Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Future Considerations chief scout Dan Stewart, as he answered some questions about the OHL players eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
For those that are unfamiliar with Future Considerations, they're an independent scouting organization that's exploded to the forefront in the recent years. The founder and Managing Editor, Aaron Vickers, and I used to work at Hockeysfuture together some years ago. Aaron knows his stuff and is a very knowledgeable guy, so I trust that those he has surrounded himself with are equally intelligent. Dan Stewart is ultimately one of those guys (and is based out of Sarnia, so he sees a lot of OHL action).
Here's Dan answering some of my questions.
Brock Otten - Looking outside the OHL (which is what we’re here to talk about) for a second, just how good or bad of a draft (2011) is this do you think? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
Dan Stewart: The draft as a whole has gone from pretty vanilla and looking below average just two short years ago to now appearing slightly above average which is exciting as many prognosticators foresaw doom and gloom over the past couple years with the 93/94 crop.
The strength of this draft truly lies in its depth and potential sleepers it possesses. Full of undersized prospects with good skill and offensive ability, how these guys develop will go along way to deciding how this draft grades out. The depth is such there could be as many second and even third round picks that eventually play in the NHL as what we see come out of the first round of a mediocre draft.
The drafts major weakness was originally considered to be a lack of top end talent, though Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, Gabriel Landeskog, Sean Couturier and most recently Jonathan Huberdeau have gone a long way to remedy that and show there are potential NHL star quality prospects available.
The CHL contribution is strong this year, especially from the QMJHL and the OHL with the WHL also adding some nice depth to the mix. The U.S. High School circuit and USHL appear to be having an off year as far as high end talent is concerned.
The Swedes again have a strong crop and there are a few gems in the other European countries to nab. Russia, continuing with a recent trend, has seen most of its high end talent jump ship for the CHL as these youngsters understand NHL teams are looking at who is taking the steps and showing determination towards playing in the NHL but playing in the North American spotlight and who not to waste an early rounder on in hopes they will come over later.
Overall it looks like a good draft but I would hesitate to call it great at this point.
BO - OK, so narrowing it down to just the OHL; how do you think this crop of OHL players compares to yesteryears?
DS: I am currently situated in Sarnia, Ontario (good place to be for the 2012 draft season) and the OHL has to be the best-played junior hockey being played out there.
This year’s crop has really come on strong over the last 12 months. Honestly, I thought we might have 15 or 20 in the top 100 picks when the 09-10 season came to a close but it has quickly become apparent, the OHL will again produce the most talent overall.
We have been pretty lucky over the past decade as the talent we have witnessed and the OHL has produces has been some of the best in the world.
BO - Last year the OHL had 9 first round picks. 2009 had 7. 2008 had 11. What would you set the over/under at for 2011?
DS: It is hard to say as NHL teams, no matter what you hear, do make selections based on team need and preferences. If I were running all 30 tables I would set the over under at about 11. I have 10 going for sure with the ability for another three or four to sneak in there.
BO - Why is Gabriel Landeskog the top rated OHL player in your eyes?
DS: Gabriel (love the name as it is also my sons, but not the reason we see him as first in the O) has the prototypical power forward skills that really make him hard to play against plus the immeasurable talents that will make him a very solid pro hockey player in the very near future. His strength, offensive skills, defensive awareness, leadership, intensity and drive will make him a hot commodity in Minnesota and that is why he is #1 from the Ontario Hockey League in our books.
Dougie Hamilton is a very close second as we think he will one day be a very formidable #2 defenseman in the NHL with his immense size, fluid skating ability and offensive punch.
BO - I noticed from your April rankings that you’ve got Ryan Strome behind Landeskog, Hamilton and Murphy. What don’t you like about Strome’s game in comparison with those ahead of him?
DS: With Strome, and I have had these discussions with other rink rats for the past three months, we see a prospect who really exploded offensively this year but has yet to show us a complete game and that he can fight through checks for those chances consistently. He is a fine talent and that is why he is in our top 10 but we feel Landeskog, Hamilton, and Ryan Murphy have more pro upside at this point in time.
BO - So, if I may ask, what’s the difference between a guy like Jonathan Huberdeau (who you have 2nd overall) and Ryan Strome? Both seem to have risen the most this year as NHL draft prospects.
DS: The main difference is in our eyes; Huberdeau is the more offensively gifted and better suited for the pro game than Strome is at the present time. Strome has some fabulous hands, can make some great one-on-one moves and he skates very well but Huberdeau has the better offensive awareness, drive, intensity and on-ice vision. Huberdeau has the ability to both set-up a chance and snipe a goal. Really though the difference on our board between #2 and #8 is extremely slim but we see Huberdeau having the better NHL career.
