Wednesday, December 22, 2010

CHL Top Prospect's Game Rosters Released

NHL Central Scouting released the rosters for the 2011 CHL Top Prospect's Game today. 18 OHL players are scheduled to take part (which is nearly 50% of those participating).

For those unfamiliar with the selection process, from my understanding it works as follows. NHL Central Scouting sends out a recommendation list (or simply a list with names on it), to which all GM's vote on the players they want to see in the game (voted players can be ones from the list or outside the list). Central Scouting tabulates the results and creates the rosters.

The game is set to take place at the ACC this year on January 19th, so keep that one open on your calendar!

Here are 18 participants from the OHL:

Jordan Binnington - Owen Sound

Scott Harrington - London
Stuart Percy - Mississauga
Dougie Hamilton - Niagara
Ryan Murphy - Kitchener

Forwards (13 of the 24 forwards = over 54%)
Nicklas Jensen - Oshawa
Gabriel Landeskog - Kitchener
Matt Puempel - Peterborough
Rickard Rakell - Plymouth
Tobias Rieder - Kitchener
Mark Scheifele - Barrie
Ryan Strome - Niagara
Daniel Catenacci - Sault Ste. Marie
Boone Jenner - Oshawa
Lucas Lessio - Oshawa
Vladislav Namestnikov - London
Brandon Saad - Saginaw
Vincent Trocheck - Saginaw

The full rosters, as well as the set teams, can be found here

Just a few generals comments about the rosters

- Everyone seems to be talking about the absence of Alex Khokhlachev, Shane Prince, and Stefan Noesen. The hard thing about an event like this, is not everyone can be invited. And just because you're not invited, doesn't mean you can't be a high NHL draft pick. I'm obviously surprised these guys didn't get an invite (especially Khokhlachev), but such is life. They still have the opportunity to be named as injury replacements, when the inevitable happens and players off this list get injured before the event in roughly one month's time.

- Happy to see Stuart Percy make the cut. After seeing him absent from CSS's preliminary rankings, I thought I might be taking crazy pills after being high on him. But it seems he's certainly made an impression on NHL scouts.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Midseason Top 30 for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft

The Christmas break is upon us in the Ontario Hockey League. Most teams in the league are very near, at, or just over the halfway mark in games played for the 2010-2011 season.

Therefore, it would seem appropriate for me to update my top 30 for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. NHL Central Scouting will release their midterm rankings in the new year (usually the 2nd Monday of January, so I'd expect the rankings to be released on the 10th). So it'll be interesting to compare what they're thinking when the time comes.

For now, indulge yourself in my rankings (for ***** and giggles, here are my midterm rankings from last year, which actually stack up quite well).

1. Gabriel Landeskog - F - Kitchener Rangers
It's not that I wasn't on the Landeskog bandwagon before, it's just that I wasn't completely sold that he had first line offensive potential in the NHL. In my last couple of viewings, he's been amazing and I'm sold. He's the most complete player in the OHL right now and on most shifts, a man among boys. He could be making an impact in the NHL right now, if he didn't have that late birth date.

2. Ryan Strome - F - Niagara IceDogs
What can I say, I love this guy. Who couldn't use a creative centerman with the foundational upside of a very complete player? He's slick with the puck, but he's also a workhorse. I personally don't think he has a weakness, and as he develops, that will become more evident.

3. Brandon Saad - F - Saginaw Spirit
It's damn hard to separate Landeskog, Strome, and Saad. All three are complete players who project to be very good NHL players. I wouldn't hesitate to draft any of them with a top 5 pick. Saad is probably the rawest of three...which is odd considering he's the oldest of the three. Some scouts will probably like that because he's already such an effective player, with with more polish, he could be a dominant force coming down the wing. He's big, but not as physical as Landeskog. And he's slick, but not as slick as Strome. But then again, he's probably the best skater of the three and most natural goal scorer. Take your pick really, I think I just prefer Landeskog's intangibles and Strome's creativity and tenacity at this point.

4. Ryan Murphy - D - Kitchener Rangers
Murphy was number one ranked by me in October (my initial ranking), and I don't love him any less now. He's a stellar hockey player and a guy I wouldn't think twice about drafting in the top 10...but I think the three forwards ahead of him have become such good players and guys who are safer bets to be franchise type players in the NHL. Everyone knows about Murphy by now, his strengths and weaknesses. Fact is, he's not slowing down and he's still on pace to score 30 goals and hit 100 points, things that haven't been done by a defenseman in the OHL since 2000 and 1994 respectively.

5. Dougie Hamilton - D - Niagara IceDogs
While it's early to be getting into this now, the Murphy vs. Hamilton debate as the top available OHL defenseman is going to be an interesting one to watch. When June comes along, we'll get to see how much size does indeed matter to NHL teams. Bottom line is this, Hamilton is billed as a big, tough, yet mobile defenseman, but he's also 4th in the OHL in defenseman scoring. His offensive skills are getting better by the month and even if he could stand to make some better decisions on the powerplay and improve his breakout pass, the potential is massive. Personally, I prefer Hamilton to Erik Gudbranson as an NHL prospect, ans Gudbranson went third overall. Take that for what it's worth.

6. Alexander Khokhlachev - F - Windsor Spitfires
He's been a little bit cold lately, but I still really like the mix of talent Khokhlachev brings to the table. He's an elite offensive player with creativity, poise and speed to burn, but he's also tenacious and has a burning desire to compete. He's not a perimeter player and I think that bodes well for his NHL future. He may be a small guy, but he doesn't play small and that's really important.

7. Matt Puempel - F - Peterborough Petes
He's been a pretty consistent offensive performer this year, despite Peterborough's struggles. But the Petes have been playing much better hockey of late (thanks to the improved play of Austin Watson and the introduction of Alan Quine) and Puempel deserves credit for sticking things out and playing well. He may not be as explosive as some of the other OHL forwards available, but he knows how to score goals and as the old adage goes "you can't teach that."

8. Vincent Trocheck - F - Saginaw Spirit
I really like Trocheck. Dude was just born to be a hockey player. He does all the little things well and is a very complete offensive player. The thing that worries me is his size though. He's not a big guy, and he plays a lot bigger than he is. Will he be able to have that same success in the NHL. On one hand, you love to say that about smaller guys (particularly centers). We criticize them if they play small. But on the other hand, when Trocheck's game is designed around winning lose puck battles, forechecking and hard work, will he be able to play that way in the NHL where everyone is a tree?

9. Daniel Catenacci - F - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The "Cat" as many are affectionately calling him now, has earned his way into the top 10 on my list. Bottom line is this, I'm not incredibly convinced he has a really high offensive ceiling at the NHL level, but his speed and hard work make him an asset in all situations. And on any given night, he battles it out on a last place team, so you have to admire his perseverance. Is he the next Rico Fata? Some think so, but I think you take that chance and draft him anyway in the late first, early second.

10. Boone Jenner - F - Oshawa Generals
Going into the break, Jenner is riding a hot streak for essentially the first time this season. He's really stepped it up after drawing a lot of criticism for his 10 game goal scoring drought during October and November. But in his last 12 games, he has 7 goals and 10 assists and is starting to silence some of his critics. He may not have franchise offensive potential, but he's a big center (which every NHL team covets now) with skill and a solid two way game. As long as he can continue to improve his offensive production, he'll be a first round pick.

11. Stefan Noesen - F - Plymouth Whalers
Who knew he had this much offensive talent? Noesen has been one of the league's biggest surprises this year, and leads the Whalers in just about every statistical category. He plays the game hard and generates a lot of offense from the energy he brings to the ice every shift. I'm still not sure I have a handle on the type of offensive upside he has at the NHL level, but I like all of the little things he does well.

12. Rickard Rakell - F - Plymouth Whalers
Back to back Whalers on the list. Rakell is a really interesting player. He's certainly caught the eye of a lot of people this year with a few sensational goals, where he's showed off how good his hands are. What makes him an interesting prospect is that he's also got good size and power forward potential. He'll throw the body, but I have a feeling that once he gets stronger, he'll be even harder to stop.

13. Tobias Rieder - F - Kitchener Rangers
I've really liked what I've seen from Rieder this season. Similar to The Khok, he's small but plays a lot bigger than he is. He's very quick down the wing and he's elusive in the slot where you'd think his size would hamper him. He's also a much more tenacious player than you'd expect; active on the forecheck and in the physicality department. If he was bigger, I'd be more comfortable putting him higher, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't take him with a late first or early second.

14. Nicklas Jensen - F - Oshawa Generals
Jensen is a really strong player who profiles very well as an NHL player. He's already so strong and this allows him to take the puck to the net with great effectiveness. As he gets more comfortable, I think we'll see him start to assert himself more physically and with his good hands in close, he could become quite the offensive force in this league. The question is, how much potential does he have in the NHL?

15. Vladislav Namestnikov - F - London Knights
Four import players in a row here. The London Knights have really struggled over the past couple of months, and a huge reason for that has been the disappearance of their offense. Namestnikov has to take some of the blame in that, with only 1 goal in his last 14 games. He's flashy and very dynamic, but I've also found him to be invisible for large stretches of games. When he doesn't have the puck on his stick, he seems to struggle. After such a strong start to the season, he's left me wanting just a little bit more.

