Friday, July 25, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Nashville Predators

Only one OHL prospect for the Nashville Predators

Mikko Vainonen - Kingston Frontenacs
Vainonen had a decent year with Kingston. On paper, it looks like a pretty stagnant year, but there's more to it than that. While his offensive game did not take any steps forward, I did feel that his defensive game did. For one, he looked a little quicker and more mobile. It's clear he's been working on his skating. He still needs to continue to improve it, but it's getting better. Vainonen was also way more confident in asserting himself physically. He was much more aggressive in the corners and was more effective in crease battles. He's a got a solid head for the game as a defensive player and could have a future as a shutdown defender at the NHL level if he continues to improve his skating and his puck skills. He'll start his pro career in Milwaukee this year. I think a realistic goal is for him to just get in games consistently in Milwaukee and stay out of the press box.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Montreal Canadiens

La prochaine est Les Canadiens de Montreal

Michael McCarron - London Knights
After being very impressed with him at the U18's, I was quite excited to see him play for London this year. But, he was a pretty big letdown. His ice time was fairly limited this year because he just wasn't very effective. In particular, he seemed to struggle with the cerebral aspects of the game (turnovers, missed assignments, poor shot selection, etc). The skill set appears to be there because he flashed great things, but the head might not be. THAT SAID, we'd all be fools to count him out after one poor season. There have been numerous cases of players coming from the USHL or the development program with lots of hype, only for them to struggle in their first year. But most bounced back in their second, as they gained confidence (see current Canadien Jarred Tinordi). I've heard lots of great things from Montreal's development camp, suggesting that McCarron could be ready for a breakout. There will be an opportunity for him to get more ice time next year, especially on the powerplay. BUT, London is a deep team where the competition will be fierce to replace the likes of Chris Tierney, Josh Anderson, Gemel Smith, and perhaps others. So...what to expect? I think a realistic expectation is a 25/25 year, but he's certainly capable of even more than that.

Connor Crisp - Sudbury Wolves
It was a pretty good year for Crisp, who was essentially the leader of Sudbury's 2nd offensive unit. Was there a massive amount of improvement? Probably not. I think he looked noticeably more confident with the puck this year, which resulted in him being a bit of a more well rounded offensive guy who could create in a variety of ways (rather than just as a net crasher). I'd be very surprised if he's not in the AHL next year with Hamilton, where he'll take on a checking line role and try to provide a bit of scoring. Realistically, he's probably not that far from being a contributor on an NHL fourth line, but I think it'd be smart to leave him in the AHL for a bit to let him develop confidence in his offensive game at that level. He has the potential to be more than just a 4th line grinder/enforcer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild are the next team featured.

Kurtis Gabriel - Owen Sound Attack
I think Gabriel is one of those guys who could make a better pro player than an OHL player. It's rare, but it happens. Even as an overage player, his offensive numbers didn't jump through the roof (although his assist totals did I suppose). His career OHL high was 16 goals, which was this year. But he plays a very pro ready game and is the type of player that coaches love and will move up the ladder quickly. He's got great size, he skates pretty well, he hits, he defends, he works the boards, and he drives the net. Anything that needs to be done to help the team win, Gabriel can do it. Is he exceptionally skilled with the puck? No. He plays a simple game and excels in the dump and chase. Does he have huge goal scoring potential? No. His shot, hands, and anticipation are all average for the OHL level. But, as stated, even if he doesn't have a lot of potential, he seems like a good candidate to move quickly to the NHL as a 4th line checker and penalty killer. I'd be willing to bet he even gets in a few NHL games already this year.

Zack Mitchell - Guelph Storm
Great signing by the Wild. Always liked him as an OHL player. Have to admit though, I'd kind of felt that he was more of a good junior scorer and not much else. But, in the second half of the OHL season and especially the playoffs, he changed my opinion. I actually think he could develop into a solid pro player. Mitchell's greatest asset is his hockey sense. He's an exceptionally smart player who sees the ice well and was terrific with Robby Fabbri and Kerby Rychel late in the year. He'll have to get quicker and stronger, but his two-way game and play without the puck greatly improved in his overage season. I'm quite eager to see how he plays in his first pro season in the Minnesota system. Hopefully it's at the AHL level where he can get a chance playing with some higher skilled players. He might have to adapt his game a bit to become more of a grinder at first though (I think back to former Oiler Liam Reddox).

