Thursday, October 23, 2014

Early Season Top 30 for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft

It's time for my first official ranking for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. I say official because I release a preseason ranking in the summer (which can be found here). Now that the 2014/2015 season has started (well under way in fact), updating that list to reflect changes of opinion is a priority. That said, it's important to not over react to hot or cold starts. Some of those currently disappointing, will most definitely pick up their play. And some of those off to blazing starts won't be able to hold that production. At the end of the day, it is a cool exercise to go back and look at my first list of the season. For instance, here's last year's early season draft list.

New this year, I've decided to do a top 50 for every ranking, not just the final one. I'll only write in detail on the top 30, but will include quips on the other 20 as part of my honourable mentions (with ranking).

While compiling this list, it's evident that this is another strong draft year for the OHL. We've got 6 guys currently receiving votes from various scouting agencies for the top 10. And about another 6-7 receiving consideration for the first round. The depth is incredibly strong too. I'm looking at some of these guys I've got rated in the late 20's, early 30's and they could easily be top 100 selections come June.

It's also important to note (for those that aren't familiar with my lists), that I don't include 2nd and 3rd year eligible players on the list (like breakout defenseman Damir Sharipzyanov). I do a year end list for those players.

Without further ado, here's my early season top 30.

1. Connor McDavid - Forward - Erie Otters
Averaging nearly 3 points per game. Quite often players start the season exceptionally hot, but can't maintain their pace. Hard to believe that McDavid won't. Heck, he's playing with a 5'7 rookie (Debrincat) and a guy whose previous career high in goals was 5 (Betz). Those two are certainly playing well, but it pales in comparison to how unstoppable McDavid is right now. He's going to miss time at the WJC's. But it's hard to imagine him not being the first OHL player to break the 150 point mark since Corey Locke. This is especially true once the Otters make a trade to strengthen their roster (imagine how good Nick Baptiste would look alongside McDavid?). So what's been the difference? IMO, two things. First and foremost, McDavid looks considerably stronger. He's not just beating defenders with his speed and smarts anymore. He's now outmuscling them too. And secondly, he's playing with much more conviction without the puck. When it's off his stick, he wants it back. He's engaging physically and digging harder along the boards than he has before. What a player.

2. Dylan Strome - Forward - Erie Otters
I think we all expected Connor McDavid to produce despite not having a ton of proven talent to work with on the wings. But not Dylan Strome. Words can not describe how truly awesome he has been this year. He's playing with two rookies (Taylor Raddysh, and Mason Marchment), and dazzling. Strome uses his size so well to protect the puck, creating extra time for his line mates to get open. Think of how good Ryan was as a puck handler, then add some size to his frame to make him more difficult to knock off the puck. Strome is drawing multiple defenders which is really opening up the ice for others. Strome  also has terrific hockey sense. He uses his creativity and poise to create scoring chances, rather than simply play a "tunnel vision" style game that others with his talent level can get sucked into. Now just imagine when his skating really improves (it's average, not poor). Look out.

3. Pavel Zacha - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Quite often, Import players or big time American commits (from the USHL) tend to need a grace period as they become accustomed to the league. In other words, the expectations placed them can often be hard to live up to. Zacha has been the rare case of a player advertised to be fantastic, who actually has been. I had seen him play internationally before, but he's actually been more impressive than I expected.  That's mainly because he's been surprisingly physical. He plays the game hard and at a very high tempo. Once he gets going, he's so hard to defend off the rush because of his size and ability to carry the puck. But he's also proven to be very effective along the boards and is setting up shop behind the net and winning battles on the forecheck. At the beginning of the year, he looked hesitant to shoot and was playing more of a pass first game. But he's starting to really come around and is taking more chances in shooting the puck. Just a fun player to watch.

4. Travis Konecny - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Thankfully he doesn't have a concussion (apparently) as a result of that nasty hit from Plymouth's Gianluca Curcuruto (who isn't the dirty player people are making him out to be). But he's got to be better offensively than he's been so far this year. Ottawa's new captain (a testament to his leadership ability) just hasn't been able to find a groove so far this year. He's such a dynamic offensive player, that I can't see him staying cold for much longer. His speed is a game breaker, and his release is as good as it gets. What I will say is that I love how physical he's playing this year. As a 5'10 guy, he's got to play that way to increase his draft value.

