Monday, January 22, 2018

2018 NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings

Past the halfway point of the season now, NHL Central Scouting has updated their rankings for 2018.

Here's a look at how the OHL players fared. A total of 61 were ranked. And of course, if you wanted to compare, here's my midseason top 50. Also, see below for my thoughts on the list.

1. Andrei Svechnikov (1)
2. Evan Bouchard (5)
3. Barrett Hayton (6)
4. Serron Noel (9)
5. Akil Thomas (10)
6. Rasmus Sandin (15)
7. Ryan McLeod (16)
8. Ryan Merkley (21)
9. Blade Jenkins (24)
10. Kody Clark (28)
11. Kevin Bahl (30)
12. Allan McShane (33)
13. Giovanni Vallati (38)
14. Sean Durzi (39)
15. Declan Chisholm (42)
16. Alec Regula (43)
17. Nico Gross (47)
18. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (58)
19. Cam Hillis (59)
20. Carter Robertson (61)
21. Merrick Rippon (63)
22. Curtis Douglas (70)
23. Pavel Gogolev (75)
24. Ty Dellandrea (76)
25. Mitchell Hoelscher (82)
26. Albert Michnac (84)
27. Caleb Everett (86)
28. Liam Foudy (91)
29. Sam Bitten (94)
30. Connor Corcoran (96)
31. Tyler Tucker (104)
32. Matthew Struthers (108)
33. Peter Stratis (116)
34. Maxim Golod (118)
35. Riley Damiani (119)
36. Matthew MacDougall (121)
37. Brady Lyle (127)
38. Billy Moskal (130)
39. Aidan Dudas (131)
40. Nathan Dunkley (132)
41. Mac Hollowell (133)
42. Rickard Hugg (134)
43. Hugo Leufvenius (136)
44. Renars Krastenbergs (137)
45. Justin Brazeau (141)
46. Brandon Saigeon (143)
47. Hunter Holmes (149)
48. Connor Roberts (150)
49. Luke Burghardt (153)
50. Adam Thilander (155)
51. Kirill Nizhnikov (161)
52. Adam Liska (162)
53. Justin MacPherson (163)
54. William Ennis (173)
55. Damien Giroux (177)
56. David Levin (183)
57. Linus Nyman (202)
58. Maxim Grondin (211)
LV. Zack Malik
LV. Dennis Busby

1. Jacob Ingham (3)
2. Jordan Kooy (13)
3. Nick Donofrio (17)

If you're curious to see the full list, you can find it here

Here are my thoughts:

1. In comparison to my list, here are the biggest discrepancies:
I Have Higher:
Kirill Nizhnikov (-28)
Damien Giroux (-25)
Nathan Dunkley (-25)
David Levin (-25) 
Dennis Busby (-24)
Brady Hinz (-23) - Not Ranked
Riley Damiani (-19)
Adam Liska (-19)
Aidan Dudas (-17) 
Owen Lalonde (-17) - Not Ranked
Alex Gritz (-14) - Not Ranked
Ty Dellandrea (-12) 
Connor Roberts (-12)
Cam Hillis (-9) 

I Have Lower:
Mitchell Hoelscher (+23)
Liam Foudy (+22)
Maxim Golod (+15)
Peter Stratis (+14)
Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (+14)
Declan Chisholm (+13)
Sam Bitten (+11)
Nico Gross (+10)
Blade Jenkins (+9)
Rasmus Sandin (+8)

2. There are definitely some major differences between my list and the one released by Central Scouting. There are some real oddities for me. The low rankings of Nathan Dunkley, Aidan Dudas, Riley Damiani, and Ty Dellandrea are head scratching. In particular, Dunkley, Dudas, and Damiani are all ranked below the likes of Michnac, Mitchell Hoelscher, Sam Bitten, and Maxim Golod. Some of those guys are undersized themselves. So I just don't get it. 

3. I wanted to touch on Hoelscher. Yes, he shows up as the player with the biggest discrepancy (in terms of CSS having him higher than I), but I'm actually quite happy to see that. I've mentioned a few times this year on the blog and on social media that I'm a huge Hoelscher fan. I'm shocked they have him that high (even with me liking him, I wouldn't have him that high), but he's a solid player and is better than the numbers he's putting up.

4. Amazingly high number of draft re-entries listed. This isn't shocking to me. Looking around the OHL (and the CHL), the number of potential candidates is massive. Tons of players who were previously passed over have had sensational seasons. Durzi isn't a shock as the top ranked one. He deserves it. What does shock me is the absence of Joey Keane, Jakob Brahaney, and Tyler Burnie, three of the league's top re-entry candidates. Keane, in particular, screams NHL pro to me and he's only one year off being draft eligible. I honestly thought he would be in the 60-75 range on this list.

5. One last thing to touch on is the high ranking of Serron Noel. This one seems to be being used as the example of what's wrong with NHL Central Scouting on the whole. People see Noel as a huge kid whose offensive stats aren't terrific and point to CSS' fascination with size. But they aren't alone in having Noel high in the rankings. Many do, including me. Noel is an extremely raw player who is just scratching the surface of what he is capable of. Do I think he should be a first round pick? No. But this guy is a legit top 45 talent because of what he could become.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing (2018)

This is a yearly tradition (take a look at the Sunday Top 10 sidebar for other years). It's time to examine the top overagers in the OHL, available to be signed by NHL teams for the 2018 calendar year.

Only one player on this list has signed an NHL deal thus far, but they will still be included. This list intends to rank players according to the likelihood that they continue their career at the professional level. 

Likely more than half of the players on this list will not end up getting a professional contract and will play in the CIS. It's the nature of the beast. The bottom line is that a few will and many will not (be signed) and those players who do not, will take advantage of their education package while continuing to play a high level of hockey at a Canadian University. This is a particularly weak crop of overage players for NHL scouts, as many of the top overage players in the league this year already have NHL affiliation.

It's important to note that this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team (for example Jeremy Helvig, Kole Sherwood, Jalen Smereck, etc). This list is for those players who are NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on their birth date).

Here's the list:

1. Aaron Luchuk - Forward - Barrie Colts
The only OHL overage free agent to sign an NHL deal thus far (with Ottawa), and quite frankly, he might be the only one on this list to actually get an NHL deal. He's improved nearly every year that he's been in the league and this year has been no different. He's already set career highs in goals and points and we've still got a third of the season to play. Luchuk is an intelligent, energetic forward who has very quick hands. Always keeps his feet moving and processes the game at a high speed. He's not the world's fastest skater straight ahead, and if you combine that with his lack of height (5'10), it helps to explain his lack of interest from NHL scouts prior to this year. But coming into his OA year, Luchuk looks quicker laterally and more explosive thanks to added size. Said bulk has also helped him to be stronger on and off the puck, where he's now able to bide more time for himself to operate in the offensive end. To go with his offensive skill set, Luchuk has always been a strong two-way player who competes just as hard defensively as he does in the offensive end. The added strength has made him that much more effective at working along the wall and winning loose puck battles. In terms of NHL potential, it's tough to say where Luchuk fits in. I think his puck skill and shot release will need to continue to improve for him to become a top 6 player. And he'll need to become a little more physically intense to play a checking line role. But he's without question the top OA available to sign this year IMO and the Sens did well taking a chance on him.

2. Nikita Korostelev - Forward - Peterborough Petes
The former Leafs draft pick has had a pretty good season for Peterborough after failing to earn a pro contract this offseason. The size (6'1, 200lbs) and skill package is going to be alluring for NHL scouts. Korostelev has a great shot with an extremely quick and powerful release. And his skill with the puck is unquestioned. He creates a lot of time and space for himself in the offensive zone, especially coming off the wall or if he can get a step on a defender coming down the wing. One on one, he can be tough to stop. But his skating just has not improved over the course of his OHL career, as he lacks separation ability, relying on his hands to create that space. And not enough of his goals are scored in the middle of the ice. A guy with his size should dominate down low, but it just hasn't been the case consistently over the course of his OHL career. There are certainly flashes, but that's been the criticism since his minor midget days. I think he plays pro somewhere next year and if a coach can truly motivate him to change the way he plays, he could be an asset to an organization. 

3. Justin Lemcke - Defense - Hamilton Bulldogs
Long serving captain of the Bulldogs, Lemcke is the very definition of a "solid" defender. Does everything for the first place Bulldogs. The 6'2, 200lbs defender has to be considered one of the best in his own end in the Eastern Conference. Always in the right place at the right time, and has worked hard to improve his lateral and backwards mobility to keep pace with the league's skilled forwards. Lemcke is extremely difficult to win board battles against. He's no slouch offensively either, even if he'll never be mistaken for a speedster. Makes a good first pass and isn't very turnover prone. He also plays a bit on the powerplay where he does a good job getting a low, hard shot through to the net. Depending on how well Hamilton plays in the playoffs this year, I could see Lemcke being this year's Dakota Mermis or Jacob Graves.

4. Ryan Moore - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Speed, speed, and more speed. Moore has to be considered one of the quickest forwards in the OHL. And while his offensive production has dipped a bit from last year, I'm not sure his play has. Extremely dynamic in transition as he's very good at protecting the puck through the neutral zone and across the blueline, despite being only 5'8. And he's fearless on the ice. Attacks the net and is effective fighting through traffic to get to loose pucks in the slot and near the crease. Moore also uses his speed to be an effective forechecker. Will need to prove that he can use his speed at the pro level to create just as effectively, but I could see him earning a pro contract like Niki Petti did last year.

5. Justin Fazio - Goaltender - Sarnia Sting
Easily one of the OHL's most improved goaltenders this year. Fazio might just be the front runner for the league's top goaltender award at this point. At 6'1, he has the size that NHL teams look for in goaltenders these days and he's worked hard to improve his post to post quickness in the crease. But it's his reads and rebound control that have improved the most this year. I always found him to be the type to get caught out of position previously, over-committing or going down to early. But he's playing with more poise and control this year. Sarnia needed him to have a big season to make them contenders and he's done just that. Has been great from puck drop this year. It's pretty rare for overage goaltenders to earn pro contracts (unless they're massive), but if Fazio can lead the Sting deep into the playoffs, he could get himself a pro deal IMO. You have to applaud the improvements he's made.

