The Canucks have been drafting a lot out of the OHL in recent year, taking an OHL player in the first round the last 4 years. Here's Vancouver's review.
Bo Horvat - London Knights
I thought Horvat had a good, but not great year in London. He remained a solid two-way presence who can impact the game in a variety of different ways. He's one of the top faceoff men in the OHL and continues to be someone who is terrific in the neutral zone, forcing turnovers by anticipating passes. But, to Horvat's credit, these were all things he did in his NHL draft year too. Offensively, I don't think there was a ton of growth. Not necessarily a bad thing, because he's a solid player, but he didn't elevate his game to become one of the OHL's top offensive players, something he's capable of doing by the time his OHL career is over. His skating is solid, deceptively so, but I do think he could stand to improve his first few steps to make him more explosive to gaps and in rushes to the net. I'd like to see him develop a bit more confidence in his ability to shoot the puck. He's got a good shot, and he has goal scoring potential, but he's not yet the type of player who can completely take over a game. Next season is a big one for Horvat's development. There has been some rumbling about him making the Canucks, but I think that would be a mistake. He needs to go back to London for another season and continue to develop confidence in his offensive abilities. I still think he's on the path to becoming a solid 2nd line NHL player who can play a variety of roles. A 90 point season (even with a WJC appearance) would be a great step forward (I think of the way Scott Laughton really emerged this past year).
Brendan Gaunce - Erie Otters
I'm sort of on the fence as to how I feel about Gaunce's development as a player over his OHL career. On one hand, I did expect him to eventually put up better offensive numbers as an OHL player. He never really got to the point where he was able to take over games offensively. His ability to create offense in the transition game (off the rush) never really became consistent either. He is what he is. A solid two-way player who creates offense from outworking the opposition in their own end. He plays the dump and chase game exceptionally well and rarely turns the puck over in the offensive end once he's got possession. He's a very smart player and playmaker in the cycle and coming off the wall, using excellent vision to set up scoring chances. He's also a good goal scorer from below the hash marks, with a quick release and an ability to use his size to create space. As a two-way player, he excels as a penalty killer and does a great job of winning battles for the puck in his own end. Definitely a workhorse. As mentioned, I'm sort of left asking myself the same questions as I was when he was drafted. Is he a 2nd line center, or a 3rd/4th line guy? Part of me thinks that his offensive game, because of his intelligence level might be better suited to the pro game. Another part of me worries because I'm not sure he'll succeed as much in an uptempo scheme, like most teams play in the NHL right now. His skating did improve a lot over his OHL career, but it will continue to need to improve before he hits the NHL. He'll turn pro next year and likely play in the AHL. I think we'll get a pretty good indication of how well his offensive game will translate in his first season, as long as he gets some playing time with skilled finishers.
Jared McCann - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Like some of the scouting agencies out there, I'm not sure what type of NHL potential he has. He's either a 2 or a 3, but there's a big difference between the two. His speed is terrific. His shot and release are terrific. He's a great two-way player already and he really competes away from the puck. But, I'm just not sure how much hockey sense there is offensively. He became pretty predictable by the end of the year. Skate in hard across the blueline, then try to cut down the middle and head to the net. Defenses started keeping him more to the outside, giving him space, and it seemed like he didn't know what to do at times. And other times, he'd try to force plays and end up turning it over. And while the shot and release are great, he doesn't seem to have developed a knack for finding loose pucks yet. He's very effective in the slot, yet doesn't always seem to find himself there. As he gains confidence (and adds muscle), it'll be interesting to see how his offensive game grows. At the end of the first, he was a great pick up by the Nucks. I think he'll definitely play in the NHL. Just depends on whether that's as a Daniel Paille (3/4) kind of guy or a David Bolland (2/3), or a Bryan Little (legit 2). Next year in SSM, he'll assume the same role he did this past year, with likely more powerplay time, assuming he can be a more consistent contributor. I think he's a good bet to be around the 75 point mark.
Cole Cassels - Oshawa Generals
Absolutely fantastic year for Cassels who emerged as a legitimate NHL prospect IMO. Every aspect of his game improved this year. He was significantly more confident with the puck, and creates a lot of scoring chances from his high energy level. As a forechecker, he's one of the best in the OHL. He attacks the offensive zone with a purpose and is great at forcing turnovers. But he has the smarts and confidence to consistently make things happen once he forces those turnovers. Cassels also attacks the net hard and shows no fear in taking punishment near the crease for a scoring opportunity. His skating looked much improved this year too, as he was a greater factor off the rush and more explosive to loose pucks. As a penalty killer and defensive player, he's terrific and is relied upon in Oshawa to preserve leads and shutdown the opposition's best. Can't say enough how impressed I was with his progression as a player this past year. Next year he'll return to Oshawa where he'll assume an even greater role with Scott Laughton gone. I think an 80 point year is a definite possibility.
