Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft - Part 2: 50-31

Here's Part 2 of my Top 50, with players ranked 50 through 31.

50. Phil Baltisberger - Defense - Guelph Storm
Baltisberger, quite simply, is a rock on defense for the Guelph Storm. A +18 rating in the playoffs (during 20 games) is pretty impressive and is a great indicator of how important he is to the OHL champions, even if he's not a big contributor offensively. While he's not incredibly physical, he does assert himself in the corners and in front of the net and has the size (6'1, 200lbs) to handle the league's larger forwards. He has terrific positioning and has a great stick in the defensive end. Baltisberger is also an excellent shot blocker. His short comings come on the offensive side of things. He's a simple player who is not the type to jump up in the rush or carry the puck. Baltisberger is also not an amazing skater and can be susceptible to forwards with speed taking him wide. His strong defensive instincts and work ethic make him a solid stay at home defense prospect, none the less.

49. Hayden Hodgson - Forward - Sarnia Sting
I think Hodgson is a really interesting prospect. It was sort of a tough year for him to get noticed though. He went from playing on the 4th line in Erie to playing more minutes on a bad team in Sarnia. He was an astonishing -15 in 18 games with Sarnia. Obviously that number is inflated due to how poor Sarnia was this year, but he does have some deficiencies on the defensive side of things. What he can do is use his size to create scoring chances and work the cycle. He's also a not bad skater for his size, with even more room to improve and become a more explosive player off the rush. Hodgson could develop into an effective complimentary offensive player who could create space for more skilled linemates, but finish off the chances to create in close. In Sarnia, he's going to get a chance to play with some more skilled players next year which could result in a big jump in his offensive stats.
48. Yannick Rathgeb - Defense - Plymouth Whalers
A late '95 Import, Rathgeb played in his first OHL season this year and had a reasonably successful rookie season. He certainly has some interesting skills that could make him attractive to an NHL team. For starters, Rathgeb has offensive potential from the backend. He's a good skater and is beginning to gain more confidence in his ability to carry the puck and jump up in the play. He's actually got a pretty good shot from the point and can quarterback the powerplay. On the other side of things, Rathgeb is a very intense defender who feeds off the energy of making big hits, especially in the neutral zone and near the blueline. He can have a tendency to take himself out of position going for the big hit though. Defensively, he's a bit erratic. He'll make his share of mistakes in his own end. But he bounced around between forward and defense back in Switzerland and is still learning the position. Bottom line, Rathgeb is raw, but could be an NHL player for a team who has the patience to wait for him to learn.

47. Ryan Verbeek - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
The nephew of former longtime NHL'er Pat, Ryan broke out after a midseason trade from Windsor to Kingston. In Kingston he was able to see more ice time, including some minimal powerplay time. He's actually a pretty similar player (stylistically) to his uncle. Ryan excels in the nitty gritty, as he's able to weasel himself into scoring position through traffic. He's not blessed with an incredible set of offensive skill, but he's a hard worker and has a good head for the game. His nose for the net and ability to drive the net generated scoring chances for the Fronts in the second half (even if he was a non factor in the playoffs). His future lies on a checking line where he can bring energy on the forecheck, disturb the peace, and chip in with a few goals. Upside might be limited, but he could develop into a pretty solid character guy.

46. Damir Sharipzyanov - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Sharipzyanov's impact in the OHL this year was definitely underrated. He played a lot of minutes for Owen Sound and was one of their more consistent players this year. The Russian import is a physically aggressive defender who uses his size effectively in the corners and in front of the net. He's also a solid positional defender who has good enough mobility to stay with forwards off the rush. Offensively, he doesn't take a lot of chances and keeps things simple, but he does have offensive potential. He does a good job of getting a hard, low point shot through to the net and could eventually develop into a powerplay Qb if he can improve his decision making with the puck and the crispness of his passes. I think he'll have an even bigger role on the Attack next year and could develop into a quality two-way defender with size.

