Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Chat With McKeen's Draft Guide Guru David Burstyn Part Deux

In my last article, the Under 18 Review, I mentioned that in the near future I'd have the opportunity to ask McKeen's Scouting Director David Burstyn a few questions about the tournament. Well the near future has become the present as today Dave was able to answer some of my questions about the tournament (which he was at live), and the draft in general.

If you remember, we last spoke to Dave in January. He's always got great insight and I appreciate his candidness. He doesn't hold back any punches.

Here's the transcript:

Brock Otten - Obviously the big buzz in the scouting community revolves around the completion of the Under 18's. I understand you were in the Czech Republic to take in the action live. Which OHL players who suited up for Canada did you feel had the best tournament and did anyone really raise their draft stock with their performance?

David Burstyn - Several OHL players I thought played very well in particular Matt Murray and Scott Laughton. Murray gave Team Canada a chance to win each game and was especially good in the semi-final game against Team USA where he only surrendered two goals and made some big saves earlier in the contest to keep Team Canada in the game. Since the second half of the season, Murray has really improved on all facets of his game namely his rebound control. He can still sprawl and be out of position to make a save but he does have a high compete level and doesn't give up on shots. At 6'5 he has the requisite size NHL teams look for in the position. Upgrades need to be made to his skating.

Laughton played very well as he was situated on the top two lines and was the architect on a line with Gaunce and Sam Reinhart. He was constantly creating and was hard on the puck. Considering how he retooled his game in the second half and in the playoffs, his draft stock rose for us however his U18 performance also helped his cause.

Additionally Darnell Nurse played very well as he was partnered up with Dumba and often recovered for Dumba's 'maverick' style of play. Nurse was a regular on the PK and has such great size and athleticism that he can be an ideal shut-down defender, something GM Dubas asked him to do in the second half of the season. This tournament undoubtedly spiked his development and he should stand a great chance to make the Hlinka tournament as a result as he is already on Hockey Canada' s radar.

The assessments that you made on other Team Canada players on your site were also very accurate!

BO - Just the same, was there an OHL player whose performance disappointed you? A guy whose draft stock might have taken a bit of a hit?

DB - It is important not to over value a tournament such as this based on six games and forget about the player's entire body of work all season. For example Scott Kosmachuk (aside from Kerby Rhychel who is a late '94) scored the most goals in the OHL amongst draft eligible players on this team but he was essentially lost in the shuffle as he received very limited shifts and was relegated to the fourth line after the Czech game. Having said that when he did play, he was very enthusiastic however his shifts were so sparse it was difficult to get a read on him.

Zharkov was another player that did not have much of an impact on games. He played with good line mates however the Russian team as a whole was very disappointing.  Too often he would make individual rushes that would quickly dissolve and he simply did not generate enough scoring chances. Even though the entire team struggled, Zharkov didn't help matters, as there appears to be a dimension missing from his game.

BO - Let's turn our attention to another important event, the OHL playoffs. I'll ask you the same question. Any draft eligible players who you think have really performed well in the postseason and raised their ranking?

DB - I mentioned Laughton and I was particularly impressed with him in games against Niagara as he would engage physically and even fought in a game when the Generals were down 5-0. This shows to me his true character and willingness to do anything to win.

I thought Jake Paterson helped his cause better than any other player. Since the coaching change, Saginaw's entire approach to systems defence and break-outs were completely revamped and it gave Paterson more confidence in his defence partners, the end result was improved play. He has good size, is always in position and certainly looked poised to even beat London at one point during their series. Paterson is a perfect example at how getting hot at the right moment can salvage a mediocre first half of the season as I firmly believe he cemented his status as a top 60 prospect following his playoff run.

BO - And again, are there any players who you feel have had a quiet postseason/you've been disappointed with?

DB - I didn't feel that Nick Ebert was able to help his cause during the London series. His draft stock has plummeted since the beginning of the year and his playoff was full of defensive errors and a stagnant offensive game. At this point he lacks an identity.

Even thought he enters the draft as the top rated player, I felt that Nail Yakupov's playoff was very poor. He sported a team worse -7 and looked like a different player following the Mike Halmo hit as he was not playing his inside game. When you look at the Spirit defenseman on paper, Yakupov should have been able to pick apart each and everyone of them yet they kept him in check and he appeared visibly frustrated following game four. He was a virtual non-factor in the final two games when the team needed him most.

BO - I have to ask you about the return of Alex Galchenyuk. How do you feel he fared in his brief return to action? Did he cement himself as a Top 10 pick? Top 5 pick?

DB - We have always had him in our top 10 since the beginning of the season. I was part of the scouting staff that drafted Galchenyuk with the first overall pick so I understand the mental make up of the player and the fact that he willingly came back and not only played but contributed in the playoffs is a testament to his skill and character. He is a player that leads by example and has the skills to be a game breaker at the NHL level, his skating has marked considerable improvement and he plays a 200 foot game. During the playoffs he was a step behind plays but given the severity of his injury, one can certainly not fault him for that. Galchenyuk is extremely hard working off the ice as his training regimen rivals that of current NHL'ers. I think given his commitment and the work he will do in the off-season he has an outside chance of sticking next year in the NHL. He will certainly get his 6-8 game NHL audition similar to that of Mark Schiefele of the Winnipeg Jets last season.

