Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thoughts on Niagara and Owen Sound from December 30

Wanting to see the return of Joey Hishon to the Owen Sound Attack line up, I caught this one on the OHL Action Pack tonight.

The first period and a half was a real snooze fest. Really sloppy, disjointed play. It was clear that both of these two teams were rusty from the holiday layoff. When the pace finally did pick up, these two teams traded powerplays and scoring chances, with the Attack eventually coming out on top by a score of 3-1. For a large portion of the game though, Attack goaltender Scott Stajcer kept his team in the game by making a few big saves (especially on Andrew Agozzino).

It was a tough game for the Dogs. Already shorthanded defensively because Jay Gilbert's sitting at home waiting for a trade and Dougie Hamilton is at the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge, the Dogs suffered two defensive injuries relatively early on in the game, to Reggie Traccitto and Keith Maisonville. As a result, they looked dead tired by the end of this one and just had nothing left in the tank, allowing the Attack to take control of the game in the later part of the 3rd period. I think defenseman Matt Petgrave must have played 80% of the third period (no joke). However, as tired as the defense looked, the forwards looked even more distressed. If Majors coach Dave Cameron likes to roll four lines, Dogs coach Mike McCourt likes to roll two. I'm not sure why he played his forwards into the ground tonight, but Friesen, Agozzino and Hamilton especially were out there every other shift and it was obvious that they were tired. On powerplays, these guys were playing the full two minutes (save maybe 10-15 seconds as the penalty ended), and then they'd be out there two shifts later. While the Friesen, Agozzino and Hamilton line is obviously the teams most dangerous, it doesn't hurt to give them a break. It only makes them more effective in the long run...or say at the end of the game when your team needs a go ahead goal.

The Attack just plain didn't deserve to win this one. They got lucky that Niagara looked so tired. They were very sloppy. So many passes failed to connect, breakouts failed to occur and most of their game was played in the neutral zone as they attempted to get the puck by a Niagara defense. Even on the powerplay, despite scoring two goals with the man advantage, they did not look strong. One goal on a wild goal mouth scramble, the other on a long winded screen shot from the point (with the third coming with the empty net). First game back from the break, but this team did not look like a unit with great chemistry. A lot of individual efforts and just general disconnect.

On to individual player performances...

Niagara IceDogs

Alex Friesen (2010, but 1991 born)
Already passed over in one draft, I'd be very surprised to see Friesen passed over again this year. He's progressed incredibly well this year and taken huge steps forward offensively. His speed and work ethic in the offensive zone make him a real tough guy to contain. He was generating chances for the better part of the first two periods, although was not able to put anything up on the board. Kind of a jack of all trades type of a player, he projects well as a potential energy player at the next level.

Andrew Agozzino (2010, but 1991 born)
Agozzino has been just as good this year for the Dogs. He's the new captain, and he's playing with a lot of determination. He had a few really good chances to score tonight but just couldn't beat Scott Stajcer. Two stymied one time chances at the side of the net (saved by a sliding Stajcer), and one partial breakaway. He's got very good instincts on where to be for scoring chances, getting himself in good position for goal opportunities. The question is whether he's got a serious chance of being selected in 2010, the second time around. While I think Friesen has a good shot, I'm not as confident about Agozzino's chances. I was fairly high on Agozzino last year, when he was pretty much the same player he is now, and he failed to get drafted then. Scouts seem to be enamored with progression, of which Friesen has seen. Agozzino is the same player he was last year and if it wasn't good enough for NHL scouts last year, why would it be now? I'm still pulling for him though.

Freddie Hamilton (2010)
Hamilton was kind of along for the ride with Friesen and Agozzino tonight. He didn't really have a great game. Had a few chances set up by his linemates, but failed to get anything off. He's never a liability on the ice, but I don't see the upside that NHL Central Scouting does, when they ranked him 17th among OHL skaters in November. He did earn an assist on Josh Moes powerplay goal, although the goal was manufactured by Moes and not necessarily set up by Hamilton directly.

Matt Petgrave (2010)
Quite frankly, as an NHL prospect, I prefer Niagara's Petgrave to Hamilton. He had a very strong game tonight, especially considering he probably played 40 minutes. He brings the puck up ice with confidence and effectiveness. Has kind of a hunched over skating stride, but his mobility is solid. He keeps the puck in on the powerplay well, although I'd like to see him shoot the puck more. Whiffed on a beautiful chance to score on a one timer, as he snuck in from the point but didn't get much on the shot. He did make a couple of bad pinches, but he hustles back to his zone and never gives up on the play. Defensively he was excellent. Not afraid to take the body despite not being overly large, and he's surprisingly effective in the corners and in front of the net. Saved a goal with a very nice defensive play early in the game by tying up Joey Hishon as he tried to put home an easy tap in goal off a juicy rebound to the side of the net. Every time I see him, he seems to get better.

John Chartrand (2011)
I was surprised to see Chartrand get the start tonight over Mark Visentin. Petteri Simila is at the World Juniors as Finland's back up, and Chartrand was called up from Streetsville of the OJHL. He was the Dogs 4th rounder from 2009. Considering that when I heard he was getting the start and proceeded to check his Junior A stats this season (which aren't pretty), I was not expecting much out of him. But he was surprisingly strong. Made the saves he had too, kept his rebounds under control and looked generally calm in net. He seems like he could be the teams back up goaltender next season. The two goals scored against him were not really his fault. A wild goal mouth scramble and a screened shot from the point. Despite taking the loss, he was named the game's second star.

Owen Sound Attack

Garrett Wilson (FLA)
In the other times I've seen the Attack this season, Wilson had been a beast, but he was really quiet tonight. Outside of two very strong shifts, he wasn't noticeable to me. On one of the shifts he took a very nice feed from Steve Shipley and rang one off the post. And on the other, which just happened to be late in the third period, he did a good job to block a point shot and beat the Dogs defender to the loose puck for the open net clincher that made it 3-1. Still like the progression he's made this season.

Joey Hishon (2010)
Definitely was better than when I had seen him earlier in the season. But it's clear that he doesn't seem to have his full legs under him just quite yet. He was probably the best Attack forward on the night though (which isn't really saying much). Generated a few scoring chances off the rush and did a much better job of trying to use his teammates than he was earlier in the year. Did a good job on the penalty kill too, putting one off the crossbar on a shorthanded rush as he used the Niagara defender as a screen. A solid performance, but not an outstanding one.

Steven Shipley (2010)
For Steven's sake, I think I need to watch all of Owen Sound's games. He seems to play well when I'm watching. He didn't have an amazing game or anything, but was effective and had a few very good shifts. I was particularly impressed with his work on the penalty kill where he showed a lot of heart blocking shots and outworking Niagara players for loose pucks. His play away from the puck does seem to be improving, even if he could stand to use his size more to his advantage. He also had a shorthanded chance to score, breaking in and beating Andrew Agozzino (who was on the point) wide to the net, but a backtracking Matt Petgrave managed to lift his stick at the last second preventing a serious scoring chance. He was credited with the first Attack goal on the goal mouth scramble, where he simply shoveled the puck into the net. I still don't think the Attack are using him correctly though. I find him to be much more successful as a winger who can use his size to take the puck to the net from the outside lanes. He was also being used on the point on the powerplay again, which just does not work. He needs to be down low.

Geoffrey Schemitsch (2010)
I thought Schemitsch played another strong game. While he had some struggles in bringing the puck up ice and starting the rush (like every Attack defenseman), he did manage to break through into the offensive zone on a few occasions and picked his spots to pinch effectively. Defensively he was very solid, and did a good job on a couple odd man rushes, on one occasion taking the passing lane away from Andrew Agozzino and then collapsing on him forcing a poor shot attempt. He scored the game winning goal on a very good powerplay for him. Did a great job to keep the puck in the zone a couple of times, then managed to get the puck back and let a wrister go that found its way past Chartrand. He's got points in his last 6 games and is really heating up again. I'm very curious to see where Central Scouting has this guy when they release their rankings in a couple of weeks. I'm starting to wonder if I'm drinking crazy juice because I'm the only one talking about this kid.

Roman Berdnikov (2010)
Was not impressed by Berdnikov at all tonight. Was set up a few times by Joey Hishon or Bobby Mignardi and failed to get a shot off. The puck was rolling on him all night and he just had a really hard time. Took a lazy hooking penalty in the offensive zone out of frustration too. Playing with Hishon and Mignardi on that first line is a great opportunity for him, but he's going to have to play better than he did tonight to stay there.

Jesse Blacker (TOR)
Blacker had maybe the best game I've seen him play this season, which isn't really saying much. He was still only average on the night, but at least he seems to be limiting his turnovers. Still had one really bad one that resulted in Andrew Agozzino's partial breakaway though. If he could harness his raw abilities, he really could be quite an outstanding player. His combination of speed and puck handling ability makes him tough to stop once he gets up to full stride. Had a few nice rushes that generated scoring chances tonight. He was quiet defensively too, which is a good thing. One thing that I've noticed this year though is the absence of Blacker's physical game. Last year with Windsor, he was the type of defenseman who had the ability to lay a big hit, but I haven't seen that from him this year.

