The start of the 2014 calendar year is upon us and that means it is time for me to re-evaluate my rankings for the 2014 Draft. The OHL season is past the half way mark which gives us a great indication of how certain players have developed in their draft season. Many players have stepped up to assume large roles on their club, while others have disappointed and find themselves on the outside looking in.
The 2014 Draft is obviously an incredibly strong one for the Ontario Hockey League. They could make up close to half of the first round this year and currently have over half (21/40) of the players participating at the Top Prospect's Game this year. Not only is the top end talent available very strong, but so is the depth. There are a ton of draft eligible players having strong seasons and I could see upwards of 60 players drawing interest from NHL teams in June. As such, this was not an easy list to make as many of these players are very close to each other in ability and projection. For example, I probably could have extended the honorable mentions list to upwards of 20 players, but cut it off at 12.
Here's my updated midseason list.
1. Aaron Ekblad - Defense - Barrie Colts
I think he has really cemented himself in this position with his play at the WJC's thus far. As a 17 year old, he's been Canada's best defenseman (at least IMO). I think he takes that confidence back to the OHL with him and has a monstrous second half. Everyone knows about his ability defensively, but it's certain aspects of his offensive game that have impressed me most this year. In particular, his ability to get his point shot through to the net and his ability to control the point have really improved to the point where I think he has definite powerplay QB potential at the next level to go with his shutdown ability in his own end.
2. Sam Bennett - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Continues to be a perfect example of consistency, as he rides out a 20 game point scoring streak (as I write this). Even if the Fronts (as a team) have been hot and cold this year, Bennett certainly hasn't been the one to blame for their cold streaks. He continues to round out his game and work hard at both ends of the ice, while creating offensive chances through perseverance and skill. I don't see how he's not a top 10 selection come June.
3. Michael Dal Colle - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Similar to Bennett, Dal Colle has been on a roll all season long. With or without Scott Laughton, Dal Colle has been able to use his big body to create offense in Oshawa. His skating is noticeably improved over last year and it's made him quicker to the net and to loose pucks, which has resulted in his line generally dominating time of possession. I'm not sure I see him being a true power forward in the NHL, more like a Bobby Ryan, but he still holds a ton of value and (like Bennett) should be a definite top 10 selection in 2014.
4. Jared McCann - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
While he might not be as consistent as Bennett and Dal Colle, he's also not as physically mature and has nights where his lack of dominant strength hurts him. He'll need to beef up to be tougher to knock off the puck and better at winning battles along the boards, but it's not for a lack of trying. McCann works hard at both ends of the ice and has one of the top shots of his age group. He's definitely progressing very well in Sault Ste. Marie this year.
5. Nick Ritchie - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Starting to remind me a lot of his brother Brett in his draft year. He has all the tools to completely take over games, but he hasn't been able to do so consistently. As a late '95, it's his 3rd year in the league and I think we need to have slightly higher expectations for him, even if he had injuries derail his development last year. Ritchie can do it all (hit, fight, score, carry the puck, skate) but if the results aren't there he's going to find himself further down the draft board than he'd like. Even as an enigma, he won't slip far though because of his power forward potential.
6. Robby Fabbri - Forward - Guelph Storm
If he were a few inches taller, we'd be talking about Fabbri as a lottery selection in the same vein as a guy like Bennett. He's been on an absolute terror in December/January (10 game goal scoring streak, 19 points in that time). Fabbri is just an electrifying player to watch. He works his butt off every shift, but he's also got a ton of skill. The two things that really jump out at me when I watch Fabbri play are his ability on the forecheck and his ability to read offensive situations. Forces turnovers and scores goals not just because he knows where to be on the ice, but also because he's working and skating harder than the opposition. Has put himself right in the conversation with McCann, Ritchie, and Perlini as the next best behind Bennett and Dal Colle.
7. Roland McKeown - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
McKeown has really had an up and down season so far. Started off the year so well, then went into funk, but appears to be breaking out of it lately. Offensively, he's incredibly smart and moves the puck up ice with ease, either by carry or by pass. He's slowly gaining more confidence in jumping up in the play and using his shot too. It's his play in the defensive end that has wavered this season. He has the defensive instincts to be a strong two-way player but he needs to engage forwards in the defensive end and be a tougher player to win one on one battles against. His passiveness in his own end is what has him down in the 15-25 range of the first round, instead of the lottery.
