Friday, August 18, 2017

Top 25 OHL Prospects - Summer of 2017

Second year that I'm doing this list following the conclusion of my NHL team write ups ('31 Teams in 31 Days'). This is a list of the top prospects who played in the OHL during the 2016/2017 season. Just as I did last year, I'm going to cap the list at Top 25, with some honorable mentions. I'm also going to keep the write ups slightly short. If you want to read more about these guys, simply click on their NHL team in brackets and you'll be taken to the team's '31 in 31" from this summer and you'll get a detailed write up on their skill set and progression.

1. Dylan Strome - Erie Otters (Arizona Coyotes)
Bit of a bitter sweet year for Strome. Failed to stick with the Coyotes and sent back to the OHL for another year. But he took it in stride and was able to finally bring an OHL Championship back to Erie (something not even Connor McDavid could do). His size, hockey sense, and puck protection ability makes him a potential front line center for today's NHL, even if his speed is still mediocre. Without a doubt the top NHL prospect in the OHL this year IMO.

2. Mikhail Sergachev - Windsor Spitfires (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Not the best year for Sergachev, even if he did win a Memorial Cup. Felt like he took too many nights off after returning from the Canadiens into the season. But, he's still number 2 for me, and is still ahead of Juolevi because I feel like his potential at the NHL level is still higher (and Juolevi didn't have a great season either). 

3. Olli Juolevi - London Knights (Vancouver Canucks)
With a strong OHL season, I think he could have definitely passed Sergachev on a list like this. And yes, I do know that he was drafted before Sergachev (I had Serg higher on last year's list too). But I still feel like Juolevi's NHL potential probably makes him more of a quality #3, where as I still believe that Sergachev can be a top pairing two-way defender. They're certainly close, but given that both had mediocre years, I'm giving the nod to potential.

4. Gabe Vilardi - Windsor Spitfires (Los Angeles Kings)
Great pick by the Kings this year. This is a kid who is only going to get better and better at the OHL level. Had a bad luck year with injuries and illness, but his all around game and extremely high hockey IQ makes him a potential franchise center. I could see him needing only another OHL season before he's NHL ready (so long as he continues to improve his skating).

5. Michael McLeod - Mississauga Steelheads (New Jersey Devils)
A fantastic second half to the OHL season vaults McLeod near the top of this list. Finally seems to have harnessed his size and skating ability in a way that allows him to create scoring chances every time he touches the ice. And of course, there's the strong overall game too. Could be in the NHL (especially with the Zajac injury) this year if the Devils feel that he can play a depth role without hurting his offensive upside.

6. Owen Tippett - Mississauga Steelheads (Florida Panthers)
No question there are some things that Tippett needs to work on. But if we're talking about NHL potential, few guys on this list have as high as Tippett. Size, speed, and scoring ability on the wing. If he can up his intensity level without the puck, he has the release to be a 40 goal scorer at the NHL level.

7. Alex Debrincat - Erie Otters (Chicago Blackhawks)
Fantastic season for Debrincat, even with the disappointment of being cut by the American WJC team. The reigning Red Tilson winner was not just part of a special Otters' squad, he was often the straw that stirred the drink. Obviously the lack of size leaves some question as to whether his skill set translates to the NHL level, but this guy's compete level and skill level gives him pretty good odds IMO.

8. Nick Suzuki - Owen Sound Attack (Vegas Golden Knights)
A 2017 draft selection, Suzuki had a fantastic season for one of the best team's in the OHL. He's one of the smartest players in the league and has the potential to develop into a quality two-way center at the NHL level. Continuing to add quickness to his skating stride would help alleviate the lack of size concerns. Like Debrincat, this guy's compete level is through the roof though. 

9. Logan Brown - Windsor Spitfires (Ottawa Senators)
Not a good year for Brown. Battled injuries and the steps forward we saw in the second half of his draft year were not necessarily carried over to this year. Does that mean we should give up on him as a prospect? Hell no. Like Tippett, Brown possesses among the highest potential of any player on this list. With his size and skill level, he could absolutely dominate in the offensive end if he can find that consistent second gear and intensity level.

