Record breaking London Knights poised to sweep Windsor

By Jason Ahrens






Record Breaking London Knights poised to sweep Windsor

The London Knights, led by seven NHL drafted players and
supported by six players who may get drafted this June, finished the regular
season as the top team in the OHL and was on top of the CHL top 10 poll. The
Knights broke numerous OHL records, including the best goals against and most
points in a season. To the surprise of no one, they are on the verge of
sweeping the eighth place Windsor Spitfires in the first round of the playoffs
after wins of 5-0, 10-6, and 5-1. The scary part about this team is that it
could lose perhaps only four players for next season.

 

Anaheim Mighty Duck first round pick right wing Corey
Perry
had a breakout year that might earn him OHL player of the year
honors. Perry had only two sour notes in this great season. He was the last cut
from the Canadian World Junior Team and he narrowly missed out on winning the
league scoring title, finishing second to Montreal Canadian prospect Corey
Locke
who won his second consecutive title. The race went down to the last
weekend before Locke prevailed.

 

A hard summer of working out paid huge dividends for Perry
this season, helping him to pile up 40 goals and 73 assists in 66 games. In his
first two seasons in the league, Perry showed a lot of good offensive instincts
but had trouble finishing as he was very easily knocked off the puck. After
putting on between 10 to 15 pounds of muscle over the summer, he was able to
use his strength and smooth puck handling to keep defenders at bay. He has been
far more effective along the boards and in front of the net this season and the
proof is in his personal results. He hasn’t skipped a beat so far in the
playoffs, after being held off the scoresheet in the opener, he responded with
five assists in game two and three more in game three.

 

Perry is a great playmaker but can finish as well as his 40
goals prove. He does sometimes take too long to get his shot away and will have
to work on his release. He gets knocked on his skating, but you don’t see him
getting caught from behind when he has the puck. He will never be confused with
someone like Rico Fata but he has improved his skating every year. One
thing he will have to improve on when he moves to the next level is his shift
length and his play in his own end. With his ability and the strength of his
team he can get away with taking chances and staying out an extra 30 seconds,
but that won’t be the case at the pro level. That was probably one of the
reasons he was cut from Team Canada as well. Perry is still probably two years
away from NHL duty as he may have to earn his spurs in the AHL when he leaves
the OHL, but when he makes the show, expect to see him there for a long time.

 

The acquisition of Rob Schremp early in the season
helped Perry have the year that he did. Although the two highly skilled forwards
seemed to be unable to play together five on five, they formed two scoring
lines that made it tough for opponents to focus on. Schremp is a possible top
10 pick in this year’s NHL draft and is possibly the best puck handler in his
draft class. Schremp has a number of critics as they point to his average
skating, size (5”11” 180 pounds) and defensive zone coverage but the skills
that this kid has are hard to ignore. He has a great snap and slap shot and was
voted the second best in the OHL Western Conference coach’s poll for hardest
and best shot. He is still working on his one timer and if he develops that,
look out. He has incredible moves with the puck but he is guilty of sometimes
over-handling the puck. There are times when he is too content to curl away to
the boards, which can be effective at this level, but in the ultra quick world
of the NHL, that play will be snuffed out in a hurry. Scouts will want to see
him taking the puck to the net more as the playoffs progress.

 

An interesting move occurred part way through this series as
he was bumped from center to right wing, how long Schremp will stay on the wing
will be determined as the playoffs unfold, but it appears to be working well so
far. It gives him fewer defensive responsibilities and it will force the
defense to back off the line a bit quicker, giving London more room to break
out. Schremp also has to get more mustard on his long passes, as he has had a
number of passes picked off in this series, it hasn’t hurt London so far, but
as the opponents get tougher he will have to stop trying to force the perfect
play and focus on shorter give and goes.

 

Dave Bolland emerged this season as a candidate
to go in the first round in 2004. He was broken in slowly as a rookie and saw
limited ice time. This season he came out flying and established himself on the
second or third line. He seemed to wear out a bit as the season wound down and
ended up with 37 goals and 30 assists in 65 games, impressive totals, but at
one point in the season he was on pace for close to 50 goals. Bolland is
currently centering Schremp on the second line, but he can play either wing and
can be used on a checking line as well.

 

Bolland shares little in common with Schremp other than his
size and hard shot. Bolland is an excellent skater and plays a very gritty
game. He loves to drive the net and will pay the price down low to set up a
screen or get a tip in. He likes to hit and will finish his checks. He is a
very good penalty killer and is good at creating at turnovers. His passing has
improved and he keeps it simple when handling the puck as he tries to beat
defenders with his speed instead of with his hands. With Schremp there is some
risk and with risk comes the chance of a big reward as well as the downside.
Bolland is more of a sure thing to play in the NHL because of his versatility.
His upside is that of a Kevin Dineen type player, but he should be able to
stick in the league because of his skating and penalty killing ability. He
could turn into a Kirk Maltby type player, an effective checker who chips in 10
to 15 goals a year. As the Knights move on in the playoffs they will need him
to shake off his mini-slump and score the style of goals that he is capable of.

