Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing (2011 Version)

As you may or may not know, every season since this blog started, I've profiled the top OHL overagers worth signing to an NHL contract as part of a top 10 article towards the end of the season. In fact, the 2009 version of this list was the very first Sunday Top 10 I posted (you can find it here). Last year, two players on the list (in addition to Jake Muzzin and Luke Pither) got NHL contracts (Bryan Cameron and Dan Kelly). That list is here.

Each year, I essentially give the same spiel, so why not give it again just in case this is your first time reading this list.

Firstly, likely half of the players on this list will not end up getting a professional contract and will play in the CIS. It's the nature of the beast. While it seems like an abnormally large amount of overage players are receiving NHL contracts this season, the bottom line is that many will not and many will take advantage of their education package while continuing to play a high level of hockey at a Canadian University.

Secondly, this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team (like Phil Varone and Robbie Czarnik). This list is for those players who are (or were) NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on birth date).

Lastly, and this is a new twist to this year's list. Because some of the best talent the OHL has to offer has already signed NHL deals (Archibald, Akeson, Cantin), I'm going to include those players on this list. Truthfully, I had this list (numerically) made up about a month ago, just hadn't posted it until now. If I were to exclude those players, this list would be pretty slim pickens. Next year, I'm thinking I may have to do this list a month earlier than I traditionally have, as it seems NHL teams are signing these guys earlier to avoid the offseason rush.

Without further ado, here's this year's list of the top 10 overage players worth signing to an NHL deal.

10. Matt Stanisz - Owen Sound Attack
Stanisz has been a key defender on back to back Conference leading teams (Barrie and Owen Sound). That pretty much sums up his contribution. He's cut from the same cloth as a guy like Kitchener's Dan Kelly (who earned an NHL deal last year). Stanisz isn't the biggest (about 6'1, 200lbs), nor is he the most physical defender, but he's quietly effective in his own end. He makes the smart play, keeps things simple and has been a highly positive (+/-) defender the past three seasons. This year, his offensive game was taken to that next level where he finished in the top 10 of defenseman scoring. He doesn't profile as a highly offensive defenseman at the next level, but he could likely be a solid add to an NHL organization looking for defensive depth.

9. James Livingston - Plymouth Whalers
Livingston failed to sign with St. Louis last year after being originally drafted in the 3rd round. A big power forward, his offensive skills just never really progressed to the level many thought they would (including this guy). But he's had maybe his best OHL season (at least his most consistent) this year where he set career highs in goals (22) and points (50). He's got the size and physicality combo to play a checking line role in the NHL, should he improve his skating and continue to show he can be a presence in front of the net offensively.
NOTE: Livingston has already signed an NHL deal with the San Jose Sharks.

8. Sam Lofquist - Guelph Storm
This former University of Minnesota defenseman hasn't been in the OHL long, but has definitely been an impact player. He's been the Storm's most important and consistent defenseman the past 2 seasons and deserves a look at the next level. He has size at 6'2, 200lbs, he's mobile, he can play in all situations and he can take the body if need be. Really a jack of all trades type of guy.

7. Kale Kerbashian - Sarnia Sting
This speedy winger has improved in every one of his four OHL seasons. He isn't the biggest (5'11), but he's crafty and energetic. He was voted as one of the best skaters in the OHL in the coaches poll, and that speed could make him a valuable energy guy and penalty killer at the next level (as evidenced by his league leading 6 shorties this year). It definitely helps, that he's pretty talented offensively too. His offensive game is certainly fueled by his skating ability, but he's fearless in his pursuit of pucks and isn't afraid to take a beating to score a goal. Definitely someone who has earned a look at the next level with his progression as a hockey player.
NOTE: Kerbashian has signed an AHL deal with Connecticut (NYR farm team).

6. Mavric Parks - Saginaw Spirit
Parks' story in the OHL has definitely been a heart warming one. He worked his way through a very rough season with Kingston in 2009 and was pretty much tossed aside by the club and picked up for a 5th round pick. Finally getting the chance to play for a good team, Parks was dynamite last year for Kitchener and Barrie, and has been the same for the division winning Saginaw Spirit this year. He's not a big goaltender, but he does a great job of squaring himself to pucks and controlling his rebounds, giving shooters less opportunity to take advantage of his lack of size. His ability to carry a Saginaw team in this year's playoffs will likely dictate where he plays next season.

5. Shawn Szydlowski - Erie Otters
Szydlowski has long been a favourite of mine and it came as no surprise that he was able to breakout offensively this season, his fourth in the league. His 41 goals this season tied him for 9th in the league and his 4 shorthanded goals put him in the top 5 of shorthanded goals for the second year in a row. He's definitely a very intelligent power forward, who's not the greatest skater, but who anticipates the play very well and gets himself in good positions to make a play at both ends of the ice. That overall solidness to his game, should definitely able him to get a look from an NHL team this offseason. He's one of the most underrated players in this league.

4. Marc Cantin - Mississauga Majors
Similar to a guy like Matt Stanisz, Cantin is a defensive first guy who was able to breakout offensively in his final year in the league (thanks in part to finally getting some powerplay time). Paired with rookie Dylan DeMelo for most of the season, Cantin was fantastic at both ends of the ice. He's actually a pretty good skater for a bigger defender (6'1, 200) and has the ability to lead the rush up ice. In previous seasons, he's been the type to make a quick pass up ice or chip the puck out of harm, but now he's got the confidence to carry it up ice and it has lead to his increase in offensive production. Really just a solid all around defender who can do a bit of everything, even if his offensive game isn't likely to carry over to the next level. He reminds me a lot of former Knights defenseman Marc Methot, who's managed to carve out a pretty nice NHL career for himself thus far.
NOTE: Cantin has signed an NHL deal with the Boston Bruins

3. Alain Berger - Oshawa Generals
The Swiss import has been excellent for a balanced scoring Oshawa team. On first glance, his offensive numbers might not be incredibly impressive to you, but know that the Generals had six 20 goal scorers this season, and two equally important lines. I'm fairly confident that Berger would have been drafted last year had he not broken his ankle at the WJC's last year. He was on a tear before that and came into this season on a mission. What you need to know about Berger is summed up in part by his 14 powerplay goals this season (nearly half of his goals on the season). He's 6'4, 200lbs and does a lot of his damage in front of the net (call him the Swiss Tomas Holmstrom). But he's also got an excellent wrist shot and has potential as a goal scorer at the next level. He works hard at both ends of the ice, throws his weight around and is a leader for his teammates (wearing an A for Oshawa this year). He's already got 4 goals in 2 playoff games this year. Someone needs to give this guy a contract.

