Monday, May 31, 2010
Not even ranked in the top-30 of North American goalies by Central Scouting, overlooked in many an internet discussion revolving around the top netminders available in the 2010 draft, not a buzzword among NHL scouting staffs.
Nevertheless, the son of a Navy noncommissioned officer who learned to play hockey in the sunbelt before his family settled in Kennebunk, Maine, Billett put up some of the most outstanding numbers ever in the EJHL, and led his team to the league championship, while stopping nearly 95% of all the shots he faced. I don't care what level you're playing at-- with numbers like that, you're doing a heck of a lot right.
My homage to the criminally underrated Billett can be found here. He won't be a top-three round pick in all likelihood, but he deserves to have some team take a chance on him in the mid-to-late rounds. We'll see how it all plays out next month.
I'll continue with my First round draft spotlight profile series tomorrow, June 1st with defenseman Cam Fowler. If you like the feature, then please feel free to spread the word and have your friends and fellow hockey prospect fans come over and check it out.
The other great thing about tomorrow means that as of then, I no longer have to use the words "next" and "month" to describe when the draft is taking place. We'll be 24 days out and wakeup.
Bring it on.
Born: January 31, 1992 in Brampton, Ontario
Strengths: Skilled, intelligent offensive centerman who makes everyone around him better and brings a lot of good intangibles like leadership and work ethic to the mix. Superb skater who may not be quite as explosive as Taylor Hall, but has a quick initial burst and has top-end speed with that extra breakaway gear. Slippery and elusive; willingly takes the puck into traffic and is able to make plays with little maneuver room. Hockey sense is elite; sees the ice well and reads the unfolding play as effectively as anyone, anticipating openings and sensing his teammates' presence. Excellent passer with the soft and hard touch on the puck for tape-to-tape feeds at just about any range that every top playmaker possesses. Outstanding stickhandler who can dangle with the best of them and a quick enough stick to jump on loose pucks in close and put them into the back of the net. Nice shot; quick, hard wrister that he can get off and on netwithout a lot of time and space to work with. Uses good judgment on shot selection, and will take the puck to the net or can score from outside the faceoff dots. Willing to sacrifice the body in order to make the play. Goes to the front of the net and makes things happen by deflecting shots from the point or finishing off rebound opportunities. Still learning the nuances of defensive play, but hustles on the backcheck and plays responsibly in all zones. Outworks his teammates on and off the ice; a capable leader who was recognized by coach Mike Vellucci and given the captain's 'C' during the season (also captained Team Orr at the 2010 Top Prospects Game). Serious and mature; understands his responsibilities to the team and as a pro prospect, putting on a clinic at the NHL draft combine's physical testing portion. Very competitive; has made no bones about wanting to be the top overall pick next month, and would do anything in his power to make it so.
Weaknesses: Some scouts feel Seguin plays more on the perimeter than he should. Seemed to let the pressure of the Windsor-Plymouth playoff series get to him; was unable to break through for any points and showed some poor body language later on when Windsor took a commanding lead. Had a slow start to his OHL career, and may require a similar transition and adjustment period at the next level. Didn't make the 2010 Team Canada WJC because he tried to do too much and didn't stay true to his strengths. But seriously-- these are nitnoid criticisms at best. There aren't many chinks in this player's overall game, and his skill and character are first-rate.
Style compares to: Steve Yzerman, Steven Stamkos and Pat LaFontaine (Peter Chiarelli)
Draft prediction: Second overall to Boston. Unless Seguin bowls over the Edmonton brass (and with this kid, that's certainly possible) they'll go with Hall because of his myriad accomplishments, name recognition and overall explosiveness and dynamic element. This may prove to be a real blessing in disguise for the B's, who could get the player that more than a few scouts feel will be the better NHLer in the long term in Seguin. He oozes ability and confidence; he seems to have that special "it" just like Hall does, but is wired a little differently from his dynamic counterpart who had a better supporting cast around him (and to Hall's credit stepped up and made things happen regardless of how good his team was). Seguin overcame a poor start in Plymouth as a rookie to finish solidly as a more than a point-per-game player (67 points, 61 contests), then took it to a whole new level in his sophomore campaign, finishing with a share of the league scoring title with 48 tallies and 106 points. He also won CHL Prospect of the Year and OHL MVP honors in the process.
Projection: 1st-line center and future NHL All-Star with 90-100+ point upside. Can play either wing position as well, but will probably do his best work as a center. It's hard not to get caught up in the hyperbole that has surrounded Seguin this season, but like Hall, the kid is a winner. He led Team Canada in scoring at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tourney in August with four goals and 10 points in four games, leading the squad to a 1st-place finish. He doesn't have a whole lot to work on, but people should not expect instant NHL success from Seguin. He may require some time and go through some early frustrations before settling in. But, if he does have an immediate impact, then consider it gravy; just landing a player of his (or Hall's) talent and caliber is a huge boon to the Bruins, who didn't have to finish in the bottom-two to benefit.
Background: Last name is pronounced: Say-genn. Son of Paul and Jackie Seguin. Has younger sisters Candice and Cassidy. His hockey bloodlines run deep: his dad captained the University of Vermont hockey team in 1987-88 and roomed with NHL star John LeClair, while mom played in the Brampton Canadettes developmental system. Originally planned to go the NCAA route with the Michigan Wolverines before opting for the OHL. Was the ninth overall selection in the OHL draft in 2008. Was a teammate of defenseman Julian Melchiori in the Toronto Marlies AAA Midget program. Scored 11 points (eight assists) in six games (finishing second overall in scoring behind linemate John McFarland) for Team Ontario at the 2009 World Under-17 Challenge in Port Alberni, British Columbia. Centered a line with fellow 2010 draft prospects McFarland (Sudbury Wolves) and Tyler Toffoli (Ottawa 67's) at both the World U-17 Challenge and Ivan Hlinka tourneys, winning gold at both, going a perfect 10-0.
"Seguin was in on 43.2 percent of his team's goals this season, which was by far the highest percentage of any OHL player. Hall was on the scoresheet for 32.0 percent of his club's goals."- HockeyProspect.com 2010 NHL Draft Guide
“Look, the world junior situation, whatever happened, right or wrong, he went out and was named OHL player of the month the next two months (December and January). He just said, ‘You know what, obviously I wasn’t good enough, in whomever’s view, I’ve got to work harder.’ ”- Paul Seguin to the Calgary Herald; April 2010
“I’m not a flashy, exciting player, but I am a player who can play down low, I can be responsible with a minute left and we’re up a goal. I also get a lot of kudos for being a player who can make the other players around me better, be a playmaker and also score when my team needs it.”- Tyler Seguin to the Calgary Herald, April, 2010
“As an opponent, Taylor (Hall) is a great player. He’s a different player, though. I’m a centerman and he’s a winger. He can fly and plays a different style than I do. I think the media has made it out like we’re archenemies, but that’s not true. I’ve been around him (in the same dressing room) a couple of times this year and we get along fine. We’re both very competitive, and I think that brings out the best in both of us.”- Tyler Seguin to the New England Hockey Journal; April, 2010
“My whole life, my dad’s been saying, ‘Make everyone around you look good; if you can make other players better, then the team is going to be successful.’ I’ve just tried to live that by going out and dishing the puck and being a playmaker.”- Tyler Seguin to the New England Hockey Journal; April, 2010
“What gets underrated in Seguin is his skating — it’s great. Hall has world-class speed, but I grade them both as being ‘5’ skaters; you can’t do better than that.”- NHL scout
Bruins will get No. 2 pick in the draft
Seguin's future could be in black and gold
It's been a tough year for me personally, as MAJ Jason George and SPC Russell Hercules Jr. lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 365.
Jason was a good friend-- we were fellow lieutenants together at Fort Riley, Kansas in the mid-90's, and his combat engineer platoon supported my tank company at the National Training Center in 1995, which, before our wars in the Middle East, was a real big deal for the peactime Army. We then went to Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of Task Force Dragoon-- he was the 1-41 Infantry engineer, while I was the XO of Alpha Tank, an armor company attached to the mechanized infantry battalion. He got out and we lost touch, but he was recalled on IRR as a member of a Miltary Transition Team (MiTT) and died within weeks of arriving in Iraq, killed by an IED. I miss him and thank him for being willing to do his part when he didn't have to and could have resigned his commission completely so as to prevent being recalled.
Russ was a member of the commander's personal security detachment when we served together in the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division in Baghdad during the Surge in 2007-08. He was one of the youngest members of the 4/1 Headquarters and Headquarters Company, and caught a lot of ribbing because he was so earnest and eager-- straight from his Tennessee home and not all that worldly. But, he was a great kid, and I saw him a lot because I spent a lot of time out with the brigade commander and usually rode in the truck Hercules drove. We started calling him "McLovin'" after the character in the comedy "Superbad" which came out while we were over there and was a favorite of many a soldier to watch during the deployment. He transferred to the 101st Airborne Division to be closer to home, and while a member of the Aviation Brigade's Pathfinders unit, was killed last fall in a direct fire engagement. His death hit me hard, as I had not expected him to be back in the fight so soon. He left behind a wife and an infant son, and I hope that one day, his child will understand and appreciate what his father gave up and why.
