Monday, March 23, 2015

2015 OHL Playoff Predictions: Round One

As is the annual practice, it's time for my playoff previews to begin. The OHL regular season wrapped up yesterday and the match-ups are set. Round one is set to kick off Thursday.

Last year I went 10-5 (which is somewhat disappointing to me, coming off a 12-3 record the year prior). Maybe this is the year I go a perfect 15-0?

Here are my thoughts on the opening round:


1. Oshawa Generals vs. 8. Peterborough Petes
Season Series: 6-2 (Oshawa)
Analysis: Division rivals, these two teams are incredibly familiar with each other. As you might have expected, the Generals largely dominated the season series between the two. With their stockpiling at the trade deadline, the Generals are such a deep team offensively. The Petes, a talented young team in their own right, just aren't ready or equipped for this type of test. Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the Generals this year has been how good they are defensively. They gave up the fewest goals in the league by a pretty wide margin. Oshawa is just too big, too strong and too deep for Peterborough to handle. Unfortunately, I don't even see Peterborough winning a game here.
Prediction: Oshawa in 4

2. Barrie Colts vs. 7. Belleville Bulls
Season Series: 2-0 (Barrie)
Analysis: These two teams haven't played each other in the new calendar year, if that means anything. On paper, Barrie should probably have little difficulty with Belleville. But, I think this one could be a bit closer than people are suggesting for a couple of reasons. 1. The "hype" factor of this being Belleville's last series. They are going to be amped up to put on (perhaps) a final show for their crowd. 2. Barrie hasn't been playing terrific hockey the last few months. Ultimately, I do see Barrie taking this series though. The Colts' first line is too skilled/quick and I think Mackenzie Blackwood will really step up his game. But don't expect the Bulls to roll over and play dead.
Prediction: Barrie in 6

3. North Bay Battalion vs. 6. Kingston Frontenacs
Season Series: 3-1 (North Bay)
Analysis: No offense to the other series, but I expect this to be the crown jewel of the first round. The reigning Eastern Conference champs take on one of the hottest teams in the entire Canadian Hockey League. The Frontenacs have been a different team since the return of Sam Bennett. Defensively, the Battalion get the edge (especially when you consider Stan Butler's system). In goal, I give the edge to the Fronts with Peressini, who has been sensational this year. Up front, Sam Bennett can obviously be a massive difference maker and he's obviously the best player in the series. But I think the Battalion are a deeper team who's second/third lines are going to be able to score more consistently. This one truly could be a coin flip. My gut says Kingston because of how hot they are. But I'm going with logic and North Bay. I think their deadline acquisitions (Moutrey/Kujawinski) really become critical.
Prediction: North Bay in 7

4. Ottawa 67's vs. 5. Niagara IceDogs
Season Series: 3-1 (Ottawa)
Analysis: Ottawa took the season series, but that's skewed because the majority of those games were played in 2014, before the "real" Niagara IceDogs showed up. The only game played in the new calendar year was dominated by Niagara. The real question mark heading into the series is the health of Travis Konecny. He's going to play, but just how effective will he be? I expect this to be a very high scoring series; goaltending fans beware. Ultimately, I think Niagara's depth gives them an edge here. And I think between one of Brandon Hope or Brent Moran, they'll have one netminder elevate their game. Niagara keeps their hot streak going and moves on.
Prediction: Niagara in 6


1. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 8. Saginaw Spirit
Season Series: 5-3 (Sault Set. Marie)
Analysis: Similar to the 1 versus 8 matchup in the East, I don't see this one being much of a contest. The Hounds are fully healthy again and as they proved in their last two meetings, Sault Set. Marie's offence is too much for Saginaw to handle (19 goals in those 2 games). In particular, Nick Ritchie has been on fire lately (goals in 4 straight games) and his presence at the top of his game is critical for the Soo's run through this year's playoffs. Like Peterborough, I don't think Saginaw has the ability to get a single victory here.
Prediction: Sault Ste. Marie in 4

2. Erie Otters vs. 7. Sarnia Sting
Season Series: 3-1 (Erie)
Analysis: I'm so excited to see how Connor McDavid elevates his game during this year's playoffs. He has answered the bell in every way this year, so you'd have to assume he'll meet his next challenge head on. The Sting will be his unfortunate victim in the first round. In the later rounds, the Otters are going to need Devin Williams to step up, but I don't think Sarnia has the firepower to put a ton of pressure on him this series. Defensively, the Sting will need Jakob Chychrun at full power, but he's been nursing a shoulder injury and won't likely be at the top of his game. For as hard as the Sting battle,  they don't have the depth or skill to compete with Erie. I can see the Sting surprising the Otters in one game though.
Prediction: Erie in 5

3. London Knights vs. 6. Kitchener Rangers
Season Series: 3-3 (TIE)
Analysis: This is the reason the Rangers brought in Jake Paterson. To help them steal a series against a somewhat superior opponent. Since coming to Kitchener, Paterson has been sensational (.929 save percentage) and he'll have to continue to be that for the Rangers to have a chance here. For the Knights, they NEED secondary scoring options to step up. It just can't be the Dvorak/Domi/Marner show. If they can get some production from their other lines, they should eventually wear down the Rangers defence and increase the number of quality scoring chances they get on Paterson. Regardless of the outcome, Kitchener's '96-'98 core is going to get the necessary experience to make them a better team next year. Ultimately, I do like London's chances in a seven game series. Their overall skill level should prevail.
Prediction: London in 7

