Sunday, January 13, 2013
Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing (2013 Edition)
This list has become a yearly tradition of this blog. In fact, back in March of 2009, this list was the very first "Sunday Top 10" that I wrote. Now we're on to the 5th annual.
A quick look back at the previous four lists (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012) tells you that the top player on my list has received an NHL contract each time (Chris Chappell, Bryan Cameron, Darren Archibald, Mike Halmo). That's a fairly impressive streak that I hope to maintain.
The problem is that this year, I don't see one or two players who I think are guaranteed to get NHL contracts (which has been the case in previous years). I'm just not sure that the overage crop of players from the OHL this year is going to be incredibly enticing to NHL scouting staffs. But, with the NHL up and running again, it won't be long until NHL teams start trying to sign overage players (the new year has traditionally been when the NHL has started to scoop up players, like Jacob Muzzin, Luke Pither, and Darren Archibald). As I stated, though, I'm just not incredibly confident many of these players receive NHL contracts. That doesn't mean that they are bad players, it just means that I'm not sure I see NHL scouts salivating at the thought of adding them.
In a lot of ways, I think that's a reflection of the NHL's improved scouting strategy. With an increased focus on drafting second and third year eligible players, the overage crop just isn't as strong. Look at the players drafted last year who are overagers this year; Garret Ross, Mitchell Heard, Colin Miller (and Tanner Pearson who lighting up the AHL as a first round pick). You add those three (or four) to this list, and it looks significantly stronger.
Lastly, here's the speech I give every year about this list.
Likely half of the players on this list will not end up getting a professional contract and will play in the CIS. It's the nature of the beast. The bottom line is that a few will and many will not and those players will take advantage of their education package while continuing to play a high level of hockey at a Canadian University.
Secondly, this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team (like Joseph Cramarossa). This list is for those players who are (or were) NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on birth date).
Here's the list:
10. Brandon Alderson - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
His goal scoring ability never quite developed in the league like many predicted it would (myself included), but he's turned himself into a very well rounded player. He plays in all situations for the Hounds and has become one of their most important offensive contributors this year. The evidence of that lies in the fact that he's on pace to set a career mark in points (by a good margin). What will attract NHL scouts is the fact that he's a 6'4, 200lbs kid who skates very well and who is aggressive physically. The fact that he's become a valuable two-way player also helps his cause. Teams may see him as a potential 4th liner. His shot never really improved to the point where he's going to get a lot of goals at the next level, but he has value in other areas.
9. Steven Shipley - Niagara IceDogs
I don't think it came as too much of a shock to OHL experts when the Sabres chose not to sign Shipley last year. His draft year remains his best season to date and he has never really taken that next step in being able to use his size to his advantage offensively. He's more of a finesse playmaker who happens to be 6'3, 210lbs. This year, I think there has been some gains in that. He's changed his game a bit, to become more of a presence in front of the net. And is looking more for goal scoring opportunities in the slot. He's also become more of a defensively responsible centerman and is seeing some time on the PK for the Dogs. If Ryan Strome makes the Islanders, Shipley will get his chance to shine as the team's number one center. The subtle changes he's made to his game this year may bring NHL scouts back to him for a second chance.
8. Nathan Chiarlitti - Owen Sound Attack
Chiarlitti has been nothing short of fantastic for the Attack this year. There's no question in my mind that he's one of the league's premier defensive defenseman. He defends well in every aspect; staying with defenders off the rush, winning battles in front of the net and outworking forwards for positioning. He's also someone who can take care of the puck in his own end and who makes smart decisions to limit turnovers. With all that being said, he does not possess the "traditional" size that NHL scouts look for in stay at home defenseman, at only around 5'11. He's shown no issue handling OHL forwards this year, but when the game gets faster and the forwards get stronger, would he be able to adjust and excel? That's the million dollar question.
7. Geofrrey Schemitsch - Oshawa Generals
Thanks to some injury issues and the lack of development in his offensive game, the Lightning chose not to sign Schemitsch last year. But he's managed to stay healthy this year and is having his best season since his draft year with Owen Sound. If you watch Oshawa play, it's as if Schemitsch never leaves the ice. He logs well over 30 minutes a game (especially lately with all the injuries they've encountered). Even though he matches up against the opposition's best on a nightly basis, he's managed to stay at a +12 clip. He's not a physical defender, but is effective at playing the angles. You rarely see him getting beaten defensively. Offensively, he moves the puck well, although conservatively. Like Shipley, it'll be interesting to see if an NHL team gives him a second chance.
