Friday, January 2, 2015

Midseason Top 30 for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft

The start of the 2015 calendar year is upon us and that means it is time for me to re-evaluate my rankings for the 2015 Draft. The OHL season is past the half way mark which gives us a great indication of how certain players have developed in their draft season. Many players have stepped up to assume large roles on their club, while others have disappointed and find themselves on the outside looking in.

It's another great year for top end talent in the OHL. We've got 5-6 guys vying for spots in the Top 10, and another handful who look like potential first round picks. Depth wise, however, I don't think it's a tremendous year for the 'O.' There is some solid talent available for the top 90, but I don't see as many mid/later round picks coming from the OHL as there have been recently. Usually, I could make an argument for upwards of 50 players having draft potential. And as such, I find it difficult to limit my list (to 50). This year, I have a hard time hitting the 40 mark, let alone 50. There's still tons of time for players to find their game (or work to increase their ice time), so it will be interesting to see how the bottom part of this list compares to the final one at the end of the year.

A couple things to note before I start the list. Firstly, I've started doing a Top 50 (with 20 HM's) for each this year. Makes for a more compelling read (and reflection at season's end). Secondly, for those unfamiliar with the blog, I don't include second and third year eligibles (re-entries) in my list (like Matt Schmalz, Ken Appleby, or Damir Sharipzyanov).

Here's the list:

1. Connor McDavid - Forward - Erie Otters
What more is there to say at this point? For as good as he is, his game continues to evolve. Everyone knows about his offensive talents (elite speed and vision), but his overall game has really improved too. He makes a concerted effort to break up plays on the back check and he's been way more involved without the puck, especially in the corners. Previously, he's been a guy who forces turnovers in open ice, using his "sense" to intercept passes or strip players of the puck. But he's now very involved on the forecheck and is winning more battles along the boards. His continued improvement as a player is a testament to his work ethic and elite status as a prospect.

2. Mitch Marner - Forward - London Knights
Really rising in my eyes. His play with London has been absolutely exceptional the last few months. Such a high energy player who can affect the game in a variety of ways. In puck pursuit, he's quite relentless and he forces a lot of turnovers on the forecheck. But he's got the vision and hockey sense to find teammates, while playing at a high tempo. He makes such quick decisions and rarely turns the puck over in the offensive end. His skill level is also incredibly high and I think he's the perfect type of player for today's run and gun NHL. With his tenacity, and as he continues to add strength, I don't see his average size being an issue.

3. Dylan Strome - Forward - Erie Otters
Leapfrogged by Marner because of how good Marner has been, not because he's played poorly. If anything, Strome has proven the last few weeks just how good of a prospect he is (without Connor McDavid in Erie). Strome is the prototypical 2015 NHL centerman. Big, strong, and skilled. He's still learning how to use his size to slow down play and dictate pace, but when he masters this art, his skill level with the puck could make him a puck possession beast. Much like his brother Ryan, Dylan also possesses a terrific shot, which he's gaining more and more confidence using. He's not a power forward, and he'll never be a speedster, but his skill set is still rare and incredibly appealing to NHL scouts.

4. Pavel Zacha - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Zacha is such an interesting prospect. Every time I've seen Sarnia this year, he's been one of the better players on the ice. With his size, speed, and desire to involve himself physically, he impacts the game in so many different ways. Zacha is definitely most dangerous off the rush, where his speed and ability to use his size to protect the puck, makes him difficult to contain. As I've mentioned before, I had no idea just how physical of a player he'd be too. He plays the game very hard (see his suspension). That said, his game is less effective when things slow down in the offensive end. He needs to channel his size to be more effective in creating from the cycle. In a lot of ways, this makes me wonder about his high end playmaking potential. BUT, he's a very impressive prospect with a lot going for him.

5. Lawson Crouse - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Those who follow the draft, but don't watch the OHL always seem to have the same reaction to Crouse; "how is he rated so high?" Easy question to answer. In fact, it's the same answer as to why he made the Canadian WJC team (over the likes of Marner and Strome). Crouse is a coach's dream. He does almost everything well on the ice. He could probably step on to an NHL 4th line right now and not look out of place. His two-way game is incredibly polished and he makes so many plays (whether it be a good pass, a forced turnover, a check to separate his man from the puck) that don't make it on the score sheet. Crouse also happens to be a very big kid who plays big and has no fear of throwing his weight around. The offensive skill set is definitely still developing. His confidence in using his shot and driving the net is still evolving. He certainly doesn't have the offensive potential of a guy like Strome. But, he's about as sure a bet to play in the NHL as you'll find in this draft.