16. Lucas Lessio - F - Oshawa Generals
I really like Lessio and I think he has a ton of potential moving forward. That being said, his inconsistency has definitely caused him to fall, especially when you compare him to how well some of the other available forwards from the OHL are playing. He's just a very raw player with the speed, puck handling and (at times) the drive to be a very good offensive player. But he has a tendency to over handle the puck and his physical game hasn't really translated from Junior A to the OHL as of yet. On the plus, he has been killing penalties for Oshawa lately and his all around game is improving. Definitely a project pick.

17. Shane Prince - F - Ottawa 67's
Considering how outstanding his offensive production has been this year, some might be surprised or disappointed I've got him this low. I'll admit, I haven't seen him have a really great game (which means I've probably seen the only bad games this guy's played all year), so take that into account. His speed, playmaking, and ability to fill in the open lanes on the ice make him a very intriguing player. One of the best stats when talking about Prince is the fact that only 2 of his 19 goals this year have come on the powerplay. This suggests he's having no trouble finding space on the ice five on five, despite minor size concerns. But I continue to worry about the NHL projection of an undersized, playmaking winger at the NHL level, based on the fact that we just don't see very many.

18. Andrew Fritsch - F - Owen Sound Attack
Owen Sound fans now see why IceDog fans were so disappointed with the Jason Wilson trade that occurred earlier this year. Fritsch has been outstanding for the Attack, playing on the first line with Joey Hishon and Garrett Wilson. Some may read that and assume he's riding piggyback, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Fritsch is just a quality hockey player. He's a really smart offensive player and he has very good hands in close to the net. He's also a pretty complete player who'll forecheck and backcheck. I think he's easily one of the more underrated players available in this draft and if he continues to play well, he'll receive a lot of consideration for the top 2 rounds.

19. Alan Quine - F - Peterborough Petes
Talk about a re-invention. After struggling with the Fronts and looking like a guy losing hold on a high NHL draft projection, the trade to Peterborough has really brought life to Quine. He's got 12 goals in 17 games with Peterborough, after only 4 in 17 games with Kingston. This includes a current 11 game point streak (in which he has 11 goals and 6 assists). He's got an NHL caliber shot and if he can continue to get the job done with the Petes, he's going to climb a lot of draft lists...and quickly.

20. Stuart Percy - D - Mississauga Majors
When it comes to rating the defenseman behind Murphy and Hamilton, I think Percy is at the top. A lot of people think it's Harrington, but I believe Percy to be superior in nearly every area. Percy can move the puck by way of the rush or breakout pass, he defends well both off the rush and in the zone, and he's really become a more physical player. He still doesn't have elite size, and could stand to improve his agility, but I think his intelligence and skill profiles him as a potential two way defender at the next level.

21. Scott Harrington - D - London Knights
His offensive game hasn't rounded into form as many might have hoped, but he remains a solid defender. The fact that he's upped his physicality this year has to make scouts happy. But I'm incredibly weary of stay at home defenseman who don't have a ton of size. They don't have a terrific track record of translating to the NHL game, where some of the league's best forwards are bigger than them.

22. Mark Scheifele - F - Barrie Colts
Scheifele has shown a lot of promise this season. He's got good size for a centerman and he's a good playmaker who'll make the plays in front of the net. But he's really struggled as of late, with only an assist in his last 8 games. Maybe that has something to do with his linemate Darren Archibald leaving town. Without a big, power forward to clear room for him, Scheifele doesn't have the space to operate. But keep in mind that this is his first year in the OHL and he'll need to add a lot of size to become a more dependable offensive threat.

23. Nick Cousins - F - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
While he may be undersized, Cousins certainly doesn't play like it. He's definitely an agitating guy to play against, and the type of player NHL teams love to have. He's also demonstrated that he can score goals, as evidenced by his 16 goals this season. Maybe he develops into an Alex Burrows type of player in the NHL, but I wish he was a better skater for his size. He's not a bad skater, but he's not great either.

24. Brett Ritchie - F - Sarnia Sting
Personally, I think the top 23 guys are pretty set in stone as of right now. I'm pretty confident with those guys (even if the order could be subject to change). After Cousins, it's definitely completely wide open and I considered as many as 20 guys for these final 7 spots in the top 30. Ritchie is the first guy I settled on. He's really picked up his play so far in December and is finally starting to put the puck in the net. He has 4 goals in his last 5 games, and is now on pace for a 20 goal season. Something tells me he'll end up with closer to 25. And considering his good size, and improving play without the puck, I think he'll still end up as a reasonably high pick.

25. Frankie Corrado - D - Sudbury Wolves
The Sudbury Wolves may not be having a very good season, but Corrado has been a bright spot on the blueline. The offensive blueliner has a great skating stride and is a blossoming puck carrier. It's hard to gauge just how good his defensive game is (and can be), because of Sudbury's struggles to keep the puck out, but he's not afraid to muck it up and play physical. He reminds me a lot of Jesse Blacker in his NHL draft season, and his combination of skating ability, physicality and puck carrying got him drafted fairly high.

26. Spencer Abraham - D - Brampton Battalion
Abraham is a really interesting player. He's received the majority of his time on the powerplay, but he's looked incredibly good there. He sees the ice VERY well on the point and does a great job of finding his teammates (has the same amount of powerplay assists as Ryan Ellis). The problem is, he just hasn't played a lot five on five, but with Kyle Pereira gone, Abraham is going to get to show what he's made of. He doesn't have a lot of size, but his intelligence on the powerplay suggests he knows how to play the game.

27. Alex Basso - D - Belleville Bulls
The Bulls haven't played up to expectations this year (considering many people thought they would improve), but Basso has been a bright spot on defense. He doesn't have great size (pushing 6'0 ft), but he plays bigger than he is. His strong skating ability is highlighted on the big ice in Belleville and he moves the puck well. He's probably the least mistake prone of a largely mistake prone defense in Belleville too (either he or Stephen Silas). Defensively he'll need to continue to get better, but he's not afraid to lay out a big hit and shows a lot of potential in the area.

28. David Broll - F - Erie Otters
Broll is right in there with that group of bigger OHL forwards who have a lot of potential, but just haven't been playing with consistency this year (Ritchie, Brassard, Goodrow, Thomson). Outside of Ritchie, I think I prefer Broll the most because he's the most physical. Even when he's not scoring, he's a physical beast and uses his size well to generate scoring chances. He'll need to improve his skating, but you can't teach size and truculence, especially when you've got a guy with some scoring potential.

29. Matej Machovsky - G - Brampton Battalion
The only goaltender to crack my list, as I think it's a real down year for the position in the league. There are some guys with great potential (like Machovsky, Binnington, Chartrand), but no one has really come out and made a statement as the top option available. Machovsky was very good in Guelph and has been even better in Brampton thus far. He's got the size NHL teams look for in their goaltenders, but I'd like to see a larger sample size.

30. Ryan Sproul - D - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Probably a pretty interesting pick for a lot of people at this point. This is strictly based on potential, but potential that is really starting to shine of late. Sproul signed out of Junior A earlier this season, after it was believed he was going the NCAA route. While he's taken some time to get used to the OHL game, he's really playing well of late. When you consider that Sproul is a 6'4 defenseman who can skate and run a powerplay, you have to imagine he's going to draw attention from NHL scouts. He's got 5 points in his last 3 games and has gotten better with increased ice time as of late.

Honorable Mention (These guys received serious consideration for the top 30)

Craig Duininck
John Chartrand
Jordan Binnington
Andrey Pedan
Dylan DeMelo
Austen Brassard
Barclay Goodrow
Brett Findlay

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Team Canada Named for the 2011 WJC's

Today was cut down day, as Hockey Canada announced the final roster for Team Canada at the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championship's in Buffalo.

7 Ontario Hockey League players made the cut

Mark Visentin
Ryan Ellis
Erik Gudbranson
Calvin de Haan
Zack Kassian
Casey Cizikas
Marcus Foligno

The final roster can be found here.

Congratulations to all those who made it and good luck in Buffalo!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Top 10 - Away for the Holidays

Everyone loves the holiday season that is Christmas and New Years...except the Ontario Hockey League (and the rest of the CHL for that matter). The winter holiday season means World Junior Championship time (and World Under 17's), where some of the league's best players take upwards of a three week absence to play for their countries (or provinces). In some cases, players will only miss a week (World Under 17's, WJC Division 1A and 1B). In others, players can miss up to 3 weeks of action (like anyone who tries out for and makes Team Canada for the WJC's).

This week's Top 10 honors those who will be hurt most by the absences created from these terrific holiday tournaments.

10. Erie Otters & Guelph Storm (TIE)
I had a tough time deciding which of these two teams would be hurt more, so I went with a tie. The Otters will definitely be losing Adam Pelech and Chris Marchese to the Under 17's, while goaltender Ramis Sadikov is trying out for team Russia at the WJC's. Pelech and Marchese have been solid rookie contributors for the Otters but can be replaced for a week. Sadikov can not. Sadikov has been Erie's goaltending so far this season. In fact, the Otters have not won a single game without him in the net. If he makes team Russia, Erie will be hard pressed to win a game with him gone. Considering how hard they've worked to get themselves back into contention in the West, that could really hurt. Meanwhile, Guelph will definitely be losing defenseman Matt Finn to the Under 17's, and recently acquired forward Richard Panik to the WJC's. Defenseman Andrey Pedan is a possibility for Team Russia. Guelph has been playing much better since acquiring Panik, so his absence will hurt the team and their ability to produce offensively outside of Holland, Latta and Beck.