45. Kevin Spinozzi - Defense - Sarnia Sting
Going from first to the worst can't be an easy task, but Spinozzi took it in stride when he was dealt by Sault Ste. Marie to Sarnia. It's clear that the Sting feel Spinozzi can be an anchor of their defense for the next few years. He certainly has the potential to be a quality two-way defender. He has good size at 6'2, 200lbs and is actually quite mobile. His agility allows him to be a tough defender off the rush and he's slowly becoming a very effective boards player. I think he needs to assert himself more in front of the net, but the pieces are there for him to develop into a quality defender. Offensively, he has powerplay potential with a good shot and good instincts in keeping the puck in the offensive zone. In order to take that next step as an offensive blueliner, he'll have to improve his first few steps to evade the forecheck and improve his ability to carry the puck. I think he's a solid mid round pick.

44. Kevin Lebanc - Forward - Barrie Colts
Lebanc came as advertised this year. The Colts were supposed to be getting a gritty two-way winger who could chip in on the offensive side of things and that's precisely what they got. Lebanc is dedicated to his defensive assignments and is the first forward back to the defensive zone. He fights hard along the boards in his own end and is effective at pinning players along the boards, despite not being the biggest guy out there (~5'11). In the offensive end, the majority of his scoring chances come by the way of working he cycle to open up holes, or by going hard to the net without the puck. Physically, I'd like to see a little more consistency (especially as a forechecker) if he's going to be a 3rd/4th line player at the next level. The upside certainly isn't high, but Lebanc is a polished checking line player who has pro potential.

43. Brandon Prophet - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
I like Prophet a lot more than his 43rd ranking would indicate. I think he has a lot of things for him as a prospect and I think he's going to slowly develop into a terrific two-way defender at the OHL level. But I do always worry about defensive prospects who have skating deficiencies. Prophet can be exposed off the rush by quicker forwards and really needs to work on his footwork. He can also be prone to turnovers in his own end because his first few steps lack the explosiveness needed to evade the forecheck. BUT, he's a real gamer and a competitive kid. He has great size (6'2, 200lbs) and he's a physically aggressive defender who is hard to play against. He battles hard for loose pucks and is effective at tying up forwards near the crease. He'll block shots and is overall a pretty damn solid defensive player. But I do wonder if the skating issues will scare teams away.
Brandon Prophet's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.
42. Andrew Mangiapane - Forward - Barrie Colts
No question, Mangiapane was one of the league's top rookies this year, as a '96 first year player. The undrafted free agent worked hard to make Barrie's roster this year, was one of their top players in the preseason and parlayed that into a scoring line spot. Mangiapane's biggest drawback is certainly his size (at 5'10, 160lbs), but he's very quick and elusive in the offensive end. He's a very effective player off the rush and he's not afraid to use his speed to drive to the net. He's certainly not a perimeter player. Just the same, he'll get his nose dirty in the corners and on the backcheck. He's got a great stick in the neutral zone and he's able to force a lot of turnovers with his combination of speed and instincts. He just needs to get stronger to be able to fight off checks more effectively. He has the puck skill and skating ability to dominate the possession game, but his lack of size prevents that for the time being. Even if he doesn't get drafted, he's already proven once that he'll put in the work to prove people wrong and he could be the type of guy who improves each year in order to earn an NHL contract.

41. Brandon Halverson - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Halverson is a mammoth goaltender (6'4) who saved his best for last. He was sensational in the final month of the season and left a good taste in the mouths of NHL scouts. Halverson isn't all that different from the guy he's been learning from, Matt Murray. Lots of athleticism, and you can't teach his size, but he has some holes positionally that make him inconsistent at this point. Next year, Murray will move on and the crease in the Soo will likely be his for the taking. All signs point to the Greyhounds having a ton of faith in Halverson moving forward and he could end up developing into a real good netminder.

40. Stefan Leblanc - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
I had Leblanc a lot higher on this list when he was with Sudbury earlier in the year and establishing himself as one of the top rookie blueliners. But after the trade to Mississauga (in the Carrick deal), he really struggled. I think the difference was that in Sudbury, he had high end skill players to work with off the rush and he wasn't having to force things. He could make a good first pass out of the zone and let guys like Nick Baptiste do the rest. In Mississauga, it appeared like he was trying to do too much on most nights and that's not necessarily his game. He's not the type who's going to dangle through the neutral zone and create scoring chances on a consistent basis. He's much more effective as an occasional rusher and a guy who picks his spots (mostly because his skating ability isn't incredibly dynamic). Defensively, he's a smart positional guy who plays bigger than his 6'0 frame. He's not an intimidating physical player by any means, but he's also not soft. Being the center piece in a Trevor Carrick deal likely put too much pressure on him to perform (especially playing for what would be considered his hometown team, being from Oakville). I think he'll have a better year next year with a more mature (and likely improved) Steelheads team.