6. Connor Schlichting - Defense - Sarnia Sting
It's great to see Schlichting put his injury woes behind him as he's played two consecutive seasons injury free after only playing 56 combined the previous two. I think that this season we're really seeing what he's capable of now that he's healthy and confident. At one point, he was considered one of the best defenders in the '97 age group in Ontario. Schlichting has been Sarnia's number one defender this year, playing a ton of minutes for the Sting in all situations. He has the size (6'3, 200lbs) to play on an NHL blueline, but his skating will need to continue to evolve. He was billed as a puck mover coming out of minor midget, but it's actually been his defensive game that has grown to become his main asset. His +24 this year is no fluke. He is extremely impressive in the defensive end as someone who can take away space below the hash marks, although I would still consider him more of a positional/stick checker. The same things I said about Justin Lemcke apply to Schlichting. If he can be the #1 defender on an OHL champion, he's going to earn an NHL deal.

7. Mason Kohn - Forward - Saginaw Spirit 
Trade to Saginaw has saved Kohn's season after a disappointing start to the year in Oshawa. His acquisition by the Spirit has also turned their season around, as he's been the catalyst to their run up the Western Conference standings (after a slow start themselves). He's over a point per game in Saginaw and is arguably their most important player outside of Evan Cormier. Kohn is a high energy center who does pretty much everything well. Engaged in all three zones, he's a tireless worker whose energy and effort is infectious for his linemates. Leads by example. Skates well. Has good vision and works the wall well. Kills penalties. Can finish in tight. Could definitely be a potential fourth line center at the NHL level if he continues to work and improve his game. A pro player next year IMO.

8. Owen Headrick - Defense - Erie Otters
Transfer from Lake Superior State who played a depth role for the Otters during their Championship run last year. This year he's earning big minutes and wearing a letter. Headrick is a smooth skating offensive defender who heads up Erie's powerplay. Shows excellent lateral mobility running the point and is aggressive in jumping up into the attack (top 10 in shots on goal per game). Was a bit surprised that he didn't change homes at the deadline, so he'll close out his OHL career in Erie. With the focus on moving the puck quickly and starting the transition game at the pro level, Headrick may attract attention from NHL scouts, especially since I see him being a little better defensively than a guy like Garrett McFadden or Marcus Crawford.

9. Logan DeNoble - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Hasn't had quite as good of a season as I expected he would, but he's still one of the better OA's in the OHL and the captain of the Petes this year. His goal production is a bit down this year, but he still has a chance to hit the 30 goal plateau for the second straight year. DeNoble possesses a terrific shot, one of the better wristers in the OHL IMO. Quick release and is excellent at coming down the wing and using defenders as a screen. DeNoble is also a solid two-way player who plays the penalty kill for the Petes too. Ultimately, what I think has held him back is an inability to develop his puck skill and creativity to the point where he can consistently generate his own scoring chances. Purely a trigger man in that sense. Paired with the right playmaker, DeNoble can be an asset to a pro franchise, so long as he continues to get stronger and quicker.

10. Hayden Verbeek - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 
Absolute warrior on the ice. Easily one of the hardest working players in the league. Doesn't have the world's most dynamic skill set but gets the most out of it possible by using his brain, his skating ability, and his lower body strength (a real bull despite being only 5'9). Always fighting for loose pucks, especially near the crease and in the slot where he's extremely elusive. Also, watch this guy in the neutral zone. Does a great job stopping advances and lifting sticks to break up plays, turning the tide the other way. Verbeek is also one of the OHL's best penalty killers. Again, not sure the offensive skill set is good enough for him to be a significant NHL player, but if the Hounds make it all the way this year, he's going to get a ton of exposure. All heart. All hustle.

Honorable Mentions (By Position)

I don't see any goaltenders other than Fazio that deserve mention as potential pro candidates.

A couple of terrific puck movers in Guelph's Garrett McFadden and Saginaw's Marcus Crawford. Similar sized guys who have similar skill sets. McFadden is the better skater IMO, where as Crawford is the better powerplay QB. I would say McFadden is the slightly better defender too, as Crawford can have some issues in his own end still (especially with decision making). Could see either as a potential pro player (more dynamic than Stefan Leblanc who signed with Montreal last year). Kitchener's new acquisition Austin McEneny is just a solid two-way defender who was a big part of Windsor's Mem Cup victory last year. Makes a good outlet pass and plays a relatively mistake free game. Lastly, North Bay's Riley Bruce, a former Calgary Flames pick, is an absolutely massive defender at 6'7. Skating remains a concern, but his size on the backend will always be attractive to NHL scouts.

Kenny Huether is the current leading goal scorer for Oshawa (as I write this). He's a little ball of energy on the ice who plays the game similar to Hayden Verbeek. Has a very quick release in the slot. Jordan Ernst is a converted defender who was originally at Bowling Green on a scholarship. The second year forward is a power winger who has a big shot and who plays the game hard, perhaps even teetering on the edge of pesky. Lastly Johnny Corneil is a hard working winger who plays a secondary role for the IceDogs, driving play with his skating ability and looking to create by driving the net and working the wall. He's also the captain of the upstart Dogs.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

2018 OHL Trade Deadline Report Cards

OHL players can now sleep easy as the 2018 OHL trade deadline has come and gone. Many players have said goodbyes. But with a new team often comes new and rewarding challenges. Many of these players will get the chance to play deeper into the playoffs and perhaps win an OHL championship. While others will receive increased responsibility and ice time in hopes of catching the eye of NHL scouts.

Many of the teams in the league were active in the past month and a half. Several teams (Hamilton, Kingston, Sarnia, Kitchener, etc) loaded up for deep playoff runs. Other teams (Windsor, London, Sudbury, etc) made moves to rebuild so that they can be good again in the years to come. It will be crazy fun to watch these teams battle it out in the playoffs.

For this article, I'm cutting off trades off at November 25th (the date of the huge Hamilton/Flint deal). So any trades made before then won't be factored into a teams grade. No sense assessing a team's ability to trade over the course of the season (even the last month or so is a bit of a stretch).

Also I think this is the place to state my opinion about the broken system that is the OHL trade market. I went on quite the rant on twitter the other day about it, and felt this would be the place to put it. When you have draft picks almost 10 years away being dealt in the OHL, I think we've got a major issue with the system. And it all stems from the fact that the OHL is the only league that prevents the trading of first round draft picks, and does not limit the year of which picks can be dealt. The QMJHL and WHL does both. Here's what I said on Twitter and I stand by it.

More than half the picks dealt by OHL teams this year were beyond 2020, which is also beyond where the QMJHL and WHL allow picks to be dealt. It's becoming absurd as GM's look to exploit the system more and more, as the value of players increase each trade deadline. I do not think it is too late for the league to address this. And allowing the trading of first round picks is the first step. And capping the year of picks that can move is the second. Why not create consistency among the three leagues? Wouldn't allowing the trading of first round picks be better than allowing the movement of select 16 year olds as it is tough for these kids to move in their first year in the league, and for some (not all) their first year away from home?

End rant. Let's do some grading! 

Eastern Conference

Barrie Colts
In: Dmitri Sokolov, Aaron Luchuk, OS 3 2022 (Conditional)
Out: Alexei Lipanov, Curtis Douglas, SBY 2 2021, BAR 2 2022, BAR 3 2024
Analysis: The surprise team of this OHL season, the Colts bring in a couple of veteran scorers to add more depth to their line-up. Luchuk has been a breakout star in his overage season, where as Import Sokolov is playing in his final OHL season after scoring 48 goals last year and is well on pace for his 3rd straight 30 goal year. The cost was high for Luchuk as they had to part with massive young forward Curtis Douglas and draft picks. I guess the real question I have is...are the Colts really THAT much better after having made these deals? I would say that their top 6 is more dynamic, but I'm not sure these these moves make the Colts a serious contender for the Conference come playoff time. I expected them to do more to capitalize on Svechnikov's final OHL season (as I'd bet a large chunk of cash on him being in the NHL next year). The Colts will still be solid next year, but under Svechnikov, I think they had a chance to make a few more deals to really go for it. I'm not sure they'll have that same opportunity next year. Problem was the lack of assets I'm sure, but failing to add veteran leadership to their defense and size to their forward group will likely hurt them down the stretch. At this point, Niagara may even capture the Division over them. Bottom line, I wanted them to do more.
Grade: B-

Hamilton Bulldogs
In: Robert Thomas, Nic Mattinen, Jake Gravelle, Riley Stillman, Nic Caamano, Ryan Moore, KIT 2 2018, SAG 5 2020, SAG 3 2023 (Conditional)
Out: Reilly Webb, Riley McCourt, Connor McMichael, Connor Roberts, WSR 3 2018, HAM 12 2018, HAM 2 2019, SBY 3 2019, MISS 2 2020 (Conditional), HAM 2 2020, HAM 3 2020, HAM 2 2021, HAM 2 2022, HAM 3 2022 (Conditional), HAM 2 2023 (Conditional), HAM 4 2023 (Conditional), HAM 5 2023, HAM 2 2024, HAM 3 2024 (Conditional), HAM 2 2025 (Conditional), HAM 2 2026 (Conditional)
Analysis: Talk about going for it. Already the top team in the Eastern Conference, look at all the talent the Bulldogs added in the past month and a half. Three legitimate top 6 forwards and two top 4 defenders. This team is flat out stacked. Love them going for it too as I believe in this roster and the way that it's assembled. Size and grit up front, puck movement from the blueline, and a goaltender who is playing lights out this year. The Thomas add, in particular, is huge. He's such an intelligent and dynamic player and if he doesn't make the Blues next year, he'll return next year when the Bulldogs could be equally as good if they get a few guys returning and not turning pro (highly possible). And yes, they did give up a TON of future assets. Their last two first round priority selections. They don't have a 2nd rounder from 2019-2026 (potentially). But here's the thing. They still have Arthur Kaliyev, who if the draft were held again today would no doubt be a top 5 selection. And they protected themselves by making the majority of those selections conditional (likely tied to guys like Thomas and Mattinen returning).
Grade: A

