Around this time every year (midseason, and then again at the end of the season), I try to bring to you a few draft Q & A's from professionals who are right in the thick of things. The knowledge and insight that they can provide is always top notch and I know loved by you (the readers).
So I had an opportunity to chat with McKeen's Hockey scouting director (and former NHL scout) David Burstyn. We talked about some of the OHL players available for this year's draft (and a tad about 2014).
Here's the transcript...
Brock Otten - There has been a lot of talk about the strength of the 2013 Draft, some even comparing it to the depth of the 2003 Draft. Would you agree that this year's crop of OHL players is incredibly strong?
David Burstyn - The crop of OHL players is good however it is not entirely as high end as year's past as it is unlikely that a player hailing from the OHL will even rival for a top five position. Nonetheless there are a slew of good players and a modest degree of depth. There are several good defensemen with Nurse, Zadarov and Bigras leading the charge. Martin in goal has struggled from a statistical stand-point but is a strong prospect due to his size, quickness and athleticism. Up front Max Domi has shown an exciting penchant to score goals of the highlight reel variety and two-way threats such as Kerby Rychel, Bo Horvat and Sean Monahan all show the skill and ability to be first round NHL selections.
Brock Otten - At this point, is Sean Monahan still the undisputed top player available from the OHL? Or are the twin towers (Nurse and Zadorov) catching up to him?
David Burstyn - I think Monahan has proved both on the International stage and in league play that his accomplishments still need to be respected as the top OHL draft eligible prospect. Considering his line mates this season and a ten game suspension, it is remarkable that he still stands in the top 20 in league scoring. He has improved his game away from the puck and his face off skills are strong. His skating has also marked improvement since the beginning of the year and should be plausible at the NHL level as he is an extremely smart player with sharp instincts and positions himself well in connection with the play. Monahan also exhibits outstanding character and is a fierce competitor and is a clutch performer! He showed it at the OHL Cup when he led his Rebels team to a surprising tournament win; a U17 World Challenge gold medal, he followed that up with another gold medal performance at the Hlinka tournament and was arguably the best 67 player in their semi final appearance to Niagara last season.
Brock Otten - Where do you stand on the whole Max Domi versus Bo Horvat debate that seems to be raging among Knights' fans? Who's the best draft prospect in your eyes?
David Burstyn - I think both have come prepared to tackle their NHL draft season and have done exactly what they have been asked to do. Since they play such contrasting styles it is difficult to gauge which is better as it will come down to individual team needs. I think NHL teams looking for high end offensive player will gravitate towards Domi. He has been a permanent fixture since the start of the season in the top ten of OHL league scoring. He has uncanny offensive instincts and while size has become a question mark, his rigorous off-season workout that saw him add 12 pounds to his lower body makes it virtually impossible for opponents to knock him off stride yet alone the puck. I have gone on record that he could lead the OHL in scoring as early as next season.
Horvat continues to play a steady two-way game and has been relied upon heavily by Coach Dale Hunter in all situations however he has excelled on the PK where his face off skills win many crucial defensive zone draws. He is also responsible for winning offensive zone draws and then heading off the ice. His skating holds him back but he has a tireless work ethic and also has the ability to manufacture offence. He has a wicked release and is strong on both his fore and back hand making him a dual to score.
Brock Otten - Just how much is Ryan Hartman rising up the charts? He's been on a tear since the WJC's ended.
David Burstyn - Hartman has had no problem adjusting to the OHL as he plays a surly game and marries it with skill. At the beginning of the year he was more focused on being a pest and was the recipient of taking unnecessary minors. Since the middle of the season after a lengthy conversation with Coach Velucci, he has barred down more on his chances and played a more offensive game. The end result was increased confidence heading into the WJC and a subsequent gold medal to accompany the gold medal he received at last year’s U18 World Championships with the U18 USNDTP. Hartman also thrived at the Top Prospect game playing with Drouin and MacKinnon, finishing his checks and even engaging in a fight with fellow OHL’er Kerby Rychel. Hartman is slightly under-sized to play his game at the NHL level and he needs to improve on his skating however he shows great will and determination and already has an impressive collection of International gold medals as he is a winner.
Brock Otten - Has Chris Bigras thrown himself into the same conversation with Nurse and Zadorov, or is he still a tad behind?
David Burstyn - Bigras has made improvements and has really be given free reign by the coaching staff to iron out his game. He makes his fair share of mistakes but he also contributes with solid two-way efforts and is producing modest offensive numbers. He lacks the potential upside that both Nurse and Zadarov offer as I firmly believe they could be potential top 4 NHL defenders whereas Bigras would be a good number five or a depth option.
