Tuesday, April 9, 2013

OHL Priority Draft Review Q & A with Sean Lafortune

I have to admit. My knowledge of the minor midget ranks goes as far as the material I read and hear. I only really get a chance to see these players at the OHL Cup, and even then it's not all of them and it's a tiny sample size. So writing an OHL Priority Draft review makes little sense for me to do.

So, I decided to talk to someone who IS an expert in the area. Blog friend Sean Lafortune is one of the most knowledge people on the planet when it comes to covering the OHL Priority Draft. His website, TheScout.ca, is an absolutely fantastic resource when it comes to reading about the OHL's future players. Sean was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the draft and I think it serves as a miniature review.


Brock Otten - I know you're a big fan of Sean Day (had him ranked first), so perhaps you can shed some light as to why he fell to 4th overall? How much do you expect him to contribute next year for the Steelheads?

Sean Lafortune - Sean Day was without a doubt our top player for the draft this year. We did our homework on Day in order to ensure that we got our rankings correct. I traveled down to Detroit to see him upwards of 5 times this season, in addition to the views that we had of him at Whitby Silver Stick in November, when the mainstream media took hold of the Sean Day story. I'm not sure if there are any other independent guys who can say that.

For us, his talents are unique. His footwork and skating ability are unmatched. He has the ability to be an impact player at both ends of the ice. He's innovative in possession, showing an ability to either impact the game with a sizzling outlet or flashing his slick in close skills. He would routinely impose his will on the opposition in our viewings. No doubt he needs to work on his decision making in all three zones, but the tools that he possesses are unmatched.

It's an interesting situation. Over the course of the year I had many conversations about Day with some of my peers in the OHL, all of them suggesting he's one of the most talented players they have seen in recent years. One GM that I talked with thought that if granted exceptional status, Sean would be at the top of his draft board. That obviously was not the case for everyone however, as three teams passed on him.

My guess, and it's only a guess, is that seeing that Sean was the first 'Exceptional Status' player who was playing in the US, teams hadn't seen him play all year long. All previous exceptional status players played in Ontario, allowing us to see them upwards of 30 times a year. With Sean, we only saw him play 5 or 6 games. For teams that are drafting in the top 4, they need to be 100 percent convinced that their pick is their player. For some reason, those teams were not, but at the end of the day, Sean will be in the league next season, so he has the opportunity, which was all he wanted.

My expectations are that Day will play top 4 minutes this year and develop, much like what we witnessed from Aaron Ekblad in his rookie season in Barrie. He's not a player that we can judge based on points, his progression will be judged by how he adjusts to the league. We hope to see him improve his awareness and make better decisions offensively. He's going to a great program, as James Boyd will be able to teach him system based hockey while allowing him to still develop the offensive side of his game. It's going to be fun to watch.

Brock Otten - Your 2nd rated player, defenseman Zach Werenski, fell to London in the 2nd round (24th) because of U.S. Development program commitments. Can London get him to report?

Sean Lafortune - Heading into the draft, I was pretty open that the London Knights had the ability to be somewhat selective and take a more aggressive approach this weekend. They have such a deep group of prospects in the 95 and 96 groups that in reality, they had nothing to lose this weekend. Werenski is without a doubt the best 97 drafted this weekend, and one of the best 97's in North America. He has the ability to be a top 4 defender right away, and there are suggestions that the US-NTDP will be looking to play him with the U18 program right away.

Do I think he will commit? I do, but probably not until he's 18. In the history of the US NDTP, very few players have left the program early, and I doubt that Werenski makes the commitment without the intention to do so. I think this will be a situation where Werenski fulfills his obligations to the US NTDP before heading to London post NHL Draft. Could he come earlier? I'm sure he could, but I would be surprised, as he has been heavily courted by OHL teams all year, but still committed to the program. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Brock Otten - Outside of Werenski, who do you think were the biggest steals of the draft?

Sean Lafortune - I think there were some extremely intelligent selections this weekend. The Plymouth Whalers may have pulled off the biggest 'steal' of the draft with the selection of Jordan Greenway. The Potsdam, NY native measures in at 6'5/200 and has that raw ability that not many in this draft class possesses. I didn't get as many opportunities to see him this year as I would have liked, given that he plays in Minnesota at the famed Shattuck St. Mary's program, but all year long I had excellent reports on him. He has the rare combination of size, mobility and puck skills that make him a real appealing option. Now he is reported to be committed to the US NTDP, but we'll see how that situation plays out. At worst, it could be a Brandon Saad like situation where a team waits two years on a prospect.

