Tuesday, May 23, 2017

2017 NHL Draft Preview: Nolan Patrick

In continuation with the theme of looking at top prospects for ¬the 2017, let’s take a look at somebody who has been on the radar of NHL teams, Hockey Canada, and various scouting services as young as 15 years old – Nolan Patrick.
To put it bluntly, Nolan Patrick is the most talented player available for the 2017 draft. Despite it being pretty close in the rankings, he's the clear cut top guy in my opinion in terms of pure talent. The big, 6’3”, 203 lb center has been playing in the WHL for 3 full seasons and has been an absolute terror to opposing defensemen in such time. When you combine the ability to excel in any situation (PP, PK, ES, etc.) & in any zone, with the IQ to process the game several plays in advance, the skill level to carry a franchise, and a game built off of strength and power, you begin to get an idea of what Patrick is capable of.
Let’s be frank, the NHL is a bit of a copy-cat league, and it’s hard not to notice the great success of big, powerful forwards like Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Johansen over the course of these playoffs. Patrick is of the same mold. Patrick is no generational talent, but certainly has 1C potential, and will step into the NHL to play next season. So, looking past the cliché buzzwords we find in prospect scouting reports, let’s get to the details about who Nolan Patrick is, and what he can bring to the team that drafts him.
Patrick is a guy that does everything at either a very good or great level…everything: from face-offs to defensive zone reads, to board battles, etc…very Toews-like – I know I’ve been throwing out a lot of player comparisons already in this post, and while I really don’t care for comparisons, I’m sharing these names to show what kind of company Patrick is projected to be near. There are no weaknesses to Patrick's game. Patrick is relentless in his game that he’s always doing something to support the play. He’s definitely not very flashy, but if you notice, every play he makes is the “smart” play. Now, there is a difference between making the “smart” play and making the “right” play – and Patrick is tenacious enough in his work ethic that if he ever makes a mistake or makes a play that was smart but ended up not being the right play, he will rectify it and make sure he doesn’t make the same mistake again. Yes, top hockey draft-eligible prospects have good work ethic and good hockey smarts, but in this particular case, Nolan Patrick was bred to be a hockey player. His bloodline is very apparent – his father, Steve, was a 1st round pick by the Buffalo Sabres; his uncles James Patrick and Rich Chernomaz were 1st and 2nd round picks by the New York Rangers and Colorado Avalanche, respectively. The rest of his family is full of professional athletes as well.
Patrick is a powerful skater and is excellent at gaining the offensive zone – I mean heck, who would want to try and stop such a big guy skating at them at high speeds? Skating is an area of improvement, most notably his ability to accelerate (despite having a quick first step). However, he is able to work past this by always moving his feet, which allows him to go wherever he needs to go anywhere on the ice. If anything, “powerful” is the best singular word to describe Patrick’s overall game.
Despite having a great shot, Patrick is more of a pass-first type center. Nobody in this draft class is a better cross-crease passer. His passes are crisp and accurate and are as hard as they are dynamic. Patrick’s wrist shot is (using the word again) powerful, with a fast release. He can score from anywhere in the offensive zone in any part of the net. He’s quite good at going short-side with his wrist shot from the circles though. Be especially aware of him right around the net. His long reach makes him lethal when knocking in rebounds. Patrick’s slap shot is just as dangerous as his wrist shot. In terms of snap shots and one-timers, Patrick really doesn’t need much room to get a shot off, and can sometimes get a hard shot on net even when the puck is passed to him at an odd angle. Combine all of this with his very high IQ, excellent vision, and very good puck handling ability, and you get a player that is extremely difficult to contain. This is a kid who scored 30 goals in his first full season in the WHL as a 16-year-old.
Defensively, Patrick has all the tools and puts them to good use. He can read plays and anticipate them. He’s strong enough to rub opponents off the puck along the boards and win battles in the dirty areas. He’s able to position himself to allow for good puck pressure and he also uses an active stick to block passing lanes and will block shots. While not explosively fast in transition out of the defensive zone, Patrick gets where he needs to, can exit the defensive zone cleanly, and can dish the puck up the ice to forwards moving up the ice. While he’s not necessarily a “speedster” he can still blow by defensemen, and – adding on to the previously mentioned note about being difficult to defend – defensemen need to respect his ability to shoot the puck or make a really good pass, so they’ll need to make a decision on how they want to play him as he’s entering the zone. If they stand still and freeze up, they’ll get run over. It’s because of this that I’m really looking forward to seeing him play in a 3-on-3 overtime period.
This is just pure spitballing, but watching Taylor Hall and Nolan Patrick play, separately, both guys seem like their type of play would complement the other. The reason I say this is because we saw so many instances during the past season where Hall would get the distribute the puck to a linemate who wasn’t ready for it. This was mostly because of how quickly it happened. Patrick can give and take the puck at a very fast level and is always ready to both receive and pass the puck back.
Continuing on with the Devils element to this, I think it’s interesting to look at what we’re trying to build. If the Devils draft Patrick, you’ll have a 1-2 punch of Nolan Patrick and Michael McLeod (I think Zacha would shift to the wing in this case, but that’s for another time) – two awfully fast, very skilled, very strong, two-way forwards (Zacha could also be listed in this too). That’s nothing to scoff at, and we’re going to be in great shape moving forward. Patrick fits the mold of your prototypical, big, strong, playmaking #1C. Just because our 2 most recent first round picks have been centers, we’re still taking a center in this case. Shero’s Penguins drafted Jordan Staal 2nd overall in the 2006 draft, despite having just drafted Crosby and Malkin. Director of Amateur Scouting, Paul Castron selected Ryan Johansen in the 2010 draft with the Blue Jackets. These are cherry-picked examples, but the crux of the issue is this: we need a 1C. Patrick is a very safe pick to get there, and if he pans out, we’ll have our #1C for the next decade-plus.
With that being said, it’s not possible to write about Nolan Patrick without talking about his injury history. Say what you will about broken bones at 13/14 years old, but sports hernias are scary, and knee/leg injuries are scary, and groin injuries are scary especially for young, growing prospects. In my opinion, there is legitimate concern about his injury history. Concerns about his game include not being as physical as he could be, and also not having a particular trait that’s “elite”. In addition to physicality, this could manifest itself into him being more aggressive on the forecheck, but as mentioned earlier, the biggest question mark that will affect where he gets drafted – 1st or 2nd Overall – will be just how much a team wants to take a risk on his injury history. Thankfully he doesn’t have a history of concussions.
Thanks for reading!