Brock Otten - Is Jordan Subban a legitimate top 2 round prospect, or will his size/strength place him lower down the draft like it did Jesse Graham last year?
David Burstyn - I think he gets more accomplished than Jesse Graham did last year and NHL scouts will take notice due to bloodlines, which you can never discount. Jordan actually plays a more structured than PK did at the same age however his lack of size is a drawback and I am not necessarily talking about his height, more so his rather thin frame. He does a good job to skate out of the zone and make plays offensively however he is very easy to play against defensively as he has a difficult time containing size and speed. He surprisingly doesn’t play as much PP as he should and the majority of his points this season have come in 5-5 situations. Subban could benefit from a lengthy playoff drive as the Bulls have loaded up.
Brock Otten - In a similar vein, just how good of a draft prospect is the Soo's Sergei Tolchinsky? Some seem to have him in the first couple of rounds, where as NHL CSS had him ranked towards the end of the draft.
David Burstyn - You are correct in your assessment as there are some teams that absolutely love him and some that don’t even have him rated. I personally am a fan of Tolchinsky, he still looks like he can mature physically as he doesn’t even have a whisker on him. He helped Team Russia to a gold medal in 2011 at the U17 World Challenge, their first since 2000. He has great individual skills, blinding speed and a tricky release. He is more of a special team’s player. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the second half of the season and playoffs as he has started to show signs of slowing down and fatigue due to the lengthy and physically taxing OHL season.
Brock Otten - Is there a draft prospect in the OHL, who you feel has the most to gain OR lose in the 2nd half and playoffs? Someone who could really FALL or DROP depending on how they perform?
David Burstyn - Jason Dickenson is a player that immediately comes to mind. His compete and effort levels are very sporadic. Some games he can literally take over a game and in other contests this season he has been completely invisible. His skill set and skating are very attractive ingredients to NHL scouts especially his skating which is fluid, crisp and he boasts an effortless skating style that is the envy of the draft class. A strong showing with the Storm and deep playoff run could vault him into the upper echelon of the first round and help erase many consistency issues that have surrounded him this year.
Brock Otten - Always curious to talk about potential second and third year eligible players. Is there someone who really stands out in your mind as being a great draft prospect? Maybe Guelph 's Auger, or London 's Patterson?
David Burstyn - I am a big fan of Auger and felt he should have warranted a late round selection last year simply due to his potential and vast frame. He has grown another 2 inches this year and now stands a whopping 6’8. His skating is not close to being up to par, he needs to turn better and use his edges more judiciously. The improvements he has made in a few short seasons have been encouraging. He gives the Storm some much needed size along the boards and plays an honest physical game. His puck skills have also improved and he is displaying more poise with the puck to evaluate his options better.
Another player who has had a solid OHL debut season is Henri Ikonen in Kingston . I was surprised that he did not get drafted last year especially after a highly successful junior season with Kalpa (Jr.A Sm-liiga U20) culminating in a long playoff run and then an equally effective performance at the with the U18 World Championships for Finland. Ikonen has had no difficulty to the pace of the OHL game and is a reliable and trusted option for Coach Gill. He marries skill with grit, goes hard to the net and finishes his checks. His skating needs some refinement but considering how well he has acclimatized himself to the North American game it may be difficult for NHL teams to pass on him again.
Brock Otten - Last question. You guys were at the Under 17's. Other than Connor McDavid, is there an Ontario player whom you felt really stood out in a positive way (despite the team's disappointing performance)?
David Burstyn - Both Sean Lafortune and I attended the tournament. Despite Team Ontario ’s disappointing 6th place finish there were some bright spots as several forwards played well. I thought Sam Bennett displayed grit with a healthy scoring touch; he is a throw back player who comes at you and also has the skills to beat you on the score sheet. Michael Dal Colle could flat out take over games offensively, he has such keen awareness in the offensive zone and is a big body that is impossible to dislodge off the puck. On the back end I thought that Middleton played a good two-way game showing poise and the ability to make a play with the puck. Cummins was a staunch defender who played against all the opposition’s best forwards and was a fixture on the PK. Roland McKeown has untapped potential and a high pro ceiling and should be a virtual shoe in to make the Hlinka team and possibly the U18 World Championships as an under-ager this April however a slight separated shoulder prior to the tournament limited his overall effectiveness.
Thanks as always Brock for giving us the forum to discuss OHL-NHL prospects, more information on all draft eligible players from all the respective leagues can be found at http://www.mckeenshockey.com/
Extreme thanks to David for taking the time to answer my questions. Make sure to give him a follow on twitter (@DavidBurstyn), as well as Sean LaFortune (@SeanLafortune), who also scouts the OHL for McKeen's.