March 2019 – TheOilKnight.ca
 

Month: March 2019

By the OilKnight 03/30/19

Guelph Storm 40-18-6-4 vs. London Knights 46-15-6-1

Round 2 of the OHL playoffs kick off this week. There might not be a more anticipated series in recent memory than this, as the 4th place Guelph Storm take on the 1st place London Knights. Regular season standings aside, both teams are absolutely loaded and primed for a Memorial Cup run. Problem is, only one team gets to advance. So a very good team is going home after this Round which is a shame but harsh reality. It should be a heckuva series that might take the full seven games to ultimately determine a winner.

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Guelph Storm

Guelph is a veteran team loaded with experience. Of their Top 9 scoring forwards, 8 of them are already 20 yrs old or will be 20 yrs old this year. On defence, 5 of their Top 6 defencemen are or will be 20 yrs old this year. Their goalie Anthony Popovich, also turns 20 this summer. Which means, they’re all in on this season.

courtesy of guelphstorm.com

The Storm are led by their captain Isaac Ratcliffe (2nd rd, PHI) up front who had 50 goals this year, along with midseason additions and Team Canada alum Nick Suzuki (1st rd, MTL) and Mackenzie Entwhistle (3rd rd, ARZ). Both Suzuki & Entwhistle had 30+ goals, as did veterans Nate Schnarr (3rd rd, ARZ) & Liam Hawel (4th rd, DAL) making them a dangerous team up front. Schnarr in fact, was their leading point getter with 102 points. They are not an overlay fast group but they are physical & aggressive forecheckers, who tend to create havoc in the opponent’s zone and cause a lot of turnovers.

Sean Durzi (2nd rd, LA) heads a much improved defensive unit that really came into their own in the 2nd of the season especially with the addition of another Team Canada alum Markus Phillips (4th rd, LA). Dmitri Samorukov (3rd rd, EDM) might be the most improved player in the league since the World Juniors. In total, 11 players have been drafted by NHL clubs. They’re big, they’re experienced, and they have 4 lines that come at you hard, along with a talented and aggressive defence.

G Anthony Popovich struggled a bit this year, but always seem to give the Knights fits. 18 yr old Nico Daws is a very capable backup if Popovich falters.

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London Knights

Unlike Guelph, London has a nice mix of veterans, 2019 draft eligibles & 16 yr olds who helped lead them to a 1st place finish in the OHL. The Knights only have 8 players drafted by an NHL team, though two of them are Top 10 NHL picks, while another was taken 18th overall (Liam Foudy).

Evan Bouchard of London Knights (Claus Anderson/Getty Images)

London’s strength is on the backend, where they are led by captain Evan Bouchard (1st rd, EDM) and Adam Boqvist (1st rd, CHI). Both put tremendous pressure on opposing dmen with their terrific puck rushing ability & offensive pedigree. Bouchard is easily the best Powerplay quarterback in the OHL, and Boqvist might be the best pinching in from the point. Boqvist scored 4 goals in one game vs. Windsor, and Bouchard already has 10 points in 4 games. Much of London’s success depends on those two not only on the offensive end, but also the defensive end where they both really struggled at times during the regular season. Against Guelph, they will be tested by the Storm’s relentless forecheck and need to be up to the challenge. Otherwise, London will have a tough time keeping up with Guelph’s potent offence.

Up front, London is led by Alex Formenton (2nd rd, OTT), Liam Foudy (1st rd, CLB), and undrafted overager and team leading scorer in the regular season – Kevin Hancock. Formenton is a possession monster who can beat you with his dynamic speed if you’re not careful. He’s always looking for that stretch pass behind the defence. Foudy is almost as fast and dynamic as him. Both need to do a much better job of finishing though. The key in this series will be secondary scoring from guys like Connor McMichael, Nathan Dunkley & Cole Tymkin. All of whom had excellent starts to the season but faded down the stretch. If they can chip in a few goals in this series, and the defence holds up defensively, London can win this series. Jordan Kooy (6th rd, VGK) will likely be in net after a solid Round 1.

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How they matchup

London went 7 for 13 (53.8%) on the PP in the 1st round against Windsor after finishing 9th in the OHL in the regular season. Don’t expect that to happen again against Guelph who had the 8th best PK this season.

Guelph went 5 for 12 (41.7%) in the opening round after finishing the season with the 3rd best PP in the OHL. London had the #1 PK unit in the league this year.

It should be an incredible series as these teams are evenly matched on paper. London really struggled defensively down the stretch, including two big losses to Guelph where the Knights were outscored by a total of 12-4. This series will come down to London‘s defence vs. Guelph‘s offence and it will probably take the full 7 games to decide a winner. Should be a doozy.

Guelph won the series 4-2 this season.

