The Christmas break is upon us in the Ontario Hockey League. Most teams in the league are very near, at, or just over the halfway mark in games played for the 2010-2011 season.
Therefore, it would seem appropriate for me to update my top 30 for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. NHL Central Scouting will release their midterm rankings in the new year (usually the 2nd Monday of January, so I'd expect the rankings to be released on the 10th). So it'll be interesting to compare what they're thinking when the time comes.
For now, indulge yourself in my rankings (for ***** and giggles, here are my midterm rankings from last year, which actually stack up quite well).
1. Gabriel Landeskog - F - Kitchener Rangers
It's not that I wasn't on the Landeskog bandwagon before, it's just that I wasn't completely sold that he had first line offensive potential in the NHL. In my last couple of viewings, he's been amazing and I'm sold. He's the most complete player in the OHL right now and on most shifts, a man among boys. He could be making an impact in the NHL right now, if he didn't have that late birth date.
2. Ryan Strome - F - Niagara IceDogs
What can I say, I love this guy. Who couldn't use a creative centerman with the foundational upside of a very complete player? He's slick with the puck, but he's also a workhorse. I personally don't think he has a weakness, and as he develops, that will become more evident.
3. Brandon Saad - F - Saginaw Spirit
It's damn hard to separate Landeskog, Strome, and Saad. All three are complete players who project to be very good NHL players. I wouldn't hesitate to draft any of them with a top 5 pick. Saad is probably the rawest of three...which is odd considering he's the oldest of the three. Some scouts will probably like that because he's already such an effective player, with with more polish, he could be a dominant force coming down the wing. He's big, but not as physical as Landeskog. And he's slick, but not as slick as Strome. But then again, he's probably the best skater of the three and most natural goal scorer. Take your pick really, I think I just prefer Landeskog's intangibles and Strome's creativity and tenacity at this point.
4. Ryan Murphy - D - Kitchener Rangers
Murphy was number one ranked by me in October (my initial ranking), and I don't love him any less now. He's a stellar hockey player and a guy I wouldn't think twice about drafting in the top 10...but I think the three forwards ahead of him have become such good players and guys who are safer bets to be franchise type players in the NHL. Everyone knows about Murphy by now, his strengths and weaknesses. Fact is, he's not slowing down and he's still on pace to score 30 goals and hit 100 points, things that haven't been done by a defenseman in the OHL since 2000 and 1994 respectively.
5. Dougie Hamilton - D - Niagara IceDogs
While it's early to be getting into this now, the Murphy vs. Hamilton debate as the top available OHL defenseman is going to be an interesting one to watch. When June comes along, we'll get to see how much size does indeed matter to NHL teams. Bottom line is this, Hamilton is billed as a big, tough, yet mobile defenseman, but he's also 4th in the OHL in defenseman scoring. His offensive skills are getting better by the month and even if he could stand to make some better decisions on the powerplay and improve his breakout pass, the potential is massive. Personally, I prefer Hamilton to Erik Gudbranson as an NHL prospect, ans Gudbranson went third overall. Take that for what it's worth.
6. Alexander Khokhlachev - F - Windsor Spitfires
He's been a little bit cold lately, but I still really like the mix of talent Khokhlachev brings to the table. He's an elite offensive player with creativity, poise and speed to burn, but he's also tenacious and has a burning desire to compete. He's not a perimeter player and I think that bodes well for his NHL future. He may be a small guy, but he doesn't play small and that's really important.
7. Matt Puempel - F - Peterborough Petes
He's been a pretty consistent offensive performer this year, despite Peterborough's struggles. But the Petes have been playing much better hockey of late (thanks to the improved play of Austin Watson and the introduction of Alan Quine) and Puempel deserves credit for sticking things out and playing well. He may not be as explosive as some of the other OHL forwards available, but he knows how to score goals and as the old adage goes "you can't teach that."
8. Vincent Trocheck - F - Saginaw Spirit
I really like Trocheck. Dude was just born to be a hockey player. He does all the little things well and is a very complete offensive player. The thing that worries me is his size though. He's not a big guy, and he plays a lot bigger than he is. Will he be able to have that same success in the NHL. On one hand, you love to say that about smaller guys (particularly centers). We criticize them if they play small. But on the other hand, when Trocheck's game is designed around winning lose puck battles, forechecking and hard work, will he be able to play that way in the NHL where everyone is a tree?
9. Daniel Catenacci - F - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The "Cat" as many are affectionately calling him now, has earned his way into the top 10 on my list. Bottom line is this, I'm not incredibly convinced he has a really high offensive ceiling at the NHL level, but his speed and hard work make him an asset in all situations. And on any given night, he battles it out on a last place team, so you have to admire his perseverance. Is he the next Rico Fata? Some think so, but I think you take that chance and draft him anyway in the late first, early second.
