Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Top 10 - Most Improved Players

One thing we often forget about this great league is that the players who play in it are just teenagers (for the majority). They are either still in high school or recently graduated. And as a direct result of their age, they are still maturing; as both individuals and athletes.

For a whole host of different reasons, players in this league can often take gigantic leaps forward in their playing ability from one year to the next. Maybe it's more playing time and increased confidence. Maybe it's a greater focus and commitment to the OHL (e.g. diet, lifestyle, practice habits). Or maybe it's an improvement in an area previously holding them back (e.g. skating). Different strokes for different folks, and as a result every year many OHL players take that step forward from background player to star player (although in some cases, good player to superstar).

With nearly three quarters of the OHL regular season finished, I think it's safe to say who the most improved players are this year. With the exception of some 16 year old rookies, not many guys take that next step forward in the last six weeks of the regular season and playoffs. The following top 10 is dedicated to those who've really taken a step forward in the right direction this year and man was it a tough list to make. So many players have greatly improved this year for the reasons listed above. As a result, I've included several guys in an honorable mention list which I don't always include.

Here's the Top 10 Most Improved Players of the 2009-10 OHL Season...

10. Mike Cazzola - Erie Otters
A tiny center (generously listed at about 5'7), Cazzola didn't really hit his stride until about a month into the season. This corresponds with the formation of one of the hottest and best lines in the OHL (that no one talks about) which is made up of Cazzola, Greg McKegg, and Zack Torquato. Since the beginning of November, Cazzola has 50 points in 34 games which is nearly double the amount he had last season as an energy player for the Otters. While his production increase is no doubt correlated to the chemistry he and his linemates have developed, Cazzola has an equal part in the success. While small, he is fearless in traffic, is a tireless worker, and has the hockey sense that allows him to succeed against larger defenders. As a 1991, he looks to have carved out a very nice OHL career for himself.

9. Vern Cooper - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
When the Hounds acquired the undersized forward from Plymouth at the import draft, I don't think they expected to be getting their top scoring forward for the 2009-10 season. Traded as part of a deal that saw Plymouth move up to 3rd in the Import Draft and the Soo down to 6th, Cooper was essentially a throw in. A strong energy, two way forward for Plymouth since he entered the league in 2006-07, Cooper was a tremendous acquisition for the Hounds. He's been the team's best forward all season long and has transferred his energy into offensive production, on pace to nearly double his best season to date. Best of all, he has been a large reason the Hounds sit 5th in the Western Conference (surprising to some but not to me if you see my preseason predictions). An overager next season, Cooper will no doubt be back in the Soo where he'll likely lead an even stronger and more improved Hounds squad.

8. Mavric Parks - Barrie Colts
Acquired this offseason by Kitchener in exchange for a mid round draft pick, Parks was seen as a veteran back up to the incoming Brandon Maxwell. Little did the Rangers know that they'd be getting one heck of a goaltender, who was stuck in the place good goaltenders go to die (Kingston). Parks immediately showed what he was capable of and has been one of the best goaltenders in the league this season. Not the biggest goaltender, Parks manages to play the angles so well that he gives shooters so little to shoot at. Parks is as technically sound as you can get. As a testament to his improvement, Parks was acquired from Kingston for a 5th rounder, but then traded at the deadline by Kitchener to Barrie for a 5th and a 3rd. The Rangers got 14 wins and a 3rd rounder for free basically. For the rest of the season Parks will play the platoon role with Barrie's Peter Di Salvo and then likely play next season as an overager with another OHL team looking for a hired gun to secure their goaltending position.

7. Casey Cizikas - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Cizikas had a pretty tough season last year. A former 3rd overall priority draft selection, Cizikas battled through inconsistency and off ice issues. With all of those behind him and a surprising selection inside of the Top 100 of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Cizikas has really blossomed into the player many expected he would this season. He's centering the first line of one of the top teams in the Canadian Hockey League, he's an OHL All Star, and he's developed into one of the best two way players in the Ontario Hockey League. Essentially, any criticisms that scouts had towards him last season have been erased this season. He's playing with passion and it shows. He's on a near point per game pace, and his +30 is 4th among forwards in the OHL, to Taylor Hall, Alex Hutchings, and Eric Wellwood. Pretty good company.

6. Steven Tarasuk - London Knights
No John Carlson, Michael Del Zotto, Kevin Montgomery or Matt Clarke in London this season. Pretty rare for a team to lose it's entire Top 4 on defense. Even rarer for that team to expect themselves to still be contenders in their Conference and Division. Enter overager Steven Tarasuk. A very capable defenseman throughout his OHL career, but not someone thought to be a game changer. All that has changed this season with Tarasuk leading an inexperienced London defense to first in their division and intermittent inclusions in the CHL Top 10. Tarasuk is averaging nearly a point per game, leads the OHL in +/-, and his 14 goals are second by defenseman to fellow overager Reggie Traccitto of Niagara. Tarasuk has previously shown glimpses of this ability in 2007-08 when he split the year between Kitchener and London, but last season he really got buried by London's depth of offensively gifted defenseman.

5. Eric Wellwood - Windsor Spitfires
Perhaps last year's playoffs and Memorial Cup were Wellwood's coming out party, and this year he's only continued with the success. But if you go back to over one year ago and the beginning of the 2008-09 OHL season, not many players have improved as much as Eric Wellwood. One of the fastest skaters in the OHL, Wellwood has developed from a speedy energy player/penalty killer into one of the most dynamic two way forwards in the league. He's developed confidence in his ability to take the puck to the net, utilizing his speed and he's finding scoring areas playing a high tempo game in Windsor. It's clear the Philadelphia Flyers saw this ability in him when they drafted him last year as a re-entry. Pretty smart decision as Wellwood looks to have developed into at worst a solid 3rd-4th liner at the next level and could absolutely develop into a better NHL player than his brother Kyle.

4. Jacob Muzzin - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Some guys just develop later than others. Last year the Pittsburgh Penguins opted to not sign Muzzin, their 5th round pick in the 2007 Entry Draft. Muzzin then went undrafted and returned to the Soo for his overage season. Muzzin was actually an OHL all star last season, playing for an atrocious Greyhounds team that finished last in the league. Despite being a larger physical defenseman with some offensive upside, no one seemed to want Muzzin, perhaps due to his poor mobility and questionable puck decisions. This season, Muzzin has become a new player. Whether not getting signed was a wake up call to improve his commitment to improvement remains to be seen. One thing is for certain, Muzzin has developed into one of the best defenseman in the OHL. On top of retaining his physical defensive style, Muzzin leads the league in defenseman scoring with 54 points and has improved his mobility considerably. So much so that according to TSN's Bob Mackenzie, there was quite the frenzy by NHL teams to try and sign him to an entry level contract. The Los Angeles Kings ended up winning his services and it'll be interesting to see how his game progresses at the next level.

3. Mark Visentin - Niagara IceDogs
It's often tough for 16 year old goalies in the OHL. Going from midget to the OHL is about the same as going from the OHL straight to the NHL for goaltenders. Players make quicker decisions, can shoot harder and more accurate, and the pressure to perform is that much greater. Visentin did not have a good rookie season and quite often looked overmatched in the league. But to his credit, this season has been a complete 180 degrees. I say to his credit because I've heard some people around the league say that this guy's work ethic is among the best in the league. The combination of a great attitude with great goaltending is a big reason why he's currently the top rated goalie from the OHL for the 2010 Entry Draft and earned himself a performance (and a great one at that) in the Top Prospects Game. While Niagara has struggled at times this season, Visentin has held his ground and it's only a matter of time before he can call himself the best goaltender in this league. The icing on the cake would be a selection inside the first three rounds of the draft in June.

2. Taylor Beck - Guelph Storm
Last year a lot of people were split on Beck for the NHL Entry Draft. Either it was his skating not being good enough, his offensive ceiling being too low, or his intensity level lacking for his game style. A lot of knocks against a player who ended up going 70th overall. But it's pretty clear he's erasing a lot of those doubts this season. The least likely candidate of the Guelph big three (Holland and Latta) to break out, Beck has exploded. He's currently third in OHL scoring, is playing with intensity every night and is showing people that he's got the offensive upside of a top 6 winger in the NHL. While Beck did have a solid year last season, he's on pace for over 100 points this season and his progression as an OHL player, and even more as an NHL prospect earns him second place on this list.

1. Tyler Seguin - Plymouth Whalers
Perhaps a lot of people could be surprised about Seguin appearing on this list. After all, he shined as an OHL rookie last season (had the best year of any 1992) and was tremendous for Plymouth down the stretch. The natural progression would have had him take that next step this season. However I don't think people could have expected what he's done this season. He's leading the OHL in scoring (and his team by 35 points) and has moved into consideration for first overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, which was once considered to be locked up by Windsor's Taylor Hall. Seguin has the confidence, skill, and speed of few forwards in this league and could still continue to improve, especially as a dominant two way center. He's on pace to double his goal totals from last season and is completely erasing the memories of those who claimed he was leaching off of Chris Terry and Matt Caria last season. Taking that next step from budding superstar to superstar is definitely good enough to earn him the top spot on this list.

