Sunday, May 1, 2016

2016 OHL Playoff Predictions: OHL Championship

We've reached the end. The 2016 OHL Finals kick off next Thursday in London where the IceDogs and Knights will compete for the J. Ross Robertson Cup and a trip to the Memorial Cup.

Thus far, I'm 9-5 in my predictions. Here's my breakdown of the OHL Finals.

3. London Knights vs. 4. Niagara IceDogs
Season Series: 1-1, TIE
Analysis: Will we finally get a close series in these OHL playoffs? The last two rounds have been complete blowouts, much to the surprise of OHL fans and followers. Both of these teams are absolutely rolling right now. London's top line has looked unstoppable, as Tkachuk/Marner/Dvorak have totalled 41 goals between them this postseason. Meanwhile, Niagara's aggressiveness on the trade market this year has paid off with the team steamrolling Kingston and Barrie. Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, the team's biggest acquisition, has been sensational and well worth the high price paid to acquire him. But of course, one of these teams is going to have to go home empty handed. For London, they'll have to continue to get secondary scoring (which they did against Erie) in case the Dogs are able to shut down (or at least slow down) that top line. They'll have to also play disciplined and stay out of the box (which they did against Erie) as their penalty kill has struggled this postseason. Niagara, will have to exploit the two things I just mentioned. They've got to be the first team to shutdown Marner & company (which they were unable to do in two regular season matchups) and they've got to get London to take some penalties so that their powerplay can go to work. Niagara will also continue to need Nedeljkovic to stand on his head and steal games for them. Here's the thing though, and I think it's the X factor in this series. For as good as Nedeljkovic has been for the Dogs, Tyler Parsons has been every bit as good for London. He may not have as much experience as Nedeljkovic, but he's proving to be just as capable of stealing games and making big saves when needed. I just don't see anyone stopping that first line in London right now and with quality goaltending in Parsons, I see London capturing the crown.
Prediction: London in 6

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Top 10 - 2016 NHL Draft Re-Entries


It's that time of the year for my annual (2015201420132012201120102009) list of the top second and third year eligible OHL players for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. This is always one of the most read articles I put out each year. It's also the topic which I receive the most questions on, whether through email or blog comments. For whatever reason, the concept fascinates people. Of course, I'm referring to the concept of the "draft re-entry." A shift in drafting philosophy has seen an enormous rise of these players getting drafted in recent years. This is mostly because drafting a second or third year eligible player gives NHL teams a lot of flexibility in their development under the CBA. Plus, a lot of these guys have been having success in recent years (Tanner Pearson and Andrew Shaw are great examples from the OHL), which basic psychology tells us that other NHL teams will try to mimic.

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

Also, do not confuse this list with players drafted in 2014 who will re-enter the draft should they fail to come to a contractual agreement with their NHL team by June 1 (and whose birth date still allows them to be eligible). Quite often those too are referred to as draft re-entries. But this list does not contain them because it is not yet known who those players will be.

Last year four re-entries from the OHL were drafted (Mangiapane, Desrocher, Schmalz, Lorentz), and two others signed NHL deals in the offseason (Sharipzyanov and Murphy), which was definitely to be expected. This year, I think we'll see about the same number. It's a good crop and I could see another 4-5 getting drafted, and a few others getting NHL looks in the offseason.


Without further rambling, here's my list:


10. Jalen Smereck - Defence - Oshawa Generals
A first year defender, Smereck came over from the USHL this offseason and made a pretty seamless transition into Oshawa's top 4. He plays a pretty rugged game, despite being only average sized (6'0, 180lbs) and loves to look for the open ice hit as forwards cut across the blueline. He moves well on the backend and has proved to be a solid offensive contributor too, seeing time on the powerplay and looking to jump up or lead the rush. With his average size, the development of his offensive game will be key to him becoming a serious NHL prospect. But considering he's a '97 and flashes some solid two-way potential, he could be worth a look.

9. Jacob Friend - Defence - Owen Sound Attack
Definitely a personal favourite of mine. Absolutely love watching this kid play. Friend was an FA signing by the Attack and he earned his way into the Top 4 with strong play (developing great chemistry with Thomas Schemitsch). Friend is one of the OHL's most physical players, and best of all, he does it the right way. He loves to engage one on one and has proven himself to be a great stay at home defensive prospect because of how hard he plays the game. His offensive skills really improved over the course of the season too, especially his ability to start the breakout with a solid outlet pass. Started to jump up into the rush later in the year too. But with good size at 6'2, and some intriguing skills, I'd probably use a later pick on him to see how his game develops.

8. Stepan Falkovsky - Defence - Ottawa 67's
Size sells. Let's be honest. Even though the NHL is an ever changing game, (focused on speed and skill), teams will always seek out size on the blueline. Falkovsky, a Belarussian import, definitely has that. At 6'7 and nearly 230lbs, he's quite an imposing figure. Ironically, it's his offensive game that, IMO, is his main draw and not his defensive game or physical abilities in his own end. Falkovsky's main issue this year was inconsistency. Was a healthy scratch at one point because of how poorly he was playing around midseason. But he found his form again down the home stretch, which is bound to leave a good taste in the mouth of scouts. Falkovsky's got a massive point shot, showcases an ability to run the point on the powerplay, and has some puck skill in starting the rush. You draft him because he's a big body who can create some offence from the backend, and you hope his decision making and overall defensive awareness improves with more time in North America.

7. Trent Fox - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Thought Fox had an outside shot of getting drafted last year, but alas it did not happen. To his credit Fox returned to Hamilton and looked much better this year. The younger brother of former Erie forward Dane, Trent has established himself as one of Hamilton's core pieces moving forward. The 6'3 center looked quicker this year and really improved his consistency away from the puck. He's living up to the Fox name by becoming quite the pest and with his size, he's got the potential to become a real physical beast down the middle. I don't know if he's got his brother's shot and release, but he's most definitely a more well rounded offensive player at the same age. With NHL teams scooping up centers with size and skill, it wouldn't shock me if they gave Fox a look this year. Big kid who's continuing to improve and shows potential to become a very well rounded player.

6. James McEwan - Forward - Guelph Storm
Easily one of the OHL's most improved players this year. While Guelph was most certainly not terrific this year, McEwan did lead the team in scoring with 25 goals and 52 points. His speed is definitely his most noticeable asset, as he uses it to create the majority of his chances flying across the blueline. Not huge (5'11), but McEwan shows little fear in driving the net, using that speed to disrupt and create. It's also an asset on the penalty kill, where he had 6 PK points this year. Quite frankly, I didn't even think McEwan was a lock to make the Storm this year, but it's obvious he put in the work to elevate his game and I'm sure NHL scouts have taken notice. He'll be a focal point to Guelph's offence again next year and as the talent level improves around him, it will be interesting to see what he can do.

5. Dante Salituro - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Probably surprising to most people that he's number 5 on this list, and not number one. This is because there was a lot of backlash over the fact that he went undrafted last year. And he continues to produce. But let me ask you something...is Salituro a better player than he was last year when all 30 NHL teams turned a blind eye? Honestly, probably not. That said, I do think that Salituro deserves to be given a chance at being a professional hockey player (be it as an NHL draft pick or signing). At 5'9, he does the majority of his work below the hashmarks and I think that's what scares NHL teams away. Can he have the same success in the dangerous areas of the ice against much bigger and stronger defenders? But you have to applaud his fearlessness and his ability to operate in the offensive end. Has a knack for finding loose pucks and I think he could be a complimentary offensive player at the next level if he continues to get quicker and upgrades in the strength department.

4. Artem Artemov - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Like McEwan, Artemov was the offensive leader for a lackluster team. His 55 points lead Saginaw in scoring this year and he was, without a doubt, their most consistent offensive player. I really like his game and he was a noticeably improved player this year. A lot of that stemmed from the fact that he was consistently engaged physically, looking to use his size to drive the net and work the boards to create scoring chances for his linemates. While I do wonder about his scoring potential (doesn't seem to possess elite scoring hockey sense or a fantastic shot), there's most definitely enough to like about in his game to suggest that he couldn't develop into a quality checking line player at the next level. He understands how to create off of the forecheck and the cycle and is an ideal candidate to play with quicker, skilled guys to create space for them.

