Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Top 10 - Who's Significantly Raised Their Draft Stock?

First off, congrats to the London Knights for capturing the OHL Championship. I certainly didn't expect the series to be over so fast. Kudos to their perseverance and effort which were crucial in their win.

With the OHL playoffs over and the Under 18's in the rear view mirror too, this week's Top 10 looks at ten guys who really did well to showcase their abilities at the right time. Highlighted will be draft eligible players whose performance in this year's playoffs, or at this year's Under 18's, really helped to elevate their stock for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.

Obviously, there are going to be a fair amount of London Knights on this list. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched this team dominate this year's OHL playoffs.

Let's look at the list.

10. Justin Kea - Saginaw Spirit
He finished much stronger than he started the year, that's for sure. While he only finished with three goals on the season, his performance to close out the regular season and into the playoffs provided scouts with enough evidence to suggest he's a much better player than his stats would suggest. He was very effective in the postseason working on the Spirit's 3rd line (with rotating linemates like the underrated Garret Ross). He was also instrumental on the team's penalty killing unit. Big centerman who can clear space for their linemates don't grow on trees. And Kea definitely showed enough guts, determination, and even skill to warrant a higher draft selection.

9. Josh Anderson - London Knights
Has improved so much since the start of the season. And it's easy to see why. Anderson is one of the hardest working guys on the ice. And while he was a little quiet in the OHL Championship against Niagara, I felt he was outstanding in the first three series for London. Anything you need done, Anderson can do it. He digs in the corners. He backchecks hard. He creates space for his linemates. But he also has skill and can contribute offensively. There's a reason this guy jumped up so much in the Central Scouting Rankings. He's turned himself into a terrific player and with increased ice time next year, we could see big things from him. Where as previously I felt like he might be someone a team targeted in the late rounds, I could see teams fighting for him earlier now.

8. Jake Paterson - Saginaw Spirit
If anything, the vote of confidence from Saginaw management gave him by starting him in the playoffs should be enough to impress scouts. But his performance in this year's postseason was even better. While his numbers don't jump out at you (a barely .900 save percentage), Paterson was good for a rookie netminder. Especially when you consider that he was the only 94 starter to see the second round. He had some bad games, no doubt about it. But he also dispatched of the powerful Sarnia Sting, and took two games against London in the second round. If anything, his losing effort in the pivotal game 5 against the Knights was his most impressive performance. He stopped 46 shots, but lost in overtime 2-1. He gave his team a chance to win that game, and take a 3-2 lead in the series. Even more impressive was that, that performance followed his worst performance in the postseason. Showed great mental toughness. I think Paterson has thrown his name into the ring with Murray and Altshuller to see who's the second OHL goalie taken behind Malcolm Subban.

7. Adam Pelech - Erie Otters
While central scouting might not be high on him, thanks in part to a bit of an injury plagued season on the worst team in the league, I think most NHL scouts still were even before his performance at the Under 18's. The thing is, it's difficult to standout as a top notch shut down defenseman on a terrible team. Playing for Canada and occupying that role was a significant opportunity for Pelech and he took full advantage of it. He was named as one of Canada's top 3 players in the tournament and was fantastic defensively, going against the opposition's top lines. I think he vaulted himself from a guy team's might have been looking at in the 3rd round, to someone who could hear his name called early in the 2nd.

6. Chris Tierney - London Knights
A definite unsung hero for London. While I've been high on Tierney all season long, I think his performance in this year's playoffs really helped him to get NHL scouts to take notice. He was one of London's best players in their first series against Windsor, and again in the OHL Championship against Niagara. He took key faceoffs, he was great defensively (especially in helping shadow Ryan Strome), and he scored some really big goals for the team. Like teammate Josh Anderson, I think Tierney has jumped from being a late round candidate to a guy team's may look at the in the mid rounds.