Honorable Mention:
Kyle Clifford & Taylor Carnevale - Barrie Colts
The progression of these two has been a large reason for Barrie's emergence as (possibly) the team to beat in the OHL. Clifford has become a strong offensive power forward while Carnevale has developed into a solid two way center who might just be one of the better penalty killers in the league.

Alex Friesen & Reggie Traccitto - Niagara IceDogs
Considering how many players have taken steps forward this season, it's amazing that the Dogs haven't been better than they currently are. Friesen has emerged as one of the teams most dangerous offensive players after looking like purely an energy forward last season. While overager Traccitto has taken over the role of number one defenseman from Alex Pietrangelo and leads the league in goals scored by a defenseman.

Tony DeHart & Christian Thomas - Oshawa Generals
While the Generals have had an up and down season, they do currently sit 7th in the East, which is better than most people expected. DeHart has emerged as a 1st pairing OHL defenseman and with Calvin de Haan out for the remainder of the season, he's going to have to continue to lead this team from the back end. Thomas is another guy who was expected to improve this season, but has exceeded expectations as the teams leading scorer and the type of dynamite offensive firecracker his father was.

Luke Judson - Belleville Bulls
It's hard to get noticed when your team sucks. The Bulls sit last in the Eastern Conference and seemed destined for a top 3 pick at Priority Draft. Yet one player's improvement is going completely unnoticed. Buried on a solid team last year, Judson managed to shine at times as one of the teams checking players. It wasn't enough to get him drafted (despite many teams being interested). This year, he leads the team in goals with 19 and has been named the team captain at the age of 18, all the while still playing the truculent style that made him noticeable last season. Don't be surprised if he gets noticed at this years NHL Entry Draft.

Taylor Doherty - Kingston Frontenacs
One player who does have more to gain by making this list at the end of the season. With Erik Gudbranson out with mono, Doherty has finally taken steps forward and has 11 goals and 6 assists in his last 18 games over a two month span. Finally using his big shot and playing better defensively, Doherty looks to be on the right track developmentally.

Devante Smith-Pelly - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Smith-Pelly was one of the more impressive 1992's last season, when he played a checking line role for the Majors. This year he's become the team's top scorer and has emerged as a future star in this league as a hard working offensive power winger. The chemistry he has developed with Casey Cizikas should make them both even more dangerous next season.

Garrett Wilson - Owen Sound Attack
Improved skating goes a long way to improve the offensive production of a power forward. Able to take the puck to the net with confidence, Wilson is having a career year in Owen Sound and is making the Florida Panthers very happy for rolling the dice on him.

Jared Knight - London Knights
If the award was for most improved from the start of the 2009-10 to the end of the 2009-10 season, Knight would probably take the cake. Struggling through a diabetes diagnosis, Knight has finally producing for London and currently sits second in team scoring behind Nazem Kadri.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thoughts on Barrie and Sudbury from January 28

Haven't posted a game report of my own in a little while as I've been busy and haven't been able to get to a game. I was able to catch this spirited tilt between the Colts and Wolves on Roger's Sportsnet.

Considering that the Wolves are one of the Eastern Conference's worst teams and the Colts the best, you might have guessed that this one would be a blow out. But for whatever reason Sudbury seems to play Barrie very hard. While Sudbury may have been slightly outplayed, the game was closer than the shot totals and the score indicate. If I'm Barrie, I'm hoping Sudbury escapes that 8th spot in the East, as I want to avoid them in round 1. The game was a physical affair that saw Barrie come out on top by a score of 4-1 on the strength of two power play goals and a goal + 2 assist night from new addition Alex Pietrangelo.

The Colts have really become like the Spitfires in that they've got so many players worth talking about, it's hard for everyone to make an impression good or bad. Here are SOME thoughts on a few players from each side.

Barrie Colts

Alex Pietrangelo (STL)

It's hard to name someone who's played only 7 games in the OHL this year as the league's best defenseman, but it's less hard when it's true. There is no doubt in my mind that Petro is the best defenseman in this league. He is head and shoulders above most other players on the ice. The way he thinks the game, the way he's playing at both ends of the ice. Tonight he controlled play at both ends. When he picks up the puck in his own zone, it's up ice within a matter of seconds. The speed at which he makes decisions is at an elite level right now. It's obvious that playing and practicing at the NHL level this season has made him a better player. On the powerplay he controlled the point with ease. Made an absolutely terrific play on a give and go with Alex Hutchings. Hutchings made a beautiful feather pass to Petro who then put it right back on Hutchings stick to the back of the net. He also scored on a beautiful shot from the point. Defensively he was outstanding. One play in particular really stood out where he broke up a two on one by Matias Sointu and John McFarland. He played it perfectly by staying in the middle and slowly fading towards the puck carrying Sointu, eventually closing in on him taking away the shot and sliding to prevent the pass. Sointu ended up having to take the puck around the net because Pietrangelo gave him nothing. Hands down the best acquisition at the deadline. Windsor should be kicking themselves for not getting him. One goal, two assists and the game's first star tonight.

Alex Burmistrov (2010)
Had a few nice rushes tonight, and a couple nice moves in close but nothing ever really came from it. Not his best game, but he still managed to be a factor offensively on some of his shifts and did a solid job as part of the penalty kill unit that held Sudbury 0 for 6 on the powerplay.

Alex Hutchings (TBL)
Had a tremendous game tonight. He's definitely one of the league's best penalty killers. He's so effective at closing in on opposing point players and reading passes. Manages to get his stick on a lot and really prevents defenseman from feeling comfortable back there. Scored two goals tonight, one the aforementioned give and go with Alex Pietrangelo where he made a nice feather pass to Petro over two opposing sticks, only to immediately receive the pass back for the shot into the open net as Alain Valiquette had been caught out of position. The second marker was a bit of a fluke one as Pietrangelo rushed the puck up ice and put it to the net where a streaking Hutchings had it go off of his skate. A borderline no goal call, but I'm sure the Colts are glad it counted. The Lightning made a great pick getting Hutchings where they did.

Kyle Clifford (LAK)
Clifford had an OK game. He was in the thick of things offensively but mishandled a bunch of really good opportunities. Defensively and physically he played a very strong game though. He's taken great steps forward this season offensively. He's taking the puck to the net with confidence, he's doing a better job of getting himself in scoring position and he's (for the most part) been able to capitalize on chances. However to take that next step he's going to have to do a better job of being an offensive force in traffic. By that I mean, as a big guy he's got to do a better job handling the puck and getting shots off with defenders close or on top of him. As an offensive player at the next level, he's likely going to spend most of his time near the net and he's going to have to be able to use his size to give himself more time and space to get better shots towards the net.

Nick Crawford (BUF)
Not very often you hear the stat line of 4 assists combined with the phrase "poor game," but I think that's what we're dealing with tonight. I like Crawford, but he didn't play particularly well tonight, even if he did come away with 4 assists. He could have been the reason for about 4 or 5 Sudbury goals tonight. Pretty much every good chance Sudbury generated tonight came as a result of a poor play by Crawford. A few turnovers in his own end with the puck, one really bad one where he failed to look behind the net before passing there to a lone Sudbury player waiting for the puck. A couple bad pinches where he got himself caught up ice, like the first Sudbury goal by Eric O'Dell where Alex Burmistrov was forced to cover for Crawford in front of the net as he trailed the play, or the two on one where Pietrangelo made the nice play on Sointu due to the fact that Crawford caughed up the puck at the blueline and then got caught up ice. To his credit, Crawford has been outstanding for Barrie since his trade from Saginaw, and if you can play a bad game and still rack up 4 assists, you can't REALLY be that bad can you?

Matt Kennedy (CAR)
Great to see Kennedy back on the ice already after the Kassian hit. He played a pretty strong first game back too. He's not a flashy player, but he gets the job done. I'm hoping Carolina still gives him a contract because he deserves it. He'll likely not be much of a factor offensively the rest of the way through the season due to the role he's playing on the Colts, but he has offensive talent. He can shoot the puck and he can drive it to the net with effectiveness. I think he'll make a fine pro hockey player as long as he can stay out of concussion trouble.

T.J. Brodie (CGY)
He didn't hit the scoresheet, but I thought he played an excellent game tonight. Made smart decisions with the puck and had a couple of real nice pinches that resulted in scoring chances. Every game he seems to find a way to the front of the net for a scoring opportunity. His acceleration is so strong it makes him very elusive in coverage, especially in transition. Defensively he was excellent. One play in particular stood out as a rushing Sudbury player attempted to take the puck at him one on one, but Brodie stood in front of him skating backwards and eventually engaged him and took the puck off him. Instead of just chipping it away, he took the puck around the net and started the rush up the other way. No points but a strong game from Brodie.