    2017 NHL Draft Preview: Nico Hischier

    Today we look at Nico Hischier (ranked 2nd by most scouting services – ISS, TSN, Craig Button, Dobber, NHL-CSS, FC, Hockey Prospect – but ranked #1 by Recrutes), Swiss forward playing with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. Hischier is a center, listed at 6’0”, 175 lbs and has been the go-to guy on a weak Mooseheads team this season. Let’s start with the first thing you see with Hischier: his dynamic skating. His top-end speed is great and he is quite a shifty, elusive skater. The thing that impresses me the most about his skating is how intelligent he is when choosing what speed to go and when. (This was the point of improvement with McLeod’s skating – going “all out” all the time) I think the best way to describe Hischier’s skating a playing style that I heard was how he plays like a snake lurking in the grass.
    Hischier’s game is most dependent on his skating and IQ, which makes his game very subtle and difficult to play against. In terms of point production, Hischier finished second on his team in total points with 86 points (38G 48A) in 57 games (while the leading scorer on Halifax is a 19 year old who scored 1 more point in 11 more games played). That’s an average of 1.51 points per game and a 3.13 points per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time. This, in combination with his play off the puck, earned Hischier the QMJHL rookie of the year award. The CHL rookie of the year has not yet been awarded, but Hischier has to be a top contender for that. The fact that he was able to make such an immediate impact despite being so far away from home is all the more impressive. Usually there is a period of adjustment for Europeans coming over to the CHL, but for Hischier this period didn’t exist. According to his coach, “After three days, [the adjustment] was over.” There’s little question as how high his potential upside is.
    The Halifax Mooseheads have also gained a bit of a reputation in recent years to churn out high-level offensive talent to the NHL: most notably Jakub Voracek, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, and Nikolaj Ehlers. Hischier is no different from these types of top-end talent.
    Defensively, there really are no concerns in Hischier’s game. His great skating and agility allows him to get in good position to support the more defensive players on the ice. His strength is not in the defensive zone, but he is no liability either. He’s also able to anticipate where plays are going and what kind of breakout he needs to perform. In short, he is the perfect embodiment of the “fast, attacking, supportive” mantra of the New Regime.
    It’s also important to note that the Mooseheads were one of, if not, the youngest teams in the entire CHL, and they also had a new head coach for the 2016 season. Between October 26th and November 27th of this season, Hischier contributed to 32 of the team’s 63 goals – 50.79% production was his best stretch of the season, and better than any stretch of Patrick’s season (I won’t bring up Patrick any more in this).
    Hischier’s skillset is topped off with a smoothly released shot and an ability to make plays at his top-end speed. I won’t lie when I say that there were times of Hischier’s season where his play reminded me of a Patrik Elias type player. I think Hischier is more suited to play center, but he might start at the wing if the Devils were to draft him. He is NHL-ready, and while his defensive game isn’t as strong as that of our more recent first round draft picks – Zacha and McLeod, but as mentioned before, Hischier’s strength is in his offensive game, skating, creativity, and transition play.
    In a vacuum, Hischier checks every box of what we’re looking for as a franchise in terms of franchise-changing offensive talent, skating ability, fast thinking, and supportive play. From recent comments made by director of Amateur Scouting, Paul Castron, it seems that the scouting team is leaning a bit towards Hischier right now – which does make a good amount of sense…the New Regime has placed an emphasis on pure skill rather than a necessarily “safe” pick. Hischier has higher bust potential than other top-projected 2017 draft eligibles, but also has one of the highest ceilings in the entire draft.

    Monday, May 9, 2016

    Devils Draft Pick Options at 11th Overall

    With the Draft Lottery completed and the final order for the June 24th first round set, it's time to take a good, long look at some of the likely players that will be available at the 11th Overall selection for the New Jersey Devils. This may be a pretty hefty read since I'm trying to make it as comprehensive as possible.

    The Top Three:
    This Top Three list isn't quite in order of preference. Before the landslide of work got to me, I was able to write a report for a few of the prospects on this list.

    Clayton Keller
    Keller's write-up can be found here.

    It's not very often to see a 16-year old step onto the U18 team for the USNDP, proceed to force his way into the line-up and score at a 1.5 Point/game pace. Such was the year for Clayton Keller during the 2014-2015 season. The numbers are on Keller's side too; he's now the all-time leader for points at the USDP program (including 2nd in assists and 3rd in goals scored).

    Looking past the numbers, Keller is a strong skating center with a strong, low center of balance, skating that's quick and agile, yet powerful While not the biggest of players (we'll get to that a little later), the vision he displays is almost second-to-none in this draft class. Keller was the crown jewel of the USNDP this season. He had responsibilities in all situations: top-line minutes, top Powerplay and Penalty Killing units. Keller is a real imminent offensive threat. While possessing incredible vision and IQ, his passing is phenomenal. At the most recent U18 World Championship, Keller was named Most Valuable Player for the Tournament, after scoring 14 points (4G 10A) in 7 games. I know numbers don't tell the whole story, but at every level of competition he's played at, Keller has put up phenomenal numbers. He's just a player that's able to find the score-sheet, plain and simple.

    When Keller has the puck, he is able to make an explosive first step and accelerate to where he needs to go very quickly. He's nifty with the puck and is able to weave his way through defending traffic. As much of a cliche as it may sound, teammates and line-mates have to be ready for the puck whenever they may be on the ice with Keller. In addition to his excellent playmaking ability, Keller's wrist shot is smooth, quick, heavy, and very accurate. It makes him an all-around offensive threat.

    A concern regarding Keller's game is his size. He's 5'10" and about 168 pounds. I agree that his frame gives him some trouble in the corners and along the boards, but I don't see this preventing Keller from reaching his full potential, which is that of a top-line center. I'm not concerned about Keller's game in the defensive zone because he is smart enough of a player and has good stickwork to cause turnovers. His speed and quickness are also capable of creating problems for attacking teams because of his ability to transition so smoothly from defense to offense. There are also plenty of top-line centers throughout the league that are under 6 feet tall...guys like Datsyuk, Giroux, Pavelski, and Duchene come to mind immediately. What Keller needs to work on is his lower-body strength and adding mass there to help him improve his game in the rough parts of the ice.

    I should probably mention that the theme of him playing against older, bigger, stronger competition has been very consistent through his career. He's played against players of all ages, really, from NCAA players (up to 24 years old...7 years older than him), European players, and pending NHL players from the CHL leagues. The pure talent is there, and if he should continue through with his NCAA commitment (Boston University), I strongly believe that he will have a massive season. Don't want to get ahead of myself, but the kind of talent he has could lead him to a potential Hobey Baker award finalist spot. Did I go too far? Well let's extrapolate a bit on some prior numbers. In 12 exhibition games against NCAA Division-1 games, Keller scored 21 points (9G 12A). That also includes 11 points (4G 7A) in 6 games against NCAA D-1 tournament teams. That's an overall 1.75 Point/game rate for Keller. That's really favorable to Kyle Connor (drafted by Winnipeg, played one season at Michigan and recently signed an Entry-Level Contract). Connor played in 5 exhibition games before going to Michigan and scored 6 points (2G 4A) in those 5 games. I think Keller spends 2 years at the most in the NCAA before pushing for an NHL roster spot...more likely to be 1, but let's just see how he progresses.

    Yes that's extrapolating on just a 5 game sample and a 12 game sample, but there is such an immense amount of talent in Keller. Keller has an internal motor to his game that reminds me a lot of Zach Parise (relentless, if you will), but Keller's poise with the puck and offensive flash remind me, purely stylistically, of Mitch Marner. There's a lot of flash to his game, but luckily for us, there's also just as much substance to it. Keller's one of the younger players in the draft, and won't turn 18 until late July. There's still plenty of time for him to grow out, to hone his skills, and become even better of a prospect.

    Tyson Jost

    Jost's write-up can be found here.

    Jost took a bit of a different, albeit not uncommon, path of development. He played this season for Penticton of the BCHL and is opting to join the University of North Dakota next season, as opposed to taking the conventional Canadian Juniors path. As a result, there have been questions throughout the season about whether or not he'll be able to produce at a high level against tougher levels of competition. Hopefully some of these worries were put to rest after Jost set the record for individual scoring for Team Canada at the U18 World Championship, with 15 points (6G 9A) in 7 games. This was one more point that the previous record set by Connor McDavid (during McDavid's draft eligible year -1 ). Interesting to note that he also apparently had a broken finger during the tournament.

