Prospect Faceoff: Erie, London renew Midwest rivalry, two NCAA tournaments roll on, more from the CHL

By Ken McKenna
Christian Dvorak - London Knights; Travis Dermott - Erie Otters - Prospect Faceoff for 3/18/16

Photo: The battle for the top spot in both the Midwest Division and Western Conference in the OHL is on the line this weekend as the London Knights’ Christian Dvorak and Erie Otters’ Travis Dermott square off in a key CHL matchup (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 

 

The postseason tournaments are underway in college hockey, while the regular seasons in the three CHL leagues wrap up this weekend. This week’s Prospect Faceoff focuses on a couple of noteworthy NCAA semi-final games in the NCHC and ECAC while also taking a look at three CHL games with implications for next week’s playoffs.

Travis Dermott (Erie) vs. Christian Dvorak (London) – OHL

The Feature Faceoff this week spotlights OHL Midwest Division rivals going toe-to-toe in a two-game set on the final weekend of the 2015-16 regular season. The Erie Otters and London Knights are tied in points with 103 apiece, with Erie holding the edge in wins by one game, 51 vs. London’s 50. A win by the Otters in the Friday night tilt in London will seal both the Division and Western Conference titles for Erie, while a Friday win for the Knights means that they head into the final game of the season with a chance to do the same in front of a hostile Erie crowd.

The Otters are the third-highest scoring team in the OHL – behind the Barrie Colts and London Knights – with 262 goals. Leading the charge for Erie in the forward ranks has been Dylan Strome (106 points) and Alex DeBrincat (50 goals), with defenseman Travis Dermott leading the way from the back end. The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect has appeared in 49 games this season, scoring six goals and adding 36 assists for 42 points. Three of his six goals have come on the power play, but most impressive is his +35 rating, the top plus/minus on the Otters and 10th overall in the OHL. Dermott produced a one-goal, two-assist effort in a St. Patrick’s Day win over the Owen Sound Attack, so he appears primed to help Erie make the final push towards the division and conference titles.

A player that Dermott is likely to see a good bit of in the season-ending series is London forward Christian Dvorak. The Arizona Coyotes prospect picked up where he left off last season, and in fact has bettered his total of 109 points from 2014-15. Dvorak currently leads the Knights in scoring with 119 points off of 51 goals and 68 assists, with his goal total being tops in the OHL. While he isn’t likely to catch OHL leading scorer Kevin Labanc (125 points), Dvorak along with Mitch Marner (TOR) and Matthew Tkachuk (2016) lead a potent Knights team into their division clash having won nine of their last 10 games. Dvorak is likely in his final OHL season before turning pro, so he has ample motivation to lead the Knights to bragging rights in the West.

Vladimir Kuznetsov (Acadie-Bathurst) vs. Mason McDonald (Charlottetown) – QMJHL

If the OHL matchup is prime angus, the QMJHL matchup might be viewed as cubed steak – less sizzle, and a bit more gristle, but satisfying in its own way.

The two teams in this matchup, the Acadie-Bathurst Titan and the Charlottetown Islanders, are both headed to the playoffs, but neither has had a season to remember. But the Islanders do have something to play for on this final weekend as they currently sit ninth overall in the league, just two points back of the Rimouski Oceanic. A win for the Oceanic at home against the Quebec Remparts in the first half of a home-and-home will cement their eighth place standing and home-ice advantage in their opening round series. But an Oceanic loss coupled with an Islanders win over the Titan would setup Charlottetown nicely for a shot at taking the eighth slot from Rimouski on Saturday. The Islanders face the rebuilding Halifax Mooseheads, one of two teams to miss the playoffs, in a home-ice finale.

The Acadie-Bathurst Titan were a team in 2015-16 that lacked the star power of some of the upper teams in the QMJHL and instead tried to win by committee. Perhaps the one Titan player that might have been viewed as an offensive force heading into the season was top CHL Import pick Vladimir Kuznetsov. The burly Russian right wing (no apparent relation to Evgeny) has been productive in his first QMJHL season, posting 23 goals and 32 assists in 66 games to date, but has perhaps not been the explosive talent that the Titan may have hoped for. Still, Kuznetsov, a prospect for the 2016 NHL Draft, is ranked 44th overall in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings, so the scouts have at least liked some of what they have seen from Kuznetsov this season.