*Of note, 7th rounder Pavel Jenys will likely be suiting up for the Sudbury Wolves next year after being selected in the Import draft. He'll have a chance to be the team's number 2 center behind Mathew Campagna.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Los Angeles Kings

The LA Kings and half of the OHL are up next...

Nick Ebert - Guelph Storm
Ebert has come a long way since he was the last pick in the 2012 NHL draft. He's always had the talent (as evidenced by his high rankings that year), but poor decision making has always plagued him. This past OHL year was easily his best in the league. For the most part, he looked calm and poised in his own end and has learned to limit his turnovers by making smarter passes. He's also learned to pick his spots better to jump up in the rush and is no longer the reckless defender who constantly gets caught up ice. As a powerplay QB, he has always exhibited patience when distributing the puck and he has potential to succeed there at the next level. Defensively, major strides were made this year. He was a league 2nd best +53 between Windsor and Guelph. He's become a smart and fully engaged defender who makes his presence felt in the corners, in front of the net and off the rush. Moving forward, he'll start his pro career in Manchester this year. He's still prone to the odd brain fart at both ends, so it'll be interesting to see how steep the learning curve is for him in a faster AHL game. The Kings may have to be patient with him, but there's light at the end of the tunnel. He's certainly turned the corner and is starting to become the type of player people envisioned when he first joined the OHL in 2011.

Justin Auger - Guelph Storm
Mono can wreck havoc on a junior player's season. Auger missed significant time at the beginning of the year with the ailment and just didn't look right for a while (not uncommon for players who get the disease). Towards the end of the year and into the playoffs, he began to look a bit quicker and a little stronger on the puck, but it still wasn't a great year for his development. He towers over the opposition yet still hasn't really found his stride as a player. He's a solid boards player because of his long reach, but the rest of his game remains a work in progress. He needs to continue to work on his skating to be a more explosive player off the rush and coming off the boards. He also needs to work on his shot and ability to get in scoring position. As a big guy, he needs to find himself near the crease more often. I think it will be an incredibly easy decision for the Kings to send Auger back to the OHL for his overage junior season. He's not ready for the AHL. In Guelph this year, he'll get way more playing time (potentially) and should see top 6 ice time and powerplay time. I'd really like to see him pot 25 goals this year and inch close to the point per game mark. He may have to do that in order to get a contract from LA.

Zac Leslie - Guelph Storm
Leslie is another Storm player with options this year. After a very strong season in the OHL, he could turn pro this year (as a '94). Or he could be sent back to the OHL for his overage year. I honestly think Leslie is pro ready. His game has continued to evolve. He's become a strong two-way defender who has confidence in his abilities. This is especially true offensively where he's now confident leading the rush and running the point on the powerplay. He makes a terrific first pass out of the zone. Defensively, he's always been a solid player but he really upped his intensity level in the corners and in front of the net. He may not be huge, but he's a tough guy to match up against. My gut tells me that he'll be back in the OHL because of the depth Manchester has. I'm sure he'll attend their training camp and be given a chance to make the team, but without an NHL contract the Kings will exploit the flexibility they have with him. As a returning overager, he'll be a candidate for OHL defenseman of the year and overager of the year. He'll become Guelph's number one defender (likely pairing with Ben Harpur) and a 60 point season is easily attainable.

Dominik Kubalik - Kitchener Rangers
Not a good year for Kubalik. The midseason trade to Kitchener certainly didn't help either. Quite frankly, when I saw him later in the year with Kitchener, he looked rather disinterested and was invisible. He has skill and goal scoring potential but lacks the intensity to be a consistent player. It was no surprise when it was announced he was heading back home to the Czech league for next year. Hopefully he's able to find the ice time necessary to improve his confidence and get his progression back on track.

Kurtis MacDermid - Erie Otters
Yet another player (Leslie, Auger) who could end up in the AHL or the OHL next year. A free agent signing by the Kings, MacDermid finished out the year with Erie where he was counted on to be a physical, defensive stalwart. It was actually not terrific for his development because he was getting some offensive responsibility in Owen Sound (including powerplay time). He didn't get that in Erie. As a stay at home defender, he has NHL potential. His mobility is decent and he's become one of the most physical defenseman in the league. He's one big, mean man (boys aren't 6'4, 220lbs). Like Leslie, I'd imagine MacDermid returns to the OHL for an overage year. And I think that's the right choice. Erie will be looking for defenders to step up to replace the losses of Adam Pelech and Spencer Abraham (at the least). He could get some powerplay time and will see a ton of ice in important situations. That would be better for his development than riding the bench in the AHL or playing in the ECHL at this point. I think he's perfectly capable of a 30 point season in Erie.