Kingston Frontenacs
In: Mitchell Byrne, Max Jones, Cliff Pu, Sean Day, Gabriel Vilardi
Out: Sergey Popov, Nathan Dunkley, Cody Morgan, KGN 6 2018, WSR 3 2019, KGN 2 2020, MISS 2 2020, KGN 3 2020, KGN 13 2020, KGN 3 2021, KGN 2 2022, KGN 2 2023, KGN 3 2023 (Conditional), KGN 2 2024, KGN 2 2025, KGN 2 2027 (Conditional), KGN 2 2028 (Conditional)
Analysis: Don't tell Kingston that the East Division is Hamilton's. Sure the Bulldogs might have a big lead right now, but anything is possible. And quite frankly, I think Kingston made these moves for the playoffs and to ensure that they at least take that 3rd spot in the Conference. Outside of goaltender Jeremy Helvig, this team is built to make that run next year, but I suppose they felt that they needed to make that run this year and not end up like Owen Sound who's had the most difficult of times this year because of poor goaltending. I applaud them for taking that chance. And they'll still be a very good team next year so long as they can find that goaltender in the offseason. The acquisition of Vilardi helps that too. But there's no question that they gave up a ton. Not really a fan of the Dunkley/Pu deal because I don't see enough of an upgrade and Pu was a no show in the playoffs last year for London. And the Fronts only have one 2nd rounder in the next 11 years. And how will they re-coup these picks in two years? I don't see a 2000 born or 2001 born who will be a prime time trade asset in 2 years when this team is rebuilding and (quite frankly) potentially very, very bad. If this team doesn't win a Championship within the next years, all of these acquisitions are going to look very poorly. To summarize, I love the aggressiveness to a degree to give them a solid two year window to capture an OHL Title, but I don't love a few of the deals and how void their future looks right now. Some of their competitors did better without sacrificing as much.
Grade: B

Mississauga Steelheads
In: Cole Carter, Reagan O'Grady, Mathieu Foget, SAR 2 2018, HAM 12, 2018, OTT 3 2019, OTT 5 2019 (Conditional)
Out: Jake Gravelle, OTT 3 2018, MISS 2 2019, WSR 3 2020, MISS 6 2020, MISS 3 2021 (Conditional), MISS 3 2022
Analysis: Was kind of a shock to see the route that Mississauga took at this year's deadline. Sitting out of the playoffs, the team opted to make moves to try to kick start their offense and shake things up. It's hard to argue with the results so far as the team has won 4 of their last 5 and is looking like an offensive juggernaut again. Is it a repeat of last year when the team caught fire in the second half and ended up capturing the Eastern Conference? It's certainly possible. But what if that doesn't happen? The team loses Michael McLeod, Nic Hague, and Jacob Moverare for absolutely nothing. And the cupboards are relatively bare after Jack Hughes has failed to report, and the team sits with only one 2nd and one 3rd over the next four drafts. And yes, the team could certainly deal Tippett and Ryan McLeod next year for a King's ransom. That would help. And Jack Hughes could report in his draft year. But we're talking about a lot of ifs and buts here. I just don't think that this team is constructed well enough (depth wise) to compete with the likes of Hamilton, Kingston, or multiple teams in the West. With the prices teams are paying, why not deal McLeod, Hague, and Moverare now, and then deal Tippett, and McLeod next year and really build properly for a run in a couple of years? Again, can't argue with the early results and if they go on to win an OHL Championship this year, I'll look like an idiot. But it's just not how I would have done things and I just don't see it as extremely intelligent asset management.
Grade: C

Niagara IceDogs
In: Sam Miletic, SBY 3 2018, WSR 7 2019
Out: Zach Shankar, PBO 2 2018, NIAG 3 2022, NIAG 2 2024, NIAG 2 2025
Analysis: Love the subtle Sam Miletic pick up made the IceDogs. Niagara has taken over first place in the division from Barrie and is positioned to give their young roster some serious playoff experience. Niagara is competing for a Conference championship a year earlier than most would have expected, so why not do what you can to make sure this young roster gets a ton of playoff exposure to make them even better next year when they could be the best team in the Conference? Miletic brings grit and playoff experience and the early results are tremendous (7 points in 3 games). Sure they had to give up some draft picks, but Niagara has a ton and the picks they gave up are mostly far into the future. Subtle, but excellent trade deadline.
Grade: B+

North Bay Battalion
In: Jake Henderson, Braeden Henderson, Matthew Struthers, OS 14 2018 SSM 2 2019, FLNT 4 2019, OS 2 2020, SAR 4 2020, SAR 2 2021, SAR 6 2022, KIY 10 2021, SAR 3 2024 (Conditional), SAR 2 2025 (Conditional)
Out: Cam Dineen, Brett McKenzie, NB 8 2019
Analysis: The Battalion bring in a pair of Hendersons and a talented younger power center in Matthew Struthers, while sending out the team's two trade chips in Dineen and McKenzie. The Struthers pick up is an excellent one for the Battalion as he is the type of player who really excels under coach Butler and is likely a top 2 line center over the next 2 and a half years. He's played quite well since the trade too. Not sure they did quite as well in the Dineen trade after seeing the returns for some other defenders (like Riley Stillman), but it all relies on how well Braeden Henderson develops. He has had a rough transition from Junior B thus far, but there's still lots of time for him to turn it around. Also like the Jake Henderson pick up to add veteran leadership to the team and to help them try to crawl into the playoffs. Paid barely anything for him, but this guy is an absolute warrior (especially on the PK).
Grade: B

Oshawa Generals
In: WSR 3 2018, HAM 2 2020, HAM 2 2022, HAM 4 2023 (Conditional), HAM 3 2024 (Conditional)
Out: Riley Stillman
Analysis: Just the one deadline deal for the Generals, which was surprising IMO. I thought that they would move at least another '98. Now the Generals go into next year with too many quality 98's and not enough spots. Will the value of a guy like Domenico Commisso be as good this offseason when he's a pending OA, as it would have been at this year's deadline? A good question and a bit of a risk IMO. But the return on Stillman was solid, getting an early 3rd and what will likely be an early 2nd in 2020 (when the Bulldogs could be starting a rebuild).
Grade: B

Ottawa 67's
In: Shaw Boomhower, Jacob Cascagnette, Merrick Rippon, ER 3 2018, MISS 2 2019, PBO 2 2019, OS 8 2019, SSM 3 2021, OS 3 2021 (Conditional)
Out: Peter Stratis, Mathieu Foget, Olivier Lafreniere, SAR 2 2018, OTT 3 2019, OTT 5 2019 (Conditional)
Analysis: I really like what the 67's did this deadline. Bringing in Boomhower to be an OA next year and Rippon as a quality young defender. They end up getting more for Stratis than they had to give up to get Rippon and I see Rippon as the better OHL defender down the line. Ottawa's defense could be downright scary to play against in a couple of years when Bahl, Robertson, Rippon, and Okhotyuk are all fully developed. I think that this team is better than they were before the deadline started, and they managed to add draft picks too (Ottawa has 11 2nd rounds over the next 4 years). Now that's a quality deadline.
Grade: A  

Peterborough Petes
In: Brady Hinz, SAR 2 2020, SAR 3 2020, SSM 15 2018 (Conditional)
Out: Jonathan Ang, Janne Tammela
Analysis: Kind of torn on what the Petes decided to do this trade deadline. They fired coach Jody Hull in hopes of saving their season. Then they moved Jonathan Ang to the Sting for a few picks and talented young offensive player Brady Hinz. The Ang deal is a good one because I'm actually not sure that the team is that much worse by swapping Hinz and Ang. Hinz has consistently been one of the higher scoring players in his age group and Ang has been a disappointment this year (IMO). The real question I have is, why not move out more players? I get it, you want to remain competitive and you believe in your roster. But you're currently last in your division and two teams in your division just loaded up big time. So why not trade guys like Korostelev and Dylan Wells to get even more assets and hope to compete again next year (which Peterborough has a chance of doing after drafting well the last few years)? I'm never a fan of doing things half-assed and I kind of feel like Peterborough did that this year.
Grade: C+

Sudbury Wolves
In: Alexei Lipanov, Peter Stratis, Ethan Lavalee, Kirill Nizhnikov, OTT 3 2018, BAR 2 2019, MISS 2 2019, SAR 4 2019 (Conditional), KIT 8 2019, ER 5 2020, MISS 3 2021 (Conditional), SAR 2 2023
Out: Dmitri Sokolov, Reagan O'Grady, Troy Lajeunesse, Michael Pezzetta, Mario Culina, ER 3 2018, OS 3 2018, GUE 8 2018, MISS 2 2019, PBO 2 2019, HAM 5 2019, SBY 2 2021, SSM 3 2021, OS 3 2022 (Conditional), SBY 2 2023
Analysis: I actually really like what the Wolves did at this year's deadline. They traded away the guys that they needed to (Sokolov, Pezzetta), but also used a draft pick surplus to bring in two quality young players in Nizhnikov and Stratis. Both add something to the roster that was badly needed; skill up front and puck movement from the blueline. Wolves management took a bit of a hit social media for the Sokolov deal. But I actually like them taking a chance. Probably 50/50 that Lipanov ends up in the AHL next year, and if he does, the Wolves have nothing to show for Sokolov. But, if he ends up returning to the OHL, Sudbury gets an impact forward who can play on their first line next year. Isn't that better than just bringing back a few extra draft picks (likely well into the future)? The market for Sokolov was not large. In the position that Sudbury is in, hoping to earn a top 4 spot next year, I take that chance and roll the dice every time. Only if the Lightning could somehow tell the Wolves their intentions before the Import Draft, but that's very, very unlikely.
Grade: A-

