Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Top 10 - The Media Picks the Top 10

Happy Halloween everyone. Today's "All hallows eve" edition of the top 10 will feature the ten best players available from the OHL for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Before you say, "Otten what a cop out! Wouldn't that just be a rehash of the top 30 you posted a few weeks ago?" This is different.

Today's top 10 list is an amalgamation of several lists from several esteemed individuals. I took a poll of some of the finest media member and scout types the OHL has to offer and created a list that serves as the average between all of these individuals. Contributing to this piece are THN's Ryan Kennedy, Sportsnet's Patrick King, Hockey Prospectus & ESPN's Corey Pronman, Yahoo's Neate Sager, The New England Hockey Journal's Kirk Luedeke (also of the fantastic Bruins Draft Watch blogs), TV Cogeco's Stephen Clark, and of course myself (why not eh?).

10. Boone Jenner - Oshawa Generals
Received Votes From: 4 out of 7
Highest Placement: 2nd
Comments: While Jenner might be quickly becoming the forgotten man from the OHL (after such a strong rookie season), it appears he definitely still has his fans. One of our contributors says "He'll have a big year with the free wheeling, high powered Generals." Meanwhile, another says that the combination of his size and skill will be appealing...even if other players in the draft class outscore him. "NHL teams love players with size and skill. Look for his stock to rise rapidly throughout the season." I thought that was an interesting comment because if anything, it seems like his stock might have taken a hit so far this year due to the emergence of several other great forward talents in the OHL. Meanwhile, one contributor who didn't rank him said "he showed reasons why he's touted, big guy, soft hands, strong stride, but wacky mechanics and you can blow on him and he falls down."

9. Nicklas Jensen - Oshawa Generals
Received Votes From: 4 out of 7
Highest Placement: 4th
Comments: Jensen might just be the guy on this list who we look back on in June and say, "what the heck were we thinking having him this low?" He's getting better and better as he adjusts to the OHL, however the balanced scoring attack in Oshawa may ultimately keep him from inflated stats. His biggest asset is clearly his puck possession ability. As one contributor put it "he can wind it up and rush the puck like nobody's business." Meanwhile, another contributor says that his dominating performance at the Under 18's B-pool last year should also factor in combination with his strong start in Oshawa to make him a very solid draft prospect.

8. Ryan Strome - Niagara IceDogs
Received Votes From: 6 out of 7
Highest Placement: 6th
Comments: Like Jensen, this could be one we look back on and wonder. The hesitation about putting him higher might stem from his sudden offensive outburst. As one contributor said, " he's got kill and creativity to burn, but how much he can keep it up will be the question." But offensive skills don't just disappear overnight. One contributor said "his offensive potential is impressive." While another says, "he's definitely a creative, instinctive playmaker, but has put it all together and is also demonstrating some nice finish early in the season." But one contributor is worried about his potential as a goal scorer. "He has a very sharp curve to his stick, and he tends to hold the puck in the heel of the blade, covered by the blade rather than the usual sweet spot. It works for him since he's a playmaker, but it's a horrid thing for his shot." Interestingly enough, those who rated him had him 6th, 8th, 9th or 10th, but no higher. Definitely some hesitation to put him higher this early.

7. Lucas Lessio - Oshawa Generals
Received Votes From: 5 out of 7
Highest Placement: 3rd
Comments: Is this the Oshawa Generals Top 10? Sure tells you how much talent they have offensively this year (and the next couple of years). Lessio is interesting based on the polar opinions of him. Those who like his skill set, love him. While others look for him to be more consistent. As one contributor said "Wonder if we'll start hearing the C-word, consistency, with him." But Lessio has some "plus tools." Another contributor says, "an outstanding skater with good size who has the skills to generate offense at will. When he’s focused and on his game, there aren’t many in any league who can stop him." Again, we hear talk of his consistency. You have to wonder, if he starts to put it together every night, will he inch up this list?

6. Dougie Hamilton - Niagara IceDogs
Received Votes From: 6 out of 7
Highest Placement: 3rd (twice)
Comments: OK, so the running tally so far is, 3 Gennies and 2 Dogs. The rest of the OHL: zero. Seriously though, Hamilton is quickly turning into quite the force in the OHL, a giant (pun intended) contributor at both ends of the ice. As one contributor put it, "NHL teams love their 6'4 mobile defenseman." Ain't that the truth. So much so that one contributor even ranked Hamilton ahead of Ryan Murphy. "While nowhere near the offensive presence that Murphy is, Hamilton’s size and upside makes him a more valuable commodity and gives him the edge."

5. Alexander Khokhlachev - Windsor Spitfires
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement: 2nd
Comments: Ah...finally someone who doesn't play for Oshawa or Niagara. "The Khok" has emerged as a bona fide offensive superstar in the OHL after coming over from Russia this offseason. One contributor believes it was his decision to come to the OHL that's made him such a hot commodity. "Ultra-skilled and creative Russian may not have a lot of size, but did himself a huge favor by coming over to play in the OHL, proving he can thrive in the North American game with a blazing start." Similar opinions were echoed. "Put me on Team KoKo. He's already playing power-play point and taking key faceoffs when Windsor has needed help in those areas." Meanwhile, one contributor was especially impressed with the way he drives to the net for goal scoring opportunities. "He has a burning desire to score goals." Looks like all of us might have to join Team KoKo.

4. Matt Puempel - Peterborough Petes
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement: 1st
Comments: In pretty much every contributor's comments, the term "natural scorer" was thrown around. The reigning CHL rookie of the year may be part of a struggling team, but he's certainly picked up where he left off last season. However, some aren't convinced the rest of his game makes him worthy of a high selection. "Where’s the beef? There’s no denying the pure skill and offensive capacity of the 2010 CHL ROY. But, not sold on the passion, consistency and ability to bring the innumerable talents to the ice on every shift."

3. Gabriel Landeskog - Kitchener Rangers
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement: 1st (twice)
Comments: One contributor pretty much said it best, "just that big power winger the NHL likes." Landeskog pretty much does it all on the ice, including playing the role of captain. The fact that he's stepped it up significantly offensively this year is just icing on the cake. In other words, "The newly minted captain of the Rangers can do it all; a premier power forward package with the production to back it all up." Another contributor compared Landeskog's game to a top five pick last year. "His blend of physical play and two-way game make him a valuable prospect. His game has shades of Nino Niederreiter's and his willingness to compete is second to none."

2. Brandon Saad - Saginaw Spirit
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement: 2nd (twice)
Comments: Interestingly, Saad comes in at second on the list...despite not receiving a single vote for first. It was his consistency among voters that lead him to such a high rating though, as no one had him lower than 5th. His size, speed and skill package clearly make him a safe bet to be a high draft pick come June. "Not quite as productive as Landeskog thus far, but a very similar player in terms of superior size/skill/grit mix that every NHL team covets," says one contributor. The fact that he's been a large part of a great story in Saginaw makes him even more valuable. Interestingly enough, one contributor thinks we might just be hitting the tip of the iceberg. "Saad's offensive game still has room to grow, which is a scary thought given his start."

