October 22, 2010

Prospect Game Review: Manitoba at North Dakota

Any of you who know my posts from Islander Mania should already be familiar with my game reviews, which I've been writing up for a couple years now. This will be the one that kicks off the reviews for the blog, which will see a lot of these over its lifetime. Tonight, it's a contest that involves not one, but two Isles prospects: Jason Gregoire and Brock Nelson, both of North Dakota. The two players are at different points in their college careers; Nelson's a freshman trying to find his niche, whereas Gregoire is a returning junior who led the team in scoring last season and figures to be the leader of the team.

North Dakota took this one 5-2, an easy win for them in their own building as they tune up for a difficult conference schedule. Manitoba found themselves outclassed, mainly because North Dakota had the superior talent on the ice.

Isles Prospects (2 players)

Jason Gregoire (3rd round, 2007): I went so long without seeing him play that I forgot how damn good he actually is. My ranking of #15 was simply far too low for him, even in a system with this kind of depth; by the end of this season, he could crack the top five. Gregoire factored into the first three Sioux goals, scoring the second on a beautiful setup from Derek Forbort (more on him later). He had two assists as well, and his domination was not limited to statistics. He was tenacious on the forecheck, great on the PK, and making the smart play every time he had the opportunity. With and without the puck, he had a tremendous game. He was awesome last season, and he's only getting better. He was named Player of the Game by the Sioux's broadcasting network afterward, and for good reason.

As for Gregoire's future, I originally had him pegged as third line type. I think I underestimated him by a pretty long margin. Forward-looking as this may be, I think Gregoire can become the perfect complement to a guy like Tavares: he's defensively responsible, his improved skating makes him a pretty speedy player, and he has goal-scorer's hands. He's always in the right place at the right time, and he's willing to both (a) go to the dirty areas and (b) take the hit to get a quality shot on net. Keep an eye on him moving forward-- he's the real thing. He's been a cinch for an ELC since his freshman year, but the only question now is when.

Brock Nelson (1st round, 2010): This is my first full-game viewing experience of Brocko, the Isles' second first-round pick this past draft who I ranked #23 overall in the organization. I got a glimpse of his repertoire at prospect camp in July, and we had a pretty interesting conversation about his upcoming start at UND. Brock had a few good moments this game, but he's a freshman getting 4th line minutes, so there's not much to judge on right now. He had an assist in this one, a secondary helper on a power-play goal. He's already great on the forecheck, a product of his really good skating for his size. He's noticeably larger than everyone else on the ice, even Forbort. Considering he gets minimal time on special teams, it was tough to get a feel for his ability to do anything other than forecheck and backcheck. I'll have an eye on his development as the season moves forward.

Other Players

Brad Malone (4th round, 2007, Colorado): He's improved slowly but steadily for all three years I've seen him play at UND. He's a senior now, and he'll probably get signed by Colorado. He's Ryan Malone's cousin and plays with a pretty similar style. He had a very good-looking goal on a beautiful feed from Matt Frattin (more on him later).

Derek Forbort (1st round, 2010, Los Angeles): A total beast. Forbort was my second-favorite defenseman from this past draft behind the incomparable Cam Fowler, and he confirmed why this evening. He was all over the place, factoring into three UND goals while dominating in his own end against Manitoba. He has incredible skating skills for his size, and his puckhandling and vision are off the charts. Keep in mind that he's only a freshman, and he'll be playing on the same blue line with Drew Doughty within two years. Scary thought.

Ben Blood (4th round, 2007, Ottawa): OK player, but I'm not sure if he's NHL material. Contributes in all situations as far as I saw, but not particularly noticeable. Ottawa may or may not sign him to an ELC depending on their organizational depth. This is my third year viewing Blood, who's now a senior, and he's only made a little bit of progression since the first time I saw him. It's possible that he could make the jump to the AHL successfully, but that'll be for the Senators to judge.

Matt Frattin (4th round, 2007, Toronto): I have to admit that Toronto has done a good job in the later rounds recently. Jerry D'Amigo was a money pickup for them in the sixth round, and this kid Frattin looks like a find as well. He plays the point on PP1 for UND, where he thrives, and he also does really well as a playmaking winger in other situations. He's very speedy, and he's always a threat to create something on offense when he enters the zone. He's come a long way since his sophomore year, and I think Toronto will be happy to add him to the system after the year is up.

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