2004 Prospects: Four top prospects square off in Kitchener

By Jason Ahrens

Four First Round Prospects Square off in Kitchener

On Sunday,
February 15th four of the best prospects in the OHL for the 2004 NHL
draft competed on the same ice in a game featuring the London Knights and the
Kitchener Rangers. It was a game that was heavily scouted and had a playoff
atmosphere as these teams could possibly see each other in the second round of
the OHL playoffs. The Rangers are the defending OHL and Memorial Cup champions
and they gave
London a taste of what they will have to
contend with if they want to make the same claim.

London has a pair of elite forwards who
have vastly different styles of play but are both probable first round picks. Rob Schremp joined
the Knights after a trade early in the season with the Mississauga IceDogs. Schremp had been the
first pick overall in the 2002 OHL draft and showed why as he racked up 74
points in 65 games as a rookie and won the OHL rookie of the year award.

surprised a few people when he asked for a trade from the IceDogs,
who have turned the corner as an organization after spending several years as
the laughing stocks of the OHL. Why he did it will be a question he will be
asked during interviews with NHL teams. Will the move enhance his draft status
is a question that will not be answered until the draft.

The Knights
have a high scoring team but Schremp is on pace to
basically match last season’s numbers. His ice time is down a few minutes with
the deep Knights and he doesn’t kill penalties. The Knights generally tweak
their line combinations game in and game out and Schremp
has not found anyone on the team that he has a real chemistry with. The
New York native has brought a lot of flash
and swagger to the team as he has the confidence of a Jeremy Roenick and most nights he
shows he has the talent to go with it.

is a center who stands 6’0” and weighs 180 pounds. His speed is just average
but he can carry the puck at full speed and stickhandle through traffic with
the best of them. One rare trait he has is the ability to change speeds while
carrying the puck, which makes it tough for defensemen to get a bead on him. He
has a quick first step, which allows him to explode out of the corner when the
Knights are cycling the puck and it makes him very dangerous on the power play
where he has scored 14 goals this year.

When it
comes to handling the puck he is among the best of his draft class. He is an
excellent passer and is very good at curling with the puck away from the net
and finding an open teammate with an accurate pass. He prefers to stay on his
forehand and likes to spend most of his time in the offensive zone on the right
hand side of the ice which keeps him on his forehand and gives him a number of
options with the puck. He has a wicked wrist shot and is very good at picking
corners or going top shelf with the puck.

Schremp will
have to work hard on his strength and fitness. The Knights have a full time
fitness coach who has paid huge dividends in the play of several of the
Knights. A summer of working out on his program will make Schremp
that much more dangerous next season. Like most scorers in the OHL he will need
to work on his defensive zone coverage when he moves onto the professional
ranks. He doesn’t enjoy the dump and chase game, as he loves to handle the
puck. How he performs in the playoffs when open ice is a rarity might effect
his draft position. But for every question or flaw that can be found in Schremp there is that very impressive upside and those
quick hands to answer back. He has the ability to be a first line center in the

is enjoying
an excellent second season with the Knights. Their first round pick from the
2002 draft saw limited ice time in his rookie season, getting only four or five
shifts a game more often than not. Bolland came back this season much stronger
and several pounds heavier and got off to a great start and he has not looked
back. After tallying only 17 points as a rookie, Bolland
has 34 goals and 24 assists in 55 games this year. He plays some center and
some left wing and is usually used in a checking role. Despite his 14 powerplay goals he is not even on the first unit. He is a
key member of the penalty-killing unit and has been a big factor in the team
having the best penalty-killing record this season and is a threat to score
short handed.