1. Ryan Murphy - Kitchener Rangers
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement: 1st (four times)
Comments: After getting cut from the Canadian Ivan Hlinka team, it's pretty clear that Murphy is out for blood this year. Somewhat undersized, he's got a lot to prove in Kitchener this year. And he's done just that so far. Part of the negative press around Murphy's game comes from the illusion that he's a one dimensional player. As one contributor put it, "it is unfortunate people want to focus on the wrong more than the oh-so-right." But he's improved defensively by leaps and bounds. One contributor says, "the defensive aspect of his game has improved and even with the lack of size, he can control the offensive tempo of a game like no other defender can. If he keeps atop the OHL scoring race, it will be hard to keep him down." Another contributor agrees, "he has the complete package. If he were a few inches taller and 20 pounds heavier he would likely be the consensus top pick for this year's draft." That's quite the bevy of compliments.

Others receiving votes were...
Vlad Namestnikov - London Knights (three votes)
Scott Harrington - London Knights (three votes)
Tobias Rieder - Kitchener Rangers (two votes)
Daniel Catenacci - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (one vote)
Vincent Trocheck - Saginaw Spirit (one vote)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Yes...It's Ryan Strome's goal

I'm sure many of you have seen it by now, but I figured everyone else was posting it, so WHY NOT!

Here's the thing, this wasn't some OHL rookie or marginal roster filler. Strome undressed Whalers captain Beau Schmitz on the play. Here's another thing, the move was done at top speed, which is obviously incredibly impressive. Lastly, for those that aren't familiar with Strome and the way he plays the game, these stickhandling displays are not out of the ordinary. He's an incredibly creative offensive player, especially off the rush. You'll see him turn a defender inside out nearly every time you watch him play.

The scary thing is...what happens when he gets even faster and even stronger?

Hats off to you Mr. Strome for a thing of beauty. Speaking of hats, I'll eat mine if by the end of the year, Strome isn't in consideration for the top 10 (if he keeps playing the way he's playing).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Game Report: 67's and Generals from October 24

The NFL is on all day & Monday night, so why not watch a matinee OHL game instead? That was my thinking process today in deciding to catch Ottawa and Oshawa on the OHL Action Pack. I had yet to see Ottawa play this year and what a better game to watch than a divisional match up against the Gennies?

The Generals completely dominated play in this game, yet came out on the losing end. Oshawa did manage to salvage a point by getting the game to overtime (after scoring three straight goals in the third period), but Petr Mrazek backstopped the 67's to a shootout victory.

Ottawa had a lot of difficulty with the size and speed of Oshawa's forwards. While the 67's defense did do well to contain the initial rushes of Oshawa's forwards, it was the second effort and the constant motor of the Generals that gave them trouble. Every shift was worked almost like clockwork. Drive to the net, stymied, but then regain possession of the puck and set up in the Ottawa end. Ottawa had only 6 shots in the second and third period combined. It was definitely thanks to Petr Mrazek that they came out on top.

And for the Generals, it was some sloppy defensive and neutral zone play that cost them. Some bad turnovers by the defense really ruined the strong game by Oshawa's forwards. I think they really need to acquire a big, tough, physical stay at home guy (say is Dalton Prout available?). But their forwards are among the best in the entire league.

Here are the player reports:

Oshawa Generals

#4 - Scott Valentine (Drafted by Anaheim in 2009)

He had a pretty tough game I thought. He's really stepped it up offensively this year, but part of that could be because he's taking more chances. Looked to take the puck into the offensive zone a lot and was constantly pinching to try and keep the puck in...occasionally getting caught. The first 67's goal was a direct result of a Valentine turnover in his own zone. He tried to skate the puck out from behind the net, tried and failed to elude the forechecking Tyler Toffoli. Toffoli picked his pocket and put it past Zador. Also still tries to look for the big hit in the defensive zone. Ryan Hanes came down the wing one on one with Valentine. Valentine went for the big hit but Hanes stepped around him (and went through him) and went in alone. But Zador made the save. Big hits are a big part of Valentine's game, but he needs to be more patient. He'll get killed at the next level defensively, if he doesn't let the play come to him first. But I love the fact that he's becoming more involved offensively, as I've always felt he had the talent. He just needs to pick his spots better.

#7 - Tony DeHart (Drafted by the New York Islanders in 2010)
DeHart wasn't incredibly noticeable to be honest. Not really a bad thing. He was active offensively and did a good job of bringing the puck up ice. Defensively, he was solid.

#17 - Nicklas Jensen (NHL Draft Eligible in 2011)
One of the most impressive performances I've seen of a draft eligible prospect so far this season. Funny thing is that he didn't register a point, but sure as hell deserved one. He was absolutely fantastic. I can't say enough good things about his play. First thing you'll notice is how strong he is on his skates. His first step isn't amazing (but not poor either), but once he gets going he's very hard to stop. He protects the puck with his body very well and had a couple really nice rushes where he put the 67's defenders on his back on the way to the net but just couldn't finish. On another play, he outhustled the 67 defenders to a loose puck along the wall, cut hard to the middle, got knocked hard, but maintained possession of the puck while skating on one leg. Just a bull on skates. Very agile for a big man too. Made a really nice play behind the net, changing direction very quickly to generate a wrap around chance, but was stoned by Mrazek going post to post. He hustled defensively too and had a couple of good plays in his own zone to break up scoring chances. Put me on the Jensen bandwagon.

#21 - Scott Laughton (Draft Eligible in 2012)
Was quite impressed by the Generals first rounder. You can see why he's currently 2nd in goals scored by players from the 2010 Priority draft (behind only first overall pick Galchenyuk). Fills the open space on the ice well and skates well too. Scored a goal off a nice feed from Christian Thomas, where Laughton fired a wrist shot past Mrazek, catching him going cross crease. He's going to be an excellent player in this league.

#22 - Boone Jenner (Draft Eligible in 2011)
One of the few Generals forwards I was disappointed with. He's such a big guy, I wish he'd use his size more. I'm not asking him to be Cam Neely, but I felt like I rarely noticed him because he wasn't very active off or on the puck. I don't think the skating is as much of an issue as some other people have he kept up well with the pace. He just didn't do a whole heck of a lot.

#24 - Calvin de Haan (Drafted by the New York Islanders in 2009)
de Haan is too good for this league. At this point, a lack of size and strength was probably the only thing that kept him out of the NHL this year. In the first period, I was a little disappointed with his play as I felt he was being a bit too conservative. But he really picked it up in the second and third period, rushing the puck up ice with ease. He's just such a smart player. It's little things that make you appreciate the high level at which he thinks the game. For example, on the powerplay he was forced to receive a choppy pass at the blueline, bobbled it a bit, and gained control with two Ottawa 67's PK'ers directly to his left and right. A lot of defenseman force a pass and panic, but de Haan gained control and out waited his opponents, keeping possession instead of passing. Then he got to his teammate on the wing. The game tying goal was a thing of beauty too. Took a pass, went to the middle of the ice, was going to shoot and decided against it, partially losing the puck behind him. But he kicked the puck up from skate to stick, kept on going and wired it far side past Mrazek with about a minute left. Defensively, he was flawless too.

