Tuesday, July 31, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Nashville Predators

Time to head to the country music capital of the world, Nashville!

Austin Watson - London Knights
Even if his goal scoring numbers were way down, Watson definitely had his best OHL season in 2011/2012. I mean, winning the Wayne Gretzky award as OHL playoff MVP was a great way to cap off his Ontario Hockey League journey. He was so good in the playoffs; just completely dialed in. His offensive production was definitely critical, (he was a beast in front of the net and was very difficult for opposing defenses to stop), it was his defensive game that shined. He finished the postseason at +10, despite going up against the opposition's best. He was an absolute shot blocking machine and laid everything on the line in order to try and reach the Memorial Cup. At this point, I'm not entirely sure his offensive game will translate incredibly well to the NHL, but he's a good playmaker and he's not afraid to take some punishment in the corners or in front of the net to make a play. One thing is for certain, there aren't many prospects out there who are as much of a lock as Watson to play in the NHL. It's just a matter of whether he's a fourth line, penalty killing, defensive stopper, or a 2nd/3rd liner who can put up 40+ points a year. He'll get his chance to show his stuff in Milwaukee this year where I expect he won't need much transition time.

Josh Shalla - Saginaw Spirit
Shalla's goal scoring prowess has been quite spectacular over his 4 year OHL career, with back to back 40 goal seasons. He's definitely got a nose for the net that you can't teach. He's certainly not a flashy goal scorer, but you give him space in the slot or around the net and he's burying it. I thought that his skating looked a little bit better this year, and he was able to play off the rush a little bit more effectively. I also thought his play away from the puck took a step forward this year, as he was more engaged along the boards and defensively. These are two areas that will continue to need to improve before he hits the NHL, but there was definite progress this past season. It'll be interesting to see where Shalla slots in, in Milwaukee of the AHL this year. If he's playing on a scoring line and sees some powerplay time, I think he could find some success and possibly hit the 20 goal plateau. If he's buried on the depth chart, the learning curve could be a bit stiff for him as he tries to adjust to the types of things he's being asked to do.

David Elsner - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Certainly not a memorable year for Elsner, who quite frankly, was not much of a factor in the OHL. He was rather invisible most of the times I saw the Soo play. I had heard that he could be at least an impact checking winger, but I didn't see a whole lot of physicality from him either. His skating looked below average as well. He saw some limited time in the Soo's top six when they were trying to ignite their offense, but he didn't do much with the opportunity. The Hounds have released his rights and I'm assuming he'll be heading home to Germany. At this point, I don't see much of an NHL prospect here.

*of note, Preds 4th rounder in 2012 Mikko Vainonen is slated to play for the Kingston Frontenacs this year after being selected in the import draft. The Fronts will have a young defense, so he's going to be thrown right into the fire there and expected to play top minutes. From everything I've heard about him from European contacts, it sounds like he'll be up to the task.

Monday, July 30, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Montreal Canadiens

Je vais maintenant vous présenter avec les Canadiens de Montréal.

Jarred Tinordi - London Knights
I have to say, I was incredibly disappointed with Tinordi following his rookie season in the OHL (2010/2011). I thought he looked really uncomfortable and at times out of place. Not exactly a glowing review of a first round pick. But this past season he was fantastic. A complete 180 degrees. Nearly every part of his game took a massive step forward. Defense is obviously his bread and butter and he was a beast in his own zone this year. He was able to harness his aggression and pick the right spots to be physical. I'd say this past year, he was the hardest defenseman to win battles against in front of the net in the OHL. But he's also very mobile for a big man, and he uses his reach effectively to break up plays off the rush. His +39 this year was no fluke. Offensively, he looked way more comfortable. He actually occasionally attempted rushes up ice with the puck and was way more calm under the pressure of the forecheck. The puck was no longer a hand grenade this year. I'd actually say he was relatively snake bitten offensively. I saw him play several times this year, and he hit some posts with point shots. His production in the playoffs this year, I think, is a better indication of the progression he made as an offensive player. I don't think he'll need more than a year in the AHL before he's up to pace with the professional game. His strength and defensive ability is already pro ready IMO. If the Habs were smart, they'd pair Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu together in the AHL next year. That'd be a great pairing to follow.

Alex Galchenyuk - Sarnia Sting
I'm sure Habs fans are drooling with anticipation of Alex's first year post injury. I just can't see him making the NHL next year, although with his determined personality and commitment level, I wouldn't put it past him either. If he ends up back in Sarnia, as I suspect he will, it'll be interesting to see how he does. The Sting will be his team now, with Nail Yakupov all but certain to be in the NHL. The Sting are also losing most of their weapons at forward, with only Reid Boucher and Charles Sarault really remaining. Opposing defenses will likely be zoning in on him, and I'm sure they'll be quick to test out that knee. I do expect him to have a great year though, as his potential as a dynamic all around center is sky high. Being among the OHL's leading scorers certainly isn't out of a reach. 

Brady Vail - Windsor Spitfires 
I loved this pick by the Habs in the 4th round. Vail has the makings of becoming a terrific shutdown 3rd line center, but I think it's a little bit early to undercut his potential and put a cap on his offensive progression. He showed a lot of great things offensively this year. He sees the ice well, works hard along the boards, and has a developing shot. I think there's serious offensive potential there. This year with the Spits, he'll certainly get to explore it. He'll be centering one of the team's top lines and be given every opportunity to play in all situations. I expect him to finish the year around the point per game mark.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Minnesota Wild

It's the Minnesota Wild's turn, and it's a small write up (as they have only one player in the OHL).

Tyler Graovac - Ottawa 67's
It wasn't a particularly strong season for the Wild's 7th rounder in 2011. He was given the opportunity to earn a top 6 role with the team, but wasn't really able to get the job done. The 67's eventually had to go out and make a trade for two veterans (Mike Cazzola, and John McFarland) to try and give them more secondary offense. Graovac remains a massive project who is intriguing because he's got size and he can skate. But the rest of his game just didn't take a step forward this year. He's still relatively easy to knock off the puck and ineffective at the possession game. He's got size, but isn't a consistently physical player who is effective away from the puck either. This year, the 67's desperately need him to take a step forward. Behind Sean Monahan and Steven Janes, the team really isn't likely to return many core forwards. He's going to have to take hold of the 2nd line center job and be able to produce offensively. At this point, a 50 point season would probably be considered a success.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Los Angeles Kings

Off to Hollywood we go, it's the LA Kings' turn.

Tyler Toffoli - Ottawa 67's
Even though his point totals might have slipped a bit, I thought that Toffoli had a terrific year in the O. Truthfully, it was the first year where I saw significant gains in his game compared to his draft year. Firstly, it's incredibly clear he's been working hard with his power skating coaches because his skating and acceleration looked much better this year. He's still not a burner, but he had a quicker first step this year which helped him get separation from defenders on the rush. Secondly, he was better defensively, paying closer attention to the backcheck and working hard away from the puck (along the boards) in his own end. He became a three zone player this year and I think it really helped his game. Of course, you've still got a player with an absolutely lethal shot which he can release anywhere inside the zone, and without requiring much space. He's also aggressive in taking the puck to the net and trying to generate scoring chances for his linemates. At this point, Toffoli is clearly ready for the next step and I think he's worked hard to make sure he finds success there. Playing a few games in Manchester to close out the season was likely very good for him because it gave him a taste and showed him what he needed to work on this summer. I don't think projecting Toffoli to have a 25 goal rookie season is all that unreasonable, as long as he's able to see some time in the top 6 and on a powerplay unit.

Andy Andreoff - Oshawa Generals
Truthfully, I was a bit disappointed in Andreoff's season. The Generals had a pretty poor season, considering they were expected to challenge for the East. One of the main reasons was the wavering effort level and play of some of the veterans, and Andreoff was definitely in that group. I thought he was much better in 2010/2011, the year the Kings took him in the 3rd. At times, it looked like he was a bit disappointed to be back in the OHL for another year, rather than in Manchester. His size, skating, and hands should have allowed him to score way more than the 22 goals he potted this past year. When he's on, he's an excellent three zone player who's as effective away from the puck, as he is with it. The aforementioned combination of size, speed, aggression and skill, gives him a solid projection to develop into a quality NHL 3rd liner. This year he'll definitely be in the pro's playing for Manchester. I think he'll have a really good year and should be a good bet for a 20-20 season as a rookie. Heck, if the Kings have some injuries to their bottom six, I wouldn't be surprised to see Andreoff get a few games in LA because he's already big enough and quick enough to keep up with the NHL game. Plus, the majority of the Kings' top AHL forwards are more skill oriented players.

Michael Schumacher - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Schumacher is an interesting prospect, one who had a pretty decent first year in North America. He's got great size and definitely has some goal scoring instincts and ability. He plays a pretty straight forward north/south kind of game. He knows his role, which is to get to the net to be a screen, tip in shots, and bang home rebounds. The rest of his game, (his play along the boards, his skating ability, his puck carrying ability, and his defensive understanding), is pretty raw, but not without the potential to improve. I'd be curious to see he performs with a top flight playmaker, as I wouldn't call any of the forwards on the SOO that. I'm also curious to see how he performs this year, as he's returning to the OHL for another year. He's going to get top 6 minutes and powerplay time yet again. It remains to be seen whether the Hounds will be any better than they were last year, but I'd expect Schumacher to improve his numbers and inch close to the point per game mark.

Tanner Pearson - Barrie Colts
I'm pretty sure everyone is familiar with Pearson's story by now. From relative OHL unknown, to being passed over in two NHL drafts, to NHL first round pick. But the Kings got an absolute beauty of a player here. Pearson was absolutely fantastic this season. While his production might have fallen off a tad post WJC, I actually felt his play away from the puck and his physicality improved during that time. So even if he wasn't scoring quite as much (just under a ppg), he was doing a lot of other things to help his team win. Offensively, Pearson is an incredibly intelligent player. He's got great anticipation in the offensive zone. As good as his shot is, I actually think he projects more as a playmaker because of how well he sees the ice and can control the boards. The progression in his overall game post WJC also suggests he should be able to be a pretty solid defensive player in the NHL too. Quite honestly, I expect Pearson to be in the NHL pretty soon. IMO, he's more NHL ready than Tyler Toffoli (although he doesn't possess the same potential). I'd be shocked if the Kings sent him back to the OHL this year (even if Pearson doesn't have an NHL contract yet) for his overage year. He's ready for the pro's and I think he'll excel in Manchester. I don't think a 25-25 season is out of the question. 

Colin Miller - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I actually liked Miller a lot in his rookie season in 2010/2011. I thought he had an outside shot of getting drafted in the later rounds, but he didn't. As a rookie, he had a calming influence over the Hounds defense, and appeared to be a very safe and dependable defenseman. But, he also didn't really stand out in any particular area, thus explaining his trip through the draft unselected. This past year, he took a step forward in a lot of areas, while maintaining that calmness with the puck and defensive sturdiness. Offensively, he was a lot more engaged and looked way more confident. He took chances leading the rush, and was even asked to quarterback the powerplay, where he didn't look out of place at all. Defensively, he was much more physical and no longer afraid to throw his body around. He finished a +9 on one of the league's worst teams, definitely something to be proud of. This coming season the Kings could have Miller play in the AHL, or send him back to the OHL (a decision they were faced with last year in regards to Andy Andreoff, and with Pearson this coming year). The Kings have some depth defensively in the minors, which probably means Miller would have to play in the ECHL. In that case, I think he'd be better off playing an overage season in the OHL. He could continue to gain confidence offensively which could increase his upside as a pro defender. If he's back in the Soo, I wouldn't be surprised to see him put up a 35+ point season. He'd also have a great shot at being named the Hounds next captain.