9. Sarnia Sting
This one is completely hypothetical. The Sting could in fact only lose forward Garrett Hooey to the Under 17's. However, they could also possibly lose two of their most dangerous offensive forwards. Nail Yakupov is trying out for Team Russia at the WJC's, while Alex Galchenyuk's status for the World Under 17's is up in the air. He could be added to the U.S. team, but could also be a part of team Russia (if he's added). Something to keep in mind is that the U.S. has never added a CHL player to their Under 17 team for the tournament, so maybe he's more likely to play for Russia. Forward Nick Latta is also a longshot to play for Germany at the WJC's. Worst case scenario has them losing a big chunk of their offense.

8. Saginaw Spirit
The Spirit will definitely be losing seldom used goaltender Jake Peterson and fourth line rookie Justin Kea to the Under 17's. However, they may also lose their 2nd and 5th leading scorers, Brandon Saad and Ivan Telegin. Considering Telegin was a part of last year's team, and Saad could be U.S.' most dangerous option on the wing, I'd be surprised if both didn't make it. Their loss will really put the pressure on new acquisition John McFarland to fill those holes. Backup goaltender Tadeas Galansky could also be gone, as he is trying out for team Czech Republic at the WJC's.

7. Niagara IceDogs
The Dogs are already missing key defender and powerplay guy Simon Gronvaldt as he plays for Denmark at the WJC's Division 1 tournament. They will also lose Jesse Graham to the Under 17's. On paper, that's a large blow to their powerplay and defensive unit, but Gronvaldt will be back before Graham leaves. Meanwhile, the biggest loss could come in the form of starting goaltender Mark Visentin. Visentin has a good chance of being one of Canada's goaltenders at the WJC's, which could leave the starting duties in St. Catharines to Dalton McGrath, who just recently played his first game in the league in nearly a year (January 8, 2010).

6. Oshawa Generals
Oshawa, like Niagara, is already missing a key member of its team. Forward Nicklas Jensen is off playing for Denmark at the Division 1 WJC tournament. Rookie Scott Laughton will also leave the team in December to play at the Under 17's. But again, neither player will be gone at the same time, which makes the blow less severe (as both are big parts of Oshawa's offense). The big loss would come in the form of defenseman Calvin de Haan if he makes Team Canada for the second consecutive year. You'd have to think there's a pretty damn good chance of that happening, which leaves a big hole on the Generals blueline...a hole which might not be patchable.

5. Kingston Frontenacs
For the Fronts, it's about their losses on defense and in goal. And that hurts, considering how much trouble they've had lately keeping the puck out. Alex Gudbranson is definitely leaving to play in the Under 17's. Erik Gudbranson has to be considered a pretty good bet to make Team Canada at the WJC's. While, Phil Grubauer is set to be Germany's starting netminder at the same tournament. The 67's are really starting to pull away in the fight for the division, and if the Fronts have trouble getting wins with these guys away, the Generals might be able to distance themselves a bit too.

4. Owen Sound Attack
Even after a HUGE win over Kitchener this afternoon, the Attack have the Rangers right on their heels for the division lead. Owen Sound may only lose rookie Jarrod Maidens to the Under 17's. However, the Attack also have three players trying out for Team Canada at the WJC's. Forwards Joey Hishon and Garrett Wilson, and defenseman Jesse Blacker. With starting netminder Scott Stajcer out until at least February, losing those three guys would be absolutely devastating to the Attack. But then again, what are the odds that all three make Team Canada?

3. Mississauga Majors
Maybe the biggest loss for the Majors is head coach Dave Cameron, whose strong presence behind the bench will be missed for the better part of three weeks. But the Majors could also lose forward (and captain) Casey Cizikas and starting goaltender J.P. Anderson to Team Canada, should they make the cut. I'm not sure which would be the bigger blow. Meanwhile, depth forward Kerby Rychel will be off at the Under 17's, and secondary scoring threat Mike Partanen is an option to play for Team Finland at the WJC's. With Ottawa playing so well lately and barely losing anyone to the holiday tournaments, is it possible that Mississauga could lose it's ground at the top team in the OHL?

2. Kitchener Rangers
Kitchener is so close to finally catching the Attack for the division lead, but they will be hard hit by the holiday season schedule. At forward, Tobias Rieder, Gabriel Landeskog and Matia Marcantuoni are all definitely leaving for the WJC's and Under 17's (in Martcantuoni's case). If you throw in defenseman Ryan Murphy, the Rangers could be losing 4 of their top 7 scorers. Murphy in particular could be a deathly blow to the powerplay, as he attempts to make Team Canada for the WJC's. Luckily enough for the Rangers (and perhaps unlucky for him), starting netminder Brandon Maxwell didn't get the call to play for team U.S.A. as many were anticipating he would.

1. Windsor Spitfires
No team is going to be hit as hard by the holiday season as the Spitfires. Windsor has been on fire lately and have won five in a row (after today's win against Kingston) and are now 3 points behind Saginaw for the division lead (5 again if the Spirit beat Plymouth this evening). Needless to say, the Spits might be rethinking that whole rebuilding notion. Windsor will most certainly be losing starting goalie Jack Campbell, top defenseman Ryan Ellis, and sniper Tom Kuhnhackl. However, they could also lose forward Zack Kassian to Team Canada, should he make the cut. The real wildcard could be the loss of defenseman Nick Ebert to Team USA at the Under 17's. However, the U.S. has never added a CHL player for this tournament (as far as I can tell). But they'd be foolish to leave Ebert off, who is now in the top 5 of defenseman scoring in the a 1994. Considering how much ground they've gained over the past month, it'd be a shame if all of it were lost due to a loss of man power.

BONUS - The Team With the Most to Gain - Ottawa 67's
The 67's, who are demolishing the competition of late, are set to lose only rookie forward Sean Monahan to the Under 17's for a week at the end of December/early January and possibly Czech defender Adam Sedlak if he makes the WJC team. Considering all their top competition will be suffering to fill gaps, you have to think Ottawa is salivating at the notion of running over the rest of the league during this holiday season.

DOUBLE BONUS - The Team Not Losing ANYONE - Barrie Colts
Just a fun fact, but only one team in the entire league is not losing a single player this holiday season. The Colts don't have a single player participating in the Under 17's or the WJC's. Is that a sign of how far they've fallen?

Who do you think has the most to gain and the most to lose?

A Signing & Two Sweet Goals

Just a couple of miscellaneous things I wanted to bring to your attention on this fine Sunday afternoon.

The first is that Niagara IceDogs winger (and former Barrie Colt) Darren Archibald has FINALLY signed an NHL contract. After going through 2 NHL drafts (despite being ranked) and having long stays at 2 NHL camps (Columbus and Detroit), Archibald finally put the ink on an entry level contract with the Vancouver Canucks (LINK). As you know, I've been a big supporter of Archibald the past few seasons and I've always been flabbergasted that he continued to remain without an NHL affiliation (whether it be as a draft pick or signee). The Canucks are getting a complete player who can do a little bit of everything and who (IMO) should develop into at least a serviceable checking line winger with goal scoring ability. Congrats to Darren (Here's an interview with Darren about the signing. Clearly he's a happy camper).

The second is a pair of excellent goals that occurred recently. Both are from highly touted potential 2011 NHL Draft picks.

Rickard Rakell topped the OHL plays of the week with a behind the back, through the legs wrist shot that is definitely worth a look (reminds me a lot of James Van Riemsdyk's goal from the WJC's a few years ago).


Ryan Strome scored a beauty of a goal against the Barrie Colts last night, as he flew down the wing, put on the breaks and roofed it top shelf as he was falling to the ice. He's a human highlight reel. The goal occurs about midway through the clip below.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Top 10 - Step Up (The OHL Version)

The Holiday break is looming, the trade deadline is just over a month away, and the halfway point of the OHL season is nearly upon us. Safe to say, it wouldn't be unfair to evaluate the season thus far and make some educated assumptions about it. Teams are starting to separate themselves as the leader's of the pack, while others are starting to look like bottom of the standings fodder.

With all of that in mind, I don't think it would be unfair to suggest that some players in the league this year have performed below expectations. There is still lots of season left to be played and tons of time for these guys to turn things around. But as of now, I think the 10 players listed as part of this week's Top 10 deserve some of the criticism being tossed their way.

10. Garrett Meurs - Plymouth Whalers
Offensively talented sophomore Garrett Meurs was supposed to have a breakout offensive season this year. With all the talent lost to the pros from Plymouth, it was expected that with more ice time, Meurs would flourish. Instead he's floundering and his draft stock is going with it. Plymouth is excelling thanks in part to other young players stepping up like Scott Wedgewood, Stefan Noesen and Rickard Rakell. Plymouth actually hasn't had a problem spreading around their scoring. Currently, they are one of only 3 teams in the league with 5 ten goal scorers this year (Kitchener and Ottawa are the others). That being said, think about how good Plymouth would be if guys like Meurs or veteran James Livingston upped their production. Interestingly enough, Meurs hasn't scored since October 16th against Windsor. That's an 18 game goalless drought (with only 5 assists in that span).

9. Dalton Smith - Ottawa 67's
Perhaps Smith's struggles offensively this year were a blessing in disguise for the 67's, who were forced to break up the Smith, Lindsay, and Toffoli line at the beginning of the season, only to create possibly the league's best line in Toffoli, Prince, and Martindale. That being said, it's been a tough year for Smith after going very high in the 2010 Draft. He's got only 4 goals thus far, which puts him on pace for about a 10 goal season. Last year he was so strong for the 67's as a goal scoring crease presence, they'd be a much better team if he could find his touch again. For now, he'll have to do it as part of the team's third line where he's gotten back to the basics which made him a good player (forechecking and hard work) last year.

