The CHL Playoffs are just getting underway — unfortunately for most of the Leafs’ prospects, they’re also wrapping up.
The CHL Playoffs are just getting underway — unfortunately for most of the Leafs’ prospects, they’re also wrapping up.
It’s playoff time in the CHL.
To the surprise of nobody who follows me on Twitter or reads this column with any regularity, Morgan Rielly and the Moose Jaw Warriors are on the outside looking in. If I were a lesser man, I’d gloat about how I predicted this outcome when Moose Jaw was sitting 5th in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and I’d definitely rub it in the face of all the people who called me an idiot or worse — if I were a lesser man.
What this means for Rielly is that he’ll be joining the Marlies on Wednesday and that he’ll be able to take a bit of time to adjust to the pro speed. From a developmental perspective, this is probably the ideal place for him right now. I’m not convinced that languishing in Moose Jaw for the last two months has really taught him much and I’m reluctant to throw a teenage defenseman onto a Leafs group that has, frankly, struggled. I’m not as sold as many people are on Eakins as an NHL coach but I do think that he’s an exceptional developmental coach so Rielly is in good hands.
As far as the other Leafs go, Stuart Percy and the Mississauga Steelheads will be lining up against the top seeded Belleville Bulls. Mississauga has been just brutal lately and there’s a very real chance that Belleville ends their season by March 26th, at which point Percy will join Rielly in the AHL. Once again, this is probably the best spot for him to be right now, so I wont be shedding any tears if the Steelheads make an abrupt exit.
Biggs and the Generals play the Niagara Ice Dogs and unlike the aforementioned prospects, Biggs will be hoping to make a playoff run. Also unlike the others, I think the OHL is a good spot for Biggs right now — especially in a playoff atmosphere. He’s on a good team, he’ll play a variety of situations, and this will be a good opportunity to see if the wear-you-down style of a playoff series is a strength for Biggs. Should be a good series and I’d expect Oshawa’s forward depth is enough to see them through to the next round.
The most intriguing series from a Leafs perspective will be the Kitchener v. Guelph matchup. Matt Finn has been out of the lineup with an injured knee and was set to miss 3-4 weeks. I hope he doesn’t rush back but if the series goes the distance or if Guelph should advance, Finn could see some playoff action. On the other side of the ice, Leivo is in a nearly identical position to Biggs. He’s on a good team and will be expected to play a pivotal role for the Rangers who’ve made a serious investment to win this season. Also like Biggs, Leivo has the kind of game with the potential to thrive in a long, grinding playoff series.
As far as Connor Brown goes, his Erie Otters missed the playoffs and I’m not sure what the organization plans to do with him over the next few weeks. Brown recently returned from a concussion (and scored a pair of goals in the Otters’ last game) so while he’s healthy, there’s a chance the team just skates him in practice with the Marlies but holds him off the ice. He’s still awfully young and I doubt he sees much, if any, icetime with the Marlies but maybe he surprises me; he has all season.[table “63” not found /]
Welcome to the Playoffs, Awards, and Injury Ward edition of the Leafs Prospect Update!
Starting with the bad news, Erie Captain and surprise statistical standout Connor Brown suffered a head injury (read: concussion) against London on the 18th and missed this weekend’s games. Erie is well out of the playoff mix and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brown sit out the rest of the year to recover — it’s probably what’s best for him in the long run.
When the Leafs get a couple of days off, bloggers have a little bit of extra time to take a wider look at things. I’ve spent a lot of time this year watching CHL games, pouring over AHL stats and looking at the player development side of hockey. Unsurprisingly, that has led to a lot of conversations about the draft itself and it was one of these conversations that spurred me to look into some draft outcomes.
If Tyler Biggs were Russian, he’d be considered an enigma. Biggs has been taken off of Oshawa’s top powerplay unit (though he remains on their top line at even strength) and his production has been on and off ever since. Biggs picked up an assist tonight — and a number of scoring chances — but prior to tonight’s game he had been on a goals-or-nothing streak. Biggs’ last five games registered as follows: 2 goals, no points, 1 goal, no points, 2 goals. He still isn’t much of a passer, nor is he any more comfortable carrying the puck. This might be work that he needs to do with a fresh set of coaches next season.
