Thursday, April 28, 2011

OHL Playoff Predictions: OHL Final

My overall record for the playoffs stands at 9-5, after missing on Niagara during the Conference Finals.

So bring on the OHL Final!

1. Mississauga Majors vs. 1. Owen Sound Attack
Season Series: Majors 2-0
My Analysis: The Majors won both games during the regular season, but something to consider. One: The Majors first victory on November 20th, set up a rough stretch for the Attack where they went on a bit of a losing streak. The second meeting came at the heart of that rough patch on November 28th. Two: Scott Stajcer played his last regular season game against Mississauga on the 20th, after getting hurt in that one (and giving up 4 goals on 8 shots). Three: Geoffrey Schemitsch missed both games and his return to the Attack line up during these playoffs has really strengthened their team defense. That being said, the Majors looked pretty determined against the Dogs, and while they faced some adversity, they were clearly the better team. Even if both teams have already qualified for the Memorial Cup, this should be an exciting series. Nobody wants to get into the Memorial Cup through the back door. Both teams have looked great this playoffs, but I'm taking the Majors.
Prediction: Mississauga in 5

Would absolutely love to hear your predictions as comments!

OHL Playoff Pool - Results After Conference Finals

Update after the Conference Finals

Patrick King - 34 points (10 points remaining)
Steve Clark - 26 points (10 points remaining)
Scott Campbell - 26 points (10 points remaining)
Brock Otten - 18 points (0 points remaining)

So Patrick has this thing all locked up after successfully predicting the two teams facing off for the OHL title (Mississauga and Owen Sound).

Congrats to Patrick.

A sad end for myself, as with Niagara's loss, I was eliminated and shoved to the bottom of the standings. It was a bold prediction, but I stand by it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Future Considerations Chief Scout Dan Stewart Answers Some Questions

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Future Considerations chief scout Dan Stewart, as he answered some questions about the OHL players eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

For those that are unfamiliar with Future Considerations, they're an independent scouting organization that's exploded to the forefront in the recent years. The founder and Managing Editor, Aaron Vickers, and I used to work at Hockeysfuture together some years ago. Aaron knows his stuff and is a very knowledgeable guy, so I trust that those he has surrounded himself with are equally intelligent. Dan Stewart is ultimately one of those guys (and is based out of Sarnia, so he sees a lot of OHL action).

Here's Dan answering some of my questions.

Brock Otten - Looking outside the OHL (which is what we’re here to talk about) for a second, just how good or bad of a draft (2011) is this do you think? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

Dan Stewart: The draft as a whole has gone from pretty vanilla and looking below average just two short years ago to now appearing slightly above average which is exciting as many prognosticators foresaw doom and gloom over the past couple years with the 93/94 crop.

The strength of this draft truly lies in its depth and potential sleepers it possesses. Full of undersized prospects with good skill and offensive ability, how these guys develop will go along way to deciding how this draft grades out. The depth is such there could be as many second and even third round picks that eventually play in the NHL as what we see come out of the first round of a mediocre draft.

The drafts major weakness was originally considered to be a lack of top end talent, though Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, Gabriel Landeskog, Sean Couturier and most recently Jonathan Huberdeau have gone a long way to remedy that and show there are potential NHL star quality prospects available.

The CHL contribution is strong this year, especially from the QMJHL and the OHL with the WHL also adding some nice depth to the mix. The U.S. High School circuit and USHL appear to be having an off year as far as high end talent is concerned.

The Swedes again have a strong crop and there are a few gems in the other European countries to nab. Russia, continuing with a recent trend, has seen most of its high end talent jump ship for the CHL as these youngsters understand NHL teams are looking at who is taking the steps and showing determination towards playing in the NHL but playing in the North American spotlight and who not to waste an early rounder on in hopes they will come over later.

Overall it looks like a good draft but I would hesitate to call it great at this point.

BO - OK, so narrowing it down to just the OHL; how do you think this crop of OHL players compares to yesteryears?

DS: I am currently situated in Sarnia, Ontario (good place to be for the 2012 draft season) and the OHL has to be the best-played junior hockey being played out there.

This year’s crop has really come on strong over the last 12 months. Honestly, I thought we might have 15 or 20 in the top 100 picks when the 09-10 season came to a close but it has quickly become apparent, the OHL will again produce the most talent overall.

We have been pretty lucky over the past decade as the talent we have witnessed and the OHL has produces has been some of the best in the world.

BO - Last year the OHL had 9 first round picks. 2009 had 7. 2008 had 11. What would you set the over/under at for 2011?

DS: It is hard to say as NHL teams, no matter what you hear, do make selections based on team need and preferences. If I were running all 30 tables I would set the over under at about 11. I have 10 going for sure with the ability for another three or four to sneak in there.

BO - Why is Gabriel Landeskog the top rated OHL player in your eyes?

DS: Gabriel (love the name as it is also my sons, but not the reason we see him as first in the O) has the prototypical power forward skills that really make him hard to play against plus the immeasurable talents that will make him a very solid pro hockey player in the very near future. His strength, offensive skills, defensive awareness, leadership, intensity and drive will make him a hot commodity in Minnesota and that is why he is #1 from the Ontario Hockey League in our books.

Dougie Hamilton is a very close second as we think he will one day be a very formidable #2 defenseman in the NHL with his immense size, fluid skating ability and offensive punch.

BO - I noticed from your April rankings that you’ve got Ryan Strome behind Landeskog, Hamilton and Murphy. What don’t you like about Strome’s game in comparison with those ahead of him?

DS: With Strome, and I have had these discussions with other rink rats for the past three months, we see a prospect who really exploded offensively this year but has yet to show us a complete game and that he can fight through checks for those chances consistently. He is a fine talent and that is why he is in our top 10 but we feel Landeskog, Hamilton, and Ryan Murphy have more pro upside at this point in time.

BO - So, if I may ask, what’s the difference between a guy like Jonathan Huberdeau (who you have 2nd overall) and Ryan Strome? Both seem to have risen the most this year as NHL draft prospects.

DS: The main difference is in our eyes; Huberdeau is the more offensively gifted and better suited for the pro game than Strome is at the present time. Strome has some fabulous hands, can make some great one-on-one moves and he skates very well but Huberdeau has the better offensive awareness, drive, intensity and on-ice vision. Huberdeau has the ability to both set-up a chance and snipe a goal. Really though the difference on our board between #2 and #8 is extremely slim but we see Huberdeau having the better NHL career.

BO - I’ve been pretty disappointed with Brandon Saad in the second half of the OHL season (and thus far through the playoffs). You’ve still got him at 14th (although he’s down three spots from March). Do you see yourselves souring on him at all, or is his package of size and skill too much to pass on?

DS: Inconsistencies are really driving the once top-5 prospect down the rankings with most scouts. Saad has had some rough stretches where injury has set him back this season but more was expected and should have been expected with the potential he showed in his last US NTDP season. He really needs to ramp up the drive and intensity from shift to shift. Brandon is still a highly regarded prospect but instead of a top-six role some are now thinking third liner as a pro. Still, a third liner with that shot and skating ability is a pretty nice luxury.

BO - Vladislav Namestnikov sits at 17 on your list, while Alexander Khoklachev sits just outside the first round. I’ve never understood how Namestnikov is consistently ranked well ahead of the Khok, so perhaps you could shed some light on why you feel the Namestnikov is a superior draft prospect?