    Jost is very solidly built and is an interesting combination of skill, intelligence, speed, and size. Jost is a remarkable playmaker and plays the game at a very fast pace. 
    He's excellent along the boards, winning most of his battles and positions himself well.. He thinks the game at a high -level too. If Jones gets the puck while in the slot, it's almost certainly game over. Jost is a great all-around goal-scorer but his shot from within the slot area is fantastic. In addition to his scoring, he does really well in leading teammates with crisp passes. His overall awareness is just excellent. Jost is a ferocious offensive talent. A typical buzzsaw-type forward in terms of grit, energy, speed, and skill, Jost is absolutely a very inviting option on the board if he's still there at #11. I like the style comparison for Jost to Joe Pavelski. Another style comparison some people see is that of the Johnathan Toews mold. It's also good to note the intangibles, Jost was the captain of his BCHL team this season and was also the captain of Team Canada's U18 team.

    Jost boasts a strong two-way game as well. 
    Having to grow into hockey as a smaller player, he developed strong elements to his "small game" like stick lifts and other reads on the ice. While not huge in stature, he is very difficult to knock off of the puck. I think he has the potential to be a top-line center, but will ultimately be a heck of a 2nd line center with an all-around complete game. Jost has been excellent all year, but this extra boost from the U18 tournament may put him over the top into the Top-10, especially to a team that would be looking for a center, like Montreal. In comparison between Jost and Keller, I would say that Keller has a higher ceiling to his talent, but Jost has a higher floor. His skating is excellent, and I would be surprised if he didn't make it to the NHL.

    Mentioned earlier, Jost is committed to go to the University of North Dakota next season. I believe he's another candidate to have a massive season. Can you imagine if he played on a line with Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz? Wow that would be impressive. UND also has some of the best facilities in junior/NCAA hockey and is a great overall program. I think he will need to work on honing his two-way game some more while at UND. I don't know if he'll be available at #11, but if the Devils were to select him, I'd be very happy. He's got a whole lot of potential.

    Logan Brown

    Logan Brown is definitely one of the more intriguing prospects of the first round this year. It's really uncommon to find a 6'6" player that skates as smoothly as Brown does and who also has the offensive potential that Brown does. The biggest area for improvement is consistency. Which Logan Brown is going to show up to the game? Some games, it's hard to notice him out there (yes, even for a 6'6" center), while others he can absolutely dominate, and take over a game. Thankfully the second half of the season (his 2nd so far in the OHL) has seen a massive increase in Brown's consistent play, and a good jump in the draft board for him. 

    I can't emphasize enough how much I like Brown's skating. Brown also has a lethal shot...one of the best in the draft class, actually. It's just that he shoots the puck like Jason Spezza - not nearly as often as he should because he has a bullet.

    In addition to a strong second half of the season, Brown's strong play into the U18's, where he tallied 12 points (3G 9A) in 7 games and was one of the United States' best forwards. Brown uses his frame to work well along the boards and in the corners. He battles down below the goal line well, but other than that doesn't quite play a physical game. In a sense it's like Eric Fehr in the sense of having a big frame but not using it with a real killer sense. That's not a problem, just don't expect that from him. His offensive game is very close to being NHL-ready and I think he'll go back for one more year of the OHL.

    In terms of playing style, it's hard to ignore the Joe Thornton comparisons: a massive center with his game predominantly consisting of play-making. Brown's path to the NHL will be hammering out his inconsistency, but I don't really think that's going to be a problem. In terms of potential, the sky is the limit with Brown (this isn't a tall joke, I promise). He has the tools to be elite, a definite 1st liner in my mind if he can put it all together. The question at this point is whether or not he'll be available at #11, especially with Montreal picking at #9

    Rounding Out the Top Six Options:

    Michael McLeod

    McLeod's write-up can be found here

    McLeod is one of, if not, the best skaters in the draft class. His speed is incredible and his gear control is excellent. His speed and acceleration help him create many scoring chances. His explosive skating is key and while he has great lateral movement, his most impressive ability for skating, in my opinion, is just how quickly he can change between the "gears" of his toolbox. McLeod plays an excellent 200-foot game, supported by his skating. He has a great shot and a smooth release. I wouldn't call him a sniper, but he does have a strong shot. In order to improve his chances of being an effective NHL'er he needs to work on the placement of the shots and getting them away quicker as well as his overall finishing ability.

    His offensive creativity and strong vision and IQ within the offensive zone are extremely impressive. He positions himself well and is able to go to the dirty areas to be effective to keep the cycle going. His strong size and frame also help him along the boards, in the cycle, and to fight off checks. He still needs to add more muscle before he makes it to the NHL. I don't like the idea of "compete level" (it seems almost cliche to me), but I think it's important to talk about how McLeod just never quits playing and competing hard every shift.

    He has a very safe projection for the future. There are many other prospects who I believe will have higher offensive ceilings, but McLeod, in my opinion, has the potential to be a top-end second-line center for a competing team. A similarity to McLeod's game, in my opinion, would be Jared McCann, with the only real differences in play being McCann having a better defensive play, while McLeod is much faster. Another good comparison for McLeod would be a center version of Blake Wheeler: excellent speed and board play, high "compete level", excellent but not elite stickhandling and hands...albeit at a stylistically level and not quite the same skill level.

    McLeod's combination of size, speed, IQ, and overall tools at center position, and relatively safe projection path will lead him to have a potential of being draft very highly. The biggest issue surrounding McLeod is his offensive production standpoint. Some folks viewed McLeod as being "carried" offensively this season by having Alex Nylander on his line. I don't like the idea of a player "carrying" another (and from there you could make the argument that McLeod "carried" Nylander defensively), but McLeod didn't quite help his case out when Nylander was with Team Sweden for the World Junior Championships.

    What McLeod brings to the game is his fantastic complete game. If his offensive finishing was just as good as the rest of his game, he'd be projected to go in the Top-5 on draft day, if not challenge for the top spot. As mentioned earlier, he's a very safe projection to be an NHL player. The question is just how high he can go.

    Julien Gauthier

    Gauthier's write-up can be found here.

    If you could make a check-list for everything within a prospect that is an organizational need for the Devils, Julien Gauthier would tick every box. A big, strong, Power-forward, goal-scoring Right Winger would be a God-send for the organization. I'll get into why I have him outside of my top-3 a little further below, but that being said, I would still be very happy if the Devils drafted him.

    He's a huge power-winger with an incredible knack for scoring goals. He's very NHL-ready, and not simply because of his size. He plays a very strong physical game, protects the puck well, and has a significant net front presence. He's able to use his long reach to his advantage in these categories, which makes it even more difficult to contain him. His skating is excellent and his shot is exceptional.

    Gauthier's has good offensive zone vision and he drives to the net with ease to drive the pace of play. Gauthier plays on a very deep Val-d'Or team, and as a result, doesn't get top-line minutes. In my mind, this makes him a good candidate for a breakout in points if he is able to get consistent minutes on the top-line. Despite that, Gauthier has been playing significant time in all situations. He's able to create offense while on the penalty kill and also plays a significant portion of time in front of the net on the power play. This presence at the front of the net is a big contributor to his "Cy Young" like numbers.

    There was a video from earlier in the season where a Buffalo scout (I believe it was Buffalo) was talking about how he had Gauthier listed as #2 on his list, and could challenge Matthews for the top spot. I think this was back in November or December, so a lot has changed. Gauthier has disappointed scouts in the second half of the season. There are concerns of him being a "one-dimensional" winger (which is reverting back to the concerns about him coming into this season). He also had a pretty high, potentially unsustainable shooting percentage to start off the season. That's not to say I don't think he can score 40 goals again. It's just unlikely he goes back to an almost goal-per game for the first half of the season.

