Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Top 10 - Players Who are Exceeding Expectations

Since last week's Top 10 examined those players underachieving so far this season, I thought it might only be fitting to talk about those players who are playing incredibly well. However, not are they playing well, but they are exceeding the expectations that many had for them going into the season. The list is a real mixed bag that includes some overagers finally taking that step forward, draft eligible players maturing quicker than expected, and one free agent who was possibly even a long shot to make his team.

10. Jordan Skellett - Saginaw Spirit
The Saginaw Spirit are right in the thick of things in the Western Conference standings (to the surprise to this blogger) and Skellett has been a big reason. Carried offensively last year by two star overagers (Chris Chappell and Jack Combs), the Spirit have continued to get a strong improvement in production from their overagers this season. Once picked off the scrap heap in Erie, Skellett provided secondary scoring for Saginaw last season. But he's never been close to a point per game player in the league. Well, he currently sits third in the league in scoring and is on pace to double his production from last season. Skellett has always been a very capable playmaker, but now he's getting the ice time, and confidence to take his game to the next level.

9. Bobby Mignardi - Owen Sound Attack
When the Kingston Frontenacs made the move to acquire Tyler Beskorowany, a lot of Kingston fans were worried that the Fronts fixed one hole, by opening up a bigger one. Mignardi was a guy who had a disappointing 2008-09 season (like most of Kingston), and it was probably time for a change of scenery. Boy has that change helped. Frontenacs fans might have been right to worry that Mignardi had more in him. He currently sits 6th in goal scoring in the league with 15 and has been huge for an Owen Sound team who's needed his production in the face of consistency problems from the rest of their offensive forwards.

8. Alex Friesen - Niagara IceDogs
Even though he's gone kind of cold recently, Friesen has still been outstanding for the Dogs this season. Perhaps his coming out party was last season's playoffs when Friesen was one of Niagara's best players, and coming into this season there were some expectations that he could raise his game. But for a player who scored 11 goals last year, and who showed a lot of offensive frustration, I don't think the expectations were THAT high. Friesen was at one point in the top 10 of OHL scoring and has already surpassed his goal totals of last year. His speed and energy make him a very valuable offensive player in this league and as a 1991 born player, this could only be the tip of the iceberg.

7. Troy Passingham - Windsor Spitfires
Passingham played sparingly in the QMJHL the past two seasons, spending the majority of last year with the Vaughn Vipers of the OPJHL. Picked off the scrap heap and invited to training camp, Passingham earned the back up job behind Josh Unice to start the season. But as Unice struggled, Passingham provided a steady and calm presence in the net that was much needed for a team with high expectations. Then Unice got injured and Passingham was given the starter's role. He's been solid the entire season for Windsor and is providing much the same Andrew Engelage did last season. He's not losing games for Windsor and he's making the stops when he needs too. It remains to be seen whether the Spits will go out and get another goaltender, but Passingham has at the very least provided way more than was expected of him.

6. Anthony Luciani - Erie Otters
While the Erie Otters have struggled a bit without the likes of Ryan O'Reilly and Jaroslav Janus (who recently returned), it'd be tough to argue that they wouldn't be even worse off without Anthony Luciani. He had 14 points all of last season. This year, Luciani already has 14 goals and has often provided to a spark to an Erie team that's vastly needed it. It seems the rest of the Erie offense has finally started to come to life around him, which can mean things could get even better for him.

5. Tony DeHart - Oshawa Generals
Originally acquired by Oshawa in 2008 for a 6th round pick, DeHart is another player who was acquired without much fan fare. If you would have guessed that a "De" named defenseman would be leading the Generals, you would have likely guessed Calvin de Haan. But DeHart has been tremendous all season long for an Oshawa team that seems to be improved from last season (save their recent 7 game slide). He's provided leadership and excellent play at both ends of the ice and currently sits 6th in the league among defenseman scoring.

