Tuesday, August 14, 2018

31 Teams in 31 Days - Washington Capitals

The Capitals broke a 5 year streak of not selecting an OHL player in the draft. Celebrate!

1. Kody Clark - Ottawa 67's
Was definitely a bit surprised when Clark was drafted in the mid 2nd round by Washington this year, and that's coming from someone who is a fan of Clark's. Early on this year, he had shown marked improvements from the year prior, perhaps even going as far as saying he looked like one of the most improved players in the OHL. His ability to prolong possession in the offensive end because of how well he protects the puck, how strong he is, and how well he works the boards can be a major asset. And his skating made big strides, allowing him to become a threat off the rush where he can take the puck hard to the net and has better hands and puck skill than people give him credit for. But, he seemed to hit a wall in the second half, which could be explained by a shoulder injury that prevented him from playing in the Top Prospect's Game, and kept him out of OHL action for about three weeks. He had only 2 goals in the final 25 games of the season (including the playoffs). And they came in the same game. Moving into next year, Clark will look to re-establish the level of play he started the year with, maintain it over a full year, and remain healthy. The 67's are poised to be among the leaders of the Eastern Conference and Clark will be counted on to be a big part of their secondary scoring unit. A 30+ goal year and a ppg season is definitely a possibility. Would also like to see him assert himself physically a little more consistently, especially on the forecheck. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

31 Teams in 31 Days - Vegas Golden Knights

2nd year for Vegas, although it still feels a tad weird making this 31 days long.

1. Nick Suzuki - Owen Sound Attack
Quietly had another terrific season for the Attack, cracking the 100 point mark for the first time in his OHL career. Suzuki is just such a smart player. Has terrific vision in the offensive end. Really patient and poised and allows the play to come to him. Even though he's undersized, he works the wall really well and is able to prolong possession by keeping his feet moving and using his quick hands to keep defenders guessing. As good as he is as a playmaker, Suzuki is also a great goal scorer. His wrist shot and release are definitely excellent and are very underrated. He's fearless too and will attack the middle of the ice and crash the net to make plays happen. Of course, Suzuki remains a terrific three zone player and penalty killer too. Just a very well rounded prospect. I probably said all of these things last year about him too, so I guess that brings about the question, just how much did Suzuki's game improve? I think he definitely looked stronger on the puck, which is something he needed to work on. But I would still like to see his skating become a bit more explosive, giving him that separation ability off the rush that would help him when he transitions to the next level. Will that be next year though? Can Suzuki crack the Vegas roster? I think the addition of Paul Stastny probably makes that less likely. If he returns to the OHL, it would be great to see Suzuki take another step forward offensively. Such as taking home the Eddie Powers trophy as the top scorer (around the 120 point mark), and being a leader on Team Canada at the WJC's.

2. Nic Hague - Mississauga Steelheads
First OHL defender to hit the 30 goal mark in 18 years (since Al Rourke). And his 35 goals were the 9th most all time in the OHL (three behind Al MacInnis at 8th). It goes without saying, Hague can shoot the puck. Be it a cannon from the point on the powerplay (15 of them this year), or jumping up as the 3rd or 4th man in and finding room in the slot to unload a wrister, he has a full repertoire. Hague also has terrific scoring instincts and is super aggressive in jumping up in the play. Sometimes maybe too aggressive and he'll have to reign that in a bit at the next level. But when you've got a player with his skill set, sometimes you need to live with him getting caught at times because he can make things happen. Defensively, his size plays extremely well and he has become an extremely physical player the last two years. This is especially true below the hash marks. Hague just punishes the opposition down low. His size and reach can be a real defensive asset. However, strictly as a defensive player, I think there is still room for growth. While the physicality increased greatly over his OHL career, his reads and overall effectiveness in his own end never hit that elite level. There are times where I wonder why he's not coming away with more pucks in 50/50 battles, especially along the wall given his size advantage. But, never the less, Hague is the reigning Max Kaminsky winner (defender of the year) and a solid NHL prospect. It will be very interesting to see how he performs at the pro level next year. I would suggest that it's likely he hits the 10 goal mark as a rookie in the AHL, but the rest of his game and stat line could take some time to adjust to the pro speed (something that I understand was evident in his audition at the end of this most recent season).