Scott Stajcer (NYR)
Stajcer was outstanding tonight. He really won this one for his team. Made several key saves in the first two periods to keep his team in the game, robbing Andrew Agozzino point blank a couple of times. One was a very nice save as he slide cross crease to rob a one timing Agozzino (who did fail to elevate the puck though). His rebound control was very strong tonight too. While Owen Sound has struggled with consistency, Stajcer has been largely effective for the last couple of months (after starting the season very poorly). Here's hoping he can continue to play well and that Owen Sound continues to climb up the standings of the Western Conference. He was the game's first star and took the win.

Anyone else with thoughts?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Midseason Top 30 for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft

With the OHL season past the mid way point, the end of 2009 upon us and the NHL Central Scouting midterm ranking coming out in about two weeks, I figured what a great time to release my Top 30 OHL players for the draft.

This is, of course, the second of three lists that I release during the season. The initial ranking from early October can be found here.

For my midterm ranking, I generally don't comment on the guys inside my Top 30. I usually leave that for the comment section if I receive any questions. Instead, I comment on three different categories of players. Under the radar guys outside of my top 30, risers, and fallers.

Here is the midseason Top 30:
1. Taylor Hall - F - Windsor Spitfires
2. Tyler Seguin - F - Plymouth Whalers
3. Cam Fowler - D - Windsor Spitfires
4. Erik Gudbranson - D - Kingston Frontenacs
5. Jeff Skinner - F - Kitchener Rangers
6. Alexander Burmistrov - F - Barrie Colts
7. John McFarland - F - Sudbury Wolves
8. Ivan Telegin - F - Saginaw Spirit
9. Austin Watson - F - Windsor Spitfires
10. Ryan Spooner - F - Peterborough Petes
11. Tyler Toffoli - F - Ottawa 67's
12. Stephen Silas - D - Belleville Bulls
13. Steven Shipley - F - Owen Sound Attack
14. Ryan Martindale - F - Ottawa 67's
15. Brandon Archibald - D - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
16. Brock Beukeboom - D - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
17. Joey Hishon - F - Owen Sound Attack
18. Jared Knight - F - London Knights
19. Devante Smith-Pelly - F - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
20. J.P. Anderson - G - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
21. Philip Grubauer - G - Belleville Bulls
22. Christian Thomas - F - Oshawa Generals
23. Geoffrey Schemitsch - D - Owen Sound Attack
24. Mark Visentin - G - Niagara IceDogs
25. Dalton Smith - F - Ottawa 67's
26. Andrew Yogan - F - Erie Otters
27. Justin Shugg - F - Windsor Spitfires
28. Petr Mrazek - G - Ottawa 67's
29. Greg McKegg - F - Erie Otters
30. Austin Levi - D - Plymouth Whalers

10 Players to Watch That Aren't in the Top 30:
Philip Lane - F - Brampton Battalion
Admittedly, Lane was the last guy I cut from my list. So label him number 31 if you wish. As much as I like the package of skill he brings to the table, I'm concerned about a few things regarding his high end potential. His offensive consistency needs to improve. He goes through stretches of 3-4 games where he looks like a budding power forward who can really put the puck in the net, but then disappears offensively for stretches of games after that. In those stretches, he seems to have trouble handling the puck and finishing off his chances. Is he a big forward who's still growing into his hands, or will he always be a strong forechecking/energy forward who's offense is inconsistent?

Bryce O'Hagan - G - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Unfortunately for O'Hagan, the Hounds found themselves Robin Lehner in the Import Draft. I'm sure the late 1991 tender was hoping that this could be his year to show his stuff. He started out really well, but he's been plagued by inconsistencies. Again, unfortunately for O'Hagan he's playing for a highly competitive team who can't afford to play him if he's struggling, especially when they've got Robin Lehner right there. O'Hagan may have as much talent as any goaltender in this OHL draft class, but as a late 1991 in his third OHL season, there comes a time when you've got to start putting it together every night.

Joe Rogalski - D - Sarnia Sting
I know that there are quite a few people out there who are high on Rogalski. And admittedly I like him too. If Lane would have been 31, Rogalski would have been 32. But I have question marks regarding him going forward. Again, we are looking at a late 1991 player in his third OHL season who's faults just haven't improved enough this season. He still turns the puck over way too much in his own zone and he struggles with the breakout. Mobility isn't the issue, nor is his one on one defensive game. I think it could be a hockey sense problem, which tends to scare me away from defenseman.

Brandon Alderson - F - Sarnia Sting
With Alderson, I think we're looking at a guy who could be in the Top 30 by the end of the season. Tremendous size at 6'4, 200lbs, but a very good skater at that size. Offensively, he was inconsistent to start the season, but he's starting to get more and more ice time and he's benefiting from it. 7 points in the 9 games of December and he currently sits second on the struggling Sting with 10 goals on the season. Big guys who can skate and put the puck in the net don't grow on trees, as much as scouts wish they did.

Corey Durocher - F - Kingston Frontenacs
While he's struggled a bit recently, Durocher is another big, lanky forward who skates well and has some offensive ability. For Durocher, I think it's a matter of conditioning and strength. He tries to be a physical forward who plays a power game, but he doesn't have the strength to win the majority of lose battles or take the puck hard to the net. He's in his first season in the OHL, which means there's likely to be that learning curve. I like his potential though and I think he's a guy to keep an eye on.

Matt Petgrave - D - Niagara IceDogs
Here's a guy with a very high ceiling, IMO. With a strong second half on the score sheet, he could easily find himself in the Top 30 too. Only averaged sized, but plays a lot bigger than he is. Has become one of the more feared open ice hitters in the league in his rookie OHL season. He skates very well and has the potential to become a quality puck rusher. He needs to do a better job with the puck, as he can be turnover prone, but I think he's already shown marked improvement in this area. A potential smooth skating, two way physical defenseman, sounds good doesn't it?

Freddie Hamilton - F - Niagara IceDogs
I like Freddie Hamilton a lot and I have no doubt that he'll be an NHL draft pick come June. However, I don't rank him in my Top 30 because I'm not sure I see the potential in him that I see in some of the other guys I've ranked. He's one of those jack of all trades players. Solid both ways, can skate fairly well, can put the puck in the net. But there's nothing about him that really makes you say wow, and in a draft crop like this year's OHL one, that can hurt.

Sam Carrick - F - Brampton Battalion
Started off the season tremendously well. But then went into a very long stretch of offensive inability, and as a result he became a bit of a pugilist and got away from some of the things that makes him a great player. Quite often, he's the only Brampton forward generating offensive chances, which has no doubt hurt his offensive statistics. That being said, I think there's more to Carrick than we're seeing. As a more complimentary player who can do the dirty work on a line and put the puck in the net, I think he'd be having a lot more success. Instead, he's being counted on as an offensive catalyst which IMO he is not as well suited.

Roman Berdnikov - F - Owen Sound Attack
Missed a large portion of the first part of the season as he recovered from offseason surgery. But he's starting to come around slowly. He's kind of a pesky winger and you can tell he's got offensive skills. Many Imports often take a few games to get used to the speed and rigor of the OHL game, and I think Berdnikov is no different. With Joey Hishon returning, he's got himself a linemate with high end offensive ability and he's got 3 goals in the two games since Hishon returned. I think he's someone to keep an eye on in the second half.

Dalton McGrath - G - Barrie Colts
McGrath may not be pretty in stopping the puck, but he's efficient. In his first year in the OHL, McGrath is backing up Peter Di Salvo in Barrie and he's doing a damn fine job. In fact, he's yet to really have a bad game. His rebound control is very poor, but he's very athletic and does a good job in recovery. He ends up making more saves than he has too on most nights, but the important thing is that he has a natural ability and sense to put himself in the right position to make the save. Rebound control can be improved and technicalities can be taught, but innate ability to follow the puck and make the save can not.

Rising Up the Charts:
Jared Knight
After struggling with health problems, Knight finally got a diagnosis on his concerns. He has diabetes. While it sucks to learn that you've any life altering illness, in some ways it is great to know that what you have can be controlled. Many professional athletes (hockey players included) have battled through diabetes and come out on top. Since the start of treatment, Knight has become a new player. He's got 12 goals in his last 14 games and he's playing the best hockey of his OHL career.

Jeff Skinner
Underrated for too long, Skinner is now starting to get the attention he deserves. Just a tremendous and dynamic offensive player who's tenacity in the offensive zone makes him a threat every time he's on the ice. Sure he's undersized, but you can't teach the hockey sense and goal scoring ability he possesses. He's one goal away from first in the OHL (27) and if he ends up finishing the season at or near the top of OHL goal scoring, I just can't see an NHL team passing him up inside the Top 15.

Geoffrey Schemitsch
Here's a guy who's not getting the love he rightfully deserves. Really, how much separates him from a guy like Stephen Silas (whom I really like too)? In a lot of ways, I see Calvin de Haan in Schemitsch. However at this point of the season, de Haan was already receiving a lot of hype and attention. Schemitsch moves the puck well, he plays in all situations, he has good mobility, he seems to think the game at another level. Just a very solid defenseman, who's not flashy but effective. If Owen Sound can go on a bit of a run with Hishon back to form, I think Schemitsch will start receiving more attention as the best defenseman for an improving team.

