Will there even be an NHL Draft at this point? Who knows. All I know is that it's the end of October and nearly one quarter of the way into the 2012/2013 OHL season. That means it's time for my first draft ranking of the season.
The 2013 Draft is being touted as one of the most talented crops in years. A ton of top end talent is headlining the top 30, even top 60 right now. The crop from Europe is as stronger than it's been in years. The QMJHL has its best group in a long time. The competition for the first round looks wickedly fierce right now. So where does that leave the OHL? The way I'm seeing the OHL crop right now can be summed up by the phrase, "top heavy." I'm seeing about 15 guys who I think can challenge to be first round picks by the end of the season (or at least top 45-50 players because of the draft year). Then a few mid range guys. Then a lot of later round wildcards. Basically, I'm just not enamored with the depth the league has to offer this year, in comparison to other seasons. Just as an example, last year at this time, I had Scott Kosmachuk at number 27 on my list. At the time, he was leading the Guelph Storm in goal scoring. Number 27 on my list this year is another player from the Guelph Storm, Tyler Bertuzzi, who has only 3 goals. I had a hard time deciding on the final five or so spots of this list. The depth just isn't there at this point.
BUT, keep in mind. It's early. Funny story. Two years on my first list, I had Mark Scheifele at number 17. Last year on my first list, I had Radek Faksa at number 17. Both ended up being lottery selections. Needless to say, it's early folks. So who's number 17 on my list this year?
1. Sean Monahan - Ottawa 67's
At this point, Monahan still has to be considered the top player available from the OHL. Nothing has changed in the past 6 months or so. He's a potential franchise centerman. Despite the 67's struggles and their lack of secondary scoring, Monahan still has the best point per game average in the league. He's nearly a one man show right now. His play away from the puck is top notch. He thinks the game on another level. And offensively, he's mulch-faceted. Monahan is one of the most complete players to come out of the OHL in recent years. That said, he's not an explosive player. He's not the world's best skater and he's not flashy. You really have to watch him a lot to gain an appreciation for the type of player he is.
2. Darnell Nurse - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Nurse has impressed me most out of any draft eligible player this season. The growth in his game has been substantial. With Ryan Sproul out of the lineup, Nurse has exploded offensively and looks incredibly confident with the puck. That offensive element is what has been missing from his game since he joined the OHL. At 6'5, he's an absolute physical force out there defensively. He still relies a little bit too much on his natural athleticism at times, but he's big enough and quick enough to cover his mistakes. What you're seeing is a behemoth defenseman who has pretty much everything going for him. At this point, he has to be trending upwards.
3. Ryan Kujawinski - Kingston Frontenacs
I remain steadfast on this one. Kujawinski started the season on fire; was even the player of the week. But has since gone into a bit of an offensive slump. I still like him here because I believe he represents exactly what the NHL is looking for in their centers these days. He's got size, he skates well, he is improving without the puck, he has the ability to play physical and he can create offense. It's all about consistency moving forward. So far this season, I'd like to see him play with a bit more of an edge than he is. I still love the potential, and even if he is struggling the last few weeks, he's still playing at a point per game.
4. Max Domi - London Knights
Max has come out and done exactly what was needed of him this year. He's off to a red hot start offensively and has shown an increased desire to play without the puck and at both ends of the ice. His hands and puck skill are definitely near the top of this draft class. As an offensive player, it's hard to find holes in his game. In particular, I've always been impressed by his poise with the puck. Off the rush, he's so patient and waits for holes to be created. Crafty would be the word I'd use. At this point, it's tough to say why I've got him 4th. The top end of the OHL is all very close, and I do like Domi a lot. I just prefer the high end NHL potential of the three guys I've currently got ahead of him.
5. Jason Dickinson - Guelph Storm
Guelph is off to a fantastic start and Dickinson is definitely one of the reasons for that. He's kind of flying under the radar right now, but it won't be long before he's considered a surefire first round pick. He's got a lot of things going for him. Most of all, he's got the size and skill combination that NHL teams look for in their wingers these days. He plays in all situations already and just flat out makes things happen offensively. His hands, his ability to see the ice, and his ability to create offense in close quarters make him a very dangerous player at all times. At this point, I like him more than Kerby Rychel because I think he's got more potential at the next level.