5. Mitchell Marner - Forward - London Knights
Tough year for London so far (which I predicted would last the entire season). Marner has been right in the thick of that. Even if London continues to struggle (and they go into a rebuild mode), Marner is simply too good to be kept down all year. The great thing is that he's grown from last year and is now sitting close to 6'0. He's got it all as an offensive player. He's able to create in a variety of ways, but is most effective off the forecheck, forcing turnovers. He's also exceptionally smart, and he makes anyone he plays with better.

6. Lawson Crouse - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Crouse is a throwback. They don't make them like this very often anymore. His game is all power. He's a very exciting north/south guy who'll run you over on the way to the net if he has to. He hits, and he hits hard. But he's starting to improve his ability to handle the puck and he's got great hands in close to the net. Doesn't quite have the offensive potential of some of the other forwards ranked around here, but when you throw in his ability to play the power game, it elevates his value. That said, he does remain primarily a complimentary offensive player, who'll need to learn how to create his own chances more consistently.

7. Nikita Korostelev - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Has developed terrific chemistry with Pavel Zacha on Sarnia's top line. Korostelev has been great so far this year. He's an exceptional puck handler, and with his size, he's able to create so much time and space for himself in the offensive end. His shot also looks much better this year and it's clear that he's worked on that part of his game this offseason. My only real beef is that he hasn't been playing quite as physical as I saw him last year. When you combine his skill set with an ability to engage physically, you've got a pretty special player.

8. Matt Spencer - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Still first among defenseman on this list, but he's feeling the heat. There are several defenders who are having terrific seasons thus far (better than Spencer), and they could all end up rising above him in the draft rankings. Spencer has kept this position sort of by default because he possesses so much potential. Not like he's had a really bad start or anything. Just that others have been so good. Spencer impacts the game in every facet. His offensive game continues to gain confidence. But it's his defensive game that really makes him an exciting prospect. With his size, skating ability, and intensity level (hitting ability), he could develop into one heck of a player in his own end.

9. Thomas Schemitsch - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Was sooo tempted to put Schemitsch ahead of Spencer. But I didn't (I think Spencer still has the most potential of any defender in this group). In his second year in the league (despite being a late '96), Schemitsch has absolutely exploded and is among the league leaders in defenseman scoring. Basically, think of his brother Geoffrey and his intelligence at both ends of the ice, and smooth skating stride. Then add significant size, a mean streak, and a desire to be more involved offensively (aggressiveness in jumping up in the play), and you've got Thomas. That's a pretty complete player. He's going to rise BIG time if he keeps playing like he has been (which I think he will).

10. Graham Knott - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Started slowly, but has really picked up his game as of late (part of why it's important to not overreact to slow starts). Knott is such a well rounded player. You could certainly classify him as a power forward, but he's also a very strong two-way player and has way better playmaking ability than most stereotypical power forwards. Basically what I'm trying to say is that he's sort of non traditional power forward. His game isn't built around power in the sense that he drives hard to the net, blasting pucks home. It's built around his ability to force turnovers by playing physical on the forecheck. It's built around his ability to win battles along the wall. It's built around his ability to fight off checks and to play through traffic near the crease. And you add to that, that he's already a great penalty killer and dedicated defensive player. Foot speed is lacking, but I don't think it holds him back. His game has too many other layers to it.

11. Mitchell Vande Sompel - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Had him lower than others in my preseason rankings because I was skeptical of how his lack of size would impact the progression of his defensive game. Well he's higher now because his defensive game has been great so far. Oshawa continues to surprise and it's because Vande Sompel has emerged as a legitimate first pairing defender. His speed is so difficult to contain and it's very rare that he gets pinned in his own end because of how well he can escape pressure and transition to the breakout. An interesting tidbit. He's been playing forward on the penalty kill where he's been incredibly effective (Oshawa has the 2nd best PK in the league), using his speed to try to create turnovers.