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To comment, please do so via Twitter @TheOilKnight

By the OilKnight 03/18/19

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courtesy of NHL.com

Evan Bouchard was drafted in the 1st round in 2018 by the Edmonton Oilers. He became the first right shot defenceman the Oilers took in the 1st round in 11 years (Alex Plante). At the time, he was viewed as a future Top pairing, offensive defenceman capable of quarterbacking the Powerplay for many years to come. He had a monster draft year in which he put up 25 goals & 87 points, albeit as a late 1999 birthday. There were many people pushing for him to stay in the NHL full-time as a 19 yr old rookie, but ultimately the Oilers sent him back to the OHL. It was the right move in my opinion as I illustrated here.

Bouchard went on to play 45 games for the Knights in his draft+1 year, and scored 16 goals & 53 points. He also helped lead them to a 1st place finish in the Western Conference – their first since 2012-13. In December, he was also named an alternate captain for Team Canada at the World Juniors, who unfortunately had a disappointing 6th place finish. It was a busy year for the man they call “Bouch”, and that’s not counting the tough OHL playoffs he has yet to face. He got better in some areas as a prospect, but also has other areas he still needs to improve on as he turns pro.

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Strengths

Bouchard‘s shot is elite NHL caliber. He generates tremendous power on his slapper, and he keeps it low and accurate. It’s why he is such a threat on the powerplay. His wrist shot is also deadly and accurate. He gets such good torque on it and has a quick release. His head is always up and he is so good at adjusting angles & changing delivery points that it makes it extremely difficult for defenders to stop. He also has this unique hybrid of a shot/pass where he almost lobs the puck at the net, but with such precision and at the flick of the wrist. It’s perfect for deflecting or throwing the goalie off altogether since it looks so non-chalant coming off his stick but has some real zip on it. I like to call it the “Sauce-Shot“. It’s a real weapon.

Hybrid shot/pass (both included in highlight reel)

Bouchard’s puck moving & passing abilities really make him such an important player for the Oilers in the future, as he is elite at both. He has such great vision with his head always up he just reads the ice so well. He excels at making that first pass on a breakout. He is also fully capable of making that long stretch pass on the tape like he so often did with Formenton last 2 years, and will with McDavid in the future. His ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone in transition with speed and hit a streaking winger on the fly is exceptional. Because his shot is so deadly and well respected, he is more than capable of faking it and dishing a quick feed down low for a one-timer. If he were in Edmonton right now, he’d the best puck mover & passer on the team hands down.

Bouchard‘s poise and maturity are also exceptional. He handles himself like a pro on and off the ice, nothing seems to rattle him. He is such a calming influence it was no surprise he became captain of the London Knights during his draft year. Nothing seems too big a task for him he just takes it all in stride. He can settle things down defensively with the puck, and has the ability to bounce right back after he makes a bad play. Calm & cool under pressure should not be confused with lackadaisical & disinterested.

Bouchard’s skating is probably the biggest debate among pundits but in my opinion it is a strength. His top end speed is very good. Once he gets going he can really move. He has a slight hitch in his skating when he’s carrying the puck but he still does a very good of pushing the pace & shows enough agility to walk around guys. In the CHL Top prospects combine testing in 2018, he finished 2nd behind Noah Dobson as the fastest skater backwards ahead of guys like Ty Smith so that’s important as a defenceman. I think where he could improve is his first couple steps while accelerating. That explosiveness could certainly get better and could be an area of focus in off-season training.

Here are the highlights showcasing his strengths from the 2018-19 season:

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Weaknesses

Like any prospect, Bouchard also has areas he can improve on as he turns pro and continues to work on his game.

Really, the only area he really needs to work on his on the defensive side of the puck. He needs to get better in all facets of that part of the game. His positioning needs work, how he attempts to block shots need work, how he attempts to box out guys and tie up their sticks need work. Basically, he almost needs a complete overall of his defensive game. That’s not to say he’s not a good prospect or can’t get there quickly. He just needs to really focus on getting better in his own zone to be a successful NHL‘er and he knows that.

That being said, I thought Bouchard held his own in his try-out with Edmonton earlier in the year. There were some hiccups along the way but he seemed to hold up well though wasn’t given a lot of minutes. His defensive reads need to improve but most importantly, I think just his overall intensity and competitiveness in his own zone should be the main focus. He needs to be tougher to play against & attack the puck carrier more aggressively rather than just watching them dictate the play to him. Do a better job of taking away passing lanes & making better defensive reads will certainly help. In London, he showed a bit more willingness to get physical, he took more penalties, and he showed more chippiness even after the whistle. More of that is needed as he moves on but he’s starting to making progress. Overall, he just needs more time to focus on being a complete defenceman because again, he’s already got the rest of his game figured out.

