Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Future Coach for Edmonton

First and foremost, let me make this clear that what you are about to read is pure speculation on my part. It's hypothetical. It's more of a "Hmmm... I wonder if this could actually make sense and work out like this" sort of a thing.

It started with listening to Total Sports (local radio show that airs on TEAM 1260 daily from 3-6 PM). Last Friday TS was guest hosted by Corey Graham and Ryan Rishaug from TSN. A caller asked why the Oilers don't hire a young up-and-coming coach, groom him and have him step in to replace MacT who he felt had overstayed his welcome (the caller's opinion, not mine or the show's hosts).

That got me thinking... Edmonton actually has such a guy in the system RIGHT NOW.

Edmonton's coaching staff consists of Craig MacTavish, Billy Moores, Charlie Huddy, Rob Daum and Brian Ross (video). On the farm the organization has Kelly Buchberger, Jeff Truitt and David Bell.

The Oilers hired Bucky to take over the bench of the AHL squad when Geoff Ward was hired away by the Boston Bruins. Bucky had just 1 year of experience behind the bench, that one spent during the lockout with the Edmonton Road Runners. The decision raised some eyebrows and had critics citing "he old boy's club" getting their man in a former blood-and-guts Oiler.

For the most part, those I speak with about the farm like the job Bucky has done with the Falcons. There are some who feel the systems are a little restrictive and lack offensive creativity but credit where it's due... Bucky has his club in a playoff position despite the "simplistic" strategies he has instilled.

On the NHL side, the Oilers are heading to an early golf season again and some fans are screaming for a change. I personally don't believe that Craig MacTavish is headed anywhere unless it's higher in the organization and that with the new ownership and the injury situation killing the team for the second year in a row, he probably doesn't get fingered as the reason for the team's futility in the standings.

In my opinion, Huddy has done a fantastic job with the blueliners on the team. Gilbert has surpassed expectations, Greene continues to get better and better, Smid and Grebeshkov still have flaws but show steady improvement. Huddy is a keeper.

I'm far from an insider as to which coach is responsible for what but my impression is that Billy Moores is a tactics guy. He's incredibly personable and has a wealth of accolades from his pre-Oiler days at the UofA. I see no reason to question his value to the Oilers.

I really like Rob Daum as well but I wonder why it was a 1-year deal for him though. He's basically scouting the opposition, devising ways to pick apart their systems and I have no reason to think he's anything but good at that job although to me, it seems like a bit like taking a racehorse for a leisurely trot; he's got more to offer than that.

And the 1-year deal bugs me like that itch in the middle of your back that you can never reach. Why 1 year?

Is it a temporary thing? Are they test driving Daum or is he just a stop-gap until someone on the farm is ready for a promotion?

What if... and here's the specualtion... WHAT IF Kelly Buchberger is promoted to the NHL bench next year? I know, it's been speculated before so I know I'm not the first guy. BUT, thinking back to the caller's comment on Total Sports, Bucky is NOT the young "hotshot coach" I wonder about being on the fast track. What if promoting Bucky clears the path for the real coach of the future?

I wonder if it's actually Jeff Truitt.

Here's Truitt's bio from the Falcon's official website: "Truitt joins the Falcons following an outstanding junior coaching career with the Kelowna Rockets... after seven seasons on the coaching staff, including the last three as head coach. Truitt joined the Rockets in 2000-01 as an assistant coach with former Oiler Marc Habscheid before becoming the head coach in 2004-05.

During his seven seasons on the Rockets coaching staff, Truitt helped guide Kelowna to two WHL championships (2003, 2005), two WHL regular season titles (2003, 2004), three consecutive trips to the Memorial Cup tournament (2003, 2004, 2005) and one Memorial Cup championship (2004). In 2004 the Rockets were a perfect 4-0 at the Memorial Cup, winning their first CHL title before a sellout crowd of home fans at Prospera Place with a 2-1 win over Gatineau.

Prior to joining Kelowna, he served as an assistant coach with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes and was the head coach of the Camrose Kodiaks for their first three seasons in the AJHL. While with Camrose, he was co-coach of the AJHL All-Star Selects, finishing second at the 2000 Viking Cup tournament.

