Thursday, March 31, 2011

Top 5 WHL Wingers

Hey everyone! Sorry I haven't been able to post much the last few days as I have had a lot of work, and very little free time! I'll try and post a little more often. Anyway, back to some hockey-talk! Here's a list of the top 5 wingers playing in my favorite junior league - the Western Hockey League.

1. Nino Niederreiter, LW, Portland Winterhawks (NYI)

Upon his return to Portland from a season-opening nine-game stint with the New York Islanders, Nino Neiderreiter continued to demonstrate the compete level he has shown since arriving on the North American hockey scene last season.

Selected in the first round, fifth overall, at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Niederreiter has scored 41 goals and 29 assists in 55 games with Portland this season. The Winterhawks won 50 games and are close to advancing past the injury-plagued Everett Silvertips in the first round of the WHL western conference playoffs.

Neiderreiter has played alongside forwards Ryan Johansen (CBJ) and Brad Ross (TOR) for most of hisWHL career, forming one of the most effective offensive forward lines in the league.

Niederreiter has also played an important role in the comfort level achieved by fellow Swiss-born prospectSven Bartschi, who is eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Bartschi has played 66 games in Portland this season, collecting 85 points and is the western conference nominee for the WHL Rookie of the Year award.

2. Carter Ashton, LW, Tri City Americans (TB)

A huge power forward, Carter Ashton has become an integral veteran producer since being acquired by the Americans near the WHL trade deadline. 

Selected in the first round, 29th overall, by the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Ashton is playing with his third WHL team. After stints with the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Regina Pats, he has a legitimate opportunity this season to play for a WHL Championship. During his rookie campaign, where he missed over 30 games with an early-season shoulder injury, the Hurricanes advanced to the WHL Final Series where they were dispatched in four games by the Spokane Chiefs.

In 33 games with the Amerks since arriving from the Regina, he has scored 17 goals and 27 assists. Ashton was also a member of Team Canada at the 2011 WJC.

3. Curtis Hamilton, LW, Saskatoon Blades (EDM)

A true power forward, Curtis Hamilton has begun to showcase an offensive skill set late in his junior career. The native of Kelowna, BC has tallied 26 times and added 52 assists and a plus-48 rating in 62 regular season games.

Selected in the second round, 48th overall, at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Hamilton has been a major contributor in Saskatoon this season as the Blades compiled 56 wins and ran away with top spot in the WHL standings. He has responded greatly during 2010-2011 after a challenging campaign last year where he suffered three shoulder injuries. As a member of Team Canada at the 2011 WJC, Hamilton did not look out of place at all, providing valuable scoring depth.

At 6'3 and 205 pounds, Hamilton is a much-needed prospect in Edmonton given his size and skills. In recent years, the cupboard has been stocked with a number of under-sized forwards, players who have battled consistency and the injury bug.

4. Quinton Howden, LW, Moose Jaw Warriors (FLA)

While he is listed as a winger, Quinton Howden is also considered by some as one of the top face-off men in the WHL. Indeed, versatility and elite skating ability have made the Oakbank, Manitoba native a much-sought-after NHL prospect.

Selected in the first round, 25th overall, by the Florida Panthers, Howden has also achieved success on the international scene as a member of Team Canada at the 2011 WJC. Howden scored 40 goals and 39 assists during the regular season, both career highs during his third full season in Moose Jaw. 

5. Brett Connolly, RW, Prince George Cougars (TB)

Amid so much promise, Brett Connolly's junior career will probably leave many wanting more. The Prince George native burst on to the hockey scene as the WHL Rookie of the Year and CHL Rookie of the Year two seasons ago. Since then, the injury bug has had its way with Connolly.

Selected in the first round, sixth overall, by the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Connolly's WHL career likely came to an abrupt end on March 25 when he was driven into the end boards by Mitch Callahan (DET) of the Kelowna Rockets just six minutes into game one of the western conference playoffs. Connolly suffered a separated shoulder and is done for the season.

Loaded with offensive skills, Connolly led the Cougars in scoring with 73 points this season. A healthy Connolly will give the Lightning an heir apparent to the likes of Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. The Bolts have long been blessed with high octane talent up front and Connolly, it is hoped, will develop into another productive scoring threat. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ten collegians drawing NHL free agent interest

Each year as the NCAA season winds down, NHL teams descend on collegiate teams to stockpile their teams, or in most cases, their farm systems by way of free agency. The following group of non-draft eligible players, listed alphabetically by last name, is comprised of six forwards, two defensemen and two goaltenders. It is important to note here that this is not a ranking. This is simply a list of players that have drawn considerable NHL interest based on performance, development and pro potential. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of Mar. 10.

