Friday, June 02, 2006

Five OHL Trades Approved; June 1 NHL Signings

Five trades were approved by the Ontario Hockey League on the "opening day" of trading. Seven teams (the Oshawa Generals, Sarnia Sting, Saginaw Spirit, Windsor Spitfires, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Kitchener Rangers, and Owen Sound Attack) were involved.

In the first trade, Oshawa sent 18-year old defenseman Chris Mifflen to Sarnia in exchange for winger Kody Musselman. Musselman (6'1", 191) has played 2 years in the OHL (after being Sarnia's first round, 16th overall priority selection in 2004), and in 2005-06 filled the role of tough guy. He tallied 6 points in 56 games, and accumulated 106 PIM, many of them for fighting. Unfortunately, his plus/minus for the season was -22, so he needs to really focus on his defensive play while at Oshawa this coming season. Mifflen (6'3", 195) is also 18 years old, and just completed his first OHL season; he was the General's fifth round selection in the 2004 priority draft. In 28 2005-06 regular season games, the defenseman registered 4 points while maintaining a -3 plus/minus rating. His season was cut short by a broken leg sustained last December, but it appears that he will be ready to play at full strength in the fall. This trade could work out well for both teams, as Oshawa needs some grit and the Sting could use a solid defenseman. Mifflen needs some time to develop, but over the next 2 years, he could prove to be the better player in the deal.

Oshawa's second trade of the day involved rights previously obtained from Windsor. Prior to the priority draft, the Generals had obtained Windsor's 5th round selection in 2007 and 2nd round pick in 2008. Yesterday, Oshawa conditionally returned the 2008 pick to Windsor in exchange for the rights to defenseman Peter Aston. Aston will be eligible to play an overage year for the Generals in 2006-07, and the trade will take effect if he decides to play for the Generals (rather than sign a professional hockey contract). Aston (6’1”,205) registered 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) 65 games for the Peterborough Petes and the Spitfires in 2005-06. This trade is a very good one for Oshawa, in that, if Aston does not sign a professional contract, the team gets an excellent experienced offensive defenseman to anchor their blueline and help the team next year, in exchange for a pick that is 2 years off. If Aston moves to the pros, Oshawa loses nothing. With a young excellent defensive corps, Windsor can afford to lose Aston, so this is a good deal for them too.

Saginaw and Windsor completed a trade yesterday sending Ryan Garlock and Mitch Maunu (and Sudbury's 2nd round pick in the 2007 priority draft) to the Spirit in exchange for forward Anthony Soboczynski and Saginaw's 15th round pick in 2007. The deal is conditioned upon both Garlock and Maunu, who are unsigned 2004 draft picks of the Chicago Blackhawks, each playing an overage year with the Spirit.

Twenty-year old Garlock is center, who began his OHL career with the Guelph Storm in 2002. Traded to the Spitfires in 2003-04, Garlock (6'0", 200) completed the 2005-2006 regular season with 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists) in 62 games, while maintaining a plus/minus of +6. Defenseman Maunu (6'2", 210) played in Windsor for 4 seasons. In 2005-06, the 19-year old Thunder Bay, ON native tallied 36 points (9 goals, 27 assists) in 58 games, while maintaining a plus/minus of +24. Soboczynski is a 16-year old winger who spent his rookie year with Saginaw in 2005-06, garnering 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists) in 44 games. The 6'1", 181 lb forward was the Spirit's second round 2005 priority draft selection. Saginaw is obviously trading a young rather undeveloped player with a high-upside for one year of high level play from 2 overage players. For Saginaw, which is looking to win next year, this is a good deal. For Windsor, it is an even better deal; the team must be overjoyed at the opportunity to get a player with such high potential.

In a trade that involved strictly draft picks, the Greyhounds traded their 2006 first round import draft pick to Kitchener in exchange for the London Knights' fourth round 2007 priority draft selection.

