Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Preseason Top 30 for the 2014 Entry Draft

Last year was the first year that I posted a ranking before the start of the next season, due to the fact that I was being asked where I had certain players slated going into the year. I've decided to keep that going and make it a tradition. In a lot of ways it's fun to look back at your early list and see what changes occurred (here's 2013's preseason list).

And changes will occur because so many of these players are going to hit massive growth spurts in their game this year. Some expected, others unexpected. The jump from the 16 year old to the 17 year old season is huge. Many of the things I'm currently saying about these players could be moot come October. Timid, perimeter rookies become physically aggressive sophomores (just as one example). Not to mention all the other players who'll make this list come next June, who haven't even played a minute in the OHL yet (such as a U.S. Import like Ryan MacInnis, a Euro import like Alex Lintuniemi, or a 2012 draft pick who had yet to make his debut like Matthew Mancina).

One thing I will say is that RIGHT NOW, I feel like this is one of the strongest crops of talent the OHL has produced in some time, possibly even since 2003. There are so many high end talents available. I've seen some lists suggesting that the OHL could make up about half of the first round in 2014. This is no exaggeration, as the talent level is that strong.

On to the list!

30. Dylan Diperna - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs 
DiPerna has a lot of potential moving forward. He could be a very complete defender if he develops properly. He's a bigger guy, but moves well for his size and doesn't seem to have a lot of issue defending off the rush or skating the puck out of his own end. He's got a howitzer of a point shot, but he's still learning how to use it/get it on net. He showed flashes of being a very difficult defender to play against last year and I think he can develop into a very physical player who can clear the net and the corners. His decision making in his own end could use a bit of work and he went through some stretches where he struggled this year. But, I see a defender with potential to be a solid player at both ends of the ice.
29. Patrick Sanvido - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
I really liked what I saw from this rookie defender last year. It certainly wasn't an easy season for blueliners in Windsor, but he definitely held his own. He's got great size (~6'5, 220lbs) and he uses it well in the defensive end. He's already a physical player who will only become more effective as he gets stronger and more confident. He also moves well and can defend off the rush. Offensively, he's a work in progress right now. He seemed to have a bit of issue getting the puck out of his own end last year and will need to add an extra gear if he wants to become more effective at skating away from the forecheck. But I definitely love the upside he has defensively.

28. Devin Williams - Goaltender - Erie Otters
It's pretty tough for a netminder on a last place club to stand out, but Williams did that this year IMO. He's a late '95, so he's a bit more experienced than the other goalies on this list, but I think he has just as much potential. Williams isn't the biggest goalie (~6'0), but he's very aggressive in challenging shooters. He's very agile and athletic and makes a lot of "highlight reel" esque saves. In the games that he played, I thought he kept his team in a few that they had absolutely no business being in. Erie should be better this year and hopefully he's still able to find playing time alongside Oscar Dansk.

27. Mike Amadio - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Amadio is an offensive forward who didn't get a ton of ice time with Brampton this past year. He did enough to impress me though and I think he's got a lot of offensive potential. He's certainly a creative puckhandler and is able to make decisions and plays with the puck at top speed. He needs to get stronger though, as he was often overmatched physically this year in the offensive end. The rest of his game also needs work, as he'll need to learn to play without the puck. But if there's a coach in the league who can teach a forward how to play defense and in the corners, it's Stan Butler.
26. Zach Bratina - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
It was an interesting season for Bratina, as he was traded (in the Trocheck deal) from Plymouth, and also battled some injuries. But he did enough to impress me. I thought he showed a willingness to compete for the puck and play hard that was supposed to be lacking in his game (call it the Mike Vellucci effect). He's clearly a very talented offensive player, as he'd occasionally make a play with the puck, to create a scoring chance, that would make you take notice. His skating is also very strong and makes him a weapon off the rush. He definitely needs to add strength to make him more effective away from the puck, but I think Saginaw got a good one in the Trocheck deal.

25. Brent Moran - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
Quite frankly, I thought he really struggled last year. He's a big guy, but he's still got a lot of holes in his game as OHL shooters were able to pick him apart with relative ease. BUT, he's certainly still scratching the surface of his potential. Once he gains some confidence at this level, and works on his angles and timing, he has the makings of becoming a quality netminder. He's certainly agile for a bigger guy and flashed the ability to make big saves. I remember thinking the same thing about Spencer Martin last year at this time, so I'll give Moran the benefit of the doubt for the time being. He'll certainly get a lot of starts in Niagara this year if he's up to it.

