Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Preseason Top 30 for the 2013 Entry Draft

Alright, so this is a new concept for me. I've never done a "preseason" draft list. I've always felt the concept was a tad ridiculous. After all, so many of these players are going to hit massive growth spurts in their game this year. Some expected, others unexpected. The jump from the 16 year old to the 17 year old season is huge. Many of the things I'm currently saying about these players could be moot come October. Timid, perimeter rookies become physically aggressive sophomores (just as one example). Not to mention all the other players who'll make this list come next June, who haven't even played a minute in the OHL yet (such as a U.S. Import like Ryan Hartman, a Euro import like Nikita Zadorov, or a 2012 draft pick who had yet to make his debut like Justin Bailey).

Yet, I find myself making this list and posting it. I've had a few emails this summer asking about specific players and where I had them ranked. This lead me to putting together this list. I figured, if I'm getting emails the readership demand is probably there for this list to be published. If anything, it'll be a fun exercise to look back on come, even January. When I've got a potential first round pick on my honorable mentions list!

But, without further ado (and complaining), I bring you my current top 30 (preseason) players from the OHL, available for the 2013 NHL Draft. Just for clarification, no players who did not play in the OHL last year are present on this list. So even though a guy like Hartman is slated to be a first round pick, I haven't ranked him for this reason.

30. Jimmy Lodge - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
There were times that I really liked what I saw from Lodge last year. It's obvious that he has good offensive instincts and skill with the puck. I think he could have the touch of a future solid goal scorer in this league. It was also obvious that he was very light and physically immature as he'd have a hard time stringing together noticeable appearances, and was easy to push off the puck most times. But I also liked that he seemed to be a fairly responsible two-way guy for a 16 year old. This bodes well for him staying down the middle. There will be a ton of opportunity to grab scoring line time down the middle in Saginaw this year. Lodge could certainly take advantage of that.

29. Scott Teskey - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Teskey had some minor injury problems last year which effected his ice time and stat line, but I did like what I saw. He looks to project as a high energy winger with a goal scoring touch. While he didn't see a ton of ice time (how many 16 year olds do?), I felt like he was often noticeable on the forecheck and in trying to make things happen away from the puck. I also thought he showed good speed and looks to have the potential to be a very good skater. Mississauga will have some openings in their top 6, which he could easily grab.

28. Ben Harpur - Defense - Guelph Storm
He was definitely brought along slowly this year, as the Storm handled him with kit gloves. He did have some minor injury problems, but was also a healthy scratch. But I saw him play a few games last year and I thought he showed a ton of promise. At 6'4, he has the chance to be a real imposing defender. I saw a touch of nastiness from him, which suggests that could evolve as he gets bigger and stronger. I also thought his skating looked decent for a big guy. The puck skills weren't very evident, but I don't know if he was really given the chance to gain confidence in that area. I think he's got a real shot to play in the Storm's top 4 this year, perhaps flanking an offensive guy like Zach Leslie.

27. Jake Evans - Forward - Erie Otters
Admittedly, it was tough to notice positives when watching the Erie Otters last year. But Evans was often a bright spot. He impressed with his play down the middle, as a solid all around guy who battles hard. I often admired his tenacity away from the puck and he seemed to have an idea of how to create offensive chances for his linemates. With Connor McDavid and Dane Fox down the middle, Evans is going to have to battle for ice time, but I think he does enough things to get noticed, even if he's only playing a 3rd line role.

26. Cole Cassels - Forward - Oshawa Generals
When I saw Cassels play last year, I was actually a bit surprised that he was the son of playmaking legend Andrew Cassels (who was one of my favourite players growing up). Some similar qualities for sure, in that neither is big. And Cole seems to have the hockey sense his Dad did. But Cole is also a more physically aggressive player, and an already committed two way center. While the offensive stats aren't eye popping, he's got more potential than he showed last year on an inconsistent Oshawa team. Cole will likely be the 3rd line center behind Boone Jenner and Scott Laughton, which will give Oshawa a terrific trip down the middle.

25. Tyler Bertuzzi - Forward - Guelph Storm
He's certainly not the biggest forward on the ice, but he's very noticeable. Even as a 16 year old, he was often one of the most aggressive and tenacious players on the ice when I saw Guelph play. He just loves to get his nose dirty and has serious potential as a physical, forechecking energy guy. He'll drop the mitts too and has a lot of pest like qualities. Size will always be the question moving forward, but I like the potential.

24. Josh Sterk - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
I absolutely loved the energy Sterk brought to the ice. He was always noticeable for how hard he worked away from the puck. Not the biggest guy (seems to be a trend near the bottom of this list), but it didn't seem to hurt him. I felt like he had some untapped potential as a puck carrying center too. Speed and the ability to use it to enter the zone will be his calling card I think. The Rangers are going to need someone to grab hold of the 2nd line center spot this year, and Sterk could easily be that guy. 

23. Carter Verhaeghe - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Considering the amount of talent the Dogs had last year, it's got to be considered a pretty big feat that Verhaeghe stood out as much as he did. Even though he often played little, I always found myself noticing him. A very solid playmaker down the middle who can win battles in the corners, and who appears to have the hockey sense to create for his linemates. Not really a physical player, but someone who does get involved on the forecheck and away from the puck. With the Dogs going through a bit of a rebuilding year, I'm expecting big things from Verhaeghe.

22. Trevor Murphy - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Murphy is built very similarly to Dogs defenseman Jesse Graham. He's not tall or large, which will no doubt bring about a lot of negative judgments from NHL scouts (just as what happened to Graham this year...although thankfully he was drafted). But Murphy is definitely skilled and composed with the puck. He has a ton of potential as a powerplay quarterback. I think there is a lot of room for him to grow defensively too, because he shows intensity and a willingness to battle against bigger players. In terms of talent, he's higher on this list, but this is a top 30 for the NHL Draft, so he has to be ranked accordingly.

21. Mike Vlajkov - Defense - Ottawa 67's
I like the potential here. Good size, and, from what I saw last year, good all around skills. Pretty good mobility, and some inclination to play physical, which suggests he could be a solid player in his own end. I also saw some puck skill and the ability to make some good breakout passes and I think he could even develop more offense with added confidence. I think he'll find a place in Ottawa's top four and be a guy they can rely on this year. Call him Marc Zanetti's replacement.

20. Jordan Subban - Defense - Belleville Bulls
I'm sure I'll take some flak for this one. Subban is going to be a very productive OHL player. He has many of the same qualities as P.K. did when he played for the Bulls. He's elusive with the puck and can make things happen offensively. He's also not afraid of anyone in his own end and is willing to battle for space and loose pucks. The problem is that he's currently 5'9. There certainly aren't many defenseman that get drafted (especially high) at that height. It doesn't look like he grew over the summer either since HC had him listed at 5'9 for the Ivan Hlinka roster. He has the potential to be an electric player, but the size questions have to keep him down this low for now IMO.

19. Hunter Garlent - Forward - Guelph Storm
His nod in last year's coaches poll as one of the hardest workers in the West was no fluke. This dude brings so much energy to the ice, it's impossible not to root for him. He's certainly small (by NHL standards at 5'8), but he outworks and even outmuscles the competition regularly. For such a small guy, he's incredibly effective in the corners and in battles for loose pucks. He's also very skilled with the puck and actually is quite effective at driving the net, despite his lack of stature. Reminds me a ton of Gemel Smith in his rookie year with the Attack. If he were 6'0, he'd be easily in my top 10. But at 5'8, it's just not logical to have him that high, even if I'm a big fan. I expect big things from him this year though.

18. Alex Fotinos - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
It's pretty rare for 16 year old goaltenders to stand out in this league. But Fotinos did that last year. Once Clint Windsor was dealt, Fotinos got his shot and never looked back as Niederberger's back up. When he played, Fotinos was calm and composed. I thought he always did a good job of controlling his rebounds, which is something that usually comes last for young goalies. With the rumour that the "Bergermeister" is headed back to Germany to play this year, Fotinos could find himself the starter in Barrie. The gap between Fotinos and Spencer Martin isn't nearly as large as Hockey Canada or NHL Central Scouting would lead you to believe (with CSS rating Martin as an A prospect).

17. Spencer Martin - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
There's no question that Fotinos was more impressive as a 16 year old in the OHL. But, I'd be a fool if I ignored Martin's potential. He's got everything that NHL scouts look for in today's netminders. Size and athleticism are the building blocks and Martin has that. Everything else is very raw, and at times he looked overmatched in the OHL. This year he'll have the starting job in Missy and will get every opportunity to show what he's capable of. At this point, I just don't like the idea of rating either Fotinos or Martin incredibly highly.

16. Jordan Maletta - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Maletta had some bad luck with injuries last year, but he's got a lot of potential as a power forward. He seemed to get better and better as the season went on, learning to use his size more in the offensive end. For guys like Maletta, it's all about being able to put everything together on a consistent basis. He'll likely get his chance this year as Windsor tries to get back up near the top of the West after a disappointing season. The progression of players like Maletta will be crucial to that.

15. Stephen Nosad - Forward - Peterborough Petes
He's kind of flown under the radar a bit, but Nosad is definitely a talented offensive player. He was able to help provide some secondary offense for the Petes in his rookie year. He's not someone I would consider a dynamic player, but more of a smart opportunist. He definitely works hard to be a solid complimentary player. This year, I look for him to be more of a true catalyst, someone who can finish off the scoring chances he creates.

14. Brent Pedersen - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
I always liked what I saw from Pedersen. He never really got a ton of ice time, but made the most of it by being an overall solid player. He has the look of a very solid complimentary winger who can create scoring chances, play both ends of the ice, and mix things up physically. There will definitely be an opportunity for some of the younger forwards in Kitchener to step up and take on more responsibility offensively and I'm excited to see what Pedersen does with it.

