Nail Yakupov and the Edmonton Oilers are up next.
Tobias Rieder - Kitchener Rangers
One of the most improved players in the OHL this year. The funny thing is that not a lot of people are talking about the year he had. He nearly doubled his production from his freshman season and was among the OHL's top offensive players in the regular season AND playoffs. Needless to say all of those consistency issues he had in his draft year erased themselves this year. My guess is that he was able to increase his conditioning level to be able to play that high energy game he excels at, every shift, instead of a couple of times a game. Rieder definitely looked stronger this year too and was able to win more battles in the corners and do a better job taking the puck hard to the net. He was able to create more space for himself to get his shot off and was way more confident in using it. In his draft year, I found him a bit tentative at times offensively, but this past year he looked confident, especially in carrying the puck to the net (and the aforementioned shooting thing). His hard work away from the puck also translated to success on the penalty kill where he was among the league's most dangerous shorthanded players. Really impressed with his progression this year...and a little disappointed that more people aren't talking about it. He'll be back again next year and should help Kitchener to be one of the OHL's best teams. If the Rangers wanted to, they could assemble one of the league's most dangerous lines next year (as long as one of Rieder and Puempel play the off wing; Rieder did this already last year), with Tobias, Radek Faksa, and Matt Puempel. I'd expect Rieder to at least match last year's production in goals, and probably increase his assist total. A 90 point season isn't outside the realm of possibility.
Nail Yakupov - Sarnia Sting
What more is there to say about Yakupov, on top of what has already been said. He's one of the most electrifying and explosive players I've ever seen in the OHL. His shot, speed, and vision make him an elite talent. He makes plays at full speed that others have trouble doing standing still or barely moving. While there's always a chance he returns to the OHL, the odds of it seem pretty damn small. Even with all of Edmonton's depth at forward (in terms of emerging talent), I can't see him not cracking the roster. In fact, I have trouble not seeing him excel. We're not talking about a one dimensional/perimeter player here. Yakupov isn't afraid to mix it up and works hard for every inch of ice he gains. In a lot of ways, he's like Alex Ovechkin in that sense. Obviously he's not as big or as physical as Alex, but he has that same bulldog mentality. I think he'll have a better rookie season than Taylor Hall did two years ago. Last NHL rookie to score over 35 goals? Ovechkin and Crosby in 05-06. I think he can do it, as long as he stays healthy.
Daniil Zharkov - Belleville Bulls
2012-2013 is a big year for Zharkov to prove he can be a consistent offensive force. He's got a ton of talent and oozes potential. Guys with his size, skating ability, puck handling ability, and shot do not grow on trees. It's just a matter of putting it all together. Firstly, he's got to cut down on the neutral zone and offensive zone turnovers. There is a time and a place to be fancy and he needs to pick his spots better. Secondly, he needs to up his intensity away from the puck and start using his size more to create room for himself, and for his linemates. Third, he needs to drive to the net with a greater consistency. Not every goal needs to be a one timer from the slot (where he loves to set up shop). A guy his size should be crashing the net too. Belleville should be one of the better team's in the East this year, but if that's the case, they are going to need improvements from guys like Zharkov. I expect big things from him and I think anything less than a 30 goal season would be considered a mild disappointment.