Sunday, March 18, 2012

OHL Playoff Predictions: Round One

The match-ups are set and the 2012 OHL playoffs will begin this week. With that in mind, it's prediction time! Last year I went 9-6 throughout the playoffs, and have a 28-17 record over the past three years combined.

Eastern Conference

1. Niagara IceDogs vs. 8. Oshawa Generals
Season Series: TIE 1-1
My Analysis: If I was Niagara, this would be the one team I would have wanted to avoid in round one. The Generals have underperformed all season long and they have a veteran laden line-up. They've also played much better lately and have the potential to get hot. That said, Niagara's line-up is just too strong up and down to pick an upset. The Dogs have been playing out of their mind the past few months. Not to mention that they have an obvious edge in net with Mark Visentin. But the Generals will make it closer than people think, be in score OR in the series game amount.
Prediction: Niagara in 6

2. Ottawa 67's vs. 7. Belleville Bulls
Season Series: Ottawa 7-1
My Analysis: Honestly, if the 67's would have drawn anyone else in round one, I might have been scared for them. But they drew the one team they've had no trouble with this year, even in the midst of their struggles the past few months. The wild card here is the play of Malcolm Subban. He's proven before that if he gets hot, he can be nearly unbeatable. But Ottawa's the better team in nearly every area and has a rested Petr Mrazek ready for the playoffs.
Prediction: Ottawa in 5

3. Barrie Colts vs. Mississauga Majors
Season Series: Mississauga 4-2
My Analysis: Even before the season ending injury to Tanner Pearson, I was leaning towards the Majors. But this definitely swings the series in their favor. While the Colts have also played well lately, the Majors have been one of the hottest teams in the OHL the last few months and have looked fantastic since the return of Stuart Percy. I also think having Brandon Maxwell in goal makes a huge difference because the Colts will go with a rookie goaltender (either Neiderberger or Fotinos). Losing Pearson really hurts the Colts offensively, and they've had a hard enough time scoring against the Majors as is this year (just over 2 goals a game, which is way under their mark against other clubs). This will be a close series though.
Prediction: Mississauga in 7

4. Brampton Battalion vs. 5. Sudbury Wolves
Season Series: TIE 4-4
My Analysis: This is a real tough one to predict. These teams are very evenly matched and the season series was split. It's really a matter of whether offense or defense will prevail. Traditionalists will probably pick Brampton because they believe their defense first style is more suited to win games in the playoffs. Where as I'm looking at Sudbury and seeing the only real game changer in the match up, Michael Sgarbossa. He's not going to win the series all by himself, but I like Sudbury's chances of overcoming Brampton's defensive pressure to squeak out a win.
Prediction: Sudbury in 7

Western Conference

1. London Knights vs. 8. Windsor Spitfires
Season Series: TIE 3-3
My Analysis: I think there's no question in my mind that the Knights were a little disappointed that they have to face the Spits in round one. London has dominated Guelph this year, where as Windsor has played them very tough (including winning the last two match ups). London has had a heck of a tough time scoring goals lately, but I just can't see Windsor's goaltending and defense holding up in a seven game series against London. This is especially true because I think Windsor is going to have a tough time scoring goals with the likes of Harrington, Tinordi, and Maatta on the back end. But maybe Windsor just has London's number?
Prediction: London in 5

2. Plymouth Whalers vs. 7. Guelph Storm
Season Series: TIE 2-2
My Analysis: Just the same, the Whalers were probably hoping for Windsor in round one, as they've dominated the Spits this year, but have had trouble with Guelph. In fact, the Storm took the last match by a 9-1 drubbing. Guelph's had a heck of a surprising year thanks to the massive improvement of the younger players on their roster, but in a 7 game series, I can't see them keeping up with the depth of Plymouth. But the Whalers are definitely going to have to figure out how to keep Guelph off the score sheet after giving up 22 goals in 4 games against them this season.
Prediction: Plymouth in 6

3. Kitchener Rangers vs. 6. Owen Sound Attack
Season Series: Kitchener 4-2
My Analysis: The Rangers haven't played terrific hockey of late, but that's nothing on the Attack who enter the playoffs in a real slump and without their captain, the suspended Mike Halmo. Without Halmo in the line-up, Owen Sound is a different team. And while there are several hold overs from last year's Championship team, the Rangers have the more experienced line-up and the better goaltending.
Prediction: Kitchener in 5

4. Sarnia Sting vs. 5. Saginaw Spirit
Season Series: Sarnia 4-2
My Analysis: On paper, this seems like one Saginaw should take. Even though they lost the season series, they've dominated the last two match ups. They're also entering the playoffs on a hot streak and the Spirit offense is scorching opposing defenses right now. Meanwhile, the Sting are still a little banged up and have had serious consistency issues as of late (probably due to the aforementioned injuries). But at the same time, I think Sarnia will finally be healthy in the playoffs (I expect Yakupov and Galchenyuk back) and they have the better and more experienced goaltending in J.P. Anderson. After a trip to the Memorial Cup last year, Anderson knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. Going with my gut on this one.
Prediction: Sarnia in 7

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Possibilities for Canada's Under 18 Team

Running from April 12-22, the IIHF World Under 18 Hockey Championships will take place in the Czech Republic. 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, as the OHL playoff match ups become more apparent. We also know which teams won't be making the playoffs (Kingston, Peterborough, Erie, Sault Ste. Marie).