6. Kerby Rychel - Windsor Spitfires
After a very slow start, Rychel has been on fire lately. He's up to 9 goals already after starting the year on a four game goalless drought. I do like Kerby, but not as much as others it seems. I have the five guys ahead of him that I do because I see him as more of a complimentary offensive player at the next level. He's got terrific hands in close to the net and he's a very determined goal scorer. And I actually believe his passing ability doesn't get enough credit. But in terms of creating his own offense, he leaves some to be desired. I also think his "power forward" style is a tad overrated. He will hit and he will battle along the boards, but not with consistency. Again, this is a player I like, but in a very strong draft year, I just don't see him up in the top 15 like some people have had him to start the year.
7. Nikita Zadorov - London Knights
Right now, I'm seeing Zadorov ahead of Darnell Nurse on some lists and I just don't understand why. They seem to be pretty similar players, but as of right now, Nurse's offensive game is at another level. But that still leaves Zadorov as quite the prospect. He's an absolute monster on the back end, and uses his size and skating ability to be a force in his own end. He's quite aggressive and has no qualms about punishing opposing forwards. Has the potential to be a very difficult player to play against at the next level. That said, his offensive game seems to be a work in progress. In watching him play, there's definitely offensive talent there. He can carry the puck, but his instincts and confidence just don't seem to be at the level which would have him putting a ton of points on the board. But, there's still lots of season left to see that part of his game grow.
8. Bo Horvat - London Knights
A future NHL player. One of those you look at and envision him having a very long pro career. He does all the little things well, from winning battles along the boards, to playing in his own end, to finding lanes and creating room for his linemates. He's the kind of player you love to play with. He's a smart guy and he uses this to his advantage offensively. I'm not entirely sure how much offensive potential he has at the next level, but guys like him are a scouts dream and always manage to get drafted in the back half of the first round.
9. Chris Bigras - Owen Sound Attack
A very similar player to Matt Finn last year, who was a high NHL draft pick last year. Bigras is a solid two-way defenseman who has had a great start to the year. He makes great reads in his own end and really anticipates the play well. He's not really a physical guy, but he knows how to angle off forwards from the puck and how to defend with his stick. Offensively, he makes good decisions with the puck and starts the transition game quickly. He actually has a lot of skill with the puck and can make forecheckers miss. That said, he'll need to add another gear to his skating and to improve his shot from the point to take his offensive game to the next level (thus the comparison to Finn). Just a solid prospect who looks like a surefire top 45 pick at this point.
10. Spencer Martin - Mississauga Steelheads
Outside of Darnell Nurse, Martin may have impressed me the most of any draft eligible player this year. He's been absolutely fantastic for the Steelheads, who are playing way better than many expected them to (including me). He never really looked comfortable when I saw him last year, but what a difference a year makes. He's your prototypical NHL goaltender in style. Martin is a big guy who challenges shooters, is athletic and follows the play well, and who actually already controls his rebounds well. He looks absolutely fantastic. I wanted to put him higher, but I'm always weary of placing goaltenders high to start the year. Is it a hot streak or are we seeing the real thing right now?
11. Ryan Hartman - Plymouth Whalers
Has come to the OHL as advertised. A bull in a china shop kind of winger who throws the body around, gets under the skin of the opposition and who can make things happen offensively. In the times I've seen Plymouth, I've actually been impressed with his ability to carry the puck and his ability to create offense from his drives to the net. At this point, I just wish he was a bit bigger. Can he be as effective with that style in the NHL? Will his body hold up to it? Seeing him in the early 2nd round of a lot of lists right now so my guess is that other people are having similar concerns.
12. Stephen Harper - Erie Otters
While I can't say Harper has disappointed me, he hasn't blown me away either. The top end of this draft is proving to be very strong right now. The players above Harper are playing some lights out hockey. Harper has been good, but I think he's still capable of giving more. In watching him play this year (at this point, who hasn't seen Erie yet to catch a glimpse of Connor McDavid), he hasn't been incredibly efficient at creating his own offensive chances. He's still trying to drive to the net, but often gets angled off or stripped of the puck. He remains at his best as a slot presence who can capitalize on rebounds and be a complimentary scorer. I've also been a bit disappointed in the lack of progress of his growth away from the puck. I'd like to see him use his size more consistently. Still a great prospect, but not a surefire first rounder at this point.
