Tuesday, May 28, 2024

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2024 NHL Entry Draft - Part 3: The Top 10

Here's the conclusion of my draft rankings for the 2024 NHL Draft; the top 10!

1. Sam Dickinson - Defense - London Knights
For me, the top OHL player available this year is Dickinson. I can see why some may favor Parekh. Heck, I wouldn't even be surprised if a few NHL staffs have Sennecke (at this point) at one. However, Dickinson is just such a safe impact player and I think that carries a ton of value. It would shock me if Dickinson does not develop into a reliable top four, 20 minutes a night, all situations NHL defender. Is there a chance his offensive upside is limited and he ends up as a Brady Skjei type? Yes. But, there's also a chance that his offensive game continues to develop and we're talking about him as more of a Noah Dobson, Alex Pietrangelo type. The obvious selling point is Dickinson's skating. It's really the main key to his success at both ends. He's an elite skater. The amount of power he generates and the smoothness of his stride is so impressive for a big(-ish) defender. Offensively, he's much better off the puck than he is on it. He is so good at picking his spots to jump up in the play, creating odd man opportunities with his speed. He's also really good at timing movement to fill gaps in the offensive end to get looks for him to use his great shot. He has both a terrific one timer and a heavy wrist shot. On the puck, there are times where his creativity and skill look a bit limited. He needs to make consistently quicker decisions. He can get boxed in. However, I felt that he really cut down on his neutral zone turnovers over the course of the season and learned to simply trust his speed to attack in straighter lines, rather than overcomplicate things by trying to work through traffic, forcing plays. I think he has terrific vision with the puck in the defensive end; he's a master as using the boards to create clean exits. Defensively, his mobility gives him such a clear advantage when you factor in his great reach too. Is there a need to increase his physical intensity level? I think so. I think he can also be too passive at times, especially when defending the slot and the net front area. However, I expect those things to be cleaned up under Hunter's tutelage in London. Bottom line is that Dickinson is going to play 10+ seasons in your top four and he's going to do so very soon, perhaps as early as a year from now. If you're looking for more info on Dickinson, check out this video report and this lengthy scouting report from me via my work at McKeen's Hockey

2. Zayne Parekh - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Hands down, Parekh is one of the most creative playmaking defenders I've seen come through the OHL. That's high praise, but it's true. You don't break records and put up the kind of offensive numbers that Parekh did this year unless you're exceptionally skilled and creative. He really is a magician in the offensive zone. His hands work completely in sync with his quick feet. His edgework and lateral quickness are tremendous and when you factor in how quick his hands are, it's almost impossible for OHL defenders to box him in. He finds a way to escape pressure and he consistently finds a way to get pucks to the middle of the ice after he prolongs possession. Off the puck, Parekh's awareness is equally elite. He has great anticipation in the offensive zone. He routinely knocks down clearing attempts or intercepts outlets to hold the line and keep pressure on. Simply put, he's a relentless offensive player. Now...do I have some concerns? I do. I think there's a need for him to improve his first step linear quickness in order to help him make the transition to elite offensive defender at the NHL level. He's way better on his edges than he is in straight lines. Obviously, there are the defensive concerns too. Simply put, he's not always effective defending in traffic. He can struggle to tie up or win battles down low. He can cheat the defensive zone in favor of offense. His effectiveness is maximized by Saginaw's free flowing system, and learning a new one at the NHL level that requires him to defend more aggressively will be challenging. However, I do think his defensive game will improve. I think he's too smart of a player for it not to. And we see flashes of him being a relentless competitor. As his conditioning improves, I think he'll be able to find a way to be more of a two-way difference maker. I've seen comparisons to guys like Ryan Merkley or Tony DeAngelo. I saw both come through the league and I think Parekh is a more consistent competitor than they were at the same age. When Parekh loses the puck (which is rare), he fights to get it back on his stick. All that said, the Memorial Cup is going to be huge for him after a bit of a disappointing playoff performance thanks to injury. He'll have time to heal and it will be a big opportunity for him to prove that he can be a true difference maker when it matters the most. Single event performances rarely have significant influence, but I do truly believe that his Memorial Cup will be the difference between a top 8 selection and a 10-15 selection.

3. Beckett Sennecke - Wing - Oshawa Generals
His incredible second half has pushed him way up draft boards and I'm here for it. I wrote about Sennecke earlier this year for McKeen's Hockey (found here) and I mentioned how he was just scratching the surface of his immense potential. Turns out that he found that extra gear earlier than expected. The first thing you should know about Sennecke is that he's gone through a massive growth spurt in recent years. From about 5'10 to 6'3. It's been a tough adjustment for him that has had growing pains (no pun intended). His skating development has fluctuated, especially his quickness. His physical intensity level has wavered. However, the positive development he has shown over the course of this year is so encouraging. At the end of the day, wingers with his size and skill do not grow on trees anymore. Especially ones with his athletic pedigree (Mom was an Olympic volleyball player) and potential. The first thing you'll notice about Sennecke's game is his ability to sync his hands and his feet. He is so good on his edges for a bigger player. He explodes out of cuts and is so dangerous down low because of it. He handles the puck in a phonebooth, missing sticks as he shakes off checks to move the puck to the middle of the ice. That's another thing that I love about his game; he's so home plate oriented. He wants to get to the middle. He's not content on the perimeter, even if he has a big one timer that could see him post up on the flanks. Instead, he looks to get to the inside consistently. I also really like Sennecke's playmaking ability and vision for a bigger winger. I think that this comes from the fact that he wasn't always a bigger winger who could rely on a North/South power game. He's creative because this is how he had to play in minor hockey, before he could overwhelm opponents physically. Away from the puck, his game is inconsistent. Ditto for his strength on the puck. But, as he fills out his frame, look out. The sky is the limit because he's a smart player. I wouldn't hesitate at all to use a lottery selection on Sennecke at this point. I think he can be first line player in the NHL when all is said and done. 

4. Liam Greentree - Wing - Windsor Spitfires
Don't let Greentree's poor U18's influence your opinion of him. Did it further magnify his need to improve his quickness and overall skating ability? Yes. Did it further magnify his need to become a more consistent physical player? Yes. But, there are so many other things to like about his game. For one, he's extremely skilled for a bigger winger. He routinely makes defenders miss and creates something out of nothing because of his handling ability. He's so good along the wall, routinely escaping pressure with possession only to help set up a scoring chance with his high end vision and passing ability. Of course, there's also the big shot. Greentree has a heavy wrist shot that routinely beats goalies cleanly, even from a distance. Yes, Greentree does need to get quicker. He can struggle to shake coverage at times and the bigger ice surface gave him issues at the U18's. I'd also really love to see him become a more consistent physical threat. He needs to find a way to the net, be better in puck pursuit, and look to play through players with his size. He doesn't need to be Tom Wilson. But, even a guy like Jason Robertson learned to do this at the OHL level before taking his talents to the NHL level. I think improving his strength and conditioning will do wonders for him. It's clear that there is a need for him to improve his lower body power to become more explosive. The stride itself isn't bad. It's the power he generates. And that's similar to the aforementioned Robertson. If you're looking for more info on Greentree, check out this video report and this lengthy scouting report from me via my work at McKeen's Hockey

5. Jett Luchanko - Center - Guelph Storm
Easily one of my favourite players in this entire draft class. He's a top 20 NHL pick for me. I don't see a world where Luchanko isn't at least a Casey Cizikas kind of impact bottom six'er...even if I believe that his offensive ceiling is closer to the likes of Nick Suzuki (Luchanko is a better skater than Nick, though). I was so happy to see Jett have a stand out U18's for Canada, because everyone got to see what he's been doing all year for Guelph. Luchanko is just such a detail oriented player. It's rare to see "speedsters" at this level have a clear understanding of how to use their speed effectively, but that's Jett. He is terrific on the forecheck. He is dangerous in transition. He is a committed and effective three zone player. But, best of all, he doesn't rely on his speed to be an offensive difference maker. He can slow the game down. He alters pace well on his entries to help him survey the ice, allowing teammates to catch up. He times his cuts well. He works the cycle and has a great motor. In Luchanko, you get all these great pro level habits, but then you also have a player with some of the best vision and passing ability of any player in this class. He makes those around him better. Do I think he's the most creative or skilled player with the puck? No. He's not in the same class of Sennecke or Greentree in that regard. He's also not ever going to be a prolific goal scorer IMO. However, he doesn't need to be with how quick pucks are off his stick when they need to be. When he has time and space, he's poised and confident with his head up, looking to make a play. When time and space are taken away, he uses his strong skating ability to escape coverage. There's really very little not to like about Luchanko. For more info, check out my lengthy scouting report (with video) on him for McKeen's Hockey.

