Now that the world junior hockey championship is over, the CHL can now return its focus back to the Memorial Cup race. The Peterborough Petes are looking like the early favorites in the OHL and are pulling away from the rest of the league. There is a great battle for tops in the QMJHL and out west, Justin Pogge is leading the Calgary Hitmen to WHL supremacy. In this issue, we will profile Nashville, Tampa Bay, and Detroit prospects. Also, the latest International Scouting Service top 15 rankings for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft is out and there are a few surprises. Ontario Hockey League
Simply put, the Peterborough Petes is the team to beat this year in the CHL. They are leading the league in points without a top 20 scorer. This is what makes the team very dangerous just like the Canadian WHJC team. They are well-balanced net out and have Canada’s best forward Steve Downie (PHI) in the mix. Strong defense, goaltending and superior team play makes the Petes a good bet to see in Moncton at the Memorial Cup. Robbie Schremp (EDM) and the London Knights are next in the league but the resurgent Kitchener Rangers lead by Evan McGrath (DET) are nipping at their heels.
Player Profile: Evan McGrath, Kitchener Rangers
After high expectations, the Rangers started off the season on the wrong foot. At points, there was fear the Rangers would not even make it to the playoffs. Lead by their star centre Evan McGrath, the Rangers are now back in the playoffs and looking to leap frog the division leading London Knights. McGrath, Detroit’s 2nd choice (128th overall) in the 2004 entry draft is definitely proving his worth. The 6 ft 192lbs right shot from Oakville, Ontario is second on league scoring. While he still needs to add some weight to provide more dimension to his game, McGrath’s speed combined with his technically sound one on one abilities and puck handling, will be a compliment to any sniper winger. He can play both sides of the red line effectively and is all about team play and hard work. Detroit will welcome McGrath into the professional fold adding depth to the centre position.
Western Hockey League
What can I say but Justin Pogge (TOR), Justin Pogge and more Justin Pogge. The Toronto blue chip prospect is continuing his outstanding play from the WHJC and has the Hitmen sitting first overall in the WHL. He has a miniscule 1.58 GAA and a .928 save percentage. The Hitmen are having some very close opposition from divisional rivals, Darren Helm (DET) and the Medicine Hat Tigers. The Kootenay Ice are slowly slipping away from the Hitmen and the Tigers but forwards Adam Cracknell (CAL) and Ryan Russell (NYR) will keep the Ice in contention for the Memorial Cup.
Player Profile: Justin Keller, Kelowna Rockets
Justin will forever be immortalized in the Rockets organization. The 2004 8th round Tampa Bay draft pick scored the 2004 Memorial Cup winning goal for the Rockets. The left winger from Summerland, BC leads the league in goals. The sniper has bulked up from 172lbs to 190lbs filling in his 5’11” frame over the last couple years. He has a tenacity to pull the puck out of high traffic areas and use his excellent wrist shot to pick corners. While Justin has improved his speed game, more improvement is needed if he wants to make an impact in the pros. Judging by his progress since the 2004 draft, the likely hood of seeing this winger in a Bolt’s uniform is not a question of if, its when.
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League:
The host team Moncton Wildcats are making a strong case that they are deserving to be at the Memorial Cup finals on merit alone instead of the automatic bye host teams are privileged with. Led by centre Philippe Dupuis (CLB), they are in a heated race that involves 5 teams separated by only 5 points for the league’s regular season crown. The first 50 goal scorer Maxime Boisclair with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, winger Alexander Radulov (NAS) with Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts, the balanced Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and hulking defenseman Mathieu Roy (EDM) of the Acadia-Bathurst Titan are all in the dog fight with Moncton. This is the league to watch for fast paced, high scoring playoff hockey. It’s really a crapshoot to determine who will come out of this league as the representative for the Memorial Cup.
Player Profile: Alexander Radulov, Quebec Remparts
Nashville fans get ready for this Russian sniper. Your 2004 first round draft pick is playing his last year of juniors and ready to turn pro next year. The right winger hails from Nizhi Tagil, stands a respectable 6’1” and weighs 188lbs. He was one of Russia’s top players at the world juniors and is Quebec’s top player this year. While being criticized in the past about his selfish play and lack of defensive effort, he is third in the league in assists with a very impressive +33. He has premier scoring abilities with his precise wrist shot and quick release. While he needs to improve his temper that causes many unwanted stick infractions, his overall game has improved and will be an asset to the Predator’s organization.
It came as a surprise to see Phil Kessel drop down to 3rd in the rankings when he is was touted to be the number one overall pick in the 2006 entry draft. While he started out strong in the WHJC, his lack luster finish was probably the culprit of his drop in ranking. Solid US college defenseman Erik Johnson takes the number one spot but Jonathan Toews could inch up to number one as he continues to impress in North Dakota.
International Scouting Service Rankings as of January 19, 2005
1. Erik Johnson, Defense USNTDP (USA)
2. Jonathan Toews, Forward University of North Dakota
3. Phil Kessel, Center University of Minnesota (WCHA)
4. Jordan Staal, Center Peterborough Petes (OHL)
5. Peter Mueller, Center Everett Silvertips (WHL)
6. Michael Frolik, Right Wing Kladno (CZE)
7. Nicklas Backstrom, Center Brynas (SWE)
8. James Sheppard, Left Wing Cape Breton (QMJHL)
9. John DeGray, Defense Brampton Battalion (OHL)
10. Bryan Little, Center Barrie Colts (OHL)
11. Bob Sanguinetti, Defense Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
12. Kyle Okposo, Right Wing Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL)
13. Alexander Vasyunov, Left Wing Yaroslavl (RUS)
14. Derick Brassard, Center Drummondville Voltiguers (QMJHL)
15. Nigel Williams, Defense USNTDP (USA)