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Jakob Chychrun Selected 1st Overall by the Sarnia Sting

Jakob Chychrun (TSN)

Jakob Chychrun (TSN)

 

For Immediate Release

Friday April 4, 2014

 

Toronto, ON – The Ontario Hockey League in association with the Sarnia Sting Hockey Club today announced that 16-year-old defenceman Jakob Chychrun of the Toronto Jr. Canadiens will be the first overall pick in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection, presented by State Farm.

 

The announcement was made at a news conference held this morning at the RBC Centre’s – Hive Bar & Grill where Chychrun was introduced to local media and fans.

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NHL Draft: Evaluating the boom/bust prospect

February 18, 2014 Leave a comment
(Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

(Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Exclusive from the submissions of Youngblood [Special Edition]: 2014 NHL Draft Midterm Guide

Tuesday, Febraury 18, 2014

No prospect is a sure thing but some come with more alarming risks

The 2014 NHL Draft class is an intriguing one in the sense that there are several players with elite skill sets that aren’t necessarily complete, owning one or two concerning flaws. Whether it is a lack of size, deficiencies in the defensive zone or questionable character, NHL teams are always occupied at determining how much emphasis to place on players’ shortcomings and deciding at what point in the draft makes drafting a risky prospect worth it.

Read more…

2014 NHL Draft Watch: Spirit fall 6-3 to the Sting

October 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Thursday, October 18, 2013

 

With eyes focused on eligible skaters for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, I have decided to post notes on these players with each Ontario Hockey League game I visit this season for your reading pleasure.  There is better debut to begin with than Thursday’s Sting-Spirit game with several highlight individual performances to note. The Sarnia Sting recorded a season-high six goals in their second straight victory after defeating the Saginaw Spirit at the RBC Centre.

Tony DeAngelo of the Sarnia Sting (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Tony DeAngelo of the Sarnia Sting (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Tony DeAngelo (Sarnia Sting, D) – Coming into the 2013-14 OHL season, there was no player I was more interested in following then Sarnia’s offensive defenseman Tony DeAngelo. His path of progression is extremely important to his ultimate draft position. DeAngelo is known for his outstanding and rare offensive skillset but it was important that he developed other aspects of his game.

Early in his draft season, DeAngelo has addressed his weaknesses perfectly. He has shown grown maturity in his game, limiting poor penalties and emotional outbursts. Defensively, DeAngelo is utilizing his exceptional skating ability to maintain good gap control and positioning in his defensive zone to contain opposing attackers. Most importantly, DeAngelo hasn’t been making (as many) risky offensive decisions and appears to be picking his spots to jump into the rush better. Previously, it was common place to catch DeAngelo attempting to execute a toe-drag through the neutral zone (often leading to a turnover and scoring chance, if unsuccessful) but the young native of New Jersey has reeled it back lately.

In Thursday’s game versus Saginaw, DeAngelo picked up a team leading four points (one goal, three assists) and put his vision, unflappable patience and advanced puck skills on display through the entirety of the game. DeAngelo leads all OHL defensemen in scoring with 14 points (5G 9A) through the opening nine games and has factored in on 48% of the Sting’s goals this season, including seven of Sarnia’s eight powerplay goals.

 

Nikolay Goldobin (Sarnia Sting, RW) – Off to a streaky start with the Sarnia Sting in 2013-14 is last year’s rookie scoring leader. Goldobin has recorded points in only four of Sarnia’s nine games but when he’s ‘on’, there are few players in the league that have the ability to control the pace of the game. During the offseason Goldobin added to his average sized frame and looks to be a physically stronger player. His game-to-game and shift-to-shift consistency and intensity still waver at times although improvements have been made in that area.

 

Goldobin’s puck skills are elite, as is his on-ice vision that allows him to dissect the rink and send passes to players most competitors wouldn’t notice, and it’s these two rare skills that makes him arguably one of the OHL’s most dangerous powerplay options. Composed under pressure, Goldobin owns a ridiculous panic threshold level and is able to operate in minimal space with ease. Goldobin recorded two goals (one was a laser over the shoulder of Red Wings’ prospect goaltender Jake Paterson) and added a beautiful assist on rookie Nikita Korostelev’s second tally of the nice on a cross-ice one-timer. Goldobin is up to 10 points through as many games and remains high on my 2014 NHL Draft Rankings.

Tyler Hore (Sarnia Sting, D) – Hore had a solid game for Sarnia skating alongside Josh Chapman most of the game. He remains a sleeper pick for the upcoming draft and I like him as a late round selection but he will need to clean up his defensive play at time. On most nights, Hore and Chapman are drawing tough assignments against opposing team’s top players and he has used his strong skating skills and awareness to contain attackers. His puck skills are good for a defenseman and he has shown several times this year that he has the confidence and puck handling abilities to make difficult keep ins at the offensive blue line. It will take a team to really like Hore’s upside and gamble on his developing skills for him to be drafted but I like this defenseman.

Brett Hargrave (Sarnia Sting, RW) – Prior to Thursday’s game, reports surfaced that Sarnia’s 2012 1st round selection (13th overall), Brett Hargrave, returned home to North Bay to await a trade. To date, the big forward has had an up and down season showing very well during Sarnia’s training camp but has been wildly inconsistent through regular season. There was no word from the Sarnia Sting as to how this situation will unfold at this time.

Patrick White (Sarnia Sting, C) – Congratulations to Sarnia`s Patrick White for scoring his first career OHL goal on slick pass from fellow rookie Noah Bushnell. White is a skilled pivot that has shown flashes of offensive creativity but will need to become a more consistent scoring threat to be considered by NHL teams.

 

Alexandre Renaud (Sarnia Sting, LW) – Former 2012 2nd round selection, Renaud, found himself moved up in the lineup to play alongside Daniel Nikandrov and Alex Carnevale (both undrafted). However, Renaud continues to play too much of a passive game for a man of his size. Renaud is a good skater but his puck handling skills haven`t progressed yet and he will need to make gains in that area. Renaud is still seeking his first point of the season and has been part of a group rotating in and out of the lineup as healthy scratches.

Brandon Prophet (Saginaw Spirit, D) – Prophet was easily my favourite Spirit player on the night. He owns good size, great skating ability and an offensive flare to his game, which is a quality I like in defensive prospects. Prophet logged a lot of time on the Spirit’s top powerplay unit and his ability to read the ice and move into open spaces really impressed me. He remains a potential first round prospect for the upcoming draft class and should find himself land somewhere in the first half of the draft.

Saginaw's Zach Bratini (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Saginaw’s Zach Bratini (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Zach Bratina (Saginaw Spirit, LW) – Bratini is a playmaking winger who displays good hockey intelligence. His ability to read the ice allows him to be an effective player in all three zones. Bratini skates well and his overall offensive game is promising but there were certainly times I wanted him to engage physically with his size. At this point in his career Bratini is fairly raw but his package of skills is very promising and he could hit his stride as the seasons pass. Bratini scored in Thursday`s game on a fluky bounce play during the second period.

Dylan Sadowy (Saginaw Spirit, LW) – In my first viewing of Saginaw this season, Dylan Sadowy impressed me with his responsible two-way game. He was very effective as a defensive forward showing good positioning and a willingness to engage physical. Sadowy owns good size skating at over six feet and his defensive awareness and shot blocking abilities could make him a serviceable bottom six energy player.

Daniel DeSousa (Saginaw Spirit, D) – In his fourth game as a member of the Spirit, De Sousa had an ‘okay’ game. He showed good puck skills in passing and walking the line but his ability to move the puck out of his own zone was quite spotty. As a second round selection of the Belleville Bulls (2012), De Sousa had some lofty expectations placed on him but has disappointed somewhat in his early seasons of OHL hockey. The fresh start in Saginaw could help him but he will need to show consistent offensive output in order to garner serious NHL interest.

