Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Preseason Top 30 for the 2015 Entry Draft

The last few years I've been coming out with a draft list at the end of the summer, and not just the ones during the season. This is a cool exercise because it allows us to look back and see the improvements (or regressions) that certain players have made.

Of course, changes will occur because so many of these players are going to hit massive growth spurts in their game this year. Some expected, others unexpected. The jump from the 16 year old to the 17 year old season is huge. Many of the things I'm currently saying about these players could be moot come October. Timid, perimeter rookies become physically aggressive sophomores (just as one example). Not to mention all the other players who'll make this list come next June, who haven't even played a minute in the OHL yet (such as Pavel Zacha).

This is another strong group for the OHL, which seems to have only been bolstered by a strong Import Draft. Lots of high end talent available, including players at different positions. It'll be interesting to see how these players jockey for position this year.

30. Garrett McFadden - Defense - Guelph Storm
Because of Guelph's depth last year, McFadden saw limited ice time. But with significant graduations, McFadden has a chance to crack the top 4 and get powerplay time. McFadden is currently undersized as a defender, but he possesses great offensive potential. He has good speed and skill with the puck but is still learning how to play the pmd role at the OHL level. Confidence is required for this type of role. His defensive game will need to continue to evolve, especially his understanding of how to play a more structured and patient game. 

29. Noah Bushnell - Forward - Sarnia Sting
A big physical, north/south winger who should slowly start to develop more of an offensive game. Bushnell already excels on the forecheck and plays a fearless, in your face tempo. He's not afraid to drive the net and he crashes the crease looking for scoring opportunities. With great size and physical qualities, whether he gets drafted this year will depend on the development of his skating and offensive abilities. He'll need to continue to improve his acceleration to make him a more effective offensive player. And he needs to work on his ability to handle the puck at full speed and finish off scoring chances with more consistency. Potential power forward though.

28. Doug Blaisdell - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
Hard to say what type of OHL player he's going to develop into. But the size and mobility are there. During the OHL preseason (last year), he looked like he could definitely develop into a strong two-way guy and a potential puck mover. But once the regular season started, he struggled to find the confidence to involve himself offensively. His decision making and ability to evade the forecheck were sore spots. But, he's got a serious shot at top 4 ice time this year and powerplay time. He's going to get a shot to live up to his potential. We'll see how he responds. He was a part of the bronze medal winning U.S. effort at the recent Ivan Hlinka tournament.

27. Zach Wilkie - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Like Blaisdell, Wilkie was a part of the 3rd place U.S. finish at the recent Ivan Hlinka tournament. The difference was that (from what I've heard and read), Wilkie was one of the team's top defenseman. Ice time in Niagara was an issue last year, and could be again this year too, but Wilkie is a potentially very strong two-way defender. He's not overly big (~6'0), but he plays with a lot of jam in his own end and he shows good puck moving potential/can jump up in the play to create scoring chances. 

26. Andrew Burns - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Hasn't seen a ton of OHL action, but I feel confidence placing him here based on what I have seen of him. Strong two-way defender who is a fantastic skater. His skating ability allows him to jump up or lead the rush and he makes good decisions with the puck. As a defender, he lacks elite size, and he needs to get stronger, but he's intelligent and makes good reads. Windsor's defense is in near full rebuild mode and I expect him to be one of the team's top defenseman by the end of the upcoming season. 

25. Jesse Barwell - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Barwell is a high energy playmaker. Not the biggest guy (pushing 6'0), but he's got terrific speed and he's aggressive in heading to the net. Consistency was a bit of an issue last year, but hard not to go through invisible stretches on a weak team. He'll need to continue to round out the rest of his game and hopefully he's able to show more of the offensive skill he showed as a midget player on that strong Oakville Rangers OHL Cup winning team. Likely enters the season as Mississauga's second line center. 

24. Sam Harding - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Harding has untapped offensive potential that we haven't yet seen displayed at the OHL level. Coming out of midget, I had read and heard a lot about a very quick, talented puckhandler, but one who struggled away from the puck. What I like is that those are the areas that stood out on most nights in Oshawa, when he wasn't getting much playing time. He used his speed to help him develop into a quality two-way/role player. Now let's see what he can do with increased ice time and offensive responsibility this upcoming season. An offseason spent on strength training should make him a better playmaker at this level.

