As you may or may not know, every season since this blog started, I've profiled the top OHL overagers worth signing to an NHL contract as part of a top 10 article towards the end of the season. In fact, the 2009 version of this list was the very first Sunday Top 10 I posted (you can find it here). Last year, two players on the list (in addition to Jake Muzzin and Luke Pither) got NHL contracts (Bryan Cameron and Dan Kelly). That list is here.
Each year, I essentially give the same spiel, so why not give it again just in case this is your first time reading this list.
Firstly, likely half of the players on this list will not end up getting a professional contract and will play in the CIS. It's the nature of the beast. While it seems like an abnormally large amount of overage players are receiving NHL contracts this season, the bottom line is that many will not and many will take advantage of their education package while continuing to play a high level of hockey at a Canadian University.
Secondly, this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team (like Phil Varone and Robbie Czarnik). This list is for those players who are (or were) NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on birth date).
Lastly, and this is a new twist to this year's list. Because some of the best talent the OHL has to offer has already signed NHL deals (Archibald, Akeson, Cantin), I'm going to include those players on this list. Truthfully, I had this list (numerically) made up about a month ago, just hadn't posted it until now. If I were to exclude those players, this list would be pretty slim pickens. Next year, I'm thinking I may have to do this list a month earlier than I traditionally have, as it seems NHL teams are signing these guys earlier to avoid the offseason rush.
Without further ado, here's this year's list of the top 10 overage players worth signing to an NHL deal.
10. Matt Stanisz - Owen Sound Attack
Stanisz has been a key defender on back to back Conference leading teams (Barrie and Owen Sound). That pretty much sums up his contribution. He's cut from the same cloth as a guy like Kitchener's Dan Kelly (who earned an NHL deal last year). Stanisz isn't the biggest (about 6'1, 200lbs), nor is he the most physical defender, but he's quietly effective in his own end. He makes the smart play, keeps things simple and has been a highly positive (+/-) defender the past three seasons. This year, his offensive game was taken to that next level where he finished in the top 10 of defenseman scoring. He doesn't profile as a highly offensive defenseman at the next level, but he could likely be a solid add to an NHL organization looking for defensive depth.
9. James Livingston - Plymouth Whalers
Livingston failed to sign with St. Louis last year after being originally drafted in the 3rd round. A big power forward, his offensive skills just never really progressed to the level many thought they would (including this guy). But he's had maybe his best OHL season (at least his most consistent) this year where he set career highs in goals (22) and points (50). He's got the size and physicality combo to play a checking line role in the NHL, should he improve his skating and continue to show he can be a presence in front of the net offensively.
NOTE: Livingston has already signed an NHL deal with the San Jose Sharks.
8. Sam Lofquist - Guelph Storm
This former University of Minnesota defenseman hasn't been in the OHL long, but has definitely been an impact player. He's been the Storm's most important and consistent defenseman the past 2 seasons and deserves a look at the next level. He has size at 6'2, 200lbs, he's mobile, he can play in all situations and he can take the body if need be. Really a jack of all trades type of guy.
7. Kale Kerbashian - Sarnia Sting
This speedy winger has improved in every one of his four OHL seasons. He isn't the biggest (5'11), but he's crafty and energetic. He was voted as one of the best skaters in the OHL in the coaches poll, and that speed could make him a valuable energy guy and penalty killer at the next level (as evidenced by his league leading 6 shorties this year). It definitely helps, that he's pretty talented offensively too. His offensive game is certainly fueled by his skating ability, but he's fearless in his pursuit of pucks and isn't afraid to take a beating to score a goal. Definitely someone who has earned a look at the next level with his progression as a hockey player.
NOTE: Kerbashian has signed an AHL deal with Connecticut (NYR farm team).
6. Mavric Parks - Saginaw Spirit
Parks' story in the OHL has definitely been a heart warming one. He worked his way through a very rough season with Kingston in 2009 and was pretty much tossed aside by the club and picked up for a 5th round pick. Finally getting the chance to play for a good team, Parks was dynamite last year for Kitchener and Barrie, and has been the same for the division winning Saginaw Spirit this year. He's not a big goaltender, but he does a great job of squaring himself to pucks and controlling his rebounds, giving shooters less opportunity to take advantage of his lack of size. His ability to carry a Saginaw team in this year's playoffs will likely dictate where he plays next season.
5. Shawn Szydlowski - Erie Otters
Szydlowski has long been a favourite of mine and it came as no surprise that he was able to breakout offensively this season, his fourth in the league. His 41 goals this season tied him for 9th in the league and his 4 shorthanded goals put him in the top 5 of shorthanded goals for the second year in a row. He's definitely a very intelligent power forward, who's not the greatest skater, but who anticipates the play very well and gets himself in good positions to make a play at both ends of the ice. That overall solidness to his game, should definitely able him to get a look from an NHL team this offseason. He's one of the most underrated players in this league.