     His stick-work and positioning is excellent. I think the potential is there to become a very solid top-6 power forward. His style of play reminds me a lot of James Neal. Defensively I'd like to see Gauthier improve his positioning in his own zone. There are times where he gets caught staring at the puck and is not aware of situation awareness when it comes to opposing players in "high-danger zones". He isn't lacking in a defensive awareness type, but these are things that will most likely come with further experience...The combination of Gauthier's size and speed make him very hard to contain at top speed. What impresses me about him is how good he is in the corners and along the boards. He's not just big and strong, he positions himself well, and that's an aspect of his game that will be vital to being an effective power forward at the NHL level.

    There may still be consistency issues, but when Gauthier is on top of his game, he's a relentless, hard working, and full of heart power winger with a brilliant scoring touch. Despite not playing center, Gauthier plays a strong winger's game and is the type of player who you can build a championship around. Can you imagine a line having Zacha and Gauthier on it? The speed, power, and forechecking would be ridiculous. As mentioned earlier, I think it's possible for him to step into the NHL right away this upcoming season, but I think that would hurt his development. At the most, I would have Gauthier play the 9 games at the NHL to not burn a year off his contract, and then send him back down to the QMJHL.

    Kieffer Bellows

    In case you're wondering why there's a "Top Six" option instead of 5, this player is the reason. I definitely think taking Bellows at #11 would be a "reach", but his shot and goal-scoring is too tantalizing. Bellows has all the tools to be a top-6, most likely top-line, power-forward at the NHL level. He scored 50 goals in 62 games for the USDP. The USDP and USHL are just harder leagues to score in, making his 50 goal season all the more impressive. Bellows is committed to Boston University next season, but I think he would have torn up the Canadian Juniors should he have decided to go there for his development route.

    Bellows also had the benefit of playing on Clayton Keller's wing this season, which comes with its perks, but Bellows is extremely talented on his own. Even last year, when Bellows was on the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL (his rookie season of the USHL) he scored over 30 goals. I know the Devils may not be looking for a Left-Winger, but they are also looking for high caliber players, and Bellows has that potential. Bellows played center back in high school, but looks much better playing on the wing.

    Bellows brings more than his shot to the ice. He plays an incredibly physical game and goes hard on the cycle and the forecheck. He also has a strong net-front presence. He very much reminds me of Timo Meier, who was selected 9th overall in last year's Entry Draft.

    Bellows's wrist-shot is not the only dangerous tool in his offensive arsenal. He also has a strong one-timer and a good tendency of deflection goals. He protects the puck well, but can sometimes end up shooting the puck in situations where he should have passed. Sometimes having a volume shooter is not a bad thing, but that is pretty much what you are going to get with Bellows. His strong IQ also helps him out in the defensive side of the game. He is not afraid to hit either in the neutral zone or defensive zone. He hits quite a bit, too, but not all of them are highlight-reel worthy.

    He needs to add more muscle to his frame if he wants to play his game at the NHL level. I can really see a "one and done" type situation with him being good to push for an NHL roster spot after just one year of development at Boston U., but we will have to see how next year goes for him.

    The Reaches:
    While each scout, scouting organization, and team may have different "top" lists, in my view, selecting any of these players in this list would be considered a "reach" in my opinion.

    Luke Kunin
    Taking Kunin at #11 would be a reach, but that's the point of this section. Kunin plays a very heavy style game, whether it be his physicality, willingness to get under opponents' skin, or his shot. Kunin played for a very depleted University of Wisconsin team this year and led the team in goals (was 2nd overall in points by 1 point).

    Kunin is an extremely intelligent forward and has a very high offensive ceiling. The issue for Kunin is putting it all together. He needs to work on his stickhandling, but his skating is much better than last year, and he has also put on some good muscle mass this year. Kunin plays a very "honest" game in that he doesn't cheat in any of the zones. He plays the game the right way and it's not too often to see a player with his kind of on-ice work ethic.

    Kunin's IQ is very impressive. Offensively, he's able to find soft spots in the opposing defense and work his way around them. When he doesn't have the puck he adjusts his positioning well to get open or keep the cycle going. Defensively, he does the little things right, and is able to read passes and position himself well. While not necessarily an IQ thing, one thing about Kunin is that he's a big-game player. He plays the game like he has so many times before, despite what the level of the competition may be. During the All-American Prospects game, he looked fantastic and wasn't overthinking anything, despite any tendencies to do so on a big stage like that.

    There is a lot to like about Kunin's game. He has a quick, heavy shot as well as quick hands, quick skating, and a high IQ. The release on his shot is quite fast and he's got good aim and accuracy. In addition to that, he can distribute the puck very well. Kunin's good in the cycle and in protecting the puck. One area for improvement in Kunin's game is his first step. Despite all those, the facet I like most about Kunin's game is the level of intensity he brings on every shift. He was an important Penalty Killer for Wisconsin this season and he was blocking shots, working hard in the corners.

    Kunin has the potential to be a top-6 center, but ultimately I think he ends up being a strong middle-6 center. Regardless of where his offensive progression takes him, he's absolutely the type of player your would want on your team.

    German Rubtsov
    The crown jewel of the newly founded Russian U18 organization, Rubtsov is built like a fire hydrant. I will admit that I don't quite know as much about Rubtsov as I'd like. To me he's such a wildcard. He's an unbelievably strong two-way center, one of the best two-way games in the draft class. Additionally, his frame and playmaking skills project him to have a very high potential floor.

    I have no intention of getting into the debate for what is a better development path for young Russians, but I think it might be best for Rubtsov to return to Russia to continue his development, similar to the Kuznetsov development path. Rubtsov's overall skillset is pretty underrated, in my view. Part of this is because Rubtsov already plays a very strong "North American" style game.

    Rubtsov is a very strong skater and has an extremely high IQ. I like his shot, but I'd like to see him use it more. Rubtsov is a very safe pick, in my mind, about making the NHL.

    You may not have noticed him playing at the U18 tournament. That's because the U18 Russian team was suspended from participating at this year's tournament (and had to send the U17 team instead) because the team tested positive for a banned substance - meldonium. I don't think this will cause a drop in draft stock for him. But rather, I think the other prospects stepping up for major tournament performances will put them ahead of him. (I'm not going to speculate any further on that, because we really don't know too much about the situation and I don't think it's fair to judge or speculate based on what happened to a player, especially if he didn't know what was being given to him.)

    A play style comparison for Rubtsov is that of Pavel Datsyuk - Rubtsov has a very impressive set of hands and can stick-handle very well all while boasting an incredible two-way game and plays a pass-first type offense. As for projection, I think Rubtsov will be an excellent 2nd line center on a strong, contending team. He's the type of player that really works well matching up against the top lines of opponents and will be a key asset moving forward. There's also the chance he breaks out offensively (he was 2nd in total points on his U18 team) and makes a lot of teams regret not picking him earlier. I know I'm moving the goalposts there, but I think those are the two most likely options when it comes to Rubtsov.

    The Pipe-Dreams:
    There are possibilities where these players will be available, but this post isn't about the ways in which they would fall to us from a projected top-10 pick, but rather just an overall look at the player.

    Alexander Nylander

    Nylander's write-up can be found here.

    Nylander is leading up to the Draft with some very impressive accolades from this season alone. Nylander was in the top 20 in OHL total scoring and the highest rookie scorer. He won the OHL Rookie of the Year. Nylander also represented Team Sweden at the U18 tournament, where he helped lead them to a silver medal by leading the team in scoring (He was also 5th in scoring at the U18 tournament).  Alex has a remarkable shot, skates extremely well - he moves around the ice so well. His balance while handling the puck or avoiding a check is very impressive as well. Nylander's skating is phenomenal, with excellent top end speed and acceleration, accentuated by elite edgework.

