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Thursday, January 20, 2011

CHL Top Prospects Game Analysis: Team Cherry

I've only watched the game once, but this was quite the one-sided affair despite the way the matchup looked on paper for Don Cherry's boys.

But that's the great thing about sports: the games aren't played on paper!

Team Orr took advantage of mediocre goaltending from Christopher Gibson and David Honzik, and also made plays that the Team Cherry netminders had no chance on. But at the end of the day, the Doug Gilmour-coached squad found the back of the net to the tune of seven goals. Three in three minutes to start the third period opened up a 6-1 lead for Team Orr and Dougie Hamilton closed it out with a late power play blast, ending the 16th iteration of the CHL's draft showcase with a 7-1 final.

Here are some observations on the one viewing I had watching the game on tape delay this afternoon on NHL Network. Keeping in mind that video leaves so much out that you get seeing a player in person, here are some observations of Team Cherry, who had some real talent and took the initial advantage, but were unable to solve Liam Liston and ended up not getting much going against Jordan Binnington, either. Will follow up with Team Orr later tonight, which will have far more detail and commentary given that the white team had quite an offensive display and got some pretty good defense, too.

Team Cherry (Red sweaters)


Christopher Gibson, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)-- The CHL's leader in save percentage (.888) had a rough time, and as a former goalie I empathized with what Gibson went through. He watched Liston stand on his head on the other end and get some real favorable bounces, while seeing very little action, only to see Daniel Catenacci blazing down the ice on a breakaway after a busted play with the man advantage. Just like that, it was 1-0 and Team Orr never looked back. Gibson saw fewer than 10 shots in his 30 minutes and gave up three goals. He's got nice size and athleticism, but the book on the Finnish native is to force him to move laterally, and Orr did that on two of the strikes. Give the Orr shooters credit-- they buried their chances, but Gibson could have lifted his club with just one save-- probably the one he didn't make on Catenacci. Didn't get it done.

David Honzik, Victoriaville (QMJHL)-- Another European playing in the Quebec league, this Czech takes up a lot of net with his big frame, but he spent far too much time down in the butterfly and it cost him on a couple of shots. Again, Orr was buzzing his net hard early in the third period, but Honzik faltered, playing deeper and deeper in his net and dropping to the ice on just about every shot. In his defense, he didn't get much help from his 'D' and he did come out on Hamilton to cut down the angle- the Niagara defender put home a perfect slapper off the far post. But, Honzik didn't impress on the whole and like Gibson, was pretty mediocre. He didn't give his team any reason to believe that they could get back into this one, and that was it in a nutshell.


Ryan Murphy, D Kitchener (OHL)-- Clearly the most visible of any of Cherry's defensemen, and arguably, on the entire team, Murphy showed off why he has 17 goals and 52 points as the top-scoring defender available in the entire draft. He's an explosive, dynamic skater (you've heard this ad nauseum, I realize) and was apparently playing last night's game on a bad ankle, which made his rushes all the more remarkable. Even hindered, the Orr skaters could do little to stop him when he revved it up just past his own blue line and accelerated effortlessly through the neutral zone. Unfortunately for Murphy, he wasn't able to finish off any of his rushes nor were his teammates able to capitalize on them. But, you saw what he's capable of offensively. Murphy played a chippy, physical game, hitting Jonathan Huberdeau near his own blue line in the second period and later drilling Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the neutral zone, getting tagged with the interference call that led to the Hamilton power play tally. He took a stick in the mouth from Lucas Lessio that drew blood (but no call) and was clearly riled and peeved with the lack of offense from his team. You could see the frustration boiling over with him at the end, but despite the seven goals surrendered by Cherry, Murphy lived up to the hype.

Scott Harrington, D London (OHL)-- Murphy's d-partner blew a tire on the Catenacci goal, allowing the fastest skater to break away from everyone and score the first goal of the game, a shortie. He had some good moments, too, but his stock has fallen off this season because the offensive element of his game that was expected coming into the year hasn't been there. He's not exactly a shutdown guy either, so what are you left with. Losing the edge and giving up the goal when Cherry was dominating play turned the momentum of the game and it was a tough break for Harrington.