39. Alex Lintuniemi - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Lintuniemi was the 2nd overall pick in this year's Import Draft and had a pretty up and down season. He started off very poorly, and quite frankly, looked over matched. But after the first few months he started to become more confident and was looking very good by midseason. Then his play started to trail off again towards the end of the year as he appeared to tire. When he's playing at his best, Lintuniemi is a solid two-way defender. His best skill is his ability to defend off the rush. He's only an average skater, but he has excellent positioning and size and does a great job of keeping forwards to the outside. He's a very big kid (6'3, 225lbs), but he doesn't necessarily use his size to his full advantage. Adding more of a mean streak would held him in his zone coverage. Offensively, he shows flashes of being a solid puck rusher and offensive catalyst. But his confidence seems to waver with the puck. While he's not a poor skater, there are improvements that could be made to his first few steps in order for him to be able to confidently jump up in the rush. As a late '95, I think perhaps more could have been expected of him this year, but he does look like a guy who'll be a top 3 defenseman for Ottawa over the next few years should he choose to stay and should they choose to keep him.

38. Matthew Mancina - Goaltender - Guelph Storm
While he eventually lost out in the starter's battle to Justin Nichols, Mancina still had a very good year and is going to be a terrific goaltender in this league. He's your typical butterfly goaltender, who is very sound positionally. He does a great job of challenging shooters and cutting down angles. Like any positional goaltender, limiting his rebounds is going to be something that he needs to continue to work on. Also like any solid butterfly goaltender, he's quite athletic and moves well in his crease. On top of improving his rebound control, he'll need to do a better job of seeing pucks through traffic and not going down to early. With how strong Justin Nichols was this year, I wonder if the Storm use Mancina as a trade chip this offseason (both goalies are quite young). He could have started for an OHL team this year and done a solid job.

37. Cristiano DiGiancinto - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Came out guns a blazing after signing with Windsor early in the season. He had 8 goals in his first two months in the league. But after picking up a couple suspensions in the second half, his effectiveness began to become limited. He wasn't receiving quite as much ice time and he looked to be playing a bit more tentative. DiGiacinto is your classic pest who needs to be playing on the edge in order to be effective. He really gets under the skin of the opposition by working hard away from the puck and by throwing his weight around physically. He's also got good scoring instincts and is always in the slot or near the crease when he doesn't have the puck. He'll need to make some big skating improvements, especially as a smaller player (5'11). He's way less effective entering the zone and isn't currently a huge factor in the transition game. He creates his offensive opportunities by working the chase and will need to become more of a multi faceted offensive player. None the less, he has a lot of qualities scouts are going to like and with a strong offseason, could come back a really pivotal part of Windsor's attack next year.

36. Aleksander Mikulovich - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Mikulovich is a really interesting defensive prospect available for this year's draft. At 6'3, 200lbs, he's got great size, but he's actually a terrific skater too. He moves very well in his own end. He's also one of the most physical defenders in the OHL and in his rookie year in the league, established himself as one of the league's biggest open ice hitters. As a defensive player, he's quite raw though. He'll chase the hit and the puck, but because of his size, skating ability, and aggressive nature, there's a lot of potential there. Offensively, there is potential too. He's got a very big shot, but he's still learning how to use it. Once Jesse Graham was dealt, he started seeing some powerplay time and shows potential as a QB. With his skating ability, he could develop into a decent puck rusher too, if he can make some improvements in his puck skill. The one thing that he really needs to work on in his first pass and general decision making with the puck in his own zone. He can be very prone to forcing plays and, subsequently, turnovers in his own end. Lots of potential here though.