24. Eric Cornel - Forward - Peterborough Petes
One of the most underwhelming performances of a 2012 Priority selection last year was Cornel's in Peterborough (after being taken 3rd overall). It was said that he was a work in progress and someone who'd take time to adjust, but I don't think scouts figured it'd be that severe. Cornel does have a lot of potential though. He's a big center who skates very well and who sees the ice well and projects as a playmaker. But he's got a lot to work on (getting stronger, becoming more aggressive, gaining confidence) before he lives up to that draft spot. There's no question that he wasn't one of the top 30 most impressive rookies in the OHL last year, but he's got too much to offer to leave him outside of a preliminary Top 30. It'll certainly be interesting to see his progression this coming year.

23. Alex Peters - Defense - Plymouth Whalers
The type of defender who was born to play for Mike Vellucci in Plymouth. He's a big guy (6'4) who is already physical and mean in his own end. As he gains strength, this aspect of his game will only get better. I thought he also showed excellent defensive awareness and confidence for a rookie and he seems like the type of guy Vellucci can lean on in important defensive situations moving forward (call him the Austin Levi, Colin MacDonald replacement). There were a few times I saw him this year where he looked like he might have some issue defending off the rush, so his overall agility and mobility will need to improve. But he was pretty poised with the puck in his own end and seems to have a good head for the game. Not sure how much offensive potential he has, but he certainly looks like a very solid defender.

22. Jaden Lindo - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Lindo was very impressive in the first half of the season, but seemed to tire in the second half. He's a workhorse on the ice who battles hard without the puck to create scoring opportunities for his linemates. He has the potential to develop into a very good board player and forechecker at this level. Offensively, I'm not sure how much potential he has. He certainly looks to have a pretty good head for the offensive end, but didn't show a ton of skill or shooting ability this year. Could be a crash and bang type of guy who gets points out of hard work and energy.

21. Brendan Lemieux - Forward - Barrie Colts
A chip off the ol' block is the expression that fits Brendan, son of Claude Lemieux. He plays the game very hard, just as his father did. As a rookie this year, he showed absolutely no fear in the corners, in front of the net, or after the whistle. He projects as a terrific energy player, but he's also got a fair amount of skill and hockey sense in the offensive end. I think he's got goal scoring potential at this level because he seems to know how to get open and where to find scoring chances. His skating did look a bit rough last year, but he works so hard that you don't really notice it too much. I think he's got more potential than just a 3rd line checker.

20. Matt Schmalz - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
It wasn't until the deal to Sudbury (in the Frankie Corrado swap with Kitchener) that his game really started to blossom. He looked a little overwhelmed in Kitchener (and under utilized), but was much more confident in Sudbury. He's a big center (6'4) who looks to have the potential to control the pace of play. He seems to like to have the puck on his stick and certainly has enough skill to make things happen in the offensive end. He flashed some aggressiveness at times and I think he does have the potential to be a more physically engaged player. But as of right now, he can be a bit too invisible without the puck. A lot of standing around waiting for things to happen. But once he gains more confidence, he could have a lot of potential as a big, power center.

19. Brandon Prophet - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Prophet showed signs of strong two-way potential this year. Defensively, he's physically aggressive and wasn't afraid to push forwards around in front of the net or in the corners. I thought his defensive zone coverage was also solid. Offensively, he's a good puckhandler who has confidence in skating out of his own end and was at times aggressive in jumping up in the play. His overall mobility could stand to improve as he can have some issues defending off the rush, and I think it also limits his effectiveness as a puck carrier. He can also be prone to making a bad pass in his own end and will need to improve his decision making with the puck. But overall I thought he showed flashes of being a terrific two-way defender and a guy to keep an eye on.

18. Brandon Robinson - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Robinson (a late '95) didn't have quite the second year in the OHL that many people expected (myself included), but I still have a lot of confidence in his abilities moving forward. He's a big winger who flashes a good power forward game. While this aspect of his game is not yet consistent, he will throw his body around and look to go hard to the net with and without the puck. He's also got a very good shot and profiles as a goal scorer at the next level. As he gets stronger, he's going to become even more difficult for defenders to handle in close to the net. His skating still needs some work and I think holds back his game to some extent, but I did see some improvement from the start of last year to the end. I think he needs to be a 25 goal scorer this year to really keep his name in the top 20.

