Tuesday, October 03, 2006

OHL September Highlights (By Team)--Part 1

It has been a long time since I have published here, but hopefully I will be back on a regular basis. I am starting by giving coverage of the highlights of the September OHL games.

Barrie--Barrie only played 3 games in September, winning 2 of those on the stellar play of overager Hunter Tremblay and NHL first round entry draft pick Bryan Little. Tremblay has 5 points (2 G, 3 A) with a plus/minus of +3 in the 3 Barrie games, while Little registered 7 points (3 G 4 A). Although Little was the leading scorer on the team in Barrie, it was Tremblay that consistently scored over all three contests. Winger Richard Clune, obtained in the offseason from the Sarnia Sting, also has had a good start to the season (4 points). Vladimir Nikiforov, RW, had an excellent first game, tallying 5 assists in the Colt's first game. Among defensemen, Kyle van de Bospoort had 2 assists and a +5 plus/minus in the 3 Barrie games.

Belleville--The Bulls were 2 and 2 in their 4 September games. Although overage winger Tyler Donati has the most points in those 4 games (9 points, 4 G, 5 A), his -1 plus/minus gives one pause. Recently returned from the Detroit Red Wings' training camp, Donati is a player to watch. Another player that should be on everyone's radar is defenseman PK Subban. With 6 points (2 G, 4 A) in the 4 games, the 2007 draft-eligible Subban has a +2 plus/minus and only 6 PIM. Rookie left winger Eric Tangradi also had a very good month, registering 2 assists and a +3 plus/minus in the 4 September games.

Brampton--The Battalion are leading the Central Division, winning 3 of their 5 September games. It is rookie Cody Hodgson who has the most points on the team for the month (8 points, 5 G, 3A), and, as expected, has been looking like an excellent selection for Brampton. Another outstanding Battalion player is 2007 draft-eligible Matt Smyth. Smyth had an uneventful rookie season in 2005-06, but looks like he has taken all he learned last year and is ready for a breakout season in 2006-07. Smyth has 7 points (2 G, 5 A) in the 5 September games, compared to 16 points in 61 games last year. Just as important is his +1 plus/minus. If he continues this pace, he will be on everyone's radar come June's draft. Center Graham McNabb has been playing well, registering at least one point in 4 of the Battalion games. With 4 points (1 G, 3 A) and a +4 plus/minus, McNabb should prove to be a steadying influence on this young team as it moves into some heated battles later in the season. Netminder Bryan Pitton, who has appeared in 4 of the 5 Battalion games, has a 2.45 GAA and a .907 save percentage through September. He has looked solid between the pipes, only allowing 10 goals, and losing only in a shootout.

Erie--The Otters only won one game last month, but several players had solid appearances in Erie's 4 games. With 10 newcomers, Erie will need some time to get on track, but there is talent on the team, so patience will be rewarded. Twenty-year old Andrew Hotham, a defenseman, had the best month for the team. In 4 games, Hotham tallied 7 point (5 G, 2A) with a plus/minus of +2. It is worrisome that a defenseman is the team's leading scorer, and that he has more goals than assists, but hopefully this will change over time. Another player with a good month was center Justin Hodgman. Hodgman's 6 points (2G, 4 A) with a +5 plus/minus has caught attention. After a very mediocre freshman season in 2005-06, if Hodgman can continue this production, he will be given a close look as the NHL draft approaches next spring.

Guelph--The Storm played 4 games in September, winning 3 and losing the other in a shootout. The leading scorer honors on the team were shared by 2 overagers, center Tyler Doig, with 7 points (3 G, 4 A, +2) in the 4 games, and winger Mike McLean (4 G, 3 A, +2). However, look out for rookie center Jamie Arniel, who looks like he will be a force on the ice. In 4 September games, Arniel has 6 points (2 G, 4 A), and a +4 plus/minus. Another rookie with a fantastic month was right winger Tyler Melancon, who also put 6 points into the books (1 G, 5 A), while maintaining an incredible +7 plus/minus. Not to be forgotten is Guelph's third overager, defenseman Ryan Potruff, who recorded 3 assists and a +6 plus/minus during the month. Finally, among skaters, the young blueliner Drew Doughty had an excellent month. In his second season, Doughty had 5 points (2 G, 3 A) and looked to be a force on the team. Between the pipes, both veteran Jason Guy and rookie Thomas McCollum looked outstanding. Guy, who was overlooked in last June's draft, has started this season off really well. In 2 games, Guy played all 120 minutes, recording a 3.00 GAA and a .920 save percentage. McCollum also played in 2 games, registering a shutout in his first game and a 3-2 shootout loss in the second. McCollum's GAA for the month was 0.96 and his save percentage .967.

