Two teams on the opposite side of the spectrum met on Friday night when the Vancouver Giants hosted the Kelowna Rockets.
The Giants are a young team that has struggled this season, and they entered this game needing to win their final two games (and get help) to make the playoffs. On the flip side, Kelowna had already locked up the No. 1 seed and used this game to try and prepare themselves for the playoffs.
As I did last time I tracked a Kelowna game, I kept my eyes on Leon Draisaitl (EDM), and draft eligible winger Nick Merkley for the Rockets. The Giants don’t have a lot of high-end talent, so I tracked numbers for a potential late round pick in forward Alec Baer, as well as 2016 draft eligible Tyler Benson, who is projected to go pretty high in the 1st round.
Final score: 4-3 Kelowna in OT
Nick Merkley plays on Kelowna’s top pure scoring line alongside Sharks prospect Rourke Chartier and Flyers prospect Tyrell Goulbourne, so naturally he was given plenty of offensive zone starts.
Leon Draisaitl centered Kelowna’s best all purpose line, and was given tougher assignments. He still started more of his shifts in the offensive zone than defensive zone, but that was because of his ability to drive play up ice as much as anything. Several times he started shifts in the defensive zone and finished in the offensive zone before all was said and done.
Draft eligible forward Alec Baer was given the toughest assignments from head coach Claude Noel. As mentioned, Vancouver isn’t an overly deep team, and they’re young, so Baer – who is clearly trusted by the coaching staff – did the heavy lifting as a result.
Benson is clearly Vancouver’s best pure offensive player, and is also 16, so it was less than surprising to see him given some sheltered minutes against a powerhouse Kelowna team.
Nick Merkley was once against excellent through the neutral zone. He’s a good skater and is very good handling pucks, so whenever defenders didn’t back off and give him the line he’d just stickhandle around them.
Leon Draisaitl was dominant through the neutral zone, too. Several times Vancouver defenders tried to stick check him or knock him off the puck when entering the zone, but he was able to consistently skate through contact. Like Merkley, he also danced around defenders to gain the line whenever he had to.
Baer didn’t have many entry attempts – Vancouver used the dump and chase method a lot – but he showed the ability to do it.
Benson started a good portion of his shifts in the offensive zone, but he had a couple entry attempts as well. Both entries the defenders backed off respecting his speed and he carried it in without much trouble.
Merkley had good linemates and plenty of offensive zone starts, and his possession numbers reflect that. Still, he did what he was supposed to do.
Draisaitl played a very strong game in all aspects. He was dominant through the neutral zone, and he drove possession at an elite rate despite a decent chunk of defensive zone starts. He also showed up everywhere on the scoresheet, factoring in on all four Kelowna goals (1G, 3A) in the win.
Baer didn’t do very well in possession, but he’s still young at 17, and against a powerhouse team like Kelowna it’d be hard to do much better given the tough minutes he played. He was beaten pretty good at even-strength, but did factor in with a power play goal.
As for Benson, those numbers certainly won’t stand out but they are impressive. He played against an elite team, started 9 of 14 shifts outside of the offensive zone, and came out close to even in possession despite the fact he’s not even draft eligible until 2016.
I’ve now tracked two games for Merkley and Draisaitl, so above you’ll see the combined numbers. It’s still not a large sample size, but the bigger the better.
If you use or share this data, please cite this blog as the resource. Thanks!