Western Conference

Erie Otters
In: Troy Lajeunesse, Hayden Fowler, Luke Beamish SSM 3 2018, SSM 6 2018, KGN 6 2018,FLNT 2 2019, GUE 2 2020, KGN 13 2020, SSM 2 2021, SSM 6 2021, SSM 2 2022, LDN 2 2023, SSM 3 2023
Out: Mitchell Byrne, Taylor Raddysh, Jordan Sambrook, Cade Robinson, ER 5 2020
Analysis: While the movement of Raddysh and Sambrook doesn't completely re-stock the cupboards, it's most certainly a start. Fowler is a solid addition to the team's future and all those draft picks will help (although the team still has few picks in 2018). Bottom line is that Erie is far from done. Ivan Lodnia and Kyle Maksimovich will most certainly move next year or this offseason, which will complete the cupboard filling. This is only the beginning. My only question is this...would dealing Lodnia now (like London did with Thomas) give them a better return than they would get this offseason or next year? Ditto for Maksimovich?
Grade: B+

Flint Firebirds
In: Riley McCourt, Connor Roberts, HAM 2 2019, SBY 3 2019, HAM 3 2020, HAM 5 2023, HAM 2 2023 (Conditional), HAM 2 2024
Out: Nic Mattinen, Ryan Moore, Nic Caamano
Analysis: Flint dealt off three of its four main trade pieces and got back some great future assets for them. Connor Roberts has played very well since the trade to Flint at the end of November and McCourt has a lot of potential as an offensive defender at this level. Flint has had some very bad luck this year, but one lucky thing was the return of Jalen Smereck. So why not deal him too? Is his veteran presence worth more than the return from limited suitors? That's the only thing I can think of, as Smereck's OA status made him a more difficult player to deal. That said, there had to have been interest as he's a quality player. After a couple of quality drafts and tons of picks coming up, the Firebirds did probably as well as they could have at this year's deadline, Smereck aside.
Grade: B

Guelph Storm
In: MISS 2 2021, WSR 2 2024, KIT 2 2025 (Conditional)
Out: Givani Smith
Analysis: Just one move for the Storm and that was moving out an unhappy Smith who requested a trade. Smith went to Kitchener in exchange for a couple of 2nd round picks far into the future. It's really unfortunate for Guelph that they couldn't get more, but Smith just hasn't been great this year after starting the season late due to injury. If he had been playing well, there's no question that they could have gotten a return similar to what London got for Max Jones, which included a quality young roster player. IMO, that has to factor into the grade though, even if it was outside of their control to a degree
Grade: B-

Kitchener Rangers
In: Mario Culina, Logan Brown, Austin McEneny, Givani Smith, NB 8 2019, WSR 3 2020, MISS 6 2020, MISS 3 2022
Out: Grayson Ladd, Cole Carter, Jake Henderson, SAG 2 2018, SAG 3 2018, KGN 2 2019, KIT 5 2019, KIT 8 2019, MISS 2 2021, KIT 10 2021, WSR 2 2024, KIT 2 2025 (Conditional)
Analysis: Kind of torn with what Kitchener did. Can you really argue with bringing in Memorial Cup winners Logan Brown and Austin McEneny? Especially when they did it without giving up Riley Damiani or Giovanni Vallati. Brown is the prized pick up as he adds a veteran presence down the middle that was needed. And Smith was picked up relatively cheap and could have a huge impact. But McEneny is the underrated pick up. He's a true warrior and will be counted upon heavily in the playoffs at both ends. And even though he's not listed, the addition of Mike Vukojevic is HUGE. His signing offsets the loss of Ladd (and then some). But I can't help but wonder if the Rangers are going to regret not really going after a top flight goaltender. Picking up Culina as depth was smart. And Richardson shows potential. Are either the true answer though? Are either going to get Kitchener to the OHL Finals? The counter argument to that is, Erie won an OHL Championship last year with Troy Timpano as goalie and he's playing Junior A now, so is it really that important if the team in front is just that good? The Rangers get a good grade though because even if they didn't completely address their biggest weakness, they did improve and they did it without sacrificing the fact that they could be good again next year too.
Grade: A-

London Knights
In: Connor McMichael, Sergey Popov, Nathan Dunkley, PBO 2 2018, WSR 3 2019, KGN 2 2020, MISS 2 2020 (Conditional), HAM 2 2021, KGN 3 2021, HAM 3 2022 (Conditional), NIAG 3 2022, KGN 2 2023, NIAG 2 2024, NIAG 2 2025, HAM 2 2025 (Conditional), HAM 2 2026 (Conditional)
Out: Sam Miletic, Robert Thomas, Max Jones, Cliff Pu, SBY 3 2018
Analysis: Love that the Knights moved their big trade pieces. I expected them to move a couple, but not nearly all of them. They made the right calls though, especially given the returns they received. The deals with Kingston were particularly great for London. IMO Nathan Dunkley might be close to as good as Cliff Pu is right now and they'll have him for the next few years. He's a true Hunter kind of player and is going to excel under his tutelage. McMichael looks like a great young player too and did well with limited ice time in Hamilton. London now has five picks inside the first three rounds this year (allowing them to roll the dice on some NCAA commit types), and seven 2nd rounders over the next three years. No doubt they will use these to bolster their line-up through trade at some point. Now imagine if they move Formenton and Bouchard next year in similar fashion...
Grade: A

Owen Sound Attack
In: Cade Robinson, Brett McKenzie, Olivier Lafreniere, Daniil Vertiy
Out: Luke Beamish, Matthew Struthers, OS 14 2018, OS 5 2018 (Conditional), OS 8 2019, OS 2 2020, OS 3 2021 (Conditional)
Analysis: Owen Sound was put in a tough spot at this year's deadline. No question that this team is way better than their current standing position. Injuries and WJC appearances have prevented the team from being at full strength for quite some time. And it continues with new acquisition Olivier Lafreniere already getting injured (groin). So do you tear down because of your bad luck or do you stay the course, wait for the team to get healthy and hope to make a surprising run in the playoffs? Problem is, the team needs to avoid finishing near the bottom so that they don't have to play the Soo, Sarnia, or Kitchener in the first round. That's uphill sledding, but not impossible. Ultimately, I would have done the same thing that Owen Sound did though. Add McKenzie to fill an open OA spot (although pundits will point to Struthers outproducing him thus far). And bring in a low cost goaltender to try to change your fortunes. My only question is, if you're not going to retool, why not go out and fill your open Import spot too and add even more depth up front? Could you have put together a better package for Sokolov? Or could you have brought in a guy like Renars Krastenbergs? Realistically, I think the only non OA that this team loses next year is Gadjovich, so that will give them another shot next year if things don't work out in 2018.
Grade: B-

Saginaw Spirit
In: Reilly Webb, OS 15 2018 (Conditional)
Out: Daniil Vertiy, KIT 2 2018, SAG 5 2020, SAG 3 2023 (Conditional)
Analysis: Relatively quiet deadline for the Spirit, except for the acquisition of hulking defender Reilly Webb. Didn't really expect them to add on the blueline, so it was a bit shocking to me. Webb hasn't had a terrific bounce back year from injury, but he's still a raw player with potential to improve next year. Even then, how much playing time will he get? A good insurance plan if Middleton doesn't return as an OA I suppose. Thought that Saginaw might address their open Import spot, but they didn't. This is an underrated team right now who could easily get into the 2nd round of the playoffs. And they should be even better next year so long as they address their goaltending situation this offseason (just like Kingston).
Grade: B-

Sarnia Sting
In: Michael Pezzetta, Jonathan Ang, Cam Dineen, GUE 8 2018
Out: Ethan Lavalee, Brazy Hinz, Braeden Henderson, SSM 2 2019 BAR 2 2019, SAR 4 2019 (Conditional), FLNT 4 2019, SAR 2 2020, SAR 4 2020, SAR 2 2021, SAR 3 2022, SAR 6 2022, SAR 2 2023, SAR 3 2024 (Conditional), SAR 2 2025 (Conditional)
Analysis: Busy deadline for the Sting as they bring in Pezzetta, Ang, and Dineen. And they made the right choice to load up IMO. Their window was this year with Kyrou in his last year in the league and Justin Fazio playing some terrific hockey. Dineen gives them a much needed puck mover. Ang fits their up tempo style well. And Pezzetta gives them size and depth down the middle. Three very wise additions. And they did it all without giving up talented 2001 Jamieson Rees (where as their competitors had to give up their 2001's). But they did have to give up a ton of draft picks and now are pretty bare for the next three years. And my only concern is their lack of experience on the blueline. I am a bit shocked that they didn't try to address that. That's just nitpicking though.
Grade: A

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
In: Taylor Raddysh, Jordan Sambrook, Janne Tammela
Out: Hayden Fowler, SSM 3 2018, SSM 6 2018, FLNT 2 2019, GUE 2 2020, SSM 2 2021, SSM 6 2021, SSM 2 2022, LDN 2 2023, SSM 3 2023, SSM 15 2018 (Conditional)
Analysis: The best team in the OHL gets better. How can you argue with that? Well you can't. Raddysh was one of the top fish available and better yet, he developed chemistry with Boris Katchouk at the World Juniors that will carry over to the Soo now. And Sambrook is a quality top four defender who can play in all situations. Two fantastic adds that make an already great team better. Underrated pickup of Tammela too. He's been injured all year, and is only now rehabbing in the AHL. It's obvious that Kyle Raftis is going to work on them sending him down to the OHL to finish the year and he could be a quality top 9 guy if so. Because he's an OA, you get to keep the rights to Kupari in hopes that he comes next year, while also potentially improving this year's squad. Genius if you ask me. Also, the Hounds may have moved Fowler, but they get to keep their two best 2001's in Cole Mackay and Joe Carroll. Benefit of great drafting. The only stone the Hounds left un-turned was that final OA spot. My guess is that the team hopes Colton White returns from the AHL, but that's far fetched. If you do go get an OA, they likely play sparingly and take away ice time from young guys who will be needed next year. Would the acquisition of Jake Henderson or Kyle Rhodes really be the difference between OHL Champs and an early exit? I don't believe so.
Grade: A