Josh Leivo continues to impress in Kitchener and has now passed Connor Brown as the Leafs prospect with the most CHL-points this season. Leivo has 19 points in 15 games with Kitchener — a point-per-game total that no player on Kitchener has been able to match despite all the drafted talented on that team. Leivo has changed the way he puts up points since his transition to Kitchener, relying more on assists than goals, but the production has still been there despite the increased defensive focus that Spott employs in Kitchener. There aren’t a lot of holes in Leivo’s game which bodes well for his transition to the pro game (ECHL or AHL) coming next season.
From December 28th to January 22nd, the Moose Jaw Warriors went on an 11-game losing streak which corresponded fairly neatly with Morgan Rielly’s absence from the team. Since then, the Warriors are W4-L4 which may not be spectacular, but it is a pretty significant improvement. Rielly is tied for 6th in scoring among WHL defensemen despite playing on one of the worst offensive teams in the league and having missed a month’s worth of games with the WJC and NHL camp. In short, everything you’ve read on Rielly is true — he’s a dynamic offensive player and isn’t bad in his own zone either.
Until next time, you can catch me on Twitter @bcphockeyblog
[table “63” not found /]
After being away from his teammates for both the World Junior Championships and the Leafs’ pre-season camp, Morgan Rielly returned to Moose Jaw and the Warriors returned to the win column for the first time since his departure.
The resolution to the NHL lockout combined with the commencement of the second half of the CHL season has predictably stirred up some player movement in the NHL’s development leagues.
As far as Leaf property, third round pick in 2011 Josh Leivo was traded to the Kitchener Rangers in a deal that saw the Sudbury Wolves move their top forward in Leivo, top defenceman in Frankie Corrado and starting goaltender Joel Vienneau in one swoop.
Well, this is kind of like kissing your sister. Unless you lose, in which case it’s kind of like going to prom alone and leaving alone.
The problem with a single elimination tournament is that you only need to play one bad game to lose your chance at a championship and boy, did Canada ever play a bad game.
Trying to predict whether or not a team will be able to “get up” for a bronze medal game is a bit of a fool’s errand; ultimately, it’s anybody’s guess. There’s no shame whatsoever in coming away from a tournament with a bronze medal so I hope that the boys will be able to bring their all this morning.
Whether Steve Spott has learned from the first few games of the tournament or not may be the key to this one. Spott was reluctant to start Binnington in any of the games of the tournament despite an exceptional camp and a couple of below average performances from Malcolm Subban. Subban vindicated that decision in a pair of strong games against the Americans and Russians but went back to being lacklustre in the semi-final matchup. Binnington, once called upon, was terrific.
Morgan Rielly has been one of Canada’s better defensemen in this tournament despite limited icetime while Ryan Murphy has been an unmitigated disaster with lots of icetime. The reigns came off Rielly in the third period of the game against the USA but it was too little too late. Murphy simply doesn’t have the defensive chops to play against top-tier teams in this tournament and with Reinhart suspended, Spott will have to figure out how to balance Murphy’s risk/reward better in this morning’s game.
Perhaps the least discussed wart on the face of Team Canada has been the play of Jonathan Huberdeau. His point totals are respectable but does anyone think he’s looked particularly good in this tournament? When Drouin took his place on the top line, I thought the first unit became more dynamic for it and I can’t say the same of the second line that Huberdeau found himself on. For one of the best prospects in hockey and a guy who’s in his last year of WJC eligibility, he hasn’t been particularly impactful. Hopefully Spott will be able to find a line combination that works for him.
On a final note, I’d like to offer a tip of my hat to the Russian fans during this tournament. They’ve brought a great energy and enthusiasm to the tournament and it’s made every game more exciting. It’s clear that they care about this tournament every bit as much as we Canadians do and they’ve given the kids a great atmosphere in which to play their games.
1st Intermission Update
Well, that period was certainly eventful. Khokhlachev opened the scoring with a soft one on Jordan Binnington, beating him with an unscreened wrister from a sharp angle. The shot got stuck on Binnington’s pad and when he pulled his leg back in to his body, he also pulled the puck back in to the net.
Russia scored the second goal as well as Boone Jenner took a stupid penalty with an elbow to the head of the Russian forechecker. The ensuing penaltykill looked more like a game of chase-the-puck by the four penaltykillers and Yarulin made a nice corner to corner pass to Yakupov who fired the puck into a wide open net.