Kingston--The Fronts went 2-1 in September, with the loss occurring during a shootout. What has gotten more attention though was the play of Detroit Red Wings' draftee Cory Emmerton during last month. Named player of the week last week, Emmerton, a winger, had an outstanding 10 points (5 G, 5A) and a +4 plus/minus in 3 games during September. Overlooked however was the marvelous play of Carolina Hurricane draft selection center Bobby Hughes. Also registering points in each of Kingston's 3 games, Hughes recorded 9 points (4 G, 5A) and +4 plus/minus. Defenseman Ben Shutron, also a 2006 NHL draft selection (Chicago Blackhawks), had a very good month from the blueline too. In 3 games, Shutron tallied 5 assists, while maintaining a +5 plus/minus, and only taking 4 PIM. As for players on the horizon, keep an eye out for rookie defenseman Austin Verge, who had an excellent game over the weekend, and in September registered 3 assists (-1 plus/minus, 4 PIM) in 3 games. In net, 17-year old Daryl Borden was between the pipes for both of the Fronts wins last month, but his stats were not very good (4.54 GAA, .848 save%). Borden played in 15 games last season, and while potential is there, I am not certain that he will be steady enough to get the Fronts through when the going gets rough. With Daniel Taylor assigned to Bakersfield of the ECHL this past weekend, it does not look like he will be returning. With the only other goaltender on the roster being the untried Wes Annis, Kingston has to looking for some further assurance at this position.

Kitchener--At the bottom of its division, the Rangers have nowhere to look but up. In all fairness, the Rangers were in all 3 games, but the team just does not have the skill to move to the top of the Midwest Division. Thus far, the Rangers' star player has been center Nick Spaling, who had points in all 3 of Kitchener's games (5 assists, +2), and looks like he will be continuing his offensive production into October. Spaling is a late 1988, who is NHL draft-eligible next June. Look for the gritty winger Mike Duco to continue his scoring throughout this season. In 2005-06, Duco was a little too loose in his own zone and took a few too many penalties. If he can be more disciplined, Duco, who had 4 points (2 G, 2 A) and a +1 plus/minus in September with only 2 PIM, has the potential for a decent professional career. In net, Kitchener used rookie goaltender John Murray in one game (9/29), and he looked very good between the pipes. The 19-year old Murray came to Kitchener from the USHL (via the NY Rangers rookie tournament team in Traverse City, Michigan. He registered a 2.00 GAA and .909 save percentage in the one game in which he has appeared. Although Mark Packwood is most likely the intended regular team netminder, he has not seemed comfortable between the pipes, and Murray should be given more of a chance to show his stuff.

London--The Knights won all 3 of their games in September, and I believe they are the team to beat in the OHL. I know that Kingston has been rated higher by some outlets, however, in my opinion, London has put another hard to beat team on the ice this season. Seventeen year-old center Sam Gagner, a top prospect for the upcoming NHL entry draft, has 11 points (1 G, 10 A) in the 3 games, while only taking one minor penalty and maintaining a +1 plus/minus. Veteran winger Adam Perry also has put up incredible numbers for 3 games, 6 goals, 3 assists, +5 with 0 PIM. Not to be slighted is the play of newcomer Patrick Kane, one of the Knights' offseason coups. Kane has 7 points (2 G, 5 A), with 6 PIM and a +1 plus/minus. Several other forwards deserve mention, but this team is so full of fire power, it would take too much time to name them all. On the blueline, watch for sophomore Scott Aarssen, who may just have a break out year. With all the tools to be a fine defenseman, if he can put together some offense this season, he may be selected in his second try in the NHL draft next spring. Steve Mason has adjusted well to his new role as the number one goaltender in London. After a very good rookie tournament with the Columbus Blue Jackets in Traverse City, Michigan earlier in the month, Mason came back to London to post a 3.57 GAA and a .911 save percentage in his 3 games. If the Knights are going to do as well as I predict they will, it will be up to Mason to really come up with some very big plays. Thus far, he is up to the task.

Mississauga--From the bottom of the heap to undefeated, what a difference a year makes. With the sale of the team, the Ice Dogs have endured lots of changes in the last few months, and must be concerned about their uncertain future, but Mississauga is certainly not playing that way. The team won all 3 of its September games, and not by a close margin either. After returning from the Traverse City Rookie Tournament Tampa Bay prospect Chris Lawrence has been on a tear. The big winger (6'4", 217) has recorded 9 points (6 G, 3 A) while maintaining a +3 plus/minus. Center Michael Swift seems to be getting better and better every year, and he has also started quickly this season. In the 3 Ice Dogs' games, Swift has 8 points (1 G, 7 A) with a +3 plus/minus. Mississauga also has a very good defensive core, which this year really is playing well in their own zone. Among the players who have been solid in their own zone are Nathan Martine, Drew Schiestel, and rookie Alex Pietrangelo. Both Martine and Pietrangelo have some offensive abilities too. If the Ice Dogs are to continue to win this season, the team will need very good netminding from Andrew Loverock and Lucas Lobsinger. I still have doubts that Lobsinger (the more experienced of the 2) can do the job. Loverock has, however, lots of potential, and I think as the season goes along, management should work him into the lineup more and more often.