13. Brody Silk - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Between injuries and a suspension (for sucker punching Ryan Strome and breaking his jaw), Silk only played 39 games last year. But when he did play, he was a factor. He's a hard nosed, pesky center who can create offense off the rush with good speed, but who is also very involved without the puck. He's got the potential to be a very hard guy to play against in the future. Silk has the distinction in being the first 1994 to crack the list, a November birthday. Sudbury is going to rely on him for offense this year and he's going to likely need to be near the point per game mark to get inside the first couple of rounds.

12. Sergey Kuptsov - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Traded from Mississauga to Belleville this offseason, I think the big ice will do wonders for him. As will a fresh start. He had a lot of consistency issues last year, but I blame a lot of it on his enigmatic ice time. He'd look great out there, then suddenly fall back to the fourth line. He also rarely saw powerplay time in Mississauga, despite being a big net presence. Kuptsov is big, can skate with the puck and I think has a lot of potential as a goal scorer in this league. The big ice will allow him more time and space, and once he gets going, he's hard to contain. Just has to increase his intensity away from the puck. Definitely a wild card here, especially as a late 94.

11. Zach Nastasiuk - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Not sure if Owen Sound fans call him the "Big Nasty" yet, but they should. Huge power forward potential here. Last year he was incredibly inconsistent, but when he was on, he was on. I was very impressed by his puck protection ability for a 16 year old, and the effectiveness with which he created scoring chances by driving to the net. His play away from the puck and his ability to put the puck in the net will need to improve this year, but if he puts it all together, he could be one to watch for this year's draft.

10. Nicholas Baptiste - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Like Kuptsov, the way the Wolves used Baptiste last year frustrated me. It seemed like every time I saw them play, he was on a different line. There's no question though, that he was at his best when he was on a scoring line with Michael Sgarbossa. He's big and he creates a lot of space for his linemates with his size and speed combination. He was also more physically involved than I thought he'd be, which leads me to believe there could be some power forward potential there. Hopefully he's able to find more consistent ice time this coming season.

9. Chris Bigras - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
By the end of last year (including the playoffs), Bigras may have actually been Owen Sound's best defenseman. He impressed me early in the season with his defensive ability and calmness with the puck. He just seemed like a very smooth player, very effortless (kind of like Guelph's Matt Finn). Then as the season went on, he really gained confidence offensively and was jumping up in the rush and taking more chances. He actually has very good offensive instincts and the puck handling ability to make things happen on the score sheet. After cracking the Ivan Hlinka roster, I expect big things from him this year.

8. Bo Horvat - Forward - London Knights
A very pro ready player. Horvat is a real workman like player who does it all on the ice. He got better and better as last season went on, and proved himself to be a very capable dump and chase type player. A guy who can win battles along the boards and turn them into scoring chances. He's also a very strong two-way player already, and can play any forward position (I wonder if the Knights will play him at center this year?). Moving forward, it'll be about seeing how much offensive potential he has, especially as a creator off the rush. But there's no denying the fact that Horvat is one of those guys you can say NHL scouts will love.

7. Jason Dickinson - Forward - Guelph Storm
After Max Domi, Dickinson could be the most offensively gifted forward in this age group. His skill with the puck, offensive creativity/vision, and ability to finish off plays is tremendous. He struggled at times with consistency last year, but I put that to a lack of strength in his rookie year. This year, he should be stronger and quicker, making it easier for him to protect the puck and make things happen. Guelph has a dynamite young team and they could really surprise people if all their cards fall in the right places. I'll be very surprised if Dickinson isn't a point per game player this year.

6. Darnell Nurse - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Truthfully, I was never really all that impressed by his play in the OHL last year. I found him to be a bit tentative and at times even, over matched. But his play internationally, especially at the Under 18's as an underager, really opened some eyes. His natural gifts must have scouts drooling. A big kid with a great skating stride who has terrific athletic bloodlines. Defensively, he already looks solid and I look for him to really cement himself as a great shutdown guy this year. Offensively, the jury is still out. He can skate with the puck, but does he have the offensive awareness to consistently make things happen. The progression of his offensive game will be key to how high he goes in this year's draft.

5. Stephen Harper - Forward - Erie Otters
I'm not sure what it is about this year, but there seems to be so many potential power forwards. So many guys who play a similar power game offensively (Nastasiuk, Baptiste, Horvat, Kujawinski). Harper is right in that mix. While Erie was awful last year, I actually felt like Harper might have been their most consistent offensive player. I loved his fearlessness on the ice and his tendency to crash the net looking for rebounds or tip-ins. He's a big kid and he knows what his role is. And he excelled in that role. Playing with a dynamic playmaker like Connor McDavid (or even Dane Fox) for a full season is going to be great for Harper.

4. Kerby Rychel - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Needless to say, I think Kerby surprised a lot of people with his offensive production last year (myself included). From 7 goals in his rookie year, to 41 in his second. Pretty remarkable jump. Rychel is (IMO) one of the most dangerous players near the net in the OHL. He's like a bloodhound. His hockey sense near the crease is fantastic. He also has great hands in close. Those two things make him very hard to contain, and those loose pucks always seem to find their way to him. But Rychel is also a good playmaker and someone who can create off the wall or the rush. His overall game lacks consistency though. He'll need to really step up his intensity away from the puck and defensively this year. I want to see a little more Warren in his game.

3. Max Domi - Forward - London Knights
Incredibly talented, no other way to put it. Hard to believe he's Tie's son (no offense to Tie). The thing that always struck me with Domi last year, was his patience with the puck. I felt like he rarely forced plays off the rush and always seemed to make the right decision. He definitely has a lot of confidence in his puck handling ability. His shot is also top notch and will make him a terrific all around offensive player. But there are some red flags in terms of his NHL draft status. One, he's not big. As much as people hate to admit it, size does matter. Two, his overall game (especially defensively) needs work. And three, he really tired down the stretch last year and will need to improve his consistency. We know he can create offense. But to emerge as a top talent for the draft (at his height), he's going to have to become more than that.

2. Ryan Kujawinski - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Let's just ignore what we saw in Sarnia and focus what happened in Kingston. What I saw in Kingston was a guy who has the potential to be one of the best players in this league. A big, powerful center who does it all. He's got great wheels, and with his size he really opens up the ice for his linemates. He can carry the puck and has a big booming shot. He plays physical and looks to throw his weight around. He improved defensively. He looked great on faceoffs. And, there's talk he could wear a letter this year. When I saw this guy a few times later in the season, one name came to mind (and you know I'm not a fan of comparisons). Jason Arnott. Let's see him do it over the course of a full season now.

1. Sean Monahan - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Number one should come as no surprise at this point. Monahan has done it all already. Heck, he was one of the best players at the recent Under 20 Challenge with Russia. IMO Monahan might be one of the most complete players I've seen at the OHL level. Truthfully, I don't think there are any major flaws in his game. He plays hard in all three zones, he has terrific offensive awareness, and he elevates the play of those around him. The big challenge will be producing offensively all on his own this year in Ottawa. No Toffoli. No Prince. It will be his show to run. I'm hoping and anticipating that he'll respond in a big way. And if he rises to the occasion, this will be his last year in the OHL.

Honorable Mentions

Adam Bateman - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Never really stood out for me in the times I saw Windsor. Seems to have some potential as a puck rusher, but without ideal size (5'10), I don't think he's top 30 at this point. He certainly wasn't as effective as guys like Murphy and Subban last year).

Mitchell Dempsey - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Potential power forward who didn't show much offensively last year. Big and physical, but just how good are his hands? Gets a fresh start in the Soo this year, where his ice time and opportunity should increase big time.

Nick Betz - Forward - Erie Otters
Big behemoth who also seems to have some power forward potential. Truthfully, it was hard to get a read on him last year. Could be a big riser if he can put up points.

Steven Varga - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Looked pretty good for Peterborough last year, but didn't stand out quite as much as the defenseman I've got ranked ahead of him. Could be a solid two-way guy.

Alex Yuill - Defense - Barrie Colts
I really liked what I saw from Yuill last year; thought he was solid at both ends of the ice. But he's quite undersized and doesn't project as well as a guy like Subban IMO (at least at this point).

Josh Burnside - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Didn't score a goal last year in limited time, but every time I saw him play, he was a factor in creating chances off the forecheck and with good speed. Call him my sleeper pick.

Will be Appearing Soon (aka they haven't played in the OHL yet)

Ryan Hartman - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
It's pretty likely that he'll be in the top 5 by the time October rolls around. A late 94, Hartman plays a power forward game, but also has the skill to produce offensively. He should fit right in, in Plymouth.

Nikita Zadorov - Defense - London Knights
I've heard a lot of great things about him and his potential. Seems to be a solid two-way guy who brings a bit of everything to the ice (including some physicality). If all goes well, he too could be a top 10 guy on this list come October.

Justin Bailey - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Fresh off a strong showing for the disappointing Americans at the Ivan Hlinka, Bailey seems poised to make an offensive impact in Kitchener. He's apparently cut from the same cloth as the other budding power forwards on this list. Size, speed, and skill.

Sergei Tolchinsky - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Will he or won't he? That seems to be the million dollar question these days. If he's in the OHL, the little Russian offensive dynamo should make a big impact. Just how much his size is held against him remains to be seen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Winnipeg Jets

Just like that, we've reached the end of our journey. I hope you've enjoyed the ride. Last, but not least, the Winnipeg Jets.

Mark Scheifele - Barrie Colts
If I'm being completely honest, I was a little underwhelmed by Scheifele's progression this year. I had really high hopes for him after coming back from the NHL, and I figured he'd be a man among boys with his size, speed, and skill combination. But a lot of the times I saw Barrie this year, he was only average. He really didn't look all that different than he did in his draft year, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just that he left me wanting more. His ability to use his size offensively still seems like a work in progress. Towards the end of his draft year, he started to play fairly physical, which was something I expected to increase this past year. But that was inconsistent too. Essentially, I wanted to see him dominate every shift he played, but instead he faded to the background on a lot of them. I thought Tanner Pearson and Ivan Telegin were considerably more noticeable on a regular basis. Next year the Jets will be faced with an interesting choice. After making the NHL club out of training camp this past year, you'd have to think he's got a good chance this coming season to repeat that achievement. But is he ready to make a profound impact? Based on what I saw in the OHL last year, I don't think so. If he does return to Barrie, I'm hoping he can really dominate and come back like a man on a mission. In order to do that, he's going to have to take that next step in using his size aggressively on offense, taking over the boards and being a load to stop on the way to the net. If he's back, he should easily crack the 80 point barrier and help Barrie make the playoffs.

