The Niagara Ice Dogs have enjoyed a strong bounce-back season this year after a couple seasons toiling near the bottom of the OHL Standings. Thus far the Ice Dogs have entrenched themselves towards the top of the OHL’s Eastern Conference which in large part can be attributed to the volume of talent the team has been able to assemble. In particular, the Ice Dogs have several NHL calibre prospects who will be closely watched this season and beyond. I got my first look at the Ice Dogs live last night, and here’s my thoughts on some of those big names that you will surely be hearing about.
#10 LC Steven Shipley | 6.03 | 212lbs | 04/22/92 | BUF 10′ (4/98)
20GP 7G 11A 18P +6 8PIM
The former 3rd overall pick in the 2008 OHL Priority Selection, Shipley spend the past two seasons in Owen Sound before being moved to Niagara in a blockbuster off-season move. Expectations were high for Shipley this season, but thus far the Ildterton native has struggled to find some consistency and elevate his game. Frankly, it’s been a disappointing year for Shipley and he has just never been able to materialize into the player many thought he could be when he played minor hockey for Elgin-Middlesex. Last night Shipley showed a lot of what I’ve seen from him his entire career. His skating is still very average, and he lacks the explosion you’d like to see out of a player like him. His competitiveness is a big question mark and he often looks disinterested in the game as well.
Overall, he’s just one of those guys that is a very frustrating player to watch. He has the offensive skills and awareness to be a productive player at this level, but I really can’t envision him being a legitimate NHL prospect at this point as he lacks a role at the next level. Unless he begins to show signs that he’s willing to pay the price and be a physical guy that could adapt to a third line role in the NHL, I doubt that Buffalo fans can expect to see him in a Sabres jersey.
#13 LW Freddie Hamilton | 6.01 | 190lbs | 01/01/92 | SJS 10′ (5/129)
22GP 10G 13A 23P +5 11PIM
Hamilton is a guy I’ve been pretty high on and I really like the steps he’s taking this year. I was pretty surprised that he slipped through to the 5th round last season and I think the Sharks got a tremendous value pick when they nabbed him where they did. The older brother of teammate Dougie, he’s a guy that just does a lot of things well but doesn’t have any elite skills. He’s a big player that has good hockey sense and knows where to be positionally. He’s very effective in tight spaces and can create a lot of time and space for his linemates as well as being a great player on the cycle.
He’s also not afraid to go to the net and take his lumps and is a very crafty player in the slot. I would like to see a little more grit out of him as he’s a little hesitant to play the body as much as he could, but it’s something he can overcome because he does compete well. I don’t think Hamilton will ever be a dynamic NHL player, but he could be a guy that will be a very effective and responsible up and down winger that can play on the third line and maybe even be a bit of a 2nd/3rd line tweener in his prime.
#18 RC Ryan Strome | 6.01 | 183lbs | 07/11/93 | 2011 Eligible
22GP 10G 24A 34P +6 25PIM
Coming into the year if you read my stuff you’ll see I was extremely high on Strome and called him the sleeper of the draft from the OHL. 22 games later and Strome has exceeded my expectations and quickly generated some considerable exposure for himself as many are talking about Strome being a potential Top 15 pick or even a Top 10 guy. Even NHLCS has notably placed Strome as their fourth best OHL prospect in their recently published Preliminary Rankings. As much as I love what Strome brings, I’m really leery of where some of the talk is going with her he is projected to go.
Strome is a very good offensive player. He’s a creative player who sees the ice very well and makes some special plays in the offensive zone. As I’m sure many have seen from his recent YouTube phenomenon goal, he also is a shifty player that can make elite moves in a game environment. With that being said, I think putting Strome up there is pretty risky at this point. Some of the major concerns I have with him is that he is still extremely weak. Strome loses a lot of puck battles and can be neutralized by physical defenseman. He’s also not a pure scorer which doesn’t negate some of the risk that he bears with being a slight player. There’s still a lot of hockey left to go, but I think I’d be more comfortable putting him in the 25-35 range right now as opposed to that 10-15 range, because while his game might sparkle at the OHL level, when you project him at the NHL, there is some legitimate cause for concern.
#27 RD Dougie Hamilton | 6.04 | 193lbs | 06/07/93 | 2011 Eligible
21GP 2G 11A 13P +13 31PIM
Like Strome, Hamilton has also been getting considerable praise this season and is rapidly vaulting up the consensus charts for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. With some talk of him working his way into the Top 10 or even Top 5 of the draft, I have to say that I don’t quite share that opinion. I’ve had quite a few live looks at Hamilton, and I do like his framework of skills, but I’m not really convinced what his role is going to be that justifies where people are putting him. On the surface, he’s a big and imposing guy that skates pretty well and has good puck moving skills. That’s certainly going to warrant some attention, but the more I see him, the less I’m convinced about what he’s going to be as an NHL player.
For instance, last night I watched him really struggle QB’ing the Ice Dogs powerplay. He was very indecisive and made a couple of very poor decisions including one pass that was intercepted, giving the Majors a two on one short handed breakaway. I also question the amount of grit he has. I saw him lose several puck battles on the boards to smaller forwards like Riley Brace and watched him get flustered by a Majors forecheck. I haven’t had enough looks at him this season to throw all my chips in, but from what I have seen, I really question what type of role he’s going to have in the NHL. Is he an offensive defenseman? I wouldn’t say so. Is he a shut-down guy? Maybe? I’m not sure he’s that physical and his anticipation still needs work. So what is he? Right now he’s a big guy that can move the puck pretty well and skate well. Is that enough to be considered as a Top 5 pick? I’m not so sure if I’m an NHL team.
#29 G Mark Visentin | 6.02 | 201lbs | 08/07/92 | PHX 10′ (1/27)
8-4-1 2.55GAA .911SV% 1SO
On paper Visentin had a good game last night, but he still has a long way to go before he wants to be an NHL goalie. The good things that he does have is that he’s got a big frame, he does a good job of challenging shooters and he’s what people in hockey like to refer to as a quality “puck blocker” which basically means he does a good job technically as opposed to being more of an athletic type of goalie. Now while those are all good qualities in his game, his lateral movement is still something that really concerns me and effects his rebound control. I counted several times last night where he would slide one way and then struggle to get back in place for a second save. He also was caught moving the wrong way and gave out some very generous rebounds which are symptoms of his game that I continue to see everytime I see him. He’s a long-range guy at this point so the Coyotes will need to be very patient with him, which they will be.