#27 - Christian Thomas (Drafted by the New York Rangers in 2010)
Had a very solid game and is really firing on all cylinders right now. He is not afraid to shoot from anywhere on the ice, but at the same time he's smart about it. Gets himself into position to shoot really quickly and was constantly trying to use opposing defenders as a screen. But it was his passing game that really stood out today. It's his playmaking ability that has taken the step forward this year. He's much more patient with the puck and is letting the play develop around him. His assist on Scott Laughton's goal was especially nice, as he rushed down the ice, was cut off, spun out and waited just long enough to draw the defenders in to him. Then he fired a pass to Laughton in the slot for the goal. He's always got the motor running too and is constantly lifting sticks and winning battles in the corners. He has to be a shoe in for an invite to Team Canada's Under 20 camp at this point.

#38 - Lucas Lessio (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Jensen definitely stole the spotlight today, but Lessio was pretty good too. Right now, his speed is his best weapon. In particular, his first step/acceleration is fantastic. He's at full speed in only a couple of strides and it really makes him an impact player. Not only off the rush, but he closes in on defenders very quickly in the offensive zone as their trying to get the puck out. But don't confuse that as forechecking, which is something I'd love to see him use his speed for more. He had a couple of really nice rushes to the net, but couldn't finish on any of them. He was OK along the boards, but he needs to engage physically more.

#33 - Michael Zador (Drafted by Tampa Bay in 2009)
A big year for Zador in a lot of ways. He's being expected to be the starter for a team with aspirations in winning the Eastern Conference. And he's trying to earn a contract from Tampa Bay. While he hasn't been terrible this year, he hasn't been fantastic either. He did come up with a few big stops for the Generals, but at the same time he probably should have had the Cody Ceci goal. He still gives up way too many juicy rebounds into the slot area, of which Ottawa was never in position to capitalize on. On the plus side, he kept his team in the shootout, making four quality saves before giving up the game winner to Thomas Nesbitt. It'll be interesting to see what the Generals do this year. My hunch would guess that they try and get another quality goaltender to push Zador.

Ottawa 67's

#16 - Tyler Toffoli (Drafted by Los Angeles in 2010)

Toffoli had a good game. He was one of the few 67 forwards who was doing a whole heck of a lot. Was forcing a lot of turnovers in the offensive and neutral zones, and it was good to see him hustling. The skating looks a bit better, but he'll still need to work on becoming more explosive towards the net. Scored a nice goal by catching Scott Valentine coming out from behind the net, stripping him and firing a wrist shot past Michael Zador. On the downside, he did take a stupid penalty with about two minutes left, that lead to the eventual game tying goal. He was forechecking hard, forced the Generals defender out, but then used his stick to try and hold him up. He had no chance of getting the puck as the defender was past him, so it was just a sloppy play on his part.

#17 - Steven Janes (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Janes is a big guy and he skates well. That's really about all I can tell about him at this time. He worked the cycle well and is definitely tough to separate from the puck, but I'm not sure about the level of offensive skill he has. Definitely a lunch pail type guy, but with his size and speed, he could generate interest from NHL teams.

#18 - Shane Prince (Draft Eligible in 2011)
I was really disappointed in Prince's play. There is definitely some speed to his game, but it seemed like every time he had the puck, he had it stripped or he was muscled off it. As such, he wasn't really able to create anything offensively, save a nice saucer pass off the rush to Cody Lindsay...who would have been in all alone had he been able to coral the puck. I'm definitely going to need to see him play again (live this time) to make a fair judgment on his draft status.

#33 - Dalton Smith (Drafted by Columbus in 2010)
Offensively he was completely invisible. But he was very physical and had a couple of thunderous hits. But I'd definitely like to see him become more involved with the puck on his stick.

#77 - Ryan Martindale (Drafted by Edmonton in 2010)
If I hadn't have been looking for #77, I don't think I would have noticed he was playing. Martindale was completely invisible and it shows he's still battling the consistency issues he has since he came into the OHL. As a 1991, he needs to be better.

#83 - Cody Ceci (Draft Eligible in 2012)
Ceci looks good...and improved. He definitely looks a little bigger and a little stronger. He did a nice job of containing Oshawa's forwards off the rush and did an even better job of winning battles against them in the corner. He also looks more involved offensively and had a couple of nice rushes with the puck. He scored his goal from the point, releasing a wrister goal through a crowd and into the back of the net.

#1 - Petr Mrazek (Drafted by Detroit in 2010)
Mrazek was absolutely fantastic. He got beat on a couple of well placed shots that caught him going the wrong way in his crease, taking away his angle. He might want the Alain Berger goal back at the side of the net, but his defense was more to blame for leaving two players wide open at the side of the net on the powerplay. He didn't really know how to play it and was caught in the middle of his net...probably anticipating a pass in hopes that one of his defenders would pressure Berger. But he really kept Ottawa in a game they didn't deserve being in. He comes out to challenge shooters and did a VERY good job of controlling his rebounds. He managed to hang on to pretty much everything. He showcased a good glove today too, with a couple of highlight worthy glove saves. I definitely noticed that he isn't flopping around nearly as much as he was last year either, and seems to have reformed his style a bit so that he can take away the upper half. He made 35 saves...and stopped all five shooters in the shootout for the win.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Brandon Francisco's Birth Date and Draft Eligibility

I traded emails today with Brandon Francisco's agent Brian Feldman.

Brian has helped to shed light on the correct birth date for the Sarnia Sting winger. There are conflicting reports due to a different date being printed in the OHL media guide for his Priority Draft, than the one being seen on the OHL and Sting websites. Many (like myself) had heard the one from the media guide was correct, giving Francisco a November birth date and making him eligible for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Well...turns out the date listed on the OHL website is correct. Francisco was born in February, which means he IS eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

I've edited my early season top 30 to reflect this change. HERE.

Thanks to Brian Feldman for the heads up!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Game Report: Majors and Greyhounds from October 15

I was in the house for the Majors and Greyhounds game on Friday. It was a pretty sloppy game. The Majors were pretty undisciplined, taking 8 minor penalties. But when they weren't shorthanded, they dominated the pace of play.

The Majors got out to a 2-0 lead, only to surrender three straight goals to the Hounds. Down 3-2, the Majors got a game tying goal from Devante Smith Pelly with about 10 seconds left. Then they got a powerplay goal from Jordan Mayer, who stepped out of the box on a breakaway, as the game winner in overtime.

The Hounds are currently 8th in the Western Conference, with their inconsistent play to blame. Hopefully the addition of Chris Perugini in net can spark a better effort every night.

On to the player reports...

Mississauga Majors

#4 - Justin Shugg (Drafted by Carolina in 2010)

Shugg good game, was driving hard to the net and trying to make things happen. He also looked good on the PK (and got a ton of practice on the night too). Offensively, he had two nice passes off the rush, one to Brace for the 2nd goal of the game, second to Smith Pelly for the game tying goal.

