Monday, November 29, 2010

World Junior Camp Roster Named

Hockey Canada unveiled the participants of the 2011 World Junior selection camp today. Of the 39 attending the camp, 11 are from the OHL (LINK)

Here's how it breaks down:

Mark Visentin - Niagara
J.P. Anderson - Mississauga

Ryan Ellis - Windsor
Calvin de Haan - Oshawa
Erik Gudbranson - Kingston
Ryan Murphy- Kitchener

Casey Cizikas - Mississauga
Marcus Foligno - Sudbury
Joey Hishon - Owen Sound
Garrett Wilson - Owen Sound
Zack Kassian - Windsor

I think the two biggest surprises people are talking about are the omissions of Taylor Doherty and Tyler Toffoli. Quite frankly, I'm surprised too. Toffoli has been red hot lately and his goal scoring ability is something Canada can always use.

One wild card is that QMJHL defenseman Brandon Gormley is going to miss the camp due to an injury. Whether that means they add another player to the selection camp remains to be seen. Maybe that's Doherty? Or maybe that bad turnover in the Subway Series really cost him?

As the camp draws nearer, I'll profile the chances of each participant from the OHL.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Analyzing the Chances of OHL Players Getting an Invite to the Team Canada Selection Camp

On Monday, Hockey Canada is likely to announce the invitees to the 2011 Under 20 Team Canada Selection Camp, for the World Junior Hockey Championship.

This is obviously a big deal around the country as we gear up for yet another WJC (the best hockey has to offer IMO, right on par with the Stanley Cup Finals). But the camp and the tournament are also important to OHL fans, as some of the best talent around the league is lost for upwards of three weeks.

Taking into account the Summer Development Camp, the Subway Super Series, and the 2010 OHL season (thus far), here's how I think the invitees will break down. Let me reiterate though, that this isn't who I think will make the final roster, but who I think will get an invite.

The Locks:

Ryan Ellis - Windsor Spitfires
Two time member and a potential captain of this year's team. Enough said.

Calvin de Haan - Oshawa Generals
A returning member and someone who should figure as a large contributor from the blueline for Canada. Again, enough said.

Erik Gudbranson - Kingston Frontenacs
While he hasn't taken as large of a step forward offensively as some might have liked, he's still a bluechip NHL first rounder who's playing solid defensive hockey for one of the top teams in the East. I don't think he's a lock to make the team, but he has to be a lock to get a look.

Joey Hishon - Owen Sound Attack
Playing incredibly well in Owen Sound (second best ppg average in the league behind Jason Akeson), the Avalanche first rounder has to be a lock to get a look for a spot in Team Canada's top 6. With the spots at forward being so wide open, you can't ignore Hishon's offensive talents.

Casey Cizikas - Mississauga Majors
WJC Coach Dave Cameron's captain and workhorse in Mississauga, Cizikas is an ideal candidate for a bottom six energy role on the team. His familiarity with Cameron's system and his chameleon like ability on the ice should make him a lock for the camp.

They've Got a Good Shot:

Mark Visentin - Niagara IceDogs
One of the goalies at the summer selection camp, and someone who's actually just starting to heat up now for Niagara. He was also excellent in his appearance at the Subway Super Series, proving why the Phoenix first rounder deserves a spot at the selection camp.

Taylor Doherty - Kingston Frontenacs
While he'll need to refine his offensive game to play in the tournament (we don't need a dangling 6'7 defenseman to turn over pucks like he did in the Subway Super Series), you can't deny how much of an asset his size would be defensively against some of the more skilled European teams and the Americans.

Zack Kassian - Windsor Spitfires
Kassian deserves to be at the camp, but does Coach Cameron like him? There were rumours of discontent after the summer camp ended, and Kassian also had a lukewarm Subway Super Series appearance. But he's been a beast this OHL season and Canada could really use his size on the powerplay.

Tyler Toffoli - Ottawa 67's
Not many forwards in the CHL are hotter right now than Tyler Toffoli. His terrific start to the season in combination with his appearance at the Summer camp, suggests he should have a really good shot at earning a camp invite. Plus, we could really use his scoring ability.

Could We See Them There? Yes...But It's Not As Likely:

Scott Stajcer - Owen Sound Attack
Stajcer has been very good for Owen Sound this year as they've ascended the West standings, but does he belong in the top four goalies in the CHL?

J.P. Anderson - Mississauga Majors
Again, don't count out the familiarity thing. Anderson is Cameron's go to guy in Mississauga and he's played very well this season. But similar to Stajcer, is he among the CHL's finest?

Ryan Murphy - Kitchener Rangers
Murphy is the best offensive defenseman in the OHL right now (and maybe in all of the CHL), but he's still young and has a lot to learn. Let's not forget that Hockey Canada cut him from the Under 18 team this summer (Ivan Hlinka). But let's not also forget that Hockey Canada's head scout has since changed (to Kevin Prendergast) and so has the coach (Dave Cameron).

Brock Beukeboom - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
An invitee to the summer camp and a definite favourite of Hockey Canada, Beukeboom is the big physical defenseman we like to take. But his offensive game has severely stalled this year, which might hinder his chances.

Dougie Hamilton - Niagara IceDogs
Not that often that draft eligible players get an invite, but Hamilton has developed into a strong two way defenseman who could be an asset to Canada internationally (as he was at this year's Ivan Hlinka).

Taylor Beck - Guelph Storm
Isn't having nearly the type of season he had last year, but he remains a quality offensive player who did participate at the summer camp.

Garrett Wilson - Owen Sound Attack
A big power forward who's currently second in the league in goals, Wilson has improved every year he's been in the league. But is it enough to earn him a look for Team Canada?

Ethan Werek - Kingston Frontenacs
Another summer camp participant, Werek has had an excellent season so far for Kingston. He's a smart, two way player who could probably play any role Team Canada needed.

Ryan Martindale - Ottawa 67's
Martindale is playing quite well right now and is among the league's top scorers. But his previous problems with inconsistency (from game to game and shift to shift) might put him on the outside looking in.

Ryan Strome - Niagara IceDogs
Like Hamilton, it's not often that draft eligibles get an invite, but Strome has been so fantastic this season, he might be hard to ignore. On top of that, he was fantastic in the Subway Super Series and might have earned himself a look.

Christian Thomas - Oshawa Generals
Another guy who might have picked the best time to get hot, Thomas had an absolutely monstrous last week (and was named the POTW for his efforts). He's small, but shifty and like Tyler Toffoli, we could sure use his goal scoring ability from the wing.

Greg McKegg - Erie Otters
The Otters' captain and Leafs draft pick has had a pretty good season for an underachieving Otters squad, but does he get caught in a numbers game?

Justin Shugg - Mississauga Majors
Shugg has been excellent for Dave Cameron's Majors this season and has really turned himself into a quality two way player. Like Casey Cizikas, his ability to play any role and chip in offensively could get him a look from his Majors bench boss.

