I've been to three games thus far: the Saturday afternoon tilt between the Pens and Sens, the evening Hawks - Leafs game, and last night's Pens - Leafs bout. Plea From A Cat Named Felix joined me for the first two, and later on Saturday night, the two of us met up with James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail for a couple drinks to discuss the game. Good man, that Mirtle.
The Leaf games weren't sold out, but were quite close, with the John Labbatt Centre having closed off the upper bowl. I would estimate that the attendance was roughly 4,000 at each game, compared to a small scattering of fans at the Pens-Sens game.
This made for an interesting atmosphere, since a high percentage of the fans were family and friends of players. I sat in front of the entire Pens scouting staff at their game. Players and coaches can be seen all over, since London is a relatively small town. I saw Quenneville walking around, practically bumped into Scotty Bowman, and saw Tim Hunter at the bar last night.
I have a few thoughts on the games and photos I'd like to share, so head on over the jump for more. Head over to Pensburgh if you're interested in the Pens - Sens game I reviewed.
To my eyes, the Chicago game was really sloppy. In fact, I think that it's important to emphasize how difficult it is to assess talent given the lack of cohesiveness on the team, but some things were nevertheless obvious.
Jussi Rynnas looked really lost out there, and Mirtle explained after the game that not only was this his first North American game, but that he'd only had two practices since coming over. His delay-of-game penalty was perhaps the single-most obvious indication that he wasn't comfortable, but to watch him throughout the course of the game, it was abundantly clear just by the way he was fighting the puck, giving up rebounds, and struggling with his positioning.
The good news is that he became increasingly comfortable as he game went on, and the defence in front of him tightened as well. He certainly looked better than his counterpart Richards, who allowed a Toskalian 3 goals on 6 Leaf shots. I'd like to see more of Rynnas, but I think that Engelage will get the start on Tuesday. He definitely has a lot of growing room, despite being one of the older players in the tournament at 23.
Nazem Kadri was largely invisible, aside from a couple flashy solo rushes where he tried to pot one for the home crowd. He is still trying to do too much himself, and I really think some time in the AHL could cure this. He undoubtedly has the best set of hands among our prospects, and was a part of the first power play unit with Jerry D'Amigo and Dale Mitchell. He was used as at his natural centre position instead of at the point the way he is usually deployed with the London Knights.
I was somewhat surprised to see that he was killing penalties, but he did fine, and I was happy to see that he has the potential to play in any situation, including some time killing a 5-on-3 and some time 4-on-4.
As Plea From A Cat Named Felix has already mentioned, we would have loved to yell at Murray about having the guy he wanted, but we settled for a few laughs about spittle at his expense which I think he probably heard (see photo below).
Marcel Mueller stood out. I think that he will see some significant time on the Leaf roster this year. If not right away, certainly he'll see time to fill in for injured players. He's looking like a great pick-up; he has size (6'3'', 220 lbs.), speed, and has soft hands.
Jesse Blacker showed some impressive foot speed and jumped into the play well, but still didn't make very many good passes throughout the game. This, of course, can be somewhat attributed to the fact that he doesn't know his linemates, but he certainly was caught getting too fancy in his own end a few times.
Sondre Olden, as many of you have already remarked, has good speed for a guy who is listed as 6'3'', but he still only weighs 173 lbs, so some filling-out is in order. He has decent hands though, and looked dangerous on several plays. In a couple years, he could possibly outshine Ross or McKegg.
Both Brad Ross and Greg McKegg had good games, each showing a little flash around the net, which was nice. Ross spent a fair bit of time floating, looking for stretch passes, though.
That Dallas Jackson saw so much ice time was something of a surprise to me, and the fact that he was named the game's second star was even more so. He was solid enough, but was an undrafted over-ager in the WHL this year in Kelowna. Mirtle mentioned that players are often called up just to fill a roster spot in these kinds of tournaments, and my guess is that he may be one such player. On the game sheet they gave out with the roster, there is a column that explains how each player was acquired; nothing is written for Jackson.
The Pittsburgh game was obviously a much tighter game defensively, with the Leafs getting relatively few good scoring chances. In my eyes, Pittsburgh was the better team throughout the game, and probably deserved the win.
Interestingly, Dallas Eakins was not on the bench for this game. I have no idea who it was (see photo below).
Ben Scrivens really surprised me by how well he did. He had good positioning, good rebound control (for the most part), some decent puck handling, and it was obvious that he was more comfortable than Rynnas. He seems to be a very focused player, as he spent a lot of time backed into his net and staring at the blue paint when the play was stopped. He was our best player last night, and deserved to get the second star.
In this game, we saw Michael Liambas, Mikhail Stefanovich, Richard Greenop, and Josh Nicholls added to the roster, and Kadri, Mueller, and Paris removed. Liambas' contribution was predictable, getting into a decent scrap with Sill, who is all-around better hockey player. I was happy to see Liambas go after Sill, however, who delivered the dirty hit on Dale Mitchell. The refs didn't want the game out of hand, and every time a player was involved in a fight, they were administered a 10-minute misconduct.
Stefanovich used his speed well enough, and picked up an assist on the Irwin goal, but didn't look overly dangerous. Granted, he was probably one of the more dangerous forwards for us last night, but that wasn't saying much.
I spent a lot of time watching Brayden Irwin's skating, and have come to the conclusion that although he probably won't play long for the Leafs (if at all), his skating isn't quite as bad as we've made it out to be here on PPP. He seems to have weak ankles and a certain stiffness in his upper body that make for an inefficient stride, but he gets around well enough on the ice, rarely being caught out of position. He does go down relatively easily, sometimes being knocked over 2 - 3 times before the end of a shift. Overall, he looked OK, earning the centre spot on the top PP unit.
Kenny Ryan played a good, two-way game against Chicago and Pittsburgh, and I'd love to see him develop into a solid third-liner. At 6'0'' and 204 lbs., he already has a relatively sturdy frame.
Despite lots of ice time, D'Amigo didn't look as dangerous as in the first game. He played the point on the PP and nearly gave up a breakaway, which ended in Simon Gysbers batting a puck off the goal line. Good speed, decent hands, but I don't think that D'Amigo plays for the Leafs this year.
Dale Mitchell has all kinds of jam. The kid was in a scrap against Chicago, threw his weight around like a much bigger player, and displayed some good speed. That said, if he doesn't light the lamp consistently, I doubt that he'll see much time in the bigs due to his small stature. He looked much more dangerous skating with D'Amigo and Kadri the first game than in the second. Also, I just realized that in the above picture, the screen cap includes some of my menu bar from my Mac.
More to come either late Tuesday night or Wednesday afternoon.