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Junior Prospects Prepare for Playoffs

by Al Alven / Philadelphia Flyers

All five of the Flyers prospects currently playing at the major junior level in Canada have advanced to the postseason in their respective leagues. The following is an update on their status, and a look at what lies ahead as the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL playoffs get underway.

Luca Sbisa, D - Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)

Upon his return to Lethbridge in early February, after spending nearly 40 games with the Flyers as an 18-year-old NHL rookie, Sbisa resolved himself to have fun and make it a personal mission to help guide the Hurricanes to a WHL championship.

“I was disappointed, but I always understood the situation,” he said. “If not for the [Flyers] having so many injuries on defense early in the season, I might not have stayed. But I gained so much experience and I look forward to being back in Philly next season.

“For now, I am focused on our team here in Lethbridge. I feel like I have unfinished business here.”
Luca Sbisa ha since returned to his junior club of Lethbridge (WHL) after playing 39 games with the Flyers as a rookie this season. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Adding Sbisa, not surprisingly, has been a huge boost to the Hurricanes’ title hopes. The Ozieri, Italy native immediately reassumed the leadership role he had earned by the end of last season, and has been playing close to 35 minutes a night, in all game situations.

Sbisa registered 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) and 19 penalty minutes in 18 late season games, with all four of his goals coming on the power play. His overall contributions will play a huge role in determining how far Lethbridge can go in the postseason.

Last spring, he increased his already-rising stock by registering 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) in 19 playoff games as a rookie, after putting up 33 points (six goals, 27 assists) in 62 regular season games.

Lethbridge (35-32-3-2) clinched the seventh seed in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, and is playing the second-seeded Saskatoon Blades (49-18-3-2) in the first round of the playoffs. The Hurricanes went 1-3 against the Blades this season; interestingly, Lethbridge’s lone win in the series, 4-3 on March 7 in Saskatoon, was the only of the four games played after Sbisa was returned from the Flyers.

Marc-Andre Bourdon, D - Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)

If not for a freak play in late February which resulted in a broken finger, Bourdon likely would have finished with the most points among defensemen in the Q this season. As it was, he lost the top spot to teammate Sebastien Piche, but still finished fourth in the circuit with 60 points (18 goals, 42 assists) in only 54 games.

Bourdon’s 112 peanlty minutes also ranked him fourth in the league among rearguards, underscoring his ability to produce points while playing with a physical edge. Interestingly, the only other defenseman to finish with over 100 PIMs while placing in the top 25 in scoring was fellow Flyers prospect Kevin Marshall.

Rimouski finished second to Marshall’s Quebec Remparts in the Q’s Eastern Division, with a record of 44-23-1-0. The team finished strong, bolstered in large part by Bourdon’s late-season return to the lineup, going 9-1-0-0 over its final 10 games.

The Oceanic have home ice advantage against the third place Chicoutimi Sagueneens as the playoffs kick off in Rimouski. The match-up should be a good one as the division rivals went 4-4 against each other during the regular season.

Kevin Marshall, D - Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

Marshall has earned rave reviews all season long, while serving in his first season as captain of the Remparts. Team co-owner, general manager and head coach, Hall of Famer Patrick Roy, made acquiring the rugged defenseman from the Lewiston MAINEiacs his top priority last summer, in an attempt to catapult Quebec into contention for the QMJHL title and a Memorial Cup run.

Roy’s persistence certainly paid dividends, as Marshall evolved this season into one of the top all-around rearguards in the circuit. Known previously for his leadership ability and physical style of play, he also stepped up his offensive game, with seven of his nine goals coming on the power play. He recorded 38 points in 61 games, also finishing third in the league among defensemen (and seventh, overall) with 125 penalty minutes.

Late last week, Marshall was named the Q’s Defenseman of the Month for the abbreviated March schedule. He scored one goal and added nine assists, posted a plus-6 rating, and dished out 14 hits over his last seven games, helping the Remparts secure first place in the Eastern Division and the third-best record in the league (49-16-0-3).

The Remparts are considered a heavy favorite in their first round series against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, and one of the top contenders for the QMJHL championship.

Zac Rinaldo, LW - London Knights (OHL)

Wearing his hard-hitting reputation like a badge of honor, Rinaldo edged out Lane MacDermid of the Windsor Spitfires for the OHL lead in penalty minutes during the regular season, 201 to 197. That Rinaldo played in eight fewer games than MacDermid was a further source of pride for the rambunctious 18-year-old forward.
Zac Rinaldo and the London Knights take on the Erie Otters in the first round of the OHL playoffs.

"I want to stay ahead of [MacDermid]," Rinaldo stated, unapologetically, shortly after the trade deadline deal that saw him move from his hometown Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors to the London Knights.

"How many fighting majors does he have? Twelve? Well, I have 14!”

In London, Rinaldo racked up 36 penalty minutes in his first 10 games, settling quickly into his role as a sparkplug for the perennial OHL title contender. But he has also been an offensive force, tallying 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) and 89 penalty minutes in only 22 games with his new team.

The Knights were considered to be among the league’s elite teams, even before the acquisition of scoring leader and projected first overall draft pick John Tavares, also at the trade deadline. Now, they may be the favorite to win it all. Rinaldo’s grit has added another valued element to the team’s arsenal.

Holding the second seed in the Western Conference, London (49-16-1-2) is up against the seventh-seeded Erie Otters in the first round.

Jacob DeSerres, G - Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)

DeSerres endured a somewhat disappointing regular season, scuffling behind an inconsistent Seattle defense while splitting time with 2009 draft-eligible prospect Calvin Pickard (the younger brother of Chet Pickard, who was selected in the first round by the Nashville Predators last summer).

Over the course of the season, Pickard outplayed DeSerres to earn the starting role for the Thunderbirds, appearing in 47 games (23-16-5) to DeSerres’ 32 (11-16-0). Still, DeSerres, who is two years older than Pickard, remains a viable option to step in should Pickard struggle in his WHL postseason debut.

Seattle earned the fifth seed in the Western Conference with a record of 35-32-1-4. The team drew an undesirable first round opponent as it is facing the defending Memorial Cup champion Spokane Chiefs.

The ‘Birds went 4-5 against the Chiefs during the regular season, recording two wins each at home and on the road.
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