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Catching The Torch: Sean Farrell is a point-producing machine

Combine all of Farrell’s qualities and he has the makings of a dominant college forward.

Chicago Steel

Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Habs prospects playing at the Junior (OHL, WHL), and collegiate (NCAA) level.

The USHL’s scoring leaderboard is dominated by Chicago Steel players. In fact, four of the first five spots belong to Steel forwards. Due to an exceptional development program, clever drafting, and the delayed start of the NCAA — allowing older players like Sean Farrell to return to the program — the team has been toying with their opposition in this start to the 2020-21 season.

The goals have come in bunches, more than five per game on average, and as the Steel’s top six continues to develop explosive chemistry, we could see them pile on even more.

So yes, there is a context to Farrell’s ridiculous production — it is partly a product of his environment. In an alternative, pandemic-free universe, he wouldn’t have been back with the Steel, but instead donned the Harvard Crimson’s red and white colors.

That being said, this season Farrell would have probably scored no matter his location. Of course, his NCAA opposition wouldn’t let him put up two points per game, but it would have been hard to keep the Habs forward away from the ECAC leaderboard. He simply has the makeup of a dominant college forward.

The NCAA game is quite unique. It is more structured than Junior hockey. Players have learned the value of restraint and integrated positioning but at the same time, it lacks the pace of the pro-game. Attackers who play at speed, who can locate teammates rapidly, and manipulate defenders to open space usually break through NCAA defences quite easily and rack up the points.

Farrell has all those qualities.

Even if his skating form still suffers from the same mechanical kinks, limiting his straight-line speed, he overwhelms opponents by making decisions — and the right ones — in a fraction of a second. As he has integrated the systemic routes of teammates, he can connect with them without even looking and do so in creative, skillful ways, with saucer backhand feeds and by bouncing the puck on the walls around defenders.

Farrell also shows an above-average understanding of rush mechanics. Away from the puck, he skates ahead of the rush to push back the line of defence and create pockets of space for his teammates to accelerate into. With the puck, he consistently attracts defenders on himself before, once again, moving the puck to open up more space for others.

All of the clips above are taken from a single game. Farrell’s ability to generate scoring chances off the rush must be one of the best in the USHL. Let’s just say that he knows how to grab your attention.

This absolutely crazy dangle had me rewind the tape about twelve times.

At first, I thought it was pure accident. Maybe he tried a backhand feed to his teammate and double-hit the puck. It happens. But then I looked at his posture; I looked at his head movement and it became pretty clear Farrell never intended to pass the puck.

This is a move the forward probably practiced a hundred times in his driveway and in practice. It became second nature. In the half-second it took for the puck to slide to him, he saw the defender approaching and the dangle just imposed itself. His course had him collide with the defender and he was running out of time to side-step the obstacle. A toe-drag? It could have gotten him through, but if he extended his blade outside his body, the defender could have simply flattened him to the ice.

So Farrell lifted the disc with his backhand and batted it past the defender with his forehand in one swift movement. To his credit, the opponent managed to follow the move, spin, and brush the puck with his blade, but Farrell already moved away to launch a two-on-two attack with his center, Mackie Samoskevich.

The Habs winger picked up two assists this game and followed it up with a three-point performance against the U.S National Development program. If he maintains this torrid pace, he could finish as the top USHL scorer this season. Ironically, the race for the pole position will likely remain close all season as his competition is his linemates. When Farrell scores, they score.

Jack Gorniak

Gorniak has scored eight points in the first ten games with the University of Wisconsin. Quite exceptional for a forward that only managed seven in 28 games last year.

The forward still lacks the pure skill and anticipation that makes better NHL prospects, but his motor will assure him of a spot in the lineup even if he doesn’t manage to keep up his currently torrid pace by his standards.

Look at this penalty-kill sequence from last weekend. Gorniak single-handedly destroys the rush of the opposition. The puck changes hands four times, but the forward never stops pursuing it. He manages a couple of stick lifts, disturbs passes, and forces a last opponent to enter his defensive zone wide, allowing the Badgers to close in on him and strip him of possession.

Gorniak’s skating ability remains his best quality. A couple of crossovers are often enough to propulse him into checking distance of opponents. He then annoys them as much as possible with his stick until they cough up the disc.

Here are some highlights of Gorniak’s start to the season. He scored two goals from precise releases and a third one off a hard and precise one-touch pass of Cole Caufield.

Learning to shoot in stride could dramatically improve Gorniak’s scoring potential. Right now, he can out-skate most opponents in the NCAA, but he has to stop the movement of his feet and glide for a second before releasing. If he were to hide his shot in between two forward strides or inside his lightning-quick crossovers, he would surprise goalies even more.

Next week, we will dive into Cole Caufield’s play with a more in-depth feature.

NCAA/USHL Weekly Stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 4 2 2 4
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 4 2 2 4
Sean Farrell 2020 LW USHL Chicago 2 1 4 5
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon Injured?
Jack Smith 2020 C USHL Sioux Falls 1 0 0 0
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 0 0 0 0
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 0 0 0 0
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 3 1 0 1

NCAA/USHL Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 10 6 6 12
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 10 3 5 8
Sean Farrell 2020 LW USHL Chicago 8 6 10 16
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 3 0 1 1
Jack Smith 2020 C USHL Sioux Falls 8 1 2 3
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 0 0 0 0
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 0 0 0 0
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 3 1 0 1