Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Top 10 - Draft Players to Watch

Today's Top 10 looks at some under the radar draft eligible players to watch as we inch closer to the half way point of the 2011/2012 OHL season.

Last month, I released my Early Season Top 30 for the 2012 Draft. It's definitely safe to say that in just a month, that list has changed a lot. But you'll have to wait until the new Year for an abridged version (my midseason list).

Until then, the following 10 guys (actually 11, I'm cheating today) are starting to make a name for themselves. And none of them appeared on my early season top 30. Just a year ago, the likes of Ryan Sproul, Andrew Fritsch, and Alan Quine did not appear on my early season top 30...and all three were NHL draft picks (Sproul and Quine inside the first three rounds). So there's a great chance that a couple of these guys will end up being significant NHL draft picks.

Here's the list (in alphabetical order)...

Joseph Blandisi - Owen Sound Attack
An OHL rookie, Blandisi earned his spot on the Attack roster this season by showcasing a work ethic on the ice similar to that of some other great Attack forwards in recent years (Gemel Smith, Mike Halmo, Andrew Shaw, etc). He's not the biggest guy, but he's always in on the play and works hard at both ends of the ice. Despite not getting a ton of offensive responsibility this season, he's currently 8th in scoring for the Attack. Instead of centering the third line, he's actually seen some time on the wing with Dan Catenacci and Jarrod Maidens of late, and he's got 2 goals and 2 assists in his last three games. He's definitely got some offensive ability and the hands to score in close. If he continues to get a chance on a top line, he could end up with a nice little season.

Brandon Devlin - Windsor Spitfires
How do the Spitfires keep stealing players from other teams? I never understood why the Colts weren't playing Devlin (or playing him at wing), because every time I saw him on defense, he looked strong. No co-incidence that since moving to Windsor he's blossoming into a solid two-way defenseman. I think he has the make up and skill set to develop into a very strong defensive first guy. He moves well and defends off the rush well. He's gaining more confidence in his physical game. And he can make a solid first pass out of his zone. As he gets more comfortable, it's definitely possible we see him taking more chances offensively. But with how many minutes he's playing in Windsor right now, he won't be under the radar for long.

Artur Gavrus - Owen Sound Attack
He's become "the guy Tie Domi's kid rocked," but that shouldn't be why we were talking about him. It's unfortunate for Gavrus that people are only talking about him now because of his injury, and not because of his offensive creativity and ability. For my money, Gavrus has scored the best goal in the league thus far, against the Spitfires in October. (FIND THE GOAL HERE, Watch the video labeled "Attack Beat Spits"). Offensively, he has it all. He's got speed to burn. He's not big, but he's certainly not afraid of the front of the net. And he has very good hands that allow him to make moves (like the above), that create time and space for himself and his linemates. Here's hoping he recovers from his concussion soon and returns to the ice in full form.

Max Iafrate - Kitchener Rangers
Iafrate has the toolbox to develop into a great stay at home defenseman. He's got the size, intensity and physical ability, and the skating ability to be a dominant defensive first guy. The problem, thus far, is that people compare him to his father. Thus far into his OHL career, Iafrate has looked like a guy without a real role. He's been trying to use his skating ability and shot to be an offensive guy, but it hadn't been working out. Since coming to Kitchener, Steve Spott has had Iafrate working on being a defensive first guy and there have been massive improvements to his game. He's looking more and more comfortable, and that confidence has translated to his offensive game of late. He's picking his spots better to turn on the offensive game and making better decisions with the puck in his own end. Now all he needs is a mullet.

Ben Johnson - Windsor Spitfires
What a difference a month can make for an OHL rookie. Johnson is proof that it can take a little while to get used to the speed and strength of this game. It took him 24 games to score his first OHL goal, but since he's got 4 goals and 4 assists in his last 5 games. He's got a ton of speed to burn and is starting to gain the confidence to utilize it offensively, as opposed to just being a forechecker. Johnson is also a complete player who thrives on the physical game. He's developed some massive chemistry with Alex Khokhlachev in the past two weeks, so look for him to continue to put up points.