10. Max Jones - London Knights (Anaheim Ducks)
There aren't a ton of players who play the game the way that Max Jones does. The power forward mold has changed over the years, with Jones representing an era of yester-year. His game is all power, all the time. But he has a high skill level too and can certainly be more than just a 3rd/4th liner at the next level. Needs to use his teammates better and figure out a way to tow the line a bit more, but this kid is a special prospect for today's era.

11. Tyler Parsons - London Knights (Calgary Flames)
Flat out; a winner. His resume the last two years looks like this: OHL Championship, Memorial Cup, World Junior Gold Medal. About as athletic a goaltender as you'll find. But he has a little more size than some of the other athletic types the last few years (Nedeljkovic, Dipietro, etc). This guy has to be in consideration for the top goaltending prospect on the planet IMO. 

12. Jordan Kyrou - Sarnia Sting (St. Louis Blues)
Really liked how Kyrou's game developed this year. Has always had the speed and skill level, but is now using it to drive the middle of the ice and play with more fire. With his hands and vision, he's one of the OHL's elite playmakers. Those who watched the World Junior Summer Showcase got to see the evolution of Kyrou's game. 

13. Blake Speers - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (New Jersey Devils)
Surprisingly cracked the opening night roster of the Devils, but upon returning to the OHL he got injured. Developmentally, tough to see him play only half a year really. But he's emerged as a legitimate NHL prospect. Speers is one of the OHL's smartest players who pairs that great mind with great skating ability. Can make plays at top speed and shouldn't need much time at the AHL level either.  

14. Zach Senyshyn - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Boston Bruins)
Even though I'm not entirely sure Senyshyn's game grew a lot from last year to this year, he remains a quality NHL prospect. He's both one of the OHL's best skaters and goal scorers. Drives the net down the wing with authority and has an excellent release. Rest of his game will continue to need to improve, but size, speed, and skill on the wing is a relatively rare combination. It's what made him a surprise NHL first rounder in the first place.

15. Adam Mascherin - Kitchener Rangers (Florida Panthers)
Great year for Mascherin. The goal scoring numbers might not have been as high as people expected, but the rest of his game really rounded into form. Has become a much better player without the puck and has really emerged as a quality playmaker to go with the big time scoring potential he has. As he continues to upgrade his skating, he could have a hell of a year in the OHL next season.

16. Robert Thomas - London Knights (St. Louis Blues)
First rounder in 2017, Thomas is a quality two-way player with the upside to develop into a quality second line center because of his vision and playmaking ability. Needs to get stronger and he needs to improve his ability to put the puck in the net, but this is a hard working kid who worked his way up a stacked Knights' lineup this year. Excited to see how he improves next year.

17. Filip Hronek - Saginaw Spirit (Detroit Red Wings)
Impressive one and done player in the OHL. Effective at both ends, but offense will be his bread and butter at the next level. A really smart offensive player who's vision and ability to start the breakout are perfectly designed for today's fast paced game. Won't need much AHL seasoning IMO (even if the Wings like to make their defensive prospects play at the AHL level).

18. Michael McNiven - Owen Sound Attack (Montreal Canadiens
From undrafted FA signing to one of the better goaltending prospects in the NHL. It's been quite the ride for McNiven the last few years. This year's OHL Goaltender of the Year has developed the consistency you want to see from a potential starting netminder in the NHL. Has size, athleticism and really refined his positioning this year to help him breakout.

19. Victor Mete - London Knights (Montreal Canadiens
No player has improved as much as Mete the last few years IMO. This is a kid who entered the OHL as an undersized puck mover, but has become one of the league's elite two-way players. Has harnessed the ability to use his mobility to become a stalwart in the defensive end. But remains a great offensive player. Not worried about a lack of size because I feel that he'll only continue to up the intensity level with which he plays. Defenders his size are now making a consistent impact in the NHL.


20. Cliff Pu - London Knights (Buffalo Sabres)
Another breakout player in the OHL this year. Pu emerged as a quality power center prospect who can use his size and speed to drive the net. But it was the improvements made to his decision making with the puck and vision that really impressed me. Leads me to believe that he could be more than just a 3rd line center. 