Nick Ebert - Windsor Spitfires
I honestly expect Ebert to have a pretty big bounce back year in 2012/2013. He was given a pretty raw deal this year, expected to fill the shoes of Ryan Ellis and carry a young team's defensive unit. Ultimately it was too much for him and he had a pretty brutal year. He had a lot of trouble balancing a two-way game and really got away from the things that made him such a strong OHL rookie in 2010/2011. His decision making with the puck was quite suspect, probably as a result of him trying to do too much offensively. His defensive game was erratic and he lost that edge to his game that often made him a good defender in his rookie year. This year, he's just got to get back to the basics, and come into camp motivated to play better. The addition of Patrick Sieloff to the Windsor blueline could be huge for Ebert, as it gives him a partner who'll take some pressure off him defensively (at least potentially). Not to mention he should know how to deal with adversity now. I don't think a 50 point season is out of the question and it'd be great to see.

*Of note, 2011 Kings 4th rounder Nikolai Prokhorkin was selected by the London Knights in the Import Draft this summer. Early indications suggest that Prokhorkin intends to try and play in Manchester. However, it also appears that he wants to stay in North America should he not make the AHL. Complicating things even more is that Prokhorkin is the Knights' 3rd option as an import. If Olli Maatta sticks in Pittsburgh, then Prokhorkin could play for London. If not, because each CHL team is only allowed to carry 2 imports on their roster, he would have to be traded to another team with an open spot (such as Mississauga).

Friday, July 27, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Florida Panthers

Bring on the rats, as the Florida Panthers are next!

Vincent Trocheck - Saginaw Spirit
Truly one of the league's most underrated players. Trocheck is a jack of all trades. He's one of the OHL's finest playmakers and has terrific vision with the puck. He's also a battler and never gives up on a play. When you've got a center who is scrappy and wins battles for you along the boards, but who also sees the ice well and can set up his teammates, you've hit the gold mine. This year, Trocheck was even more effective away from the puck because he added some strength in the offseason. He also continued to round out his play in all three zones, becoming a committed two way player and a strong guy on faceoffs. This coming season will be an interesting one for Trocheck, who will have to assume command of Saginaw's offense without the help of great finishers like Brandon Saad or Josh Shalla. Without a strong cast of supporting characters, I'm curious to see how he responds and the type of offensive numbers he puts up. Even if his numbers dip a bit, it shouldn't be an indication of him decreasing his value as a prospect. Sometimes a talented playmaker can only be as good as the guys finishing off his plays. Then again, the argument could be made that a talented playmaker can turn anyone into a goal scorer.

John McFarland - Ottawa 67's
It was a tough year for McFarland, who was trying to finally establish himself as one of the league's top forwards. Needless to say he came up short in that regard. In a way, his season ending shoulder injury kind of symbolized McFarland's entire OHL career. No one was more disappointed than the 67's, who brought in McFarland to help round out their offensive attack. In Ottawa, he looked great at times, even if he wasn't hitting the score sheet. While wearing a 67's jersey, he was the most aggressive and physical that I had ever seen him. This added another element to his game, which used to be based around his speed and ability to carry the puck to the net. The bottom line is that McFarland still has a lot to prove as a prospect. He remains one of those guys who has a lot of talent, but for some reason just hasn't put it together. Maybe it's a motivation issue. Maybe it's a hockey sense issue. Whatever it is, the professional ranks, which McFarland will reach this coming year, will show us just what he's made of. I could easily see him becoming one of those rare guys who plays better as a pro than an OHL'er. Or I could easily see him fading off into the prospect abyss ala a guy like Angelo Esposito. Oh, what the future holds!

Michael Houser - London Knights
Everyone knows about the clubbed feet and all that stuff by now. The kid is a battler and I was happy to see him earn an NHL contract. He's been such a great OHL goaltender the past couple of seasons and really carried London this past year. He's unorthodox though, and is one of those reactionary, agile types who we never really know how they will translate to the next level. The Panthers could of course send Houser back down to the OHL for his overage season, but I think at this point he's proven all he can down there. It looks like he'll be battling for the back-up job behind Jakub Markstrom in the AHL. If he loses and heads to the ECHL, it won't be a big deal. At this point I'm obviously cheering him on and wish him nothing but success. Hopefully he continues to battle and prove people wrong.

Josh McFadden - Sudbury Wolves
McFadden got himself an NHL deal recently with Florida, which I kind of figured would happen eventually. Offensive defenseman like McFadden don't grow on trees. Offensively, he's a dynamo. He can skate, he's got a cannon of a shot, he's very comfortable moving the puck on the powerplay. He's also very aggressive in joining the rush, sometimes too aggressive. While his defensive game can often leave a little to be desired, the one thing that's positive is that he's a fairly physical player and isn't the type to be a push over in the defensive end. The biggest adjustment for him will come in the form of coverage in the defensive end and picking his spots better to create offense. The pace of the pro game could give him some problems to start. It doesn't look like the Panthers have a ton of defenseman ready to play in the AHL, so there's a chance he could start there in a smaller role, with some powerplay time. 

*Of note, the Panthers did not sign Corey Durocher, making him a free agent.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Edmonton Oilers

Nail Yakupov and the Edmonton Oilers are up next.

Tobias Rieder - Kitchener Rangers
One of the most improved players in the OHL this year. The funny thing is that not a lot of people are talking about the year he had. He nearly doubled his production from his freshman season and was among the OHL's top offensive players in the regular season AND playoffs. Needless to say all of those consistency issues he had in his draft year erased themselves this year. My guess is that he was able to increase his conditioning level to be able to play that high energy game he excels at, every shift, instead of a couple of times a game. Rieder definitely looked stronger this year too and was able to win more battles in the corners and do a better job taking the puck hard to the net. He was able to create more space for himself to get his shot off and was way more confident in using it. In his draft year, I found him a bit tentative at times offensively, but this past year he looked confident, especially in carrying the puck to the net (and the aforementioned shooting thing). His hard work away from the puck also translated to success on the penalty kill where he was among the league's most dangerous shorthanded players. Really impressed with his progression this year...and a little disappointed that more people aren't talking about it. He'll be back again next year and should help Kitchener to be one of the OHL's best teams. If the Rangers wanted to, they could assemble one of the league's most dangerous lines next year (as long as one of Rieder and Puempel play the off wing; Rieder did this already last year), with Tobias, Radek Faksa, and Matt Puempel. I'd expect Rieder to at least match last year's production in goals, and probably increase his assist total. A 90 point season isn't outside the realm of possibility.

Nail Yakupov - Sarnia Sting
What more is there to say about Yakupov, on top of what has already been said. He's one of the most electrifying and explosive players I've ever seen in the OHL. His shot, speed, and vision make him an elite talent. He makes plays at full speed that others have trouble doing standing still or barely moving. While there's always a chance he returns to the OHL, the odds of it seem pretty damn small. Even with all of Edmonton's depth at forward (in terms of emerging talent), I can't see him not cracking the roster. In fact, I have trouble not seeing him excel. We're not talking about a one dimensional/perimeter player here. Yakupov isn't afraid to mix it up and works hard for every inch of ice he gains. In a lot of ways, he's like Alex Ovechkin in that sense. Obviously he's not as big or as physical as Alex, but he has that same bulldog mentality. I think he'll have a better rookie season than Taylor Hall did two years ago. Last NHL rookie to score over 35 goals? Ovechkin and Crosby in 05-06. I think he can do it, as long as he stays healthy.

Daniil Zharkov - Belleville Bulls
2012-2013 is a big year for Zharkov to prove he can be a consistent offensive force. He's got a ton of talent and oozes potential. Guys with his size, skating ability, puck handling ability, and shot do not grow on trees. It's just a matter of putting it all together. Firstly, he's got to cut down on the neutral zone and offensive zone turnovers. There is a time and a place to be fancy and he needs to pick his spots better. Secondly, he needs to up his intensity away from the puck and start using his size more to create room for himself, and for his linemates. Third, he needs to drive to the net with a greater consistency. Not every goal needs to be a one timer from the slot (where he loves to set up shop). A guy his size should be crashing the net too. Belleville should be one of the better team's in the East this year, but if that's the case, they are going to need improvements from guys like Zharkov. I expect big things from him and I think anything less than a 30 goal season would be considered a mild disappointment.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Red Wings, it's your turn!

Ryan Sproul - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
An amazing season by Sproul, who just oozes potential. His 23 goals this year are no fluke. His shot is absolutely massive, but it's also accurate, which is what makes it deadly. He also chose better spots to unload it this year and looked just as comfortable setting up plays with a hard pass from the point on the powerplay as he did unleashing his shot. This is massive because last year he looked a bit stiff on the point at times, relying mainly on his shot to generate offense. His poise with the puck and picking spots to rush also improved. He looked very confident in joining the rush, often leading it. At his size and with his skating ability, he's pretty hard to stop if you don't get to him by center ice. Defensively, he looked much more comfortable, especially in zone coverage. He still needs work in this area, but it definitely improved. This is evidenced by his +16 on a team who missed the playoffs. Moving forward to next year, I look for his assist totals to jump even more and for him to be among the defensive leaders in scoring. Defensively, hopefully he continues to gain confidence and learns to use his size effectively as a stopper. He can be physical, but hopefully he becomes a little more consistent in this area next season. That would add another dimension to his game. 

Petr Mrazek - Ottawa 67's
The Mrazek era in Ottawa is over, but what a great three years it has been. In his final year, the team was finally able to find some playoff success, although they came up short against Niagara in the Eastern final. Mrazek was great in the playoffs this year after last year's very poor performance. It was great to see him rebound. Obviously the big coming out party for Mrazek was this year's WJC's, where he stole the show for the Czech's. Before the WJC's this year, Mrazek actually wasn't terrific and was having some consistency issues. At times, he looked a little bored and his focus just wasn't there. Post WJC's, he looked re-invigorated. The next step for Mrazek will obviously be in the AHL or ECHL next year (the Wings have a lot of goalie depth in the minors). For any unorthodox, reflex based goalie like Mrazek, there's always the question as to whether his style will translate to the faster paced professional game where the shooters are more accurate. I'll certainly be cheering him on, as I greatly enjoyed watching him over his great OHL career.

Alan Quine - Peterborough Petes
Quine quietly had a very strong season for the Petes. The year started looking like Quine could get comfortable playing a supporting offensive role for the team, but then Matt Puempel got suspended, then injured. Then Austin Watson got dealt and suddenly Quine was being counted on as the go to guy for the Petes (along with overager Andrew Yogan). He was consistently dangerous for Peterborough this year and really took that next step in his development. In particular I was impressed by the development of his playmaking ability. Previously he's been more of a goal scorer (with a great shot), but this year he showed off another dimension of his game. His puck protection ability was also better and he was harder to knock off the puck. This allowed him to use his speed more effectively to create scoring chances. He was also less of a perimeter player and looked more engaged away from the puck, although I think he still has some growing to do in this area. This coming year, Yogan will be gone. Puempel is in Kitchener. The team is his to run offensively, let's see how he handles it yet again. He could surprise some people and get close to the 80 point mark.

Andreas Athanasiou - London Knights
It was a trying season for the speedy Greek sniper, who saw his star fall from potential first round pick, to a mid 4th rounder. He saw himself in the doghouse several times this year (including some time in the press box) for his inconsistency, and his lack of tenaciousness away from the puck. If you want to play for the Hunters, you better compete every shift and AA just wasn't doing that this year. He's undeniably talented. He has terrific hands and great puck skill to go with his outstanding skating ability (and breathtaking speed). In the playoffs, when he did draw into the line-up, he looked hungrier and was way more active away from the puck/physically. Hopefully he can carry that over to this season, where he's going to have to (yet again) fight for his spot in a line-up chalk full of talented young forwards. I've heard some rumblings that the Hunter's are exploring the idea of using AA as a center this season, which could utilize his speed and puck carrying ability. He's going to have to earn the trust of the coaching staff again, so he better come out of the gate roaring to go. Otherwise he could find himself on the trading block (like for a new goaltender which London is likely to need). I'd expect that he'll improve on his offensive numbers next year; he's too talented not to. It's just a question as to whether we're talking about a minor improvement, or a point per game player.

