Saturday, February 21, 2009

Regina Pats 5 Moose Jaw Warriors 2

Game Notes:
The game started out like so many of the past few games for the Regina team. The young, inexperienced, last-place Moose Jaw squad had a 2-0 lead near the end of the first period. At that point Victor Bartley scored a goal, which seemed to spark the home team. It is a rare occasion when the Regina team can score 5 goals in a game without any points from Jordan Eberle.

Prospect Notes:
One does not often see a Western Hockey League team with no 20-year-olds on its roster, but that is the case in Moose Jaw. They are a young team, but the question is whether or not the young players will develop into top end Western Hockey League talent. I believe that they have at least three 16 -year-olds who will contribute in a substantial way in the club's future; Nathan MacMaster, Dylan McIlrath, and Quinton Howden. For the NHL entry draft of 2010 I would identify Howden as a priority prospect, and therefore I will provide a brief description here. I will also provide a report on Matt Strueby, who is a prospect for the 2009 NHL entry draft.

Quinton Howden (Moose Jaw Warriors, draft eligible 2010)
Quinton certainly has all the tools to be a top three round selection in next year's NHL entry draft. He was the first overall selection in the WHL bantam draft. It is hard to know just how good Quinton will be in the future, but with his size and skating ability he should develop well. Playing for a young team has meant that he is used in all situations, power-play and penalty killing. In terms of his offensive skill level I would like to see more creativity and imagination -- hopefully this will develop over time as he matures. Physically, Quinton does not shy away from giving and taking hits. In this game, he was hit hard a couple of times and left himself vulnerable. In my opinion, he needs to be more prepared to take a hit. I look forward to watching Quinton play next year (his draft year) and hope that he fulfills his vast potential.

Matt Strueby (Regina Pats, #173 CSB)
Matt's offensive production has improved significantly since last season. However, just like his team, he has struggled to score recently. If my math is correct, he has only scored two goals in his last 20 games. This is a concern because Matt's strongest attribute is his offensive skill level. I would describe him as an opportunist, in a positive sense of the term. He scores the majority of his goals from around the net and is not afraid to get in traffic to score. To use a hockey cliché he has a "nose for the net ” -- in other words he uses his instincts to get open near the net in order to take advantage of passes and/or rebounds. In this game he was called for goaltender interference on two occasions. While it is not good to put your team shorthanded, it is necessary for Matt to play close to the net in order for him to be effective. Matt's overall skating ability is adequate, as he is agile and has decent speed -- but no "extra gear ”. He does appear to need to improve his overall strength, as it would help his balance when fighting for the puck. In terms of defensive zone awareness he demonstrates commitment and uses good body positioning to contain opponents. Although I would not recommend drafting Matt at this point, it will be important to monitor his development because he could be a late bloomer. Matt could be the type of player who has a breakout season as a 20-year-old.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Calgary Hitmen 5 Regina Pats 2

Game Notes:
In the first period both teams had good scoring chances and the play was fairly even. However, the Regina team did not capitalize on their scoring chances which is essential against a team as talented as Calgary. Late in the second period, with Calgary ahead 3-2, the Pats killed of a lengthy two-man advantage. At the time, I thought it might prove to be the turning point in the game. However, Calgary scored two late goals in the third period to win the game 5-2. Despite the loss it was the best effort I have seen from the Regina team in a couple of weeks.

Prospect Notes:
In this game I focused on Calgary Hitmen forward Brandon Kozun, who is a prospect for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

Brandon Kozun (Calgary Hitmen, #149 CSB)
The first thing you notice about Brandon is that he has dynamic offensive skill. In this game he was a major factor, scoring two goals and adding one assist. On his first goal he demonstrated speed and an ability to finish when he broke to the net and scored on a semi-breakaway situation. For his second goal he knocked in a rebound while standing in traffic in front of the net. Brandon has a pronounced bowlegged skating style which produces both acceleration and speed. Although he has good leg extension, he does not achieve full return on his stride -- that is he does not bring his leg right back under his body. He excels in one-on-one offensive situations, using his speed and puckhandling skills to make it difficult for opposing defensemen to keep him contained. Although he sees the ice well and passes the puck accurately I would not say that his overall creativity is at the elite level. The success he is having is due to the fact that he does everything at top speed. In the defensive zone he is positionally sound, and he uses speed and anticipation effectively in penalty killing situations. In terms of physical play Brandon is not much of a factor -- listed at 5'8". However, he does go to the net and is willing to compete in traffic. For a player of his stature it will be important for him to work on his fitness and strength to compensate for his lack of size. I have no idea what kind of kid Brandon is, but his on ice mannerisms suggest that he is competitive and has a strong work ethic. Over the past couple of years Brandon's play has improved significantly on a year-to-year basis. Brandon has above average talent in two different categories (skating and offensive skill), therefore he does merit draft consideration in the later rounds.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Swift Current Broncos 6 Regina Pats 3

Game Notes:
Regina outshot Swift Current 39-28. Despite this, it seemed like Swift Current had at least as many quality scoring opportunities. It is a rare night in the Western Hockey League when nine goals are scored, yet zero power-play goals. Once again, there were times when Regina looked completely lost in their own end. Swift Current's speed and skill were too much for the Regina boys.