6. Marek Vanacker - Wing - Brantford Bulldogs
Vanacker was a model of consistency all year long for the Bulldogs, who surprised by being up near the top of the Eastern Conference standings most of the year. He has a very clear identity on the ice already. His game is modelled around pace. He attacks North/South using his speed. He is an active forechecker who is very effective in puck pursuit because of his speed. He's a quick strike goal scorer who explodes into gaps in coverage, pouncing on loose pucks or opening himself up for a quick shot on net. Get the drift? Best case scenario sees Vanacker developing into a Chris Kreider type of goal scorer who also uses his speed to be an effective two-way player. A couple of things really need to happen for that to occur. For one, Vanacker needs to add greater variance to his game plan. We've seen other speedsters with one note games like Liam Foudy fail to break into the league full time. He has shown flashes of being able to work the wall, and use his hands to escape pressure in the cycle. But, learning to slow the game down to become a better playmaker is key. Additionally, I've found his play away from the puck to be inconsistent. I'd love to see more physicality in his game; a more definitive edge would really help to elevate his goal scoring ability. And with his speed, by becoming a strong presence in the defensive end, he could be even more dangerous on the counter attack. I thought his play at the U18's was actually quite solid, given that he was asked to play a little bit of a different role and ended up earning more ice time because his off puck play was sound. It showed versatility and growth. Overall, what you're looking at is a winger with size, speed, and a scoring touch. Depending on how other areas of his game develop, he could be anything from a top six winger, to a bottom six energy/PK guy, to not an NHL player. I think he's definitely put himself in the first round conversation.

7. Ben Danford - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Danford is one of the players in this crop that grew the most on me over the course of this season. As much as Jacob Oster, Cal Ritchie, and Beckett Sennecke had a hand in Oshawa's hot run to the OHL finals, Danford was just as critical. He's such a well rounded player already. Firstly, he's an excellent skater. He is explosive and quick moving forward, which helps him be quick to retrievals and start the transition game. He is also excellent moving backwards and laterally, allowing him to maintain his gap when defending players downhill. He's a really tough player to shake. Despite not being an overtly physical player, Danford has managed to push himself into the upper echelon of the OHL's defensive defenders already. Look at this year's coaches poll results. Top defensive defender in the East. Also placed in the hardest worker and the best shot blocker. This guy is just a true competitor in the defensive end, even if he's not exactly playing through guys. Once he adds bulk, look out. But, perhaps the most exciting thing is that Danford really grew into an excellent two-way player over the year. This couldn't have been more evident during Oshawa's playoff run. Danford showed confidence and poise leading the rush. He was jumping up in the play. He was holding the offensive blueline. He's still learning how to best use his skating ability, but I think he's taken some notes from Sam Dickinson on how impactful he can be because of his quickness. Is he the most skilled? No. He's not going to be a powerplay 1 QB at the NHL level. But, I do truly believe now that Danford can be a top four defender who can impact the game in a lot of different ways. He's going to just keep getting better and better IMO.

8. Henry Mews - Defense - Ottawa 67's
In all my years of scouting, Mews is unquestionably one of the most perplexing players that I've encountered as a draft eligible. I really don't know what to make of him and I've moved him around my final rankings so many times. Without question, one of the reasons why is that his game is still so raw, as someone relatively new to the position of defense. The application of his skill is so inconsistently applied that it makes it tough to truly assess him IMO. For every outstanding play he makes with the puck, or great read he makes without it, you're likely to see a complete head scratcher. Is he a high IQ player still working out how and when to be aggressive? Or is he a low IQ player whose skill allows him to shine through in certain situations? What gives me hope is that I thought he finished the year well, including a strong performance at the U18's. He limited his mistakes and was better defensively there than I had seen him. However, I'm still so hesitant based on the full body of work. I can find too many instances this year where he was so defensively disengaged; being slow to get back on defense following a bad pinch, cheating the defensive zone, failing to play with physical intensity and allowing his man to get inside leverage too easily. Yet...I keep coming back to the upside, which is very high. He's a terrific skater. He's highly skilled and creative. He shows flashes of being the complete package. I remember thinking some similar things about K'Andre Miller in his draft year, but I was enamored with him because he had the physical tools to make his misgivings more forgivable. He too was new to playing defense and he ended up figuring things out. Mews doesn't have the same physical tools that K'Andre has. And that means the risk is even greater when selecting him. The hope is...we've seen players like him before figure it out. 

9. Cole Beaudoin - Center/Wing - Barrie Colts
I really wanted to put Beaudoin higher because I really like him. This guy is a true gamer. It's cliche, but it's true. This is the kind of player you win in the playoffs with. Look at how he stepped up at the U18's, playing over 20 minutes a game in all situations by the gold medal game. Is he the best skater? Far from it. A wide stride and wonky mechanics limit his effectiveness at times. It will need to get cleaned up. However, I also believe his skating concerns have been overblown. He wins way too many races to the puck and beats too many defenders wide to the net for someone with speed deficits. It ain't pretty, but it works. Saw someone compare him to Boone Jenner recently and I think that's apt. Is he the most skilled or creative player? No, he is not. His release is going to need some work. He can struggle to escape pressure with the puck at times. He can fumble passes in transition at times. Yet...he's such a determined and intelligent offensive player. He's got great vision and instincts. He understands pacing. He knows when to attack with speed wide, drawing out pressure. And he knows when to dump and chase, working the cycle. He can be effective in both scenarios. That's because he makes quick decisions and rarely pushes his game outside of its limits. Of course, Beaudoin is also an extremely versatile player because of his incredible strength. He easily separates junior aged players from the puck in the defensive end and can be a high end penalty killer and defensive forward at the NHL level. He also plays all three forward positions. So why don't I have Beaudoin higher? I'm just not sure he's more than a really good third line player. That has a ton of value. Teams pay a premium for players like him heading into the playoffs. But given that he's not the world's most dynamic skater, there's also a chance that he's just not up to the pace of the league. I remember liking guys like Jonah Gadjovich for similar reasons and they struggled to be even consistent third liners because their skating never got up to par. If he were a better skater, Beaudoin would EASILY be a first rounder for me. But, without that element, I'd feel a little safer taking him in the second behind some players that I feel have more upside.

10. Sam O'Reilly - Center/Wing - London Knights
Another guy that I really like. He's my type of player. O'Reilly is physical. He's hard working in all three zones. He's intelligent. He's got great vision as a playmaker and great anticipation as an offensive player off the puck. O'Reilly is one of those guys that you watch play and you say, "this guy plays a mature, pro style game already." Just think, he's kind of the reverse Henry Mews too. He played a bit of defense in his minor hockey career and has only recently shifted to center full time. He's got lots of runway left to get better. This is especially true once he upgrades his skating further. He needs to get quicker. He needs to get better on his edges to help him escape pressure and help him play with greater pace. He also needs to become more confident in using his heavy shot. He can really fire it, but his release needs to get quicker in order for him to start converting on more chances. Then comes the question about whether he's a center long term? It's definitely debatable. All that said, he's a guy I'd really advocate for in the mid second round. For one, I have a ton of trust when it comes to Dale Hunter developing guys like O'Reilly, who play the game that way that he did. For two, I see so many different paths to the league for O'Reilly. He's got a lot going for him and I think we'll see even more creativity and skill from him when he inevitably earns more ice time and responsibility in London. It's the Hunter model. See Easton Cowan last year. 

Monday, May 27, 2024

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2024 NHL Entry Draft - Part 2: 30-11

Here's part two of my rankings release: the players ranked from 30 to 11. 

11. Carter George - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
Heard NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen talking about George recently on a podcast and he mentioned how George's consistency this year was remarkable and I couldn't agree more. For an 18 year old goalie, George's workload was considerable this season; Hlinka/Gretzky Cup starter, 3rd most starts in the OHL regular season, a round of the OHL playoffs, and then starter at the U18's. Through all of that, it was rare to see George off his game. His mental toughness and compete level are so good for a young netminder. As are his positioning and play reading. It's rare to see him out of position. He's so calm in his movements; nothing wasted. He comes out to challenge shooters and has his angles perfectly covered. Considering that he's not the biggest netminder out there, this is so important. His athleticism/quickness should improve. His rebound control will continue to improve. But the margin of error is different for him with his lack of size and the fact that he is so detail oriented makes it more likely that he finds success at the NHL level IMO. Last thing to mention, George's puckhandling is a real asset in an era where it's rarely noticeable for netminders. George really helps out his defenders with his confidence in making passes and coming out of his crease. Why isn't George higher? I guess I'm just uncertain of the high-end NHL upside without that elite athleticism/size combo. There are times that despite his terrific attention to detail, that he can lose sight of the puck and is not able to get sight lines. He's my favourite goaltender in the entire draft class (based on my work with McKeen's), but I just wouldn't use a top 50 pick on a goalie this year. 