Roland McKeown - Kingston Frontenacs
While it surprised some people to see McKeown fall in the draft, I wasn't one of them. He's got a lot of things going for him (obviously since he was still an NHL 2nd round pick). His skating ability is top notch. As is his decision making in his own end. He makes a great first pass and sees the ice very well. Defensively, he's a smart positional defender who is great at getting his stick in passing lanes. But he needs to increase his intensity in the defensive end and look to engage one on one more. And offensively, he needs to be more assertive and confident in his abilities. With his skating ability and puck poise, he should be more of a consistent factor, but he doesn't extend rushes or jump up in the play all that often. For that reason, I find him a difficult player to project at the next level. Kingston will need him big time next year, as they'll look for him to take that next step and establish himself as one of the top defenders in the league. I think it'll be important for him to find a true identity next year. And I think that identity is one of a puck rusher. Plenty of time for him to develop more and a 50 point season is almost assured IMO.

Alex Lintuniemi - Ottawa 67's
A savvy selection by the Kings (perhaps a tad early, but still). Lintuniemi got a lot better as the season went on. Early, he looked pretty overwhelmed. But as he gained confidence, especially offensively, he established himself as one of Ottawa's top defenders. He's certainly capable of more than he displayed this season. A summer of work on his skating would help him be a larger factor in the transition game. Defensively, he's quite solid. It's hard to stand out on one of the league's worst teams, but I found him to make a few solid plays every time I saw Ottawa. I was always impressed by his ability to keep forwards to the outside off the rush, and his ability to take away passes in the slot. So what's next for him? Ottawa should be better next year and he'll be one of the team's top defenders. He'll get ice time in all situations. I think he'll have a good year and I actually think he could even surpass 35 points. I think learning to use his size more physically is another thing that is important for his development.

Mike Amadio - North Bay Battalion
Amadio is a very talented offensive player who is learning to play a 200 foot game under Stan Butler. He's got a very interesting skill set (especially when mixed with decent size). This year he was quite inconsistent and in a lot of ways, his high skill level wasn't able to shine through. An offseason dedicated to getting stronger and quicker will go a long way. Next year will be a key one for his development. The Battalion are returning their top three centers from the year before (Paul, Amadio, and Brett McKenzie). Amadio likely comes into camp as the number two, but McKenzie is a very talented prospect for 2015 and he'll be pushing hard for ice time. If Amadio doesn't improve, he could lose ice time (especially on special teams) to McKenzie. Of course this would cut into his potential offensive contribution. 

Jake Marchment - Belleville Bulls
Marchment was a player I had a feeling would get drafted. He's a big center who can play a power game and is coming off his first season in the OHL. In that season, he got better and better as each month passed, suggesting the best is yet to come. Improving his skating, in particular his first few steps will really help him to become a more consistent offensive player, especially on the big ice in Belleville. But he's more than just a bruiser (potentially). The Bulls SHOULD be a better team next year when all their young players get a year older. The Bulls line up is currently wide open with no one really having the inside track to center Remi Elie on the top line (especially if Harper stays on defense). I think Marchment could be a big time breakout candidate and the type of guy who could surprise and put up a 50-60 point season.

Matthew Mistele - Plymouth Whalers
Mistele just did not have a good year. He saw his stock drop from possible first round talent at the beginning of the year, to mid rounder by season's end. During his 30 goal season two years ago, he was a complimentary offensive guy asked to play a simple game. Last year, the Whalers didn't have nearly the same kind of talent up front and Mistele wasn't up to the task of being a go to guy who could consistently create his own offensive chances. That being said, he's a great pick because of what he's capable of doing. He's a power winger who can mix things up and score goals, but he needs to become a more well rounded offensive player and more than just a guy who can capitalize on the fortune of others. This coming season is a big one for his development. It'll be his 4th year in the league and the Whalers will need him once again to become a 30 goal man. 

