Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Sunday Top 10 - American Players

In today's Sunday Top 10, I look at the top American born OHL players for the 2008-09 season. This was an incredibly difficult list to create, because of the large talent pool of American players currently playing in the OHL. I had some diffuculty in really settling on my top 10 and ended up leaving out a lot of talented players, especially some younger guys like Jared Knight, Austin Watson, Andrew Yogan, among others.

The list took a few things into account. For one, prospect standing and NHL potential. But it was also weighed largely by on ice performance, regardless of NHL standing or chances.

Here is the list...

10. Tony Romano - Peterborough Petes
Romano was outstanding for Peterborough this season after struggling last season in London. He came to London from Cornell University with a lot of hype and high expectations at the offensive end. However, he was largely unimpressive and looked like one of those guys with some solid athletic ability, but little hockey sense and finishing skill. However, this season with the Petes, he was a completely different player. He played in all situations, he showed great speed, he was named one of the dangerous players in the goal area by the coaches in the coaches poll and he looked to re-establish himself as a good professional prospect. Keep in mind, that this was Romano's overage season, but the progression was still great to see. He looks like he could be a solid 3rd line forward at the NHL level.

9. Brian Lashoff - Kingston Frontenacs
Lashoff is one of the best kept secrets in the OHL. Brian, the brother of Tampa defenseman and former NHL 1st round draft pick Matt Lashoff, went unselected in the 2008 NHL entry draft. However, following a strong performance at the Detroit Red Wings prospect camp, Lashoff was given a contract with the defending Cup champions. He has good size, is a great skater, can play both ways, and tends to be smart with the puck. He put up only 32 points from the backend this season combined between Barrie and Kingston, but he's capable of doing more. He's playing outstanding for Grand Rapids in the AHL currently, where he has 8 points in 11 games since the OHL season ended, and is currently playing a large role in the Griffins run for the Calder Cup.

8. Adam Comrie - Saginaw Spirit
Comrie didn`t really make a lot of strides offensively in his 2nd OHL season after transferring from the USHL, but he remains a solid prospect. The 6`4, 200lbs defenseman skates like a 5`10, 170lbs defenseman, and uses his mobility to be an effective defender. He`s also got a mean streak and isn`t afraid to use his size to gain defensive position. He does have a very booming point shot, so I do expect him to eventually score more goals in the OHL, however he remains a really solid defender and somewhat underrated based on the fact that he plays out of the spotlight in Saginaw. I also think he`s got a great shot of being a part of the next World Junior Championships for Team USA.

7. Jeremy Smith - Niagara IceDogs
Smith had an interesting season. He struggled mightily to start the year with Plymouth and lost his starting job to the tremendously talented Matt Hackett. After a trade to Niagara, he was outstanding to close the year and in a sense, re-cemented his status as a solid NHL prospect. You have to think his play to start the season is a complete anamoly. Smith is a solid technical goaltender who moves well in his crease and has a great glove hand. I expect him to move on to the AHL or ECHL next season, especially since he`s already under contract with Nashville. However, I have heard some rumblings that Nashville is considering returning him to Niagara next season to play as an overager due to the fact that they`ll already have two solid goaltending prospects looking for playing time in the minors next season, Mark Dekanich and Chet Pickard.

6. Nick Palmieri - Belleville Bulls
Palmieri is a monster...when he wants to be. He took a lot of flak for the way he handled things in Erie this season and his subsequent trade to Belleville. But he`s a solid player, when he wants to be. When he`s at his best, Palmieri is nearly impossible for OHL defenders to contain due to his combination of size, strength, and skating ability. He also possesses an NHL caliber shot which he gets off quickly. He`s definitely a potential NHL goal scorer. However, he doesn`t use his size nearly as much as he should. if he did, he`d be up near the top of this list. Moving on to the professional level should motivate him to be at his best in every game. On the plus side, he had an absolutely outstanding playoffs for Belleville, with 14 goals in 17 games. Just a glimpse of what he`s capable of.

5. Jack Combs - Saginaw Spirit
Combs was definitely one of the better and most important overage players in the OHL this season. He`s a tremendous offensive player who is a great playmaker who possesses great hockey sense and often makes the players around him much better. While he is slightly one dimensional, there is no doubting how important Combs was to Saginaw`s outstanding season this year. I fully expect him to make an impact at the professional level, whether it be earning an NHL contract or working his way up through the AHL/ECHL. While Combs may not be as good of an NHL prospects as some of the other players on this list, the St. Louis native has bled Spirit red, white and blue the past 4 years, being an impact player in two of them.

4. Phil McRae - London Knights
McRae was having quite the breakout season prior to the Knights acquisition of John Tavares. Following that, he tended to take a backseat, being pushed off the top powerplay unit and top line. It's tough playing second fiddle, but next season should be a significant one for McRae, as I expect him to finish in the top 10 of OHL scoring. He's a big kid who skates well, competes hard and has a high skill level. Just the pull package, who is still gaining the confidence in using it. McRae is another guy I expect to be playing for Team USA at the next World Juniors.

3. Thomas McCollum - Brampton Battalion
McCollum sure didn't help the public's perception of his ability with his stinker of a performance at the World Juniors this year, however those that see him more regularly know he's capable of significantly better. In his time with Guelph and Brampton this year, he was consistently one of the best netminders in the league and is currently heading to the OHL Championship after ousting Mike Murphy and the Belleville Bulls, showing he is capable of playing in big games. And sure, he is prone to some bouts of inconsistency, but he's still a talented goalie with a bright future. Look for him to be in the AHL next year, likely splitting time with either Dan Larsson or James Howard, whichever one isn't in the NHL as the Wings back up.

2. John Carlson - London Knights
Carlson exploded into the league this season, as the NHL first round pick of the Washington Capitals came completely as advertised following his transfer from the USHL. He was easily one of the best defenseman in the league and IMO should have been the defenseman of the year, despite not finishing in the top 3 of voting. He is a monster at both ends of the ice and uses great speed to lead the rush. He controls the powerplay and isn't afraid to get in your face, using his size. I think there is a strong chance he actually makes the Caps next season, as he was apparently pretyt damn close this season. if he's back in London, expect him to be even better.

1. Eric Tangradi - Belleville Bulls
Let's face it. Eric Tangradi is a beast. I had a little bit of trouble deciding upon Tangradi, Carlson and McCollum for the first spot on this list, and ultimately went with the big guy from Philly. He uses his size like a 6'4, 220lb forward should. And while he isn't the world's greatest skater, I don't think it's an issue either. He's incredibly skilled and is a solid all around offensive player, possessing both an NHL caliber shot and playmaking ability. He should get a shot to play in Pittsburgh as early as next season, and has a good chance to be a top quality, impact NHL player. Tangradi's performance against Niagara this postseason, for the record, essentially locked up his spot at number 1 on this list. he flat out dominated.

Check back next Sunday as we take a look at the Top 10 player who could be or are jumping ship to the OHL next season. Any guesses on where Cam Fowler will sit??

Saturday, April 25, 2009

OHL Playoff Predictions - OHL Championship

Last night, thanks in part to Matt Duchene's hat trick, the Brampton Battalion dusted off the Belleville Bulls to capture the Eastern Conference title. Earlier in the week, the Windsor Spitfires defeated the London Knights in 5 games, all of which went to overtime.

Now here is the sad part. I went 0/2 in my predictions of the conference finals (my predictions can be found here).

This drops my overall playoff prediction record to 10/14. Not tremendous. I need to step it back up for the OHL Championship. So here is my prediction...