Ivan Telegin - Barrie Colts
2011/2012 was the coming out party for Telegin. Throughout the final two months of the OHL season, he might very well have been the best player in the league. In the final 19 games of the regular season (February and March), Telegin had 21 goals and 12 assists. That's a damn impressive pace. This year, he was so much more aggressive with the puck. His confidence in carrying the puck had really improved. Not only is he one of the fastest skaters in the league, but he's also one of the biggest forwards. That combination made him SO hard to stop off the rush. OHL defenseman had a really tough time defending him this year. Especially without the puck. He drew a ton of penalties in beating backchecking forwards to the net. He was also more physical this year, and fully engaged away from the puck. I'm very interested to see how things go for Ivan moving forward. The only negative is that he just can't seem to stay healthy, and I know that worries Winnipeg fans. Heck, I think he cut himself on a fence this offseason and had to miss the Jets rookie camp. This coming season, he'll most likely be in the AHL, where it looks like he's going to get a lot of playing time. If he plays well, I actually think he could see some NHL action as early as this season. I can't see any reason to suggest why he won't be able to carry the momentum he's built as a prospect to watch. A 25 goal rookie AHL season is within reach.

Julian Melchiori - Oshawa Generals
Just a solid prospect. It was great to see him take on a little more offensive responsibility this year, playing on the powerplay with both Kitchener and Oshawa. He's still not very comfortable shooting the puck or taking chances to jump up and score a goal, but he was more composed with the puck and demonstrated a calm patience in trying to create plays. He also started to try and carry the puck up ice from his own end. Defensively, he remained solid. He uses his size well and does a particularly good job in the corners and in front of the net. Sending him back to the OHL for his overage season was a good choice by Winnipeg management. This year, it looks like he should be able to see full time action in the AHL, as the Jets don't have a lot of depth in the minor leagues. I wouldn't expect a lot of offense from him this year as he adjusts to the speed of the pro game. But hopefully he can continue to assert himself physically and play solid defensively. The Jets have two potentially very solid defense prospects in Melchiori and Sol moving forward.

Cody Sol - Kitchener Rangers
Speak of the devil, here's the other tower of power for the Jets. As with Melchiori, sending Sol back for his overage year was incredibly smart by the Jets. He grew so much as a hockey player this season. Tremendous improvement at both ends of the ice. All these years, I've been waiting for him to score some goals because of how heavy his shot is. He's got an absolute cannon. And with 15 on the year, it definitely happened in 2011/2012. He was able to get himself in better position to use it this year, and also greatly improved the accuracy of it. He first pass out of the zone also improved and he had less trouble with the forecheck, exhibiting greater confidence with the puck. Defensively, he was just as physical, but he was a little smarter about it. He allowed the game to come to him (and his huge reach) and ran around less looking to hit people. Next to Jarred Tinordi, he was probably the hardest defenseman to win a battle against in front of the net this past year. He still can be prone to taking some bad penalties, but he'll learn to find some reserve eventually. It was a great year for Sol. Like Melchiori, Sol will be in the AHL this year where he'll have a chance to play everyday. Hopefully he's able to continue to progress offensively and is able to put up some decent numbers, while maintaining a level of physical dominance in his own end. 

Austen Brassard - Belleville Bulls
The biggest improvement in Brassard's game this past year was the improvement in his play away from the puck. He's had some issues with his consistency level and the amount of intensity he brings to the ice, but I saw a more committed player this year. He really rounded out his game, becoming a consistently more physical player, and someone who's engaged on the backcheck. The improvement's he made in his play off the puck translated to more chances at the other end of the ice. He was more consistently involved offensively and was one of Belleville's go to guys. I thought his skating looked better this year too, gaining a bit of an extra gear which made him more dangerous off the rush. Moving forward, it looks like he's on the right track to becoming the type of player many envisioned he would. This coming season, he'll need to step up yet again. Belleville should challenge for first in the East and Brassard will, yet again, be counted on as an offensive catalyst. Given the improvements he made this year, I'd love to see him hit the point per game mark, including potting over 30 goals.

Scott Kosmachuk - Guelph Storm
I felt like Kosmachuk was one of the more underrated players heading into the 2012 draft. I feel like the Jets got a steal by taking him in the 3rd. He's an aggressive goal scorer cut from the same cloth as a guy like Ryan Callahan in New York. Kosmachuk has great instincts and, despite the fact that he scored 30 goals this past year, is still learning how to use his shot most effectively. This coming year, Guelph is going to be one of the most exciting offensive teams in the league. I truly expect Kosmachuk to be a 40 goal scorer, considering how many terrific playmakers he'll be playing with. Hopefully he has a chance to wear a letter this year too and take on a leadership role. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Washington Capitals

Earlier we did the Canadian capital. Now it's the U.S'. capital that gets the treatment.

The only Capitals prospects from the OHL were those recently drafted in 2012. Well, all one of them.

Tom Wilson - Plymouth Whalers
Since Wilson signed his ELC recently, there seems to be some talk about Wilson making the Capitals this year as a bottom six player. Physically, he's probably ready. He could jump into an NHL line up right now and make an impact with his physicality, forechecking, and pugilism. But I think it would seriously hinder the development of his offensive game. Let's be honest, he wasn't that great offensively last year. In the playoffs, he was fantastic and finally started to come out of his shell, but that's a small sample size. He needs to go back to Plymouth for another season, to play in a top 6, get powerplay time and increase his confidence with the puck. The potential for a scoring power forward is there since he does have good hands. But the execution needs improvement. If he's back in Plymouth, he should most definitely improve upon his numbers of last year. I'd expect at least a 25-25 season.

*of note, Capitals 5th round selection in 2012 Connor Carrick is going to play for the Plymouth Whalers this year. With Plymouth losing their top 3 from last season, Carrick is going to get every opportunity to play top minutes, and in all situations. I liked what I saw from him at the Under 18's and I'd expect him to have a very good first year in the league.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Vancouver Canucks

Only a few teams left. It's Vancouver's turn.

Nicklas Jensen - Oshawa Generals
Quite frankly, I was disappointed in Jensen's progression and play this year. Based on the fact that he's now heading back to Sweden should he not make the Canucks, I'm guessing that things weren't great in Oshawa for him. If you're not happy playing somewhere, it will certainly translate to the ice. He's got great size, but I still find him too tentative away from the puck. He will occasionally battle along the boards or be active on the forecheck, but not enough. I want to see him getting his nose dirty every play. When he gets the puck on his stick, he is aggressive in taking it to the net, but I'd also like to see him go hard to the net without the puck. I also felt like his three zone play was worse this year, as he made more of an effort defensively during his draft year. I'd also like to see him shoot the puck more, as sometimes he can get too drive happy, giving up an open look to try and gain a few inches of ice. Quite frankly, I was pretty surprised when he was scoring at will in the AHL, because that wasn't happening in the OHL. Canucks fans seem to think he's got a great shot of making the team next year. Based on what I saw of him in the OHL last year, I'd say he's miles away from making a healthy contribution. But maybe the pro ranks motivate him more. One thing is for certain, his OHL career is over.

Alex Friesen - Niagara IceDogs
I absolutely love Friesen as a prospect. He's the type of player who leaves it all on the ice. His playoff stats speak for themselves, consistently one of the Dogs top performers in the post season. Friesen is a jack of all trades kind of guy. Anything you ask of him, he does it. He wins faceoffs (one of the best in the OHL). He kills penalties. He can play the point on the powerplay. He forechecks. He hits. He's aggressive with the puck. Best of all, he does everything at a high speed, with great wheels. The biggest difference in Alex this year was strength. He was a lot harder to take the puck off of, and he was more effective in winning battles along the boards. This added strength also gave him the confidence to take his physical game to the next level, as he became one of the more effective body checkers in the league. Friesen doesn't profile as a top 6 player at the next level, but I'd be very surprised if he doesn't find some sort of role in the NHL in the future. I look forward to following his progression in the AHL this year, where he should be able to crack the Chicago line up full time. There's no doubt he'll be a fan favourite. The Canucks may even want to look into having Friesen and Darren Archibald play together, as the two had good chemistry with the Dogs. I look for him to have close to a 15-15 year in his freshman campaign.

Frankie Corrado - Sudbury Wolves
I thought that Corrado had a good year. He really took his defensive game to the next level as he was the Wolves' go to guy in their own end. As a result, he was named as one of the league's top defensive defenseman in the coaches poll. In his own end, he uses his great mobility to aid him in disrupting plays. But he's also highly aggressive and despite being only average sized, he wins a lot of battles in the corners and in front of the net. Offensively, I expected a bit more to be honest. I've always seen him having a lot of potential as a puck rushing defenseman, given his skating ability. But he was a little tentative in that area this year. It looked like he was afraid to take a lot of chances, focusing more on his own end. On the powerplay, he did look fairly comfortable moving the puck though. This year, the Wolves' top offensive defenseman Josh McFadden will be moving on. I look for Frankie to slide into that role and really improve his offensive numbers. All the while, of course, continuing to play solid in his own end. I think a 40 point season isn't unrealistic. 

Brendan Gaunce - Belleville Bulls
I really like the Canucks selection of Gaunce in the first round. I think he's got more offensive potential than people give him credit for. He's already one of the league's best playmakers IMO, and I expect him to really breakout this year. Hopefully he's worked very hard with skating coaches this offseason to improve his acceleration. Adding that burst on the big ice in Belleville would be highly beneficial. He'll likely be even harder to move off the puck this year, and even more effective at working the boards and creating scoring chances off the forecheck. Belleville has a chance to be the East's top dog, and Gaunce will be one of the deciding factors. An 80 point season is definitely within reach. Of course, he could always surprise and make the Canucks out of camp, but I think that would be a mistake. He needs to go back to the OHL to continue to improve his offensive skills and confidence. He's definitely already close to being pro ready though. Just don't rush him.