Philip Grubauer
Playing for a struggling Belleville team, Grubauer has been excellent this year. He's just a solid butterfly goalie who challenges shooters and actually does a good job of controlling rebounds. A very capable technical goalie who just happens to be very athletic too. He completely dominated the Division IA World Juniors for Germany. While Germany was head and shoulders the class of the tournament, he played his part and was excellent (from what I've heard). I think he's pretty close to being the best goalie available from the OHL.

Joey Hishon
I'd bet a lot of people may label him a faller, but I'd say his time of "falling" is over. He's back and healthy and playing with fire in his belly for Owen Sound. When he struggled at the beginning of the season, a lot of it was out of frustration over how poorly the rest of his team was playing too. With Owen Sound playing better, Hishon's return marks great timing. In the two games he's played since returning, he's got 5 points and according to Owen Sound fans, he looks fantastic.

Falling Off the Charts:
J.P. Anderson
I've still got him as the top OHL goaltender available, but I admit it's getting REALLY close. Guys like Grubauer, Visentin, and Mrazek are putting a lot of pressure on him. I also admit that his ranking probably has a lot to do with how impressive he was as a 16 year old. I still have faith him, but he hasn't had a good year (after all I believe I had him pegged for OHL goaltender of the year). He's been outplayed by Chris Carrozzi and really needs to step up his game. Anybody who saw the OHL playoffs last year knows the ability is there, but he needs to start showing it. If he doesn't pick it up in the second half, he runs the risk of falling completely out of my Top 30.

Josh Shalla
I know a lot of people are high on Shalla, but I'm not one of them. If you erase his 5 point game against Owen Sound in November, he's got 2 goals and 4 assists in his last 15 games. He got off to a great start with Saginaw, but he's cooled off considerably lately. As a late 1991, I'd like to see him putting up even better numbers, especially considering the talent he plays with in Saginaw. He's got decent hands and offensive instincts, but he's one of those guys who leaves you wanting more and it makes me question how high his NHL ceiling is.

John McFarland
Now let me get this out there. I like John McFarland. I like the skill set he brings to the table and I think he's got a lot of NHL potential once he realizes the type of game he needs to play to be successful. But there is no question he's had a disappointing season (even if he's been a lot better in December). So while I still like him and would still draft him in the Top 20, I think he's getting passed by players who are performing at a higher level and who have similar NHL upsides.

Andrew Yogan
Yogan is really struggling lately. With his side and skill combination, he was an anonymous bet for the first round of 2010 at this time last year. But as a late 1991 in his 3rd year in the league, he just hasn't taken the necessary steps forward this season. He uses his body away from the puck, but he's become too much of a finesse player with the puck. He needs to get back to doing the little things that made him successful with Erie to end last season. The package is there, but an adjustment in play is needed. He's got 4 goals in his last 15 games and is a -17 in that span.

Adam Sedlak
A lot was expected of Sedlak this season. He was a highly touted Import selection, one that was supposed to develop into an excellent two way defender. But he hasn't developed as well as many had hoped this season. A nice package of size and mobility, there are questions about his hockey sense and his ability to play through the forecheck. He's still got time to put it together. Maybe a recent cut from the Czech Republic World Junior team will motivate him.

Michael Houser
After starting the season so well, Houser has struggled in the last two months and has seen his starts starting to diminish as Michael Hutchinson has played better and better. One thing that does make Houser still an intriguing prospect is that he's one of the (if not THE) youngest prospects available for the 2010 Draft (September 13 birthday). He's also playing in his first season in the league coming over from the USHL. There's potential there. I'm interested to see how he finishes the season, but right now I've got him as the 6th best goalie available from the OHL.

That's it folks. I'd love to hear your comments or your questions. If you want to know more about a player, or a reasoning behind a ranking, just ask.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Top 10 - New Years Resolutions

In the spirit of last week's Top 10, I intend to play Mrs. Cleo and use my tarot cards (lame analogy for those of you who remember the Mrs. Cleo fad) to determine the New Years Resolutions of 10 players in the Ontario Hockey League. Since this is the last Sunday Top 10 of the year, I figured why not make it holiday themed yet again.

Obviously a disclaimer, (which means I've heard or gotten complaints about similar things ludicrous as it sounds), these are not the actual New Years Resolutions of these players! They are fabricated by me in relation to what I see and hear around the league. In essence, they are meant to be a fun, although perhaps truthful, read.

Here are 10 I've picked no particular order.

Matt Kennedy
"To have my groin become healthy so that I may provide that last piece of the puzzle to the Barrie Colts and their offense. They gave up a lot to get me and I think my leadership, two way play, and goal scoring ability really rounds out their line up and gives them that third line winger they've been looking for. Hopefully I can finish out the second half of the season by playing in 75% of the remaining games, by scoring goals in half the games I play in, and by leading the Barrie Colts to the OHL finals."

Shawn Lalonde
"There has been a lot of talk about me getting traded by the rebuilding Bulls. And there has been a lot of talk about me rejecting trades because I don't want to leave Belleville. So my resolution is to be open to a new environment. Not only would it be great for my development to play on another top caliber OHL team, but it would be great for the Bulls to get a huge return for me since I'm one of the better defenseman in the league. Whether it be the rumored Barrie Colts, or another team that needs my services as a powerplay QB, my resolution is to be open to a trade for the second half of the season."

Andrew Yogan
"I've taken a lot of heat recently because I have only 3 goals and 2 assists in my last 14 games, and as a late 1991 draft prospect, a lot of people expected much more from me this year. Many fans are claiming that I've become selfish in my play and that I've gotten away from the things that have made me crashing the net and slot for loose pucks. So my resolution is to go back to making things simple. I know I've got the puck skills to make a nice move here and there, but I need to become more involved in the team game and go back to making myself a crease crashing power forward. I'd like to end up finishing the year with at least 30 goals, and a spot in the top 60 of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft."

Adam Comrie
"My team has struggled a lot this season after giving up a ton to get me this offseason. I started strongly but my play has tailed as of late. I'm not taking the body and staying with my man as much as I can in the defensive end. Offensively, I haven't scored a goal in 19 games, despite having one of the hardest shots in the league. The problem is I can't hit the net with it. My resolution is to start improving my shot accuracy and to do a better job at getting the puck through to the net on the powerplay. Originally it looked like I was going to score 20 goals this year, so I'd be happy to finish the year with 15."

Brian Lashoff
"After playing so well last season in the AHL and AHL playoffs, a lot of people expected me to breakout offensively this season in Kingston. The team had high expectations for improvement, and I as captain, was placed right in the middle of those. But perhaps I've been trying to do too much this season, especially with the puck. I need to return to playing the safe and effective two way style I excel with. My surprise inclusion on the United States World Junior team should help me realize what I need to do to be successful in this league. Kingston needs my leadership and steady influence on the blueline and I hope we can return to the playoffs and possibly even make a run at the wide open East Division."

Nazem Kadri
"Part of my problem was the insane expectations placed on me by Toronto Maple Leafs management when they sent me down to dominate and score 100 points in the OHL. Perhaps this had led to my constant overplaying of the puck, and my often times selfish on ice attitude. London fans are all over me now that I've gone to play in the WJC's and the powerplay and team is finally clicking. I've got all the talent in the world, but sometimes I just need to remember the KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stupid. My resolution is to play within my limitations without sacrificing the offensive creativity I bring to the table. I'd like to end up finishing in the Top 10 of OHL scoring by seasons end, and I'd like to help the Knights win the Division over Kitchener."

Tyler Cuma
"It's been a bit of a rough year for me. I'm coming back from a serious knee injury. My team is struggling. And on top of it, as a former first rounder in his 19 year old season, I had high expectations placed on me that I'm having trouble living up to. That being said, my defensive game has been coming around lately. I'm nearly back to playing that strong shut down defender role that I once held. But my offensive game is still struggling. I know I have the talent to put up points, but I just need a confidence boost. My resolution is to increase my offensive production without sacrificing the gains I've made defensively. I'd like to hope that if I can increase my production, especially on the powerplay, the 67's should be able to easily win the East Division."

Jesse Blacker
"I wanted out of Windsor so that I could get more ice time and become a number one defender for someone. I got my wish, but thus far, I've underwhelmed in Owen Sound. I have all the talent in the world, but I really need to start putting it together. The first step will be to pick my spots in rushing the puck better. I need to realize that sometimes a quick pass out of the zone works just as efficiently as a rush...sometimes more efficiently. I also need to pay closer attention to the defensive end. As much as I want to be a top defenseman in this league, I need to learn that I don't have to do it all myself. With Owen Sound likely improving in the second half, I need to play a smart offensive game to help my team win hockey games."

Josh Brittain
"Despite being a high NHL draft pick and a guy seeing some time alongside Tyler Seguin, I'm on pace for my worst offensive season since my 16 year old season. I fell out of favor in Barrie where my undisciplined play didn't fit in with Coach Williamson's game plan, but I've still got a chance to make a new name for myself in Plymouth. That is...if I can cut out the undisciplined penalties, especially in the offensive zone. While it's important to play my power game, I have to do it while under control. I've got 83 penalty minutes on the season, however only 15 of those are from fights. I really need to show Plymouth and the Anaheim Ducks that I can play a controlled power game and become a more consistent offensive producer."

