This Saturday the IWP staff made a journey north to Erie, principally to see the widely-praised wunderkind Connor McDavid. Of course, the OHL offers much more than one star-in-the-making to draw a hockey fan in. The upbeat style of play, dynamic offenses, and excitable local crowds give a great atmosphere and character that can’t be replicated in sparkling new NHL arenas.
While I’m more personally invested in NCAA hockey (happy conference playoffs, by the way), the OHL is always captivating when I get an (all too infrequent) chance to attend games. The Erie Otters are no exception. Their home, the Erie Insurance Arena, is an aging barn (albeit with very visible signs of construction and renovation underway) but the pleasant crowd of 4,490 people got to see a great 5-4 overtime victory for the Otters. For some recaps, check out that link from the Otters, or this one from GoErie.
Connor McDavid (Erie, 2015 Draft Eligible) – McDavid was clearly the main attraction and it’s entirely absurd that he’s a full year younger than literally anybody else on the ice. He produced crisp passes, had fast-and-smooth skating, and a commanded great awareness of every play. Add in exceptional puck protection (he made plenty of Windsor d-men look silly behind the net), and a near constant stream of chance-generation (including a stretch that featured 3 in about 15 seconds)? And did I mention he only turned 16 in January? It’s hard to overstate how good he looked Saturday. If he keeps this up, some team is going to be very luck in June 2015.
Alexander Khokhlachev (Windsor, BOS 2011) – This is the second time our staff has seen Khokhlachev and he is, yet again, an absolute pleasure to watch. While McDavid is a more controlled, complete type of player, Khokhlachev is an immensely high-end offensive talent. He has explosive speed and unbelievable hands. Size might be a concern for the young skater to translate to the NHL (he seemed to get knocked down easily), but he’s not going to be held back on pure talent. Keep your eyes out for this kid.
Oscar Dansk (Erie, CBJ 2012) – Dansk was simply off all night long, but I’m not sure if we saw the real version of goalie. Occasionally (particularly later in the game) he was slow to recover from shots and spent down-time pushing down on his upper thighs/groin and stretching in his crease. I’m no doctor, but he looked physically uncomfortable. This might explain a fair amount of poor play: bad puck awareness, uncontrolled rebounds, and soft goals all night long. Here’s hoping that’s not really what Dansk is about.
Kerby Rychel (Windsor, 2013 Draft Eligible) – Rychel projects as a possible late first round pick, often touted for his physical edge. His performance in Erie hinted at the rest of his game, too. Yes, he was big and threw used his body, but he was quick and had reasonable hands for his size. He was especially fun to watch work with Khokhlachev on the ice.