5. Scott Laughton - Oshawa Generals
It was kind of tough for Laughton to get recognition this year in Oshawa. He was overshadowed at times by the team's struggles for consistency, and by the team's veteran forwards. And while he did have a great second half of the season, it was his performance at the Under 18's that really caught people's attention. He was one of the Canada's best and most consistent performers. And he did everything for the team. From killing penalties, to grinding it out along the boards, to putting points on the board. I've said it before, but Laughton reminds me a lot of Mike Richards at the same age and I think there's a chance he's put himself in conversation for the back end of the first round.

4. Ryan Rupert - London Knights
I'm not sure what Central Scouting has against this guy, by not ranking him, at the very least, towards the back end of the draft. Sure, he's small. But he plays way bigger than he is. Too big at times. Rupert was absolutely fantastic in this year's playoffs, playing with OHL playoff MVP Austin Watson on the team's best defensive and offensive line. He's already fantastic defensively (as his coaches poll accolades would suggest), he works his butt off in the offensive end, and he's fearless out there. I don't know how many times in the OHL Championship, I saw the smaller Rupert in there winning board and loose puck battles against bigger Niagara forwards and defenseman (not sure what that says about Niagara though). If Rupert goes all seven rounds in June without getting selected, something is wrong with the system.

3. Matt Murray - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I felt really bad for Murray this year. Things were looking great for him at the start of the season, with the Hounds playing well and him starting. But then the Jack Campbell trade happened (easily one of the worst trades in recent memory). Not only did it kill team chemistry, but it appeared to kill Murray's confidence. And while he was absolutely fantastic at the Top Prospect's Game, it was going to take a truly terrific performance at the Under 18's to save his draft season. And he delivered just that. Murray was nothing short of brilliant in most of Canada's games, showcasing an ability to make the highlight reel save to keep his team in the game. His performance at the event reminded me of when in 2008, Jake Allen came into the Under 18's as a relative unknown (8th rated CSB goalie in NA), and left a high 2nd rounder in June. I could easily see a team taking Murray early and banking on his athletic ability to take him far.

2. Tom Wilson - Plymouth Whalers
All season long, it was the same with Wilson. "Why is a guy with only 9 goals on the season being considered a first round pick?" He was being lambasted for his lack of offensive production, despite the other things he brought to the table. But the OHL playoffs were a different story for Wilson. He ended up with a point per game, finished second in team scoring (on a team with a ton of high draft picks), and lead the team in goal scoring. He was absolutely fantastic. Any scout who would have previously been on the fence as per his offensive potential, can now point to his performance in the playoffs if he wants to convince his boss to draft Wilson. While I'm personally still warming up to the idea of him as a first rounder, it honestly wouldn't surprise me at all if Wilson is drafted way earlier than people are expecting. I could easily see a team banking on his potential inside the Top 20...or even 15.

1. Olli Maatta - London Knights
This should come as no surprise after Maatta's playoff performance. He finished the playoffs tied for 4th in playoff scoring with 23 points, and had just as many points as lottery pick and OHL defenseman of the year Dougie Hamilton. Bottom line is, none of it surprised me. Every time I saw Maatta this year, I came away asking myself "how is this guy not putting up more points?" He's clearly had this in him all season long but his offensive confidence peaked at the right time. Best of all, Maatta was still fantastic defensively (+11). You couldn't have asked for more from him. So the question you have to ask yourself now is...just how high has he vaulted himself? I think we could definitely see him in the top 10 now and he's certainly closer to Cody Ceci now than he was 2 months ago.

Honorable Mention:

Alex Galchenyuk - Sarnia Sting
I think you've got to mention Galchenyuk here, even if he didn't really increase his stock; more solidified it. Working his way back to play at the end of the season and in the playoffs shows great determination. And even though he wasn't fantastic, he showed enough glimpses of brilliance to suggest to NHL scouts that he'll be just fine once he gets his legs under him again.


Anonymous said...

I agree on Maatta, I liked his calm play all season but was concerned about his offensive output. If I am drafting at this point, he is my #1 D man in the draft, yes ahead of Ryan Murray.

Anonymous said...

I wouldnt put Maatta as high as #1 defensive prospect but definitely 3rd behind Murray and Dumba.

Anonymous said...

Look at Maatta's playoff #s, he has a LOT of offensive upside