Happy New Year everyone. It's a great time of the year for hockey fans. The World Juniors are in full swing. The Winter Classic is on today. And, as always, Central Scouting will release its midterm rankings for the 2012 NHL draft sometime in the next few weeks.
It's also past the half way point in the OHL season, which makes this a perfect time (and a predictable time) to release my own updated top 30 for the NHL Draft.
For reference sake, here is my early season Top 30 (released in October). Also, just for a little history, here are my midterm rankings for 2011, 2010 & 2009.
Here we go.
1. Nail Yakupov
At this point, Yakupov is the most clear cut top pick from the OHL since Patrick Kane (even Stamkos had Doughty). At the beginning of the season, there were some faint Galchenyuk supporters, but with his injury that now seems like years ago. Yakupov is as dynamic of an offensive talent as you can find in the draft. He is an offensive machine. Really not much more that can be said.
2. Brendan Gaunce
When I had Gaunce this high in October, a lot of people told me it was too high. But he's definitely deserving of it. Gaunce has been incredibly consistent this year and brings everything to the table that you'd want in a center. Size (check). Uses his size (check). Plays both ends of the ice (check). Great hands (check). Offensive feel for the game (check). I could go on. One of the more underrated aspects of Brendan's game is his big shot. Man can this guy shoot the puck. When the Top Prospect's Game skills competition results get released, don't be surprised to see him near the top of the list of the hardest shot. The one drawback I keep hearing about Gaunce is his skating. It's true, he's not the fastest guy on the ice. But he's efficient. His brother Cameron was a worse skater when he was drafted, and he managed to improve his footwork a lot over his OHL career. No reason to think that Brendan can't.
3. Cody Ceci
Easily one of the most improved players in the OHL this season. The biggest contribution to that is probably confidence. Ceci takes charge out there offensively now and isn't afraid to take chances offensively. A lot of people were actually calling for him to make Team Canada after a solid camp. His defensive game has grown a lot too. Still more growing to do, but he definitely has to the potential to develop into a premier two way defenseman. I'm sure a lot of people would love to see him use his size more defensively to punish people. But that's not his game. Although there is no question that the size will help him make a quicker transition to the NHL. When you've got a 6'3, 220lbs powerplay QB, you know you're doing alright.
4. Alex Galchenyuk
There's talk of his return sometime for the playoffs (or at least potentially for the Under 18's). This would be huge for Alex. I'm hesitant to believe it, but you never know. As expected, he's starting to slip in the rankings now, as he drifts farther from people's memory banks. It hurts even more that his last performance was the Ivan Hlinka where he was (apparently) disappointing. Talented offensive centerman don't grow on trees and you just know someone will take him high, as long as his knee tests out alright.
5. Radek Faksa
In a lot of ways, Faksa is a very similar player to Gaunce. Big, offensively talented center who plays both ends of the ice. So what separates him from Gaunce then? IMO, Gaunce's hockey sense is just a tad above Faksa's. Gaunce is also a more physical player and his two way game probably translates a little better at the NHL level. But, conversely, I think Faksa is a better puck carrier and skater. He's very aggressive in driving to the net with the puck and has a lot of success doing it. He's been a great find for Kitchener this year and has probably been the team's best and most consistent forward.
6. Matt Finn
Before the start of the season, Yahoo's Neate Sager asked me "Who do you think are some breakout candidates for the draft?" (his, as always, great article is here). Finn was one of the ones I suggested. But I also suggested him with a warning. That I was worried he'd try to do too much offensively, just as Scott Harrington did with London last year (and it hurt his draft stock). The Storm needed him to step up, and he has done just that. Considered a terrific defensive player, Finn's offensive game has exploded this year. He's already a legitimate two way defender. The only real drawback is his size, which is only average. But he's finally starting to turn some heads and is starting to creep into the first round of a lot of lists, where he belongs.
7. Olli Maatta
Maatta is an excellent defense prospect for the NHL. I really like his game. I'm not sure he has as much potential as some of the other guys slated for the first round, but he's one of those safe bets to play in the league. He's got size. He's a great skater. He plays both ends. He's also got a bit of a nasty side to him, that I'd love to see used a little more consistently. He recently suffered a concussion at the WJC's (on the receiving end of a Boone Jenner hit), so we'll have to monitor that. Hopefully he returns to the London line up soon and it's not one of those lingering concussions.
