I interviewed Owen Sound assistant coach Al Letang this week in regards to his club’s three draft-eligible prospects. Here were his thoughts:
Nick Suzuki – “He’s been one of our best and most consistent players all year. He’s just such a smart, smart player. He can adapt to any game plan we try to put into place. It goes a long way…its pretty tough to teach hockey sense.
“In the huge games he’s one of those guys that steps up, he loves the big moments. That whole line (Suzuki, Jonah Gadjovich and Keven Hancock) has been so good all year. The three of them have great chemistry together. Staying after practice, working extra…it’s pretty fun to be around, pretty fun to work with them and help them get better. They’ve really fed off of ech other and they really complement each other so well.
“With his hockey sense, you’re not going to see him go in there to try to run guys over, but you don’t see him lose a puck battle in the corners, he’s so good at protecting the puck with his body. Putting his body in the right position to keep the puck away … Waiting for the d to make a move and then stripping him of the puck with his stick…we try to preach that type of stuff to all of our guys..we’re not the biggest team in the league..we tell them when a player exposes the puck…when you’re there and in position you can strip it and go the other way. All we really want is the puck on our sticks.
“You’re not going to see him going in the corner and pushing and trying to battle the guys that way….it’s the smarts and knowing how to use his body. His work ethic is excellent..off the ice he works hard and takes care of himself..he’s going to get bigger and stronger.
“Even with his skating..I’ve had guys comment on it not being that good…I haven’t seen him lose too many races for the puck. It’s not that he’s slow…he’s not going to be the fastest skater out there…but Nick is quick with anticipation and with that stick..so he gets to where he needs to go pretty effectively. The anticipation, all that stuff is there. He gets to where he needs to go.
“He’s scored a few goals from behind the goal area. He banks the puck off of a goalie or banks it off a defenceman…he’s sneaky that way..most guys wouldn’t even think that.
“We’ve seen him where he’ll come out of the corner..most goalies go down on that one knee and there’s an opening up by the goalie’s shoulder and he will shoot it there because he’s got that confidence and he’s got that accuracy. Most guys on the ice don’t think to try that.”
Jonah Gadjovich – “Sheer determination and hard work. He willed himself into being a player. We put him up with those guys with that line…you see him after practice, and he’s shooting hundreds of pucks every day, and he’s getting passes from us. He knows exactly where he need to be and scores goals, and he works on it every day. and his sense..if you don’t have hockey sense you can’t play with those other two guys…the team that drafts him …they tell him ‘we need you to go do this’, you know what, he will find a way to get better at it….that’s what I attribute to his success.
“He can make those plays. He’s deceivingly pretty fast, pretty quick. When he gets older, bigger, stronger, his strides is going to get a bit more powerful He’s not the guy that goes around, beats you one-on-one..but if he’s in a straight line with a couple of hard strides he surprises a lot of defencemen I find.
“We don’t see how he doesn’t go in the second round somewhere. That work ethic….a team tells him what he needs to work on you can guarantee that he’ll be working exactly on that. He’s all about getting better. He’s pretty lean, keeps himself in really, really good shape..he’s probably one of the toughest guys in the league too. There aren’t many that want to fight him.”
Markus Phillips – “I think he’s proven to a lot of guys that he can skate when you see what he did in the skating tests at the Top Prospects game. He carries a little bit of extra weight, but he’s in really good shape.
“He works very hard on the defensive part of the game, and that’s what I think he needs to continue to improve. I don’t think he’s the type of guy who is going to put up really big numbers offensively in the NHL or anywhere,..if his defence doesn’t improve then you could probably have him as your third offensive guy..so he needs to be more tenacious defensively..he’s big enough to go in the corner, and he’s not scared to go in there…but there’s times he doesn’t make the right play..he just needs to continue working on improving his positioning and defensive play…I think that’s what’s holding him back with a lot of scouts.
“His skating straight forward and straight back is decent..he’s got a quick release and pretty good hands..just needs to work on certain aspects of his game, like stepping up and stepping through a guy…he needs to gain that confidence…Instead of always trying to contain forwards, he’s got to learn to step up and cover the guy and turn the puck over and get pucks going the other way to play in the NHL.
“You’ve got to know where our players are on the ice. He doesn’t always look to see where everybody else is. Someone is going to take him for sure and work with him. In the last month with Jacob Friend injured he accepted more of a role with us where he’s had to play more of a defensive role …the last ten games he’s really really been good for us and logged a lot of minutes. He’s accepted that role and starting to understand what he needs to do.
“If he has a good playoff performance that will raise his stock. If he’s dialed in defensively everything else will take care of itself.”