BO - After Yakupov and Galchenyuk, the votes seem to be split on who the best forward available from the OHL. Who do you favour, Kitchener's Radek Faksa, or Belleville's Brendan Gaunce?

DB - I have struggled with this one all season and fortunately I still have an opportunity to see Faksa upon my return from the U18's. At this point I am leaning towards Faksa, a player who can do many little things well, is extremely diligent on the defensive side of the puck and has enough creativity in the offensive zone. At worst he is a Radek Dvorak at best he is a Bobby Holik. While the Dvorak comparison may not be the most flattering, he was a former first round pick (top 10), managed to play in a top six rotation for several organizations and has played over 1100 games. Naturally Faksa would have to improve his foot speed and skating.

BO - In similar fashion, the vote seems to be split on who the top defenseman available from the OHL is. Some say Ceci. Some say Maatta. Some even say Finn or Koekkoek. Again, who do you favour?

DB - I would say that Ceci and Maatta are in the only two defenseman in this discussion.  I have wrestled with this one as well having seen each player more than a dozen times each however my nod goes to Maatta for a multitude of reasons. Maatta will be able to play a more complete two-way game at the NHL level. Once he learns to let the play come to him in the defensive zone through coaching he will be very serviceable as he can also make a solid first pass. Maatta has great range and considering how well he has adapted to North America in his first season, (Ceci has already played three OHL seasons) and how much Coach Hunter leans and trusts him in all situations he is my choice. Maatta showed great mental resolve as well to come back from his concussions after the WJC and finish strongly in the months of February/March and is currently enjoying a long playoff run.

BO - What about Koekkoek though? Obviously there's intrigue about his potential, but his enigmatic play/combined with the season ending injury seems to have him slowly falling on most lists. Is he still a first rounder in your opinion?

DB - I thought Koekkoek came into the season with a tad too much hype however one can not argue the impact he had on the Petes. Had he been healthy, they would have made the playoffs as he was playing upwards of 35 minutes a game. If you look at the stats only two defenseman scored more points than him however he played 25-35 less games than his counterparts. Koekkoek needs to work on his defensive game but he has size, skating ability and can handle the puck, which should make him a first round selection.

BO - Same question, different player. Jarrod Maidens still seems to be ranked in or near the first round on most lists despite not playing since before the Christmas break due to a concussion. Just where do you see him being taken in the draft?

DB - Maidens has yet to play since November 30 and it is rather unfortunate as I was very excited to watch his development. Maidens has always been one of the best players in his age group and the season started with considerable promise for him as he was on the top line to start the season. Maidens skates well and has great size in addition to his maturing offensive game. He needs to compete harder, win his board battles and move his feet more in the offensive zone. Nonetheless he is a second round selection and if a team had two picks in that round, he would be a worthy gamble.

BO-  I want to ask you a question about an "overage" prospect (something that a lot of draft fans seem curious about). Seth Griffith. I thought for sure he'd be drafted last year. Obviously it didn't happen. He comes back this year and looks fantastic (IMO). Yet, we don't hear anything about him being ranked the way say, Tanner Pearson is. Why is that?

DB - Personally I was shocked that he was not drafted last year either but his situation may not be different than Justin Azevedo's was in Kitchener. Griffith put up outstanding regular season numbers and has continued his strong play into the playoffs. Size definitely is a factor and his play without the puck needs considerable work however his offensive zone awareness is at a premium. I do not think NHL teams will make the same mistake twice as he should be selected in Pittsburgh however if he is not I am sure he will get a call immediately by a majority of NHL teams after the draft asking him to join their camps as a  free agent invite.

BO - Last time we spoke, I asked you about some guys flying under the radar who people should take more notice of. One of them was Niagara forward Joel Wigle. Have to admit, you were right on the money there. Had a chance to see Niagara play several times in the second half and he was fantastic despite limited ice time. Are there any other guys you really feel aren't getting enough exposure right now?

DB - I like a handful of players. Josh Anderson is no longer considered a 'sleeper' after his long playoff run and NHL Central moving him up considerably. However it is important to note that he scored double digit goals on the fourth line with virtually no PP time. He is an interchangeable forward who works incredibly hard on the fore check and uses his size advantageously.

Another player I thought improved alot during the course of the year was Ben Johnson. He is a great skater, led the Spitfires in hits, plays a good offensive game and was on their first PK unit. His style of play reminds me alot of Darren Helm.