Windsor Spitfires
In: Grayson Ladd, Zach Shankar, Cody Morgan, Curtis Douglas, Cedric Schiemenz, SAG 2 2018, SAG 3 2018, KGN 2 2019, KIT 5 2019, MISS 2 2020, KGN 3 2020, SBY 2 2021, BAR 2 2022, KGN 2 2022, KGN 2 2024, BAR 3 2024, KGN 2 2025, KGN 2 2027 (Conditional), KGN 2 2028 (Conditional)
Out: Logan Brown, Austin McEneny, Gabriel Vilardi, Sean Day, WSR 7 2019
Analysis: It's the cycle in Junior hockey. Memorial Cup champs one year. Rebuilding the next. The Spits dealt off their valuable assets (minus Mike Dipietro) and got back a ton of future assets. Cody Morgan is a quality young player, but Ladd and Douglas could be the real keys. Ladd has really turned a corner the last month or so and Douglas could be an absolute beast in this league (8 points in 10 games so far). The picks re-fill an absolutely barren cupboard too. How quick we forget that this team is currently 4th in the Western Conference though. And even though I don't expect them to stay that high, keeping Dipietro will give them a chance of advancing past the first round in the playoffs. It's extremely obvious that Dipietro will be moving next year or this offseason, with about as many as a dozen teams as suitors. They'll get a ton for him and fill those cupboards even more. Also love the upside of picking up Schiemenz on waivers. Thought this guy was going to have a monster year last year after a great preseason, but strength was an issue. The skill set is there and if playing against men this year has made him stronger, he could be an impact player this year and next.
Grade: A

Who do you think were this year's winners and losers?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Midseason Top 50 for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft

The start of the 2018 calendar year is nearly upon us and that means it is time for me to re-evaluate my rankings for the 2018 Draft. The OHL season is nearly at the half way mark (for most teams) which gives us a great indication of how certain players have developed in their draft season. Many players have stepped up to assume large roles on their club, while others have disappointed and find themselves on the outside looking in.

I think that the order of the OHL's crop this year is still not even close to being set in stone. It's sort of a down year for the OHL (and CHL) overall for first round talent. I would say that Andrei Svechnikov is really the only lock to be a pick inside the lottery. Then we've got a whole host of players who could be mid to late first round picks (or early to mid 2nd round picks). The order of these players is different depending not only on who you ask, but what day it is. Who's the top defender available, Evan Bouchard or Ryan Merkley? Who's the top forward available behind Svechnikov? Akil Thomas, Serren Noel, Barrett Hayton, or Ryan McLeod? As always, depth is pretty solid for the OHL and the league should still occupy a good portion of the 2nd and 3rd round, as well as the draft spots overall. How some of these guys finish their year (or how they perform in an event like the U18's) will hopefully give us a clearer picture of a consensus draft order.

For those unfamiliar with my lists, I only include first time eligible players. So a guy like Sean Durzi isn't listed despite the fact that I'd expect him to receive draft consideration. I do a list of "re-entries" or second/third year eligible players prior to the draft.

And for comparison's sake, here's my preliminary top 50 from October.  

Here's the list:

1. Andrei Svechnikov - Forward - Barrie Colts
In October I mentioned that Svechnikov already had the top spot on this list locked down for June. And despite missing nearly two months of action with a broken hand, that hasn't even come close to changing. This a 6'3, 185lbs bull who impacts the game on so many different levels. I would expect that his NHL playing weight would be up over 200lbs, making him as difficult to stop as a guy like Alex Ovechkin. For all his strengths, perhaps one thing that has been standing out lately is his vision and playmaking ability. Sometimes guys who possess his skill set and size, can force plays by being too aggressive in driving the net. That whole notion of "head down to the net." But Svechnikov exhibits zero tunnel vision. This is a patient player who is just as good at using his size to create for his teammates, as he is for himself. Simplified, he knows when to shoot it and when to pass it. While it's generally considered to be a 19 year old's tournament, I'm still really excited to see how Svechnikov performs at the World Juniors.

2. Akil Thomas - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
I'm a big Thomas fan and despite most scouting agencies dropping him to the late 1st round range, I'd still consider him in the middle of the first as the 2nd best OHL prospect available. I think he plays a pro style game which could translate to the next level really well once he adds some strength to his frame. Excels as a forechecker and boards player by outhustling and outworking opposing defenders for loose pucks in the offensive end. And has the vision and creativity to create plays coming off the wall. Also excels in transition where his skating ability (which continues to improve) can dictate the pace and keep defenders on their heels. I do see why scouts might see him in a lesser light though. I think he's probably more likely a winger at the NHL level, despite the versatility he's shown this year by playing center. I think the low goal scoring numbers, despite high shot numbers, are a slight cause for concern. And I wonder if he ends up as more of a complimentary second line guy as opposed to a prime time offensive creator. All that said, this is a guy who wears a letter in Niagara already and possesses great work ethic. I see him continuing to improve to the point where he develops into a prime time OHL player, if he isn't already.

3. Evan Bouchard - Defense - London Knights
Bouchard makes a jump on my list for midseason, bumping Ryan Merkley out of the top defender available spot. I've always been a fan of Bouchard (see this list from March 2016), but I just didn't think his potential for the NHL level was quite as high as others (it can often be tough to read late birthdays in that regard). However, he's a made a believer out of me that he could be a quality second pairing guy who sees top powerplay unit responsibilities. Look, not only is this guy a contender to lead the OHL in defensive scoring, but he leads the London Knights in shots (by a wide margin) and could end up leading the Knights in scoring this year. You can't scoff at those achievements. Bouchard sees the ice very well and he's really cleaned up his game at both ends. Makes a lot of smart pinches to keep pucks in, and knows when to jump up in the play. This vision (in addition to possessing a great shot) makes him an elite powerplay QB. Defensively, I don't think he'll ever be a dominant two-way player, but he's smart enough and big enough to play big time minutes at the next level. Has been playing over half the game for London of late. I think that maybe the one thing that concerns me a bit is the lack of progression we've seen in his skating ability. Bouchard is very mobile and he's far from a poor skater. But I do wonder if his straight ahead explosiveness isn't elite enough for him to be a top notch offensive contributor 5 on 5 in the NHL. Is he Alex Goligoski, or Cody Ceci/Cody Franson?

4. Ryan Merkley - Defense - Guelph Storm
At this point, the book on Merkley is out. Everyone knows how talented he is offensively. And everyone knows about his inconsistencies defensively. Merkley frustrated scouts as a minor midget player. He frustrated scouts as an OHL rookie. And he's continuing to frustrate scouts as a second year OHL player and NHL draft eligible player. So where does the progression happen? Can we honestly say that Merkley is a better player this year than he was last year? I'm not sure. Look, this is a guy who leads his team in scoring by a wide margin as a defender. Watching him play can be a real treat, especially on the powerplay. The way that he creates space with his skating ability is often mesmerizing. And I think a lot of the visible frustration we see from him on the ice comes from Guelph being an inconsistent team. He's clearly an intense kid who wears his heart on his sleeve and when Guelph is struggling, that can cause some negative reactions. In a lot of ways, the NHL interview portion at the combine will be critical for him to convince teams that he should be their first round pick. And as much as I don't wish failure on teams, part of me hopes that Guelph has limited playoff success this year so that we get to see Merkley on the international stage at the U18's. Thought he played well at the Hlinka, but at the U18's, he'd have to play a more defined 5 on 5 role and it would be a great test for him. Bottom line though, if I'm an NHL scout whose job depends on making good picks, do I trust Merkley enough to draft him in a year that's filled with great defenders?

5. Serron Noel - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Is Noel currently the 5th best player on this list? No. He might not even be top 15. But it's about where he could be, not where he's at right now. The draft is about projection and Noel projects as potentially the 2nd best forward taken behind Svechnikov (from the OHL). Noel is a bit awkward to watch. Sometimes it looks like he's going to fall over when he's cutting through the offensive zone. Sometimes it looks like he's out of control when carrying the puck. Think of him like Bambi. But when this 6'5 forward is suddenly 230lbs in a few years, just how dominant could he be? The skating, despite being a bit awkward, is effective and deceptive. And his ability to control the wall is already, at times, dominant. I also think he demonstrates a good hockey IQ when it comes to tracking the play offensively, and understanding where to be without the puck. Very effective near the crease. The million dollar question is, does Noel possess the playmaking ability and puck skill to be a driving force? Or is he a complimentary, space clearer who probably settles into being more of a 3rd line player at the next level? Assessing that hockey sense and vision with the puck will be the focus for scouts in the second half.

6. Barrett Hayton - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 
I really enjoy watching Hayton play. He's a real warrior on the ice; a real puck hound. Incredibly effective player below the hash marks. Has excellent anticipation on the forecheck and forces a lot of turnovers. Isn't asked to be a prime time penalty killer right now (because SSM is that good), but eventually, he will be a prime time PK'er. Also exhibits a great understanding of lanes and spacing. Not the world's most gifted skater (only average), but he's so effective at finding open space in the offensive end. His brain operates a little quicker than the defense and he's very versatile. The type of player who seems to fit in well with any linemates. Because of a quick release and these great instincts, Hayton will be a 40 goal scorer in the OHL eventually. It will be interesting to see how his game with the puck, and in transition, progresses throughout his OHL career, to see if it can match his abilities without the puck. At the very least, he projects as a great complimentary piece on a scoring line. Reminds me a lot of Bryan Little, when he used to play in Barrie.

7. Ryan McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
It's been tough sledding for McLeod offensively since the return of his brother Michael. He has only two goals in his last 15 games and for a 3rd year player (late 1999 birth date), that's not the type of production you're looking for from a first round pick. Mississauga, as a team, has been downright horrible lately and instead of beefing up for a playoff run, they're probably more likely now to deal away veterans to rebuild. I think it all comes down to a lack of identity for McLeod, both as a player and as a performer in the Steelheads line-up. He shifts from wing to center, depending on the game. And because of that, consistency has been tough to achieve for him. As a player, what is he going to be at the next level? He has size and is a marvelous skater. But he doesn't utilize his size as well as he should. That's not to say that he's a soft player. It's that he's not a physical player who looks to engage physically to create offense or turnovers. So does he project as a checking line player at the next level if the offense doesn't develop? I would say no. Offensively, he has good vision as a playmaker and excels in a North/South role, but are the goal scoring instincts top notch? Sometimes there just seems to be something missing from his game. If the Steelheads rebuild, it will be McLeod's team again in the second half and hopefully he can get his production back on track.