8. Brendan Perlini - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Came out of the gate gangbusters, but has fallen back down to Earth a bit of late. He remains a very solid prospect though and the type of power winger that has a lot of great things going for him. When he went through a bit of a funk in November, it was because he lost that physical edge to his game and became a bit too preoccupied with the offensive side of things. He needs to be the type who uses his size to his advantage in the offensive end, especially when it comes to getting in good position to use his terrific shot. The Jeff Carter comparison are very apt, as this was something Carter struggled with in his draft year too.
9. Alex Nedeljkovic - Goaltender - Plymouth Whalers
Nedeljkovic continues to play well and keep the Plymouth Whalers in games they don't deserve being in. The Whalers currently find themselves sitting in 8th in the West, despite being the lowest scoring team in the entire OHL. Only Spencer Martin has played more minutes this year and only Philippe Trudeau has had to make more saves, yet Nedeljkovic sits in the top 5 with a save percentage close to .915. He's not the biggest goalie (certainly doesn't have the size teams have been looking for in netminders in recent years), but his agility allows him move so well in his crease that it compensates for a lack of size (if you want to call 6'0 a lack of size). Brian Finley was the last OHL goalie to be the first goalie taken in the draft and I think Nedeljkovic has a shot to do that (although let's hope he turns out better than Finley did).
10. Josh Ho-Sang - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Has improved leaps and bounds this year. With the departure of Rychel (and maybe Brady Vail next), Ho-Sang has emerged as the offensive leader for a Spits team that isn't slowing down despite trading away two of its top players. While he can still be prone to overhandling the puck, he's largely making better decisions in the offensive end and has become a consistent scoring threat. He's also using his creativity with the puck to help set up chances for his linemates, as opposed to the more selfish play he showed last year. Lastly, he's backchecking and starting to learn how to play without the puck. He's still a work in progress but you certainly can't overlook the progress he's made this year.
11. Anthony DeAngelo - Defense - Sarnia Sting
DeAngelo is running away with the defensive scoring title right now, 13 points up on Darnell Nurse. At this point (considering his nomination last year), you have to think he's a good bet to be OHL defenseman of the year. He's ranked lower because of the lack of balance in his game. He's such a dynamic offensive player whose skill set should likely translate well to the next level. But he still looks disengaged defensively at times. He does have some truculence to his game though, if only he could channel it consistently to make him a better player in his own end. Big time high risk, high reward selection who I'm sure a team jumps up and selects at the back of the first round.
12. Spencer Watson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Like Fabbri, if Watson were over 6'0, he'd be getting a long look inside the lottery, instead Watson is even smaller. But it's a testament to his skill level that he's still getting consideration at the back half of the first round. He's slowed a bit lately, but scouts will undoubtedly carry his performance at the Ivan Hlinka's with them all season. He's small, but incredibly illusive in the offensive end, darting in and out of traffic, always keeping his feet moving. His instincts and his ability to put the puck in the net are also top notch. The rest of his game will need to grow in order to compensate for his lack of size, but he's just scratching the surface of what he's capable of offensively.
13. Nikolai Goldobin - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Goldobin can be an incredibly impressive player to watch. With the puck on his stick, he's about as electric as they come. He's a top notch one on one player who can also create opportunities for his linemates by biding time with his puck skill. But I haven't liked his disappearing act at times this year. The last few times I saw Sarnia, he was completely disengaged without the puck. He's also been more of a perimeter player than what I saw last year from him. The skill is obviously there but if he can't develop a more well rounded game, he's not likely to be a favourite of NHL coaching staffs.
