Month: October 2017

Putting the “Thunder” in Thunderbirds

mcnelly 1
Somebody needs to update Cade McNelly’s profile.  It has the young Westlock, Alberta native listed at 5’11 and 141 pounds.  There are more than a few people around the WHL finding out that the 16-year-old is much bigger than that.  The WHL website has him listed at 6’2, 178.  Several weeks into the 2017-2018 WHL season has seen McNelly featured in only 7 of the Thunderbirds’ 12 contests.  All the same, he’s made a noteworthy impact.

It was in an October 7th matchup against the Portland Winterhawks, that McNelly first made a name for himself.  With about 13 minutes left in the third period of a blowout game (Portland was up 9-3) Portland forward, Ryan Hughes was carrying the puck up ice.  As Hughes crosses the red line and heads toward the blue line, McNally lines up his check.  He delivers a high, bone crunching, open ice hit that sends Hughes tumbling into the boards and down to the ice.  18-year-old, WHL Veteran Matthew Quigley comes over to challenge the (at the time) 15-year-old McNelly.  McNelly doesn’t waste anytime.  Before the camera can pan over to show the action, McNelly is throwing punches like a seasoned veteran middleweight brawler.  The fight has both players throwing absolute haymakers before the linesmen step in to break it up.

On October 10th in a contest against the Vancouver Giants, McNelly lined up a massive hit on Giants’ forward Cyle McNabb.  The hit, against the boards, dropped McNabb to the ice and sent his stick sliding away.  The puck disrupted a center attempt causing a puck battle behind the goal line, allowing Seattle to regroup.  This was short-lived however as Vancouver player, Austin King-Cunningham took issue with McNelly and confronted him.  In a spirited bout the (at the time) 15-year-old McNelly handled himself well against the 17-year-old King-Cunningham.

Do not mistake this as glorification of the violence in hockey.  In these exchanges, Cade McNelly shows a few things.  He demonstrates a capability to deliver clean, well-timed, open ice hits to separate a player from the puck, and disrupt an oncoming rush.  He shows a willingness to answer the bell for himself when he is challenged by opposing players for the big hit he has just delivered.  These qualities are still important in the game today.  Cade McNelly is not just a young future goon in the WHL, he has the potential to grow into a real physical presence on the ice.

Evan Bouchard is the Best Defensive Prospect That You Are Ignoring.

Evan Bouchard is the Best Defensive Prospect That You Are Ignoring.


Evan Bouchard was not active on the international hockey stage this summer. So, while Rasmus Dahlin and Adam Boqvist made their names known to the world and rocketed to the top of everyone’s draft board, Evan Bouchard’s draft stock sat stagnant. So stagnant that some projections have pushed him out of the first round. Now, do not get me wrong, it is an exciting crop of young defenders for 2018. But I refuse to believe this kid is not top 15 and MAYBE even top 10 talent. That’s right, I’m going there. It’s October of 2017, the draft is over 9 months away and I’m telling you, right here, right now, that this kid is a future NHL stud.

bouchard shoots
Bouchard checks in at 6’2 and 181 pounds. At 18 he already sports more facial hair than a lot of NHL rookies. His build makes him seem massive against similarly aged competition. The thought that he could get even bigger with an NHL training regiment is tantalizing. So right off the bat, he’s got the size you look for in a top pairing NHL guy with the potential to get bulkier. He is a right-handed shot with a good release. That release saw him pot 11 goals through 68 games last season. His release also opportunities for rebounds and deflections as his 33 assists can attest to. But Bouchard is not limited to scoring from the point. He has the speed to join the rush and the skill to stick-handle in tight. Evan seems as at home in the offensive zone as he is in the defensive zone.

In the back-end he’s a smart physical defender. He understands the concept of making quick, decisive plays with the puck in your own zone as well as establishing body position on attacking forwards. He uses his superior skating talents to cut off lanes and eliminate scoring chances before they even develop. Sometimes it even seems like he knows where his opposition is going before the opposition has figured it out. His movements on the ice show a strong hockey IQ and a guy who thinks the game a step faster than he plays it. A lot is made of hockey IQ and for good reason.