30 Teams in 30 Days: Toronto Maple Leafs

It's time for the Toronto Maple Leafs (aka the OHL Leafs? Man they have a ton of OHL prospects). This one is a novel.

Greg McKegg - London Knights
McKegg is a tough prospect to peg. Truthfully, I've never really been a huge fan of his as a player. I've always found him to be one of those "quiet" offensive players. Who go long stretches of being relatively invisible, before looking impressive on a couple of nice rushes or plays in the offensive end. This year was nothing different for me. McKegg never really became a huge factor away from the puck in his OHL career. I didn't see a lot of development in his ability to function as a three zone player, or as a guy willing to do the dirty work in the corners. He definitely has good offensive instincts though, something you can't underestimate. I just feel like he'll need to upgrade his intensity in order to make a large impact in the AHL and NHL. The Leafs are very crowded at the AHL level going into next year. I just don't see how McKegg ends up seeing top 6 ice time with the Marlies. That means his rookie season could be a bit of trying one as he attempts to make his mark in the lineup. I don't think he's going to have a strong year, but that doesn't mean he should be written off as a prospect. Lots of players go through growing pains during their first professional season.

Stuart Percy - Mississauga Majors (aka Steelheads)
It was a tough year for Percy. At the beginning of the year, I felt like he was trying to do too much offensively, sacrificing his talents in the defensive end. He was prone to making bad passes and pinches. Just when he started to get things turned around, he suffered a concussion that kept him out of action until late in the season. When he came back, he was playing pretty tentatively (and understandably so). This should be a big bounce back year for Percy though. In his absence, guys like Dylan DeMelo and Trevor Carrick were allowed to flourish. This means that next year, the pressure should be off Percy to do it all and he can be allowed to just play his game and get comfortable. I look for him to become a more consistently physical player in his own end (something he's shown flashes of). I also look for him to be smarter with his passes and rushes, and mature as a powerplay quarterback. I think he's going to have a solid year, where a 40+ point season would be considered great. Of course, he'll also be wearing the "C" again for Missy next year. 

Jamie Devane - Plymouth Whalers
I liked what I saw from Devane this year. Offensively, there wasn't a ton of progression from 2010/2011. He remained a solid grunt in the offensive end who did the dirty work for his linemates (playing a lot of the year with Andy Bathgate and a bevy of other wingers). He creates space by going hard to the net and by working the cycle. But the other areas of his game really grew this year. He was better in his own end and really worked hard to become a solid two way player. This is something that will greatly benefit him moving forward, as he attempts to become a dependable checking line guy at the next level. He was also more disciplined, fighting less (only 6 times this year), and not getting goaded into taking reactionary/revenge type penalties. Sending him back to the OHL for his overage year was a good choice IMO. Moving on to the AHL, I feel comfortable saying he should find a spot in the Marlies line-up despite the log jam. He's rounded out his game and could be a valuable guy to have on the 4th line, where he won't hurt you in any way. I don't expect much out of him offensively, but if he can get a regular spot in the AHL this year and avoid the ECHL, that'd be a big step in the right direction. 

Sam Carrick - Brampton Battalion
Carrick had an absolutely fantastic season, by far his best in the league. Firstly, he looked a lot faster and this made him more effective at both ends of the ice. It made him more dangerous off the rush, as he was aggressive in trying to take the puck to the net. It also made him a more effective backchecker and penalty killer. Secondly, he looked stronger in winning battles for loose pucks and for working the cycle in the offensive end. He does a great job of wearing down opposing defenses. Thirdly, he was much more focused on playing the game, and less on running around trying to be a pest/starting fights. I mean, the physical aspect is still a big part of his game and he still gets under the skin of the opposition, but he's smarter about it. Carrick was, without a doubt, the heart and soul of the Battalion this year. It'll be interesting to see what the Leafs do with Carrick this coming season. They certainly have some options. Like Devane, they could send Carrick back to the OHL for his overage season. As mentioned, the Marlies have a lot of forwards to give ice time to, many of them higher rated prospects. If he's back in the OHL, I'd expect him to crack the 75 point barrier and help Brampton be competitive for the Eastern Conference. The Leafs could also allow him to fight it out for a spot in Toronto (AHL) and likely assign him to the ECHL, where he could play top 6 minutes at the pro level. I really don't know what to expect. 

Garret Sparks - Guelph Storm
Sparks had a solid year, emerging as the starter on an up and coming Guelph team. A lot of people expected Guelph to finish out of the playoffs, but they had a surprisingly good year and Sparks' effort was a stabilizing force. He's not a particularly flashy guy, but he makes saves look easy because he's big and he loves to challenge shooters. I was also always impressed by the way he handled his rebounds, and did a great job of swallowing up the puck. Towards the end of the year and into the playoffs, he was looking a bit tired, but that was to be expected given the increased work load he experienced this year. This coming season, I think Guelph could be a very strong team and I expect Sparks to be right in the thick of that. I definitely think he could be among the top 5 goaltenders in the league (from a statistical viewpoint). The fact that the U.S. invited him to their summer WJC camp is also telling of the improvements he made in 2011/2012. 

David Broll - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
It was not a good year for Broll, or for the Greyhounds. He finished the year with only 8 goals, the lowest total of his OHL career thus far (he scored 9 as a 16 year old with Erie). When I saw him play this year, it looked like he had become strictly a crash and bang winger. A guy who could supply some energy by throwing his body around, but not a whole lot else. In 2010/2011, he showed glimpses of having potential as a power forward with the hands and skill to carry the puck to the net, but that part of his game wasn't really explored this year from what I saw. Going into next year, he'll be counted on yet again to supply secondary scoring for the Hounds. Hopefully this year he's actually able to do it and the Hounds can get back on the winning track. Even if his progression thus far has been disappointing, I can't see him struggling to score as much as he did this year. A 20 goal, 50 point season seems like a real reasonable prediction.

Joshua Leivo - Sudbury Wolves
What a great season for Leivo, but in all honesty, it was expected after the way he finished out 2010/2011. He kind of just picked up where he left off, and then continued that pace for an entire season. He's become a very difficult player to handle when driving to the net, which he's very aggressive in doing. His puck protection ability is fantastic. He also clearly worked on his shot, which was harder and more accurate, demonstrating an ability to use it off the wing or in the slot. He also emerged as one of the best two-way forwards in the league. He uses his size very effectively on the backcheck, and is also smart in anticipating and breaking up passing plays. Going into next season, I look for him to continue to improve. Hopefully he's worked a bit on his skating to give himself a real solid extra gear to make him that much more difficult to contain off the rush. I'm also hoping his physical game continues to evolve, as he molds himself into more of a power forward. I'm not to sure what to expect of Sudbury this year though. More than likely, they should be around the same level as they were this past year, but with an iffy goaltending situation and the losses of Sgarbossa, Kuchin, and McFadden, you never know how the team will react. There's no question that Leivo will have to be the team's go to forward this year though, something that will be great for his development.

Andrew Crescenzi - Kitchener Rangers 
Crescenzi had a solid year. Any year in which you can double your offensive production is a good one. He was very difficult for opposing defenses to contain in the cycle and along the boards. This is where he did most of his damage, by winning battles and then either finding teammates with a pass or going hard to the net. It's clear that he knows his role out there and he plays to his strengths. He's still not someone who's going to create a lot of offense off the rush because his skating and puck carrying ability is only average. But if you want to play a tiring, puck protection game in the offensive end, he's your man. Crescenzi is also a strong and committed two way player who improved his faceoff ability this year. I don't think he has much upside at the next level, but he could certainly develop into a solid 4th line center. Rumour has it that the Leafs have informed the Rangers that Crescenzi will be playing pro this year in either the AHL or ECHL. With the Marlies logjam at forward, I'd harbor to say that Crescenzi probably starts the year in the ECHL. But I suppose there's an outside shot he's given the 4th line center job to flank the likes of Jamie Devane and maybe Kenny Ryan. If he's in the AHL, like Devane, I wouldn't have high expectations offensively. Just being in the lineup everyday would be a victory.

Matt Finn - Guelph Storm
No question the Leafs stole Finn in the 2nd round. He's a solid two-way defenseman with a lot of great qualities. He came into Storm camp this past year in great shape and it really helped his game. This coming year, I'd expect that same level of dedication and hopefully it causes some improvements in his skating ability. In 2012/2013, the Storm should be incredibly solid. Finn will continue to be an an anchor on defense, playing in all situations and seeing a ton of ice time. I'd expect him to have a very solid year. A 50 point season, with an improved +/- would be ideal. I'm also hoping he continues to take his physical game to the next level and becomes a much more difficult defender to match up against. I'd expect him to be one of the league's best defenseman next year.

Connor Brown - Erie Otters
Well, he can't be a -72 two years in a row can he? In all seriousness, the Otters should be much better this coming season. I actually think they can challenge for a playoff spot. For Brown, it will be all about standing out a bit more. He's cut from a similar cloth as Greg McKegg, in the sense that his play away from the puck can leave some to be desired. He's another one of those quiet offensive guys you don't really notice until he scores a goal. His hockey sense is clearly great, but the rest of his game needs to come together. I'm hoping that he's spent the offseason hitting the gym hard to become more of a take the bull by the horns kind of guy. I'd like to see him be more effective and more aggressive in taking the puck to the net, and in creating his own scoring chances. I'd also like to see greater commitment in all three zones, especially along the boards. Playing with terrific playmakers like Connor McDavid and Dane Fox for a whole season, will only help his offensive numbers. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he hits the 70 point mark this year.