The final league-approved trade was between Owen Sound and Sault Ste. Marie, in which the Attack exchanged the rights to winger Payton Liske for the return of Owen Sound's third round 2008 priority draft selection. The 17-year old Liske (6'5", 206) was Owen Sound's first round (12th overall) priority draft selection in 2004. He just completed his second OHL season with the Attack, tallying 10 points in 58 games, and 44 PIM. Liske's -14 plus/minus and his inability to win a fight may have a great deal to do with why he was traded. Hopefully, he will improve his defensive play with the Greyhounds next season. Liske clearly did not fit into Owen Sound's future plans, as he had no real role with the team. A change will be good for Liske, and the Greyhounds may be able to turn him into a valuable player, so this may wind up being a good deal for both teams.

The Windsor Spitfires also announced that it traded the rights to Robert Bortuzzo to Kitchener for a conditional 2nd Round pick in 2007, however, that trade has not as yet been approved by the OHL.

In other news, eight CHLers signed NHL contracts yesterday (the last day for North American 2004 draft picks to come to terms with NHL teams). Four players from the WHL, 3 from the OHL and one from the QMJHL all inked deals.

Red Deer's Kris Versteeg signed a 3-year deal with the Boston Bruins yesterday. The 20-year old winger was Boston’s 5th round (134th overall) selection in the 2004 NHL entry draft. The 5’10”, 173 lb. native of Lethbridge, Alberta played for both the Kamloops Blazers and Red Deer Rebels in 2005-06. He produced 48 points in 71 games for the 2 teams. Versteeg signed with an amateur try-out agreement with the AHL Providence Bruins at the conclusion of his junior 2005-06 season and played 13 regular season and 3 playoff games with the Bruins. He tallied 2 goals and 4 assists, with 13 PIM in the regular AHL season.

Aki Seitsonen, the Calgary Flames' fourth round (118 overall) 2004 draft selection, was also signed to a 3-year contract. The 6'2", 190, center, has played for the WHL Prince Albert Raiders fro his entire 3 year WHL career. During the 2005-06 season, Seitsonen posted 35 points on 20 goals and 15 assists in 66 games. Seitsonen also made his professional debut this past season, appearing in seven games with the Flames AHL affiliate, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights.

Dan LaCosta, the OHL Barrie Colts star goaltender, signed a 3-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. One of 3 CHL prospects to sign with the NHL club yesterday, LaCosta, a third round selection (93 overall) in 2004, posted a 36-17-1 record with a 2.55 GAA, .915 save percentage and six shutouts in 59 2005-06 regular season games. The 6'1", 186 20-year old netminder ranked among the top five in the OHL in wins, GAA, save percentage and shutouts. LaCosta also performed well in the playoffs, registering a 5-2-3 record with a 3.12 GAA and .896 save percentage.

Czech-born Petr Pohl, Columbus' fifth round (133 overall) 2004 pick, also signed an NHL contract with the team yesterday. The 19-year old , a winger for the QMJHL's Acadie Bathurst Titans in 2005-06, registered 27 goals and 43 assists with 44 PIM and a +12 plus/minus rating in 62 regular season games. Pohl also played in 17 post-season games and tallied 16 points and 12 PIM.

The last player that the Blue Jackets signed yesterday was the team's second round pick (59 overall) in the same year, Kyle Wharton. The 20-year old winger spent the 2005-06 season with both the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and the Guelph Storm of the OHL. Wharton (6'3", 190), 38 points in 58 games during the regular 2005-06 season. He also accumulated 96 PIM and a +5 plus/minus rating during that time. Wharton then added 4 goals and 8 assists in 15 playoff games.

The Los Angeles Kings signed 2 of their 2004 draft selections to entry level contracts yesterday. Twenty-year old Ned Lukacevic was a winger for the WHL's Swift Current Bronco's in the 2005-06 season, after playing in Spokane for 3 years. In 63 regular season games this past season, Lukacevic recorded 53 points (25 goals, 28 assists) and accumulated 71 PIM. In addition, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound native of Podgorica, Serbia, also appeared in four post-season games with the Broncos and seven post-season games with the AHL Manchester Monarchs, where he registered 1 goal and 4 PIM). Lukacevic was selected by the Kings in the fourth-round (110th overall) in the 2004 NHL entry draft.

Goaltender Danny Taylor, 20, was the Kings seventh round (221 overall) draft pick in the same draft. He played for the Kingston Frontenacs this past season, where he posted a 32-15-6 record, with three shutouts, a 3.11 GAA, and a .911 save percentage in 57 appearances. In addition, the 5'11", 186-pound native of Plymouth, England, compiled a record of 2-3, with one shutout, a 2.80 GAA and a save percentage of .918 in five post-season appearances with the Frontenacs.

