The LA Kings and half of the OHL are up next...
Nick Ebert - Guelph Storm
Ebert has come a long way since he was the last pick in the 2012 NHL draft. He's always had the talent (as evidenced by his high rankings that year), but poor decision making has always plagued him. This past OHL year was easily his best in the league. For the most part, he looked calm and poised in his own end and has learned to limit his turnovers by making smarter passes. He's also learned to pick his spots better to jump up in the rush and is no longer the reckless defender who constantly gets caught up ice. As a powerplay QB, he has always exhibited patience when distributing the puck and he has potential to succeed there at the next level. Defensively, major strides were made this year. He was a league 2nd best +53 between Windsor and Guelph. He's become a smart and fully engaged defender who makes his presence felt in the corners, in front of the net and off the rush. Moving forward, he'll start his pro career in Manchester this year. He's still prone to the odd brain fart at both ends, so it'll be interesting to see how steep the learning curve is for him in a faster AHL game. The Kings may have to be patient with him, but there's light at the end of the tunnel. He's certainly turned the corner and is starting to become the type of player people envisioned when he first joined the OHL in 2011.
Justin Auger - Guelph Storm
Mono can wreck havoc on a junior player's season. Auger missed significant time at the beginning of the year with the ailment and just didn't look right for a while (not uncommon for players who get the disease). Towards the end of the year and into the playoffs, he began to look a bit quicker and a little stronger on the puck, but it still wasn't a great year for his development. He towers over the opposition yet still hasn't really found his stride as a player. He's a solid boards player because of his long reach, but the rest of his game remains a work in progress. He needs to continue to work on his skating to be a more explosive player off the rush and coming off the boards. He also needs to work on his shot and ability to get in scoring position. As a big guy, he needs to find himself near the crease more often. I think it will be an incredibly easy decision for the Kings to send Auger back to the OHL for his overage junior season. He's not ready for the AHL. In Guelph this year, he'll get way more playing time (potentially) and should see top 6 ice time and powerplay time. I'd really like to see him pot 25 goals this year and inch close to the point per game mark. He may have to do that in order to get a contract from LA.
Zac Leslie - Guelph Storm
Leslie is another Storm player with options this year. After a very strong season in the OHL, he could turn pro this year (as a '94). Or he could be sent back to the OHL for his overage year. I honestly think Leslie is pro ready. His game has continued to evolve. He's become a strong two-way defender who has confidence in his abilities. This is especially true offensively where he's now confident leading the rush and running the point on the powerplay. He makes a terrific first pass out of the zone. Defensively, he's always been a solid player but he really upped his intensity level in the corners and in front of the net. He may not be huge, but he's a tough guy to match up against. My gut tells me that he'll be back in the OHL because of the depth Manchester has. I'm sure he'll attend their training camp and be given a chance to make the team, but without an NHL contract the Kings will exploit the flexibility they have with him. As a returning overager, he'll be a candidate for OHL defenseman of the year and overager of the year. He'll become Guelph's number one defender (likely pairing with Ben Harpur) and a 60 point season is easily attainable.
Dominik Kubalik - Kitchener Rangers
Not a good year for Kubalik. The midseason trade to Kitchener certainly didn't help either. Quite frankly, when I saw him later in the year with Kitchener, he looked rather disinterested and was invisible. He has skill and goal scoring potential but lacks the intensity to be a consistent player. It was no surprise when it was announced he was heading back home to the Czech league for next year. Hopefully he's able to find the ice time necessary to improve his confidence and get his progression back on track.
Kurtis MacDermid - Erie Otters
Yet another player (Leslie, Auger) who could end up in the AHL or the OHL next year. A free agent signing by the Kings, MacDermid finished out the year with Erie where he was counted on to be a physical, defensive stalwart. It was actually not terrific for his development because he was getting some offensive responsibility in Owen Sound (including powerplay time). He didn't get that in Erie. As a stay at home defender, he has NHL potential. His mobility is decent and he's become one of the most physical defenseman in the league. He's one big, mean man (boys aren't 6'4, 220lbs). Like Leslie, I'd imagine MacDermid returns to the OHL for an overage year. And I think that's the right choice. Erie will be looking for defenders to step up to replace the losses of Adam Pelech and Spencer Abraham (at the least). He could get some powerplay time and will see a ton of ice in important situations. That would be better for his development than riding the bench in the AHL or playing in the ECHL at this point. I think he's perfectly capable of a 30 point season in Erie.
Roland McKeown - Kingston Frontenacs
While it surprised some people to see McKeown fall in the draft, I wasn't one of them. He's got a lot of things going for him (obviously since he was still an NHL 2nd round pick). His skating ability is top notch. As is his decision making in his own end. He makes a great first pass and sees the ice very well. Defensively, he's a smart positional defender who is great at getting his stick in passing lanes. But he needs to increase his intensity in the defensive end and look to engage one on one more. And offensively, he needs to be more assertive and confident in his abilities. With his skating ability and puck poise, he should be more of a consistent factor, but he doesn't extend rushes or jump up in the play all that often. For that reason, I find him a difficult player to project at the next level. Kingston will need him big time next year, as they'll look for him to take that next step and establish himself as one of the top defenders in the league. I think it'll be important for him to find a true identity next year. And I think that identity is one of a puck rusher. Plenty of time for him to develop more and a 50 point season is almost assured IMO.