6. Travis Konecny - Forward - Ottawa 67's
The top 6 of this OHL group is very tight right now. This is definitely thanks to the improved play of Konency the last month or so. After starting the season off slowly, Konecny is back up around the point per game mark. Like Crouse, Konecny's game is a lot more than what you see on the score sheet. As captain of the 67's, his leadership qualities won't go unnoticed by NHL scouts. And he's already a solid two-way forward who competes hard without the puck. Konecny's speed is his best asset, as he's able to transition quickly. He's also not afraid of using his shot off the rush. Really, the only knock against Konecny is his size. At 5'10, will he be able to play the game as hard as he does and remain durable in the NHL?

7. Nikita Korostelev - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Korostelev is a super skilled winger with a lot of potential at the pro level. There are a lot of levels to his game, but the pieces aren't consistently together yet. At times he can be prone to turnovers from doing too much. His physical game and play without the puck has not looked as strong this year as it did last year (perhaps concentrating too much on trying to hit the score sheet?). And his speed and first few steps are only average. But, his skill level with the puck and ability to create time and space for himself is elite. If he were to improve his speed, he could be scary good. He's got a terrific shot and massive goal scoring potential at the next level. He'll need to continue to improve his consistency to secure a spot in the first round this year.

8. Matt Spencer - Defence - Peterborough Petes
It's getting damn close, but Spencer is still the top defender available IMO. Defensively, he's already a very steady player who projects to be an even better defender at the next level because of his size and mobility. He's still learning how to use his size consistently, but he breaks up a lot of passes and is very difficult to get through. An underrated component to his game is his ability to transition from defence to offence. Spencer makes a great first pass and is very calm, and cool while avoiding the forecheck. He doesn't yet have the confidence in his offensive abilities to consistently jump up in the rush, but he's very steady. Spencer will be a high NHL pick because he's still scratching the surface as to how much he could impact the game at both ends.

9. Mitchell Vande Sompel - Defence - Oshawa Generals
Has impressed me so much this year. His defensive game has improved a ton from last year. Vande Sompel's defensive positioning is outstanding and it helps to alleviate the concerns his lack of size may generate. Because he's constantly moving his feet and anticipates the play so well, he's not putting himself in many positions where he's susceptible of being out muscled. And when he's able to make a good play defensively, he uses his great speed to get the puck up ice quickly. Whether it be in transition, or on the power play, Vande Sompel's head for the game in the offensive end is on display. I'm not usually a fan of rating undersized defenseman highly, but Vande Sompel has definitely won me over.

10. Graham Knott - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Knott is a terrific two-way forward who, like Lawson Crouse, impacts the game in a lot of ways that don't end up on the score sheet. He's Niagara's top penalty killer and he uses his size exceptionally well to separate aggressors from the puck. He also is very effective on the forecheck and along the wall. Offensvely, his speed isn't terrific, but he has very underrated hands and he's able to make the skilled plays in close. As he gets stronger, I think he develops into a very good goal scorer. Size, aggression, and developing skill make Knott the type of player NHL scouts like more than the average fan.

11. Travis Dermott - Defence - Erie Otters
Criminally underrated. Dermott is as solid as it gets. His defensive game is terrific. He has great positioning and competes very hard in his own end, whether it's to tie up a forward in front of the net, or winning a battle in the corners. Dermott also makes a terrific first pass and rarely turns the puck over, exhibiting patience and poise in his own end. He skates well and is mobile, which helps him to jump up in the rush when it's necessary. As a power play QB, he's starting to gain some confidence and I think he'll eventually end up as a big point producer from the back end. Does he have a ton of NHL potential? He's not going to be a first pairing/NHL all star. But because of his well rounded game, he could definitely carve out a long career.

12. Blake Speers - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Speers has been terrific all year for the Hounds, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been getting better and better as the weeks have gone on. Speers possesses terrific speed, but he's starting to look to use that speed to create more in the middle of the ice and is being kept less and less to the perimeter. His rushes and ability to work in transition help to open up space for his line mates and he has the hockey sense to find them. His goal scoring ability is the other highlight of his skill set, as he does a great job of finding open space and rarely hesitates to put the puck on net. His size will be a drawback in terms of NHL draft ranking, but as long as he continues to attack the net, he'll slowly gain respect.