2. Jason Akeson - Kitchener Rangers
The 2011 co-winner of the Eddie Powers trophy (league's top scorer) is definitely someone who has earned himself a look see from an NHL team. He's definitely not the biggest or most physically assertive guy out there, but Akeson is an incredibly intelligent offensive player who's at his best when the game slows down in the offensive end and he's able to create scoring chances for his linemates. His league high 84 assists were the most since Sergei Kostitsyn has 91 in 2007. He's not the fastest skater straight ahead, but he's a very agile player, which explains why he's so effective when the game slows down and he's able to quickly take the puck from behind the net or away from the corner and make something happen. Akeson isn't someone who'll be playing a bottom line role in the NHL. He's the traditional top 2 lines or "bust" type of prospect, but with the things he's done offensively this season, you'd have to think he'll at the very least be able to perform well for your AHL club in the near future.
NOTE: Akeson has signed an NHL contract with the Philadelphia Flyers

1. Darren Archibald - Niagara IceDogs
Anybody who reads this blog knows how high I've been on Archibald since he came into the league with Barrie two years ago. He went through two NHL drafts (crazy, I know), despite being ranked incredibly highly on my draft re-entries list the last two years. He's also been impressive in two straight NHL camps (for Columbus and Detroit). So why didn't he get a contract or a selection? I don't know. But he came into his overage season on a mission. Archibald is just a very complete player. He's got the size and intangibles you look for in an NHL checking line winger. He plays both ends of the ice, is physical, will drop the gloves and best of all, has an NHL caliber wrist shot which he can get off in traffic and in motion. His skating is good too, for a bigger winger. His 41 goals on the season were a career high, and he tied for 6th in the league with 15 powerplay markers (he also had 3 shorties). And, best of all, he started his 2011 OHL playoff season with a four goal performance against Brampton, where he looked like a man amongst boys.
NOTE: Archibald has signed an NHL contract with the Vancouver Canucks

Honorable Mentions:

The most obvious honorable mention would be Plymouth's Tyler Brown, since he got a contract from the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers. I'll have to admit, this one surprised me. Brown is an excellent OHL player and a terrific two way player and penalty killer, but I didn't expect him to get an NHL deal. But he's a hard worker and someone who does have a chance of being an NHL depth player, if he can at least produce moderate offensive numbers in the OHL. Think of him like former Battalion Ryan Oulahen.

In terms of defenseman, Majors veteran Michael D'Orazio is bound to get an invite to an NHL camp this offseason. The once hyped draft prospect has had an excellent year, where he's learned to be more disciplined and has really refined his game. Kitchener rangers offensive defenseman Jamie Doornbosch could get a look too. His defensive game leaves a lot to be desired, but he's terrific on the powerplay and has a major league shot from the point.

Another Major, Chris DeSousa, could also get a look from someone. He's your typical hard worker, who's had an excellent OHL career after breaking into the OHL with the IceDogs as a scrappy fighter and turned himself into a quality two way forward. Windsor's Jake Carrick is similar in nature. Not the biggest forward, but a never back down type of guy who can play any role you ask of him, while also producing offensively. Lastly, Owen Sound's Robby Mignardi has had an excellent season where he's been a key contributor offensively.

One last thing of note. While he's no longer an OHL player, former Petes goaltender (and Habs draft pick) Jason Missiaen managed to earn an NHL deal from the New York Rangers after playing his overage year in the QMJHL with Baie-Comeau.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

OHL Playoff Pool - Who's Going to Get the Bragging Rights?

In light of the OHL playoffs starting tonight, I thought it'd be a cool idea if some of the regular contributors/guests of this blog got together for a playoff pool. There's no money in it, but instead bragging rights are on the line. We've got Sportsnet's Patrick King, Cogeco's Steve Clark, and The Scouting Report's Scott Campbell. Oh...and me.

Here's the breakdown on the scoring.

2 Points for first round correct pick
4 Points for second round correct pick
8 Points for Conference Finals correct pick
10 Points for OHL Champion correct pick

The Tie breaker is "Who will lead the OHL playoffs in scoring?"

Here's how the predictions break down (notice the similarities in the first round).

Brock Otten Patrick King Steve Clark Scott Campbell
East Round 1




West Round 1




East Round 2


West Round 2


East Final

West Final

OHL Champ

TIE Break

Ryan Strome Justin Shugg Greg Mckegg Greg McKegg

Justin Shugg


There you have it folks, may the best man win!

Monday, March 21, 2011

OHL Playoff Predictions: Round One

Thursday will mark the start of the 2011 OHL Playoffs.

That's prediction time. Last year, I went 8-7 over the course of the playoffs. In 2009, I went 11-4 over the course of the playoffs. Let's see if I can mimic the results of 2009, rather than last year's mediocre performance.

Also, in the coming days, look for an OHL playoff pool that I've organized involving some of the OHL's brightest minds.