Stephane Da Costa, C
Sophomore, Merrimack College

Da Costa has become the hottest commodity on the collegiate free agent market, and it's not hard to see why. The French-born center first got the attention of NHL scouts last season after a capping a sensational freshman campaign that earned him Hockey East's Rookie of the Year.

This season, Da Costa continues to be one of the driving offensive forces behind Merrimack's terrific season. He currently leads the Warriors with 39 points (14 goals, 25 assists) in 28 appearances. His 116 shots also lead the team, while his 25 assists co-lead the team. Da Costa suffered a knee injury back on Feb. 11 at New Hampshire that forced him to miss five games. He is expected to play when Merrimack opens their Hockey East tournament quarterfinal series hosting Maine beginning on Mar. 11. While Da Costa has played with different linemates over the course of the season, he recently played on a line with freshman Mike Collins and junior Jesse Todd.

Da Costa is a dynamic 5'11/180 lbs center that possesses tremendous hockey sense with equally good vision, hands and creativity. And it is what he does with those attributes that has gotten so much attention from the NHL. Da Costa possesses an uncanny ability to find and utilize open patches of ice to consistently create smart, effective plays. He follows plays exceedingly well and can make plays in transition. He also possesses great finishing ability as well. While not lightning fast, Da Costa does possess some good speed and does a good job of consistently keeping his feet moving. He maintains very good balance on his skates and despite being a smaller player uses his body quite well in protecting the puck. Another of Da Costa's notable assets is his blistering shot. He is not a particularly physical player, but does play with some competitive edge to his game.

Chay Genoway, D
Senior, University of North Dakota

Like Da Costa, Genoway is another player that has become a hot commodity on the college hockey free agent market. While some concerns have been raised with regards to his size (5'9/177 lbs) and recent injuries (a season-ending concussion last year and a leg injury earlier this season), that hasn't stopped NHL teams from pursuing Genoway.

The Morden, MB native, who is a redshirted senior this year, currently leads all Fighting Sioux defensemen with 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 29 games to date. His 20 assists rank tied for third on the team. Earlier in the season, Genoway rode a 12-game point streak from Nov. 26 to Jan. 21. During that span, he posted 14 points (four goals, ten assists). More recently, he missed eight games after suffering a leg injury at Colorado College back on Jan. 28. Earlier this week, Genoway was named the WCHA's Student-Athlete of the Year and earned a spot on the All-WCHA First team. He has played much of the year alongside junior Ben Blood (OTT), but has recently been paired with 2011 draft-eligible freshman Dillon Simpson.

Genoway is a superb puck-moving defenseman with hands and skating ability that few rearguards in college hockey can match. He is a very fluid skater with good speed and transitions exceptionally well. Genoway is blessed with very soft hands and can make beautiful tape-to-tape passes. One attribute that makes Genoway such a superb defenseman is that his offensive game never comes at the expense of his defensive responsibilities. Since arriving at North Dakota, his decision-making has been one area that Genoway has continually improved in. He is an excellent penalty killer and does an equally good job in one-on-one situations and stripping pucks from opposing forwards. While his small stature presents challenges in containing bigger opposing forwards, Genoway makes up for it by being able to skate with most of them. He possesses a very good shot and can get pucks to the net. He also possesses good vision and follows plays quite well too.

Tanner House, C
Senior, University of Maine

House has become one of those players in college hockey that has quietly flown onto the NHL free agent radar. This past summer, he attended the Montreal Canadiens prospects camp. The Cochrane, AB native centers Maine's excellent top line with juniors Brian Flynn and standout Gustav Nyquist (DET). House currently ranks fourth on the team with 33 points (ten goals, 23 assists) in 33 games to date and co-leads the Black Bears with plus-12. House has been especially good this season on special teams. Of his ten goals, half have come on special teams - four on the power play and one shorthanded. House is a finalist for this year's Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, which recognizes the top senior's performance on the ice, in the classroom and in the community.

House is an outstanding two-way, playmaking center. He has good size (6'1/200 lbs) and uses it quite effectively. House also uses his size, strength advantageously in protecting the puck as well. One attribute that makes House such a great player is how well he balances his offensive and defensive sides. While he can create and finish plays quite well, House is equally good at providing defensive support and is a very good shot-blocker. He has also shown that he can be effective in a checking role as well. For a player of his stature, he is remarkably agile on his skates. He is an outstanding skater with powerful yet fluid strides. While House doesn't possess blazing speed, he does get around the rink quite well. He has really nice hands and distributes the puck quite well. 

