Prospect Faceoff: Pivotal CHL playoff showdowns, SHL champs look to move on, and more prospect matchups

By David Hahn
Graham Knott - Niagara IceDogs; Travis Konecny - Ottawa 67's - Prospect Faceoff, Playoff Edition - 040215

Photo: Niagara IceDogs forward Graham Knott (L) and Ottawa 67’s forward Travis Konecny (R) faceoff in a crucial Game Five encounter this weekend in the 2015 OHL Playoffs (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

 

In this week’s playoff edition of Prospect Faceoff, all three CHL leagues have series that are facing pivotal fifth games. Meanwhile, with the NCAA on hiatus, there’s a strong NAHL matchup featuring two college recruits worth keeping an eye on. Also, the SHL’s juggernaut squad in Skelleftea may have an opportunity this weekend to advance to the finals with one more win, but a top prospect for a rival will have something to say about that.

Graham Knott (Niagara) vs. Travis Konecny (Ottawa) – OHL

A severely underrated prospect for the upcoming NHL Draft, Graham Knott has already overcome numerous setbacks during a tumultuous season. First, the Niagara IceDogs started off the season with a 2-13 record, and Knott wasn’t much better, posting just five points during that stretch. Knott shook off those figures and quietly scored 25 goals and 18 assists this season in a bottom-six role. More known for his defensive and physical acumen, Knott nearly doubled his point total from last season. Heading into the playoffs, Knott was struck with a bout of mononucleosis, but recently was cleared to return. NHL Central Scouting ranked Knott 54th in their midterm rankings, and a solid playoff performance in a critical game five would help boost Knott near the first round.

Originally thought to be set to miss the remainder of the season due to injury, Ottawa 67’s captain Travis Konecny simply wouldn’t be denied his chance to debut in the OHL playoffs. Konecny is a difficult player to contain, his pace and aggression on and off the puck have resulted in his draft stock soaring. Konecny scored 29 goals and 39 assists this season, helping Ottawa return to the playoffs. There, Konecny’s four assists in Game Two setup the 67’s in a tough-to-call opening round matchup. Numerous scouting outlets have ranked Konecny as a potential first round pick, and his success in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game along with his playoff performance have cemented that status.

Shea Theodore (Seattle) vs. Nic Petan (Portland) – WHL

Perhaps the premier series in the WHL’s first playoff round, the Seattle Thunderbirds faceoff against the potent Portland Winterhawks’ offense. With an important Game Five looming, the fierce rivals are led by former teammates with interesting connections to each other.

As a veteran of over 250 games in the WHL, there’s not much that can rattle Seattle Thunderbirds captain Shea Theodore. Seattle’s career leader in goals and points by a defenseman finished 14th in scoring by a WHL defenseman. This despite missing 30 games due to injury and time spent winning a goal medal with the Canadian WJC team. With Seattle, the smooth-skating defenseman posted 13 goals and 35 assists in 43 regular season games. The Anaheim Ducks prospect appears ready to move into the professional ranks, but preventing Portland from advancing out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the last four seasons would be a nice parting gift.

Growing up just 30 miles apart from each other in British Columbia, Shea Theodore and Nic Petan are used to competing against each other. However, they teamed up as Petan was on the same gold medal-winning Canadian World Junior team. There, Petan scored four goals and seven assists in seven games. Playing in Portland, the dangerous playmaker finished with 15 goals and an astonishing 74 assists playing on a line with WHL scoring champion Oliver Bjorkstrand (CBJ). Down early in the series two games to one, Portland likely won’t be held back for too much longer.

Adam Erne (Quebec) vs. Dylan Labbe (Shawinigan) – QMJHL

Two well respected QMJHL veterans guide their teams into Game Five battles this weekend. Both players are enjoying career seasons for teams who have had far different playoff experiences lately.

On a Quebec Remparts team loaded with NHL prospects, Adam Erne took a major step forward in multiple facets during his fourth season in the QMJHL. Erne has been relied upon in multiple situations, and has contributed in a big way. This season, Erne set new career highs with 41 goals, 45 assists, 102 penalty minutes, a +21 rating, 12 power play goals and his first two shorthanded goals. Erne’s increased physical play and focus on puck possession has paid off, and the Tampa Bay Lightning prospect is hoping to conclude his junior career with a QMJHL championship.

Dylan Labbe had to be patient if he wanted a chance to make it out of the first round of the QMJHL playoffs. Over the past two seasons, the Shawinigan Cataractes have not been competitive, and for the first time in his career, the team has been above the .500 mark. Labbe’s confidence never wavered, however, and those tough times molded Labbe into a well-rounded defenseman. This season, Labbe’s 15 goals and 36 assists rank sixth among all QMJHL defenseman.

Jakub Vrana (Linkoping) vs. Sebastian Aho (Skelleftea) – SHL

Skelleftea has been a powerhouse in the SHL this season, while Linkoping will ask a lot of a young prospect in order to fend off elimination. Meanwhile, the Swedish giants have one young defender climbing up the draft rankings in his second time through the process.