Peter Holland - Guelph Storm
The Guelph Storm ship has been sinking lately, but this Anaheim Ducks first round draft pick might be having his best season in the league yet. But does he fall into a numbers game like Greg McKegg?

Marcus Foligno - Sudbury Wolves
A shift to the wing this year has really boosted Foligno's offensive production, simplifying his on ice duties. He could be an ideal candidate on a checking line as a defensively responsible, physical winger.

Devante Smith-Pelly - Mississauga Majors
Smith Pelly is another one of Cameron's boys in Mississauga. He can mix it up and is a very active player on the forecheck. He is could also be a candidate for a checking line role.

We'll have to wait for Monday to see who actually gets named to the camp that is set to open up in the second week of December.

Until then, I'll actually put my money where my mouth is and give you the list of who I think gets named to the camp (not necessarily who deserves to get named, but who I think will get named) ...

Ryan Ellis
Calvin de Haan
Erik Gudbranson
Joey Hishon
Casey Cizikas
Mark Visentin
Taylor Doherty
Zack Kassian
Tyler Toffoli
Ryan Murphy
Ryan Strome
Christian Thomas
Marcus Foligno

What do YOU think?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Game Report: 67's and Rangers from November 21

Nothing better to do on a Sunday? Why not take in a cross conference battle between two of the best teams in the Ontario Hockey League? That's what I did today, as I sat down in front of the boob tube to watch the Kitchener Rangers take on the Ottawa 67's. I want to get out and see the Rangers live sometime soon, but for now this will have to do.

It was a vastly entertaining game that lived up to the billing of a match up between two powerhouses. It was a back and forth battle and both teams really battled hard. The 67's got off to a quick start with a goal from Tyler Toffoli about three minutes into the game. That set the pace early and Ottawa took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission. But the Rangers slowly started to take control and scored two goals in the second to tie it at 2. In the third period, Ottawa got off to a quick start again and was up 4-2 five minutes into the last frame. But this only lit a fire under the Rangers, as they completely took over the game from there on out. They scored twice to close out the period and sent the game to a shootout. The Rangers outshot the 67's 26 to 9 in the third and if it weren't for the goaltending of Petr Mrazek, Kitchener would have surely taken this one in regulation. But the game went to the shootout where Ottawa was victorious on the strength of goals from Shane Prince and Tyler Toffoli.

Neither team looked incredibly strong defensively in this one. Ottawa's defense was consistently outworked by the Rangers forwards in their own end, and had a LOT of trouble containing some of the Rangers' bigger forwards like Gabriel Landeskog and Andrew Crescenzi. While Kitchener's defense was too careless with the puck and had way too many turnovers that lead to 67 odd man rushes.

The real turning point of the game was the inability of the Kitchener powerplay to strike. Consider it the perfect storm as the league's top powerplay took on one of the league's top penalty killing units. But the Rangers powerplay looked really bad in this game. They had a particularly embarrassing 5 on 3 powerplay, where they failed to register a shot, had trouble even completing a pass, and then took a too many men on the ice penalty. Going 0 for 5 on the powerplay in a high scoring game is almost like a kiss of death and the Rangers signed their death certificate with their ineptitude with the man advantage.

Goaltending was the other thing that really separated the 67's and Rangers in the game. Petr Mrazek was largely a wall, while Mike Morrison fought the puck in the Rangers end. It's tough to lose a game when you nearly double the opposing team's shot total, and when you don't get a save in the shootout.

On to the player reports:

Ottawa 67's

#16 - Tyler Toffoli (Drafted by Los Angeles in 2010)
One word. Beast. I'm not sure there is a hotter player in the CHL right now. Toffoli now has a 7 game goal scoring streak, with 11 goals in that span. That's including the two he scored this afternoon (even though I'm pretty sure one went off Shane Prince's skate). He could have easily had the hat trick, with another shot wringing off the post. I think the biggest difference in Toffoli's game this year, and even from the start of the season (when he started kind of cold) is that his conditioning has significantly improved. He's all over the ice now, on the forecheck, leading the rush with the puck and playing defensively. He has the stamina to be considerably more active without the puck and it's leading to a significant increase in scoring chances. The first goal was off a drop pass from Ryan Martindale in between the slot and the blueline. It was a rather harmless looking play until Toffoli absolutely roofed a laser of a slapshot over the glove of Morrison. The second goal was off a similar play, but his slapshot was just off the ice and it appeared to deflect off something in front of the net (I think Shane Prince's skate). He then proceeded to score in the shootout with a well placed shot just off the ice and inside the far post. He certainly picked a good time to heat up with Canada's selection camp being named in the next few weeks.

#18 - Shane Prince (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Maybe I keep watching the wrong games, but I'm still not seeing the hype he's starting to generate. He looked to be along for the ride with Toffoli and Martindale in this one. Had a lot of trouble one on one with Ottawa's defenders and had the puck taken off him quite frequently. He has speed and he's actually pretty strong along the wall where he can use his agility to keep the play alive, but in the open ice I found he struggled to get things going. He did score a very nice goal in the shootout by using a leg fake and then going left on the forehand, out waiting Morrison and roofing it.

#33 - Dalton Smith (Drafted by Columbus in 2010)
He appears to be getting back to doing the things he does best. Saw him earlier in the season and it seemed like he was trying too hard to make things happen offensively. This afternoon he was very active on the forecheck and was creating offense from turnovers. He needs to keep the game simple and up and down. He scored a goal, finishing off a 2 on 1 with Sean Monahan by sliding the puck five hole after receiving a nice cross ice pass.

#77 - Ryan Martindale (Drafted by Edmonton in 2010)
I thought he played pretty good. He definitely looks faster this year, which is helping him create more off the rush than he has in the past. The first 67's goal was a perfect example of that, as he took the puck in his own zone, cruised into the Rangers end and left a drop pass to Tyler Toffoli for the goal. He picked up a second assist in a similar fashion on Toffoli's 2nd goal. That being said, he still seems to disappear for stretches. While Toffoli was consistently active and visible (even when the 67's were struggling in the third) by way of the forecheck, Martindale was nowhere to be found. You can't ignore the offensive production he's putting up this year though and it's obvious he's taken a step forward in the right direction. I'd just like to see him become more involved without the puck.

#83 - Cody Ceci (Draft Eligible in 2012)
Perfect example as to why plus/minus is not a good stat to determine playing ability. Ceci finished the game at -3, but I thought he played a pretty good game. His agility was something that stuck out last year as a strength and this year he's using it well at both ends. He tried to make things happen offensively by rushing the puck up ice and he was also very strong one on one defensively. Saved possibly the game winning goal by Tobias Rieder in the third, by coming back hard to the defensive zone to negate a partial break down the wing. He'll need to continue to get stronger to win battles in the corner and in front of the net, but as a 2012 eligible player, he's going to have time to do that. For now, he's gaining valuable experience as, essentially, the 67's number one defenseman.