Myles Bell, D Regina (WHL)-- If Murphy showed something to the NHL scouts and GMs in attendance, Bell probably hurt his case. Early in the game, he was rushing the puck effectively and with abandon and was involved, but he disappeared as the game went on, and that doesn't play to Bell's favor. He's not an explosive, fast skater like Murphy is and relies more on guile and his offensive instincts to generate scoring chances. However, he's not very strong defensively, and as the game went on, you saw him exposed a little bit with some bad decision-making and by being out of position. He was caught sleeping on the Vince Trocheck goal in the 3rd period, making a lazy play to allow the Saginaw standout to get behind him and leaving Honzik out to dry. He did try to goad Huberdeau into a fight, but by then, it was too late. Someone will certainly draft Bell for his offensive potential, but he's got a lot of work to do on his defensive play and lackadaisical attitude, which has been relayed to me by several NHL scouts out West. You saw that on primetime with the Trocheck goal-- there's no way it should have happened. He's a hard-shooter who won the event with a 98 mph shot, so Bell has some potential to get the goals in the NHL one day, but he's got to improve the all-around game.

Duncan Siemens, D Saskatoon (WHL)-- Siemens showed off his mobility and hard-nosed game, but like his scouting report, didn't do a great deal to stand out beyond his fight with David Musil. Siemens will likely play in the NHL, but I don't get why he's so highly rated in some circles. Top-10? Not based on what we saw in the prospects game. Tough nut for sure, but upside is limited. I would have no problem with Siemens closer to 20-25, but I think any team grabbing him closer to 10th will be disappointed in the long run.

Joe Morrow, D Portland (WHL)-- The puck-mover didn't do a great deal to stand out either way. He was involved earlier in the game when Cherry had a string of power plays, but when the offense tilted the other way, Morrow was largely invisible. You can see the size and skill, but this wasn't a great game for him.

Tyler Wotherspoon, D Portland (WHL)-- Paired with Morrow, Wotherspoon was the meat-and-potatoes player on the pairing. Haven't heard great things about his potential at the next level, and while he appears to be an honest banger type, he might be limited when not playing against junior players. Time will tell, but he's a no-frills guy who doesn't belong in the conversation when it comes to the first two, maybe three rounds of the draft.


Shane Prince, LW Ottawa (OHL)-- The team's lone goal scorer finished off a nice give-and-go with Ty Rattie to beat Binnington through the five-hole and make it a 3-1 game in the second period. He's quick and opportunistic, who seems to see the ice pretty well and smartly picks his spots. You can see that he's more of a playmaking winger who distributes, but his goal was a nice example of a player who has a pretty good shot and made it count, finding the twine from the high slot after Rattie got it to him with the shooting lane wide open.

Ty Rattie, RW Portland (WHL)-- Arguably Cherry's best forward, Rattie showed off the hands and creativity that has seen him be a going concern for the Winterhawks this season. He's one of those slippery forwards who doesn't have a lot of size, but manages to snake his way through defenses, using his wheels and quick stick to find the seams and exploit the space his opponents tend to give him. He did ring a shot off the post in the third period, and was in on a frustrating 3-on-1 rush with Ryan Strome and Nicklas Jensen that did not result in a shot on net. Impressive player and one of the few Cherry players who got a point, but ultimately, not much to see in this one game. His strong WHL play will have to do the talking come draft time.

Sean Couturier, C Drummondville (QMJHL)-- Like the rest of his team, Couturier started strong making some visible offensive plays and initiating contact in and around the net. But, he tailed off and was not able to mount much of a consistent presence as the game went on and Orr started to take control. This is the concern that scouts have with Couturier-- he's a very good player, but not dominant to the point that he's taking control of a game like this. He wasn't able to do it in the WJC, which you can understand, but given the setting amongst his draft peers, more was expected to be honest.

