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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Are Houser, Harrington and Griffith taking a back seat to Namestnikov ?

In short, the answer is yes. That's not to say the 3 draft eligible players are not having a good season. But the fact is that rookie Vladislav Namestnikov is having a great season. You could even say that all four are being overshadowed by Jared Knight (Boston Bruins).

Projected to be a first round pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, Namestnikov has gone quietly about leading his team in goals, points and plus/minus (team stats) and trails only  Knight in assists. He is also now tied with Knight for the team lead in power play goals.

Much was talked about the comparisson between Namestnikov and Ilya Kovalchuk prior to the season. While he doesn't quite have the speed that Kovalchuk has, or that patented shot, when you watch Namestnikov skate with the puck, you see glimpses of what Kovalchuk can do.

Which brings us to Seth Griffith, usually paired on a line with Namestnikov. Unless you followed Griffith with the St Marys Lincolns of the GOJHL, you probably wouldn't have known his name. He did play 17 games with the Knights last season and put up 3 points in 17 games. nothing to write home about, but in the playoffs he put up 7 points in 10 games.

I followed him through his days with the Lincolns and said here in the preseason to watch him as a sleeper. He now trails only Namestnikov and Knight in all offensive categories. He was named OHL player of the week a couple of weeks ago and has been my first star of the week for draft eligible players twice.

There is no question that Griffith brings offensive ability to the game. He can even play the point and quarterback the powerplay. But the question that will always come into play is size.

Scott Harrington came into the season ranked in my survey of OHL General Managers and scouts as the defenseman that would be taken first in the NHL Entry Draft. It's been a bit of a dissappointment for Harrington this season as he hasn't been able to keep his development curve on an upwards trend.

But things have improved markedly for Harrington since trade deadline day most notably because of increased ice time. With the trade of Michael D'Orazio, he now leads all Knights defensemen in every offensive category, a part of his game that should have taken the next step this season. While he has surpassed last season totals, he's only just done that.

Of concern is his discrepency in the plus/minus department, dropping from a plus 25 a season ago, to a minus 13 to date this season.

Which brings us to goaltender Michael Houser, who was passed over in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, likely due to the limited number of starts he's had in the OHL backing up Michael Hutchinson (Boston Bruins). Coming into the season, Houser was again expected to be the Knight's back-up, this time to Igor Bobkov (Anaheim Ducks). You may remember Bobkov from Team Russia in the Subway Super Series, or the Gold Medal Russians from the World Junior Championships.

But Houser stole the show from training camp and the number one position has been his all season, playing in 49 of the Knights 59 games to date. He sits 12th in the entire league in goals against average and 8th in save percentage but is among the leaders in draft eligible goalies. He is 4th in both wins and minutes played in the entire league and first in both categories among draft eligible players. But Houser's name still doesn't get mentioned in the same sentence as the other draft eligible goaltenders. We'll have to wait until June to see if NHL scouts see something in Houser.

When trade deadline approached and passed, the Knights had traded away most of their veterans for only draft picks in return. Jared Knight took a quiet leadership role on the ice and these four followed. Many questioned whether the Knights could still make the playoffs. They've done better than that. They've led a group of young players to pulling within 2 points of the Windsor Spitfires (after last nights action) and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

For Houser, Harrington and Griffith, they may just be garnering some quiet attention.

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