The London Knights have stumbled a bit of late as they have entered the second phase of the OHL season. A hot start had the town buzzing, but other teams have seen a steady trickle of veterans back from pro camps and have their rosters filled out and the young Knights have found things a lot more difficult. The Western Conference will be very competitive, entering the weekend, 7 teams were within 2 points of each other, and it appears that it will be Plymouth out in front, but Erie and Windsor may pull away from the pack and challenge the Whalers as the season moves on.
Over agers-London has used 5 already in the young season, John Eminger has been moved to Mississauga, and the team is currently carrying 4, as they added Colorado draftee Charlie Stephens in a trade with Guelph on October 19. He joins fellow Av draftee Aaron Molnar, who has returned from the Hershey Bears camp and has struggled between the pipes. He is the most likely candidate to be moved as the Knights struggle in their own end and would be hard pressed to replace Sean Dixon and Ian Turner on the point. Stephens joins his third OHL team in his 5th year in the league, and fills the void that London has had all year, an experienced right shooting center to play with Rick Nash.
In their first game together against Belleville, they had several excellent shifts and scoring chances, which is a positive sign since they hadn’t practiced together as the trade was finalized just 2 hours before game time. Stephens will have to use his size to his advantage (6’3”, 215 lbs) and work harder along the boards and get his nose dirty in front of the net. He spent a lot of the game behind the net, which is where Nash likes to go, and that is one aspect that they will have to work on, its hard to score when 2 of the forwards are behind the goal line or on the perimeter. This is a critical year for Stephens and although he may never live up to his promise of being the first pick in the OHL draft, he has a lot to prove and his pro future is in his hands. Playing on a line with yet another Av draftee, Dan Bois, the Avalanche scouts will have an easy time evaluating his progress this year.
Molnar has pro potential but will have to start in the ECHL likely and try to move up the ladder. Dixon and Turner will likely play no higher than the ECHL.
16 year olds-Knights top pick Corey Perry is settling into the second line RW spot and his progress made it possible or even necessary to move Aaron Lobb to obtain Stephens. Perry will score his share of goals in this league, has a good nose for the net and plays his position well. You have to give him credit, as I have seen him get hammered several times and jump right back up on his skates. His biggest knock right now is his size, he is pretty frail and does take a beating. His conditioning doesn’t seem to be up to snuff, as he seems to wear down in the third period, especially if London has played recently. His skating needs a lot of work, but it will be interesting to watch him as he grows, as you can’t teach guts or goal scoring instincts, and he has both, but I wouldn’t want to speculate yet on where he is going to go in the 2003 draft.
Dylan Hunter, the second round pick of the Knights continues to play well, but as I noted earlier, was in over his head on the first line and is seeing action on the second and third lines, but is still getting power play time. With his blood line, expect him to go in the 2003 draft, but like Perry, needs to work on skating and conditioning in a big way.
Europeans-Sabre draftee Calle Aslund has apparently decided to stay in Europe after his one game with the Knights. Which is disappointing because he likely would have been a top 5 defender and may have given them other options on the over age front. Lubos Velebny continues to be a top player on the Knights, logging lots of ice time in all situations. Has pro size, skating and ability, will have to simplify his game in his own end when he moves up a level, as he sometimes tries to be too cute rather than getting the puck out. Has some offensive upside, but isn’t putting up points the way that he should be able to. The Knights power play was really smoking in the early going, but hit a big slump, but has shown some signs of life over the last 3 games. He has to do a better job of getting his heavy shot through traffic, he seems to take a split second too long and it gets blocked. He’ll find it far more difficult at the next level, whether it in St. John’s or in the ECHL, time will tell where the Leafs prospect plays.
Drafted-Sean McMorrow goes from the dog house to the pent house on a regular basis.
Coach Hofford seems to love putting him out there, despite his tendency to take stupid penalties and the fact that he is a huge liability in his own end, and lacks the skating ability to get his large body into the corners on a forecheck. When the gloves come off, he is as tough as they get in the OHL, but most linesman and refs seem to keep a close eye on him and they move in quick to cut down his opportunities to pummel someone. The Sabres will have to enroll him in some serious power skating schools this summer if they want to audition him to be the heir to Rob Ray. He will struggle at the next level when concentrating on actually playing hockey, so he may be a 3 or 4 shift a game guy who has one purpose when put on the ice.
Danny Bois was drafted by the Avalanche last June. He will move to the next level as a pest, along the lines of Tyson Nash or Darcy Tucker. Seems to be playing better offensively of late, and is still seeing lots of duty on first line and power play. Hasn’t eliminated his stupid penalties yet, the trip behind the play, the shot to the head after the whistle, you can usually pencil him in for about 3 minors a game, and only 1 will be from aggressive hockey.
Aaron Lobb, a RW drafted by Tampa, was traded on Friday to Guelph. His season had been a huge disappointment to date, scoring only once in 9 games and was the teams worst plus minus. He showed flashes of brilliance, but had steadily been getting worse as the season progressed. A few games lined up with Nash did little to improve his game and he had played himself off the power play. Now maybe coach Jackson can breathe some life and energy into him in Guelph. Here is a kid who has NHL talent, but seems to be greatly lacking in hockey sense and enthusiasm. Knights fans saw another good example of that last year in Lou Dickenson, currently toiling in Kingston. It is really sad to see kids that good throw away the chance of a lifetime, to make 6 and 7 figure salaries playing in the NHL, by just going through the motions and not having enough drive to succeed.
2002 eligible-Rick Nash still shows the tools to be a high end player in the NHL After watching him against Plymouth and Belleville, 2 teams loaded with speed, his skating could use an extra gear, but is not a weakness or major concern. Right now Nash is showing lots of impatience. He is trying to do too much and force the play, especially his passes, his worst attribute. On the power play, he tries to thread the needle, trying low percentage passes that usually get picked off and cost the Knights 200 feet of ice. He needs to use his points more while a man up and move the puck to open teammates. Belleville and Plymouth, currently the 2 top teams in the OHL, both have power plays that move the puck around well, stressing puck control over forcing the puck into traffic. Nash should take some notes on their power plays, but you can’t fault the kid for trying, he just has to learn to trust and use his teammates. Does a great job at picking the puck up off the boards in his own end, uses defenders as a screen well, is a great stickhandler and an effective forechecker.
Main weaknesses are passing ability and I’m a bit concerned about his positioning in the offensive end, sometimes he gets in too deep and isn’t in position for tips or rebounds when the puck gets put on net. So the Knights have to pencil in some plays to get the puck to him behind the net, or he has to focus on getting in better scoring spots.
Dennis Wideman continues to play well on defence for London. His size will be a concern for scouts, as he is just over 6 feet and weighs in at about 185. Has good offensive tools and is able to throw some mean hip checks. Skates well and he has a heavy slap shot. Is progressing well and will continue to get loads of ice time with the Knights