Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Nail Yakupov Goal

A lot of people are talking about Nail's goal against London on Monday, so I thought I'd post it for those who haven't seen it yet.

The goal is an excellent display as to why the Russian winger is considered a great bet to be selected first overall come June. Dyn-o-mite!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Game Report: Majors & Wolves from February 20

Despite being a little full from indulging (or gorging) at the pizza hut buffet (seriously, is there a better deal out there? 8 bucks! That's it. And best of all, you don't have to eat for 24 hours after), I took in the Wolves/Majors game this afternoon. For our American friends (like the Sharks fans reading for an update on Michael Sgarbossa), it's our Family Day and a holiday.

I had really high expectations coming into the game, with these division rivals jockeying for position in the Eastern Conference. And the game didn't disappoint. It's also great to have a big crowd at the Hershey Centre (an uncommon event).

The Wolves largely dominated play for the first period or so and lead after one period thanks to a top shelf wrister from the red hot Michael Sgarbossa. But a boneheaded penalty by Ryan Hanes in the second period really turned the game in Mississauga's favour. Hanes broke his stick trying to fight with a Majors player (can't remember who) off the rush, then held him up to prevent him from going to the net. It was a pretty obvious call. But then he started jawing at the official and got an additional two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Majors scored twice on the 4 minute powerplay and never looked back. Those 2 goals really sucked the life out of the Wolves, who were never the same after. They started to gain some momentum back in the 3rd period, but Josh McFadden killed that with a stupid hit from behind in the corner that lead to a 5 minute man advantage (and a game misconduct for him).

The win was huge for the Majors, who now move into 6th place in the Eastern Conference.

Here are some individual performance thoughts:

Sudbury Wolves

#3 - Justin Sefton (Drafted by San Jose)
Not a terrific showing for Sefton. He had some issues offensively and was relatively ineffective at helping out the offense. Couldn't hold the puck in at the point a few times and his ability to get his shot through hasn't really developed as I figured it would this year. He was his normal physically imposing self, throwing his weight around in the defensive end. But he was exposed off the rush a few times (once badly by Mika Partanen), and showed that his mobility hasn't really improved all that much. He just needs to keep his feet moving to stay in front of forwards so that he can use his size (be it physically or by forecheck) to keep them to the outside. His partner Josh McFadden also had a brutal game defensively, which didn't help him out all that much either as he scrambled to cover up his mistakes.

#14 - Nicholas Baptiste (Draft Eligible in 2013)
I've been really impressed by what I've seen of Baptiste this year. He's already a very well rounded player and I really like his size and speed combination. For a big guy, he really moves well. He used that speed on the penalty kill to get himself a breakaway after Trevor Carrick's stick exploded at the point, but failed to score on the wrister. He also used his speed effectively to get to loose pucks in the corner and on the forecheck. And while he wasn't overly physical in today's game, I've seen him really throw the body around. I'd love to see the Wolves use Baptiste more on the wing with Sgarbossa and Leivo (instead of Schoenmakers or Pancel). Baptiste is definitely going to be a much talked about prospect next year.

#27 - Joshua Leivo (Drafted by Toronto)
I've certainly seen Leivo better this year, as he had just an OK game. He may only be listed at 6'1, but he looks much bigger on the ice and he's very hard to remove from the puck. His puck protection is very good and he has the hands to be able to avoid stick checks on his way to the net. While most of his drives saw him kept to the perimeter today, he didn't go without trying. He's progressed very well this year after exploding late last year, so the Leafs should be very happy with his selection.

#44 - Charlie Dodero (Draft Eligible in 2012, but second year eligible)
Easily one of the most improved players in the OHL this year. He's gone from being a very replaceable part to one of the top defensive defenseman in the OHL. He's got good size and is very solidly built. He just doesn't lose very many puck battles, and he has the mobility to stay with forwards off the rush. The greatest display of that today was when Sergey Kuptsov tried to get by him on the outside (not the easiest forward to contain once he gets going), but Dodero stayed right with him, separated him from the puck and finished him off hard on the end boards (leaving Kupstov slow to get up). His offensive game remains a bit of a work in progress, but he has the skating and puck handling ability to skate the puck out of trouble in his own end, rather than simply dump it out. There's a reason why this guy was rated by Central Scouting on their midterm rankings.

#61 - Nathan Pancel (Draft Eligible in 2012)
I've seen him play a few times this year now, and he's yet to hit the score sheet in those games. So it's hard for me to jump on his band wagon, as many others are right now. But it is easy to see why he's putting up some points. There's definitely some explosive skating ability in there, maybe not in terms of high end speed, but his first few steps looks quite good. He had a bad turnover in the neutral zone, but before the opposing player could really even get going, he had turned around, skated back and rubbed out the Majors player taking the puck back. For those that have never really seen him play, he's actually more aggressive away from the puck than you'd expect. He did have a few other costly turnovers in the neutral zone though, one leading to an odd man rush the other way. He needs to make quicker decisions with the puck and get stronger to win some of those battles in the corners. Still a very intriguing player for the draft.

#92 - Michael Sgarbossa (Signed by San Jose)
He's just ripping apart the OHL right now and has become one of the league's most dangerous offensive players. He had a terrific first half of the game, but seemed to run out of steam in the second half. For a smaller guy, he's incredibly strong. I was incredibly impressed by a play he made in the first period, when he came off the wall with the puck, fought through two Majors players towards the net (with them practically draped on his back) and still managed to put a shot on net. He also scored in the first period off a laser of a wrister to the top shelf, short side. As the game went on, he got a little sloppy with the puck and had a few nearly costly turnovers (with one brutal turnover that lead to a clear shot in the slot for a Majors player, as he peeled back with the puck in his own zone and fired a blind back hand pass up the middle). The question I ask myself now is whether he'll be able to play center at the NHL level. I'm inclined to think he might be better suited to the wing at the NHL level to take advantage of his speed and skill coming off the boards and down the wing. But he's ready for the next step.