3. Ben Jones - Niagara IceDogs
Extremely underrated prospect. Jones is one of the most complete forwards in the OHL Niagara uses him in all situations, be it the powerplay, penalty kill, or out there in the last minute protecting a lead. Has to be considered one of the top faceoff men in the league. Jones plays the game hard. His intensity level never seems to drop on the ice. Attacks, attacks, attacks. Very effective player without the puck, be it forcing turnovers in the neutral zone, or getting after it on the forecheck. He's turned into a sort of pest who loves to get his nose dirty near the crease and seems to be in the middle of most scrums. But Jones is a skilled playmaker who really took a step forward offensively this year. Way more confident with the puck and was more aggressive in looking to create his own scoring chances by taking the puck to the net or putting shots on net. Still has that terrific vision though and is at his best carving up the middle of the ice, looking to open up passing lanes for linemates. Next step for Jones is to continue to improve his skating. It was better this year, but if he can truly add that next gear of separation, he could be that much more effective in all areas. Niagara will be one of the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference this year and I expect another jump in production for Jones. Look for him to be around the 35/55 range, for 90+ points.

4. Connor Corcoran - Windsor Spitfires
Jack of all trades defender for the Spitfires who isn't extremely flashy, but was very effective for the Spitfires this year as one of their top defenders. Corcoran plays well at both ends of the ice thanks to solid mobility. Plays a relatively safe game with the puck in his own end and makes a good outlet pass, often showing confidence in his skating ability to avoid the forecheck before dishing off. And defensively, he's tough to beat one on one and does a great job of keeping the game ahead of him. Has a very good stick down low and is very adept at anticipating and breaking up potential scoring chances. I guess the question is, what type of player can Corcoran develop into, in terms of finding a role at the next level? He's going to have to greatly improve at both ends or find a niche to settle into. Can he become more aggressive offensively, using his mobility to extend his rushes deeper into the offensive zone? Can he become a quality powerplay QB? Will his defensive intensity continue to increase to the point where we could consider him an elite shutdown defender? At 6'2 (and possibly still growing), that's possible. A solid mid round gamble by the Golden Knights to see how he matures as a player over the next two seasons. Look for him to increase his offensive production in Windsor this year, perhaps to the 7/30ish mark. He'll be a top pairing defender for them again.

5. Jordan Kooy - London Knights
Never a bad bet to gamble on a London Knights player late in the draft, especially one who didn't get a ton of exposure because of depth. Kooy started the year off very poorly and it really seemed to take the sails out of his draft stock which I would say was relatively high coming into the season. If he had been playing well, he could have likely taken hold of the starting goaltending job. But his struggles (along with Tyler Johnson's struggles) forced London to bring in Joseph Raaymakers to be the team's starter. Slowly, but surely, Kooy regained his confidence and had a much better second half that saw him play up to his potential. He has the size and athleticism combination that NHL teams are looking for. Rebound control is one issue that will need to be improved moving forward, as he has a tendency to give up too many juicy second chances. Next year, London will aim to be a top team in the Western Conference again and if he plays well, Kooy could form a platoon with Raaymakers with the aim to take over the starter's role the year after.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

31 Teams in 31 Days - Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks are next.

1. Michael Dipietro - Windsor Spitfires
Anyone who reads this blog knows how big of a fan of Dipietro I am. He's one of the most competitive netminders that I've ever seen come through the OHL. He never gives up on a play, is always talking to his defenders, and just flat out hates to lose. He's a gamer. Mentally, his focus is terrific too. If he gives up a bad goal, he always seems to straighten himself out and shut the door. Very rarely do you see the wheels come off for him. His confident level in his abilities is evident. Given the state of Windsor's blueline this year, and the young team in front of him, Dipietro was sensational this season and that's why he was named the OHL goaltender of the year. His athleticism is off the charts good. And given his lack of elite size at a position that demands it now, it needs to be. Makes a lot of highlight reel saves moving post to post, but also has a good glove hand and does a good job of controlling rebounds and limiting second chances for an unconventional goaltender. The next step for him will be refining his movements so that his positioning is better. Can get beaten high, especially in close when he goes down too early. As he moves through the levels, players will look to exploit that lack of size and he'll have to find ways to make himself bigger in the crease, rather than just relying on his athleticism and anticipation. Next year, Dipietro will return to Windsor and he will have a good chance of repeating as OHL goaltender of the year. Whether he finishes the year in Windsor will depend on how well the team starts the year. If they find themselves in the middle, they may look to deal him to get assets back. I would also expect him to be Canada's starter at the World Juniors. With another solid year under his belt, he has to be considered one of the top goaltending prospects on the planet.

