Saturday, May 31, 2014

OHL Draft Picks Needing to be Signed by June 1st

NHL teams have until June 1st to sign their draft picks from 2012. If they are not signed, they will either a) re-enter the draft or b) become free agents (depending on their date of birth).

Here are the OHL players who remain unsigned.

Jarrod Maidens - Owen Sound Attack/Ottawa Sentaors
A 3rd rounder by Ottawa in 2012, Maidens has yet to return to the ice after suffering a nasty concussion in his draft year. He's made a few attempts but has encountered setbacks each time. Having not played a game in over two years, the Sens will most definitely let his rights expire. Maidens will re-enter the draft but will not be selected or looked at by an NHL team until he gets back on the ice. At this point, it would (sadly) appear that his promising hockey career is over.

Brady Vail - Windsor Spitfires/Montreal Canadiens
Despite putting up a pretty good year statistically, and earning a few looks at the AHL level the past two years, it appears that the Canadiens still seem unsure as to whether they'll sign Vail (their 4th rounder in 2012). While Vail did have a solid year, he hasn't exactly grown to become the dominant two-way center that Montreal envisioned he'd become. Are they thinking that he might be a bit of a tweener? Doesn't possess the pure skill necessary to be a top 6 player, but hasn't grown a lot as a player away from the puck and doesn't profile as a dominant checking player either?

Gemel Smith - London Knights/Dallas Stars
A big acquisition by London this year, Smith was a pretty big disappointment for the Knights and ended up being relegated to the 4th line by the end of the Memorial Cup. While he's quick and elusive, Smith doesn't have elite size or skill. His energy level and two-way game also regressed, and his ability to play through traffic never really matured. At this point, I'd consider him a long shot to be signed by Dallas.

Michael Clarke - Peterborough Petes/Colorado Avalanche
Drafted with the expectation that he'd develop into a rugged, two way center with scoring ability. But that never came to fruition. Clarke continued to struggle with consistency and his game didn't progress enough in the areas it needed to (skating, board play, defensive awareness). Highly doubt he's signed. However, he will make a great overager for a Peterborough team that could make some noise in the East next year.

Clark Seymour - Peterborough Petes/Pittsburgh Penguins
It's already been stated that he won't be offered a contract by Pittsburgh, which will make the Petes' alternate captain and overager a free agent. Seymour turned himself into a pretty useful stay at home defenseman at the OHL level, but just isn't at the level where you'd consider him a serious NHL prospect. Seems like a pretty good bet for a CIS spot next year.
NOT SIGNED (now a free agent)

Cody Payne - Saginaw Spirit/Dallas Stars
Drafted by Boston, but traded to Dallas, Payne had a good year statistically for Saginaw. He finished second on the team in goals with 26. However, his physical game and energy level regressed this year and Dallas has already stated that he won't be offered a contract. Payne will re-enter the draft and I doubt he'll be re-selected. He'll return to the OHL as an overager and will look to find a balance between scoring and playing a power forward game.

Jesse Graham - Saginaw Spirit/New York Islanders
Graham had a pretty good year in 2014, setting career highs in nearly every statistical category. He also (apparently) played quite well for Bridgeport in a brief stint at the end of the year. While undersized, his exceptional skating ability and strong play with the puck still make him an intriguing prospect. He's the only player on this list that I suspect may still get an NHL contract. However, the Isles do have a lot of depth at the position currently so they may not see a fit in their organization for him. Could be a good candidate to earn an AHL deal next year instead of returning to the OHL for an overage year.

Joseph Blandisi - Barrie Colts/Colorado Avalanche
Blandisi is a hard worker and a valuable OHL player. He has enough skill and determination to make it as a character/energy player at the next level. But I'd still be surprised if Colorado signed him at this point. Blandisi would then re-enter the draft and should he not be taken, will return to Barrie for his overage year.

Gianluca Curcuruto - Plymouth Whalers/Columbus Blue Jackets 
After a really strong (bounce back) year in 2013, Curcuruto regressed in 2014 and did not have a strong season. The Whalers' struggled at times defensively (luckily they had Nedeljkovic) and Curcuruto was right in the thick of that. He's a player who currently lacks an identity. He's never really developed into an elite defensive player, but can lack the confidence in his offensive game that would make him an elite puck mover. Columbus has already stated that he will not be signed, so he'll re-enter the draft.

 *Of note, Oilers 3rd rounder Daniil Zharkov, and Devils 6th rounder Artur Gavrus (both former OHL'ers) do not have to be signed because they are considered "defected players."

Thursday, May 22, 2014

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft - Part 4: 10-1

I bring you the epic conclusion to my Top 50; the top 10! Hope you've enjoyed the ride.

10. Nikolai Goldobin - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Goldobin is one of, if not the most talented offensive player available from the OHL. This year's top prospect's game was a perfect example of the way he can take over a game with his dynamic offensive ability. His skating, stick handling, scoring and hockey IQ are all well above average. He's at his best off the rush where he explodes across the blue line and catches a lot of OHL defenseman flat footed, as they're not able to keep up with his ability to carry the puck at top speed. He's not incredibly strong, but he manages to avoid most checks as he's very slippery and elusive. For as bad as Sarnia was this year, Goldobin was pretty consistent, averaging over a point per game in every month. So what's the drawback? Why is Goldobin being talked about as a late first/early 2nd pick instead of a lottery selection? As consistent as his offensive production was this year, his play in every other facet is anything but consistent and productive. There were several games of Sarnia that I saw this year where Goldobin looked completely disengaged away from the puck. A floater, if you will. He's never going to be the type of player who excels in the corners, but he needs to increase his intensity level in order to find success in the NHL. If there's one thing that history has taught us, it's that offensive players who sit back and let others get the puck for them, tend to not have long careers. I also found him to be a perimeter player at times, choosing to stay to the outside instead of attacking the net. As an offensive player, he's not going to be able to put up consistent numbers at the next level by living on the outside. For as talented as he is, there are definite red flags about whether his skill set will translate to the NHL.

9. Alex Nedeljkovic - Goaltender - Plymouth Whalers
The last time a first time draft eligible goaltender won OHL goaltender of the year was Brian Finley in 1998-1999. Finley ended up going 6th overall to Nashville. Needless to say his NHL career never materialized. Nedeljkovic isn't going to go 6th overall. He may not even go in the first round. But he's still a heck of a goaltending prospect. Nedeljkovic doesn't have the size that NHL teams are looking for these days (pushing 6'0), but he's got everything else. His mental make up is fantastic and he has fantastic composure for a young net minder. Just look at what he was able to accomplish this year. He was terrific for the U.S. at the Ivan Hlinka this summer. Then he had a great year for Plymouth and pretty much carried that team into the playoffs (thus the GOY nod), and then he backstopped the U.S. to a gold medal at the U18's. His positioning and athleticism are his two biggest assets. It takes near perfect shots to beat him high, even if he's not huge. He's very athletic and moves well side to side, which allows him to challenge shooters and recover if need be. I know some people prefer Brent Moran because of the size and raw potential, but give me reliability and psychological make up that Nedeljkovic brings to the table. I'd take him second among goalies after Thatcher Demko.
Alex Nedeljkovic on "The Pipeline Show." 
Alex Nedeljkovic's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."

8. Josh Ho-Sang - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
I was quite rough on Ho-Sang last year, after what I would consider to be a disappointing rookie season (considering the hype he entered the league with). He played with a lot of frustration in his freshman year, forcing plays, committing turnovers, and demonstrated a severe case of tunnel vision. This year, most of those concerns were improved upon considerably. Quite frankly, I was very impressed with the progression of his game in 2013/2014. He was a danger to create scoring chances nearly every time he hit the ice because he was able to display more poise and utilize his teammates better. His stick handling ability is so terrific, that he's able to draw a lot of attention to himself and he bides time for his line mates to find holes in the defence. He is starting to develop patience with the puck and is more comfortable letting defenders come to him, rather than constantly attacking in a north/south style of way. His play away from the puck and effort on the back check got better as the season went on and it's clear that Windsor's coaching staff was harping on him to improve in that area. He's still got a ways to go, but the effort made towards improving is encouraging. All that being said, the way he finished the season looms over him like a black cloud. In his first round playoff series against London, he was awful  and he reverted back to the way he had played last year as rookie, forcing plays and playing recklessly. This came to a head when he sent Zach Bell hard into the boards, breaking his leg. Ho-Sang (whether you agree with it or not) received a 15 game suspension for the act and will miss the first couple of months next year. Then there's the mystery of Hockey Canada leaving him off the U18 team, which you can perceive as them not liking his attitude because he's certainly skilled enough. When you add it all up you've got one heck of a talented player who has some issues surrounding him which could scare off some teams. That said, I was impressed (save for the end of the year) with the improvements he made to his game this year.
Josh Ho-Sang on "The Pipeline Show." 
Josh Ho-Sang's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."

7. Jared McCann - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
McCann is one of the top two-way players available in the draft this year. How high he goes will depend on how much potential you think he has at the next level. There are definitely components to his game that point to a player with the potential to produce offensively at the NHL level. Firstly, he's a terrific skater who is both explosive to holes, but also has a great top end speed. He can also carry and receive passes at top speed and can be a dangerous player in transition Secondly, his shot and release are top notch. He's terrific in the slot and has no trouble playing through traffic. McCann is also a terrific player away from the puck who's great in puck retrieval and plays with a high energy level. He can play a physical game at times, but it's not a consistent part of his game at this time. I can see the other side of the argument though (about a perceived lack of potential). There are times when the play dies on his stick in the offensive end because he over handles the puck or tries to force a pass. He also has trouble slowing the game down sometimes and can play with tunnel vision, skating with his head down coming across the blue line with speed. McCann's production this year was definitely impressive though considering the Soo's balanced attack and I think that as he matures he'll become a more consistent offensive threat. He's a safe bet to play in the NHL, even if you aren't convinced he has top 6 potential.
Jared McCann on "The Pipeline Show."
Jared McCann's Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."
Jared McCann's Q and A with me.

