The Coyotes are up next...because they're now the Arizona Coyotes. Feels good to have another "A" team in the league after the Thrashers left town.
Max Domi - London Knights
Statistically, it was another strong season for Domi. He had 93 points, which lead London. But I don't think it was a terrific year for his development. There just wasn't much progression in his game from his NHL draft year. His defensive game remains a big work in progress, and if anything, he had a penchant for floating more this year. I also saw a regression in his physical game and aggressiveness away from the puck. To me, it looked like he was trying too hard to hit the score sheet on some nights, playing perhaps a tad selfishly and not allowing the game to come naturally to him. In particular, he did not have a good playoff series against Guelph and looked genuinely frustrated. He's an incredibly skilled player and one with a bright future, but I wasn't surprised when he was not invited to the Canadian WJC camp. However, this is something that does happen with players like Domi following their draft year. It can be hard for them to live up to the high expectations others put on them, and that they put on themselves. Next year is another year, and it's a chance for him to re-focus himself. Some of the team's leaders like Chris Tierney, Ryan Rupert, and Josh Anderson will (likely) be moving on to the pro's. It'll give Domi a chance to really assume a leadership role and put this team on his back. I expect a really solid year from him. Of course, he could always make the Coyotes too...
Tyler Gaudet - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Gaudet is a really cool story, as an overager who was only playing in his first full OHL season. He didn't even have a guaranteed roster spot going into camp, but fought his way on to the team and then some. From the start of the season to the end, Gaudet was one of the Soo's most effective and important forwards. But that's not why he was a very smart signing by the Coyotes. He's a smart signing because he's a prototypical 3rd/4th line center who possesses all the qualities that you'd want in that type of player. He's got size. He can skate. He is terrific on face-offs. He is competes at both ends of the ice and excels as a penalty killer. He's a terrific boards player and is a strong forechecker. He's not the most skilled player, but he's smart and his offensive contributions are tied to his aggressiveness. I think he's going to make a good pro and I'm excited to see how he does in the AHL next year.
Brendan Perlini - Niagara IceDogs
The 12th overall pick this year, Perlini got off to one heck of a start and was among the league's leading scorers for the first half. But he cooled down and ran into some consistency issues. Not unexpected of a young player who's being expected to carry the load offensively for an average team. Next year, Niagara is likely to be one of the top teams in the East and Perlini will be right in the thick of that. His entire line, with Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony DiFruscia, is returning and they should be one of the top units in the league. Next year, I look for Perlini to be more aggressive, settling less for scoring chances from the perimeter. While it's great to use his big cannon from the wing, it's also important for him to learn how to use his size to drive the net. He needs to start adding the garbage goals to his repertoire. A 40 goal season is a certainty IMO (barring injury).
Ryan MacInnis - Kitchener Rangers
Despite his low offensive output, I was a fan of MacInnis this year. I see a lot of potential in him. There were games of Kitchener that I saw this year, where he was the best player on the ice. Problem is, there were other games where he was completely invisible. That has to change next year. This offseason, he's likely attempting to get much stronger and quicker. By adding more speed and strength to his game, he should be able to control the tempo more effectively from center ice. Being stronger on the puck would give him more time to use his good vision to create scoring chances. And the speed aspect would allow him to be more effective driving to the net, which he's not afraid of doing. The Rangers are a young team and it remains to be seen how they'll progress next year. Hopefully he can inch closer to the point per game mark.
Christian Dvorak - London Knights
It wasn't very surprising to see someone take Dvorak early in 2014. I knew he had major fans in the NHL scouting community. This year he got caught in a numbers game in the London line-up, seeing mostly 3rd/4th line ice time. Then he suffered that knee injury. Next year, London remains deep at forward. But he'll have a chance to move up. Josh Anderson will be going pro and that could open up a spot for Dvorak in the top 6 and on the powerplay. He's a skilled player with speed coming down the wing. Makes me think that if he can show a bit more grit to his game, the Knights may try him with Max Domi next year. Staying healthy is first and foremost though.
Michael Bunting - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I'm a big fan of Bunting. The Yotes got a steal with him in the 4th round. Playing in his first OHL year, he was sensational for the Greyhounds. He's such a fearless player who knows his role on a line. He drives to the net and goes to the dirty areas to make plays. Best of all, he's got speed and skill to match his high energy level. He'll assume an even larger role with the Soo next year, and should see more powerplay time. He needs to get stronger going into next year, but he's got such great work ethic so I don't anticipate any regression. I expect him to average over a point per game, likely in the realm of a 35-35 season.