A couple of disclaimers before I get into evaluating players from last night’s exhibition game against Vancouver:
- These are my opinions. Everyone is entitled to their own and we may feel differently about certain players.
- This is one game; every player has bad nights and good nights, and it isn’t right to sum up a career based on one game.
- The competition here was not NHL-quality.
Now that I’ve gotten those out of the way, let’s make carved-in-stone judgments on the future of a bunch of players based on last night’s game.
Hans Benson—Knows his role and isn’t shy about jumping in. He fought Rob Davison to a draw and attacked Mason Raymond after the latter took a shot at Gagner. I’m not at all convinced that he’s an upgrade fighting-wise on Stortini.
Erik Cole—Seemed very aware in the slot region; he finds open spaces quickly when that’s the right decision, and he battles well in front of the net when called for. He took abuse there last night and stood up to it without showing any quit. He has very good speed and seems to know where to be offensively but doesn’t have high-level skills with the puck. He also seems to read Hemsky well, at lest five-on-five, but I wasn’t impressed with his performance on the power-play.
Sam Gagner—I wasn’t following him but he’s a very difficult player to miss. To my eye he was cheating to offence and he was clearly the catalyst with Pouliot/Schremp at both even-strength and on the power-play. MacTavish subbed him in for Pisani on the checking line, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if that happens from time to time during the season.
Ales Hemsky—Hemsky really wasn’t on the same level as the other players out there tonight; offensively, only Sam Gagner looked to be in the same league as him. A very, very smart player and he gets a ton of respect on the power-play (although Willie Mitchell did a good job playing him tightly at some points).
Shawn Horcoff—I didn’t focus in on him, but he played an effective game and looked pretty good, especially five-on-five. I was surprisingly ambivalent about his power-play performance, and I imagine he must have been embarrassed when Kyle Wellwood blew by him with the puck.
Ryan O’Marra—O’Marra didn’t get much ice-time, but honestly he didn’t deserve any more than he got. No chance that he makes this team. He’s got enough size, but the savvy is lacking at this point.
Dustin Penner—Penner had a great game. Early on he looked a little tentative in his own zone, but it didn’t take long for him to embrace his role; he had an active stick all night and got involved physically. He looked very good in the offensive zone (at one point, he tossed Alexander Edler to one side while moving with the puck at speed). He was also surprisingly dominant killing penalties, along with Marc Pouliot, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he gets some duty there this season.
Fernando Pisani—Very, very cerebral player, and I doubt that he has difficulty adjusting to centre if MacTavish decides to permanently employ him there. He does a great job gaining the offensive zone, and knows exactly where he should be. He also looked strong and healthy, even bulling his way through defenders at certain points. On the flip side of things, he did have a couple of miscues in the defensive zone and didn’t look great paired with Gagner on the penalty-kill.
Marc Pouliot—He’s a very nice complementary player. His passing skills are top-drawer and he was ridiculously effective playing short-handed with Dustin Penner. He looked like a very well-rounded player and seems to deserve a spot with the big club this season.
Liam Reddox—Reddox looked exactly like what he is: an AHL player. He’s all kinds of willing and was very engaged, but he isn’t big enough to be effective in the role that he’s trying to play. His offensive game was probably hampered by his linemates (Benson and O’Marra), but he didn’t seem to know what he was doing in the offensive zone and he made a bunch of sloppy passes to boot. Didn’t look good killing penalties with Horcoff either.
Rob Schremp—He has improved his skating but he still looked a half-step behind most of the competition. I couldn’t fault his effort tonight; he was engaged physically and showed that he was doing everything he could to stand out, even getting in on the fore-check. He had a good passing game as well, in point of fact I thought he would have been more effective if he’d been a little more selfish with the puck. Missed a pass from Garon at one point when he fell down (John Garret was all over him for that, go figure), but on the whole he really looked like an NHL-calibre player to me. That’s something I’ve never said about Schremp before.
Taylor Chorney—Easily the worst defenseman on the team last night. On the bright side, I could see his potential offensively and he doesn’t panic with the puck, but that’s about all I can say for him. He didn’t engage physically, and he made poor decisions in his own zone (as highlighted by his ill-advised attempt at bringing the puck in front of his own net for a goal against). Even against marginal competition he didn’t look like a competent defender. Reminded me of Danny Syvret.
Theo Peckham—Peckham was much better than I expected. He played a controlled game in his own zone and was much calmer with the puck than I remember. He was aware pretty much all night, although he did have some trouble with his speedier opposition.
Ladislav Smid—Smid looked both steadier and stronger than I remember. Pinched in more than he did last season, although his shot is still non-existent. In the defensive end he was largely a safe player, and made me smile once when he drove Jeff Cowan into the side of the net.
Sheldon Souray—Souray was the best defenseman on the ice for either team last night, and he had some decent competition (Mitchell, Ohlund, Visnovsky). He doesn’t have a good first step but he can skate once he gets going. He played a simple, effective game defensively and threw some punishing hits, to boot. That’s without even mentioning his shot, which is a thing of beauty.
Steve Staios—If Staios plays like he did last night, it’s going to be a long season. Twice made bad passes in his own zone under minimal pressure that resulted in turnovers (Cowan and Kesler), and looked like he was trying to do too much. Balanced against this is that he made some good passes as well (he sent Gagner in alone for his goal) and did a nice job without the puck.
Lubomir Visnovsky—He’s smaller than I remember. He had a ton of trouble all night handling size and wasn’t always where he needed to be in his own zone; Gilbert’s going to have fun covering for him. That said, his offense was as advertised; he’s a good skater and calm with the puck, plus he can make moves in no space and looks very smart everywhere past the red line.
That’s what I saw. I was forced to listen to John Garret and Don Taylor do play-by-play, and was reminded why Taylor isn’t allowed to do this sort of thing on a regular basis (“He’s [Smid] got a really good shot”, “I’d use Souray in the shootout”). On the Canucks end of things, Matt Pettinger had a very nice game and looks reinvigorated, while Kyle Wellwood was better than I expected but is obviously a one-way player. Willie Mitchell, Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond are all going to be irritating to play against this season.
—Jonathan Willis: man, or astro-man? You decide. Check him here or at Copper and Blue.