I was able to catch a couple games this weekend, but didn't have the time to post my thoughts on them until now. Thursday, the Ice Dogs took on Owen Sound, while on Friday they were in Kitchener taking on the Rangers. The two biggest names, in terms of NHL draft picks, did not participate in the games. Tyler Beskorowany (Dallas, 59th in 2008) got to rest on Thursday, as his back up Scott Stajcer played in the game for Owen Sound. And Rangers defenseman, and Penguins draft pick (78, 2007), Robert Bortuzzo is rehabbing from shoulder surgery he had in the offseason. Both games were still very entertaining and a few players stood out.
Owen Sound Attack vs. Niagara Ice Dogs - Thursday, November 13
Keevin Cutting (2011 NHL Draft Eligible)
Cutting was the Attack's 4th round draft pick in 2008 Priority selection. As a late September birthdate, he's also one of the youngest players currently playing in the OHL. As rare as it is to find a 4th round pick jump right into the OHL, it's also rare to see him playing so well. Cutting has been taking a regular shift on the blueline for the Attack this year and for his efforts, was recently named to Team Ontario for the Under 17 Hockey Challenge, along with teammate Steven Shipley. Cutting is very slight, but he skates and moves the puck very well. Defensively, he didn't make any obvious mistakes either and held his own in defensive zone coverage. Looks like the type of player who's only going to get better and better.
Michael D'Orazio (2009 NHL Draft Eligible, 1990 born)
There was a lot of excitement when D'Orazio entered the league two years ago as Owen Sound's first round pick in the 2006 draft. He had an excellent rookie season and was being considered as a potential top 60 NHL draft pick for the next year. But he had a disastrous second year in the league, playing for an Attack team that finished third from the bottom of the OHL standings. D'Orazio did not take the steps forward many were expecting to see in his offensive game. He scored only 1 goal after getting 3 in his rookie season, and finished the year at -27. Subsequently, he failed to get drafted in the 2008 entry draft. However, I was surprised slightly by this, only because D'Orazio was one of the youngest players eligble and I figured someone would roll the dice on him with a late pick, hoping he could turn it around. This season so far hasn't been a whole lot different. D'Orazio really appears to have stalled in his development. He takes the body hard and he can make a first pass out of the zone, but he still remains only an average skater with little offensive hockey sense. And for such a big guy, he's still not as dominant defensively as you'd like to see. Perhaps the best compliment I can give the big guy from this viewing was that he was completely invisible. At least that means he didn't make any mistakes. I wouldn't expect him to be getting drafted anytime soon.
Steven Shipley (2010 NHL Draft Eligible)
I thought Shipley was quite good in this game. The third overall selection from the 2008 draft was creating offense down the wing and did not look scared in driving hard to the net. He made one particular nice saucer pass to create an offensive chance in front of the net that forced Dogs goalie John Cullen to make one of his many big saves that night. He looks to have good speed and actually looks pretty big for a rookie, showing little signs of being overmatched in the offensive zone. Looks to need to work on his overall game, but what OHL rookie comes in with that ability? Was recently named to Team Ontario for the Under 17 Challenge, and it's easy to see why.
Joey Hishon (2010 NHL Draft Eligible)
I was expecting a lot more from Hishon in this game. He was relatively invisible, which I did not expect from the 2nd highest scoring 2010 player behind Taylor Hall. I'm not even sure Hishon got a shot on net, and was completely smuggled and over matched against the Dogs defense. He showed some good speed entering the zone, which is definitely something you want to see in an undersized player. He also wasn't afraid to enter danger zones and play rough, which is another thing you like to see in smaller players. I'm sure I just caught him on an off night. Would definitely need another viewing.
Mike Lomas (2009 NHL Draft Eligble, 1990 born)
Lomas is an interesting player. I highly expected him to get drafted in last years NHL draft, despite the fact that I was never very impressed by him. But he's a very good skater and was able to put up some decent offensive numbers for Brampton despite being one of the younger players available for the 2008 draft. A trade to Owen Sound this offseason looks to have done great things for him. He's still using his speed to create scoring chances, but he also looks to be more involved in other aspects of the game. I saw him forechecking and attempting to play defense for the first time tonight. He's also putting up good, but not great offensive numbers. If he can continue to work on his overall game and develop a niche as a good crashing winger, he's got a chance for a career at the next level. However, if he tries to fall back to being a finesse player, perimeter player, he doesn't have the offensive skills for that.