The purpose of this post is not to be political; as a soldier I have gone where I've been ordered and done my duty. I've been fortunate to survive two tours of duty in Iraq, plus another peace keeping operation in a country seeded with landmines and other dangerous unexploded ordinance. Why I lived and others did not is something I won't ever understand, but I'll always be grateful for those who gave their lives for our own legacy.
I raise my glass to Jason and Herc and the so many others, including my other friends who have perished in Iraq: CPT Ben Sammis, CPT Chris Kenny, CPT Joel Cahill, CPT Sean Sims and SSG Jens Schelbert-- Godspeed to you all and gratitude to your families.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
My goal for these profiles is to provide a one-stop shop in terms of the players' attributes, what the scouting community thinks about them, and what the prospects themselves have to say of note.
Taylor Hall, LW Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Born: November 14, 1991
Strengths: Explosive, dynamic game-breaker who has repeatedly demonstrated high-end goal scoring ability and a will to win. Blasts up to top speed in just a few strides and is a master of his edges, able to stop on a dime and change direction rapidly. Has that extra separation gear that makes him a threat to score every time he's on the ice. Outstanding puckhandler who can make his moves at top speed. Elusive and agile; can burn through defenses in a straight line, or weave through traffic effortlessly, leaving opponents befuddled in his wake. Excellent shot; lightning release and accurate-- can rip it past goaltenders from outside and is deadly with it between the hashmarks. Nice backhand as well, and quick hands makes him dangerous with the deke. Offensive instincts are superb; reads the developing play well and anticipates turnovers. Deft passer who has the vision and soft touch to hit open teammates for quality scoring chances. A winner; stepped up his game in '09 when Windsor was 0-2 in the Memorial Cup, winning MVP honors, then did it again in the OHL playoffs against Kitchener when his team was 0-3 and facing elimination in four consecutive contests. Just seems to blossom whenever the game is on the line. Versatile; an accomplished special teamer and can play center (his original position before becoming an OHL regular), even though he's been used as a wing in Windsor.
Weaknesses: Slight frame that requires added mass and strength. Tends to leave himself open to big hits and sometimes too willing to pay the price physically; will run the risk of wearing down at the next level. Defensive game will need a little more attention in the pros-- he was so dynamic in junior that it was never an issue, but scoring alone won't cut it at the next level. Sometimes tries to do too much himself-- has been criticized as being selfish, but as several scouts have said, the best scorers in hockey are like wide receivers in football-- they need to have that element of selfishness in order to go out and produce the way they do.
Projection: First-line winger and future NHL All-Star with 50-goal upside. As skilled and productive as Hall has been, scouts caution the inevitable comparisons to the generational talents we've been spoiled with in recent drafts: Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Hall will be an excellent NHL player, but he'll need a good supporting cast to continue the impressive resume he's built since being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 OHL Draft (after the Erie Otters selected Ryan O'Reilly).
Style compares to: Jarome Iginla (Peter Chiarelli); Pavel Bure (NEHJ)
Draft Prediction: 1st overall to Edmonton. It's really hard not to envision him wearing the Oilers sweater in L.A. simply because he was playing hockey up until a week ago and doing so much with the opportunities to impress scouts. Don't read too much into his lack of ability to complete all of the physical tests at the draft combine in Toronto; NHL teams know the price he paid for those injuries that hampered him, and you can't put a price on what a guy who is a two-time Memorial Cup winner and MVP, even with the great team means to a club like Edmonton who finished last. If the Oilers decide to go with Tyler Seguin, then Hall will be welcomed with open arms to Boston. A trade-up one slot for the Bruins is a possibility, but unless they like Hall significantly better than Seguin, they're better off holding onto the assets it would take to do so and applying them elsewhere.
Background: Parents are Steve Hall and Kim Strba; Taylor is an only child. His father, Steve was born in Australia and moved to Canada with his family when he was three, where he became an accomplished football player (wide receiver with three different CFL teams) and bobsledder. Mother Kim was the hockey fan and liked the Bruins and Bobby Orr; Hall wears No. 4 because the former Boston great was his mom's favorite. Orr is also Hall's agent. Taylor was born in Alberta, but moved to Kingston, Ontario as a youngster. Favorite NHL team growing up: Calgary Flames.
"The very first time I saw him, I knew he had it. He's got all the tools -- he can skate, shoot, he's got hockey savvy. I could go on and on. He's got the touch. I've seen them all come up -- (Sam) Gagner, (Rick) Nash, (John) Tavares -- and this kid's as good as any of them."- Don Cherry to the Windsor Star; December, 2007 (Hall's OHL rookie season)
“It was when the Calgary Flames were on that run [in the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs]. He didn’t come home from school, didn’t call and I was getting a little worried about him. He had gotten on a bus and gone to a friend’s house on the other side of the city to watch the Flames [on television]. I spoke with [the friend’s] mother and told her, ‘He has Flames’ fever – and he’ll be grounded when he gets home.’” - Kim Strba to the Toronto Globe and Mail when asked if Taylor had "given her any grief as a child"; May 23, 2010
“Taylor Hall is a little thicker, a little heavier. He plays a more prototypical power forward type game. He’s a left shot but can play both sides. Good one-timer and really likes to drive the net. … He’s a tremendous skater, a very powerful skater.”-Peter Chiarelli, Boston Bruins GM; April 2010
“It was be awful hard for them (the Oilers) not to (take Hall). Hall’s a big name in Canada, has accomplished an awful lot already, and has quite a bit of media attention around him. He’s the player the fans are going to want, so it will be interesting to see what (Steve) Tambellini does.”- NHL scout; April 2010
“Obviously, the draft is something I think about just because there's so much attention paid to it, especially as we get closer to June. But at the same time, I've got the rest of the season to play and trying to win the OHL championship and a Memorial Cup title to defend, so those are the things that are more important right now and where my attention is.”- Taylor Hall to the New England Hockey Journal; March, 2010
“I’ve been following Boston a lot (in the 2010 playoffs). It’s going to be an exciting opportunity to have the chance to earn a spot on an NHL roster next season, and I’ll be thrilled to be in that situation wherever I end up.”- Taylor Hall to the New England Hockey Journal; May, 2010
“The big thing for me is that this is a kid who wins. You look at him and last year he was the Memorial Cup MVP, so he’s won a lot in the past. This year, come playoff time, some of the individual play you saw from him (and that frustrated scouts) during the season where he might turn the puck over, or make a bad decision because he was trying to do it all himself, has gone away. Now, he’s making plays and using his teammates and the excellent talent he has around him, and it’s all about the team and winning. He’s playing a disciplined, selfless game and has really stepped it up in the playoffs. He’s a huge reason Windsor is where they are right now.”- NHL scout; May, 2010
Hall, Bruins could be perfect fit
Taylor Hall enjoying final say in draft race
Saturday, May 29, 2010
But with his size, mobility and potential offensive upside at the next level, he has the potential to develop into a much better pro than his draft status will likely accord him next month.
At 6-2, 210 pounds, Rutkowski has the ideal kind of size NHL teams look for, and is a very good skater (though not quite in Cam Fowler's class), one of the more mobile rearguards available this year. He's got all of the attributes of an offensively skilled defenseman too: nice first pass ability, big-time shot from the point and the understanding of when to join the rush and when to stay back.
Unfortunately, his draft stock took a hit this year after a good start because he wasn't producing. He finished the year with 12 goals and 43 points, which is decent, but won't likely see him land in the late first-round or early second, which is where his talent would justify him going. He's also a right-handed shot, which is a bonus for a team like Boston, who lacks a bevy of shooters from that side on D. That said, he showed more of a propensity to play defense this year, improving his gap control and overall play in his own end.
On the downside, he's had some issues with his conditioning and weight since arriving in Portland in his first WHL season and will likely need attention and a regimented program to keep on target with his pro team's fitness requirements. In Rutkowski's defense, he showed up to Portland in very good shape this year, demonstrating the kind of dedication and hard work you like to see from a youngster, so the conditioning concerns may be a thing of the past.
I talked to Red Line WHL guru Mike Remmerde about Rutkowski earlier this season, and this is what he had to say about him:
"He's been very frustrating. He's gone from someone I saw as a solid second-round pick and lottery-ticket type of selection because of his upside to a guy I think could fall in June because he simply hasn't produced the offense or played to his capabilities since getting off to a very good start in October.
"He's improved his defensive game, which is good, but he's far too talented a player to not be doing more on the offensive end, and that's why I've had to downgrade him a bit. He went from being so good (at age 16 and in the first month of the 09-10 season) as a puck-rushing, power play specialist to someone who has shown very little of that offensive skill which made him such an attractive player for me when I saw him last year."
Rutkowski did shake off some of the doldrums and finished with a strong regular season and playoffs, scoring four goals and seven points in 13 games.
"In terms of what he's got (physically and instinctively), if he finds the game he showed off early on, he's got that rare offensive-defensive mentality in terms of being able to rush end-to-end, make long passes and move extremely well, which is rare for someone with his 6-2 frame."
Sounds like a player who might be worth gambling a little with at 45th overall. He's only ranked 44th among North American skaters by Central Scouting on their final list (down from 43 at midterm), but Future Considerations had them 29th in their recently published 2010 Draft Guide. And, as far as Central goes, he's ahead of other names that have been bandied about as Boston options such as Julian Melchiori (45th), Danny Biega (46th), Minnesotans Justin Holl (47th) and Justin Faulk (56th).