Troy Passingham
"I've been playing with nothing to lose all season. I came into Windsor on a tryout and ended up winning a spot. I was originally the back up to Josh Unice, but I'm now starting. Now, all I hear are rumours that I'm going to be replaced by a better starting netminder so that the Windsor Spitfires can make a run at a second consecutive Memorial Cup. My Resolution is to remain calm and remember that I'm just blessed to be in the situation that I am. If I can continue to play as well as I can for Windsor and keep my head held high, I will be happy to be a part of a team who can make a run at a Championship. Just knowing that I've had a part in that is great and I need to remember that when I hit the ice every game."

Once again, Happy Holidays everyone, and a Happy New Year in advance! If you've got any New Years Resolutions you'd like to share, feel free!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Teams Shorthanded for the Holidays

Be sure to check out my latest article for School Your Pool.

It outlines all OHL players participating in international tournaments this holiday season, and as such tells which teams are going to be missing which players.

Check it out!


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Top 10 - Christmas Presents

In today's Top 10, I will be playing the role of Santa Claus. Inspired by great Niagara IceDogs radio personality Chuck Lafleur and his blog (here), I've decided to come up with ten Christmas presents which I think would be well deserved by the recipients. Some presents go out to entire teams, some to individual players. All in all, a fun list meant to invoke the holiday spirit (as the OHL takes it's week long break from action).

As no gift is more important than the other, this list is not in any particular order.

To: Cody Hodgson
From: The Brampton Battalion
Dear Cody, please get healthy again. We need you. While our defense and goaltending has been excellent without you, we currently are last in the league in goals scored and desperately need an offensive catalyst to put the team on his back (no pun intended). Plus, there's always the chance we could trade you for a huge return that could help us speed up our rebuilding phase. As a result please enjoy our two gifts.
Present: Sleepmatic Adjustable Bed & A voucher for a free massage.

To: London Knights
From: Michael Del Zotto & John Tavares
Hey guys, we can see how much you're missing us this year. The powerplay has gone from the best in the league to just average (or even below average). Obviously, this powerplay decline can be directly correlated with the team's inability to push past Kitchener for the Division lead thus far. To help you out, we decided to go through an experimental cloning procedure that will produce two clones from a test tube. The bad news...the clones won't be ready for another year. Maybe you can trade their rights for someone who can help you now!
Present: Future Michael Del Zotto and John Tavares clones

To: Guelph Storm
From: Thomas McCollum
In following my former team this season, it appears you guys are still having trouble getting good goaltending since you traded me last season to Brampton. Sucks that Brandon Foote (the guy you got back for me) has been injured all year, but it sucks even more that the two other guys you've brought in haven't been getting the job done. I think it's safe to say that as a team, you've been seriously underachieving this season. I saw quite a few season predictions that had you winning the division.'re nearly last in the Conference. Obviously health and injuries have played a big part in that, but as a goaltender I've got to be bias and believe you're longing for the days when I manned the pipes for you. As a result, I've sent along a little something that could help.
Present: "Road Warrior" street hockey shooter tutor.

To: Team Canada and Team Ontario
From: Myself
While I'd like to extend the best of luck to all Ontario Hockey League players participating in the upcoming international tournaments, the Canadian in me would like to give only gold medals to the home team. That means best of luck to all OHL members of Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, and to all members of Team Ontario at the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge. Team Canada is, of course, going for its record sixth straight gold, while Team Ontario is going for its third straight gold.
Present: Gold Medals

To: Erik Gudbranson
From: An unidentified NHL team picking inside the draft lottery
Dear Erik, we just wanted to tell you that no matter how much bad luck you receive this year, we'll still be drafting you. You can have a minor knee injury and miss a month. You can have mononucleosis and miss the current month. But remember, you are a tremendous defenseman who has taken great steps forward this season and you will still be a selection in the top 14 of the NHL draft. Rest up and come back stronger than ever.
Present: Montreal Canadiens - 100th Anniversary Collector's DVD set (for the huge Habs fan to watch as he recuperates from mono)

To: Eugene Melnyk and the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
From: The Town of Oakville
Eugene, we think we know why your 2nd place Majors continue to draw very disappointing attendance figures. You need to expand your marketing venture to include us neighbors in Oakville. You're looking at a city of 200,000 crazed hockey fans who've been producing some of the best OHL talent over the past few years (John Tavares, Steve Mason, Sam Gagner), yet few people in the city know about OHL hockey and the 20 minute car ride away Hershey Centre. We fully believe that if you were to start broadcasting the games locally here (like the Niagara IceDogs have done in Hamilton), and if you were to start advertising tickets in the local papers, you'd be able to increase your attendance and the general interest in your club.
Present: A Cogeco cable provider telephone number so that you can set up a t.v. distribution deal, and be the first OHL team to have two rival companies providing simultaneous broadcasts (Rogers and Cogeco).

To: Jacob Muzzin
From: The Pittsburgh Penguins
Jacob, we're very sorry we didn't offer you an NHL contract last year. In hindsight, I guess it was a pretty stupid move. Maybe we just didn't think you had it in you to become such an elite level OHL defender. We also read Bob Mackenzie's latest column on you (here) and it made us feel like major idiots. Bob's right, some players do just take longer to develop. We've been watching you in the Soo this year and how you've become one of the best defenseman in the entire league. And we'd like to make it up to you.
Present: An NHL Entry Level Contract

To: Joey Hishon
From: Owen Sound Attack Fans
Joey, we're glad you've returned from your broken foot just in time to help the Attack improve in the second half of the season. While we've been inconsistent this season, we do currently sit in the playoffs and we do have the potential to play a lot better. However, we need you to return to the way you played last year, when you became one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league...and not the way you played to start the regular season. We know you're capable of way more than you showed in September and October, and we trust that your poor play was just a reflection of frustration based on the entire team's poor play. We hope that you can return to previous form and get yourself back on the scouting map for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Present: A DVD collection of last year's Attack games and a place inside the top 100 of NHL Central Scouting's January Midterm rankings.

To: Niagara IceDogs
From: Alex Pietrangelo
Even from St. Louis, I can see how tough a year this has been for you. It's been just as tough for me as I sit in the press box in St. Louis and hope for playing time. Obviously, as former captain, I still feel close to you guys and wish I could do something to help. Perhaps my situation gets cleared up once the World Juniors are over and I'll return to the OHL. If I do, you could possibly use me to get a huge return in trade that could help the rebuilding process of this team. Also, I'm hoping you can find a suitor for Chris DeSousa too, as he's a great hockey player and should be able to fetch you a good return himself. I know you guys are a better team than you're currently showing, so hopefully things start looking up.
Present: One Alex Pietrangelo after the World Junior Championships

To: Tyler Cuma
From: The Minnesota Wild
Tyler, we realize it's been a tough year for you so far. The 67's have underachieved (to a degree) and you've come under heavy scrutiny for your play. But we continue to have faith in your development and in our selection of you as a first rounder. In watching you in recent weeks, we know that your defensive game has begun to come around and that you're nearly back to your old self as a shutdown defender. We know the healing process can take a long time and we'll be patient with you. While your offensive game is still struggling, we do faith that it will come back around and that you'll regain your confidence in moving the puck.
Present: A video of the 2008 Under 18's to help provide confidence, in seeing what a capable two way defender you used to be.

That's it folks. Santa has finished dolling out his presents. Anyone else out there have anything they'd like to give (OHL related)?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thoughts on Brampton and Sarnia from December 19

I caught this one on t.v. tonight, hoping that perhaps a battle between two of the worst teams in the league would be fierce, competitive and entertaining. Unfortunately, I was wrong. It was a pretty sloppy and choppy game that saw little in the way of serious scoring chances, perhaps what you'd expect from two teams who look like contenders for a top 5 pick in the 2010 OHL Priority Draft. Brampton squeaked by by a score of 2-1, despite being largely outplayed in the third period by the Sting. Perhaps more entertaining than the game was the pre-game ceremony where the Sarnia maintenance staff almost killed Santa Claus by not putting the carpet down well enough on the ice, causing poor Santa to slip and nearly break his hip.

Another reason I caught this one is because Ryan Yessie was at the game live tonight and will be providing us with a game report of his own in the coming week. I figured it'd be interesting to not only compare opinion between action seen on t.v. and action seen live, but also compare Ryan and I's thoughts on individual performances.

Here are my thoughts on players from both sides.

Brampton Battalion

Matt Clark (ANA)
I thought Clark had a very solid game. Made one bad play defensively where he got beaten to the outside as he was caught standing still, but generally speaking played a solid defensive game. He was typical Matt Clark in his own zone from what I've seen of him over the past two seasons. Offensively, I thought he had an excellent game too. While Brampton's powerplay is the worst in the league (although they did score twice tonight on the PP), I thought Clark did a good job of running play from the point. Scored a goal from the point on a slap shot that beat Shayne Campbell over the shoulder. Clark did a great job to get the shot through to the net (which may or may not have changed directions on the way). I think he's a solid professional prospect, and there's a reason he went as high as he did in last year's draft despite being primarily a defensive first defenseman.

