2000 NHL Draft Outlook – Top 21 OHL Prospects

By Bob Chery
Unlike last year when I offered up my thoughts on the 1999 NHL
Draft for this web-site, I
decided this year to focus strictly on the OHL crop.

As I meandered my way through the OHL rinks for approximately 40
games this year and watched about the same number of games on
television, the greatest impression I was left with was how stellar the crop
for the 2001 NHL Draft appears to be. The likes of Jason Spezza, Stephen
Weiss, and Mark Popovic will headline the high end. Derek Roy promises to
fuel the size versus skill debate even further. And a host of others
players too long to list here will provide the depth. Next season promises to be
very interesting and exciting.

For now of course, the task at hand is to evaluate the
draft-eligibles for the upcoming 2000 NHL Draft. Beyond the Top Six that appear to be
sure-fire 1st rounders, I have no doubts that the opinions will vary
considerably with the remaining players. With this crop of players, the old adage
of trying to project what type of player they will become five years from now
rings especially true.

What follows is my rankings for the Top 21 OHL Skaters. I have
provided their position, team, height and weight. I have also broken down
their stats into two halves, up to the New Year, and after the New Year,
plus the season’s final totals. I have also provided their playoff
totals, if any, up to April 29th. The stats are broken down as GP, G-A-PTS +/- PIM.

1. RAFFI TORRES – LW, Brampton 5-11.5, 207 (36, 22-21-43 +7 16
PIM)
(32, 21-27-48 -1 24 PIM) (68, 43-48-91 +6 40 PIM) (6, 5-2-7 -2
23 PIM)

As I attended many Battalion home games in the 2nd-half of the
season to
verify the #1 ranking of Klesla, Torres’ play simply wouldn’t
allow me to
do it. He is first and foremost a sniper with terrific skating
ability, a good
shot, and a quick release. He is very difficult to knock off his
skates as he
utilizes his speed to bring momentum to a collision. In the
playoff series
against Erie there were two occasions when Torres and Alexeev
were
headed for a collision that you could see coming from a mile
away. Both
times it was Nikita that went down, but this is just a snapshot
of what
transpired all season long.

When cycling with the puck in the offensive zone behind the red
line,
Torres time and time again finds an open man and delivers a quick,
crisp,
accurate pass before going behind the net, although he has
plenty of time
to hold onto the puck. This suggests a quick, decisive
decision-making
process that will lend itself well to the quicker pace of play
he will
encounter at the NHL level.

There are many little things that Torres does well. He can take
a pass off
his skates and direct it up to his stick without breaking stride
or losing
speed. He can take an errant pass thrown behind him and still
corral it
and continue moving up ice, keeping the rush alive. When he’s
tied up
by a defender he can make a pass with his skates soccer style.

If there is one short-coming in Torres’ game, it’s that he does
not have great
one-on-one skills with the puck. He’s a good puckhandler but
still has to limit
himself to playing keep-away or trying to go wide on a
defenceman. There is a
good chance however that he will add this to his arsenal in the
next couple of
years. A 6th-round draft choice in the 1998 OHL Draft, Raffi is
commited to
working on, and improving his game further.

2. ROSTISLAV KLESLA – D, Brampton 6-2, 198 (35, 5-11-16 -1 80
PIM)
(32, 11-18-29 +4 94 PIM) (67, 16-29-45 +3 174 PIM) (6, 1-1-2 -3
21 PIM)

Klesla has the instincts for the game. He was born to play
hockey. First, the
defensive zone analysis. He frequently breaks up passes or
blocks shots by
going down to the ice in a way that conjures up images of Borje
Salming.
One thing that left me shaking my head in wonder was his uncanny
ability
to fetch the puck in his zone off the shoot-in without getting
creamed.
Time and time again the forechecking forward would have
Rostislav in his
radar sights, but through a combination of slipperiness,
slyness, or subtle
feints and fakes, Klesla would manage to maintain possession of
the puck
or pass it or clear it to safety without getting plowed through
the end boards.