#66 - Johan Mattsson (Drafted by Chicago)
I've been really impressed by Mattsson this year. He's a quality goaltender. He gets himself in good position to cut off the angles for shooters and he really controls his rebounds well. Anything in the chest, he's able to corral and he generally kicks out low shots to the corner. He absolutely could not be faulted for the goals scored against him in the game. One was a deft deflection in front of the crease. The second a bang/bang play from behind the net where his defenseman left a Major wide open in front of the net. The third, he made a tremendous toe save on a partial breakaway, but none of his defenseman took the trailer on the play who cleaned up the rebound to the top shelf. While he took the loss, he stopped 35 of 38 and was impressive.

Mississauga Majors

#2 - Dylan DeMelo (Drafted by San Jose)
DeMelo had a strong game for the second time in a row that I've seen him play. The last few times, I've been impressed by how he's turned up the dial on his physical play. He's starting to really enjoy rubbing guys out along the boards and is being more aggressive in front of the net. Offensively, he's keeping things simple in his own zone (something I've accused him of not doing in the past) and he's making better decisions on the point of the powerplay. DeMelo was on the ice for all three goals the Majors scored today, assisting on one (a secondary assist where he fed Riley Brace for a point shot that Jamie Wise tipped in). While I'm still not sure about his NHL upside, I think he's definitely progressed well, not only from the end of last season to this, but from the start of the season to this point.

#4 - Trevor Carrick (Draft Eligible in 2012)
I like that they've split up Carrick and DeMelo, and it's increased Carrick's opportunity to carry his pairing offensively. He's starting to carry the puck out of the zone more and is gaining the confidence to bring the puck over the blue line. He certainly has the poise and skating ability to do so. Just that created a goal in the second period, where he took the puck end to end, found Kristoff Kontos behind the net, who subsequently found Jamie Wise in front of the net for the goal. His rush drew the defense to him as he carried it deep, causing the confusion in Sudbury's coverage in front of the net. Defensively, he was as solid as always. His mobility and physical abilities make him difficult to get around and he puts himself in good position to make plays in front of the net. I definitely think this kid is worth a pick in the top 100 of the draft.

#16 - Kristoff Kontos (Draft Eligible in 2012)
Kontos played a quietly very solid game. His skating has definitely improved a lot over last season, and he's able to use it as a weapon to carry the puck deep into the zone. He certainly likes to have the puck on his stick and excels offensively when he does. His play away from the puck still leaves a bit to be desired for me (at least in terms of consistency), but I think there's definite potential there. He showed some solid playmaking ability and vision in the second by finding Jamie Wise in front of the net for his 2nd goal of the game. Kontos was also quite good on the penalty kill and played quite a bit a man down. Definitely a strong effort from him.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing (2012 Edition)

What's become an annual tradition of this blog (seems like I have a lot of those), today is the day that I profile the top overage free agents that the OHL has to offer.

A remarkable six players off last year's list ended up getting NHL contracts (list found here), with many of them finding great success in their first professional season, like Jason Akeson who leads the Adirondack Phantoms (AHL) in scoring. Several others received AHL/ECHL contracts. 2011 was a great year for the league's overage players.

This year, I'm not incredibly certain will be as successful. With the NHL's increased focus on drafting 2nd/3rd year eligible players out of the OHL (and CHL), it's starting to seem like many of the league's late bloomers have already found their NHL way (such as Andrew Shaw, who would have been an overager this year). Quite frankly, I'd be surprised if even two of these players received NHL contracts. However, several of these players certainly have the capability to play professionally next year, wherever that may be.

Here's the speech I give every year about this list.

Firstly, likely half of the players on this list will not end up getting a professional contract and will play in the CIS. It's the nature of the beast. While it seems like an abnormally large amount of overage players received NHL contracts last season, the bottom line is that many will not and many will take advantage of their education package while continuing to play a high level of hockey at a Canadian University.

Secondly, this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team (like Julian Melchiori & Andrew Yogan). This list is for those players who are (or were) NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on birth date).

Alright, enough talking. Let's unveil the list.

10. Josh McFadden - Sudbury Wolves
Perhaps his inclusion on the list will surprise some people. He hasn't really had the type of season that's typical for Josh. But it's been a rough year after failing to make the Hamilton Bulldogs and some injury issues. He's been playing very well the past two months (15 points in 15 games), and there's no co-incidence that in that time the Wolves have made a run up the Eastern Conference standings. Listen, McFadden is what he is. His defensive game isn't great and everyone knows that. But he has an uncanny ability to produce offense from the back end (because, as some would argue he's more like a 4th forward out there). He can skate the puck out of trouble in his own end, has a great shot from the point and runs a powerplay very well. He's not small (at 6'1, 200lbs), and is by no means afraid of the rough stuff. I'd be very surprised if an AHL team doesn't take a shot at him for next year, as we've seen comparable players have success at the next level.

9. Michael Catenacci - Kitchener Rangers
Captain Ranger, Catenacci does everything on the ice for his team. He plays in all situations (near the league lead in shorthanded points) and leads by example (performing well in the playoffs the past two seasons). The only obvious drawback is his size, at pushing 5'7. He's a little dude. But players of his ilk have found success professionally in recent years. His energy, tenacity, and playmaking ability could make him a fan favourite wherever he ends up playing next year.

8. Adrian Robertson - Sarnia Sting
Robertson took a lot of flak this year from Windsor fans before being moved to Sarnia. He was definitely the whipping boy for the team's inconsistent/tougher season. But he was being asked to do too much. Robertson has a big shot from the point and is capable of making a good first pass, but a primary offensive weapon from the back end just isn't his forte. Pro teams will love his size, physicality, and at least average mobility though. He was excellent for Windsor during last year's playoffs, so look for him to really help Sarnia during the 2012 postseason.

