The Toronto Maple Leafs are up next (and have half the prospects playing in the OHL).
Stuart Percy - Mississauga Steelheads
I thought Percy had a very solid final OHL season. He rebounded nicely from last year's concussion filled campaign. He's a very steady and reliable defender. He continued to play solid defense this year, with his greatest asset being his head. He reads situations very well in the defensive end and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He rarely loses his cover in the zone. He also defends well off the rush and keeps forwards in front of him. It's off the rush that you'll see a little piss and vinegar in his game, as he's not afraid to plant an opposing forward coming in on him. Without question, the biggest improvement made to his game this year was his shot. He looked way more confident using it from the point, where in previous years I always felt he was hesitant to unleash it. He was also more active in jumping up in the rush and looking for ways to use his shot. I think, at the next level, he'll probably fall back a bit more and won't be as active of a puck carrier, but his play on the powerplay this year suggests he could be a factor there. I think he'll also need to be a bit more rough in the corners and in front of the net to succeed defensively at the next level, which is something that he's capable of. With the Marlies (AHL), I'd expect him to have a solid first season. I think he'll be a big part of their line-up and should crack the 25 point plateau.
Matt Finn - Guelph Storm
A bit of a tough post-draft year for Finn. He missed good chunks of action with mono and a knee sprain (separately). As such, I don't think he was ever able to get into a good groove on the ice and I don't think his game took any major steps forward this year. He's still a very smart player with the puck and a guy who's not afraid to jump up in the rush to create offense. His first few steps and top gear still need a bit of work to make him a greater threat off the rush offensively. Defensively, he's a similar player to Stuart Percy, in the sense that he has good positioning and reads and reacts well to situations. He's not the type of guy who'll be caught running around. I'd like to see him become tougher to play against in the corners and in front of the net. Next year, Finn should be one of the top defenseman in the OHL and I'd be very surprised if he's not among the top 10 in scoring among blueliners.
Tyler Biggs - Oshawa Generals
I'm a little torn on Biggs' season this year. There were certainly things I really liked about his game, and things that left me a tad disappointed. I'll start with the positives. He's a pretty effective skater for a big guy and it allows him to be a factor off the rush offensively. It also makes him an effective player in puck pursuit, as he's not only able to outmuscle opposing defenders for the puck along the wall, but is often the first man there. Biggs is also already a very solid defensive player and penalty killer. He backchecks hard and is very effective in his own zone at winning one on one battles. He's also got pretty good hands in close to the net and has some ability to carry the puck and make things happen with it. Now the negatives. I was actually disappointed with the consistency of his physical game. There were a few of Oshawa's games that I saw where he was out there hitting anything and everything. And others where I truthfully didn't really notice him. His game is tailored around being a physical force, so that aspect needs to be there consistently. I'm also not sure how much offensive potential he has at the next level. I don't think he has a terrific shot or goal scoring instincts, as he can generate chances but doesn't finish a ton of them. In the playoffs this year, he pulled a major disappearing act, which is a tad alarming for a 19 year old first round draft pick. All in all, he looks like a pro prospect, just not one who can contribute in the top 6. With the Marlies this year, I don't know if I would anticipate a lot of offensive output. I think he'll probably be around the 30 point mark. As long as he can up that physical intensity, it would still make him an effective player.
Josh Leivo - Kitchener Rangers
For as much as I like Leivo as an NHL prospect, I was actually a little underwhelmed by his OHL season this year. In 2011/2012, he emerged as one of the top two-way forwards in the OHL with Sudbury. His ability to work the boards, drive the net hard, and get himself into passing lanes made him a very effective player. This year, I felt like he got away from that a bit. He strayed away from his hard nosed, power winger approach to try and play more of a finesse, strictly offensive game. I think this was especially the case in Kitchener where he seemed like he was trying to hard to give the team the offensive spark it badly required. When the playoffs came around, I did feel like he was playing much better and had simplified his game, but for large chunks of the season his "overall" game did lack some consistency. That being said, I'm still a big fan of his NHL potential as a 2nd/3rd line winger. There's a lot of talk from Leafs nation about him being ready to push for a roster spot with the big club, after an impressive performance at the development camp. I don't think that's the case. I think he's definitely going to need at least a year in the AHL to get used to the strength and speed of the pro game, and to figure out just what type of player he wants to be at this level. I think he'll have a solid first pro year with the Marlies (20-20 possibility) and work his way up from there.
