Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Top 10 - Unheralded Rookies Who Could Make an Impact in 2014-15

I mention this every time that I write this piece, but it truly is one of my favourites to write and look back on. This annual article looks at some of the rookies who could make an impact in the OHL next year. And by that I mean players not selected in the Import Draft or the recent priority draft. I'm talking about 1997 (possibly even '96) born players who should finally crack their respective teams this year. The list of successful players of this ilk is long (see Mark Scheifele, Remi Elie, Matt Clark, Trevor Carrick, Travis Dermott, etc).

Here are 10 guys (in alphabetical order) that you should keep an eye on, plus a few honorable mentions.

For full lists for each team (of their top prospects), be sure to head on over to to read Sean LaFortune's awesome team write ups (Prospect Watch series). Here's the London Knights as an example.

Andrew Burns - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Big fan of his after seeing him play a bit in the OHL Cup. The Windsor 3rd rounder had an excellent season for Lasalle last year, even earning some playing time later in the season with Windsor where he looked good. Burns seems like the type of kid who can impact the game at either end of the ice and I think when all is said and done, he'll end up as Windsor's top defenseman this year.

Josh Coyle - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Coyle is a big, rangy, playmaking forward who is coming off a very good year with St. Thomas. The former 3rd rounder is now set to join the Petes' lineup full time this coming season where he has a chance to make an impact in the top 9. A natural center, it seems likely that he'll start on the wing because of Peterborough's depth down the middle. 

Marcus Crawford - Defense - Saginaw Spirit 
While slightly undersized, Crawford seems like he has a chance to be an important player for the Saginaw Spirit this year. The offensively talented blueliner is a candidate to fill the skates of Jesse Graham as Saginaw's primary powerplay QB. He's coming off a strong season in the Junior A where he was named to the second all prospect team. 

T.J. Fergus - Defense - Erie Otters
If Erie returns some of their bubble pro guys (Donnay, Macdermid), there might not be a ton of room on the blueline for talented newcomers (like Fergus and Saban), but somewhere down the line, room will be made for them. Fergus is a potentially solid two-way guy who could impact the game similar to the way Travis Dermott does. As an 8th round pick, Fergus seems to be progressing incredibly well, coming off a season where he was named as a member of the second all prospect team in Junior A.

Jeremy Helvig - Goaltender - Kingston Frontenacs
A 3rd rounder in 2013, Helvig is poised to make his OHL debut this coming year after playing last year with Toronto Lakeshore of the OJHL. Helvig is a big, athletic netminder who has a lot of potential in the league. And Kingston is definitely counting on him hitting that potential, as they've long needed a homegrown talented starter. He'll get his chance as early as this season when he battles Lucas Peressini for the starter's gig.

Leo Lazerev - Goaltender - Ottawa 67's
I think his story is an awesome one. A Russian player, Lazerev came to play in the GOJHL with Waterloo this year to circumvent the CHL's new import goalie ban. It was rather genius and I'm sure it's going to be something that others try to emulate. Lazerev had a terrific year in Junior B where he was amongst the league leaders in all categories (and was also one of the youngest goalies in the league). He's going to come into Ottawa 67's camp with a terrific chance to be their starting netminder. He'll battle Liam Herbst for the job. 

Aaron Luchuk - Forward - Windsor Spitfires 
A slightly undersized, but very talented offensive forward, Luchuk has a chance to be a big contributor in Windsor this coming season. He could certainly work his way up to their top 6 by season's end. He's got a great compete level  and will battle hard to make plays, even if he still needs to add strength. He's coming off a very good year with LaSalle and will battle the likes of Ryan Foss and Ryan Moore to get significant playing time down the middle.

Michael McNiven - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
After a fantastic season in the OJHL last year (was named as part of the first all prospect team), the Attack will need to try to find some playing time for the potential starter this coming year. It's no secret that Brandon Hope is looking to get a pro contract next year, and if he's successful, McNiven will battle Jack Flinn for the starter's job. If Hope returns for his overage year, I could see the Attack trading Hope or Flinn to make room for McNiven, as he's the goaltender of the future for the club.