3. Jeremy Helvig - Goaltender - Kingston Frontenacs
Helvig was the Eastern Conference's Most Improved Player as per this year's OHL Coaches Poll. A well deserved honor. Last year, Helvig couldn't stop a beach ball (harsh, but true), sporting an .862 save percentage and was highly disappointing considering he was a high draft pick and the supposed heir apparent to Kingston's goaltending throne. But what a difference a year makes. This year, Helvig was a different player; more poised and confident. With his strong play, he managed to supplant reigning OHL Goaltender of the Year Lucas Peressini as Kingston's starter towards the end of the year. At 6'4, Helvig possesses the size that NHL team's covet in the position. And he's worked hard to become more athletic, improving his agility in the crease. He squares up to shooters well and really uses his size to cut down angles. Quite honestly, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Helvig was the second OHL goaltender off the board come June (behind Tyler Parsons).

2. Matt Luff - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
On paper, Luff's stats don't look incredibly impressive. His 57 points did lead the Bulldogs in scoring, which is certainly a feat to be recognized (as we have above with McEwan and Artemov). But it's how he finished the year that should have scouts taking notice. In his final 20 games, Luff had 17 goals and 14 assists and was generally an unstoppable force for Hamilton. Last year many expected Luff to be a late round selection, but he finished the year very poorly and failed to have his name called. This year, the 6'2 winger made noticeable improvements to his skating, making him a much more dangerous option off the rush. His shot is definitely an asset and as the year went on, he really gained confidence in using it from anywhere on the ice. Luff also increased his intensity level away from the puck and is developing into a power winger who can score goals in a bunch of different ways. If an NHL team really liked what they saw in the last couple of months, we could see him off the board as early as the 3rd.

1. Brett McKenzie - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Quite honestly, I do expect Luff and Helvig to be drafted ahead of McKenzie this year. But I prefer the Battalion pivot as a prospect long term and thus I've got him ranked first. I must admit, I felt he should have definitely been drafted last year, when he was a key cog to North Bay's deep playoff run (as the team's 3rd line center). But ultimately, I suppose, NHL teams felt that his skating needed to be upgraded and that he didn't show enough offensive upside to warrant a selection. This year, he made improvements to nearly every area. His skating is definitely better, more explosive. His shot has added velocity and become a major asset. He had 26 goals on the year, but only 2 were on the powerplay (which points to a continued trend upwards next year when he gets more PP time). McKenzie is also a terrific two way player who excels on the penalty kill (with 5 shorthanded goals) and loves using his size to disrupt on the forecheck and along the wall. In terms of progression, not a ton separating McKenzie from a guy like Nick Paul at this point in their development (Paul also had 26 goals in his 19 year old season). You have to trust Stan Butler when it comes to the development of big centers with offensive talent.

Honorable Mentions (organized by position):

Goaltender:
Peterborough's Matthew Mancina had a terrific year, finishing the year with a top 5 save percentage (.910). Mancina's a big kid who really does a good job of taking away the bottom of the net by challenging shooters and he should be one of the top goalies in the league next year as an OA (should he return). Ottawa's Leo Lazarev is certainly not your ideal NHL prospect, and he probably doesn't get a look. But he deserves mention on this list. At 5'10, he does everything he can to make saves; playing a style that hearkens back to the age of Dominik Hasek...or former '67 Petr Mrazek. Consistency will likely need to improve before the NHL comes calling at his size, but he's sure fun to watch.

Defence:
Erie's Darren Raddysh is definitely someone NHL teams could take a look at come June (and would have been #11 on this list). A terrific two way player, as not only did Raddysh finish in the top 20 of defenceman scoring (with 40 points), but he was also named the top defensive defenceman and 2nd best shot blocker in the West (as per the Coaches Poll). Guelph's Garrett McFadden probably doesn't get drafted, but he deserves mention here based on the improvements he made this season. The team's 1st rounder in 2013, McFadden more than doubled his point production from last year. Slightly undersized, but McFadden is one of the OHL's premier skaters from the backend and he is terrific at starting the breakout. Owen Sound captain Santino Centorame is another undersized offensive defender who could garner some attention. He's a very smart player offensively. London's Brandon Crawley is a name that continues to show up on NHL Central Scouting's list because he's got good size and loves to play the body. Lastly Windsor's Jalen Chatfield has some raw abilities that suggest he hasn't reached his high end potential yet. Can skate with the puck and really shoot it, but his awareness and decision making at both ends needs improvement.

Forward:
Definitely some interesting forwards in this HM group. Windsor's Aaron Luchuk was one of the last cuts on this list after a breakout season. The 5'10, '97 born center nearly tripled his production in some areas and was maybe Windsor's most consistent player this year. He's a very smart player and has great hands in close, but I'm not sure if his skill set screams NHL player. The Kitchener duo of Gustaf Franzen and Mason Kohn deserve mention. Both are among the hardest working players in the OHL. Franzen is a terrific two-way player who creates a lot from hard work along the boards, but lacks scoring touch. Kohn is a scrappy center who battles for every inch of ice. Cut from the same cloth as them is Niagara's Johnny Corneil. Doesn't possess ideal size, but he's the perfect complimentary player on a scoring line, as he creates space with his aggressiveness in driving the net and working the cycle. Lastly we have two Imports who improved significantly as the season went on. Mississauga's Daniel Muzito-Bagenda had 16 goals in his final 24 games (including the playoffs) and showed terrific chemistry with Alex Nylander down the stretch. He's a big body who displays great hands in close. Euros are rarely worth an overage AND import spot, but I'm hoping that Mississauga elects to keep him around next year. Ottawa's Artur Tyanulin is an interesting case. He was supposed to be a star for the 67's last year, but got home sick and went back to Russia. However, he returned this year and looks to be a key cog for Ottawa moving forward. Speaking of blazing finishes, Tyanulin had 32 points in his final 25 games (including the playoffs) and was absolutely brilliant down the stretch. He's not big (5'9), but he oozes offensive talent. Has great stick skills and is a very slick puckhandler, dazzling with one on one moves and his finishing ability. As he gets stronger and more confident, he could be a top 20 scorer in the OHL next year should he return.

Special Mention: Zach Bratina, Forward, North Bay Battalion
I thought it would be great to add Bratina to the end of this list as a special mention. Bratina decided to retire this season after sustaining one too many concussions during his playing career. This decision had to be incredibly difficult. Not just because he had to walk away from the game he loved, but because he did it in the midst of a career season that would have seen him at the top of this list had he continued at that pace (12 goals in 12 games). There's no doubt in my mind that he was an NHL prospect (size, speed, skill, and physicality on the wing). But, Bratina ultimately made the right call and I have such a massive amount of respect for that. Best of luck to him in his future endeavours. 



Saturday, April 16, 2016

2016 OHL Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

Went 2-2 in the West, but 0-2 in the East in Round 2. That brings my playoff prediction record to 8-4.

The Conference Finals should present fans with some absolutely fantastic hockey. All four teams breezed through the second round (shockingly) and are playing some absolutely fantastic hockey.