6. Riley Brace - Mississauga Steelheads
Brace exploded offensively last year for Mississauga and he's continued that strong production this year. He's a very valuable player for the Steelheads in the sense that he plays in all situations, excelling especially as a penalty killer. He's a very good skater and stickhandler, and is often a tenacious forechecker who excels when the game gets physical. Anyone who watches the Steelheads would call him a "pest." He loves to yap and try to get under the skin of the opposition. The only issue with this is that he can be prone to bouts of frustration that lead to undisciplined penalties. Brace's issue may be that he could be a "tweener." In that sense I mean that he isn't skilled enough offensively to play a top 6 role at the next level, but he also doesn't possess the size and sheer physicality of someone an NHL team would want in their bottom six.
5. Scott Sabourin - Oshawa Generals
Sabourin has proven to be one of the league's most improved players this season. With 16 goals on the year, he's already set a new career high, and he's second on the Generals. He's been playing in the top 6 practically all year for Oshawa, showing great chemistry with Scott Laughton of late. He's got great size and he uses it well with the puck and without. With the puck, he has enough puck skill to generate scoring chances with drives to the net. And without the puck, he's a huge factor along the wall and is terrific in the cycle. He'll drop the mitts, back checks well, and is a reliable penalty killer. In a lot of ways Sabourin reminds me of Adam Payerl last year, who ended up getting an NHL deal from the Penguins. He could certainly be an effective role player at the next level.
4. Charles Sarault - Sarnia Sting
I've always been a big fan of Sarault going back to his Kingston days. There's no denying that he's one of the league's premier playmakers. He's not the biggest (pushing 5'11), but he brings a ton of energy to the ice. He's a little spark plug out there. He's especially effective on the forecheck. Obviously, his vision and passing ability are his bread and butter and his meal ticket to the next level. Sometimes he can be guilty of holding on to the puck a bit too long, which could hinder his effectiveness at the next level. But Sarault is a speedy, energetic playmaker who deserves a look.
3. Mathias Niederberger - Barrie Colts
He's not the biggest goaltender in the world, but he makes up for that in athleticism. He's incredibly quick and agile in the crease. He goes post to post about as well as any goaltender in the league. This athleticism allows him to be a little more aggressive in challenging shooters than the average goalie (trying to compensate for his lack of size). It also makes him one of the best goalies in the league during the shootout. Last year, in the playoffs for Barrie, he was dynamite. If he can put together another strong postseason performance, I don't see how he doesn't get a serious look from NHL teams.
2. Matt Petgrave - Oshawa Generals
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I've been a big fan of Petgrave since he entered the league as an undrafted free agent. He's such an athletic defenseman who has a ton of great tools. He can carry the puck up the ice with ease thanks to his skating ability. He runs the powerplay well. He is one of the most feared and aggressive hitters in the league. He has pretty good size at about 6'1, 190lbs. That said, there are some areas of his game that have never really improved during his time in the league. He's still prone to turnovers in his own end, and his ability to defend in zone coverage situations never really took that next step. This could point to some deficiencies in the hockey sense department. But the athletic tangibles are there and I think he's still striving to reach his potential. Josh McFadden got an NHL contract last year and I certainly think Petgrave is the better prospect.
1. Ryan O'Connor - Barrie Colts
At the beginning of the year, O'Connor was my pick for overage player of the year, and he's certainly staking a claim to that. He currently leads all OHL defenseman in scoring (including goal scoring with 14) with 42 points. He also captains one of the East's best teams and provides a terrific effort at both ends of the ice. In particular, his defensive play has grown a lot during his time in the league. He's not the biggest (5'10), but he's gotten stronger to the point where he can do some pushing around. He has also learned how to anticipate in the defensive end and has become a quality one on one defender off the rush. Obviously, it'll be his booming shot and ability to move the puck that will get him a look at the next level though. It's not too often that NHL teams take a look at undersized defenseman, but I think O'Connor is worth the gamble.
Former Plymouth, now Windsor forward Alex Aleardi could get a look from NHL scouts based off of his speed and skating ability alone. He'd have to change his game to become more of a "grinder" in order to make any sort of headway at the next level though. Sudbury Wolves captain Michael Kantor is an interesting player. At the beginning of the year, I thought he was a lock for this list, but he's had some injury problems. He's kind of a jack of all trades kind of guy, who could actually be a potential enforcer at the next level. But he's got more skill with the puck than people give him credit for.
Stephen Silas and Brock Beukeboom are two overagers who both went unsigned by NHL clubs after being selected in the 2010 Entry Draft. Silas' game has never really developed the kind of consistency you'd like to see from a big minute defenseman. This year, he's changed his game a little bit to make himself more of a cautious stay at home type. He does have some redeeming defensive qualities. And Beukeboom has always caught the injury bug. He has the NHL genetics, but has yet to find his niche in the OHL. He has good size, but I wouldn't necessarily call him an elite shut down defender,
Two stay at home guys could garner some interest and that's Brampton's Cameron Wind and Sudbury's Charlie Dodero. They are similar players in the sense that they gave good size, can play physical, but can also make a solid first pass out of the zone.
And that's it for this year's issue folks!