BO - I’ve been pretty disappointed with Brandon Saad in the second half of the OHL season (and thus far through the playoffs). You’ve still got him at 14th (although he’s down three spots from March). Do you see yourselves souring on him at all, or is his package of size and skill too much to pass on?
DS: Inconsistencies are really driving the once top-5 prospect down the rankings with most scouts. Saad has had some rough stretches where injury has set him back this season but more was expected and should have been expected with the potential he showed in his last US NTDP season. He really needs to ramp up the drive and intensity from shift to shift. Brandon is still a highly regarded prospect but instead of a top-six role some are now thinking third liner as a pro. Still, a third liner with that shot and skating ability is a pretty nice luxury.
BO - Vladislav Namestnikov sits at 17 on your list, while Alexander Khoklachev sits just outside the first round. I’ve never understood how Namestnikov is consistently ranked well ahead of the Khok, so perhaps you could shed some light on why you feel the Namestnikov is a superior draft prospect?
DS: Pro upside is what separates the two. Namestnikov plays a solid pro two-way game right now and has some great feet, vision and flow to his game. Khoklachev is skilled, gritty and small. He gets bounced around when he goes into traffic and is pretty one-dimensional at this point. Will the little Khoklachev be able to survive against bigger competition at the next level playing the game he does? When you have a question like that it causes a prospect to fall a bit.
BO - I know the answer from your most recent rankings, but perhaps you could take us through your thought process and order for the three outstanding Oshawa Generals; Boone Jenner, Nicklas Jensen, and Lucas Lessio.
DS: We have Jensen just outside our top 20, Jenner at the tail end of the first round and Lessio in the mid-second round as of the April rankings.
Now, if you went by skill alone it could be Lessio, Jensen and Jenner in that order but the problem is Lessio is highly inconsistent and shows only flashes of his ability. His strong work along the boards does not show itself every game and his drive is wavering. He has some boom or bust potential for the next level but could also be a steal if he dedicates himself and bring the consistency that his game is currently lacking.
Jensen is the biggest of the three and will add some nice mass before all is said and done plus has some very nice hands and scorers shot. We see him possessing the potential to be a top six scoring forward at the next level. He can cause loads of trouble for a defense when he carries the puck down the wing before cutting across the middle in the offensive zone for a scoring chance.
Jenner is the hard working; defensive minded one of the bunch. He also has some offensive skills and will take the puck to the net every chance he gets. His stride is a little heavy for the next level of play and while it has improved his role at the next level he is seen as a third line two-way forward who will likely wear a ‘C’ on his shoulder in the future.
BO - One of the most talked about prospects, or at least widely debated ones, this year seems to be Daniel Catenacci. How high is his potential (in your opinion) at the NHL level?
DS: Despite possessing some high end offensive skill, ‘The Cat’ will likely be asked to play a defensive role at the next level because of his impressive speed and awareness. He could post a solid 25-30 goal total as a top-six forward but we see him being utilized as more of a Kris Draper than a Michael Cammalleri.
BO - Has there been a player (or players) who’ve really improved their stock with their OHL playoff performance(s) to date?
DS: None that have done enough to really jump up the ranking in the OHL to date but Dougie Hamilton continues to look good.
Oshawa’s Boone Jenner and Nicklas Jensen as well as the Sudbury Wolves rookie forward Joshua Leivo all put up some surprising production before they were eliminated.
I guess my pick for playoff riser would be Mike Morrison in Kitchener. He was already on a pretty steep trajectory coming into the playoffs and did nothing be help his case in the Rangers loss to Plymouth. Its hard to be a playoff riser when you only play three games, but if Morrison had been in net from the beginning instead of Maxwell there is no doubt in my mind Kitchener would still be playing.
BO - I guess that would explain having Mike Morrison in your top 60! That’s a very high ranking for him (in comparison with others). Why is he the top rated goalie from the OHL for you?
DS: He was limited in ice time this season playing behind Brandon Maxwell for the most part, but when he was in the crease Kitchener played with added confidence and he showed a strong compete level, excellent lateral movement and a wicked glove hand that stole plenty of sure goals this season. He does have some areas to improve upon but we feel right now he showed the most upside of all the available tenders in the OHL.