OHL Championship

1 (West). Windsor Spitfires vs. 2 (East). Brampton Battalion
Season Series: Windsor 2-0
My Analysis: OK, so both teams stepped up large in the Conference finals. In Windsor, goaltender Andrew Engelage stepped up his game and looks to be capable in helping the team to the Memorial Cup, even if he isn't capable of stealing his team a game. In Brampton, goaltender Thomas McCollum is capable of stealing his team a game and is likely going to have to do that in order to push this series. I like Windsor's offense a lot here. I think that their competitive drive and skill makes them a more dangerous overall unit than Brampton. Defensively, I like Windsor as well, just because of the potential game changer they have on point in Ryan Ellis. Personally, I think Windsor really takes it to Brampton in this series and moves on to represent the OHL in the Memorial Cup.
Prediction: Windsor in 5

Monday, April 20, 2009

2009 NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings

Last week, the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau released its final draft list for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

Here is the breakdown of the OHL prospects on the North American lists:

1. John Tavares - London
2. Matt Duchene - Brampton
10. Zack Kassian - Peterborough
15. Nazem Kadri - London
16. Ryan Ellis - Windsor
19. Peter Holland - Guelph
25. Calvin de Haan - Oshawa
31. Matt Clark - Brampton
32. Ethan Werek - Kingston
39. Ryan O'Reilly - Erie
44. Alex Hutchings - Barrie
45. Michael Latta - Guelph
47. Jesse Blacker - Windsor
48. Taylor Beck - Guelph
58. Taylor Doherty - Kingston
66. Garrett Wilson - Owen Sound
68. Jordan Szwarz - Saginaw
79. Ben Chiarot - Guelph
92. Casey Cizikas - Mississauga
94. Matthew Tipoff - Belleville
105. Paul Bezzo - Owen Sound
107. Marcus Foligno - Sudbury
108. Bjorn Krupp - Belleville
110. Scott Valentine - Oshawa
116. Tyler Randell - Kitchener
122. Michael Fine - Sault Ste. Marie
129. Luke Judson - Belleville
155. Tyler Hostetter - Erie
157. Darren Archibald - Barrie
168. Andy Andreoff - Oshawa
170. Simon Gronvaldt - Kitchener
172. Phil Varone - London
176. Jordan Mayer - Mississauga
178. Brett Flemming - Mississauga
182. Kyle Clifford - Barrie
185. Marc Cantin - Belleville
189. Daniel Maggio - Sudbury
191. Adam Payerl - Barrie
192. Cody Sol - Saginaw
195. Beau Schmitz - Plymouth

1. Matt Hackett - Plymouth
3. Edward Pasquale - Saginaw
5. Scott Stajcer - Owen Sound
7. Michael Zador - Oshawa
13. Jaroslav Janus - Erie
14. Peter Di Salvo - Barrie
20. Chris Perugini - Ottawa
25. Alain Valiquette - Sudbury

The official release of the rankings (with full order) can be found here.

Should you want to compare this final list with the preliminary and midterm lists, they can be found here and here.

Just a few minor comments on the list and its order.
  • Congrats to Matt Hackett for being named 1st among North American goalies. He earned it after being passed over last year. He was sensational in the playoffs for Plymouth as well.
  • Still no Andrew Agozzino, (or for that matter Chris DeSousa as well) from Niagara. Not sure what he did to the scouts at CSB, but I have a hard time seeing neither of these guys on the list, at least towards the back end. I know that Redline report (another scouting service) thinks very highly of DeSousa.
  • The Zach Tatrn mystery unfolds a little bit more. Tatrn burst on to the the midterm ranking at 86, much to the 'wtf' of myself, considering I didn't consider him anywhere near an NHL draft prospect. Sure enough, he's disappeared off the list completely now. Makes me wonder if his ranking at 86 was a complete knee jerk reaction on their part to a strong performance in a single game.
  • You have to wonder, if these rankings come out after the CHL playoffs have finished, does Phil Varone still drop from 90 on the midterm, to 172 on the final, considering the outstanding playoffs he has had thus far.
  • Besides Tatrn, the others to fall off the list completely are Marc Zanetti and Brandon Foote. The guys who joined the list following an omission on the midterm are Scott Valentine, Beau Schmitz, Cody Sol, Daniel Maggio, and Marc Cantin.
I'll be releasing my final draft ranking sometime following the completion of the OHL playoffs and Memorial Cup. I truly believe that strong playoff performances can earn you significant positive draft attention.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Sunday Top 10 - OHL Import Players

I had a really nasty computer virus attack me recently and as such, updates to the blog have been few in number over the past week or so. But everything appears to be stabilized for now, just in time for the weekly Sunday Top 10.

This week, we look at the Top 10 impact import players (awesome alliteration). Some really solid Imports took to the ice this season in the OHL, and had a significant impact on their team's success. While the Import process is often a bit of a crap shoot, every year OHL General Managers do manage to turn a few selections into gold.

Here is the list...

10. Adam Sedlak - Peterborough Petes
Sedlak had an up and down season. He possesses outstanding skating ability from the back end, and has good offensive instincts, showcasing an ability to jump into the rush effectively. However, he is very raw. He could stand to improve his decision making with and without the puck, and he needs to improve his one on one defensive coverage. However, he ended up finishing 2nd on the team in defenseman points and did make progress as the season went along. As a late 1991, Sedlak isn't eligible for the NHL draft until 2010. Hopefully, he sticks around Peterborough next season where he'll have a chance to be a part of a young and up and coming defense along with the likes of Jeff Braithwaite, Jamie Doornbosch, among others.

9. Marco Insam - Niagara IceDogs
Insam was a pleasant surprise for the Dogs this season. After failing to make the WHL last year, not a whole lot was expected of Insam this season. However, he was an impact player, finishing 3rd on the team in goals. He has an absolute cannon of a shot and really improved his skating as the season went along. He could stand to use his big body more, especially in establishing a physical presence on the ice, however the Italian sniper showcased a lot a grit by playing through the playoffs with a shoulder injury. Should return as an overager next year where he'll likely be among the team leader in goals again.

8. Milan Doczy - Owen Sound Attack
Doczy was a tower of power this year for Owen Sound. At 6'5, 200lbs, Doczy is an intimidating physical presence on the ice, who ended up finishing the year at a + rating, an accomplishment on a mediocre Owen Sound team. He skates alright for a big man too, improving on that in his second OHL season. If he only used his size more physically in order to become a more dominant physical blueliner, he'd likely receive attention from NHL scouts. As a 1990, Doczy will likely return for another year in Owen Sound and help to solidify the blueline.

7. William Wallen - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Wallen has quite the year. He nearly lost his life due to an aneurysm but recovered in time to finish out the season in Mississauga. At 5'8, 170lbs, he is not the biggest player on the ice, but he is rather fearless out there. Almost like a little waterbug, bouncing around. He has a ton of skill too, especially in the puckhandling department. Considering how much development and conditioning time he lost this season, I thought he faired pretty well in his first OHL year. I expect he'll return next season, where I also think he'll lead Mississauga in scoring.

6. Sergey Korostin - Peterborough Petes
Korostin has been plagued very badly by inconsistencies in his short time in the OHL. The London Knights got tired of his lackadaisical effort and shipped him to Peterborough after 13 games. He can be an impact player one shift, and invisible the next. He has a ton of skill, and is an exceptional skater. He has the ability to go end to end and at times isn't even afraid to take the puck to the net. However, whether it be a conditioning issue or effort issue, he disappears for large stretches. He'll be moving on to the professional ranking next year in Dallas' organization, in the AHL or ECHL. I'm not sure how much Peterborough is going to miss him.

5. Kaspars Daugavins - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Daugavins had the absolute definition of an up and down season. He started the year with Binghampton in the AHL, but due to some conflicts with the coaching staff over his conditioning and ice time, he was returned to St. Mike's for his overage season. He played pretty well for St. Mike's and had a good playoff, but you have to consider this a disappointing season for the diminutive winger. He's had an excellent OHL career and I hope he's able to return to the Sens organization next year, focused and motivated to make an impact, because he's going to have to turn some heads to get back in their good books.

4. Jaroslav Janus - Erie Otters
Janus had quite the outstanding season on all fronts. He lead Erie to the playoffs and lead Slovakia to a solid performance at the World Juniors. All this after being passed over in the NHL draft last season. I think a lot of people expect Janus to get drafted this season as a re-entry, and it would be well deserved. He's got some things he has to work on, but he an incredibly athletic goaltender with natural talent. Should he get drafted, I actually wouldn't be surprised if he was returned to the OHL for his overage season in Erie, where he'll have a chance to lead them further into the playoffs. Should he not get drafted, I wouldn't be surprised if he returns back home.

3. Michal Jordan - Plymouth Whalers
Jordan emerged as a top flight OHL defenseman this season in Plymouth. He nearly doubled his offensive totals this season, and finished the year at an outstanding +28. He made great strides at the defensive end, which subsequently increased his ice time and confidence offensively. He'll be back in Plymouth next season and should continue to increase his totals and become one of the better all around defenseman in the OHL. Seems like a great late round pick by Carolina.

