Wednesday, March 31, 2010

OHL Playoff Predictions - Round Two


Needless to say, I'm definitely embarrassed by my 4-4 record in round 1 of the playoffs (predictions found here). Only one upset in the first round, with the 5 ranked Battalion defeating the 4 ranked Frontenacs. And I'd argue that wasn't even an upset because everyone had Brampton winning. Whoever said that they felt the parity among the OHL's elite and average was huge was complete right. Seriously though, I stand by my predictions, even in the face of defeat. I felt like hot squads in Guelph and Saginaw (especially) would really give London and Kitchener a run for their money. But, we move on.

Now I've got to go 4-0 this round to get some respect back.

Let's get to the picks...

Eastern Conference

1. Barrie Colts vs. 5. Brampton Battalion
Season Series: Colts - 6-0
My Analysis: Even if Matt Clark (the best defensive defenseman in the East and maybe OHL) was in the line up for Brampton, I don't think I'd be giving the Battalion much chance in this one. But he's not after getting suspended indefinitely for his hit on Ethan Werek in game six of round 1. Without Clark back there, this Battalion team just won't be able to handle the overwhelming forward depth of the Colts...even if the Battalion play a solid team defensive game. And even if the Battalion have Cody Hodgson up front, I'm not convinced he's healthy enough to really carry this club and even if he was, the secondary scoring isn't good enough to stay with Barrie. Look out folks, this one could get ugly too.
Prediction: Barrie in 4

2. Ottawa 67's vs. 3. Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Season Series: Majors - 4-0
My Analysis: I think a lot of people are expecting this one to be a close series. I'm not really one of them. I bet by now 67's fans think I've got some problem with their team or something, but it's nothing personal. Outside of top end offensive skill, I think it comes down the Majors being able to do everything just a little bit better. I think the team plays a much safer defensive game (as evidenced by the lowest GAA in the league) and that every one of their lines is capable of grinding down the 67's defense...who didn't look tremendous against Niagara. If Petr Mrazek continues to play and play well, he could steal a few games for the 67's, but Chris Carrozzi is no slouch at the other end too. I think we'll get that much desired Colts vs. Majors showdown everybody is rooting for.
Prediction: Mississauga in 5

Western Conference

1. Windsor Spitfires vs. 4. Plymouth Whalers
Season Series: Spitfires - 5-3
My Analysis: Alright, now we're getting down to business in the West. Even though I secretly wanted to see the Whalers lose to the Hounds in round one, I also wanted to see this match up. It's really unfortunate for the Spitfires too, because I think (despite the Whalers being the 4th seed) that Plymouth is the only team in the West capable of beating them. With Matt Hackett in goal at the other end, Windsor is absolutely going to need to get better goaltending from Philip Grubauer than they got in round 1 (and all season for that matter). In essence, I think all the moves Michael Vellucci made this season were to give this team a chance to beat Windsor. All the physicality added has made a difference and really gave the Soo a hard time in round 1. Can the Spits handle it better? There is absolutely a chance they do, however I don't think the team can be AS physical as Plymouth (at least without taking stupid penalties). To beat Plymouth, the Spits are just going to have to use their speed and skill advantage and fight through the checks.
Prediction: Plymouth in 7

2. London Knights vs. 3. Kitchener Rangers
Season Series: Knights - 5-1
My Analysis: Part of me really wants to choose the Rangers. They played much better against Saginaw in round one than I had anticipated and Brandon Maxwell really showed what he was made of with a great performance. But London has been playing some really good hockey and they had no problem with the Rangers during the regular season. With Nazem Kadri at the top of his game and the Knights still getting solid secondary scoring, I'm just not sure the Rangers can hang with London for a full seven game series. I know the Rangers and their group of tenacious forwards won't quit and I'm confident they can win a couple of games, but four? I just don't see it based on the way the Knights fared against them in the regular season.
Prediction: London in 6

Again, would absolutely love to hear your predictions as comments!

Thoughts on the Ottawa and Niagara Round 1 Series

A little bit delayed, but I managed to catch all of the games in the Ottawa 67's/Niagara IceDogs Round 1 series. So I figured, why not write a little review since I haven't put up a game review in a little while.

Ultimately, I'm definitely eating some crow on this one. I thought that the Dogs speed and forechecking ability would create problems for the 67's defense, and I thought their goaltending would become exposed. While the Dogs did do a good job in using their speed to create chances, they ultimately lacked the balanced skill to finish them. However, the 67's goaltending (by Chris Perugini) did become a bit of an issue and it was Petr Mrazek who stole the show in Game 5 and finished off the Dogs. My guess is that Mrazek keeps going the rest of the way, unless he starts to struggle.

As much as I'm eating crow, I think it's safe to say that the 67's will need to play way better to beat the Majors. Still way too many turnovers in the Niagara series, and fortunately for Ottawa, the Dogs lacked the high end skill to finish most of them. You'd think that a series that ended in 5 games was completely one sided, but it really wasn't. The games were very close...for the most part and the series was very hard fought. Ultimately, the combination of the balanced scoring ability from Ottawa and the inexperience of the Niagara defense was too much to overcome and the 67's found themselves getting goals in key moments. Still though, the 67's will need to play way better to beat Mississauga, especially Tyler Cuma whom I felt played a very poor series in Niagara.

As for Niagara, it's the upswing for them. All their key cogs will be returning a year older, wiser, and stronger which usually means good things in this league. On top of that, they'll have some high end draft picks to infuse into the line up. This team could be very good (top of the Conference good) within a couple of seasons.

Let's look at some individual player performances...

Ottawa 67's

Tyler Toffoli (2010)
Tremendous performance in this series by Toffoli. He has really impressed me of late and he's definitely grown on me as a professional prospect. He lead the team in goals and scoring during the series and was an impact player nearly every time he stepped on the ice. He's certainly not the fastest skater (I'd say average), but he's very elusive and does have good overall agility. He turns well and is able to beat defenders by having the ability to make moves at his top speed. He's a very good overall offensive player too. Smart with the puck, good vision, knows where to be and how to create opportunities for his linemates. The key to Toffoli's success moving forward will be his aggression. In this series, Toffoli played harder and tougher than I've ever seen him play before. He was hitting. He was getting his nose dirty in the corners and in front of the net. He was definitely a pest for the Niagara defense. Because he's never going to be the fastest or biggest forward on the ice, the key to his professional development will be his ability to maintain that pesky style of play. In the series, he reminded me a lot of Corey Perry in his OHL days and that's definitely a compliment (even if many OHL fans outside of London despite Perry).

Corey Cowick (OTT)
I really haven't caught a lot of Cowick since he returned from his shoulder injury, but he too was excellent in the series. I don't remember him ever being this physical before. He was a bulldog, hitting everything in sight, driving hard to the net and really getting in the face of Niagara players. While he was no softie before, there is no question he's upped the ante on his physical play and I'd say it's definitely helped solidify his game. It makes him a much more attractive professional prospect. He finished tied with Toffoli for the team lead in goals with 5 and really looked confident in the goal scoring area, establishing himself near the net. His skating has improved too (I think), as he looks to have more of an extra gear which helps him in separation. Every NHL team can use an aggressive forechecker with good hands and I think that if Cowick can continue to play aggressively (much like Toffoli), he'll make a solid 3rd-4th liner.

Anthony Nigro (STL)
Truthfully, I'm not really sure what to make of Nigro. He was solid in the series, his usual self. Nigro is definitely a smart player and he's got good vision. He anticipates the play really well and does a great job of finding his teammates and working the cycle. That being said, I'm not sure he's a good enough offensive player to play a top 6 role in the NHL. Meanwhile, I'd say his defensive and physical abilities have declined since the move to Ottawa. He's still a good all around player, but again does he fit the profile of an NHL bottom line player. I get the feeling it's a bit of an identity crisis for Nigro. In Guelph, he was more of a forechecking, defensive forward. In Ottawa, he's become more of an offensive player. There's nothing wrong with balance, but I feel he's lost his niche (per say). What that means is that a team who's already stacked with prospects and players with contracts, has to make a decision on whether to sign Nigro or not. With 2008 CHL draftees like Phil McRae and Jake Allen already signed, it makes me wonder if the Blues have any intention in signing Nigro. Whalers forward James Livingston is in a similar situation with St. Louis, however, I think if there's only one contract available between the two, my bet is that Livingston gets it because he's the safer professional prospect.