Alex Lintuniemi - Ottawa 67's
A savvy selection by the Kings (perhaps a tad early, but still). Lintuniemi got a lot better as the season went on. Early, he looked pretty overwhelmed. But as he gained confidence, especially offensively, he established himself as one of Ottawa's top defenders. He's certainly capable of more than he displayed this season. A summer of work on his skating would help him be a larger factor in the transition game. Defensively, he's quite solid. It's hard to stand out on one of the league's worst teams, but I found him to make a few solid plays every time I saw Ottawa. I was always impressed by his ability to keep forwards to the outside off the rush, and his ability to take away passes in the slot. So what's next for him? Ottawa should be better next year and he'll be one of the team's top defenders. He'll get ice time in all situations. I think he'll have a good year and I actually think he could even surpass 35 points. I think learning to use his size more physically is another thing that is important for his development.
Mike Amadio - North Bay Battalion
Amadio is a very talented offensive player who is learning to play a 200 foot game under Stan Butler. He's got a very interesting skill set (especially when mixed with decent size). This year he was quite inconsistent and in a lot of ways, his high skill level wasn't able to shine through. An offseason dedicated to getting stronger and quicker will go a long way. Next year will be a key one for his development. The Battalion are returning their top three centers from the year before (Paul, Amadio, and Brett McKenzie). Amadio likely comes into camp as the number two, but McKenzie is a very talented prospect for 2015 and he'll be pushing hard for ice time. If Amadio doesn't improve, he could lose ice time (especially on special teams) to McKenzie. Of course this would cut into his potential offensive contribution.
Jake Marchment - Belleville Bulls
Marchment was a player I had a feeling would get drafted. He's a big center who can play a power game and is coming off his first season in the OHL. In that season, he got better and better as each month passed, suggesting the best is yet to come. Improving his skating, in particular his first few steps will really help him to become a more consistent offensive player, especially on the big ice in Belleville. But he's more than just a bruiser (potentially). The Bulls SHOULD be a better team next year when all their young players get a year older. The Bulls line up is currently wide open with no one really having the inside track to center Remi Elie on the top line (especially if Harper stays on defense). I think Marchment could be a big time breakout candidate and the type of guy who could surprise and put up a 50-60 point season.
Matthew Mistele - Plymouth Whalers
Mistele just did not have a good year. He saw his stock drop from possible first round talent at the beginning of the year, to mid rounder by season's end. During his 30 goal season two years ago, he was a complimentary offensive guy asked to play a simple game. Last year, the Whalers didn't have nearly the same kind of talent up front and Mistele wasn't up to the task of being a go to guy who could consistently create his own offensive chances. That being said, he's a great pick because of what he's capable of doing. He's a power winger who can mix things up and score goals, but he needs to become a more well rounded offensive player and more than just a guy who can capitalize on the fortune of others. This coming season is a big one for his development. It'll be his 4th year in the league and the Whalers will need him once again to become a 30 goal man.
Spencer Watson - Kingston Frontenacs
Watson is an uber talented offensive player. By the time his OHL career is done, he's a likely candidate to finish top 5 in scoring. Heck, he led the Ivan Hlinka tournament in scoring this year. However, he's got some strikes against him and that's why he fell to the 7th. He's undersized and he currently plays too much of a perimeter game. His game really didn't evolve much from his rookie season. As a rookie in 2012, he was impressive and you assumed that he'd get stronger, become more involved without the puck, and begin to drive the net more for scoring chances. None of those things happened. The key to Watson's development moving forward is his desire to play with more gusto/tenacity. If you're going to be undersized, you need to play hard to beat defenders to the play (see Robby Fabbri). The Fronts will be a contender in the East next year (if they get Sam Bennett back). I expect Watson to come back next year with a chip on his shoulder and I see him being an 80 point player. That said, even if he scores 40, it won't matter much if he doesn't improve his overall game.
Jacob Middleton - Ottawa 67's
The last time the Kings chose an OHL defender with the final pick in the draft, it worked out pretty well (Nick Ebert). Middleton is another great pick. I know a lot of people who saw him as at least a 3rd rounder. It was a tough year for him to stand out. Playing on a last place team can be difficult for the team's number one defenseman. Middleton played a ton, perhaps more than he was ready for and I think that caused some of the holes in his game currently to be over evaluated. But, he's got the talent to be a tough two way defender. He's got decent mobility in his own end, but adding an extra step would really elevate his offensive abilities and I hope he's done that this offseason. I think he's going to have a big year in Ottawa in 2014 and I see him hitting the 30-35 point mark.