21. Logan Stanley - Windsor Spitfires (Winnipeg Jets)
Suffered a knee injury that required surgery, which severely limited his progression this year. But he worked hard to return for the Memorial Cup, where he might have played the best hockey I've seen from him. Still want to see what he can do offensively as I'm always a little skeptical of big, stay at home prospects (considering their high bust rate when taken high in the draft). But he's slowly making a believer out of me.

22. Mitchell Stephens - London Knights (Tampa Bay Lightning)
I'm a big fan of Stephens and I think his speed, tenacity, two-way game and playmaking ability will transfer better to the pro level than people give him credit for. Was London's best player this post season IMO and was great for Canada at the last two WJC's. 

23. Anthony Cirelli - Erie Otters (Tampa Bay Lightning)
One of the more clutch players to ever play in the OHL. A Memorial Cup winning goal and an OHL Championship winning goal. And just overall fantastic play in the playoffs. Just an extremely hard worker who knows how to play without the puck at both ends. Can play any role you ask him to. Could easily see him developing into a quality NHL player who can slide between your 2nd and 3rd line and play a leadership role.

24. Taylor Raddysh - Erie Otters (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Quite the breakout season for Raddysh as he emerged as an offensive star at the OHL level in his draft plus one year. Raddysh is another guy who understands how to play without the puck, and even without being a naturally gifted skater, is able to win races to the net by being one step ahead of the competition. Still wonder how his game translates to the NHL level though. But you have to give it up for the year he had.

25. Boris Katchouk - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Has emerged as one of the most underrated prospects in the OHL. Has grown and is now a hulking torpedo of a player who's crash and bang style has somewhat hidden his high skill level. This kid has top notch finishing ability near the crease. Is also one of the OHL's top penalty killers where his forechecking ability is on full display. 

Honorable Mentions (alphabetical order):

Jeremy Bracco - Windsor Spitfires (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Michael Dipietro - Windsor Spitfires (Vancouver Canucks)

Warren Foegele - Erie Otters (Carolina Hurricanes)

Morgan Frost - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Philadelphia Flyers)

Nic Hague - Mississauga Steelheads (Vegas Golden Knights)

Janne Kuokkanen - London Knights (Carolina Hurricanes)

Isaac Ratcliffe - Guelph Storm (Philadelphia Flyers)

Jason Robertson - Kingston Frontenacs (Dallas Stars)

Vili Saarijarvi - Mississauga Steelheads (Detroit Red Wings)

Givani Smith - Guelph Storm (Detroit Red Wings)

Dmitri Sokolov - Sudbury Wolves (Minnesota Wild)

Conor Timmins - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Colorado Avalanche)

Dylan Wells - Peterborough Petes (Edmonton Oilers)
  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Anaheim Ducks

Last summer review article. It's the Anaheim Ducks.

1. Max Jones - London Knights
Kind of a tough year for Jones. He started the year out so well, then suffered an arm injury and a lower body injury that kept him out for a few months (causing him to miss the World Juniors too). Then upon returning, he was suspended 10 games for a vicious cross check. In total he only got into 33 regular season games. The production was decent though. Tough to say he really progressed a ton as a player though. Looked a bit quicker IMO; a little more explosive to the net. And we did see an uptick in goal scoring production (per game), but I think that had more to do with a larger role (although still without key powerplay time). Jones still needs to work on dialing in his aggression and physical game. It's 100% an asset when utilized properly, but he has lapses of poor judgment. And he's got a target on his back now, with refs having a short leash or little tolerance for him. Still want to see how much more his offensive game can grow too, in particular his shot and his ability to create plays for linemates from the cycle. He likely returns to London next year (I don't think he makes Anaheim) and should finally get powerplay time, which should really increase his production. A full year, I see him being a 40 goal/80 point player. On the right track to becoming a physical force in the same vein as Nick Ritchie (although I think Ritchie's has better vision and more natural playmaking ability).

