The first round of the playoffs is done in the OHL , WHL and QMJHL, while Boston College is set to take on Ferris State in the NCAA final. That means we've got a lot of prospects to catch up on. This isn't a week to worry overly much about call-ups and send-downs, so it all works out for the best, doesn't it?
Senators prospect Stefan Noesen, coming off a 38-goal, 82-point regular season, has been the best player on the ice in the OHL playoffs, exploding for a spectacular seven goals and 14 points over six games; he's tied for the best mark in the O in both categories. That was more than enough to lead Plymouth over the Guelph Storm. If there was any question about the 2011 first-rounder's hockey acumen, it's gone, and the Senators organization continues to impress with its drafting and scouting over the last couple years. Fellow Sens prospect and 90-point man Shane Prince (Ottawa's 2011 second-rounder) checks in, too, with seven points in six games, and it's easy for the Sens to watch him, as his Ottawa 67's advanced to Round 2 as well.
Of course, those early picks are expected to be diamonds, but there's nothing quite like a fourth-round gem, like Germany's Tobias Rieder, the 114th selection in '11 by the Oilers. After he broke out for 42 and 42 this year, Rieder has taken the show further on into the playoffs with the Kitchener Rangers, tying Noesen with seven goals and adding six assists of his own in the Rangers' 4-1 series win over the Owen Sound Attack.
Rieder's linemate, the diminutive and undrafted Michael Catenacci, probably didn't raise many eyebrows with his 69-point performance this year as a 20-year-old who turned 21 late in the season, but he's turning heads now. Catenacci dished a dozen assists and scored a pair of goals in Kitchener's first-round romp, tying him for the playoff points lead with Noesen. It's that kind of performance that can turn a guy from a no-name junior into a guy with a pro contract, and from there, well, it's up to him.
Jackets second-rounder Boone Jenner, coming off a “meh” 49-point season, blew up for 11 points of his own, but the Niagara IceDogs dropped his Oshawa Generals in six games, largely thanks to usual suspect Ryan Strome (10 points) and his explosive, undrafted linemate, Andrew Agozzino (nine points), a two-time 40-goal man who, like Catenacci, is likely ticketed for a pro deal.
Of course, we can't forget the other usual suspects - upper-crust prospects Brandon Saad (12 points), Tyler Toffoli (nine) and Dougie Hamilton (eight) have all maintained their paths to stardom.
A lot of interesting action in goal, too. The soon-to-be-drafted Czech Matej Machovsky allowed just six goals in four games as Brampton advanced. The undrafted Michael Houser had an enormous season for London this year, posting a disgusting 46-15-1 record with a .925 save percentage, and he's kept on rolling into the playoffs, ripping off four straight wins while allowing just six goals of his own. The Pennsylvania native (represent!) is one of the nicer undrafted sleepers. Red Wings prospect Petr Mrazek, another Czech, helped lead Ottawa through the first round with a .934 save percentage, and though it took six games, both losses were in overtime. Mark Visentin, on the other hand, eked his way by with Niagara despite an unimpressive .900 showing over his six games. He owes big thanks to Strome.
On the quiet side: Prospective first overall pick Nail Yakupov, whose five points in six games fall a good ways short of the domination expected from a player of his talents. Rangers prospect Christian Thomas didn't get far either, tallying just four points in six games, but he gets to move on to greener pastures in the AHL. Circuit points leader Michael Sgarbossa tallied just three points in four games and a minus-3 rating as his Sudbury Wolves were swept by Brampton.
Hi there, Ty Rattie. The 2011 second-rounder built up his prospect status all season long with Portland, putting up a silly 121 points, and he's followed that up with the best playoff performance so far in any league, a ridiculous 10-goals-in-four-games (oh, and three assists) outburst in Portland's first-round sweep over Kelowna. Ty Rattie. Write the name down and circle it fie times.
But the top of the leaderboard is rich with NHL talent, as Ducks prospect Emerson Etem put up a three-points-per-game performance of his own, helping Medicine Hat sweep by Saskatoon. All Etem did was score seven goals and dish five assists in that series. The Californian is certainly among the most NHL-ready players in junior hockey.
Just behind Etem? Every Flames fan's new mancrush, Sven Baertschi, who's played the role of dishmaster in these playoffs, handing out nine assists (Rattie says thanks) to go with two goals for the Winterhawks. At this point, production like this is practically the bare minimum expected from Baertschi.
Tri-City's Brendan Shinnimin, the circuit's leading scorer in the regular season, picked up a more-than-respectable eight points in his own team's four-game romp over the hapless Everett Silvertips. Here we have another undrafted destroyer who will find his way into an NHL organization after the playoffs are done.
Top scorers and top prospects Mark Stone (Senators) and Jordan Weal (Kings) failed to outperform, however, and that's certainly not a very good sign. Stone's Brandon Wheat Kings progressed, though, while Weal's Regina Pats were quickly dispatched by the Moose Jaw Warriors.
