Two of the biggest names in the OHL collide this weekend, as Mitch Marner guides the London Knights into Mississauga, where he will go head-to-head against Sean Day. In the WHL, two top defensemen clash, while two high-end import selections face off in the QMJHL. The CHL Canada Russia Series comes to a conclusion, where one hulking forward hopes to help the CHL take a clean sweep, but a talented Russian playmaker is hoping to write a different story. Finally, two of college hockey’s finest teams go one-on-one as a first-round NHL talent will try to shut down one of the best freshmen in the NCAA.
Mitch Marner (London) vs. Sean Day (Mississauga) – OHL
In this week’s feature faceoff, Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mitch Marner takes on 2016 NHL Draft-eligible defenseman Sean Day. Marner, who recently returned to London after participating for Team OHL in the Canada/Russia Series, will likely go head-to-head against one of the best young defensemen in the OHL.
Through the first month of the OHL season, Mitch Marner wasn’t happy with his performance. Sitting at just over a point-per-game average, Marner started to heat up and is riding a 10-game point streak into this weekend’s visit to Mississauga. Marner, the fourth overall pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2015 NHL Draft, has looked much like his draft stock would suggest lately, picking up 11 points in his last three games. Borrowing a nickname from Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datysuk, Marner has been a “Magic Man” of his own billing in the OHL this season. After finishing second to good friend Dylan Strome in OHL scoring last year, Marner is on-pace to best his 126-point season, thanks in part to his incredible vision and ability to score from virtually anywhere on the ice. To date, Marner’s 11 goals and 21 assists are good for fifth in overall scoring, just eight points back of league-leader Alex DeBrincat (2016).
Opposing Marner and potentially assigned the responsibility of shutting him down is Sean Day, who has been a hot topic of discussion over the last two years. Day, who was given “Exceptional” status by Hockey Canada, joined the league one year ahead of his peers and has had varying levels of success. While most defensemen take some time to develop, especially in the fast-paced OHL, Day already has all the tools and just has to put it together consistently. One of the best skaters in the league, Day’s ability to join the rush or transition to defense is noteworthy. He hasn’t created offense at a prolific pace, but with three goals and nine assists through 22 games, the Rochester, MI native is hoping to climb the charts and stabilize his draft stock.
Brandon Carlo (Tri-City) vs. Caleb Jones (Portland) – WHL
Among the largest players available for the 2015 NHL Draft at 6’5” and 200 pounds, Tri-City Americans defenseman Brandon Carlo was selected by the Boston Bruins 37th overall. Carlo doesn’t have a lot of holes in his game, and has helped keep the Americans afloat this season. Though the team is struggling to score, Carlo is logging more minutes than ever before in his career. He is playing confident hockey lately, especially considering the Bruins inked him to a three-year, entry-level contract in late October. Carlo should be one of a handful of players returning to the United States’ World Junior team, as the squad is hoping to return to the medal discussion.
Before this year, Caleb Jones was simply known as the younger brother of Nashville Predators defenseman Seth Jones. The conversation is shifting in recent weeks, as Caleb is looking like a player primed for big things in his first season in the WHL. The move to Portland was a bit of a surprise, as Jones spent the last two years playing within the U.S. National Team Development Program. Among first-year defensemen, Jones ranks first in goals, assists, and points and sits 12th overall in scoring by rearguards in the entire WHL. An extremely mobile pivot, Jones is able to keep up with the best players in the league and has brought a physical element to the Portland Winterhawks defense.
Jakub Zboril (Saint John) vs. Dmitry Zhukenov (Chicoutimi) – QMJHL
Jakub Zboril is back in Saint John and the Sea Dogs couldn’t be happier. After a rough start to the year, one mired with uncharacteristic undisciplined penalties and lackluster defense, Zboril is heating up and re-gaining the trust of his coaching staff and teammates. Without a goal through the first eight games of the season, Zboril notched a game-winning marker in overtime, a goal that seemed to re-energize his game. Capable of playing a complete, efficient, two-way game, the Sea Dogs need the Boston Bruins first round pick to continue contributing if they hope to go far this year.
The Vancouver Canucks have a long-standing penchant for swinging for the fences with their draft picks outside of the first two rounds, and the most recent example of that is Dmitry Zhukenov. The talented Russian was guided to North America by the team, and he landed with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, who selected him 10th overall in the 2015 CHL Import Draft. The 5’11”, 170-pound winger has setup a few highlight reel-quality plays with his good puck skills and tremendous hands. Heading into the weekend, he has points in six of his last seven games and is progressively looking more comfortable in the QMJHL.
Nicolas Roy (Team QMJHL) vs. Evgeny Svechnikov (Team Russia) – Canada/Russia Series
The 2015 CHL Canada Russia Series continues this weekend, as the QMJHL has a chance to host the final pair of games after the WHL and OHL swept the Russians. Nicolas Roy, a hulking 6’5”, 200-pound power forward will skip out on this weekend’s QMJHL games in favor of this competition with some international flair. Roy, a fourth-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes, is an aggressive, two-way center who has seen a rise in his offensive production this season. Already just two goals short of his season-high total of 16, the Amos, QC native’s offensive ability has taken a big step forward this season. Chicoutimi’s first overall draft pick in 2013 is enjoying the second International event of his career, after winning the gold medal at the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
It might be a little awkward for Evgeny Svechnikov when he faces off against a couple of his QMJHL teammates this week. Lined up with fellow Russian and Cape Breton Screaming Eagles teammate Maxim Lazarev, the duo will face Team QMJHL, whose roster includes three teammates of theirs in Olivier LeBlanc, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and team captain Clark Bishop. Among the group, Svechnikov has been on a roll lately. With one goal and 12 assists in his last five games, Svechnikov is dishing the puck out with confidence and maintaining puck possession for his linemates. He was a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, and is on pace to surpass his career-high of 78 points.