8. Malcolm Subban
Perhaps the first real surprise on my list, I think Subban deserves to be up this high. It's tough to include goaltenders in the loop with position players for lists like this. But I think Subban deserves consideration for the mid to late first round, and that's where this ranking puts him. He's as pure an athlete as you can find in the goaltending position. He's raw, and perhaps a tad unorthodox in his delivery, but he gets the job done. The guy has been just tremendous this year and has the Bulls in the hunt for the division and the conference (a place not many people had them). I think he's definitely a legitimate goaltending prospect and probably the best the OHL has produced for the draft in quite some time. In terms of potential and ability, I'd certainly take Subban over Visentin and Thomas McCallum (among first rounders from the O in recent years) at the same age.
9. Slater Koekkoek
Another victim of the injury curse that has fallen upon the 2012 Draft, Koekkoek's return to play this year is up in the air. He dislocated his shoulder at the end of November, and a recent MRI apparently showed some significant deep tissue damage. If he requires surgery, he'll be out for the rest of the season. At the very least, his participation in the Top Prospect's Game looks like a severe long shot. Koekkoek is the classic case of potential. He has some great nights, and some bad nights. And while he might have a ways to go before becoming an NHL defenseman, his package of two way play and dynamic ability make him a serious candidate for the top half of the first round.
10. Daniil Zharkov
Since returning from a broken collarbone suffered in the preseason, this Import has done nothing but climb the charts. And with good reason. Zharkov is an absolutely dynamic goal scorer. His puck handling ability and speed make him a threat to score off the rush. And his shot and strength make him a dangerous threat in the slot and near the crease. Best of all, he's 6'3, 200lbs. He's not afraid to use that size too and will compete away from the puck. At times, I think he can overhandle the puck, and he'll need work defensively. But his goal scoring ability, paired with his size and speed package make him a very intriguing package.
11. Scott Laughton
After such a weak start to the season (what Generals player can't we say that about), Laughton has been absolutely sensational lately. In his last 13 games, he has 5 goals and 11 assists. In a lot of ways, Laughton reminds me of former Kitchener Ranger Mike Richards at the same age. He competes hard at both ends of the ice and wears his heart on his sleeve. The hard work away from the puck has finally started paying off in the recent month or so, as the above stats suggest. I'd be surprised if he doesn't keep up this type of play for the rest of the season, especially now that the rest of his teammates are starting to get hot too.
12. Gemel Smith
Whenever I see Smith play, I always think of Thomas the Tank Engine. Smith, truly is the little engine that could. He's always one of the most noticeable players on the ice because of his compete level. Not the biggest (although not the smallest either, at pushing 5'11), Smith brings pretty much everything you could ask for...to the table. Last year, I wasn't certain he had the puck skill and offensive creativity to put up these types of numbers, but that certainly isn't the case. He's proved this year that not only does he have skill with the puck, but he has the hockey sense and drive to make anyone he plays with better. There's no doubt in my mind that Smith will develop into one of those guys every team just hates to play against at the next level.
13. Nick Ebert
I'm not ready to drop him as much as some of my contemporaries have, but I do admit that I've been disappointed with his play this season. To me, he screams of someone who's been under the microscope for too long and as such is trying to do too much. Not to mention, he had a lot of pressure put on him this season, in replacing the legend that is Ryan Ellis. When you watch him play, it really is a lot of mental errors that look like a guy trying to do too much. Bad pinches. Bad passes up the middle of the ice. Trying to force things that aren't there. He's also gotten away from some of the things that made him a dependable player in his own end, like big hits and tenacity in front of the net. But he's started to look a little better and more comfortable the past month or so. Too much potential to right him off yet.
14. Scott Kosmachuk
As I said earlier, I'm not entirely sure why Kosmachuk hasn't been getting the type of praise he deserves for this draft. He's been an incredibly consistent performer for a Guelph team a lot of people had written off before the season had even begun (myself included). At this point, he's more of a complimentary offensive player, but he's got enough offensive skill to be a game changer. He really is a complete offensive player, and is the type of guy who likes to get his nose dirty for goals. Every time I've seen Guelph play, I've come away impressed with his effort and skill combination.
15. Jarrod Maidens
This is higher than I had Maidens before (20th in October), but still not as high as some have him. I actually do really like Maidens as an NHL prospect. I'm just still not quite sure what separates him from someone like Guelph's Scott Kosmachuk (who I've got ahead of Maidens). He's one of those guys that's always in the right spot at the right time, which speaks volumes to him thinking the game at a higher level than his peers. He's just a solid player. But I'm not sure I see the upside in him to put him any higher than this. He's also been out since the end of November with mysterious "flu like symptoms." Makes you wonder what the real issue is. Could be mono (which always strikes down a few draft eligibles each year). Hopefully not a concussion. Maidens is the type of guy who could really use the Top Prospect's Game to elevate his status, so hopefully he returns before that.