Lastly, Jake Dotchin was a player that improved considerably for Owen Sound to the point where GM DeGray traded away Petgrave and Schemitsch at the trade deadline to open up more ice time for him. He can make surprising plays with the puck, is naturally physical, will drop the gloves and has improved not only his footwork but his puck decisions as well. He has made himself endearing to both his team mates and the coaching staff absolutely loves him.

BO - Perhaps we could do a little rapid fire to conclude the Q & A... From the OHL, which draft prospect:

a) is the best skater (if it's Yakupov, maybe give us another one too):

DB - In terms of quickness and speed Gemel Smith

b) has the best shot (again if Yakupov, maybe an additional one):

DB - Marchese - lethal on the PP as it is geared around his shot

c) has the best vision/playmaking ability:

DB - Scott Laughton -  he finds his trailers and is always aware of his line mates in correlation with the play, in addition he can generate and maintain a good cycle

d) is the best defensive player as a forward:

DB - Radek Faksa

e) is the hardest worker on the ice:

DB - Josh Anderson and Garrett Hooey

f) has the greatest potential to be that guy people say, "man how was he drafted so late?"

DB - Dane Fox, despite some 'character issues' he has a little bit of Dave Bolland in him and his skills and skating ability are elite

BO - Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions Dave. Could you tell us how we can order the McKeens Draft Guide this year?

DB - This year our draft guide package consists of three separate PDF's for the low price of $30, which is essentially $10 per issue.

The first PDF features over 20 pages and covers the WJC and U17 tournament. Our second PDF is 30 pages and highlights eight prospects in lengthy detail from all the leagues including the CHL, USHL, Prep School, CCHA and of course Europe.

Lastly our final draft guide which will be out May 25 will focus on the top 100-125 players, feature Honourable mentions and Sleeper picks. In addition we will  include the top 30+ for 2013 and the top 10 for 2014.

I am very proud of the product and the work all of our scouts put in this season, having gone to the U18's and seen over 300 live games of various leagues this season, coupled with our network of scouts scattered through North America and Europe. This showcases to our loyal subscribers and potential new ones, that we have a great handle on the prospects and paint the picture of them accurately. I guarantee that purchasers of the Draft Guide Package will not be disappointed!

Our draft guide link can be found here :

We are also running a very cool Yakupov signed jersey promo with no purchase required:

Lastly, fans and draft enthusiasts can follow me on twitter:

Thanks so much for the opportunity to talk OHL Prospects with you Brock, it is always a pleasure!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Under 18 Championship Player Review

For those unaware, the 2012 Under 18 World Championships just wrapped up in the Czech Republic, with Canada taking home the bronze medal (in exciting fashion, a thrilling overtime victory over Finland). This has to be considered a HUGELY successful showing for Canada, as we've taken home our first medal since 2008, when we won Gold. We fought the eventual gold medal winners, team USA, (and four time consecutive champion) tooth and nail in a semi final that was significantly tighter than the 7-0 romp that was the gold medal game (against Sweden).

This strong showing for Canada has to have done wonders for the draft stock of some of the team's performers. I was lucky enough to catch nearly all of Canada's games on television. While providing performance recaps based on television viewings isn't ideal, it's the best I can do here. Fortunately, in the coming days, I'll be posting a Q & A with McKeen's scouting director David Burstyn, who is going to share his thoughts from the tournament after being there live. It'll be interesting to see how our comments jive, considering one person watched the games on t.v., and the other live.

Let's look at how the OHL players on Team Canada performed:

Matt Murray 
90.95 SV%, 2.72 GAA, 4 wins, 3 losses

The stats definitely don't tell the whole story here. It seemed like a lot of people felt the higher ranked Brandon Whitney would end up being the starter, but Murray took hold of the starting job in the pre-tournament games and never looked back (in fact, no other goaltender saw a minute of ice time). Those stats above may look exceedingly average, but Murray played fantastic in the tournament. He showcased his great athletic ability in many of the games by making absolute highlight reel saves, most by going post to post quickly. His ability to challenge shooters and cut off angles was better than what we saw on a lot of nights in the OHL too. At his size, having a goaltender who takes away the bottom of the net and moves well in his crease has to be enticing to NHL scouts. Before the tournament, I was incredibly surprised by his CSS ranking (18th) and said I'd eat my shoe if he's the 18th ranked North American goaltender taken. I definitely stand by that now. Perhaps no player on Canada did better to raise his stock in the tournament, exemplified by his naming as one of Canada's top 3 players in the tournament by opposing coaches.

Darnell Nurse
0 goals, 0 assists, +4, 14 penalty minutes

Nurse saw a ton of ice time for Canada, and largely earned it with strong play, especially for an underager in the tournament. His play for Canada was significantly more impressive than anything I saw from him in Sault Ste. Marie this year. He skates so well for a bigger defenseman, and those football genes ooze out athleticism. While there were a few instances in the tournament where he got caught forcing things offensively, or making bad reads, his skating ability largely allowed him to recover. He also was quite physical in the tournament, showing no timidness against older and largely stronger opposing forwards. Offensively, it's clear he remains a work in progress though. He showcased a few really nice rushes, but at times forced things and looked uncomfortable with the timing of when to jump into the rush. The fact that he was paired with Matt Dumba a fair amount (as was Adam Pelech), speaks volumes as to how Team Canada brass feels about him. Definitely a strong showing for Nurse.

