Last week was a busy week on the road for me as I was able to take in four OHL live games in Peterborough and Kingston, seeing the Windsor Spitfires, Peterborough Petes, Kingston Frontenacs twice each as well as the Oshawa Generals and Sarin Sting. Here are some notes and observations.
The Eastern Conference leading Oshawa Generals are having an impressive bounce back season after bottoming out last year following their Memorial Cup Championship and re-tool season. 2017 NHL draft prospect Jack Studnicka is a player I watched close and he did not disappoint. He struck me as a hockey player, showed good goal scoring instincts on a play where he drove to the net and fired off a good hard low shot and what was impressive was how he followed it up to the goal rather than do a fly by and it resulted in a secondary scoring chance. He was a strong net front presence and was always looking to screen the goalie, fishing for tips, rebounds and greasy goals. Studnicka also showed a strong physical side as he almost destroyed Jonathan Ang with a huge open ice hit. Ang bailed out at the last second to avoid certain death, but Studnicka was still successful at separating the man from the puck and caused a turnover. I also liked his compete level. This can be difficult to judge sometimes but one example that I appreciated was how he always hustled to get off the ice on an on-the-fly line change, rather than doing and Alexi Kovalev impression.
New York Islanders prospect Mitch Vande Sompel has a reputation for being an aggressive player, I would go so far as to call him a dirty player. As an undersized offensive defenceman, it is a component of his game I really like. However, I think that if he is going to continue to deliver dirty hits, and use his stick like a weapon at the higher levels such as the AHL and the NHL; someone is going to feed him his lunch! After his offensive output suffered a drop off last year as the entire team struggled, this year he has rebounded nicely and has seven goals and 20 points in 23 games.
The Tampa Bay Lightning prospect cupboard is very well stocked, and Anthony Cirelli is one that should become more of a household name in the near future. Best known for scoring the overtime Memorial Cup winning goal for the Generals was a 2015 third round pick by the Lightning. Cirelli is leading the Generals in scoring this year with an impressive 13 goals and 30 points in 22 games. His performance could even garner him consideration for an invite to the Canadian World Junior selection camp as he also scored a goal in his appearance in the Canada Russia series. He is a versatile player who can play the game on both sides of the puck, and has shown a penchant for scoring clutch goals.
Two more Tampa prospects playing for the Petes are Jonne Tammela and Matt Spencer. Tammela is injured and has yet to play but Spencer is in his final season of junior and with two goals and nine points in 17 games his offensive numbers could be better. Spencer also played in one game of the Canada Russia series but was held pointless despite playing a solid game overall. I don`t think he stands much of a chance of cracking the World Junior team for Canada and his fantasy upside is limited. That said, I do think he plays a game that will translate well in higher levels as he makes very quick and sound decisions and can slow the play down when the other team is pressing on the attack.
The Windsor Spitfires passed through both Peterborough and Kingston and I was able to catch the Western division leaders on both occasions, unfortunately they are pretty banged up. 2017 top NHL draft prospect Gabriel Vilardi is out after an appendectomy, Ottawa Senators first round pick Logan Brown has a wrist injury that should be cleared up for the World Juniors, and Montreal Canadiens prospect and over age Jeremiah Addison was injured in the Peterborough game. Despite those key injuries and more, the Spits still iced a very talented team with an All-Star defence. Montreal first round Mikhail Sergachev was recently returned to the OHL, he was dominant in the rookie tournament for the Habs in his push to make the NHL roster. He did make the Habs to start the season but was limited to just three games and held pointless. He appears to be suffering from a bad case of NHLitis is he has no goals and seven assists in ten games since his return. He showed flashes of his skillset on a few rushes and on the power play in the two games I saw but most of the time he was average looking. Despite his modest start to the OHL season, he will anchor the Russian blueline at the World Juniors in Montreal this year and finish the season in the Memorial Cup. He will play for Montreal full time next year no doubt.
Winnipeg Jets prospect Logan Stanley is trying really hard to develop his offensive game after struggling at a higher level at Jets training camp. I saw Stanley walk around the winger off the point on the power play on several occasions to find a better shooting lane. It was a smart play that requires confidence, vision and some skill. Unfortunately he lacks a quality shot to take advantage of those situations as the goalies made routine looking saves of his below average wrist shot. IN the warm up he was unleashing some pretty impressive looking one-timer slap shots, but that was the warm up.
No doubt the Sarnia Sting would love to get back Jakob Chychrun and Travis Konecny from their NHL clubs, but neither is looking promising at this point. At seventh overall in the Western Conference the Sting still have some noteworthy players however. Adam Ruzicka is a 2017 NHL draft prospect and at 6-4, 202 pounds he is a formidable centre prospect. He uses his long reach effectively to intercept passes and clearing attempts on the forecheck and uses his size and strength well along the boards and in puck protection. He boasts a powerful stride and has good speed and a low center of gravity which makes him very difficult to push off the puck. With eight goals and 16 points in 25 games the big Slovakian is a hard to play against center with offensive upside I can see becoming an effective third line center in the NHL.
St. Louis Blues prospect Jordan Kyrou was displaying his speed and puck skills in Kingston and has eight goals and 32 points in 24 games for well over a point per game pace. Kyrou is a player I am not sure will translate well into the NHL as he takes good advantage of the time and space his speed and skill create for him at this level. But projecting him into higher levels, I am not confident he will be able to do the things he does at the OHL level.
The Kingston Frontenacs have four prospects eligible for the 2017 draft in Jason Robertson, Jacob Paquette and Finnish imports Linus Nyman and Eemeli Rasanen. Robertson was recently ranked ninth overall for the draft by the Red Line report in their November rankings. I had him in my top ten for NHL draft eligible prospects for the OHL Prospect Blog experts ranking, and I am a big Robertson fan, but not sure I see him going in the top ten overall! His skating is a real concern as his feet look so heavy at times. His offensive instincts are excellent and the kid can score goals, but his skating really needs to improve to play in the NHL. Paquette had a very impressive rookie season last year and is coming off an early season injury that cost him a shot at the Ivan Hlinka tournament. Paquette is a smart defender who reads and reacts well to situations and always seems to be in the right position, blocking shots and shooting lanes with an active stick. He is a very calming player, even under duress and when the other team is applying pressure. Look for his offensive game to emerge this season as he will play a more prominent role with Kingston now he has more confidence and experience. The two Finnish imports could not be more polarizing players. Linus Nyman (Newman) is a small, speedy offensive winger who is currently second overall in league rookie scoring with 14 goals and 19 assists in 24 games. An undersized winger at 5-10, 150 pounds he will need to add some strength and hopefully grow an inch or two. Nyman has plenty of speed and quickness and he is difficult to defend on either the rush due to his speed, or on the cycle due to his quickness. He is very shifty, has quick hands and thinks the play rather quick as well. Nyman is also a plus-1 as he plays a reliable two-way game. The other Fin is the big hulking Rasanen who is a 6-6, 205 pound defenceman. Rasanen has a heavy shot but really needs time and space to let it go. His skating is not pretty, he looks clumsy and awkward often and that may just be him growing into his body. He has shown the ability to rush the puck up the ice or join the rush and has lots of raw talent. A work in progress, but one with considerable potential.
Thanks for reading what turned out to be a long winded scouting report on the week that was.
See you in the rink!