Kristoff Kontos - Sudbury Wolves
Another player with strong NHL bloodlines (son of former Ranger and King, Chris Kontos), has been playing well with the Sudbury Wolves this year. A late 1993, Kontos' problem has been consistency. He started well last year too, but then fizzled. This year, he had a terrific October (averaging a point per game). But now he's only got 2 goals in his last 11 games and has gone cold again. His offensive production is directly correlated to his determination away from the puck. He'll need to find a way to get things back on track offensively and become more of a consistent front of the net presence, using his size to put points on the board.

Zack Leslie - Guelph Storm
A talented offensive defenseman, Leslie has slowly established his place on Guelph's blueline. He's now playing a top four role and seeing time with both Matt Finn and Andrey Pedan on the powerplay. He's also improving his defensive game to the point where he's seeing some penalty kill time. He skates well, has some size and can move the puck. All things NHL teams love in their blueliners. The key will be confidence in rushing the puck and taking some chances, without sacrificing the work he's put in to improve play in his own end. He has six points in November and should continue to put up some points so long as he sees powerplay time.

Eric Locke - Barrie Colts
It's been a tough season for the speedy Colt's winger. After such a promising year last year, which saw him put up over 50 points between Windsor and Barrie and play a key role for Canada at the Under 18's, Locke has been injury riddled this season. He started the year on the shelf with a concussion. Then returned, scored two goals, and injured his knee. He's only recently returned again, hopefully for good this time. Since returning from the knee injury, he's got only one assist in three games, but he's seeing a lot of ice time. With Barrie's strong supporting cast, it's only a matter of time until Locke starts scoring again. The question surrounding Locke is, just how much does his speed and skating ability offset his lack of size? I know Redline Report are HUGE fans of his (I think they have him in their first round), but I haven't seen anyone else with him nearly that high. Locke is definitely a wild card.

Warren Steele - Kingston Frontenacs
After starting the year so poorly, the Fronts are actually playing .500 hockey of late. Steele has been a huge part of Kingston's improvement. He's playing a ton of minutes as (essentially) an OHL rookie and looks like a four year vet on most nights. He seems to be one of those jack of all trades guys. Can do a little bit of everything and do it well. The key for Steele, to earn serious draft attention, will be to take his offensive game to the next level. He's not a big guy, so putting up some more points on the board will be key. Working under Todd Gill can't be a bad thing, for how many years he patrolled an NHL blueline.

Brady Vail - Windsor Spitfires
Vail has been a model of consistency this year. His tenacity with and without the puck is contagious, and whatever line he's on, always seems to be among the best on the night. He definitely profiles as a very strong two way winger at the next level and is starting to really increase his physical output as he gains more and more confidence. With guys like Vail, Clarke, Johnson, among others, playing so well, it's no coincidence that a Windsor rebuild isn't exactly the same as any other team's rebuild in this league.

Daniil Zharkov - Belleville Bulls
While the wait was substantial (after suffering a broken collarbone in the exhibition season), Zharkov appears to have been worth the wait. He's been absolutely fantastic since joining the Bulls' lineup. He has developed instant chemistry with Brendan Gaunce on the team's first line and looks like an unstoppable force at times. Zharkov is the complete package. He has size, speed and skill and just oozes potential. If he continues to put up close to a point per game, and the Bulls continue to win, he might just start creeping up into consideration for the first round. He's right up there with Radek Faksa and Olli Maatta.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Great Article on Head Checking in the OHL

If you've got the time and you want a great read, check out Yahoo's Sunaya Sapurji's article about the state of body checking in the Ontario Hockey League. One of the best and most thought provoking articles I've read in a while.


What are your thoughts on the state of physical play in our great league?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Top 10 - Early Season Media Top 10

It's time for the first edition of our media/scouting agency top 10 for 2012.

Helping out for the early season list are Dominic Tiano (2012 OHL Draft Eligible Players), Future Considerations Chief Scout Dan Stewart and contributor Sean Lafortune, Corey Pronman (Hockey Prospectus), Scott Campbell (The Scouting Report), and Nathan Fournier (The World of Junior Hockey). I also incorporated my list into the discussion.