2. Andrei Loktionov - Windsor Spitfires
This guy just kept getting better and better every month. He's an absolutely dynamic offensive player who hustles and battles to make plays. He is absolutely one of the most skilled players in the OHL. He's been an absolute beast with Windsor in the playoffs thus far too, nearly leading the entire playoffs in scoring. It remains to be seen what LA's plans for him are next season. He could return to play in the OHL where he'd likely be among the scoring leaders, or he could head to the AHL for a new challenge in Manchester.

1. Evgeny Grachev - Brampton Battalion
Not many players have the combination of size and skill that Grachev possesses. He is such an outstanding and explosive skater, yet his skill level is also so high. Throughout the second half of the OHL season and through the playoffs, he has been one of the best players in the OHL. The New York Rangers got a good one here. I highly doubt he's back in Brampton next season, as I expect he'll make the Rangers or they'll move him to the AHL for a new challenge.

Next season should be interesting. We already know that 2008 Import pick Richard Panik will be playing for Windsor, where he'll likely be a solid scoring threat for them. Who knows who else will make the jump, but we're bound to see some impact players emerge.

Stay tuned for Next Sunday's Top 10, which will feature the Top 10 American players playing in the OHL.

Monday, April 13, 2009

OHL Playoff Predictions - Conference Finals

The OHL Conference Finals are set to get underway on Wednesday, with the Brampton Battalion facing the Belleville Bulls in the East, and the Windsor Spitfires facing the London Knights in the West. I know that largely, these were the Conference finals everyone wanted to see. The division winners duking it out. Interestingly enough, this is actually the first time since the OHL aligned into divisions, that the four division winners will meet in the Conference finals. A bit of history happening if you will.

Here is a review of my second round predictions. (they can be found here)

Eastern Conference: 2/2
Western Conference: 1/2

3/4 in total. Got one wrong again. The series I picked incorrectly was the Windsor/Plymouth one. I really thought Plymouth had what it took to take it to Windsor. I felt like the roll they were on would continue. And to their credit, they gave Windsor all they could handle in that 6 game series. However, I gotta give credit to Windsor too. They fought and clawed their way into the Conference finals, especially bouncing back from a bit of an embarassing first game loss.

So overall for the playoffs, I am 10/12. I suppose not to shabby.

Here are my predictions for the Conference finals...

Eastern Conference

1. Belleville Bulls vs. 2. Brampton Battalion
Season Series: Tied 2-2
My Analysis: Both teams are coming off of tough series against opponents who really played hard. In essence, it was a great tune-up to ensure that both of these teams are ready for this Conference final. Both Mike Murphy and Thomas McCollum have played pretty well this playoffs, with both having a couple iffy games. I think the result of this series really comes down to depth. Both teams have the ability to play two solid scoring lines, however, I like Belleville's bottom six a little bit better and I like the energy they always bring to the ice. If this series goes seven, I like Belleville's forechecking and board play to tire out the Brampton defense.
Prediction: Belleville in 7

Western Conference

1. Windsor Spitfires vs. 2. London Knights
Season Series: Spitfires 5-1
My Analysis: Ok, so Windsor largely dominated the regular season match up against London. So why on earth am I picking London? A couple of reasons. One, goaltending. Both of Windsor's goaltenders are currently sporting a save percentage under .900 for the playoffs. That's just not going to cut it against London. London can roll three lines on you that can put the puck in the net. London is going to get their scoring opportunities, and I'm not sure Windsor's goaltending can rise to the challenge. On the other side, Trevor Cann is playing some of his best hockey right now and looks poised and ready to handle this series. Two, John Tavares. Johnny T has been kind of quiet so far these playoffs. He's been good, but he hasn't been great. This is definitely going to be his last kick at the can for an OHL title and I don't think he's going to go down lightly. I look for him to take over this series offensively similar to the way he did in the last regular season game against Windsor where he scored 3 of the four London goals.
Prediction: London in 6

Do I finally have a perfect round in me?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday Top 10 - Most Impressive 1992 Born Players

Today's Sunday Top 10 is all about "natural" rookies. With Evgeni Grachev winning the OHL rookie of the year for 2008-09 recently, there has been a lot of talk about how the OHL should change the eligibility for the award, so that "real" rookies, 16-17 year first year players, are the ones who are winning it. Not NHL drafted imports or transfers from the United States.

With that concept in mind, here are the 10 1992 born OHL'ers who impressed me the most this season. This isn't necessarily an order of how I see them being drafted. Although I do think that for a 92 player, at least at this point, its hard to pinpoint draft stock as of this moment. These 92's have a habit of shooting from 5'10 to 6'0, and from having below average skating, to becoming speedsters, over the course of their first summer following their rookie year. So you can say, well this guy really impressed me, but he's too small, he isn't much of a draft pick for next year, but in my opinion you'd be wrong. I think the most important thing for a 92 player to do is to simply be noticeable on the ice. And not just that, but improve throughout the course of the season.

Without further ado, here is my list of the 10 1992 born players who impressed me the most this OHL season.

10. Devante Smith-Pelly - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
While Smith-Pelly never seemed to see a lot of ice time with some of the more talented players on the Majors, his line was always noticeable in my viewings. His motor is constantly running and he shows great speed on the forecheck. For a 92 born player, he actually seems relatively strong, especially in the corners. With even more strength, he could be a monster to handle in the cycle. He also showed a willingness to go hard to the net and to play a physical game. He had a solid last two months of the OHL season and a great first round against Barrie, showcasing that the offensive skills are there. I look for him to really solidify himself in the Missy top 6 next year, and to really emerge as a solid shift disturber.

9. Ryan O'Connor - Barrie Colts
When I saw Barrie this season, O'Connor was frequently their best defenseman. Quite an impressive feat for a 92. He showcased a great ability to lead the offensive charge, especially in running the point on the powerplay. With 10 goals this season, I think that with added strength his shot is going to develop into one of the better from the backend in the OHL. Defensively, he was pretty solid too. He always stayed with his man and made smart reads on the play. He does have some to learn about timing and when to attack and being a little more careful with the puck, but these things will come with experience and coaching. For me, outside of Gudbranson, O'Connor was the best 92 defenseman I saw this year. And that's a list of solid players (Beukeboom, Silas, Braithwaite).

8. John McFarland - Sudbury Wolves
The first thing you notice about the 1st overall pick from the last OHL Priority draft, is how highly skilled he is. He has great speed and great agility. He stickhandles through the neutral zone with ease and is incredibly dangerous in the goal area. However, as the game goes on, you start to notice other things, bad things. The fact that he doesn't backcheck. The fact that he doesn't seem to enter the danger areas to make a play. The fact that he often seems selfish in the offensive end and doesn't utilize his teammates well. Then you see him getting beaten to loose pucks in the third period and you question his endurance. The skill level is 100% there, but the effort, conditioning and overall play are not. I hope that Coach Foligno continues to work with him and I hope that offseason conditioning helps to make him a threat for all three periods.

7. Tyler Toffoli - Ottawa 67's
Toffoli was a consistent contributor for the 67's this season. He showcases great offensive ability, especially in the slot area. He's not afraid of the danger areas and is by no means a perimeter player. He was outstanding for Team Ontario at the Under 17's as well. Another encouraging sign was his strong performance against Niagara in the playoffs. He's just one of those guys who may not be the fastest, but he seems to be elusive in finding space for himself. As he gets stronger and more conditioned, his offensive numbers will only go up as he is able to win those one on one battles. Kilrea and the coaching staff had a lot of faith in him too. During the playoffs, when the Couture line was struggling or when Ottawa would need a goal, Kilrea would send Toffoli out there with Couture. That's confidence in a rookie.

6. Austin Watson - Windsor Spitfires
Watson is a guy right now who is all potential. In the times I saw him this year, he failed to hit the scoresheet, but he was still visible. At 6'3, he's still only pushing 170lbs. Yet, I found him winning battles in the corner and being a load for defenseman infront of the net. At that size, he is also a tremendous skater. He has the complete package, now he just needs the conditioning and the ice time to flourish. I didn't see him play in the second half of the season, but his numbers really took a hit. I'm wondering if he's been invisible, or whether he's just not getting the icetime on a talented Windsor club. Either way, he's absolutely one to watch for next year with tools to drool over.

5. J.P. Anderson - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
I'll admit, when I started putting together this list sometime before the playoffs, Anderson was down around 9-10. But his outstanding playoff performance raised him. I saw him play a few times against Brampton and he was just tremendous. I saw him earlier in the season in Niagara too, where he was also solid. He's not a big goalie, but he's very aggressive on challenging shooters and reads the play very well, which helps to maximize the size he does have. He is also very athletic and has the ability to make highlight reel saves. He has some things to work on, but the foundations are there. The fact that he backstopped Ontario to the Under 17 gold, and helped Missy push Brampton to 6 games, tells me that he is right now, by far the top 92 goalie that the OHL has to offer.