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 Denmark on April 12.

Over the past five years, the OHL has averaged over 10 players on this squad (with 14 last year). 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 two years ago (finishing 7th and thankfully avoiding relegation), haven't medaled since 2008, and have won the tournament only 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.

Players From Teams Eliminated From the Postseason (Kingston, Peterborough, Erie, Sault Ste. Marie)

Billy Jenkins - Kingston
Since coming over from the IceDogs, Jenkins has found a home on a line with Ryan Kujawinski and Trevor Morbeck, that has had a ton of success. He averaged nearly a point per game in his 30 contests as a Frontenac. He's not the biggest guy, but he has a big heart and works hard at both ends of the ice. Perhaps Hockey Canada brass would consider bringing over Kujawinski and Jenkins as a pair?
Likelihood: WEAK

Ryan Kujawinski - Kingston
Since coming over from Sarnia, he's easily been the best 16 year old in the league during the second half of the season (IMO). He's averaged over a point per game and has looked dynamite doing so. I've been incredibly impressed by his very complete game, as he really does it all on the ice. He can play in all situations, wins face-offs, and has a ton of skill. He's also more physical than I figured he was. It's pretty uncommon for 16 year olds to make this team, but there aren't a ton of terrific forwards available to Hockey Canada this year, so it wouldn't surprise me if more 16 year olds made it.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Alex Gudbranson - Kingston
Took a lot of heat last year and through the first part of this year for not living up to his draft status (some of it from me), but he vastly improved his game in the second half of the season. He's starting to develop into a very solid and physical shut down guy. If Canada wants toughness and size on the back end, they may look here (especially with the contributions his brother made to the Hockey Canada program).
Likelihood: WEAK

Warren Steele - Kingston
Had a bit of an up and down year. He's definitely a terrific offensive blueliner who can carry the puck up ice and make things happen. But his defensive play suffered at times because of the amount of high risk plays he made. If Canada feels like they need some speed and offense from the back end, they may look here.
Likelihood: WEAK

Nick Ritchie - Peterborough
Like Kujawinski, Ritchie has been one of the most impressive 16 year olds in the league this year. He's a budding power forward who has the hands to match his physicality. Again, there may not be a ton of terrific 1994 forwards available for Canada to choose from, so going with a few 95's may not be out of the question.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Connor Brown - Erie
Fresh off being named one of the hardest working players in the OHL (as per the Coaches poll), Brown definitely has a terrific shot at being named to this roster. His skating isn't terrific (IMO), which could hold him back on the big ice, but he's skilled with the puck and not afraid to get his nose dirty. As one of the top scoring players available to Canada for this event, I'd be surprised if he wasn't named.
Likelihood: STRONG

Adam Pelech - Erie
His addition to the team has to be a no brainer IMO. He's a very strong two way defender who can play in any role you ask of him. This will be a huge tournament for Pelech to prove he belongs in the upper echelon on defensive prospects for this draft, after failing to get a lot of positive exposure in Erie this year.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Stephen Harper - Erie
Another 95 forward having a terrific season in the OHL. Harper leads all 16 year olds in goal scoring with 24 (in fact he's 3rd in rookie goals behind Radek Faksa and Connor Brown). He's a big body who isn't afraid to go to the net. He also has the hands to finish in close. I think he's got as good a shot as Kujawinski and Ritchie, and quite frankly, I'd be surprised if one of those three 95 forwards wasn't on the team.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Matt Murray - Sault Ste. Marie
It's looking like Murray should be a lock to be one of the goaltenders for this event. He's had an up and down season (thanks to the acquisition of Jack Campbell which really messed with his development IMO), but was absolutely brilliant at the Top Prospect's Game. Like Pelech, this is another guy with a chip on his shoulder going into the event.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Gianluca Curcuruto - Sault Ste. Marie
He definitely didn't have the type of season many people were expecting of him, and to some degree that's a compliment. He impressed so many people as a 16 year old, so we all figured this year would be his coming out party. But he really didn't progress much and looked tentative at times. He remains a fairly solid two way defender who could earn a spot on this team as one of those steady bottom pairing guys.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Players From Teams Who Don't Have Home Ice Advantage Locked Up For Round One (Brampton, Sudbury, Mississauga, Oshawa, Belleville, Windsor, Guelph, Owen Sound, Saginaw, Sarnia)