Canada clawed back into the game after Strome drew a penalty in the slot (the penalty prevented a scoring chance) and the Canadian powerplay took advantage. RNH scored the goal on a nice shot.
The Russian’s pulled back ahead by two after Diakov fired home a shot after an offensive zone faceoff win. Binnington was probably screened on the shot but was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots. By not giving Binnington any starts in the group stage, Spott didn’t have nearly enough information on who to start during these later rounds. Do you start Binnington who has played well in selection camp and in one period in the tournament but hasn’t started in two weeks or do you start Subban who was inconsistent? Impossible to know.
Canada pulled the game back to within one on the powerplay as Ryan Murphy fired a shot off the post which found the stick of Huberdeau who put it into the net with the goalie well out of position after the initial shot. Murphy has been much better in this game because he’s been put in a position to succeed. He’s made shrewd plays on the powerplay and hasn’t had any significant defensive miscues in limited 5-on-5 icetime… to the surprise of precisely no one.
2nd Intermission Update
More of the same in the second as the tempo of the game stayed high as you’d expect in a Canada / Russia game.
The first goal of the period came on the powerplay as Mark Scheifele fired in feed from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Canadian powerplay really does look unstoppable today and the Russians should probably stop taking minors if they want to win a medal on home soil.
The fourth Russian goal was scored by Yevgeni Mozer. The first shot was blocked by the Canadian defenseman but the block was scooped up by Mozer who was able to take advantage of Subban having committed to the original shot.
Canada tied it up on another powerplay goal, this time by Ryan Murphy. Heck of a shot from a smaller defenseman.
3rd Intermission Update
Yakupov scored the 5th Russian goal after some really strong work by Kapustin to bring the puck out of the corner in the offensive zone. Solid shot by Yakupov but the real work was done by Kapustin on this one.
Brett Ritchie scored the fifth goal for Canada on a scramble play in front of the Russian goal. Not much to break down on this one; it was messy but it went in.
Fitting that Canada’s tournament would end with Ryan Murphy getting burned on an even strength breakout. Heck of a goal by the draft eligible Nichushkin, beating Murphy to the outside and then driving hard to the net, stuffing the puck past Subban who played well in relief of Binnington.
Just when you were getting used to a more sane sleeping schedule, the Russian organizers do this to us.
Canada and the United States will faceoff in a rematch of their opening round game which saw Canada skate off with a 2-1 win in which neither team played up to its potential.
Since then, Canada played a complete game against the Russians while the United States picked up a couple of wins against the tournament’s also-rans. Confidence should be reasonably high for both teams and at the risk of sounding trite, the United States will have redemption on their minds.
A great deal of the completeness of Canada’s game can be attributed to the return of Boone Jenner to the line-up. I had been playing the part of the parrot during my pre-game threads; consistently and repeatedly lamenting the lack of chemistry in the bottom-6 forward group and hoping that once Jenner returned things would sort themselves out. Well, he did and they did. Jenner and Danault were a forechecking, puck possession force in the third period of the Russia game and were a big reason why, even despite what score effects typically do to shot totals, Canada was able to significantly outshoot the Russians in their 4-1 win.
Spott’s line shake-up also proved to be a positive for the team as Jonathan Drouin looked fantastic skating with RNH and Mark Scheifele. Add to this another strong game from Malcolm Subban and Canada looks to be rounding into form from top to bottom.
In their last matchup, Seth Jones had probably his worst game of the tournament and Rocco Grimaldi’s shot-happy Sergei Berezin / Jason Blake impression really stifled the American attack. The most dangerous offensive player in the game was probably defenseman Jacob Trouba who snuck free in the offensive zone a couple of times and scored the lone American goal.
Once again, John Gibson is the type of goalie who is eminently capable of stealing a game and the American speed and the ability of their defensemen to pinch on the play has the potential to create problems for Team Canada. Team USA is still waiting for their big line to have an impact against the tournament’s better teams and if they do this morning, then Canada will have to be near-perfect everywhere else if they hope to advance to the gold medal game.
From Canada’s perspective, they’ll need to limit penalties against the Americans — particularly those of the 5-minute variety. The only Canadian player who seems to be prone to minor penalties is Ryan Strome but one hopes that Coach Spott has impressed upon him the importance of discipline going forward in this tournament. Aside from that, more of the same from Subban and the top line and Canada will likely be punching their ticket to the gold medal game.