Warren Steele
0 goals, 0 assists, -1, 4 penalty minutes

Unfortunately for Steele, he saw very little ice time in the tournament. This is especially true once Ryan Pulock showed up and got comfortable. In the time he did see, Steele looked a little over-matched, especially defensively. This is kind of a drag for fans of Steele, as this tournament was his chance to really put himself on the scouting map after failing to place on the final CSS rankings.

Adam Pelech
0 goals, 0 assists, +2, 8 penalty minutes

Pelech had an absolutely fantastic tournament. Outside of Matt Dumba (who was fantastic in his own right), Pelech was Canada's top defenseman and the anchor of their "defensive" unit. He saw tons of ice time against some of the tournament's top players and was very effective in a shut down role. This is (again) exemplified by the fact that despite not hitting the score sheet, he was named one of Canada's top 3 players by opposing coaches. And even though he didn't hit the score sheet, I actually felt like his offensive game was pretty effective. He made some absolutely terrific breakout passes that lead to scoring chances, and was comfortable skating the puck out of the zone, and not just chipping the puck out in danger situations. He also showed an above average skating ability for a defender of his size, as the big ice was little challenge for him in defending off the rush (save for a few times where he got caught standing still). His physicality, and effort in all situations made him (IMO) the second best defensive defenseman in the tournament behind Seth Jones (who was absolutely amazing). This tournament secures Pelech as a player NHL teams should be looking at WAY earlier than his CSS ranking indicates (120).

Brendan Gaunce
3 goals, 1 assist, +4, 8 penalty minutes

I have to admit that I was a little bit disappointed by Gaunce's performance in the tournament. I felt like on a lot of his shifts, he was just "kind of there," if you excuse the expression. A lot of this stems from the fact that he looked uncomfortable playing on the wing with Scott Laughton at center towards the end of the tournament. It was Laughton and Sam Reinhart who seemed more engaged where as Gaunce was kind of in charge of creating space for his linemates and hanging out around the crease. Gaunce is way more effective when he has the puck on his stick and can use his vision and size to make things happen. I've seen enough of Gaunce over the past two years to still be a big fan of his, but this tournament wasn't his best showing IMO. On the positive, I felt like he did a great job on the penalty kill and in general defensively, which solidifies his reputation as a quality two way player. And his skating didn't look that bad on the big ice, as he rarely trailed the play on the rush.

Kerby Rychel
5 goals, 3 assists, +4, 12 penalty minutes

Rychel had a very good tournament, tying for the lead in goal scoring with 5. The majority of his goals were scored in his office, in front of the net. He's got such great hands in close, and uses his body so well to get positioning over defenders for rebounds and loose pucks. And while at times this season his defensive play and general effort away from the puck took some heat (rightfully so in some instances), in this tournament I felt like he played quite well away from the puck. And by wearing the A, it shows that the coaching staff had a lot of trust in him as a dressing room influence. This tournament absolutely cemented Rychel as a top front prospect for next year's draft.

Scott Kosmachuk
0 goals, 0 assists, +1, 4 penalty minutes

So shocked that Kosmachuk ended up being a 4th liner for this team, and a guy that saw little to no ice time in most of the games. I'm a big fan and such I figured he'd see a ton of ice time, but that was not the case, for whatever reason. In the one game he did see significant action (against the U.S.), I felt like he was one of the team's best forwards and created a lot of chances with his tenacity away from the puck. I wonder what his disappearing act at this tournament does for his draft stock, considering he was widely considered as a 2nd round prospect before the tournament.

Gemel Smith
2 goals, 3 assists, -1, 2 penalty minutes

Anyone who's seen Smith play in the OHL wouldn't be surprised at his performance in the tournament. Playing on the third line with Mike Winther and Felix Girard, Smith was his usual pesky self. He created offense from his speed and effort near the boards, and caused turnovers from his strong forechecking ability. He's like the energizer bunny. Don't let that -1 fool you either, as his line often played against the opposition's top units.

Scott Laughton
2 goals, 5 assists, +3, 4 penalty minutes

Laughton had a tremendous tournament, and outside of Hunter Shinkaruk, he was Canada's top forward IMO. He was so important to the team in every area. He played in all situations, and was especially excellent on the penalty kill. He was also one of the tournament's leading face off men. He was engaged physically and was tenacious on the forecheck, causing a lot of turnovers. He was dangerous off the rush and showcased a pretty high skill level overall. Basically, he was Mr. Everything for Canada. With his strong play to close out the OHL season, and now this, I think he's pushed himself into conversation for the back end of the first round for the draft in June.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

OHL Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

We're in the home stretch now folks. Down to four, as the OHL Conference finals commence tonight. Time for another round of predictions. Went 3-1 in round 2, bumping my overall record for the postseason to 8-4.