DS: Pro upside is what separates the two. Namestnikov plays a solid pro two-way game right now and has some great feet, vision and flow to his game. Khoklachev is skilled, gritty and small. He gets bounced around when he goes into traffic and is pretty one-dimensional at this point. Will the little Khoklachev be able to survive against bigger competition at the next level playing the game he does? When you have a question like that it causes a prospect to fall a bit.

BO - I know the answer from your most recent rankings, but perhaps you could take us through your thought process and order for the three outstanding Oshawa Generals; Boone Jenner, Nicklas Jensen, and Lucas Lessio.

DS: We have Jensen just outside our top 20, Jenner at the tail end of the first round and Lessio in the mid-second round as of the April rankings.

Now, if you went by skill alone it could be Lessio, Jensen and Jenner in that order but the problem is Lessio is highly inconsistent and shows only flashes of his ability. His strong work along the boards does not show itself every game and his drive is wavering. He has some boom or bust potential for the next level but could also be a steal if he dedicates himself and bring the consistency that his game is currently lacking.

Jensen is the biggest of the three and will add some nice mass before all is said and done plus has some very nice hands and scorers shot. We see him possessing the potential to be a top six scoring forward at the next level. He can cause loads of trouble for a defense when he carries the puck down the wing before cutting across the middle in the offensive zone for a scoring chance.

Jenner is the hard working; defensive minded one of the bunch. He also has some offensive skills and will take the puck to the net every chance he gets. His stride is a little heavy for the next level of play and while it has improved his role at the next level he is seen as a third line two-way forward who will likely wear a ‘C’ on his shoulder in the future.

BO - One of the most talked about prospects, or at least widely debated ones, this year seems to be Daniel Catenacci. How high is his potential (in your opinion) at the NHL level?

DS: Despite possessing some high end offensive skill, ‘The Cat’ will likely be asked to play a defensive role at the next level because of his impressive speed and awareness. He could post a solid 25-30 goal total as a top-six forward but we see him being utilized as more of a Kris Draper than a Michael Cammalleri.

BO - Has there been a player (or players) who’ve really improved their stock with their OHL playoff performance(s) to date?

DS: None that have done enough to really jump up the ranking in the OHL to date but Dougie Hamilton continues to look good.

Oshawa’s Boone Jenner and Nicklas Jensen as well as the Sudbury Wolves rookie forward Joshua Leivo all put up some surprising production before they were eliminated.

I guess my pick for playoff riser would be Mike Morrison in Kitchener. He was already on a pretty steep trajectory coming into the playoffs and did nothing be help his case in the Rangers loss to Plymouth. Its hard to be a playoff riser when you only play three games, but if Morrison had been in net from the beginning instead of Maxwell there is no doubt in my mind Kitchener would still be playing.

BO - I guess that would explain having Mike Morrison in your top 60! That’s a very high ranking for him (in comparison with others). Why is he the top rated goalie from the OHL for you?

DS: He was limited in ice time this season playing behind Brandon Maxwell for the most part, but when he was in the crease Kitchener played with added confidence and he showed a strong compete level, excellent lateral movement and a wicked glove hand that stole plenty of sure goals this season. He does have some areas to improve upon but we feel right now he showed the most upside of all the available tenders in the OHL.

BO - I also noticed Ryan Sproul inside your top 60. It must have been that outstanding piece of literature from OHL Prospects that sold you on him (kidding…or am I?). Is it possible that a team rolls the dice really early on this 6’4 offensive defenseman?

DS: Must have been. Sproul is a prospect who came in the season with not much hype and it wasn’t until the New Year he started to really pick-up steam. I could see him going as high as mid-second if a team really has an eye for him but with that said he does have some holes in his game that need attention, so a probable early third selection is more than likely.

BO - No Vincent Trocheck in your top 60. What’s the beef?

DS: So you’re a Trocheck admirer are you? Well so are we at FC. The problem with the feisty Trocheck is deciding what type of role he will fill at the next level? While the undersized centre has offensive skills he is also on the smallish side and doesn’t possess the speed or even the shifty elusiveness you want your diminutive guys to have. If he were a six-foot-three forward and playing the way he does he would be holding down a top round spot for sure. As it is, he is a solid citizen with nice value around the 55 to 70 range for us.

BO - There are a lot of guys playing for Team Canada at the Under 18’s right now. Who from the OHL has the most to gain from a strong performance there (this Q & A took place during the Under 18's)?

DS: Brett Ritchie of Sarnia is a name that was considered first round material until his season was derailed early on. I had said to another scout in August that I thought he had 30+ goal potential and would make himself a top-20 pick playing wing with either Nail Yakupov and/or Alex Galchenyuk on his line. He is off to a pretty good tournament but has been a little snake bitten on the scoring sheet so far. Also, forward Alan Quine and defender Scott Harrington have a chance to add some glow before the season comes to a close for them.

BO - Are there any “sleepers” who you really like from the OHL, but who didn’t make your top 60 for April?

DS: I will give you a brief All-Sleeper Team from the OHL.

In Goal watch out for Saginaw Spirit tender Tadeas Galansky who has immense size and quickness for such a big body. More ice time will allow him to develop his game but the raw tools are already impressive.

On defense the big Russian Andrei Pedan from Guelph has a good blend of size and mobility. He really came alive in the playoffs and showed some good potential in a strong and imposing two-way role.

His partner is Brampton’s Spencer Abraham who is a slightly below average sized puck moving defender. Not getting a lot of hype or credit with many scouts, he could have a breakout season next year.

On left Wing we have Belleville’s speedy two-way winger Michael Curtis. While his production dropped this season he was arguably more effective as a strong defensive presence that made things happen with his speed and underrated offensive skill.

At centre is London’s Seth Griffith who really came on the last half of the year for the Knights. He makes his teammates better with his offensive creativity and solid work ethic in all zones and was a big reason for Namestnikov’s solid finish as well.

On the other wing is Plymouth's skilled forward Garrett Meurs. The skilled Meurs has all kinds of ability with the puck and the creativity to generate offense but for one reason or another failed to really take advantage of his ice time this year.

BO - Last question about the draft, are there any overage types you see getting a sniff from the OHL…like a Michael Houser?

DS: Yes…the talented Mr. Houser will likely be picked up this year as he just missed the cut off for being first year eligible by a few days. His performance all season long for the Hunters will have someone excited about his pro potential. The 2011 draft really does not have many overage prospects from the OHL to get excited about unlike years past.

BO - You guys do a great job in providing quality, yet affordable coverage of the NHL draft. Tell my readers how they can purchase your draft guide and why should they pony up the cash for it?

DS: Your readers can visit us at our newly launched 2011 NHL Entry Draft Centre at

Simply put, Future Considerations’ offering for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft is the best bang for your buck out there. Future Considerations’ 2011 NHL Entry Draft Guide is over 50% less in price than that of our competitors yet offers an embarrassment of information, including:
-Features on the top-ranked prospects, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sean Couturier, Gabriel Landeskog, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Murphy, Nathan Beaulieu, Duncan Siemens, Mark McNeill, Myles Bell and Rocco Grimaldi.
-A ranking of the top 150 prospects for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
-In-depth prospect profiles on the top 120 prospects.
-A feature on the top 10 late round sleepers for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
-An analysis of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, including profiles on the top 40 prospects eligible to be drafted in 15 months.
-A bonus glimpse of the notable names eligible for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
-As always, our famous mock draft.
And much, much more.
For free content leading up to the draft and for the latest in prospect information from the draft and beyond be sure to visit our blog.

Thank you Brock for having me.

