January 2018 – TheOilKnight.ca
 

Month: January 2018

 

Courtesy of GuelphStorm.com

 

I had the luxury of watching a couple of Guelph games over the weekend – Saturday vs. Owen Sound and Sunday vs. London. While I was getting a good look at draft eligibles this year I was also taking notes on Oilers prospect Dmitri “Dima” Samorukov and went back over the tape.

Here’s what I saw….

 

The game against Owen Sound “Dima” was pretty quiet. He had a few nice rushes but finished the game zeroes across the board including zero shots. Against London, he was a -1 but had 5 shots on goal. One thing that I was really looking for in his game was the physical part of it. He’s listed as 6’2″ 180 according to hockeydb but looks bigger than that. Last year, I do recall a few times he made some nice open ice hits but I’ve seen at least a period either live or on tape of about 20 Guelph games this year and don’t recall any big hits from Dima. In the two games I watched over the weekend I saw a hesitant attempt twice but other than that he was disengaged physically which was very disappointing. I remember reading his scouting report in his draft year somewhere saying how he was a very physical player but I have seen nothing of the sorts this year at all. Someone once compared him to Nikita Zadorov but I can assure you having watched Zadorov a tonne in London – there is no comparison.

 

Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

 

OFFENCE

There is no question Samorukov loves to play offence. He loves to skate with the puck, join the rush and use his big shot. He’s actually a really good passer from what I can tell also. Plenty of tape to tape passes. He has pretty good vision offensively can make a few moves around guys and is comfortable playing at the point. Merkley gets most of the PP time but Samorukov does have the ability to run a PP when given opportunity. He has a cannon of a shot though seems to struggle to get it through consistently. Sometimes, he can get a little too cute and turn the puck over but for the most part he is a big guy with good agility. His ability to transition from defence to offence is a real strength thanks to his wonderful skating.

 

DEFENCE

This is where he struggles. When he has time he is very effective at zone exits as he’ll just take the puck and skate it out of the zone himself. As I mentioned he is a good skater. However, if that option is not there that’s where he gets into trouble. Any time there is pressure in his zone he does a very poor job at play recognition, does not clear the man in front, does not tie up sticks and is just not physically engaged enough to break up plays. Quite frankly, he looks lost in his zone often scrambling out of position and just refuses to play with any type of intensity. I would classify his defensive game as “weak”.  He just kinda” stands there” protecting an area, does not read the play well just reacts after the fact. He does cut off a lot of passes off the rush and takes away passing lanes thanks to his long reach but guys get good position on him and he just lets them.  He swipes at the puck a lot does not take the body.  He also turns the puck over often when trying to clear by rushing it instead of being patient. Overall, he just doesn’t look comfortable at all playing defence in his own zone from what I’ve seen recently which is very disappointing.

 

Tony Saxon/GuelphToday

 

BOTTOM LINE:

There is no question Dima has talent. The funny thing for me is there were several reports last year of him being the “total package”. Here is one example of a scouting report from a credible source Dominic Tiano: Scouting reportIt was a rave review of Dima’s game but Tiano does mention in that article however that:

Consistency from game to game is the biggest component that has been lacking from Samorukov’s game this season. He can go stretches where his decision making is questionable and can cost his team.

Perhaps, I just always catch him during one of those poor stretches. Or perhaps his work ethic is questionable and now that he has been drafted he isn’t putting in the necessary work (which we see a lot in Junior) to get better. Whatever it is, he doesn’t look like the player he was last year. When he got drafted by the Oilers last summer, I mentioned him in the same breathe as another OHL draftee Markus Niemelainen who also regressed and ended up back oversees. I don’t anticipate that happening for this player yet but the lack of consistency & intensity is alarming. 

Samorukov is a frustrating player to watch defensively but once the puck is out of his zone strangely he looks confident, skilled and poised. That does not translate well to the NHL at all if he is a defensive liability. He’s turns 19 in June so he’s 3 years away at least before he ever gets a sniff of the NHL but unless he shows a greater commitment to defence and works on his consistency he may never get there. I would grade him as a “C” level prospect for now but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he ends up back in Russia when his CHL career is over. His rights are owned by CSKA Moscow of the KHL. 

 

To comment please do so via Twitter @TheOilKnight

 

 

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…..

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.

 

To comment please do so via Twitter @TheOilKnight

 

So with the Regular trade deadline over yesterday and the overager Trade Deadline passed by noon today it’s time to look at some of the teams that made the biggest improvements heading towards the OHL playoffs. Before doing so take a peek at the OHL standings as of today…

It’s important to note that 16 of 20 teams make the playoffs. That means 8 teams in each Conference get a chance but in reality a few of those teams have no chance really. The OHL traditionally is always top heavy. This is due to the insane ability to trade handfuls of picks (sometimes up to 10 years later) for players in trades (can’t trade 1st rd picks). #7 seed Sault Ste. Marie upset #2 Sarnia a couple years ago but other than that, no other #7 seed in either Conference the last 10 years has advanced and no #8 seed has won more than 2 games in the Opening round dating back to 2007. The last #8 seed to even win 2 games was Oshawa in 2012 when Boone Jenner scored 4 goals & 4 assists in 2 games.

