''Hey, I'm the real deal, you hear?'' (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
No I didn't post this on the wrong site. I went down to Bathurst this afternoon to see the local Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League take on the league-leading Sea Dogs. You may know the captain of the Sea Dogs, a Mr. Zack Phillips, you know, the future Wild player. This was the second time I saw him in action, but the first time since he was drafted by the Wild in the 1st round (28th) of this summer's NHL entry draft. I thought I'd tell you how it went.
I think you're going to like the next words you read after the jump.
Zack Phillips is the total package.
First of all, before the game, the Sea Dogs were leading the league with a 21-6-0 record, despite having perhaps the best player of the league, Panthers draftee Jonathan Huberdeau, out due to injury since November 7th. Phillips was leading the way offensively with 14 goals and 24 assists in 22 games. He's the captain of the league-leading, highest scoring team in the league.
He played most of the game with Scott Oke and Ryan Tesink (Blues draftee). To put it in perspective, these guys probably aren't topline guys with 6 goals each before the game, but they aren't exactly slouches either. I have reason to believe these aren't Phillips' usual teammates, as he also spent some time with Red Wings draftee Tomas Jurco and the league's top goal scorer Danick Gauthier, especially on the powerplay.
In net for the Saint John Sea Dogs was backup Sébastien Auger. He had a 5-1-0 record despite 3.83 GAA and 0.861SV%. Safe to say, the Dogs score a lot.
The first period was basically all Sea Dogs, but there's one side of their game that clearly didn't work today: The special teams. They were HORRENDOUS. Especially the PK. The Titans scored 2 goals in 15 minutes... on their first two shots in the game... both on the powerplay... both by eventual first star of the game Alec Jon Banville... he of the 9 points in 22 games. (11 in 23 now). After those two goals however, the Zack Phillips show began.
He walked into the offensive zone, made a cute toe-drag, lifted the puck over the defender's stick ever so gently, went around the defenseman and made a picture-perfect pass to Ryan Tesink, who just needed to tap it in. My words can't even describe the beauty of Phillips' move on the defender. The first period ended 2-1 in favor of the Titan, who had been outshot 13-4. They had no business being in the lead. At all.
The second period went more in the Sea Dogs' direction, but mostly because of the display of horrible discipline by the Titan. The fans complained a lot at the refs, but they should've been directing those boos at the players. You can't be giving this many penalties to a team like the Sea Dogs. They made them pay twice, but they also got fooled once. I'll explain.
Tomas Jurco showed he has an NHL-quality shot after taking a feed from his captain, Phillips, and lasered home his 15th goal of the season, on the powerplay. The bad news however, is that that was the only PP goal they converted in NINE opportunities. Also, the Titan answered right back as Olivier Houle potted in his 2nd of the year. Zack Phillips would help the Sea Dogs tie the score again before the end of the period as he fed Ryan Tesink from the corner and he walked in, in front of the net and deked Titan goalie Jacob Brennan out of his jockstrap. The 2nd period ended in a 3-3 standoff. The Titan were being outshot 28-10! Brennan truly had an unsung performance for the Titans, he kept his team in it when they shouldn't have been. If you counted correctly, that's 3 assists for Phillips on 3 SJ goals. Three primary assists at that.
The third period was a whirlwind of penalties and goals. As if that wasn't enough, the Titan scored an insulting shorthanded goal. I say insulting because Titan player Mirko Hoefflin, (Blackhawks draftee) who quietly had a very nice game with a goal and 2 assists, made it 4-3 for the home team with a shorthanded goal. Sébastien Trudeau walked into the offensive zone with 3 guys on him, who all inexplicably stopped trying to stop him and this resulted in a 2 on 0 rush for the Titan. Trudeau passed it to the wide-open Hoefflin, who made no mistake for his 6th goal of the season. Embarrassing doesn't even describe the Sea Dogs' special teams in this game, who were 1 for 9 on the PP, 1 for 4 on the PK, with a shorthanded goal against. Yikes.
The exciting Tomas Jurco would score again however, on a Scott Oke rebound. Guess who got the secondary assist...Yup, Phillips. 4 assists on 4 goals. Amazing. Kevin Gagné gave the Sea Dogs their first lead of the game about 40 seconds later, beating Brennan 5-hole after Tesink bonked one off the post. The Titans would tie it once again after Zach O'Brien, long-time league leader in points, showed a beautiful display of strength, fighting off THREE checks, yet still walking in and beating rookie goalie Auger to even the score 5-5. It would stay 5-5 until the end, which meant overtime! The Titan scored 5 goals on 16 shots, but the goalie isn't really to blame. He received little help from his defense, who played quite poorly, not to mention the dreadful PK.