Marcus McIvor - Brampton
Has developed into a very solid defensive defenseman who can skate and be physical. He can also make a solid first pass. If Brampton gets ousted, he could be a really solid, unheralded guy for Canada.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Matthew Campagna - Sudbury
Had a tough season dealing with injuries, but when he has played he's put up points. With the puck on his stick, he's very skilled and as Hockey Canada is fully aware, he's excellent in the shootout. His play away from the puck has improved a bit too. His play in round one of the playoffs (if Sudbury loses of course) will likely dictate whether he makes the team.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Nathan Pancel - Sudbury
Pancel has been terrific in the 2nd half of the season, and has been one of the highest scoring draft eligible players in that time. He's very quick and has good hockey sense to get himself in scoring position. He's also a bit of a pest out there isn't afraid to stir the pot. I think he could have a fair amount of success on the big ice. If Sudbury loses, I think Hockey Canada would be making a mistake by not putting him on the roster.
Likelihood: STRONG

Trevor Carrick - Mississauga
The way Missy has been playing lately, who knows if they'll lose in round one. But if they do, Carrick has to be a shoe in as one of the team's defenseman. He's one of the most improved players in the league from the start to end of the season and is playing with a ton of confidence right now. He excels at both ends of the ice and adds a real physical edge to the game that Canada always looks for from their defenseman.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Scott Laughton - Oshawa
Another guy who has to be a virtual lock for the team should the Generals get ousted in round one. He's the perfect candidate to center a hard working third line, as he busts his butt at both ends of the ice and really gets in your face. But he's also skilled enough to dictate the pace of play offensively.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Daniel Altshuller - Oshawa
Canada's starting netminder on their gold medal winning Ivan Hlinka team this summer, it'll be interesting to see if Altshuller gets the call again after a pretty sub par first year in the OHL. With his confidence likely at a lower spot, do they take a guy they're familiar with? Last year Tysen Teichmann backstopped the Ivan Hlinka team, had a terrible year in the OHL and was left off the Under 18 team. Possible it could happen again.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Brendan Gaunce - Belleville
Hockey Canada has to be drooling at the thought of Belleville losing in the first round. If they do, they'll get likely one of their top 6 centers in Gaunce and a possible captain candidate for the team. He's such a terrific two way player already and he has the vision to make those around him better. Plus, he's used to playing on the big ice in Belleville.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Garrett Hooey - Belleville
Sandpaper and grit type of guy who could do well in a checking line role for Canada. Works hard both ends of the ice and knows his role. Hockey Canada always selects a few guys like this.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Kerby Rychel - Windsr
One of the most improved players in the OHL this year, Rychel has developed into a quality scoring option in Windsor. He's so dangerous in close to the net and has an underrated playmaking ability. I'd like to think he'd be close to a lock should Windsor fall in round one.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Michael Clarke - Windsor
After suffering from a serious midseason lull, Clarke has stepped his game up again to close out the season. The fact that he can play any forward role makes him a valuable player to consider for the selection process. And when he's on, he's aggressive and in your face. Could make a good linemate for a guy like Scott Laughton on a tight checking 3rd line.
Likelihood: STRONG

Scott Kosmachuk - Guelph
It's hard to imagine Guelph getting by one of Plymouth or London in round one, which means that Hockey Canada is likely to get two potential impact players out of the loss (Kosmachuk and Finn). Kosmachuk is a guy who could play any role Hockey Canada asks of him, be it playing the wing on a top line, or providing forechecking and energy on a 4th line. He has to be considered a lock.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Matt Finn - Guelph
Should Guelph be eliminated, he'd likely be one of Canada's top defenseman, playing the point on the team's top powerplay unit. Finn is a terrific two way defender and could really elevate his draft status even more with a solid tournament.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Gemel Smith - Owen Sound
If Owen Sound falls in round one (certainly possible with Halmo out now), Smith would be another guy close to a lock for the roster. His energy and skill would provide a huge boost to Canada's line up, whether it be on a scoring line or a checking line.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Top Five Players Canada Hopes Get Surprisingly Eliminated in Round One

Aaron Ekblad - Barrie
Even though he's practically a baby, he's already become one of the better young defenseman in the OHL. This tournament would be great for his development, even if he's the 7th defenseman.

Andreas Athanasiou - London
His speed on the big ice has to be alluring, as are his hands and ability to create off the rush. Definitely a scoring line option.

Jesse Graham - Niagara
Could be one of the team's powerplay quarterbacks and as one of the better skaters in the OHL, he'd excel on the big ice in Europe with tons of room to roam with the puck.

Sean Monahan - Ottawa
The 67's have looked kind of shaky this past month, so who knows what could happen. But if they do get eliminated, Canada would be getting one of the top players in the tournament in Monahan.

Tom Wilson - Plymouth
While I'd be a little concerned about penalty trouble in the international game, Wilson's physicality and net presence would be a must have for Team Canada should Plymouth falter.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Coaches Poll Results

OHL released the results of the Coaches Polls.



Monday, March 12, 2012

OHL Coaches Poll - My Ballot

The results of the OHL coaches poll are likely to be released sometime this week. With that in mind, it's always fun to take a crack at how they might look. If I was voting, here's what my ballot would look like.