12. Luke Misa - Center/Wing - Mississauga Steelheads
There seems to be a disconnect regarding Misa currently. The disconnect is between the general amateur scouting community and the NHL scouting community. I see Misa ranked in the first round or close to it on a lot of public lists. Yet, he's consistently been ranked low by NHL Central Scouting and I've heard that this reflects where the NHL community has him too. So why the disconnect and why do I agree more with the NHL community on this one? It's a great question, but I'd rather focus on why I actually like Misa a lot first. The skating and tenacity will play in some regard at the next level. He has positional versatility. We're looking at someone who could easily play a Casey Cizikas type of role in the NHL for many years. That has value. But where I agree with the NHL community is that I'm just not sure I see the kind of skill level that would make Luke a high end scorer at the next level. As a late 2005, he has less runway for development and I see him as more of a polished product currently. I think his offensive game is a bit one note and I believe that he'll be less effective as a carrier at the NHL level when pressured more intently. He'll succeed as an F1 with his speed and energy, but I don't think his hands and vision are above average. Compare him to someone like Jett Luchanko and it's obvious that Luchanko's game has more layers to it offensively. I still like Luke as a top two round selection. Again, if you can draft high end bottom six players and PK'ers, it helps you in the long run. Ask the teams who give up assets at the deadline for them. 

13. AJ Spellacy - Center/Wing - Windsor Spitfires
No offense to Beckett Sennecke and his amazing playoff run, but Spellacy was easily the most improved draft eligible player from the start of the year to the end IMO. Much of that had to do with getting healthy and confident again following knee surgery last year. By midseason, it was obvious that he had his legs back and the difference it made in his game was remarkable. The big center is an absolute load to handle once he builds a head of steam. Big, powerful strides just chew up ice and he circles the zone at will, controlling the play in a way that I did not envision he was capable of heading into the year (and I say that as someone who really liked Spellacy last year). His hands really caught up to his feet late in the year and it allowed him to be a real play driver. Think the way that Easton Cowan's hands caught up to his feet late last year. Throw in the fact that Spellacy is a physically intense player who is an excellent penalty killer and you have someone who projects to be a versatile pro. Simply put, he checks a lot of boxes. Similar to Misa, I'm not sure I see a high end offensive player at the NHL level. If he's not beating you with speed, he can be neutralized. The shot and vision are only average too. However, I do see someone who can be a long term NHL player. I have a ton of time for bigger forwards with athleticism and Spellacy oozes it. 

14. Lukas Fischer - Defense - Sarnia Sting
I like Fischer way more than the average guy that I have ranked 14th. He's still very much a second round selection for me. I just felt that some other guys finished the year stronger and showed a little more from a development perspective. He still has a ton of upside at both ends and is one of the youngest players eligible this year. I don't think Lukas is done growing. He could very well end up being 6'5, 220lbs-ish when all is said and done....similar to his father Jiri. Lukas' main issue is just consistency. A lot of that has to do with Sarnia being a rebuilding team in the OHL. He was asked to do a lot this year on a younger team that found themselves hemmed in their own end a lot. This magnified some of his current flaws. Defensively, I want to see him use his size more effectively. He can be too passive, especially in terms of defending in transition. He lets players/attackers dictate pace and it causes Lukas to have to scramble too often. Yet, there are times where he absolutely blows things up with his reach and strength. Why don't we see this more often? Lukas' footwork can also be inconsistent. At times, he looks mobile and covers ground well, allowing him to have a positive impact on the game at both ends as a rush attacker and defender. But, there are other times where his lateral and backwards mobility look sluggish and he struggles to defend pace. As a pure offensive defender, it's the same sort of tale of two players. He flashes great creativity and skill, but on other shifts, he struggles to confidently handle the puck and make quick decisions under pressure. The most realistic scenario probably sees Lukas developing into a similar defender as his father Jiri as he fills out and gains confidence. But, there's upside as an offensive player too that could see him become a more intriguing two-way, all situations type. Patience will be key here. 

15. Jacob Battaglia - Wing - Kingston Frontenacs
Battaglia really grew on me this year. He's a bit like a Liam Greentree-lite. I think his small area skill is impressive. He protects the puck well and extends plays with his hands, especially along the wall. He also is a really intelligent player on and off the puck. He draws in pressure well and then always seems to find the open man. He's not likely to be a primary play driver at the next level, but he could end up being a really solid complementary piece to dynamic and creative offensive players in the top six. The strong IQ also translates to the defensive end where he has great positioning and anticipation. A couple things make him more of a 3rd rounder for me. One, I wish he were just a little more physically engaged. I think his outlook as a pro would be a little better if he could increase the physical intensity a little bit. Two, the skating is only average. He's actually got good edges and moves well East/West. But the quickness needs work and it holds him back from being a more dynamic player with the puck. All that can be improved. 

16. Kevin He - Wing - Niagara IceDogs
I have to give He a ton of credit for coming into this season and improving several areas of his game. He came into the year as a speedy scoring winger with a fairly one dimensional game. He exits the year a much more complete player after adding some serious tenaciousness to his game. For my money, He is one of the OHL's best forecheckers. He uses his speed well and was always dialed in physically, no matter whether Niagara was facing a blowout or not. The improved consistency in puck pursuit and the development of him as a pest had to impress NHL scouts. Now it's just about the further introduction of other layers to his game. He's a pretty straight forward North/South guy right now. That means he can be easily neutralized by mobile defenders with reach. Additionally, his playmaking ability, vision, and decision making leave some to be desired. He'll attack wide and then his tunnel vision can prevent him from truly creating anything of substance. Later in the year, I think we did see some improvement here, but it's still a work in progress. But because of the increase in intensity level and off puck improvement, I have a lot of time for He as a potential top three round guy. It will be interesting to see him develop around the collection of young forward talent that they have accumulated. 

17. Luca Marrelli - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Luca is someone whose game I really grew to admire over the course of the year. It required some serious extra views; it's very understated. He's certainly not someone that I would label as "flashy." However, he's very intelligent. He's also quite mobile. A strong four way mover, he's able to buy a lot of time for himself to allow the ice to open up in front of him. His patience/poise with the puck is one of his best assets. Marrelli is also a sound defensive presence. I wish he were a little tougher to play against below the goal line, but his reach and mobility give him good upside as a pro defender in some capacity. Do I still have some projection concerns? Yeah, he's a little too much of that "jack of all trades" type that I've learned to be cautious of. This is especially true because he's a late birthday 2005. I don't think he's anything more than a versatile #5, but I do really think that he has a chance at a long NHL career. 

18. Ryerson Leenders - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
I know there are a lot of people who have Leenders as the top goalie out of the OHL this year over George, and I can see why. He's a better athlete than George. They're similarly sized, but Leenders is quicker post to post and better in scramble mode. One school of thought would tell you that this gives him more upside as he learns to harness his athleticism by being more technically sound. However, I just love how refined George's game is and I believe that his athleticism can be improved. Whereas, can Leenders' positioning and rebound control improve in the same way? It certainly can, but for "smaller" goalies this is so important. Look at the struggles that Devon Levi has had in the NHL the past year. And he's such a good play tracker and athlete too. Leenders just has a lot of work to do IMO. I don't agree with the massive drop from NHL Central Scouting; he's still a top five goalie in this class for me. However, I do see the concerns and the justification.

19. Riley Patterson - Wing - Barrie Colts
Patterson was a totally different player in the second half, for all the right reasons. Earlier in the year, he was really struggling with his decision making, coupled with the fact that he was too easily separated from the puck. I always liked the two-way effort and awareness, but the struggles offensively left me concerned about his pro upside. In the second half, we saw some great progression. He really transformed himself into an excellent off puck player in the offensive end, in the same kind of way that Anthony Romani in North Bay plays. He exploits gaps in coverage by timing cuts well and showing great anticipation in the o-zone. Couple that with great finishing ability and precise passing through traffic and Patterson is a dual threat. There's still a need to improve his on puck play, especially as he looks to attack with pace. He's a strong skater, but we haven't seen him push pace the way that he did at the OJHL level last year. Simply put, he needs to get stronger on the puck and play through traffic more consistently. I'm not entirely confident that he's ever a primary play driver, but he's shown enough to suggest that he could be a great complementary piece as his game rounds into form further. The strong finish to the year has vaulted him into the top three round range for me.

20. Jakub Fibigr - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Fibigr was one of my early season favourites from this draft class. He came out gangbusters for an upstart Mississauga team, not an easy thing to do for an Import making a ton of on ice and off ice adjustments. I think Fibigr has a lot of really interesting qualities. He's a strong four way mover; he's got great edgework and he builds speed well out of pivots, allowing him to escape pressure and join the rush. He's a willing physical combatant, especially in his rush defense. He loves to play aggressively. He flashes creativity and skill with the puck. I mean, there's a lot to like. But the pieces just don't fit together all the time. The application of his skill set is wildly inconsistent IMO. His over aggressiveness gets him in a lot trouble at both ends. When he plays in control, he's generally more effective. I think we saw that at the U18's for Czechia. However, the trade off there is that when he's more refined and cautious, he's also not as dynamic and impactful. How will it all come together for him? Are there limitations in his IQ? He's a top three round guy, but I wonder about the overall upside.