#1 - Petr Mrazek (Drafted by Detroit in 2010)
Mrazek was absolutely fantastic this afternoon. The fact that the 67's escaped with 2 points is a credit to his hard work. He was really into the game too, gave Jason Akeson a butt end in front of the net (and didn't get caught). He also tried to fight Andrew Crescenzi after he ran him over in front of the net. That feistyness comes across in his goaltending too, as he fights to make every save. For those that have never seen him play, he's definitely a hybrid style goaltender, but as I mentioned previously this season, he's really refined his approach and isn't flopping on the ground as much. He's staying up and it's allowing him to play larger in the net, especially when he plays deep in his crease (kind of the way the Canucks are trying to get Roberto Luongo to play this year). But he reads the play well and seems to know when to go down and use his athleticism. There were a couple of flurries inside the last 5 minutes where he made consecutive saves in front of the net by stretching out his pads. The other thing you notice about Mrazek is how good he is in playing the puck. He's a very confident passer and loves to stretch out defenses with the long pass. In the shootout, he wasn't tested (one lost the puck, the other shot right into his pads) and made 43 of 47 saves for the win.

Kitchener Rangers

#7 - Julian Melchiori (Drafted by Atlanta in 2010)
Another guy who was -3 on the day, but that I was actually impressed with. He's definitely big and he knows how to use his size. He did a good job trying up Ottawa's forwards and was physical along the boards. He had a very nice hipcheck on a 67's player as he tried to gain entry into the offensive zone. Offensively, he saw some limited time on the Rangers second powerplay unit, but was pretty quiet on the whole with the puck. But I thought he looked good defensively.

#9 - Tobias Rieder (Draft Eligible in 2011)
I guess it's time to move him up my draft board. He was fantastic today. He's not that big (listed at 5'10), but he plays a lot bigger than he is. I was actually surprised at how active he was on the forecheck, along the boards and in the crease. He actually had a couple of nice hits in puck pursuit. Offensively, he really stood out. He was very active in bringing the puck over the blueline and always looked to take it right to the net. He scored an absolutely beautiful goal in the third to bring the Rangers to within one (at the time). He got the puck and started on a 3 on 2, hit the trailer Jonathan Jasper with a pass in the slot and he ripped a shot on net. Rieder went straight to the net after giving up the puck and was rewarded with the rebound off Jasper's shot. However, it was more difficult than it sounds. Rieder had actually partially skated over the rebound, so he kicked the puck up to his stick and put it in at a near impossible angle (as he was off balance on his way behind the net). He almost scored again about two minutes later by slicing through the 67's defense and pouncing on a loose puck in the slot, but Mrazek got the pads on it. Colour me very impressed!

#15 - Ben Thomson (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Thomson appears to be at the same stage of development Crescenzi was at last year. He's big and strong and he uses that to his advantage along the boards where he works the cycle really well. But in the open ice, he's just not a strong enough skater yet to make a considerable offensive impact.

#20 - Andrew Crescenzi (Signed by Toronto as an FA)
Crescenzi had an excellent game and his increase in offensive production points to great improvement this year. He's still doing the things he did well last year, like controlling the puck in the offensive zone, but he's improved his skating which makes him a more dangerous player on the rush and in open ice. It also makes him more of a factor on the forecheck, where he can greater utilize those strong board skills by getting to loose pucks faster.

#24 - Ryan Murphy (Draft Eligible in 2011)
You either love him or you hate him, Murphy is what he is. He was kept off the scoresheet today, but he was a factor offensively all game. Once he gets across his own blueline, he's off and there's no stopping him. In the offensive zone, he takes a lot of chances and he loves to hang on to the puck to try and make things happen. His endurance must be tremendous because the guy skates circles around the defense for a whole minute, then skates back to play defense. A couple of times, he just circled around the offensive zone, looking for a teammate to get open, leaving 67's players helpless as they watched. Some people see that as hogging the puck, but he's quite patient and isn't afraid to just dump the puck into the corner if he doesn't see anything materialize. And for someone who takes as many chances offensively, he doesn't get burned very often. Only once did he get caught up ice in the game today, but it was when he tried to take the puck hard to the net. Luckily Gabriel Landeskog was there on the backcheck and the play never developed the other way. One thing he's going to have to watch out for though, is the two man forecheck. Teams are starting to send two forwards on the forecheck, trying to trap him behind the net. He almost got caught twice with that tonight. One time he got lucky, as the 67's player got the stick under his feet (after he had turned over the puck). The other time he got the pass off just before he got caught. As he moves up the levels, he'll have to start picking the spots better of when to rush and when to just pass the puck out of the zone.

#41 - Cody Sol (Drafted by Atlanta in 2009)
One of the best pickups of the OHL offseason, Sol has been a rock defensively for the Rangers this season. He hasn't quite taken his offensive game to the next level (as I thought he might), but he's been physical and dependable. He was just that today, as he used his size to protect the front of the net defensively. He also uses his long reach in the corners well, as he engages and then often is able to get the puck out. But he is definitely underrated offensively and has the puck skills to put up more points (if he were getting more powerplay time). He's actually very adept at keeping the puck in the offensive zone, as he did a couple of times today. He's got a big cannon of a shot too...although didn't get any chances to unleash it. If he can continue to improve his mobility, he could make a solid defenseman at the next level.

#92 - Gabriel Landeskog (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Don't count out the OHL from having the first overall NHL pick just quite yet. I read Bob Mackenzie say the other day that he was hearing some scouts had Landeskog in the same sentence with potential #1's RNH, Larsson and Couturier. Today was the perfect example of that. Quite frankly, he was a man amongst boys out there. I honestly can't think of a draft prospect that the OHL has had that has been more ready to play in the NHL RIGHT NOW, than Landeskog. He's such a complete player and he already has the strength and stamina to play in the NHL...and excel. While many said the likes of John Tavares, Taylor Hall, Steve Stamkos Patrick Kane, Rick Nash, etc were capable of playing offensively in the NHL in their draft years, none of them were as complete a player as Landeskog is now. He could not only be putting up numbers offensively in the NHL right now, but he'd be an asset to his team defensively and physically (something none of the others were right out of the gate, not even Nash). OK, enough ranting, about the game today. Landeskog finished with two goals and an assist, but like Toffoli, could have had the hat trick (and the game winner) if it weren't for the cross bar. First goal, he finished off a pass on a 2 on 1, but going top shelf on a sliding Petr Mrazek. It was a laser. Second goal would have had any NHL scouts in the building drooling onto the floor. He dumped the puck into the offensive zone, ran over one 67 on his way to the puck, and ran through a second. He gained possession along the wall, got it to Mike Catenacci behind the net, and then went straight to the net. From there, he finished off a pass to the front of the net, top shelf, with two 67's hanging off him (one being the 6'0, 200lbs Marc Zanetti). Let the Landeskog for number one chant begin!