BO - No problem Dan. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you want to purchase the Future Considerations Draft Guide for 2011, visit this link.

PuckLife Magazine Videos - Part 2 - Jordan Subban

We bring you the second priority draft prospect video from PuckLife (first on Max Domi here).

Jordan Subban

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Top 10 - Characteristics/Traits That Scouts Look For

Back in February, I had readers send in their ideas for a future top 10 article. One of the most intriguing ideas I received was that of "the top 10 skills/traits that scouts look for in a prospect."

I put this one in my back pocket for a later date (a date closer to the entry draft) and have since enlisted the help of some great hockey minds to explore this topic. Kirk Luedeke (B2011DW), Nathan Fournier (WOJH), and Dominic Tiano (2011 OHL DEP), and I have been discussing this very topic for about a month now. We've been debating these traits ad nauseum and I present to you a list, a ranking, of the traits we believe scouts look for in their future NHL players. Now, none of us are professional scouts so don't go taking our word as gospel. Let that serve as your disclaimer. However, I feel all of us have covered junior hockey enough to have a good feel for the types of characteristics that scouts look for.

One other minor disclaimer. I'll let Kirk explain it since he's the goaltender. "One issue [you may] have with the rankings now that I look at them in detail is that they don't factor any of the goalie-specific skills, but five attributes are the exclusive province of skaters." Rather than re-tweaking them, we'll instead say that many of these attributes are "skater" specific. Maybe in the future, we'll make a goaltender list. After all, most people say goaltenders are cut from a different cloth anyway (right Kirk?), so perhaps it only makes sense.

Regardless, I present to you, the list that we've come up with (and it certainly wasn't easy).

10. Two Way Play
With two way play, we're looking at it from two different angles. We're looking at forwards who backcheck hard and make plays defensively, and we're looking at defenseman who can rush the puck, quarterback the powerplay and aid in the generation of offense. Basically, we're looking at players who play both ends of the ice regardless of their on ice position. Dominic Tiano produced a great argument as to why this should be important. "Usually the player that already possesses a strong two way game is closer to playing in the NHL than the player who needs to work on his defensive game," says Tiano. In addition, I would add that a player who shows the willingness to play both ends in junior is the most likely to do this at the NHL level, where it's required. However, Kirk Luedeke argues that there are definitely more important things "because this can be taught to a degree. Hockey sense and a player's natural awareness/feel for the game will determine this effectiveness to a large extent, but good coaching can improve a player who is lacking."

9. Play Without the Puck
Now on first glance, you might be confused as to how this distances itself from the above category. But let me explain. We felt like play without the puck (while it includes two way tendencies, like backchecking for forwards) can involve a number of different things. Tendencies like forechecking, blocking shots, ability to win battles in the corners, and getting themselves in good scoring position (not so much in a knowing where to go, but the hustle to beat defenders to open space). The term hustle would be one that could be closely associated with this. I definitely had this higher than some of the other guys and I admit to putting a lot of emphasis on this when I watch players. During a game, some of the better players are going to be on the ice close to 30 minutes in junior hockey. Of those 30 minutes, just how much time does the player spend with puck on his stick? The things he does without the puck are important for that reason. Call it the little things that make you a successful hockey player. Kirk brings forward a pretty good example as to how this might hurt a player. "guys who play at a lower level and dominate struggle the most at the higher levels with this when they don't always have the puck and have to learn to play more w/o it." In a way, Kirk is definitely right and the evidence of this is how often midget players struggle in their first OHL camp as they get used to not having the puck on their stick 24/7.

8. Size
Pretty self explanatory. Smaller players have definitely improved their odds in making it to the NHL in this millennium. But there's no denying that a bigger guy with the same skill set is going to get more attention because they have the potential to be harder to contain. On the flip side, how is a 5'9 defenseman going to contain a big monster like Milan Lucic at the NHL level? Interestingly enough, Dominic believes that size is becoming more important for forwards than defenseman. "Believe it or not this is more important for forwards then d, or at least the trend is showing that. Somewhere I have the stats but forwards are getting bigger in the draft and d-men are getting smaller at least in the earlier rounds." Perhaps Kirk has an explanation. "The recent trend of increased head shots is interesting to watch, too. By virtue of being shorter than the larger percentage of players in the league, the smaller guy is going to be at more risk for concussions unless the NHL does something to change things up."

7. Character
This one was debated heavily. Character for us included many things; passion, drive to succeed, performing under pressure, self confidence, and work in the community. Look no further than the NHL combine, where NHL scouts and management conduct interviews with players to learn more about them and determine what makes them tick. Kirk really sums this up well. "You always hear about certain players lacking in key elements whether it be size or skating or what have you, but they still manage to reach the NHL because of their passion and work ethic. One NHL head scout told me that he's a believer in taking chances of certain players who have the will and determination. "If a kid wants to be a player badly enough, they usually get there," he said." You could certainly include leadership in this category, but we all agreed it deserved it's own category.

6. Skill with the Puck
While this could include many things, we determined it to revolve around poise with the puck, creativity, and the ability to receive passes and stickhandle in traffic. Both Dominic and Kirk believe this to be most important for defenseman. In fact, Kirk went so far as to say that this might be one of the top qualities he'd look for in a defenseman. At the same time, Kirk argues that without strong puck skill, "you can make the argument that you cannot possess goal scoring ability or playmaking ability." I'll take it even one step beyond. A player with creativity and puck skill puts fans in the seats. The idea of having a player on the ice who can go end to end on an electrifying rush , or score a highlight reel goal in the shootout, has to be gravy for NHL owners.

5. Playmaking Ability
While you could argue that this goes hand in hand with the above (puck skill), we looked at it from the angle of creating plays for your linemates. Call it passing ability, or on ice vision, or whatever, it's important because the team who scores the most goals is the one that wins. Nathan says, "the best players have that ability to slow the play down and like a quarterback, go through their reads (options) to make the best possible play." Interestingly enough, we had conflicting opinions as to whether playmakers or goal scorers are more important. Dominic says, "The ability to make everyone else on the ice better provides the greater chance at producing goals then the player that brings just goal scoring ability." Where as Kirk says, "ultimately, a great playmaker's effectiveness and production is directly related to the finishers he has around him. This is not to say skilled passers are a dime-a-dozen- they must have the vision and creativity, plus touch to be considered high-end playmakers, but there's a reason Wayne Gretzky is the "Great One." He was always a threat to finish. Even with the gobs of assists, without the goal scoring element, Gretzky's legend would not have reached its height."

4. Consistency
Does the player bring it, night in and night out? Shift in, and shift out? In the NHL, every game matters. If only the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars had won ONE more game this year. You want players who come to play every game like it's their last. I mean, that's not to say that a player won't have a bad game. Nobody is perfect. But it's how that player bounces back. You want to avoid those streaky players who play 10 games like a first line superstar, and the next 10 like a 4th line scrub. Even though we mentioned our lack of attention to specific goaltending attributes, Kirk argues this might be the top quality to look for in a goaltender.

3. Goal Scoring Ability
While people often say...defense wins can't argue against the fact that you're still going to have to score that one goal each game. There are a ton of players who get drafted or go on to successful professional careers, and can do only one thing really well. Score goals. If you can score, regardless of any other flaws you may have as a prospect, someone will give you a look. Kirk says, "pure scorers must have the hands (release, accuracy), strength (power in shot), sense and creativity to do it consistently. Speed is a bonus, but we're learning that some guys don't need to be blazers to finish, so this attribute is the culmination of other key elements plus that extra little something- maybe it's selfishness- that makes a guy a scorer at the highest level." While Kirk referred to as it selfishness, I think you could argue it's confidence. Goal scorers seem to have that swagger about them. That, "I'll shoot the puck from anywhere on the ice, I don't care," attitude. That being said, the ultimate goal is to find a player who has overall offensive ability. But if we had to choose, we're taking the goal scorer before the playmaker (except Dominic).