Truitt also has international coaching experience with Team Canada. He served as video coach for the silver medal winning 2004 Canadian National Junior Team, was an assistant coach with Canada’s gold medal winning Under-18 Team in August 2006 in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and most recently, he was an assistant coach with Canada’s World Under-18 team that placed fourth at the 2007 world tournament in Finland."

If you want a young up-and-coming coach... who better than a guy with a resume like that? Truitt is 42-years-old and I think could be the AHL coach next year and quite possibly, the guy to replace Craig MacTavish when his current contract runs out in a couple of seasons.

Am I crazy or does that make sense... and would Oiler fans be OK with that?

Monday, February 25, 2008

This Just In....The Fighting Sioux Are Pretty Good

Watched my first live NCAA hockey this weekend, and have to say I was pretty impressed with everything. For a guy who grew up watching the WHL, it seemed like a whole different world.

Both games were a party like atmosphere, with the crowd getting into it from helping the PA dude announce the goal, to thanking him for telling them they're team was at full strength. Then there's the student band, and of course, the nicest arena I've ever been in. Everthing I had heard about Ralph Engelstad Arena didn't do it was amazing. The Sioux also have the best training facilities and dressing room in the league, which is better than most NHL team set ups.

As for the on ice quality, North Dakota is number 2 in the country for a reason. They haven't lost in 13 games, and dismantled a decent Bemidji team that is leading the CHA 5-1 on Saturday. The Sioux power play scored 4 times and made passes with pin point accuracy. Leading the way for UND Saturday was power forward Chris Vande Velde. The Oilers 4th round pick from 2005 notched 3 points and was a force all game. Not to be outdone, fellow 05 pick Taylor Chorney quarterbacked the power play and never looked rattled.

The game on Sunday was much closer and more entertaining. UND couldn't solve the Beavers until very late, and held on for 1-0 lead. The winning goal was set up by St. Louis first round pick T.J Oshie (picture courtesy UND), who was incredible all weekend. He's not the fastest skater I've ever seen, but he does pretty much everything with speed and isn't shy on throwing his body around.

As for Bemidji, while they haven't beaten UND since 1970, they proved on Sunday they won't be a cake walk should the two teams meet in the NCAA tournament, something that could likely happen. I was most impressed with goaltender Matt Clime. He's an undrafted senior who should get a contract at seasons end. Up front, sophmore Joey Moggach didn't see a lot of ice time in the first game, he got better and better on Sunday and was one of the few Beavers to throw a few hits, which in turn created turnovers and chances for the visitors.

All in all, a great weekend of hockey, in a city of 50,000 that goes bannana's for their hockey team.

I would highly recommend checking out the fighting Sioux at home if you get the chance, it's well worth the drive.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oilers Prospects: Deadline Report

Just some interesting tidbits I've been able to dig up recently which I wanted to get out there prior to the NHL's trade deadline as some of them fly in the face of other recent rumors flying around.

Broadway Schremp?

on Sunday Larry Brooks of the New York Post stated that "the Rangers have spoken with the Edmonton Oilers regarding the possibility of acquiring Oilers prospect Robbie Schremp."

I've never met Mr. Brooks but he's long had the reputation of being more than happy to stir the pot, and seemingly with a preference to the Oilers. I remember that it was he who wrote that Craig MacTavish had lost the lockeroom and that his firing was all but a certainty, that was back in Jarret Stoll's rookie season if I recall correctly. During the lock out he was also one of those who bashed the small market teams, singling out Edmonton, who supported Gary Bettman believing that the the tail was wagging the dog while clubs like the Rangers were being penalized for being located where they are.

That said, I'm sure a journalist of his caliber has sources and so if he says the Rangers have expressed an interest in Rob Schremp then who am I to question that? But, I have Oiler sources and they tell me differently. In fact, I'm told that NO ONE has enquired about Schremp (picture courtesy Getty Images).

Now I certainly am open to the possibility that the Oiler organization is telling me one thing while they've got their fingers crossed behind their back; that happens. But that's what I'm told.

Sure Schremp might come up in a package deal or something but apparently, no one is going out of their way (at this point) to pluck him from the Oilers.

That's not to say that the New York Rangers haven't talked to Edmonton at all though, because from my end it sounds like they have. And it is a prospect. And it is a center.

My impression is that New York's interest is actually in Marc Pouliot.