If his size and skill set is as obvious as Remmerde has indicated, then Rutkowski could surprise in terms of how soon he comes off the board in L.A.
Now, all that remains is to determine the professional hockey destinations of the 2010 draft class in another 27-28 days in Los Angeles.
Bill Keefe's outstanding work with the Bay State contingent in attendance-- Charlie Coyle (E. Weymouth), Kevin Hayes (Dorchester), Billy Arnold (Needham) and Connor Brickley (Everett)-- will provide some of the best personal observations and insights of any combine-related content anywhere. Kudos to Bill and to the guys for opening up and relating their experiences at this exciting time.
One of the things I enjoyed about the series is reading about all of the other draft prospects from around the country/world that these kids were spending time with during the week. That kind of camaraderie is the genesis of the professional relationships that will endure for these guys as they enter the pro ranks with their respective clubs.
The physical testing diary entry is up over at hockeyjournal.com:
I'll have some additional coverage on the combine here in the coming days: I've got Justin Shugg and Julian Melchiori lined up, plus other sources who were there. We should start hearing buzz on who did particularly well or poorly from the perspective of insiders who were in Toronto.
I'm going into overdrive on my draft coverage at hockeyjournal.com in the coming days and weeks: there will be a story on forgotten goalie Brian Billett up at the site soon, and then multiple features on the various candidates for selection by the Bruins throughout the draft, so I hope you'll keep checking in there.
You can also follow me on Twitter (KirkNEHJ).
Friday, May 28, 2010
Alexandrov was the team's second selection (37th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft and has been playing in Russia's highest pro league (now known as the Kontinental Hockey League or KHL) since age 17, so he comes to North America with a wealth of AHL-comparable experience. Don't be surprised if he makes the Boston roster right away because he's not your typical rookie who is coming out of junior. If he does spend time in Providence, it will be because he may need to bulk up/improve his strength. When he was drafted, I was taken aback at how rail thin Alexandrov was. He looked like he'd put on a little more weight from the photos I saw of him at development camp last July, but he's still slight and will probably always have a lanky build that is tougher for him to keep mass on (especially during the season).
The real question that Alexandrov's signing opens up as it pertains to the 2010 draft is: will the team alter its recent philosophy to ignore Russian players on their draft boards (as they have for every single pick the team has owned since taking him in the second round four years ago)?
My feeling is, no-- not much. Now, if the team sees value in a certain pick they might roll the dice a bit, but it will have to be the right kind of player and the right pick position for them to spend it on someone who could take years to come over as Alexandrov has. I know that the team at one point last year thought he was a lost cause until a chance meeting with a mutual Russian acquaintance opened the lines of communication between team and prospect.
What does this mean?
Well, for starters, players like Alexander Burmistrov and Stanislav "Stas" Galiev are going to be more appealing to Boston because they're at least in North America and the team can better keep tabs on them as opposed to a Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeni Kuznetsov, for example. But still, the whole potential for any player to bolt the NHL or AHL for greener pastures in their home country is still going to be a deterrent until these guys prove their dedication. As the old saying goes: talk is cheap. All the combine interview promises of a commitment aren't going to be worth much if the player changes his mind a couple of years down the road.
As for Alexandrov, his signing is a good step in the right direction, but we have yet to see how he'll fare in a new country, new environment and how he's going to handle the first bit of adversity that is sure to come his way. Until the Bruins actually see how he responds, don't expect them to throw caution to the wind and start grabbing Russians in the first two rounds of this draft.
Anything's possible I suppose, but still here to tell you that there is one Russian player who won't get any consideration from them at picks 15, 32 and 45. Burmistrov or Galiev, on the other hand, could provide the Bruins more of an internal debate if they are available at any of Boston's choices after second overall, given the success in bringing Alexandrov in the fold.
We still have a ways to go before we see if Alexandrov has what it takes to thrive in the NHL outside of his very good skill level and potential as a two-way blue liner. But, he's done well in Russia with leadership roles for various teams and has performed at a high level against men now since before he was even drafted. As long as there are no surprises from his perspective in terms of where he fits in or what is expected of him, he could provide a nice boost and upgrade to Boston's defense corps in 10-11, and if not in Boston certainly in Providence.
So long as he's willing to play there, that is. All the talk, all the platitudes are nice, but the team got burned with Sergei Zinoviev's defection back to Ak Bars in 2003, and so until Alexandrov proves he's willing to do what's in the best interest of the team and their view of his development, the Bruins will hold their breath; they have no choice but to wait and see how it all works out.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Today, I found this link (h/t to MF79/Jerome for posting it) to a WCHA blog which appears to have discovered the goods on Pitlick's decision to play for the Medicine Hat Tigers next season:
The nephew of former NHL defenseman Lance Pitlick, the late '91 birthdate scored 11 goals in 38 games for Mankato State in his freshman year. At 6-1, 190 pounds he has the size and mobility to be a productive two-way player in the WHL next season.
I saw him play twice this season, and was impressed with his footspeed and high-energy, gritty game. But truth be told, he had very little help around him and wasn't able to accomplish much. He'll have more weapons around him (Emerson Etem for starters) in Medicine Hat. Plus, I read somewhere that his game translates better to major junior than the NCAA.
If this report is true, then it should be a good situation and scenery change for him. Bad news for the Mavericks, but such is life in hockey these days.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Even if you're just a casual draft fan, the insights on the interviews with NHL are intriguing, and kudos to the young men for sharing those perspectives with the readership. I don't know how the teams will feel about it, but the way they've answered the questions give you a nice window into who they are as people, and is why teams are placing more and more emphasis on the interivew process and measuring character as part of the draft process.
I just spoke to defenseman Julian Melchiori's coach with the Newmarket Hurricanes, Brian Perrin so I'll have a feature up on him (Melchiori) over at hj.com sometime over the weekend.
In an interesting Boston connection Perrin's family was Bruins coach Claude Julien's billet family when Julien was a defenseman playing for the Newmarket Flyers Jr. A before breaking into the OHA with Oshawa and Windsor in the late 70's.
This year, one player who has been compared to bit to Clifford in terms of his overall gritty game and under-the-radar rise is Ottawa 67's left winger Dalton Smith (although Central seems to have recognized Smith's potential, because he is in Toronto at the combine this week).
Not a great skater, his top-end speed is just average and his get-up-and-go needs work. However, he's a tremendous competitor who finishes his checks, outworks opponents along the boards and down low, and demonstrates soft hands and a finishing touch. He'll also drop the gloves and is considered to be a pretty tough customer (albeit a fighter in the middleweight class at 6-1, 195) by the scouts I've talked to.
Overshadowed by some higher-profile teammates (at least among Central scouting and internet message boards) like Tyler Toffoli and Ryan Martindale (scouts I've spoken to are not big fans of either), Smith scored 21 goals and 44 points in 62 games for the 67's this season, adding 129 minutes in the box. This was his first full season in the OHL after spending 17 games with the club in 2008-09 (he split between Ottawa and the OJHL's Whitby Fury) as a fourth-liner.
Smith worked himself up to the top line this season, and while he doesn't have the kind of scoring upside in the pros that would see him land in the first round, he looks like another solid second-rounder.
Red Line Report likes him a lot, and put them in their "underrated" section for the OHL (along with Jr. B defender Julian Melchiori whom I also like as a potential Bruins pick. Jeff Skinner, Christian Thomas, Ryan Spooner and Swiss winger Alain Berger were also listed) in their April bulletin, saying: Hard-working grinder has a bit of talent, enough to see him land on the 67's first line and a key component in their second-half resurgence. His skating needs work, but we view him as kind of a poor man's Kyle Clifford.
Back in January, they had Smith listed as their 14-best OHL player, but you can expect that given his strong performance to close out the season and in the playoffs, he'd probably be inside the top, moving ahead of Devante Smith-Pelly, John McFarland, Brock Beukeboom and Brandon Archibald if one had to guess.
Smith isn't a bad player to tab at the 45th selection if he's on the board (and let's say for example Justin Shugg is not), but in the end, it all comes down to where a team views a player like Smith and whether they think he's capable of chipping in around 20 goals or so at the highest level, but bringing that kind of toughness and drive teams recognize that you win with. He's not the kind of ferocious winger whose toughness and goal scoring skill can change the face of a game on a single shift like Milan Lucic did in junior, nor is he as tough as Shawn Thornton, but he's close.
The skating and lack of pure upside will drop him, but Smith is one of those guys who just screams Bruins archetype pick to me, so he's definitely one to watch. And, he scored just seven fewer goals than Clifford did for Barrie. If Clifford can go 35, then Smith will probably go somewhere in the same vicinity.
Watch where he goes in L.A., and don't be at all surprised if it happens to be sooner rather than later.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Invite list is here: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=523416
My New England Hockey Journal colleague, Bill Keefe, has a nice combine journal entry up on the website from Kevin Hayes. Last year, he had a most excellent combine diary from none other than Chris Kreider, the 19th overall selection of the NY Rangers. He also plans to run entries from Charlie Coyle, Billy Arnold and Connor Brickley. Also in Toronto from the New England area (West Haven, Conn.) but not featured in the diary entries is Avon forward Mike Pereira, who was outstanding in the 29th annual NEPSIHA tournament this past March. He'll be playing for Toot Cahoon in the fall at UMass-Amherst.
