Monday, December 15, 2008
Top 5 Tuesday
Posted by Dean Millard
With Canada's roster selected yesterday, I figured I would throw out 5 players I'll be watching closely and expecting special action from starting Boxing Day. I haven't always agreed with decisions that Hockey Canada has made when it comes to this tournament, in fact there have been some that I just can't understand. Cutting Eric Fehr who twice scored 50 goals in the WHL. Not inviting Kyle Beach to a camp, who knows maybe he's changed? And telling Cam Ward he just wasn't good enough. However in most years, HC has proven why they pick the team and I don't as their record is pretty darn good at this event. This year they will try and earn a 5th straight gold medal for a 5th straight time.
5. Stefan Della Rovere- Forward
Every good hockey team should have that one guy who forces the opponents to keep their head on a swivel. Brandon Sutter and Jordin Tootoo have been Canadian players in the past that have filled that role. Oilers prospect Ryan O'Marra filled that role nicely in 2006 as evidenced by this hit:
This year it could be Stefan Della Rovere who becomes a fan favorite like Jordin Tootoo did in Halifax in 2003, but the difference is Della Rovere doesn't take a 20 foot run or jump a few feet to deliver hits. He is short and stocky like Tootoo and does pack a punch when he crunches guys. He can also chip in offensively, as he leads Barrie in scoring this year with 31 points and 93 penalty minutes in 29 games. When Pat Quinn needs some energy, don't be surprised if he taps Della Rovere on the shoulder.
4. Ryan Ellis-Defence
Ellis becomes the first 17 year old to crack Canada's blueline since Jay Bouwmeester turned the trick in 2001 and it's not hard to see why. Ellis is second in team scoring with Windsor this year after piling up 48 points in 30 games, and maintaining an incredible plus 31 rating. The 5'10 rearguard will be a power play specialist for Canada, just as he is in Windsor where 7 of his 15 goals have come with the man advantage. Ellis told TPS that his playing time from the U-18 world championships to the Ivan Hlinka tournament increased quite a bit and if he proves to the coaching staff early in this tournament that his size and age aren't a liability he could earn more then just power play time, something Kris Russell did when he played with Canada. Ellis won't be afraid to roam the ice on the power play and sneak down for back door goals.
3. Angelo Esposito-Forward
After getting the early morning phone call he didn't want for 3 straight years, Angelo Esposito received a knock on his door this year, telling hime he wasn't going anywhere. Did Hockey Canada as guy mentioned simply not want to cut a guy for a 4th straight year? I don't think they would keep someone, especially when they don't have an extra forward, for that reason. Esposito is such an insteresting study. After registering 98 points in his QMJHL rookie season, his point totals have plummeted, from 79 to 69 in about the same amount of games played each season. And as noted, he didn't miss any time to play for Canada. This year Esposito could prove he is ready for the spotlight and feed his naysayers a huge helping of crow, or the tournament might expose him as a player not able to compete with the big boys.
2. Jamie Benn/Brett Sonne-Forwards
You might be asking yourself who Jamie Benn and Brett Sonne are and why are they on this team? After all Benn was a 5th round pick of Dallas in 2007 while Sonne was a 3rd round selection of St. Louis the same year. Neither have the pedigree of Cody Hodgson or the hype of John Tavares. But check out these numbers for Benn in Kelowna: 24 Goals, in 27 games, along with 21 helpers putting him 5th in league scoring. Sonne's numbers are even more impressive with the Calgary Hitmen: 23 goals, 32 Assists for 55 points in 34 games, good enough for top spot in the Western Hockey League. It might come as a surprise for casual hockey fans, but The Pipeline Show wouldn't be shocked if either guy led Canada in scoring, provided they are put in offensive situations.
1. Chet Pickard/Dustin Tokarski-Goalies
What, you're surprised I made the goaltending situation my top story? You obviously haven't listend to TPS often enough or read Coming Down The Pipe regularily. Before the team was picked I had Pickard and Jake Allen as my netminders. I like so many others before me counted Dustin Tokarski out. However my esteemed collegue Guy Flaming did not, as he nailed the two netminders, as did Sam Cosentino and Peter Loubardias on previous TPS shows. So now that two have been chosen who starts? The coaches have said they will let the exhibition games decide that. Pickard (pictured below)was the highest goalie chosen in last year's draft, going 18th to Nashville, while Tokarski led Spokane to a Memorial Cup championship and was named MVP. Earlier this season Pickard was struggling, but got red hot at the right time, entering Canada's camp as the CHL goaltender of the week. Pat Quinn said he would like to go with one guy, but as he showed with Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake City games, he won't be afraid to swap his tenders should one guy have an off game. The Canadians face the Czech Republic on Boxing Day, and I expect Pickard to be the starter, but wouldn't be at all shocked if Tokarski plays a role in Canada's tournament. After all, Steve Mason wasn't Canada's starter when the event began last year.
A couple of bonus items this week, on what else to watch for. Pat Quinn. The coach stated this week he hasn't watched a single QMJHL game this year, which tells you he doesn't exactly have his finger on the pulse of junior hockey. But he knows the game and every player I've spoken with who played for him at the Under 18 event spoke highly of how he handled the bench and related to the players. Cody Hodgson. The Canucks 2007 first rounder will play second fiddle to John Tavares down the middle, but might end up being the best forward Canada will have. He's been compared to Sam Gagner and has a deadly shot. Tyler Myers. The giant blueliner who stands 6'7 once played for the States, but Canada is glad he picked the Maple Leaf over stars and stripes for this event. Myers is huge, but unlike most big men, can get around the ice easily, and can you imagine a pairing of him and Keith Aulie? The Brandon Wheat King blueliner is 6'6. John Tavares. The deadliest sniper within 12 feet outside of the NHL will go head to head with the man battling him for top spot at this year's draft, Victor Hedman. I have gone on record as a Tavares guy for the upcoming draft, but can't wait to see the two battle each other at the WJC as the key guys for their respective teams. It won't happen until the medal round if it happens at all. For a complete schedule of the tournament, click here.
By the way, tonight on TPS Guy and I will speak with Oilers prospect Riley Nash, who I was shocked didn't make this team. We may also speak to one player who did make the grade. Mike Oke of International Scouting Services is scheduled to join us to chat about the draft elegible players in the tournament. Stefan Elliot of the Saskatoon Blades wasn't invited to Canada's camp but was recently a 2009 Draft Prospect Preformer of the week, and we'll chat with him about the season so far in Saskatoon. Also Flaming Hot/Not, my fantasy prospect pick up of the week, Bad Ass trivia and more, starting at 7 PM mountain time on The TEAM 1260 and online around the world at www.thepipelineshow.com