4. Guelph Storm vs. 5. Owen Sound Attack
Season Series: 5-3 (Guelph)
Analysis: I see this one being just as much of a toss up as the North Bay/Kingston series in the East. Two very evenly matched teams duking it out. For Guelph to win, they will need their defence to step up against a hard pressing Attack forecheck/cycle game. The loss of Zac Leslie still seems to be hurting the consistency of the backend's performance. The key to Owen Sound's victory will be in net. Whether it's the gigantic Jack Flinn or the inexperienced Michael McNiven, one will need to be at the top of their game. Otherwise both forward groups possess two quality scoring lines who work hard to wear down the opposition. I'm going with the Attack based on the fact that they are a riding a hot streak into the playoffs and have a better overall defensive unit to fall back on.
Prediction: Owen Sound in 7

So...what do you think? How do you see round one shaking down?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015 OHL Coaches Poll Results

Yesterday, the OHL released the results of the 2015 OHL Coaches Poll.

Of course, a few weeks ago I released my annual coaches poll predictions. Fun to compare.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Brotherly Love in Owen Sound; Thomas Schemitsch Follows His Brother to Grey County

The OHL is a well documented family affair. Fathers and sons. Brothers and cousins. There are numerous examples of each of these every year in the league. In Owen Sound, the name Schemitsch has been an integral component to the success of the Attack over the last few years. Geoffrey Schemitsch played a total of two and a half years for the Attack, highlighted by the 2011 OHL Championship (where he was a key cog). Now his younger brother Thomas is fulfilling the same role. "It was great to have Geoffrey play for the Attack (and win an OHL championship) and then be drafted by them. I felt a little more comfortable knowing a few of the guys through him. He had nothing but positive things to say about the organization, so it was an easy decision to sign with Owen Sound, " says Schemitsch.

Aaron Bell/OHL Images
While the name on the back of the jersey may be the same, Thomas is not a carbon copy of his brother. The most obvious difference between the two is size. Geoffrey played in Owen Sound at about 6'1, 180lbs, while Thomas is already 6'4, +200lbs. Geoffrey was a smooth skating puck mover, while Thomas plays a heavier game with a heavier shot and goal scoring ability. That's not to say that they're complete opposites though. "I think we both have a high hockey IQ and read the ice well," says Thomas. "We both make a good first pass and I think we are both good teammates who put the team on the ice first before ourselves."

After a great rookie season in 2010, Geoffrey was a 4th round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was never offered a contract from Tampa and finished out his OHL career with Oshawa before moving on to Acadia (where he now plays in the CIS). Having gone through ups and downs during his hockey career, Geoffrey has been a positive influence over Thomas thus far. "Geoffrey’s influence on my hockey career has been substantial. Whenever I need advice, or just bounce something off him he’s always there," says Thomas. "In a nutshell he has said that I should just play the game, because everything else is out of my control," continues Schemitsch.

Of course by "everything else," Thomas is referring to the NHL Entry Draft. He is first time eligible this year and is having a very strong season for the Attack. Currently ranked 98th by NHL Central Scouting, Schemitsch's value for the draft is trending upward and he looks like a possible top 3 round selection in 2015. In fact, Thomas's 13 goals equals the amount that his brother scored over his entire four year OHL career. And his 43 points defeats Geoffrey's personal season best of 40. With his brother drafted 96th overall, a top 3 round selection would give Thomas bragging rights over what he calls "a friendly rivalry."

So what will Thomas bring to the NHL team that drafts him? "I have a high hockey IQ, make a good first pass, read the play well, and have a good stick," says Schemitsch. He does admit that his skating is an area that requires improvement though. When you've got a 6'4 defender with a good head for the game and offensive ability, he's bound to have more fans than detractors among NHL scouts. In particular, his progression as a player in his own end has been incredibly impressive considering that he's only played defence for a few years (after switching from forward in minor midget).

For now though, Thomas's focus is on trying to bring home an OHL Championship to Owen Sound, just as his brother did in 2011. "I try not to think about getting drafted or anything I can’t control. I’m just focusing on doing everything I can do to contribute to the team and help us be successful," says Schemitsch. Currently the Attack are fighting for spots 4 through 6 in the Western Conference, which means that a potential second round match up against powerhouse Sault Ste. Marie looks inevitable (should they advance past the first round of course). Thanks in part to a great leadership group and a hard working attitude, the Attack should be feared as an underdog by any Western Conference team. "We have a belief in our room that when we are at our best we are playing Owen Sound Attack hockey. It is our identity. When we do that as a team we are a tough team to play against.  When we play our game we give ourselves a shot to compete against the tougher teams in our conference."
Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Regardless of how this year plays out, the name Schemitsch will always be synonymous with good hockey; with playoff hockey in Owen Sound. The question is, will Thomas be able to match Geoffrey's ability to bring a Championship to Grey County? We've got a few years (or playoff appearances) to find out.


Otten - You still took on a pretty big role in Owen Sound as a rookie last year. What was the biggest adjustment for you coming from playing midget and a few games at Junior A level?

Schemitsch - I’d have to say the biggest adjustments coming in from midget and a few games of Junior A, was the size and strength of the players, and the speed of the game. These factors were magnified because I moved from forward to defense half way through minor midget because a defenseman left the team.  In minor hockey players are born in the same year, whereas in this league players can be up to 5 years older and therefore size and strength differences are not as dramatic in minor hockey. The game in the OHL is also faster and played at higher skill level. Another adjustment was being away from home and not seeing family and friends was definitely a difficult adjustment. However, my billets and teammates have been awesome so that was a smooth transition.

