Off to the West coast, as Vancouver is the next team evaluated.
Brendan Gaunce - Belleville Bulls
As big a fan as I am of Gaunce, I will admit that I was a tad disappointed by his development this year. He's certainly still a terrific two-way player whose reads, anticipation and ability to tie up opposing players in the defensive end remained top notch. His work along the wall at both ends of the ice is among the best in the entire OHL. Offensively, that's still where the majority of his chances are generated. He works the cycle well, and creates openings for himself and teammates. His vision and playmaking ability remain an underrated aspect of his game. The one aspect of his game that I did feel took a step forward was his play in front of the net. He was more aggressive in going to the net looking for scoring opportunities this year. He picked up a lot of "garbage" goals near the crease and in the slot by outworking opposing defenders. He's very strong and is hard to prevent from getting shots off. But, as I mentioned I was a bit disappointed by his offensive development. And with that I mean his ability to generate scoring chances off the rush. He remains a dangerous player below the hash marks, but when the tempo is quicker he loses effectiveness. With his size and ability to distribute/handle the puck, he should be controlling the tempo and pace of the game and creating more chances by driving hard to the middle of the ice with the puck on his stick. Next year Belleville should remain a pretty solid team, but I'm really looking for Gaunce to put this team on his back and start taking over games on a consistent basis (the way he played in this year's playoffs). I'm thinking an 80 point season is a solid and realistic goal for him.
Frank Corrado - Kitchener Rangers
It was quite the year for Corrado, seeing time at the OHL level (duh), but also the AHL and NHL levels, including a few games in the NHL playoffs. I don't think there's any question that he's one of the more underrated prospects out there. He's a terrific two-way player who does pretty much everything well, including playing more physical in front of the net and in the corners this year. He makes smart reads in the defensive end and uses his terrific skating ability to keep ahead of forwards on the rush. Offensively, he can skate the puck out of his own end, but is also a factor running the point on the powerplay. He has a deceptively hard shot from the point, even if he doesn't use it a ton. In Kitchener, I thought his play dropped a bit, but only because he didn't really seem to find a partner he had great chemistry with. I particularly didn't like when Kitchener paired Murphy and Corrado together occasionally. Next year, he'll be turning pro and playing in the AHL or the NHL. If he's in the AHL, I could see him having a very solid season, reaching the 30 point plateau. If he's in the NHL, I don't think he'll contribute much offensively but should be able to hold his own defensively.
Evan McEneny - Kitchener Rangers
It was definitely great to see McEneny play this entire year injury free after his disastrous 2nd season that ended with a knee tear. The Canucks were definitely smart to sign him when they did (as I've mentioned before). McEneny got better and better as the season went on (completely confidence related). He saw time in all situations for Kitchener, and looked very solid running the 2nd powerplay unit. I particularly love the way he eludes the oncoming forecheck in his own end. He's a very smooth skater and he doesn't panic in his own end. He sees the ice very well in that regard and rarely gets himself trapped. I'd like to see him push things a little bit more and be more aggressive in jumping up in the play, but I think that's still a confidence thing coming to him. He's also got to improve his point shot before he takes over the primary powerplay QB duties next year. Defensively, he makes smart reads and is a solid positional defender. But he does need to be more aggressive, particularly in the corners and in front of the net. This was something he flashed in his 16 year old season, but not nearly as much last year. I'm incredibly excited to see his progression next year when the Kitchener defense is essentially his to run. I think he's going to have a big breakout season and surprise a lot of people by being up near the top of the defensive scoring in the O. I've said it before and I'll say it again, if he doesn't get injured in his draft year, I think he's a top three round pick.
Bo Horvat - London Knights
If you read this blog a lot, you'll know how much of a fan I am of Horvat. He's Mr. Everything for the Knights and had way more potential than people give him credit for. There's a reason why the Canucks felt comfortable trading Cory Schneider for him. I won't speak to everything (because you can just read my 2013 draft rankings for that), but I'll talk briefly about his goal scoring and defensive abilities. As a goal scorer, he has a ton of potential because he can do it in a lot of different ways and he has terrific instincts without the puck. Defensively, his intelligence is off the charts. He forces so many turnovers in the neutral zone by forcing players into bad passes or pick pocketing them. Next year, who really knows. I think he SHOULD go back to London for another year, to get quicker, stronger, and more confident with the puck. But I also think he has a legitimate shot of making the Canucks because of his complete game. If he's in the OHL, I think we're looking at an 80+ point season. If he's in the NHL, I could see him potting 15 goals and being a quality member of a checking line.
Cole Cassels - Oshawa Generals
Cassels had an up and down 2nd season in Oshawa, but few draft eligible players do find consistency during that year. His ice time fluctuated with the bevy of stars Oshawa had at forward, but he did manage to stand out on some occasions. He's both a similar player and different player than his father Andrew. Similar in the sense that he isn't blessed with terrific size or skating ability. Similar also by way of being an excellent playmaker (even if he tries to force too many plays and can be prone to bad passes in the offensive end). Different in the sense that he's an in your face pest who thrives on the forecheck and by playing hard in the corners. Next year in Oshawa, the Generals will be going through a bit of a rebuild, especially if they lose Scott Laughton to Philadelphia. He's certainly going to get increased ice time and offensive responsibility. The Gennies will still have some good wingers to work with (especially if Michael Dal Colle stays on the wing and doesn't shift to center), so I think he'll have a shot at a solid season. I'd expect him to be around the 50-55 point mark.
Jordan Subban - Belleville Bulls
I think at this point everyone knows what Jordan brings to the ice offensively. He's an effortless skater who exudes confidence when avoiding the forecheck and when leading the attack. He makes good decisions with the puck and does a good job of running the point on the powerplay. While he may be smaller in stature, his shot is terrific and he's aggressive in jumping up in the play to try and get a chance to use it. Defensively, he can be overmatched. He needs to get stronger in the corners where a lot of OHL forwards have their way with him. It's not a lack of effort, but a lack of physical ability. I think he's still learning how to read situations in the defensive end too and will occasionally make gaffes in coverage. As mentioned above (with Gaunce), the Bulls should still be a competitive team this year and Subban will be a big part of that. I expect his confidence to be even higher next year and I could see him being among the defensive scoring leaders in the league (+ 60 points).
Miles Liberati - London Knights
Liberati didn't get much ice time this year, but he certainly did enough to warrant a look from an NHL team. Heck, to stay in the lineup at the end of the year, he even played games at forward and looked good doing it. I have a lot of faith in Liberati developing into a quality OHL player and NHL prospect as he has all the tools and he's going to learn from a good coach. His skating ability in combination with his instincts at both ends of the ice, make him a two-way threat. This year in London, he should easily draw into the line-up. How much ice time he gets will be dictated by his play, but he has a chance to work his way up to the 2nd pairing and even 2nd powerplay unit. I'd expect a mini breakthrough for him around the 25 point mark.