Sunday, January 4, 2015
Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing (2015)
This is a yearly tradition. It's time to take a look at the top overagers in the OHL, available to be signed by NHL teams.
One of the players on this list has already signed an NHL contract, but he is still included because it's meant to be a guide of the top OA free agents this season in the OHL.
Likely half of the players on this list will not end up getting a professional contract and will play in the CIS. It's the nature of the beast. The bottom line is that a few will and many will not (be signed) and those players will take advantage of their education package while continuing to play a high level of hockey at a Canadian University.
Secondly, this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team (like Josh Brown). This list is for those players who are (or were) NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on birth date).
Here's the list:
10. Gianluca Curcuruto - Defence - Plymouth Whalers
It's been a tough year for the former highly touted Soo Greyhound. Inconsistency has been the name of the game during his OHL career. A fantastic 16-17 year old (rookie) season had him being mentioned as a first round pick. But a brutal sophomore season saw him fall to the 7th round. He followed that up with a fantastic third season, after getting a new start in Plymouth. But last year was not pretty again and the Columbus Blue Jackets chose not to sign him. This year, things got off to a great start for him and he was playing some terrific hockey. Then the big suspension hit (12 games for leveling Travis Konency). And upon returning from that suspension, he injured his shoulder (in November) and hasn't played since. Bottom line is that Curcuruto still has pro potential. Hopefully he's able to return from the shoulder injury and help push the Whalers into the playoffs. As a solid two-way presence, he can impact the game in a lot of ways (as long as he keeps things simple), and he's got the size for the pro game.
9. Max Iafrate - Defence - Kitchener Rangers
The Colorado Avalanche's interest in Iafrate has been no secret. That said, they still haven't signed him (or drafted him previously) after working him out several times. When the year started, I thought Iafrate would be at the top of this list, but his development this year hasn't exactly blown me away. The physical tools are all there. The size (6'2, 220lbs). The skating ability. The ability to play physical. The big shot from the point (he is his father's son). But, the mental lapses still happen, especially with the puck. I think part of the issue has been Kitchener's coaching staff's inability to use him properly (why isn't he on the power play?). If Iafrate attracts pro attention (which he most certainly will), that team would be smart to simplify Iafrate's game, making him more of a stay at home defender. In that role, he could find success.
8. Erik Bradford - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Bradford got off to a slow start this year, but that's to be expected from someone who's rebounding from a broken leg (in the final stretch of last year). Bradford is an accomplished two-way player from his days centering the 3rd line in Barrie. But in Ottawa, he's been allowed to blossom offensively, showcasing his skill set and terrific hockey sense. Over the last few months, he's been one of Ottawa's most consistent forwards and I expect that to continue (and then some) as the season goes on. As a professional, it's a bit unclear as to what type of role he'd play, but given his hockey sense and two-way ability, I'd say there's a chance someone brings him on to figure that out.
7. Matt Rupert - Forward - London Knights
Brother Ryan has enjoyed a lot of success so far at the pro level this season (10 points in 17 games since he was called up to the AHL). So who's to say that Matt isn't capable of being just as effective? Truthfully, their games are modeled very similarly. Work the forecheck and the boards. Create turnovers. Agitate. Finish off plays in close. Size was obviously a big factor as to why Matt was never drafted, but Ryan has done just fine and I expect an NHL team to use that as motivation to sign Matt. Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if that NHL team was the Toronto Maple Leafs. #brothersreunited
6. Holden Cook - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
The Attack's leading scorer last year, Cook was off to a great start this year before getting injured. He's been out since October with the dreaded "upper body injury." I'm sure that Cook will return at some point this year and when he does, he'll resume his responsibility as Owen Sound's top center. Cook is a well rounded player who has the potential to be successful as a pro because he could excel in a variety of roles (similar to the way his Owen Sound career has gone).
5. Bryan Moore - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Moore is a hard nosed scoring winger who has really come into his own the last two years. He fits incredibly well in the Greyhounds attacking style of play, as he's got great speed and a scorer's touch around the net. Moore also plays the game hard, battling in the corners and taking the body. His game hasn't been quite as consistent this year, as it was last year, but he remains a solid pro prospect IMO. He's the type of guy who is built for the NHL game today, with speed and tenacity being his best attributes.
