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 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.
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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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).
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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Dimitri Samorukov was drafted in the 3rd round in 2017 by the Edmonton Oilers. At the time, he was viewed as a “toolsy” prospect who flashed some elite qualities but really needed to work on his consistency. But, inconsistency is exactly how I would describe his draft year +1 and the first half of this season. There were many nights where he simply did not show enough or gave a good enough effort. Mental mistakes & a lack of work ethic were far too common. I know, because I attended a few of those games and noted it here and here. To be fair, there were other nights where he just brought it & looked like a Top prospect. But “Dima’ as he is referred to by many, was such a jekyll & hyde prospect that it was hard to foresee him having a solid career after Junior. A frustrating player to track from game to game without a doubt.
It is important to note, Dima was buried on the depth chart behind OHL phenom Ryan Merkley for the majority of his career, until midway thru this season when Merkley was traded. That meant, he saw little Powerplay time and rarely got Top pair duties. He was in charge of of the majority of tough defensive minutes playing with a young and inexperienced group. His numbers reflected that, as thru 23 games he had 0 goals & 6 assists.Merkley who was one of Guelph’s leaders, was also known as a lazy player who didn’t give nearly enough effort defensively and had a toxic attitude. I believe that affected not only the team but Dima’s game too as he showed a lot of the same tendencies as Merkley. However, once Merkley was traded, Samorukov began to get more responsibility and his game slowly started to come around. It wasn’t until the World Juniors in late December till he really broke out, showcasing all the skills and qualities that made him a 3rd rd pick to begin with. Since then, he has maintained consistency and his play has not dropped off at all. If anything, he’s gotten much, much better. 10 goals & 38 pts in 35 games since.
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Samorukov‘s mobility is a real strength. He is an excellent skater with good speed & has a bit of ‘shake and bake’ in his game. He really bends his legs and has an upright style which looks a little awkward but it works well for him. That mobility enables him to excel at zone exits by carrying the puck out, or jumping up and joining the attack which he loves to do. Being such a good skater also allows him to track down the puck carrier from behind, or beat opposing forecheckers to the puck. Speed & mobility translate well to any level, and Samorukov certainly has those.
Samorukov also has a cannon for a shot. He gets plenty of torque on it and he can unleash it from any angle. His one-timer from the point is also very strong though he still struggles with accuracy. I used to dub him the “glass rattler” as he would hammer pucks without even getting close to the net (I once counted 1 SOG on 12 attempts live). He has improved in that area considerably though recently. He appears to follow through with his shot more now which is encouraging. Dima hasn’t quarterbacked the PP much in Guelph throughout his career but appears to have that ability. Projecting to the next level however, he may not be more than a PP2 guy due to lack of experience and accuracy. Regardless, his shot is deadly and NHL caliber even if the accuracy isn’t.
Samorukov is a very effective puck mover and passer. He can make those highlight reel tape to tape stretch passes, or make a simple breakout pass for a quick zone exit. His vision is excellent & his head is usually up. He does get into trouble sometimes trying to “thread the needle” or make a few too many high risk passes, but overall I consider his puck moving ability a real strength which will bode well for his future as he turns pro.
Samorukov can be a real physical presence when he wants to. He’s had some devastating open ice hits that makes opposing players think twice the next time they enter the zone. In the d-zone, he has the ability to box out his man or pin his man up against the boards. In his draft year & the last half of this season, his physicality has really shown up more and it has made him a more effective defender. In between, it has been sporadic at best. It seems, he can’t decide if he wants to be a physical defender or a finesse defender. When he turns pro, if he can continue to bring that physicality forward then he could really establish an identity as a prospect. He can be real tough to play against when he wants to be.
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Here are some highlights from this season that showcase his strengths:
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Like any prospect, Samorukov also has areas he can improve on as he turns pro and continues to work on his game.
Here’s the thing. Fans who only watch highlights see all the good things Samorukov is capable of and just assume he is going to be a great prospect. The reality is, he’s had some serious consistency issues that can’t be ignored. He’s been downright awful many nights throughout his OHL career, making poor decisions and playing far too lackadaisical. Until the last 3 months, that has been his M.O. Good one night, bad the next. Hence the Good Dima vs. Bad Dima references. It is very encouraging he has maintained consistency for awhile now, but is still a concern as he moves on to minor pro next year. The first third of this season was virtually uneventful. The next third of the season he had better efforts but it was still sporadic. This last third of the season he has dominated. So what kind of player are the Oilers going to get moving forward?