    Nylander's ability to distribute the puck is excellent as well, and I would argue he is a better play-maker than sniper, despite how good his shot is. He is a threat for offensive chances nearly every time he is on the ice. He's excellent at driving possession and also driving the pace of play. He mainly plays on the Left wing for the Trout, but I believe that if he is to make an impact at the NHL-level, it would be on either wing. 

    Nylander's main area for improvement is his defensive play. Not that it's a liability, but there is room for improvement. His positional awareness and overall knowledge of the ice help give him the foundation for growth in his defensive game, so that doesn't quite concern me. It just needs some work.

    Alexander Nylander's specialty really comes where his speed and fast-tempo offense can be shown, and this is mainly in the transition game. This is what leads me to believe that he will also be on the Devils' radar. The main reasons for this would be his immense skating ability, slick puck distribution skills, strong transition game, and excellent shot. He certainly does have top-6 potential, and possibly a ceiling of being a top-line winger...most likely on the left side. I'd say an interesting style comparison for Nylander would be a Loui Eriksson-type.

    Jakob Chychrun

    All I'll say before I begin is that if Chychrun falls to the Devils, then it would be a true blessing from the Hockey Gods. 

    From the conventional stat-watching point of view Chychrun had a relatively disappointing season. For someone who was touted as having #1 D potential last year, the slow season (especially the slow half) didn't help the cause. Also, you'll notice this with similar discussion during Ekblad's draft-eligible season too. The stage was set for both of them and there was a lot of spotlight on them, which makes it easier for folks to pick out flaws and possibly even over-exaggerate them. From a numbers perspective, the second half of the season was a significant improvement for Chychrun, and he had a solid playoff performance to show for it.

    Looking at the non-statistical approach (watching the game itself), Chychrun was an absolute beast. He was responsible for just every game situation and would log up to 30 minutes a night for Sarnia. Everything starts with his remarkable skating. Every physical part of his game: his skating, shooting, passing, etc. is borderline elite, if not elite already. He thinks the game at a very high level too. There's still plenty of room for improvement and refinement, but he could step into an NHL role immediately.

    The big concern for me about Chychrun is his shoulder injury history. It's given him a good amount of trouble the past few seasons. I don't foresee this proving to be a major problem for him, but I would understand any uncertainty about it. Chychrun would be the absolute perfect defenseman to fall to the Devils, because of not only his immense potential, but also because the organization is rather low on Left-handed defensemen.

    Chychrun is an incredibly complete defenseman, a two-way defenseman in every sense of the term. There are many ways he can beat a defenseman while attacking and there are lots of ways he can prevent an opposing forward from shooting or setting up in Chychrun's defensive zone. I'm particularly high on Chychrun so excuse me if these claims are outlandish. I think his floor is a Zach Bogosian type player and his ceiling would be Drew Doughty type player. Ultimately I think he'll end up in the Alex Pietrangelo tier. I think he has franchise potential.

    I'll try and update this more content to help give you as best of an idea for each of these players. If you have any suggestions, feedback, or ideas, please let me know! I'd love to hear your thoughts on who you think the Devils should pick with the 11th Overall Selection this draft.

    Follow me on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog for more updates.

    Thanks for reading!

    Thursday, March 24, 2016

    2016 OHL Playoffs Thoughts and Predictions

    Since my bracket is all but busted in NCAA March Exploitation Madness, and the OHL Playoffs begin tonight, I figured it would be good to get some thoughts down about the upcoming OHL Playoffs. So let's get right to it, I'll break it down by Conference, starting with the Western Conference. I will be mainly focusing on the impact of Devils prospects, but will try to keep my homer bias to a minimum.

    Western Conference:

    1) Eric Otters vs. 8) Saginaw Spirit

    Thoughts: On paper, this should be a blowout, no questions asked. The Otters have a deep and talented lineup featuring some big names like Dylan Strome (2015 ARZ 1st rounder), Alex Debrincat (2016 eligible), Taylor Raddysh (2016 eligible), Travis Dermott (2015 TOR 2nd rounder), and Devin Williams, who's having a remarkable season. However, for whatever reason, the Spirit have been a thorn in the side of the Otters this season. The top players for the Otters have not performed very well against the Spirit. The season series is tied 2-2. Ultimately, I think this will come down to being a tough series. The top players for Saginaw will really need to step their games up, guys like Marcus Niemeläinen (2016 eligible), Mitchell Stephens (2015 TBL 2nd rounder), and Evan Cormier (2016 eligible). As mentioned earlier, it's going to be a tough series, but I don't think Saginaw will prove to be a significant matchup against Erie.

    Prediction: Erie Otters in 5 games. The Otters are just too talented, and the first OHL team to get 50 wins in 3 consecutive seasons.

    2) Sarnia Sting vs. 7) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

    Thoughts: This is a great matchup for Devils fans. There are 4 total Devils prospects in this series: 2 on each team. The season series is 5-1 in favor of Sarnia, however I must say that each game later on in the season proved to be more difficult for the Sting to win, and ultimately the last meeting of the season saw a win for the Greyhounds. Now the Sting are still dealing with some injuries at the moment, mainly surrounding goaltender Justin Fazio, and forwards Sam Studnicka and Patrick White. While it looks like Studnicka will be back in time for Game 1 (which is a big return), White may still be out for the first two games, and it's not quite known when Fazio will return, so the Sting will have to rely on the goalie they brought in at the trade deadline, Charlie Graham. The Greyhounds are a fast team, and a potentially underrated opponent in my opinion. In his last 16 games of the season, captain Blake Speers (2015 NJD 3rd rounder) has scored 24 points (11G 13A), including 4 points (2G 2A) in his last regular season game. There's some potential for an offensive threat from the Greyhounds with Speers, overager Gabe Guertler, Zachary Senyshyn (2015 BOS 1st rounder), and Boris Katchouk (2016 eligible). The Hounds boast a very fast team with some remarkable skaters. On the defensive side of things, Colton White (2015 NJD 4th rounder) will have to continue being a defensive anchor, after being voted the 3rd best defensive defenseman in the Western Conference. The Hounds will also have to rely on the goaltending from Brandon Halverson. He's been putting up very respectable numbers, but also has experience with playoff runs, specifically last year's deep playoff run for the Greyhounds. On Sarnia's side of things, last year in the playoffs was where Pavel Zacha (2015 NJD 1st rounder) really made his mark. Not necessarily on the offensive side of things, only scoring 3 points (2G 1A) in 5 games, but his defensive play. Zacha was matched up against Connor McDavid in the Sting's opening series against the Erie Otters. While the Otters won the series, McDavid was held to his lowest point per game total out of the entire OHL Playoffs in that opening series against Sarnia. Zacha has more offensive responsibility and plays a playoff-type of rough, physical play. He is going to need to really step it up. He's been playing remarkably well recently though, with 11 points (3G 8A) in his last 5 games, including his last two regular season games being back-to-back 3 point games (all assists). Some other major contributors for the Sting will be Matt Mistele (2014 LAK 6th rounder), Travis Konecny (2015 PHI 1st rounder), Josh Jacobs (2014 NJD 2nd rounder), and Jakob Chychrun (2016 eligible). To break it down player by player: Matt Mistele played a huge role last season in the Ottawa Generals' Memorial Cup championship run. He's a heart and soul type player and a great power forward who excels in the playoff environment. As an overager, and having the best season of his OHL career (usually those two go hand-in-hand), I think he's going to have a big impact this season in the playoffs for the Sting. Travis Konecny was acquired in arguably the second biggest trade of the OHL trade deadline. The Sting paid a high price, but it immediately paid dividends, as Konecny scored 56 points (23G 33A) in his 31 games with the Sting. While not as strong defensively, Konecny's offense is going to play a key role. In his last game of the regular season, Konecny put up 5 points. I think a key component of this series is going to be the special teams. If Sarnia can keep up its solid Powerplay and also ride its 3rd best Penalty Kill in the entire CHL (1st in the OHL at 84.3%), then Sarnia should be able to perform very strongly. On the defensive side of things, Jakob Chychrun will improve his draft stock during these playoffs. Over the course of the season, his draft stock has fallen a little. Whether or not you agree with this, he will play a huge role along the blueline. He logs almost 30 minutes a night and this will be a huge role in the playoffs. Additionally, Josh Jacobs has had a remarkable season. While I believe he has a bit of untapped offensive potential, especially with his vision and strong booming shot, h'es been a defensive rock and has served well in the transition game. Ultimately what I believe it comes down to is that Sarnia's forward depth will help bring them to the next round. The Sting never seem to get past the first round of the OHL playoffs, but I think that trend ends this year.

