Steve Yzerman certainly seems to love his OHL players and that's why Tampa has among the most OHL prospects in the league. The Lightning are up next.
Slater Koekkoek - Windsor Spitfires
No bones about it, Koekkoek had a fantastic year. The main reason was that he was finally able to stay healthy and that really allowed his game and confidence to blossom. Windsor was an inconsistent team who had a mediocre year, but Koekkoek's consistency as a stabilizing force was one of the big reasons that the team got the 5th spot in the West. Think about this. Koekkoek finished the year +44. The Spits were only +14 as a team. Without him on the ice, the team was a bit of a mess. I actually think it was a positive that he turned down a trade near the deadline that would have sent him to a contender (presumably Guelph). I think it showed courage and a mature understanding of how much Windsor needed him. He didn't want to abandon ship and the Spits young players will be better for his contributions. OK, let's talk about his progression as a player. He dominated at both ends of the ice, showing poise and confidence leading the rush and starting the breakout, but also a firm understanding of his role as a defensive player. He uses his excellent mobility to keep forwards in front of him and he has a terrific understanding of gap control. He's not overtly physical, but will battle for loose pucks and uses his body well to seperate forwards from the puck in traffic. As a powerplay QB, he runs the point very effectively, making good decisions at the point and has a great low point shot that he gets through to the net with consistency. All things point to his career being on the right track now after a couple of rough seasons. He'll turn pro next year and play in the AHL, where I assume he'll get a fair amount of ice time. Barring he stays healthy (let's hope), I think he'll be among the rookie leaders in defensive scoring and should have at least a 30 point year.
Dylan Blujus - North Bay Battalion
Blujus' progression as a prospect has been an interesting one. When he was drafted, he was drafted based on his ability to run the point on the powerplay and move the puck. His defensive game was certainly a work in progress. Fast forward two years and I'd argue that Blujus has turned himself into more of a defensive guy than an offensive blueliner. I can't say I expected it to go that way, but it has. As an offensive player, he now remains fairly restrained. He has the confidence to skate the puck out of his zone, but he's not one to breach the opposing blueline with a rush, instead opting to start/finish the breakout with a pass to a streaking forward. He moves the puck effectively on the powerplay, but he's never developed much of a point shot and isn't one to jump up in the play for scoring chances. Defensively, he's made major strides. His mobility has improved and he has a good understanding of how to use his reach to keep forwards honest. He's developed some sandpaper to his game, especially in the corners where he's happy to engage and use his size to win battles. He's not one to lay a big hit, but he battles hard to make life difficult for the opposition (a requirement if you want to play for Stan Butler). Moving forward, I'm not really sure what to expect with Blujus. He has the potential and smarts to develop into a good two-way guy, but I'm also slightly worried he could be a bit of a tweener. His offensive game stagnated to the point where I don't see him being a significant point producer at the next level. And while his defense has made great strides, will it ever be an elite quality? We'll have to see. His first pro season next year could and should give us a pretty good indication of the type of player he's going to become moving forward.
Jake Dotchin - Barrie Colts
I've always been a fan of Dotchin and there's no question that he had his best season in the OHL this past year. He was a critical component to Barrie's solid season, playing on the 2nd pairing behind Aaron Ekblad. As a defensive player, he's incredibly physical and takes advantage of every opportunity to lay down a hit. He's made strides in picking his spots better, although will likely need some time to adjust at the pro level, finding the timing and confidence to make big hits. Offensively, he finally started taking some chances by jumping up in the play to help create scoring chances. He's always had some decent skill with the puck and a heavy shot, but before this year, he didn't quite have the confidence to use them. While I think his calling at the next level will be that of a defense first guy, it's great having a physical defender who can still confidently move the puck and fill in on the powerplay when needed. The Lightning will have a bit of a logjam defensively at the AHL level, so they'll have to decide on what to do with Dotchin. Perhaps he and Blujus battle it out for an AHL job while the other goes to the ECHL. I don't see either heading back for an overage year though.
Henri Ikonen - Kingston Frontenacs
Love Ikonen. Such a battler. And a very smart player. Ikonen isn't huge, but he's very effective in traffic, using his body to keep or win possession of the puck in the corners and behind the net. He works hard on the forecheck and goes hard to the net, looking to open up space for his linemates. He's not an overtly physical presence, but he does engage in the corners and on the backcheck. When he has the puck, Ikonen is a very intelligent playmaker who sees the ice well and rarely turns it over. In a lot of ways, he resembles current Lightning pick and former OHL's Tanner Richard (who didn't have the best first pro year, but I still believe in as a player). Ikonen will play in the AHL next year after signing his ELC. If the Lightning were smart, they'd play him on a scoring line, where he can be effective opening up and creating lanes for skilled linemates.
Anthony DeAngelo - Sarnia Sting
I made my concerns over DeAngelo pretty aparent in my draft rankings (where I had him lower than most). He's about as electric offensively as any player in the OHL, regardless of position. His skating ability, combined with his puck handling ability and confidence, make him a threat to go end to end every possession. As a powerplay QB, he is incredibly efficient and he's got one heck of a point shot. As a defensive player, he's non existent. And being that he's a third year OHL player (a late birthday), I found that concerning. And there were times this year where I saw him standing around after rushes, rather than skating hard back to his end to play defense. Then there's all the other stuff, which caused him to get suspended (but I won't get into). When you throw in his lack of size, I think that needs to throw up some red flags. Next year will be his fourth (and likely final) year in the OHL. He's probably a sure bet to lead the league in defensive scoring again. But if his defensive game doesn't improve, it'll all be for not. And Sarnia won't be THAT much better of a team next year, so things aren't likely to get any less frustrating as the team goes through the growing pains of a rebuild. I hope he proves me wrong and I'll be the first one to jump for joy if his defensive game does improve.
Cristiano DiGiacinto - Windsor Spitfires
Started off red hot after signing with the Spits a good month into the season. But cooled off dramatically as the year went on. His playing time was decreased later in the year because of his inability to stay out of the penalty box (and he's suspended the first five games of the OHL season next year). He plays the game hard, but will need to learn how to reign it in. As an offensive player, he's very good in the slot and near the crease as he has good hands and a scoring instinct. He's fearless in traffic and that makes him an effective crease crasher. The development of the rest of his offensive game will depend on the improvements he makes to his skating. He needs to add that extra gear to make him a more consistently effective player (at both ends of the ice). But as a player playing in his first OHL year, he flashed some exciting things and I think he was a smart pick up. Next year in Windsor, he's likely to assume a top 6 role and will receive ample powerplay time. I could definitely see him scoring at least 25 next year.
*Of note, Lightning 2nd rounder Dominik Masin will be suiting up for the Peterborough Petes next year. He's going to get a ton of ice time in all situations and will be counted on to be one of the team's top defenders. Based on what I saw at the U-18's, I have high expectations for him.