Cameron Wind (2010)
I think a lot of people were surprised by his inclusion on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary list for the OHL. Truthfully, I was surprised too. But more because I didn't expect him to be on it, not because I believed he had no business being on it. I've tended to come away impressed by Wind every time I've seen him. He's not a flashy player by any means, but he's effective. I'm disappointed by his offensive production thus far, considering he seems to have good offensive instincts. This game was no different. Made a couple of nice pinches to keep the puck in the offensive zone, and did a good job of keeping the puck in at the blueline. He could stand to work on his breakout pass, but he's learning. Defensively, he's solid. Plays a good positional game, although I think he could stand to use his size a little more to add a larger physical element to his game. One play in particular stood out, as Kyle Neuber used his size to get by him in pursuit of the puck, gaining possession for Sarnia in the offensive end. While Neuber is a big boy, Wind is no dwarf himself and he needs to demonstrate a greater ability to use that size to prevent big forwards like Neuber from gaining possession of the puck.

Philip Lane (2010)
Lane has been on fire offensively of late (goals in 4 straight games coming into this one), but struggled in this game. I do really like him as a player and prospect for the 2010 NHL draft, but the more I watch him the more I wonder about his offensive potential, more specifically his ability to convert offensive opportunities. Call it lack of hand eye coordination, lack of hands, bad luck, whatever it be, but Lane does seem to have problems with keeping the puck on his stick at top speed, and with receiving passes while moving. The puck just always seems to be bouncing on him. He's still an aggressive forechecker and a budding physical player, but I'm starting to wonder whether he will develop into a premier offensive power forward or a hard working checker with some offensive ability.

Sam Carrick (2010)
Carrick really struggled to find the score sheet towards the end of October and through November, but it appears he's getting himself back on track this month. From talking to Brampton fans, they say he was struggling because he was spending too much time focusing on trying to be a pugilist instead of the team's offensive catalyst. Tonight he was quite solid though. Generated off the rush (one of the few Brampton forwards doing so), and seems to really keep his feet moving in the offensive zone, which makes him a strong player on the cycle. Scored the eventual game winning goal in the second period by beating defender Nathan Chiarlitti to the net for the tap in off Thomas Stajan's pass. He was named the game's first star.

Domenic Alberga (2010)
I thought Alberga was the best Brampton forward on the ice tonight. Was just a monster on the forecheck. He had at least 5 takeaways himself, and forced even more by putting constant pressure on the Sting puck carriers. He hit a post too, coming with a nice shot off the rush. While the stats haven't necessarily been there this year, he shows promise. If he can start showing greater offensive potential to go with the work ethic he brings to the ice, he could find himself as an NHL draft pick in June. And if not, he should still develop into a very important player for Brampton. Finished with an assist on Matt Clark's goal.

Patrick Killeen (PIT)
While Brampton's defense has been outstanding this year (in keeping shot totals down), I don't think Killeen has gotten enough credit for the way he's played this year. With no more Thomas McCollum, Killeen knew that he was going to have to step up big this year and play a large number of games. At this point, he's definitely playing for a contract from Pittsburgh. In the third period he was especially huge, making some big saves to keep Brampton ahead despite Sarnia's dominance. On one occasion, Killeen made 3 saves in succession in a mad flurry of goal mouth action, finally knocking away the puck to the corner with his blocker on the third. It'll be interesting to see what Brampton does with Killeen, considering they don't really need his services as a rebuilding team. He could be an attractive option to a team like Windsor or Guelph.
Killeen made 21 of 22 saves and got the win.

Sarnia Sting

Nathan Chiarlitti (2010)
Chiarlitti did not have his best game tonight. He had a couple of very poor defensive plays. In the first period, he got blown by, by a Brampton forward on the rush, creating a scoring chance in on Shayne Campbell. Later in the 2nd period, he was soft on Sam Carrick and got beaten to the front of the net as Carrick deposited the eventual game winner. Offensively, he didn't do a whole heck of a lot either and (like the entire Sarnia defense) had trouble moving the puck out of the defensive zone tonight. At this point, he seems to be one of those guys right on the cusp of being worthy of attention for the 2010 draft.

J.C. Campagna (2011)
I didn't really notice Campagna much. In a game I saw earlier this year I came away impressed by him, but tonight he was pretty invisible. At this point, I think we're looking at a player with a lot of skill, but who's lacking the strength to be able to contribute as a 16 year old in the OHL.

Brandon Francisco (2011)
Same thing applies to Francisco that I said about Campagna. I did notice Francisco for the bad though on a few occasions, where he handled the puck too long and ended up turning it over. I've heard other people say that they think he needs to use his teammates better and that appears to be a fair assessment. Like Campagna, he just needs to get bigger and stronger in order to be able to produce offensively.

Brandon Alderson (2010)
I thought Alderson was an interesting player tonight. Funny enough, during the intermission there was a segment asking all the players what they were asking for, for Christmas. Alderson claimed he was asking for the ability to raise the puck up off the ice. For a guy who has doubts about his finishing ability, he seems to be doing OK. With a goal tonight, he has 10 on the year which is good for 2nd on the team. On his goal, he beat his defender to the net, kept his stick on the ice and converted a cross ice feed from Kale Kerbashian (ironically the puck never left the ice). But he did fail to capitalize on a few other opportunities in close. An intriguing player though who has very good size, decent skating ability for that size, and a willingness to go hard to the net for goals. He finds himself in a group with guys like Phil Lane, and Kingston's Corey Durocher who should generate NHL draft interest due to their size and potential goal scoring ability.

Kyle Neuber (CBJ)
To his credit, Neuber played a good game tonight. He saw some powerplay time where he was used as the tree blocking the goaltender in the crease. He did a good job in the corners and along the boards. His line had one very good shift where they kept possession for a good minute and ended up with a really good scoring chance. He also had a fight tonight, completely beating up Brampton forward Alex O'Neil. I still don't see the reason to spend an NHL draft pick on him, but I give credit where credit is due and he played well tonight in a losing cause.

Joe Rogalski (2010)
Rogalski played an excellent game defensively tonight. I was very impressed by his positioning at the defensive end. No Brampton player was able to get by him, and he kept the Battalion forwards to the perimeter when he was on the ice. If he can continue to use his size defensively, he'll have an NHL future. However, I continue to be unimpressed by his ability to move the puck out of his own zone. Clean passes and smart reads tend to be few and far between. Near the end of the third period, he gave the puck up in his own zone, which lead to him taking a penalty that could have really cost the Sting a chance to get back into the game. When he carries the puck up ice and joins in on the rush, he's effective as an offensive player, but he definitely needs to work on his first pass out of the zone and his ability to work through the forecheck.

I'll be curious to hear what Ryan has to say about this one! Anyone else have thoughts?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Top 10 - Biggest Stories at the Halfway Point

With the majority of OHL teams at or very close to reaching the half way point of the 2009-10 season (34 games), I figured this would be the perfect time to review the biggest stories of the season thus far.

10. Not a Very Strong Storm in Guelph
Picked by many prognosticators (including myself) to finish near the top of the Western Conference, the Storm have done the exact opposite, currently finding themselves tied for dead last in the West. Now granted, the Storm have had their share of injuries, the biggest being the long term injury of their captain Matt Kennedy. But for the most part, others have rotated in and out of the line up. The biggest problem has been team defense and goaltending, with the Storm having the second worst goals against average in the league at 4.1 goals given up per game. The team brought in two netminders this season to try and rectify a situation that looked like it could have been ugly, NCAA defector Matt Hoyle, and OHL veteran Cody St. Jacques. Neither has been the answer. First step to rehabilitation is getting healthy. Hopefully in the second half of the season, the team can get their offensive stars healthy and on the ice at the same time. Second step will be an improvement in net. The question then remains, rather than going out and trying to improve, do the Storm instead become sellers and move attractive pieces like Adam Comrie, Matt Kennedy, and Matt Sisca in order to pick up pieces that could help the team more next season?

9. Disaster in Niagara
It has not been a good year in St. Catharines for the Niagara IceDogs. Let's recap the year so far. Coach Mario Chicillo gets fired just before the start of training camp, an odd time to make a coaching and philosophy change. Top 10 pick Lucas Lessio fails to report, deciding to make a verbal commitment to Michigan instead. The team fails to get defenseman and captain Alex Pietrangelo back from the St. Louis Blues. And lastly, one of the teams best and longest serving players, Chris DeSousa walks out on the team demanding a trade. Add that all up and you get an IceDogs team who currently holds down last place in the OHL. Jeez, remember when I had the Dogs finishing 7th in the conference in my season preview and some of their fans called me a fool for having them too low? Not looking so good now. But let's be honest, there is talent in Niagara and they are definitely underachieving. However, a change needs to occur. The team needs to get this DeSousa situation sorted out soon and get a half decent warm body back in return. An overall roster shake up, or another coaching change probably wouldn't hurt either. There's a reason we play 68 games in a season and not 34. The Dogs have time (and the talent) to turn things around and try to put a bright spot on an otherwise dim season.

8. What? There is an Overage Player Limit? Crap! - "The Windsor Spitfires"
Obviously Warren Rychel and Bob Boughner did realize that there is an overage player limit in this league, but what they could not have predicted was the number of overage players returned to them. When the season started, it was a pretty common assumption that defenseman and captain Harry Young would be returned for another year. However, pretty much every fan of the Spitfires had written off the returns of Scott Timmins and Dale Mitchell. But here we are, middle of the December and both are back and playing for the Spits. Windsor started the year with four overagers (Young, Unice, O'Donnell, Baldwin). Now they've got three, only one of which was on the roster to start the season. Obviously this is great news for Windsor as both Timmins and Mitchell return to provide veteran leadership and scoring and make the team that much stronger. It also serves an important purpose in that the team now has more depth at forward and could possibly afford to trade some of that depth in return for a starting goaltender.