Even through this hot streak Samorukov is having offensively, he still makes a few head scratching plays each game. Sometimes, he tries to walk through the whole team and the play goes the other way & it’s in his net. Or, he isn’t patient with the puck in his own zone and just gives it away right up the middle. That part of his game will probably always be there. But, if all the other parts of his game develop, you would hope good coaching could help keeps those plays to a minimum. He likes to make a lot of high risk plays on the ice.
This is the key for me if Samorukov is going to be a bonafide NHL‘er or not. As of now, he does not show enough defensive intensity or compete to be a solid pro. And his offence is probably not good enough to get him to the NHL. In order for him to be successful, he needs to bring his compete level up in his own zone and become a tougher player to play against on a nightly basis. That’s why I think a guy like Dave Manson, who coaches the defence in Bakersfield, could have a huge impact on a guy like Dima. There’s no question Samorukov has the ability to be a strong defender, who makes good reads, boxes out players & takes the body. But, he needs to be coached up & encouraged to do so. In his draft year, he was a physical force then it mysteriously disappeared from his game almost completely. He became a more “finesse” defender and lazy stick checker instead (like Merkley). Now, while he’s playing well again, he’s lighting guys up. Samorukov has the wheels to keep up with NHL‘ers but with better positioning, coaching & commitment to being a more defensive minded dman, he could really find his niche.
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There’s no doubt Samorukov has a tremendous skillset. He has great mobility and puck moving ability, which should bode well for him as he turns pro. He also has a big shot & good offensive instincts. The key to him, is to work on being much more consistent defensively, and to continue to incorporate physicality into his game. When he does that, he is a very effective player. When he tries to get cute, and relies on stick checking instead of taking out his man, or walking thru the whole team – he struggles. Dima needs to work on taking care of his own end first because if he is a liability in the d-zone, he won’t advance as a prospect. If he commits to defence, he’ll make it and the offence will be a bonus. The reality is, he has struggled for most of his OHL career with consistency, but has exploded since the World Juniors. Has he finally matured as a prospect or is he just on a hot streak as a 19 yr old playing against 17 & 18 yr olds? I’m still not sure either way because I have seen so much Good Dima and Bad Dima throughout his career in Guelph. But, there’s no denying the tools are there and he has a real chance to develop into a nice prospect for the Oilers down the road.
As far as NHL comps go, when Samorukov is playing up to his potential, he looks so much like Nikita Zadorov out there. Big, mobile, physical presence who has a cannon of a shot and loves to jump up and join the rush. Like Zadorov, he also has defensive lapses & makes mental errors from time to time. Consistency were issues for both of them in Junior but you can live with those if the other parts of his game progress. Zadorov can be a very difficult player to play against. I know because I watched and scouted him up close. Samorukov while not quite as big or physical, still has that potential. He just has to keep working on his defensive intensity. While he’s having some offensive success now as a 19 yr old, I still don’t see him as an big offensive producer in the NHL. He does have a chance to be a solid puck mover though. He looks like a NHL defenceman, but whether he becomes a solid 2nd pair dman or a bottom pair fringe type is up to him. The skill is there, the will is still very much up for debate.
A lot has been made of the lack of quality depth within the Edmonton Oilers prospect pool over the past few years. “The Cupboard is bare” was an all too familiar theme among pundits and social media last season, as Edmonton was ranked near the bottom of the NHL in terms of organizational depth outside of its NHL roster. However, after last season’s strong Draft results for the Oilers, what was once considered a weakness has now become a strength.
Edmonton is starting to reap the benefits of quality drafting under it’s current regime with the likes of Jesse Puljujarvi, Caleb Jones, Kailer Yamamoto, and Ethan Bear all cracking the lineup at some point over the last year. On top of that, guys like Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody, Cameron Hebig, William Lagesson, Stuart Skinner & Dylan Wells are all 22 or under playing in the minors currently while trying to develop their skills. That’s 10 quality prospects playing Pro hockey. Add a couple of talented players in Filip Berglund & Joel Persson who had really good seasons in Sweden, along with USHL players Phil Kemp & John Marino, and you’ve now got 14 prospects to get excited about.
It doesn’t end there either. Evan Rodrique and Ostap Safin are two excellent prospects currently playing in the QMJHL. Safin will be AHL bound next season, and Rodrigue the year after that. But this article will focus on the four OTHER prospects in the Oilers pipeline all playing in the OHL – Evan Bouchard, Kirill Maksimov, Ryan McLeod & Dmitri Samorukov.