Ryan Strome, C Niagara (OHL)-- The guy can skate and is highly creative. He had some good rushes up the ice and tried to make plays, hit the open teammates, but again, there just wasn't much doing for Team Cherry in this one. His 19th overall ranking by Central among North Americans is way too low based on what you can see from him, but like most, disappointed that we didn't get to see some finished plays from Strome.

Tomas Jurco, LW Saint John (QMJHL)-- Puckhandler extraordinaire had some chances early, but either couldn't get the bouncing puck to settle or wasn't able to get his shots past Liston. As the game went on, like many of his teammates, Jurco was less and less visible. The winner of the breakaway event in the skills competition is one of those guys who can electrify with one shot and shift, but when he's out of the play, he's really out of it.

Rickard Rakell, RW Plymouth (OHL)-- Skilled Swede has been on the hot list of late after having a five-goal outburst for the Whalers in two games last week. He had his moments, and if you paid attention to his scouting report, he did what he does best: finish his checks along the walls, create a few turnovers, and even got the puck to open ice on a power play in the third period. Philip Danault couldn't finish off one of Rakell's good passes, but the Whaler fought for loose pucks and did the little things that often go unnoticed. He's not a flashy offensive player but is smart and gets the job done.

Mark McNeill, C Prince Albert (WHL)-- The big, powerful Raiders thoroughbred came in third in the fastest skater competition, which sent ripples through the scouts in attendance yesterday. He's already got the size, skill and toughness to be an intriguing prospect and darkhorse top-15 selection, so the speed is sure to have more teams going out West to get more looks. Unfortunately, this game didn't really play to his strengths...puck possession, using his big body to cycle and come off the walls and get the puck to the net. He did a few things of note, but once Orr broke it open, McNeill wasn't very visible.

Mark Scheifele, C Barrie (OHL)-- Another player who was active, but ultimately came up short because of the one goal scored. He did anticipate a poor breakout pass, pick it off at the blue line and skate in on Binnington on a breakaway in the third period, but the Owen Sound goalie stopped the shot and turned the rebound away from danger. I've heard some pretty polarizing opinions on this particular player, so rather than rehash them here, will just say that this game didn't do a lot to persuade either way. More information is required for further evaluation.

Phillip Danault, LW Victoriaville (QMJHL)-- The Tigres' captain showed off his nice wheels, but couldn't get much going offensively. Like much of his team, you saw some flashes, but Team Cherry stopped generating sustained offensive pressure in the second period, and players like Danault fell by the wayside on video, with not much to see when they weren't playing the puck.

Tobias Rieder, LW Kitchener (OHL)-- Like the WJC, didn't see anything beyond flashes of the skilled German's talent and offensive potential. He'll go long stretches where you don;t notice him, and then he'll impress with a little burst through traffic or an honest effort down behind the net or along the boards.

Nicklas Jensen, LW Oshawa (OHL)-- He was a horse in the one live viewing I got of the Danish winger earlier this month, but this wasn't Jensen's time to shine. He got off a few shots and did some solid work at times, but like Rieder and Danault, we just didn't see enough offensive sustainment/play from Cherry to get much of a read. His size, skating ability and shot are a plus, but without being able to look at his play away from the puck, it was not much of a sample to go off of.

Matt Puempel, LW Peterborough (OHL)-- Did he play? Heard his name a few times, but to be honest, this wasn't much of a showing for the CHL Rookie of the Year who has picked his game up considerably over the last 60 days. I need to watch the game a few more times to try and get a better read, because to the first look, he didn't accomplish much if at all.

That's a wrap on Cherry. Will be back later to recap the victorious Team Orr. I'll watch the game a few more times and reserve the right to revise my opinion if I notice something new or different. :) But this post is based on one viewing only, and there are likely some things I missed the first time around.

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