Finally, the Phoenix Coyotes signed the WHL Tri-City Americans' defenseman Logan Stephenson to a 3-year entry contract yesterday. Phoenix's second round (35 overall) draft pick in 2004, the 20-year old Stephenson (6'3", 190) registered 53 points and 162 PIM in 71 games with Tri-City this past season and was named to the WHL Second All-Star Team. Among all defensemen in the WHL, he ranked tied for 3rd in assists, tied for 5th in points, 5th in PIM and tied for 11th in goals.

In addition to yesterday's signings, the Colorado Avalanche acquired the rights to Brampton Battalion defenseman Michael Vernace from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a conditional draft choice. The 20-year old, 6-2, 200-pound native of Toronto, Ontario was selected by the San Jose Sharks in the 2004 Entry Draft and has played with the Battalion for 3 seasons. In 2005-06, Vernace registered 72 points (10 goals, 62 assists) in 68 games.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Thursday's CHL News and Notes

June 1 is the first day for trades in the Ontario Hockey League, and according to Ted Baker, Director of Hockey Operations, there will be some trades that will be approved and announced later today. Look for a list and evaluation here tonight.

The Vancouver Giants may have been unhappy about the team's Memorial Cup performance, but they are looking toward the future, and on Tuesday the team signed Vancouver's 2006 first round bantam draft pick, Evander Kane. Selected 19th overall, Kane, a 5'11", 155 lbs. Vancouver native, played left wing for the North Shore Winter Club Bantam AAA Team in 2005-06. Known for his skating ability and grit, Kane, who is 15, will be required to play midget hockey next season. Pursuant to league rules, he can only join the Giants for five regular-season games in 2006-07, but will be eligible to join the WHL club full-time once his own midget season is over. We may just see Kane play in the Memorial Cup, as the Giants are guaranteed a berth in the 2007 tournament as the host team.

The QMJHL is preparing for its June 10 entry draft, which will include players from the Atlantic Provinces, Quebec and New England (US). According to the Q's Central Scouting, the top 5 prospects (all of whom are 15 years old) are:

Yann Sauve (6'2.5", 220) defenseman left hand shot from Quebec
Patrice Cormier (6'1", 197) center left hand shot from New Brunswick
Philippe Cornet (5'11", 173) winger left handed shot from Quebec
Chris Doyle (6'0", 188) center left-handed shot from Prince Edward Island
Kevin Poulin (6'1", 198)goaltenderr left-handed glove from Quebec

The draft will be availabe to view real-time on the internet (at the Q's website) for prospective players and fans. It is the Saint John Seadogs that will have the first selection.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Wednesday's CHL Signings

Wayne Gretzky was not the only player to sign a multi-year contract today. Seven CHL players were also signed to contracts--NHL three-year contracts, that is. Stephane Goulet and Bryan Young, both of whom played in the Memorial Cup over the last two weeks, signed contracts today with Edmonton. David Shantz and Bret Nasby inked deals with the Florida Panthers. Brett Carson and Justin Peters signed with the Carolina Hurricanes, and Evan McGrath contracted with the Detroit Red Wings. All seven players were drafted in 2004, and the teams would have lost rights to sign the players if a deal was not solidified by the June 1 deadline.

Stephane Goulet (6'3", 200), a seventh round draft pick (208 overall) in 2004, was a standout for the Moncton Wildcats this season. The 20-year old winger played in 67 games and tallied 93 points (51 goals, 42 assists) this season. Goulet additionally accumulated 80 penalty minutes while maintaining a plus/minus of +39. In 13 playoff games, he registered 15 points, however, because Goulet was injured in Moncton's playoff series against Gatineau, he was unable to play in the President's Cup series against Quebec. However, Goulet returned for the Memorial Cup, and in 5 games, he garnered 4 points.

Bryan Young was the Oilers' fifth round pick (146 overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. The 6'1", 191 pound defenseman was a member of the Peterborough Petes for 3 full OHL seasons. In 2005-06, Young tallied 10 points (all assists) in 64 regular season games for Peterborough and ranked fifth on the Petes' roster with a career-high 113 penalty minutes, while maintaining a plus/minus of +6. Although the 19-year-old Young did not register any points in the OHL playoffs, he scored one assist in 4 games at the Memorial Cup.