Otten - So what's been the biggest difference for you this year, your 2nd in the OHL? Your offensive numbers have certainly improved dramatically.

Schemitsch - The biggest difference for me this year has been the increased responsibility I’ve been given to play in key situations.

Otten - Everyone talks about the Greyhounds and Otters in the West. Do you feel like the Attack are being underrated going into the playoffs, considering you guys can still grab the 4th seed?

Schemitsch - We have a belief in our room that when we are at our best we are playing Owen Sound Attack hockey.  It is our identity.  When we do that as a team we are a tough team to play against.  When we play our game we give ourselves a shot to compete against the tougher teams in our conference.

Otten - How cool was it to get a chance to play for Owen Sound after your brother starred for the Attack (I actually interviewed him and wrote a piece on him too in his draft year)?

Schemitsch - It was great to have Geoffrey play for the attack (and win an OHL championship) for two and half years, and then be drafted by them. I felt a little more comfortable knowing a few of the guys through him. He had nothing but positive things to say about the organization, so it was an easy decision to sign with Owen Sound.

Otten - How influential has Geoffrey been for your hockey career thus far?

Schemitsch - Geoffrey’s influence on my hockey career has been substantial. Whenever I need advice, or just bounce something off him he’s always there.

Otten - Has he given you any advice in regards to the draft, considering he was once a 4th rounder? In particular, has he tried to help you prepare for a chance at the professional level, since he never signed that ELC and moved on to the next level?

Schemitsch - Yes, Geoffrey has given me advice.  In a nutshell he has said that I should just play the game, because everything else is out of my control.

Otten - How are you guys similar and different players (other than the obvious size differences)?

Schemitsch - Yes, there is an obvious size difference, but similarities as well.  I think we both have a high hockey IQ and read the ice well.  We both make a good first pass.  I think we are both good teammates and put the team on the ice first before ourselves.   Geoffrey is a smooth skater, but I have a heavier shot and a bit of a scoring touch (from being a forward previously) that he doesn’t.

Otten - Do you guys have a little rivalry going in the sense that you're trying to get drafted higher than he was (in the NHL)?

Schemitsch - Geoffrey and I are each other’s biggest fans.  To this day, I watch the games he plays for Acadia University when I can, and follow the team.  We are brothers and we are close, so yes, there is a friendly rivalry going on.  Having said that, I’m very happy for and proud of everything my brother has accomplished.  I try not to think about getting drafted or anything I can’t control.  I’m just focusing on doing everything I can do to contribute to the team and help us be successful.

Otten - If I were to ask an NHL scout about your biggest strengths as a player, what do you think they would say?

Schemitsch - I think an NHL scout would say that I have a high hockey IQ, make a good first pass, read the play well, and have a good stick.

Otten - Conversely, what would they say if I asked them about your biggest weaknesses, or what you need to improve upon?

Schemitsch - I think an NHL scout would say that I need to continue to work on my skating, and continually try to get stronger.

Otten - Is there a player in the NHL that you really try to model your game after? Maybe a guy you'd love to be compared to?

Schemitsch - I think a player in the NHL that I try to model my game after Alex Pietrangelo. He’s a player who has an impact on the game in all areas of the ice. He is responsible defensively and contributes offensively. He is a smart puck moving defenseman.

Otten - I remember talking to your brother about him being a huge Leaf fan. Did you grow up the same? If so, how do you feel about the losing right now?

Schemitsch - Growing up, my family and I were, and still are huge leafs fans.

Otten - Who's the toughest forward to go up against in the OHL (If it's Connor McDavid, maybe you could give us a second one)?

Schemitsch - After Connor McDavid, I’d have to say Max Domi. He is very quick shifty and highly skilled.

Otten - Last question. I asked this one to your brother over 5 years ago. Curious to hear your answer. Choose one. Stanley Cup. Memorial Cup. Gold Medal.

Schemitsch - Presently, I want to win the Memorial Cup with the Owen Sound Attack.  This organization and fabulous fan base deserve that much. However, I have to go with winning the Stanley Cup. It’s something you dream of.


Thanks to Thomas Schemitsch and Brent Fisher for making this article possible. If you're curious, be sure to check out my feature and Q & A with Geoffrey Schemitsch from his NHL draft year (6 years ago). You can find that <HERE>

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Top 10 - Most Impressive 1998 Born Players

One of the many annual traditions I have on this blog is to rank the new batch of OHL rookies in order of the impression they left on me. Only the "true" OHL rookies have been included, thus why it's labeled the "Most Impressive 1998 born players." However, with the whole exceptional status thing, this means that Sean Day will be included on this list (just as Connor McDavid and Aaron Ekblad were previously). I think it's important to compare these guys to what their age appropriate peers are accomplishing in the league.

I always like to note that this isn't an early ranking for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. This ranking isn't the order in which I believe these players should be ranked for the draft, but an order of which players impressed me most. It's not a draft prognostication, it's an acknowledgment of the significant impact these players have had on their teams this season.

This was a tough list to compile this year actually. Many of the league's 98's had very impressive rookie seasons where they played key roles. The guys listed as honorable mentions are also terrific prospects who show great promise and who also impressed me a great deal this season. The future of the OHL is very bright. I do believe that if the U17's had been played in the traditional format of year's past, Ontario's entry would have done quite well.

As mentioned, this is a tradition, so here are the previous year's lists. 1997. 1996. 1995's. 1994's. 1993's. 1992's.

