It took a little longer to get to than expected, but I finally had some time to track Friday night’s game between the Guelph Storm and London Knights.
These are two of the better teams in the OHL’s Western Conference (ranked 3rd and 4th respectively) and both teams feature plenty of star power – Mitch Marner, Max Domi/Christian Dvorak (ARI) for the Knights, Tyler Bertuzzi (DET) & Jason Dickinson (DAL), among others, for Guelph – so there were certainly plenty of tracking candidates.
Marner and Bertuzzi aside, I decided to track some lesser known names in draft eligible defenseman Garret McFadden and 2nd year eligible forward Pius Suter.
I wanted to get data for some draft eligible talent, and decided to track those guys instead of some stars because Domi/Dvorak play with Marner and Bertuzzi plays on a line with Dickinson, so there wouldn’t be much variation between the numbers.
Final score: 6-2 London.
Marner’s line carried much of the load defensively in this one, as head coach Dale Hunter wanted his top guys handling the tough assignments and relied on them to drive play up ice.
Despite playing on different lines, Bertuzzi and Suter had almost identical zone start splits. I think that would be an indication of Guelph having confidence in each of their top two units and their ability to (for the most part) control play for a good portion of the game.
McFadden is a 17-year-old defenseman and was barely used at all last season. Due to some trades (notably moving Sens prospect Ben Harpur and Chadd Bauman to Barrie) and injuries McFadden is being relied upon to play a lot more minutes this season. He’s not a high-end prospect and clearly is someone Guelph feels they need to shelter at this point in his career, especially going up against one of the better teams in the OHL.
When you can dominate through the neutral zone the way Marner did vs the Storm it’s not hard to see why Hunter gives him so many starts outside the offensive zone. He was flying through the NZ, and forced opposing defensemen to back off giving him the line on several occasions. Marner plays with two OHL stars, too, so that takes away some attention from him, which certainly doesn’t hurt.
Bertuzzi didn’t really do much of the neutral zone work in this one. He’s always struck me as a guy that needs help driving play up ice and that he’d do his damage once set up in the offensive zone, and that appears to be the case; at least in this game.
Suter was the big play driver on his line, and had no troubles gaining the line and setting up shop whenever he started outside the offensive zone.
McFadden is a defenseman and started a good portion of his shifts in the offensive zone, so naturally he had zero carry-in attempts.
Given Marner’s limited offensive zone starts, he put on quite the performance. Especially when you factor in his dominant neutral zone play, and that he was on the ice for six or seven shot attempts against before his line first recorded one. For a draft eligible player going up against a pretty good squad Marner’s performance was impressive, and is the kind of game you’d expect to see out of a guy who will likely be chosen top-5 come June.
Overall Guelph controlled play while Bertuzzi was on the ice, but London had the territorial advantage in the final 40 minutes when he was on the ice. He had a few shots/quality chances but had nothing to show for it in terms of production. He played a pretty good game, though.
Suter continues to impress me and make a case to be chosen as a 2nd-year entry. He drove play up ice, was very good through the neutral zone and he also tallied an assist. He’s up to 34 goals in 54 games and doesn’t play on Guelph’s scoring line, which makes his numbers even more impressive.
McFadden had a real rough go at it. Despite being sheltered by a good chunk of offensive zone starts, he was crushed in possession. He hasn’t played a ton of hockey over the last couple seasons and is still young in his development stage – not to mention he played almost exclusively against London’s top-6 forwards – but you’d like to see better results than that.
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