2. Jonah Gadjovich - Owen Sound Attack
Kind of a tough year for Gadjovich, as he battled injuries (back and wrist) that limited him to just 42 regular season games and prevented him from being effective later in the year and in the playoffs. But, he did battle hard at the World Juniors for Canada in a depth role, where he performed admirably as a forechecker, penalty killer, and energy presence. Gadjovich is, without question, a man child. At times, he just tosses bodies around to get to the puck or to the front of the net. Physically, there are few who can match up with him in the OHL. I love how he plays the game, definitely a throwback. But he's underrated offensively because of how complete the rest of his game is. Gadjovich has good hands in tight and is a very adept finisher. He also has a very powerful wrist shot that he uses effectively coming down the wing. As a playmaker, his game has grown a lot, as he shown a lot more poise in the cycle and in puck possession, waiting for defenders to make a mistake; waiting for the right opportunity to strike. The big question is, did his skating improve? I think it definitely did a bit. I thought earlier in the year he looked a lot quicker to loose pucks and definitely more explosive coming off the wall. But it will continue to need to improve as he turns pro this year. I look at what guys like Matt Luff and Mason Marchment were able to do this past season as AHL rookies and can't help but think that Gadjovich should be able to be a 15 goal scorer and a 30 point player, at the very least. Key will be staying healthy this year and really establishing himself as someone who can push for a roster spot on the Canucks for the 2019/2020 season.

3. Matt Brassard - Oshawa Generals
Tale of two seasons for Brassard this year. First 24 games of the year, 0 goals, 8 assists for a ppg average of 0.33. Last 43 games of the year, 16 goals, 27 assists and a 1.00 ppg average. I saw him early on a few times and he looked sluggish, had trouble with turnovers, and really was not very effective at either end. But watching him later in the year, he had returned to the form that he had shown the year prior...and then some. Completely different player. Confident. Poised. This guy can rifle the puck and is one of the most aggressive offensive defenders in the league as he never hesitates when presented with an opening to step in from the point. His 218 shots were 4th among defenders this year. But what caught my eye later in the year was Brassard's ability to skate the puck out of his own end and push the pace deep into the offensive zone. His forward skating stride looked much improved this year. Defensively, he remains a pretty solid player. Not spectacular, but he uses his size effectively at 6'3, 200lbs. Engagement level isn't an issue in traffic. Can get caught up ice or caught out of position at times. And off the rush, sometimes he gets caught flat footed. But there's potential for him to emerge as one of the OHL's best two-way defenders. With him remaining unsigned, it would appear that the Canucks would like to see him repeat his second half performance over an entire year as he returns as an overager to Oshawa. The Generals are going to be a contender for top team in the East and Brassard will be a contender for OA of the year and the Max Kaminsky. I think we'll see him in the 20 goal, 40 assist range next year. That would be enough for him to earn a contract IMO.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

31 Teams in 31 Days - Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto is next and they obviously have been looking at the OHL quite extensively in recent years.

