The New York Islanders have one of the strongest crops of OHL prospects in the NHL and have certainly found success scouting the league the last few years. They are up next.
Adam Pelech - Erie Otters
I'm a huge fan of Pelech. I have been since he stepped into the league as a 16 year old (see here). Each year in the OHL he got better. This year was no different, exhibiting confidence in his offensive game and establishing himself as a terrific two-way defender who could lead the rush, make a great breakout pass, and run the point on the power play, ALMOST as well as he defends in his own end. Defensively, he's a rock who rarely makes mistakes and who has the size and tenacity to take away space from opposing forwards. I will admit that he wasn't terrific in the playoffs for Erie, but to me he looked tired after playing nearly every OHL game (except the ones he missed around the holidays) and suiting up for Canada at the WJC's. I don't think that reflects his potential as a pro player. The question is, where will he play this year? The Islanders have SO many good defensive prospects and even more turning pro this year with Pelech (Reinhart, Pokka, Pulock). There are legitimately 10 solid players fighting for spots on Bridgeport's defence. Of course Pelech could go back to juniors for his overage year, but I don't see the point in that. I think he'd be better off splitting time between the ECHL and the AHL, where he can learn to adapt to the speed of the pro game, which will be his biggest challenge.
Jesse Graham - Saginaw Spirit
Graham had by far his best season yet this past year, finishing it out with Saginaw after a midseason trade from Niagara. Graham's skating remains his biggest asset, but he's worked hard to improve his shot and confidence in jumping up into the rush to use it or to make plays. Defensively, he grew a lot as a player, finally able to win battles in the corners and in front of the net and doing a much better job as a one on one defender. Saginaw's defence would have been an absolute mess without him this year. He even finished off the year strong in Bridgeport, proving that he has the ability to carry over his skill set to the pros. As we look ahead to this year, Graham is facing the same problem as Pelech. Where does he play? On one hand, Graham probably has a leg up on Pelech because he's already seen time in the AHL and has made himself visible to the coaching staff. On the other hand, he's probably not as physically ready as Pelech is and wouldn't be hindered from playing an overage year in the OHL with Saginaw. My guess is that he stays in the pros though, even if it means (like Pelech), shuttling between the ECHL and the AHL.
Victor Crus-Rydberg - Plymouth Whalers
Honestly, I expected more from Crus-Rydberg this year. Plymouth had a lot of struggles putting up a consistent effort offensively this year and part of that has to fall on guys like Rydberg who were not able to provide secondary scoring. Rydberg seems to have some talent, particularly as a playmaker. He's capable making a nice pass and occasionally shows flashes of being able to lead entry into the zone. But, there were too many times where he was completely invisible when I saw Plymouth this year, making little impact at either end of the ice. His intensity level needs to increase. He'll be back in Plymouth next year where he'll be expected to be either the 1st or 2nd line center (depends on Sonny Milano). The Whalers could be a great team next year if they can get a more consistent effort out of guys like Crus-Rydberg, Mistele, etc.
Michael Dal Colle - Oshawa Generals
Obviously Dal Colle had a great year with Oshawa. He got off to a torrid pace and led the Generals to a hot start without Scott Laughton to start the year. The Generals ended up being the surprise of the OHL, all thanks to Dal Colle's progression and breakout as a star. By now, it's obvious as to what he does best. His shot, and release, are pro caliber. His skating continues to get better. He makes plays happen with the puck and sees the ice very well. There is room for improvement in other areas though. For a big guy, I'd love to see him play with more intensity without the puck. And his defensive abilities and awareness need attention. He'll likely return to Oshawa next year (I'd be surprised if he sticks in NYI) and I'm excited for that. I actually thought Dal Colle played his best hockey when Laughton was gone and the team was his, which will be the case next year. I look for him to really light it up in 2014/2015, with a 100 point season and a 50 goal year well within his grasp.
Joshua Ho-Sang - Windsor Spitfires
I was so happy to see Ho-Sang drafted in the first round after all the negative attention he was getting leading up to the draft. He earned it and he made a fan out of me this year after failing to impress me in his rookie year. His game really did improve a lot this past year. While he still has a ways to go in being able to display patience and poise with the puck, and utilizing his teammates, those areas grew exponentially this year. In his rookie year, it seemed like every possession ended with a turnover after one move too many, or a cut into traffic that saw him get physically manhandled. This past year, he cut down on the turnovers and was so much better in finding open space and using his gifted puck carrying skill to create time and space for him and his line mates. You absolutely can not teach the things he's capable of doing. The key for him is maintaining composure. Towards the end of this year (regular season and playoffs), he fell back into some bad habits and really struggled. He also picked up that suspension (which has thankfully been reduced to only 6 games to start the year). As he goes into next year with Windsor, he needs to relax and let the game come to him. He needs to learn to slow the game down and change pace. Improving his play without the puck and developing as an overall player is also key. The Spits will go as far as Ho-Sang takes them next year. Without a strong supporting cast, he'll be keyed in on by opposing defences. While it would be nice to see him crack the 100 point barrier, I'm not sure I see it happening next year. If he can replicate the offensive success of this past year, while rounding out his game, it will be a successful year.