I’m a little late to this weekend’s Hitmen/2015 draft wrap, and I’m sorry for that. Canadian Thanksgiving, and all its delicious turkey and stuffing and gravy are very much to blame for the delay. The delay ends now though–much like Brandon’s unbeaten season ended Sunday.
Let’s start there, since it was the most intriguing matchup for a lot of reasons. As mentioned, Brandon were unbeaten (in regulation) before Sunday’s trip to the Dome, making them a strong test for the still-kinda-scuffling Hitmen. They also brought some exciting prospects with them, which pro and amateur draftniks alike were thankful for. Central Scouting’s watch list includes three Wheaties skaters and a goalie. Although the Hitmen won 6-2, the game was nowhere near that lopsided and each of the listed Wheaties left strong impressions.
We’ll start with forward Jesse Gabrielle. Listed as a third liner, Gabrielle is currently tied for second in scoring for the high-octane Wheaties, outpacing highly-touted 2014 picks John Quenneville and Reid Duke (who doubles as a big-time in-season acquisition). Gabrielle used his size effectively, hounding Calgary’s smallish defenders all afternoon, and playing pest perfectly against a team known for taking too many penalties (more on this in a moment).
The real draw for this club are a pair of defencemen whose names you should start getting to know: Ryan Pilon and Ivan Provorov. With nine and eight points respectively, this dynamic duo are making their mark in the offensive zone as well as at home along the blue line. Pilon’s own-zone coverage appeared more polished than Provorov’s, and Pilon looked a little more comfortable with the physical game (not that Provorov was any shrinking violet–he mixed it up plenty). Central Scouting lists both as B players. Their rankings should improve if Brandon continues to have success. Neither looks ready to jump directly into the NHL, leaving the Wheaties blue line in good shape this season and next (it’s obviously folly to try to handicap the 2015-16 season while we’re still figuring out this season, but a lot of smart folks are already penciling Brandon in as favourites to head to Red Deer in 2016).
Last among Brandon’s listed players is goaltender Jordan Papirny, a second-time eligible goaltender. Papirny was better Sunday than the scoreline would indicate (an empty netter and a 59th-minute goal padded Calgary’s totals), and while it’s unlikely he’ll play his way into the first round, he’ll make a nice prospect that some team can bring up slowly through the ranks.
That was a lot of words about the team I dislike the most in the Dub. So here’s a little about the good guys. It’s time for a shout-out to Chase Lang. When Lang came to the Hitmen, he looked like a little kid in his dad’s clothes, and while he’s still not quite filled out his uniform, he’s grown in leaps and bounds on the ice. Langer hit the post roughly 75 times last season, but did so many unheralded things (almost always making the right pass, winning lots of key faceoffs in both ends, working his tail off, and killing penalties) the Minnesota Wild took a chance on him in the sixth round of June’s draft. Already, he’s beginning to look like a steal. His puck-luck has come around, and he’s tied for second in the league with seven goals, leads the Hitmen in points, and has effectively taken over the job as number one centre.
On the prospect front, Terrell Draude was left off CSS’s preliminary list, which must have been disappointing for the former second-round WHL pick and Canadian U-17 representative. In the last three or four Hitmen home games, he’s been making a strong case to land on someone’s draft list. In eight games this season, he’s already eclipsed his meagre seven point output in 47 games last season, albeit playing significantly more minutes and with better linemates than he had last season. His skating is a work-in-progress, but appears to have improved from even three weeks ago, and his decision making has improved to the point he’s occasionally been rewarded with second-line (and first powerplay) time.
Earlier in the weekend, Calgary hosted Victoria and dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker. Victoria’s Tyler Soy was named the game’s first star after scoring a goal and an assist in the Royals’ comeback victory. Soy showed an impressive first step both with and without the puck, often needing just a stride of two to get to top speed–or evading defenders with one very good first step.
After seeing Austin Carroll’s hit on Alex Schoenborn (stick tap to @hawkeyblog for the vid)…
…and seeing him level Connor Rankin with a similar hit Friday night, it’s beginning to seem obvious this is a player who plays beyond the line. I disagree with hawkeyblog’s assessment that having more goons around will help to eliminate this garbage, but I wholeheartedly agree that it needs to go. I’ll never fully understand how Carroll escaped suspension. The league needs to get serious about penalizing these incidents as they happen, and then handing out supplementary discipline.
And speaking of discipline, let’s get around to that point about the Hitmen and penalties. Calgary allowed two powerplay goals in the third period against Victoria, en route to blowing a 2-0 lead after two. They’ve been shorthanded 36 times already, through eight games, including five different 5-on-3 situations. It’s the same old song in Calgary, as the team just can’t stay out of the penalty box. They were shorthanded just three times Sunday against Brandon, and in a close game, they were able to score an insurance goal in the third instead of spending time killing penalties.