Eastern Conference

1. Mississauga Majors vs. 8. Belleville Bulls
Season Series: Majors 3-1
My Analysis: The Majors are winners of their last 10 games, with their last loss coming (ironically) against the Belleville Bulls. That was the Bulls only win of the season in the season series. Let's be honest, with the Majors playing perhaps the best hockey they've played all season right now, is there anyone out there who actually believes the Bulls have a chance?
Prediction: Mississauga in 4

2. Ottawa 67's vs. 7. Sudbury Wolves
Season Series: 67's 2-0
My Analysis: OK, so this is the one series in the East that has everyone talking. Why? The Ottawa 67's are about as banged up as you can get. While Cody Lindsay and Shane Prince are expected to play in the series, the biggest loss comes in the form of defenseman Travis Gibbons (broken ankle), one of the anchors of the 67's blueline. Not to mention that forward Thomas Nesbitt is still questionable, amongst other more minor injuries on the squad. The good news for the 67's, they beat Sudbury quite handily in their final game of the season without all of these players. The difference will likely be Petr Mrazek in net for Ottawa, who was solid last year and is completely capable of leading this team far into the OHL playoffs. Sudbury is definitely not an opponent you want to sleep on because they've got depth at forward and play hard, but I'm just not sure they can outlast Ottawa for a whole series.
Prediction: Ottawa in 6

3. Niagara IceDogs vs. 6. Brampton Battalion
Season Series: IceDogs 4-2
My Analysis: Brampton is never a team you want to face in the OHL playoffs. Stan Butler is a quality coach and his system has made things very tough for a lot of teams in the post season. Niagara is obviously the better team on paper, but that doesn't always give you a guaranteed win. That being said, the Dogs should win this series. Brampton's younger defense should have some trouble in the barn in Niagara where the Dogs forecheck and physicality will likely wear them down. Niagara has developed such a balanced scoring attack, it'll be tough to shut down Niagara from scoring, and they certainly don't have the offense to keep up with them (second lowest goals scored in the league).
Prediction: Niagara in 5

4. Oshawa Generals vs. 5. Kingston Frontenacs
Season Series: Generals 5-3
My Analysis: You have to feel for the Fronts a bit. Their prized offseason acquisition, the guy who was supposed to help them in this exact situation, is currently unavailable. Grubauer is back in Germany recovering from mono which means that Frank Palazzese will have to take this team to the promised land. The same Palazzese who was pulled in his final two OHL games. The Fronts will also be without Ethan Werek for the first two games due to a suspension. The Generals are an incredibly explosive offensive team and that means Erik Gudbranson and Taylor Doherty need to step up huge for Kingston to have a chance. This will likely be a bit of a shoot 'em up series. Over/under on the total amount of goals scored in the series? I'm just not sure Kingston can go up against an offensive superpower like Oshawa with an unproven youngster in net.
Prediction: Oshawa in 6

Western Conference

1. Owen Sound Attack vs. 8. London Knights
Season Series: Tie 3-3 (Attack won the last two meetings)
My Analysis: I really don't know what to make of this series. Owen Sound is a great team and they've had a great season. Yet, I'm not sure I feel comfortable calling them a sure bet to make it out of the first round. That's even with Owen Sound on fire to close the season and London on the downswing. Goaltending will be a big part of this series. London's Michael Houser has been big all season for the Knights and he'll need to have saved his best performances for now. Meanwhile, Jordan Binnington will continue to carry the load for Owen Sound while they wait for Scott Stajcer to return (possibly by round 2). Owen Sound should win this series, they're the better team. But London could surprise people, if some of the younger players they rely on still have some energy left in the tank. In the end, I think the Attack still win this one, but it'll be closer than your typical 1 vs 8 match up.
Prediction: Owen Sound in 6

2. Saginaw Spirit vs. 7. Guelph Storm
Season Series: Tie 2-2
My Analysis: Another interesting series (which could really be said about any of the West match ups). Guelph has actually been playing some good hockey lately, while Saginaw has kind of struggled since all those deadline acquisitions. The Spirit managed to hang on for to win their division, but there is no question that they aren't playing up to their capability level right now. Will they get their act together in this round? I guess that's the million dollar question. Defensively, I think the Spirit should still be able to get the better of Guelph in a 7 game series, not to mention that Mavric Parks has the experience to lead his team to victory.
Prediction: Saginaw in 6

3. Kitchener Rangers vs. 6. Plymouth Whalers
Season Series: Rangers 3-1
My Analysis: I definitely wouldn't want to play Plymouth in round 1, as they battle and wear you down physically. Kitchener definitely has the firepower to get past Plymouth, but do they have the momentum? They sure didn't look like a three seed in the conference during the final month (of which coach Steve Spott accredits to his team giving up once they realized they couldn't catch Owen Sound for the division title). Plymouth has the edge in goaltending IMO, with Scott Wedgewood, but they'll need all their lines rolling offensively to match Kitchener. In the end, it'll be a damn close series, but I think the Rangers skill will outmatch the Whalers determination in a hard fought series.
Prediction: Kitchener in 7

4. Windsor Spitfires vs. 5. Erie Otters
Season Series: Tie 2-2
My Analysis: This is the big one of the first round IMO. Two of the hottest teams in the league, firing on all cylinders, clashing in an epic battle. If either of these two teams were playing other teams in the Conference, I think they'd have the potential to really go on a deep run. But alas, someone's going home. Erie has all their big guns back and are just running over the competition of late. Ramis Sadikov has been great too. Meanwhile, the Spits are a deep team who just can't be counted out. Bottom line is this. Erie's got a veteran laden team, and a defense that is more experienced and reliable than Windsor's. It'll be close, but I think the Otters can really make some noise in this year's playoffs.
Prediction: Erie in 7

Quite frankly, I thought I'd be predicting more upsets in the first round, considering the closeness of many teams. But the only one I'm going with is Erie over Windsor.

Would absolutely love to hear your predictions as comments!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Draft Riser You Should Know: Ryan Sproul

A late bloomer is often defined as someone whose talents or capabilities are slower to develop than their peers. However, they often catch up or even overtake their peers if given time.

