Monday, July 21, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Florida Panthers

The sunny state of Florida gets the feature, as the Panthers are reviewed.

Aaron Ekblad - Barrie Colts
The reigning OHL defenseman of the year and first overall pick, Ekblad had his best year to date in 2013. IMO, his game is 100% NHL ready. His offensive game improved significantly this year. He was more confident with the puck and began to start leading rushes up ice, using his size to protect the puck. His shot has always been huge, but he worked very hard to make it more accurate and to get his shot through on the powerplay. Defensively, he continued to be a stalwart. His skating improved a lot over his three year OHL career and he's now quite agile. Combined with his size and smarts, this has made him perhaps the toughest defender to beat one on one in the league. His intensity in the corners and in front of the net could stand to increase even more, especially to take full advantage of his size, but that's nitpicking. As I said, I think he's NHL ready and I'd be absolutely shocked to see him back in the OHL next year. I don't expect huge point totals in his first year. I'd say probably something like 8 goals, 20 points is a realistic expectation. As long as he can kind success in his own end first, that's most important. 

Josh Brown - Oshawa Generals
Brown is what he is. A behemoth defender who plays with an edge and defends the crease quite well. His offensive game has never developed (he scored his first 2 OHL goals this year), and he's quick to chip the puck out of his own end. That's not what his game is. He's a stay at home prospect. For me, his skating still needs to improve significantly for him to be an NHL player. He can still be exposed off the rush and is a bit rough side to side and backwards. He is a terrific body checker though, and the type of guy who doesn't chase the big hit. He lets the game come to him. The Panthers have a choice to make with him next year. He was an overage draft pick in 2013 so he doesn't have to be signed yet despite being a '94. Florida can send him back to Oshawa for his overage OHL season. Or they can try to get San Antonio to take him in the AHL to acclimatize him to the pro game without giving him an ELC. My guess is that he'll be in San Antonio's camp and will be given a chance to make that team. If that doesn't work out, it'll be back to Oshawa where he'll be expected to work on his puck distribution skills and mobility in his own end.

*of note, Panthers 3rd rounder Juho Lammikko will be suiting up for the Kingston Frontenacs next year after being selected in the Import Draft. He'll have a chance to play a top 9, perhaps even top 6 role for them as they need some size up front.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Edmonton Oilers

Shout-out to the guys in Edmonton who show me a ton of love (Lowdown with Lowetide, The Pipeline Show). Here's the Oilers review.

Darnell Nurse - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Honestly, at times this year he looked like a man among boys. There were quite a few shifts of his this year where he could do pretty much whatever he wanted on the ice and no one could stop him. He established himself as a dominant two-way defender. He was aggressive in leading the rush and jumping up into the play when he needed to, but showed restraint and the ability to make a good breakout pass when needed to as well. Defensively, he consistently went up against the opposition's best and did an admirable job. I think his zone coverage will continue to need to evolve as he becomes a pro player, but he's a physical force out there and will learn quick. He has the ability to squash the transition game because of how well he moves, gets into passing lanes and asserts himself by keeping forwards to the outside. What I really liked from Nurse was his increased intensity level in the corners and in front of the net this year. It was very difficult for the opposition to win battles against him. Quite frankly, I think he's ready for the NHL. He needs to learn to adjust to the speed of the pro game and to gain confidence at that level. I don't think there's much more that the OHL can teach him. If he returns, I think it will be a mistake and the Oilers will risk him developing some bad habits out of boredom (the way Alex Pietrangelo did in his 19 year old season).

Kyle Platzer - Owen Sound Attack
A trade to Owen Sound didn't do a whole lot for Platzer this year, as he struggled to be a consistent offensive contributor with both London and the Attack. At this point, he's a tweener. And an undersized one at that. He hasn't shown a lot to suggest that he's got the skill level to be a top 6 player at the next level. And he doesn't have the body type or the aggressive nature to be a quality checker. Going into next year he'll be fighting for a contract with Edmonton. He's either going to have to gain a ton of condidence in his offensive abilities, get stronger and really take his game to the next level offensively...or he'll need to round out his game by becoming more of a factor physically, on the forecheck, and defensively. He'll get his chance in Owen Sound as they'll be expecting him to play a top 6 role next year.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Detroit Red Wings

Yup, that was my introduction.