Most Underrated Player:

1. Alan Quine
2. Ivan Telegin
3. Jake Cardwell

1. Vincent Trocheck
2. Zack Mitchell
3. Cameron Brace

Most Improved Player

1. Tanner Pearson
2. Riley Brace
3. TIE - Cody Ceci & Sean Monahan

1. Charles Sarault
2. Zack Mitchell
3. Seth Griffith

Smartest Player

1. Tyler Toffoli
2. Tanner Pearson
3. Freddie Hamilton

1. Ryan Spooner
2. Seth Griffith
3. Greg McKegg

Hardest Worker

1. Andrew Agozzino
2. Jamie Wise
3. Shane Prince

1. Gemel Smith
2. Beau Schmitz
3. Nail Yakupov

Best Playmaker

1. Ryan Strome
2. Shane Prince
3. Brendan Gaunce

1. Ryan Murphy
2. Charles Sarault
3. Vincent Trocheck

Most Dangerous in the Goal Area

1. Tyler Toffoli
2. Michael Sgarbossa
3. Christian Thomas

1. Nail Yakupov
2. Seth Griffith
3. Mike Halmo

Best Skater

1. Dougie Hamilton
2. Michael Sgarbossa
3. Daniil Zharkov

1. Ryan Murphy
2. Nail Yakupov
3. TIE - Ryan Spooner & Daniel Catenacci

Best Shot

1. Tyler Toffoli
2. Tanner Pearson
3. TIE - Christian Thomas & Michael Sgarbossa

1. Nail Yakupov
2. Seth Griffith
3. Greg McKegg

Hardest Shot

1. Dougie Hamilton
2. Christian Thomas
3. Tyler Toffoli

1. Ryan Sproul
2. Nail Yakupov
3. Cody Sol

Best Stickhandler

1. Michael Sgarbossa
2. Ryan Strome
3. Alan Quine

1. Ryan Murphy
2. Ryan Spooner
3. Zack Mitchell

Best on Faceoffs

1. Alex Friesen
2. Boone Jenner
3. Sam Carrick

1. Vincent Trocheck
2. Mitchell Heard
3. Michael Catenacci

Best Body Checker

1. Alex Friesen
2. Michal Cajcovsky
3. Anthony Camara

1. Mike Halmo
2. Tom Wilson
3. TIE - Ben Thomson & Andrey Pedan

Best Defensive Forward

1. Alex Friesen
2. Boone Jenner
3. Sam Carrick

1. Vincent Trocheck
2. Radek Faksa
3. Mitchell Heard

Best Penalty Killer

1. Alex Friesen
2. Riley Brace
3. Boone Jenner

1. Cameron Brace
2. Ryan Spooner
3. Michael Catenacci

Best Offensive Defenseman

1. Dougie Hamilton
2. Cody Ceci
3. TIE - Josh McFadden & Matt Petgrave

1. Ryan Murphy
2. Ryan Sproul
3. Alex Basso

Best Defensive Defenseman

1. Jamie Oleksiak
2. Dougie Hamilton
3. Stuart Percy

1. Jarred Tinordi
2. Cody Sol
3. Scott Harrington

Bring on the results!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Top 10 - Defensive Players

With the release of the OHL coaches poll around the corner, I thought it'd be a great idea to preview one of the categories of the poll. Today I'm going to look at ranking the top defensive players in the Ontario Hockey League.

Instead of doing two top 10 lists, I will have a top 5 forwards and top 5 defense (totaling 10).


5. Sean Monahan - Ottawa 67's
Maybe a bit premature to have him on this list, but I'm such a big fan of his. One of the most complete younger players I've seen in this league. His size makes him such a terrific defensive player, as he wins battles in the corners and is great at tying up his man on the backcheck.

4. Radek Faksa - Kitchener Rangers
Again, maybe a bit premature, but Faksa's defensive game has impressed me so much this year. He's a really smart player and is so dedicated to playing in his own end. Again, his size makes him very tough to match up against.

3. Sam Carrick - Brampton Battalion
I think Carrick is one of the most improved players in the league and has been the main reason why the Battalion have had a very solid season. The key to excelling in Stan Butler's system is to play both ends and Carrick does that so well. He's physical and in your face all the time and always seems to get his stick into scoring lanes.

2. Boone Jenner - Oshawa Generals
There's no question that Jenner is one of the top defensive players in the league. He's so smart at both ends of the ice and his size makes him very difficult to beat in loose puck battles. He's also very committed to playing in his own end and is incredibly physical. He leaves it all out there on the ice.

1. Alex Friesen - Niagara IceDogs
The only player left in the league who received votes in last year's coaches poll for top defensive forward, Friesen is about as good as you can get in your own end. His speed, physicality, and intelligence makes him such an integral part of Niagara's defense, and their penalty kill (which is the league's best).

Honorable Mention:
Vincent Trocheck, Mike Halmo, Riley Brace, Austin Watson, Jared Knight, Mitchell Heard, Michael Catenacci, Freddie Hamilton, Luke Judson


5. Austin Levi - Plymouth Whalers
Levi has developed into one of the league's top shutdown defenseman. He's so hard to get around because he's so big and such a good skater. He stays with you off the rush and can finish you off with a hard check, or by using his long stick.