Tyler Cuma (MIN)
I'm really not sure what's going on with Cuma. This year has not been a strong one for him, his first after knee surgery. He looks lost on the ice...truthfully. Before the surgery, he was a budding two way defenseman who looked confident bringing the puck up and running the powerplay, but who was also poised to become one of the best defensive defenseman in the league. Now, he's neither. It's almost as if he doesn't know what he should be either. Offensively, he turned the puck over way too many times and had the most trouble with the Niagara forecheck of any 67's defenseman. He had some really sloppy passes in the series. And on the point on the powerplay, he just doesn't look as comfortable as guys like Julien Demers, Travis Gibbons or even the young Cody Ceci. Defensively, he was good in one on one situations and remains very difficult to beat to the net. But in the zone, he's running around too much. While it's good that he's upped his aggressiveness this season, it's bad that he seems to be reliant on it now to play in the defensive zone. Before, he was much more reliant on anticipation, reading the play, and using his stick. Now he's going around trying to be a bully and it's not working for him. Cuma just needs to simplify his game and get back to the basics that made him such a coveted player in 2008. Here's hoping that the AHL provides this wake up call because he used to be one of my favourite defenseman to watch in the league. Most telling stat. Julien Demers and Travis Gibbons finished the series +17. Cuma and Zanetti finished the series -4.

Julien Demers (SJ)
Originally, I was worried about Demers' prospects of getting signed by San Jose this year. And while I still am worried, I think things look a little more promising now. Demers had an excellent series for Ottawa and was the teams best defenseman by a fairly large margin. He was much more aggressive offensively than he has been during the 2009-10 regular season (see the dip in his point production). By that I mean, he was bringing the puck up ice for the 67's and did a very good job to create plays on offense. Defensively, well he's always a rock. In that aspect, he's not really noticeable because he rarely makes mistakes. That being said, I wish he was as physical as he was two years ago. Then, he was quite the effective body checker, but I don't think I've seen Demers lay a really good check in quite some time. I think his mobility still suffers a bit too and I'm not sure how his game will transfer to the professional level. If he was like 6'3, 6'4, I'd be a lot more confident that he'd get signed. And that's not to say that 6'1, 200lbs is undersized, but for the type of game he plays, it can be. In a way, it reminds me a lot of former Windsor Spitfires defenseman Mitch Maunu. Now granted, Demers is definitely a better skater than Maunu was, but not by a ton. The point being that Maunu was a similarly sized stay at home defenseman and he failed to get signed and is now playing in the CIS for Lakehead. Cross your fingers and hope San Jose has him in their plans.

Dalton Smith (2010)
While he didn't really hit the score sheet hard (only 2 goals and an assist in the series), I thought Smith was quite impressive. It's the things he does away from the puck that make him such a valuable player. He's a real workhorse in the corners and along the wall. He's very strong for his age and he anticipates the play really well, which allows him to trap defenders into turning over the puck. He's quite the physical player and can really throw his weight around too. Best of all, is that he's already a complete player. He kills penalties quite well (again using that strong hockey sense) and is committed to the backcheck. The good bloodlines have definitely helped Smith gain a strong understanding of the game. Offensively, I think he's got a lot more potential than he's currently showing on the score sheet too. He's still learning how to use his size in front of the net, but he's actually got quite good hands and an improving shot. If only his skating and acceleration were better and I think we'd be talking about Smith as a possible late first, early second round player. But, my guess is that he still goes pretty early and inside the first three rounds.

Ryan Martindale (2010)
The announcers on both sides seemed to be very happy with the play of Martindale during the series, never ceasing to stop the hype, but quite frankly I just didn't see it. My guess is the coaching staff didn't either, as he was demoted to the third line towards the end of the series and was receiving considerably less ice time. He finished with only a goal and an assist and was generally snake bitten across the five games (Mark Visentin made quite a few nice saves against him). But as a late 1991 playing in his third OHL playoffs, I expected much more out of Martindale. On some shifts, he looks like a game changer. The size and skill combination is very enticing, especially when the player knows how to use his size offensively. Martindale protects the puck well and is able to fight through traffic for offensive chances. However, it's his play away from the puck that still leaves me wanting more. And his skating isn't as strong as I'd like either, nor has it really improved over the course of his OHL career. He still seems to be heavily favored by NHL scouts, in particular by CSS (who have him inside their top 10 of OHL players on their final list), but he's too much of an enigma for my liking, especially as a late 1991. While he started very strongly, he only had 9 goals in the final 43 games of the regular season. That's not the production of an NHL first rounder IMO.

Cody Ceci (2012)
I'll keep this one relatively short. I think Ceci made tremendous strides this season and turned himself into a very capable OHL defender by the end of the season. Which is remarkable considering Ceci played about half the season as a 15 year old. He's clearly physically immature at this point, but he's smart enough and skilled enough to keep up with the play. He played quite solid in the playoffs and looked very comfortable running the point on the powerplay. And save a few minor mistakes (that happen to the best of OHL defenseman), he looked good defensively too. That being said, I don't think he'll be ready for top pairing status next year, like some Ottawa fans are anticipating. I think that's too much to ask of him, but I definitely see him with an increased role and production next year.

Petr Mrazek (2010)
Depending on how Mrazek plays out the rest of the playoffs, I think I've found my second ranked goaltender from the OHL for 2010. He came in for Perugini in the 4th game and didn't look back. He's very unorthodox in net (what Czech goaltender isn't? Call it the Dominik Hasek syndrome), but he gets the job done. He absolutely won that fifth and deciding game for the 67's, because the Dogs were buzzing all game and he made some really tremendous saves. The one thing that's immediately noticeable about Mrazek is how well he moves in his net. He has excellent agility and covers side to side very well. He's also got good anticipation of the play and has that ability to bade shooters into where to put the puck. He spends a bit too much time on his stomach and knees for my liking at times, but teams don't seem to be able to beat him high with a ton of success so maybe it's moot. It'll be interesting to see if Mrazek gets the start in game one against Mississauga. I'd have to imagine he does, but maybe Byrne goes back to Perugini out of loyalty to give him another shot.

Niagara IceDogs

Alex Friesen (2010, but 1991 born)
After his recent accolade as the hardest working player in the Eastern Conference (as voted by OHL coaches), Friesen continued his much improved third season into the OHL playoffs. He was definitely one of Niagara's stand out players and ended up leading the team in playoff scoring with 7 points. It'll be interesting to see if he generates any interest from NHL clubs this June. He's definitely undersized, but he has a lot of redeeming qualities that NHL teams like in their bottom line players. He's quick, he's intelligent, he's solid on the forecheck and along the boards, he's good at creating chances for his linemates, and he's a quality penalty killer/defensive forward. All that and he's shown incredible improvement in his offensive game, which suggests there could be even more room for improvement. I think he's definitely got a chance.

Andrew Agozzino (2010, but 1991 born)
While I think Friesen has a very good chance of being drafted this year, I'm much more skeptical of Agozzino's chances. He's a great player and was Niagara's best player in the series (and probably all season), but he remains the exact same player who went undrafted last year. He's still a feisty little goal scorer who works hard on the ice and leads by example. I think the only hope he has is more exposure. Last year, the scouts didn't seem to be too enamored with the players on Niagara and he may have suffered from a lack of exposure. This year, thanks to Freddie Hamilton and Mark Visentin, he may have gotten a little more attention. Being recognized as one of the most underrated players in the OHL by the coaches definitely says something and I'll be rooting for him, but I anticipate it being a longshot that he gets drafted this year.

Freddie Hamilton (2010)
Considering how well he was playing going into the playoffs, I was really disappointed in the play of Hamilton in the series. In essence...not to sound harsh, but Hamilton and the rest of the Dogs secondary offense was the main reason for the loss in the series. Coach McCourt broke up the Friesen/Aggy/Hamilton line to spread out the offense, hoping that Hamilton could create on his own. If anything, the series proved that Hamilton was not yet ready for that challenge and remains a complimentary offensive player at this level. Whatever the case may be, Hamilton is still a legitimate prospect for the 2010 draft. He's a good two way forward who really doesn't have any glaring weaknesses. He hasn't really developed any above average strengths either though, which may drop him down a bit in the draft. I'll be curious to see if he makes the Canadian Under 18 team (which should be announced later this week).

Matt Petgrave (2010)
I think there was a lot to like from Petgrave during the series. He still makes way too many poor decisions with the puck in his own end. He needs to let the play come more naturally, and that only comes with experience and confidence. There's always the chance that he's just lacking hockey sense, but then I see some of the plays he's able to make in the offensive zone and I don't think that's the case, at least not to the full extent. Petgrave was definitely taking more chances offensively in the series and it was good to see as he made pinches and created chances on offense. Defensively, I really like the way he plays. He has lapses of concentration it seems in zone coverage, but overall he does a pretty good mirroring job. While he's only averaged sized, we're looking at a physical, mobile, potential two way defenseman who made some pretty good strides in his first OHL season. I still think he's a late round pick by an NHL team banking on him really improving.

