CHL NHL Top Prospects Game standouts and disappointments, Lawson Crouse rant, underrated Timo Meier and always mesmorizing Connor McDavid…
A busy week at the rinks has these ramblings coming in on Friday morning rather than Thursday. I apologize for that; however, with the focus on the CHL NHL Top Prospects Game, you’ll get first-hand analysis of the upcoming top prospects from the 2015 NHL Draft. After heading to the Meridian Centre rink early Thursday morning to catch the Team Cherry and Team Orr practices, I spent the afternoon writing up profiles for many of these kids. I will be releasing my updated 2015 NHL Draft Rankings early next week so stay tuned.
Dedicated solely to the Top Prospects Game (TPG), these ramblings will hit on some players who impressed and underwhelmed. You can preface this information by reading my player-by-player breakdown that was posted earlier this week.
Top 5 Forwards…not named Connor McDavid
The fact that the following Top 5 forwards come from Team Orr speaks to how dominant this team was and how much trouble Team Cherry had creating any meaningful chances.
5. Glenn Gawdin – There’s a lot to like about Gawdin’s game with all of his standout abilities stemming from a strong hockey sense and determined work ethic. In a game full of slick attacking forwards, Gawdin was a great complementary player in the offensive zone on the right wing of Jansen Harkins and Paul Bittner. Smart quick decisions allowed him to move the puck quickly up ice and his defensive positioning and quick stick created a lot of problems in the neutral zone, causing plenty of turnovers. Destined for a Top 75 selection.
4. Paul Bittner – With several live viewings of Bittner in my books (with mixed reviews), I felt Bittner had a strong game. As a big power forward, Bittner played to his strengths well in the game, battling along the boards and driving north-south. Bittner doesn’t have the skating agility to evade checkers at top speed but his sense allows him to move the puck quickly or play a simple yet effective chip-and-chase game into open ice. Consider him a late first to early second round pick.
3. Nick Merkley – Honestly, I didn’t necessarily “love” Merkley’s game in St. Catharines but it was easy to see what type of player he’ll become. Blessed with good anticipation skills and creative vision, Merkley operates as a slick playmaker. In a one-game “all-star” exhibition, these types of players may find it difficult finding instant chemistry with their new linemates (Lawson Crouse and Blake speers). I wish he was a bit bigger but his offensive gifts make him a favourite to be picked in the Top 15, with consideration for Top 10.
2. Timo Meier – Before the puck dropped on this game, I knew I’d love Timo Meier. After watching him live for nearly two weeks straight in Toronto at the 2015 WJC, Meier quickly became a favourite of mine. With news coming in yesterday that #TimoTime would line up alongside Connor McDavid (and sniper Travis Konecny), Team Orr had assembled the best line in the game. Blending an impressive compete level, slick in-tight puck skills, crafty vision and a deceptively quick release, Meier is the perfect winger for a top scoring line. His hockey intelligence compliments high-end skill (Connor McDavid) and his ability to do the grunt work ensures that he comes out on the right side of puck battles more often than not. He’s been in my Top 20 for the last month and he’ll move up in my new rankings next week.
1. Travis Konecny – After watching Travis Konecny for several years (dating back to his pre-OHL draft years), I’m quite comfortable at his strengths and weaknesses. He’s struggled to start his draft year after putting a lot of pressure on himself (being named captain of the 67’s was unnecessary added pressure, in my opinion) but recently, his game is starting to come around. In Thursday’s TPG, Konecny looked re-energized for the first time in months and I think we will see that continue through the second half of the season. Playing alongside McDavid who is capable of getting TK the puck, Konecny had a chance to showcase his true talents. An ultra-competitor who’s extremely driven, TK thrives in a game where pucks move quickly from stick to stick (McDavid facilitated his game) as he relies his quick striking abilities. Once considered a potential Top 10 candidate, I think Konecny showed scouts that his natural skill set is certainly worth reconsidering his slide over the past few monnths. Named Team Orr Player of the Game, TK is a Top 15 talent in my books.
Other Forward Notes:
Lawson Crouse – Good chatter from Steve Laidlaw in his DobberHockey ramblings this morning on Crouse. Take a look. The Landeskog reference is one that I have made before but like Steve, don’t feel that they’re similar players at all.
I think he hits the nail on the head with this statement,
“If you go only by the numbers, you aren’t working with all the information. If you go only by the “eye test,” you also aren’t working with all the information.”
