Wednesday, July 31, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins are up next.

Scott Harrington - London Knights
While his offensive game never really developed in the OHL, Harrington remains a very solid prospect for the NHL. Although he's certainly not the type of guy who looks comfortable running the point on the powerplay, or rushing the puck up ice, he does make a terrific first pass out of the zone and is good enough with the puck to withstand a tough forecheck. He's definitely fallen back into that strict stay at home type over the course of his OHL career, after failed attempts to be more aggressive offensively hindered previous seasons (especially his draft year). Defensively, he's also not the type of guy who will plaster forwards into the boards, or give them the business in front of the net. His game is all about anticipation and intelligence. He constantly finds himself in the right spot at the right time and has a very active stick in passing lanes. He also is a solid skater which allows him to be one step ahead of his check. Harrington is also a fantastic shot blocker. He'll give up his body and is completely fearless in this regard. While I don't ever see him being a first pairing defenseman, I do think he has a long NHL career ahead of him (think Montreal's Josh Gorges). I'm sure he plays out next year in Wilkes-Barre of the AHL, where I wouldn't expect much of an offensive contribution. You won't be able to just read the stats to determine his level of play. I do expect a rather seamless transition defensively though.

Olli Maatta - London Knights
Maatta's second season in the OHL was another good one, that culminated with a terrific performance in the postseason for the second year in a row. He's a very well rounded defender who does a lot of things well.This year, I thought his skating looked better, especially his first step quickness which allowed him to escape the forecheck with more efficiency. I also thought he looked more comfortable running the point on the powerplay and was more patient in letting plays open up for him. He used his shot better from the point this year and does a good job of getting low shots through to the net. Defensively, he tightened things up and was more consistent in zone coverage. He looked more confident and was letting the play come to him, rather than chasing the puck or players around. Next year, I suspect he'll be back in London where he'll continue to be one of the team's top defenseman. He'll see ice time in all situations and I look for him to increase his offensive output by being more aggressive in jumping up in the rush. I'd also like to see him increase his defensive intensity just a tad, to make him a harder guy to play against in the corners and in front of the net. A 45 point season, in addition to further improvements defensively would be a great year.

Matt Murray - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Murray remains a goalie with a lot of potential, but who still suffers through bouts of inconsistency. When he's on, he's nearly impossible to beat with his size and athletic package. He takes away the bottom of the net incredibly well because he moves post to post so quickly. And when he's in the butterfly, he also takes away the top part with his size and ability to challenge shooters. But he can still give up juicy rebounds, is still susceptible to longer shots, and can still be beaten five hole. Also seems like once he lets a few bad ones in, he can lack confidence and spirals downwards. But I still have a lot of faith in him as a prospect as I've seen him play too many terrific games (even this season) to suggest these inconsistencies can't be corrected. He's likely to enter next year as the starter in Sault Ste. Marie again (barring a trade) and I think he'll have a solid year. The Hounds are losing a lot on defense so they're going to need him to be better. 

Matia Martcantuoni - Kitchener Rangers
On the positive front, he stayed relatively healthy this year after having trouble with injuries the past two. On the negative front, he had the worst statistical season of his OHL career thus far. In this case, the stats do tell the whole story. He just hasn't developed into the player that the Rangers (and the Penguins) thought that he would. He's a great skater and he has the ability to carry the puck, but his possessions result in little offensive production. I'm not sure the elite level hockey sense is there for him to be a center, as seems to have trouble spotting teammates or creating significant offensive chances for them. He also seems hesitant to put forth a consistent effort without the puck and hasn't developed that mean streak that was flashed during his 16 year old season. That aggressive style seems to have died with the injury issues he's had over the last couple of seasons. Next year, he'll return to Kitchener where he'll again be counted on to play a top 6 role. If he wants to get a contract from the Pens, he's going to have to really step it up. I'd like to see Kitchener return him to the wing full time, where he can simplify his game and use his speed to be aggressive. If he wants a contract, I think he's going to need a 55-60 point year, anything less would be a disappointment at this point.

Clark Seymour - Peterborough Petes
While his selection by the Pens last year remains a bit of a mystery to me, Seymour is a solid player. He wore a letter for Peterborough this year and was one of their most consistent defenseman. He's hard to play against and is a physical player, especially in the corners where he's tough to beat out for the puck. His skating is also pretty fluid for a bigger, more defensively oriented guy. He stays with forwards well off the rush and does well to keep the play in front of him. Offensively, he can still be prone to turnovers in the defensive end and he needs to work on his ability to start the breakout. Since he's a pretty decent skater, I'd like to see him gain some confidence handling the puck and trying to skate out of harm, rather than force passes. I'm sure he returns to Peterborough for his overage year, where he'll have a chance to lead an improving club. Most players like him improve their offensive numbers in their overage year so I'd expect that. I could see him cracking the 25 point plateau.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days - Phoenix Coyotes

Join us in the desert for our next stop, the Phoenix Coyotes.

Lucas Lessio - Oshawa Generals
While the numbers might not necessarily indicate it, I thought Lessio had a very good year. Unfortunately it was interrupted by that fluke injury (skate cutting his hand), but I thought his game took a big step forward. He's still very much a North/South player who loves to use his speed coming down the wing. Whether it's with the puck (looking to take a defenseman wide, or fire off a hard wrister), or without it (trying to open up space for teammates, go hard to the net, forecheck), he plays the game very hard up and down. His game without the puck showed a lot more consistency this year. In particular, I thought his game in his own end really improved and he's showing signs of developing into a quality two-way player (which will be critical to his NHL success IMO). I thought his shot was also considerably improved. Looked much harder and more accurate and he had a lot more confidence using it. He has no qualms about breaking into the zone with speed and using a defender as a screen for his shot. All in all, I think his game is coming together nicely. He'll be in Portland of the AHL next year, where he got a small taste at the end of last year. I think his game is well suited to the pro level, should he continue to bring a lot of energy to the ice every night. I'd like to see him gain a bit more confidence in playing physical as I think he's at his best when that dimension is present in his game. I suspect he'll have a solid first pro season where a 20-20 year is not out of the question.

Connor Murphy - Sarnia Sting
Poor kid. He just can't seem to buy a break. Suffered another season ending knee injury, this time at the WJC's. Every year it seems to be same for him. Great things expected of him, only to have them cut short by injury. Before the injury this year, he was looking good. While I was a little disappointed in the progress of his offensive game, I thought his defensive game had grown a lot. He was making better reads in the defensive end and actually starting to use his size to push people around a bit. I think the offensive numbers continue to be a tad underwhelming because he hasn't had the chance to develop a ton of confidence in that area. He still seems somewhat hesitant when he's about to carry the puck out of his zone, and as such can be forced into the odd turnover in his own end. The potential is still sky high if he can ever stay healthy. I wonder what the plan is for Murphy this year. I think you look at two frames of mind. One, he's still eligible to return to the OHL for his overage year. There, he could play a huge role, continue to try and gain confidence in his abilities, and hopefully stay healthy. Two, they could play him in the AHL and shelter his minutes a bit, and keep a closer eye on him and his health (get him on a program that could straighten out his injury issues, be it strength, flexibility, etc). By doing so, I worry that perhaps his offensive game will never be able to blossom the way that it could because he'll have so many other things to worry about at the pro level. It's a toss up. Considering that the organization doesn't have the greatest depth at defense for their AHL affiliate, I wonder if he'll indeed be in the AHL. Wherever he is, I look forward to tracking his development. 

Tobias Rieder - Kitchener Rangers
Acquired from Edmonton, Rieder is an interesting player. He had quite the breakthrough campaign in 2011/2012, but failed to reach those heights this past season. Like most players on Kitchener, he struggled with consistency  and his offensive numbers took a bit of a tumble. When he's at his best, Rieder brings a lot of energy to the ice. He's got good speed and he's active without the puck in the offensive end, despite not being the biggest guy out there. He'll go hard to the net with and without the puck. He's also got good hands which allows him to make a lot of finesse type plays in close to the net. His ability to control the puck gives him the time and space he needs to operate, that his size does not. My issue with Rieder this year was that too often it seemed like his game lacked urgency. He wasn't nearly as much of a factor on the forecheck, at least not consistently. And he didn't play with the same conviction along the boards. I also thought his effort in his own end lacked at times and he'd get caught floating. Because of the offensive skills he possesses, he still has NHL potential. Next year he'll be in the AHL (likely), where he's likely going to have to fight to get minutes. The only way he's going to find success at that level is if he returns to playing a more aggressive style. I don't have high expectations for his first pro year and I'd be surprised if he pots over 20 points in the AHL.

Max Domi - London Knights 
A great selection by Phoenix, as Domi has the potential to develop into an elite offensive talent at the NHL level. He does everything well offensively. He's an incredible skater who accelerates from zero to fifty in a flash. He's got a killer wrist shot, but is also a dynamic distributor who exhibits poise in the offensive end. His skill with the puck is often breathtaking and he consistently makes opposing defenders whiff. I'm not concerned about the size issues. He's got the leg strength and skating ability to compensate. All that being said, I don't expect him to play in the NHL next season. I think another year in the OHL would do wonders for him. He'll get an opportunity to be a leader on another Memorial Cup contending team. He'll also get a chance to work on his play away from the puck and become a more involved two-way player. If he's back in the OHL (which I suspect he will be), he has a chance to lead the league in scoring and crack the 100 point mark. 

*of note, the Yotes elected to not sign Andrew Fritsch, making him a free agent.

Monday, July 29, 2013

2013 Ivan Hlinka Team

Hockey Canada released the final roster for the 2013 Ivan Hlinka (U18) tournament today.

Here are the OHL players (8) heading overseas...