12. Rasmus Andersson - Defense - Barrie Colts
I'll admit, Andersson is probably 12th (and the 4th rated defender) because of my lack of familiarity with him compared to the guys above him. That said, I've been impressed and he's right there neck and neck with those 4 (and guys like Dermott and Lemcke). Looking like a great year for defenders in the OHL. I've been VERY impressed with Andersson's ability to run the point on the power play. He does a great job of getting shots through to the net and moving the puck. He's also bigger than I thought he'd be, and he does a good job of engaging in the defensive end. In comparison to the four guys ahead of him, I think his foot speed is a notch below and that's why he's 4th (in addition to my comment from the   beginning of the paragraph).

13. Blake Speers - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I think I've already determined that I like Speers a lot more than scouting services and, perhaps even NHL scouts will this year. He's not a "sexy" player. He's not that big (5'11). He's not yet really an effective player on the forecheck or along the boards. He's not the type of player who dangles through an entire defence on his way to the net. But, he's an incredibly intelligent player who shows a willingness to pay the price to make plays. Speers fills open lanes very well and it's part of why he has so much chemistry with Miller and Bunting, two players who create space with their speed. He makes smart plays with the puck and shows patience in the offensive end. And he's also got a great shot which he requires little space to get off. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Seth Griffith, who just scored his first NHL goal the other day.

14. Mackenzie Blackwood - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
Blackwood is the prototypical NHL goalie for today's game; a 6'4 butterfly net minder who takes away the bottom of the net with quickness, and the top with size. As a late '96, the expectations were high on him for this year and he hasn't really disappointed. He does a great job of squaring to shooters and he's already greatly improving his ability to keep rebounds from the slot. Seems like a candidate to be the top North American goaltender taken in June. Only concern is that he's injured now for a couple weeks with a lower body injury, which hopefully doesn't plague him all season.

15. Travis Dermott - Defense - Erie Otters
There are tons of young defenseman making their mark in the OHL this year, but Dermott can't be forgotten about despite missing most of the year so far with injuries (hand and foot). He's an absolutely terrific two-way defender. He's not tall, but he's very stocky and strong down low. There really aren't many holes in his game. It's scary that Erie has been as good as they have been this year without him. Imagine once he's healthy.

16. Justin Lemcke - Defense - Belleville Bulls
I really like Lemcke's game. He's certainly not a flashy player, but he's cut from the same cloth as guys like Stuart Percy, Chris Bigras, Scott Harrington, etc. Defenders who can play both ends of the ice and who are reliable and consistent. Lemcke's skating ability is definitely an asset on the big ice in Belleville. Defensively, I love his ability to cut off lanes to the net, and his ability to get his stick in passing lanes. He reads plays very well. And he also makes a strong breakout pass. I think it's only a matter of time until he starts using his skating ability to generate scoring chances more consistently.

17. Dante Salituro - Forward - Ottawa 67's
At the beginning of the year, I felt like he was probably more of a candidate for the back half of the draft, given his lack of size. But he's been too good this year to ignore. And while I did rant about overreactions to hot starts at the beginning of this article, Salituro is more than that. We're talking about a near point per game player last year who's continuing to get better. While Travis Konecny was supposed to be the offensive leader of the 67's, it's been the Salituro show thus far. His 10 goals make up nearly 40% of his team's offensive production (both an impressive stat for him, but a depressing one for 67's fans). You have to love the intensity Salituro is playing with this year, attacking the net and fighting for position near the blue paint.

18. David Miller - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
If he were bigger, Miller would definitely be receiving consideration for the top 10. He's easily one of my early favourites of this draft class. Miller is a very well rounded player who plays much larger than his 5'9 frame. His speed and ability to miss checks entering the offensive zone is the immediate thing that sticks out about his game. But he's also active on the forecheck and the back check. And he's a very astute player who makes the players around him (Bunting and Speers) better because of how well he sees the ice and the decisions he makes with the puck. I think he's still a relatively high pick in June despite being undersized.

19. Mitchell Stephens - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Had such high hopes for Stephens this year after he lit up the Ivan Hlinka tournament and the OHL preseason. But he started the regular season quietly and was recently sidelined with a concussion (hasn't played since October 11). When he returns, I do expect him to live up to this ranking. Stephens' game is built around his speed, which is among the best in this draft class, but he'll need to round out his game and really work to make himself noticeable in other ways than leading play across the blue line.