 

Trevor Kell has emerged in the second half as
a decent prospect for the draft. He began the year as a healthy scratch or as a
fourth line penalty killer. His emergence has been very similar to Bolland’s,
once he earned the ice time; he was given more and more and is making good use
of it. Kell is only 5’11” and 185 pounds, but like Bolland plays a gritty game
and finishes his hits. He is now a very key member of the checking line and has
had an excellent series against Windsor. With the last change on home ice, his
line has been playing consistently against the top line of Windsor and is
taking them to school. In Game 3 they were almost always in Windsor’s zone
creating numerous offensive chances. In the first game he scored the game
winner and added a highlight reel insurance marker in the third period. 

 

Kell has above average speed and is starting to show some
really good hands with the puck. He had 9 goals and 14 assists in 62 regular
season games, but has popped three already in this series. He is a guy who is
moving up the charts quickly and a long playoff drive will help his cause. He
could move up as high as the third or fourth round. Success seems to follow
Kell around; last season he played on the Wellington Dukes a Junior A team that
won their league and advanced to the Royal Bank Cup, the national championship
for the Junior A level. The team lost very few games that year, and this year
the Knights have had a similar regular season record and Kell hopes to have
another long playoff run.

 

Ryan Pottruff has been another nice addition to
the Knights lineup. The rookie has seen time on defense or on the fourth line
as a winger. At 6’2” and 200 pounds he has pro size and will get bigger. He
played in 51 games this year with the majority on defence but after the Knights
picked up an extra defenseman in January they moved him to forward a lot in
February. Pottruff is a good skater and uses his reach well to protect the puck
or to keep opponents away from the net. He plays a simple game and looks for
the easy pass or flips it out of the zone. He didn’t fight much this season but
he may be called on to do some more of it next year depending on who the
Knights return as over age players. He is likely going to play defense next
season, but did show that he could be an effective forward. Look for some team
to take a flyer on him late in the draft. He has played well in the first three
games of the series, but he could be on the outside next series if Frank
Rediker
returns from his ankle injury. If the Knights feel that they need
his size they may insert him into the fourth line, but the unit has been
playing fairly well of late.

 

Rediker came over from Windsor at the trade deadline and
gave the Knights deep defense a boost as he has stepped into their top four. He
was a fourth round selection of the Boston Bruins and has struggled with
injuries this year as he was shelved most of the season with a shoulder injury
and now has the ankle trouble. When he does play he is an above average skater
and is willing to play it rough and tough too. He has good hockey sense and is
effective at jumping into the play. He has not been as physical this season due
to the shoulder issues, but once he is healed up opposing forwards will be
keeping their heads up. The Knights already had the best group of eighteen year
olds in the country and with his addition they are that much stronger. He will
likely be the go to guy on the point next season for the Knights. It is
doubtful that he will see much, if any ice time this series, but the Knights
will hope to have him back in the lineup next week for round two.

 

Danny Richmond has had an up and down season with
the Knights defense. After being a late cut from the Carolina Hurricanes who
took him in the second round, he made his OHL debut with a lot of expectations,
especially from the local media who painted him as a game breaker. Richmond
walked away from a full scholarship with the Michigan Wolverines to fast track
his professional career. At times he seemed to struggle with the different
style of game in the OHL, especially in regards to the red line and the two
line pass which is called in the OHL but allowed in the NCAA.

 

He played with Team USA at the World Juniors and won a gold
medal and picked up two assists against Canada in the finals. One aspect of
junior hockey that he seemed to embrace was fighting as he dropped the gloves
on several occasions this season. Richmond struggles with his defensive zone
play at times and when pressured often coughs the puck up.  On the other hand he has the ability to jump
into the rush and turn an ordinary play into a scoring chance for London. He
has a good shot and has given London another power play threat and has helped
them be the number one team on the power play this season.

 

When the Knights are healthy Richmond is on the third pair
of defense, but with the injury to Rediker, he is playing on the second pair
with Marc Methot and has been dynamic at times this series, scoring four
goals so far, including two short handed. He has added an assist and is plus 8
already. In total for the season he had 13 goals and 22 assists in 59 games.
Right now he has NHL speed and shot, but has to really work on his passing,
backwards skating, and coverage down low. He could return to London as an
overage player next season, or perhaps start in the AHL.

 

Methot has had a steady year and the Columbus Blue Jackets
have to be happy with the progress of their sixth round pick. He picked up 11
points in 63 games and was an impressive plus 39. He is a good penalty killer
and does a good job at covering his man in his end. He makes the first pass
well and will move up on the play closing the gap between him and his forwards,
which reduces the chance of any counter attack on turnovers. He plays a
physical game and is strong in the corners. He is a pretty decent prospect to
be a defensive defenseman in the Columbus system once his junior career is
finished.

 

Brandon Prust has emerged from a walk on
addition to the Knights two years ago, to a decent pro prospect. The
19-year-old winger has become a really good checking forward and scored 19
goals and 33 assists in 64 games. He was plus 23 and led the team with 269
penalty minutes. He is a crowd favorite and when it is time to fight, he
usually takes his helmet off and then takes care of business. Pound for pound
he is probably the best fighter in the OHL but will be more of a middleweight
at the next level. If he goes undrafted this June, look for a team to offer him
a contract and he may start next season in the AHL. If he returns as an overage
player, he would be a likely candidate as team captain. Finished second in two
categories in the coaches poll, hardest worker and best bodychecker. He led the
league with seven short handed goals.