Let's take a look at both series' a little more closely.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

2. Barrie Colts vs. 4. Niagara IceDogs
Season Series: 4-2, Barrie
Analysis: Really excited to see how this series plays out (admittedly more so than the West). Niagara was incredibly aggressive on the trade market this year in hopes of getting to this spot. Their inconsistent play this year frustrated fans but they appear to have gelled and peaked at the right time. Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic has been absolutely amazing thus far in the playoffs and he's going to need to continue to be for the Dogs against a Barrie team which is averaging nearly 4 goals per game in the postseason. Barrie holds the advantage on the season series, but most of those games occurred before the trade deadline which makes the head to head relatively irrelevant. Newly signed (by Columbus) forward Justin Scott has been a man on a mission thus far with remarkable 14 goals. So wins this series? Would you accept it if I said "flip a coin?" Kidding. Here's my thinking. Offensively, these teams line up exceptionally well. Barrie's secondary scoring came to life against North Bay and it sounds like they'll get Dylan Sadowy back. Where as Niagara has been getting scoring and energy from all four of their lines this whole playoffs. Defensively, both of these teams are deep with veteran talent too. And in net, Nedeljkovic and Blackwood might just be the two best goaltenders in the OHL and both come in red hot. So what's the difference maker? I think it's Nedeljkovic and Niagara's four line offensive attack. I truly believe in Nedeljkovic's ability to steal a few games this series for Niagara, and in the other games, I love the energy Niagara has been getting from every forward they employ. The way they dispatched the Frontenacs was INCREDIBLY impressive. That's why I'm going with Niagara.
Prediction: Niagara in 7

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Erie Otters vs. 3. London Knights
Season Series: 3-3, TIE
Analysis: Another battle of division rivals. I hear a lot of people suggesting that this is the true OHL Finals. I definitely don't agree with that, but that's another story. Offensively, I think Erie holds the slight advantage right now. The Otters have been getting some big contributions from nearly every one of their top 9 forwards, where as London has the juggernaut first line and then whatever line Cliff Pu plays on. Erie has the capability of shutting down (or at least slowing down) that Marner/Dvorak/Tkachuk line better than Owen Sound/Kitchener did. Which means that guys like JJ Piccinich will have to do more. The loss of Max Jones hurts here for sure. Defensively, I like Erie a little bit more too. They get a little more consistent effort from their forwards in playing a team defense approach, and their penalty kill has been absolutely sensational so far in these playoffs. In goal, Tyler Parsons has the advantage IMO. Devin Williams has been great all year, but I don't think he has the capability of stealing games/periods the way that Parsons has for London down the stretch and into these playoffs. A massive X Factor will be discipline and special teams play though. Erie has only been shorthanded 20 times in this entire playoffs. They've managed to play hard, but not stupid. That's the veteran leadership of their lineup. And when they have been shorthanded, they've been dominant (as I already mentioned). London, on the other hand, has been shorthanded double that amount and on top of that, their penalty kill has not looked great. I'm just not incredibly confident in London's secondary scoring, nor their ability to play disciplined hockey to keep Erie off the score sheet with the man advantage. That's why I'm going Otters.
Prediction: Erie in 6

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

2016 NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings

NHL Central Scouting released their final rankings today for the 2016 NHL Draft.

Here's how OHL players ranked:

Skaters

1. Matthew Tkachuk (2)
2. Alex Nylander (3)
3. Jakob Chychrun (4)
4. Olli Juolevi (5)
5. Logan Brown (7)
6. Mikhail Sergachev (8)
7. Michael McLeod (13)
8. Max Jones (14)
9. Logan Stanley (19)
10. Alex Debrincat (21)
11. Boris Katchouk (25)
12. Jack Kopacka (33)
13. Jordan Kyrou (34)
14. Nathan Bastian (35)
15. Taylor Raddysh (36)
16. Tim Gettinger (37)
17. Cam Dineen (39)
18. Adam Mascherin (42)
19. Will Bitten (43)
20. Markus Niemelainen (52)
21. Givani Smith (54)
22. Ben Gleason (58)
23. Sean Day (59)
24. Riley Stillman (66)
25. Nicholas Caamano (69)
26. Keaton Middleton (71)
27. Victor Mete (74)
28. Cliff Pu (75)
29. Anthony Salinitri (84)
30. Cole Candella (85)
31. Connor Bunnaman (87)
32. Stepan Falkovsky (91)
33. Travis Barron (94)
34. Jonathan Ang (95)
35. Jordan Sambrook (96)
36. Connor Hall (100)
37. Ondrej Kachyna (101)
38. Kyle Maksimovich (103)
39. Domenic Commisso (111)
40. Hayden Verbeek (125)
41. Dmitri Sokolov (129)
42. Chris Paquette (130)
43. Alan Lyszczarczyk (134)
44. Austin Osmanski (135)
45. Nicolas Mattinen (136)
46. Justin Murray (137)
47. Noah Carroll (139)
48. Brandon Saigeon (148)
49. James McEwan (163)
50. Tye Felhaber (167)
51. Dante Salituro (172)
52. Justin Brazeau (179)
53. Brandon Crawley (182)
54. Matt Luff (183)
55. Tyler Nother (186)
56. Michael Pezzetta (197)
57. Sean Allen (202)
58. Daniel Muzito Begenda (205)

Goalies

1. Tyler Parsons (3)
2. Joseph Raaymakers (9)
3. Dylan Wells (10)
4. Evan Cormier (11)
5. Jeremy Helvig (15)
6. Troy Timpano (19)
7. Stephen Dhillon (22)
8. David Ovsjannikov (24)
9. Connor Hicks (27)

For the full list, click here

General Musings:

1. Biggest Risers:
Connor Hall - +110
Nicholas Caamano - +79
Cam Dineen - +78
Ondrej Kachyna - +72
Jonathan Ang - +42
Anthony Salinitri - +42
James McEwan - +39
Hayden Verbeek - +39
Justin Murray - +34
Justin Brazeau - +28
Matt Luff - +27
Tyler Nother - +24
Riley Stillman - +22
Adam Mascherin - +15

2. Biggest Fallers:
Konstantin Chernyuk - -106
Brandon Crawley - -86
Drake Rymsha - -67
Dante Salituro - -66
Noah Carroll - -59
Ben Hawerchuk - -51
Luke Kirwan - -44
Chris Paquette - -43
Dmitri Sokolov - -38
Travis Barron - -34
Nicolas Mattinen - -33
Luke Kutkevicius - -30
Christian Mieritz - -28
Tye Felhaber - -28
Cole Candella - -20
Nathan Bastian - -16
Sean Day - -16
Keaton Middleton - -16
Victor Mete - -16

3. Biggest thing that stood out for me is the ranking of Michael McLeod. He drops to 13th in NA. Don't agree with that at all. McKeens just ranked him 3rd for the entire draft. Don't agree with that either, but there should be a middle ground. He's a guy who'll have a great U18's and should be a lock for the top 10 if that happens. In general, it seems like NHLCS wasn't a huge fan of Mississauga's second half since McLeod, Bastian, Day all tumbled.

4. Great to see Jeremy Helvig appear on the list and relatively high. I'd go even higher with him. He'd be behind Tyler Parsons among OHL netminders for me as a re-entry. With his size and what he was able to do this year (improvement wise), he deserves to be a top 100 selection.

5. Great to see NHLCS wake up on three of the players that I had ranked significantly higher than them on the midseason rankings; Cam Dineen, Adam Mascherin, and Nicholas Caamano. Well deserved on all accounts.

6. In terms of guys not on the list that I probably would have ranked: Brett McKenzie, Zach Poirier, Eric Henderson, Drake Rymsha, Artem Artemov. McKenzie is the top re-entry available this year from the OHL (IMO) and with 8 of those types ranked, there's no question he should be there. Poirier was ranked at midseason and then not on this list. I thought he had a way better second half than first half. I expected him to be a riser, not a faller. Drake Rymsha had a tough year with injuries, but if you're ranking Brandon Saigeon, I think you need to rank Rymsha. Henderson looked great after the trade to Oshawa. And Artemov is another re-entry that should be on there.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

2016 OHL Playoff Predictions: Round Two

6-2 after the first round (was wrong on Kitchener and Sault Ste. Marie), it's time to take a look at the match-ups for the second round.

