That is to say, 10 players from outside leagues who look to or have already committed to playing in the OHL next season. This list does not include "natural" OHL rookies, or 93 born players who were just recently drafted in the Priority draft. This is a list of "overage" rookies, if you will. There is a lot of talent on this list, some of whom have already stated they will be playing in the OHL next season. Others is merely speculation on my part based on a little background research. Quite frankly, I'd be surprised if every player on this list isn't in the OHL next year, but you never know.
This year's list is not too different. Again, 1994 born players just drafted are not included, so don't expect Nick Ebert to be on this list (even though he very well deserves to be).
Looking back to last year, 5 of the players mentioned in the top 10 ended up playing in the OHL in 2009-10, while 2 others make a repeat appearance this year. Meanwhile, one of the honorable mentions (Kenny Ryan) also made the jump. We'll probably see similar results for 2010-2011, perhaps even more favorable to my predicting ability.
Special thanks to Nathan Fournier (World of Junior Hockey and Maine Hockey Journal), David Burstyn (McKeen's Hockey), Nils Kloppmann (German Hockey Expert), and Johan Nilsson (Elite Prospects) for contributing to this article.
Here is the list...
10. Janos Hari - Färjestad J18 (Sweden) & Team Hungary Under18
This talented Hungarian forward has been playing out of Sweden in the Farjestad junior system for the past three seasons. The offensively talented 1992 born winger is rated 44th among European players by NHL Central Scouting on their final list. Recently it was announced that he wishes to come to the OHL next year via the Import Draft and has apparently been in contact with several teams about the opportunity. Swedish hockey expert Johan Nilsson says he is not sold on Hari's NHL aspirations, but does think he can make a quality OHL player. Hari is definitely undersized at 5'9, but he is very talented offensively; a "scoring machine with a nice scoring instinct who is very creative, has good hands, and is always dangerous in the offensive zone" (Johan Nilsson). That being said, he does have drawbacks. According to Nilsson he's only an average skater, and needs to improve his two way game and play without the puck. Sounds like he could at least have a similar impact as William Wallen has for St. Mike's.
Destination Team: Anybody with an import spot open
9. Matt Mahalak - Youngstown (USHL)
The younger brother of Whalers forward R.J. Mahalak, Matt is a young goaltender who played in the USHL this season. He was the second goaltender taken in the 2009 Priority Draft; the 13th pick of the second round. Mahalak has already signed with Plymouth and intends to play there next season, battling Scott Wedgewood for the starting role. Last year he split the starting netminder position with a 20 year old goalie, but struggled (at least according to the stat sheet). My guess is that Mahalak has only a limited impact next season (with Wedgewood taking over for Matt Hackett), but could pay larger dividends further into the future.
Destination Team: Plymouth Whalers
8. Vinny Saponari - Boston University
The 94th selection in the 2008 NHL draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, Saponari had a good year as a sophomore for Boston U, finishing third in team scoring with 30 points in 38 games. However, due to what Boston University is calling numerous incidents (including missing disciplinary practices and a you tube rap video), Saponari was booted from the program recently. This leaves the NHL draft pick with nowhere to play for 2010-2011. He has a few options. He could play in the USHL next year, then hope to get an NHL contract the year after. Atlanta could sign him now and let him play in the AHL/ECHL. He could sign his own professional contract to play in the AHL/ECHL. Lastly, he could play in the Ontario Hockey League as an overager. Both Nathan Fournier and I agree this to be the most likely solution given which team owns his rights (both in the OHL and the NHL). Kitchener drafted Saponari back in 2007, so it's unknown whether they have kept his rights. However, we know the Thrashers are very familiar with the organization with Jeremy Morin playing there this season. Wouldn't it be easiest to set up Saponari with Kitchener (who could have an OA spot open beside Jason Akeson and Matt Tipoff), so that they can keep a close eye on him? Fournier describes Saponari as a chippy offensive player and if the OHL route is the one he takes next year, he could have a large impact.
Destination Team: Kitchener Rangers
Kitchener fans, hate to burst your pipe dreams to some extent, but Vinny Saponari will NOT be playing in Kitchener next year as an overager. Just traded emails with OHL VP Ted Baker about the situation. Here is what he had to say: "Unless the player was on a Hockey Canada or USA Hockey card last season, he is ineligible to play in the OHL." - This means Saponari (and Corey Trivino for that matter) are not able to play in the Ontario Hockey League next season.
