Thursday, February 4, 2010
Thoughts on London from February 4
Had some time on my hands tonight so I figured I'd tune in to the OHL Action Pack. Some really interesting games being played tonight. Cody Hodgson's return to the Battalion line up against Erie. The titans of the East clashing (Barrie and Missy). But I ended up watching the IceDogs and Knights for two reasons. The first being curiosity over what would happen with the return of lifelong IceDog Chris DeSousa after his trade demand. The second being that I'm heading to the Garden City this weekend to check out the Dogs and Spits at the Gatorade Garden City Complex on Saturday night. The game tonight against the Knights and the one on Saturday against the Spits should make for a good write up on the Dogs weekend action. Enough rambling.
This game was quite intense, as I expected it would be. For whatever reason, the Dogs seem to give the Knights fits. London did not look sharp tonight though. To their credit, Niagara played a very solid defensive game, but London just couldn't crack the offensive zone and continued to turn the puck over in the neutral zone. They also played very undisciplined. Obviously, a lot of this was from frustration over how they were getting bottled up around center ice, but you've got to keep your cool. To many stupid penalties taken by them giving Niagara the powerplay, or negating their own powerplays. Nothing against the Knights, but I think Kitchener is the better team in that division. The Rangers have had a bit of a rough patch in the recent month and a half, but I think they've got more talent and a deeper unit than the Knights do currently, which ultimately makes them a more dangerous playoff opponent. Obviously, this is all my opinion, but I still think Kitchener takes that division when all is said and done.
I don't want to talk too much about the IceDogs since I'll likely be writing something about them on Sunday. However, goaltender Mark Visentin deserves a mention for his strong play tonight. There's a reason scouts have him as the top goaltender available for the draft from the OHL. I know I had him as the third best goalie available on my mid term ranking, but if Visentin can continue to put up performances like this and get the Dogs into the playoffs, he'll be number one on my list too. Incredibly positionally sound and continues to improve.
Let's get to some thoughts on the Knights (even if it's mostly negative on a night where most of London's players did not look good).
Reid McNeill (2010)
Really interesting story. Played high school hockey in London last year and walked on to the Knights this offseason. Was surprisingly ranked by Central Scouting on their midterm rankings for North America. Tried to focus on him during this one since I'd never noticed him in previous viewings. McNeill is a really raw player. Great size, seems to have solid mobility. Saw a lot of ice time actually, paired with Steve Tarasuk, Michael D'Orazio and Tommy Hughes at different times, and saw time on the penalty kill. I liked his composure defensively and his ability to stay with players on the way to the net. Offensively...he's raw. Needs work on the breakout pass from what I saw, as he often elected to chip the puck out of play or just blindly get it out from the zone rather than carry it up or hit a streaking forward. Oddly enough, he did have a couple of nice rushes with the puck into Niagara's zone while play was at 4 on 4. Maybe the small ice surface and the Niagara forecheck had him slightly nervous. You can see why scouts might be interested though. Reminds me a lot of Plymouth's Austin Levi.
Scott Harrington (2011)
Harrington is a really solid player and has a bright future ahead of him. The Knight first rounder (and should have been top 5 selection), has been a revelation for London this year when they've needed defenseman to step up so badly. He played a quietly effective game. Good mobility, not afraid to carry the puck up ice. Runs the point on the powerplay pretty effectively for his age, although needs to work on getting his shot through to the net. Defensively, he's not afraid to throw a hit or use his body to separate a player from the puck. Got hung out to dry a few times by defense partner Michael D'Orazio, one of which was the 2 on 1 that Freddie Hamilton scored the game winner on. He looked very indecisive on the 2 on 1, and didn't take away the pass or the shot from Hamilton or Petgrave. If you ask any goaltender, all they ask you to do is to give them a chance by taking away one of the options, in turn giving them a better chance to make the save. These are things Harrington will learn in this league. It'll be interesting to see how all of these strong OHL '93 born defenseman separate themselves next year in their draft season.
