Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft - Part 1: Honorable Mentions

The time is here folks. The 2012 NHL Entry Draft is a little under a month away, which means it is time for me to unveil my rankings for the draft.

The top 50 will be released in four parts: Part 1 - Honorable Mentions (for the first time this year), Part 2 - Prospects 50-31, Part 3 - Prospects 30-11, and Part 4 - Prospects 10-1.

Just for clarification, for my top 50 ranking, I haven't included any players eligible for draft re-entry, such as Tanner Pearson. This has been consistent all the way through my lists. Instead, I did a list of the top 10 draft re-entries, which can be found here.

Also for clarification, this list is MY list of the top 50 OHL prospects, as if I were drafting for my own team. In other words, this isn't a list of where I THINK or believe players will go, but a ranking of my own opinion on the top players eligible for this draft based on my viewings this season. If you want a draft projection and information about players outside the OHL, be sure to order the Future Considerations and/or McKeen's Draft Guides.

I decided to do an Honorable Mentions list this year for the first time because I quite often get asked why I've left certain guys off my list. So to start off my rankings, here are 10 guys who JUST failed to make the cut, plus another who was injured this year.

Special Injury Honorable Mention:

Evan McEneny - D - Kitchener Rangers
I remain steadfast in my opinion that had he played this year, McEneny would be in consideration for the top two rounds of the draft. He was impressive defensively as a 16 year old rookie, and it was clear through the preseason games and the first two games of the OHL season, that McEneny had added an offensive punch to his game. He's got size, mobility, physicality, and offensive potential from the back end. But he also suffered a season ending knee injury limiting his exposure to two games this year. If I was an NHL team, I'd take a flyer on him with a 7th round pick and hope he recovers well.

In alphabetical order:

Justin Auger - F - Guelph Storm
Auger is a very interesting player. At one point this year, I was very high on him after seeing him a couple of times in January when he was riding a hot streak. Unfortunately for him, outside of that hot streak (9 points in 9 games from the end of December to mid January), he was very quiet on the score sheet. And when I saw him later in the year, he was invisible. But as I said, he's an interesting project. For one, he's 6'7 and hard to move from in front of the net. When he's been noticeable, he's working the cycle really well and using that big stick to keep possession of the puck along the boards. His skating stride is kind of awkward, but not many guys at his size are fluid skaters. The big thing for him is finding consistency away from the puck. If he can add a bit of a mean streak, he'd be a very valuable player. Definitely a long term project though.

Brandon Devlin - D - Windsor Spitfires
Devlin is another guy who I was originally very high on, and at one point this season I had him inside my top 30. But he had a very poor second half of the season, that actually saw him take a seat in the press box a few times. At the beginning of the season, I saw a defender with strong two way potential. A guy who could skate the puck well out of his own end and run a powerplay, but who also could play with some aggressiveness in his own end. When he joined the Spits, he was seeing a ton of ice time. But as the season went on, he tapered off big time. It was almost as if he was having an identity crisis. Looked tentative in trying to create things offensively, as if he was afraid of making a mistake. And defensively, he was getting caught running around a lot. I think there is still a lot of potential there based on what I saw in the first half, but like many of Windsor's younger players, he had a rough second half. He'll have the opportunity to really seize a larger role next year.

Troy Donnay - D - Erie Otters
The second 6'7 guy to appear on my Honorable Mentions list, but a guy I fully expect will go higher in the NHL draft than I have him ranked. 6'7 defenseman don't grow on trees. Donnay is definitely a project. But that size, in combination with the fact that he can actually move around pretty well for a big guy, is bound to attract interest. He'll definitely need to add some beef to his frame and get a little meaner though. As of right now, his defensive hockey sense is still very raw and he gets himself out of position at times, which sort of prevents him from being a stick defender alone. He needs to become a presence in front of the net. Offensively, I felt like he got better as the season went on, and begin taking some chances with his breakout passes, but is still primarily a chip the puck out of the defensive zone kind of guy. Just a comparison of a defender of a similar height, but a guy like Cody Sol (Winnipeg prospect), was miles ahead of Donnay physically and defensively when he was drafted.

Billy Jenkins - F - Kingston Frontenacs
I think he's got a lot going for him. Jenkins may be undersized (pushing 5'10), but he's also one of the youngest players available for the draft, which suggests he might still have some filling out to do. He's a hard worker and one of those solid complimentary energy guys. He really wasn't much different of a player with Kingston, it's just that he began getting more ice time (playing on one of the league's hottest lines to close out the season with Trevor Morbeck and Ryan Kujawinski). He certainly doesn't play small and he has the skill and hockey sense to make things happen offensively. That said, we're looking at a pretty small sample size here. With his size concerns, I can't really say one way or another whether I'm confident his style of game will translate well to the next level.