 

Boone Jenner of the Oshawa Generals. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

 

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (34-3-2-1)

So going into the deadline the best team was easily the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. They still haven’t lost in regulation since Oct. 27th (Sarnia won 6-3) having gone 25-0-0-1 with only a loss in a shootout to Mississauga (Owen Tippett was incredible). The Soo are led by OHL scoring leader C Morgan Frost (PHI, 1st rd pick) & Top goaltender G Matt Villalta (LA, 3rd rd). They also have Team Canada standouts D Conor Timmins (COL, 2nd rd) & LW Boris Katchouk (TB, 2nd rd). As if that wasn’t enough, at the deadline the Soo added another Team Canada teammate in F Taylor Raddysh (TB 2nd rd) and D Jordan Sambrook (DET 5th) from Erie. Finnish Import & Overager Jonne Tammela (TB, 4th rd) was also added. They are easily the favourites to win the league and represent the OHL in the Memorial Cup.

 

Hamilton Bulldogs (25-9-3-3)

The top team in the Eastern Conference is the surprising Hamilton Bulldogs. They are led by a bit of an unheralded group in C Will Bitten (MTL 3rd rd), LW Matthew Strome (PHI 4th rd), RW Marian Studenic (NJ 5th rd), C Ryan Moore (20 yr old Undrafted) and F Brandon Saigeon (Undrafted). All good players who are very well coached (John Gruden) but lack the star quality of the Greyhounds. So GM Steve Staios went out at the deadline and acquired my favourite OHL’er – C Robert Thomas of the London Knights for highly touted 16 yr old F Connor McMichael and a boatload of draft picks. It was a bold move to strengthen an already impressive team but they really didn’t have much of a choice with divisional rival Kingston making so much noise in the days before. They also added veteran defencemen Riley Stillman (FLA, 4th rd) &  Nick Mattinen (TOR, 6th rd) to solidify their back end.

 

Kingston Frontenacs (20-13-3-3)

No team made more big moves around the deadline than the Kingston Frontenacs. Before they made the deals, they were pretty much a two man with Top 5 scorer LW Jason Robertson (DAL 2nd rd) & G Jeremy Helvig (CAR, 5th rd) leading the way. They did have 2 promising 18 yr old Finns in D Eemeli Rasanen (TOR, 2nd rd) & undrafted RW Linus Nyman but it was hard to see them advancing far in the playoffs without some drastic additions. Well, enter C Gabriel Villardi (LA 1st rd), D Sean Day (NYR 3rd rd) from Windsor and F Max Jones (ANH 1st rd) & F Cliff Pu (BUF 3rd rd) from the London Knights (who went full-on rebuild). All were added at the deadline making Kingston an immediate threat to everyone in the East and maybe, just maybe to the rest of the OHL.

 

Sarnia Sting (27-12-2-3)

You may have noticed the Soo had 184 goals to date which is 35 more goals than every team in the OHL except for one – The Sarnia Sting. The Sting have 181 goals this season and have a fantastic coach in former NHL’er Derian Hatcher (I know right?). They are led by arguably the best player in the OHL Jordan Kyrou who was the Top scorer in the league before heading to the World Juniors. They are also the last team to beat Sault Ste. Marie in regulation back in Oct. 27th when they beat them 6-3 in Sarnia thanks to a Jordan Kyrou hat trick. They are a legit contender and quite possibly the biggest threat to the Greyhounds. So what did they do at the deadline? Well, they strengthened their defence by adding North Bay’s best player D Cam Dineen (ARZ 3rd rd) & Peterborough’s 2nd leading scorer Jonathan Ang (FLA, 4th rd). Two great additions to an otherwise unheralded group that looks to knock off the mighty Soo.

 

Kitchener Rangers (25-13-2-0)

If there is a sleeper team this year in the playoffs it could be the Kitchener Rangers. They do lead their division but trail Sarnia & Sault Ste. Marie in points overall and perhaps talent wise as well but they shouldn’t be underestimated. They are an experienced group and are led by LW Adam Mascherin (FLA, 2nd rd), C Connor Bunnaman (PHI 4th rd) & undrafted overager RW Kole Sherwood up front along with Logan Stanley (WPG, 1st rd) on the back end. At the deadline, they added the massive Logan Brown (OTT, 1st rd) &  Givani Smith (DET, 2nd rd) They’re big & strong, very experienced and can score but their achilles will be their goaltending which wasn’t upgraded enough in my opinion. Overager G Mario Culina was also added to compete in net.

 

Other notable big names that moved:

LW Sam Miletic went to Niagara Ice Dogs (Should play on Maksimov’s line)

RW Dmitry Sokolov went to Barrie Colts (For Alexei Lipanov)

F Brett McKenzie went to Owen Sound

 

Note:

There’s been a lot of talk recently of how it’s unfair that teams can load up by offering up draft picks up to 10 years from now. It does seem kind of ridiculous when you think about it but as of now it appears there is no plans to change it. Organizations are restricted from trading away their 1st rd picks in trades so they don’t completely sell the farm something that may also been under review in the near future.

 

To comment please do so via Twitter @TheOilKnight

 

*all stats and transactions are courtesy of Ontariohockeyleague.com

 

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