Sarnia’s 1st round selection (9th overall, 2013), Nikita Korostelev (Eligible for 2015 NHL Draft), had a terrific game scoring his first two goals of his OHL career. Noah Bushnell (2015 eligible) picked up his first career OHL point as well assisting on Patrick White’s first goal.

 

Next Stops:

Friday, October 18th – Kingston Frontenacs @ Kitchener Rangers

Sunday, October 20th – Ottawa 67′s @ Guelph Storm

 

Thanks for reading,

Brendan Ross

@RossyYoungblood

 

Youngblood Prospect Journal Revealed

September 16, 2013 1 comment

As promised via Twitter, I have developed an exciting new project to be featured throughout the 2013-14 hockey season. Youngblood is a hockey prospect focused journal that will follow relevant news throughout the season. Specifically, Youngblood will be a one-stop place to follow your Ontario Hockey League news as I travel rinks across Ontario and Northern USA scouting the future of the greatest game on earth – hockey!

 

LawCrouseBlend2

Kingston Frontenacs’ Lawson Crouse drafted out of the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs program. (Photo: Brendan Ross, The Scouting Bureau)

In the September Edition of Youngblood, my 2014 NHL Entry Draft Pre-Season Rankings are revealed and all prospects ranked in the opening round are profiled. Furthermore, there are several mini-feature articles on OHL stories and I have passed on my personal thoughts on some minor midget players who are entering their OHL Draft years.

I encourage the readers to post your thoughts and/or recommendations on the new publication.

Download Youngblood September Edition here: Youngblood

Thanks for reading,

Brendan Ross

@RossyYoungblood

Alex Galchenyuk Primed for World Junior Dominance

March 21, 2013 Leave a comment

 

Originally Published at The Hockey Writers on Devember 18th, 2012

 

Just a few miles from the US-Canada border, Montreal Canadiens’ prospect Alex Galchenyuk, an American slated to star for Team USA in the upcoming 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships in Ufa, Russia, entered the Christmas break on an absolute tear after recording five goals and eight points in his two weekend games. In a 7-4 win over the Kingston Frontenacs Saturday night, the Sarnia Sting captain was an absolute beast in what could be his best OHL performance ever when he scored a hat trick of goals and added a pair of assists in a 5-point effort to propel his team to a seven point lead in the West Division standings.

 

The Galchenyuk Show (5-point game on December 15, 2012)

 

Producing gaudy offensive numbers has not been a problem lately for the third overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.  Since the start of November, the 6-foot-1 Galchenyuk has formed a potently dangerous line with New Jersey Devils’ prospect Reid Boucher and the undrafted Charles Sarault causing havoc for all opposing teams.  Galchenyuk has been a model of consistency all season long as he has only went pointless in six games over his 33 played this season. The Sarnia Sting have relied heavily on Galchenyuk’s production and he has went above and beyond, especially in his last 17 games where he has tallied an impressive 19 goals and 40 points to complement his shiny plus-14 rating.

 

Alex Galchenyuk WJHC

Alex Galchenyuk has been lethal for the Sarnia Sting and will play a significant offensive role for the Americans at the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

From all early accounts, the Montreal Canadiens appear to have had an extremely successful draft in 2012 but their third overall selection of Alex Galchenyuk may have been one of their biggest steals. After missing all but two regular season games last year with a devastating preseason knee injury, Galchenyuk has returned quickly to full form and that speedy recovery can be attributed to his remarkable work ethic, on and off the ice. In his draft year, Galchenyuk remained one of the top ranked skaters all season long despite playing sparingly and his recent dominance certainly supports the advocates that even had Galchenyuk ranked first overall ahead of Nail Yakupov.

As with most serious knee injuries, there was plenty of concern surrounding Galchenyuk’s health and his rehabilitation. A closer look at Galchenyuk’s post-draft season shows that those cautious followers can breathe easier now. Galchenyuk’s skating shows no signs of weakness and his stride and power could be considered better than his pre-injury stride. His ability to change the pace with a few powerful strides is one of his best assets and he utilizes these short bursts of power to attack quickly. Galchenyuk can often be seen employing his elite puck protection skills with his long reach using his body to shield away opponents and then quickly cut to the middle of the ice to rip a shot past opposing goaltenders or find a teammate with a pass on the back door step.

Galchenyuk has played mostly on the right wing this season, a change from his usual centre position, and it has added another element of versatility to his game.  The change to wing has been implemented by Coach Jacques Beaulieu to keep Galchenyuk and Sarault together on the same line, forming one of the Canadian Hockey League’s top trios with Boucher on the left wing. The Montreal Canadiens would surely love to have Galchenyuk as their future number one pivot but his success on the wing this season cannot be overlooked. With an elite ability to work off of the half-boards and cycle the puck down low, Galchenyuk can utilize this rare skill equally as well on the wing. Furthermore, Galchenyuk has shown a tendency to attack from the off-wing as he likes to trick defenders with a fake wrist shot on the rush as he toe drags through their legs and blasts by them with a few short powerful strides.  Galchenyuk has used this attacking move quite often this year and it has come with great success, mainly because he keeps defenders honest by sniping goals in a similar fashion with his quick wrist shot using the defender as a screen.

 

Goal scoring has never been an issue for Galchenyuk. His shot features pin point accuracy and a release that develops the velocity necessary to make opposing goalies look foolish. Take a look at a few of Galchenyuk’s most recent goals and it is clear that his shot has elite elements. At the half-way point of the OHL season, number 94 sits tied in OHL goal scoring with 27 goals, just four back of his career high (31) that he set as the OHL’s top rookie in 2010-11. As good as Galchenyuk’s goal scoring ability is, his vision and playmaking skills remain his most impressive talents as he has a deceiving ability to find open teammates and thread extremely difficult passes with great accuracy at the drop of a hat. Defending teams have to ensure perfect gap control on Galchenyuk as he can quickly take an inch of open ice and turn it into a prime scoring chance with his elusive in-close puck handling skills. Montreal Canadiens fans will quickly learn that Galchenyuk has an element of unpredictability as he can either employ his sharp shooting abilities or feed a streaking teammate from a position where no one expects a pass from.

Galchenyuk with 2 goals and 1 assist (December 14, 2012)

 

 

Galchenyuk undresses defender Alex Gudbranson (December 9, 2012)

 

 

Coach Jacques Beaulieu has used Galchenyuk in every situation this season and his increasing confidence is becoming a dangerous weapon. On the penalty kill, Galchenyuk has shown great positioning, good anticipation, a tricky stick and a willingness to block shots helping the team win games and produce one of the OHL’s top penalty killing units (5th – 83.8%). Moreover, the Sarnia Sting have the third ranked power play unit (26.4%) and Galchenyuk’s seven power play goals and 11 power play assists have been a big factor in that success. There have been a number of great surprises in Sarnia Sting land this season including exceptional goaltending from JP Anderson, an increase in special teams performance and the improved ability to compete as a team; but, it is safe to conclude that Sarnia’s success would not be as great without the strong play of Captain Alex Galchenyuk.

 

As the NHL continues to be locked out, Galchenyuk will gladly continue his torrid pace playing in the OHL; however, if the work stoppage comes to an end soon, it is expected that Galchenyuk would report to the Montreal Canadiens immediately, if the franchise requests his services. Galchenyuk is ready to play in the National Hockey League and would add an element of offense to the Canadiens’ attack if General Manager Marc Bergevin feels it is worth burning a year off of Galchenyuk’s entry-level contract for three months of his services.

 

The former first overall selection in the 2010 OHL Priority Selection Draft sits just one point back from OHL leading scorer Ryan Strome after Galchenyuk’s 5-point effort as both players head to Ufa, Russia to compete for the respective countries. Galchenyuk has factored in on 49.2% of the Sarnia Sting goals scored this season whereas Strome has seen his name attached to 48.4% of the Niagara Ice Dogs’ 128 goals.