1. Rasmus Sandin - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Solid rookie season for Sandin in the OHL that saw him jump right into a top 4 role with a competitive Greyhounds team. This, in turn, led to his selection in the first round by Toronto. Sandin does everything well. His ability to start the breakout, specifically his exit pass, is among the best and most consistent of any defender in the OHL. He just rarely makes mistakes with the puck in the defensive end. His play with the puck outside the defensive zone really gained confidence as the season went on, especially in terms of him extending rushes or jumping up into the play. His shot from the point is an asset and he could certainly develop into a capable powerplay QB. Defensively, I like his compete level. Doesn't back down from battles and has very good positioning in the defensive end. Shields off really well along the wall and is great at holding off forecheckers. He's going to need to get stronger to be a bit more effective, which was evident in the playoffs where I thought he struggled a bit. And I think he could stand to make his skating stride a little more explosive. But Sandin was an excellent pick and has the makings of a top 4 NHL defender. Next year, it remains to be seen where he will play. He could return to Sault Ste. Marie where I would expect he would be close to a point per game. He could return to Rogle of the SHL (because they had loaned him to the OHL). Or he could turn pro. We'll probably know more as Leafs' training camp progresses, but I obviously selfishly hope he returns to the Soo.

2. Sean Durzi - Owen Sound Attack
2nd rounder and draft re-entry this year, Durzi was one of the top offensive blueliners available. Was a bit surprised he went undrafted in 2017 after having a terrific second half of the season. But came back even stronger, finishing 2nd to Evan Bouchard in points per game among blueliners and would have likely pushed for the Max Kaminsky (OHL defender of the year) had he not injured his ankle, which kept him out of action for a large chunk of the 2nd half. His bread and butter is his ability to quarterback the powerplay. Has terrific vision on the point and makes excellent decisions back there. Also has excellent mobility, which he uses to walk the line, keep pucks in, or open up passing/shooting lanes. Durzi is also effective as a puck rusher, again where his mobility helps him. Defensively, he's a stick on puck defender who tries to use his mobility to stay ahead of attackers. It was really only his second full year at defense in the OHL, after shuttling back and forth between forward and defense as a rookie. This is the area that will need to improve the most at the next level. He's not blessed with elite size, so he's going to have to be harder on puck carriers and get stronger to be more effective along the wall. As a '98, Durzi is likely to turn pro next year even if the Leafs haven't signed him yet AND they've got quite the logjam on the blueline with the Marlies. But if they feel like they don't have room for him and want him to improve defensively first, they could send him back for his OA year with Owen Sound where he would no doubt be among the better defenders in the OHL.

3. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev - Peterborough Petes
Der-Arguchintsev was definitely a much debated and talked about prospect heading into this year's draft. Opinions were polarized about the talented offensive forward, but pretty much universally everyone agrees that his potential is very high. SDA was one of the youngest players available this year and is extremely physically immature. The consistency issues could definitely be related to this. As a playmaker, Der-Arguchintsev's puck skill is terrific and really helps to prolong possession in the offensive end and create scoring chances. He's definitely "slick" and will make plays that catch your attention. The rest of his game is a work in progress. His skating needs to get better. His play without the puck needs to get better. He needs to become more confident in using his shot. His play in all three zones needs to improve. He needs to improve his faceoffs if he wants to stay down the middle. But on skill alone, he's intriguing and it will be fun to watch him develop over the next two years. He'll return to Peterborough and be an offensive leader for the Petes. I'm not expecting them to be terrific this year, but if he can reach the point per game mark in his draft +1, while improving his consistency, that would be a encouraging.

4. Eemeli Rasanen - Kingston Frontenacs
Kind of a status quo year for Rasanen developmentally. Offensively, his game remains a work in progress. Flashes an ability to be able to lead the rush and shows some good puck skill. But confidence and decision making are still areas of weakness. I feel like he was able to cut down on the turnovers in the defensive end, which is definitely a positive. Defensively, his mobility is still questionable and can lead to him being beaten off the rush. But his size and reach are major assets and he does show willingness to engage and battle, using his size to his advantage in traffic. But pretty much everything I said last year, remains the same. Next year, it's already been stated that Rasanen will be heading to the KHL to play with Jokerit. It will be interesting to see how does with a little more time and space on the big ice. Definitely still a project, and one that the Leafs will have to be patient with.

