Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Top 10 - Most Impressive 1998 Born Players

One of the many annual traditions I have on this blog is to rank the new batch of OHL rookies in order of the impression they left on me. Only the "true" OHL rookies have been included, thus why it's labeled the "Most Impressive 1998 born players." However, with the whole exceptional status thing, this means that Sean Day will be included on this list (just as Connor McDavid and Aaron Ekblad were previously). I think it's important to compare these guys to what their age appropriate peers are accomplishing in the league.

I always like to note that this isn't an early ranking for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. This ranking isn't the order in which I believe these players should be ranked for the draft, but an order of which players impressed me most. It's not a draft prognostication, it's an acknowledgment of the significant impact these players have had on their teams this season.

This was a tough list to compile this year actually. Many of the league's 98's had very impressive rookie seasons where they played key roles. The guys listed as honorable mentions are also terrific prospects who show great promise and who also impressed me a great deal this season. The future of the OHL is very bright. I do believe that if the U17's had been played in the traditional format of year's past, Ontario's entry would have done quite well.

As mentioned, this is a tradition, so here are the previous year's lists. 1997. 1996. 1995's. 1994's. 1993's. 1992's.

10. Jordan Kyrou - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Was a tough battle between Kyrou, Ang, and Mete for the final spot on this list, but you have to appreciate how important Kyrou has been to Sarnia. He is a ball of energy who's not only noticeable offensively, but who makes some solid defensive plays in the neutral zone and who gets in there on the forecheck. Currently 2nd to Logan Brown in assists for the '98 age group.

9. Keaton Middleton - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Massive defender and the younger brother of Ottawa's Jacob Middleton. I've been really impressed by the confidence he displays in his own end. He's already quite physical, using his size to step up on forwards at the blue line and to rub out the opposition in the corners. His puck skills and overall playmaking ability is a work in progress, but when you've got a big kid who's already dominating shifts in his own end, you've got to be impressed.

8. Taylor Raddysh - Forward - Erie Otters
The CY Young award winner in the OHL this year, with his goal totals quadrupling his assist totals. His ability to find open lanes and capitalize on scoring chances in the slot has made him a very valuable secondary scoring option for a deep Otters team. In a lot of ways, he's playing the role Dylan Strome did last year, in the sense that he's not being asked to do too much. Play within himself, make smart plays with the puck and go to the net to create space for his line mates. Next year he should be given more of a chance to be an offensive leader and a guy who creates more scoring chances for himself.

7. Tye Felhaber - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Felhaber is definitely one of the most purely skilled forwards of this age group. He creates time and space for himself and line mates and already displays a lot of confidence with the puck. He's not a perimeter player either and has shown a willingness to play in traffic, especially near the crease. The development of his 200 foot game and ability to add strength/bulk will determine just how high he goes in the NHL draft next year.

6. Tim Gettinger - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
When you consider just how deep the Hounds are this year, it's impressive that Gettinger has been able to make an impression at all. But he's done a marvelous job of filling in on scoring lines when needed (WJC's, injuries). Gettinger is a really big kid, but he doesn't really play a power forward game. He's more of a skilled winger who happens to be 6'5. Obviously scouts are going to want to see him use his size more effectively next year, but for now you have to appreciate Gettinger's ability to work in transition and keep pace with some of the quicker forwards in the league.

5. Brandon Saigeon - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Really like Saigeon's intensity level and "complete" game already. To some degree, I get a Mike Richards vibe when I watch him play. As he gets stronger, I think we'll start to see how high his skill level is too, as he'll have the opportunity to really blossom under George Burnett. Could definitely be a future captain in the league.

4. Logan Brown - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Like Gettinger, Brown is a massive forward, but one who doesn't really play a power forward game. That said, he's very skilled and does do a good job of using his size to protect the puck and create scoring chances for himself and teammates. He's already a very difficult player to contain along the wall and as he gets quicker/more explosive, he's going to be very hard to stop off the rush too. Big centres like Brown just don't grow on trees and that's why he'll be a hot commodity at the draft in 2016.