10. Matt Finn - Guelph Storm
Received Votes From: 4 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 5 (twice)/Outside of the Top 10 (thrice)
Comments: Finn still seems to be flying under the radar, despite his solid start to the OHL season. One contributor loves the maturation of his offensive game this year. "Already known for his defensive work from his rookie season, he has found the offensive side of his game this year. He's calm under pressure in his own zone never seeming to panic. He gets quality power play time, has an accurate shot and a great passer." However one contributor says he needs to prove that his offensive performance thus far isn't just a hot start. "He has helped the upstart Storm to a far better record than most predicted they would have coming in. The real trick is sustaining that nice start through the Christmas break which at that point he will start to prove to scouts that this is not just a hot start where he is playing above his head." Another contributor agrees. "He and Andrey Pedan have been a HUGE reason as to why the Guelph Storm are playing way better than people thought they would. How he's not getting a ton of credit for that from the scouting community, I don't know."

9. Andreas Athanasiou - London Knights
Received Votes From: 4 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 4 (once)/Outside of the Top 10 (thrice)
Comments: One contributor said it best. "I just love the skating and puck skills as both are high-end traits, but he does need some work around the edges." No question Athanasiou has gotten off to a slow start and has the potential for more. The question is why hasn't he performed better this year? "I've been unimpressed by the lack of development in his overall game," says one contributor. "He's still a one trick pony to some extent and he'll need to figure out how to adapt to get the most out of his innate offensive abilities." But one contributor says "you just have to be enticed by the type of ceiling he has several years down the road." Another used the word "untapped potential." Now it's just a matter of whether he can start tapping.

8. Gianluca Curcuruto - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Received Votes From: 5 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 7 (once)/Outside of the Top 10 (twice)
Comments: The Hounds are playing well and their defense has been a big part of that. But Curcuruto's offensive game hasn't really played a large part of that. Expected to really take that next step this year, he's on pace for well under what he did offensively as a rookie last year. One contributor isn't worried. "Curcuruto is a real smart, do-it-all type of defender that could see his name really rising up draft lists fast if he starts producing more offense on a consistent basis. He is a real competitor, and the rest of his game is pretty strong already as he improved his mobility and consistency from last season." Another contributor says "he's getting better every time I see him." One contributor praises his defensive game. "He's a beast in his own zone and quite possibly the best of the bunch listed here defensively." Definitely high praise. But there is one contributor who is slightly concerned with his lack of offensive production. "I'm starting to wonder about his high end potential. He's a rock solid defender, but there are so many quality defenders available this year. He's starting to look more like a second rounder than a first for me."

7. Brendan Gaunce - Belleville Bulls
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2 (once)/ 9 (twice)
Comments: Gaunce is the type of guy where what you see is what you get. "Quite possibly the best power forward available from the OHL in 2012. Has made improvements where he's needed to, although I think he could work on his skating a little more. Plays a solid two way game and his defensive game is as close to NHL ready as they come," says one contributor. Another describes him as "a potential beast at the next level. I think he's got more potential than people are giving him credit for." But not everyone is convinced. "Everything that I have seen suggests that he will be a strong NHL player, but I may not be as high on him as others are. I’m still concerned about his consistency and his ability to always bring his best level of play, but the potential is there." Another contributor agrees. "Gaunce is one of those prospects that you either really like him or you have your doubts about his projected role at the next level. I tend to lean to the later as he does have the size, and willingness to be involved but I am just not sure that he has high end offensive potential or that his skating will not be a detriment at the next level. Right now he looks like a potential solid third liner to me, if he improves those feet." I'll end with a strong statement made by another contributor. "What is it about draft eligible players who are already strong two way players? We always hear the same crap about them and their lack of offensive potential. Heck, it happened with Landeskog last year. At the end of the day, we've got a second year player leading his surprisingly good team in scoring...and we're talking about his lack of potential? Please."

6. Nick Ebert - Windsor Spitfires
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 3 (once)/ 8 (once)
Comments: Pretty good timing on our part to rank Ebert 6th among OHL players, considering NHL Central Scouting doesn't believe he's part of the top 25...let alone knocking on the door of the top 5. One contributor sums it up well. "It’s been a disappointing season so far for Ebert who is struggling with the loss of Ryan Ellis, among others. Ebert hasn’t really played well defensively, and his offensive game has suffered as well. He’s still a very talented player but he needs to simplify his game and avoid trying to do to much. There’s a lot of hockey left, and if he can focus on making better decisions with the puck and playing within his means, he’ll see a lot more progress in his play." However one contributor is still a believer. "I know a lot of people have been frustrated by Ebert's progression this season, but to be honest I view his as another Sean Couturier. A player who has been in the spotlight for 3-4 years who we have had the opportunity to nitpick. His intelligence with and without the puck, his puck skills and his projectable tools make him one of the best defenceman in the draft." Another somewhat agrees. "Hes not off to the season he wanted and thats why I have him where I do. With that said, I think this is another case of a kid being in the spotlight and under the mircoscope for two full years now onto his third year."

