Saturday, May 26, 2007

All WHL Memorial Cup Finale

Tonight the Vancouver Giants totally demolished the OHL Plymouth Whalers to advance to the Memorial Cup finals on Sunday afternoon. The 8-1 loss was an embarrassing finale to an excellent Whalers season. But the OHL champs were no match for the team that the Giants should have been (but were not) all week. On paper, Vancouver should have blown the other teams in this tourney off the map. But they were 2-1 in the preliminary round robin portion of the tournament, with both wins by one goal, and frankly if netminder Tyson Sexsmith had not been so good, Vancouver might not have even gotten to tonight's semi-final game. But now the offense has awakened and I look for it to give the Medicine Tigers a really tough time on Sunday.

And while the player of the tournament cannot be named yet, the player who I expect will be hurt the most personally by his performance here tonight was Plymouth's Jeremy Smith, who is one of the top netminder's eligible for next month's NHL draft. He looked absolutely awful coming in after Michal Neuvirth faltered tonight. A good performance could have solidified his standing as a later first round, early second round draft selection. But now, don't be surprised if his performance here does not drop him to the middle of the third round, a drop that can hurt him financially a few years down the road.

As for other players, CHL News had previously mentioned that Giants' verteran Tim Kraus had not been playing up to par. Yesterday it was announced that he had an undisclosed injury and would be replaced by Evander Kane. Whether Kraus is actually injured or not is not known, but what is known now is that the 15-year old Kane is a very talented player, who can do it all. A future star in this league, the underage centre has only played 13 games thus far in the WHL, but tonight he showed something really special--the ability to play in big games with confidence and aplomb. He had one assist and was +1, with limited ice time. We all will be watching with anticipation what Sunday and next season brings for him.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Memorial Cup Highlight/Lowlight Players

Well, we are about to start the real elimination portion of the Memorial Cup, and several players stand out (high and low).

Vancouver Giants: The home team mortgaged their next couple of years to be competitive in this Cup year, so it is not a surprise that the team is doing well in the competition. What was a surprise was last night's loss to Medicine Hat, and the fact that the team has been stymied on offense for the most part. The Giants have advanced to the semi-finals tomorrow night, but to win will have to put the pucks in the net.

Top Players:

Tyson Sexsmith G, no question that Sexsmith is peaking at the right time. Thus far he has allowed only 5 goals on 71 shots, and only 2 goals in the last 2 games (118:32). He is rock between the pipes and needs some more offensive punch in front of him, so that he does not lose 1-0. Sexsmith's stock has been rising over the past few weeks, and don't be surprised if he does not wind up going in the first 3 rounds of the upcoming NHL draft.

Kenndal McArdle LW, got the game-winning goal in Game 1 of this competition and thus far has 2 of the 6 Vancouver goals in the tournament. McArdle is strong on the puck and has a nose for the net. Since coming to Vancouver mid-season from Moose Jaw, he has really solidified his game.

Milan Lucic, LW, is continuing his tear in the Memorial Cup. Lucic had a spectacular regular season and just looks better and better as time goes on. He has 2 of the 6 Vancouver goals, 1 assist, and a +2 rating.

Not playing up to par:

Jon Blum D, known to be an offensive blueliner, has been completely shut down in that area. He was beaten last night for the winning Medicine Hat Tigers' goal.

Cody Franson
D is another defenceman who needs to start getting into the play more. Franson's job is as much to create plays as to defend in his own zone, and for the Giants to win, Franson will have to elevate his play.

Tim Kraus C, who has no points and has been practically invisible in all the games, is supposed to be a sparkplug for the team.

Medicine Hat Tigers

With their win last night, the Tigers have advanced to the finals of the Memorial Cup. The team played a very smart checking game and will be able to use the time off until Sunday to rest up.

Top Players:

Matt Keetley G, has been very solid in net. After a shaky first game against Lewiston last Saturday, the big netminder has been very solid in goal. In the last 120 minutes of play, Keetley has allowed 1 goal.

Derek Dorsett RW, scored the winning goal last night, beating Jon Blum on a very nice play. Dorsett is an agitator, who can play right along the edge. The Giants were focusing on him last night, and he still was able to score the winning goal.