In the battles in front of the net or along the boards, Klesla
usually finds a
way to win. Again, I am left to shake my head at his
effectiveness. He can be
subtly illegal with a quick hold, slash, or trip that escapes
detection as he
manages to disguise it as a natural follow-through of the action
at hand.
But if nothing but sheer physicalness is required, Klesla is
ready, willing,
and able to deliver whatever is required.

Offensively, I’m a bit more cautious with the superlatives that
have been
showered on Klesla in some quarters. Although he registered the
hardest
slapshot at the Prospect’s Game Skills Competition, he doesn’t
get it off
during a game with any great deal of frequency. When he rushes
the puck
up the ice, his effort becomes more choppy when he is confronted
before
crossing center ice and is forced to turn the corner. The
breakdowns that
occur in both defensive coverage and goaltending at this level
serve to
boost his offensive numbers to levels that won’t likely be
reproduced at
the NHL level.

I would provide this cautionary note regarding Klesla. Remember
Rico
Fata? Players ultimately arrive at their full potential, but
some, like Fata,
are ahead of the curve at an earlier point in their development.
Klesla
strikes me as such a player. An 18 year-old playing more like a
19 or 20
year-old. While his game has no discernable weaknesses, it is
complete
enough that one is left to wonder how much more upside there is
left for
him to realize. A very good, high-end prospect, but not the next
Brad Stuart.

3. BRAD BOYES – C, Erie 6-0, 181 (37, 19-26-45 -4 26 PIM)
(31, 17-20-37 +12 12 PIM) (68, 36-46-82 +8 38 PIM) (13, 6-8-14
-2 10 PIM)

Boyes is an intriguing prospect, and a difficult one to describe
to people who
have not seen him play. He does not grade that highly when it
comes to
measuring his speed, his shot, his puck-handling, etc.
Oftentimes he appears
to be floating out on the ice. But Brad has those intangibles.
Call it vision,
anticipation, reading the play, or having eyes in the back of
his head, but
what cannot be denied is that he gets results.

He appears to not be breaking a sweat, yet he can frequently be
found
behind his own net winning possession of the puck. At other
times he
can be found in the slot in front of his own net breaking up a
pass.

Offensively, Boyes will often trail the play, and when the puck
gets on
his stick, that’s when his offensive creativity and his uncanny
play-making
abilities come to the fore. He can draw opponents towards him,
then deliver
a pass to the open man. He can make long cross-ice passes and
behind the
back passes that leave you wondering how he saw that opening.
Although
he always looks to pass first, he has soft, quick hands to bury
his
opportunities from in close.

The two things that I looked for was to see if he was in fact
capable of
exhibiting some speed when needed, and given his size, if he was
able to
take a hit. Although it didn’t happen very often, he did show
the ability to
keep up with the play when some speed was required, and there
can be no
doubts as to his ability to take a hit. He is as sturdy as they
come, absorbing
hits from some of the biggest players in the league without
getting knocked
off his skates.

The best illustration of Boyes’ deceptive talent lies in the
fact that the OHL
equivalent of Central Scouting had Boyes pegged as a mid-round
pick for
their Midget Draft. Erie GM Sherrie Bassen raised some eyebrows
when he
took Boyes with his 1st-round selection, 12th overall. That
selection is
looking pretty shrewd today, as this kid could turn out to be a
special talent.

4. LIBOR USTRNUL – D, Plymouth 6-5, 228 (38, 0-5-5 +7 99 PIM)
(30 0-10-10 +17 109 PIM) (68, 0-15-15 +24 208 PIM) (16, 0-3-3 +6
21 PIM)

Given his size and penalty minute totals, it is not difficult to
conclude that
Ustrnul is a physical defenceman. He is that and then some. He
has a nasty
mean streak. A forward less than 6-2, 200 pounds gets thoroughly
dominated
by Libor. What is most impressive about this hulk is that he
plays the game
at NHL speed. He’s a good skater who can stop and change
direction on a
dime. He is very reliable at handling the puck under pressure.
He can take a
hit, protect the puck with his body, and get it to safety up the
boards.

