Thursday, January 31, 2008

Top Prospects Report Card (Pt. 1)

The CHL Top Prospects Game (TPG) has come and gone now and after getting to sit on the festivities for a week or so I thought it was about time to go over the performances of the participants. I'm really going to try and simplify it as much as possible; give a guy's name, club team, North American ranking according to Central Scouting and overall rank from ISS, then offer a brief synopsis of my thoughts on the player. The latter will be comprised of one on one interviews, the skills competition and of course the game itself.

Again, the legend is as follows: Name, team (league): (Central Scouting/ISS)


Chet Pickard, Tri-City Americans (WHL): (1/4) Pickard played well, I would not say he was head and shoulders above the other four goalies here but he may have been the most consistent. I found it interesting that a guy from Winnipeg would decorate his mask with Captain America but when I asked him about it he told me it was a winning contest design drawn by a little kid. Of course, the team name goes well with the mask too. Grade B

Robert Mayer, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL): (15/6) Quite the disparity between his CSS and ISS rankings. I know early on in the year he was one of the netminders being touted as one to watch this year but he hasn't played all that well. Was in net for Switzerland at the WJC but that team underachieved badly and suffered relegation for next year. Mayer stopped 9/9 in the breakaway relay during the skills but was lit up in the TPG game. Despite how engaging and friendly he was in interviews, I'd have to guess his stock dropped. Grade D

Peter Delmas, Lewiston Maineiacs (QMJHL): (2/5) Delmas was strong for Team White in the game but was only 6/9 in the breakaway relay the night before. What I do like about him is that he's got a ton of starts under his belt already what with Jonathon Bernier spending time in the NHL and the WJC this year and on the shelf with injuries last season. Delmas could be a dominant goalie in the Q starting next year. Grade B

Thomas McCollum, Guelph Storm (OHL): (3/3) It should be noted here that because ISS combines their Euro and North Americans together, McCollum is their top rated NA goalie behind two Euros. Easily made the highlight save of the game with a reach behind him goal line glove save. Even Grant Fuhr said it was an unbelievable stop. Very care free and friendly off the ice. Also went 9/9 in the breakaway relay. Grade +B


Tyler Cuma, Ottawa 67's (OHL): (15/34) Of the 6 players to take part in the fast lap event, Cuma placed 3rd with a decent time of 14.458 seconds. He got a second assist during the game and made a couple nice passes but this is a fairly quiet, don't-always-notice-him type of player. Nice enough guy in person, played along with me in an interview where he jokingly slagged former 67's (and current Oil Kings) play-by-play voice AJ Jakubec. 2nd rounder to me. Grade +C

Zach Bogosian, Peterborough Petes (OHL): (3/9) In the days and weeks leading up to the event, this was the player that I'd been hearing the most buzz about. "Watch his speed with the puck", "He's got a big shot" and "Size, speed and skill... complete package" were the types of comments I was getting. Before the skills competition, John Sexsmith had me appear on Global Sports and this was the guy I said to watch for. Bogosian was very good but was not the top blueliner of the event. He did blow a power play goal past Mayers and was generally solid throughout, wouldn't surprise me if he goes in the top 5. Grade +B

Michael Del Zotto, Shawa Generals (OHL): (14/22) Looking for a guy who raised his stock? Here's your guy. Del Zotto went Ray Bourque in the accuracy shooting going 4/4 then made a great move on the breakaway relay only to hit the post. No points in the actual game but played well defensively and did create at times. Probably closer to top half of the first round now than he was two weeks ago. Grade +B

Drew Doughty, Guleph Storm (OHL): (2/2) Clearly comfortable with the media now after appearing in several showcase events all year but his performance last week was pretty average bordering on disappointing. However, as Stu MacGregor (Oilers head amateur scout) told us last show, Doughty had the least to prove and NHL teams already know very well what he has to offer. But based only on his play last week... Grade D

Tyler Myers, Kelowna Rockets (WHL): (6/18) Standing a very Wookie-ish 6'6, Myers stood out for his height and his physical play. Once this guy fills in that frame (he's currently under 200 lbs) he could be a force to be reckoned with. Very strong play defensively and notched an assist as well. Not sure he's a top 10 guy but his play here may have helped his cause. Grade B