5. Olli Maatta - London Knights
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 3 (once)/ 8 (once)
Comments: Here's a guy who has definitely lived up to the hype. "He's got way more offensive talent than the numbers suggest right now. He's the real deal at both ends of the ice," says a contributor. Another applauds his hockey sense. "I really like how advanced his mental game is and how well he controls possession from his end outward." And while many of the contributors talk about his high end skating ability and puck rushing poise, one contributor feels the smoothness of his skating is masking a lack of high end speed. "The more I see him the more I like the quiet Finn and his understated game. He is a smooth, yet slow footed skater that needs to pick up the pace skating wise before he can be considered one of the top defenders in 2012." A few other contributors use the phrases "safe" and "not sure about his high end potential." But one contributor loves him and thinks people are underrating his offensive ability. "Maatta has become an early favorite of mine. Coming into the season, We all knew of his high end intelligence and his strong positional play. What we wondered about was his offensive abilities. In early viewings, Maatta has eased a lot of those concerns. He shows strong vision with the puck and makes strong, crisp outlet passes. He skates well both with and without the puck. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time."

4. Slater Koekkoek - Peterborough Petes
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 3 (once)/ 8 (twice)
Comments: As many know by now, Koekkoek oozes potential. "Koekkoek is a player who brings a high upside. He can do whatever you want. He can play a strong defensive game, an elite puck moving game or a shut down style. He is at his best with his head up, skating the puck out of his end and distributing it on the rush. Of all the players that I have seen this year, he may have the highest ceiling / potential level," says one contributor. But it's all about consistency. If he were to put it all together by the end of the year, he could go very high. "Has shown the potential at times that he could be the best defenseman taken in the draft and other times you'd think he was a late rounder. But no question the talent is there. The question really is can he put it all together consistently? Going to go with a yes here and say potential wins out." Another contributor agrees. "You watch a Peterborough game and Slater really jumps right out at you as a skilled two-way defender with impressive upside. His potential is that of a top pairing guy at the next level, however, he slips a little because much of his game is still a work in progress. Consistency in his play in both zones will go a long ways in improving his draft stock." One contributor makes an interesting comparison. "Zach Bogosian was the 4th pick in 2008, and in my opinion, Slater Koekkoek is a better player. He played 30 minutes a night at 16, and it looks like he’s pushing 35 a night at 17. I think Koekkoek is a pretty complete package who is only going to get better as he continues to fill out his frame. The ceiling is very high with this player."

3. Cody Ceci - Ottawa 67's
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2 (thrice)/ 6 (once)
Comments: Ceci definitely received some high praise from our contributors. "In my opinion, without question the best all around defenseman available from the OHL at this point. He is playing with confidence in the offensive zone and has put up points at a better pace than I expected without hurting his defensive game," says one contributor. Another contributor loves the fact that he just continues to get better. "Ceci is a player who's progression year over year continues to impress. He always has been strong in his own end both positionally and physically, however we always wondered about his offensive ability and mobility. When I originally saw him at his years NHL Prospect Combine, he looked to really have improved on both of those issues. His footwork and lateral movement looked quite improved, while he was much more aggressive and assertive with the puck. His progression this year has been excellent, and easily is the highest riser of the group." But he's not without some bruises. One contributor wonders about his ability to use his size in the defensive end. "The only thing now holding him back in the eyes of scouts is his lack of consistency with his physical play despite his impressive stature. But he has the size, the mobility and the on-ice awareness to be a top-four NHL defender before too long."