#5 - Stuart Percy (Draft Eligible in 2011)
This was his first game back from an apparent neck injury. I thought Percy looked very solid at both ends of the ice. He was very active in bringing the puck up, although I would have liked to seen him more on the PP. He definitely looks bigger this year and was ready and willing to assert himself physically (had a couple nice hits). He did take a couple of stupid/lazy penalties though.

#23 - Devante Smith Pelly (Drafted by Anaheim in 2010)
I felt like he was a non factor until late in the third period, then he became really hard to handle down low and scored the game tying goal off the feed from Justin Shugg. Without his usual linemate Casey Cizikas (out with an undisclosed injury), Smith-Pelly didn't look to have his normal jump.

#24 - Gregg Sutch (Drafted by Buffalo in 2010)
I thought Sutch was the Majors best forward, even though he didn't hit the score sheet. He was a beast on the forecheck and on the PK. His skating looks improved (especially his first step), as he drove to the net with conviction. It really seems like it's only a matter of time until he breaks out...but then again I'm always saying that.

#27 - Mika Partanen (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Outside of a few shifts at the beginning of the game where he looked strong on the puck, I hardly noticed him.

#34 - JP Anderson (Signed by the San Jose Sharks)
Anderson really held the fort during the Hounds 8 PP chances. His ability to take away the bottom of the net remains his biggest strength. However he still gives up too many rebounds. The Hounds 3rd goal (by Vern Cooper) was as a result of a juicy rebound to slot. On the Hounds 2nd goal by Brett Thompson, Anderson clearly didn't play the angle right and Thompson put a well placed shot to the lower far side of the net. But it was a solid performance and Anderson made 22 saves for the win.

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

#3 - Brandon Archibald (Drafted by Columbus in 2010)

I thought he looked good defensively and physically, his size, skating and physicality profiles him as a solid NHL defensive guy. Although he didn't look great on the PP, as he had some difficulty handling the puck. This might be an outlier though, as I felt like he handled himself quite well on the powerplay last year. One thing I was looking for was more of a step forward in a puck carrying role, considering Archibald is a quality skater. But that role was mostly handled by Curcuruto.

#7 - Daniel Catenacci (Draft Eligible in 2011)
He was probably the best player on the ice. Catenacci showcased tremendous speed, and really disrupts play at both ends of the ice. He also got under the skin of the Majors players (got Derek Shoenmakers VERY angry on one shift where he got his stick up a little high). I was especially impressed by his play in his own end. He has a really active stick and is constantly buzzing around trying to cause a turnover. He also seems pretty fearless and drives hard to the net, creating plays for his teammates. One of those drives started the play that ended up as Hounds first goal by Omelyaneko. Colour me very impressed.

#24 - Gianluca Curcuruto (Draft Eligible in 2012)
He looked really good for a 16 year old defenseman. Curcuruto was solid at both ends of the ice and was poised in the puck rush. He also did a really good job defensively off the rush, and seems to play angles well. The Majors had a couple of one on one opportunities against him and both times he negated the scoring chance by separating his man from the puck.

#25 - Brock Beukeboom (Drafted by Tampa Bay in 2010)
I didn't notice him at all really, is that a bad thing or a good thing?

#27 - Nick Cousins (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Cousins got better as the game went on. He displayed good speed, kind of a pest similarly to Catenacci. He's definitely not afraid to do the dirty work on a line and probably profiles as one of those pesky energy guys with hands.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Early Season Top 30 for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft

With a full month of OHL action under our belts, I think it's fair to take an early look ahead to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Over the coming weeks, you'll start to see a lot of scouting lists thrown at you, eventually leading up to the release of the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's Preliminary list in November.

This list is of my own personal opinion, from seeing these guys in action and hearing things about them. It's not intended to be a prognostication of the unfolding of the NHL entry draft (from the OHL's vantage point), but a personal ranking of what order I'd select or rank the available players. Basically how I see things right now.

Keep in mind though, that it is very early. At this time last year, guys like Jared Knight and Dalton Smith were ranked very low and Mark Visentin, Greg McKegg, and Devante Smith-Pelly didn't even crack my top 30. However, all five managed to be ranked in my final Top 20. (My early season 2010 rankings can be found here btw). Point is, there will be a lot of moving and shaking as the season progresses. Some guys will prove to be having more than just a hot start, or a cold start.

This year's crop of Ontario Hockey League players is incredibly star studded in my opinion. As you may have seen in an article I wrote at the beginning of the year, one CHL scout I talked too had nearly half the first round as OHL players. As the season progresses, that's not looking like an exaggeration at all, as the top end talent available from this league is phenomenal. While there doesn't seem to be a contender for first overall (which the OHL has had a strangle hold over the past four years), there is a strong group of players who could contend for the top 10.

One last thing to mention is that I have not included any "draft re-entry" players. No second or third time eligible players on this list. Just going with first year eligible players at this point.

Anyway, here it is...My Early Season OHL Top 30 for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft!

1. Ryan Murphy - D - Kitchener Rangers
Where do I even start? He's currently tied for the league lead in scoring...and he's currently doubling the next closest defenseman in scoring from the blueline (Mike MacIntyre) with 16 points through his first 7 games. Will he keep up this torrid pace? Probably not, but he's looking pretty impossible to stop right now. Sure he's slightly undersized (5'11), but he's the perfect defenseman for today's NHL. At the beginning of the season, I read a quote from Kirk Luedeke's awesome blog (here). ""If you don't stop this kid at your own blue line, you're ****ed." How true that is. But the biggest developments are that he's improved defensively, he's improved his play on the powerplay and he's learning how to control the pace of the game in all situations. Pretty hard to ignore him at this point.

2. Gabriel Landeskog - F - Kitchener Rangers
The Kitchener Rangers haven't missed a beat without Skinner and Morin, and while Murphy has been a big part of that, Landeskog has had an equal part. I think a lot of people who hadn't seen him play assumed he was riding the coattails of those two last year, and might not have the same potential offensively. I have to admit, I wasn't sure the extent of his offensive ceiling either. But he's proven that he can carry the load offensively and has become one of the most well rounded players in the OHL. At any point in time he can fill a different role. He can play the power game. He can play the finesse game. He can be a goalscorer or a playmaker. He's continuing to improve defensively and might be the leading candidate to be the next captain in Kitchener.

3. Brandon Saad - F - Saginaw Spirit
Another complete package player offensively. He hasn't missed a beat in his transition to the OHL and has the Spirit playing at a real elite level right now. He's got size, speed and skill and could develop into a big time goal scorer moving forward. While he's got the body of a power forward (6'2, 210lbs), I'm not sure I'd label him as that. There's potential to grow into a more dominating physical presence, but right now he's probably more along the lines of a Rick Nash, Jeff Carter type of player. There's certainly nothing wrong with that though.

