My list reaches an end. I bring to you my top 10 OHL players for this year's NHL Entry Draft.
10. Mackenzie Blackwood - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
Super inconsistent this year. He's likely still one of the first goalies drafted in 2015 though. The overall package is going to be too tantalizing for NHL teams to pass up. The good thing is that he finished the year strong with a good playoffs, ultimately the final impression he made on scouts. At 6'4, 215lbs, Blackwood has NHL size and then some. He plays a traditional butterfly style and takes up a ton of the net still when he's down on his pads. Blackwood also moves well and is capable of some great saves going post to post. With his positioning, he really takes up the bottom of the net well and swallows up shots from the perimeter. When he's on, he's probably the most difficult goaltender in the OHL to beat. His positioning, focus, and rebound control will need continued refinements, but he's a very solid net minder and likely a very solid 2nd round pick this June. Be sure to check out Blackwood's appearance on "The Pipeline Show." Also check out Mackenzie's draft tracker segment on Yahoo.
9. Vince Dunn - Defence - Niagara IceDogs
Dunn started slowly (like the rest of the IceDogs), but his game improved every month. In his final 32 games (including the playoffs), he had 41 points (including 17 goals). Prorate that to a full season and you're looking at some pretty ridiculous numbers. The 0.5 goals per game rate is particularly impressive. Offensively, Dunn is a juggernaut. His ability to handle the puck at top speed rivals that of some of the best forwards in this draft. He's able to create a lot of extra time and space for himself with his slick puck handling skill. Dunn is also super aggressive in jumping up in the play, which is where a lot of his goals come from. He's adept at sneaking behind defences and jumping into the slot. His skating is also a big time strength, as he pushes the pace of play. Defensively, there are some things to like for sure. He's not big, but he's not afraid of mixing things up and he does a good job of hustling to get back to the defensive end after rushes. And he uses his mobility to his advantage defensively. I think the one negative is his decision making at times. Because he's ultra aggressive offensively, he can be prone to some poor choices when it comes to forcing passes up ice, or bad pinches. But as he gains experience, these types of mistakes could be limited. Might be one of the top pure offensive blue liners available this year and that could have him drafted inside the first round. Be sure to check out Vince's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."Also check out Vince's draft tracker segment from Yahoo.
8. Travis Dermott - Defence - Erie Otters
Easily one of the most underrated prospects for this year's draft. He's the number one defender for the top team in the Western Conference and that has to count for something. He was also one of the best defenders in this year's OHL playoffs, again something that deserves recognition. Is he the biggest defender available this year (at 5'11)? No. Is he the best offensively? No. But his intelligence at both ends, overall mobility, and high intensity level make him a near sure bet to be an NHL defender. Think Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers. Dermott is the type of player every good team needs. While his offensive skill level isn't flashy, he gets the job done by making a great first pass, being confident with the puck and running the point on the power play effectively. Defensively, he's incredibly reliable. He rarely gets beat to loose pucks and is almost always in the right position. He also blocks shots with the best of them. As the year went on, he played more and more aggressively in his own end and really seems to excel when he's engaged physically. The battle for top defender from the OHL was a close one this year, but I give the slight nod to Dermott because of how well rounded he is and because I believe he's going to be a longtime NHL player. Be sure to check out Travis' draft tracker segment on Yahoo.
7. Zachary Senyshyn - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
It's all about upside when it comes to Senyshyn. Size and speed on the wing is not the easiest thing to find in the draft. At 6'2 (and likely still growing an inch or two), Senyshyn is not just quick, he's one of the OHL's best skaters. He explodes down the wing, needing only a few steps to hit full speed. And he's not a perimeter player either. He uses that speed to drive the net, generating not only a lot of scoring chances for himself, but for his line mates too. On paper his production this year was inconsistent, but I think that had more to do with wavering ice time on an incredibly deep Sault Ste. Marie club. Senyshyn is still a raw player though. His work without the puck offensively needs some improvement and as he gets stronger, I'd expect him to develop even more of a power game. And under Sheldon Keefe, I also expect his two-way game to develop to the point where his speed can be used as an asset defensively and on the PK. I do truly believe in his potential though and I think he's the perfect player for today's NHL. When he gets more ice time next year, I expect his game to really explode. All it takes is one NHL team to really like you and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him drafted in the 25-35 range. Be sure to check out Zach's draft tracker segment on Yahoo.