8. Taylor Beck - Guelph Storm
It's tough to pick on just one guy in Guelph, as their current seven game winless streak has taken them to the bottom of the Western Conference standings. But you can't help but question how one of the league's biggest offensive stars last season has fallen back down to being a just over a point per game player. Obviously we're talking about a player with very high expectations placed on him this season (I wasn't the only one who had him as a serious contender for the scoring title), so I don't think it's unfair to claim that his 28 points in 24 games has been a disappointment. Interestingly enough, Beck is currently the lowest scoring of the big three in Guelph (behind Latta and Holland), this after scoring at a considerably better pace than them last season. Surely, a lot of the blame could go to Guelph's lack of secondary scoring (previous to acquiring Richard Panik, Guelph's fifth leading goal scorer had 4 goals). But at some point, the star players need to take some of the blame too.

7. Chris DeSousa and Colin Martin - London Knights
The Knights are continuing their slide down the Western Conference standings and are 3-7 in their last 10. The problem with the team definitely hasn't been goaltending, with Michael Houser keeping them in every game. The real blame in this is that London's green defense just hasn't been able to get the job done...and they just haven't been able to score goals (second lowest gpg average in the West). Where have the team's supposed veteran leaders on offense gone? At the beginning of the season, Knights fans were worried that their forward unit was too small and too soft. The two guys with the chance to influence that (at least in the softness department) were overager Chris DeSousa and power forward Colin Martin. As veterans, it was expected that their offensive production would increase to help out some of the team's younger players (Knight, Namestnikov, Griffith). Unfortunately it's decreased and DeSousa and Martin aren't even averaging a point per game together (.98 if you add it up). They're also a combined minus -18. If the Knights continue to slide, you can probably expect big changes in London, of which I wouldn't be surprised to see these two involved.

6. Jason Wilson - Niagara IceDogs
Granted, I don't think I read or talked to an IceDog fan who thought highly of the Wilson for Andrew Fritsch deal when it happened (even if it was part of the larger Shipley deal). Still, you have to wonder what they're thinking now. Fritsch is playing alongside Joey Hishon and is averaging over a point per game (although he's not just piggy backing on Hishon, he's actually playing incredibly well), while Wilson has 6 goals and hasn't been anywhere near the physical presence expected of him. In fact, every player involved in that deal (Fritsch, Shaw, and Petgrave) is out producing Wilson thus far in Owen Sound. For an NHL draft pick playing in his overage season, I think a lot more should be expected of Wilson offensively. While the Dogs are playing very well, you can't help but wonder if they'd be a better team right now without making that deal. It's sure helped the Midwest Division leading Attack.

5. Sam Carrick and Phil Lane - Brampton Battalion
While the Battalion started off the year very well, things haven't been so rosy for Stan Butler's club since. They've been in a standings free fall for quite some time now and are 3-7 in their last 10. A large reason for that has been lackluster goaltending (of which Butler has since brought in two new goalies). But even more so has been the lack of progression offensively from the team's top young players. 2010 NHL Draft picks Carrick and Lane have to shoulder the majority of the criticism there. It was expected that they would be among the team's leaders offensively this season, instead they're floundering with only 8 points each. That puts them on pace for a decrease in production from last season (where they were 2 and 3 in the team's goal scoring department). Now that the Battalion's most gifted offensive forward (IMO) Sean Jones has been traded, Carrick and Lane's ability to step it up is likely crucial to where Brampton finishes this OHL season.

4. Tyson Teichmann - Belleville Bulls
This was supposed to be Teichmann's year. He lead Team Canada to gold at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and there was a lot of optimism surrounding Belleville's young and improving roster. Suffice to say, things haven't quite worked out as planned for the Bulls this year. They're currently 10 games below .500 and just recently traded their best offensive player (in Richard Panik). Teichmann has been wildly inconsistent and has to shoulder as much of the blame for the team's poor start as their young and mistake prone defense. He's gone from being the unanimous top goalie available from the OHL for the 2011 Draft, to someone who may not even get drafted (as his incredibly poor ranking in Central Scouting's Prelim list would indicate). He's also being threatened as the team's future number one netminder by the similarly aged Malcolm Subban, who is currently outplaying him. There's no reason to give up on Teichmann, but he does need to try and turn things around.

3. Brock Beukeboom - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Following the footsteps of Jake Muzzin and Michael Quesnele wasn't going to be easy. The Hounds were such a strong defensive club last season and the young Beukeboom (and Brandon Archibald) flourished when given the opportunity to occasionally run the powerplay and ease their way into a top four role. This year it was expected that they would take over as the club's top pair and build off the success of last year. Keep in mind that the Hounds lost star goaltender Robin Lehner to the pros, but they currently have the worst goals against average in the Western Conference (by a significant margin at 4.11 gpg). Beukeboom just hasn't taken that next step this year. He's a team worst -12, and has been completely absent from the team's offensive game (with only 4 assists). After all the promise that he showed last year (especially offensively at times), his season definitely has to be considered a disappointment.

2. Austin Watson - Peterborough Petes
Again, it's tough to finger just one guy on a massively underachieving team. The Petes have stunk this year, no bones about it. But while guys like Matt Puempel and Ryan Spooner (when he was still with the team), were at least producing offensively, Watson was massively struggling. Even if he has picked it up of late (10 points in his last 10 games), he can not be excused from scrutiny. His -19 is still the team's worst and he still has a ways to go offensively, especially considering that he was an NHL first round pick and expectations need to be high. Watson shouldn't be shouldering all of the blame here, as the Petes look like a mess from management all the way down to goaltending, but it's hard to imagine that if Watson had been playing to the best of his abilities, this team might not be 12 games under .500 right now.

1. Jarred Tinordi - London Knights
It's hard to argue against the Knights making two appearances on this list, as the team has massively disappointed over the past month or so. As mentioned, after a 3-7 slide in their last 10, the team now sits in 8th in the Western Conference. The team has been a mess offensively, but the defense hasn't been much better. A lot of that has to rest on Jarred Tinordi's shoulders. Maybe the expectations placed on him were too high, but the Knights organization has only themselves to blame for that. When he was signed, they boasted how he would have a similar impact to John Carlson and help the team both offensively and defensively. The NHL first rounder was expected to make a very large impact (no pun intended). But 28 games later, 2 assists and a defense worst -6, and it's looking like those expectations were set unfairly high. If anything, maybe the Hunters deserve to be in this spot over Tinordi...for believing that he'd come in and immediately help this team contend for the Memorial Cup.

Honorable Mention:

John McFarland - Sudbury Wolves
Everybody's favourite whipping boy doesn't make an appearance on this list because he's been injured with a high ankle sprain since Mid November. But the Sudbury Wolves have once again been awful and are among the league's worst offensive teams. When he was playing, McFarland had only 10 points in 12 games, which has to be considered a disappointment yet again. For a great take on the McFarland situation, check out one of Patrick King's latest articles (HERE)

What are your thoughts? Anyone else you think deserves mention here?

Monday, November 29, 2010

World Junior Camp Roster Named

Hockey Canada unveiled the participants of the 2011 World Junior selection camp today. Of the 39 attending the camp, 11 are from the OHL (LINK)

Here's how it breaks down:

Mark Visentin - Niagara
J.P. Anderson - Mississauga

Ryan Ellis - Windsor
Calvin de Haan - Oshawa
Erik Gudbranson - Kingston
Ryan Murphy- Kitchener

Casey Cizikas - Mississauga
Marcus Foligno - Sudbury
Joey Hishon - Owen Sound
Garrett Wilson - Owen Sound
Zack Kassian - Windsor

I think the two biggest surprises people are talking about are the omissions of Taylor Doherty and Tyler Toffoli. Quite frankly, I'm surprised too. Toffoli has been red hot lately and his goal scoring ability is something Canada can always use.

One wild card is that QMJHL defenseman Brandon Gormley is going to miss the camp due to an injury. Whether that means they add another player to the selection camp remains to be seen. Maybe that's Doherty? Or maybe that bad turnover in the Subway Series really cost him?

As the camp draws nearer, I'll profile the chances of each participant from the OHL.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Analyzing the Chances of OHL Players Getting an Invite to the Team Canada Selection Camp

On Monday, Hockey Canada is likely to announce the invitees to the 2011 Under 20 Team Canada Selection Camp, for the World Junior Hockey Championship.

This is obviously a big deal around the country as we gear up for yet another WJC (the best hockey has to offer IMO, right on par with the Stanley Cup Finals). But the camp and the tournament are also important to OHL fans, as some of the best talent around the league is lost for upwards of three weeks.

Taking into account the Summer Development Camp, the Subway Super Series, and the 2010 OHL season (thus far), here's how I think the invitees will break down. Let me reiterate though, that this isn't who I think will make the final roster, but who I think will get an invite.

The Locks:

Ryan Ellis - Windsor Spitfires
Two time member and a potential captain of this year's team. Enough said.

Calvin de Haan - Oshawa Generals
A returning member and someone who should figure as a large contributor from the blueline for Canada. Again, enough said.

