I felt like a real scout last night, in that the drive was more interesting than the game and no one I went to see played very well. Despite crushing the Reign 8-3 in their last meeting, the Bakersfield Condors were shutout, 3-0, letting two pinballed shots get past Timo Pielmeier and surrendering an empty-netter with 0.7 seconds left.
A number of Ducks prospects are playing for the Condors this year, but after the jump I'm going to focus on Logan MacMillan (Ducks 1st Round Pick 2007), Shawn Weller (acquired by trade from Ottawa), Timo Pielmeier (acquired by trade from San Jose) and David McNab's NCAA free agent pet projects: Dan Sexton, Stu Bickel and MacGregor Sharp. I had also planned to talk about Maxime Macenauer, but he was not in the lineup on Halloween.
First, however, I should point out that seeing a game at Citizens Business Bank Arena is not a bad experience. I came to see the visiting team shoot on a Saturday, so I paid $20 to sit two rows back from the glass (it's even cheaper Mon-Thu, but a little more expensive if you go through Ticketmaster). The seats are comfortable, parking is free and they even gave me a $5 gift certificate to The Yardhouse. The Condors will be in town again on December 16th & 27th, January 13th, and February 21st & 28th. I plan to go to at least one of those games and bring CK, our unofficial staff photographer, with me (I apologize for the photo above and those to follow-- they're mine). As most of these guys will go back to the AHL next year, it might be my last chance to see them in a minors uniform, that is, unless we get that San Diego AHL team.
Logan MacMillan (1st Round - 19th Overall - 2007 Draft. Pick acquired with 2nd Round - 42nd Overall - 2007 pick [Tangradi] from Minnesota in exchange for 1st Round - 16th Overall - 2007 pick. That pick was acquired with Gerald Coleman from Tampa Bay in exchange for Shane O'Brien and a 3rd Round 2007 pick)
Logan MacMillan has played consistently with Andrew Ianiero on the Condors. From their play and chemistry last night, I've gathered two things about MacMillan's progression. One, he plays well as the banger on a line. Two, we may never again see the playmaker/scorer that flanked Jakub Voracek in The Q.
He took shots when he was alone on the rush , but that was the limit of his offensive presence. When he had the puck, he wasn't trying to find anyone, and when he didn't have the puck, he wasn't trying to be found. He was great at separating players from the biscuit, dumping them as they tried to skate it behind the net or into the corners. He was extremely effective digging along the boards and keeping plays alive. But the offensive hockey sense, the ability to create an attack sequence, all seem to have disappeared.
He's a smart grinder, maybe the smartest we have in the cupboard, and a year in the ECHL should toughen him up. The Ducks' plans for him are unclear at this point, but his draft status should earn him a legitimate shot at the Bottom 6 before he's declared a bust.
MacGregor Sharp (NCAA free agent signing 2009)
Maybe I couldn't tell behind his NCAA cage, but I never knew MacGregor Sharp liked to jaw this much. Whether he was needling Reign players after the whistle or clarifying positioning with his linemates before puck drops, his mouth never stopped moving. No gloves were dropped on Halloween, but not for lack of Sharp's efforts.
He played most of the night on a line with fellow Ducks prospects Dan Sexton and Shawn Weller, the Bakersfield captain. The trio worked well, especially on the power play, where, despite poor shot selection, they were able to keep the puck deep for a minute and a half against Ontario. Sharp's contribution to that was tenacious puckhound play and some great awareness in front of the net. Unfortunately, his stick speed is a little slow, and that makes it hard to get to loose pucks, even though he always seems to know where they are. It also looks as if he hasn't worked on faceoffs in the ECHL, as he is still limited to that one tie-up-the-stick move.
He's got grit, but he's also dangerous around the net. I still look forward to him being a Chris Kunitz type of player (though a bit slower in the foot) with plenty of Top 6 upside
As an athletic goaltender, Pielmeier likes to move and rely on his reflexes. That much was clear when a flurry by the Reign forced the netminder into a quick breakdancing display (Hasek Snow Angel into a Flare for those in the know). But he was victimized by his insistence on movement last night, beaten by two pinballed shots and outdueled in a steady performance by Mike Zacharias, a strong positional goaltender.
Pielmeier is tracking the puck well, despite being frenetic at times. He also played the puck well, both at even strength and on special teams. He wasn't tested extensively last night, but he came up solid on a handful of outnumbered bids by Ontario.
His reflexes are impressive, but he isn't the calmest of netminders. He may need to add a workmanlike attitude to his game before making the jump to the next level, but there are certainly advantages to staying just the way he is.
Dan Sexton (NCAA free agent signing 2009)
After it became clear that San Antonio had no intention of playing him, the Ducks sent Big Sexy to Bakersfield. He is now the speedster alongside Sharp and Weller, the Condors most productive line.
Sexton is fast in open ice. He created a shorthanded breakaway on a defender three strides ahead of him, only to reveal a fatal flaw at the end of the play: he can't stickhandle very well in fifth gear. Once he addresses that shortcoming, he'll be a deadly speedster. But even in a crowd, Sexton can use his feet. He will turn and burn in his own zone, or turn and burn to backcheck from the offensive zone.
And I'm happy to eat crow on his physical game. He takes a good push along the boards, and he gives a pretty good one back. He couples that with a forceful quickness, making him valuable on the cycle and forecheck. But make no mistake, the brains that caught David McNab's eyes are there as well. Sexton plays both ways on special teams, a sound defender shorthanded and a small quarterback from the half boards with the man advantage.
Of the players I saw last night, I have the most hope for Sexton. He's small, and the right hole in the Ducks roster might not open up for him next year, but I would be surprised if the Ducks didn't give him a good look.
Shawn Weller (Acquired from Ottawa in exchange for Jason Bailey) and Stu Bickel (NCAA free agent signing 2008)
I don't have much to report on Weller and Bickel. First, I should note that Weller is a captain and Bickel is an alternate captain. That honor goes beyond their AHL experience, as both are character players who communicate well with their teammates on the ice.
The Senators gave up on Weller after he stalled in his progression to an offensively and defensively skilled power forward. After seeing him last night, I can tell you that that's a journey he'll likely never finish. There are plenty of raw skills there: a strong stride, the ability to protect the puck with his body and mauling play along the boards. Hopefully he can build some confidence playing with Sexton and Sharp, but any hopes of him ascending to the NHL as a Swiss Army Knife power forward should be abandoned now; he's more like a pocket sledgehammer.
Bickel has changed his game, it seems. I didn't see much of the body banging Stu that I remembered; I was instead greeted by a defender focused on making the small plays correctly. He's a nimble skater, but he now attempts to make plays that only a slightly quicker man could execute. I'm not sure if he can ever get his body to consistently produce what his mind is asking for, but if he can, he may make a splash at camp next year.