Power to the Pouliot

When the Oilers declared Shawn Horcoff's season over I immediately dug into which farmhand would be on the top of the recall list. Of course the fans want to see Schremp up but his wasn't the first, nor the second or even the third name mentioned to me as possibilities. (Evidenttly the Oilers agree with Dean Millard about keeping Schremp in the AHL for the year).

It appears that Marc Pouliot's play has him poised at the top of the heap and that if not for injury, Jean-Francois Jacques would also garner strong consideration. It will be interesting to see what happens after the trade deadline now that captain Ethan Moreau is on the shelf, assuming both of those players are still Oiler property. Jacques is clearly the more Moreau-esque but some in the organization want to see Pouliot in NHL action again before the end of the season, obviously in order to help make a key contract decision this summer.

Syvret Out, Potulny in?

The Oilers have swapped minor leaguers with the Hershey Bears by sending 2005 3rd round pick Danny Syvret for 2000 5th round pick Grant Potulny. (Not to be confused with brother Ryan Potulny of the Flyers... who was a 3rd round pick in 2003).

So does that mean Syvret is no longer Oiler property? Nope.

It's a loan until the end of the season and that's it. The Oilers needed to get bigger up front in Springfield as their farm team there tries to hold onto a playoff spot but are "taking a beating". Potulny helps the cause checking in at 6'3 and 204 lbs.

Both players are RFA (restircted free agents) at the end of the year; Syvret appears in tough to earn a second contract from the Oilers while Potulny's 4 goal effort on Sunday obviously helps his cause.

Blueline Shortage... AGAIN

Don't look now but with Ladislav Smid on the limp the NHL club is down to 6 defencemen. You'd expect help to be coming from the farm but I'm told that the Falcons are down to 5 healthy D as well what with the injuries to Allan Rourke (wrist) and Sebatien Bisaillon (leg) as well as the departure of Syvret (loaned to Hershey).

That leaves Bryan Young, Theo Peckham and T.J. Kemp as the only potential recalls but if Edmonton can manage without a healthy scratch on the backend, they will because even Stockton is void of rearguard resources right now.

That's going to have to suffice for now. I have a bunch of things I'm keeping to myself at the moment that I'll reveal in the upcoming Top 20 list over at HF. That list, just for the sake of teasing, has been decided and I'll tell you this much: A new #1, 4 players make their top 20 debut and at least 2 make a return to the list after missing out last time. If you're one of those who'll try to make predictions, keep in mind that Cogliano and Gagner will have "graduated" by then and that Pouliot, at 63 games played already, is just 2 short of fllowing suit so a call up could take him out of play.

Shameless Plug

Don't forget that on Tuesday (Deadline Day) TEAM 1260 will be all over the festivities all day starting bright and early with Corey Graham and Jake Daniels up until 10AM when Bryn Griffiths and Bob Stauffer take over. Jason Gregor and Robin Brownlee assume the reins at 3PM until 6 when Dean and I jump in for a special 3-hour edition of The Pipeline Show. Will Fraser captains Just A Game from 9-Midnight.

On that day, The Pipeline Show will focus on the prospects involved in the day's deals. We have Kevin Prendergast on stand by should the Oilers be involved in sending prospects out or acquiring new ones plus Mike Oke from ISS will also be on hand to help dissect the movement of other CHL or college players.

You can listen all day long via the web by clicking on the 'Listen Live' link at the main TPS site.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

First Time For Everything

I'm sitting in a room at the America's Best Value Inn, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, about 55 minutes away from my first NCAA hockey game...and I'm pretty excited. I almost feel like I did before my first Oilers playoff game 5 years ago this spring. UND is taking on Bemidji state this weekend, which while lopsided in the Fighting Sioux's favor, is supposed to be a great one. Last night me and my buddies went out to a few local watering holes, and it was pretty much what everyone was talking about. It is also the State High school hockey championship this weekend with games going at "The Ralph" so hockey is priority number one in this place, which is only about 50,000 people big.

Time to get to the tail gate party, I think we're going to have a street hockey game in the parking lot before the game...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The World Is Coming To Camrose...Again

On Monday night, I reported on Global Television it will likely be announced Thursday that Camrose will be awarded next year's World Junior A Challenge. This is something that I am pretty excited about. It's not the World Junior Championship - which will hopefully be in Edmonton in 2012 - but it's still pretty good hockey, and if you're a prospect junky like myself, it's a good place to see some future stars.