David Shantz, Peterborough's star goaltender, was also signed to an NHL entry-level contract today. The Florida Panthers' signed Shantz, their second round choice in 2004 (37 overall), after lengthy contract negotiations. After a rather inconsistent Memorial Cup performance, the 20-year old agreed to an entry-level contract with the Panthers. Shantz spent his first 2 OHL years with the Mississauga Ice Dogs, before being traded to Peterborough last summer. During the 2005-06 regular season, the 6'1", 190, Shantz was 31-14-2-1 with a 2.94 GAA and a .915 save percentage. In the playoffs, Shantz was 16-3, however, unfortunately, his play was less stellar in the Memorial Cup, where Shantz was 1-3, with a 3.83 GAA and .906 save percentage.

The Florida Panthers also inked defenseman Bret Nasby (6'3", 191) to a contract today. The 20-year old Nasby was traded from the Oshawa Generals to the Erie Otters during this winter, and completed this third and best season in 2005-06. Nasby tallied 31 points in 52 games, while maintaining a positive plus/minus (+2). He also maintained a rough, gritty style, accumulating 72 PIM during the season.

Brett Carson (6'5", 215) is another 20-year old defenseman signed to an NHL contract today. Carson signed with the Carolina Hurricanes, who had chosen him with their fourth round selection (109 overall) in 2004. The 4th year Calgary Hitmen blueliner played all 72 games for his club this season, accumulating 40 points (11 goals, 29 assists), while maintaining a +13 and taking 62 PIM. His playoff performance was also excellent, registering 7 points in 13 games.

Justin Peters (6'2", 210) was the second goaltender signed today. The 19-year old 2004 Carolina Hurricane second round pick (38 overall) split the 2005-06 season between the Toronto St. Michael's Majors and the Plymouth Whalers. He had an good season with a 29-21-2-2 record, a 3.09 GAA and a save percentage of .910. His playoff performance took Plymouth to the second round; in post-season play Peters was 6-6-1.

Late tonight, the Detroit Red Wings announced that the Kitchener Rangers' all-star center Evan McGrath signed a NHL contract with the NHL team. McGrath (6'0", 192), an alternate captain of the Rangers, had an excellent season, garnering 114 points (37 goals, 77 assists) in 67 games. That total ranked fifth overall in the OHL in 2005-06. McGrath, a fourth round (128 overall) draft pick of the Red Wings in 2004, was less productive in post-season play, only scoring 4 points in 5 playoff games.

More news tommorow night from the NHL Combine.

Tuesday's Signings and News from the Combine

Two NHL clubs announced the signing of CHLers yesterday. The Montreal Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers each signed one QMHJL and OHL player.

Montreal agreed to terms with Loic Lacasse and Gregory Stewart. Lacasse, who was the Canadiens' 2004 sixth round (181 overall) draft pick, just completed his third season in the QMJHL. The 6'3", 185 pound netminder played his first two seasons with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, and began his third in 2005-06 before being traded to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan on December 19, 2005 in a deal involving five players and four draft picks. However, before he could play a game for the Titan, on the same day, Lacasse was traded to the Drummondville Voltigeurs. In the 33 regular season games in which Lacasse played in the 2005-06 regular season, he accumulated a 4.03 GAA and an .882 save percentage.

In the other signing announced yesterday by the Canadiens, the OHL Peterborough Petes' Greg Stewart signed a 3-year deal with the NHL club. Stewart (6'2", 185), who just completed play in the Memorial Cup, was Montreal's 8th round pick (246 overall) in 2004. During the 2005-06 regular season, the 20-year old winger tallied 39 points (24 goals, 15 assists) in 60 games with a plus/minus of +18. In 19 OHL playoff games, Stewart registered 7 points. In 4 Memorial Cup games, Stewart scored 1 goal (his only point), the first goal in Peterborough's losing effort against Moncton in the round robin portion of the tournament.