4. Jared Knight - London Knights
This guy is a battler. He plays very hard every shift, is great on the forecheck and is very physical. He's actually quite a similar player to Devante Smith-Pelly in the type of game they play. However, I think Knight's skill level is higher. He can dangle and he has the ability to really put big offensive numbers on the board. He kind of disappeared towards the end of the regular season, perhaps due to fatigue. But once his conditioning levels increase and he adds strength, I think you could see the makings of a dominant power winger.

3. Tyler Seguin - Plymouth Whalers
Seguin closed out the last two months of the season, on a rediculous scoring pace. Seguin played on the hottest line in the OHL with Chris Terry and Matt Caria. A lot of people felt like Seguin was just along for the ride, but I think he had a lot to do with the lines success. After all, Seguin finished second in scoring for Team Ontario at the Under 17's too. He is just a great all around offensive player, in particular playmaker. I think the test for a lot of people will be to see how he plays next season when Terry and Caria depart. However, I expect him to continue to produce and elevate his game.

2. Erik Gudbranson - Kingston Frontenacs
Gudbranson is the complete package. At 6'3, he skates so well and has the ability to rush the puck up the ice with ease. At 6'3, he also isn't afraid to use his size and has begun to develop a bit of a mean streak. With added strength, I think we could see that mean streak develop even more. Defensively, he's relatively solid. He made some rookie mistakes this year when I saw him play, in particular with defensive zone coverage, but I mean he just turned 17 and he's playing 30 minutes a night and wearing an "A". What more can you say? I know a lot of people were somewhat underwhelmed by the offensive numbers he put up this year, however I think you can chalk that up to lack of talent on Kingston, and the fact that the second half of the season, his powerplay time really decreased. Next year, I expect him to crack the 40 point mark and to be a top 10 NHL draft pick.

1. Jeff Skinner - Kitchener Rangers
Skinner is the type of guy you pay to go watch play. He's already a fan favourite in Kitchener and it's easy to see why. Skinner never gives up on the play. While a little undersized at 5'10, his lower body strength is excellent and it allows him to be involved in all aspects of the offensive game, in particular along the boards and behind the net. He has excellent speed and excellent overall offensive ability. At times, he has the puck on a string and I saw him make quite a few defenders miss this season. Most of all, he had an absolute explosive end to the season. I don't think size holds this guy back at all.

Stay tuned for next Sunday's top 10, as we look at the Top 10 Import Players in the OHL.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ottawa 67's Year in Review

Sean Keogh has provided us with his season review of the Ottawa 67's and its players.

Check it out...

The Ottawa 67s’ season, along with Brian Kilrea’s coaching career, ended 13 seconds into overtime in Game 7 of their first round series with the lower seeded Niagara Ice Dogs. A more upsetting and uncomfortable end to a hockey game I have never experienced. Kilrea said after the loss however, that he considered this team to have overachieved this year, and the first round loss did nothing to change how he viewed a very successful season. Forty wins for a team which regularly dressed three rookie blueliners, not to mention losing an NHL first round pick in Tyler Cuma for the season in December, is in fact impressive.

The strong year can be attributed to the outstanding play of Logan Couture, an outstanding first powerplay unit, and great offensive depth. The 67s led the Eastern Conference in goals and had 7 players score at least 23 goals, and it would have been 8 if Tyler Toffoli had played a full slate of games. Moreover, almost every player on the 67s had a much better 2008/09 season than they had 2007/08, not the least of which would be their captain Logan Couture. With that in mind, the following is an overview of all of the notable 67s players.

Logan Couture – Draft by San Jose in 2007, 1st round, 9th overall.

When Couture arrived in Ottawa as a 16 year old, he came with great expectations after being the consensus first pick in the OHL draft until John Tavares was granted exceptional player status. Entering his second year, he was considered a potential first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, only to drop over the course of the year. Throughout his four years in Ottawa, at times plagued by injuries and illness, Couture was a consistent but underwhelming producer. In his final year, particularly after Christmas, he put it all together and emerged as an all-round star for the 67s. In almost every game I saw, both live and on television, he was their best player, not simply offensively but all-round. Fans expecting Couture to electrify may be disappointed, but that is not because Couture is not an outstanding offensive player. He has very smooth and fast hands, a great release and most of all great playmaking and distribution skills. Moreover, he is extremely capable of creating offence not only for himself, but his linemates, thanks to the above-mentioned skills, as well as great work along the boards and impressive puck protection skills. Both Corey Cowick and Anthony Nigro exploded offensively after being placed on his line this year, and that line’s success and chemistry was entirely predicated on Couture’s superior offensive abilities. What separates Couture from other offensive forwards though is his strong defensive play and his ability to play in all situations at all times. His defensive awareness and back-checking skills allowed him to break up plays with great regularity, and the fact he was consistently on the first penalty killing unit is confirmation that Kilrea appreciated this as well. It is important for a prospect of Couture’s caliber to improve over the course of their career in junior hockey and emerge as an elite player. I wondered going in to the year whether Couture would be able to take that next step, and was pleased to see he did just that this season. San Jose is a very deep team, particularly down the middle, so he may begin next year in the AHL, but there is no reason to believe he is not capable of being a legitimate scoring line center for that club in time. Couture will need to continue to work on his skating, as well as keeping his motivation level where it was in the second half this year, but after injuries, illness and slow development, he is now firmly and confidently on the right track.

Anthony Nigro – Drafted by St. Louis in 2008, 6th round, 155th overall.

Perhaps the turning point in the 67s season was the trade that sent Michael Latta to Guelph for Nigro and Travis Gibbons. While Latta was a good player with great potential, the two players received in return both stepped in and became major contributors. In Guelph, Nigro was a checking center, tasked with playing a more defensive role, whereas soon after arriving in Ottawa he ended up on the first line alongside Couture. His offensive game took off thereafter, and he finished with 30 goals and 69 points on the year. Although he remained a solid all-round player, Nigro was more of a triggerman when playing the wing in Ottawa. His quick release became a major part of the Couture line’s offensive game plan, and his solid board work helped that line cycle. Although not a particularly big or fast player, Nigro’s effort can never be questioned, and that suggests he will work hard to improve his game. The season was undoubtedly a success for Nigro, and next year he will be expected to shoulder a bigger load in creating offence with Couture gone, perhaps returning to his natural center position. While I like Nigro, I question his NHL projectability. Other than his shot, his offensive skills are not outstanding, and the 67s have had better shooters like Chris Hulit and Miguel Delisle go nowhere after junior. Although I could perhaps see him develop in to a versatile, dependable third line player, that will require several more years like this one for Nigro.

Corey Cowick – Undrafted

The run-away winner of the most improved player category in the Eastern Conference coach’s poll, Cowick used a trade from Oshawa last summer to go from third line role player to first line goal scorer. He got off to a torrid start and briefly led the league in goals before finishing with 34, as well as another seven in the first round of the playoffs. Undrafted last year, he has a good chance to get picked this time around. He has good size, although he is neither physically imposing nor impressively strong. While he is a capable finisher at this level, he is not a gifted offensive creator either, and benefited greatly from playing with Couture. What Cowick has going for him is good defensive ability, a good overall make-up and enough size and skating that he might have NHL potential as a role player. He can bang and crash, but does not do so consistently. This season can be considered nothing less than a huge success for him, and while I am not sold that Cowick has the tools to stick at the NHL level, his evident improvement means somebody probably will be impressed enough to take him in the late rounds of the 2009 draft.

Thomas Kiriakou – Undrafted

Although Couture was the captain, Kiriakou might as well have been the co-captain. In his fifth and final season with the 67s, Kiriakou was everything an overage player should be. His effort was consistent, his leadership unquestionable and he was a contributor in all zones and situations. Already an outstanding penalty killer, superior face-off man and responsible defensive player, he became a capable offensive contributor this year, potting 29 goals and 65 points. What the future holds for the fan favourite I am not sure. If Kiriakou was going to get an NHL contract on the merits of his overage season, he probably would have received one by now. He has options in the minors, in Europe and with Canadian universities, like most good undrafted overagers. I would put his chances of becoming an NHLer at remote, but not nonexistent. Although not tall, he is well built and has the defensive abilities and character to keep improving, but his skating could hold him back. I wish him the best of luck in whatever direction he chooses to pursue.

