The holiday break is over and we're now past the halfway point in the 2012/2013 OHL season. It's been an interesting year, filled with disappointing starts, inconsistent play, and a boatload of talented players who were robbed of their chance to play in the NHL this season.
With no NHL season (to date), it seems more and more likely that the draft lottery will occur just as it did in 2005, with every team given an equal chance to get the first overall selection (aka the Sidney Crosby draft). This draft crop looks very strong. Looking at comprehensive draft lists, nearly every league in North America has a strong crop of players and nearly every country in Europe is offering up top end talent. There are guys being rated at the back of the 2nd round, that normally would have had the chance to be late first rounders. In the OHL, specifically, I feel like it's very top heavy. There are a handful of guys who have a chance to be top end NHL players, with as many as 8 having the shot to go inside the top 20 (by season's end). Depth wise, I think there have been stronger years. If I had to put together a list of 50 guys (right now), who I thought had a serious shot at being NHL draft picks come June, I don't think I could. That could change by season's end though.
Below, my midseason draft rankings can be found. For those unfamiliar, I only rank first year eligible players, so don't expect to see guys like Justin Auger, Dane Fox, or Jake Patterson on this list.
Here are the rankings:
1. Sean Monahan - Ottawa 67's
What else is there to say about Monahan, that most people don't already know? He's one of the more complete draft eligibles that the OHL has had to offer in recent years. His vision with the puck and his hockey sense are top notch. The thing that I'm loving is the increased physical element he's bringing this year. He's getting his nose dirty and turning himself into more of a power center. As some people have pointed out, he's not the most blessed skater out there, but I don't see it being a hindrance. He's able to slow the game down to a level that works for him. I think he's definitely in the NHL next year, if they finally figure out their labour issues by then. The real question is, will he still be a 67 come January 10?
2. Darnell Nurse - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
It's a damn close race between Nurse and Zadorov at this point. Similar sort of players. I've got Nurse ahead right now because I think the offensive side of his game has a bit more potential, while possessing the same potential physically and defensively. He's slowed down a bit since the return of Ryan Sproul (as to be expected), but it gives him a chance to settle down his defensive game and really refine his zone coverage ability. The other thing is, Zadorov has about 25lbs on Nurse right now. When Nurse fills out to that size, he's going to be quite the physical monster.
3. Nikita Zadorov - London Knights
He's rocketing up a lot of lists of late, and with good cause. Defensively, he's an absolute rock. 6'5, 220lbs. He is a very physical player who makes his presence known and felt in the defensive end. He absolutely wallpapers opposing forwards along the wall and really deters the cycle. Offensively, he's still gaining confidence. He definitely has the ability to lead the rush and is starting to take more chances in jumping up in the play. His work on the powerplay is also taking steps in the right direction. Like I mentioned above, he and Nurse are almost 2a) and 2b) at this point.
4. Max Domi - London Knights
Domi seems to be a bit of a polarizing player. You either love him or you don't (for instance, ISS does not have him in their top 30, but McKeen's has had him firmly inside their top 20). He doesn't come without his warts. I don't think his defensive game has evolved to the point many had hoped it would this year. He's also not the biggest guy. But his skill level is through the roof. His patience and poise with the puck is his most impressive attribute IMO. Off the rush, he creates opportunities out of nothing, by sucking defenses in, using his strength on the puck and by making great passes. The things he lacks can be taught and improved upon. His skill and poise/vision with the puck can not.
5. Bo Horvat - London Knights
Continues to grow on me. He has been absolutely on fire lately, with 10 goals and 7 assists in his last 12 games. He's
still learning how to balance all the things he does on the ice. He's so
involved in the play away from the puck, and that can sometimes take a
bite out of a younger player's offensive output. But in the last few
games of his I've seen, he's looking more confident with the puck and is
looking to take it hard to the net. He's becoming more of a leader and
seems no longer satisfied with being the 3rd option on his line. I also
think he's starting to improve his positioning away from the puck in the
offensive end and is getting himself in better scoring position. He's a
true complete player, and if he can keep up the offensive production,
he'll be throwing his name into the ring for top 15 contention.