BO - I also noticed Ryan Sproul inside your top 60. It must have been that outstanding piece of literature from OHL Prospects that sold you on him (kidding…or am I?). Is it possible that a team rolls the dice really early on this 6’4 offensive defenseman?
DS: Must have been. Sproul is a prospect who came in the season with not much hype and it wasn’t until the New Year he started to really pick-up steam. I could see him going as high as mid-second if a team really has an eye for him but with that said he does have some holes in his game that need attention, so a probable early third selection is more than likely.
BO - No Vincent Trocheck in your top 60. What’s the beef?
DS: So you’re a Trocheck admirer are you? Well so are we at FC. The problem with the feisty Trocheck is deciding what type of role he will fill at the next level? While the undersized centre has offensive skills he is also on the smallish side and doesn’t possess the speed or even the shifty elusiveness you want your diminutive guys to have. If he were a six-foot-three forward and playing the way he does he would be holding down a top round spot for sure. As it is, he is a solid citizen with nice value around the 55 to 70 range for us.
BO - There are a lot of guys playing for Team Canada at the Under 18’s right now. Who from the OHL has the most to gain from a strong performance there (this Q & A took place during the Under 18's)?
DS: Brett Ritchie of Sarnia is a name that was considered first round material until his season was derailed early on. I had said to another scout in August that I thought he had 30+ goal potential and would make himself a top-20 pick playing wing with either Nail Yakupov and/or Alex Galchenyuk on his line. He is off to a pretty good tournament but has been a little snake bitten on the scoring sheet so far. Also, forward Alan Quine and defender Scott Harrington have a chance to add some glow before the season comes to a close for them.
BO - Are there any “sleepers” who you really like from the OHL, but who didn’t make your top 60 for April?
DS: I will give you a brief All-Sleeper Team from the OHL.
In Goal watch out for Saginaw Spirit tender Tadeas Galansky who has immense size and quickness for such a big body. More ice time will allow him to develop his game but the raw tools are already impressive.
On defense the big Russian Andrei Pedan from Guelph has a good blend of size and mobility. He really came alive in the playoffs and showed some good potential in a strong and imposing two-way role.
His partner is Brampton’s Spencer Abraham who is a slightly below average sized puck moving defender. Not getting a lot of hype or credit with many scouts, he could have a breakout season next year.
On left Wing we have Belleville’s speedy two-way winger Michael Curtis. While his production dropped this season he was arguably more effective as a strong defensive presence that made things happen with his speed and underrated offensive skill.
At centre is London’s Seth Griffith who really came on the last half of the year for the Knights. He makes his teammates better with his offensive creativity and solid work ethic in all zones and was a big reason for Namestnikov’s solid finish as well.
On the other wing is Plymouth's skilled forward Garrett Meurs. The skilled Meurs has all kinds of ability with the puck and the creativity to generate offense but for one reason or another failed to really take advantage of his ice time this year.
BO - Last question about the draft, are there any overage types you see getting a sniff from the OHL…like a Michael Houser?
DS: Yes…the talented Mr. Houser will likely be picked up this year as he just missed the cut off for being first year eligible by a few days. His performance all season long for the Hunters will have someone excited about his pro potential. The 2011 draft really does not have many overage prospects from the OHL to get excited about unlike years past.
BO - You guys do a great job in providing quality, yet affordable coverage of the NHL draft. Tell my readers how they can purchase your draft guide and why should they pony up the cash for it?
DS: Your readers can visit us at our newly launched 2011 NHL Entry Draft Centre at www.futureconsiderations.ca.
Simply put, Future Considerations’ offering for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft is the best bang for your buck out there. Future Considerations’ 2011 NHL Entry Draft Guide is over 50% less in price than that of our competitors yet offers an embarrassment of information, including:
-Features on the top-ranked prospects, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sean Couturier, Gabriel Landeskog, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Murphy, Nathan Beaulieu, Duncan Siemens, Mark McNeill, Myles Bell and Rocco Grimaldi.
-A ranking of the top 150 prospects for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
-In-depth prospect profiles on the top 120 prospects.
-A feature on the top 10 late round sleepers for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
-An analysis of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, including profiles on the top 40 prospects eligible to be drafted in 15 months.
-A bonus glimpse of the notable names eligible for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
-As always, our famous mock draft.
And much, much more.
For free content leading up to the draft and for the latest in prospect information from the draft and beyond be sure to visit our blog.
Thank you Brock for having me.
BO - No problem Dan. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.
If you want to purchase the Future Considerations Draft Guide for 2011, visit this link.