Mark Visentin (2010)
In his first OHL playoffs, I thought Visentin played pretty well. He wasn't really able to carry over the caliber of play he was at going into the playoffs, but he certainly kept the Dogs in every game in the series. He had a couple bad goals in the early games of the series, but he made some really big saves too and I think he's the type of goaltender who'll come back next year and really improve. Overall, the season has to be considered a huge success for Visentin who showed massive improvements and a great work ethic all season long. I think he's definitely cemented himself as the best goaltending prospect from the OHL for the 2010 draft. Now it'll be interesting to see if he too can get a nod on Team Canada's Under 18 team.

Thoughts from anyone else who saw the series?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Top 10 - Most Impressive 1993 Born Players

Today's Top 10 is dedicated to blabbing about the most impressive 16 year olds in the league this season. Fresh off a selection at the 2009 OHL Priority Draft, it can be hard to jump right into this league and make a serious impression. Players are stronger, faster, and smarter than in midget and it takes a really special player to be able to jump into a crucial role for an OHL team in their "natural" rookie season. The guys on this list (and many who aren't) are definitely special players.

The one thing this list isn't, is an early ranking for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Where these players get taken a year and a bit from now is still relatively unknown and it is not my intention to rank them yet for that. However, it is my intention to highlight some of those 1993's that have caught my eye this year.

Just for comparison's sake, here is my list last year of the most impressive 1992's.

Without further ado, the year's most impressive 1993 born players:

10. Michael Curtis - Belleville Bulls
Only Matt Puempel scored more goals than Curtis this season as a 1993. The Bulls winger had a very inconsistent season (as most 1993's do), but finished the year with 19 goals. He appears to be the perfect player for the big ice in Belleville. Very good skater, knows how to use open ice, elusive and tenacious. In time, he probably develops into a quality two way forward too. Let's not forget that Curtis was the captain of the 2009 OHL Cup champion Toronto Marlboros too. He seems to have a lot going for him, and despite not being named to Team Ontario for the Under 17's, I thought he had a very solid year.

9. Nick Cousins - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The Hounds have a lot of good young players, and first overall pick Daniel Catenacci is one of them. But I thought forward Nick Cousins had the better and more impressive first season in the league. Cousins looks to be a future firecracker in the league. Not very big (5'9), but he's not afraid of anyone already. Willing to pay the price to go to the net, or win battles in the corners. Seems like he's already doing a good job of getting under the skin of opponents too. On top of that, he's got good hands in close to the net and a pretty solid set of wheels. For his sake, I hope he grows a bit more before June of 2011.

8. Alan Quine - Kingston Frontenacs
I think Quine has developed very well in Kingston this year. Really solid overall player who's accepted and relished a third line energy/checking role this year despite being billed as an offensive player (and 2nd overall pick). He's active on the forecheck, not afraid to get a little dirty in the corners or in front of the net, and he's got a very good shot that tells me he could be a pretty good goal scorer in this league once he gets stronger. He's been quite noticeable for the Fronts in the playoffs thus far too.

7. Dougie Hamilton - Niagara IceDogs
Hamilton jumped right into spot in the top four this year for the Dogs. He's taken his lumps, but playing in every situation as a 16 year old can be tough. There's obviously going to be a learning curve. But he's got great size and I think a bit of a hidden mean streak. He's not afraid to throw the body and as he gets stronger and more confident, I think we'll see his physical tendencies increase. He's already very defensively sound and makes (mostly) smart decisions with the puck. The Hamilton brothers should be the face of this franchise for the next couple of years.

6. Stuart Percy - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
While the likes of Hamilton, Harrington, Sefton, and Murphy appear to be getting all the hype, Percy has quietly come in and done a great job for the Majors this year. Their first round pick in 2009, Percy has stepped into a top four role on the blueline, with overager Blake Parlett as a usual partner. Most impressive to me have been Percy's defensive skills. He's a top quality one on one defender and he reads and reacts to the play at an elite level. Once he gets stronger, he'll be an even more effective defender in the zone. Offensively, he shows a lot of promise too. Good playmaker and he's seen a fair amount of time on the Majors powerplay. He needs to learn timing and when to bring the puck up ice, but with experience and the tutelage of Dave Cameron, he's likely to become a very good two way defender.

5. Scott Harrington - London Knights
We all know the story by now. Harrington was supposed to be a top 3 pick in 2009. He wasn't because he said he was 'likely' going the NCAA route. The Knights pick him up and he magically joins their line-up. Such is life in the OHL. Not going to harbour any ill will against a kid who wanted to play for an elite program if he was giving up his NCAA eligibility. But it's the Knights who have gained most by acquiring Harrington. He's jumped right into this league and become an elite level defender. He pairs with Michael D'Orazio on the Knights "shutdown" pairing and has managed a +25 on the year despite going up against some of the OHL's best as a 16 year old. Offensively, he might have been a bit underwhelming, but jumping into the league and being such a good defensive player is impressive.

4. Garrett Meurs - Plymouth Whalers
Next year, I think we'll be talking about this guy as one of the most offensively talented players the OHL has to offer for 2011. Meurs has fantastic offensive skills. A top notch puckhandler, great hands in close to the net, reads the play well. He's the complete package...offensively. For as impressive as he was offensively, he's got a ways to improve in other areas. Meurs turns the puck over a lot, especially in the offensive zone when he tries to be too fancy. He also needs to spend more time backchecking and playing without the puck. But there is a ton of potential in Meurs.

3. Boone Jenner - Oshawa Generals
Jenner is a future force to be reckoned with. A future power forward, Jenner is at home in front of the net and is already handful for OHL defenders. He's a good skater for his size too, which makes him tough to handle one on one as he drives the puck to the net. With a summer of conditioning, Jenner probably comes back next season even meaner and asserts himself as one of the top prospects for the 2011 NHL Draft.

2. Matt Puempel - Peterborough Petes
Say hello to your future OHL goal scoring champion. Puempel had an outstanding rookie season in Peterborough, where he ended up leading the Petes in goals with 33. He's just a solid all around offensive player though, not just a goal scorer. He finds space on the ice and is one of those guys who always manages to get open for a pass or a loose puck. He's got a killer shot already too. On top of that, he's already showing the makings of a complete player who's not afraid to forecheck, play in the corners or play in his own end. With a guy like Ryan Spooner feeding him the puck next year, don't be surprised if he's among the league leaders in goals for 2010-2011. Also don't be surprised if he wins the Emms Family Award this year either.

1. Ryan Murphy - Kitchener Rangers
With all due respect to Puempel, Murphy was the guy who impressed me the most this season. Yes...he needs to improve defensively, especially in his zone coverage. But the things he can do with the puck are potentially legendary. His skating, awareness and puck handling ability are already among the league's elite as a just 16 years of age (well he turns 17 in a couple of days). He carves through the open ice with precision and is no stranger to the end to end rush. As he improves his strength, his shot from the point will improve too, further advancing his play as an offensive blueliner. Here's hoping he grows a little bit more before the 2011 Draft. By the way, this marks the second year in a row a Kitchener Ranger tops my list (Skinner was number one last year). I guess they're doing something right!

Honorable Mention:

Just a quick honorable mention to Vincent Trocheck of the Saginaw Spirit. On offensive production and impact to his team, he should probably make this list. But truthfully, I just didn't see enough of the Spirit to put him in my top 10, especially considering that the times I did see Saginaw, he didn't make much of an impact. Maybe the Spirit fans out there can tell us how good this guy is.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Results of our Coaches Poll Contest

This week, the 2009-2010 OHL Coaches Poll winners were announced.

The Eastern Conference winners can be found here.

The Western Conference winners can be found here.

As you may or may not remember, Ryan and I had a contest to see who could most accurately predict the outcome of the poll.

My predictions are here.

Ryan's predictions are here.

So...on to the results!

The scoring worked as follows (same as last year)...
1 point for nailing a player on the list
1 point for nailing a player in his correct spot
Bonus 2 points for nailing all the correct players in a category
Bonus 3 points for completely nailing a category, placement and players

So here is the breakdown:

Eastern Conference

Brock: 25
Ryan: 22

Western Conference

Brock: 34
Ryan: 31


Brock: 59
Ryan: 53

So the winner is...ME! Congratulations to myself.

A tough loss for Ryan after he falsely proclaimed himself winner in the comments section of my predictions article this morning. Seems like Mr. Yessie didn't look up and use the scoring methods we used last year!

Until next year Ryan, for your revenge.