2. Jack Kopacka - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Very good year for Kopacka as he established himself as strong two-way goal scorer. He's up to 6'3, 200lbs now and even with the jump in size, he actually looked quicker. Really explodes down the wing and is aggressive at driving the net, looking for loose pucks. Operates exceptionally well off the rush. Really stepped up as a quality two-way player this year too, using that speed to chase down loose pucks and work hard on the back check. Was a big part of the Soo's excellent penalty kill. Next step for him, IMO, is to use his size more effectively in the offensive end without the puck. Working the cycle, and slowing the game down a bit. Want to see his playmaking ability and vision continue to develop too. Ultra aggressive at driving wide with speed, but having the vision to find trailers or find streaking teammates would make him that much more dangerous. Would elevate him from being more of a secondary scoring option, to being a primary one. He hit the 30 goal mark last year and jumping to 40 next year, on a strong SSM team, is certainly not far fetched. At this rate, I think it's actually reasonable to ask the question, who scores more goals next year, Jones or Kopacka?

3. Julius Nattinen - Windsor Spitfires
Disappointing season for Nattinen who saw himself fall well below the point per game mark, with his production nearly cut in half. It was not as if he didn't play with talent either, consistently seeing time with guys like Jeremiah Addison, Gabe Vilardi, and Jeremy Bracco. Now, I will say that I don't think he was as bad as the numbers would indicate. He's still a solid two-way center who controls the wall well and is effective near the crease. Excellent face-off man too. But, his lack of elite skating ability still hinders him from being a consistent threat off the rush. I think, in a way, it will limit his effectiveness as a two-way player at the next level too. Certainly not too late for this to be improved, but I don't think I saw much improvement over his two years in the OHL. He'll move on to the AHL level next year, where I would expect very modest offensive production as he adjusts to the speed of the pro game. Maybe an 8/15 kind of year on a 3rd/4th line. Likely a few years away from developing into an NHL player IMO.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Arizona Coyotes

Second last team to cover this summer, the Arizona Coyotes.

1. Dylan Strome - Erie Otters
Strome struggled in limited NHL action and with how deep their young talent pool is, Arizona decided to send him back to the OHL for his final year. From an OHL stand point, it was great to see Strome back to finish what he started and earn an OHL Championship with the Otters. He improved upon his point per game average and was fantastic in the playoffs during Erie's run. Pretty much what you'd expect him to do. Strome's skating remains average, but he's such a smart player that he's able to dominate the OHL level with his vision and puck skill. Consistently makes quick decisions with the puck and is able to create scoring chances in any situation (off the rush, off the cycle, on the PP). Thought he was noticeably stronger and harder to separate from the puck this year. Also saw an improvement in his two-way game, playing with a little more jam on the back check, using his size to force turnovers. As he finally graduates to the pro level for good next year, his skating will need to continue to improve and I'd say it's likely that he adds even more muscle this offseason. The question is, will he be in the NHL or the AHL? The Coyotes have a ton of young depth, especially down the middle. He's going to battle the likes of Clayton Keller and Christian Dvorak for a roster spot. Wouldn't shock me at all if he started in the AHL, to get his confidence up offensively before he takes over a spot in the NHL for good by midseason. Between the AHL and NHL, I bet he's a 50 point player this year.

2. Mackenzie Entwistle - Hamilton Bulldogs 
Fantastic pick up by the Coyotes this year at the draft. Was one of my favourite OHL'ers heading into the event. This kid is a coaches dream. Size, competitiveness, skating ability, ability to play multiple positions, two-way awareness. His offensive game is still growing as he gains confidence in his abilities. We've seen terrific offensive output from him when paired against his peers (top prospect's game, Under 18's). And I do truly believe that there is more offensive upside to his game than people give him credit for. He flashes the ability to drive the net and beat defenders one on one and I think his hands in close are quite good. In Hamilton this past year, the offensive production wasn't great, but he also wasn't given powerplay time or top line ice time. That should improve next year as he'll look to be a top 6 forward and should most definitely see powerplay time. I would expect that his offensive production at least doubles to being a 25/25 guy, and could even see him as a 60 point player on a relatively strong Hamilton team. Like I said, I'm a big fan.