5. Mac Hollowell - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Absolutely love this undersized defender and was elated to see him selected relatively early by the Leafs. At 5'9, there will be concerns over whether he can defend at the NHL level, but his mobility is excellent and he competes as hard as anyone on the ice. Plays in all situations. Blocks shots. Battles in the corners. Leads the rush. Smart with the puck. Hollowell is just a very complete defender. The offensive numbers last year were very impressive, especially considering his lack of powerplay time because of how deep the Hounds were. In fact, his 32 points 5 on 5, were 4th best in the OHL among defenders last year (behind Bouchard, Hague, and Joey Keane). I look at a guy like Jared Spurgeon in Minnesota and wonder, why couldn't Hollowell become that type of player in the NHL? While he is eligible to turn pro next year, due to Toronto's defensive depth at the pro level, I would expect him back in the OHL as an overager. There he can take hold of SSM's first powerplay unit and continue to get stronger and improve in his own end. I would expect him to be right up over the point per game mark and to be in contention for the Overager of the Year and Defender of the Year awards.

6. Fedor Gordeev - Flint Firebirds
Going to throw a stat at you. Gordeev was on the ice for 89 goals against 5 on 5 last year, which was the highest among any defender in the OHL last year. Not something to be proud of. Yet, whenever I watch Gordeev play, I come away relatively impressed and can't help but believe that he could make an NHL defender. He didn't get much help in Flint last year. And his decision making with the puck and reads in all three zones could improve. But there are a lot of impressive things about him. He's 6'6, but skates very well. His mobility is extremely impressive. 2nd half of the year, we saw him really explore his offensive game, taking chances by extending his rushes deep in the offensive zone and using his size to protect the puck cutting through the neutral zone. And while the stats don't really back it up, he was starting to look like an excellent play creator. Defensively, he's extremely aggressive. He makes his presence felt on the ice. This is what you want to see from your behemoth defender. As Flint improves (very likely) next year, it will be very interesting to see how Gordeev performs. Honestly wouldn't be surprised at all if we saw a massive spike in production from him, even into the 40+ point range. This is a big kid with a lot of potential. I'm betting on him being able to do enough to earn a contract and really put himself on the map as a serious NHL prospect.

7. Ryan McGregor - Sarnia Sting
Probably not the season many Leaf fans were hoping from McGregor production wise. Only modest improvements from him statistically as he found himself pushed down Sarnia's depth chart as the team's 3rd/4th line center. He's one of their more reliable penalty killers and brings a lot of energy as a forechecker. Really like how McGregor plays in the neutral zone, getting his stick in passing lanes and pressing incoming attackers. He forces a lot of turnovers. As an offensive player, I think it remains to be seen what he's truly capable of. I think he has potential as a two-way playmaking center and he's going to get a shot to move up the line-up in Sarnia this coming season. He's likely the team's 2nd line center and will have some quality linemates. In order to earn a contract from the Leafs, he probably needs to be a point per game player, which isn't impossible but improbable. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

31 Teams in 31 Days - Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning are next and are no strangers to the OHL.

1. Boris Katchouk - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Easily one of my favourite prospects in the OHL right now. This guy would go through a wall for his team and he demonstrated that at this year's World Junior Championships where he helped Canada to a gold medal. He was also phenomenal in the OHL playoffs this year, even if the Hounds fell short of a Championship. Katchouk has so much going for him as an NHL prospect too. Such a well rounded player. Size. Speed. Skill. Grit. Plays in all situations. His anticipation in the neutral zone and at the top on the penalty kill is outstanding. Makes him such a valuable asset in forcing turnovers and starting the breakout. Creates a lot of odd man rushes. Katchouk also forces a lot of turnovers on the forecheck, using his speed to track down defenders and his size to outmuscle them on dump ins. Katchouk also is a major factor driving the net, and has terrific hands in close. His shot and ability to carry the puck at full speed really improved this year, as did his vision off the rush. Like I said, there isn't much this guy can't do well and I see him settling into a 2nd line complimentary winger role at the NHL level, similar to a guy like TJ Oshie or Dustin Brown. Next year, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Katchouk get some NHL playing time, even with Tampa's depth. More than likely he's in the AHL for the majority of the year and should be a 20 goal scorer there and make an immediate impact.