13. Mackenzie Blackwood - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
Finally healthy and confident again, Blackwood is shaking off a slow start and playing some exceptional hockey of late. He's got 10 wins in the month of December and has raised his save percentage over 20 points. Big, and athletic, Blackwood does an exceptional job of taking away the bottom of the net in the butterfly. He moves well post to post and is conscious of staying big in his net and challenging shooters. If he continues to play this well, he could easily be the first North American goaltender off the board this June.

14. Thomas Schemitsch - Defence - Owen Sound Attack
Schemitsch has been consistently excellent this year for Owen Sound at both ends of the ice. Defensively, he's a cog on the Attack's penalty killing unit and he uses his size well to defend the crease and win battles along the boards. Offensively, he has a great understanding of how to get the puck through to the net from the point and he's really developing as a power play QB. Considering all the things he does well, and the fact that he possesses great size, I don't really understand his lack of love and hype for this draft thus far.

15. Justin Lemcke - Defence - Belleville Bulls
I really like Lemcke and I think he definitely deserves to be in the same conversation at the Spencer's, Dermott's, etc for top OHL defender available. He's not putting up a ton of points because he sees limited power play time behind Jordan Subban, but he's a very reliable two-way defender who is only scratching the surface of his potential. For a big kid (6'2, 200lbs), Lemcke skates very well and moves around effortlessly on the big ice in Belleville. He's also really learning to play more aggressively and it's made him a more effective defensive player. He's the type of guy who has the potential to really surprise people and be the type of guy scouts debate about how they missed him.

16. Rasmus Andersson - Defence - Barrie Colts
Andersson continues to perform for the Colts, operating at around the point per game mark (4th among OHL defenders with 33 points). So what's putting him 6th among defenders on my list (admittedly all very close to each other, along with Dunn)? I see Andersson as having a similar skill set to all those listed above him, which is great. But he's also the worst skater of the group and I think that makes him a bit less likely to to develop into an NHL player compared to the others. I do like his ability to run the point on the power play, and he is definitely a very feisty defender. I think it's just a matter of personal preference here (and how much emphasis you put on mobility).

17. Vince Dunn - Defence - Niagara IceDogs
Interestingly enough, Dunn is one of 3 OHL defenders participating in the CHL Top Prospect's Game (over the likes of Dermott and others I have ahead of him). He clearly has his fans. And don't get me wrong, I think he's a solid pro prospect…otherwise I wouldn't have him inside my Top 20. He skates well. He is a creative puck distributor who also has potential to improve his defensive game. That said, I've got him 7th (among OHL defenders) because I've seen him make some very questionable decisions with the puck and in his pinches. In terms of being a complete player, I see him being behind the others I've listed and there's still some rawness to his game. However, I will say that he is one of the few players who shouldn't be criticized for Niagara's extremely skittish start to the year.

18. Brett McKenzie - Forward - North Bay Battalion
McKenzie has been quiet offensively so far this season, but that has a lot to do with the fact that he's not seeing tremendous amounts of ice time in offensive situations. McKenzie centres North Bay's 3rd line, whose job is to grind down the oppositions best. For those that saw him play in midget, we know that there is significant offensive potential in there though. Stan Butler typically eases his young players into high pressure offensive situations after they exhibit an understanding of how to play at both ends. With terrific center depth, the Battalion have been patient with McKenzie. However, he's slowly starting to produce more offensively (has had a good month of December) and could be a massive riser if the offensive output increases in the second half (cough, Nick Paul, Brent Burns, etc).

19. Kyle Capobianco - Defence - Sudbury Wolves
You have to feel for Capobianco. He's one of the few reasons to watch the Wolves this year, yet I wonder how many people are. Sudbury is just horrific (and they'll probably be worse after they move some pieces after the deadline). They've given up nearly double the amount of goals than they've scored. However, Capobianco is in the midst of a breakout season. He's third on his team in points, and he's actually (somewhat remarkably) been a plus player the last two months. He's developed into a quality two way defender who can lead or join the rush with a solid skating stride. He's also a solid positional defender who's improving his confidence in playing with an edge. Admittedly, maybe he deserves to be in consideration with some of the other guys I've listed above him. But I've only seen Sudbury a couple of times this year (see my opening sentence for this paragraph).