Aaron Ekblad
Roland McKeown

Robby Fabbri
Sam Bennett
Jared McCann
Spencer Watson
Michael Dal Colle
Brendan Lemieux

HERE is a link to the final roster.

The following OHL players (a few surprisingly so) were cut:

Brent Moran - G
Jake Middleton - D
Alex Peters - D
Damian Bourne - F
Eric Cornel - F
Jaden Lindo - F
Brendan Perlini - F

Also of note, defenseman Aaron Haydon and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic will be playing for Team USA at the tournament. And several of the potential Imports (from this year's import draft) will also be suiting up for their respective countries.

The Dale Hunter coached (and D.J. Smith assisted) squad will kickoff the tournament on August 5th against the hosts (or co-hosts) Czech Republic. Team Canada is shooting for a 6th straight gold medal at the event.

If you want to follow the tournament, check out their website (HERE) and their twitter feed (@czechhockey)

30 Teams in 30 Days: Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers are up next!

Scott Laughton - Oshawa Generals
Despite playing in only 49 games (due to NHL service time and a 10 game suspension), Laughton set career highs in every offensive category this year. Needless to say, it was a great year. In particular, I was completely impressed with the way he put the Generals on his back in December/January, when the rest of the team's stars were away at the WJC's. He practically never left the ice that month. This year, it was a confidence thing with Laughton. In his draft year, he was inconsistent and at times would leave you wanting more. This year, every shift and every game was played hard. He also was visibly stronger, which made him that much more difficult to contain in the offensive end. His physical game also took a step forward, as he was a brutish force who attacked those with the puck with more consistency this year. Of course, areas of his offensive game, in particular his wrist shot, also improved. He's certainly a terrific and well rounded prospect. Next year he'll have to sit out the first three games of the OHL season because of a lingering 5 game suspension (from the 2013 playoffs). Luckily for him, I don't think he'll ever have to serve it. Based on his progression this year, the 5 game taste he already received with the Flyers, and some of the holes they have in their line up, I think Laughton has played his final OHL game. I see him in the NHL this year playing a 3rd line role and I think he'll perform admirably. I could certainly see him struggling a bit offensively at first, but by the end of the year a 30 point season isn't an unreasonable goal.

Nick Cousins - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Like Laughton, I thought Nick Cousins also had a fabulous year. He finished 3rd in OHL scoring and really took that next step as an offensive force. I think the biggest difference I noticed in Cousins this year was his improved patience in the offensive end. In previous years, I found him prone to being a tad narrow centric with the puck. Like he'd have a play in mind and was only going to do that play, even if it meant that he'd end up turning the puck over. As a result, at times, he didn't get the best out of his linemates. This year, he let the play come to him and was more confident and patient with the puck. He was more apt at letting the cycle game open up space or an opportunity to strike. He used his linemates better off the rush too. He's always been skilled, so this really opened things up for him. Away from the puck, he still plays hard and is active in puck retrieval and along the boards. Moving forward, I think his skating still needs some work before he gets to the NHL. He could still stand to be more explosive, as it would give him the time and space his size doesn't. This year he'll be in Adirondack of the AHL where I expect he'll have a pretty decent first pro season. I'm not sure his offensive game will translate immediately. I think they'll be an adjustment period, but when everything is said and done, I could see him in that 40 point range, which would certainly not be bad for an AHL rookie.

Derek Mathers - Peterborough Petes
While Mathers did improve upon his offensive numbers, I did expect him to have a better season than he did. Usually guys his size, even if they're not the most skilled in the world, do tend to have a breakout in their final year in the league. I wasn't expecting him to lead the league in scoring, but potting 20 goals wasn't an unreasonable expectation (he hit 10). He was given some opportunities too, like time on the powerplay and on scoring lines. The reality is that Mathers just doesn't have the hands, shot, or instincts to be a scorer at this level, let alone the next. The good news is that he's an exceptionally hard worker who wears his heart on his sleeve. He's more than just an enforcer because he blocks shots, backchecks, fights for loose pucks, forechecks and provides leadership in the dressing room. My only issue is that I don't know if he's good enough to do those things at the NHL level. The league seems to be moving away from the "enforcer." Which means there will be guys who provide the things Mathers does, but who are also quicker and more skilled. But I'm certainly cheering for him. This year in Adirondack, his offensive numbers won't be pretty, but if he's able to find a consistent place in the line-up (and avoid the ECHL), I think that'd be great.

Anthony Stolarz - London Knights
Came to London at midseason (from U of Nebraska/Omaha) and slowly got better and better. He's got tons of potential. He's so athletic for a big guy. Teams have been trying to beat him by getting him moving (traditionally the strategy for a big goalie), but he moves post to post so quickly and is very agile. Because of this he made a lot of "highlight reel" saves. On the downside, he's so big and is still learning his angles which means he can have a lot of holes. This is why he was prone to some really bad games this year, when teams were finding those holes and getting him to over-commit. For as athletic as he is, he's certainly still a work in progress. But as I said, I do like his potential and I think he'll greatly improve this season when he's likely London's starter (at this point I can't see Jake Patterson stealing the gig).

Brandon Alderson - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Alderson was a good signing by the Flyers. He possesses a lot of qualities that make him a potential NHL player. He's got great size and is a terrific skater for a big guy. He plays a real solid north/south game and is an effective player off the forecheck because of his speed. He's got enough puck skill to be involved in the transition game, but is most effective around the net and coming off the wall. He's a physical player and someone who backchecks consistently and works hard without the puck. I don't think there's much upside there offensively for the next level, but if he continues to bulk up (without sacrificing his skating abilities), he could be an effective role player at the NHL level. He'll play next year in Adirondack where I'm sure he'll play a checking line role. As such, I wouldn't expect much offense from him, but if he can stay in the AHL all year and gain experience at that level, that'd be great.

*of note, Colin Suellentrop was not signed to a contract and has become a free agent.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: Ottawa Senators

The Canadian Capital is next! Here is the Ottawa Senators' review.

Matt Puempel - Kitchener Rangers
I thought many of Kitchener's forwards had down years this season and struggled through consistency issues. Puempel was not one of them. I thought he was Kitchener's most consistently dangerous forward in 2013/2014. He looked way more confident with the puck this year and was more apt at creating his own scoring chances. Previously, I've always found Puempel to be the type that lays in the weeds, waiting for the opportunity to pounce. This year he was aggressive in trying to make things happen, rather than letting them come to him. I thought his skating looked more explosive and it helped him coming down the wing, especially when trying to beat defenders outside, or give himself space to shoot. He also looked stronger away from the puck and was the most active in the corners and in front of the net that I've seen him in his OHL career. I guess the one main concern moving forward is the ability to stay healthy. He hasn't played close to a full season since his 16 year old year. Durability has to be on the minds of Senators brass. All that being said, I think he'll have a solid first pro year with Binghamton. There's some talk of him possibly making the Sens roster, but I don't think he's quite ready yet. I think he needs to show he can survive a full year of pro action first. But again, I think his goal scoring ability will translate well to the AHL level and I could see him potting 25 this year, which would be a solid rookie year.

Cody Ceci - Owen Sound Attack
I thought Ceci had a pretty decent year. Playing in Ottawa this year wasn't an ideal situation and it was hard for him to stand out, but he pulled through it until the deal to Owen Sound. With the Attack, he helped solidify their powerplay and made them a more dangerous offensive team in transition. I thought his defensive game made some strides this year, as he looked stronger and more confident in tying up forwards in front of the net and winning battles in the corners. All that being said, I will admit that I'm not the world's biggest fan of his NHL potential. Defensively, he's still not aggressive enough in his own end and doesn't use his size the way he should. And I don't think he has the defensive aptitude to excel as a stick-checker/positioning guy ala a Nik Lidstrom. Offensively, while he runs the point on the powerplay very well, I don't think his game translates well 5 on 5. I think he lacks the explosiveness and dynamic puck carrying ability to be a terrific offensive defenseman in the NHL. He makes a great first pass out of the zone and he makes good decisions on when to pinch and how to elude a forecheck though. If his offensive game doesn't translate as well, will his defensive game ever get to the level that it needs to, to keep him in the NHL? But I'm probably in the minority here. He'll be in Binghamton this year and we'll get a chance to see just how well his game adapts to the pro level (aka being able to prove me wrong).

Jarrod Maidens - Owen Sound Attack
It has to be tough on a player to be sidelined for over a year and half. Maidens is an incredibly talented player with definite NHL potential. But his post concussion syndrome (as a result of an accidental knee to the head) lingers and continues to keep him out of the line-up. The good news is that he's skating again. He participated (wearing a non-contact jersey) in Ottawa's development camp. And all signs would suggest that he'll be able to come back at SOME point this year. Whether that's right in September or later is unclear. How he will perform is also unclear. Will he be able to be the same type of hard nosed player who excels in close to the net? I guess we shall see. If he comes back strong, there's no question that a top 6 spot in Owen Sound will be open for him to fill.

Ben Harpur - Guelph Storm
Certainly an interesting selection by the Senators. Harpur is a hulking defenseman who has the potential to develop into a very serviceable player. But patience will be key because he's a work in progress. He's huge, but he's still learning to use his size in his own end. He's gaining confidence in playing more physical and is learning how to use his reach to defend off the rush. His skating will need work, but that's to be expected given his size. And offensively, he'll need to work on his breakout pass, as well as his confidence with the puck in his own end. But...all of these things improved over the course of the season which suggests they could improve even more in the future. Next year in Guelph he'll get the opportunity to play a lot of minutes, and will see time on both the powerplay (likely) and the penalty kill. I think a modest point increase close to the 25 point range and more consistency with his defensive play are great and realistic goals for 2013/2014.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: New York Rangers

Off to Broadway, as the New York Rangers are next on the list.