4. Alexander Khokhlachev - F - Windsor Spitfires
I've been incredibly impressed with this OHL rookie. He's a very explosive player who possesses high end skating ability and a very high skill level. He's been fantastic for the Spitfires and has come completely as advertised thus far. The most impressive thing about him is that while he isn't big (5'10), he's fearless in driving to the net and working in high traffic areas. He definitely has a little bit of sandpaper to his game, which complements his high skill level nicely. Can you just see it now, NHL fans with signs at the draft saying "We want the Khok!"

5. Matt Puempel - F - Peterborough Petes
The Peterborough Petes have just been awful so far this year. But Puempel has been one of the lone bright spots, picking up from where he left off last season. He's an elite goal scorer and he has that Jeff Skinner like quality of finding the open ice and being in the right spot at the right time for scoring opportunities. He's very elusive in the offensive end. He's also clearly added strength in the offseason and looks more confident in taking the puck to the net which is helping him to be a bigger presence on the ice.

6. Dougie Hamilton - D - Niagara IceDogs
Hamilton has stepped up huge so far this season and has really rounded out his game. He started to generate a lot of attention at the Ivan Hlinka for his solid play, but has carried that over to the new OHL season. As the saying goes, you can't teach size and Hamilton has that at 6'4, pushing 200lbs. But he's greatly improved on the offensive side of the puck and looks way more confident running the powerplay and skating the puck out of his own zone. The improvements offensively help him to become a real solid two way defenseman as he's already a solid defensive player with a nasty edge. Hamilton is looking like the total package.

7. Lucas Lessio - F - Oshawa Generals
The Oshawa Generals have had a great start to the year (especially offensively) and the addition of Lessio (amongst others) has greatly helped. Lessio is a very dynamic player. He might just be one of the fastest skaters in the league and he uses that speed to create offensive scoring chances. But he's just as effective when the game slows down, where he takes over on the cycle. He draws a lot of penalties from his hard work along the boards and in puck possession. The one criticism I might have is that I'd like to see him use his teammates more, as he can suffer from tunnel vision at times on the rush, which can lead to turnovers and squandered opportunities.

8. Ryan Strome - F - Niagara IceDogs
Maybe the biggest surprise so far this season. Strome is actually currently tied for the league lead in scoring (16 points). I'd probably have him a little higher if I was completely certain that he could sustain this level of play. If he continues to play like he has, he'll continue to shoot up the list. Offensively, he's the total package. Good size, excellent skater, creative offensively, great vision and not afraid to pay the price to make a play. It's only a matter of time until people take notice of who he is.

9. Vincent Trocheck - F - Saginaw Spirit
Similar to Strome, Trocheck doesn't receive a lot of attention for a couple of reasons. One, he plays in Saginaw, and two he's American. But he's the real deal. He doesn't have elite size (5'11), but everything else in his game is above average. He skates well, protects the puck, uses his linemates and finds the scoring lanes. Best of all, Trocheck has a lot of grit to his game and even though he's not the biggest, he's in their battling on the forecheck, along the wall and in front of the net. With Saginaw playing so well, like Strome, it's only a matter of time before people start to talk about Vincent Trocheck.

10. Boone Jenner - F - Oshawa Generals
The OHL has become so loaded with offensive talent for this draft, it's almost like people have forgotten about Jenner and how well he played as a rookie last year. He's your prototypical power center with the size to clear some room for himself offensively and the skill to take advantage of it. Ultimately, I think his lack of elite skating talent slots him a bit lower as it may be a concern for NHL scouts as I'm not convinced he has enough natural offensive talent to allow them to overlook that. On the plus side, he looks more determined to be a consistent physical factor this year.

11. Scott Harrington - D - London Knights
The London Knights have been a big disappointment to me so far this season and Harrington's lack of offensive improvement is just as disappointing. He's taking more initiative offensively and he's using his strong skating stride to bring the puck out of the defensive zone, but the results just haven't been there. He's solid defensively and he's increased his intensity this year, making him tougher to play against. But I'm always weary of shutdown defenseman who don't have "elite" size. Bottom line, he has to start showing something at the offensive end.

12. Daniel Catenacci - F - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
After performing strongly at the Ivan Hlinka, Catenacci has carried over his strong play to Sault Ste. Marie this year. The former first overall OHL selection currently leads the Hounds in scoring, but the team as a whole has struggled (and currently sit last in the Western Conference). But Catenacci is a pretty complete player. He's a very explosive player and creates a lot of opportunities for his teammates through his hard work on the ice. That speed and grit could make him a solid 3rd line player in the NHL, but there are still some questions. Does he have the offensive potential to be more than that? Does his lack of size (5'10) affect his draft status?

13. Vladislav Namestnikov - F - London Knights
There's a lot to like about Namestnikov. He seems to be a very good playmaker with the vision and stickhandling ability to help create scoring chances for his linemates. But I can't help but compare him to some of the similar players ranked ahead of him, and in comparison he lacks the explosiveness that they possess. But then again, he's not getting a lot of help offensively in London.

14. Nicklas Jensen - F - Oshawa Generals
More than likely, we're probably just seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Oshawa's Jensen. The Danish forward has size and skill package that makes him an attractive selection. Pretty much everything is there except the consistency. At times he seems like he wants to really be involved physically too. If he can continue to round out his game and put up close to a point per game, he'll likely start moving up the list.

15. Tobias Rieder - F - Kitchener Rangers
Has been a pleasant surprise for the Rangers who were expecting him to produce offensively, but not be a top 10 scorer in the league. He's not incredibly big (5'10), but he's very quick and very elusive coming down the wing. One of those really slippery players who's hard to contain because he keeps the motor running. He definitely has a lot of offensive skill, but he'll need to get stronger and round out his game to further catch the attention of scouts.

16. Stuart Percy - D - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
He's only played two games so far this year, missing action due to an apparent neck injury, but had 2 assists and was a +5. And I saw enough of him last year to know he's worthy of this high a spot on the list. Percy is just a solid all around defenseman. He's smart at both ends and hopefully he returns from injury soon so that he can continue to progress. The only negative I've heard is that some scouts believe his skating to be only average, which could ultimately affect his effectiveness as a puck rusher at the next level.

17. Mark Scheifele - F - Barrie Colts
There's a lot to like about Scheifele. There's also a lot to be learned about him. As an OHL rookie who played Tier 2 last year, 7 games in the OHL is a pretty narrow spectrum to make a judgment on. But he's got the size, skill, and smarts to put up points from the center position. While Barrie's defense has been a nightmare this year, the offensive production from players like Scheifele has to help keep some level of team (and fan) confidence.

18. Brandon Francisco - F - Sarnia Sting
With all the offensive talent that's come on to the scene in Sarnia, it's almost as if Francisco has been placed on the back burner. While he hasn't quite started the year as strong as he finished last season, he remains a top flight offensive talent with the hands, speed, and creativity to be a top flight scoring threat. His size (at 5'10) might be a bit of a deterrent in comparing him with the other offensively talented players in this draft crop, if he can continue to improve his strength and consistency, he could still find himself in the first couple of rounds.

