Drum roll please...I present to you my top 10.
10. Boone Jenner - Forward - Oshawa Generals
While some prospects can suffer from overexposure, Jenner is the type of guy you have to see a ton to appreciate. Quite often draft players like him are looked at as potential third line centers. But why is that? Why is it that a draft eligible player who's already a very complete player, is always pigeon held as a future third liner? If it's me, I'm betting on a guy who scored over a point per game in his draft season to improve offensively and become a little bit more than that. Which is why drafting a guy like Jenner is smart. Here you've got a very smart, hard working player who could definitely play in the NHL in the future, but who also has room to grow offensively. People said the same things about Mike Richards in his draft year...Anyway, enough ranting. Jenner is a really intelligent player who makes good decisions with and without the puck. He is intense and will do anything to win (he'll definitely wear a letter sometime in his career). Look no further than his performance in this year's playoffs, where he upped his game. He is the complete package. Yes, his skating is a little choppy and he'll need to improve his explosiveness (something he even admits with Neate Sager in his Draft Tracker segment). And yeah, he's not the most offensively creative player available. But he's efficient. Jenner is a safe pick, but also someone with upside and that's why he'll go in the NHL first round (IMO). Be sure to have a listen to his appearance on The Pipeline Show.
9. Matt Puempel - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Puempel's an interesting player available for this draft. I think the fact that he hasn't slid further in most rankings, is a testament to his talent level and potential. The Petes had a dreadful season and Puempel has to shoulder some of that blame (a large reason CSS has him lower on their list). Puempel also had to have season ending hip surgery, causing him to miss the Under 18's. But the good news is that the surgery on his hip isn't for a debilitating condition and he will recover. If Brett Connolly can still go high in the lottery with his injury trouble, Puempel has a chance too. Puempel is definitely one of the better goal scoring forwards available in this draft. Some guys were just born to be goal scorers. He's got a great shot and he can unleash it anywhere on the ice. He's also a very intelligent player and seems to find his way to loose pucks in front of the net. The next step for him will be improving his ability to take the puck to the net and create offense from that...like any good goal scorer does. He'll also need to refine the rest of his game (play along the boards, backchecking, intensity). But you can't teach the skills he has. I think whoever takes Puempel will need to be patient with him (much like the Coyotes have been with a guy like Brett MacLean), but he definitely has top 6 NHL ability. Be sure to listen to his appearance on The Pipeline Show.
8. Brandon Saad - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Perhaps the player who disappointed me most this season. Maybe the expectations were set too high, but a lot of people (myself included) expected him to transition rather flawlessly to the OHL. But after failing to post a point per game, I really did come away (on the whole) rather underwhelmed by a guy originally thought to be a potential top 10 pick. Saad does have a lot of strengths. For one, he's already a committed two way player who kills penalties. He's also not afraid to take the puck to the net and obviously has the speed and skill to create offense for himself and his teammates. Perhaps he was a bit unlucky. He had a lot of games this year when he looked good, but failed to hit the score sheet. A lot of people see him as a future power forward, but I think that's a misnomer. He's big, but he's not a power forward. And perhaps that's where some of the disappointment comes from. He needs to improve his play away from the puck offensively by getting more involved in the cycle down low, by winning more battles for loose pucks, and by being a big body presence in front of the net. He had a very good series against Windsor to close out Saginaw's season, which definitely helped save his stock a little bit. I think more than anything, I'm a little bit confused as to the type of player he'll be in the NHL. Is he offensively talented enough to be a consistent top 6 forward? Does he battle hard enough to be a good 3rd liner? Perhaps next year, we'll get to know a little bit more about who the real Brandon Saad is. To find out a bit more, check out his Draft Tracker 5 questions segment with Neate Sager. Also, check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.
