April 09, 2012

2012 NHL Draft Preview: Nishi Joins CSB Rankings

Michale Nishi making a save against Peterborough in December
On November 17th, the Ottawa 67's struck a minor deal with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds that, understandably, didn't garner much attention. In the pre-season, with Petr Mrazek and Shayne Campbell at NHL camps, the fort was held down only by Karsten Pankhurst, who hadn't played a regular season game in his OHL career (he was a backup in Plymouth).

With Campbell on the shelf indefinitely with a hip injury, and Mrazek solving issues with the Czech Hockey Officials to send him to the World Junior Under-20's, it looked as though this problem would be on the horizon once again come December.

By this point, Pankhurst had only played one game and allowed seven goals. If that wasn't worrisome enough, he would have been the only goaltender for a fairly long span. As the Erie Otters found out the hard way when they had to put forward Connor Crisp between the pipes, having one netminder is playing with fire. So Ottawa sent their 13th-round draft choice in 2013 to Sault Ste. Marie to acquire Michael Nishi.

The deal came two weeks after the Greyhounds had acquired goalie Jack Campbell in a blockbuster trade with the Windsor Spitfires, a deal that severely backfired with Windsor barely beating out Sault Ste. Marie for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Ottawa also had their own good experience in terms of swapping goaltenders with the Hounds; just a year before, they sent veteran Chris Perugini to the Soo for a number of draft picks, which they used to select defenceman Mike Vlajkov amongst others. Perugini didn't return to the Hounds, instead playing for the Markham Waxers this year.

Nishi came to Ottawa sporting a 3-3-0 record in ten career starts with the Greyhounds and the Spitfires, so 67's fans were uncertain of this new goalkeeper, expecting that he would sit out his time in the Nation's Capital on the bench. Who would have thought that today, less than five months after the trade, that he would be ranked by the Central Scouting Bureau for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft?

That's what happened this morning, as CSB came out with their final listings for the 2012 draft, ranking the Toronto native 32nd among North American goaltenders. Of course, this doesn't guarantee Nishi will be drafted. Selecting goalies is high-risk to begin with. Not to mention, he's ranked quite low, and that's only North American goalies. But to have his name even mentioned on the list, he has come a long way since being brought in by Chris Byrne.

Nishi made his first start two nights after being acquired, putting together a terrific 40-save performance, as Remy Giftopoulos scored with one second left in the third period to give Ottawa a 3-2 win in Belleville. He continued to impress, the highlight of his year coming while Mrazek was standing on his head in Alberta for the Czech Republic's national Junior team. Nishi allowed one goal in two games against Kingston and Peterborough respectively in late December, registering his first career shutout against the Petes.

By the end of the regular season, Nishi had locked up the backup position behind Mrazek; Pankhurst and Campbell haven't played a game since. He appeared in 17 games in Ottawa (20 in total), putting up a 9-6-1 record with a 3.31 Goals Against Average. As mentioned, it's a long shot that he does get drafted. With that being said, Mrazek started his draft year as a backup, and now he's a highly touted prospect of the Red Wings. Anything can happen once your name is on the board, and in Michael Nishi's case, being ranked by Central Scouting is a great start.

Ceci Skyrockets:

Cody Ceci was the only other 67 included in the final rankings of the season, and his solid play of late hasn't gone unnoticed. The Orleans native is ranked #6 amongst defencemen in North America, surpassing fellow CHL defencemen such as Matthew Dumba and Slater Koekkoek, who were both projected to go well before Ceci in past rankings. The 67's defenceman rises ten spots since the last projection from 16th.

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