Offensively he is capable of more. He can carry the puck but
chooses to play
it safe, passing it at the first opportunity. He has an NHL shot
from the point,
with a quick release that surprisingly few junior defencemen are
able to
line-up and release with any regularity. He can effortlessly get
a hard, low
wrist-shot on net from the point when an even quick release is
required.

The St. Louis Blues may have redefined the ideal defensive
set-up. Get two
dominant defencemen and split them up so that one of them is on
the ice as
much as possible. Those star defencemen require partners.
Ustrnul could be
the perfect complement to an offensive defenceman who has the
green light.
He can have as much impact defensively as any star offensive
player from this
OHL crop could have offensively, and he’s probably closer than
anyone else
in this crop to being able to fulfill his role in the NHL.

5. KURTIS FOSTER – D, Peterborough 6-5, 205 (37, 5-10-15 +16 68
PIM)
(31, 1-8-9 -4 48 PIM) (68, 6-18-24 +12 116 PIM) (5, 1-2-3 -2 4
PIM)

Foster may well have the greatest upside of any of the OHL
draft-eligibles.
He requires a lot of work in the defensive zone, something that
he is aware
of and something that he concentrated on a great deal in the
second half of
the season. For starters, an extra 15-20 pounds on his gigantic
frame would
do wonders for Kurtis. When he hits people it looks like the
weight is
distributed over so much body that it has very little impact.
Secondly, he needs
to learn how to hit properly. Proper footwork leading up to the
hit will ensure
that he gets maximum leverage on the hit.

Offensively, Foster has all the tools. He looks quite graceful
handling the puck,
without too much of the awkwardness one would expect from a kid
this big at
this young age. He has confidence when handling the puck under
pressure, he
doesn’t panic, will hang onto it if the pass isn’t there, and
can hit the tape when
he finally does pass it. He has a big-league shot from the point
with a quick
release.

The different philosophies employed by the different teams with
regards to
offensive defencemen is important. In Windsor, Coach Webster has
the
pinching defenceman incorporated into his system. In Brampton,
Klesla was
given a liberal green light to join the rush when warranted.
Foster very rarely
joined the rush, hence his modest offensive numbers. If
anything, he seemed
so pre-occupied with his defensive game that his offensive
numbers suffered
as a consequence. All in all, when keeping in mind that it’s the
player at 23
rather than 18 that you are trying to draft, Foster could become
a Kevin
Hatcher-type of offensive d-man, and hopefully with better
habits in his own
end of the rink.

6. NIKITA ALEXEEV – RW, Erie 6-5, 215 (37, 15-21-36 E 24 PIM)
(27, 9-8-17 -3 18 PIM) (64, 24-29-53 -3 42 PIM) (13, 4-3-7 +2 6
PIM)

The next great power-forward or the next Joe Hulbig? As the
season progressed, it appeared that Nikita was looking more and more
like the latter. An off-season weight-lifting program added over 20
pounds of muscle to this player who’s big stride made him the fastest
skater at the Prospect’s Game Skills Competition. But Nikita looks destined to
get his goals strictly from in close. He can carry the puck at top
speed in a straight line only. Although he protects the puck well, he is
unable to penetrate, thus he does not get to the net with his
stick-handling. His shot coming off the wrong wing is very, very weak.

Alexeev came to North America from Russia so there is no chance
of him going back. But if an NHL team were to draft him and then
send him to Western Europe to get some badly needed work on his puck-
skills, I would like his potential a lot better. Otherwise, he
looks destined to become a failed scoring forward relegated to
checking-line duties at the NHL level.