No easy games left. Go Canada Go!
1st Intermission Update
Well, that’s what happen when one team has a great defensive period and the other is a chaotic, disorganized mess in their own zone.
The US, to their credit, played exceptional transition defense in that period and their speed on the counter-attack was backing down the Canadian defense and leading to chances left, right, and center.
The first American goal was scored by Jake McCabe after the Americans got about a half-dozen shots in a single sequence and Subban didn’t look comfortable on any of them. The US got after every rebound and loose puck and it led to the first goal of the game.
The second American goal was also scored by McCabe, this time in transition. As you’d expect from a defenseman, McCabe was the high-man in the zone and found a gap in the coverage between the two wingers. Some good passing and an apparent screen on Subban and 2-0 is where we stand heading into the second period.
On a positive note, Biggs had a very solid period. He was good on the forecheck and had a couple of chances in the offensive zone.
2nd Intermission Update
More of the same from Canada in the 2nd period. Disorganized on defense, largely dis-interested on offense, and clearly frustrated by the calibre of defensive play they’ve been running into during this game. The few times Canada has managed a quality scoring chance, Gibson has made it look like a routine save.
The third American goal came in transition after a bad change. What looked like a 2-on-1 with Ryan Murphy as the ‘1’ was turned into effectively a breakaway as Murphy initially looked to take away the pass and then drastically over committed to the puck carrier John Gaudreau who didn’t even need to make a move to clear Murphy out of the way and score.
Jimmy Vesey then put the Americans up 4-0, once again burning the Canadian defense in transition. A nice quick move on the outside by Vesey to beat the defense and change the angle of the shot. Tough to blame Subban given the completeness of the Canadian collapse but he didn’t have his best game either and got the hook in favour of Binnington.
Binnington has looked good in relief as the goalie change did nothing to spark the Canadian Team. The United States has dominated this game in every way and it would take a comeback that would make yesterday’s Russia – Switzerland game look like a 90s New Jersey Devils game for this one to end in Canada’s favour.
I sincerely hope that one of the reporters has the guts to ask Spott the tough questions about Murphy’s inclusion after the game but I have my doubts.
Canada had their best period of the game but were still the second best team on the ice. Gibson was sensational and Canada wasn’t able to swing the momentum in their favour despite some decent play.
Canada scored the first goal of the period… kinda. After Ty Rattie fired a shot off of the crossbar, the referee blew the whistle, and the ensuing rebound found Rattie’s stick with Gibson too far out of position from the initial shot to have any hope at making a second save. Rattie put the puck in the net anyway and after review it counted for some reason. Typical IIHF hackjob, basically.
The game’s final goal came after a great blueline to blueline pass from JT Miller to John Gaudreau sprung the diminutive forward on a partial breakaway. Great shot by Gaudreau beat Binnington and the Americans cruised to a well deserved victory from there.
The good from that period included the reigns coming off Rielly a little bit. He looked far more like himself, joining or leading the rush offensively and using a toe-drag-shot-between-the-defenseman’s-legs move that he goes to with some regularity in the WHL. Binnington looked good in relief and probably deserves to start the bronze medal game.
Having played only one good game in the tournament with a lockout strengthened lineup, Spott will have to come up with some answers for why this team never really came together. The defense in particular seemed to be a problem after the team cut Frankie Corrado who had a great camp in favour of Ryan Murphy who, aside from possibly Dumba, was the worst defenseman in camp. MacKinnon never got enough icetime, nor did Rielly and the zone entries on the powerplay were some of the more disjointed I’ve ever seen on international ice.
Canada will play the loser of Sweden – Russia sometime Saturday morning.
Canada vs Russia for all the opening round marbles. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
After a taking a 2-0 lead in the first period, Malcolm Subban (36 saves) was the story the rest of the way for Team Canada as they edged Team USA 2-1 and moved to 3-0 on the tournament.
This is where things start getting interesting.
The American team will present an interesting set of challenges for Team Canada. Their checking lines are more physical than anything that Team Canada can throw out there, their skill lines are faster, and their goaltender has looked more capable of stealing a game in this tournament. Canada is still the better all-around team but the Americans throw out enough different wrinkles that this should be a game that goes down to the wire and could certainly go either way.
