Month: October 2017

London is Burning

This is not how it was supposed to be this year for the London Knights.  In their first 7 games this season they have 1 win and 6 regulation losses.  They’re averaging a league worst 1.85 goals per game while allowing an abysmal 4.43 goals against.  Across their 7 games played they have a negative 18 goal differential.  How could this happen to a team with such high expectations going into the season?

Things were supposed to be different.  There was supposed to be a surplus of NHL drafted talent on the team this year.  J.J. Piccinich was supposed to be the only loss and the Knights had more than made up for this by obtaining Jesper Bratt in the CHL Import draft this year.  Bratt was to join a talented group of 19 year olds that included Alex Formenton, Brandon Crawley, Robert Thomas, Sam Miletic, Janne Kuokkanen, Victor Mete, Max Jones, Cliff Pu and Olli Juolevi.  Goaltender Jordan Kooy had seemed a reasonable replacement to Tyler Parsons if he decided not to come back for his 4th season of OHL eligibility.  This has all come undone.

Cliff Pu, Robert Thomas, Sam Miletic and Max Jones have all made their way to London after time in NHL camps.  Everyone else… not so much.

The Vancouver Canucks have decided that rather than send Juolevi back to London for another year, that they would like him to play in Finland with the TPS squad of SM-Liiga.  This is probably not a bad move for the young defender as TPS boasts one of the great defensive mentors in NHL history, Henrik Tallinder, on its roster.   The Canucks obviously want Juolevi playing at a professional level against older competition, but do not feel they want him in their NHL or AHL system at the moment.  This does not do London any favors.

Victor Mete has caught on with the Montreal Canadiens.  Injuries during training camp/preseason opened a door for Mete and he has seized the day.  It’s possible that when David Schlemko returns from injury, Mete will be returned to London.  It’s also possible that Montreal may keep him.  The Canadiens have started the season off very poorly in their own end and Mete has seen his minutes steadily increase, including some Power Play time.  At first it seemed Mete was only keeping a spot warm, but his growing usage could make him indispensible to a struggling Montreal team.

alex formenten
The 2017 49th overall pick is still with the Ottawa Senators after training camp.  Formenten was used very sparingly in his only NHL game, getting only 4:54 of playing time.  It seems likely that Ottawa will send Alex back to London after his 9 game NHL exposure is exhausted.  It’s possible that this time among the pros could spur Alex forward as it often does for young players.  It would be nice to see him get a few more minutes though.

brandon crawley
Crawley made a huge impression with the Rangers in preseason.  Enough so that they’ve decided to keep the 2017, 123rd pick overall within close arm’s reach.  Crawley has been sent down to the Rangers AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack.  The Wolf Pack are lacking in young back-end talent so it seems likely that the Rangers will be keeping Crawley in the AHL.

Kuokkanen is another NHL rookie getting to stretch his legs on NHL ice.  The Carolina Hurricanes have made use of Kuokkanen in a top 6 role throughout pre-season and, so far, have used him in a bottom 6 role in their 2 games this season.  Kuokkanen seems to be doing well with his opportunity, so far.  Carolina may decide to keep the young Finn on the roster if he continues to show poise.  It’s also possible that, depending on injuries, Carolina elects to keep Kuokkanen beyond the 9 game threshold but not the half season threshold.  His impact and usage through their next few games will help determine where Janne ends up this year.

New Jersey Devils v Buffalo Sabres
Jesper Bratt is unlikely to be seen in London, ever.  After an impressive training camp, and equally impressive preseason, Bratt has carried everything over into the NHL regular season.  In 2 games with the NJ Devils, the 2016 6th round pick has compiled 3 goals and 2 assists for a team leading 5 points and +4 rating.  Bratt has been used in all situations, compiling a large number of Power Play AND Short Handed minutes for the Devils.  In his first 2 games he has averaged 16:37 minutes of ice time, good enough for 4th among Devils forwards.  It’s the first week of the NHL season and Jesper Bratt has already stolen the spotlight on a team that includes the 2017 Hobey Baker Winner (Will Butcher) and the 2017 First Overall Pick (Nico Hischier).  The hype will inevitably die down and the point scoring will level out, but the damage is already done.  Bratt has made a name for himself in New Jersey.