17. Brendan Perlini - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Really liked what I saw from Perlini at the end of the year with Niagara. Mind you, he was playing a lot with Strome and Ritchie, but he more than held his own. He's a big winger but has the potential to be a very good north/south type player. He skates very well for his size and flashes the ability to be a very good puck carrier, and the type of guy who could be a load for defenseman to handle off the rush. He's also got a good and heavy shot which profiles him as more than just a crash and bang guy. Would like to see him play a bit more physical and use his size without the puck, but he's got a lot of potential and will see a ton of ice time in Niagara this year.

16. Robby Fabbri - Forward - Guelph Storm
An absolutely terrific offensive player who thrives with the puck on his stick. He is effective both off the rush and below the hash marks because he works hard without the puck too. In particular, Fabbri is a fantastic skater who really can push the pace of play and put pressure on opposing defenses. He profiles best as a playmaking center, but I think he has more goal scoring potential than he showed last year. Really the only thing going against him at this point is size, as he's only about 5'10. He'll definitely need to bulk up without sacrificing his speed, in order to draw the attention from scouts and get consideration for the first round.

15. Aaron Haydon - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
I thought he improved so much from the start of the season to when his season was cut short in Febuary with a broken jaw. Haydon provided way more offensively than I thought he would, after he was billed as primarily a shutdown type of defender at the draft. He showed flashes of being able to carry the puck, lead the rush, and jump up in the play effectively. And all this is gravy since he was also very strong in his own end. Haydon has great size and is already a terrific player in his own end, who is physically aggressive but also smart positionally. I'm really looking forward to seeing how his game develops this year, perhaps most out of any player on this list.

14. Joshua Ho-Sang - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
I'll admit that this ranking is probably a little lower than others might have him, but I do stand by it. While Ho-Sang is undeniably a terrific offensive talent, his game requires a lot of growth before he deserves to be up with the other top end forwards from the OHL this year (Clarke, McCann, Ritchie, Dal Colle, Bennett, etc). With the puck on his stick, Ho-Sang can be an electric player whose speed and skill combination makes him very difficult to contain off the rush. But, I found him to be way too narrow centric this year and he was forced into a lot of turnovers by hanging on to the puck too long and not using his linemates effectively. I also thought his game without the puck left a lot to be desired. If he shows improvement in these areas, he has the potential to rocket up this list, but as of right now, I think he deserves a lower ranking.

13. Jake Middleton - Defense - Ottawa 67's
It certainly wasn't a terrific year for Middleton, as he battled injuries, got traded and played only 29 games in the league. In the OHL, he certainly wasn't incredibly effective looking. It was at the Under 17's that I thought he really shined, as one of Team Ontario's best defenseman, and as one of the top defenseman in the tournament. This year he'll be able to start fresh in Ottawa and get a ton of playing time, where his game will undoubtedly grow. He has the potential to be a complete package on the back end. He has size, physicality, skating ability and offensive instincts. 

12. Alex Nedeljkovic - Goaltender - Plymouth Whalers
Can't say enough about the job Nedeljkovic did for Plymouth last year. One of the more impressive performances I've seen from a 16/17 year old netminder in the league. There's no coincidence that once Nedeljkovic established himself as the team's starter, the Whalers' started to play their best hockey. His play at the Ivan Hlinka tournament also showcases how important he can be to team success. He's a calming influence in the net who has a terrific confidence level for a young netminder. He's not the biggest goalie, but he's very solid in all aspects and projects as a top flight starter in this league.

11. Matthew Mistele - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
Mistele is a budding power forward prospect who has just played his 2nd year in the OHL (late '95) where he put up 34 goals on a deep and talented Plymouth team. He's a very hard worker away from the puck who's aggressive in the corners and in attacking the net. He reads plays well offensively and gets himself in good scoring position. As he gains confidence, I expect his ability to be a factor off the rush to improve and for him to develop into a great all around offensive player. This is of course on top of the physicality he brings, and the effort level at both ends of the ice. A terrific all around player.