London has gotten off to a rough start this season. This could hurt his draft stock further. However, Evan has been a bright spot for them. Bouchard has 2 goals and 7 assist through 11 games at the time of publication. On October 18, Adam Kimelman of announced that Bouchard had been selected to play in BOTH games for the OHL in the 2017 Canada/Russia Series. He is the ONLY 2018 draft eligible prospect that will play both games. A good showing at the series could be the ticket to get Bouchard back in the 2018 draft conversation. Right now, young, top pairing capable, right-handed defenders are one of the single most sought after positions in the NHL. Because of this, Evan Bouchard should gradually climb up the draft board of many NHL franchise as the season progresses.

Ten Way Too Early Calder Candidates.

We’re less than 10 games into the 2017-2018 season and talking about the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year is a long way off.  But lets do it anyway.  There’s a bunch of rookies having REALLY strong starts to the season.  I’ve decided to focus on Ten who are making names for themselves.  This list is not meant to be comprehensive.  There’s a number of Rookies having good years, so far, that aren’t on it.  What follows is the Ten that are.

#10. Nolan Patrick. – In 5 games for the Flyers, Patrick has gone +3 with a goal and an assist while averaging 13:51 of ice time. It might not be the booming start some had hoped for from the 2nd overall pick, but of particular note is his 48.8% faceoff percentage. That doesn’t seem great, but rookies USUALLY struggle in the faceoff dot. This percentage is about on par with what you would expect from a lot of veteran second and third line centers. Patrick in his first games as a Flyer has already started making contributions and has been a factor in helping his team start the season with 3 wins in its first 5 games. Patrick may not be off to the start that Patrick Laine and Jack Eichel had in previous seasons, but it’s hard to knock on a guy who’s helping you win hockey games.

#9. Nico Hischier – The first of several Devils on this list and I swear that’s not just me being a homer here. Out of the gate the Devils fielded 2 other rookies alongside Hischier and they have all worked out to differing degrees. Nico has asserted himself as the #2 center on a Devils team that lost Travis Zajac for the start of the season. While only acquiring 2 assist and a +1 rating so far, Hischier has seen usage in all situations as the team’s true second line center. His minute totals and workload have increased steadily as the Devils confidently put him on the ice. His faceoff numbers have not been good (36.2%) but he continues to show poise, especially on the defensive side of the puck. His contributions in the backend have been key to aiding the Devils in bolstering their most glaring weakness of last season. He’s even shown some physicality being credited with 5 hits in 5 games. Nico’s strong 2way play has made him a boon to the Devils even if his point total is not what the team was hoping for out of their first overall pick. This has proven to not be a problem for the Devils due to some other factors…

#8. Charlie McAvoy – Before the start of the season, Charlie McAvoy was a front-runner for the Calder. He definitely is still one of them. The Bruins defensive pivot has 2 power play assists and an even strength goal from his backend position while averaging 20:02 of ice time across 4 games. Charlie is getting a lot of even strength minutes and big power play minutes for the Bruins. He’s aggressive and decisive while still being defensively sound. The Bruins are 2-2 with wins in both games McAvoy scored in. It’s an EXTREMELY small sample size, but when he’s playing well and playing big minutes, the Bruins win hockey games. If that is a trend that continues, McAvoy will definitely be in the vote at the end of the year.

#7. Josh Ho-Sang – He just makes the cut, being 4 games short last season of killing his eligibility. He’s got 4 points in 4 games averaging 13:33 per night. He’s getting power play time also. It’s really quite hard to nail the 6’3 winger down. In one moment he looks like he could be the next big thing for the Islanders and in the next he’s become a defensive liability. If he’s going to be trusted to be anything more than a streaky scoring depth winger with this franchise he needs to tighten his game up.

