Friday, October 20, 2017

Preliminary Top 50 for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft

It's time for my first official ranking for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. I say official because I release a preseason ranking in the summer (which can be found here). Now that the 2017/18 season has started (well under way in fact), updating that list to reflect changes of opinion is a priority. That said, it's important to not over react to hot or cold starts. Some of those currently disappointing, will most definitely pick up their play. And some of those off to blazing starts won't be able to hold that production. At the end of the day, it is a cool exercise to go back and look at my first list of the season. For instance, here's last year's early season draft list.

The list includes detailed reports on the Top 30 and small snippets on the other 20 that make up the Top 50. 

At this point, Andrei Svechnikov has cemented himself as the top player available from the OHL. He's looking like a legit top 3 overall candidate and has been nothing short of amazing (meeting the high expectations) so far. After that, #2 is a battle and depending on who you ask, it could be one of 6-7 different players. It's early, but the top end talent looks very strong this year, with IMO, upwards of 10-11 guys looking like potential first round picks come June. Too early to really assess the depth, but I think we'll have a better idea of that come my midseason list after the Christmas Break. 

It's also important to note (for those that aren't familiar with my lists), that I don't include 2nd and 3rd year eligible players on the list (like Barrie's Joey Keane, or Niagara's Stephen Dhillon). I do a year end list for those players.

Without further ado, here's my early season top 50.


1. Andrei Svechnikov - Forward - Barrie Colts
As mentioned, this guy has come as advertised...and more. He's been nothing short of fantastic for a Barrie club that is surprising thus far among the best in the Eastern Conference. I expected the goal scoring ability, having seen him Internationally before. He's a freight train who drives the net with authority and already dominates along the wall. And I knew he was a great skater. But two things have surprised me. The first is his patience with the puck and overall playmaking ability. Calm, cool, and collected in the offensive end. Not a one tricky pony. The second, and more notable to me, has been his play without the puck and in the defensive end. Consistently one of the first forwards back into the defensive zone and shows excellent defensive awareness, using his size to dominate at both ends. Easily the best draft prospect from the OHL since McDavid. Too bad he'll be a one and done player. This guy could play in the NHL right now IMO. Also too bad that he's now out for a couple months with a broken hand.

2. Akil Thomas - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Loved him last year. And like him even more this year. Thomas possesses tons of skill and hockey sense. Makes something happen almost every time he touches the ice. Just a very well rounded offensive player. The mark of a great NHL prospect and potential lottery selection is progression and improvement from year's past. And Thomas has done a great job improving his areas of weakness from last year. He looks quicker and more explosive, and that's making him first to a lot of loose pucks in the offensive end, which in turn is allowing him to take over possession. He's also greatly improved his play away from the puck, especially in the offensive end. With linemates Corneil and Maksimov, the three of them are dominating time of possession with how well they control the boards. Lastly, Thomas has made an effortless transition to the center position after primarily playing on the wing last year. Like Svechnikov, he's got the Dogs playing exceptionally well as they have their sights set on the top of the Eastern Conference.

3. Ryan Merkley - Defense - Guelph Storm
At this point, I think Merkley still deserves to be in the top 3. He's top 5 in defenseman scoring currently and you just can't deny the amount of offensive talent he has. IMO, he's cut down on his turnovers this year and is displaying more patience and poise with the puck. This is especially true on the powerplay, where he's using his skating and stickhandling ability to open up lanes for his linemates. And as a one on one defender, I do think that there has been some minor improvements, engaging physically a little more near the crease. Where the concerns still lie, IMO, is what happens when he does commit turnovers. The consistency in effort on the backcheck is an issue and the negative body language is still prevalent. With a player of Merkley's ability, you're going to live with some turnovers because of his high risk/high reward style. This is no different than the way a guy like Erik Karlsson plays. The critical thing is being able to fight hard to neutralize scoring chances from your turnovers, as Karlsson does. And Merkley still has a ways to go in that regard. Again though, talent level is too high to put him any lower IMO, and there has been some minimal improvement (despite the Storm's awful start).

4. Ryan McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
The Steelheads have been bad this year. They have had some very unfortunate luck when it comes to their players making NHL rosters (although with Tippett's status as a healthy scratch and Mike McLeod's injury, I would expect both back at some point). The one guy (and IMO, pretty much the only guy) who has been any good has been Ryan McLeod. The big, power center has sort of transformed himself into a different player than his brother (Michael) IMO and emerged from his shadow. Ryan is just as good of a skater and just as good at driving the net, but he's got a much better shot than his brother and is way more aggressive in using it. Ryan is also not as physical a player as Michael, but that doesn't mean he's not a quality two-way player. Based on what I'm seeing this year, Ryan seems to be transforming himself into a Jeff Carter type of player and has carried over his success during last year's playoff run into production this year.

5. Barrett Hayton - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Has been a very quick mover up draft lists the last few months thanks to a tremendous Ivan Hlinka and a solid start to the OHL season. I really like Hayton's vision without the puck. He's a very elusive player in the offensive end and has tremendous finishing skills in close. I think there are a lot of similarities between Hayton and Robby Fabbri. Hayton is also a hard worker away from the puck in the offensive end, showing no fear on the forecheck, winning one on one battles for the puck. I think the question that I have is whether he's going to be a center at the next level. I think he could be better suited on the wing where his hockey sense without the puck and his tenaciousness play well. Looking very much like an NHL first round pick to me though.

6. Ty Dellandrea - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Not getting the love that he deserves thus far IMO because he's not an incredibly flashy player. But Dellandrea is probably the most complete player available from the OHL behind Svechnikov. He is an impressive defensive player who not only works hard in his own end to separate his man from the puck, but also demonstrates excellent anticipation by getting his stick in passing lanes. Offensively, his game is simple. Win board battles and get the puck to the net. But he's impressively strong near the crease despite being only 6'0. Has great hands in close and makes great decisions with the puck in the offensive end, again, keeping things simple. He's one of those guys who is probably going to be knocked for a lack of elite upside, but I see a quality potential 2nd line center who can be the type of guy you win Championships with.

7. Allan McShane - Forward - Oshawa Generals
McShane is going to lose some points in the scouting community for being an average skater who is also average sized. But he does so many things well. The high assist totals to start the year are no fluke as McShane has already established himself as one of the OHL's elite playmakers. Demonstrates a ton of poise and patience in the offensive end, using his puck skill and good agility to bide time for passing lanes to open up. Just doesn't seem to force plays or turn the puck over in the offensive end. McShane is also an underrated two-way player who uses that same vision and hockey sense to be an integral part of Oshawa's defensive scheme. I'm not usually one for comparisons, but for whatever reason, this OHL draft group seems to elicit a lot of them. And McShane reminds me of Ryan O'Reilly back from his OHL days.

8. Serron Noel - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Like Hayton, Noel is another rapid riser thanks to a great Hlinka and start to the OHL season. Noel excelled as a crease crasher and center of the ice presence as part of Canada's gold medal winning team at the Ivan Hlinka. The 6'5, 200lbs winger has exploded offensively and is demonstrating his potential as a dominant possession player. I think that there is still some awkwardness in his agility and stability when going East/West, but Noel moves very well North/South for a big guy and it makes him consistently the first or second guy in, as well as a force driving the net. As he fills out, gets a heavier shot, and becomes even stronger on the puck, Noel could be a big time player. Tons of potential.

9. Pavel Gogolev - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Former #8 overall pick, Gogolev has easily been one of the league's most improved players this year, already surpassing his point total from his rookie season. Really impressed with Gogolev's speed. Have seen Peterborough a few times this year and Gogolev has had a breakaway in every Petes game I've seen. Just explodes down the wing. But Gogolev isn't a one trick pony. He's a hard worker away from the puck and is very active on the forecheck and along the wall. Really like how he's able to extend possession and create plays by keeping his feet moving. Gogolev also has a great wrist shot, which can be released very quickly and while at full speed. Definitely a potential goal scoring prospect who could push for a spot in the late first if he can keep up his impressive level of production on a good team.

10. Evan Bouchard - Defense - London Knights
Been a tough start to the year for both the Knights and Bouchard. The 3rd year defender (late '99 birthday) is being asked to be the team's #1 defender in all situations and he's struggled at times with that. But I think that there is still a lot to like. Bouchard is 6'2, skates very well, and demonstrates skill and poise with the puck. When he jumps up into the rush, he can be a very dangerous player. And Bouchard has improved a lot as a defensive player over his three years in the league, learning to utilize his plus mobility to be a strong one on one defender. What we need to see is more tenacity in the corners and in front of the net though. And he's been having some trouble picking his spots to be aggressive with the puck this year. Watching him play, at times you get the impression that he's trying too much. Luckily for him, no other defender (behind Merkley) from this crop has really emerged as a top flight prospect and he's still got time to figure things out. London can't be this bad all year can they?

11. Kevin Bahl - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Hulking stay at home defender (6'6, 230lbs) who has been impressive in his OHL career thus far. Stood out among a young blueline last year and has emerged as one of Ottawa's top defensive players this year. Impressive mobility for a big defender. Straight away speed isn't terrific and he'll need to work on that if he wants to contribute more offensively. But his lateral mobility and overall agility are strong. Combine that with his reach and you've got a potential shutdown defender. Would like to see him get even meaner (I know, I know, not everyone can be the next Derian Hatcher), as there is room for improvement in being tougher to play against. Also like his decision making with the puck. Largely keeps things simple but is able to make a good first pass. Also shows potential on the point of the powerplay. Needs to work on his point shot though, as for such a big guy, it really seems to lack any substance. Progressing nicely and is probably a better prospect than Logan Stanley was at this point in his draft year IMO.

12. Giovanni Vallati - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
Really liked Vallati as a rookie last year, but I've been disappointed with him to start his draft year. Did not have a good Hlinka camp and I think he's regressed to a degree to start this OHL season. Vallati is an effortless skater and at 6'2, that's going to draw intrigue from NHL scouts. But this year, he's lacked aggressiveness at both ends. Not using his mobility to be a major factor offensively, opting to mostly play it safe with chips or deferrals. Want to see him using his mobility to create separation from forecheckers to start the breakout more efficiently. Would also love to see him be harder on the puck, especially in the corners. Just losing too many one on one battles right now. Getting flash backs to the way Jacob Paquette started his draft year last year, lacking an identity. Way, way, way too early to give up on his draft prospects though (although NHL Central Scouting did give him a C) and I'll still rate him highly for now. Liked him way too much last year.

13. Dennis Busby - Defense - Flint Firebirds
Collarbone injury (apparently) has kept him sidelined to start the year so far, but Busby is a massive favourite of mine. I certainly can't move him up my rankings, but I'm not really going to drop him because of injury at this point. Especially considering I thought he had a fantastic Ivan Hlinka camp (despite getting cut). Love Busby's skating ability and his ability to utilize it to be a top notch two-way defender. Doesn't have elite size, but is an effective positional defender who works his butt off. And with his skating ability, he has the potential to impact the transition game in a big way. Hope to see him really use his speed to be aggressive offensively this year, as he's going to have to put up points to keep this (probable) 2nd round projection. But I have faith that once we see him (assuming sometime between now and the beginning of November), he'll be in top form. 

14. Kirill Nizhnikov - Forward - Barrie Colts
Certainly an enigma, but one who still possesses a lot of offensive potential and needs to be ranked accordingly. Had a discussion with a scouting colleague about him recently about his lack of impact thus far...despite Barrie's strong start. Seems to be the kind of guy you can tell about whether he's on or not by his first shift. If he's active without the puck and engaged physically, you're likely to see a guy who can impact the score sheet with speed, creativity and aggressiveness in attacking the net. But if he's not engaged right away, he seems to float and be a relative non factor. And that's why he's likely to be the type of guy who really divides scouts this year. What one scout sees one game will be different than one sees the next. He'll need to find consistency at some point this year if he wants to remain a potential top 100 candidate. Has a big opportunity right now to replace Svechnikov for the next 8 weeks.

15. Riley Damiani - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
An aggressive ranking for an undersized forward (5'10), but I think Damiani possesses the qualities that you want to see in a smaller player. For one, he's exceptionally quick. He explodes down the ice, requiring few strides to hit top speed. Like Pavel Gogolev, seems to get himself a break or partial breakaway almost every game. Secondly, he's fearless and excels playing through traffic, not avoiding it. Engages physically at both ends of the ice and is aggressive in attacking the middle of the ice and working the corners, not avoiding them. As such, Damiani has looked terrific on the penalty kill this year. Lastly, he's very skilled with the puck and has shown the ability to create plays for himself and his linemates off the rush at full speed. I feel like Kitchener's offense isn't yet running at full speed, and once they do, I see Damiani's offensive production only improving. 

16. Jacob Ingham - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
Maybe an aggressive ranking for a guy with some pretty awful stats to start the year (.840 SV%, +5 GAA). But he's a better goaltender than the stats would indicate. The Steelheads have been absolutely atrocious to start the year, especially defensively. Don't know how many times I've seen 2 opposing forwards standing in front of the net this year with no one checking them. More often than not, Ingham is being hung out to dry. He has everything you look for in an NHL netminder these days (size and athleticism combo), so it's too early to call his draft season a bust after last year's rookie performance. I will say that he needs to do a better job of tracking the play, than he is currently. Seems to be in his own head and as such his positioning and reads are off. He's getting beat on some bad angles. Also seems to be having some issue with his five hole too. Seen several squeakers get through him this year. But I have faith that both he, and the Steelheads will turn things around eventually.

17. Nathan Dunkley - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Highly competitive forward who can line up at any forward position (playing wing this year, but played center last year). Currently serving a five game suspension, but is an integral player for the Fronts this year. Dunkley is super quick and uses that speed to be a real pain in the ass to play against. Brings physicality, defensive awareness, forechecking ability. Just a very solid player away from the puck. As an offensive player, he possesses good vision and playmaking ability, especially off the rush and when coming off the wall. NHL scouts probably wish he had a little more size, but he's an impressive player who plays a very pro style game. 

18. Kody Clark - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Aggressive ranking for a player that I've been incredibly impressed with so far this year. A mainstay on the 67's top line to start the year, he's been a driving force in puck possession. Proving to be very difficult to separate from the puck and has been a real workhorse along the wall. He can really fire the puck too, but I feel like he doesn't yet have the confidence to really utilize it to it's full potential. The type of guy who has been way more noticeable on the ice than the stat line would suggest and I think that as the year goes on and he gains confidence (in attacking the net, shooting the puck, and improving his vision), we could see a production increase. IMO, a similar prospect to Jonah Gadjovich, although a better skater, but not as good hands or vision. And that makes sense considering Kody is Wendel Clark's son.

19. Declan Chisholm - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Smooth skating, puck mover who has really improved from his rookie season; which was massively needed for a Peterborough blueline that lost talent from 2016/17. He's going to need to increase his production as the year goes on to keep a high draft ranking IMO, considering his average size and lack of a dominant/stand-out trait. But there's a lot to like, especially in his decision making with the puck which has been strong thus far. Also think that he's shown good defensive awareness too. Needs to be stronger on attackers, showing a little more intensity, and would like to see him extend rushes deeper. But, he's shown well so far on a good team.

20. Hunter Holmes - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Impressive start to the year for the sophomore center. Really like how he tracks the puck in the offensive end. Shows good hockey sense as he finds himself with a lot of scoring chances in the slot and near the crease. Like how he drives the middle of the ice with the puck too, showing pretty good skating ability. At this point, I'm not sure I have a good handle as to his overall potential for the next level. Does he profile as a 3rd line center? Is he skilled enough to be top 6 player? These are questions that will be answered as the year goes on IMO.

21. David Levin - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
At this point, I don't think you can put him lower than the early 20's on a list like this. His talent level with the puck is tremendous and he makes a few moves per game that really leave you in awe. The problem is, outside of a few multi point games, he's been relatively quiet. And if he's not scoring or creating scoring chances, he's not a very noticeable player. His stride still lacks power and explosive, he's undersized, and his two-way game leaves a lot to be desired. But on a preliminary list, I think you need to look at the amount of potential a player possesses and Levin has a ton. But if his offensive output doesn't find some consistency, he's going to find himself dropping like a rock on most rankings, especially as a late birthday '99.

22. Matthew Struthers - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Big fan of this power center who looks poised to breakout in his 3rd OHL season (late December birthday). Has been seeing time centering the Attack's 2nd line and plays a very pro style game. Active at both ends of the ice, drives the net (with and without the puck), and demonstrates good vision, especially coming off the wall. Only real knock against him is that I don't see him as the world's best skater. Will need to upgrade his explosiveness. But otherwise he plays the game the way you want a 6'2, 200lbs center to and he's had a great start to the year.

23. Connor Roberts - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Hulking power center with a lot of potential. Very active in driving the net and loves hanging out near the crease, looking to screen or redirect a shot. Once he gets positioning, he's a tough guy to move. Shows a ton of potential to develop as a guy who can control play below the hash marks, given his 6'4, 200+lb frame. Yet, I find that part of his game to be inconsistent. Overall, the physical side of his game away from the puck needs to be better. And his face-off percentage has been ugly so far. But, you've got a big kid with some skill, hockey sense, and a powerful stride (once he gets going). Just needs to find consistency and up the intensity level.

24. Owen Lalonde - Defense - Guelph Storm
Disappointing start to the year for one of the biggest acquisitions of this past summer. Guelph brought in Lalonde from Sudbury after he requested a trade, hoping he would shore up their defensive woes moving forward. But Guelph's been an inconsistent club thus far, mainly because of their poor defensive play and Lalonde needs to shoulder some of that blame. Thought the offensive side of things would really improve for him this year after a strong performance at the Hlinka camp, but he still looks somewhat hesitant to involve himself in that regard. Has the skating ability to be an impact player, but really hasn't been very noticeable thus far. The former #2 overall pick gets a pass for now, but if the offensive production doesn't increase, he's going to start looking more like a late round pick.

25. Merrick Rippon - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Has been a relative non factor offensively (which has been surprising to me), but I've liked what I've seen defensively from him...which is saying something considering how bad the Steelheads have been this year. Moves well and does a great job keeping oncoming rushers ahead of him, angling them off. And he's got some jam to his game too, showing a penchant for the big hit. Offensively, I think we're seeing an adjustment period, as it's only his first year in the OHL. I think it's very likely that as the season goes on, we see him taking a few more chances offensively.

26. Tyler Tucker - Defense - Barrie Colts
Big fan of this kid as an OHL player. Love the way he plays the game. Already has established himself as one of the league's most physical defenders. Never misses an opportunity to make a hit or use his size in the corners. But he's an underrated offensive player. Playing on the powerplay in Barrie and is doing a good job too. Has a hard shot and is working on getting it through to the net. I also think he's improved his skating this summer, which was the big knock on him. He's certainly not a burner or the most elegant, but his overall agility looks way better and it's helping him run the point and defend the rush more effectively. Don't think he possesses the potential that some of the other defenders do ahead of him right now, but if they don't pick up their play, he's a safe bet to pass them IMO.

27. Adam McMaster - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Speed, speed, and more speed. One of the quickest players in this age group, McMaster can flat out fly. The undersized playmaker has a good head for the game at both ends too. He hasn't scored yet this year, but he's been noticeable for the Battalion none the less. The million dollar question is, does he have the offensive skill set to be a top 6 player at the next level? And if he doesn't, will his lack of size (5'10) prevent him from being a truly effective 3rd/4th line center? Speed plays in any league though.

28. Brady Hinz - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Off to an incredible start this year. with 10 goals so far. Competitive, undersized forward was one of the higher scoring 2000's last year too. No question that he's one of the more skilled offensive players in this age group in Ontario. Problem is that he's 5'8. The NHL has come a long way for the success of smaller players, but that's still quite small. However, I will say that Hinz is the type of player who excels playing through traffic. The goals I've seen him score this year have all been from within 5 feet of the net. He's very elusive in coverage and he's got great offensive instincts. If he can keep up this high level of production through the rest of the year, he'll slowly start to creep up draft lists.

29. Curtis Douglas - Forward - Barrie Colts
The antithesis of Brazy Hinz in a lot of ways, Douglas is a behemoth, possession extending center (6'8). Does a great job using his body to protect the puck and is proving to be a force in the middle of the ice. Have really liked his play near the crease. Has good hands, but also shows a good playmaking touch and patience. Fairly physical player too who seems to be getting more and more comfortable extending plays in the cycle. At this point, still struggling to determine what type of potential I think he has. Doesn't play with a lot of flash or creativity, and just how good can he be as a goal scorer? Definitely a very interesting prospect who has come out of nowhere to be one of the better rookies in the league to start the year.

30. Carter Robertson - Defense - Ottawa 67's
As a minor midget player, Robertson was one of my favourite 2000 born players. Last year, his rookie season with the 67's had a lot of ups and downs. He showed flashes of what he was capable of offensively, but struggled with the physicality and size of OHL players. Was really looking forward to seeing the improvement from him this year, but he's yet to play because of a lower body injury. When will we see him play? I'm not sure. As of right now though, I think his potential (just like I ranked Busby) keeps him in the top 30 of a Preliminary list.

31. Adam Liska - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Thought he definitely should have received a "C" rating from NHL Central Scouting on their players to watch list. The offensive production hasn't been fantastic, but I think he's been solid none the less. Workhorse at both ends of the ice and has proved himself to be an excellent forechecker. Great along the wall and demonstrates good vision peeling off the wall. I think it's clear that he's not the world's most skilled player offensively, but he's smart and there is a place for guys like him. As a late '99 though, the offensive contribution will need to increase in order for him to not be the next Gustaf Franzen.

32. Blade Jenkins - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Has to be considered one of the early season disappointments thus far. One assist for the former US Development Program player and former 4th overall pick. And he's getting the ice time too. I've seen Saginaw a few times this year and he has been able to generate some chances by driving the net and working the cycle. But, generally, those net drives fail to generate significant scoring chances. Lack of explosive foot speed is a hindrance, and that's something that had been mentioned to me before the season. Too early to drop him off the map, but there's no question that he needs to step up the production to get the NHL's attention. 

33. Caleb Everett - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Tough to rank Everett based on small sample size, but in the one game I watched him play, he was impressive. And I know several people who are big fans of his. He's definitely getting the ice time too, seeing time on both the powerplay and penalty kill. Has good size, good mobility, and the potential to impact the games at both ends. Made some very nice plays on the point in the game I watched. But he was also caught chasing the play and was beat badly one on one in the game I watched too. Still very early, so I want to see more, but IMO Everett is a guy who could move up this list quickly with continued strong performances.

34. Jordan Kooy - Goaltender - London Knights
Like Ingram, this ranking is higher than Kooy should be based on performance this year. No question his struggles forced the Knights to go get Joseph Raaymakers which will cut into his playing time. The confidence and athleticism he showed as a rookie last year has not been present this year. Lots of time to turn it around though.

35. Zack Malik - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Super raw prospect. Right now reminds me a lot of the way Dmitri Samorukov looked to start last year. Shows flashes offensively as a puck mover. And is noticeable as a physical player. But needs work defensively and with his decision making in the defensive end. We'll know more about him by the 2nd half once he fully adjusts.

36. Cam Hillis - Forward - Guelph Storm
Has had a disappointing start to the year like most of his Guelph teammates. One goal and a -8. Clearly has speed, but needs to be stronger on the puck from what I've seen. Since I trust some of the people who love him, giving him the benefit of the doubt for now.

37. Mathew MacDougall - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Has clearly been the better of the St. Andrews College guys (over Hillis), but because he's smaller and plays the wing, I think we need to give Hillis the slight edge on an NHL ranking for now. But I've liked MacDougall's tenacity without the puck and he's been a very solid complimentary piece for Windsor. Impact player once he gets stronger IMO.

38. Connor Corcoran - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Has been very impressive thus far for Windsor IMO. Keeping things relatively simple offensively, making smart decisions with the puck. But has been solid defensively. Excellent positional defender. What's the upside though?

39. Liam Foudy - Forward - London Knights
Like most of London's forwards, he's been a major disappointment in his sophomore season. Needs to be aggressive in attacking the net to be effective and just hasn't been incredibly noticeable. Liked him a lot last year though, so giving him benefit of the doubt that he turns things around.

40. Peter Stratis - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Maybe I'm just catching him at his best, but I don't think he's been as bad as the -10 would suggest. Similar player to Corcoran in Windsor. Has the potential to be a solid two-way defender and I've liked him on the point of the powerplay. 

41. Justin MacPherson - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Has been quietly excellent for the IceDogs so far this year. Makes smart reads at both ends. Has been very impressive working the point in the offensive end. Great at keeping pucks in. And has looked good defensively too. Just needs to gain confidence IMO.

42. Aidan Dudas - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Extremely likeable player. Fun to watch because he's a little bundle of energy who never stops moving his feet. Plays bigger than his 5'8 frame too. But...he's still 5'8 which means that when it comes to NHL lists, he's going to be a little further down.

43. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Thought he might be the breakout star for the Petes this year but instead it's been Gogolev. Has ridiculous hands and playmaking potential, but his decision making hasn't been as good in the offensive end this year. Teams are trying to force him to shoot and he clearly lacks confidence there.

44. Damien Giroux - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Has been one of Saginaw's best forwards thus far. Undersized forward who plays both center and the wing. Like his competitiveness and his hockey IQ. He's noticeable for the right reasons. But I wonder if he's the type of elite skater you want to see from a smaller forward.

45. Nico Gross - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Admittedly didn't really notice him in my Oshawa viewings this year. That's the problem with doing a list so early. But I know he has his fans and they believe his potential is quite high. Like most import defenders, we probably won't see the real Gross until midseason.

46. Mitchell Hoelscher - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Have loved this player so far. Can't believe that he hasn't had more offensive production. Looks great on the penalty kill and is a real workhorse in the offensive end. I think we'll really see him improve as the year goes on.

47. Ryan Roth - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Another little guy (5'8) who is off to a great start offensively (like Hinz and Dudas). Noticeable because of his skating ability. Always seems to be in on the play. Very quick to loose pucks. But again, he's small even by NHL standards.

48. Luke Moncada - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Big, power winger brought in from Guelph this offseason. Excels near the crease and along the wall. Potential to be a beast in the cycle. Offensive upside may not be high, but he plays a pro style game.

49. Alec Regula - Defense - London Knights
Impressive rookie stay at home defender with London who might just be their best player in the defensive end right now. Good mobility too. Let's see how much his play with the puck can improve as the year goes on. Could really climb if he can make more of an impact both ways.

50. Max Grondin - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Power center who was recently suspended for a few games. Skating is an issue, but he can wreck havoc on the forecheck and when driving the net. 6'3, 200lbs centers who have skill and bring physicality are hard to find. 


Honorable Mentions:
Bad Badalamenti - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Sam Bitten - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Sergei Popov - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Billy Moskal - Forward - London Knights
Paul Larabie - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
William Ennis - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Gleb Babintsev - Defense - Peterborough Petes



 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

2017/18 OHL Season Preview: Award Predictions

The conclusion to my three part season preview sees me look at potential award candidates for 2017/18.

Red Tilson Trophy - Nick Suzuki (Owen Sound Attack)
A tough choice for this award. As always, lots of strong contenders to choose from. IMO, the three leading candidates all come from the West; Nick Suzuki, Adam Mascherin, and Jordan Kyrou. I expect all three to be up near the top of league scoring this year, which is obviously a prerequisite of earning this award (unless you play a position other than forward). My money is on Suzuki. The Attack will have one heck of an offense this year and he's returning with his entire line from last year (Gadjovich and Hancock). Even with a potential appearance at the WJC's for Canada, Suzuki should be up around the 110+ point mark. Mascherin would be my second choice. Healthy and part of a strong Kitchener offense, he could be a 50/60 player this year; his last in the OHL. And Kyrou will put up points, especially if he ends up being dealt from Sarnia if they struggle. Goaltender Dylan Wells is a darkhorse candidate. If the Petes are going to win their division this year it will be on his back due to an inexperienced blueline. Other candidates could include Taylor Raddysh, Jason Robertson, Robert Thomas, Cliff Pu, Owen Tippett, and Michael McLeod (if he's returned).

OHL Goaltender of the Year - Jacob Ingham (Mississauga Steelheads)
Kind of a tough one to predict this year. Michael Dipietro is the best goalie in the league IMO, but the Spitfires aren't likely to be very good and that eliminates Dipietro from the running. Dylan Wells seems like an obvious choice because of his talent level and the strength of the team he's playing on. But the inexperience of that Peterborough defense scares me. I think they'll win games, but it might hurt Wells' statline. That brings me to Jacob Ingham. It's not uncommon for draft eligible players to win this award. Alex Nedeljkovic won it recently in his draft year. And I think the Steelheads will be a defensive force to be reckoned with this year, putting Ingham in great position to post an impressive statline. Plus...he's quite good. Matthew Villalta is a darkhorse candidate in the Soo, and overager Jeremy Helvig is an option if he can get the Fronts to where they were last year despite some veteran losses on the blueline.

Max Kaminski Trophy - Victor Mete (London Knights)
This is an interesting one. I expect Ryan Merkley to lead defenseman in scoring this year, but given his tendency to playing inconsistent at both ends, I'm believing voters will go more for a two-way defender who will also be up near the top of the blueline scoring race. My prediction is Victor Mete. He's come a long way during his OHL career and has become one of the league's elite defenders. He should put up some serious points this year (I'm going with 65+) and will be a key cog on another strong London Knights team. Conor Timmins and Nic Hague, two recent NHL draft picks, are also serious candidates. Both will play on strong teams and put up points, and both can impact the game at both ends of the ice. Markus Phillips, Cam Dineen, Riley Stillman, and Olli Juolevi (if he returns) are all possibilities too.

Emms Family Award - Andrei Svechnikov (Barrie Colts)
I think most people would be shocked (barring injury) if Svechnikov isn't the league's rookie of the year this year. Super high expectations for the Russian import and potential top 3 pick in this year's NHL draft. He could easily be a 40 goal scorer this year and put up over 80 points. Cam Hillis is another 2000 born player who has a great chance to put up some points in a high flying Guelph offense. Wouldn't surprise me at all if he was a point per game player or close to it this year. Among 2001's, I actually like Arthur Kaliyev to make among the largest impacts and I see him battling it out with Ryan Suzuki, Nick Porco, Philip Tomasino, Aiden Prueter, and Graeme Clark for top scoring 2001 this year. Also don't be surprised if a goaltender is in the running. Lots of teams relying on young/rookie goaltenders this year. Luke Cavallin in Flint and Jordan Kooy in London are the first two that come to mind.

Leo Lalande Trophy - Logan DeNoble (Peterborough Petes)
Lots of good options to choose from for the OA of the Year this year. Ryan Moore is the highest scoring returning player and that makes him a front runner. Jeremy Helvig and Evan Cormier are going to need to stand on their head to give their teams a chance a top 6 spot in their Conference. Brett McKenzie, Garrett McFadden, Kenny Heuther, and Nikita Korostelev (if he returns) are all players that I expect to have terrific offensive seasons. But the guy I'm going with is Logan DeNoble. The Petes are going to score their share of goals this year and DeNoble will be a guy counted upon to reproduce his 34 goals of last year and then some. I actually think he has a chance to be a 45+ goal scorer this year, as his shot is one of the best in the league. As such, that's who I'm going with.

Matt Leyden Trophy - Drew Bannister (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds)
Lots of coaching turnover this year in the league, and voters can often be swayed to vote for coaches who have been around for a few years. I expect the Greyhounds to be a top 3 team in the entire OHL this year and the top candidate for the West title. As such, Bannister gets my vote here. James Richmond in Mississauga is another candidate cut from the same cloth (as a returnee). I expect the Guelph Storm to be the league's most improved team this year and that automatically qualifies George Burnett. If the 67's surprise people and end up as a top 5 East team (as I have predicted) Andre Tourigny could be a candidate too. Todd Gill in Owen Sound could be another new face (to his team, not the league) who garners consideration.

Eddie Powers Trophy - Nick Suzuki (Owen Sound Attack)
Tough call this year. As always, a lot of the league's top players will miss some time due to late starts returning from the NHL, and from the WJC's. Quite often the guy who takes the Eddie Powers is the one who can squeeze in close to a full season (ie, gets cut from the NHL early, gets cut from his WJC team). Like Alex Debrincat last year. Or Dylan Strome a few years ago. Occasionally we see an OA lead in scoring too for the same reasons. Was close to going with Ryan Moore for that reason as I see him putting up points. But ultimately I went with Nick Suzuki as I seem him carving up the league as part of that dominant first line in Owen Sound. As mentioned earlier, I think he's up over 110 points on the year. Adam Mascherin and Jordan Kyrou will be right there too IMO. Additionally, Robert Thomas and Cliff Pu could be close as Knights.

Goal Scoring Leader - Owen Tippett (Mississauga Steelheads)
Last year, Alex Debrincat ran away with this one. I expect this year's race to be much closer. I'm going with Owen Tippett who probably scores 50+ this year in Mississauga. Or at least they'll need him to, to capture the East like I've predicted. Adam Mascherin would be my second choice. Dude is going to have a monster season now that he's healthy (something I think I've mentioned several times already). Jonah Gadjovich, Boris Katchouk, and Logan DeNoble are three other names that I think will be right up there. All possess great shots, will be playing with great playmakers, and all play fearlessly and score a lot from in close. Lastly, even though I don't think Sudbury has a great year, you have to mention Dmitry Sokolov here. Highest scoring returning player to the league and he's another year stronger (and hopefully quicker).

1st Team All Stars:
LW: Adam Mascherin
C: Nick Suzuki
RW: Owen Tippett
D: Victor Mete
D: Ryan Merkley
G: Jacob Ingham
Coach: Drew Bannister

2nd Team All Stars:
LW: Jonah Gadjovich
C: Robert Thomas
RW: Jordan Kyrou
D: Conor Timmins
D: Nic Hague
G: Dylan Wells
Coach: George Burnett

3rd Team All Stars: 
LW: Boris Katchouk
C: Ryan Moore
RW: Taylor Raddysh
D: Markus Phillips
D: Cam Dineen
G: Matthew Villalta
Coach: Todd Gill

1st All Rookie Team:
LW: Nicholas Porco
C: Ryan Suzuki
RW: Andrei Svechnikov
D: Merrick Rippon
D: Nikita Okhotyuk
G: Jordan Kooy

2nd All Rookie Team:
LW: Ethan Keppen
C: Cody Morgan
RW: Arthur Kaliyev
D: Thomas Harley
D: Nico Gross
G: Luke Cavallin