3. Cam Dineen - North Bay Battalion
Tough year for Dineen as he succumbed to a knee injury early in the year that required season ending surgery. North Bay wasn't great but after he went down, their season really went in the dumps. They greatly missed his ability to start the breakout and make quick decisions with the puck in the defensive end. Truthfully, didn't see enough of him to really evaluate any progression before the injury. So let's focus on next year. He'll return to North Bay and look to be one of the OHL's better defenders. His hockey sense and vision is off the charts good, but hopefully his physical skills and skating have caught up a bit. If the Battalion struggle again, wouldn't shock me at all if they looked to move him to a competitor. Want to see Dineen back up above the 50+ point mark, with improvements made in the defensive end. 

4. Kyle Capobianco - Sudbury Wolves
Definitely some good things for Capobianco in (likely) his final OHL season. Sudbury took some minor steps forward as a team and Capobianco's play was definitely a big reason for that. Thought he was more aggressive as an offensive player this year, looking to extend his rushes deeper into the offensive zone to help Sudbury's forwards gain and maintain a semblance of dominance in the offensive end. Also saw a step forward in defensive intensity. Thought he made himself a bit harder to play against and flashed an ability to step on forwards as they tried to drive the net. That said, I think his defensive game still needs to develop a lot more for him to become an NHL defender. Still needs to add strength to win more battles in the corner and in front of the net. Continuing to up his intensity level will help. There are still times when he seems too complacent in his own end. While there's always the chance Arizona returns him for an OA season, I'd say that's very unlikely. He'll start his pro career next year in the AHL. Likely is eased into the lineup slowly and will probably post pretty modest numbers in his first year as he adjusts. 

5. Nate Schnarr - Guelph Storm
Solid rookie season for the lanky, two-way center and well worth an NHL draft pick where Arizona took him. Despite Guelph being a pretty poor team, I was always impressed by Schnarr's effort level and there were games where he looked like their best player. Strength is definitely an issue, but work ethic is not. Solid skater who has the potential to develop into a quality power center who can drive the net and work well within the possession game. To a certain degree, I think it remains to be seen how good his hands are and how much goal scoring potential he has. But I do think that this is a kid who's only scratching the surface of what he's capable of. He'll return to Guelph next year and will be one of their top 2 line centers, with a good amount of powerplay time. Guelph should also be better next year, which will only improve his odds of increasing his production. I see him being a 25 goal/60 point player. The question is, who will produce more next year, he or Entwistle?

6. Noel Hoefenmayer - Ottawa 67's
Hoefenmayer, IMO, is actually a pretty similar prospect to Capobianco when he was drafted. Good mobility. Good offensive instincts. Good puck skill. Asked to play a large role on a young, rebuilding club where he was forced to look overmatched defensively at times. The difference is that Hoefenmayer was actually a pretty hard nosed defender before coming to the OHL. Just hasn't seemed to have found the confidence (or physical maturity) yet to become that sort of a defender playing against older competition. Also think he possesses a better shot than Capobianco. Really interested to see how his game progresses over the next two years. Ottawa should be better next year, or at least equivalent. Hoefenmayer will be a top pairing defender for them and he should be able to produce similarly to his draft year, while improving his defensive play.

7. Jalen Smereck - Flint Firebirds
Smereck actually possesses a lot of the qualities that you like to see in pro defenders. Decent size. Good mobility. Smart with the puck. Physical intensity in the defensive end. He's a very well rounded defender and was a smart sign by the Coyotes. In particular, I really like how Smereck quarterbacks the powerplay. Adept at keeping pucks in and getting pucks to the net and plays very composed. Also love how he plays bigger than his size in the defensive end and isn't afraid to mix things up. I don't think his upside is incredibly high, but he does a lot of things well and has a chance to develop into a solid third pairing guy. Next year the Coyotes could send him back to the OHL for his overage year or they could play him in the AHL. Based on how he played in a small sample size to end last year (for Tuscon), I'd be surprised if he goes back. I actually think he's more pro ready than Capobianco and will have a better first year than him, even if the potential is not as high. Probably a 20 point player in his first pro season.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Boston Bruins

Third last stop on the review tour this summer! Boston.