David Broll - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The Brolldozer, as Hounds fans affectionately call him, had a very nice little breakout season. Many parts of his game took big steps forward in his final OHL year. He looked much quicker and as such was faster to loose pucks and more of a factor offensively in transition. He also looked substantially more confident with the puck on his stick and was looking to create whenever he could, whether it was coming off the wall, from behind the net, or taking the puck hard down the wing. He's not blessed with terrific hands or a terrific shot (which will limit his upside at the NHL level), but he certainly has a high motor that will endear him to fans. He hits everything, and hits it like a truck. I thought his defensive game also took a step forward this year too, as he was more effective on the backcheck and was reading plays in his own end with more efficiency. This bodes well for his future role as a 3rd/4th liner in the NHL. Like Leivo and Biggs, Broll will likely suit up for the Marlies this coming year. I wouldn't expect much of anything offensively to start, but he'll continue to hit and bring energy and hopefully learn to create offensive chances from that at the pro level.
Garret Sparks - Guelph Storm
Sparks definitely had a good year for Guelph in 2012/2013. He was consistently a factor that aided the Storm's ability to win hockey games. Previously, I'd always found him to be a little inconsistent, but that was mostly corrected this year. He's a very controlled netminder who plays to his strengths. He's a bigger kid who really fills up the net. Plays sort of a hybrid style but drops down to the butterfly occasionally. He swallows up rebounds well and keeps himself square to shooters. He's not flashy or incredibly athletic, but he uses positioning to make big saves when their needed. Next year, he'll be battling for a job in the AHL. It seems likely that Drew MacIntyre will be the starter for the Marlies, which leaves Sparks battling the newly signed Chris Gibson for the back-up job. A little competition never hurt anyone!
Ryan Rupert - London Knights
Rupert's journey this year was a tale of two seasons. The first was not pretty and had a lot of London fans calling for his head. It took him 21 games to score his first goal of the year. In the 20 games previous to that, he had 8 assists. In those games, he looked a little lost and was perhaps trying too much to be a big time offensive contributor. In the final 34 games of the regular season, he put up 36 points, and continued that production into the playoffs where he averaged just under a point per game. In a nutshell, if you throw away that terrible start, he actually had a good year. The thing I love about Rupert's game is that he always takes it to another level in the playoffs. Definitely a clutch performer. He remains one of the top two-way players in the league, as well as one of it's premier forecheckers and overall pests. His vision and ability to find open teammates in the offensive end is an underrated aspect of his game. He's not just a grunt who can attack defenders and come away with loose pucks, he has enough skill and sense to create chances from those turnovers. I think this offseason he really needs to focus on getting quicker. It would make his game even more effective. It's pretty hard for guys his size to play the role that he does while being only an average skater. Next year in London, he's likely to take on a similar role, but could definitely see increased powerplay time. I think he'll put up 60 points (20-40 type year) and establish himself as a solid prospect for the next level.
Connor Brown - Erie Otters
Even though I think Brown still has a ways to go as a prospect, I think he did have a very good year that saw some improvements in his game. He was a lot more noticeable without the puck this year, and began to go after pucks in the corners and opened up space for his linemate Connor McDavid by attacking the net. He's certainly not the biggest guy, but he did look stronger this year and was a lot more difficult to contain/knock off the puck. And even though his goal scoring numbers didn't increase a ton, I felt like his shot looked heavier and he was more confident using it. He transformed himself from a purely complimentary offensive player to the type of guy who can be the focal point of his line. He still needs to get quicker, especially if he wants to continue to play with Connor McDavid. Adding more explosiveness to his first few strides would make him a significantly more dangerous offensive player. And I'd still like to see him continue to round out his overall game and become more involved in the defensive end. But, Erie's captain did have a solid year. Next year Erie should be a better hockey team. They'll have a lot of offensive firepower and I could see Brown really exploding. An 80 point season is not out of reach.
Carter Verhaeghe - Niagara IceDogs
A very savvy pick up by the Leafs in the 3rd round of this year's draft. Verhaeghe is a jack of all trades kind of guy who plays in all situations for Niagara. He forechecks hard and is already a very solid board player. He's also a smart player who has a lot of potential as a playmaker. Outside of Strome and Ritchie, I thought Verhaeghe was Niagara's most consistent player this past year. Next year will bring significantly more responsibility for him. He'll be the team's top line center and expected to produce against the opposition's best. I see Niagara going through a bit of a rebuild/inconsistent year so I wouldn't expect ridiculous numbers for him. But if he can crack the 50 point mark, on top of providing leadership (has a chance of being Niagara's next captain IMO), I think that would be a successful season.