 

The Sarnia Sting leading scorer is set to fly out for the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships with teammate Connor Murphy as Team USA prepares to improve on a disappointing seventh place finish at last year’s tournament. USA Head Coach Phil Housley will lean heavily on Alex Galchenyuk as a source of offense, an area that the Americans have struggled with in the past few championships.  It will be the first time that Galchenyuk has represented the Americans in an IIHF sanctioned international tournament and expectations are extremely high for this budding offensive prospect.

 

The Sarnia Sting will be without their team captain’s services for likely five games (December 28th vs. Brampton, December 31st vs. London, January 1st @ London, January 4th vs. Windsor and January 5th @ Erie) and will look to Charles Sarault, Nikolay Goldobin and Reid Boucher, who was a surprise omission from the Team USA WJHC roster), to provide the scoring in his absence.

 

As Alex Galchenyuk departed Saturday, the classy young men sent out quick message via twitter,

@AGally94 Great first half of the season! Very proud of all the guys! #sarniasting #HappyHolidays

Who would not want this gentleman as the potential face of your franchise?

 

Good luck to Alex Galchenyuk at the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships as he continues on his bright path to become one of the National Hockey League’s future stars.

Subway Super Series: Nail Yakupov’s Final Farewell in Sarnia

March 21, 2013 Leave a comment

 

Originally Published at The Hockey Guys on November 13th, 2012

 

By Brendan Ross (@RossyYoungblood)

Sarnia, ON – Coming into the fourth game of the six-game Subway Super Series, the Canadian Hockey League trailed the series six points to three looking to even up the series. In the history of the Subway Super Series, the Russians have never scored a goal on Sarnia ice in the two previous games being shutout in 2003 and 2006.

Entering the dying minutes of Monday night’s game, it appeared that Team OHL would keep that shutout streak alive until Chicago Blackhawks Maxim Shalunov sent a filthy between-the-legs-no-look pass to fan favourite Nail Yakupov with just 36.1 seconds remaining in regulation.

It was fitting that former Sarnia Sting superstar Yakupov scored the lone Russian goal as the entire evening was an emotional one for Yakupov and Sarnia fans as both said their final goodbyes.

The crowd (4,283) erupted as Yakupov threw his hands into the air in typical “Yakky” dramatic fashion. It was a bittersweet ending for a Sarnia fan-base that graciously thanked Yakupov with a heartfelt ovation as he skated in his post-game “farewell lap” on Sarnia ice for one last time, throwing his game-worn helmet into the crowd and signing a few autographs before disappearing down the tunnel.

Nail Yakupov in his post-game farewell skate tosses helmet into crowd as he says good-bye to Sarnia

Yakupov, drafted second overall in the 2010 CHL Import Draft by Sarnia, tallied 82 goals and 175 points through 113 regular season and playoff games as a member of the Sting, but it was Monday night’s final goal of the game that would be his final official goal on Sarnia ice. His electrifying good-bye goal marks the 51st goal and 111th point Yakupov scored on home ice in Sarnia and it will never be forgotten by the Sting fan-base or Yakupov himself.

Just as he arrived over two years ago in Sarnia, Yakupov left Sarnia Monday night as a total class act and remains one of the franchises’ all-time great players.

Subway Super Series Game 4 Notes:

Team OHL played a very strong defensive game, with great play from their six defensemen and goaltenders Jordan Binnington (Owen Sound Attack; St. Louis Blues) and Jake Patterson (Saginaw Spirit; Detroit Red Wings), as the two split the win, evening up the series with six points apiece. Jordan Binnington was perfect, making eight saves while Jake Patterson stopped eight of the nine shots he faced. The win gives the OHL an impressive record of 19-1 versus the Russians in the 10 year history of the Subway Super Series, with the single loss coming last Thursday in Guelph with a disappointing 2-1 defeat.

2012 Subway Super Series - Sarnia

Subway Super Series Game 4 Opening Faceoff (Brendan Ross/TheHockeyGuys)

The Islanders’ fifth overall selection, Ryan Strome, was brilliant all night, opening the scoring at the 9:50 mark as he pounced on a centering pass from Garrett Meurs (Plymouth Whalers; Colorado Avalanche) beating Russian netminder Andrei Vasilevski (Tampa Bay Lightning) five hole. Senators’ prospect and Kitchener Rangers forward Matt Puempel picked up the secondary assist on Strome’s tally. From that point on, the game became a defensive battle as both teams made several nice checks, limiting the opposition’s scoring chances. Team OHL would continue to struggle on the powerplay as the team went 0-for-6 with the man advantage as they could not solve the dynamic Vasilevski between the pipes. Through both OHL games, the team failed to convert on a powerplay, going goal-less in 10 attempts, a statistic reflective of how well Vasilevski and Russia played defensively.

The highlight of the night may have been when Yakupov was crushed at center ice by bruising winger Tom Wilson (Plymouth Whalers; Washington Capitals). Luckily for Yakupov, the dynamic winger bounced back up to his feet and carried on with his attack. Wilson put on a clinic throughout the game with his relentless forecheck and bone crushing steam-everything-in-his-way approach showing Hockey Canada that he could be a valuable depth player for the upcoming 2013 World Junior Championship.

The second goal of the game came at the 9:16 mark of the third period as the OHL powerplay expired, when Sudbury Wolves defenseman, Frankie Corrado (Vancouver Canucks) picked up a large rebound on the doorstep and fired it past Vasilevski to make it 2-0.  Assists on the play went to Niagara Ice Dog teammates Ryan Strome (New York Islanders) and Dougie Hamilton (Boston Bruins). Corrado was arguably Ontario’s best defenseman, competing confidently the entire game, and showing great potential as a two-way pro defenseman. If there was a single OHL defenseman who improved his chances at earning a WJC spot, it was Corrado.

As Russia continued their attack, Team OHL defensemen were extremely effective at limiting the offensive scoring chances showing that many of these rearguards will receive special consideration for the upcoming World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia. Specifically, OHL captain Scott Harrington (London Knights; Pittsburgh Penguins), Stuart Percy (Mississauga Steelheads; Toronto Maple Leafs), and Adam Pelech (Erie Otters; New York Islanders) played mistake-free hockey. The game plan was executed well against a Russian roster that can so often quickly cripple the opposition on careless turnovers with their opportunistic scoring ability.

Up front, Team OHL had strong showings from several top prospects including Barrie Colts’ leading scorer Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg Jets), Ryan Stome (Niagara Ice Dogs; New York Islanders), Tom Wilson (Plymouth Whalers; Washington Capitals) and Kerby Rychel (Windsor Spitfires; 2013). Seth Griffith (London Knights; Boston Bruins), Daniel Catenacci (Owen Sound Attack; Buffalo Sabres), Max Domi (London Knights; 2013), Garrett Meurs (Plymouth Whalers; Colorado Avalanche) and Matt Puempel (Kitchener Rangers; Ottawa Senators) showed that their smaller size was not much of an issue as each of them showed flashes of their professional potential.

Scheifele was a force in the faceoff dot winning virtually every matchup he faced, and was probably the most complete player on the ice, showing why he is considered NHL-ready. Strome factored in on both OHL goals (1 goal, 1 assist, plus-2) and earned Player of the Game honours for Team OHL, as he was buzzing the entire game, using his speed and slick hands to control the play. Wilson, as previously mentioned, was hitting every player in his way, but also showed great defensive awareness as he back-checked hard to break up several key scoring chances for the Russians. Rychel had a strong game, as he proved to be one of the OHL’s more physical forwards, executing several hard body checks.

London Knights teammates Griffith and Domi were definitely the two smallest players on the ice, but both forwards showed good poise and playmaking abilities throughout the night. Their size remains a concern, but their hockey sense and execution are at elite levels, making them constant offensive threats. Catenacci was a player that stood out as one of OHL’s most consistent players on both sides of the puck. He showed to be a great defensive-minded forward, and his speed was especially useful on that attack.

