My first game report of the season! Fear not though, I have obviously been watching games. This is just the first report I've decided to write.
I, along with many other people in the GTA (including the likes of Steve Stamkos, Gary Roberts, and Joe Nieuwendyk), traveled to the Hershey Center to catch a glimpse at 15 year old phenom Connor McDavid. The Steelheads (I think I've wrote Majors already three times and corrected myself) dominated the exhausted Otters, outshooting them 55-22, and outscoring them 4-1. In all honesty, the score could have been much more lopsided had it none been for the great goaltending provided by Devin Williams. It's hard to blame the Otters. They were playing their 3rd game in three nights, with the first two games coming against the Owen Sound Attack, possibly the hardest working team in the OHL.
So was this game truly a good measuring stick for players? Hard to say, but I'm going to provide you with some player reports anyway.
#2 - Dylan DeMelo (San Jose Sharks)
DeMelo had a great game and appears to be building off the confidence he gained last season. He made great strides last year and has continued his strong play into this year so far. He looks very confident with the puck this year. I've seen the Steelheads a few times this year and I've yet to see him turn the puck over in his own end. This used to be a real problem for him. But he's skating himself out of jams and making smart decisions with passes. He had a secondary assist on Smoskowitz's second goal, and scored by pinching in and pouncing on a loose puck near the crease while on the powerplay. Defensively, he was terrific. Nearly all of Mississauga's defensive players shone today, as Erie had a real tough time mustering the energy to keep possession in the offensive end.
#4 - Trevor Carrick (Carolina Hurricanes)
Carrick has done well to increase his offensive production thus far this year, and is seeing lots of time on the powerplay. Offensively, he was pretty good today. He did have one turnover at the point which lead to an odd man rush, but it was more the fault of Brett Foy for a bad pass which put Carrick in an awkward position. He gained an assist on the powerplay, working a give and go up top with Kris Kontos. He's playing 5 on 5 with Alex Cord, which is giving him lots of opportunities to work on his puck rushing skills. Defensively, I felt like he was one of the few Steelheads defenders to get exposed today. There were a few times where he was beaten off the rush and wasn't able to stay with a forward going to the net. When the play slowed down, he was good and was able to win his battles in the corners and was a physical presence, but those defensive lapses off the rush were things that plagued him last year too. He'll need to continue to work on that.
#15 - Josh Burnside (Draft Eligible in 2013)
I continue to be impressed with Burnside. Three things really stick out when you watch him play. The first is his speed. He's got a terrific extra gear and really creates space by stretching out the opposing defense. The second is how well he moves without the puck offensively. He gets himself in great scoring position. He was wide open twice in the slot in the game today, but both times he was spotted too late by the puck carrier (Brace and Smoskowitz). The third is how aggressive he is in getting to the net. He's a real crease crasher and relishes the role of being a pain in the neck of opposing goalies. He was a factor while playing with Brace and Smoskowitz, even though he didn't get any points. The biggest thing for him moving forward will be added strength. He still loses too many battles in the corners and isn't as effective as a forechecker as he could be because of this.
#21 - Damian Bourne (Draft Eligible in 2014)
What a mammoth. Bourne has definitely been one of the most impressive 1996's in the league this year. I remember hearing a lot of whispers about people feeling like he was overrated going into the draft, that he was only a product of his size and the fact that he was bigger than other midget players. But he's been pretty damn effective for Mississauga so far. He really is massive and he already uses his size really well, both with and without the puck. He's already hard to move from the front of the net, and he's hard to get the puck away from in the corners. He's also a physical player and had a couple of really nice hits today. For a big guy, I also think he sees the ice well. He seems smart in picking his spots in driving hard to the net. The skating needs to improve, but all things considered, he's been a very impressive rookie. He earned a secondary assist on Kontos' powerplay goal.
#23 - Dylan Smoskowitz (Draft Eligible in 2013, 3rd time eligible)
Pretty hard to ignore him at this point. 11 goals in 12 games since the trade from Barrie. He's a talented offensive player who just got himself in Dale Hawerchuk's doghouse. He's got great chemistry with Riley Brace (call them the 'stache brothers). The question is, if he continues to score at this pace, is he someone NHL teams take notice of? He's got a terrific shot and he does a great job of creating room for himself to get it off. You have to love his goal scoring instincts. The rest of his game (skating, play without the puck, playmaking ability, etc) rates out to only average, but if you can score goals, someone will give you a chance. He had 2 goals tonight, and missed a wide open cage to complete the hat trick. He's certainly someone to keep an eye on to see if he can keep this up.