So, with all this, a team that looked to be a potential powerhouse for the 2017-2018 OHL Season instead sees a large chunk of its firepower currently in the NHL or elsewhere.  To make matters worse, the Knights have not been able to provide much help to their goaltenders.  Both Kooy and Johnson have started the seasons with goals against average in excess of 4.00 and save percentages well below .900.  This coupled with an inability to generate offense is likely make it difficult for London to make any headway in the standings.  If Mete and Formenten are returned to the OHL after their NHL stints it would go a long way for this franchise.  It is still possible for London to turn their season around, but they’ve started off with a pretty big hole to climb out of.

Don’t Sleep on Drummondville

The start of the QMJHL season has seen the clear division between the strong teams and the “weaker sisters” as it were.  Asserting themselves as one of the contenders early on are the Dummondville Voltigeurs.  Drummonville has finished in the bottom half of the Western Group of the QMJHL for the last 3 seasons.  Those tides look to be turning though

Drummondville is a young team, fielding only two players over the age of 20.  One of these is QMJHL veteran Yvan Mongo, who has stormed out of the gate to 12 points in 6 games and a +/- of +9.

Fellow 20-year-old veteran Morgan Adam-Moisan has been similarly leading from the front, providing 9 points and a +6 rating.  Team Captain Nicolas Guay spent his summer in an NHL Training Camp with the New Jersey Devils.  The time with NHL players seems to have done the young Captain well as he has shown poise and determination.  Guay seems intent on trying to earn further attention of NHL scouts and possibly a future in the NHL.

Guay drawing NHL Scout attention would be welcome for 2018 draft hopefuls Nicolas Beaudin and, German Import, Bastian Eckl.   Beaudin is currently the top point producing defender for the Voltigeurs with 5 points in 6 games and a +5 rating.  The 5’10 left hander obviously hopes to build on a 2016-17 campaign that saw him produce 41 points.  With smaller, agile, puck moving defensemen finding places on more and more NHL rosters, Beaudin is certainly a player to keep an eye on.  Bastian Eckl was taken 20th overall by the Voltigeurs in the CHL import draft this year.  He’s got good size and although left-handed, he plays the right-wing.  He’s been off to a good start with Drummondville netting 2 goals and an assist in his first 6 games for the team.  I would expect to see his role evolve as the season progresses and he grows more comfortable with his teammates.

The surprise of the season so far has been American Bobby Lynch.  The big, lanky American wing has 5 goals and 8 points in 6 games.  He’s 1 point off his 2017 total from 37 games played.  Lynch is on a pace to thrash his previous, unimpressive season and be a big part of driving Drummonville forward.

Perhaps the most interesting player to keep an eye on though, is 15-year-old Dawson Mercer of Bay Roberts, Newfoundland.
dawson mercer
Mercer is a right-handed forward responsible for 3 goals in his first 6 games.  He has shown speed in transition and excellent puck handling skills, but also a willingness to go to the dirty areas and work around the net.  Mercer also exhibits an exceptional shot in traffic.  In the picture above Mercer, in white, has just fired a wrist shot top shelf against Rouyn-Noranda Goalkeeper, Sam Harvey.  Note the amount of opposing team traffic around the young forward.
It will be very worthwhile watching his development with an eye on his draft year (which I BELIEVE would be 2020).  Mercer seems to have the skillset to be a possible top 5 pick in his draft.  It’s way too early to tell, but it’s worth thinking about while watching this kid grow.

Who the Heck is Martin Frk?

You might be asking yourself this question.  If you’re not, it’s possible that you’ve missed his 2 goals for the Red Wings this season.  Or, you remember the 2012 49th overall pick from his days in Halifax when he played alongside Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon.  The 24 year old Frk found himself drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft by the Detroit Red Wings.  There’s a few things the Red Wings organization is notable for, but one of them is letting their prospects simmer and stew in their AHL program for a bit.  Frk is one such player.