Jyri Niemi, Saskatoon Blades (WHL): (29/33) Surprised onlookers by winning the hardest shot competition with a NHL calibre 97mph blast. However, that was about it for positives on the week. Didn't have a great game (like most of Team Red) and his lack of English didn't help when it came to interviews. Grade C

Alex Pietrangelo, Niagar Ice Dogs (OHL): (5/4) A well balanced blueliner with size and offensive ability, Pietrangelo probably did not live up to the expectations some had of him. His fast lap was second worst (15.281 seconds) and only ranked that high because the "slowest" skater wiped out. No points in the game but did score on his breakaway relay attempt and played physical so it wasn't all bad. Grade +C

Colby Robak, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): (8/14) One of the under-the-radar players who helped his cause with a good showing in the game. His wonderful long bomb pass to Jamie Arniel was one of the best plays of the night. Fell during his fast lap but looked very good until that slip. Stock surely went up and a strong finish in Brandon might get him top 12 consideration. Grade B

Yann Sauve, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL): (21/47) One of the players who was voted into the event by the NHL teams that wanted to take another look at him. Sauve played the role of the trigger man on the power play for Team White and picked up a helper on the games second goal. Most notable, he was the other player in the fight with Steven Stamkos. Grade -B

Luca Sbisa, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL): (18/28) The Swiss product has been solid for the Hurricanes this year, underperformed in the WJC and was pretty good in the TPG week. Sbisa finished second in the accuracy shooting event going 4/6 and he played OK in the game. I like him as a late first rounder, a very good 2nd rounder if he's still there. Grade -B

Luke Schenn, Kelowna Rockets (WHL): (7/7) Without question he was the best blueliner in the game and his draft stock just went through the roof. If Doughty isn't the top rated defenceman anymore it'll be because Schenn just leap-frogged him. A total package of size, defensive reliability, bang on outlet passes, physical play and leadership skills. Scored the opening goal but was dominant, especially in the first half of the game. His 94mph shot was 2nd best in the big shot event. Great performance. Grade A

Colten Teubert, Regina Pats (WHL): (27/21) There was more hype around Teubert early on this year but his stock has dropped for some reason. I've heard the knock on hm described as "All the tools, no tool box" and when I interviewed him in the preseason I could kinda see why. However, he was very well spoken last week and I personally thought he had a pretty good game. He was one of the more physical guys on the week. Grade B

Part 2 with a look at the forwards will come out in the next few days...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Beach's Chance KO'd

Every draft year there is a player who wears the "Problem Child" label and like Steve Downie or Akim Aliu before him, 2008's Kyle Beach has his supporters and his detractors with very few people straddling the fence.

There is no question about his hockey sense, his skill set, his physical talents or his desire but there are questions abound in regards to his character and his quality as a human being.

Beach was a guest on The Pipeline Show when we ran a produced feature after speaking with both him and Everett head coach John Becanic. (archived audio). In that clip you'll hear the details of the butting of heads he had in the summer with Team Canada U17 coach Dave Barr so I won't go into that again.

Since then there have been, and I stress, uncomfirmed reports of off ice issues including a possible motor vehicle/alcohol incident. In speaking with some people around the WHL this season about Beach, I've been told from one General Manager that he instructed his scouts to "not even bother looking at him" during his Bantam draft year because his reputation had been sullied even back then. Another source alledges that in a game against the Vancouver Giants, Beach verbally harrassed Milan Lucic about everything from his posture to his speech impediment.

Now again, these are unsubstantiated stories I'm talking about here and my plan was to talk to Beach this week at the Top Prospects Game here in Edmonton to get his side of all of this. However, thanks to a brutal sucker punch last week, Beach is unable to attend the showcase event. Like the ADT Canada-Russia challenge snubbing and the missing invite to Canada's WJ tryout camp, this is another blow for Beach who will now miss all of the premier events during his NHL draft year.

For those of you that haven't heard about the punch, haven't seen it or don't even know what I'm talking about... here's the video.

Beach grabs little Mitch Wahl which he didn't need to do, face washes him, gets seperated, lightly pokes at Bruton and then from out of nowhere takes a right hook to the chin and drops like a sack of hammers. Reaction to that punch has split the hockey world in half.