4. Dougie Hamilton - Niagara IceDogs
His place on this list might be questioned by some because of the amount of risks he takes offensively, but he's such a good skater that he's able to negate any chances his pinches and rushes give up the other way. He's also physical and won't let you get space on him in front of the net.

3. Jamie Oleksiak - Niagara IceDogs
Hamilton's teammate in Niagara, Oleksiak is simply a beast. He's absolutely massive out there and because of that he's really hard to get around and his long stick does such a good job of interfering with passes into the slot. And while he's not as physical as you'd assume a guy his size would be, that doesn't make him any less effective as a shutdown defenseman.

2. Cody Sol - Kitchener Rangers
Sol has had an absolutely fantastic overage season and has been the rock to Ryan Murphy's roll all season long. He's consistently been among the league leaders in plus minus and doesn't take crap from anyone. Definitely one of the most aggressive defenders in the league and a guy that really enjoys punishing you in the corners and in front of the net.

1. Jarred Tinordi - London Knights
Easily one of the most improved players in the league this year. I was quite disappointed in his play last year, but he's made up for it this year. There's a reason why he's the league leader in plus minus right now. He's just flat out been a beast this year.

Honorable Mention:
Stuart Percy, Scott Harrington, Jay Gilbert, Cody Ceci

Because this list is so subjective, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Draft Prospect You Should Know: Dane Fox

Aristotle once said, "change in all things is sweet." But change can also be bittersweet, just ask Erie Otters forward Dane Fox. The pesky center was the centerpiece that the London Knights had to send to Erie in order to acquire Greg McKegg at this year's deadline. Going from first to worst can't be an easy thing to do. "I was shocked when I was first told that I had been traded to Erie. I was looking forward to having a run at the Memorial Cup," says Fox. "That was [actually] an emotional day for me. I just got word that morning that my Great Grandpa has passed away and I was on a road trip up north with the Knights. After I had some time to think about the situation, I looked at it as a positive and a great way for me to improve my game."

While he was getting consistent ice time in London as part of a terrific third line with the Rupert twins (Matt and Ryan), and contributing at both ends of the ice, the change of scenery did offer Dane a chance to have a larger role. In Erie, he'd be counted on to play top line minutes and see loads of time on both special team's units. He knew he'd also have a chance to play a bigger role in the dressing room on a young Erie team. "The coaching staff want me to be one of the leaders on this hockey team. I know that I will have to work hard to be part of making this team more successful," says Fox, who now wears an A on his chest.

Even though things in Erie have been a little crazy, Dane has kept up the rate of offensive production he had in London. This has quietly added up to a very prolific season, posting 52 points in 57 games. Fox believes that this season has to be deemed a success. "I think my season has gone very well so far. I am more focused and I’ve been producing on the ice. I think I have improved my defensive game, backchecking, positioning, etc."

His season has also included an excellent performance at the Top Prospect's Game after being named as one of the game's many injury replacements. "It was an unreal experience. Just seeing all of those great players and playing with them was amazing. The whole atmosphere there was unbelievable. It was fun to be able to prove myself," he says. And prove himself he did. His brand of in your face, tenacious hockey definitely made a positive impression on those who took in the game, despite being held off the score sheet. It should come as no surprise that Fox lists the likes of Dave Bolland and Mike Richards as the guys he patterns his game after.

As the 2012 NHL Entry draft inches closer, Fox is looking more and more like a potential top three round selection. A late birthday 1993, he's had an extra year to help him develop, something Fox says he has really benefited from. "It has given me a year to develop more and to improve my game overall," says Fox. "I have more confidence now than last year and I understand more about what it takes to be successful at this level." The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Fox has jumped from 22 points last year to 52 points this season.

And while playing in Erie this year may be difficult for a draft prospect (just ask Connor Brown and his -64), scouts would be foolish to look past the things Fox brings to the ice. What better than to hear it from the man himself! "I play the game with an edge and love to be on the ice. I can score, stick up for my teammates and I try to do the little things well. I have leadership skills and I play with intensity. I know the value of teammates and that working hard pays off. I love to win and hate to lose!" says Fox.

Needless to say, you can consider me a fan of this young man. Fox says he hates to lose. Well the NHL team that selects Dane Fox with one of their opening round draft picks won't be disappointed. They won't lose on his selection.

Brock Otten - First and foremost, how do you think this season has gone for you thus far?

Dane Fox - I think my season has gone very well so far. I am more focused and I’ve been producing on the ice. I think I have improved my defensive game, backchecking, positioning, etc.

BO - What were your initial thoughts when you were told that you had been traded to Erie? I mean, going from the top team in the Ontario Hockey League, to the last place Otters had to (at least initially) have been disappointing.