6. Brendan Perlini - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
I'm not normally a fan of comparisons, but Perlini reminds me so much of Jeff Carter when I watched him in his draft year (2003). Same kind of body type and skill set, and the same kind of concerns about consistency and physical intensity. Perlini has three great things going for him. Size, skating and one heck of a shot. Once he gets going down the wing, he's incredibly difficult to stop and he has both a great slapper and a terrific wrist shot, which he needs little space to get off. He does a great job of getting himself in scoring position to use his shot and has gotten better at fighting through traffic to get open. All that said, the other components of his game are not consistent. For as strong as he is with the puck off the rush, he needs to drive the net with more consistency and really use his size to give defenses a hard time. Playing with Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony DiFruscia (two terrific board players), he was often guilty of standing around watching the play far too much, instead of getting his nose dirty in the corners. I will give him credit though. His effort on the back check and overall defensive awareness really improved as the season went on. He's now a capable penalty killer and does a good job of tying up opposing forwards in the slot. Even though he wasn't scoring a ton in the playoffs, his effort defensively helped to keep Niagara in that series. Perlini was also solid at the U18's and certainly didn't hurt his cause in the event.
Brendan Perlini on "The Pipeline Show." 
Brendan Perlini's Draft Blog on "Coming Down the Pipe. (Part 1), (Part 2)
Brendan Perlini's Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."

5. Michael Dal Colle - Forward - Oshawa Generals
This is probably a lower ranking for Dal Colle than people are used to. But let me preface this by saying the next three guys (Dal Colle, Ritchie, Fabbri) are all very interchangeable and I think all are top 10 selections (worthy of it anyway). I just have some small preferences and that's why Dal Colle is ranked 3rd among that group. Dal Colle was as consistent as can be offensively this year. His wrist shot is phenomenal, more specifically it's release. And he uses his body (6'2) to shield the puck well to create the space he needs to get it off. Dal Colle is going to score his share of goals in the NHL. He's improved his skating a lot since joining the league and is now terrific at coming off the wall and creating chances, showcasing a more explosive stride. He'll likely still put work into his skating too, and it should only continue to improve. Dal Colle also has good vision for a big man and is a very effective player with the man advantage, as he draws defenses to him only to find open linemates. While Dal Colle can play either center or wing, I think it's safe to assume he projects as a winger because it's been his primary position the last few years. So why the lower ranking than Ritchie and Fabbri? I don't think Dal Colle will ever be the type of player who impacts the game more than just offensively. He's big, but I don't ever see him being the physical brute that Ritchie is, or the forechecking puck hound that Fabbri is. And while I'm sure he'll put in work to be better defensively, again, I think the other two have greater potential in that area. Offensively, he might be a touch better and has a more dynamic skill set, but if were talking about choosing between an 80 point one dimensional player, or a 60 point two-way player, I'm taking the 60 point guy.
Michael Dal Colle on "The Pipeline Show." 
Michael Dal Colle's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."

4. Nick Ritchie - Forward - Peterborough Petes
When on top of his game, Ritchie is a monstrosity that wrecks havoc on opposing defenses. He's battled injuries and consistency issues over his three years in the OHL (late '95), but he finally put it all together in the final 3-4 months of the OHL season. Once the Petes acquired Hunter Garlent, they had finally found a playmaker for Ritchie, which simplified things for him and allowed him to really take over games with his physicality and scoring ability. In the final 29 regular season games of the season, Ritchie had 24 goals. He had a terrific playoffs too (although was considerably better against Kingston than Oshawa). The goal production is no fluke. On top of overpowering defenders near the crease for garbage goals, Ritchie also possesses one heck of a shot (rated as 3rd best in the East in the coaches poll). Like Dal Colle, he's great at using his size to create room for himself to use it. When you think of what a solid prospect his brother Brett has become, you have to wonder what Nick is capable of considering he's the better skater, has a better shot, and is better with the puck. I've read comments from people talking negatively about Ritchie, comparing him to some of the failed power forward projects of recent years (guys like Hugh Jessiman). We're talking about a 6'3, 230lbs winger who can lead the rush across the blueline. That's a special player. He's not a plug. Ritchie has the hands and skill to match everything he's capable of physically. And we haven't even talked about how effective he is without the puck, as a steamroller on the forecheck. He hits and he hits hard. Bottom line is you're looking at a throwback power forward. They don't make many like this anymore (think Kevin Stevens). Are the consistency issues legitimate? Yes. Does he have some conditioning issues? Likely. But those are very correctable things that can't overshadow the massive potential (no pun intended) that Ritchie possesses.
Nick Ritchie on "The Pipeline Show." 
Nick Ritchie's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."
3. Robby Fabbri - Forward - Guelph Storm
I think the cat was let out of the bag a while ago on this one. It's been no secret how much I like Fabbri as a player. His lack of size does not scare me (5'10). I don't think it prevents him from being an impact player at the NHL level. Every time I saw Fabbri play this year, he was the best player on the ice. He impacts the game on so many different levels. He's a tireless worker at both ends of the ice. He excels without the puck and is a real puck hound. If he doesn't have the puck, he's going to fight to get it and is great at forcing turnovers in the neutral zone, using his smarts and an active stick. On the forecheck, he showcases deceptive speed and despite his lack of size, wins a lot of battles along the boards. While he's not an overtly physical player, Fabbri certainly is quick to engage in battle and excels in traffic. He actually can be prone to taking some dumb penalties (usually of the retaliatory nature) as he has a tough time dialing down the intensity level. Offensively, his best asset is his smarts. He's incredible at finding holes in the defense, working give and go's and anticipating where and when scoring chances are going to develop. His 58 goals this year (including playoffs) are no fluke. He just knows how to find openings and he's got a great wrist shot which he uses to capitalize on chances (he doesn't miss often). He even saved the best for last, winning the OHL playoffs MVP (second year in a row a draft eligible player has won it after Bo Horvat did last year). To sum it up, Fabbri is an incredibly complete player who possesses all the qualities that you'd look for in a franchise center. Well...except for one (size). And if you're like me and you believe that his size won't hurt his ability to perform at the next level, you draft him and you draft him early. After the way he's played this year, I can't help but believe there are NHL teams who feel the same way about Fabbri as I do.
Robby Fabbri on "The Pipeline Show."
2. Sam Bennett - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
That brings us to Sam Bennett, who is basically the slightly bigger, slightly more physical Robby Fabbri, and that's why he's in contention for first overall. As a draft eligible player, Bennett dominated this year's OHL coaches poll, winning the smartest player, best playmaker, and best stickhandler, while finishing 3rd in the best defensive forward. All those accolades were deserving as Bennett is one of the most complete draft prospects I've ever seen. He's incredibly shifty one on one and does a great job at using his skating ability (his agility and ability to turn is exceptional) in conjunction with his terrific puck skill, to create lanes for him to shoot. His acceleration is very deceptive and he's able to beat defenders down the wing to the net, or explode off the wall to create scoring chances. As previously mentioned, Bennett is also a fantastic playmaker as he does a great job of spotting open teammates, especially off the rush and through the cycle. If the Fronts lose possession, Bennett fights hard to get the puck back and is a very effective backchecker, as well as board player. He also excels in the physical side of the game, especially on the forecheck where he's eager to make a hit to force a turnover. To put the icing on the cake, there wasn't a more consistent player in the league this year than Bennett, who had a 25 game point streak through November-January. I really can't say a bad thing about his game. He just needs to get stronger to ply his trade at the next level and you're looking at a potential captain and offensive leader for your hockey team.
Sam Bennett on "The Pipeline Show." 
Sam Bennett's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."

1. Aaron Ekblad - Defense - Barrie Colts
The race between Ekblad and Bennett is incredibly close and either one could go first overall. Both have their fans and at different points this year, I flip/flopped between which one to rank first. Ultimately I'm going with Ekblad. I think what really sold me on him was his performance at the WJC's where I felt like he was Canada's top defenseman. It's been a long time since we could say that Canada's top defenseman at the U20's was an 18 year old. I think the other thing that really impressed me this year was Ekblad's development as an offensive defenseman. His ability and confidence as a puck mover really took off this year (and helped to secure his appointment as the OHL's defenseman of the year). He looks confident skating the puck out of the zone now and is actually taking chances across the opposing blueline, using his size to protect the puck. A lot of his success in doing that also has to do with the improvements he's made to his first few steps and overall top skating gear. He also grew leaps and bounds as a powerplay QB this year, doing a much better job of getting in position to use his mammoth point shot...and actually getting it through to the net. He was keeping pucks in better at the line and displayed more confidence and patience as a distributor at the point. At the same time as his offensive game was growing, his defensive game remained dominant. Because of his size and the improvements made to his skating, he's very difficult to beat on the outside, perhaps one of the toughest defenders to get around in the OHL. He also played with more piss and vinegar in the corners and in front of the net, although I'm sure scouts would love to see him play with even more aggression in those areas (to utilize his 6'4, 200lbs body). The best thing about Ekblad is how physically and mentally mature he is. IMO, he's ready to jump right into the NHL next year and have an impact at both ends of the ice. The offensive game may still take a bit of time at the NHL level (as it took him time to gain confidence at the OHL level), but he's a potential franchise defenseman and future captain who also happens to be one of the few top notch defensive prospects in a weak draft year at the position.
Aaron Ekblad on "The Pipeline Show." 
Aaron Ekblad's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."

