Gordie Clark and the New York Ranger scouting staff have been made to look really good by the events of this week. Andrew Yogan earning "OHL Player of the Week" and this afternoon's announcement that Michael St. Croix was named to the WHL's All-Star Second Team.
That is pretty good work for back to back 4th round picks by the Rangers. In today's salary cap era, teams are really forced to get as many players of their own via their draft picks. The Rangers have done a super job especially since 2008 as we starting to see the prospects worth the way up to the NHL.
But now the real fun begins on Thursday as the 3 Canadian Junior leagues begin playoff play followed on Friday by the start of the NCAA tournament. Playoff rounds or single elimination no matter which it is; it still comes down to "win or go home"
Three New York Ranger and one New York Islander prospect will be taking part in the WHL playoffs unlike the OHL, none of the prospects will be facing each other in the first-round.
Edmonton versus Kootenay- the team that had the best record in the WHL versus the defending WHL champions. It is a one seed versus an eight seed but this is no ordinary eight seed as Kootenay presents a legitimate challenge to an inexperienced playoff team in the Oil Kings.
Michael St. Croix of the Oilers only has four playoff games under his belt while the Ice are returning 13 players who were on the championship team. The Oil Kings have a team wide lack of playoff experience which they must overcome to avoid being upset by the Ice.
Every sign on paper from the Oil Kings sweeping the season series 6-0, the Oil Kings with seven players who scored 20 or more goals to the Oil Kings holding the Ice to just one goal in four of the six games played between the two teams says that this is going to be a mismatch.
This is going to be one hell of a fight for the Oil Kings as Kootenay wasn't given any chance last year either but they have great coaching and a goalie by the name of Nathan Lieuwen who was the playoff MVP last year. Don't get us wrong we want to see the Oil Kings win because of Michael St. Croix but we do fear and respect the Kootenay Ice.
This is going to be a good baptism by fire for the Oil Kings because they're going to learn the hard way how to win a playoff series.
Edmonton does have a ton of firepower on offense but they also play a very good team defense so the key here is not to give Kootenay any idea that they might be able to win the series. This is gonna be a great series as well as a very good learning experience for Edmonton as they will eventually wear down the Ice in six games.
Moose Jaw versus Regina-This is a rivalry along the lines of Rangers/Islanders as Dylan McIlrath and his Moose Jaw Warriors are facing a Regina team that is returning to the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season. Over the years when these two teams have met in the playoffs they have been wars.
This time might not be any different as despite Moose Jaw coming in as the number two seed, they had a lot of trouble against Regina the season. They split the season series right down the middle 4-2-2 then the key for the Warriors has to be playing hard but playing with this discipline.
Dylan McIlrath has to be on the ice not in the penalty box if the Warriors are to win the series. The entire Warrior team has to be smart, pick their spots when to be physical and not give Regina power-play opportunities.
By all rights, Moose Jaw should dominate the series as they are bigger, stronger, and more experienced. Toss that out the window because Regina has nothing to lose and will play like a team that has nothing to lose.
Moose Jaw we think will need seven to get past an old rival.
Kelowna versus Portland- Shane McColgan and his Kelowna Rockets have the misfortune of playing against the team that finished with the third best record in the WHL. That's the good news, the bad news is that this is going to be a very ugly series for both teams because both teams have a bad habit of shooting themselves in the foot.
Unfortunately for Kelowna when they shoot themselves in the foot they usually take out both feet and Portland this by their own maddening inconsistency are way too deep offensively for Kelowna to match. We also think Portland is going to remember last year when they took Kelowna lightly and was embarrassed on home ice in game one.
For Kelowna to have any kind of chance than Shane McColgan needs to bring back the McColgan of last year's playoffs when he went wild going 8-11-19 in 10 games. The problem is we don't see McColgan doing that this year as Portland will be all over him.
We hate to say the word sweep but we fear that is was going to happen unless Portland decides to take nights off. Portland in five games.
Spokane versus Vancouver- the e-mail we got from the Spokane Chiefs pointed out that between Don Nachbaur (Chiefs) and Vancouver's Don Hay have combined for a total of 1073 coaching wins in their careers. The Chiefs gave away home ice advantage in the last week of the season by losing two games to the Seattle Thunderbirds (who didn't even make the playoffs) that they never should have.