20. Brett McKenzie - Forward - North Bay Battalion
The offensive numbers haven't been great thus far, but I have to believe that he's going to get better and better as the season goes on. Besides, there's way more to his game than putting up points. He remains one of North Bay's top two way players, using his speed and size to be a presence in all three zones. McKenzie will be appealing because he's that prototypical NHL center for today's game.

21. Kyle Capobianco - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
The Wolves are going to be bad this year. But one of the few bright spots on the team will be former high pick Capobianco. He had a terrific preseason and has carried that over to the regular season. He's going to be one of the youngest available players for the draft this year, which always peaks the curiosity of scouts. As an offensive defenseman, Capobianco is a terrific skater who will likely be one of the league's top offensive blue liners by the time his OHL career is over. His play in his own end continues to need a bit of work (he needs to keep his feet moving in his own end), but he's a puck mover with some size, which is always in demand.

22. Vince Dunn - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Dunn was one of the league's top rookies last year, emerging as a top 4 defender on an up and coming Niagara team. This year the late '96 is playing on (arguably) the team's top pairing with Blake Siebenaler and seeing ice time in all situations. He's certainly at his best as an offensive defenseman who can lead the rush and jump up in the play. That said, I've been a little disappointed with his decision making in his own end thus far this year. It seems like he's trying to do too much at times (especially true given Niagara's rough start to the year).

23. Gustaf Bouramman - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Super impressed by this smooth skating, puck mover from Sweden. The scouts that I had talked to after the Import Draft all said that he was a high risk, high reward type of defender who had a tendency to ignore his obligations in his own end. While he's not a world beater in his own end, he's been far from a  liability. And he's creating a ton of scoring chances, leading the rush with his great speed and poise with the puck.

24. Sam Harding - Forward - Oshawa Generals
The jack of all trades for the Generals. Harding plays in all situations. He plays hard at both ends of the ice. He wins face-offs. And he's looked way better and more confident offensively this year, even if he hasn't been getting as much ice time as of late. The offensive numbers haven't been great since a hot start, but there's way more to his game than a blank score sheet. That said, given his size, he will need to start producing more consistently if he wants to be a candidate for the first three rounds.

25. Roy Radke - Forward - Barrie Colts
A late '96, but one playing in his first OHL season after signing with Barrie this offseason. Radke has been a great addition to the Colts lineup. He's a big winger who has definite power forward potential. He's already starting to play with more of an edge and looking to create by driving wide, using his size to protect the puck. I think that as the season goes on, we could see his ranking rise as he gains confidence in his ability to create his own scoring chances.

26. Matt Luff - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Really like what I've seen from this big winger. He's already very difficult to move from the crease and he understands his role on a scoring line. The skill level in close is quite high too and I think he's got significant goal scoring potential if he can improve his confidence in his shot. The only drawback I can see is his skating ability. He currently lacks that explosiveness in his stride and it makes him more of a complimentary guy, rather than the focal point of an attack.

27. Gustaf Franzen - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Has sort of come as advertised. Stocky forward who plays the game hard and is learning how to battle in the corners and come out with the puck. He probably hasn't been as much of a physical presence as was anticipated (there were comparisons to Landeskog), but the effort is there on and off the puck. Offensively, he's developing chemistry playing with Magyar and rookie Adam Mascherin. He's able to get them the puck and looks like he could develop into a player as a guy like Henri Ikonen (former Kington Frontenac).

28. Ethan Szypula - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Went from not even being in consideration for my preseason list, to on it in a matter of months. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Szypula looks like one of the most improved 97's. He's got 6 goals, and he's been one of Owen Sound's best players in the games that I've seen. Every facet of his game has improved and he's showing a pretty high skill level in open ice, creating scoring chances off the rush and making things happen with the man advantage. He's certainly not the biggest guy (5'11), but he's playing bigger than that and you have to be impressed with his progression.

29. Colton White - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Now that Darnell Nurse has returned, White's role is most likely to decrease a bit, but there's no denying how impressive the 2nd year defender has looked. He's paired with Import Gustaf Bouramman (#23) and been the rock to Bouramman's offensive freedom. He's seeing lots of time on the penalty kill and has impressed with his defensive awareness and ability to read opposing forwards. He's also shown an ability to make a good first pass too and probably has more offensive potential than he's showing right now. Hopefully he continues to get big defensive assignments even with Nurse back.