7. Not to Toot My Own Horn or Anything (Cough, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Cough)
Nearly every OHL prognosticator had the Soo Greyhounds near the very bottom of the league in their preseason one. ME! I said that solid team defense and excellent goaltending would make that Hounds team a surprise of the Western Conference (here). Sure enough, here we are at the half way point and the Hounds currently sit...5th in the Western Conference. They started the year red hot and had everyone jumping on their bandwagon. Then they went ice cold and people shot them down as a pretender and a team now showing their true colours. However, I never lost faith. As a young team, they will go through their ups and downs, but they have the talent to finish right near the middle of the West when all is said and done. I'm curious to see if they make a move for another quality forward to help them in the playoffs.

6. Saginaw's Loss is Barrie's Gain
At the beginning of November, a huge trade sent shock waves through the entire OHL. The second place Saginaw Spirit had traded their two best defenseman, T.J. Brodie and Nick Crawford to the Barrie Colts in exchange for sophomores Ryan O'Connor and Michael Sgarbossa. While the trade made sense (and still makes sense to me considering how much it will help the team next year and the year after), it had to be tough for Spirit fans and players to swallow the move. Admittedly...I didn't think the trade would effect Saginaw as negatively as it has. Just look at the records of before and after the trade. Before the trade Saginaw Spirit: 13-6. After the trade Saginaw Spirit: 3-10. The team has not adjusted well to the change at all. Meanwhile, the trade has paid HUGE dividends for the Barrie Colts who've won 19 games in a row with Brodie and Crawford in their line up and look poised to be Memorial Cup contenders.

5. The Cody Hodgson Saga
Rewind to the beginning of August. Cody Hodgson is not only expected to make the Vancouver Canucks, but he's being penciled in as the favourite for the rookie of the year over first overall pick John Tavares. That's when things started to go bad. Hodgson struggled terribly at Canucks camp, citing a bad back as the reason. The Canucks cut him, something that seemed impossible to start the season, and news broke that Hodgson's back was worse than previously thought. Fast forward to the present, and Hodgson still hasn't played a game with the Brampton Battalion this season, and has dropped out of the Canadian World Junior camp because his back is still not at 100%. He's been practicing with Brampton for a while now, but has still yet to play. Which makes you wonder, will he ever play this season?

4. Will the Real Leader of the East Division Please Stand Up?
The Eastern Conference's East Division has been the black mark in the OHL so far this season. Four teams going back and forth from below .500 to above it, with no team looking head and shoulders above the other. The Peterborough Petes have had the division lead for the majority of the season, but each of Kingston, Oshawa and Ottawa have had their hot streaks. Heck, at this point even the Belleville Bulls aren't out of the running, should they get hot in the second half. The division as a whole is just not very strong, with every team having holes in their line up. The question then remains, will someone step up in the second half and claim themselves the true cream of the crop in the division?

3. The Hall, Seguin, Fowler Debate
Once considered the hands on favourite to be drafted first overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Taylor Hall now finds himself with competition. It's not as though Hall's played poorly, it's that two other players have stepped up to compete. Cam Fowler came into the league with a ton of hype this offseason and hasn't lived down the expectations, leading OHL defenseman in scoring. Tyler Seguin is the one who's really exploded and entered the discussion with a tremendous first half to the season. In fact, NHL's Central Scouting currently has Seguin rated first overall. The debate between these three will go the rest of the season and right up until the entry draft in June. For my money though, I still take Taylor Hall.

2. The Dominance of the Barrie Colts
While many expected the Colts to finish first in the Eastern Conference (myself included), I did not expect them to be THIS dominant. Winners of 19 in a row and counting, the Colts went a huge stretch without even losing a period to another team. They've just flat out been running over the competition. They ice three scoring lines that can out skate you, out score you, check you, and beat you up. The balance is just incredible. The addition of Brodie and Crawford to the blueline has really made this team more complete. If their goaltending can hold up, they could really give Windsor a run for their money. I don't know about you, but I've got January 14th marked down in my calendar (the first meeting of the season between Barrie and Windsor).

1. The Michael Liambas Hit on Ben Fanelli
It's been debated to death, was it clean, was it legal, was the suspension merited? Truthfully, I didn't want to put this at number one considering the black mark it left on the league in the National media. However, you can't argue that it wasn't the league's top story of the first half. Everybody and anybody was talking about it. That being said, let's look at the positives now that we're a month and a half separated from the incident. Rangers defenseman Ban Fanelli is alright and recovering from the skull fracture and concussion he suffered. The early consensus is that there will be no lasting effects on his playing ability and that he should be able to continue his OHL career in due time. Meanwhile, Liambas has moved on as well, signing a professional contract with the IHL's Bloomington Prairie Thunder. The only negative thing left over from this incident appears to be the president it set for league suspensions. From now on, any hit deserving a suspension in this league will be compared to this incident (as it has already this season). And unfortunately, the league's consistency will be called into question time and time again.

What are your thoughts on the first half of the 2009-10 OHL season?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

OHL Hopefuls for Team Canada at the WJC's

In my latest article for School Your Pool, I've decided to profile the OHL players currently at camp in Regina trying to make the 2010 Canadian WJC team.

See who I think are the locks and the longshots!

OHL Hopefuls for Team Canada.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thoughts on Erie and Windsor from December 10

I've been pretty busy lately, but I managed to catch this one on t.v. tonight. I hadn't seen the Otters much at all this year and I never run from a chance to catch Windsor, which made this game ideal for me to watch. It was kind of disappointing though. Not the most exciting OHL game you'll see, at least in my opinion. Windsor came out on top by a score of 3-1, a minimal spread considering their dominance of the game's pace.

Erie was largely kept in the game by the play of their star netminder, Jaroslav Janus. Since his return from the AHL, the team has been playing better hockey (above .500), and with good reason. I'm not sure there's much doubt in the minds of OHL followers about whether Janus is a top 3 netminder in this league. Erie's defense had a lot of trouble containing the speed and physicality of Windsor's forwards, especially down low in the offensive zone, and Janus bailed out his team on numerous occasions. Even with Janus in net, I'm still not sure this team is anything but a bottom seed in the Western Conference playoffs. That is...if they keep Janus. Although trading him could be quite the conundrum because of his unique status in the league (an import and overager).

The Spitfires again showed why they're such a dangerous team. While I felt like a large portion of their forwards tonight did not have their best games (Nemisz, Ryan, Timmins, to name a few), the depth, and quality of depth on this team ensures that they will always be dangerous. If a couple key players aren't performing, need not to worry since there will be about 5-6 others to pick up the slack. I'm really curious to see if this team makes a move before the deadline, especially to shore up their short term goaltending situation.

Some thoughts on individual performances. As always with Windsor, I'm not commenting on everyone because that task would be pretty tedious.

Erie Otters

Mitch Gaulton (NYR)
Outside of a bad penalty in the first period, I thought Gaulton played a very solid defensive game tonight. In the first he got beat by Taylor Hall to the outside and was forced to trip him up. But he tightened things up the rest of the game. Had a couple nice plays on forwards as they tried to break in towards the net with the puck, playing the man and not the puck itself. Because of that, Windsor had a hard time creating off the rush when he and partner Tyler Hostetter were on the ice (but not when David Shields was...poor guy). Offensively though, he was absent. The only time I noticed him in the offensive zone was when he made a bad pinch and got caught up ice, leading to an odd man rush by Windsor. I'm wondering where the confident offensive defenseman I saw last year is, the one who looked poised bringing the puck up ice and who was dangerous with his shot from the point. Have injuries derailed his offensive development?

David Shields (STL)
Not to pick on Mr. Shields, but he did not have a good game at all. Windsor forwards ate him up and spit him out all night. In the first, he got beat by Eric Wellwood at the blueline, allowing Wellwood in on a breakaway (which was foiled by Janus). Later in the first, he failed to keep pace with Dale Mitchell as he took him wide and to the side of the net, leading to Eric Wellwood's goal to tie the game at 1. Mitchell picked the puck up near the boards and exploded past Shields as he failed to keep up laterally. This caused Shields to be removed from the play, leaving his partner Paul Cianfrini to cover two Spitfires in front of the net. A tough task and it led to Eric Wellwood's goal in the slot. Later in the game, he tried to keep the puck in at the blueline of the offensive zone, but fumbled it and gave it away to Taylor Hall, leading to another breakaway (again stymied by Janus). Not a bright spot for Shields who finished the game -2.

Tyler Hostetter (PHI)
Was happy to see him sign a contract with Philly after the entry draft, as I was surprised he went unselected. I thought he played a solid game at both ends of the ice and has rounded himself into a very capable two-way defender. Did make a mistake in defensive coverage in the second period though, getting caught in no mans land and leaving Richard Panik wide open for the one timer to the back of the net. Outside of that, he played a quietly effective game and is appeared to be Erie's premier puck rushing defenseman.