DF - I was shocked when I was first told that I had been traded to Erie. I was looking forward to having a run at the Memorial Cup. That was an emotional day for me, I just got word that morning that my Great Grandpa has passed away and I was on a road trip up north with the Knights. After I had some time to think about the situation, I looked at it as a positive and a great way for me to improve my game. My first contact with Sherry Bassin in Erie, put everything into a new light. He was very positive with me and told me that he had been watching me since my Minor Midget year and that I need to step up and play my game.

BO - But being the centerpiece in a trade for a top player like Greg McKegg has to be flattering. Do you feel any extra pressure knowing that you’re the guy Otters’ fans are going to rely on to replace him?

DF - I feel a little bit of pressure but with the extra ice time and having a chance to play in situations such as Power Plays and Penalty Kills, I will be able to showcase my skills and more importantly, help the Otters move forward in the future.

BO - Have the Otters talked to you at all about their plans for you moving forward? For instance, are you going to be counted on as a top line player, first line powerplay guy…or do the Otters see you playing more of the role you played in London?

DF - The coaching staff want me to be one of the leaders on this hockey team. They want me to shoot the puck more and be more creative. They have faith in my ability and want me to start playing the way that Sherry Bassin believes I can play. I know that I will have to work hard to be part of making this team more successful.

BO - Obviously, it’s your draft year and that always comes with added pressure. But the question is…how much pressure? Do you find yourself thinking about it constantly, or do you try to put it at the back of your mind?

DF - The Draft is always in the back of your mind. Being drafted has been a dream of mine since I started playing hockey in Dresden. But you can’t let it get to you too much or you stop playing your game. As soon as I step on the ice, I know I have to focus on doing whatever I can to help my team and hopefully win. I am prepared to do whatever it takes to win.

BO - One thing I’ve always been curious about, is how late birthday guys feel about the fact that they have to wait an extra year to get drafted. Do you think your October birthday…and subsequently playing an extra year in the OHL, has hurt or helped your draft “stock?”

DF - I think a late birthday has helped me. It has given me a year to develop more and to improve my game overall. I have more confidence now than last year and I understand more about what it takes to be successful at this level.

BO - Speaking of your draft stock…your performance at the Top Prospect’s game must have raised some eyebrows. I thought you were the best player on your team. What was the whole experience like?

DF - First of all, thanks for your kind words! It was an unreal experience. Just seeing all of those great players and playing with them was amazing. The whole atmosphere there was unbelievable. It was fun to be able to prove myself.

BO - I want to take things back to last year in London. There are a lot of reports about what happened in terms of your leave from the Knights at the end of the season. And then again this offseason. Is there anyway you could shed some light as to what happened there?

DF - Over the past year, I have grown up a lot and learned lots of valuable life lessons. I don’t want to dwell on the past and I am positive that is behind me and I am moving forward. I want to focus 100% on being a hockey player.

BO - In London, you played with the Rupert twins on a very effective “checking” line. I put checking in quotation marks because you guys obviously were more than just that with the amount of offense you produced. What made that line so effective?

DF - I loved playing with the Ruperts. We all play the same style of hockey and same intensity. We all have the skill to score, play defensively and we aren’t afraid to mix it up. There was also a good friendship off of the ice between us, so playing with them was easy and fun.

BO - OK, so help us out here. How can we tell the twins apart? How do they differ as hockey players…in your mind?

DF - I have no problem….but for some you just have to get them to smile…Matt is missing a front tooth! I can tell them apart just by looking at them, I can’t explain how.

BO - I hate to ask such a generic question but…what do you feel you need to continue to work on in order to reach the NHL? If there was a definitive area where you felt you needed improvement, what would that be?

DF - I know that I have to work hard to reach the NHL. I have to work on my defensive game, puck possession along the boards, and shooting. I have to get stronger in the off season.

BO - Just the same, why do you think you should be a serious candidate for the top two rounds of the NHL Draft? What can you bring to the table (for those that don’t see you play that often)?

DF - I play the game with an edge and love to be on the ice. I can score, stick up for my teammates and I try to do the little things well. I have leadership skills and I play with intensity. I know the value of teammates and that working hard pays off. I love to win and hate to lose!

BO - Is there a player in the NHL that you often look at and say, “that’s a guy I try to emulate?” In other words, is there a player you try to pattern your game after?

DF - I try to pattern my game after David Bolland and Mike Richards. They both play a hard nosed, edgy game with intensity. They can score and play a physical game and can get under the opposition’s skin.

BO - Growing up in the Chatham area, what team did you cheer for as a kid?

DF - I started out being a Toronto Maple Leaf fan. I remember getting a Mats Sundin jersey for Christmas one year. I also liked the Boston Bruins.

BO - What do you like to do in your spare time away from the rink?

DF - I like to play Xbox. I wish I had more time in the off season to play Inline Hockey. In the summer I like being on the water at our cottage.

BO - To close it off, I’m going to throw you one of those random style questions that we always hear about from the NHL combine interviews. If your coach was talking, would you interrupt him if he was wrong?