7. TOMAS KURKA – LW, Plymouth 5-11.5, 190 (35, 20-12-32 +4 33
PIM)
(29, 16-16-32 +16 4 PIM) (64, 36-28-64 +20 37 PIM) (10, 4-5-9 +7
4 PIM)

Kurka is a gifted skater, one of the best among this year’s
crop. He can also handle the puck at top speed. We could be talking about a player
at the very high-end of the draft, minus his less than ideal size, except
for the fact that it looks like Tomas will still need some time to get totally
comfortable with the North American brand of hockey. He is prone to making
absolutely brutal passes, particularly in the defensive zone where he
regularly throws the puck up the middle of the ice inside his own blue-line on
clearing attempts.

He also has a tendency to make poor passes in the offensive zone
as well, and the one common denominator seems to be his discomfort at playing
along the boards. He throws the puck away when the opponent bearing down
on him is still several steps away from him. Tomas will have to get
comfortable with taking the hits, and realize that he’ll be able to skate away
from them. A potential Sergei Berezan-type player awaits if he gets over this
hump.

8. PAUL BALLANTYNE – D, Sault Ste. Marie 6-3, 200 (35, 1-5-6 +2
48 PIM)
(23, 3-10-13 +15 12 PIM) (58, 4-15-19 +17 60 PIM) (17, 2-3-5 +8
17 PIM)

One of the most improved draft-eligible players over the
2nd-half of the season,
Ballantyne was killing penalties and seeing power-play duty by
the end of the
season. He continued to exhibit physical thoroughness in his own
end of the
rink, and doing so without drawing penalties. He is a good
skater with a big
stride that allows him to take some chances and still be able to
get back and
cover up for any mistakes. As he gains confidence and takes more
chances
offensively, Paul could turn out to be an interesting package of
defensive
reliability with modest offensive contributions to boot.

9. STEVE OTT – C, Windsor 5-11.5, 160 (34, 11-23-34 -6 65 PIM)
(32, 12-16-28 -3 66 PIM) (66, 23-39-62 -9 131 PIM) ( 12, 3-5-8
-10 21 PIM)

The main concern with Ott is his size, namely his weight. How
much can he
realistically add to his small frame without compromising one of
his better
assets, his speed? Even if he could add 20 pounds he would still
check in at
a rather light 180 pounds. Fortunately Steve is an aggressive
player who
doesn’t wait to get hit, instead he initiates and brings
momentum to a
collision. He is a faster version of Boyes with good instincts,
but not quite
as good as Boyes. He shows an ability to take the puck to the
net, can take it
end-to-end on a rush, and is a good playmaker although he
frequently passes
up optimum shooting opportunities to make that extra pass.

He has uncanny anticipation as the third forward in the
offensive zone. He
ends up where the puck is going. He kills penalties and works
the power play.
He is conscientous of his defensive responsibilities. He has the
fiestiness to
succeed in spite of his size a la Mike Peca.

10. TYLER HANCHUK – D, Brampton 6-2.5, 210 (29, 0-3-3 -3 41 PIM)
(29, 0-5-5 E 40 PIM) (58, 0-8-8 -3 81 PIM) (6, 0-0-0 E 8 PIM)

Hanchuk is a defensive defenceman that shows physical
thoroughness usually
seen from an 18 or 19 year-old at this level. He does not have
far to go to
prepare him for such a role at the NHL level. He doesn’t have
hands of stone,
but he seems to have trouble corralling bouncing pucks with
consistency. If
baseball players hone their hitting skills with batting
machines, Tyler could
use a similar machine to fire pucks along the ice at him to hone
his hand-eye
coordination at handling the bounces. Other than that, he’s more
than capable
of playing a safe game of clearing the zone and making the first
pass.

On the downside, it doesn’t look like Tyler will strike fear in
opponents at
the NHL level when it comes to dropping the gloves. He had his
hands full
with the likes of the scrappy but small Joey Sewell of Windsor.
He projects
to be a Luc Richardson type of d-man, keeping the front of the
net clear of
opposing bodies and chipping in with some penalty-killing
duties.

