Friday, May 15, 2009

Memorial Cup Head-to-Head: Defences

Like yesterday's examination of the four goaltenders at the Memorial Cup, here is a comparison of the defences that will be on display.

Rimouski Oceanic

Offensively, the Oceanic have a pair of defencemen that recorded at least 60 points during the regular season. Sebastien Piché led the blueline in scoring with 72 points including 23 goals. Marc-Andre Bourdon, a 3rd round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, was acquired during the year and he contributed 60 points combined between Rimouski and Rouyn-Noranda. 5'9 Emmanuel Boudreau also factored in the scoring with 10 goals and 31 points.

Bourdon has kept pace in the playoffs but Piché's production has stalled.

Defensvively, most of Rimouski's blueliners ended the regular season on the good side of the +/- rating. The injured Maxime Ouimet, who came over from Baie-Comeau, posted an impressive +22 in just 27 games with the Oceanic. (He had a -22 rating with the Drakkar). He won the Kevin Lowe trophy as the league's top defenceman so his absence will be felt.

Looking at their roster sheet, the first thing that jumps out at me is their size. It's like the old Wendy's commercial: "Where's the Beef!?"

The biggest Oceanic defenceman is Bourdon who checks in at a solid 6'0 and 215 lbs. That's fine and dandy but there is no one else that cracks the 200 lb plateau (according to their roster).

Drummondville Voltigeurs

For the Voltigeurs it probably starts with 2009 eligible Dmitri Kulikov who led the team's defenders in scoring with 62 points - as a 17-year-old just getting used to North America. 20-year-old Marc-Antoine Desnoyers came next in scoring with 42 points, a pretty big dropoff from Kulikov's numbers but decent on its own. Outside of those two there isn't a lot of flash from the backend in Drummondville.

In the playoffs Kulikov has been a point-per-game player with 19 points. Desnoyers has chipped in 12 points and veteran Czech import Patrik Prokop has upped his production slightly with 8 points in 19 post season games.

The Volts were one of four teams that surrendered fewer than 200 goals during the regular season (189) while Rimouski allowed 223.

Size is going to be a concern as like Rimouski, there is no one that will pose much of a physical threat. Desnoyers is 6'1 and 190 lbs but he's the tallest and the only +200 lb player is Andrew Randazzo who tilts the scale at 215 lbs but stands just 5'10. But a fire hydrant can pack a punch although Randazzo's 40 PIM this year don't suggest an overly aggressive player.

None of Drummondville's defencemen have NHL ties although we know that will change in June as Kulikov is predicted to go in the top 15.

Windsor Spitfires

Ryan Ellis was tops in the OHL for scoring by a defenceman with 89 points, 13 more than the next closest player. His 67 assists were tops in the entire league regardless of position. He finished a single point behind Taylor Hall atop his team in scoring, a club with a celebrated offence. Not enough can be said about what Ellis brings to the table from an offensive standpoint.

Rob Kwiet had a great year with 67 points and Ben Shutron (CHI) provides another veteran punch although the latter is being counted on much more for his defensive play.

The main job of Windor's blueline group, outside of Ellis and maybe Kwiet, is to take care of their own end. The Spitfires have so much firepower up front that they don't really need to do much offensively except get the puck up to their attackers.

Compared to their Quebec-based opponents, the Spitfires defencemen look big. Certainly Harry Young, at 6'4 and 205 lbs, woould be big on any team. Kwiet is 6'1 and nearly 220 lb, while the rest of the group (sans Ellis) hovers near around the 195 lb mark.

Kelowna Rockets

Tyson Barrie is the Rockets' version of Kulikov or Ellis - a smallish, 2009 eligible offensive minded defenceman who more than makes up for his lack of size with his abundance of production. He had 52 points during the regular season.

Converted forward Brandon McMillan (ANH) has been terrific since making the switch to the backend. His offensive instincts are still there but his greatest asset is his speed - he won the fastest skater competition at the 2008 Top Prospects Game in Edmonton.

The biggest name on Kelowna's d-line might be the biggest player in the CHL, from a literal perspective. Tyler Myers (BUF) stands 6'7 on dry land and weighs in at 211 pounds. He is to the WHL what Zdeno Chara is to the NHL. Myers had 42 points during the regular season but has stepped it up in the playoffs with 20 more in just 22 games.

Colin Bowman has a chance at making the Memorial Cup a family affair after his brother Drayson won the trophy last year with Spokane. Bowman is a 2009 eligible prospect.

No question that this is the biggest defensive group in the tournament. Bowman is 6'2, Tysen Dowzak is 6'5 and 212 lbs and then of course there is Myers.


The head-to-head match up between Kulikov and Ellis will be front and center. Both are considered top 15 caliber players for the 2009 draft so all eyes will be on them in this tournament. My co-host wonder aloud on Tuesday if Tyson Barrie might be a "poor man's Ryan Ellis" for Kelowna and I think it's a valid statement. How much will a strong tournament here raise his draft stock, especially if he is able to out perform and possibly outscore his counterparts?

Kelowna has a size advantage but without seeing all of the teams in action this year it would be impossible to argue which 7-man unit is more defensively sound or potent at the other end of the ice.

My hunch is that if there was a coach poll done asking which defensive unit, as a whole, is best over all aspects of the game... that Kelowna's would come out on top. All have offence, all have veteran leadership, all have good two-way puck movers but only the Rockets have the size to match the biggest forwards at the Memorial Cup.

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