DF - No I would think about it, then talk to him in private later. Unless it was the heat of the moment, then I probably would! This definitely depends on the situation. I would stick up for a teammate, if necessary.

BO - Thanks so much for taking the time to do this Dane and best of luck the rest of the year in Erie.

DF - Brock –Thanks for thinking of me. I appreciate your support!


Special thanks to Dane and his father for taking the time make this happen!

Connor McDavid

I'm sure most people who follow the Ontario Hockey League have familiarized themselves with the name Connor McDavid. The Toronto Marlies forward (GTHL) has had a much talked about season, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there's been a lot of talk that he may have applied for exceptional status to enter this year's OHL Priority Draft (he's a '97 playing with '96's). Secondly, he plays on an absolutely dominant Marlie team that also includes the much hyped Joshua Ho-Sang (the clear cut favourite for first overall in this year's priority draft should McDavid not enter). Thirdly, he's an absolutely fantastic player who many (including blog friend Sean LaFortune) consider the best player to enter the OHL in quite some time.

PuckLife magazine asked me to write a short piece on McDavid for their upcoming issue. I'll be sure to let you know when that issue comes out (so that you can buy it!), but for now I figured I'd share with you the Q & A I did with Connor to help me write the article.


Brock Otten - How would you describe yourself as a player? What are the biggest strengths that you bring to the ice?

Connor McDavid - I believe that I am a good playmaker, looking to pass before shooting. I am a good skater who is able to do things at high speed. I feel my biggest strength is my hockey IQ. For me the game slows down a bit and allows me to see different things on the ice. I need to work on becoming more of a shooter. Often times give up the shot for the pass and at the next level I need to change that.

BO - How long have you been playing a year up? What has that adjustment always been like? Is it harder for you to be an on ice/off ice leader because you're a year younger?

CM - I have played with the ’96 age group my entire life. I haven't played one game with my own age actually. There has never really been an adjustment because this age group is the one I have grown up playing with. Again, because I have played up my whole life, being a leader has been something I have never had trouble doing because I am born in January 97 and feel that I am a 96 born player. The minute you start to think, "maybe I shouldn't be here", that's when things will change. You have to believe that you can play at that level and believe that you can do well. I have been an assistant captain on my team for 6 of the 8 minor hockey years.

BO - Obviously getting drafted high in your OHL priority draft year is an upcoming goal, but what are you going to have to improve on in order to make a significant impact at the next level?

CM - I am not eligible for the draft until next year. The thing I need to improve on most is my shot. At the next level time and space are hard things to come by so when you get less time and in tight spaces, you have to take the shot. All the great players can score from the outside so if I can bring that aspect to my game, then defenders will need to step up on me and that is where I can use my speed to my advantage. Another part I will need to work on, is my strength. Everyone is so big at the next level so strength training is going to be a big part of this and next summer’s activities.

BO - Everyone seems to always compare you to your teammate Joshua Ho-Sang. Do the constant comparisons get tiresome?

CM - Just to even be compare to Josh Ho- Sang is a honour in itself. He is a tremendous player with some pretty unique skills that I have never seen before. The constant comparison can get tiresome sometimes because at the end of the day we both play the game to have fun. We are very good friends and are fortunate to play on the ’96 Toronto Marlboros. We have a great team. We are all friends and have had a lots of fun playing this year. Josh and I both just love to play the game and we just try to focus on that.

BO - Is there a player in the NHL that you look at and say, "that's the type of player I want to become?"

CM - If there is any player in the NHL that I would like to become, it's Pavel Datysuk. He has amazing offensive skills but is also someone that the coach can put on in the last 30 seconds in a one goal game because he is also very defensive minded. He is the complete 2-way player.

BO - Why the Ontario Hockey League (assuming that's the route you're going)? Have you received interest from NCAA schools and considered that path?

CM - We haven't made any decisions yet and I am trying to keep all my options open. I am lucky to have received some interest from NCAA schools and am considering that as well. They are both very good options, each have their upside and downside. They are both very good choices and am sure either one will be a great experience.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Game Report: Majors & Battalion from March 4

Made my first trip to the Powerade Centre of the season to watch the Majors and Battalion do battle. Interestingly enough, it was "Mandarin" day, complete with a spring roll eat off during first intermission. Thankfully, the game itself was entertaining and quite possibly the best game I've seen between the Majors and Battalion in quite some time (usually they can be snooze fests).

The Battalion took the game by a score of 5-2. They took the lead in the 2nd period and never looked back. It was definitely a chippy affair that saw a lot of spirited tussles post whistle. Barclay Goodrow was named first star thanks to a 2 goal, 2 assist effort, including the eventual game winner.

