Monday, August 13, 2018

31 Teams in 31 Days - Vegas Golden Knights

2nd year for Vegas, although it still feels a tad weird making this 31 days long.

1. Nick Suzuki - Owen Sound Attack
Quietly had another terrific season for the Attack, cracking the 100 point mark for the first time in his OHL career. Suzuki is just such a smart player. Has terrific vision in the offensive end. Really patient and poised and allows the play to come to him. Even though he's undersized, he works the wall really well and is able to prolong possession by keeping his feet moving and using his quick hands to keep defenders guessing. As good as he is as a playmaker, Suzuki is also a great goal scorer. His wrist shot and release are definitely excellent and are very underrated. He's fearless too and will attack the middle of the ice and crash the net to make plays happen. Of course, Suzuki remains a terrific three zone player and penalty killer too. Just a very well rounded prospect. I probably said all of these things last year about him too, so I guess that brings about the question, just how much did Suzuki's game improve? I think he definitely looked stronger on the puck, which is something he needed to work on. But I would still like to see his skating become a bit more explosive, giving him that separation ability off the rush that would help him when he transitions to the next level. Will that be next year though? Can Suzuki crack the Vegas roster? I think the addition of Paul Stastny probably makes that less likely. If he returns to the OHL, it would be great to see Suzuki take another step forward offensively. Such as taking home the Eddie Powers trophy as the top scorer (around the 120 point mark), and being a leader on Team Canada at the WJC's.

2. Nic Hague - Mississauga Steelheads
First OHL defender to hit the 30 goal mark in 18 years (since Al Rourke). And his 35 goals were the 9th most all time in the OHL (three behind Al MacInnis at 8th). It goes without saying, Hague can shoot the puck. Be it a cannon from the point on the powerplay (15 of them this year), or jumping up as the 3rd or 4th man in and finding room in the slot to unload a wrister, he has a full repertoire. Hague also has terrific scoring instincts and is super aggressive in jumping up in the play. Sometimes maybe too aggressive and he'll have to reign that in a bit at the next level. But when you've got a player with his skill set, sometimes you need to live with him getting caught at times because he can make things happen. Defensively, his size plays extremely well and he has become an extremely physical player the last two years. This is especially true below the hash marks. Hague just punishes the opposition down low. His size and reach can be a real defensive asset. However, strictly as a defensive player, I think there is still room for growth. While the physicality increased greatly over his OHL career, his reads and overall effectiveness in his own end never hit that elite level. There are times where I wonder why he's not coming away with more pucks in 50/50 battles, especially along the wall given his size advantage. But, never the less, Hague is the reigning Max Kaminsky winner (defender of the year) and a solid NHL prospect. It will be very interesting to see how he performs at the pro level next year. I would suggest that it's likely he hits the 10 goal mark as a rookie in the AHL, but the rest of his game and stat line could take some time to adjust to the pro speed (something that I understand was evident in his audition at the end of this most recent season).

3. Ben Jones - Niagara IceDogs
Extremely underrated prospect. Jones is one of the most complete forwards in the OHL Niagara uses him in all situations, be it the powerplay, penalty kill, or out there in the last minute protecting a lead. Has to be considered one of the top faceoff men in the league. Jones plays the game hard. His intensity level never seems to drop on the ice. Attacks, attacks, attacks. Very effective player without the puck, be it forcing turnovers in the neutral zone, or getting after it on the forecheck. He's turned into a sort of pest who loves to get his nose dirty near the crease and seems to be in the middle of most scrums. But Jones is a skilled playmaker who really took a step forward offensively this year. Way more confident with the puck and was more aggressive in looking to create his own scoring chances by taking the puck to the net or putting shots on net. Still has that terrific vision though and is at his best carving up the middle of the ice, looking to open up passing lanes for linemates. Next step for Jones is to continue to improve his skating. It was better this year, but if he can truly add that next gear of separation, he could be that much more effective in all areas. Niagara will be one of the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference this year and I expect another jump in production for Jones. Look for him to be around the 35/55 range, for 90+ points.

4. Connor Corcoran - Windsor Spitfires
Jack of all trades defender for the Spitfires who isn't extremely flashy, but was very effective for the Spitfires this year as one of their top defenders. Corcoran plays well at both ends of the ice thanks to solid mobility. Plays a relatively safe game with the puck in his own end and makes a good outlet pass, often showing confidence in his skating ability to avoid the forecheck before dishing off. And defensively, he's tough to beat one on one and does a great job of keeping the game ahead of him. Has a very good stick down low and is very adept at anticipating and breaking up potential scoring chances. I guess the question is, what type of player can Corcoran develop into, in terms of finding a role at the next level? He's going to have to greatly improve at both ends or find a niche to settle into. Can he become more aggressive offensively, using his mobility to extend his rushes deeper into the offensive zone? Can he become a quality powerplay QB? Will his defensive intensity continue to increase to the point where we could consider him an elite shutdown defender? At 6'2 (and possibly still growing), that's possible. A solid mid round gamble by the Golden Knights to see how he matures as a player over the next two seasons. Look for him to increase his offensive production in Windsor this year, perhaps to the 7/30ish mark. He'll be a top pairing defender for them again.

5. Jordan Kooy - London Knights
Never a bad bet to gamble on a London Knights player late in the draft, especially one who didn't get a ton of exposure because of depth. Kooy started the year off very poorly and it really seemed to take the sails out of his draft stock which I would say was relatively high coming into the season. If he had been playing well, he could have likely taken hold of the starting goaltending job. But his struggles (along with Tyler Johnson's struggles) forced London to bring in Joseph Raaymakers to be the team's starter. Slowly, but surely, Kooy regained his confidence and had a much better second half that saw him play up to his potential. He has the size and athleticism combination that NHL teams are looking for. Rebound control is one issue that will need to be improved moving forward, as he has a tendency to give up too many juicy second chances. Next year, London will aim to be a top team in the Western Conference again and if he plays well, Kooy could form a platoon with Raaymakers with the aim to take over the starter's role the year after.

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