Like many of the Sunday Top 10 articles on this blog, it's become a tradition for me to rank the "true" OHL rookies who impressed me the most. By true, I mean those 1994 birth date, sixteen year olds (sometimes fifteen) who did more than just get their feet wet in the OHL this season.
Now I must warn you. This isn't an early ranking of these players for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. This is a list of those 1994's who impressed me the most this year, and is not meant to be an early draft prognostication (as if it was, the list would look different).
As I mentioned, this is somewhat of a tradition, so it only seems fair to link you to the versions of yesteryear. 1992's. 1993's.
Here's this year's list.
10. Matia Marcantuoni - Kitchener Rangers
Even though he didn't really play the final two months of the season because of a high ankle sprain, Marcantuoni did enough in the opening months of the season to open some eyes. He has the potential to develop into quite the well rounded center, with speed, a complete offensive arsenal, and a developing edge to his game. He's likely to be the team's number one center next year (or at least number two behind Michael Catenacci) so I'd expect pretty big things from him next year after a summer of strength training.
9. Scott Laughton - Oshawa Generals
While it might have been hard for Laughton to stand out this year in Oshawa, thanks to the forward depth the team has accumulated, he made the most of his ice time. As a high priority selection, you'd expect the offensive skills to be there...and they are. Laughton is going to be an elite goal scoring center in this league. But what caught me off guard was the development of the rest of his game. Laughton is already a very complete player who plays the game hard, and isn't afraid to get his nose dirty. While it may be equally hard for him to stand out next year when all of Oshawa's talented forwards likely return, he does enough of the little things right to make me believe that he'll be just fine.
8. Adam Pelech - Erie Otters
The Otters, even if they lost the battle with Windsor in the opening round, had a very good season. One of the biggest reasons for their success this season was the play of their underrated defense and that includes the third Pelech brother to play in the OHL. Brothers Michael and Matt had very productive OHL careers (even if their pro careers haven't gone quite as well so far), and Adam looks to be on track make it a hat trick. He's cut from a similar cloth to brother Matt (a former first rounder of Calgary); a solid stay at home defenseman who can move bodies with a good frame. But the difference is that I think Adam has the potential to be better offensively because he moves the puck better and has the skating ability to lead the rush. I think Adam could be the best Pelech yet!
7. Ryan Rupert - London Knights
A third round pick of the Knights, Rupert originally failed to make the team and didn't really start making his impact until the new year. Before that he was putting up great numbers in the GOJHL with Lambton. He's not the biggest, but he's a fearless player and has all the attributes you like to see in smaller offensive guys. He's quick, he battles away from the puck, and he's not afraid to stick up for himself. I'm not sure where the Knights keep finding these guys outside of the first couple of rounds, but Rupert looks like a guy who could make a very large impact in this league (along with twin brother Matt).
6. Gianluca Curcuruto - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A very composed and intelligent defenseman, Curcuruto was maybe the top all around defenseman for the Hounds in his freshman season. He played in all situations for the team and finished at only -1 on the year...which has to be considered quite the feat on a last place team. I think we're looking at a player who's only scratching the surface of his potential; a potential we're likely to see more of next year.
5. Slater Koekkoek - Peterborough Petes
I wonder if any of the teams drafting in the top 6 are kicking themselves for letting Koekkoek slide to the Petes at 7th. Originally considered a possible top 3 pick, Koekkoek took a minor tumble on draft day, but he's certainly proved himself to be a future OHL all star. Offensively, he has all the tools and already controls the point on the powerplay quite effectively. Defensively, he's a work in progress, but he has all the intangibles that would suggest that part of his game will improve (like a desire to impose his size). It'll be interesting to see how he plays for Team Canada at the Under 18's.
4. Nick Ebert - Windsor Spitfires
You've got to be impressed by this Windsor blueliner. Coming over from the USHL, he had pretty high expectations and he met them (you don't say that for every player in his situation). Ebert is really the whole package. He can skate, he can shoot the puck, he plays both ends of the ice. The thing about Ebert's game that not a lot of people realize is how physical he is. He really throws the body around defensively. Sure he's a bit rough around the edges and has some learning to do (when it comes to pinching, or going for the big hit), but he's had a tremendous season and looks like he's well on the path to replacing Ryan Ellis in Windsor next year.
3. Alex Galchenyuk - Sarnia Sting
I bet you're probably surprised to see him at three, and really it doesn't have anything to do with Alex being bad (how could you be bad with the rookie season he put up), but more so to do with the next two really knocking my socks off. Alex is just a tremendous offensive player. He might have the best hands in the entire OHL, and next year's he's going to make one NHL GM very happy. Along with Nail Yakupov, he's become such an electrifying player who plays the game at full speed ahead. He's also got a bit of a mean streak, which he'll need as teams start to further zero in on him. I wouldn't be surprised if he lead the league in scoring next year.
2. Sean Monahan - Ottawa 67's
How good was this guy this year? Monahan was outstanding for the 67's, playing a bevy of roles for the team, whether it be the checking line center or on a scoring line. He's got great size down the middle, and unlike a lot of kids his age, he actually knows how to use it. He protects the puck unbelievably well and is already a very hard player to contain offensively. The best thing about Monahan is that he's already a very good two way player. When he's centering Tyler Toffoli next year, a lot of people are going to start to take notice of this kid. He's the complete package.
1. Jesse Graham - Niagara IceDogs
When the Dogs took Graham 6th overall, a lot of people were left scratching their heads a bit. Sure he was expected to be a first round pick, but over guys like Slater Koekkoek and Alex Gudbranson? Once Dogs fans got a glimpse of Graham in action, the critics were silenced. A lot of people are going to look at him at number 1 and ask me if I'm insane. And I'm cool with that. But let me tell you, this kid is a great hockey player. How many 16 year old defenseman are on the top pairing of the 3rd best team in the OHL and play 30 minutes a night in all situations? Graham's offensive stats may not wow you, but he gets the job done. He's a tremendous skater and compliments Dougie Hamilton very well in this regard as the two take turns bringing the puck up ice. He's also very mature defensively, with his +27 being BY FAR the best rating of any 16 year old defenseman in the league (Adam Pelech was 2nd at +14). While Graham may not be the biggest, he was the sixteen year old who caught my eye the most this year.
All in all, the defenseman crop for next year's NHL draft seems to be pretty freaking outstanding (especially when you throw in a late 1993 like Cody Ceci).