Tyler Ennis C, had an excellent game earlier this week, scoring 2 goals and 2 assists, including the game winner.

Not playing up to Par:

Kris Russell, D has been very quiet thus far. Usually a big moment player, Russell may have a tournament-making game in the finals, but thus far, he's pretty much invisible.

Plymouth Whalers

After Plymouth's loss in the opening game of the tournament, the team seemed lethargic in game 2. The Whalers were then able to defeat Lewiston in the team's third game (2-1, OT), only because the MAINEiacs' captain Marc-Andre Cliche was out of the lineup. This got them into a tiebreaker tonight against Lewiston. Neither team really matches up against the WHL representatives in the tournament, but as anything can happen in one game, the Whalers still have a shot at the trophy.

Top Players:

James Neal, LW has played extremely well in 2 of the 3 games in which he has appeared. With a fall-off in the last game, Neal must pick up his game tonight, and then if the Whalers win, play at his highest level over the weekend.

Tommy Sestito, RW has been on of the Whalers best player in the Memorial Cup competition. With 4 assists thus far, Sestito has been able to generate offense on a club where offense seems to be at a premium. While his defensive play has been less stellar, Plymouth needs him to keep up his offensive production to make it past tonight.

Not Playing up to Par:

Michal Neuvirth G, has had a letdown in this tournament. Particularly in the first 2 games , Neuvirth was absolutely awful. Last game, things were better, but for the Whalers to stay alive either Neuvirth needs to be almost perfect or the coaching staff should replace him with the able
although inexperienced Jeremy Smith.

Steve Ward D, is a physical player with a strong shot, but thus far in the tournament, Ward has looked anaemic. The overage blueliner needs to tighten up his defencive play and start looking for creative opportunities.

Lewiston MAINEiacs

When the MAINEiacs captain Marc-Andre Cliche, went down to injury in the team's first game of the Memorial Cup competition, Lewiston seemed to have lost its way. Since then the team has not played well and has only manged 1 goals in 2 games. It is not clear whether or not Cliche will return tonight, however, Lewiston must find itself quickly. That said, there are several positives in the team's play.

Top Players:

Jonathan Bernier, G has been outstanding in all three games between the pipes. Bernier has allowed a total of 5 goals on 98 shots, and just looks top notch between the pipes.

David Perron, LW, is having a great tournament after an even better rookie QMJHL year. A possible first round selection in next month's NHL draft, Perron has really looked good in the last 2 game sof this competition.

Sebastien Piche, D is also performing well in this tournament. With a positive plus/minus in each of the 3 games and a goal in the first game, Piche is displaying his superlative defencive skills while showing that he has the ability to take the puck to the net.

Not playing up to Par:

As I said above, it seems that almost all the players have looked a little lost since Cliche went down to injury, no one player is performing poorly.

NHL Signings and Draft Hopefuls--OHL Part 3

As we await the first elimination of a team in the Memorial Cup tonight, here are some further musings regarding OHL team NHL draft/contract hopefuls.

Guelph Storm

A very young team this past season, Guelph had 4 NHL-drafted players on its roster. Two of them, Ryan Pottruff (CAR, 7th round, 202 overall) and Anton Hedman (BOS, 8th round, 255 overall), were overagers, and were selected in the 2004 draft. Pottruff was released by Carolina and is a free agent. Hedman, a European draft selection under the old CBA, is still the property of the Bruins and will continue to be until released.

Hedman's 2006-07 OHL season was marked by upheaval. First traded from the Sudbury Wolves last June to the Owen Sound Attack, Hedman was once again moved in January. This time to the Storm; the two times he was moved were both in exchange for a 2007 Priority Draft selection. With all that moving around, Hedman did not appear to make much progress this season, and is not expected to be signed to an NHL contract anytime soon. But the Bruins don't have to rush, as they won't lose their rights to the big winger.