Some player reports:

Brampton Battalion

#4 - Marcus McIvor (Draft Eligible in 2012)
McIvor impressed me a lot today. He and partner Dylan Blujus have tremendous chemistry and are definitely he Troops' top pairing. He played in all situations, including seeing a good chunk of action on the second powerplay unit. It was 5 on 5 where he excelled. On the defensive side of things, he's a rock. He's stocky, but he definitely moves well. The Majors just couldn't get by him on the rush. He was also more physical than I'd see him before, taking the chance whenever he good to finish his checks along the boards. A perfect demonstration of both of these skills was when Sergei Kuptsov tried to drive around him, but McIvor stayed with him, poked the puck away and finished Kuptsov off hard along the end boards. I've heard from quite a few people that he was quite the offensive defenseman in midget, but that part of his game hasn't really transferred to the OHL quite yet. At this point, he's most definitely a stay at home guy, but he's at least excelling in that role.

#6 - Dylan Blujus (Draft Eligible in 2012)
Blujus is such an interesting prospect for this year's draft. I just can't quite put my finger on him, despite seeing him multiple times this year. He does some things incredibly well. He's very smart offensively and is very adept at running the point on the powerplay. He does such a good job of getting his point shot through to the net and makes good decisions at the blueline. He scored a goal in the game by firing a wrister through a crowd to open the scoring on the powerplay. 5 on 5, he also sees the ice very well and makes very strong outlet passes, constantly finding guys up ice. This helps to push the pace of play. On the negative side, for an offensively oriented defenseman, his mediocre skating ability prevents him from being a primary factor off the rush. He isn't a Ryan Murphy, Dougie Hamilton, or Ryan Sproul. He really doesn't seem comfortable skating the puck up ice, and would rather make the pass out of his zone. And while this works for him in the OHL, will it work at the higher levels? Defensively, he's pretty solid and has progressed well this year. He wins battles along the boards using his long reach and body. But, again, his footspeed looks like it could really hurt him. There were a couple of times where he was caught in the neutral zone and got lucky because the Majors player couldn't coral the long pass to beat him into his own zone. I'd imagine that Blujus is one guy who has the scouts divided this year.

#9 - Brandon Robinson (Draft Eligible in 2014)
I'm telling you, this group of '95 forwards that has entered the league this year is among the best crops that I've ever seen. So many of these guys are consistently impacting their clubs in a positive way. And so many of them are well rounded players with high offensive upsides. Robinson won't be NHL draft eligible until 2014 (October birthday), but he's got a lot of upside. I've been consistently impressed with him this year. He played on the Troops' top line with Goodrow and Carrick today. While his skating needs some work, he's got the size and goal scoring mentality that could take him a long way. He scored a beauty of a goal to close out the night by taking a pass off the boards, cutting into the slot and firing home a laser of a wrist shot top shelf. He was also very engaged physically, twice causing after whistle skirmishes following his hits. By the time he's NHL draft eligible, he could very well be 6'4 and 200lbs with a terrific offensive skill set. The key will be improving his skating.

#16 - Sam Carrick (Drafted by Toronto)
Carrick has been one of the most improved players in the league this year for me. He's looked fantastic every time I've seen him. He got a couple of assists, and was generally very dangerous in the offensive end. It was a defensive play that really caught my eye. The Majors broke into the zone 3 on 2 after the Battalion got caught, and the Majors got a terrific set up for scoring opportunity. They ran the 3 on 2 well, and after a nice drop pass, they had a player wide open in the slot. But Carrick came out of nowhere to hustle back, lift the player's stick just before release and stole the puck back, pushing the play back the other way again. On the negative side, he did get himself a little too wrapped up in the after whistle extra curriculars and took some silly penalties.

Mississauga Majors

#4 - Trevor Carrick (Draft Eligible in 2012)
Continues to get better and better. Now he's being paired with Stuart Percy since his return from a concussion and the two look tremendous together. He should have gotten an assist on the first Majors goal of the game on the powerplay, after making a terrific play to keep the puck in at the blueline, deking through two Battalion forwards and then putting the puck back into the corner. The Majors ended up setting getting possession of the dump and scored off it. Once the Majors got down 5-2, he made a couple of bad plays (got caught going for a big hit at the blueline leading to a two on one, and again missing a hit in the corner, leading to a scoring chance), but he was clearly trying to fire his club up by being physical.

#16 - Kristoff Kontos (Draft Eligible in 2012)
One of the best games I've seen Kontos play. He had a lot of energy and was skating with conviction. On one instance, he took the puck at his own blueline and went through nearly the entire Battalion team before getting stopped just before reaching the net. He did a great job of keeping plays alive and moved the puck well on the cycle. In previous viewings, I've been a less than impressed with his play along the boards for a bigger guy, but he was winning a lot of battles today. I'm still not sure how much upside he has, but with his size and improved skating ability, he's worth a selection in the later rounds.

#28 - Stuart Percy (Drafted by Toronto)
Easing his way back into the line up after missing a huge stretch of time with a concussion, Percy is starting to look comfortable again. He's looking much more engaged offensively, and defensively he was solid. It'll be a while before he gets his legs back, and before I'd expect to see him start playing physical again, but it's great to see him back.

Future Considerations Midterm Guide

Hey folks,

If you haven't already, make sure you go out and purchase a copy of Future Considerations Midterm Guide for the 2012 NHL Draft. It's only $5.99 and well worth it.