2 Years ago, Kyle Turris (photo courtesy BCHL) played for Team Canada West, and The Pipeline Show was able to get a great scouting report on Turris by Canadian Head Coach Boris Rybalka.

This past year, Kodiaks forward Joe Colborne played for Team Canada West, and Jumbo Joe could be a top 15 pick this June.

But it's not just the odd Canadian kid who you'll remember from this tournament. In 2007, Russia sent several of their young stars. Viatcheslav Voinov and Maxim Chudinov (also a Mac's Midget Alum) suited up, as well as forwards Kirill Petrov, Evgeni Grachev and Nikita Filatov. All 4 are good bets to be high draft picks this year as well. In the case of Filatov, ISS has him ranked 3rd overall and Grachev right now sits 15th on their list. In fact all but 2 players from Russia's roster are 2008 draft eligible. The two that aren't will be in 2009.

Canada has won this tournament in the two years it's been held, with Boris Rybalka leading the way both times. I would expect Boris to be asked to coach again, especially with the event being held in the brand new beautiful rink his team plays in. However, what might prevent the Kodiaks bench boss from committing to Team Canada is a possible job offer from another league. Possibly the NCAA.

Now there are some out there that will look at this tournament with the stink eye, because it basically spelled the end of The Viking Cup. I understand to a point their frustration, but you can still enjoy this event. And from what I'm hearing, the Viking Cup isn't all that dead after all. Tune into Global Sports (cheap shameless plug I know) for more on a possible rebirth of the event using College players both from north and south of the border.

The Viking Cup was a great event that gave fans their first look at Dominik Hasek, Oli Jokinen and Tom Gilbert to name a few. Maybe the Junior A Challenge will create similar memories for Camrose hockey fans this November.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Policy on NHL Rights Needs Changing

One thing that has always bugged me is the way NHL teams can hold onto the rights of NCAA players until they're graduated but for CHL players it's decision time after just 2 years from draft day.

Does anyone know the reason for this? Honestly, I'm asking because I don't. It just makes zero sense to me.

You draft a 17 year old from Moose Jaw who is playing in the WHL for Kamloops and by the time he's 19 you have to decide whether or not he's worth offering a contract to. On the other hand, if that same kid at 17 was playing for the Notre Dame Hounds while waiting to join the Denver Pioneers as a 19-year-old freshman, the NHL club wouldn't have to even think about him until he'd graduated at the age of 23.

19 if you play Major Junior in Canada... 23 if you play NCAA in the States. Same kid, two completely different situations.

What if that 17 year old has a major shoulder injury as an 18-year-old and spends his 19-year-old season getting back into form but only puts up 50 points for the Blazers? That's probably a kid that doesn't get an offer from his NHL team (just ask Eric Hunter).

Meanwhile, in the other scenario, that same kid has 4 more years to get back into top form before he has to worry about getting dumped by the NHL team that drafted him. Hell, at 18, his college career hasn't even begun yet, he's still playing in the SJHL or the BCHL or maybe stateside in the USHL. (see Oiler draft pick Robby Dee)

What about the classic late bloomer who doesn't hit his stride until he's 20, or 22 for that matter? How many guys do you see not getting drafted but get signed as a 20-year-old free agent at the end of their CHL career or as a undrafted NCAA grad?


It's a joke.

If I were boss of the world, NHL teams would be able to keep the rights to their CHL players until their eligibility was up and then even beyond that provided the player in question is committed to enrolling and playing for a CIS program.

Canadian Universities have outstanding scholarship programs; the WHL is the biggest contributor to scholarships in Western Canada, and most of the players playing in the Canada West Conference of CIS hockey now have WHL backgrounds. Many of those players were drafted as 17 or 18-year-olds but never signed once their CHL eligibility expired.

Every year I get told by NHL scouts that CIS hockey is the best kept secret in the hockey world and that several players across the country could play at the AHL level, if not higher.

My solution would see many of the players skating for the Alberta Golden Bears, the Saskatchewan Huskies, the Acadia Axemen, etc still with the ties to the NHL teams that drafted them. It would give those players a longer opportunity to realize their dreams, the NHL teams a longer period of time to wait for development of late bloomers and it just might encourage more 20-year-old CHL grads to continue with their education while playing hockey.