#33 - Mike Morrison (Draft Eligible in 2011)
This was the first time I'd seen Morrison play (from memory) and he didn't have a good showing. He was fighting the puck and failed to make the saves needed to give his team the victory. His five hole got exposed as a big weakness in the game. First goal was a 2 on 1 that was completely stoppable. Dalton Smith got a cross ice pass and Morrison slid over to stop it, but he left way too large of a gap on the slide over and had his paddle way off the ground. Smith didn't get a hard shot off, but it got through Morrison's five hole. The 4th Ottawa goal by Cody Lindsay was five hole too, off a shot from the slot. He was giving up a lot of rebounds too, but the Rangers defense did a good job of clearing those out. In the shootout, he was made to look pretty bad by Shane Prince and Tyler Toffoli. One on a deke, the other on a shot far side. Niagara's John Chartrand and Saginaw's Tadeas Galansky are really the only draft eligible goaltenders that have impressed me this year.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brandon Francisco, Sarnia's Forgotten Man?

Last season, Peterborough Petes forward Matthew Puempel won the OHL and CHL rookie of the year awards after an incredible season. He had 38 points after the Christmas break (a common marker for the second half of the OHL season), well ahead of any other 16 year old rookie (1993 born) in the league. However, could you guess the rookie forward (1993) who posted the second best numbers in the second half of the season? If you said Sarnia Sting forward Brandon Francisco, you win the prize! Francisco finished the 2010 season on an incredible high note with 25 points in the final 31 games. Due to Sarnia's struggles as a team (eventually on the way to the Jack Ferguson selection of Alex Galchenyuk), no one noticed.

In fact, it's been an interesting road to and in the OHL for the dimunitive Sting forward. In Francisco's OHL draft year, he was widely considered to be a first round pick, rated 17th by ISS and called "one of the most offensively dangerous players in the draft," with "the best hands of any draft eligible forward." In fact, the only reason he was rated so low at 17 (by ISS) was that Francisco had signed a letter of intent to play for the University of Maine on a scholarship. "When I made the decision to commit to Maine, I was only 14 so when the offer came to me I was so excited that it was hard to deny," says Francisco.

As the history of the OHL Priority Draft has shown us, players with NCAA commitments (or even intent) tend to fall in the draft. But Francisco went higher than he actually anticipated in 2009 (the third round). "When they took me it was unexpected. I actually didn't expect to go that high because of my college commitment and Sarnia had never talked to me before the draft. But when Dave Macqueen called me and told me to please at least come meet with them, I decided I should at least take a trip to their rookie camp, and once I talked to them it really got me thinking hard of which option was best for me," says Francisco.

Score one for the Sting, as they successfully corralled one of the top offensive players in the draft in the third round. But it wasn't all rosy through the first part of the season as Francisco had 7 points in a half a season and was largely struggling with the transition from midget. "(This) was frustrating because I had always scored a lot of points in minor hockey." Francisco not only attributes this to the increased speed of the game and the learning of new systems, but also the strength of the league's veterans. "The players I was playing against were stronger and more physical than myself or the guys I was used to playing against and I needed to learn how to compete much harder so I could win battles and have consistency on each shift."

So what does one do when they feel overwhelmed? "At the break I took lots of time to evaluate the first part of the season and how I was disappointed with not producing more," says Francisco. "I felt I needed to pick up my work ethic in practice and really elevate my level of competitiveness in our games. Because our team wasn't in playoff contention, the coaches gave me the opportunity to play a lot and in key situations so that really helped me develop." Talk about an understatement! Between the first and second half of the season, "The Fluke" (as his agent calls him) increased his point production by about 300%!

Fast forward to the new OHL season, a stronger Francisco (fresh off a 5 day a week training regiment) has picked up right where he left off. Through 21 games, Francisco sits third on the Sting in goals with 8 and a forward best +3 rating. It's the plus rating that Francisco is most proud of. "I am taking pride in playing in the defensive zone and putting a lot of emphasis on my plus/minus statistic and I think if I keep doing that, the scoring statistics will come along (even more) as well."

While the Sting may be improved from last year, they're still struggling to find the consistency required of a top end playoff team. Currently they sit 7th in the Western Conference playoff race, but the 8th place Plymouth Whalers are hot on their tail. But the standings are not preventing Francisco from receiving more attention. That falls on the acquisition of two superstar young forwards who've taken the OHL by storm; Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk. These two OHL rookies have scouts drooling for 2012 (their draft year). But Francisco was coy when asked if he felt he was being overshadowed; "Other players deserve the media attention that they're getting. I just try and be the best player that I can be and hopefully I will get my recognition too. At the end of the day it's really about how the team is doing and if we are all playing our game and our team is doing well than the individual attention will come my way too." Ain't that the truth. Just ask Vincent Trocheck. He's roughly the same size as Francisco and only has one more goal on the season, yet was recently ranked 5th overall in the OHL by NHL Central Scouting (Francisco wasn't ranked). Trocheck's team (the Saginaw Spirit) is currently the best team in the Western Conference and he's played a large role in that success.

If the Sarnia Sting can start to play more consistently and inch their way up the Western Conference standings (they're currently only 2 points away from home ice advantage in the first round), will Francisco start to receive his due? The obvious answer is, only if he's a big part of that success. When in fact, the sky is the limit and if he keeps improving, he'll be a big part of Sarnia's success not just this year, but over the next few years on an potential Memorial Cup caliber team. With 5 goals and 2 assists in his last 7 games, I don't anticipate that being a problem. That's no fluke!

(See below for my Q & A with Francisco)


Brock Otten: Back in your OHL Draft year, it was believed that you were heading to the University of Maine. Why were you originally planning on going to the NCAA and not the OHL?

Brandon Francisco: When I made the decision to commit to Maine, I was only 14 so when the offer came to me I was so excited that it was hard to deny. That partly played a role. I also enjoyed watching NCAA hockey; it was fast and exciting and the crowd and the students section really got into it. It was also really good for educational purposes, which my parents strongly encourage so I felt that was the option I wanted to go with at the time.

BO: So when Sarnia took you in the 3rd round of the priority draft, what were you thinking? How long did it take Sarnia to convince you to take the OHL route?

BF: When they took me it was unexpected. I actually didn't expect to go that high because of my college commitment and Sarnia had never talked to me before the draft, but when Dave Macqueen called me and told me to please at least come meet with them I decided I should at least take a trip to their rookie camp. Once I talked to them it really got me thinking hard of which option was best for me. I did always love the OHL and grew up watching it so it was a big decision to make with two great options in front of me. But after talking to the coaches and owners a couple of times and recognizing the schooling I would get there and that it was a great city and great League I thought it was the best decision for me.

BO: What was the main factor in choosing Sarnia over Maine and are you happy with your decision now?

BF: The main factor for me was the opportunity of playing with some of the best players my age in the best development league in the world right away and to be able to get good schooling paid for if pro hockey didn't work out. That sealed it for me.