14. Ryan MacInnis - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Slowly starting to gain more confidence at the OHL level after a rough start. He's definitely a long term project with potential (think along the lines of Calgary's Jankowski selection). MacInnis has the size, skating ability, puck skill, and poise to be a prototypical top 6 center at the NHL level. He's getting better, but I still want to see him play with more conviction without the puck. As a center (with his size), he's going to have to learn how to control the boards and play in his own end. I think a lot of it has to do with a lack of physical maturity at this point too, as there's no question that he needs to get stronger on and off the puck. Lots of potential and teams will be drawn to the bloodlines.
15. Nick Magyar - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Quickly becoming one of my favourite players available from the OHL this year. As an OHL rookie, he's already established himself as a terrific forechecker and worker along the wall. He keeps his feet moving and wins a lot of battles for loose pucks. And don't let the low penalty totals fool you, he can be a factor physically and I expect this part of his game is really only starting to blossom. While he may not be as naturally as talented as some of the other players available around him on this list, he's not devoid of skill either. He has good scoring instincts and has a developing ability to protect the puck on drives to the net. IMO, he's been Kitchener's most consistent player this season.
16. Jacob Middleton - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Middleton seems to be a pretty polarizing player for the draft at this point. I'm glad he got an injury fill in spot at the Top Prospect's Game as it will give him a chance to stand out outside of playing for a pretty bad 67's team. It's always hard for a player in Middleton's situation to stand out on a regular basis. He's playing top minutes for a (relatively) poor team, and is being thrust into situations he's probably not quite ready for. He can certainly be prone to trying to do a little too much, especially offensively. But he's a terrific defensive player who is tough to beat one on one, shows toughness and does a great job pinning along the wall. I don't think he's a first rounder, but he should be a solid 2nd/3rd rounder at this point. Reminds me a lot of the way Adam Pelech was forced to mature quickly in Erie.
17. Blake Clarke - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
At this point, how much more leeway can we give him? He hasn't scored a goal since September and looks nothing like the potential lottery selection we saw last year as a rookie. He's had a tough time with injuries, but that excuse can only go so far in the scouting community. Hopefully the trade to Saginaw can really ignite him and bring back the tremendous talent I saw in Brampton many times during 2012/2013. Another player that I'm glad got a nod to the Top Prospect's game. It's obvious NHL general managers want to take a look at time in comparison with his peers.
18. Alex Peters - Defense - Plymouth Whalers
A rock. Peters is the mold of stay at home defenseman at the next level. Big, mobile, can make a first pass, is physical. Has all the attributes you'd look for in that type of player. I don't see a ton of offensive upside, but he's a very mature kid who could play many years in the NHL. I've probably got him ranked lower than others, but he's the type of player NHL teams jump at in the second round.
19. Eric Cornel - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Isn't playing nearly as well as he did at the start of the year, but Cornel has still progressed well in his 2nd OHL season. He's a rangy playmaking center who has a lot of potential once he fills out his frame. In a lot of ways he's a similar player to Ryan MacInnis. If he wants to play center at the next level though, he's going to have to round out his game and become more involved defensively and along the boards.
20. Jaden Lindo - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Pretty close to Nick Magyar for me, but Magyar has been the more consistent player. Lindo brings a lot of the same qualities to the table. He brings a lot of sandpaper to the ice and is a terrific player away from the puck, where he excels physically and along the boards. He's also an opportunistic scorer who has pretty good hands in close and probably projects as a solid 3rd line winger at the next level. Would like to see more development in his ability to carry the puck at full speed and start to generate his own scoring chances.
21. Blake Siebenaler - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Reminds me a lot of T.J. Brodie when he first came into the OHL. Siebenaler is still learning the position (only been playing defense for a few years), so he's very raw. But he oozes potential. His skating ability is top notch and could make him both an effective offensive and defensive player. His reads in the defensive zone really aren't all that bad for a guy with his lack of experience. With Jesse Graham out, he's slowly gaining confidence offensively, running the powerplay and looking to jump up in the play. Someone will steal him earlier than you think come draft day.
22. Aaron Haydon - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Man the Dogs are going to have quite the terrific team in a few years (they drafted well this past year too). Haydon hasn't been quite as good as I thought he'd be this year, but he hasn't been bad either. Since Jesse Graham was traded, he's seeing regular powerplay time and is starting to blossom as an offensive player. Defensively, he has a lot of terrific tools. He's got great size and reach. He's mobile. And he's physical and mean. But his zone coverage can have some lapses and he can get himself taken out of position. Lots of potential though.