Keith Kincaid, G
Sophomore, Union College

Last season, Kincaid showed glimpses of his great potential after posting a 12-8-3 record and capping the year with a spot on the ECAC All-Rookie team, splitting time with then-junior Corey Milan. This season, Kincaid has taken it to a whole new level and that has gotten the attention of many NHL teams. The Farmingville, NY native earned Union College's starting netminder job at the beginning of the season and has never relinquished it. He has become the backbone of a vastly improved Dutchmen defense that currently ranks first in the nation, allowing an average of just over two goals per game.

Kincaid has played in all 34 games thus far posting a 24-7-3 record that includes three shutouts and led Union College to their first ECAC regular season in school history. Kincaid leads the nation with a 1.94 goals against average and co-leads with 24 wins. He ranks tied for fifth with a .750 winning percentage and tied for 11th with a .923 save percentage. He has allowed four or more goals in just five games thus far this season.

Kincaid is a goaltender with good size (6'3/185 lbs) with great economy of movement. His consistency and poise have been cornerstones in Union College's record-setting season this year. He possesses great agility and reflexes. His lateral movement is also quite good. One of Kincaid's best attributes is his puck-handling ability. He moves and plays the puck exceedingly well. Kincaid's use of his tall, lanky frame in covering the net is excellent. He does a very good job of staying square to shooters and is not afraid to challenge them either. His rebound control and limiting of second and third chances are also quite good.

Andy Miele, C
Senior, Miami University

Miele may be a small player at 5'8 175 lbs, but his game has been anything but that. And this year he has gotten everyone's attention, including the NHL's. He is one of the driving forces behind the RedHawks high-powered and very deep offense. Miele currently centers Miami's terrific top line with sophomore Reilly Smith (DAL) and junior Trent Vogelhuber (CBJ).

Miele's numbers this season are astounding. He currently leads the nation with 61 points (19 goals, 42 assists) playing in all 34 games to date. His 42 assists and 1.79 points per game average also lead the nation. One of the things that have made Miele so great this season has been his exceptional point-producing consistency. In the 34 games that he has appeared in thus far, Miele has been held pointless in only five of them. The last game he was held without a point was back on Jan. 7 versus Ohio State. Miele's brilliant season also makes him one of the leading candidates to win this year's Hobey Baker Award as well. He was recently named to the All-CCHA First Team and is a finalist for CCHA Player of the Year.

Miele is a centerman blessed with great hands and playmaking ability that is all about speed and quickness. He is a difficult player to contain because he is so quick and elusive. Miele is an outstanding skater that can get up to speed very quickly. He can also make plays at high speeds. He sees the ice very well and can to control the tempo of a game -- all while making players around him better. He can make some of the prettiest, pin-point accurate passes as well. While he is noted for his playmaking ability, Miele can also finish plays too. He can often be found driving hard to net and is not afraid to go into the difficult areas. He moves remarkably well in traffic and his transitioning is quite good. One of Miele's more underrated attributes is his defensive side. He is an effective penalty killer and shot-blocker. He competes hard and rarely, if ever takes a shift off.

Pat Nagle, G
Senior, Ferris State University

One of the keys to Ferris State's success has been a stifling defense, and this season the man behind it is senior Pat Nagle. The Bloomfield, MI native hasn't received as much attention among goaltenders in college hockey free agent circles as Union College's Keith Kincaid has, but Nagle is still very much on the NHL radar.

Nagle has played in 34 games to date, posting a 17-12-5 record that includes three shutouts. He ranks third in the nation with a 1.97 goals against average and tenth with a .924 save percentage. Nagle has allowed three or more goals in just 10 games this season. He was recently named to the All-CCHA First Team and is a finalist for CCHA Player of the Year.

Nagle is a hybrid-style goaltender with size (6'3/185 lbs) that has become a steadying influence on the Ferris State defense. Two things that Nagle does exceedingly well are keeping pucks in front of him and utilizing his large frame in covering the net. He has good economy of movement and his positioning is quite good. He plays very well down low and on his angles. Nagle is very good in following and staying with plays and isn't one to get rattled easily. His rebound control and limiting of second and third chances are also quite good. Nagle also possesses a great glove too.

Matt Read, C
Senior, Bemidji State University

Read first caught the attention of NHL teams two years ago with his sensational performance in the NCAATournament and guiding the Beavers to their first D-I Frozen Four appearance. Since then, Read has continued to play at a high level and NHL teams are still following him. 

Read centers Bemidji State's outstanding speedy top line with sophomore Jordan George and fellow senior Ian Lowe. This season, the trio has accounted for 43 percent of the Beavers' total offensive output. The Illderton, ONT native currently ranks second on the team with 31 points (18 goals, 13 assists) playing in 34 games to date. His 18 goals and plus-six lead the team. Where Read has really excelled this season has been on special teams. Of his 18 goals, seven have come on the power play and three have come shorthanded. Both also lead the team. 