2. Alex Galchenyuk - Sarnia Sting
Received Votes From: 7 out 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2 (thrice)/ 4 (twice)
Comments: I'm sure the comments here will be pretty predictable and pretty much everyone said the same thing about him. It's a case of weighing his serious knee injury and lost year of development, against his insane offensive talent level. Nearly every contributor said "it was really hard to place him." As another contributor said, "it will really depend on the medical reports teams and scouts get closer to the draft." A lot of contributors also point to his poor performance at the Ivan Hlinka tournament this summer. "Based on pure talent and offensive ability, it could be argued that he is the second best player in this draft, and should be a top five draft selection. However, given his knee injury and his iffy performance at the Ivan Hlinka earlier this year, projections will be all over the board on him. That said, I'd be shocked if he fell out of the top 10." But scouts do have a long memory as another contributor says. "If NHL scouts have on thing it is a long memory for exquisite talent and the thoughts of Alex dashing up and down the ice making plays and using his frame and hands to beat d-men should be enough to keep him in the top five overall of this impressive draft class." In the end, it's all about his projection at the next level, injury or no injury, as one contributor says. "I see a lot of Evgeni Malkin in Galchenyuk, and while he’s going to miss most (or all) of the season, I would still take him in the Top 5 right now. Galchenyuk has a strong presence on the ice and has that deceptive ability that Malkin has to drift in and out of traffic. Has a great shot, terrific offensive instincts, and a ton of potential moving forward even with the ACL injury."

1. Nail Yakupov - Sarnia Sting
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement: 1 (seven times)
Comments: Come on, we've all heard it by now. This dude can play the game and he has the potential to be right there with some of the best players the OHL has had to offer in recent years (Stamkos, Tavares, Hall, Seguin, Kane, etc). So instead of boring you with the same ol' comments. I did something interesting. I took all the comments I got about Yakupov and put them into WORDLE (a very cool program if you've never used it) to give us a collage highlighting the most consistent words used to describe the Sarnia Sting rocket.

Honorable Mention:
Jarrod Maidens (two votes)
Matia Marcantuoni (two votes)
Tom Wilson (one vote)
Dylan Blujus (one vote)
Matthew Murray (one vote)
Michael Clarke (one vote)

Thanks to all those that contributed!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Preliminary Central Scouting Rankings for 2012

On Thursday, NHL Central Scouting released their preliminary league rankings for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

There were some rather large surprises related to the OHL list, which I'll talk about more below. But for now, here are the rankings in case you haven't already seen them.

1. Nail Yakupov
2. Alex Galchenyuk
3. Olli Maatta
4. Radek Faksa
5. Jarrod Maidens
6. Andreas Athanasiou
7. Brendan Gaunce
8. Scott Kosmachuk
9. Skater Koekkoek
10. Cody Ceci
11. Thomas Wilson
12. Gemel Smith
13. Trevor Carrick
14. Dane Fox
15. Matthew Finn
16. Matia Marcantuoni
17. Gianluca Curcuruto
18. Michael Clarke
19. Brady Vail
20. Chris Tierney
21. Dylan Blujus
22. Tanner Pearson
23. Kristoff Kontos
24. Joel Wigle
25. Artur Gavrus
LV - Adam Pelech
LV - Evan Mceneny
LV - Daniil Zharkov

1. Malcolm Subban
2. Jake Peterson
3. Matthew Murray
4. Clint Windsor
5. Daniel Altshuller
6. Andrew D'Agostini
7. Jake Patterson

Some comments:

- Obviously the biggest surprises are the omissions of Nick Ebert, Scott Laughton and to a lesser extent Jesse Graham. Ebert just doesn't make a lot of sense. Yeah, he hasn't had a great start to the year and there are whispers of some attitude/work ethic concerns. But let's not forget what this guy did last year as a rookie and the skill set/potential he brings to the table. How can he be considered a first rounder by so many other scouting organizations (ISS, Craig Button's list, FC, etc) and then NOT be considered among the top 25 of what the OHL has to offer by Central Scouting? Something doesn't add up.

- Really surprised to see Cody Ceci listed so far down still, considering how tremendous of a start he's had.

- Obviously the biggest surprise among goaltenders is how low Daniel Altshuller is ranked. He hasn't been able to live up to the hype this year in Oshawa and is actually riding the pine to Kevin Baillie right now.