For Canada’s part, they seem to have woken up in the second half of the game against Slovakia. Their top-6 forward group has been exceptional and their defense, aside from Ryan Murphy, looked much better. Rielly’s strong play in that game led to an increase in icetime and I would think that he hasn’t done anything to warrant a decrease heading into this morning’s matchup.
As is often the case when Canada plays the USA under IIHF officiating, my guess is that the team who wins this game will be the team who comes out ahead in the special teams battle. Both of these teams play a physical style that can lead to undeserved 5-minute charging penalties called well after the play — but I digress — so taking advantage of our powerplays and playing well on the penaltykill is crucial.
The Americans love to activate their defensemen when transitioning to offense and Seth Jones is an absolute load when he gets to full speed. The play of Canada’s top defense pair and how they’re able to identify and quarterback the transition defense game is another big key for Canada.
Note: Tyler Biggs has been playing on the third line for Team USA, wearing No. 22.
Once again, I’ll throw up my updates during each intermission. Looking forward to a barn-burner!
Welcome back, fellow lunatics!
After giving the Russians a run for their money on Wednesday, the Slovakian Juniors will probably being feeling pretty good about themselves heading into this morning’s tilt.
Canada has some things to clean up, particularly on defense, if they hope to make today’s game a comfortable one. Aside from Harrington, every one of Canada’s defensemen can be better than they were on Wednesday and they’ll need to be if we want to keep considering ourselves the favourites in this tournament.
The bottom-6 looked a little out of sorts on Wednesday as well, in my opinion, with Jenner out of the lineup. He won’t be back in time for our key tilt with the USA so we’d better hope that they can find a little chemistry in the interim. McNeill was a great replacement for Jenner in the faceoff circle (12 for 13) but he isn’t as good in the defensive zone (giveaway notwithstanding).
On a positive note, the first line looked fantastic and Strome/Drouin looked pretty sharp as a second scoring unit as well. We should have a decisive advantage against all the other top-6 groups in the tournament and if these guys can keep playing the way they did the other day, we’ll be able to overcome some of the other hiccups that invariably present themselves in these short tournaments.
As with Game One, I’ll be tossing up updates during the intermissions. Looking forward to the game and to hearing your thoughts on some of the promising young talent in this game.
1st Intermission Update
Well, hopefully that was an eye opener. The Slovakians definitely play an effective trap game and play with a lot of guys deep in the defensive zone when Canada has possession. It’s pretty clear that getting pucks through to the net will be a challenge this morning.
Slovakia’s first goal came on a scramble in front of the net as the initial shot bounced around a bunch of bodies in front. Murphy gets lost in the defensive zone as he’s apt to do and 2013 eligible Marko Dano found the loose puck before Subban was able to pick it up and put it past him.
Slovakia’s second goal came during a 5-minute man advantage. Some good in-zone cycling led to lost coverage for the Canada penalty killers and a heck of a shot by Tomas Mikus sees the Slovakians go ahead 2-0 and that’s where we stand through one period of play.
I see very little reason why JC Lipon should be getting any more icetime for Canada. He wasn’t good in their game against Germany and this morning’s headshot infraction is the kind of penalty you simply can’t take as a fourth line player in limited minutes. I’d expect that he’ll become the extra forward once Jenner returns to the lineup for the game against Russia.
2nd Intermission Update
What a period! Canada drew first blood with Ryan Strome skating around the offensive zone with the puck and taking advantage of some flat-footed Slovakian defense to find some space in the middle of the ice, firing a wrist shot into the top half of the net.
After Camara saw himself kicked out of the game on what looked like a pretty bad penalty call, the Slovakians ended up drawing a tripping penalty and took advantage of the ensuing 5 on 3. Once again it was Dano after some good passing by the Slovakians on their powerplay.
Canada then found themselves on a 5 on 3 of their own and Rielly fired a shot past the Slovakian goaltender Nagy.
With Canada still on the powerplay, Rielly played pitch and catch with Ouellet who made an outstanding pass from the blueline to the crease and Ty Rattie makes a nice adjustment to tip the puck past the Slovakian goalie.
The fourth Canadian goal came after a fantastic shift from Mark Scheifele. After keeping the puck in the zone while covering for the pinching defenseman, Scheifele then tipped in the Xavier Ouellet shot, giving Canada their first lead of the game.