Jake Paterson - Saginaw Spirit
Paterson had an absolutely fantastic second half of the season, including the playoffs, that led to his huge climb up the draft charts. I really like him as a goaltending prospect. He's got everything you look for in today's NHL netminders. Size, check. Athletic ability, check. Composure and confidence, check. His rebound control really improved over the course of the season too, which is a big step for young goaltenders. Saginaw has set themselves up with an interesting goaltending dilemma heading into the new season. They've still got Clint Windsor, who Paterson split time with last year. But they also drafted a talented Russian named Nikita Serebryakov in the import draft. Something has to give, which is likely the trade of Windsor. Judging by the fact that the Spirit went with Paterson in last year's playoffs suggests they've got confidence in him moving forward. If he's the starter, I'd expect some pretty solid numbers from him. The Spirit are probably one of the team's fighting for a playoff spot in the West next year, so if he can elevate his game, it'd be terrific and very helpful to his team's cause.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars take their turn.

Jack Campbell - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Campbell is one of the biggest puzzles I've ever seen. During his time in the OHL, I haven't been impressed one bit with him. But internationally, he's been stellar and looks like a different goaltender. Then he goes to the AHL following the conclusion of this past OHL year and he fits right in. Go figure. All I know is that his time in the OHL has to considered a failure. In particular this season, where he was part of the disastrous Hounds/Spits deal. In the times I saw the Soo play this year, Campbell looked to lack focus. His rebound control was quite poor, as was his ability to read and react to plays. He wasn't squaring up shooters particularly well and was prone to bad goals. Despite being such a strong NHL prospect, I wouldn't even call him a top 10 goalie in the league this past year. Was it a lack of motivation that prevented him from performing admirably in the OHL? Who knows. All I know is that I saw a different goalie at the WJC's than I did in the OHL. Hopefully the strong international performer is the real Campbell. He'll obviously be in the AHL this year where it looks like he has a realistic shot of starting for Texas. I wish him all the best.

Jamie Oleksiak - Niagara IceDogs
I generally liked what I saw from Oleksiak this year. He looked way more comfortable offensively when he got to Niagara, and began to take some chances in leading the rush, instead of just passing the puck out. He's definitely a good, fluid skater for a big guy and that aids him both offensively and defensively. He began to be paired with the small, offensively oriented Jesse Graham, and the two became one of the league's finest pairings in the last few months. Defensively, I found Oleksiak to be a little too cautious in using his size to be physical. It's true that he picks his spots well to rub out guys along the boards or with a big hit, but it couldn't hurt him to amp it up a bit and become even more intimidating to play against. I found him to be a little too reliant on the stick check at times, when I'd rather see him manhandle guys trying to get to the net. He'll definitely have to become more of a presence in front of the net this year in the AHL. In his first AHL season, I could see him taking on more of a defensive role and not putting up many points as he gets comfortable. He does have some offensive potential though and isn't just a big, stay at home guy.

Brett Ritchie - Niagara IceDogs
It was a tale of two seasons for Ritchie. In Sarnia, things just weren't going well and he looked unhappy and unmotivated. But following the trade to Niagara, he really took off. He got better and better as the season went on too, and even though his playoff stats aren't phenomenal, I thought he had a great post season. In the last few months, he was often one of the best players on the ice when I saw the Dogs play. A lot of this had to do with the fact that he was much more aggressive with and without the puck. Ritchie, previously, has always been a little tentative in using his size to be a bulldog net crasher and board player. But with Niagara, on that small ice surface, this part of his game really took off. Next year, he'll likely see time on Niagara's first powerplay unit and should easily hit the 30 goal plateau for the first time in his career. That's if he's still a Dog. Niagara will likely be rebuilding this year and there are some rumours out there suggesting that Brett would love to play with his brother on a stronger Peterborough squad. Wherever he plays, I'd expect Ritchie to have a big season, as long as he continues his aggressive play.

Radek Faksa - Kitchener Rangers
I'm sure the Rangers are holding their breath in anticipation of Dallas training camp, as they await word on whether Faksa will be returning to them this year. To throw some fuel on the fire, the Stars signed Faksa to his ELC recently. He's already a fantastic defensive player and someone who's able to win battles along the boards. His play away from the puck is ready for the NHL IMO. But I don't think his offensive game is, nor is he strong enough. Keeping him in the NHL would be a mistake IMO, especially with Dallas recently adding the likes of Jagr, Whitney and Derek Roy. Keeping him in a checking line role will only hinder the development of his offensive game, which some scouts are already a bit down on. I think he's got a lot of potential as a responsible two-way center. Going back to the OHL would allow him to play top line minutes and in all situations for one of the better teams in the league. He'll also have some talented players flanking him potentially, such as Tobias Rieder or the newly acquired Matt Puempel. If he's back in the OHL, I'd expect him to crack the 75 point barrier and develop into one of the league's top two-way forwards.

Gemel Smith - Owen Sound Attack
The Stars got a gem when they selected Smith in the 4th. He may be small, but he's got a huge heart and is very dedicated to improving. You have to love the energy he brings to the ice; his motor never stops running. The majority of his offense is produced from outhustling the opposition to the net, outworking them in the corners, or using his great speed to fly by them on the rush. The next big step will be him adding strength to make him even harder to stop off the rush or in front of the net. It'll especially help his puck protection skills and allow him to slow the game down in certain situations. I think added strength would also allow him to play more of a physical role. Adding that dimension to his game (at least consistently) would make him even more effective, especially as a two-way player. The Attack should be pretty solid yet again this year, and Smith will be right at the forefront of that. I'd expect him to crack the point per game barrier this season.

*of note, it is possible that 2nd round pick Ludwig Bystrom will join the Plymouth Whalers this season after getting selected in the Import Draft. The Whalers are losing arguably their top 3 defenseman (Schmitz, Levi, Trutmann), so this would be a terrific opportunity for Bystrom. He could jump right into the top pairing of the Whalers, and their first powerplay unit. The Whalers should be terrific yet again this year, so he'd also be in a winning environment. If he comes over, I'd expect him to put up 30+ points. He recently signed on with Dallas, but there are rumours he's being loaned to MoDo for the year. I don't think we'll find out until September where he's playing.

Monday, July 23, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Columbus Blue Jackets

Alright Columbus, you're up!

Boone Jenner - Oshawa Generals
While the Generals did not have a great season and were massive underachievers, I actually thought Jenner had a strong year. He was their most consistent player and wore his heart on his sleeve. As team captain, perhaps you can put some of the blame on the team's lack of success on his shoulders, but it sounds like that room was a bit of a mess last year and it was just his first year as captain. So I think he should get a pass. He looked way more confident offensively this year. Previously, he was kind of that grunt who did all the dirty work to make others around him better. This year, he still was fantastic along the boards and on the forecheck, but he also looked to take the puck to the net more and get himself in scoring positions. Sometimes it's not a bad thing to be a tad more selfish when you've got the puck on your stick. His skating looked improved this year, although I'd say he should continue to work on it moving forward to increase that extra gear. He was also way more physical this year. In his draft year, he was physical at times, but never really consistently aggressive. This season he really upped the intensity and was out there punishing people with hits and made himself very difficult to play against. With Jensen, Andreoff, and Christian Thomas out of the picture, it's going to be Jenner's show to run (along with Laughton and Lessio). I'd expect the Generals to have a better season and they've got a great shot at taking the wide open Eastern Conference if they can get good goaltending. My expectation for Jenner would be to crack the 70 point barrier, on top of playing yet again for Canada at the WJC's.

Dalton Smith - Ottawa 67's
After 2010-2011's incredibly disappointing season, Smith did have a bit of a mini-resurgence this year in Ottawa. The biggest change was that he learned how to play physical, and be mean, without being undisciplined. He also toned down the fighting a bit, which helped him see more ice time and focus on his offensive game a little bit more. The downside is that his offensive game, in particular his goal scoring ability, never really developed the way many anticipated it would (including myself). His skating also never really improved greatly over the course of his OHL career, which prevented him from being a power forward who could take the puck hard to the net. He remains a physical, forechecking winger who can cause havoc in front of the net and bang home the odd loose puck. The question is, are you OK with that from an early 2nd round pick? Smith's time in the OHL is likely done as I'm sure he'll suit up for Springfield this season. The big thing for Smith will be whether his skating holds up at the professional level, and whether he's still able to be a big factor on the forecheck in a faster paced game. I wouldn't expect too much from him this year in terms of offensive production while he gets his feet wet.

Josh Anderson - London Knights
With the likes of Knight, McKegg, Watson, and Namestnikov all leaving, Anderson has a terrific chance to make his mark with the Knights this season. He's a real hard worker with goal scoring potential. Even though he didn't see a ton of ice time in London last season, he was always visible for the right reasons and made the most of the action he did see. This coming season I think he's got a great chance to end up flanking a line with someone like Seth Griffith or Max Domi on one of London's top lines because of how well he works the boards and creates space for his linemates. He should also see a significant increase in powerplay time as they try to work him into the role of a crease disturber. Don't be surprised if he pots 25+ goals this year.

Gianluca Curcuruto - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
There's no denying that Curcuruto had a disappointing sophomore season in the OHL. He was one of my favourites as a 16 year old, but just didn't take that step forward this past year. If anything, he might have regressed a bit, especially on the offensive side of things where he often looked tentative with the puck. He's still got a lot of potential and I don't think anyone is giving up on him quite yet. However, it's going to be hard for him to make his mark in the Soo again this year. Ryan Sproul, Colin Miller, and Darnell Nurse are all ahead of him on the depth chart as offensive rearguards and powerplay QB's. There's a chance LA doesn't send Miller back for his overage year, which would open up some space. The Hounds also acquired Alex Gudbranson this summer too, which could leave Curcuruto on the outside of the top four looking in. This has led to a lot of speculation around the Hounds shopping his services for a solid forward. At this point, I think a change of scenery could do him well.

*of note, the Jackets did not sign 2010 pick Brandon Archibald, making him a free agent.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche are up:

Michael Sgarbossa - Sudbury Wolves
Acquired by the Avs as part of the McGinn/Winnik trade, Sgarbossa had a massive breakout season this year that saw him become one of the OHL's premier scoring forwards. The biggest reason for this breakout, IMO, was added strength. He's not the biggest guy, and in previous seasons he's been a little easy to separate from the puck. This year, he was so hard to contain in the offensive zone because that added strength made his puck protection ability a force to be reckoned with. He's especially dangerous coming off the wall, towards the net with the puck where his good acceleration also comes in handy. His shot also greatly improved this year, another piece of evidence of a great dedication to offseason strength training. He loves to fly down the wing and fire off wristers, and is great at using defenseman as screens. He's not a perimeter player either, and loves to get his nose dirty in the corners. It'll be interesting to see how his first professional season goes this coming year in Lake Erie. Moving forward, I think he's probably better suited to the wing where his shot, puck carrying ability, and speed can really make him dangerous. His defensive game will need some work, so a move to the wing would help lessen that learning curve. At times, he can hang on to the puck too long and become a little selfish, something that a move to the wing might curtail too. He has a ton of skill and hopefully he puts it on display in the AHL this year.

Garrett Meurs - Plymouth Whalers
It was a good year for Meurs, who was definitely able to figure out what type of player he wants to be moving forward. That mean streak we started to see towards the tail end of his draft year came out even more this season. He's transformed himself from a relatively perimeter based offensive forward, to a hard nosed, tenacious potential two-way threat. He's done well to eliminate some of the costly turnovers that plagued his first two seasons in the league and has really simplified his approach in the offensive end. He's working harder on the cycle and going hard to the net for loose pucks. He's got great hands in close and definitely has the potential to put up even bigger offensive numbers than he did this year. Next season the Whalers will be returning a lot of their key forwards, so it'll be interesting to see if he's able to improve his offensive numbers yet again, without a lot of added responsibility. He could definitely see more powerplay time this year though, replacing Bathgate and Devane on the 2nd unit. I'd expect and hope he can inch closer to the point per game mark this season.