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RD EVAN BOUCHARD – LONDON KNIGHTS (27-6-4-1)
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 194 lbs Shoots: R
15 GP – 5 goals, 13 assists, 18 Points
When you talk about EDM prospects the #1 player on most people’s lists is Evan Bouchard. “Bouch” as he’s known by many, is the RH Powerplay Quarterback of the future for the Oilers. He has terrific poise, a hard accurate shot, and is an excellent puck-mover. Plus, as mentioned he is a Powerplay specialist. One area he needs to continue to work on to get better is defensively. Evan can be guilty of puck watching at times in his own zone. He does a decent job at tying up opponents sticks but you’d like to see him be a bit more aggressive boxing out players & aggressively challenging shooters. He needs to bulk up a bit and be tougher to play against which is something you would expect him to do even more once he turns pro next year.
Bouchard currently plays for the London Knights who are one of the favourites to win the OHL title this year. They are loaded on defence led by Bouchard who plays regularly with Alec Regula (DET 3rd rd) at even strength, and Adam Boqvist (CHI, 1st rd) on the PP. London plays a fast paced style led by their Defence who like to routinely push the pace and jump up into the rush. Up front, they recently added OHL vet Kevin Hancock at the trade deadline to go with NHL draftees Liam Foudy & Alex Formenton. Hancock, has 32 goals and 66 points in 39 games so far. This year’s draft eligible Connor McMichael also plays in the Top 6. He has 25 goals in 37 games for London.
After starting the season in Edmonton, then getting sent back to London, Bouchard played for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship. His performance overall was a bit of a mixed bag as he showed flashes of brilliance, but also showed he needs to continue to work on his defensive intensity. Here’s examples of both:
Both clips show the strengths and weaknesses of the player pretty clearly. Bouchard has a very high offensive ceiling but is still young and needs to continue to get better in his own zone. He still projects as an eventual John Carlson type with experience & more consistency but Oilers fans need to be patient and let him develop at his own pace otherwise it may turn out like Justin Schultz did in Edmonton.
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LW KIRILL MAKSIMOV – NIAGARA ICE DOGS (24-9-7-0)
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 194 lbs Shoots: R
37 GP – 27 goals, 28 assists, 55 Points
Easily the most underrated and least talked about Prospect in the Edmonton organization, Kirill Maksimov is finally starting to gain recognition among fans as a big time scorer in the OHL. “Maksi” as he’s known by many, is the best natural shooter in the Oilers pipeline without question. His slapshot & one-timer are elite. His wrister which has almost no back swing is deadly and accurate. He is a threat to score every time he touches the puck in the offensive zone. He also have great vision and poise which allows him to set up his teammates if teams take away that shot. His 200 foot game is also a strength. He is physical and aggressive on the forecheck, he plays both PP & PK, and will sacrifice his body to make a play. Maksi is a hard-worker who keeps getting better.
The knock on Maksimov when he was drafted was his lack of speed & explosiveness. He has since worked extremely hard on getting stronger on his skates, something that EDM skating coach David Pelletier praised him for here. He can still be guilty of coasting at times but can really skate once he gets going. Acceleration and first step are better but can still be worked on. Something he should continue to focus on when he turns pro next year.
Maksimov currently plays for the Niagara Ice Dogs who are another popular choice to challenge for the OHL title this year. They are loaded up front with NHL draftees Jason Robertson (DAL 2nd rd), Akil Thomas (LA, 2nd rd), Jack Studnicka (BOS, 2nd rd), and Ben Jones (VGK, 7th rd). Their goaltender Stephen Dhillon is an OHL veteran who is very solid and capable of stealing a series himself. The defence will be the question mark moving forward. Are they good enough to get this team to the finals? Time will tell. As for Maksimov, check out these highlights from last season and pay attention to that one-time shot.
The future for Maksimov is in a Top 6 role at the NHL level. While he could fill in as a bottom 6 forward initially because of his strong defensive game, ultimately his career will make or break based on what he does in the Top 6. Simply put, he’s a scorer who plays better with talented centers. He’s not a driver so can be taken out of games unless he’s playing in an offensive role. He’s the perfect complimentary winger who a sports a legit NHL shot and release while maintaining a strong 200 ft game. Still a sleeper among pundits at this point of his career. Should be a LW as a Pro.
For a more extensive breakdown from earlier in the year, check out this article from The Cult of Hockey.
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C RYAN MCLEOD – SAGINAW SPIRIT (25-11-2-2)
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 208 lbs Shoots: L
35 GP – 13 goals, 29 assists, 42 Points
In today’s NHL, you need players who can really skate and Ryan McLeod might be the fastest prospect in the Oilers pipeline. Blessed with tremendous skating and agility, there is no question McLeod has the potential to be a solid NHL‘er. He has very good awareness, is defensively sound and can play in all situations. He has good offensive instincts but doesn’t always go hard to the net and still plays a bit of a perimeter game which can limit his effectiveness. His shot can be classified as good not great. He has a quick release and soft hands in close but tends to be more of a pass first type than a natural scorer.