Spencer Watson - Kingston Frontenacs
Watson is an uber talented offensive player. By the time his OHL career is done, he's a likely candidate to finish top 5 in scoring. Heck, he led the Ivan Hlinka tournament in scoring this year. However, he's got some strikes against him and that's why he fell to the 7th. He's undersized and he currently plays too much of a perimeter game. His game really didn't evolve much from his rookie season. As a rookie in 2012, he was impressive and you assumed that he'd get stronger, become more involved without the puck, and begin to drive the net more for scoring chances. None of those things happened. The key to Watson's development moving forward is his desire to play with more gusto/tenacity. If you're going to be undersized, you need to play hard to beat defenders to the play (see Robby Fabbri). The Fronts will be a contender in the East next year (if they get Sam Bennett back). I expect Watson to come back next year with a chip on his shoulder and I see him being an 80 point player. That said, even if he scores 40, it won't matter much if he doesn't improve his overall game. 

Jacob Middleton - Ottawa 67's
The last time the Kings chose an OHL defender with the final pick in the draft, it worked out pretty well (Nick Ebert). Middleton is another great pick. I know a lot of people who saw him as at least a 3rd rounder. It was a tough year for him to stand out. Playing on a last place team can be difficult for the team's number one defenseman. Middleton played a ton, perhaps more than he was ready for and I think that caused some of the holes in his game currently to be over evaluated. But, he's got the talent to be a tough two way defender. He's got decent mobility in his own end, but adding an extra step would really elevate his offensive abilities and I hope he's done that this offseason. I think he's going to have a big year in Ottawa in 2014 and I see him hitting the 30-35 point mark.

Monday, July 21, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Florida Panthers

The sunny state of Florida gets the feature, as the Panthers are reviewed.

Aaron Ekblad - Barrie Colts
The reigning OHL defenseman of the year and first overall pick, Ekblad had his best year to date in 2013. IMO, his game is 100% NHL ready. His offensive game improved significantly this year. He was more confident with the puck and began to start leading rushes up ice, using his size to protect the puck. His shot has always been huge, but he worked very hard to make it more accurate and to get his shot through on the powerplay. Defensively, he continued to be a stalwart. His skating improved a lot over his three year OHL career and he's now quite agile. Combined with his size and smarts, this has made him perhaps the toughest defender to beat one on one in the league. His intensity in the corners and in front of the net could stand to increase even more, especially to take full advantage of his size, but that's nitpicking. As I said, I think he's NHL ready and I'd be absolutely shocked to see him back in the OHL next year. I don't expect huge point totals in his first year. I'd say probably something like 8 goals, 20 points is a realistic expectation. As long as he can kind success in his own end first, that's most important. 

Josh Brown - Oshawa Generals
Brown is what he is. A behemoth defender who plays with an edge and defends the crease quite well. His offensive game has never developed (he scored his first 2 OHL goals this year), and he's quick to chip the puck out of his own end. That's not what his game is. He's a stay at home prospect. For me, his skating still needs to improve significantly for him to be an NHL player. He can still be exposed off the rush and is a bit rough side to side and backwards. He is a terrific body checker though, and the type of guy who doesn't chase the big hit. He lets the game come to him. The Panthers have a choice to make with him next year. He was an overage draft pick in 2013 so he doesn't have to be signed yet despite being a '94. Florida can send him back to Oshawa for his overage OHL season. Or they can try to get San Antonio to take him in the AHL to acclimatize him to the pro game without giving him an ELC. My guess is that he'll be in San Antonio's camp and will be given a chance to make that team. If that doesn't work out, it'll be back to Oshawa where he'll be expected to work on his puck distribution skills and mobility in his own end.

*of note, Panthers 3rd rounder Juho Lammikko will be suiting up for the Kingston Frontenacs next year after being selected in the Import Draft. He'll have a chance to play a top 9, perhaps even top 6 role for them as they need some size up front.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Edmonton Oilers

Shout-out to the guys in Edmonton who show me a ton of love (Lowdown with Lowetide, The Pipeline Show). Here's the Oilers review.

Darnell Nurse - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Honestly, at times this year he looked like a man among boys. There were quite a few shifts of his this year where he could do pretty much whatever he wanted on the ice and no one could stop him. He established himself as a dominant two-way defender. He was aggressive in leading the rush and jumping up into the play when he needed to, but showed restraint and the ability to make a good breakout pass when needed to as well. Defensively, he consistently went up against the opposition's best and did an admirable job. I think his zone coverage will continue to need to evolve as he becomes a pro player, but he's a physical force out there and will learn quick. He has the ability to squash the transition game because of how well he moves, gets into passing lanes and asserts himself by keeping forwards to the outside. What I really liked from Nurse was his increased intensity level in the corners and in front of the net this year. It was very difficult for the opposition to win battles against him. Quite frankly, I think he's ready for the NHL. He needs to learn to adjust to the speed of the pro game and to gain confidence at that level. I don't think there's much more that the OHL can teach him. If he returns, I think it will be a mistake and the Oilers will risk him developing some bad habits out of boredom (the way Alex Pietrangelo did in his 19 year old season).