On the brighter side, underperformer Quinton Howden (Flames) helped carry Moose Jaw to victory with a nine-point effort in that five-game series. That's a big boost for the 2010 first-round pick, who posted a good-but-not-great 65 points in 52 games for the Warriors this season.
Tyler Bunz (Oilers) has outperformed in goal once again for Medicine Hat, winning four straight and allowing just seven tallies while saving 94.4% of the shots put on him, while breakout sensation Ty Rimmer has done him one better - just six goals allowed in four games for the undrafted 20-year-old, who's been key to Tri-City's resurgence this year. Meanwhile, Sabres sixth-rounder Nathan Lieuwen, who had a very nice year for Kootenay this season, allowed 14 goals and saw his team swept. The Flames have their own sixth-rounder, Laurent Brossoit, and he's led the Edmonton Oil Kings to a first-round sweep.
The biggest surprise in the W, perhaps, is Eric Williams, a lanky British Columbian netminder for the Spokane Chiefs. Williams posted a horrifying .868 save percentage in 18 regular-season outings after coming over to Spokane this year, and he wasn't any better before that with the Prince Albert Raiders. All of a sudden, though, Williams has seized the reins, going 4-0 in his five games (one relief appearance) with a .930 save percentage to lead Spokane to a shocking first-round victory over the very tough Vancouver Giants. Good timing for Williams if he can keep it up, as he's draft-eligible this June.
If it hardly seemed fair that Charlie Coyle, a terrific college player, should move to juniors for the end of this season, well... it's hardly fair. Coyle annihilated the Q for 38 points in 23 games after departing Boston University, and he led the St. John Sea Dogs to a four-game romp over Cape Breton, racking up a very nearly Rattie-like nine goals and four assists. Prediction: He's an NHL player next year for the Wild, who acquired his rights from the Sharks in the Brent Burns deal.
The Q's playoff scoring leaderboard is dominated by the usual suspects: another Wild prospect, Zack Phillips (12 points - nice job, Minnesota!), Red Wings hotshot prospect Tomas Jurco (11 points), defensive scoring master Jerome Gauthier-Leduc (eight points), prospective top pick Mikhail Grigorenko (just one goal, but seven points) and Sidney Crosby-esque rookie Nathan McKinnon (eight points, and oh yeah, he's still 16).
Of course, there are some less-expected names, like another rookie in Cedrick Paquette. When we talk about guys making a name for themselves in the playoffs, this is exactly the kind of guy we're talking about. At 17 years old, Paquette has NHL size already - 6-1, 206 plays in the big leagues - and though he wasn't spectacular this regular season with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (what a mouthfulle), Paquette has exploded on the playoff scene with nine points in the Armada's first-round sweep of the Gatineau Olympiques. He's draft-eligible this year, and if he keeps this up, someone will spend a good pick on him.
Speaking of sweeps, they're totally in vogue in the Q this year, as seven of the eight first-round series ended 4-0. Efficiency! The French Canadians are famous for it.
The offensively loosey-goosey QMJHL didn't quite see the same degree of goaltending that the OHL and WHL did, but it's all contextual. Rookie Zachary Fucale, who compiled a 32-18-6 record in 58 games as a 16-year-old this season - no mean feat - has found a new level in the playoffs, allowing just eight goals in four games for a league-best 1.97 GAA. That's a lot better than his 3.16 season mark, which doesn't look good, but again - context. No QMJHL goalie finished with a save percentage better than .914 this year; Fucale's was .892, and he's just a (six-foot-tall) little kid.
Three other goalies have matched Fucale's eight-in-four mark: Jackets prospect Mathieu Corbiel, the regular-season leader in GAA (2.38) for St. John, ‘Yotes prospect Louis Domingue, the holder of that league-best .914 save mark for the Quebec Remparts, and the undrafted and undersized Gabriel Gerard, who nonetheless put up a .911 of his own in the regular season.
Disappointingly, Alex Saulnier didn't play in Moncton's entire series against Halifax, apparently due to the flu. Bizarre. His brother Allain Saulnier tallied six assists, but no goals in the four games, and you have to wonder how different that series would have been had the latter-day Sedin twins been intact.
Chris Kreider and Boston College will face Ferris State University, making its first-ever finals appearance, in the championship game Saturday night, after which Kreider will likely head to New York to suit up for the Rangers, who could be without Derek Stepan for a spell after Brooks Orpik's dirty hit. Kreider's goal and assist helped BC down Minnesota to reach the title game.
As for Ferris State, there's not much need to learn about their scorers; the Bulldogs play a defensive brand of hockey, and their goaltending has truly been on point. Both starter Taylor Nelson and backup C.J. Motte are excellent netminders, each hovering around a .925 save percentage on the season. Nelson stopped 27 of 28 to lead Ferris State to the finals, but my guess is that BC's superior offense will win out in the end.
Amazingly, the Eagles have an even better goalie in Parker Milner, whose .936 save mark this year is good for second in the nation. The undrafted Pittsburgh native will find himself some pro work whether he puts a trophy on his mantle or not - but especially if he puts a trophy on his mantle. Nelson, also undrafted, is a name to remember for NHL prospecters as well.
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