With nearly a full month of OHL action under our belts, I think it's fair to take an early look ahead to the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Many publications are starting to release their early season rankings, and the Preliminary Central Scouting rankings come out in November, so I figured what better time to throw down my list.
This list is of my own personal opinion, from seeing these guys in action and hearing things about them. It's not intended to be a prognostication of the unfolding of the NHL entry draft (from the OHL's vantage point), but a personal ranking of what order I'd select or rank the available players.
Keep in mind though, that it is very early. At this time last year, guys like Matt Clark, Jesse Blacker, Scott Stajcer and Kyle Clifford weren't really on the radar (or at least on my radar). I didn't have any of them in my early 2009 top 30, but all managed to be ranked in my final Top 22. (My early season 2009 rankings can be found here, btw). Point is, there will be a lot of moving and shaking as the season progresses. Some guys will prove to be having more than just a hot start, or a cold start.
As for the crop of 2010 OHL players, I think that it's phenomenal. This group of 1992 borns (and late 1991's) easily rivals the group of 1985's that got drafted in 2003. And, of course, the 2003 NHL Entry Draft is largely considered to be one of the best in NHL history. Now I'm not comparing the entire (all available players across the world) crop of players from 2003 and 2010. I'm merely stating that for the Ontario Hockey League, this group is as talented and deep as they come. It's only October, and I considered nearly 50 players for my top 30.
One last thing to mention is that I have not included any "draft re-entry" players. No second or third time eligible players on this list. Just going with first year eligible players at this point.
Anyway, here they are...My Early Season OHL Top 30 for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft!
1. Taylor Hall - F - Windsor Spitfires
Pretty much where you expected him to be. Completely dynamic offensive player. Speed to burn, aggressive with the puck on his stick. Creates just as many scoring opportunities for his teammates as he does himself. I'm really encouraged by the gains his "overall" game have taken this year, playing on the PK, back checking more, and doing a better job of taking care of the puck.
2. Tyler Seguin - F - Plymouth Whalers
I've been blown away with the way he's started this season. But in reality, I think we were unfair to expect anything less, after his rookie season last year (where he should have won the OHL's Rookie of the Year). Like Hall, he's a dynamic offensive player. Really smart with the puck, makes creative decisions. He's one of those guys who's almost always visible because of the way he's drawn to the puck. Don't look now, but he's rocketing up the draft rankings. I truly believe that if he continues to perform as well as he has, he could challenge Taylor Hall for first overall.
3. Cam Fowler - D - Windsor Spitfires
After watching him play at the Under 18's in April, I was convinced as to his talent level. He was named the tournament's top defenseman and led team USA to a gold medal. He was dominant at both ends of the ice. His transition to Windsor has been pretty smooth, to say the least. Tied for the lead among defenseman scoring and showcasing his ability to dominate at both ends of the ice. On the negative side, he does need to improve his decisions with the puck and do a better job on getting his shot to the net. But 6'2 offensive defenseman don't grow on trees.
4. Erik Gudbranson - D - Kingston Frontenacs
Pretty much the total package on defense. Great size, great mobility, ability to move the puck, and an increasing appetite for physical destruction. He's really stepped up his aggression this year, which is awesome to see. Gudbranson is starting to use his size more in the defensive end and he's slowly becoming a defensive force. Combine this with his ability to skate the puck up ice and you've got a defenseman NHL scouts are drooling over.
5. John McFarland - F - Sudbury Wolves
The move to the wing this season really seems to have helped his game. McFarland's bread and butter is his combination of speed and skill. At times he can be a real treat to watch with the puck. His performance Internationally thus far certainly doesn't hurt his cause either. The one thing seem people over look about McFarland is the grit element to his game. He can be a bit of a pest out there and is starting to play a more in your face brand of hockey. He still needs to continue to be more consistent from shift to shift, but he's progressing well this year.