His first 2 seasons in the AHL saw him bouncing between the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL.  He proved to be a cut above most ECHL competition netting 51 points in 44 games (28 goals).  His AHL numbers during those years were not as impressive though.  In those 2 years he played a total of 82 games scoring a total of 9 goals and 15 assists.

Then in 2015, something happened.  Frk went on to score 44 points in 67 games of full time AHL play.  At the beginning of last season, Frk was picked up off waivers by Carolina.  After 2 games in Carolina, they attempted to pass him through waivers and Detroit reclaimed him.  That season Frk put up 50 points in 65 AHL games.  Over the last 2 season of AHL play, in 127 combined games Frk has scored 54 goals and 40 assists for a total of 94 points.  This gives him a 0.74 point per game average the last 2 seasons.

So this season, Frk made Detroit’s opening night roster.  In a league dotted with 18 and 19 year old rookies and 20 year old reigning Hart Trophy winners, a 24 year old rookie might not stand out.  Unless he were to score 2 absolutely phenomenal goals in his first two games for the Red Wings.

You gotta watch this one from tonight against Ottawa.
“What a Frkin goal”

Butcher’s Big Day

Fans of the New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche were treated to a 3 point coming out party for a rookie today.  It just might not have been the rookie they were expecting.  First year NHL Defenseman Will Butcher grabbed an assist on each of three power play goals to help propel the New Jersey Devils to a 4-1 victory this afternoon.

The Devils kept Butcher’s minutes low in his debut, but utilized him early and extensively on the power play.  His puck movement and poise from the point of attack allowed the Devils to assert zone control on the power play yielding points on 3 occasions.  The first year pro looked like a veteran out there quarterbacking a power play with on target tape to tape passes and excellent movement in space.

For the first goal Butcher finds Palmieri in the circle.  While Palmieri takes the puck behind the net, Butcher is left all alone at the point, but he doesn’t remain stationary, nor does he coast.  Butcher actively skates to find a passing lane to give Palmieri an outlet with the puck.  As Palmieri completes his circuit behind the net he sends the puck back to Butcher at the point.  Butcher receives the pass and sends it towards the net.  There’s no big windup or anything to telegraph the shot.
butcher goal 1

This shot has to get through two Avalanche players in front (Circled in Yellow), Adam Henrique AND Jimmy Hayes’ screen.  Henrique(circled in red) would ultimately get the deflection on this that would lead to the goal, but it is Butcher’s work in space and finding a shooting lane that ultimately leads to this puck going in the net.

The second goal Henrique is behind the net with the puck with 2 Avalanche on him.  Hayes moves in to assist with the puck battle along the back wall.  As this puck scrum develops Butcher is on the right side half wall, but starts to move into the circle seeking  open ice.  The Avalanche player defending Butcher commits to the behind the net scrum as does the one covering Taylor Hall.  The Avalanche completely over commit with 4 players below the goal line.
4 behind line
Seeing this, Butcher moves up the halfwall back towards the point.  Henrique sends the puck along the wall and Butcher gathers it.  Palmieri skates back to the opposite point.  At this point the Avalanche, seeing the open ice they have left scramble to recover.  Butcher gathers the puck, and sends a quick pass to Palmieri who fires it.  It misses the net, but the lively boards put the puck on the stick of Jimmy Hayes for the backhand tap in.

For the third power play goal, Bratt has the puck along the half wall.  He centers to Henrique who quickly bumps it out to Butcher at the point.  Butcher winds up for a slapshot, freezing the defender in front of him.  The flatfooted defender is now not able to react as Butcher sends the puck over to Hall.  This move draws the eyes of all the Colorado defenders allowing Bratt to creep from the half wall into the circle unnoticed.
bratt creep

Hall gives a little shoulder dip like he might shoot and sends the puck over to the wide open, unchallenged Bratt who delivers the goods with a beautiful top shelf shot.  The deft puck movement on this play pulls the Avalanche defenders away from Bratt putting them all out of position to even have a chance of making a play on him.
bratt wide open
No Avalanche player is in even the frame as Bratt receives Hall’s pass on this reverse angle replay.

If this is a sign of things to come for New Jersey, Will Butcher could be in for a BIG year.

Video Link to game highlights:
Butcher produces three assists in Devils’ 4-1 victory