7. Andrey Kuchin - Sudbury Wolves
Once a hyped draft prospect during his original draft year (2009), Kuchin has done well in his two year OHL career. The offensively talented forward helped Sudbury to a first round upset during last year's playoffs, and is pacing the Wolves run up the standings this season. He's a little on the small side, and he can have a tendency to get hit hard (has to keep his head up), but he's stocky and has done well to put up a pretty consistent effort this season. He definitely has great hands and a head for the game in the offensive end, which should at least get him a look in the KHL in the future...if he chooses to leave North America.

6. Ramis Sadikov - Erie Otters
You have to feel for Sadikov this year. He worked so hard for Erie last year and played sensationally (even earning an extended look at the NHL/AHL level this offseason). He even went through some issues about where he was going to play at the start of the season. And now he has to endure the Otters' losing ways. He's not as bad as his stats indicate this season. Obviously NHL scouts will be intrigued by his huge frame in net, and his ability to take away the bottom part of the net. He's shown an ability to steal games for his team in the past and definitely has potential. If Jason Missiaen can get an NHL contract, why not Sadikov (who I would consider a superior goaltender)?

5. Adam Payerl - Belleville Bulls
From the way things were going for him during his stint at Columbus' training camp this offseason, I figured he'd be getting a contract before the season started. While his offensive numbers don't jump out at you, it's all the other things about him that will likely interest NHL or AHL teams. He can play any forward position and is a big body who can take the puck to the net. He'll stick up for his teammates, forecheck hard and plays both ends of the ice pretty well. His skating has improved over his OHL career too. He could certainly make a good role player at the next level.

4. Marc Zanetti - Ottawa 67's
The captain of the 67's, Zanetti has been an absolute rock for Ottawa the past three seasons. He's developed tremendously as an OHL player during his four year career; from defensive pugilist, to solid two-way defenseman. While his bread and butter at the next level will certainly be his defensive and physical abilities, Zanetti is capable of skating the puck out of trouble in his own end and can effectively run a powerplay. In a lot of ways, he's very similar to Marc Cantin, who earned his NHL contract with Boston last year.

3. Andrew Agozzino - Niagara IceDogs
Back in 2009, I was originally surprised when Agozzino wasn't selected by an NHL team, after a solid sophomore season and playoff performance. Agozzino has done nothing but produce since. He's lead the Dogs in goal scoring the past three seasons (including this year) and has served as captain of the team the past two years. He's not a big guy (5'9), but he's fearless and is a real spark plug. He doesn't need a lot of room to operate offensively and is a very effective player off the rush. He's also an incredibly solid penalty killer, who leads the league with 7 shorthanded goals. I'm incredibly curious to see where he ends up playing next year.

2. Beau Schmitz - Plymouth Whalers
His game has really hit another level this season. While his defensive game has remained fairly solid over the last few seasons, it's his offensive game that's seen the spike this year. He's 3rd in defenseman scoring, and 2nd in goals. He's also 4th in the league at +32. Playing in his overage season seems to have given Schmitz a new found confidence in his offensive game, to the point where he's at times dominant at both ends of the rink. His physical game has also seen a spike, and he's become stronger in the corners and in front of the net. I'm still not sure what type of role he'd play at the next level, but I think his play this year has shown he warrants a look.

1. Mike Halmo - Owen Sound Attack
In his time in the OHL, Halmo has always been one of the most feared hitters in the league. He's also been the type of player who constantly walks the line between clean and dirty, has seen his share of suspensions, and driven opposing fans to the point of anger. But if he's on your team, you love him. His offensive game really took a big step forward last year playing with Andrew Shaw and the two of them were dynamite in the Attack playoff run to the OHL championship. This year, he's improved even more and currently sits 3rd in the league with 36 goals scored. While I don't anticipate him to be a league scoring champion at the next level, he looks like a solid energy player for an NHL team in the future. He certainly has to be encouraged by the success Andrew Shaw has had professionally this season. The first player on this list has received an NHL contract in every year I've done it (2009, 2010, 2011), so let's hope Halmo can continue the tradition.

Honorable Mention:

Barrie's Colin Behenna, and Sarnia's Brett Thompson, are two of the league's most consistent scorers (Behenna more as a playmaker, Thompson as goal scorer). They're both on the small side, but can put up points with the best of them. They didn't make the list because I'm not sure they do enough away from the puck to be included with the likes of Agozzino or Catenacci (two other smaller guys).

Former NHL draft pick Andy Bathgate is finally playing injury free and he's had a solid season in Plymouth, playing a supporting offensive role in a juggernaut line-up. His overall game hasn't really developed to the point that makes him a significant NHL prospect, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was given a shot somewhere next year.

Owen Sound's Jay Gilbert has developed into one of the league's best stay at home defenseman and was a huge reason for the Attack's OHL Championship win last year. On top of providing solid defense, he can also make a good first pass and can adequately QB the powerplay if needed.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Midseason Media Top 10 for 2012

With the Top Prospect's Game over and the OHL in the final stretch to the playoffs, it's time for a midseason update to our media top 10 for the upcoming 2012 NHL Entry Draft. That is, if there are even any healthy prospects left to rank. In case you've been in a coma or disconnected from the hockey world this year, injuries have taken over as top story of this year's draft class. Never before has a draft been so cursed with serious disability. It wouldn't surprise me this year, if for the first time, a player drafted in the first round has to use a wheelchair and ramp to get to the podium. To sum it up, as one contributor responded to my asking for his contribution in the article, "you mean we're still having a draft if all the players are injured?"

If you're unfamiliar with the blog, the media/scout list has become a bit of a tradition here. A poll is taken of some of the greatest minds the OHL has to offer and an accumulated (averaged) list is created.

HERE is the early season edition from November (Oh, how things have changed).

