Saturday, October 29, 2011

Early Season Top 30 for the 2012 NHL Draft

It's been a really interesting season in the OHL so far. The two teams everyone (including me) expected to be leading the pack at this point (Niagara and Plymouth) are hovering around the .500 mark. Meanwhile, the upstart and young London Knights are the best in the league. There have been serious injuries, large suspensions and myriad of surprises and disappointments.

But with a full month of OHL action under our belts, I think it's fair to take an early look ahead to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Over the coming weeks, you'll start to see a lot of scouting lists thrown at you, eventually leading up to the release of the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's Preliminary list in November.

There will be a lot of changes on this list over the course of the season. For instance, Mark Scheifele was 17th on my October list last year. A list like this is simply meant to outline some of the strong contenders to this point.

Here's the list!

1. Nail Yakupov - F - Sarnia Sting
This really should come as no surprise. Yakupov is an electrifying talent and right up there with some of the best the league has produced in recent seasons (Stamkos, Kane, Tavares, Hall, etc). Everyone knows how good of a goal scorer he is, but he's really improved the rest of his offensive game this season. With defenses focusing in on him, it's allowed his passing game to really come to life and it's made him one heck of a complete offensive threat...and his team (the first place Sarnia Sting) that much better.

2. Brendan Gaunce - F - Belleville Bulls
Perhaps a bit of a surprise, I think there is a lot of parity between this number two spot (with Galchenyuk's injury) and the rest of the top 10. At any point this season, 2 through 10 could easily flip upside down. For now, I'm going with a big, strong, power center who was made to play in today's NHL. He's improved his skating a lot from last year and it's made him that much more of a dynamic threat. He plays hard, hits hard, plays both ends of the ice and is slowly becoming quite the load to handle for OHL defenses. Considering how much his brother improved over his OHL career (Cameron), I think you have to assume that things will only continue to get better with Brendan too.

3. Cody Ceci - D - Ottawa 67's
Is Cody Ceci the perfect example of how an extra year of development can really benefit those late birthday guys in the draft. Last year, Ceci probably would have been a borderline first round pick. This year, he's pushing himself into top 10 consideration. He's playing with a lot more confidence this year, especially offensively, and it's showing up on the stat sheet. He's got the size, mobility and strong two way presence that NHL teams look for in their top pairing defenseman. At this point, the only thing holding him back from being a virtual lock for the top end of the draft, is his inconsistency in using his size to push people around.

4. Alex Galchenyuk - F - Sarnia Sting
In terms of talent, I don't think there is any question that Galchenyuk is number 2 on this list. He's a magician with the puck and a bonafide offensive superstar in the making. If he were playing this year, I have no doubts that he'd be right up there with Yakupov in the OHL scoring race. But, as you probably know, he's more than likely lost for the season with a torn ACL. At this point, I just can't possibly put Galchenyuk at number 2 with the likelihood that he never plays a game this season. Not to mention, the recovery to a serious injury looming over him. For me, it'll be really interesting to see just how far he falls (if at all), when some of the other draft eligibles start to turn it on and impress. The NHL Draft is totally all about, "what have you done for me lately."

5. Matt Finn - D - Guelph Storm
Last year, Finn was one of the best rookies in the OHL...despite not really getting a lot of fan fare for it. He was so poised in his own end and looked like a very solid and reliable defensive first kind of guy. This year, he's taken his game to a whole different level. He's been a fixture on the powerplay and he's fifth in defenseman scoring (with 4 goals and 8 assists). While he doesn't have elite size, he's stocky enough and such a smart all around player, that he deserves to be near the top of the fantastic defenseman crop available from the OHL this year.

6. Olli Maatta - D - London Knights
I've been extremely impressed with this Import this season; he's come as advertised. Very solid at both ends of the ice. Very calm and cool. His addition to London's back end has been a big reason as to why they're sitting at the top of the league right now. His offensive statistics have been a little deceiving up to this point, as he can really carry the puck and is aggressive in jumping up in the play.