1. Zach Senyshyn - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A bit of a deja vu year for Senyshyn. Hits the 40 goal plateau again, with exactly 65 points. Senyshyn remains one of the OHL's elite skaters. And when you pair that with his size and puck protection ability, you've got one of the toughest wingers to stop one on one in the league. Also possesses an extremely heavy wrist shot. It's rinse/repeat for him. Use his speed to drive the net, with and without the puck, and get to those scoring lanes. Felt he improved his physical intensity a little bit this year. Saw him be more aggressive in front of the net, using his size to gain positioning. But the things I mentioned in last year's article (playmaking/vision, two-way game) remain works in progress IMO and will need to continue to improve as he moves to the pro level next year. That North/South game definitely will work and his speed will play, but he will need to utilize his teammates better at the pro level, as beating defenders one on one will not be as easy. And I'd still love to see him develop as a forechecker with his size and speed. I still think he'll be a 20 goal scorer as an AHL rookie next year, but he may take a few years before he's ready for a top 6 role on the big club.

2. Jack Studnicka - Oshawa Generals
Great pick by the Bruins this year. Studnicka is a hard working, two-way center with offensive upside. Got better and better as the year went on, gaining confidence in his offensive abilities. Finished the year with a great OHL playoffs and an impressive appearance at the Under 18's. Really like how Studnicka sees the ice and well effective he is without the puck. He's certainly not the quickest, but he consistently beats defenders to loose pucks and to scoring lanes because he works harder, and because he anticipates the play well. It will be interesting to see how his offensive game develops over the next two years. He will need to get quicker, especially his first few steps, to make him more effective driving the middle of the ice to create plays off the rush. Would also love to see him become a little more physically intense, upping that grit element to his game to really take that two-way ability to the next level. Lastly, adding strength will make him a more effective puck carrier and should improve his shot. Next year in Oshawa, he'll be a go to offensive player and should be a point per game player. In fact, I'm betting he cracks the 70+ point mark.

Monday, August 14, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Buffalo Sabres

Getting down to the end here. Buffalo up next.

1. Cliff Pu - London Knights
Fantastic year for Pu's development. Nearly tripled his point production from a year ago, taking his game to another level and becoming a go to player for the Knights. Last year, I wrote "At this point, his overall offensive game is a work in progress. As a center, his vision and playmaking off the rush will need to continue to develop. Same goes for his shot and confidence in using it." Well those were the parts of his game we saw the biggest improvements in. This is a player who can put defenders on his back, driving the net. Has always had the speed, but now has the strength to match it. When he gets going on the way to the net, he's one of the more difficult forwards to stop in the OHL. Overall playmaking ability and vision was much better too. Using his size and speed to open up lanes and then deftly finding teammates, rather than just driving the net with his head down. Lastly, the shot was much better. Looks confident driving wide, using defenders as a screen for a heavy wrist shot. A lot more velocity behind those wristers now. And of course, Pu's two-way game and faceoff prowess remain strengths. Only negative I can think of was Pu's disappointing play in the playoffs this year. He struggled to be an impact player, almost as if he hit a bit of a wall. As a budding power center with another year in the league, I'm excited to see how he can take his game to yet another level next year when he returns to London. I'd expect him to be a 40 goal scorer and a 90+ point producer, although I'm not sure London will be quite as strong next year. 

2. Austin Osmanski - Mississauga Steelheads
Stagnant year for Osmanski's development. Spent the majority of the year on the third pairing again, with similar ice time to his draft year. He's a big defender who flashes an ability to dominate physically. Has decent mobility but his defensive reads and confidence with the puck remain works in progress. As does his decision making with the puck in his own end. Can be forced into turnovers in the defensive end by a heavy forecheck. Next year, he has a chance to earn top four ice time and will likely battle overager Stephen Gibson for that spot (as a potential partner for newcomer Merrick Rippon or 2nd rounder Nic Hague). To earn a contract from Buffalo, he's going to need to emerge as a top flight defensive defender in this league and improve his play with the puck.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Calgary Flames

The last Canadian team to be covered this year.

