Thursday, January 24, 2008

What's wrong with Tyler Ennis

Another thought from the TPG last night...

First of all, fans often make too much of how much impact a good or bad Top Prospects Game performance can have on a player's stock. But there can be some important subtle clues that will move a player on teams' lists.

The best case in point from last night's game was Tyler Ennis. By this time in the season, scouts have seen plenty of Ennis and have a good read on what he is. And surely there's a lot to like about his game despite his very smallish size. Even on our rankings, he is knocking on the door of the first round.

But no matter how many of Medicine Hat's regular season games a scout sees this season, he won't get a better chance to evaluate Ennis' ability to beat above-average skating defencemen with his moves than in the Top Prospects Game. No WHL team boasts a one through six defensive corp that can skate like Team Red. So Ennis' agility and speed were put to the toughest test of the season last night.

We've seen Ennis turn plenty of WHL defencemen into pretzels this season - even some of the better defencemen struggle to contain him. But against such mobile blueliners as Del Zotto, Doughty, etc., Ennis really struggled. And these are the type of defencemen that Ennis will have to try beat every shift at the next level, either the AHL or the NHL.

Now it's not such a poor showing that would drop Ennis completely out of the first two rounds. But it's enough of a clue to scouts about his future in pro hockey that NHL teams may drop him a few spots on their lists. And that could be enough to keep him from being a high second round pick (say 30-35) to perhaps later in the 2nd (45-60th overall).

Top Prospects Game Notes

A few random thoughts from last night's TPG here in Edmonton...

Undoubtedly Brandon defenceman Colby Robak will be the biggest riser. He's almost certainly vaulted himself into the first round with his play here last night. After about the fourth terrific tape-to-tape pass from his own end, you could see several scouts turning to look at each other, saying nothing, just raising an eyebrow. That's scouting body language for "wow, does he look good here."

Kelowna defenceman Tyler Myers will also be a riser, but then again, he was probably always going to be a lottery pick just based on his size and skating. But as someone who's seen plenty of Myers' regular season games this year, I can tell you that this was by far the best game Myers has played this season. He kept it simple with the puck and showed a lot more physical ability defending the rush than I've seen from him before.

Guelph defenceman Drew Doughty had the worst game of any of the 40 players. Part of that is how high expectations were on the consensus #2 overall, so perhaps he had more to lose. But I doubt he'll drop very far on many teams' lists. He's the case in point for the claim that a single bad game at the TPG doesn't necessarily kill your status for the draft.

None of the goaltenders looked real impressive, but scouts will discount that a bit as this game was a tough test for all of them. Most striking to me was my first look at Saint John's Swiss netminder, Robert Mayer. There isn't enough mustard in the world to cover that hot dog. Despite an underwhelming game, I came away impressed with his athleticism and condfidence in net.

Other quick notes...

Colten Teubert: couldn't you have had a better game in front of my boss? Now I'm going to have to really argue on your behalf to keep you as high in the rankings as I'd like.

Jyri Niemi: Was slightly worried about his skating before, but now I'm very worried. Those pivots are going to have to improve.

Mikhail Stefanovich: More dynamic and a better playmaker than I expected. Figured him for a solo-effort guy but he was terrific finding teammates on the rush.

Philip McRae: Really strong defensively. A pleasant surprise. But good defensive forwards in junior never turn out to be the big shutdown third liners in the NHL. Look at all the top defensive forwards in the show and you'll see they were big time scorers in junior.

Geordie Wudrick: Nice to see what he looks like with some solid linemates. I know Stamkos can make any winger look good, but Wudrick really showed some good speed and willingness to go to the net.

Jordan Eberle: Could be that only Stamkos has a better shooting touch among these 40 players. If he had picked the corner on that sharp-angle shot in the third (he just missed), that would have been the prettiest goal in the game.

Brandon McMillan: My boss asked me three times why McMillan was here instead of Joel Broda. I still don't have an answer.

Steven Stamkos: My first look. Everything as advertised. Skating is truly spectacular. Can't imagine anyone else is going to steal the #1 overall spot from him.

Drew Doughty: Thicker build than even the 6-0.5/219 stats suggest. Despite an awful time with the puck, was a beast along the boards.

Zach Bogosian: I see what every one is talking about. Every NHL scout I talk to thinks they like him more than everyone else. Which should translate to being the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th overall pick.

Chris Doyle: Can't skate. That's it.

Zach Boychuk: Have been a bit nervous about our ranking him between 10 and 15 on our list all season. Definitely not nervous after last night.

Mitch Wahl: I think I saw him go into the slot once. Which is one time more than I usually see him in WHL games.

Cody Hodgson: One of my new favorites. Just oozes leadership. Think Dave Gagner from last year. Is the guy that will go out of the top 5 that by this time next year several teams drafting ahead of where he goes will have wished they picked him.

Jared Staal: Did not belong in this game. Sometimes your name gets you places you shouldn't be.

Yann Sauve: Surprisingly physical. Excellent strength despite smallish size. Played with a lot of grit.

Michael Del Zotto: Terrific skater. A couple of his early shifts were shaky, but he got better as the game went.