19. Stefan Noesen - F - Plymouth Whalers
I really liked what I saw from Noesen last year...when he played. A really hard worker and generally pesky forward. It's great to see that he's taken full advantage of the increased offensive opportunity he's been given this year. Through the preseason and the start of the season, he's shown that he can be relied upon to produce offensively and that he has the hands and hockey sense to create off the chances he creates from his dirty work.

20. Rickard Rakell - F - Plymouth Whalers
I look at Rickard Rakell similarly to Oshawa's Nicklas Jensen. A forward with good size who's starting to look like a real complete player. Again, there's that hint of more coming, especially in terms of his physical play.

21. Brett Ritchie - F - Sarnia Sting
Perhaps this ranking is more a reflection of what he's capable of and not what he's achieved, but I had a hard time ranking Ritchie any lower...even if he might deserve it for his poor start to the OHL season. From what I've seen, he's made strides in improving his speed (in particular his acceleration), so that should be helping his offensive game. But with only 1 goal and 2 assists through 8 games, he's getting completely overshadowed by the likes of Yakupov and Galchenyuk. With his size, Ritchie needs to start pushing people around and start to put the puck in the net.

22. Nick Cousins - F - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Cousins has put on some size this offseason (both in height and weight), which will definitely help his draft stock. He's a pretty similar player to Daniel Catenacci, with speed and grit to go along with mild size issues. But he's not nearly as creative as Catenacci, nor is he as complete of an offensive player. But high energy guys with good hands have their value.

23. Garrett Meurs - F - Plymouth Whalers
I expected really big things from Meurs this season, as it was clear last season that he had the skill level to really explode offensively this year. But I've been disappointed thus far. He's putting up assists, but hasn't really been a big factor. He still flashes the skill to take over the game offensively, but doesn't look like he's added the strength to help him create room for himself. He still needs to take better care of the puck. It's really early in the season and if Meurs catches fire offensively, he'll shoot up this list as he has first round talent.

24. Shane Prince - F - Ottawa 67's
Prince is a great story to start the year. A late 1992 who's finally putting it together in his draft year (his 3rd year in the league). I'm still not entirely sure what to make of him though. He's got the speed and he's clearly an intelligent offensive player, but does he have the skill set to be a top 6 player in the NHL? I'll need to see him more this year and see him continue his scoring pace to shake the "tweener" tag I've got on him right now.

25. Austen Brassard - F - Belleville Bulls
The Bulls have had a miserable start to the year and Brassard has been a big disappointment thus far (like most of the Bulls younger players). He looked so good after the trade from Windsor last year and has the size and skill to make a big impact. But he's started off the year really cold and his skating doesn't look like it's improved a lot last year.

26. Spencer Abraham - D - Brampton Battalion
One of those come out of nowhere types (a 15th rounder) who's playing sensational hockey for Brampton. He's a two way defenseman with good mobility and he's really electrified Brampton's powerplay (along with fellow youngsters Marcus McIvor and Dylan Blujus). We'll see if he has the stamina to keep this up.

27. Tyson Teichmann - G - Belleville Bulls
Bulls fans are pretty frustrated with his play thus far and he's shouldered a lot of the blame for the team's poor start. He's been giving up a fair amount of weak goals and one has to think his confidence probably isn't at a high level right now. But he was the go to guy fro Canada at the Ivan Hlinka and deserves some credit for backstopping the team to a Gold medal. The question is...will the real Tyson Teichmann please stand up?

28. Barclay Goodrow - F - Brampton Battalion
Goodrow has great size and could be a real solid scoring power forward down the line. He's got a good wrist shot and manages to get himself into position for scoring opportunities. But he needs to continue to work on his footwork, especially if he wants to take advantage of his size by taking the puck to the net.

29. David Broll - F - Erie Otters
Broll is pretty similar to Goodrow and these guys rankings are probably pretty interchangeable. Broll is the more physical player right now, but he's also more prone to bouts of invisibility (IMO). He also needs to improve his quickness to become a more consistent (and visible) offensive threat.

30. Justin Thomas - F - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Last year, Dalton Smith was ranked 30th by me in my prelim rankings. Interestingly enough, Thomas is a pretty similar player. Similar build, similar skill set. Loves to crash and bang, will throw 'em down and can score too. The NHL loves guys like Thomas. He could definitely move up the list if he can prove he's not just off to a hot start.

Honorable Mentions (Others who I seriously considered):
Dylan Smoskowitz - F - Barrie Colts
Michael Curtis - F - Belleville Bulls
Steven Strong - D - Belleville Bulls
Alex Basso - D - Belleville Bulls
Zach Bell - D - Brampton Battalion
Alan Quine - F - Kingston Frontenacs
Clark Seymour - D - Kingston Frontenacs
Mike Partanen - F - Mississauga Majors
Mitchell Theoret - F - Niagara IceDogs
John Chartrand - G - Niagara IceDogs
Steven Janes - F - Ottawa 67's
Tyler Graovac - F - Ottawa 67's
Tadeas Galansky - G - Saginaw Spirit
Craig Duininck - D - Windsor Spitfires

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Top 10 - Under the Radar Draft Eligbles Off to a Good Start

We're three weeks into the 2010-2011 OHL season and teams are starting to realize what they have to work with for the year. Rosters are becoming more finalized, line-ups are gaining chemistry and coaches are really starting to solidify their lines and responsibilities.

With that being said, many players have failed to live up to expectations thus far, just as many teams have. Adversely, many players have gotten off to great starts and several teams have been huge surprises (Brampton Battalion I'm looking at you).

Today's list looks at several of those "surprise" players; the guys who've really stepped up their game early in the season. But more specifically, it looks at the 2011 NHL Draft Eligible players who've exploded out of the gate and DESERVE your attention. Call them what you want, "sleepers," or "under the radar guys," the following players are showing signs of being worthy of NHL draft attention.

10. John Chartrand - Niagara IceDogs
None of the bigger name OHL netminders for the 2011 draft have had tremendous starts to the season (Teichmann, Riley), which means maybe someone comes out of nowhere to lead that pack. Insert Dogs goaltender John Chartrand who's actually looked better than Coyotes first rounder Mark Visentin so far this season. With Visentin nursing a minor injury, Chartrand played both games this weekend, winning both.

9. Rickard Rakell - Plymouth Whalers
One of the two import selections by the Whalers this year, Rakell has gotten off to a very strong start for the Whalers. His 3 goals and 4 assists put him 4th in team scoring so far and he seems to be settling in nicely. Rakell is pretty complete winger who gets up and down the ice well and has some offensive skill. He's also got pretty good size at 6'1 and seems to be willing to throw his body around a bit.

8. Tyler Graovac & Steven Janes - Ottawa 67's
6'4 wingers with goal scoring ability do not grow on trees. So far this season, both of these beanstalk wingers have been impressive for Ottawa, providing secondary scoring (Janes with 4 goals, Graovac with 3). Both are also hard workers who put in their time last year, playing energy/forechecking roles on the 4th line. It'll be very interesting to see how these guys grow over the course of the year.