Just some loose comments on the poll results themselves:

  • It's a hard pill to swallow to see Taylor Doherty left outside of the most improved players of the league. His improvement from game 68 of last year, to game one of this year, to game four of the playoffs (going tonight) has been remarkable IMO. He was the biggest (no pun intended) reason for Kingston's strong play down the stretch and there is absolutely no co-incidence that his first game back from suspension in the playoffs resulted in Kingston's first win of the series. He had 15 goals, 18 assists, and 33 points in the last 33 games of the season. It's pretty scary considering what he might accomplish next year.
  • Really odd not seeing Stefan Della Rovere among the best body checkers of the East. While he has (at least from what I've noticed) toned his level of physical play, I don't think there is a better open ice checker in the league. Considering he was the runaway winner last year, doesn't make sense for him to be left out this year.
  • Also odd to see Cameron Gaunce absent from the top defensive defenseman category, considering he won it last year. When Gaunce was out of the Majors line up near the end of the season, they were a mess without him and considering that they finished as the league's best defensive team, I'd say that makes him a pretty important defensive player.
  • On the plus side, I should have definitely included Dalton Prout among the best defensive defenseman in the East. An oversight on my part. He belongs there and is one of the most underrated players in the league.
  • I really can't see how Taylor Beck isn't the league's most improved player. We're talking about a guy who was criticized last year for his inconsistency offensively and for his lackluster skating, who suddenly became one of the league's best forwards this year and was in the top 5 of scoring for the majority of the year.
  • What exactly is the goal area? I think I've got a different definition of what that category should and is than those voting. It seems like the voters are putting simply the best goal scorers or the players with the best hands. Where as I see the category and think of players who do the dirty work, who are dangerous because they're elusive, they're hard to move in front of the net, and (as they suggest) can score goals. More of your garbage goal beasts, and I certainly wouldn't classify Taylor Hall as that.
  • Interesting to see John Moore left out of the hardest shot category considering he won the hardest shot competition at the all star game.
What are your thoughts on the coaches poll winners this year?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Q & A with Mckeen's Director of Scouting David Burstyn

This week David Burstyn, the Director of Scouting for Mckeen's Hockey, took time out of his busy schedule to answer some of my questions about the OHL and the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

Mckeen's Hockey has been around for a little while now and you may recognize the name based on the NHL season preview magazine (the best of the bunch IMO) that they put out in stores every year. But I would say their roots are grounded in the NHL Draft and they do an equally good job putting out scouting reports, rankings and a draft guide each draft year.

The link to their website can be found on my blog roll on the home page, but in case you're too lazy to look a little bit to the right, here it is again.

Here is the transcript of the Q & A between David and I:

Otten - Firstly David, thanks for doing taking the time to answer my questions. Let’s start off with something general. How do you see the talent level from the OHL this year? Is it a good year? Better than last years crop?

Burstyn - This year talent from the OHL is deep but I never like to draw comparisons from previous drafts. Each one is individual of one another and offers something unique hence why scouting each year is so exciting. Our current list has the three top picks hailing from the OHL; Hall, Seguin and Fowler in that order. There are many other players that should creep into the first round more so than any other CHL league. Players such as Hishon, Skinner and Spooner are smaller guys but have proved that they can bring something to the table. The Russians, both Telegin and Burmistrov are also first round selections as they have adapted nicely to the North American style of play and have thrived for their respective clubs. The OHL also boasts some considerable depth with the likes of Smith Pelle, Knight, Archibald and Beukeboom as strong second round picks.

Otten - Just how close are Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin as the top available players from the OHL (and in the entire draft)? If you've got the first pick, who do you take?

Burstyn - This is a difficult question to answer as they are both elite talents that bring a different dynamic to the table. I have seen each player live over a dozen times this year including the playoffs and it still has not become any easier. Hall brings a level of speed and game breaking ability whereas Seguin appears to process the game better and offers outstanding vision. Personally I would take Hall at this point simply due to the fact that he has won the Memorial Cup, captured MVP honours and also played a key role in Canada’s silver medal performance at the WJC. Truthfully though I do not think either would be a poor selection but whichever NHL team has the privilege to be in a position to draft either one will be based entirely on team needs. Should Edmonton select first they may opt for Seguin to compliment Paarjarvi.

Otten - Is Cam Fowler still mentioned in the same breath as Hall and Seguin, or has he fallen behind a bit? If so, has a guy like Erik Gudbranson narrowed the gap as the third best player available from the OHL (and the top defenseman)?

Burstyn - Fowler is third and is a good option but not in the same respect as either of two forwards. Fowler has remained steady all season and does an admirable job patrolling the blue line for one of the best teams in the OHL. While there are some concerns about his lack of physical play, Fowler has a great skill package and handles himself with tremendous poise. Gudbranson has not looked the same as he did at the U18’s last year in North Dakota due to a variety of reasons namely injuries. He appears to still be recovering from Mono as his play has been sluggish.

Otten - If Hall, Seguin, Fowler, and Gudbranson are the top 4 available from the OHL, who's the fifth best? Is there a group of players in that range?

Burstyn - Burmistrov is making a strong case for him to be drafted in the top 10. He endeared himself to NHL scouts by coming to the OHL and following that up with a very productive season. He has all the tangibles to be a player as he is fast, instinctive and can score.

Otten - Just how big are the OHL playoffs for draft eligible players? Just how much can a really strong or weak performance affect a player's ranking? The one example I can think of is Brent Burns in 2003, who used a strong performance for Brampton to creep into the first round.

Burstyn - The playoffs are massive and it is no different than the NHL. Players are measured when the chips are down and the stakes get higher. While that may sound like a cliché the bottom line is NHL scouts are flocking to CHL rinks to catch one last glimpse of a player. I was sitting with an NHL scout in Barrie last night and he told me that he will be flying to Moose Jaw on Monday and then coming back on Tuesday to see Spooner and Watson in Mississauga. While I do not have quite the budget I have made arrangements to see at least one game of each series for extensive coverage of all the draft eligible prospects for that exact reason.

Otten - What are your thoughts on John McFarland? He seems to be dropping like a dead weight right now. Can a strong performance at the Under 18's (assuming Sudbury fails to come back from a 3-0 deficit) save his draft stock?

Burstyn - McFarland has to be more accountable for his play. He struggled considerably this season with only 1 goal in the month of November and did not finish well down the stretch. Hockey Canada is very fond of McFarland though. They view him as another Patrice Cormier, a player that can fill that role. I am confident McFarland will make that team and given a strong performance his stock could bounce back. He still needs to mature but he does have many nice attributes that NHL teams are drawn too.

Otten - What's the deal with Stephen Silas? Every time I've seen him play, I've come away impressed and I thought he had a fantastic Top Prospects Game. Has playing on such a poor Belleville team this year negatively affected his draft ranking? Is he a guy who could vault himself into contention for the NHL first round with a strong performance at the Under 18's (assuming he's on the team)?

Burstyn - Silas is a steady defenseman who did a great job of improving his offensive stats and fell just behind fellow defenseman Lalonde in team points. He has done a really nice job of fixing his skating to the point where he handles himself very well on the Olympic sized ice in Belleville. His play at the TP game was very good despite his -2 rating. He often had to play against Hall and did a good job containing him. With that being said I do not think he will be a first rounder but a mid to late second is not out of the realm of possibility. I think he will make the U18 team as he made the Hlinka summer U18 team. Silas reminds me of a Ken Klee type of player, a serviceable low maintenance guy that could have a long standing career in the NHL.

Otten - Is Mark Visentin the top rated goaltender available from the OHL? If so, just how high can he go in June? If Visentin is number one, who's number two?

Burstyn - I would say Visentin is the #1 simply because he received a lot of playing time and did a great job in helping the Ice Dogs make the playoffs. His play down the stretch became one of the reasons that the Ice Dogs were able to avoid playing Barrie as he shined in his last half dozen starts. His game still has holes but I can see him landing within the top 90 due to the fact that he showed good mental composure and has solid mechanics. He still struggles with the long shots and that is an area of his game he will need to address. As far as other goalies in the OHL this season, Scott Wedgewood did not get much action behind Matt Hackett but he shows promise. I also liked the play of Petr Mrazek, he is unorthodox but successful.

Otten - Who?s the most underrated draft prospect from the OHL currently? Is there a guy you feel should be receiving more attention?

Burstyn - I have liked the play of Dalton Smith and Austin Levi. When I think of where these players were last year and the improvements they have made to their overall game it bodes well for their draft stock. Levi, (Plymouth) is a big defenseman with great mobility for his size and a cannon of a shot. He is still physically under developed but he has shown a willingness to drop the gloves and come to the aid of his team mates. Smith (Ottawa) has good NHL bloodlines as his father played for the Flyers. He improved his goal total by 19 and managed to play with some of the more talented players on the 67’s including Martindale and Toffoli and not only keep up but offensively produce. I was particularly fond of his physical play, banging bodies which opened up room for his team mates. He was also defensively conscious.