10. Jordan Kyrou - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Was a tough battle between Kyrou, Ang, and Mete for the final spot on this list, but you have to appreciate how important Kyrou has been to Sarnia. He is a ball of energy who's not only noticeable offensively, but who makes some solid defensive plays in the neutral zone and who gets in there on the forecheck. Currently 2nd to Logan Brown in assists for the '98 age group.

9. Keaton Middleton - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Massive defender and the younger brother of Ottawa's Jacob Middleton. I've been really impressed by the confidence he displays in his own end. He's already quite physical, using his size to step up on forwards at the blue line and to rub out the opposition in the corners. His puck skills and overall playmaking ability is a work in progress, but when you've got a big kid who's already dominating shifts in his own end, you've got to be impressed.

8. Taylor Raddysh - Forward - Erie Otters
The CY Young award winner in the OHL this year, with his goal totals quadrupling his assist totals. His ability to find open lanes and capitalize on scoring chances in the slot has made him a very valuable secondary scoring option for a deep Otters team. In a lot of ways, he's playing the role Dylan Strome did last year, in the sense that he's not being asked to do too much. Play within himself, make smart plays with the puck and go to the net to create space for his line mates. Next year he should be given more of a chance to be an offensive leader and a guy who creates more scoring chances for himself.

7. Tye Felhaber - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Felhaber is definitely one of the most purely skilled forwards of this age group. He creates time and space for himself and line mates and already displays a lot of confidence with the puck. He's not a perimeter player either and has shown a willingness to play in traffic, especially near the crease. The development of his 200 foot game and ability to add strength/bulk will determine just how high he goes in the NHL draft next year.

6. Tim Gettinger - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
When you consider just how deep the Hounds are this year, it's impressive that Gettinger has been able to make an impression at all. But he's done a marvelous job of filling in on scoring lines when needed (WJC's, injuries). Gettinger is a really big kid, but he doesn't really play a power forward game. He's more of a skilled winger who happens to be 6'5. Obviously scouts are going to want to see him use his size more effectively next year, but for now you have to appreciate Gettinger's ability to work in transition and keep pace with some of the quicker forwards in the league.

5. Brandon Saigeon - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Really like Saigeon's intensity level and "complete" game already. To some degree, I get a Mike Richards vibe when I watch him play. As he gets stronger, I think we'll start to see how high his skill level is too, as he'll have the opportunity to really blossom under George Burnett. Could definitely be a future captain in the league.

4. Logan Brown - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Like Gettinger, Brown is a massive forward, but one who doesn't really play a power forward game. That said, he's very skilled and does do a good job of using his size to protect the puck and create scoring chances for himself and teammates. He's already a very difficult player to contain along the wall and as he gets quicker/more explosive, he's going to be very hard to stop off the rush too. Big centres like Brown just don't grow on trees and that's why he'll be a hot commodity at the draft in 2016.

3. Michael McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Like Jonathan Ang, McLeod took a few months to really adjust to the speed and size of defenders at this level. But in the second half of the season, he's been sensational for Mississauga. His ability to create off the rush is exceptional, in particular because of his explosive stride. But he doesn't stick to the perimeter either and has made a conscious effort to take the puck to the net, despite lacking in size/strength. If the Steelheads had some better finishers, McLeod would have better production, as I've seen him create a ton of scoring chances this year that just haven't been put in the back of the net.

2. Sean Day - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Day has his critics. And to some degree, the criticism is warranted. Does his intensity level need to be more consistent? I think so. Are there legitimate question marks surrounding his vision/hockey sense with the puck? Again, I think so. BUT, you have to look at him in context and remove the whole exceptional status label. He's still a super young kid trying to figure things out. What you do have though, is an athletic freak. At 6'2, 230lbs, he's one of the best skaters in the league and when he learns just how dominant he could be at both ends, look out. All the pieces of the puzzle are there, and for that reason, he's still high on this list.

1. Jakob Chychrun - Defense - Sarnia Sting
Easily the top player on this list for me (no offence meant to the others). This kid is unreal. IMO, he's already a top 10 defenseman in the league. He makes an impact at both ends of the ice in a big way. It's certainly not hard to compare him to Aaron Ekblad, in terms of the impact they've had in their first year. BUT, I'd actually say Chychrun is ahead of where Ekblad was offensively at the same age. The confidence he displays in leading the rush and jumping up in the play is very exciting. Sky is the limit for this kid.

Honorable Mentions

Will Bitten - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
Consistency isn't there yet because he's quite undersized and just isn't able to fight through checks effectively. But, he's super skilled and creates very well off the rush when he's able to build up speed. Excited to see how he fares next year.

Jonathan Ang - Forward - Peterborough Petes
It was between him and Kyrou for #10. At the beginning of the year he was invisible and really seemed to be struggling to find his confidence with the puck. But he's really exploded in the second half. His ability to create off the rush, using speed and stick handling ability offers up a much needed change of pace for a Peterborough team who largely is more successful working the cycle.

Adam Mascherin - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Short, but not small winger who has fit right into the Rangers line-up this year. Similar to Kyrou, he brings a lot of energy and I've been impressed by how he works the boards, keeping plays alive.

Dylan Wells - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
Pretty tough to stand out as a 16/17 year old goaltender in this league. But Wells has had some really standout performances this year and looks like a potential star in the making.

Joseph Raaymakers - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
See Dylan Wells. The consistency hasn't been there (especially lately), but he's had flashes of brilliance and Brandon Halverson is going to need to step up his game next year to hold on to the starter's gig.