Prospect Notes:
In this game I focused on two prospects for the 2009 NHL entry draft, Swift Current's Cody Eakin and Joel Rogers.

Cody Eakin (Swift Current Broncos, #52 CSB)
Last year, as an underage, Cody played very well for his team in the two games I saw him play in the first round of the playoffs against Regina. In fact, he was one of the best players on his team in those games. In this game he had a nice night in terms of offensive production with one goal and one assist. He scored a big goal in the third period by embarrassing Colten Teubert in a one-on-one situation, and then scoring on a breakaway. The best way I can describe Cody's skating style is that his stride is efficient and compact -- but he is not a fluid skater. His style benefits him when it comes to turning and pivoting quickly -- which helps him in the transition game. In regards to his offensive skill, Cody handles the puck very well and uses his body well to shield the puck from defenders. He goes hard to the net and is a good goalscorer. In one-on-one offensive situations he uses quickness and instincts to consistently beat defenders. However, I would have to say that Cody's overall on ice vision is only average as he doesn't always use his teammates to his advantage. For a centerman he is not much of a puck distributor. It will be interesting to see if his playmaking ability improves over time. If not, he might be better off playing the wing when he reaches the pro level. One of Cody's strongest attributes is that he is a real competitor. The coach plays Cody in all situations, power-play, penalty killing, etc. His on ice mannerisms suggest that he has leadership qualities and a take charge attitude. I like his focus and concentration in face-off situations. For a player on the smallish side he does not shy away from traffic. In the defensive zone he is committed and works hard. Overall, I would say that Cody has the skill set to merit draft considerations in the third or fourth round depending on the overall depth of this draft.

Joel Rogers (Swift Current Broncos, #138 CSB)
It is difficult to give Joel a fair evaluation based on this game because he did not play significant minutes -- he was utilized only in five on five situations. One thing I can say is that his skating ability is not what is holding him back. He has a slightly bowlegged style and achieves full leg extension. The problem for Joel is his overall confidence and composure in handling the puck. In this game he made a couple of errant passes that could have caused turnovers and scoring opportunities for the other team. He did not demonstrate offensive creativity or imagination. In the defensive zone his positioning was adequate, but he needs to get stronger in order to contain opposing forwards. I would like to see Joel play more before I make up my mind on him. His skating does have some upside. Based on this game however, I would consider drafting Joel in the late rounds only.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Prince Albert Raiders 3 Regina Pats 1

Permit me to describe how the Prince Albert Raiders played in this game by using several tiresome, annoying, and overused clichés. The Raiders played a "good road game " by "keeping it simple" and “working hard for 60 minutes”. The story of this game, however, was the play of the home team -- the Regina Pats. Despite having a decent first period, the game was tied 0-0 after one. The second period was controlled by the Raiders. Although the Pats out shot the Raiders in the third period, the game never really seemed in doubt. The Regina squad looks confused, discouraged, and lacking in confidence. It makes one wonder what kind of team they have. Maybe their solid play at the beginning of the year was an aberration. Maybe their play of late is more indicative of their talent level. What do I think? To me, the Regina team has a talent level similar to a team like Swift Current. No better, no worse. Am I right? Who knows. I have been wrong many times in the past and sooner or later the results speak for themselves.

Prospect Notes:

In this game I focused on Prince Albert Raider defenseman Ryan Button.