Andreas Athanasiou - Barrie Colts
Athanasiou had another terrific year, continuing to build upon his breakout last year. His speed and skill with the puck make him an incredibly difficult player to contain off the rush. He's very aggressive in trying to get to the net and has become far from a perimeter player. This year, his game without the puck continued to grow and he's now someone who can create offense by winning battles along the boards and by forechecking hard to create turnovers. He's become a very well rounded offensive player. Athanasiou's defensive game grew this year too and he's on his way to becoming a solid two-way player, which was something that definitely wasn't the case in his draft year. There might not be a player from the 2012 draft who has progressed as much as Athanasiou. Next year he'll be in Grand Rapids and I expect him to do well. A 45-50 point first season is certainly possible.

Jake Paterson - Saginaw Spirit
Paterson had only an OK year. The Spirit weren't a great team, so he had that to deal with, but they could have been better if he was at his best (see Plymouth with Alex Nedeljkovic). It was great to see him with the Canadian WJC team, but it was unfortunate how the tournament turned out for him personally. At this point, I'm not sure he's really progressed a lot since he was drafted, yet he remains a solid goaltending prospect. He'll have to continue to work on his angles, especially as an average sized netminder. This year, he'll likely be in the ECHL as a starter based on the depth the Wings have at the goaltending position. That's OK as it will allow him to come on slowly and work his way up.

Zach Nastasiuk - Owen Sound Attack
The captain of the Attack (a feat in itself) had a decent year in Owen Sound, and continued to play his strong two-way game. As much as I like him, I'd be lying if I wasn't a bit disappointed in the consistency of his offensive production though. I did feel like he made strides to improve his skating and he looked a bit more explosive. He needs to become more confident handling the puck and looking to drive the net more though, as he's still primarily a cycle/boards guy who picks up his scoring chances coming off the wall or by outworking defenders. There's nothing wrong with that, but I think he's capable of more. If I'm nitpicking, I'd also like to see him be a bit more physical, using his size to create havoc and get under the skin of the opposition. Next year I expect big things from him and I think he'll finally hit the 30 goal mark and should be a good bet to score over a point per game. The next Kris Draper/Kirk Maltby?

Tyler Bertuzzi - Guelph Storm
Bottom line, he just needs to stay healthy. When he plays, the talent level is terrific. When he wasn't injured (head and neck injury this year), he was fantastic this year. It was especially great to see him come back late in the year and not even miss a beat. In the playoffs and in the Memorial Cup, he was consistently one of Guelph's top players. He has deceptive speed off the rush and has a lot of success taking defenders wide, giving him a chance to use his terrific shot. He plays the game hard too, sometimes too hard, and really gets under the skin of the opposition. Next year is a HUGE one for him. Guelph will need Bertuzzi to step up with the loss of several key players from last year's roster (Rychel, Mitchell, McGinn, Kosmachuk). If he stays healthy, I think he's going to have a really big year playing with either Robby Fabbri or Jason Dickinson. In all honesty, he could hit the 35 goal, 70 point mark rather easily. And that would really establish him as a great prospect. Detroit never ceases to amaze me with their drafting ability.

Friday, July 18, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Dallas Stars

Next stop Dallas!

Radek Faksa - Sudbury Wolves
More of the same this year for Faksa. His first year in the league continues to be his best and it`s been downhill from there. The Wolves gave up an awful lot for him this year and had high expectations for him in the 2nd half, but he was a mega disappointment. The last two years in the OHL, he really hasn`t shown us anything to suggest that he has offensive potential at the NHL level. He has some good vision and playmaking potential, but lacks intensity as an offensive player. He never became the type of guy who could take over a shift by controlling the boards, or by dancing around the open ice. He remains a solid defensive presence and that will be his calling card at the next level. That said, he`s not a physical player, so will that impact his effectiveness as a two-way player at the next level? He'll start his pro career in the AHL next year and I don't expect him to produce much offensively. I wish I could be more hopeful but he was a very disappointing player in the OHL the last two years.

Jason Dickinson - Guelph Storm
One of the most improved players in the OHL this year for me. He had an absolutely fantastic year. In his draft year, he showed flashes of being a very difficult player to match up against; the type of guy who could come at you physically and outwork you. Well this year, that was consistent from start to finish. He's become a very difficult player to play against at both ends of the ice. He forechecks as hard as anyone in the league and has become the type of guy who can win battles and control possession in the cycle. Defensively, he's one of the first guys back in the defensive end and he rarely misses an assignment. Offensively, he exhibits patience and poise with the puck and has learned to limit his turnovers. His vision and ability to create for his linemates really took a step forward. Next year, I look for the confidence in his ability to shoot the puck and create his own scoring chances to increase. What a great year for him. My guess is he cracks the 80 point mark next year and is a strong candidate for the Canadian WJC team.