BO: The start of the 2009-10 season was pretty rough for you statistically. Was the transition from midget to the OHL as hard as it appears it was for you? What were the biggest differences?

BF: Yeah, I started off pretty slow which was frustrating because I had always scored a lot of points in minor hockey. The transition was pretty big because the game was so much faster and the players were a lot smarter and quicker moving the puck. There were also new systems to learn that I was never exposed to in minor hockey, and I had to learn to be quick in my decision making while playing at a high end tempo. But I think the major reason I started out slow was that the players I was playing against were stronger and more physical than myself or the guys I was used to playing against and I needed to learn how to compete much harder so I could win battles and have consistency on each shift in order to be successful.

BO: But then in the New Year, you really started to produce offensively and finished the season on a strong note. What was the turning point for you? Was there a specific game or moment where everything started to click.

BF: At the break I took lots of time to evaluate the first part of the season and how I was disappointed with not producing more. I felt I needed to pick up my work ethic in practice and really elevate my level of competitiveness in our games. Because our team wasn't in playoff contention, the coaches gave me the opportunity to play a lot and in key situations so that really helped me develop. I also started learning that the game at the OHL level is not all about scoring and that I needed to learn how to do the little things right. I think the turning point of my season was my first game after the break when I scored a goal in the first period and after that game I really picked up my confidence and energy level.

BO: Going into the offseason, I’m sure the goal was to try and start the 2010-2011 season as strong as you finished the last. What did you do in the summer to try and prepare for your sophomore season?

BF: Yeah , I spent the offseason working to get stronger and bigger and to round out my game because I knew there was a lot I needed to improve on. I was working out 5 days a week with my trainer and a couple times a week with an on ice skills coach Jari Byrski. I tried to get a lot stronger and put on weight. I felt that was an area I needed to improve on and also continue to work on the accuracy of my shot and my lateral skating.

BO: How do you think the start of this season has gone for you?

BF: I feel like I've had a pretty good start to the season ,but I can do even better and keep improving throughout the year and help my team more. I think I've rounded out my game a bit more and am playing with more confidence. I am taking pride in playing in the defensive zone and putting a lot of emphasis on my plus/minus statistic and I think if I keep doing that the scoring statistics will come along as well.

BO: The Sting have definitely improved from last season, but you’re still on the bubble as a playoff team. The good thing is that it’s still early in the season. Do you (and the rest of the Sting) have a lot of confidence moving forward that this is a playoff caliber club?

BF: Yeah, I believe we have a lot of upside as a team and a lot of good players. We have good coaching and we're mentally into every game we play and we play intense hockey. We're still a very young team, so we make our share of mistakes which has sometimes cost us some games we could have won, but we have firepower and we are pretty sound defensively. I think we'll improve every game and start winning more close games and have a very good chance of making the playoffs.

BO: When you see yourselves playing .500 hockey and you’re on the bubble for the playoffs and then you look to the Eastern Conference and see a team well below .500 in the playoffs, is that at all frustrating?

BF: Those are things you can't really control. It is a bit frustrating realizing your doing better then many teams in the other conference, but still fighting so hard to earn a playoff spot because of all the good teams in our conference. At the same time it pushes you to keep working harder as a team and become even better. We have some very good teams in our conference but our team has the ability to play with any of them so if we keep playing with intensity and consistency we'll find ourselves in the playoffs and then who knows what can happen after that.

BO: I have to ask you about the two new additions to your club that everyone is talking about; Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk. We’ve all seen them play, but tell us something about both of them that not many people know about.

BF: Yeah ,they're very special players that are dangerous every time they're on the ice. They work hard in practice and games and are extremely skilled. It helps being able to play with guys like them and they have helped make our team much better this season.

BO: Speaking of those two, do you think you’re currently being overshadowed by them? I mean Sarnia has such a talented young roster and you’re currently third in goals for the team…yet we don’t hear a lot about you in the media. Is that at all frustrating for you personally?

BF: It is always nice to hear yourself talked about in the media, but I mean it's not a big deal. Other players deserve media attention that they're getting. I just try and be the best player that I can be and hopefully I will get my recognition too, but its not that important for me. I am kind of a low key guy anyways and at the end of the day it's really about how the team is doing and if we are all playing our game and our team is doing well then the individual attention will come my way too.

BO: What do you think are your biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses at this point as you move forward to a possible career in the NHL.

BF: I would say my biggest strengths are my skating speed and balance, my vision, my puckhandling and passing skills, and now my shot has become a real strength. I try and make things happen with the puck and use my skating to create scoring chances. My weaknesses I would say is that I need to compete harder physically and keep improving and learning how to play without the puck . I think there's always room to improve on everything and I'm trying to round out my game to be able to play at the next level.

BO: What about size? As someone who is under 6’0, do you think that hinders your chances at an NHL career, or do you look at the immediate success that someone like Jeff Skinner is having right now and say that the NHL has changed and smaller players can succeed.

BF: Yeah, being over 6'0 could be an advantage but I think skill and smarts are more important than size. I believe if you can skate and compete really hard and see the ice well and be a complete player with something special to offer, it doesn't matter what size you are because you can be an effective player in the NHL.

BO: Is there an NHL player you try to pattern your game after?

BF: I really try and pattern my game after Pavel Datsyuk. He's a very skilled player with great hands and patience. He sees the ice amazingly, and has great defensive anticipation to steal pucks and pick off passes, which is something I really need to improve on. Thats why every chance I get I try to watch him play to learn from him. Like myself, he also wasn't a physical player when he was younger but he's developed into a really good body checker and plays with much more grit too, so I would like to develop my game the same way as he did.

BO: In speaking with your agent, he says his nickname for you is “Fluke.” Can you shed some light on that one for us?

BF: Haha yeah that's a funny story. The agent firm I am with, Eclipse, represents lots of European players including Alex Kovalev and the first time my agent Brian Feldman saw me play, he thought for sure that I was European trained because I have a pretty unique style of skating and stickhandling for a Canadian player. But when he found out that I had never been trained by a European coach before and that my style of play was just natural for me he gave me the nickname "Fluke". He's always saying that I'm a Portugese, Brazillian, Canadian who plays like a Russian. He's done a really good job advising me and helping me develop my game.

BO: Could you also shed some light on the whole birth date/NHL draft eligibility fiasco. How exactly did it come to pass that so many people and publications had you as 2012 eligible.

BF: Yeah that was a very weird scenario. At first I didn't realize why that was happening but then when I looked at the OHL Draft Media Guide it said 11/02/1993 instead of 02/11/1993 which would mean I was born in November instead of February making me a late birthdate and the Sting went by the Media guise and published that on the website at first until everything was straightened out and I guess it all just started from there. I think are still some scouts and scouting services that think I'm a 2012.

BO: It’s been pretty easy to see that the OHL has been a huge supporter of the whole “Movember” thing. Who on the Sting has the best stache going right now?