35. Zach Bratina - Forward - North Bay Battalion
The trade to North Bay really did wonders for Bratina's game this year. As soon as he arrived in North Bay, he seemed to really take off as a player. He's perfect for Stan Butler's system and I think he's going to be a key player for them for several years. With Alex Henrikssoon, and Brett McKenzie, he formed the Battalion's excellent third line which did a great job of keeping possession in the other team's end all throughout the second half of the season. He's a good sized winger who has turned himself into a real rugged player. He uses his excellent skating ability to put pressure on opposing defenses and to track down loose pucks. Bratina does a good job of working the cycle and understands how to move without the puck to generate scoring chances. His skill with the puck is still developing. As is shot. Improving his release and the overall caliber of his shot will allow him to capitalize on more scoring chances and make him a more dangerous player. Under Stan Butler, he should really develop into a quality player.

34. Kyle Wood - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Back to back Battalion players on the list. Wood didn't play a game this year until late December because he dislocated his knee cap during preseason training camp. While he started slow, he got better and better each and every month and was a force in the playoffs. At 6'5, 230lbs, he has the size to cause scouts to salivate. And he actually moves decently well for a big man. He's also a physical player who is already very tough to play against in the corners. As time goes on, he'll become quite a defensive force. Offensively, he's actually surprisingly effective. He can lead the rush and he's been quarterbacking the Battalion 2nd powerplay unit. His shot isn't terrific, but he moves the puck well and does a good job of keeping pucks in at the line. I think he's got a ton of potential and is someone who is trending upwards because of his terrific playoff performance.
33. Christian Dvorak - Forward - London Knights
Dvorak is the opposite of Wood. He was gaining the attention of scouts early in the season, but an ACL injury in December robbed him of most of his year, and ultimately his chance to impress scouts. He has to hope he did enough early on to warrant a selection. Problem is, he saw very limited ice time on a deep London team. But even with limited ice time, he was always a factor and someone who was noticeable on the ice. He's a very good skater and was able to generate scoring chances by attacking the zone with conviction. And even though he had 0 penalty minutes on the year, that didn't mean he wasn't getting his nose dirty. He was also trying to engage in the corners and win loose puck battles, even though he needs to add more size in order to be more effective at it. I think it's generally hard to say what the Knights have in Dvorak, but it is easy to say that he's likely capable of way more than he showed us this year. On a side note, he certainly worked his butt off to return in time to play in the Memorial Cup. That type of dedication and work ethic has to impress scouts.

32. Jaden Lindo - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
After looking very good as a 16 year old in 2012/2013, Lindo started this season very strongly and seemed like a lock to be in consideration for the top 3 rounds. But injuries limited him big time, and ultimately an undisclosed lower body injury ended his season in February. Lindo is an exceptionally strong board player and forechecker and he understands what his role is on a scoring line. He creates space for teammates and drives hard to the net. With his size and strength, he'll likely develop into a very good goal scorer in close. Lindo is also a solid two-way player and someone who plays with energy at both ends of the ice. In a lot of ways, he's a similar player to Attack captain Zach Nastasiuk, especially as a choppy skater. Lindo's upside may not be incredibly high though as he seems to struggle making skilled plays at a higher speed. He's not a massive factor off the rush and will need to work on his ability to carry the puck at full speed in order to develop into the type of power forward who can drive the net with the puck to create consistent scoring chances.
31. Blake Clarke - Forward - Saginaw Spirit 
What a disaster of a year for Clarke. From potential top 10 pick to potential not picked. Clarke scored 3 goals this year (4 if you include his goal at the top prospect's game) and was generally a non factor on most nights. So why is he even ranked, let alone 31st? Because the potential is still sky high. Clarke was one of the most effective 16 year olds in the league last year with Brampton and flashed a power forward game with high end offensive ability. Injuries, a trade, and a lack of confidence certainly seemed to hinder his effectiveness this year, but you can only make so many excuses. When you cut to the chase, Clarke became way too much of a perimeter player this year and was not nearly involved enough without the puck. He also wasn't aggressive with the puck and seemed to really lack confidence in his ability to attempt skilled plays. I saw him play a ton with Brampton in his rookie year. I thought I was seeing the next, great power winger in the league. He was a guy who could score from anywhere on the ice, was engaged physically and was very difficult to knock off the puck for a 16 year old. This year, none of that was evident. So...will the real Blake Clarke please stand up? 

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