6. Jason Dickinson - Guelph Storm
Tons of skill. Has the potential to develop into a truly explosive offensive player. The total package offensively, who can make things happen with his hands, acceleration, and creativity. He shows signs of developing a nastier side and will sometimes mix it up in the corners or in front of the net. That side of his game does need to continue to grow though. There are those I talk to who have concerns over his consistency and compete level. To some degree, I agree. But, at the same time, he's the type of guy who can be relatively invisible all night, until a few shifts where he takes over and helps to put the puck in the net. Putting together whole periods of offensive control is the next step.
7. Kerby Rychel - Windsor Spitfires
Rychel behind Horvat (and Dickinson) might surprise a few people, but I've been a bit disappointed in Rychel's development this year. Don't get me wrong, I still think he's a first round pick and someone with an NHL career ahead of him. He's got one of the better shots in the OHL and doesn't need a lot of room to get it off. He's also very good in front of the net, working as a screen, and as someone who has the hands to put in rebounds. He's very good in tight. I also think his passing ability and vision is underrated. He'll make some nice plays coming off the boards, or behind the net on the cycle. But he's had trouble trying to create his own offensive chances this year. His play away from the puck and intensity level also seems to waver. He has some power forward tendencies, but his physical game isn't consistent enough. Rychel is a good player, but I think he's being passed by some of the players in the '95 age group.
8. Ryan Kujawinski - Kingston Frontenacs
Had him ranked number 2 on my preliminary list. Now he's number 8. Just hasn't had a terrific year. He was riding a 15 game goalless drought before exploding post holiday break. Kujawinski has all the talent and loads of potential for the next level, but he has looked a tad lost at times this season. He's been pressing offensively and it's causing him to lose sight of his strengths on the ice. He's at his best when he's playing physical and involved heavily along the wall, but his game has become a tad one dimensional in that sense that he's trying to do too much with the puck off the rush. He's still playing well defensively and is a competent two-way guy, but he needs to simplify things offensively and get back to outworking the opposition in opposing end. It's worth stating that he's taken a bit of a backseat to the Spencer Watson, Sam Bennett, and Henri Ikonen line this year. It should come as no surprise then, that his current hot streak post break (4 goals, 3 assists in 3 games) comes with Watson and Bennett at the World Under 17's. Hopefully he can keep his confidence level high once those two return to their staring role post tournament.
9. Spencer Martin - Mississauga Steelheads
through a bit of a rough stretch lately, but that isn't uncommon for a
young goaltender in this league. It's even possible he's fighting
through an injury right now (been rumours of a knee ailment). That said,
he's a terrific prospect. He's got good size and follows the play
really well. He gets himself in good position to makes saves and is very
quick going to his butterfly. The biggest thing he needs to work on is
his rebound control. He has a tendency to kick pucks back out into the
slot and gives teams too many second chances on long shots. Again
though, the transformation from puck stopper, to puck absorber is one
all goaltenders go through in junior.
10. Ryan Hartman - Plymouth Whalers
Cut from the same cloth as the Rick Tocchet/Darcy Tucker's of old, or the Steve Ott/Steve Downie's of new. A real hard working, in your face forward. He's playing down the middle right now, but I could see him at any forward position. He excels on drives to the net, where he has a surprising burst of speed and controls the puck well with his body. He's very aggressive in going to the net without the puck too and capitalizes on rebounds. He works the cycle well and is improving his play defensively. He'll lay the body hard too, and isn't afraid to drop the mitts (5 fights this year). Think of him like a power forward in a smaller guy's body (about 5'11). The only player on this list participating at the WJC's.