You can find out more at: http://www.hockeyjournal.com/
I will be finding out what I can and keeping you informed on this blog space, so stay tuned.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
9-1, Windsor. That's NINE to one.
I started to write a recap and blow-by-blow account of this game and you know what? I just couldn't do it.
This was one of those we really hoped the game would be competitive and close moments, but it really wasn't. Although the Wheaties came out with some jump, it was really over when Adam Henrique's snap shot that squirted through Jacob De Serres' five-hole made it 1-0, Windsor about seven minutes into it. Eric Wellwood would add a goal late in the period to make it 2-0, and the rout was on.
What you need to know about this game:
1. De Serres was nowhere near as good as he needed to be, and the score not only reflected Windsor's superior talent, but his mediocrity as well.
2. Taylor Hall is MVP again, for the second consecutive year, as his team became the first repeat Memorial Cup winners since the Kamloops Blazers did it in 1994-95. He scored a vicious wrister in the second period when he gathered a Ryan Ellis rebound, took a second to put it on his forehand, and then still beat De Serres with a lightning shot that hit a tiny window just up under the crossbar between the goalie's waving glove hand and the right post. Unbelievable shot from the tournament's leading scorer who finished with two helpers to go with the goal tonight, giving him five goals and nine points in four games.
3. Windsor's depth was too much for Brandon. A pair of NHL first-round picks who had been quiet so far offensively, Greg Nemisz (Calgary '08) and Zack Kassian (Buffalo '09) both tallied as the Spitfires poured it on. Even Cam Fowler got into the act, unloading a bomb from the point that De Serres couldn't pick up because a Spitfires forward was buzzing by in front of him.
4. Once the Spitfires started rolling, there wasn't much Brandon could do to stop them. Sure, Matt Calvert's goal to make it 3-1 in the second period game them life, but when Nemisz's shot (which was not initially called a goal before going upstairs for review and being called a good goal after the fact) made it 4-1, the jig was up.
All in all, this was a dominating run for Windsor, and the team was spearheaded by Hall, who had multiple points in each of his four games and led by example. Every team hit him as hard as they could (Hall took a retaliatory slashing call tonight late in the game after Scott Glennie finished a check, running him hard into the boards and knocking Hall down), but he kept bouncing back and took the ultimate revenge: the kind that appears on the scoresheet.
There's not a whole lot more I can add tonight that is really worthwhile discussing. Bob Boughner and staff had the boys ready to play and they gave no quarter en route to eviscerating the home team in front of their disappointed fans. I guess for anyone who watched Windsor this year, the outcome wasn't a suprise, but we hoped for more of a sporting match.
Oh, well-- it's in the books and we'll now look forward to what next year's Memorial Cup tournament in Mississauga, Ontario will bring.
Hall, Fowler and Justin Shugg are on their way now to the NHL Draft Combine in Toronto for a supremely busy week of physical testing and interviews. At least Hall won't have many interviews to conduct: barring some kind of major deal, only two teams have a shot at him. Fowler will be a little busier, but I think after his overall pretty decent performance in Brandon, he'll be off the board in the first five picks.
The Brandon Wheat Kings' offense matches up well against Windsor, and the top end of their defense is pretty good, too.
Where the real x-factor lies in this game is the goaltending. Philipp Grubauer has been pretty strong thus far in going 3-0, while Jacob De Serres has been the proverbial box of chocolates: (Forrest Gump voice) You never know what you're going to get.
This is probably going to come down to who is better in net. If De Serres can make some early saves and gain some confidence, his team has a chance. If not, it could be boom-boom, out go the lights.
Windsor is as skilled and balanced a team that you'll find. And I think that if they were playing the Wheaties in a series, they'd win it going away. But, this is one game, and Brandon had a great season in the WHL, finishing just second behind Calgary with 50 wins.
Since we're talking 60 minutes, this one could go either way. My prediction before the tourney was Windsor, and I'm not about to flip-flop now. But, Brayden Schenn and Matt Calvert got going in the last game. If they keep the offensive pressure on, and can get some help from Scott Glennie, Toni Rajala, Jay Fehr and even Mark Stone, this one will be good.
Windsor's been off since Tuesday...will they be rusty? Brandon's confidence is flying high after their emotion OT win against their big rival the other night.
It ain't David vs. Goliath, but Windsor is favored. It all comes down to 60 minutes, though, and we've all seen that anything can happen in a hockey game, no matter how the teams look on paper.
Buckle up tight, sportsfans...everything that these kids in Canadian major junior hockey comes down to one game tonight. For all the marbles.
Let the good times roll.
Seguin had an amazing 2009-10 campaign, tying with Taylor Hall for the OHL points lead with 106 during the regular season (the two shared the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy). He actually scored 48 goals to Hall's 40 (finishing just two shy of Jeff Skinner's 50 for the OHL lead), but the Windsor superstar edged Seguin in assists (and also played fewer games because of the two-week World Jr. Championship tournament at midseason).
Seguin got it all started when he led Team Canada to gold at last August's Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Piestany, Slovakia. Playing on a line with fellow 2010 draft prospects John McFarland and Tyler Toffoli (they were later reunited as a line on Team Orr at the 2010 CHL Top Prospects Game in January), Seguin took his game to another level, ultimately leading to Canada's fifth such first place finish in the last six years of the tourney, defeating Russia 9-2 in the championship game (Seguin tallied a goal, finishing with a team-leading 10 points in four games).
He then erupted in the first month of the OHL season, streaking out to a jaw-dropping 30 points in his first 12 games for Plymouth before cooling off. By contrast, during his rookie season in 08-09, he failed to score in his first 15 OHL contests, and had just one in 17 games before scoring 20 over his final 44 to break out and set the conditions for his major jump from 67 points to 106. Seguin had a strong playoff as a rookie last season, scoring five goals and 16 points in 11 postseason games in 2009. This year, he had 10 points in nine games, but was held pointless in the four-game sweep against Windsor in the second round.
Although he failed to make Team Canada's 2010 World Jr. (under-20) squad, he was one of the final cuts. He told me last month that he succumbed to some of the nervousness and pressure that works against a player sometimes, but that it was a very good experience for him. He also felt that it was important for him to live with the failure, because it helped to ground him a bit and put everything in perspective. He used it as a launching point to have an outstanding second half of his OHL season, where he surged to the points lead in the final game after capturing a pair of consecutive "Player of the Month" awards in December and January. He admitted that he tried to do too much at the evaluation camp and didn't stick to the things he does best.
Seguin should not be viewed as a consolation prize if Hall goes first overall to Edmonton (and there's no real reason to think he won't unless the Bruins or someone else decide that they must have him and move up). The reality is this: Hall and Seguin are probably 1 and 1A respectively, if you were to poll scouts today. Hall has moved out ahead in their race because he's still playing and on the verge of capturing another Memorial Cup and potentially, a second consecutive tournament MVP honor. But in all reality, the gulf between the two in terms of talent and upside is minute.
If Hall is lightning, then Seguin is a thunderbolt. He doesn't have Hall's explosion or flash, but it's just because he's wired differently and plays a completely different style. Seguin is more patient and cerebral, but don't mistake his lack of "pizzazz" for a skating weakness or inability to produce. He's proven himself as a legitimate scorer in major junior's best league over the last 100-odd regular season games he's played after getting off to a slow start in 08-09, and looks ready to play in the NHL. He may not be ready to take on an active scorer's role at that level, but if the Bruins handle him right, he could make a big jump from his first to second season the way Tampa's Steven Stamkos did.
These things are hard to project, and Seguin will have enormous expectations next season, assuming he's playing in the NHL, just as Hall will. You can't take anything for granted, or assume that these guys are going to play big roles for their respective clubs. At the same time, Seguin's award says a lot about his ability and capacity to play the game at the next level.
Should Edmonton stand pat and grab Hall, then Bruins fans should be thrilled with Seguin and the positives he's going to bring to Boston. He's said repeatedly that he wants to go to the team that wants him, so if that happens to be the Bruins, he'll bring his maturity and level best to an organization desperately in need of a high-end offensive talent.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
The Boston Bruins had just taken Russian defenseman Yuri Alexandrov with the 37th overall pick, and were on the clock at 50th overall in the second round with a selection obtained from the Edmonton Oilers in the trade that sent Sergei Samsonov to Alberta.
As then-B's amateur scouting director Scott Bradley (the team's current director of player personnel) grabbed the Boston table's microphone to make the pick, I strained to hear the name he announced.
"The Boston Bruins select..." he uttered was quickly drowned out by a huge roar from the stands and for a second I was confused. Why were the Canucks fans cheering a Bruins pick? Was some trade just made announced involving Vancouver?
I turned around to the media row behind me, where the Red Line Report scouts were seated and queried Mike Remmerde: "Who did the Bruins just pick?"
He replied, "Milan Lucic, tough winger from the Vancouver Giants, big-time fan favorite here in case you didn't notice."