Sudbury Wolves

Kurtz (Overage Free Agent)
When I eventually release my top available overage free agents list, this guy will definitely be on it. He's had quite an excellent year, but due to Sudbury's struggles it's kind of been overshadowed. Kurtz is basically your stereotypical lunchpail type forward. Works hard in all areas of the ice, but definitely has a scoring touch around the net. Made the nice pass to Eric O'Dell for the game's first goal after beating Alex Pietrangelo to the loose puck behind the net and quickly feeding O'Dell at the side of the net for the tap in. He constantly looks to go hard to the net, whether the puck is on his stick or not. With his size and ability to play both ends of the ice, I'll be surprised if he doesn't at least get an AHL contract next season.

John McFarland (2010)
Didn't have a strong game. I gotta admit. I used to be a defender of his after seeing him play so many strong games over the course of the past couple of years (especially internationally), but ultimately it comes down to the fact that I haven't seen him play a good one in a while now. I think you have to be concerned with the lack of progression in his game this year. Whether it be a lack of motivation playing in Sudbury or just a player who's game has peaked, I'm not quite sure. He's going to have to have one heck of an Under 18 Championship to save his draft stock I think. If he struggles at that tournament (assuming the Wolves are out of playoff contention following round one), he could very well see himself out of the first round IMO.

Jared Staal (PHX)
Another guy you've got to be concerned about. 6 goals this year. Six! As a 1990 born high draft selection, that just doesn't cut it. He was completely invisible tonight. If his name wasn't Staal (as harsh as this sounds), I'm not sure he'd be getting himself a contract. Better players in this league have certainly found themselves in this contract limbo situation.

Eric O'Dell (ATL)
In some ways, I kind of feel bad for Eric O'Dell. He's clearly Sudbury's best offensive player, and defense's realize this. He doesn't really get a lot of room to work out there as teams constantly seem to be double teaming him whenever he touches the puck. He's a high class offensive player and when he gets the room to work, he produces. If he were on another team with a more offensive system and a better supporting cast of players, I think we'd definitely be talking about him as a top 10 scoring player in this league. Scored Sudbury's only goal tonight after finding himself open in front of the net for a tap in goal off a feed from John Kurtz behind the net.

Anyone else catch this one on Sportsnet tonight?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sean Keogh's Thoughts on London and Ottawa from January 17

For those that follow the blog, or have followed it over the course of the last year, Sean Keogh was once a frequent contributor. A former writer at HockeysFuture (like myself), Keogh has a tremendous eye for the game and is someone I really trust for an opinion on a certain player. To make a long story short, Sean has moved to Switzerland for school purposes (Masters) and thus hasn't been able to watch the OHL. But now that he's on his January hiatus/holiday back home in Ottawa, he's been able to catch up on a few games. I welcome anything he can provide! Here's his report from last weekend's game between the Knights and 67's.

London Knights vs. Ottawa 67s – January 17th, 2010

Unfortunately I have not been able to contribute to the blog this year because I am now living in Switzerland, however I have been home for the month of January. On Sunday I was able to catch the 67s hosting the London Knights, in what was an exciting, competitive match between two division-leading clubs. The final score was 3-2 for the 67s, with the tie being broken in a shootout.

From a prospect-viewing standpoint, it was an unusually uninteresting London team that played on Sunday, at least compared to most years. With Phil Varone injured, and Phil McRae and Zac Rinaldo dealt at the deadline, the 67s were probably the more intriguing team from a viewing perspective.

London Knights

Nazem Kadri (TOR)

On Sunday, Kadri was if nothing else very involved in the play. He notched London’s first goal and was their most noticeable player. Perhaps the most notable play was when Kadri crashed into 67s goalie Petr Mrazek and fought Tyler Cuma as a result. Depending on how you saw it, Kadri either had no chance to get out of the way or gave Mrazek an extra shot for good measure. Overall Kadri handled the puck a lot, saw lots of ice-time and was probably the most dangerous player as well. Whether you call it feisty or chippy, Kadri also went for a couple of big hits and tried to stir things up a few other times. With all that being said, there was a downside to Kadri’s play on Sunday. First of all, he throws the puck away far too often and did not use his teammates very well when in the zone. While he is a gifted skater and confident puck-carrier, he is really not a natural puck-distributing center at all. Also, while his feistiness is encouraging, at times it also came off as immaturity, as Kadri whined and complained to referees much of the night. Brock and others have expressed concerns over Kadri’s offensive awareness and hockey sense on this blog in the past, and this game did little to change my mind on that issue. That being said, I think questions about immaturity and offensive upside will really be put to the test next year when Kadri plays professional hockey.

Michael Hutchinson (BOS)

The Knights were outshot and to a fair extent outplayed on Sunday, which meant Hutchinson was fairly busy. He stopped 40 of 42 shots, and both goals he let in were on the powerplay, so it was hard to fault him for either of them. Hutchinson takes up a lot of the net and seemed positionally sound, but did have a couple of lapses where he misjudged the puck and didn’t freeze it. In all honesty, it was hard to get a good read on Hutchinson from where I was seated, but he certainly looked like a solid goalie prospect on Sunday.

Jared Knight (2010)

I came in hoping to see a good outing from Jared Knight, but I think overall he had a quiet night. He showed some jump in the first period, and in particular had one nice burst of speed where he burnt 67s blueliner Marc Zanetti with speed wide. Zanetti was forced to take a holding penalty but Knight also got called for a dive and then a ten-minute misconduct for complaining. I thought I would see more of Knight after that, but he’s been getting better as the season goes along and already had three goals on the weekend, so he can be excused for having an off-game.

Reid McNeill (2010)

This is a player who was not on my radar until after consulting the Central Scouting List to be honest, and truthfully I cannot remember noticing McNeill during the game on Sunday. A stay-at-home guy, obviously McNeill was not likely to make an impact offensively, but his defensive play did not stand out either, which is obviously not necessarily a bad thing.

Justin Taylor (Free Agent)

After Washington opted not to sign him last spring, and Taylor re-entered the draft only to go unclaimed, he came back to London to play as an overager. I have always respected Taylor but have never been convinced of his professional potential. Once again Taylor played a solid respectable game, and at this level he is useful offensively, but if he wants to get back into the plans of an NHL franchise, he will have to overachieve unless he gets a surprise entry-level contract offer.

Steven Tarasuk (Free Agent)

An overager who is playing for a contract essentially, Tarasuk was easily the most noticeable and dangerous Knights blueliner. In fact only Kadri was better offensively for London. He was a +2 on the night and picked up 4 PIMs, including getting into a wrestling match with a much bigger Julien Demers at the end of regulation. Tarasuk has some nice offensive skills and has developed in to a very good defenceman at this level, but is probably not good enough or big enough to get an entry-level deal at this point.

Ottawa 67s

Tyler Cuma (MIN)

It has been well documented how Cuma has struggled to regain his game after knee injuries last year. Although this was not my first game watching Cuma and 67s this

month, it was my best live look of the year. Cuma had a fairly good game, and is certainly a valuable and positive contributor to the 67s blueline. His most notable moment was the fight he had with Nazem Kadri. Admirable as it was for Cuma to stand up for his goaltender, the two-five-and-ten that he got as a result meant he was in the penalty box for most of the third period and overtime. It was evident how important Cuma was to stabilizing the second pairing when he was unavailable. With that being said, I am still not sure Cuma is even as good as he was in his draft year. Although he is solid defensively and is playing with even more of a physical edge than I remembered, gone is the silky smooth offensive confidence. Although Cuma had several nice breakout passes and is still capable of contributing offensively at the OHL level, I am nowhere near as optimistic about his NHL potential in that regard as I was in Cuma’s draft year. He should still be an NHL defenceman, but his ceiling may simply be lower than expected in his draft year.

Julien Demers (SJ)

The game’s third star, Demers was his usual steady self. He scored the first 67s goal on the powerplay, as he wristed a point shot past Hutchinson. With Cuma’s penalty and an extra five minutes of overtime, Demers must have played 35 minutes in the game, and as he did all of last year, was the key guy for the 67s in all situations. In short, Demers looked exactly as he did all of last year, which is both a good and bad thing. The good is that Demers is a very good junior defenceman and a rock in his own zone. The bad is that I am starting to wonder how much more Demers can improve, and whether or not his development has plateaued. Being an overager, perhaps he simply needs to be challenged at the next level, but I think it comes down to carving out a niche. I do not see the offence translating to the next level in any big way, and wonder if Demers is big enough or fast enough to be a stay-at-home guy in the NHL. That being said, San Jose should sign him to a contract because Demers is a better prospect than Derek Joslin was at the same point, so perhaps all Demers needs is some AHL development time.

