Saturday, June 23, 2007

Nine WHL Playes Selected in Round One of 2007 NHL Entry Draft

Six blueliners and 3 forwards were chosen from the Western Hockey League last evening. Long expected to be a draft in which the WHL shined, there were a couple of surprises in the round for the players of the league.

Here is a list:

4th (LA) Thomas Hickey--Seattle Thunderbirds
5th (Wash) Karl Alzner--Calgary Hitmen
8th (Bos) Zach Hamill--Everett Silvertips
10th (Fla) Keaton Ellerby--Kamloops Blazers
11th (Car) Brandon Sutter--Red Deer Rebels
15th (Edm) Alex Plante--Calgary Hitmen
16th (Minn) Colton Gillies--Saskatoon Blades
23rd (Nash) Jon Blum--Vancouver Giants
30th (Pho) Nick Ross--Regina Pats

First, surprise, surprise, Thomas Hickey, not Karl Alzner, was the first defenceman to get selected in the draft. The Los Angeles Kings selected him 4th overall. Now, I should have been forewarned about this when ISS Director of Scouting , Dennis MacInnis, told me a few weeks ago that Hickey's stock was rising and to check out some films of him (which I did). However, I still saw Alzner as a slightly higher pick. Well, I was wrong. A great puckhandler, who can skate and think the game, it will be interesting to see how Hickey does in training camp and over the next year in Seattle.

With the very next pick (#5), the Washington Caps chose Karl Alzner. The Caps must have been so happy not to have to move up to get him. Alzner is an excellent defenceman, not really offensive, not totally a stay-at-home guy. A very good puck mover, smart, with excellent leadership skills,Alzner, in my mind is the premier blueliner available in this draft, just think about this--6'2", 205, 47 points in 63 regular season games (only 32 PIM and +16).

The next WHLer picked, Zach Hamill, who was selected by Boston (eighth overall) was born once day before Alzner in September 1988. In other words, both are among the oldest players eligible for this year's draft. Hamill is a centre, with excellent puckhandling skills, very creative and very small. Not likely to grow much more though, so what Boston gets here is power play specialist, who knows how to put points on the board. The question here is whether he can be enough of a 2-way player to make it in the NHL.

Keaton Ellerby is big, strong and mean. A great pick for Florida at number ten, after a very interesting trade with Nashville for Tomas Vocoun (for 3 draft picks) earlier in the day. Nashville appears to be having something akin to a "going out of business" sale, and the Panthers have picked up a top netminder in the process. All in all, a very good day for the Panthers, in what all would hope to become a contending franchise. Now if only we could move the franchise to someplace like, hmm, Winnipeg, perhaps? Back to Ellerby. Excellent skater, great puck control, extremely heavy shot. What more could the team ask for?

I don't want to engage in a rant about "bloodlines" today, but one has to think about it when you see that Brandon Sutter was selected by Carolina with the eleventh overall pick. Another Sutter and a very good player, but this may have been an awfully early selection given the current skill set. I have to say that when I met the tall, lanky forward earlier this month at the draft, something about him made me take notice. He has a presence about him that says "I can perform for you." Maybe Carolina saw it too. It's just that I agree with some of the draft projections that had him ranked toward the end of round one.

Alex Plante's name was nice to hear at number 15. Edmonton did a good scouting job here, as Plante is a diamond in the rough. He keeps getting better and better. Unbelievable desire, pro size, and some very good skills. And he loves to hit. Needs some work on puckhandling, but the second Oilers pick this draft that I love.

Colton Gillies was expected to go in the middle of the first round and that is exactly where he was selected. The Minnesota Wild traded up to number 16 to get this hard working, big physical forward with tremendous speed. Not exactly an offensive powerhouse, but will fit in very well in Minnesota, where his hard work and physical play will keep him out of the dog house.

Confession time. I have been watching Jon Blum's on-ice performance since he really impressed me in the run for the 2006 Memorial Cup. For a rookie blueliner, he had composure and creativity that really caught my eye. So I was very anxious to watch his progress this season. His numbers looked very good, but he did not appear as dominating as I would have hoped given that it was his second year and the fact that he played on a great team. After the Combine, I understood a little bit of the problem. He is beyond skinny. Good height and very little development. To say he needs to bulk up would be putting it very mildly. And I think this hurt him. Both on the ice and then, of course, in his draft position. Nashville did select Blum in the 23rd position, but he definitely had the potential to be top 15. I have to admit here that I am still excited about his possibilities, and I think if Blum can put on weight, and get past some huge family challenges (prayers go out to Jon's mom), he will "grow" into a very good NHL defenceman.

