Amazingly, we're already nearly finished week 3 of the 2009-10 OHL season. It's seemingly flying by. With that in mind, most teams have their rosters set (minus trades) for the season. With the NHL and AHL seasons now under way, OHL clubs now know who they've lost and who they've got back. Potential impact overagers like Michael Pelech, David Kolomatis and Jaroslav Janus have all signed contracts to play in the AHL (or ECHL) and their return to the OHL seems doubtful (although could still happen ala Brett Bellemore last season). Meanwhile, others like Scott Timmins and Jordan Nolan have returned for another kick at the can (perhaps to the surprise of their OHL clubs).
So who's the best overager in the OHL this year; the returning 1989 player who could make the biggest impact? I don't know, you'll just have to read the list to find out what I think. Here's a hint though, he plays for Barrie (that should narrow it down to 2!).
10. Jordan Skellet - Saginaw Spirit
Last year, the Spirit relied the heaviest on their two overagers, Chris Chappell and Jack Combs. This year likely isn't to be any different, with the Spirit likely to rely on overagers Jordan Skellet and Tyler Murovich for scoring. With Murovich off attempting to make the Syracuse Crunch (he was recently released by them), Skellet has been doing the heavy lifting himself for Saginaw. He's currently tied for 3rd in OHL scoring and has really toned down some of the undisciplined play that saw him cast from two OHL teams already. Skellet's best asset is his playmaking ability, as his 11 assists currently lead all OHL forwards. Saginaw is off to a bit of a surprising 4-2-1 start and Skellet has been one of the main reasons.
9. Justin Taylor - London Knights
After failing to get a contract from Washington (who drafted him) and failing to earn a contract from Vancouver (who invited him to camp), Taylor returned to London to assume the captaincy for the Knights. The rugged centerman does it all for London, playing an in your face style that compliments the rest of the team well. He currently leads London in goals with 3 and is going to be important to the success of the Knights this year, as he'll be responsible for providing secondary scoring behind the Nazem Kadri line.
8. Jacob Muzzin/Michael Quesnele - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The Hounds are 7-0 and these two defenseman are right in the thick of their success. They have combined for 4 goals and 9 assists thus far, as well as 27 penalty minutes. Muzzin, the team's captain, returns to the OHL after failing to sign a contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He's an OHL all star who provides a little bit of everything from the blueline. Quesnele, the hometown boy, has long been the Greyhounds little sparkplug on defense. The 5'8 defenseman certainly doesn't play undersized, and like Muzzin does a little bit of everything for the Hounds. By the way, I seem to remember a certain prognosticator (ahem) claiming the Hounds would have a solid season (and finish 5th in the conference) on the backbone of an incredibly underrated defense.
7. Chris MacKinnon - Kitchener Rangers
On his 4th team in 4 years, MacKinnon seems to have found a home with the Rangers. Undersized and relatively one dimensional, MacKinnon does perform his one dimension at a very high level. He is an exceptional offensive player and he's off to a great start with 12 points in only 5 games. Playing with Jeff Skinner and Jason Akeson, this Rangers first line could be one of the most dangerous offensive lines in the league. Expect MacKinnon to be up near the top of league scoring all season long.
6. Julien Demers - Ottawa 67's
While he's struggled a little bit so far, Demers' importance to the 67's is obvious. With him playing only average since he return from San Jose camp, the 67's have struggled to be consistent on their way to a 2-3-1 record to open the season (they play tonight in Oshawa to close out week 3). When he's playing to his level, Demers is a solid two-way defenseman who can play with an edge, move the puck and quarterback the powerplay. Here's hoping he can get things figured out soon, because the 67's need him to.
5. Scott Timmins - Windsor Spitfires
No one was more surprised to see Timmins return than Spitfires management, whom I think had all but written him off for starting his pro career after being drafted by the Florida Panthers. However, the Panthers decided it would be best for him to return to Windsor to dominate offensively, rather than muddle in the AHL/ECHL. Timmins brings a lot back to Windsor and his return is a huge boost to a team looking to repeat as Memorial Cup Champion. He's one of the best two-way centerman in the league and his veteran presence (two Mem Cup appearances) can help to ease the transition of some younger Windsor players like Austin Watson, Justin Shugg, and Richard Panik.
4. Brett Parnham - Oshawa Generals/Corey Cowick - Ottawa 67's
I'm such a cheater with these lists. First I made it a Top 11 by combining Muzzin and Quesnele (because they play on the same team). Now I'm combining these two to make it a Top 12. To defend myself, these two overage forwards have something in common. They have both yet to play this season due to shoulder injuries. Cowick isn't set to return until Christmas, where as Parnham could return anytime around the middle to end of November. Parnham, of course, is one of the league's premier goal scorers. While Cowick is a solid two way winger who has little trouble putting up offensive stats himself. He's desperately needed to help bring consistency to an Ottawa forward group lacking it currently. While Parnham could be playing for another team by the time he returns. He should pad the score sheet for whoever he plays for.
3. Bryan Cameron - Barrie Colts
To my surprise, Cameron returns to the OHL this season after failing to earn a contract from the Los Angeles Kings. He was traded to Barrie rather quickly, as Belleville is in the middle of a rebuild. Cameron is one of the league's better scoring wingers and hasn't been a disappointment in Barrie. He's averaging a point per game and has been an effective leadership presence for the first place and Nationally ranked Colts. Hopefully Cameron's solid, all around game is enough to earn him an NHL contract this offseason.
2. Matt Kennedy - Guelph Storm
After Carolina decided to return him to Guelph for another season, the Storm has to be ecstatic. Not only is Kennedy the Storm captain, but he's one of the most dependable two way forwards in the OHL. He's the complete package as a player. He drives to the net, he pays the price in the crease and in the corners, he's one of the best defensive forwards in the OHL, he's one of the best body checkers in the OHL, and he's also a talented offensive player who leads Guelph in scoring thus far with 4 goals and 4 assists in 6 games. Definitely an underrated player in this league.
1. Luke Pither - Barrie Colts
Alright, I'm on the Pither train. Sure he's one dimensional. Sure he needs to use his teammates more. Sure he needs to do a better job competing in the corners and in front of the net. But, he's one damn talented offensive player. His skating ability, combined with his offensive instincts and overall skill level, makes him one heck of a player. And while he may not fight for loose pucks as much as he should, when he's got the puck on his stick he's not afraid to go to the net or take a hit. The aforementioned combination of speed and goal scoring ability makes him a threat every time he's on the ice. And for that, he's the most dynamic overage player in the OHL this year.
This was a tough list to make. Heck I had to cheat to get 12 players on it! That said, there are a few other guys I want to mention. Sudbury's John Kurtz is a very underrated player. He's recently returned from the AHL and he's already making an impact for the Wolves. He's a very solid two way player and if the Wolves continue to play as strongly as they have lately, he'll be a big part of it. Erie's Zach Torquato returns to Erie after failing to sign with Detroit. The former super hyped OHL selection has to be a big part (bigger than he has been so far) of the Otters offense without Ryan O'Reilly. London's Steve Tarasuk has been dynamite for the Knights thus far and is really taking the lead on a somewhat iffy Knights blueline. With Michael Del Zotto likely in New York for the rest of the year, Tarasuk is going to continue to have to produce offensively to fill the void. Lastly, Oshawa's Jeff Hayes is a fan favourite and the captain of the upstart Generals. At pushing 5'8, Hayes never quits on a play and uses his speed and tenacity to be one of the Generals most dangerous offensive players, on top of doing just about everything else for Oshawa.
Did I miss anyone, because there sure are a lot of quality overage players in the league this year? What do you think?