Last season the Mississauga IceDogs
represented the Eastern Conference in the OHL finals against the Guelph Storm,
and although star center Patrick
O’Sullivan had quite a lot to do with the team’s success, the 2003-04
IceDogs had a number of veterans and even rookies (including Panthers
goaltender David Shantz) who proved
to be a strong and complimentary group of players.
A large portion of that team is gone
now, including fellow Wild prospect Ryan
Stokes, who started the season in the ECHL playing with the Pensacola Ice
Pilots. With the loss of veterans it was logical to see that O’Sullivan now
wears the captain’s C on his chest, and whether he knows it or not he has more
weight on his shoulders than the average leader of a team. Through trade and
other signings the IceDogs have a number of capable supporters surrounding
O’Sullivan, but how successful the 2004-05 team is will depend in very large
part on how O’Sullivan and Shantz play throughout the year.
Right out of the gates both players
have answered the call, and O’Sullivan has responded well to captaincy. His
conditioning and skills seem to have somehow surpassed the level he exhibited
at the end of last season. The main reason O’Sullivan is even back with the
IceDogs instead of with the AHL Houston Aeros is the NHL lockout, and his play
so far in the OHL this season has him standing out among peach-fuzzed
teenagers. His puck control, skating, and play making improvements are
especially noteworthy. IceDogs’ coach Greg Gilbert apparently recognizes the
commodity he has at his disposal and has been playing O’Sullivan on multiple
line combinations, power play, and penalty-killing, all in an apparent effort
to get the 19-year-old as much ice time as possible.
As of the end of October, O’Sullivan
was second only to London’s Corey Perry in scoring in the OHL, racking up 11
goals and 18 assists in 14 games while leading the IceDogs to an 8-3-2-1
record. Their 19 points was third best in the OHL as of October 31st. Second
place Brampton Battalion, who also leads the ‘Dogs in the Central Division, has
22 points, while the IceDogs have three games in hand on them.
Throughout his junior career,
O’Sullivan has been a goal scorer first and foremost, but last season that
began to change somewhat as the season wore on and he made big playmaking
improvements when a shoulder injury made it difficult for him to keep his shot
velocity up. So far in 2004-05 O’Sullivan is second in assists and sixth in
power play assists in the OHL, whereas last year he only appeared on goal
scoring OHL leader boards, an area he still holds strong in this season.
Through the end of October he was fifth overall in goals and tied for first in
short handed goals with two. Not only that, but his plus/minus rating of +13 is
third best in the league.
In his three complete seasons in the
OHL, O’Sullivan averaged 59 games played per season (WJC, injury, and coach
punishments account for his missed appearances), and with his current pace of
just over two points per game he would be projected to end up with 122 points
on the season. His previous scoring best was his rookie season when he was
named the OHL and CHL rookie of the year with 92 points in 68 games played. The
boost in point production this season can, in large part, be attributed to O’Sullivan’s
increased rate of gathering assists. He has a mark of 1.29 assists per game
thus far, whereas in the past he’s always hovered around .80 assists per game.
His recent efforts resulted in his
second OHL player of the week award in three weeks on October 31st. He was also named by USA Hockey as one of
eight returning players to their World Junior team. The IIHF tournament will begin December 25th, 2004 and
is to take place in North Dakota and Minnesota.
If there’s been one knock against
the Winston-Salem, NC native throughout his career it’s that his attitude and
discipline has held him back and landed him in coach’s doghouses too often.
O’Sullivan’s attitude has improved slowly over time and he appears to be much
more mature on the ice than in the past; however he has also slipped back into
his former pattern of behavior on at least one occasion this season.
On October 15th the
IceDogs were playing host to the division rival Toronto St. Michael’s Majors
and at the end of the first period the home team held a 2-0 lead. O’Sullivan
had scored shorthanded on a beautiful shot from the slot and earlier in the
period Majors’ goalie Justin Peters
(CAR) had made an excellent save on an equally excellent shorthanded breakaway
move by O’Sullivan. At the end of the first period the ‘Dogs were in complete
control of the game and playing well with O’Sullivan leading the way. About
halfway through the second period the momentum began to shift towards the
Majors side and with two goals less than a minute and a half apart, including a
short handed tally of their own, they’d tied the game. O’Sullivan and all of
the IceDogs began to play with indecisiveness and, eventually, frustration.