Read is a 5'10/185 lbs centerman that is quick and really fun to watch. He is an excellent skater with a good burst of speed and quick feet. He may also have one of the best first gears in college hockey as well. Read does a great job of finding and exploiting open spaces both in creating and finishing plays. He is elusive and difficult to contain. Read possesses excellent passing skills and on-ice vision. He transitions well and can make plays at high speeds. One attribute that has made Read so successful is his relentless drives to the net. He is not afraid to go into the dirty areas and plays remarkably well in high traffic. Read also has the ability to make players around him better and plays with a never-say-die attitude. Perhaps one of Read's most underrated attributes is his defensive side, which is quite good. He is an effective shot-blocker and solid on his forechecks as well.

Cameron Schilling, D
Junior, Miami University

Miami's excellent and very deep offense is matched by their defense. One defenseman that doesn't get a lot of attention, but has caught the interest of NHL scouts is Cameron Schilling. This summer, he attended the prospects camps of the Minnesota Wild and the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.

The native of Carmel, Ind. has played in 33 games to date, posting 14 points (two goals, 12 assists). His plus-17 ranks tied for third on the team with Miele. Schilling earned his first ever CCHA Defenseman of the Week honor (and only one on the season) back on Jan. 3 after tallying a goal and assist in the Florida College Classic holiday tournament. Schilling can be seen playing alongside senior Vincent LoVerde on the RedHawks' second defensive pairing.

Schilling is a defensive-minded defenseman with good size (6'2/182 lbs) that plays with an edge and moves the puck really well. He is competitive and doesn't shy away from the physical side of the game. One of Schilling's most improved attributes since his freshman year has been his skating. He has developed more speed and his footwork is noticeably smoother. Schilling plays a fairly simple yet very effective game. Schilling excels in one-on-one situations. As Schilling's body has continued to develop and strengthen, so has his ability to contain players. He moves with and handles the puck remarkably well and his outlet passes are quite good. One of Schilling's best assets is his cannon-like shot. He can get his shots on net, but could stand to shoot the puck more.

Rick Schofield, C
Senior, Lake Superior State University

Another player that isn't mentioned much in college hockey free agent circles that is getting a good amount of NHL interest is Rick Schofield. The Lakers captain has actually been on the NHL radar since last season. Over the summer, he attended the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers prospects camps.

The Pickering, ONT native has played in all 36 games to date and leads Lake Superior State in several categories including points (33), goals (16), power play goals (six), game-winning goals (three) and shots (130). He centers the Lakers' outstanding top line with fellow senior Will Acton and sophomore Domenic Monardo.

Schofield is a centerman with size (6'2/198 lbs) that is blessed with great hands and can be a dominating force every time he's on the ice. He balances great playmaking ability with equally good finishing ability. Schofield is also quite good on draws, having won over 60 percent of them this season. One aspect about Schofield that makes him so intriguing is how well he is able to utilize his great vision and the aggressiveness that he brings to his game to create and finish plays. This is particularly evident in his play around the net. He is a very good skater with long, smooth strides and transitions quite well. One of Schofield's best attributes is his powerful shot. He shoots often and can fire the puck with authority.

Paul Thompson, LW
Senior, University of New Hampshire

When Thompson was drafted eligible back in 2007, some in the scouting community were surprised that he was bypassed after a sensational junior career. Nearly four years later, Thompson has again made his presence known to NHL teams, this time as a top free agent candidate.

Thompson plays left wing on one of the best and most lethal top lines in college hockey alongside fellow seniors Phil DeSimone (WSH) and Mike Sislo. He currently ranks tied for fifth in the nation with 49 points (26 goals, 23 assists) playing in all of the Wildcats' 34 games to date. Where Thompson has been particularly dangerous this season has been on the power play. He leads the nation with 12 power play tallies. Thompson recently became Hockey East's scoring champion with 42 points (23 goals, 19 assists) in conference play. One noticeable improvement that Thompson has made has been in his point-producing consistency. To date, he has posted points in 26 of the 34 games that he has played in, including 16 multi-point games.

Thompson is a 6'1/205 lbs pure goal scorer with great hands that is excellent around the net. His renewed sense of confidence has not only made for a more consistent player but a threatening one as well. Thompson possesses outstanding finishing ability but can also set up plays quite well too. He is creative in that he can score goals in a variety of ways. He has good vision and follows plays well. Thompson also possesses a blistering shot that is fairly accurate and he shoots often. Though not the fastest guy on the ice, Thompson does have a good speed and accelerates well. And they are areas that have also improved. He possesses a good stick and does a very good job in battling for pucks. With his good-sized frame and strength, Thompson could stand to be a bit more physical.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bob Probert

Here's a sad story courtesy of the Windsor Star.