With the last pick (#30) of the round, Phoenix chose Nick Ross. A very good defenceman from Regina, I had him going in the middle of the second round, but there were so many guys that could have been in this slot, it was purely a matter of personal choice. Despite assurances from some colleagues of mine that the Coyotes were going to use both of their first round selections for forwards (that was before Phoenix traded down from pick #21), it was clear to me all the time that at least one of those picks was to be a D-man. I had originally thought that there was a possibility for Phoenix to take Alzner at number 3, however, when I saw that the Flyers went for vanRiemsdyk at number 2, I knew that Phoenix would take Kyle Turris at 3. Which in my mind made it even more certain that a blueliner would be selected at the lower pick. And Gretzky and Maloney were obviously not sufficiently interested in any of Blum, Brendan Smith or Nick Petrecki to forgo moving down and getting an extra pick out of it. In Ross, the Coyotes get a highly skilled puckhandler, likes to hit. May have some conditioning and uneven intensity issues. We shall see how this player works out for Gretzky and company.

Three OHL Players Selected in the 2007 NHL Draft First Round

Only three players from the OHL were chosen in last night's first round. Two from the London Knights, and one from the Ottawa 67s. All three were expected, and were top 10 picks, but a couple of other players who hoped to hear their names in the first round, did not (e.g., Brett MacLean and Akim Aliu). It was not a particularly good night for the OHL, but just wait until next year, when Stamkos, Doughty, Pietrangelo, Del Zotto, Hodgson and perhaps even John Tavares will be eligible (more about that later).

As expected, Pat Kane was the first pick in the draft. The Chicago Blackhawks had pretty much let everyone know (except maybe for Kyle Turris) that he would be their pick. The winger put up amazing numbers (both in the OHL and in the WJCs), and there is no question that he is really talented (has ability to control the puck is one of the best I have seen in the past 10 years), but I have to tell the truth here and say that I am still not absolutely certain that he will be a successful scorer or playmaker in the NHL. First of all, in most of the other draft years going back at least five, he would not have been the number one selection. Secondly, I hate to jump on the bandwagon here, but its his size. Until I see him escaping Chris Pronger, Zdeno Chara, and the likes, I have my doubts. Prove me wrong Pat, I will be only too happy to eat crow.

The other London Knights' forward chosen last night was Sam Gagne. Chosen sixth overall by the Edmonton Oilers, it was a great match of a player and an organization. Kevin Lowe was so happy to get him, and Gagne looked really pleased to go to a Canadian team. Now a couple of admissions from me. Gagne is/was one of my favourite players eligible for this draft, and silly me, but if I had he number one pick in the draft, Gagne would certainly have been among the top 2 form which to choose. I only met him personally once, but I have watched him extensively on and off the ice, and he is a spectacular player and just a really great kid. Incredibly bright hockeywise, he is both a character and skill guy. He looks like the boy next door, not particularly big or athletic looking off the ice (which he needs to work on), but I have seen him be an example of hard work and decency, which when combined with his skating and playmaking, makes him a top NHL prospect.

The final OHLer chosen last night was the number nine pick, Logan Couture. Selected by the San Jose Sharks, who traded up to get him, it was good to see the Ottawa 67s center be chosen in the top 10. Couture had a very tough season. In October, he was rated #1 overall by ISS, but then he got mono and then several injuries, and he dropped. Maybe he should have taken more time off (he did not perform as well as he could have this season), but this is a character kid, trying to play through everything. I give him a huge amount of credit and know that the Sharks are incredibly happy to have snagged this smart, nifty puckhandling centre.

Now to the ongoing Tavares story. Last night his agent, Bryan Deasley, indicated that he is applying to the NHL to give Tavares special consideration and allow him eligibility for the 2008 Entry Draft. Deasley spoke of the fact that his client's birthdate missed the 2008 entry draft deadline by only 5 days and that he was an exceptional player. While most folks I spoke to think that this is a play for the agent to get his money a year earlier, there is some merit to this proposal. First of all, Tavares is an exceptional talent, and should be brought to the general public's attention as soon as possible. The quicker he can play in the NHL, the better it is for the league, marketing-wise. No other player in the junior ranks right now equals Tavares in skill. Secondly, having watched him extensively this season, I believe that he will be ready for NHL play in the fall of 2008 and will be way to strong to be in the OHL during the 2008-09 season. He already recorded 134 points during 2006-07 and broke Gretzky's record for most goals scored by a 16-year old in an OHL season. Come on NHL, give him the waiver and let's move on.