2. Hockey Sense
Perhaps one of the hardest traits to scout is also one of the most critical to a player's success at the next level. It comes as no accident that pretty much every trait we've listed previous to hockey sense...also requires a strong hockey IQ to excel at. Kirk says it best. "All the skills in the world won't translate into the pure potential they allow for without the innate feel for the game and ability to see the ice/make instinctive plays. Hockey is all about time and space and hockey sense is what extends the windows for both. Players without the feel for the game cannot react quickly enough to the developing play, fail to see open teammates/better scoring opportunities, are slow to pick up their check, or anticipate the most dangerous scoring chances/where the shot will come from (for goalies). We've seen plenty of players who can skate like the wind or have terrific hands, but without the hockey sense, none of them have ever been top-three or six forwards/stars- if they've made it to the NHL it has been as role players." I actually had this at number one on my list. I think that's because I view it as the one thing you really can't improve on. You either have it or you don't. Skating can be improved. A player's shot can be improved. Hockey sense is something good players are born with. They make quicker decisions than the other players around them and that's what allows them to be successful.

1. Skating
Even though I didn't personally have this at number one, it didn't surprise me to see this finish in first between the four of us. The NHL game is played at such a fast pace today, and you've got to be a good skater to find space and make plays (with and without the puck). Now skating isn't just speed. You can be a good skater without being a blazer (ask Jeff Skinner). It's about balance, agility, acceleration. And while some forwards can get away with this, it's pretty rare to see a defenseman get drafted high with a skating deficiency. "The foundation; the one skill that the entire game revolves around. Poor skaters are becoming more the exception than the rule. While guys like Mike Knuble still have a place in the game, skating-deficient players have to have other attributes in such sizeable quantities to offset the heavy boots," says Kirk.

Honorable Mention

We actually ended up with a list of 19 traits in total. The ones that failed to make our top 10 were:

Physicality (intensity)
Leadership (on and off the ice)
Injury History
League They're Playing In (e.g. the NCAA versus the MJHL)
Age (those draft overagers, or even a player born in January versus a player born in August)
Team Success (on the ice)
Nationality (e.g. "The Russian factor")

Thanks so much to Kirk, Nate, and Dominic for their active participation in the discussion that took place to create this article. I hope you enjoyed the read and all of us would love to hear your feedback as to what YOU think scouts value.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

PuckLife Magazine Videos

Kevin Gavin, over at the wonderful PuckLife magazine (which I've had the pleasure of contributing to from time to time), shot me off an email recently.

They're starting to produce some videos on several of the high end OHL draft prospects (priority draft 2011) and he asked me to help promote them.

So here's the first one on Max Domi.

If you want to check out PuckLife, see the tab on the right of the blog.

Monday, April 18, 2011

OHL Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

After sneaking by round 1 with an above .500 record (5-3), round 2 provided a more favorable result for me. I went 3-1 on the round, missing on Plymouth over Owen Sound (big time). That brings my overall record for the playoffs to 8-4.

So bring on the Conference Finals!

Eastern Conference

1. Mississauga Majors vs. 3. Niagara IceDogs
Season Series: Majors 7-1
My Analysis: OK, so Mississauga dominated the season series. This includes a 10-1 embarrassment at the end of February. But this is the post season and I think it's fair to say in this regard that you can throw the regular season series down the drain. Both teams are firing on all cylinders and haven't been seriously tested as of yet. While Mississauga has the advantage defensively, both for their system and their players, I truly believe Niagara's forwards are deeper and stronger, and that Mark Visentin has larger potential to steal games. So it comes down to this...can Niagara penetrate Mississauga's defense (something they had trouble doing in the regular season), and if not can Mark Visentin be the difference maker? I truly believe the Dogs can pull this one out, which jives with my original playoff prediction of their victory in the OHL finals. Either way, I just hope this one is a close series, as the East really hasn't provided us with one yet.
Prediction: Niagara in 7

Western Conference

1. Owen Sound Attack vs. 4. Windsor Spitfires
Season Series: Attack 3-1
My Analysis: This should prove to be one heck of a series. The Attack (much to my surprise) absolutely ran through the Plymouth Whalers, while the Spitfires had a slightly tougher time with Saginaw. Owen Sound has definitely benefited from the return of Scott Stajcer in net, as not only has he been playing well, but the team seems more confident in front of him. Meanwhile, Windsor is really rolling right now and are starting to get better goaltending from Jack Campbell, on top of their offense clicking very well. I feel like a lot of people (including myself) have underestimated this Attack team, not only in the regular season but also the playoffs. I think that these teams match up very well offensively, with two deep and balanced scoring attacks. But I do believe Owen Sound to be the superior defensive team. The key will be staying out of the box and limiting Windsor's (and Ryan Ellis') powerplay chances. Honestly flip a coin. My gut says Owen Sound, so that's what I'm going with.
Prediction: Owen Sound in 6

Would absolutely love to hear your predictions as comments!

OHL Playoff Pool - Results After Round 2

Update to your friendly playoff pool for round 2.

For reference, here are the original selections.

Standings After Round 2 (four way tie still)

Patrick King 18 points (26 possible points remaining)
Brock Otten 18 points (18 possible points remaining)
Scott Campbell 18 points (18 possible points remaining)
Steve Clark 18 points (18 possible points remaining)

Again, Patrick technically is the favourite to win based on the most points remaining. Interestingly enough, Patrick, Scott and Steve all have Mississauga winning the East, while I have Niagara. Should play out well.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Darren Archibald Between the Legs Goal

What a beauty.

Stick tap to Neate Sager of Yahoo Sports for sending me the goal alone (instead of the previous clip where you had to fast forward through the game highlights.

Monday, April 11, 2011

NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings for 2011

NHL Central Scouting released their final draft rankings for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft today. This list always creates a lot of controversy, and this year is no different.

The thing that you need to remember is that this is only one list. The great thing about being interested in junior hockey and the NHL Draft, is that so many great publications put out lists and none of them are similar. This would be the same if you looked at an NHL team's list. So while I might disagree with some things they've done...I don't discredit their opinion.

The one major beef that I do have with the Central Scouting rankings is timing. I've never understood why they release their rankings before the Under 18's and the completion of the CHL playoffs. If anything, I think that's where a lot of their negative criticism comes from. Players shine in the playoffs (like Jeff Skinner) or at the Under 18's (like Kyle Clifford) and rise considerably in the rankings prior to the draft. Then when people go back and look at the CSS rankings, they seem outdated. Why not release them later, like the beginning of May when everything has wrapped up? That would still give NHL teams at least a month and a half to analyze the list and zero in on specific players.

Anyway, I digress. Here's how the OHL players breakdown. I've included their movement in comparison with where they were on the list (in terms of the OHL) last time. If no number is given, they stayed the same.