Meurs and Puempel flagged Strome as wingers, and the line proved to be quite successful as Meurs’ hard skating and tenacious puck pursuit complemented Puempel’s and Strome’s skill games nicely. Sudbury Wolves forward Josh Leivo (Toronto Maple Leafs) was one of team OHL’s bigger forwards but it was disappointing to see him lose puck battles in the corners to smaller Russian defenders.

Minnesota Wild draftee and the OHL’s leading goal scorer Tyler Graovac (Ottawa 67’s) was quite visible as he attacked smartly, taking good routes, but failed to find the score sheet in Sarnia. Barrie Colts forward Anthony Camara (Boston Bruins) had several scoring chances but failed to convert. On one specific play, Seth Griffith made a slick pass to Camara on the doorstep but his fellow Bruin draft pick fanned on the shot attempt. Camara’s skating remains a work in progress, but his well-rounded game could see him receive a long look for Canada’s 2013 JC squad.

Sarnia Sting defenseman Alex Basso, who was the lone undrafted skater on Team OHL (exluding 2013 NHL draft eligible skaters Kerby Rychel and Max Domi). The mobile puck-moving defenseman played a solid two-way game last night versus some elite Russian talents. Basso, a shifty and dynamic skater, can usually be seen attempting high risk passes and dangles, but in last night’s game, he was able to simplify, making him a better all-around blue-liner.

Russian goaltender Andrei Vasilevski earned Player of the Game honours for the second time in this series, stopping 27 of 29 Team OHL shots. Vasilevski continues to be a dominant goaltender on the international stage, and on Monday night he played especially well with his future boss in Steve Yzerman, Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager, watching intently from the stands.

The Russian squad had several other standout performances despite struggling to solve the brilliant tandem of Binnington and Patterson.  Nikita Nesterov (Tampa Bay Lightning) is a defenseman known for his offensive skill-set  but he was especially good on the defensive side of the puck, winning battles against much larger forwards.

The burly 6’3” 220-pound Yaroslov Kosov (Florida Panthers) had a good showing, displaying quick feet, opposing size and good puck control. His shift-to-shift consistency was erratic, but Kosov owns great pro potential that the Florida Panthers should be excited about with this 2011 5th round selection.

Special attention was directed at the play of Alexander Khokhlachev (Boston Bruins) after the former Windsor Spitfire left the OHL to make his KHL debut this season. In game four of the Subway Super Series, Khokhlachev’s lack of top speed was exposed in a game that was lightning quick. “Koko” is extremely creative, but without an improvement in speed and strength (pushed around too easily), he will have an uphill battle to crack the Bruins’ top six in the foreseeable future.

Looking toward the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Russians featured two notable prospects, Valeri Nichushkin and Bogdan Yakimov. Nichushkin was one of Russia’s top forward performers in Sarnia on Tuesday night. With great size and puck control, Nichushkin was an aggressive attacker, as he drove the net with authority, and dished off passes to open teammates with great success. On the other hand, Yakimov was underwhelming in Tuesday evening’s game. The massive winger failed to accomplish much on either side of the puck. Yakimov had several key turnovers that resulted in him failing to move the puck quick enough, and he struggled to pick up enough speed to beat the OHL defenders on the attack. Yakimov has a tantalizing package of size and rare skill, and will continue to be discussed as a potential first round talent, but his showing in Sarnia could be summed up as “sub-standard”.

The 2012 Subway Super Series is tied 2-2 with 6 points aside, and the outcome of this series will be determined when the remaining two games shift to the Western Hockey League locations. Vancouver, BC is the site for Game 5 and is scheduled to take place Wednesday, November 14 at 10:00pm ET. The final game will be played in Victoria on Thursday night. Games will be televised on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada, and NHL Network in the United States.

CHL Import Draft: Sarnia Sting Strike GOLDobin…Again

March 21, 2013 Leave a comment

 

Originally Published at The Hockey Guys on October 15th, 2012

 

 
Sarnia Sting’s Nikolai Goldobin (Photo Courtesy of Metcalfe Photography)

By Brendan Ross (@RossyYoungblood)

“With the 36th pick in the 2012 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, the Sarnia Sting select Nikolai Goldobin” were the likely words from Sting GM Jacques Beaulieu as Sarnia made their first round selection last spring.

As with most unknown Russian junior league players, the fans of the Sarnia Sting knew very little about what type of player they were receiving in Goldobin.  After a month of Ontario Hockey League action, there is no longer a sense of unfamiliarity with the Russian forward as Goldobin is quickly turning heads with his recent outstanding play. Coming off of a three game week where Nikolai Goldobin recorded one goal and five assists for six points including a game high three-point contest versus Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds on Sunday, Goldobin’s transition to the North American game is quickly putting it together. His strong performance will certainly put him in contention for the OHL Player of the Week honours.

The young 2014 NHL Draft eligible Russian played with the Russian junior league team, Russkie Vityazi Chekhov, last season posting a respectable 13 goals and 22 points in 50 games. Metallurg Novokuznetsk of the Kontinental Hockey League took notice of his rare talents and selected him eighth overall in the 2012 KHL Draft. Luckily for the Sarnia Sting, Nikalai Goldobin chose to bring his talents to the border city as the team’s second import player replacing former OHL star Nail Yakupov.

In recent years, Sarnia has had good success at the CHL Import Draft table locking up some high quality players. In 2010, Nail Yakupov was brought to Sarnia as the second overall selection and quickly made himself noticed breaking the Sting rookie point records previously held by the infamous Steven Stamkos.

Goldobin, who recently turned 17 on October 7th, certainly comes with much less hype than Yakupov but he has shown early on to share a few similar attributes as the former high-flying star winger. Like Yakupov, Goldobin is a left-shooting winger in a smaller frame (5’11”, 154 lbs) that thrives playing on his off right wing.

Similar to Yakupov, Nikolai has a crafty playmaking ability that few of his OHL classmates could replicate. Goldobin has elite-level vision and his skill for threading needle-like passes goes unmatched. His playmaking ability truly is among the elite at the major junior level and he has just begun playing with the confidence that could make him a star in the OHL. Not overly speedy and certainly not a bull on the puck, Goldobin thrives on his vision and slick puck skills to elude defenders. Goldobin is currently riding a four-game point streak and it is no coincidence that his team in Sarnia shares the same four-game win streak.

After several weeks of experimenting with line chemistry, coach Beaulieu has placed Goldobin on the top line alongside Montreal Canadiens top prospect Alex Galchenyuk and the move has paid huge dividends as the duo has formed tremendous chemistry with each other and overage winger Craig Hottot. Over the past few games, Galchenyuk and Goldobin’s harmony on the ice has been symphony-like as their orchestrated passing has been timely executed showing all signs of a beautiful partnership for the year to come. With Goldobin’s ability to see the ice and elevate the play of his line-mates around him he has been especially important to Sarnia’s offensive attack.  Early signs point to Sarnia having found another offensive gem via the CHL Import Draft and Nikolai Goldobin is a name the Ontario Hockey League will soon familiarize them with.

VIDEO: Nikolai Goldobin scores a highlight reel goal in Sarnia’s 3-1 win over the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds (Courtesy of OntarioHockeyLeague.com)

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Is Yakky Back? Making Sense of the Yakupov Situation

March 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Originally Published at The Hockey Writers on September 27th, 2012

 

Over the past few days, Nail Yakupov has been making headlines after receiving word that he was suspended from playing in any more Kontinental Hockey League games until further notice. The Edmonton Oilers first overall pick headed home a few weeks ago to prepare himself to suit up for his hometown KHL squad of Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, the same team that drafted him 19th overall in the 2010 KHL draft.