- I don't really get Trevor Carrick being so high. I've been impressed with his composure as a rookie this year, but he doesn't jump out at you as having the type of potential some of the other defenseman ranked below him do (Curcuruto, Finn, Blujus, Ebert).

- Awesome to see Tanner Pearson on the list. He's had a tremendous year and looks like a legit NHL prospect. He was fantastic during the two Super Series games.

- Also cool to see Evan Mceneny's name on the limited viewing list. As you know from my preliminary rankings, he's out for the year following knee surgery. But he's a legitimate prospect. If I was an NHL team, I'd totally use a 7th on him (after checking out his knee closer to the draft to make sure everything looks great).

What are your thoughts on them?

Here is the link to the official release, in addition to the rest of the rankings.

Team Ontario for Under 17 Challenge Named

This past week, Team Ontario's roster for the 2012 World Under 17 Hockey Challenge was named. The tournament is being played in Windsor this year and begins on December 29. Team Ontario is the defending champion, on top of winning gold 3 of the past 4 years.

Here is the roster (from Hockey Canada's website).

Jordan Dekort
Spencer Martin

Darnell Nurse
Chris Bigras
Jordan Subban
Aaron Ekblad
Trevor Murphy
Alex Yuill
Adam Bateman

Brandon Robinson
Stephen Harper
Bo Horvat
Hunter Garlent
Nick Baptiste
Jordan Maletta
Max Domi
Ryan Kujawinski
Brent Pedersen
Cole Cassels
Nicholas Ritchie
Mitchell Dempsey.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Game Report: Bulls and Generals from November 13

I decided to watch this one on the OHL Action Pack hopes that I'd see a terrific goaltending match up between two of the league's top draft eligible netminders (Subban vs. Altshuller). Not to mention that sole possession of 5th place in the East was on the line too. But Kevin Baille started for Oshawa, ruining my initial hopes (although the goaltending match up was still solid).

Overall, the game wasn't very good. Not really a lot of solid scoring chances, some undisciplined penalties, and a general lack of pep. But the Bulls hung on to get the win in the shootout (thanks to Subban) and have now won 4 in a row and are suddenly one of the hottest teams in the East.

Some player reports:

Belleville Bulls

#10 - Austen Brassard (Drafted by Winnipeg)
Liked what I saw from Brassard. I had heard he had become a lot more committed to his play away from the puck and had improved his consistency from shift to shift...and I saw evidence of that tonight. While he wasn't great offensively in terms of creating chances (what player was tonight?), he worked hard away from the puck and was up on the forecheck forcing a few turnovers, throwing some good hits and working well along the boards for loose pucks. He also made a couple of very nice plays on the backcheck. We know he's got offensive skill and can bury pucks around the crease, but the progression of his overall game is very encouraging for his NHL potential.

#14 - Luke Judson (Overage Free Agent)
I've always been a fan of Judson's and I'm at the point now, where I'm just not sure if he'll end up earning a professional contract (be it NHL, AHL, or what have it). But he's had a solid start to the year, in a season where he had a lot to prove as Belleville's captain...after last year's disappointment. Always a hard worker and one of the best two way wingers in the league...Judson has added an element of speed this season. This is promising for his future as a hockey player, because with the type of hard nosed game he plays, it was crucial that he improve his footspeed, which it looks like he has this offseason. He scored Belleville's lone goal (non shootout) by taking a pass from Brendan Gaunce, beating Colin Suellentrop to the outside with speed, and cutting back towards the net to tuck it under Kevin Baille's legs.

#16 - Brendan Gaunce (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
I've had some questions about Gaunce's ranking on my early season top 30. A lot of people just don't see him being as high as I have him. And that's fine. But he does so many little things well. He's not flashy, and perhaps that's the reason he doesn't get as much respect. He definitely needs to work on his ability to carry the puck at top speed and receive passes in motion. He's not going to dipsy doodle around defenders like Ryan Strome or Nail Yakupov. But he's just a very solid, power center. I think of a guy like Keith Primeau when I see Gaunce play. Just a very smart player. His passing game is very underrated. A lot of people talk about his ability to score close to the net...and his heavy shot. But he's a center for a reason...and he's very patient with the puck and he knows how to create offensive chances for his linemates. He's also a stalwart on the penalty kill and a terrific backchecker. He forechecks hard, finishes his checks and wears an A already. His skating isn't an issue like many are saying it is. Without the puck, he moves very well and is quick to close on defenders on the forecheck. With the puck, he moves a little slower because he isn't the world's most confident looking puck handler...which is perhaps where this lack of skating talk comes from (or maybe it's that his brother Cameron was never the world's most gifted skater from the blueline). I look at Gaunce and see a guy who'll probably play 1000 games in the NHL and make someone very happy.