That's all folks! Best of luck to all of the draft eligible players at the draft this year.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft - Part 3: 30-11

I bring you part 3 of my rankings as we delve inside the top 30.

30. Kyle Jenkins - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Playing in his first OHL year, Jenkins seems like quite a find for the Hounds. He stepped right into that line up and had an impact, especially on the powerplay. His skill level certainly doesn't blow you away, but he's a very intelligent player (at both ends of the ice). He really does a good job of moving the puck from the point and keeping pucks in at the blueline. His shot needs some work if he wants to become an elite QB, but as he adds strength that should improve. Jenkins is a good skater and does a good job of limiting turnovers in his own end by making good passes or electing to skate across the blueline. Defensively, he's got good positioning, but isn't strong enough yet to consistently win battles in the corners or in front of the net. He saw a good chunk of time with Tyler Ganly towards the end of the year and that's a great defensive partner for him. As he gets stronger, I'm very curious to see how Jenkins' skill set grows/improves because there is a lot to like about the way he plays the game (think Paul Martin).
Kyle Jenkins' NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.

29. Mike Amadio - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Scouts are likely to be drawn to Amadio because he fits the prototype of the ideal center in today's NHL. Good size, skating ability, skill, and an ability to excel in puck possession. He's certainly not yet a consistent contributor, but he has his moments of brilliance. His defensive game and play away from the puck have been a work in progress all season, but they've improved under Stan Butler. If there's one coach in the league who can get a big center to develop into a two-way asset, it's Butler. As previously mentioned, Amadio has loads of potential because of how skilled he is with the puck. He could be a very valuable playmaker as someone who can bide time for his linemates. Under Butler, hopefully Amadio can develop a bit more intensity away from the puck, which I think would help the consistency aspect.
Mike Amadio on "The Pipeline Show." 
Mike Amadio's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.

28. Darby Llewellyn - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
It was sort of the tale of two seasons for Llewellyn. Between November and December he scored 15 goals. During the other 4 months of the season he scored 10. It wasn't an easy year to play in Kitchener though. You have to look at the bright side. Llewellyn's 25 goals were tied for the team lead with Justin Bailey and were more than Ryan MacInnis and Nick Magyar, two prospects I've got ranked ahead of him. He can be a real puck hound and it's that quality that allows him to score his share of goals. On top of a solid intensity level, Llewellyn is also a good skater, which helps him to beat defenders to pucks in the corners and in front of the net. Moving forward, a couple things will help to define his role as either a scoring or checking line prospect. Those are the development of his shot and the consistency of his physical game and ability to drive the net.

27. Ryan Foss - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Foss is a prospect that has to be trending upwards. After being signed as a free agent by Windsor, Foss worked hard to get ice time at the beginning of the year and subsequently wasn't really putting up offensive numbers (took him until mid November to score his first OHL goal). But by the end of the year, he had worked himself up to a scoring line with Brady Vail and Ben Johnson. He had 23 points in his final 28 games (including the playoffs). Foss could be one of those diamond in the rough guys. He's got good size, and while he's not physical, he uses his size well offensively to shield the puck and win battles against the wall. He also had good vision and projects to be a quality two-way center who can be very effective in the cycle game. Foss is also a good skater and was often the first man to retrieve the puck on that aforementioned Vail/Johnson line. As he continues to add strength and gain confidence, Foss could be a real find for someone.

26. Dylan Sadowy - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
If he were a better skater, we'd be talking about Sadowy at the top half of the 2nd round with the likes of Magyar, Cornel, Bunting, etc. He does absolutely everything you can ask of him in Saginaw. He's very active on the forecheck. He's a terrific penalty killer. He drives the net with and without the puck. He plays physical and gets under the skin of the opposition. Best of all, he lead Saginaw in goals this year with 27. And how many of those 27 were on the powerplay? ZERO. Food for thought, but Sadowy's 24 even strength goals (he had 3 SH) were more than Brendan Perlini (16). Saginaw went through some rough ups and downs this year, but Sadowy was a pillar of consistency. He also had 4 goals in 5 postseason games. As mentioned though, his skating is below average and needs work. He'll also need to improve his ability to receive and carry the puck at top speed in order to be more effective at driving the net. There's too much not to like about him as a player though, especially when you consider that his deficiencies can be improved.

25. Brent Moran - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
Moran started the year in a platoon with veteran Chris Festarini, but eventually took over the starter's job when Festarini left the team. It wasn't until then that Moran's play really improved noticeably. With more consistent playing time, his confidence grew and he began stringing consistently strong appearances together. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Moran was playing some terrific hockey, and continued that into the first round against North Bay, where he was excellent. He's got great size and that's going to lure in the scouts. His ability to track the play and cut down angles really improved as the year went on. As did his ability to control his rebounds. He can still give up some bad goals low when teams get him moving. And he still has a tendency to be beat high from overplaying angles. BUT, he has terrific potential and is a real moldable kid. He probably ends up going off the boards earlier than where I have him in my rankings.

24. Connor Chatham - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
Chatham is a real big kid who came into the year with some reasonably high expectations because he was a late '95, had already had a successful year in the USHL and was highly rated by NHL Central Scouting. But that certainly wasn't the case early on where he had only 5 goals in his first 33 games. The physical component to his game was there during that time, but he looked timid offensively and was not very effective with the puck. He slowly improved over the season though and as his confidence blossomed, so did his offensive contribution. In the final 26 games of the year (including playoffs), Chatham had 11 goals, and 10 assists. He used his size (6'3, 225lbs) to drive the net hard and became a very effective offensive player off the rush because he's also a solid skater for a big man. The only negative thing for me is that as he got better offensively, I found him to be less engaged physically. Like any power forward prospect, he'll need to find a way to use his size and tenacity away from the puck to fuel his offensive game with more consistency.
Connor Chatham on "The Pipeline Show."

23. Jacob Middleton - Defense - Ottawa 67's
I feel a little bit bad for Middleton. He seems to have really slid down a lot of draft boards (starting the year as a potential first rounder) and is more likely to be a mid round pick than an early one. I feel bad because he wasn't really put in a situation he could succeed in. The 67's were bad this year, especially defensively. Middleton was asked to be the team's number one defenseman and play in all situations, something he probably wasn't ready for. You could certainly turn that around and say, "well if he's a tremendous prospect, he would have put the team on his back." But I would reply, what 18 year old is ready for that? Bottom line is, I still like him as a prospect and it's why I have him ranked where I do (in with guys I think could be top 100 picks). He possesses a lot of qualities that could make him a very effective NHL defenseman. Defensively, he could be a very good player with his size, mobility, and physical toughness. He's already a very strong player along the wall and does a great job of pinning and winning battles. He can have a tendency to chase a bit and his positioning one on one could use a bit of work, but the potential is quite high. Offensively, he moves the puck well and can skate out of his zone. I feel like his ability to control and push in transition will only improve as he gets older and gains confidence. As a powerplay QB, he'll need to work on his shot and looking to find ways to use it, but he has potential there too. As the 67's mature as a team, I think Middleton will too and the NHL team that takes a chance on him will be happy down the road.
Jacob Middleton's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.

22. Aaron Haydon - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Haydon's offensive game really didn't develop as I anticipated it would this year. That part of his game really improved as a 16/17 year old during the 2012/2013 season, so an expectation of continued growth wasn't far fetched. In reality, I think his offensive game actually regressed. Haydon is a terrific skater, especially for a bigger defender, and he needs to take advantage of that more in order to jump up or lead the rush. He can be prone to turnovers in his own end because of some poor decision making. His first pass will definitely need to improve. But there's definitely potential there and I think a lack of confidence in that area really hurt his game this year. Defensively, the -39 isn't indicative. Haydon is a solid defensive prospect. With his skating ability, size, and aggression, he has the potential to develop into a top quality shut down guy. He can get lost in coverage at times, but he's already terrific off the rush and is adept at winning battles in the corners and near the crease. Basically, Haydon's game is all about projection. He's a big kid with a lot of redeeming qualities. He's not polished, but as he matures, he could be a terrific two-way guy, or at the very least a solid stay at home. I do continue to have faith in his offensive capabilities moving forward though.
Aaron Haydon's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.

21. Matt Mistele - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
Mistele saved his draft season by finishing the year on a high note. After scoring 34 last year, the late '95 finished this year with only 18. His production in the first few months was not good and he really struggled with being a go to guy who had to create his own offensive chances. But he was much better in the 2014 calendar year, going 11-14 in his final 28 games. Mistele is your protoypical Mike Vellucci type player (even though he's now gone from the Whalers' organization). He's got size, he excels when the game gets physical, he's active on the wall, and he's effective near the crease. As the year went on, Mistele's ability to create off the rush and his ability to carry the puck got much better and he was able to be more than just a complimentary scorer. As a late '95, he's going to have to really increase his production next year and prove that he's a legitimate NHL prospect. To do that, he needs to find a way to play a power forward game with more consistency, and really improve the quality of his shot so that can he finish off the chances his size can create. He won't be a first rounder like he may have been projected to be late last year, but I'd be surprised if he's not still a top 100 pick despite a step backward this year.
Matt Mistele on "The Pipeline Show."

