Bring on part 2!
The Boston Bruins
Jared Knight - London Knights
In his fourth and final year in the OHL, I felt like Knight was a bit of a disappointment. I still love him as a prospect, but there's no question that I anticipated his goal scoring ability to be taken to another level this season. And it didn't really get there. He remains at his best when he's able to take the puck hard to the net. His lower body strength is excellent and it makes him very hard to stop on the way to the net. But his ability to get open for shots didn't really take that next step. He definitely has an NHL caliber shot, but he didn't take that next step as a goal scorer because he wasn't able to get it off enough. He didn't really become that dangerous guy in the slot or the type of consistent goal scorer who can fly down the wing and rifle one top shelf. In the playoffs, he was particularly quiet and looked to be never fully healed from the ankle injury he suffered in round one. He's still an aggressive guy away from the puck and the type of forward who could work well with more skilled guys because of his "bull in a china shop" approach. He can definitely make some room for his linemates. That said, will this translate to the NHL as effectively as it worked in the OHL? While he's incredibly strong, he's not the biggest guy, so I do worry about his durability as a power winger. I'm also a little worried about his goal scoring ability translating to the next level. I'd be a liar if I said doubts hadn't crept into my mind about him being a possible top 6 forward. He might be better suited as a crash and bang 3rd line winger. The type of guy who is a consistent 15-20 goal guy, instead of the potential 30 goal guy we thought he'd become when he was drafted. He's still a great prospect and a guy I'm 100% rooting for at the next level. His OHL career is finished as it's on to Providence for him.
Ryan Spooner - Sarnia Sting
I felt like Spooner had a very strong season. While his offensive numbers don't particularly scream breakout, the fact that he did as well as he did, in a season where he fought mono, is impressive. On the times I saw him play, he was often the best player on the ice. He's not a big guy, but he looked much stronger on his skates this season. He was a lot harder to take the puck off of, and this gave him more time to operate. His puck skill and on ice vision is very strong, so being able to protect the puck better definitely made him more consistently dangerous. Always a strong skater, Spooner looked even quicker this year. He's very effective off the rush, where he's unpredictable as both a goal scorer and playmaker. His play away from the puck also took some baby steps forward too, as he was a little more apt to backchecking and fighting in the corners. In particular, he became one of the league's premier penalty killers, where his speed and anticipation of the play made him an offensive threat shorthanded (second in the league with 7 shorties). Like Knight, Spooner will also be making the jump to the pro ranks next year. I'd expect him to have little trouble with the adjustment and I'd be disappointed if he wasn't among the league leaders in AHL rookie scoring. That's if he even spends the season in Providence. I think he's closer to the NHL than Knight and could definitely challenge for a roster spot as early as next year.
Alexander Khokhlachev - Windsor Spitfires
It was a bit of a tough year for Khokhlachev's development IMO. Even without the lacerated kidney he suffered that ended his season in March, it looked to be a bit of a frustrating year for the talented Russian. On such a young Windsor team, he was expected to carry the load offensively and be the team's leader, and I don't know if he was ready for that. Offensively, he looked frustrated at times. He remained an aggressive offensive player, but it was as if his linemates never developed a terrific chemistry with him (even if Kerby Rychel scored 40 on his wing). He'd try to make things happen and it'd be as if he was on his own out there. He also played with a bevy of different linemates, many of whom weren't terrific defensive players just quite yet. It forced Khokhlachev to try to focus more on becoming a three zone player, but it also detracted some from his ability to generate offense consistently. And at the end of all it, I'm not sure his defensive game really improved all that much. Nor did his willingness to consistently engage away from the puck in the offensive zone. His skating still lacks that extra gear too, something that would make him considerably more effective. I'm also not crazy about his decision to play under his father in the KHL next season. While there's no doubt he'll get the ice time to help him improve (thanks pops), you have to wonder if playing in the KHL will help him improve on the areas which he needs to. Playing another year under Kerby Rychel and Bob Boughner definitely would continue increase his competency in all three zones, because they don't put up with a lot of crap (as Khokhlachev surely found out in his two seasons in Windsor). Hopefully he comes back to North America ready to take on a roster spot in Boston.