1. Tyler Parsons - London Knights
What more can you say about Parsons at this point? This kid is a winner. An OHL Championship and Memorial Cup last year. And a World Junior Championship this year. Not to mention another terrific OHL season under his belt.  First thing you immediately notice about his game is how quick he is in the crease and how he never gives up on a play. His lateral movement is fantastic. Just a really tough guy to beat low with how well he tracks the play. Did a really good job working on his positioning this year, scrambling a little less and being more conservative in his movements. He's not a huge goaltender, but he's ultra aggressive in challenging shooters, trusting his athleticism to keep him in the play. He's ready for his next challenge, which looks like it will be the ECHL. Certainly not uncommon for top flight goaltending prospects to spend time there. Calgary has Jon Gillies and David Rittich already manning the pipes in the AHL. Doubt he supplants them (unless they move Eddie Lack and use a guy like Rittich as their back-up). Would expect Parsons to be the best or one of the best goalies in the ECHL and for him to play well in his inevitable spot AHL duty as well. He's a top flight goaltending prospect and the best one from the OHL currently.

2. Adam Ruzicka - Sarnia Sting
An excellent 4th round pick by the Flames this year. He certainly has his warts and things to work on as a prospect. But he's also a kid with a lot of potential. Big forward with skill and decent skating ability. At times, he looks like he can dominate the possession game and could develop as a really tough guy to stop from getting to the net. Certainly has the puck skill to drive the play. But there's a wavering intensity level, especially away from the puck. Want to see a big guy want to go after loose pucks, but he's stagnant in the offensive end too much. I think the concerns about his hockey sense and vision are legitimate too. Want to see him get himself in better scoring position because he has a big wrist shot and a great release. Internationally, I thought he looked quite good this year, better than he did in the OHL. Obviously, it's an adjustment to playing on a smaller ice surface in a different country. He'll return to Sarnia next year and will be a big part of their offense. Likely their 2nd line center again and will see lots of powerplay time. I think he's likely a point per game player and a 30 goal scorer.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Carolina Hurricanes

Some quality OHL prospects in the stable for the Hurricanes.

1. Warren Foegele - Erie Otters
What a great decision by the Hurricanes to send Foegele back for his OA year. His game grew exponentially. He developed into one of the best, if not the best, two way player in the OHL. Such a complete center and has the makings of developing into a fantastic 3rd line center for the Hurricanes in the near future. Offensively, he's very adept at winning loose puck battles and is exceptional at using his body along the wall. He's also very aggressive in driving the net. We saw a massive confidence shift in terms of his shot this year. Way more aggressive in looking to shoot the puck and getting himself in good scoring position in the slot. Defensively, his anticipation and reads are terrific. He's become quite the excellent penalty killer. He's also fantastic on faceoffs. I also really liked how Foegele elevated his game in the playoffs this year during Erie's championship run. Was one of their best players on a pretty stacked team. He'll turn pro next year and I think he'll have an excellent rookie pro season. I see him putting up 15/20 in the AHL and fighting for a 3rd/4th line spot as early as 2018. Blog friend Matt Karash (of Canes and Coffee) actually feels Foegele could compete for a job as early as this season, based on what he saw at prospect camp. Either way, Carolina has a good one on their hands.

2. Janne Kuokkanen - London Knights
Solid rookie season for Kuokkanen with the Knights as he quickly established himself as a terrific secondary scoring option. Really like how he operates off the rush. A very dynamic, quick strike player. His skating is excellent and he really likes to use it to drive the net wide. Even though he only had 26 goals in the regular season, I think the playoffs (10 goals) better exemplified his goal scoring potential. He has a great wrist shot and as the year went on, he really started to become more aggressive in attacking the middle of the ice looking for scoring opportunities. As a complete player (play away from the puck, physical game, two-way awareness), I think his game still has some growth. Would love to see him use that speed to be more active on the forecheck. But this is a fun player to watch. Next year he'll be in the AHL with the Knights releasing his rights (before this year's import draft). As a '98 drafted from Europe, he can play in the league as a 19 year old. Might be a bit of an adjustment period for him as he learns to use his speed to be aggressive at the pro level. I see him as probably a 15/15 guy as an underager, which would still be a terrific season.

