The New York Islanders are up next.
Ryan Strome - Niagara IceDogs
Strome is officially ready for a new challenge. He had a terrific year and really worked hard to improve areas of his game that were previously lacking (at least in comparison to the rest of his skill set). I thought his skating looked more explosive and I think it's obvious he's been working hard to gain that extra gear. The extra gear wasn't necessarily visible when he was working off the rush, because there his stickhandling gives him the space he needs to operate. It was more noticeable away from the puck. He was quicker to openings and was consistently beating defenders to loose pucks for the first time in his career. He was also way more confident in using his wicked wrister this year. It's hard, accurate and pro ready. He doesn't need much room to unleash it either and took full advantage of that, shooting whenever the opportunity arose this year. Defensively, he was significantly better and made a consistent effort to work hard without the puck in his own end. I think the skating improvements were also noticeable on the backcheck where he was more effective chasing down the opposition. All in all, a great development year for Strome. So what's next? I guess the goal will be to make the Islanders in 2013/2014. If he's flexible in shifting to the wing for now, he'd probably have a greater shot of making the team. Realistically, I could see him starting off briefly in the AHL, putting up some great numbers, then getting the call up for good. I'm excited to follow his professional career as it unfolds.
Andrey Pedan - Guelph Storm
It was a relatively good year for Pedan who was able to replicate the things he did well in his step forward last year. That said, did he really progress a ton? I don't think so. He's still a work in progress but one with definite NHL potential. Defensively, he can still take himself out of the play to make a big hit and is still prone to taking bad/lazy penalties in his own end. Offensively, he's aggressive but sometimes at the wrong times, which can lead to him getting caught up ice. There are still a lot of positives, like his big shot, his skating ability, his increased confidence with the puck, and the fact that he excels at playing the role of pugilist in his own end. Pedan is certainly not an easy player to play against. He'll be in Bridgeport this year to begin his pro career. He got a small taste of the AHL at the end of last year which hopefully gave him an idea of what he's in for (aka how to condition himself this offseason to prepare). I could see the coaching staff asking him to play a more conservative defensive role to start, so that he can get his feet wet and learn to settle things down in his own end.
Adam Pelech - Erie Otters
Pelech IS the Erie Otters' defense. You'd be hard pressed to find a player in the OHL who plays more minutes. He's on the team's first pairing, first powerplay unit, and first penalty kill unit. He's on the ice when the team needs a goal or when they need to protect a lead. And when he's not on the ice, the Otters are a considerably worse club. Next year, when Erie is a better team (at least I think they will be), he'll start to generate more "hype." Pelech is the complete package. He starts the breakout very well and has the skating ability/poise with the puck to skate out of trouble in his own end. He's still learning how to run the point on the powerplay (can look a little stiff), but I think that improves with confidence and experience. Learning to get his shot through with more consistency would be a great thing to focus on. Defensively, he's a rock. He can skate with the opposition and defends well off the rush, but is also a beast in front of the net and in the corners. I expect him to have a big year in 2013/2014. He should be up near the top of the OHL defenseman scoring list and I think he's a darkhorse candidate for a spot on Canada's WJC team.
Jesse Graham - Niagara IceDogs
I thought Graham had an OK year. He started off poorly but picked up his play as the season went on. I was particularly impressed with how he stepped up once Dougie Hamilton left post lock-out. His skating ability remains his biggest asset, as he's very hard to pin down on the forecheck and doesn't make a lot of mistakes with the puck in his own end. I'd actually like to see him be more aggressive in jumping up in the play without the puck. His skating would allow him to recover so I think he could stand to take more chances offensively. On his rushes from his own end, he's great at gaining the zone, but still seems rather tentative to finish off his rushes and seems much more comfortable dishing off or dumping in at that point. His point shot still lacks oomph and (I think) holds him back from being a more dominant powerplay quarterback. Defensively, he looked a bit stronger and was winning more battles for the puck, but he can still get outmuscled by bigger forwards. His positioning and awareness is there defensively, it's just a need to continue to get stronger without sacrificing his skating ability. If the end of last year was any indication, I'd expect him to have a big year offensively in 2013/2014. I think he definitely cracks the 50 point plateau. Also has a chance to be the next captain of the Dogs.
Alan Quine - Belleville Bulls
I was not surprised to see someone re-draft Quine after the Wings elected to let him go. He's certainly a terrific offensive talent. He was great after the trade to Belleville, as playing on the big ice did wonders for his game. It gave him more room to operate. He's certainly not a big guy, but he's very quick and agile. Darts in and out of traffic well and doesn't need much time or space to get his shot off. He's a terrific puckhandler and has made great strides in being able to play through traffic. Once a perimeter player, he now will look to go hard to the net and will go into the corners. The rest of his game, needs work. It's not that he doesn't make an effort to backcheck, it's more that he's not really effective at it. His defensive awareness isn't terrific. And while he's increased his willingness to do grunt work, again he's not incredibly effective at it. He's most effective when playing with guys who can get the puck for him and create space for him (like Joseph Cramarossa who he paired with very well in Belleville). I think he'll struggle in the AHL initially next year and I could even see him spending some time in the ECHL. He'll need to be on a scoring line to make an impact so if he's unable to get that icetime in the AHL, he's better off being in the ECHL rather than playing a checking role in Bridgeport (at least IMO). That's of course if the Isles want him in the pro's. They could always send him back to the OHL for his overage year in Belleville. My guess is that the Isles have the Sound Tigers sign him to a contract (similar to what they did with Tony DeHart a few years ago), so that they can get a look at him at that level before deciding on an ELC.
*of note, the Islanders decided to not sign Mitchell Theoret, making him a free agent.
**Also of note, Islanders 5th rounder, Victor Crus-Rydberg, was an Import selection by the Plymouth Whalers and could play in the OHL for 2013/2014.