Helping out with this edition of the list are the following:

Neate Sager (Yahoo Sports, Buzzing the Net)
Corey Pronman (Hockey Prospectus)
David Burstyn (McKeen's Hockey)
Guy Flaming (The Pipeline Show & Coming Down the Pipe)
Dominic Tiano (2012 OHL Draft Eligible Players & The OHL Writers)
Sean LaFortune (Future Considerations)
Scott Campbell (The Scouting Report)
Grant Sonier (ESPN)
Patrick King (Sportsnet)
Ryan Kennedy (The Hockey News)

And naturally, my own rankings were used as part of the process.

Let's get to the list.

10. Daniil Zharkov - Belleville Bulls
Received Votes From: 4 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 8th (three times)/Outside the Top 10 (seven times)
Comments: Since returning from a broken collarbone suffered in the preseason, Zharkov has done nothing but perform and has shot himself quickly up the rankings. One contributor says that Zharkov is "vastly underrated and could be a big time scorer." Another contributor agrees, "over the past few months I’ve really gone out of my way to see more of him, and have been really impressed thus far. His combination of size, puck skills and mobility are extremely impressive, and rare for a player at this level. I look forward to seeing more of him as the year plays out, and look forward to seeing him to continue to develop. He is still pretty raw at this point, but I absolutely love his long term potential." How how's his hockey sense? "Zharkov has tremendous skill and has some physical parts to his game. While his hockey sense isn't great I don't think it's poor either," says another contributor. However, one contributor takes it even farther. "I question his ability to use his teammates. I think he has a good goal scorer's IQ and can create for himself, but I've yet to see him make his linemates better."

9. Malcolm Subban - Belleville Bulls
Received Votes From: 8 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 5th (two times)/Outside of the Top 10 (three times)
Comments: At this point, I'm not sure there is any debate as to who the top goaltender available from the OHL is. Heck, you could even extend that to the entire CHL, as one contributor says, "Subban is by far the best goalie available from the CHL." David Burstyn believes Belleville's record without Subban playing (10-18) is a testament to his ability. "Subban is a goalie that can steal games and that is a rarity in any draft for this position. His reflexes, athleticism and calmness in his crease all lend to success. When Subban is in the line up, the team plays differently as they know he will bail them out in most instances." Another contributor agrees. "Not having Subban sapped their swagger. He's a treat to watch for his reflexes, the way he takes away the entire bottom half of the net and just how quick he is in the goal." So why is he still being left off some lists? There seems to be two reoccurring thoughts. The first being the notion that goaltenders shouldn't be drafted as high as Subban is being ranked. "Maybe the first goalie taken in the draft. Not sure I would draft a goalie (that high) but someone will," says one contributor. The second is Subban's injury history which scares some people. "I don't really like the nagging injuries," says one contributor. "It scares me a little when young goaltenders are having groin issues (no pun intended). Considering Subban relies on his athleticism and quickness, I'd need to be guaranteed that this isn't a long term issue."

8. Slater Koekkoek - Peterborough Petes
Received Votes From: 9 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 3rd (one time)/Outside of the Top 10 (two times)
Comments: The first player on the list who hasn't played a ton this year due to a serious injury (shoulder surgery). The allure to Koekkoek is obviously his high end potential at both ends of the ice. From the contributor who ranked him 3rd. "Koekkoek is someone who I believe has as much upside as any of the D in the draft. He’s a big guy who skates extremely well and is very mobile. Sees the ice well and can make great outlet passes. His defense is improving and he shows good physicality. PP play is developing nicely as well. There are other D who are better than him today, but I like his ceiling at age 25 and beyond." Another contributor agrees, "Koekkoek has been a personal favorite of mine dating back to his days with the Notre Dame Hounds Midget program in Saskatchewan. I’ve always loved his ability to control the game from the back end, and his high long term projectable upside. Before his shoulder injury, I was really pushing him as a potential top 10 rated player. Will he go top ten? Probably not, but I think if a team picks him in the 15-20 range, they could really hit a home run with him." Not everyone is on board the Koekkoek train though. "I was underwhelmed with him before his injury. Since I won't see him again this season, he won't have the chance to change that perception in my mind," says one contributor. Another contributor agrees, to an extent. "When I saw him as a 16 year old, I was impressed. But in the limited times I saw him this year, I was unimpressed by his development. Could he be another one of those guys who peaked early? His injury prevents him from giving me a more positive memory of his play."

7. Matt Finn - Guelph Storm
Received Votes From: 10 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 5th (three times)/Outside of the Top 10 (one time)
Comments: The "Dorsal Finn," as Garyboy on HFboards calls him (shout out for the great nickname), has been another steady riser this year for the progression he has shown in one calendar year. Pegged as a bit of a "safe bet" by many, perhaps he's starting to change his perception in the eye's of scouts. "Coming out of Minor Midget, I had him tabbed as an intelligent defenceman who would be a solid two way defenceman, and perhaps a bottom pairing NHL defenceman. However, this season he has blossomed. His vision with the puck and his ability to make strong, quick decisions have impressed, as has his decision making with the puck. He has really progressed offensively over the past two years, and has really pushed himself into the discussion among the top defenceman in this draft," says one contributor. Another contributor loves his "honest approach" to the game and that "he's not big in size, but big at heart, playing the game with a fair bit of bite." David Burstyn isn't enamored with his skating ability, but believes in his potential. "He was exposed a little bit due to his foot speed at the Top Prospects game but he also made several nice plays to redeem himself. If Finn was two inches taller, its quite conceivable that he would be in discussion as a top 15 pick." His lack of "elite" size does seem to be a big of a drawback. One contributor says, "Cody Ceci is still the number one defenseman from the OHL, ahead of Finn, for me. Finn's size scares me a bit in terms of his ability to transfer his strong defensive play to the NHL level."