Jordan Subban - Belleville Bulls
Belleville was not very good this year and that means it wasn't a terrific year for Subban's development. He was counted on to play in all situations and I'm not sure he was ready for the amount of ice time he received. Defensively, he looked overmatched on a lot of nights and Belleville ended up getting hemmed in their zone a lot. As an undersized defender, he'll need to continue to add strength in order to compete with the league's best in the defensive end. He did show some more piss and vinegar this year and showed a higher compete level than he did in his draft year, but, as mentioned, lacks the strength/size to make a consistent plays in the defensive end. Offensively, Belleville wasn't great so he wasn't able to be as effective as he could be. Some of the times I saw Belleville, he struggled with the forecheck, because he was trying to force plays because he was playing from behind. I think Belleville should be better next year and Subban will need to be an integral part of that. Towards the end of the year, he partnered with the converted Stephen Harper on D, and I'm curious to see if that's something they continue. Hopefully Subban is able to have a year similar to the one that Jesse Graham had this past year, improving on the defensive side of things, but also finding more confidence offensively too.
Dane Fox - Erie Otters
Hard to not be impressed by the season Fox had, as the OHL's leading goal scorer. I've long been a fan of his and have long been lobbying for him to be drafted/signed. There's no question that his game really did improve this past year. It was't a matter of playing with high end talent like McDavid and Brown. He was equal in their success too. Bottom line is that he made his own scoring chances this year by driving hard to the net with the puck and having a ton of confidence in his terrific shot. His shot is already pro ready, especially his release which is lightning quick. He needs little room to get his shot of, and if he needs it, he creates it with his body. As a physical player and a difficult guy to play against, he's also a factor on the forecheck and along the boards where he's terrific at maintaining possession. His skating will continue to need to get better, but it's come a long way in his OHL career already. As he moves to the AHL this coming year, I have high expectations for him to put up good numbers. A 20 goal first pro year is definitely an attainable expectation.
Evan McEneny - Kingston Frontenacs
McEneny really blossomed in Kingston this year, emerging as a quality two way defender. He's a very intelligent positional defender who uses good mobility to keep forwards to the outside. But he also has the size to win battles in the corners and in front of the net, although he's not an overtly physical player. His offensive game is all about his first pass and his ability to start the breakout. He's not an aggressive offensive player in the sense that he jumps up in the play a lot, but he will pick his spots. I don't really see the offensive game translating massively to the pro level, but I think he has the chance to be a quality positional defender who can move the puck efficiently and provide quality play in all situations. Kind of a jack of all trades kind of guy. Either way, his confidence as a defender really grew this year. I'm assuming he'll be in the AHL next year where I doubt he'll have a huge impact on the score sheet, but if he can play good defence and get himself in the line-up regularly, that'd be a big positive.
Miles Liberati - North Bay Battalion
The trade from London was definitely a good thing for Liberati so he could get consistent playing time, especially at his natural position. In North Bay he was able to be part of a long playoff run, which is always grew for your development. But he didn't see a ton of ice time (on the Battalion third pairing), so I didn't feel like his game made huge strides this year. Towards the end of the regular season, he started jumping up in the play more and seemed to be on the verge of breaking out as an offensive defenseman. Under Stan Butler, his defensive game should continue to really improve too. Next year in North Bay, he'll have a shot at some power play time with Dylan Blujus (likely) gone to the AHL. But his 5 on 5 time may end up being roughly the same, because of the depth of returning players. He's certainly going to be in a dog fight to earn the chance and I hope he's up to the task.
Kyle Pettit - Erie Otters
Pettit is a big center who I was slightly surprised got drafted. He didn't get a ton of ice time with Erie this year and wasn't able to make much of a significant impact. But he has potential as a physical, dump and chase, puck possession kind of guy. It'll be interesting to see how his play with the puck develops as he slowly earns more ice time. With some significant players leaving the Otters, he'll have a chance at increased ice time next year, but he'll have to battle some other players who've also waited a while to get that chance. I think the jury is still out on the type of player he could really become.