There may not be a more polarizing player in the SHL than Czech import Jakub Vrana. Prone to bouts of inconsistency, Vrana has still been a major contributor, often times leaving you with the impression that he can do whatever he pleases offensively. Vrana scored 12 goals and 12 assists in the regular season, and those totals are first among all players under the age of 20. The Praha, Czech Republic native has four goals in eight playoff games, and Linkoping will need the star forward to continue scoring if they have any chance of taking Skelleftea out. Should his season end this weekend, there has been speculation that Vrana could head to Washington’s AHL affiliate in Hershey for a playoff run.

Not to be confused with his Finnish counterpart of the same name, Sebastian Aho has had a phenomenal season for Skelleftea. In 41 games, Aho posted one goal and eight assists, often showing off his slick skating ability to get out of trouble. Aho starred at defense for Sweden at this year’s WJC, scoring one goal and three assists in seven games. While he didn’t hear his name called in his first year of draft eligibility, the second time through should prove fruitful. To that point, NHL Central Scouting ranked Aho ninth among European skaters in their midterm rankings.

Brendan Harris (Wenatchee) vs. Wes Michaud (Corpus Christi) – NAHL

With the NCAA taking a week off to prepare for the Frozen Four, two future collegiate forwards lead their respective teams into a best-of-three play-in for the final NAHL playoff spot.

As a native of Las Vegas, Nevada, the recent speculation of an NHL team potentially arriving in that city has to be on the mind of Brendan Harris. While he grew up in that non-traditional hockey market, Harris went to California to play before landing in the NAHL. Now with the Wenatchee Wild, Harris has proven to be a valuable contributor for the Wild. This season, Harris scored 16 goals and 28 assists in 50 games, leading the team in power play goals with five, and shorthanded goals with three. Drawing comparisons to fellow Las Vegas native Jason Zucker (MIN), Harris has committed to St. Cloud State University for the 2016-17 season.

After posting a 22-point rookie season with the Corpus Christi IceRays last year, Wes Michaud burst onto the scene and has been one of the NAHL’s breakout stars. Michaud recently captured the IceRays single-season goals record after recording his 28th goal of the season before taking on two more to finish with a tidy 30-goal, 43-assist season. Those totals are good for third in NAHL regular season scoring, displaying why Colorado College will be happy to add his services next season.

Prospect Faceoffs from 3/27-29

Rinat Valiev (Kootenay) vs. Jake Virtanen (Calgary) – WHL

The Kootenay Ice and Calgary Hitmen kicked off their WHL playoff series with a back-and-forth affair that saw the Ice come away with a 4-3 victory. Luke Philp led the way with two goals and one assist for Kootenay, and Rinat Valiev was a stalwart on defense finishing with no points but a +1 rating. Radel Fazleev picked up a pair of assists for Calgary to keep them in the game. Jake Virtanen was a disappointing -3, clearly outmatched by the Kootenay attack.

Matt Garbowsky (RIT) vs. Stephon Williams (Minnesota State) – NCAA

Despite outshooting RIT 33-17, Minnesota State was bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in upset fashion by a final score of 2-1. Minnesota State’s Stephon Williams (NYI) stopped 15 of 17 shots against. Matt Garbowsky registered an assist on the first RIT goal and won a crucial faceoff that ultimately led to Josh Mitchell’s game-winning goal with mere minutes remaining.

Daniel Sprong (Charlottetown) vs. Cameron Darcy (Sherbrooke) – QMJHL

The Charlottetown Islanders proved to be too much for the Sherbrooke Phoenix in first-round playoff action in an 8-2 Islander win. Daniel Sprong was named as the first star of the game following his two-goal performance. Mason MacDonald (CGY) stopped 30 of 32 shots, earning his first QMJHL playoff win after being swept last year. Sherbrooke’s offense was stagnant, and Cameron Darcy (TBL) didn’t help the cause as he was held without a point but won 16 of 20 faceoffs.

Daniel Carr (Hamilton) vs. Connor Brown (Toronto) – AHL

During a game expected to feature high-powered offenses, goaltending ended up being on display in the Hamilton Bulldogs’ 2-1 win. Mike Condon turned aside 30 of 31 shots for his 21st win of the season. Swiss forward Sven Andrighetto factored into both Bulldogs goals, reaching the 40-point plateau. Toronto Marlies goaltender Chris Gibson stopped 31 of 33 shots, and their lone goal was scored by Greg McKegg. Both featured players, Daniel Carr and Connor Brown, finished without a point.

Zach Nastasiuk (Owen Sound) vs. Jason Dickinson (Guelph) – OHL

The Owen Sound Attack scored two early goals in the first period before Jason Dickinson (DAL) answered for the Guelph Storm. From there, four unanswered Attack goals finished off a decisive 6-1 opening-round win. Import defenseman Damir Sharipzyanov scored once and added two assists to pace Owen Sound. Guelph’s offense threw 31 shots on Jack Flinn, but the Attack goalie held the fort for his first playoff win.

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