23. Adam Craievich - Forward - Guelph Storm
A massive breakout candidate this coming season if he's improved his skating this offseason. Despite getting little ice time, there were nights that Craievich really stood out on a deep, and talented Guelph team. The first thing you notice is his fantastic shot. With his release, he's going to score his share of goals in the OHL. What really improved as the season went on, was his ability to play the boards and away from the puck. Only thing holding him back is the laboring stride. Could be a 30 goal scorer as early as this coming season.

22. Riley Bruce - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Bruce really improved as the OHL season went on, and ended up being a reasonably important cog on the 3rd pairing for Stan Butler's Battalion. The size (6'6) is obviously the most tantalizing thing about his game at this point in time, but he has terrific defensive potential. He already shows an ability to use his reach to force forwards outside and he's not afraid to mix things up. As he gets stronger, I'm sure his game will get increasingly meaner. His mobility is a bit awkward looking, so he'll need to improve that, and he'll need to gain some confidence in his ability to make a good first pass, but he's someone who is going to be on the radar of NHL scouts this coming season.

21. David Miller - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Undersized (~5'10), but I really liked his game as an OHL rookie last year. Tons of speed. The late '96 creates exceptionally well off the rush and is a threat to take the puck down the middle, beating defenders with his first few steps. He's aggressive in attacking the net too. He and Michael Bunting seemed to have some good chemistry last year and I'm hoping the Hounds explore that further this coming year. Really like his offensive potential as his confidence grows.

20. Hayden McCool - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
This ranking is based on potential and not necessarily what we saw last year. As an OHL rookie, McCool looked physically overmatched on a lot of nights. And he wasn't getting a ton of ice time because he wasn't making an impact. Coming out of midget, he was being touted as one of the top goal scorers available, but that just wasn't the case in his rookie year. But he's still a 6'3 forward who shows a willingness to engage physically, and who does have offensive potential once he figures things out. If he comes into camp with more confidence and strength, he could play a big role on a strong Niagara team.

19. Dante Salituro - Forward - Ottawa 67's
I always find it hard to pinpoint draft rankings for late birthdays this early in the process. Salituro is probably ranked a bit lower than you'd expect given his OHL success thus far. But...he hasn't grown since his midget days and is still 5'8-5'9. He's got great speed, skill, and plays with the tenacity that you like to see in smaller players. This is a big year for him IMO. The 67's have a chance to be a middle of the pack playoff team in the East, but they'll need an even bigger and more consistent performance from Salituro. If he can manage to steal some of the thunder from Konecny, I think he's got a chance to move up despite his lack of size.

18. Kyle Capobianco - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Was an under sized offensive defender at the midget level, but he continues to grow and will probably measure in the 6'2 range to start this year. He wasn't overly noticeable as an OHL rookie and he seemed to struggle with the size of opposing forwards. But, his skating ability remains top notch and he's already good at evading the forecheck and starting the breakout. His shot will need to improve a lot if he wants to excel as a PP QB, and he'll need to continue to work on the defensive side of things. But he's going to get all the ice time he can handle this coming season and should improve. 

17. Mitchell Vande Sompel - Defense - Oshawa Generals
This is probably a bit lower than you would have expected him. And I should preface this by saying that I really liked what Vande Sompel brought to the table as a rookie last year. He's an exceptionally talented puck mover, whose skating ability and confidence with the puck is greater than most his age. He's already a capable powerplay QB and he understands the game offensively. Defensively, he shows spunk and works hard to try to overcome his lack of size. But, he remains an undersized defender who could have some issues defensively moving forward. His transition to forward at times last year, was evident of that. That said, he's going to be counted on by the Generals to be one of their top defenders this year and we'll get a good chance to see what he's made of.

16. Justin Lemcke - Defense - Belleville Bulls
One of the OHL's most underrated rookies last year. Belleville didn't have a strong team and struggled with consistency, but I thought Lemcke might have been their best and most consistent defender. At this point, he's not flashy, but he has a lot of qualities that could make him an attractive NHL draft pick. He's got good size, but is also a good skater. He covers a lot of ground on the big rink in Belleville. Lemcke also makes a good first pass and shows signs of developing into a very sturdy (and perhaps physical) player in his own end. As he matures, I'm interested to see just how much his game grows.

15. Thomas Schemitsch - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Brother of former NHL draft pick Geoffrey, Thomas is a late '96 who is coming off a very strong rookie season in the OHL. In a lot of ways, he resembles his brother, with a good head for the game offensively and defensively, in addition to being a good skater. But, the big difference is that he's significantly bigger at 6'3, 200lbs. Schemitsch is just scratching the surface of what he's capable of at both ends and he's going to get even more playing time this year as a sophomore. 