21. Nathan Villeneuve - Center - Sudbury Wolves
Villeneuve has been a tough guy for me to evaluate this year. I'm going to fully admit that. I see the allure. Strong skating, power center. Plays a physical game. Can be really effective on the forecheck. Shows a ton of promise as a two-way, defensive asset. As an offensive player, I think his shot and scoring ability shows the most promise. Application wise, his decision making with the puck can leave some to be desired. He's at his best driving the middle as a North/South attacker, and when pressured I'm not sure that he's creative enough to be a high end playmaker. All that said, his role with Sudbury this year may have hidden some of that talent. What's he going to do with more ice time and better linemates? I could see his development taking a lot of different routes. Of course, the elephant in the room is also his lengthy suspension for the incident involving Barrie and the "bounty." When you factor in everything, I still feel very confident in Villeneuve being drafted, however, I think we'll see him more in that 80-120 range, which is where I'd have him ranked.

22. Luke Ellinas - Center - Kitchener Rangers
One of the most improved draft eligible players from the OHL this year. From start to finish, he showed terrific improvement in almost all areas. Part of me is concerned about his projection at the next level given that many areas of his game are average at best. But the other half of me loves how much he improved over the year and how effective he is in close quarters. It's almost as if Ellinas is most effective in traffic, compared to when he has more time and space to operate. He excels near the net. He has great hands and underrated scoring potential. He controls the wall and cycle well. He competes in all three zones. Having such a mature small area game, and improving as a skater really makes me think he could end up carving out a role. That will depend on his ability to handle the puck, play with pace, and make quicker decisions with the puck as a playmaker. I think that there's a chance that he could end up a Jason Dickinson type of player in the NHL.

23. Ethan Procyszyn - Center - North Bay Battalion
Procyszyn is a pretty similar player to Spellacy, but I think AJ showed more growth over the course of the year. In reality, their upside as NHL players are likely pretty similar. However, I don't think Ethan is at quite the same level as a puck carrier and overall play creator. That said, there's a lot to like. He's one of the most feared physical forwards eligible for the draft this year. He's excellent on the defensive side of things. He has a heavy shot that should become more of a weapon as he improves his release, works to find soft spots better, and increases his confidence. Is the offensive upside significant? I'm just not sure that I see it. He's a top 100 candidate because he could end up being a really good shutdown, 4th line type. That has value in that third round range because you know you're getting someone who has a high chance of playing for you and being a playoff contributor. 

24. Frankie Marrelli - Defense - Ottawa 67's
I don't think he ends up being drafted very high, but I do think he has a chance to be a longtime pro. If he were 6'3, we'd be talking about him as a potential top 50 pick. If he were as mobile as a guy like Brock Faber, we'd be talking about him higher too. That's not to say that I think Marrelli is a poor skater. Not even close. It's just that guys at his size, who end up developing into high end defensive players are almost always near elite movers. Marrelli can lose the odd foot race to the puck. His crossovers and transitions aren't always the cleanest, causing him to give ground. Elevating his overall four way mobility to the upper echelon has to be the focus for him. Ditto for continuing to improve his confidence with the puck. He shows flashes of being capable of more; good holds at the line, rushes deep into the offensive end, smart pinches. However, he's mostly a pretty safe guy who is happy to defer to his partner to create chances. It's why he's worked so well with Henry Mews. The good? Marrelli is an intense competitor. He makes you compete for every inch of ice when he's out there; he never takes a shift off. He has great defensive instincts too. He blocks shots. He deflects passes. He is largely a very effective rush defender because of how aggressive he is. I mean, those who watched the U18's this year got to see how valuable he can be in his own end. It's just a matter of whether that translates to the next level. If it does, I see him as a Nick Jensen type. But, there's risk because few guys like Marrelli do end up becoming long time pro defenders. Look at the likes of Markus Phillips and Joey Keane in recent years. 

25. Gabriel Frasca - Center/Wing - Kingston Frontenacs
Early in the year, I thought that Frasca could end up pushing to be a top 50 pick. When he first returned from injury (he got a late start to his draft year), he was playing some great hockey and was rightfully receiving a lot of hype in draft circles. But, his game just never found it's footing from a consistency standpoint this year. Too many games where he was "just there." I really like the hockey sense. I think he's a smart player, just as his brothers were/are. His attention to detail defensively is impressive. However, everything else is just average right now. He's a good skater, but there's room for him to improve his quickness to help him be more of a consistent difference maker. He's not a perimeter player, but he's not a consistent physical threat either. If he were harder on pucks, he'd be an even better defensive player and penalty killer. If he were stronger on the puck, he'd be more consistent playing through traffic and through the middle of the ice. Frasca flashes a great shot thanks to a quick release, but he's not finding those soft spots to get himself consistent looks. He has trouble shaking coverage currently. Is he a center or a wing long term? Can he hit a growth spurt like his brothers? Right now, there are just more questions than answers and that scares me a bit. I do still really like Frasca because I'm always willing to bet on intelligent players getting better. But, he's a back half of the draft guy for me now.

26. Owen Protz - Defense - Brantford Bulldogs
Protz is a defender with some really interesting tools. How those tools come together remains to be seen; I don't think we truly know what his upside or future role is going to be. That's why he's a round 4-7 guy and not earlier. However, there are some pieces here that are going to be very alluring to NHL clubs. First, his aggressiveness defensively is great. He takes the battle to you and rarely sits back. He has a penchant for the big hit and he is strong as an ox down low. At 6'2, 200lbs, he's already got pro size. Second, his four way mobility is solid. He can play that aggressive game because he can close quick, but also recover when required. He is tough to beat one on one. Thirdly, Protz flashes some puck moving skill, especially as a transition leader. He can clear the defensive end with his feet and lead the counter attack. However, the application of all of these skills is inconsistent. His overall defensive effectiveness can be a bit erratic. His reads and coverage do need tightening. The same could be said for his reads with the puck and ability to handle the pressure of a forecheck. Realistically, Protz probably best projects as a third pairing, stay at home type. There are a lot of similarities between Protz and former Bulldog Riley Stillman at the same age. 

27. Anthony Cristoforo - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
I feel bad for Cristoforo. It wasn't a terrific year for him or his development. This is a guy who won Gold with Canada at the Hlinka/Gretzky in the summer, but then they didn't even bring him in for the U18's in April. That could have been an opportunity for him to save his draft stock a bit, but c'est la vie. Look, Windsor just wasn't good this year. Part of that comes from a guy like Cristoforo not taking that next step, but he also didn't have a ton of help. Playing so much in his own end magnified some of the weaker components of Cristoforo's game. If he were on one of the better teams in the OHL, we're probably not talking about whether he gets drafted or not. But again, c'est la vie. I think my biggest concern is that I felt Cristoforo's skating somehow looked less dynamic this year. He's not a big defender, so that's really important. He's certainly not a poor skater, I'm not insinuating that. It's more that I felt his pace lagged behind at times. Maybe offseason strength training took away some of that explosiveness, but it had a negative impact on his offensive game. That needs to be the focal point for him moving forward, to find that next level as a skater the way that Parekh, Mews, and Danford have. The other concern is his defensive play. Again, his strength deficits, intensity level, and overall effectiveness were magnified because he was tasked with playing in the defensive end so much on a poor Windsor team. But that doesn't change the fact that they are present and need to be improved. At this point, he doesn't project as someone who could defend at the NHL level. Now...all that said, I still have hope for Cristoforo. He was previously one of my favourite defenders in this class because of how he processes the game as an offensive player. He's got terrific vision and he understands how to manipulate defenders to create time/space (deceptiveness, patience, timing). He's going to be a top flight powerplay QB and offensive defender at the OHL level. It's why he should definitely still be drafted. However, the risks currently outweigh the positives. 

28. Kieron Walton - Wing - Sudbury Wolves
Along with Frasca, the player in this crop who fell the hardest thanks to a poor second half. Including the playoffs, Walton scored in only ONE GAME in the last 40. Yes, it was a hat trick against the Saginaw Spirit, but three goals in the final 40 games of the year is just not good enough. If Walton wasn't 6'6 and 200+ lbs, we wouldn't be talking about him as a serious draft candidate. But...he is, and we are. The allure is that Walton has more skill and is a better skater than the average 6'6 forward. He can be a really effective North/South player because of his ability to drive the net. His shot, believe it or not (considering his goal drought to end the year) is good and gives him great potential as a goal scorer. But the lack of consistency is concerning. Even more concerning, this has been an issue for Walton dating back to his minor hockey days; it's why he was the 28th overall pick in the OHL draft and not earlier despite his physical gifts. Without an increase in physical intensity, Walton just won't reach the upside that he possesses. Additionally, I wonder about how well he thinks the game as an offensive player. To be 6'6 and to not get consistent looks in the slot or near the net speaks volumes about a lack of anticipation and awareness, just as much as it does about his physical intensity. Early in the year, it looked like he was turning a corner. Later in the year, it was the exact opposite. 