Let's look at the Conference Final match-ups.

Eastern Conference

1. Niagara IceDogs vs. 2 Ottawa 67's
Season Series: 3-1 Niagara
My Analysis: Sorry Ottawa fans, I just can't see this one being close. The Dogs absolutely dominated Ottawa in two late season meetings and just ran over a very tough defensive team in Brampton. They're so deep, and so physical, that their four lines just roll over the opposition like a tsunami of pain. Most of all, they're very experienced, with a bevy of guys playing in their final OHL season, or at least likely their last OHL season. Meanwhile, the 67's have had a tough time getting as far as they have. The only chance that Ottawa has of winning this series is if Petr Mrazek can regain some of his magic. He absolutely needs to out duel Mark Visentin, and thus far in the playoffs (and really the entire 2nd half of the season), he hasn't been fantastic.
Prediction: Niagara in 5

Western Conference

1. London Knights vs. 3 Kitchener Rangers
Season Series: 4-2 Kitchener
My Analysis: The Rangers have made things pretty interesting in the West. They've peaked at the right time and are getting some outstanding goaltending from John Gibson. This series looks like it will be absolutely beastly for that reason alone, as the Knights have also gotten great goaltending from OHL goalie of the year Michael Houser. On paper, I think the Knights are the better team. But that's on paper and we all know how that stacks up in reality. One thing to consider is how strong Kitchener's special teams play has been this postseason. Their powerplay has been nearly unstoppable, while their penalty kill has been impenetrable. Meanwhile, the Knights have had a bit of a tough time keeping pucks out of the net shorthanded. London will win if they can get increased offensive production from their secondary scoring units, and if they can stay disciplined and out of the penalty box. Kitchener will win if their top line continues to dominate the way it has (especially with the man advantage) and if John Gibson continues his dominance (.949 save percentage thus far in the postseason. Yikes!). Going with my gut here.
Prediction: Kitchener in 7

Monday, April 9, 2012

NHL Central Scouting Releases Final Rankings for 2012

NHL Central Scouting released their final rankings for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft this morning.

Here's how the OHL representation on the list breaks down:

1. Nail Yakupov (1)
2. Alex Galchenyuk (4)
3. Cody Ceci (6)
4. Radek Faksa (7)
5. Olli Maatta (8)
6. Brendan Gaunce (13)
7. Thomas Wilson (15)
8. Matt Finn (16)
9. Slater Koekkoek (23)
10. Scott Kosmachuk (24)
11. Tanner Pearson (25)
12. Scott Laughton (28)
13. Daniil Zharkov (32)
14. Jarrod Maidens (35)
15. Gemel Smith (37)
16. Brady Vail (38)
17. Andreas Athanasiou (40)
18. Tanner Richard (41)
19. Trevor Carrick (44)
20. Dane Fox (46)
21. Brock McGinn (49)
22. Ben Johnson (52)
23. Josh Anderson (57)
24. Matia Marcantuoni (59)
25. Artur Gavrus (60)
26. Max Iafrate (70)
27. Dylan Blujus (71)
28. Justin Kea (93)
29. Nick Ebert (96)
30. Justin Auger (107)
31. Connor Brown (110)
32. Kris Kontos (111)
33. Joel Wigle (113)
34. Chris Tierney (118)
35. Michael Clarke (119)
36. Adam Pelech (120)
37. Chris Marchese (121)
38. Troy Donnay (122)
39. Jesse Graham (125)
40. Jake Dotchin (129)
41. Cody Payne (146)
42. Zach Mitchell (151)
43. Marcus McIvor (154)
44. Patrick Watling (155)
45. Garrett Hooey (157)
46. Matthew Campagna (158)
47. Gianluca Curcuruto (160)
48. Alex Gudbranson (161)
49. Chase Hatcher (174)
50. Luke Cairns (189)
51. Patrik Machac (190)
52. Luke Mercer (193)
53. Liam Maaskant (195)
54. Zach Leslie (204)
LV Evan McEneny

1. Malcolm Subban (1)
2. Jake Paterson (3)
3. Frank Palazzese (9)
4. Daniel Altshuller (12)
5. Matej Machovsky (14)
6. Michael Houser (16)
7. Clint Windsor (17)
8. Matthew Murray (18)
9. Mathias Niederberger (24)
10. Jaroslav Pavelka (27)
11. Michael Nishi (32)


Just some general comments...

- One thing that jumped out at me right away was how low Matthew Murray was on the goaltender list. Sure, he had a really up and down year in the Soo, but who didn't? And he was put in a pretty hard situation as the team's starter (playing well) before the disastrous Jack Campbell trade. This is a guy who NHL GM's wanted to see at the Top Prospect's Game, and who stole the show there. He's also got a chance to start for Canada at the Under 18's. If he's the 19th drafted North American goaltender in 2012, I'll eat my hat.