6. Travis Konecny - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Konecny is a hard prospect not to like. He plays the game the right way and is a very well rounded player. At the beginning of the year, he struggled to find his game, and seemed to be putting too much pressure on himself. His speed is electric, but the creativity was being stifled because he was forcing plays that weren't there. Towards the New Year (including a fantastic showing at the CHL Top Prospect's Game), the light really seemed to turn on for him. He's at his best using his speed in short bursts offensively, dictating pace by stopping and starting quickly. He's also at his best when he's engaging physically, throwing big hits and agitating on the forecheck. Konecny also possesses a fantastic wrist shot with a pro calibre release. As the captain of the 67's, it goes without saying that his leadership qualities are also significant. I think that, really, the only strike against Konecny is size. At 5'10, Konecny plays a much larger game (and needs to play that way to be successful). And he's run into some injury issues, including a shoulder injury that kept him out late in the year and in the playoffs. So there are durability questions. In a lot of ways, it resembles Robby Fabbri's situation last year. Come draft day, watching where Konecny goes is one of the things I'm most curious about. Be sure to check out Travis' appearance on "The Pipeline Show."Also check out Travis' draft tracker segment on Yahoo.
5. Pavel Zacha - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Such a difficult player to get a read on this year for me. I saw Sarnia live only twice this year and Zacha did not play in either game. So I have to go off of what I've seen televised (OHL, Under 20's & 18's), which isn't ideal for me. Because of injuries, suspension, and the U20's, Zacha played in only 37 regular season games this year. First the good. I was completely surprised by just how physical of a player Zacha was. He plays the game very hard and is already very adept at using his size to gain and maintain possession in the offensive end. His speed is only OK, but his overall skating ability is quite good for his size (his balance is terrific). As such, he can be very difficult to separate from the puck. Zacha actually seems to be most effective off the rush, generating chances by driving wide to the net. He also has above average hands and possesses the ability to make defenders miss, in addition to driving through them. Zacha's shot is a weapon for him and he definitely projects as a goal scorer at the next level. Now the bad (or at least my concerns). While Sarnia is not blessed with the most talented offensive roster, I felt like Zacha struggled in using his line mates in my viewings. He's able to create chances using his size, but I rarely saw him make a great pass or demonstrate above average vision. In a lot of ways, I'm getting flashbacks to Radek Faksa in his OHL draft year and he certainly has not developed the way people thought he would. All that said, the size and skill package of Zacha is going to be very alluring. Up until about a month ago I had Konecny ahead of him, but with Konecny's injury and Zacha's strong play at the U18's, I swapped them for my final list. In a lot of ways, they are similar players, but different sizes. Be sure to check out Zacha's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."
4. Lawson Crouse - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Perhaps the most polarizing draft prospect this year. In a lot of ways, he's not polarizing though. If you look at the lists of scouting agencies, he's been consistently high all year. And I'm sure that's the case with NHL scouts too. It's the general fan base (the armchair scouts) who don't seem to be too fond of Crouse. They see the average statistical output and wonder why he's rated so highly. Watch him play for more than a couple of games and you'll see why. Crouse is a coaches dream. He's already one of the most complete players in the OHL. His defensive awareness and anticipation is fantastic and he uses his size very effectively to defend on the back check. Crouse is also a real throw back power forward who actually plays the way he's built (at 6'3, 210lbs) and is only going to become increasingly more difficult to play against when he gets even stronger (he probably suits up as an NHL'er at 6'4, 230+lbs). Offensively, his game is not flashy, but it is effective. He's become a very good player below the hash marks and uses his skating ability to take pucks hard to the net. He's certainly capable of creating his own scoring chances and that's what he's had to do most of this year (with Kingston lacking a true playmaker when Bennett and Watson were injured). Crouse's hands and wrist shot profile him as a goal scorer at the NHL level. He's certainly more than just a scrub. When Bennett and Watson did return, just look at the spike in his numbers. In his final 27 games (including playoffs), Crouse put up 15 goals (prorated to a 38 goal season) and had over a point per game. While he certainly didn't make any fans at the end of the season with his actions at the end of the playoffs (and subsequent suspension), you can't ignore his potential to play in the National Hockey League. I think a guy like Andrew Ladd is a perfect comparison and in today's NHL, if you want to win in the playoffs, you need guys like Crouse. Be sure to check out Lawson's appearance on "The Pipeline Show." Also check out Crouse's draft tracker segment on Yahoo.