Tommy Hughes - London Knights
Hughes is the first of two overage signings that the Rangers made this season. He's definitely an unheralded member of the Knights, but has a skill set that could transfer well to the NHL level. Offensively, there's not much to speak of. He plays a very safe game and is a pure stay at home defender. He'll elect to pass off to his defensive partner most times if there is no pressure, rather than skate it/pass it out himself. But, he's not a turnover machine in his own end and can handle the puck when required to. It's his defensive skills that got him noticed. He's a big guy but skates quite well. His defensive positioning is top notch. You'll rarely see him get beat one on one and he's certainly not afraid to use his size in the defensive end. The fact that he also wore a letter in London this year speaks volumes about his character. The upside isn't much and he'll likely toil in the minors for a few years before getting a shot, but he could certainly develop into a solid 5-6/PK guy for the Rangers. I wouldn't even be surprised if he sees time in the ECHL this year, given the Rangers depth at the position (organizationally).

Michael Kantor - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Going into the season, I thought he was going to be one of the more coveted overage free agents. But he had a pretty disappointing year. He battled injuries (mostly a facial injury from blocking a slapshot) and failed to find a groove offensively. He's still an interesting prospect for the Rags to sign. He entered the OHL as an enforcer but his skill with the puck really developed over the course of his OHL career. He'll surprise you with his overall skill level. He's got some decent speed and he can make defenseman miss if they try to play him too aggressively. But his offensive hockey sense isn't terrific so it doesn't translate to serious numbers on the score sheet. His career in the NHL will be made by his ability to drop his gloves, throw checks, and work the forecheck. There's no doubt that his ticket is in an energy role. Like Hughes, I'd expect Kantor to start in the ECHL and maybe work his way up to the AHL level. I wouldn't expect much in the way of offensive numbers until he gets used to the speed of the pro game.

*of note, the Rangers chose not to sign Peter Ceresnak, making him a free agent.

Friday, July 26, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: New York Islanders

The New York Islanders are up next.

Ryan Strome - Niagara IceDogs
Strome is officially ready for a new challenge. He had a terrific year and really worked hard to improve areas of his game that were previously lacking (at least in comparison to the rest of his skill set). I thought his skating looked more explosive and I think it's obvious he's been working hard to gain that extra gear. The extra gear wasn't necessarily visible when he was working off the rush, because there his stickhandling gives him the space he needs to operate. It was more noticeable away from the puck. He was quicker to openings and was consistently beating defenders to loose pucks for the first time in his career. He was also way more confident in using his wicked wrister this year. It's hard, accurate and pro ready. He doesn't need much room to unleash it either and took full advantage of that, shooting whenever the opportunity arose this year. Defensively, he was significantly better and made a consistent effort to work hard without the puck in his own end. I think the skating improvements were also noticeable on the backcheck where he was more effective chasing down the opposition. All in all, a great development year for Strome. So what's next? I guess the goal will be to make the Islanders in 2013/2014. If he's flexible in shifting to the wing for now, he'd probably have a greater shot of making the team. Realistically, I could see him starting off briefly in the AHL, putting up some great numbers, then getting the call up for good. I'm excited to follow his professional career as it unfolds.

Andrey Pedan - Guelph Storm
It was a relatively good year for Pedan who was able to replicate the things he did well in his step forward last year. That said, did he really progress a ton? I don't think so. He's still a work in progress but one with definite NHL potential. Defensively, he can still take himself out of the play to make a big hit and is still prone to taking bad/lazy penalties in his own end. Offensively, he's aggressive but sometimes at the wrong times, which can lead to him getting caught up ice. There are still a lot of positives, like his big shot, his skating ability, his increased confidence with the puck, and the fact that he excels at playing the role of pugilist in his own end. Pedan is certainly not an easy player to play against. He'll be in Bridgeport this year to begin his pro career. He got a small taste of the AHL at the end of last year which hopefully gave him an idea of what he's in for (aka how to condition himself this offseason to prepare). I could see the coaching staff asking him to play a more conservative defensive role to start, so that he can get his feet wet and learn to settle things down in his own end. 

Adam Pelech - Erie Otters
Pelech IS the Erie Otters' defense. You'd be hard pressed to find a player in the OHL who plays more minutes. He's on the team's first pairing, first powerplay unit, and first penalty kill unit. He's on the ice when the team needs a goal or when they need to protect a lead. And when he's not on the ice, the Otters are a considerably worse club. Next year, when Erie is a better team (at least I think they will be), he'll start to generate more "hype." Pelech is the complete package. He starts the breakout very well and has the skating ability/poise with the puck to skate out of trouble in his own end. He's still learning how to run the point on the powerplay (can look a little stiff), but I think that improves with confidence and experience. Learning to get his shot through with more consistency would be a great thing to focus on. Defensively, he's a rock. He can skate with the opposition and defends well off the rush, but is also a beast in front of the net and in the corners. I expect him to have a big year in 2013/2014. He should be up near the top of the OHL defenseman scoring list and I think he's a darkhorse candidate for a spot on Canada's WJC team.

Jesse Graham - Niagara IceDogs 
I thought Graham had an OK year. He started off poorly but picked up his play as the season went on. I was particularly impressed with how he stepped up once Dougie Hamilton left post lock-out. His skating ability remains his biggest asset, as he's very hard to pin down on the forecheck and doesn't make a lot of mistakes with the puck in his own end. I'd actually like to see him be more aggressive in jumping up in the play without the puck. His skating would allow him to recover so I think he could stand to take more chances offensively. On his rushes from his own end, he's great at gaining the zone, but still seems rather tentative to finish off his rushes and seems much more comfortable dishing off or dumping in at that point. His point shot still lacks oomph and (I think) holds him back from being a more dominant powerplay quarterback. Defensively, he looked a bit stronger and was winning more battles for the puck, but he can still get outmuscled by bigger forwards. His positioning and awareness is there defensively, it's just a need to continue to get stronger without sacrificing his skating ability. If the end of last year was any indication, I'd expect him to have a big year offensively in 2013/2014. I think he definitely cracks the 50 point plateau. Also has a chance to be the next captain of the Dogs. 

Alan Quine - Belleville Bulls
I was not surprised to see someone re-draft Quine after the Wings elected to let him go. He's certainly a terrific offensive talent. He was great after the trade to Belleville, as playing on the big ice did wonders for his game. It gave him more room to operate. He's certainly not a big guy, but he's very quick and agile. Darts in and out of traffic well and doesn't need much time or space to get his shot off. He's a terrific puckhandler and has made great strides in being able to play through traffic. Once a perimeter player, he now will look to go hard to the net and will go into the corners. The rest of his game, needs work. It's not that he doesn't make an effort to backcheck, it's more that he's not really effective at it. His defensive awareness isn't terrific. And while he's increased his willingness to do grunt work, again he's not incredibly effective at it. He's most effective when playing with guys who can get the puck for him and create space for him (like Joseph Cramarossa who he paired with very well in Belleville). I think he'll struggle in the AHL initially next year and I could even see him spending some time in the ECHL. He'll need to be on a scoring line to make an impact so if he's unable to get that icetime in the AHL, he's better off being in the ECHL rather than playing a checking role in Bridgeport (at least IMO). That's of course if the Isles want him in the pro's. They could always send him back to the OHL for his overage year in Belleville. My guess is that the Isles have the Sound Tigers sign him to a contract (similar to what they did with Tony DeHart a few years ago), so that they can get a look at him at that level before deciding on an ELC.

*of note, the Islanders decided to not sign Mitchell Theoret, making him a free agent.

**Also of note, Islanders 5th rounder, Victor Crus-Rydberg, was an Import selection by the Plymouth Whalers and could play in the OHL for 2013/2014.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: New Jersey Devils

Get that fist pumping, the New Jersey Devils are up next.

Reid Boucher - Sarnia Sting
Hard to complain about the season Boucher had this year. He was the first OHL player to crack the 60 goal mark since Brett MacLean in 2007-08, and his 62 goals was the highest mark since John Tavares' 72 the year prior (06/07). Last year I wrote about his skating holding him back, in addition to his inability to create his own scoring chances and his lack of three zone presence. Well all three things improved this year. His skating still isn't above average or anything, but it's very clear that he's worked on his explosiveness and because of that he was able to hit openings more effectively and be more effective when carrying the puck off the rush. He was also more confident with the puck and more aggressive in trying to make things happen with it. He was more active in the corners and was willing to work hard away from the puck. Lastly, his defensive zone play improved, as he was more engaged on the backcheck and working hard to tie up forwards and win battles along the boards in his own end. His shot is 100% NHL ready and I think he's going to score his share of goals in the AHL next year. As long as he continues to improve the rest of his game, he should develop into a quality goal scoring winger at the NHL level.

Artur Gavrus - Owen Sound Attack
It was kind of a wasted season for Gavrus. He finally made it over to Owen Sound in January, but  it took him some time to really gain back the trust of his coaching staff. He started on the 4th line and saw limited ice time, but was up to a scoring line and the powerplay unit by March. I still like him as a prospect. When he's on his game, he brings a lot of offensive energy to the ice. He's aggressive as a puck carrier and plays a lot bigger than his size. Once he gets stronger, he'll be able to play that role even more effectively, as he can still get knocked off the puck rather easily. He's signed to play in the KHL next year and I'll be interested to see how he does. If he struggles, I can't imagine the Devils sign him.

