Today's Sunday Top 10 is all about "natural" rookies. With Evgeni Grachev winning the OHL rookie of the year for 2008-09 recently, there has been a lot of talk about how the OHL should change the eligibility for the award, so that "real" rookies, 16-17 year first year players, are the ones who are winning it. Not NHL drafted imports or transfers from the United States.
With that concept in mind, here are the 10 1992 born OHL'ers who impressed me the most this season. This isn't necessarily an order of how I see them being drafted. Although I do think that for a 92 player, at least at this point, its hard to pinpoint draft stock as of this moment. These 92's have a habit of shooting from 5'10 to 6'0, and from having below average skating, to becoming speedsters, over the course of their first summer following their rookie year. So you can say, well this guy really impressed me, but he's too small, he isn't much of a draft pick for next year, but in my opinion you'd be wrong. I think the most important thing for a 92 player to do is to simply be noticeable on the ice. And not just that, but improve throughout the course of the season.
Without further ado, here is my list of the 10 1992 born players who impressed me the most this OHL season.
10. Devante Smith-Pelly - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
While Smith-Pelly never seemed to see a lot of ice time with some of the more talented players on the Majors, his line was always noticeable in my viewings. His motor is constantly running and he shows great speed on the forecheck. For a 92 born player, he actually seems relatively strong, especially in the corners. With even more strength, he could be a monster to handle in the cycle. He also showed a willingness to go hard to the net and to play a physical game. He had a solid last two months of the OHL season and a great first round against Barrie, showcasing that the offensive skills are there. I look for him to really solidify himself in the Missy top 6 next year, and to really emerge as a solid shift disturber.
9. Ryan O'Connor - Barrie Colts
When I saw Barrie this season, O'Connor was frequently their best defenseman. Quite an impressive feat for a 92. He showcased a great ability to lead the offensive charge, especially in running the point on the powerplay. With 10 goals this season, I think that with added strength his shot is going to develop into one of the better from the backend in the OHL. Defensively, he was pretty solid too. He always stayed with his man and made smart reads on the play. He does have some to learn about timing and when to attack and being a little more careful with the puck, but these things will come with experience and coaching. For me, outside of Gudbranson, O'Connor was the best 92 defenseman I saw this year. And that's a list of solid players (Beukeboom, Silas, Braithwaite).
8. John McFarland - Sudbury Wolves
The first thing you notice about the 1st overall pick from the last OHL Priority draft, is how highly skilled he is. He has great speed and great agility. He stickhandles through the neutral zone with ease and is incredibly dangerous in the goal area. However, as the game goes on, you start to notice other things, bad things. The fact that he doesn't backcheck. The fact that he doesn't seem to enter the danger areas to make a play. The fact that he often seems selfish in the offensive end and doesn't utilize his teammates well. Then you see him getting beaten to loose pucks in the third period and you question his endurance. The skill level is 100% there, but the effort, conditioning and overall play are not. I hope that Coach Foligno continues to work with him and I hope that offseason conditioning helps to make him a threat for all three periods.
7. Tyler Toffoli - Ottawa 67's
Toffoli was a consistent contributor for the 67's this season. He showcases great offensive ability, especially in the slot area. He's not afraid of the danger areas and is by no means a perimeter player. He was outstanding for Team Ontario at the Under 17's as well. Another encouraging sign was his strong performance against Niagara in the playoffs. He's just one of those guys who may not be the fastest, but he seems to be elusive in finding space for himself. As he gets stronger and more conditioned, his offensive numbers will only go up as he is able to win those one on one battles. Kilrea and the coaching staff had a lot of faith in him too. During the playoffs, when the Couture line was struggling or when Ottawa would need a goal, Kilrea would send Toffoli out there with Couture. That's confidence in a rookie.
6. Austin Watson - Windsor Spitfires
Watson is a guy right now who is all potential. In the times I saw him this year, he failed to hit the scoresheet, but he was still visible. At 6'3, he's still only pushing 170lbs. Yet, I found him winning battles in the corner and being a load for defenseman infront of the net. At that size, he is also a tremendous skater. He has the complete package, now he just needs the conditioning and the ice time to flourish. I didn't see him play in the second half of the season, but his numbers really took a hit. I'm wondering if he's been invisible, or whether he's just not getting the icetime on a talented Windsor club. Either way, he's absolutely one to watch for next year with tools to drool over.
5. J.P. Anderson - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
I'll admit, when I started putting together this list sometime before the playoffs, Anderson was down around 9-10. But his outstanding playoff performance raised him. I saw him play a few times against Brampton and he was just tremendous. I saw him earlier in the season in Niagara too, where he was also solid. He's not a big goalie, but he's very aggressive on challenging shooters and reads the play very well, which helps to maximize the size he does have. He is also very athletic and has the ability to make highlight reel saves. He has some things to work on, but the foundations are there. The fact that he backstopped Ontario to the Under 17 gold, and helped Missy push Brampton to 6 games, tells me that he is right now, by far the top 92 goalie that the OHL has to offer.
4. Jared Knight - London Knights
This guy is a battler. He plays very hard every shift, is great on the forecheck and is very physical. He's actually quite a similar player to Devante Smith-Pelly in the type of game they play. However, I think Knight's skill level is higher. He can dangle and he has the ability to really put big offensive numbers on the board. He kind of disappeared towards the end of the regular season, perhaps due to fatigue. But once his conditioning levels increase and he adds strength, I think you could see the makings of a dominant power winger.
3. Tyler Seguin - Plymouth Whalers
Seguin closed out the last two months of the season, on a rediculous scoring pace. Seguin played on the hottest line in the OHL with Chris Terry and Matt Caria. A lot of people felt like Seguin was just along for the ride, but I think he had a lot to do with the lines success. After all, Seguin finished second in scoring for Team Ontario at the Under 17's too. He is just a great all around offensive player, in particular playmaker. I think the test for a lot of people will be to see how he plays next season when Terry and Caria depart. However, I expect him to continue to produce and elevate his game.
2. Erik Gudbranson - Kingston Frontenacs
Gudbranson is the complete package. At 6'3, he skates so well and has the ability to rush the puck up the ice with ease. At 6'3, he also isn't afraid to use his size and has begun to develop a bit of a mean streak. With added strength, I think we could see that mean streak develop even more. Defensively, he's relatively solid. He made some rookie mistakes this year when I saw him play, in particular with defensive zone coverage, but I mean he just turned 17 and he's playing 30 minutes a night and wearing an "A". What more can you say? I know a lot of people were somewhat underwhelmed by the offensive numbers he put up this year, however I think you can chalk that up to lack of talent on Kingston, and the fact that the second half of the season, his powerplay time really decreased. Next year, I expect him to crack the 40 point mark and to be a top 10 NHL draft pick.
1. Jeff Skinner - Kitchener Rangers
Skinner is the type of guy you pay to go watch play. He's already a fan favourite in Kitchener and it's easy to see why. Skinner never gives up on the play. While a little undersized at 5'10, his lower body strength is excellent and it allows him to be involved in all aspects of the offensive game, in particular along the boards and behind the net. He has excellent speed and excellent overall offensive ability. At times, he has the puck on a string and I saw him make quite a few defenders miss this season. Most of all, he had an absolute explosive end to the season. I don't think size holds this guy back at all.
Stay tuned for next Sunday's top 10, as we look at the Top 10 Import Players in the OHL.