In the world of junior hockey and the National Hockey League Entry Draft, this term is often associated with being a “draft sleeper,” or a “draft riser.” In 2003, Brampton Battalion forward (now all star NHL defenseman) Brent Burns was playing 4th line minutes to start his NHL draft year. He was rated 120th in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings (released in January). By season’s end, he was up to 39th and ended up being selected in the first round by the Minnesota Wild. In 2009, Barrie Colts forward Kyle Clifford was rated 177th at midseason and 182nd in the final rankings. But a strong finish to his OHL season and an eye opening performance at the World Under 18 Hockey Championships elevated his status to the point where he was drafted 35th overall by the Los Angeles Kings. Both cracked NHL lineups by the time they were 19.

Allow me to introduce you to Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman Ryan Sproul. Last year, at age 16, he was drafted into the Ontario Hockey League as a slender 6’0 teenager. This year, he’s a 6’4 offensive blueliner turning heads in the great Ontario North.

After being drafted in the 6th round by the Hounds in 2009, Sproul was not physically ready for the rigors of junior hockey, so he returned home to Mississauga where he bounced back and forth between midget and Junior A. “It wasn’t my choice to play midget, I had started off the year with the Bramalea Blues Jr.A team and they had too many defensemen so they sent me back to midget,” says Sproul. Spending that extra year in midget isn’t the worst thing in the world for a developing teenage defenseman. In recent years, it has helped NHL draft picks like Matt Clark and Geoffrey Schemitsch.

While many perceive the term developing, as a player gaining confidence and improving their skills, Sproul developed in a slightly different way. He grew roughly four inches and transformed from an average sized puck moving defenseman to a 6’4 offensive juggernaut on the backend. Stereotypically, that type of growth spurt can wreck havoc on a teenager’s coordination, but Sproul believes it has actually made him a better hockey player, “I think that I have been very lucky in terms of being coordinated for a tall kid. I feel like my size hasn’t got in the way of my ability to play the game and if anything it has enhanced my game more than I could have imagined.”

It was that “enhancement” that brought significant interest from some top NCAA schools, like the opportunity to play for the legendary Red Berenson at the University of Michigan. But after mulling over his options, Sproul made the decision to sign with Sault Ste. Marie and begin his journey as an Ontario Hockey league player. “I [simply] realized that my goal for hockey was to make it to the OHL and then move on professionally from there,” says Sproul, who also received interest from Lake Superior State.

However it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows in the early going. A logjam on the Hounds’ backend prevented Sproul from demonstrating what he could do. He went pointless in his first 17 OHL games. But Sproul grit his teeth, bided his time and waited for his opportunity to shine; even if it was incredibly difficult. “Sitting on that bench knowing you can make a difference but not getting the chance was very frustrating, [but] my coach gave me a shot on the powerplay one game and I went out and scored my first career OHL goal. After that I started to gain confidence and I believe that’s the number one thing a hockey player needs to have in order to be successful,” says Sproul.

While confidence no doubt played a part in his emergence, circumstance contributed too. That aforementioned logjam on defense in Sault Ste. Marie? At the trade deadline it was resolved when the team shipped Brandon Archibald to Saginaw. That opened up lots of powerplay time for Sproul. And when the team lost Brock Beukeboom to a season ending concussion in February, that opened up the door further for Sproul to sprout as a five on five player. Anytime you lose two quality defenseman like that, it’s not an ideal situation for an OHL club. But it’s worked out for the Hounds in the sense that they’ve discovered what a gem they’ve got in Ryan Sproul.

Gem is an understatement. Check out this stat. Goals from a defenseman in 2011 (just the new calendar year): Ryan Ellis (12), Ryan Murphy (9), Ryan Sproul (10). That’s pretty elite company among the dynamic Ryan’s of the OHL. As it is, his 14 goals on the season placed him fifth among OHL blueliners (tied with Taylor Doherty). In fact, his 32 points in the last 42 games of the season would have put him on a pace for the top 7 of OHL defenseman scoring, pro-rated to a full season. Niagara IceDogs defenseman and potential top five NHL draft pick Dougie Hamilton had 37 points in his last 42 games. Again, that’s some impressive company.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. I’m not going to try and compare Hamilton and Sproul and suggest Sproul should be in consideration as an NHL lottery selection. But he’s certainly someone flying under the radar that deserves more attention than he’s getting. After all, 6’4 offensive defenseman with booming shots and a smooth skating stride do not grow on trees. Heck, wouldn’t you want to get your hands on a 6’4 version of Mike Green (whom Sproul identifies as a player he admires)? Sproul is not without his faults, and he’d be the first to tell you that. “I need to keep on working on my defensive side of the game. I am still getting used to the size and speed that most players have and as a rookie I think that defense will come as you keep working on it, which I have been all year,” says Sproul. And it shows. The defense has been getting better, especially when you consider that Sproul, as he identified, is playing in his first OHL season. In fact, his first full season above the midget level.

Ranked 124th by NHL Central Scouting on their midterm rankings, it’s pretty safe to say that his ranking will improve significantly when their final rankings are released some time at the beginning of April. I think it’s also pretty safe to say that there is a good chance we could see Sproul suit up for Canada at the upcoming IIHF Under 18 World Hockey Championships. All the stars are aligning just right for Sproul to be that guy your favourite National Hockey League team drafts way earlier than expected. So I implore you, don’t sleep on Ryan Sproul. He’s got the potential to be something special. He’s someone worth remembering. He’s going to be that next “draft riser” everyone talks about.

Thanks to Ryan Sproul and Greyhounds media relations guru Gerry Liscumb Jr. for their facilitation of this article.

Below is a transcript of the Q &A session Ryan and I had.


Brock Otten - You signed with the Greyhounds about a week into the 2010/2011 OHL Season. Why did you end up choosing to play in the OHL (since I know you weighed the option of playing collegiately)?

Ryan Sproul - I had a lot of NCAA D1 school’s calling me and I still had not yet made up my mind completely. I really wanted to make sure that I made the right decision for my future and after touring a school like Michigan, I realized that my goal for hockey was to make it to the OHL and then move on professionally from there.