8. Allan McShane - Forward - Oshawa Generals
A tough guy to project right now IMO. I've seen Oshawa a fair amount this year and McShane is consistently noticeable for one reason or another. One game you watch him and say, "man, McShane is a great playmaker. He has great vision, coming off the wall." The next game you say, "wow, McShane could be a great goal scorer in this league. He's got a very deceptive release." Then the next game you say, "wow, I'm really impressed with McShane defensively. He's got a great stick in the defensive end and he does a great job outmuscling forwards along the wall to get pucks out." The problem is, I don't think we have the sum of all those parts yet. I don't think he's quite put everything together to be the type of guy who can consistently impact the game in all facets. I think part of that also has to do with only average skating ability. But, how many young centers do have it all together? This guy is smart enough to play at the NHL level, I think it's just a matter of determining at what capacity that will be. Can he be a Ryan O'Reilly type if his game continues to take steps forward? Or is he more of a Dominic Moore?

9. Kevin Bahl - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Really like this kid. Each month, I think we're seeing him become more comfortable and confident in his abilities. At 6'6, 231lbs, he has the potential be a dominant defensive player and physically he's really starting to assert himself consistently. He's transforming into one of the toughest defenders to play against in the league and I can't imagine what he'll be like as a 20 year old in two years. He's never going to be confused for Ryan Merkley, but he has impressive mobility for a big man, especially laterally and backwards. Anything you can get from him offensively is just gravy, because of the impact he could have defensively. And Bahl is more than competent as a puck mover, even playing on the powerplay (although sometimes as a net presence and not a QB). I'm not usually one to advocate for taking big defenders high (if you have read this blog over the years), because the success rate is so low. But I believe in Bahl and I wouldn't hesitate at using a mid to early 2nd round pick on him at this point.

10. Cam Hillis - Forward - Guelph Storm
Here are the splits. Hillis' first 13 games: 1 goal and 5 assists. Hillis' last 19 games: 13 goals and 10 assists. It took the former St. Andrew's College alum some time to adjust to the league, but he's been the Storm's best and most consistent forward since. And that's on a team with 5 NHL drafted forwards (including two early 2nd rounders). Hillis' elusiveness and creativity in the offensive end can be fun to watch. Not the biggest kid at 5'11, 163lbs, but he darts around and plays relatively fearless. He possesses a lightning quick release and creates a lot of time and space for himself with his skating ability and puck skill. Hillis definitely possesses a lot of offensive potential. His play away from the puck and in his own end was billed to be a strength (entering the league), but it's been pretty inconsistent. I think it comes down to the need to add strength. Don't be surprised if Hillis is this year's Robert Thomas and Morgan Frost, a guy who slowly builds momentum and ends up a first round pick.

11. Alec Regula - Defense - London Knights
If you hadn't guessed from my comments on social media, I'm fully on the Regula train. This guy is a legitimate NHL prospect. Has emerged to become the Knights' 2nd best defender behind Evan Bouchard and looks to be just hitting the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he's capable of doing. He's 6'4, 190lbs, but also one of the youngest players available this year (could he possibly grow more?). And he possesses excellent mobility, gliding up ice with ease. He's been starting to explore his ability to lead the rush and has looked pretty good doing it. Defensively, he's definitely raw. Makes some questionable reads. But also makes some great plays by using his mobility to keep forwards wide or break-up plays. Would like to see him use his size more to be physical, especially in the corners, but that could come. As I said, this guy is very raw. But you'd be blind to ignore the potential that he's demonstrating in his first OHL season. 

12. Ty Dellandrea - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Came into the year as one of the top OHL prospects available. But has slowly slid down the rankings and a lot of that has had to do with how inconsistent Flint has been as a team. And Dellandrea isn't a flashy player. He's not going to dangle around two defenders and hit the highlight pack consistently. But he's a very honest player who does a lot of little things well. He's an excellent two-way player and has the best understanding of his own end of any forward on this list. He also makes really good decisions with the puck in the offensive end. Doesn't force plays. Works the wall well and rarely turns the puck over. Dellandrea also has a good shot and hands in close, which profiles him as a goal scoring center. I think the only thing that I'd say is I wish he were a bit bigger for the type of game he plays. The track record for the average sized, two-way center hasn't been great in recent years. Will be a shoe in to be a leader for Canada at the U18's this year and will have his chance to solidify himself as a 2nd rounder then.

13. Kody Clark - Forward - Ottawa 67's
One of the most improved players in the league this year, Clark has exploded to become a focal point of Ottawa's offense. The 6'1 power forward doesn't throw the body around as hard as his father did (Wendel), but he's an extremely hard worker at both ends who uses his size to win battles and create scoring chances. The thing I love about Clark is that he's noticeable even when he's not hitting the score sheet. You can't say that about every player on this list ahead of him. Seems to have a couple shifts a game where the defense just can't take the puck off of him below the hash marks. His skating really has improved a lot from last year too and it's making him way more of a factor off the rush. Moving forward, I think the area of his game that needs the most work is his playmaking and vision with the puck. Can dominate in the cycle, but sometimes not a lot comes of it. As he continues to gain confidence in his ability to handle the puck, it's certainly not impossible for this area to grow.

14. Rasmus Sandin - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Late arrival to the league but has come as advertised, stepping right into the top 4 of the best team in the OHL. Skating has been better than many said it was, IMO. Certainly not an elite skater, but he's quite mobile and has been able to lead and extend rushes at this level. Been quite impressed with his overall two-way ability and smarts. Not sure I've really seen him make a boneheaded play with the puck this year. And he has very good positioning defensively, which is needed given his lack of size (5'11) and lack of physicality. Just a very heady player. I guess my only concern is projecting him as an NHL player. Does he possess top 4 potential? Can the skating continue to improve? Will his shot from the point improve to make him a better powerplay QB? Will he continue to grow as a physical player in his own end? A solid late 2nd/early 3rd round pick IMO because of those questions.

15. Nathan Dunkley - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Deserves more attention from the scouting community than he's receiving thus far. He's been a very solid first liner for the Fronts for the last few months and has developed great chemistry with Jason Robertson. He's kind of an interesting player to watch. He actually has terrific speed and was billed as one of the best skating forwards in this age group coming out of minor midget. But he seems to prefer slowing the game down in the offensive end. Not too often you see him try to exploit defenders with his speed, instead opting to play more of a dump and chase, cycle/possession style of game. He and Robertson really tire out opposing defenses by how well they work the cycle. Where he does use his speed is on the backcheck. Dunkley is an excellent defender and is consistent and reliable as the first forward back. He also has a physical edge to his game. At this point, what's really separating Dunkley from a guy like Dellandrea?

16. Riley Damiani - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Probably going to be consistently higher on Damiani than the professional scouting community and I'm OK with that. Yes, he's a bit undersized at 5'10. And his offensive production has been inconsistent, as there are times where his lack of strength can be evident. But no one will ever question this guy's motor. Just a non stop worker out there. Uses his speed well to attack all loose pucks with vigor. Is an excellent penalty killer and defensive player. Does a little bit of everything for the Rangers. Offensively, I really like how he uses his speed cutting through the neutral zone to push the pace. Very aggressive in attacking across the blueline and has a lot of confidence in his puck carrying ability. Not entirely sure he's going to be more than a potential quality 3rd line center, but man this guy needs to be rewarded for working his ass off. Probably more of a 4th or 5th rounder, despite my ranking of him around the 3rd (roughly).

17. Pavel Gogolev - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Roller coaster year for the 2nd year winger. Started off exceptionally well and was rated in my top 10 (from the OHL) in October. But then went ice cold. Now suddenly, he's heating up again. So what do we have in Gogolev? Will the real one please stand up? I definitely love Gogolev's speed. Quick strike player who involves himself in a lot of odd man rushes when he's hot. Also think he has the potential to develop into a solid boards player who can create coming off the wall and use his speed to drive the net. The problem is, his ability to play through traffic is definitely inconsistent. Throughout his dry spell in November, he really wasn't much of a factor at either end and wasn't aggressive enough with or without the puck. His game lacked intensity. That intensity is going to be key to his progression moving forward, as I'm not sure he's going to be able to get by on skill alone. Potential goal scorer for the next level though.

18. Blade Jenkins - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Like Gogolev, Jenkins is another player whose production has been very inconsistent this year. Had a rough transition to the league as it took him 10 games to score his first OHL goal. But then he couldn't be stopped and went on a tear. Which has since been followed up by another dry spell (only one goal in his last 9). When he's got the puck, I really like how aggressive Jenkins is in attacking the net. The shift from center to wing really jump started the increase in production and performance. Simplified the game for him and allowed him to be more of a North/South player. His skating is better than it was billed to be, (although far from elite) and he could be a tough player to stop below the hash marks once he fills out (and continues to work on his explosiveness). Away from the puck, his game lacks consistency though. I've seen him throw a few really nice checks to separate his man from the puck in the defensive end, but there are other times where he looks a bit lost. I do also wonder about how good his hands are in close too. Can he be a quality goal scorer (now that he's switched to the wing)? An interesting prospect none the less.

19. Caleb Everett - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Like Cam Hillis, there was bound to be an adjustment period for Everett, a highly touted defender coming from midget with the Compuware program. But he's getting better by the month. In fact, he hasn't been a (-) player in any game since October 29th. That's damn impressive. Everett was supposed to be a dominant stay at home defender, but he's been way better offensively than anyone could have expected. Looks confident and comfortable moving the puck up ice and is even showing off some potential PP QB skills on the point. Outside of Bouchard, Merkley, and Sandin, this guy has the best ppg of any draft eligible defender. We've got a 6'2 defender who is mobile, demonstrates an ability to play both ends, and is really starting to explore how dominant he can be in the defensive end through physicality. Right up there with Regula as a fast riser. If he didn't play in Saginaw, I think he'd be getting a lot more love.