After scoring his way to the first overall selection last year playing for the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League, Yakupov appeared ready to take the next jump into professional hockey. He suited up in two games for his hometown KHL club posting zero points before receiving the bad news.  Unfortunately for this passionate and charismatic hockey player, Yakupov recently found out that he was ineligible to compete in the KHL during the NHL lockout until a resolution was determined between the IIHF and Hockey Canada.

Yakupov is in a tough place as his potential destination teams attempt to figure out a solution. For a young almost-19-year old who is already disappointed at the delay of his National Hockey League debut, waiting in the wings to find a place to play is even more gut wrenching especially given his intense desire to compete.

In an ideal world, the Sarnia Sting and Hockey Canada would grant Yakupov his release from his CHL contract and allow him to compete for his hometown squad in the country he loves, all while earning some professional dollars. On the other hand, Hockey Canada and the Sarnia Sting have an  interest in not allowing any player to get out of his agreement as it could potentially open a whole new set of problems with future import players.

Sarnia Sting coach and General Manager Jacques Beaulieu entered the 2012-13 OHL Season fully expecting his team to play without the services of superstar forward Nail Yakupov but he still protected the former second overall import pick’s rights because of the potential NHL lockout. Canadian Hockey League teams are permitted to carry only two import players on their roster in a normal season but in the case of an NHL lockout, the teams are allowed to carry three imports and dress two. With former import Ludvig Rensfeldt leaving Sarnia for Europe in the offseason, Beaulieu and the Sting organization had no problem protecting Yakupov despite knowing he might not be back.

In the past week this situation has increasingly become more complicated. Each invested camp is now seeking a little “something else” from the outcome of this situation. Let’s break down each of the parties’ interests below.

Canadian Hockey League

The CHL ideally wants to protect the legislation laid out for its member teams and it states that an import player who signs a CHL contract is required to fulfill all three years unless that player is specifically released by its member club, in this case we are speaking of the Sarnia Sting. Hockey Canada did not receive notice from Sarnia that they were indeed releasing Nail Yakupov and as a result, the International Transfer Card was not signed by Hockey Canada. Until Sarnia notifies Hockey Canada to release Yakupov or a separate agreement is reached, Hockey Canada will continue to enforce their legislation.

Edmonton Oilers

There shouldn’t be too much to report from the Oilers’ camp, as they were fully prepared to allow Nail Yakupov to return home to make his professional debut with Reaktor Nizhnekamsk. The Oilers’ franchise wants the best for their newest Russian star and as long as Yakupov is happy playing in Russia then the team supports their first overall pick. There have been some media outlets that have reported that Nail Yakupov may love playing in Russia so much that there is a small risk that he remains in the KHL after the end of the NHL lockout. Those reports are from people trying to force a story. Anyone who has been around Yakupov or spoke to him would understand that his biggest dream is to not only play in the NHL, but exceed there too. He was excited to be selected first overall and was thrilled to begin his NHL career in Edmonton. Yakupov will be back in Edmonton as soon as this NHL lockout is resolved.

KHL/ Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk

From every party examined here, the Kontinental Hockey League and its Nizhnekamsk club stands to benefit the most from Yakupov suiting up. From the onset of the NHL lockout, KHL teams have started to flood with NHL star players looking for a place to play. With the influx of NHL star talent follows loads of financial rewards in the form of ticket sales, merchandise sales and other marketing strategies. Having the first overall selection, who just happens to be Russian and playing in his hometown, suit up is immeasurable for the KHL franchise. The Russian federation will fight hard to obtain Yakupov’s rights even if his stay might be short-lived.

Sarnia Sting

The franchise that holds most of the (current) power is Yakupov’s junior club in the Sarnia Sting. The uncertainty of the length of the NHL lockout remains the Sting’s biggest nemesis. Sarnia could stand to benefit greatly if Yakupov is forced to return to the Sting and the lockout lasts the entire season. However, the harder the franchise pushes to return their star player in Sarnia, the more they are risking in terms of how it will influence their ability to recruit future star import players. It’s been rumoured (true or not), that Yakupov was adamant about not returning to play in Sarnia, for whatever reasons, and if he is “forced” to play for his former club there could (key word) be backlash.

Nail Yakupov (Metcalfe Photography)

Of course, there also could be no problems either. At this point it’s too tough to determine but is it worth the risk of negatively influencing future players from coming to Sarnia? Moreover, Yakupov’s agent, Igor Larionov, has helped the Sting organization out by recruiting some top notch talent in recent years and no one knows how a long drawn-out process with Yakupov would affect his future relationship with Sarnia.

In the end, if Yakupov returns to Sarnia then the team becomes an instant contender with several options (depending on the length of the lockout) as they could utilize Yakupov’s services in the Sting lineup or trade him to restock the assets the team lost in their attempts to contend last season. His return would force Sarnia’s hand to move one of the 1995 born import picks, David Nemecek or Nikolay Goldobin (both players too good to scratch), or trade Yakupov himself. Right now, there isn’t a whole lot to report out of Sarnia but that could change quickly, for better or worse.

Nail Yakupov

The most important piece of this debate is the player himself – Nail Yakupov. What is in Yakupov’s best interest? Depending on whom you ask that answer will vary. Has Yakupov outplayed the OHL competition? For me, no but he also stands little benefit to remain in this league as he can certainly compete at a higher level. Because of the lockout, Nail Yakupov would join several other professional-ready players, who have returned to compete in the OHL including Dougie Hamilton (Bruins), Mark Scheifele (Jets), Ryan Murphy (Hurricanes), Ryan Strome (Islanders), and JT Miller (Rangers). Yakupov has made it clear that he does not want to return to the OHL and that he feels he would be better served competing against men in the KHL.  Is it worth Hockey Canada and the Sarnia Sting to hold him here in North America against his wishes?

In the end, the entire uncertainty of the NHL lockout duration continues to complicate matters. To satisfy all parties quickly, the Sarnia Sting would most likely sign Yakupov’s release papers if they knew the lockout would last only a few months. However, in the event of the losing an entire NHL season, Sarnia would be wise to attempt to retain Yakupov’s services either to make them a true contender or by trading him for quality assets to fast-track an inevitable rebuild.

One thing is for certain, this situation is more complicated than originally thought. Yakupov’s star status is coveted all over the globe and the sooner this situation is rectified the sooner the hockey world gets to see this passionate talent on display.

 

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Categories: OHL, Sarnia Sting

2012-13 OHL Predictions – Part I: Western Conference

March 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Originally Published at The Hockey Writers on September 10th, 2012

 

As the Ontario Hockey League prepares to open its 38th season, Commissioner David Branch and the twenty competitive teams realize the opportunity for increased marketability and competiveness with an increasing likelihood of the National Hockey League entering another lockout. It has been a rather busy and frustrating summer for Branch and the 30 Canadian Hockey League franchises as they have been forced to deal with a possible introduction of the CHLPA (Canadian Hockey League Players Association). Fortunately, even with the distraction of the CHLPA front-and-centre, the imminent start of the 2012-13 OHL season will soon give fans something positive to talk about and, more importantly, satisfy their hockey cravings.

 

The OHL has been one of the top development leagues for the National Hockey League for several decades and it stands to benefit significantly if the NHL enters into another lockout under Commissioner Gary Bettman. At the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, eleven names from the OHL were called in the opening round including two of the first three picks in Sarnia’s Nail Yakupov (1st, Edmonton) and Alex Galchenyuk (3rd, Montreal). Over the past few seasons, the trend of drafted players stepping right into the lineup has become more common allowing many of the top junior aged players to graduate from their OHL teams. First overall selection, Nail Yakupov, has dominated the league over the past few seasons and if NHL action is put on hold then it is expected that Yakupov will return to his hometown in Russia and play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Sarnia Sting GM Jacques Beaulieu knew last year that his team would be without the services of Yakupov. However, Montreal Canadiens’ 3rd overall selection, Alex Galchenyuk, is a different story. Limited to a handful of games last year due to injury, Alex Galchenyuk will return to the Sarnia Sting and lead his team using another season of major junior to strengthen his knee and showcase his elite hockey skills. As a top pick, Galchenyuk was expected to contend for a roster spot with the Canadiens but due to the potential work stoppage and his lost year of development Galchenyuk would be one player to benefit from returning to the OHL.