CHLers Taken in the First Round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft

By now most of you know their names, Kane, Gagne, Alzner, but there were some surprises in last night's first round. And for sure some more will occur today.

In all, there were 16 CHLers selected in the first round of this year's draft. ISS had projected 18, Hockey's Future 18, TSN 17, and Redline 13. (Sorry, McKeens, but I am disappointed that a reputable hockey prospects organization would not reveal their ranking of 2007 first round choices for free, so the number of CHLers predicted is not listed here; it is supposed to be the scouting info that costs money, not the list itself.) Okay, that was my rant for today.

Let's get to who gets the hefty first round development fees.

In the QMJHL (4 players):

The first player taken, was was expected, was Jakub Voracek. The Halifax Mooseheads' Czech-born winger was chosen seventh overall by Columbus. He is not the fastest skater in the world, but he has a great shot, knows how to control the puck, and has excellent on-ice vision. 86 points in 59 regular season games, Voracek lifted his game in the playoffs. Played very well in both the U-18 and U-20 WJCs for Czech Republic this year. Scouting agencies talk about his checking ability, which is good, but Columbus definitely chose him for his playmaking abilities and not the defensive side of his game.

With Angelo Esposito falling, falling, and falling again last night, the next Q player chosen was another Mooseheads forward, Logan MacMillan. Chosen nineteenth overall by Anaheim, MacMillan has a tremendous first step and a very hard shot. Had a stunning playoff run (20 pts, 12 games, +8, and only 6 PIM). Scouting agencies speak of his two-way play and excellent hockey sense.

Can we still hear the celebrations in Halifax this morning?

There are two more first round selections from the Q. Both players had fallen and both had to be disappointed at their place in the draft. But both should be happy campers as to the organizations that chose them.

First, Angelo Esposito. He fell to number 20 overall, but here is the thing. He fell to Pittsburgh. Oh my, what a break for Angelo. He can relax; there are at least 3 players on the team with bigger public profiles than the emotional centre. Esposito was so stressed at the Combine, and so intensely serious that I worried about him. He did not handle the pressure of being the early number one ranked player well. Did not handle the pressure of all the expectations of his draft year well. And the to top it off, he suffered his second career concussion in March. So when people talk about teams worrying about Esposito's head, I am not quite sure which issue they are talking about. But I feel like this is a dream destination for Esposito and if there is a place that he will thrive, it will be in the Pens organization. Very little spotlight, yet lots of glow (off the other star players). He will need to get more tenacious and physically stronger, and it remains to be seen as to whether or not he can do it, but he is an unbelievable skater, who can handle the puck as well as anyone in this year's draft. Wow, Esposito and the Quebec Remparts organization must be jumping up and down for glee at this stroke of (allegedly bad) luck.

The last player from the Q taken in the first round was Lewiston's David Perron. The St Louis Blues took him at number 26, with the NHL team's third pick of the round. Actually St Louis were very active in trading up and wound up with the most picks in the round. I am not sure how good a thing that was, as there is so much talent can go anywhere from about 20-50 (without much difference in skill level) that there are questions about this strategy (particularly with the selection of Ian Cole [US NTDP] at number18), however, there is no question that Perron was a good risk here. Perron has an unusual background, which makes some NHL teams concerned and back away. He played very low level hockey during part of last year until discovered by St. Jerome of the QMJHL. The reason allegedly was because of some disagreement with the powers that be in his home town. Immediately that raises eyebrows. Rightly or wrongly, NHL teams shy away from players they think might be a problem in any way. Rumours get around and a player can drop like a stone. The thing is that Perron is a good kid, and he can really play. He has a May 1988 birthdate (last year would have normally been his draft year, but this was his rookie season in the Q). So here we have a winger, who makes a big splash in the Q (70 regular season games, 83 points, 75 PIM, and a +37 rating) , is 19 and has an issue in his background. St. Louis took a chance on him with their third pick in the round, which was a great idea. I think they will find the winger an excellent addition to their already promising stable of prospects. He is excellent at puck control, is a good but not great skater, and has an okay shot. Scouting agencies agree with my assessment of his puck control abilities, but also like his hockey sense and shot. What they question most is his defensive ability.