10. Boone Jenner - F - Oshawa Generals
Going into the break, Jenner is riding a hot streak for essentially the first time this season. He's really stepped it up after drawing a lot of criticism for his 10 game goal scoring drought during October and November. But in his last 12 games, he has 7 goals and 10 assists and is starting to silence some of his critics. He may not have franchise offensive potential, but he's a big center (which every NHL team covets now) with skill and a solid two way game. As long as he can continue to improve his offensive production, he'll be a first round pick.
11. Stefan Noesen - F - Plymouth Whalers
Who knew he had this much offensive talent? Noesen has been one of the league's biggest surprises this year, and leads the Whalers in just about every statistical category. He plays the game hard and generates a lot of offense from the energy he brings to the ice every shift. I'm still not sure I have a handle on the type of offensive upside he has at the NHL level, but I like all of the little things he does well.
12. Rickard Rakell - F - Plymouth Whalers
Back to back Whalers on the list. Rakell is a really interesting player. He's certainly caught the eye of a lot of people this year with a few sensational goals, where he's showed off how good his hands are. What makes him an interesting prospect is that he's also got good size and power forward potential. He'll throw the body, but I have a feeling that once he gets stronger, he'll be even harder to stop.
13. Tobias Rieder - F - Kitchener Rangers
I've really liked what I've seen from Rieder this season. Similar to The Khok, he's small but plays a lot bigger than he is. He's very quick down the wing and he's elusive in the slot where you'd think his size would hamper him. He's also a much more tenacious player than you'd expect; active on the forecheck and in the physicality department. If he was bigger, I'd be more comfortable putting him higher, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't take him with a late first or early second.
14. Nicklas Jensen - F - Oshawa Generals
Jensen is a really strong player who profiles very well as an NHL player. He's already so strong and this allows him to take the puck to the net with great effectiveness. As he gets more comfortable, I think we'll see him start to assert himself more physically and with his good hands in close, he could become quite the offensive force in this league. The question is, how much potential does he have in the NHL?
15. Vladislav Namestnikov - F - London Knights
Four import players in a row here. The London Knights have really struggled over the past couple of months, and a huge reason for that has been the disappearance of their offense. Namestnikov has to take some of the blame in that, with only 1 goal in his last 14 games. He's flashy and very dynamic, but I've also found him to be invisible for large stretches of games. When he doesn't have the puck on his stick, he seems to struggle. After such a strong start to the season, he's left me wanting just a little bit more.
16. Lucas Lessio - F - Oshawa Generals
I really like Lessio and I think he has a ton of potential moving forward. That being said, his inconsistency has definitely caused him to fall, especially when you compare him to how well some of the other available forwards from the OHL are playing. He's just a very raw player with the speed, puck handling and (at times) the drive to be a very good offensive player. But he has a tendency to over handle the puck and his physical game hasn't really translated from Junior A to the OHL as of yet. On the plus, he has been killing penalties for Oshawa lately and his all around game is improving. Definitely a project pick.
17. Shane Prince - F - Ottawa 67's
Considering how outstanding his offensive production has been this year, some might be surprised or disappointed I've got him this low. I'll admit, I haven't seen him have a really great game (which means I've probably seen the only bad games this guy's played all year), so take that into account. His speed, playmaking, and ability to fill in the open lanes on the ice make him a very intriguing player. One of the best stats when talking about Prince is the fact that only 2 of his 19 goals this year have come on the powerplay. This suggests he's having no trouble finding space on the ice five on five, despite minor size concerns. But I continue to worry about the NHL projection of an undersized, playmaking winger at the NHL level, based on the fact that we just don't see very many.
18. Andrew Fritsch - F - Owen Sound Attack
Owen Sound fans now see why IceDog fans were so disappointed with the Jason Wilson trade that occurred earlier this year. Fritsch has been outstanding for the Attack, playing on the first line with Joey Hishon and Garrett Wilson. Some may read that and assume he's riding piggyback, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Fritsch is just a quality hockey player. He's a really smart offensive player and he has very good hands in close to the net. He's also a pretty complete player who'll forecheck and backcheck. I think he's easily one of the more underrated players available in this draft and if he continues to play well, he'll receive a lot of consideration for the top 2 rounds.
19. Alan Quine - F - Peterborough Petes
Talk about a re-invention. After struggling with the Fronts and looking like a guy losing hold on a high NHL draft projection, the trade to Peterborough has really brought life to Quine. He's got 12 goals in 17 games with Peterborough, after only 4 in 17 games with Kingston. This includes a current 11 game point streak (in which he has 11 goals and 6 assists). He's got an NHL caliber shot and if he can continue to get the job done with the Petes, he's going to climb a lot of draft lists...and quickly.
20. Stuart Percy - D - Mississauga Majors
When it comes to rating the defenseman behind Murphy and Hamilton, I think Percy is at the top. A lot of people think it's Harrington, but I believe Percy to be superior in nearly every area. Percy can move the puck by way of the rush or breakout pass, he defends well both off the rush and in the zone, and he's really become a more physical player. He still doesn't have elite size, and could stand to improve his agility, but I think his intelligence and skill profiles him as a potential two way defender at the next level.