stands at 6’0” and weighs 175 pounds. Concerns over his size may hurt his
chances of going high in the draft, but his skills and spirited play should
keep him in the first round. Some teams may see Bolland more as a checker and
agitator than a scorer or power forward type at the professional level and that
may lead to a diverse book on where he should be selected in the draft.
Bolland, from
Mimico, Ontario, plays a very gritty game and loves
to hit and isn’t afraid to use his stick to give opponents the odd chop. Unlike
several of his teammates he understands the difference between aggressive
penalties and stupid penalties and has spent only 56 minutes in the box, six of
which were against
Kitchener on Sunday in the very chippy affair. Bolland has no fear of taking the puck to
the net and will stand in front and take a beating if asked to. He has above
average speed and is capable of beating opponents to the outside. He has a very
heavy shot and when he has a full head of speed is capable of overpowering a
goalie with it. He tends to go down the left side with the puck, which as a
right shot gives him a lot of options. Bolland tied the game at three on Sunday
by beating the goalie between the legs on a shot down the left wing from about
fifty feet out. Bolland has a lot of hockey sense and tends to be in the right
spot a lot of the time. His style is reminiscent of Kevin Dineen or Mike Peca.

Like Schremp, Bolland will be watched very closely in the
playoffs by scouts and opposing teams. A strong playoff performance and a deep
run into the playoffs should cement his first round status. Scouts will want to
see how much he fills out over the next few years. He could learn a few lessons
from Schremp on how to change speeds when carrying
the puck, which would make him even more dangerous. His handling of the puck is
average and that is an area that he could improve on especially at high speeds
and in traffic.

is a 6’1”,
175-pound center who is developing quite nicely into a possible first round NHL
pick. McGrath was the Kitchener Rangers first round pick in the 2002 OHL draft.
He had a good rookie season on a strong Rangers team and had 47 points in 64
games. He centered the third or fourth line for most of the year but did get
some action on left wing on the first line and when team captain Derek Roy was
at the Buffalo Sabres camp or at the World Junior
tournament, he saw a lot of ice time on the second line and on the power play
and didn’t look out of place. He scored six goals in helping Kitchener win the
OHL playoff title and had two goals in the Memorial Cup final showing his quick
release of his shot on one highlight reel goal.

The native
Oakville, Ontario plays a well-rounded, smart game.
He is more of a playmaker than scorer and handles the puck with a lot of
confidence. He is strong on faceoffs and won several
key ones against
London on Sunday. McGrath is not overly
physical but he will finish his checks and will definitely take a hit to make a
play. He has made modest improvement in his scoring statistics as he has 15
goals and 34 assists this year in 56 games on the Rangers second line.

needs to get physically stronger and will fill out more over time. Could be a
bit more selfish with the puck and take a few more shots rather than look for
the perfect pass. Can be inconsistent at times, some nights he is one of the
best players on the ice, others he seems to blend in. Tends to play his best
when challenged, has to get that mentality on a daily basis. He could fill the
role as a second line or third line center in the NHL.

Boris Valabik is a mountain of a man standing at 6’6” and 206 pounds and
he just turned 18 on Saturday. The Slovakian defenseman could fill out to be
one of the biggest players in the NHL if he continues to improve. Valabik has been a great addition for the Rangers and
helped fill some huge holes on their defense corps due to graduation. Valabik plays a very physical game and is probably the
meanest, toughest European to ever come over to the OHL.

has modest skills with the puck, he tends to keep
things very simple as he knows his role is to defend in his own zone. Valabik has 12 points this season and a whopping 232
penalty minutes. With his wing span, he can generate quite a shot and that is
an area that he will have to work on as far as getting in the position to use
it more often and getting it away quickly and on net. Valabik
makes opposing forwards pay a price when they stand in front of his net. He is
hard to beat to the outside due to his respectable skating and long reach. Valabik played his usual physical game on Sunday against
the Knights but surprisingly turned down a challenge to fight Brandon Prust. When on the ice against the Knights top scorer Corey
Anaheim first round pick in 2003) he gave
Perry very little room to skate with the puck and gave him several shots during
and after the play.

Scouts will
want to see Valabik to get even stronger and probably
project him to play at over 230 pounds when he makes the NHL. He can spend some
time on his basic puck skills, right now he is just asked to make the simple
plays but it wouldn’t hurt for him to improve those areas. His skating could be
improved. He could try to move up on the play more and use his shot more. Valabik should be a first round pick who can be projected
to be a top four defenseman who will be used in a defensive role.