Victor Mete - Defense - London Knights
Like Kyrou, Mete probably deserves to be on the list. Offensively, I've really liked what I've seen. He really knows how to lead a rush and he's got great vision up ice. But defensively, there is a lot to work on. Really needs to add size this offseason.

Travis Barron - Forward - Ottawa 67's
I think he's been better this year than the stats have indicated. The production hasn't really been there, but I've liked his performance as a complimentary piece on a scoring line. He knows how to drive the net and does a lot of the little things well.

Ben Hawerchuk - Forward - Barrie Colts
I always like including a few under the radar guys on this list and Hawerchuk is the first of two. Dale's son hasn't been getting a ton of ice time, but he does a lot with it. The Colts' 4th line is always very noticeable because of their tenacity and forechecking ability and Hawerchuk is one of the main reasons. Hopefully he grows a bit.

Jonah Gadjovich - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
A potential power forward who's not eligible until 2017. Gadjovich has had an impact physically in a lot of the Attack games that I've watched and I think he's got a lot of potential as a big winger who can drive the net and score.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Capobianco Shines Bright For the Rebuilding Wolves

The Ontario Hockey League can be a cruel mistress for passionate fans. One year you're on top of the world and the following year, the bottom. The past three years the Sudbury Wolves have averaged 33 wins, thanks in part to a strong group of 19-20 year olds. But alas the OHL is cyclical in nature and with player graduations the Wolves find themselves in the basement of the league; only 12 wins to their name in 2014/2015.

While the fan base in Sudbury has grown very restless, the players remain incredibly positive and optimistic. "You need to come in every day and want to get better. Every night you have to come in thinking that you can win. You just have to have that mindset," says sophomore defenceman Kyle Capobianco. This enthusiastic and upbeat attitude is paying dividends on the ice. Sure the team is only 3-7 in their last 10. But they're making the opposition sweat. The Sudbury Wolves are not rolling over and playing dead and fans and scouts should be impressed by that.

John Lappa/Sudbury Star/QMI Agency
This is especially true when you think about the progression some of the team's younger players have shown. Matt Schmalz should be a lock for 25 goals after scoring only 3 last year. Troy Timpano has saved 107 of his last 111 shot attempts. The team's 98's have all fared well. And then there's the crown jewel of them all; defender Kyle Capobianco.

The club's 7th overall selection in 2013 struggled last year. "Last year I would get down on myself too easily," says the 6'1 blueliner and Oakville Rangers graduate. "The guys in the OHL are so much more skilled and faster. You're playing against guys that are a few years older and that are physically more mature."

This year has been a different story though. Don't let the -42 fool you. Capobianco has been the club's top defenceman and has blossomed into the type of player who can be relied upon in all situations. His 39 points are actually only 5 off of the Sudbury scoring lead and he has the potential to nearly quadruple his offensive production from last year.

The 67th ranked skater in North America (according to NHL Central Scouting) is blessed with a great head for the game and a smooth skating stride. "I've been a really good skater since an early age. That really helps my game, especially in puck retrieval," says Capobianco. His skating ability also helps him offensively where he's able to make a good first pass and make smart decisions in jumping up in the play.

The question is, will scouts hold Capobianco accountable for the poor year that Sudbury has had? Does Capobianco deserve to be rated higher and is there a bias towards defenders on good teams in the OHL? He's quick to shake off that notion. "Those guys earn their ice time on those stronger teams. They do well because they're surrounded by great players and they're great players themselves." He continues, "Scouts have been doing this long enough for them to take all things into consideration. They see how a certain player reacts to certain situations and are able to see past a lot of the statistical aspects of the game."

One venue that would give Capobianco a chance to prove that he should be rated higher is the World Under 18 Hockey Championships. With the Wolves eliminated from the playoff race, he is definitely receiving consideration from the Hockey Canada scouting staff for a spot on that team. Ultimately it will depend upon what other players become available across the CHL, but there's no question that Capobianco's skating and puck distribution abilities would be an asset on the big ice. He'd get the chance to play with some other great players and put himself in consideration with the likes of Matt Spencer, Travis Dermott, and Vince Dunn for the top defender available from the OHL.

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, it's hard not to imagine the Wolves improving greatly next year. The team's younger players will be another year older. They've got a bevy of draft picks, including the 1st overall selection. And they'll have an opportunity to improve their European contingent with a top import pick. To quote Capobianco, "I think we'll surprise a lot of people and put a dent in the Eastern Conference."

So even if this year was tough on you Sudbury fans out there, fear not; there is light at the end of the tunnel. This Sudbury Wolves team has put itself in a position to be back up near the top of the Conference again in a few years with a strong leader and quality building block like Kyle Capobianco steering the ship.


Otten - As a rookie last year, you went through some ups and downs. Why is it so difficult for a first year defender to transition from midget?

Capobianco -  I think the guys are so much more skilled and faster. You're playing against guys that are a few years older that are physically more mature. And you have to adjust to the speed of the game. Once you figure that out you can regain some of your confidence.

Otten - So what do you think are the biggest reasons for your improvements this year then? There's no question that you've taken a massive step forward.

Capobianco - I think it was gaining confidence. Last year I would get down on myself too easily. This year I've also gotten a lot more playing time and that definitely helps. You start to get more confident and suddenly you start making more plays.

Otten - It's obviously been a tough year for you guys in Sudbury, so how do you stay positive and motivated in the room?

Capobianco - It's just a game of hockey. It's as easy as that. You need to come in every day and want to get better. You have dreams and aspirations to make it to the next level. Every night you have to come in thinking that you can win. You just have to have that mindset. After all, we're pretty lucky.