Rielly and Ouellet have both been outstanding (though Rielly didn’t see much icetime in the first) and have been the straw that has stirred the drink from Canada’s defense during this comeback. Scheifele and Strome have been the most noticeable Canadian forwards with an honourable mention going to Drouin.
6 – 3 Final
Canada got a little insurance off of the stick of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on another powerplay. RNH shows off some pretty slick hands on the goal and probably has Steve Tambellini smiling smugly, as per usual.
The sixth and final Canadian goal came after a great pass from Wotherspoon sent Strome in alone on Nagy. Strome made a great five-hole move to beat the Slovakian goalie as Canada capitalized on the team’s bad line change.
Scheifele was Canada’s player of the game and deservedly so — he was buzzing all morning and seemed to be at the center of just about everything. Next game is Sunday at 4:30am before we get a bit of a reprieve with a 9:00am start on Monday.
Good morning, ladies and gents!
Playing the World Juniors in Russia presents an interesting dilemma for hockey die-hards in Canada: wake up early or stay up late?
This thread may be the worst and least active thread of anything I’ve posted here at MLHS during my brief tenure or it may lead to an excellent and passionate conversation between the most committed (double-entendre) hockey fans on the internet. Either way, the tournament will be heaven for the vampire set.
I’ll be updating this text with observations during each of the intermissions and depending on how many of you join me, I may do the same for each of the Canada games — we’ll see how it goes.
Grab a coffee and the best seat on the couch because we all know you’re watching this one alone. Cheers!
1st Intermission Update
Canada predictably dominated the early part of the game, drawing penalties and creating chances. The first goal, scored by Xavier Ouellet, was set up by a great pass from the point on the powerplay by Morgan Rielly. Rielly has been demoted to the 2nd PP unit in favour of Ryan Murphy who was decidedly ‘meh’ in the first.
Canada’s second goal also came on the PP and was scored by RNH. Huberdeau’s great North-South pass in the offensive zone is a much tougher play than it seems.
The Germans, to their credit, applied some pretty solid pressure during the second half of the first period and were rewarded with a powerplay goal of their own off of the stick of another guy Spott will be familiar with in Kitchener / Edmonton’s Tobias Rieder.
2nd Intermission Update
Canada looked a lot more dominant in the second than the first. Canada’s third goal of the game and first of the period was scored by Scheifele after a hard bounce off the glass saw the puck fall on his stick.
Canada’s fourth goal came after a beautiful pass from Dougie Hamilton found Huberdeau for a powerplay marker.
Canada’s fifth was another case of a Canada player finding himself alone in front of the net and Ty Rattie made no mistake.
The sixth goal scored by Ryan Strome after Canada generated a Sedin-esque offensive zone cycle.
Then the Germans went to work, most notably Leon Draisaitl who has looked like every bit the elite prospect he is. He isn’t even draft eligible until 2014 but he’s been the best player on the German team and has provided a great mix of offense and defense. Draisaitl set up Germany’s second goal by Pfoderl.
Nickolas Latta then capitalized on a brutal giveaway by McNeill which brought the score to 6-3. Horrible turnover but a great shot by Latta.
Finally, with seconds left in the second period, Scheifele scored again on a great transition play by himself and linemates RNH and Jonathan Huberdeau.
As my fingers beg for mercy after all this intermission typing, we’re now sitting at 7-3 Canada.
The third period was a little bit tighter checking from Canada’s perspective. Jonathan Drouin scored Canada’s 8th goal, making a nice move in front of the net after taking a clever slap-pass from Harrington.
Canada’s 9th and final goal was scored by Tyler Wotherspoon with the assist to Ryan Strome. Wotherspoon hustled back to break up a two-on-one and reaped the reward at the other end.
All told, it was pretty much what we expected from Canada. There are a few defensive kinks to work out, the chemistry on the bottom lines seems to have taken a bit of a hit with Jenner out of the lineup, but the top unit was spectacular and the result in this one was never in doubt.
Next game for Canada is Slovakia on Friday at 4:30.
Welcome back, Josh Leivo.
After missing time with a concussion, Leivo returned to the Sudbury Wolves lineup last week and he did so with a vengeance. The Wolves had 3 games in 3 nights this weekend and Leivo put up 2 goals and 5 assists. Leivo now has 34 points in 29 games on a pretty weak Sudbury team.