20. Giovanni Vallati - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
For me, Vallati is still a guy with some real projectable tools, but who hasn't yet figured out an identity as a player and prospect. Last year, I was very impressed with his ability to use his mobility to defend his own end, in addition with his ability to start the breakout with crisp, clean exit passes. But he was not good at the Hlinka camp this summer and started off the OHL season equally poorly. It was as if he was trying too hard to make an impact offensively and had become very turnover prone. Problem was, this also limited his effectiveness in the defensive end. He's definitely been better the last two times that I've seen Kitchener and appears to be back to playing a relatively safe game at both ends, built around his terrific skating ability. I wonder if he's running into the same problem Jacob Paquette did last year though. Good size and mobility, but lacking an identity a prolific NHL prospect. Will his offensive game improve to the point where he can be a powerplay QB and puck mover? Will his intensity in the defensive end increase to the point where he can be a stalwart and the type of guy you want on the ice in the last minute protecting a lead? Again, the tools are there, it's just tough to figure what they end up creating.

21. Merrick Rippon - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Rippon is a player who is really starting to grow on me. Not surprisingly, there was an adjustment period for him coming over from the CCHL to start the year. Was a big acquisition for the Steelheads and he came in with high expectations. But he has gotten better and better (even if Mississauga has gotten worse and worse) as the season has gone on. Really love the physicality that he plays with. Very difficult player to beat one on one because of his mobility and his desire to take away space from you. Can still make some questionable decisions with the puck and in his reads near the crease, but I think he's a potentially solid #4-5 for the next level. I'm sure that he has more offensively than he's shown so far, and if the Steelheads sell off, he could get a chance in the second half to see more ice time.

22. Aidan Dudas - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Love watching Dudas play. When he hops over the boards, it's like he's shot out of a cannon. Just a little ball of energy. Dudas is a very complete player too, who is equally engaged in all three zones. Loves to play with the puck on his stick and possesses the skill and creativity to be a top notch playmaker. But if he turns the puck over, he gets on his horse and is one of the first guys back in the defensive end, looking to make a play on the backcheck. Dudas is gaining a ton of confidence in his shot too, and is starting to look to be aggressive in driving the middle of the ice to use his shot. Not really a ton of bad things to say about him. So why is he ranked 22nd? He just hasn't really grown since minor midget (still only 5'8), and I'm not sure his skating is elite enough for him to be heavily considered by NHL scouts within the first couple of rounds. Heck, my ranking at 22nd might even be higher than we see from a group like NHL Central Scouting come January. He'll need to keep up the production and then some to be a top 100 pick come June, but I'm confident he can do it.

23. Kirill Nizhnikov - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
The early results in Sudbury have been fantastic, but this is a midseason list and we can't discount how poor Nizhnikov looked in Barrie. Disengaged without the puck, perimeter focused, and turnover prone. This is a guy who possesses as good of puck skill as any player on this list. But he needs to play with a high level of intensity in order to be consistently successful. So far in Sudbury, as mentioned, all of those things have looked much better. One play in particular comes to mind in a game I saw. Blazed in on the forecheck, forced a turnover by separating the defender from the puck behind the net and made a beautiful pass to Sokolov for an easy goal in the slot. These are the types of plays Nizhnikov is capable of consistently. And if he continues to play at this level in Sudbury and the consistency in his game returns, then I'll gladly move him back up the list. But before then, I was getting flashbacks to how Nikita Korostelev looked in his draft year.

24. Curtis Douglas - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Recent acquisition of the Spitfires in the Aaron Luchuk deal and the early return has been great (2 goals in 2 games). The 6'8 center is an absolute behemoth who looks like a near immovable object in front of the net at times. With his reach and size, there are times where he is a dominating force along the wall. And you don't need to worry about Douglas not using his size. This guy has a clear vision of how he needs to play and he's certainly not shy about throwing his weight around. Now that he's in Windsor, he's going to see all the ice time he can handle, especially on the powerplay. And that's a great thing. I do wonder if his skating will ever be able to improve to the point where he can be a consistent NHL contributor. And I want to see more from him in transition, as I feel like he can struggle accepting passes at full speed. But this is a monster who has a lot of potential to dominate in the offensive end. If the production picks up in Windsor, he's going to move up this list by June.

25. Carter Robertson - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Robertson has all the tools you look for in a potential two-way defender for the next level. This year, his defensive game has taken big strides forward. Uses his mobility to defend the rush well and is having a lot more success winning one on one battles near the crease and along the wall. Offensively, his game still hasn't taken that next step though. Even though he possesses the skating ability to be an impact puck rusher, he's been more content to make quick exit passes or simply chip the puck out. Want to see him jump up into the play more and take more chances offensively, even if it means a turnover here and there (which was a bit of an issue in his rookie season). Some people will simply look at the stats and wonder what all the fuss is about, but Robertson possesses all the tools to become an NHL defender. It's just a matter of putting everything together.

26. Jacob Ingham - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
Has definitely been one of the more disappointing draft eligible players from the OHL this year. Mississauga's defense has not been good. But neither has Ingham IMO. Yes, he does get hung out to dry a lot. Faces a ton of odd man rushes, and wide open forwards near the crease. But there have been a few games where he's just really fighting the puck. Seems to be getting beat low a lot this year. Leaving gaps while going post to post, not reading angles correctly. That .879 save percentage isn't going to get you drafted very high, bad team in front of you or not. This is starting to remind me a lot of Dylan Wells' draft year. Ingham has all the talent and the size NHL scouts are looking for. But he needs to clean some things up and re-find his confidence. If Mississauga can't right their ship, he's probably a top candidate to be the starter for the U18 team this year, which could help him save his draft year. Definitely not a banner year for the OHL in terms of goaltenders available.

27. Nico Gross - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Certainly an interesting prospect. Was a bit shocked that he got the invite to the Top Prospect's Game. But I do get it. Gross is all potential. Super raw, but the upside is very high. He's very noticeable as a puck rusher and is very aggressive in pushing the pace. Also looks quite comfortable running the point on the powerplay. Also noticeable is his physical play. Plays hard in the defensive end and is not afraid to stand up forwards coming across the blueline. But his decision making with the puck has been quite questionable. Lots of bad pinches, and plays where he tries to force shots through only to have them blocked and the play go back the other way. Also can be caught chasing the puck in the defensive end. His reads will need big time work. But, he's a high upside guy who will be part of a great Oshawa team moving forward. Patience will be key. Really curious to see how he plays at the World Juniors this year on a Swiss squad with relatively low expectations.

28. Declan Chisholm - Defense - Peterborough Petes
A tough player to get a read on for me. Peterborough hasn't been very good in the times I've seen them this year and in games like those, it can be tough to assess defenders. I like the way Chisholm transitions up ice. Makes good decisions with the puck in his own end and uses his skating ability to escape forecheckers. Like how he moves the puck on the powerplay too. Defensively, he uses his mobility to stay ahead of attackers and is a solid stick checker. Would like to see more physicality though as I've seen him lose his share of board battles. Currently out for a good chunk of time with a high ankle sprain. Hopefully by the time he comes back, Peterborough has made a few trades to bolster their blueline, allowing him to ease back into action. 

29. Tyler Tucker - Defense - Barrie Colts
Throwback defender who relishes in the opportunity to physically punish opposing forwards. Tucker has emerged as one of the OHL's most physical players, something that has made him a difficult player to match up against. Possesses the size at 6'1, 200lbs to go with his appetite of destruction and that makes him a solid stay at home defender prospect. Offensively, I think he's capable of a bit more than he's shown too. Saw him more involved at the beginning of the year, but lately seems more content in keeping things safe. But moves the puck better than your average bruising defender. Anyway you slice it, he's been a big part of Barrie's resurgence this year. Just needs to continue to improve his skating, as becoming more mobile will be the key to his progression as a legitimate stay at home rock.

30. Damien Giroux - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Highly intelligent center who has been one of the most consistent offensive performers on this list. Not the type to wow you with speed or creativity, but he has been extremely effective this year for an inconsistent Saginaw team. Rarely makes a poor play in the offensive end and seems to have eyes in the back of his head. Creates a lot of scoring chances out of nothing by exhibiting patience and poise with the puck. And even though he's only 5'10, he seems to come out on the right side of a lot of one on one battles. Also have to love how complete his game is. Equally intelligent in all three zones and plays in all situations for the Spirit. I guess the real concern is Giroux is an undersized center who lacks dynamic skating ability. That can be a tough sell for NHL scouts. Even with some drawbacks, Giroux deserves praise for how well he's performed this year.

31. David Levin - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Just returning from a lower body injury that kept him out for a month and a half. I feel like some scouts/writers have given him too much leeway because he was the first overall pick in the OHL. But we're looking at a 3rd year player who is still under a point per game. Almost 60% of his production this year has come in two games. That means he's been held off the score sheet in 9 of his 16 games. Puck skill is through the roof, but I wonder about everything else. Especially the fact that he's undersized and not a dynamic skater. Will need to have a big second half to stay on the draft radar IMO. John Hughes was the last first overall pick in the OHL to go undrafted (2006 was his draft year) and I personally think Levin might be dangerously close to reaching that territory.

32. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Extremely talented playmaking center who is also extremely immature physically. His hands are golden and he makes defenders miss with ease. But if he's not able to create that space with his hands, he has difficulty because he's not strong enough to fight off checks consistently. He needs that room to operate. Because of this, I feel like he's been turnover prone in the games that I've seen this year. However, it's important to note that Der-Arguchintsev is THE youngest player available this year (born on the Sept. 15 cutoff). Has a lot of potential once he gets stronger. Would improve his shot, his ability to create space, and his skating. 

33. Adam Liska - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
The offense has finally started to come for Liska, with 8 points in his last 5 games before leaving for the WJC's (where he'll play for Slovakia). Liska has been an effective forward all season long, as an OHL rookie, even if he wasn't hitting the score sheet. Really impressive boards player who is very tough to separate from the puck. And he's aggressive in attacking the crease too. Was only a matter of time before the production matched his effort level. I guess the question I have is, is his skating ability good enough to be an NHL player? Definitely lacks explosiveness in his stride. And I'm not sure the offensive potential is sky high. However, as long as he continues producing upon returning from the WJC's, he should start to generate more drafted buzz because of how effective he is without the puck.