Niagara Ice Dogs vs. Kitchener Rangers - Friday, November 14
Ben Shutron (Drafted 2006 by Chicago/95th)
Shutron is quite the enigma. A somewhat undersized, yet physical offensive blueliner who has had quite an up and down career in the OHL. He was outstanding for Kingston for a couple years and managed to get himself drafted. But soon fell out of favor in Kingston and was traded to Kitchener half way into last season. But he had some injury problems and played very poorly during the regular season. But re-surfaced in the playoffs and Memorial Cup, as he was a very large part of the Rangers success that saw them make it to the Cup final. But Chicago did not sign him to a contract and he ended up going undrafted as a re-entry. He's now back playing with Kitchener as an overager and serving as their captain. He looked good in this game, as good as he did during that Memorial Cup run last season. He moves the puck well up the ice, he skates well, and he's very adept at running the point on the powerplay. He's just a very smart offensive player. His defensive game is pretty solid too, although I'm reluctant to say that he could be a good defensive player at the next level, at least in terms of man coverage. On the whole, I'm relatively surprised that Chicago didn't offer him a contract. I think he's got a pretty good chance of earning one this offseason from an NHL team, as he's got a chance to at least be a depth defenseman.
Jason Akeson (2009 NHL Draft Eligible, 1990 born)
Akeson is a very interesting case. He came to the Rangers late last season after coming over from Tier 2, Junior A Cumberland, giving up his NCAA eligibility. He decided to leave after linemate Eric O'Dell left Cumberland for Sudbury and began having some serious success. But Akeson was joining a very deep Kitchener team and saw very little ice time, although he did play in a vast majority of the Memorial Cup games. With some key departures, more was to be expected of Akeson this season. From what I've heard, he's been up and down. Invisible one game, very good the next. He was very good in this game against Niagara. He looked very comfortable creating offense once inside the offensive zone and ended up finishing the game with a goal and an assist. The assist was on a very nice play where he won possession behind the net and made a great pass to a teammate infront of the net for the goal. Looks to be a smart offensive player who can create offense. I'm interested to see how he finishes the year and whether he manages to get on any draft lists this year.
Brandon Mashinter (Overager, NHL free agent)
While I'm sure more was to be expected from Mashinter this season as an overager, I think that it's needless to say that he's gone beyond expectations thus far. His previous career high in goals and points was passed two weeks ago already. He's a very large guy who opposing defenses are having a hard time containing infront of the net. He appears to be playing the role that David Clarkson played so well for Kitchener a few years ago. Mashinter was outstanding against Niagara, playing in all situations. He made a few great plays on the PK to gain puck possession and he looked very comfortable banging home pucks in front of the net. He's not the world's best skater, but for such a big guy, he's not the worst either. Just a solid all around player who gives you heart and determination. I've seen less players get NHL contracts after strong overager seasons, so I'd be surprised if he doesn't get one.
Jeff Skinner (2010 NHL Draft eligible)
Despite only registering an assist, Skinner was the most impressive player on the ice for Kitchener tonight, in my opinion. He was all over the place creating scoring chances, and if it weren't for John Cullen, he and his linemates would have had much more impressive lines on the scoresheet. He looks to have very good speed and puck skills. He made a couple really nice plays to get by Niagara defenders to create odd man scoring rushes. He looked great in close to the net, making another Niagara defender fall down on a great move, only to be robbed by John Cullen with the glove. There are lots of reasons to see why he was also named to Team Ontario for the Under 17 Challenge.
One more thing that I'd like to point out about this weekend's games is how well Niagara Ice Dogs goalie John Cullen played. Cullen, as you may recall, was listed 30th on my top 30 eligible players for the 2009 Entry Draft. If he keeps on improving, he's going to be higher on the next one. He completely shut down Owen Sound posting a 34 save shutout. And made over 50 saves, many of them of highlight quality, against Kitchener the next night. This guy keeps getting better and better, as he becomes more confident in his rookie OHL season. He's now up to 7th in SV % in the OHL.