More on the OHL and WHL players selected shortly.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hockey Canada Names Players for U20 Tryout (Also Called Canda/Russia Super Series)

Today Hockey Canada announced the roster of players that will be in the Canada/Russia Super Series in August. The event will run from August 27-September 9 (and replaces what used to be a summer U20 WJC tryout camp in Calgary). The August portion of the games will be played in Russia. Four dates in September have been chosen for the Canada portion of the event. Those are:

September 4th in Winnipeg
September 5 Saskatoon
September 7th Red Deer
September 9th Vancouver

The roster is as follows:

Jonathan Bernier Lewiston QMJHL
Leland Irving Everett WHL
Steve Mason London OHL

Karl Alzner Calgary WHL
Drew Doughty Guelph OHL
Keaton Ellerby Kamloops WHL
Josh Godfrey Sault Ste Marie OHL
Thomas Hickey Seattle WHL
Logen Pyatt Regina WHL
Luke Schenn Kelowna WHL
Ty Wishart Prince GeorgeWHL

Zach Boychuk Lethbridge WHL
Cory Emmerton Kingston OHL
Angelo Esposito Quebec QMJHL
Sam Gagner London OHL
Colton Gillies Saskatoon WHL
Claude Giroux Gatineau QMJHL
Zach Hammill Everett WHL
Stephan Legein Mississauga (Niagara) OHL
Milan Lucic Vancouver WHL
Brad Marchand Val-d'Or QMJHL
David Perron Lewiston QMJHL
Brandon Sutter Red Deer WHL
John Tavares Oshawa OHL
Kyle Turris Burnaby BCHL
Dana Tyrell Prince George WHL

Wednesday's CHL News

In the WHL, the Prince George Cougars announced most of their coaching and training staff yesterday. Drew Schoneck, who was behind the bench this past season as "associate" head coach has finally been given the full title that he deserves. Also announced was the return of Brent Arsenault as a part-time assistant coach. Dan De Palma, who has been working with the team as a scout will now add goaltending coach to his duties. Another (full-time) assistant coach is expected to be named in the next several days.

The OHL schedule released last week has some quirks in it, particularly for the Sudbury Wolves, who are dealing with arena renovations. The Wolves don't have a home date until October 12th.

The biggest CHL news though comes out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where top prospect Steven Anthony has announced that he will play in the Q after all. Back in May, Anthony had decided to play in the States, at a prep school in Boston, with his sights set on playing for a top NCAA team. But according to Anthony, after a visit to St. John (the team that selected him 10th overall in the QMJHL draft earlier this month) last week, the 16-year-old phenom changed his mind. He has now signed an educational contract with the St. John Sea Dogs and should be an instrumental part of the emergence of the team. The Sea Dogs had an excellent draft and got the whole city, including the mayor of St. John, involved with showing Anthony that it was a great place to play hockey and continue his education.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tuesday's CHL News

The WHL announced on Monday that four former players have decided to use the CHL educational package to attend the University of British Columbia. Former 2006-07 WHL overagers Curtis Billsten, Max Gordichuk and Craig Lineker will join unsigned 2005 NHL draftee Jason Lynch at University this coming fall. All are expected to play hockey for the T-birds.

Yesterday the OHL Guelph Storm announced the hiring of 2 new assistant coaches, David Milek and Brad Maxwell. And the Peterborough Petes announced the signing of General Manager Jeff Twohey to another three year contract. There had been rumours that Twohey was going to take a position with the Saginaw Spirit, but the Petes have signed him up for another 3 years.

In the QMJHL, the St. John Seadogs have announced the signing of 20-year old winger Jordan Knox, who has spent the last 2 seasons playing for the Summerside Western Capitals of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Brandon Wheat Kings Team Review

Brandon was first in the East Division of the Eastern Conference (41-20-3-8) and made it to the second round of the playoffs, prior to being defeated by the Calgary Hitmen in 6 games. Expected to lose a total of 7 players this fall (3 to professional play, 3 overagers and 1 in expansion), the Wheaties will be hard-pressed to replace them all, but the team still has a good core and should make the playoffs.

Overagers--Brandon had Mark Derlago, Rob Klinkhammer, and Jeff Topilko on the roster this past season. In total, the overagers appeared in 203 regular season games, and accounted for 208 points. That' a point production that will be hard for the team to replace.

Signings--All of the Wheaties 2005 NHL draftees were signed this year. The only player on the 2006-07 roster that is not yet signed is Juraj Simek, who was drafted by Vancouver in 2006. The Canucks have another year to sign him, but that does not mean that he will be back with Brandon next season. If, during the summer and fall, the Canucks decide to sign him to an NHL contract, his September 1987 birthdate allows for him to play in the AHL next season. That said, he may still play in Brandon if he wants to.

