I had the great pleasure of attending the Knights-Ice Dogs game last night with my son. It was a battle of two 2nd place teams in their respective divisions. While it was delayed initially due to an accident on the 401 (gotta love Junior hockey!), it was a great game that ended with an Alex Formenton goal in OT giving the young Knights their 3rd straight victory. There were many players that stood out and a few with disappointing performances. I had my eyes on all the draft eligible players but also in particular top Oilers prospect – Kirill Maksimov. Here’s my summary:
Maksimov was one of the first guys on the ice during warmups and was the last guy off of it (minus the 2 suckers who had to gather all the pucks). He was really making it a point to stretch while he skated and was skating hard by himself. Once warmup was over everyone else came off but he was still stretching and skating around with a purpose. I was very pleased to see him focusing hard on his cardio before the game. In fact, if you read my previous reviews of him the knock I had on him was he had a tendency to glide too much, didn’t move his feet enough and did not show a lot of agility he was more of a long strider. Clearly, he was working on that pre-game which was an encouraging sign for me that he was aware of a potential weakness and working diligently on it.
At two separate commercial breaks during the game he came off the bench and skated hard around his side of the rink alone. That’s not something normally that players do they usually save themselves for the game but he was clearly pushing himself physically. After the 2nd period he did the same thing again skating hard back in his zone first before heading off the other side of the ice into the dressing room. It might not seem like much to some but for me I was watching a kid who clearly wanted to get those legs burning and was challenging himself whenever he could. No one else on either team was doing what he was doing but again it isn’t normal practice.
After the game my buddy @bpry8 on Twitter mentioned how Edmonton had sent a skating coach out to work with him last week. The link can be found here: https://www.nhl.com/oilers/news/feature-2017-nhl-draft/c-294780176. Apparently skating coach David Pelletier was sent to Niagara to work with Maksimov on his skating and raved about his overall commitment. It made perfect sense as clearly that was his focus last night. It’s one thing to work hard when a coach is there working with you but to still show the commitment when the skating coach isn’t there and the camera’s are off speaks to his dedication to getting better in my opinion. A very positive sign for such a promising prospect.
As for his in-game performance he was a threat every time he touched the puck. He must have won 80% of his puck battles, was a forecheck demon all night and was very solid on the penalty kill. There is a natural chippiness to his game too that I like and should mention (very similar to Draisaitl when he wants to). Quite often he will deliver a hit to make a play or brace for a hit he sees coming while still maintaining possession. He takes the body on the forecheck & isn’t afraid to make an open ice hit if it’s there. He also made a few beautiful cross ice passes tape to tape. He didn’t just get rid of the puck when someone attacked him he used his body to shield defenders and find open ice or an open teammate. He has tremendous vision and poise. I was very impressed how he hustled back hard on the defensive end too. He looked much quicker last night, was skating hard pretty much every shift and he continued to push the pace and move those feet. He wasn’t able to get his big slapshot off but finished with 4 shots on net and hit a cross-bar.
On the PP London took his one-timer away. He tried to bait them by starting on the right side and circling back over to the left but London was aware of where he was at all times. Credit coach Hunter for doing his homework. On the PK, he had a huge blocked shot right at the end of the period to prevent a scoring chance and dove across to break a pass on another really nice play. Overall, it was a very solid 2 way performance. It would have been nice to see him get more offensive chances but the reality is his team isn’t very talented. He played on a line with overager Johnny Corneil & Ben Jones who are average players at best. Promising 17 yr old Akil Thomas was centering the 2nd line with newly acquired Sam Miletic who is their other real offensive weapon. Ultimately, I hope Coach Billy Burke eventually puts Maksimov with those two instead it will open up more ice for him but for now we wait.
As for Akil Thomas he was good but not great. He looks like he should be better than he is. There’s a good OHLer there but as far as translatable NHL skills I’m not sure he’s anywhere close yet. He does some nice things but too often when I watch Niagara games I don’t see anything in his game that really stands out but he’s still young. Again, if Maksimov was his RW it might open the ice up more for Akil.
The one guy who continues to impress me though on a nightly basis is G Stephen Dhillon. How that guy went undrafted and unsigned is beyond me. He’s big, athletic and if it weren’t for his heroics night in and night out Niagara would be nowhere near where they are in the standings. He is so good and usually makes at least a couple of huge saves every game. Let’s be honest, his defence is MEDIOCRE at best. It’s almost an injustice that kid doesn’t belong to some NHL team already. OHL guru Brock Otten also agrees…..
Honestly, not quite sure myself. Big, athletic kid who has improved a lot.
— OHL Prospects (@BrockOtten) September 24, 2017
The other Ice Dog who stood out for me was defenceman Elijah Roberts (#98) who was tremendous offensively. Boy, can he skate and rush the puck! He has BLAZING speed. The first Niagara goal he went end to end and beat Raaymakers 5-hole. There were a couple other times including one in overtime where he completely blew by the London defence to get a good scoring chance. Hockeydb.com has him listed at 5’8” 159 lbs. Obviously that is going to be viewed as a potential hurdle but I never realized how quick he was. He’s like a miniaturized version of Nurse offensively. I’ve said many times this is the year of the rushing defenceman and you can add Roberts to that list. Defensively he wasn’t very noticeable but I’ll definitely keeping a closer eye on him moving forward.
As for the Knights go, I’ll touch on them another time. It’s quite possible these 2 teams meet again in the 2nd round of the playoffs which is something I would definitely take advantage of live if I can. Kirill Maksimov is a treat to watch and every time I watch he keeps getting better and better. I still think he projects as a LW in the NHL but time will tell on that. It’s just such a positive sign to see this kid committing to getting better and the Oilers brass investing some time in helping him achieve that.
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