Skaters (full list found here)

1. Gabriel Landeskog - NA Ranking: 2
2. Dougie Hamilton - NA Ranking: 4
3. Ryan Strome - NA Ranking: 8 (+4)
4. Ryan Murphy - NA Ranking: 9
5. Vladislav Namestnikov - NA Ranking: 11
6. Mark Scheifele - NA Ranking: 16 (+3)
7. Boone Jenner - NA Ranking: 18 (-1)
8. Brandon Saad - NA Ranking: 19 (-5)
9. Nicklas Jensen - NA Ranking: 21 (-1)
10. Shane Prince - NA Ranking: 26 (+2)
11. Matt Puempel - NA Ranking: 28 (-1)
12. Alex Khokhlachev - NA Ranking: 29 (+4)
13. Rickard Rakell - NA Ranking: 30 (-2)
14. Stefan Noesen - NA Ranking: 35 (+3)
15. Brett Ritchie - NA Ranking: 36 (+4)
16. Daniel Catenacci - NA Ranking: 37 (-2)
17. Vincent Trocheck - NA Ranking: 41 (-4)
18. Lucas Lessio - NA Ranking: 46 (-3)
19. Stuart Percy - NA Ranking: 53 (-1)
20. Ryan Sproul - NA Ranking: 54 (+17)
21. Joseph Cramarossa - NA Ranking: 63 (+1)
22. Austen Brassard - NA Ranking: 64 (+7)
23. Nick Cousins - NA Ranking: 71 (+2)
24. Alan Quine - NA Ranking: 72 (-4)
25. Tobias Rieder - NA Ranking: 73 (-2)
26. Anthony Camara - NA Ranking: 78 (+2)
27. Garrett Meurs - NA Ranking: 79
28. Michael Curtis - NA Ranking: 82 (+3)
29. Andrew Fritsch - NA Ranking: 84 (+1)
30. Andrey Pedan - NA Ranking: 85 (-6)
31. Keevin Cutting - NA Ranking: 87 (+5)
32. Justin Sefton - NA Ranking: 89 (+15)
33. Scott Harrington - NA Ranking: 98 (-12)
34. Barclay Goodrow - NA Ranking: 116 (+8)
35. Craig Duininck - NA Ranking: 118 (-2)
36. Tyler Graovac - NA Ranking: 120 (+11)
37. Dylan DeMelo - NA Ranking: 121 (+10)
38. Luke Hietkamp - NA Ranking: 135 (+9)
39. David Broll - NA Ranking: 139 (-13)
40. Colin Suellentrop - NA Ranking: 140 (-6)
41. Ben Thomson - NA Ranking: 146 (-9)
42. Colin Miller - NA Ranking: 148 (+3)
43. Frank Corrado - NA Ranking: 155 (+4)
44. Seth Griffith - NA Ranking: 158 (-5)
45. Zach Bell - NA Ranking: 179 (-10)
46. Carter Sandlak - NA Ranking: 192 (-6)
47. Dario Trutmann - NA Ranking: 194 (-9)
48. Steven Trojanovic - NA Ranking: 202 (-7)
49. Cody McNaughton - NA Ranking: 208 (-5)

Goalies (full list found here)

1. Jordan Binnington - NA Ranking: 3 (+1)
2. Mike Morrison - NA Ranking: 6 (+2)
3. Matt Mahalak - NA Ranking: 8 (+4)
4. Matej Machovsky - NA Ranking: 11 (-3)
5. Tadeas Galansky - NA Ranking: 15 (-2)
6. Garret Sparks - NA Ranking: 17 (+4)
7. Michael Houser - NA Ranking: 19 (+1)
8. Tyson Teichmann - NA Ranking: 26 (+1)
9. Frank Palazzese - NA Ranking: 29 (-4)

- So let's take a look at the biggest movers and shakers. Those who made the bigger jumps include Ryan Sproul, Austen Brassard, Barclay Goodrow, Justin Sefton, Tyler Graovac, Dylan DeMelo, Luke Hietkamp, and Matt Mahalak. Those who fell the hardest include Brandon Saad, Scott Harrington, David Broll, Ben Thomson, Zach Bell, Dario Trutmann, and Frank Palazzese. I was surprised to see Austen Brassard jump in the rankings, considering his second half wasn't all that different from the first. He remains an enigma who has a lot to prove at the Under 18's. Also surprised to see Dario Trutmann among the fallers, considering that according to most Plymouth fans, he's been excellent since coming back from the WJC's.

- Just in case you were curious, the following are the players who completely fell off the final rankings; Michal Cajcovsky, Derek Mathers, and John Chartrand.

- I have to say, I don't quite understand Nicklas Jensen and Seth Griffith falling, considering how well both played to close out the season. Jensen is having a monster playoffs for Oshawa, while Griffith earned himself a spot on Team Canada for the Under 18's.

- Definitely a little disappointed to not see Mitchell Theoret on the rankings. I'm sure you know I'm a fan. He'll definitely be considerably higher on my final list.

- Also MEGA surprised to not see Joshua Leivo on the list. Sure most people are only noticing him now in the playoffs, but he has actually been excellent the past few months. But CSS is usually a little bit behind on things like this (see the explanation above).

What are your thoughts on these rankings?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Top 10 - Most Impressive 1994 Born Players

Like many of the Sunday Top 10 articles on this blog, it's become a tradition for me to rank the "true" OHL rookies who impressed me the most. By true, I mean those 1994 birth date, sixteen year olds (sometimes fifteen) who did more than just get their feet wet in the OHL this season.

Now I must warn you. This isn't an early ranking of these players for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. This is a list of those 1994's who impressed me the most this year, and is not meant to be an early draft prognostication (as if it was, the list would look different).

As I mentioned, this is somewhat of a tradition, so it only seems fair to link you to the versions of yesteryear. 1992's. 1993's.

Here's this year's list.

10. Matia Marcantuoni - Kitchener Rangers
Even though he didn't really play the final two months of the season because of a high ankle sprain, Marcantuoni did enough in the opening months of the season to open some eyes. He has the potential to develop into quite the well rounded center, with speed, a complete offensive arsenal, and a developing edge to his game. He's likely to be the team's number one center next year (or at least number two behind Michael Catenacci) so I'd expect pretty big things from him next year after a summer of strength training.

9. Scott Laughton - Oshawa Generals
While it might have been hard for Laughton to stand out this year in Oshawa, thanks to the forward depth the team has accumulated, he made the most of his ice time. As a high priority selection, you'd expect the offensive skills to be there...and they are. Laughton is going to be an elite goal scoring center in this league. But what caught me off guard was the development of the rest of his game. Laughton is already a very complete player who plays the game hard, and isn't afraid to get his nose dirty. While it may be equally hard for him to stand out next year when all of Oshawa's talented forwards likely return, he does enough of the little things right to make me believe that he'll be just fine.

8. Adam Pelech - Erie Otters
The Otters, even if they lost the battle with Windsor in the opening round, had a very good season. One of the biggest reasons for their success this season was the play of their underrated defense and that includes the third Pelech brother to play in the OHL. Brothers Michael and Matt had very productive OHL careers (even if their pro careers haven't gone quite as well so far), and Adam looks to be on track make it a hat trick. He's cut from a similar cloth to brother Matt (a former first rounder of Calgary); a solid stay at home defenseman who can move bodies with a good frame. But the difference is that I think Adam has the potential to be better offensively because he moves the puck better and has the skating ability to lead the rush. I think Adam could be the best Pelech yet!

7. Ryan Rupert - London Knights
A third round pick of the Knights, Rupert originally failed to make the team and didn't really start making his impact until the new year. Before that he was putting up great numbers in the GOJHL with Lambton. He's not the biggest, but he's a fearless player and has all the attributes you like to see in smaller offensive guys. He's quick, he battles away from the puck, and he's not afraid to stick up for himself. I'm not sure where the Knights keep finding these guys outside of the first couple of rounds, but Rupert looks like a guy who could make a very large impact in this league (along with twin brother Matt).