    Prediction: Sarnia Sting in 6 games.

    3) London Knights vs. 6) Owen Sound Attack

    Thoughts: Man oh man, the Knights are just too good this year. I think Owen Sound has great potential for next season, but the Knights have 3 100-point scorers this season: Christian Dvorak (2014 ARZ 2nd rounder), Mitch Marner (2015 TOR 1st rounder), and Matthew Tkachuk (2016 eligible). Some other players to keep an eye on during the offensive onslaught are Max Jones (2016 eligible) and Olli Juolevi (2016 eligible). Simply put, the Attack don't have enough to match up with or stop the offensive juggernaut Knights. Not only do they have lots of high-end talent, but there's also a strong cycle game along the boards. Owen Sound has been playing well at home, so I can potentially see them steal a game there, but ultimately London will steamroll into the next round. The issue is that the Knights roster really doesn't have any holes in it. The only chance for Owen Sound to win this series is to ride their deep defensive core. Not only would they have to shut down London's top line of Tkachuk-Dvorak-Marner (this is assuming they aren't split up like last season's playoffs for offensive depth), but also the rest of the London roster. The top 5 scorers for London all have at least 30 goals. This also assumes that the Owen Sound Attack will need to get the very best performance they can get from goaltender Michael McNiven. While a Cinderella story would be great, London is also 9-1-0 in their last 10 games, so the cards are set, and Owen Sound has a very steep hill to climb if they are to attempt to advance.

    Prediction: London Knights in 5 games.

    4) Kitchener Rangers vs. 5) Windsor Spitfires

    Thoughts: Out of the contests in the Western Conference, I think this will be the most tightly contested. Not just because of the standings (#4 vs. #5), but where the teams currently are. On paper, the team records, goals scored/allowed, home/away records are not all that different. I think despite all the top-end offensive talent both teams possess: like Adam Mascherin (2016 eligible), Jeremy Bracco (2015 TOR 2nd rounder), and Ryan MacInnis (2014 ARZ 2nd rounder) for Kitchener lined up against Logan Brown (2016 eligible), Brendan Lemieux (2014 BUF 2nd rounder - rights now owned by WPG), and Christian Fischer (2015 ARZ 2nd rounder) for Windsor, we are going to see a relatively low-scoring series. Of course I could be wrong here, heck I could be wrong on all of these, but both teams have very solid defensive cores. Kitchener will get a real boost if veteran defenseman, Frank Hora, can return in time for the playoffs. He's missed the past 11 games with a hand injury. As the trade deadline approached, the Windsor Spitfires acquired Connor Chatham (2014 NJD 3rd rounder). Chatham is in his overage year and plays a very physical, bruising, game. He only has 12 points (6G 6A) in his 30 games with the Spitfires, and this includes a 4 point night (1G 3A) in the last regular season game against Sarnia. I don't know if that's a statistical anomaly or if he is heating up at the right time. Regardless though, it's going to be the depth players that win this, for either team. I think it's going to go a long time, and a playing style like Chatham has will be very useful in grinding down opponents.

    Prediction: Windsor Spitfires in 7 games. I think this is going to be a huge series for Michael Sergachyov (2016 eligible). If he's able to take control of the games, then I see Windsor winning the series. Another key contributor on the blueline for the Spitfires will have to be Logan Stanley (2016 eligible). The lanky two-way defenseman will have to have a great performance in order for the team to advance. On another note, the Rangers are dealing with some injuries in their backend. If players like Hora can return healthy, then it will be more of a battle, but the injuries have been devastating to a Rangers team that was in a dogfight with Erie and London for the top seed in the Mid-West Division (and therefore the entire Western Conference). This is a ridiculously close matchup and could go either way, but I'm more comfortable with the stability that the Spitfires have at this point.

    Eastern Conference: 

    1) Kingston Frontenacs vs. 8) Oshawa Generals

    Thoughts: The Frontenacs ran away with the top-seed in the Eastern Conference, especially after acquiring Michael Dal Colle (2014 NYI 1st rounder) in the biggest deal of the trade deadline from the Oshawa Generals, so that's going to be an ongoing storyline throughout this series. Kingston has amassed a great team, mainly involving Lawson Crouse (2015 FLA 1st rounder), Spencer Watson (2014 LAK 7th rounder), and Roland McKeown (2014 LAK 2nd rounder - rights now owned by CAR). In net for the Fronts, we see reigning OHL goaltender of the year, Lucas Peressini, and Jeremy Helvig. What this series comes down to is offensive depth and playoff experience. If you look at Michael Dal Colle's playoff stats, he has 56 points (18G 38A) in 42 career playoff games. Compare that to the entire Oshawa roster having 33 points (12G 21A) in 118 career playoff games.The Generals did the righth thing after a Memorial Cup championship, which was to build for the future. They may be able to steal a game, but ultimately it's about time for Kingston to advance past the first round of the OHL playoffs. Oddly enough, I think Helvig might get the nod instead of Peressini, mainly because of Peressini being 0-5-0 lifetime in the OHL Playoffs, and how Helvig has performed much better against the Generals in the regular season series.

    Prediction: Kingston Frontenacs in 4 games.

    2) Barrie Colts vs. 7) Mississauga Steelheads

    Thoughts: The Barrie Colts are an extremely dangerous team. Up front they have some top scorers in Kevin Labanc (2014 SJS 6th rounder), Andrew Mangiapane (2015 CGY 6th rounder), and Julius Nättinen (2015 ANA 2nd rounder). In net, the Colts have MacKenzie Blackwood (2015 NJD 2nd rounder), arguably the best goalie in the entire OHL this season. Although Blackwood's been struggling as of late, the backup goalie, David Ovsjannikov, has been performing very adamantly. The advantage the Colts have is that if their goalies falter, their offense has been one of the most dynamic in the entire league. The biggest concern for Barrie is their offensive depth. If their top 3 scorers are shut down, then it will take an outstanding performance from Blackwood in order for the Colts to advance. However, the top scorers for the Colts have yet to be shut down this season, and Blackwood has the potential to carry the Colts to a Memorial Cup, in my eyes. Another major component for this series will be on the blueline for the Colts, Rasmus Andersson (2015 CGY 2nd rounder). Andersson is having a remarkable season, and is one of the top defensive producers at even-strength in the OHL. The Steelheads have a lot of young talent in their lineup, with Michael McLeod (2016 eligible), Alexander Nylander (2016 eligible), Nathan Bastian (2016) are all on the top line for the Trout, with Sean Day (2016 eligible) on the blueline. The Steelheads are going to be a very competitive team next season, but the Colts have had their number this season.