6. Jeff Skinner - F - Kitchener Rangers
I don't really get why he's not garnering more attention at this point. It's kind of a mystery and at times it makes me think I'm crazy for liking this kid's play so much. Outside of being undersized, Skinner is the complete package for me. Great skater, great with the puck, has a real nose for the net. He's one of those guy's who constantly keeps his motor running and who's determination on the ice leads to scoring chances. Plus, he can really bury the puck. Third in goals so far this season (while playing in 2-3 less games than the leaders). Yeah, he's not 6'0, but he's not 5'8 either. I really don't think size is an issue for him at the professional level.
7. Alexander Burmistrov - F - Barrie Colts
Really diggin' what I've seen of this Russian import so far. I don't want to throw the term total package around too much, but he's another guy who seems to do most things really well. Above average skater with above average puck skills. Not afraid to go to the net or into danger areas, in fact he seems to excel in them with a bit of unmasked grit to his game. Very talented playmaker who seems to really think the game at a high level. On top of that, he's killing penalties and showing a concern for defensive play. It's not often you see an import come into the league and immediately be an impact player. Impressive start for Burmistrov.
8. Stephen Silas - D - Belleville Bulls
Another guy who's not getting the attention he deserves. Everyone is talking about Fowler, Gudbranson, and even Brock Beukeboom's great start, but not about Silas. He's only moderately sized at 6'0, but he plays a lot bigger than he is. Silas is a very strong two way defenseman who is also developing a physical/aggressive side to his game. An excellent skater (what's with Belleville and developing these gifted skating defenseman), Silas can lead the rush. But he's smart with the puck and makes good decisions with it. In the defensive zone, he uses that strong skating ability to stay with rushing forwards and that developing aggressive nature to push them off the puck. Maybe because he's playing on a rebuilding Belleville squad he's not getting enough attention, but when the dust is settled, he'll get his due.
9. Austin Watson - F - Windsor Spitfires
Tall and lanky, when Watson puts on strength and size, he's going to be a force. It's all about projectability with Watson. He may not be dominating right now, but when he fills out and matures, he could be one heck of a player. The biggest attraction is his skating ability, which is outstanding for a 6'3 forward. But he brings a lot of quality intangibles to the ice. He's already a solid asset on the forecheck, defensively, and in terms of throwing his weight around. He's got good puck skills and hands too. The bottom line is that it's a rarity to find 6'3 forwards who skate like he does and whom actually use their size to intimidate. The offensive production will come eventually.
10. Joey Hishon - F - Owen Sound Attack
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for me. Loved him when I saw him last year and internationally. A little sparkplug on the ice who uses his speed and puck skill to drive the defense crazy. He's really struggled this year though (with the majority of Owen Sound). He's not keeping things simple and he's been criticized a lot by myself (and Owen Sound fans) for failing to utilize his teammates. I hope he can start turning things around, because he's an exciting player to watch when he plays well. But the way he's started this year, is frustrating to watch. At this point, I don't see a lot separating him from a guy like Barrie's Alex Hutchings, and Hutchings wasn't a high NHL draft selection (much to the surprise of many). Either way, as a late 1991 spending his third season in the OHL, he's going to have to step it up.
11. J.P. Anderson - G - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Anderson is another guy who hasn't had a great start to the OHL season. After two very mediocre performances, he's actually been on the bench for the past 3 Majors games. After such a dominating playoff performance last year, I really expected Anderson to break out this year. I still have faith he will. He is an undersized goaltender, but he plays big in the net. He challenges shooters, he's got good mobility and instincts, and he controls his rebounds well. He just needs to find his game a little bit right now.
12. Bryce O'Hagan - G - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
At one point, I really thought Anderson was the class of the OHL goaltending crop, but O'Hagan has done nothing but perform this season. He's playing tremendously well for the surprising Greyhounds and is at the top of nearly every major goaltending statistical category to start the season. O'Hagan has good size and composure in the net. He tends to make things look easy by the way he reads angles and controls rebounds. If he continues to play as well as he has, he could continue to rise on this list and pass Anderson as the top goaltender available.