20. Spencer Watson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Spencer Watson had an explosive start to the year after dominating the Ivan Hlinka tournament (with 10 points). He also started the OHL season well and signs were pointing to him being a potential late first/early 2nd round pick despite his lack of stature (5'9). But, he suffered from bouts of inconsistency this year and really disappeared down the stretch and in the playoffs (although he was fighting an undisclosed injury late too). In his final 23 games (including playoffs), he had only 3 goals. This undisclosed injury also kept him out of the Under 18's, which he could have used to really elevate his stock again. So you ask, what separates a guy like Watson (and makes him a likely 3rd/4th rounder) from a guy like Fabbri (who's a potential lottery pick), when they are both undersized offensive players? Watson is equally as skilled as Fabbri, and just as intelligent without the puck. Offensively, he has all the tools (skating, puck skill, smarts, a great shot) and by the time his OHL career is done, he'll probably lead the league in scoring (or come close to it). That's where the comparison ends though. Where as Fabbri excels without the puck, Watson tends to disappear. At this point, he's much more effective when someone else can get him the puck and do the dirty work for him. He's not strong enough to consistently win battles along the wall or in front of the net. And that's where the consistency issues come into play. So while you can look at a guy like Fabbri and say "this guy will play in the NHL even without elite size," I don't think you can make that same assumption right now with Watson, as skilled as he is.
Spencer Watson's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.

19. Nick Magyar - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
I like Nick Magyar a lot, and realistically, any of the guys I have ranked from 19-16 are pretty interchangeable for me. What I love most about Magyar is his ability to work the wall (cycle) to create offensive scoring chances. He uses his size very effectively to protect the puck and he has good vision to find open teammates. He's also effective on drives to the net, using a surprising burst of speed to beat defenders wide, which again displays his terrific ability to protect the puck. At this point, Magyar does need to work on some other aspects of the game though. I'd like to see him be more physically aggressive without the puck and really become more of a factor on the forecheck, especially with his ability to control the cycle game. I think he also needs to be more aggressive in going to the net without the puck to open up space and to score more. His defensive effort can waver at times, although he should eventually develop into a quality two-way player because of his skill set. I'm not sure the upside is incredibly high, but I think he could develop into a very solid 3rd line winger at the next level who can succeed in a variety of situations and really learn to control boards and be a workhorse to tire out defenses.

18. Blake Siebenaler - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
I think, by now, everyone knows the scoop about Siebenaler. He's only recently made the switch to playing defense and because of how quickly he's taken to the position, he's a very impressive under the radar prospect. His biggest asset is his skating ability. He's an effortless skater who uses this talent to make plays at both ends of the ice. At the start of the year, he looked quite shaky at times, perhaps even overwhelmed. But, by season's end he had become Niagara's best defenseman and was absolutely terrific in the team's tough 7 game opening playoff round loss to North Bay. By year's end, he had become quite comfortable leading the rush and jumping up in the play to create offense, realizing that he has the ability to quickly regroup defensively because of his quickness. Defensively, he became quite sturdy and was making way better reads, chasing the play less by season's end. He does a great job of getting his stick in passing lanes, especially to prevent scoring chances in the slot. Obviously, he's going to need to get stronger to do a better job defending his net and the corners, but that will come. I think the other area of his game that really needs improvement is his ability to run the powerplay. He needs to make quicker decisions with the puck and do a better job of getting his shot through to the net. All things considered though, Siebenaler has to be a very attractive option to NHL teams because of how raw he is and because of the progression he showed this year.
Blake Siebenaler's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.
17. Michael Bunting - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I have to admit, Bunting is one of my favourite prospects available for this draft. Whenever I saw the Hounds live this year, he was one of the best players on the ice. What a find by Kyle Dubas and Victor Carneiro (and the rest of the Hounds scouting staff). The late '95 born was an OHL rookie this year after going through two OHL drafts and playing midget hockey last year. Bunting is a high energy offensive player. He's a very good skater and he pushes the tempo, with and without the puck. And despite only having average size (~6'0), he's incredibly aggressive in driving to the crease and excels in traffic. Also, don't let those low penalty minute numbers fool you, he's an intense player who seems to really get under the skin of the opposition. I think he's only scratching the surface of what he's capable of as an offensive player and as he gains confidence in his ability to lead entry into the zone, and shoot the puck, we'll see even higher production. Another big positive for me was how he returned from injury this year. Bunting tore his MCL in January, just as he was really hitting a stride. He returned in mid March and didn't miss a beat, and was solid in the playoffs too.
Michael Bunting on "The Pipeline Show."

16. Alex Peters - Defense - Plymouth Whalers
Peters has to be considered one of the top shutdown defensive prospects available for this draft. At 6'4, 200lbs, and with good mobility, he's very difficult to get around off the rush. He keeps attacking forwards in front of him and picks his spots well when using a stick or body check. Peters is also already very strong in the corners and comes away with the puck in the vast majority of his loose puck battles. As he matures, I look for him to become even more of a menacing presence in front of the net, utilizing his size just a bit more than he currently does. The best thing about Peters is that he's very capable at handling the puck and does a great job with getting the puck out of his zone by pass or rush. As he gains confidence, I look for him to try to jump up in the rush a bit more and to try pushing those rushes deeper into the offensive zone. While he does a great job of skating the puck out of trouble, he's quick to dish it off once outside of his blueline. The offensive numbers aren't necessarily there, but I can tell you that he has more offensive potential than those numbers would indicate. Bottom line is that Peters looks like a guy who could play 10+ years in the NHL in some capacity, but who also has the potential to impact the game on more than just a defensive level.
Alex Peters' NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.

15. Anthony DeAngelo - Defense - Sarnia Sting
I don't think I need to harp on why DeAngelo is ranked a little lower by me than others may have him. The suspension and general attitude issues have obviously played into this ranking. But, he's still a teenager and he has the chance to mature as a person. Let's talk about DeAngelo as a hockey player. He led the OHL in defenseman scoring by a large margin despite playing in nearly 20 less games. His stats would have pro-rated him to a 90+ point season had he not missed games for various reasons. He could have led the league in defensive scoring by over 30 points. That's no fluke. He's like having a 4th forward out there. His skating ability is absolutely phenomenal, as is his ability to carry the puck and avoid checks. Because of this, he's generally able to enter the offensive zone with ease at this level. DeAngelo also runs the powerplay very effectively. He makes smart decisions there and does a great job of getting himself open to use his shot. It's not incredibly hard, but he's very slippery in the zone and gets himself in terrific position to use it as a defenseman. For all of his amazing talent as an offensive defenseman, he has major short comings as a defensive player. The effort level just isn't there defensively a lot of the time. He'll jump up in the rush to make a play offensively, but coast back defensively. He tends to chase in the defensive zone and gets himself caught out of position. And while he's a factor physically in the neutral zone and in the open ice, he's not nearly engaged enough in the corners or in front of the net. When you throw in the fact that he's undersized, that's when things become even scarier. DeAngelo is the ultimate boom or bust prospect for this draft.
Anthony DeAngelo on "The Pipeline Show." 
Anthony DeAngelo's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.

14. Eric Cornel - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Cornel was having a very fine year, even before the Hunter Garlent trade. But it was the acquisition of Garlent that really brought his game to another level. With Nick Ritchie, the three of them were absolutely fantastic down the stretch for Peterborough, helping them make the playoffs and defeat Kingston in the first round. As the 3rd overall pick in 2012 (OHL Draft), Cornel struggled mightily last year with the physicality of the OHL game. It was obvious that he had bulked up this year and was much more effective, improving his point total by almost 50. Cornel can play both center or wing, but is better suited as a winger, which is what he plays on the Ritchie/Garlent line. He has good size and is a terrific playmaker. He sees the ice well and is a very smart player in the offensive zone. He moves very well without the puck and is able to consistently find holes in the defense. His play without the puck greatly improved over the course of the year and we even saw a bit of sandpaper to his game by season's end. Adding size, strength and a consistent intensity level without the puck will be the key to his development going forward.
Eric Cornel on "The Pipeline Show." 
Eric Cornel's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.
13. Brendan Lemieux - Forward - Barrie Colts
Brendan Lemieux is definitely Claude's son. He's a chip off the ol' block and plays the game the same way his father does. His compete and intensity levels are off the charts. If he loses the puck, he's going to go through a wall to get it back. He's certainly not the fastest player on the ice, but he's a very effective forechecker because of his anticipation and because of his strength along the boards. Again, despite a lack of elite speed, he beats defenders to loose pucks on the dump and he beats them to the front of the net for rebounds because he wants it more than they do. Obviously, at the next level, sheer will won't win him races to the puck, so that's something he's going to need to work on. Improving his first few steps and top gear would also help him offensively too and allow him to generate more chances on net drives. His biggest asset offensively is his ability to play the crease. He's got terrific hands and is a master of the redirect. He feeds off the battle in front of the net and when combined with his 6'1, 200lbs frame, that makes him a very tough tie up for defenseman trying to clear the crease. His shot and the quickness of his release definitely improved this year, but will need further improvements in order to carry over his goal scoring prowess. Even though he was consistent all year, he also got better as the season went on and finished on a high note, scoring 12 in his final 16 (including the playoffs). I think he probably sneaks into the late first and just can't see him falling despite some skating concerns.
Brendan Lemieux's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.

12. Ryan MacInnis - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
MacInnis is a very interesting prospect for this draft. Being Al's son is obviously an interesting piece of the puzzle, but there's so much more too. The offensive production wasn't great this year and he is far from a consistent and polished player. Yet, he remains someone ranked inside the first round on a lot of publications. Some probably point to the bloodlines, and sure that might be a part of it. But as I said, there's more than that. I saw MacInnis play a handful of times this year. The majority of those times he wasn't much of a factor. But the other couple of times, he was the best player on the ice and that's what has scouts talking. The potential for him to develop into an elite player is legitimate. He has some great tools. He has the size NHL teams look for in centers these days. He can skate with the puck and he controls the tempo; he's able to find the open man at top speed or coming off the wall; he's got a very heavy shot (go figure); and every once in a while he plays with a high intensity level without the puck. As he gets stronger and gains confidence, he could one day be a very good player. For me, the biggest negative is the play without the puck. Even though he's 6'4, he stands around watching the play develop a little too much. He needs to get his hands dirty more and engage physically, playing less of a perimeter game. He also needs to improve his skating, in particular his first few steps to make him a more explosive player. A team that's willing to be patient with him is going to draft him, and probably higher than people will expect (think Calgary and Mark Jankowski).
Ryan MacInnis on "The Pipeline Show." 
Ryan MacInnis's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.