Otten - I think that's a great way to look at it. You guys have done such a great job lately of making the opposition earn their 'W's" against you. The fans in Sudbury should be happy with the way the future of the team is shaping up.

Otten - Even though you're only in your second year, do you feel like you've had to take on a leadership role with how much your increase in ice time, like you mentioned?

Capobianco - Yeah definitely. I'm not the most vocal guy in the room but I think I try to let my play do most of the talking. So yeah, the more ice time that I've received has definitely helped to establish my leadership role.

Otten - So how good do you think Sudbury can be next year then?

Capobianco - I think we'll surprise a lot of people. I think the guys returning are going to be able to make a big splash. I really like the rookies this year. I'll be curious to see their development. I also think we're in the right position right now with all the draft picks that we have. With all that we should be able to put a dent in the Conference next year.

Otten - In particular, I think Timpano has been playing great for you guys. His progression especially lately has been impressive. I'm excited to see how he does next year.

Capobianco - One hundred percent. Next year he's going to be motivated with his draft year and I think that's only going to make him even better.

Otten - Speaking of draft years. It's your NHL draft year. With how well you've been playing personally, do you think that the scouts underrate you because of the team you play on?

Capobianco - I think that they've been doing this long enough for them to take all things into consideration. They see how a certain player reacts to certain situations and are able to see past a lot of the statistical aspects of the game.

Otten - So you don't think that there's a bias towards players who play on stronger teams?

Capobianco - No. I think those guys earn their ice time on those stronger teams. They do well because they're surrounded by great players and they're a great player themselves. This in turn makes them even better. So yeah, I think it works both ways.

Otten - With the Wolves out of the playoff race, have you thought at all about playing at the U18's this year? The concept of that must be pretty exciting.

Capobianco - Um, I try not to think about that too much. We've still got a couple of games left and I want to finish those as hard as I can. Hopefully with the last couple of games I'll be able to make a good impression and turn some heads.

Otten - Yeah and honestly I think you've got a great shot at a spot. Your name definitely deserves to be in heavy consideration.

Capobianco - Thanks so much man.

Otten - If I were to ask a scout to list your biggest strengths as a player, what would they say?

Capobianco - I'd say my skating ability. I've been a really good skater since an early age. That really helps my game, especially in puck retrieval. Also, moving pucks forward. Whether it be rushing it or passing it up the boards to create offense. Both those are positives to my game.

Otten - Conversely, what would the scout say are your biggest areas of weakness?

Capobianco - I'd say, not my defensive zone coverage, but not eliminating guys quick enough or playing the body hard enough.

Otten - Yeah and I think that's just something that comes with added experience right? As you said, each year you gain confidence in different situations.

Capobianco - For sure. And my body needs to mature and I just need to get stronger and that will help me to be more confident.

Otten - Is there a player in the NHL that you look at and compare yourself to, or try to emulate your game after?

Capobianco - Um...someone like Oliver Ekman Larsson. He's a pretty good skater and I really like the way he plays. Same with TJ Brodie on Calgary. Both pretty offensive defenseman. Both having good years. I just try to watch those guys and learn as much as I can.

Otten - Good choices. Last question. Who's the toughest forward to stop in the OHL?

Capobianco - Hmmm, I don't know if there's one particular forward. But I'd say that Barrie's first line of Blandisi, Mangiapane, and Lebanc is incredibly tough.

Otten - Alright man, thanks for your time and best of luck with the rest of the season and moving forward.

Capobianco - Thanks so much.


Special thanks to Kyle Capobianco and Wolves assistant coach Bryan Verreault for taking time out of their busy schedules to make this article possible. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Matt Spencer; a Future Leader for Peterborough

Leadership can be defined by the behaviour that brings the future to the present, by envisioning the possible, and persuading others to help you make it a reality. Peterborough Petes defenceman Matt Spencer has assumed this role with nearly every team he's ever suited up for. He served as the captain for the OHL Cup winning Oakville Rangers in his minor midget season. He wore an "A" for Team Ontario at the 2014 Under 17's. And he's recently been acting as an alternate for Peterborough since former captain Connor Boland was dealt to Sault Ste. Marie. This responsibility is something Spencer relishes. "I think I'm one of the hardest workers in the OHL period. I know it's just something inside of me that is not going to go away. I think that's going to be big [for my future].  And I always put the team first," says the confident rearguard.

Clifford Skarstedt/Peterborough Examiner/QMI Agency
The reality for the Petes right now is that they're fighting to claim one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Last year, the team used a strong final few months to vault into the 6th spot, then carried that momentum to a first round upset over Kingston. Many people (myself included) had high expectations for the Petes this year given their late season performance last year and the projected progression of their young budding stars. But 2014/2015 hasn't exactly gone according to plan for Peterborough. Consistency has been an issue and now they're jockeying for the 7th spot in the Conference. But there have been plenty of positives. In the new calendar year, the team's youngest players are emerging as front line talents. Jonathan Ang has 13 points in his last 17 games. Cameron Lizzote is emerging as a physical force on the back-end. And Spencer's two-way play and leadership on the ice represents that of a future captain.