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Projection

There’s no doubt Bouchard will be able to contribute offensively in the NHL. In fact, you could argue he was fully capable of doing so this season despite getting sent back to the OHL. But the reality is, you have to be able to take care of your own zone first in the NHL as a young defenceman. Offence is great but if you struggle defensively, you’re hurting your team and the coaching staff can’t fully trust you. Despite some nice offensive flashes during his short term in Edmonton, the defensive inefficiencies in his game were apparent. Which is fine and totally expected from a 19 yr old rookie defenceman. The fact he still needs work defensively as he turns pro is not a shock either. It’s not easy to play defence in the NHL, especially as a teenager.

So moving forward to next season, it would be great if the Oilers could resist temptation and send Bouchard to the AHL to work on the defensive part of his game. Even if it is just for 25-40 games or so. Just don’t pencil him into the EDM starting lineup unless he shows drastic improvements over the summer. Edmonton is now in a great situation in that their farm team the Bakersfield Condors really have something special going on there. There is no rush to get him to the NHL now especially with guys like Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear & Joel Persson (all can play RD) all seemingly capable to step in to contribute right away. Let Dave Manson work with him defensively & help develop that side of the game. That’s what the AHL is supposed to be for. Otherwise, if you force him into the NHL you may end up with a Justin Schultz situation of having a guy playing who still isn’t ready and needs to work on the other facets of his game. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Bakersfield Assistant Coach Dave Manson.
File / Global News

Now, Former NHL GM Craig Button caused some hoopla earlier in the year when he listed his Top 50 Prospects and does not have Evan Bouchard among them. While I think that was absolutely ridiculous, David Staples of the Edmonton Journal did a great job of summarizing things here. There were some names on that list that simply should not be there, unless you think a defenceman taken in the 4th rd out of Minnesota-Duluth who had 4 goals & 23 points, is a better prospect than the most recent 10th overall pick in Bouchard. Clearly, Button had some other agenda here ripping into Evan and comparing him to Griffin Reinhart, which is nothing short of comical. But it was just his opinion which I disagree with completely (and often do), so take it with a grain of salt.

As far as NHL comps go, I stated before he was drafted, after he was drafted and continue to make the comparison. Evan Bouchard reminds me so much of a John Carlson who I had the pleasure of watching up close here in London years ago. Carlson was so mature and poised for his age, he never seemed to get rattled. He was also an excellent skater who had a big shot on the PP. Like Bouch, Carlson was also prone to costly mistakes defensively at times, but you could see once he got better at that part of his game he would blossom into a well-rounder star in the NHL. Another important note is, Carlson played in the OHL in his draft+1 year, then was sent to the AHL in his draft+2 year for more seasoning. He did manage to get some NHL games in late in that 2nd year. That seemed to work out ok for him. In fact, another bonafide NHL defenceman Alex Pietrangelo, got sent back to the OHL two straight seasons after being drafted and he turned out fine. I see Evan Bouchard following a similar path and ultimately becoming a star in Edmonton just like those two, as long as the Oilers remain patient with him.

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To comment please do so via Twitter @TheOilKnight

By TheOilKnight 03/17

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Ryan McLeod was drafted in the 2nd round in 2018 by the Edmonton Oilers. At the time, he was viewed as a 1st round talent who slipped to the 2nd round before being scooped up by Edmonton. The main reasons why, was he couldn’t shake the “perimeter player” tag many attached to him, and his inconsistent efforts were a cause for concern. While he didn’t necessarily quash those concerns of his game in his draft +1 year, he still showed enough to think he could have success as a pro. His speed is elite. His IQ is very high. He can really shoot the puck when he wants to, and his vision and passing ability are superb. McLeod became a leader for Mississauga in his draft year and helped steer Saginaw to a divisional title for the first time in 8 years. There is plenty to like about this prospect.

Throughout his OHL career, McLeod never really became a big point producer. The most points goals he had in a season was 26, and the most points had in a season was 70. Rather, he established himself as a reliable two way center who’s speed & versatility became real assets for him throughout his career in Mississauga and Saginaw. He played on the powerplay and penalty kill a lot. He took all the big faceoffs and defensive zone starts. He became the #1 center and leader of the talented Spirit squad. He basically morphed himself into an all round player capable of playing a variety of roles. That should bode well for his future as he turns pro.

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Strengths

McLeod‘s speed is a real strength. He is a terrific skater who moves around the ice with ease. He can leave defenders in the dust with a slight juke move and his top end speed. His agility and edgework are also top notch. He has an explosive first couple steps. He also displays good puck control & stickhandling while flying around the rink. McLeod will immediately become the best skater in Bakersfield among the forwards when he gets there & that will translate well to the NHL. Elite skater.

