Brandon Halverson, drafted in the second round during the 2014 draft, has had a pretty good season with the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. There have been a few rough patches, but generally speaking he's done his job. What's been missing, though, is a standout performance. A signature game, if you will. The Greyhounds are almost too good for Halverson's own good, so he hasn't really needed to produce those kinds of performances. Still, from a developmental perspective you like to see that a goaltender is capable of those kinds of games.
Halverson finally had that signature game this past weekend. Actually, games. Halverson posted back-to-back shutouts on Saturday and Monday respectively, saving all 63 shots he faced. In Saturday's game against the Plymouth Whalers, Halverson stopped 33 shots and made a handful of impressive saves. In particular, he held strong against Blue Jackets' first-round pick Sonny Milano. Here's a breakaway save against Milano.
Here is another angle. You'll notice that he manages to make the save with the handle of his stick.
Here's another great sequence from Halverson in which he stretches his left leg to make two saves from point-blank range.
Halverson was completely, as soccer fans like to say, "in form" this game. He's had a bit of trouble in overshooting his angles when moving laterally this season, but this game his lateral movement was perfect, and it resulted in a number of "Royal Road" shots hitting him directly on the logo.
Wins and losses are generally a terrible way to evaluate goaltending ability. Nonetheless, it's hard not to notice that Halverson has only one regulation loss in his last 25 starts. That's a ridiculous streak, which is definitely in large part due to how good the Greyhounds are. Still, despite goaltenders being on the market, the Greyhounds opted not to add one at the OHL deadline. He's played well enough to be trusted as the backstop for their title run, and has certainly made noticeable strides over the last few months.
Brady Skjei's University of Minnesota and Cristoval "Boo" Nieves' University of Michigan faced off twice this weekend in a Big Ten matchup. Minnesota won both games, which will make Skjei happy and Nieves disappointed. From a Rangers' perspective, though, both had a successful weekend.
Nieves one essentially the only Michigan forward who produced offense. Nieves scored twice in the first game. Here are both goals.
The second goal in particular is encouraging. Nieves doesn't exactly have a reputable wrist shot, but I think it's been improving over the last couple of years. That shot was a pure snipe that beat a very good goaltender in Adam Wilcox.
Nieves, while still inconsistent defensively, is also improving dramatically in that area. He's keeping his head on a swivel and is looking to be more proactive instead of reactive. Here's one good example of that. He engages physically along the boards and forces a turnover, then makes a quick decision with the puck. After Minnesota gets it back, Michigan's in an incredibly vulnerable position. Nieves anticipated the play, though, and cut off lane in the slot. He drew a hooking penalty at the end of the play for good measure.
Skjei did not find his way onto the scoresheet, but was one of the most important players on the ice for either team; as usual. Skjei was tasked with shutting down Zach Hyman, a Panthers' prospect who leads the Big Ten in scoring. Skjei (and defensive partner Ryan Collins) did the job brilliantly. Hyman was kept off the scoresheet in both games and only total three shots combined; I only counted one at even strength with Skjei on the ice. In fact, Skjei shut down Hyman to the point that Michigan Head Coach Red Berenson was actively trying to get Hyman away from Skjei whenever possible during the second game. Dylan Larkin, the World Junior Championship standout whom the Red Wings drafted in the first round, also struggled to get much going offensively. Here are a couple of the many plays Skjei made.
As much as I try to stay away from the McDonagh comparisons, it's hard to not notice the similarities. The first one in particular is very McDonagh-esque. Skjei's body positioning is perfect, and Dylan Larkin has no shooting lane. Skjei blocks the shot, immediately sends it to a teammate not under pressure, and with all three Michigan forwards deep he accelerates hard to make it an odd-man rush for Minnesota. The first one is him just bullying Alex Kile off the puck and then making the necessary outlet pass.
I said in my January Prospect Rankings that I thought Skjei was NHL-ready, and nothing in my viewings of him this past weekend changed that. Minnesota seems poised to, at minimum, make the Frozen Four tournament, which starts in mid-April. I don't think we'll see Skjei in the NHL this year, but that could change.