I loved the 67's selection of Troy Henley at the top of the 2nd. He's a two way defender that has the ability to positively impact the game at both ends of the ice. Continuing to mature as a puck mover, displaying improved poise and decision-making ability. Plays a mean, aggressive game and is not afraid to throw his frame around. Unloads menacing open ice hits, displaying a unique mix of aggression, courage and power. We had him rated 17th overall, with 5-6 US based players ahead of him. Can't say I thought he would be available past 15, but his slight fall is a gain for the 67's.

Cameron Lizotte is another name that was talked about as a mid first round pick.  Is a patient defender who effectively manages gap-control. He is swift and agile in all directions, propelled by his long, powerful skating stride and good footwork.  He is one of the hardest one on one players in the age group. Frustrates with his ability to suffocate creativity from opposition forwards. The fact that he was a available in the slot he was, was a big win for the Petes.

Sudbury's 3rd and 4th round selections, David Zeppieri and Austin Clapham (teammates with the Mississauga Rebels), were considered top 30 candidates and were strong picks for where they were selected. Saginaw made three astute selections with Jackson Bales (Brampton 45s), Christian Rajic (Mississauga Rebels) and Matthew Scott (Greater Kingston Frontenacs) in the mid to late rounds. All three have the ability to be 3-4 year OHL players, and would provide excellent value if they reach their ceiling as players.

Brock Otten - Which team(s) do you feel had the best draft? Who are the winners?

Sean Lafortune - Its a tough question for me to answer because as good as any draft looks on paper, the proof is in the pudding. Every year, players who were drafted in the mid rounds prove that they were overlooked and become valuable OHL players. Until we know who those players are, we can't really call anyone a winner.

One thing that we can do though is look at strategy. I loved how aggressive London was. When you look at their selections, they took a mix of Ontario based players but also took intelligent risks on players who may or may not report. Guys like Werenski, Evers and Tkachuk have the potential to be front line OHL players, and to select them and 'roll the dice' so to speak was an excellent strategy.

Kitchener took the same strategy, as they made intelligent 'risk' selections with guys like Bracco, Opilka and Henderson. Fans may complain that London, Kitchener and other teams are always the ones who get these players, well guess why, they are the ones who take the risks.

Brock Otten - Conversely, which team(s) were the losers of the draft, as in, which team's draft are you least impressed with?

Sean Lafortune - Until we take a look at how players progress, it's not really fair of me to suggest one team selected poorly. There were some selections that surprised me, but we have two years to see who did well and who did poorly.

Brock Otten - Last question Sean, if you had to guess the 3 players from this group who made make the biggest impact next year, who would they be? (and obviously they may not just be the top 3 drafted players as we've learned many times)

Sean Lafortune - As we always see in drafts, forwards will always have more of an impact than defenceman do. Defenceman generally take more time to adjust to the speed and responsibilities of the game.

Because of that, I think it's fair to say that the top two players selected will have the biggest impact next year. Travis Konecny is a high speed, high impact forward who combines strong compete level with elite puck skills. We'll have to see what happens in the Nation's capital with Sean Monahan, but with Dante Salituro having the year he has had and with other players like Andrew Abou Assaly expected to take more of a lead offensive role, look for Konecny to be a top 6 forward initially and carve an early niche.

Dylan Strome will be given every opportunity to succeed this year. My expectations are that he will be placed in an immediate top 6 forward position. Despite the record, the Otters have some good offensive depth, and being able to surround Strome with players like Harper, Fox, Brown or Cairns can help him be succeed. By no means do I expect a McDavid like impact, but he certainly has the potential to be one of the top rookies in 2013-2014.

Brett McKenzie strikes me as a player who will be in a perfect situation. McKenzie was the top offensive option for the OHL Cup champion Oakville Rangers last year, displaying intelligent two way play. He's a forward who possesses an interesting potential level. Given the success that players like Blake Clarke and Nick Paul had in their rookie seasons, I have a feeling that McKenzie will be put in similar positions to succeed. He will be positioned around players like Paul, Brandon Robinson and others who will put him in a position to be an impact rookie right away. 

I want to thank Sean again for answering those questions and giving my readers some great nuggets about the draft. Make sure you follow Sean on twitter (here), check out TheScout (here), and pick up a copy of the McKeen's Draft Guide (here), which Sean had a big hand in (as a scout for McKeens).

1 comment:

Leslie Lim said...

I love this post, and I was absolutely thrilled to see the other links that you published that go along with this topic. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am happy to be a new follower. :)