By the way, the guy in the picture is Ben Thomson. This is a guy who was 5 years ahead of his time. In a world where mini-mights like Patrick Kane are not only NOT overlooked at the draft but selected 1st overall despite being 5'8 and 160 lbs... Ben Thomson wasn't even considered a potential prospect. His 3 consecutive +70 point, +30 goal seasons deemed unworthy of recognition because they were achieved by a player outweighed by many bantam players.

After his impressive years with the Medicine Hat Tigers, Thomson joined the University of Alberta Golden Bears where he continued to shine scoring well over a point per game in each of his 3 seasons. In the National title game Thomson scored the tying goal in the dying seconds and then the overtime winner to give Alberta it's record setting victory.

From Alberta it was on to the AHL where Thomson caught on with the Houston Aeros, a team coached by his former Alberta bench boss Rob Daum. 22 points in 47 games as a rookie should be considered a success but with Daum leaving the team, so did Thomson's chances and it was off to Europe for 2007-08.

The German 2nd division is a far cry from the best European leagues but 41 points in 27 games should be enough to impress anyone.

Why use Thomson as my example? As a 20 year old coming off the final outstanding year with Medicine Hat, a NHL team should have been able to "draft" or "list" Thomson because he was headed to play CIS hockey with Alberta. That would have given him the opportunity to attend a NHL camp each fall, compete for a pro job and safely return to school should he fail to get one knowing that the opportunity would be there again next fall.

The only down side that I can see to this idea is that NHL teams are only allowed to have 80 names on their protected list, 50 of which are under contract. But if it meant expanding that 80 to 85 or 90... what would be the harm in that?

No really... I'm asking. Am I off base here or does this not make sense for everyone involved? NHL teams benefit, the players benefit, CIS hockey benefits... who doesn't?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Be Cruel to Your School

Is it just me or does the NCAA seem a bit disfunctional lately?

You've got players jumping ship to play in the CHL, others to play pro, then there have been the multiple suspensions of players for disciplinary reasons and most recently a flatout crime that could lead to legal charges.

More and more it seems to me that there are players choosing the NCAA route for all the wrong reasons than for those that will benefit their hockey or post-hockey careers.

First, why do players choose the NCAA route? That in itself will be an episode on The Pipeline Show this off-season but for the sake of brevity... there are a few good reasons.

1) Older competition - slightly older competition in the NCAA where ages are on the rise from 18-24 years.

2) No movement - players in college don't get traded so there is a lot more stability. It might not sound like a big deal but plenty of players have mentioned it to me.

3) College life - let's be honest, college can be one huge party after another and while the players obviously can't indulge too much, they do and they're celebirties on campus meaning... well, they have fun put it that way.

4) Game atmosphere - There are some great CHL arenas but when you compare that crowd to 6500 strong chanting at Michigan or 13,000 in North Dakota or Wisconsin (not to mention the vast majority of them a partying campus kids) throw in the marching bands... it's really no comparison and players have told me the same.

So what's the problem?

Some players decide after a year that the lack of games is detrimental to development. Others can't keep up their academics so leave (or are helped out the door) and head to the CHL team that drafted them. Others seemingly choose a weak NCAA program where they know they will standout, get a lot of ice time and produce numbers during their draft eyar and then they bolt to the CHL.

Jim O'Brien left Minnesota for the Seattle Thunderbirds because he wasn't playing enough and wanted to get into a league where travel and game schedule was more NHL -like. Casey Pierro-Zabotel wanted to play NCAA this year but didn't have the grades so now he's with the Vancouver Giants in the WHL. The Calgary Hitmen brougth in T.J. Galiardi who starred for Dartmouth College last year, was drafted by Colorado, then left to play a final CHL year before turning pro next season.

Boston College had to indefinitely suspend Brett Motherwell and Brian O’Hanley earlier this year for conduct the program found unforgiveable. The lesson may have been lost on Motherwell who promptly signed a minor league contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets AHL affiliate in Syracuse but O'Hanley, a 9th round pick by San Jose in 2003, has yet to resurface after being dumped by the Eagles.

A couple of weeks ago in Denver, Brock Trotter (pictured) up and left after signing a minor league contract with the Montreal Canadiens. Trotter's reasons for leaving the Pioneers has not been made official but if the rumors have any merit, it was likely a mutual decision with the school more than happy to have him leave.