Tyler Toffoli – 2010 Draft Eligible

The 67s’ first round pick last year, Toffoli had a strong rookie season, which earned him a spot on the First All-Rookie Team at year’s end. He produced at near a point per game pace, and despite battling some injuries, actually might have played his best hockey at the end of the year and in the playoffs. Toffoli is neither big nor a speedster, but he is a well-rounded offensive talent who will only improve as he gains confidence and strength. What I found intriguing was how Toffoli started playing with an edge by the end of the year. He was not shy about taking a few runs at Alex Pietrangelo in the playoffs, and showed some moxie for a 16 year old. At this point he is a very strong bet to go in the first round next year, and could very well be a lottery pick if he plays well.

Ryan Martindale – 2010 Draft Eligible

Martindale was one of the few players who definitely peaked early in the year. He thrived out of the gate on the Kid Line with Latta and Toffoli, but his second half was forgettable. After Latta left, the lines were shuffled, Martindale eventually contracted mononucleosis and he was not the same when he returned. He still scored near a point per game, including 23 goals in 53 games. He is not eligible for the NHL Draft until next year thanks to a late birthday, and that could work to his advantage. Martindale is a tall center at 6’3”, and has the kind of offensive ability that makes a player of that size a good bet for the first round in any year. In some ways he is advanced, because he is fairly responsible defensively, but he also needs to improve his skating and learn to use his body more. Depending on who returns and what position Nigro plays, Martindale could be the first line center next year, so he will have every opportunity to emerge as a top prospect.

Thomas Nesbitt – Undrafted

Passed over in last year’s draft, Nesbitt’s break out season was largely overshadowed this past season by the improvements of players like Couture and Cowick, but it was nonetheless a strong year for the former second round pick. Offensively he improved significantly, scoring 23 goals and 49 points, easily besting his previous career highs. More importantly, he displayed a strong all-round game, including good defensive play, great penalty killing and tons of energy. Few players were as consistent in their effort from one game to the next as Nesbitt. I would say that if Nesbitt had more size or better skating ability, he might get a sniff at being drafted, but it is unlikely at this point. That being said, his improvement should land him a NHL rookie camp tryout next fall, which at least puts you on the radar for certain teams.

Cody Lindsay – Undrafted

Lindsay is in a similar boat to Nesbitt in that in his third year in the OHL, he took a major step forward, more than doubling his point production from the previous year. A consistent presence on the second line, Lindsay is an undersized forward who uses a low center of gravity and good speed to his advantage and has good lower body strength for his age. He is probably a bit more creative and is a better skater than Nesbitt, but is not quite as strong defensively. Although Central Scouting ranked him at some points last year, he was undrafted and I would be quite surprised if he was selected this time around, despite a strong third season. At 5’9” he simply needs a few more big steps forward before he is guaranteed to receive NHL interest.

Tyler Cuma – Drafted by Minnesota in 2008, 1st round, 23rd overall.

The season began with great promise for Cuma, who had a fantastic training camp with Minnesota a couple of months after they used their first round pick on him. Upon returning to the 67s, he was to be their undisputed number one defenceman, and was also a strong candidate to make the Canadian World Junior team. Unfortunately for Cuma, his season was washed out in the December camp for the WJC, where he suffered a knee injury. He made his return in mid February, but re-injured his knee in the second period and that ended his season. Even in that game, he did not look back to his old self anyways. Overall Cuma suited up in only 21 games for the 67s. For that reason, Cuma is no further ahead in his development than he was a year ago. He remains a good all-round blueline prospect, with great mobility in all four directions and room to improve his offensive contribution. It sounds like Minnesota might plan on keeping him next year, but I believe he would be better served returning to junior for another season. What Cuma has yet to do at the junior level is assert himself as a star player, and make that transition from talented prospect to elite junior player, just as Couture finally did this year. Taking his game to the next level at the OHL level would be a valuable piece of his development, but Minnesota has rushed teenage prospects before.

Julien Demers – Drafted by San Jose in 2008, 5th round, 106th overall.

When Cuma went down, Demers became the undisputed number one blueliner on the 67s. The other turning point for his season was the acquisition of Travis Gibbons, who thrived when placed on the top pairing with Demers. A strong, thick blueliner, Demers was known for his big hitting last year, but this year was a more complete and consistent force. He played 30 minutes a night, quarterbacked the league’s best powerplay and was a pillar on the penalty kill. In turn his production rose, as Demers notched 42 points in 61 games, as well as an impressive +28. There is much to like about the package Demers provides. He has size, strength, offensive potential, defensive ability and a history of being a physical presence. If there is one thing that he needs to work on it remains his skating. His stride is somewhat similar to Couture’s, not awkward but also not explosive, but Demers is heavier on his skates. Demers has good offensive instincts, enough so that he could be more of a puck carrier if he improved his skating, but it is more important for his defensive ability that he gets quicker. A late birthday, he could return next year as an overager if San Jose either does not sign him, or gives him a contract but decides another year in Ottawa would be better than him playing in the AHL at such a young age. In my opinion Demers is a legitimate NHL prospect, a late bloomer who simply continues to improve, very similar to former 67s blueliner and fellow Sharks prospect Derek Joslin.

Marc Zanetti – 2009 Draft Eligible

Like Joslin and Demers before him, Zanetti is a late round OHL pick who has emerged as a regular contributor as a 17 year old. Moreover, like those two before him, he has a good chance of being drafted this summer, being ranked 139th by Central Scouting. Zanetti is less dynamic and offensively talented than the other two. He put up only 17 points this year, though his 102 PIMs hint at his style of play. Zanetti is first of all a stay-at-home blueliner. Although not any taller than 6’0”, Zanetti has broad shoulders and a good build. His one-on-one defensive abilities are very good, and he is a willing battler who will block shots and take on all comers. This year, his all-round play was dependent on his level of confidence. When he struggled, he was a liability with the puck, but more often than not he made a solid first pass and showed some offensive potential for this level. I believe Zanetti should get drafted, but he is not quite on the same level as Demers or Joslin. Both players developed into outstanding OHL blueliners, and I am not sure Zanetti is capable of doing the same. Brock has compared him to Marc Methot, who was always very good in his own zone and instead of becoming an all-round star in the OHL, simply transferred his defensive abilities extremely smoothly to the professional game and is now a regular in Columbus. My concern is that Zanetti, at only 6’0”, 200lbs, may not be able to smoothly transfer his stay-at-home style to the professional game as the much bigger Marc Methot has. In my mind, right now Zanetti does not project as a physical monster that can lean on players in the defensive zone. I do believe he is worth being drafted, but I am less confident of his NHL potential than I was Joslin and Demers.

Travis Gibbons – Undrafted

Anthony Nigro was considered the biggest piece acquired in the Latta trade, but I believe Gibbons made the bigger impact, even though Nigro was impressive. While the 67s had depth up front, once Cuma went down, Demers and erratic second year import Martin Paryzek were the only veterans on the blueline. Gibbons arrived and immediately stepped on to the first pairing with Demers, and from then on that first pairing paced the 67s all the way. In every situation Demers played, so did Gibbons. After only 4 points last year, Gibbons was passed over in the NHL draft, and he will likely be again. At 5’10”, a blueliner has to have an exceptional skill to be an NHL prospect, whereas Gibbons is more of an all-round player. His offensive skills are not elite, he doesn’t have the skating to dictate the tempo or electrify and he does not play much bigger than his size. It is unfortunate that there is no room in the NHL for intelligent, all-round blueliners at that size, but such is the reality. If he improves his strength and skating, I could see Gibbons eventually getting a contract, but like Nesbitt and Lindsay, in the meantime he will be a very good junior player for the 67s.

Chris Perugini – 2009 Draft Eligible

Goalie prospects for the NHL do not come much smaller than Perugini anymore. Listed at only 5’10” and 147lbs, Perugini’s stature will always make him an underdog. If nothing else though, he is a battler, as shown when he wrestled the starting job away from last year’s starter, the much bigger and NHL-signed Adam Courchaine. Perugini played in 49 games and posted a very impressive 27-10-3 record. The only blemish was his nervous play in the first round against Niagara, which resulted in Courchaine taking back his job if only for the last few games of the year. Perugini is ranked 16th by Central Scouting among goaltenders, but higher ranked goalies have gone undrafted before. Perugini is a hard working, focused and highly athletic goaltender, and this year he improved in reading the angles and making himself as big as possible. However at his size, his rebound control needs to be much better because he is not as acrobatic as a guy like Mike Murphy. Goaltenders are harder to predict, but after his poor playoff showing, Perugini is not a lock to be selected.