#6. Martin Frk – I did a piece of Martin Frk. The short version is this. He has 3 goals averaging less than 12 minutes of ice time per night. He’s scoring big goals for Detroit from a depth forward position. His possession numbers are good, but Detroit is shielding him with mostly offensive zone starts(71.1%). However, this stat is misleading the because only 6 of Detroit’s players to start all 5 games, have an offensive zone start percentage below 50. That said, Frk is one of Detroit’s top possession players with a Corsi of 58.7%. He’s a bit of a volume shooter but teams like Detroit need that if they’re going to make that climb back to the playoffs.

#5. Clayton Keller – Clayton Keller is dominating all rookie forwards in ice time, averaging 19:55 for the season so far. Arizona has started the season in dreadful fashion but it’s very hard to really place that at the feet of Keller. Of the team’s total 11 goals, Keller has 3 of them. Of their 7 5on5 goals, Keller has 2. The only forward on Arizona averaging more ice time than Clayton Keller is Derek Stepan. The 19-year-old is still mostly only facing 5on5 and powerplay minutes, but the workload he has had for this struggling team means that if they’re able to right their ship and rattle of some wins, Keller will likely be a huge reason why. If Arizona manages to get things in gear and put together a decent season, much of that will be due to Keller. Assuming this happens, he’ll leap into the front-runner spot quite quickly.

#4. Sonny Milano – In his previous 3 and 4 game stints, Sonny Milano didn’t do enough to ensure that he wasn’t sent down to Cleveland. He obviously wasn’t having it this year. The speedy wing from Massapequa, New York has stormed out of the gate potting 4 goals in his first 3 games. All of them, were even strength goals. The 21-year-old leads all Blue Jackets goal scorers, accounting for 4 of 16 team goals. Milano is mostly seeing middle six minute totals with some second unit power play time thrown in. It’s nearly impossible for him to keep up this kind of pace, but Milano is making his case to be a part of this Columbus squad going forward. Whether he can be consistent enough to convince Coach Tortorella of his value remains to be seen. Right now though, his value is sky-high.

#3. Jakub Vrana – A 21 game stint last season saw Vrana produce 6 points followed by a trip back to Hershey where he failed to live up to his 2015-16 campaign that saw him produce 34 points in 36 games. While 36 points in 49 games last season was nothing to complain about as Vrana asserted himself a bit more as a leader with the Bears, he did not build on his first year AHL campaign. This season the former 13th overall pick is back in the NHL attempting to make a better statement. He’s already on the right track. He’s averaging 14:17 per night vs 11:07 and he’s got 5 points in 6 games to show for it. With 1 more point he will equal the previous year’s total. He’s seeing some second unit powerplay time, but the bulk of his minutes are 5on5. Vrana is making a case to show he’s capable of being at the front of the Capitals secondary scoring after their big 4 of Oshie, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Backstrom. If the Capitals are going to be successful, they are going to need Vrana to take up some of the scoring load, formerly carried by Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson. If he can continue to do this, not only will Vrana stick in the NHL, but his point totals could make him a slam dunk for the Calder. It would be quite the turnaround for the young Czech.

#2. Jesper Bratt – That Devils rookie forward not named “Nico Hischier.” Bratt is a 2016 6th round pick. He came over from Sweden and was slated to go to the London Knights, but a stellar camp and excellent preseason has kept him in NJ. His ice time numbers are 3rd among all Devils forwards. The 5’10, 170 pound winger has 3 goals and 3 assists to his name in his 5 games as a Devil. His scoring is reflective of his ice time usage. Bratt has a 5on5 goal and assist, a shorthanded goal and assist AND a powerplay goal and assist. Among Devils forwards he has seen the 3rd most penalty kill minutes behind veterans Adam Henrique and Brian Gibbons. They literally use him all over the ice. The diminutive forward has 3 blocks and 3 hits to his credit also. The Devils have yet to find something this kid can’t do. If Bratt can continue to produce points while being such an important top 6 forward for the Devils, it’s hard to see him not being in strong consideration for the Calder. Unless…