7. Mark Scheifele - Barrie Colts
While the Barrie Colts have been hard pressed to keep goals out of their own net, they haven't had a ton of trouble putting pucks in the net. Newcomer Mark Scheifele has been a big part of the offense so far, as the 6'3 center has 3 goals and 5 assists. Scheifele could probably stand to round out the rest of his game, but offensively he seems like a heady playmaker who makes his linemates better.

6. Justin Thomas - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
After spending minimal time with the Hounds last year, Thomas looked to solidify his place in the line-up this year. He has done that and more. The 6'2, 200lbs winger is an in your face crasher who looks to hit and score. His 3 goals and 3 assists thus far put him 5th on the team in scoring. When he's not scoring, Thomas is a very physical player who crashes the net hard and isn't afraid to drop the gloves (with already one this year against Michael Latta). If Dalton Smith's draft position last year might indicate, the NHL loves players like Thomas.

5. Stefan Noesen - Plymouth Whalers
Noesen is another guy who saw little ice time last year. But when he did, he brought a lot of energy and physicality to his shifts. This year, he's harnessing that energy into offensive production, with 5 goals and 4 assists. That's good for 3rd in scoring on Plymouth. The Whalers needed some young offensive players to step up this year, and it's great to see Noesen continuing his strong preseason play into the regular season.

4. Spencer Abraham - Brampton Battalion
So the Brampton Battalion currently have the best powerplay in the OHL? Put your hands up if you would have guessed that (I'm guessing the number is zero)!. One of the biggest reasons for Brampton's strong start, both in the standings and on the PP, has been the play of OHL rookie Spencer Abraham. While he's slightly undersized for a defender (5'11), Battalion fans have been incredibly impressed with him at both ends of the ice. His 1 goal and 5 assists tie him for 6th in defenseman scoring, and three of those points have been with the man advantage. A 15th rounder in 2009, this looks like a real diamond in the rough. Perhaps this year's Geoffrey Schemitsch?

3. Shane Prince - Ottawa 67's
A late 1992, this is Prince's third year in the Ontario Hockey League. With speed to burn, Prince has grown a bit (up to 5'11 now) and added size which has helped him immensely on the offensive side of things. The speedy playmaker currently leads the Ottawa 67's in scoring with 2 goals and 9 assists (of which ties him for 2nd in the OHL). Considering the 67's feature the likes of Toffoli, Martindale, and Lindsay, who would have figured that Prince would be the turning the most heads.

2. Tobias Rieder - Kitchener Rangers
With fellow import Gabriel Landeskog being billed as a potential top 5 pick in 2011, German winger Tobias Rieder is starting to get lost in the shuffle. In reality, Rieder is neck and neck with Landeskog in scoring, with 6 goals and 6 assists (tied for 5th in the OHL scoring race). Rieder is insanely talented offensively and has a lot of speed to burn. The only downside is that he's pushing 5'10 in the height department, which means he's going to face size questions moving forward.

1. Ryan Strome - Niagara IceDogs
The main piece of the Alex Pietrangelo deal last year, I think many were expecting bigger things from Strome this year. But what he's achieved thus far might be considered exceeding expectations. Strome has paced the Dogs offensively with 3 goals and 9 assists, with his 12 points putting him in the top 5 of league scoring. Strome has decent size (6'1), but is showing elite vision, creativity with the puck and overall outstanding offensive skill.

Honorable Mentions

Dylan Smoskowitz - Barrie Colts
With 4 goals so far (although 3 were in one game), Smoskowitz has shown bull in the china shop qualities as he'll power to the front of the net and bang bodies. Considering how much of a scoring threat he was last year in Tier 2, Smoskowitz could only get better.

Steven Strong - Belleville Bulls
While the Bulls have had a really rough start to the season, Strong is showing some qualities that could get him noticed by NHL scouts. His outstanding skating ability from the back end makes him a weapon on the big ice in Belleville.

Clark Seymour - Kingston Frontenacs
A big (6'4, 200lbs) defenseman who is really rounding out his game as a freshman. Not only has he remained a physical shutdown guy, but he's stepped it up offensively and already has 2 goals this year from the point.

Joseph Cramarossa - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
A late 1992, Cramarossa is an energy player who's been given more offensive responsibility this season. He'll do a little bit of everything, including drop the gloves, but as long as he keeps providing secondary scoring (2 goals and 2 assists thus far), he might generate some interest as a potential NHL'er.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Game Report: Erie & Niagara from September 30

I caught the Ice Dogs and the Otters last night in St. Catharines. I was undeniably curious to catch the new look Dogs in action after adding Steve Shipley, Tim Billingsley, Jason Wilson and David Pacan in recent weeks. And quite frankly, they didn't disappoint.

The score was close, but generally speaking, the play was not. The Dogs squeaked away with a 5-4 victory, but outshot the Otters 51-31 during the game. This included a dominant third period where they put 23 shots on Ramis Sadikov. Once the forward lines develop more chemistry, this team is going to be one to watch in the East (if they weren't already before the moves).

The Otters defense had a lot of trouble with Niagara's size and speed combination. They were consistently outworked in their own end and were visibly tired by the end of the game. All four of the Dogs lines worked the cycle to perfection and really did well to gain and maintain possession in the offensive end. Erie's Ramis Sadikov had a great game. He looks poised for a good year. He's so big and his hybrid style helps him to take up a lot of the net.

The Dogs were also helped by 4 power play goals, as Erie's penalty kill unit had some trouble. Although in the end, Steve Shipley's even strength tap in goal in the third (the Dogs first even strength goal of the game) sealed the victory.

Player Reports

Erie Otters

#5 - David Shields (2009 NHL Draft - St. Louis Blues)
Shields had a game that was pretty much on par for him. He's a steady influence on the ice and someone you don't really notice unless you're paying attention to him. For a defenseman that can be a good thing. Last year I did notice that he had difficulty with forwards on the rush, and last night was no different. Steve Shipley blew by him just inside the blueline, leaving him flat footed. Shields is solid in coverage, but it looks like he can still stand to improve his agility and anticipation.

#7 - Brady Austin (NHL Draft Eligible in 2011)
Is he a defenseman or a forward? That's the question I want answered. He played forward last night, centering the team's third line. But I've seen him play defense previously and I've felt he's looked better there, using his size and aggressiveness to push forwards around. He still throws his body around as a forward (hit Ryan Strome from behind at one point in the second), but I didn't really notice him offensively at all. I wonder if he has the puck skill to excel as a forward, especially as a center?

#10 - Tyler Hostetter (Signed as a Free Agent by the Philadelphia Flyers)
I've always liked Hostetter. Definitely one of the more underrated defenseman in the league. He's not really a flashy guy, but someone who's quietly a good two way defender. He makes good decisions with the puck and had a couple of nice rushes into Niagara's zone, particularly in the third period when Erie was really trying to shift momentum. Defensively, I think his lateral mobility and general agility help him to play both off the rush and in the zone. I'm not really sure what type of NHL defenseman he could be, but he's a solid player.