3. Michael McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Like Jonathan Ang, McLeod took a few months to really adjust to the speed and size of defenders at this level. But in the second half of the season, he's been sensational for Mississauga. His ability to create off the rush is exceptional, in particular because of his explosive stride. But he doesn't stick to the perimeter either and has made a conscious effort to take the puck to the net, despite lacking in size/strength. If the Steelheads had some better finishers, McLeod would have better production, as I've seen him create a ton of scoring chances this year that just haven't been put in the back of the net.

2. Sean Day - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Day has his critics. And to some degree, the criticism is warranted. Does his intensity level need to be more consistent? I think so. Are there legitimate question marks surrounding his vision/hockey sense with the puck? Again, I think so. BUT, you have to look at him in context and remove the whole exceptional status label. He's still a super young kid trying to figure things out. What you do have though, is an athletic freak. At 6'2, 230lbs, he's one of the best skaters in the league and when he learns just how dominant he could be at both ends, look out. All the pieces of the puzzle are there, and for that reason, he's still high on this list.

1. Jakob Chychrun - Defense - Sarnia Sting
Easily the top player on this list for me (no offence meant to the others). This kid is unreal. IMO, he's already a top 10 defenseman in the league. He makes an impact at both ends of the ice in a big way. It's certainly not hard to compare him to Aaron Ekblad, in terms of the impact they've had in their first year. BUT, I'd actually say Chychrun is ahead of where Ekblad was offensively at the same age. The confidence he displays in leading the rush and jumping up in the play is very exciting. Sky is the limit for this kid.

Honorable Mentions

Will Bitten - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
Consistency isn't there yet because he's quite undersized and just isn't able to fight through checks effectively. But, he's super skilled and creates very well off the rush when he's able to build up speed. Excited to see how he fares next year.

Jonathan Ang - Forward - Peterborough Petes
It was between him and Kyrou for #10. At the beginning of the year he was invisible and really seemed to be struggling to find his confidence with the puck. But he's really exploded in the second half. His ability to create off the rush, using speed and stick handling ability offers up a much needed change of pace for a Peterborough team who largely is more successful working the cycle.

Adam Mascherin - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Short, but not small winger who has fit right into the Rangers line-up this year. Similar to Kyrou, he brings a lot of energy and I've been impressed by how he works the boards, keeping plays alive.

Dylan Wells - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
Pretty tough to stand out as a 16/17 year old goaltender in this league. But Wells has had some really standout performances this year and looks like a potential star in the making.

Joseph Raaymakers - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
See Dylan Wells. The consistency hasn't been there (especially lately), but he's had flashes of brilliance and Brandon Halverson is going to need to step up his game next year to hold on to the starter's gig.

Victor Mete - Defense - London Knights
Like Kyrou, Mete probably deserves to be on the list. Offensively, I've really liked what I've seen. He really knows how to lead a rush and he's got great vision up ice. But defensively, there is a lot to work on. Really needs to add size this offseason.

Travis Barron - Forward - Ottawa 67's
I think he's been better this year than the stats have indicated. The production hasn't really been there, but I've liked his performance as a complimentary piece on a scoring line. He knows how to drive the net and does a lot of the little things well.

Ben Hawerchuk - Forward - Barrie Colts
I always like including a few under the radar guys on this list and Hawerchuk is the first of two. Dale's son hasn't been getting a ton of ice time, but he does a lot with it. The Colts' 4th line is always very noticeable because of their tenacity and forechecking ability and Hawerchuk is one of the main reasons. Hopefully he grows a bit.

Jonah Gadjovich - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
A potential power forward who's not eligible until 2017. Gadjovich has had an impact physically in a lot of the Attack games that I've watched and I think he's got a lot of potential as a big winger who can drive the net and score.

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