Ted Nichol - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs 
Nichol is an undersized, offensive center who got a cup of tea with Kingston last year and certainly did not look out of place. Coming off a great year with Listowel, Nichol will battle for a depth spot on Kingston this year. He's not likely to get a ton of ice time because of Kingston's depth up front, but he could develop into a quality contributor over time.

Jesse Saban - Defense - Erie Otters
Saban has the distinction of being the highest drafted player (outside of the uncommitted Jordan Greenway) who did not suit up in the OHL last year (21st overall). Instead, the big, physical rearguard had a solid year with Newmarket and is now poised to make an impact with Erie. Like Fergus (and the not mentioned Cole Mayo), Saban could struggle to find consistent ice time as there could be a bit of a logjam on Erie's defense. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out and whether certain players are used as trade chips.

Honorable Mentions

Nathan Bastien - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Bastien has improved a lot since being a 7th round pick by the Steelheads. He actually played in 19 games this past year. But he also played for Brantford (Junior B) where he performed quite well and is poised to have a larger role for the upcoming year. 

Kris Bennett - Forward - Saginaw Spirit 
A former high draft pick of the Spirit (3rd rounder, 2012), Bennett had yet been able to crack Saginaw's lineup full time. But this could certainly be his year with a lot of roster spots open. He's coming off a great year in Junior A, where he led Oakville in goals despite playing in only 37 games.

Tyler Boston - Forward - Guelph Storm
Boston might be undersized, but he plays the game the way Scott Walker likes it played. His speed and energy level should endear him to his coach and allow Boston to get playing time on the team's 4th line this coming year.

Evan Cormier - Goaltender - North Bay Battalion 
North Bay's goaltender of the future, Cormier will be the team's back up this coming year behind Jake Smith. He was excellent in limited action last year after a solid season in the NOJHL and it should be an easy choice to have him be the back-up instead of bringing back Brendan O'Neill for an overage year. 

Trent Fox - Forward - Erie Otters
One Fox out, another in. After Dane graduates to the pro ranks this year, his younger brother Trent seems like a good bet to make Erie's roster this coming season. After a good year with Ridley College, Fox could certainly slide into a top 9 role with the Otters this year if he can prove his scoring ability resembles that of his brother. 

Austin Hall - Defense - Guelph Storm 
The Storm will have a slew of graduations from their defense going into this coming season and Hall is one of a few players with a great chance of holding down a regular roster spot. He's a solid offensive blueliner whose stats from this past year were very similar to the impressive Andrew Burns (see above) on LaSalle.

Steven Harland - Forward - North Bay Battalion
The Greyhounds did it last year with Michael Bunting, and the Battalion are hoping to strike gold this year with Harland. A 2014 draft pick (but a '96), Harland was one of the top major midget players in Ontario last year and had a very strong Telus Cup. He could definitely surprise and earn a spot on North Bay's roster.

Connor Hicks - Goaltender - Belleville Bulls
After the trade of Michael Giugovaz, the Bulls seem pretty content to hand Hicks the back-up job behind Charlie Graham. The Kanata, Ontario native played this past year in the EOJHL.

Mark Manchurek - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
The second of the Manchurek triplets to be able to reach the OHL (after brother Joe secured a spot with Oshawa last year), Mark seems poised to do that with Windsor this coming season. While he's not under contract yet, he is on their protected list and I'm sure will be attending training camp. He's coming off a great year with LaSalle and should be able to eventually develop into a quality OHL player.

Nathan Todd - Forward - Ottawa 67's 
While it remains to be seen about Todd's intentions, the 67's did select the talented forward in this year's priority draft. A '95, and one of the leading scorers in the CCHL, Todd tried to make the Peterborough Petes last year but failed. After another strong year, he could certainly try again with Ottawa and if successful, could end up being a solid offensive contributor for the 67's.

1 comment:

Bill said...

No surprise there's not a single Sudbury Wolves player on this list. The organization is a farce and any half decent player should question whether to report or not. Paul Fixter is the arguably the worst coach in the OHL. He took a team that should have contended for the Eastern Conference last season to a quick first round exit. Mark Burgess forced one of the best coaches the Wolves ever had to resign. An owner who puts his personal agenda ahead of an organization's best interested should spell trouble to any potential prospect and his family.