Erik Gudbranson - Kingston Frontenacs
While he hasn't taken as large of a step forward offensively as some might have liked, he's still a bluechip NHL first rounder who's playing solid defensive hockey for one of the top teams in the East. I don't think he's a lock to make the team, but he has to be a lock to get a look.

Joey Hishon - Owen Sound Attack
Playing incredibly well in Owen Sound (second best ppg average in the league behind Jason Akeson), the Avalanche first rounder has to be a lock to get a look for a spot in Team Canada's top 6. With the spots at forward being so wide open, you can't ignore Hishon's offensive talents.

Casey Cizikas - Mississauga Majors
WJC Coach Dave Cameron's captain and workhorse in Mississauga, Cizikas is an ideal candidate for a bottom six energy role on the team. His familiarity with Cameron's system and his chameleon like ability on the ice should make him a lock for the camp.

They've Got a Good Shot:

Mark Visentin - Niagara IceDogs
One of the goalies at the summer selection camp, and someone who's actually just starting to heat up now for Niagara. He was also excellent in his appearance at the Subway Super Series, proving why the Phoenix first rounder deserves a spot at the selection camp.

Taylor Doherty - Kingston Frontenacs
While he'll need to refine his offensive game to play in the tournament (we don't need a dangling 6'7 defenseman to turn over pucks like he did in the Subway Super Series), you can't deny how much of an asset his size would be defensively against some of the more skilled European teams and the Americans.

Zack Kassian - Windsor Spitfires
Kassian deserves to be at the camp, but does Coach Cameron like him? There were rumours of discontent after the summer camp ended, and Kassian also had a lukewarm Subway Super Series appearance. But he's been a beast this OHL season and Canada could really use his size on the powerplay.

Tyler Toffoli - Ottawa 67's
Not many forwards in the CHL are hotter right now than Tyler Toffoli. His terrific start to the season in combination with his appearance at the Summer camp, suggests he should have a really good shot at earning a camp invite. Plus, we could really use his scoring ability.

Could We See Them There? Yes...But It's Not As Likely:

Scott Stajcer - Owen Sound Attack
Stajcer has been very good for Owen Sound this year as they've ascended the West standings, but does he belong in the top four goalies in the CHL?

J.P. Anderson - Mississauga Majors
Again, don't count out the familiarity thing. Anderson is Cameron's go to guy in Mississauga and he's played very well this season. But similar to Stajcer, is he among the CHL's finest?

Ryan Murphy - Kitchener Rangers
Murphy is the best offensive defenseman in the OHL right now (and maybe in all of the CHL), but he's still young and has a lot to learn. Let's not forget that Hockey Canada cut him from the Under 18 team this summer (Ivan Hlinka). But let's not also forget that Hockey Canada's head scout has since changed (to Kevin Prendergast) and so has the coach (Dave Cameron).

Brock Beukeboom - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
An invitee to the summer camp and a definite favourite of Hockey Canada, Beukeboom is the big physical defenseman we like to take. But his offensive game has severely stalled this year, which might hinder his chances.

Dougie Hamilton - Niagara IceDogs
Not that often that draft eligible players get an invite, but Hamilton has developed into a strong two way defenseman who could be an asset to Canada internationally (as he was at this year's Ivan Hlinka).

Taylor Beck - Guelph Storm
Isn't having nearly the type of season he had last year, but he remains a quality offensive player who did participate at the summer camp.

Garrett Wilson - Owen Sound Attack
A big power forward who's currently second in the league in goals, Wilson has improved every year he's been in the league. But is it enough to earn him a look for Team Canada?

Ethan Werek - Kingston Frontenacs
Another summer camp participant, Werek has had an excellent season so far for Kingston. He's a smart, two way player who could probably play any role Team Canada needed.

Ryan Martindale - Ottawa 67's
Martindale is playing quite well right now and is among the league's top scorers. But his previous problems with inconsistency (from game to game and shift to shift) might put him on the outside looking in.

Ryan Strome - Niagara IceDogs
Like Hamilton, it's not often that draft eligibles get an invite, but Strome has been so fantastic this season, he might be hard to ignore. On top of that, he was fantastic in the Subway Super Series and might have earned himself a look.

Christian Thomas - Oshawa Generals
Another guy who might have picked the best time to get hot, Thomas had an absolutely monstrous last week (and was named the POTW for his efforts). He's small, but shifty and like Tyler Toffoli, we could sure use his goal scoring ability from the wing.

Greg McKegg - Erie Otters
The Otters' captain and Leafs draft pick has had a pretty good season for an underachieving Otters squad, but does he get caught in a numbers game?

Justin Shugg - Mississauga Majors
Shugg has been excellent for Dave Cameron's Majors this season and has really turned himself into a quality two way player. Like Casey Cizikas, his ability to play any role and chip in offensively could get him a look from his Majors bench boss.

Peter Holland - Guelph Storm
The Guelph Storm ship has been sinking lately, but this Anaheim Ducks first round draft pick might be having his best season in the league yet. But does he fall into a numbers game like Greg McKegg?

Marcus Foligno - Sudbury Wolves
A shift to the wing this year has really boosted Foligno's offensive production, simplifying his on ice duties. He could be an ideal candidate on a checking line as a defensively responsible, physical winger.

Devante Smith-Pelly - Mississauga Majors
Smith Pelly is another one of Cameron's boys in Mississauga. He can mix it up and is a very active player on the forecheck. He is could also be a candidate for a checking line role.

We'll have to wait for Monday to see who actually gets named to the camp that is set to open up in the second week of December.

Until then, I'll actually put my money where my mouth is and give you the list of who I think gets named to the camp (not necessarily who deserves to get named, but who I think will get named) ...

Ryan Ellis
Calvin de Haan
Erik Gudbranson
Joey Hishon
Casey Cizikas
Mark Visentin
Taylor Doherty
Zack Kassian
Tyler Toffoli
Ryan Murphy
Ryan Strome
Christian Thomas
Marcus Foligno

What do YOU think?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Game Report: 67's and Rangers from November 21

Nothing better to do on a Sunday? Why not take in a cross conference battle between two of the best teams in the Ontario Hockey League? That's what I did today, as I sat down in front of the boob tube to watch the Kitchener Rangers take on the Ottawa 67's. I want to get out and see the Rangers live sometime soon, but for now this will have to do.

It was a vastly entertaining game that lived up to the billing of a match up between two powerhouses. It was a back and forth battle and both teams really battled hard. The 67's got off to a quick start with a goal from Tyler Toffoli about three minutes into the game. That set the pace early and Ottawa took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission. But the Rangers slowly started to take control and scored two goals in the second to tie it at 2. In the third period, Ottawa got off to a quick start again and was up 4-2 five minutes into the last frame. But this only lit a fire under the Rangers, as they completely took over the game from there on out. They scored twice to close out the period and sent the game to a shootout. The Rangers outshot the 67's 26 to 9 in the third and if it weren't for the goaltending of Petr Mrazek, Kitchener would have surely taken this one in regulation. But the game went to the shootout where Ottawa was victorious on the strength of goals from Shane Prince and Tyler Toffoli.

Neither team looked incredibly strong defensively in this one. Ottawa's defense was consistently outworked by the Rangers forwards in their own end, and had a LOT of trouble containing some of the Rangers' bigger forwards like Gabriel Landeskog and Andrew Crescenzi. While Kitchener's defense was too careless with the puck and had way too many turnovers that lead to 67 odd man rushes.

The real turning point of the game was the inability of the Kitchener powerplay to strike. Consider it the perfect storm as the league's top powerplay took on one of the league's top penalty killing units. But the Rangers powerplay looked really bad in this game. They had a particularly embarrassing 5 on 3 powerplay, where they failed to register a shot, had trouble even completing a pass, and then took a too many men on the ice penalty. Going 0 for 5 on the powerplay in a high scoring game is almost like a kiss of death and the Rangers signed their death certificate with their ineptitude with the man advantage.

Goaltending was the other thing that really separated the 67's and Rangers in the game. Petr Mrazek was largely a wall, while Mike Morrison fought the puck in the Rangers end. It's tough to lose a game when you nearly double the opposing team's shot total, and when you don't get a save in the shootout.

On to the player reports:

Ottawa 67's

#16 - Tyler Toffoli (Drafted by Los Angeles in 2010)
One word. Beast. I'm not sure there is a hotter player in the CHL right now. Toffoli now has a 7 game goal scoring streak, with 11 goals in that span. That's including the two he scored this afternoon (even though I'm pretty sure one went off Shane Prince's skate). He could have easily had the hat trick, with another shot wringing off the post. I think the biggest difference in Toffoli's game this year, and even from the start of the season (when he started kind of cold) is that his conditioning has significantly improved. He's all over the ice now, on the forecheck, leading the rush with the puck and playing defensively. He has the stamina to be considerably more active without the puck and it's leading to a significant increase in scoring chances. The first goal was off a drop pass from Ryan Martindale in between the slot and the blueline. It was a rather harmless looking play until Toffoli absolutely roofed a laser of a slapshot over the glove of Morrison. The second goal was off a similar play, but his slapshot was just off the ice and it appeared to deflect off something in front of the net (I think Shane Prince's skate). He then proceeded to score in the shootout with a well placed shot just off the ice and inside the far post. He certainly picked a good time to heat up with Canada's selection camp being named in the next few weeks.