Eastern Conference

1. Kingston Frontenacs vs. 4. Niagara IceDogs
Season Series: 3-1, Kingston
Analysis: The Fronts have owned the Dogs, not just this year, but the last two years in the regular season (going 7-1). With the playoff series monkey off their back, Kingston should be a more relaxed team moving forward. Meanwhile Niagara was outplayed through many stretches of their series with Ottawa, but moved on thanks to the tremendous goaltending of Alex Nedeljkovic. The goaltending match-up should be a great one. Nedeljkovic will have to be even better in this series for Niagara to earn the win. And Jeremy Helvig is the likely starter after taking over the starting role in round one. He was sensational in the regular season versus Niagara (3 wins and a .967 SV%). When we breakdown the other components, they're also incredibly equal. Veteran talent at forward and on defence. I will say that Niagara is going to need more from their 2nd and 3rd lines in this series, because Kingston has both their 1st and 2nd lines rolling right now. I think one other major factor is the difference in the way both team's defences play. Niagara's defence takes chances offensively and play a higher risk game, where as Kingston uses a strong team defence approach and sees less mistakes from their backend. This is a tough one for me to predict. On one hand, I could see Nedeljkovic stealing another series. On the other hand, I look at the defensive lapses Niagara has been prone to this year and wonder if Kingston will be able to capitalize on that more than Ottawa was able to. I believe in what Kingston has done this year and the way they play as a unit. That's why I'm taking them in a long series.
Prediction: Kingston in 6

2. Barrie Colts vs. 3. North Bay Battalion
Season Series: 4-2, North Bay
Analysis: Two teams coming off Game 7 victories do battle for the right to move on to the Eastern Conference final. North Bay won the season series, but it was close. The top lines for both teams have been on absolute fire. Between Justin Scott and Mike Amadio, I don't know who is hotter (they combined for 19 goals in the 1st round). Here's my concern for Barrie though. Their secondary scoring pulled a complete disappearing act in round one. And in the regular season, that same unit (the 2nd and 3rd lines) had a VERY tough time scoring against the Battalion. They're coming in cold AND they're going up against a team that had their number this year. Now add in the fact that Dylan Sadowy is banged up (the organization remains mum on his status) and you've got a recipe for disaster. Barrie's goaltending was also not terrific in round one. They were able to win some pretty high scoring games against the Steelheads. But will they be able to force the Battalion to play their high tempo, high scoring game? I'm just not convinced. On paper, I think Barrie should be able to pull out this victory. But I'll be honest in saying that I just don't love the way the team is playing right now when it comes to being matched up against Stan Butler's Battalion. North Bay's getting consistent effort from three lines. Jake Smith is playing well. And as always, they function exceptionally well as a defensive unit.
Prediction: North Bay in 7 

Western Conference

1. Erie Otters vs. 7. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Season Series: 2-0, Erie
Analysis: These teams only met up twice this year with Erie coming out on top both times. But let's throw the regular season matchup out the window with the way this Greyhounds team is playing right now. They're young, but they're winning by simply outhustling the opposition. At this point, they've got nothing to lose and they know that. That's dangerous for Erie, especially when you look at the pressure on the Otters to try and come away with the OHL title after losing last year to Oshawa. Goaltending, like any playoff series, is critical here. Brandon Halverson was sensational in round one. But, which Halverson will show up this round? His inconsistency as a player this year makes him a wildcard. Devin Williams has consistently been one of the best goalies in the league this year at the other end of the ice. Both teams got balanced scoring in round one with 12 players combining to reach double digits in goals scored. So what's the difference maker going to be? For me, it's playoff experience. Sarnia succumbed to the attack of the Soo, but despite the additions that team made, they weren't incredibly experienced when it came to the playoffs (save Matt Mistele). Meanwhile, the Otters have a core that made a run to the OHL finals last year and a run to the Western Conference finals the year before that. That's a TON of experience and I think that helps them hold off a pesky Greyhounds team for the series victory.
Prediction: Erie in 5

3. London Knights vs. 4. Kitchener Rangers
Season Series: 4-2, London
Analysis: No offence meant to the other OHL teams, but this is the series that I'm most excited to watch, and to follow. Kitchener steamrolled Windsor (much to my surprise) and they seem to finally have everyone (or at least nearly everyone) healthy and playing well. Meanwhile, London has been so good in the last few months and they looked great against an underrated Owen Sound Attack team in round one. London and Kitchener have two veteran forward units who can really bury the puck. At that position, they're incredibly equal. Let me tell you where London has the advantage though. The first area is their ability to activate their defence offensively. With guys like Olli Juolevi and Victor Mete, the Knights transition up ice faster than Kitchener and I think they'll look to exploit their advantage in the team speed department. Second area is in net. For anyone who watched the first round, they'll know how absolutely, insanely good Tyler Parsons was. He's been playing out of his mind the last few months, not just the last week. Meanwhile Dawson Carty took over from Luke Opilka (who hasn't looked the same after returning from an unnamed illness), and while he was good, he didn't inspire confidence in his ability to steal games the way Parsons has in recent months. Don't get me wrong (and my apologies London fans), I would love to see Kitchener win this series, based on the fact that they've been built to make this final run the last few years. But I just like this matchup for London. I actually believe Erie would have been the better matchup for Kitchener (if Sarnia had avoided the upset).
Prediction: London in 6

Sunday, April 3, 2016

2016 OHL Priority Selection Primer

The 2016 OHL Priority Selection is set for next Saturday, April 9th. As such, I've hooked up with the guys from TheScout.ca to help us preview next weekend's selections. Each member of the scouting team at TheScout has given us their favourites for the draft, in addition to potential sleepers. I also included my own picks as part of this. I obviously didn't see nearly as much midget action as the guys from TheScout, but I caught all the quarterfinals, semi-finals, and the finals of the OHL Cup this year. Enough action for a few guys to really stand out.

Brendan Ross (Scouting Director) - @RossyYoungblood

Alliance

1. Owen Lalonde, Windsor Jr. Spitfires
Right from the start of the season, Owen Lalonde established himself as an unanimous favourite among TheScout.ca team of scouts. The Alliance’s Player of the Year and team leading scorer. The smooth skating cerebral defender led all blueliners in the league with 37 points through 33 games, including 13 goals. A potential Top 5 selection in the upcoming OHL Priority Selection, Lalonde is your prototypical two-way , all-situations defenceman that teams look to anchor their blueline. A cerebral player who is tremendously poised on both sides of the puck, letting the game come to him without ever appearing panicked in possession or as a defender. Breaks down the ice at an elite level, being a step ahead of his peers in reading, reacting and anticipating the flow of the game. He’s excelled as a call-up with the Lasalle Vipers of the GOJHL (Jr. B) and looks ready to step right into the OHL game.

2. Eric Guest, London Jr. Knights
One of the most skilled players in the entire OHL draft class, Eric Guest impresses continuously with his elite speed, agility and playmaking ability. Capable of playing down the middle or flanking the wing, Guest has also performed well on the blue line as a defender in the occasional game.  Precise edge control allows him to manoeuvre quickly in any direction and make elusive tight cuts without losing speed. Has an unique ability to handle any pass in motion, including receiving passes in his feet without breaking stride. Always has his head up surveying the play and moves well off the puck, managing his movements and timing his entries smartly. Guest has also seen time at the Jr. B level with the London Nationals and performed well. His production has been somewhat inconsistent but he remained a Top 10 scorer with 18 goals and 43 points in 33 games. Look for Eric Guest to receive first round consideration and in a few years’ time, he could surprise people with his dynamic playing style.

Sleeper - Jake Murray, Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs
A quick and skilled playmaking center, Murray is the catalyst of the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs' attack and one of the top prospects out of the Alliance. He led the league in scoring with a remarkable 51 points in 32 games, even without the offensive support of other productive league members. He makes up for his smaller stature through a combination of shifty skating, skill and a high level of hockey sense. Plays the game intelligently with and without the puck and reads the ice instinctively in all areas. Murray was held out of competitions late in the season due to health issues and because of the lack of exposure, he could be considered a sleeper – and damn good one.

Aside from the abovementioned Alliance standouts in Owen Lalonde, Eric Guest and Jake Murray, Huron Perth’s duo of Owen Gilhula and Brady Hinz are two skilled forwards to watch out of the Alliance loop. Blessed with a strong combination of competitiveness, high skill and natural hockey sense, Gilhula and Hinz will have no issues developing into potential top line players at the next level.

Additionally, Waterloo’s Mitchell Hoelscher, Alex Gritz, Chris Playfair and Spencer Kersten have been consistent top performers and personal faves all season long, playing in front of the very talented Nathan Torchia in net (son of former NHL Mike Torchia).

Forwards Joel Pavey (Lambton Jr. Sting), Kyle Fisher (London Jr. Knights), Joel Mazzilli (London Jr. Knights), Derek Seguin (Hamilton Huskies), Isaac Taylor (Hamilon Huskies), Eric Uba (Kitchener Jr. Rangers), Luke Bignell (Kitchener Jr. Rangers), Grant Spence (Chatham-Kent Cyclones) and Jack Gee (Brantford 99ers) are talented competitors to key in on. On the blueline, Holden Wale (Brantford 99ers), Tristan DeJong (Waterloo Wolves), Tyler McBay (Waterloo Wolves), Garrett Nelson (Huron Perth Lakers), Isaac Walker (London Jr. Knights), Brady MacDonald (Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs) and Spencer Lapointe (Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs) are the defencemen to dial in on.

