Captain Aaron Ekblad weathered a rough start and a shaky finish to play a primary role in leading Team Orr to a 4-3 win at the 2014 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
Fresh off a four-goal, five-point effort against the Kingston Frontenacs, the Belle River, Ontario native contributed a pair of power-play assists and was able to showcase many facets of his all-around game.
Ekblad struggled early but was steadied by some reliable work from partner Alex Peters of the Plymouth Whalers, and rebounded with a standout effort in the second.
Peters, a native of Blyth, Ontario and the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Justin Peters, certainly raised his draft stock as well - after recently returning from a 17-game absence due to a leg injury.
Finnish import Julius Honka kept the second pairing for Team Orr afloat for two periods until sustaining an injury. Paired with Swift Current Broncos teammate Brycen Martin, the gifted Honka displayed his elite talents but also some worrisome issues that temper the package.
However, Martin couldn't seem to do anything right and earned a failing grade - as did Aaron Haydon of the Niagara IceDogs, who also laboured through an error-filled night.
Team Orr (WHITE) - Defence
Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie Colts (OHL) - Game Grade: 8.5
Ekblad had a few minor hiccups at game's start and game's end, ran around a bit when Reinhart and company were pressuring, but usually when he took a chance it was a smart decision. Played an all-around game, and showed capabilities on both the power play and penalty kill. Moved the puck well at both ends, see the ice well, plays an intelligent game. His skating is no longer a negative, he moves okay for his size. Very poised and confident. Good vision and smarts, not a ruffian, but competitive. Draft Ranking: Top 3.
Julius Honka, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL) - Game Grade: 7.5
Honka missed most of the third with an injury, but up until then was the glue that held the second pairing together with Martin. Showed poise and patience with the puck, and a smooth, natural skating stride. His one rush where he didn't take a full stride from center ice down around the net and back out to the blueline, all the while evading Reinhart and Fleury, was testament to his leg power and balance. He turned over the puck a couple of times trying to clear the zone and lost some puck battles, he will need to continue working on his defensive coverage, and gain more muscle. Draft Ranking: 10-15
Alex Peters, D, Plymouth Whalers (OHL) - Game Grade: 7.5
Peters was a stalwart defender the first 2 1/2 periods, but looked like he may have ran out of gas somewhat at the end when red pressed for the equalizer. Never hurts being paired with Ekblad, and they were unquestionably the most effective pairing on Team Orr. He skates well, decent quickness and agility, and reads the play adeptly. Don't be expecting a puck-carrying point producer, but he handled the puck adequately and made a decent outlet pass the majority of the time. He wasn't overly physical, threw one decent hit, but was the recipient of an even bigger one by Nick Ritchie. Looks to have shutdown potential, will need to add some muscle and use his size more assertively. Draft Ranking: 30-50
Ben Thomas, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL) - Game Grade: 6.5
Thomas tried a little too hard to make an impression in front of his home crowd in Calgary at times, and lacked the top-end speed to recover from his aggression. A smooth skater and satisfactory puck mover, Thomas will have to keep working on his speed, positioning, and puck skills. Brought no special dimension to his game, but when he played smartly he was effective for Team Orr. Draft Ranking: 30-50
Aaron Haydon, D, Niagara IceDogs (OHL) - Game Grade: 5.0
Haydon showed up to play, working hard, throwing hits and fighting Middleton at the end of the first period, but the skill level overwhelmed him throughout the contest. One thing you don't want to see is Haydon with the puck trying to outrace a Reinhart in his own end while holding the puck, because it will invariably turn out bad. Initiated several costly turnovers in his own end through poor choices, clunky puck skills and a lack of quickness. Has to keep it simple with safe plays...no attempts to rush the puck, no dangling, no brave pinches. Draft Ranking: 50-80
Brycen Martin, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL) - Game Grade: 4.0
Martin struggled more than any other defenceman to handle the speed and skill. He was caught pinching and flat-footed several times, leaving his team down a man on a dangerous rush. Lacked confidence as the game went on, hesitating and making the wrong decisions. Needs to work on his pivots and backwards skating, spends too much time chasing the play. Has to gain some weight and strength. Draft Ranking: 50-80