 

Under normal circumstances (no lockout), players are permitted to compete in the American Hockey League (AHL) if they turn 20-years of age by December 31st of that season or have exhausted their four years of major junior eligibility. For example, Ryan Strome is ineligible to play in the AHL as he will not turn 20 until next July and has only completed three OHL seasons. On the other hand, a player such as Brandon Saad does not have to return to the OHL as he will turn 20 in late October deeming him eligible to compete for Chicago’s affiliate, Rockford IceHogs. Every team stands to benefit from an NHL lockout by welcoming back their top talents but several notable franchises could receive massive boosts including Niagara Ice Dogs (Ryan Strome, Dougie Hamilton), Kitchener Rangers (Radek Faksa, Tobias Rieder, Ryan Murray), Barrie Colts (Mark Scheifele, potentially Tanner Pearson) and the Sarnia Sting (Alex Galchenyuk, Connor Murphy). Obviously, none of the aforementioned OHL star players are guaranteed to return but in the event of a lockout their chances improve dramatically and the entire OHL will benefit.

 

To kick-start the 2012-13 OHL Season, I have devised my pre-season predictions (broken down into several parts) including leading scorers and final standings, based on the understanding that an NHL lockout will occur. With less than two weeks until the puck drops on the OHL season, plenty of changes can certainly take place but based on several OHL camp and exhibition viewings, here is how things could unfold.

 

OHL WESTERN CONFERENCE

 

1st Kitchener Rangers

Radek Faksa is one of many players who could find themselves in a Leafs jersey on the draft stage this Friday (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

With the potential return of Radek Faksa (Stars), Ryan Murphy (Hurricanes) and Tobias Rieder (Oilers), the Kitchener Rangers will be a force to be reckoned with. If those three impact players aren’t enough, Matt Puempel (Senators), Matia Marcantuoni (Penguins), Ben Thomson (Devils) and goaltender John Gibson (Ducks) will surely make the Kitchener Rangers one of the heavy favourites to win the Western Conference. The Rangers are deep with experienced talent from top to bottom and have some promising young players in Josh Sterk, Brent Pedersen, Justin Bailey, Matt Schmalz and Darby Llewellyn to add more offensive fuel to the fire. Steve Spott went from having zero overage players to filling his three OA spots in less than a few days acquiring veterans Domenic Alberga (from Sarnia), Jeff Braithwaite (from Windsor) and Nick Czinder (from Windsor) adding key role players to his squad.

 

Top Scorers: Radek Faksa, Ryan Murphy, Tobias Rieder

First Year Players to Watch: Justin Bailey, Matt Schmalz, Darby Llewellyn

 

2nd Plymouth Whalers

Always a contender, Plymouth will return a star-studded roster for the upcoming season including as many as eleven NHL-drafted players including Rickard Rakell (Anaheim Ducks), JT Miller (New York Rangers), Stefan Noesen (Ottawa Senators), Tom Wilson (Washington Capitals), Garrett Meurs (Colorado Avalanche), Mitchell Heard (Colorado Avalanche), Cody Payne (Boston Bruins), Connor Carrick (Washington Capitals), Simon Karlsson (Nashville Predators), Gianluca Curcuruto (Columbus Blue Jackets), and goaltender Matt Mahalak (Carolina Hurricanes). The Whalers are also expecting a big season from 2013-draft-eligible Ryan Hartman, who has been extremely impressive in pre-season action. Besides the tremendous NHL drafted talent, Plymouth will continue to rely on overager Alex Aleardi and rookies Zach Bratina and Thunder Bay native Connor Sills for scoring as the Whalers send out endless waves of offensive attacks.

 

Top Scorers: Stefan Noesen, Alex Aleardi, JT Miller, Rickard Rakell

First Year Players to Watch: Zach Bratina, Connor Sills

 

3rd London Knights

The defending J. Ross Robertson Cup winners (OHL Champions) will remain a Western Conference powerhouse through immaculate drafting and player development. The Knights have lost some key pieces from their championship squad including 2011-12 OHL Player and Goaltender of the Year Michael Houser (signed with Florida Panthers), Russian import Vladislav Namestnikov (Tampa Bay Lightning), alternate captain Jared Knight (Boston Bruins), playoff MVP Austin Watson (Nashville Predators), Greg McKegg (Toronto Maple Leafs) and captain Jarred Tinordi (Montreal Canadiens). Fortunately, the Hunter brothers have created a competitive environment in London and several key players are ready to thrive under the spotlight. The offense will be led by Seth Griffith (Boston Bruins), Chris Tierney (San Jose Sharks), Josh Anderson (Columbus Blue Jackets), Matt and Ryan Rupert (Toronto Maple Leafs), newly drafted Alex Broadhurst (Chicago Blackhawks), Bo Horvat (2013), and Max Domi (2013) – the latter three should rise to OHL stardom this season. On the blue line, the loss of Tinordi is replaced by the addition of 6’5” Russian Import Nikita Zadorov as he joins Pittsburgh Penguins prospects Olli Määttä and Scott Harrington. There are a lot of players to like on the London Knights and they will battle with the Rangers for first place in the Midwest Division and Western Conference.

 

Top Scorers: Seth Griffith, Max Domi, Bo Horvat, Ryan Rupert

First Year Players to Watch: Alex Broadhurst, Remi Elie, Nikita Zadorov, Miles Liberati

 

4th Owen Sound Attack

Just a few years removed from their OHL Championship, the small market team in Owen Sound appear ready to challenge the powerhouse teams in the Western Conference. Coach Greg Ireland has an extremely deep roster made up of hard-working gritty players. The Attack have lost leading scorer Michael Halmo and starting goaltender Scott Stajcer (New York Rangers) but have the talent to replace these impact players. Led by Daniel Catenacci (Buffalo Sabres), Owen Sound will call upon Gemel Smith (Dallas Stars), Joseph Blandisi (Colorado Avalanche), Artur Gavrus (New Jersey Devils), Cameron Brace, Zach Nastasiuk (2013), and hopefully injured Jarrod Maidens (Ottawa Senators) can return to boost this team. Hard-working rookie Jaden Lindo should fit perfectly into the Attack’s lineup with his high compete level and ability to play responsible in all three zones. On defense, look for 2013-draft eligible Chris Bigras to make significant strides joining Jake Dotchin (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Kyle Hope as offensive options on the backend. Acquiring Nathan Chiarlitti, a veteran leader, earlier last week from Sarnia will have a positive trickle-down effect through this lineup as he serves as a great mentor to freshman Jacob Middleton.

 

Top Scorer: Dan Catenacci, Gemel Smith, Artur Gavrus

First Year Players to Watch: Jaden Lindo, Jacob Middleton

 

5th Guelph Storm

The Storm surprised many by making playoffs and pushing the Plymouth Whalers in the opening round. Entering the 2012-13 season, Coach Scott Walker has a team plastered with NHL talent including forwards Scott Kosmachuk (Winnipeg Jets), Tanner Richard (Tampa Bay Lightning), Brock McGinn (Carolina Hurricanes), defensemen Matt Finn (Toronto Maple Leafs), Andrey Pedan (New York Islanders) and goaltender Garret Sparks (Toronto Maple Leafs), who has shown great poise and improvements over the past year. If that wasn’t enough, Jason Dickinson, Hunter Garlent and Tyler Bertuzzi are fantastic prospects for the upcoming 2013 NHL Draft and will received increased roles. For Guelph Storm fans, the biggest excitement might come the way of some exceptional rookie talent as Robert Fabbri, Brody Milne and Kyle Locke look poised to become great OHL players. Specifically, Fabbri is a tremendously hard working skilled forward who can skate, pass and score with the OHL’s best and he should make an immediate impact and contend for top rookie honours.