23. Brendan Lemieux - Forward - Barrie Colts
By this point, I think many draft followers and OHL fans know what to expect from Lemieux. Hard nosed hockey. He is like a buzzsaw on the ice, constantly getting under the skin of the opposition by finishing his checks and working hard away from the puck. He definitely has some offensive skill too, especially as a goal scorer. He has a good wrist shot, but is still learning how to get himself in good position to use it. The only issue I have is his lack of explosiveness and high end skating ability. Typically, energy players at the next level need to have that extra gear...at least the really good ones. Lemieux will need to work on his quickness in order to really excel as a checking line player in the NHL.
24. Matt Mistele - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
Had such a terrific season last year, the expectations for him were very high heading into his 3rd OHL season (late '95). But he hasn't been able to get it done consistently, and much like the rest of his Whalers' teammates, he hasn't been able to put the puck in the net. Last year he had a lot of success playing with more skilled players, allowing him to just keep things simple and play that power game, crashing the net for loose pucks and using his tenacity to create room. This year he hasn't really had that luxury and he's having trouble creating his own chances consistently. Still a solid grinding, yet skilled forward prospect who could rebound well in the future.
25. Darby Llewellyn - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Llewellyn is a very interesting prospect. He's not the most skilled player on the ice, yet he's finding a fair amount of success as a goal scorer this year. The most impressive part of Llewellyn's game is his ability to disrupt on the forecheck. He goes hard after the puck and is an aggressive player in the corners and in front of the net. It's with that tenacity that he's managing to find the net, as he's beating opposing checkers to pucks near the crease and is proving to be a difficult tie up in close. His good scoring sense and his hands in close make him a candidate to fill that sort of net crashing role at the next level too.
26. Cristiano DiGiacinto - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Signed as a free agent by the Spits, DiGiacinto has been a real find for them. He's a very exciting player to watch because of the tenacity and energy he plays with. When he signed, I saw some on twitter comparing him to Andrew Shaw and that comparison isn't far off. He combines that irritating style of play with a pretty decent skill set. In particular, I've been impressed with the quality of his shot and his ability to get himself in scoring position. As the season goes on and everyone starts to get a better look at him, I could see him rising up most lists.
27. Nikita Serebryakov - Goaltender - Saginaw Spirit
He hasn't been great lately, but before the WJC's, he was really starting to push Jake Paterson for the starting job in Saginaw (based on the fact that he was playing fantastic and Paterson was struggling). Since Paterson left and the starting job was handed to him, he's struggled mightily (a sub .860 save percentage). But he's also being left out to dry by his defense and as a team Saginaw is in a real rut right now. Serebryakov has a lot of potential as a very athletic and agile goaltender. When he's on, he's the type who can steal games for you.
28. Matthew Mancina - Goaltender - Guelph Storm
Admittedly, I've only seen him play once this year. Every time I've watched Guelph, Nichols has started (save one time). Like most young goalies (especially ones in their first OHL season), Mancina has battled consistency issues. He's your prototypical butterfly goalie who relies on his positioning and ability to track the play to make saves. Will need to try and see him play more in the second half.
29. Michael Bunting - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Bunting has been a very impressive first year player as a late '95 this year. Of late, he's developed terrific chemistry with another of the Soo's great young players, center David Miller (a late birth date '96 and 2015 eligible). Bunting is a high energy player who is a terrific skater and he and Miller have been incredibly dangerous working together off the rush (Miller is also a high tempo player). Bunting isn't afraid to go into the corners or to the front of the net to make a play, although he's not an overtly aggressive player. With his play of late, he definitely seems to be rising on most lists.
30. Alex Lintuniemi - Defense - Ottawa 67's
He struggled big time at the beginning of the year, as he adjusted to the speed and physicality of the OHL. But he's been getting better and better each month. Specifically, his defensive game is growing leaps and bounds. He's got terrific size and he's not chasing the play as much which has made him an asset when defending off the rush. Offensively, he's slowly gaining confidence and is starting to involve himself more. He definitely seems to have some untapped potential there.