As for the two other Storm players that were drafted by NHL teams over the last 2 years (both defencemen, Ryan Parent (NAS, 1st round, 18th overall, 2005, traded to Philadelphia 2/15/07) was a top pick in that very deep draft 2 years ago. Parent was signed by the Flyers on May 9, 2006 and played one NHL game (4/5/06) thus far in his career. Expect him to remain with the Flyers through training camp, and at that point the team will have to make a decision as to whether he is NHL-ready or will start the season with the AHL Phantoms.

Michael Caruso (FLA, 4th round, 103 overall, 2006) had a good but not exceptional year with the Storm this season (64 games, 20 points, 119 PIM, +1), but will probably not be signed to an NHL contract anytime soon.

Guelph has 9 players who are NHL-draft eligible this year. Of those, none are on either of the top scouting services' radar. I, however, believe that there are 3 long-shots who could receive late round nods.

First, the longest shot, is Tyler Melancon, a rookie in the OHL this year, who shows some real possibility. Melancon has very good hands and a nose for the net, and granted he is VERY small, but his skill level is very high, and he has started to learn how to play the two-way game.

Another late-round selection hope is Tim Priamo, a second-year player, who this season was playing in his hometown. The big winger was traded from Saginaw this past fall, and flourished in Guelph. In 49 games with the Storm, Priamo registered 20 points, 36 PIM, and a +13 plus/minus rating. Priamo is smart and talented with with the puck. If he is not drafted this year, he should turn into a top free agent down the road.

Finally, there is Cory Syvret, one of the top darkhorses in this NHL draft. Syvret has finally escaped the scrutiny he was receiving in London to play in Guelph. A former first round 2005 Priority Draft selection, Syvret is not his brother Danny, and was constantly living in his shadow in London. Once he got to Guelph, things started to change for the big solid blueliner. In 27 games with the Storm, Syvret had 14 points (32 PIM, -1); he earned and received quite a bit more ice time. Look for him to develop into a top D-man over the next year and look for any team that gets him in a late round to be getting a steal.

Kingston Frontenacs

Kingston was one of the deepest teams in terms of talent during the 2006-07 season, and , therefore, it was surprising when they were eliminated so handily in the first round of the playoffs by Oshawa. More about a the team season review in another series, but the Fronts did have 7 NHL draft selections on the roster this year.

The oldest of them was Matt Auffrey (ANA, 6th round, 172 overall, 2004), who played for three teams in this, his overage season. Auffrey, an American, came to the OHL last year after playing one season at the University of Wisconsin. He really played well for Kitchener and then was moved around quite a bit this year. Auffrey put up good numbers in both Kingston and Brampton and is still a property of the Anaheim Ducks.

Kingston had only one NHL 2005 draft selection on the roster in 2006-07. Bobby Bolt (ANA, 5th round, 127 overall) had a breakout junior season this past year (62 games, 50 points, 70 PIM, +1) and was rewarded with an NHL entry-level contract this past March. After Kingston's season was completed, Bolt played 5 games with Anaheim's AHL team, the Portland Pirates. Bolt is expected to begin the 2007-08 season in Portland.

The team also had 5 2006 draft selections on the team roster. Most will return for the 2007-08 campaign, but two will not be back. The highest draft selection was Chris Stewart (COL, 1st round, 18 overall). Widely expected to be a top 10 pick, Stewart dropped to number 18 overall when his conditioning was not up to par. Stewart was a top player in the OHL this, his last, junior season, recording 82 points in 61 games (108 overall, -8). After Kingston's playoff run was ended prematurely, Stewart was signed to a 3-year entry level contract and assigned to Albany. In 5 games there, he posted a goal and 2 assists. Stewart will begin the season in Lake Erie, Colorado's new AHL affiliate.

Cory Emmerton was drafted by Detroit in the second round of the 2006 NHL Draft and was recently signed by the NHL team to a three year entry-level deal. Emmerton had a very productive offensive season in 2006-07 and is expected to be a big part of the Fronts offense next fall. Defenceman Ben Shutron (CHI, 4th round, 95 overall) was expected to be selected higher than number 95 last season, but if it was based at all on this tests at last year's Combine, Shutron was at a severe disadvantage. Shturon was the last player to go through the rigors of testing and just before he really began the most rigourous of the testing, every scout in the room walked out. You could see the disappointment on his face, and it had to affect his performance. In the meantime, Chicago reaped the spoils and Shutron's development has moved along nicely with Kingston this past year. He has not been signed to an NHL contract thus far, but expect that to happen sometime after the summer.