 

Top Scorers: Zack Mitchell, Scott Kosmachuk, Tanner Richard

First Year Players to Watch: Robert Fabbri, Brody Milne, Kyle Locke

 

6th Sarnia Sting

Alex Galchenyuk becomes the face of the Sting franchise post-Yakupov era (Metcalfe Photography)

The Sarnia Sting are coming off a disappointing 2011-12 season after being eliminated in the opening round by Saginaw crushing their high expectations. Losing Nail Yakupov will certainly hurt but with a more team-oriented offensive and defensive approach, Sarnia could surprise and actually improve on last season’s point totals. The team’s success depends largely on the health of JP Anderson in net (huge boost) and whether management decides to unload several key talented players (Alex Galchenyuk, Reid Boucher, Charlie Sarault and/or Connor Murphy) mid-way through the season to maximize their assets. Sophomores Anthony DeAngelo, Reid Boucher, and Connor Murphy are poised to take the next step to OHL stardom while newcomers Bryan Moore, Davis Brown and import picks David Nemecek and Nikolay Goldobin are eager to introduce themselves to the OHL. It should be an interesting season in Sarnia as the team weighs athe pros and cons of entering into a quick rebuild.

 

Top Scorers: Alex Galchenyuk, Charlie Sarault, Reid Boucher

First Year Players to Watch: Bryan Moore, Davis Brown, Alex Renaud, Brett Hargrave, David Nemecek

 

7th Windsor Spitfires

Looking to put an offseason filled with fines and penalties behind them, Windsor prepares for a season in which a young team should remain fairly competitive in spite of losing their superstar forward Alexander Khokhlachev. Headed towards the 2013 NHL Draft, Kerby Rychel looks poised to lead this Spitfires’ team in scoring for the second straight year and catapult him to the top of 2013 NHL Draft lists. Rychel will be joined by Windsor’s 5th overall selection in dynamic forward Joshua Ho-Sang, who has been dubbed one of the most-dangerous ’95-born players. Troubled with injuries in his freshman year, draft-eligible forward Jordan Maletta is a big bodied forward looking to cash in on his impressive potential. After being drafted to the NHL last season, Brady Vail (Montreal Canadiens), Ben Johnson (New Jersey Devils), Michael Clarke (Colorado Avalanche), Patrick Sieloff (Calgary Flames) and Nick Ebert (Los Angeles Kings) will form the backbone of this Spitfires squad. Specifically, Johnson and Vail showed good improvements in Spitfires camp and defenseman Nick Ebert looks revitalized showcasing his tremendous talents that once had him labelled a potential top-10 pick. Goaltender Pavelka and DeKort (who impressed me) should provide the stability in net to lead Windsor to a playoff placing in the extremely difficult Western conference.

 

Top Scorers: Kerby Rychel, Ben Johnson, Brady Vail

First Year Players to Watch: Joshua Ho-Sang, Ryan Verbeek, Patrick Sanvido, Jordan DeKort

 

8th Erie Otters

After finishing dead last in the OHL with a mere 10 wins, the Erie Otters made significant off-season strides to improve their squad and with that comes bigger expectations. Connor McDavid, the second player to be granted exceptional status in as many years, will give the Otters a bonafid star player to build around. Adding Columbus Blue Jackets second round selection, Oscar Dansk, via the CHL Import Draft will provide Erie with a tremendous goaltender to play in front of. Not to mention, Erie Otters received Dane Fox from the London Knights last season and he will add leadership, skill and toughness in his first full season with the Erie Otters. Maple Leafs’ prospect Connor Brown and sophomore Stephen Harper look to help improve the Otter’s offensive struggles after scoring a league worst 169 goals. Unfortunately, Erie’s 338 goals against was by far the nastiest as well (Kingston’s 290 was 19th) last season but those numbers should improve with more experience from Islanders’ prospect Adam Pelech and towering 6’7” defender Troy Donnay. The Erie Otters stand a chance to make the playoffs but in a competitive Western Conference, it will be a tough challenge.

 

Top Scorers: Connor McDavid, Connor Brown, Dane Fox

First Year Players to Watch: Connor McDavid, Oscar Dansk, Justin Felker, Hayden Hodgson, Kyle Pettit

 

9th Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Make no mistake, the competition for the fifth through eighth spots in the Western conference is extremely stiff and these two listed non-playoff teams could easily displace one of the above-mentioned squads. Attempting to put an end to a third consecutive non-playoff finish, the Soo Greyhounds enter the season with more optimism. Goaltender Jack Campbell (Dallas Stars) has graduated and handed the reins to the very capable Matt Murray (Pittsburgh Penguins). Nick Cousins (Philadelphia Flyers), Andrew Fristch (Phoenix Coyotes), David Broll (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Michael Schumacher (Los Angeles Kings) are the key experienced fixtures up front, however, the former two players are in some legal troubles from this offseason leaving their availability uncertain. Rookie and top Greyhounds’ draft pick, Jared McCann, will be a welcomed addition in Sault Ste. Marie as he has tremendous vision, a hard accurate shot and owns an incredibly smart hockey mind. After posting 5 points in 34 games last season, 2011 1st round selection Mitchell Dempsey looks to have a strong second OHL campaign to market his game in hopes of becoming drafted at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The Greyhounds’ biggest question mark is on the blue line as veterans Ryan Sproul (Detroit Red Wings) and Colin Miller (Los Angeles Kings) will be joined by a young group of defenders in Alex Gudbranson, sophomore Darnell Nurse (2013) and freshman Kevin Spinozzi (2014). The ‘Hounds should battle hard with the Sting, Spitfires, Otters and Spirit for a playoff spot but it will not be easy in a tough West Division.

 

Top Scorers: Nick Cousins, Andrew Fristch, Michael Schumacher

Wildcard Rookies: Jared McCann, Kevin Spinozzi, Dylan Mascarin

 

10th Saginaw Spirit

With 76 points in just 44 games, Brandon Saad (Chicago Blackhawks) posted the best point-per-game pace in the entire Ontario Hockey League last season earning him an emergency call up to the Chicago Blackhawk, where he didn’t look out of place. For Saad, he is one of the few players eligible to play in the American Hockey League if a lockout occurs and one would have to believe that is exactly where the Blackhawks would like to see him. Much of the Spirit’s 2012-13 success depends on Saad’s availability but if he is unable to return then look for Vincent Trocheck (Florida Panthers) to lead Saginaw in scoring for a second straight year.  Without Josh Shalla, Michael Fine and potentially Saad, Saginaw hopes that Eric Locke, Justin Kea, David Perklin, Nick Moultrey, Sam Povorozniouk, and Jimmy Lodge improve upon last season’s totals.  The top rookie to watch is Toronto Marlboros standout Jeremiah Addison as he plays a fearless skilled game. Russian import picks Nikita Serebryakov (G) and Andrey Alexeev will be welcomed additions to Saginaw as well.

 

Top Scorers: Vincent Trocheck, Garret Ross, Eric Locke

Rookies to Watch: Jeremiah Addison, Dylan Sadowy, Nikita Serebryakov, Brandon Prophet, Andrey Alexeev

 

Next Up: Eastern Conference Predictions

 

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Categories: OHL, Ottawa 67's, Sarnia Sting

Nail Yakupov Defined

October 22, 2011 Leave a comment

PDF File: Nail Yakupov Defined

Originally Published at The Hockey Guys

Written By: Brendan Ross (@rossyyoungblood)

The hockey world and its fans are in constant pursuit of the next budding superstar to root and cheer for. The 2004 NHL Entry Draft marked the last time a non-North American player was selected first overall when the Washington Capitals won the draft lottery and selected superstar sniper Alexander Ovechkin in the number one slot. The seven-year streak of North American first overall picks is likely to end as the 2012 NHL Draft nears and it is another potential Russian superstar heading his draft class that will end cease the streak. Playing in the border town of Sarnia, Ontario, Nail Yakupov is truly a special talent worth the price of admission game in and game out.