    Prediction: Barrie Colts in 5 games. If MacKenzie Blackwood can get back on track to the dominant performance he's displayed for most of the season, then Barrie will be a real threat to come out of the Eastern Conference. That's how highly I think of Blackwood.

    3) North Bay Battalion vs. 6) Peterborough Petes

    Thoughts: This is a really interesting series to me. Essentially, North Bay was supposed to be a sort of rebuilding year after a deep OHL Playoff run last season, but have been performing extremely well. Led by players like Mike Amadio (2014 LAK 3rd rounder), Brett McKenzie (undrafted), and Mathew Santos (undrafted) up front, and from players on the blue line Cam Dineen (2016 eligible), Kyle Wood (2014 COL 3rd rounder - rights now owned by ARZ), and Riley Bruce (2015 CGY 7th rounder), the Troops are performing extremely well. And the interesting thing about all of this is that even though the Battalion run a very defense-first type system, they still are the 3rd highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference. If the Battalion are to win this, they will need to continue their phenomenal play on home ice this season: going 23-9-1-1 at home. Now add this to the Peterborough Petes having a better record on the road than at home this season, and we start to get a look at how intriguing this matchup is going to be. The Battalion are going to rely on goaltender, Jake Smith, who has the experience to backstop the team to the Eastern Conference championship series in the past two seasons. If the Petes are to advance, they will have to try and limit Mike Amadio. I don't think it's possible to shut down the 50 goal scorer, but they can at least try to limit him. Now what Peterborough brings to the series is an experience defensive core, along with two 40 goal scorers in Hunter Garlent and Greg Betzold. Additionally, Eric Cornel (2014 BUF 2nd rounder) is having a career season. Overall I like the experience that Peterborough brings to the series.Special teams are going to play a big role in this series

    Prediction: North Bay Battalion in 7 games

    4) Niagara IceDogs vs. 5) Ortawa 67's

    Thoughts: I fully expected the 67's to not be in the position they are now. I thought they would limp their way into the playoffs during a rebuilding year, especially after parting with two of their biggest forward prizes in Travis Konecny and Sam Studnicka, both traded to the Sarnia Sting. It's also unfortunate that Sasha Chmelevski got injured. I think he has a bright future ahead of him, and the the 67's are being built for the future. That being said, the 67's come into this series playing some of the best hockey of their season. I think an area where the 67's are weak would be along their blueline, but like I mentioned earlier, it's great to have seen them make it this far. The work ethic will really prove to be troubling for the IceDogs. Now Niagara really loaded up at the trade deadline, most importantly (in my view) adding Alex Nedeljkovic (2014 CAR 2nd rounder), one of the best goalies in the league, and overager forward, Stephen Harper. I think guys for the 67's like Dante Salituro (2016 eligible) and Jeremiah Addison (2015 MTL 7th rounder) will have to continue their real strong seasons if Ottawa is to have a chance at winning this series. In addition to those two, Artur Tyanulin has been playing very solid hockey as of late. Overall though, I really like the forward depth from Niagara. Guys like Brandon Perlini (2014 ARZ 1st rounder), Joshua Ho-Sang (2014 NYI 1st rounder), Vince Dunn (2015 STL 2nd rounder), and Graham Knott (2015 CHI 2nd rounder), in addition to the new players added at the deadline make Niagara a really dangerous team. I think ultimately, Nedeljkovic will be the difference-maker in net.

    Prediction: Niagara IceDogs win in 6 games.

    Unfortunately the playoffs have already started by the time I post this, so we'll just have to see where the Playoffs take us.
    Give me a follow on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog so we can chat, or feel free to DM me. I'm more than happy to answer any questions you have, or just talk! Please let me know if I made a mistake in any of my brief bios as well!
    Thank you so much for reading, and I really hope you enjoy this post!

    Wednesday, March 2, 2016

    2016 NHL Draft: Cam Dineen

    Hello everyone, and welcome back to another look at 2016 NHL Draft-Eligible prospects. Today we look at:

    Cam Dineen
    Height: 5'11"
    Weight: 183 lbs
    Position: LD
    Shoots: Left
    Team (League): North Bay Battalion (OHL)
    ISS rank: NA
    CSS rank: 117th (North American Skaters)
    FC rank: NA
    THN rank: NA
    DTJ rank: 24

    Current Statline for 2015-2016 Season:  59 GP, 12G 43A 55P 18PIM, 0.93 Points/Game

    Sorry it's taken so long to get a profile on a defensemen. There are some really interesting forwards available in this draft, but I also want to look at the guys on the blue line, and today we start with not only a New Jersey-born (Tom's River) player, but one of the definite sleepers in the draft class. Recently he was listed at #36 on Craig Button's January list so it seems that people are noticing him. 

    Let's start with the overall information.  Dineen played for the New Jersey Rockets in the EHL. He was drafted in the 11th round of the 2014 OHL Priority Selection by the North Bay Battalion, and the reason why he was drafted so low was because he had a verbal commitment to Yale University to play during the 2015-2016 season (this year). In comparison to that, in the 2014 USHL Futures Draft, Dineen was drafted 3rd overall. Dineen opted to play in the OHL for the Battalion after carefully considering his options and joined the team. Since then, Dineen has played remarkably, to put it lightly.

    Dineen is the 3rd highest scoring player on his Battalion team, and leads the entire OHL (not just draft-eligible) defensemen in scoring, and is second overall in rookie scoring behind Alexander Nylander. In the month of January, Dineen played in 13 games, scoring 13 points (6G 7A). Among those 13 points scored in the month of January, Dineen scored 3 game-tying goals to force OT, 1 OT game-winner, and 2 game-winning regulation goals. 

    Dineen's been playing on the top defensive pairing for the Battalion, mainly paired with Kyle Wood (2014 3rd round pick by COL, recently traded to ARI). Dineen has incredible vision of the ice and uses that to help spur his great offensive game. His first pass out of his own zone is very crisp and he also possesses the quick skating and adept agility to skate it out himself if he needs to. Watching him play, you'll notice how seamlessly he can move up and join the offensive rush, whether it be in the neutral zone or sneaking behind the defense in the attacking zone to score a backdoor goal. Additionally, his ability to quarterback the powerplay is extremely impressive and he tops all of it off with a booming slap shot. For his overall shooting, he has a quick and accurate release.

    While the offensive numbers that Dineen is putting up are extremely impressive, what makes it even more impressive is that North Bay runs a very defensive system, making it a bit more difficult to put up points. Interestingly enough, this defensive system under head coach Stan Butler has remarkably helped improve his defensive game over the course of the season, and now to the point of where Dineen is getting some important PK minutes.

    While not conventionally "big", Dineen is 5'11", 183 lbs, which is a pretty solidly built defenseman. Ideally for his defensive game I'd like to see him add more muscle to help him be better in the corners and along the boards. However, his defensive game is comprised almost entirely from his good stickwork: intercepting passes and disrupting play overall. His skating also allows for maintaining good cap control against opponents. As mentioned earlier he just needs to work on his ability to hold his own, physically. Dineen has really been the driving offensive force behind the Battalion's success this season. I think if he keeps this pace up, there's no way he won't have a big rise in the rankings as June approaches.

    Ultimately, Dineen should be a late first round pick. He definitely has the talent to be. If he does fall past the mid-second round I would be very surprised. His initial ranking of "C" (indicating a 4th-6th round pick) by the CSS back in October will have to be dramatically changed. In terms of playing style, it's tough to come up with a single player, but I agree with Craig Button's comments about his similarity to Duncan Keith "at same stage with respect to his skating & jump". He also reminds me a bit of John Moore.