McLeod currently plays for the Saginaw Spirit who loaded up at the trade deadline by acquiring he and former teammate Owen Tippett from Mississauga. He’s flanked by OHL vet Cole Coskey and this year’s draft eligible Cole Perfetti. They also have Bode Wilde on defence and a strong goaltender in Ivan Prosvetov. They’re in tough against some powerhouse teams in the OHL but they have a chance and should at least advance a round or two giving McLeod some much needed experience. Here’s a clip of him showing off his speed and soft hands:
McLeod is smart, fast & has an excellent 200 foot game. I just wonder about his hands at the next level. His shot is good not great. He could be a 15-20 goal scorer in the NHL eventually but seems destined to be a bottom 6 role player. When I watch him now I see so many similarities with a former Oiler Todd Marchant – a very solid, valuable #3 center who can win faceoffs and penalty kill while chipping in the odd big goal, which would seem to align up perfectly with Edmonton’s needs.
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LD DMITRI SAMORUKOV – GUELPH STORM (21-12-4-4)
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 180 lbs Shoots: L
33 GP – 3 goals, 17 assists, 20 Points
“Dima” as he’s known by many, is a very intriguing defensive prospect in that there are a lot of different tools in his toolbox. He is a very good skater who loves to rush the puck. He also has a cannon of a shot. He excels at retrieving the puck and making a good first pass out of his zone. He can also make that nice stretch pass tape to tape. Dima even has a little shake and bake in his game where he can walk a guy if they’re not paying attention. Defensively, he uses good positioning to keep guys in front of him and will sacrifice his body to block a shot. He also plays a lot on the Penalty kill unit. He hasn’t had a lot of Powerplay time in the past despite the big shot and does seem to be too tentative & unsure of himself when he does get an opportunity – something that can be worked on at the next level. Plenty to like about his game as he can be described as a “toolsy” player.
Despite the skill-set there are flaws in his game that need to be addressed. As mentioned, he has a cannon of a shot but really struggles with accuracy. If the hitting the glass counted as a goal he might have 50 by now. Also, the physical part of his game seems to have disappeared for long stretches. Dima has become more of a stick-checker defensively now than a punishing, physical defenceman even though he has shown flashes of that in the past especially in his draft year. His defensive awareness and play recognition appear to have improved over the course of this year which is a positive. Here’s that shot though when it does hit the target:
Samorukov currently plays for the Guelph Storm who absolutely loaded up at the trade deadline especially on defence. Markus Phillips, fresh off a Team Canada appearance was added. So was OHL vets Sean Durzi (TOR, 2nd rd) and Fedor Gordeev (TOR, 5th rd) giving Guelph a talented and experienced Top 4 D-core all of the sudden. That’s good for Dima as he has plenty of help, but it also takes away some PP opportunities and ice time. Up front they added Team Canada alums Mackenzie Entwhistle and Nick Suzuki too which means Guelph is going for it all this year. That will prove to be a great challenge for Samorukov who I feel needs to prove he can play tough, consistent, defensive hockey.
In the past, I have often referred to Good Dima vs. Bad Dima when describing his game as consistency seems to be one of his biggest weaknesses. I have personally witnessed games live where I thought he was one of the worst players on the ice. Questionable decision making, lackadaisical efforts and just not enough intensity. Then, there are other times where I think he looks fantastic and a looks like bonafide prospect. Take the World Junior Championship for example. Playing for Team Russia I thought he had a very strong tournament. I broke down his game versus Canada below:
Since coming back from that tournament, Dima has been very good. The defensive intensity appears to still be there and he looks fully engaged. It helps his team is loaded now as they make a run at an OHL title. He is certainly an intriguing prospect with some nice tools but ultimately if he does make it to the NHL after a few years of AHL seasoning, he probably won’t be anything more than a 3rd pairing guy. But, he can skate and move the puck so he has a chance. The skill is there but the big question still remains….does he have the will?
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So as you can see, there are plenty of prospects in the Edmonton Oilers organization to get excited about. Not all of them will make it obviously, and not all them will necessarily will be Top 6 or Top pairing guys. However, there are several prospects with interesting skill-sets that Edmonton doesn’t really have right now on their NHL roster which means some of these guys could end up being nice complimentary pieces. When you already have stars like Connor McDavid & Leon Draisaitl, sometimes that’s all you need. Cheap, young players on Entry-level contracts who can contribute and fill a variety roles. The cupboard is far from bare now folks. The prospect pipeline has now been built.