Anthony Nigro (STL)

The other goal scorer on the game for the 67s, Nigro had a solid game. He is not as dangerous a player as he was last year while on Couture’s wing though, because neither Ryan Martindale nor Cody Lindsay have anywhere near the natural playmaking ability that Couture had. But he worked hard down low all night and went to the net creating several chances. Nigro is without a contract and I think in many ways is a comparable player to Justin Taylor. In Ottawa, Nigro has played a more offensive role, but while his shot is fairly good, he is not really an offensive prospect at the next level. While his all-round play is always solid, I wonder if the Blues see enough there to give him a contract.

Corey Cowick (OTT)

Playing only his fifth game back after a major shoulder injury, Cowick did not register a point and may have had his quietest game since returning from injury. He has five goals in five games this season, but it is his physical play that has stood out. In this game he absolutely destroyed the pint-sized Daniel Erlich on a clean open-ice hit, and was a consistent physical presence all night. Cowick got away from his physical play last year, playing more of a finesse offensive game as the season wore on, and I wonder if the reason was the shoulder, as it was a nagging issue that kept him out of the AHL on a pro tryout when the season ended. His skating also seemed slightly improved, and while last year I wondered what he offered to an NHL club like Ottawa that drafted him, I am somewhat changing my mind after seeing him throw his weight around.

Tyler Toffoli (2010)

Although he did not end up on the scoresheet, I thought Toffoli might have been the most dangerous 67s forward on the afternoon. He is a potential late first round pick this spring and in this game he showed why. Toffoli had a couple of nice rushes, found a couple of nice seams while already controlling the zone, and created offence on a good number of his shifts. As an offensive prospect, Toffoli is a classic jack-of-all-trades, master of none. His only standout quality is great hockey sense, although his shot does look even more dangerous than last year. He ripped a couple of shots from the half-boards, and if he is developing in to more of a shooter, that could help his draft stock. What I think holds Toffoli back at times is his skating. He had several nice rushes, and can beat players with speed once he gets going, but he lacks the acceleration to do that often or easily.

Ryan Martindale (2010)

I thought Toffoli had a better game on Sunday, but I actually believe Martindale is the better prospect. He picked up an assist on the Demers goal, but did not have any real standout plays otherwise. There are many things to like about Martindale, he has good size, soft hands, all-round offensive skills and very good intelligence. I actually think his hockey sense has been underrated, both offensively and defensively. On Sunday he once again showed that coming back on the backcheck, he is very adept at picking up the third man on the rush. The two knocks on Martindale were evident in this game though, skating and intensity. Although he is actually very good at handling the puck and making plays on the move, he lacks the skating to pull away from people and as a result he is not that effective on the rush. Martindale also has a tendency to look like he is floating. It is a kind of casual, almost lackadaisical style that has been associated with guys like Logan Couture and more recently Peter Holland, although Martindale is not quite as gifted as either of them.

Dalton Smith (2010)

I think Cowick’s return has been a bad thing for Dalton Smith. He is back on the third line and with two very good scoring lines, the 67s are not really asking the third line to do much more than provide some energy and play even hockey. As a result, there was not a lot to report on from Sunday when it comes to Smith. He works hard, bangs and crashes and is an effective third liner for the 67s, but his goal production this year and his draft stock suggest that in a different role, maybe with better linemates, he is capable of more.

Petr Mrazek (2010)

Although Hutchinson faced more shots and was generally busier than Mrazek, I thought Mrazek made as many big saves and was as impressive overall despite being younger and much less experienced. Stopping 32 of 34 shots, Mrazek made all the routine saves and a couple unexpected ones, and was lights out in the shootout, stopping all three London shooters. Although only average in size, Mrazek is quick, athletic and positionally sound. He also showed a pretty effective pokecheck a few times, a sign of confidence I think. Personally I find it hard to evaluate a goalie based on only one game, but Mrazek definitely looks like a better prospect for the draft than Chris Perugini was last year.

Thanks to Sean for the great report, hoping it's not his last while he's home! He welcomes any questions or comments!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ryan Yessie's Mid Season Top 30 for 2010

Ryan returns with his mid season Top 30 for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. A very interesting list from Ryan considering it includes some names we haven't really seen in the Top 30 before...or for a while. Obviously some things I strongly disagree with (lack of Jared Knight, Burmistrov as low as he is), but I think it's important to read another perspective on things. Just to remind you, here's my mid season Top 30.

Ryan Yessie's Midseason Top 30

1. Talyor Hall - Left Wing - Windsor Spitfires
The most talented player entering the draft in 2010. Some have dropped him from top spot, but to me this is no different than what John Tavares, and Steven Stamkos faced the last 2 drafts. At the end of the day Hall at #1 is a no-brainer.
2. Tyler Seguin - Center - Plymouth Whalers
Although Seguin has been unimpressive in the two games I’ve seen him this year. There’s no denying his top end talent. He has great speed and can finish with the best of them. Seguin has the ability to cycle the puck, as well as feed it to the open man in traffic. Seguin will be a top line center in the NHL.
3. Cam Fowler - Defenceman - Windsor Spitfires
Fowler has great speed, and combines that with great size. He has the intangibles to become one of the most potent two-way defencemen in the NHL if he adds muscle to his frame.
4. Erik Gudbranson - Defenecman - Kingston Frontenacs
A few big steps away from Fowler, Gudbranson has been very unlucky this year, but still projects to be pretty safe in terms of becoming a top 4 defenceman, with the potential of being a top 2.
5. John McFarland - Center - Sudbury Wolves
There’s no questioning McFarland’s upside, but his realistic potential may not be as high as previously assumed. Not sure what to think about McFraland just yet, apparently the talent is there, but the effort hasn’t been at some times, but no one has combined the play, and projectable size to push themselves ahead of McFarland on my list yet.
6. Ryan Spooner - Center - Peterborough Petes
When it comes to pure puck handling ability, to me Spooner is not far behind Hall and Seguin. Spooner has an unbelievable ability to create offense. Although he doesn’t have the desired size, his talent alone puts him 6th on my list.
7. Stephen Silas - Defenecman - Belleville Bulls
Silas has impressed me every time I see him. He moves the puck so well, but is so smart positionally, and has never been a defensive liability in any of my viewings. An offensive defenceman with great puck moving skills, and safe defensively, I believe Silas will be a solid 2nd pairing defenceman + PPQB.
8. Jeff Skinner - Center - Kitchener Rangers
Skinner is a great two-way center for Kitchener. He’s displayed untapped offensive abilities, plays hard every shift, and is very safe in his own zone.
9. Ivan Telegin - Center - Saginaw Spirit
Telegin is one of the few Russian prospects that really seem like they’re made for the North American game. Great puck skills and excellent finishing ability when in scoring position. Not afraid to throw the big hit, defiantly one of the big risers from the start of this season.
10. Tyler Toffoli - Right Wing - Ottawa 67’s
Toffoli came off to a horrible start, but since then has been on fire. Toffoli is a solid skater, and is equally good at scoring as well as setting up the goals.
11. Ryan Martindale - Center - Ottawa 67’s
Martindale was pegged a 1st rounder last year, and has done a great job keeping up with those projections. Martindale has great size, and protects the puck very well. Also Martindale is very underrated in his own zone. I believe Martindale is a better version of the player Greg Nemisz is.
12. Alexander Burmistrov - Center - Barrie Colts
Burmistrov has great skill, and handles the puck among the best draft eligible players. He does however have a bit of an issue with his size, combined with the fact several observers (including myself) have found him to be soft, and sometimes timid when the game gets physical, the combination of the two may affect how he is able to be utilized in the NHL.
13. Steven Shipley - Center - Owen Sound Attack
Shipley for me lands just ahead of Hishon. He may not have the top level offensive skill, but his skill set is underrated, plus he has NHL ready size. Shipley can play all aspects of the game, which makes him a valuable prospect.
14. Joey Hishon - Center - Owen Sound Attack
Hishon is an excellent offensive talent, and also spends time on the PK as well. Speed is his greatest asset, however Hishon has faced injury problems this yeah that may have effected his rankings thus far.
15. Devante Smith-Pelly - Left Wing - Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors
Smith-Pelly has always been regarded as a potential NHL prospect, but he’s come out flying as one of the most potent goal scorer’s in the league. Smith-Pelly combines his goal scoring abilities with grit and physical play, and could continue to see his star rise in the rankings.
16. Andrew Yogan - Center - Erie Otters
Yogan has great size, and protects the puck well. He has the potential to be a very effective goal scorer, or just a 3rd line energy guy in the NHL.
17. Brandon Archibald - Defenceman - SOO Greyhounds
Archibald is a guy who I have gone back and forth on. But in the end, he has some good offensive capabilities, skates decent for someone his size. If he would hit more it would really improve his placement in the rankings.
18. Brock Beukeboom - Defenceman - SOO Greyhounds
Beukeboom doesn’t have as many offensive tools as his SOO teammate, but is certainly better in his own zone, and much more physical. Also Beukeboom seems to have solid positioning and hockey sense.
19. Justin Shugg - Right Wing - Windsor Spitfires
Shugg seems to be hiding in the shadows of his current Spitfire teammates. He has shown decent speed, and good offensive skill set. Also has been willing to throw some solid hits as well.
20. Ryan O’Connor - Defenceman - Saginaw Spirit
Not sure how Ryan O’Connor has fallen off everyone’s radar. O’Connor must overcome his small size, but he has very good speed, great offensive skills, and is not afraid to throw the body. O’Connor has fallen in my rankings, but I still really like him as a future NHL defenceman, but his size will be his greatest obsticle.
21. Austin Watson - Right Wing - Peterborough Petes
Watson’s true offensive potential has been put into question, but there’s no denying his great play along the wall, and his strong defensive effort combined with good size. Just not sold on the offensive part of his game yet.
22. Philipp Grubauer - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
Grubauer was brought in to Windsor to help the team win a memorial cup. He has played great internationally, and if the save is possible chances are he’ll make it. Not a big year for goaltenders, but Grubauer IMO is the best there is this year.
23. Joe Rogalski - Defenceman - Sarnia Sting
Rogalski combines solid skating abilities with good puck movement, and good size, however doesn’t have the big shot most offensive defencemen have from the point.
24. Geoffrey Schemitsch - Defenceman - Owen Sound Attack
Schemitsch, like De haan last year, has seemingly come out of nowhere to become a very solid offensive defenecman in the OHL this year.
25. Philip Lane - Right Wing - Brampton Battalion
Lane combines size, puck protection and a good shot into his his offensive skill set. However his game to game effort has been brought into question
26. J.P. Anderson - Goaltender - Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors
Anderson came out of nowhere in the 2009 playoffs to become recognized as a potential NHL prospect.
27. Roman Berdnikov - Right Wing - Owen Sound Attack
Berdnikov got off to a slow start in the OHL, but seems to be adjusting to the North American style and is starting to produce offensively.
28. Austin Levi - Defenceman - Plymouth Whalers
Levi has got some solid defensive defenceman potential. Has the ability to throw a massive hit, but must be safer and more selective about these hits.
29. Adam Sedlak - Defenceman - Peterborough Petes
Sedlak is a solid puck moving defenceman with good speed, however his hockey sense has come into question on multiple occasions
30. Nathan Chiarlitti - Defenceman - Sarnia Sting
Chiarlitti is a very safe, and smart defensive defenceman, almost always making the intelligent decision out of his own zone. Chiarlitti has displayed excellent leadership through his career despite still only being 17. Chiarlitti is not expected to create a lot of offence, however may still have some untapped offense in him.