Bobby Hughes was also drafted in the fourth round last summer (CAR, 4th round, 123 overall). Recently signed by the Carolina Hurricanes, Hughes had an outstanding season with the Fronts (59 games, 96 points). Like Stewart, Hughes was assigned to Albany to complete the AHL season and is expected to begin the 2008-09 season there.

Robert Nyholm (CLB, 5th round, 129 overall), had a good but not spectacular year with Kingston; in 64 games, the winger had 34 points. A long-shot to make it to the NHL, Nyholm has another year to impress the Blue Jackets' management.

As for this year's NHl draft eligibles, there are 8 on the Fronts' roster. The most notable is Matthew Kang, who is expected to be a late round selection. A long-shot to be selected is netminder Daryl Borden.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

NHL Signings and Draft Hopefuls--OHL Part 2

Brampton Battalion

The Battalion had 5 NHL drafted players on the team this past season. Two were drafted in 2005 and 3 in 2006. Both 2005 NHL draftees are now property of the New York Rangers, but the NHL has not signed either one. Defenceman Dalyn Flatt (NYR, 3rd round, 77th overall) is unlikely to be offered an NHL contract by next week's deadline. He has not developed in the way the Rangers had hoped and is likely to play an overage year in Brampton. Winger John Seymour (drafted by LAK, 7th round, 226th overall, traded to NYR 2/5/07) is also a long-shot to be signed. Whether or not he will be offered an overage spot in Brampton is up in the air.

As for the three Brampton players who were drafted last summer, none of the three, netminder Bryan Pitton (EDM, 5th round, 133rd overall), defenceman John DeGray (ANA, 3rd round, 83rd overall), and forward Luke Lynes (WAS, 4th round, 122nd overall) have been signed, but all are expected to be over the next year.

The Battalion, a very young team during the 2006-07 season, have nine players eligible for the 2007 NHL draft. Of those, only two wingers have really good chances of being selected. First, there is Matt Smyth, who is expected to be selected in a late round. Smyth has a big upside, but must work in his intensity, work along the boards, and toughness. Justin Levac is also a late round possibility. Levac too is a work in progress, however, he had a very good season and has excellent size. Levac should go before Smyth, but its the NHl draft, and when it comes to the late rounds, its anyone's guess. As for a real long-shot in the draft, it is, of course, center John Hughes, who is very small, but has an incredible nose for the net. And as I said, you never know.

Erie Otters

The Otters were without a doubt one of the worst teams in the CHL this past season, but with some of the up and coming talent, that designation will be short-lived. By the end of the season, Ryan O'Marra had been traded to Saginaw, leaving Erie with only one NHL drafted player on the roster. That player, netminder Kevin Beech (TBL, 6th round, 165 overall, 2005), had not even started the season with the team. Beech came over from Sudbury in January (in exchange for a 14th round 2007 priority draft selection) and really was only a three-month acquisition. After the OHL season, Beech played 6 games with the AHL Springfield Falcons (3.13 GAA; .903 save percentage). An overager in the OHL this past season, Beech has good size and adequate skills, but, in my opinion just does not have the lateral movement and composure under pressure to be an up and coming NHL prospect. Given that the Lightning have 2 excellent netminding prospects in Karri Ramo and Rikku Helenius, and 2 very good ones (Vasily Koshechkin and Jonathan Boutin) in the pipeline, the signing of Beech is iffy, at best. Look for him to be signed to an AHL contract for next season.

As for 2007 NHL draft eligibles, the Otters have them aplenty. Five come to mind as having a really good shot at being drafted. On the blueline, there are Josh Kidd and Anthony Peluso. Kidd is expected to be selected in the third or fourth round, while Peluso should be a late round selection. Because there are questions about his skating ability, his stock fell during the past few months, but he is big and strong, with quite a bit of toughness, so he will almost surely be drafted. Among the forwards, Zach Torquato is the most highly rated. Expected to go in the second or third round, Torquato has poise, good hands and a nose for the net. Winger Nick Palmieri projects to be a solid third round selection.