#1. Will Butcher – Will Butcher has been good. How good? The Devils are running an eight defender rotation. Butcher has played all 5 of their games. In 5 games, he has averaged 15:44 per night. In those same 5 games, he has 8 assists and 5 blocked shots while being a +5 rating. The Devils have scored 21 combined goals as a team, Butcher assisted on 8 of them. That’s 38%. 38% of NJ Devils scoring has come in some way, off the stick of Will Butcher. The powerplay number is even more staggering. The Devils have 6 power play goals all season; Butcher assisted on 5 of them. 83% of Devils powerplay goals pass through Will Butcher. He averages over 4 minutes of powerplay time per night. It’s early. The title of the article, in fact, has “Way Too Early” in the title. But at this way too early juncture, Will Butcher is a rookie point generating MACHINE that is a big part of why the Devils are 4-1 to start the season. Even more absurd is the fact that not a single goal has been scored against the Devils when Will Butcher is on the ice. Let that sink in. The New Jersey Devils, a team noted for being weak on defense last season, has a defensemen on the roster, averaging 15 minutes per night, with 0 goals against and 8 assists. There’s obviously no way these kind of stats can continue. At some point in time, an opposing team is going to score when Butcher is on the ice. At some point in time, the Devils will have a game or a sequence of games where Butcher fails to register a point. But that might not matter. We might only be seeing the tip of the iceberg of what Butcher is capable of. Potential injuries and roster shuffles could see his minutes steadily increase through the season. Top Tier point producing NHL defensemen find themselves in the 60-70 point range. For the sake of perspective, Shayne Gostisbehere produced 46 points in 64 games on his way to second place in the Calder voting in 2015-2016. Zach Werenski placed 3rd last season with 47 points in 78 games. If Will Butcher continues to produce and finds himself above 50 points from the back-end in his rookie season, expect to see his name added to another trophy.

Vegas Lights on Leipsic

leipsic, engelland and marchThis season has been a long time coming for 23-year-old Brendan Leipsic.  Drafted 89th overall in the 2012 entry draft, Brendan has spent the better part of the last 3 season’s in Toronto’s AHL system.  His numbers during his AHL career and his Junior career have been stellar

Leipsic stats
Unfortunately for Leipsic, the Maple Leafs are a team stacked with young talent.  Fellow Toronto prospects Kerby Rychel and Kasperi Kapanen have yet to crack the NHL roster in spite of excellent AHL campaigns.  So it was that in the expansion draft, Leipsic got a new lease on his hockey career and he has made the most of it.

Brendan Leipsic is a player for today’s NHL.  He’s listed at 5’10, 180 pounds.  He has good speed and quick hands but his signature is his tenacity.  Leipsic fits the prototype of the speedy, battler that all teams want.  He has the speed to get to loose pucks, create turnovers and make a play with the puck once he obtains it.  Brendan has also demonstrated good hockey smarts and good vision when on the ice.  Enough so that he has been used predominantly in defensive zone start situations.  His dZS%(defensive zone starts) through his first 3 games is 61.9%.  While only averaging 14:30 per night, he is seeing usage in power play situations.  Big nights like his night in the very first Las Vegas home game, against Arizona, will see to his ice time increasing.

Less than 5 minutes into Vegas’ home opener, he made his presence known.  Brendan pounced on an off target pass headed out of the Arizona zone.  He skates with it, controlling it and makes a move into a scoring position before saucer passing the puck to teammate Derek Engelland.  Engelland was able to blast the puck in giving Vegas a 2-0 lead.

But Leipsic wasn’t done.

In the 2nd period he catches an outlet pass at the red line and skates in.  Realizing he doesn’t have the fast break, he slows up to wait for assistance.  He cuts across the ice at the circles and just when it looks like he’s played with it too much, he backhand passes to a streaking Oscar Lindberg for a highlight reel quality assist.  It’s really worth watching.

Lindberg finishes Leipsic’s dish

If Brendan Leipsic can build off his home opener performance, he may have finally found himself a real home in the NHL.