Ben Johnson - Windsor Spitfires
It wasn't a great year for Johnson in a lot of ways. On the ice and off the ice. Off the ice, he's facing multiple sexual assault charges for incidents that happened near the end of the season. On the ice, his play wasn't great either. His offensive game didn't progress the way that I figured it would and I actually felt he was less effective as a forechecker and physical presence. He was rather invisible in several of my viewings of Windsor this year, which definitely wasn't the case in his draft year. When he wasn't scoring then, he was at least noticeable as a physical energy guy. Next year the Spits should be a better team and Johnson will be expected to take a step forward. They'll need him to return to form, and if he doesn't, he runs the risk of falling out of a top 6 role. Anything less than a 50 point season would be a disappointment and likely result in him going unsigned by New Jersey. 

Ben Thomson - Kitchener Rangers
I wasn't really a fan of the selection when it happened and I still don't see Thomson as an NHL player or prospect. He's obviously got great size and he can push people around, but his skating and ability to handle the puck aren't good enough (at least yet). He can be effective as a board player in the offensive end and isn't afraid of standing in front of the net, which are definite positives. I think he's a no brainer to send back to junior for his overage season. Quite often guys his size can put up some big offensive numbers as a 20 year old in the league. Sending him back to increase his confidence offensively would ultimately give him a better chance of developing into a useful NHL prospect and I do think he could have a decent year in 2013/2014. I could definitely see a 25-25 year.

Ryan Kujawinski - Kingston Frontenacs
I really liked the Kujawinski selection by the Devils. It's been no secret that I've been a fan of his. I think his inconsistencies this year were related to him trying to find an identity with the team and were confidence based. He's got a lot of potential as a complete, power forward. He can rifle the puck. He can create off the rush and off the wall. He can throw a big hit. He can win faceoffs and work hard on the backcheck. He just hasn't been able to do all of those things consistently at the same time. Kingston has a young, up and coming team. They'll be exciting to watch over the next few years. I fully expect Kujawinski to have a better season next year, and I'd be surprised if he's not a 60 point guy.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: Nashville Predators

Up next, Nashville (and their one OHL prospect).

Mikko Vainonen - Kingston Frontenacs
Vainonen came as advertised this year and was a steady/reliable top 4 defenseman for the Fronts. He's certainly not flashy but did a great job acting as defense partner to Michael Moffat, who's more of a roving offensive type. He makes smart decisions with the puck in his own zone, is capable of completing accurate breakout passes and even saw some time on the powerplay. While he looked a tad stiff running the point, he generally was able to move the puck well and showed patience and poise. Defensively he was solid. He makes good reads in the defensive zone and positions himself well off the rush. He's certainly more of a stay at home type and I think projects as that at the next level. He wasn't one to lead the rush or jump up in the play offensively this year (at least from what I saw). His skating is only average too, which I think leads him to be less aggressive offensively. He can also be taken wide by quicker forwards off the rush, but generally does a good job of giving them space and using his stick to drive them wide of the net. Next year seems fairly up in there for Vainonen. I've seen sources suggesting he's heading back to HIFK (in Finland) next year. He's also already signed his ELC with Nashville and is eligible to play in the AHL (because he was drafted out of Europe). In addition, Kingston has not given up his rights (they passed on both of their selections at this year's Import Draft) and obviously hold out hope that he'll return to them in 2013/2014. I guess we'll eventually see where he ends up. I know the Fronts are anticipating that he'll return, so I'd put that as the most likely destination. If he's in Kingston, I'd expect him to crack the 30 point plateau while continuing to play solid defense, helping the Fronts improve.

*The Preds elected not to sign Plymouth/Oshawa import Simon Karlsson, making him a free agent.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: Montreal Canadiens

Dames et monsieur, le prochain arrêt en notre tournée, Montréal! (how was my French?)

Brady Vail - Windsor Spitfires
Firstly, Vail needs to be rewarded for playing every game for Windsor the past two years. It speaks volumes to his heart, determination and conditioning level. Playing all 68 games of the OHL regular season is hard enough one year, but to do it back to back is very impressive. As I've mentioned in a few other articles, it was a tough year for a member of the Spitfires to really stand out. While Vail wasn't bad, he didn't take any major steps forward from 2011/2012 either. He's still a very solid player at both ends, who excels in winning battles along the boards and who has an underrated ability to set up linemates for scoring chances. He has good vision and makes good decisions with the puck in the offensive end. This offseason he'll have to continue to dedicate himself to further his conditioning. Getting quicker and stronger will help his game in a lot of ways, particularly in the offensive end. Adding some power to his wrister and making him harder to separate from the puck will allow him to further boost his offensive production. He's going to have a good shot at the first line center job in Windsor next year and will likely get some pretty talented linemates (like Kerby Rychel). I'd love to see him crack the 70 point plateau in his final junior season.

Connor Crisp - Erie Otters
A good pick up by the Habs. I figured he'd get taken in 2013, although no doubt earlier than I would have expected. After playing sparingly as a rookie in 2010/2011, and missing most of last year due to injury, this was pretty much Crisp's first full OHL season. He's got a lot of very attractive and intriguing qualities as a hockey player. He's got a good release in close and has good hands for cleaning up garbage near the crease. He's also big and protects the puck well to create that time and space for himself. He's a battler at both ends of the ice and plays the game hard. As you may have guessed by his penalty minute totals, he's also a skilled and eager fighter. A pugilist who can also put the puck in the net is relatively rare thing in the hockey world these days. Just how much he develops as an offensive player will depend on the improvements he makes to his skating. He'll need to get quicker and more explosive if he wants to be more than just a crease crasher/net presence. But he's definitely got some potential as a 3rd/4th line guy. And even if the skating doesn't quite improve, he could still play the role of an enforcer who can occasionally pot a goal or two. Next year the Erie Otters should be a better hockey club and Crisp will be right in the thick of things. He'll continue to see powerplay time and will get a chance to play a top 6 role. I'd love to see him pot 30 goals next year and I think it's a reasonable goal.

*of note, the Habs will have at least one additional player in the OHL next year as Mike McCarron will be playing in London. Jacob de la Rose was drafted by Windsor in the Import draft, but reports suggest he'll be staying in Sweden because he can not get out of his contract there.

Monday, July 22, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: Minnesota Wild

Next up, the Minnesota Wild

Tyler Graovac - Belleville Bulls
Alas, the arrival of Tyler Graovac finally happened. 67's fans had been waiting for it for a few years now , but he finally exploded offensively this year. Of course he would eventually be dealt to Belleville, but Graovac did have a standout season. A lot of people were crediting Sean Monahan with Graovac's emergence, but those people would be incorrect since the two rarely saw the ice together. The biggest reason for Graovac's improvement this year was his increased strength, coupled with his increased desire to use his size in the offensive end. He was able to fight for positioning more effectively, and even created a lot of his own scoring chances by fighting off checks and winning one on one battles for the puck. With the added strength, his shot was also heavier. Graovac's issues had never been skating related because he's always been strong in that area. So the added strength just made him that much more difficult to contain. All that being said, I do have some reservations about his ability to adapt at the next level. While he's a big kid, he's certainly not a power forward or a guy who profiles as a checking line forward at the NHL level. He's not a physical player, nor do I ever see him developing into one. That means I view him as a top 6 guy or nothing. At the AHL level, he's going to have to work even harder for his scoring chances and could struggle initially if he's forced to play a bottom line role. I could see his situation being similar to Ryan Martindale's with the Edmonton Oilers (who has struggled to make himself an AHL regular). I think they're similar players except Graovac is a better skater. Long story short, I think the Wild are going to need to be patient with Graovac because I anticipate that he'll struggle initially at the AHL level.

Kurtis Gabriel - Owen Sound Attack
Gabriel was certainly a surprise selection in this year's entry draft (especially in the 3rd round). Truthfully, I've never viewed him as an NHL prospect (at least thought of him in that light before), so it took me off guard a bit. Gabriel is an incredibly hard worker who does anything his coach asks of him. You need a guy to stand in front of the net and take punishment. He's your guy. You need someone to kill an important penalty? He's your guy. You need someone to swing momentum with a fight? He's your guy. You need a big offensive play? Well...that's a different story. My issue is that every OHL team in the league has a guy like Gabriel. What makes him so special? My guess is that he'll be sent back to the OHL for his overage year next year. He's got a great chance to wear a letter and he'll get increased offensive responsibility. Because of his size and work ethic, I think he could definitely have a 20-20 year if he's placed on a scoring line. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings are the next stop.

Colin Miller - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
What a breakthrough year for Miller. Not only did he play on the team's number one pairing (and shutdown tandem) with Darnell Nurse, but he also was on the first powerplay unit with Ryan Sproul. Needless to say, Miller was a cog for Sault Ste. Marie last year. Of his 20 goals, only 8 were scored on the powerplay, which speaks volumes for his ability to jump up in the play. He certainly gained a lot of confidence in his offensive game this year. He was looking to shoot more, was more aggressive in carrying the puck, and was dangerous on backdoor plays and jumping up on odd man rushes. Defensively, he remained very solid and rarely makes a mistake in his own end. He's turned himself into a very well rounded defender. I'm not entirely sure how much I anticipate his offensive production will carry over to the pro level, because he doesn't possess elite skating ability or dynamic puck carrying ability, but he is a very smart player. There should definitely be some spots available on Manchester's blueline next year and I think he can make an immediate impact. I could definitely see him staying in the line up full time while putting up 20-25 point in his first pro year.

Nick Ebert - Windsor Spitfires
It was a slightly better year for Ebert, after the disaster that was his draft year. He's very much still a work in progress though. Offensively, he looked way more confident running the point on the powerplay and was more patient in letting the play develop, especially when looking to use his big shot from the point. He also looked more confident rushing the puck again and made fewer mistakes on bad pinches. All that being said, I still don't think he's returned to the level of play that he flashed during his rookie campaign of 2010/2011. He can still make bad reads and bad passes in the defensive end. Also, the edge that he played with when he entered the league has yet to return. He's still not consistently physically aggressive and needs to battle more for positioning in his own end. The Spits were (on most nights) a disaster defensively and unfortunately Ebert has to be partially to blame for that. On the plus side, I do expect big things from him next year. Windsor will have a better team and he'll be counted on as an elder leader. His pro experience in the ECHL at the end of the year should have made him hungry to get his game to that level. I think he reaches the 50 point plateau while improving on some of the other areas of his game.

