It’s a junior hockey heavy edition of Hot Takes. But before I get to talking some CHL playoffs, I got a niece and nephews who had some big weekends of their own. My niece Devyn captained her Bantam Female B team to the provincial gold. My nephew Gage and the Lloyd Pee-Wee AA Blazers took home the league title, taking a best of three series (all in Grand Prairie) 2-1, and are now off to provincials. And finally my twin nephews as I’ve mentioned a few times this season play for the Whitecourt Wolverines who began their second round series with Fort Mac over the weekend in two outstanding games. Both went to OT, both tied late (Whitecourt in game one with 1:04 to play, Fort Mac in game two with 35 seconds to play). After being benched in game one, Chase Haygarth responded with a massive two assist performance and the Wolverines tied the series at one Saturday night. This one really is shaping up to be a classic between two evenly matched teams. Anyway, obviously my weekend went pretty good! So let’s take a look at what else was going on in the hockey world, starting with the CHL playoffs.
I’d be lying if I suggested that I could speak like an expert to anyone on the Q. Do I know it reasonably well? Yeah, but not anywhere near the level to really speak on it. I’ll simply say what I know. Blainville-Boisbriand were the top team in the league, an 11 point gap on Acadie-Bathurst. Blainville-Boisbriand are led by WJC surprise star Drake Batherson, but really don’t boast a star studded team. If you ask me, the Q is wide open this season. Again, I’m not the guy to ask, but from the outside looking in I’d say that anyone of Blainville-Boisbriand, Acadie-Bathurst, Rimouski, Halifax, Drummondville or Victoriaville have a legitimate shot to represent the Q in Regina.
What I’m going to be watching closely in the Q playoffs is a draft storyline which exists between two of those teams (Halifax and Drummondville) and their star players. Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno. The reason I want to focus on these two is because Zadina has become the darling of the scouting community (rightfully so). Established by at least half of them as the clear cut number two prospect in the draft, and I personally would kill for the Oilers to get that second pick and take him in the draft. But then you have Joe Veleno, who right from the get go this season felt like someone who the scouting community was looking to shit on. And then out of the gates, playing for a TERRIBLE St. John team, he looked as though he was proving them right. Only a PPG player, which is real good, but wasn’t meeting their expectations. He got dealt to Drummondville right before the new year, and around that time was knocked down to the 15-20 range . Since the beginning of January however, it doesn’t feel like anyone in the scouting community either notice, or want to notice that Veleno has been outstanding with his new team. How outstanding? Veleno put up 1.53 PPG from January on. Zadina in that time? 1.44 PPG. That’s tremendous too, but point being that in the same league, on similarly talented teams (Halifax finished one point better overall), Veleno has been the better point producer. Veleno also gets high marks for his work ethic and commitment to his 200 foot game, he’s a 2000 born where Zadina is a late 99 and is a centre where Zadina is a winger. I’m REALLY intrigued to follow and compare these two for the next month or so. I’ve never seen the scouts shoot a player down their rankings and then right back near the top in the same season, but to my eye Veleno SHOULD do just that. We’ll see…
This one is A LOT more clear cut, as the Soo Geyhounds have been running rough shot over the OHL all season and are the clear cut favourites as of writing this to not only win the OHL playoffs, but take home the Memorial Cup as well. 55-7-3-3 on the season, just ridiculous. I really don’t mean to piss all over any excitement that may exist for the OHL playoffs, but I don’t know what to tell you. The Soo are going to win barring a major rash of injuries.
And it’s another draft story that I’m looking forward to keeping an eye on here as well, this time a first round matchup between Niagara and Oshawa that’ll feature two kids I’m higher on than most. Akil Thomas of the Ice Dogs, and Serron Noel of the Generals. Very different players. Thomas is a 5’11, 170 lbs highly skilled playmaking centre (though it’s questionable whether he can play the middle at the next level). Noel is extremely raw, but is massive at 6’5, 209 lbs. I have Noel higher ranked as of right now, but Thomas is without a doubt currently the better player. Where these prospects are now and where they are five years from now will be intriguing as hell for a hockey geek like myself to follow.
