In today's Sunday Top 10, I rank the best undersized players in the OHL. For this list, any player listed at 5'9 and under was considered for this list. I realize that the selection of the 5'9 marker is completely subjective, however here is my reasoning. I find that when players are 5'11, or 5'10, they are often considered undersized, but more often than not, their ability to crack the NHL is not questioned as largely as players who are 5'9 or 5'8. Once you start talking about a player who is under 5'9, you get into the "too small for the NHL argument." This is just in my experience in following junior hockey and the draft, and again is completely subjective. But you've got to draw the line somewhere for a list like this, and I went with 5'9. Also, all players are considered according to their listed OHL weight (according to www.ontariohockeyleague.com).
The interesting thing is, this was actually a very hard list to make for me. Some very good and interesting players failed to make this list, like William Wallen, Tyler Murovich, and Kaine Geldart. I think it speaks volumes to the way the game has changed, that so many "undersized" players can not only play, but make an impact in the Ontario Hockey League.
Anyway, here is my top 10 players 5'9 and under:
10. Andrew Agozzino - Niagara IceDogs - Listed at 5'9
Agozzino does everything for the IceDogs, from playing on the team's top line and leading the team in regular season and playoff scoring, to killing penalties and demonstratingg leadership qualities. Agozzino is one of those stereotypical undersized forwards who wears his heart on his sleeve and plays hard every shift. Perhaps due to his size, he hasn't been ranked all season for the 2009 NHL entry draft (by Central Scouting), however I wouldn't be surprised at all if he was still drafted. Generally speaking, for a player to succeed in the NHL at 5'9, he's got to have two things, speed and heart. Agozzino has both.
9. Ryan Hayes - Plymouth Whalers - Listed at 5'9
A former standout with the U.S. Under 18 team, Hayes left Boston College last year for Plymouth with little fanfare. He had some trouble adjusting to the league last year, but this year went much better for him. He finished 2nd on Plymouth with 26 goals, and was even better in the playoffs with 5 goals and 5 assists in 9 games. Hayes uses his speed very well and has an excellent shot. He finds the scoring areas very well too, which makes him a dangerous sniper in the mold of a Brian Gionta. Hayes has also worked hard to become involved in all areas of the game, increasing his desire to enter high traffic areas. While it may be too little, too late for Hayes to be drafted into the NHL, he'll likely be one of the better overagers in the league next year, should he return to Plymouth.
8. Ryan O'Connor - Barrie Colts - Listed at 5'8
O'Connor is one of two defenseman, as well as one of two 1992 born rookies on this list. O'Connor impressed me greatly in my viewings of Barrie this season. He has a ways to come in terms of learning the defensive side of the game, but he moves the puck well and can really shoot the puck and run a powerplay. I think it's pretty impressive that O'Connor, as a 1992 5'8 defenseman, was able to hold his own in most areas, considering his lack of strength and growth at this stage. Here's hoping that he has a bit of a growth spurt before the draft in 2010, because as rare as it is for forwards under 5'10 to be drafted, it's even rarer for defenseman at that size to get the call at the next level. He reminds me a lot of the way Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Kris Russell looked in the WHL when he played for Medicine Hat. Russell grew to 5'10, so hopefully O'Connor can hit a similar height eventually.
7. Chris DeSousa - Niagara IceDogs - Listed at 5'9
Similar to Agozzino, DeSousa is an undersized forward who does it all for the Dogs. As I mentioned in my draft preview, DeSousa had the highest goal total of any draft eligible OHL forward. Quite an impressive feat. He drives hard to the net and he has an outstanding shot. He'll be a big time goal scorer in this league. However, he's more involved in the physical side of the game than Agozzino. He loves to throw the body and is often the first player into a scrum to protect his teammates. It's that hardline attitude that I believe will get DeSousa drafted somewhere in 2009. Should Alex Pietrangelo not return next season, DeSousa could also be wearing the C for Niagara in 2009-10.
