September 06, 2010
If recent trends continue, a scoring title might be in Kitchener Rangers sniper Jeff Skinner's future.
Any pseudo-mathematical way of predicting a league scoring champion in major junior hockey is, frankly, is beyond a sports blog-writin' guy. There is a bit of a track record with the Ontario Hockey League's top point producer over the past decade. (The Quebec and Western leagues, we'll get to those later on in the week.)
Four times in the past five seasons (and in five of the past 10), the OHL's scoring champ was a player in his age-18 season — including co-champion Taylor Hall last season, current New York Islanders forward John Tavares in 2008-09, and Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup hero Patrick Kane two seasons previous. Another four, as you might expect for a developmental league, were 19-year-olds, including a player on Skinner's current team, the Kitchener Rangers (Justin Azevedo in 2007-08), along with future Anaheim Ducks star Corey Perry in '04-05.
Only two 17-year-olds — including Boston Bruins bright young hope Tyler Seguin when he tied Hall last season — and one overager have led the league.
Based on that criteria, along with the fact the scoring champ(s) have come out of the Western Conference for six seasons shooting, it says Skinner is a frontrunner if the NHL's seventh overall pick returns from the Carolina Hurricanes. That's a big if. Let's just pretend he comes back, since there's a good photo for the post.
Hall, Perry, Tavares and Kane each managed to win the scoring title while missing close to a month to play in the IIHF world junior hockey championship, so Skinner could overcome the absence. Here are our 10 frontrunners, with a stick tap to OHL Prospects. It's assumed Seguin is headed to Boston, at least for long enough to keep him from piling up enough points in Plymouth.
Jeff Skinner, Kitchener Rangers
Skinner lit up last season (50 goals, 90 points, plus a 20-goal post-season) and, if putting himself in player-turned-personal trainer Gary Roberts' hands is any indication, should come back stronger and faster. Skinner has a sure-fire first-rounder in Gabriel Landeskog to skate with and could have Team USA standouts Jerry D'Amigo and Jeremy Morin as collaborators. Both 19-year-olds are on the bubble between junior and the AHL; the former could end up with the Rangers, and the latter's situation is a little more complex.
Taylor Beck, Guelph Storm
The Nashville Predators prospect was close last season (fourth with 93 points). Guelph might be one of the O's most underrated teams.
Greg McKegg, Erie Otters
It is not a question of whether putting a Toronto Maple Leafs draft choice on the list is a desperate way to gin up the page views — it's more a question of how desperate. McKegg made a great leap forward with a 37-goal, 85-point sophomore season and has some synergy with teammate Matt Cazzola, an 86-point man in his own right.
Matt Puempel, Peterborough Petes
How many players score more than 30 goals their first time out? Puempel, whom some feel is will be the first OHLer taken in the 2011 NHL draft, tallied 33 goals last season despite missing time to injury.
He is also looking forward to a full season of teaming up with two fairly high draft picks, Nashville first-rounder Austin Watson and Boston Bruins high second-rounder Ryan Spooner.
Tyler Toffoli, Ottawa 67's
It is a toss-up to include Toffoli, a Los Angeles Kings pick who had 79 points as a 17-year-old, or his teammate Ryan Martindale, who is more of a playmaker. Toffoli is the younger of the two, and already more productive.
The 67's (or the Soixies, as some Ottawa Sun sports deskers were wont to call them) will not be as ridiculously stacked as the Barrie Colts were last season. However, they have potential to get into a few shootouts. That's why they are the lone team represented twice on this list.
Christian Thomas, Oshawa Generals
The undersized New York Rangers draft choice put up numbers (41 goals, 66 points) on a struggling Gennies team last season.
Compared to last season, Stumpy's son has better top-end talent around him in the personages of Boone Jenner and Lucas Lessio, each of whom are fresh off helping Canada win the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament.
Joey Hishon, Owen Sound Attack
True, everyone was surprised when the Colorado Avalanche drafted him in the first round. However, Hishon has racked up points when healthy (121 points over 101 games the past two seasons). Owen Sound's expected improvement after missing the playoffs last season, albeit with a better record than four clubs in the East, could also raise his stock.Ethan Werek, Kingston Frontenacs
A reach? The Ethanator, a second-round pick of the Rangers in 2009, has made big strides throughout his first two OHL seasons, despite playing for the consistently inconsistent Fronts. Werek's size (listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds) makes him tough to stop, even in tight areas, and his stats will get a boost if Kingston head coach Doug Gilmour ever straightens out his team's power play, which was third-last in the 20-team league last winter.
Werek, 19, could have an overager on his line in right wing Nathan Moon, who is playing for his hockey future after the Pittsburgh Penguins put him back in the draft pool.
Andrew Agozzino, Niagara IceDogs
In the same vein as Werek. Agozzino (37 goals, 66 points in '09-10) could benefit from coming of age with a team which is collectively better, since Niagara is expected to climb up after finishing seventh.
Cody Lindsay, Ottawa 67's
Overagers often break out big-time, for the simple reality that like Russell Hammond from Stillwater, they're way past other juniors in ability.
Look no farther than another guitarist with mystique, former Barrie Colt Luke Pither, who finished third in the OHL with 94 points last season. Lindsay (82 points last season, 49 in his age-18 year) was more productive than Pither (72, 42 the season prior) at the same age. That's not definitive proof, but it shows what can happen.
(Image credits: OHL Images.)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.