The big story in the dub is the fact that you have three teams in the East who are probably the three best teams in the league. So that means we have a first round matchup between two of these teams, Swift Current and Regina. The Pats will obviously be in the Memorial Cup as hosts, but it’ll be just like Windsor last season where the hosts could be sitting at home for a long time before playing again. And then the winner will more than likely get the Moose Jaw Warriors, who might be the only serious threat to the Soo Greyhounds Memorial Cup hopes.
Other than the tremendous hockey we’ll get to watch between the Broncos/Pats/Warriors, I really want to see how the Vancouver Giants fair. Since Tyler Benson returned back in November this team has looked as good as any in the B.C. division. Obviously it’s an Oilers slant with Benson, who has cameback with a vengeance and had about a 20 game stretch where he was close to two points a game. He’s cooled off in the last two months, so I’m really interested to see if Benson can crank it up again in the playoffs.
It’s not playoffs per say, but congrats to the U of A Golden Bears on their 16th national championship! I don’t know who was calling the game for Sportsnet yesterday, but the guy couldn’t have sounded less enthusiastic about what was a pretty good game. And it wasn’t as though it was intentionally understated and an attempt to be a minimalist as they say in the sports broadcasting world. He sounded like a guy who wanted nothing to do with being there and insanely bored. He also just kind of nonchalantly said “Jamie Crooks from…Vermilion…British Columbia” I’m sorry, but get it right man. This was after the game, not in the middle of the game and it sounded like he was reading it, and he still said B.C. I don’t know if I could do a better job, but I would have sounded a hell of a lot more giddy about calling damn good high level hockey. Hell, I’m talking CHL off the top, these kids all played in the CHL! I know a kid currently playing in the CHL who isn’t even considering the U of A because he doesn’t think he’s good enough! U Sports hockey (horrible name) is terrific hockey and deserved more respect than that dude seemed to show it during the broadcast.
Ok, onto some NHL stuff.
Excuse me if I don’t get that warm tingly feeling watching the Vegas Golden Knights fluke out and get every single break in the book this season. I love the underdog, but I don’t love the underdog when they haven’t faced any kind of adversity. The 1996 Florida Panthers weren’t anything lovable. It was admirable how hard that group of nobodies played, but it was impossible to fall in love with a team that played boring, played in Miami, and had only been going for three years seeing absolutely zero adversity in that time. The Golden Knights don’t even have many great stories! They’re not really cast off’s as much as they were cap casualties or traded there. Sure, teams let them go, but every team had to give up decent players the way the rules were structured. It isn’t as though the G-Knights picked from the same talent pool the San Jose Sharks did in 1991. And oh yeah, it’s Vegas. If you’re living in Vegas it’s tough to gain sympathy from the rest of North America. Maybe I’m alone in this, but unless they get the Avs in the first round (looks possible at the moment), I think they’re done in a max of five games. Anaheim would smoke them, so would LA, and Minny would have their way with them too. I better watch what I say though, because if you follow me on Twitter than you know I got the William Karlsson police watching what I say….what a fucking douche that guy was….
Then you have the team they pretty much eliminated yesterday. I wrote about it last time, but I need to hit on it again with the Flames. If it wasn’t for what happened in Edmonton, this team would be facing insane heat (pardon the pun) from the fans and media. Instead, they’re just getting it from their fans. First things first, Glen Gulutzan is without a doubt finished. Brad Treliving? As I wrote two weeks ago, he might also be on the chopping block (I wouldn’t, but I could see them doing it). I’m not sure if they’ll be in the John Tavares sweepstakes this summer, but they should be. Tavares, even at an insanely large ticket of 13-14 million per season, puts them in the Cup conversation. If not him, I’m not sure what move they could make that would put them back in the playoff conversation for next season. That’s not to say they can’t get there, but they got a brilliant year from Mike Smith and they’re still not going to come close. Can’t deal the 2019 1st, because they’ll need to re-stock the system thanks to not having their first or second rounders this season (and now will not have their 2019 second rounder thanks to missing the playoffs). Can’t trade your top prospect because they badly need Juuso Valimaki to step in next season, not to be their number six as was expected back in the fall, they might need him to step into their top four. That vaunted blueline from the start of the season just hasn’t panned out. I’d say the top pairing is terrific, but Brodie and Hamonic have both massively disappointed this season as the second pair. I doubt Hamonic would have near the trade value he had last summer, but Brodie MIGHT still have some. Brodie though has just not been the same player since Bob Hartley left. Is that Glen Gulutzan, or can he only do what he did playing for Hartley? Something is going to need to be done, because right now they’re stuck. In 2015 I recall writing and constantly suggesting that season was going to be more of a curse than a blessing for the Flames. Imagine if the Flames are bad that season….maybe they’re the ones with McDavid now? Or even Eichel? This organization desperately needs to do something major like a Tavares signing or somehow bringing in another star player. Barring that, this is a finished rebuild with no hope of ever winning a Cup.