Mitchell Heard - Plymouth Whalers
It'll be interesting to see what the Avs do with Heard after taking the '92 born forward in the 2nd round. They've got some time to get him signed and could have him play in either the AHL or the OHL this season. He continued to improve his offensive numbers this past year with increased responsibility, especially on the powerplay. He's cut from the same cloth as a guy like Andrew Shaw, who's had great success for the Hawks since being drafted. Personally, I'd send him back for his overage season in the OHL to help the Whalers possibly take home the OHL title (they've got the roster for it). He could continue to take charge offensively and try to improve his numbers yet again. It'd also give him another season to get faster and stronger. On the other hand, the intangibles he brings to the ice (such as his faceoff ability) could already make him a valuable pro player. I'm interested to see where he plays.

Michael Clarke - Windsor Spitfires
Clarke had a very inconsistent first season in the OHL. He started off red hot, cooled considerably, then found his game again closer to the playoffs. Now that he's experienced a full year in the league, I'd expect him to come back strong this year after an offseason filled with intense training and his first NHL training camp experience. He's going to have to really knock some socks off in Windsor too, because they've got a lot of young talent and he could quickly find himself as trade bait should he not perform. But with Khokhlachev leaving, he'll have a great shot at the first line center spot (along with Brady Vail and rookie Josh Ho-Sang, although Ho-Sang says he's playing wing to start). That's some tough competition though, so I'm hoping he's up for it. I'd expect him to at least hit the 50 point plateau this year, regardless of where and what role he's playing.

Joseph Blandisi - Owen Sound Attack
The Attack will be returning nearly every major forward save Mike Halmo, so it's not likely the hard working Blandisi will see a huge role increase. But he will be coming into his 2nd OHL season, so hopefully he's worked hard this offseason, knowing exactly what's in store for him (similar to Clarke). The fact that he's so versatile and can play any forward position will help him out. With a new coach in Owen Sound, he does have a shot to earn some trust and more special teams time. The Attack should have a solid team next year, so even if he doesn't put up a huge increase in production, he could still be a key component to a potential Conference winning squad.

*of note, the Avs held the rights to Belleville defenseman Steve Silas, but chose not to sign him and relinquished his rights.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks, you're up!

Brandon Saad - Saginaw Spirit
Saad had an absolute monster year. He might have been the best player in the OHL this year, he was that good. It's just too bad that he missed a good month of action with an "upper body injury" and then more time with the U.S. WJC team. Otherwise, he could have been in line for some hardware. Saad had the best point per game average in the league at 1.73. Next closest was Nail Yakupov at 1.64. Saad finally worked out those consistency issues this year and brought it every single night, and every single shift. He was a flat out beast for the opposition to contain. He took the puck to the net with conviction. His shot also improved, as did his confidence in using it. Saad also made the players around him better. It should come as no co-incidence that the Spirit didn't start to heat up until Saad returned from his injury and the WJC's. His play in all three zones also gained consistency. He worked hard in his own end and became one of the league's elite penalty killers. I definitely think he took steps forward in learning to use his size to his advantage away from the puck too, in winning more battles along the boards and being active on the forecheck. All in all, a true breakthrough season. His OHL career is surely finished now, which means it's on to Rockford or Chicago. The Hawks have a lot of depth at the forward position, so Saad will likely have to really turn some heads in camp to earn a spot. Regardless of where he plays in 2012-2013, I'd expect big things from him. It seems like he's finally put everything together in order to utilize the terrific skill set he has.

Johan Mattsson - Sudbury Wolves
I was very impressed by what I saw from Mattsson this year. When he played, he gave Sudbury quality goaltending, something the Wolves haven't had a lot of in recent seasons. He's a big guy, but very sound technically. Quite often, you'll find big goaltenders having trouble controlling their rebounds, but I found him to be very solid in this area. He looked comfortable and confident in his crease. Mattsson also has some agility for a bigger guy and looks good moving post to post. At this point, the only thing I'd be concerned about would be the nagging injuries that plagued him this year and limited his game action. Injury prone goaltenders can be quite frustrating. The Hawks have another year to sign Mattsson, even though he's a '92. But his OHL days are finished after Sudbury gave up his rights before this year's import draft. Looks like he'll head back to Sweden for a year, where hopefully he can get some playing time at a high level.

Garret Ross - Saginaw Spirit
No doubt the Hawks came away impressed with Ross after watching Saad play all year. Ross did see some time on Saad's line this year, which was a breakout campaign for him. He's a very hard nosed winger who can do all the dirty work on a line, but who also has a good enough skating ability, good enough puck skill, and good enough hands to put up some offensive numbers. When playing with Saad and Vincent Trocheck, Ross certainly didn't look out of place. Ross is the type of guy who'll do anything to help his team win, be it score a goal, drop the mitts, or make a solid play defensively. I loved the fact that the Hawks took him in the draft. A lot of Hawks fans are probably equating this to the Andrew Shaw selection. However, I'd say Ross is not quite as ready as Shaw was for the next level. Chicago could definitely have Ross play in the AHL next year (as a '92), but I think he'd be better off returning to the OHL for his overage season where he'd have a legit shot at a 30+ goal season, replacing Saad as Trocheck's go to trigger man. With only one season of true offensive output under his belt, sending him back to continue to build his confidence would be the best course of action IMO.

*of note, it looks like Hawks 7th rounder in 2011, Alex Broadhurst could be suiting up for the London Knights this year. He was among the USHL's leading scorers this year and if he comes to London, should find a lot of opportunity to put up some points. But they do have a very deep lineup, so he'll have to bring his A-game if he wants to play for the Hunters full time.

Friday, July 20, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Carolina Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes are next.

Ryan Murphy - Kitchener Rangers
It's players like Murphy who make me wish there was some type of exemption for playing in the AHL (in certain circumstances). When players aren't challenged offensively, they can fall into bad habits and get a tad comfortable. And that's what happened to Murphy this year, at least through the first two thirds of the season. When Murphy is on his game, his puck rushing ability makes him nearly unstoppable offensively. His skating ability and puck carrying skill allow him to enter the offensive zone with relative ease. When Murphy was sent back this year, I felt like he struggled a little bit. He was taking too many chances and really neglecting the defensive side of things. Rangers fans were all over him through most of the year for his penchant for committing mistakes out of trying to force plays. I mean, in terms of a statistical analysis, Murphy had another great year. But when you consider what he's done in his OHL career so far, I felt like he stagnated this season and really didn't improve much. It wasn't until he was slighted by Hockey Canada (yet again), that his play really took off post WJC, but he was slighted for the very reason Rangers fans were all over him. This year, he'll be back in the OHL yet again, barring him making the Hurricanes roster to start the season. Upon returning to Kitchener, he's going to need to really focus on improving his defensive game, and picking his spots better offensively. I thought this same thing happened to Ryan Ellis in his 3rd year in the league, and he came back to have his best season yet in his 4th year. So hopefully Murphy is able to channel his energy in the right direction in 2012-2013.

Austin Levi - Plymouth Whalers
I felt like Levi really grew a lot in his four years in the OHL. He was drafted as a huge project, as a big guy who could skate and push people around, but couldn't do a whole lot else. But his offensive game and his defensive game grew tremendously since being drafted. This season, everything took a step forward yet again. Defensively, his in zone coverage really improved and he stopped looking for big hits, allowing the game to come to him and his long reach. He also was more effective in clearing the crease. Offensively, I felt like he handled the forecheck better (something he had trouble doing in previous seasons) and was able to move the puck quicker and more efficiently to start the breakout. He definitely cut down on the turnovers in his own end. Moving forward, he still remains a project though. While all of these things improved at the OHL level, he'll have to continue to work on them in the AHL where decisions need to be made quicker. For a big guy who's a fluid skater, he can be prone to getting beat to the outside because he seems indifferent on whether to take the body or use the stick check. These types of things only come with increased confidence and comfort. It seems like the Canes have a lot of guys on defense at the AHL level, so he might have to play part of this season in the ECHL if the learning curve proves too steep for him to start.

Matt Mahalak - Plymouth Whalers
Mahalak had an absolutely terrific season, even if he spent it splitting time with Scott Wedgewood. In fact, in the games I saw Plymouth play, Mahalak was the better goaltender. He looked much more comfortable in the crease and was able to string together a very consistent season . I felt like he was able to use his size in his crease more effectively this year, but was also able to control his rebounds more. He transformed himself from being purely a puck stopper, to a guy who controls his rebounds and anticipates the play better. He's very athletic too and can make the highlight reel save to keep his team in the game. He stopped 14 of 16 shootout attempts this year, a testament to his agility and ability to stay with shooters. This coming season is the big one for him. Plymouth is set to return a lot of their major players and should have a terrific team. A team that will belong to him as the starter. He could easily be one of the breakout stars of the OHL this coming year.

Beau Schmitz - Plymouth Whalers
With their connection to the Whalers organization, it came as no surprise to me when the Canes signed Schmitz after his overage year. After all, they did invite him to their prospect camp last year. He had an absolutely terrific overage year and really took his game to the next level in every aspect. He looked way more confident at both ends of the ice. While he's always been a solid OHL defenseman, he was on another wave length this year. Offensively, he was way more aggressive in joining the rush and looking for scoring opportunities. In particular, his work on the powerplay looked much comfortable. Defensively, he was way more physically aggressive, which resulted in him winning more battles in the corners and in front of the net. He's not a big guy, but this year he started playing much bigger than he is. My guess is he'll start in the ECHL next year and gain some confidence at the pro level. I'm still not really sure what type of defenseman he'll be at the next level, but his progression in his overage season was definitely very encouraging for his long term potential.

Brock McGinn - Guelph Storm
After battling some injuries this year, McGinn was still drafted in the 2nd round for his combination of energy, tenacity and goal scoring ability. This season, McGinn will look to stay healthy and establish himself in the top 6 of the Storm. Guelph will be returning its entire group of forwards for this year, many of whom have a ton of potential. Needless to say, competition for ice time will be very fierce in Guelph. It'll be interesting to see where McGinn ends up slotting in.

Daniel Altshuller - Oshawa Generals
The Gennies had a brutal year (considering the expectations surrounding them), and Altshuller was definitely part of that. He had huge expectations (perhaps unfairly) coming into his first season in the league after leading Canada to Gold at the Ivan Hlinka. His play was widely erratic, to say the least. But he's a big goaltender with a lot of potential (as evidenced by his high draft selection by Carolina). The good news is that the starting job in Oshawa will be his to lose. Kevin Baillie isn't likely to return as an OA, so Altshuller will be the main man. Oshawa is losing some key talent up front, but they should still remain a competitive team. If he can turn in a solid performance, the Gennies could secure a top four standing in the Conference. And quite frankly, I do expect him to be a lot better this season.

Trevor Carrick - Mississauga Steelheads
I'd expect big things from Carrick this year in Mississauga. He really came into his own during the 2nd half of the season, especially offensively. By the playoffs, his confidence with the puck had hit a real high point. By this time, he had also formed a pretty good partnership with Toronto first rounder Stuart Percy on the team's top pairing. This union should continue this year where the two should play in all situations together. Percy's strong defensive play could also allow Carrick to take more chances offensively and really put up some nice numbers.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Calgary Flames

Next up is the Calgary Flames.

Unfortunately, Calgary doesn't have any prospects currently playing in the OHL. However, 2nd rounder this year, Patrick Sieloff, will be suiting up for Windsor next year.