6. Gianluca Curcuruto - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A very composed and intelligent defenseman, Curcuruto was maybe the top all around defenseman for the Hounds in his freshman season. He played in all situations for the team and finished at only -1 on the year...which has to be considered quite the feat on a last place team. I think we're looking at a player who's only scratching the surface of his potential; a potential we're likely to see more of next year.

5. Slater Koekkoek - Peterborough Petes
I wonder if any of the teams drafting in the top 6 are kicking themselves for letting Koekkoek slide to the Petes at 7th. Originally considered a possible top 3 pick, Koekkoek took a minor tumble on draft day, but he's certainly proved himself to be a future OHL all star. Offensively, he has all the tools and already controls the point on the powerplay quite effectively. Defensively, he's a work in progress, but he has all the intangibles that would suggest that part of his game will improve (like a desire to impose his size). It'll be interesting to see how he plays for Team Canada at the Under 18's.

4. Nick Ebert - Windsor Spitfires
You've got to be impressed by this Windsor blueliner. Coming over from the USHL, he had pretty high expectations and he met them (you don't say that for every player in his situation). Ebert is really the whole package. He can skate, he can shoot the puck, he plays both ends of the ice. The thing about Ebert's game that not a lot of people realize is how physical he is. He really throws the body around defensively. Sure he's a bit rough around the edges and has some learning to do (when it comes to pinching, or going for the big hit), but he's had a tremendous season and looks like he's well on the path to replacing Ryan Ellis in Windsor next year.

3. Alex Galchenyuk - Sarnia Sting
I bet you're probably surprised to see him at three, and really it doesn't have anything to do with Alex being bad (how could you be bad with the rookie season he put up), but more so to do with the next two really knocking my socks off. Alex is just a tremendous offensive player. He might have the best hands in the entire OHL, and next year's he's going to make one NHL GM very happy. Along with Nail Yakupov, he's become such an electrifying player who plays the game at full speed ahead. He's also got a bit of a mean streak, which he'll need as teams start to further zero in on him. I wouldn't be surprised if he lead the league in scoring next year.

2. Sean Monahan - Ottawa 67's
How good was this guy this year? Monahan was outstanding for the 67's, playing a bevy of roles for the team, whether it be the checking line center or on a scoring line. He's got great size down the middle, and unlike a lot of kids his age, he actually knows how to use it. He protects the puck unbelievably well and is already a very hard player to contain offensively. The best thing about Monahan is that he's already a very good two way player. When he's centering Tyler Toffoli next year, a lot of people are going to start to take notice of this kid. He's the complete package.

1. Jesse Graham - Niagara IceDogs
When the Dogs took Graham 6th overall, a lot of people were left scratching their heads a bit. Sure he was expected to be a first round pick, but over guys like Slater Koekkoek and Alex Gudbranson? Once Dogs fans got a glimpse of Graham in action, the critics were silenced. A lot of people are going to look at him at number 1 and ask me if I'm insane. And I'm cool with that. But let me tell you, this kid is a great hockey player. How many 16 year old defenseman are on the top pairing of the 3rd best team in the OHL and play 30 minutes a night in all situations? Graham's offensive stats may not wow you, but he gets the job done. He's a tremendous skater and compliments Dougie Hamilton very well in this regard as the two take turns bringing the puck up ice. He's also very mature defensively, with his +27 being BY FAR the best rating of any 16 year old defenseman in the league (Adam Pelech was 2nd at +14). While Graham may not be the biggest, he was the sixteen year old who caught my eye the most this year.

All in all, the defenseman crop for next year's NHL draft seems to be pretty freaking outstanding (especially when you throw in a late 1993 like Cody Ceci).

Nice Goal from Mitchell Theoret

I don't post a lot of videos on this blog, but I felt this one was worthy.

Check out Mitchell Theoret's goal from Game 2 in Oshawa last night.

You'll have to fast forward to about the 4:20 mark of the clip.

A nice power move by a guy who doesn't get enough respect for the upcoming NHL draft. If he were on a team with less depth, his offensive numbers would have been much better. He's certainly embraced his role this year and has been one of the best 4th liners in the league. HERE's a great article on him from the St. Catharine's Standard.


NOTE: If you want to see the questionable goal disallowed call, go to about the 3 minute mark on the above clip. IMO the officiating crew got that one wrong and it cost the IceDogs.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

OHL Playoff Predictions: Round Two

I bring to you my predictions for round two. I went 5-3 in round 1 (predictions and analysis here).

Let's see how I fair in the second round (where we've got some incredibly entertaining match-ups).

Eastern Conference

1. Mississauga Majors vs. 7. Sudbury Wolves
Season Series: Majors 5-1
My Analysis: At this point, I think you can throw the results of the season series down the drain. You're looking at a hot Sudbury club who is playing the best hockey of their season (probably thanks to the fact that they finally have everyone healthy). The Wolves tossed the Travis Gibbons' less Ottawa 67's to the curb and have probably the hottest line in the entire OHL right now (Sgarbossa, Leivo, Kuchin). But beating up on an Ottawa team that clearly wasn't healthy and whose defense without Travis Gibbons ended up being 0-8 (including the playoff losses), is different than going up against the beasts of the East in every sense of the word. I think the Wolves are going to really give the Majors a good run for their money, but in the end it's just not going to be enough to get past the Mississauga defense in a 7 game series.
Prediction: Mississauga in 5

3. Niagara IceDogs vs. 4. Oshawa Generals
Season Series: Tie 1-1
My Analysis: I don't know about you, but I'm pretty damn excited to watch this series. It has the potential to be a real doozy. Here's my frame of thinking. In order to win this series, Oshawa is going to win at least one game in Niagara, but more likely two if they lose one at home. While the Oshawa defense is more experienced, and Peter Di Salvo is a league veteran, I think the inexperience of Oshawa's offense (as explosive as it is), may have some trouble winning games on the road in Niagara. Niagara's such a deep team at forward and they just wear you down shift after shift. Plus, Mark Visentin is on a mission to prove to people that the WJC's were an anomaly. Tough series, but I'm taking the Dogs thanks to home ice advantage and a deeper and more experienced forward unit.
Prediction: Niagara in 6

Western Conference

1. Owen Sound Attack vs. 6. Plymouth Whalers
Season Series: Attack 3-1
My Analysis: The Western Conference regular season champs had a bit of a tough time with a feisty Knights squad in the opening round. Veteran Michael Zador stepped in to provide solid goaltending, but I'm not convinced their situation in net is stable. Binnington is sitting and a very rusty Scott Stajcer is backing up Zador. Meanwhile, the Whalers have MAYBE the best goaltender in the OHL, Scott Wedgewood, manning the pipes. Anyone who watched the Kitchener series can attest to how good this guy really is. While some people may look at Plymouth being in that hard fought seven game series as a negative (fatigue factor), I look at it as a positive. That win against the higher ranked (and significantly more hyped) Rangers had to be a huge confidence booster for a team that's deep at every position, is big, physical and really doesn't give up. Put me on the Whalers' bandwagon.
Prediction: Plymouth in 7

2. Saginaw Spirit vs. 4. Windsor Spitfires
Season Series: Spirit 4-2
My Analysis: It's really too bad that the Spitfires and Otters met in round one. With how well those two teams were playing heading into the playoffs, I wouldn't have been surprised to see that one as the West final had they not met in round one. Instead, we've got a still red hot Windsor team who looks hungry for another shot at the Memorial Cup. Jack Campbell was pretty solid in the first round, but he's going to have to be even better in round two. He certainly has the experience in big games. I don't know, I guess I just don't have a lot of confidence in Saginaw right now. They looked so strong in the first part of the season, but all the additions they made (which looked terrific on paper), just haven't really clicked IMO. I'm not seeing a team that looks like it has a lot of chemistry. Meanwhile, the Spits late season acquisitions are fueling the team's fire right now and I think they've got momentum on their side.
Prediction: Windsor in 6

Would absolutely love to hear your predictions as comments!