20. Zachary Senyshen - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Senyshen is really growing on me the more I watch him play. You have to appreciate a big winger who can drive the net the way he does. He is aggressive in attacking the net and is a great skater for a big guy. He also creates a lot of room on the ice for the other players on his line, as he draws defences in. As he gets stronger, and improves his shot (more so his confidence), he could be a big time scorer in this league. I said on twitter recently that his game reminds me of Josh Leivo's and I see his progression following a similar path.

21. Michael McNiven - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
He has only let in more than two goals in a game once this year (his most recent start against Barre), and if he qualified, his save percentage would be almost 20 points higher than the best in the league (.944). I think Blackwood's size advantage gives him the nod over McNiven, but he's making it a damn close race. McNiven squares up to shooters so well and he's got a heck of a glove hand. He gives up a decent amount of rebounds, but he's quite athletic and quick and is terrific at recovering. If he keeps this up, the OHL could have the top two net minders available in North America.

22. Mitchell Stephens - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
It's still early, but I expected more from Stephens this year. He performed so well at the Ivan Hlinka and I expected that to carry over to the OHL this year. But, that hasn't necessarily been the case. Yes, he does have 13 goals. But 10 of those have come in 4 games. The consistency just hasn't been there. A few times I've seen Saginaw this year, Stephens has been completely invisible. And with him being undersized, that can't be a knock against him. His speed, ability to create in transition and overall skill level are too high for him to not be a consistent offensive threat. Hopefully he's able to have a better (at least more consistent) second half.

23. Gustaf Franzen - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Franzen is really starting to come into his own with Kitchener. He's definitely a hard worker and I've been impressed with his ability to control the boards despite being relatively undersized (5'10). He's got a great/strong center of gravity and he's very strong on the puck. We're starting to see him shoot the puck more, especially on the power play, where he's setting up shop at the dot for the one timer. I'm not sure how much potential he has at the NHL level, and his acceleration and top gear do need some work, but I like the growth he's shown so far this year.

24. Gustaf Bouramman - Defence - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Back to back Gustafs! Bouramman has been a pleasant surprise for the Hounds this year, helping to run their power play. I really like his composure on the backend. He makes smart decisions with the puck in his own end, whether it's a good first pass or a rush up ice. And while he's not going to be confused with Adam Foote any time soon, I've actually been impressed with his defensive awareness and that he's not backing down in the defensive end (criticisms that I had read about prior to his OHL debut).

25. Colton White - Defence - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
White is more than what his numbers suggest. I see an incredibly raw product who has massive potential. He's an absolutely terrific skater and as he gains confidence in his ability to rush the puck, I see that becoming a big part of his game. It's a numbers game and the Hounds have an exceptionally deep defence. Eventually, he's going to be counted on to play a larger role and that's when we'll see his game grow. But with size and mobility, this young defender could be a real diamond in the rough.

26. Dante Salituro - Forward - Ottawa 67's
While Konecny was struggling at the beginning of the year, it was Salituro who kept the 67's afloat. He had 12 goals in October. And while he hasn't exactly maintained that pace, he hasn't been a slouch either. His 23 goals put him 7th in the OHL currently. If he were bigger, there's no question that Salituro would be higher on this list. He plays a lot bigger than his 5'8 frame and is fearless in attacking the net and playing without the puck. But, I do have questions as to how his game would translate to the pro level. Will he be as effective near the crease as he is in the OHL? I take a chance in the mid rounds to find out, even if there aren't many 5'8 forwards getting drafted these days.

27. Sam Harding - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Harding is a solid two-way center who's starting to find confidence in his offensive game. While he's not exactly a physical player, he does battle hard in the corners, in front of the net and on the back check. I wish he were a bit bigger for the type of game he plays (I think he's best suited as a puck possession guy in the offensive end), but I like his hockey sense and dedication to both ends of the ice. Even after the Generals load up at the deadline, I expect his offensive totals to continue to increase.