29. Jack Brauti - Defense - Barrie Colts
Honestly, Brauti was the unsung hero of the Barrie Colts' season. Yes, it was a disappointing year for them overall. But it could have been way worse if not for guys like Brauti (and Sam Hillebrandt). When Beau Akey went down to injury, Brauti was the guy who stepped up and by the end of the year, he was arguably the team's second best defender behind Kashawn Aitcheson. Not ranked by NHL Central Scouting, Brauti should have been. Yes, I know that he's only 6'0 and projects as more of stay at home type, but the same could be said about Frankie Marrelli. Similar to Marrelli, I just love Brauti's awareness and intensity in the defensive end. He's slight, so he's not winning every battle down low, but the effort is there. He's going to be a monster once he bulks up. Brauti has a great stick in the defensive end too; he's always breaking up passes and making great reads. I felt like Brauti's skating really improved over the year too. His transitions looked cleaner at the end of the year and we even saw him start to take chances carrying the puck, flashing some speed bursts as he lead the charge in transition. His offensive upside is tied to his shot, which I would classify as above average. He's likely to develop into a solid triggerman at this level. Look, Brauti's not going to be a high end NHL defender. But, his strong play and development this year in Barrie deserves mention. Teams could do a lot worse than Brauti with a later round pick. 

30. Cole Davis - Winger - Windsor Spitfires
Compete. Compete. Compete. Davis is one of those players who is constantly around the puck. He's an absolute demon on the forecheck. And he needs to play that way. He's not the most innately skilled. He's not the quickest. He's not the biggest. So in order to be effective, he needs to outwork the opposition and it's great that he has a clear understanding of that already; he has a clear identity. Davis' offensive game really improved over the year, especially his on puck play. We saw him gain confidence in his carrying ability as he created his own chances by attacking with speed, looking to play through the middle of the ice. Davis' top speed is good. I think his explosiveness needs work, especially for a smaller player, but he can build to a solid top speed. Overall, I like Davis as a potential late round pick, I'm just not sure I'd take him earlier. Most players like him top out as quality junior players and then struggle to adapt at the next level. I look at a guy like Keean Washkurak as a great example, and I think he was a better skater than Davis is. 


Sunday, May 26, 2024

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2024 NHL Entry Draft - Part 1: 50-31

The first part of my rankings release for the 2024 NHL Draft. 

Just for clarification, for my top 50 ranking, I haven't included any players eligible for draft re-entry, such as Anthony Romani. This has been consistent all the way through my lists. Instead, I did a list of the top 10 draft re-entries, which can be found here.

Also for clarification, this list is MY list of the top 50 OHL prospects, as if I were drafting for my own team. In other words, this isn't a list of where I THINK or believe players will go, but a ranking of my own opinion on the top players eligible for this draft based on my viewings this season. If you want a draft projection and information about players outside the OHL, be sure to check out McKeens Hockey. As you may know (or not know) I am the scouting director for McKeen's and our draft guide will be released extremely soon (purchasing information is available on the linked site).

In five straight drafts (2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023), only four players or under ranked in this range have been selected. While, I think this group is a bit better than previous years depth wise, I don't see that changing this year either. The reality is that NHL teams are using mid to late round picks on European and College bound players more often these days because they get a longer signing window in regards to their rights. Longer shot prospects take longer to develop because they have more to work on. That longer window allows them a few extra years to see how they progress before they have to hand out an ELC. Additionally, in the mid to later rounds, teams are using picks on second/third year eligible CHL players who have already shown positive growth.

Without further ado, here are the players ranked 31 through 50.

31. Landon Miller - Goaltender - Soo Greyhounds
I can totally see why NHL Central Scouting likes him so much (moving him ahead of Ryerson Leenders). It would be absolutely shocking to see him go unselected this year given his combination of size and athleticism. For lack of better terms, he "flashes pro tools." He's quick post to post. He's quick and agile in his crease in and out of the butterfly. He can challenge shooters and really cut down angles with his frame. It's all about consistency and exposure. The finer technical components need a lot of work. Rebound control can be erratic. He can give up some weak goals by being out of position. His play tracking needs some work, but that comes with further experience at the OHL level (given the pace increase). In a lot of ways, he's very much a blank canvas for an NHL team's development staff and that's going to be intriguing. 

32. Luca Testa - Wing - Brantford Bulldogs
The reality is that Testa just needs to stay healthy. I thought he was terrific in the first half of the year. Then all the injuries started to pile up and completely took him out of his rhythm. Then when he returned in the second half, he had a hard time fitting into the lineup and finding the high level of play he showed early on. I still really like the upside. I think he's a high level play creator. He's skilled with the puck. He's a high end finisher. He's worked hard to upgrade his speed and improve his off puck play. When everything is going, he's someone who can push pace and be a difference maker in transition. When it's not, as was often the case later in the year, he tends to fade to the background. I like the long term fit here as part of this young and talented Bulldogs team; he's going to develop into a very good OHL player. But, can all the components of his game come together to make him an NHL prospect? This is the type of guy you throw a late round dart on because the upside is that he can be a high end middle six type if he stays healthy and the consistency improves.

33. Braydon McCallum - Center/Wing - Peterborough Petes
The switch to center late in the year (after all the deadline moves) was amazing for McCallum. Being on the puck more, it allowed him to showcase his creativity and playmaking ability, which wasn't really shown before as more of a high energy, dump and chase F1. McCallum is a real bulldog on the ice. One of the hardest working forwards in this draft class from the OHL. And he has to be given his lack of size. There's a lot of Owen Van Steensel here, and we've seen his breakout this year in North Bay. Would I commit a draft pick to McCallum right now? I'm not sure. I might want to see him perform at a consistent level from the center position all year. Is there truly NHL upside beyond being a pesky fourth line type? But, you could certainly do way worse than McCallum. He's shown improvement in a lot of areas this year, while maintaining consistent effort away from the puck.

34. Chris Thibodeau - Wing - Kingston Frontenacs
Thibodeau is definitely a favourite of some members of the amateur scouting community. I've seen him in some top 100's. I can see why. I love the pace that he plays at. He has an attacking mentality despite being on the smaller size. He can keep the puck on a string at full speed and he manipulates traffic well to create time/space for himself. He also has a sneaky quick release that I believe makes him a quality goal scorer in this league at some point. But the reality is that Thibodeau is a late born 2005 who still hasn't found consistency as an offensive player, who also happens to be undersized. What kind of role does he play at the NHL level? His toolset seems to scream tweener. All that said, I DO like his game and I do think there is room for him to improve physically, which would improve his odds of becoming an NHL prospect. He consistently passes the eye test even if the production isn't consistent. Just not sure that he's an NHL pick at this current time.

35. Parker Von Richter - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
A favourite of mine from last year and through this year, it pains me a bit to have PVR ranked this low. My heart wants him higher, but my head knows that his NHL upside is probably pretty limited. I just really like his defensive IQ. He consistently is in the right spot defensively. He has a great stick. He defends below the goal line well. As he gets stronger and more confident, he probably develops into one of the OHL's most physical defenders. This is a future defensive stalwart at the OHL level. Beyond that? I'm just not that confident anymore. I felt like his play with the puck plateaued throughout the year. The same errors with the puck were made at the start of the year and the end of the year, thanks to some skill limitations preventing him from cleanly exiting the zone. His first pass needs work and he needs to make quicker decisions under pressure of the forecheck. Additionally, PVR doesn't have the kind of length/mobility NHL teams are looking for these days in stay at home types. You either have to be big and mobile...or just really big. And PVR is kind of in the middle of that. Again though, I'm rooting for him and for an NHL team to see how well he thinks the game from a defensive perspective. 

36. Kaden Pitre - Center - Flint Firebirds
Unfortunately injuries really limited Kaden this year, keeping him out of action in the second half. In a lot of ways, Kaden is a similar player to his brother Coulson. He’s competitive. He’s an intelligent playmaker and someone who already plays a mature two-way game. It’s really interesting. We really hear nothing about Kaden, yet his production on a rebuilding Flint team was pretty solid when he did play. It’s just tough projecting him to a pro role without seeing improvement in the second half. He’s not a “toolsy” guy. The physical and athletic attributes won’t wow you, even if he's a better skater than his brother. So then what are you left with? I could see teams looking at Kaden with a late pick in hopes that he can develop into a Scott Laughton type. Or I could see them taking a wait and see approach to see how he rebounds post injury and to see how his skills advance further.