I support hockey analytics but too many people are using ONLY analytics as their basis of information. Almost every respect agency has Crouse as a Top 5-6 player (and I am not saying that they are right or wrong) but these are the top evaluators in the world arriving at a consensus decision so It irks me when people are constantly trying to knock him down. I’ve watched him nearly 50 times over the past two years and he’s always one of the better players on the ice. His point totals aren’t ideal for a Top 5 pick but his offensive instincts and touch are 100% present. Some suggest otherwise and to those people, I have no time for because they simply aren’t watching him. Crouse had a poor showing in last night’s game. That’s a fact. Luckily, it was one exhibition game. He wasn’t the only top prospect that failed to show their real talents either because you can add Mitch Marner, Dylan Strome, Daniel Sprong, Jake DeBrusk and several others to that list. Each of them showed flashes but those were short live.
Discussing Crouse has been an on-going process for me, with both fans and other scouts. I was in discussion with one scout at the TPG and when I told him that it has to be frustrating for the youngster to hear about his production all of the time, he simply said, “James Neal.” Great point. Neal was never a big time scorer in Junior and the comparison isn’t too far off stylistic wise. Crouse is certainly a better defensive player as Neal too. My own personal NHL comparable would fall closer to a Jordan Staal (stylistic wise).
Again, you can see where I have Crouse ranked next week.
Anthony Beauvillier –Team Cherry didn’t have a lot of possession time but I liked what I seen from this high scoring, hard working QMJHLer. Great faceoff prowess, astute two-way game and ultra-competitive. He’ll likely end up as an early-mid 2nd round pick but has the potential to adapt well to an NHL role.
Jake DeBrusk – Here was one player I had highlighted prior to the game as a player to target but unfortunately, his line never got anything going. Placed on the left side of the talented Strome and Marner, they couldn’t sustain much pressure. He showed good overall skills and always kept his feet moving but his true skill set wasn’t featured in this game.
Evgeny Svechnikov – Another player I was excited about seeing live, Svechnikov was another player who couldn’t create much for Team Cherry. He flashed his puck skills on a few drives and handles particularly well in traffic but didn’t really assert his physical presence.
Dennis Yan – Was one of the better forwards on Team Cherry, in my opinion. Outstanding skater with the quickness and lateral agility to separate from defenders. Packs a pretty good shot too.
Mitch Marner – He dazzled on a few rushes but was looking for the highlight reel goal too often, opting to make an extra pass rather than take the open shot. Speaking of his shot, scouts seem to think that it’s an area of weakness. I concur. We didn’t see the real Mitch Marner on Thursday.
Dylan Strome – Named Team Cherry Player of the Game. I don’t think he was the best on his team and was very underwhelming compared to previous viewings. There are few better puck handlers in this class and he’s an impressive playmaker but there’s an element of passiveness in his game. He can occasionally wait for things to come to him rather than dictate the pace of the game.
Daniel Sprong – For a guy who’s known for his puck skills, he struggled to string passes together. I still like his overall offensive skill but his on-ice play needs to match his swagger and until that happens, I’ll prefer other players.
Filip Chlapik – Flashed his slick passing abilities and showed a good north-south speed but he will need to work on his agility and start-ups to elevate himself to the next level.
Yakov Trenin – Appears heavy on his skates and very rigid in his movements. He should be drafted as a long-term prospect but there’s not a lot that excites me, especially from a fantasy standpoint.
Adam Musil – Had an okay showing and attempted to start something on Team Cherry’s fourth line but when that happened, he was reaching outside of his skill set. Appears to be a good complementary winger who can muck it up in the gritty areas and provide help to a team’s secondary scoring.
Nathan Noel – Took down notes on his sound positioning and quick stick that led to several neutral zones but for a player known as “skilled”, we didn’t see much of that side of his game. Add in that he’s very small and Noel appears destined for a late-2nd or 3rd round selection where a team hopes to cash in down the road in his development.
Ryan Gropp – In the past, I’ve come away impressed with Gropp’s showings but placed on Team Orr’s “fourth line”, he didn’t have a lot of opportunity. Strong skater with a sound two-way approach, he projects as a bottom six type of player at the next level.
Jansen Harkins – Like DeBrusk above, Harkins was another player I had highlighted to watch closely. His feet are always moving, whether it’s driving the play up ice or providing suffocating back pressure. Harkins plays a tenacious two-way game that would be a valuable contributor on any team looking for a Championship. Balances solid offensive skills with reliable defensive abilities.
Nicolas Roy – Drafted 1st overall in the QMJHL may mislead many draft followers if they’re looking for high-end offensive skills. Roy had some great shifts during the TPG and showed that he’d be a worthy first round selection (albeit, likely late). His two-way awareness was evident and I was particularly impressed with his net drive on the offensive attack.