#24 - Garrett Hooey (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
After the amazing preseason he had, I think a lot of people expected Hooey to really break out offensively. But he hasn't been terrific thus far...and was pretty unnoticeable in this game.

#26 - Stephen Silas (Drafted by Colorado)
He's having a very good season thus far and is really starting to blossom as a defensive leader. The Bulls were relying on him to be that last year, but I just don't think he was ready...and as a result...he took a lot of flak. But the Bulls are playing strong defensive hockey this year and Silas is right in the middle of it. He looked very solid tonight. Moved the puck quickly and efficiently. Covered off in his own end. He's increased his physical output this year too and seems more confident in pushing forwards around near the net (maybe as a result of improved conditioning?). He's not one of those guys you notice a lot, but on the back end that's a good thing sometimes. He needed a solid year to get signed by Colorado (in all likelihood)...and he's doing a great job of making an impression thus far.

#30 - Malcolm Subban (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
Since returning from that ankle injury that caused him to miss a month of action, Subban has been a brick wall. He's given up 5 goals in 4 games and hasn't lost. And that includes his solid performance in Oshawa tonight. He's definitely an unorthodox goaltender. One of those hybrid types of relies on his pure athleticism to stop pucks (not quite as wild as a Tim Thomas, but perhaps more like LA's Jonathan Quick). He's a fantastic skater in the crease, and that's one of the first things you always notice about him. He moves laterally, and north/south very effortlessly. And he's also very quick to get down in that butterfly...which combined with his flexibility and quickness, make him damn near impossible to beat along the ice (think former Bulls goaltender Mike Murphy). But he definitely cheats a bit at times and can go down early and leave space up high. It's obvious that this "scouting report" has gotten around the league because when teams play the Bulls with Subban in net, they spend all night trying to go high...just as the Generals did tonight. They finally beat him in the 3rd when Nicklas Jensen weighted him out at the side of the net, got him to commit to the butterfly and roofed a wrister over his shoulder. As he moves forward to the NHL level, they'll have to get him to stay up longer otherwise NHL forwards will feast on him. But the athleticism is the obvious draw. Nothing shows this off more than the shootout. Subban stopped all six shooters tonight and is now a perfect 9 for 9 this year. He moves so well in his crease that he's hard to beat one on one. With the way he's returned from his injury, it might be hard to argue against the fact that he's reclaimed his goaltending crown from Altshuller and Murray as the league's top draft eligible netminder.

Oshawa Generals

#12 - Mark Petaccio (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
I saw the Generals play a few weeks ago when Petaccio first returned from injury and he was a lot better in that game...but he still wasn't terrible tonight. He played on a pretty effective third line with Sebatian Uvira and Cole Cassels. The line did well to work the cycle along the boards and even drew a penalty or two from their consistent pressure. As a guy with size, he's intriguing. I'm just not sure how much offensive potential he has.

#15 - Andy Andreoff (Drafted by Los Angeles)
I've heard some criticism about Andreoff's play since he came back from Kings (and Monarchs) camp (although I think Oshawa fans have been pretty disappointed by the play of most of their players this year). And to be honest, I wasn't incredibly impressed with him tonight. I loved the way Andreoff played last year. Simple, hard, and straight through people. His power game and tenacity generated his offensive scoring chances. Tonight he seemed to be playing too cute with the puck at times. And while he remains a solid two way forward, I felt like he was trying to do too much.

#17 - Nicklas Jensen (Drafted by Vancouver)
Jensen had a solid game. Generated a few solid scoring chances using his solid puck carrying/protection ability. Shook off a few checks while maneuvering behind the net with the puck, and put a pass right on Andy Andreoff's stick in front of the crease, but he rifled it high. Jensen scored on the powerplay to send the game to overtime. He took a pass from Andreoff at the side of the net, took his time, baited Subban to the butterfly and rifled it top cheese over Subban's shoulder. I'd still love to see him become more involved without the puck (on a consistent basis)...and more physical. But he's a solid goal scoring prospect for the next level.