4. Jean Dupuy - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The only player on this list who has already signed an NHL contract this year (with Buffalo). Dupuy has been excellent for the Greyhounds this year. While his NHL potential is not significant (we're not talking about a future 30 goal scorer), he could definitely develop into a useful role player. Dupuy has evolved his game from being more than just a "scrapper." He's become a very effective forechecker who's able to create turnovers with his size and tenacity. He's also become a very responsible two-way player who can block shots and battle hard to get pucks out. Needless to say, he knows his role and plays it to a tee.
3. Marcus McIvor - Defence - North Bay Battalion
For the past three seasons, McIvor has been a workhorse for Stan Butler's stingy Battalion defence. McIvor is a defensive monster. His size, in combination with his skating agility and aggressive nature, make him one of the toughest defenseman to get around in the OHL. Last year, coaches voted him the 3rd best defensive defenseman in the East, and he's almost assured a spot on the coaches poll again this year. Perhaps an underrated component of McIvor's game is his ability to move the puck and evade the forecheck. I think (and have always thought) that he has the characteristics of a solid stay at home defender at the pro level.
2. Joseph Blandisi - Forward - Barrie Colts
I wonder if the Colorado Avalanche regret not signing Blandisi now? After letting him go this past offseason, Blandisi has come back to Barrie as a man on a mission. Currently 5th in league scoring, he's been one of the OHL's most consistent offensive players this year. I think one of the biggest reasons for that has simply been increased confidence. Previously, Blandisi was the type to be content playing second fiddle to more "talented" offensive players on a scoring line. The cliched, "secondary" offensive player. The guy who opened up space, fought along the boards, and went to the net. Well he's continuing to do those things, but he's also taking charge offensively and creating his own chances by showing off skill and creativity with the puck that I didn't know he possessed. I think there's still some question marks as to the type of player he'll be at the next level (and that's why he's 2nd and not 1st on this list), but I definitely think he deserves a second chance with an NHL organization.
1. Brenden Miller - Defence - North Bay Battalion
Brenden Miller has slowly blossomed into one of the OHL's best and most well rounded defenders. Each season his game has improved, and this year has been no exception. Two years ago, his offensive game really exploded as he became the premier power play QB for the Battalion. Last year, it was his defensive game that took a step forward. This year, it's both. He currently finds himself 6th in defenseman scoring, but has also improved his defensive consistency. In particular, he's shown marked improvement at being able to handle forwards in front of the net, as he's increased his intensity level. Based on the progression he's shown over the years and his ability to contribute in multiple ways, Miller is my top overage free agent this year.
If you had asked me at the beginning of the year, Ottawa's Brendan Bell would have been on this list. The big, physical winger had a terrific offensive season last year, but just hasn't been able to replicate that. He's still an important part of the 67's, but I'm not sure about his pro potential anymore. Guelph's Chris Marchese has had a tough OHL career, battling injuries. No one has ever questioned his skill level though. Plymouth's Mathew Campagna was supposed to be one of the leading scorers in the league this year, but he's had an incredibly disappointing season (like most of the Whalers). He remains a terrific playmaker, but hasn't performed enough to warrant a contract this year. That leaves us with Sudbury's Nathan Pancel, who has been a 20 goal scorer every year he's been in the league. But I'm just not sure I see his offensive talents translating to the NHL level (which is likely the case from NHL teams too, since they chose to remain uninterested in him despite a 42 goal season last year).
Peterborough captain, Connor Boland is a solid stay at home defender who has the size to play that role at the next level. He's bound to draw some interest similar to the way Kevin Raine did last year. Mississauga's Brandon Devlin is a terrific offensive defender, and his size is alluring, but his defensive game remains a serious drawback. Oshawa's Dakota Mermis has become a very solid OHL defender, but with only average size and an undefined role, he remains an honourable mention.
No goaltender had to be happier to see December come to an end than Niagara's Brandon Hope (Hope gave up 29 goals in 8 December games), but consider that a small blip on the radar. Last year, his first as an OHL starter, Hope was quietly one of the most consistent goaltenders in the league. He continued that strong play into this season and with Niagara following a trade from Owen Sound. If Hope can get the Niagara IceDogs into the playoffs and help them do some damage (this was supposed to be a team fighting for 1st in the East), he could be a hot commodity for pro teams. Sarnia's Taylor Dupuis has been fantastic for them this year, and has been one of the main reasons why the team sits a surprising 2nd in their division. It's his first year really displaying a high level of play, but goaltenders are notorious late bloomers.