7. Nick Ebert - D - Windsor Spitfires
Another great two way defenseman you can throw right in there with the above guys. Defensively he's become a rock and he's definitely not afraid to throw his weight around. I've been a little disappointed with his offensive play so far this season, as he does not have his first goal of the season yet (after 11 last year). He's got a lot of pressure on him right now, trying to replace Ryan Ellis on the Windsor powerplay (which has been off to a slow start). But he's a great prospect and someone I expect will get better as the season goes along, and he becomes more comfortable being that go to guy.

8. Slater Koekkoek - D - Peterborough Petes
Unlike the defenseman listed above him, Koekkoek is still a bit of a work in progress. IMO, he's definitely the least refined of the top end defenseman available from the OHL. But he may also have the most potential. To start the season, he's been as inconsistent as the Petes team he plays for. Some nights he looks like a perennial all star, and others he looks like he's out there trying to do too much. But with his skating ability (which may be among the best of this high end group), in combination with his size, aggression and two way potential, he could easily creep up to the top of this list.

9. Gianluca Curcuruto - D - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
While I've definitely been a little disappointed with his offensive production this year, there's no question that Curcuruto's defensive game is garnering him notice. He makes such smart decisions in his own end and is quickly becoming one of the better shut down defenseman in the league. I'd love to see him take more chances offensively, because he does have a lot of talent with the puck.

10. Andreas Athanasiou - F - London Knights
At this point, I think Athanasiou is this high based on his potential to get better. I've been disappointed with his lack of progression this year. He's damn fast and he can really play with the puck on his stick. That combination of speed and puck skill is lethal coming down the wing. But it's his play without the puck and his shot quality that haven't really improved much, making his game still solely based on his speed. Not that, that's a totally bad thing, it's just that he needs to round out his game a bit if he wants to be a first round pick in June.

11. Matia Marcantuoni - F - Kitchener Rangers
Another guy off to a really disappointing start. He's certainly getting his offensive chances (currently playing on arguably Kitchener's top line with Radek Faksa and Tobias Rieder). But things just aren't going his way. He remains a very alluring prospect because of his speed, energy and tenacity. It's the skill level that hasn't really shone through quite yet. At this point, he's a almost a glorified energy forward. At this point, I just can't say that he looks like a future scoring line center at the NHL level. But that's why we play 68 games. He's got a lot of time to turn things around.

12. Adam Pelech - D - Erie Otters
Out with a wrist injury since the beginning of the season, maybe Pelech has been lucky (draft stock wise) that he hasn't been a part of the wretched mess that is the Otters right now. But then again, maybe they're just missing the steady influence he brings to the back end. He's got the size and mobility to become a real quality stay at home defenseman. But he can move the puck too, a quality I really want to see shown this year. Here's hoping that when he returns, the Otters are playing a bit better and he's given a fair shake.

13. Dylan Blujus - D - Brampton Battalion
A very intriguing prospect, is this tall, lanky, Brampton defender. He can look kind of awkward at times, and definitely needs to improve his mobility, but he has a lot of interesting qualities that scouts look for. Raw would be the correct word. As evidenced by his 4 goals and 6 assists so far this season (good for top 10 in defenseman scoring), Blujus can move the puck and can run a powerplay. I'm sure scouts would tell you that they'd like him to use his size more defensively though. An interesting prospect for sure.

14. Jesse Graham - D - Niagara IceDogs the rest of the off to a very slow start this season. But he's turned things around lately. With 2 goals, 3 assists, and a +6 in his last 7 games, he's starting to show why people like me might have him rated so highly. As as regular readers of this blog know, Graham is one of my favourite prospects from this draft class. He may not be huge (5'11), but he's one of the best skating defenseman in the OHL. He'll have to keep making strides defensively, and begin to turn some of those mesmerizing rushes up ice into legitimate scoring chances to keep draft momentum in his favour.

