Tag: JesperBratt

The Captain Came Back

The Captain Came Back

For the last three seasons, the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL have been a real contender in the OHL.  This was due, in no small part, to the contributions of last season’s captain, Michael Mcleod.  In back to back seasons in Mississauga, Mcleod averaged over a point per game while also being one of the top 2-way centers in the OHL.

In the 2016 NHL Draft the New Jersey Devils selected “Mikey” Mcleod 12th overall, and later selected fellow Mississauga standout Nathan Bastian.  It seemed as though a course was set for these two close friends and fellow Steelheads to break into the NHL.  Therefore, it seemed as though last season would be Mikey’s final one in a Trout jersey.  He gave the Trout faithful a heck of a ride though, scoring 27 goals and 46 assists through 57 regular season games, then adding an exclamation point of 27 points and a +17 rating through 20 playoff games on their way to the final round loss to the Champion Erie Otters.

In the NHL, the New Jersey Devils struggled through 2016-17.  Over the summer the draft lottery awarded them the first overall pick in the 2917 draft.  They took Swiss phenom, Nico Hischier, a center from the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL.  Further additions to the Devils’ roster created a logjam of forwards.  Where six months before it seemed that Mcleod was a surefire lock to make the Devils opening night roster, instead he found himself locked in an intense competition.  Appearing to struggle a bit, Mcleod’s aspirations were further hampered by an injury sustained against the New York Islanders.  On September 25th, Mcleod went down with a torn meniscus in his left knee.  The injury required surgery to repair, Mcleod was speculated to mix 4-6 weeks.

In those 4-6 weeks, The New Jersey Devils have gotten off to one of the hottest starts in franchise history and are among the top teams in the NHL.  Young rookie forwards Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier have dazzled coaches, fans and scouts alike with their maturity and adaptation to the NHL game.  AHL veteran Brian Gibbons has finally stuck in the NHL after a breakout camp, while other younger fringe players like Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen have asserted themselves in bottom line roles.  The Devils find themselves with nowhere on their roster to place Mcleod.

Conventional logic says that McLeod would be sent to the AHL to join Nathan Bastian and other former OHL standouts like Blake Speers, Josh Jacobs, MacKenzie Blackwood and Colton White.  However, Michael’s birthday is February 3rd, 1998.  This makes him 19 years old, forcing him to fall under the NHL-CHL agreement where a player aged 18-19, not retained by their NHL club, is to be sent back to their CHL club to fulfill their contractual obligation.

And so, the Mississauga faithful will get to see Captain Michael Mcleod suit up in the Blue and White once again.  This boost couldn’t come at a better time for the Steelheads who currently find themselves mired in 7th in the Eastern Conference.  The return of their great Captain could be the spark that the trout need to turn their season around and make a run at an OHL Title.

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.

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.

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