13. Tyler Toffoli - Ottawa 67's
If Joey Hishon and Anderson have been cold to start the year, Toffoli has hypothermia in comparison. A player expected to lead the Logan Couture-less 67's, Toffoli has instead faded to a background role. He has skill, especially as a playmaker, but I question whether he has the ability to truly take over a game. After all, this is a quality you like to look for in your first round NHL draft picks. At this point, Toffoli is a complimentary offensive player who's not showing the determination nor confidence to really grab the bull by the horns. There's a lot to like still, which is why he's still ranked 13th, but at this point it almost feels like I'm putting here on reputation too. I'm beginning to question whether his NHL potential is as high as some of the other players available from the OHL
14. Brock Beukeboom - D - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The son of Jeff, Brock has exploded this season for the upstart Hounds. Not nearly as big or as physical as his father, Brock has a lot of redeeming qualities. He's a quality two way defender with good mobility, and while he's not his father, he's still a maturing in your face player. In other words, he's no stiff when it comes to the going getting tough. For me, he's showing a lot more offensively than I thought he had. Controlling the point very well on the powerplay and generating a lot of chances from his shot. A pleasant surprise to start the year.
15. Ryan Spooner - F - Peterborough Petes
Kind of a similar player as Jeff Skinner in Kitchener. Undersized, but he's got a good motor and has a real nose for the net. I don't think he's as naturally skilled as Skinner, but I also think he's grittier. For an undersized forward, he sure loves to put himself in the danger areas and seems to feed off aggressive play. This is a promising thing for an undersized forward to show. Peterborough is playing really well to start the season too, and Spooner has been a large part of that.
16. Brandon Archibald - D - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I really like the way Archibald plays the game. At 6'3, 200lbs, he's a solid and aggressive two way defender. What makes him a potential shut down defender is his mobility, in combination with his size. I've also been impressed by the way he handles himself offensively. Makes the smart play with the puck out of the zone, can handle duty on the powerplay. I think there is some offensive potential there to go with his strong defensive upside.
17. Justin Shugg - F - Windsor Spitfires
Shugg is finally putting it all together in his third season in the league, and that's the benefit that these late birthdays have in the draft. At this point, he's a complimentary offensive player, but I mean that as a compliment to him in a way. He's doing all the dirty work for his line, winning battles in the corners, forechecking hard, creating turnovers. But he has the skill to make things happen after completing the dirty work and coming up with the puck. He can make a good pass, and he's got good hands in close to the net to finish off a nice pass. I'm not sure he's ever the type that's going to carry an offensive line, by way of taking the puck to the net or dazzling with creativity. But he has enough skill to play on a skill line.
18. Gregg Sutch - F - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Pretty generous ranking for a guy who hasn't played yet this season and who only scored 7 goals last season. But I have a lot of faith in his ability to progress and perform well this season. He suffered an ankle sprain in the Majors final preseason game and should return to action near the end of the month, beginning of November. He's got good size, he uses it, and he's a great skater; three things that make NHL scouts drool. I think it remains to be seen how skilled he is, but I saw enough out of him last year to show that he's got the hands and hockey sense to put points on the board. Similar to a guy like Austin Watson, once he puts size on to his frame, he'll be a force because of his skating ability and his aggressive nature.
19. Steven Shipley - F - Owen Sound Attack
The problem with guys like Shipley, is that people see a 6'2, 200lbs forward and want him to use that size and be a physical aggressor. In a sense, he's always going to disappoint people who watch him, because that could be what they're looking for. But if you look past the fact that he doesn't use his size as much as he should, you'll see a 6'2, 200lbs skill player. He's recently moved to the wing in Owen Sound and he's found success at the position. Similar to a guy like John McFarland, it simplifies the game for him and allows him to use his speed coming off the wing to create scoring opportunities. Shipley has the ability to make moves at his top speed too. And conversely to what I was saying before, as much as he could disappoint some scouts, he'll still attract their attention in hopes that one day he does develop a more aggressive style of play.