11. Justin Bailey - Kitchener Rangers
Raw. Very raw. Think Brent Burns back when he was playing forward for the Battalion in his draft year. But has a lot of potential. His biggest weapon is his shot. It rivals Kerby Rychel for the best on this list. Very hard and he does not need much room to get it off. He's also still learning how to use his size to get himself in better scoring position. Everything else is a work in progress. His skating is a tad awkward (wide stride, think Wayne Simmonds), and his ability to carry the puck is improving as he gains strength. I'd like to see his intensity level without the puck increase too, using that size to win more battles along the wall and to engage physically with more consistency. I think the injuries he's suffering do have to be of some concern though. A concussion and now a sternum injury has kept him on the shelf. Needs to stay healthy.
12. Chris Bigras - Owen Sound Attack
I like Bigras a lot, I just don't see him as a first round pick at this point. He doesn't have the same NHL potential as the guys I've got listed ahead of him. Think along the lines of Stuart Percy or Matt Finn, from the past couple of years. He's a jack of all trades type who defends his end well, but who can also transition the other way and lead the rush effectively. He has pretty good skill with the puck and is able to get in deep, but he's not the type to take chances to try and score. His shot from the point also needs to improve, both in strength and accuracy. I'm not sure I see him being the type to put up a lot of points at the next level. But I do see him developing into a serviceable NHL defenseman; the type of guy who has a long career ahead of him.
13. Stephen Harper - Erie Otters
Massive consistency issues this year. Has only scored goals in 3 games, the last 2 months (two, 2 goal games ). Had 24 goals last year as a rookie, on pace for only 18 this year. The Otters have tried a lot of different things to get him going. Tried playing him with McDavid, but the chemistry wasn't there. Tried him on his own line, and the intensity hasn't been there. He's even been playing the point on the powerplay lately. Seen him play three times this year. Twice, he was invisible. The third time, he was one of the best players on the ice. That game was the most recent viewing, which comes as no surprise considering he averaged a point per game in December. But he needs to play consistently physical in order to be effective. Using his size to his benefit is his meal ticket offensively. Will need to turn it up in the 2nd half to avoid being passed by similar players who are surging offensively (Moutrey, Baptiste, etc), but it does look like he's on his way to doing that.
14. Zach Nastasiuk - Owen Sound Attack
Zach Nasty, as Owen Sound fans have become accustomed to calling him, is one of my favourites from this draft class. He's not going to wow you with his offensive skills, and I'm not sure how high his ceiling is for the next level, but he's a consistent performer for the Attack who rely on his tenacity and motor to win hockey games. He plays in all situations for Owen Sound, and is a particularly strong penalty killer already. He wins battles along the boards, blocks shots, and is a true team first guy. Offensively, he shows spurts of being able to generate offense by taking the puck hard to the net. His shot needs to get better in order to take that next step as a goal scorer. Nastasiuk represents true grit.
15. Nick Moutrey - Saginaw Spirit
Have to admit, of any player on this list, I'm least familiar with Moutrey. I've only seen Saginaw play once this year. I was impressed with Moutrey during that viewing though. And I've heard great things about him from contacts that I trust. Big power forward with hands and skill. At this point, I'm sure there are teams who have him higher than Nastasiuk and Harper on their list, but I don't feel comfortable doing that quite yet. Moutrey is certainly a player to watch though.
16. Cole Cassels - Oshawa Generals
Got off to a slow
start offensively, but has been better lately with 7 goals and 3 assists
in his last 10 games. He's a bit of a different player than his father (one of
the most underrated playmakers in the history of the game). Cole is more
of a solid two-way guy, who excels in outworking the opposition. He's
already a very solid defensive player and someone who will throw around
his body. He's not that big, but he's effective playing that grinding
role none the less. Like his father though, he does seem to have a high
hockey IQ and good vision on the ice. He does well to make plays off the
wall and finds his teammates with passes after coming away from battles
with the puck. His skating is an area which I think could improve,
particularly in the first few steps to give him more room to operate off
the rush. He can also be prone to turnovers due to blind passes.