14. Vince Dunn - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Pairing with Blake Siebenaler, Dunn was one of the integral components to Niagara's playoff bound season, scoring 33 points and playing very solid hockey for an OHL rookie. By season's end, Dunn and Siebenaler were Niagara's top pairing IMO. A late '96, Dunn has seemingly come out of nowhere to become one of the OHL's top young offensive blueliners. He's very aggressive in jumping up in the play and he's a good enough skater to start and lead the breakout. As a defender, he's not intimidated in the corners or in front of the net. Niagara will have an even better team this year and I'm excited to see where Dunn's game goes to.

13. Mitchell Stephens - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Stephens is an exceptionally talented offensive center who had a very inconsistent rookie season in the OHL. I don't think he was ready physically to really make a significant impact. But, if his Ivan Hlinka performance is any indication (6 points in 5 games), he could be in for a big year with Saginaw, where he'll have the opportunity to earn tons of ice time. Stephens doesn't have terrific size (pushing 6'0), but he's lightning quick and has great ability to drive the net to create scoring chances. Improved confidence and the ability to round out his game will make him jump up draft lists.

12. Graham Knott - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Love this kid's game. Already a very mature player who has an understanding of how to play with and without the puck. Knott is already a great defensive player and penalty killer, in addition to a solid forechecker and boards player. He knows how to drive the net and has underrated hands in close. With his 6'3 frame and his growing physical confidence, he has power forward potential. Only thing lacking in his game right now is quickness, which he'll have to continue to work on. After a solid Ivan Hlinka, he could be poised for a very solid year in Niagara (think 20/30).

11. Mackenzie Blackwood - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
A late '96, Blackwood was everything and more for the Colts last year in his rookie season. The 6'4 netminder emerged as the team's starter, leading them to the playoffs and earning OHL all first rookie team honours in the process. Blackwood is the prototypical NHL goaltender that scouts are now looking for. He takes up a ton of the net, even when he drops to the butterfly. He's agile and has the ability to make second and third saves. He also shows mental composure and confidence in his ability to improve. It's tough ranking goaltenders this far in advance, but it seems safe to assume that Blackwood is one of the top available guys that the CHL has to offer for 2015. 

10. Blake Speers - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Speers continues to grow, which is a great sign for the highly talented offensive forward. He grew two inches from his midget year to last year and should probably be over 6'0 by the time the NHL draft rolls around. Size (in terms of height) isn't an issue. Strength, on the other hand, is something he'll need to continue to add, as he looks to make a more consistent impact in the offensive end. Right now, he's a terrific complimentary offensive player who uses great speed and a high hockey IQ to get himself behind defenses and into scoring lanes. He reads plays very well, and despite not being massive, does a great job finishing off plays near the crease. An opportunistic scorer. I really like his offensive potential and I think he'll have a big year surrounded by some great offensive players.

9. Brett McKenzie - Forward - North Bay Battalion
The perfect Stan Butler center and someone who had a very solid, if not understated rookie season in the OHL. I say he's the perfect Butler player because he's a very complete player who is already fully adept at playing in Butler's defensive system. He takes care of the puck at both ends of the ice, wins faceoffs, engages physically and does all the little things that Butler demands. Within all that, hides a terrific offensive player who could really explode offensively this year. His speed, skill with the puck and hockey IQ are all excellent and weren't shown off in the role he was asked to play last year. A year stronger and more confident, I expect McKenzie to have a big year.

8. Travis Dermott - Defense - Erie Otters
Neck and neck right now between Dermott and Spencer for the top defenseman available from the 'O' IMO. Slight nod to Spencer because he's got more size and has a higher ceiling IMO. But we'll see how the season plays out. Dermott, a late '96, was not only one of the top rookies in the OHL this year, but was in fact one of the better two-way defenders in the league IMO (and was a first team all rookie member). Dermott has few flaws in his game. He takes care of the puck, he moves well, he makes good decisions defensively, he blocks shots, and he engages physically. If we're nitpicking, he'll need to improve his shot to become a better powerplay QB. And he doesn't have elite size (5'11), but everything else is there. 

7. Matt Spencer - Defense - Peterborough Petes
As mentioned, Spencer and Dermott are neck and neck. I gave the nod to Spencer based what I think he's capable of becoming this year. He got better and better as the season went on last year and I think he's just scratching the surface of what he's capable of becoming. With size, skill, and tenacity, Spencer can impact the game at both ends of the ice. I think we'll really see him become a defensive beast next year, with the offensive game (and confidence in it) a bit of a step behind. But with his size, mobility, and tool set, he's bound to be a high pick in 2015. 