Near the end of the second O’Sullivan tried in vain to get something started
offensively but couldn’t, and when he skated into the Majors zone without the
puck Majors’ defenseman Scott Lehman (ATL)
pestered him with his stick unmercifully, but within legal limits. When that
offensive drive was broken up and the puck cleared, O’Sullivan was the last to
vacate the Majors’ zone and on his way out he cross-checked Lehman’s defensive
partner, apparently mistaking him for Lehman, and took what would turn out to
be a costly penalty.
Those who have seen O’Sullivan play
in the OHL over the years have witnessed him become frustrated with the extra
attention a skilled player receives from opponents on countless occasions, but
this particular incident against the Majors came off as worse than just a
selfish penalty with the ‘C’ now sewn on his jersey. Within the first minute of
the third, on the power play that O’Sullivan created, the Majors scored the
go-ahead goal and never looked back while O’Sullivan continued to react to the
Major’s instead of controlling play as he is capable of doing.
O’Sullivan has been a part of 29 of
the 52 goals the team has scored so far this season and, so it is with any
star, the target on him is even larger this season because teams know that if
they can knock him off his game the IceDogs’ offense shrivels up for the most part.
He has 32 minutes in penalties in those 14 games and will need to better focus
on avoiding retaliation penalties in the future.
Occasional setbacks aside,
O’Sullivan appears completely ready for the next step, and should even be a
valued contributor when he makes the jump to pro, whenever that might be.
Other Wild Player Notes
Defenseman Clayton Stoner missed the first 11 games of the season for the WHL
Tri City Americans with a knee injury but he made his season debut on October
29th a memorable one for the Amerks, garnering an assist and scoring
the game winning goal in overtime to give the team a 3-2 win over the Everett
Silvertips. Then he did it again the very next day, assisting on a power play
goal in the third that tied the game, and then scoring the winner early in the
overtime session. Those two
performances earned Stoner the WHL player of the week honor and vaulted him up
to sixth in Amerks scoring where he is surrounded on the score sheet by players
who have played ten or more games than him.
Right wing Mathieu Melanson is at a cool point per game pace through the end
of October in the QMJHL. He had 9 goals and 9 assists in 18 games with the
Quebec Remparts, putting him at 27th in the league in scoring.
Defenseman Jean-Michel Bolduc played the first 7 games of the season for
Rimouski of the QMJHL and had 2 goals and 1 assist before breaking a thumb that
has kept him out of the line up since October 1st. Like Stoner, he
had a great start to the season, scoring two goals including the game winner in
the team’s opener (and he still only managed to be the second star behind Sidney Crosby). Bolduc should return to
the Oceanic lineup in the next two weeks. He was one of five Rimouski players
to be tabbed recently to represent the QMJHL Selects in exhibition play against
Russia later in November.
Another player felled by injury is
the Wild’s, Mikko Koivu, who played in just one game for the
AHL Houston Aeros. Koivu scored his first North American goal in the opening
game of the season, and then missed the following game before having an
appendectomy on October 18th. He’s expected to be out until late
Brent “Slash” Burns had an excellent start to 2004-05 in his bid to become Wild
coach Jacques Lemaire’s favorite offensive defenseman, netting 2 goals and 3
assists in 7 games played. The unexpected change in his career trajectory of
returning to defense is still in its infancy, but its progress should be as
interesting to watch as the unfortunate mop he is currently sporting on his
head. Burns was tied for 12th in the AHL in defensive scoring on
October 31st and fourth on the Aeros.
Goaltender Josh Harding began his pro career in mediocre but acceptable fashion with the
Aeros. He played in five games, one more than Stars goaltending partner Mike Smith, and had a better goals
against average (2.67) and save percentage (.896) than Smith, but had only 1
win to Smith’s 3. Harding’s GAA was 21st in the league through to
the end of October.
A.J. Thelen had a goalless start to his
season, but his 5 assists topped Michigan State in helpers and tied him for
third on the team in overall scoring and sixth overall for all CCHA defensemen.
In the WCHA, University of Minnesota
right wing Danny Irmen was tied for
ninth in scoring for both the conference and overall leader boards on October
31st. He’s second in scoring for the team, and the hard working sophomore
really looks to be coming into his own as a capable all-around forward.
Finally, left wing Roman Voloshenko of the Soviet Wings is
off to a good start in the High League in Russia where he had 7 goals and 2
assists through the first 12 games, placing him at third on the team in
scoring. NHL veteran Alexander Korolyuk leads the Wings scoring with 18 points.
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the