7. Chase Balisy - U.S. Under 18 team (USHL)
Balisy appeared on this list last year too, however it's appearing more and more certain that the OHL route is the one he'll take. He has yet to make a commitment to an NCAA school, which likely means he's already made up his mind about heading to London for next year. A former 4th rounder of the Knights (2008), Balisy is not rated by NHL Central Scouting for this year's draft and had a mildly disappointing 2009-10 season. A once heralded member of the Toronto Jr. Canadiens, Balisy has seen his stock plummet in recent years. The criticisms being that he's undersized, lacking strength and somewhat soft. He's got offensive skill, speed and creativity though, which means he could still make an impact down the line.
Destination Team: London Knights
6. Austin Czarnik - U.S. Under 18 Team (USHL)
Like Balisy, Czarnik is an undersized offensive forward who played as part of the U.S. Development Program this year and last. However, unlike Balisy, Czarnik actually had a fantastic year, nearly leading the team in scoring, and scoring 5 goals for the U.S. at the Under 18's, helping them to gold. However, Czarnik is more than just a bit undersized, he's listed at 5'7 by most scouting agencies. His size hasn't stopped him from succeeding yet though. The question mark lies in where he plays next year. Czarnik recently de-committed from Michigan State and now has a blank NCAA slate. However he's still being courted by NCAA schools. That being said, with cousin Robbie making the jump to the OHL this year and finding success, and fellow cousin Cory being a draft pick of the Barrie Colts, the OHL is looking like the most likely option at this point. The rumours suggest that he'll either suit up for Windsor (he was their 6th rounder in 2009), or request a trade to Barrie to play with Cory (who hasn't yet committed to playing in Barrie). Either way, he's likely to make a pretty large offensive impact in the league.
Destination Team: Windsor Spitfires or Barrie Colts
5. Scott Mayfield - Youngstown (USHL)
Were the Kitchener Rangers just throwing us a curveball when they selected the highly touted Mayfield in the 6th round of this year's OHL Draft. The 6'4 defenseman is considered to be a potential first round selection in the 2011 NHL Draft. He's the complete package; size, aggressiveness, and offensive skill. He's currently committed to the University of Denver, but not until 2011-2012. As a late 1992 birth day, this means he would have to play his NHL draft season in the USHL (not exactly a bad thing) with Youngstown, who continues to be a bottom feeder. Or he can transfer to Kitchener, play in a larger spotlight and attempt to increase his draft status and accelerate his NHL aspirations. At least that's undoubtedly the pitch Kitchener will make to him. On the flip side, both of his parents graduated from the U of Denver, which means he could be facing a lot of pressure on that front. One OHL scout for a Western Conference team I spoke to said "We had him on our draft list too, but we're told he wouldn't report." Sounds like this one is bit a of a toss up, which Nathan Fournier agrees with. If he does show up in Kitchener, he could immediately jump into their top pairing.
Destination Team: Kitchener Rangers
4. Tom Kuhnhackl - Landshut (Germany2)
The Import selection of the Windsor Spitfires last year, the lanky German centerman has already committed to Windsor for next year. Kuhnhackl had a bit of a disappointing season in 2009-10, as he battled injuries and as a result had to miss the World Junior Championships. But that hasn't stopped Kuhnhackl from being considered a potential top two round selection by the NHL this summer; he's rated 8th among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting. I spoke with German hockey expert Nils Kloppmann about Kuhnhackl and he is very hopeful that he'll make quite the impact in the OHL. He's tall and lanky, but he's a smart two way player with offensive skill and instinct. According to Kloppmann he's going to need to gain strength and confidence, which could point to potential early season struggles. But by 2010-2011's season end, Kuhnhackl could very well be one of the most important forwards on the Spits roster.
Destination Team: Windsor Spitfires
3. Lucas Lessio - St. Michael's Buzzers (CCHL)
Lessio has already spurned one OHL team, the Niagara IceDogs who drafted him in the top 10 last year. He then saw his rights traded to Oshawa and played out last season with St. Mikes Junior A. About mid way through the season, he gave his intent to play for the University of Michigan in the future. But many people are still not convinced Lessio goes to Michigan. For one, the Generals gave up a lot for Lessio last year, something no sane GM would do if it was completely certain he was heading to the NCAA. Secondly, Lessio has now shown up at the Generals orientation camp this weekend, of course sparking rumours of him playing there next season. With the scholarship to Michigan not in effect until 2011-2012, Lessio would have to play his NHL Draft year in the CCHL again next year, or in the USHL (ala Louis Leblanc) to preserve his amateur status. If he goes to Oshawa, he could very well elevate himself into the top 10. He absolutely shredded Junior A (CCHL) this year, putting up better numbers than Andrew Cogliano did with the Buzzers as a 16 year old (and Cogliano was a first round pick the next year). He's the complete package of size, skill and strength and could make a HUGE impact for Oshawa if that ends up as his destination.