McLeod also has a terrific shot and release. It can be quite deceptive too as he likes to fake like he is going to pass but then can rip high over the shoulder. The problem is, he doesn’t use it nearly enough or he quite often shoots from too far out. Since he’s always looking to pass, his shot almost becomes his last resort if a play isn’t there. He only scored 61 goals in his entire OHL career which isn’t enough for someone with that caliber of a shot and quick hands. He needs to be encouraged to use it more at the next level, otherwise he will be too predictable of a player.

McLeod has terrific vision and passing ability. He has a knack for finding that man cross ice or making a precise feed back door for a one-time shot. He also has the patience to let plays develop as he draws defenders in then before firing a quick pass. Sometimes, he can be guilty of over-passing when a shot is available but you gotta love how he sees passing lanes open up out there. He is more of a playmaker than a pure shooter so it only makes sense to have a guy like Maksimov on his line when he gets to Bakersfield. He is a great distributor of the puck.

McLeod is an excellent 200 ft player. He is aggressive on the forecheck, and hustles back to pick up his man in the d-zone. Quite often he is the defensively responsible one on his line. Typically, you will see him cover for a pinching defenceman on the ice. Creates a lot of turnovers in the neutral zone. Great defensive instincts. This will bode well for him as he turns pro.

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Here are some highlights from this season that showcase his strengths:

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Weaknesses

Like any prospect, McLeod also has areas he can improve on as he turns pro and continues to work on his game.

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Competitiveness/Intensity

Here’s the thing. While he’s usually in good position, McLeod can be guilty of floating at times and not going hard enough to the net. He is also guilty of fly-bys and a lack of overall compete along the boards. He’s not a physical player at all he is more of a stick-checker. That was one of the main reasons he dropped in the draft, and is still a part of his game. As he moves on to pro hockey, he’s going to have to be willing to battle harder, especially if he wants to establish himself as hard-working bottom 6 guy. Again, 61 goals total in 4 years of Junior likely means he’s not going to be a Top 6 player in the NHL. The ability is certainly there, but his NHL future like so many other prospects is going to come down to how bad he wants it. This is the key to me whether he becomes a solid pro or not.

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Finishing Ability

It is somewhat surprising that a guy with his shot & release, dynamic speed and quick hands never scored more than 26 goals in a season in Junior. There is no doubt he has the tools to score more but for whatever reason it didn’t click. Now, part of it was he had a guy like Florida 1st rounder Owen Tippett playing with him both in Mississauga and Saginaw who he liked to defer to. But, another part of it is he just didn’t work hard enough around the net to create 2nd and 3rd chances. Too often it was a shot then a fly-by. In order to maximize his potential, McLeod needs to shoot more and from high quality scoring areas, not just rely on a bad angle shot from the half boards. That goes hand and hand with the compete level mentioned above. He has the ability to be a more well rounded scorer who can be a dual threat as a passer or shooter but he has to want it more. That’s why I’m a little hesitant to pigeon-hole him as only a bottom six guy at the NHL level. Everything he has shown in Junior indicates that’s who he will be as a pro but there is sneaky offensive upside with him if he can adjust to a more pro-style game offensively.

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Projection

There’s no doubt McLeod is a tremendous skater who is capable of keeping up in the NHL. He offers a wide range of skills that make him versatile and valuable in the Edmonton Oilers organization. The key for him will be to up his compete level and intensity; go harder to the dirty areas if need be. If he can do that, he could carve out a nice career for himself. If he continues to defer and be more of a perimeter player similar to a guy like Ryan Spooner was in Edmonton, he will struggle to stick in the NHL. His offensive ceiling is probably a 3rd line center or perhaps a 2nd line C/W in a pinch. But, his true value might very well be as an important role player capable of playing shut down minutes, killing penalties, taking key faceoffs, while chipping in a few big goals here and there. There’s an opening for that kind of player in Edmonton long-term so the opportunity is there for him if he wants it. There is a possibility of upside as a pro if the intensity increases, as the skillset is good all-round.

As far as NHL comps go, McLeod appears to be somewhere in between a Ryan Spooner (low end) and a Ryan Dzingel (high end). The difference between those two speedsters really is their compete levels & overall consistency. That will be McLeod‘s biggest challenge as a pro. He doesn’t really have any glaring weaknesses other than the desire to do whatever it takes to succeed on the ice. If he can push himself to up his compete level on a consistent basis then the Oilers could really have a gem here. That’s why it is important I think for him to get at least a solid year in the AHL of mucking it up every night. It should make him a tougher player to play against and a more determined player, rather than a guy who just “skates for miles”. Regardless, he looks like the future #3C for this team almost like Todd Marchant back in the day. Someone who can be relied on heavily in every situation & provide some secondary scoring. The question of how much scoring he can provide is still to be determined.

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To comment please do so via Twitter @TheOilKnight

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