6. Nikita Korostelev - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Korostelev is a massively talented player who can be quite electrifying to watch. His ability to handle the puck and maintain possession is a sight to behold. One of those guys you can say "can stickhandle in a phonebooth." Offensively, his game revolves around his own ability to create with the puck on his stick, whether it's for a shooting attempt, a drive to the net, or a a good pass to a streaking teammate. It's his game without the puck and finding scoring lanes that is still a work in progress. But he's not just a one dimensional offensive player. Korostelev plays with an edge and has the size at 6'2 to continue to explore that physical part of his game. Sarnia will be a very exciting, young team to watch next year. Their goaltending and defense could be iffy, but offensively, they could have some real game breakers. This could lead to some big stats for Korostelev.

5. Lawson Crouse - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Man, I wanted to put Crouse ahead of Strome. They're so close for me at the moment and I really like both players. Ultimately I felt like Strome being a center with size gave him a bit more value. But that shouldn't devalue Crouse. At 6'4, 210lbs, he's a throwback power forward who plays the game with a mix of skill and brawn. Last year he was very noticeable as a north/south winger who could impact the game with a big hit, or a good drive to the net. Even as a rookie, he demonstrated confidence in his ability to play in transition. He has great speed and I look for him to really start to use that to become a dominant forechecker. He also had good hands in close and I think he could score 30 goals this year. He's coming off a terrific Ivan Hlinka tournament where he led the tournament with 6 goals. Depending on how Crouse's offensive game develops, he could end up a lottery selection.

4. Dylan Strome - Forward - Erie Otters
As mentioned, Strome is just a smidge ahead of Crouse for me. At this point, you have to give the advantage to a 6'3 center who can do the things offensively that Strome can do. In a lot of ways, he's like his brother Ryan, but bigger. Strome was very inconsistent last year as a rookie in Erie, but with all the other talent, it was tough for him to really stand out without the puck on his stick. He was stuck playing more of a complimentary role, something he definitely had to adjust to. But he's going to get stronger. He's going to get quicker. And he's going to gain confidence. He's entering this OHL season after a very strong performance at the Ivan Hlinka and looks poised for a breakout. He's going to be in tough this year though. There's no doubt that he'll center the second line behind Connor McDavid. The question is, who will be his wingers? The Otters depth isn't nearly as good as it was last year and Strome is going to have way more pressure on him to perform. I look at his situation being very similar to Michael Dal Colle's last year. If he can really elevate his game the way Dal Colle did (making others around him better), he'll cement himself as a top 10 prospect.

3. Mitchell Marner - Forward - London Knights
Love this kid. Has that rare mix of undeniable skill with the puck and a high hockey IQ/vision. He's also got a terrific motor that never stops working. He's going to have the same impact on London's lineup this year as Robby Fabbri did on Guelph's this past year. Not only can he make things happen with the puck and prolong posession in the offensive end, but he also demonstrates the patience and vision to find open teammates for scoring chances. Such a terrific playmaker. Previously, the only thing that was really missing from his game was size, but he's hit a major growth spurt over the last year and a bit. As a midget player, he was playing around 5'9. But now he's playing close to 6'0, and is probably already there already when the Knights do their preseason vitals. Without the "size flaw" working against him, he's going to rocket up draft charts. London might be re-tooling a bit this year, but if anything, that could give him the chance to put his stamp on the team and make it his own in his draft season.

2. Travis Konecny - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Such an electric player. His speed makes him a weapon every time he's on the ice. And he has such confidence with the puck. Even as an OHL rookie, he had no issue entering the zone, cutting into the slot, and firing off a wrister. His release is pro caliber and, in combination with his skating ability, will get him a lot of goals as he catches goaltenders and defenders flat footed. Konecny also uses his teammates well and shows the ability to slow the game down in the offensive end, on top of playing the transition game. Perhaps the most underrated part of Konecny's game is his leadership capability/potential. He was the captain of his minor midget team, Elgin Middlesex, leading them to a bronze at the OHL cup. He captained team Ontario at last year's U-17's. And, most recently, he captained Canada to gold at the Ivan Hlinka. The only real knock against him at this point, is size. He's around 5'10, but could still grow. If he doesn't, it'll be interesting to see how the scouts view him (Robby Fabbri certainly deserved to be drafted higher this past year).