11. Roland McKeown - Defense - Kingston Frontencs
I want to like McKeown as much as some others do, but there's just something missing from his game that I can't put my finger on. He's a very solid all around player and he's an effortless skater. He makes smart decisions with the puck in his own end and is adept at making a first pass or skating the puck out of trouble. Defensively, he's better than people give him credit for. His positioning and smarts are excellent. He's certainly not ever going to be the type that engages a ton physically, but he's a very smart positional/stick defender who'll become a better one on one player as he gets stronger. McKeown is also a strong leader and a very mature kid who will likely be a big part of Canada's success at upcoming WJC events (wore the C at the most recent U18's). All that said, I'm just not sure I personally see a lot of upside. He's a solid defender, but he doesn't have the size or the aggressive nature to develop into a premier defensive player. And he's terrific with the puck, but he's also not an aggressive offensive player and the type of guy I see putting up large numbers in the NHL. That leaves us with the question of, "what type of role will he play at the next level?" If draft/scouting history has taught us anything, it's that junior defenseman who don't have a clearly defined role or...a dominant skill set (in one area) tend to struggle to find a permanent place in the NHL. For McKeown it's going to be about the development of his game at both ends of the ice. Specifically, I think he's going to need to become a more dominant offensive defenseman and the type of guy a team can rely on to run a powerplay. I still like him, I just don't think I take him in the first round...even with the shortage of defenseman available for this draft.
Roland McKeown on "The Pipeline Show." 
Roland McKeown's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft - Part 2: 50-31

Here's Part 2 of my Top 50, with players ranked 50 through 31.

50. Phil Baltisberger - Defense - Guelph Storm
Baltisberger, quite simply, is a rock on defense for the Guelph Storm. A +18 rating in the playoffs (during 20 games) is pretty impressive and is a great indicator of how important he is to the OHL champions, even if he's not a big contributor offensively. While he's not incredibly physical, he does assert himself in the corners and in front of the net and has the size (6'1, 200lbs) to handle the league's larger forwards. He has terrific positioning and has a great stick in the defensive end. Baltisberger is also an excellent shot blocker. His short comings come on the offensive side of things. He's a simple player who is not the type to jump up in the rush or carry the puck. Baltisberger is also not an amazing skater and can be susceptible to forwards with speed taking him wide. His strong defensive instincts and work ethic make him a solid stay at home defense prospect, none the less.

49. Hayden Hodgson - Forward - Sarnia Sting
I think Hodgson is a really interesting prospect. It was sort of a tough year for him to get noticed though. He went from playing on the 4th line in Erie to playing more minutes on a bad team in Sarnia. He was an astonishing -15 in 18 games with Sarnia. Obviously that number is inflated due to how poor Sarnia was this year, but he does have some deficiencies on the defensive side of things. What he can do is use his size to create scoring chances and work the cycle. He's also a not bad skater for his size, with even more room to improve and become a more explosive player off the rush. Hodgson could develop into an effective complimentary offensive player who could create space for more skilled linemates, but finish off the chances to create in close. In Sarnia, he's going to get a chance to play with some more skilled players next year which could result in a big jump in his offensive stats.
48. Yannick Rathgeb - Defense - Plymouth Whalers
A late '95 Import, Rathgeb played in his first OHL season this year and had a reasonably successful rookie season. He certainly has some interesting skills that could make him attractive to an NHL team. For starters, Rathgeb has offensive potential from the backend. He's a good skater and is beginning to gain more confidence in his ability to carry the puck and jump up in the play. He's actually got a pretty good shot from the point and can quarterback the powerplay. On the other side of things, Rathgeb is a very intense defender who feeds off the energy of making big hits, especially in the neutral zone and near the blueline. He can have a tendency to take himself out of position going for the big hit though. Defensively, he's a bit erratic. He'll make his share of mistakes in his own end. But he bounced around between forward and defense back in Switzerland and is still learning the position. Bottom line, Rathgeb is raw, but could be an NHL player for a team who has the patience to wait for him to learn.

47. Ryan Verbeek - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
The nephew of former longtime NHL'er Pat, Ryan broke out after a midseason trade from Windsor to Kingston. In Kingston he was able to see more ice time, including some minimal powerplay time. He's actually a pretty similar player (stylistically) to his uncle. Ryan excels in the nitty gritty, as he's able to weasel himself into scoring position through traffic. He's not blessed with an incredible set of offensive skill, but he's a hard worker and has a good head for the game. His nose for the net and ability to drive the net generated scoring chances for the Fronts in the second half (even if he was a non factor in the playoffs). His future lies on a checking line where he can bring energy on the forecheck, disturb the peace, and chip in with a few goals. Upside might be limited, but he could develop into a pretty solid character guy.

46. Damir Sharipzyanov - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Sharipzyanov's impact in the OHL this year was definitely underrated. He played a lot of minutes for Owen Sound and was one of their more consistent players this year. The Russian import is a physically aggressive defender who uses his size effectively in the corners and in front of the net. He's also a solid positional defender who has good enough mobility to stay with forwards off the rush. Offensively, he doesn't take a lot of chances and keeps things simple, but he does have offensive potential. He does a good job of getting a hard, low point shot through to the net and could eventually develop into a powerplay Qb if he can improve his decision making with the puck and the crispness of his passes. I think he'll have an even bigger role on the Attack next year and could develop into a quality two-way defender with size.

45. Kevin Spinozzi - Defense - Sarnia Sting
Going from first to the worst can't be an easy task, but Spinozzi took it in stride when he was dealt by Sault Ste. Marie to Sarnia. It's clear that the Sting feel Spinozzi can be an anchor of their defense for the next few years. He certainly has the potential to be a quality two-way defender. He has good size at 6'2, 200lbs and is actually quite mobile. His agility allows him to be a tough defender off the rush and he's slowly becoming a very effective boards player. I think he needs to assert himself more in front of the net, but the pieces are there for him to develop into a quality defender. Offensively, he has powerplay potential with a good shot and good instincts in keeping the puck in the offensive zone. In order to take that next step as an offensive blueliner, he'll have to improve his first few steps to evade the forecheck and improve his ability to carry the puck. I think he's a solid mid round pick.

44. Kevin Lebanc - Forward - Barrie Colts
Lebanc came as advertised this year. The Colts were supposed to be getting a gritty two-way winger who could chip in on the offensive side of things and that's precisely what they got. Lebanc is dedicated to his defensive assignments and is the first forward back to the defensive zone. He fights hard along the boards in his own end and is effective at pinning players along the boards, despite not being the biggest guy out there (~5'11). In the offensive end, the majority of his scoring chances come by the way of working he cycle to open up holes, or by going hard to the net without the puck. Physically, I'd like to see a little more consistency (especially as a forechecker) if he's going to be a 3rd/4th line player at the next level. The upside certainly isn't high, but Lebanc is a polished checking line player who has pro potential.

43. Brandon Prophet - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
I like Prophet a lot more than his 43rd ranking would indicate. I think he has a lot of things for him as a prospect and I think he's going to slowly develop into a terrific two-way defender at the OHL level. But I do always worry about defensive prospects who have skating deficiencies. Prophet can be exposed off the rush by quicker forwards and really needs to work on his footwork. He can also be prone to turnovers in his own end because his first few steps lack the explosiveness needed to evade the forecheck. BUT, he's a real gamer and a competitive kid. He has great size (6'2, 200lbs) and he's a physically aggressive defender who is hard to play against. He battles hard for loose pucks and is effective at tying up forwards near the crease. He'll block shots and is overall a pretty damn solid defensive player. But I do wonder if the skating issues will scare teams away.
Brandon Prophet's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.
42. Andrew Mangiapane - Forward - Barrie Colts
No question, Mangiapane was one of the league's top rookies this year, as a '96 first year player. The undrafted free agent worked hard to make Barrie's roster this year, was one of their top players in the preseason and parlayed that into a scoring line spot. Mangiapane's biggest drawback is certainly his size (at 5'10, 160lbs), but he's very quick and elusive in the offensive end. He's a very effective player off the rush and he's not afraid to use his speed to drive to the net. He's certainly not a perimeter player. Just the same, he'll get his nose dirty in the corners and on the backcheck. He's got a great stick in the neutral zone and he's able to force a lot of turnovers with his combination of speed and instincts. He just needs to get stronger to be able to fight off checks more effectively. He has the puck skill and skating ability to dominate the possession game, but his lack of size prevents that for the time being. Even if he doesn't get drafted, he's already proven once that he'll put in the work to prove people wrong and he could be the type of guy who improves each year in order to earn an NHL contract.

41. Brandon Halverson - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Halverson is a mammoth goaltender (6'4) who saved his best for last. He was sensational in the final month of the season and left a good taste in the mouths of NHL scouts. Halverson isn't all that different from the guy he's been learning from, Matt Murray. Lots of athleticism, and you can't teach his size, but he has some holes positionally that make him inconsistent at this point. Next year, Murray will move on and the crease in the Soo will likely be his for the taking. All signs point to the Greyhounds having a ton of faith in Halverson moving forward and he could end up developing into a real good netminder.