#18 - Shane Prince (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Maybe I keep watching the wrong games, but I'm still not seeing the hype he's starting to generate. He looked to be along for the ride with Toffoli and Martindale in this one. Had a lot of trouble one on one with Ottawa's defenders and had the puck taken off him quite frequently. He has speed and he's actually pretty strong along the wall where he can use his agility to keep the play alive, but in the open ice I found he struggled to get things going. He did score a very nice goal in the shootout by using a leg fake and then going left on the forehand, out waiting Morrison and roofing it.

#33 - Dalton Smith (Drafted by Columbus in 2010)
He appears to be getting back to doing the things he does best. Saw him earlier in the season and it seemed like he was trying too hard to make things happen offensively. This afternoon he was very active on the forecheck and was creating offense from turnovers. He needs to keep the game simple and up and down. He scored a goal, finishing off a 2 on 1 with Sean Monahan by sliding the puck five hole after receiving a nice cross ice pass.

#77 - Ryan Martindale (Drafted by Edmonton in 2010)
I thought he played pretty good. He definitely looks faster this year, which is helping him create more off the rush than he has in the past. The first 67's goal was a perfect example of that, as he took the puck in his own zone, cruised into the Rangers end and left a drop pass to Tyler Toffoli for the goal. He picked up a second assist in a similar fashion on Toffoli's 2nd goal. That being said, he still seems to disappear for stretches. While Toffoli was consistently active and visible (even when the 67's were struggling in the third) by way of the forecheck, Martindale was nowhere to be found. You can't ignore the offensive production he's putting up this year though and it's obvious he's taken a step forward in the right direction. I'd just like to see him become more involved without the puck.

#83 - Cody Ceci (Draft Eligible in 2012)
Perfect example as to why plus/minus is not a good stat to determine playing ability. Ceci finished the game at -3, but I thought he played a pretty good game. His agility was something that stuck out last year as a strength and this year he's using it well at both ends. He tried to make things happen offensively by rushing the puck up ice and he was also very strong one on one defensively. Saved possibly the game winning goal by Tobias Rieder in the third, by coming back hard to the defensive zone to negate a partial break down the wing. He'll need to continue to get stronger to win battles in the corner and in front of the net, but as a 2012 eligible player, he's going to have time to do that. For now, he's gaining valuable experience as, essentially, the 67's number one defenseman.

#1 - Petr Mrazek (Drafted by Detroit in 2010)
Mrazek was absolutely fantastic this afternoon. The fact that the 67's escaped with 2 points is a credit to his hard work. He was really into the game too, gave Jason Akeson a butt end in front of the net (and didn't get caught). He also tried to fight Andrew Crescenzi after he ran him over in front of the net. That feistyness comes across in his goaltending too, as he fights to make every save. For those that have never seen him play, he's definitely a hybrid style goaltender, but as I mentioned previously this season, he's really refined his approach and isn't flopping on the ground as much. He's staying up and it's allowing him to play larger in the net, especially when he plays deep in his crease (kind of the way the Canucks are trying to get Roberto Luongo to play this year). But he reads the play well and seems to know when to go down and use his athleticism. There were a couple of flurries inside the last 5 minutes where he made consecutive saves in front of the net by stretching out his pads. The other thing you notice about Mrazek is how good he is in playing the puck. He's a very confident passer and loves to stretch out defenses with the long pass. In the shootout, he wasn't tested (one lost the puck, the other shot right into his pads) and made 43 of 47 saves for the win.

Kitchener Rangers

#7 - Julian Melchiori (Drafted by Atlanta in 2010)
Another guy who was -3 on the day, but that I was actually impressed with. He's definitely big and he knows how to use his size. He did a good job trying up Ottawa's forwards and was physical along the boards. He had a very nice hipcheck on a 67's player as he tried to gain entry into the offensive zone. Offensively, he saw some limited time on the Rangers second powerplay unit, but was pretty quiet on the whole with the puck. But I thought he looked good defensively.

#9 - Tobias Rieder (Draft Eligible in 2011)
I guess it's time to move him up my draft board. He was fantastic today. He's not that big (listed at 5'10), but he plays a lot bigger than he is. I was actually surprised at how active he was on the forecheck, along the boards and in the crease. He actually had a couple of nice hits in puck pursuit. Offensively, he really stood out. He was very active in bringing the puck over the blueline and always looked to take it right to the net. He scored an absolutely beautiful goal in the third to bring the Rangers to within one (at the time). He got the puck and started on a 3 on 2, hit the trailer Jonathan Jasper with a pass in the slot and he ripped a shot on net. Rieder went straight to the net after giving up the puck and was rewarded with the rebound off Jasper's shot. However, it was more difficult than it sounds. Rieder had actually partially skated over the rebound, so he kicked the puck up to his stick and put it in at a near impossible angle (as he was off balance on his way behind the net). He almost scored again about two minutes later by slicing through the 67's defense and pouncing on a loose puck in the slot, but Mrazek got the pads on it. Colour me very impressed!

#15 - Ben Thomson (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Thomson appears to be at the same stage of development Crescenzi was at last year. He's big and strong and he uses that to his advantage along the boards where he works the cycle really well. But in the open ice, he's just not a strong enough skater yet to make a considerable offensive impact.

#20 - Andrew Crescenzi (Signed by Toronto as an FA)
Crescenzi had an excellent game and his increase in offensive production points to great improvement this year. He's still doing the things he did well last year, like controlling the puck in the offensive zone, but he's improved his skating which makes him a more dangerous player on the rush and in open ice. It also makes him more of a factor on the forecheck, where he can greater utilize those strong board skills by getting to loose pucks faster.

#24 - Ryan Murphy (Draft Eligible in 2011)
You either love him or you hate him, Murphy is what he is. He was kept off the scoresheet today, but he was a factor offensively all game. Once he gets across his own blueline, he's off and there's no stopping him. In the offensive zone, he takes a lot of chances and he loves to hang on to the puck to try and make things happen. His endurance must be tremendous because the guy skates circles around the defense for a whole minute, then skates back to play defense. A couple of times, he just circled around the offensive zone, looking for a teammate to get open, leaving 67's players helpless as they watched. Some people see that as hogging the puck, but he's quite patient and isn't afraid to just dump the puck into the corner if he doesn't see anything materialize. And for someone who takes as many chances offensively, he doesn't get burned very often. Only once did he get caught up ice in the game today, but it was when he tried to take the puck hard to the net. Luckily Gabriel Landeskog was there on the backcheck and the play never developed the other way. One thing he's going to have to watch out for though, is the two man forecheck. Teams are starting to send two forwards on the forecheck, trying to trap him behind the net. He almost got caught twice with that tonight. One time he got lucky, as the 67's player got the stick under his feet (after he had turned over the puck). The other time he got the pass off just before he got caught. As he moves up the levels, he'll have to start picking the spots better of when to rush and when to just pass the puck out of the zone.

#41 - Cody Sol (Drafted by Atlanta in 2009)
One of the best pickups of the OHL offseason, Sol has been a rock defensively for the Rangers this season. He hasn't quite taken his offensive game to the next level (as I thought he might), but he's been physical and dependable. He was just that today, as he used his size to protect the front of the net defensively. He also uses his long reach in the corners well, as he engages and then often is able to get the puck out. But he is definitely underrated offensively and has the puck skills to put up more points (if he were getting more powerplay time). He's actually very adept at keeping the puck in the offensive zone, as he did a couple of times today. He's got a big cannon of a shot too...although didn't get any chances to unleash it. If he can continue to improve his mobility, he could make a solid defenseman at the next level.

#92 - Gabriel Landeskog (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Don't count out the OHL from having the first overall NHL pick just quite yet. I read Bob Mackenzie say the other day that he was hearing some scouts had Landeskog in the same sentence with potential #1's RNH, Larsson and Couturier. Today was the perfect example of that. Quite frankly, he was a man amongst boys out there. I honestly can't think of a draft prospect that the OHL has had that has been more ready to play in the NHL RIGHT NOW, than Landeskog. He's such a complete player and he already has the strength and stamina to play in the NHL...and excel. While many said the likes of John Tavares, Taylor Hall, Steve Stamkos Patrick Kane, Rick Nash, etc were capable of playing offensively in the NHL in their draft years, none of them were as complete a player as Landeskog is now. He could not only be putting up numbers offensively in the NHL right now, but he'd be an asset to his team defensively and physically (something none of the others were right out of the gate, not even Nash). OK, enough ranting, about the game today. Landeskog finished with two goals and an assist, but like Toffoli, could have had the hat trick (and the game winner) if it weren't for the cross bar. First goal, he finished off a pass on a 2 on 1, but going top shelf on a sliding Petr Mrazek. It was a laser. Second goal would have had any NHL scouts in the building drooling onto the floor. He dumped the puck into the offensive zone, ran over one 67 on his way to the puck, and ran through a second. He gained possession along the wall, got it to Mike Catenacci behind the net, and then went straight to the net. From there, he finished off a pass to the front of the net, top shelf, with two 67's hanging off him (one being the 6'0, 200lbs Marc Zanetti). Let the Landeskog for number one chant begin!

#33 - Mike Morrison (Draft Eligible in 2011)
This was the first time I'd seen Morrison play (from memory) and he didn't have a good showing. He was fighting the puck and failed to make the saves needed to give his team the victory. His five hole got exposed as a big weakness in the game. First goal was a 2 on 1 that was completely stoppable. Dalton Smith got a cross ice pass and Morrison slid over to stop it, but he left way too large of a gap on the slide over and had his paddle way off the ground. Smith didn't get a hard shot off, but it got through Morrison's five hole. The 4th Ottawa goal by Cody Lindsay was five hole too, off a shot from the slot. He was giving up a lot of rebounds too, but the Rangers defense did a good job of clearing those out. In the shootout, he was made to look pretty bad by Shane Prince and Tyler Toffoli. One on a deke, the other on a shot far side. Niagara's John Chartrand and Saginaw's Tadeas Galansky are really the only draft eligible goaltenders that have impressed me this year.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brandon Francisco, Sarnia's Forgotten Man?