Adam Courchaine – Signed by Boston

This past season had to be disappointing for Courchaine. After being rewarded with an NHL contract for his strong season in 2007/08 as a starter, Courchaine’s consistency issues plagued him much of the year. He was outplayed by Perugini and only in the playoffs did he seize on an opportunity to steal back some playing time. The local product has the size and athleticism NHL teams want in a goalie, but I have to wonder whether he will stick with the Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence next year after taking such a noticeable step backwards. Goalies take a long time to develop, so Courchaine cannot be counted out simply based on one bad year, but at this point he would have to be considered a long shot prospect.


Personally I very much enjoyed watching the 67s this year. Having lived out in Nova Scotia over the past five years, as well as in Central America for the latter half of 2008, it was the most I had been able to see of the 67s in about five years. The 67s’ organizational philosophy is that they will not sacrifice the future to make a run in the present, and that achieving consistent competitiveness is the best environment for developing teenage hockey players and young adults. It is for that reason that the 67s almost always have intriguing prospects, but never field a roster that will make the London Knights or Windsor Spitfires too nervous.

Next year is shaping up to be the same, with key variables being whether key players like Cuma, Demers and Cowick return. Cuma could be in the NHL, and both Demers and Cowick could be in the AHL, but neither have professional contracts yet. With Logan Couture gone, the future of the 67s offence is now Tyler Toffoli and Ryan Martindale, both of whom are potential first round picks in the 2010 NHL Draft. The defence will depend on Demers and Cuma, but rookies like Zanetti will still be a year older and hopefully better. How the 67s perform under new coach Chris Byrne is perhaps the most intriguing question, and one not asked in a very long time. But like the impressive roster of players who have come through the 67s organization over the past 30 plus years, Byrne, an assistant coach this year, is also a product of Kilrea’s tutelage, and as such 67s fans can expect more of the same this year.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Niagara IceDogs End of the Season Report

The Niagara IceDogs 2008-09 season came to an end last night following the teams' 5-2 loss to Belleville in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi finals. The team fought hard throughout these playoffs, and there is no doubt in my mind that the coaching staff and management have to be happy with the effort level, considering that in my opinion, the team overachieved this season.

The core of this team is still very young, with a vast majority of them eligible for the draft this year. You have to expect that over the next couple of years, this team has a very good shot at being a very good hockey team.

Let's take a look at my final report on the team this season...

Jeremy Smith - Drafted by Nashville in 2007/54th

With the season over, and Smith already signed by Nashville, you have to think he could be headed to the AHL or ECHL sometime soon. I wish him nothing but success at the professional level, and I expect him to find it. He was absolutely sensational after coming over from Plymouth at midseason. Without him, I'm not even sure the Dogs make the playoffs, let alone advance to round 2. He was great throughout the playoffs too. Smith is just a solid technical goaltender. He comes out and plays the angles very well. He directs rebounds into the corner with ease and always seem to have control of the game. He is athletic and anticipates the play well, and has a very good glove hand. One thing that Smith does incredibly well and deserves attention, is his ability to make the saves through traffic. I think that speaks volumes of his technical ability. At the next level, professional goaltenders are to be expected to fight through screens and he does this among the best that I've seen at this level. He makes himself so large in net. The only thing I can say that Smith might need to work on, is letting the play come to him a bit more. In that, I mean that teams catch him cheating a lot. He'll really cheat for the glove save and they'll expose him down low, or vice versa. He can also get caught flopping, again as teams try to force him into cheating on the play. With Chet Pickard also graduating next year (more than likely), and Mark Dekanich already in the AHL, you have to wonder if Smith plays next season in the AHL, or the ECHL. Either way, I wish him the best. He's a solid prospect.

Mark Visentin - 2010 NHL Draft Eligible

This year was a great learning experience for Visentin. He got a lot of playing time at the start of the season before Smith's arrival. He won gold as a member of Team Ontario at the Under 17 World Hockey Challenge. And he was able to learn the ropes from a savvy veteran like Smith. When he did play, Visentin did look overmatched. He is relatively solid technically, but he wasn't able to react to the play quick enough, and he was prone to letting in some really bad goals, perhaps due to nerves ot lack of focus. But he was one of 2 92 born goaltenders in the O this year, so you have to give him some credit. I think the Dogs are going to look for big things from him next season with Smith all but gone and no one else really to take his place. I do expect Niagara to bring in a veteran, perhaps overager to help Visentin next year too.

Alex Pietrangelo - Drafted by St. Louis in 2008/4th

I think it's obvious that Petro has talent. He's an effortless skater who brings the puck up with ease. He is aggressive in attacking the offensive zone and is great at creating offense. When he returned from St. Louis, I found that he was struggling a bit defensively, perhaps maybe due to a lack of confidence with his demotion. However, after the WJC's, he came back a different player. He was a dominant force at both ends of the ice and was crucial in leading the charge into the playoffs. In the playoffs, I think it was a bit of a different story though. I actually think he struggled a bit in the playoffs. To me, it looked like he was trying to do too much. He was turning the puck over a lot, especially coming out of his own zone, as he attempted to force the breakout. Defensively, some games, he was absent. Whether that was because the team was trailing and the coaching staff told him to be aggressive, remains to be seen. But at times, I found him to be running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I think that he also showed a different side of himself in the playoffs. He was very physical, but in some not good ways as he was taking some bad penalties out of frustration. Alex Pietrangelo is a great talent and player, but I don't think he is ready for the big time, and by keeping him for those 8 games, the Blues did more harm than good to him. Next season, they are going to be faced with a tough decision. In my mind, he hasn't progressed enough to handle the NHL. He'd be much better off returning to Niagara, playing and leading an up and coming hockey team. However, it remains to be seen if that is what will happen.

Drew Schiestel - Drafted by Buffalo in 2007/59th

Schiestel is another guy who had an up and down season. He started the year off very well IMO. He was playing outstanding hockey. But when Pietrangelo returned, he definitely lost a step. I'm not sure whether that was because he was no longer in the spotlight, or for another reason. Throughout the middle part of the season and towards the end, he struggled on a lot of nights. With defensive zone coverage and with turnovers in both ends. He always has been a terrific skater, but I found him to be too reserved. He would get through everyone on the rush, enter the offensive zone, and then simply dump the puck in. Rather than carry it in and create offensively. He became too timid. However, in the playoffs, I felt like he played some of the best hockey I've ever seen him play. He was absolutely better than Pietrangelp in the playoffs, in my opinion. He played inspired hockey at both ends of the ice. He used his speed to enter the offensive zone and to lead the offensive attack, following through with his rushes and creating offense, unlike earlier in the season. He played hard defensively and played very physical, but smart physical. He really stepped it up. He's currently unsigned by the Sabres, but if they saw him play in the playoffs, they'd be crazy not to give him a contract.

Mathew Maione - 2009 NHL Draft Eligible

If this guy wasn't so injury prone, he could be quite the player for the Dogs. He's a tremendous skater from the backend. He is smart with the puck and can run the point on the powerplay. Defensively, he's solid one on one and in zone coverage. He isn't afraid to go into the corners, despite being undersized at 5'10. The guy battles hard and he has skill. At the end of the regular season, he was playing absolutely tremendous hockey. However, in the playoffs, it was pretty clear he was playing hurt, as he wasn't playing much. While I don't think he has any chance of getting drafted this year, he's a guy who could take big steps and one day earn a contract, if he can stay healthy and get some confidence.