Yesterday, Philadelphia announced that it had signed QMJHLer Frederik Cabana and OHLer Steve Downie to three-year entry level contracts. The 20-year old Cabana (6'0", 182) just completed his fourth season with the Halifax Mooseheads, tallying 41 points in 68 regular season 2005-06 games. Cabana is known as an excellent skater with a good work ethic.

Downie (5'10", 192), the Flyers' first round draft pick in 2005 (29 overall), has had a very controversial CHL career. After 2 seasons with the Windsor Spitfires, he was traded to the Peterborough Petes early this season. The 19-year old center had a good 2005-06 season, posting 50 points (16 goals, 34 assists) in 34 games for the Petes. Additionally, Downie was named to the All-Tournament Team at the 2006 IIHF U20 World Junior Championships after tallying six points (2 goals,4 assists) in 6 games for Canada. Downie also performed very well in the Memorial Cup that was just completed, registering 3 points in 4 games for the Petes.

Downie's discipline problems, which have gotten him suspended several times throughout this season and were behind the trade to the Petes early in the season, were addressed by Philadelphia in their statement as follows: "Steve Downie was our first round draft pick from last year (2005). We are extremely excited to have him under contract. He has had a whirlwind year with what happened this past year. He got suspended from his team in Windsor and consequently was traded to Peterborough. He was one of the stars for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships where they won the gold medal. He ended up having a tremendous playoff run with Peterborough, making it to the Memorial Cup before losing out there. We think he’s going to be a very good prospect. He still has another year of junior eligibility so he will most likely go back to playing with his junior team. Steve is a hard-nosed, gritty, two-way player who has good skills. He is a lot like Mike Richards as to how he plays the game. He’s a plugger with extremely good hockey sense and ability."

In other news, the NHL 2006 Draft Combine opened in Toronto yesterday, although CHprospectsts will not arrive until later today. The Combine involves interviews by the NHL teams and fitness and medical testing of each of the 110 prospects that are attending. One hundred and fifteen players were invited, however, 5 players will not be attending, most notably Nicklas Backstrom, ranked in the top 10, who has a scheduling conflict, and QMJHLer Ivan Vishnevskiy, who recently had shoulder surgery.

Fifty-two CHLers will participate, all of whom will be interviewed over the next 4 days by NHL teams, with the testing schedules below:

John Amstrong Friday 9 am
Kevin Armstrong Friday 11 am
Victor Bartley Saturday 10 am
Matt Beleskey Friday 10 am
Jonathan Bernier Friday 10 am
Francois Bouchard Friday 10 am
Derick Brassard Friday 2:30 pm
Benjamin Breault Saturday 9 am
Codey Burki Friday 11 am
Brady Calla Friday 11 am
Mathieu Carle Friday 12:30 pm
Michael Caruso Saturday 1:30 pm
Cal Clutterbuck Saturday 1:30 pm
Matthew Corrente Saturday 1:30 pm
Ryan Daniels Saturday 2:30 pm
John Degray Saturday 10 am
Jesse Dudas Saturday 10 am
Cory Emmerton Friday 3:30 pm
Ondrej Fiala Saturday 11 am
Nick Foligno Saturday 1:30 pm
Claude Giroux Friday 12:30 pm
Michael Grabner Saturday 9 am
Ryan Hillier Friday 2:30 pm
Bud Holloway Saturday 10 am
Riley Holzapfel Saturday 11 am
Bobby Hughes Friday 3:30 pm
John Hughes Friday 11 am
Leland Irving Friday 12:30 pm
Kris Lazaruk Friday 1:30 pm
Pierre-Luc Lessard Friday 1:30 pm
Bryan Little Saturday 2:30 pm
Mialn Lucic Saturday 11 am
Luke Lynes Saturday 12:30 pm
Steve Mason Friday 9 am
Shawn Matthias Friday 11 am
Ben Maxwell Saturday 12:30 pm
Jamie McGinn Saturday 11 am
Peter Mueller Saturday 12:30 pm
Oskar Osala Saturday 2:30 pm
Theo Peckham Saturday 1:30 pm
Graham Potuer Friday 9 am
Joey Ryan Saturday 9 am
Bobby Sanguinetti Saturday 2:30 pm
James Sheppard Friday 1:30 pm
Ben Shutron Saturday 2:30 pm
Jordan Staal Friday 11 am
Chris Stewart Saturday 2:30 pm
Bryce Swan Saturday 12:30 pm
Mike Weber Saturday 1:30 pm
Ryan White Saturday 12:30 pm
Ty Wishart Saturday 12:30 pm
Ben Wright Friday 12:30 pm

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Cup Performance Reviews

Now that the Quebec Remparts have raised the Memorial Cup, and the Vancouver Giants have gone home to prepare to host the 2007 tournament, it is time to reflect on the performances of the teams and players over the last 10 days. Who lived up to the hype, who stepped up unexpectedly, and who never played to their potential?