BF: Well there is a lot of good ones on the team but, I'd have to give it to Brent Sullivan. He has a really long one with a goater as well and exceptionally long hair so I think that combo has to give it to him.

BO: Lastly, the NHL draft is still months away, but I’m wondering if you have any goals for that? Some players are just happy to be picked, while others have a specific round target. Where does your goal lie?

BF: Yeah , I think it's an honour just to be drafted into the NHL and I'd be extremely happy for accomplishing that. But I think it's important to have goals to work towards and to try and go as high as possible. I guess my draft goal would be to get picked in the top 3 rounds.

Thanks a lot to Brandon and his agent Brian Feldman for taking the time to contribute.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pipeline Show Interview with E.J. McGuire

In case anyone missed last night's Pipeline Show, Guy and Dean had NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire on to talk about the preliminary rankings.

You can download the audio clip HERE

E.J. always gives very diligent answers in interviews, which makes him an ever interesting interviewee. Like the CSS or not, you have to respect their opinion and how they choose to back it up.

I particularly found what he had to say about Murphy and Puempel very interesting and in a way, helps explain why certain players are disappointingly ranked at times.

On Murphy, the fact that they don't seem to have faith in him developing as a two way defenseman helps to explain his low ranking. But E.J. does recognize that Murphy could be a guy some teams covet and end up taking high (much higher than they have him ranked). It probably comes down to whether you think he can develop into someone you can play 5 on 5, of which I do. But their concerns are not unfounded.

On Puempel, E.J.'s explanation helps to explain why players on teams performing poorly can often be ranked lower. To which I ask, how many 17 year olds (outside of Tyler Seguin last year) are ready to lead their teams beyond their "on paper" roster capabilities?

Anyway, take a listen and enjoy.

Team Ontario for 2011 World Under 17's

Team Ontario will be out for revenge at this year's World Under 17's after losing to the United States in the finals last year. Previously, team Ontario had captured two consecutive golds.

The team that will be out for blood this year was announced recently, and the roster is littered with OHL players (only goaltender Daniel Altshuller is from outside of the OHL).

HERE is the roster.

The tournament is going to be held in Winnipeg this year and will begin on December 29th.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Preliminary NHL Central Scouting Rankings for 2011

As I'm sure you've heard by now, NHL Central Scouting has released their preliminary rankings for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. For those unfamiliar with the NHL CSS, every November they release a top 25 for each CHL league. In case you're curious, here are the 2009 and 2010 Prelim rankings.

So here it is, NHL Central Scouting's top 25 for the Ontario Hockey League.

1. Gabriel Landeskog
2. Brandon Saad
3. Dougie Hamilton
4. Ryan Strome
5. Vincent Trocheck
6. Tobias Rieder
7. Boone Jenner
8. Ryan Murphy
9. Nicklas Jensen
10. Matt Puempel
11. Vladislav Namestnikov
12. Alexander Khokhlachev
13. Stefan Noesen
14. Rickard Rakell
15. Scott Harrington
16. Daniel Catenacci
17. Lucas Lessio
18. Shane Prince
19. Mark Scheifele
20. Nick Cousins
21. Garrett Meurs
22. Anthony Camara
23. Michael Curtis
24. David Broll
25. Austen Brassard

1. Jordan Binnington
2. Matt Mahalak
3. Matej Machovsky
4. Mike Morrison
5. Tadeas Galansky
6. John Chartrand
7. Tyson Teichmann
8. Frank Palazzese

Some general thoughts:

1. A lot of people are surprised about Murphy's ranking being so low. I'm not one of them. I expected Murphy to be this low on CSS' list. The CSS has always put a lot of stock into size (which would explain their mid 30's ranking of Jeff Skinner last year), and Murphy doesn't have it while playing a position which often requires it. That being said, do I agree with it? Absolutely not, but am I surprised? Absolutely not. Murphy is clearly the type of player who is going to have polar opinions about him. There are those that believe his skill set will allow him to be an impact player in the NHL, and those who don't. Remember, all it takes is for one NHL team to believe in you and take you high. On a somewhat side note, but also a related note, can people please stop comparing Ryan Ellis and Murphy. I've seen and heard a lot of reaction to these rankings and I continue to see "Murphy is just like Ellis." They are two very talented players, but two very different players.

2. Absolutely shocked at the omission of defenseman Stuart Percy. That's the biggest shock for me I think. Here's a guy playing key minutes for the best team in the CHL, putting up good points, has good size and who has really increased his physical play this year. I've heard concerns about his lack of elite skating as a puck rusher, but as a strong two way defenseman with a good hockey IQ, you can't do much better.

3. Great to see Ryan Strome up there where he belongs. With ISS's recent November release, it seems safe to assume that Strome has firmly entrenched himself as a top 10 contender.

4. I'm also surprised by the ranking of Vincent Trocheck...but a good surprise. Because they put so much value on size, I thought he'd be lower down (like Murphy, Prince, Catenacci, etc). But he's a very good player and prospect who's under appreciated because he plays in Saginaw and is overshadowed by Brandon Saad. Just a solid all around player who can do it all.

5. Interesting to see Matt Puempel fall significantly and Boone Jenner to actually appear higher than he has in most lists recently. I'd love to hear the explanation on that one, only because IMO both need to be better to keep up their high draft stock. But I've been hearing more concerns on Jenner's end...about his high end NHL potential and skating.

6. Tyson Teichmann sure took a tumble, but it's hard to really argue against it. He's had a tough go of it this year and has had trouble putting together consistently good starts. Lots of time left in the season though.

I'd love to hear what you thought of the rankings...and remember this is only one ranking and at the beginning of the year no less. Players will move up and down.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Top 10 - Biggest Surprises of the 2010/2011 Season...So far

We're nearly one third of the way through the 2010/2011 season, which means that it's probably safe to assume that the things we're seeing so far...are more than just flukes or minor trends. They may in fact be the reality of this season.

It's been a pretty entertaining and exciting season so far, with a lot of surprises (both good and bad).

Let's take a look at some of them.

10. Where is the Guelph Storm Offense?
Guelph currently sits in 6th in the Western Conference with a pretty respectable record, but perhaps surprisingly they have been weak offensively with among the lowest goals for per game in the league. Part of that lies with the Storm big three in Taylor Beck, Peter Holland, and Michael Latta, none of whom are currently in the top 20 of league scoring (and only Holland in the top 30). This from a group that had Beck at 4th in league scoring, Holland at 15th, and Latta 21st last year. All are in presumably their last OHL seasons and it was expected that these three Storm superstars would be up near the top of the OHL scoring race. Now it's not like they've been terrible as all three are averaging over a point per game, but it has to be said that more was expected. Maybe the blame falls on the the rest of the Storm for failing to provide any offensive support to their all star teammates, as the big three have accounted for a total of 64% of the Storm's goals so far this season. Hard to be dominant when a defense can focus nearly all of its attention on you.

