Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Top 10 - 2012 NHL Draft Re-Entries

It's that time of the year for my annual (2011, 2010, 2009) list of the top second and third year eligible OHL players for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. This is always one of the most read articles I put out each year. It's also the topic which I receive the most questions on, whether through email or blog comments. For whatever reason, the concept fascinates people. Of course, I'm referring to the concept of the "draft re-entry." A shift in drafting philosophy has seen an enormous rise of these players getting drafted in recent years. This is mostly because drafting a second or third year eligible player gives NHL teams a lot of flexibility in their development under the new CBA. Plus, a lot of these guys have been having success in recent years (Andrew Shaw and Matt Hackett as examples from the OHL), which basic psychology tells us that other NHL teams will try to mimic.

Just to clarify yet again, for those with limited understanding of the NHL draft system; North American players have either two or three years to get drafted, depending on their birth date. For those born from January 1 to September 15, they will go through three NHL drafts. For those born from September 16 to December 31, they will go through two NHL drafts. The players on this list are a mix of those having been passed over once or twice already.

Also, do not confuse this list with players drafted in 2010 who will re-enter the draft should they fail to come to a contractual agreement with their NHL team by June 1 (and whose birth date still allows them to be eligible). Quite often those too are referred to as draft re-entries. But this list does not contain them because it is not yet known who those players will be.

It's always fun to see the results of past year's lists:

2009 = 4 drafted, 9/10 with NHL contracts
2010 = 2 drafted, 4/10 with NHL contracts
2011 = 3 drafted, too early to evaluate NHL contracts

So history would suggest that a handful of these players appearing on my list will get drafted. But I'm going to go one step farther. I think that we'll see more of these players drafted this year than the past three years. I think this year's crop of players is the best one that I've ever ranked. Heck, we've got a rated as being a potential first round pick, one of the league's regular season and playoff scoring leaders, and the Red Tilson Trophy winner.

Let's look at my list:

10. Riley Brace - Mississauga Majors
Easily one of the most improved players in the league this year. After playing a checking line role last year for the Memorial Cup hosts, Brace was thrust into a larger offensive role this season and took every advantage of the opportunity. He's pretty solid overall player and I think he definitely has the potential to be an NHL player. Brace skates pretty well and while he isn't big, he's protects the puck very well and has very good hands. He's got good "hockey sense" and really does well to find openings in the offensive end. A lot of his goals are scored right around the crease. He's definitely an in your face player who wears his heart on his sleeve. This is something that can cause him to get into penalty trouble from time to time, but he plays the game hard. This intensity makes him a very valuable penalty killer and forechecker. I think scouts really have to like the fact that he took this Majors team (without a definitive identity to start the year; new head coach, new players, etc) on his back right from the get go and finished just as strong as he started.

9. Frank Palazzese - Kitchener Rangers
While John Gibson stole most of the headlines in Kitchener this year as the higher profile player, it was actually Palazzese who appeared in more games for the Rangers. This is a great reason why he was named one of the West's most underrated players in the coaches poll. After a rough draft season (Palazzese is a 93) in Kingston last year, Palazzese asked for a trade this offseason and was shipped to Kitchener. Having two strong goaltenders definitely worked out for Kitchener as Gibson missed a lot of time due to the WJC's and injuries. Franky is a very sound goaltender, similar to Gibson in that he makes a lot of saves look easy. He challenges shooters well and really improved his positional play this year. I thought he also improved his rebound control over the course of the season and played with a lot of confidence. It should come as no surprise that Palazzese is receiving more draft praise this season than he did last year (his original draft year).

8. Matt Petgrave - Oshawa Generals
Petgrave appears on this list for the second year in a row. He improved his offensive numbers yet again, finishing in the top 10 of defenseman scoring for the first time in his OHL career. He remains a high risk, high reward defenseman, which has probably scared NHL teams off thus far. He'll take chances on the rush and he'll turn the puck over in his own end occasionally, but he also creates a lot of offense from the back end and skates well enough to cover his pinches in most instances. He's not only aggressive with the puck, but without it too. He's definitely one of the better open ice hitters in the league and isn't afraid to toss you around in the defensive end. He can go through some tough stretches defensively though. That being said, I think he looked much better with Oshawa to close the season than he did with Owen Sound to start. I've been a fan since his draft season in Niagara and I think he's got a lot of raw potential for the next level, if you believe that you can work with him.