The man looking to hold off Kuznetsov and the Titan to give his team a chance at home-ice advantage is Charlotttetown goaltender Mason McDonald. The lanky Calgary Flames prospect has turned in a solid season, although not quite as strong as his 2014-15 campaign. He has appeared in 37 games for the Islanders, posting a 3.40 goals-against average, a .900 save percentage, and a 19-15-0 record. McDonald and the Islanders are heating up at the right time, however, having gone 8-2-0-0 in their last 10 games, but they are also facing a Titan sqaud that has won three of the last four meetings between the two clubs.

Giorgio Estephan (Lethbridge) vs. Nick Schneider (Medicine Hat) – WHL

Not unlike the QMJHL, the most interesting playoff positioning battle on the WHL’s final weekend is one further down the standings. The Edmonton Oil Kings and Medicine Hat Tigers are separated by two points in their battle for the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, with the Oil Kings having the advantage. But they head into their final game, a road rematch of their St. Patrick’s Day home loss to the Red Deer Rebels, needing to win to hang onto the eighth and final seed. Medicine Hat doesn’t have it easy, however, as they square off in a two-game set with the top team in the Central Division, the Lethbridge Hurricanes. But, if they can at least finish in a tie, then the Tigers and Oil Kings would have a one-game showdown to decide which team moves on to the WHL playoffs.

One player looking to spoil the fun for the Tigers is Lethbridge Hurricanes center Giorgio Estephan. The Buffalo Sabres prospect has had a breakout season despite playing in less games than he did in 2014-15. Estephan has produced 30 goals and 43 assists for 73 points in 57 games, making him one of the main offensive cogs for the resurgent Hurricanes. Estephan recently returned from an injury and has not missed a beat, with his most recent outing being a one-goal, two-assist performance in a loss to the Oil Kings.

Estephan is most likely to face Medicine Hat goaltender Nick Schneider at least once in the two-game weekend set. Another Calgary Flames goaltending prospect, Schneider has been the go-to guy between the pipes for the Tigers this season, having played in 48 of the 70 games they have played to date. Schneider has posted a 3.58 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage to go along with 20-25-1-0 record for a rebuilding Medicine Hat club.

Tony Cameranesi (Minnesota-Duluth) vs. Brock Boeser (North Dakota) – NCHC

The NCAA hockey tournaments are taking place this weekend. A semi-final bout at the 2016 NCHC Frozen Faceoff later today features the top-ranked school in the country, the University of North Dakota, facing the University of Minnesota-Duluth, who are ranked 13th overall. The Fighting Hawks, as North Dakota is now nicknamed, are no stranger to this event, but the Bulldogs surprisingly are making their first appearance at the Frozen Faceoff. North Dakota took all four games in their season series in 2015-16.

One of eight seniors on the Minnesota-Duluth roster, forward Tony Cameranesi is the leading scorer on a team that produces offense mostly by committee. In 34 games so far this season, Cameranesi has scored 10 goals and chipped in 24 assists for 34 points to go along with a +20 rating. His 113 shots on goal lead the Bulldogs, as does his total of eight power play assists. The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect has been a steady scorer through most of this season, most recently producing a goal and two assists in the Bulldogs’ two-game sweep of Miami University that brought them to the Frozen Faceoff.

If the Bulldogs are to defeat North Dakota, however, it will be all about defense as the Fighting Hawks are one of the highest octane teams in all of college hockey. That offense is led by the ‘CBS’ line consisting of senior Drake Caggiula, freshman Brock Boeser, and sophomore Nick Schmaltz (CHI), with Boeser leading North Dakota in scoring with 25 goals and 23 assists in 38 games. The trio sits 1-2-3 in team scoring with 52 goals and 130 points between them. Boeser, a Vancouver Canucks prospect, has gotten stronger as the season has progressed, having produced seven goals and 10 assists in his last 10 games, including North Dakota’s two-game sweep of Colorado College that led them to this showdown with Minnesota-Duluth.