Andrew Yogan (2010)
I thought Yogan was OK in the game. While he didn't generate a whole lot offensively (save a nice pass on a 2 on 1 to Jordan Coccimiglio, who was stoned by Passingham), I was impressed by his ability to control the puck along the boards. He's big, he's strong and he's obviously got offensive talent, even if it didn't shine through tonight. I've seen him play better. That being said, I'm still not sure I see him as a top 60 talent for this year's draft.

Greg McKegg (2010)
McKegg was OK too. I thought he was good in the first period, but invisible in the second and third. In the first he was creating off the rush and was one of the few Erie forwards applying pressure to Windsor's defense. He opened the game's scoring with a nice shot from the slot, beating Passingham (who had been taken out of position). McKegg started the play off by getting a good low shot on Passingham through traffic, generating a rebound which Zack Torquato picked up, and then fed back to McKegg for the tap in. I'm still not quite sure where to place him among 2010 eligible players though. With so many talented options available, does he get lost in the shuffle?

Jaroslav Janus (TBL)
Janus, as expected, was outstanding. He kept his team in this game despite numerous defensive gaffs. Stopped two breakaways (one by Wellwood, one by Taylor Hall), showing good flexibility and mobility on both. Stopped a two on one attempt finished off by Scott Timmins by sliding across and getting his body in front of a one timer. Was solid the entire game, challenging the shooter and going down in his butterfly to take away a good portion of the net. Rebound control was solid. Really nothing bad to say. He stopped 46 of 49, but took the loss.

Windsor Spitfires

Taylor Hall (2010)
Hall had a good game tonight. His speed and skill in transition was just too much to handle for Erie's defense. Even though he didn't make a large contribution on the scoresheet (a secondary assist), I felt like he was one of the most dangerous players on the ice. On the downside though, he showcased sloppy puck/pass decisions that we were seeing from him last season, and less of this season. I felt like he had really improved his decision making with the puck so far this year, but tonight he looked like Taylor of last year. Dangerous, but also at times a liability as he tried to carry the puck into traffic and as he threw wild blind passes to the center of the ice. Those are the types of plays that turn into turnovers and goals at the NHL level, and it would appear he still needs to work on eliminating those from his game.

Kenny Ryan (TOR)
Still not impressed by Ryan at all. I thought he was completely invisible. If I hadn't have been looking for number 26, I might have forgotten him all together. I still don't think there is any reason to worry yet though. Quite often, in the history of players who've made the mid season leap from NCAA to the CHL, these guys struggle to start as they slowly become adjusted. I think the real test for Ryan will come with so many players away at the World Juniors for Windsor. He'll see a much larger portion of offensive responsibility and I'll be curious to see how he deals with it.

Richard Panik (TBL)
I thought he was excellent tonight. I've heard a lot of Windsor fans talk about their disappointment with him this season but every time I've seen him play, he's been tremendous. Maybe I just keep catching him on good nights. He scored a goal off a nice one timed shot from a bad angle (that he roofed on Janus). He threw a couple really big hits and was a physical force in the corners. I even saw him make a very nice defensive play, as he filled in for a Windsor defenseman who got caught up ice on a bad pinch. Like most Euro players in this league, I think we'll see him get better and more consistent as the season goes along. By the end of the season, I somehow don't think many Windsor fans will be complaining about him anymore.

Mark Cundari (STL)
Another solid game from Cundari. Truthfully, I'm not sure there is a better defensive player in the OHL. If you manage to catch a game where a forward beats him off the rush or out positions him for a puck, write the date down to remember it. Tonight was no different. On the downside tonight, I felt like he was a bit careless in his decisions to rush the puck or contribute offensively. He turned it over twice in his own zone as he tried to carry it up ice, but then got stripped. He had several other good rushes, but he needs to be careful about picking his spots and becoming a bit overconfident in his puck rushing ability. Still finished the game +3 and is still the far and away +/- leader of the OHL. Have I mentioned he's underrated?

Eric Wellwood (PHI)
While I don't think there's a top 6 forward role waiting for him in the NHL, I do think the Flyers were very wise to use a draft selection last year on him. Tremendous speed, and tremendous awareness on the ice. I think he'll end up developing into an excellent third line/penalty killing forward. He's having quite a good season and picked up two points tonight. An assist on Richard Panik's goal, feeding him with a nice pass for the one timer. And a goal off Dale Mitchell's nice feed in the first period, burying one from the slot. Wellwood was named the game's first star.

Dale Mitchell (TOR)
The best player on the ice for me tonight. I thought Mitchell was all over the place. Created off the rush, dominated in the corners, and was pesky in front of the net. It wasn't just David Shields who had trouble with him tonight, it was the entire Otters team. I still don't agree with the decision to send him back to the OHL (because I think he's proved and improved all he can at this level), there is no denying that the Spitfires have to be happy to have him back in the line up. Just another cog in the machine.

Anyone else have thoughts on the game, or questions on players not mentioned (Cam Fowler by the way sat this one out with an undisclosed minor injury).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thoughts on Ottawa and Belleville from December 2

Who wants to watch the Toronto Raptors get blown away by the Atlanta Hawks on a Wednesday night? Not me. Instead, I tuned into this East Division match up between the Ottawa 67's and the Belleville Bulls. Unfortunately since this game was delayed by a half hour due to a late arrival by Ottawa (their bus had some mechanical problems), I did have to sit through an opening quarter of the Raps game that saw them concede 33 points. When the game did get played, the 67's continued their red hot play by coming into the Yardmen Arena and stealing this one by a score of 4-3. The victory was Ottawa's 8th in their last 9 games. It's about time this team started climbing the standings in the Eastern Conference.

It was actually a very entertaining game. While Belleville never had the lead in this one, they showed a lot of heart by climbing back to tie the game twice before giving up the game winning goal with 37 seconds to go in regulation. The game saw the match up of two 2010 eligible goaltenders, both imports. Of course I'm talking about Petr Mrazek of Ottawa (and the Czech Republic), and Phil Grubauer of Belleville (and of Germany). Both goalies were excellent in the game and made a lot of quality, point blank saves. In the end, it was Belleville's inability to get the puck out of their end that cost them the game. Turnovers in their own end led to 2 of the 4 Ottawa goals, including the game winner.

Some individual player thoughts:

Ottawa 67's

Tyler Toffoli (2010)
Came into this game red hot, riding a 6 game point streak where he had put up 16 points in that span. But he was surprisingly quiet in this one. He made a couple of nice plays off the rush to generate scoring chances. Had a really good scoring chance himself by sneaking past the Belleville defense and taking a pass in the slot, but couldn't get enough on the one timed shot to beat Grubauer, shooting it right into his chest. On the negative, it seemed like he might be trying to do too much with the puck. In a way, I felt like he played a bit of a selfish game, turning the puck over a few times by trying to make one too many moves or by holding on to it too long. But then again, a player coming in as red hot as Toffoli is going to be playing with a lot of confidence and be looking to try and create. I'm just saying I think he needs to be a bit smarter in doing so. I keep trying to catch Toffoli on a good game, but I've yet to do so. It's obvious he's having them, I just need to see it for myself.

Anthony Nigro (STL)
Whenever I see Nigro with the 67's, I'm always so shocked at how different a player he's become in Ottawa. In Guelph he was a forecheck and cycle machine, a guy who generated his scoring chances by outworking the defense in the offensive zone. In Ottawa, he's become a much different offensive player; one that generates his offense primarily off the rush and on the drive to the net. Not necessarily a bad thing, but just an observation. Nigro had a very solid game tonight. Scored a beauty of a goal in the 2nd period to open the scoring. Took a pass in the slot, lost control of it momentarily on the backhand but managed to spin around and fire it home on the forehand with a top shelf wrister just under the cross bar. Earlier in the game, he created a very nice opportunity to score for Cody Lindsay but using the toe drag on the way to the net to draw the ire of the 67 defenseman, only to pass the puck to a streaking Lindsay who fanned on the shot, allowing Grubauer enough time to get over and make the save. Nigro also had the primary assist on the game winning goal by Lindsay. Thomas Nesbitt stole the puck along the boards, put it to Nigro who then slipped it to Lindsay alone in front of the net for the shot five hole. Was a tic-tac-toe play that showcased some excellent playmaking ability from Nigro. Considering all the different sides he's shown in the OHL, I do wonder which one is the Nigro we'll see at the next level.

Julien Demers (SJ)
Truthfully, I didn't really notice Demers tonight. And I think that's a good thing. A quality defensive defenseman, I think he got caught up with trying to do too much offensively at the beginning of the season and as a result he struggled (injuries played a part too). When Demers is at his best, he's playing the body, quietly effectively defensively and making quick passes in the defensive end. And he did that tonight.