Ahhh. It all made sense now. I had read about him in the RLR 2006 Draft Guide. 87th-ranked player on their list. His writeup said: "Broad-shouldered and ultra-tough winger who plays with an edge...Aggressive, angry style and is always looking for the big open ice hit...Surprisingly good hands and can finish in close." Then I read a money sentence from Kyle Woodlief and company in their mid-round sleepers worth a look section and lo and behold, Lucic was there. Their projection proved to be prophetic: "Teams will always be on the lookout for legitimately tough enforcers who can skate a regular shift, so this prized commodity could go off the board as early as the top 50."
So, I headed downstairs to meet the newest Bruin. The first thing I remembered was him crushing my hand like it was in a vice when he shook it. He was a good first interview...well-spoken and a decent guy to boot. I remember him being disappointed that the Giants had come up short at the recent Memorial Cup, but Vancouver had been named host city for 2007, so he was already relishing another go at it, with a guaranteed spot at the tournament. We even talked about his fight with Plymouth tough guy Jared Boll, which he described as "epic."
Remmerde later said that he thought the pick may have been a bit of a reach, but quickly added the caveat that they came no tougher in the draft than Lucic, and that if he could pick up a step or two, he could be a very good prospect. He added that the Minnesota Wild had picked Matt Kassian in the second round the previous year, and that Kassian was tough, but nowhere near the player Lucic was. "If you want to get guys who can really fight and bring toughness, you've got to be willing to take them in the second round these days," Remmerde added.
I was pretty intrigued by the Vancouver native of Serbian descent, so I wrote this about Lucic in the New England Hockey Journal's July, 2006 issue recapping the B's draft results:
Strengths: A high-energy, punishing hitter who can also play some hockey. A mean, nasty winger who loves to fight and does it well. Well-respected in the dressing room and a quality person off the ice.
Weaknesses: Must improve first-step quickness and lateral agility to be a player at the next level.
The Buzz: "I know Lucic very well and was excited to get him. He's a heart-and-soul player. He's a unique player. Some guys compare him to a Terry O'Reilly, Clark Gillies or Al Secord-type of guy. His numbers don't reflect it, but he's a straightforward player and the toughest guy in the draft. He'll do anything it takes to win. Every teammate talks about his presence on the ice."- Scott Bradley
NEHJ grade: B+ Some say he was a reach, but everyone agrees he's got tremendous potential. If he realizes it, he could become a poor man's Rick Tocchet for the B's
One more note-- Bradley got wind of Lucic because he spent more time at home in his native Vancouver than usual while convalescing from an illness, He said that from his many viewings of the Giants, Lucic rapidly grew on him, and he went into the 2006 draft convinced that the Bruins needed to come away with Lucic.
Although the 09-10 season wasn't the winger's best, look for him to rebound for a much bigger and more consistent impact in 10-11, provided he can stay healthy and doesn't have the nagging ankle and finger injuries to contend with as he did this year.
Friday, May 21, 2010
The tempo was pretty high to start, and both goaltenders Martin Jones (Calgary) and Jacob De Serres (Brandon) made some good saves to keep the game 0-0.
None was better than the stop Jones made on Matt Calvert while Brandon was shorthanded, however. With Brayden Schenn taking the puck into the zone on the right side, he cut into the circle and then dished a perfect pass to Calvert who snapped it on net. Amazingly, Jones, who had stayed square to Schenn, respecting the puck carrier, shot his right leg out in a perfect reflex to rob the Wheaties' sniper of what should have been a beauty of a shortie.
Calgary broke the deadlock at 15:34 of the opening frame when Joel Broda collected his own rebound and beat De Serres on a low shot he had no chance on. Broda had been allowed to stand alone and unmolested in front of the Brandon net, and he made the home team pay with his second goal of the tourney. Brandon Kozun and Michael Stone (brother of Brandon forward Mark) assisted on the play.
Just nine seconds later, Ian Schultz struck to make it 2-0, Calgary when he took a feed from Cody Sylvester and snapped off a high rising shot that found the back of the net on a rush after the Hitmen controlled the faceoff and broke in on De Serres.
Brandon, for their part, had 13 shots on Jones in the first, and quite a few of them were glittering chances that the Kings prospect made routine-looking stops on. I've always admired goalies who make tough saves look easy, and Jones did exactly that.
The Jones aura of invincibility gave way early in the second period, however, when Brandon defenseman Alexander Urbom swooped in from the left point, corralled the puck at the top of the left circle, and fired a shot over Jones' shoulder and into the net to make it 2-1. The smooth Swede is a prospect of the New Jersey Devils, having been selected in the '09 draft.
With Brandon on the power play and a little over 10 minutes remaining, Tyler Fiddler scored a back-breaking goal for Calgary to make it 3-1. With Brandon gassed after an extended shift, a long slap-pass from Tyler Shattock to Fiddler off the boards gave him the puck alone in the Wheatie's zone high near the right boards. He wound up and drilled a low shot that somehow slipped under De Serres' blocker and into the net off the left post. The commentators called it a "deflating" goal and they were right; it's the kind of goal De Serres has given entirely too many up of in the tourney so far. He was way out of the crease to take the net away, but he let Fiddler find the post behind him. Just not a good goal to give up in a one-goal game.
But, Calvert got one back to make it 3-2 in the second when he gathered the puck along the right half-wall, accelerated and skated into traffic, then used a Calgary player as a screen to rip a wrister high on the glove side past Jones. The Brandon native and Blue Jackets prospect has been impressive with his ability to generate scoring chances, and the home crowd was ecstatic that he was able to finish this one off to get his Wheaties back to within one strike from an even contest. Defenseman Travis Hamonic (NY Islanders) and Schenn assisted on the play.
Once again, Brandon peppered Jones with shots in the period, forcing him to come up big. There simply was no room for mediocrity in net for Calgary, and Jones gave them as solid a performance as you can have to preserve the one-goal lead going into the last couple of minutes. But then, Sylvester took a bad elbowing penalty to give Brandon their third consecutive man advantage late in the second.
It was all the Wheat Kings would need to find the equalizer.
Just like that, Hamonic's point blast hit a body (Dale Cowan?) on the way and fluttered over a screened Jones' blocker arm to make it a 3-3 game with less than a minute remaining in the period. Schenn and Scott Glennie drew the assists on Hamonic's first goal of the tournament and made it a 20-minute game going into the final period.
Brandon continued to surge early in the third period and it seemed only a matter of time before they would take the lead.
That opportunity came about five minutes in, when Ben Wilson took a highsticking penalty. Right off the faceoff, Schenn won the draw and pulled the puck back to Glennie, who slid it along the blue line to Colby Robak, who wound up and gunned a slapper past Jones to give the Wheaties a 4-3 lead at 5:09.
Ah, a Tyler Seguin sighting at Westman Place...he's in the stands tonight, nominated for three CHL awards (to be announced tomorrow night in Brandon). He reiterated that he wants to go to the team that wants him the most (see my two minutes in the box interview with him posted last month) and just wants to have a long NHL career and win a Stanley Cup. Seguin said that he's enjoying the energy of the game and just being a fan in the stands for this one. Real nice kid-- probably the next Boston Bruin to wear No. 19 when all is said and done. I think he'll be the pick for them in L.A., with Hall going 1st to Edmonton. And Bruins fans should be absolutely thrilled with that if it comes to pass.
Now, back to the game...
Jones then made a big stop on Jay Fehr who picked off a Kozun pass (after Toni Rajala hassled and hooked him) just outside the Calgary blue line and skated in for a good, quality scoring chance.
Brandon had Jones under seige in his own end down past the halfway mark of the third period, with chance after chance that the Calgary netminder turned aside on Rajala, Glennie and Raedeke.
With a little over eight minutes left, De Serres made a tremendous side-to-side stop on Kozun after Giffen Nyren got a pass out to the wide open shooter off to the left of the Brandon net.
Calgary would benefit from a break thanks to the lively end boards and glass at that one end of the Westman Place when Kozun blasted a shot over De Serres' head that bounced back out to the goalie's right and onto Misha Fisenko's stick. The Russian swept the puck into the open side, vacant because De Serres had come out to the top of his crease to cut down Kozun's amount of net to shoot at. Fisenko tied the game with 5:04 left in regulation.
The game ended in a 4-4, going to overtime after Brandon carried the majority of the play after the first few minutes of the second period. Jones made 42 saves in regulation.
Last year, we were in the same boat, with Windsor and Drummondville going to OT in the semifinal match as well. We all know how that one ended up...B's prospect Yannick Riendeau and the Voltigeurs made a game of it, but came up short (Windsor thanks sudden death hero Adam Henrique).
It's over! Fehr scores early in OT after Rajala set the table with some fancy in-and-out moves to open up the ice before sending a drop pass to Fehr for the big blast 3:16 into OT: 5-4 Brandon. It was the 48th shot for the Wheat Kings to win it.
It's Kelly McCrimmon vs. Bob Boughner. Wheaties-Spitfires on Sunday-- 7:00 pm EST.
The Hitmen defeated the hometown Wheaties the other night by a 5-1 score, with all goals coming in the first period.
Looks like Ian Schultz will play in this one after taking a hard shot off the hand during one of Brandon's extended 5-on-3 power plays in the third period.