Thanks to that Travis Hamonic trade, the Islanders have some hope for the future, but that doesn’t mean the Islanders are in much less of a mess than the Flames. John Tavares MIGHT re-sign, but I’m going to guess he won’t be re-signing with Garth Snow, and wouldn’t be playing for Doug Weight (which sucks because I LOVE Dougie). My concern and most of Northern Alberta’s concern with the Oilers is that Peter Chiarelli is going to ruin Connor McDavid’s chances of winning Cups over the next five years or so. McDavid is now in his prime, and while a generational players prime will last a lot longer than most, the clock is still ticking. Garth Snow has somehow overseen John Tavares entire career and the best he’s ever got JT was a second round appearance where they got curb stomped by the Lightning. Garth Snow HAS to be fired. The guy has done so many awful moves over the years, it’s actually surprising things have done as well as they have. I shudder to think of where they’d be at if Snow didn’t have that get out of jail free card named Peter Chiarelli….
I could write more doom and gloom with the Oilers, but I’m actually not going to. I will believe Todd McLellan is gone until he’s not, and I would love to see Peter Chiarelli shown the door too even if it’s for a guy like Ken Holland (not my guy, but he’d be an upgrade). But it’s been pretty clear since Maroon and Letestu were dealt and more speed was inserted that it’s made a world of difference. Their confidence is still pretty shot as a team, and the blueline mostly thanks to injuries is still a mess, but watching them I do believe they aren’t far away from getting right back to the top of the division next season. The big thing will be finding the proper wingers for McDavid. I like that McLellan has given Pontus Aberg a chance and given Ty Rattie a chance with 97. That’s what needs to happen is they need to find the right guys to play with him, not the biggest name. Sid playing with Kessel didn’t work. Chris Kunitz did, Connor Sheary did, Jake Guentzel did. I don’t think Aberg is the guy at all (I actually don’t believe Aberg is much of a player at this point), Rattie looked better with McDavid but it’s far too early to suggest he’s the right fit, but it’s a guy along these lines. Nic Petan? Brett Connolly? Artturi Lehkonen? All guys who I personally would be looking into if I were running the Oilers. And once they find these guys, even in the cap mess the Oilers are in, it’ll alleviate a lot of the problems they currently have.
They might have these guys in the system, but the problem is that one of them likely won’t be ready for at least a year, possibly two years in mind, that being the freshly signed Kirill Maksimov. I got hyped about this kid the moment they drafted him last year and I saw a couple of OHL based scouts (Mark Seidel and Brock Otten) start raving about the pick. So I made a point of tracking his progression this season and wow were they ever right. His shot man…whether it’s the one timer or the wrist shot, they’re both bullets. The wrist shot has no back swing. And lately he’s proving that when teams are going to start taking away his shot that he can dish it too. I said it when I did my top 20 prospects list that his big thing lacking is lower body strength, to my eye anyway. Once he gains that, he’ll have an extra step that he’s currently lacking in his stride. He’s a good skater, but could use an extra gear.
The other kid is Tyler Benson and obviously I talked about keeping a close eye on him in the WHL playoffs. I just really believe Benson is going to be the perfect fit with McDavid. Skating isn’t great, but it’s better than say Patrick Maroon and I don’t think anyone has complained about Maroon’s ability to keep up with McDavid. Benson has always had that next level of hockey smarts, and it’ll always be a matter of staying healthy with him, but as long as he does I believe he’ll end up playing on McDavid’s wing before too long and he’s going to thrive there….as long as someone else hasn’t beat him to the spot.
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