4. Marc Cantin - Mississauga Majors
Similar to a guy like Matt Stanisz, Cantin is a defensive first guy who was able to breakout offensively in his final year in the league (thanks in part to finally getting some powerplay time). Paired with rookie Dylan DeMelo for most of the season, Cantin was fantastic at both ends of the ice. He's actually a pretty good skater for a bigger defender (6'1, 200) and has the ability to lead the rush up ice. In previous seasons, he's been the type to make a quick pass up ice or chip the puck out of harm, but now he's got the confidence to carry it up ice and it has lead to his increase in offensive production. Really just a solid all around defender who can do a bit of everything, even if his offensive game isn't likely to carry over to the next level. He reminds me a lot of former Knights defenseman Marc Methot, who's managed to carve out a pretty nice NHL career for himself thus far.
NOTE: Cantin has signed an NHL deal with the Boston Bruins
3. Alain Berger - Oshawa Generals
The Swiss import has been excellent for a balanced scoring Oshawa team. On first glance, his offensive numbers might not be incredibly impressive to you, but know that the Generals had six 20 goal scorers this season, and two equally important lines. I'm fairly confident that Berger would have been drafted last year had he not broken his ankle at the WJC's last year. He was on a tear before that and came into this season on a mission. What you need to know about Berger is summed up in part by his 14 powerplay goals this season (nearly half of his goals on the season). He's 6'4, 200lbs and does a lot of his damage in front of the net (call him the Swiss Tomas Holmstrom). But he's also got an excellent wrist shot and has potential as a goal scorer at the next level. He works hard at both ends of the ice, throws his weight around and is a leader for his teammates (wearing an A for Oshawa this year). He's already got 4 goals in 2 playoff games this year. Someone needs to give this guy a contract.
2. Jason Akeson - Kitchener Rangers
The 2011 co-winner of the Eddie Powers trophy (league's top scorer) is definitely someone who has earned himself a look see from an NHL team. He's definitely not the biggest or most physically assertive guy out there, but Akeson is an incredibly intelligent offensive player who's at his best when the game slows down in the offensive end and he's able to create scoring chances for his linemates. His league high 84 assists were the most since Sergei Kostitsyn has 91 in 2007. He's not the fastest skater straight ahead, but he's a very agile player, which explains why he's so effective when the game slows down and he's able to quickly take the puck from behind the net or away from the corner and make something happen. Akeson isn't someone who'll be playing a bottom line role in the NHL. He's the traditional top 2 lines or "bust" type of prospect, but with the things he's done offensively this season, you'd have to think he'll at the very least be able to perform well for your AHL club in the near future.
NOTE: Akeson has signed an NHL contract with the Philadelphia Flyers
1. Darren Archibald - Niagara IceDogs
Anybody who reads this blog knows how high I've been on Archibald since he came into the league with Barrie two years ago. He went through two NHL drafts (crazy, I know), despite being ranked incredibly highly on my draft re-entries list the last two years. He's also been impressive in two straight NHL camps (for Columbus and Detroit). So why didn't he get a contract or a selection? I don't know. But he came into his overage season on a mission. Archibald is just a very complete player. He's got the size and intangibles you look for in an NHL checking line winger. He plays both ends of the ice, is physical, will drop the gloves and best of all, has an NHL caliber wrist shot which he can get off in traffic and in motion. His skating is good too, for a bigger winger. His 41 goals on the season were a career high, and he tied for 6th in the league with 15 powerplay markers (he also had 3 shorties). And, best of all, he started his 2011 OHL playoff season with a four goal performance against Brampton, where he looked like a man amongst boys.
NOTE: Archibald has signed an NHL contract with the Vancouver Canucks
The most obvious honorable mention would be Plymouth's Tyler Brown, since he got a contract from the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers. I'll have to admit, this one surprised me. Brown is an excellent OHL player and a terrific two way player and penalty killer, but I didn't expect him to get an NHL deal. But he's a hard worker and someone who does have a chance of being an NHL depth player, if he can at least produce moderate offensive numbers in the OHL. Think of him like former Battalion Ryan Oulahen.
In terms of defenseman, Majors veteran Michael D'Orazio is bound to get an invite to an NHL camp this offseason. The once hyped draft prospect has had an excellent year, where he's learned to be more disciplined and has really refined his game. Kitchener rangers offensive defenseman Jamie Doornbosch could get a look too. His defensive game leaves a lot to be desired, but he's terrific on the powerplay and has a major league shot from the point.
Another Major, Chris DeSousa, could also get a look from someone. He's your typical hard worker, who's had an excellent OHL career after breaking into the OHL with the IceDogs as a scrappy fighter and turned himself into a quality two way forward. Windsor's Jake Carrick is similar in nature. Not the biggest forward, but a never back down type of guy who can play any role you ask of him, while also producing offensively. Lastly, Owen Sound's Robby Mignardi has had an excellent season where he's been a key contributor offensively.
One last thing of note. While he's no longer an OHL player, former Petes goaltender (and Habs draft pick) Jason Missiaen managed to earn an NHL deal from the New York Rangers after playing his overage year in the QMJHL with Baie-Comeau.