So while I was back home in Detroit for the Frozen Four, I made a side trip down to Plymouth on Wednesday evening to take in Game 4 of the playoff series between the Plymouth Whalers and the Windsor Spitfires. Windsor was already up 3-0 in the series, and Plymouth's starting goalie, Matt Hackett had just been suspended, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. As it turned out, I stumbled onto to one of the crazier, more memorable games I've seen in a while.
Plymouth jumped out to an early 1-0 lead. They expanded that lead in the second period on an amazing sequence where Windsor controlled the puck in the Plymouth zone for a couple solid minutes, culminating with a Zach Kassian shot that rang off the crossbar. A Plymouth player grabbed the puck, flung it down the ice, and hit a teammate coming off the bench for a line change and a breakaway goal. It was one of the most dramatic turnarounds I've seen in a hockey game. Plymouth took a 2-0 lead into the third, despite the game being pretty much all Windsor. Windsor controlled the third period as well, but Plymouth back-up Scott Wedgewood was just ridiculous throughout the game. Windsor cut the lead to 2-1 early in the third period, and managed to get the tying goal with just 38 seconds left in the period.
After Windsor got the tying goal, you could tell it was pretty much over for Plymouth. Windsor eventually scored in overtime to win the series. Final tally on shots: Plymouth 21 Windsor: 73(!). After the second period, there was a good percentage of fans that switched ends of the ice every intermission to where Windsor was shooting because that was where all of the action was. I can't stress enough how well Wedgewood played.
But I know most people aren't overly interested in the game itself. People are interested in the race between Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin for the number one pick in the draft, and the number of other NHL prospects playing in the game. Those thoughts are after the jump.
1. Hall vs. Seguin
Let me start off by saying that I'd be happy taking either player on my team. Both look like they have a very nice future. But if I were the team that had the number one pick, I would take Hall, based on what I saw.
Seguin drew a lot of negative criticism for his play in this series because Windsor mostly shut him down. There was some speculation that he was injured, though most of that speculation was just based on the fact that he put up very few points. I don't know. He was the victim of a really blatant cheap shot from behind by Zach Kassian early in the first period, so you could tell Windsor really had their sights focused on him. And with 30 seconds left in the game, he got a rare Plymouth scoring chance and the shot he took was absolutely abysmal, but other than that, there was no real evidence of an injury. He was great in the first period, but didn't do a lot in the rest of the game, though that was the case for all of Plymouth's team, as they spent the last 2+ periods of the game bottled up in their own zone.
Hall got to play in the offensive zone pretty much exclusively in this game since Windsor controlled the play so much, and that's where he really shines. Hot goaltending kept him from putting up a lot of points, but he certainly had chances.
So why would I go with Hall? I think Seguin has the potential to be a very, very good player. I think Hall has the potential to be a special offensive player. Seguin is maybe a safer bet, but Hall seems to have the higher ceiling. Players with the offensive ability of Hall don't come around very often, and I don't think a team can pass on that. It's easier to find a guy that can win face-offs and play on the back end and do the things Seguin does well, than it is to find a player that has the natural scoring ability of Hall.
2. What about that guy going third in the draft?
Shadowed by all the hype surrounding the top two picks in the draft, Windsor's Cam Fowler was also out there, and he seems to be in quite a race with Erik Gudbranson and Brandon Gormley for the third overall pick.
Fowler was the consensus third overall pick by most people, including myself, but that feeling has started to fade for some people, and as much as I've been a huge fan of Fowler for a very long time, I may be starting to agree. He's still one of the smoothest defensemen I've ever seen, and he makes great decisions with the puck, but I'm just not confident he'll ever be a guy that can rack up a ton of points in the NHL. He picked up a lot of assists playing on a great team this year, but I don't think he's exceptional in this area. Are Gudbranson or Gormley better? I'm not sure since I'm not as familiar with them, but I could see giving those two a long look instead of automatically picking Fowler.
3. Young Kids
The game wasn't exactly a showcase for kids in the '93 age group. Garrett Meurs played for Plymouth, bu t wasn't noticeable. Plymouth's two American '93s, Nick Malysa and Stefan Noesen didn't dress for the game. Craig Duininck dressed for Windsor, but I don't think he played a shift all night.
4. Guys that gave up on college
It was kind of interesting seeing Kenny Ryan, while the team he walked out on was in town and winning a national championship. He was quiet most of the night, but had some good chances in overtime. He's still basically the same player, which is to say, not nearly as dominating as he was as a 15-year-old.
Beau Schmitz looked pretty solid. It's a shame he couldn't get into college. The rest of Plymouth's defense was just brutal, including former WMU recruit Josh Bemis. Western may have actually dodged a bullet by him going elsewhere.
AJ Jenks was outstanding. He was probably Plymouth's best forward. Robbie Czarnik still refuses to pass the puck unless he absolutely has to.
5. Level of Play
The big question everyone always asks is how an OHL team like that would compare against a college hockey team. There was a little more skill than you'd see on a normal NCAA team, especially on Windsor, but probably not enough to make up for the difference in maturity and physical strength. There were some fairly average overagers on Plymouth's team that were effective out there simply because they were a little older and more mature. A team full of guys like that, or even a couple years older, would be that much tougher to play against. I think the CHL team would have about as much success as the NTDP U18s have against college teams.
The other big difference in the OHL game from the NCAA game was in the defensive zone. NCAA hockey seems just so much more tight-checking and physical. There seemed to be more emphasis on big, open ice hits in the OHL game, but otherwise, it wasn't as physical. It seems like a lot more emphasis gets placed on playing in the defensive zone with NCAA hockey players.