Other Area Personal Favourites (in no particular order)

Mattias Samuelsson, Northwood Prep (USHS)
A defensive stalwart who is a lock for USA’s NTDP Under-17 program, Mattias Samuelsson is the top shutdown defenceman in the draft. While Samuelsson displays good talent with the puck, he’s especially impressive with his rangy challenges – poking away pucks and getting in the shooting lanes of almost every opposing attack. Samuelsson is the son of former NHLer Kjell Samuelsson and owns likewise pro potential. Samuelsson is committed to the University of Michigan.

Joel Farabee, Selects Academy (USPHL)
Farabee landed on our radar early after impressing with his all-out skilled attack game. The rest of the scouting world has come around on this extremely competitive and highly talented forward and he may just be one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the USA 2000-age group. His dynamic and aggressive attacking style causes lots of problems on the forecheck and his ability to operate as a speedy shooter and playmaker has him firmly inside our first round. Farabee is expected to join the NTDP U17 program.

Jake Pivonka (LC) and Jack Randl (LW), Chicago Mission U16 (HPHL)
It would be remised to mention one without the other. Pivonka and Randl are two assets on a talented and deep Mission team and both of these strong forwards are true coaches’ players. Pivonka lines up in the middle and could be considered one of the most complete two-way players in the draft blending good skill with a power game and an elite shot. Randl is one of the most improved players and could be considered a top-end supporting winger who competes with great persistence. He is a player who makes the game easier for linemates due to his natural hockey sense, timely reads and smart executions. Pivonka is committed to Notre Dame while Jack Randl is a top recruit of the University of Michigan Wolverines program.

Ty Dellandrea, Central Ontario Wolves (OMHA ETA)
One of the many potential first round selections, Ty Dellandrea enters the draft somewhat underrated considering he wasn’t surrounded with the depth of talent that others may have been. He’s a strong possession forward capable of creating offence on his own and shows a tremendous attention to detail on both sides of the puck. His goal-per-game pace (35 goals) topped all players in the OMHA’s ETA league and his 55 points in 35 games was second best. Dellandrea earned valuable minutes playing as an affiliate with the OJHL’s Whitby Fury and is one of the draft’s most ready pivots.

Tyler Angle, Southern Tier Admirals  (OMHA SCTA)
A staple to the Admirals offence, Tyler Angle doesn’t come with the hype or big-name attraction that others will on this list but he was a standout in almost every viewing this season. His size isn’t ideal but his ability to impact that game with his strong puck handling and distribution makes him one of my personal faves. He may need time at lower levels developing strength and learning how to create against bigger/stronger defenders but Tyler Angle owns the skill and hockey sense to make things happen.

Semen Del-Arguchintsev (RC) and Pavel Gogolev (RW/L), CIH Academy White (HEO Midget)
Playing out of the same academy as Windsor’s Gabe Vilardi, Russian’s Del-Arguchintsev and Gogolev are two dynamic attacking forwards capable of changing the game instantly. Both received eligibility in the recent months and it’s expected that Pavel Gogolev gets drafted inside the opening round. He is a big, powerful forward with high skill level. He projects favourably long-term as a potential star pro due to his elite shooting abilities and north-south attacking success. If Gogolev is the trigger man then Del-Arguchintsev is the setup man and his knack for distributing, buying time with slick puck control and uncanny vision are assets to his style of play. He finished as the leading scorer in Ottawa’s new HEO Midget Under-18 league with 21 goals and 70 points in 46 games, edging out linemate Gogolev by two points.

Merrick Rippon, Ottawa Jr. Senators (HEO Midget)
Rippon immediately jumped out as a talented defender in the HEO Labour Day Showcase and he maintained his high level of play all season long anchoring the Jr. Senators blueline. There isn’t much that Rippon doesn’t do well as he operates equally well as a reliable defensive defender yet is capable of jumping into the rush with authority to create offence too. His game efficiency is high end as he makes passes and executes smart decisions to create an easy-to-play-with style. Rippon finished the season as the top under-16 defensive scorer and landed in the Top 3 in blueliner scoring with 29 points in 43 games. Look for Rippon to draw interest when the second round opens up.

Billy Moskal, Sudbury Jr. Wolves (GNML)
A complete centerman who is trusted in all-situations, Billy Moskal is a top prospect out of Northern Ontario’s loop. A coaches’ player who displays a real hunger for the game, hunting down loose pucks and ramping up his energy with aggressive, confident attacks on the rush. He plays a true North American style of game that will translate to the OHL game very well, mixing skill with physicality and grit. Moskal’s 18 goals and 36 points ranked as the second best under-16 skater in the Greater North Midget League.

Liam Foudy, Markham Majors (GTHL)
Given Liam Foudy ‘s limited offensive support with the Majors, he is one of the most intriguing and impressive GTHL performers this season. His ability to create offensive chances out from nothing has helped Markham stay competitive all season. He is an enthusiastic attacker who exhibits passion and creativity in his offensive attempts, brimming with one-on-one confidence. Energetic skater with a lively and hoppy stride that propels him to top speeds quickly. Uses aggressive crisp edges to mix in lateral attacking routes allowing him to evade and change directions at top speed. Foudy displays a strength for fighting through contact into the heart of the scoring area while maintaining control of the puck. His offensive touch and overall competitive drive makes him one of the more attractive mid-to-late first round options.

Danil Antropov, Toronto Marlboros (GTHL)
The son of former Leafs power winger Nik Antropov, Danil Antropov offers up an eerily similar skill set – composed of a rangy and skilled attack game.  Unheralded to a point, Antropov has established himself as one of the more appealing long-range forwards and that will see him potentially  taken inside the Top 30 (and likely 1st round). He is a deceptive and smart attacker who elevates his linemates’ efficiency with shrewd passes and a strong net drive ability.

Matt Stewart (OMHA/STCA) - @stewbucs

1. Hunter Holmes, Niagara North
Good sized forward that does not have elite speed but is awfully tough to stop once he gets going. Ultra strong board player with above average hands. Can finish from anywhere inside the blue line. Top PP guy who can distribute or score himself. Competiveness wanes from time to time but he’s a real force when he is dialed in. Had a phenomenal OHL Cup finishing 3rd in tournament scoring with 6 goals and 9 points despite only playing 4 games.

2. Jack Wismer, Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs
Sneaky type player who has all the skills necessary to excel at the next level. Can do things at top speed that others cannot. Has a quick shot off the wing and can also find team mates with a deft pass. Cerebral player, can out think opponents. Hit a bit of a lull during the year but picked his game up when it mattered in the SCTA qualifier and playoffs. Had a fantastic OHL Cup as well.

Sleeper - Zach Trott, Grey Bruce Highlanders

Tiny pivot who has some of the best skill in the ’00 age group. Flies a bit under the radar because he plays with a potential top 10 pick in Roberts but has all the skill needed at the next level except size. Despite his size, he can engage in the physical part of the game and does not shy away from it. May need a season or 2 in Junior B before making the jump to the OHL. Finished 3rd in SCTA scoring with 26 goals and 50 points in 36 games.

Kyle Johnston (GTHL) 

1. Kirill Nizhnikov, Toronto JR. Canadiens
The Russian born Nizhnikov, stands 6’1, 190lbs and possesses a plethora of skill. His unrivalled combination of size and skill will make him a top pick in this year’s OHL draft, as he has wreaked havoc on defenders all year long. He is an excellent skater with an abundance of offensive tools, making him extremely difficulty to contain in the offensive zone. He has the ability to beat defenders with his one-on-one creativity or simply overpower them to get into high scoring areas. Possesses an elite release and shot and a sniper like mentality but also is an accurate passer that isn’t afraid to distribute the puck for a better scoring chance. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, but at times needs to keep his emotions in check and not take bad penalties. He can become frustrated at times when he does not have his way with defenders which is noticeable in his body language and can affect his level of play at times. He is sound defensively on the back check but at times can get caught cheating out of position in the defensive zone. Nizhnikov is a unique talent and proved at the Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympic Games, playing for the Russian U16 team, that he is one of the best in the age group, scoring 4 goals in 6 games played. He projects to be in a top six role at the OHL level in the near future. 