Honourable Mentions
Christian Thomas - Right Wing - Oshawa Generals
Thomas is small but has a lot of skill. Haven’t been impressed when I’ve seen him play, but he could still come out with a strong 2nd half and fly up the rankings.

Cameron Wind - Defenceman - Brampton Battalion
Wind is a solid puck mover with a good understanding of the game. He seems like an offensive defenceman, but doesn’t have all the tools to move himself high enough up the charts in terms of an offensive defenceman

Greg McKegg - Center - Erie Otters
McKegg is a guy who is hard to predict as he shows a lot of potential one shift then disappears for a while. McKegg will need to overcome this inconsistency to become the legitimate prospect he could be.

Dalton Smith - Left Wing - Ottawa 67’s
Smith is another guy I’ve heard a lot of good things about, but have never witnessed them myself. Smith sounds like he has great power forward potential, and hopefully he will continue to improve over the second half of the season.

Michael Kantor - Right Wing - Saginaw Spirit
Kantor has admittedly been someone I haven’t heard much of before Saginaw signed him to a contract, but already has 15 PIM and 3 points in 3 games since joining the OHL. Sounds like he’s got a great combination of size and skill, and is definitely a player to watch this second half.

Jared Knight - Center - London Knights
Knight is another player I know there is a lot more potential of, but hasn’t shown it yet. Knight was diagnosed with Diabetes earlier this season, and may have had a profound effect on his play. With this now being treated, Knight does look a lot better on the ice, and hopefully this will lead to a breakout second half for him.

Josh Shalla - Left Wing - Saginaw Spirit
Shalla has projectable size, and a outstandingly quick and accurate shot. However Shalla’s skating is just too much to overlook thus far into the OHL season. Skating will make or break Shalla’s NHL career, because he certainly appears to be a complete enough player to make it with the rest of his skills.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Top 10 - Winners and Losers of the Trade Deadline

Obviously, the difficulty of this week's Top 10 entry is that we don't TRULY know the winners and the losers of this past week's trade deadline quite yet. The ultimate winner will be that team who ends up being the OHL representative at this year's Memorial Cup. So I've put on my future predictions hat in a way in order to come up with five teams who I'd consider winners and five teams I'd consider losers of this years trade deadline.

The Winners:

Niagara IceDogs

There seems to be a lot of mixed opinion on the subject of how well the Dogs did at the deadline, especially with the trade of Alex Pietrangelo. But let's get something straight. Pietrangelo was not expected to be back with the Dogs. He didn't play a single game for them this season. General Manager Dave Brown turned a ghost into one of the league's top 1993 born forwards and two future 2nd round draft picks. The Dogs are building quite the future stable of young talent, and Ryan Strome really adds to that. On top of Strome, the Dogs already have 2 picks inside the top 10 of the 2010 OHL Priority Draft, in addition to 2 second rounders. Sure, those second rounders acquired (and the 3rd rounder for Chris DeSousa) are way in the future, but they are going to be used as trade chips to help the Dogs load up for a Championship run in the next 2 seasons (in particular the 2011-2012 season). And while a lot of people see the DeSousa trade as a bit of a sore spot, considering the Colts went and flipped him for a very valuable player in Zac Rinaldo, let's not forget that Simon Gronvaldt has played excellent for Niagara so far. Overall, a job well done by a General Manager who clearly has a plan in place, which is more than what I was saying earlier this season when things weren't looking so good in Niagara.

Peterborough Petes

Again, this is another one I'm confused about. All I'm hearing is how the Kassian trade was a bad trade for Peterborough, especially from the OHL media. But on the contrary, I think the Petes made out very well. Kassian has not had a very good season for the Petes, who still have big hopes in winning the East Division. By trading him, they get back Austin Watson and two future 2nd round picks. Austin Watson is already nearly as good as Kassian IMO. People seem to be talking about him as a throw in, except for the fact that they forget he could be a Top 15 pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He has the potential to be every bit as much of a physical threat as Kassian, as well as being a more consistent offensive producer. And he's already a year younger and better defensively. Those two second rounders can either be used by Peterborough in the future to draft, or to trade as they (like Niagara) prepare for a run in the next two seasons. A great return for a player (Kassian) who wasn't meeting expectations.

Barrie Colts

Alex Pietrangelo, Zac Rinaldo, and Mavric Parks. Pretty quality day at the office I'd say. In three foul swoops, the Colts managed to address three areas of need for their team. They added quite possibly the best defenseman in the league (even though he hadn't played yet this year), to a defense that needed another A quality defender. They added Rinaldo to their 4th line in order to increase the defensive and physical proficiency of the line. And they added Mavric Parks to push Peter Di Salvo in net to ensure that the team has at least one netminder at the top of their game. And as Wednesday night's match against Windsor proved, I actually think the Colts are the team to beat from the OHL right now. And that was their goal with these trades.

Plymouth Whalers

While Phil McRae and James Livingston haven't exactly had the seasons that were expected of them, they are still quality Top 6 forwards in this league who have the potential to give you much more than they already have. In return, the Whalers gave up two players who seemed to be falling out of favor with the coaching staff and a bunch of mid round draft picks. The Whalers are building quite the big and mean forward unit in order to try and go up against Spitfires in the West. It's clear that Whalers G.M. Mike Vellucci doesn't have much faith in the Spits ability to play through size and physicality as he's built his team this year in order to try and push them around. With Matt Hackett in net (for my money the best goalie in the league), the Whalers truly can give Windsor a run for their money IMO.

Erie Otters

Perhaps the most underrated move at the deadline was the Otters' acquisition of Adam Courchaine. With the Otters playing some tremendous hockey as of late, lead by overager Zach Torquato (who has 25 points in his last 11 games), the pressure was on for Sherry Bassin to go out and improve the team's goaltending situation. Erie was left in a tough spot when Jaroslav Janus bolted back to the AHL and I think a lot of people expected them to pack it in and become sellers. Instead, they made a quality small move in order to put themselves back on the contenders map. The team is playing some tremendous hockey and Courchaine is a quality goaltender who has the potential to completely shut down the opposition. With Courchaine and Sadikov in net, one of the two should be able to give Erie quality goaltending down the stretch as they strive for home ice advantage in the first round.