37. Ty Henry - Defense - Erie Otters
I actually like Henry more than Jared Woolley, who NHL Central Scouting seems to love. The son of a former CFL defensive back, it's obvious that Ty is a very athletic young man. He's long and strong. He's a very clear stay at home defensive prospect. Keeps things simple offensively. Chips out when he needs to. But, what I think makes Henry intriguing is that he's a very solid four way mover for the type of defender he is. I also felt like his game grew by leaps and bounds over the course of the year. Saw him really gain confidence physically. He became more assertive and his strong supporting play late in the year was one of the reasons Erie was able to secure 5th in the West. I'd be very shocked if Henry wasn't drafted.

38. Jared Woolley - Defense - London Knights
Had a few people text me/DM me after Woolley was ranked so aggressively by NHL Central Scouting. Firstly, Jared is not the son of former NHL defender Jason. However, he is a projectable stay at home defender at the next level. Over the course of the year, Jared’s first pass and ability to handle the forecheck did improve. He’s got size and the mobility isn’t terrible. He’s shown flashes of being physically dominant. At the end of the day, if you’re drafting Jared, you have a ton of belief in the Hunters and how they sculpt defenders. Are you hoping that he’s the next Marc Methot? For me, I don’t see a ton of upside. As such, he’s ranked lower. 

39. Jack Van Volsen - Wing - Mississauga Steelheads
Probably one of the more disappointing draft prospects from the OHL this year. I had pretty high expectations for him coming into the year, but there wasn’t a ton of growth from his 16/17 year old year. He’s still got a ton of upside as an offensive player at the OHL level. But a lack of dynamic skating ability, combined with a bland skill set away from the puck give him a weak projection at the next level at the current moment. Right now, he’s mostly an off puck support piece who has the skill to make plays along the wall and finish off plays in tight. But on a lot of shifts…he’s just there. Can he learn to take the bull by the horns more? Where is that dominant player down low that we saw at the GTHL level?

40. Mason Zebeski - Wing - Mississauga Steelheads
Zebeski is a player with a clear identity already. Partly it’s because he’s a late born 2005, so that extra level of experience helps. However, his North/South, high energy approach will make him a coaches favourite. His versatility is valuable. That’s why he placed in the OHL coaches poll as the most underrated in the East. He’s engaged in puck pursuit. He brings physicality in all three zones. He’s shown a soft touch near the net. He’s a more than adequate skater overall. At the end of the day, what sets him apart? Doesn’t every team in the CHL have a Zebeski? He’s the kind of guy that I’d wait to see how far his offensive game can grow before biting. He continues to show marked improvement? He’s an ELC candidate as an OA. 

41. Bode Stewart - Wing - Barrie Colts
Another guy who battled injuries this year. Seemed to disrupt his development a bit. However, you can clearly see the type of player Stewart will be by the time he’s 20. He plays that power game. He should be a PK anchor. He’s going to be the type that is physically overpowering as an OA and ends up a point per game guy. Right now though, the skating and offensive tools are probably too average for him to be an NHL selection. He’s effective and efficient in a lot of ways, but I’m just not sure if the on puck play ever gets to where it needs to. 

42. Nathan Aspinall - Wing - Flint Firebirds
Big, lanky winger with goal scoring upside. He’s got the shell of a budding power forward but not the power. Can the skating and explosiveness continue to improve? Can his physical game and off puck play become more consistent? He shows well North /South on the attack, surprising defenders with his ability to take the puck to the net, in combination with a deceptive release. There's a bit of Justin Brazeau/Justin Auger here and it's very possible that Aspinall takes a similar development path. But for every success story like those two, are other project type power wingers who never put it all together to become impact OHL'ers.

43. Sam McCue - Wing - Owen Sound Attack
The younger brother of London Knights forward, and recent NHL signee (by Columbus) Max McCue, Sam is cut from a similar cloth. A late born 2005, Sam McCue is also similar to Steelheads' winger Mason Zebeski. He knows what he is and how he can best help his team find success. Bring energy in puck pursuit. Crash the net. Work the wall. Bring physicality in all three zones. Sam isn't quite as good of a skater as Mason is though IMO. I could definitely see an NHL team taking Sam because he has some projectable qualities for a bottom six role. 

44. Charlie Paquette - Wing - Guelph Storm
Consistency remains the biggest barrier here. He came into the year as a bit of a personal favourite/sleeper. But as a late born 2005, I just didn't see enough improvement in his game. He flashes great upside as a scoring power forward. Yet, he's just not around the puck enough. I love Paquette's shot, but he's not finding those soft spots consistently enough, or creating his own scoring chances consistently enough. As such, he can be a low impact player, despite the fact that he has so much more upside than that. Wouldn't be shocked at all if he ends up as an eventual NHL prospect, maybe as an OA signing. Right now? He's a draft long shot.

45. Charlie Hilton - Wing - Ottawa 67's
Probably weird to see a guy who was a healthy scratch a lot of this year, listed as a potential NHL draft pick. Do I think Hilton will be drafted? No I do not. But, at this point of the rankings, I'm listing guys that I think have upside and Hilton is just that. It's clear that he has a lot to work on. Hilton is far from polished or consistent. But I saw enough flashes this season (when he did play) to suggest that he could be a quality power forward in the OHL. Firstly, he's the youngest player eligible this year, born on exactly September 15. Yet, he's already 6'5, 200lbs. Secondly, I don't think Hilton is a terrible skater for someone that size, still growing into their frame. I love the physical engagement. I think he does have some skill. What's Hilton going to look like two years from now?

46. Carson Woodall - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Woodall is a jack of all trades type defender. He was a real bright spot for Windsor this year as an OHL rookie. He's going to be a solid long term piece of Windsor's blueline, likely playing into his OA year. I like the vision. I like how he starts the breakout. I like how he holds the offensive blueline. He has a good stick in the defensive zone. The vast majority of his attributes would be best described as average at the next level and therein lies the issue with his projection. Unfortunately, he just looks the part of one of those guys who ends up being a quality CHL player, but not more. 

47. Josef Eichler - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
A physical demon on the backend. Eichler was definitely one of the most physically assertive/aggressive defenders in the OHL this year. Penalties were an issue, but I'd like to see Windsor hang on to him to see how he learns to rein in his desire to play mean. Can he fit within a system and become better in defensive zone coverage? Can his offensive game improve to the point where he's not a liability in the face of a heavy forecheck? If Eichler were bigger and more mobile, I'd have him ranked higher. As a late born 2005, his runway to improve is a little smaller too. 

48. Noah Bender - Goaltender - Oshawa Generals
A great story. Bender was a 12th round selection who played in the PJCHL last year, winning a Championship with Wellesley. Not that often you see players graduate from that league. The last one I can truly recall? Brett Brochu. That turned out alright. Bender came in and won the backup job to Oster. That means he didn't play a ton behind the OHL's goaltender of the year, but when he did, he was solid. Big young man at 6'4. Obviously that frame gives him an advantage. Flashes athleticism. Flashes strong puck tracking ability. Fairly technically sound and quiet in the crease. Just needs to play more for me. Sample size is way too small. 

49. Matthew Virgilio - Defense - Soo Greyhounds
Once considered one of the top defenders in this age group for Ontario, Virgilio's development just hasn't gone according to plan. Overall just a completely stagnant development year for him as an OHL sophomore. We just haven't seen the puck skill or creativity that we thought that we'd see and as such, he's fallen down the lineup in the Soo. So why do I still have him ranked? Because he shows flashes of being that high end player that we thought he'd be. Can he find confidence in his puck carrying ability? Can he eventually become a powerplay quarterback? Can he continue to build up strength in the defensive end to win battles more consistently? Can he find another gear as a skater? So many questions, little answers currently. But, this late in these rankings, you'd be hard pressed to find someone with upside like Virgilio.

50. Justin Bottineau - Center/Wing - Kitchener Rangers
A favourite of mine in his OHL draft year, I still have belief that Bottineau can be a quality OHL player in the future once he gets more ice time. He was much better in the second half for Kitchener, developing confidence in his ability to lead the charge offensively. We saw some nice net drives and some nice finishing ability late in the year. I think he thinks the game well too and should become a good two-way player. The key is just adding strength. He's largely ineffective when pressured and can have difficulty playing through traffic. I want to see that physical intensity level become way more consistent. He gets the last spot in these rankings because I've liked him so much previously. 

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Sunday Top 10 - 2024 NHL Draft Re-Entries


It's that time of the year for my annual (20232022202020192018201720162015201420132012201120102009) list of the top second and third year eligible OHL players for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. NHL teams continue to draft re-entry players in increasing number. This is mostly because drafting a second or third year eligible player gives NHL teams a lot of flexibility in their development under the CBA. Plus, a lot of these guys have been having success in recent years (Andrew Mangiapane, Tanner Pearson, Sean Durzi, and Colin Miller as legitimate NHL players are great examples from the OHL), which basic psychology tells us that other NHL teams will try to mimic.