15. Michael Clarke - F - Windsor Spitfires
I saw a comparison made recently to former Spitfire Adam Henrique. I'm not one for comparisons usually, but I really liked that one. Clarke may not be the flashiest draft prospect available this year, nor is he the quickest, but he's certainly getting the job done. He's playing in all situations for Windsor right now, and looking like a 4 year veteran while leading the team in goal scoring thus far. This, when he's really playing in his first OHL season. Definitely impressive.

16. Daniel Altshuller - G - Oshawa Generals
Oshawa definitely hasn't been as good as many thought they would be, but I don't think that's really been the fault of Altshuller. He's definitely raw, but there is a lot of potential in him. He's quite big so he takes up a lot of the net. But he needs refinement in some of the finer aspects of goaltending, and can be beaten low. Scouts won't forget his performance for Canada at this summer's Ivan Hlinka and he hasn't played bad enough for Oshawa thus far to really condemn him.

17. Radek Faksa - F - Kitchener Rangers
Faksa is off to a solid start in the OHL and there is a lot to like about him. He's quite big (6'3, 200lbs) and he uses every inch of that size. He takes the puck hard to the net, he's a good forechecker and he works the boards well. And he's actually a pretty good skater for a big man, which makes him hard to contain in the offensive zone. Definitely a guy to keep an eye on for the rest of the season.

18. Gemel Smith - F - Owen Sound Attack
I have to admit, I don't really know what to make of Smith as this point. He's a pure energy guy who's hard work, speed, and hockey sense have lead him to a tremendous statistical start to the season (almost a ppg). He's not the biggest, but he doesn't back down from anyone. Perhaps a future potential pest. I'm just not sure how much offensive potential he's got at the NHL level, because he's never really wowed me with his skill level. But if he continues to score and generate scoring chances the way he has, can we not say that he'll continue to do that at the NHL level?

19. Thomas Wilson - F - Plymouth Whalers
It's not too often anymore that you see that "traditional" power forward come through the junior ranks. Wilson is certainly that. He's one of the hardest hitters in the league, and at 6'4, 200lbs, he hits damn hard. He'll drop the mitts too (with 4 already this year). He's creating offense this year with his size, and while you'd like to see the goal total higher, he's got the skill to score.

20. Jarrod Maidens - F - Owen Sound Attack
Just a real meat and potatoes kind of player. He works hard, is smart and he capitalizes on his scoring chances. I've seen him quite high on a lot of lists lately, which I'm not sure I totally get because I'm not sure he has the high end potential of some of the guys I've listed above him. But he's certainly a very solid player who's deserving of consideration in the first two rounds come June.

21. Matt Murray - G - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Like Altshuller, Murray is an absolute behemoth in the net. At 6'4, he's pretty hard to beat when he's got the angles covered. The Hounds are playing some inspiring hockey and a lot of that has to be contributed to the improvements made by this sophomore. At this point, perhaps the only thing separating Murray and Altshuller is exposure.

22. Dane Fox - F - London Knights
Fox doesn't come without his baggage. There was an incident this summer that caused him to be sent home from London, leaving his OHL career in limbo. But he was eventually allowed to rejoin London and looks great this year (this third in the league as a late 1993). He's a physical, energy guy who can do a little bit of everything. He's playing in all situations for London (similar to a guy like Michael Clarke) and playing hard.

23. Malcolm Subban - G - Belleville Bulls
Unfortunately for Subban, so far this season we're left with a bit of a sour taste in our mouths. He started off the season blandly and then injured his ankle and hasn't played in a month. With two bigger and younger goaltenders playing...and playing well, it's hard to argue that Subban should be right up there with him at this point. But he remains an athletic specimen with great potential. We just need him to play to see it.