Throughout the course of this season, Spencer has been consistently mentioned as a candidate to be the top defender eligible from the Ontario Hockey League. The OHL has some quality blueliners available for the 2015 NHL Draft, most of which are putting up some impressive offensive numbers (3 in the top 7 of defenceman scoring). Spencer's not yet at that level as an offensive defender, but that's not something he's overly concerned about. "It hasn't been a huge priority for me this year," he says. "I'm just trying to focus on my defensive game and it seems that the more I focus on that, offense generates from that. I mean obviously it's nice getting a couple more goals and assists, but  overall it's how I help the team, how I contribute defensively [that means the most]. Herein lies the reason why Spencer remains a hot commodity for the NHL. Most scouts would agree that Spencer does possess the potential to be an impact defender at both ends, and that it's only a matter of time before he finds himself in the top 10 of defenseman scoring too. After all, he does mention former OHL'er and current NHL all star Alex Pietrangelo as a hopeful comparison.

But Spencer's not perfect and he'd be the first to admit that. "I think [I need to improve upon] making a good first pass out of my zone . And just making sure I'm always on the right guy in the defensive zone. That's something I've been working on throughout year and I think it's come a long way," he says. The reality is that no NHL draft prospect is perfect. The fact that Spencer has identified his areas of concern and has the work ethic to improve them, is going to endear him to NHL scouts. Defenders with his size, skating ability, and potential to impact the game at both ends of the ice rarely make it out of the top 45.

So what's on tap for Matt Spencer the rest of 2015? Peterborough will look to cement its aforementioned playoff spot and hopefully avoid a first round matchup with the powerhouse Oshawa Generals. Should Peterborough's season come to an abrupt end, one would have to consider Spencer a lock to don the red and white for the Under 18's. Spencer's skating ability and tenacity would be a massive asset to Canada on the back-end, where he'd likely be considered for the role of top pairing "shutdown defender." And given his acumen, he's probably a candidate to wear a letter too.

A strong push towards the playoffs and/or a great Under 18's would go a long way to solidifying Spencer's status as a top round pick in 2015. Regardless of how the season concludes for the Petes (as a team), one thing is for certain; the future is very bright for a young team which is bound to be led by the energetic and determined Matt Spencer.


Matt Spencer Q & A

Otten: So Matt first question- you were part of a pretty special Oakville Rangers OHL Cup winning team. Are you still pretty close with some of the guys from that team?

Spencer: Definitely. I try to keep in contact with all my close friends from that team. It was definitely part of my life that was very special, so those relationships really last. Although I'm here in Peterborough and not many guys are near me I'm still trying to keep in touch with them the best I can.

Otten: Okay so when you're going up against some of your Eastern Conference rivals like McKenzie, Craievich, Luff, do you try to get under the skin of those guys a little more? Do you give them an extra shove in the corner? What's that relationship like on the ice?

Spencer: For the most part on the ice it's all business. Obviously we try to give a little below, a tap on the butt every once in a while. For the most part we are both trying to win for our teams. So when it comes down to it it's all business.

Otten: Your first year in the league had a some ups and downs. Obviously you improved a lot as the year went on. What was the biggest adjustment for you going into the OHL from minor midget?

Spencer: Most likely the speed and physicality of the OHL. Obviously players are a lot bigger and a lot faster, so that's a big thing. In terms of skill  it wasn't a huge jump. I mean, it was something that I more expected so I was ready for that, but the biggest thing was the speed.

Otten: So how did you prepare for this coming year knowing that it'd be your NHL draft year?

Spencer: Well it started in the summer. I worked really hard throughout the summer trying to get ready for the season. I brought a real positive attitude to the training camp in the early stages of this year. I knew it was gonna be a big year. I mean really preparation from last summer and all the way through til now has been huge.

Otten: So tell me about the gold metal experience at the Ivan Hlinka.

Spencer: It was an unforgettable time. I mean having Jody [Hull] there as well as coach was a real big help to me. He knows how I play and what I'm about so I think that I greatly benefited from that. There was a great group of guys there and I am glad that we were able to win

Otten: So obviously the first priority for you is playing in the playoffs with Peterborough but does the idea of playing international tournaments again in the summer or down the road sit in the back of  your mind as exciting (such as the upcoming U18's)?

Spencer: Well whenever the world juniors roll around that's always something I enjoy watching so maybe being able to play for that team one day would be huge. But in terms of right now I'm just trying to focus on the rest of the season and the playoffs like you mentioned.

Otten: So your offensive numbers have really improved this year- is that something you wanted to improve upon specifically?

Spencer: I think that's something that every player wants to improve on. But it hasn't been a huge priority for me this year. I'm just trying to focus on my defensive game and it seems that the more I focus on that offense generates from that. I mean obviously it's nice getting a couple more goals and assists.  Overall it's how I help the team, how I contribute there [defensively].

Otten: On the same wave length, what are your biggest strengths and assets from the perspective of an NHL scout?

Spencer; I think my skating and my defensive ability. And I think I'm a really good two-way defenceman. But more importantly I'm able to shut down top offensive guys on the other team. But I'm still an offensive presence in the offensive zone.

Otten: Conversely what's your biggest weakness/area in need of improvement?

Spencer: Right now I think it's making a good first pass out of my zone . And just making sure I'm always on the right guy in the defensive zone. That's something I've been working on throughout year and I think it's come a long way.

Otten: So right now there's a battle for the top OHL defender taken in the upcoming NHL draft. Obviously some big names out there like Vande Sompel, Dermott, Dunn, etc. Why should an NHL team pick you first in that group of OHL defencemen?

Spencer: I think I'm one of the hardest workers in the OHL period. SO I think that's something I'd bring to any NHL team. I know its just something inside of me that is not going to go away. I think that's going to be big. And I always put the team first, so that's also another huge asset.

Otten: Is there an NHL player you might emulate your game after? You know a guy you look at and say that's a guy I really want to be compared to?

