100 games a season: Gare Joyce's puck blog

Just like being in the scouts' & press' lounge, without the bad coffee and day-old Timbits

Location: Toronto

I've written for ESPN The Magazine and espn.com the last five years. My work has made the "notable" list of the Best American Sports Writing seven times and won four Canadian National Magazine Awards. My most recent book is Future Greats and Heartbreaks: A Year Undercover in the Secret World of NHL Scouts. I've written three other sports books: When the Lights Went Out: How One Brawl Ended Hockey's Cold War and Changed the Game; Sidney Crosby: Taking the Game by Storm; and The Only Ticket Off the Island: Baseball in the Dominican Republic.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Much Aliu About Something: Sudbury Draft Enigma

So what do you do with Akim Aliu?
Pass him by, do you?
A scouting report by Dr Seuss,
Wouldn't be of much use.
Few in his year match him for skating,
Yet so many avow Akim-hating.


Okay, I'll stop.

Caught Sudbury's shoot-out win over Mississauga yesterday.

My favorite IceDog Stefan Legein was scratched with a suspension from a misconduct, so the draft eligible of interest was Akim Aliu, who is on CSB's second page of North American skaters but would be in the top 5 of his class in pure talent and potential. Aliu scored his twentieth goal Saturday and he grabbed your eye whenever he was on the ice. He was the first miss in a shootout marathon. His boarding penalty in the second set off a small melee and spurred a rally from an IceDog team that was down 4-1 and without a pulse. You can watch him skate all day--not for nothing did he win the skating competition at the Prospects game. He's physical--as big as he is, he carries a lot of speed into every check he finishes. Size, skill, flair, hockey instincts (like crashing the goal on the goal he scored) ... and questions. Yeah, questions from the dust-up with then team-mate Steve Downie, the supposed Canadian Hero, in Windsor.


Questions why it's 20 goals and not 40 (which seems within his reach). Questions like his intensity when his man scores Mississauga's first goal and he's left waving at him. There's lots to like about him as a prospect. (You know, 6-3 and 210 has a way of getting scouts to overlook stains on the reputation.) What do you do with him? I suspect somebody will gamble on him in the first round. He's a matter for further examination. And I can't imagine for the life of me Team Canada having a look at him next summer--even though as a citizen I can't imagine that Steve Downie is any better (and probably not as good).

The fine print .... Marc Staal had yer usual future All-Star type of game ... two years ago when I first saw him prior to the 05 draft I though he looked pretty gawky, unsteady, unsure on his skates but I sat with scouts who said that I had my head up my ass ... well, it has all come together now and they were quite correct ... Marc Staal's high end is Rob Blake, nothing less, a couple of rinklong rushes, a savvy handle back on the point ... can't really say what youngest Staal's game is, really don't know, but far less dynamic at the same stage than his older brothers ... saw highlight on Buffalo news of John Tavares (the lacrosse uncle, not the hockey nephew) score a nice goal for the Bandits ... goofy thing that JT-hockey isn't at the Canada Winter Games for Ontario team (evidently because he was on Team Ontario at last year u-17s and a repeat show would upset other players' parents, even though it would assuredly make Ontario more competitive/prohibitive favorite) ... IceDogs were advertising an upcoming appearance of Jason Spezza (with Bobbleheads and all) ... interesting because Spezza's relationship with the team was certainly strained at various points in time (with previous management) and was eventually traded to Windsor (and then Belleville) ...