Time to enjoy the sun in Tampa Bay.
Slater Koekkoek - Windsor Spitfires
It was another tough year for Koekkoek after he had to have his shoulder operated on for the 2nd season in a row. Koekkoek played only 26 games in his draft year, then 42 this year (only two with his new team in Windsor). The majority of the games he played were with Peterborough, when they were struggling pre Jody Hull. In the games I saw of Koekkoek this year, he looked like a player who was still trying to find himself post injury (the first labrum surgery). His skating and aggressiveness with the puck managed to create scoring chances, just as it has done previously. But he looked tentative defensively and was still making some questionable decisions with the puck and with his pinches. I'll be honest in saying that I wasn't a big fan of the pick (10th overall) when it happened, so I think Koekkoek has a long way to go to prove he deserved to be drafted in the top 10. Reports suggest that he'll be fully ready to go in September and shouldn't miss any further time. In Windsor, he'll be counted upon to be a go to defender. I can't see him pairing with Nick Ebert (because they're too similar), but he should play a ton. The key for him (it should go without saying) is staying healthy and getting confidence back in his abilities. He's still a very raw player and he'll have to grow a lot next year, in likely his final OHL season, in order to be fully ready for the pros. If he stays healthy, I'd expect a very solid offensive campaign of upwards of 50 points.
Dylan Blujus - Brampton Battalion
Blujus' development this year was interesting. First, the positive. I thought he was much better in his own end this year. His lateral and backwards mobility looked improved (although still needs work) and he did a better job of staying in front of opposing forwards off the rush. He was also significantly more physical and began to really gain confidence using his size in his own end. On the negative, his offensive game regressed due to the fact that he was clearly focusing on improving his play in his own end. He took very few chances with the puck and rarely jumped up in the play looking to be a 3rd or 4th man in. On the powerplay, he looked hesitant at times to use his shot, which was a weapon from the point in his draft year. He's still poised running the point though and does move the puck quickly and confidently. Next year in North Bay, I'll be looking for him to continue to grow defensively, while getting back to the things he did offensively in his draft year. In his 4th (and likely final OHL season), he should have the confidence to do this. I think he'll rebound nicely and post the best offensive numbers of his OHL career (35+ points).
Tanner Richard - Guelph Storm
One of the most "pass first" players I've ever seen. He is a playmaker in the purest sense of the word. Richard is incredibly confident with the puck on his stick and does not force plays in the offensive end. He has terrific hockey sense and makes any player on his line a better offensive player. He's effective whether the game is going full speed (in transition) or whether it's slow (working the cycle). He's also a very complete player who added a physical/aggressive element to his game this year. He looked to attack defenders on the forecheck and was way more active in the corners. Moving forward, I do think he'll need to gain more confidence in his shot to become a more dynamic offensive player. He'll occasionally pass up good openings to use his shot in order to pass. There's no doubt he'll be in the AHL next year where I expect him to put up some pretty decent numbers. His game is very well suited for the professional level and I think he'll definitely crack the 40 point plateau.
Jake Dotchin - Barrie Colts
Truthfully, I was a little disappointed in Dotchin's progression this year. His year was spent between Owen Sound and Barrie. Dotchin was shipped to Barrie after the Attack acquired Cody Ceci, which pushed him down the depth chart. However, considering the strength of Barrie's squad this year, he actually took on a third pairing role there too. Truthfully, there weren't a ton of improvements made over his draft year. He remains a solid two-way defender who flashes offensively ability, but doesn't do it consistently enough. Defensively, he's pretty solid, but could still stand to develop more of a consistent mean streak. With Ryan O'Connor and Alex Lepkowski moving on, Dotchin will be counted on to anchor the team's second pairing next year (Ekblad and Laser are the first). He'll also have to be a big part of Barrie's special teams success. For the first time in his OHL career, he's going to play an integral role on the backend and it'll be interesting to see how he handles it. I still have faith in his ability to improve and I think he'll have a good year. I'd expect him to have a 30 point year on top of being a solid defender in his own end.
Henri Ikonen - Kingston Frontenacs
Really liked what I saw from Ikonen this year in his first OHL season. He joined with rookies Sam Bennett and Spencer Watson to form one of the better and most consistent lines in the OHL this year. He's the glue guy on that line; a very well rounded offensive player. Does a lot of little things well (playing in the corners, working the cycle, backchecking, forechecking) on top of being a pretty skilled player. In particular, he seemed to flash a pretty high hockey IQ this year and I was impressed with his patience in the offensive end. Next year, it seems like he'll be back in Kingston (despite earlier reports suggesting he was returning to Finland) where he'll likely rejoin Bennett and Watson on the team's first line. I have very high hopes for that trio this year and I actually could see Ikonen cracking the 75 point mark.