Zach Werenski (Michigan) vs. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (Boston U.) – NCAA
With an obvious need for puck-moving defensemen materializing in Columbus, the Blue Jackets’ decision to send Zach Werenski back to college must have been a difficult one. The eighth pick overall in the 2015 NHL Draft is putting his skills on display every weekend, and is slowly climbing up the collegiate scoring charts. After posting 25 points in 35 games last season, Werenski looks like a future top-pairing defenseman in the making, and is already on pace to surpass those totals in his sophomore season at the University of Michigan. Werenski already has two goals and five assists in seven games, which includes two multi-point efforts against Union and Niagara. With an appearance on the United States U20 team on the horizon, Werenski is quickly proving to be one of the premier defensemen not currently playing professionally.
There are some teams that simply recruit better than others, and Boston University seems to churn out one quality draft class after another. This year is no exception, with a number of freshmen making significant contributions to the team this season. Among them, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson has been capable in all three zones and a quality contributor on special teams. Earning more icetime than originally thought, Forsbacka-Karlsson is currently tied for ninth in freshman scoring with three goals and eight assists in 10 games. The talented Swede has been particularly good in the faceoff circle, a trait that he fine-tuned in two seasons with the Omaha Lancers in the USHL.
Mackenzie MacEachern (Michigan State) vs. Thatcher Demko (Boston College) – NCAA
After a scoreless first period, Thatcher Demko’s shutout streak looked impenetrable, but fittingly enough, our feature faceoff matchup came to a head when Mackenzie MacEachern raced down the ice and beat Demko to end the streak and tie the game at one. MacEachern’s goal came just 11 seconds after Boston College opened the scoring, on a goal by Colin White (OTT), who would go on to score a second goal to take a 2-1 lead heading into the third period. Ryan Fitzgerald (BOS) and Alex Tuch (MIN) added goals to extend the lead to 4-1, before the Michigan State woke up by scoring three straight goals in less than two minutes to tie the game late. Miles Wood (NJD) snapped home the game-winning goal and Fitzgerald added an insurance marker as Boston College defended home ice successfully with a 6-4 win. MacEachern’s goal was his only point of the game, and Demko stopped 33 of 37 shots to improve his record to 9-1-0.
Travis Konecny (Team OHL) vs. Damir Sharipzyanov (Russia) – Canada/Russia Series
In game three of six in the CHL Canada Russia Series, Team OHL launched 36 shots at Russian netminder Maxim Tretiak, getting three of them home and shutting the door at the other end to pick up a 3-0 victory. The OHL’s squad was led by Kingston Frontenacs forward Spencer Watson (LAK), who scored twice playing on the wing of Erie Otters center Dylan Strome (ARI), who scored one of his own and assisted on another. In goal, Barrie Colts veteran Mackenzie Blackwood (NJD) stopped all 25 shots he faced. Other than a pair of third period penalties, Travis Konecny (PHI) was held without a point. Damir Sharipzyanov (LAK) laced up for his home country, and split time alongside of Dmitri Sergeev (STL), perhaps previewing what could be a pairing during the upcoming World Junior Championship.
Cody Donaghey (Halifax) vs. Conor Garland (Moncton) – QMJHL
By far one of the most entertaining QMJHL games in recent memory, the Moncton Wildcats came from behind to win in overtime in a thrilling 5-4 victory. As expected, Conor Garland (ARI) created opportunities all over the ice for Moncton, adding four assists to his already gaudy point totals. He was fantastic when the team needed him most. Facing a 4-2 deficit with less than two minutes remaining, Garland picked up the primary assist on goals Adam Holwell and Cameron Askew to send the game into overtime. There, Garland again setup Will Smith, who notched his sixth goal of the year to send the Moncton faithful home happy. For the Mooseheads, Timo Meier (SJS) paced the team with one goal and two assists. Cody Donaghey (TOR) picked up an assist with the man advantage in the first period, and later scored his second goal of the season.
Brendan Guhle (Prince Albert) vs. Jayce Hawryluk (Brandon) – WHL
Despite outshooting the Prince Albert Raiders by a 35-to-19 margin, the Brandon Wheat Kings dropped this past Sunday’s matinee contest by a final of 3-2. Reid Gardiner scored twice for Prince Albert, his 14th and 15th goals of the season, and Jesse Lees added two assists. Other than a minor penalty, Brendan Guhle (BUF) didn’t find the scoresheet, but played a strong brand of defense in front of 16-year-old goaltender Ian Scott. For Scott, he picks up his sixth win of the season and improved his save percentage to .921. It was a similar story for Jayce Hawryluk, who also failed to register a point, finishing with a -1 rating as the Wheat Kings drop to 12-7-0-2.
Axel Holmstrom (Skelleftea) vs. Rasmus Asplund (Farjestad) – SHL
The Skelleftea offensive machine rolled on this weekend, as they polished off Farjestad by a final of 5-1. Axel Homstrom’s line was responsible for two goals, and despite not finding the scoresheet himself, his linemate Adam Pettersson did, picking up his second goal of the year. Andrew Calof paced Skelleftea with two goals and an assist, while Linus Persson scored the lone goal for Farjestad. Persson, who centers Rasmus Asplund and Joel Eriksson Ek (MIN), didn’t get a lot of icetime, but has connected well with Asplund this year on the team’s youngest line.
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