3. Jeremy Helvig - Kingston Frontenacs
Was a pretty solid season for Helvig, his first as a starter in the OHL. The Frontenacs were one of the better defensive teams in the Conference and he had a lot to do with that. He's a really big goaltender and he's worked hard to become more than just a stopper. Did a much better job swallowing up rebounds this year and limiting second chance opportunities, using that size to be aggressive and stopping pucks through traffic. There were some consistency issues at times, and he seemed to tire a bit by the playoffs (where he wasn't terrific). I think moving forward he needs to continue to work on his agility in the crease to make him more effective moving side to side, that way he can be even more aggressive in using his size to challenge shooters, but have better recovery ability. It's already been announced that he'll be returned to Kingston for his OA season. That's huge news for the Frontencas and a smart decision for his development IMO. Kingston has a chance to be a top 4 team in the East and Helvig should be a top 5 netminder in the league. Really want to see that save percentage in the .915 range next year and could be paired with 30+ wins.

4. Steven Lorentz - Peterborough Petes
Because he was a draft selection as a re-entry, the Canes had another year to decide on whether to sign Lorentz and thus returned him to Peterborough for his overage year. He rewarded them with an excellent season and they rewarded him with a contract. Last year I mentioned that the key to his development was improved play away from the puck; using his size to become a good two-way player. And we really saw that part of his game improve this year. Consistently winning battles along the wall. Consistently working hard on the backcheck as the first guy back. He's not the most physical player, but he does use his size well to give him leverage. Offensively, I think one of the biggest improvements I noticed was in his skating. Looked a lot more explosive this year and he used that to be aggressive in driving the middle of the ice, looking to create and push the pace. Saw a lot more confidence in his puckhandling ability and overall effectiveness off the rush. With size, improved skating, an improving two-way game and great faceoff ability, Lorentz certainly has the potential to develop into a solid 3rd/4th line center for Carolina in the future. He'll start his pro career this year. Would love to see him be a full time AHL player, but wouldn't be shocked if he split time between the A and the ECHL. As he adjusts, I wouldn't expect huge offensive production, but if Carolina is patient, this is a kid who possesses the work ethic required to be a quality pro.

5. Noah Carroll - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Probably not the season the Hurricanes had hoped for from Carroll at this point. We did see him improve his offensive production, but I'm not entirely sure he improved a whole lot as a player and prospect. First half of the season in Guelph, it was a lot of the same that we had seen the year before. Trouble with decision making in his own end and an overall indecisiveness defensively. The mid season trade to Sault Ste. Marie did seem to help a bit though. Was able to slide into a different role in the Soo, where he wasn't being asked to be a significant offensive contributor. Was able to simplify his game and as such, the turnovers decreased. Skating has never been a problem, which has always made you wonder if there's some offensive upside trapped in there. Next year is a big season for Carroll as an OA. He's going to need to have a good year to earn a contract from Carolina. At this point, I think it's a matter of developing an identity for Carroll. Focus on using your skating ability to develop into a quality defender. Increase the intensity level in the defensive end and make yourself a really tough player to match up against. Then find the confidence in your ability to handle the puck and use your skating ability to start the transition game and limit those turnovers. If Carroll can be a 30+ point defender but really improve defensively, he probably gets a contract. And he'll be counted on to be a top 3 defender for the Hounds (a contender in the West), so the opportunity is there. 

*Martin Necas - Saginaw Spirit
Looks like Canes' first rounder Martin Necas is indeed going to commit to the Spirit next year (or at least signs are pointing towards that). Big add for that franchise and for the league, if true. From what I've seen, Necas' speed and ability to drive the middle of the ice should play well in the OHL. He'll likely be Saginaw's top line center and should be a good bet to be a point per game player. The Spirit have mired in mediocrity for a few years, so hopefully he can elevate them back to being a quality team in a tough Conference. Excited to see him play.