Spencer: I'd say Alex Pietrangelo of the St Louis Blues. He's a real solid puck mover. Just real sound in all areas of the ice.

Otten:  Who's the toughest forward to stop in the OHL? The guy who gives you the toughest time in the defensive zone?

Spencer: I'd say it's a tie between McDavid and Josh Ho-Sang. I mean obviously McDavid is incredibly fast. But when we play him I always try to contain him the best I can  I've done a pretty good job of that this year. Ho-Sang is just pretty crafty and you never know what he's going to do.


Thanks a ton to Matt Spencer and Burton Lee of the Peterborough Petes for taking the time out of their busy schedule to make this story/Q&A happen. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

OHL Coaches Poll - My Ballot (2015)

The 2015 OHL Coaches Poll should be released sometime next week, or the week after. Each year, I've made it a habit of creating my own ballot to try and predict what the results would look like. When putting together this year's ballot, the Western Conference was incredibly difficult. It's remarkable how much individual talent the Conference has. For some of the categories, players I left off of the top 3 (with ties) would have been number 1 or 2 in that same category if they played in the East (like best playmaker for example). Also worth noting that I didn't include Sam Bennett in any of the categories because he's barely played this year. If he had, he'd been at or near the top of almost every category for his Conference.

Of course, I feel like I need to repeat that this is my own subjective list and NOT the official results for the poll.

Without further ado, here's my 2015 ballot.

Most Underrated Player

1. Chris Carlisle
2. Lucas Peressini
3. Justin Scott & Bradley Latour

1. Kyle Platzer
2. Pius Suter
3. Erik Bradford

Most Improved Player

1. Kevin Lebanc
2. Michael McCarron
3. Joseph Blandisi & Matt Schmalz

1. Christian Dvorak
2. Chris Bigras
3. Dylan Strome

Smartest Player

1. Michael Dal Colle
2. Andrew Mangiapane
3. Carter Verhaeghe

1. Connor McDavid
2. Chris Bigras
3. Christian Dvorak

Hardest Worker

1. Cole Cassels
2. Travis Konecny
3. Kevin Lebanc & Joseph Blandisi

1. Remi Elie
2. Zach Nastasiuk
3. Dylan Sadowy & Alex Debrincat

Best Playmaker

1. Kevin Lebanc
2. Josh Ho-Sang
3. Andrew Mangiapane & Michael Dal Colle

1. Connor McDavid
2. Anthony DeAngelo
3. Sergei Tolchinsky, Mitch Marner & Max Domi

Most Dangerous in the Goal Area

1. Michael Dal Colle
2. Michael McCarron
3. Brendan Lemieux

1. Connor McDavid
2. Tyler Bertuzzi
3. Robby Fabbri & Mitch Marner

Best Skater

1. Travis Konecny
2. Sean Day
3. Joseph Blandisi

1. Connor McDavid
2. Anthony DeAngelo
3. Nick Baptiste, Sonny Milano & Max Domi

Best Shot

1. Michael Dal Colle
2. Brendan Perlini
3. Jordan Subban

1. Justin Bailey
2. Connor McDavid
3. Jared McCann & Max Domi

Hardest Shot

1. Brandon Devlin
2. Brendan Perlini
3. Kyle Wood

1. Trevor Murphy
2. Darnell Nurse
3. Justin Bailey & Max Iafrate

Best Stickhandler

1. Josh Ho-Sang
2. Michael Dal Colle
3. Andrew Mangiapane & Jordan Subban

1. Connor McDavid
2. Sergei Tolchinsky
3. Max Domi & Sonny Milano

Best on Faceoffs

1. Nick Paul
2. Carter Verhaeghe
3. Cole Cassels

1. Jason Dickinson
2. Jared McCann
3. Connor McDavid

Best Body Checker

1. Hunter Smith
2. Chadd Bauman
3. Josh Brown & Cameron Lizotte

1. Nick Ritchie
2. Mitch Jones
3. Kurtis MacDermid

Best Shot Blocker

1. Josh Brown
2. Marcus McIvor
3. Will Petschenig

1. Travis Dermott
2. Zach Nastasiuk
3. Darnell Nurse

Best Defensive Forward

1. Nick Paul
2. Joseph Blandisi
3. Lawson Crouse

1. Jason Dickinson
2. Christian Dvorak
3. Zach Nastasiuk & Jared McCann

Best Penalty Killer

1. Joseph Blandisi
2. Josh Brown
3. Nick Paul

1. Darnell Nurse
2. Dylan Sadowy & Zach Nastasiuk
3. Jared McCann

Best Offensive Defenceman

1. Jordan Subban
2. Mitchell Vande Sompel
3. Vince Dunn

1. Anthony DeAngelo
2. Trevor Murphy
3. Darnell Nurse & Chris Bigras

Best Defensive Defenceman

1. Marcus McIvor
2. Josh Brown
3. Evan McEneny

1. Darnell Nurse
2. Chris Bigras
3. Travis Dermott

Best Puck Handling Goalie

1. Jake Smith
2. Mackenzie Blackwood
3. Spencer Martin

1. Brandon Halverson
2. Jake Paterson
3. Michael Giugovaz

Best Shootout Shooter

1. Josh Ho-Sang
2. Jordan Subban
3. Sam Babintsev

1. Max Domi
2. Connor McDavid
3. Petrus Palmu

Best Shootout Goalie

1. Spencer Martin
2. Mackenzie Blackwood
3. Lucas Peressini

1. Jake Paterson
2. Alex Nedeljkovic
3. Brandon Halverson