Ryan Rupert - London Knights 
Love this kid. Yeah he's small, but he's got a huge heart. He plays the game as hard as anyone in the OHL. He truly was one of the unsung heroes during London's OHL Championship run, where his hard work on the forecheck made life very difficult for the opposition. He's already a terrific two-way player, and he makes those around him better with his vision and playmaking ability. This coming season, London's center position is a bit up in the air. They've got the likes of Max Domi, Chris Tierney, and Rupert. All three will see lots of ice time in many different situations, but two of them will have to take the bull by the horns and become standout offensive players. I think Ryan is going to have a great year and end up being one of London's go to offensive guys. A 70 point season would be a terrific (and perfectly possible) achievement. However, I would like to see him cut down on his penalty numbers a bit. He plays on the edge, and he's got to keep his emotions in check.

*of note, the Leafs elected not to sign Erie winger Sondre Olden, allowing him to become a free agent.

*also of note, Leafs first round pick Tyler Biggs has left college and will play in the AHL this year, or in Oshawa. It would appear that decision will not be made until after training camp, where the Leafs will be given the opportunity to evaluate him. If he goes back to Oshawa, it'd be a huge boost to the Generals who are losing a lot of talent. I'd expect him to step into the league and be around a point per game player, as he'd certainly get the ice time to produce offensively.

Friday, August 10, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Tampa Bay Lightning

We return to the sunshine state to visit Tampa Bay.

Vladislav Namestnikov - London Knights
Despite the reduction in his goal scoring numbers, I thought Namestnikov had a solid season. He was more consistently involved offensively and way less prone to stretches of invisibility (like he was in his draft year). He was also way more involved away from the puck and began to engage in battles in the corners and on the backcheck. He's always been very patient with the puck and a terrific playmaker, especially on the powerplay where he has a bit more room to weave and dart. He will definitely need to get stronger this summer though, in order to be ready for the AHL. He's at his best when he's got time and space to move in the offensive end, but at the AHL level, that time and space will be cut down. He'll have to start winning more one on one battles to create the space he needs. Because he's such a smart player, I think he'll still find some success at the AHL level, even if he's a bit over matched physically. It looks like he could have a shot of playing in the top 6 and on a powerplay unit. I'd expect him to be around the 40 point mark.

Slater Koekkoek - Peterborough Petes
This coming season is a big one for Koekkoek, as he tries to rebound from a shoulder injury that kept him out for most of last year. He's got a ton of potential as a two way defender, and Tampa was certainly ballsy for taking him as early as they did. Koekkoek is very raw still and even when he was playing last year, he struggled with his consistency at both ends of the ice. But he's got puck skill, he can skate, and he can be physical. All good things. This year in Peterborough he's going to need to become one of the league's top defenseman. The Petes need an anchor to help support their quest for a division title. They could definitely have a solid team, but he'll have to stay healthy and increase his intensity to provide the leadership that is necessary. It was after Koekkoek got injured that Peterborough's season last year really fell apart. He's too talented not to bounce back, so I'd expect big things from him. I'd even go as far as suggesting he could crack the 50 point barrier and emerge as one of the league's elite.

Dylan Blujus - Brampton Battalion
His selection in the mid 2nd round definitely caught me off guard a bit. There's no question that Blujus is a smart defenseman, who has the offensive skills to run a powerplay. But he's also very raw (again I'm using that word to describe a Lightning draft pick). By that I mean, he's got a lot of things he needs to work on. Firstly, his defensive zone coverage is somewhat erratic, and I feel like at times he gets a bit lost out there. His skating also needs massive improvement as it hinders both his ability to defend and carry the puck. I'd also like him to use his size more defensively and really become someone who's not afraid to push people around. Brampton will, yet again, have a very solid defensive core next year. Blujus will continue to build off the role he earned last year, by quarterbacking the top powerplay unit and continuing to improve defensively while playing a lot of minutes 5 on 5. I could see him making some strides offensively and getting into the 40 point range, but at this point, I don't see a HUGE spike in his numbers for next year, especially since I could see the Battalion struggling offensively.

Tanner Richard - Guelph Storm
The key to next year will be Richard's health. He had a lot of trouble avoiding injuries this past year, but when he played, he was excellent. I think he has a lot of potential as a two-way playmaking center. He sees the ice very well and is especially effective off the rush. Guelph's going to have a very good, young, offensive team this year. They are returning all of their forwards from last year. If Richard stays healthy, I'd expect him to have a massive year. I could easily see him eclipsing the 80 point mark and being among the assist leaders in the OHL. He'll have the opportunity to be flanked by some terrific goal scorers like Scott Kosmachuk, Zack Mitchell, Jason Dickinson, Brock McGinn, etc. Should be a great year for him.

Jake Dotchin - Owen Sound Attack
I was actually a little surprised to see Dotchin fall as much as he did on draft day. I think he's a solid prospect. Gives you a little bit of everything with his size and potential to play at both ends of the ice. His puck skill and ability to run a powerplay are particularly underrated. I definitely think he has more in him offensively than he showed us this past year. This coming season, he's going to be playing in Owen Sound's top four for the entire year, and should see time on the powerplay unit (although probably the second unit). He'll be given every opportunity to flourish. Owen Sound should have a solid team, so I expect big things from him. A 30+ point season, combined with an increased confidence in throwing around the body in the defensive end would be my expectation.

*of note, the Lightning chose not to sign 2010 pick Geoffrey Schemitsch, making him a free agent.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: St. Louis Blues

Now batting, the St. Louis Blues, with their single OHL prospect!

Jordan Binnington - Owen Sound Attack
The Blues have to be encouraged by the fact that the Attack gave Binnington more starts than overager Scott Stajcer this year. They also started him in game one of the playoffs, again this suggests their confidence in him. However, I'm not really sure Binnington progressed a whole lot this past year. He was still prone to some bad goals, and still battled consistency. He'd play a couple of great games, then a couple of below average ones. He's a big guy, and he's very athletic, but his rebound control and positioning are still works in progress. This coming season, he'll be the starter and Owen Sound should contend for home ice advantage in the first round. The Attack brought in a fairly talented younger goalie named Brandon Hope to help spell Binnington when he needs it. However, if he doesn't step up his game, he could find himself losing starts just the way Stajcer did to Binnington the past few years. I do happen to think he'll really emerge as a front line OHL starter this year though.

*of note, the St. Louis Blues elected not to sign defenseman Brock Beukeboom, whom they acquired from Tampa Bay in the Eric Brewer trade.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: San Jose Sharks

Let's drop into the Shark tank!

Freddie Hamilton - Niagara IceDogs
Hamilton had another good year, posting back to back 80 point seasons. Truthfully, I'm not really sure he progressed much this year, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. His big leap came two years ago when he became a more active player away from the puck, got stronger, and improved his consistency from shift to shift. Hamilton is just a very versatile player. He can play pretty much any role you ask him to, at any forward position. He can provide offense by driving hard to the net and is excellent along the boards. He can provide energy as a solid forechecker. He plays both ends of the ice and is an excellent penalty killer. The one thing I will say about this year is that I felt like he was a bit more physical. If he can continue to build off that, it would add another dimension to his game. This coming season, he'll be in Worcester. The Sharks look like they have some solid veteran depth at forward, but there may be a chance for Hamilton to earn a top 6 spot. Even if he's playing 3rd line minutes, I'd expect him to still have a good year. I think he's built well for the professional game. I could see him having a 20-20 year in his freshman pro campaign.

Dylan DeMelo - Mississauga Majors (aka Steelheads)
Huge step forward for DeMelo this year. From the start of the 2011/2012, to the end, he improved a lot. He really cut down on his turnovers in his own end, and was being much smarter with the puck. He was picking better spots to jump up in the play, and looked a lot calmer running the point. Defensively, the biggest improvement was the heightening of his mean streak. By the end of the year, he was really looking to hit guys in the corners and in front of the net. His defensive zone coverage also improved. He really transformed himself into a fully capable two-way defender at the OHL level. Going into next season, I have high expectations for him, considering the massive improvement he showed this year. He'll be part of Mississauga's top 3 again (with returnees Stuart Percy and Trevor Carrick), and he'll continue to wear a letter and be part of the leadership group there. I look for him to shoot the puck more to try and increase his goal numbers from the back end. I also look for him to continue to amp up the physicality in his own end. A 50+ point season isn't out of the question. 

Justin Sefton - Sudbury Wolves
I was a little disappointed in Sefton's play this year when I saw Sudbury play. I found like a lot of the things that plagued him in his draft year, did not improve enough this past year. Offensively, he definitely didn't take the next step like I hoped he would. He's got a big point shot, but his puck skills didn't improve enough for him to be able to use it. He saw some powerplay time, but looked uncomfortable at the point. Defensively, his skating still limits him. He got exposed off the rush a fair amount and really needs to work on keeping the play in front of him. When the play slows down in the defensive end, he's effective as a physical bruiser who protects the front of the net, but there's more to being a good defenseman. At this point, I'd say he's pretty much the exact same player the Sharks drafted in 2011. Going into next season, he'll continue to be one of the Wolves top defenseman. The only difference is that he might see increased powerplay time with Josh McFadden gone. Hopefully his game takes that next step this year.

J.P. Anderson - Sarnia Sting
It was a bit of a tough year for Anderson. He had such a strong year in 2010/2011, getting to the Memorial Cup. But this year, he looked a little off, maybe even a little unmotivated. Even when he got traded to Sarnia, he never really found his game. He was prone to giving up some bad goals, which substantiates the whole lack of focus thing I mentioned. As an undersized goaltender, Anderson needs to do a better job of consistently challenging shooters to fill up more of the net. His rebound control took a step backward this year too, as at times it felt like he was fighting the puck. Truthfully, I think Sarnia expected more from him when they traded a big package of draft picks to get him. This coming season, I'm not really sure what to expect. The Sharks have a bit of a logjam at the position in the minor league ranks. I'd say there's no chance he supplants Stalock or Satteri in the AHL. That leaves him fighting for time with Thomas Heemskerk in the ECHL. But Anderson could also be sent back to the OHL for his overage season, something I'm sure Sarnia is hoping for since they currently lack anything resembling goaltending depth right now. Would Anderson be better off starting 50 games in the OHL as an overager, or 30 games in the ECHL next year? An argument could surely be made for either. Wherever he is, hopefully he bounces back strong.