This is really a series where whichever team can win a game on the other teams ice will win the series. The Chiefs with Brendan Kichton have 12 players with 10 or more goals but Kichton is going to need to score goals not set them up.
The Chiefs will have the advantage of being the the healthier team as Vancouver has lost their best defenseman and a couple of their leading offensive players to injuries. In the end this is going to be a chess match between two of the best Junior coaches in the business.
We hate to say this but Vancouver even injury filled is still one of the toughest teams to have to try to beat on their ice and this is where Spokane is going to regret the losses to Seattle. Vancouver in seven games because home ice does mean something.
Two New York Islander and one New York Ranger prospect will be playing in the 2012 NCAA Men's college hockey tournament. Of the three, we believe that two of them are playing on teams that have what it takes to win the whole thing.
Denver versus Ferris State-- call this the "redemption matchup" as both teams are entering the NCAA off of disappointing losses. Freshman Scott Mayfield is going to be asked to do a lot as his Denver team has been losing players left and right to injury.
Against North Dakota in the WCHA finals, Denver because of injury was down to three natural defensemen and had to shift two forwards to the blueline. This is a very tired and very beaten up Denver team but they're also playing a team in Ferris State that we don't think despite winning the CCHA regular-season title is as good as their record.
The embarrassing loss to Bowling Green in the CCHA quarterfinals also creates some very serious doubt about their ability to win a big game. It Denver can find the bodies and their healthy enough to be contributors then we do see Denver defeating Ferris State.
North Dakota versus Western Michigan-- talk about two teams that is coming in to the NCAA tournament on rolls. Both teams are coming into the NCAA after earning their conference title in upsets.
North Dakota has Brock Nelson and we don't think that Western Michigan has answer for Nelson. This is gonna be a tough tough game and the way we do see at is that if Nelson can establish his dominance in the slot early on and put Western Michigan on their heels then it should be an easy one.
But if Western Michigan gets another solid performance out of the freshman with the year's best name in Frank Slubowski a.k.a."The Big Slubowski" then watch out the upset will happen.
North Dakota because Brock Nelson is not afraid of the Big Slubowski.
Boston College versus Air Force Academy-- on paper this should be no problem for the top-ranked Boston College Eagles. Notice we said should be because the Air Force has this habit of knocking people off when they least expect it and Boston College has been prone to lose games because they mailed in performances rather than just whipping on people.
The dumbest thing we think Glen Sather did this year was to hint that Chris Kreider could just jump into the Ranger lineup and produce. To us that is like putting a giant bull's-eye on Kreider before he has even finished his college career.
There is no question that Chris Kreider eventually will be a solid two-way performer for the New York Rangers. Please note we said the word "eventually" because right now we want Kreider to play the next four games just like Andrew Yogan played his last game on Sunday.
Dominate, dominate, dominate, dominate or else please don't consider Kreider for the NHL this year. When Kreider does in fact dominate there is really nobody who can skate with him or out work him on the ice.
Air Force has pulled off upsets at the NCAA before but this year unless Boston College just overlooks them and beats themselves then this year will not be the Air Force's.
How we see the NCAA shaking out--It's almost if when they set up the brackets for this year's tournament that nobody wants either an Islander or Ranger prospect to win it.
First, Boston College should be defeat Air Force will most likely face last year's winner Minnesota-Duluth in order to reach the Frozen Four.
Second, North Dakota is placed in the same bracket as the team they beat in the WCHA's Final Five semis Minnesota. To make it even nicer should both teams face each other again it will be in Minnesota's own backyard.
Third, Denver is all heart but they have been playing on borrowed time because of all the injuries they have been through. We salute their courage and their heart but eventually injuries catch up to you and we would be surprised if they even get past Western Michigan.
Our Frozen Four is Boston College, Minnesota, Miami, and Michigan which we believe would lead to a Boston College versus Miami final and is much as we like Chris Kreider we think Miami strong enough defensively to stop them.
Our other predictions
QMJHL- Saint John Sea Dogs
OHL- Niagara IceDogs
WHL- Tri-City Americans
Let's play hockey
(Michael St. Croix- Andy Devlin)