Jason Spezza is a name you are going to hear an awful lot of over the next two years. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he a 6′ 3″, 200 lb centre with the Mississauga Ice Dogs. He was born on June 13, 1983 and this right handed shot is the early favorite to go first overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
Spezza spent last year playing for the Brampton Battalion, as a 15 year old, under an OHL rule which allows underage players to play for their home town. All he did was lead the team in scoring; In 67 games he scored 22 times, added 49 assists for 71 points. He was then picked first overall by the Ice Dogs in the OHL draft.
The thing that hits you right away when you watch Spezza is his poise with the puck. He has the puck on his stick more times in one game than most other 16 year olds have in a month. He is most definitely the heart of the Ice Dog offence. The player most likely to benefit the most from Spezza’s passes this year is Chad Wiseman, who has lined up on left wing beside Spezza in the early going, and he should vastly improve on his 11 goal performance of last year.
Spezza is a great passer and is very imaginative with the puck, trying moves most other players wouldn’t try in a game. The average fan might show up and not be overly impressed with Spezza, but he does make things happen with his great vision of the ice, and he has the ability to create something out of nothing. On the power play, he likes to set up along the left wing boards, which gives him a number of options with the puck. It allows him to pass anywhere on the ice and to step out for a shot, or to set up for a one timer once he gives the puck up.
Playing with a last place team might stop this young star from winning the scoring title. Yes, you heard me, a 16 year old could win the OHL scoring title, even with the lowly Ice Dogs. One thing I noticed in their home opener was the lack of offensive talent on the point. Second rounder Marcus Smith might help fill this void, as he had 4 assists in the preseason, but was not dressed on opening night. Andrew Davis saw a lot of Power Play duty on the right side but the Dogs often used sophomore winger Sebastien Savage on the left point and he coughed up the puck for a pair of short handed goals by Kenny Corupe. Overager Scott Page and Lou Dickenson (Potential NHL first rounder in 2000) round out the Ice Dogs offensive weapons. With owner Don Cherry refusing to make use of his European Draft picks, these are the guys who will see the most ice with Spezza.
Spezza started the season with 6 assists in his first 3 games, including a win over Belleville. It will be a long season for Mississauga, but it will not be as long as last years nightmare. The home opener was entertaining to watch and with Spezza in the lineup its worth the price of admission, which incidentally is the highest in the OHL.
Jason Spezza is not perfect, he is horrible on faceoffs. That is a skill that can be taught and with his athletic ability and a little practice, he can improve this facet of his game. His shot is not overpowering andhe could work on developing a quick release, a la Joe Sakic, which would make him an ever greater threat with the puck. He is the best young player in Canada and should be on the World Junior team. He could be one of the best players in the tournament which is usually dominated by 19 year olds.
If you get a chance to see this young man play this winter or next, do it, because after that he will be in Minnesota, Columbus, or Atlanta, and it will cost you a lot more to see him then.