Destination Team: Oshawa Generals
2. Jack Campbell - U.S. Under 18 Team (USHL)
By now, I'm sure most people are familiar with Campbell's exploits as goaltender for Team U.S.A. at the most recent international tournaments. Not only has Campbell won two straight gold medals at the Under 18's, but he's been named the goaltender of the tournament in both cases. He also backstopped Team U.S.A. to gold at the Under 20 WJC's. Nothing really else to say, Campbell is a stud. He's also a stud who's already committed to Windsor for next season, where he'll likely become one of the best goaltenders in the OHL. The question is now, what does Windsor do with Phil Grubauer (whom they payed a high price to get)? Do they keep the goalie who's helped them to the Memorial Cup and play Campbell and Grubauer in a platoon, or do they trade him and try to get back some of the assets they lost by acquiring him as a rental. Windsor also has Michael Nishi waiting in the wings as a very competent back up (and potential OHL starting netminder in his own right). What was once the position of weakness for Windsor has quickly turned into it's strength.
Destination Team: Windsor Spitfires
1. Brandon Saad - U.S. Under 18 Team (USHL)
One of the best players in the U.S. Development program this year, Saad is a returnee to this list. The former Saginaw first rounder (2008), still has yet to commit to an NCAA program which leads many to believe we're counting the days until he signs with Saginaw. When he does (on the assumption that it's happening), the Spirit will be getting one heck of a player. Saad is the complete offensive package and in Nathan Fournier's views of him this year, he said he was the best player on the ice. He's already considered to be a contender for a top 5 pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft and could do wonders for a young Saginaw team that's ready to contend. I know that, over any player on this list, Saad is the one I'm most excited about seeing next year and I really hope he makes the OHL his choice...as it would seem.
Destination Team: Saginaw Spirit
There are many players that Nathan Fournier and I talked about as potential bodies for this list. The ones left off are either not as large of impact players...OR...less likely to make the jump to the OHL. My guess is that we still see at least one of these guys in the OHL next year.
Adam Clendening - U.S. Under 18 Team (USHL)
There have long been rumours about Clendening coming to London...as he was their 5th round selection back in 2008. The leading defenseman scorer from the recent Under 18's would be an impact player for the Knights if he came. However, it appears more and more likely he'll be headed to Boston University in the fall.
Corey Trivino - Boston University
Things haven't gone too well for this former highly touted OPJHL star. He had a very disappointing sophomore season that was ended by a broken leg and now he's been suspended by the team indefinitely for the same things Vinny Saponari (see above) was kicked off for. Nobody knows how long the suspension is, nor do they know how long he's going to be injured for. One thing is for certain though, the New York Islanders can't be happy with the development of their early second round pick in 2008. If he's looking for a change, the OHL could call his name, where he was once a draft pick of the Barrie Colts. As a 1990 player, he could really get his act together and play a year as an overager, but my guess is he toughs it out with Boston U.
See above re: the Vinny Saponari situation. Trivino would not be eligible to play in the OHL next year.
Stephan Johns - U.S. Under 18 Team (USHL)
Like Clendening, Johns has been a long rumoured OHL recruit by the Windsor Spitfires. He's a big physical defenseman that Windsor could definitely use (without Harry Young and possibly Mark Cundari), however all signs point to him going to the University of Notre Dame next year. But Windsor's not going down without a fight.
Kyle Palmieri - University of Notre Dame
Had an OK freshman season at Notre Dame, but was excellent for the U.S. at the Under 20 WJC's, helping them to the gold. A first rounder of Anaheim, Palmieri has gotten himself in some hot water this offseason over an incident involving alcohol and the police. No word on a suspension from Notre Dame, but this isn't the first time Palmieri's been surrounded by controversy. He was booted from the U.S. Development Program last season. A former draft pick of Guelph, the Storm have long been on his case to make the transfer to the OHL. While it's unlikely he bails on his Fighting Irish teammates, you never can guess.
Jarred Tinordi - U.S. Under 18 Team (USHL)
Another U.S. defenseman who has long been courted by the OHL. A draft pick of London in 2008, they have been hard after him for the past two years. But he seems committed to the University of Notre Dame next year, despite possessing the size and physical abilities to dominate the OHL.
Nick Czinder - Youngstown (USHL)
A draft pick by Kingston in this year's OHL draft, Czinder is an interesting player. A huge forward (6'6) with offensive potential has to be intriguing to any team. He had 13 goals for Youngstown this year, and was the highest scoring 1992 on the team. A Western Conference OHL scout I spoke to said "he's likely headed to college, Kingston can't afford him." This is backed up by a Q & A done by McKeen's earlier this season (here) where Czinder says "I think college hockey is the best option." You never know though. Maybe Mavety finally opens up his wallet.
Well that's it for today, any comments or concerns? Last year's article sure raised quite the stink!