My selection for sleeper pick is Stanislav Polodna, who seems not to be on anyone's radar. He can play and is only expected to get better. A seventh round pick?

Monday, May 21, 2007

NHL Signings and Draft Hopefuls--OHL Part 1

Well it has been some time since my musings have appeared here. The Memorial Cup is in high gear, and 2 of the 3 CHL (non-import) drafts have occurred. Over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing the drafts, the CHL team performances for the 2006-07 season and the NHL draft selections. A lot of work, so I better get started now with who has been signed and who has only a short time left to become one of the 50 contracted players ith an NHL club (the deadline for singing the 2005 NHL draft picks is June 1). This list is by CHL team (OHL first) today, and then one-three per day. If you have any additions, give a shout.

Barrie Colts

The Colts had 4 NHL drafted players on the team's roster this season; three drafted last summer and 1, Richard Clune, drafted in 2005 (DAL, 3rd round, 71st overall). Clune was signed to a 3-year contract by the Dallas Stars this past March. Of the three others, Tomas Marcinko, Bryan Little, and Mike Weber, Marcinko (NYI, 4th round, 115th overall) is unsigned, Little (ATL, 1st round, 12th overall) was signed in April, and Weber (BUF, 2nd round, 57th overall) is also unsigned.

The team's top prospect for this upcoming NHL draft is netminder Andrew Perugini, who was eligible but not selected last season. He had a very solid 2006-07 between the pipes, and although he is not listed on either the ISS list of top 200 prospects or on the NHl's Central Scouting top 30 list of North American goalies, he still has a chance to become a late round selection.

Belleville Bulls

The Bulls have 5 players that were drafted over the last 2 years (2 in 2005 and 3 in 2006). Netminder Kevin Lalande (CAL, 5th round, 128th overall, 2005) was signed to a contract in January. The other 2005 draft selection playing for the OHL Bulls is first rounder Matt Pelech (CAL, 26th overall), who appears to be unsigned. I say "appears to be unsigned" because Calgary has signed players several times iuin the past and not announced it until a later date. I would be shocked if he was not signed by the Flames by next week's deadline, as the CBA would only allow Calgary compensation if the team makes a bona fide offer to Pelech and he turns it down. Pelech, a big defenseman who plays an aggressive game, still has lots of potential, so I can't see that the signing won't happen.

As for the other 3 NHL daft selections, Shawn Matthias (Drafted by DET, 2nd round, 47th overall; traded to FLA 2/27/07), Matt Beleskey (ANA, 4th round, 112th overall) and Aaron Snow (DAL, 3rd round, 90th overall), none have been signed to NHL contracts. This is no big deal, as all were selected in the 2006 draft and do not have to be signed for another 12 months.

As for Bulls who are NHL draft-eligible, the Bulls have three players almost sure to be selected and one that I think ought to be, but does not appear on anyone's list. First to the pretty much sure things. Center Bryan Cameron is expected to be a second or third round selection next month. The big Eric Tangradi had such a good playoff run that he too may go in the second, third or fourth round. The question mark among the three expected draftees is the talented offensive defenseman PK Subban. NHL Central Scouting has him ranked so that he is likely to go in the fifth round, and ISS has him going in the sixth. But my estimate is a bit higher. Subban can be a bit too offensively minded, but I believe that he can be taught the skills needed to take care of his own end. My question with his game has more to do with his decisionmaking skills, but I still think he has third or early fourth round skills. We shall see where the NHL teams decide to draft him.

The final Bulls player that I think should be drafted is Nicholas Pageau. He had an excellent post-season (especially against Ottawa and Oshawa), handles the puck well, and can take care of his own end very well. More discipline (in not taking penalties at crucial times) is necessary, but he has the potential to become a solid defenseman, and in a mediocre draft, he should be selected in one of the later rounds.