24 & 25. Ryan Rupert & Matt Rupert - F - London Knights
At this point, it's still hard for me to tell he and his brother apart on the ice. So I've put them together. Both are off to tremendous starts and have tons of offensive talent, to go with an extreme tenacity (which has landed them in the doghouse a few times for undisciplined penalties). But when you're only 5'9, you've got to play with a chip on your shoulder to get noticed by NHL scouts. Hard to imagine that they aren't looking.

26. Scott Laughton - F - Oshawa Generals
Another guy who's kind of earned the benefit of the doubt up to this point, despite his lack of offensive production. He really hasn't taken hold of a scoring line spot as many thought he would, and he should be shouldering some of the blame for the team's cold start. He's a hard nosed center who can play both ends of the ice, but he'll need to step it up offensively soon.

27. Scott Kosmachuk - F - Guelph Storm
Another meat and potatoes kind of guy, Kosmachuk is a hard working, net crashing winger who's off to a great start for Guelph. He currently leads them in goal scoring and is starting to make a name for himself. He probably deserves to be up with the likes of Gemel Smith and Jarrod Maidens, but I'm just not as familiar with him as of yet. Another guy to really look out for.

28. Matthew Campagna - F - Sudbury Wolves
Another guy who's kind of working off his reputation and hype at this point. He hasn't been terrible to start the year, but he hasn't been great either. We're all still waiting for that elite skill level to translate to consistent point production. Sudbury could certainly use the secondary scoring he has the potential to provide. The fact that he's a little undersized won't go in his favor either, if he continues to under produce.

29. Chris Marchese - F - Erie Otters
Forget the fact that he's nearly a league worst -17 to start the year...Marchese is a good player. He has real power forward potential, and despite his -17, he can actually play both ends of the ice. He hits, he'll fight, and he can score goals around the net. Hopefully Erie can start playing a bit better so he doesn't get buried by the "bad team itis" that can plague quality draft eligible players on terrible teams.

30. Patrik Machac - F - Brampton Battalion
There were truly a handful of guys I considered to close out this list. So I went with the one whom I've maybe been the most impressed by...even if I'm not yet convinced NHL scouts are drooling over this guy. He's small (5'9), but he's very quick and elusive. He can handle the puck with the best of them and he's been the main reason Brampton has been off to a great start IMO. Brampton had been lacking a true skilled forward to create scoring chances for some of it's hard working guys (like Carrick, Lane, Watters and Goodrow), and Machac is that guy. This little water bug deserves some attention.

Honorable Mention:
Artur Gavrus - F - Owen Sound Attack
Brady Vail - F - Windsor Spitfires
Chris Tierney - F - London Knights
Erie Locke - F - Barrie Colts
Warren Steele - D - Kingston Frontenacs
Marcus McIvor - D - Brampton Battalion
Troy Donnay - D - London Knights
Kristoff Kontos - F - Sudbury Wolves
Garrett Hooey - F - Belleville Bulls

Special Honorable Mention (for bad luck)

Evan McEneny - D - Kitchener Rangers
One of the most underrated defenseman from this draft crop, I thought McEneny had a real chance to show that he was a potential quality NHL draft pick. Size, smarts, and two way play make him an asset on the blueline. He was off to a great start too, but then he torn his ACL and is now done for the season. Without the high profile attached like Galchenyuk, I doubt someone takes a chance on him in June. A real bummer.

Stay tuned soon for the first Media Poll Draft list of the season. It'll be interesting to see how it compares to my list (which might be unconventional at this point).

OHL Arena Review

Every so often I get an email from someone who is looking to go to an OHL game, but doesn't know where to go to watch one. This brings me to a link I was supplied with recently that would help out the casual fan who's looking for that ideal OHL experience.

Over at Stadium Journey, they review arenas for that purpose. Their most recent one was of the Sleeman Centre in Guelph.

Head over and check it out!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Game Report: Majors & Knights from October 19

The first game report of the year comes from this beauty of a match up between the top two rated teams in the country right now (according to this week's BMO CHL rankings). London and Mississauga clashed at the Hershey Center (in front of a very weak crowd), with the top rated Knights coming out on top by a score of 6-3.