2. Taylor Raddysh - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Saw a slight dip in production this year from Raddysh but that was to be expected given the loss of talent that Erie went through. And then with the Soo, he played more of a complimentary role on a team that balances their three scoring lines pretty evenly. Raddysh's strength remains his hockey sense in the offensive zone. He has great vision and is very good at working the wall until he sees an opening to attack. Is a very big asset on the powerplay where that playmaking ability is on full display. Makes such quick decisions and it seems like he's always one step ahead of defenders. Even with only average speed, he manages to find gaps and beat defenders to loose pucks or to scoring lanes. Raddysh has gained a lot of confidence in his ability to carry the puck over these last two years, making him equally dangerous with or without the puck. Raddysh's defensive game has also grown over his OHL career. I would say it's still not fantastic, because his speed is only average, but it's at least league average now. I guess the question I still have is, how well will Raddysh's game translate to the next level? It's been my question since he was drafted and I still have some of those concerns. Guys who rely on hockey sense as much as Raddysh does are so hard to predict. I'm just not sure his game profiles well as a bottom 6 player, and will his lack of elite skating ability hinder his offensive effectiveness? When other players are equally smart, but have greater physical gifts, how will he adapt? I also wonder where he fits in, in the Tampa organization in the long run, given I see guys like Cirelli, Katchouk, Mitchell Stephens as being ahead of him as a pro. Of course, I could be wrong too. Raddysh is obviously still a terrific prospect who has accomplished a lot as an OHL player, and I'm excited to see him play pro next year. I would expect him to be at least be a 15/20 guy as a rookie in the AHL.

3. Alexey Lipanov - Sudbury Wolves
Definitely one of the more disappointing players in the OHL this year for me. Had pretty high expectations for him coming into his first season in North America, but he struggled to find a consistent groove, part of why the Colts decided to upgrade on him with Dmitri Sokolov. In Sudbury, Lipanov's production really suffered too. His skating definitely needs to be upgraded upon. As does his intensity level, shift to shift. Because of those two inefficiencies, Lipanov was kind of along for the ride most times I saw him play. Adequate with the puck and the hockey sense appears to be pretty strong. Was pretty effective working on the penalty kill, getting his stick in passing lanes. But I expected more of "bull by the horns" kind of player who played a more abrasive style and who was consistently aggressive with and without the puck. His faceoff ability really needs to improve too, especially if he wants to be out late in games protecting leads. We do have to remember that this was Lipanov's first year in NA though, and there is always an adjustment period. For some players, it's a month and for others it is a full year. Tampa has some options for Lipanov though next year. He could play in the AHL as a 19 year old because he was drafted out of Europe. Already got in some games after the OHL season ended last year. Or they could send him back to the OHL, however if that's the option they select I doubt he sticks with Sudbury. Mystery surrounds the 2018/19 season. If he's back in the OHL, I'd be looking at him being a point per game player and an impact player.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

31 Teams in 31 Days - St. Louis Blues

The St. Louis Blues are next and they've got two of the best prospects in the OHL currently.

1. Robert Thomas - Hamilton Bulldogs
Hard to find a prospect who had a more successful year than Thomas, winning an OHL championship and a World Junior Championship. The talented playmaking center was a vital player for both clubs, establishing himself as one of the top prospects in the NHL. I will say that after the World Juniors, his start with Hamilton wasn't terrific. Seemed to have some trouble finding chemistry with anyone in the lineup and I don't think he was nearly aggressive enough with the puck, which is the exact opposite of what we saw in London to start the year. But Thomas was absolutely fantastic in the playoffs helping the Bulldogs defeat the Soo Greyhounds for the OHL Championship. Saw a return to that dominating form at both ends of the ice and really became more aggressive on the attack, looking to create by pushing the pace. In terms of development this year, three key elements improved. First was his skating ability. Way quicker this year. Second was his strength on the puck. Yes, his hands create time and space, but he was able to hold off defenders to make plays and keep pucks alive along the wall in a way that he didn't do consistently last year. Third, was his shot. His wrister was much harder this year and he was way less tentative with the puck, keeping defenders honest by keeping them guessing. All in all, Thomas has to be considered one of the most complete forward prospects around and projects as the type of guy who can play in any situation and be a key offensive player. So what happens next year? I think many are expecting Thomas to make the Blues, even with the depth that they've added this offseason. In fact, I would be downright shocked if he didn't at least get the 9 game look. Problem is, it's not likely he supplants O'Reilly, Schenn, or Bozak for a top 3 spot, barring injury. And I just don't know if he excels as much on the wing, or if the Blues are content with Thomas being stuck on the 4th line all year. Questions, questions, questions. If I'm betting, I say he sticks with St. Louis and finishes the year with about 10 goals, 25 points.