2. Ryan Merkley, Toronto JR. Canadiens
Merkley impressed scouts last year as an underage player with the Minor Midget AAA Jr. Canadiens and would have been a top pick last year if he was eligible. He hasn’t disappointed this year and still projects to be an early draft selection in this year’s OHL draft. At 5’11, 155lbs, he’s doesn’t have the build of your prototypical defenseman, but he has the hockey IQ and skill to be the best defenseman drafted in this year’s draft class. He simply processes the game quicker than his peers. His style of play is comparable to that of Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators (whether Merkley develops into that type of player at the higher levels is to be determined), he’s a smooth skater that can break out of his zone with ease, and has the offensive tools to provide a significant amount of offense from the back-end. He controls the pace of the play and is the ultimate puck possession player, he does not give the puck away easily. He is excellent at carrying the puck and navigating his way through high pressure situations and his sense of awareness is on another level as he knows where everyone is on the ice at all times, allowing him to make plays that a majority of players simply cannot. A PP specialist that distributes the puck with ease and also has an effective shot. In the offseason he’s going to need to work on his strength to be able to combat the larger and more powerful OHL attackers. He does a good job defensively of keeping attackers to the outside while they are on the attack, but at the next level he will certainly need to be stronger in order to contain them. At times he can over handle the puck and take risks that he won’t be able to get away with at the OHL level. He also needs to be able to control his emotions when frustrated and not take retaliatory penalties. Merkley proved on a world stage at Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympic Games, that he deserves to be a top pick in this year’s OHL draft as he helped lead the Canadians to a Silver medal, while tallying 5 points in 6 games played. 

Sleeper - Teth Burles, Mississauga Rebels
Burles is a sleeper pick for me because he does not get the hype that some of his peers do, but should as he contributes in all three zones, is one of the hardest working players in the age group and has deceptive skill. Although he’s only 5’8, 145 lbs, he plays a much bigger game and size is becoming less of an important factor when drafting players. He is a fierce competitor that does not take a shift off, and is not afraid to be physical or go into the dirty areas. A strong and agile skater needs to improve his explosiveness in order to separate himself from opponents. Versatile player that fits into any role, he can contribute on the score sheet or in a shutdown role against the other team’s top players. With his undersized frame he will need to improve his strength in order to be as effective at the higher levels. 

Nathan Didone (NOHA/ETA) - @NathanDidone

A Little Background
The 2000 age group is one of the strongest classes to come out of the NOHA in years even after several of the top players left to play down south there was still tons of talent on display. This year also marked the first time the northern kids have gotten to play in a AAA regular season and the difference was noticeable.

1. Damien Giroux, Sudbury Jr. Wolves
Possibly the first player to be drafted out of the north, Damien is an ultra smart and competitive pivot who excels at both ends of the ice. Possesses high end puck control, vison and hockey IQ. Played two games in the NOJHL this year and for an underage undersized center he held his own physically while becoming the most lethal player on the ice due to his ability to read the game at such a high level. A powerful skater with a long stride, low center of gravity and excellent edge control he is able to gain speed in and out of traffic. A capable shooter with a heavy release and deceptive backhand but prefers to pass or drive the net. Biggest hurdle is size but he works just as hard off the ice as he does on and will find a way to make an impact at the next level. Projects as a top 6 playmaking center that excels in possession displaying great patience while using his lower body strength to create space for himself and others.

2. William Moskal, Sudbury Jr. Wolves
Battled with Damien for top player out of the north for the last few years and has all the tools to be a mainstay in the OHL starting next year. A power forward that excels at creating space while fighting through traffic and being hard on the puck. Possesses a long powerful stride and good foot speed that continues to improve. Dangerous with the puck on his stick he can create on his own or find a teammate. A quick release makes him a threat from a distance but also has the puck skills and strength to finish around the goal mouth. Capable in his own zone and brings a physical component all over the ice. Will need to work on passing accuracy and timing in order to adjust the next level. Projects as a top 6 forward at the OHL Level that can be counted on to produce offensively.

Sleeper- Daniel Katic, Timmins Majors
My expectations were pretty high for Katic coming into this year but injures sidelined him for a lot of the season and stunted his development. Skating remains his biggest issue as heavy feet and poor edge control limit his agility as well as explosiveness. What he does have is raw dynamic offensive ability and size. Shows flashes of high end puck skills but is lacking strength and the high end puck control needed to make cuts through traffic. Possesses a heavy shot and has a knack for getting into scoring positions. Play away from the puck has improved but defensive reads are raw and he needs to increase his aggression in puck battles. High end projection is an offensive minded top 6 power forward at the OHL level but it all depends on the work he puts in both on and off the ice.

Jeff Fletcher (OMHA/ETA) - @jefffletcher27

1. Dennis Busby, Barrie Jr Colts
Busby is one of the best defenders available for the upcoming 2016 OHL draft.  He is a smooth skater with great acceleration which makes him extremely dangerous when joining the rush. His offensive instincts and ability to read the opposition makes him a very effective quarterback on the powerplay. Busby, using a combination of slap and wrist shots, had one of the highest accurate shot on goal ratios in the ETA.  That puck placement was an integral part of a very successful Barrie powerplay.
Busby is not overly big so he relies on mobility and anticipatory skills to prevent chances and avoid big hits. His lack of size and lack of bulk at times has been a disadvantage in his own end this year but for the most part his high hockey IQ and strong sense of the game has prevented this from being a weakness that he can’t overcome. Busby participated in the 2016 hockey winter youth Olympics for Team Canada.

2. Aidan Dudas, North Central Predators
Dudas is the type of player that should make an immediate impact in the OHL next season. He possesses a wide array of skills that will make him the first forward drafted from the ETA.  Dudas has an excellent set of hands and elite level passing skills. Dudas is undersized but plays a feisty game and is willing to compete in tight spots and dirty areas of the ice. He is a very shifty skater with exceptional three step quickness.  Dudas is very good on the draws and plays a very efficient game. Dudas’ hockey smarts and vision would be near the top of this year’s OHL prospects group.
Dudas will need to add some muscle mass in the off-season to help him against bigger, stronger players and prepare for the rigours of the OHL. Dudas participated in the 2016 hockey winter youth Olympics for Team Canada.

Sleeper - Connor Corcoran, Barrie Jr Colts 
To say that Corcoran is one of the most intriguing prospects of this year’s OHL draft would be a giant understatement.  He started out the season as a very capable forward who could play center, rightwing or left wing. He was one of the top scorers at the Toronto Titan’s early bird tournament.  As the season progressed I watched him closely and although he wasn’t putting up big offensive numbers I found him to be extremely effective  on the forecheck/backcheck and in general a very hardworking player. Also at this point in time I noticed that Corcoran was getting a lot of Powerplay time on the point. Being a great skater with a good shot and vision he seemed like a natural back there.  Fastforward to the Toronto Marlies tournament and I witnessed him playing defence for the whole game. I was told at the time that was his first game as a defenceman and he was outstanding.  I believe that he stayed on defence for the remainder of the season and was very good.  Although the sample size wasn’t very big Corcoran has done enough in my opinion to catch the eye of many OHL teams.  Although I don’t know him personally I can only speculate on the character this kid must have, playing all 3 forward positions then switching to defence in the middle of your draft year is incredibly impressive.

Chris Cameron (HEO Midget/Ottawa) - @ccam39

1. Pavel Gogolev, CIH Academy White
A late addition to the 2016 draft class, Gogolev a native of Moscow is a rangy winger possessing excellent manipulation tactics and support vision. It is evident he has an advanced understanding of how to manipulate pressure, as he draws defenders out of positioning due to his shooting threat. He then uses quick, elusive movement to spin off checks, opening up dual threat opportunities. A disguised release point makes him an offensive weapon in all areas of the ice. He pushes and pulls pucks into his body before flicking pucks towards open corners. He will need to continue to add power to his skating stride in order to create separation through the neutral zone and added strength will allow him to battle though checks as he enters the prime scoring areas. He has intrigued all season and since becoming eligible has seen a large contingent of scouts watching his development intently. He should hear his name called early on draft day.