3. Dylan Strome - Forward - Erie Otters
The OHL's leading scorer this year (thanks to a magnificent 6 point effort on the final day), Strome is a fantastic prospect. Any team who drafts one of the top 3 rated guys from the OHL is getting a potential superstar talent. But you've got to rank them and I've got Strome 3rd. Ultimately, I think what puts Strome behind Marner is that he's not quite as tenacious without the puck, and is not as good of a skater. Marner impacts the game on a few more levels. But that shouldn't take anything away from Strome's accomplishments this year. The true test for Strome was playing without McDavid in the lineup this year. Having to go up against the top defensive units of the opposition. And while his numbers did dip in December, he still managed to average over a point per game and he kept the Otters afloat. Strome's best assets are definitely his hands and his hockey IQ. Offensively, he's not incredibly flashy, but he's just downright effective. Like his Erie teammate Mr. McDavid, Strome thinks the game on a different level than his peers and as such, he's able to see scoring lanes open up before they open. He's one of those "always in the right spot," kind of guys. And while he may not be a power forward, he's exceptional at operating in traffic because of how good his hands are. NHL teams are all about centres with size and skill these days and Strome has that in spades. The things Strome lacks in (skating, aggressiveness away from the puck) can be improved. His best assets can not be taught and it makes him a coveted player. Be sure to check out Dylan's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."Also check out Strome's draft tracker segment on Yahoo.
2. Mitch Marner - Forward - London Knights
At this point, the only concerns about Marner are his size and the concussion he suffered at the end of the year. His late season injury seems to have raised some questions about his durability, given his tenacious style of play. Let me remind people. This is a guy who has missed only 9 games the last two years, and some of those were not from injury. Hockey is a physical game. People get hurt. Pavel Zacha is a 6'3 and he had way more difficulty with injuries this year than Marner did. A players size is not as important as it once was, and besides, it's not like Marner is 5'8. We're talking about a player who is pushing 6'0. He'll be fine. Like Strome, Marner's production is driven by his terrific hockey sense. He's an exceptional playmaker based on how well he reads situations in the offensive end, particularly below the goal line. But unlike Strome (to a certain degree), Marner's success also comes from his motor. He's a tireless worker who plays the game at a very high tempo. Whether he has the puck or not, speed and energy is the name of the game. Darting in across the blue line off the rush; flying into the offensive zone on the forecheck; working hard on the back check. Marner is a force to be reckoned with in all situations. The hands, shot, vision, creativity are all well above average. In any other year, he's the type of guy who garners attention for first overall. But c'est la vie, an NHL team choosing 3rd or 4th is just going to have to settle for him. And I don't think they'll be disappointed. Be sure to check out Marner's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."
1. Connor McDavid - Forward - Erie Otters
Seriously, at this point do I even have to complete a write up on McDavid? I feel like I'm beating a dead horse here. Everyone knows about his blazing speed. His ability to go zero to 60 in the blink of an eye is rivalled by few pro players, let alone junior prospects. Everyone knows about the hands, stick handling ability, and creativity. His ability to make players miss is impressive, but the way he does it at top speed is what is truly impressive. Everyone knows about the hockey IQ. I swear that sometimes it's like he has eyes in the back of his head. His ability to see the ice and create scoring chances from nothing is unrivalled. The way he thinks the game is at a level of which I have never seen in a junior prospect (including Crosby). Perhaps what is not known is his work ethic, which is also among the best of any player in junior hockey. While many of his skills are natural in nature, that does not mean that he's unmotivated. He continues to improve every year (which is saying something) because of the work he puts in every offseason to get better. Look at how he's elevated his game in recent years when he has needed to. He's led Canada to international gold at the U18 and U20 level. And this year he finished only a few points away from breaking the OHL playoff scoring record. Every challenge is met head on by McDavid and I expect that to continue as he moves on to play for (you'd have to assume) the Edmonton Oilers next year. Oilers' fans probably won't have to wait too long for their first recipient of the Art Ross since the Great 99. Crosby took two years to win one, let's see how quickly McDavid can do it. Be sure to check out McDavid's appearance on "The Pipeline Show." Also be sure to check out McDavid's draft tracker segment on Yahoo.
Good luck to all the OHL players at the draft this year!