Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Next Step

When Evgeny Grachev and the Brampton Battalion finish whipping on their second round opposition the Mississauga St. Michaels Majors, they will be able to thank those who picked the Majors all the fuel to the Brampton locker room.

This is a series that we expect to be on the same scale as the Ranger/Islanders as the 2 teams will have to travel all of 12 miles to reach the other's arena. The road trips during this series just might be the shortest in OHL history due to distance.

That being said it seems that several "experts" tend to think that the Majors are going to win this series. Well this group of experts here at PP have two words for you: Evgeny Grachev.

We say that the biggest difference in this series is going to come down to the play of Grachev mainly because the Majors are going to have their hands full trying to stop the 6'5 Ranger 2008 3rd round pick. If Grachev puts up the kinds of numbers that he did in the first round (4-4-8 in 4 games) then the Majors do not have an answer for Grachev.

The Majors are not a bad team and actually have some very good depth up front but what they lack in our eyes is big game players like Grachev along with his teammates Cody Hodgson, Matt Duchene and goalie Thomas McCollum. You are talking 3 NHL first rounders along with Grachev who was a steal in the 3rd round in your lineup and very few teams in the OHL can matchup like that.

Toss in this OHL quirky way of scheduling playoff games as they do not follow the traditional 2-2-1-1-1 setup but rather a 1-1-1-1-1-1-1. In our eyes that also favors Brampton because of those 4 players we already mentioned since they have played games all over the world.

The other thing that people are forgetting is while they are talking about how the Majors are playing their best hockey of the season, the Battalion are only the team that (a) finished 15 points better in the standings than the Majors, (b) were the 2nd best team (4th overall) in the OHL Eastern Conference and (c) are on the same kind of roll as the Majors are.

We say Brampton in 6 games because Grachev is now on a mission to become a champion.

On the flip side, Michael Del Zotto is almost being ignored as his London Knights prepare to face the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL second round. Good for Del Zotto, bad for Saginaw as we pointed out that Del Zotto was a key factor in why London dispatched Erie in just 5 games.

Erie tried to play a very physical almost borderline dirty game (both teams were guilty of cheap shots for the record) against the Knights and it failed them. People have already forgotten that it was Del Zotto who set up 3 game winning goals in the Erie series.

In fact giving credit where it was due Del Zotto was the best defenseman for the Knights even better than John Carlson who we wanted the Rangers to draft in the 2008 Entry Draft. Just like Grachev is the key to the Battalion advancing so is Del Zotto for the Knights.

The difference here is that the Spirit are a physically stronger, more defensive minded team that will be so focused upon stopping John Tavares and Nazem Kadri that Del Zotto is going to have a lot more open ice.

It is an eerie parallel but we can not help remembering the 94 Ranger playoff run where everyone talked about Messier but it was Leetch who did most of the damage in the entire run. That is what we see out of Del Zotto as if he plays like he did in the first round, staying out of the penalty box and most importantly producing on the power play then the Spirit are in trouble.

If Del Zotto matches his efforts of the first round then the Knights move on in 6 games but his key is to play active and attack the net. An attacking Del Zotto creates space for his goal scoring teammates; even better is that it makes the Knight power play just lethal.


In the WHL, they have not announced the schedule for Tomas Kundratek and the Medicine Hat Tigers/Brandon Wheat Kings series but we are going to be hard pressed to think that the Tigers are going to defeat the Wheat Kings who swept out Kootenay in the first round.

The Wheat Kings are too big, too balanced and more depth for the Tigers to defeat. Not taking anything away from the Tigers but they caught a monster of a break when Swift Current lost their leading scorer, their best defender and their team MVP for the series.

The Wheat Kings are led by Brayden Schenn who we project is going to go no worse than 6th overall in the 2009 Entry Draft. Put it this way, he has put up Grachev numbers (32-56-88) but with only a 6' body in the toughest junior league there is.

We see the Wheat Kings winning in 5 games unless the Tigers can recreate the injury bug that devasted Swift Current.

Tysen Dowzak and the Kelowna Rockets are heading to Tri-City to face the 2nd seeded Americans in what should be a very evenly matched series that we will be shocked if it does not go the full 7 games. The Americans like the Rockets are a balanced team that blends experience with some size but in our eyes the Americans have the edge in goal with Chet Pickard (1st rd pick of Preds).

The Americans also have a Messier in their lineup, this one is Jordan Messier who is the 2nd cousin of the Ranger legend. A good look at the picture and you can see the Messier glare.

Kelowna has been playing some pretty good hockey over the second half of the season and in our eyes one of the best teams in all of the CHL over the last couple of months so we will say they can overcome the Americans and make it to the conference final in 7 games.

(Grachev:Brampton, Del Zotto Stu Switzer (Phatso Photography), Messier: Tri-City/WHL)

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