2. Serron Noel, Brockville Braves U18

Winner of the 2015/2016 HEO Top Prospect award. Noel is a towering, athletic pivot with offensive upside. He forces defenders to retreat as he uses a combination of lateral movement and deceptive change of pace. He uses quick hand dexterity to move pucks across his midline before using counter movement to create space, as the defender anticipates the inside movement. He has developed an increased awareness of support options over the course of the season. This has allowed him to move the puck to teammates then drive weak side lanes off the puck. He should continue to focus on timing away from the puck in transition, to give him more opportunities to catch passes with space to skate into. Adding strength to his frame will provide him with more balance in high traffic areas. He has been interesting to watch over the past two seasons and it appears as though the talented center is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.

Sleeper - Jacob Leguerier, Gloucester Rangers
Leguerier has made an impressive jump from playing Minor Bantam AA two seasons ago to quickly becoming one of the most poised and physically punishing defenders in the HEO AAA league.
Displays a high panic threshold as he alleviates pressure from opposing players. Deceptive footwork and elusive puck movement provides his teammates with space as defenders look to cheat into lanes. He has the uncanny ability to control the pace of the game in the offensive zone, enabling him to process support options and find open shooting lanes. He injects himself physically, showcasing a terrific ability to track the opposing team’s possession. A focus on remaining patient in the defensive zone will allow him to recover after initiating contact. Although he possesses a strong skating stride, working on accelerating out of high traffic areas will add elements to his escapability. An injury forced him to miss several games late in the season. However, OHL scouts should not sleep on the young defenders ability to impact the game in all three zones come draft day.

Matt Grainda (USA) - @graindaiv

1. Bode Wilde – Chicago Mission AAA U16
One of the top prospects from the United States, Bode Wilde has all the tools you love to see in a defenseman and will likely end up becoming a high pick in his NHL draft season. Wilde has an awesome skating stride along with a powerful core and lower body to help him maneuver around the ice with great mobility, both with and without the puck. He loves to take possession into his hands and displays great poise by leading the attack on breakouts and along the offensive blue-line. Watch out when he’s got control at the point, his pinpoint accuracy and powerful shot can do some major damage at the next level. As one of the “big names” out there for the 2000-born age group, it will be fun to watch his path to the National Hockey League. With Bode, there truly is tremendous potential to be uncovered.

2. Blade Jenkins – Detroit Compuware AAA U16
Possibly one of the most dominant forwards in the United States, Blade Jenkins tore up the U16 HPHL this season as one of the league’s most prolific point producers. Jenkins is an offensive threat each time he steps on the ice through his outstanding hockey vision, his ability to slow the game down and his dominant possession game. Lethal around the net and in one-on-one situations, he can create something out of nothing with his shake-and-bake moves. Strong puck protection techniques along with a big physical frame help him fend off defensive players but his speed and deceptive stick-skills also help create separation. Deep down, Jenkins is born to score goals and generate chances on the attack. We will likely see him selected at the NHL Draft down the road as a pure-blood offensive catalyst.

Sleeper - Caleb Everett – Detroit Honeybaked AAA U16
Offense is exciting, but “Defense Wins Championships.” Caleb Everett from Detroit Honeybaked AAA is one of those defenseman that team’s just love to trust. As a mobile player with an effortless 4-way skating stride, Everett does a great job attacking the rush through smart positioning, an active stick and big physical traits. Body contact is no issue at all, as he is able to use his strength and power to properly challenge players. Natural athleticism plays into one of Everett’s primary strengths, as he uses his patience and quickness to make the proper, safe play even with heavy pressure. Good situational awareness via his high hockey intelligence helps him accomplish the smart option in all zones. Everett projects as a “do-it-all” defensive defenseman who could fill many roles. National Hockey League teams love that type of player.

Brock Otten (OHL Prospects) - @BrockOtten

1. Tyler Weiss, Don Mills Flyers
Even if Weiss' Flyers were eliminated in the Semi-finals (by the eventual Champion YSE), I was really impressed by the speedy forward in the two games I saw. Weiss is an absolutely tenacious player who excels in attacking the offensive zone, constantly creating with speed and hustle. His play away from the puck was also very noticeable, as he made a consistent effort to be involved on the forecheck and on the backcheck. I have no doubt that Weiss profiles as a high impact top line player at the OHL level. In a lot of ways, I thought he resembled Michael McLeod of the Mississauga Steelheads. Only issue is that he has apparently nailed down a spot with the U.S. Development Program, and has a verbal commit to Boston University. What means for his OHL draft status I don't know. Selfishly, I'd love to see him in the OHL.

2. Carter Robertson, York Simcoe Express
Robertson was the most noticeable player for me on the Champion York Simcoe Express. The talented offensive defenseman looks like a definite first round pick come Saturday. Robertson is very aggressive in leading the rush, using terrific speed and puck protection ability to enter the offensive zone with relative ease. Also really liked the way he ran the point on the powerplay, making quick decisions and showcasing a nice point shot. While things in the defensive end weren't perfect, I thought that he showed a lot of potential there and should develop into a quality two-way defender under the right tutelage.

Sleeper - Elliot Tang, Toronto Marlboros
While it was YSE's Andrei Berezinskiy's who took home the OHL Cup MVP, I was actually just as impressed with Tang as an OHL draft prospect. While I'm sure he'd love to have that OT winner back (didn't hug the post enough), I thought he was a calming presence in the pipes who displayed great positioning for a young netminder. Made the majority of the saves that he needed to and looked comfortable doing so. Rebound control and his overall agility might be on the weaker side, but with decent size and a strong performance this year, Tang seems like a solid OHL prospect to me. He wasn't invited to the OHL combine, which is never a good sign for a goaltender (less so for position players), but I think he's worth a shot as a late round pick.

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If you enjoyed this article, please make sure to check out TheScout.ca. They do an absolutely fabulous job of covering the OHL Draft each year. Their annual draft guide would make an outstanding purchase if you're hungry for more information about this year's top priority selection prospects.

Monday, March 21, 2016

2016 OHL Playoff Predictions: Round One

As is the annual practice, it's time for my playoff previews to begin. The OHL regular season wrapped up yesterday and the match-ups are set. Round one is set to kick off Thursday.

Last year I went 12-3. Maybe this is the year I go a perfect 15-0?

Here are my thoughts on the opening round:

Eastern Conference

1. Kingston Frontenacs vs. 8. Oshawa Generals
Season Series: 7-1, Kingston
Analysis: This is obviously a very interesting matchup because of the Michael Dal Colle situation. Dal Colle faces his former Oshawa teammates, following his exit at the trade deadline. The Frontenacs, as you may have expected, dominated the season series. In particular, Michael Dal Colle has an astonishing 6 goals and 5 assists in only 3 games against his former club. Spencer Watson has also dominated the Generals this year, averaging nearly 3 points per game (19 in total). Obviously, it's important not to undersell Oshawa. They're one of the hottest teams in the OHL heading into the playoffs, after wrestling away the final playoff spot from Hamilton. But Kingston has just been too good this year and they're depth and experience should be too tough for Oshawa to overcome. A telling stat is Oshawa's very poor record on the road this year (11-19-2-2). If they hope to win this series, they'll have to win a few road games (likely), which seems far fetched. One other thing to watch is who plays goal for Kingston. Lucas Peressini is the reigning OHL Goaltender of the Year and he's the veteran, but Jeremy Helvig has been better this year (IMO) and completed dominated Oshawa in his three starts versus them this year. I will say that I love what Oshawa did this year and the pieces they added for the future. But I just can't see them beating Kingston.
Prediction: Kingston in 5

2. Barrie Colts vs. 7. Mississauga Steelheads
Season Series: 5-1, Barrie
Analysis: This is definitely not the match-up Mississauga wanted, but it is the one they got after they failed to beat Niagara in the final game of the regular season. Barrie represents a match-up nightmare for the Steelheads because of their depth offensively. While the Steelheads secondary scoring has been infinitely better the last couple of months, they don't have nearly as many game changers, nor the experience at the forward position. In the 6 games against Barrie this year, the McLeod, Bastian, Nylander line has scored nearly 50% of the team's goals, with their 2nd/3rd lines getting largely dominated. Obviously they'll need more from them in order to win this series. This is especially true when you consider the lack of experience Mississauga's top line has compared to the top 2 lines of Barrie. Another key for Mississauga is staying out of the box. Barrie's powerplay has operated at nearly 30% against Barrie this year. For Barrie, Mackenzie Blackwood will need to be good, but he was during last year's postseason so no concern there. Another interesting stat. Barrie set a new OHL record for shorthanded goals this year with 28. Mississauga allowed the 3rd most shorthanded goals in the league this year (11). They'll need to be more careful with the man advantage, especially with the four forward setup they often run. Bottom line, Mississauga is a good young team and I think they'll make a serious run next year. But I don't see them beating a very experienced Barrie team this year. The biggest fans of this news? Hockey Canada, who could then bring on Michael McLeod, Nic Hague, and Sean Day, should they desire for the U18's (ditto for Team Sweden and Alex Nylander).
Prediction: Barrie in 5