Under 18 Team Named

Hockey Canada announced today, the roster for the upcoming IIHF Under 18 Hockey Championships. The tournament is being held in Germany this year, and Canada opens the tournament against the Czech's on April 15.

Obviously the team is going to look to rebound from last year's grim result (a near relegation). Definitely a lot of pressure on this year's crop of players.

The OHL had 14 players named to the team (making up the vast majority of the squad).

Malcolm Subban
Andrew D'Agostini

Ryan Murphy
Scott Harrington
Cody Ceci
Slater Koekkoek

Daniel Catenacci
Brett Ritchie
Nick Cousins
Mark Scheifele
Austen Brassard
Eric Locke
Alan Quine
Seth Griffith

Definitely an interesting team, with no real surprises on the OHL end (although the WHL fans seem to be pretty up in arms about the exclusion of Myles Bell and Michael St. Croix).

Andrew D'Agostini is probably the most curious choice, but if you consider the real lack of "emergent" talent that Hockey Canada had to choose from, it should come as no surprise that they would take someone a staff member is familiar with. And that staff member is goalie coach Ron Tugnutt (D'Agostini's goalie coach in Peterborough).

Interesting that so many players from the OHL who were a part of that Gold medal winning Ivan Hlinka team this summer are not a part of this roster. Those being Tyson Teichmann (the starting goalie of that team), Michael Curtis, and David Broll.

Lastly, I was cheering for Ryan Sproul to make this team, but when the Kitchener Rangers lost making Ryan Murphy available, I think that sealed his fate. No offense meant to Sproul, but he's at his best when he's running the powerplay (at this point in time) and with Ryan Murphy back there too, there probably wasn't a lot of room for another offensive type of guy.

The full roster can be found here.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

OHL Playoff Pool - Results After Round 1

I'll try to update this after each round.

HERE is the original post with everyone's predictions.

Standings After Round 1 (four way tie)

Patrick King - 10 points (34 possible points remaining)
Brock Otten - 10 points (30 possible points remaining)
Steve Clark - 10 points (30 possible points remaining)
Scott Campbell - 10 points (26 possible points remaining)

Right now Patrick appears to have the edge thanks to Erie's loss tonight in game 7.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Q & A With Niagara Ice Dog's PBP Announcer & Cogeco's Steve Clark

Over the past few years, I've done several Q & A's with players of the Ontario Hockey League, but this represents a first. I had a chance to ask Niagara IceDogs play by play announcer (and TV Cogeco's) Steve Clark some questions recently. Steve (with his colour man Ed Burkholder and rink level analyst Al Galloway) do a tremendous job covering the Dogs for TV Cogeco and are definitely among the best in the business. They've got a wicked blog over on Local Sports Report that is a must read for any OHL fan (HERE). Steve had some very interesting things to say and I've shared them with you below.


Brock Otten - Firstly, I have to say, you guys do an amazing job with your telecasts. Being frank, not every coverage crew does the research and has the knowledge that you do. The fans in Niagara are damn lucky to have you (and so is Cogeco). How’d you end up getting involved with doing the IceDog telecasts once the team moved to Niagara?

Steve Clark: First of all, thank you for the kind words. I had been working at the Tier 2, now OJHL level for four years as a colour commentator/fill-in play by play in Newmarket, but I was living in Brooklin (north of Whitby). I got the opportunity to fill in a couple of times as play by play man with the Oshawa Generals and had worked with Niagara producer, Darren Sawyer once before. The OHL games gave me enough for a demo DVD. When the team moved, I was tipped off by fellow broadcaster and contact Shawn McCart about the impending move of Mississauga to Niagara. I sent in my DVD, and was fortunate to get the call.

BO - Speaking of Niagara, what’s unfortunate is that instead of talking about a team competing for the Eastern Conference title, many people seem more concerned with the whole arena debacle in St. Catharines (am I guilty of this if I ask you a question about it?). Do you think a new arena will ever get built that secures the long term future of this franchise in the Niagara region?

SC - Yes I do think so. It has been made priority number one with St. Catharines City Council, in spite of some opposition from those who don't want their tax payer dollars go to an arena. What people fail to realize is that a spectator facility will be a multi-purpose facility with concerts, other sporting events, trade shows. Once they realize that , then support should be greater. I also have to believe that there is a back-up plan should St. Catharines Council drop the ball, whether it be Niagara or another part of the Niagara Region.

BO - But it is a real shame that it’s come down to this though. I went to University in St. Catharines and was a frequent IceDog game attendant. The atmosphere in that old barn is like nothing the OHL has to offer and the fans are among the most passionate of any group in the league. Would you agree that the Niagara region absolutely deserves to keep this franchise?

SC - Without a shadow of a doubt the Niagara region deserves to keep this team. While the atmosphere in the old barn when it is rocking is second to none, there is a lack of concessions, parking leg room, comfortable seating and other amenities in some of the newer arenas. Yet the Ice Dogs consistently draw above 2 500, and many times sell-out the building. That is true passion and loyalty!

BO - OK, let’s change directions. The Dogs have one heck of a team this year. How does this year’s team compare with the 2007-08 IceDogs who were lead by the likes of Luca Caputi, Michael Swift, and Alex Pietrangelo? Is this year’s team better (even if it’s early to make that claim)?

SC - Whether or not this years edition of the team is better than 2007-2008 remains to be seen. That 07-08 squad was an immensely veteran and talented bunch, who fell short against an outstanding John Tavares, Mike Del Zotto lead Oshawa Generals. Alex Pietrangelo missed the second round of the playoffs due to illness, and his absence may have cost the Ice Dogs. During the regular season that 07-08 team was a great team to watch. The Ice Dogs were a novelty, sell outs were regular and the likes of Caputi with 51 goals, and Swift 100 points were great to watch. This years team is deeper than that first team. The Ice Dogs have three legitimate scoring lines, good energy from the 4th line and a solid, yet unspectacular defense, save for Dougie Hamilton and Jesse Graham. Mark Visentin is a outstanding puck stopper. and is ably backed up by Dalton McGrath, when McGrath is not getting into scraps!

BO - Do you think this team is built to go far in the playoffs? Marty has done a great job of making this team bigger and tougher and that shows in the team’s home record (best home winning percentage in the league). I’m just not sure many teams are going to be lining up to come and play at the Jack Gatecliff in April.

SC - Yes it is built to go far. They have a top notch goaltender, depth and scoring through three lines. The defense is a little undermanned right now with Tim Billingsley suspended and Shane Rover questionable for the start of the playoffs. The only teams that have knocked off Niagara in regulation in St. Catharines were Mississauga and Owen Sound, unsurprisingly the two top seeds in their respective conferences

BO - Why is it then that the small ice gives the team that advantage? Is it the fact that the Dogs are used to it? Or is the team built for success in this environment? I mean, it’s not like the Bulls are winning games on the big ice in Belleville right now!

