Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sptifires roll Hitmen, Hall rapidly closing debate on No. 1

Good morning, draft watchers. Sorry this post is a little late, but I got up early this morning to watch the DVR's game last night, so am just getting to the recap and observations now. Thanks for reading.

Taylor Hall continued his postseason dominance last night by scoring a pair of goals, adding an assist, blocking several shots and absorbing some big-time hits in the Windsor Spitfires' 6-2 win over the Calgary Hitmen in the team's second game of the Memorial Cup in Brandon, Manitoba.

Although Calgary cut Windsor's 3-2 lead to just one goal thanks to a pair of markers scored by Atlanta prospect Jimmy Bubnick in the second period, Hall showed why he's the leading candidate to go first overall in next month's draft when he picked off a bad pass by defenseman Giffen Nyren, skated in alone on Hitmen goalie (and former Team Canada WJC teammate) Martin Jones, deked and then slid a soft backhander through the five-hole as Jones went down int he butterfly to make it 4-2 and effectively put the game out of reach. It was Hall's second goal of the game and fourth in two contests to give him five points and a share of the tournament scoring lead with Toni Rajala.

After Leafs prospect Dale Mitchell (he of the utterly vomit-inducing '70's porn star' mustache) got the scoring going in the 1st, Hall struck to make it 2-0. While the Spitfires were on the power play, Cam Fowler effortlessly gathered the puck deep in his own zone, accelerated and with his head up, saw Hall streaking up the left wing boards. Hitting his teammate in stride with a long, 60-foot pass, Fowler sprung junior hockey's most dangerous scorer. Hall gained the zone, wound up and blasted a shot that appeared to hit the Calgary defender's stick and take off upstairs, beating Jones on the short side.

Windsor made it 3-0 early in the second period, when Windsor's trio of top eligible draft prospects combined on a beautiful goal. Fowler slid a pass to Hall, who skated into the middle of the Calgary zone and as he sucked two defenders toward him, made a behind-the-back feed to Justin Shugg, who showed off just why he had 39 goals in the OHL this past season.

Instead of shooting right away (and likely seeing the puck blocked off by the Calgary player with position in front of the net), he made a quick little move to his right to shake the defender and open up a shooting lane, then rifled a shot on Jones's blocker side, top-shelf where mama hides the cookies (as Rick Jeannerette likes to say) to seemingly put it out of reach. I really like Shugg and so do my scouting sources in Ontario, who have been impressed with him all year. He's precisely the kind of player the Bruins would do well to consider in the second round simply because he's proven that he can score with or without the excellent help he's gotten from his high-octane offensive teammates in Windsor. The goal he scored last night is a prime example of someone with the instincts to get it done, as he gathered Hall's pass, but then instantly side-stepped the defenseman in his way and uncorked a beauty of a wrist shot that Jones had no chance on.

Even thought Bubnick got two quick ones,Windsor goalie Phillipp Grubauer also became a story of the game, as he then shut it down and refused to let the Hitmen get any more until Hall and Kenny Ryan pulled away with goals in the third (Adam Wallace added an empty-netter and then got into a fight to close it out).

"Grubi" is impressive because he looks like one of those special goalies who can play on an outstanding defensive team that doesn't give up a lot of shots, but manage to stay focused and make the big save when needed. Calgary played hard and didn't roll over when Windsor went up 3-0, but just when they thought they could pull what they did against Moncton on Saturday and battle all the way back, Grubauer denied them every step of the way. In so doing, he was able to accomplish what Moncton's Nicola Riopel could not against Calgary...hold the lead after his team played better in front of him and deserved to win.

As Grubauer's scouting report reads, he has very quick legs and does do a bit of sprawling and flailing, but his recovery skills are good. He was tremendous for Windsor after coming over from Belleville and may be one of those guys who plays better on a good team than one who needs a lot of shots to stay sharp.

If he goes on to be a part of a Memorial Cup win for Windsor, then Grubauer will help his draft stock immensely. He's not a first-rounder, but could work himself into the mid-to-late second if he keeps it up. If not, he's terrific value in the third or later.

Windsor's win means that they have won the round robin (this after going 0-2 last year and having to do it the hard way by being perfect to close it out), and clinch a berth in Sunday night's championship game, even though they face 0-2 Moncton tonight.

This should be an interesting test for Windsor, to see how intense they are against a Wildcats team who will be desperate to get off the schneid. Bob Boughner is a demanding taskmaster and facing an old assistant junior coach of his at Sault Ste. Marie in Danny Flynn.

But as far as Hall goes, he's certainly shown that dynamic, game-breaking ability everyone's been raving about since he broke into the OHL. The big hits he's taken has generated talk and some concern about how well he'll be able to be durable and keep playing in the NHL without suffering a big injury, but until it happens, that's just talk to me. Hall has been an absolute force in two springs where every game matters, and while I can appreciate the fact that he's taken some dings, it's not like a team is going to pass on the opportunity to draft Hall because they're worried that he might sustain a potential career-threatning injury at some point.

That's like playing not to lose, and I don't think there's any doubt at this stage that Edmonton will be swayed from taking Hall first overall. Unless, that is, Boston (or someone else?) makes them an offer they can't refuse.

Not likely to happen, so B's fans should get ready for Tyler Seguin. Outstanding player and person who's gotten a little lost in the shuffle of Hall's postseason surge, but with every goal and big-game performance, Edmonton's asking price for any trade to No. 1 is going up, up, up.


  1. Kirk - are you thinking Shugg @ 32 or 45?

  2. Obviously Hall trying to make me eat every word from the other thread! Which would be no easy feat, given the number of words...

  3. 45 most likely, Trav. But, if you like a guy enough, you take him where you want or think you can get him. The Bruins need natural goal scorers, and if someone like Jeff Skinner can't be had, Shugg is not a bad consolation prize, IMO. He only tallied 11 less than Skinner in the regular season, and I think he's highly underrated in this draft. He's not a great skater (but not a minus skater either) and isn't flashy. But, he finds a way to get the job done and most impressive to me is that he was able to produce with and without (during World Jrs.) Taylor Hall and Cam Fowler in the lineup. He's hard-working and creative, but because he's on a stacked team, doesn't get a lot of ink.

  4. from the scouts you've chatted with, Kirk, does it seem like Skinner will go top 30 maybe even top 20?

    at pick 15 - Jon Merrill seems attainable or maybe they could snag McIlrath as from what it seems like they'll miss our on Gormly, Fowler, Gudbranson unless they're willing to move up? I assume they'll get a D with that second pick, just because the positional need is so great to have a true puck mover. But I don't know much about these kids.


  5. It is tough to watch Hall play so well since I was hoping he'd slip the B's at #2, but I'd be shocked if Edmonton doesn't take him. Seguin will be a good player, but I'd love for them to get Hall. Kirk, any chance you think they would swap picks with the Oilers?

  6. Trav-- I don't think Skinner gets past 10. If he somehow makes it to 15 and Boston still owns that pick, then they'd be well-served to take him. You never know, though. He's not the typical kind of player they go for.

  7. S- It's a possibility, but it takes two to tango. Asking price will be high.