Otten - Not sure if you've read any of my articles (or theories) on the increase of the tendency for NHL teams to draft second and third year eligible players, but I'm curious about your take on the issue. Why do you think NHL scouting staffs are selecting more and more of these guys?

Burstyn - I am not familiar with your theories but my take is that players have improved and defined a niche for themselves. Graduations play a huge role in other players developing with increased ice time. I think last year was more of an anomaly than in third year players chosen in the ’08 draft.

Otten - This leads to my next question. Who are the top second and third year eligible players from the OHL? Which guys have a serious shot at getting drafted? Taylor Carnevale? Darren Archibald?

Burstyn - Quite frankly we were shocked that Archibald did not get drafted last year as we had him in our top 125. I believe he had a try-out with Columbus but I doubt that he will go undrafted again this season. Carnevale started off hot but fizzled without the PP time. Another guy that make get hard looks is Michael McDonald, he scored 25 goals this year for a very under the radar London Knight squad. He has great speed, a nose for the net and a tireless work ethic. He could possibly carve himself an NHL career by playing in that defined role.

Otten - What do you make of Owen Sound's Geoffrey Schemitsch and Niagara's Matt Petgrave? Both of these guys have really impressed me this year and seem like solid, under the radar type selections. Do they have a good shot of getting drafted in June?

Burstyn - Schemtisch broke his leg playing minor midget and as result not many teams saw him. He went undrafted and played Midget last year for Mississauga and made the Attack out of training camp. I thought he played much better at the beginning of the season and then with the arrival of Blacker he took a backseat and was no longer contributing as much as he had offensively. NHL teams may look at him as another case of deHaan; a player that came out of virtually no where. However his game is not as dynamic and if he gets drafted I suppose it would be late round as he simply is not dynamic enough. Petgrave is too erratic for my liking and I fear his lack of high end offensive ability coupled with his questionable decision making cripples his chances of being an NHL player.

Otten - While not directly related to this year's NHL draft, I'd be curious to hear who you think have been the most impressive 1993's in the league this season. Which four or five players have impressed you the most?

Burstyn - Team Ontario finished second at the U17 and only a hot American goalie in John Gibson got in their way of a third consecutive gold medal at that tournament. The OHL should be strong again and loaded with defenseman including the likes of Harrington, Sefton, Hamilton and Murphy. I think Landeskog will be an elite prospect and high end NHL pick. Matthew Puempel is a scoring machine and Boone Jenner has the potential to be a very dominate player next season.

Otten - Last question, when and how can my readers buy the McKeen's NHL Draft Guide for 2010? For those unfamiliar with your site, why should this be a must buy for any draft fanatic?

Burstyn - McKeens Hockey has become a reputable source and industry leader for prospect information for the last ten years. We produce a yearly magazine that sees a circulation of over 100,000 and have been mentioned on TSN and Sportsnet. This will be the third year we will be doing the NHL draft guide and have built a great reputation amongst our readers due to our strong content on the website. This can be credited to our committed group of area scouts that are dedicated to putting together the most thorough and comprehensive lists. The guide will feature profiles on the top 90 players along with several stories that are sure to interest hockey draft enthusiasts. has a link that has been set up to preview the player profile page as well as a cover. There will also be a pre-order option set up within the week. Repeat and new customers will be happy to see that we have lowered our rates while not compromising the quality of our content.

Otten - Thanks so much for answering my questions David!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

OHL Coaches Poll - Ryan Yessie's Predictions

As I mentioned, Ryan and I are doing our Coaches Poll contest again to see who can most accurately predict the results.

Here are Ryan's guesses:

Eastern Conference

Most Underrated Player
1. Taylor Carnevale - Barrie
2. Sean Jones - Brampton
3. Casey Cizikas - Mississauga

Most Improved Player
1. Devante Smith-Pelly - Mississauga
2. Christian Thomas - Oshawa
3. Dalton Smith - Ottawa

Smartest Player
1. Alex Pietrangelo - Barrie
2. Cody Hodgson - Brampton
3. Calvin De Haan - Oshawa

Hardest Worker
1. Austin Watson - Peterborough
2. T.J. Brodie - Barrie
3. Alex Hutchings - Barrie

Best Playmaker
1. Ryan Spooner - Peterborough
2. Nick Crawford - Barrie
3. Alexander Burmistrov - Barrie

Most Dangerous in the Goal Area
1. Bryan Cameron - Barrie
2. Matt Puempel - Peterbrough
3. Kyle Clifford - Barrie

Best Skater
1. Shawn Lalonde - Belleville
2. Alexander Burmistrov - Barrie
3. Alex Hutchings - Barrie

Best Shot
1. Cody Hodgson - Brampton
2. Bryan Cameron - Barrie
3. Christian Thomas - Oshawa

Hardest Shot
1. Alex Pietrangelo - Barrie
2. Taylor Doherty - Kingston
3. Scott Valentine - Oshawa

Best Stickhandler
1. Alexander Burmistrov - Barrie
2. Bryan Cameron - Barrie
3. Ryan Spooner - Peterborough

Best on Face-Offs
1. Anthony Nigro - Ottawa
2. Taylor Carnevale - Barrie
3. Thomas Stajan - Brampton

Best Body Checker
1. Stefan Della Rovere - Barrie
2. Dalton Smith - Ottawa
3. Zac Rinaldo - Barrie

Best Defensive Forward
1. John Kurtz - Sudbury
2. Steve Reese - Sudbury
3. Casey Cizikas - Mississauga

Best Penalty Killer
1. John Kurtz - Sudbury
2. Anthony Nigro - Ottawa
3. Steve Reese - Sudbury

Best Offensive Defenceman
1. Alex Pietrangelo - Barrie
2. Nick Crawford - Barrie
3. Shawn Lalonde - Belleville

Best Defensive Defenceman
1. Cameron Gaunce - Mississauga
2. Matt Clark - Brampton
3. Tyler Cuma - Ottawa

Western Conference

Most Underrated Player
1. Justin Shugg - Windsor
2. Mike Cazzola - Erie
3. Jordan Hill - Saginaw

Most Improved Player
1. Taylor Beck - Guelph
2. Greg McKegg - Erie
3. Anthony Luciani - Erie

Smartest Player
1. Jeff Skinner - Kitchener
2. Ryan Ellis - Windsor
3. Tyler Seguin - Plymouth

Hardest Worker
1. Jeff Skinner - Kitchener
2. Michael Latta - Guelph
3. Nathan Chiarlitti - Sarnia

Best Playmaker
1. Joey Hishon - Owen Sound
2. Taylor Hall - Windsor
3. Tyler Seguin - Plymouth

Most Dangerous in the Goal Area
1. Taylor Beck - Guelph
2. Jeff Skinner - Kitchener
3. Adam Henrique - Windsor

Best Skater
1. Taylor Hall - Windsor
2. John Moore - Kitchener
3. Stephen Johnston - Windsor

Best Shot
1. Jeremy Morin - Kitchener
2. Peter Holland - Guelph
3. Ryan Ellis - Windsor

Hardest Shot
1. Ryan Ellis - Windsor
2. Adam Comrie - Guelph
3. Ryan O’Connor - Saginaw

Best Stickhandler
1. Nazem Kadri - London
2. Taylor Hall - Windsor
3. Tyler Seguin - Plymouth

Best on Face-Offs
1. Adam Henrique - Windsor
2. Scott Timmins - Windsor
3. Nazem Kadri - London

Best Body Checker
1. Jordan Nolan - Sault Ste. Marie
2. Michael Latta - Guelph
3. Kyle Neuber - Sarnia

Best Defensive Forward
1. Scott Timmins - Windsor
2. Stephen Johnston - Windsor
3. Connor O’Donnell - Guelph

Best Penalty Killer
1. Stephen Johnston - Windsor
2. Connor O’Donnell - Guelph
3. A.J. Jenks - Plymouth

Best Offensive Defenceman
1. Cam Fowler - Windsor
2. Ryan Ellis - Windsor
3. John Moore - Kitchener

Best Defensive Defenceman
1. Dan Kelly - Kitchener
3. Jake Muzzin - Sault Ste. Marie
3. Nathan Chiarlitti - Sarnia

The OHL Coaches Poll is usually announced next week. Anybody want to wage a bet on who wins, Ryan or I?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

OHL Coaches Poll - My Predictions

If you remember, last year Ryan Yessie, Sean Keogh, and myself had a contest to see which of us could most accurately predict the results of the 2009 OHL coaches poll. The results of this contest can be found here.

Well it's that time of year again and the results of the 2010 OHL Coaches Poll will be announced in the next week or so. So Ryan and I have decided to have another contest. Unfortunately Sean hasn't seen enough OHL action this year (due to his placement in Switzerland), so he won't have an opportunity to defend his crown.