#28 - Stuart Percy (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Fantastic game from Percy. I've been really impressed with his play so far this season. At both ends of the ice, might I add. Offensively, I've been really impressed with his ability to skate the puck out of his own end and make smart decisions to start the breakout. Perfect example of this today was when Connor McDavid looked like he had backed Percy into a corner and a turnover, but Percy stayed calm, waited for McDavid to go for the stick check, then spun away from him, through two other Otters and brought the puck up across the blueline. He looks very confident on the point of the powerplay too, where he's shooting the puck more. Defensively, he's been a rock. I honestly don't even remember the Otters having a scoring chance while he was on the ice today. He's playing physical too and winning battles in the corners and in front of the net because of it. This was an important year for Percy after last year's issues, so it's refreshing to see him back strong.
#7 - Jake Evans (Draft Eligible in 2013)
Was centering a line with Stephen Harper today. I liked his aggression without the puck. Was very aggressive in pursuit and played physical. But was very quiet, dare I say invisible offensively.
#10 - Stephen Harper (Draft Eligible in 2013)
Very, very quiet game for Harper. His line wasn't able to sustain any pressure in the offensive end. Part of the reason for this was Harper's inability to win battles in the corners. He seems to be getting outmuscled a lot from what I've seen this season. My viewings of Harper this season have been less than impressive thus far, but I'm still a fan of his long term potential.
#27 - Adam Pelech (New York Islanders)
I thought Pelech was Erie's best player today. He's had a great year and is continuing to develop well, despite not having a ton of help on the backend in Erie. He looks quicker this year, in rushing the puck and defensively. He's very hard to beat one on one. Many of Mississauga's forwards tried to get by him off the rush, but every play ended the same way, with Pelech coming out with the puck and the opposing player rubbed out of the play. He was a steal in the 3rd round, as he's got great potential as a defenseman at the next level. As mentioned, he looks quicker when rushing the puck this year too, and was able to avoid the forecheck of the Steelheads. Hey Erie, get this guy some help on the backend!
#28 - Connor Brown (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Having a great year in terms of goal scoring, but it's hard to tell whether it's because of McDavid or not. At this point, I still don't see Brown as a guy who's creating his own offensive chances by being electric with the puck, or by flying into the offensive zone. He's certainly not a speedster, and his skating ability still seems to lack that explosiveness (something that caused him to fall as far as he did in the draft). But he definitely knows how to move without the puck and is a smart player. Perfect example of this was his goal today on a give and go with Connor McDavid. On the Powerplay, take the puck from the wing, dish to McDavid at the side of the net, cut hard to the net, get the puck back in the slot and rifle home a quick wrister. Other than that, he was a non factor today.
#97 - Connor McDavid (Draft Eligible in 2015)
There was a guy sitting near me saying "man this McDavid guy isn't as good as people say he is." To that man or anyone else who came away from this game saying that, give your head a shake. This was the team's 3rd game in 3 days. McDavid certainly didn't play his best, but I've been absolutely blown away by him this year previous to this game. The dude is such an electric player. He's such an explosive skater, and he has such confidence and poise with the puck. His vision and IQ is among the best I've ever seen in this league. And while this wasn't his best game (might have even been his worst in the OHL thus far), there were still some positives to take away. Firstly, he's starting to play with more of an edge. I love the fact that he's starting to engage physically and throw his body around. He's going to need to continue to develop that edge as player's start to target him. Secondly, I absolutely loved the play to end the game. While on the penalty kill, he was out there (in a game already decided), and was tenacious in forcing Eric Diodati into a turnover at the blueline. Then took the puck hard to the net (showing great strength on the puck), drawing a penalty. When every other Erie player looked like they had laid down and died, McDavid kept going hard. I can't stress this enough. If the Otters are making their only trip to your city this season (like Mississauga), get out there and watch him play. He's usually (sorry aforementioned bitter man) worth the price of admission.
#31 - Devin Williams (Draft Eligible in 2014)
Williams' certainly didn't get a lot of help today. He had to make 48 saves and kept his team in this game for nearly two periods. He's not the biggest goalie (maybe 6'0), but he plays a lot bigger than he is due to a hybrid style. He'll take a lot of shots from the outside standing up, although isn't afraid to drop down to the butterfly to handle shots low to the ice. I thought he did a pretty good job with his rebounds today too. He's certainly looking better than last year, and is on the right development path. He'll learn a lot from playing behind Dansk this year. Then he might have a chance of starting next year (his draft year because of an October birthday). He's certainly putting himself in conversation to be the top goalie available from the O for 2014 (although it's crazy early).
That's all folks!