I absolutely loved his game at the Under 18's this year and I think he's going to have a great year in Windsor. They desperately needed a real physical, shutdown guy and I think he's going to fit very nicely into their lineup. In fact, I'd be surprised if he isn't paired with Nick Ebert to start the year, on the team's first pairing. I also expect him to see some powerplay time in order to get a good read on the type of offensive skill he has. I know some people who say he has some underrated offensive skill and isn't just a pure stay at home guy. He'll definitely get his chance to prove that.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Buffalo Sabres

Part three: Buffalo Sabres

Daniel Catenacci - Owen Sound Attack
After requesting a trade from the Soo, I thought that Catenacci had a terrific first season in Owen Sound. He maintained his aggressive and high energy style, but played a little more refined and in control. He also was incredibly consistent (save for maybe the end of the season when the Attack lost Halmo) and brought it pretty much every night. Every time I saw Owen Sound play this year, Catenacci was among the better players on the ice. His biggest asset remains his speed and overall skating ability, but I felt like he was stronger this year and more effective in carrying the puck and taking it to the net. As a result, his goal scoring totals jumped a bit. While he's always been a solid defensive player, I've found that his play in all three zones has been inconsistent in previous seasons. This year, he was dedicated to playing hard away from the puck in every game I saw. I also love the fact that Catenacci wore a letter this year, his first with Owen Sound. Next year should be a great one for the Cat. He's got a chance to be the team's captain (although I expect it to go to Keevin Cutting), and he'll be the team's offensive leader, but still surrounded by some terrific young talent. I could definitely see Catenacci putting up a 90 point season next year, taking his offensive game to yet another level.

Alex Lepkowski - Barrie Colts
Big guy who slowly emerged into a top four defenseman for Barrie this year. Before he was a big guy who's game was very raw, but this year he really started to come into his own defensively. He's got only average mobility, but he uses his stick very effectively to breakup plays off the rush and is hard to get around. He's still learning to use his size most effectively, but he can be very mean when he wants to be. Lepkowski will be looked upon to fill a similar role in Barrie again this year. I'll be looking for improvements in his offensive game. He's actually got a pretty heavy shot from the point and I could see him seeing some secondary powerplay time more consistently this year. He'll need to gain more confidence in his breakout pass and start taking a few more chances. I also look for him to continue to become comfortable using his size to be aggressive. Hopefully he can become a defensive beast this season for Barrie, as they could be starved for offense if Mark Scheifele and Tanner Pearson stick in the pros.

Justin Kea - Saginaw Spirit
I love Kea and I think he's got a ton of potential as a power center. He works hard at both ends of the ice, moves well for a big man, and has more skill with the puck than he's given credit for. IMO, Kea has a legitimate chance to be Saginaw's 2nd line center this season (behind the criminally underrated Vincent Trocheck). They are going to need him to step it up offensively as the Spirit are losing Saad, Shalla, Fine, and possibly even Garret Ross to the pro's. The only problem is that there may not be a lot of talent on the wing to surround him. I think we'll see an improvement in his offensive numbers, but I'd expect the big jump in his offensive game to occur in 2013-2014.

Brady Austin - Belleville Bulls
Austin was definitely a savvy pick-up. The behemoth defenseman blossomed in his first full season as a defenseman in Belleville. Previously, he was moving back and forth between center and the blueline in Erie. But he jumped right into the top four of the Bulls and never looked back. He's a very important defender for them because he plays in all situations. This year, I'll be looking for him to continue to improve his offensive numbers as he becomes more comfortable rushing the puck and controlling the point on the powerplay. I'm also looking for him to continue to improve his defensive game. Part of that is using his size even more to his advantage and becoming more of a physical threat (especially in front of the net). Belleville has a chance to be the best team in the East, and Austin is going to be a huge part of that. Hopefully he's up to the challenge.

*Steven Shipley and Gregg Sutch were Sabres prospects who were not signed this year, and thus their rights were relinquished by Buffalo.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Boston Bruins

Bring on part 2!

The Boston Bruins

Jared Knight - London Knights
In his fourth and final year in the OHL, I felt like Knight was a bit of a disappointment. I still love him as a prospect, but there's no question that I anticipated his goal scoring ability to be taken to another level this season. And it didn't really get there. He remains at his best when he's able to take the puck hard to the net. His lower body strength is excellent and it makes him very hard to stop on the way to the net. But his ability to get open for shots didn't really take that next step. He definitely has an NHL caliber shot, but he didn't take that next step as a goal scorer because he wasn't able to get it off enough. He didn't really become that dangerous guy in the slot or the type of consistent goal scorer who can fly down the wing and rifle one top shelf. In the playoffs, he was particularly quiet and looked to be never fully healed from the ankle injury he suffered in round one. He's still an aggressive guy away from the puck and the type of forward who could work well with more skilled guys because of his "bull in a china shop" approach. He can definitely make some room for his linemates. That said, will this translate to the NHL as effectively as it worked in the OHL? While he's incredibly strong, he's not the biggest guy, so I do worry about his durability as a power winger. I'm also a little worried about his goal scoring ability translating to the next level. I'd be a liar if I said doubts hadn't crept into my mind about him being a possible top 6 forward. He might be better suited as a crash and bang 3rd line winger. The type of guy who is a consistent 15-20 goal guy, instead of the potential 30 goal guy we thought he'd become when he was drafted. He's still a great prospect and a guy I'm 100% rooting for at the next level. His OHL career is finished as it's on to Providence for him.

Ryan Spooner - Sarnia Sting
I felt like Spooner had a very strong season. While his offensive numbers don't particularly scream breakout, the fact that he did as well as he did, in a season where he fought mono, is impressive. On the times I saw him play, he was often the best player on the ice. He's not a big guy, but he looked much stronger on his skates this season. He was a lot harder to take the puck off of, and this gave him more time to operate. His puck skill and on ice vision is very strong, so being able to protect the puck better definitely made him more consistently dangerous. Always a strong skater, Spooner looked even quicker this year. He's very effective off the rush, where he's unpredictable as both a goal scorer and playmaker. His play away from the puck also took some baby steps forward too, as he was a little more apt to backchecking and fighting in the corners. In particular, he became one of the league's premier penalty killers, where his speed and anticipation of the play made him an offensive threat shorthanded (second in the league with 7 shorties). Like Knight, Spooner will also be making the jump to the pro ranks next year. I'd expect him to have little trouble with the adjustment and I'd be disappointed if he wasn't among the league leaders in AHL rookie scoring. That's if he even spends the season in Providence. I think he's closer to the NHL than Knight and could definitely challenge for a roster spot as early as next year.

Alexander Khokhlachev - Windsor Spitfires
It was a bit of a tough year for Khokhlachev's development IMO. Even without the lacerated kidney he suffered that ended his season in March, it looked to be a bit of a frustrating year for the talented Russian. On such a young Windsor team, he was expected to carry the load offensively and be the team's leader, and I don't know if he was ready for that. Offensively, he looked frustrated at times. He remained an aggressive offensive player, but it was as if his linemates never developed a terrific chemistry with him (even if Kerby Rychel scored 40 on his wing). He'd try to make things happen and it'd be as if he was on his own out there. He also played with a bevy of different linemates, many of whom weren't terrific defensive players just quite yet. It forced Khokhlachev to try to focus more on becoming a three zone player, but it also detracted some from his ability to generate offense consistently. And at the end of all it, I'm not sure his defensive game really improved all that much. Nor did his willingness to consistently engage away from the puck in the offensive zone. His skating still lacks that extra gear too, something that would make him considerably more effective. I'm also not crazy about his decision to play under his father in the KHL next season. While there's no doubt he'll get the ice time to help him improve (thanks pops), you have to wonder if playing in the KHL will help him improve on the areas which he needs to. Playing another year under Kerby Rychel and Bob Boughner definitely would continue increase his competency in all three zones, because they don't put up with a lot of crap (as Khokhlachev surely found out in his two seasons in Windsor). Hopefully he comes back to North America ready to take on a roster spot in Boston.

Dougie Hamilton - Niagara IceDogs
What more can you say about Dougie? Often times, a man among boys in the OHL this season. He makes things look so easy out there. He's a great skater for a big guy and it allows him to play both ends very effectively. He can take some chances offensively that others can't because he can catch up to the play in the defensive end. I felt like his defensive game really grew this season and he was much more effective in his own end. At times in his draft year, he'd get caught running around a bit, but his game was more refined in the defensive zone, allowing the play to come to him and trusting his instincts. Once he's able to break up a play, his confidence with the puck allows him to start the breakout very quickly. His shot and ability to use it also took a step forward this year. He was able to get point shots through to the net with more efficiency, and picked better spots for his pinches down low. With a spot on the Boston blueline up for grabs, it appears many are expecting Dougie to grab it. I'd probably be in the camp too. I'll be very surprised if Hamilton is back in the OHL this season. A couple of things that do worry me slightly about the expectation of a quick transition to the NHL. One; I think he'll have to simplify his game a little bit, as right now he can get caught roaming around a bit too much offensively. This was something Alex Pietrangelo did in his OHL career too and he had a bit of a tough time transitioning. Two; he'll need to be more consistently physical at the next level and use his size more effectively defensively...especially in front of the net. It'll be interesting to follow his projected path in training camp.

Anthony Camara - Barrie Colts
Camara had a pretty good season, improving upon all of his offensive numbers. He looked very comfortable in Barrie following the trade from Saginaw and was able to really find a niche with the Colts. He has some good hands in close and works hard away from the puck, so I think he does have some goal scoring potential as a high energy/grinding type of guy. He's definitely not afraid to drive to the net, and this year I felt like his ability to carry the puck and overall puck skill did improve. This coming season in Barrie, he's going to be counted on as one of the team's main offensive weapons and has a chance to play on the team's top line. I'd expect a least 25 goals from him this season and for him to enjoy a mini break out year.

Tyler Randell - Kitchener Rangers
Started the season with Providence, but was sent back to Kitchener late in the year. He looked good in his overage year. It's obvious his time in the AHL helped him to add some strength to his frame because he was very difficult for opposing defenses to contain in front of the net. He remains pretty much a garbage goal kind of guy, but he also works pretty hard away from the puck and isn't afraid to drop the mitts, which bodes well for his future in pro hockey. His skating still isn't terrific, but he knows his role and plays it to the best of his ability. His consistency away from the puck was much better upon returning from the AHL and he was often quite the load to handle on the cycle too. He'll make the full time jump to the pro ranks next year, although I'm still not sure he's ready for full time AHL play quite yet. Perhaps sending him to the ECHL where he can get some powerplay time would be the better choice.

Malcolm Subban - Belleville Bulls
The key to Subban for the upcoming season will definitely be avoiding injury. He's a terrific goaltender. His athleticism is fantastic for the position and he reads plays very well for a goaltender who really doesn't have a ton of experience. This year he's going to have to work on controlling those rebounds and becoming more of a true goaltender and less of a stopper. The Bulls have a legitimate shot at finishing first in the Eastern Conference this year and Subban will be a huge part of that. He's also got a shot to be Canada's starting netminder at the WJC's. But again, all of this is only possible if he can stay healthy.

Seth Griffith - London Knights
Griffith will return to the OHL this year where he's got a legitimate shot at leading the league in scoring. He had a terrific breakthrough season where nearly every single one of his attributes as a player took a step forward. He's so skilled with the puck, has a quick release, and has great vision to set up his linemates. However, his defensive game actually took a step back this past year, likely as a reaction to him trying to put up more points. In his original draft year, he was actually a fairly committed two-way player. My hope is that he can regain that form and does a little less floating this season. With added confidence and an offseason dedicated to strength training, he should be able to be more effective away from the puck. Hopefully, he can also add a bit of an extra gear to give him some separation off the rush, allowing him to add another dimension to his game. I'd expect pretty large things from him this year.

Cody Payne - Plymouth Whalers
The Bruins took a chance on Payne in hopes that he'll become a power forward type of prospect. He's big and raw and has some characteristics you'd look for in a budding offensive player. This season he didn't get a ton of ice time, and unfortunately it looks like that could be the case again this year. The Whalers are returning most core players, save overagers Andy Bathgate and Jamie Devane. He'll probably continue to play on the team's third line and see little to no time on special teams. But hopefully he can begin to become a more consistent player and set himself up nicely for a big year in 2013-2014, when the Whalers big guns (Noesen, Miller, Aleardi, Rakell, Meurs, Heard, etc) are all gone.