Kepp in mind that the Chiefs and the Silvertips are arch rivals and post game dustups are in their history already, take this brawl from the playoffs last year.

Now Beach is an aggravating player to go against and I'm sure tempers were high in the game on both teams but saying that Beach deserved that KO for what he did to Wahl or Bruton in that instance is completely ridiculous. The end result is a concussion for Beach who will be forced to sit out of the Top Prospects Game... and for a facewash???

Last week we had EJ McGuire from Central Scouting on the show who said Kyle Beach "has NHL skills exuding out of him..." and went on to say "If the maturity light comes on with Kyle he's going to be far and above anything on our list."

Better than Steve Stamkos. Better than Drew Doughty or Luke Schenn or Zack Boychuk.

But now scouts and media and fans alike will be robbed of seeing Beach in a game with the rest of his draft class where he can be guaged and graded against his peers.

All for a facewash? You might think Beach is a jerk or a problem child but you should not be happy to see a player get injured, let alone lose an opportunity like the Top Prospects Game. An especially not for his part of the mess at the end of the game last week.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Schremp Should Stay... the minors for this year. Wow what a revelation eh? But before you move onto to the next blog in the world, hear me out. It's my opinion that Rob Schremp's stint in the minors for a full season this year, could be the turning point in his career. I was recently told that only 6 weeks ago did he fully recover from the knee injury he suffered last year, and is playing as good as he's ever played right now.

The Schremp saga reminds me somewhat of what happened with Jason Spezza in Ottawa, and who knows, maybe Rob Schremp develops into a poor man's Spezza. Now the Senator middle man who went 2nd overall is a much better skater than Schremp, but when Ottawa drafted him he came with all kinds of offensive flare, but fizzled when it came to defence. Sound familiar???

Both were Ontario Hockey League stars, who were well above a point per game average. In fact Schremp outscored Spezza when comparing their Junior years by 31 points, although Spezza played 19 less games, but you get the point.

Where the comparison really come into view for me is that everyone wanted to rush Spezza to the NHL. Same for Schremp, in fact there were some in the Edmonton media scene who said Schremp had to make the team this year or he became a suspect rather than a prospect. With Spezza it was his lack of defensive game, ditto for Schremp. And think back to who was Ottawa's head coach then...Jacques Martin, a bench boss who constantly preached defence. Now who is the man behind the bench in Edmonton...see where I'm going here?

Now, in the AHL Spezza took off, with 171 points in 123 games, including blowing everyone away during the lock out with 117. He also learned how to be a more complete player and pro. Schremp is not there yet, but he's getting close, and he dealt with a serious knee injury. The New York native was just under a point per game last year and is over the mark this year. He's also dealing with switching positions from centre to wing, where he'll likely end up as an NHLer. Under head coach Kelly Buchberger he's learning the essence of hard work, his plus minus is near the level mark and his top 10 parking spot in league scoring landed him an All star nod this year for the AHL.

This season was not Schremps to make the NHL for a couple of reasons. He was dealing with a bad wheel, and a couple of rookies in Gagner and Cogliano were exceptional and surpassed him during training camp.

Next year, I don't think that will be the case. He won't be the next Jason Spezza, but by following Spezza's path, he could turn out pretty darn good, and the Oilers might look pretty good down the road for being patient with him.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Oiler Goalies to Get Swede-r?

Someone is going to read this (hopefully) and when he or she is done they'll say out loud "WTF is Flaming talking about now?" but I assure you, I'm not Eklund nor a guy who talks about trade rumours or signings very often so believe me that this is not just something I've pulled out of my, er... hat.

Many Oiler fans out there would like to see GM Kevin Lowe shed goaltender Dwayne Roloson, his hefty contract and that cheery disposition to any of the teams that, on the outside, look like they need someone. I'm here to tell you that if they can, they will, and that in itself shouldn't be news to anyone.

The question then becomes, who backs up Mathieu Garon for the rest of this season and then 2008-09 too?

Jeff Deslauriers (he's basically dropped the Drouin- these days) is the only guy available in the system who could step in and be the bench warmer as Garon shoulders the vast majority of the workload. Deslauriers has terrific numbers in the AHL this year and on some nights he's played better than even those stats would suggest.