9. Brampton Battalion Staying Strong
Stan Butler deserves a ton of credit. The Battalion are staying afloat despite having one of the youngest defenses in the league. Considering that the Battalion and Butler play their famous defensively oriented system, and this is even more impressive. Considering that the team is icing four OHL rookies (Auld, Abraham, Blujus, McIvor) in critical defensive situations, I'd say Butler has to be a candidate for OHL coach of the year if Brampton can stay above .500.

8. Michael Houser Stealing the Time
The London Knights are having a pretty good season so far on the strength of some outstanding goaltending from second year guy Michael Houser. When the Knights took Igor Bobkov in the Import Draft and it was stated the Ducks draft pick would be playing for London, many assumed he'd end up getting the majority of the starts. In a twist of fate, it's been Bobkov riding the pine while the undrafted Houser (went through the 2010 unselected) has been stealing the show.

7. Garrett Wilson Attacks the League
The Owen Sound Attack are playing great hockey right now and are among the leaders of the Western Conference. One of the main reasons for that has been the play of captain Garrett Wilson. Wilson made great strides last year in becoming a more consistent scoring threat, finishing the year in the top 50 of league scoring and the top 20 of goal scoring (with 36). This year has been a whole other story, as Wilson leads the league in goal scoring (with 19 in 19 games) and is third in points. This is the type of progression you like to see from power forwards in their 19 year old season.

6. Saginaw Spirit Got it Going On
The Spirit took a LOT of flak for trading Nick Crawford and T.J. Brodie last year in the midst of playoff contention (they ended up finishing 6th in the West). But G.M. Todd Watson is looking like a genius now with his club sitting on top of the Western Conference thanks in part to the youth they brought in and the goaltending of overager Mavric Parks. Preseason predictions for the Spirit were all over the map, from among the league's worst, to among the league's best, which tells you that a lot of people just weren't sure what to expect. Well now we can expect they'll continue to improve on the way to a possible Memorial Cup representation.

5. Jack Campbell and the Windsor Spitfires
Things were really rough for the much hyped first round pick and the Spitfires early in the season. Campbell was getting booed and the Spits were looking pretty bad. Things have definitely gotten better and the Spits currently sit 4th in the Western Conference, but Campbell is still working towards respectability (currently sporting a 3.69 GAA and a .885 Sv %). Then it came out this week that the Spits might look to move him (Coming Down the Pipe) on top of fielding offers for Ellis and Kassian. Needless to say, things likely haven't gone the way Campbell expected they would when he signed on to play for Windsor.

4. The Other Ryan Show
When it was announced that Ryan Ellis was heading back to Windsor (again), many were assuming that Ellis would be the leading candidate to lead the OHL in defenseman scoring. But it's been another Ryan leading the way; Kitchener defenseman Ryan Murphy. After scoring 39 points as a rookie last year, Murphy is already at 31 points this season and is running away with the defenseman scoring title (13 points ahead of Ellis). In fact, Murphy is on pace to be the first OHL defenseman to score 100 points since Jamie Rivers in 1994, and the first to score 30 goals since fellow Ranger Allan Rourke in 2000. Considering that Rivers and Rourke did it in their 19 and 20 year old seasons, and Murphy is 17, pretty damn impressive if it happens.

3. The Peterborough Pete Implosion
Many were expecting great things from the Petes this year. They were to be an experienced squad with a lot of high end offensive talent. Preseason prognostications had them as a contender for the East Division. Then it all changed. Missiaen, Sedlak, and Doornbosch were all sent packing. Then the season started with disastrous results. Then several depth players were sent home. Then Bryce O'Hagan was acquired for draft picks, to try and rectify the goaltending issues (created by the release of Missiaen in favour of the inexperienced D'Agostini and Brown). Then Ryan Spooner is sent home to await a trade, which was recently completed with Kingston. All of this adds up to the second worst winning percentage in the league and a possibility of winning the Jack Ferguson Award when all is said and done.

2. Influx of European Talent
One of the biggest stories so far this season has to be the impact of OHL Import selections on the league. I can not remember the last time so many quality European players played in the league. Nearly every team has an import making a profound difference for their team, and the likes of Nail Yakupov, Gabriel Landeskog, Alexander Khokhlachev, Vladislav Namestnikov, among many others have taken the league by storm. For those that believe the import is bad for the CHL, this might not be the best time for them.

1. A Major Offensive
Who's the best offensive team in the OHL? OK, so it's not the Mississauga Majors. But they do have the third best offense in the league right now at 4.35 goals for per game (to the 4.45 goals per game the Attack and Rangers are putting up). It may not be the best, but it's certainly among the best which is surprising considering how much is made about the Majors being so defensively oriented (well they are first in GAA at 2.25). Maybe that's the reason the Majors are currently the top ranked team in the entire CHL. The Memorial Cup hosts still have that strong defense under coach Dave Cameron, but they've improved offensively to become quite the powerhouse. The next time you go to call the Majors a boring defensive team...stop and look at the stats.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Game Report: Majors and Battalion from November 5

There is nothing better than taking in a GTA battle between the Mississauga Majors and Brampton Battalion, so I headed to the Hershey Centre last night to take in the action.

It was definitely an entertaining and spirited affair (as are most meetings between Missy and Brampton). Lots of hitting, lots of fighting and lots of angst filled ruffling after the whistle. There was a lot of end to end action offensively, however perhaps in a negative way. Neither team could really get their offensive game going. Pucks were getting dumped in, but the cycle and possession game wasn't really working for either team, so it was simply a game of end to end action with few definitive scoring chances.

The Majors ended up winning the game by a score of 3 to 1. They got a couple of goals off loose pucks in front of the net and in the slot (by Derek Shoenmakers and Devante Smith-Pelly), and finished off the Battalion in a third thanks to a Rob Flick shorthanded goal.

Mississauga looked really strong defensively and the newcomers to the team are really starting to up their game and become more accustomed to Dave Cameron's style. The penalty kill looked especially good and the Battalion had a hard enough time gaining possession of the puck on the powerplay, let alone scoring. However, I still can't help but wonder if the Majors have enough offensively to take home the Memorial Cup. It's obvious that Cameron isn't tremendously happy with the play of the left wing slot on his first line with Casey Cizikas and Devante Smith-Pelly. Riley Brace and Mika Partanen traded shifts there, but I'm not sure either is the long term answer. I also can't help but wonder what a quality puck rushing, offensive defenseman would do to help *cough,* Ryan Ellis, *cough.*

The biggest thing you notice about Brampton is how good their young defense is...and will be. In two years, this could be the best defense in the OHL. Wind, Auld, Abraham, McIvor, Blujus and Bell are all young and playing quite well.