21. Scott Harrington - D - London Knights
His offensive game hasn't rounded into form as many might have hoped, but he remains a solid defender. The fact that he's upped his physicality this year has to make scouts happy. But I'm incredibly weary of stay at home defenseman who don't have a ton of size. They don't have a terrific track record of translating to the NHL game, where some of the league's best forwards are bigger than them.
22. Mark Scheifele - F - Barrie Colts
Scheifele has shown a lot of promise this season. He's got good size for a centerman and he's a good playmaker who'll make the plays in front of the net. But he's really struggled as of late, with only an assist in his last 8 games. Maybe that has something to do with his linemate Darren Archibald leaving town. Without a big, power forward to clear room for him, Scheifele doesn't have the space to operate. But keep in mind that this is his first year in the OHL and he'll need to add a lot of size to become a more dependable offensive threat.
23. Nick Cousins - F - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
While he may be undersized, Cousins certainly doesn't play like it. He's definitely an agitating guy to play against, and the type of player NHL teams love to have. He's also demonstrated that he can score goals, as evidenced by his 16 goals this season. Maybe he develops into an Alex Burrows type of player in the NHL, but I wish he was a better skater for his size. He's not a bad skater, but he's not great either.
24. Brett Ritchie - F - Sarnia Sting
Personally, I think the top 23 guys are pretty set in stone as of right now. I'm pretty confident with those guys (even if the order could be subject to change). After Cousins, it's definitely completely wide open and I considered as many as 20 guys for these final 7 spots in the top 30. Ritchie is the first guy I settled on. He's really picked up his play so far in December and is finally starting to put the puck in the net. He has 4 goals in his last 5 games, and is now on pace for a 20 goal season. Something tells me he'll end up with closer to 25. And considering his good size, and improving play without the puck, I think he'll still end up as a reasonably high pick.
25. Frankie Corrado - D - Sudbury Wolves
The Sudbury Wolves may not be having a very good season, but Corrado has been a bright spot on the blueline. The offensive blueliner has a great skating stride and is a blossoming puck carrier. It's hard to gauge just how good his defensive game is (and can be), because of Sudbury's struggles to keep the puck out, but he's not afraid to muck it up and play physical. He reminds me a lot of Jesse Blacker in his NHL draft season, and his combination of skating ability, physicality and puck carrying got him drafted fairly high.
26. Spencer Abraham - D - Brampton Battalion
Abraham is a really interesting player. He's received the majority of his time on the powerplay, but he's looked incredibly good there. He sees the ice VERY well on the point and does a great job of finding his teammates (has the same amount of powerplay assists as Ryan Ellis). The problem is, he just hasn't played a lot five on five, but with Kyle Pereira gone, Abraham is going to get to show what he's made of. He doesn't have a lot of size, but his intelligence on the powerplay suggests he knows how to play the game.
27. Alex Basso - D - Belleville Bulls
The Bulls haven't played up to expectations this year (considering many people thought they would improve), but Basso has been a bright spot on defense. He doesn't have great size (pushing 6'0 ft), but he plays bigger than he is. His strong skating ability is highlighted on the big ice in Belleville and he moves the puck well. He's probably the least mistake prone of a largely mistake prone defense in Belleville too (either he or Stephen Silas). Defensively he'll need to continue to get better, but he's not afraid to lay out a big hit and shows a lot of potential in the area.
28. David Broll - F - Erie Otters
Broll is right in there with that group of bigger OHL forwards who have a lot of potential, but just haven't been playing with consistency this year (Ritchie, Brassard, Goodrow, Thomson). Outside of Ritchie, I think I prefer Broll the most because he's the most physical. Even when he's not scoring, he's a physical beast and uses his size well to generate scoring chances. He'll need to improve his skating, but you can't teach size and truculence, especially when you've got a guy with some scoring potential.
29. Matej Machovsky - G - Brampton Battalion
The only goaltender to crack my list, as I think it's a real down year for the position in the league. There are some guys with great potential (like Machovsky, Binnington, Chartrand), but no one has really come out and made a statement as the top option available. Machovsky was very good in Guelph and has been even better in Brampton thus far. He's got the size NHL teams look for in their goaltenders, but I'd like to see a larger sample size.
30. Ryan Sproul - D - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Probably a pretty interesting pick for a lot of people at this point. This is strictly based on potential, but potential that is really starting to shine of late. Sproul signed out of Junior A earlier this season, after it was believed he was going the NCAA route. While he's taken some time to get used to the OHL game, he's really playing well of late. When you consider that Sproul is a 6'4 defenseman who can skate and run a powerplay, you have to imagine he's going to draw attention from NHL scouts. He's got 5 points in his last 3 games and has gotten better with increased ice time as of late.
Honorable Mention (These guys received serious consideration for the top 30)