Dougie Hamilton - Niagara IceDogs
What more can you say about Dougie? Often times, a man among boys in the OHL this season. He makes things look so easy out there. He's a great skater for a big guy and it allows him to play both ends very effectively. He can take some chances offensively that others can't because he can catch up to the play in the defensive end. I felt like his defensive game really grew this season and he was much more effective in his own end. At times in his draft year, he'd get caught running around a bit, but his game was more refined in the defensive zone, allowing the play to come to him and trusting his instincts. Once he's able to break up a play, his confidence with the puck allows him to start the breakout very quickly. His shot and ability to use it also took a step forward this year. He was able to get point shots through to the net with more efficiency, and picked better spots for his pinches down low. With a spot on the Boston blueline up for grabs, it appears many are expecting Dougie to grab it. I'd probably be in the camp too. I'll be very surprised if Hamilton is back in the OHL this season. A couple of things that do worry me slightly about the expectation of a quick transition to the NHL. One; I think he'll have to simplify his game a little bit, as right now he can get caught roaming around a bit too much offensively. This was something Alex Pietrangelo did in his OHL career too and he had a bit of a tough time transitioning. Two; he'll need to be more consistently physical at the next level and use his size more effectively defensively...especially in front of the net. It'll be interesting to follow his projected path in training camp.
Anthony Camara - Barrie Colts
Camara had a pretty good season, improving upon all of his offensive numbers. He looked very comfortable in Barrie following the trade from Saginaw and was able to really find a niche with the Colts. He has some good hands in close and works hard away from the puck, so I think he does have some goal scoring potential as a high energy/grinding type of guy. He's definitely not afraid to drive to the net, and this year I felt like his ability to carry the puck and overall puck skill did improve. This coming season in Barrie, he's going to be counted on as one of the team's main offensive weapons and has a chance to play on the team's top line. I'd expect a least 25 goals from him this season and for him to enjoy a mini break out year.
Tyler Randell - Kitchener Rangers
Started the season with Providence, but was sent back to Kitchener late in the year. He looked good in his overage year. It's obvious his time in the AHL helped him to add some strength to his frame because he was very difficult for opposing defenses to contain in front of the net. He remains pretty much a garbage goal kind of guy, but he also works pretty hard away from the puck and isn't afraid to drop the mitts, which bodes well for his future in pro hockey. His skating still isn't terrific, but he knows his role and plays it to the best of his ability. His consistency away from the puck was much better upon returning from the AHL and he was often quite the load to handle on the cycle too. He'll make the full time jump to the pro ranks next year, although I'm still not sure he's ready for full time AHL play quite yet. Perhaps sending him to the ECHL where he can get some powerplay time would be the better choice.
Malcolm Subban - Belleville Bulls
The key to Subban for the upcoming season will definitely be avoiding injury. He's a terrific goaltender. His athleticism is fantastic for the position and he reads plays very well for a goaltender who really doesn't have a ton of experience. This year he's going to have to work on controlling those rebounds and becoming more of a true goaltender and less of a stopper. The Bulls have a legitimate shot at finishing first in the Eastern Conference this year and Subban will be a huge part of that. He's also got a shot to be Canada's starting netminder at the WJC's. But again, all of this is only possible if he can stay healthy.
Seth Griffith - London Knights
Griffith will return to the OHL this year where he's got a legitimate shot at leading the league in scoring. He had a terrific breakthrough season where nearly every single one of his attributes as a player took a step forward. He's so skilled with the puck, has a quick release, and has great vision to set up his linemates. However, his defensive game actually took a step back this past year, likely as a reaction to him trying to put up more points. In his original draft year, he was actually a fairly committed two-way player. My hope is that he can regain that form and does a little less floating this season. With added confidence and an offseason dedicated to strength training, he should be able to be more effective away from the puck. Hopefully, he can also add a bit of an extra gear to give him some separation off the rush, allowing him to add another dimension to his game. I'd expect pretty large things from him this year.
Cody Payne - Plymouth Whalers
The Bruins took a chance on Payne in hopes that he'll become a power forward type of prospect. He's big and raw and has some characteristics you'd look for in a budding offensive player. This season he didn't get a ton of ice time, and unfortunately it looks like that could be the case again this year. The Whalers are returning most core players, save overagers Andy Bathgate and Jamie Devane. He'll probably continue to play on the team's third line and see little to no time on special teams. But hopefully he can begin to become a more consistent player and set himself up nicely for a big year in 2013-2014, when the Whalers big guns (Noesen, Miller, Aleardi, Rakell, Meurs, Heard, etc) are all gone.