Alex Friesen, Andrew Agozzino, Matt Sisca, and Chris DeSousa - 2009 NHL Draft Eligible

You might wonder why I chose to lump these guys together. It's not a slight at them, it just has to do with what a lot of people tell me when they watch the Dogs play. The thing I hear most is that people can't tell the difference between these four guys when they play. To an extent, I can see why. They are all undersized, they all are relatively quick and have no trouble entering the danger areas. They also all relatively skilled. However, I do think that they bring different things to the ice. Alex Friesen is probably the best skater of the bunch, and is a great forechecker. He works hard for everything he gets. If he had a slightly better skill set and slightly better hands, he would have been a point per game player this season. He did play incredibly well in the playoffs though and showed that he does have the ability to start generating offense on a more consistent basis. Andrew Agozzino was solid all season for the Dogs. He is well rounded, can skate, can score, plays both ways. He also had a very strong playoffs. I know that he's been relatively frustrated with the lack of attention he has been receiving for the draft, but to an extent I can see why. He is undersized, and he doesn't really have a standout quality. He is talented offensively, but is he talented enough to play on a scoring line. And he is a hard worker who can play both ways, but is he a good enough forechecker and mucker to play a 3rd line role. That being said, I would still be surprised if he isn't at least a late round pick. Matt Sisca might be the most skilled of any of them, but is also the smallest and the softest. I think that one day, he will be the leading scorer for the Dogs, perhaps as early as next season. However, I'm not sure I like the prospects of him getting drafted. Chris DeSousa has the best chance of the four of getting drafted in my opinion. He is undersized, but he's also the best at getting the most out of his size. He has good lower body strength and is good in working the corners. He uses his speed to his advantage and he has one heck of a shot that he gets off very quickly. On top of that, he's a quality pest who isn't afraid to drop the mitts or lower the boom with an open ice hit. If I were to rank them in order of how I think scouts view them for the draft I'd say 1) DeSousa, 2) Agozzino, 3) Friesen, 4) Sisca.

Andrew Shaw - 2009 NHL Draft Eligible

This fan favourite is a treat to watch. He works hard every shift, he forechecks incredibly hard, he isn't afraid of anyone. On top of that, I actually think he's a very skilled hockey player who just wasn't given enough ice time this year to show it. In the playoffs, when Marco Insam went down, Shaw began to see consistent shifts with the top 6, and he showed flashes of brilliance. He's a great playmaker and he has a nose for the net. I think he has some things going for him that could get him drafted. One, he's one of the youngest players eligible for the draft. Two, he's still a beanpole, so once he gets stronger, he's going to become even more effective with the type of game he likes to play. Three, he's going to see more ice time next year and should vastly improve his numbers. And four, he's a bit of an enforcer prospect who could profile as an NHL pest. I really hope someone takes a chance on this kid on draft day. I don't think they'll be disappointed in the long run.

Freddie Hamilton - 2010 NHL Draft Eligible

Hamilton was solid all year long for the Dogs. He plays both ways and you can tell that he has good hockey sense. His lack of strength really held him back from contributing more offensively this season, as well as his average skating, in particular his acceleration. With a summer to get stronger and faster, Hamilton should be ready to be a solid offensive contributor for the Dogs next season. I also see him as a future captain of the Dogs, you can tell he has the leadership capabilities in him. I think that should he progress next season, he'll be an NHL draft pick in 2010.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Sunday Top 10 - Draft Re-Entries for the 2009 NHL Draft

The Sunday Top 10 returns today as we look at players who were previously passed over in the NHL Draft, but are still age eligible. With the new CBA, North American players have the opportunity to be drafted three times before they become unrestricted free agents (well there is actually another rule in place which allows players to be signed in a small window following the draft and during rookie camps, like the signings of such OHL guys like Brian Lashoff and Adam Courchaine in past offseasons). This means that for the 2009 NHL Draft, North American players born in 1991, 1990, and 1989 are eligible to be drafted.

Since the draft has decreased down to 7 rounds, more and more talented players are finding themselves on the outside looking in on draft day. That also means that more and more, players are finding themselves getting drafted at age 19 or 20, following breakout seasons. Just as an example, OHL'ers Andrew Campbell, Matt Martin, Justin Azevedo, Mike Murphy, and Justin DiBenedetto all found themselves drafted in 2008 after being passed over in previous seasons.

Here is my top 10 OHL players who were previously passed over in the NHL draft, but could get a call in the 2009 Draft.

10. Dan Kelly - Kitchener Rangers
Kelly had a bit of a rough season after breaking his ankle early in the season when he was slew footed by Attack forward Garrett Wilson. Kitchener also failed to make the postseason for the first time in Kelly's three year career. However, I don't think either will sour scouts on him. Kelly is widely considered one of the better stay at home defenseman in the OHL. While not physically imposing at only 6'0, 190lbs, Kelly manages to use his great hockey sense and solid positional play to shutdown opposing offenses. In this years OHL Coaches Poll, Kelly was named the third best penalty killer and second best defensive defenseman in the West. He is smart with the puck and makes a good first pass out of the zone. He also has strong mobility and could likely one day be a very serviceable third pairing NHL defenseman. As a 1989 born, this is Kelly's last chance at being drafted.

9. David Kolomatis - Owen Sound Attack
A lot of people in the OHL Scouting community actually believed Kolomatis would hear his name called in 2008, after a breakout season in Owen Sound, however that was not to be. Kolomatis came back this season even better, scoring 18 goals from the blueline. He is a very good offensive blueliner who loves to pinch on the play and has a very accurate shot. A lot of his points are generated from a good low shot which he gets through from the point. He's generally just a very smart offensive player who reacts well to the play. He's also an outstanding skater who uses his mobility to his full advantage. Defensively, I think he has improved. He's still not a strong two way player, but he's making strides and learning to pick his spots better for the rush. If Ryan Wilson can get an NHL contract with the same offensively abilities, defensive shortcomings but minus the outstanding skating, I can't see why Kolomatis should not eventually get a look as well. As an 89, this is also Kolomatis' last chance at being drafted. Actually interestingly enough, Kolomatis recently signed a tryout contract with Providence in the AHL and has already played one game there without registering a point. I wonder if the Bruins are interested in him?

8. Brett Parnham - Oshawa Generals
Another 89 looking to finally be drafted is this crafty, undersized forward. Parnham actually finished second in the OHL this season with 50 goals and was shown a lot of respect by OHL coaches in this years coaches poll. He was named the most dangerous player in the goal area and the player with the best shot in the East. He finished third in voting for hardest shot in the East. He can absolutely light the lamp, that is for sure. Where the concerns come in are his size and skating. At only 5'9, Parnham is the type of player who likes to enter the danger areas and is most dangerous operating in the slot. At his size, will he be able to physically handle the punishment? He's also only an average skater, which means will he be able to outskate defenders to get into scoring lanes at the next level. While his drive and effort are there, you wonder if he could be an NHL player. I think that if he was a little bigger or a little better of a skater, he'd be up near the top of this list. But without those qualities, he's a longshot at best. Still though, you can't deny his ability to put the puck in the net. Parnham is actually another guy who has signed a tryout contract with an AHL team to close out the season. He is playing for Rochester and has 0 points in 6 games. The Rochester Americans are the club team of the Florida Panthers which makes you wonder if they have interest in him.

7. Shawn Szydlowski - Erie Otters
Szydlowski is a 1990 born power forward who was passed over in last years draft. He's taken great strides forward offensively this season, finishing 4th in goals for a very balanced Erie scoring attack. At 6'0, 200lbs, he likes to use his size effectively as he drives towards the net. He is good around the boards and on the cycle and actually is a fairly effective skater for a big man. He also plays on the Erie penalty kill, where he again uses his size and physical play to be a big part of the PK unit. With Hodgman, Biggers, Gazdic and likely Torquato all moving on to the pros, Syzdlowski is likely to take an even bigger step forward next season when he becomes a main cog offensively and on the PK with Ryan O'Reilly.

6. Matt Kennedy - Guelph Storm
In the 2009 OHL Coaches Poll, Kennedy was named the West's most underrated player and hardest working player. I think about sums up his abilities. Kennedy is the type of forward who goes out there and leaves it all on the ice. He forechecks hard, plays both ways, takes the body, fights, and does all the little things that some players are hesitant to do. The biggest difference this season was his production offensively, where he jumped from 17 goals and 21 points in 2008 to 33 goals and 73 points in 2009, leading Guelph in scoring. His skating isn't amazing, but it isn't poor either. He could likely be a contributing player on an NHL checking line sometime in the future. Kennedy also signed a tryout contract in the AHL with Syracuse. Syracuse is Columbus's AHL club which makes you wonder if Columbus has interest in him. In 2 games, Kennedy has been held pointless.

5. Jaroslav Janus - Erie Otters
I think a lot of people probably recognize Janus' name from this past World Juniors where he was absolutely spectacular for a surprising Slovakian team. Truth is, a lot of people expected Janus to get drafted last season after playing decently for a terrible Otters team. However he went undrafted and bounced back strong this season. Janus was probably the main reason Erie was able to return to the playoffs. He is an incredibly athletic goaltender who moves laterally just about as good as any goalie I've seen. He also anticipates the play exceptionally well and is usually able to get himself into good position. On the downside, he has the habit of overplaying and flopping around, and he can get in trouble when teams look to go high. He also needs to continue to work on his rebound control, as often time his highlight reel saves are nothing more than necessity due to a juicy rebound. But the athletic and game stealing ability are hard to ignore. I'd be incredibly surprised if he doesn't have his name called in 2009.