Gavin Bayreuther (St. Lawrence) vs. Jimmy Vesey (Harvard) – ECAC

Harvard University returns to Lake Placid, New York to defend their ECAC title from last season, starting with a semi-final match against St. Lawrence University. The Crimson, who are ranked 9th in the NCAA, swept their season series with the Skating Saints, making them obvious favorites to move on to the title game on Saturday. But St. Lawrence comes into the game as one of the top defensive clubs in the conference, so they should be a much tougher opponent for Harvard than was RPI in the quarterfinals.

Leading the defensive corps for St. Lawrence is junior Gavin Bayreuther, who coincidentally also co-leads the team in scoring with 11 goals and 17 assists in 36 games. Bayreuther was the hero for the Skating Saints last weekend, scoring the overtime winner to send St. Lawrence to the ECAC semi-finals. Indeed, as the games have gotten tougher, Bayreuther has been at his best as he has posted four goals and seven assists in his last 10 games. His strong performance this season has not gone unnoticed as he was a first team All-ECAC Hockey selection at defense. Bayreuther was on the radar of NHL teams for the 2014 NHL Draft but was passed over, but a strong college career may help to land the 6’1”, 195-pound rearguard an NHL free agent contract this year or next.

Bayreuther will have his hands full against Harvard as he will be facing one of the top players in all of NCAA hockey, senior forward Jimmy Vesey. A finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in 2015, Vesey will once again receive strong consideration for the trophy that designates college hockey’s top player as he leads the Crimson in scoring with 23 goals and 21 assists in 31 games. The Nashville Predators prospect has led Harvard in scoring for the past three seasons and has garnered several awards along the way, so he will be an integral part of any success his school has through the remainder of this season.

Prospect Faceoffs from 3/11-3/13

 

Danny O’Regan (Boston University) vs. C.J. Smith (UMass Lowell) – Hockey East

Umass-Lowell advanced to the Hockey East semi-finals after sweeping Boston University by 3-2 and 5-0 scores in last weekend’s quarterfinals. C.J. Smith picked up two assists in the River Hawks opening victory, including an assist on Adam Chapie’s power play goal that held up as the game-winner. Jake Kamrass and Chapie were the scoring heroes in the second game, with Smith picking up the fourth goal in the 5-0 rout. The Terriers’ Danny O’Regan (SJS) picked up one assist in the 3-2 loss.

Travis Sanheim (Calgary) vs. Brett Pollock (Edmonton) – WHL

The Calgary Hitmen took a 4-2 win from the Edmonton Oil Kings last weekend, and Travis Sanheim (PHI) was a big part of that win. The talented defender notched a goal and added two assists, including an assist on the game-winning goal, in the Calgary victory. Brett Pollock (CGY) opened the scoring for the Oil Kings, but a three-goal blitz by the Hitmen in the second period was too much for Edmonton to overcome.

Cam Dineen (North Bay) vs. Brendan Perlini (Niagara) – OHL

A fairly close 4-2 game after two periods turned into a blowout for the Niagara IceDogs as they posted a five-goal third period to rout the North Bay Battalion, 9-2. Defenseman Aaron Haydon (DAL) was the scoring star for the IceDogs with a goal and three assists, while forward Graham Knott (CHI) also contributed a goal and two assists. Brendan Perlini (ARI) picked up an assist in the win, while Cam Dineen was held scoreless while posting a -3 rating for the Battalion.

Pascal Laberge (Victoriaville) vs. Anthony Richard (Val-d’Or) – QMJHL

The Val d’Or Foreurs notched two goals in the first period and never looked back as they took a 4-1 win over the Victoriaville Tigres last Friday. Nicolas Aube-Kubel (PHI) was the scoring star for the Foreurs with a three-assist night, including the main assist on Julien Gauthier’s winner. Pascal Laberge of the Tigres made the scoresheet via a slashing penalty, while Anthony Richard (NSH) was held scoreless.

Jonathan Drouin (Syracuse) vs. Jesse Graham (Bridgeport) – AHL

Jonathan Drouin (TBL) made his return to the Syracuse Crunch lineup after his unsuccessful attempt to force a trade, with the former third overall pick making a bit of an impact in a 5-2 Crunch victory over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Drouin notched an assist on the game-winning goal by Luke Witkowski (TBL), with Witkowski also scoring the opening goal for a two-goal night. Jesse Graham (NYI) failed to make the scoresheet and was a -2 on the night for the Tigers.

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