11. AARON VAN LEUSEN – RW, Brampton 6-0, 196 (25, 6-6-12 -3 13
PIM)
(32, 11-14-25 -2 11 PIM) (57, 17-20-37 -5 24 PIM) (6, 2-1-3 +1 6
PIM)

Van Leusen’s upside quite likely does not project higher than a
checking-line
forward, but he can be a high-end one at that, a potential Selke
candidate.
A terrific skater, Aaron is already being groomed for such a
role as he sees a
lot of time checking the other team’s top line and playing on
the first penalty-
killing unit.

He uses his quick feet on the penalty-kill to nullify shots and
passes anywhere
from the point to the side boards. He can hold his own
physically and has been
used on the power-play where he stands in front of the net and
takes the abuse
while trying to generate screens and deflections, and knock home
rebounds. He
also sees a regular shift in overtimes where 4-on-4 hockey is
employed.

The one achilles heel Aaron had at the beginning of the year was
his very weak
puck-handling skills. As the season progressed he improved
noticeably in that
facet, even managing to take the puck to the net on a few
occasions. However,
defencemen were catching on by the end of the season as Aaron
would either
go outside or try to come back inside with the
puck-between-the-legs move.
He’ll have to continue to improve and expand his puck-handling
abilities to get
it up to passable NHL standards, but that skating ability is not
to be overlooked.

12. DARRYL BOOTLAND – RW, St. Mike’s 6-1.5, 183 (34, 11-12-23
-21 79 PIM)
(31, 13-18-31 E 87 PIM) (65, 24-30-54 -21 166 PIM)

This year’s enigma. After a 30-goal rookie season that gave
promise of a goal-
scoring power-forward, Bootland instead played like a Dino
Ciccarelli-type
agitator who too often opted not to play the body. He would
stand up for
himself if liberties were taken, but he didn’t initiate a lot of
physical action.
Those high penalty minute totals involved a lot of altercations
at the end of
games already decided, and undisciplined penalties including
misconducts.

To Bootland’s credit, he did average a point-per-game over the
2nd-half
of the season on a bad hockey team, and of significance did
manage to
break even in the plus-minus category over that time period.

Yet so much of this player’s promise remains in the unseen.
Within the
package of a power-forward he has a decent set of skills, good
touch
around the net, a nice touch to his passing game, and an ability
to stabilize
a power-play from the side boards. Without that physical element
however,
he gets passed over by many other players. If he finds it within
himself to
return to a more physical style, Darryl could be a steal. If
not, he could be
a bust.

13. ARGIS SAVIELS – D, Owen Sound 6-1, 192 (34, 4-15-19 +6 31
PIM)
(31, 3-10-13 -3 25 PIM) (65, 7-25-32 +3 56 PIM)

Another difficult prospect to describe. Saviels doesn’t have any
glaring
weaknesses in his game. He’s a good skater with decent size. He
doesn’t
have any stand-out elements to his game either, which made his
relatively
high mid-season ranking a bit of a puzzle.

In terms of risk and reward he could be a good gamble in that he
doesn’t
have a glaring weakness that suggests he’ll come up short in his
quest to
become an NHLer. There is always the possibility that an 18
year-old will
develop into something appreciably more than what he’s shown at
this
juncture, and he does have the size and skating ability as a
starting point.
Perhaps this is one prospect that you would like to see play for
another
year before gauging his status compared to his peers, but NHL
teams have
to make a decision on Argis this year.

14. MIGUEL DELISLE – RW, Ottawa 6-1, 214 (34, 12-15-27 +10 45
PIM)
(20, 8-14-22 +3 28 PIM) (54, 20-29-49 +13 73 PIM) (11, 4-1-5 -1
28 PIM)

Admittedly I didn’t see as much of Delisle as I would’ve liked,
the plan was
to catch him for a four-game span that included two local games
and two
television games in March, however he was injured. From what I
saw of him
earlier in the season, I saw a player with offensive
capabilities similar to
some of the lower-ranked, higher scoring forwards such as Kelly
and
Wehrstedt, but Miguel also has enough size and fiestiness that
suggests he
could get by at the NHL level as a checker if he doesn’t pan out
as a scorer.