20. Ryan Martindale - F - Ottawa 67's
Unlike his teammate Tyler Toffoli, Martindale has had a good start to the season. He lost some development time last season due to illness and injury. It seemed like whenever he started to get going, he'd get ill or injured. This year, he's healthy and playing well. When he's at this best, he uses his size really well to create offense and he's very aggressive at driving to the net with the puck on his stick. He's also a very solid two way player who is often the first forward back in the defensive end. Now I say when he's at his best because I find him inconsistent in using his size. At times he looks timid and tries to play the skill game, and it comes down to just being consistent and comfortable in an aggressive style of play. One thing that separates him a little bit from some of the other big skilled guys (the ones ranked ahead of him), is that he's not as naturally fluid of a skater as them. He's not a terrible skater, but he's just around average.
21. Andrew Yogan - F - Erie Otters
I think Yogan has a lot of potential as a power forward type prospect. He's big (6'3, 200lbs), but he's got really soft hands. He's also got very good puck control and seems to enjoy a lot of success from taking the puck to the net. Like any power forward, he gets his nose dirty and is a physical player. I'd like to see him improve his play away from the puck though. Defensively he's ok, but with his size he could make a bigger impact on the forecheck, in the corners, and in front of the net. Like Martindale, he's not as blessed of a skater as some of the other big forwards available either. Admittedly, I haven't seen him play yet this season though.
22. Ivan Telegin - F - Saginaw Spirit
Another guy that I haven't seen play yet this year, but I desperately want to. From what I've heard, he's been very impressive. He seems to be making an impact in every game he plays. Read a recent scouting report on him that said he's really using his size in Saginaw and is actually a very aggressive physical player. With 5 goals in 8 games, he's obviously got a good set of hands on him too. He's the type of guy that could probably be higher on the list, but with me not seeing him, I just can't put him any higher off hear say.
23. Christian Thomas - F - Oshawa Generals
Stumpy Jr., the son of Steve, does seem to have learned a few things from his father. An aggressive skater who seems to have a solid top speed, he's active on the forecheck and in the corners and loves to get his nose dirty. He creates a lot of scoring chances by keeping his motor running and out working the defense. I don't think he has the natural goal scoring ability or instincts that his father had, but he's still a really solid player and prospect. He's had an impressive start to the season offensively.
24. Michael Houser - G - London Knights
Perhaps it's a bit early to have Houser in the top 30, considering he's played 3 games in the league (and you'd think I'd have learned by having Brandon Foote in my top 20 at this time last year). But I'm a believer. I talked to someone who saw him play in the USHL last year and they said he's a quality goaltender and despite playing on the league's worst team (Des Moines), he held it together. He's also one of the youngest players available for the draft (Sept. 13 birthday), which suggests there could a lot more room to grow for him as a player. This guy hasn't been putting up great stats against weak teams either, with quality victories coming against the Spitfires and Whalers. The OHL really seems to have quality goaltending available this year and Houser is a guy that could rise much higher on this list if he can prove it's not just a hot start.
25. Philip Lane - F - Brampton Battalion
Not a guy that's heavily on the media radar right now, but he will be by the end of the season. A quality American born prospect who played for Buffalo last year (OPJHL). He's getting better and better every game and is a budding power forward prospect. Good size at 6'2, and an aggressive style of play. Makes the hit, will drop the gloves, forechecks hard, skates hard to the net. Due to the fact that he's starting to play better and better, he's now on the first line in Brampton and has 5 points in his last 4 games. I'm interested to see how high his offensive ceiling is. I saw him play a bit this weekend and saw him pull a great back and around move on a defender, which leads me to believe there's a lot more to be discovered with him when he gains more confidence with the puck. Definitely a guy to watch who could climb this list in a hurry.
