As the CHL regular season winds down, we analyze the progress of the 10 players taking part in the leagues.
Leading the way this season is Brandon Wheat Kings star Ryan Stone. Always considered a two-way forward prospect, Stone has shown he has the scoring touch and is currently second in the WHL scoring race behind teammate and Washington Capitals prospect Eric Fehr. After a strong start to the season, Stone was in the running to be part of Canada’s World Junior Championship team, but was cut on the final day of camp.
Stone had not scored a goal for a month prior to the WJC, and continued his goal drought in January, scoring only twice in 13 games that month. Whatever was causing his form slump had disappeared when February rolled around, as Stone caught fire for 11 goals and 13 assists in 13 games, and catapulting Stone back into the WHL scoring race. February also included Stone’s first hat trick of the season, posting three goals and an assist against Saskatoon on February 15. This good form was rewarded with the CHL player of the week award for the week of February 14-20, when he scored 12 points (six goals, six assists) in four games.
As of March 12, Stone had compiled 31 goals and a league leading 64 assists for 95 points. He has had 28 multi-point games, highlighted by a five-assist performance on November 20 against Moose Jaw.
Not far behind Stone in the WHL scoring race is 2003 draft pick Jonathan Filewich. The winger for the Lethbridge Hurricanes is having his best ever offensive season, and is currently fourth in the league in goals with 39. Filewich has been a star on the power play for the Hurricanes, leading the team with 17 goals on the man advantage.
Filewich has good size at 6’2, 200 pounds and uses it to his advantage with strong play on the puck. Overall, Filewich has 38 assists to go with his 39 goals, putting him sixth in the league in scoring. Filewich has had five four-point outings, including a four-goal effort against Brandon on January 26. He has also had three separate six game scoring streaks, one each in November, December and January. Concussion problems currently have Filewich on the shelf, and will continue to be re-evaluated before returning to the team.
On the blue line, one of the Penguins brightest prospects is playing in the OHL with Owen Sound, Paul Bissonnette. The Ontario native who turned 20 on March 11 has a big frame, and uses it to deliver punishing body checks as well as dropping the gloves when the situation arises. Even though he primarily plays a defensive role, he can also let go a very nice outlet pass. The Pittsburgh coaching staff was so impressed with Bissonnette at his first training camp before the 2003-04 season, that he nearly made the NHL roster.
After beginning this season with Saginaw, Bissonnette struggled along with the team, scoring only a goal and six assists with a –19 rating in 28 games. A trade to the Owen Sound Attack produced immediate results, and Bissonnette has since thrived in his new surroundings. Bissonnette now has three goals and 16 assists and has returned his plus/minus rating to +1.
Mississauga winger and serial pest Daniel Carcillo has had a somewhat eventful season in 2004-05. After he had already been suspended twice during the season for illegal stick use, including a 15-game suspension during November when he cross checked an opponent in the head, Carcillo was at it again on January 14 against the Sudbury Wolves. Carcillo was assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct for another stick to the head incident and was suspended for the remainder of the regular season, with a clause that he must apply for re-instatement to the league if his Ice Dogs qualified for the playoffs. On March 7, Carcillo was officially re-instated by the OHL, based on the league determination that he had shown remorse for his actions and the high level of support he had received from his team.
With all that aside, Carcillo has performed pretty evenly with his offensive expectations, with 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) to go along with 115 penalty minutes from 32 games. There is no doubt that Pittsburgh’s third round pick in the 2003 draft has plenty of skills and would be valuable to the Penguins down the road, but he will need to keep his temper in check.
One player who is performing quite well offensively for his OHL team is Tyler Kennedy of the St.Sault Marie Greyhounds. The talented but diminutive center has shown what he is capable of in 2004-05, already bettering his best offensive output from his previous two campaigns. Kennedy has plenty of skills, but perhaps his best qualities are his leadership and heart. Kennedy never gives up, and is an inspiration to his teammates on and off the ice.
Kennedy is currently second on the Greyhounds in scoring behind high-profile Philadelphia Flyers prospect Jeff Carter, with 20 goals and 33 assists in 58 games. Kennedy was especially prolific on the score sheet during January and February, including a streak where he scored at least a point in 14 of 15 games between January 16 and February 25. Within that was a 10-game point streak where Kennedy scored 14 points (five goals, nine assists).
