Welcome to part two of the breakout players for the 2010/2011 season. Part two focuses on those players who are first year NHL entry draft eligible and are entering their second season in the Ontario Hockey League.
Every year, many 16 year olds enter the league fresh off being selected in the Priority Draft and for a variety of circumstances, many of them struggle to be consistent contributors. Factors like strength and conditioning, confidence, and ice time play a role in limiting the effectiveness of most 16 year old rookies.
Obviously, there are always exceptions to the rule like Matt Peumpel, Boone Jenner, and Ryan Murphy. Players who walk right into the OHL and make an impact. But for many players, that significant impact and spike in performance comes in year two. Look at someone like Greg McKegg of the Erie Otters. McKegg was the second overall pick in 2008 and finished the year 43rd in rookie scoring with 18 points. Fast forward to the 2009/10 season and McKegg is a different player. He finished just outside the top 10 in OHL scoring and improves his point production by 67. The leap from being a 16/17 year old (in Cody Ceci's case a 15 year old) to a 17/18 year old in the Ontario Hockey League is often monumental.
So which players are in store for a monumental increase of performance like Greg McKegg?
10. Craig Duininck - Windsor Spitfires
It's been a pretty exciting last four months for Duininck. He's captured a Memorial Cup with Windsor and a silver medal with team USA at the Under 18 Ivan Hlinka tournament. The Spitfires defense is definitely a bit of a wild card right now, with the return of Ryan Ellis and Cam Fowler in doubt, the losses of Mark Cundari (likely), and Harry Young, and the injury to Marc Cantin. There is absolutely no doubt that someone will have to step up and Duininck is a perfect candidate. He's got the size and overall package of skill to play in all situations for Windsor next year and could end up being a top four defenseman. Generally speaking, the top four defenseman in Windsor often put up well over the 12 points Duininck did last season.
9. Andrew Fritsch - Niagara IceDogs
At one point last year, Fritsch was top 5 in goal scoring for 1993 born players. But then he went goalless in the remaining 25 games of the season. It happens in any league; rookies often hit a wall at some point. But what Fritsch demonstrated in the opening months of the season, was that he's a potential goal scorer in this league who's intelligent enough to find open ice, and skilled enough to finish off his chances. The Dogs are going to be looking for increased production from their secondary scoring options behind Andrew Agozzino and Alex Friesen, which means Fritsch is not only a perfect candidate for this list, but he's going to be expected to "breakout."
8. Jake Worrad - London Knights
The Knights are going to be looking for a new powerplay QB with the graduation of Steve Tarasuk. While someone like Scott Harrington or the recently added Jarred Tinordi could be that guy, don't sleep on Jake Worrad who played sparingly last season. Worrad had an excellent season with St. Thomas (GOJHL), but also didn't look out of place in London and should be ready to crack the line up full time this season, possibly even in a top four role. If Worrad can nestle up a spot in the top four and get some powerplay time, it'll be pretty easy for him to surpass last year's point total of 2.
7. Jacob Riley - Brampton Battalion
Last year, when Patrick Killeen needed a break, Riley was there to provide pretty steady goaltending. While that didn't happen many times (only six starts and a handful of relief appearances), Riley made enough of an impression for me to believe he's a potential OHL starting netminder. This year will be interesting for the Battalion, as I'm not exactly sure what to expect from them. But one thing is for sure, Riley will be getting more than six starts this season (barring some terrible injury). With Stan Butler's fairly strong defensive system, Riley should be able to find success and put himself on the map for the 2011 NHL Draft).
6. Garrett Meurs - Plymouth Whalers
Considering the forward depth the Whalers had last season, it's impressive that Meurs was able to contribute as much as he did offensively. That being said, there were times where his lack of strength/conditioning made him a candidate for offensive zone turnovers that frustrated Whalers' fans. This season, the Whalers forward unit is depleted and could be left in shambles if Tyler Seguin makes the NHL. Last year, a sophomore Seguin took a similar team under his wing and ended up leading the OHL in scoring. I'm not suggesting Meurs will perform a similar act, but there's no question he has the skill level and opportunity to make this team his own.
5. Austen Brassard, Michael Curtis & Tyson Teichmann - Belleville Bulls
The Belleville Bulls have a bright future ahead of them for the next few years because of these three young players. Brassard was sensational for Belleville after being acquired from Windsor and has the size to really develop into a dominating presence in this league. Curtis was born for the large ice in Belleville and might be the best 1993 that no one talks about. Heck, he had as many goals as Boone Jenner last year (19) and finished 4th among rookies in goal scoring. And Teichmann is fresh off a tremendous performance for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka's, where he backstopped the team to a gold medal. I'd expect some pretty serious increases in production from the trip this season as they try and get Belleville back in the playoff picture.
4. Stuart Percy - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
One of the 1993's who impressed me the most last season was Percy, who got better and better as the season went along and eventually found himself playing a pretty serious role for Dave Cameron's Majors. This season, the Majors will be the Memorial Cup hosts and that means gigantic expectations for Mississauga. The team is known for its tremendous defensive play, but the only problem is that they're missing 2 of their key contributors of last season in Cameron Gaunce and Blake Parlett. Percy is not only capable of filling their shoes at the defensive end, but also offensively where his 18 points last season are likely only the tip of the iceberg. It wouldn't surprise me in the least to see Percy become the team's powerplay QB and as a result put up some pretty gaudy offensive numbers in his NHL draft year.
3. Brett Ritchie and Brandon Francisco - Sarnia Sting
Like the Belleville Bulls, the Sting are a young team who should only get better this season. Part of that improvement rests on the shoulders of Brett Ritchie and Brandon Francisco, two very talented young forwards. Ritchie has the size and attitude to develop into a premier power forward as early as this season and should double his point production of last year. While Francisco was one of the top young players in the second half of the season. First half, 6 points. Second half, 26 points (and close to a ppg). Both of these talented youngsters will also be surrounded by some better talent this year, including two talented Russians in Nail Yakupov and first overall pick Alex Galchenyuk.
2. Daniel Catenacci - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I think a lot of people were fairly underwhelmed by the former first overall pick's rookie season last year, where he put up 30 points. That's the lowest point total of any Jack Ferguson Award (who was a forward) winner since 1997 when Charlie Stephens also scored 30 points. That leaves many in the Soo hoping Catenacci is able to have a Greg McKegg style breakout next season. All signs would point to that being completely possible. Cantenacci is fresh off being a large contributor in Canada's gold medal effort at the Ivan Hlinka and could carry that success into the 2010/2011 OHL season. With the likelihood that the Hounds aren't the defensive studs they were last year, they'll need to score more this season. A lot of that weight rests on Mr. Catenacci's shoulders.
1. Gabriel Landeskog - Kitchener Rangers
Anybody who saw this guy during the Rangers 2010 playoff run, knows why he's on this list. Landeskog had his coming out party during the Rangers Memorial Cup run that ended with a game 7 loss to Windsor in the West Final. He had 23 points in 20 games and was a bulldog who did the dirty work for his line mates and was rewarded for it. As he gets stronger, he's only going to become increasingly more difficult to handle for opposing defenseman. With all the talent surrounding him in Kitchener, I wouldn't at all be surprised if he ends up at around the ppg pace he kept during the playoffs...perhaps even more.
Obviously, this list could have been very long. Many second year players take gigantic steps forward, but you've got to narrow the list somewhere. What are your thoughts?