Dubnyk has only been good and behind him, Glenn Fisher in Stockton has fizzled after a hot start. So looking ahead to 2008-09, who would be the guy to play behind Garon with the Oilers or in Springfield to split time with Dubnyk, especially if Fisher's struggles continue?

Enter Bjorn Bjurling.

Unless you're a prospect junkie like most readers of Hockey's Future or its subsection message boards, you probably have never heard of Bjorn Bjurling (see picture). Well in brief: Edmonton drafted him as a 24-year-old that was playing in the Swedish Elite League in 2004. At the time the Oilers had Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen, weren't 100% sold on either of them at the time and needed someone with some experience in case... well, just in case.

The farm was in shambles (no AHL affiliate) so having a mid-20-year-old goalie playing pro in Europe was a smart move. Unfortunately Bjurling lost his SEL job and had to move to Austria and then Norway to find work, which are not the most respected pro leagues out there. However, this year he's back in Sweden and turning a lot of heads with his play for Södertälje.

Bjurling started the year as the veteran back up/tutor to Buffalo draft pck Jhonas Enroth but I'm told, began to play more and more and eventually took over the starting job. Enroth left to play in the WJC and now Bjurling's stats line is an attractive 19 GP, 2.33 GAA (3rd best in SEL) and .934 save% (Best in SEL).

Now, two things to keep in mind here is that he's still only played half the games and that Enroth's stats are pretty much the same as Bjurling's so there might be more at play here than just solid goaltending (IE: team defensive play).

Still, sources tell me that Bjurling is in the mix and getting consideration by the Oilers to compete in camp for the back up NHL job next fall and if he lost it to Deslauriers, could play the same role in Springfield for Dubnyk as he is currently in Södertälje for Enroth.

For Lowe and the Oilers, at least it would mean not having to go shopping for a free agent goalie and instead using that money elsewhere.

Something to consider.

Photo courtesy of

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Fishing for Figren

Not to turn this into the Official Robin Figren Blog or anything but with the WHL deadline just days away I wanted to get out there my short list of sensible destinations. To me, it's a list 4 teams long.

Here's why I think the 4 teams make sense:

1) They have room for a Euro - keep in mind that you can only have two on your roster so it's not like he can go to any team in the league.

2) They are a contending team - Or at least one that could make noise in the playoffs especially after adding an underrated talent like Figren.

3) They've got something the Oil Kings would covet be it picks or players.

Here's my 4 teams: Calgary Hitmen, Kelowna Rockets, Tri City Americans, Regina Pats.

The Hitmen are the team I've heard for the longest and most often as having interest. Calgary does have a bunch of 17 and 18-year-olds but, having just picked up Brock Nixon from Kamloops... will that be enough tinkering for Kelly Kisio and his club?

Kelowna started the year slow but now they're 4th in the Western Conference and not all that far back of the leaders (although they have played more games). The Rockets only have Oiler draft pick Milan Kytnar as a Euro so they have the room to take on Figren. It's a pretty young blueline in Kelowna, only two '88 born players so perhaps a package deal including Edmonton captain Bretton Stamler could work here. That would mean that Edmonton would have to take back a '87 though as the Rockets have their quota already. Still, James McEwan provides little more than toughness for his hometown squad, (something Edmonton could use) so maybe that would still work... toss in a young blueliner and a pick to Edmonton and perhaps.

Something similar with Tri-City really who also has a young blueline outside of L.A. Kings property T.J. Fast. However, all 3 20-year-olds with the Americans are key components of their team so I doubt they'd move one to get Stammler. Figren though, would definitely fit a team that needs to get past Spokane and Vancouver. The Americans are a very young team; looking at their forwards on their roster and you see 7 players born in '90 or '91.

Lastly, the Regina Pats have already been very busy and so I'm not sure how much more tinkering they'd look at doing but they do have the room to add a Euro and they'll be fighting to getpast the likes of Calgary, Lethbridge and Brandon.

Folks I've talked to seem to think that, especially with his performance at the WJC, Robin Figren might be the hottest commodity available in the WHL right now. Throw Ty Wishart into the mix and one of those two should bring in the best return. The Oil Kings are looking long term and as much as Figren has enjoyed his time in Edmonton... I think his days are numbered. Like 4... or 3... 2...