Kurtis MacDermid - Owen Sound Attack
MacDermid made pretty good strides this year, really his first full OHL season. He managed to stay healthy and was a key cog in Owen Sound's line-up, as the anchor of their third pairing. He actually moves pretty well for a bigger, stay at home type of guy. At this point, he plays a pretty safe game; not very active offensively. I do love the fact that he's hard to play against too and is very physical in the corners and in front of the net. Next year the Attack will be losing three of their top four defenders (Ceci, Cutting, Chiarlitti), which means MacDermid will definitely see increased ice time. Depending on how Owen Sound plays it, he could even be Chris Bigras' partner on the top pairing. I'd expect him to see time in all situations next year, even as the quarterback on the second powerplay unit. It'll be interesting to see him expected to make plays with the puck and I'm very curious to see how his offensive game develops in 2013/2014. I expect that he'll definitely show some gains and will hover around the 25 point mark.

Justin Auger - Guelph Storm
Auger had a solid 2nd year in the league, playing mostly on the Storm's 3rd line. I very much like this pick up by Guelph as I think he's got a lot of potential to improve as he grows into his body. Already this year he significantly improved his skating from his first year in the league. Don't get me wrong, it's still an area of concern, but he went from being one of the worst skaters in the league to being just below average. He also got noticeably stronger this year which helped him dominate along the wall on some shifts. He's going to be a real tough guard for a lot of defenseman in this league once he completely fills out. Next year he'll have a chance at an increased role with Guelph, perhaps on the 2nd line. And he should definitely see more powerplay time. If his skating takes another step forward, we could see him become more involved with the puck in transition. It'd be great to see him evolve into the type of winger who can confidently carry the puck down the wing and look to go hard to the net. It'd also be great to see him become more physical, especially on the forecheck. Considering the improvements he made this year, I could see him cracking the 50 point barrier next year. 

Zac Leslie - Guelph Storm
Another savvy "overage" pick up by the Kings. Leslie is actually a fairly similar player to Colin Miller. He's a jack of all trades kind of guy who plays bigger than his size. He's counted on in all situations by the Storm and was actually a better player than Matt Finn (Leafs 2nd round draft pick) this year for Guelph (at least IMO). He's certainly not flashy but he gets the job done. Like Nick Ebert, I think Leslie has the chance to crack the 50 point plateau next year and I'll look for him to become a premier point man on the powerplay (similar to what Miller became this season). 

Dominik Kubalik - Sudbury Wolves
Kubalik got better and more comfortable as his first OHL season went on, actually saving his best performance of the year for the playoffs. At this point he's a solid complimentary offensive player. Seems to have a good head for the game and gets himself in good scoring position. Next year, I'd like to see him be a little more noticeable when he's not hitting the score sheet. That includes getting more involved without the puck, and being more confident with the puck in situations where he can look to go hard to the net or use his shot more. I honestly didn't get a terrific gauge of just how skilled he might be, because in my viewings he let his linemates do most of the talking for him. He's returning to Sudbury for another year and will remain an important offensive piece for that club moving forward. He's going to get time on a scoring line and with the man advantage. Let's see what he does with it. A 25-25 season would be a great step in the right direction.

*of note, the Kings elected not to sign forward Michael Schumacher, making him a free agent.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: Florida Panthers

The Panthers are up!

Vincent Trocheck - Plymouth Whalers
Ladies and gentleman, your 2013 Red Tilson winner (OHL most outstanding player); and he definitely deserved it. It was quite the year for Trocheck, with his individual achievements and his strong performance at the Under 20's where he helped the U.S. win a gold medal. He flat out dominated a lot of the games he played in this year. In his time with the Whalers (after the trade from Saginaw) he averaged over two points per game. Nearly everything took a step forward for him this year. He looked quicker, which helped him play his brand of high energy, puck possession hockey. He looked stronger, which helped him win battles in the corners and protect the puck in the offensive zone. And he was more confident, which allowed him to take more chances to keep plays alive. At the OHL level, he's truly the complete package. The question is, at his size, is he able to translate all of these abilities at the next level. I think it's a damn good question. He's a very flexible player which will endear him to his coach in San Antonio. Even though he has to be thought of as a top 6 player down the line, I could see him ease into the line-up in more of a checking role. Going after loose pucks, playing the penalty kill, etc. Don't expect him to lead the AHL in scoring next year, but I could see him having a decent year, hovering around the 45 point mark.

Josh Brown - Oshawa Generals
I had heard a lot of rumblings about him drumming up interest from NHL clubs this year, so it came as no surprise to me when he was drafted. Do I necessarily agree with it? No, but I did expect it. Brown is a big behemoth who has grown a lot (maturity wise) during his two years in the OHL. His physical game and ability to push around forwards in the defensive end is gaining confidence and shows great potential. He could be a terrific crease clearer. The rest of his game is still a big work in progress for me. In the times I saw Oshawa this year, he was often exposed off the rush by quicker forwards. His lateral and backwards mobility needs some work. He also had some difficulty with the opposition's forecheck and could be forced to turn the puck over. Next year he'll get a chance to play a much larger role for the Generals. He's got a chance to play on the team's first pairing as the team is losing it's two most important defenseman, Matt Petgrave and Geoffrey Schemitsch. Whether that includes some consistent powerplay time remains to be seen. It will be interesting to track his development next year.

Friday, July 19, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers are up next.

Daniil Zharkov - Belleville Bulls
Zharkov continues to be an enigma. Lots of flash and dash, not a ton of substance or production. He creates time for himself in the offensive zone because his agility and puck control ability is so strong. He can definitely make defenders miss. But he hangs on to the puck too long and is prone to turnovers in the offensive end. This makes me question his vision and overall hockey sense. He's got one heck of a shot, both a hard slapper and a quick wrister, but doesn't work hard enough to get himself in scoring positions consistently. His play away from the puck didn't take any massive steps forward this year either. Zharkov remains someone who is not the sum of all his pieces. It's already been announced that he's leaving the OHL for the KHL next year. I have to wonder if this is the last time we see Zharkov in North America.

Darnell Nurse - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
As I'm sure Oilers fans have figured out, I'm a huge fan of their selection in the first round this year. His progression this year into a top flight OHL defenseman leads me to believe that he has top pairing potential at the NHL level. His offensive game grew leaps and bounds over the course of the year, as he gained confidence in his ability to skate the puck up ice and run the second powerplay unit. As he gets stronger and fills out his massive frame, his physical game will also improve (it's already pretty good). I don't think he's quite ready yet (and I don't see too many people penciling him into next year's line-up) and would greatly benefit from another year in the OHL. He's already been named the captain for the Hounds next year and with Ryan Sproul and Colin Miller gone, the blueline will be his show to run. He'll be the number one powerplay quarterback and I expect his offensive numbers to grow even more. I'd be very surprised if he's not one of the highest scoring defenseman in the league next year.

Kyle Platzer - London Knights
Platzer was a guy that was asked to do everything for London this year (including play some defense). Call him the ultimate utility man. For that reason, he was able to avoid the 3rd/4th line carousel that existed in London this year. Too many talented bodies for too few spots. But Platzer was a mainstay in the line-up because he showed the Hunters he could adapt his game to whatever role they wanted him to play. Usually that role was as a dump and chase, grind it out 4th liner. He may not be big, but he's effective in puck retrieval and does a good job working the boards. He's got great hockey sense and acknowledges and takes advantage of openings when they occur in the offensive end. He's got a shot to have a larger offensive role with the club next year and it'll be interesting to see how he reacts. If he's given a chance to show more of his creative side and plays with higher skilled players, I think we'll get a sense of just how skilled he is. I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see him put up a 20-20 season next year.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: Detroit Red Wings

On the other side of Windsor you'll find the Motor City, which is our next stop today.

Ryan Sproul - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Pretty hard to argue with the results this year for Sproul. It's not easy to win the CHL's defenseman of the year award. Sproul was a beast for the Hounds in 2012/2013. He was nearly impossible for the opposition to stop on the rush. With his size, skating ability and puck control, he waltzed across the opposing blueline with ease on many nights. And of course, there is the booming howitzer from the point. Actually, this was an area that I felt grew this year. Last year, he would force too many shots and became predictable when running the point. This year he was much smarter in using his shot, and considerably more patient with the puck. Defensively, his game also improved and he's slowly learning how to read situations correctly in the defensive end. I'm a big fan of his, but there's no denying that he'll have some areas to work on at the pro level next season. He'll have to be more cautious on his pinches to prevent himself from getting trapped and his defensive game (particularly below the hash marks) will need to continue to improve. But the potential is massive. I'm really hoping he has a huge year in the AHL, but I could see him struggling initially. Playing every day and amassing 25-30 points would be a great goal.

Andreas Athanasiou - Barrie Colts
What a difference a new team can make. AA was terrific for Barrie this year after the trade from London in the offseason. He looked re-invigorated and was again playing with the energy that made him a fan favourite in London during his rookie season. The biggest thing for AA this year was his increased involvement without the puck. In his draft year he seemed content with letting others do his dirty work and was a bit of a floater. This year, he took control of his own destiny. He was very active on the forecheck and played the puck possession game just as well as he worked off the rush. Playing second fiddle to Mark Scheifele, AA provided consistent secondary scoring by using his speed and his linemates well. He definitely put himself back on track. Next year Scheifele will undoubtedly be with Winnipeg, which means AA will be one of the primary go to guys on offense. Barrie will still have offensive talent (Hall, Theoret, Bradford, Lemieux) and I think he's going to have a big year alongside them. An 80 point season is a very realistic expectation. 