I've been impressed with Calgary coach Mike Williamson's adjustments in the games. His team fell behind Moncton early, but battled back to win on a flukey bounce late goal from Tyler Shattock (who also scored the other night against Brandon). Then, after falling behind Windsor 3-0, the Hitmen closed to within one goal of tying the game before Taylor Hall picked off a bad Giffen Nyren clearing attempt and streaked up the middle of the ice to beat goalie Martin Jones on the backhand.
Jones, 20, is an undrafted free agent from North Vancouver, B.C. and has had a strong tournament. One of the CHL's finalists for the goalie of the year award, he should have plenty of offers from teams this offseason. EDIT-- As has been pointed out to me, Jones is property of the L.A. Kings. Pretty good pickup for them from the looks of it, but good luck to him beating out two Jonathans: Quick and Bernier, in that organization for playing time anytime soon. Should make the Manchester Monarchs strong again in net assuming Bernier graduates to the big club next year. Thanks for keeping me straight on Jones.
As discussed previously, Brandon needs their big offense to step up. They weren't effective Wednesday night, but keeping them off the scoreboard two nights in a row will be a tall order for Calgary, who may or may not have top scorer Brandon Kozun in the lineup. He will be a gametime decision, and I expect him to play, even if in a limited capacity.
I'll have the game recap up tonight...and then we'll know who faces Windsor in the championship game Sunday night.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
No, it's not me...just being Captain Obvious there for a second.
But, Erie Otters center Greg McKegg is one of those players who embodies the terrific talent pipeline the OHL has become over the last decade, and is someone who if he slips out of the first round, could be a nice find for the Bruins at 32nd or even 45th overall.
He scored 37 goals and 85 points for the Otters, and even though they were swept in the first round of the OHL playoffs, scored a pair of goals and was the team's best player according to several reports.
Now, he's only very average-sized and is only a so-so skater. He's not a bad skater, but he isn't explosive and is more quick than fast, which always raises the doubts a little bit when scouts are trying to figure out where to grade him. That said, he's an offensive whiz, with the vision, instincts and puck skills to get it done. His production has been no fluke; think of him as a similar kind of player to what Brad Boyes was in junior, and no, I'm not just making the easy comparison because we're talking about the Otters here.
What I like about McKegg is his competitiveness and character, though. This is a guy who, when I talk to scouts familiar with him, was the best player on the team just about every time they saw him play. That's always saying something, even if his size and overall skillset is nothing to write home about.
To add to the appeal, Red Line Report chief scout Kyle Woodlief said that McKegg was one of the few forwards for Team Canada who actually showed up to last month's fiasco in Belarus at the under-18 championship. So, that's a bonus-- you have to like a guy who's still skating his bag off and trying to get it done when more than a few of his mates have mailed it in and are too busy feeling sorry for themselves to put in an honest effort.
So, McKegg is someone to watch for sure. He may not quite have Boyes' elite skill-level at the same age, but he'll probably end up being a player because he's got such heart and drive. Guys like that are hard to keep down.
It was the Jimmy Bubnick (Atlanta) and Kris Foucoult (Minnesota) show last night, with each tallying four points in the thrashing of the Wheaties.
There's just not much to say about this game, because it wasn't one where the 2010 draft prospects did a whole lot to stand out.
Calgary defenseman Matt MacKenzie was his solid self and didn't attract much notice.
Brandon's Michael Ferland tuned another '10 prospect I haven't mentioned-- Calgary forward Cody Beach-- in a fight after Ferland knocked defenseman Ben Wilson down. Wilson went back at Ferland and he was getting ready to drop the gloves with the smaller, but feisty defender when Beach jumped in. Bad move for Beach, because Ferland dropped him quickly with a flurry of rights.
This may have been a pyrrhic victory for Calgary, however. Top scorer Brandon Kozun is on the shelf after suffering an ankle sprain in the WHL championship series against Tri-City and hasn't played since the opener against Moncton. To add to his loss, the Hitmen could be without Foucoult, who got taken out by Shayne Wiebe with a knee-on-knee hit. He did not return, nor did hard-nosed forward Ian Schultz, who blocked a hard shot with his hand and left the game in the third. If all three are out on Friday, then Calgary could be in trouble. I expect that Kozun will play, albeit in a limited role, but Foucoult and Schultz may have larger injuries to contend with.
It was a frustrating game for Brandon, who failed to capitalize on a four-minute two-man advantage in the third period on a five minute power play. Although goaltender Jacob De Serres recovered from his nightmarish first period and settled in, the Wheaties couldn't get anything other than Jay Fehr's opening frame marker past Martin Jones, who has been quite good.
Bottom line: Brandon boasts an outstanding offensive attack with high-end scorers in Matt Calvert (Columbus), Brayden Schenn (L.A.), Scott Glennie (Dallas) and Aaron Lewadniuk-- all who scored more than 30 goals this year. They simply haven't pulled their weight so far. Give credit to Jones, who stoned them all night, but we're talking about a pair of top-10 NHL draft picks in that group (Schenn, Glennie)...they simply have to pick it up if they want to play for the championship on Sunday.
Given the hitting and cheap shots I witnessed in the final 20 minutes of the game, I'm expecting one intense battle with a lot of potential for spillover on Friday if things get out of hand early as they did last night.
Textbook WHL hockey, right?
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Unfortunately for Moncton, the lead was short-lived, as defenseman Cam Fowler took a pass from Justin Shugg on the power play and blasted a slap shot past goaltender Shane Owen to tie the score at 1-1 with just 7.4 seconds remaining, reminding everyone in Westman Place precisely just how good a team the Spitfires are. Ellis had the other helper on Fowler's first Memorial Cup tally.
The Wildcats, who were 0-2 and needing a win to have a chance at another game, began the contest behind the eight-ball when it was announced that starting netminder Nicola Riopel would not play because of an "illness." Although Owen played well in the first frame, he simply hasn't played enough hockey since the playoffs began two months ago and would need an unreal performance to give his team a shot to win it.
The "Fantastic Fours " line of Taylor Hall (4)-Justin Shugg (44)-Adam Henrique (14) combined to put Windsor ahead 2-1 in the second period at around the five minute mark. Henrique gained the zone on the right side after Shugg chipped it up the ice to him and took a shot. The puck hit a Moncton player's skate however and found Hall cruising through the middle of the ice. Hall then one-touched the puck over to Shugg, going straight to the net to Hall's right and Shugg deftly redirected it past Owen for his second goal and fifth point of the tourney.
With the score 2-1, Windsor after 40 minutes, it looked as if the sun might be setting on Moncton's excellent season, but the Wildcats bounced back in the third.
Captain Scott Brannon's rocket over Windsor goalie Philipp Grubauer's shoulder less than three minutes in after matching penalties opened up some four-on-four action tied up the score. Cameron won the draw cleanly over to Brannon, who rifled a high shot into the net that Grubauer had no chance on.
Just 29 seconds later, Brandon Gormley showed why he's a top draft candidate when he wired a shot from the point over Grubauer's blocker to give Moncton a 3-2 lead. It was another clean faceoff win for Moncton, who had been trailing in the game in that department, but when the puck came back to Gormley, he stepped into the blast that had eyes and found its way through heavy traffic in front to give Gormley his first goal of the tourney, and Moncton's second tally while the teams skated four aside.
The lead didn't hold up, however. After a puck was played with a highstick in the Moncton zone, what would have been a clearing play was brought back in for a faceoff. In a recurring theme in the third period, Windsor won the draw and after some scrambly play around the Wildcats' net, '09 Nashville first-rounder Ryan Ellis let a shot go from the high slot that Owen kicked out in front of him. Hall, who was on the doorstep swiped at it and missed, but it skittered to Stephen Johnston, who banged it home for his first goal of the tourney and first playoff goal since the OHL opening series. Henrique got the other assist, just 1:46 after Gormley had established the lead.
The game ended in a tie, forcing overtime. There, Eric Wellwood, brother of Vancouver forward Kyle Wellwood, scored to give Windsor a perfect 3-0 record. They won't play again until Sunday-- in the Memorial Cup championship game.
Tonight, Brandon and Calgary will close out the round robin portion, and then will play each other again Friday night for the right to face the waiting Spitfires. Moncton is done, unable to overcome the losses of Nicolas Deschamps, who missed the tournament with an injury, and Riopel, who might have propelled the Wildcats to victory last night. That said, Owen played well enough to win, his team just couldn't get enough pucks past Grubauer, who made 38 stops in the victory.
The good news is-- if you're a casual draft fan and have watched these games, the top-end players have come as advertised. Hall leads the tournament in scoring with six points, Gormley looked very strong albeit in three losses. Fowler has showed off his superb offensive abilities, but still stuggles a bit with the defensive aspects of his game, namely his reads and playing the body when appropriate. Grubauer looks like he belongs in this group of goalies that is being touted as one of the stronger netminder classes in recent years, spearheaded by Jack Campbell, who will play in Windsor next year (the rich getting richer).
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
The annual Hockey News draft preview is already out, and for the cost-conscious or casual draft fan. it's more than adequate to cover the bases.
