The new home of former SSM General Manager Kyle Dubas is our next stop. While we're in Toronto, maybe we'll stop at Real Sports for a beer and a burg.
Matt Finn - Guelph Storm
Finn rebounded exceptionally well from an injury riddled season two years ago. He was fantastic from start to finish this year, ending up 2nd to Anthony DeAngelo in defenseman scoring. As an offensive player and power play QB, Finn exuded confidence in his ability to skate with the puck and jump up in the play. His skating has improved to the point where he takes chances offensively, knowing that he can get back to his own end in time. His point shot also looked harder and stronger this year. In his own end, he rarely makes a mistake with the puck and is terrific at starting the breakout and evading the forecheck. His improved skating ability has definitely helped in this regard. Defensively, he's always been a very smart player who is terrific in coverage and rarely blows assignments. He defends off the rush well and has gotten stronger to the point where he's confident using his body to win battles in the corners and in front of the net. He also blocks shots well and does a terrific job anticipating passes into the slot. At the OHL level, Finn is about as well rounded of a defender as you'll find. As he turns pro next year, Finn will continue to make improvements to his skating and first few steps. He should be able to assume a role on the power play right away, but I think it will take some time before he's producing a ton offensively 5 on 5. Stuart Percy put up 25 points in his first AHL year, and I think Finn is a more naturally talented offensive player. I think he can crack the 30 point plateau.
Connor Brown - Erie Otters
Obviously a pretty good year for the OHL's scoring champion and MVP. His game really did improve leaps and bounds this past year. I felt like his lack of speed and strength on the puck prevented him from being a consistent performer in previous years, despite having the talent. He must have put in a lot of work over the summer because he came back with a vengeance. His speed looked much better and it made him a way more effective player off the rush, where he was aggressive in looking to drive wide on defenders to open up lanes to use his great wrister. And he was noticeably stronger, winning battles in the corner and in front of the net. And he was able to protect the puck much better and wasn't as susceptible to turnovers in the offensive end. With his skill level with the puck, hands, and offensive instincts, those two subtle improvements really allowed his game to blossom. Of course, he also served as Erie's captain and leads by example. He's not a physical player, but he plays the game hard. He's ready for the next step in the AHL and I think he'll find immediate success there. I could definitely see him around the 45-50 point mark.
Carter Verhaeghe - Niagara IceDogs
Absolutely fantastic year for Verhaeghe who exploded as the offensive leader for the upstart IceDogs. Without consistent secondary scoring, opposing defences often keyed in on Verhaeghe's line (with Perlini and DiFruscia), but they often did a great job keeping play going in the opposing end. Verhaeghe excels as a forechecker and a puck possession guy who creates offense in a variety of different ways. His skating and first few steps looked much improved this year and it made him and Perlini a load to handle off the rush. Verhaeghe's confidence with the puck also greatly improved as he showcased some highlight reel moves on occasion, showing the ability to beat defenders one on one. He's also a complete player who battles just as hard in the defensive end and is a capable penalty killer. Next year that first line will remain intact and I think they'll be one of the better lines in the OHL. I expect the Dogs to be one of the best teams in the East and I see Verhaeghe cracking the 90 point mark.
Ryan Rupert - London Knights
I think Rupert had a pretty good year after some struggles in 2012. I think the most noticeable improvement made to Rupert's game was his improved discipline. While he's still quite the pest (and probably isn't the most well liked player in the league), he played with a lot more composure this year, forcing the opposition into bad penalties instead of taking them himself. He still plays the game hard and excels the most in a dump and chase scheme, going hard in the forecheck and winning battles deep in the offensive zone. I think his skating has improved, but still remains a concern moving forward as he tries to establish himself as a 3rd line/energy guy at the professional level. Offensively, he's still more of a pass first guy who's content to win the battles and feed teammates for chances in the slot or near the crease. He's now eligible for the AHL and has his ELC, but I'm not sure he's a sure bet to play in the AHL next year. The Leafs do have considerable depth at the forward position with the Marlies. If it comes to playing in the ECHL or going back to London for an overage year to play with his brother, I think they send him back. After all, the Leafs did send Jamie Devane back for an overage year after he had his ELC so I don't think it'd be that surprising.