Without further ado. Here are my predictions.

Eastern Conference

Most Underrated Player:
1. Cody Lindsay
2. Pat Daley
3. Patrick Killeen

Most Improved Player:
1. Mark Visentin
2. Taylor Doherty
3. Casey Cizikas

Smartest Player:
1. Cody Hodgson
2. Alex Hutchings
3. Eric O'Dell

Hardest Worker:
1. Bryan Cameron
2. Alex Friesen
3. Jeff Hayes

Best Playmaker:
1. Alex Burmistrov
2. Pat Daley
3. Alex Pietrangelo

Most Dangerous in the Goal Area:
1. Bryan Cameron
2. Ethan Werek
3. Devante Smith-Pelly

Best Skater:
1. Shawn Lalonde
2. T.J. Brodie
3. Alex Hutchings

Best Shot:
1. Alex Hutchings
2. Christian Thomas
3. Luke Pither

Hardest Shot:
1. Taylor Doherty
2. Reggie Traccitto
3. Alex Hutchings

Best Stickhandler:
1. Alex Burmistrov
2. Ryan Spooner
3. Cody Hodgson

Best on Face-Offs:
1. Cody Hodgson
2. Taylor Carnevale
3. Casey Cizikas

Best Body Checker:
1. Stefan Della Rovere
2. Zac Rinaldo
3. Gregg Sutch

Best Defensive Forward:
1. Matt Kennedy
2. Darren Archibald
3. Casey Cizikas

Best Penalty Killer:
1. Alex Hutchings
2. Matt Kennedy
3. Taylor Carnevale

Best Offensive Defenseman:
1. Shawn Lalonde
2. Alex Pietrangelo
3. Nick Crawford

Best Defensive Defenseman:
1. Matt Clark
2. Cameron Gaunce
3. Julien Demers

Western Conference

Most Underrated Player:
1. Mike Cazzola
2. Greg McKegg
3. Jason Akeson

Most Improved Player:
1. Taylor Beck
2. Jacob Muzzin
3. Mike Cazzola

Smartest Player:
1. Ryan Ellis
2. Tyler Seguin
3. Jeff Skinner

Hardest Worker:
1. Taylor Beck
2. Jeff Skinner
3. Eric Wellwood

Best Playmaker:
1. Jordan Skellett
2. Tyler Seguin
3. Cam Fowler

Most Dangerous in the Goal Area:
1. Jeff Skinner
2. Jeremy Morin
3. Greg Nemisz

Best Skater:
1. Taylor Hall
2. John Moore
3. Eric Wellwood

Best Shot:
1. Ryan Ellis
2. Jeremy Morin
3. Steven Tarasuk

Hardest Shot:
1. Ryan Ellis
2. John Moore
3. Taylor Hall

Best Stickhandler:
1. Nazem Kadri
2. Tyler Seguin
3. Cam Fowler

Best on Face-Offs:
1. Adam Henrique
2. Marcus Carroll
3. Michael Latta

Best Body Checker:
1. Mark Cundari
2. Mike Halmo
3. Jacob Muzzin

Best Defensive Forward:
1. Scott Timmins
2. A.J. Jenks
3. Tyler Murovich

Best Penalty Killer:
1. A.J. Jenks
2. Scott Timmins
3. Justin Taylor

Best Offensive Defenseman:
1. Ryan Ellis
2. Cam Fowler
3. John Moore

Best Defensive Defenseman:
1. Dan Kelly
2. Jacob Muzzin
3. Mark Cundari

Ryan will have his picks to me in the next couple of days. It'll be interesting to see how ours compare. Also fell free, to post your own predictions in the comments section!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

OHL Playoff Predictions - Round One

With today's results (save the Kitchener/Guelph game which has no bearing) in the books, the 2010 OHL Playoff picture has been set.

That's prediction time. Last year, I went 11-4 over the course of the playoffs, but was a snazzy 10-2 through the first two rounds. Let's see if I can mimic the results this year.

Eastern Conference

1. Barrie Colts vs. 8. Sudbury Wolves
Season Series: Colts - 7-1
My Analysis: The Wolves likely don't have much of a chance. Sure, nobody really knows how this Colts team will respond to the challenge of the OHL playoffs, but the Wolves aren't likely to provide them with much of that challenge. The Colts dominated the season series and the Wolves defense and goaltending just isn't good enough to keep up with the balanced offensive attack of Barrie. A Mike Foligno coached team isn't likely to just give up an die, but I don't think this one is close.
Prediction: Barrie in 5

2. Ottawa 67's vs. 7. Niagara IceDogs
Season Series: Tie - 2-2
My Analysis: A rematch of last year's thrilling 3 vs. 6 match-up, the Dogs look to play spoiler yet again after defeating the 67's in seven games in 2009. The 67's definitely have the advantage of having Tyler Cuma back in the line up this year, and the Dogs are without Alex Pietrangelo and Jeremy Smith (who stole the show last year for Niagara). On paper, you may think the 67's should be able to exact some revenge this year, but these two teams are really close yet again. The season series was split (even if Ottawa won the most recent match-up in convincing fashion). Ottawa definitely has the better forward and defensive units, but the Dogs edge them in goal yet again with Mark Visentin. Last year, the Dogs forechecking and team speed really hurt the 67's and I think much of that could occur again this year. Either way, I anticipate it being a close series.
Prediction: Niagara in 7

3. Mississauga St. Michael's Majors vs. 6. Peterborough Petes
Season Series: Majors - 3-1
My Analysis: A very interesting match-up. The best defensive team in the league (Majors) vs. one of the worst defensive teams in the league (Petes). On paper, this is another one that looks like a severe mismatch, however due to recent circumstances, I think this series could be closer than anticipated. The Petes enter the playoffs on a four game winning streak (which includes a 5-1 thrashing of the Majors), while the Majors have been wildly inconsistent and struggled with injuries during the past month. But Cameron Gaunce is back and his shoulder is healthy, and the Majors looked good defensively again today against Niagara (their last game before the playoffs). Ultimately, this series probably comes down to goaltending and I'll take either Chris Carrozzi or J.P. Anderson over Jason Missiaen.
Prediction: Mississauga in 6

4. Kingston Frontenacs vs. 5. Brampton Battalion
Season Series: Tie - 2-2
My Analysis: What really matters is how well did Kingston fair against the Cody Hodgson lead Battalion in the second half of the season. The answer is well, a shootout victory and a close 3-1 loss. The bad news for Kingston is that they'll be without Taylor Doherty for the first two games of the series after his suspension for a cross check. Doherty has been, perhaps, the biggest reason for Kingston's strong play over the last two months. I think the biggest difference maker will be the experience of the Battalion. Hodgson, Tanski, Clark, Peroff, Albert, etc were all around last year during the team's run to the OHL Finals. They know what it takes to get out of the first round and Hodgson in particular looks healthy and committed enough to put this team on his back.
Prediction: Brampton in 7

Western Conference

1. Windsor Spitfires vs. 8. Erie Otters
Season Series: Spitfires - 3-1
My Analysis: Sure the Spitfires goaltending is still a question mark going into the playoffs (ring a bell from last year), but I don't think the Erie Otters represent a big enough challenge to legitimately scare the Spits. The Otters offensive depth took a big hit when Andrew Yogan was lost to a broken leg and I don't think the Otters defense is strong enough to consistently keep up with the Spits constant offensive barrage. That said, I expect Adam Courchaine to play his butt off and keep the Otters in the majority of games.
Prediction: Windsor in 5

2. London Knights vs. 7. Guelph Storm
Season Series: Knights - 5-1
My Analysis: This could very well be the best series of the opening round. Two of the hottest teams in the league clashing. While the Knights dominated the season series, the majority of those games were in the middle of the season when Guelph was struggling with injuries. The Storm are now fully healthy and are absolutely ripping apart the competition. This is a team many people were predicting to have home ice advantage this year, so if anything they may finally be playing up to the right time of the year. Not to put a lot of pressure on one particular player, but I think the Knights fate in this series lies in the play of Nazem Kadri. If he can get catch fire, it bodes well for the Knights advancing.
Prediction: Guelph in 7

3. Kitchener Rangers vs. 6. Saginaw Spirit
Season Series: Tie - 2-2
My Analysis: Without much attention, Spirit goaltender Edward Pasquale has been the best goaltender in the second half of the OHL season. In the past two months, he's been nearly unbeatable with a SV% of over .940. No one knows that better than the Rangers who fell victim to a 38 save performance from Pasquale this past Saturday in a 3-0 loss. The Rangers, no question, have the better team on paper but I worry about Brandon Maxwell in his first OHL playoffs. I'm not sure he can keep up with the veteran Pasquale, who's playing the best hockey of his career.
Prediction: Saginaw in 7

4. Plymouth Whalers vs. 5. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Season Series: Tie - 3-3
My Analysis: This match-up sees the pairing of perhaps the two best goaltenders in the OHL, Matt Hackett and Robin Lehner. There is no doubt that Plymouth has better depth, after loading up during the season for a long playoff run, however the Greyhounds play some tough hockey and didn't finish fifth in the Conference by fluke. The Greyhounds come into the playoffs riding a bit of a hot streak too, while the Whalers are in a bit of a funk. This includes a Saturday overtime defeat by the Hounds over Plymouth. I'm really torn on this one. On one hand, I like the depth of the Whalers, but on the other hand, I can't help but take into account the never say die attitude of Sault Ste. Marie. Flip a coin? I think the Hounds edge out a victory and give the Team Canada Under 18 team a massive present (Tyler Seguin).
Prediction: Sault Ste. Marie in 7

Would absolutely love to hear your predictions as comments!

Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing to an NHL Contract, 2010 Edition

Well not sure if you remember or not, but last March (of 2009), my first ever Sunday Top 10 article was posted. The list honored those overagers who deserved a shot professionally and who had the chance to sign NHL contracts (at least in my opinion). Of course, you can find that here. Eventually, the top two ended up earning NHL deals (Chris Chappell and Brandon Mashinter), while two others are playing professionally (Jack Combs and Rob Kwiet). If anything, this serves as a reminder that few overage players choose to move on to professional hockey if they don't receive an NHL (or at least AHL) contract. More than likely, the majority of the players on this list will be playing CIS hockey next year, but that doesn't mean they should give up hope.

In case you hadn't figured it out, this week's list honors the ten overage players who I think could earn NHL contracts by the start of next season. This isn't a list of the best overage players in the league. It's a list of those players who have the best shot to move on to the next level, at least in my opinion.

One thing to note, Jacob Muzzin and Luke Pither would have been at the top of this list had they not already signed NHL deals in 2010. Muzzin signed with Los Angeles earlier in the year, while Pither signed with Philadelphia a week ago. Also, this list does not contain players who's rights are already owned by NHL teams, but who have yet to receive a contract (like Jordan Nolan and Adam Courchaine).

Without further ado, here is your top 10 overagers worth signing to an NHL contract...from the 2009-2010 season:

10. Leo Jenner - Plymouth Whalers
The big thing (no pun intended) Jenner has going for him is size. At 6'4, 225lbs, Jenner is big enough and strong enough to handle professional forwards. Since entering the OHL, Jenner has improved by leaps and bounds. He's now become an excellent stay at home defender who uses his size well to keep forwards out of the crease and to win battles in the corners. He'll have some work to do in improving his ability to fight through the forecheck and on improving his mobility, but as the old adage goes, you can't teach size.

9. Justin Taylor - London Knights
I think most would agree that Taylor had disappointing final season in the OHL, at least offensively. He was expected to improve upon his solid numbers of last year, but failed to do so. After failing to get a contract from the Washington Capitals (who drafted Taylor in 2007), maybe the offensive expectations were set too high. Taylor is what he is, and part of that is the Knights captain. He's a hard working forward whose grit and ability to finish near the net could make him a valuable player at the next level. I think the amount of NHL interest he generates will depend on how far he's able to take the Knights in this year's playoffs, and the type of role he plays in that.

8. Tyler Murovich - Saginaw Spirit
Another captain, Murovich may not be ideally sized for a checking role in the NHL (5'8), but he has the skill set to do it. Murovich is easily one of the better defensive forwards in the OHL, and he brings great speed and hockey sense to the ice. He also has a very good wrist shot and has the potential to become a two way goal scorer at the next level. It all depends how NHL teams view his size. Is it something he can overcome and still play the role he excels in, or is he too small to be a checking line forward in the NHL?

7. Jordan Skellett - Saginaw Spirit
Skellett is an interesting player. He's always had the talent to put up big numbers in this league, but previous to this season he hadn't put it all together. Some say that was because of a shift in focus and a maturation in his attitude, others in greater on ice responsibility. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Either way, Skellett is one of the premier playmakers in the league, who could very well finish in the top 10 of points and top 5 of assists after today. He's quick, elusive and probably big enough to handle the next level. That being said, can he improve the rest of his game, like his play away from the puck, enough to draw interest from NHL teams in the future?

6. Corey Syvret - Guelph Storm
A former pick of the Florida Panthers, Syvret returned to the OHL this year after failing to earn a contract from them. Syvret has a lot of things going for him. He has ideal NHL size for a defender at 6'3, 200lbs. He's on an ice leader and the captain of the Storm. He has good mobility and a wavering mean streak. He makes a good first pass out of the zone and can run a second powerplay unit. That being said, while the skill set is there, does he do anything well ENOUGH, to find a niche at the next level? Is he good enough defensively to become a stay at home guy in the NHL, or can he at least improve to that point?

5. Dan Kelly - Kitchener Rangers
Kelly is a tough one to read for the next level. On one hand, we're looking at perhaps the best defensive defenseman in the league, a guy who can shut down any opposing forward in the OHL. He thinks the game at the next level and has done well to increase his aggressiveness and improve his offensive game this year. But on the other hand, we're talking about a 6'1 stay at home defenseman. With the physicality and size of today's NHL forwards, can an elite stay at home defenseman be Kelly's size? It seems like any physical stay at home guy that receives attention is over 6'3 now, so the question remains, will Kelly still get some attention?

4. John Kurtz - Sudbury Wolves
Perhaps Kurtz being up this high will surprise some people, especially considering he's had a real tough go of things the last couple of months (2 goals in February and March), but I think he can make a real strong professional hockey player. He's an excellent two way forward who's effective on the forecheck and along the wall. He has good hands in close and good goal scoring instincts. And he has good size at about 6'3. His skating will definitely have to improve, especially if he intends to carry over his defensive play to the next level, but the combination of his intelligence, size, and hands could make him an attractive option to NHL clubs.

3. Steven Tarasuk - London Knights
Tarasuk's breakout offensive season is no fluke. Tarasuk has long been a solid OHL defenseman. He had a very good 2007-08 season where he had 37 points between Kitchener and London. But he got lost in the depth of last year's London team and didn't get the powerplay or 5 on 5 time he deserved. This year, different story. Tarasuk plays like 50% of the game for the Knights, in every situation. He's currently second in defenseman scoring with 67 points, and second in goals with 19. On top of bringing it offensively, Tarasuk is actually a very competent and hard working defender who plays very tight defensive zone coverage. The knock of course is size. At only 5'10, is Tarasuk big enough to play a role on defense at the next level?

2. Zack Torquato - Erie Otters
Everyone has always been waiting for Torquato to tear apart this league offensively, it's a shame we had to wait until his overage season. The former Red Wings draft pick exploded this year, finishing top 5 in league scoring thanks to the chemistry and production of his line with Mike Cazzola and Greg McKegg. The question remains, what type of player can he be at the next level? The offensive ability is there, as a solid playmaker and a guy who's not afraid to go to the net. The play away from the puck has improved and he's become a pretty well rounded player. Skating is still the main weakness and might be what holds him back moving forward. I think he'll be playing professionally somewhere next year, maybe even the AHL and I'll be curious to see how he does.

1. Bryan Cameron - Barrie Colts
I was actually as surprised as any when the Kings didn't sign their 2007 3rd rounder, setting the stage for his return as an OHL overager. Then came the trade to Barrie, where Cameron has continued producing, just as he had for the past three seasons in Belleville. Heck, Cameron even scored 20 goals as a 16 year old. He's never had a season under 20 goals, and he's scored over 30 in the past four. This year was still the new high for him though; 53 goals and the OHL's top goal scorer for the 2009-10 season. Cameron just flat out knows how to score goals. He has elite on ice instincts and despite being undersized, wins battles for loose pucks in front of the net. As he moves forward into his professional career, the question remains, how does he adapt? Does his size prevent him from playing the same type of game he does in the OHL and can he get the same type of offensive opportunities? I'm very curious to see if an NHL team scoops him up this offseason. I think the biggest test will be to see how he plays in this years OHL playoffs. Previously, he's underperformed in the playoffs, and if he can take Barrie to the Memorial Cup, I think NHL teams could be sold.

Honorable Mentions:
Niagara's Reggie Traccitto has had an excellent season on the back end and will likely end up finishing first among defenseman in goals scored with 20. He definitely has a cannon of a shot. But being somewhat undersized, with only average mobility and no glaring strength (outside of his shot), I'm not sure he finds success as a professional hockey defenseman. a forward (which Traccitto used to be in the OHL), I think he could have a future. Mississauga's Blake Parlett is in a similar situation as a tweener. He's turned himself into a very good OHL defenseman, but is he good enough in one particular area to find a role in the NHL?