6. Olli Maatta - London Knights
Received Votes From: 11 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2nd (one time)/9th (three times)
Comments: The smooth skating Finnish defenseman has been a consistent member of this list all season, with his steady play in his own zone. As one contributor put it, "his excellent skating ability is only surpassed by his high hockey IQ." Another contributor says, "Maatta is underappreciated as he’s not spectacular offensively, but he’s the type of guy who could quietly have an impressive 15-year NHL career. Excellent positioning and decision-making and makes the game simple with the little plays he makes. He’s not the “sexy” pick with this year’s defensemen, but he’s got the ability to play a Top 4 role for a long time." Maatta's defensive game, skating ability and size combination has kind of given him that "safe pick tag." Some are a bit worried about his offensive game though. "He has a solid level of compete to his game but shows he is lacking an offensive dimension," says a contributor. But not everyone is willing to give up on his upside. "I think he has more offensive potential than people give him credit for. He can skate the puck out of trouble and is gaining the confidence to jump up into the rush more. I like him because he's a safe pick...but one that isn't without some nice upside."

5. Brendan Gaunce - Belleville Bulls
Received Votes From: 11 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 3rd (three times)/7th (one time)
Comments: The younger brother of former Mississauga Major Cameron Gaunce, Brendan has certainly made a name for himself during his brief OHL career. A power center who can do a little bit of everything, many are impressed with his two-way play and overall game. He's a true character player, as demonstrated by the following comments I heard about him. "I've been really taken by his personality and character and I think that will win him over in combine interviews too, " says one contributor. Another says, "he's the type of player you want on your team for a playoff drive." "I know it's a football term, but he has a great motor. Can go into the corners and out muscle guys from the puck and then take it to the net to create chances. He's also good at finding space to set up for the one-timer. He makes the other two young men on his line better," says another contributor. But Gaunce isn't without his criticisms. As one contributor says "Brendan Gaunce has been one of the most polarizing players in the rinks. Most either will love his intangibles and intelligence, while others wonder if he will be anything more then a good third line centre." The same contributor isn't convinced about his long term upside. "I continue to have questions with his long-term projectable role in the NHL. I wonder if his puck skills will translate at the next level, and I wonder about his footwork and mobility, and how that will translate to the NHL. I appreciate his intelligence level and his ability to play a smart two way game, but I still need to see more out of him to put him higher on my list." Some have been left a little underwhelmed by his performance as of late, but David Burstyn is quick to point out that Gaunce, "is being used in every situation by the Bulls and is, in all likelihood, exhausted." He continues, "he did well on the Next Testing (at the Top Prospect's Game), finishing first in 9 of the 14 categories on his team. Gaunce needs to improve on his skating, in particular his first step quickness but he is blessed with incredible hockey sense and anticipates plays better than his peers to stay involved in the action." There was a prospect who received some of the same praise and criticism a few years ago, one contributor is quick to point out. "I was hard on Ryan O’Reilly and I’m not going to make the same mistake with Gaunce," he says. That same Ryan O'Reilly who is leading the surprise Colorado Avalanche in scoring and is on pace for close to a 60 point season.

4. Radek Faksa - Kitchener Rangers
Received Votes From: 11 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2nd (two times)/8th (one time)
Comments: Faksa is another guy who is quickly climbing the charts. He didn't even get a vote for the top 10 in our early season list, but now he's all the way up to 4th. If anything, he's an endorsement as to why coming over to the CHL can be a smart choice for some European players, as one contributor suggests. " I’m not sure if there is a player in the CHL who has benefitted more from playing in North America this season then Faska, and I’m very intrigued as to how he finishes off the season. What impresses me the most with Faska is his combination of aggressive, physical play with strong puck skills. I love his talent level, but more then that, I love how he doesn’t shy away from contact, and how he can drive the net and generate offense chances off of the rush." His strong play away from the puck has definitely endeared him to David Burstyn. "His board play may be one of the best in the draft. He uses his size so well and is a diligent back checker. Faksa also has presence down low and can make plays in front of the net." Another contributor says, "I absolutely love this guy. He's going to be an excellent NHL player. He might not be as mean, but think Bobby Holik in his prime with New Jersey. The type of guy who has size and uses it for all the right reasons offensively, but who also has the puck and skating skill to make his linemates better." But not everyone is convinced. "Faksa is a player who I haven’t seen blow me away personally, but apparently he’s having good games that I’m not seeing." A few others point to his disappointing performance at the Under 20's as a suggestion that he might be a bit "overrated."

3. Cody Ceci - Ottawa 67's
Received Votes From: 11 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2nd (one time)/6th (two times)
Comments: Ceci is a testament to why the late birthday rule can be of great benefit, as he's really exploded in his third OHL season. He's been up near the top of the league's defenseman scoring all season long, pacing with Dougie Hamilton (a top 10 selection in his own right). It's that progression that has really impressed scouts. "I love how much confidence he's gained offensively this year. He looks like a different player. From a guy I had pegged for the late first/early second before the season, to a possible top 10 pick now." "Not sure why Ceci doesn't get some love in some circles. He has very good size. Plays in any situation. Is a very good power play quarterback. Strong defensively. And his recent injury and Ottawa's play shows exactly how much he means to them on the back end," says another contributor. While Ceci, Maatta and Finn seem to be splitting votes in some circles, another contributor is certain, "No question for me that he's the top blueliner in the OHL. Total package." Even if he appears to be the total package, there are a few who do have concerns. "My concern with Ceci is that he’s closer to his ceiling than others and I’m not sure he has as much high-end upside moving forward," says one contributor. Another agrees. "Don't get me wrong, I like Ceci, but I'm not convinced he profiles as a top end NHL defenseman. I'm a little worried about his inability to use his size as an advantage defensively." But one thing is for sure, he's going to get the chance to show what he's made of, as one contributor points out. "As the 67's make a push for the J.Ross Robertson Cup, Ceci will be given even more opportunity to show why he deserves to be put in the same conversation as other top defence prospects like Morgan Reilly, Matt Dumba and Griffin Rienhart."