15. JUSTIN WILLIAMS – RW, Plymouth 6-0.5 176 (38, 17-18-35 +14
25 PIM)
(30, 20-28-48 +33 21 PIM) (68, 37-46-83 +47 46 PIM) (16,
12-12-24 +15 8 PIM)

Williams obviously has put up eye-popping numbers in the 2nd
half of the
season, and his production has continued throughout the
playoffs. Yet the OHL
has no shortage of high-scoring juniors who’s production does
not translate at
the NHL level, and this is my concern with Justin. The pace of
his game is not
very quick, fast enough for this level, but higher levels? His
skating isn’t that
great. He’s not blessed with great size. He doesn’t take the
puck to the net on a
consistent basis. Yet he continues to score and set up goals.

Every now and then a player will defy the odds. A Ray Sheppard
or a Jason
Allison will find success at the NHL level without having the
requisite
textbook skills. Justin may very well turn out to be such a
player, but the
question is at what point in this draft do you take such a
gamble?

16. BOBBY TURNER – D, London 6-1, 191 (34, 1-2-3 -9 52 PIM)
(34, 0-4-4 -7 74 PIM) (68, 1-6-7 -16 126 PIM)

Turner gets my award as the best talent with the lowest numbers
among this
year’s crop of OHL draft-eligibles. I found it odd that a team
like London,
destined to not make the playoffs, would not trade some of it’s
veterans for
youth and give increased roles to players such as Turner. He is
a very steady
defenceman, rarely gets beaten 1-on-1, keeps forwards to the
outside and has
above-average skating ability with decent puck skills. He plays
a very simple
game but has the potential to expand it. The only weakness I see
in his game
at this point is that his passes miss the mark a bit too often,
but the
consequence of them is icings rather than ill-advised passes up
the middle.
He looks like a future NHL defenceman on the 3rd-pairing who
won’t hurt
his team with dumb mistakes.

17. CHRIS EADE – D, North Bay 6-1.5, 191 (27, 2-10-12 -10 9 PIM)
(31, 3-15-18 -8 55 PIM) (58, 5-25-30 -18 64 PIM) (3, 0-0-0 +3 4
PIM)

Next to Bootland, Eade was the most difficult player to get a
read on. He
looks to be an offensive defenceman that has to round his
defensive game
into form. He put up respectable numbers, but his offence seems
limited
to carrying the puck to center and making the pass. He has the
skating
ability to carry the puck through the holes, but once he
encounters
defenders he doesn’t seem to have any 1-on-1 moves in his
repertoire. He
has a good shot from the point but he gets it off infrequently.
He does a
good job of moving around in the offensive zone to provide a
passing
target for his teammates.

Defensively Eade improved his play in front of the net, was
physically
effective and showed an ability to take a hit along the wall.
He’s a better
skater going forward than he is going backwards, and is prone to
getting
beaten to the outside by a forward who has a head of steam built
up. He
is an adventure when trying to clear the zone, and frequently
waits until
the opponent is right on top of him before getting rid of the
puck. He has
to get rid of it sooner. He seems to get burned more than usual
when he
tries to pinch, or step up to make a hit. Odd-man breaks result
the other
way more than one would like.

What kind of a defenceman Eade becomes at age 23-24 is the big
question.
He is a combination of lots of potential and lots of question
marks.

