This offseason, I'm trying a few new things. The OHL offseason can be pretty boring and hard to write about. I've definitely been prone to long stretches of inactivity in the summer.
One of the new things I'm doing is a review of the NHL team's prospects from the past season, in addition to an outlook on their future. I'm calling it 30 teams in 30 days, and we'll go in alphabetical order (for consistency sake).
Up first is the Anaheim Ducks.
John Gibson - Kitchener Rangers
Gibson's first season in the OHL was kind of an up and down one. Up, because when he played he was fantastic. His play lived up to the hype, as he was every bit of the poised and confident goaltender he was billed to be. He fills up the net incredibly well, but is actually relatively athletic for a big guy. He's aggressive in challenging shooters and does pretty well to control his rebounds. Because he covers the net so well, he's tough to beat on shots once he gets squared to the shooter. You've got to get him moving, or get him down early into the butterfly to beat him cleanly. Truthfully, I didn't see him have a really bad game this year. Part of that is the fact that I didn't see him as much as I would have liked too, which brings me to the down part of his season. He battled injuries and illness all season long, and actually played less than Rangers back-up Franky Palazzese during the regular season. He missed time due to back spasms, due to a concussion, due to pneumonia, and due to surgery to remove his tonsils. He's got to prove to be a little bit more durable in the net. This coming season he'll be returning to the OHL (although he is eligible to play in the AHL, but the Ducks already have a bevy of guys in the AHL for next season so it's not likely he goes there) where he'll look to lead the Rangers (who have to be an early Memorial Cup favourite from the O) yet again. If Gibson can prove to be a little more resilient, it's likely the Rangers will trade 1(b) goaltender Palazzese to a team looking for a starter, which would pave the way for Gibson to be the go to guy all season.
Rickard Rakell - Plymouth Whalers
I thought that Rakell had a very strong season with Plymouth this season. In his draft year, there were a lot of concerns about his offensive consistency and his overall hockey sense. But I think he did some to partially erase those concerns. Playing the entire year at center (as opposed to only part of it last year), he looked great in terms of creating for his linemates. His playmaking ability definitely took a step forward this year. He appeared more confident with the puck and was able to let the game come to him a little more, instead of forcing plays like he did in his draft year. His skating and shot both took a step forward also. In essence, he's become a very well rounded offensive player. One thing that was never criticized in his draft year was his play away from the puck, and that continued to be the case this season where he emerged as one of the league's top two-way players. His penalty minute totals wouldn't indicate it, but he's a tough guy to play against. He isn't a physical banger, but instead the type of guy who gets his stick in passing lanes, who wins battles along the boards, and who has the skating ability to stay with opposing forwards on the backcheck. Because of the improvements across the board, there seems to be a lot of optimism (or worry from Plymouth fans) that Rakell could make the jump to the NHL next year. The Ducks recently signed him to an ELC, so it's obvious they believe he can challenge for a roster spot as well. His strong two-way abilities might give him a leg up on a guy like Peter Holland, who was never the best two-way forward in his time in the OHL (although I'm unsure as to how their game has grown in the AHL). That being said, I think allowing him to play another year in Plymouth would be smart. Another year in the O would continue to allow his offensive game to blossom (especially in terms of confidence), and then he'd definitely be ready to make the jump.
Igor Bobkov - Kingston Frontenacs
Bobkov had a much better season this year and looked a lot more comfortable in Kingston than he did in London. Sending him back for his overage season was a really smart decision by the Ducks brass IMO. I definitely give Igor credit for battling the way he did for the worst team in his conference. He played hard every game and did his best to keep Kingston in some games they didn't have any business winning. He faced the most shots in the league this year and still managed to have a save percentage above .900. At times, his style can still be a little bit awkward. He seems to be most comfortable in a butterfly style, but he can be effective when he stands up to make saves too because of his size. When he does go down, he can still have some issues with his rebounds, but he was able to make a lot more second and third saves this year because he looked to be tracking the puck better and was a bit quicker in the crease. His focus was also greater and he anticipated plays more effectively. I think Bobkov definitely put his name back on the map this year and I look forward to seeing how he performs at the professional level. It would appear to be that he'll start in the ECHL with the Ducks having brought over two highly coveted European goaltenders who were probably all but guaranteed to be at least in the AHL. He remains a long term project but there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.
Joseph Cramarossa - Belleville Bulls
I was definitely disappointed with Cramarossa's development this season. It was a tough year for him though. He started the year on the shelf with an upper body injury, then not long after returning, got suspended for 10 games for a head check. After that, he kind of lost his spot in the Majors line up and was dealt to Belleville where he played OK. He remains an aggressive, in your face, high energy forward and those qualities did not escape him this season. He still played hard, was solid on the forecheck and did a good job on the penalty kill. But his offensive game didn't get taken to the level which I thought it might get to in his 19 year old season. He's got a good shot coming down the ice, has some puck skill to make goaltenders and defenseman miss, and he's aggressive enough away from the puck to make things happen for his linemates. But those attributes never really came together consistently this season to make him a big offensive threat. He doesn't yet have a contract from Anaheim, which leads me to believe that he'll likely be back in the OHL next season. I think it's a smart move for them to send him back for an overage season in Belleville, where they have a real chance to be the best team in the Eastern Conference. It'll give him a chance to take on a larger role offensively and possibly even wear a letter. He needs a season to really get his confidence going offensively, and if the Ducks put him in the AHL next year, I think they will really stagnate his offensive ceiling.