Jay McClement (St. Louis Blues, 2nd round 2001)
Jay has good reason to be very proud of his first 15 games of the 2001-2002 season. In fact, apart from Battalion captain Kurt MacSweyn, it could easily be said that Jay has been the team’s best two-way forward, a style of play that he will definitely depend on if and when he cracks the Blues’ lineup.
After potting 30 goals in his sophomore OHL season, he has continued that pace in his third year in the league, with 7 goals in his first 15 games. What’s more, he has been able to keep up that pace without the benefit of Raffi Torres (now with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL) and Lukas Havel (playing professionally in the Czech Republic) as his linemates. Several of his goals have been of the highlight variety, including a short-handed marker against the Erie Otters that featured him splitting the defence and putting a move on Adam Munro that still has Munro looking for his jockstrap. McClement has only three assists thus far this year, due to several factors. For one, McClement’s versatility allows coach Stan Butler to play him in all situations, including defensive roles that don’t allow McClement to play with the team’s more offensive weapons. Perhaps more importantly, his left winger (Chris Rowan) has taken until the last few games to get untracked, and his right winger (Aaron Van Leusen – Detroit, 4th round 2000) has missed nine games with an injury.
McClement is the type of player that any coach wants on the ice to protect a one-goal lead in the final minute. His innate ability to get in the way of potentially dangerous passes, along with his size and strength make him a valuable asset in his own end. On the attack, McClement is very tough to knock off the puck, and wins almost all battles for the puck along the boards. A good, quick wrist shot and soft hands make him a dangerous weapon on the offensive side of the ledger also. As the season progresses and his linemates become more stable, look to Jay to ratchet up his production and become an even-more valuable member of the Battalion.
Jay Harrison (Toronto Maple Leafs, 3rd round 2001)
The second member of the Battalion to be drafted in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, the fourth-year OHL’er has continued to be the steady blue-line presence that he has been since he broke into the league, and has added a bit of offensive flair to his repertoire. Harrison’s recent work against the London Knights’ Rick Nash was an extremely impressive display against one of the league’s most explosive dynamos. As a left defenceman, he makes all right wingers think twice before attempting to squeeze by him along the boards, and on the penalty, makes life miserable for anyone that dares stand in front of goalie Brad Topping. His ability to make the first pass out of his end and decent mobility when moving the puck make him somewhat of a two-way threat also.
With the departure of Rostislav Klesla to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Stan Butler decided to use Harrison and his hard shot to quarterback the team’s power play unit. The move has paid modest dividends, as Harrison, who used to have trouble getting his shot through traffic, has been able to do so more consistently this season, and Jay has three goals this season, one below his career high. He also has nine assists, good for second on the team behind Adam Henrich. While not a tape-to-tape passer, Harrison has shown a good ability to get the puck down low to snipers such as MacSweyn, McClement, and Henrich.
Harrison has always been a good leader, first evidenced in the confidence that Stan Butler showed in Harrison early in his rookie season, giving the then 16-year-old an “A.” He has continued to display these skills this season, bringing along promising rookie Erik Schwanz as his defence partner.
If there’s one knock on Harrison thus far this season, it’s that he tries to do too much, especially when on the power play. Jay needs to be able to realize when there’s no play to be made, and to throw the puck into the corner rather than force a shot through traffic and risk giving up an odd-man rush (it’s happened a few times). He needs time, though – the quarterback role is a new one for him, and one that he’ll likely grow into before long. He’ll soon make a few NHL GM’s sorry that they let him fall to the third round after being rated 18th by Central Scouting before the draft.
Ryan Bowness (Columbus Blue Jackets, 8th round 2001)
Bowness was the Battalion’s top rookie scorer during the 2000-2001 season, with 5 goals and 10 assists in a lineup largely dependent upon its veterans. He started last season reasonably well, but then was hampered by injuries to his ankle and hand (which required off-season surgery). According to reports from the Blue Jackets’ rookie camp and in a pre-season tournament, Bowness looked to be on his way to becoming an offensive force in his second OHL season. During the team’s first game in St. Mike’s, Bowness scored his team’s only goal in a 4-1 loss, and looked quite impressive while doing it. However, he was suspended for two games for an instigator penalty late in that game, and while he looked good in a game against Sarnia soon after his return, he hasn’t shown the skills that he teased the hometown fans with earlier in the season. To be fair, however, he hasn’t seemed to have a well-defined role thus far this season, playing with a mish-mash of linemates. Fans will need to show a little more patience with Bowness, as he does possess skill and drive, but perhaps needs a little more time to show it.
Aaron Van Leusen (Detroit Red Wings, 4th round 2000)
It’s a little difficult to comment on overager Van Leusen’s season thus far, as injuries have kept him out of all but six games so far this season. In those six games, he has but one power-play goal. After last season’s breakout year of 25 goals and 65 points, this seems like a surprise. However, there is no doubt that things will turn around for the speedy right winger known to fans and teammates as “Louie.” One would be hard-pressed to find anybody on the team that works harder, game in and game out, than Van Leusen. His work ethic has taken him from a 10th-round selection in the 1998 OHL Priority Selection to a 4th-round NHL selection two years later, to an indispensable cog on Brampton’s penalty-killing unit. Despite having only one goal this season, he has been robbed on numerous occasions by Mississauga Ice Dogs goalie Matt Tanel and London Knights goalie Glen Ridler. Given time, the points will come for Van Leusen.
However, Van Leusen’s worth to his team cannot be measured in points alone. It is likely not a coincidence that the team is 3-1-2 in games that he has been in the lineup, and 2-6-0-1 in games that he has missed. Van Leusen’s hustle and drive undoubtedly rub off on his teammates, especially Chris Rowan, who has shown more spark now that Louie is back in town.