It was a great game that was a lot closer than the 43-26 shot advantage (for London) would make you believe. Turnovers and stupid penalties cost the Majors big as the Knights were able to capitalize on both. London looked fantastic offensively. Their forwards forced turnovers, created off the rush and controlled play along the boards. And the Knights came through with the win despite being severely undermanned on the backend. Captain and Habs first rounder Jarred Tinordi remains out with an eye injury suffered in a fight, while Kyle Flemington is suspended. Overage forward Colin Martin played a regular shift on the blueline (which isn't a crazy thought considering he's been quarterbacking the powerplay for a few years now).

Some player reports:

London Knights

#2 - Olli Maatta (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
My first real look at Maatta and I was impressed. Seems like a really solid two way defenseman. Engaged forwards in the corners and in front of the net. He was able to win one on one battles in the corner and was composed with the puck. In the offseason, when I spoke to a European scout for my Import Draft review, I was told his skating needed some work. It looked pretty solid tonight, I thought. He's not to be confused with Ryan Murphy, but he seems to move pretty well. He had a few nice rushes up ice with the puck and was fine moving backwards and laterally on his defensive assignments. I was actually surprised with how involved he was offensively, considering his somewhat modest stat totals thus far. He was very aggressive in jumping up on the rush, in one case creating a goal finished off by Matt Rupert. He crept up into the slot area, showed some nice hands by sticking with a bit of a sloppy pass from Ryan Rupert and getting it to the front of the net following a 360 spin, which allowed the other Rupert to finish off the play in front of the net. The only negative was a bad turnover of his that resulted in a goal. He cut up the middle of the ice to rush the puck, but was stripped at the blueline by Sergey Kuptsov leading to a goal by Derek Schoenmakers.

#6 - Scott Harrington (Drafted by Pittsburgh)
A pretty solid game for Harrington who seems to have gotten back to the things that made him such a strong player in his first OHL season. Just keeping things simple. Played solid defensively, and didn't force plays up ice. Playing with a confident puck mover like Maatta probably helps a lot because it takes the pressure off him to be a big time offensive contributor.

#16 - Max Domi (Eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft)
The best player on the ice tonight. Domi was simply fantastic. He's going to be a star in this league, if he isn't already. Was incredibly impressed with all facets of his offensive game. He reminded me a lot of Steve Stamkos in the way that his quickness, elusiveness and skill combination makes him a threat to go from gliding around to putting a puck in the back of the net. He has those quick bursts of energy that make Stamkos such a special player. While Domi finished with only one assist, he set up numerous scoring chances and was constantly buzzing. The assist was actually on his least flashy play of the game, was he wristed a shot on net that generated a big rebound for Jared Knight to capitalize on. Perhaps the most impressive play was on a 3 on 2 where he showed tremendous poise with the puck. He took a drop pass at the blueline, carried the puck in, sucked in one of the defenders (showing tremendous patience) and then fed a beauty pass to Scott Harrington with the defender draped over him, to which Harrington blasted a shot on net that nearly beat Anderson. The only negative (which I'm sure he heard about on the bench after) was a play that you just can't make at the OHL level. Coming around the net with the puck in the offensive end, he threw a blind pass through the legs to the front of the net. Problem was none of his teammates were there, which lead to the puck escaping the zone for a 2 on 1 for the Majors (which fortunately for Domi, did not result in a goal).

#18 - Vladislav Namestnikov (Drafted by Tampa Bay)
Namestnikov had a very good game. He looks stronger on the puck this year to match his great speed and puck carrying ability. Namestnikov is especially dangerous on the powerplay, where he gets more room to work and he does such a good job of finding holes in the zone and his patience with the puck makes him very dangerous. He finished with an assist on Matt Rupert's second goal of the game.