- I like the aggressive ranking of some under the radar guys like Justin Kea, Josh Anderson, and Joel Wigle. They're all terrific prospects that not a lot of people know about because they aren't getting a ton of ice time or putting up huge stats. But if you watch them play, they always impact the game in a positive way.

- Really like seeing Guelph's Zack Mitchell getting some attention on the list as a draft re-entry. He'll be near the top of my list of re-entries when I put it together closer to the draft.

- Conversely, I'm surprised Seth Griffith didn't get any love in that respect. He certainly deserves it.

- Shocked to see Adam Pelech so lowly ranked. He's a terrific stay at home defenseman with offensive upside. I hope he has a terrific Under 18's which would really boost his draft stock after a tough year in Erie.

- In terms of the "no shows" on the list. The highest guys from my own draft ranking (which won't be finalized until May) are Nathan Pancel, Ryan Rupert, and Warren Steele.

- In terms of the "wow he's that high" department. Brock McGinn is insanely highly ranked for me. I like him as a little sparkplug/energy guy, but he's near the back end of my top 50, not near my top 20.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sunday Top 10 - Most Impressive 1995 Born Players

An Easter weekend tradition of this blog, sees me ranking the new batch of OHL rookies in order of the impression they left on me. Only the "true" OHL rookies have been included, thus why it's labeled the "Most Impressive 1995 born players." Unfortunately, this also means that Aaron Ekblad won't be included in the list (however, I will talk about him after the list to give him his due credit).

Another thing I always like to note is that this isn't an early ranking for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. This ranking isn't the order in which I believe these players should be ranked for the draft, but an order of which players impressed me most. It's not a draft prognostication, it's an acknowledgment of the significant impact these players have had on their teams this season.

As mentioned, this is a tradition, so here are the previous year's lists. 1994's. 1993's. 1992's.

10. Anthony DeAngelo - Sarnia Sting
What a savvy pick by the Sting in the 2nd round last year. DeAngelo has a bright future in this league and had a pretty seamless transition from the USHL to the OHL this season. I really liked the way he carried the puck up ice with confidence, creating offense from the back end. He's got some good straight ahead speed and can make forecheckers miss thanks to high end stickhandling ability. He's conscientious of his own end too, and always worked hard to get back after rushes. He was Sarnia's best defenseman in a few games I saw this year. That being said, he's definitely needs to work on defending off the rush. I saw him get blown by in the defensive zone a few times this year and needs to work on his lateral and backwards skating. Getting stronger to win more battles in front of the net and in the corners will be a necessity too. Lots of potential here though, especially since Sarnia's defensive unit has a chance to be one of the best in the league next year.

9. Nicholas Baptiste - Sudbury Wolves
While statistically he probably didn't have as good of a season as many Sudbury fans were hoping, I thought he looked very good this season. His lack of production can probably be partially attributed to the fact that he seemed to be all over the place with the club. I think every time I saw Sudbury play this year, he was on a different line. But he's got great size and he has the potential to develop into a really solid all around player. One of the games I saw him play really stuck out, when he was on a line with Michael Sgarbossa. He used his size and speed combination to open up space for linemates, and was a real physical force. He showed good hands too and I think he could be a very good goal scorer in this league. It'll be interesting to see what he turns into next year after an offseason of strength training.

8. Chris Bigras - Owen Sound Attack
Started slow, but by the end of the season he had become the best first year defenseman in the league outside Aaron Ekblad (IMO). Food for thought. In the final 20 regular season games of the year, he had 13 points and was a +8. And then in the playoffs, he had a point per game and was +5. All this from a guy who many people were up in arms about making the Under 17 team. Bigras reminds me a lot of Matt Finn in his rookie season. He's a really solid player at both ends of the ice already and makes very smart decisions with the puck for a rookie. I think there's lots of upside there as he gains confidence in his skill set.

7. Zach Nastasiuk - Owen Sound Attack
This guy just oozes NHL potential IMO. Granted, a few of the games I saw of the Attack he was relatively invisible. But there were other games where he was the best forward on the ice. And for a 16 year old, I think that's an impressive feat. He's got size and protects the puck very well. I saw him take the puck hard to the net a few times this year in ways we often complain certain other older forwards never do. I was very impressed with his overall skill/power package. And while the penalty minutes might not tell the whole story (only 15 on the year), he was relatively physical in the games I saw. I think he's a guy who could REALLY break out next year and become a big name for the 2013 draft. Adding more muscle this offseason will be big for him to start making a more consistent impact on the score sheet.

6. Stephen Harper - Erie Otters
Harper scored the most goals of any 16 year old in the league this year (24) and was generally one of Erie's most consistent forwards on the season. I really liked that the majority of his goals were scored in or around the crease. As a big kid, it's great to see him going hard to the net looking for loose pucks. I really liked his tenacity and energy on the ice. NHL scouts are going to really enjoy watching this guy and the relative simplicity that brings to the ice. Forecheck hard. Go hard to the net. Work the corners. It's not easy to find "grunt" types who have the skill to finish off plays. It's also pretty rare to find these qualities in such a young player. I'll be really curious to see how his offensive game develops next year, whether his play with the puck/playmaking ability is better showcased/takes a step forward.