28. Matt Luff - Forward - Belleville Bulls
I think Luff is a very interesting prospect. Really big kid who is still figuring out what type of player he wants to become. He seems to be most effective near the crease, where he can use his size to gain scoring position. His skating is only adequate, so that will need to improve. And I'd like to see him become more aggressive and noticeable without the puck. But he has offensive skill and he has size, two things that will make him attractive to NHL teams. I'm intrigued to see how his game evolves in the second half (it's only his first season in the OHL and he doesn't have a ton of experience above the midget level).

29. Marcus Crawford - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
Has missed some time due to injury, but Crawford has had an excellent first season in the OHL. He has really helped to elevate the quality of Saginaw's power play, as he moves the puck quickly at the point and has good vision and poise. I've actually been impressed with his play in his own end too. He defends well off the rush and has good positioning and mobility. Adding strength to be more effective in traffic areas is a must, but that will come. Hopefully he can stay healthy in the second half and find a groove.

30. David Miller - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I'm definitely a fan, but if 5'9 guys with late birthdays ('96) aren't producing offensively, they won't be ranked highly for the draft. He's losing some playing time to the Hounds younger players and he's got to step up his game. Playing with lesser talented players, it's up to Miller to elevate their game. Miller has so much speed to burn, he needs to use it more effectively to create offence at a consistent rate, whether its from driving to the net, or creating turnovers on the forecheck. The Hounds will definitely be loading up at the deadline (IMO) and I think Miller could really explode again in the second half after he gets some better wingers.

Honorable Mention

31. Hayden McCool - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
32. Jeremiah Addison - Forward - Ottawa 67's
33. Roy Radke - Forward - Barrie Colts
34. Jesse Barwell - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
35. Trent Fox - Forward - Erie Otters
36. Tyler MacArthur - Defence - Owen Sound Attack
37. Artem Artemov - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
38. Adam Laishram - Forward - Belleville Bulls
39. Ethan Szypula - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
40. Jesse Saban - Defence - Erie Otters
41. Anthony Cirelli - Forward - Oshawa Generals
42. Garrett McFadden - Defence - Guelph Storm
43. Noah Bushnell - Forward - Sarnia Sting
44. Johnny Corniel - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
45. Adam Craievich - Forward - Guelph Storm
46. Tyler Boston - Forward - Guelph Storm
47. Medric Mercier - Defence - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
48. Chris Martenet - Defence - London Knights
49. Michael Holmes - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
50. Petrus Palmu - Forward - Owen Sound Attack


Anonymous said...

I'd take Crawley over Martenet.

Anonymous said...

Is Mitch Marner similar to Sam Bennett? More upside ?

Brock Otten said...

RE: Crawley vs. Martenet

I think that this stage of their development, Crawley is the better player. But Martenet's size is going to intrigue NHL teams and it makes him the more valuable NHL draft prospect. It's about the player he could become in 3/4 years, not just right now.

RE: Bennett versus Marner

They are similar players in some regards.

Both players are relentless in puck pursuit and excel as forecheckers.

Both players are exceptionally smart in the offensive end and do a great job of creating scoring chances.

They're similar size and both project as potential top line NHL players.

Bennett is the better NHL prospect IMO, but by a slight margin. Bennett is the more physical player. He's also a little better defensively right now. And Bennett is the slightly better skater. That's not because Marner is a poor skater, but because Bennett is an exceptional skater (on the same level as McDavid in terms of edging and agility).

Anonymous said...

I think WJ took Crouse because of the type of player he was. they were looking for a 4th line 2 way player with energy and size. Storme and Marner would have to play on the top 2 lines and they already had too much talent at those positions.

Anonymous said...

Does Dylan Strome compare to Sean Monahan?

Who has the better upside in your opinion?

Brock Otten said...

Interesting comparison RE: Strome and Monahan.

I think there are certainly some aspects of their games which are very similar.

I think Strome has more "natural" offensive ability, in that he's a better stickhandler and has a better shot (and projects more as a goal scorer at the NHL level).

But, Monahan was definitely the better two way player at the same age. That's not to say that Strome is a poor defensive player, but Monahan involved himself more away from the puck and showed more "sense" on the backcheck.

In terms of skating, size/body type, and playmaking ability they're very close.

I think Strome has a little more upside, but it's very close.

Anonymous said...

Thanks your a wealth of information.

Anonymous said...

White is a solid all around player excellent skater, excellent passer and positionally strong defender. If he more PP time numbers would be higher. Smarter pick the. Some ranked higher then him