#46 - Matt Rupert (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
If I wasn't looking for numbers, I don't think I would have been able to tell Matt and Ryan apart on the ice. They seem to play very similar games and have a similar skill set. Both were excellent on the night. Matt finished with two goals and an assist, the one off the aforementioned Olli Maatta 360 pass. He seems to be at home in front of the net and in the slot, which is great considering he's undersized. He also showed a real solid passing touch. The Rupert's combined for the first goal of the game on the powerplay on a very nice give and go. Ryan passed off to Matt at the side of the net, who then returned the favor to a cutting Ryan for the one timer.

#64 - Ryan Rupert (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
As mentioned, tough to tell the two apart when they're on the ice. Ryan had a goal and an assist. The goal was off the aforementioned give and go with his brother. Showed some great hands finishing off the play. He was also making some good passes with the man advantage, moving the puck quickly and efficiently. He earned his assist on the aforementioned play to Olli Maatta, finding him cutting to the net with a hard pass (that was a little behind him). The Rupert twins have definitely carried over their strong play from last season when they exploded onto the scene in London.

#71 - Chris Tierney (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
I was actually impressed with Tierney in the minimal time I saw him play last year in an injury plagued season. This is like his first OHL season, essentially. He's had a great start to this season and he had a very good game. The one thing that always stands out to me about Tierney is his stickhandling ability. He really has the puck on a string and is constantly maneuvering around the opposition. He was very active on the forecheck tonight and was out there forcing turnovers. He had a big role in Dane Fox's unassisted goal, even if he didn't get an assist on the play. Tierney did draw an assist on Andreas Athanasiou's third period goal though. He also saw substantial penalty killing time and looked good doing it.

#74 - Dane Fox (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
I was actually really disappointed when Fox was sent home this offseason because I was quite impressed with his play at times last year. But fortunately, he was welcomed back to the team and has gotten off to a great start this season. Like Chris Tierney, Fox was very active on the forecheck and helped to force a lot of turnovers. He capitalized on some terrific work by his line (Tierney and Horvat) at the tail end of the first, when he took a terrible dump attempt from Stuart Percy and put it to the back of the net with a nice top shelf back hand. He's always in on the rough stuff too and plays the game on the edge. He's a very effective player and definitely a potential top 3 round draft pick this year IMO.

#77 - Josh Anderson (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
While he was held scoreless, I liked what I saw from Anderson tonight. He looks to definitely have some offensive potential at this level (as his preseason performance would indicate). He's definitely got some speed coming down the wing and he's not afraid to pay the price in front of the net for scoring chances (he looks a little bigger than the 6'1 he's listed at). He had a bit of a tough time controlling the puck at times and is going to need to add some strength to make him a more consistent offensive threat, but there's definitely potential there.

#86 - Andreas Athanasiou (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
I was a little bit underwhelmed by Athanasiou tonight. At this point, I'm not seeing a huge progression from him last year, to him this year. That's not necessarily a terrible thing. But I was kind of hoping he'd round out his game a little bit. He's still most effective off the rush where he can use his speed to beat defenders to the outside. But he wasn't as visible when the offense set up in the zone. He also got outmuscled off the puck in the corners a few times. He's a terrific goal scoring prospect, but I think there's a reason why he's gotten off to a bit of a slow start (at least slower than what many had anticipated, myself included). And that reason is that he hasn't really rounded out his game to the point where he can be a consistent offensive threat. He'll need to find a way to use his speed when the game slows down/bogs down.

#97 - Jared Knight (Drafted by Boston)
Knight was definitely terrific tonight. He was typical Knight. Buzzing around the puck, throwing the body around, and putting the puck in the net. He found a juicy rebound in the slot off a Max Domi shot to deposit his lone goal in the game. A definite highlight was his thunderous bodycheck on Dylan Demelo in the neutral zone. You could have measured the distance DeMelo flew with a walking meter stick. Knight looks quicker and stronger this year and is going to have a monster season.

