Alright Phoenix, you're up!
Mark Visentin - Niagara IceDogs
In terms of his OHL success, Visentin probably had his best season to date. It's hard to argue against that when he broke a 60+ year record of most shutouts in a season with 10. It couldn't have happened to a nicer and more determined kid too. Visentin is notorious for being one of the hardest workers in the OHL. His game preparation is top notch. In terms of his progression this year, the only thing I noticed this year was an improved ability to bounce back from a bad goal. Previously, he'd get really down on himself and the game would turn around from there. But perhaps last year's WJC's helped him with that lesson. He was, for the record, much better at this year's WJC's. It was great to see him in net for the bronze, where he played fantastic. Moving forward, the one thing Visentin still needs to work on is overplaying his angles. He still tends to slide out too far in reaction to plays around the perimeter and can get himself out of position. This coming year, playing time is going to be tough to come by in Portland, with Phoenix's top three goaltending prospects (Visentin, Lee, Domingue) battling to play alongside veteran Chad Johnson. If he's in the AHL, I'd expect Visentin to go through his ups and downs as he gets used to the speed of the pro game.
Connor Murphy - Sarnia Sting
Injuries continue to be the worry with Murphy. He missed the first three months of the season with a knee injury he suffered at the U.S. summer WJC camp. When he came back, things were slow going. He definitely went through a feeling out process, which is to be expected. The good news is that by the end of the season, I felt like Murphy had become one of the best defenseman in the OHL. I saw him play a couple of times later in the year (when I wanted to get a glimpse of Galchenyuk's return), and he was absolutely fantastic. He does pretty much everything well. I thought he was a very effective puck rusher who clearly looked comfortable gaining the zone. He also showcased a big shot from the point on the powerplay. Defensively, he was surprisingly physical. I saw him lay some pretty big hits this year, especially on forwards trying to drive to the net. I also liked what I saw from him in the defensive zone, where he was calm and composed. This year, the Yotes have some options. Because he was drafted out of the U.S. Development program, Murphy could play in Portland (he does have an ELC). Or they could send him back to Sarnia. At this point, without a full/injury free season under his belt, I think anything BUT sending him back to Sarnia would be a mistake. He needs to play a full year at this level and really dominate (which, based on what I saw at the end of the season, he's fully capable of doing). If he's in the OHL, and he stays healthy, I'd expect a big year. A top 5 in defenseman scoring kind of year (50+ points).
Phil Lane - Brampton Battalion
Despite the reduction in his goal scoring numbers, I felt like Lane definitely had his best OHL season to date and actually progressed quite well in some areas. Firstly, for those wondering why his numbers are so low, remember he plays for Brampton who employs a very defensive heavy approach. Lane's overall game really improved this year, at both ends of the ice. He took great steps in developing a solid three zone game, improving on his effectiveness on the backcheck and in winning battles along the boards. He also continued to be a physical force on the forecheck, and became a very strong penalty killer. Offensively, Lane was more aggressive with the puck on his stick, taking it hard to the net to try and create opportunities for his teammates. And while his shot never really improved to make him a terrific goal scorer, he improved the consistency with which he went to the net without the puck and became a tough guy to contain in the offensive zone. I like him a lot as a 3rd line type prospect because of his speed, physicality and well rounded game. This year, Portland seems to be pretty backlogged with forwards, but hopefully he can find his way into the lineup and make an impact with whatever ice time he earns. Or he could start his career in the ECHL and get time in all situations.
Lucas Lessio - Oshawa Generals
Lessio was one of the few Generals players whom I felt had a very good year. In his draft year I found his game to be very inconsistent, and a little erratic. At times, I felt as if he was one of those wind-up mice. Throw him on the ice, let him go hard, but you never really knew which way or what he was going to do. This year, his game was much more refined, mature. He knew what his role was and he played it well. He kept up that high energy level, but he was using it for the right things, like being physical in the corners, and going hard to the net with and without the puck. In particular, his ability to take the puck to the net was greatly improved as it appeared he improved his acceleration to give him a little more separation ability. His shot was also improved and became a weapon. He doesn't need a lot of room to score goals and is growing into the ability to use his size to create that room. Moving forward to this year, I'd like to see his ability to use his linemates improve, especially in creating opportunities for them out of the corners. I'd also like to see him improve his play in his own end to make him a more well rounded player. In Oshawa, he'll be the go to winger and he'll be playing triggerman with either Scott Laughton or Boone Jenner (both are terrific playmakers). A 40 goal, 70 point season is a realistic expectation.
Andrew Fritsch - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Fritsch missed half the year with a serious wrist injury and it hampered his development a bit. When he returned, he did play well though. It was clear that the Hounds missed his offensive ability when he was gone. He remains a player who works best off the rush, where he's surprisingly quick and has the hockey sense to find holes in the defense and anticipate the play. Moving forward, I think it'll all be about adding strength to his frame to make him a more effective player away from the puck. He's not a perimeter player, but he's also not incredibly effective in the corners, in front of the net, or in his own end. Adding strength would increase his ability to play a gritty game. It would also help him create more of his own scoring chances by driving hard to the net and being harder to take the puck off of. In Sault Ste. Marie this year, Fritsch will be counted on to be one of the team's main offensive contributors. He'll probably start the year on a line with Nick Cousins. Anything less than a 30-30 year would be a disappointment. Considering he did that in his draft year, here's hoping he can take it even further.