The Losers:

Kitchener Rangers

I'm just a bit confused by the direction of the Rangers with their action at the deadline. The whole Mavric Parks and Barrie disaster I think sums up what Spott and Kitchener were able to accomplish at the deadline. With the Midwest Division slowly slipping away from Kitchener, they go out and trade their most successful goaltender in exchange for a couple of mid level draft picks. Now I admit, it sounds like Spott got a bit of a screw job with Barrie, but why make that trade then? Why not just say, you know what, we're keeping Parks and we'll deal him in the offseason. I really find it hard to believe that the Rangers wouldn't be able to get that 3rd and 5th for Parks as an overager to start next season? Why the motivation to deal a large part of their success for average draft picks? Especially as a contending team. And if you're dealing Parks for draft picks because you believe your team might not have what it takes to defeat some of the Western powers this year, why not just continue the retool by dealing a few other guys for young talent (players or picks). A guy like John Moore, who will most certainly be playing outside of the OHL next season, could have likely fetched a pretty solid return. I think the Rangers missed out on a chance to really improve their team for next season.

Windsor Spitfires

Another team I'm slightly confused about the direction of. As much as I like Phil Grubauer and think he's a quality goaltender, why go out and give up as much as you did for a goalie who'll be around for another two seasons and who could very well be your back up next season when Jack Campbell arrives. And even then, as much as I like Grubauer as an NHL prospect, let's not forget his inexperience in this league. Was he the best option for this team, a team looking for a goalie to back stop them to the Memorial Cup? And that brings me to the Zack Kassian trade. Well that one looks great now that Kassian could be suspended for a good chunk of time thanks to his hit on Barrie's Matt Kennedy. While I think adding some physicality to the teams top 6 was a smart move, was giving up Austin Watson really all that smart? Not to mention the other 2 high draft selections given up for at best a minor upgrade. You have to look at it like this...or break it down like this I should say. Windsor gives up Richard Panik, Austin Watson, Paul Bezzo, and Austen Brassard (of current roster players) and they received Philip Grubauer, Zack Kassian, Marc Cantin and Stephen Johnston. Did they really get better? I think it's actually pretty questionable.

Sudbury Wolves

What are they thinking up in Sudbury? Does Mike Foligno truly believe this team to be a playoff contender? Certainly didn't look like it today in an 8-3 drubbing at the hands of Guelph. This team has no direction. Few talented younger players, mixed with a group of quality OHL veterans who just aren't gelling or coming together as a team. All signs pointed to what should have been a seller, yet the Wolves go out and give up 2 2nd round picks (and overager Van Laren) for Ben Chiarot. Yeah Chiarot will be around next year, but Eric O'Dell, John Kurtz, Steve Reese, Jared Staal, and Andrew Loverock won't be. And the Wolves really have little in the wake of replacements for them. This trade deadline would have been a perfect opportunity for the Wolves to go out and trade a few of their veteran players in exchange for some younger talent to surround John McFarland and Justin Sefton with in the future.

Mississauga St. Michael's Majors

I'm not surprised that the Majors didn't do anything, however I'm a little bit disappointed. A lot of people are saying, watch out for this team next season, look at all the quality 1991's and 1992's they have. But I point to the fact that this team will lose Cameron Gaunce, Blake Parlett, and Chris Carrozzi (likely) next season. These are three of the most important players in the teams defensive strategy that has worked so well this season. While the forwards will be better next season, I don't see the team having as much success in their defensive/shutdown role in 2010-2011. And that to me is a large reason this team could beat any team in the league right now. By not going out and getting another quality offensive player, I think this team misses the boat a bit. I just don't see them being as good next season and I think they're missing on a chance to make a run in the Eastern Conference based on their strengths which will not be as strong next season.

Ottawa 67's

Brian Kilrea has never been one for the big acquisition at the trade deadline. And quite frankly, I think adding the 67's as a deadline loser is a bit of a stretch. But I had trouble deciding on a 5th losing team, so I went with Ottawa. Here's why. The 67's find themselves in a position to take the East Division, since really...Peterborough isn't that strong of a team. They get Corey Cowick back which is a huge boost to their offense, but their defense just hasn't been as good as advertised. This in combination with the fact that the goaltending has been very inconsistent makes the 67's a pretty likely bet to be a first round casualty of the OHL playoffs again. By adding another top 4 defender to take some pressure off of Tyler Cuma, Julien Demers, and Travis Gibbons, the 67's might have been able to make themselves that much better right now AND in the future. A guy like Ben Chiarot would have been perfect in Ottawa, as a 1991 who could help this team now and next year when they lose Cuma and Demers. I just think they really missed a chance to lock up the division with a small move.

Another Sunday Top 10 in the books. Your thoughts on the trade deadline's winners and losers?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ryan Yessie's Sarnia Sting Mid Season Report

2009-2010 Sarnia Sting Mid-Season Report

J.C. Campagna - #8 - LW - YOB: 1993 - 6‘1” - 170lbs.

NHL: Eligible in 2011
Campagna has cooled off after his quick start. He’s got a decent shot, but needs to put himself in better scoring positions to utilize it. When I see Camapagna, I see a little be of a more tame version or former Sting Daniel Carcillo when he was with the team in J.C.’s game. Campagna looks like he could be destined for a role as a 3rd line agitator at an NHL level, however it is really too early to tell if he will maintain, surpass, or decline from those early projections. Where Francisco and Ritchie have been playing with more confidence, and gaining more offensive roles, Campagna has level himself down to being a checking role player that can sometimes get involved on the offensive play. Defensively he’s been pretty decent, although his positioning could use improvement.
Campagna has - 37GP - 5G - 6A - 11PTS - 32PIM

Brandon Francisco - #9 - RW - YOB: 1993 - 5‘10” - 155lbs.
NHL: Eligible in 2011
Francisco got off to a bit of a slow start. Francisco had some bad habits not back checking as much as he should have, trying to carry the puck way too much without passing it up, and would buckle under pressure in front of the net. Francisco had many opportunities to score and just put it over the net, missed wide, or had it jump off his stick. If he could have taken advantage of those opportunities he would easily have 10 more goals than he does now. Francisco started out with 7 pts. In the first 34 games. But going into Sunday’s game Francisco had 2G, 3A and 5 PTS in his last 5 games. Francisco as a prospect has a lot going for him he has great speed, handles the puck well, has a quick release on a shot that is only a half inch off the mark a lot of the time, and on top of it is very disciplined. When he gets that half inch back into his game as he develops, he could be a multi-season 30 goal scorer, and possibly a 40 goal scorer before his junior career is over. Francisco has the ability to become a top 6 forward at the NHL level, but will need to overcome his size, improve defensively, and commit to the weight room (the sooner the better) if he wants to be an NHL forward.
Francisco has 40GP - 5G - 7A - 12PTS - 2PIM

Brandon Alderson - #18 - RW - YOB: 1992 - 6‘4” - 195lbs.
NHL: Eligible in 2010
I’m going to be totally honest on this one. Brock deserves all the credit for pointing this young man out the first few games of the season. Alderson has been very impressive and looks like he’s going to turn out to be a very effective OHL player. Alderson has outstanding speed for 17 year old at 6’4” He handles the puck well, and makes smart plays to help his team. He’s safe in his defensive zone and seems to be developing a skill for putting the puck in the net. Alderson has an excellent wrist shot and leads all Sting rookies with 10 goals. It’s hard to project where Alderson could go and what he could develop into because he just simply continues to improve every single game. It’s scary to think of where he could be 2-3 years from now if he keeps this up. Alderson in terms of an NHL projection is about 15 lbs, and a mean streak away from becoming a potential 2nd line power forward. He’s already safe defensively, and even with an extra 15 lbs. Alderson would still be well ahead of the curve in terms of skating among power forwards. Sting may have found themselves a diamond in the rough with Alderson.
Alderson has 42GP - 10G - 7A - 17PTS - 16PIM

Brett Ritchie - #20 - RW - YOB: 1993 - 6‘3” - 190lbs.
NHL: Eligible in 2011
Ritchie, like Francisco really needed to get a feel for the OHL for the first little bit. He didn’t seem willing to engage physically, and seemed to just want to make the safe play and not utilize his size. He was very inconsistent, as he was rolling along very well in early/mid October and seemed to have found his game, but then went 10 games only registering 1 assist and not really being much of a factor in any of those games. The turning point in Ritchie’s season may have been the Semi-Finals of the World U-17 tournament. Ritchie scored two goals, and one that sealed the deal for Ontario’s trip to the finals. Ontario lost 2-1 to USA but as the 3rd period wore on Ritchie was generating chance after chance and saw his ice time increase more as he nearly scored multiple times in the last 10 minutes of that game. That tournament seemed to have sparked Ritchie, as he has looked exceptional in his games since then. Ritchie has good speed for someone his size, he’s protecting the puck well, and is playing hard in the corners. Like Alderson; Ritchie could really use a mean streak at times, and could use another 15-20 lbs. in upper body strength. He will likely be a bit of a project for whoever drafts him in 2011, but he has all the intangibles of a top 6 forward prospect in the NHL. If Ritchie continues this pace, he could have an explosive second half of the season.
Ritchie has 40GP - 7G - 7A - 14PTS - 31PIM