13. Zach Nastasiuk - Owen Sound Attack
The offensive production hasn't quite been there this season, but the rest of his game is really rounding into form. He's become a very valuable player for the Attack. He's a true power forward who'll throw his body around, dig in the corners and look to take the puck hard to the net. But he's also become one of Owen Sound's top penalty killers and is playing well in all three zones. He works his butt off. Right now he's injured with a banged up shoulder, but when he returns, I expect the points and goals to slowly start to build up. Just a blue collar guy who many NHL teams are going to grow fond of.
14. Jordan Maletta - Windsor Spitfires
Big, power winger with a lot of potential who is still growing into his game. He had some injury issues last year and as a result, I feel like he's still sort of feeling out the league. The main thing with Maletta is consistency. At times, he looks like a skilled power forward who could be difficult for defenses to contain. Other times, he looks way too content on trying to be a finesse guy. He needs to realize that his offensive success will be tied directly to his ability to use his size.
15. Justin Bailey - Kitchener Rangers
Oozes potential. At this point, I'm just not familiar enough with him to put him higher. Only seen him play once (because he missed time due to a concussion). Seems to have an awkward skating stride, but actually is deceptively quick. But does seem to lack some balance and strength which would make him a more effective puck carrier. Also seems to be an aggressive shooter with a big shot. I did expect more of him physically and without the puck though. I have a hard time seeing him as a center, seems more like a big, goal scoring winger who can develop a puck possession presence in the offensive end.
16. Cole Cassels - Oshawa Generals
Has a lot of his father's playmaking ability. He knows where his linemates are and he's a hard worker in the offensive end who can wear down opposing defenses. However, he's also different from his father in that he's actually a fairly physical player who seems to thrive on initiating contact and getting his hands dirty. He's also already a solid two way player and someone who can win faceoffs. He's not the biggest guy, which will ultimately go against him a little bit, considering the type of game he plays. But seems like a solid prospect at this point.
17. Jordan Subban - Belleville Bulls
There's no question that he's having a dynamic offensive season. He's leading his team in scoring by 4 points right now and has been dynamic in creating offense off the rush. He's also looked very strong controlling the point on the powerplay. He makes good decisions when it comes to shooting the puck and does a great job of getting his shot to the net. He's still a high risk, high reward player though, who can be prone to turnovers in his own end. And defensively, while he's been better, the size concerns are legit for the next level. At this point, is he all that different of a player than Niagara's Jesse Graham, who was a late round pick?
18. Hunter Garlent - Guelph Storm
Another little guy, Garlent is like the little engine that could. He's not big, but he's so effective on the forecheck and in the corners. He started off really slow offensively, but has been on fire lately and is the reigning player of the week. If he were bigger, he'd be up in the top 10. But at 5'9, 165lbs, will his game translate to the NHL? He's not going to be able to outwork defenses and catch them by surprise the way he does in the OHL. The energy and offensive creativity he brings to the ice are top notch, I'm just not sure what to make of those size concerns. Drafted? Absolutely. I'm just not sure when.
19. Sergei Tolchinsky - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Kind of weird that I put all three little guys together inside the top 20, but it's just the way it worked out. I've been mighty impressed with Tolchinsky, who might just be the quickest player in the OHL. His acceleration with and without the puck makes him very hard to contain off the rush. For me though, he hasn't been as noticeable when the game slows down in the offensive end. While he's not a perimeter player, I think he needs to involve himself more in play without the puck. At 5'7, I have a hard time envisioning him playing in the NHL without adding more layers to his game.
20. Josh Burnside - Mississauga Steelheads
Anyone who reads this blog, knows I'm a fan of Burnside. He's very quick and he brings a lot of energy to the ice. He's not afraid of going hard to the net with and without the puck and using that great skating ability to find holes and beat defenseman to the crease for rebounds. He's definitely got good hands in close and has goal scoring potential. That said, the rest of his game is a bit of a work in progress. For an energy guy, I'd like to see him play with more of an edge and be more physical. He also needs to get stronger to allow him to utilize that speed to create chances on drives to the net.