Recently Michigan forward Kevin Quick (a Tampa Bay 3rd rounder) was kicked off the team for alleged credit card theft and purchase in the thousands of dollars. Although Quick has apparently signed on with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL, he might still face legal charges back in Michigan. Talk is that the card he stole... none other than his freshman teammate Carl Hagelin.

It's not as though these things have never happened before, hell over the years several players have had legal issues dog themn while in college and it doesn't just happen to little known players.

Last year Jonathon Toews, T.J. Oshie and Robiie Bina got in some trouble in North Dakota.

One night in Wisconsin, Brad Winchester came to the defence of a teammate in a bar, the situation escalated and before he knew if he was facing charges of hitting a police officer. Matt Greene earned himself a DUI back in his college days and was suspended for two games as a result. Center Geoff Paukovich also has a legal history albeit prior to his college days with Denver and in a situation which has been questioned for it's legitimacy.

College hockey is supposed to produce well rounded, educated athletes and although I'm sure it still does, something seems to be wrong lately. I wonder what it is.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Another Chance For Alexei?

As Guy pointed out in an earlier entry, the Oilers should have atleast one player coming over from Europe next year, in goaltender Bjorn Bjurling.

I'm hoping they have 2.

Alexei Mikhnov is having a pretty good season with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in the Russian Super League, at blog time he had amassed 14 goals, 18 assists in 44 games, and appears to be getting some first line minutes.

While the numbers tell a nice story, it will be interesting to hear what Oilers VP of hockey operations Kevin Prendergast has to say when he returns from watching the Ukraine born winger in person.

Has his skating improved? Can he play the North American game? Does he even want to?

That last question, I think is the most important.

The Oilers didn't exactly give the potential power forward a great opportunity last year when he played all of 13:43 in two regular season games, before being shipped to the minors.

Heck one analyst who will remain nameless, professed that Mikhnov will never be an NHL regular after watching him for about 10 seconds.

Let's keep in mind this was a stranger in a strange land, trying not only to learn a brand new system, but also the english language. And all he received was 13:43 of ice time????

When the 17th overall pick in the 2000 draft was sent to Wilkes/Barre Scranton, he played okay with 18 points in 27 games, but then asked for and was granted a return to Russia, where's he's played ever since.

And while some, including my co-host, think he needs to convince the Oilers he's capable of playing in the NHL, it's my opinion that they need to convince him to give it another shot.

Keep in mind, the Russians are trying to rival the NHL with a new league, using the backing of Russian energy tycoon Alexander Medvedev and his 304 billion dollar worth.

Would Mikhnov want to come over to Edmonton, where he might sit in the press box, or worse be sent to the AHL again, or stay where he is and play for big bucks?

What may also hurt the 6 foot 5 inch winger's chances of coming over, is the Oilers depth chart. Where do they fit him in next year? Especially if Rob Schremp makes the jump to the big club? Unless trade winds blow, I'm not sure who he beats out of the current line up.

One thing I seriously hope happens, is that if the man that Oilers fans have dubbed "Traktor Boy" does give Edmonton another chance, he gets as much if not more of an opportunity than prospects - turning into suspects Marc Pouliot (12 Points in 63 NHL games) and JF Jacques (0 Points in 53 games).

Of course that's up to head coach Craig MacTavish, who seemed to form a pretty quick opinion of Mikhnov the first time around.

And before I'm accused of being a players apologist, I do think the 25 year old will have to prove himself and shouldn't get a spot handed to him...just a chance at earning that spot.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Top Prospects Report Card (Pt. 2)

Same format as with the blueliners and the masked men but obviously this time I'm looking up front.

