone NHL teams take notice of? He's got a terrific shot and he does a great job of creating room for himself to get it off. You have to love his goal scoring instincts. The rest of his game (skating, play without the puck, playmaking ability, etc) rates out to only average, but if you can score goals, someone will give you a chance. He had 2 goals tonight, and missed a wide open cage to complete the hat trick. He's certainly someone to keep an eye on to see if he can keep this up.

#28 - Stuart Percy (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Fantastic game from Percy. I've been really impressed with his play so far this season. At both ends of the ice, might I add. Offensively, I've been really impressed with his ability to skate the puck out of his own end and make smart decisions to start the breakout. Perfect example of this today was when Connor McDavid looked like he had backed Percy into a corner and a turnover, but Percy stayed calm, waited for McDavid to go for the stick check, then spun away from him, through two other Otters and brought the puck up across the blueline. He looks very confident on the point of the powerplay too, where he's shooting the puck more. Defensively, he's been a rock. I honestly don't even remember the Otters having a scoring chance while he was on the ice today. He's playing physical too and winning battles in the corners and in front of the net because of it. This was an important year for Percy after last year's issues, so it's refreshing to see him back strong.

Erie Otters

#7 - Jake Evans (Draft Eligible in 2013)
Was centering a line with Stephen Harper today. I liked his aggression without the puck. Was very aggressive in pursuit and played physical. But was very quiet, dare I say invisible offensively.

#10 - Stephen Harper (Draft Eligible in 2013)
Very, very quiet game for Harper. His line wasn't able to sustain any pressure in the offensive end. Part of the reason for this was Harper's inability to win battles in the corners. He seems to be getting outmuscled a lot from what I've seen this season. My viewings of Harper this season have been less than impressive thus far, but I'm still a fan of his long term potential.

#27 - Adam Pelech (New York Islanders)
I thought Pelech was Erie's best player today. He's had a great year and is continuing to develop well, despite not having a ton of help on the backend in Erie. He looks quicker this year, in rushing the puck and defensively. He's very hard to beat one on one. Many of Mississauga's forwards tried to get by him off the rush, but every play ended the same way, with Pelech coming out with the puck and the opposing player rubbed out of the play. He was a steal in the 3rd round, as he's got great potential as a defenseman at the next level. As mentioned, he looks quicker when rushing the puck this year too, and was able to avoid the forecheck of the Steelheads. Hey Erie, get this guy some help on the backend!

#28 - Connor Brown (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Having a great year in terms of goal scoring, but it's hard to tell whether it's because of McDavid or not. At this point, I still don't see Brown as a guy who's creating his own offensive chances by being electric with the puck, or by flying into the offensive zone. He's certainly not a speedster, and his skating ability still seems to lack that explosiveness (something that caused him to fall as far as he did in the draft). But he definitely knows how to move without the puck and is a smart player. Perfect example of this was his goal today on a give and go with Connor McDavid. On the Powerplay, take the puck from the wing, dish to McDavid at the side of the net, cut hard to the net, get the puck back in the slot and rifle home a quick wrister. Other than that, he was a non factor today.

#97 - Connor McDavid (Draft Eligible in 2015)
There was a guy sitting near me saying "man this McDavid guy isn't as good as people say he is." To that man or anyone else who came away from this game saying that, give your head a shake. This was the team's 3rd game in 3 days. McDavid certainly didn't play his best, but I've been absolutely blown away by him this year previous to this game. The dude is such an electric player. He's such an explosive skater, and he has such confidence and poise with the puck. His vision and IQ is among the best I've ever seen in this league. And while this wasn't his best game (might have even been his worst in the OHL thus far), there were still some positives to take away. Firstly, he's starting to play with more of an edge. I love the fact that he's starting to engage physically and throw his body around. He's going to need to continue to develop that edge as player's start to target him. Secondly, I absolutely loved the play to end the game. While on the penalty kill, he was out there (in a game already decided), and was tenacious in forcing Eric Diodati into a turnover at the blueline. Then took the puck hard to the net (showing great strength on the puck), drawing a penalty. When every other Erie player looked like they had laid down and died, McDavid kept going hard. I can't stress this enough. If the Otters are making their only trip to your city this season (like Mississauga), get out there and watch him play. He's usually (sorry aforementioned bitter man) worth the price of admission.

#31 - Devin Williams (Draft Eligible in 2014)
Williams' certainly didn't get a lot of help today. He had to make 48 saves and kept his team in this game for nearly two periods. He's not the biggest goalie (maybe 6'0), but he plays a lot bigger than he is due to a hybrid style. He'll take a lot of shots from the outside standing up, although isn't afraid to drop down to the butterfly to handle shots low to the ice. I thought he did a pretty good job with his rebounds today too. He's certainly looking better than last year, and is on the right development path. He'll learn a lot from playing behind Dansk this year. Then he might have a chance of starting next year (his draft year because of an October birthday). He's certainly putting himself in conversation to be the top goalie available from the O for 2014 (although it's crazy early).

That's all folks!