BO - Just how hard did you think about the NCAA and who were the main programs recruiting you?

RS - Before I came to main camp for the Greyhounds in August I had no intentions of the team wanting me to stay this year, so I made sure that I kept the school option available to me. I had talked to a couple D1 schools like Michigan and Lake Superior State and felt like I needed to make my decision before I had any solid offers.

BO - You spent the 2009/10 season in midget. There seems to be a lot more OHL players choosing this route than before, especially defenseman (Jordan Auld, Matt Petgrave, Geoffrey Schemitsch). Why go back to midget instead of playing Tier 2?

RS - It wasn’t my choice to play midget, I had started off the year with the Bramalea Blues Jr.A team and they had too many defensemen so they sent me back to midget.

BO - Your OHL draft data lists you at 60. Youre now listed at 64. What did your parents feed you during that growth spurt?

RS - I think the biggest thing that allowed me to have that growth spurt was the sleep I was getting. I felt like every time I walked in the house and lied on the couch, I was extremely tired and needed to sleep. My parents had realized I was going through this spurt because I was always either eating or sleeping.

BO - In all seriousness, 4 inches in a year and a half is a HUGE jump. The thing we constantly hear about young athletes going through big growth spurts is that it hinders their coordination. That “awkward” stage, for lack of a better word. Do you think that youre still getting used to being as tall as youve become?

RS - I think that I have been very lucky in terms of being coordinated for a tall kid. I feel like my size hasn’t got in the way of my ability to play the game and if anything it has enhanced my game more than I could have imagined.

BO - I want you to take me through this season so far. It took you 17 games to register your first OHL point. Needless to say there had to be a huge learning curve. Was that opening month incredibly difficult/frustrating for you?

RS - Being the seventh D man on a team can be very hard and that’s what I was at the beginning of the year, felt like that was the hardest thing to go through in the early stages. Sitting on that bench knowing you can make a difference but not getting the chance was very frustrating. My coach gave me a shot on the PP one game and I went out and scored my first career OHL goal. After that I had started to gain confidence and I believe that’s the number one thing a hockey player needs to have in order to be successful.

BO - So whats been the difference in the past 2 months then? Youve been at near a point per game pace and youve got as many goals as Ryan Ellis since the beginning of December!

RS - The biggest thing for me is now that I’ve worked on everything else, the points are finally starting to come. That also comes with the fact that my coach’s believe in me and are giving me the ice time I have been getting.

BO - In the times Ive seen you play this year, your strong skating ability and hard shot have been your two most noticeable characteristics. Would you say they are your greatest strengths?

RS - Yes, those are the two things that most people say are my strengths and I agree.

BO - So then, if an NHL scout asked you what you need to work on most, what would you say?

RS - I need to keep on working on my defensive side of the game. I am still getting used to the size and speed that most players have and as a rookie I think the defense will come as you keep working on it, which I have been all year.

BO - As a 64 defenseman, people are probably always going to expect you to play a physical game. Do you think you can be that type of player in the future?

RS - I think that if I was asked to be a physical player by a coach, then yes I absolutely could be. I’m not the type of D man that will go out and make a highlight reel hit every night, but I know that I can go out and be as physical as possible to be a solid defensive guy if asked to be.

BO - You were ranked 124th by Central Scouting in their midterm rankings. But if you continue to play as you have lately, I have a hard time imagining you wont move up on that list considerably by seasons end. Do you have any goals pertaining to the NHL draft?

RS - The NHL draft is dream for me. Last year at this point I would watch NHL games and just dream of being there. I don’t have any set goals for the draft then actually being drafted in general because that’s something I have always wanted.

BO - Its no secret that NHL scouts have been flocking to the Soo to catch a glimpse of your teammate Daniel Catenacci. Tell us one thing that most people dont know about him.

RS - He is a health freak and living with him for more than a month made it rub out on me.

BO - Have you always played defense in your hockey career?

RS - About three years before the OHL draft in ‘09 I was a forward on the Toronto Jr. Canadiens

BO - Is there an NHL player you look at and say, “thats a guy I try to play like?”

RS - Mike Green

BO - Last question for you. In the past, the Northern OHL teams have had some difficulty recruiting players. Why should potential OHL players consider playing in Sault Ste. Marie?

RS - Excellent city, extremely loyal fans, the team is a family because it‘s a small city and the organization is outstanding.

Western Conference Coaches Poll Winners

I just returned from vacation for the week. A little late to the party, but since I posted the East winners, I thought I'd post the Western Conference coaches poll winners too.


Any real surprises?

Be sure to check out the blog this week as the OHL playoffs kick off. I'll have a playoff preview and predictions article up. I've also got a feature and Q & A on Greyhounds defenseman Ryan Sproul.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Eastern Conference Coaches Poll Winners

The OHL announced the results of this season's Eastern Conference Coaches Poll today.


Anything that struck you as surprising? The only thing that really struck me as odd was the absence of Casey Cizikas from the top penalty killer list.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Game Report: Wolves and Majors from March 6

The Majors took over this one right after puck drop, sadly enough. Mississauga scored four goals in the first period, chasing Alain Valiquette from the game, and never looked back. The Wolves had some good chances along the way, including a 2 man advantage that could have put them back in the game, but J.P. Anderson was solid in net and didn't give them an inch.

After a bit of a rough spell there, the Majors are back rolling at the right time. With a 10 point cushion on the IceDogs, it would appear that they've all but locked up first in the Eastern Conference. Maybe that means they can start to rest J.P. Anderson before the playoffs. He could definitely use it. Back-up Mickael Audette has been beyond bad so far (with a save percentage nearing the 70's), so once the team clinches, it won't matter if he gets into a few ugly games.

Meanwhile, the Wolves have really come back down to reality of late. I thought that they'd make a run at that 6th spot in the Conference while they were firing on all cylinders. And they still could (three points back of Brampton, but the Battalion have a game in hand). I'm still not sure I'd want to play them in the first round though, with the veteran experience they've got up front (especially once Lomas and McDonald return).

