Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sunday Top 10 - Players to Watch in 2014

The new OHL season is well underway now. I've been inspired by some of the other lists I've seen put out recently, chronicling players to watch in respective junior leagues (like Ryan Kennedy's NCAA players to watch). I see this as an opportunity to highlight some of the players I see "breaking out" this year. You won't find the likes of Connor McDavid, or Michael Dal Colle on this list. Everyone knows them and what they're capable of. I'm writing about players who haven't yet reached the provincial or national spotlight, but who have the chance to this year.

These are my OHL players to watch in 2014 (in alphabetical order of their OHL team).

Joseph Blandisi - Barrie Colts
Blandisi has never really had the chance to be the go to offensive guy on an OHL team thus far in his career. He's been a key member of some good teams, playing the "character guy" role. He's been the support guy on scoring lines. He's killed penalties. He's been a dressing room influence. And well, now he's been fuelled by the fact that an NHL team chose to not sign him (Colorado). He's come into this OHL season in great shape, brimming with confidence. And he's finally got the opportunity to be one of the key offensive guys on his team. Right now the offence is Barrie is running through him and the early results have been astounding. His 14 points in 5 games leads the OHL in scoring and he seems to be on pace to be this year's "Dane Fox."

Remi Elie - Belleville Bulls
In reality, Elie broke out last year. He WAS the Belleville Bulls last year. He jumped from 7 goals in his rookie year (and draft year) with London, to 29 last year with Belleville. Problem is...Belleville was so bad that no one noticed. This year Belleville is, and will be better. I expect them to battle for home ice in the first round and Elie will be the catalyst. His tenacity, physical bravado, and underrated offensive skill make him an ideal NHL player in today's day and age. Elie may even be a surprise candidate for this year's WJC team IMO.

Dylan Strome - Erie Otters
In his draft year, brother Ryan had to climb the charts and prove that he was a top 10 candidate. Dylan is starting the year already in most top 10's. But that doesn't mean that he can't climb further. At this point, he's looking like a serious candidate to be number 4 behind the "big 3" (McDavid, Eichel, Hanifin). Teammate McDavid is going to steal a lot of the spotlight, but if Strome continues to keep pace with Connor offensively, he's going to be a hot commodity. The Erie Otters have been nearly unstoppable so far this season because of the 1-2 punch they possess down the middle. Who cares about depth on the wing when you've got these two guys feeding you the puck. Strome is incredible.

Pius Suter - Guelph Storm
No Fabbri? No problem. Through training camp, and the preseason, Suter's development as a player was one of the main stories coming out of Guelph. The team lost some important pieces from last year's Championship squad. But they've still got a ton of talent, as evidenced by their performance so far. Suter was stashed away in a 4th line role, killing penalties last year. But if you saw Guelph a lot, you saw he was capable of significantly more. Suter is going to be a critical player for the Storm this year, even when (likely) Fabbri returns.

Sean Day - Mississauga Steelheads
Remember how much better Aaron Ekblad was in his second year? Well, that's happening with Sean Day right now. Day has been sensational for the Steelheads thus far, and at the ripe age of 16 is looking like one of the best defenders in the league. He now possesses the confidence to match his skating ability, and he looks way more determined in his own end. Truthfully, I didn't expect him to be quite at this level just yet, but it's looking like he is. Day is a special player and is really putting the critics (of his exceptional status) to shame.

Blake Siebenaler - Niagara IceDogs
OK, so Niagara is one of the only winless teams in the league thus far. Don't panic Niagara fans. I still expect this team to end up near the top of the Conference. And I expect Siebenaler to experience a big time breakout, leading this team's talented defensive unit. Vince Dunn and him have picked up where they left off and are playing great. Now the rest of the team needs to follow suit. His offensive talents are undeniable (especially his skating ability), but it's his defensive awareness and ability that has really grown to the point where he's becoming one of the league's top two-way players.

Nick Paul - North Bay Battalion
Not everyone gets to be a key piece of a Jason Spezza deal. That's a lot of pressure on a young kid, replacing Jason Spezza in Ottawa. But I think Paul can handle it and I think he's REALLY going to take off this year and establish himself as a terrific NHL prospect. He was great towards the end of last year. He was great at the Team Canada summer camp. And now he's been great so far this year. Paul will lead the Battalion another solid year and I think he's a big time candidate for Team Canada at the WJC's.

Jack Flinn - Owen Sound Attack
The big guy from Halifax has thus far emerged as the starter for Owen Sound (a trade has to be imminent there with Flinn, Hope, and the very talented Michael McNiven around). Now matter where he plays this year, I expect him to play well. Flinn has taken his experience at an NHL camp and turned it into a confidence level yet to be displayed in his CHL (QMJHL and OHL) career. He takes up so much of the net and is learning to control his rebounds and better position himself. Maybe the Q should send us some more huge net minders after the success of Trudeau and now Flinn.

Dylan Wells - Peterborough Petes
Man, who says the Petes need a net minder (OK I did)? The first goalie taken in this year's priority draft, Wells has been a revelation for Peterborough. It's not common for 16 year old goaltenders to lead their team into the playoffs, but it's not unheard of (cough, Alex Nedeljkovic, cough). I still expect Peterborough to make a deal (whether it's one of Owen Sound's guys, Jake Paterson, etc), but Wells has certainly put himself on the map and looks like the next great Canadian net minder to play in the OHL.

David Miller - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Loved this guy last year. Plays the game at such a high tempo. With Jared McCann out (mono), Miller has been the go to guy so far and he's playing lights out. He's undersized, so it remains to be seen how much NHL attention he'll generate, but he's a future OHL star and a potential Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy winner over the next couple of years. He may finish in the top 10 of OHL scoring this year, let alone in future years.

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