4. Matthew Tipoff - Belleville Bulls
The Belleville Bulls may be struggling through a rebuilding season, and they may have one of the worst goals per game in the league, but one player who hasn't struggled for them is Tipoff. An energy guy who had to be disappointed he went undrafted last year, Tipoff has completely brought his game to another level this season. He's currently in the top 10 of league scoring and has only been held pointless in three games this year. He's also a good 13 points ahead of the next Belleville forward in scoring. If only the rest of the Bulls younger forwards had taken that kind of a step forward.

3. Devante Smith-Pelly - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Smith-Pelly finished 11th in team scoring last year as a rookie, but did play a key energy line role for the Majors. Obviously, as a former first rounder, there were some expectations for Smith-Pelly to increase his production with increased ice time. But I can't say I thought he had this type of offensive production in him, at least this fast. But he's now leading arguably the best team in the East in goals, points, and +/-. Since being placed on the first line with Casey Cizikas and William Wallen (at least most of the time), Smith-Pelly has been on fire with 16 points in his last 9 games. This has to bode well for his NHL draft aspirations.

2. Taylor Beck - Guelph Storm
Last season, the consensus seemed to be that Beck was the complimentary player among the Guelph Storm's offensive players. A hard worker, but one with skating issues, Beck experienced some inconsistency in his offensive game. But with Matt Kennedy, Peter Holland, and Michael Latta experiencing injury troubles and consistency issues of their own, it's been Beck who has taken the team on his back offensively. Currently sitting 6th in league scoring with 31 points, Beck is 15 points ahead of the closest Storm player. Maybe we had it all wrong, maybe Beck was the true offensive star of the bunch? I definitely did not expect him to have the type of production he has this season.

1. Tyler Seguin - Plymouth Whalers
You had to have seen this one coming...right? Yes, he was an OHL first rounder, and yes he probably should have won the OHL Rookie of the Year last season. But I heard many a people claim that he was riding the coattails of his linemates Matt Caria and Chris Terry. And I heard quite a few question as to how he would do without them this season. Turns out, maybe Terry and Caria were riding Seguin's coattails. He currently sits 2nd in league scoring with 36 points and has thrust himself into the picture for first overall in 2010, despite being largely underrated by the mass population last year. With the amount of injuries the Whalers have suffered at forward, it's amazing that he's been able to do what he's been doing without a whole heck of a lot of help.

Honorable Mention:
I Did it, I did it! I made it through a top 10 without cheating the rules and including more than 10 players in my actual top 10. That being said, I think there are some players who need to have their names mentioned too (and in no particular order). Colts center Taylor Carnevale has been excellent for the team thus far, providing scoring and excellent penalty killing to one of the strongest teams in the East. His emergence has really helped to give the Colts a balanced offensive attack and the second best offense in the OHL. Owen Sound Attack defenseman Geoffrey Schemitsch has been arguably the league's best rookie this season. A walk on free agent, the expectations on Schemitsch were obviously small, but he currently finds himself top 10 in defenseman scoring and has been a calming presence to an inconsistent Attack defense. I didn't include him on this list because as a rookie, I felt like maybe it opened the door to including too many rookies on this list who obviously had small expectations going into the season. Mississauga St. Michaels Majors goaltender Chris Carrozzi has been outstanding this year, leading the league in goals against average and currently second in save percentage. Many people wrote the OHL veteran and NHL draft selection off this season, expecting him to give way to talented youngster J.P. Anderson. But he's forced a platoon situation yet again, one that even sees him getting the majority of starts. Who knows what happens as the season goes on, but Carrozzi is definitely playing the best hockey of his career when many expected him to be the back up. Finally, Windsor Spitfires defenseman Mark Cundari has been outstanding this season. Always a solid two way defender, Cundari's offensive game has improved dramatically this year and he's playing with a ton of confidence right now. He currently sits 5th in defenseman scoring and could even be forcing his way into contention for the Canadian World Junior team. As much as I've always liked Cundari, I would have never guessed that.

So...Hats off to all those players starting the season well and keep it up! Anyone you think I missed that deserves to be mentioned, then hit up the comments section and let me know!


Anonymous said...

Excellent Blog!

Mike P said...

Agreed. Good stuff...very nice assessment of both teams. Hit it on the head with Cundari from Windsor. Plays hard nosed hockey with skill.

Brock Otten said...

Thanks guys.