Player reports:

Sudbury Wolves

#3 - Justin Sefton (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Been hearing a lot of good things about Sefton lately. I watched Sudbury on t.v. a few weeks ago and he looked quite good. However, he was not good in the game today. He finished the game at a -3, and would have been a -4, had his goalie not made a nice save on a breakaway. Sometimes the +/- stat doesn't tell the whole story. Unfortunately today it did. The first goal was directly his fault, as Gregg Sutch made a cross ice pass to Shugg, who Sefton failed to tie up and he put it home (even if it was a weak goal that he fanned on). Third goal by the Majors was scored by Shugg again, as he came off the wall, beat Frankie Corrado to the net with a nice move, went around the sliding Sefton and put it home. Fourth Majors goal was scored by Riley Brace as he poked home a loose puck, with Sefton again lying on the ice for some reason. In the second period, he chipped the puck out of his zone, but after a turnover, got caught standing still at the blueline as Jordan Mayer (pretty sure it was Mayer) accepted a pass and went in on a breakaway. Only later in the game was he physical, which was a disappointment. Definitely seems like it was an off game for a defender who has apparently been playing quite well of late.

#4 - Josh McFadden (Draft eligible in 2011, but 1991 born)
The move to Sudbury has definitely allowed McFadden to blossom as an offensive defenseman. He's had a fantastic season. At times he can leave a little bit to be desired defensively and he takes a lot of liberties with the puck, BUT he can play defense and I think he has the potential to reign things in a bit. He actually looked good today. Showed speed and poise when bringing the puck up and was definitely a dangerous player (maybe Sudbury's most dangerous on the day). I'd be surprised if he wasn't drafted this year, quite frankly. Tony DeHart was drafted last year after a breakout season, and McFadden is a better player (and prospect) than him (IMO).

#19 - Alex Racino (Draft Eligible in 2o11)
One of the guys Sudbury got in the John McFarland deal, Racino has emerged as a great find for the Wolves. He's been playing good hockey as of late on a line with Eric O'Dell and I thought he looked pretty good today. He's got some speed and he's definitely a hard worker at both ends of the ice. He made a nice defensive play in the first to save a goal by coming back hard to tie up Riley Brace at the side of the net, preventing him from finishing off a scoring chance. He also got a breakaway in the second, showing some good speed, but was stymied by Anderson. If you pro-rate his stats with Sudbury to a full season, he'd be on pace for a 15-15 year and with his size and tenacity, I think he'd be a guy to watch at the draft. He just has to hope enough scouts have seen Sudbury play lately to make a definitive judgment on him.

#22 - Frankie Corrado (Draft eligible in 2011)
Like Sefton, Corrado had a rough day at a -3. He just did not look very good out there. The second Shugg goal was his fault, as he got caught flatfooted when Shugg exploded off the wall to the net, blowing right by him. He then failed to tie up his man on the Riley Brace goal. Corrado also had several breakout pass attempts foiled by the Majors, as he just couldn't get that puck up ice to his teammates. A couple positives were that he did look strong when he rushed the puck (always the case) with his speed. He was also more physical than I had seen him before. He absolutely crushed Mika Partanen with a hit along the boards, pushing his head hard into the glass.

#91 - Eric O'Dell (NHL rights owned by Atlanta)
It's definitely been a good year for O'Dell, coming back from offseason heart surgery. He's been absolutely outstanding for the Wolves in the second half of the OHL season. That being said, I think he still has a ways to go before he gets back on the NHL track. O'Dell has never been a barn burner as a skater, but that offseason off really hurt his development in that area I think. He looked slower today than he did last year and just couldn't get the legs moving fast enough to be fully engaged off the rush. O'Dell is a very smart player and the type of strong two way forward who can have success at the next level. But I think he'll take some time in finding his niche and improving that speed and acceleration before he makes a big impact.

#92 - Michael Sgarbossa (Signed by the San Jose Sharks)
I saw Sgarbossa play on tv a couple of weeks ago and he had an absolutely dynamite game. Was all over the ice. Today, that wasn't the case. He was visibly frustrated too, as several times he came back to the bench, slamming his stick in disgust. He's had a great season though and was an astute signing by the Sharks. He's a hard worker and a skilled energy guy who could find himself a job in the NHL in time.

Mississauga Majors

#4 - Justin Shugg (Drafted by Carolina)
This might have been the best game I've seen Shugg play this year (as a Major). He was fantastic. That second goal (third of the game) was a thing of beauty and will no doubt end up on the Mazda plays of the week. He grabbed the puck along the wall, exploded past Frankie Corrado, cut to the net, dipsy doodled around a falling Sefton, and waited out Valiquette before putting it off the far post and in. He had a few other great chances for the hat trick, but just couldn't bury one. I'd actually be surprised if the Canes didn't give him a contract this offseason, with the chance to play in the AHL next year.

#5 - Stuart Percy (Draft eligible in 2011)
Percy has become one of my favourite players eligible from the OHL. Just call him steady Eddie. I've gone on at length about Percy's strengths as a defender. But maybe the most impressive thing from today's game was when he took on Marcus Foligno one on one, and as Foligno tried to beat Percy to the outside with strength and speed, Percy matched him every step of the way and actually pushed him off the puck and into the boards. Many defenseman in this league will tell you that Foligno is one of the toughest to contain, and Percy made him look like Lino Martschini. Impressive.

#13 - Maxim Kitsyn (Drafted by Los Angeles)
While he didn't get on the scoresheet, I thought Kitsyn was the best player on the ice today. Just a fantastic game. I've seen him play a few times now (both in the WJC's and in Mississauga), but this was the first time I've seen him live. I really had no idea he was such a physical player, a power forward even. He CRUSHED Josh McFadden behind the net, just after he chipped the puck out. It rattled the boards...and the building. He had a couple other nice hits during the game and was engaged physically in other areas, whether it be trading slashes after the whistle, or shoving for space in front of the net. He had a few really nice rushes with the puck into the zone and looked tough to stop once he got going. Looks like he could stand to improve those first few steps though. I was very impressed.