Mississauga St. Michael's Majors

#2 - Dylan DeMelo (Drafted by San Jose)
DeMelo had a really rough game with his partner Stuart Percy. The first goal was his fault, as he failed to follow his man (Ryan Rupert) to the net on the give and go. He had a really rough time with the Knights' forecheck and just couldn't get the puck out of his zone or win a battle along the boards.

#4 - Trevor Carrick (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
Liked what I saw of Carrick tonight. He kept things simple and did a good job of moving the puck quickly out his zone to avoid the London forecheck. He was also relatively sharp in running the point on the Mississauga powerplay. While the points haven't really been there yet, if he keeps playing well, they should come. He certainly has the bloodlines (Jake and Sam) to be a legitimate OHL player.

#13 - Sergey Kuptsov (Eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft)
Wow, this guy is a beast. He is absolutely huge. And as a late birth day, he's got the potential to get even bigger. His first few steps aren't incredible, but once he gets going, he's actually quite an elusively quick player. Not to mention that he's damn hard to stop. He had a couple of plays where he just powered himself to the front of the net with the puck, generating a scoring chance. He seems to love parking himself in front of the net and makes a giant screen for the opposition. But he's also got hands and made a few really nice passes. He was physical, played both ends of the ice (including the PK), and earned an assist by forcing a turnover by cutting off Olli Maatta as he cut up the middle of the ice and feeding the puck to Derek Schoenmakers for the breakaway. Very impressive performance.

#28 - Stuart Percy (Drafted by Toronto)
I'm a huge Stuart Percy fan. This was the worst game I've ever seen him play. I'm sure he'd be the first one to tell you that he flat out stunk tonight. He had three bad turnovers in his own end, one of which lead to the Dane Fox goal. He had a ton of trouble with the Knights forecheck and speed. He also took a bad penalty when Andreas Athanasiou got him flat footed and took him to the outside, leaving Percy no choice but to trip him up. Just not a typical Percy performance. On the positive, he looked much better on the powerplay where he seems to be doing a better job of getting his shot on net and making quicker decisions with the puck.

Also on a Majors note, it is now obvious to me as to why Riley Brace has gotten off to such a good start this year. He's grown possibly the greatest mustache in the league (visual evidence here, although I'm not sure it does it justice). A little Movember power?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Top 10 - Surprises of the Opening Weeks

The 2011-2012 OHL season is now almost three weeks old. Many teams have played around 10% of their season thus far, and things in the league are starting to round into form.

So let's take a look at some of the things that have caught everyone by surprise and opened up some eyes so far. There isn't any order to this week's list, just a collection of ten facts that may be interesting about the start to the new season.

The Guelph Storm Are Winning Games
The Storm were the preseason favourites to be the worst in the West after losing Taylor Beck, Peter Holland, and Michael Latta (among others). They had a good preseason, but I'm not sure a lot of people put stock into it. But now Scott Walker (new assistant for Canada at the WJC's) has the Storm playing well to start the regular season. The team's collection of hard working forwards are wearing down opposing defenses and they're actually the second highest scoring team in the league (per game) behind London right now. I'm not even sure Guelph fans anticipated this type of start.

Niagara and Oshawa Struggling
In pretty much any preseason prognostication, one of three teams were bend pegged to win the East. The 67's, who are off to a great start. And the IceDogs and Generals who have looked quite poor thus far. For Niagara, it could be the absence of Ryan Strome (NHL) and Mark Visentin (injury). For Oshawa, who knows. Both teams could be suffering from the post NHL camp malaise that often plagues players who return to the OHL from long stays in NHL/AHL camps. Either way, these two beasts of the East have looked more like basement dwellers thus far and that has to be a surprise.

