Thursday, April 12, 2012

The CHL's Undefeated Duo

48 teams made the CHL playoffs and after the second round is finished only twelve clubs will move on to the third round. Of that even dozen, only two remain undefeated with perfect 8-0 records; the defending 2011 Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs and the 2012 WHL regular season champions, the Edmonton Oil Kings.

A quick comparison follws...

Saint John is a power house club featuring 10 NHL drafted prospects. The Sea Dogs steamrolled their way past Cape Breton in the opening round, scoring a total of 34 goals and limiting the Screaming eagles to just 8 in the 4-game series.

Round 2 went just as swiftly and once again the New Brunswick based team pounded their opposition. Saint John scored 19 goals in just the first two games against Baie-Comeau, a team that had just upset Victoriaville in the first round, and then added 10 more goals in the next two games.

[Charlie Coyle by Marc Henwood]
Not surprisingly, 4 of the league's top 5 playoff scorers are Sea Dogs. Minnesota Wild prospects Zack Phillips and Charlie Coyle lead the way with 23 and 21 points respectively, in just 8 games. Stanislav Galiev (WSH) and Tomas Jurco (DET) follow with 19 and 17 points. Florida Panthers 2011 1st round pick Jonathan Huberdeau, arguably the top junior player in the country, is "struggling" having "only" recorded 14 points in 8 games.

At the other end of the country, the Edmonton Oil Kings wrapped up their second round series last night with a 6-0 pasting of an injury depleted Brandon club. Their playoffs began against the defending WHL champs from Kootenay but the Ice failed to match Edmonton's depth and bowed out in 4 straight.

The recent series against Brandon, to me, wasn't as close as the first round match up with Kootenay. Even before the Wheat Kings lost Mark Stone (OTT) and Michael Ferland (CGY) for game 4, the Oil Kings had proved they were the superior team.  

Edmonton has largely dominated their opposition but not to the ridiculous lengths of their undefeated counterparts from the QMJHL. While Saint John has amassed 63 goals for and 18 against, Edmonton's 8 victories have come via 33 goals for but just 12 goals against. That clearly illustrates a difference in the way the teams get it done and perhaps points out a difference in the leagues they play in as well.

The QMJHL has a 1 vs 16 format so the Sea Dogs have feasted on the worst team to make the playoffs, 16th place Cape Breton, and the Drakkar who finished the year in 13th. By comparison, Edmonton's two opponents were 8th and 6th in the WHL's Eastern conference but ranked 11th and 14th in the league.

Curtis Lazar by Andy Devlin
Leading the way for the Oil Kings offensively has been 16-year-old Curtis Lazar who, with 10 points, is tied for 12th in league playoff scoring. That said, only 4 players on the active roster have yet to score and that includes goaltender Laurent Brossoit (CGY) and forward Klarc Wilson who only dressed the first two games of the post season while Henrik Samuelsson served a suspension. 

Edmonton boasts a roster with 6 already drafted players and 5 that will surely go in this June's event. It would be fair to suggest that next season the Oil Kings will resemble this year's Sea Dogs in terms of players affiliated with NHL teams.

Both clubs have a head coach with NHL experience, Saint John's GĂ©rard Gallant obviously much more extensive as a player and coach than Edmonton's Derek Laxdal although the latter has coached at the minor pro level as well.

It would be extremely premature for me to suggest that this will be a Memorial Cup collision, the playoffs are about to get much more difficult for both teams, but the possibility certainly exists. I recently discussed Saint John with a NHL scout while we watched Game 1 of the Edmonton/Brandon series. I asked the scout how Edmonton would match up against the top ranked Sea Dogs and his answer was pretty definitive.

"Right now, it's not even close," he said, "I don't know if anyone is close to Saint John."

Most I have spoken with have suggested that Edmonton's defensive top 6 and starting goaltender is better than Saint John's but that the Sea Dogs group of forwards, can't be matched. Edmonton has impressive depth but so does Saint John, but it's older, bigger and more experienced than what the Oil Kings have today

While Saint John is ranked #1 in the CHL now, most expect that next year's version of the Oil Kings will be better than the one that won the Scotty Monroe trophy this year as the top team in the WHL.
At this point, it would appear that the defending champs are still the heavy favourites in the CHL but their membership in the undefeated club is not exclusive. The Oil Kings are proving that they are a team to fear as well.

No comments: