Wednesday, June 20, 2018

2018 NHL Draft Primer

With the 2018 NHL Entry Draft slated for this weekend, here is everything you need to know about the players available from the Ontario Hockey League.

My Rankings:
Honorable Mentions

Media/Scout Poll

Top Draft Re-Entries (second and third year eligible)

2018 Mock Draft 

Best of luck to all the OHL players eligible this year!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Final Media/Scout Poll for the 2018 NHL Draft

The NHL draft is now only a few weeks away, so it's time to conclude our yearly media/scout poll.

For comparison's sake, here are the preliminary (from November) and the midseason (from February) consensus lists.

Preliminary List
Midseason List

It's always interesting to note some of the major changes/trends from the beginning of the year to the end. Ryan McLeod and Ryan Merkley are the two most notable "fallers" from the beginning of the year. Both started the season in the consensus top 3 from the OHL, but now find themselves ranked 8th and 9th (respectively). Meanwhile, Rasmus Sandin has seen himself rise from 10th, to 8th, to the top 5 as scouts have grown to appreciate his mistake free game. Additionally, Liam Foudy is a massive riser, as he climbs into the top 10 after not receiving a single vote in the preliminary or midseason polls.

At this point, the number of OHL players taken in the first round remains a total mystery. I could see as many as 9, or as little as 5 going on the first day. And, as always, the depth is strong which should see the OHL with close to, or over 40 players taken.

As always, it's important to note the contributors, as without them and their terrific insight, this article does not exist. For the final list, the following helped out:

Corey Pronman - NHL Prospects Writer for TheAthletic (@coreypronman)
Dominic Tiano - Writer for The OHL Writers (@dominictiano)
Dylan Galloway - OHL Scout for Future Considerations (@dylangalloway_)
Peter Kneulman - Provides OHL coverage at OHL Writer (@PeterKneulman)
Mike Morreale - Staff writer for (@mikemorrealeNHL)
Ryan Kennedy - Associate Senior Writer for The Hockey News(@THNRyanKennedy)

Peter Harling - Managing Editor of Dobber Prospects (@pharling)

Scott Wheeler - NHL Prospects Writer for TheAthletic (@scottcwheeler)
Steve Kournianos - Founder of The Draft Analyst(@TheDraftAnalyst
Mark Scheig - OHL writer for The Hockey Writers (@THWMark)

Tony Ambrogio - PA Announcer for the Mississauga Steelheads & TSN editor (@Tony_Ambrogio)
Chris Peters - NHL Prospects Writer for ESPN (@chrismpeters)
Grant McCagg - President of Recrutes Hockey (@grantmccagg)
Steve Clark - Play by play voice of the Niagara IceDogs (@ClarkPlaybyPlay  
Mark Seidel - Scouting Director for NACS Hockey (@MarkSeidel) 
Cam Robinson - Writer/Scout for Dobber Prospects (@CrazyJoeDavola3)

Two Anonymous OHL Scouts 
and of course...myself (@BrockOtten   

Here's the List:

1. Andrei Svechnikov - Forward - Barrie Colts
Total Votes: 19 Votes
High/Low Ranking: 1st (19x)
"It’s pretty easy to stand well above your peers when you have one of the most prolific goal-scoring seasons by an OHL draft-eligible in the last few decades. Svechnikov was on pace to score 50 goals – at even strength! But there’s a lot more to his game beyond finishing, as he’s proven to be a creative playmaker and an effective penalty killer. On top of that, the kid is flat-out nasty to play against and uses his strength to mash opponents." - Steve Kournianos 

"There was no secret about Svechnikov’s offensive game before he first stepped onto an OHL ice surface. He’s been called in many hockey circles “the best pure goal scorer since Alex Ovechkin was drafted.”  Putting up numbers as he did during the season, despite missing two months of action, well it’s no wonder he has been tagged with that title. What was a secret entering the season was just how accomplished a two-way game he plays. It’s not perfect, and there is work to be done but for as accomplished he is offensively, it has been quite the pleasant surprise to see him put the effort on the defensive side. All the tools are NHL ready. That’s where he will be next season." - Dominic Tiano

"Svechnikov had a fantastic OHL rookie campaign, especially after returning from a hand injury he sustained earlier this season. I think he's the one Canadian Hockey League player who can step into an NHL lineup right now. He's big, has a powerful shot, and knows when to drop the shoulder and turn it on. He also has a lot of skill for a 6-foot-2, 188-pound winger, and is really good along the half-wall on the power play." - Mike Morreale

"No player in this class can do as much damage quickly as Svechnikov can. He doesn’t need the puck to make plays, and can burn teams by getting into open space and effortlessly finishing a pass in one touch – from a standstill or in motion. When you can score and shoot with the ease that he does, you’re destined for success. He’s the clear top prospect in the OHL and it’s not all that close." - Anonymous

"I still think that he is going to have the most successful NHL career, and that is saying something given that Rasmus Dahlin is in the draft. He's big, aggressive, plays on the edge, has terrific instincts on the ice, a heavy shot and a quick release. Plus, you are drawn to him whenever he is on the ice.  He's that talented. He'll score over 30 in his first year and would not surprise me if he hits 40." - Stephen Clark

2. Evan Bouchard - Defense - London Knights
Total Votes: 19
High/Low Ranking: 2nd (15x)/5th (1x)
"I have been a fan since I saw him skate his first OHL shift 3 seasons ago. You could tell then he would be a player. He should have been named OHL defenceman of the year, considering how young the Knights were (after trade deadline) and that he put the team on his shoulders and carried them the rest of the season. Right shot defencemen like him don’t come around often. He has an ability, with calmness, to draw in forecheckers and then beat them with tape-to-tape stretch passes. On the powerplay, he is deadly with his shot, or he can make perfect passes. Big minute eating defenceman who can stay on for multiple minutes and leave the ice without huffing and puffing. I once timed him with 42:01 TOI, in a 60-minute regulation game." - Dominic Tiano

"The progress that the Knights coaching staff made with Evan Bouchard from his OHL draft eligible season is tremendous. They tamed him as a riverboat gambler style of defender who was quite erratic into a two-way defender who can now say decision making is one of his strengths. Few defenders in this draft class can execute a stretch pass as well as Bouchard and don't mistake his efficient, calm style of play as disinterested because this kid relishes being the go-to guy on the Knights. He isn't getting the love he deserves." - Anomymous

"Skating and defense was a concern when he entered the OHL and it'll be the same thing in the NHL. He has high skilled puck handling ability and an NHL shot. He can contribute at the next level but using his size in his own zone and improving his skating will be the difference between he becomes a good offensive defenseman and one that is a perennial all-star." - Anonymous

"A strong puck-moving defender who took on all the tough minutes on a depleted Knights’ squad. Runs the power play with precision, uses his big shot with impunity and finds a way onto the score sheet most nights. Has great vision to go along with a bomb of a shot. Needs to quicken his feet and his pace as he transitions up." - Cam Robinson

"Took a huge jump forward this year and showed a tremendous amount of poise with and without the puck. Excellent vision allows him to pass himself out of trouble and put up points in the offensive end. At times he lacks urgency but that will come." - Mark Seidel

3. Barrett Hayton - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Total Votes: 19
High/Low Ranking: 3rd (11x)/7th (1x)
"Quite possibly the best all-around player in the draft class. Everything Hayton does, he does with a relentless work ethic. He’ll chase down the opposition in all three zones and creates turnovers almost at will. He has excellent vision and knows where he should be on the ice and how to get there. I think some in the hockey industry were expecting greater offensive numbers from Hayton, but he wasn’t always put in the top offensive situations with the Greyhounds depth. He has the skill set to be a top offensive producer, but as we have seen in the past in the Soo with the likes of Morgan Frost and Zachary Senyshyn, it’s the draft year plus one that the big offense production begins." - Dominic Tiano 

"Came into the league as a rookie known for his tremendous shooting ability but has now developed into a well-rounded do it all type of centre. As a pro prospect he may lack a standout trait but scouts love how complete he is as a player. He was the Hounds best forward by a notable margin in the playoffs and that will not go unnoticed. His ability to create ice and make plays in tight is fun to watch." - Anonymous

"He's underrated by many and a legitimate top-ten prospect for me.  His smarts, puck skills, character and poise are all elite. His skating isn't great, but he has the mindset to work on it hard over the next few years and turn it into an asset much like John Tavares did in the years after he was drafted.  I expect an offensive breakthrough next season in the Soo when he's handed the top offensive role." - Grant McCagg

"The best 200 foot player coming out of the OHL for this draft. After watching him all year I wonder if he ever ends up a true #1 centre at the next level but I could see him being a very good #2 centre who can play in all situations." - Peter Kneulman

4. Rasmus Sandin - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Total Votes: 19
High/Low Ranking: 2nd (1x)/10th (1x)
"If you paid close attention to Sandin’s play in Sweden, you saw something developing but nothing definitive. Well, it took him barely any time to smash through the OHL like a sledgehammer, and did so while playing smart hockey in all three zones. Sandin is a strong skater and plays his one-on-ones better than most teenage eligibles. But it was his playmaking, creativity and shot accuracy that opened a lot of eyes, regardless of the fact that he played on a powerhouse. There were stretches when Sandin was the Greyhounds’ best defenseman, which says something when you look at how stacked a lineup they iced." - Steve Kournianos

"For me, Sandin became the second-best defenceman in this class behind Bouchard early in the season. It took some in the hockey world a while to put him in that spot but almost everyone sees him there now. As calm as Bouchard is in his own zone, I think Sandin is even calmer. He doesn’t get rattled under pressure and is always making the right play. Despite being 5’11”, he uses his body extremely well at keeping the opposition to the outside, and he won’t shy away from the physical game. He could work on his speed however, he is very adept at joining or leading the rush. Just how good he is and how important he was to the Greyhounds this season was evident when Conor Timmins was out with injury and the World Juniors." - Dominic Tiano

"I still feel Sandin is a bit underrated entering the draft. I liked him a lot. His hockey sense is great and he's so difficult to hit because he's elusive and mobile. He knows how to work the blue line and get the puck to his wingers to give them a chance to do something with it. In other words, he doesn't just pass the puck to get himself out of trouble; he has a purpose. His head is up all the time, has a decent shot, and knows can quarterback a power play." - Mike Morreale

"Shows great awareness on the backend with great closing speed. Isn't afraid to be physical and when he is, he doesn't take himself out of the play. Burgeoning offensive game highlighted by great vision and an uncanny ability to get pucks through a crowd and onto the net." - Peter Kneulman

I still feel Sandin is a bit underrated entering the draft. I liked him a lot. His hockey sense is great and he's so difficult to hit because he's elusive and mobile. He knows how to work the blue line and get the puck to his wingers to give them a chance to do something with it. In other words, he doesn't just pass the puck to get himself out of trouble; he has a purpose. His head is up all the time, has a decent shot, and knows can quarterback a power play.
I still feel Sandin is a bit underrated entering the draft. I liked him a lot. His hockey sense is great and he's so difficult to hit because he's elusive and mobile. He knows how to work the blue line and get the puck to his wingers to give them a chance to do something with it. In other words, he doesn't just pass the puck to get himself out of trouble; he has a purpose. His head is up all the time, has a decent shot, and knows can quarterback a power play.
I still feel Sandin is a bit underrated entering the draft. I liked him a lot. His hockey sense is great and he's so difficult to hit because he's elusive and mobile. He knows how to work the blue line and get the puck to his wingers to give them a chance to do something with it. In other words, he doesn't just pass the puck to get himself out of trouble; he has a purpose. His head is up all the time, has a decent shot, and knows can quarterback a power play.
I still feel Sandin is a bit underrated entering the draft. I liked him a lot. His hockey sense is great and he's so difficult to hit because he's elusive and mobile. He knows how to work the blue line and get the puck to his wingers to give them a chance to do something with it. In other words, he doesn't just pass the puck to get himself out of trouble; he has a purpose. His head is up all the time, has a decent shot, and knows can quarterback a power play.
5. Akil Thomas - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Total Votes: 19
High/Low Ranking: 4th (3x)/9th (2x)
"Good skater with a notable shot. Had a good statistical season but left me wanting more. A lot of rankings are placing him in the first round but my comfort zone would be in the second round. Possesses a lot of tools that teams want but I have not been overly excited about him this season. Needs to play with more pace and if he can find that, he should contend for an OHL scoring title next season." - Anonymous

"Thomas is a fabulous player who lacks elite upside but has above-average skill on both sides of the puck and a frame that will allow him to bulk up and play with a little more power. He’s already a great, fluid, light skater and playmaker and I have faith the rest will come in time. He’s a little inconsistent but when he’s on he’s one of the best pure centres in the draft." - Anonymous

"Thomas is perhaps the best pure playmaking center available. He has a knack for finding the open guy in stride and can score when called upon. I'm just not sure if he's a center at the next level. Even if he's just a winger, he projects as a top-six guy for me." - Mark Scheig

"Very talented centre who has put up great numbers given his age in both his seasons. Great vision and high end play maker. If his shot improves and allows him to take advantage of teams who over commit to the pass, watch out." - Peter Kneulman

"A buzz-saw of a player. Needs to add strength, but moves as quick with the puck as he does without. Has tremendous vision and a soft touch. Likely better suited for the wing in the NHL. Will run through a wall for his teammates." - Cam Robinson

"The kid has all of the skills to play the entire 200 feet. He has a high hockey IQ and great feet that allow to challende defenders or work to get back on his horse for the back check. Put up an incredible 80+ points on a young Icedogs team so he has shown he can produce as well. Sometimes lacks a little urgency at times but that will come in the years to come." - Mark Seidel

"Ever try to learn a new position on the fly , and have that new position be centre?   That's what Akil Thomas did with Niagara this year, and he did well.  He held his own in terms of face offs, and became more of a play maker (57 assists) than a goal scorer (24 goals).  He elevated his game in the post season, and meshed well with Pittsburgh FA signing Sam Miletic.  He is on the smaller side, but was fine with playing the physical game.   The skill set and speed is certainly there.  Had one NHL Player Personnel person tell me he has 100 point potential." - Stephen Clark

6. Serron Noel - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Total Votes: 19
High/Low Ranking: 2nd (1x)/10th (1x)
"Noel is an interesting case because his measurements usually aren’t synonymous with deft puck handling and smart neutral-zone play. Of course, there are plenty of times where he takes full advantage of opponents via his 6’5 frame and massive wingspan, but what really impressed me was his puck poise and soft touch while collecting loose pucks at center ice. Sure, Noel is the perfect net-front presence on the power play, but all the accolades he’s received this season likely stem from areas outside of the realm of your typical power winger." - Steve Kournianos

"Who wouldn’t want a 6’5” 210 plus pound winger who can absolutely fly? To be honest, I see Noel as a project, a guy who needs to put in more work then some of the guys that will be drafted around him. But the package is there, he’ll just need more time then some of the other players. He has an ability to go end-to-end and on the occasions he does, he brings Generals’ fans to their feet. He’s very good at protecting the puck and when he parks himself in front of the opposition net, he’s hard to move and can beat even the best goaltenders with his hands from there. I would like to see him more involved physically and in battles for puck up for grabs. But as I said, he needs to put it all together." - Dominic Tiano

¨I don´t get when people say that Noel lacks high end potential. They see this big kid whose numbers aren´t extremely glamorous and assume he tops out as a future checking line player. The reality is that I don´t think we have any idea of what type of player he will end up as, or how good he could possibly be. And that´s the allure. North/South, I think he is one of the most powerful skaters in the OHL. Not too many guys will beat him in a straight foot race. And the hands in tight and puck possession ability are already strong. The questions are: how much better can his puck control ability become at full speed? Will his hockey sense in the offensive end develop? And will he start to play with more truculence on a consistent basis and become a force away from the puck? If the answer to all three of those questions is yes, this guy will look like the steal of this year´s draft."- Brock Otten

"Complete power forward that has more skill then he is given credit for. Has a huge frame that he will fill out and will be a load to handle in front. Think of Tom Wilson with more skill & less fights." - Mark Seidel

7. Ty Dellandrea - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Total Votes: 18
High/Low Ranking: 3rd (1x)/Outside of the Top 10 (1x)
"He was the most offensively gifted player on his team. He was targeted by the opposition but, give him credit, he battled through it, produced and put up numbers. His game is speed and skill. When he gets the puck, he's looking to drive it to the net. I don't believe we've seen his full potential just yet." - Mike Morreale

"To me, Dellandrea is the best center available from the OHL in this draft. He brings a little bit of everything to the table. He can finish. He can also be a playmaker. He plays both special teams units. He was the star of the show in Flint after the trades and was consistently their biggest threat to score. He also has the highest chance of becoming a top-six center in the NHL." - Mark Scheig

"Dellandrea has a solid two-way game already, but I think his offensive potential is still a bit untapped. He’s got an unreal shot that he doesn’t release often enough. Dellandrea can sometimes be too smart for his own good and over think plays. His untapped offensive potential could be realized through simplifying his game. The team that drafts him is getting one of the more underrated players in this area of the draft in my opinion." - Dylan Galloway

"A massive fan of his and I think his game has been massively underappreciated thus far. He's going to be an NHL center, it's just a matter of where he slides in, in the line-up. Sometimes guys like him get pigeon held as future 3rd line centers because of how advanced their play away from the puck and two-way games are. But Dellandrea has a high skill and I think he put that on display at the U18's where he was one of the better centers in the tournament, at least IMO. If he's not a first round pick, it's a travesty and someone is getting a very good prospect." - Brock Otten

"A flower amongst the weeds in Flint has skewed his on-ice product to some degree. Owns a heavy and accurate release and finds ways to cut into high-danger scoring areas. Feasts in the high slot on the PP. Can draw the opponents in due to his shoot-first mentality but distributes effectively as well. Performed exceptionally on the big stages – Hlinka, U18, and Top Prospect Game. Adding more explosiveness and quicker hands will be on his wish list this summer." - Cam Robinson

"Reminds me a lot of Mike Richards in the year that Philadelphia took him. The kid oozes character and work ethic while putting up 60+ points in Flint this year. Understands the game & will have a long productive NHL career." - Mark Seidel

8. Ryan McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Total Votes: 17
High/Low Ranking: 4th (2x)/Outside of the Top 10 (2x)
"Has the look of a player and put up decent numbers this season but always leaves me wanting more from a player who can skate like the wind and flash slick puck skills from time to time. I worry about his compete level and whether he has the drive to be an impact player at the next level. I'd pass on him in the opening round and hope he falls to the second." - Anonymous

"He does so many things well - solid skater, good penalty killer, high end skills. The confidence and improvement in his game from September 2017 to January 2018 was like night and day. But in the second half of the season, I didn't see the continued improvement I was hoping to see. Solid player who does so many things well, but how much better can he get?" - Tony Ambrogio

"He has the tools but I just feel he underwhelmed on a team with a lot of skill on it. There's no question he can skate and has the frame to play in the NHL. I'd just like to see him more consistently take over games." - Mark Scheig

"A similar type player to Akil Thomas, but did not have as good of a year, but then again Mississauga as a team under performed, based on the talent that they have. McLeod is a dynamic skater and sees the whole ice well and a deft finisher.  He will be either a centre piece trade acquisition for someone, or will be the leader and likely captain in Mississauga. He just looks like he has a pro game already." - Stephen Clark   

9. Ryan Merkley - Defense - Guelph Storm
Total Votes: 16
High/Low Ranking: 2nd (2x)/Outside of the Top 10 (3x)
"Is exceptional at the point on the power play; he had 32 assists with the man advantage. He's got great offensive instincts and is a pure point producer. He shows a lot of poise and puck control. He just needs to work on his defensive game and take more of a positive approach off the ice when the going gets tough. The skill set it certainly there and he's going to be hard to pass up late in the first round." - Mike Morreale

"What a story line this young player has already wrote for himself. Public reports of his unwelcomed poor attitude will certainly drive him down the draft lists but he is likely the second most talented prospect from the Ontario league. His confidence, silky hands and willingness to extract every afforded second before making a play with the puck is something few players at any level possess. I'm rooting for him to clean up his attitude because players from around the globe would love to have his abilities and chance to play in the NHL." - Anonymous

"Merkley is the biggest risk-reward bet in the NHL draft this year, let alone among his OHL peers. He’s nearly unmatched in terms of raw gifts and that should put him in everyone’s top-five out of the OHL, regardless of his attitude issues and defensive lapses. There’s a decent chance whichever team takes him in this year’s draft ends up missing on him, but if he can mature on and off the ice then the sky’s the limit. I’d take that gamble." - Anonymous

"Elite offensive weapon. Skating, skill and particularly offensive brain are all high-end. Makes very unique plays. Erratic in terms of his defensive play, and discipline issues remain. Has consistency issues." - Anonymous

"The stories of attitude problems that have swirled around Merkley leading up to the draft have been a big factor in his slide down a number of rankings. I’m inclined to trust the development process, and have to believe there will be personal growth in the coming years and months. Oh and by the way, he’s a phenomenally gifted offensive defenceman with a gift for game-breaking puck movement, skating and vision." - Dylan Galloway

"We have seen with highly talented first round athletes with several reported attitude and conduct issues out of the OHL recently. Josh Ho-Sang and Anthony DeAngelo both have received some action in the NHL but are currently in the AHL and underachieving based on what their talent projects. I expect we will see the same out of Merkley where he will be back and forth between NHL and AHL but ultimately doesn't stick due to his attitude. He will be one of the first 8 players out of the OHL in this draft, but he won't end up being one of the top 8 when these players are 35."- Anonymous

10. Liam Foudy - Forward - London Knights
Total Votes: 9 Votes
High/Low Ranking: 5th (1x)/Outside of the Top 10 (10x)
"An incredible second half after London traded their vets away seen Foudy explode and got scouts pushing him up their ranking. His athleticism and speed is well documented and those assets are skills that translate. I want to see his offensive numbers emerge next season and start to command the puck more often. The lack of production will likely keep him from being a first round pick but teams will dial in on him early in the second." - Anonymous

"Truly one of the biggest draft risers in the second half of the season as soon as he was handed offensive opportunity.  He may be the fastest skater and best athlete in the draft, and in today's pro game with speed being such an asset he may thrive." - Grant McCagg

"I had to get Foudy into my top 10. His growth through the season was very fun to watch as he shouldered the added minutes beautifully post-trade deadline. Foudy’s strengths of speed, good hands and solid smarts fits perfectly into the new NHL. With a couple more years of development in the OHL, the NHL team that drafts him will be very happy with their selection." - Dylan Galloway

"I feel like we're just on the cusp of seeing what he's fully capable of doing after his second half breakout. Right now, his game is entirely built around his speed and ability to carry the puck. By March, he was averaging 2-3 end to end rushes per game that resulted in scoring chances. But he'll need to learn how to play more effectively East/West. And he'll need to increase his intensity level without the puck to fully harness his speed and fully take over games. But this kid is a freakishly good athlete, as evidenced by his combine results. With the way the NHL game is built around speed now, this is a kid I take a chance on in that 25-40 range and trust that the London coaching staff can turn him into a quality all around hockey player." - Brock Otten

Honorable Mentions

Kevin Bahl - Defense - Ottawa 67's (5 Votes)
Highest Ranking: 7th (1x)
"Bahl is a smart player with a lot more offensive upside than he exhibited this season (one goal, 17 assists); I expect him to rediscover his offensive game in 2018-19 with the 67's. He's got good puck skills for a 6-foot-6, 230-pound defenseman and rarely gets beat wide or out of the corners. He has a good shot and he usually gets it on net." - Mike Morreale

" I know the game is changing but teams can always use a big kid that can eat up minutes, be solid in his own end and keep opponents honest. He has more skill and ability to make plays than most give him credit for and through maturity, he will become a good piece on an NHL team." - Mark Seidel

"Likely not top 10 talent wise, but I've got a soft spot for Bahl because he's a big , physical, throwback type D man.  He stands 6'6 over 220 lbs and you notice him on the ice with his size and strength.  He will hardily dazzle you with his scoring but his reach and defensive play was very good on a very young and talented Ottawa 67's team that will be among the leagues better teams next year.  Expect Bahl to play a large role with them." - Stephen Clark

Allan McShane - Forward - Oshawa Generals (4 Votes)
Highest Ranking: 7th (2x)
"McShane is an excellent playmaker and gives a solid effort in all three zones, especially in board battles in the offensive zone. He and Noel made a lot of money together, and at times that second line carried Oshawa for most of the first half of the season. I really like the way he digs in and jostles with bigger defenders." - Steve Kournianos

"McShane is a kid who blew me away last year, didn’t impress me in early viewings this year, and then really came on at U18s as the dominant carrier and passer I’d seen in 2016-2017. He’s got breakout potential next season on an Oshawa team that looks like it’ll be competitive." - Anonymous

Sean Durzi - Defense - Owen Sound Attack (2 Votes)
Highest Ranking: 5th (1x)
"I know I have him rated higher than most, but I like the way he plays and the smarts he shows." - Tony Ambrogio

"Went through the Draft once already but has shown that it was a huge mistake. Tremendous offensive instincts and has become a stud defender. Ultimately will be able to quarterback an NHL power play." - Mark Seidel

Cam Hillis - Forward - Guelph Storm
Highest Ranking: 8th (1x)
"Hillis is a kid with impressive, better-than-his-numbers-show upside who became a point per game threat as a rookie after opting to make the move out of the prep school, NCAA circuit towards Guelph and the OHL. He adjusted quickly and ended up leading OHL rookies in assists with 39 on route to being named to the all-rookie team with Blade Jenkins and Andrei Svechnikov. He’s got some of the better puck skills in the class, and he’s shiftier than most." - Anonymous

"Hillis is a creative, skilled but undersized center. Given the trend of the NHL allowing undersized player to make an impact, Hillis has a lot of upside." - Peter Harling

Semyon Der-Arguchintsev - Forward - Peterborough Petes (1 Vote)
Highest Ranking: 5th (1x)
¨I´m not the one who had him in their top 10, but I can see where the allure comes from. Youngest player eligible this year. Blessed with great individual skill and playmaking ability. Put in a tough spot this year on a bad Peterborough team. Consistency is an issue. Strength is an issue. Play away from the puck is an issue. Size is an issue. Skating is mediocre. As he matures though, could he start to take over games with his skill level? Absolutely." - Brock Otten

Blade Jenkins - Forward - Saginaw Spirit (1 Vote)
Highest Ranking: 8th (1x)
"I honestly don't get why so many are down on Jenkins. He came on strong in the second half after finding a consistent role. He combines an NHL frame with a good shot and great skating. His upside is that of a top-six winger. That's pretty good for someone most project to go in the second round." - Mark Scheig

Aidan Dudas - Forward - Owen Sound Attack (1 Vote)
Highest Ranking: 9th (1x)
"An undersized pivot who shies away from nothing. Skates miles each night as his motor is constantly churning. He creates chances off his terrific forecheck. An accomplished penalty killer and goal-scorer. Was insulated behind Nick Suzuki this season, but has the ability to anchor a line. Some will see his height and dismiss his ability. No matter, he’ll continue to prove his detractors wrong." - Cam Robinson

Monday, May 28, 2018

2018 NHL Mock Draft

Third year that I've done a mock draft. As I always mention, while I cover the OHL extensively, I'm a hockey prospect nut in general and as such, have a fair amount of knowledge of the other players available.

Scouts seem to be universally in agreement that is a strong and deep draft year. A few potential franchise players available early. And potential high impact players available all the way into the mid second round. That said, there does seem to be a relative consensus for the players most likely taken in the Top 20 or so. There will always be surprises. Some years more than others. But this year, it just feels like everyone has a pretty good handle on most guys who will go early. It's that 20-31 range that seems quite unpredictable.

And well, because it's Vegas, I've got them winning the cup and selecting last (or at least Detroit with their pick).

Here's my first round mock draft.

1. Buffalo Sabres - Rasmus Dahlin (Frolunda, SHL)
At this point, this seems like a no brainer; Dahlin is the slam dunk first overall pick. Projected by some to be the next Nik Lidstrom, Dahlin will be deemed the savior of the Sabres franchise, who seem to be stuck in a rebuilding carousel. But Mittelstadt looks like a great pick at this point, and now they've added Dahlin. Could those two pieces be the key to progression for this once storied franchise? Was so incredibly impressed with Dahlin at the U18's, especially as a draft eligible player. I think the one thing that's not talked about enough is his size. This guy is 6'2 and possibly still growing. Can't wait to see what he does in the NHL next year.

2. Carolina Hurricanes - Andrei Svechnikov (Barrie, OHL)
Carolina definitely hit the jackpot winning the lottery and moving up into the 2nd spot where they can take Svechnikov. The Svech vs Zadina debate seems to have cooled a bit and it really appears almost set in stone that Svechnikov is the #2. He's the perfect hybrid for the way the game used to be played, and how it is played now. Has great size, but also dynamic skating ability. Has that killer instinct as a power winger and tremendous goal scoring potential. But his two-way game is underrated and could develop to the point of being elite IMO. Marian Hossa is the comparison that I've thrown around. It just so happens that he fits perfectly into Carolina's lineup. They've got a terrific young defense and some very talented young playmakers up front. But size and power from a guy who can drive possession on the wing is just what the doctor ordered. I think he can be a 30-30 guy next year in the NHL.

3. Montreal Canadiens - Filip Zadina (Halifax, QMJHL)
I know there has been a lot of talk lately about Montreal drafting someone other than Zadina; opting to take a center like Kotkaniemi instead. But I just don't think the Canadiens can pass up on what they have been gifted in Zadina. This is a team that looks to be on the cusp of a rebuild, who is working hard to overhaul their prospect cupboard. In that scenario, and when you're drafting in the top 3, you need to take the player you think can be the best and that seems to nearly unanimously be Zadina. And look, sure Montreal could use a franchise center. But they also had only two 20 goal scorers this past year. And if there's one thing Zadina can do, it's light the lamp. This kid is a dynamic goal scorer who also plays hard in all three zones and should be a long time NHL player and 30+ goal scorer.

4. Ottawa Senators - Oliver Wahlstrom (USDP, USHL)
Yes, I know that the Senators are faced with the task of dealing with the inevitable move of Erik Karlsson. Because of that, it seems like some people want the Senators to try and replace his ability to move the puck with one of the elite puck movers available. And Brady Tkachuk seems like a potential pick too because of the intensity level he plays with. But I think Wahlstrom is the 4th best player available this year, and I think his goal scoring potential fits in extremely well with what Ottawa is building. That is, of course, if you see him on the wing and not down the middle, like I do. I look at guys like Logan Brown and Colin White, possession based centers who will need that trigger man in the future. And the one thing this draft has a lot of is quality defense prospects. The Sens choose again at 22 in the first and can likely find a quality defender there. But they won't find a potential top line forward in Wahlstrom.

5. Arizona Coyotes - Noah Dobson (Acadie-Bathurst, QMJHL)
It does seem likely that the Coyotes go defense at #5. When they've drafted high (in the lottery), they've gone forward in recent years and the depth they have up front is insane right now. But on the backend, it's a different story. Jakob Chychrun is just starting to find himself after some injury issues and OEL isn't getting any younger. The question is, what defender do they go with? The elite skating, but undersized Quinn Hughes? The poised and confident Evan Bouchard? The athletic and dynamic Adam Boqvist? It could be any of those. But I put my money on Noah Dobson. He had a heck of a QMJHL playoffs and Memorial Cup and looks like a potential Alex Pietrangelo type of defender at the NHL level. And while the Coyotes would love to have a dynamic puck mover on the backend, I think Dobson is the best of the bunch in his own end and that two-way ability fits in very well with what they currently they have and need.

6. Detroit Red Wings - Brady Tkachuk (Boston University, NCAA)
I know that the consensus of Wings fans seems to be that they draft one of the talented young defenders available. And that could very well happen. But I'm just not sure I see it, especially if a guy like Tkachuk is still available. The Wings have some potentially solid puck movers on the blueline in the system already in Hronek, Saaraijarvi, and Cholowski. I also realize that the Wings drafted a big net presence last year in Michael Rasmussen. But this is a team who is drafting inside the top 6 for the first time since 1990! They need to take the best player available and I think that player is Tkachuk. He can impact the game in so many different ways, more ways than Rasmussen can. And if anything, having guys like Rasmussen, and Tkachuk (and Givani Smith) there to support the likes of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Evgeni Svechnikov, should only help the team progress. Could also see them taking Kotkaniemi or Barrett Hayton here. Although who am I kidding, maybe they do take another puck mover with local kid Quinn Hughes there.

7. Vancouver Canucks - Quinn Hughes (Michigan, NCAA)
I feel like given the glut of young forward talent the Canucks have accumulated (Boeser, Pettersson, Gaudette, Horvat, etc), it would make sense for Vancouver to go defense here. Olli Juolevi had a solid year in Finland, but I'm not sure his progression and path has gone as smoothly as Canucks' brass would have hoped. And there will be a top notch puck mover available to them. Whether it's Bouchard, Hughes, Dobson, Smith, or Boqvist, the Canucks have options. So which one makes the most sense for Vancouver? I'd put my money on Hughes. The lack of size is a concern, but I feel like they might like his high end skating ability and potential as a dynamic puck rusher. A guy who can push the pace and get the puck to the likes of Boeser and Pettersson. The others are great options too, but they probably end up being pretty similar players to Juolevi when all is said and done. Hughes has that game breaking ability. And they'll be pretty familiar with his game having kept tabs on Will Lockwood this year.

8. Chicago Blackhawks - Jesperi Kotkaniemi (Assat, Liiga)
Kotkaniemi is definitely one of the draft's bigger risers in the 2nd half of the season thanks to some strong international performances and the overall weakness of the center crop this year. Given his strong puck skill and two-way ability, he seems like the perfect fit for the Blackhawks organization based not only on need, but also the traits that they value in their top end draft picks. Given the team has spent the majority of their high end picks recently on defenders, I believe that they will look for a higher upside forward, someone to eventually replace a guy like Jonathan Toews as they go through what looks to be a possible rebuild. I could also see them having a lot of interest in Barrett Hayton here. Probably early for him to go, but again, he seems like the type of player that Hawks brass really seems to covet.

9. New York Rangers - Evan Bouchard (London, OHL)
The Rangers are another team I look for to go defense with their top 10 pick. Such a great year for offensive defenders and this team is slowly rebuilding their prospect depth. Went with two forwards last year in the 1st forward (and both look like great picks), so why not jump on the opportunity to get a potential top pairing defender here? Again, the question remains...which one? The Rangers have used the OHL a lot in recent years to grab their draft picks and to sign prospects, so I think Bouchard would be their guy if still available. His poise, playmaking abiity, and PP QB skill set would be a perfect fit for a Rangers team that finished in the bottom half of the league in goals scored. And at this point, I also think that he would be the best player available, as on Bobby Mac's most recent list, he was listed as almost unanimously the 5th best player available this year. Skating and upside drop him below Dobson and Hughes on draft day though, at least IMO.

10. Edmonton Oilers - Adam Boqvist (Brynas, Superelit, SHL)
At this point, I think the Oilers need to look at drafting the best player available at #10. I know that sounds crazy, because shouldn't all teams do that always? I think sometimes you do need to take into account organizational weaknesses. The Oilers want to be a competitive team next year again and I think it's likely they use young assets to try and do that through trade. That means any weakness they have currently, may not be one in the near future. With the players I have available at this spot, I think Boqvist checks off a lot of boxes for Edmonton. He's the best player available with the highest upside. And he's also a competent powerplay QB and puck mover who can be a big part of the team's defense in the future.

11. New York Islanders - Barrett Hayton (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL)
Almost had the Hawks taking Hayton at 8th overall, but ultimately went with Kotkaniemi. I just feel like Hayton is the type of kid that NHL scouts and franchises are going to value more than armchair scouts. He does so many things well and plays a mature game. But he also has offensive upside and plays a position that doesn't have great depth in this draft. Hayton seems like the perfect pick for the Islanders, given their current group of players. That perfect contrast to Matt Barzal down the middle. Can potentially slot up and down their lineup and bring more defensive stability to their forward unit. And like I said, people selling his offensive upside short are definitely wrong. This kid has skill and he will show that when he's given a leadership role within the Soo's system next year.

12. New York Islanders - Rasmus Sandin (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL)
A team drafting two players from the same team, back to back? Is this too far fetched? I personally don't think so. Both of these players provide good value in this range. With Uncle Lou taking over in Long Island, coming from the model that the Leafs put together around advanced stats and hockey sense, Sandin is the perfect player for that. His relatively mistake free game and upside as a modern two-way defender has to alluring to a team like New York who have had a tough time developing quality defenders in recent years. Of course, if they opt to go defense, they could go for the higher upside offensive player in Ty Smith, but I just see Sandin being the type of player Lou and his new people (like...maybe Mark Hunter) will want to bring in.

13. Dallas Stars - Rasmus Kupari (Karpat, Liiga)
Dallas appears to have had some good luck drafting out of Finland last year with Miro Heiskanen, so why not double dip? In Kupari, they are adding greatly to the team's center depth in the future. He has high upside thanks to his speed and skill and could greatly compliment guys like Jason Robertson and Riley Tufte in the future. Could also see Dallas look at Joseph Veleno here as a solid two-way center who can be a playmaker in the same vein. Again though, I look at how well the Stars' draft picks out of Finland have fared in recent years and believe they'll lean in that direction if given the choice of comparable players value wise.

14. Philadelphia Flyers - Joel Farabee (USDP, USHL)
The Flyers have done a very good job rebuilding their young talent pool in recent years. They're solid down the middle. Solid on the back-end. Have some great prospects in goal. This is a team who needs to really look at taking the best player available and at this point I see it being Farabee. Highly competitive winger who could be a great complimentary piece to guys like Couturier, Patrick, Frost, etc because his hockey sense and skill level is high. He's headed to Boston University next fall so he'll have time to grow as a player. But he seems like a good fit for the Flyers at this time. Was tempted to go with Serron Noel too because of upside and similar projection. But after taking Ratcliffe last year, I feel like they may look at a differently profiled forward this time around. They could also go defense too and take a guy like Ty Smith, if they feel he's the best available, despite an already crowded young blueline.

15. Florida Panthers - Serron Noel (Oshawa, OHL)
Could easily see this guy going earlier because of his projection and upside. Even though the game has changed, the combination of elite size and speed still plays, and always will play. Just how good he can be offensively remains to be seen. It all depends on how Noel grows into his body and whether the hands catch up to the feet. But this guy seems like the perfect pick for the Panthers at this point. High upside forward who can hopefully be the player they thought they were drafting in Lawson Crouse. The difference being that Noel can skate with guys like Barkov, Malgin, Tippett, etc. Watching Florida play, they could really use wingers with size to open up some space for their more skilled players and Noel is just that.

16. Colorado Avalanche - Vitali Kravtsov (Traktor, KHL)
Thanks to a tremendous KHL playoff performance, Kravtsov is a big, offensive winger who seems to be rocketing up most draft boards lately. Russian factor be damned, this guy would appear to have among the highest upside of any winger in the draft. And I'm sure Colorado would love to add more scoring depth to their top 6 in the future. Colorado has also been a team far from shy in signing or drafting Russian players. I actually think that this guy could go even higher than 16. If it's not Kravstov, I actually think a guy like Akil Thomas could be a tempting pick for the Avs. Again, another terrific support winger, although Kravtsov appears to have greater upside as a scorer.

17. New Jersey Devils - Ty Smith (Spokane, WHL)
I will admit that I am lower on Smith than most, and that is reflected in this mock draft where I have Smith going outside of the lottery. I know some scouts do have concerns over his poor performances on bigger stages this year (TPG, U18's) and have questions about why his decision making with the puck seems to suffer when the pace increases. But he remains a solid defensive prospect with a great deal of offensive potential. New Jersey looks to take the best player available here in Smith, and have been no stranger to the WHL in recent years. Smith also fits in well with their young roster as a potential powerplay QB.

18. Columbus Blue Jackets - Dominik Bokk (Vaxjo, Superelit)
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen is a man of the world. Under his leadership, Columbus has drafted players from nearly every country in the world. Bokk, a German playing out of Sweden this year, seems like the type of player he would covet. Bokk is a winger with a lot of offensive upside thanks to his strong puck skills and playmaking ability. Maybe he's too similar to Vitaly Abramov, but it still feels like a player that Blue Jackets brass would value. Could also see them rolling the dice on a raw but projectable defender like Miller or Wilde here.

19. Philadelphia Flyers - K'Andre Miller (USDP, USHL)
The Flyers go back to the US-18 team for their second pick of the first round. They took Joel Farabee first, a safe prospect whose game is built around hockey sense. Here, they swing for the fences with Miller, a high upside and raw defense prospect who is most definitely a long term project. The Flyers have a very good young defense built currently, so they can afford to really swing for the fences here with a guy who may not contribute until 2022. If they roll the dice on a defender, maybe they go for Isaac Ratcliffe's teammate in Guelph too, Ryan Merkley.

20. Los Angeles Kings - Martin Kaut (Dynamo Pardubice, Czech)
Kaut is a smart offensive winger who excelled internationally this year for the Czech Republic. The late '99 was definitely one of the biggest surprises of this year's World U20's. He is a very well rounded player in the offensive end which makes him the perfect complimentary piece on a scoring line moving forward. This guy could be the perfect fit on a future line with last year's first rounder Gabe Vilardi. Could also see the Kings looking at Akil Thomas here if they feel like he fits better on the wing than he does down the middle. We know LA loves their OHL kids.

21. San Jose Sharks - Akil Thomas (Niagara, OHL)
San Jose grabs one of the most skilled playmakers available in the draft this year, Akil Thomas. Remains to be seen whether he's a wing or a center at the next level, but his speed, vision and puck skill will play. And Thomas has a competitive edge too. Just needs to get stronger but should eventually become one of the OHL's leading scorers. Thomas presents a nice contract to a guy like Josh Norris, who the Sharks took in the first round last year; a high upside pick with versatility and lots of room for growth.

22. Ottawa Senators - Ryan Merkley (Guelph, OHL)
Part of me wants to predict that Merkley ends up falling in the draft because of all the red flags surrounding him. But the other half believes that with the way the NHL is played now, a team will take a chance on him sometime in the first in hopes that he figures things out. If it's the later, it's likely to be a team with multiple firsts who is aiming to grab a high upside player and roll the dice. Ottawa seems like a perfect fit with an eventual hole on the powerplay when Erik Karlsson moves on and they have some decent young defenders in the system which can allow them to be patient with Merkley.

23. Anaheim Ducks - Bode Wilde (USDP, USHL)
Anaheim rolls the dice too, on an athletic defender who didn't really have the kind of season many expected he would. At this time last year, Wilde was discussed as a possible top 5 selection. But now finds himself ranked outside the lottery by most scouting agencies. While his decision making has come under question, you simply cannot deny the raw talent and potential that he possesses. I think Anaheim has played it safe with their top picks in recent years and they need to really swing for the fences here.

24. Minnesota Wild - Jared McIssac (Halifax, QMJHL)
Like Wilde, McIssac is a defender whose stock has taken a bit of a hit this year. Perhaps his top end potential may not be as high as everyone originally envisioned, but he's still a solid prospect who seems to be universally considered a first round talent. Can potentially develop into a quality second pairing defender who can play in all situations and have a long NHL career. The Wild haven't used a top 2 round pick on a defender in the last four years and considering the number of quality defenders available this year, it would make sense for them to be targeting one here.

25. Toronto Maple Leafs - Ty Dellandrea (Flint, OHL)
The Leafs don't really have a ton of center depth beyond what they have at the NHL level right now, so it makes sense for them to look down the middle with their first this year should a quality prospect be available. In this scenario, they could go Joseph Veleno, a former highly touted prospect whose top end potential has been questioned. But I see them fancying a guy like Ty Dellandrea more. And before you say, "isn't Dellandrea's potential capped?" I would disagree. I think this guy has a chance to be a better pro than most give him credit for. Coaches dream who can do everything, provides leadership and has an extremely underrated skill set offensively.

26. New York Rangers - Joseph Veleno (Drummondville, QMJHL)
Speaking of Veleno, the Rangers jump at the opportunity to select him, preventing him from falling further. Veleno is one of the better center options available this year with size, skating ability and potential as a top notch playmaker. He drops a bit because it seems like whenever you watch him play, he leaves you wanting more. I know the Rangers went with a similar prospect in Lias Andersson last year, but when you've got three first round picks, going BPA is never a bad strategy.

27. Chicago Blackhawks - Jay O'Brien (Thayer Academy, USHS)
With their second first rounder, the Hawks opt for a raw, high risk, but potentially high potential high school center. The Providence commit has apparently impressed scouts this year with his goal scoring ability. Could also see the Hawks rolling the dice on Russian forward Grigori Denisenko with this pick. They've had better luck with Russians than other organizations and again should look to go high upside with their other first rounder.

28. New York Rangers - Jonatan Berggren (Skelleftea, Superelit)
With the third of their three first round picks, the Rangers opt for a speedy, offensive winger out of Sweden. Berggren was sensational at the U18's this year where he really put himself on the map as a potential first round pick. The speed with which he plays and his energy on the attack would make him a perfect complimentary piece to guys like Andersson, Chytil, (and Veleno). Probably ends up being a similar player to current Ranger Chris Kreider.

29. St. Louis Blues - Jacob Bernard-Docker (Okotoks, AJHL)
The Blues have one of the top farm systems in the NHL right now, with a bevy of young players chomping at the bit to join the big club. As such, they probably have the luxury of rolling the dice on a guy who may be a ways away from the NHL, but who could pay off big when he's finished developing. Insert Jacob Bernard-Docker, a North Dakota commit and defender out of the AJHL. Could be a terrific two-way defender when all is said and done and the last defender the Blues took out of the AJHL turned out pretty well. Have to think one (or maybe both) of he and Johnny Tychonick end up as first rounders because of their upside.

30. Washington Capitals - Ryan McLeod (Mississauga, OHL)
What? The Washington Capitals draft an OHL player? They haven't taken a player out of the OHL since 2012, when they drafted Tom Wilson in the first. But at this point, McLeod is likely considered the best player available and someone most consider a near lock for the first round given this year's lack of top end center prospects. His size, speed, and skill package fits in nicely with a Capitals team that hasn't developed a center since Evgeny Kuznetsov. Could also see them rolling the dice on Grigori Denisenko here too, given the success they've had with Russians.

31. Detroit Red Wings - Kevin Bahl (Ottawa, OHL)
Might take a bit of flak for this one, but here's my thinking. Firstly, the Wings have drafted some excellent potential puck movers in recent years (Hronek, Cholowski, Saarijarvi) and having someone like Bahl, with his size and physicality, in the system could be a major asset. The Wings have looked to draft players with high compete levels in recent years in hopes of making their team harder to play against. Lastly, Logan Stanley was a first round pick and I think Bahl is the better NHL prospect. I just think that the Wings may look to grab a top notch potential shut down defender at some point early in this draft (with two early 2nd's as well) and if they're interested in Bahl, they feel like Buffalo may grab him with the first pick of the 2nd round (another organization who could use a player like Bahl). I could see them being interested in a guy like Jett Woo too, for similar reasons.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft - Part 4: 10-1

We've reached the top 10 and it is time to conclude my rankings for 2018.

1. Andrei Svechnikov - Forward - Barrie Colts
It obviously will come as no surprise to see Svechnikov as the top rated player available from the OHL. It's been that way since puck drop this season. After winning the USHL rookie of the year last year, Svechnikov lived up to the hype in his first (and likely last) OHL season, winning the OHL rookie of the year (and becoming the first player to accomplish both feats). Truth be told, Svechnikov had a draft season for the ages in the CHL and if it weren't for Rasmus Dahlin, we're probably talking about him as the 1st overall pick. His even strength production was the best of any CHL draft eligible player in a very long time (better than McDavid, Tavares, Stamkos, Crosby, etc) with a 0.68 ES goals per game rate (stick tap to Steve Kournianos for the advanced data). He's the perfect hybrid of how the game used to be played and how it is played now. He's got size at 6'3 and plays a power game, but he's also a fantastic skater. His ability to drive the net and gain inside positioning on defenders off the rush is among the best I've ever seen in the OHL. He's just so powerful. The shot is NHL quality already too. He's so strong on the puck and even with defenders draped all over him, he can manage to get great power behind his wrist, snap, and backhand. But Svechnikov plays just as effectively east/west as he does north/south. His creativity, puck skill, and vision are all top notch. He's actually a very good playmaker who has that innate ability to read defensive coverages to know when he should dish off or finish his drives himself. It's what makes him so dangerous because defenders have to respect his passing ability, which in turn gives him the time and space to dominate. I think the part of Svechnikov's game that doesn't get enough credit is his defensive game. This guy has great awareness in all three zones and is (mostly) willing to use his size and speed to engage on the backcheck. There are times where his defensive focus could be a bit more consistent, but I think he profiles as a solid two-way player in the NHL. I really think this kid is NHL ready and he could be a 30/30 player in the NHL next year. Gabriel Landeskog put up 50 points in his first NHL season, and I see them being built very similarly, only I think Svechnikov has more offensive skill. In all honesty, the guy Svechnikov most reminds me of is Marian Hossa and I think he ends up being a similar kind of player in the NHL.

2. Evan Bouchard - Defense - London Knights
Have to admit, I thought Bouchard should have won the Max Kaminsky trophy this year as the league's top defenseman (and that's not meant to be offensive to Nic Hague who also had a terrific year). I just look at what Bouchard was able to do with such a young team through the 2nd half, as the captain, and think it deserved more respect. His 87 points were the most for a first time draft eligible defender since Ryan Ellis put up 89 in his. His ability to start the breakout is his best asset, with his vision off the rush and his booming point shot a close 2nd and 3rd. Bouchard just has unreal vision from the defensive end and pinpoint accuracy with his stretch passes. When he's on the ice, the Knights can go from being under attack in the defensive end to a 3 on 1 within a matter of seconds thanks to Bouchard's ability to get the puck out. While he does lack the top end speed you'd like to see from a dynamic puck rusher in the NHL, his agility and puck protection ability (thanks to his 6'2 frame) are top notch and allows him to evade forecheckers and carve through the neutral zone extremely effectively. Bouchard also is a terrific powerplay QB, because he is a duel threat. Defenders have to respect his booming point shot and his vision and passing ability, which is a dangerous combination. Do you overplay him to take away his shot at risk of him exploiting a hole in coverage, or do you give him the shot and have trust in your goaltender? Defensively, Bouchard is solid positionally and in getting his stick in passing lanes. But he definitely needs to increase his intensity level in the defensive end, particularly below the hash marks. He can be too soft on forwards near the crease and needs to do a better job taking away space from the opposition and winning more tough battles behind the net. Is he going to be a top notch #1 defender? I'm not entirely sure he has that skill set. But can he be a solid #2 or #3 who can lead your powerplay and eat big minutes? Absolutely. 

3. Barrett Hayton - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Consistency needs to be applauded because it can be hard for these kids to achieve. But Hayton has been a rock for the Hounds all season long. Between the regular season and the playoffs, he played in 87 games this year and he made an impact in nearly all of them. You just know what you're going to get from him. He's relentless in his puck pursuit and is a terrific forechecker. As such, he's a very effective three zone player because of how hungry he is for the puck. At the same time, he has the skill level to create from the turnovers he creates. In fact, his puck skill and creativity are areas of his game that are extremely underrated. If there's a criticism about Hayton, it's that he seems to defer to teammates to make those creative plays, even though he's capable himself. I think it's where some people get the perception of his lack of potential. But as he gains confidence and gets a larger role in the offensive scheme, this guy will put up points. Another aspect of Hayton's game that needs to be applauded is his awareness away from the puck in the offensive zone. Consistently finds holes and beats defenders to scoring areas where he can take advantage of his extremely quick release, IMO, one of the quickest in the age group. At the end of the day, Hayton stands out in a draft devoid of center depth because he's such a well rounded player who projects to be a very good pro. I've had some asking about the Bo Horvat comparisons lately, but I see him more as a Bryan Little type of pro.

4. Ty Dellandrea - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Speaking of well rounded centers, that brings us to Dellandrea, one of the most underrated players in this year's draft. 2018 just isn't a strong year down the middle and Dellandrea presents a great draft option for team's looking to pick up a potential top 9 center. The Flint Firebirds just weren't very good this year and I think that's why Dellandrea seems to be flying under the radar for a bit, but he was the straw that stirred their drink and he was terrific at all other major events (Hlinka, TPG, U18's). Like Hayton, Dellandrea is the type of player who impacts the game on so many different levels. He's physical and is aggressive on the forecheck and backcheck, always hungry for the puck. He uses that physicality to be a very effective defensive player. He's a good skater and has some size, which helps him be a very solid north/south play creator. But he also possesses the hands and vision to play east/west. In particular, I like how he controls the boards and shows patience and poise in the offensive end. If we're talking about his performance at the U18's, I felt like he was Canada's best and most consistent forward. He was able to show his effectiveness without the puck as it seemed like he forced a couple turnovers in the defensive zone every game. I think Dellandrea has a chance to have a career similar to a guy like Mike Fisher and if you can get that in the later part of the first round, you're doing very well at the draft.

5. Serron Noel - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Raw. No better word to describe Noel than that. 6'5, 210lbs, but skates North/South as well as any player in the draft. That explosive stride allows him to be so dangerous off the rush because of his size and puck protection ability. Does such a good job of shielding the puck and is already very difficult to separate from the puck. At times though, he does look like a baby deer on the ice. His lateral agility and edgework will need to get better as he can trip himself up trying to change directions, or looking to cut inside. I also think that his hands need to catch up to his speed a bit, because at times he can overhandle the puck and end up turning the puck over. I think Noel is also still figuring out how to play without the puck and best use his size and speed to be a factor at all times. He's very good along the wall, but at times you're more likely to see him camping out near the crease or in the slot, waiting for the puck. With his skill set, he needs to be the one winning those battles to create for others and not necessarily the other way around. But the hands in tight are quite good and he has massive potential as a goal scorer. I thought he showed quite well at the U18's this year and gave scouts a glimpse of how his size and speed can play against the best in his age group. Whoever drafts him will need to be patient as he figures out how to become a consistently dominant player. But the boom potential is very high and it could be why he hears his name earlier than we think.

