Thursday, March 21, 2013

Q & A with Dan Stewart, Scouting Director for Future Considerations

One of the rituals of this blog towards the end of the season is taking the time to chat with Future Considerations' Scouting Director Dan Stewart about the draft crop from the OHL. Dan really knows his stuff about the OHL, and the guys at Future Considerations do a tremendous job offering draft coverage.

Here's a transcript of Dan and I's conversation.

Brock Otten - How do you feel about this year's crop of OHL players? If you were to hazard a guess, how many OHL guys go in the first round of 2013?

Dan Stewart - The depth coming up through Ontario this season looks good, not great, but I fully expect a few NHLers to come from this class although not many of the high end nature.
I have warmed up to this group more than I thought I would have, especially if you had asked me this question back in September. Back then I felt this was an extremely weak bunch lacking in high end talent and not being very deep at all.

There are a few guys that really have me excited and who I project to have strong pro careers.
Sault Ste. Marie defender Darnell Nurse in my opinion has the highest upside out of this bunch as he looks to develop into a strong NHL two-way top four talent. I have watched Nurse six times this season and each time have come away impressed with his athleticism, size and senses. After a year of adjustment to the pace of the OHL he is again showing that dominant game we saw in his final season of midget hockey. This leads me to get really excited with how his game should continue to progress as he progresses to the pro level.

London’s big Russian import Nikita Zadorov also boasts some strong untapped potential that will see him high on many draft lists including ours. The big blueliner’s developmental trajectory has been spiking in the right direction since his impressive showing in Windsor, Ontario at the World U17’s in front of our evaluators two years ago.

Ottawa forward Sean Monahan looks like he is on the road to becoming a real strong two-way NHLer before too long and forward Max Domi of London has shown intriguing offensive potential and drive as well.

After these four there is a definite drop off but there are still a few others who have solid NHL potential and could surprise given time to develop. I would guess we would see around six or seven OHLers selected in the first round this of the 2013 NHL Draft.

Brock Otten - There seems to be a few publications inching Darnell Nurse quite close to Sean Monahan as the top OHL player available (some even putting him on top). Just how close has that battle become in your eyes?

Dan Stewart - Well in my opinion it is extremely tight at the top of the OHL class and not much separating Monahan and Nurse.

We recently moved Nurse ahead of Monahan in our monthly top 30 rankings at FC but the margin is still very small. For us it comes down to each prospects projected NHL impact and we believe Nurse just has a little more potential in that regard over what Monahan could bring even though we fully expect Monahan to be a strong and productive two-way force.

Nurse just has so much going for him. His impressive frame and projected strength once he fills it out. His fluid skating and strong overall mobility coupled with that excellent size. His on-ice senses and ability to read the play and play that strong shutdown role when needed. His untapped offensive upside and his ability to jump into the play and contribute on that side of the puck. Just so much to get excited about with this kid.

Brock Otten - What are your thoughts on the three top guys (Domi, Horvat, Zadorov) in London? How would you rank them in order of preference?

Dan Stewart - London always has a solid prospect or two for the draft and this year they have a wealth or riches in that regard. I will rank the three in order of my preference.

Max Domi is a spunky and super skilled playmaker that despite his lack of height is very stalky strong. He has a very big heart and tenacity, can take over a game with the puck and shows no problem getting under the skin of his opponent. Domi looks like a sure bet as a future top six offensive forward in the NHL.

Nikita Zadorov has some of the best natural tools in this entire draft class. He has great size and outstanding mobility when coupled with that size. He hits like a Mack truck and gets his large frame into passing and shooting lanes effectively. He also has some ability to rush the puck up ice and jump into the attack, an area that will continue to develop further. I could see him as a strong two-way top four blue liner at the next level.

Both Domi and Zadorov are ranked just outside FC’s top 10.

Bo Horvat is a two-way forward who does a good job in the role he was given by the Hunters in London. He does not have the immense size of Zadorov nor does he have the flashy offensive skill-set that Domi possesses. What Bo does have is heart and smarts. He thinks the game well and always knows what he is going to do before the situation arises. Horvat is ranked in the mid-to-late first round by our staff and I like him as a smart third line center at the NHL level that can play against the opponent’s top line and contribute some secondary scoring as long as he continues to develop towards that end.

Brock Otten - Jason Dickinson seems to have fallen out of favor with some scouting agencies, thanks to a less than stellar second half to the year. Is he in danger of falling out of the first round?

Unfortunately he is. With Jason there is so much talent and raw ability there but for one reason or another the kid just cannot put it all together on a consistent basis.  You love his projectable size, and his scoring touch, puck protection, pro-type shot and even his two-way efforts.