Ben O’Quinn - #22 - C - YOB: 1991 - 6‘1” - 185lbs.
NHL: Eligible in 2010
Going into this season Ben O’Quinn looked like he would have something to prove in terms of potentially becoming an NHL prospect. He has a solid defensive game, as well as good skating, and is solid along the boards. Also 16 games into the season he already had 7G, 8A to go along with his sound defensive play. However after he scored the winning goal midway through the 2nd period on October 31st, Ben O’Quinn would only score one more goal until January 9th 2010. In that span of of 22 games O’Quinn would put up only 1G and 3A. This pretty much destroyed any chance of O’Quinn becoming an NHL draftee. However O’Quinn does seem to be turning his two-way game around, and could have a very strong second half. He’s got more talent than he showed in November and December, and although I don’t doubt his ability to play pro hockey when his OHL career completes, O’Quinn will likely take the long road if he ever aspires to be an NHL player.
O’Quinn has 42GP - 9G - 13A - 22PTS - 16 PIM

Kyle Neuber - #24 - RW - YOB: 1989 - 6‘2” - 215lbs.
NHL: 7th Round - 197th Overall by Columbus in 2009
For the first two months or so Kyle Neuber was easily the most frustrating part of the Sarnia Sting roster. He was not engaging physically very much, he appeared to be trying to be a finesse player, carrying the puck, stick handling around defenders, and on the rare occasion he would get by the defenceman, he didn’t have the speed to stay ahead for long. He was a fairly detrimental part to the team the first quarter. Coach/GM Dave MacQueen had a private meeting with Neuber in which he said he had good discussions with Kyle on his role with the team. Neuber has responded to that playing much better the second quarter of this season, playing a much more physical, and intimidating brand of hockey. Neuber still carries the puck sometimes when he shouldn’t, but is a little more responsible in dumping it in and not trying to do too much. Neuber has had some big heavyweight tilts and is regarded be most to be the toughest figher in the OHL this year. Neuber is on pace as expected with 4G and 7PTS midway through the season, I’d expect 8G, 15-17PTS out of Neuber, and he has an outside shot of getting to 200 PIM. Not much to say about Neuber talent wise, he’s limited in the skating, and puck handling department, he’s a devastating hitter, and if he continues to play his role he will be a very beneficial part of this Sarnia team. His job now will be to keep opponents honest, and punish those that go after the future talents of this franchise. If he is effective in doing this, he will likely fall into favour with the Columbus Blue Jackets if he can get his skating up to an adequate level for a pro hockey player.
Neuber has 35GP - 4G - 3A - 7PTS - 123PIM

Miroslav Preisinger - #28 - C - YOB: 1991 - 6‘0” - 175lbs.
NHL: Eligible in 2010
Of all the Sting players, Miro Preisinger is the toughest to judge. He started out his career as a player who would disappear once the game got rough. By the end of the season he was a physical presence and threw the hit of the year for the Sting on Michael Latta. Preisinger has got outstanding passing ability, and has threaded some amazing passes that have resulted in goals since joining the Sting. He has solid stick handling ability and a respectable wrist shot. However Preisinger never seems to put all these together in a consistent basis. He has cooled off on fighting, as he hasn’t dropped the gloves in 2 months, and the second last fight was a one punch TKO of overager Chris MacKinnon. The second half is very unpredictable for Preisinger. If he explodes offensively he could wind up with 20 goals this season. Preisinger is a player who, if he can put all his skills together into a consistent package he would be a can’t miss prospect. However only bits and pieces of those skills are found spread across different games.
Preisinger has 41GP - 10G - 6A - 16PTS - 47PIM

Kale Kerbashian - #44 - C - YOB: 1991 - 5‘11” - 173lbs.
NHL: Eligible in 2010
Kerbashian has been an offensive leader for the Sting while he’s been in the line-up. He’s had a couple injuries that have kept him out at different times of the season. Kerbashian has shown great speed, and puck handling, although sometimes unable to finish on a great play he’s made, there’s no denying the talent. Kerbashian also is reliable in his own zone, and has been critical in a few Sarnia victories already this year. Concussion problems have bothered Kerbashian as he has suffered two so far halfway through the season. Kale was expected to break out a little more offensively, but with a quick recovery and a strong second half he could potentially be the only 20 goal scorer for Sarnia this year. Entering his last draft year it’s hard to see Kerbashian getting picked, however wouldn’t look out of place going in the 6th or 7th round either. He has a lot of skill, the question is if he could transfer that to a 3rd line role in the NHL.
Kerbashian has 36GP - 13G - 16A - 29PTS - 15PIM

Nathan Chiarlitti - #5 - D - YOB: 1991 - 6‘0” - 185lbs.
NHL: Eligible in 2010
Chiarlitti has really improved this season. He is showing he does have some offensive skills, although will likely wind up being a defensive first defenceman. When I try to compare him to another defenceman I think of Danny Syvret with a little less offensive play. Chiarlitti has great hockey sense and IQ in terms of anticipating a play, and moving the puck in terms of making the safe play. He has got burned in 1 on 1 situations, and will need to be more patient in letting the forward do what he is going to do and make the safe play as he does in other situations, he generally bites on one of the dekes of the higher skilled players and has been left in the dust, however he has appeared to improve on that in the last couple games from what I’ve seen. Chiarlitti’s skating is not an issue nor a strength. It’s improved but still at about average for the OHL. Possibly the best kept secret in the Sting organization is the fact that Nathan Chiarlitti will succeed Jordan Hill as the captain of this team, and unless something drastic happens will likely become one of the longest serving captains in team history (3-3.5 years) as he’s expected to play out his junior eligibility. Another area Nathan needs to improve on is his physical play. He has opened up a little, but still needs to be able to throw the odd solid hit here and there if he is going to be regarded as defensive NHL prospect. Chiarlitti doesn’t have one standout skill, he is not horrible in anything, but is not great at anything either, so at 6’0”, 185lbs. That may make things tough for him in establishing himself as a prospect. Chiarlitti’s greatest assets are his hockey sense in his own zone, puck moving abilities, discipline in only taking smart penalties most of the time, and his leadership abilities. This combination should by all means draw in at least one team in the late rounds of the draft. I currently have Nathan projected around the 5th-6th round.
Chiarlitti has 43GP - 3G - 8A - 11PTS - 35PIM

Jordan Hill - #41 - D - YOB: 1989 - 6‘2” - 195lbs.
NHL: Free Agent
Jordan Hill is a very capable and physical defensive defenceman. He plays a safe game and has excellent positioning. Hill, like former Sting Matt Martin came from seemingly nowhere to become a depth player for the Sting. Then after a year quickly became an impact player for the franchise. Hill also showed this year he has a little untapped offensive potential in the form of a big point shot. Hill by all means should be able to attract an AHL contract, and maybe even an NHL one at the completion of this OHL season.
Hill has 41GP - 4G - 15A - 19PTS - 55PIM

Joe Rogalski - #74 - D - YOB: 1991 - 6‘3” - 185lbs.
NHL: Eligible in 2010
After 2+ years of inconsistency, Rogalski has finally put his skil lset together. Rogalski is very streaky offensively, but has outstanding skating ability, as well as the ability to move the puck. He is much better to carry the puck up the ice rather than pass it, as he has made a few bad giveaways in the past. Rogalski is not getting the PP time he probably could handle, but is a very capable puck mover when he is out there. Rogalski does have some issues taking a bad penalty here and there, and sometimes takes a shift or two off. The thing about Rogalski’s flaws are they are all fairly correctable as he moves on to the pro ranks. Combined with his skating, and puck moving assets, he could become a potential steal in the mid rounds of this draft if he can continue to develop his skills.
Rogalski has 43GP - 4G - 16A - 20PTS - 53PIM