2. Alex Galchenyuk - Sarnia Sting
Received Votes From: 11 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2nd (seven times)/4th (one time)
Comments: In a lot of ways, Galchenyuk is lucky that this draft is known for all of its defensive talent and a lack of truly exceptional forward talent. Galchenyuk's knee injury and subsequent lack of playing time (sidelined all year thus far) hasn't really hurt him all that much. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that he's working towards a March return. As one contributor suggests, this is a big gamble for him. "Much of his draft status could hinge on the way he plays to finish this season, when he does come back." Another agrees. "What if he returns and plays terrible? It's a huge risk. Some would still be impressed by his commitment and work ethic. Others might be soured/scared off, believing that the knee injury has negatively impacted his potential. The kid has balls that's for sure." One contributor who's in the former category of the previous comment, suggests people are forgetting that some had Galchenyuk rated ahead of Yakupov at the end of last season. "Count me in the group who had Galchenyuk ahead of Yakupov coming into the season, but it’s tough to move him up when he hasn’t played a regular season game this year. Galchenyuk should get in the lineup before the playoffs end, but if he doesn’t light it up I’m not going to be too concerned given his layoff." Another contributor agrees. "He wrecked a knee, but that's not going to wreck his vision and how he sees the ice." Ditto for another contributor. "This kid has insane offensive creativity and if he was healthy, he'd be pushing for the top spot in the draft. A lot of people are forgetting that. He's certainly better than Grigorenko IMO." Here's hoping for a return, and a productive one, in March so that Galchenyuk can reaffirm his placement as one of the top player's in this draft.

1. Nail Yakupov - Sarnia Sting
Received Votes From: 11 out of 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: Unanimously Ranked 1st (11 out of 11)
Comments: With Galchenyuk injured, it's been the Yakupov show all season long. This ranking obviously comes as no surprise. He's the total package offensively, as David Burstyn alluded to. "
His skating especially his diangle cuts and first step quickness are sensational. He has only played 29 games this season but currently has the highest points per game with 1.89 in the entire OHL. When he is on the ice he flat out intimidates the opposition. He can blow right by a defender or he can deliver a razor sharp pass to a team mate for a goal. Has the most developed offensive hockey sense of any prospect in the draft." You aren't going to find any disagreement there, with comments ranging from, "a pure game-breaker. He'll be the face of a franchise in desperate need of one," to "his ability to make skilled plays at high speeds is unmatched by anyone else is the league, let along any other draft eligible players." The only real concern moving forward has to be his ability to play the game he does, at his size, at the NHL level. One contributor sums up the concerns of a few quite nicely. "I have some concerns about how his body will hold up in the NHL with his playing style but that’s a risk a team will have to take." After all, "Yakupov is a game changer, and the only one in this class that can change a game on his own," as said by another contributor.

Honorable Mention:

Tanner Pearson (4 votes)
"I don't know what his long term upside is but his development over the last year is enticing."

"I think he's legit. His hockey sense is very, very good and in combination with his play away from the puck and quick release, this makes him a probable goal scorer at the next level."

Tom Wilson (3 votes)
"His role in Plymouth might obscure what his true offensive skill is, but he'll be a good safe pick because he meets the physical specs to play in the NHL and he's come from a very respected Whalers program that turns out good all-around players who can turn pro relatively quickly."

"Very few players in this draft, if any, show as much willingness to play tough like this big winger."

Jarrod Maidens (2 votes)
"Having missed the last two months with a concussion, it's hard to say how that will affect his draft ranking in June. but you can't argue what Maidens brings on the ice. Hard worker with a superb, deceptive shot, pure goal scorer with excellent hockey sense. He's not afraid to go to the dirty areas and has some good leadership qualities."

"Big center has great reach and has already proved to be a pressure performer."

Adam Pelech (2 votes)
"Much like Maatta, Pelech is a player who is probably looked at with a lot more value from NHL teams than most fans. Has been one of the few bright spots on a terrible Erie team this year, and is often one of the top players on the ice at 17. Plays a great shut-down game defensively and does a good job of neutralizing opposing forwards. Offensive upside isn’t anything to write home about, but he is adept in the transition game and won’t be a liability."

"Will certainly not impress with his skating but when you watch closely, he is impressive with his Defensive thinking and positioning. A true battler and gritty defender. With improved skating he will surprise a lot of people."

Gemel Smith (2 votes)
"He's small, but he works so hard and finds the little openings. He's a big reason Owen Sound has managed to stay as high in the standings as they are, although obviously Mike Halmo and Scott Stajcer are their MVPs. I've liked Smith more than teammate Jarred Maidens all along."

"The only thing that will realistically keep Smith from ranking this high is his size. It's not his 5'11 that is the problem but his 160 pounds. But let's just leave that aside for a moment. He's an exceptional skater with excellent speed, Tenacious, pesky, will go to dirty areas, creates chances for himself and his teammates almost every time he steps onto the ice. He has a very high hockey IQ and is one of the hardest workers you will ever come across. If he could add 30 pounds it would be great. But then the question becomes: "how much will that change his game?"


Thanks again to all the contributors. Just a few things to plug.

Hockey Prospectus (and Corey Pronman) have released this midseason top 50 for the 2012 Draft. Be sure to check it out.

You can preorder the McKeen's Draft Guide now (headed by David Burstyn). GO HERE, to do so.

Future Considerations (of which Sean LaFortune is a contributor) has a midterm report and season pass you can purchase for a low fee. You can GO HERE, to do that.

ESPN (and Grant Sonier) has also released their midterm Top 50 for the NHL Draft. You can check that out here (with the small purchase of being an ESPN insider, which is worth it for the content you get). You can also go here to get more info on the draft from ESPN.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Game Report: Majors & Colts from February 3

Was at the Hershey Center tonight, watching the Majors take on the Barrie Colts. A good ol' fashion Central Division battle. Problem was, the game was a bit of a snooze fest. The Colts squeaked out a 1-0 victory, but largely dominated play. The Majors were outshot 35-23, despite having 8 powerplays. Ironically enough, the only goal of the game was an ugly one by Ivan Telegin, where he banked a puck off Brandon Maxwell from behind the net. The Colts probably should have had a few more goals, had it not been for a few hit posts and a couple nice saves from Maxwell.