#16 - Joseph Cramarossa (Draft eligible in 2011)
Every time I see this guy play, he impresses me even more. He will be an NHL player, of that I am confident. I am also confident that a team is going to take this guy in the first three rounds. Just a complete player who never gives up on a play and is always around the puck. Most underrated about him is his skill set and his skating ability. He's an elite skater and it helps him be everywhere on the ice. But about the skill, every time I've seen him, he's made a play offensively that made me say "wow, OK this guy is actually skilled." Sure his linemates Jamie Wise and Corey Bureau work hard, but it's Cramarossa that makes this 4th line one of the best in the league at keeping the puck in the offensive zone. The second Majors goal by Corey Bureau was a thing of beauty created by Cramarossa. He outworked an opponent behind the net, took the puck, cut to the front of the net, made a move around a defender and slid a pass to Corey Bureau for the goal. One of the most underrated players available for this draft.

#27 - Mika Partanen (Draft eligible in 2011)
Playing with Maxim Kitsyn has really re-energized Partanen it would seem. He might not be hitting the scoresheet, but he's way more noticeable on the ice without the puck than he was at the beginning of the season. Now he's throwing his weight around, is active on the forecheck and in the corners. I've talked to a few Majors season ticket holders and they think Cameron has really misused Partanen this year. Considering the lackluster stats he's put up and the hype he had, that might not be far off base. Hopefully he sticks around next year when holes in the line up will need to be plugged by those graduating to the pros.

#34 - J.P. Anderson (Signed by the San Jose Sharks)
After a rough February (where Anderson seemed visibly tired), he's been much better so far this month and seems to be getting hot again at the right time. He was excellent in today's game. The Wolves had a few chances, including two breakaways (Kontos and Racino), but he stopped both. He really made it look easy and wasn't giving up any rebounds (crucial to Anderson's success). Anderson stopped all 29 shots for the shutout, his league leading 6th of the season.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Possibilities for Canada's Under 18 Team

Running from April 14-24, the IIHF World Under 18 Hockey Championships will take place in Germany. And while the team doesn't even yet have a coach (traditionally named sometime during the third week of March), it's starting to become possible to speculate which OHL players might end up being selected for this tournament.

The team will be announced some time over Easter Weekend, giving the team about a week or so to travel and practice before a few exhibition games and the tournament opener against the Czech Republic on April 15.

Over the past five years, the OHL has averaged 10 players on this squad (highest = 13 in 2010, lowest = 7 in 2007). Because the tournament takes place while the CHL playoffs are occurring, this is not a tournament Canada does traditionally well in. Heck, we were sent to the relegation round last year (finishing 7th and thankfully avoiding relegation), and have one won the tournament twice in its twelve year existence (last in 2008 under Pat Quinn).

So that means only Ontario Hockey League players (as well as other CHL players and Tier 2 players) who are eliminated from the playoffs can participate.

So with the regular season winding down, let's speculate as to which players could be donning the Maple Leaf come April. Even if this tournament isn't great for the morale of Hockey Canada, it is great for individual NHL entry draft reasons. A good tournament here can really elevate your status (just ask Kyle Clifford).

Players from the teams not making the playoffs (Barrie, Sault Ste. Marie, Sarnia)

Mark Scheifele - Barrie Colts
If healthy, you'd have to think Scheifele would be a lock as a potential first round NHL prospect. He's got the size and skill to play a top 6 role on the team. The only problem is that he's out indefinitely with a concussion thanks to a nasty hit from former teammate Dean Pawlaczyk. He's got a month to get himself together, otherwise his absence would be a big blow to a team that will need star players.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG (if healthy)

Eric Locke - Barrie Colts
While Locke's late birthday makes him eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft, because he's a 1993, that means he's actually someone who'll be looked at for this tournament. The centerpiece of the Taylor Carnevale deal, Locke may not have elite size, but he is very skilled and could provide a solid scoring presence on the team.
Likelihood: MODERATE

John Chartrand - Barrie Colts
Chartrand has had a pretty decent year, all things considered. Even if his numbers since the trade from Niagara haven't been great, he's actually got a winning record in Barrie. Can we name him to the team on that miracle alone! Seriously though, goaltending for this tournament can be a mystery at times if no other options are available from the other leagues. I'm sure his name will, at the very least, be tossed around.
Likelihood: WEAK

Daniel Catenacci - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The closest thing to a lock for this team as you can get, I'd imagine. The team is going to need him to be one of the leaders and has to be considered a possibility to wear a letter. It'll be a big tournament for him to show people that he's got a high offensive ceiling when it comes to predicting his NHL potential.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Nick Cousins - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Cousins has had a good season for the Hounds and is the type of energy player who could excel in a short tournament. He's not good enough defensively to likely fit on a potential "checking line," but he battles offensively, on the forecheck, and in the corners. That makes him a potential 4th line type that Canada usually brings to these tournaments.
Likelihood: STRONG

David Broll - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A big power forward, Broll can really throw the body around and has enough offensive skill that he won't stick out in a bad way. But his skating leaves some to be desired, which could hurt him on the big ice. He was also recently disciplined by the Hounds for an unknown reason (sat out a game). Even if it was minor, it likely still raises a red flag. However, he was on the Ivan Hlinka team that won Gold and could earn a look because of that.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Ryan Sproul - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Team Canada is going to need someone to quarterback their powerplay, and what better choice than Sproul. His decision making and passing ability still need improvement with the man advantage, but he's got one hell of a shot. Sproul definitely is right up there with Ryan Ellis and Ryan Murphy (and others) for goals in the 2011. That's mighty impressive. He's also a good skater, which means he should be competent 5 on 5 too.
Likelihood: STRONG