Just to clarify, yet again, for those with limited understanding of the NHL draft system; North American players have either two or three years to get drafted, depending on their birth date. For those born from January 1 to September 15, they will go through three NHL drafts. For those born from September 16 to December 31, they will go through two NHL drafts. The players on this list are a mix of those having been passed over once or twice already.

Also, do not confuse this list with players drafted in 2022 who will re-enter the draft should they fail to come to a contractual agreement with their NHL team by June 1 (and whose birth date still allows them to be eligible). Quite often those too are referred to as draft re-entries. But this list does not contain them because it is not yet known who those players will be.

Last year's re-entry crop from the OHL is yielding terrific early results. Rodwin Dionicio emerged as one of the OHL's best defenders for the Memorial Cup hosts and recently signed his ELC. Dylan Roobroeck, Jacob Julien, and Florian Xhekaj all took massive steps forward to emerge as high end OHL players and all three look like potential NHL players in some capacity. This year's crop? I think it's a strong group that sees 4-5 draft picks, in addition to another two or three free agent signings in the future.

Without further rambling, here's my list:

1. Anthony Romani - Wing - North Bay Battalion
Without question, Romani is this year's top re-entry from the OHL. He essentially came out of nowhere to emerge as a Red Tilson candidate and top OHL scorer. He's only one year removed from being first time eligible too. The line of Romani, Wakely, Van Steensel was consistently one of the league's best and the three have tremendous chemistry that will continue to build into next year when they all return to North Bay. The real standout trait for Romani is his IQ. He's one of the OHL's most intelligent players. I was talking to another scout about him recently and we both mentioned how he was one of the "quietest" OHL leading scorers in recent memory. He's not necessarily a consistent play driver. He's not flashy. But, he has such a clear and advanced understanding of how to play without the puck and how to make quick decisions with the puck. The puck is on and off his stick quickly in the offensive zone and he rarely turns it over. He times his cuts so well and his anticipation as a goal scorer is terrific. Of course, the development of his shot and release have also helped take his game to another level as he has become a prime time finisher. Moving forward, the key for Romani will be the continued improvement of his skating and off puck play outside the offensive zone. If he finds success at the NHL level, it will be in a complementary offensive role and in order to do that as a wing in today's game, you need to be quick and you need to be tenacious. IMO, Romani ends up getting selected somewhere between 80-120. Too bad he battled injuries throughout the playoffs, as it would have been great to see how a healthy Romani faired in that environment.

2. Beau Jelsma - Center/Wing - Barrie Colts
Going to keep hyping my guy. I've been on the Jelsma train the last few years (dating back to his original draft year) and I'm not hopping off. If he doesn't get drafted this year, I just won't get it. Does his game have some holes? Absolutely. His decision making with the puck isn't always sound. He's also one of those guys with a lot of high end qualities, but nothing truly elite, which makes his projection (future role) a bit murky. However, you could do a heck of a lot worse in the back half of the draft. I mean, Beau had three points in four AHL games to end the year with Wilkes-Barre on a PTO. Simply put, he's a gamer. The skating and tenacity combination is solid. He's one of those guys who wants the puck on his stick and who works tirelessly to earn touches. He plays the game at a feverish pace and consistently applies pressure to opposing defenses North/South, either by attacking wide or by chipping and chasing. I think he has enough skill and sense to be a middle six guy, so long as his game keeps improving. If not, he could be a great depth option and AAAA player. I'm really excited to see him become one of the OHL's elite players as an OA next year (assuming he's back).

3. Trent Swick - Wing - Kitchener Rangers
Easily one of the OHL's most improved players this past season. I felt like one of the main reasons for that was an upgrade to the big man's skating ability. The 6'7 winger now skates quite well for someone his size and he can be a real load to handle because of it. He doesn't necessarily have the high end puck skill to make the most of it from a play creation perspective, but it makes him such a tough cover without the puck as he beats defenders to spots and becomes an immovable object. Swick is also an intense physical competitor. Previously, I found him a little too hesitant to use his size, but this year he took that to a whole other level, establishing himself as one of the OHL's most physical forwards. He rarely seems to lose a battle along the wall or near the crease. Are we looking at a high upside player? No. I don't believe so and I mean no disrespect by saying that. But, I do believe that Swick's rapid improvement has put him in a position to be an NHL regular in a bottom six role. 

4. Owen Allard - Center - Soo Greyhounds
Early on in the year, I would have thought Allard would be ranked number two here and someone who could push for a spot in the Top 100. He was such an effective role player for Canada at the WJC's with his speed, tenacity, and net front ability. However, I found his game really leveled off post WJC's with the Greyhounds. He was still an effective player, but the positive development that we saw early on didn't really continue. If it were a graph, it would have a sharp curve the first few months, followed by a straight line. I particularly worry about Allard's skill and touch with the puck. I find plays can die on his stick, especially when the Hounds are trying to attack with pace. His skating ability could be such a weapon, but he can struggle with handle/accept passes at full stride. There are definitely major limitations to his game offensively. He reminds me of former Greyhound Tyler Gaudet in a lot ways, and while he proved to be a solid depth piece, he never found a way to become an NHL regular. All that said, I could also see Allard becoming a Mackenzie Entwistle type who can play a solid fourth line, PK type of role. Again, we saw the effectiveness at the WJC's. 

5. Mitch Young - Defense - Sarnia Sting
Not a guy that a lot of people are talking about, but they should be. He went from a guy not even guaranteed to have an OHL roster spot this year to someone who was one of the team's top defenders. And he's an '05 to boot. Young's game is still pretty immature. The application of his skills is wildly inconsistent. His decision making can leave some to be desired, even if he's trying to be aggressive as an offensive defender. However, he simply can not be ignored on the ice with the way that he can change the balance of a game with a big hit or a creative play with the puck. He's extremely skilled. He could have had double the amount of points he had this year if Sarnia had more finishers. I felt like anytime I saw Sarnia this year, he found a way to make a few outstanding plays with the puck to create scoring chances. I like that he's aggressive in working his way to the middle of the ice too. Young is also a very physical player, especially in the open ice. Try to beat him to the outside, and he'll plaster you to the wall. He steps up in the neutral zone and at the opposing blueline to stop attackers in their tracks too. Does he chase the hit and play a little recklessly? For sure, it goes with the theme of application. Lastly, Young is a strong four-way mover. He's good on his edges. He builds to a solid top speed. Wouldn't call him a high end skater, but he's solid with the potential for it to be a plus skill eventually as he improves his strength/conditioning further. I was tempted to put Young higher, but the IQ is a bit of a mystery to me. How will his game become more refined? In a lot of ways, he's similar to Rodwin Dionicio, who was a re-entry pick last year.

6. Sam Hillebrandt - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
Great story here. Free agent signing by the Colts that pretty much saved their season this year with his strong second half play. And because a few other players declined an invite, he became the U.S.' third goalie at the WJC's. I feel like Hillebrandt is just scratching the surface of his potential. Do I wish he were a little bit bigger? Obviously. But, I think he's a good athlete. He's quick post to post. He's quick in and out of the butterfly. As he fills out, he'll become a bit better at holding his posts. His positioning and reads aren't always the most consistent. But, I love his compete level. He never gives up on a play. He fights for sight lines. His rebound control and overall positioning improved a ton over the year. Personally, I thought he was a top five netminder in the OHL in the second half of the year. Again, he's only an '05 too. These are the types of guys NHL teams should be taking chances on late in the draft.

7. Jacob Oster - Goaltender - Oshawa Generals
I mean, the OHL's goaltender of the year has to be included here right? Like Hillebrandt, Oster was just so good in the second half of the year. Really felt like things clicked for him finally as he's always been one of those goalies who has flashed high end potential in the league (previously with Guelph) because he's got good size and he's a good athlete. I think his best quality is his play reading ability. He really tracks the play well through traffic and he makes a lot of "highlight reel" type saves because of his outstanding anticipation in the crease. Over the year, his rebound control and positioning became way more consistent, especially in terms of the control of his pads. I'm sure you could make an argument for him to be ahead of Hillebrandt, but that extra year is important to me. 

8. Finn Harding - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Harding is a strong skating, two-way defender who really came into his own this year, emerging as a leader for the Steelheads on the blueline. The right shot defender is one of those jack of all trades types who has developed into a very versatile and dependable player. Love how he defends pace with good footwork and an active stick. Really like Harding's instincts and poise in the offensive zone. He holds the blueline well and gets pucks on net. He's not a high skill guy. He's not a bruiser physically. But, there's a lot of runway left for development given that he's only an '05 who took some serious steps forward this year. NHL teams are going to really like his combination of decent size + mobility from the right side.