#21 - Scott Laughton (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
Laughton had an excellent game and was probably Oshawa's most dangerous offensive player on the night (despite being held scoreless). He had a couple of very dangerous rushes, where he used his speed to beat defenders across the blueline and to the net. One in particular in the first period gave Oshawa one of its best chances to score on the night, when he grabbed the puck, flew past Brady Austin and put a snap shot on Subban who just got a piece of it. He was physical. He played well on the penalty kill. The criticism about Laughton I was hearing at the beginning of the year was that he was focusing too much on trying to put up points and as such was not as effective as an all around player. But he seems to have gotten back to playing a more straight ahead game, while keeping that intensity level high. If he continues to play hard, the points will start to come.

#38 - Lucas Lessio (Drafted by Phoenix)
Lessio has been great so far this year, one of the few players who hasn't underachieved on Oshawa to start 2011. He appears to have figured out how to harness his speed to his advantage and is finishing off his scoring chances with more consistency. Part of that comes from an increased willingness to play that dirty role in front of the net...the prototypical crease crasher. He had a couple of nice rushes tonight, although nothing that created a serious scoring chance. Although one did draw a penalty, as he got hauled down on a partial breakaway. As long as he continues to play with high energy every shift, Lessio will continue to be an impact player.

That's it for the game. Stay tuned this week as NHL Central Scouting will release their preliminary rankings...and I'll have the first version of the Media poll rankings I always do.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

An Argument to Raise the Number of Imports

I can already hear you saying it. In fact, I'm prepared to read your comments that tell me just that. I'm going to try and convince you that the OHL (and CHL) should increase the number of Import players allowed on each team's roster.

Let's take a look at the straight facts. OHL teams are allowed to carry two Import players on their roster (or even just their rights). That's just under about 8% of the players in the league.

As of Thursday night (the 10th), Import players made up 10 of the top 50 scorers in the league. That's 20%. Now I realize that's bias by simply examining the skaters. So how about the goaltenders? Imports held three of the top ten spots in SV%, G.A.A, and wins. That's 30%. Considering that Import players make up only 8% of the league...the fact that they are so heavily saturating the league's top performance charts speaks volumes as to their talent quality.

The question is, would the league not benefit from increasing the quality of its talent base? If every team was allowed to carry just one more Import player, they would now make up about 13% of the league's players. If that happened, could you not expect to at least have 15 guys in the top 50 of league scoring instead of 10? And maybe another goaltender in the top 10 of SV% and wins?

I know, I know. That's under the assumption that those extra players coming over from Europe are actually half decent. The league has a hard enough time drafting in the second round of the Import draft, let alone adding a third. But, if we allowed more Import players to come over, would more of Europe's top talent look to come over to join their buddies? Would the draw be larger, especially since so many players coming over are finding success and are drawing the gaze of NHL clubs? If the London Knights, or the Windsor Spitfires, or the Kitchener Rangers were given an extra pick, would they be able to lure those players over?

I can already hear you traditionalists though. In the vein of Donald S. Cherry; by creating another Import spot, we're taking away a spot from a good Ontario (or Canadian) boy. But is that really the case anymore? Let's be honest...if the Ontario Hockey League was concerned about the good ol' Ontario boy losing his spot in the league...wouldn't we have restrictions on the amount of American players in the league? Before the trades of Jack Campbell and Craig Duininck last week, the Spitfires had half their roster "imported" from the United States.

Now I'm not arguing that we should have a cap on the amount of players in the league from the United States. I'm simply asking, what makes an import from Europe different than one from the United States? The fact that we have teams based in the United States? It's still the Ontario Hockey League though...a branch of the Canadian Hockey League. I just think it's a tad ridiculous to limit the amount of Europeans on a team when certain teams can already ice a nearly entirely "non Canadian" team.

Would the league not benefit from the potential of adding more talent? Watching this Subway Super Series and enjoying the contributions of this year's outstanding Import crop certainly makes me believe so.

What do you think?