Monday, May 10, 2010

Memorial Cup draft eligibles Part 1: the Windsor Spitfires

We still await who will represent the QMJHL in the Memorial Cup, with the Moncton Wildcats holding a 3-2 series lead, with Game Six to be played tonight.

However, with three other teams there and ready for the festitivities to begin, we can provide a snapshot on some of the members of the 2010 class who are in Brandon and should be looked at closely by all draft watchers.

Last year, we got extended looks at B's free agent Yannick Riendeau and Rimouski winger Jordan Caron, who ended up going 25th overall to the Bruins a month later. We also saw Taylor Hall in Memorial Cup MVP form. Who knew 365 days ago that the Bruins would actually have a shot at Hall. Yet, here we are in May 2010, and he could be had. There's still a chance. And yes, B's fans, it's a better chance than Lloyd Christmas had with Lauren Holly in Dumb & Dumber.

So, with the Memorial Cup on my mind, here are some key scouting reports and observations on players from the Windsor Spitfires (OHL), my pre-tourney pick to win it all. And yes, I realize that I'm not really going out on much of a limb with that one. But, the Spitfires are so skilled, deep and complete. They're going to be a handful.

I'll be back with subsequent posts on the rest of the Memorial Cup teams: Brandon Wheat Kings (host city) and Calgary Hitmen (WHL). If Moncton gets in, they have a nice high draft pick in defenseman Brandon Gormley who I'll profile later, and an interesting sleeper/project forward in Marek Hrivik. I'll get to them later. Stanlislav Galiev is a big name with the Saint John Sea Dogs. If his team comes back in the series, you'll get some good insights on him.

Taylor Hall, LW--
Dynamic. Explosive. Prolific. Dangerous. Each of those words describe Hall, who will in all likelihood be the top overall selection in the NHL draft next month. His accomplishments and credentials are simply too good for Edmonton to pass up, even if Tyler Seguin does provide an interesting debate point and will continue to do so all the way up to primetime on June 25th, much like Victor Hedman did last year with John Tavares.

Hall can do it all, and has proven himself offensively time and time again. A year ago, he was leading the Spits back from the dead when they lost the first two games of the round robin portion of the Memorial Cup, earning MVP honors as part of the first team to ever win the tournament after dropping its first two games. He did it again against Kitchener in the Western Conference playoff championship last month, putting up big numbers in leading his team back from an 0-3 deficit to win the west in seven games before sweeping the Barrie Colts in an anticlimactic OHL championship series.

His tremendous speed, hands and offensive instincts make him a legitimate goal-scoring threat, and he scored some filthy goals in the 2010 World Jr. (under-20) Championships last winter, to say nothing of the terror he's struck into OHL goalies for the past three seasons.

Cam Fowler, D--

Fowler has polarized draft talk for a few months since slipping from his lofty spot as the lottery's top defenseman in some circles.

A beautiful skater, Fowler has the size and physical attributes to be a No. 1 marquee defender in the NHL, but has raised some doubts over his lack of tough, gritty play at times and questionable shot. Still, there is a ton of upside with him, just as there has been ever since he broke out with the U.S. NTDP several years ago. He was right to opt for Windsor over Notre Dame University, and has benefited from playing a lot of high-level games on the crown jewel organization of the OHL.

Even though he may lack physicality, Fowler has shown an ability to play a shutdown role, as he did in two games against Team Canada at the World Jrs. when he shadowed his teammate Hall and neutralized him in the first game, and then did the same for the most part (save for one goal Hall fired home from the outside that goaltender Mike Lee should have had) in the gold medal game.

In an interesting paradox, Fowler sacrificed his offensive stats and high-octane potential at the other end of the ice in favor of playing a solid, sound defensive game for Team USA. This leads me to believe that he will adjust his style to the NHL and pro ranks when his time comes. If I were a GM sitting there with the third pick (as Randy Sexton is for Florida), Fowler would be my guy. He's skilled and has the kind of character and personality to build on.

Philipp Grubauer, G--
The German goalie is the next 2010 candidate on Windsor's loaded squad.

Acquired by Windsor after a mediocre season with Belleville, his numbers (not surprisingly) took off when he joined the OHL's top club, going 13-1-2.

He doesn't have great size, but is very quick, agile and skilled. He's tough to beat down low because of his reflexes, quick feet and recovery ability. He's been a find for Windsor because, early struggles against Kitchener aside, he has that rare mental toughness that good teams who don't give up a lot of shots must have in order to be successful, as his 16-1-1 record and 2.61 GAA attests. He also had a tremendous showing for Germany at the World Jrs. in the B Pool, helping them to get back to the A Pool dance for 2011 in Buffalo.

He's quietly climbed the draft rankings all season, and could end up going somewhere in the third round, although he is going to be a developmental player with some long-term potential who will likely have to ride the buses in the minors for a while before he's ready to challenge for an NHL job. If he backstops Windsor to a second consecutive Memorial Cup, however, his stock will be up: teams love to draft winners, even if Grubauer hasn't been consistently mentioned or lauded in this class among his goalie peers.

The cat's out of the bag with this one.

Justin Shugg, RW--

He's no Hall when it comes to the excitement and game-breaking ability, but this guy knows how to put the puck in the net.

Described to me by one NHL scout as a "classic up-and-down" winger who plays an honest game and goes hard to the net, Shugg isn't going to wow you, but like James Neal (drafted by Dallas five years ago despite carrying a similar unspectacular tag), could very well develop into a productive NHL forward in time.

When Hall and Fowler went to the World Jrs. at midseason, Shugg was the one who stepped up and filled the void for Windsor scoring-wise, and then he continued his productivity when Hall returned.

I was watching playoff highlights of Windsor the other day, and I swear-- it seemed like everytime Hall was scoring, Shugg was right there with him celebrating. His stats line is far more modest (five goals, 15 points in 18 games) than Hall's gaudy 17 markers and 35 points, but Shugg managed 39 goals in the regular season, just one less than Hall.

Watch for Shugg to do the dirty work along the boards and in front of the net, despite his lack of size (he stands below 6-feet). He's one of those players who is more than the sum of his parts: he skates well enough, but his desire and willingness to pay the price physically are why he gets so many of his points.

The size is an issue, but his heart and competitiveness isn't. Some people may have thought that he leeched off his more talented linemates' skill, but Shugg has proven himself to be creative and motivated enough to go out and score when the chips are down.

And, just think-- had the Spits not traded power winger Austin Watson to Peterborough, we'd be talking about yet another high-end 2010 draft eligible. Windsor's depth is unmatched in this tourney and they are a formidable club.

Watch for them to repeat and they'll be as competitive as ever next season as well with American uber-goalie Jack Campbell and German scorer Tom Kuehnhackl joining the mix.

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