At forward, Peterborough's Pat Daley is one of the league's better playmakers and passers, but being somewhat undersized, in combination with not being a a great player away from the puck and being only an average skater, could be the kiss of death for his pro aspirations. London's Leigh Salters is a guy who may surprise you as being on this list, but Leigh has transformed himself into being more than just a fighter this year. He's a hard working forward who has improved his hands near the net and whose size could attract attention from NHL scouts.

What are your thoughts on a list?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thoughts on Plymouth and Windsor from March 11

Watching a game on the OHL Action Pack is not the same as watching it live; that goes without saying. But no way was I missing the last regular season battle (and possibly last OHL battle) between Taylor and Tyler. This was a scout's dream, with a chance to see the potential top 3 selections of the 2010 NHL Draft in the same game (Hall, Seguin, and Fowler). It looked like the entire Oilers front office was in the building tonight.

It was definitely a good game to watch, especially considering both Seguin and Hall had relatively strong games. That said, I think Hall had the more impressive game, as he was instrumental in his team's comeback from being down 4-1, to winning 6-4. The win clinched first place in the West for the Spitfires, and delayed the clinching of 4th for the Whalers.

The Spitfires didn't play the best of games, but you have to hand it to their resiliency. Being down early and turning on the jets in the third period to mount the comeback. Their depth has a lot to do with their ability to stay in hockey games, because every line put out there has the ability to wear down a defense. Eventually that toll just adds up.

Don't have a ton of time tonight for a write up, but here are some minor (when I say minor, I probably mean under 2000 words!) individual player thoughts...

Plymouth Whalers

Colin MacDonal
d (2010)
Really liked what I saw from MacDonald tonight. Looked like coach Mike Vellucci was happy too. MacDonald saw limited ice time in the first and second periods, but after a few strong shifts, got a lot of time in the third. He's got good size and he's very mobile. I was very impressed with his one on one defense off the rush, in particular a play he made to stand up Justin Shugg as he tried to get by him. In the defensive zone he was quiet...which is a good thing. Still looks like he could stand to improve his ability to move the puck out of his zone, might be a confidence thing as he seems more content to chip the puck off the boards at times. But scored his first career OHL goal in the first period off a weak point shot that eluded Phil Grubauer. With all the scouts in the building tonight, I have to think MacDonald did well to put himself on the map for a draft position in 2010.

Austin Levi (2010)
Had a strong game up until the last part of the third period. Was on the ice for both the Windsor 5th and 6th goals. The Dale Mitchell goal was a result of him failing to take his man at the net, while the Zack Kassian goal was a result of a turnover in the defensive end by Levi thanks to a hard forecheck from Justin Shugg. While Levi is mobile, he seems to have a hard time with the forecheck and knowing where and when to move the puck. The first two periods he was excellent though. Made a great play on a 3 on 1, using an active stick to break up an Eric Wellwood pass. Also looked good along the boards and off the rush defensively. An interesting prospect for sure. Unfortunately for him, he got beaten up a little bit by Adam Wallace after coming to the aid of his goaltender, who Wallace ran. Felt bad for him. Truthfully, he shouldn't have gotten a fighting major, and Wallace should have gotten an instigator. I'm not sure what it looked like live, but from home it looked like Levi went to just starting shoving Wallace after the play and instead, before he could touch Wallace, Adam had his gloves off and started throwing on Levi. Quite frankly, it didn't even look like Levi got his gloves off. I don't think he intended to fight there.

Tyler Seguin (2010)
Had a very strong start to the game. Was all over the ice, at both ends. Made a couple really nice plays in the defensive end to break up Windsor scoring chances, showcasing his all around game. Also had a few nice rushes into the Windsor end, showcasing his speed and acceleration. However, I felt like he struggled at times in the second and third. Had a few bad turnovers as he tried to force action up ice and stopped using his teammates. I think Hall outplayed him tonight.

R.J. Mahalak (2010)
Wanted to see more of him. Started off strong, had a couple of big hits and was active in the forecheck, but faded as the game went on. He may need a really strong playoff performance to help him get drafted in an injury plagued season.

Robbie Czarnik (LAK)
Played an absolutely tremendous game. Has speed, skill and perhaps even an underdeveloped mean streak. He's been unstoppable lately and now has 8 points in his last three games. He finished with 2 goals and an assist tonight. First goal was all Tyler Brown as he chipped the puck around Cam Fowler, beat him to the outside and fed a one handed pass to a streaking Czarnik for the tap in. Second goal was off a turnover by Mark Cundari off the faceoff, as Czarnik swarmed him, stole the puck and put it past Phil Grubauer. He earned a second period assist on Tyler Brown's goal, this time by returning the favor to Brown by doing all the work. He exploded into the offensive zone, got through one Windsor defender, used a toe drag on the next to get a shot off that was partially blocked right to Brown for the goal. In the second, he also picked up a pretty vicious checking from behind penalty as he tried to beat out Marc Cantin for a loose puck, and mushed his head into the end glass with his forearm. Cantin was bleeding from the head area and Windsor was rightfully calling for more than the two minutes he received. Still an impressive performance by a player who's turned heads since he joined the league.

Scott Wedgewood (2010)
Despite give up six goals, I thought he played a solid game. Made a lot of saves to keep his team in the game for as long as he could. Robbed Taylor Hall on a partial breakaway in the second period, as Hall got past the defense and tried to slide it home five hole following a deke, but Wedgewood stayed with him and kept the puck out. Did a good job with his rebound control and looks to be fairly poised in the net. I'm not sure I'd call any of the six goals against weak. He made 39 of 45 saves and took the loss.

Windsor Spitfires

r Hall (2010)
Hall was the opposite of Seguin. He started slowly but picked it up by game's end. In the second half of the second and during the third periods, he was nearly unstoppable. He showcased his elite speed by creating chances off the rush nearly every time up ice. Slipped past the defense in the second for a partial breakaway but was stoned by Wedgewood. Ended up scoring in the third by going hard to the net and taking a nice pass from Eric Wellwood, finishing back hand top shelf on Wedgewood. Hall also picked up two secondary assists. I think tonight Hall showed why he belongs at the top of the 2010 NHL Draft list.

Zack Kassian (BUF)
Kassian's second game back from suspension, he had an inconsistent effort. Had a couple of really strong shifts in the first period, threw a huge hit in the corner and had a strong shift on the cycle behind the net that ended in a scoring opportunity. But then in the second he disappeared completely. In the latter half of the third period, he reappeared and began to show why he was a first round NHL draft pick. Had a few more nice hits, and scored a beautiful goal to seal the victory for Windsor at 6-4. Took a feed in front of the net, deked out Wedgewood and put it home with one hand as he began to skate in the opposite direction. The knock all throughout his OHL career thus far has been the inconsistency between shifts and periods for Kassian and that appears to still be plaguing him. In order to be an elite NHL power forward, he's going to have to find a way to make an impact every time on the ice.

Justin Shugg (2010)
Second time in a row that Shugg has played very well when I've seen Windsor. I'm really starting to come around on him after originally being weary of his future NHL role. He's become a very good player on the forecheck, and if he can improve his skating (in particular his top speed), I think he could develop into a quality top 9 forward at the next level. Had a nice goal in the first to open the scoring for Windsor as he corralled a bouncing puck from Whalers defenseman Leo Jenner and went in alone on Scott Wedgewood, beating him forehand fivehole. He also earned the primary assist on the Zack Kassian goal by making a nice pass to Zach after stealing the puck from both Austin Levi and Tyler Brown. No way he's still #27 on my final OHL list for the draft.

Philip Grubauer (2010)
Had a very poor outing. Looked to be really fighting the puck early, and even though the Windsor defense wasn't really helping him out, he failed to help them out too. The Colin MacDonald goal was really ugly as I'm not sure the point shot left the ice. Boughner was right to pull him in the second period after giving up 4 goals on 15 shots. I gotta say, I've been disappointed with how inconsistent Grubauer has been in Windsor. I really thought he'd take the opportunity and run with it. He's going to need to have an excellent (or at least dependable) OHL playoffs to save his draft position.

That's it for tonight. Thoughts on the game? Thoughts on Taylor vs. Tyler?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

School Your Pool - Nathan Chiarlitti Hopes to Gain Exposure

Recently Ryan Yessie had a Q & A session with Sarnia defenseman Nathan Chiarlitti, which can be found here.

As such, I've written an article for School Your Pool based off the interview.

Nathan Chiarlitti Hopes to Gain Exposure

It'll be interesting to see how scouts view those three potential picks from the Sting, considering their lackluster season.