Eric Locke - F - Saginaw Spirit
Locke is kind of a hard player to get a read on. I think the main thing that concerned me was the lack of progression this year. He actually regressed in terms of offensive production (although part of that can be blamed on injuries). The trade to Saginaw did seem to re-invigorate him a little bit, but I just wasn't impressed with his growth this year, especially as a late '93. He's small and very quick, but he still primarily relies on his speed to create offense. He's also still too much of a one dimensional player, although he can be aggressive on the forecheck at times. In the playoffs with Saginaw, I felt like he was invisible the majority of the time, which should raise some red flags. Locke could easily be the type of guy who breaks out huge offensively next year, or the year after, but as of right now, he screams prolific junior scorer and not much else. Check out some videos of Eric in action over at HPTV.

Liam Maaskant - D - Erie Otters
I think the main problem for Maaskant this year was the fact that he's a physical stay at home type playing on the worst team in the league. Pretty hard to stand out in that situation. He had good size and a strong build and isn't afraid to toss forwards around in the defensive end. In particular, I was impressed with his ability to separate forwards from the puck along the boards. But it was tough to get a read on just how strong of a defensive player he is. Erie was largely a defensive disaster this year, and the structure of their play in their own end was practically non existent. Offensively, there's a lot of room for improvement, especially on his first pass out of the zone. Based on his size and aggression package, he might be worth rolling the dice on in hopes that he can reform his defensive game.

Luke Mercer - D - Niagara IceDogs
A really smart defenseman. When the Dogs acquired Oleksiak, they shifted their pairings around and Luke Mercer actually became Dougie Hamilton's partner on the top line for the rest of the season. And he quietly did a great job in that role. He played a safe game and well within himself. But in some ways, I think that was the problem. I can't say I really got a good read on what Mercer's potential is because I don't think he ever really pushed himself or took chances this year. It was Hamilton's show while he stayed back and played it safe. And don't get me wrong, he did a great job with what he was asked to do and looked very mature as a defenseman, but what's his high end potential? He's also a little undersized at 5"11, and needs to add more bulk to his frame. If a team is convinced he has offensive potential he didn't show us this year, he could get taken. Next year will be big for him to truly show his stuff.

Cody Payne - F - Plymouth Whalers
Payne is an intriguing power forward prospect. He was supposed to be one of the Generals youth backbones for the future, but wasn't happy there and ultimately wound up in Plymouth. He didn't have a great year though and certainly didn't progress the way many anticipated he would. But he's still a 6'2, 200lb winger who is willing to throw his weight around or drop the gloves. He has some puck skill and can take the puck to the net, but as of now, he's having trouble putting the puck in the net. I think some of that can be attributed to a possible lack of offensive hockey sense. He'll drive to the net or hang out around the crease, but just isn't finding scoring opportunities. At times this year he saw action with higher end skilled players and looked a step behind the play in all facets. If you draft him, you have to hope that his hands find him.

Matt Rupert - F - London Knights
I've got twin Ryan ranked inside my top 50, but Matt on the outside looking in. At the beginning of the year, I was actually having a tough time separating them as players, but as the year went on, I felt like Ryan proved himself to be the better player and NHL draft prospect. Matt isn't as polished of a player away from the puck, and while he's aggressive on the forecheck and along the boards, it seems like he wastes a lot of energy on his shifts doing things that aren't benefiting his line. He does have good hands in close to the net and makes good decisions with the puck in the offensive zone. The big sticking point is his size at around 5'8. While he's tenacious, I feel like his brother's defensive ability, face off ability, and playmaking ability down the middle, make him a better and safer bet to become an NHL player.

Clint Windsor - G - Saginaw Spirit
Windsor is a big goaltender who takes up a lot of the net. At 6'4, 200lbs, his size will be intriguing to NHL teams. But he's very much a work in progress. I felt like he was much better in Saginaw than he was with Barrie, but his rebound control and ability to read the play still needs improvement. As a '93, he has less of a window to make those improvements. Add in the fact that he's stuck behind a more talented, younger goaltender in Jake Paterson, and it makes his situation complicated. By starting Paterson in the playoffs, it's obvious the team has more confidence in him moving forward.

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