40. Stefan Leblanc - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
I had Leblanc a lot higher on this list when he was with Sudbury earlier in the year and establishing himself as one of the top rookie blueliners. But after the trade to Mississauga (in the Carrick deal), he really struggled. I think the difference was that in Sudbury, he had high end skill players to work with off the rush and he wasn't having to force things. He could make a good first pass out of the zone and let guys like Nick Baptiste do the rest. In Mississauga, it appeared like he was trying to do too much on most nights and that's not necessarily his game. He's not the type who's going to dangle through the neutral zone and create scoring chances on a consistent basis. He's much more effective as an occasional rusher and a guy who picks his spots (mostly because his skating ability isn't incredibly dynamic). Defensively, he's a smart positional guy who plays bigger than his 6'0 frame. He's not an intimidating physical player by any means, but he's also not soft. Being the center piece in a Trevor Carrick deal likely put too much pressure on him to perform (especially playing for what would be considered his hometown team, being from Oakville). I think he'll have a better year next year with a more mature (and likely improved) Steelheads team.

39. Alex Lintuniemi - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Lintuniemi was the 2nd overall pick in this year's Import Draft and had a pretty up and down season. He started off very poorly, and quite frankly, looked over matched. But after the first few months he started to become more confident and was looking very good by midseason. Then his play started to trail off again towards the end of the year as he appeared to tire. When he's playing at his best, Lintuniemi is a solid two-way defender. His best skill is his ability to defend off the rush. He's only an average skater, but he has excellent positioning and size and does a great job of keeping forwards to the outside. He's a very big kid (6'3, 225lbs), but he doesn't necessarily use his size to his full advantage. Adding more of a mean streak would held him in his zone coverage. Offensively, he shows flashes of being a solid puck rusher and offensive catalyst. But his confidence seems to waver with the puck. While he's not a poor skater, there are improvements that could be made to his first few steps in order for him to be able to confidently jump up in the rush. As a late '95, I think perhaps more could have been expected of him this year, but he does look like a guy who'll be a top 3 defenseman for Ottawa over the next few years should he choose to stay and should they choose to keep him.

38. Matthew Mancina - Goaltender - Guelph Storm
While he eventually lost out in the starter's battle to Justin Nichols, Mancina still had a very good year and is going to be a terrific goaltender in this league. He's your typical butterfly goaltender, who is very sound positionally. He does a great job of challenging shooters and cutting down angles. Like any positional goaltender, limiting his rebounds is going to be something that he needs to continue to work on. Also like any solid butterfly goaltender, he's quite athletic and moves well in his crease. On top of improving his rebound control, he'll need to do a better job of seeing pucks through traffic and not going down to early. With how strong Justin Nichols was this year, I wonder if the Storm use Mancina as a trade chip this offseason (both goalies are quite young). He could have started for an OHL team this year and done a solid job.

37. Cristiano DiGiancinto - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Came out guns a blazing after signing with Windsor early in the season. He had 8 goals in his first two months in the league. But after picking up a couple suspensions in the second half, his effectiveness began to become limited. He wasn't receiving quite as much ice time and he looked to be playing a bit more tentative. DiGiacinto is your classic pest who needs to be playing on the edge in order to be effective. He really gets under the skin of the opposition by working hard away from the puck and by throwing his weight around physically. He's also got good scoring instincts and is always in the slot or near the crease when he doesn't have the puck. He'll need to make some big skating improvements, especially as a smaller player (5'11). He's way less effective entering the zone and isn't currently a huge factor in the transition game. He creates his offensive opportunities by working the chase and will need to become more of a multi faceted offensive player. None the less, he has a lot of qualities scouts are going to like and with a strong offseason, could come back a really pivotal part of Windsor's attack next year.

36. Aleksander Mikulovich - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Mikulovich is a really interesting defensive prospect available for this year's draft. At 6'3, 200lbs, he's got great size, but he's actually a terrific skater too. He moves very well in his own end. He's also one of the most physical defenders in the OHL and in his rookie year in the league, established himself as one of the league's biggest open ice hitters. As a defensive player, he's quite raw though. He'll chase the hit and the puck, but because of his size, skating ability, and aggressive nature, there's a lot of potential there. Offensively, there is potential too. He's got a very big shot, but he's still learning how to use it. Once Jesse Graham was dealt, he started seeing some powerplay time and shows potential as a QB. With his skating ability, he could develop into a decent puck rusher too, if he can make some improvements in his puck skill. The one thing that he really needs to work on in his first pass and general decision making with the puck in his own zone. He can be very prone to forcing plays and, subsequently, turnovers in his own end. Lots of potential here though.

35. Zach Bratina - Forward - North Bay Battalion
The trade to North Bay really did wonders for Bratina's game this year. As soon as he arrived in North Bay, he seemed to really take off as a player. He's perfect for Stan Butler's system and I think he's going to be a key player for them for several years. With Alex Henrikssoon, and Brett McKenzie, he formed the Battalion's excellent third line which did a great job of keeping possession in the other team's end all throughout the second half of the season. He's a good sized winger who has turned himself into a real rugged player. He uses his excellent skating ability to put pressure on opposing defenses and to track down loose pucks. Bratina does a good job of working the cycle and understands how to move without the puck to generate scoring chances. His skill with the puck is still developing. As is shot. Improving his release and the overall caliber of his shot will allow him to capitalize on more scoring chances and make him a more dangerous player. Under Stan Butler, he should really develop into a quality player.

34. Kyle Wood - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Back to back Battalion players on the list. Wood didn't play a game this year until late December because he dislocated his knee cap during preseason training camp. While he started slow, he got better and better each and every month and was a force in the playoffs. At 6'5, 230lbs, he has the size to cause scouts to salivate. And he actually moves decently well for a big man. He's also a physical player who is already very tough to play against in the corners. As time goes on, he'll become quite a defensive force. Offensively, he's actually surprisingly effective. He can lead the rush and he's been quarterbacking the Battalion 2nd powerplay unit. His shot isn't terrific, but he moves the puck well and does a good job of keeping pucks in at the line. I think he's got a ton of potential and is someone who is trending upwards because of his terrific playoff performance.
33. Christian Dvorak - Forward - London Knights
Dvorak is the opposite of Wood. He was gaining the attention of scouts early in the season, but an ACL injury in December robbed him of most of his year, and ultimately his chance to impress scouts. He has to hope he did enough early on to warrant a selection. Problem is, he saw very limited ice time on a deep London team. But even with limited ice time, he was always a factor and someone who was noticeable on the ice. He's a very good skater and was able to generate scoring chances by attacking the zone with conviction. And even though he had 0 penalty minutes on the year, that didn't mean he wasn't getting his nose dirty. He was also trying to engage in the corners and win loose puck battles, even though he needs to add more size in order to be more effective at it. I think it's generally hard to say what the Knights have in Dvorak, but it is easy to say that he's likely capable of way more than he showed us this year. On a side note, he certainly worked his butt off to return in time to play in the Memorial Cup. That type of dedication and work ethic has to impress scouts.

32. Jaden Lindo - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
After looking very good as a 16 year old in 2012/2013, Lindo started this season very strongly and seemed like a lock to be in consideration for the top 3 rounds. But injuries limited him big time, and ultimately an undisclosed lower body injury ended his season in February. Lindo is an exceptionally strong board player and forechecker and he understands what his role is on a scoring line. He creates space for teammates and drives hard to the net. With his size and strength, he'll likely develop into a very good goal scorer in close. Lindo is also a solid two-way player and someone who plays with energy at both ends of the ice. In a lot of ways, he's a similar player to Attack captain Zach Nastasiuk, especially as a choppy skater. Lindo's upside may not be incredibly high though as he seems to struggle making skilled plays at a higher speed. He's not a massive factor off the rush and will need to work on his ability to carry the puck at full speed in order to develop into the type of power forward who can drive the net with the puck to create consistent scoring chances.
31. Blake Clarke - Forward - Saginaw Spirit 
What a disaster of a year for Clarke. From potential top 10 pick to potential not picked. Clarke scored 3 goals this year (4 if you include his goal at the top prospect's game) and was generally a non factor on most nights. So why is he even ranked, let alone 31st? Because the potential is still sky high. Clarke was one of the most effective 16 year olds in the league last year with Brampton and flashed a power forward game with high end offensive ability. Injuries, a trade, and a lack of confidence certainly seemed to hinder his effectiveness this year, but you can only make so many excuses. When you cut to the chase, Clarke became way too much of a perimeter player this year and was not nearly involved enough without the puck. He also wasn't aggressive with the puck and seemed to really lack confidence in his ability to attempt skilled plays. I saw him play a ton with Brampton in his rookie year. I thought I was seeing the next, great power winger in the league. He was a guy who could score from anywhere on the ice, was engaged physically and was very difficult to knock off the puck for a 16 year old. This year, none of that was evident. So...will the real Blake Clarke please stand up? 

Monday, May 19, 2014

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft - Part 1: Honorable Mentions

The race to the draft is on. We're about a month away from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, so that means it's time for me to release my rankings.

The top 50 will be released in four parts: Part 1 - Honorable Mentions, Part 2 - Prospects 50-31, Part 3 - Prospects 30-11, and Part 4 - Prospects 10-1.

Just for clarification, for my top 50 ranking, I haven't included any players eligible for draft re-entry, such as Hunter Smith. This has been consistent all the way through my lists. Instead, I did a list of the top 10 draft re-entries, which can be found here.