5. Nick Ritchie - Peterborough Petes
Too bad that NHL teams are going to have to wait until 2014 for this guy, as he has the potential to be one heck of an NHL player. While it sounds a bit harsh, Nick is already everything scouts hoped (and still hope) that his brother Brett would develop into. In comparison with his brother, he's already a more consistently physical player and a pure budding power forward. He's already got a heavy shot and has the ability to create space for himself on the ice. He's definitely got a goal scorer's mentality too, and he seems to have that knack of finding loose pucks or getting himself in position for solid scoring chances. Best of all, I actually was most impressed with his playmaking ability and the use of his teammates. Ritchie has the potential to be a top 5 NHL pick when all is said and done.

4. Jason Dickinson - Guelph Storm
Easily one of the most skilled younger players in the OHL. Dickinson is very crafty with the puck and aggressive in making things happen offensively. He started off very slowly, but finished the season very strong. He had 22 points in the final 26 games of the regular season, and then was Guelph's best player in their first round series against Plymouth averaging nearly a point per game. Best of all, he fits in with the mantra that Scott Walker has the rest of his player's following; the ability to play hard every single shift. He's not afraid to get his nose dirty and will take a hit to make a play, which is not something you see in all "skill" players at his age. I look for him to breakout big time next year.

3. Hunter Garlent - Guelph Storm
You've got to give it up for Garlent. He earned every inch of ice time he got this year, as well as his nod in the coaches poll as one of the hardest working players in the league. In a way, he reminded me a lot of Jeff Skinner when I saw him in his rookie season. Looks like a little toothpick out there, but he's the first one to go into the corners for a loose puck, or to crash the net looking for an easy goal. And while he's a tremendous energy player with a motor that never stops, he's also a very skilled player who can handle the puck and create plays for his linemates with his speed and ability to drive the net. I really hope he grows a bit before next season (at least to the 5'10 mark), so that scouts don't hold his size against him.

2. Max Domi - London Knights
It was really 1a), 1b) for me between Domi and the guy I have rated number one. Domi has the potential to be the complete package. He's got the toughness and physical abilities of his father, but the skill set that his father never possessed. The thing that really impressed me about Domi was his patience with the puck. Quite often in this league, younger centers come into the league and try to force/rush plays. But Domi showed tremendous vision and patience, letting the play come to him. I think that also shows off confidence in his abilities, another thing many younger players don't develop in their first year. Domi also has tremendous hands and is equally adept as a goal scorer. I'm interested to see if his physical game gets taken to the next level in 2012-2013, as we got little teases of it this season.

1. Ryan Kujawinski - Kingston Frontenacs
As mentioned, I could have probably flipped a coin here between Domi and Kujawinski. Both impressed the hell out of me this year. In the end I gave the nod to Kujawinski for his dominance in all areas of the ice. I saw him play a few games at the beginning of the season with Sarnia, and I truthfully never even noticed him on the ice. But once the trade to Kingston happened, he obviously became a different animal. In Kingston I saw a big centerman who had the speed and skill to burn opposing defenses. I saw a guy working hard at both ends of the ice. I saw a physically aggressive player who was punishing the opposition in loose puck battles. I saw a guy with the capability to win big faceoffs. Needless to say, Kujawinski is the total package. One guy immediately jumped to mind the more I watched him, and that's Anaheim center Ryan Getzlaf (even if he's not having the best of years in the NHL). Here's a terrific piece on Kujawinski by blog friend Neate Sager.

Honorable Mention:

Aaron Ekblad - Barrie Colts
As mentioned above, I didn't include Ekblad because he's not a 1995 (thanks to his exceptional status). But I felt it would be a shame not to use this post as a chance to talk about him and the impact he had in the league this year. The recently awarded Rookie of the Year, was easily the most impressive rookie defenseman in the league this year. For him to come in as a 15 year old and play first line minutes for a top 3 team in the Conference is a remarkable feat. The first thing you notice about Ekblad is how monstrously huge he is. I took a friend to a Barrie game a month or so ago and I said to him, "you see #5 on the Colts? He just recently turned 16." My buddy's response. "You've got to be ******* me!" But it isn't just his size that makes you believe he's older than he is. It's his confidence and ability on the ice too. He looks like a seasoned veteran out there already, rushing the puck up ice, pushing around guys in front of his crease, and playing in all situations. Truthfully, it's scary to think about how good this guy could be by the time he's eligible for the NHL Entry Draft (2014).

Brandon Robinson - Brampton Battalion
A real honorable mention, as in a guy who just missed the list, Robinson has had a solid season for the Battalion. He had some injury problems early on, but by the end of the year he was an integral part of Brampton's offense. He's a big guy and he's got a lot of potential as a goal scorer. But he's got to improve his skating to really take his game to that next level.