2. Jordan Kyrou - Sarnia Sting
As mentioned, the Blues have two of the better OHL prospects around, with the other being Kyrou. In his own right, Kyrou had a great year too. He took home the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL's most outstanding player and also won gold at the World Juniors with Canada. We saw him improve his points per game average by 50 points. Kyrou can be an electrifying player to watch because of his skating ability and skill with the puck. Keeps it on a string and has really improved his ability to play through traffic the last two seasons in the OHL. Once considered a perimeter player, Kyrou is now aggressive in using his speed to take the puck to the net and has the strength to fight off checks near the wall and in the open ice to play his game. Kyrou's vision with the puck is also terrific, as he is equal parts playmaker and goal scorer. I feel like we do have to mention his poor playoff performance that saw him post only 4 points in 12 games. Part of that was bad luck (lots of posts, great saves). The other part was frustration, as he became a tad turnover prone, looking to do everything himself and likely putting way too much pressure on himself as captain of a team that (IMO) overachieved most of the regular season. It's also worth mentioning that Kyrou's two-way game and play in all three zones never really developed a ton in the OHL. Never really developed into the type who could use his speed to be a factor on the penalty kill or as a forechecker. All that said, I'm a big Kyrou fan and I do think he'll be an NHL scoring line player. I don't think it will be next year as I see him needing at least a half a year in the AHL first. Dylan Strome was over the point per game mark in the AHL as a rookie and I see Kyrou being able to do the same.

3. Alexei Toropchenko - Guelph Storm
Toropchenko was kind of a frustrating player to watch in his first OHL season. You watch him play and he definitely intrigues you with his package of size and skill. Big, powerful stride that sees him be a big factor off the rush as he looks to take the puck hard to the net. Aggressive in looking to shoot too, as he'll try to cut to the middle or fire one coming down the wing. Generates a lot of power in his wrist shot. He seems to make a few plays every game that really make you believe in his potential as an NHL player. But, for as impressive as he may look at times, the production just wasn't there in his first OHL season. Yes, there were some improvements later in the year, but this is a kid who should be hitting the score sheet consistently. So where does the discrepancy come from? His play away from the puck definitely needs to improve. Needs to be more willing to use his size to play near the crease and the middle without the puck. His board work needs to improve for a bigger forward. And shift to shift, the intensity level needs to be greater. I do wonder, just how good is the hockey sense? And I think that's a logical question. It is important to remember that this was his first season in North America, so let's see how he does in year two. Guelph is going to need him to step up and be a point per game player and 30 goal scorer if they want to be a top team in the Conference. And he's certainly skilled enough to do so.

4. Tyler Tucker - Barrie Colts
Tucker is a pure throwback; a player designed to play in a different era. That's not to say that he can't eventually be an effective NHL player, it's just that Tucker plays the game in a way that few do now. For that reason, he was one of my favourite later round gems available from the OHL going into this year's draft. Tucker relishes in any opportunity to play the body. Be it stepping up on attackers in the neutral zone, or putting someone through the wall, his physical intensity level is as high as any defender in the OHL. But Tucker is also very competent with the puck. He quarterbacked the Colts powerplay at different times this year and has a very powerful point shot which he's working on being able to get through traffic. As such, there is potential for him to develop at both ends of the ice. To take that next step as an OHL player and NHL prospect, Tucker's skating ability will have to improve. Be it backwards/lateral mobility, or explosiveness moving forward, improvements need to be made. Can get himself out of position trying to go for the big hit in the defensive end or trying to keep pucks in deep and doesn't have the skating ability to recover. As he gains experience as an OHL player, I do look for him to develop into one of the top defensive players in the league and for a lot of these issues to be ironed out. The question is, just how much can the skating improve? Tucker will return to Barrie and be a top 3 defender again for them. I think they'll be a pretty solid team again and I see Tucker hitting the 35+ point mark, with marked improvements in the goal scoring department. Really glad to see the Blues draft him in 2018 and curious to watch his game develop.