    I believe Dineen will only need one more year playing in the OHL to help round out his game a bit more. From a Devils' perspective, I think Dineen would be an excellent pickup. He plays the style of play that would fit in quite well with Hynes' system (especially with the John Moore comparison). Additionally, with Severson graduated to the big team, we don't quite have any defensemen in the system with as good of an ability to move the puck and score as Dineen would be. The biggest question would be which round he gets taken in.
    I hope you enjoyed my write-up of Cam Dineen! If you have any feedback, suggestions, or players you’d like to see me write about, please let me know!

    Follow me on Twitter 
    @DTJ_AHockeyBlog for more updates.

    Thanks for reading!

    Thursday, January 14, 2016

    2016 NHL Draft: Clayton Keller

    Hello everyone, today is another continuation in the look at 2016 draft-eligible players.

    Clayton Keller
    Height: 5'10"
    Weight: 170 lbs
    Position: C
    Shoots: Left
    Team (League): U.S. National Development Program U18
    ISS rank: 17
    CSS rank: A (no rankings released)
    FC rank: 8
    THN rank: NA
    DTJ rank: 7

    Current Statline for 2015-2016 Season:  32 GP, 21G 42A 63P 20PIM, 1.97 Points/Game

    I will start this off by saying that in terms of pure talent among American draft-eligible prospects, Keller is 2nd behind Matthews. I mean that with no disrespect to the other American draft-eligibles, but rather a testament to the immense amount of skill and potential this young man has.

    Gifted with remarkable vision and IQ, Clayton Keller is an imminent offensive threat. His skating is agile and powerful. He has a quick-release and powerful shot, and his passing is remarkable. Consistently one of the top scorers on each of his respective teams, Keller can beat defenders in a broad variety of ways. He's played against all types of competition and has done well against each one, and his offense has translated remarkably well at each level up.

    Keller's smooth puckhandling is almost like something you'd see in an NHL video game. He is used in every type of game situation, and has a generally good two-way game to compliment his excellent offensive instincts. Despite his excellent goal-scoring ability, I've always viewed him as a pass-first type player. He's developed remarkable chemistry with Kieffer Bellows (2016 draft-eligible) on the top line of the USNDP, and both are actually committed to Boston University for the 2016-2017 season. On a bit of a side note, the recruitment class for 2016-2017 at Boston University is incredible. With Keller, Bellows, Dante Fabbro, Chad Krys, and a few others going there, the Terriers will have a formidable line-up. Keller and Bellows have good chemistry now and should perform quite well together at BU.

    Went on a bit of a tangent there, but back to Keller. A mark of an advanced prospect is the ability to perform against older competition. Keller is one of the younger prospects eligible in the draft (only 3 eligible players are younger), and has played against competition up to 2 or 3 years older than him. Keller possesses an almost-internal motor which helps propel his game not unlike Zach Parise. However, there's also a prevalence of Patrick Kane in Keller's game...not just from the size similarity, but also the poise with the puck, balance on the puck, and the offensive threat. Despite being nearly a year younger than Auston Matthews, Keller is on pace to come awfully close to matching Matthews' USNDP records. I'm not going to throw out the "F" word (franchise), but I'm really high up on Keller. Despite his obvious concerns about playing center despite being rather undersized, he has stepped up to the challenges each step of the way. He's ranked right around the 13th overall by a few different scouting services (no way to really see where NHL teams rank him), but I think his stock will rise after the WJC-18 this year. I think he's going to have a fantastic tournament, which may help propel his stock upwards.

    At the risk of sounding repetitive, Keller is absolutely a prospect the Devils should keep an eye on. It would be great for his stock if he could grow another inch or two taller, but his play is excellent regardless of what number is there. I'd like to see him add some more muscle and work on his skating speed to help his transition to the higher leagues. I can't wait to see him play at Boston U. next season. I think Keller would be a phenomenal addition on the same line as Pavel Zacha too. Keller will be selected anywhere from 7th-13th overall. I have the feeling a lot of teams will regret passing on Clayton Keller in upcoming years.

    If you have any feedback, suggestions, or players you’d like to see my write about, please let me know!

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    Wednesday, January 13, 2016

    2016 NHL Draft: Pierre-Luc Dubois

    Hello everyone, today is a continuation of the look at 2016 draft-eligible players

    Pierre-Luc Dubois
    Height: 6’3"
    Weight: 201 lbs
    Position: LW/C
    Shoots: Left
    Team (League): Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League)
    ISS rank: 8
    CSS rank: A (no rankings released)
    FC rank: 9
    THN rank: NA
    DTJ rank: 5

    Current Statline for 2015-2016 Season:  41 GP, 26G 35A 61P 65PIM, +22, 1.49 Points/Game

    Another top forward prospect coming out of the QMJHL this year is Pierre-Luc Dubois, the forward playing on the top line of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

    Dubois is a big, strong forward who plays a solid 200 foot game. He has many assets in his arsenal, but his biggest asset is his intelligence. He thinks the game and reads the ice so well. His skating is solid and he has a great set of hands. He plays the game with a lot of heart and a lot of grit. He is currently leading his team in points. This is not only due to his extreme skill, but also because his line-mates, Maxim Lazarev and Yevgeni Svechnikov missing games for the World Junior Championships (both represented Team Russia). Svechnikov, on the other hand was one of the last cuts for Team Canada.

    Svechnikov is a big and smart player whose game I would describe as a scorer with power forward tendencies. His intelligence and ability not only in all 3 zones of the ice, but at all 3 positions at forward leave me extremely impressed. His passing is excellent, whether he wants to feather it or wire it to a teammate. He is able to create space for himself with efficient puck-handling, but also by passing to a teammate. His skating is excellent, and he's been improving his first step to the point of explosive. Dubois has great balance, and is very difficult to knock off the puck. This is mostly in part to his large stature, but also is aided by his impressive strength.

    Dubois is a very complete player and contributes on the powerplay and the penalty kill. He has very good hands, especially in the tight areas of the ice. He just has such a combination of size, skating, skill, shooting, two-way play, vision, character, grit, and potential. I know that's quite a laundry list, but I am very, very high on Dubois. I've mentioned it earlier, but his versatility to play at any forward position (and excel at them) is a major asset. To me, he has all the "X-Factors" to potentially be an elite player in the NHL: skating, IQ, vision, willingness to adapt and improve. As the son of a coach, there is no question about Dubois' knowledge of the play. Additionally, Dubois is one of the youngest players in the draft class, and won't turn 18 until the first day of the draft in June (the day he will likely be taken).

    A great playing style comparison for Dubois would be a Jamie Benn-type player. I would not be surprised to see Dubois in some kind of captaincy role if (and when) he makes it to the NHL. He definitely has top-line potential. I prefer him on the Left Wing, but can see him developing at any forward position necessary to specific team needs. At this point in my eyes, Dubois is the most promising 2016 eligible player from the QMJHL. I believe he can jump into the NHL right away, since he is already big and strong, and plays a pro-style game. His defensive play will not make him a liability at the NHL level if he wants to develop his elite-potential play there. I can see the argument for letting him stay in the QMJHL for another year, and usually tend to be more patient with prospects, despite how much skill and potential they may have.

    From a Devils perspective, Dubois is yet another forward to keep a close eye on as June approaches. He is everything that the Devils will be looking for within the new system, and has incredible potential to be an elite player at the NHL level. He has potential to go within the first 5 selections in the draft, and I would be shocked if he fell out of the top-10. 
     I am very interested in following the rest of Dubois' season in Cape Breton, and I hope he can continue to develop into the elite, two-way, character forward he has the potential to be. I hope you enjoyed my write-up of Pierre-Luc Dubois! If you have any feedback, suggestions, or players you’d like to see my write about, please let me know!

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