Chris Tierney - London Knights
I really like Tierney as a player. He really improved and adapted his game this past year. As a 16 year old, he was primarily a finesse type player who was struggling to create offense and had some trouble with injuries. But he adapted to win the hearts of the Hunters and became a much more well rounded player. He became a solid three zone player. A guy who'll battle for every loose puck, who'll work the boards in the offensive end, who'll win key faceoffs, and who still has the ability and creativity to produce offense off the rush. I think we're only scratching the surface of his potential because of the role he was asked to play last year. This year, he'll have a great chance of taking on more offensive responsibility, as the Knights look to replace the likes of Vlad Namestnikov, Jared Knight, Greg McKegg, and Austin Watson. He'll likely see some powerplay time on the second unit, and has a serious chance to center a scoring line. I expect a good year out of him, perhaps even as good as hovering around the point per game mark.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins, you're turn!

Scott Harrington - London Knights
2011/2012 was a great bounce back year for Harrington. He was able to find a groove defensively, something that he was incapable of doing in his draft year because he was pressing to create offense. This year, he let the game come to him and played much more relaxed, mostly because he wasn't being asked to be the team's go to offensive defenseman. Focusing on defense again really helped Harrington find the place he was at in his freshman year. He was, simply put, a rock this year. He's a very smart defensive player and anticipates plays very well. He's not the biggest, but he's hard to beat one on one because his positioning is so strong. Ironically enough, despite focusing on the defensive side of things, Harrington had his best offensive year yet. He makes a solid breakout pass and doesn't panic under the pressure of a forecheck. This coming season will be an interesting one for Harrington. He's going to try and win another OHL championship with the Knights and will likely be playing a similar type of role (30+ minutes a night). That said, there are a few things I'd love to see him do. 1. I'd like to see him step up his aggressiveness in his own end. He was a little meaner this year, but I'd love for him to develop into a guy who you don't want to play against, not just a guy who shuts you down (if that makes sense). 2. I'd love to see him try and go outside his comfort zone offensively again. By leading the rush a bit more, or taking some chances to jump up in the rush. I could definitely see him putting up 40 points this year, if he stays healthy. I'd also be absolutely SHOCKED if he's not the new captain this year. However, I suppose there's an outside shot Harrington can crack the Pens line-up as there seems to be a bit of an opening for a top prospect to nab a spot on the blueline.

Tom Kuhnhackl - Niagara IceDogs
It was a very disappointing year for Kuhnhackl. I think the lengthy 20 game suspension he received for drilling Ryan Murphy on the forecheck had a lot to do with it. When he returned from the suspension, he just wasn't as aggressive. In Windsor two seasons ago, I saw a big behemoth who was not afraid to make a big hit, or go hard to the net with or without the puck. He had a defined role and he played it to a tee. In Niagara, he looked like a different player. I think part of it was the fact that he never really seemed to find a lot of chemistry with the players he played with. He looked awkward at times, or even clueless. He saw a lot of time with the likes of Freddie Hamilton and Ryan Strome, but they play a similar kind of game. I just don't think there was enough space in front of the net for all of them. I also don't think he was used to the little amount he touched the puck. He also didn't see a ton of time on the powerplay, because quite frankly he just wasn't playing well enough. He went from 15 powerplay goals two years ago, to just 2 last year. He'll be in Wilkes-Barre next year, where hopefully he can get himself back on track. The AHL Penguins look to have a lot of solid veteran forward depth, so I'm not sure what type of playing time he'll get. Kuhnhackl will need to make the most of his playing time and get back to playing an aggressive style, without the worry of being suspended.

Reid McNeill - Barrie Colts
There's no question that his offensive game never really developed. He remains someone who's much more comfortable chipping the puck out of his own zone, or making a pass to his d-partner, then taking chances up ice. But his defensive game came a long way over his three year OHL career. The biggest improvement this year for me was how physical he became. He was looking to lay the body any chance he got and became a very difficult player to play against. This was a huge step, because he's always been an effective defender off the rush with his good mobility and long reach. Adding that consistent physicality to his game made him tougher to match up against in the corners and in front of the net. I'm wondering what Pittsburgh's plan for him next year is. Again, there seems to be some solid depth at the AHL level already. Would the Pens consider sending him back to the OHL for his overage year (perhaps to improve his ability and confidence in moving the puck)? Does he split time between the ECHL and AHL? I guess we'll see.

Adam Payerl - Belleville Bulls
I had Payerl ranked as the 5th best overager available to be signed this year, so it came as no surprise that someone did just that. His offensive numbers don't jump out at you, but he does a lot of things well. He's a big body and he knows how to use it. Payerl is aggressive in taking the puck to the net and he protects the puck well during the cycle. He's a physical player who's active on the forecheck, and who'll drop the mitts to protect a teammate. He's also a committed two-way player who is an effective penalty killer. The one noticeable difference this year for me was his first few steps and high end speed looked better. Being a better skater translated to his best season in the OHL yet. He'll spend this year in the AHL/ECHL. The good thing about Payerl is that he's adaptable and will be able to make an impact with under 10 minutes of ice time. He's also capable of playing any forward position. This flexibility could make him a solid bet to be an AHL'er over, perhaps some more highly thought of prospects. I wouldn't expect a lot out of him offensively in his first pro year though (unless he's in the ECHL).

Olli Maatta - London Knights
I loved the Pens selection of Maatta after he fell a bit in the first round. His performance in this past year's playoffs really sold me on him. Truthfully, I always found him to be unlucky on the offensive side of things when I saw him earlier in the year. It was only a matter of time before he started putting up the kind offensive numbers he did in the postseason. The question remains though, which Maatta is the real Maatta? Personally, if he's back in the OHL I'd expect him to be one of the highest scoring defenseman in the league. The Knights have an electric group of forwards and they should have a dynamic powerplay. All things that will help Maatta pile on the assists. Defensively, it'll just be about getting stronger and more confident to flex his muscles. There were times last year where I saw him take the body, but I'd like to see it more consistently. Like Harrington, there seems to be some talk that Maatta could crack the NHL lineup. Considering he was one of the youngest players eligible for the draft, I don't think it'd be smart. He needs to go down to the OHL and prove he can sustain the type of offensive numbers he did in the OHL playoffs, all the while improving the consistency and intensity of his defensive focus. 

Matt Murray - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
This coming season will be a huge one for Murray. He started out last year really strongly, but after the Jack Campbell trade, his game really fell apart without consistent playing time. This year, the show is his to run and I expect big things. He's such an athletic goaltender and he showed up huge for big games this past year (prospect's game, Under 18's). The Greyhounds will be in a dog fight for one of the playoff spots again this year. If Murray can take his game to the next level, it could be a difference maker for them. The potential here is literally sky high IMO and I'm really surprised he lasted as long as he did in the 3rd.

Matia Marcantuoni - Kitchener Rangers
Definitely worth the gamble in the 4th round IMO. A lot of talent, but also a ton of questions. Firstly, can he stay healthy? He's missed a lot of time during his short OHL career with a bevy of injuries (shoulder, concussion, ankle). More importantly, can he stay healthy while playing the type of game he needs to play to be successful? When he's at his best, Matia is a physical and high energy winger, but this past season he kind of shied away from that with all the injury problems he was having. Secondly, what type of offensive player can he truly become? He's got a ton of speed, and the puck skill to dangle, but the jury is out as to whether he has the natural instincts to be a terrific goal scorer. Basically, he needs to find a niche as an offensive player. The Rangers are going to be counting on him to provide consistent secondary scoring this year. He'll likely see time in all situations, so he's going to be put in a good position. If he stays healthy, I'd definitely expect a rebound year of 50-60 points. 

Clark Seymour - Peterborough Petes
His selection caught me off guard big time. I liked him a lot in his rookie season (as a 16 year old), but I don't think he's really improved a whole lot since then. He's big and physical, but raw in every other capacity. If he can learn to simplify his approach (aka not going for the big hit all the time) defensively, he could develop into a solid stay at home guy. His skating and ability to handle the puck are still in need of improvement too. In Peterborough this year, he's facing pretty much the same competition he did for playing time last year. Truthfully, I don't think he'll get a whole lot more playing time, nor do I really expect him to increase his production. 

*of note, the Penguins did not sign 2010 pick Joe Rogalski, allowing him to become a free agent.

*also of note, 2012 2nd rounder Teddy Blueger was selected by Oshawa in this year's Import Draft. All signs point to him going the NCAA route, but you never truly know a player's intentions until the season begins. If he goes to Oshawa, he'll be counted on to be one of the team's primary offensive weapons, and would play on either the first or 2nd line anchored by Boone Jenner or Scott Laughton.

Monday, August 6, 2012

2012 Ivan Hlinka Roster Revealed

This afternoon, Hockey Canada unveiled the players who will be traveling to the Czech Republic shortly to take part in this year's Ivan Hlinka (Under 18) Memorial Tournament.

Canada has won this event four years in a row, and 14 of the last 16 years. Pretty impressive if you ask me.

Here are the OHL members of the team (7 of them):

Darnell Nurse
Chris Bigras
Jordan Subban

Max Domi
Bo Horvat
Nick Ritchie
Ryan Kujawinski

That means the following OHL players were cut:

Spencer Martin
Aaron Ekblad
Nick Baptiste
Stephen Harper
Stephen Nosad
Brent Pedersen
Jason Dickinson
Hunter Garlent
Zach Nastasiuk
Brandon Robinson

Obviously the big surprise is Ekblad being cut, but he apparently was only so-so at the camp. I suppose since it was a close call, Hockey Canada decided to go with older players, who don't have the benefit of trying out again next summer.

You can find the full roster here

30 Teams in 30 Days: Phoenix Coyotes

Alright Phoenix, you're up!