With World Junior selection camps getting under way this week, a handful of Leafs prospects will be leaving their CHL teams to join up with their national all-star teams. Â If you’d like a quick breakdown on the Leafs prospects who will be involved in the World Junior Championships, here’s a short post I put together over at Pension Plan Puppets. Â This natural break in the schedule seems like as good a time as any to check in with where our kids are sitting among their peers at this stage of the season.
This is it, folks! Â Morgan Rielly skating in WHL regular season action against one of the better teams in the league on national television.
Many of you likely caught some of Rielly in the Subway Super Series but this is probably the first time most of you will be catching him in WHL action. Â Edmonton is the kind of team that can cause Rielly some trouble as they’re pretty aggressive forecheckers and they carry a lot of size in their top-6 forward group. Â Still, I would be betting on Rielly being the best player on the ice tonight, especially on the powerplay.
Another player to keep an eye on is Edmonton Oil King forward Curtis Lazar who our very own Jon Steitzer has been stalking / cheering for all season. Â Lazar is 2013 draft eligible and will probably slot in somewhere between 7-15 overall. Â Definitely a guy worth tracking tonight.
A slow start to the AHL year was probably the last thing Nazem Kadri needed.
Kadri is the most polarizing Leafs prospect in recent memory and at 22 has yet to stick as an NHL regular. Â After spending the tail end of the summer training with fitness guru Gary Roberts, Kadri came to camp only to have his fitness criticized by head coach Dallas Eakins. Â Cue the fan unrest.
Through nine games, Kadri had put up a very pedestrian 3 points (0G, 3A) and found himself on the healthy scratch list. The ‘Bust’ set were starting to get loud again.
One week later and Kadri is back to his old ways. Â In his last 5 games, Kadri has put up 11 points (2G, 9A) and is now tied for 14th in AHL scoring after an abysmal start. Â This production, while impressive, still has room for improvement as Kadri’s shooting percentage is sitting at 6.3% when he’s closer to a 15% shooter over a large sample. Â I’ve maintained all year that Kadri has looked good in the games that I’ve seen him play and was taken by surprise when he was singled out for a benching (though I didn’t see the game that preceded it).
In February, I wrote a piece comparing Kadri’s production against other high picks from the 2008 and 2009 draft classes and the results may surprise some of the more anti-Kadri among you. Â My opinion on Kadri is that he’s doing just fine and I genuinely feel that he’s deserving of a spot on the 2012-13 Leafs, if the league ever gets around to playing hockey.
Things in the CHL were a little uneventful this week. Â Morgan Rielly was involved in the Subway Super Series and his Moose Jaw Warriors had a 9 day break between games (they’ll get back under way on Wednesday). Â Josh Leivo picked up a pair of assists in yesterday’s game, including a beauty cross-crease number (I’ll tweet out the highlight pack if it comes available) and he continues to fire at a point-per-game clip on a bad Sudbury team.
Tyler Biggs and Stuart Percy faced off against each other last night in Oshawa with Percy coming out on the better end of the encounter. Â Biggs started the game chasing Percy around the ice a little bit which I’m sure some people enjoyed but I found a little annoying. Â One of my favourite things about Tyler Biggs is how he seldom takes himself out of position to make the big hit but for some reason last night it looked like he was trying to prove something to someone.
Percy ended the game with 3 assists, 2 on the powerplay and none of them spectacular, and played a prototypical Stuart Percy game. Â He’s a good positional defender, he’s struck the right balance between physicality and finesse when dealing with opposing forwards, but he’s still far more apt to try and skate the puck out of the zone than to make a good, crisp breakout pass.
As always, if you’re on The Twitter and want to chat Leafs, prospects, or good books, you can catch me here.
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For most of the Leafs CHL prospects, this was a pretty lacklustre week.
Tyler Biggs picked up a pair of assists in Friday’s game but was held pointless in a pair of losses on Saturday and Sunday. Â David Broll had a 3-point weekend with 2 goals and 1 assist. Â Rielly plays an afternoon game tomorrow and after 1 assist in his last 3 games, he’ll have to put up some crooked numbers for his weekly production to be in any way noteworthy — though his play was, as always, solid.