Probert’s widow saw hints of brain malady in NHL enforcer

Dani Probert vividly recalls the Sunday night she was sitting at home watching television with her late husband Bob just over a year ago when they came upon a 60 Minutes segment on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
Neither of them had heard of the condition resulting from repeated brain trauma, but the story — which dealt mainly with stricken football players — touched a nerve for the couple.
“At the end of the show, the segment, they announced that they needed hockey players’ brains. I just looked at Bob and he said, ‘Absolutely’,” Probert said Thursday in the home she shared with the 45-year-old retired NHL pugilist who died last July of a heart attack.
“He didn’t hesitate. And not knowing six months later that I’d be doing just that.”
On Thursday the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine confirmed that Probert suffered from a mild form of the condition.
“The initial findings show that Mr. Probert did have CTE when he passed away,” said Chris Nowinski, the CEO of the Sports Legacy Institute, an umbrella group that oversees the study. “The best way to quantify it is that it didn’t appear to be as severe as football players and boxers of the same age.”
Don Fehr, president of the National Hockey League Players’ Association, said they are planning to review the results of the completed study.
“Today’s announcement regarding the CTE diagnosis of former NHLPA member Bob Probert is an important piece of research that the players, along with everyone else interested in the safety and well-being of hockey players, should consider seriously, along with other relevant research and data,” said Fehr. “We look forward to reviewing the full results of the study once they are made available.”
Dani Probert doesn’t blame her husband’s CTE on his frequent fighting. Although he never officially suffered a concussion, Probert told his wife that, in retrospect, he may have had “three or four.”
Probert, who played for 16 years in the NHL with the Red Wings and Blackhawks, had more than 200 fights. He was also involved in a serious car crash in 1986 and a motorcycle crash in 1994.

“I’m not taking on the NHL and I’m not wanting to talk about eliminating fighting from the league,” she said.
“I just wanted to raise awareness, basically. It’s part of the science. Bob wanted to donate his brain for a reason, to get the results put out there, so this is following through with that.”

Common symptoms of CTE are short-term memory loss, irritability and depression.
Diagnosis of CTE involves forensically searching for signs of trauma on the exterior of the brain as well as interviewing family members of the victims about the deceased’s behaviour.
“Nothing major, but there were certain signs, the short-term memory loss, the short fuse, definitely,” said Probert.
“He could remember 15 years ago, games, players, who scored, if he’s playing blackjack who had what hand, even what the dealer had. But if you’d ask him what he’d had for breakfast he couldn’t remember. That, to me, was the most significant one, the short-term memory loss.”

With two of her own sons playing hockey, Probert says the issue is of ongoing concern for her.
“Just knowing my kids are athletes, we love the sport of hockey . . . if one of my kids happened to have multiple concussions, and didn’t have the amount of time to recover from those, if there was any pressure for them to get back in and play, maybe I would seriously consider that wasn’t the sport for them,” she said.

Nowinski said it is impossible to attribute Probert’s CTE exclusively to hockey.
“There’s no way to really attribute the beginning of the disease to any specific activity,” he said. “We just know Mr. Probert suffered brain trauma as a hockey player, also as an enforcer and outside car accidents . . . It tells us the brain is fragile, but it doesn’t tell us what was the worst part for him.”
The final report is currently being written and will be submitted to a medical journal for publication. Probert said she knows more than she’s allowed to talk about and is eagerly anticipating the release of the final report.
“I’m looking forward to that getting out because it’s an incredible study,” said Probert.
“There’s so much I want to talk about, definitely. I definitely hope there would be some changes made, I don’t know to what extent, just the fact that it’s being brought to people’s attention, the fact that it’s being talked about.”

Ryan Donally also wants to get the word out about concussions. The former Windsor Spitfire captain and a 2003 Calgary Flames draft pick at 97th overall retired from professional hockey last year after suffering his eighth concussion with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL.
“I would say that in light of what’s happened today and the official diagnosis of brain injuries that he sustained, I’m happy right now that I’m not playing hockey for the injuries that I’ve had,” said Donally, 26, who is now studying business at the University of Windsor.
“I probably got out at a good time. I don’t think that I would have benefitted long-term from having a couple of more injuries. I think that I was vigilant enough and aware enough to get out. You can fix a shoulder, you can fix a knee, you can fix a hip, but you only have the one brain.”