26. Jared Knight - F - London Knights
I know that a lot of people may be surprised by this low a ranking for Knight. He's generally a well thought of prospect. So let me re-iterate that I actually really like Knight as a player and a prospect. The reason he's this low is because I'm just not sure he has the offensive potential of some of the guys ahead of him currently (in my mind). When he's not playing an aggressive, reckless, physical game, he's virtually invisible at this stage. And when he's not driving to the net and getting in the face of the defense, he's not making things happen offensively either. From shift to shift, he needs to figure out a way to bring energy all the time and not just occasionally.
27. Ryan O'Connor - D - Barrie Colts
Another guy whose ranking may surprise some people. But let's be honest here, there's Ryan Ellis and there's Ryan O'Connor. Scouts were worried about Ellis' potential to contribute five on five in the NHL and he's got a couple inches on O'Connor. Ellis also has more of a mean streak, which benefits him in trying to go up against bigger forwards. That doesn't mean that I dislike O'Connor though, it's just that I think he has some things stacked against him. He's a quality offensive defender and runs the point on the powerplay very well. He's got one heck of a shot from the point and actually picks his spot to pinch very well. But he has some deficiencies at the defensive end and they do revolve around his size. He can get worked off the puck and he has a hard time staying on bigger forwards in coverage. If a guy like Ryan Ellis has his NHL potential questioned, what does that hold for Ryan O'Connor? What separates a guy like O'Connor from a guy like the Soo's Michael Quesnele, who's never been drafted (at about the same size and skill level). In a sense, I feel like I'm ranking O'Connor here because I like him as a player, but in reality is his NHL selection realistic?
28. Josh Shalla - F - Saginaw Spirit
Already on his third team in three years, Shalla has done well to establish himself as an important offensive player for Saginaw this year. He's another guy I haven't seen yet this year, and who's ranking probably takes that into account. From what I've seen in the past, he's a similar player to a guy like Justin Shugg. A hard working forward who does a lot of the dirty work and who has good enough offensive skill to capitalize off of it.
29. Sam Carrick - F - Brampton Battalion
A good heart and soul type of forward. Kind of the prototypical Stan Butler player and in the mold of former Battalion like Jay McClement and Ryan Oulahen. He's an above average skater who plays both ends of the ice well and does the little things on the ice. I'm not entirely sure how much offensive skill he has, but as a hard worker and a grind it out centerman, he'll get his share of opportunities. He does seem to be heating up offensively and capitalizing on scoring chances lately though.
30. Dalton Smith - F - Ottawa 67's
Yeah, I admit his skating needs work. At this point, it prevents him from being an active offensive player on the rush. But once the offense sets up in the zone, he goes to work in the corners and in front of the net. He's really about as close as you can get to the throw back power forwards of yesteryear. He's a physical force on the ice, throwing checks and hard to contain near the crease. He's also a very capable two way player who looks very comfortable on the penalty kill. His best asset are his hands. He has a great shot and doesn't need a lot of room to get it off. Really great offensive instincts too and seems to be able to find the puck in a crowd near the net. I really like him as a player and I hope (since it's only his first full season in the league), that his skating can improve with training.
Honorable Mentions (Other players who received consideration):
Devante Smith-Pelly - F - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Mark Visentin - G - Niagara IceDogs
Cameron Wind - D - Brampton Battalion
Geoffrey Schemitsch - D - Owen Sound Attack
Austin Levi - D - Plymouth Whalers
Philip Grubauer - G - Belleville Bulls
Greg McKegg - F - Erie Otters
Michael Sgarbossa - F - Barrie Colts
Nathan Chiarlitti - D - Sarnia Sting
Petr Mrazek - G - Ottawa 67's
Joe Rogalski - D - Sarnia Sting
Dalton McGrath - G - Barrie Colts
Jeff Braithwaite - D - Peterborough Petes
David Quesnele - F - Peterborough Petes
R.J. Mahalak - F - Plymouth Whalers