Monday, July 16, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Anaheim Ducks

This offseason, I'm trying a few new things. The OHL offseason can be pretty boring and hard to write about. I've definitely been prone to long stretches of inactivity in the summer.

One of the new things I'm doing is a review of the NHL team's prospects from the past season, in addition to an outlook on their future. I'm calling it 30 teams in 30 days, and we'll go in alphabetical order (for consistency sake).

Up first is the Anaheim Ducks.

John Gibson - Kitchener Rangers
Gibson's first season in the OHL was kind of an up and down one. Up, because when he played he was fantastic. His play lived up to the hype, as he was every bit of the poised and confident goaltender he was billed to be. He fills up the net incredibly well, but is actually relatively athletic for a big guy. He's aggressive in challenging shooters and does pretty well to control his rebounds. Because he covers the net so well, he's tough to beat on shots once he gets squared to the shooter. You've got to get him moving, or get him down early into the butterfly to beat him cleanly. Truthfully, I didn't see him have a really bad game this year. Part of that is the fact that I didn't see him as much as I would have liked too, which brings me to the down part of his season. He battled injuries and illness all season long, and actually played less than Rangers back-up Franky Palazzese during the regular season. He missed time due to back spasms, due to a concussion, due to pneumonia, and due to surgery to remove his tonsils. He's got to prove to be a little bit more durable in the net. This coming season he'll be returning to the OHL (although he is eligible to play in the AHL, but the Ducks already have a bevy of guys in the AHL for next season so it's not likely he goes there) where he'll look to lead the Rangers (who have to be an early Memorial Cup favourite from the O) yet again. If Gibson can prove to be a little more resilient, it's likely the Rangers will trade 1(b) goaltender Palazzese to a team looking for a starter, which would pave the way for Gibson to be the go to guy all season.

Rickard Rakell - Plymouth Whalers
I thought that Rakell had a very strong season with Plymouth this season. In his draft year, there were a lot of concerns about his offensive consistency and his overall hockey sense. But I think he did some to partially erase those concerns. Playing the entire year at center (as opposed to only part of it last year), he looked great in terms of creating for his linemates. His playmaking ability definitely took a step forward this year. He appeared more confident with the puck and was able to let the game come to him a little more, instead of forcing plays like he did in his draft year. His skating and shot both took a step forward also. In essence, he's become a very well rounded offensive player. One thing that was never criticized in his draft year was his play away from the puck, and that continued to be the case this season where he emerged as one of the league's top two-way players. His penalty minute totals wouldn't indicate it, but he's a tough guy to play against. He isn't a physical banger, but instead the type of guy who gets his stick in passing lanes, who wins battles along the boards, and who has the skating ability to stay with opposing forwards on the backcheck. Because of the improvements across the board, there seems to be a lot of optimism (or worry from Plymouth fans) that Rakell could make the jump to the NHL next year. The Ducks recently signed him to an ELC, so it's obvious they believe he can challenge for a roster spot as well. His strong two-way abilities might give him a leg up on a guy like Peter Holland, who was never the best two-way forward in his time in the OHL (although I'm unsure as to how their game has grown in the AHL). That being said, I think allowing him to play another year in Plymouth would be smart. Another year in the O would continue to allow his offensive game to blossom (especially in terms of confidence), and then he'd definitely be ready to make the jump.

Igor Bobkov - Kingston Frontenacs
Bobkov had a much better season this year and looked a lot more comfortable in Kingston than he did in London. Sending him back for his overage season was a really smart decision by the Ducks brass IMO. I definitely give Igor credit for battling the way he did for the worst team in his conference. He played hard every game and did his best to keep Kingston in some games they didn't have any business winning. He faced the most shots in the league this year and still managed to have a save percentage above .900. At times, his style can still be a little bit awkward. He seems to be most comfortable in a butterfly style, but he can be effective when he stands up to make saves too because of his size. When he does go down, he can still have some issues with his rebounds, but he was able to make a lot more second and third saves this year because he looked to be tracking the puck better and was a bit quicker in the crease. His focus was also greater and he anticipated plays more effectively. I think Bobkov definitely put his name back on the map this year and I look forward to seeing how he performs at the professional level. It would appear to be that he'll start in the ECHL with the Ducks having brought over two highly coveted European goaltenders who were probably all but guaranteed to be at least in the AHL. He remains a long term project but there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.

Joseph Cramarossa - Belleville Bulls
I was definitely disappointed with Cramarossa's development this season. It was a tough year for him though. He started the year on the shelf with an upper body injury, then not long after returning, got suspended for 10 games for a head check. After that, he kind of lost his spot in the Majors line up and was dealt to Belleville where he played OK. He remains an aggressive, in your face, high energy forward and those qualities did not escape him this season. He still played hard, was solid on the forecheck and did a good job on the penalty kill. But his offensive game didn't get taken to the level which I thought it might get to in his 19 year old season. He's got a good shot coming down the ice, has some puck skill to make goaltenders and defenseman miss, and he's aggressive enough away from the puck to make things happen for his linemates. But those attributes never really came together consistently this season to make him a big offensive threat. He doesn't yet have a contract from Anaheim, which leads me to believe that he'll likely be back in the OHL next season. I think it's a smart move for them to send him back for an overage season in Belleville, where they have a real chance to be the best team in the Eastern Conference. It'll give him a chance to take on a larger role offensively and possibly even wear a letter. He needs a season to really get his confidence going offensively, and if the Ducks put him in the AHL next year, I think they will really stagnate his offensive ceiling.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

2012 CHL Import Draft Review

On Wednesday, June 27, the Canadian Hockey League held its annual Import Draft where CHL teams got the opportunity to add import talent to their teams. There is two rounds of the draft, and a team can pass on or trade their pick at any time. Just to remind you, CHL clubs are permitted to carry only two import players on their team or protected list every year. However, there was a new rule put in place this year to protect the rights of NHL first round picks. If a CHL team has an Import who was an NHL first round pick (such as Kitchener in Radek Faksa), they have an additional player on their protected list to cover should that first round import (like Faksa) make the NHL.

While the Import Draft can be a bit of a crap shoot, many of the players drafted do come over and can have an impact. Let's breakdown the results of previous two Import Drafts.

In 2010
26 of 26 players selected came to the Ontario Hockey League (100%)
21 of 26 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (81%)
10 (open for debate) of 26 players had a significant impact on their OHL teams (38%)

In 2011
17 of 20 players selected came to the OHL (85%)
17 of 20 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (85%)
10 (open for debate) of 20 players had a significant impact on their OHL teams (50%)

Looking at these results, the Import Draft has become very significant for the OHL. Over the past two seasons, the league had added over 20 impact players through the draft.

You never really truly know what you're getting in these players, despite what scouting reports or first hand accounts may tell you. Is this year's Import Draft a good one? Let's examine some of the selections with the help of some foreign hockey experts.

3. Erie Otters - Oscar Dansk - Goaltender
The Import Draft hasn't been great to the Erie Otters over the past few years (Tankeev, Tkachev, etc). Even Sondre Olden was a little underwhelming last year. In Oscar Dansk, the 31st overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, hopefully they've found something. Have to say that this pick came a bit out of nowhere, since the whispers around the league were that London or Windsor has a cooked deal with him. Definitely a bold move for the Otters, but a great one if Dansk reports (which is looking pretty likely). With the team looking to improve this year thanks to the maturity of their young players and the addition of Connor McDavid, having a solid goaltender will be key to the Otters success and hopeful return to the playoffs.
Scouting Report: In their Draft Preview, "The Hockey News" described Dansk as a big mobile goaltender who has a propensity for stepping up in big games. Marcus Hultgren of Future Considerations says "Dansk is a big and very (note: very!) calm goalie who's great at tracking the puck through traffic and has a great flow in his movement. He plays an effective covering style and rarely scrambles. Great lateral movement and great anticipation. He should really be one hell of a goalie." ISS had Dansk as their top rated goalie for the draft and said similar things about him, however they did mention that his rebound control could use some improvement. There would appear to be nothing that suggests Dansk won't come into the league and be one of the better starting netminders in the OHL. Our anonymous European scout sees him this way. "Can´t help but his technique is mess at times but when his game is on than is almost unbeatable. Plays extremely deep in net, doesn´t challenge at all. Goes down into butterfly on every shot. Big goalie and plays big in net, very compact in net. Leave little space in net, tough to beat down low with his long legs/quick pads and keeps his shoulders up to cover upper part of net when in butterfly. Needs to square to shooters all the time and can get out of position. Never gives up attitude, competitive, strong effort on second or third shots (rebounds)showing flexibility and quick pads/legs, somehow able to stop pucks by every part of his body. Good balance and moves well across the net. Let the play comes to him and forces shooters to make the first move. Calm with traffic in front of him and anticipates the play well. Inconsistent rebounds control incidental with his technique, when he plays well technically, he allows few rebounds, when he fights with his technique, than there is problem also with rebounds."
Stats Link

6. Kingston Frontenacs - Mikko Vainonen - Defenseman
The Fronts looked to shore up their defense by selecting Nashville 4th rounder Mikko Vainonen. One thing that is definitely encouraging is that he's been team Finland's captain during any of the international tournaments he's played in (last year's Under 17, this year's Under 18). He's got great size and appears to have the skills to develop into a top four OHL defenseman.
Scouting Report: Hockey'sFuture Finnish writer Tony Piscotta says, "Vainonen's skill level is still developing but his ideal size, work ethic, and willingness to defend are encouraging traits." THN said similar things and ranked him as high as 69th for the 2012 draft. ISS suggests he's a pretty safe stay at home defenseman who's still developing the offensive side to his game. They also suggest that mobility may be a bit of a factor for him and is something that he needs to improve on. But they had him inside their top 60. With his size, leadership capabilities, and defensive acumen, he should fit in well with the Fronts, who badly need players like him. Could he be a possible partner for the slick Warren Steele? Our anonymous European scout thinks he can step right into the top four of Kingston. "Subpar, stiff skater with heavy and slow feet, slow pivots/turning and little agility, hasn´t improved it much throughout the season. However surprisingly good skater with the puck, can skate it out of zone. Effective in moving the puck out of own zone. Rarely makes mistakes in decision making with puck in own zone. Hits forward in speed with firm, accurate passes, starts offensive play well with first pass out of zone, not flashy but very efficiently. Reads the play well, patient with puck and excellent timing on his passes. However lacks dynamic offensive skills of some of his teammates, more of stay at home D with good ability to move the puck out of zone. While having solid hands for passing and sees the ice very well his hands are not the softest, limited stickhandling skills. Can be beaten on the rush either wide by speed or with quick moves. Uses his size in own zone, plays physical game, quite strong in battles, competes to keep the crease clear. Inconsistent positionally/defensive decision making, there were shifts/games when he made mistakes regularly. Needs to keep moving his feet against the rush. Captain of both Finnish U17 and U18 national team in last two seasons, has some leadership skills/ability. Should be top 4 D on his team next season for sure."
Stats Link

9. London Knights - Nikita Zadorov - Defenseman
After striking gold with Olli Maatta last year, London has taken another big blueliner with NHL first round aspirations this year. Zadorov is currently ranked inside ISS's Top 20 for the 2013 Draft and is just outside the first round on FC's list. Not only was he a big factor on the Russian Under 17 team this year, but he also played on the Under 18 team as an underager and an impact player (scoring two goals and finishing a +4).
Scouting Report: FC describes him as a very raw player in their 2012 Draft Guide, but someone with a ton of potential. According to them, he's a terrific skater for a big guy and has great puck skill. But he's also still learning how to play defensively. Our anonymous Euro scout says, "Complete package, excellent prospect, big, strong, skilled, mean and physical, very good at both sides. Naturally physical, good timing and leverage on his hits, can deliver classic hip check and/or open ice hits. Understands positional play, rarely gets out of position. Very mobile in all directions, very mobile laterally, smooth stride, strong backwards skater, turns/pivots well. Can really skate with the puck, goes end to end, not afraid to jump into the play. Very good vision, strong first pass out of zone, can find forward with long passes. Hits forward in full speed making excellent outlets just on stick, good timing. Solid reading in own zone and instinctive/creative in offensive zone, can slide from the point, makes strong decision with puck from the point. Enough speed to return into his position on D when going deep into offensive zone. Takes body and uses his long reach well in own zone. Close the gap quickly, pushes forward on outside, tough to beat 1 on 1 off the rush, tights forward up at the board. Top prospect for 2013 NHL draft."
Stats Link

12. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds - Sergei Tolchinsky - Forward
Another Igor Larionov client, it should come as no surprise that he's looking to play in the CHL. He seems to be widely considered one of the most offensively talented players amongst his age group in Russia. The only issue is that he's only 5'7. At the most recent Under 17's, he was a factor, finishing the tourney with 3 goals in 5 games (including two shorties).
Scouting Report: FC describes him as a tenacious and fearless offensive juggernaut who skates exceptionally well and has terrific puck skill. They do make mention of the obvious size and strength concerns, which of course means he's no guarantee to make an impact at the OHL level. Our anonymous Euro scout says similar things. "Small but low point of gravity, strong on skates(doesn´t look as his weight is 150 pounds, looked much bigger and stronger), well built. Good wheels, never stops moving his feet. High skill level and very good hockey sense. Quick and shifty, tough to contain in tight, creates separation with strong puck control and skating ability. Excellent hands, can beat D 1 on 1, nice finishing touch around the net. Can finish his checks hard, feisty and has some grit player, plays bigger than his size. High energy player, hustles on forecheck, competes hard. Fun to watch and could be excellent junior player but size could be big concern for NHL scouts"
Stats Link

15. Windsor Spitfires - Vladimir Ionin - Forward
Have to say, I'm used to the Spits drafting pretty high profile guys in the Import Draft. When I had seen that they had taken Ionin, I was pretty surprised since I had never heard of him. Nor can I find any stats of his, nor did he play for Russia at the Under 17's. Part of that may be due to the fact that he missed the vast majority of last season with an injury.
Scouting Report:

18. Saginaw Spirit - Nikita Serebryakov - Goaltender
I think it's definitely surprising to see the Spirit take a goaltender with their pick, considering they already have NHL 3rd rounder Jake Paterson, and Clint Windsor in net. This selection might signal the end of Windsor's time in Saginaw I suppose. Serebryakov jumped into the spotlight with a terrific performance at the Under 17's this past year, where he lead Russia to the Gold medal. He's undersized, but that hasn't stopped other goaltenders (like Mike Murphy) from having great success in the OHL.
Scouting Report:
Stats Link

21. Plymouth Whalers - Ludvig Bystrom - Defenseman
This definitely looks like a smart pick by the Whalers who are set to lose, arguably, their top three defenseman from last year (Schmitz, Levi, Trutmann). Bystrom should be able to step right into the Whalers line up and be an impact player. The Dallas Stars 2nd rounder in 2012 already saw time in the Swedish Elite League last year (20 games).
Scouting Report: Elite Prospects says "Bystrom is a smooth skating and puck moving defenseman with great smarts. Has impressive positioning both offensively and defensively. Very good decision making. Fairly good release and passing game. Not overly flashy, but consistent and a team player. Has an edge to his game and gets involved in the rough stuff. Skilled offensively." FC's Marcus Hultgren agrees. "Byström is a two-way defenseman with great skates. It's his best tool and he uses his great mobility wisely. His mobility also helps him positioning-wise. he always seems to be at the right place at the right time. He plays rough and uses his body to his advantage." ISS also appears to be a big fan, ranking him inside their top 30 prior to the draft and echoing the above statements. They suggest that "his physical brand of hockey makes him very difficult to win quality space against." Sounds like he'll fit in perfectly in Plymouth. One last report comes from our anonymous Euro scout. He says, "Bystrom is not flashy and not dynamic offensive skills but plays mistakes-free games at both sides. Poised and intelligent in own zone with puck, makes strong decision with the puck under pressure. Has vision, good hands/puck skills, moves the puck very well out of zone, passes are just on tape and can make both soft and crisp. Defensively aware and smart. Plays well positionally, strong in 1 on 1 situations, hardly beaten off the rush, takes away time and space from puck carriers. Very mobile in all four directions. Not punishing physically but takes body, uses his frame to separate his man from the puck, angles forwards to the board tights forwards up, uses active stick, interrupt plays. Distributes the puck efficiently on PP. Should be top D on team if he comes over."
Stats Link

24. Owen Sound Attack - Gilbert Gabor - Forward
The Attack, looking to find a compliment to Artur Gavrus, go with a big winger who has both Slovakian and Swedish citizenship. Gabor plays in Sweden, but has played internationally with Slovakia.
Scouting Report: FC's Marcus Hultgren says, "Gabor is your typical power-forward. He is big, strong and plays hard. Uses his height and weight to gain advantages all over the ice. Possesses good hands and is willing to drive the net. A talent to watch."
Stats Link

27. Sudbury Wolves - Dominik Kubalik - Forward
Brother of Columbus prospect and former QMJHL star Tomas Kubalik, Dominik could be looking to make his mark on the CHL. It's certainly clever to take a gamble on someone with strong bloodlines. Kubalik actually saw some time in the Czech Extraliga this year as a 16 year old.
Scouting Report: Our anonymous Euro scouts says, "Scored in Czech elite league this past season as 16 year old. Good skater with stride, burst of speed, acceleration, balance. Scoring winger has nose for net, has hard shot with quick release. Won´t create much chances by himself, needs playmaking center next to him. Has okay vision and good hands, can handle the puck in speed. Finishes some checks, good strength level, goes through checks, plays along the boards. Willing to go straight to the net. Limited creativity and not great passer, he is very good down low but only average in transition. Would like to see more effort defensively and tends to leave own zone quickly looking for long-distance passes beyond D. Should be solid addition on the team next season, physically ready, not top NHL prospect but possible mid-round pick(depends on development)."
Stats Link

30. Mississauga Steelheads (weird to say) - Sam Babintsev - Forward
Perhaps a bit unorthodox, Babintsev did play in North America last year, in the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League with Oakland. He finished second on his team in scoring and his late 1994 birth date makes him eligible for the NHL draft this year. Without knowing a whole heck of a lot about Babintsev, I'm not sure I like the trade of Kuptsov to Belleville knowing this is who they've brought in to replace him.
Scouting Report:
Stats Link

33. Saginaw Spirit - Andrey Alexeev - Forward
Another Russian forward who appears to be a virtual unknown at this point. Didn't play internationally for Russia and appears to be a bit of a ghost in terms of finding stats. With Saginaw selecting twice, I guess that signals the end of Vadim Khloptov.
Scouting Report:
Stats Link

36. Sarnia Sting - Nikolai Goldobin - Forward
The Sting go Russian too, selecting forward Goldobin out of the MHL (KHL's development league). While he did not participate for Russia internationally, he did put up some half decent stats for his age in the MHL (typically a league dominated by 18 and 19 year olds).
Scouting Report:
Stats Link

39. Sudbury Wolves - Dominik Kahun - Forward
A Czech name, but a German player. Kahun has dual citizenship but plays in Germany. He suited up for Germany at both the Under 17's, and Under 18's and put up some pretty impressive stats internationally. He was also the leading scorer of his league (the DNL). Like Tolchinsky, Kahun is a pint sized offensive dynamo. Always great to see little guys given a chance in the league.
Scouting Report: HF's Chapin Landvogt says, "He is a really little tyke who will likely have a lot of adjusting to do when he faced the rougher play out there. He's technically a strong player and lives from his hands and hockey sense. He can score goals, but is definitely more of a playmaker. He'll need to work on shooting more and harder. His skating is pretty decent. He is of Czech heritage, so he does have a more Eastern European understanding of the game. To a degree, he lived a little more off of his linemate Leon Draisaitl this season, who is a bigger, rangier player with less footspeed, but more dominance in his stickhandling. I really don't know what to expect of him. I wouldn't normally think he's all that much more talented than a number of the German kids who have been in the CHL the past season or two who haven't really scored much." Our anonymous European scout says similar things, "Really smallish and not explosive skater lacking more straight line speed and long stride. However slick and shifty and always moves his feet. Smart and instinctive player with very good hockey sense and anticipation. Quick and soft hands, controls the puck well in tight. Moves the puck quickly, plays up-tempo game, give and go, always around the puck. Smart with puck, see the ice well, makes nifty passes in transition. Small and zero physical element in his game but but not soft, perimeter player. Will need time to adjust to level of competition in OHL and don´t think he will have much impact next season. Skills and hockey sense are there but really small and weak physically, not ready yet in my opinion."
Stats Link

42. Peterborough Petes - Jonatan Tanus - Forward
I guess they figured, after Lino Martschini was fairly successful in his time in the OHL, it couldn't hurt to take another undersized offensive forward. Tanus put up some impressive stats in the Under 20 league this year and has been the Captain of Team Finland Internationally for his age group the past two years.
Scouting Report: Our anonymous European scout says, "Small,smart, playmaking center, patient with the puck, can slow the play down. Doesn´t skate hard without the puck and a bit of perimeter player but puck follows him around the ice, plays well positionally. Cuts passing lines well. Slick skater, lacks great speed but deceptive skater. Soft hands, smooth handling the puck, soft touch on his passes. Sees the ice well, good hockey sense, instinctive. Decent balance, agile, slick with puck. Can handle the puck by both sides of stick, strong passer, makes good backhand passes. Not physical at all doesn´t get involved in battles along the boards, counts more on reading and positioning. Reminds me Markus Granlund in some aspects but not that good."
Stats Link

45. Barrie Colts - Samu Markkula - Forward
The 61st ranked European skater by NHL Central Scouting, Markkula went undrafted in the 2012 Entry Draft, most likely due to being undersized at 5'9. He put up some fairly impressive stats at the Under 20 level in Finland this year, and scored 2 goals for Finland at the Under 18's. He looks like someone who could at least play a secondary scoring role in the OHL.
Scouting Report: Our anonymous European scout says, "Small but not afraid to play in high traffic, takes hit to make play. Good effort and determination, competes every shift. Finishes some checks and hustles in puck pursuit, some aggressivity. Decent skills, controls the puck fairly well in speed, solid hands and receives tough passes on skates easily into the stride. Has some quickness and a bit shifty but lacks separation gear. Plays in traffic and drives the net a bit but lacks size/strength/speed to create separation in tight, easily knocked off the puck at times. Solid hockey sense. More of good junior player than NHL prospect, I suppose should be solid but unspectacular forward in OHL, lacks top line upside(at OHL level)."
Stats Link

48. Oshawa Generals - Teddy Blueger - Forward
Pittsburgh Penguins 2nd rounder, Teodors Blugers (or Teddy Blueger) is a Latvian forward who starred for the famed Shattuck St. Mary's team this past season. He was also a big time participant for Latvia internationally, even playing on their Under 20 (WJC) team. He's got some huge shoes to fill after it was announced Niklas Jensen was heading back to Sweden. That's if Blueger even reports, as he's currently committed to Minnesota State for next season. Maybe the Pens are swaying him towards the OHL route?
Scouting Report: ISS had Blueger inside their top 75 prior to the draft and state that he's a very talented playmaker with very good pucks skills and skating ability. FC scout Dan Shrader had this to say abot Blueger. "I got to see Bleuger roughly 12-15 times this last season, and there is no doubt he is very talented. He skates very well- he's got good speed and the agility to make quick moves, but he isn't as dynamic laterally as a guy like Yakupov; Bleuger is mainly a north-south kind of player, but the east-west movements typically come in the offensive zone. What is really impressive is just how sturdy on his skates he is- for being 175 pounds I've seen him drag defenders with him while he has the puck, and uses it to his advantage because he's very good at puck protection- his "office" so to speak is getting the puck down low behind the goal line and using his vision and deft touch to feed his teammates from there. Therein lies the problem- I think he's very much a perimeter player. Not in the sense that he's soft and afraid of high traffic areas, its that I think his level of comfort is so high along the edges of the ice- he doesn't use the center of the ice enough in my opinion. He's got good creativity and touch, its just that when he's heading up ice with the puck it is usually along the walls. His game is largely predicated on making little finesse passes through traffic. He's feisty and competitive, and I think he has some pest-like qualities to him- granted he wore a cage this season, but you can tell he's chattering because he'll draw penalties born from frustrating his opponents. I've seen kids butt end him, try and rip off his helmet, take runs, etc. To me, its a part of his game he needs to explore and expand upon. He is prone to fits of bad body language- glaring down a teammate on a bungled pass, slumping shoulders on the bench, etc. I think he could have played up a level- he was major junior ready, as there were times where there was no challenge for him; his Shattuck squad was just a machine this year, so where is the development going to come from when your team is ahead 8-0, ya know? That said, his international experiences at the WJC and U18's should be beneficial."
Stats Link