17. Josh Burnside - Mississauga Steelheads
If you read the blog regularly, you know he's a favourite of mine. Has found himself a home on the Steelheads' first line (with Brace and Smoskowitz) and hasn't looked out of place. He's a terrific player away from the puck, who is active on the forecheck, and uses his speed to create offense off the rush. He's also very aggressive in going to the net without the puck and has no problem standing as a screen in front of the crease. He's also got a pretty good shot from the slot and is able to beat defenders to loose pucks with his skating ability. He was a defenseman in minor midget, so he's also a terrific two-way player who is relied upon on the penalty kill. I like that he's starting to play with more of an edge, something he's going to need to continue to do as an energy guy. I do wish he was a bit bigger though, as it would make him a more effective player.
18. Nicolas Baptiste - Sudbury Wolves
Big guy and former high OHL priority selection. He's finally starting to see ice time in key situations for Sudbury and is making the most of it (7 goals, 8 assists in his last 15). Moves well for a big guy and does a good job of protecting the puck on the way to the net. He has good hands too, which (in combination with his size) gives him more room to operate. The physical side of his game is inconsistent. At this point, it seems like he has a bit of trouble balancing the ability to be a force on the forecheck and being physical, with being responsible for creating offensive chances. In other words, he needs to the puck on his stick to be noticeable at times. I'd like to see him use his size more to create room for his linemates and to be more of a net presence.
19. Brody Silk - Sudbury Wolves
Silk really struggled to start the season (goalless in his first 11 games), and as a 3rd year player (late '94), that just can't happen in your draft year. However, he's definitely turned it around since then. Since forming a line with Josh Leivo and Dominik Kahun, Silk has found his scoring touch and is averaging a point per game since late October. He's a difficult player to line up against. He's what you would call a pest. He's in there on the forecheck, he's a factor along the wall, and he goes hard to the net looking for rebounds. He's also a factor physically and defensively, doing a good job of tying up his man on the backcheck. The one area of his game that does need improvement is his acceleration, as he can be a little slow getting going. To some degree, this limits his effectiveness off the rush. But his tenacity often overcomes this. Just a real meat and potatoes kind of player who definitely warrants a look come June.
20. Charlie Graham - Belleville Bulls
He's been absolutely great as Subban's back up in Belleville this year. He's not a big guy, but he comes out to challenge shooters and seems to be quite athletic. His rebound control has looked pretty good too and he seems to swallow up higher shots without giving up rebounds. I've heard George Burnett compare him to former Bull star Mike Murphy, which is obviously high praise. Before we go doing that, Graham has a great chance to steal some of the spotlight when he gets the starters job with Subban away in Russia. He's 3-2 since taking over, and has played quite well (beating West powerhouses Guelph and Kitchener recently). Belleville just needs to score in front of him. The battle for the 2nd best goaltender behind Spencer Martin will be interesting to close out the season. Graham, Giugovaz, Fotinos and DeKort are all very close.
21. Jordan Subban - Belleville Bulls
The only blueliner to currently lead his team in scoring has to be worth something right? Subban is a terrific offensive defenseman. He's a great skater, which plays well within the large ice surface in Belleville. He's also very confident with the puck and is willing to take chances to jump up into the play. His play on the point of the powerplay is also improving, although there's still room to grow there as he becomes more patient moving the puck and strengthens his shot. He's a different defender than P.K. though. P.K. was built differently, much more stocky, which allowed him to be more of a physical threat. Jordan is similar to Jesse Graham in Niagara. A smaller guy who teams will question whether he's got the size to play a 5 on 5 role at the NHL level. He certainly has genetics on his side though.
22. Jimmy Lodge - Saginaw Spirit
Lodge is a bigger forward who is still growing into his body; gaining the strength to be an effective offensive player on a consistent basis. As mentioned, I haven't seen a ton of the Spirit this year, but in the game I did see, Lodge wasn't much of a factor. My contacts have said they've been a bit frustrated with him this year. He has the capability to play any forward position, but has been seeing a lot of time on the wing of late. He's got a good shot and potential to develop into a goal scorer. This might be a little lower than some others have him, but at this point, I can't justify having him higher.