SC - When you go into a small rink, the game is so much faster and you have less times to make decisions. That is difficult to adjust to, more so than a large ice surface. Plus I think Marty Williamson did make his key acquisitions with the smaller ice surface in mind

BO - Of all the acquisitions that Marty has completed this year, which has benefited the team the most in your opinion?

SC - For me right now I would say Darren Archibald. He's a leader, true power forward with a great scoring touch. Plus he made a championship run with Marty Williamson last year. However, if the Ice Dogs go deep in the playoffs the player who I think will step up and pay bigger dividends for the Dogs would be Tim Billingsly. He is the veteran of the defense, a shut-down type that could truly rise to the forefront in crunch time. He'll be back from suspension in the second round, and will be fresh.

BO - I’m hoping we can shift to talking about some individual players now. First and foremost, I’m going to put you on the spot. You’re an NHL General Manager in June. Who do you take first, Dougie Hamilton or Ryan Strome? I mean, this is a question that a GM could be faced with at the draft as these two seem pretty close in most draft rankings.

SC - Wow, tough question. I think Strome has that innate sixth sense about him and his creativity, flair and quick release make him a hair above Dougie Hamilton. I think he will make a quicker impact, but make no mistake, Dougie will be an outstanding pro.

BO - What’s the biggest difference in Ryan Strome’s game this year? I mean, he’s made a pretty substantial leap this season.

SC - Quantum leap I would say!! His feet are so much quicker than last year and his commitment to two way play have been two things that I have noticed. I don't know if you improve your on-ice vision, in an off-season but his natural ability to find people has been outstanding.

BO - I got an interesting email question the other day. Someone asked me to compare Dougie Hamilton and Alex Pietrangelo in their days as IceDogs. How do you see these two stacking up? I personally wasn’t a huge fan of the comparison.

SC - Its the easy comparison to make, as they both have worn the Ice Dog jersey, are long, lanky, offensively gifted and very good on the back end. The difference between the two is that I think that Dougie has great offensive instincts, i.e. when to jump into the rush and has added that hip check to his repertoire. Pietrangelo is just such a dynamic and dominant presence on the Ice. He is composed, moves the puck well and has a great shot. There are definite comparables between the two for sure.

BO - Again, I’m putting you on the spot. Who’s going to have the better NHL career, Hamilton or Pietrangelo? Basically, what I’m saying is that someone has a gun to your head and YOU’VE got to pick one of these two to lead your defense corps. Who do you pick?

SC - Tough to answer until I see how the team that drafts Dougie develops him. I know that Pietrangelo was very disappointed he got sent back to junior two years in a row after starting with the big club, but it has made him a better defensemen right now and will in the long run. I think if the team that drafts Dougie keeps him up his first year, that may actually hinder his development. The Ice Dogs are expected to be a great team next year and he could use another year of seasoning.

BO - How’s Mark Visentin been playing since he returned from the World Juniors? Has that experience hurt his confidence at all?

SC - No, Visentin is such a stand up guy. I knew that from the moment he faced the media so soon after that loss to Russia, that he would be fine. There was some concern because he puts so much pressure on himself because of his intense preparation, but if you check the numb
ers since he returned, they have been outstanding. He's ready for a long play off run.

BO - I’ve been on the Darren Archibald train for two years now and just couldn’t believe he went through the draft twice. Big guys who play big and who have hands don’t grow on trees. The Vancouver Canucks got themselves a great player when they picked him up recently. How do you think he profiles as an NHL player?

SC - Vancouver got a steal for sure. One thing for Archibald is that he is an intimidating presence, but not necessarily an intimidating player, unless you are a Windsor goaltender! He has very soft hands, a quick release and can play equally well on both the power play and killing penalties. I see him as a great two way player, capable of 15-20 goals a year.

BO - The Dogs have a bevy of NHL draft picks playing big roles this year. Just to give some of my Sharks, Canucks, Sabres, Panthers, and Rangers fan readers some feedback, how do you think Freddie Hamilton, Alex Friesen, Steve Shipley, David Pacan and Jason Wilson have developed over the course of the season?

SC: (Steve breaks down each player)

Hamilton: Outstanding year, the Sharks stole him in the 5th round last year and his development and two way play have been outstanding. He has complemented Ryan Stome very well. You can't argue with 38 goals and an 80+ point campaign.

Friesen: Some injury woes plagued him late, but he's such a gamer. One thing with Friesen is that he was prone to emotional outbursts that affected his game. He has channeled those outbursts and retained his edge and intensity. He's still a top face off guy.

Shipley: A better last part of the season than earlier part for sure. I think he needs to use his size and strength more to his advantage. He had a solid season overall. I think he will have a big play off for the Ice Dogs.

Wilson: Also had a better second half than first. He was such a disappointment the first half of the season, but really turned it on in the second half and became a very nice complementary player to Hamilton and Strome. He's ready for the AHL next year

Pacan: Has had a very solid, solid season. He does use his size and strength effectively and has very good hands. He's really developed well over the course of the year. The move to Florida will be a good one for him. I can see him in the NHL two-three years down the road

BO - Last question about IceDog players (before I grill you about some of the players in the league). I think Jesse Graham has been one of the most impressive 16 year olds in the league this season. Would you agree?

SC - Yes I would. When first drafted by the Ice Dogs, I looked at this player who looked all of 12 and wondered how he would stack up in the OHL. He has opened my eyes in terms of his positioning and ability to move bigger, stronger, older guys off the puck. His first pass out of the zone and vision are outstanding. He'll get 50 points next year!

BO - OK, let’s do some rapid fire (Your partner Ed should be used to this from OTR) on other happenings from around the OHL. First question; would you draft Gabriel Landeskog first overall if you were an NHL GM?

SC - No, I'm not convinced that he is 100% healthy. He missed time in the second half of the season and the World Junior's with injury. On the flip side, he's been outstanding for Kitchener this year. I think Nugent-Hopkins and Couturier would be the safer bet.

BO - Who is the absolute best player in the OHL right now?

SC - Ryan Strome. Call me bias, but the things he does with the puck remind me of the skill set Matt Duchene, Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin had.

BO - Who deserves the Red Tilson trophy as of right now?

SC - Tyler Toffoli...simply the most dangerous sniper in the OHL this year. Has maintained a high level of play with key players around him injured.

BO - Give me a sleeper from the OHL for the 2011 NHL Draft. A guy not many people are talking about, but that you feel is going to make an excellent NHL player (and draft pick).

SC - Injury aside, I think Matt Puempel is going to be an outstanding late first round pick. Also, Stuart Percy is the type of standup, reliable defenseman who could be a bit of a sleeper

BO - Who’s been the most impressive 16 year old in the OHL this year?

SC - Alex Galchenyuk turned 17 late February, but lived up to the hype of a #1 pick and produced on a team that was not particularly good. Jesse Graham also got major minutes, particularly on the power play for a very good team.

BO - Last question, and I’m putting you guys on the spot again. Who’s going to meet in the OHL finals?

SC - Tough to bet against Mississauga as I can't see anyone beating them in a 7 game series. As for the Western Conference? Wow, too tough to call. How about a Wild Card team in Erie! Kitchener and Saginaw spiraled downward towards the end of the season, and Erie, behind Sadikov beats Owen Sound in 7.

Thanks so much to Steve for his time. If you've got the OHL Action Pack, make sure you catch an IceDog game this playoff season to see the great work he and his crew members deliver.