Brett Ritchie - Sarnia Sting
Like Catenacci, Ritchie is a lock for this team if he can stay healthy. After fighting back from a bout of mono, Ritchie is now sidelined with a knee injury. Although I have been told it is minor and he's expected to return either this weekend or next. He was playing so well before the mono, and even had 4 points in 3 games after returning from mono (before the knee injury). He'll be counted on to be a big contributor on offense for this team. This will actually be a big tournament for Ritchie. With a strong offensive performance, he could probably vault himself into first round consideration, since he probably deserves to be there on talent alone (subtracting his slow start and missed games).
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Players from the teams who may make the playoffs, one of whom won't (Peterborough, Belleville)

Alan Quine - Peterborough Petes
Quine has been quite good for the Petes since coming over from Kingston. He's not the biggest or the most tenacious, but he's got skill and speed. Most of all, he can really put the puck in the net with an elite shot and good instincts. Those types of guys can be valuable to Hockey Canada, especially on the powerplay. That being said, I don't think he's a lock, as he's kind of a one dimensional player at this point. But again, Hockey Canada is familiar with him as he was on the Ivan Hlinka team.
Likelihood: STRONG

Slater Koekkoek - Peterborough Petes
It's not unusual for Hockey Canada to take underage players to this event. Ryan Murray went last year. Erik Gudbranson and John McFarland two years ago. Koekkek is the type of player who could really excel on the big ice with his speed and offensive ability. He had a strong World Under 17's for team Ontario and might have earned himself a look, even if it's far fetched.
Likelihood: WEAK

Michael Curtis - Belleville Bulls
Curtis is the type of guy who gets named to this team and then a whole bunch of people go "WHAT, this guy has terrible stats this year, why didn't they take player X?" Curtis is exactly the type of player Hockey Canada likes to take to this event for a spot on a third line/checking role (just like how he made the Ivan Hlinka team). He's a very strong defensive player, can play the PK, has speed, and can put the puck in the net if given the opportunity. I think there's a strong chance he'll be there.
Likelihood: STRONG

Austen Brassard - Belleville Bulls
Brassard is definitely an enigma. Pretty big guy, and definitely has the skill, but the consistency just isn't there right now. He scores in bunches and when he gets hot, he's a tough player to stop. But overall he's had a pretty disappointing draft season on an underwhelming Belleville club. He'll have to close out the season on a high note to get serious consideration IMO. Especially after he didn't really do a whole heck of a lot for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tournament (although just being on that team gives him a chance because of the familiarity factor)
Likelihood: MODERATE

Carter Sandlak - Belleville Bulls
Sandlak is another sandpaper type guy who could fill a depth role on the team. Does all the little things his coach will ask of him and can provide some energy. Just not sure if he's got enough offense to warrant a look.
Likelihood: WEAK

Alex Basso - Belleville Bulls
Basso is an interesting player. I expected him to have a pretty good season, especially after a very strong preseason performance. But things haven't really come together for him in his draft season. He remains a slick skating guy who can a little bit of everything from the back end and if they're looking to fill out the roster with someone with potential, Basso could be that guy.
Likelihood: WEAK

Malcolm Subban - Belleville Bulls
I think Subban actually has a pretty good shot at being one of the goaltenders for this tournament. He may not get a ton of time in Belleville (split with another contender in Tyson Teichmann), but a lot of scouts seem to think Subban is the better goaltending prospect and the type of guy who could really benefit from an opportunity like this...even if his draft year isn't until 2012.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Tysen Teichmann - Belleville Bulls
Even if it has been a rough season for the former OHL first rounder, you have to think he's got a damn good shot at a spot on this team. Hockey Canada is often pretty loyal to those who've played well for them previously, and Teichmann is just that. He was the starting goaltending on Canada's gold medal winning Ivan Hlinka team this past summer and could get a nod just based on that alone.
Likelihood: STRONG

Obviously the big loss from this section is Matt Puempel who's now out for the rest of the season due to hip surgery. He could have been an impact player for Canada.

Players whose teams won't have home ice advantage for round one and could be eliminated from the playoffs (Guelph, London, Sudbury, Brampton, Kingston)

Seth Griffith - London Knights
If the Knights do get eliminated in round one, I think Hockey Canada would be foolish to not consider Griffith. He's one of the more underrated 1993's in the league. He's already quite a complete player and he competes hard at both ends of the ice. He could play any role you wanted him to on this team, whether it be on a scoring line, or as part of an energy line and on the PK.
Likelihood: STRONG

Scott Harrington - London Knights
Even if Harrington's draft status has taken a hit from where it was at this point last season, he'd be a solid addition to this team. While his defensive game hasn't been as strong this season, he's shown in the past a capability of being a rock defensively and the type of guy Canada could send out there against the opposition's top units.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Frankie Corrado - Sudbury Wolves
The Wolves are playing some pretty exciting hockey right now and they look primed as a team who could upset in the first round. That being said, who really knows. If the Wolves are out of it, Corrado would be a great addition to team Canada. He can skate the puck up ice and create some offense from the back end. He's also improved his defensive game as the season has gone on.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Justin Sefton - Sudbury Wolves
In the second half of the OHL season, this guy has been a different player. He's getting better and better and is really starting to show signs as to why he was drafted so high. He's big. He's physical. And best of all, he's starting to improve offensively. He's actually got a hard shot and is starting to get it on net more. If Canada is looking for an intimidating presence on the back end, Sefton is that guy.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Barclay Goodrow - Brampton Battalion
Hockey Canada can always use a big guy who can put the puck in the net. Problem for Goodrow is that he's not really the type that uses his size consistently at this point. He's also kind of a one dimensional player at this point, but that one dimension can come in handy in an international tournament when you're looking for a guy with size who has hands around the net.
Likelihood: WEAK

As for the others, I'm not going to speculate as to which teams are going to be out in the first round, because we don't really know (and I've already done enough speculating with the above). Plus I wasn't intending to write a novel with this!