10. Anthony DeAngelo - Defense - Sarnia Sting
Oozes offensive talent from the backend. As a late '95, he finished third in defenseman scoring last year, and lead the league in assists from the back end (49). He has a ton of confidence bringing the puck out of his own end and is incredibly aggressive in trying to gain access to the opposition's zone. He's also aggressive offensively without the puck and will look to pinch and join the breakout whenever he can. He controls the point well on the powerplay, but could stand to improve the consistency with which he gets his point shot on net. And while he's not the biggest (a shade under 6'0), he plays larger than that in the defensive end and will look to engage physically. There's no question that he does have some concerns in the defensive end though. His aggressive offensive nature will occasionally leave his d-partner to cover for him. He can also be prone to mistakes in defensive coverage. And at times, he can try to force plays up ice (be it a rush or a pass) that lead to turnovers. But as an offensive defenseman, there are few in the OHL who can match his ability.
9. Spencer Watson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Fresh off leading the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial in scoring (10 points), Watson will return to Kingston to build off of a solid rookie season. He's one of the most exciting and dynamic young scorers in the league. He skates very well and is most effective when he has the puck on his stick entering the zone. He's very elusive with the puck, and despite being undersized and lacking strength, did a good job to be a consistently effective offensive threat in his rookie year. His play without the puck is solid offensively, as he works hard to get himself open and doesn't need much room to operate in close to the net. His hockey sense in the offensive end is fantastic. The rest of his game needs some filling out, as he'll look to improve his defensive play, as well as his ability to fight in the corners. While he's definitely undersized (~5'11), his size didn't seem to hurt him a ton in his first OHL season. I expect big things from him this year.

8. Nikolai Goldobin - Forward - Sarnia Sting
While he wasn't able to beat out Connor McDavid for the Emms' (ROY), he did edge him in the rookie scoring race. Goldobin is a highly electric offensive player who'll be entering his 2nd season in the OHL as a late '95 Import. His hands and ability to beat defenders one on one are among the best in the entire OHL. He's incredibly elusive and very effective off the rush. What I liked about him is that he's also not a perimeter player and will look to go hard to the net without the puck. While his defensive game and physical components need work, he's certainly a fantastic offensive player. It'll be interesting to see how he does in Sarnia this year as the go to offensive guy.

7. Sam Bennett - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
One of the most complete players of his age group, Bennett is a treat to watch. He is an incredibly aggressive player without the puck who looks to attack on the forecheck and engage in the corners. And while he's certainly effective and eager to do the grunt work on a line, he's also incredibly skilled. He is a terrific skater who has excellent acceleration and separation ability. He can handle the puck in traffic and does a great job to create space for himself to use his shot, which is terrific. Defensively, he improved a lot over the course of the season and has the makings of developing into a great two way player. Quite frankly, the top 7 on my list are all pretty interchangeable at the current moment. I could see any of them challenging for a position in the top 10 of the 2014 draft.

6. Roland McKeown - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
A jack of all trades defender, and I mean that in the best way possible. McKeown can do it all and he makes it look relatively easy. Defensively, he's already very solid and logged a ton of minutes for Kingston this past year. He is excellent in coverage and has a really high IQ in his own end. He's not the most physical guy, but he has terrific positioning and is already tough to beat one on one. McKeown is also calm with the puck in his own end and doesn't make many bad passes or decisions, even if the forecheck is putting pressure on him. He's still learning how to be a good offensive defender in the OHL, but that's to be expected I think. He's not really a dynamic offensive player though, nor do I think he'll ever develop into one. But he can still be a solid offensive defenseman who can control a powerplay and help start the breakout.

5. Michael Dal Colle - Forward - Oshawa Generals
While I might not agree with the power forward tag some people are throwing around, Dal Colle is certainly an interesting package of skill and size. He's already incredibly strong on the puck and hard to separate from it. In close to the net, his size, strength, and hands make him very difficult to contain. This is especially true when you consider his ability to think the game and get himself in good scoring position. The one thing holding him back a bit at this moment is that he's not the world's best skater. His first few strides could use some work and would make him a much more dangerous player in taking defenders to the net. But the rest of his game is elite. It'll be interesting to see whether the Generals let him return to his natural position of center this year, or continue to play him on the wing where he had a lot of success as a rookie.