Also for clarification, this list is MY list of the top 50 OHL prospects, as if I were drafting for my own team. In other words, this isn't a list of where I THINK or believe players will go, but a ranking of my own opinion on the top players eligible for this draft based on my viewings this season. If you want a draft projection and information about players outside the OHL, be sure to order the Future Considerations, ISS, and/or McKeen's Draft Guides.

This first part includes the Honorable Mentions of my list. These are the players who received consideration for my top 50, but who fell just short. There are 20 in total. I really wanted to pare down this HM list, but there were so many guys I felt needed to be listed because they have an outside shot of being NHL draft selections in June. The top 30 or so players from the OHL were incredibly easy for me to rank this year, but after that it really is difficult with any of the guys ranked from about 35-70 being pretty interchangeable depending on who you ask.

Here are my HM's (in alphabetical order)...

Damian Bourne - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Bourne has terrific power forward potential but didn't take much of a step forward this year. He showed great scoring prowess as a midget player but has yet to translate that to the OHL. He's a very physical player and he does solid work along the boards. But he still seems a step behind the play and has battled injuries.

Jacob Busch - Forward - Oshawa Generals
A great spark plug for the Generals this year in a depth role. Skates hard, drops the mitts, and plays physical. Could have some scoring potential once he moves up the depth chart next year when the Gennies lose some players to graduation.

Santino Centorame - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Undersized, but effective two-way defender who flourished after coming over from London. Played a ton of minutes for Owen Sound down the stretch and was very effective as a puck mover. Plays bigger than his size too. Definitely has offensive potential. Sample size with more ice time may not be enough to warrant him a look this year as an undersized guy.

Daniel DeSousa- Defense - Saginaw Spirit
DeSousa (the younger brother of former OHL'er Chris) had a solid year for Saginaw, finishing a +20 and was one of the team's most effective defenders 5 on 5 and on the PK. Problem is, he's definitely a defense first kind of guy and he's only 5'11. The market for undersized stay at home defenders isn't terrific.

Jack Flinn - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
A behemoth goaltender at 6'7. Flinn is a late '95 playing in his first OHL season. He got better and better as the season went on. Consistency was a major issue and he can look a bit awkward in the crease, but you can't teach the size he possesses in the crease. And when he's on, he's tough to beat, especially when he challenges shooters and makes them try to go high on him.

Brett Hargrave - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
See Damian Bourne. Hargrave is a big power forward who hasn't been able to translate the success he had as a midget to the OHL. Hargrave has a terrific shot and great goal scoring potential, but the effort level isn't consistent away from the puck and he's not getting himself in good scoring positions. A trade from Sarnia to Owen Sound didn't really turn around his fortunes.

Chad Heffernan - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Heffernan is a physical, high energy winger with good size (6'2). he worked his way up the Bulls' depth chart this year and was starting to hit the score sheet way more often by the end of the season. He's got pretty decent hands in close, and like Jacob Busch, could be a solid find as a role player with the potential to grind and score.

Frank Hora - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
It's tough to stand out as a young defender on a bad club. Hora had his share of poor showings (has a tendency to get caught flat flooted by quicker players in the defensive zone). But overall, he had a terrific rookie season, establishing himself as a future top 4 defender for the Rangers. He's effective at both ends of the ice, can lay the body and has decent size. Jack of all trades kind of player.
Frank Hora's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's Buzzing the Net.

Tyler Hore - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Hore just can't seem to find a home. The late '95 is already on his third team in two years. There's a reason why he's coveted by teams though. He has size, he can skate, and has flashes strong ability with the puck. I think he may have finally found a home in SSM where he can anchor their 3rd pairing for another year until receiving more ice time.

Cordell James - Forward - Barrie Colts
Didn't get a ton of ice time this year on a pretty deep Colts team, but James was often noticeable still. He resembles former Colt Erik Bradford. He plays both ends of the ice well and is committed away from the puck. But when he was given a chance to play with more skilled players, he didn't look out of place. I think he has scoring potential and should develop into a quality two-way center in the OHL.

Niki Petti - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Lots of Bulls on the HM list but none in the top 50. The Bulls were just awful on a lot of nights this year, but when they started playing well down the stretch, Petti was right there contributing. The 10th overall pick in the 2012 OHL draft needs to attack the net with more conviction and expand his game from being more than just a dangerous player off the rush (on the big ice in Belleville).

Darren Raddysh - Defense - Erie Otters
A very effective defense first type of defender right now who saw a lot of time paired with Adam Pelech this year. He's not incredibly big (6'0), but he battles hard. Was a scratch for most of the OHL playoffs and he'll need to find chemistry with another Otters' defender when Pelech moves on next year.

Brandon Robinson - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
At one point, Robinson was considered a potential top 60 pick for this draft, but he had a very poor year, punctuated by a trade and injuries. He's got great size, can skate, and definitely has goal scoring potential. But his effort in the "power game" isn't consistent. He needs to play bigger and with more conviction. He's a late '95 and he failed to take that next step this year. He's running out of time.

Patrick Sanvido - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Started the year off pretty poorly and had a tough time keeping up with the pace of the OHL game. But he got better as the season went on and seems to have regained the trust of Windsor's brain trust as a core piece of this team's future. Still needs to work on his skating and decision making in his own end, but you can't teach the size he has (6'5). Big stay at home guys who actually play up to their size aren't as common as you think.

Anthony Stefano - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Stefano had a successful first season in the OHL. He's a super skilled, but undersized center (5'10) who is quite quick. But he's a pretty one dimensional player at this point, who needs to get stronger to become a more consistent player. He really struggled in the OHL playoffs, which might have really hurt his slim draft chances.

Pius Suter - Forward - Guelph Storm
One of my favourite draft prospects this year. I just wish he was bigger (listed at 5'10). Suter is one of the unsung heroes on Guelph who does a lot with his limited ice time. He's already one of the league's top penalty killers. He has great speed and a great work ethic without the puck. I think he's got more skill with the puck than he was able to show this year too. I think he really explodes next year (assuming the Storm elect to keep him).

David Tomasek - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Of the Bulls' forwards listed here, Tomasek was perhaps the most consistent of the three. Has pretty good size as a center and a decent amount of puck skill. The Bulls were out of so many games early this year that it was pretty hard for any of their prospects to really shine on a consistent basis.

Francesco Vilardi - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
Vilardi isn't your typical Mike Vellucci forward. He's got lots of offensive skill and does a good job of controlling the pace of play down the middle. He has terrific potential as a playmaking center. But he needs to do better to play through traffic and develop more of an edge to his game. As an undersized center, I'm not sure his skill package and statistical output will be enough to warrant a look this year.

Josh Wesley - Defense - Plymouth Whalers
I know a lot of NHL scouts are higher on him than I am. The family name is certainly allowing him to get some attention (son of Glen). Wesley has good size, skates pretty well and is a fairly physical player. But his puck skills were not very impressive this year and he had a lot of turnovers in his own end in the games I saw him play. I think anyone who takes him is really banking on the bloodlines.

Devin Williams - Goaltender - Erie Otters
Admittedly, he's probably number 51 on my list this year. Williams had a solid year and even supplanted Oscar Dansk as the team's starter in the playoffs. The late '95 netminder tracks the play well and is capable of making athletic saves. But he's not a very big netminder (6'0 and very thin) and has a tendency to get beat high because he's caught deep in his net. I like him and I hope he gets drafted, but I'm not entirely sure he has high end pro potential.

Limited Viewing

Charley Graaskamp - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A late season add by the Hounds, Graaskamp is a very intriguing player to me. I was only able to see him once (thus why I haven't ranked him), but he seemed like a good sized center with good hands and a good skating stride. Lots of potential. If he doesn't get drafted this year, he could be someone to really watch out for next year as a re-entry.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sunday Top 10 - 2014 NHL Draft Re-Entries

It's that time of the year for my annual (2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009) list of the top second and third year eligible OHL players for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. This is always one of the most read articles I put out each year. It's also the topic which I receive the most questions on, whether through email or blog comments. For whatever reason, the concept fascinates people. Of course, I'm referring to the concept of the "draft re-entry." A shift in drafting philosophy has seen an enormous rise of these players getting drafted in recent years. This is mostly because drafting a second or third year eligible player gives NHL teams a lot of flexibility in their development under the new CBA. Plus, a lot of these guys have been having success in recent years (Andrew Shaw is a great example from the OHL), which basic psychology tells us that other NHL teams will try to mimic.

Just to clarify yet again, for those with limited understanding of the NHL draft system; North American players have either two or three years to get drafted, depending on their birth date. For those born from January 1 to September 15, they will go through three NHL drafts. For those born from September 16 to December 31, they will go through two NHL drafts. The players on this list are a mix of those having been passed over once or twice already.

Also, do not confuse this list with players drafted in 2012 who will re-enter the draft should they fail to come to a contractual agreement with their NHL team by June 1 (and whose birth date still allows them to be eligible). Quite often those too are referred to as draft re-entries. But this list does not contain them because it is not yet known who those players will be.

Last year continued the trend with 8 overage (second and third year eligible) players selected from the OHL, including two third round picks (Connor Crisp and Kurtis Gabriel). I think this year represents a bit of a down year for re-entries from the OHL, but I'd still be shocked if 5-6 don't go somewhere in the 7 rounds.

Without further rambling, here's my list:

10. Brenden Miller - Defense - North Bay Battalion 
Miller's had an absolutely fantastic OHL playoffs, which is obviously something scouts key in on. He has good size and plays in all situations for North Bay, including helping to quarterback their powerplay. He's also slowly developed into their premier puck rusher/mover, but has added more of a physical element to his game this year. At 6'1, 200lbs, Miller has the size to develop into a quality two-way player at the next level and has blossomed under the tutelage of Stan Butler.