Possible 2007 NHL draftees--The Wheat Kings have several players expected to be selected by NHL teams later this month in Columbus. Defenceman Keith Aulie is likely to go first in the draft. Expected to be a third or fourth rounder, Aulie is a big defencive blueliner, with some toughness and a good first pass. Also eligible and likely late round picks are forwards Andrew Clerk and Daniel Bartek.

Youngsters Contributing in 06/07--The only 1990 of consequence who played somewhat regularly on past year's Wheaties team was blueliner Colby Robak. A fourth round selection in the 2005 Bantam draft Robak has a bright future in the Wheaties organization.

2005 Bantam Draft Selections (2006-07 season) results (rounds 1-6):

Sanfred King (C) 1st round, 17th overall [Brandon AAA Midget Wheat Kings (MMHL)] 40 regular season games, 66 points, 50 PIM; playoffs, 12 game,s 12 pts, 10 PIM.

Jordan Hale (C) 2nd round, 37th overall [Red Deer Optimist Rebels (AMHL)] 25 regular season games, 14 pts (2 PPG), 10 PIM; playoffs, 6 games, 1 pt, 2 PIM

Andrew Hayes (G) 3rd round, 57 overall [Bonnyville Pontiacs (AJHL)] 32 regular season games, 13-10-5, 3.06 GAA and a 8.85 save percentage; playoffs, 2 games, 0-2, 4.03 GAA, .867 save percentage.

Colby Robak (D) 4th round, 77th overall [Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)]

Lucas Mikkelsen (RW) 5th round, 94th overall [UFA Bisons Midget AAA (AMHL)] 34 regular season games, 20 pts, 24 PIM; playoffs, 1 game,s no stats. Early this season Mikkelsen played 6 games for the Drumheller Dragons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, recording 1 power play goal during that time.

Alexander Grill (D) 6th round, 113th overall [Calgary Royal Blue Midget AA (CAJHL)] 21 regular season games, 12 pts, 117 PIM; playoffs, 5 games, 1 pt, 16 PIM.

David Toews (LW)(6th round, 117th overall [Shattuck St. Mary's HS (Minn)] 46 games, 60 points, 44 PIM.

2006 Bantam Draft Selections (2006-07 season) results (rounds 1-6):

Breydan Schenn (C) 1st round, 9th overall, [Saskatoon Contacts (SMHL)] 41 regular season games, 71 pts (8 pp 2 SH goals), 63 PIM; playoffs, 3 games, 7 pts (1 PP and 1 SH goals), 4 PIM

Scott Glennie (C) 2nd round, 29th overall [Winnipeg Wild Midget AAA (MMHL)] 38 regular season games, 68 pts, 64 PIM; playoffs 7 game,s 6 pts, 18 PIM

Brodie Melnychuk (D) 3rd round, 50th overall [Notre Dame Hounds Midget AAA (SHA)] 43 games, 16 pts, 54 PIMplayoffs, 12 games, 2 pts, 8 PIM

Adam Beller (LW) 5th round, 92nd overall [Sherwood Park Squires (REMHL)] 21 games, 17 pts, 82 PIM

2007 Bantam Draft Selections (rounds 1-6):

Brandon Regier (RW) 1st round, 17th overall [Abbotsford Bantam AAA] 55 games, 72 pts, 164 PIM Scouting 2-way player, good skater, potential leader

Ryley Miller (D) 2nd round, 31st overall [Spruce Grove Bantam AAA] 33 games, 23 pts, 108 PIM

Jordan DePape (RW) 3rd round, 61st overall [Winnipeg Warriors Bantam AAA] 30 games, 54 pts, 36 PIM Scouting 2-way player, good on-ice vision, good decisionmaker

Dallas Ehrhardt (D) 4th round, 83rd overall [Calgary Blazers Bantam AAA] 32 games, 15 pts, 126 PIM

Mark Stone (RW) 5th round, 92nd overall [Winnipeg Hawks Bantam AAA] 30 games, 57 pts, 20 PIM

Brendan Rouse (LW) 5th round, 110th overall [Langley Bantam AAA] 77 games, 107 pts, 82 PIM +71 rating.

Wheaton King (C) 6th round, 123rd overall [Brandon Bantam AAA] 29 games, 20 pts, 98 PIM