Joey Hishon Still Not Healthy
After suffering a concussion at last year's Memorial Cup, Owen Sound's star center Joey Hishon is still out with post concussion syndrome. There is no time table for his return. In a lot of ways, this has been a bit of a surprise in the past month or so because of how well hidden the extent of Hishon's malaise was. If Hishon is able to recover at some point this season, it may actually be a blessing to the well as Hishon. Many were expecting he would turn pro this season and play in the AHL. But with no NHL camp time and a long recovery ahead of him, if he comes back at all this season, you'd have to assume it'd be with Owen Sound (instead of throwing him straight to the wolves in the AHL/ECHL). Which would give their line up a HUGE boost.

Christian Thomas' Slow Start
Yes, the Generals are struggling, as has already been mentioned. But maybe part of that lies with Christian Thomas who hasn't looked great (save the last game) since returning from New York Rangers camp. As a popular preseason pick to lead the league in scoring (as he came close to doing last year), it has to be surprising that prior to yesterday's two goal effort, Thomas had only 1 goal in 5 games to start the year. It looks like he's turning things around now, which is great news. But his slow start is definitely still news worthy.

Kerby Rychel, Scorer Extraordinaire?
If I had said to you that one of the top scoring 1994's in the OHL after the first three weeks would be Kerby Rychel, would you have called me crazy? Considered a hard nosed player with limited upside, Rychel has exploded offensively this season and is still top 10 in league scoring, and 2nd in goals scored. Would anybody care to call him a reach in the OHL Priority Draft first round anymore?

Peterborough Petes, East Division Leaders
Granted, a lot of people expected the Petes to be much better this season (myself included), but leading their division thus far has to be considered a solid feat. Even more surprising has been the play of goaltender Andrew D'Agostini. Offseason acquisition and supposed starter Mike Morrison has been shaky thus far and D'Agostini has taken the bull by the horns.

What's Going On With the Draft Eligible Players?
Some of the OHL's supposed top talent for the NHL Draft this year have struggled out of the gate statistically. In fact, thus far, only 2 of the league's top 20 scorers thus far are first year draft eligible players (Yakupov and Rychel). The likes of Matia Marcantouni, Scott Laughton, Andreas Athanasiou, Jesse Graham, among others are struggling to find their groove. In net, Malcolm Subban is losing starts to offseason acquisition John Chartrand, who is outplaying him by leaps and bounds. Now I'm sure that most of these guys turn it around, but it wouldn't be shocking if a few continued this into a year long funk.

The Perfect Mississauga Majors
Memorial Cup hangover? Loss of the team's top 8 scorers from last year? Devante Smith Pelly in the NHL. Yet...the Mississauga Majors have been the best team in the league thus far with a perfect 7-0 record. Many of the team's veteran players have stepped up huge, and the team's young/inexperienced defense have looked like a group of 4 year veterans. If the team gets Smith-Pelly back eventually...and even gets a surprise OA return (Flemming, Shugg?), could they be Memorial Cup contenders yet again? A 68-0 season?

7 Players Stick in the NHL
If this list were in a specific order, this fact would likely be number one or at the top of the list. It was assumed many of the league's top picks this season were simply not NHL ready. That certainly hasn't been the case. Gabriel Landeskog (who was a lock to make the NHL), Ryan Strome, Ryan Murphy, Mark Scheifele, Brandon Saad have stuck from the 2011 Draft, while Erik Gudbranson (another lock) and Devante Smith-Pelly have made it from the 2010 crop. Who knows how many or who sticks past the maximum games requirement, but some of these players are significant losses to their OHL teams. If Niagara doesn't get Strome back until sometime in November, they could already be out of the Division race by then.

Tanner Pearson, Zach Hall, and Colin Behenna
Mark Scheifele who? These three linemates in Barrie are absolutely tearing apart the league. Pearson is on pace for a 200 point season, and the three amigos are on pace to score close to 200 goals alone, as a unit. Talk about finding a first line with chemistry to start the year. Best of all, Barrie is in 4th place in the East and look to be a force to reckon with. Now that's a quality rebuilding effort.