21. Sergey Kuptsov - Belleville Bulls
While his production hasn't been incredible, the Bulls have actually had a bit of trouble scoring this year. Kuptsov is actually 3rd in team scoring and has been one of the most consistent forwards. He's certainly embracing the larger role Belleville has given him this year after an offseason trade from Mississauga. He's got size, he's aggressive in driving to the net and he has a solid all around offensive skill set. Continued improvement in his play without the puck could see his draft stock rise.
22. Anthony DiFruscia - Niagara IceDogs
He's not exactly getting the same amount of ice time he was at the beginning of the season (when he was playing with Ryan Strome), but he's making the most of it. He's a scrappy guy who's actually quite talented offensively. He has skill with the puck and is able to create off the rush, but is still gaining confidence in his game during his first OHL season. I've actually been surprised by his play away from the puck. Like I said, he's scrappy. He'll hit you, he works hard in the corners, and he's endearing himself to Niagara fans as a favourite (call him Alex Friesen's replacement).
23. Nicholas Baptiste - Sudbury Wolves
It hasn't been a great year for Baptiste so far. Last year, he was being ranked highly because of the potential he held and not necessarily because of his on ice performance. You can only be ranked on potential for so long. He needs to start showing more on the ice. He's a big guy and he plays physical, but there's consistency issues. Offensively, the confidence to desire the puck and make things happen seems to be missing. Lots of season left, but he needs to step it up.
24. Carter Verhaeghe - Niagara IceDogs
A real hard working center who forechecks hard, digs out pucks from the corners and sees the ice well to create offense for his linemates. He's a real lunch pail guy who Marty Williamson is giving ice time to in all situations. Think Brady Vail from the Windsor Spitfires last year.
25. Danny Vanderwiel - Plymouth Whalers
Could be a big riser by season's end. The Whalers do such a great job of easing in their younger players. He saw little ice time last year, but it slowly gaining more and more responsibility. He missed some time due to an upper body injury this year, but is back and playing well. He's a potential power forward who has the skill and hands to put up some points.
26. Michael Giugovaz - Peterborough Petes
I'd say he seems pretty close to wrestling away the starter's job from Andrew D'Agostini. The Petes have a poor record this year, but they're playing better of late and are coming off playing London, Plymouth, Guelph, and Owen Sound to one goal games. Giugovaz is seeing a ton of rubber and is doing a good job of keeping his team in the games he plays. I've been impressed with his composure in net for a rookie. He looks confident in challenging shooters and he plays bigger than he is. At this point, I think he's second by Spencer Martin among OHL goalies eligible.
27. Tyler Bertuzzi - Guelph Storm
Has grown a lot over the past year, and is now over 6'0ft. Bertuzzi is an in your face winger who thrives on the physical aspects of the game. He's one of those players who walks that fine line between clean and dirty. Bertuzzi is definitely not a fun guy to play against. For all his hard work away from the puck and his tenacious style, he's also a pretty adept goal scorer who has good hands in close and a solid wrister.
28. Jimmy Lodge - Saginaw Spirit
Lodge is a goal scoring center who's starting to take advantage of greater ice time this year, in particular powerplay time. He's got a quick release and good goal scoring instincts. Even though he's a -7 right now, he's not a liability in his own zone. To stay down the middle, I think he'll need to continue to improve his playmaking ability and get stronger on the puck.
29. Nick Moutrey - Saginaw Spirit
A big power forward who's also seeing increased ice time in Saginaw this year. He's physical and creates space on the ice, but he's also pretty good with the puck. Similar to a guy like Danny Vanderwiel, Moutrey is still gaining confidence in his offensive abilities. He too, could be a riser as the season goes on.
30. Nick Betz - Erie Otters
Betz is a mammoth power winger who has a lot of potential as a net presence. He's really starting to use his size to his advantage without the puck and has upped his physical intensity this season. Offensively, he's still learning how to get the puck to the net, and how to battle near the crease. Definitely some potential here.
Honorable Mention (no particular order)
Justin Nichols - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Stephen Nosad - Peterborough Petes
Ben Harpur - Guelph Storm
Brent Pedersen - Kitchener Rangers
Alex Fotinos - Barrie Colts
Dominik Kubalik - Sudbury Wolves
Jordan DeKort - Windsor Spitfires
Jake Evans - Erie Otters