9. Josh Sterk - Forward - Oshawa Generals
An offseason trade from Kitchener really allowed Sterk to blossom. His progression as a player allowed the team to move Cole Cassels to the wing and made them a much deeper team (one of the reasons they were able to take the regular season East crown). He's not the biggest guy, but he's quick and fearless. He works very well in high traffic areas and excels as a playmaker, especially off the boards and from behind the net. The biggest difference between this year and last year was the consistency of his effort away from the puck. He's always been a high energy player, but was able to put it all together this year. Could be the Generals first line center next year.

8. Erik Bradford - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Was always a strong role player for Barrie, a guy who can kill penalties or preserve a lead, but after a trade to Ottawa, his offensive game really exploded because he finally received top line minutes. He flat out dominated with the 67's and looked like a different player, quite frankly. He still possessed that strong two-way game, but was showing so much confidence with the puck and flashed a skill level and finishing ability that we never really saw in Barrie. He has a lot going for him, except for health right now. Teams may wait to see how that broken leg heals before using a draft pick on him (could be a solid overage signing candidate). 

7. Brendan Bell - Forward - Ottawa 67's
The captain of the Ottawa 67's had a breakout season, thrust into an offensive role for the first time in his OHL career. He's got a lot of things going for him that NHL teams are going to find attractive. He's got great size and uses it with and without the puck. He's very effective in the slot and near the crease as a goal scorer, but is also a good forechecker and board player. He can kill penalties and is one of the team's top defensive forwards. And he's a very physical player who opens up a lot of space for his linemates. The skating is only average, but the rest of his game profiles him well as a potential NHL checking line forward.

6. Anthony DiFruscia - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
I felt like DiFruscia was good enough to be a late round selection last year and I think his stock has only gone up as a player. Last year he showed flashes of developing into a real pest-like, physical goal scorer, but his intensity without the puck wasn't consistent. This year, the consistency was there and he was a big factor on Niagara's top line with Brendan Perlini and Carter Verhaeghe, opening up space for the two of them to operate. He's not the biggest guy, but he's become quite strong and was a real factor on the forecheck, forcing turnovers this year. He also improved the quality of his shot and release and it allowed him to convert more of his scoring chances this year. He's not necessarily the type of guy who's going to create his own chances off the rush, but he's a hard working, physical complimentary scorer who could have success on a scoring line.

5. Marcus McIvor - Defense - North Bay Battalion
I will be absolutely shocked if McIvor goes undrafted this year (in fact, I'll be surprised if it's not LA who drafts him). McIvor is one of the top stay at home defenseman in the league and possesses all the qualities necessary to continue his defensive prowess at the NHL level. At 6'1, 235lbs, he's able to assert himself in front of the net, in the corners, and his solid skating ability allows him to be a factor on the open ice too. For as good as he is defensively, he's not terrible with the puck and makes smart decisions to avoid turnovers in his own end and was even quarterbacking the Battalion powerplay this year. He's the type of guy who could play 10+ years on a third pairing.

4. Max Iafrate - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
One of the only bright spots for Kitchener this year. After it appeared that his development had stalled last year, Iafrate was surprisingly good at both ends of the ice in 2014. He finally found ways to utilize his strong skating stride to "smartly" create offensive chances from the blueline, where as before he was forcing things and had become quite prone to turnovers. He's always had a cannon of a shot from the point, but did a better job of getting himself in position to use it this year, and was able to improve the accuracy of the shot too. Defensively, he chased the play less and asserted himself physically with more consistency. The Avs' AHL team, (Lake Erie), gave him a tryout at the end of the season, which can sometimes be a precursor to a selection in June. 

3. Stephen Harper - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Harper was certainly one of the most hyped players from the OHL to go undrafted last year. He was eventually dealt from Erie to Belleville (in the Brendan Gaunce deal) and that really turned his season around. In Belleville he looked much better, and closer to the 16/17 year old rookie we saw score 24 once upon a time ago. He looked more confident carrying the puck than he ever did in Erie and George Burnett seems to have gotten the best out of his intensity level away from the puck. He remains a guy with a lot of potential, especially if he can continue to show promise as a center (as he did at times in Belleville this year). Interestingly enough, he played defense (partnered with Jordan Subban) to end the season and looked quite comfortable doing it. I'm curious to see where Belleville sees him moving forward (although I'd be surprised if he doesn't slide back to center/wing).

2. Hunter Garlent - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Garlent is like the little engine that could. A trade from Guelph to Peterborough really allowed him to take the spotlight as an offensive force. For as much skill Garlent has with the puck (and as a playmaker), he's a real battler without the puck. Despite his lack of size, he's a big time factor in the corners and in front of the net. His hockey sense is incredibly strong and his skating is certainly good enough to help him overcome his lack of size (at least from the perspective of NHL scouts). He and Nick Ritchie developed near instant chemistry in Peterborough and the two of them are likely to do some serious damage in the OHL next year (with Garlent being a darkhorse to end up as a top 5 scorer).

1. Hunter Smith - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Easily the top re-entry from the OHL this year, as Smith is the only player I see with a great shot at going inside the top 3 rounds. Smith was a non factor a year ago, and was perhaps even a candidate to lose his spot on Oshawa's roster going into this season. Instead, he does a complete 180 and ends up on a scoring line and the powerplay unit. His ability to disrupt goaltenders on the powerplay can be likened to the way the Bruins use Zdeno Chara with the man advantage in the NHL. He's so big and strong that OHL defenseman had a really tough time tying him up. And his hands are actually quite good, at least good enough to allow him to finish off plays in close or redirect shots. He's also a very physical player who can change the momentum of the game with a big hit on the forecheck, or with a fight. As the season went on, his ability to play in transition improved too and he shows flashes of being able to be a solid puck possession guy. There's too much to like for NHL scouts to pass him up again, especially after his terrific playoff performance. I think he's a 2nd rounder at this point.

Honorable Mentions:


There are three very talented goaltenders from the OHL who I could see getting selected. The first two are facing off in the OHL Championship right now; Justin Nichols and Jake Smith. They've both been fantastic this year for their teams (in the regular season and in the playoffs). Both play a similar game that relies on good positioning and athleticism to make up for a lack of elite size. The fact that both are undersized makes them less likely to get selected than the third netminder I'm going to mention; Owen Sound's Brandon Hope. Hope was actually excellent last year as Jordan Binnington's back up, and simply continued that strong play into the season when he took over the number one role. He's got good size, squares up to shooters well and has worked hard to improve his rebound control. All three could be solid professional goaltenders.


Ottawa's Nevin Guy exploded this year and emerged as the team's top powerplay quarterback, in his second year in the league. He's undersized and has some holes defensively, but he's a hard worker and oozes offensive talent from the blueline. You have to think he keeps getting better at both ends of the ice.

Peterborough's Brandon Devlin is worth mentioning here. He's a big kid with a cannon for a shot, and he's not afraid to use his size to push guys around in his own end. But he's still a bit of a project and can make his share of mistakes, both with the puck, and in his own end. He definitely has potential and should be one of the top overage defenseman in the league next year.

Last two guys are similar players, Niagara's Luke Mercer, and Barrie's Jonathan Laser. Both are averaged sized guys who eat up a ton of minutes for their junior teams. Mercer serves as Niagara's captain and is a very effective guy at both ends of the ice. Laser is Aaron Ekblad's defensive partner in Barrie and is just a really steady defensive player. Mercer is the more effective puck mover, while Laser is the more physical player.


The Sudbury duo of Nathan Pancel and Matthew Campagna continue to make an appearance on this list. Pancel is the trigger man, while Campagna is the playmaker. Neither player possesses terrific size and neither player is a terrific two-way player (although both players have worked to improve their play away from the puck). At one point, I had both of these players in the top 10 of this list, but the sour note that Sudbury left in scouts mouths down the stretch has to count for something. Pancel only had 8 goals in the final 29 games of the year and Campagna struggled in the club's opening round series. Both could still be solid pro prospects, but look more like potential overage free agents next year if they can finish the year stronger.

Owen Sound's Holden Cook was named the 2nd most underrated player in the Western Conference in this year's coaches poll. He actually led the Attack in scoring this year, a 34 point improvement over his totals last year. Not only was he the club's most consistent player this year, but he plays in all situations for the Attack and is a solid two-way center. Cook has goal scoring potential at the next level with a solid wrister and a knack at finding pucks near the crease.

Saulte Ste Marie's Bryan Moore, Oshawa's Bradley Latour, and London's Matt Rupert are three players cut from the same cloth. None of them possess elite size, but they're all fearless and effective offensive players who bring a ton of energy to the ice. They excel in driving to the net, with and without the puck, and are excellent players in the cycle due to their lower center of gravity. Worth mentioning is that Latour was one of the youngest players eligible for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, missing out on being first time eligible in 2014 by only a few days.

Belleville's Jake Marchment is a really interesting player that I actually think has a great shot of being drafted this year. He played in his first OHL season this year (as a '95) and got better and better as the season went on. At 6'3, 200lbs, he's got alluring size for a center and has a lot of potential in the puck possession game. He can also drop the mitts and is certainly no stranger to the physical components of the game. My guess is he really takes off next year and a team may look to jump on him later in the draft.

Last guy I'll mention is North Bay's Vincent Praplan. The Swiss import is an exceptionally skilled offensive player with the puck on his stick and has terrific speed. Off the rush, he was able to create a lot of scoring chances for North Bay this year. But in the tighter checking games of the playoffs, he hasn't been nearly as much of a factor. That isn't too say that he's a perimeter player, just that he's not nearly as effective when the game slows down in the offensive end.