Consistency is the single largest hurdle for prospects at this age but while some go stretches in games where they are ineffective, Jason can go stretches of games where he is invisible or ineffective and that is at the root of what has caused his slide. Jason could still develop into a strong NHL player down the road but must improve his consistency. With that said however all it takes is one team to see the potential and he becomes a top 30 selection.

Brock Otten - Jimmy Lodge is a player I profiled recently. His production of late has been fantastic and he's now the 2nd highest scoring '95 in the league. Is he a serious candidate for the top 40?

Dan Stewart - I touched on Lodge in one of my recent ‘Director Cut’ articles for the FC website and in two more viewings since I wrote that content he has not disappointed in my eyes.

Here is a quote from that article: “He (Lodge) is on a rabid scoring pace since the calendar flipped and has shown a more consistent game of taking the puck to the net and venturing into high traffic areas for those prime offensive chances. Lodge has all but eliminated those fly-bys that made him so ineffective and held him out of the play back in September and October while earning more ice time from his coach.”

He has been elevated to the top line in Saginaw and has produced like a top line player. His blend of size, speed, vision, playmaking abilities and hands make him a dangerous player and hard for OHL defenses to handle.

Absolutely he could be a top 40 prospect. I know of a couple NHL scouts that are really high on him and it would not surprise me if one of their organizations used a first round pick on him.

Brock Otten - Is Spencer Martin still the top goalie available from the OHL?

Dan Stewart - Yes he is. Goaltenders are extremely hard creatures to project as there is such a mental to the position that really cannot be known until they mature into grown men but when based on just on-ice skill level Martin is the top man from the OHL our list.

While Spencer has had an up and down season and has suffered from injuries that have limited his progress, the crop of tenders from Ontario this season is shallow and Martin is heads and shoulders the top guy at this point. Perhaps in four or five years we could be talking about how someone like Alex Fotinos of Barrie or Michael Giugovaz in Peterborough snuck through the 2013 draft and ended up the top stopper eligible from Ontario, but that is the challenge of projecting talent and looking back after the fact.

Brock Otten - Is there a player (or more) who has really disappointed you this season? Someone you expected a lot more from?

Dan Stewart - There are always those prospects that disappoint based on your expectations of them coming into the year because of potential seen in previous seasons, those who you thought would take the next step but stalled out of one reason or another.

For me centre Jordan Maletta in Windsor and then of Niagara after he was traded is one guy who I had though had more upside, and he still could as late bloomers find their game after their initial draft seasons every year, but I thought he would be a twenty goal fifty point plus contributor and finally start using that size more consistently.

Kingston’s Ryan Kujawinski has been a disappointment for most talent hawks as his offensive game just has not progressed this year as most thought it would. He teased everyone with his offensive outburst after joining Kingston in a trade from Sarnia last year but could not build on that progress.

Another guy who many were high on last season was Stephen Harper in Erie. Harper who had the look of a breakout goal scorer coming into the season. He has fallen off our map and likely many NHL scouts feel the same. His downright bad effort levels and negative body language on most nights might be due to playing in a losing environment for so long. Whatever the reason, his stock has really dipped from a first round possibility to a mid-to-late round probability.

Others like Windsor puck stopper Jordan Dekort and Sault Ste. Marie winger Mitch Dempsey all showed some promise coming into the year but failed to produce results on the ice.

Brock Otten - Conversely, is there someone (or more) who has really surprised you? A guy who came out of nowhere to really establish himself as a solid draft prospect?

Dan Stewart - Saginaw’s Jimmy Lodge is my top surprise performer this year.

Back in June at the US Evaluation Camp he showed our evaluators some impressive abilities like his speed, size, two-way game and good effort levels but when he started slowly in the OHL and was not getting top six minutes for the Spirit at the beginning of the year, he dropped down our list and was flying under my radar during the first couple of months. But as you know he started to force things and earn minutes and now is their top line centre, producing points, playing with confidence and still showing good defensive responsibility.

Brock Otten - Do you have a favourite draft "sleeper" from this year's OHL crop? Maybe a guy you seem to be a lot higher on than others?

Dan Stewart - My top OHL draft sleeper has to be Peterborough winger Greg Betzold.

The kid is just dominant every time I have seen him this season. He works the wall better than most in the league, he generates chances for himself off a strong fore-check, he has a hard shot, good size and solid skating ability. He is not a flashy offensive guy but in my opinion he looks like one of those prospects that will be a better, more effective pro than major junior player.
Following closely behind Betzold with regards to OHL sleepers is Niagara forward Carter Verhaeghe.