Adam Courchaine - #1 - G - YOB: 1989 - 6‘3” - 185lbs.
NHL: Signed as a Free Agent by Boston in 2008
Courchaine has been very streaky this year, he played very solid through October and November, only to put forward a lackluster effort in December as well as the first game in January. Then throw in a stellar performance against Windsor on trade deadline weekend. Courchaine has the ability to make the big save at the big time. He is not shy about playing the puck and does so in very reckless fashion at times. Courchaine challenges shooters, and is able to recover in time to stop the 2nd shot nearly every time. Courchaine is a pick-up of the Boston Bruins, and will likely battle for AHL time at the end of this season for the foreseeable future.
Courchiane has 8W - 16L - 1OTL - 1SO - 3.51 GAA - .899 SV%
Shayne Campbell - #30 - G - YOB: 1992 - 6‘2” - 175lbs.
NHL: Eligible in 2011
Campbell has a very wide spectrum in terms of what people seem to expect from him. I personally see Campbell as a potential prospect in the NHL. Campbell’s greatest asset is his reflexes, and quickness watching him play the last few years if there’s one thing Campbell can do is kick out a pad, or flash the glove at the last possible second, reflexes are just as good as any goaltender out there. His recovery ability is another very strong asset for Campbell. This is important as he tends to give up too many rebounds. His positioning is something he needs to work on as well. He does appear to have improved in that area, but it used to cost him goals earlier in his career. Finally on the list is lateral movement. Again Campbell is improving in that area. Campbell has kept a very positive and professional attitude. He has remained patient, despite his lack of starts at times and now appears to be in position to spend the final 30 games of the season proving that he in fact is the goaltender of the future. Goaltenders Jesse Raymond and Jamie Phillips will be knocking at the door if Campbell doesn’t show he is capable of carrying the load on a consistent basis, and consistency has been Campbell’s biggest obstacle. He won 4 starts in a row including an outstanding effort playing against Kitchener just outside his hometown of Cambridge. He has put forward multiple stellar outings against Windsor and London to go along with his great start in Kitchener, which speaks volumes about Campbell’s ability to handle fire under pressure. Campbell however has had a history of randomly giving up 6, 7 goals in a game on occasion. A long evaluation of a player who can be summed up in two sentences. Great reflexes, quickness, and the ability to perform under pressure, who need to work on his lateral movement, cutting down angles, and cutting out the occasional night off. If Campbell plays well there’s little doubt he’ll be a potential pick-up in the 2011 draft. His future in the NHL should he make it would likely be as a back-up goaltender, as it’s not very likely he could handle full-time duties at the highest level, even with all his assets.
Campbell has 5W - 7L - 1OT - 4.25 GAA - .881 SV%

Ryan Yessie's Thoughts on Sarnia vs. Windsor from January 9

Sarnia came out and played their game of the year, but a few very questionable calls, and a relentess 3rd period effort by the top ranked team in Canada results in a 5-4 Windsor victory at the RBC Center Saturday night.

Taylor Hall - #4 - LW - YOB: 1991 - 6‘1” - 185lbs.
NHL: Eligible in 2010
Report: Jan/09/10: Taylor Hall has become a little less respectful towards his opponents as he used to be in his first two seasons in the OHL. Brent Sullivan caught Hall around the boards, early in the game and delivered a massive, yet clean hit, Hall gets up and cross checks Sullivan in the back as he’s skating away. This results in Brett Appio the only other player left to attack Hall. Appio landed one, maybe two shots on Hall before he turtled and a linesman and referee intervened. The funny part was when Hall jumped up looking like he was ready to fight momentarily. Hall received a penalty for the cross check, and was a non factor for most of the 1st period. Hall several times tried to showboat with his stick handling, carrying the puck, putting the puck through his skates, most of these resulted in a turnover, one resulted in him getting nailed with what probably could have been considered a head check. Despite all of this Hall was in on 4 of the 5 goals in this game, with a goal and 3 assists. This may be a tribute to how talented he really is that he can do all these careless things, and still be a directly positive impact on his team winning the game. Hall still has every element to his game, however the defensive part is lacking. He’s alright short handed although I think he’s out there to think offense just as much as defence out there, but especially 5 on 5 he seems a little hesitant to be willing to jump back into the play. Realistically this, and his new found attitude seem to be the only flaws in his game, and to me he is still the clear cut #1 Overall pick.
(Hall had 1G, 3A, 2 PIM)

Ryan Ellis - #6 - D - YOB: 1991 - 5‘10” - 170lbs.
NHL: 1st Round - 11th Overall by Nashville in 2009
Report: Jan/09/10: Ellis’ puck control in terms of handling it is amazing, especially on the point on the power play. He really is smart, and one thing I noticed about Ellis is when you’d see other defensemen make those fancy back hand passes and gets picked off, Ellis takes that extra split second peak over his shoulder just to make sure the play is there, and it seems to separate him from most PPQB’s. Ellis’ puck handling abilities outside the offensive blue line seem to be bpretty questionable at times. He’s made some really bad decisions, and his offensive and defensive game seems to be the tale of two players. Ellis’ skating is much better from 12 months ago, but in all honesty for a defenceman his size still needs more improvement. Ellis will almost definitely be back in the OHL next season. Ellis blasted one from the point with only 12 seconds left that turned out to be the winning goal of the game.
(Ellis had 1G)

Marc Cantin - #11 - D - YOB: 1991 - 6‘1” - 201lbs.
NHL: Eligible in 2010
Report: Jan/09/10: Cantin is a guy who I could see get picked in this years draft in the late rounds. He plays a hard nosed physical style, however the way he hits looks a little on the edge. He was challenged to fight multiple times but declined at times where it looked his team could use some extra motivation, which was disappointing as a fan to see more. Cantin received two minor penalties in this game, but other than that Cantin was very effective for his team.
(Cantin had -1, 4 PIM)

Adam Henrique - #14 - C - YOB: 1990 - 6‘0” - 196lbs.
NHL: 3rd Round - 82nd Overall by New Jersey in 2008
Report: Jan/09/10: It’s only been 18 months, but Henrique could very easily be considered the steal of the 2008 draft. He was not at the top of his game tonight, however he was still an impact on his team. He won a couple clutch, critical face-offs, and was very good defensively keeping it safe, while at times being on the kill with a forward partner that was thinking offense while trying to kill off the penalty.

Cam Fowler - #24 - D - YOB: 1991 - 6‘2” - 190lbs.
NHL: Eligible in 2010
Report: Jan/09/10: Fowler is certainly making his push to become the 2nd Overall pick for this draft. It’s not likely he’ll land 1st overall, but Fowler is a can’t miss prospect and will likely be a franchise defenceman for some team. Folwer combines projectable size with great skating ability. He didn’t put up any offense, but he did rush the puck up the ice effectively. I would consider him somewhat comparable to Erik Johnson of the St. Louis Blues. Like Johnson he does have a good shot from the point, a very solid skater for a defenceman with a big frame. Unlike Johnson I think Fowler is a little safer defensively, although that area could use improvement, but the one area he is not like Johnson, and I think needs to try harder to bring into his game is the physical element. Someone his size could still grow another inch, or two and if he can get himself to 205-215 lbs. He could be a physically imposing defenceman while still being a solid skater and offensive contributor.

Kenny Ryan - #26 - RW - YOB: 1991 - 6‘0” - 204lbs.
NHL: 2nd Round - 50th Overall by Toronto in 2009
Report: Jan/09/10: Kenny Ryan has put up close to a point per game since joining the OHL, but for the time this year I can’t really say I saw a lot in his game. He threw a couple hits, and got decent ice on the penalty kill, but he doesn’t see overly engaging on. He could be a valuable penalty killer at the next level, but needs to continue to work on his offensive skills if he would like to be much of an impact player in the NHL.

Justin Shugg - #44 - RW - YOB: 1991 - 5‘11” - 185lbs.
NHL: Eligible in 2010
Report: Jan/09/10: Shugg reminds me quite a bit like Guelph forward and NHL draftee Michael Latta. Despite the size, Shugg is built pretty solid and is able to throw a solid hit. It seems, atleast in Sarnia this year Shugg has got lost in the mix with his ice time, much like Jesse Blacker last year you can tell Shugg has some solid potential but it’s a lot less noticeable because he’s not one of the lead guys for Windsor. Shugg appears to have a solid shot, and a decent skater.

Austin Watson - #61 - RW - YOB: 1991 - 6‘3” - 187lbs.
NHL: Eligible in 2010
Report: Jan/09/10: Scouts seem to give Watson a little extra credit due to his size, in the times I’ve seen him this year and last, Watson doesn’t appear to be as significant of a prospect as he’s being projected to be a 1st round pick. Watson does a good job around the boards, and is a hard worker when he gets to the front of the net. Watson was very defensively responsible tonight and seems to do a good job breaking down plays in his own zone. Watson seems to play fairly similar to Kenny Ryan in both games I’ve seen him, and like Ryan, He needs to put forth more effort in developing his offensive game if he wants to be anything more than a 3rd liner in the NHL. The potential, and the size is there, Watson may just need a little more time
(Watson had 1G)

Eric Wellwood - #67 - RW - YOB: 1991 - 5‘11” - 179lbs.
NHL: 6th Round - 172nd Overall by Philadelphia in 2009
Report: Jan/09/10: Hall may have had a goal and 3 assists, but Wellwood was, in my opinion the best Windsor player on the ice today. He plays with a never quit attitude, and has great speed. His size makes it difficult to keep up with bigger opponents sometimes, but his relentless effort and active stick make him a very solid and projectable penalty killer. Wellwood also handles the puck very well, and has a great shot. Wellwood appears to be a player who will have a good shot at starting his pro career in 2010-2011.
(Wellwood had 1G, 1A)