16. Andreas Athanasiou
There is no doubting that Athanasiou has a ton of potential as a goal scorer at the next level. He has tremendous hands, a great skating stride, and a good shot. But the consistency issues are a real concern IMO. Not enough strides have been made in his play away from the puck to warrant placing him higher. At this point, he's that true boom or bust selection. One game he looks like a million bucks. The next he's invisible. At the next level, he's going to have to get his nose dirty to score goals. That's not to say that he's afraid of using his speed to drive hard to the net with the puck. That wouldn't be the case. What I'm saying is that right now his game is manufactured around his speed and ability to carry the puck. If he's going to score at the next level, there has to be more than that.
17. Adam Pelech
I feel bad for Adam Pelech. It truly is tough to play on a REALLY terrible team in your draft year. Less scouts come to see you because they don't really want to see other high end players play (or beat up on) your team. But he's actually been a real bright spot since he returned to the line up from a wrist injury suffered in the opening week. He's got 10 points in 14 games on the season, and almost miraculously, is only a -2. On a team populated with guys at -30, that's pretty crazy good...especially considering how much Pelech plays. He's a solid two way guy with size and good mobility (most definitely better than Matt or Michael at the same age). Can we pencil this guy in on Team Canada's Under 18 team right now?
18. Thomas Wilson
Not too often you see a guy with 5 goals on the year rated this high. But Wilson makes a very intriguing pro prospect. He's that rare "pure" power forward prospect. Offensive potential, size, and pure and utter physical domination. Even if he hasn't been scoring much (only 2 assists in his last 14 games), he does other things that make him a valuable player. And don't let the stats fool you, he does have offensive potential. He still plays on a scoring line in Plymouth (frequently paired with Mitchell Heard and a bevy of wingers). Now if he continues this offensive funk into March, we'll be talking about a ranking drop. But for now, he does enough good things (paired with his size) to warrant a semi high ranking.
19. Brady Vail
Vail is one of those stereotypical "he was born to be a great third liner" types people pigeon hold every draft year. Vail is already a very complete player, seeing ice time in all situations for Windsor. His defensive game is very polished for such a young player and he's often one of Bob Boughner's shutdown forwards. His offensive game has really exploded the past couple of months, as he's averaged nearly a point per game in his last twenty (9 goals, 9 assists). This definitely suggests that his offensive potential shouldn't be underrated. He can put the puck in the net and actually had a good shot and goal scoring instincts. He's the type of guy who always goes higher in the NHL draft than what his ranking from people like me would suggest.
20. Gianluca Curcuruto
I really thought Curcuruto's offensive game would blossom this year. He's actually been as big of a disappointment as Nick Ebert for me. Defensively, he remains solid. He's even stepped up things in the physicality department. But the offense just hasn't really been there. In fact, he doesn't really even take many chances and at times, looks content to play that stay at home role. With Ryan Sproul out with a broken jaw, the Hounds are going to need Curcuruto to step it up in the puck carrying and powerplay quarterbacking areas, so it'll be interesting to see how he responds.
21. Dane Fox
It seems a lot of people are a little anxious at putting Fox higher considering some of the things that happened off the ice in the past year. He was sent home late last year but returned for the playoffs. Then he was sent home again during training camp this year. But on the ice, Fox has been a tremendously consistent performer for London. He's a hard working, agitator type who actually has a lot of skill with the puck. He's a tough guy to play against because he'll shut you down at one end, but then come right back and score against you at the other. Offensively, he's patient with the puck and really sees the ice well in setting up his teammates. There's definitely a lot to like about his play on the ice, if you can be comfortable with the things that have happened off it.
22. Matia Marcantuoni
All the talk and spotlight has been on Nick Ebert as the faller of the draft from the OHL, but IMO, no player has fallen farther than Rangers forward Marcantuoni. He's continued to have injury problems this year and it has really effected his game. It's caused him to be more tentative away from the puck and made him a more one dimensional player. Problem is, that one dimension also hasn't really been clicking from him this year. Rangers fans seem to attribute that from a lack of drive towards the net, and in my viewings, I'd probably agree with that. He's made the shift to the wing in recent weeks, perhaps to take some pressure off him and make the a game a little more simple. Hopefully he can stay healthy and turn things around in the second half, because he obviously has the potential to be much better than he has been.
