Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stick a fork in them

Tuesday night was a hockey fan's dream night with five playoff series going to a seventh game and the New York Rangers as well as the New York Islanders each had a prospect playing. Unfortunately neither prospect saw their team advance to the next round of the league playoffs but only one saw his season come to a close.

JT Miller (NYR 2011 1st) and his Plymouth Whalers saw their season end with a very disappointing loss to the Kitchener Rangers 6-3. Not to take anything away from Kitchener as they worked very hard to earn this victory but Plymouth can only blame themselves for why another team is playing in the OHL's Western Conference finals instead of them.

Plymouth's offense was hurt by the loss of the leading scorer Stefan Noesen (who had missed the first six games with a broken finger but played tonight) but they were hurt worse by the failure of the team to pick up the slack. Miller had an assist but finished the series without a goal when his team needed goals badly.

Now you can look at Miller from a couple of different perspectives; first the critics said since day one that consistency was one of his biggest issues and sadly hard to argue that point after his play in this playoff series. Another way to look is that Miller has basically gone almost 2 years playing hockey, attending camps, and playing for national teams almost nonstop.

But that is making an excuse for Miller who had a very good first-round but a very disappointing second round. The problem when you're a first-round draft pick is that you are under a greater scrutiny than the rest of the draft class.

We like Miller, as there are many things to like about his game starting with his ability to find an open spot and be ready for a one timer from anywhere on the ice. We like his strength as it is much more than you expect from a player his size.

Defensively he still like most young players needs to understand his role and play a smarter game. If it was up to us then we would tell him to take a month off away from hockey and just relax.

Start this off-season work of the end of May so he can be ready for the Ranger rookie camp and the USA summer evaluation camp. Most of the time you will hear us say that we want to see improvement in his upper body but in this case it's the opposite direction.

We want to see Miller improve his lower body so winning the battles in the corners and the crease become easier. We would like to see a better first step when he is skating and some time with the Ranger's skating consultant would not hurt him.

We know that JT really was wanting to turn Pro after this season but we see another year playing for Plymouth in his future. If anything it's a good thing for him as he will be surrounded by some talented players and like Dylan McIlrath this year, Miller will be under less scrutiny next year.

For the season Miller finished 25-37-62 so for next year Miller will be expected to increase himself up to the 80 to 90 point range. Playoffs saw two different JT Millers as in the first round Miller was 2-5-7 in 6 games but in the 2nd just 0-3-3 in 7.

Let this burn inside Miller to fuel his off-season workouts. Let the critics complaints about his consistency fuel his off-season work.

For Kirill Kabanov (NYI 2010 3rd) and his Shawinigan Cataractes, they get it a month's vacation before hosting the 2012 Memorial Cup. The Cataractes lost on home ice to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens 3-2.

For the first time in nine years the host team of the Memorial Cup will not make it to the third round of their leagues playoffs. It is going to be rather hard for the Cataractes to be able to stop then restart their hockey season and quite honestly will make them a huge underdog despite the home ice advantage to win the Cup.

The credit for this elimination belong to Chicoutimi goalie Chris Gibson who was lights out especially in games 6 and 7 as Chicoutimi rallied from down in the series 2-3 to win on Shawinigan's home ice.

So what about Kabanov? For starter a question has to be asked did Kabanov underachieve the season or were the expectations placed on him to high?

Since we felt Kabanov should have had a much better season than he did (21-34-55) then yes underachieve is how we look at it. It's kind of funny that during the off-season so many Kabanov critics was so worried that Kabanov would run wild when they thought Kabanov would be playing in Montreal.

Behavior wise there can be no complaint about Kabanov as there was no wild stories or complaints about him as a person. What kind of season he had can remain up to debate as one expects more from someone who is supposed to possess world-class talent.

So many questions with very few answers so for Kabanov he gets one more chance the season to offer some answers when the Memorial Cup takes place.

We will see in a month what happens.

Where we stand

In the Canadian juniors, we are down to the final four teams in each league; from a prospect standpoint the New York Islanders have Ryan Strome and Mitchell Theoret playing for the Niagara IceDogs in the OHL. We already know that Kirill Kabanov will be playing in the Memorial Cup.

Niagara is about to take on Ottawa after Ottawa has been through a very tough seven-game series with the Barrie Colts. How much Ottawa may have in the tank we don't know but Niagara will have been off for eight days when their series begins Friday night in Niagara.

Very hard not to look at Niagara as a huge favorite even if both teams had the same amount of time off, Niagara is just too deep with NHL caliber prospects for Ottawa to overcome. Of course we might just given Niagara the kiss of death for saying that.

Niagara in 5 games.

On the Ranger's side, we can say that at least one Ranger prospect will be playing for the WHL championship. The problem is before we get that far, two prospects Dylan McIlrath and Michael St. Croix will be leading their teams against each other.

Michael St. Croix and his Edmonton Oil Kings are the regular season WHL Eastern conference champions while Dylan McIlrath and the Moose Jaw Warriors finished second. This could be a great series as you have the physical force in the Warriors taking on the offensive weaponry of the Oil Kings.

For all the offense that the Oil Kings have, they play a very good defense themselves and they have some size to combat the Warrior's size. If you want to go prospect versus prospect then right now the edge is very clearly McIlrath's as he is coming off an outstanding series against the Medicine Hat Tigers.

The physical force that the Rangers had hoped for when they used their first round pick in 2010 on McIlrath showed up quite well. What was even better was that McIlrath was able to dominate physically without having to fight or even to take penalties.

McIlrath draws the assignment of the other team's leading offensive players which normally would mean in this case Michael St. Croix. But so far during the playoffs, the Oil Kings have gotten as a balanced scoring at you could ask for.

Anyone who played six or more games has at least one point and 16 out of the 19 skaters that the Oil Kings have used have scored at least one goal. Moose Jaw maybe bigger and older up front that they lacked the balanced attack that Edmonton has.

Who wins?

Moose Jaw wins if they can stay out of the penalty box and establish the physical domination that they did against Medicine Hat. They cannot afford to start a parade to the penalty box as the Oil Kings have too good of a power-play to give them any opportunities.

Edmonton wins if in fact they do make the most of their special teams play, they continue to have the balanced scoring that is gotten them 8 straight wins in the playoffs and 19 straight overall. They cannot allow Moose Jaw to physically push them around but they also have to be smart about it.

We probably have it wrong but Dylan McIlrath has emerged as the player who will dominate and dictate what the other team tries to do offensively. This is going to be a good one Moose Jaw in a very close series.

Steven Fogarty and his Penticton Vees will be taking part in the Doyle Cup starting on Friday with a winner of that series advancing to the RBC Cup which is like the Memorial Cup only for the Junior A level.

We will be talking to a couple of folks about the two competitions and hopefully bring you an interview that will explain it.

(Miller- Aaron Bell of OHL Images, Kabanov- Shawinigan Cataractes)

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