4. Nick Ritchie - Forward - Peterborough Petes
To be honest, I wanted to put Ritchie a bit further down on this list because of all the trouble he's had staying healthy. But I just couldn't, considering the potential he possesses. He's the complete package and a true forward prospect. Think Brett Ritchie (a terrific player in his own right), but a better skater and puckhandler. When he's on, Ritchie can control all facets of the game, offensively, physically, and on the backcheck. He's incredibly difficult to contain with the puck in transition and is very aggressive in looking towards the center of the ice. His hands in close are fantastic, but he's also a great playmaker who sees the ice and can make his linemates better. For Ritchie, it's all about staying healthy in his 3rd OHL season (he's a late '95). If he's forced to play the game with less conviction to avoid injury, he'd lose his some of his effectiveness.

3. Jared McCann - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Along with Sam Bennett, McCann is the best and most complete player of his age group. His hockey sense is ridiculously good at both ends of the ice, as he's already terrific on the backcheck and a great penalty killer. In the offensive end, he has great vision and is able to create opportunities for his linemates, both off the rush and below the hash marks. While McCann is a great playmaker, he's also a potential goal scoring threat with a great wrist shot which he requires little room to release. Lastly, he's a fantastic skater who looks to put pressure on the opposition through the forecheck. I expect big things from him in SSM this year.

2. Blake Clarke - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Clarke is a big power forward who is just starting to scratch the surface of his abilities. For such a big guy, he has a terrific finesse touch with the puck and is able to make defenders miss off the rush, or on the way to the net. He's also a great playmaker for a power forward, who doesn't just barrel his way to the net when he has the puck, but instead looks to create in other ways and has great vision. In general his hockey sense in the offensive end is very good and he finds himself in scoring position quite often by reading and reacting well to the play. His skating is only average at this point, but it could definitely get better. I'd also like to see him play physically more consistently, as it adds another element to his game. Very high ceiling with Clarke.

1. Aaron Ekblad - Defense - Barrie Colts
What more is there to say about Ekblad? Fresh off captaining Team Canada to a gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka, I think it's clear that Ekblad is still the top rated prospect of his age group. I was left particularly impressed by the way he played during last year's playoff run, where he really put the Colts' on his back defensively. He's an absolute rock in his own end and is already one of the most difficult players to beat one on one in the league because of his size, mobility, and physicality. And while he's certainly not a natural offensive player, he has enough skill and sense to put up points and be an effective offensive player at the next level. His shot and first pass are both still above average, even if his ability to rush the puck never really translates. This year, I want to see him really up the physical intensity in his own end and start tossing people around in the corners and in front of the net. 

Honorable Mentions

Damian Bourne - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
A mammoth forward at about 6'4, 210lbs, I expected more from him in Mississauga last year. He was really only noticeable as a punishing checker, but struggled to find his way in the offensive end. His skating really needs work as he looked a step behind in a lot of situations. High potential still as a power forward.

Darby Llewellyn - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
He drew in and out of the Rangers' line up this year, but showed enough to suggest that he's got a pretty high ceiling. While I don't think he was given the opportunity to really show what he was capable of offensively, I did notice him as a forward who can have some success in the corners and on the forecheck. I think there's more than meets the eye here.

Brett Hargrave - Forward - Sarnia Sting
A big potential power forward who came into the year with higher expectations. Really wasn't very noticeable when I saw Sarnia play last year and will need to up his physical intensity. Will get more ice time this year, let's see what he does with it.

Niki Petti - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Petti had a very inconsistent first season with Belleville. On some occasions, he looked like an aggressive, high energy offensive player, while on others he was invisible and seemed to have trouble outmuscling older players. With a summer of strength training, we'll likely be able to tell how effective of an offensive player he can be.

Tyler Hore - Defense - Sarnia Sting
Hore is an interesting late '95 defender who played well with Sarnia after the trade from Oshawa. He's got great size (6'3), moves well, and has potential to play at both ends of the ice. Still very raw but could be a player.

Will Be Appearing Soon (Haven't Played in the OHL yet)

Ryan MacInnis - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Kevin Labanc - Forward - Barrie Colts
Connor Chatham - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
Alex Lintuniemi - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Alexander Protapovich - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Adrien Kempe (if he reports) - Forward - Barrie Colts

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