While the group-wide production was uninspiring, there’s still plenty to talk about. Â First of all, after being benched following what I’ve been told was a sub-par effort, both Joe Colborne and Nazem Kadri bounced back in a big way on Saturday night, putting up 5-points between them and from what I’ve heard, looking very good while doing it. Â The highlights were nice, especially the nifty tic-tac-toe number that Colborne, Gardiner, and Kadri put together at the 1:19 mark of that video. Â With my CHL commitments, I’ve only seen about half of the Marlies games so far this year but Kadri and Colborne have looked good when I’ve tuned in — I’m just lucky, I guess.
The story of the week as far as Leafs prospects goes was without a doubt Connor Brown. Â I confessed last week to having not paid too much attention to him in the early stages of this season but I saw him this week and he looked good. Â In 2 games, Brown put up 2 goals and 5 assist and all of his assists were of the primary variety.
The question that I’ve been asked most often this season is whether Brown is actually this good or whether he’s a product of another Connor; namely, Connor McDavid. Â First of all, it’s impossible to take team or line effects out of Junior Hockey. Â Who’s responsible for whose production? Â It’s possibly the most maddening question to try and sort out. Â Does it help Brown that he’s skating with the OHL’s super rookie? Of course. Â But as good as McDavid will undoubtedly be, he’s still only the 15th leading scorer in the OHL as of tonight and that puts him 3 slots behind Brown, for now.
What I’ve seen from Brown in a small 3 game sampling is some good vision and creativity as well as a strong understanding of when it’s appropriate to shoot and when it’s better to pass. Â His skating doesn’t really standout and he’s a bit undersized but he has a knack for finding and hitting the holes in the offensive zone coverage.
At the end of the day, despite his early production, I see Brown as a bit of a longshot. Â He plays smart and he’s capable of making some high-skill plays but at his size and without exceptional speed, it’s going to be tough sledding for him to make The Show. Â While he was full-marks for his points over the weekend (I’ll tweet the highlight pack or plays of the week once it comes out — one of his assists against Oshawa was magnificent), 11 of his 16 goals have come on the powerplay and things like that tend to even themselves out over the course of a season.
For now, I’m happy to see that he’s producing in his draft+1 year but my expectations are still tempered by his size and draft slot. Â Not a lot of 6th rounders make it but for the time being, I’m just enjoying the ride.
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Forget all that I’ve said about Tyler Biggs to date because he’s decided that he’s a completely different player. Â It’s almost as though he read what I wrote in this space a weekÂ ago. Â In 3 games last week, Biggs wasn’t rushing with the puck on his stick, he parked himself inches from the goalie’s face when setting his screens, and generally just asserted his will on the game in a way that I had rarely seen in the first 15 games of the year.
Well, Biggs was rewarded with 6 points in 3 games including a 4-point effort in Sunday’s game. Â He’s back to being a point-per-game player in his first season in the OHL after his line went through a mini-slump for a few games recently. Â If he can keep this up moving forward, I’ll have to re-evaluate my projections for him. Â It’s only a 3 game stretch but suffice to say, I was very impressed with what I saw.
Connor Brown is a prospect that I have to admit, I haven’t tracked as closely as I should. Â Erie sucked hard last year and Brown being drafted in the 6th round didn’t really inspire me into wanting to put a lot of effort into keeping up with the Otters. Â My loss, apparently.
Brown has lit up the league in his draft+1 season and last week was no exception. Â In last week’s games, Erie scored a total of 5 goals and Brown picked up 4 of those 5. Â I’ve had a lot of people asking me whether Brown has been making a living off of exceptional underager Connor McDavid. Â Truthfully, I’m ill-equipped to answer that one right now. Â I’ll be watching him at least once this week and maybe twice and I’ll keep this in the front of my mind while I do. Â Safe to say that Brown has made me take notice — mea culpa.
If you’re reading this, it’s probably Thursday and if you haven’t made plans to watch the Subway Super Series tonight, I’d urge you to clear some space on your schedule and the couch. Â Leafs prospects Josh Leivo, Stuart Percy, Matt Finn and 2013 draft eligible Sean Monahan will be playing for team OHL so if you call yourself a Leafs fan then you call that game a must-watch. Â You can catch the game on Sportsnet at 7:00 EST.
Had some great conversations during the Friday Night Hockey game between Oshawa and Guelph, and hope you’ll join me on Twitter for more of the same.[table “63” not found /]
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