Some quick thoughts on a few players from each side.


#5 - Aaron Ekblad (NHL Draft Eligible in 2014)
It's crazy to think of how young this kid is. He's an absolute behemoth. At 15 years of age, he looks like an established 4 year OHL veteran. Considering how comfortable he looks, it's absurd to think of how good he could end up being. He's already a very solid OHL defender who isn't afraid of pushing players around in front of the net or in the corners. Had a couple of nice hits tonight. He's pretty calm with the puck in his own end too and avoids the forecheck well. Offensively, he had some difficulty on the point tonight. Had a bouncing puck go by him that lead to a partial breakaway. Also couldn't really get his point shot through to the net. But considering how young he is, he's crazy good.

#14 - Tanner Pearson (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012, but third year eligible)
Maybe Barrie fans can help me out with this one, but when did the Colts start playing Pearson at center? First time I've seen it, and he actually looked good. He's such a smart player and sees the ice so well. His anticipation and reads make him a terrific playmaker. He gave his linemates (Colin Behenna and Anthony Camara) a couple of really nice feeds, but they couldn't finish. Playing center also showcased how strong of a two way player he's become too, as he was very committed on the backcheck, covering off for pinching defenseman. Had a couple of chances where he found room in the slot for a big shot, but couldn't hit the net. I think he was probably the best player on the ice.

#16 - Ivan Telegin (Drafted by Atlanta/Winnipeg)
Started off kind of slow, but got better as the game went on. He's such a big body and he's got big long strides, so once he gets going, he's really tough to stop. Had a couple of nice drives to the net. He scored the only goal of the game on a real ugly one. Got the puck behind the net and as he was cutting around, he flipped the puck up over the net on his backhand. It hit Maxwell in the back and rolled into the net. Did he mean to do it (sensing Maxwell wasn't really paying attention)? Or was he just trying to get the puck over the net back into the slot? We'll never know.

#19 - Mark Scheifele (Drafted by Winnipeg)
Scheifele was OK in the game. Mississauga's Trevor Carrick did a good job of keeping him under wraps tonight. Had a few scoring chances but nothing outrageous. Looked a little frustrated by the lack of space Mississauga was giving him. To be honest, I've been a little disappointed with his play this year, considering how impressed I was last year with him. While he's a terrific player, I'm not entirely sure he's progressed a ton this year.

#27 - Reid McNeill (Drafted by Pittsburgh)
McNeill played a really solid game. While his offensive game never really developed, I've seen good strides from his defensive game. He was quite physical tonight, laying the body any chance he could get. His above average mobility makes him a very effective defender too. Mississauga had a real tough time creating offense when he was on the ice.


#2 - Dylan DeMelo (Drafted by San Jose)
Definitely the best game I've seen DeMelo play this season. He was very good. He and partner Trevor Carrick were paired against the Scheifele line most of the night, and did a good job of neutralizing them. DeMelo had a couple of nice hits and did well to cover up some of Carrick's bad pinches. He was at his best at the point on the powerplay, where he was controlling the pace of play well and getting his shots through. Looked really composed back there. In the past times I've seen him this season, he's had some issue with the forecheck and turning the puck over in his own zone, but he had no turnovers tonight and was overall very solid.

#4 - Trevor Carrick (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
As I mentioned above, his offensive decision making wasn't at its best tonight. Had a couple of bad pinches that lead to odd man rushes, and was a little clumsy with the puck at the point on the powerplay. But defensively, he was very impressive. Was closely monitoring Mark Scheifele all night, and actually doing a pretty good job of pushing him around. Had one really nice hit on Scheifele as he tried to cut back to the middle of the ice on 1 on 1 rush and Carrick stepped up to take him out. The last few times I've seen him, he's definitely been impressive and there's no question that NHL Central Scouting was on to something when they rated him so highly in their preliminary rankings.

#13 - Sergey Kuptsov (NHL Draft Eligible in 2013)
Wasn't very good tonight. But then again, he wasn't really being put in a great spot to succeed, by bouncing around a bevy of different lines with different linemates. He also didn't see a ton of powerplay time (which continues to confuse me every time I see the Majors). I still think he has a lot of potential and hopefully he's given more of a chance next year in Mississauga.

#16 - Kristoff Kontos (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
Lots of speed, lots of hustle, but not a lot else. He's playing center now with Riley Brace and Jamie Wise, but I don't really think he's suited there. He just isn't a good enough playmaker and is better off using his speed to drive wide to the net, looking for loose pucks while playing the wing.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

OHL Player Review of the Top Prospect's Game

As I'm sure most of you were aware of, the CHL Top Prospect's Game took place in Kelowna last night. It was a closely checked affair that saw the lowest score in the event's history, a 2-1 victory by Team Orr. The low score should come as no surprise to anyone following this year's draft class, which is loaded with high end defensive prospects.

Every year, one player tends to steal the show, and this year that one played was definitely defenseman Derrick Pouliot out of the WHL. He was absolutely fantastic.

Obviously, the game had a bit of a dark cloud hanging over it, with all of the injuries occurring to this year's draft class. Missing from the game from the OHL were Nail Yakupov, Malcolm Subban, Cody Ceci, Olli Maatta, Jarrod Maidens, Matia Marcantuoni, and Slater Koekkoek. That's a ton of talent missing right there. And unfortunately, the bug bit defenseman Nick Ebert prior to the game too, causing him to sit out last night. He participated in the skills competition (winning the hardest shot), but fell ill and was unable to play in the main event. It would have been a great chance for him to prove some doubters wrong.

The one thing scouts will always say about this event, is that a bad performance doesn't drop you off the map. After all, it's only one game. But a good performance can really elevate your stature in the scouting community and bring more attention to you. With that in mind, let's take a look at how the OHL players participating did.