As the Penguins only representative on this year’s Canadian squad for the WJC’s, Stephen Dixon has great potential. The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles center went scoreless in the Championships, while playing on Canada’s fourth line. Dixon was asked to play a defensive role, and quite often against the other team’s top line.
“What we really like about Stephen is that he came with this team leading his team in points but he came here knowing the role he had to play for Team Canada,” said Penguins scout Mark Kelley to Hockey’s Future during the WJC. “He plays his role. He checks, he works hard and kills penalties. That is the kind of role he is going to have to play in the NHL.”
Dixon does have offensive firepower however, and had totaled 17 goals and 34 assists for 51 points from 45 games this season until he was struck down with injury. Dixon is expected to miss the remainder of the season with the abdominal injury, meaning he will fall just two points shy of the Cape Breton point-scoring record. Dixon has compiled 224 points in 236 career games.
Also playing in the QMJHL is defenseman Michael Sersen of Rimouski Oceanic. The Slovakian native is a gifted offensive defenseman, and has had his most successful season in 2004-05 as he has been able to avoid injury. Another thing helping his numbers is playing on the same team as a young fellow named Sidney Crosby, the favorite for the number one overall pick in the next NHL draft. Sersen has been a force on the blue line for Rimouski, using his 200-pound frame to impede the opposition to the tone of 245 hits, giving him the lead amongst all QMJHL players.
Sersen’s points-per-game average has dropped this season, but he is still scoring well with nine goals and 29 assists from 65 games, to go along with a +23 rating.
In the WHL, one of the biggest improvers for this season has been Moises Gutierrez of the Kamloops Blazers. Gutierrez has struggled with injury and limited ice time in the last few seasons, but has been given greater opportunities this year. He has excellent size (6’3, 200 pounds) and strength which he combines with good hands and reasonable speed. Recently Gutierrez spoke to Hockey’s Future about his bad luck with injuries in previous seasons and his turnaround this year.
“I’m going to stick with because I am a real positive guy. I love this. I’ll play hockey until I’m 50 years old, if I can. I love the hockey atmosphere here in Kamloops. I love the city, the people and the fans.”
His talent is obvious despite lackluster numbers in previous seasons, and has improved to have eight goals and 20 assists to go with 123 penalty minutes in 66 games. His best run was a stretch of nine games between November 20 and December 12 where he scored at least a point in seven of those games (two goals, seven assists). Gutierrez is developing well but needs to step up his game a little more to increase his chances of playing in the NHL some day.
“Obviously they drafted me for a reason and I have to show them I understand that reason,” he explained. “It is an honor to get drafted and it is the first step, but the real work starts now.”
Another draftee that continues to get better is center Jordan Morrison of the Peterborough Petes in the OHL. Morrison is a gifted stick handler and is known as one of the best playmakers on the Petes. Although undersized, Morrison handles himself well on the ice and will only get better as he continues to fill out, currently listed at 6’0 but only 165 pounds. His improvement is obvious looking at his offensive numbers over the last three seasons. He scored 14 points in his rookie season, and followed that with 45 points in his second year and has improved again to have 62 points (22 goals, 40 assists) though 64 games in 2004-05. Morrison’s best month came in November when he scored 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in 11 games. Three of his goals that month were game winners. Morrison has scored three points in a game seven times, including back to back on October 24 and 27.
The final player taking to the ice in the CHL is Barrie Colts defenseman Lukas Bolf. Bolf has impressed many with his play this season, and was duly selected to represent the Czech Republic at this year’s WJC. He had an outstanding tournament, posting four assists to top team defensemen in scoring as well as boasting a +8 rating. When Penguins scout Mark Kelley was asked to comment on Bolf’s performance at the tournament he said, “I think that he is having a very strong tournament He makes really good decisions. He moves the puck. I think that what he is giving to the Czechs is a lot of steady minutes. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes out there.”
Bolf has now racked up 29 points (six goals, 23 assists) from 53 games. He has had a pair of two goal games, one of which came on opening night and the other on January 15 against the Windsor Spitfires.
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