51. Ottawa 67's - Ladislav Zikmund - Forward
Let the parade of talented, but tiny, offensive forwards continue. Zikmund is only 5'8, but has offensive potential.
Scouting Report:
Stats Link

54. Ottawa 67's - Richard Mraz - Forward
With the 2nd of back to back selections (in terms of the OHL), the 67's go with Mraz, a slightly more mature player than who is usually drafted. This '93 born forward finished 3rd in scoring for team Slovakia at the Under 20's (WJC's) this year, and even saw time in the MHL and KHL this season. He should be able to jump right into the line up, possibly even in the top 6. This selection signals the end of Michal Cajnovsky's time in Ottawa.
Scouting Report: Our anonymous Euro scout says, "Last season(2010/2011) was buried on poor Nitra team in awful U-18 Extraleague where he scored plenty of points without help of his teammate. Also showed flashes of offensive skills on poor Slovakian U-18 national team. This season has taken opportunity to play for new team joining Russian junior League(MHL) when no CHL team has displayed interest and even got opportunity to play in KHL for Lev Poprad at the end of regular season. Still raw and kind of long-term project but one of the best Slovaks at World juniors. Big winger with good hands, creativity and finishing touch. Can beat D off the rush with moves and drives the net a bit. Solid along the boards, competes in battles and finishes some checks. Accurate shot with quick release. Good hockey sense, has offensive instinct. Smooth skater with power in stride, good balance, speed and acceleration. Has made nice improvement since last season. Health is concern, suffered with various problems at the end of the season, underwent surgery in April and probably won´t be ready for the start of the season in September. Will be top six forward on team if healthy and should receive attention from NHL scouts in his third year of draft eligibility."
Stats Link

56. Niagara IceDogs - Ondrej Kopta - Forward
The Dogs go with Kopta, a Czech forward who played in the NAHL this past season (near equivalent to the USHL). The learning curve to North American hockey should obviously be smaller for him.
Scouting Report:
Stats Link

58. London Knights - Nikolai Prokhorkin - Forward
The Knights take advantage of the new protection rules with Imports who become first round picks (Olli Maatta) to select their 3rd Euro. Prokhorkin was a 4th rounder of the LA Kings this year and was one of the top rated Russian players for the Draft (ISS, THN, and FC all had him inside their top 75 prior to the draft). The question now lurking over London is...what happens if Olli Maatta is returned to the Knights? London would then have 3 high profile Imports and could only keep 2 of them on the roster. Would they trade one? Would Zadorov head back to Russia for a season? Would the Kings elect to play Prokhorkin in the AHL? Tons of questions, not many answers right now. It does sound like Prokhorkin is going to try and make Manchester (LA's AHL team), and if he doesn't then the CHL would be the back up plan.
Scouting Report: FC suggests that Prokhorkin is an excellent offensive forward with a real creative side. He's got great size, but isn't one to "consistently get involved in the rough stuff." ISS echoes much of the same sentiments calling Prokhorkin a forward "who is blessed with a ton of natural tools and ability." Both FC and ISS suggest that consistency is an issue and that he needs to up his intensity level. Playing with London will certainly fix that...if he wants to play that is. As a '93, Prokhorkin already has experience playing in the KHL this year and should be able to step into London's line up and pay immediate dividends...if he plays in the OHL.
Stats Link

63. Erie Otters - Artem Kuleshov - Defenseman
With the selection of Dansk and now Kuleshov, I guess that means Sondre Olden will not be returning to Erie as an overager this season. The Otters don't have an Import first round pick, so they don't fall into the rule of being allowed to protect three. Kuleshov is a relatively unknown Russian defenseman, but drafting defense is what this team should be doing.
Scouting Report:

66. Kingston Frontenacs - Henri Ikonen - Forward
Ikonen was a fairly highly regarded prospect for this year's draft, but ended up going undrafted. The talented Finnish forward was ranked 22nd by Central Scouting among European skaters, and was rated just outside the top 100 by ISS, and just inside the Top 100 by FC. He surprisingly went undrafted, so I suppose he's hoping he can pull a Tanner Richard next year.
Scouting Report: HF's Tony Piscotta says, "Ikonen can play either center or wing and is a versatile player." Meanwhile, FC says "Ikonen is a hard working, drive the puck to the net kind of forward." They suggest that he has good hands and excellent work ethic, but lacks in the skill department. It is also suggested that his skating could use improvement. However ISS suggests his skating is fine, and that he is an already defensively responsible forward who can also chip in offensively. Our anonymous Euro scout says, "Up and down winger who competes well at both sides, goes to the net. Well sized winger, thick body, strong along the walls, finishes checks, has grit. Strong on puck, uses his body well to keep opposing player off the puck, takes hits, absorbs checks well. Uses size effectively down below the circle. Won´t beat D with finesse moves or by speed but goes through checks, always involved around the net, not afraid to get his nose dirty. Average puck skills, not much playmaking skills, more of scoring mentality. Quick release of his shot and can bury his chances. Strong on skates and straight speed is okay but lacks more agility, feet are a bit slow and heavy. Okay hands for passing and can control the puck in tight space/along the boards a bit. Probably better suited as third line checker with some scoring touch in OHL( but could see some time on second line and on PP too)." I like what the Fronts have done with their picks in this Import Draft, taking two Finns who should make an impact in the Top 9 and Top 4 respectively. Adding quality depth to the team will be key to getting back to the playoffs this year.
Stats Link

69. Mississauga Steelheads - Andrei Vasilevski - Goaltender
There seemed to be a lot of rumours about Vasilevski coming to play in North America this year, but interestingly enough, most linked him to the QMJHL. When he didn't go in the first round, I kind of figured he wouldn't be going. So needless to say, I was shocked when the Majors, I mean Steelheads took him in the 2nd. It's definitely a great gamble for the team whether he comes over or not. If he comes over, the Mississauga has a terrific goaltender to split time with Spencer Martin. If he doesn't, Martin's still the man. Never a bad move to take an NHL first round pick (To Tampa Bay) and hope he shows up.
Scouting Report: THN calls him a "prototype of the big stopper," and a guy who "combines his size with excellent athleticism." ISS calls him one of the most impressive Russian goaltending prospects in recent memory. They say he "reads, anticipates, reacts to opponents moves very well and has the ability to steal games." However, they also say he can be prone to laziness and can get rattled after bad goals. FC says similar things and applauds his glove hand for being very impressive, and his athleticism and flexibility for a big man. However, they also mention his laziness and sloppy footwork. Our anonymous Euro scout says, "The best goalie prospect from this year NHL draft crop in my eyes(but I haven´t seen Subban though). Great mix of size, athleticism and flexibility. Excellent size, plays well positionally, really big in net, leaves little space in net. Big enough to cover upper part of net when going into butterfly. Calm, patient and composed. Anticipates well. Smooth in his movement around the crease, squares to shootes, doesn´t make wasted moves in net. Could challenge more. Quick legs/pads and strong balance, recovers quickly for second shots. Absorbs shot well into his body, strong rebound control, angles shots to corners. Tough to beat down low with long legs and quick pads, moves well laterally in net. Solid glove hand." I saw a quote on Coming Down the Pipe recently that suggested Vasilevski would cost a team six figures to bring over and that's why he fell so low in the Import Draft. Here's hoping the Steelheads new owner is looking to make a big splash and gets the deal done. With all the talent he's drafted from the OHL in recent years, I'm sure Stevie Y and the Lightning would rather have him in the league than back in Russia.
Stats Link

90. Plymouth Whalers - Simon Karlsson - Defenseman
Taking advantage of the new rule, the Whalers take their third Import player to protect, in Karlsson, a Nashville 5th rounder in 2011. The Ducks just recently signed Rakell to an entry level deal and there is a lot of talk out there suggesting that Anaheim thinks he could be ready to make the jump. If he's not, Karlsson will most definitely be the man on the outside looking in, as Ludvig Bystrom seems to be the much better player. But you never know what can happen. Karlsson saw some limited time in the Swedish second league this year and appears to be a talented player. Maybe the Whalers can parlay him into something good if another OHL team is unhappy with their Import selection.
Scouting Report: Elite Prospects says this about Karlsson. "A very smart defenseman with good hockey sense and solid puck skills. Contributes both ways. Decent mobility."
Stats Link

96. Sarnia Sting - David Nemecek - Defenseman
It seems pretty likely that Nail Yakupov will be suiting up for the Oilers this year, so naturally, the Sting took another player in the draft. However, they retain Yakupov's rights. Nemecek is a big defenseman who played internationally for the Czech's at the Under 17's this year, and based on his penalty totals at the tournament, he seems to be a physical, in your face kind of guy.
Scouting Report: Our anonymous Euro scout says, "Top 4 d on Czech U17 national team, see him as third-pair D in OHL next season. Limited viewing on him, didn´t play in junior Extraleague but only U18 Extraleague. Will need time to adjust, it´s a big step from Czech U18 Extraleague to OHL. Very good size, solid skating mobility for his size, plays physical game, takes body all the time, solid in battles along the boards. Hands/puck skills limited, plays it simply with the puck, not creative puck moving D. Decision making is okay but not smart with puck, would like to see more willingness to skate the puck out of zone."
Stats Link

108. Kitchener Rangers - Juraj Bezuch - Forward
The Rangers take their 3rd protected Import player, in case Radek Faksa cracks the NHL this year. I'd say that's a long shot, so if Faksa is back, the likelihood of Bezuch seeing any time in Kitchener is pretty damn unlikely, since the Rangers still have Tobias Rieder too. Bezuch actually played in the CHL last year, with Lethbridge in the WHL. They released his rights and Kitchener scooped him up.
Scouting Report: Saskatoon Blades colour commentator and FC scout Cody Nickolet had this to say about Bezuch. "He's a pretty decent offensive player. A good skater, good hands and has the ability to play wing, center and also suit up on a powerplay. Doesn't have a ton of grit in his game and that's probably his biggest weakness. Not terribly well rounded, but isn't bad defensively by any stretch."
Stats Link

116. Niagara IceDogs - David Sysala - Forward
With Tom Kuhnhackl and Milan Doudera moving on, the Dogs needed to draft a couple of guys to shore up their Import spots. Sysala is an offensive center who played for the Czech's at the Under 17's this past year.
Scouting Report: Our anonymous European scout says, "His development stalled last season, lost his regular spot on Czech U17 national team. Average size, has some skills and solid hockey sense, has some playmaking skills. Poor skater, will be big hurdle at higher level(even at junior level). Short and ineffective stride, lacks speed/acceleration, slow feet/first steps. While his effort is decent, he is not energy, hardworking guy who is strong in puck pursuit/battles along the boards. Not sure what kind of role he should receive to succeed next season, neither good enough to play on scoring lines nor grinder/checker. It will be positive achievement, if he is in line-up on regular basis next season."

Stats Link

Still waiting on a few more scouting reports, in particular the Russian guys. Will add those when I get them!

That's it folks. Hope you enjoyed the read! Thanks to everyone who contributed and helped out with scouting reports!