There's no denying that this is one of my favourite yearly lists to put together. This is the 5th year I've done it and I always love looking back at this one. Of course, I'm referring to the examination of some rookies who could make an impact in the OHL next season.
Now, by rookies I don't mean fresh faced, newly drafted 1997's. We're
talking about some of the 1996's (and possibly even 1995's) who didn't
make the OHL full time last year, but who have the potential to make a
real big impact in 2013/2014. Every year, players like this emerge to
become quality, even star players, in this league (see Mark Scheifele, Remi Elie,
Matt Clark, Trevor Carrick, etc). And every year, I put together
this list with the help of someone who's able to see the Tier 2 and
midget level a hell of a lot more than I do. Scout/Writer for Thescout.ca and McKeen's, Sean Lafortune, helped me put together this list. If you haven't been reading them, make sure you check out the Top 10 Prospect lists Sean has been doing for each OHL team on 'The Scout' (here's one such example, The Owen Sound Attack's list).
Here's 10 guys you should really keep an eye on (in alphabetical order), plus a few Honorable Mentions and a few wildcards.
Travis Dermott - Defense - Erie Otters
Dermott is considered one of the top '96's not playing in the OHL currently. He was a 9th round pick of Erie, but fell in the draft due to injury issues in his draft year. He's a talented two-way defenseman who could slot right into Erie's top 4 potentially and should help to anchor one of their powerplay units. He helped Newmarket to within a game of winning the OJHL championship this year and posted great numbers and played a ton of minutes over the course of the season.
Kyle Jenkins - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A 4th rounder by the Hounds, Jenkins is a very talented offensive defenseman who'll make a big push for joining Sault Ste. Marie's top 6 this season. With the absences of Ryan Sproul and Colin Miller, the Hounds are going to need some serious help on the powerplay and with bringing the puck up ice, both areas Jenkins can help with.
Stefan Leblanc - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Leblanc was actually Jenkins' partner in crime with the Oakville Blades this past year, as the two of them did a terrific job running their powerplay. Like Jenkins, he's a very solid offensive defenseman who could potentially really energize a Sudbury powerplay that lacks a top end powerplay QB. If he plays well, he has a chance to earn a ton of ice time this year on a wide open Wolves' blueline.
Kyle Locke - Defense - Guelph Storm
A 2nd round pick in 2012, Locke saw minimal ice time with Guelph last year and finished out the year with Cambridge of the GOJHL. He's a potentially strong two way defender who plays bigger than his 6'0 frame would suggest. Locke could work his way up to as high as the 2nd pairing next year with strong play.
Owen MacDonald - Forward - London Knights
The latest young player who will try to crack a deep London forward group this year. Each year, the Knights become an incredibly difficult team to earn playing time from, but if you work hard and bide your time, you'll get rewarded (see Chris Tierney, Remi Elie, Kyle Platzer, etc). MacDonald is a smaller, but feisty offensive center who played with St. Mary's of the GOJHL last year. Of all the players trying to earn 4th line minutes next year, MacDonald seems like the best bet to get consistent ice time, because he plays the high tempo, physical style that Dale Hunter likes from his depth guys.
Joe Manchurek - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Manchurek had a heck of an OHL debut last year when he scored a goal and an assist while playing with Scott Laughton and Scott Sabourin on the first line during the holiday season. But he spent the vast majority of his year with Leamington of the GOJHL. He's a hard working, grind it out type of winger who should be able to earn a top 9 spot on the Generals this year, thanks to the departure of a lot of their veteran forwards from last year's squad.
Matthew Mancina - Goaltender - Guelph Storm
A teammate of Manchurek's in Leamington last year, Mancina is more well known for starting for Team Ontario at last year's Under 17's. He is a traditional butterfly style goaltender who is calm and patient in his crease, but like any young goaltender, battles inconsistency. There is a very strong possibility that by the end of the 2013/2014 season, Mancina is the starter for Guelph.
David Miller - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Miller is a slightly undersized playmaking center who saw some limited success with the Hounds last year. After a very strong season with Georgetown of the OJHL (named to the first all prospect team), he'll look to crack Sault Ste. Marie's line up full time in 2013/2014. Miller definitely has a good shot to be the team's 2nd or 3rd line center next year.