Remi Elie - Belleville Bulls
Along with Dickinson, was another of the league's most improved players this year. He WAS Belleville's offense this year. Every single aspect of his game improved. Most noticeably was his confidence with the puck. He was able to create a lot of scoring chances for himself and for his linemates by making moves and controlling the puck in ways I didn't think he was capable of. His puck skill greatly improved, or at least was very hidden before. He's a powerful force with and without the puck who looks to charge the net. His physical game remains solid as he's a terrific forechecker and presence in the open ice. I feel like not a lot of people had a chance to see Belleville this year (because they weren't good), but Elie was one of the league's breakout stars. If he continues to improve and the rest of Belleville's roster improves with him, I could see an 80 point season next year. He's certainly made me re-think his high end potential. There's more in him than just a 3rd/4th line grinder.

Gemel Smith - London Knights
Statistically, he had a pretty decent year (his best in the OHL), but I was still surprised that Dallas signed him. Even if his numbers improved, I'm not really sure he did. Throughout his OHL career, he was pretty consistent offensively, but he never really took that step as a dominating offensive force. This was evident in the OHL playoffs this year where his struggles with the high intensity of the game caused London to move him down to the 4th line. While he is skilled, I don't know if he's skilled enough to play a top 6 role. And while he can provide energy, his size and skill set doesn't really make him an ideal candidate for a bottom 6 role. He strikes me as a tweener. He'll likely start his pro career next year and he'll probably be given little ice time to start, allowing him to get used to the size and speed of the pro game. I think it could be good for him too, forcing him to play with more of an edge which would help his potential moving forward.

Alex Peters - Plymouth Whalers
Peters was a great pick by Dallas in the 3rd round. I really like his game and I think there's more to it than just a physical, stay at home guy. He's very solid with the puck, and has good mobility. At times, he'll skate the puck out of the zone, but stops short of pushing into the opposing end. As a midget player (in his OHL draft year), he was one of the most improved players in the draft class, so he's a hard worker and an astute learner. I see that carrying over to his OHL career. As he gains confidence in his abilities, I think his offensive game will really come around to match his excellent defensive potential. We're not talking a Drew Doughty, Shea Weber here. But, he has enough skill with the puck to elevate him over other defensive first guys who can be a liability in their own end when counted upon to make a quick play. A 30 point year is well within his reach IMO.

Brent Moran - Niagara IceDogs
Moran got better and better as the year went on for Niagara, taking over the starter's role around mid-season. He was great in the playoffs and almost allowed the Dogs to upset the eventual East champion North Bay Battalion. He's a big kid who's athletic and has the composition of the ideal NHL goaltender. He'll need to continue to work on his angles, taking advantage of his size by challenging shooters and trying to stay up longer to take away the top part of the net. Niagara should be one of the top teams in the East next year and if Moran continues his solid play from the second half of last year, they'll be in great hands.

Aaron Haydon - Niagara IceDogs
Haydon is a similar player to Peters in that he's a big guy with good mobility. But he's much less polished. He can struggle with his decision making at times and will need to improve his zone coverage reads to really establish himself as a dominant stay at home force. In his OHL rookie year, I saw a guy who flashed a ton of offensive potential and appeared to be on the cusp of developing as a strong two-way presence (and potential puck rusher). But this past year he wasn't terrific and really seemed to lack confidence offensively. I'm interested to follow his development moving forward though, as I could certainly see him as a guy who could improve. Rome wasn't built in a day. Next year, he'll get a chance to increase his offensive numbers as Niagara will be looking for one of their young defenders to step up as their primary powerplay QB.

Patrick Sanvido - Windsor Spitfires
Not all that surprising to see him get drafted late, as one of the biggest players available in the draft. I had high expectations for him coming into the year, but he didn't have a strong sophomore season. He did look a bit better towards the end of the year, but he remains a work in progress. His skating will have to improve a lot if he wants to be a primary shutdown defender. Keeping forwards to the outside shouldn't be hard with his reach if he can manage to stay with them. Windsor's defensive alignment is kind of up in the air right now for next year. There is ice time available for the taking. Will Sanvido put in the work this offseason to grab a top 4 role? I guess we'll see.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus is the next team on our trip.