The OT was all Titan. They notched 6 shots on net, which is exactly as many as the entire 3rd period for them. Auger came up huge for the Sea Dogs though. Enough to get his team into the shootout.
Shootout went like this:
SJ: Gauthier, glove save by Brennan
BAT: O'Brien, whose goal made him 2nd in league goals with 23 and 2nd in league scoring with 45 deked Auger out of his crease! Ridiculous moves by O'Brien, who is having a hell of a year. He had a hat-trick last time I went to a Titan game this year. Also, O'Brien has ZERO penalty minutes this year. Wow. 1-Zip Titan
SJ: Phillips, he did that thing some skaters do when they shake the stick over the puck a zillion times without touching the puck, then tried to beat Brennan glove-side, but he ran out of room. Too many moves.
BAT: Trudeau, a few dekes, nice pad save by Auger.
SJ: Tesink, same as Trudeau, the third-to-last Titan beat the league-leading Sea Dogs to give them their first non-regulation loss of the season
Bathurst 6 - 5 Saint John (SO)
So, you know when I said Phillips was the total package, let's look at it this way:
Offense? Check. He's 3rd in the league with 28 assists (with 5 fewer games than leader Yanni Gourde, who has 32). He's also 5th in the league with 42 points in 23 games (again, 5 fewer games than leader Gourde, who has 48). He notched 4 assists in a losing cause and was quite likely put on a line with Tesink and Oke to distribute the scoring more evenly. He directly assisted on Tesink's 7th and 8th goal of the season. Simply put, Phillips makes the players around him better, which is great. He's also 3rd in team goals with 14. He had 3 shots on goal and almost put a puck into a gaping net, but Brennan jumped in just in time to rob him of a 5th point.
Defense? Check. The Titan scored 5 goals. Phillips was on the ice for, get this, none of them. When Phillips was on the ice, the puck was usually in the Titan's zone. While I didn't get much of a chance to see Phillips' d-zone play, sometimes the best defense is a good offense. He finished the night a +3, leading all skaters in that category. He also leads the team and the league with +26 on the season.
Hands? Check and check. That first assist was pure genius. He's silky smooth. His dekes were lightning-fast in the shootout, but he ran out of space. A few moves too many if you ask me, but he sure can handle the puck.
Strength? Check. He was very hard to take off the puck and wasn't afraid to throw the body. He destroyed a Titan along the boards, with many loud, obnoxious, wrong Titan fans clamoring for a penalty. They did this all night. I know I'm technically supposed to be a Titan fan, but I did not like the general feel of the arena. They're loud, sure. They're supportive, sure. That's all good. However, they need to learn what a penalty looks like. Not every hit in which a Titan falls is a penalty. Good lord. One even had a vuvuzela. Yeesh.
Leadership? Check. He's not the captain of the league's best team for nothing. The loss can not be blamed on him either, as he always found a way to put someone in the perfect opportunity to score. All 4 of his assists came on tying goals too. He did all he could. He's not afraid to show grit either, always in there when scrums occur. He can even drop the gloves if need be.
Potential? Check. He had a strong camp with the Wild and also did very well in the Traverse City Tournament, posting 2 points in 4 games, along with a +1. Many think the Wild got a steal at 28. Many also believe he was a result of Huberdeau and Jurco. First of all, he wasn't playing with Jurco last year. Second of all, he's proving right now that he doesn't need Huberdeau to produce. Of course, if Huberdeau weren't injured, you could bet on them being 1-2 in the league. While the Sea Dogs are STACKED (9 NHL-drafted players, 5 were drafted this year), Phillips, along with Huberdeau and Nathan Beaulieu (Habs prospect), is one of the prize gems of the QMJHL. Think of the Huberdeau-Phillips duo as the Sidney Crosby - Evgeni Malkin duo of the QMJHL. Phillips is Malkin.
When we at HW analyzed the players the Wild could target at #10 for last summer's draft, we mentionned Zack Phillips. Boy, were we ecstatic when Fletch got to draft him a full 18 spots later! 4 assists tonight, 3 assists the last time I saw him. There's nothing that can tell us, however, if all this will translate well into pro hockey, be it AHL or NHL, but he sure showed flashes during the preseason, and he's dominating as a junior.
I'm sold on this guy. I'm excited, you should be as well.