The Ottawa 67’s were banking on beating the Hamilton Bulldogs this afternoon in their final regular-season game to avoid a unsavory matchup with the red-hot, high-flying Mississauga Steelheads, and for two periods it looked promising as Ottawa clung to 1-0 lead thanks in large part to the standout play of goalie Leo Lazarev, who turned aside 19 shots.
The Bulldogs kept coming though, and in the third period netted three unanswered goals to finish the season on a winning note even if it proved inconsequential, as Kingston also won to nail down fourth place and home-ice advantage in their first-round playoff matchup versus Hamilton.
Hamilton’s three draft-eligible prospects did nothing to convince the scouts in attendance that the second or third rounds isn’t where they should be slotted for the 2017 NHL entry draft.
When you watch Mackenzie Entwistle at this point of the season you do wonder how he started the season with seven goals in nine games, as he has zero offensive confidence right now. He didn’t even come close to a scoring chance besides one weak shot on goal. The first time I saw him in Ottawa this season he looked like a candidate for the top 20, the second-time he looked like a 30-40 prospect, now he looks more like a player who is destined to be selected at the end of the second round.
Not that there aren’t things to like about the 6-3 center – he’s good on draws, very smart and conscientious defensively, competitive, and a strong skater in a straight line with a long stride. When Hamilton had to kill a 5-on-3 he was on the ice, and created enough havoc to draw a penalty to quell the strong scoring opportunity.
Entwistle looks like a strong candidate to be a checking-line forward some day, whether it will be as a center or a winger remains to be seen as some scouts think he’ll be more effective on the wing in the pros, but with his smarts, size, and defensive awareness in addition to prowess in the faceoff circle, there’s no reason why the team that drafts him can’t be optimistic that some day he’ll compete for a third-line center role, and that makes him a worthy candidate to be selected somewhere in the 40-50 range come draft day.
Much like Entwistle, the first time I saw Matthew Strome in Ottawa this season there were visions of him being a top-20 selection in June, but closer inspection revealed that there were some skating issues that needed to be addressed, and the more he was watched, the more apparent it became that the 6-3 left winger would be hard pressed to be selected in the first round even if he was putting up good numbers.
Strome is a smart winger with good hands who protects the puck well and has a hard accurate shot, so the team that drafts him will be hoping the skating can improve enough for him to fill a top-nine role in the NHL someday. The skating is a major concern however, and there was a good example today of just how far he needs to come when he had a clear-cut breakaway chance until he was caught, and ended up with a penalty shot chance which he was unable to convert.
The other concern is the lack of competitiveness considering he is one of the bigger players in the OHL. You would like to see him go into the corners with a surly attitude more often and use his size to gain advantages instead of relying on his stick skills and savvy.
Alas that is not his game, so the hope will be that he can improve his skating enough to challenge for a scoring role at the NHL level – and that remains to be seen. I expect Strome to get picked somewhere between 30-45 in the draft.
Marian Studenic has the skating skllls that both of the other Bulldogs’ prospects – especially Strome – wish they possessed. He has good quickness edges and lateral agility that enable him to create scoring chances on most nights.
What Studenic lacks however is Strome’s instincts/hockey sense, and while he was able to create scoring chances with his skating and had four shots on net, he’s not nearly as creative or able to protect the puck as well as his big teammate, in large part because he is three inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter.
Studenic had a 12-game stretch late in the season where he averaged a point-per-game and there was some hope that he was finally getting acclimated to the North American game, but at the end of the day he ended the season with just 30 points, and that will likely deter NHL teams from considering him in the top three rounds.