Tyler Cuma (MIN)
First off, obviously the biggest news of the day is his omission from the Canadian WJC tryout camp (TSN has an excellent piece on Cuma's disappoint here). To his credit, and he admits this himself in the TSN article, I think he's been playing a lot better hockey the past month or so (obviously correlated with Ottawa's improvements in recent weeks). Defensively, he was a stud tonight. Nobody from Belleville was able to get past him tonight, and playing on the big ice, that speaks volumes to his skating ability and mobility. He took the body hard too, really rubbing out a Belleville player along the boards (I can't remember who exactly)...although he took a boarding penalty on the play. Nice to see him playing inspired physical defensive hockey though. On the downside...I think he's still struggling with his confidence offensively and with the puck. Looks hesitant to rush the puck up ice and when the puck hits his stick, he's quick to dish it off. Evidence of this was his near costly delay of game penalty in the third period that allowed Kyle DeCoste to tie the game at 3. Before his injury, Cuma was a very capable puck rushing defenseman and a guy who showed flashes of being a very capable two way defenseman. Since, his offensive production has really slipped and I think it's directly related to confidence and timing. I do think it's only a matter of time before he gets it back though. Once he becomes comfortable again defensively and things start becoming a little more automatic, I'm sure we'll see his passes become more crisp. And I'm sure we'll see him take more chances on the rush.

Ryan Martindale (2010)
I thought Martindale played an OK game, probably better than Toffoli was tonight. With Dalton Smith out of the line up (apparent upper body injury, but not serious), these two played a TON tonight; this had to be taxing on them. While he was fairly invisible offensively tonight, the one thing I do really like about Martindale is that he's able to get his shot off in traffic. He does well to use his size to give him a bit of time and space to shoot. I think this bodes really well for his production at the next level, even if his skating needs improvement (which was obvious on the big ice tonight).

Petr Mrazek (2010)
The Czech Import played a heck of a game tonight. With a shutout through the first two periods of this game, he ended up with a 7 period shutout streak. Unfortunately, this was broken in the third when he gave up 3 goals. But this is the third time this season I've been very impressed by Mrazek. He's very athletic, he challenges shooters, he takes away the bottom of the net, and he reacts well to the play. Not sure what else you could ask of a goaltender. Made several point blank saves tonight, all because he was able to cut down the angle by challenging at the top of the blue ice and then held on to the puck and didn't give up a big rebound. The goals that did beat him, he didn't have that much of a chance on, save maybe Kyle DeCoste's first goal where he bit on the pass fake and exposed his five hole on a side of the net opportunity. If anything, I think he needs to commit later to the play, as in the two previous viewings he was scored on in similar fashions by getting him down to the ice on the flop. The 2010 OHL crop of goaltenders is looking like a solid group, however it's also a group without a definitive number 1 candidate. I think Mrazek has the potential to seize that top spot, if he can continue to get playing time. He made 34 of 37 saves for the victory.

Belleville Bulls

Bjorn Krupp (MIN)
Not a good night for Bjorn Krupp. Then again, I don't think I've ever seen him have a good one. Bulls fans, help me out here? He does have good ones right? I will come out and say that Krupp has potential as a stay at home defenseman. He handles forwards on the rush quite well and is hard to get around. He made a very nice defensive play on Cody Lindsay as he tried to get by him and take the puck to the net. Krupp knocked the puck away with his stick first and then knocked Lindsay to the ice shortly after. It's his play with the puck that's just atrocious. He's a complete liability on the ice with the puck on his stick. Two turnovers led to Ottawa goals tonight. And not just that, I'm not sure he hit a single Belleville forward with a crisp pass up ice. The first turnover was on a brutal clearing attempt in the second period. It was knocked down by an Ottawa forward, only to be stolen back again by Kyle DeCoste, only to have him give it away to Joe Carnevale for the goal. But the original turnover that led to the goal was Krupp's. The game winning goal was worse. Krupp tried to carry the puck out from behind his net, lost control, panicked and fired a weak clear off the boards that was intercepted by Thomas Nesbitt, who then fed Nigro who then fed Lindsay to the back of the net. I don't want to sound harsh, but professional hockey players would eat Krupp alive on the forecheck. He makes Wade Belak look like Sidney Crosby. But there is hope, his defensive awareness and ability is solid, he just needs to drastically improve his play with the puck.

Alex Basso (2011)
With such a quality group of 1993 defenseman this year in the OHL, Basso is a guy that gets overlooked. He didn't crack the Under 17 team, but only because the 7 defenseman who did are all outstanding. But Basso is a guy that has impressed me. He can skate, especially with the puck on his stick. And he's got a lot of confidence in his ability to move the puck, he really doesn't hesitate to try and make an offensive play. Defensively, he's learning. Made an error on the first Cody Lindsay goal as he got caught standing still, and Lindsay cut back to the middle of the ice causing Basso to fall and Lindsay to roof it top shelf. But I like his willingness to take the body. In the other times I've seen him this season, he's been eager to throw that open ice hit, especially at the blueline. We'll see how his game progresses as the season goes along.

Shawn Lalonde (CHI)
Had a tremendous game tonight. Was all over the ice creating scoring chances. At the Yardmen arena, he's so effective. That extra space is like gold to him. Very aggressive in bringing the puck up the ice, had several very nice end to end rushes tonight. He made some good pinches too, although because he makes a lot of them he can be prone to getting caught. Scored his goal by joining the rush and picking up a loose puck, only to roof it top shelf as he out waited Petr Mrazek and Tyler Cuma as they went down to block the shot. Made a couple beautiful passes tonight too and creates so well in transition. Defensively, he was mistake free from what I could tell too. Had a couple bad passes in his own zone, but as I said, when you take chances you're bound to make some mistakes. I think he's the perfect defenseman for today's NHL game. We'll see how he does at the Canadian WJC camp. Finished the game with a goal and two assists.

Andy Bathgate (PIT)
I was actually quite excited to see Bathgate tonight. Last time I saw him, he was in quite the slump to the start the season, but he turned it around with an outstanding November (7 goals and 7 assists in 13 games). However, he didn't really do much tonight. Had one nice rush up ice where he made a good pass off to Luke Judson as the side of the net for the open tap in, but Judson fanned on it. Outside of that, I truthfully didn't notice him for the good or the bad.

Kyle DeCoste (TBL)
Averaging a point a game since the trade from Sault Ste. Marie, he trade to Belleville has re-invigorated DeCoste's offensive game. He definitely had an interesting one tonight. It was kind of split into two parts. The first part, which happened in the first two periods. And the second part, which happened in the third period. The first part was ugly...real ugly. Turnover in the defensive zone that led to Joe Carnevale's goal in the second period. Wasn't looking, tried to make a pass across ice and Carnevale picked it off and took it in alone on Grubauer. This turnover happened about 2 minutes before he took a terrible, lazy defensive zone penalty for a hook on Ryan Martindale. Nothing was going his way. In the third period, things changed. He started to become more active on the forecheck and thus was able to make a contribution on the scoresheet by scoring two goals. First one, took a pass from Shawn Lalonde, took it right to the net, faked the pass (getting Mrazek down in the butterfly), and then jammed it under his pads. Second goal was a one time shot off a feed from Adam Payerl to the slot. The thing is, DeCoste needs to remember that at the next level, he's going to have to play that energy, physical, pesky forward role at all times because his offensive skills aren't going to be winning him a job at the NHL level.

Stephen Silas (2010)
I continue to be impressed by Silas. I just think he's a very cool, calm, and collected two way defenseman. The thing I like most is his anticipation of the play and his smarts with and without the puck. Made a couple very nice plays defensively tonight, by simply using his stick. One was off a dump in by Joe Carnevale. Carnevale clearly had Silas beat to the puck, so Silas let him get it first but then chipped it right off his stick and to his defensive partner Alex Basso. While I've seen him play physical in the past, he wasn't tonight. I'm wondering if this could develop into a consistent portion of his game in the future. Offensively, he makes smart, quick passes in transition and he has the ability to rush the puck up ice. Had a nice play to join into the rush as the trailer and put a good shot on net that was stopped by Mrazek. However the shot generated a juicy rebound that sent the 67's back the other way on an odd man rush. However Silas got back to the defensive zone quickly and defused the situation. Quite often with young defenseman, you'll see them get caught up ice in instances like that, but not Silas. I think there is a lot of potential with him.

Alex Aleardi (2010)
Perfect situation for him. Speedy forward meets the big ice. Like the perfect marriage of player to environment. He seems to be getting a lot of playing time in Belleville too. I thought he was excellent tonight. All over the ice on the forecheck and was causing a lot of problems for Ottawa's defense both on the rush and in the zone. While nothing came of his chances, the writing seems to be on the wall for increased offensive production (even if he hasn't shown it yet). I'm not sure he's an NHL draft prospect quite yet, but in the future if his hands can catch up to his skating ability (similar to the way Alex Friesen's have this season in Niagara), he'll be on someone's radar.

Phil Grubauer (2010)
Despite taking the loss, I thought Grubauer played a good game tonight. Got hung out to dry by his defense a few times and ended up giving up goals on the play. Two other shots beat him just below the crossbar, perfectly placed. He made some big saves tonight to keep his team in the game. Like Mrazek, he made some big saves off point blank opportunities in the slot. He challenged the shooter, made the save and managed to give up few rebounds. Like Mrazek, he's also an athletic goaltender who has the ability to make the acrobatic save. Despite the fact that two shots beat him upstairs tonight, I think he's actually got an excellent glove hand which was on display in the game with two very good glove saves off slap shots in close. Grubauer is right in there with the likes of Mrazek, Anderson, Visentin and O'Hagan for that top OHL goaltender for 2010. He made 29 of 33 saves and took the loss.