Ryan Button (Prince Albert Raiders, #36 CSB)
Ryan skating style is a little bit hard to describe. His overall skating ability is above average, and when he accelerates he generates good leg extension and speed. I would describe Ryan as a mobile defenseman who appears "light on his feet” -- in other words he moves quickly and fluidly to his advantage. In terms of his offensive skill level, Ryan is somewhat limited. Although he moves the puck quickly, efficiently, and accurately he does not demonstrate much in terms of overall imagination and creativity. I would not describe Ryan as a power-play type defenseman. With respect to his play in the defensive zone he does, for the most part, maintained good positioning. I would say that he needs to work on his upper body strength, as he appeared to get outmuscled in a couple of one-on-one situations. He uses quickness and hockey sense to win battles for the puck and to break up ways. I was struck by how well he reads the play, and his overall anticipation level is very high. He used this skill in this game to break up several plays and intercept passes in the neutral zone. Ryan is not a physical player, but he does not shy away from traffic. It is difficult to evaluate his leadership and character without knowing him or interviewing his coaches and/or teammates. One thing I can say is that he is an alternate captain -- which you do not see often in a player in his draft year. I really like Ryan's overall skill level and believe that he has the potential to improve over time. To me, Ryan will merit draft consideration in the second or third round of the 2009 entry draft.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Edmonton Oil Kings 2 Regina Pats 1

Game Notes:

These two teams are battling for the final playoff spot in the East division. The Edmonton club played a very well structured, stifling, defensive game. In this game they were able to control the neutral zone, creating turnovers that resulted in scoring opportunities. The Regina team has some high-profile talent, but their recent performance makes one question their depth. The top four defensemen for Regina are as good as any in the league, but the Oil King forechecking made them look rather ordinary.

Prospect Notes:
Injury problems are making things more difficult in scouting Western Hockey League prospects, as Jared Cowan (Spokane, #7 CSB), and Scott Glennie (Brandon, #12 CSB) are likely finished for the season. In the game, Oil King prospect Tomas Vincour (#79 CSB) did not play because of a shoulder injury -- he should be back in the lineup shortly. From this game I will provide a report on Regina 2009 prospect Garrett Mitchell. I will also give a brief description of underage Oil King defenseman Mark Pysyk:

Garrett Mitchell (Regina Pats, #106 CSB)
Garrett is a prospect that is very easy to like. From a scouting perspective the most appealing aspect of his game is his willingness to initiate physical play, and his overall grit and toughness. In this game he had a fight with Oil King defenseman Drew Nichol, and although Nichol has a distinct size advantage the fight was a draw. In an interview after the game Mitchell said that the reason he engaged in the fight was an attempt to motivate his team. This displays leadership qualities in my view. Garrett also leads by example with a strong work ethic and competitiveness. In terms of his overall skating ability, Garrett has a nice stride with full leg extension that bodes well for positive future development. All aspects of his skating ability are average or above average. Right now, his offensive skill level is underdeveloped. His overall confidence and composure in handling the puck is below average. Hopefully, this aspect of his game will develop over time. He shoots the puck with velocity, but he does not have a quick release. In regards to Garrett's defensive zone play he has both strengths and weaknesses. He is used in penalty killing situations and is effective in using angles to disrupt the rush -- he is also willing to block shots. On the other hand, Garrett is sometimes guilty of turning the puck over in his own end -- something that is not tolerated by coaches at the pro level. In summary, Garrett's skating ability and physical play are two aspects of his game that are above average at this level. At the beginning of the season it would have been conceivable to consider Garrett as a third-round draft choice. However, because his offensive game has not quite developed yet I would consider drafting Garrett in the fifth or sixth round.

Note: Because I have not seen prospects from other regions it is difficult to evaluate the relative strength of Western Hockey League prospects. Therefore, please forgive me if I am not too specific in my round ratings.

Mark Pysyk (Edmonton Oil Kings, Draft eligible 2010)
Generally speaking, I do not like to put too much emphasis on a prospect before his actual draft year. However, it is a healthy exercise to identify a few priority prospects in their underage season -- Mark is one of those prospects. At his age, he demonstrates an excellent overall understanding of his position. As a defenseman, he does not get caught out of position and plays a sound disciplined game. He handles the puck with composure, and usually makes the best choice when moving the puck. As a forward, you like playing with a kid like Mark because he gives you the puck at the best possible time -- and puts the puck consistently on your stick. I cannot think of one situation where he was beat one-on-one in the entire game. He is a good skater, but does not possess a smooth glide stride. It will be interesting to see how his skating develops next season.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Update: Edmonton Oil Kings; Prince Albert Raiders

This weekend I will see both the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Prince Albert Raiders play in Regina, and I will provide game reports from these games on this blog. For Edmonton, I will provide a report on 2009 prospect Tomas Vincour (if healthy) and 2010 prospect Mark Pysyk. Pysyk currently projects to be a priority prospect for 2010.
Regarding the Prince Albert Raiders, I will concentrate on defenseman Ryan Button -- who is a prospect for the 2009 draft.

It is also my intention to provide prospect reviews of three Pats players who have already been drafted; Matt Delahey, Brett Leffler, and Linden Rowat.