The Sarnia Sting selected Nail Yakupov second overall in the 2010 Canadian Hockey League import draft after the WHL’s Prince George Cougars opted for defenseman Martin Marincin with the first selection. Playing for his hometown team of Reaktor Nizhnekamsk in the Russian junior league (MHL), Yakupov was exactly the type of player the Sarnia Sting needed to energize a dwindling fan base after the loss of star forward Steven Stamkos. The City of Sarnia quickly welcomed the speedy Yakupov as he teamed up with Russian born linemate Alex Galchenyuk and formed instant chemistry on and off the ice. Yakupov’s presence in the lineup has encouraged an organization and pushed management into developing the team into a contender that has had struggled for success in their seventeen year history.

Entering his NHL draft year, scouts have flocked to Sarnia’s RBC Centre in hopes of catching a glimpse of the NHL’s next star forward. Personally, Yakupov has impressed me enough to dub him the best potential first overall pick since Sidney Crosby was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005. Of course, Yakupov has a long ways to go and loads of hard work to reach those elite levels so it is certainly not a given that he can solidify himself into that elite tier of players but Nail is trending in that direction. Last season, Nail Yakupov racked up 49 goals and 101 points in 65 OHL games placing him fourth among all Ontario Hockey Leaguers. Yakupov’s strong rookie season earned him unanimous CHL Rookie of the Year honours and a place on the OHL’s First All-Rookie Team. Yakupov also impressed the Sarnia Sting fans last season when he broke the Sting rookie scoring record formerly held by Steven Stamkos (42G, 50A, 90P).

The Russian Under-18 World Junior team came calling for Yakupov’s services last spring for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament and appointed him as the country’s alternate team captain. The dynamic Russian elevated his game in the way that star players often do and scored pivotal goals in Russia’s Bronze medal win over Canada. Yakupov finished the game with a hat trick of goals and earned heavy praise from Canada’s Head Coach Mike Williamson. “(Yakupov) was very dynamic,” Williamson noted. “We had a tough time solving him. We tried to take the time and space away. We tried to be physical on him. He’s a good player, evasive and elusive, and because of that we weren’t able to contain him.” (The Canadian Press via TSN).

The high-flying winger finished the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament with six goals and thirteen points in seven tournament games.

Nail Yakupov entered the 2011-2012 Ontario Hockey League season with sky-high expectations from everyone in the hockey world. Fans of struggling NHL teams have started their own “Fail for Nail” campaigns in hopes that their teams tank for the services of this offensively potent hockey star in the making. Unfortunately, Nail’s partner in crime Alex Galchenyuk was injured late in preseason action and Yakupov has been forced to play without his linemate. Often when two stars play together the old “chicken and the egg” debate usually ensues. Does playing with Galchenyuk inflate Nail Yakupov’s offensive production? Nail Yakupov has put those questions to rest in the absence of Galchenyuk (who had fantastic chemistry with Nail) with his strong start posting five goals and fifteen assists for twenty points in only eight games to date.

Nail Yakupov has shown what scouts love to see and that is the ability to overcome what some felt were his flaws. Last season, the biggest knocks on Yakupov’s game were that he does not utilize his teammates enough, he is often caught cheating in the defensive zone and the usual “he does not have the size to succeed at the NHL level” critique. Fast forward to present time and Nail’s game has seen a strong transformation in the areas where he was criticized last season.

Sarnia’s new Head Coach, Jacques Beaulieu, stresses the importance of team defense and the young Tatar has bought into the coach’s philosophy. In his freshman season, one could easily observe Yakupov floating just outside of the defensive zone waiting for a breakaway pass but Nail appears to be taking more calculated risks this season. In fact, the Sarnia right winger is being utilized as their first choice breakout option and Yakupov is often the last forward exiting the zone. Nail has shown a commitment to defensive zone coverage and with his speed, acceleration and elusiveness, Yakupov still has the ability to explode past defenders and create scoring opportunities.

In Yakupov’s rookie season the critics loved to flag Nail as a shoot-only type of player. There is little doubt that one of Yakupov’s best assets is his wicked release and highly accurate shot but Nail’s playmaking abilities have been vastly underrated. Yakupov has elite vision and there are times where the puck is off his stick to a teammate and into the back of the net before us regular folk understand what just happened. Teammates must be aware when playing alongside Nail as he has an uncanny ability to draw defenders to him and quickly dish the puck off to his linemates who are left wide open. Yakupov;s game changing ability makes his linemates that much better because teams need to place so much attention on him at all times he is on the ice.

Via russianmachineneverbreaks.com

Nail Yakupov is an extremely elusive hockey player to the fact where comparing him to Detroit Red Wing forward Pavel Datsyuk should gather no qualms. Why is Yakupov so elusive and evasive? First, Yakupov’s strong skating stride delivers quick acceleration and top end speed to swiftly separate himself from defenders. In addition, Nail has the ability to quickly change speed (especially when in high gear) that makes him almost impossible to lineup for the “big hit”. Add in the ability to spin, cut and deke on the fly and Yakupov’s arsenal is fully equipped with skills that gives defensemen nightmares around the league.

Over the course of the season, scouts have the rare pleasure of following a potential NHL Superstar and their job is made easier as it is not difficult to find loads of complimentary notes on Nail Yakupov. In fact, the scouting department may have more difficulty finding the flaws in Yakupov’s game. As an offensive skilled forward, the tendency to attack his defensive game will definitely be present but Nail Yakupov is showing that rare ability to correct his flaws quickly to put those critics to rest.

Sarnia Sting fans are observing first hand why Nail Yakupov is the consensus pick to go first overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Nail Yakupov has the acceleration, explosiveness and skating ability that emulates another former Russian number “10” in Pavel Bure. Yakupov has a Datsyuk-like ability to shake off opponents and avoid checks. Much like Forsberg before him, Yakupov has shown early on in his career that he has elite puck protection skills and is silky smooth in tight quarters. Look no further to former Sting star forward Steven Stamkos if you are comparing Nail Yakupov’s one-timing ability to a current NHLer. The biggest compliment of all could be when Nail Yakupov draws comparisons to Russian sniper Alexander Ovechkin. The similarities to “Ovie” lie in the passion and physicality that Yakupov exhibits when playing the game he makes look so simple. Ovechkin has three inches on Yakupov but Nail has displayed some bone crushing hits that even his country mate would surely admire.

The passion and drive that Yakupov displays on a nightly basis is his most admirable quality. On nights where Yakupov has to earn every point and play through frustration he still competes with every inch he has. When Yakupov’s teammates score, he celebrates like he did the scoring. When Yakupov earns an assist, he celebrates like it was his first ever assist. And, when Yakupov does the scoring, he celebrates like he will never score again. As hockey fans continue with their “Fail-for-Nail” campaigns in hopes of welcoming Yakupov to their NHL franchise, make no mistake that whichever NHL team drafts Yakupov they will be the ones celebrating for years to come.

Nail Yakupov (Sarnia Sting, Ontario Hockey League)

Position: Right Wing

Shoots: Left

Hometown: Nizhnekamsk, Russia

Height: 5-10

Weight: 170 Lbs.

Statistics:

2010-11 65GP-49G-52G-101P, -2, 71 PIM

2011-12 12GP-8G-18A-26P, +8, 12 PIM

Follow Brendan on Twitter for all things prospects @rossyyoungblood

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