Jamie Arniel, Sarnia Sting (OHL) : (23/46) Arniel was a standout at the U18's last spring alongside Steve Stamkos but really, what he'll be remembered for at the Top Prospects game is being the recipient of Colby Robak's sensational long-bomb pass. Credit to Arniel for finishing off the play but outside of that, he had a pretty quiet night. Grade -C

Josh Bailey, Windsor Spitfires (OHL): (19) He scored twice, one being gift wrapped by Hodgson, but Bailey was an integral part of White's top line. Has a lot of hustle and decent size at 6'1 190lbs. He's an aggressive skater and on that line, that was the perfect fit to match with Hodgson and Boychuk, two guys who are probably more skilled than him but needed a worker with hands. That might be a good, simple description of Bailey; a worker with hands. Grade B

Mikkel Boedker, Kitchener Rangers (OHL): (13/11) (and it is pronounced as 'Mikhail' as though he were Russian ) I really enjoyed my conversations with Boedker and outside of Stamkos was team Red's best forward. The Dane had a goal and a helper in the 8-4 loss. In the skills competition he wasn't entered in the fast lap, a shame because he has great wheels, but he did clock in a 92mph slap shot which was 4th best of the 8 entries. Boedker will be gone by the mid point of round 1. Grade +B

Zach Boychuk, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL): (11/10) He was named Player of the Game for Team White after his 1G, 2A performance. He had some serious chemisty with Hodgson and Bailey which was great to see. I've been a Boychuk backer for a while now so I was pleased to see him put together a week that would help erase a WJC tournament where he was a it player. Hands, vision, speed, hockey sense... everything you'd want but unfortunately in a 5'10 package. Grade -A

Phillipe Cornet, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL): (31/72) Based only on this game I'd say the ISS number is more appropriate. He apparently had a goal but I swear I didn;t notice this guy even in the skills competition where he was 1/7 in the accuracy shooting. Grade D

Joel Champagne, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL): (87/80) Here's an example of a guy that only got an invite to the game because enough NHL teams voted him in for a closer look. His line with Chicoutimi teammate Deschamps and Val d'Or's Maxime Sauve were terrific for their hard work and forecheck. He had a second assist on the opening goal of the game but more telling for me was how he and his line became the #1 power play unit because they were having their way with Red's best. Grade +C

Nicolas Deschamps, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL): (28/107) See Champagne because they're pretty much interchangeable write ups. Unlike Champagne though, Deschamps did not register a point. Grade +C

Chris Doyle, PEI Rocket (QMJHL): Honestly, I had to look at the roster twice to double check that this player was even in the game. Put it this way; his team won 8-4 and he ended up a minus-2. Grade F

Tyler Ennis, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL): (17/12) The one guy on the ice brave enough to try and get creative and fancy during the game but just couldn't pull it off. One scout put it to me pretty sucinctly when he said "All the talent in the world but he's getting pushed around in junior... I don't think he's got a chance in the NHL." He's listed as 5'9 and 160 lbs but let's be honest, he's 146 lbs soaking wet (confirmed) and 5'9 if his hair is standing up. Grade +C

Jordan Eberle, Regina Pats (WHL): (24/17) He's one of my personal favorites and I know some folks thought he played well in the game but I have to admit I was disappointed. I didn't see the things I like most from Eberle; the one-on-one attacking and creative dekeing especially. He can pass and skate and shoot but in this game he was held off the scoresheet and he did not standout on skills day either. Grade +C

Cody Hodgson, Brampton Battalion (OHL): (10/6) I'm on record as saying that Hodgson was my pick for Player of the Game. To me he was responsible for two tap-in goals that Team White scored and on top of that his 3 points in all were equalled only by Boychuk. He's fast, showed unreal vision and passing skill and he's on the top power play and top PK unit for the Battalion. He leads his team in scoring and plays against the opposition's top lines... sensational. Grade A

A.J. Jenks, Plymouth Whalers (OHL): (20/26) I don't think he's a first rounder but he's a 2-3rd line power forward with OK hands but an above average sandpaper grit. He's a former 7th round pick that is delivering for the Whalers (albeit it he probably dropped that low because he was committed to the Michigan Wolverines). 6'2 and 21-, he was one of the bigger guys in the game and wasn't shy about playing the body. I liked him, but maybe not enough for the 1st round. Grade +C

James Livingston, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL): (42/39) Personally, I really like what Livingston showed in thie game. He and big Tyler Myers were going at it all night and Livingston was clearly the one trying to keep that kettle on the burner throughout the game. He finished minus-2 but I still liked him. Grade -B

Brandon McMillan, Kelowna Rockets (WHL): (44/68) A late edition to cover for the injured Kyle Beach but couldn't fill those big shoes. McMillan's claim to fame will be that he smoked the field in the fast lap as the only guy to break the 14 second mark with a blistering 13.897. Half a second off the NHL record, that's impressive. Outside of that, he didn't do much outside of getting pasted by teammate Luke Schenn in an open ice collision. Grade -C