Mark Visentin - Niagara IceDogs
In terms of his OHL success, Visentin probably had his best season to date. It's hard to argue against that when he broke a 60+ year record of most shutouts in a season with 10. It couldn't have happened to a nicer and more determined kid too. Visentin is notorious for being one of the hardest workers in the OHL. His game preparation is top notch. In terms of his progression this year, the only thing I noticed this year was an improved ability to bounce back from a bad goal. Previously, he'd get really down on himself and the game would turn around from there. But perhaps last year's WJC's helped him with that lesson. He was, for the record, much better at this year's WJC's. It was great to see him in net for the bronze, where he played fantastic. Moving forward, the one thing Visentin still needs to work on is overplaying his angles. He still tends to slide out too far in reaction to plays around the perimeter and can get himself out of position. This coming year, playing time is going to be tough to come by in Portland, with Phoenix's top three goaltending prospects (Visentin, Lee, Domingue) battling to play alongside veteran Chad Johnson. If he's in the AHL, I'd expect Visentin to go through his ups and downs as he gets used to the speed of the pro game. 

Connor Murphy - Sarnia Sting
Injuries continue to be the worry with Murphy. He missed the first three months of the season with a knee injury he suffered at the U.S. summer WJC camp. When he came back, things were slow going. He definitely went through a feeling out process, which is to be expected. The good news is that by the end of the season, I felt like Murphy had become one of the best defenseman in the OHL. I saw him play a couple of times later in the year (when I wanted to get a glimpse of Galchenyuk's return), and he was absolutely fantastic. He does pretty much everything well. I thought he was a very effective puck rusher who clearly looked comfortable gaining the zone. He also showcased a big shot from the point on the powerplay. Defensively, he was surprisingly physical. I saw him lay some pretty big hits this year, especially on forwards trying to drive to the net. I also liked what I saw from him in the defensive zone, where he was calm and composed. This year, the Yotes have some options. Because he was drafted out of the U.S. Development program, Murphy could play in Portland (he does have an ELC). Or they could send him back to Sarnia. At this point, without a full/injury free season under his belt, I think anything BUT sending him back to Sarnia would be a mistake. He needs to play a full year at this level and really dominate (which, based on what I saw at the end of the season, he's fully capable of doing). If he's in the OHL, and he stays healthy, I'd expect a big year. A top 5 in defenseman scoring kind of year (50+ points).

Phil Lane - Brampton Battalion
Despite the reduction in his goal scoring numbers, I felt like Lane definitely had his best OHL season to date and actually progressed quite well in some areas. Firstly, for those wondering why his numbers are so low, remember he plays for Brampton who employs a very defensive heavy approach. Lane's overall game really improved this year, at both ends of the ice. He took great steps in developing a solid three zone game, improving on his effectiveness on the backcheck and in winning battles along the boards. He also continued to be a physical force on the forecheck, and became a very strong penalty killer. Offensively, Lane was more aggressive with the puck on his stick, taking it hard to the net to try and create opportunities for his teammates. And while his shot never really improved to make him a terrific goal scorer, he improved the consistency with which he went to the net without the puck and became a tough guy to contain in the offensive zone. I like him a lot as a 3rd line type prospect because of his speed, physicality and well rounded game. This year, Portland seems to be pretty backlogged with forwards, but hopefully he can find his way into the lineup and make an impact with whatever ice time he earns. Or he could start his career in the ECHL and get time in all situations. 

Lucas Lessio - Oshawa Generals
Lessio was one of the few Generals players whom I felt had a very good year. In his draft year I found his game to be very inconsistent, and a little erratic. At times, I felt as if he was one of those wind-up mice. Throw him on the ice, let him go hard, but you never really knew which way or what he was going to do. This year, his game was much more refined, mature. He knew what his role was and he played it well. He kept up that high energy level, but he was using it for the right things, like being physical in the corners, and going hard to the net with and without the puck. In particular, his ability to take the puck to the net was greatly improved as it appeared he improved his acceleration to give him a little more separation ability. His shot was also improved and became a weapon. He doesn't need a lot of room to score goals and is growing into the ability to use his size to create that room. Moving forward to this year, I'd like to see his ability to use his linemates improve, especially in creating opportunities for them out of the corners. I'd also like to see him improve his play in his own end to make him a more well rounded player. In Oshawa, he'll be the go to winger and he'll be playing triggerman with either Scott Laughton or Boone Jenner (both are terrific playmakers). A 40 goal, 70 point season is a realistic expectation.

Andrew Fritsch - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Fritsch missed half the year with a serious wrist injury and it hampered his development a bit. When he returned, he did play well though. It was clear that the Hounds missed his offensive ability when he was gone. He remains a player who works best off the rush, where he's surprisingly quick and has the hockey sense to find holes in the defense and anticipate the play. Moving forward, I think it'll all be about adding strength to his frame to make him a more effective player away from the puck. He's not a perimeter player, but he's also not incredibly effective in the corners, in front of the net, or in his own end. Adding strength would increase his ability to play a gritty game. It would also help him create more of his own scoring chances by driving hard to the net and being harder to take the puck off of. In Sault Ste. Marie this year, Fritsch will be counted on to be one of the team's main offensive contributors. He'll probably start the year on a line with Nick Cousins. Anything less than a 30-30 year would be a disappointment. Considering he did that in his draft year, here's hoping he can take it even further.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Top 10 - Jumping Ship to the OHL - Fourth Edition

 This one has been a little overdue, but I've been busy with the 30 Teams in 30 Days feature. This entry has become a tradition at the blog, where we look at some of the players leaving their current teams or commitments to play in the Ontario Hockey League. Some are certain, others are not.

Just a very quick disclaimer. While some research has been done for this article, some of the players listed here are not DEFINITELY coming to the OHL. And in some cases, some of them haven't even been mentioned in rumours as to be considering the OHL. The purpose of this article is to inform OHL fans of possible players that could be joining their line up in the future. It's all here say, and is in no way (for the most part) substantiated.

Let's look at the list.

10. Justin Bailey - Kitchener Rangers
A bit of a stretch for this article, considering he saw only a couple games in the USHL last year, but Bailey is a great recruit for the league. It was announced recently that Bailey would be joining the Rangers this year and not suiting up for the Indiana Ice of the USHL. Bailey will be playing for the U.S. at the upcoming Ivan Hlinka tournament, where we'll likely find out a lot about the type of impact he can make next year. He's got great size and is apparently very skilled. The Rangers could have a bit of an opening on their 2nd line for the coming year, perhaps Bailey will be the one who seizes the opportunity and grabs that spot.

9. Blake Clarke - Brampton Battalion
The Battalion's 1st round pick at this year's priority draft, has committed to playing for Brampton next year. He spent some time in the USHL last year, seeing action in 13 games for Fargo. Clarke will be one of the youngest players in the OHL next year, with a late December birth date. Through the first three months of action, he'll be 15 years old. So I'm not too sure how much we can expect him to contribute. But Sean Lafortune and the Scout.ca believed him to be a top 10 talent for the draft, and a budding power forward with a lethal shot. Lots of potential for the future.

8. Adam Clendening - London Knights
This is definitely a long shot, but it's still worth mentioning. The talented offensive defenseman signed with Chicago this offseason, leaving Boston University after his sophomore year. The intention is obviously to have him play for Rockford of the AHL. But...if he ends up getting overmatched there, the Hawks would still have the option of sending Clendening to the OHL for his overage season. It wouldn't be the first time something like that has happened. If he's in the OHL, Clendening would obviously end up being one of the league's premier defenseman. As I said, it's an extreme long shot, but the possibility, however tiny it is, is still there.

UPDATE - I totally spaced on the whole "Mike Van Ryn" rule. Because Clendening did not play in the OHL (or the CHL) as a 19 year old, he is ineligible to play in the OHL as an overager. The same thing kept Vinny Saponari from playing for Kitchener in 2010. So it'll be Rockford, the ECHL, or the Chicago Blackhawks for Clendening this year. Thanks to a reader for pointing out the brain fart.

7. Devin Shore - Barrie Colts
While the possibility of Shore heading to Barrie decreases with each passing day, it does still remain. Shore seems committed to playing for Maine next year, and the Stars (and the pro NCAA Joe Nieuwendyk) seem content with that decision. But there is absolutely no denying that the Colts are desperate to add the Stars 2nd round pick to their line-up and I'm sure they'll be pushing the envelope right up until the start of the season. Shore is a well rounded offensive winger who has a very high hockey sense. In Barrie, he'd help to ease the losses of Tanner Pearson, Ivan Telegin, and possibly Mark Scheifele. It does seem like an extreme long shot at this point though.

6. Riley Barber - Windsor Spitfires
Barber has long been attached to the Spits, but each year he spurns Windsor and plays elsewhere. The Capitals draft pick in 2012 appears ready to head to Miami University next year and again spurn the Spits. But, as we all know by now, things can change when it comes to commitments. If Barber does decide to play for Windsor, he'd likely step right into the team's top 6 and be an impact player. His aggressive and high energy style would fit right in.

5. Alex Broadhurst - London Knights
Even though he hasn't officially signed with London yet, all signs are pointing to the Hawks draft pick playing for the Knights next year. London took Broadhurst in the 2nd round this year, which caught a lot of people off guard. But, he's a terrific offensive talent, as his production in the USHL indicates. He finished 3rd in USHL scoring and gained a lot of notoriety for his 3 shorthanded goal game this year (LINK). I'm sure the Knights are expecting him to jump right on to one of their top two lines, and play in all situations.

4. Connor Carrick - Plymouth Whalers
After acquiring Carrick's rights from Guelph, the Whalers quickly signed the U.S. Under 18 team standout. Carrick, a draft pick of Washington this year, is a solid two-way defenseman who I thought was great at the Under 18's this year. Plymouth is losing Austin Levi, Beau Schmitz, and Dario Trutmann on the blueline, so they badly needed to inject some talent into their backend. Carrick should be able to play in all situations, including taking Schmitz's spot as the quarterback of the first powerplay unit. I think he'll have a very solid year and I'm excited to see him play.