7. Nicklas Jensen - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Jensen intrigues the heck out of me. I really like a lot of the things he brings to the table. For one, he's an absolute bull on the puck. I'd be really surprised if when the NHL combine results are released, he doesn't grade incredibly high on all the leg strength tests. His balance and ability to protect the puck are outstanding. He's also a very agile guy and it allows him to not only be strong on the puck, but elusive with it (check out this awesome goal). Secondly, he's got a terrific shot and has good goal scoring instincts. While he is a pretty solid two way player (in terms of the backcheck), it's his play away from the puck that leaves the most to be desired IMO. For a guy who's so strong with the puck, I'd love for him to be more aggressive on the forecheck and in retrieving dump ins. Often times, he'll be coasting in front of the net looking for a pass, instead of doing the dirty work in the corners. To be fair, there are times when he's a factor in those areas, but it's a work in progress. Once that part of his game comes around, I'm really not sure how good he could be offensively. I think there is a lot of potential to his game and he could definitely go higher than many currently predict. Here is his Draft Tracker segment with Neate Sager. Also, check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.
6. Alexander Khokhlachev - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
The real wild card of the NHL Draft. He's a guy you either love or you hate, depending on how you think his game will translate to the NHL level. He's not big and he definitely needs to add strength. While fearless, he does get pushed off the puck rather easily at times and it can really limit his effectiveness and creativity. But he's one of the youngest players available in the draft, so there's a ton of time for him to mature physically. He has a ton of fire to his game and he's always going hard to the net (almost in a pest like capacity) and isn't afraid to take a beating to score a goal. He's a complete offensive player who can put it home with a good wrister, but also has the vision and ability to make a good pass. The real question is whether you think he's able to play this feisty offensive game, at his size in the NHL...and survive. And if he has to change his game to being more of a finesse player, will he be as successful. I always look to see how those guys with size concerns, perform in the playoffs because the games are closely checked. And The Khok was one of Windsor's best players in the postseason. As I said, he's the real wild card of the draft. He could go as high as the top 15 (where Redline has him), but also fall deep into the second round (where CSS has him). We'll find out in June, but I'm a believer.
5. Mark Scheifele - Forward - Barrie Colts
There's no bones about it. No player did more for their stock than Scheifele at this year's Under 18's. He was consistently Canada's best forward and showcased a real complete offensive ability. He can really do it all. At the beginning of the year, he was definitely more of a playmaking, possession center. But as the year wore on and he gained confidence, he became a much more complete player. By season's end, he was a beast at both ends of the ice (just like he was at the Under 18's). He'll take the puck and drive hard to the net, and stay there taking abuse. He's become a physical player who will participate on the forecheck and fight for pucks along the wall. He can score. He can set up teammates. He plays both ends of the ice. His skating is good for a big guy, but can get even better with added strength and conditioning. Scouts always say, they look for guys with an upward trajectory. Well Scheifele got better and better with each passing month. I have to say, in a wide open year, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him go in the top 10. Here's his Draft Tracker segment with Neate Sager. Also, check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.
4. Ryan Murphy - Defenseman - Kitchener Rangers
Don't take my ranking of Murphy at fourth to be a slight towards him. If I could, I'd probably rank Murphy, Hamilton, and Strome as 2 a, b & c. But nobody likes a cop out! I put him fourth because I do still have some reservations as to whether he'll be able to excel at both ends of the ice. I have confidence that his defensive game will improve to the level it needs to, for him to be a big time minute eater (and so does Murphy, as stated in his 5 questions segment with Neate Sager). But I don't think it'll take him to that level where he's going to be considered among the most valuable defenseman in the league. Hopefully that made sense. Murphy's dynamic performance at the Under 18's, had to make believers out of even his toughest critics. Dynamic is the word to use too. He has that innate ability that allows him to dictate the pace at which the game is played. It's not just his skating, but his poise with the puck and ability to create offensive opportunities for his teammates. He's not just a flashy guy who skates the puck in, only to have nothing come of it. He's patient with the puck and almost always creates a scoring chance from his rush. His powerplay quarterbacking ability really improved this season too, as his shot from the point improved and he stopped forcing passes and let the play come to him. Defensively, a lot of people compare him to Ryan Ellis. I don't think that's a fair comparison. Ellis is a much gritter player and isn't afraid to push people around. Murphy uses his skating to keep forwards in front of him so that he doesn't have to be physical. In today's NHL, elite puck moving defenseman are at a premium. So why not draft one? Be sure to check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.
