Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Playing hooky

So how come they never had "Education Day" when I was in school so I could spend my day watching the New York Rangers play the New York Islanders?

A light Tuesday schedule had games taking place at different hours of the day and that gave us a chance to take longer looks at those prospects playing. This week our focus has been on JT Miller (NYR 2011 1st) as he is the featured prospect this month for the next issue of the Blueshirt Bulletin.

Kevin Power who writes over at the Blueshirt Banter asked me how come Miller wasn't on anyone's radar at draft time and to be honest the answer has to be because Gordie Clark is that good at his job. While the rest of us were arguing over Mark McNeill and Tyler Biggs; there was Clark making the smarter pick in Miller.

McNeill may have the better numbers but Miller has proven to be the better overall player. While Biggs has struggled at Miami; Miller has been solid at both ends of the ice.

Tuesday afternoon Miller scored his 23rd goal of the season to help the Plymouth Whalers defeated the Saginaw Spirit 6-4 for the Whaler's third straight win. After struggling early in the month while Whalers coach Mike Vellucci was suspended, the Whalers have regained their their winning formula.

Miller scored his goal in the second period which at the time tied the game up at 2-2. By the end of the game Miller was also a +3 for the game which brought his season totals to a +11.

In Moose Jaw,  Dylan McIlrath (NYR 2010 1st) and his Moose Jaw Warriors dealt John Persson (NYI 2011 5th) and his Red Deer Rebels a serious blow to their playoff hopes with a convincing 5-1 win. McIlrath had a very solid performance at both ends of the ice; 2 assists on offense with a +3 and a steady performance defensively.

This was the Dylan McIlrath we have been wanting to see this season because he has a cannon of a shot from the point that's either going to hit somebody on the way in or generate a nice rebound for one of his teammates. If Moose Jaw is serious about going deep in the WHL playoffs then they need McIlrath playing this kind of hockey.

McIlrath had both a primary and a secondary assist to bring his season totals to 2-19-21. The 19 assists are new career high for McIlrath and he is three points away from setting a new career high in points.

As for Persson, there's really not much one can say as he wasn't playing badly but rather the more physical and stronger Moose Jaw defense made him a nonfactor. Red Deer missed out on a chance to cut into Brandon's lead for the eighth spot in the WHL's Eastern Conference playoffs as they used one of the games in hand.

Red Deer remains 10 points behind Brandon and they are running out of chances to catch up.

On Victoria Island, Brendan Kichton (NYI 2011 5th) and his Spokane Chiefs started a four-game road trip in British Columbia with a 4-2 win over the Victoria Royals. The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Chiefs as they cut fourth place Vancouver's lead to just three points with Spokane holding a game in hand.

Kichton had a primary assist on Spokane's second goal of the game but saw his goalless streak extended to a 9th game. While Kichton still leads all WHL defensemen in scoring with a 13-47-60 mark, they need Kichton to start putting the puck in the net himself if they want to advance in the WHL playoffs.

These same two teams will play again Wednesday night because Victoria is only accessible by ferry and to save on travel costs the WHL likes to schedule Western Conference teams to play back to back nights to avoid a second trip to Victoria (they do the same thing with Prince George).

(Miller- Rena Laverty/Plymouth Whalers)

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