9. Dalyn Wakely - Center - North Bay Battalion
Yes, he took a massive leap this year as a dominant two-way force, but I think NHL teams are going to be most impressed by how he took a banged up Battalion team to the Eastern Conference finals this year. He's worked really hard the last few years to change the narrative around him regarding his consistency away from the puck. He's competitive. He's strong on the puck. He drives the middle and plays hard North/South. He has the skill and creativity to excel as a playmaker. He's worked hard to improve his skating, even if it still has to improve further to be a quality pro. Do I have some concerns over his projectability? For sure. I'm not sure he's an eventual fit in a top six role at the NHL level and I'm not sure he's a strong enough skater to be a high end bottom six guy. That said, the improvements that he has made thus far in his OHL career have him in the draft conversation, and rightfully so.

10. Ruslan Gazizov - Wing - London Knights
Felt pretty confident about the top nine here, with number ten being any number of guys (including all the HM's). I went with Gazizov, because I think he has the highest upside of this group of players. Gazizov has always been on the draft radar because of his high end skill and playmaking ability. However, he's worked really hard to improve both his skating and the consistency of his off puck play under Dale Hunter. The added tenacity to his game this year, as a forechecker, as a crease crasher, as a penalty killer, all really helped to make him a more consistent point producer. Does the explosiveness and pace still need to improve if he wants to be a scoring line player in the NHL? Absolutely. And even with the improved consistency of his physical play, I'm not sure he's an ideal bottom six guy at the pro level. However, as mentioned, he's really the only guy of those remaining with significant NHL upside.

Honorable Mentions (alphabetical order):

Sam Alfano - Wing - Erie Otters
Former junior hockey teammate of Trent Swick, Alfano had a really strong finish to the year. I felt like his game really found another level in the second half of the year. Playing under Stan Butler, his all around game has really improved. Big 6'4 forwards with a soft touch near the crease and good two-way instincts don't grow on trees. Key for him is to keep improving his skating. Don't think he gets drafted this year, but if he can play all of next year the way that he closed out this year, he'll be a serious ELC candidate as an OA.

Matt Buckley - Wing - Oshawa Generals
Buckler has excellent upside as a goal scorer. Wouldn't shock me at all if he's a 40+ goal scorer in the OHL by the time he graduates out. His shot is a plus weapon. He has a great one timer, but also a heavy and accurate wrister. He'll eventually be a huge powerplay weapon for the Generals. But right now the skating ability isn't pro quality. He's got pretty heavy boots. If he can work hard to get quicker, he's going to score a lot of goals and he's going to get serious consideration from NHL teams.

Pano Fimis - Center - Erie Otters
I'll give Fimis a ton of credit, he's worked hard to make his game more well rounded since the deal to Erie. I think he had a really good year under Stan Butler, who elevated his two-way game massively. A strong faceoff guy. A tenacious player in puck pursuit. A strong penalty killer. Fimis has become way more than just a creative playmaker. Another guy that I don't think gets drafted, but who is getting closer to being a pro prospect. I'd expect him to have a monster OA year next season.

Marco Mignosa - Wing - Soo Greyhounds
Mignosa is a high IQ winger who is an excellent complementary piece. He's kind of like Anthony Romani without the high end shot and the ability to work inside consistently. He makes quick plays with the puck. He extends plays down low. He competes in all three zones. But, without a true standout skill, he remains on the periphery of the NHL draft radar. The new age Austen Keating in a way. 

Spencer Sova - Defense - Erie Otters
It was kind of an interesting year for Sova. The production dropped, but I don't think he was any less effective as a two-way player. The mobility is still plus/plus. The defensive play continues to improve. But, I think NHL teams are still waiting for him to truly takeover with his skating ability. If he is a near PPG defender in his OA year, he's getting signed. No question.

Luke Torrance - Wing - Oshawa Generals
Big winger deserved mention here IMO. Don't think he gets drafted, but I could see NHL teams having interest if he can improve his offensive production next year as an OA. He's an excellent defensive player. He's one of those true warriors on the ice who does anything to help his team win, blocking shots, crashing the crease, winning puck battles. Dime a dozen junior player or someone with a chance to be a role player at the pro level?

Owen Van Steensel - Wing - North Bay Battalion
Probably the guy I debated the most at #10. I really liked him two years ago as a later round candidate and he had a great year playing with Romani and Wakely this year after a disappointing post draft year. Love the energy he plays with. He's got quickness. His play with the puck has improved a ton. His shot has improved a ton. Brady Stonehouse earned an ELC and he's a pretty similar player. Wouldn't surpise me either way. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

2024 NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings

NHL Central Scouting has released their final draft ranking for 2024. Let's see how the OHL players were ranked. In total, 57 were listed. See below for some commentary on these rankings, in addition to the risers and fallers from the January midseason list.

Skaters

1. Zayne Parekh (5)
2. Sam Dickinson (7)
3. Beckett Sennecke (13)
4. Liam Greentree (14)
5. Marek Vanacker (17)
6. Jett Luchanko (20)
7. Sam O'Reilly (24)
8. Cole Beaudoin (25)
9. Ben Danford (35)
10. Henry Mews (37)
11. Jacob Battaglia (42)
12. Lukas Fischer (45)
13. Luca Marrelli (46)
14. Ethan Procyszyn (48)
15. Nathan Villeneuve (60)
16. Riley Patterson (61)
17. Jakub Fibigr (67)
18. Anthony Romani (70)
19. AJ Spellacy (72)
20. Jared Woolley (73)
21. Luke Misa (76)
22. Kevin He (78)
23. Gabriel Frasca (85)
24. Luke Ellinas (88)
25. Owen Protz (100)
26. Nathan Aspinall (102)
27. Mason Zebeski (103)
28. Trent Swick (109)
29. Dalyn Wakely (116)
30. Kieron Walton (117)
31. Bode Stewart (126)
32. Ty Henry (129)
33. Finn Harding (130)
34. Frankie Marrelli (135)
35. Cole Davis (137)
36. Luca Testa (143)
37. Kaden Pitre (144)
38. Chris Thibodeau (151)
39. Jack Van Volsen (164)
40. Owen Allard (174)
41. Sam McCue (178)
42. Parker Von Richter (184)
43. Ruslan Gazizov (192)
44. Anthony Cristoforo (194)
45. Mitchell Young (203)
46. Braydon McCallum (208)
47. Charlie Paquette (217)
48. Beau Jelsma (219)
49. Max Dirracolo (220)
50. Matthew Jenken (222)

Goalies

1. Carter George (2)
2. Landon Miller (6)
3. Ryerson Leenders (10)
4. Noah Bender (19)
5. Jacob Oster (24)
6. David Egorov (26)
7. Karsen Chartier (30)

For the complete rankings, see here.

Biggest Risers:
1. Dalyn Wakely +108 (unranked previously)
2. Ty Henry +95 (unranked previously)
3. Owen Protz +68
4. Jared Woolley +56
5. Riley Patterson +55
6. AJ Spellacy +53
7. Cole Davis +47
8. Finn Harding +44
9. Ruslan Gazizov +32 (unranked previously)
10. Sam O'Reilly +16
11. Noah Bender +15 (unranked goaltender previously)
12. Jacob Battaglia +14
13. Landon Miller +11 (goaltender)

Biggest Fallers:
1. Charlie Hilton (-98) - now unranked
2. Anthony Cristoforo (-93)
3. Luca Testa (-81)
4. Josef Eichler (-79) - now unranked
5. Owen Allard (-65)
6. Kieron Walton (-54)
7. Marco Mignosa (-52) - now unranked)
8. Gabriel Frasca (-48)
9. Chris Thibodeau (-36)
10. Frankie Marrelli (-35)
11. Luke Misa (-31)
12. Ryerson Leenders (-7 among goalies)

Comments:

- Love seeing Central Scouting really increase the rankings for Spellacy, Patterson, and Owen Protz. Those three are definitely among the most improved in the second half of the season. I'd lump Luke Ellinas in that group too and I was surprised that he didn't jump more.

- I think they nailed a lot of the fallers. Luke Misa is interesting. I'm not entirely sure that I agree, but they've also been lower on him all season. Leenders is also interesting. I've always been on team Carter George, but it seems most favor Leenders in the amateur scouting community. I wouldn't have expected him to drop that much given the weaker goaltending pool this year.

- Lots of re-entry love and you know I also love that. 

- I haven't finalized my own rankings yet, but here are some players that you can expect to see higher on mine: AJ Spellacy, Luke Misa, Kevin He, Kieron Walton, Luca Testa, Parker Von Richter, and Anthony Cristoforo. Here are some players that you can expect to see lower on mine: Ethan Procyszyn, Jared Woolley, and Landon Miller.