To win a Memorial Cup, a team needs four things, ie., solid goaltending, at least one star player, team defense and excellent coaching. All four teams were well-coached (although I do question why Moncton did not to attempt to crash the net more in the final). Peterborough was eliminated first from the tournament because no star player emerged from the team and because the team's defense, or lack thereof, put its goaltender, David Shantz, in a very difficult position. Although Peterborough played in only 4 games, Shantz faced 10 more shots (159) than any other netminder in the tournament, and had a .906 save percentage. He did let in a few soft goals at critical times, and a team can't win this tournament unless its goaltender is consistent, but Peterborough's elimination in the tie-breaker was not all his doing. I spoke of defensive lapses, and Peterborough had many. The only Petes' player on the team with a positive plus/minus in this tournament was defenseman Aaron Dawson, and he was +1. Just the opposite was true for Peterborough in the OHL playoffs, when only 3 players had a negative plus/minus. The translation of these figures is that the Petes let the teams from the Q play their offensive style game, and Peterborough could not compete in that type of play.

Additionally, no one Petes' player took the lead in this tournament. In the first 2 games, it looked like center Steve Downie might be that team spark, but he was virtually invisible against Vancouver. Daniel Ryder, the Petes' leading scorer during both the regular season and the playoffs, had only one point in the Memorial Cup tournament, and center Jordan Staal, who is ranked as a top prospect in next month's draft was completely ineffective. Staal's performance was particularly disappointing, with one point in the entire tournament and a face-off win percentage of 47.1. He was used in all situations and, at times Staal used his long reach to break up passes, but he did not look like a top pick should in this tournament.

Vancouver came into the Memorial Cup as my pick to win, but the team did not even make it past the semi-final game. It was surprising to me that the Giants did not give it their all for the full 60 minutes in each of the first 2 games. Vancouver jumped out to early leads against both Moncton and Quebec, and clearly outplayed each of their opponents, but somewhere in the second period of each game Vancouver
lost the will to play. It was both a physical and mental problem, as the Giants seemed to lack the ability to bounce back when adversity struck. The team did have the tournament's best performer in Gilbert Brule, who not only scored the most points in the Memorial Cup (6 goals, 6 assists), he also had a face-off win percentage of 61.6. Despite Vancouver's star player performance, and the absolutely top-notch play of rookie defenseman Jonathan Blum, the inconsistent defense and goaltending let the Giants down.

Both defensemen Cody Franson and Paul Albers had excellent tournament offensively, but they each did not play well defensively. Franson had 5 points in the tournament and Albers 4, but the defensemen had a plus/minus of -5 and -4, respectively. This was particularly troubling for Vancouver, who won the WHL championship because of their excellent defensive game. Every single Giants' skater who played more than 3 games had a positive plus/minus during the 18 game playoff campaign. The Giants really needed to continue that "cover our own end first" style of play to win this tournament. In all fairness, Vancouver played more like themselves in the last 3 games they played in the Memorial Cup, but the team just did not have enough gas in the tank to make it all the way to the finals.

I want to again mention the name of Blum, who is not eligible for the NHL draft until 2007. The 17-year old defenseman had an outstanding rookie season for the Giants, tallying 24 points (7 goals, 17 assists) in 61 games, while maintaining a plus/minus of +16. His shot is powerful and accurate, and his positioning excellent. Those skills combined with good on-ice decisionmaking, make Blum a CHL player to watch over the next year or two.

Additionally, I want to draw attention to the play of winger Mitch Bartley, who quietly had an excellent tournament. The 6'0", 206 overager had a very good year, scoring 67 points in 71 games, with a plus/minus of +26. Then he had a solid 15 points in 18 playoff games (+12). He followed that up with very admirable Memorial Cup play. Not only did Bartley register four points in the tourney, but he had a plus/minus of +2 on a team that did not do a good job defensively. Undrafted, Bartley deserves a good look from an NHL team.