Kyle Platzer - Owen Sound Attack
A trade to Owen Sound didn't do a whole lot for Platzer this year, as he struggled to be a consistent offensive contributor with both London and the Attack. At this point, he's a tweener. And an undersized one at that. He hasn't shown a lot to suggest that he's got the skill level to be a top 6 player at the next level. And he doesn't have the body type or the aggressive nature to be a quality checker. Going into next year he'll be fighting for a contract with Edmonton. He's either going to have to gain a ton of condidence in his offensive abilities, get stronger and really take his game to the next level offensively...or he'll need to round out his game by becoming more of a factor physically, on the forecheck, and defensively. He'll get his chance in Owen Sound as they'll be expecting him to play a top 6 role next year.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Detroit Red Wings

Yup, that was my introduction.

Andreas Athanasiou - Barrie Colts
Athanasiou had another terrific year, continuing to build upon his breakout last year. His speed and skill with the puck make him an incredibly difficult player to contain off the rush. He's very aggressive in trying to get to the net and has become far from a perimeter player. This year, his game without the puck continued to grow and he's now someone who can create offense by winning battles along the boards and by forechecking hard to create turnovers. He's become a very well rounded offensive player. Athanasiou's defensive game grew this year too and he's on his way to becoming a solid two-way player, which was something that definitely wasn't the case in his draft year. There might not be a player from the 2012 draft who has progressed as much as Athanasiou. Next year he'll be in Grand Rapids and I expect him to do well. A 45-50 point first season is certainly possible.

Jake Paterson - Saginaw Spirit
Paterson had only an OK year. The Spirit weren't a great team, so he had that to deal with, but they could have been better if he was at his best (see Plymouth with Alex Nedeljkovic). It was great to see him with the Canadian WJC team, but it was unfortunate how the tournament turned out for him personally. At this point, I'm not sure he's really progressed a lot since he was drafted, yet he remains a solid goaltending prospect. He'll have to continue to work on his angles, especially as an average sized netminder. This year, he'll likely be in the ECHL as a starter based on the depth the Wings have at the goaltending position. That's OK as it will allow him to come on slowly and work his way up.

Zach Nastasiuk - Owen Sound Attack
The captain of the Attack (a feat in itself) had a decent year in Owen Sound, and continued to play his strong two-way game. As much as I like him, I'd be lying if I wasn't a bit disappointed in the consistency of his offensive production though. I did feel like he made strides to improve his skating and he looked a bit more explosive. He needs to become more confident handling the puck and looking to drive the net more though, as he's still primarily a cycle/boards guy who picks up his scoring chances coming off the wall or by outworking defenders. There's nothing wrong with that, but I think he's capable of more. If I'm nitpicking, I'd also like to see him be a bit more physical, using his size to create havoc and get under the skin of the opposition. Next year I expect big things from him and I think he'll finally hit the 30 goal mark and should be a good bet to score over a point per game. The next Kris Draper/Kirk Maltby?

Tyler Bertuzzi - Guelph Storm
Bottom line, he just needs to stay healthy. When he plays, the talent level is terrific. When he wasn't injured (head and neck injury this year), he was fantastic this year. It was especially great to see him come back late in the year and not even miss a beat. In the playoffs and in the Memorial Cup, he was consistently one of Guelph's top players. He has deceptive speed off the rush and has a lot of success taking defenders wide, giving him a chance to use his terrific shot. He plays the game hard too, sometimes too hard, and really gets under the skin of the opposition. Next year is a HUGE one for him. Guelph will need Bertuzzi to step up with the loss of several key players from last year's roster (Rychel, Mitchell, McGinn, Kosmachuk). If he stays healthy, I think he's going to have a really big year playing with either Robby Fabbri or Jason Dickinson. In all honesty, he could hit the 35 goal, 70 point mark rather easily. And that would really establish him as a great prospect. Detroit never ceases to amaze me with their drafting ability.