4. Jason Akeson - Kitchener Rangers
Akeson is actually an interesting story. Last season he played for Cumberland Tier 2 and was having a successful season playing with linemmate Eric O'Dell. However just after midseason, his linemmate decided to jump ship to the OHL and had oustanding success with Sudbury, leading to a draft selection in the 2nd round. Trying to prove that he wasn't exactly chopped liver, Akeson also jumped ship late last season to Kitchener, however due to the teams depth, he wasn't really able to contribute much offensively. This season has been a different story, as Akeson finished the season 2nd in scoring in Kitchener. He has elite on ice vision and is an outstanding playmaker. He is able to slow the game down in the offensive zone and has no problem working the danger areas at only 5'10, 190lbs. His size doesn't really hurt him either, as he has excellent lower body strength and works the cycle fairly effectively. He's also a good skater. I think that this guy will continue to get better and better in this league and it'd probably be in some NHL teams best interest to claim his rights sooner rather than later. As a 1990, this is really his first full season in the OHL.

3. Luke Pither - Belleville Bulls
Pither has always been one of those guys who's got a ton of talent, but for whatever reason just was never able to put it all together. There were questions regarding his work ethic and his willingness to play in traffic and this lead to his exit from a vastly defensively oriented Guelph Storm team at the trade deadline. In Belleville, Pither absolutely exploded, being able to use the large ice to explore his offensive creativity and to give him more room to get into scoring lanes. He finished the season with 42 points in 23 games with Belleville. That's nearly as good as John Tavares' point per game average and stretched over a full season at that rate, Pither would have lead the OHL in scoring by a rather significant margin. He has an NHL caliber shot which he needs very little time to get off. He skates well and he loves to lead the charge into the offensive zone. He still has some flaws, like his willingness to become involved defensively and physically, but you can't teach his natural offensive abilities. Again, I'd be surprised if he isn't taken at least with a late round draft pick, especially since it's his last year of eligibility as an 89.

2. Darren Archibald - Barrie Colts
Archibald is another interesting story. He played last season for the Stouffville Spirit of the OPJHL. On that team, he played with current Kingston star Ethan Werek, and 2nd round draft pick and Boston University freshman Corey Trivino. He was overshadowed by them and failed to get drafted in his first year of eligibility. This season he made the transfer for the OHL, similar to Werek, with equally good results. However Werek has been getting all the hype (probably because he's a year younger). However don't sleep on Archibald. I think he's one of the best kept secrets in the OHL. He's got great size at 6'3, 200lbs, and he's still learning to use it. As the season went along, he began to use his size more and began to throw his body around. He's actually a good and elusive skater for his size and is not afraid to take the puck to the net. I think he also has some underrated puck skills, as I've seen him turn a few defenseman inside out. Archibald also had a great playoffs, leading Barrie in scoring in their round 1 loss to Mississauga. He had 4 goals and 3 assists in 5 games. I think he's a budding power forward prospect and I wouldn't hesitate to use a top 3 round selection on him.

1. Matt Hackett - Plymouth Whalers
Hackett exploded on to the scene this season, stealing the starting job from NHL second rounder Jeremy Smith and forcing his trade to Niagara. He has been a force all season and has probably been the 3rd best goalie in the league this season behind Mike Murphy and Thomas McCollum. He is a solid technically sound goalie who challenges shooters, covers his angles well, moves well in his crease, controls rebounds and who is constantly improving. Considering that he's having an outstanding playoffs so far, I expect his star to continue to rise. He was 8th at midterm for NA Goalies on the CSB list, and that was before Plymouth's monster run in the standings where he had a .925 SV% in January and February. I would put him right up there with Edward Pasquale and Scott Stajcer for the best the OHL has to offer at the position for the draft and because of that, I'd anticipate him being a top 60 selection.

Stay tuned for next Sunday's edition where I'll be looking at the 1992 born rookies who impressed me the most this season!

Hockey Canada Releases Roster for 2009 IIHF World Under 18 Championship

This past Thursday, Hockey Canada released its roster for the 2009 IIHF World Under 18 Championship. Canada is looking to repeat its gold medal performance of last season. Historically speaking, Canada hasn't had a whole lot of success in the tournament, with only one other gold medal (2003) in the past 10 years. I guess you could make the excuse that Canada isn't sending its best players due to the CHL playoffs and therefore a lack of success isn't as alarming as you'd believe it to be.

Here is the roster thanks to Hockey Canada...

Goaltenders/Gardiens de but
1Bryce O'HaganGL/G6'2"19412/27/91Burlington, Ont.Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
30Michael ZadorGL/G6'2"18905/08/91Toronto, Ont.Oshawa Generals (OHL)
3Brayden McNabbDL/G6'4"19501/21/91Davidson, Sask.Kootenay Ice (WHL)
4Simon DespresDL/G6'4"21407/27/91Laval, Que.Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
5Erik GudbransonDR/D6'3"19501/07/92Orleans, Ont.Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
6Stefan ElliottDR/D6'1"18401/30/91North Vancouver, B.C.Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
12Dylan OlsenDL/G6'2"19501/03/91Calgary, Alta.Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL)
24Calvin de HaanDL/G6'0"17005/09/91Carp, Ont.Oshawa Generals (OHL)
26Taylor DohertyDR/D6'8"21803/02/91Cambridge, Ont.Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
8Brett ConnollyF/AR/D6'1"16205/02/92Prince George, B.C.Prince George Cougars (WHL)
9Ryan O'ReillyF/AL/G6'0"20502/07/91Varna, Ont.Erie Otters (OHL)
11Peter HollandF/AL/G6'2"19001/14/91Caledon, Ont.Guelph Storm (OHL)
10Zack KassianF/AR/D6'3"20501/24/91LaSalle, Ont.Peterborough Petes (OHL)
14Byron FroeseF/AR/D6'0"17103/12/91Winkler, Man.Everett Silvertips (WHL)
15Garrett MitchellF/AR/D5'11"18109/02/91Regina, Sask.Regina Pats (WHL)
16Landon FerraroF/AR/D5'11"16508/08/91Vancouver, B.C.Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
17John McFarlandF/AR/D6'0"19204/02/92Richmond Hill, Ont.Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
18Joey HishonF/AL/G5'10"16610/20/91Stratford, Ont.Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
21Cody EakinF/AL/G5'11"17405/24/91Winnipeg, Man.Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
22Curtis HamiltonF/AL/G6'3"20212/04/91Kelowna, B.C.Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
23Kyle CliffordF/AL/G6'1"20001/13/91Ayr, Ont.Barrie Colts (OHL)
25Ethan WerekF/AL/G6'2"19506/07/91Goodwood, Ont.Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

The OHL makes up the largest proportion of the team with 12 members.

Some omissions have left me scratching my head quite frankly. Omissions that perhaps make you wonder if the politics of the selection process may be a reason for the team's lack of success over the years.

  • For one, the goaltending selections have me scratching my head a bit. Scott Stajcer, considered to be one of the best available netminders for the 2009 draft, is a glaring omission. Stajcer is a big, athletic netminder for Owen Sound, whom I've seen a few times this season, each of which I left impressed. Meanwhile, Zador and O'Hagan have left me the opposite in my viewings this season and I don't have a whole lot of faith in their ability to backstop Canada to a medal at this point. You have to wonder if Stajcer was injured or for some reason declined an invitation, because him not being on this team is borderline rediculous.
  • Secondly, where is Peter Holland? Holland is widely considered to be a top 15, top 20 draft selection for the 2009 draft and just might have been the most talented available forward for Canada with Guelph being eliminated by Saginaw in the first round. Holland is an intelligent forward with a good skill set who finished second in scoring for the Storm this season. Another guy I wonder what the deal with is. Is he injured? Did he decline the invitation? Not having his offensive ability on this team could hurt (at least by taking a quick glance at the roster).
Despite some iffy selection choices, this team should still be one to watch. Canada's first game is on April 9 against Germany.


Peter Holland has been added to the team and Michael Fine has been removed. I have absolutely no idea how this happened or why. Could be injury related. Either way, Holland is now with the team.