Jake Paterson - Saginaw Spirit
While the numbers certainly don't jump out at you, they also don't tell the whole story. Paterson was solid for the Spirit this year and did take some steps forward in becoming a more consistent netminder. He's a very fluid and controlled goalie who challenges shooters and reads angles well. He's certainly not the scrambling type of goalie that the Wings have in former OHL standout Petr Mrazek. Next year, I expect Saginaw to be one of the better teams in the Western Conference. Paterson will be right in the thick of that. As such, I'd expect his "numbers" to finally look glossy. He has to be an early candidate for OHL goalie of the year next year, as well as another spot (possibly in the starter's role) for Canada at the WJC's. Clearly I have high hopes for him next year.

Zach Nastasiuk - Owen Sound Attack
Loved this pick by the Wings. Nastasiuk is a real heart and soul guy who leaves it all on the ice. This year he played in every situation for the Attack and his offensive game got better and better as the season went on. Hopefully this offseason he's working on getting a little quicker so that he can hit open lanes with more efficiency and be a more effective player off the rush. Given how strong he finished last season, I expect him to continue that level of play and confidence into next year. I think he's a serious candidate for a 30-30 year. 

Tyler Bertuzzi - Guelph Storm
Certainly not a surprising draft selection, just a surprise at where the Wings nabbed him (2nd round). Bertuzzi missed a good chunk of time this year with a neck injury/concussion (suffered in a fight), but he was a solid role player for the Storm in the action he did see. He's a very hard worker without the puck and is relentless on the forecheck and in front of the net. I think it remains to be seen as to how good his hands are and whether he has serious goal scoring potential, but the other tangibles are there. He'll likely start the coming season on Guelph's 3rd line and could even see some secondary powerplay time. If he stays healthy, a 20 goal season is well within his grasp.

*of note, the Wings elected to not sign Alan Quine and he was re-drafted by the New York Islanders.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days - Dallas Stars

The Lonestar state is next as we arrive in Dallas.

Brett Ritchie - Niagara IceDogs
Everything finally came together for Ritchie this season. Previously he'd only given us a little taste of what he was capable of, but 2012/2013 was a major breakthrough for him. I think there were a couple major reasons for that. Firstly, he played with an edge and was a physical contributor at all times. He was able to channel his aggressiveness away from the puck into scoring chances by being an intimidating force. Secondly, his skating and ability to carry the puck improved. He had more confidence in looking to take the puck to the net and carry it into the zone, and the improved speed and acceleration to give him some separation. Lastly, he had way more confidence in his shot and was working harder away from the puck to get opportunities to use it. When you add it all up, you've got a power forward with a goal scoring touch. Next year he'll be turning pro and playing for Texas of the AHL. If his late season AHL stats are any indication, I expect him to have an immediate impact on a top 2 scoring line. He can likely replace the things Matt Fraser brought to the Texas lineup this year. That said, I also wouldn't rule him out of playing some games in the NHL this coming year. If he can continue to use his size effectively away from the puck, he could probably jump right into a 3rd line role.

Radek Faksa - Kitchener Rangers
It was not a good year for Faksa, the Stars' lottery selection in 2012. I was definitely a big fan of his in his draft year, but he actually regressed this year, rather than progressed. Mind you he did battle some injuries (mostly an MCL sprain) and struggled to find chemistry with linemates, but it's still disappointing to see him fail to take that next step forward. He remained a solid two way player and a reliable back-checker and board player. But there was something lacking in his game offensively. He didn't seem quite as confident in handling the puck and was nearly invisible offensively in some of the games that I saw this year. There wasn't nearly as much urgency to his game off the rush, and it seemed like he was content to just try and play a cycle game in hopes that offensive opportunities would be created for him. As a very high draft pick, you want to see him take over games offensively, especially considering he does have skill (especially as a playmaker). Bottom line is that if his offensive game doesn't take a step forward soon, we might have to re-evaluate his potential as a top 6 player. Nothing I saw this year suggests he's capable of playing that role at the professional level. Next year isn't going to be any easier for him in Kitchener. The Rangers are graduating their three best scoring wingers (Puempel, Leivo, Rieder), which means he's going to have to put this team on his back and be their number one center. We'll see if he's up to the challenge.

Gemel Smith - Owen Sound Attack
Similar to Faksa, I don't think it was a terrific year for Smith. The regression in his offensive numbers wasn't really the issue, just that he failed to stand out as much in my viewings of Owen Sound this year. The majority of his game still revolves around his speed and his ability to beat defenders one on one. He's certainly aggressive enough without the puck, but isn't necessarily effective either because he still lacks strength. I expected his game to grow a lot this year, anticipating that he'd get stronger and become more of a force on the forecheck and away from the puck. I just didn't see that consistently. Next year he'll assume the number one center spot in Owen Sound with the departure of Daniel Catenacci. He'll have some talented wingers at his disposal (the likes of Zach Nastasiuk, Cameron Brace, Jaden Lindo) so I fully expect him to improve and be a more consistent offensive player. A 70 point season is a very realistic expectation.

Cody Payne - Plymouth Whalers 
Acquired in the Jaromir Jagr trade, Payne was one of the most improved players in the OHL this year. He went from being a crash and bang bruiser to someone who could be relied upon as a secondary scoring option. I think he gained a lot of confidence in his offensive abilities this season. While he still works best in a dump and chase role, he took some chances with the puck and flashed potential as the type of forward who can be a load to handle with the puck off the rush. He also improved his release and was able to be more effective near the crease. Considering his effectiveness away from the puck (physically, defensively, board work), his increased offensive contributions are gravy. This offseason he was traded to Saginaw where he's going to get a chance to play on a scoring line, as well as some powerplay time. I don't expect monumental increases in his offensive numbers, but I do think he's capable of a 55 point season next year. He certainly looks like he could be an effective 3rd/4th liner at the NHL level. 

Jason Dickinson - Guelph Storm
An interesting pick by Dallas in the first round this year. I was pretty hard on Dickinson this year, but only because I was so disappointed in his lack of progression. I thought he would have a terrific year after being so impressed with him as an OHL rookie. His game lacked anything resembling consistency this year, and he pulled a major disappearing act in the 2nd half of the season. He has the qualities of a good complimentary scoring winger; speed, size, tenacity, skill with the puck. But there was often a lack of urgency in the offensive end. Next year will be a big test for him. Guelph is returning a lot of key players offensively, which means one of two things could happen. He could step up to the plate and be a go to offensive force for them or he could continue to struggle with consistency and have his role decreased. The key will be the emergence of his physical game and the ability to draw upon energy from his play without the puck.

Remi Elie - London Knights
A human cannonball. Elie was a huge factor on the forecheck for London this year. He was a very intimidating force for opposing defenseman, afraid of getting caught in his crossfire. But I think there's more to his game than we give him credit for. As the year went on, particularly during London's run in the playoffs, Elie looked more and more confident handling the puck, trying to create his own offensive chances. He's got a quick release and I think he's got goal scoring potential. He should get a slightly increased role this year, perhaps even some powerplay time. A 20/20 year is a very reasonable expectation for him. 

Nick Paul - Brampton Battalion
Paul had a very effective first year in the OHL with Brampton. While his offensive numbers don't jump out at you, it's important to note that the Battalion were a low scoring team. Paul saw considerable time on Brampton's first line and was a consistently solid contributor for them...even if it didn't show up on the score sheet. His board play is already very strong, as is his defensive awareness. The key to his progression as an offensive player will be improving his skating and his shot. Skating wise, he's a bit sluggish and it prevents him from being more involved off the rush. It also prevents him from creating more chances for himself coming off the wall. And the shot, well that's self explanatory. With Brampton moving to North Bay, he'll assume a similar role as the previous year. He'll see time on a scoring line and be expected to increase his offensive output. Similar to Elie, I'd expect him to crack the 40 point barrier. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days - Columbus Blue Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets are up next on this 30 day writing frenzy.

Boone Jenner - Oshawa Generals
Jenner had a tremendous year in the OHL and took some massive steps forward offensively. Back when the lockout ended, I thought he might crack Columbus' roster, but I think they were smart to send him back. While maintaining his focus at both ends of the ice, and remaining a physical and aggressive player without the puck, Jenner became a significantly more confident player with the puck. He was a force in nearly all situations this year. He became the type of player who could take the puck from outside the blueline, make a few moves and bury a wrister while bearing down on the opposition. This type of confidence in handling the puck, and shooting the puck, wasn't consistently there previously. It is the reason why we saw such a high spike in his offensive numbers this year. The ability to make things happen with the puck and off the rush made him a more dynamic player when combined with his ability to control the boards and win loose puck battles. And given the production he had at the AHL level to conclude last year, I'd be surprised if he's not a full time NHL player by the end of next year. 

Oscar Dansk - Erie Otters
It's pretty hard to evaluate Dansk's season given Erie's lackluster season. A lot of what happened this year was beyond his control. The Otters gave up a ton of shots (Dansk saw about 34 shots a game), but even that doesn't tell the whole story. A lot of those shots were prime scoring chances (2 on 1's, breakaways, 3 on 2's, etc). I think there are some areas of his game which need work (rebound control in particular), but I do think he did his best to keep his team in the games that he played. It's clear that he's a very talented netminder. Seeing as though he's drafted out of Europe, the Jackets could have the option of playing him in the AHL next year. But given that they just signed Jeremy Smith, and also have Anton Forsberg under contract, I'd say he probably returns to Erie. The Otters should be a better team next year, but their defense will still be rather porous. If he can post an above .900 save percentage next year while getting the Otters near the .500 mark, I'd call that a very successful second year in the league. 