I've read THN's draft issues religiously since they first started publishing them in the early 80's and have kept just about every one going back to 1986 (which had a great cover of the Edmonton Oilers dynasty including a very youthful-looking Andy Moog).
The great hockey scribe Bob McKenzie started THN's draft bible, and he's the one that many of us draftnik wannabes aspire to. In my humble opinion, nobody can match him for his connections and inside dirt when it comes to the NHL and especially the entry draft.
But, there are other publications that will cost a little more but are pretty comprehensive that may be worth looking into if you need more information. In the interest of being fair and out of a desire to arm you with information you may not already have, I won't list one over the other because of conflict of interest and I don't want to be seen as endorsing or not endorsing any. If you have any questions about any of them, feel free to ask, but for now, I'll simply provide the links and let you make your own decision based on what works best for you.
In the interest of full disclosure, I've subscribed to Red Line Report for 11 years and have every draft guide of theirs since 1999.
International Scouting Services - Printed and Electronic Versions available. $50 CDN (Available May 25th, 2010)
McKeen's - Printed Version $30 CDN, $30 USD, $35 International (Available June 2nd, 2010)
Red Line Report - Printed Version $45.00 USD (Available June 3rd, 2010)
The Hockey News - Printed and Electronic Versions available. $5.99 (Mailed to subscribers May 5th...Available May 17th, 2010)
Future Considerations - Electronic Version $16.79 USD; Printed Version $27.81 USD (Available May 2010)
The Hockey Prospect- Printed Version $18.95 USD (Available mid-May on Amazon.com and via website)
Taylor Hall continued his postseason dominance last night by scoring a pair of goals, adding an assist, blocking several shots and absorbing some big-time hits in the Windsor Spitfires' 6-2 win over the Calgary Hitmen in the team's second game of the Memorial Cup in Brandon, Manitoba.
Although Calgary cut Windsor's 3-2 lead to just one goal thanks to a pair of markers scored by Atlanta prospect Jimmy Bubnick in the second period, Hall showed why he's the leading candidate to go first overall in next month's draft when he picked off a bad pass by defenseman Giffen Nyren, skated in alone on Hitmen goalie (and former Team Canada WJC teammate) Martin Jones, deked and then slid a soft backhander through the five-hole as Jones went down int he butterfly to make it 4-2 and effectively put the game out of reach. It was Hall's second goal of the game and fourth in two contests to give him five points and a share of the tournament scoring lead with Toni Rajala.
After Leafs prospect Dale Mitchell (he of the utterly vomit-inducing '70's porn star' mustache) got the scoring going in the 1st, Hall struck to make it 2-0. While the Spitfires were on the power play, Cam Fowler effortlessly gathered the puck deep in his own zone, accelerated and with his head up, saw Hall streaking up the left wing boards. Hitting his teammate in stride with a long, 60-foot pass, Fowler sprung junior hockey's most dangerous scorer. Hall gained the zone, wound up and blasted a shot that appeared to hit the Calgary defender's stick and take off upstairs, beating Jones on the short side.
Windsor made it 3-0 early in the second period, when Windsor's trio of top eligible draft prospects combined on a beautiful goal. Fowler slid a pass to Hall, who skated into the middle of the Calgary zone and as he sucked two defenders toward him, made a behind-the-back feed to Justin Shugg, who showed off just why he had 39 goals in the OHL this past season.
Instead of shooting right away (and likely seeing the puck blocked off by the Calgary player with position in front of the net), he made a quick little move to his right to shake the defender and open up a shooting lane, then rifled a shot on Jones's blocker side, top-shelf where mama hides the cookies (as Rick Jeannerette likes to say) to seemingly put it out of reach. I really like Shugg and so do my scouting sources in Ontario, who have been impressed with him all year. He's precisely the kind of player the Bruins would do well to consider in the second round simply because he's proven that he can score with or without the excellent help he's gotten from his high-octane offensive teammates in Windsor. The goal he scored last night is a prime example of someone with the instincts to get it done, as he gathered Hall's pass, but then instantly side-stepped the defenseman in his way and uncorked a beauty of a wrist shot that Jones had no chance on.
Even thought Bubnick got two quick ones,Windsor goalie Phillipp Grubauer also became a story of the game, as he then shut it down and refused to let the Hitmen get any more until Hall and Kenny Ryan pulled away with goals in the third (Adam Wallace added an empty-netter and then got into a fight to close it out).
"Grubi" is impressive because he looks like one of those special goalies who can play on an outstanding defensive team that doesn't give up a lot of shots, but manage to stay focused and make the big save when needed. Calgary played hard and didn't roll over when Windsor went up 3-0, but just when they thought they could pull what they did against Moncton on Saturday and battle all the way back, Grubauer denied them every step of the way. In so doing, he was able to accomplish what Moncton's Nicola Riopel could not against Calgary...hold the lead after his team played better in front of him and deserved to win.
As Grubauer's scouting report reads, he has very quick legs and does do a bit of sprawling and flailing, but his recovery skills are good. He was tremendous for Windsor after coming over from Belleville and may be one of those guys who plays better on a good team than one who needs a lot of shots to stay sharp.
If he goes on to be a part of a Memorial Cup win for Windsor, then Grubauer will help his draft stock immensely. He's not a first-rounder, but could work himself into the mid-to-late second if he keeps it up. If not, he's terrific value in the third or later.
Windsor's win means that they have won the round robin (this after going 0-2 last year and having to do it the hard way by being perfect to close it out), and clinch a berth in Sunday night's championship game, even though they face 0-2 Moncton tonight.
This should be an interesting test for Windsor, to see how intense they are against a Wildcats team who will be desperate to get off the schneid. Bob Boughner is a demanding taskmaster and facing an old assistant junior coach of his at Sault Ste. Marie in Danny Flynn.
But as far as Hall goes, he's certainly shown that dynamic, game-breaking ability everyone's been raving about since he broke into the OHL. The big hits he's taken has generated talk and some concern about how well he'll be able to be durable and keep playing in the NHL without suffering a big injury, but until it happens, that's just talk to me. Hall has been an absolute force in two springs where every game matters, and while I can appreciate the fact that he's taken some dings, it's not like a team is going to pass on the opportunity to draft Hall because they're worried that he might sustain a potential career-threatning injury at some point.
That's like playing not to lose, and I don't think there's any doubt at this stage that Edmonton will be swayed from taking Hall first overall. Unless, that is, Boston (or someone else?) makes them an offer they can't refuse.
Not likely to happen, so B's fans should get ready for Tyler Seguin. Outstanding player and person who's gotten a little lost in the shuffle of Hall's postseason surge, but with every goal and big-game performance, Edmonton's asking price for any trade to No. 1 is going up, up, up.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
It wasn't a great game for the Wildcats or goalie Nicola Riopel, who was victimized twice by Edmonton prospect Toni Rajala (what a steal that guy was in the fourth round last year). The Wheat Kings are 1-1 after getting thrashed Friday night by Windsor. Moncton drops to 0-2.
Brandon Gormley had his moments, but fell down on the Brayden Schenn goal that made it 3-0, allowing his man to get by him and find Schenn wide open for the easy tap-in to Riopel's left.
It was one mistake, but there is still very much to like about Gormley who is such a smooth skater and makes it look very easy whenever he's on D. One play in particular didn't look like much, but illustrated his good skill level in his own end. After Brandon made a dump-and-chase move near the Moncton blue line, Gormley, who was still moving forward, pivoted effortlessly and outskated the Brandon player moving backwards. When he got to the puck along the endboards, he braced for the hit, absorbed it, then knocked the Wheat King backward a step and calmly cleared it around to his defense partner for a quick clear and transition up the ice. That's the kind of textbook play you want to see from a defender, and it gets back to the plaudits Gormley has gotten for his mobility and poise under pressure.
Unfortunately, there was no offense from his team, so there isn't whole lot to say about his play in the other end, aside from the fact that he moves well laterally along the point, making it tough for opponents to keep the shooting and passing lanes clogged up. His shot may need some work, but maybe it was just a bad day for him, because the scouting reports I've gotten on him are that he has a pretty good blast.
They had a nice feature between periods on Gormley and he comes off as pretty well-spoken and honest. Looks like he'll do very well with the interviews and I've heard in some circles that he grades quite favorably with Cam Fowler. For Boston's sake, they need him to drop closer to 10 than be up for grabs at five if they want to move up to take him.
Also liked what I saw from Marek Hrivik in spurts, but again- Moncton couldn't solve Jacob De Serres today. He's got a long, loping stride that covers a lot of ground, but it's his hands and shot that really stand out. He can get his shot off very quickly and it's hard, heavy and as a former goaltender, can empathize with Hrivik's opposition-- certainly looks like it hurts. He's got a big body with a wide-tracked stance and is willing to throw his weight around and go to the net. The puck hasn't gone in for him yet, but I like him. If he's on the board at 97 when Boston's fourth-rounder comes up (from Carolina), he'd be someone I considered (based of course on whomever else is there).
Quiet game from the Wheaties' draft eligibles, with guys already belonging to NHL clubs (Rajala, Schenn, De Serres, Robak) making the biggest impact today. But, there was an interesting human interest story about Michael Ferland, that related that he hadn't played a lot of hockey at a high level prior to this season, but that parents of the Brandon AAA Midget team last year chipped in to fund his place on the team because his family couldn't afford the high cost.