Phil McRae, London Knights (OHL): (38/49) Bar none, worst interview that I had that week. Chalk it up to nerves maybe but Basil's son seemed like an introvert compared to the rest of the guys here. He had a second assist on the final goal of the game and was one of the only Red players to end with a plus-rating but really did little to impress me. Grade -C

Greg Nemisz, Windsor Spitfires (OHL): (25/16) His first attempt in the hard shot competition came it at 81mph which was slower than one of the media guys... not an impressive feat there. He redeemed himself with a 88mph seocnd attempt but even that was 7th of 8 entries. He scored on Pickard in the breakaway challenge but I think he might have slept in and missed the game because I didn't notice him or his assist. Grade -C

Maxime Sauve, Val d'Or Foreurs (QMJHL): (36/55) The best individual on the Flying Frenchmen trio as he played between the two Chicoutimi forwards. Had an assist and ended plus-1 but I remember him as a quick, shifty ball of energy with some flair. I think he helped his stock go up a bit with his play here. Grade +C

Jared Staal, Sudbury Wolves (OHL): (32/57) No he's not going to be the best Staal brother, but he might not be a bust like some are saying either. I was impressed with the goal he scored because he was outstretched and scored on a backhand shot that he actually lifted into the top half of the net - not easy to do when you're completely stretched already. Patiently answered the endless "brothers/family name/genetics" questions with a smile. For some reason I found myself looking for flaws and came away pleasantly suprised. Grade -B

Steven Stamkos, Sarnia Sting (OHL): (1/1) Gordie Howe hat trick has captured some attention but his goal was practically a tap in. I didn't see the blazing speed or the incredible puck skills in this game even though you know that they're in there. Even in the skills competition he failed to score in the breakaway relay depite a creative between-the-legs shot attempt. He'll go 1st overall but for his performance in this game alone... Grade -B

Mikhail Stefanovich, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL): (16/29) The knock on him is that he's very inconsistent and sometimes lazy. I hope that's why I didn't really come away with a great impression because this is a player I was looking forward to seeing. Very limited in his English, answered all of my questions in 2 words or less, and I can;t say I ever noticed a smile. He's got size and talent. One scout told me he's the best player available from the Q and another said he'd be gone by the midway point of the first round but to be honest, although I don't doubt it, it didn't look like it here at the TPG. Grade C

Kelsey Tessier, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL): (33/32) Stefanovich's teammate with the Remparts is a self described "Mike Cammalleri type player". He's small but quick and can definitely put up some points. The New Brunswick native was a terrific interview and I really think that he'll be a first round pick because some team will become enamored with his off ice personality. He's enthusiastic, was excited to be here, says all the right things and knows that at 5'9 and 172 lbs he's got an uphill battle. I liked him. Grade -B

Mitch Wahl, Spokane Chiefs (WHL): (37/25) Directly involved in the incident that led to Kyle Beach's concussion (see 2 blog entries below this one), I enjoyed hearing his side of the events. For the record, Wall says he knows Beach a bit away from the rink and that he's "not a bad guy". Anyway, Wahl is another smaller skilled guy which seems to be the theme amongst the forwards this year. I like him but not as much as some of the others like Boychuk, Hodgson, Eberle and Bailey. cored his goal on a really sweet redirection from a point shot after winning the faceoff back to the blueline. Grade +C

James Wright, Vancouver Giants (WHL): (43/35) I didn't notice him in the skills competition, he was a slow 15.245 seconds in the fast lap and failed to score on his breakaway relay chance. In the game I don't think we said his name more than once (I was doing colour on the Fan 590's webcast of the game). Grade D

Geordie Wudrick, Swift Current Broncos (WHL): (69/69) Might have been the guy to bolster his stock the most with the way he performed in the skills and the game. He was really off the radar coming in but scored twice in the 3x3 game, was robbed after a brilliant breakaway relay attempt, and showed some hustle in the big game as well. Speaks a mile-a-minute but thatmight have been nerves as most media weren't asking to speak with him. Have to admit that in the games I've seen the Broncos play this year, Wudrick was a no-show but he caught my eye here. Grade -B

That's it. If you saw the game or skills competition and want to tell me you agree or that I'm on crack, please do!