3. North Bay Battalion vs. 6. Peterborough Petes
Season Series: 2-2, TIE
Analysis: Two very evenly matched teams go head to head here. Peterborough enters as the underdog (as the lower seed), but they're actually the more experienced/mature team. Whether that plays into the result, remains to be seen. As is the case with any close match-up, I think it's important to break things down head to head. In goal, I give a slight nod to North Bay thanks to the vast amount of playoff experience for Jake Smith. He's tried, tested, and true in the postseason. On defense, you have to give the nod to Peterborough. Masin, Spencer, Prophet, and Jenkins are four OHL veterans and represent way more experience than North Bay has to offer at the position. Even if I love Cam Dineen, we have to remember he's still a rookie and he's playing key minutes. At forward, I think it's a wash. I like Peterborough's depth more, but I also strongly believe in Mike Amadio and his ability to take over games. That brings us to special teams, where North Bay has the advantage on both the powerplay and the penalty kill. Peterborough had the 2nd worst powerplay and worst penalty killing unit in the league. If you believe in the wisdom of Scotty Bowman, that spells trouble in the playoffs. Bowman believed that a team could only win in the playoffs if their special teams units were both Top 10 in the league. And I do agree with that. I think that with Jake Smith's experience in net, a team defense approach, Mike Amadio as the difference maker, and a strong special teams unit, North Bay will be victorious.
Prediction: North Bay in 6

4. Niagara IceDogs vs. 5. Ottawa 67's
Season Series: 3-1, Niagara
Analysis: You have to give it up to the 67's. Quite frankly, after the Konecny/Studnicka deal, I expected this team to struggle. But they've arguably been better since the deal, somehow. Niagara made some massive splashes on the trade market in the opposite way this year. While those trades have had inconsistent results thus far, the true test will be the playoffs. I think the one concern for Niagara is the health of their players heading into this series, in particular their defense. Vince Dunn has sat out the entire month of March with a wrist injury, while Aaron Haydon was recently injured and was apparently spotted in a cast at Sunday's Mississauga tilt. Losing those two would significantly weaken Niagara's defensive advantage over Ottawa. But word is they'll play. While Niagara's offensive depth is quite strong, Ottawa has recently been rolling two very hot lines thanks to the emergence of Artur Tyanulin as a go to goal scoring machine. The one thing that I think tips this series in Niagara's favor is Alex Nedeljkovic. While he's only been so-so thus far in Niagara, he's a big game goaltender (see his performance at this year's WJC's). Another thing that is critical for Niagara's success, is capitalizing on the powerplay. This season they're a woeful 2 for 17 with the man advantage versus Ottawa. This will be a hard fought series, and Niagara definitely needs to be healthy, but I think their depth and goaltending carry them to the 2nd round.
Prediction: Niagara in 6

Western Conference 

1. Erie Otters vs. 8. Saginaw Spirit
Season Series: 2-2, TIE
Analysis: For whatever reason, the Saginaw Spirit have played the Erie Otters tougher than any other opponent this year and that's what makes this match-up interesting. On paper, it should be a blowout for the powerhouse Otters. In reality, who knows. In 4 games versus Saginaw this year, Dylan Strome, Alex Debrincat, Taylor Raddysh, and Travis Dermott have a combined 0 goals. One of reasons for that might be the play of goaltender Evan Cormier versus Erie this year, where he's been sensational. But obviously those big guns need to be better. And let's face it, they probably will be better. So how does Saginaw come up with the upset? They've got to limit Erie's powerplay chances (which they did in their 4 games against the Otters this year). They've got to continue to get strong goaltending from Cormier. They need to be better on the man advantage (0/13 versus Erie this year). And they need to continue to shut down Erie's top line. While I do think that this Erie team has the potential to be upset in this playoffs (based on their inconsistent play down the stretch), I ultimately don't think it will be Saginaw. Quite often, regular season match-up stats can be thrown out the window for the playoffs and I think that's the case here. I expected this Saginaw team to be better than they were this year, and I think they'll give Erie a scare, but that's it. Should make them a better team next year though.
Prediction: Erie in 6

2. Sarnia Sting vs. 7. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Season Series: 5-1, Sarnia
Analysis: This has the potential to be a very good series. Obviously Sarnia has to be considered the favourite, based on the way they've performed since loading up (Konecny, Studnicka, Graham) at the deadline. Experience is also heavily in Sarnia's favour, which can often make a huge difference in the postseason. But this Greyhounds team can not be underestimated. While young, they have a very balanced scoring attack. And they have a lot of high energy players (MacIntyre, Verbeek, Katchouk, etc) who could really make an impact in the playoffs. They also have experience in goal with Brandon Halverson, even if he has had a bit of an up and down season. As successful as Charlie Graham's career has been, he doesn't have much experience in the playoffs. He could be the real difference maker. Something else to weigh is the powerplay performances of these two teams in head to head match ups this year. The two teams have combined to go 3 for 37 on the powerplay against each other. Realistically, the team that gets their powerplay going could be victorious. While I'm a huge fan of what the Soo has done for building for next year and beyond, I think Sarnia takes this battle based on the impact that their high end talent makes (Konecny, Zacha, Mistele, etc), and based on their overall experience level. But it should be close.
Prediction: Sarnia in 7

3. London Knights vs. 6. Owen Sound Attack
Season Series: 4-2, London
Analysis: I wish I saw this series being closer, but I just don't. The Attack are a strong hockey club and they play hockey the right way. But this London team has been on an amazing roll the last few months, which allowed them to nearly steal the top seed from Erie. They've got three scoring lines rolling and this year (like most of the league), Owen Sound had a very difficult time shutting down the Marner/Dvorak/Tkachuk line (as they scored 10 goals in 5 games against the Attack this year). London also has the heavy advantage on special teams, especially in the head to head matchup. The only wild card I could see coming into play is in net. I'm a big fan of Michael McNiven and he has the potential to absolutely steal a series. But Tyler Parsons does have playoff experience from last year and he's been solid for London too. Again, love this Attack team and I have very high expectations of them for next year. But London is steamrolling right now and I can't see them being ousted in round one.
Prediction: London in 5

4. Kitchener Rangers vs. 5. Windsor Spitfires
Season Series: 3-1, Windsor
Analysis: By far the toughest series to predict in round one. Honestly, flip a coin. On paper, Kitchener's veteran laden line-up should have an advantage. But they've had trouble staying healthy all year and I feel like they never really gelled to the best of their capability because of that. Proof in the pudding lies with the fact that their best player of late has been sophomore Adam Mascherin. Meanwhile Windsor has been playing some great hockey of late as they've been getting more consistent performances from their younger stars like Logan Brown and Gabriel Vilardi. Goaltending is the big wild card of this series and could be the deciding factor. Windsor's Michael Dipietro has been one of the OHL's top 99's this year, but it's important to remember that he's still a 16 year old rookie. Windsor has done a great job of tempering his workload thus far, but it should definitely be a concern. Meanwhile Kitchener seems likely to start Luka Opilka, but he just hasn't looked the same since recovering from a mysterious illness. During the regular season matchup between these teams, Kitchener just didn't get the production they needed from their experienced guns (MacInnis, Bracco, Robinson, Franzen, Miller, Magyar). It's put up or shut up time for a Kitchener team which has been built for a major playoff run this year. So who do I predict to win? I think I have slightly more confidence in Windsor's ability to activate their defenders to push the pace of play. And I like Dipietro in the goaltending matchup. But it's damn close.
Prediction: Windsor in 7