Kerby Rychel - Guelph Storm
As tough as it might have been for Warren to deal his son to Guelph, it ultimately proved to be great for his development and his game. Rychel was terrific for Guelph down the stretch and in the playoffs. Playing for Guelph really allowed him to show his strong vision and playmaking ability, as this is a part of his game which I felt has always been there, but never shown off. Playing with Robby Fabbri and Zack Mitchell was great because they're both very smart and well rounded offensive players and that allowed him to play a more simple game. His goal scoring numbers dropped a bit this year, but he still has good goal scoring potential at the next level. Even if the skating and power game with the puck never really develops at the next level, he's so good close to the net and in the slot, he should be at least a candidate to be a consistent 20 goal guy. The one thing that I did notice this year was the decrease in his physical game. He was still solid on the forecheck, but he didn't actively look to make big hits as much as he has in prior years. As he turns pro this year, I think he'll find instant success in the AHL. He's big enough and strong enough to hold his own in battles near the net and I think he's the type of guy who won't need much time in the minors before he's ready to make an impact on a checking line.

Nick Moutrey - Saginaw Spirit
The Spirit had a tough year and Moutrey didn't have a great one individually. His development appeared to hit a snag and next year will be a big one for him. All the things that I mentioned needing improvement last year, are areas that continue to hold him back. The main thing is consistency and confidence with the puck. He has skill and he has the ability to drive the net, but he doesn't do it often enough and is too often "just there" in the offensive end. Physically, his intensity level was a little greater away from the puck and I felt like he played with more "jam" in the traffic areas. But quite often this did not translate to a greater amount of offensive opportunities. He also remains more of a pass first guy and continues to need to improve his shot to make him more of a weapon coming down the wing. Next year is a big one for him, as I mentioned. His confidence should be high, but Saginaw will be undergoing a bit of a rebuild so he's going to have to really take the bull by the horns.

Josh Anderson - London Knights
Anderson had a good year in London, but not a great year. Truthfully, I didn't see much improvement from him, which is not necessarily a bad thing. He improved so much last year and this year he simply maintained that level of play. I think we know what we've got in Anderson now. He's a high energy, physically imposing winger who can chip in offensively depending on who he's playing with. I don't think there's top 6 potential, but he could certainly be a very valuable checker. With his speed and size, I don't think it's going to take him long in the minors. Unless of course the Jackets feel like his offensive potential is greater than I'm suggesting, then they may let him play down in the AHL for a while to gain confidence in his offensive abilities. Otherwise I expect him to advance and push for a roster spot pretty quickly. If anything, he might be MORE ready for the pro game and a checking line spot than Kerby Rychel is.

Oscar Dansk - Erie Otters
The wins and the GAA look good, but the save percentage (.909) tells more of the story. Dansk was good this year, but not great. He struggled with consistency at times this year and as such was not the starter for Erie in the playoffs. He's a big guy and he seems to have all the tools to be a good goaltender (quickness, agility, rebound control, etc), but he just hasn't put it all together yet. He still shows too many holes and can really fight the puck at times. He also has a tendency to overplay angles and will need continued coaching at the professional level. He'll turn pro next year and I think Columbus will be happy to have them in their hands after last year's difficulties. It appears that he'll have to fight it out with some other players at the AHL level, so hopefully he can perform there and continue to try and get better.

Blake Siebenaler - Niagara IceDogs
Loved this pick by the Jackets. He's such a raw player, but one who improved a ton over the course of the season. He hasn't played defense very long, but by the end of the year, he might have been Niagara's top defenseman. His skating is his greatest asset and he's only just learning how to use it to his advantage. As he gains confidence, I hope he begins to push the pace more as a puck rusher and takes more chances offensively because his skating ability will allow him to recover quickly and close gaps. I think the biggest thing I want to see him work on next year is his ability to run the point on the powerplay. The Dogs will need him to be their main guy there and he has some work to do in improving his shot (confidence using it, finding holes, etc) and the quickness with which he makes decisions when moving the puck. As I said, I really like him and I believe in his potential. I expect a 40 point season.