23. Dylan Blujus
Blujus has had an excellent start to the season offensively. The 6'3, 200lbs defender is definitely an interesting prospect. He's kind of awkward on the ice, which has a lot to do with his skating inefficiencies. He definitely will need work on his mobility, as it can affect him at both ends of the ice. I'd also love to see him be more physical in the defensive end and use that size. But there are a lot of positives. He's got a big shot from the point which he gets through to the net quite well. He also makes a good first pass and makes solid decisions with the puck and when to pinch. Recently I heard someone refer to Blujus as a "Moneyball hockey player." For those unfamiliar with the baseball term or novel, it was meant to suggest that Blujus isn't the prettiest on the ice, but he is very effective. For that reason, he's kind of a hard guy to peg and probably explains his lack of true support for this draft (such as his exclusion from the Top prospect's Game).
24. Matt Murray
The Jack Campbell trade certainly hasn't helped his cause, taking away crucial playing time from him. But Murray certainly hasn't played as bad as his numbers would suggest. There's no doubt that with his size in net (6'4), he's going to draw interest from NHL teams. On a lot of nights, the Hounds defense just hasn't done enough for him, which would explain some of the absolute stinkers he's endured this season (he's given up 6 goals or more on 5 occasions already). The Top Prospect's Game will be a good opportunity for Murray to show what he's capable of.
25. Michael Clarke
Even if he's gone ice cold as of late (1 goal, 1 assist in his last 11 games), I think he's still a solid prospect. He plays both ends of the ice well (like fellow Spitfire Brady Vail) and is a very smart player. But there's no doubt that he'll have to start putting up some points again to keep this high on scouting lists (heck he was in the first round of some lists a month or so ago). This is because he's not the world's best skater, and because he's not a huge guy (5'11). That lack of size combined with a lack of elite skating talent, can sometimes be a kiss of death for draft prospects. Hopefully he can pick it up a bit.
26. Brandon Devlin
Back to back Spits, Devlin is an interesting case. He was jettisoned by the Colts because he couldn't crack their line up on a consistent basis (even though he often looked solid IMO), he's become a workman for Windsor. Devlin is a very well rounded defender who does pretty much everything well. Since joining Windsor, he's been a more physical defender, which is great to see. He's also been taking more chances offensively and isn't afraid to jump up into the play. I think he's got a lot of potential in this league and should make a quality draft pick somewhere in the middle rounds.
27. Eric Locke
The newest member of the Saginaw Spirit (in a deal for Ryan O'Connor and Anthony Camara) has had a bit of a tough year so far. He's battled injuries (a concussion and a knee injury, separately), and just never found a rhythm in Barrie's crowded line up. He was finally starting to get going in December (4 goals, 4 assists in his last 10 games) and now gets traded to Saginaw. There is no doubt that Saginaw will present him with a greater opportunity to get ice time, especially on the powerplay. Locke is a quality offensive player who is very good skater and can really put the puck in the net, but injuries, in combination with his lack of size, have him barely in my top 30.
28. Daniel Altshuller
Altshuller's season hasn't really gone according to plan so far. Brought in by Oshawa to be the team's starter in their quest for an Eastern Conference title, the rookie seemed a little overwhelmed to start the year. This is especially true considering how cold the rest of the team was in front of him. But he's slowly earning the starter's job back and has been very good over his last six games (3-3, .926Sv%). He's obviously got a lot of potential, so hopefully he can get himself in a consistent groove for the rest of the year (as long as the Generals don't trade him...or trade for an experienced starter).
29. Max Iafrate
Iafrate is another guy who has improved a lot as the year has gone on. He's worked hard to simplify his game, and has gained a lot of confidence in his offensive game. He's definitely got a lot of good things going for him. He's big. He's mobile. He's mean. And his offensive game shows promise. And don't forget the bloodlines (although let's hope he stays away from Al's mullet look). Considering how much he's improved already this year, I'm interested to see where his game takes him.
30. Ryan Rupert
I really did think about having the Rupert's share a spot on this list again (as I did in October), but I figured I'd ignore the cop out. So, if someone had a gun to my head and made me pick one, it'd probably be Ryan. But maybe that's only because brother Matt has been out for the past few weeks with a shoulder injury (so he's not fresh in my head). I think I prefer Ryan because he's a tad meaner, and I think he might have a better all around offensive game. But both twins provide a lot of spark and offense, despite their lack of size.
Artur Gavrus (he'd be on the list if he can come back from his concussion)