I always make an effort to catch a Plymouth Whalers game any time I'm out in Michigan, as I was over this past Thanksgiving. For one, it's usually a nice chance to get some in-person viewing in on some NHL draft prospects and widen my base of prospect knowledge. Two, it's always good to some perspective on what things are like on the other side of the fence, so to speak, with the NCAA's big rival. And three, I'm someone that just enjoys a good hockey game, and the chance to see something special.
That was the case three and a half years ago when I happened to stumble upon one of the best games I've seen in person, and I'd argue, one of the better junior games ever played. I just happened to be the building the night the Windsor Spitfires, led by first round draft picks Taylor Hall, Cam Fowler, and Zach Kassian, among many others needed to fire 70 shots on goal to beat the Whalers, led by an injured Tyler Seguin and back-up goalie Scott Wedgewood, 3-2 in triple overtime en route to winning their second straight Memorial Cup and cementing their legacy as one of the best CHL teams in recent memory.
All of that is a long way to say that sometimes you get incredibly when going to a game. Of course the flip side is that sometimes you don't. And on Wednesday night, it was definitely one of those nights where I wasn't so lucky.
Plymouth came out with an incredibly flat effort, and found themselves down 3-0 very quickly to the Owen Sound Attack. They were able to get one goal back, but never really got back on track after that, and ended up with a very ugly 3-1 loss.
That said, there's still information to be gained, even from a bad hockey game. Here are some of my notes on the 2014 NHL Draft eligibles from this game:
Plymouth goalie Alex Nedelkjovic is in the running to be one of the top goalies selected in the NHL Draft this summer, and a longshot candidate to be one of the three back-up goalies for this year's US World Junior team. I was hoping for a good opportunity to see him play and perhaps compare him a bit to Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko, who is also in the running for a high NHL Draft pick and the US World Junior team. That didn't so much happen.
Of the three goals he, only the last one was a really bad one; he didn't have much of a shot at the other two. Switching up goalies was probably more a move to jumpstart a team that came out incredibly flat. There was really nothing to judge him on.
Plymouth's Matt Mistele, like Nedeljkovic received an ‘A' rating from NHL Central Scouting in their most recent rankings. Like everyone on the Whalers on Wednesday night, Mistele looked a little flat, and didn't play as well as I've seen him play in the past. Even on an off night though, there's things to like about his game. He's not a player that really stands out offensively, but has good hockey sense and really drives an offense by making a lot of nice, subtle passing plays to set up teammates. He's got pretty decent size, listed at 6'1" 190 lbs., though I think he plays a little too upright sometimes and doesn't quite use his size to his full effectiveness. Mistele has flirted with the late first round on a lot of people's draft boards. That feels a little too high to me, but he's probably a 2nd or 3rd round type of guy.
If Plymouth had one guy that played with a little bit of jump on Wednesday night, ex-NTDP/USHL player Connor Chatham. Chatham showed really nice skating and quickness for a kid listed at 6'3", and generated a few scoring chances, but didnt' have anything to show for it at the end of the night. That's kind of been the knock on Chatham throughout his career. On paper, he's got all the tools to be a great player, but it's never produced much in terms of actual results. NHL Central Scouting had him a ‘B' prospect, which seems accurate to me. I imagine there will be some wildly divergent opinions on Chatham amongst NHL teams in terms of whether they feel he can develop a litlte more hockey sense to become an NHL-caliber player.
Plymouth defenseman Josh Wesley left the NTDP after his U17 year after not seeing a lot of playing time. It's too bad though, because Wesley probably would have been a player that would have benefitted from the extra years of development that college hockey offers. He's not a great skater, but does skate with a wide base that makes him strong on his skates. He's also a pretty prolific shot blocker, which is a valuable skill these days. He probably doesn't get drafted just on his talent alone, but he's borderline enough that his bloodlines might tip the scales on his favor, and in a few years, he could develop into a dependable, if unexciting, defensive defenseman.
Finally, Plymouth defenseman Alex Peters is rated a ‘B' prospect by NHL Central Scouting, but unfortunately, he didn't skate in Wednesday's game. Peters was one player I was really hoping to see, because the big defenseman looked really raw and struggled when I saw him last year, but by all accounts, has started to really develop this season, and I was curious as to just how far he had come.
NHL Central Scouting wasn't particularly high on anybody from Owen Sound for this upcoming draft. I felt like they were a little harsh in giving top line forward Jaden Lindo a ‘C' rating. He's by no means a complete player, but he plays a simple game, and isn't afraid to skate hard to the net to create offense. I don't see a lot of top six NHL forward upside, but he could develop into a nice, dependable player that chips in the occassional goal.
6'4" forward Brett Hargrave has been a bit of an enigma in his OHL career. He was a first round draft pick by Sarnia coming out of Midget hockey, but never really developed into a top OHL player. He was moved to Owen Sound before the season, and that hasn't really jumpstarted his career either. There's some good, older talent on Owen Sound's team, but Hargrave isn't seeing a lot of minutes, and not producing much when he does see ice time. He showed a few flashes of really nice stick handling, which, combined with his size, is just enough to make him intriguing, and somebody might take a chance on him in the late rounds of the draft, but I'd lean towards him going undrafted.
Russian defenseman Damir Sharipzyanov played pretty good minutes for the Attack and looked solid in doing so. He's generously listed at 6'0" and really skinny, and that lack of size will probably move him down a lot of teams' draft boards, but if he grew a little bit, I think he could be a really nice player. He keeps things simple and moves the puck quickly and effectively, and played with a little bit of an edge.
A few other non-Draft thoughts...
-I don't know if it's just a Plymouth thing or more across the board in the OHL, but shot totals at Compuware Arena are *really* inflated. Plymouth finished the night credited with 40 shots on goal. I would guess they only had 20-25 actual shots on goal.
-Owen Sound defenseman Chris Bigras made Canada's World Juniors camp, and with the Canadians only taking 25 players to camp, there's a pretty good shot he's wearing red and white in Malmo. He's not very big, or particularly exciting to watch, but he's just as poised and steady as can be. I'd kill to have a guy like him on the US blueline, especially given how thin the US is going to be on defense at this year's tournament.
-Another guy I really liked on the Owen Sound defense was '94 Kurtis MacDermid. MacDermid was passed over in the 2012 NHL Draft, but signed an entry-level deal with the Los Angeles Kings later in the summer after a strong showing at their prospect camp. He's big, tough, and reliable on the blue line. I think the Kings got a real steal there.
-'97 G Zach Bowman came in for Nedeljkovic and didn't give up any goals. His rebound control and puck handling are still developing, but he squared up to shooters nicely and looks to have some nice potential.