Finally, Dustin Slade. After having an outstanding WHL playoffs, where he accumulated shutout after shutout, the 20-year old embattled goaltender only faced 105 shots in 5 Memorial Cup games. But, inexplicably, 12 goals got past Slade. Although he certainly was not at fault for letting all those goals in, he did not have the kind of tournament that was expected of him, and I feel he severely hurt his chances to get a good look at the next level.

The Moncton Wildcats hosted this tournament, so the team had a huge advantage going into the Memorial Cup. In each of the last 2 years, the host team had won and skated the puck around the ice before the home crowd, and to the Wildcats this was a huge incentive. Plus the team had an NHL level coach behind the bench. What the team did not have was an absolute star player who could carry the team on his back.

Philippe Dupuis, who was Moncton's top scorer during the regular season and the playoffs, registered 7 points in the tournament and won 54.6% of his face-offs. After Dupuis, the Wildcats had 7 players who had either 3 or 4 points in this tournament. This was a positive in that opponents had trouble keeping all of them off the board, but also a negative in that no one was the "go to" player for the team.

Stephane Goulet, who returned from injury for the Memorial Cup had a somewhat disappointing tournament, in that he was mostly invisible. On the other hand, the tourney was a very good one for Adam Pineault, the Columbus Blue Jacket 2004 second round pick. Pineault showed a great shot, and the ability to position himself well on the important plays. Another player with an excellent Memorial Cup was Jerome Samson. Eligible for the NHL entry draft next month, Samson showed solid positioning, good energy and effort, combined with soft hands. Samson really helped his draft chances with his play over the last 10 days.

One factor in Moncton's failure to win the Cup was the play of goaltender Josh Tordjman. He had an .897 save percentage and a GAA of 3.01 in the Wildcats' 5 games, looking brilliant at times and completely lost at others. Tordjman's inconsistency should not be overlooked in this loss. He has a lot of potential, but consistent concentration will have to be there for Tordjman to be successful at the next level.

The Quebec Remparts won the Cup, so they had to be doing a lot of things right, including having the most explosive player in the tournament on their team, Alexander Radulov. Although Vancouver's Brule may be consistently better, Radulov can ignite in a way that I do not believe that Brule can. And Radulov did explode, just at the right time, in the finals of the Memorial Cup. I can't say enough about the guy's skating, finesse, shot, positioning, on-ice vision, and on and on.

But Quebec could not have won the Cup without the excellent play of goaltender Cedrick Desjardins. Desjardins had a tournament leading .926 save percentage and 2.75 GAA. After a heart-breaking final game in last year's tournament, Desjardins redeemed himself well, playing on of his best games of the year in the finals.

Two other Remparts' players deserve mention. Angelo Esposito, who had an excellent rookie season this year in the QMJHL (98 points in 57 games), and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, a defenseman who was San Jose's second round pick in 2005. Esposito, who will not be eligible for the draft until 2007, showed signs that he will be a star in the near future. His hands are incredibly soft and he has explosive speed that he uses well to make plays. He will be exciting to watch next year.

Vlasic is solid defensively and has showed the ability to be an offensive threat, both during the season (73 points in 66 games) and during the tournament (2 crucial assists in the Cup's final game).

All in all, the tournament was exciting and entertaining. There is word that next year the 2-referee system will be in place throughout the tournament, which will remove some of the challenges that appeared in Moncton. The condition of the ice should not be an issue next year either, as the tournament moves to Vancouver.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Quebec Remparts Are Winners of Memorial Cup

This afternoon, the Quebec Ramparts won the Memorial Cup with a resounding 6-2 victory over the Moncton Wildcats. Despite the Wildcats outshooting the Remparts 48-25, the game was never really close.

Quebec scored 4 unanswered goals in the first and second periods, before Moncton's Keith Yandle figured out that you had to go high, over Cedrick Desjardins left shoulder, to beat him. Yandle scored 2 goals in that spot just a little over 3 minutes apart to open the third period, and the Wildcats thought they had a chance to come back. But it was not a realistic chance and, at 9:58 of the third period, Mathieu Melanson scored a power play goal to bury the Wildcats.