The six-foot-one forward has the frame to add healthy amounts of muscle and should become a beast to handle once he does. Has soft hands and can handle the puck well, uses his intelligence to assess situations and makes good decisions. Verhaeghe is a playmaker that sees the ice well and he will get a better chance to produce next season as some of the top Ice Dogs move on.
Others prospects like Sudbury winger Nic Baptiste and London’s seldom used defender/winger Miles Liberati also showed good potential. A candidate for future breakout season, Baptiste has good size, moves well and is dangerous around the net. Liberati is solid on his skates, possesses a good drive and attitude plus some underrated offensive upside.

Brock Otten - The OHL playoffs are inching closer, is there a draft prospect who has the most to gain or lose with their playoff performance, in your opinion?

Dan Stewart - Two guys I will be watching closely and are going to be under the microscope from other scouts as well are both Kingston’s Kujawinski and Belleville’s Jordan Subban.

Kujawinski has a chance to show scouts one more time that there is more to his game than scoring the odd goals if he can help his upstart Fronts make some noise in the post season. To do that he will need to continue to grind it out along the wall, showing off his physical game and playing with a strong two-way effort. The playoffs might be just what he needs to boost his stock where the games mean more and where he can display a more consistent impact night in and night out.

Subban is a smaller puck moving defender who likes to have the puck on his stick and has the smarts and skills to be a difference maker on the score sheet  as the Bulls try to make a push for an OHL title. Scouts see the elusiveness and mobility he has, his escapabliity when forecheckers come at him hard, but there is still some doubt that his game could translate to more than a PP specialist at the next level. Subban can really do himself a favor by making an impact every game this spring for the Bulls.

Brock Otten - Speaking of the playoffs, while not related to the draft, do you have a pick from the East, and a pick from the West, for the OHL final?

Dan Stewart - I like both Belleville and Barrie in the East but have to go with Belleville because of the importance goaltending can play in a short series. Malcolm Subban has the ability to steal a series and I expect him to play a big role in the upcoming playoffs for the Bulls. They also have a good balanced attack. Barrie has some big horses of their own to ride but I feel the Bulls just overmatch them this year.

In the West I like both Plymouth and London as most do. Plymouth is a big strong squad that looks intimidating on paper and when driving down the ice. They have some good skaters but I have my doubts about their goaltending.

Speaking of goaltending, one hitch in London’s run could come in the first round with Saginaw’s Jake Paterson opposing them. Can he dominate the Knights and steal the series for a young plucky Spirit team? I think he will put up a couple gems but still think London still has the goods to take the West and eventually the OHL title.

Brock Otten - Last question Dan. 2014 seems to be shaping up to be a terrific draft for the OHL. What would your top 5 look like (from only the OHL) right now?

Dan Stewart - You are bang on in saying ‘14 will be a strong year for the O as our early projection notes there is the potential of having up to fifteen first round selections from the OHL next season. While that may be a shocking number to many there is an impressive mix of offensive talent and big two-way defensemen potentially coming from the top NHL development league.  I for one am excited to continue my monitoring of these youngsters development next year.

Now to answer your question I personally have the top five as:
#1 – Aaron Ekblad – Barrie Colts - Big two-way rearguard has improved his lateral skating this past season and still possesses the size, smarts and poise that earned him exceptional status.
#2 – Nick Richie – Peterborough Petes - Enormous winger who skates very well for his size, plays nasty and has a heavy shot. Loves to play the physical role and knows he is bigger and stronger than his opponents.
#3 – Roland McKeown – Kingston Frontenacs – A defensive horse in the making. This kid can skate, can move the puck, can play physical and he is smart. A big time two-way minute muncher at the next level.
#4 – Michael Dal Colle – Oshawa Generals – A big strong centre who slid into a prominent role this season in Oshawa. He skates well, plays strong in his own zone and has some offensive upside as well.
#5 – Jared McCann – Sault Ste. Marie – A strong skating, hardworking, two-way forward that has put up good points, played strong defensively and left his mark on the Greyhounds PK this season.

Also, closing in on the top five are Ottawa’s Jacob Middleton, Brampton’s Blake Clarke, Windsor’s Josh Ho-Sang, Plymouth’s Matt Mistele and Sarnia’s Niki Goldobin.
So as you can see there are some impressive talents to get excited about for next year.

Brock Otten - Appreciate your candid responses and thanks for doing this (as always).

Dan Stewart - Thanks for this Brock.

Please visit for loads of great NHL draft content and pick-up our 2013 Draft Guide coming this May.

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