7. Mitchell Heard - Plymouth Whalers
I was actually surprised that Heard didn't earn a contract from Toronto this offseason following a pretty impressive showing at their rookie camp and tourney. Heard is cut from the same cloth as other guys who've gotten themselves drafted as "re-entries" in recent years, like Andrew Shaw, Andy Andreoff, and Rob Flick. He's really a jack of all trades kind of guy. One thing that should garner a lot of attention from scouts is his faceoff ability, which is among the best among centerman in the league. On top of that, he plays in all situations for the Whalers and is an aggressive in your face forward. His offensive skills are pretty average overall, but I do think his playmaking ability is quite underrated. Bottom line is that he profiles pretty well as a potential checking line player in the NHL with his ability to win face-offs, work hard defensively, and protect the puck in the offensive zone. He'd probably get a few more points if he was bigger, but the fact that he's so fearless (in an Andrew Shaw kind of way) has to help his cause. I certainly wouldn't be surprised if the Leafs tabbed him in the later rounds.

6. Michael Houser - London Knights
Quite frankly I thought Houser would get drafted last year after a breakthrough season as London's starter. Like Petgrave, he was high on last year's list. Some might say, "how the hell did he fall on this list after having an even better year and winning the Red Tilson?" While it's more to do with the quality ahead of him, I'd reply. But after seeing Houser play so much this season, I can see why NHL teams have avoided him thus far. As great as he's been for London, he's an unorthodox goaltender who makes saves due to his athleticism. There's always this perceived fear that these types won't fare as well at the next level where NHL shooters pick their spots better and rebounds are deposited with greater efficiency (example A being former Belleville goaltender Mike Murphy and his low draft position). At the same time, I think NHL team's would be absolutely insane to not give Houser a look in the later rounds this year. He had such an absolutely fantastic season, and is having an equally good playoff showing. Plus, if an NHL team drafts him this year, they'll have at least a year of professional hockey to see if they want to sign him (they can influence their AHL team to sign him).

5. Alex Basso - Sarnia Sting
A trade from Belleville to Sarnia was fantastic for Basso this year. After a really disappointing draft season in Belleville last year, he was given a fresh start and really took off because of it. Basso is a very smooth skating offensive defenseman who would have likely been in the top 5, or at least top 10 of OHL defenseman scoring had he managed to stay healthy this season. He has excellent wheels and is very good at skating the puck out of his own end. He also possesses high end stick skill which aids him in his rushes to avoid defenders. Basso controls the point on the powerplay well and has a heavy shot which he does well to get through to the net. Basically, he has big point potential from the back end. Defensively, he plays bigger than he is, but there are some things he needs to work on. He gets out muscled in the corners a fair amount and can be a bit too much of a gambler in his own end. But his skating ability covers up for his mistakes more often than not. While his lack of games played this season might point to his size catching up to him, his injury was to his hand and not something that I think should worry NHL teams (in terms of his durability).

4. Zack Mitchell - Guelph Storm
Mitchell had one of the largest point improvements in the OHL this season, from 19 last year, to 75 this year. In essence, he came out of nowhere. But once you got a chance to see him play, it was easy to see why he was producing offensively. The first thing you notice about Mitchell is his high end stickhandling ability. He keeps the puck on a string in the offensive end and is very elusive. He's also got a very good shot and doesn't need a lot of room to get it off. Lastly, despite not really being a physically aggressive player, he's not afraid to take the puck hard to the net or go digging for pucks in the crease. The rest of his game is a little raw, but his offensive skill set forces you to take notice. There's no doubt that when NHL teams went to Guelph to check out the likes of Matt Finn or Scott Kosmachuk, they didn't leave without Mitchell having made an impression on them.

3. Tanner Richard - Guelph Storm
In the games if Richard I did see, I came away quite impressed. The sample size was smaller because it seemed every time I saw Guelph, he was out of the lineup. But again, the couple times I did manage to catch him, he was good. He's definitely a very good playmaking center who's got a high hockey IQ. Keeps plays alive in the offensive end by keeping the play moving and is patient with the puck. Seems to be a hard worker away from the puck and a good forechecker, which obviously aids in his ability to set up plays for his linemates. The skating seemed pretty good too, as did his overall game and defensive play. The only issue I have is the durability one. But I'm sure there were a few teams out there who saw enough of him to form an opinion. He could definitely have potential as a 2B/3A kind of guy.