Three Remparts really stood out in the game. The first, Alexander Radulov, took over the game in the first period and never really let go. Later named the MVP of the Memorial Cup, Radulov tallied 2 goals and 3 assists in today's game. In the final, he was able to demonstrate for the fans why he was chosen the CHL's Player of the Year last night. Radulov was skating, passing, and shooting in a way not previously seen in this tournament, but he got some giant help from the 16-year old phenom Angelo Esposito. Although Esposito only got one point in the game, he created opportunities for his teammates, and particularly Radulov, all over the ice.

The other Remparts' team member that deserves special mention is goaltender Desjardins. Widely thought of as the weakest netminder in the tournament, he made some very big stops in the game, particularly in the third period, when Moncton drew to within 2 goals of Quebec. Desjardins was the only goalie participating in this year's tournament that had previous experience in the Memorial Cup (albeit a negative one in last year's final), but he seemed a steadying influence today, making all the required big saves.

For Moncton, defenseman Yandle was the only Wildcats' player that was able to beat Desjardins today. Yandle had 2 goals in the third period, one on a shot from the point on the power play, and one when he pinched into the slot, where he took a pass from teammate Philippe Dupuis. It was Dupuis who was a big disappointment today. Although he assisted on both of Yandle's goals, the prolific scorer was not on top of his game. Neither was either Adam Pineault or Stephane Goulet, both of whom needed to be productive for Moncton to win the Cup. While Pineault brought his big shot to the game, he never really was a factor, and Goulet was invisible.

Lastly, Wildcats' netminder, Josh Tordjman, had one of his worst games since the regular season. He was not moving well, and did not look like he had the necessary confidence to do the job. Although he had a great game against Vancouver on Friday evening, today he looked more like he had on Wednesday night, unsteady and slow. Tordjman must exhibit more consistency in big games, if he wants to be successful at the next level.

One final note regarding the game is that, one wonders what the Moncton coaching strategy was for this game. Other teams have been successful against Desjardins crashing the net, yet Moncton did none of that this afternoon. There was very little physical play in the game, and alot of "run and gun". Both of those factors heavily favour Quebec, and I really wonder why Moncton let that happen. As it turned out, this was a fatal mistake. One I believe that Coach Nolan and staff will be regretting all winter.

Tomorrow I will be posting Memorial Cup player reviews for select members of all four teams. Stay tuned for a post mortem then.

More Signings of 2004 NHL Entry Draft CHL Prospects

The Chicago Blackhawks signed 3 year contracts with the OHL London Knights' forward David Bolland and Erie Otters' Adam Berti late last week. This marks three CHLers signed to Blackhawks contracts this week.

The 19-year old Bolland (6'0", 185) just completed his fourth season with the Knights, and it was an exceptional year from him. The winger ranked second overall in regular season scoring in 2005-06, with 130 points (57 goals, 73 assists) in 59 games. The Blackhawks second round (32 overall) 2004 NHL Entry Draft selection also accumulated 104 PIM, while posting a plus/minus of +7. Bolland participated in 15 post-season games in 2005-06, tallying 24 points (15 goals, 9 assists), 41 PIM and a plus/minus of +4 during London's race for the OHL Championship. A top prospect, Bolland's signing was expected, however, the terms had been in negotiation for some time and the finalized contract language was not released.

Berti, who was signed to a 3-year entry level contract on Friday, is a 6'3", 192 forward who spent most of the 2005-06 season with the Otters. However, prior to a Thanksgiving break trade, Berti had spent the previous 3 seasons as a member of the Oshawa Generals. The big left winger, who was selected by the Blackhawks in the 3rd round (68 overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, recorded 63 points in 62 games with both OHL teams in the regular season. Those statistics placed Berti third overall in scoring on the Erie Otters (behind Michael Blunden and Ryan O'Marra). The Blackhawks were required to sign Berti to an NHL contract by June 1 or the team would lose all rights to him.

Most 2004 NHL Entry Draft slections must be signed to contracts by Thursday or the junior player can chose to re-enter the draft.

Several other CHLers received accolades at the Memorial Cup banquet last night. See the story below for full details.