5. Trenton Bourque - Owen Sound Attack
Bourque is a steady eddy for the Owen Sound Attack; one of the more reliable stay at home defenders in the OHL. At 6'2, 200lbs, Bourque is actually very mobile and has a smooth skating stride that allows him to defend well off the rush and beat attackers to loose pucks. But he doesn't chase and is a very poised player in his own zone. Saw him really increase his physical intensity this year, especially when it came to winning battles in the corners and in front of the net. That was definitely the next step for him. As an offensive player, his game is pretty non existent. Even with his mobility, he doesn't take chances with the puck and is quick to differ or chip out. There's a reason why he has gone 215 regular season games without a goal (although did score in this year's playoffs). Bourque will return to the OHL for his overage year and will remain an integral part of Owen Sound's defense. If he wants a contract from the Blues, I'm guessing that they'll want to see a bit more from him offensively. Improving his breakout and gaining the confidence to use his mobility to skate the puck out of trouble himself. If he can hit the 30+ mark and still remain a defensive rock, the Blues may ultimately give him an ELC.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

31 Teams in 31 Days - San Jose Sharks

San Jose is up next.

1. Ryan Merkley - Guelph Storm
At this point, Merkley is probably the most discussed prospect in the OHL and he was only recently drafted. Everyone knows about his talent offensively. His skating ability, particularly in his change of direction and edgework, is absolutely elite. He creates so many lanes with his agility and smoothness. As a playmaker, there are very few rivals with Merkley's ability to jump up in the play and create scoring chances. One of five defenders in the OHL to average over a point per game this year. Of course, everyone also is familiar with his shortcomings as an overall player. The volatility of his on ice persona makes him an unpredictable prospect. Be it the negative body language on the ice. Be it the late season scratches. Be it the snub from Hockey Canada at this year's Summer showcase. Be it the defensive inadequacies. All have been discussed at length. The good news is that Merkley still ended up being an NHL first round pick and one who already has an ELC after impressing at San Jose's development camp. Merkley will return to Guelph next year where I would expect him to, again, be among the league's leaders in defenseman scoring. Considering it seems like he's a long shot to play at the WJC's, a 70+ point year is very realistic. Guelph will be looking to establish themselves as a top 4 team in the West and in order to do so, they'll need Merkley to really improve in the other areas and become the team's number one. Defensive consistency will be a big priority. Important to remember that young men mature and there's no reason to think that Merkley can't over the next two seasons in the OHL.  

2. Sasha Chmelevski - Ottawa 67's
What a great bounce back year for Chmelevski after a pretty disastrous draft year that saw him drop from being a potential first rounder to a late round pick. Last year (here) I wrote that his play away from the puck really needed to improve, as did his intensity level. I also wrote that a new coaching staff could be a good thing for Chmelevski and ultimately it was as Andre Tourigny and he seemed to click almost immediately. Quite frankly, Chmelevski was a different player this year. Not only did he lead the 67's in scoring, but he was relied upon in all situations. Pretty much every part of his game improved. Skating looked way better, especially on the explosiveness front. He's now developed a level of separation that was greatly needed. He's quicker to loose pucks and quicker to scoring lanes. Chmelevski was way more effective working through traffic too, looking to attack the middle to open up shooting lanes for himself. This was something that he was super aggressive with too, perhaps more than I figured would ever develop in him. His 280 shots on goal were 6th in the entire league this year. So what are the next steps? Continued improvement as a three zone player, especially if he wants to stay down the middle. And continued improvement as someone who can control possession along the wall and show improved strength on the puck. But this is a player trending in the right direction. Ottawa should be one of the best teams in the East this year and I see Chmelevski right up in the 90+ point range. Could even be a sneaky contender for the scoring championship.