30. Zachary Senyshen - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A Hounds 3rd rounder who has really made some noise in his first year in the league. He had a cup of tea last year, which seems to have been very beneficial because he's now playing with confidence and looks to have really added strength to a good frame. He's skating on one of the Soo's scoring lines with Gabe Guertler and overeager Jean Dupuy. He brings great size to the wing, but also skill and he can take advantage of space in the middle of the ice. Big wingers who can drive the net and create/finish off scoring chances are often a hot commodity.

Honorable Mention
31. Garrett McFadden - D/Guelph Storm
Has looked better this year, displaying more confidence with the puck. Skating is terrific and he's playing with jam. Lacks elite size though.
32. Marcus Crawford - D/Saginaw Spirit
Very smart offensive defender who already does a great job on the power play. Will need to continue to prove his capability in his own end.
33. Artem Artemov - F/Saginaw Spirit
Started slowly, but has started to produce in Saginaw. Was one of the top young players in the USHL last year so I figure it's only a matter of time until he plays more consistently.
34. Adam Laishram - F/Belleville Bulls
Wish he was bigger. But does all the little things right. Have seen Belleville a few times this year and I'm not sure I've seen him lose a face-off.
35. Jesse Barwell - F/Mississauga Steelheads
I like him. I think there's more to his game at the OHL than he has shown us thus far. Is starting to create more scoring chances, but needs to bring it every shift.
36. Jeremiah Addison - F/Ottawa 67's
Late '96, Addison is a very hard worker. Still not sure how much offensive upside there is though.
37. Jesse Saban - D/Erie Otters
Stay at home defender who has proven to be quite capable in his own end. Uses his size, but will need to demonstrate more poise with the puck.
38. Tyler MacArthur - D/Owen Sound Attack
Tall, but lanky defender who already plays with an edge. Once his fills out, he could be a real monster in his own end. Needs to cut down on turnovers though.
39. Michael McNiven - G/Owen Sound Attack
It's only a matter of time until McNiven gets more playing time thanks to a trade of one of Brandon Hope or Jack Flinn. Owen Sound can't keep this goaltending carousel going all season. McNiven is an ultra talented youngster who won his first start of the year (although it was against Sudbury)
40. Artem Vladimirov - D/Peterborough Petes
Big Russian defender with a booming shot. Don't have a terrific read on him yet, but could definitely be a riser as the season goes on.
41. Justin Fazio - G/Sarnia Sting
Started the season very poorly, but has picked up his play of late. Sarnia will likely be up and down all season, but Fazio will need to be the consistent anchor if they want to make the playoffs.
42. Hayden McCool - F/Niagara IceDogs
Currently holding down a spot on Niagara's 3rd line (with veterans Cody Payne and Jordan Maletta), but hasn't been overly noticeable despite having great potential.
43. Mike Davies - F/Kitchener Rangers
Former first rounder has started slowly like most of Kitchener. Big winger who needs to step up and play with more of an edge consistently.
44. Johnny Corneil - F/Niagara IceDogs
Not the biggest guy on the ice, but plays the game hard. Has shown some chemistry playing with Graham Knott and he really gets his nose dirty on the forecheck.
45. Petrus Palmu - F/Owen Sound Attack
Pint sized forward who oozes skill. Been very impressed with his play, but I don't really see him as a serious NHL draft prospect.
46. Riley Bruce - D/North Bay Battalion
Real big kid, but can still struggle with the offensive side of things at this level. Big potential and could explode up the list if he improves and gains confidence.
47. Zach Wilkie - D/Niagara IceDogs
Caught in a numbers game on a deep Niagara blue line. Wilkie is a talented player. If an injury occurs, he stands to get more playing time and hopefully takes advantage of it.
48. Doug Blaisdell - D/Kitchener Rangers
Thus far, doesn't seem to have improved much from last year, but does have potential as a two-way defender.
49. Adam Craievich - F/Guelph Storm
Been incredibly disappointed in his play so far this year. Seems to still be missing that extra gear. Shot and offensive skill is undeniable though.
50. Noah Bushnell - F/Sarnia Sting
Suspended power forward who I'm curious to see play this year, to see if his skating and offensive game have developed. When he finally gets to play at the end of October, he'll be rusty.

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