*Of note, 2013 pick Markus Soberg is set to play for Windsor next year. And there are rumours on the 'twittersphere' that suggest 1st rounder Sonny Milano is leaning towards playing for Plymouth.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days: Colorado Avalanche

Who wants some thin air? Off to the Mile High state of Colorado.

Chris Bigras - Owen Sound Attack
I've heard a lot of people mention that they felt Bigras had regressed this year. In all honesty, I don't think that's the case. Did he progress? I don't think so. But regress implies that he got worse and that's not the case. It was simply a status quo year. His offensive numbers decreased this year, but that was due to the fact he played a more conservative defensive game and took less chances offensively. He remains a steady, calming presence on the back end, who rarely makes a mistake in coverage or by turning the puck over in his own end. He's not a physical player, but he did do a better job of winning battles in the corners this year and is learning to play aggressive when he needs to. Offensively, he has the skills to produce more than he does. But he's content making a first pass out of the zone and is not yet the type of player who will extend rushes into the offensive zone. Will he ever become that type of player? I think next year will tell us a lot. He'll likely return to Owen Sound where hopefully he gains some confidence in his ability to produce offensively without sacrificing his defensive game. Of course, he could always surprise and make the Avs too.

Spencer Martin - Mississauga Steelheads
I saw a lot of Martin this year and quite frankly, it wasn't a good year for him. Let me preface this by saying that the Steelheads were not a strong team this year, especially defensively. Martin saw not only a lot of rubber, but a lot of premium scoring chances (breakaways, 2 on 1's, powerplays, etc). That said, when he was needed to elevate his game, he wasn't able to do that. He still seems to lose focus at times and gives up some soft goals. At times, I wonder if he has difficulty tracking the play as he gets caught out of position or playing the wrong angle on some of these weaker goals. He remains a goaltender with a lot of potential though because of his size and athleticism. The Steelheads could be a smidgen better next year, especially as some of their talented defenders get another year of experience under their belt. But they're going to need Martin at the top of his game and that means taking a big step forward in his development.

Kyle Wood - North Bay Battalion
Loved the Wood pick-up by Colorado. He's very raw as he's only played 76 OHL games the past two years (including playoffs). He got a late start to this year too because of an injury. But he got better and better as the season went on, capping it off with a sensational performance in the OHL playoffs. At 6'5, 230lbs, you can't teach his size. And with his skill set (good mobility, physically aggressive, good puck skill, work ethic), he has the potential to impact the game at both ends of the ice (which is what he did in the playoffs this year). In North Bay next season, he'll get an increased role and should see even more powerplay time than he did this year. I think he's going to have a breakout year and should break the 35 point mark.

Nick Magyar - Kitchener Rangers
It was a trying year for the Rangers as they battled to stay out of the basement in the Western Conference. But Magyar was the team's most consistent player IMO. I was surprised that he fall as far as the 4th round, so needless to say I feel like the Avs got a steal. Magyar is a hard working forward who has potential to excel as a strong presence along the boards because he protects the puck well and has good vision to make plays coming off the wall. He'll need to work on his ability to drive the net and I'd love to see him add more of a physical element to his game. As he gains confidence, I expect his goal scoring numbers, in particular, to increase. The Rangers will be a bit better next year (potentially) and Magyar should be right in the thick of that. I think he's got a chance to be a point per game player next year.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days: Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks and their one OHL prospect are up next.

Ryan Hartman - Plymouth Whalers
Despite performing very well in the AHL at the end of the season (which Hawks fans probably honestly care more about), Hartman did not have a very good OHL season. The Whalers were not a strong offensive team this year and they needed Hartman to be a consistent leader on the ice, and I don't think he was able to accomplish that. He actually became the whipping boy of Whalers' fans this year, justified or not. I think the biggest disappointment I had this year with Hartman was the lack of urgency in his game away from the puck. This was something that made him such a force in his draft year and made me really like him as a prospect. But he didn't play with as much tenacity and intensity this year (at least in the games I saw). The physical component, in correlation with forechecking and defensive awareness just wasn't a consistent part of his game. It looked like he was trying too hard to be an offensive player while neglecting some of the things that made him a top draft pick. I think he simply put too much pressure on himself to be the number one creator of scoring chances on the team and subsequently lost his way a bit. All that being said, he's still a solid prospect (which is obvious by the way he performed at the AHL level this year). Best of luck to him as he starts his pro career this year.