6. Akil Thomas - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I'm a big Thomas fan. He's one of the best playmakers in the age group and I just love how he sees the ice. The improvements he made to his skating ability this year really helped to open up the ice for him. Exploits gaps so well and can use his speed to drive wide and create space. This is part of why he's so effective with the man advantage. But Thomas is also a competitor without the puck and the type of kid who will do anything to help his team win. His board work is a work in progress though. I know some feel that he needs to play with more consistency away from the puck and I'd probably agree. Being able to be consistent from shift to shift and not having that intensity level drop will be the big next step for him. I think finding a permanent position will be big too. Played the wing as a 16 year old. But played mostly down the middle this year. I don't really know where he profiles best moving forward. The one component of his game that really needs to improve is his shot. Needs to improve the velocity behind it and the release, as teams tend to play him for the pass. Getting stronger will also be needed. At his best with the puck on his stick because of his skill and vision, but he can be muscled off the puck too easily and needs to be become more effective in traffic, especially in the slot. But this is a kid with a very good head on his shoulders (wears a letter already in Niagara), who has the skill level and hockey sense to be a very good pro. As he matures physically, I think we'll see him become a dominant offensive player in the OHL.

7. Rasmus Sandin - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Really gained an appreciation for Sandin as the season went on. He's the type of player that you really need multiple viewings of to grasp what he brings to the table. He's definitely not extremely flashy. But he is extremely effective. He's fantastic with the puck in his own end and rarely seems to make a mental mistake with the puck. Always makes that safe play and starts the breakout with a stretch pass as well as anyone in this draft (including Bouchard). His hockey sense is just terrific. Has a good, low point shot and is very good at picking his spots to jump up into the rush. Really started to gain confidence in this by season's end and we saw him taking more chances in looking to create with his shot. But Sandin is also a very effective defensive player. Not the biggest at 5'11, but he is fearless and will take the body, something that surprises the opposition at times. But I like his positioning and ability to stay ahead of attackers on the rush. He uses his body and strong lower half to box out forecheckers extremely well and as such, he prevents teams from gaining and extending possession in the Hounds zone. For me the only real drawback is a lack of dynamic skating ability. Sandin is far from a poor skater. He's mobile, especially laterally. But I don't think he possesses the elite separation that you'd like to see from a 5'11 defender who's primary skill is puck movement. How will he do when he has less time in the defensive end? That is of course assuming that his skating doesn't improve considerably. But I see Sandin as, potentially, a very serviceable second pairing defender who can play in all situations and have a long time NHL career. 

8. Ryan Merkley - Defense - Guelph Storm
Every draft there are a few players who really polarize scouts. And this year, one of those guys is Ryan Merkley. The slick skating blueliner is one of the most naturally talented offensive players available. His playmaking ability from the back-end can be incredibly valuable. But concerns over his attitude and lack of defensive growth have scouts questioning if he possesses what it takes to be an NHL player. Let's start with the good. Merkley has some of the best edgework and overall agility I've ever seen from a defender at the OHL level. With the way he walks the line and is able to stop/start/change direction, he's so elusive in the offensive zone. Combine that with his puck skill and vision and you have a guy who has endless potential as an offensive player. Merkley also demonstrates a desire to be physically engaged at times. That intensity serves him well at times in the defensive end. Alright now the negatives. Merkley's play without the puck remains a major work in progress. Quite often, he looks disengaged or bored in the defensive end and loses focus quite consistently. That means missed defensive assignments, lazy backchecks, and lost battles in the corners and in front of the net. And more alarmingly, I'm not sure this has improved in his two years in the OHL. Merkley has also raised flags over his attitude on the ice and the frustration he shows when things go awry. Competitiveness is great, but it can also be negative thing when it's a fixation and that appears to be the case with Merkley. Turnovers from trying to force things offensively. Bad penalties when players antagonize him. This came to a head towards the end of the year when he was a healthy scratch for the Storm. I also think his point shot and confidence in using it needs to improve so that he can be a better powerplay quarterback. This was evident at the U18's where Canada's powerplay was dreadful under his direction. Those who love him believe that with maturation and tutelage, his raw talent can be harnessed and that he possesses some of the highest upside of any player in the draft. Those who dislike him (guaranteed there will be some NHL teams who have him as a no draft), point to the immaturity as the reason why his faults will remain faults, preventing him from being an NHL player. For me, he provides great value in the second round, but not the first. The combine interviews will be huge for him to convince NHL teams otherwise.

9. Ryan McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Admittedly a tough player to rank for me. Seemed like every time I saw the Steelheads this season, McLeod had an off game. But it's those consistency issues that have caused other scouting agencies to drop him in their rankings too, to the point where he's a borderline first round selection on some lists. The position he plays will definitely help his odds of remaining a first rounder, because as I mentioned earlier, this is not a strong draft for centers. McLeod has size, speed, and skill; the three S's. His speed is a big factor off the rush and his skill with the puck allows him to make moves at top speed that creates even more space for himself or his linemates. His playmaking ability and vision with the puck are definitely strengths. On the powerplay, he's a major threat because of this. But the consistency with which he uses his size is a tad concerning for me. He can be kept to the perimeter 5 on 5, and at times he struggles with his board play to extend possession. I'd love to see him be way more of a factor when the puck isn't on his stick. Using that size consistently to be more of a factor on the forecheck and in his own zone. On the penalty kill, he can be effective, but 5 on 5, that hunger isn't always there. And as a 3rd year player (late birthday), I do wonder how much growth remains. Size and skill down the middle is a great combo and if he can continue to round out his game, McLeod should be an NHL player. I just prefer others from the OHL a little more at this point.

10. Liam Foudy - Forward - London Knights
At this point, I'm not sure how much separates Foudy from McLeod. No player showed greater growth in the second half of the season than Foudy. He had 33 points in the final 32 games of the regular season, where as McLeod had 32 points in the final 32 games of the year. Remember, Foudy is a year younger and didn't have the same type of talent surrounding him. The big difference, of course, is position. While he is a natural center, Foudy has found success on the wing at the OHL level. It remains to be seen where his future lies positionally. But this is why I have McLeod ranked slightly higher. The first thing you notice with Foudy is his skating ability. Foudy is easily one of the league's elite skaters already. A remarkable athlete (a competitive hurdler as well), Foudy generates so much strength and power in his strides which helps him hit top speed very quickly. But Foudy can also carry the puck at his top speed, and he really started to gain confidence in his ability to generate off the rush in the 2nd half. He was averaging 2-3 end to end rushes a game by season's end. If you didn't stop him by the redline, you weren't preventing him from gaining your blueline. Foudy also has a sneaky good wrist shot and I think he has excellent goal scoring potential as he gains strength. Of course, his speed plays exceptionally well on the penalty kill, where he's a shorthanded threat at all times. 5 on 5, though, I'd like to see him be more consistent away from the puck. He's great North/South, but he needs to be better playing through traffic, working East/West and looking to use that speed to fill more gaps in the middle of the ice. Obviously, added strength will help him be more effective along the wall too and below the hash marks. This was evident in the first round of the OHL playoffs, where he really struggled to find space because of how physical Owen Sound played his line. In today's NHL, speed and skill kills. Look at what the Vegas Golden Knights have been able to do this year. And Foudy plays right into that. Combine his rapid rate of improvement with his raw skill set, and I think you'll see someone take a chance on him inside the top 40 come June.