1. Connor McDavid - Forward - Erie Otters
Do I really have to write something here? I think we all know about McDavid and his talent by now. Nearly everything he brings to the table offensively is off the charts good. Skating. Hockey sense. Puck handling. Shot. He's just an incredible talent. Obviously, we'll look for him to continue to evolve as a two-way player, and for him to get stronger along the boards. But with his hockey sense and work ethic, that will come. The real question will be, what's in store for him this year in Erie? If Burakovsky doesn't return, McDavid is going to have to make 30 goal scorers out of the likes of Nick Betz and Joel Wigle. There's going to be a ton of pressure on him this year, with it being his draft year. If he's not getting the offensive support, yet still performs well, it will be a testament to his talent. Of course, the Otters could obviously cash in and deal him too. Let's not forget, John Tavares was dealt in his draft year.

Honorable Mentions (alphabetical order):

Jeremiah Addison - Forward - Ottawa 67's 
A former first round pick of Saginaw, Addison (a late '96) hasn't improved a ton over his two seasons in the OHL thus far. He plays a relatively aggressive game and can be a factor away from the puck, but he has yet to develop any sort of offensive consistency. He has blazing speed, but still hasn't learned how to use it best to create offensive chances at this level. The confidence in handling the puck and finishing off plays isn't there either. With an offseason trade to Ottawa, he'll have a chance at a fresh start. He'll get his share of playing time in Ottawa, with a chance of moving up into the top 6. Hopefully he can turn things around.

Mike Davies - Forward - Kitchener Rangers 
Kitchener's first rounder in 2013, Davies looked largely overmatched in his first OHL season. He didn't appear to have the strength to fight through traffic for scoring chances, and scoring goals is the biggest part of his game. But, he's got some good things going for him. He's got size. He's very quick. And he does have the hands and the potential to develop into a more aggressive player. We'll see how things go this year when he gets a shot at a larger role in Kitchener.

Austin Gerhart - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Hard working, role player who is part of a young forward group in Mississauga. Gerhart works hard without the puck, demonstrating potential as a strong forechecker and boards player. Not sure about the high end offensive upside, but he's an interesting prospect. An offseason spent on getting quicker and stronger could really help his energy based game.

Troy Henley - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Probably number 31 on this list right now based on what he's capable of becoming and not where he currently is (or was last year). The 67's were not good last year because their defense was quite poor, and Henley was a part of that. He went through the growing pains of a 16/17 year old defenseman. That said, things could get much better for him this year as he has the chance to take on a top 4 role. As a terrific skater and a potential two-way defender, he's one to keep an eye on.

Matthew Kreis - Forward - Barrie Colts
Super quick, slightly undersized forward who had a decent rookie year with Barrie. Kreis brings a lot of energy to the ice, and even though he had some issues in puck possession because of lack of strength, he wasn't discouraged or kept to the outside. Once he learns to use his speed and simplifies the game a bit, he could be a great playmaker at the OHL level.

Tyler MacArthur - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
MacArthur oozes potential. At 6'4, he moves quite well and developed as a solid stay at home guy last year as a rookie. As the season went on, he really started to assert himself physically. The offensive game was pretty much non existent last year, but coming out of midget, he was billed as a potential puck mover which suggests that there could be potential in that part of his game once he gains confidence. He'll get a chance this year as he'll probably be playing in a top 4 role on a younger club.

Ryan Moore - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
A very hard working, high energy forward. Moore may be undersized (around 5'9/5''10), but his quickness and his work ethic elevate him above some of his peers. Moore showed great flashes of developing into a quality scorer last year, but ultimately just wasn't strong enough to compete consistently. He'll get more ice time this year and be a fan favourite in Windsor.

Ryan Orban - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Orban is a big, physical, potential shut down defender. At 6'3, 215lbs already, he has pro size. He makes good reads in the defensive end and has the potential to be a physical behemoth. The skating is not bad either for a player of his ilk. There will be lots of younger defenseman vying for larger roles in Saginaw this year, so we'll see where he fits in.

Ethan Szypula - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Sort of a different mold than the players Owen Sound has been drafting over the last few years. Szypula is more of an undersized scoring prospect than the burly power forwards they've been developing lately. In a lot of ways, he looked overmatched last year and he'll need to show way more with & without the puck this year to gain the trust of scouts. He'll get his shot though, with Owen Sound likely set to give him more responsibility and powerplay time next year.

Will be Appearing Soon (Yet to play in the OHL)

Pavel Zacha - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Rasmus Andersson - Defense - Barrie Colts
Gustaf Franzen - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Artem Artemov - Forward - Saginaw Spirit

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