Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Sunday Top 10 - American Players

In today's Sunday Top 10, I look at the top American born OHL players for the 2008-09 season. This was an incredibly difficult list to create, because of the large talent pool of American players currently playing in the OHL. I had some diffuculty in really settling on my top 10 and ended up leaving out a lot of talented players, especially some younger guys like Jared Knight, Austin Watson, Andrew Yogan, among others.

The list took a few things into account. For one, prospect standing and NHL potential. But it was also weighed largely by on ice performance, regardless of NHL standing or chances.

Here is the list...

10. Tony Romano - Peterborough Petes
Romano was outstanding for Peterborough this season after struggling last season in London. He came to London from Cornell University with a lot of hype and high expectations at the offensive end. However, he was largely unimpressive and looked like one of those guys with some solid athletic ability, but little hockey sense and finishing skill. However, this season with the Petes, he was a completely different player. He played in all situations, he showed great speed, he was named one of the dangerous players in the goal area by the coaches in the coaches poll and he looked to re-establish himself as a good professional prospect. Keep in mind, that this was Romano's overage season, but the progression was still great to see. He looks like he could be a solid 3rd line forward at the NHL level.

9. Brian Lashoff - Kingston Frontenacs
Lashoff is one of the best kept secrets in the OHL. Brian, the brother of Tampa defenseman and former NHL 1st round draft pick Matt Lashoff, went unselected in the 2008 NHL entry draft. However, following a strong performance at the Detroit Red Wings prospect camp, Lashoff was given a contract with the defending Cup champions. He has good size, is a great skater, can play both ways, and tends to be smart with the puck. He put up only 32 points from the backend this season combined between Barrie and Kingston, but he's capable of doing more. He's playing outstanding for Grand Rapids in the AHL currently, where he has 8 points in 11 games since the OHL season ended, and is currently playing a large role in the Griffins run for the Calder Cup.

8. Adam Comrie - Saginaw Spirit
Comrie didn`t really make a lot of strides offensively in his 2nd OHL season after transferring from the USHL, but he remains a solid prospect. The 6`4, 200lbs defenseman skates like a 5`10, 170lbs defenseman, and uses his mobility to be an effective defender. He`s also got a mean streak and isn`t afraid to use his size to gain defensive position. He does have a very booming point shot, so I do expect him to eventually score more goals in the OHL, however he remains a really solid defender and somewhat underrated based on the fact that he plays out of the spotlight in Saginaw. I also think he`s got a great shot of being a part of the next World Junior Championships for Team USA.

7. Jeremy Smith - Niagara IceDogs
Smith had an interesting season. He struggled mightily to start the year with Plymouth and lost his starting job to the tremendously talented Matt Hackett. After a trade to Niagara, he was outstanding to close the year and in a sense, re-cemented his status as a solid NHL prospect. You have to think his play to start the season is a complete anamoly. Smith is a solid technical goaltender who moves well in his crease and has a great glove hand. I expect him to move on to the AHL or ECHL next season, especially since he`s already under contract with Nashville. However, I have heard some rumblings that Nashville is considering returning him to Niagara next season to play as an overager due to the fact that they`ll already have two solid goaltending prospects looking for playing time in the minors next season, Mark Dekanich and Chet Pickard.

6. Nick Palmieri - Belleville Bulls
Palmieri is a monster...when he wants to be. He took a lot of flak for the way he handled things in Erie this season and his subsequent trade to Belleville. But he`s a solid player, when he wants to be. When he`s at his best, Palmieri is nearly impossible for OHL defenders to contain due to his combination of size, strength, and skating ability. He also possesses an NHL caliber shot which he gets off quickly. He`s definitely a potential NHL goal scorer. However, he doesn`t use his size nearly as much as he should. if he did, he`d be up near the top of this list. Moving on to the professional level should motivate him to be at his best in every game. On the plus side, he had an absolutely outstanding playoffs for Belleville, with 14 goals in 17 games. Just a glimpse of what he`s capable of.

5. Jack Combs - Saginaw Spirit
Combs was definitely one of the better and most important overage players in the OHL this season. He`s a tremendous offensive player who is a great playmaker who possesses great hockey sense and often makes the players around him much better. While he is slightly one dimensional, there is no doubting how important Combs was to Saginaw`s outstanding season this year. I fully expect him to make an impact at the professional level, whether it be earning an NHL contract or working his way up through the AHL/ECHL. While Combs may not be as good of an NHL prospects as some of the other players on this list, the St. Louis native has bled Spirit red, white and blue the past 4 years, being an impact player in two of them.

4. Phil McRae - London Knights
McRae was having quite the breakout season prior to the Knights acquisition of John Tavares. Following that, he tended to take a backseat, being pushed off the top powerplay unit and top line. It's tough playing second fiddle, but next season should be a significant one for McRae, as I expect him to finish in the top 10 of OHL scoring. He's a big kid who skates well, competes hard and has a high skill level. Just the pull package, who is still gaining the confidence in using it. McRae is another guy I expect to be playing for Team USA at the next World Juniors.

3. Thomas McCollum - Brampton Battalion
McCollum sure didn't help the public's perception of his ability with his stinker of a performance at the World Juniors this year, however those that see him more regularly know he's capable of significantly better. In his time with Guelph and Brampton this year, he was consistently one of the best netminders in the league and is currently heading to the OHL Championship after ousting Mike Murphy and the Belleville Bulls, showing he is capable of playing in big games. And sure, he is prone to some bouts of inconsistency, but he's still a talented goalie with a bright future. Look for him to be in the AHL next year, likely splitting time with either Dan Larsson or James Howard, whichever one isn't in the NHL as the Wings back up.

2. John Carlson - London Knights
Carlson exploded into the league this season, as the NHL first round pick of the Washington Capitals came completely as advertised following his transfer from the USHL. He was easily one of the best defenseman in the league and IMO should have been the defenseman of the year, despite not finishing in the top 3 of voting. He is a monster at both ends of the ice and uses great speed to lead the rush. He controls the powerplay and isn't afraid to get in your face, using his size. I think there is a strong chance he actually makes the Caps next season, as he was apparently pretyt damn close this season. if he's back in London, expect him to be even better.

1. Eric Tangradi - Belleville Bulls
Let's face it. Eric Tangradi is a beast. I had a little bit of trouble deciding upon Tangradi, Carlson and McCollum for the first spot on this list, and ultimately went with the big guy from Philly. He uses his size like a 6'4, 220lb forward should. And while he isn't the world's greatest skater, I don't think it's an issue either. He's incredibly skilled and is a solid all around offensive player, possessing both an NHL caliber shot and playmaking ability. He should get a shot to play in Pittsburgh as early as next season, and has a good chance to be a top quality, impact NHL player. Tangradi's performance against Niagara this postseason, for the record, essentially locked up his spot at number 1 on this list. he flat out dominated.

Check back next Sunday as we take a look at the Top 10 player who could be or are jumping ship to the OHL next season. Any guesses on where Cam Fowler will sit??

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