Last season, Peterborough Petes forward Matthew Puempel won the OHL and CHL rookie of the year awards after an incredible season. He had 38 points after the Christmas break (a common marker for the second half of the OHL season), well ahead of any other 16 year old rookie (1993 born) in the league. However, could you guess the rookie forward (1993) who posted the second best numbers in the second half of the season? If you said Sarnia Sting forward Brandon Francisco, you win the prize! Francisco finished the 2010 season on an incredible high note with 25 points in the final 31 games. Due to Sarnia's struggles as a team (eventually on the way to the Jack Ferguson selection of Alex Galchenyuk), no one noticed.

In fact, it's been an interesting road to and in the OHL for the dimunitive Sting forward. In Francisco's OHL draft year, he was widely considered to be a first round pick, rated 17th by ISS and called "one of the most offensively dangerous players in the draft," with "the best hands of any draft eligible forward." In fact, the only reason he was rated so low at 17 (by ISS) was that Francisco had signed a letter of intent to play for the University of Maine on a scholarship. "When I made the decision to commit to Maine, I was only 14 so when the offer came to me I was so excited that it was hard to deny," says Francisco.

As the history of the OHL Priority Draft has shown us, players with NCAA commitments (or even intent) tend to fall in the draft. But Francisco went higher than he actually anticipated in 2009 (the third round). "When they took me it was unexpected. I actually didn't expect to go that high because of my college commitment and Sarnia had never talked to me before the draft. But when Dave Macqueen called me and told me to please at least come meet with them, I decided I should at least take a trip to their rookie camp, and once I talked to them it really got me thinking hard of which option was best for me," says Francisco.

Score one for the Sting, as they successfully corralled one of the top offensive players in the draft in the third round. But it wasn't all rosy through the first part of the season as Francisco had 7 points in a half a season and was largely struggling with the transition from midget. "(This) was frustrating because I had always scored a lot of points in minor hockey." Francisco not only attributes this to the increased speed of the game and the learning of new systems, but also the strength of the league's veterans. "The players I was playing against were stronger and more physical than myself or the guys I was used to playing against and I needed to learn how to compete much harder so I could win battles and have consistency on each shift."

So what does one do when they feel overwhelmed? "At the break I took lots of time to evaluate the first part of the season and how I was disappointed with not producing more," says Francisco. "I felt I needed to pick up my work ethic in practice and really elevate my level of competitiveness in our games. Because our team wasn't in playoff contention, the coaches gave me the opportunity to play a lot and in key situations so that really helped me develop." Talk about an understatement! Between the first and second half of the season, "The Fluke" (as his agent calls him) increased his point production by about 300%!

Fast forward to the new OHL season, a stronger Francisco (fresh off a 5 day a week training regiment) has picked up right where he left off. Through 21 games, Francisco sits third on the Sting in goals with 8 and a forward best +3 rating. It's the plus rating that Francisco is most proud of. "I am taking pride in playing in the defensive zone and putting a lot of emphasis on my plus/minus statistic and I think if I keep doing that, the scoring statistics will come along (even more) as well."

While the Sting may be improved from last year, they're still struggling to find the consistency required of a top end playoff team. Currently they sit 7th in the Western Conference playoff race, but the 8th place Plymouth Whalers are hot on their tail. But the standings are not preventing Francisco from receiving more attention. That falls on the acquisition of two superstar young forwards who've taken the OHL by storm; Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk. These two OHL rookies have scouts drooling for 2012 (their draft year). But Francisco was coy when asked if he felt he was being overshadowed; "Other players deserve the media attention that they're getting. I just try and be the best player that I can be and hopefully I will get my recognition too. At the end of the day it's really about how the team is doing and if we are all playing our game and our team is doing well than the individual attention will come my way too." Ain't that the truth. Just ask Vincent Trocheck. He's roughly the same size as Francisco and only has one more goal on the season, yet was recently ranked 5th overall in the OHL by NHL Central Scouting (Francisco wasn't ranked). Trocheck's team (the Saginaw Spirit) is currently the best team in the Western Conference and he's played a large role in that success.

If the Sarnia Sting can start to play more consistently and inch their way up the Western Conference standings (they're currently only 2 points away from home ice advantage in the first round), will Francisco start to receive his due? The obvious answer is, only if he's a big part of that success. When in fact, the sky is the limit and if he keeps improving, he'll be a big part of Sarnia's success not just this year, but over the next few years on an potential Memorial Cup caliber team. With 5 goals and 2 assists in his last 7 games, I don't anticipate that being a problem. That's no fluke!

(See below for my Q & A with Francisco)


Brock Otten: Back in your OHL Draft year, it was believed that you were heading to the University of Maine. Why were you originally planning on going to the NCAA and not the OHL?

Brandon Francisco: When I made the decision to commit to Maine, I was only 14 so when the offer came to me I was so excited that it was hard to deny. That partly played a role. I also enjoyed watching NCAA hockey; it was fast and exciting and the crowd and the students section really got into it. It was also really good for educational purposes, which my parents strongly encourage so I felt that was the option I wanted to go with at the time.

BO: So when Sarnia took you in the 3rd round of the priority draft, what were you thinking? How long did it take Sarnia to convince you to take the OHL route?

BF: When they took me it was unexpected. I actually didn't expect to go that high because of my college commitment and Sarnia had never talked to me before the draft, but when Dave Macqueen called me and told me to please at least come meet with them I decided I should at least take a trip to their rookie camp. Once I talked to them it really got me thinking hard of which option was best for me. I did always love the OHL and grew up watching it so it was a big decision to make with two great options in front of me. But after talking to the coaches and owners a couple of times and recognizing the schooling I would get there and that it was a great city and great League I thought it was the best decision for me.

BO: What was the main factor in choosing Sarnia over Maine and are you happy with your decision now?

BF: The main factor for me was the opportunity of playing with some of the best players my age in the best development league in the world right away and to be able to get good schooling paid for if pro hockey didn't work out. That sealed it for me.

BO: The start of the 2009-10 season was pretty rough for you statistically. Was the transition from midget to the OHL as hard as it appears it was for you? What were the biggest differences?

BF: Yeah, I started off pretty slow which was frustrating because I had always scored a lot of points in minor hockey. The transition was pretty big because the game was so much faster and the players were a lot smarter and quicker moving the puck. There were also new systems to learn that I was never exposed to in minor hockey, and I had to learn to be quick in my decision making while playing at a high end tempo. But I think the major reason I started out slow was that the players I was playing against were stronger and more physical than myself or the guys I was used to playing against and I needed to learn how to compete much harder so I could win battles and have consistency on each shift in order to be successful.

BO: But then in the New Year, you really started to produce offensively and finished the season on a strong note. What was the turning point for you? Was there a specific game or moment where everything started to click.

BF: At the break I took lots of time to evaluate the first part of the season and how I was disappointed with not producing more. I felt I needed to pick up my work ethic in practice and really elevate my level of competitiveness in our games. Because our team wasn't in playoff contention, the coaches gave me the opportunity to play a lot and in key situations so that really helped me develop. I also started learning that the game at the OHL level is not all about scoring and that I needed to learn how to do the little things right. I think the turning point of my season was my first game after the break when I scored a goal in the first period and after that game I really picked up my confidence and energy level.

BO: Going into the offseason, I’m sure the goal was to try and start the 2010-2011 season as strong as you finished the last. What did you do in the summer to try and prepare for your sophomore season?

BF: Yeah , I spent the offseason working to get stronger and bigger and to round out my game because I knew there was a lot I needed to improve on. I was working out 5 days a week with my trainer and a couple times a week with an on ice skills coach Jari Byrski. I tried to get a lot stronger and put on weight. I felt that was an area I needed to improve on and also continue to work on the accuracy of my shot and my lateral skating.

BO: How do you think the start of this season has gone for you?

BF: I feel like I've had a pretty good start to the season ,but I can do even better and keep improving throughout the year and help my team more. I think I've rounded out my game a bit more and am playing with more confidence. I am taking pride in playing in the defensive zone and putting a lot of emphasis on my plus/minus statistic and I think if I keep doing that the scoring statistics will come along as well.

BO: The Sting have definitely improved from last season, but you’re still on the bubble as a playoff team. The good thing is that it’s still early in the season. Do you (and the rest of the Sting) have a lot of confidence moving forward that this is a playoff caliber club?

BF: Yeah, I believe we have a lot of upside as a team and a lot of good players. We have good coaching and we're mentally into every game we play and we play intense hockey. We're still a very young team, so we make our share of mistakes which has sometimes cost us some games we could have won, but we have firepower and we are pretty sound defensively. I think we'll improve every game and start winning more close games and have a very good chance of making the playoffs.

BO: When you see yourselves playing .500 hockey and you’re on the bubble for the playoffs and then you look to the Eastern Conference and see a team well below .500 in the playoffs, is that at all frustrating?