3. Tyler Biggs - Oshawa Generals
Will he or won't he? We were having this same discussion at this point last year, but Biggs (the Leafs first round pick) ended up going to Miami University where he had a mediocre freshman campaign. The Leafs then signed Biggs this offseason, pouring gasoline back on the Biggs to Oshawa fire. It appears that the Leafs' first choice is for Biggs to play for the Marlies in the AHL. But a lot of people seem to think that he's not ready offensively for that next step. Sending him to Oshawa, where he can get first line minutes and all the powerplay time he can handle, could be a smart move to increase his confidence with the puck. The Generals sure could use this big, power forward in their top 6.

2. Patrick Sieloff - Windsor Spitfires
Adding Sieloff this offseason was an absolutely massive move by the Spits. Last year, their inexperienced defense really let them down. They were missing that true shutdown type. Sieloff is that guy. The Flames 2nd rounder is a physical beast who thrives in his own end. I thought he was fantastic at this year's Under 18's and I think he'll make a terrific partner for Nick Ebert. That could be huge for the Spits in the sense that Sieloff could help to stabilize Ebert and get him back on track.

1. Ryan Hartman - Plymouth Whalers
The Whalers did great this offseason to land Carrick and Hartman as recruits. Hartman is a physical, power winger who is also offensively talented. He's a late birth date 1994, so he shouldn't need much time to adjust. Hartman is currently projected as a first round pick in 2013, so there's no doubt that he'll be expected to perform in the Whalers' top 6 forwards. Based on what I saw of him at this year's Under 18's, I definitely think he can handle it. This guy was born to play for Vellucci.

Honorable Mention

Jacob Trouba - Kitchener Rangers
It'd be crazy to write this article and not mention Trouba. Of course, everything points to Trouba going to Michigan and being a Wolverine for 2012/2013. There's also the ugly lawsuit going on between Kitchener and a Michigan newspaper for a report about a money offer. Needless to say, if Trouba HAD decided to join Kitchener, he'd immediately become one of the league's top defenseman and a potential two way beast. Alas, it doesn't appear meant to be.

30 Teams in 30 Days: Philadelphia Flyers

The city of brotherly love is up next as I bring you the Philadelphia Flyers

Nick Cousins - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
While the Greyhounds certainly underachieved this year, Cousins did not, improving on every offensive category, but also rounding out his game to become a more versatile player. Obviously the thing that most people talk about with Cousins is his ability to agitate the opposition. He's definitely a pest, and while I think he crosses the line sometimes, he is effective. He's effective because he's very quick and aggressive. This makes him a very effective player on the forecheck and in puck pursuit. He backs up his yapping and antics on the ice with hard work and determination. Cousins is also a terrific playmaker, an aspect of his game that really grew this year. In his draft year, I felt like he played selfishly (and foolishly) at times, but this year I found he used his linemates much more effectively. He was also more patient with the puck. His defensive game and play in all three zones improved, but I think there's still room to grow there. The big test for Cousins this year will be assuming a leadership role. He's definitely a candidate to be the Hounds new captain. I think taking on this leadership role could force him to focus less on his antics and more on setting an example for the younger players on his team. The Hounds are going to look to be competitive this year, but they'll be fighting it out for a playoff spot yet again. Another solid year (~ the 90 point mark) from Cousins would go a long way. 

Colin Suellentrop - Oshawa Generals
Suellentrop continues to progress slowly, but nicely. At this point, he plays a pretty safe game, but it works for him. I like the way he plays in his own end. He's aggressive when he needs to be, but is also comfortable just using his stick and good mobility to angle the opposition off the puck. He'll push guys around in front of the net or in the corners, but isn't the type to take undisciplined or lazy penalties. Offensively, he's slowly gaining confidence with the puck. He's progressed from being a chip the puck out of the zone kind of guy, to someone who will occasionally skate the puck out, or is comfortable enough to be patient and find a streaking forward with a breakout pass. This year, that's the area of game I really want to see improve. Hopefully he's willing to take a few more chances with his passes, and hopefully he can get some time on the second powerplay unit. If he can make his offensive game at least average, he'd be a much more valuable prospect. I'd say a realistic expectation this year would be a 25 point season.

Derek Mathers - Peterborough Petes
There's absolutely no question that Mathers is one of, if not THE most feared fighter in the OHL. This year, there were some baby steps taken to improve the rest of his game. He was more active on the forecheck where he was successful at times in creating offense off the cycle. He's also taken to going hard to the net without the puck, looking to be a screen or for garbage goals. These are great things. Moving forward, he's going to continue to need to improve his skating, his play in all three zones, and his goal scoring ability/instincts if he wants to find a regular role in the NHL. This year, I'd imagine he'll be given a chance to fulfill a larger offensive role, maybe even as a 2nd line winger and on the powerplay. It'll be interesting to see how he handles it. I could actually see him achieving a small amount of success as a goal scorer, considering how hard he can be to remove from the front of the net. A 20 goal season probably isn't unrealistic.

Scott Laughton - Oshawa Generals
I loved the Flyers selection of Laughton. He had such a terrific 2nd half of the season (including the Under 18's), I knew someone would take him in the first. He's already a committed two way center, and I just love the aggressiveness he brings away from the puck. He's not big, but he's a real bulldog out there. His offensive creativity, playmaking ability, and goal scoring instincts are all highly underrated. I'm assuming he's probably trained hard this summer to get stronger, which will help his game HUGELY. In particular, he'll be able to protect the puck better when driving to the net and become a lethal player off the rush, and not just off the wall/cycle. The Gennies have a solid 1/2 punch down the middle for this coming year with Jenner and Laughton. The question is, which one gets to play with Lucas Lessio (the teams best winger)? Either way, I think Laughton has a big year. Heck, he was a point per game player last year from December on. There's no reason to think that he can't be a 70 point player this year, maybe even more. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Ottawa Senators

Checking in from the Nation's capital today! You're up Ottawa.

Stefan Noesen - Plymouth Whalers
Noesen had a terrific year in Plymouth. He's so much more talented offensively than people give him credit for. His hands and vision are definitely above average. He's capable of hurting you in so many different ways. This year, he was clearly stronger and as a result was much more effective in taking the puck to the net. He's also a strong puck handler and is able to protect the puck very well. He's hard to stop off the rush. But Noesen is also an opportunist who looks for holes and has a shot to take advantage of his scoring opportunities. He also makes those he plays with better by winning battles in the corners and by creating space. This year he was noticeably more physical and really thrived on the physical aspects of the game. I'm a big fan of this kid. In the playoffs this past year, he was an absolute unstoppable force before going down with a hand injury. I think he's going to be a monster next year for a Plymouth squad who could challenge for the Memorial Cup. I definitely think he could put up 90 points and inch close to or reach the top 10 in league scoring.

Matt Puempel - Peterborough Petes
It just wasn't a good year for Puempel. Just when it looked like he was getting things going (stretch of 11 goals in 15 games), he got suspended 8 games for a head check. Then upon returning, ironically, suffered a concussion himself and missed the rest of the year. He's a very dangerous goal scorer, and he looked like he was taking some steps to improving his play away from the puck, before his season was cut short. The head check suspension was no fluke, as he was making an effort to be a bit more physical to create room for himself offensively. Things in Peterborough just haven't gone well for him so it really came as no surprise when he was dealt to Kitchener. It will be good for him to open up a new chapter in his OHL career. In Kitchener, he'll have a strong supporting cast on a team with Memorial Cup aspirations. They will be counting on him to be a true offensive force and I expect him to live up to that expectation. Puempel needs to take that next step, which is to be one of the better offensive players in the league. At this point, I think expecting him to hit the 80 point mark isn't unreasonable. That is, if he can stay healthy.

Shane Prince - Ottawa 67's
Prince really impressed me this year. I wasn't completely sold in his draft year. But he was fantastic this year and I think he improved a lot. He's always been a little waterbug who finds himself involved in every play. His vision, anticipation and playmaking ability hasn't been questioned. It's always been an asset. But this year he looked way more confident to create his own scoring chances. It wasn't a case of winning a loose puck battle, and then looking around to find an open teammate, as was the case in his draft year. This year, it was win the battle, and without hesitation, take the puck hard to the net and bring the defense to him. By becoming a little more selfish as a goal scorer, he opened up passing lanes too, and made himself a multidimensional offensive player. The Sens gave Prince his ELC and I'd expect him to begin his pro career in Binghampton this year. I'm not sure how he'd benefit from going back to Ottawa for his overage year. He needs a new challenge and to figure out how to adjust to the quicker and stronger pro game. Ottawa looks to have a lot of prospects taking that next step this year, so Prince is going to have to battle for playing time. Even if he's not in the top 6, he'll likely still be able to make an impact on the lower lines with his forechecking ability and puck possession game. I think his offensive output will depend on the type of powerplay time he sees. Realistically, a 40-50 point season would probably be considered a success.

Cody Ceci - Ottawa 67's
Originally I felt like Ceci could probably challenge for a roster spot this year. He's physically ready for the pro game and plays a pretty mature game. But then Ottawa went out and added Marc Methot and Mike Lundin to fill some holes. I just don't see the room now. That being said, going back to Ottawa for another year won't hurt Ceci, who does have some things to improve on. He's terrific offensively, but I think there's still room to grow in his puck rushing game. I also think he could stand to use his size and strength more in the defensive end. I'd love to see him gain the confidence to start really pushing people around. The 67's are in an interesting spot next year. They'll have some talented players on their roster, but they'll also have a lot of holes in their line up that I don't think they can fill. Luckily for them, the East is really wide open as of now, so they'll just have to bank on their veteran players (like Ceci) to lead them to success. I'd definitely expect Ceci to be among the league leaders in defenseman scoring.

Jarrod Maidens - Owen Sound Attack
I think it goes without saying that this is a big year for Maidens. He suffered a very serious concussion last year that eliminated most of his season. Before the concussion he was being considered a possible first round player. However, he's still not symptom free, and his readiness for training camp in September is still up in the air. At this point, I think you just have to hope Maidens can come back at some point next year, and by the end of the 2012/2013 season, be able to say that he's back to playing at 100%. If he can just return to the ice and play reasonably well next year, that'd be a triumph. He's got a lot of potential as a big goal scoring center. But patience will be key with his development.