3. Dougie Hamilton - Defenseman - Niagara IceDogs
There have been some tremendous defenseman to come out of the OHL in recent years, from Alex Pietrangelo to Drew Doughty. And Hamilton is right there with them at the same age. He's built for today's fast paced, yet physical NHL. He's big, yet agile. There's a reason he was named the best skater in this year's OHL Coaches Poll (for the East). Not only can he stay with forwards off the rush, but he's mean and physical and hard to elude in coverage. With that size comes a long stick, which he uses in an almost Chris Pronger like fashion, to separate a lot of forwards from the puck. Defensively, he could turn into a real stalwart at the NHL level. But offensively, he's very strong too. He's a very smart player who makes good pinches and is a very sneaky player. I don't know how many goals he scored this year by sneaking in from the point to receive a cross ice pass around the net. He's worked hard to improve his first pass, and can also skate the puck out of his end. To cap it all off, he's got a cannon from the point that creates a lot of offensive chances for his team off rebounds. The only negative, is that he had a weak Eastern Final performance against Mississauga, which could have possibly left a bad taste in some scouts mouths (if they're discussing a tough decision). But Hamilton should develop into a top pairing minute eater (like a Brent Seabrook) at the NHL level. Check out his Draft Tracker segment with Neate Sager. Also, have a listen to his appearance on The Pipeline Show.
2. Ryan Strome - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Few players have had the meteoric rise that Strome had this season. From offensive depth player to nearly winning the OHL scoring title in one year. Strome is an absolutely electrifying offensive player. He can make moves at top speed and will make one defenseman look like a fool nearly every game. He is a very complete offensive player who can really wire the puck (especially on the one timer ala Steve Stamkos), but he's also a very good playmaker. He works hard in the offensive end and really slows the game down to give his linemates good opportunities to score. Strome is tenacious away from the puck and goes hard into the corners looking for loose pucks. He'll even drop the mitts if he has to (and has some general pest like qualities to him). But he's not without his flaws. He'll need to improve his two way play in order to play center at the NHL level. I think he could also stand to add another gear to help create even more offense off the rush. Strome was also a little bit disappointing in this year's playoffs for me. He never really found a groove offensively. That being said, I see him having a TON of offensive potential at the NHL level. He's the type of dynamic player you build your first line around. Check out his Draft Tracker segment with Neate Sager. Also, be sure to listen to his appearance on The Pipeline Show.
1. Gabriel Landeskog - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Compare him to whoever you want to compare him to (be it Jarome Iginla, Mike Richards, Brenden Morrow), Landeskog is the most complete draft prospect I've seen come out of the OHL. I have a lot of confidence that he'll walk right into the NHL next season and make a consistent impact. His offensive game improved leaps and bounds this season. Yeah, he can hit (one of the best and hardest hitters in the OHL). Yeah, he can kill penalties and play both ends of the ice. Yeah, he wears the "C' for Kitchener. But he developed into, at times, a very dominant offensive player. On a lot of dump and chase opportunities, he looked like a man among boys out there. Once he gets going, he's pretty damn hard to slow down. His wrist shot really improved, especially off the rush. He handles the puck well and takes passes at full speed. He's become smarter with the puck and is patient when setting up teammates. Is he going to challenge Crosby for the Art Ross? Probably not. But when you get the opportunity to draft a player who can impact your team on so many levels, you don't pass up that chance. For more, have a listen to his appearance on The Pipeline Show.
Well that's it folks. Have at it!