BF: Those are things you can't really control. It is a bit frustrating realizing your doing better then many teams in the other conference, but still fighting so hard to earn a playoff spot because of all the good teams in our conference. At the same time it pushes you to keep working harder as a team and become even better. We have some very good teams in our conference but our team has the ability to play with any of them so if we keep playing with intensity and consistency we'll find ourselves in the playoffs and then who knows what can happen after that.

BO: I have to ask you about the two new additions to your club that everyone is talking about; Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk. We’ve all seen them play, but tell us something about both of them that not many people know about.

BF: Yeah ,they're very special players that are dangerous every time they're on the ice. They work hard in practice and games and are extremely skilled. It helps being able to play with guys like them and they have helped make our team much better this season.

BO: Speaking of those two, do you think you’re currently being overshadowed by them? I mean Sarnia has such a talented young roster and you’re currently third in goals for the team…yet we don’t hear a lot about you in the media. Is that at all frustrating for you personally?

BF: It is always nice to hear yourself talked about in the media, but I mean it's not a big deal. Other players deserve media attention that they're getting. I just try and be the best player that I can be and hopefully I will get my recognition too, but its not that important for me. I am kind of a low key guy anyways and at the end of the day it's really about how the team is doing and if we are all playing our game and our team is doing well then the individual attention will come my way too.

BO: What do you think are your biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses at this point as you move forward to a possible career in the NHL.

BF: I would say my biggest strengths are my skating speed and balance, my vision, my puckhandling and passing skills, and now my shot has become a real strength. I try and make things happen with the puck and use my skating to create scoring chances. My weaknesses I would say is that I need to compete harder physically and keep improving and learning how to play without the puck . I think there's always room to improve on everything and I'm trying to round out my game to be able to play at the next level.

BO: What about size? As someone who is under 6’0, do you think that hinders your chances at an NHL career, or do you look at the immediate success that someone like Jeff Skinner is having right now and say that the NHL has changed and smaller players can succeed.

BF: Yeah, being over 6'0 could be an advantage but I think skill and smarts are more important than size. I believe if you can skate and compete really hard and see the ice well and be a complete player with something special to offer, it doesn't matter what size you are because you can be an effective player in the NHL.

BO: Is there an NHL player you try to pattern your game after?

BF: I really try and pattern my game after Pavel Datsyuk. He's a very skilled player with great hands and patience. He sees the ice amazingly, and has great defensive anticipation to steal pucks and pick off passes, which is something I really need to improve on. Thats why every chance I get I try to watch him play to learn from him. Like myself, he also wasn't a physical player when he was younger but he's developed into a really good body checker and plays with much more grit too, so I would like to develop my game the same way as he did.

BO: In speaking with your agent, he says his nickname for you is “Fluke.” Can you shed some light on that one for us?

BF: Haha yeah that's a funny story. The agent firm I am with, Eclipse, represents lots of European players including Alex Kovalev and the first time my agent Brian Feldman saw me play, he thought for sure that I was European trained because I have a pretty unique style of skating and stickhandling for a Canadian player. But when he found out that I had never been trained by a European coach before and that my style of play was just natural for me he gave me the nickname "Fluke". He's always saying that I'm a Portugese, Brazillian, Canadian who plays like a Russian. He's done a really good job advising me and helping me develop my game.

BO: Could you also shed some light on the whole birth date/NHL draft eligibility fiasco. How exactly did it come to pass that so many people and publications had you as 2012 eligible.

BF: Yeah that was a very weird scenario. At first I didn't realize why that was happening but then when I looked at the OHL Draft Media Guide it said 11/02/1993 instead of 02/11/1993 which would mean I was born in November instead of February making me a late birthdate and the Sting went by the Media guise and published that on the website at first until everything was straightened out and I guess it all just started from there. I think are still some scouts and scouting services that think I'm a 2012.

BO: It’s been pretty easy to see that the OHL has been a huge supporter of the whole “Movember” thing. Who on the Sting has the best stache going right now?

BF: Well there is a lot of good ones on the team but, I'd have to give it to Brent Sullivan. He has a really long one with a goater as well and exceptionally long hair so I think that combo has to give it to him.

BO: Lastly, the NHL draft is still months away, but I’m wondering if you have any goals for that? Some players are just happy to be picked, while others have a specific round target. Where does your goal lie?

BF: Yeah , I think it's an honour just to be drafted into the NHL and I'd be extremely happy for accomplishing that. But I think it's important to have goals to work towards and to try and go as high as possible. I guess my draft goal would be to get picked in the top 3 rounds.

Thanks a lot to Brandon and his agent Brian Feldman for taking the time to contribute.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pipeline Show Interview with E.J. McGuire

In case anyone missed last night's Pipeline Show, Guy and Dean had NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire on to talk about the preliminary rankings.

You can download the audio clip HERE

E.J. always gives very diligent answers in interviews, which makes him an ever interesting interviewee. Like the CSS or not, you have to respect their opinion and how they choose to back it up.

I particularly found what he had to say about Murphy and Puempel very interesting and in a way, helps explain why certain players are disappointingly ranked at times.

On Murphy, the fact that they don't seem to have faith in him developing as a two way defenseman helps to explain his low ranking. But E.J. does recognize that Murphy could be a guy some teams covet and end up taking high (much higher than they have him ranked). It probably comes down to whether you think he can develop into someone you can play 5 on 5, of which I do. But their concerns are not unfounded.

On Puempel, E.J.'s explanation helps to explain why players on teams performing poorly can often be ranked lower. To which I ask, how many 17 year olds (outside of Tyler Seguin last year) are ready to lead their teams beyond their "on paper" roster capabilities?

Anyway, take a listen and enjoy.

Team Ontario for 2011 World Under 17's

Team Ontario will be out for revenge at this year's World Under 17's after losing to the United States in the finals last year. Previously, team Ontario had captured two consecutive golds.

The team that will be out for blood this year was announced recently, and the roster is littered with OHL players (only goaltender Daniel Altshuller is from outside of the OHL).

HERE is the roster.

The tournament is going to be held in Winnipeg this year and will begin on December 29th.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Preliminary NHL Central Scouting Rankings for 2011

As I'm sure you've heard by now, NHL Central Scouting has released their preliminary rankings for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. For those unfamiliar with the NHL CSS, every November they release a top 25 for each CHL league. In case you're curious, here are the 2009 and 2010 Prelim rankings.

So here it is, NHL Central Scouting's top 25 for the Ontario Hockey League.

1. Gabriel Landeskog
2. Brandon Saad
3. Dougie Hamilton
4. Ryan Strome
5. Vincent Trocheck
6. Tobias Rieder
7. Boone Jenner
8. Ryan Murphy
9. Nicklas Jensen
10. Matt Puempel
11. Vladislav Namestnikov
12. Alexander Khokhlachev
13. Stefan Noesen
14. Rickard Rakell
15. Scott Harrington
16. Daniel Catenacci
17. Lucas Lessio
18. Shane Prince
19. Mark Scheifele
20. Nick Cousins
21. Garrett Meurs
22. Anthony Camara
23. Michael Curtis
24. David Broll
25. Austen Brassard

1. Jordan Binnington
2. Matt Mahalak
3. Matej Machovsky
4. Mike Morrison
5. Tadeas Galansky
6. John Chartrand
7. Tyson Teichmann
8. Frank Palazzese

Some general thoughts:

1. A lot of people are surprised about Murphy's ranking being so low. I'm not one of them. I expected Murphy to be this low on CSS' list. The CSS has always put a lot of stock into size (which would explain their mid 30's ranking of Jeff Skinner last year), and Murphy doesn't have it while playing a position which often requires it. That being said, do I agree with it? Absolutely not, but am I surprised? Absolutely not. Murphy is clearly the type of player who is going to have polar opinions about him. There are those that believe his skill set will allow him to be an impact player in the NHL, and those who don't. Remember, all it takes is for one NHL team to believe in you and take you high. On a somewhat side note, but also a related note, can people please stop comparing Ryan Ellis and Murphy. I've seen and heard a lot of reaction to these rankings and I continue to see "Murphy is just like Ellis." They are two very talented players, but two very different players.

2. Absolutely shocked at the omission of defenseman Stuart Percy. That's the biggest shock for me I think. Here's a guy playing key minutes for the best team in the CHL, putting up good points, has good size and who has really increased his physical play this year. I've heard concerns about his lack of elite skating as a puck rusher, but as a strong two way defenseman with a good hockey IQ, you can't do much better.

3. Great to see Ryan Strome up there where he belongs. With ISS's recent November release, it seems safe to assume that Strome has firmly entrenched himself as a top 10 contender.

4. I'm also surprised by the ranking of Vincent Trocheck...but a good surprise. Because they put so much value on size, I thought he'd be lower down (like Murphy, Prince, Catenacci, etc). But he's a very good player and prospect who's under appreciated because he plays in Saginaw and is overshadowed by Brandon Saad. Just a solid all around player who can do it all.

5. Interesting to see Matt Puempel fall significantly and Boone Jenner to actually appear higher than he has in most lists recently. I'd love to hear the explanation on that one, only because IMO both need to be better to keep up their high draft stock. But I've been hearing more concerns on Jenner's end...about his high end NHL potential and skating.

6. Tyson Teichmann sure took a tumble, but it's hard to really argue against it. He's had a tough go of it this year and has had trouble putting together consistently good starts. Lots of time left in the season though.

I'd love to hear what you thought of the rankings...and remember this is only one ranking and at the beginning of the year no less. Players will move up and down.