23. Carter Verhaeghe - Niagara IceDogs
Cut from the same cloth as Spitfires forward Brady Vail. Verhaeghe is a hard working center who plays both ends of the ice and has been Niagara's most consistent secondary scoring threat this year (IMO). He generates most of his offensive chances by working hard on the cycle and winning loose puck battles. He's also got good vision and does a great job of distributing the puck, particularly after tiring out defenses during the aforementioned cycling. I think he's a real underrated player for this draft class. He's really stepped up his game with Ritchie and Strome at the World Juniors. In the six games they've been absent, Verhaeghe has 4 goals, and 2 assists.
24. Michael Giugovaz - Peterborough Petes
Has been one of the few bright spots for Peterborough this year. The Petes have 8 wins, and Giugovaz has 7 of them (despite nearly splitting time with Andrew D'Agostini). And in those 7 wins, he's been the primary reason. I saw one of those wins and he was absolutely dynamite (against the 67's). I also saw another game where he got abused a bit. It'll be tough to evaluate Giugovaz because of how poor the team is in front of him. But I like the confidence he displays in net and how he squares himself to shooters. Not the biggest guy, but he certainly gets the job done. I hope that by season's end, he throws himself in the ring for contention to be one of the goalies on the Under 18 team. Would be great to see him under different circumstances.
25. Brent Pedersen - Kitchener Rangers
Was not good to start the season, leaving a lot of scouts and Rangers fans wanting a lot more from him. But he's gotten better and more involved as the season has gone on. I've seen the Rangers play a few times in the past month and it looks like he's back to basics. A big guy, Pedersen is starting to throw his weight around with more consistency, and is doing a better job of battling for loose pucks and winning battles along the boards. He's even dropped the mitts a few times in the last month. The offensive production still isn't terrific, but he's certainly playing better and worthy of a spot on this list IMO. Power forward potential.
26. Remi Elie - London Knights
Elie hasn't scored in 21 games, which I think is a tad concerning (even if he's not getting consistent ice time). But he impacts the game positively in other ways. He throws his weight around and is very involved physically, but he's learned to be smart about it and picks up few penalties in the process. He's also effective along the wall and does well to outmuscle defenseman for loose pucks. Truthfully, I'm not sure how much puck skill he has, nor do I know if he has goal scoring potential, but I like the energy he brings and the potential he has as a character player. The Dalton Smith of the 2013 draft class.
27. Alex Fotinos - Barrie Colts
As I've sort of alluded to, it's becoming a bit difficult to separate some of the goaltenders in this class behind Spencer Martin. Graham, Giugovaz, and Fotinos are all around the same size and seem to possess similar skill sets. I was impressed with Fotinos last year, but the only game I've seen him play this year was a stinker against Brampton. He squares himself to shooters, follows the play well and seems like a pretty athletic netminder. Talk to be a month from now and I may have Graham, Giugovaz and Fotinos all switched around again.
28. Sergei Tolchinsky - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
There's lots to like about Tolchinsky. He can be an absolutely electric offensive player. There's no question that he's one of the quicker and more elusive players in the OHL. He's also able to handle the puck at full speed ahead, and can catch defenseman flat footed. Loads of potential offensively. The problem is, he's only 5'7. Rocco Grimaldi proved in 2011 that little guys can get drafted high, but I see Grimaldi as a different player. Tolchinsky, when he doesn't have the puck on his stick, isn't much of a factor right now. And OHL defenses have adjusted to his tendencies off the rush, and are funneling him into traffic, where he doesn't have the strength to beat defenders one on one. He's cooled off of late (only 5 goals in his last 17 games), and that type of production won't get him drafted highly at his size.