That's the kind of story that makes hockey special.
Tomorrow night, the Windsor Spitfires take on the Calgary Hitmen. Look for the Hitmen to try and do just that against Taylor Hall, who was rocked by Brandon the other night, but bounced back nicely. Both clubs are 1-0, so there's a lot riding on this one.
Puck drops at 8:00 pm Eastern on Monday.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
The story of the game however, was how much it resembled last night's macabre collapse by the Bruins at home against Philadelphia. Moncton dominated the game early and roared out to a 3-0 lead before giving up a late goal in the second period to give the Hitmen life. Just as witnesses saw at the TD Garden last night, so would the folks in Brandon watch as the top team early on would lose control and surrender momentum.
Moncton defenseman Brandon Gormley showed off his excellent mobility and poise throughout, and you can see why he's a highly-touted draft candidate. He assisted on David Savard's second period power play goal to give the Wildcats a 2-0 advantage, sliding a pass along the blue line to Savard, who made a nice headfake and toe-drag move inside before ripping a shot through Martin Jones's five-hole. Gormley also has a playoff beard at 18 that would put many NHLers to shame.
Calgary's comeback started when Capitals draft pick Joel Broda ripped home a shot on a two-on-one break to make it 3-2, but Alex Saulnier's second goal of the game, a power play marker scored when he took a pass in the corner, skated over to the near post and beat Jones with a low shot to the far side of the net, restored the two-goal advantage soon after.
The Hitmen struck back with a power play goal of their own as Giffen Nyren one-timed a Broda pass from the point into the back of the net, making it a 4-3 game. With a little less than four minutes left, Minnesota fourth-rounder ('09) Kris Foucoult (pronounced Foo-koh) batted a puck that hit the post, bounced down and hit Moncton goalie Nicola Riopel's right pad, and then skittered over the goal line to make it 4-4.
Then, when Savard tried to rap the puck around the boards off the glass deep in his own end, disaster struck. Instead of slicing around the rink and out of the zone, it bounced right back out in front of the net to Riopel's right. The Wildcats' goalie was slow to react, and by the time he realized Shattock was on top of him, it was too late. Shattock swiped at it, and the biscuit squirted through Riopel's legs to give the Hitmen the winning goal in a game they stole from the Wildcats.
Calgary defenseman Matt MacKenzie was solid, but didn't do much to stand out. Saulnier had his first two-goal game in major junior after scoring eight all season, but it went for naught, as the Wildcats choked the game away. Of course, it didn't have the high stakes Boston's crushing loss carried, but this is a tough setback for Moncton. They'll likely take out their frustrations on Brandon tomorrow afternoon. The Wheat Kings looked like a host city club, way overmatched against Windsor in a 9-3 thumping last night.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Is he good? For anyone who DVR'd the game, that will become plainly obvious when you watch it (assuming you haven't sworn off hockey after watching the Bruins-Flyers tonight).
Hall got hammered early with a hard hit, but bounced back to score a pair of pretty goals. He makes it look easy, but that's what goal scorers do. After watching the Bruins over the last three games, I believe that this is the guy they have to somehow maneuver to try and get. The B's have not successfully moved up in the first round at any time I can remember since covering the team, and have made numerous attempts. They may not succeed in swaying Edmonton to give up their designs on Hall (assuming they have them, and let's be honest here, and I mean absolutely no disrespect to Tyler Seguin, but after watching the OHL playoffs this year, why wouldn't the Oilers be licking their chops at adding Hall to the mix?) but I think that Peter Chiarelli has to at least try to wheedle the scoring wing away from the Oil and into a spoked-B.
The Spits also got productive games from veterans Adam Henrique, Dale Mitchell and Scott Timmins, all three already drafted in previous years (NJ- 08, Tor- 07, Fla- 09). Quiet game offensively from Justin Shugg, but watch him as the tourney goes on. He's one of those guys who doesn't have the dazzling skills or big size, but he works his bag off every shift and knows how to go to the net and make things happen.
From the Wheaties perspective, there wasn't much to cheer about, but 2010 draft prospect Mark Stone hammered the you-know-what out of Windsor's Craig Duininck, blasting him with a series of rights that felled the OHLer in quick fashion. If that's the kind of toughness Stone brings, then I can see why he was seen as a potential late first-rounder coming into the season. He's not a first-round pick, or even second-rounder to be honest, but he didn't quit tonight and when he thought he got hit with a cheap shot, challenged Duininck (a Minnesota native and eligible for the NHL draft in 2011). Kudos to Duininck for dropping them, but he got owned in that one.
I also thought Michael Ferland showed some jump tonight and had one nice play late where he stripped the puck from Ryan Ellis when the high-end Nashville prospect tried to carry it out of his own end.
Not much else to say here. Windsor looked like tourney favorites tonight, even with the two third period goals they let in. They can beat you in so many different ways, and for two periods tonight, they put on a clinic at Brandon's expense.
If you wondered what all the kerfuffle was about Hall and you watched this game, well, now you know.
Next up is Calgary and Moncton tomorrow.
2nd overall (Toronto)
15th overall (Boston )
32nd overall (Toronto)
45th overall (Boston)
No pick- Buffalo (Daniel Paille)
97th overall (Carolina)- acquired in Aaron Ward deal
No Boston pick- to Anaheim for Steven Kampfer
135th overall (Boston)
165th overall (Boston)
195th overall (Boston)
At some point, you just have to give the Philadelphia Flyers credit. They didn't make excuses when they went down 3 games to 0 and they battled back in this game like they have all series long.
As for the Bruins, they had this game. Had it. And then they stopped playing and opened the door.
Tuukka Rask was not "Cool Hand Tuuk", the defense was unable to do anything offensively after the two power play goals put them up early. And Patrice Bergeron? Completely ineffective, along with the rest of his line. Yeah, sure-- they had some sporadic moments, but at the end of the night, when you look at who came through for Philly (Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere and the dagger goal from Simon Gagne) it was the same song, different night for Boston. The Flyers' big-time players (including captain Mike Richards, who was a force in the series overall) made a difference, the Bruins' did not.
So, we're left with the epic chokejob of epic chokejobs.
It isn't that the Bruins lost in the second round of the playoffs...it's how they lost that will sting for so long. It's almost as if ripping the hearts out of fans in losing a Game 7 wasn't enough...they had to witness the B's go up 3-0 in their own building and appear to be about to cruise into a showcase matchup against Montreal, only to see it all snatched away in such cruel fashion, with Rask surrendering several softies that were so uncharacteristic of his play down the stretch.
It is therefore, even more twisted irony to consider then, the rumors of a Tim Thomas-for Gagne swap at the trade deadline that was allegedly nixed by Thomas, who was given a non-movement clause after his Vezina Trophy season a year ago. Thomas spent the playoffs stapled to the Boston bench, while Gagne wrote himself into near-legendary status by bringing the Flyers back from the brink of elimination with his four memorable goals in as many games. I don't know if those rumors of a Thomas to Philly trade were true, and maybe if he's in net for the Flyers, his team sweeps the Bruins in four straight. But the bottom line is, if he could have fetched Gagne, what Boston fan wouldn't be jumping for joy at that thought?
The way the series played out is almost too sickening to truly contemplate.
So again, I tip my hat to the Flyers. They earned this, and who knows how far they'll go? For the Bruins, this is one more kick in the gut for a franchise that has known so many of these types of losses.
The show will go on, and the B's now own the 15th overall pick in every round, the lowest of any of the playoff-seeded teams, which doesn't even begin to erase the stench of what happened over the past seven days, but is at least a start.
And, it could always be worse, I suppose. The high-flying Windsor Spitfires are up 9-1 against the Brandon Wheat Kings in the first game of the Memorial Cup tourney after just two periods. Perhaps the kind of thrashing that the Manitobans are getting at the hands of the OHL champion tonight would've been preferable at the TD Garden than the way things played out in the 4-3 collapse.
Oh, and do you think the B's could have used Taylor Hall (he has two highlight reel markers and may turn the trick in the third)tonight? You can't win in this league without offense, and the kind of pathetic, uninspired performance we saw from the Boston forwards over the last 40 minutes and really, in the last three games when you get down to it, should serve as a wakeup call to Boston management.
The biggest indictment of Peter Chiarelli's performance as GM this season was the fact that he didn't adequately address his team's scoring woes, and failed to make a move of substance at the trade deadline. He did, however, surrender a high second-round (36th overall) pick for 17 games of Dennis Seidenberg and a "tough" defensive defenseman prospect in Matt Bartkowski. Tonight, the fear that Boston's lack of pop up front would come back to haunt did just that.
The season is over. There is a lot of work to be done. Beating the Buffalo Sabres was nice, but given the way things could have gone for Boston with all of the top seeds taken down, fans will only wonder what might have been for years to come. And they'll agonize over it. If you thought getting swept by Buffalo in 1993 was bad, you don't know the half of it.
The only way the Bruins can begin to ease the pain of this signature failure is to make the right calls at the draft next month and see those choices bear immediate and long-lasting fruit. That's going to be a tall order, and given the way things have gone of late, don't expect the Bruins "faithful" to exhibit much faith.
That will have to be earned back.