2. Seth Griffith - London Knights
I was dumbstruck when Griffith wasn't selected last year. He was firmly in the majority of the top 100 lists that I saw, so his failure to get drafted was quite surprising. But it's good to see he came back quite strong this year. I have to be honest, I think what Griffith has done this season as a "re-entry" is more impressive than what Tanner Pearson has done. Now I admit, Pearson is the better pro prospect, but it still doesn't explain what Griffith is getting practically zero love for this draft the way Pearson (or even Tanner Richard) is. In essentially his second year in the league, he's taken the reigns of a team with several high end draft picks (including two first round forwards) and lead them to first overall in the OHL regular season. He's also been said team's best forward in the OHL playoffs. Sure, Griffith isn't the biggest (pushing 5'11), but he's such a smart and skilled player that his size doesn't affect him. And he's actually very good at protecting the puck and using the size he does have. His skating isn't an issue, as I'd consider it at least above average for the OHL. He's got tremendous hands and his wrist shot has improved immensely this season. He plays hard and contributes in all situations for the Knights. Seth Griffith has turned himself into a fantastic hockey player and I hope he hears his name called this time around.

1. Tanner Pearson - Barrie Colts
This should come as no surprise and he's earned it. What a year a difference makes. From a player nobody really knows on the worst team in the OHL one year, to one of the league's leading scorers and team Canada WJC member on one of the East's best teams. I think he's going to have a fair amount of success at the next level. He's got the size needed to play a goal scorer's game at the NHL level, and the right mind set too. His smarts are definitely one of his best assets IMO. Pearson is one of those guys who people say always finds himself at the right place at the right time for scoring opportunities. But that's because he anticipates the play well ahead of the other players on the ice. And while he's not a burner in terms of top speed, his acceleration and strength on his feet is strong and allows him to be a hard player to stop on the way to the net. He's also got a fantastic shot and can shoot from just about anywhere on the ice. I felt like after the WJC's, his overall game really took a step forward too; that being his defensive play and work on the cycle. It's really too bad that he broke his leg in that last game, as it would have been fun to see him perform in the playoffs. It'll be interesting to see if Pearson can manage to be the first draft re-entry from the OHL to get selected in the first round come June.

Honorable Mentions

This was a very tough list to make this year (as I mentioned above), with a lot of strong candidates. Here's a few HM's based on position.


Brampton's Matej Machovsky was someone I had ranked for last year's draft (40th among OHL players), but failed to get selected. He had an even better year this year as Brampton's starter and really stole the show on some nights where Brampton's offense couldn't get the job done. He's cut from the same cloth as a lot of recent Czech netminders in the sense that he's a bit of a scrambler who uses his athleticism to take away the bottom part of the net well.


Last year was a tough one for Belleville's Brady Austin, as he bounced back and forth from forward to defense. But a fresh start with the Bulls really did him well. He's an absolute behemoth on the backend, but actually plays more of a finesse game as he skates well for a big guy and has some puck skill and offensive capabilities.

Sudbury's Charlie Dodero turned himself into one of the league's top defensive defenseman this year. He's got everything you'd want in a quality defender and skates well enough and handles the puck well enough to suggest that he could handle the rigors of an NHL forecheck.

Kyle Hope really exploded in Oshawa this year before being traded to Owen Sound as part of the Petgrave/Schemitsch deal. I actually think he compares fairly well to a guy like Matt Petgrave (whom I have listed above). Good size, physical, moves the puck well. But can be turnover prone and needs to simplify his defensive approach.


Sarnia's Charles Sarault is an offensive sparkplug. Lots of energy and only really knows one speed. High high assist total was no fluke as he became one of the league's premier set-up men this season. His size and two way game might scare NHL teams off though.

Saginaw's Garret Ross had a wonderful breakout season, as he nearly quadrupled his point total from last year. He was always a hard worker and tough guy to play against, but some improvement to his skating and an increased role helped him to find his offensive game.

Ottawa's Steven Janes' offensive stats may not jump out at you, but there's more to the story. Janes was a 2nd rounder and a highly touted player who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. The 6'4 power winger came back strong this year posting 16 goals and 36 points in a 3rd line role. A team could roll the dice on him improving even more with increased ice time next year.

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