Steven Tarasuk (Overage Free Agent)
If Rob Kwiet can earn a professional contract (AHL deal), then Tarasuk can too as IMO he's the better defenseman. He's not the biggest guy, nor is he the world's best skater, but he's smart and he's a workhorse and there's no reason to think his breakout OHL season is a result of some fluke. Some guys just blossom later with increased responsibility. Tarasuk played like 60% of the game, or so it seemed anyway. On the ice in all situations and in some occasions, the entire powerplay. He moves the puck up ice very well, especially with the breakout pass. Defensively he made a couple of very nice plays to break up opportunities in the crease area, including saving a goal by batting the puck out of the air before it could drop behind Michael Hutchinson. He'll have to work hard to get a sniff from the NHL (probably after several seasons in the minors), but there is hope if he's persistent. Scored the Knights only goal on a 5 on 3 powerplay with a wicked slap shot that beat a screened Mark Visention short side.
Tommy Hughes (2010)
Not really sure where London finds these guys (perhaps it's the larger amount of money to spend on scouting than other teams), but I was impressed with the new London defenseman. I was however disappointed in the amount of ice time he received. He actually showed me more than Reid McNeill did. He's just as big, seems to be equally mobile, but also seems more willing to be physical and did a better job of making a quick pass out of the defensive zone. One play that really impressed me occurred in the second period when Andrew Shaw came buzzing down on Hughes behind the net, but Hughes put Shaw on his back, shielded the puck from him, maintained composure and hit a Knights forward with a breakout pass just past the blueline. Shaw (one of the league's better forecheckers) can eat even the most experienced OHL defenseman up, let alone a guy playing in his 5th game. Here's hoping he gets more ice time.
Nazem Kadri (TOR)
Nazem did not have a strong game. He seems to have a lot of trouble playing in Niagara as I remember last year when the Knights came to town, he played one of the worst games I've ever seen him play. I think a lot of it has to do with the small ice in Niagara limiting him from playing the speed and puck possession game that he excels it. Less room to move with the puck, and less room for defensive players to move in order to trap Kadri. He had a visibly frustrating night as time and time again he tried to carry the puck into the offensive zone only to lose it at center ice or the opposing blueline. Once in the zone, he had a lot of trouble getting open too. On top of this, he took a couple of really undisciplined penalties, one a slewfoot on Matt Petgrave, another as the second man into the scrum negating a London powerplay. If the game isn't going well for him, he's got to control his emotions better on the ice. I think one of the other problems he can face is that he becomes predictable. When the Knights are struggling offensively, he tends to do too much which only compounds his problems. Teams trap him into carrying the puck into a turnover, as they know he's going to be looking to take it to the net. I know that's where a lot of people get concerns over his hockey sense. He's had a very good last month though, so it's hard to argue with the results besides tonight's game. Just that I can't help but be left underwhelmed when I see him on most nights.
Jared Knight (2010)
Fresh off his Q & A with me, Knight had an OK game. Thought he was one of the better London forwards on the night, which isn't really saying much. Was actually disappointed with the ice time he got in certain situations. Quite often he failed to start a powerplay, and wasn't on the ice in the minute to help his team attempt to tie the game. Seems odd to keep your leading goal scorer out of those situations. Not to mention his lack of penalty kill time, and considering Jared considers himself a speedy two way forward, you'd think he'd get more time on the PK than he did tonight. But he brought speed and was one of the only London forwards able to crack Niagara's defense on a few rushes to the net. His combination of speed and tenacity could make him a dangerous player in the future when he adds more strength to his frame.
Michael Hutchinson (BOS)
Hutchinson had a very strong game. Niagara really outplayed London for the majority of the game and he kept his team in it. Like Mark Visentin at the other end, Hutchinson is very technically sound. Challenges the shooter, follows the play well, generally does a good job swallowing up rebounds. He's already a big goalie (at 6'3), so when he comes out to the top of that blue ice, he really doesn't give you much to shoot at. The two goals weren't really his fault. The 2 on 1 shot by Hamilton went top shelf and the lack of commitment by Harrington on the play left Hutchinson in a tough position and didn't really allow him to square himself to the shooter. On the other goal (by Hamilton as well), he gave up a juicy rebound from a point shot, and none of his defenseman were there to clear the side of the net where a wide open Hamilton had a gimme goal. He made 36 of 38 saves and took the loss.
Thoughts on the game, if you managed to see it?