18. BRENT KELLY – RW, Guelph 6-0, 175 (34, 12-16-28 -2 14 PIM)
(34, 11-26-37 +4 8 PIM) (68, 23-42-65 +2 22 PIM) (6, 4-1-5 -1 0
PIM)

As you get farther down the Central Scouting rankings, you come
across
players who are perceived as “in-betweeners.” Neither great
scorers or
great checkers. Players who if they can’t make a scoring line at
the NHL
level, don’t have the requisite grit to become checkers at that
level. Kelly
is the one lower ranked player who I think has a shot. He’s come
a long
way since being drafted out of Junior D in the 11th round by the

Belleville Bulls in 1998, and playing only 13 games last year at
a lower
tier of junior A where he netted a meagre three points.

On skating ability alone, Brent should be ranked higher. He
shows an
ability to take the puck to the net, is a busy skater on the
penalty-kill,
and he uses that speed to keep players to the outside in the
defensive
zone. He shows some good vision in his play-making ability. He’s
not
terribly physical when it comes to dishing out bodychecks, but
he does
show an ability to fight off hooks and clutching and grabbing,
and
can take a hit along the wall in the defensive zone when
attempting to
get the puck out.

An NHL team could do worse than drafting Brent, letting him
finish
his junior eligibility, and then seeing where his development
takes him
after a few seasons in the minors.

19. TROY ILIJOW – RW, Erie 6-2, 190 (29, 0-2-2 -11 14 PIM)
(30, 5-6-11 +3 31 PIM) (59, 5-8-13 -8 45 PIM) (13, 1-4-5 +2 32
PIM)

Ilijow was not ranked by Central Scouting in their mid-season
rankings,
but as he finally got some decent ice-time in the 2nd-half of
the season,
I saw a very hard-hitting body-checker who was not without a
modicum
of skating ability and passable hockey skills.

He made his presence felt throughout the Erie-Brampton playoff
series
with many big hits, and collected four assists on a line with
Brad Boyes
in the six game series. He added an overtime goal in the tough,
seven
game 2nd-round loss to Sault Ste. Marie. He looks to have the
potential
of being able to play at NHL pace on a crash and bang 4th-line,
and able
to keep the other team honest with the occasional dropping of
the gloves.

20. MIKE WEHRSTEDT – RW, Kitchener 5-11.5 185 (34, 7-13-20 -9 17
PIM)
(32, 7-17-24 -3 12 PIM) (66 14-30-44 -12 29 PIM) (5, 2-2-4 -1 5
PIM)

Wehrstedt has not lived up to the billing when the Rangers made
him their
1st-round choice of the 1998 Midget Draft after coming off an
88-goal,
174-point season with the Thunder Bay bantams. But he does not
lack in
ability, he can skate, make plays, take a hit, and get himself
into position
for scoring opportunities although he does not finish as often
as he should.

At this point, his production has not kept pace with what his
talent would
suggest. But there’s still five years to go before he’s 23, and
by then Mike
certainly has the capability to get his game to the level that
he’s capable of.

21. DAN GROWDEN – D, Windsor 6-0, 186 (31, 1-3-4 -12 27 PIM)
(30, 1-1-2 -16 14 PIM) (61, 2-4-6 -28 41 PIM) (10, 0-1-1 E 6
PIM)

Without a doubt, the biggest disappointment to these eyes this
year was
the play of Growden. He could not have asked for a better
situation than
what Coach Webster provided for him, a system that encouraged
Dan to
join in the rush while a forward would drop back into defensive
coverage.
It’s a system that any team with a great skating defenceman
should look at.

Growden has tremendous skating ability, and could easily get
back to the
defensive zone after an offensive foray. He also shows a good
first pass
from the defensive zone. Yet his offensive production was almost
non-
existent, and his defensive play left an awful lot to be
desired.

Still, I hold out hope that Dan can capitalize on his God-given
abilities.
He needs to learn to play the game, he seems to be lacking in
hockey
sense at both ends of the rink. Adding some strength to his
frame would
also seem like a pre-requisite. This is a player that is going
to need several
years of development to realize his potential, but I still have
the faith that
five years from now he will be showing a heck of a lot more than
what he
showed this year.

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