Josh Anderson - London Knights
I thought Anderson looked much improved this past year. He took some big steps forward in becoming the type of power forward that the Jackets obviously envisioned he'd become. I don't think his offensive stats (49pts) tell the whole story as to how valuable he was to London's offense. He was very difficult for opposing defenses to contain in the cycle and basically had his way with the opposition along the boards. He protects the puck very well and created a lot of scoring chances off of longer possessions, spotting open teammates in the scoring area. He also never hesitated to take the puck to the net off the wall and is a big fan of the wrap-around. Below the hash marks, he was a horse this year. All that said, there are still areas where he could improve. I'd like to see him create more chances in transition, off the rush, by looking to use his size and speed down the wing. I'd also like to see him develop his shot and get himself in better shooting position. I'm hopeful that the Knights employ him on the first powerplay unit next year, given some of the losses they may incur (Griffith, maybe Broadhurst, Horvat and Domi). I think a 30-30 season is well within his capabilities next year.  

Gianluca Curcuruto - Plymouth Whalers
Like Anderson, Curcuruto had a terrific season which saw him greatly improve; under different circumstances though. The 7th rounder was terrific as a rookie in the Soo back in 2010/2011, so much so that he was receiving consideration for the first round on some early lists. Then came a massive sophomore slump that actually saw him fall out of favor within the organization. He was shipped to Plymouth and the fresh start re-invigorated him. A complete 180. Curcuruto regained his confidence with the puck, looking composed when making a crisp breakout pass, or skating out of trouble to lead the rush. He also looked comfortable running the point on the powerplay. Defensively, he was a rock and is very sound positionally. Moving forward, I'd love to see him play a bit more physical, but he reads and reacts to situations well and saw a ton of ice for Mike Vellucci this season. Next year, the Whalers won't be nearly as strong, but Curcuruto will still have some other quality defenseman (like Connor Carrick and '96 Alex Peters) to run with. I'd love to see him crack the 50 point plateau while maintaining a positive rating. But even if he has another year similar to this, he'll be a no brainer to sign to an ELC.

Kerby Rychel - Windsor Spitfires
There's no question that Rychel was a better player this year once Alex Khokhlachev returned. He struggled at the beginning of the year as a one man show in Windsor. He's an absolutely fantastic goal scorer. His shot is pro caliber. His play in front of the net is second to none in the OHL (at least IMO). And his hockey sense and ability to find loose pucks is also top notch. But, his lack of dynamic skating ability and only average puck skills made it difficult for him to create his own chances consistently without a terrific playmaker. Next year, there will definitely be no Khokhlachev, which means Rychel will have to go back to creating his own chances. Another year stronger, and hopefully quicker, Rychel should be more apt at being the go to offensive guy. Windsor should also have a better team next year, meaning the pressure could be alleviated a bit. If his offensive numbers go down a bit, I wouldn't be incredibly worried. The more important thing would be that his play without the puck improves (in terms of board play and effort level at both ends) and that he's able to take over games more consistently without a dominant centerman.

Nick Moutrey - Saginaw Spirit
Moutrey was a savvy selection by Columbus in the 4th round. I expected him to be off the board earlier. He's a budding power forward with more puck skill than he's given credit for. Next year, the Spirit should have one of the better teams in the West (especially if they get back a guy like Eric Locke). Moutrey has a chance to fill Garret Ross' role on the first line and should see ample power play time as a net presence. I want to see him become more confident in throwing his body around, especially on the forecheck. I also want to see him become more than a cycle player offensively, by carrying the puck into the zone more frequently and looking to use his shot. I could definitely see him putting up 55-60 points next year.

Monday, July 15, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days - Colorado Avalanche

It's time to visit the Mile High City of Denver. Here's the write-up for the Colorado Avalanche.

Michael Clarke - Peterborough Petes
It wasn't a great year for Clarke who was expected to build off of his solid rookie season with Windsor in 2011/2012. The Spits struggled, and so did Clarke, and as a result he was shipped to Peterborough as part of the Slater Koekkoek deal. The fresh start in Peterborough didn't do a ton for Clarke as he remained an enigma as a member of the Petes. The biggest thing missing from Clarke's game this year was his nasty side. In his draft year, he often played with conviction; with an edge. This year, that aspect of his game wasn't consistent. He wasn't as hungry without the puck, didn't play as physical and wasn't near the pest he was in his draft year. It seemed like he was trying too much to be a go to offensive guy (in the finesse realm), and drifted away from the hard nosed style that generated most of his scoring chances previously. Next year will be huge for Clarke. He'll have a chance to take hold of the number one center spot in Peterborough (possibly with Nick Ritchie) and I don't think a 50-60 point season is an unreasonable expectation.

Joseph Blandisi - Ottawa 67's
Statistically speaking, Blandisi had a pretty decent season this year. He ended up with 51 points between the Attack and 67's, but actually averaged a point per game with Ottawa. He developed good chemistry with Sean Monahan and I was often impressed with his energy level, no matter how lopsided Ottawa's defeat was. His work ethic without the puck is very strong, and he can be a very valuable energy guy on a scoring line. He wins battles in the corners and opens up space for linemates by filling lanes and outhustling defenders. His hockey sense is actually quite strong and allows him to produce offensively despite not being blessed with heaping amounts of natural skill. Ottawa isn't likely to be much better next year, but he'll continue to be counted upon to be an offensive leader. It's likely he'll stay at wing (he can play center too), and flank either Dante Salituro or first overall pick Travis Konecny (assuming Sean Monahan makes the Flames). I could definitely see him putting up a 60 point season next year.

Garrett Meurs - Plymouth Whalers
Meurs had a terrific year for the Whalers. He was a very consistent contributor for them and was one of their hardest working forwards. He's a scrappy guy who fights for every inch he gets, but he's also pretty skilled. He's got a quick release on his shot, which makes him an ideal linemate for one dimensional skill guys who need people to open up space for them. He'll battle in front of the net for loose pucks and he's developed into a pretty solid board player over the course of his OHL career. Essentially, Meurs has become a very good all around player, which certainly wasn't the case when he was drafted. Next year the Avs could be faced with an interesting decision. Meurs could play in the AHL/ECHL, or he could return to Plymouth where he'd take on a leadership role with the club and be counted on as a go to offensive guy (see what the Avs did with Mitchell Heard). Of course it'll depend on how he performs in camp. I think he's probably ready and capable of filling a 3rd/4th line role in Lake Erie next year, but if there's no room for him, he's better off coming back to the OHL rather than playing in the ECHL. 50/50 I'd say.

Mitchell Heard - Plymouth Whalers 
I think the Avs made a great choice sending Heard back to the OHL around midseason. He played the best hockey of his OHL career upon being returned and was a crucial member of the Whalers during their dominating second half run up the standings. He's Mr. Everything for Plymouth. He plays an important role on the penalty kill and is their go to faceoff guy. He can play the role of net presence on the powerplay. And he's a physical guy who improves the energy level of any line he plays on. Night in, night out, he was a factor for the Whalers. Did his game improve a ton? I wouldn't say he underwent any drastic changes (save for playing more disciplined), it was just more along the lines that he was more consistent. Moving forward, he'll definitely be playing pro next year and is likely to take up the role of 3rd/4th line battler/enforcer that he had in Lake Erie last year. He's not flashy, so he may take some time to make an impact offensively, but he certainly has the potential to be an effective NHL role player. 

Chris Bigras - Owen Sound Attack
It'll be a big adjustment for Bigras next year in Owen Sound. No Cody Ceci, Nathan Chiarlitti, or Keevin Cutting (as all will graduate). He'll be the team's number one defenseman and it's go to guy in all situations. But then again, that's not saying much because that was the case this year too. It'll just be different next year because he'll be a lone wolf. The defense will run through him. He's such a steady and calming influence on whatever defensive pair he plays on, I think he'll still manage to have a good year. Next year, I'd really like to see his ability to run the point on the powerplay improve. Last year, the Attack brought in Cody Ceci to do that at midseason because Bigras wasn't quite ready to be that guy yet. Next year, he'll have no choice. He has offensive skill, in particular as a puck handler, but he's going to have to have more confidence in using his point shot. He'll also have to look to jump up in the play more often and try to create offense from backdoor plays. The future is definitely bright for him.

Spencer Martin - Mississauga Steelheads
It was an interesting year for Martin. He started off playing out of his mind and had Mississauga up near the top of the Eastern Conference (rather surprisingly). But then things crashed back down to Earth. Teams began to expose some of his weaknesses, in particular his ability to control his rebounds and his focus on long shots, and Mississauga ended up barely making the playoffs (where Martin gave up his starter's gig to Tyson Teichmann). Martin has a ton of potential though and should realize it over the course of the next two seasons. Next year could be another trying one for him though. Mississauga should actually be even worse next year (could end up as one of the worst teams in the league), so he'll have his hands full. The starter's gig will be completely his though, so he'll get to work through the ups and downs. I'd expect the major gains to be made in 2014/2015.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: Chicago Blackhawks

The Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks are next on the list.