Here are some individual player thoughts:

Brampton Battalion

#2 - Jordan Auld (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Auld plays in all situations for the Battalion and definitely sees a lot of ice time. He particularly looked good working the point on the PP with Spencer Abraham as he moved the puck well at the blueline. He also looked good defending off the rush and was able to neutralize the Majors attack. He did have a couple turnovers trying to do too much with the puck while trying to push the play up ice. Part of that could have been him trying to take some chances in order to get his team going offensively.

#5 - Spencer Abraham (Draft Eligible in 2011)
I continue to be really impressed with him offensively. He reminds me a lot of Geoffrey Schemitsch in Owen Sound last year. He controls the point very well especially on the powerplay. He's definitely one of the main reasons the Battalion powerplay is statistically one of the strongest in the league. His pass on the powerplay goal by Brampton was excellent, tape to tape cross ice through traffic, great find to Watters who roofed the puck. He also generally made some smart pinches to keep the puck in the zone, although did get burnt once, but came back hard to help negate the 2 on 1 the other way. He didn't see as much ice time 5 on 5, whether that suggests Butler isn't as confident in his defensive ability, I'm not sure.

#7 - Zach Bell (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Bell is very physical, however he was taking himself out of position to make a big hit, which is something that needs to be refined. However, for a big physical defender, he seems to be pretty mobile and defended off the rush well when he wasn't going for the big hit.

#10 - Philip Lane (Drafted by Carolina in 2010)
Lane has been a statistical disappointment so far this season. He was someone I was impressed with last year and thought he had the tools to really develop offensively, however there wasn't much there to speak of tonight. He wasn't really a factor.

#16 - Sam Carrick (Drafted by Toronto in 2010)
Carrick was probably Brampton's most dangerous offensive forward. He was working hard to get possession of the puck and often comes out of scrums with it on his stick. He had a great fight with Rob Flick, that lasted at least a minute and saw both players trading shots. It was a good time to fight as his team had just gone down 1-0 and had looked completely flat. However, he took a stupid penalty by shooting the puck after the whistle in the third period. Looked like he was just frustrated that none of his teammates were really up to his level last night.

#23 - Barclay Goodrow (Draft Eligible in 2011)
His skating looks better, although his explosiveness will need to continue to improve as he tries to take the puck to the net, but doesn't have the separation speed to get by defenders. However, he needs to be way more physical and lost a lot of battles for loose pucks along the boards. This is something nobody wants to see of a 6'2, 210lbs winger. He might not be playing with a ton of offensive confidence, as he had a couple opportunities to shoot the puck but elected to pass, one on an odd man rush that negated a scoring opportunity. He has a good shot (which I've seen him use previously), just needs to use it. He did drive hard to the net though, but needs to up the consistency of the rest of his physical game.

#31 - Dennis Saikkonen (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Saikkonen is a very athletic goaltender, definitely butterfly style (my first time seeing him play). He moves very well in his crease and made a few nice saves going side to side, especially on Justin Shugg off a feed from Casey Cizikas at the side of the net. Looked like a sure goal, but Saikkonen read the play very well and had the agility to get over to steal a goal. He also sees the puck really well through traffic and is aggressive in coming out to the top of his crease. The big minus appears to be rebound control, as he had a really tough time hanging on to the puck. Derek Shoenmakers goal was off a juicy rebound and he'll need to work on controlling pucks off his upper body in particular.

Mississauga Majors

#2 - Dylan DeMelo (Draft Eligible in 2011)
DeMelo really impressed with his play at both ends of the ice. He played in all situations including the top PK unit with Marc Cantin. He defended really well off the rush, and was physical when he needed to be (including putting down a Brampton player coming over the blueline). He also got into a fight (with Dom Alberga) which shows a scrapyness to his game. DeMelo was also poised in bringing the puck up ice or making a stretch pass and looks to have really refined his game from a year ago when he wasn't making a big enough impact to stick in the OHL as a 16 year old.

#4 - Justin Shugg (Drafted by Carolina in 2010)
Shugg didn't get on the board, but had a good game. He looks more confident with the puck now and is trying to make things happen with the puck on his stick (had a couple of nice end to end rushes into the offensive zone). He was robbed of a goal by Saikkonen (on the aforementioned slide cross crease). But maybe most impressive was that he did an excellent job on the PK and is rounding into a very good two way player.

#5 - Stuart Percy (Draft Eligible in 2011)
Percy played another excellent game. I've heard whispers about scouts worrying about him not having elite skating ability, but I don't see it, I think he moves well. He defends very well off the rush. He had a couple of one on one opportunities which he shrugged off, in particular one against Stephon Thorne, where he stayed with Thorne, didn't let him pass and then Thorne got a weak shot off which went behind the net, but Percy stayed in front of him and angled him off of getting his rebound too and sent the puck away up the ice the other way. He's also physical when he needs to be, not afraid to throw a good hit (a dimension added to his game this year). He did have a few turnovers in his own end when trying to force passes up ice, so he'll need to be more careful and pick his spots better.

#11 - Casey Cizikas (Drafted by NYI in 2009)
Cizikas did tremendous work on the PK, and is definitely one of the best in the OHL. One thing I've noticed this year is that he has a lot of confidence offensively right now and is starting to become more creative in the offensive end...see the dipsy doodle around a defenseman in the slot to set up Shugg. He has also upped his physical game and is throwing his body around and going hard to the net. Cizikas has transformed himself into one of the most well rounded players in the league. He picked up an assist on Smith-Pelly's goal, but didn't really have any impact on the play per say.

#23 - Devante Smith-Pelly (Drafted by Anaheim in 2010)
He did well to try and get the cycle going, but the Brampton defense did a good job of containing him. He still needs to work on his speed to become a more efficient player off the rush, as he's still largely a complimentary offensive player. He also needs to increase his physical play on every shift, instead of a couple of big hits throughout the game. It's about finding a balance between physical play and offensive creativity, something every physical, yet skilled forward goes through. He did score a nice goal by picking up a loose puck in the slot and hammering it home with a slap shot.

#26 - Rob Flick (Drafted by Chicago in 2010)
It might sound redundant, but great work on the PK. He scored a nice shorty by stealing a pass to the middle of the ice by Kyle Perreira and going in on a breakaway. He's always a physical presence, and had a great fight with Sam Carrick (as mentioned). Offensively he's making things happen through hard work and has showed this year that he has the hands to finish off chances in close to the net.

#34 - J.P. Anderson (Signed by San Jose)
Anderson wasn't really tested tonight at all. Even on the powerplay, Brampton had trouble getting things going. He faced only 19 shots, but the majority were weak and to his pads. The lone goal by Ian Watters was a shot wired top shelf off a cross ice pass. Anderson had no chance.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Yahoo Sports Canada CHL Chat

Our good friend Neate Sager of Yahoo Sports Canada (and the outstanding Buzzing the Net blog) has asked me to spread the word about the CHL Chatravaganza that occurs every Thursday at 4 p.m at Yahoo.

You can access the chat here

It's a great place to talk junior hockey and I highly recommend checking it out when you've got the time!