Team Cherry

10 - Dane Fox
IMO, the best forward for Team Cherry on the night. Great chance for Fox (a late addition to the event) to show his stuff. He played hard at both ends of the ice and looked particularly good on the forecheck and in working the cycle with his linemates Tim Bozon and Gemel Smith. He had some great scoring chances that he either fired wide or was stopped on. And he showed that pesky side to him that OHL fans would know him best for with a couple of hard hits that were borderline "dirty." One of which sent him to the box for a check from behind. But that's a huge part of his game and no coach would encourage him to alter it.

12 - Tom Wilson
Came out guns a blazing in the first period, tossing bodies around like a man possessed. But as the game went on, he became less and less noticeable. He did get into a scrap in the 2nd with Dalton Thrower after laying a big hit on Lukas Sutter. But I'm really not sure I saw him with the puck on his stick much, nor did I really notice him at all in the third period.

16 - Brendan Gaunce
I think Gaunce was most noticeable for his play away from the puck. He was physical and laid out a couple of really nice hits and used his size to go hard to the net looking for loose pucks. He was also very good defensively and was consistently one of the first men back in the defensive zone, at times covering for pinching defenseman. Offensively, he had his moments and helped to create a few offensive chances, but overall was relatively quiet.

19 - Gemel Smith
Smith had a strong game and showcased his typical high energy pace. He's very elusive and slippery out there. Very hard to contain because he never stops moving and can really handle the puck. He worked the cycle close to the wall very well and despite not being the biggest guy, did a good job of protecting the puck (mostly again because of the fact that he never stops moving and is hard to defend). The game was a perfect indication of the type of game he brings to the table.

21 - Scott Laughton
Not the best game for Laughton. He was largely invisible out there, save for when he was getting hit hard. He looked almost frustrated at times and had some turnovers in the neutral zone.

37 - Danill Zharkov
I felt like outside of a couple of nice plays, Zharkov wasn't very noticeable. The problem being that one of those places was a standout in the game, where he exploded with speed to the outside, put the puck between his legs while in stride, kicked the puck back up to his stick (all the while going around Matt Finn) and went hard to the net for a good shot. People and scouts will remember that as it points to what Zharkov and his great size and skill combination is capable of.

30 - Matt Murray
One of the best goaltending performances I've seen at this event. Murray was absolutely outstanding. He has the size NHL scouts are looking for now in goaltenders, but he was able to show off how athletic he is too. Made an unreal save on Raphael Bussieres, stopping Scott Kosmachuk's low shot with his leg first, then sliding over quickly to rob Bussieres with the glove hand on the rebound. He looked great going post to post and did a great job controlling his rebounds, angling them off towards the corners. I wish the Hounds didn't make that Campbell trade (like many Soo fans I imagine), so that we could have seen what Murray was truly capable of this season.

Team Orr

4 - Matt Finn
Definitely not the best game Matt Finn has ever played. I've seen him WAY better. He looked like he was trying to force things offensively a bit. Was caught on a few bad pinches that lead to odd man rushes. Overhandled the puck at the point on the powerplay, leading to a shorthanded odd man rush. Defensively, outside of the Zharkov play (which likely would have exposed every defenseman in the game), he was pretty solid. But don't judge Finn on his play in this game.

6 - Gianluca Curcuruto
Curcuruto has had a disappointing season thus far and has really slid down the rankings. So seeing him have a strong performance in the game was refreshing. He was excellent defensively and really didn't make any mistakes in that area. He was on the ice for a goal against, but he was hung out to dry by his partner (Thrower) when he missed a big hit attempt. Offensively, he had a few occasions where the forecheck gave him some trouble and he nearly turned the puck over, but he generally did a good job of moving the puck. He had a couple nice plays at the point to keep the puck in too. His offensive game definitely hasn't taken the next step forward this season though.

14 - Tanner Pearson
Had the most scoring chances of any player on the ice. The fact that he didn't get a goal on any of them could be alarming to some. I think it was definitely nerve related though. Pearson fanned on a couple of shots that he never misses on in the OHL. The fact that he was able to get so many good shots on net, speaks volumes to his ability to read plays in the offensive end. His hockey sense is crazy good. And while he may not be a burner, the fact that he gets himself open so much says a lot about his skating ability (outside of top end speed). Pearson played well away from the puck too and did good work along the boards and had a few nice hits. If he buries a couple of those scoring chances, we're probably talking about him as the top player at the event.

24 - Scott Kosmachuk
On the most dangerous line in the event with Radek Faksa and Raphael Bussieres, Kosmachuk looked very good. Just as he is in Guelph, he was all over the ice. Worked well in the corners, keeping plays alive on the cycle. Got himself a few good shots in the slot area by creating seperation. Worked well off the rush with his speedy linemates. Kosmachuk is criminally underrated for this year's draft.

27 - Adam Pelech
I thought Pelech played a very solid game. Early on, he had a bit of trouble with the puck in his own end but he settled down and eventually had little trouble with the forecheck. He's very agile for a big guy and is definitely a better skater than his brother Matt (a former NHL first rounder). While he wasn't a factor in rushing the puck (something I was hoping to see him do), he did look comfortable at the point and generated a few scoring opportunities by getting his shot to the net. Defensively, he was solid and looked good. Would have liked to see him show off his nasty side a bit more, but that's nitpicking.

86 - Andreas Athanasiou
Was disappointed with his performance in the game. He created a few nice scoring chances with his speed and puck protection ability, but couldn't finish. Outside of a few shifts, he was largely un-noticeable. This has really been the case much of this season.

94 - Radek Faksa
Had a terrific game. His performance in this event should vault him into contention for the top 10 IMO. Not only did he create offense off the rush showing outstanding speed and puck skill for such a big guy, but he was also fantastic defensively. Just a really complete player.

Anyone else watch the game and have thoughts?