6. Michael Quesnele - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds - Listed at 5'9
Quesnele is the 2nd and last defenseman to appear on this list. At 5'9, Quesnele has been a main contributor on the Greyhounds blueline for over three seasons now. He even wore the A on rotation this season. While his offensive numbers have never really taken that step forward, he remains a solid puck moving defenseman who can also contribute at the defensive end. What has made Quesnele effective and allowed him to play a key role, is his fearlessness and willingness to engage opposing forwards physically. He loves to take the body, which is what you like to see in your defenseman, regardless of size. Quesnele is another guy who's likely to return as an overager next season, where he'll try to lead an up and coming Greyhounds defense back to the playoffs. However, Quesnele did see some time in the ECHL this year following the regular season's completion.
5. Daniel Erlich - London Knights - Listed at 5'6
At 5'6, Erlich is the smallest player on this list, but he might also be the most skilled. Erlich is a solid all around offensive player who is elusive and finds the scoring areas. He isn't afraid to go into the middle of the ice or to the front of the net to make a play. With how deep London was this year, Erlich is likely to receive an increased role next season. And I expect him to improve his offensive numbers drastically (not like they were poor this season). I honestly wouldn't be surprised if he was in the top 10 in scoring next season, he's that talented.
4. Ryan Spooner - Peterborough Petes - Listed at 5'9
Spooner is the 2nd and last 1992 born rookie to make this list. He was largely very impressive in his first season in the OHL after being the 5th overall pick in the 2008 Priority draft. He shows explosive speed and offensive creativity, however I have to wonder if the best is yet to come. In my viewings this season, he seemed over matched at times and was unable due make room for himself to use his skill, because of size and strength inadequacies. But, like most 1992's, I'm sure Spooner will grow and continue to get stronger. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up at around 5'10-5'11, 180, rather than the 5'9, 160lbs he's listed at now.
3. Dale Mitchell - Windsor Spitfires - Listed at 5'9
This little spark plug has been as advertised for the Windsor Spitfires, after coming over from Oshawa. Similar to Chris DeSousa, Mitchell has made his living by getting under the skin of opposing players, laying the body, and by using his wicked shot to pot goals. He was fantastic for Windsor in the OHL playoffs, sporting a rather stylish 70's porn stache. Mitchell, a 2007 draft pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs, has already signed with the Leafs and will be looking to make an impression at the pro level next season. However, his sights are currently set on trying to help Windsor win the Memorial Cup (although they aren't off to a great start).
2. Chris MacKinnon - Kitchener Rangers - Listed at 5'9
MacKinnon, for whatever reason, has had trouble finding a team to stay with. With three seasons of OHL hockey under his belt, MacKinnon is already on his 4th team. However, whatever the circumstances, MacKinnon has managed to produce offensively, netting 81 points for Kitchener this season, leading them in points by 15. This undersized forward can produce offensively, in particular as an excellent playmaker. While his pro career might be a little cloudy, one thing is for certain; if he returns as an overager to Kitchener next season, he should be among the league leaders in scoring. With all the talent Kitchener has coming in, and with the young talent they already have improving, MacKinnon could be right in the middle of things offensively for a very strong team.
1. Brett Parnham - Oshawa Generals - Listed at 5'9
It's hard to argue that the league's 2nd highest goal scorer from the 2008-09 season, isn't also the league's best "undersized" player. Voted in the Coaches Poll as the most dangerous player in the goal area, as well as having the best shot and the 3rd hardest shot, it's obvious at to where Parnham's talent lies. Parnham just plain ol' knows how to score. While his pro potential may be hurt by a lack of skating talent (in combination with his size issues), it's hard to argue over Parnham's OHL success. Should he return as an overager next season (instead of signing a professional contract), Parnham will likely be right up there again next season, a threat to score 50 in a league where few can do it.
Stay tuned for next week's Top 10!