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
Christian Dvorak - Forward - London Knights
Hard player to scout because of how little ice time he sees at times. I like him and he's probably my 31st ranked player right now, but I'm not sure he deserves to be ahead of some of the others above him right now. Creates scoring chances by driving the net, but needs to get stronger. Tough break for him as he's going to miss a good chunk of time with a lower body injury (upwards of a few months).
Kyle Jenkins - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Another of the Soo's great young players. Jenkins is a terrific powerplay QB in the making and I've been impressed with his poise running the point. But he's also been susceptible to turning the puck over in his own end and can have some trouble tying up bigger forwards in his own end. Good potential as a mid round pick.
Kevin Lebanc - Forward - Barrie Colts
A what you see is what you get kind of prospect. He'll be drafted and he'll probably even play in the NHL, but I don't see much potential. Works hard at both ends of the ice and is very involved without the puck, but doesn't have a ton of skill or offensive instinct. Low ceiling, but he deserves to be selected.
Stefan Leblanc - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
A very smart two-way defender in Sudbury. Makes good decisions with the puck, can QB the powerplay, but also has good positioning in his own end and can even lay the body at times. As an offensive distributor, I wonder how much potential is there because he's not the most dynamic of players (lacks elite skating ability, puck skill), so he could be a tweener depending on how he develops the rest of his game.
Aleksander Mikulovich - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Could be a big riser in the second half if his offensive game can gain some steam. He's starting to see some powerplay time with Jesse Graham out of the mix. What he can do is play a very physical brand of hockey in his own end and with his size and skating ability, he could end up being a very tough player to match up against.
Brent Moran - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
With Chris Festarini leaving the team, Moran has been thrust into the starter's role. He'll likely continue to battle consistency issues (can get caught too deep in his net, give up bad rebounds), but you can't teach his size in the net. He's got the physique and natural skill set NHL teams are looking for in netminders these days. Even without a big second half (which he's capable of doing), he'll be an NHL pick.
Brandon Prophet - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
I think Prophet is very close to being in the same group as Peters, Siebenaler, Haydon, Lintuniemi at the back half of my top 30, but he's slightly behind those four because he's not as good of a skater as them. He can be beat off the rush at times because his lateral and backwards mobility needs some improvements. But he's calm with the puck and has developed a bit of a mean streak when defending the net and corners.
Brandon Robinson - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
I wish he would put it all together, because he always seems to play well when I see him. Needs to find a way to play with more intensity, consistently. He's at his best when he's using his size away from the puck and opening up space for himself and his linemates. He's also got great goal scoring potential. But he's also in his 3rd year in the league (late '95) and the expectation is that he should be performing better than he is. Reminds me a lot of Stephen Harper last year, who eventually went undrafted.
Dylan Sadowy - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
At this point, Sadowy is a good complimentary offensive player. He works hard and has no issue doing all the dirty work for his linemates. As a goal scorer, he's got good hands in close and projects as a crash and bang type winger. Seems like a solid mid-late round pick at this point with potential to develop his offensive game further.
Damir Sharipzyanov - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Sharipzyanov (say that five times fast) is a very intriguing prospect. He's kind of one of those "sum of all his parts" players. By that I mean he has a lot of terrific qualities. He's a very physical player and has potential as a strong defender. But he's also a budding offensive defender with a big shot from the point. But he's inconsistent and seems to chase the play and make some questionable decisions. High potential here though.
Kevin Spinozzi - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Quickly rising on my list (probably right behind Dvorak on my HM list). Is getting better and better every month in the Soo and is earning more ice time because of it. He's a solid two-way defender who doesn't appear to have any glaring weaknesses from my perspective. Interested to see just how much his offensive game can grow.
Devin Williams - Goaltender - Erie Otters
Williams (and Moran) are right there with Mancina and Serebryakov for the second netminder rated behind Nedeljkovic. All four are solid prospects with the chance to be drafted. Williams battles consistency, but he's an incredibly athletic goaltender who makes a lot of highlight reel saves. He can look a little small in his crease at times though.