Top 3 Defensemen
3. Jeremy Roy – Paired with the slick skating Chabot, Roy came as advertised showing his high-end skating ability and unpredictable rushes. His skating allows Roy to skate out of pressure, using sharp cuts or retreats to escape problems. In a game full of smooth skating defensemen, Roy was one of the better possession blueliners.
2. Thomas Chabot – An all-world skater who could skate with any current NHLer, Chabot navigates the ice with ease. He showed a real tenacious defensive game, never backing down from a battle. With Konecny, Chabot is one player who opened a lot of eyes from his strong TPG performance.
1. Ivan Provorov – The young Russian didn’t fail his biggest fans in this game because he was hands-down the best defenseman on the ice. Neither big or strong, Provorov understands exactly what he needs to do to survive, not only at the Junior level but in the big leagues. Playing in North America for the past four years certainly shows in his game. His off-the-charts intelligence ensures that he never (seriously, never) makes a mistake. Capable of retreating with his feet or using misdirection to open up a lane and hit a streaking teammate, Provorov is always dictating the pace. My favourite part about his game is Provorov’s OUTSTANDING gap control. He never gives up an inch to an attacking player closing space before they’re able to react. He’s moved into a Top 10 placement.
Here’s a taste of Provorov’s skill set from last week’s high-light reel goal:
Other Noteable Defensemen:
Vince Dunn – Playing in front of his IceDogs fans, Dunn had a very good game. There were times he overskated plays but overally, he was one of the better offensive defensemen on the night. His skating is advantageous but also causes him problems defensively, because he occasionally overskates his defensive assignments. In the OHL, Dunn is at his best when he’s consciously aware of his defensive responsibilities and committing to them.
Matt Spencer – Introduced himself to a few Team Orr forwards with some bone-crushing hits but Spencer also played the safe-calculated game that maximizes his effectiveness. Keeping to safe outlet passes and relying on sound defensive positioning made Spencer one of Cherry’s best defenders.
Rasmus Andersson – The Swedish near point-per-game Barrie Colts defenseman had a rather underwhelming showing. At this point, his production is impressive but his game leaves much to be desired. His top speed is okay but his stride is chunky. When the puck isn’t on his stick, he appears disinterested. Defensively, he’s got work to do as well. He was once considered a potential Top 30 pick but it’s safe to say he’s more destined to land in the 50-90 range.
Ryan Pilon – Sniped the opening goal as he jumped into the rush before beating Montembeault shortside (one that he’d want back), Pilon was good alongside fellow Brandon defenseman Provorov. At the next level, I am not sure what Pilon will do. He’s a solid skater but not highend. He’s okay defensively but not great. There’s a lot of mediocracy in his game but has the potential to become a serviceable two-way puck moving defenseman. Can he become a Stuart Percy type of defenseman? Maybe.
Rossy’s Final Thoughts (cue Jerry Springer)
As anticipated, Team Orr dominated this game with their ability to throw out four effective lines. Unfortunately, their dominance stifled Team Cherry’s ability to generate any meaningful possession time. I was very disappointed that a few prospects were unable to play in this game due to injury.
Pavel Zacha hasn’t put up the best offensive numbers this season in Sarnia but he’s looked extremely dangerous. Had Zacha been in the lineup, I’m guess that we’d be talking about how great he’d be. Playing alongside some talented linemates could’ve been his coming out party.
Mitchell Vande Sompel missed the contest due to injury as well and despite posting outstanding defensive numbers with the CHL’s top ranked franchise in Oshawa, scouts wanted to see what he could do against his own age group.
Mathew Barzal has missed the majority of his draft season with a broken knee cap and wasn’t rushed back to participate in this game. If Barzal would’ve been healthy over the past month, he could’ve added another layer of excitement to this gameas a potential Top 10 pick.
Connor McDavid definitely didn’t disappoint but he wasn’t at his “best” either. In discussion with a scout who was at the on-ice and off-ice testing earlier in the week, he said, “I’ve been around this game for a very long time and I have never seen what he [McDavid] did on the ice”. He added, “it was mind-blowing”. He specifically referred to his rare ability to generate speed through the neutral zone, taking only one stride. Also, McDavid has a unique ability to somehow, someway generate speed as he pivots on his edges (in a glide). It’s unreal. He’s something special and just when I think he can’t impress me anymore, it takes it up another level…and then, another level….and so on.
No embedded video available yet folks but here are some links to some good TPG video content:
Travis Konecny breakaway
Konecny with a great open-ice hit
Best of the TPG Ref Cam (Game Highlights)
Remember to check back in next week for my updated 2015 NHL Draft Rankings….
Thanks for reading, @RossyYoungblood (Brendan Ross)
As always, feel free to converse, comment or rambling in the comment section below.