29. Hunter Garlent - Guelph Storm
Finally back after suffering an ankle injury at the end of October. He's another little guy (pushing 5'9), but he's way more involved without the puck than a guy like Tolchinsky. He's a tenacious forechecker and someone the Storm rely on to help kill penalties. He's also not afraid to go into high traffic areas, like winning battles behind the net, or crashing the crease for rebounds. At this point, I've got him behind Tolchinsky because I want to see him return to form after a slow start. He was just starting to get going prior to his injury. If he can finish the season well, he's ahead of Tolchinsky for me. Call him the little engine that could.
30. Nick Paul - Brampton Battalion
Paul is a big winger playing in his first OHL season. He does a really good job of controlling the boards and can come away with pucks to create scoring chances. He's hard to separate from the puck on drives to the net too, but his foot speed isn't terrific so he's having a bit of a tough time creating his own opportunities off the rush. I'd also like to see him play more physical and start to throw his weight around with more consistency. A solid OHL rookie with power forward potential. Traditionally,. players in his situation have much stronger second halves, as they adjust to the speed of the OHL and gain more confidence. We'll see.
Honorable Mention (alphabetically)
Greg Betzold - Peterborough Petes
Tough to evaluate in Peterborough most nights. Big guy with power forward potential. Once he learns to use his size more to create offense he'll be more consistent.
Erik Bradford - Barrie Colts
Does everything that is asked of him in Barrie. Not a big guy, but he battles and has scorers touch. Would love to see what he could do with more ice time. A late '94, but really only playing in his second year in the O.
Jordan DeKort - Windsor Spitfires
I'm hopeful that the Spits give him more playing time as the season goes on. Really big goaltender who's still refining his technique. Only seen him play once this year, but he was solid in the game. Fotinos is ahead right now because I'm more familiar with him.
Anthony DiFruscia - Niagara IceDogs
I like him and I think he has a bright future ahead of him as an OHL player. I have trouble seeing where he fits in as a player at the next level though. Seems to want to play that feisty goal scorer role, but isn't strong enough yet to be a Ryan Callahan type of player.
Tyler Ganly - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A pure meat and potatoes type of player. Overshadowed in the Soo by their star studded defense (Sproul, Nurse, Miller). Has size, is physical and can make a breakout pass. Skating needs work though.
Ben Harpur - Guelph Storm
Great size on the backend. Still learning how to use his size confidently, but has potential to be an aggressive stay at home defender. Puck skill hasn't quite developed the way I had hoped this year, as he can have trouble with the forecheck.
Dominik Kahun - Sudbury Wolves
He's a shade behind Tolchinsky and Garlent in the little man draft race for me. Don't let the 4 penalty minutes fool you. He's not afraid to enter the dirty areas and comes away with his share of pucks off the wall. Not quite as naturally skilled as Tolchinsky or Garlent though IMO. Playing for Germany at the WJC's.
Dominik Kubalik - Sudbury Wolves
One of the younger players available from the O. Hard to get a read on, as he bounces around the Wolves line up. Seen him twice this year. Once he played on a scoring line, the other time (more recently), he barely saw any ice time on the 4th line. Has potential as a puck possession kind of winger who can create plays for his linemates.
Sergei Kuptsov - Belleville Bulls
The Bulls have had such a tough time scoring this year, it's hard to really evaluate Kuptsov's season. In the times I've seen Belleville play, he's certainly been better than Daniil Zharkov, if that means anything. I like his potential as a big body who can create offense.
Trevor Murphy - Windsor Spitfires
The trade to Windsor has done wonders for him. He looks invigorated with the Spits, running the point on the powerplay alongside Nick Ebert. He's not tall, but he's stocky and isn't afraid to rough up opposing forwards. Could develop into a similar player as Mark Cundari in Windsor.
Danny Vanderwiel - Plymouth Whalers
Still looking for that first goal of the year, but I don't care. I like him. I've seen the Whalers play a few times this year and he's had his share of scoring chances. He's big and skates well and can throw his weight around. The goals will come.