Anthony Stefano - Forward - Peterborough Petes
After leading the GNML in scoring last year (with 99 points), Stefano will look to break into a scoring role with Peterborough next year. The Petes won't have a ton of openings, but he'll get his shot to play a possible top 9 role at some point during the year.
Marc Stevens - Forward - Guelph Storm
Even though he saw limited playing time in Guelph last year, Stevens made his mark on the Storm fan base by being an energetic 4th liner who flashed potential to be a very hard player to go up against. He has more offensive potential than he showed in brief stints with Guelph and could be a top 9 forward for them next year, showcasing strong two-way play, a physically aggressive nature and the ability to put up a few points.
Graeme Brown - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Brown could be hard pressed to get ice time again in Windsor, after playing a few games with the Spits last year. But the 3rd round pick has the potential to play in this league as a solid two-way guy.
Santino Centorame - Defense - London Knights
Centorame saw 3 games of action last year with London when they had a bunch of players missing over the holidays, but otherwise spent his year with Georgetown of the OJHL. He's a solid two-way defender who plays bigger than his size. He has a good shot of earning a 3rd pairing spot in London this year.
David Eccles - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
A big, rangy blueliner, Eccles saw a few games of action at the end of last year, even drawing into a few playoff games with the Wolves. He's got size and is showing signs of knowing how to use it in his own end. Like Leblanc, he should slot into a rebuilding Wolves blueline this year.
Owen McDade - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Like Joe Manchurek, McDade is a 2012 draft pick who hopes to get top 9 ice time in Oshawa this year. He's a feisty two-way center who's terrific skating ability makes up for his lack of elite size.
Lucas Peressini - Goaltender - Kingston Frontenacs
Acquired by Kingston late in the year with the hopes that he'd compete for a goaltending spot in 2013/2014. Peressini played with Newmarket last year and could be the back-up to Matt Mahalak this year.
Frankie Vilardi - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
The Whalers acquired Vilardi from Kingston for a 3rd rounder, and he should be able to help them in a 3rd/4th line role next year. He's a talented offensive center who got better as the year went on with Kingston of the OJHL.
Matthew Watson - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Twin brother Spencer is already an anchor for Kingston, so Matthew will try to jump on board full time next year. He's an undersized, but skilled offensive defenseman who could play on Kingston's 3rd pairing next year, and maybe even their 2nd powerplay unit.
Patrick White - Forward - Sarnia Sting
White made the CCHL All Rookie team last year, playing with Gloucester. Sarnia's top 6 forward group might have some openings heading into next year, so the talented offensive center might have a shot of seeing time in that role.
Kyle Wood - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Wood finished out the year with North Bay, even seeing time in the playoffs for them. He could be the next solid two-way defender to work his way into Stan Butler's good books. He's got great size and is a possible Cam Wind replacement next year.
Jake Evans - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Evans is definitely one of the top 96's not in the OHL, if not the best. At this point, despite an aggressive pursuit from Kitchener, he looks to be committed to going to Notre Dame. He's got a ton of options next year, be it Kitchener, or Indiana of the USHL, or going back to St. Mike's in the OJHL. He's a fantastic two way center who could fit right into Kitchener's top 9 right now should he change his mind.
Liam Herbst - Goaltender - London Knights
A first rounder by London, Herbt didn't play a single game last year due to knee and hip surgery. It was looking like his OHL career might be in jeopardy , but he's apparently recovered exceptionally well and is ready to get his career back on track. Hopefully he can draw into an OJHL or GOJHL line up at some point this year, with an aim of seeing some time with London should Anthony Stolarz make Team USA at the WJC's.
Connor Murphy - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
The GOJHL rookie of the year last year seems uncertain about his hockey future. Could play in Owen Sound next year where he could be a big factor offensively. Or he could return to the GOJHL. Or he could play with Chicago of the USHL. TBD if he's going NCAA or OHL.
Hunter Racine - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Racine is an undersized offensive forward who was a member of the CCHL all rookie team last year after a great season with Ottawa. While his rights are owned by Peterborough, it's looking like he's leaning towards the NCAA route.
Jared Walsh - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Along with Jake Evans, Walsh played a huge part on the St. Mike's OJHL Championship squad last year. He's a strong two-way defenseman who would likely slot right into Mississauga's top 4 should he change his mind about the NCAA. Is committed to the U. of Michigan.