34. Dennis Busby - Defense - Flint Firebirds
Really tough year for Busby so far, and it probably isn't going to get any easier. Injured in the preseason with an upper body injury, then finally returned at the end of October, only to get injured again. I'm hearing that it could be season ending, which would mean that Busby's draft season will include two games played. Now why is he still ranked 34th? Because I thought he was sensational last year for Flint as a rookie (was my 6th most impressive 2000 born last year). And coming into the year (after a great Hlinka camp), I had high expectations for him. His game is tailored for today's NHL. Built on sensational skating ability and puck movement. At this point, he's going to stay around this range for me unless other guys below him step up their games. Wouldn't hesitate to use a draft pick on him. Great example is Josh Mahura, who has become one of the top defensive prospects in the CHL and only played two regular season games in his NHL draft year (although did make it back by the playoffs). 

35. Matthew Struthers - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
His offensive production hasn't been nearly as good as I thought it would be this year. The 3rd year center is already close to passing his career best in goals and points, but I did expect him to be a bit closer to a point per game. Struthers is a big, power center who plays both ends quite well and shows potential to be an excellent possession based player who can dominate down low and along the walls. Seems to struggle at times with the puck in transition and I wonder if there's enough offensive skill there to be an NHL player. But power centers don't grow on trees and he's probably worth a look in the mid to late rounds.

36. Connor Roberts - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Has been better since the trade to Flint (the big piece in the Nic Caamano and Ryan Moore deal). I think part of that has to do with increased ice time and part of it has to do with a position change (has shifted from center to the wing in Flint). Even though you hope he can eventually be a center with that 6'4 frame, he looks a lot more comfortable on the wing right now where he's been able to simplify his game. He certainly has skill and I think there's a fair amount of offensive potential to his game. But he needs to play bigger and use that massive body to his advantage. Bullodogs' fans grew frustrated watching him play because he'd lose puck battles and give up positioning far too easily for a 6'4, 215lbs guy. If he could add some physicality to his game, and become a more consistent offensive contributor, we'd be talking about a guy much higher than 36th on this list. Lots of time for him to evolve and he'll get every opportunity to do so in Flint.

37. Brady Hinz - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Highly skilled, but undersized (5'8) forward. Hasn't been able to keep up the torrid pace he started the year on, but that was to be expected. Has remained a productive secondary scorer for the Sting. Really effective near the crease and in the slot, despite being undersized. Has that elusiveness to him. And he's got very quick hands which allows him be a quick strike player in the middle of the ice. Not as convinced as I am with Dudas that his game will translate to the next level as a winger. But he's consistently been one of the higher scoring players of this age group and that should get him drafted. 

38. Connor Corcoran - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Has emerged as a top four defender for the Spitfires this year and has been impressive at both ends of the ice. Been really impressed with his decision making with the puck this year and is displaying good vision. But has also become a very steady influence in the defensive end, who uses his 6'2 frame to battle hard and come away with loose pucks. An interesting player as he's bounced around between forward and defense previously, so now that he's firmly on the back-end, it's interesting to see his game develop. If the Spits go full rebuild and Day and McEneny move out, Corcoran is going to get all the ice time he can handle and that could greatly benefit his draft stock.

39. Hunter Holmes - Forward - Flint Firebirds
An interesting prospect who I think has a fair amount of offensive potential if he could increase his compete level. His game really lacks consistency and I think a lot of that stems from being able to play through traffic a little more effectively. Holmes is a good skater, has good hands, and flashes creativity in the offensive end. If he were on a better team, I think we'd see him putting up better stats, but you can't make excuses and have to make the best of the situation you're in. Will need to improve his production in the second half to stay this high.

40. Sam Bitten - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Brother of Hamilton's Will Bitten, Sam is a bit of a different player. Will's game is built around his ability to create time and space with his fantastic stick work. Where as Sam is a rangy center who looks to use his size to shield the puck, and has excelled in a 3rd line role for the 67's this year. The only true similarity is their skating ability. Sam can fly. Even though his impact on the score sheet has been inconsistent, I feel like he makes a lot of very good plays at both ends that don't show up in the box score. If he were given more ice time, I think he would flourish. 

41. Justin MacPherson - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Mobile defender who escaped a rough patch (that saw him earn a few scratches) around the quarter mark. But seems to be really gaining confidence of late, especially offensively. Have really liked his ability to keep pucks in the offensive end and makes a lot of smart pinches. Definitely has potential as a powerplay QB because of his vision and anticipation, so long as he can improve his shot from the point. Defensively, he uses his mobility well to aid him. But he was known as a very physical, throwback player in midget, and that's something we haven't really seen yet at the OHL level. With added strength, maybe that part of his game starts to shine through? A player to watch for the second half IMO.

42. Zack Malik - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
The son of former NHL'er Marek, Zack is an extremely raw defender. Possesses a ton of tools, but the toolbox might be a tad questionable. Skates pretty well and has the size at 6'2 to make an impact as a puck rusher. And he can make some impressive rushes for Sudbury, but for whatever reason, they rarely end up creating serious scoring chances. Defensively, he plays the game hard and isn't afraid to throw his body around. But his reads and zone coverage need a lot of work. The adjustment period for imports can be long, so the second half will be big for him. Unfortunately it sounds like he'll be out for a little while with an upper body injury. 

43. Owen Lalonde - Defense - Guelph Storm
There's been a reason for his uptick in offensive production finally, and that's an increased role as of late. For most of the season was buried on the 3rd pairing with rookie Mark Woolley, but has recently earned a promotion to play with Garrett McFadden in the top 4 (with Mark Shoemaker getting a reduced role). This is a big test for Lalonde who hasn't been able to live up to the expectations placed upon the former 2nd overall pick. But it's not too late for him to turn things around. Defensively, I think he's underwhelmed this year, but if he can show that he has offensive potential, it could lead to him getting drafted.

44. Matthew MacDougall - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Undersized (5'9) forward with a non stop motor. Plays a lot bigger than his size, as he has shifts where he dominates along the wall against much bigger defenders. Keeps his feet moving and is excellent at protecting the puck. Also effective near the crease, where he shows a strong hockey IQ in terms of tracking the play and finding open space. Similar to Hinz, I'm not sure whether his game translates to the NHL level, but he's had a good rookie season for the Spits.

45. William Ennis - Defense - Oshawa Generals
6'3, 200lbs stay at home defender who has been a "steady eddy" for the Gens this year. Plays key defensive minutes as the partner to Canucks prospect Matt Brassard. Not an overtly physical player, but he's effective and strong in the corners and in front of the net. Of course, you'd love to see him play a little meaner, but he's a smart positional defender regardless. Puck skill is basic, and his skating will need to improve. But with his size and defensive intelligence, he could be a late round option for an NHL team who thinks they can mold him into a Josh Gorges type.

46. Alex Gritz - Forward - Erie Otters
High energy forward who plays a great up tempo game. Offensive production has been extremely inconsistent, but there are some nice tools here. Flashes good skill with the puck in transition, but needs to add strength in order to improve his scoring chance generation. Still too easily muscled off the puck. But, like SDA of Peterborough, Gritz is born on the Sept. cutoff date (the 15th), making him the youngest player available. Once the Otters sell off a few assets, it will be interesting to see if he can earn a bit more playing time, especially on special teams. 

47. Peter Stratis - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Heady defender who makes up for a lack of dynamic physical skills with a good IQ for the game at both ends. Looks comfortable running the point of the powerplay as a distributor and makes quick decisions with the puck in the defensive end. Solid positional defender who has an active stick and above average mobility. I guess the question is, does he do anything well enough to be an NHL defender? Doesn't possess great size. Doesn't have a big point shot or dynamic puck carrying ability. Isn't a physical defender and doesn't profile as a stay at home type. Confident that he'll develop into a very good OHL defender by his final year in the league, but not sure if he's a serious NHL prospect though.

48. Mitchell Hoelscher - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Better than his stats would indicate. Really enjoy watching him play because of all the little things he does well. Just a tremendous defensive player who is extremely active without the puck. Already an elite penalty killer. Once he adds strength, he'll be even more effective in this regard because his ability to read and react is top notch. If he could add more physicality to his game, he would be an even more effective energy player. Offensively, he plays a basic game and he knows his role is to win loose puck battles and go to the net. Question if there is significant offensive upside, but I know a few people I trust believe his shot is good and has potential to make him a goal scorer. Might not survive the cut for the year end top 50, but he's a personal favourite of mine even if I'm torn as to whether he's an actual NHL prospect or not.

49. Maxim Golod - Forward - Erie Otters
Tough player to get a read on. Another later birthday (mid August) who's not quite physically mature. And he's also an OHL rookie. Not the biggest kid (5'10), but he can be noticeably strong on the puck down low and shows good hands in close. Good complimentary offensive player. Can he be a driving force though? Is going to see a massive uptick in playing time once Taylor Raddysh is moved, as he's likely to take his place on the first line with Lodnia and Maksimovich. We'll get a much better read on his potential and abilities in the second half.

50. Liam Foudy - Forward - London Knights 
A frustrating player to watch IMO. Had pretty high expectations for him this year and definitely didn't expect him to be a guy on the verge of falling out of the top 50. Love his speed, but quite frankly he hasn't shown much else this year. The main reason that the Knights have been inconsistent this year has been the lack of production from their younger support players like Foudy, Moskal, Rowe, etc. Foudy needs to use his speed to play with more intensity, getting after it on the forecheck and beating defenders to the net. But I haven't seen much from him in the physicality department. If he played the game like Barrett Hayton, we'd be talking about Foudy like a potential top 2 round pick, because the potential is there.

Honorable Mentions
Adam McMaster - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Max Grondin - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Riley McCourt - Defense - Hamilton Bulldogs
DJ Busdeker - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Jake Goldowski - Forward - Saginaw Spirit