#14 - Greg McKegg (2010 NHL Draft - Toronto Maple Leafs)
The new captain of the Erie Otters was actually pretty quiet until the third period. In the third, he was one of the only players coming alive for the Otters. On the powerplay, he came off the side wall and tried to throw a pass cross crease to Anthony Luciani, but Dogs forward Andrew Agozzino ended up tipping it into his own net. And later, to draw the Otters within one goal with about 5 minutes remaining, he cut to the middle of the ice with the puck and left a drop pass to Mike Cazzola who snapped the puck past Mark Visentin. The Otters are going to need McKegg (and Cazzola) to pick up where they left off last season...sans Zach Torquato.

#17 - David Broll (NHL Draft Eligible in 2011)
Was kind of excited to see him, but ultimately didn't notice him at all. He had a couple of big hits in the first period, but disappeared after that. I'll definitely hope to see him again.

Niagara IceDogs

#8 - Alex Friesen (2010 NHL Draft - Vancouver Canucks)
Alex is still one of the hardest working forwards in the league. His speed is hard to contain and he's relentless in pursuit of the puck. He and linemate Andrew Agozzino have such good chemistry and the two of them are constantly creating off the rush. Interestingly enough, Alex is one of the only forwards I'd actually trust on the point of the powerplay. He's QB'd the Dogs powerplay for the past year and a bit. Tonight he made a great defensive play as Shawn Szydlowski came flying down the wing on the penalty kill (one on one with Friesen), but Alex angled him off the puck and negated a serious scoring chance. Friesen added a goal and two assists on the powerplay too. All the secondary scoring the Dogs have added is only going to help him have an even better offensive season than last year.

#10 - Steve Shipley (2010 NHL Draft - Buffalo Sabres)
Who are you? Is this the same Steve Shipley as last year? Where the heck did the speed and acceleration come from? Shipley looked fantastic off the rush, blowing past Erie defenders (in particular David Shields on one play). What was once considered a serious fault, has to now be considered a weapon. Definitely looks like he's worked on it over the summer. Shipley had a great game all around though. On the powerplay in the third, Shipley took a rebound, did a dipsy doodle around Sadikov and got it out to Wilson at the edge of the crease for a tap in. He also picked up the game winning goal by going hard to the net following his own rebound and putting home the garbage. If he can increase his consistency this season, he'll have a big year.

#13 - Freddie Hamilton (2010 NHL Draft - San Jose Sharks)
Hamilton looked quite good on the powerplay, as he worked hard down low and did a great job moving the puck around quickly. He picked up a couple of assists. However, at even strength he wasn't nearly as noticeable I thought. I think it's a case of acclimatizing to new linemates (Shipley and Wilson for most of the night).

#15 - Jason Wilson (2010 NHL Draft - New York Rangers)
Truthfully, I didn't notice Wilson at all until the 3rd period, when he came to life. He grabbed a garbage goal off the aforementioned nice feed from Shipley on the powerplay. He also picked up an assist on the game winning goal by Shipley by breaking into the offensive zone with speed and getting the puck to a streaking Shipley for a shot (it was ultimately the rebound that Shipley put in for the goal). In the past, I've always noticed how physical Wilson is though and didn't see that tonight. Hopefully as he becomes more used to his new surroundings, we'll start to see the heavy hitter return.

#18 - Ryan Strome (NHL Draft Eligible in 2011)
Strome was the best player on the ice. I left incredibly impressed with him. Considering this seems to be carrying over from the preseason, this might be a permanent fixture. He showed a lot of offensive creativity. He undressed an Otters defenseman (I believe Derek Holden) with a beautiful toe drag to the middle of the ice, but couldn't beat Sadikov on the partial break. But he created a lot of room for himself with his hard work on the cycle too. He, Myles Doan, and David Pacan were ruthless in puck possession and really tired out the Otters defense. Strome may not be big, but he protects the puck very well, and his agility helps him to keep defenders from squaring him up. Strome also showed outstanding on ice vision. On the powerplay , he found a cutting Dougie Hamilton with a tape to tape pass and Hamilton buried it to tie the game at 2. He had another assist on the powerplay, but also scored. He was quarterbacking the powerplay at the time and perfectly timed a shot through a defender's legs, going five hole on Sadikov (catching him moving from right to left). If Strome continues to play like this during the year, he could easily be a top 40 NHL pick. Colour me very impressed.

#22 - David Pacan (2009 NHL Draft - Chicago Blackhawks)
Fresh off getting booted from the University of Vermont, Pacan suited up for his first game with the Dogs (and in the OHL). I thought he looked excellent. He's big and he plays big. Pacan cycled the puck very well and Erie's defenders had a tough time getting it off him. He also knows his role and goes hard to the net looking for loose pucks. Pacan added a secondary assist on the Jason Wilson powerplay goal. It'll be interesting to see him get more comfortable.

#23 - Mitchell Theoret (NHL Draft Eligible in 2011)
Theoret was great tonight, even if he got less ice time as the game went on. I was really impressed by his hustle and forechecking ability. He was another forward who gave the Otters' defenders a tough time on the cycle. But Theoret also created off the rush and looks to have a lot more offensive confidence this season. Considering how well he played in the preseason, I'd love to see the Dogs find a way to get him involved more as it's clear he's got more to offer than your typical fourth liner.

#27 - Dougie Hamilton (NHL Draft Eligible in 2011)
When I saw Bob Mackenzie list Hamilton as a potential top 10 selection for the 2011 draft, I was a little surprised. But the word was he had improved a lot and was fantastic at the Ivan Hlinka tournament. The word was right. Hamilton looked massively improved last night and really controlled the pace of play at both ends. He looks confidence and skilled in rushing the puck, with his skating and acceleration being much improved. He's taking chances offensively that he wasn't last year, but he's also quick to get back to his own end. He scored a beautiful goal on the powerplay, as he found space, cut to the net and one timed a pass from Ryan Strome to the back of the net. It was a laser. It actually seemed like he never left the ice on the powerplay and seems to be much more poised in moving the puck along the umbrella. And on defense, he was physical and controlled. He could have a monster year.

#29 - Mark Visentin (2010 NHL Draft - Phoenix Coyotes)
Visentin didn't have the best of games by his standard. He seemed to be fighting the puck a bit. The first goal against him was kind of weak. It was a partially screened shot from his right side, as Shayne Rover tried to get his stick/body in front of a wrist shot. I don't think Rover touched it, but it was a bit of a knuckler. It seemed like Visentin might have been caught a little bit too deep in his net. The second goal against was off a juicy rebound to Matt Paton in the slot. Third goal was no chance, deflection off his own player (Agozzino). Fourth goal was probably one he would have liked to have back too. Mike Cazzola let a wrister go from the slot that caught Visentin deep in his net again and beat him under the glove. Overall, Visentin was giving up more rebounds than he usually does too. But he did make some big saves when he needed too and ultimately worked hard enough to save 27 of 31 for the win. But the Dogs are going to need him to be better and I have no doubt he will be.

That's it, anyone else catch the new look Dogs in action?