Garret Ross - Saginaw Spirit
Another big step forward this year for Ross. He was part of one of the strongest lines in the league this year when Eric Locke and Jimmy Lodge came together after the Vincent Trocheck deal. Before that, he was Trocheck's running mate. Whether it was with Trocheck or Lodge/Locke, Ross was a consistent contributor. He knows exactly what his role is on an offensive line. Retrieve the puck, battle along the boards, crash the net, and open up space for his linemates. And he does that incredibly well. His shot and puck carrying ability are also underrated, as he generates his share of his own chances by receiving passes in transition and taking defenseman wide right to the net. I'm not sure there was a more underrated player in the OHL this past year. I think he's got a bright future ahead of him as a 3rd line NHL'er. He does pretty much everything well and IMO is a very coachable player who excels in whatever role he's placed in. In Rockford next year, I'd imagine he'll probably start off on a lower line and work his way up. If he can put together a 15-15 year while contributing physically and on the PK, I think that'd be a successful first professional year.

Alex Broadhurst - London Knights
Sort of the unsung hero on the Knights this year. With so many other talented players on that roster, Broadhurst often fades into the background. But he's a terrific player. He's not big (pushing 6'0), but he works his butt off. Broadhurst is one of those guys with a non stop engine. In particular, this is what made him one of the stronger penalty killers in the league. He's a hawk for loose pucks. In the offensive end he's very elusive and has terrific agility; he stops, starts, and turns on a dime. Similar to Ross, he seemed to excel in any role the Hunter's asked of him this year and I think that bodes well for his professional future. One thing that I will say is that I'd like to see him develop more of a mean streak and play more physical. He's a high energy player who probably profiles best as a 3rd liner at the next level, so adding that physical element to his game would make him more valuable in that position. The Hawks have two options with Broadhurst. They can return him to the OHL for his overage year, or they can play him in Rockford of the AHL. It'll probably depend on how he performs in camp as I imagine the Hawks haven't quite decided what to do with him yet. If I was a betting man, I'd say he ends up back in London where he'll get another shot at a Memorial Cup (London is hosting) and could take on even more of a leadership role with the club.

Ryan Hartman - Plymouth Whalers
I really liked the Hartman selection by Chicago at the end of the first round. At the very least you're getting a guy with the potential to be one of the better 3rd line forwards in the game. There's little "bust" potential. But he's also got offensive upside that could see him end up on a scoring line should his development take the right path. He hits everything that moves. He's got underrated skill with the puck and is consistently able to take defenseman to the outside off the rush. He works hard in all three zones. He'll fit right into the Hawks' lineup in the future. Next year he'll head back to Plymouth where he'll assume the role as the team's new go to guy offensively. Plymouth's line-up will not be nearly as deep next year so they will rely heavily on Hartman to produce. It'll be interesting to see how he handles the increased pressure. A 70-75 point season is a reasonable expectation.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days - Carolina Hurricanes

Next stop, Carolina.

Ryan Murphy - Kitchener Rangers
This was the first season since his rookie year that he didn't average at least a point per game. In fact, his offensive numbers have declined every year since his draft season. That's precisely why no prospect in the OHL is more widely discussed (often in a negative manner). Opinions are definitely split on Murphy. Where does my opinion lie? Probably somewhere in the middle. On the negative side, I don't think Murphy took many steps forward over the course of his OHL career. His defensive game is still prone to lapses. He still can be prone to trying to force plays offensively and making bad pinches. And he can still get outmuscled in the corners and in front of the net. On the positive side, he's still a dynamic offensive defenseman whose skating ability and shot make him a valuable weapon. And even if his defensive game isn't great, I don't think it's quite as bad as some make it out to be. Bottom line is this. Murphy didn't have a good year. I thought he looked disinterested and "over the OHL" at times. But that doesn't mean he can't develop into a useful NHL player. The evidence is how quickly he was able to make an impact at the AHL level following the completion of the OHL season. It remains to be seen whether he's in the NHL or the AHL next year, but I do think that eventually he'll make an impact in the NHL. If his minutes are sheltered as an offensive specialist, he could probably have a nice little season in the NHL (~25 points). In the AHL, I'd expect him his offensive numbers to be quite strong, in excess of the 30-35 point mark.

Austin Levi - Plymouth Whalers
Even though his offensive numbers took a big hit, I think it was a smart choice for Carolina to send Levi back for his overage year. His offensive contribution took a hit because he was clearly more focused on playing a safe, defensive first game. When he wanted to, he could hit a forward with a breakout pass, and he's not one to fumble the puck in his own end. But his days of trying to lead the rush and jump up offensively were behind him. He excelled defensively this year in that shutdown role and made himself into a very difficult defenseman to match up against. Moving forward, it'll be about adding even more muscle to his frame so that he can push forwards around in front of the net, and win battles in the corners at the pro level. He has the make-up of a solid 5-6 defenseman at the next level, but he might take a few years to adapt to the speed of the pro game. 

Brock McGinn - Guelph Storm
McGinn had a fantastic year in Guelph, playing in all 68 games this year (refreshing considering his injury problems in his draft year). He's a high energy guy who also has the offensive skill set to contribute on the score sheet. He crashes the net hard and is the perfect guy to put on a top line with more skilled players, so that he can create more room for them and get possession along the wall. He's also a terrific forechecker and someone who makes his presence felt physically. Next year Guelph will be returning most of their key forwards (minus Tanner Richard and Cody McNaughton), so they should have a solid offensive team. McGinn will be right in there again. I'm hoping he can take his offensive game to the next level and be more assertive with the puck. Would like to see him take more chances and look to make things happen himself, rather than playing the strict puck retrieval, crash the net game. Diversify his offensive skill set. Given the type of production he had this year, I'd be very surprised if he's not a 30 goal scorer next year.

Daniel Altshuller - Oshawa Generals
In his first year as starter, Altshuller was solid for Oshawa. He was largely very consistent and kept his team in games, a large reason as to why they were able to start the playoffs with home ice advantage. He's a big body and he takes up a lot of the net. Both his rebound control and his lateral movement improved this year I thought, two things that were outlined as areas of need during his draft year. Next year, the Generals will be losing a lot of talent, which will mean he'll have to play an even more crucial role in his team's success. I was a bit surprised that he didn't get an invite to Hockey Canada's summer camp for netminders (19 were), but there's no reason to suggest that he can't put himself back on HC's radar with a strong start to his 2013/2014 campaign.

Trevor Carrick - Mississauga Steelheads
Even though his offensive numbers jumped considerably, I felt like Carrick's game didn't develop a ton from the previous year. He's still prone to mistakes in his own end, both with and without the puck. Turnovers and bad passes are a real issue right now. As are bad pinches where he gets himself trapped up ice. I felt like his defensive game actually took a bit of a hit this year at the expense of trying to produce more offensively. On the positive side, his point shot is pro caliber and he generates a lot of scoring chances with it. He also looked a bit quicker this year and that allowed him to jump up in the play more effectively. Next year, he'll be the go to guy on the back end, thanks to the graduations of Stuart Percy, Dylan DeMelo, and Alex Cord. It'll be interesting to see how he handles it and whether the Steelheads choose to pair him with young phenom Sean Day.

Brent Pedersen - Kitchener Rangers
I liked this selection for the Hurricanes. Pedersen is a big bodied winger with power forward potential. He was pretty inconsistent this year, but he also saw fluctuating ice time and little special times action. Next year, the Rangers will be losing much of their talent on the wing, which translates to an increased role for Pedersen should he want it. I think he's talented enough offensively to be a winger on one of the Rangers top lines next season and should see a nice increase in his offensive numbers. I think he's a pretty likely candidate for at least a 25-25 season. 

Tyler Ganly - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
No Ryan Sproul. No Colin Miller. That means a seriously increased role for Ganly on the Hounds blueline next year. With those two out nursing injuries at the beginning of the season, Ganly actually played some of his best hockey filling in for them. That bodes well for his future contributions I think. As does the fact that the Hounds already named Ganly as an assistant captain for next year. This offseason he'll have to focus on getting quicker and more agile. That will allow him to take that next step as a defender off the rush, and as someone who can occasionally jump up and make an offensive contribution. The hockey sense and dedication are obviously already there. I think he'll definitely be able to crack the 25 point mark next year.

*of note, the Hurricanes elected not to sign Plymouth goaltender Matt Mahalak, making him a free agent.

Friday, July 12, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days - Calgary Flames

Calgary is the first Canadian stop on our 30 day tour.

Patrick Sieloff - Windsor Spitfires
It probably wasn't the most ideal first season in the OHL for Sieloff. The Spitfires weren't very good and he had to miss the final two months of the season with a groin injury after returning from the WJC's. That held him to only 45 games this year. In the action he did see, Sieloff was fairly effective. He's certainly one heck of an aggressive player and never misses an opportunity to lay the body. Despite not being the biggest (just over 6'0), he's certainly developed a reputation for being the type of defender forwards want to avoid playing against. That said, I think his zone coverage can use some tuning up and he wasn't quite the "shutdown" defender that he was billed to be. However, there wasn't really a defenseman in Windsor's line-up that looked great this year. Hard to stick out when you're constantly covering for the mistakes of others. Offensively, I thought he'd make a slightly bigger contribution too, but was rather tentative with the puck in his own end. All in all, I'm hoping next year is a better one for Sieloff in the OHL. I think he'll be a big part of a significantly improved Windsor squad (should they find some goaltending).

Sean Monahan - Ottawa 67's
I think he's ready. The 6th overall pick in this year's draft doesn't have much to prove by going back to Ottawa for another year. He's played three years in the OHL and his development was stagnated a bit by the horrendous quality of Ottawa's team this year. The 67's will continue their rebuild next year, so things aren't likely to change there. I think Monahan is better off playing a 3rd line role in Calgary, than going back to the OHL. He's already a very complete player who won't hurt you in his own end and who's big enough to withstand the physical rigors of the NHL. Offensively, his hockey sense will trump his lack of dynamic skating ability, his physical immaturity and lack of experience, at least enough to contribute some on the score sheet. Just a well spoken and mature individual who is ready for the next step. Given Calgary's state of rebuild, I think he's played his last game in the OHL.