Josh Sterk - Kitchener Rangers
Sterk impressed me in a similar fashion to that of Hunter Garlent. He's a really high energy guy who's in on every play and plays hard, despite a lack of size (both height and weight). I'm not sure he's got the same skill level of Garlent, but I look forward to seeing where he takes his game next year.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

OHL Playoff Predictions: Round Two

After going 5-3 in Round 1, it's time for my second round predictions. I blew it on Brampton, Saginaw, and Mississauga in round one. I definitely didn't see Brampton finishing off Sudbury so quickly. I figured that would be a more drawn out series.

Let's look at the round two match-ups.

Eastern Conference

1. Niagara IceDogs vs. 4. Brampton Battalion
Season Series: 4-2 Niagara
My Analysis: It's so easy to underestimate the Battalion, because they aren't flashy. Bottom line is that any Stan Butler team gets the job done, pretty or not. Brampton's defense completely stifled Sudbury's attack in round one and they could easily do the same to Niagara's. The only difference is that Niagara has a much deeper line up, which means they'll obviously be harder to contain. In a seven game series, I could see Brampton shutting down the Niagara offense in a few games, but I can't see their offense doing well enough to win them four games in the series. Even if Oshawa played them hard to close out their series, Niagara appears to be the true beasts of the East right now.
Prediction: Niagara in 6

2. Ottawa 67's vs. 3. Barrie Colts
Season Series: 3-1 Barrie
My Analysis: This series is a true toss up. I think both teams have serious concerns and are right now worse teams than either of the other two teams playing in the East semi's. Ottawa looked pretty good against Belleville in round one, but they were inconsistent as hell to close out the regular season. I'm not convinced they have the depth to go far in the playoffs. While the Colts are banged up after a tough series against Mississauga. Both Petr Mrazek and Mathias Neiderberger played great in round one, so the goaltending in the series should be top notch. In the end, I like Ottawa's experience (as a whole) to come out on top. I think guys like Toffoli, Mrazek, Zanetti (post suspension), Prince, want this pretty bad in what is likely their swan song in the OHL.
Prediction: Ottawa in 7

Western Conference

1. London Knights vs. 5. Saginaw Spirit
Season Series: 4-0 London
My Analysis: Don't let the season series fool you into believing this could be a cake walk for the Knights. None of those four games were played in the final two months of the season when Saginaw caught fire. The Spirit have an experienced forward group lead by the currently dominant Brandon Saad. But I don't think there's any question as to which team has the deeper line up, and that's London. The Knights have a strong enough defensive unit who should be able to shut down the Saad line just enough for them to win. I also think goaltending will be a factor, as I'm not sure Jake Paterson (who's had an impressive season) is ready for this test.
Prediction: London in 6

2. Plymouth Whalers vs. 3. Kitchener Rangers
Season Series: 3-1 Plymouth
My Analysis: Getting scared by the Storm in round one might have been the best thing to happen to the Whalers. They looked like a totally different team towards the end of that series and I think they'll now be pretty hard to beat. And while the Rangers defeated Owen Sound pretty easily, I don't think it was that difficult of a challenge due to the Halmo suspension and injury problems the Attack were faced with. The Radek Faksa concussion complicates things too, as I'm not sure the Rangers have the offensive depth to overcome his injury. The deciding factor will be goaltending. Scott Wedgewood was pretty shaky in round one, where as John Gibson was fairly solid. I do think the Whalers are just too powerful, but Gibson could steal a game or two.
Prediction: Plymouth in 5

Would love to hear your predictions.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Under 18 Roster Announced

Hockey Canada released the roster for Team Canada at the upcoming IIHF World Under 18 Hockey Championships to be held in the Czech Republic.


The OHL Players named are the following:

Spencer Martin
Matt Murray
Adam Pelech
Darnell Nurse
Warren Steele
Brendan Gaunce
Kerby Rychel
Scott Kosmachuk
Gemel Smith
Scott Laughton

Now before anyone panics, it's being reported on twitter that the reason Matt Finn wasn't named is that he's suffering from a groin injury (so says Craig Button). That's obviously a big blow to the team.

Also interesting to note is that many sources (including Button and blog friend Aaron Vickers at FC) are saying Canada will add three players to the roster at a later date. Who those players are remains to be seen. One will most definitely be on defense though, as there's no chance the team enters the tournament with only 6 defenseman.

The biggest omission for me is Trevor Carrick (even if he had a somewhat rough opening round for Mississauga in the playoffs). But maybe there's a chance he still gets named.

Obviously, the big omission everyone is talking about is not related to team Canada, but instead team USA, after they left Alex Galchenyuk off their roster. Definitely an odd move on their part. And I'm sure most NHL scouts are incredibly pissed off because it prevents them from getting another look at the Sarnia forward.

Your thoughts?