Every season there is one prospect who just grabs our attention not just for his on ice play but for the things he does off the ice as well. This year it is Ethan Werek the Rangers 2nd round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
We knew about Werek way before the Rangers selected him in the draft as we got introduced to his play during his OHL rookie season when we were following Michael Del Zotto and Evgeny Grachev. Werek's Kingston Frontenacs were in a rebuilding mode having hired former NHLer Doug Gilmour as their coach.
In back to back games against 2 of the better OHL teams Werek had goals in both games so we kept watching him as he wound up on a 4 game goal scoring streak. If not for Evgeny Grachev then our vote for OHL Rookie of the Year would have gone to Werek who finished the season 32-32-64.
When we saw that the Rangers had stolen this 6'2 200 lb power forward in the 2nd round; we actually felt that Werek was a better pick than first rounder Chris Kreider and in many ways still do. Werek may not have Kreider's speed but Kreider does not have Werek's heart or his intelligence.
On Thursday night Werek earned yet another "First Star of the Game" as he had 2 goals and an assist along with a +3 to lead the Frontenacs over the Brampton Battalion. The nice thing about covering Frontenac games is we can show you why we like someone's effort via the good old YouTube.
It does not take long to find Werek highlights (Kingston is wearing black and Werek wears #25) as he sets up teammate Erik Gudbranson for a shorthanded goal at 4:32 of the first period for a 1-0 Kingston lead. Werek and Co had kept Brampton pinned in their own end when Werek spotted Gudbranson pinching in and hit him on the fly.
In the second period with Kingston up 2-1, Werek scored his 11th goal of the season as followed teammate Michael Farrell into the offensive zone and Farrell hits Werek with a great pass right onto his stick in the slot for a 3-1 Kingston lead. The goal was at 17:46 of the second period.
In the 3rd, Werek capped off the Kingston evening with his 12th goal of the season as Farrell again find Werek open but on this one it was Werek who did the hard work. Werek deked past the Battalion defender and just fired a shot that beat Battalion goalie Patrick Killeen for a 5-1 lead at 6:55 of the period.
Now why this is really standing out for us is just 6 days earlier the same 2 teams met and Werek had several great scoring chances stolen from him by some great play by the same Patrick Killeen. This time it was Werek making sure he got the better of the encounter.
Werek now has goals in 3 straight games as he is now 12-8-20 with a +5.
In the only other game featuring Ranger prospects, Luke Pither (Traverse City) and his Barrie Colts had little trouble with Daniel Maggio's (2009 6th) Sudbury Wolves shutting them out 5-0. Pither had a very quiet night but Maggio in the losing effort actually had a pretty decent game.
As crazy as this will sound we thought Maggio played a decent defensive game with a couple of correctable areas that we believe in time he will fix. First Maggio is not afraid to stand his ground in his own zone, he is not going to let anyone just set up shop as Maggio will fight you for the slot area.
The other area is that despite the score being so lopsided we did not see Maggio's effort change, he played hard as if it was a 0-0 game. He has the misfortune of being on a struggling Sudbury team going though some very rough times.
We do want to see Maggio though take more charge in his own zone, with his size 6'3 202, Maggio should try to use it to dominate in the zone. Having Jeff Beukeboom as one of his teachers is going to help him as he develops.
We also want to see Maggio work on his passing skills a bit more or more importantly a faster decision making process for him. Make a decision and get that puck out of the zone helps not only protect the defense but can help generate offense.
One other thing which is Maggio showed signs of having some offensive skill earlier in the season; it has disappeared and when your team has trouble scoring sometimes you need to take it upon yourself to help generate offense. Maggio in 21 games is 5-7-12 but only has 1 assist in his last 7 games.
We want to see Maggio with at least 10 more goals this season (gives him 15) as we think he has it in him.
Before we go we want to share a picture our friends from the OHL Images let us have. Now on the week where Brian Leetch was rightfully given his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame; let us not forget the other half of perhaps the best defensive partnerships in Ranger's history Jeff Beukeboom.
We have often wondering how things might have turned out if Beukeboom had not seen his career cut short by that sucker punch from Matt Johnson in 1998. Still here we are in 2009 and "The Beuk" is now an assistant coach.
Beuk has a bright future ahead of him if he decides to become a head coach. We are watching Daniel Maggio improve as the season goes along and a lot of the credit belongs to Beuk.
(All images courtesy of OHL Images/Aaron Bell/Terry Wilson)
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