This is the END! Last stop, Winnipeg!
Mark Scheifele - Barrie Colts
Scheifele had a terrific season, undoubtedly his last in the OHL. I was actually reasonably critical of his play in 2011/2012, after I felt like he was not consistently noticeable enough for a top 10 pick. At the time (August 2012), I said, "If he does return to Barrie, I'm hoping he can really dominate and come
back like a man on a mission. In order to do that, he's going to have to
take that next step in using his size aggressively on offense, taking
over the boards and being a load to stop on the way to the net." Well, that's EXACTLY what he did this year. Scheifele was an absolute load to handle for opposing defenses in 2012/2013. With the puck, he was aggressive in looking to the middle of the ice and consistently drove to the net looking to create. Without the puck, he did the same thing, trying to open up space for linemates, in addition to looking for scoring opportunities in close to the crease. He was more aggressive physically without the puck and transformed himself into a very difficult player to win battles in the corners against. Offensively, he became a multi-faceted player, a guy who could beat you off the rush, but also below the hash-marks. Scheifele also had significantly more confidence in his shot this year, looking to use it whenever he could. His release looked much improved and he had no trouble burying his share of chances (next to OHL leading goal scorer Reid Boucher, he had the best goals per game average in the league). On top of the improvements offensively, Scheifele also looked stronger defensively as he brought more intensity to his backchecking assignments. To sum it up, the Jets made the right choice sending him back for another year. In 2013/2014, Scheifele can play in the AHL or the NHL. I'd be surprised if he doesn't make the Jets at this point, where I suspect he'll have a pretty decent first season. IMO a 20/20 year is well within his grasp.
Scott Kosmachuk - Guelph Storm
Another solid year for Kosmachuk, playing his brand of in your face offensive hockey. He's definitely what you would refer to as a "crease crasher." He's constantly buzzing without the puck and is relentless in puck pursuit. His play with the puck is an underrated component of his game, as he has enough skill to take defenders one on one and loves to try and get past them on the outside. I think he'll still need to add another gear to his stride in order to be more effective at this, but the effort level is there. Even though the goal numbers didn't improve considerably, I did think his shot looked better this year. He had more power behind it and looked more confident doing it. In a lot of ways, Kosmachuk plays the game like his coach in Guelph, Scott Walker. He's certainly the perfect guy to be teaching him the ropes. Next year, Kosmachuk will return to Guelph and should have a big year. After leading the Storm in scoring this year, I expect that to grow even more, perhaps to the tune of a 40 goal, 80 point season in 2013/2014.
Austen Brassard - Belleville Bulls
Truthfully, I was a little surprised that Brassard got a contract offer from the Jets after he posted the worst offensive numbers since his 16 year old season. Now numbers don't tell the whole story, but they do tell some of it. This year, Brassard did play the most aggressively that he has as an OHL player. He was a consistent physical threat and grew into a quality player without the puck, at both ends of the ice. But he wasn't able to get a whole lot done with the puck this year. While he was aggressive in trying to drive to the net, his puck skills nor his acceleration have ever really ever improved to the point where he's a consistent scoring threat from the outside. His shot is also not terrific and he needs time and space to get it off. With his size, he should be scoring a lot more goals in close to the net, but that wasn't the case this year as he often found himself out of scoring position. After last year's breakthrough offensively, I had high expectations for him but was left underwhelmed. Next year he'll be in the AHL where I imagine he'll start on a checking line. At this point, it's hard to imagine him putting up large offensive numbers and I think he'll take some time adjusting to the speed of the pro game. A 10-10 first year would be a realistic expectation.
Jimmy Lodge - Saginaw Spirit
I thought Lodge was a steal and a half where the Jets picked him up. He needs to fill out his frame, but he oozes offensive potential (as I've mentioned in a previous article, Lodge finished the season with 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in his final 31 games). He's a great skater and can be aggressive coming down the wing, whether it be looking to go hard to the net, or finding space for his above average shot. He's also got good offensive instincts and seems to find himself in good position to make offensive plays. He'll need to continue to round out his game by working harder in his own end and in the corners. And he'll need to get stronger so he's not pushed off the puck as easy, and to make him more effective along the wall. But the potential is very high. Next year he'll continue to play on Saginaw's first line. This could include Eric Locke (who he's built up great chemistry with) if he's returned by Buffalo for his overage year. I think he'll have an excellent season and can crack the 70 point mark.