Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Top 10 - Draft Risers for 2015

Congratulations to the Oshawa Generals for taking home the OHL Championship on Friday. Their size and skill package was too much for the Otters to handle. G.M. Roger Hunt did such a great job of assembling that team this year, making the big moves when they needed to be made.

With the OHL season technically done (Memorial Cup starts May 22), it's time to shift our focus to the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. My final rankings are complete and I'll start releasing my top 50 after the Victoria Day weekend. As a precursor to that, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the players who have made the biggest jump in the rankings this year. Whether it be a strong finish to the regular season, a great push in the playoffs, or a big performance at the Under 18's, these guys completed their seasons the right way. And there's no question that scouts take notice of that.

Here are 10 OHL draft prospects who improved their draft status over the final couple of months (in alphabetical order).

Jeremiah Addison - Ottawa 67's
Even though the 67's were bounced in the opening round of the playoffs this year, you have to applaud Addison's effort in round one. His 6 goals and 10 points led Ottawa (tied with Salituro and Konecny) and his power game gave the IceDogs all they could handle. He also closed out the regular season on a 5 game point scoring streak. Overall, Addison had a very solid year in Ottawa, establishing himself as a power forward who can be a nice complimentary piece on a scoring line. With his size, physicality, and scoring potential, NHL teams could come calling sooner, rather than later.

Travis Dermott - Erie Otters
I've had Dermott high all season, so I'm not sure he's rising on my list. But with his play in this year's OHL playoffs, I hope he's rising on the list of NHL scouts. Dermott's 17 points led all defenceman in scoring during the playoffs and he showed a ton of poise with the puck. But it's Dermott's defensive game that excelled, eating up a ton of minutes and doing anything he could to help the Otters reach the OHL finals. He's not the biggest guy, but he's wide and has terrific balance that helps him stay strong on opposing forwards. IMO, his strong two-way game and intelligence on the ice makes him the top ranked defender available from the OHL this year.

Stephen Desrocher - Oshawa Generals
Came out of nowhere to pace the Generals in the final three rounds of the OHL playoffs (against Niagara, North Bay, and Erie). Well that's not exactly true, as Desrocher has been on my radar (and scouts' radar) all year based on the improvements he'd shown during the OHL's regular season. I had him 9th on my mid April draft re-entry list (here), but there's no question that he'd be higher if I re-did that list now (I'd have him 3rd). In the final two rounds against North Bay and Erie, Desrocher had 9 points in 11 games (including 3 goals). His confidence is at an all time high heading into the Memorial Cup and he's showing an aggressiveness offensively that was not there in the regular season. At 6'4, 200lbs, he has the size. And now scouts have seen a glimpse of what he's truly capable of offensively. I think there's a very good chance he goes in the top 3 rounds come June.

Vince Dunn - Niagara IceDogs
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. Dunn was easily one of the OHL's top defenders in the second half of the year. His offensive potential is through the roof based on how well he skates and handles the puck. The size isn't amazing, but NHL teams aren't likely to ignore his ability to create offence. At this point, I think he's elevated himself into the conversation for the late first round.

Cameron Lizotte - Peterborough Petes
Lizotte's climb up the draft rankings has been steady all year, as the hard nosed rearguard improved nearly every month of the OHL's regular season. His size, mobility, and penchant for playing physical makes him a candidate to develop into a stud, shutdown defender. His acknowledgment in the OHL Coaches Poll this year (3rd in shot blocking and 2nd in body checking) shows the respect that he's gained around the league in a short amount of time. Over the course of this season, he's gone from not sniffing my top 30, to being on the cusp of my top 20.

Chris Martenet - London Knights
Like Lizotte, Martenet has had a steady climb up the draft rankings. He's looked progressively more comfortable playing in the OHL, after transferring from the USHL. NHL teams would have already been enamoured with Martenet thanks to his size and mobility on the backend (6'7), but he's shown more than just being a "project" pick. By season's end, he was one of London's top defenceman, playing physical in his own end, and even taking chances offensively. As he continues to grow (his game, hopefully not his body), he could be a a real find for an NHL team. I think he'll be off the board relatively early come June (by the end of the 2nd).

Garrett McFadden - Guelph Storm
A former first rounder of the Storm, Guelph fans had high hopes for him this year. But McFadden struggled greatly through a large chunk of the season. When Zac Leslie went down with a season ending injury, many people felt that would be the end for Guelph. But it was McFadden that stepped up his game and filled his shoes. While not blessed with great size, McFadden does possess exceptional skating ability that gives him a lot of potential to develop into one of the top offensive blue liners in the league. His play late in the year gives him a shot of being a late round pick, which I didn't think he'd have a shot at earlier this year.

Mitchell Stephens - Saginaw Spirit
Was already trending upwards before his behemoth performance at the Under 18's. He started exceptionally slow, but in his final 40 games of the OHL regular season, he had 37 points. Then he captained Canada to a bronze medal at the U18's, finishing the tournament 7th in scoring with 10 points (2nd on Team Canada). Stephens' brings lots of speed and energy to the ice and there's no doubt that scouts will be impressed with his leadership skills at the Under 18's. In a way, his draft stock has come full circle this year. Preseason, he was considered a candidate for the first round (thanks to a strong performance at the Ivan Hlinka). Then with a very cold start to the OHL season, his status plummeted. But after finishing the season strong, there are first round whispers yet again. I think he's definitely a guy that teams will look to inside the top 45.

Zach Wilkie - Niagara IceDogs
I had high expectations for Wilkie this year. For the vast majority of the year, Wilkie didn't really live up to those. Ice time was an issue with the depth in Niagara and he never really seemed to find a groove. But at the end of the year, he started to get in the lineup more consistently and his game started to come around. This came to a head in the playoffs where I felt like he was one of Niagara's top defenders. Wilkie has the potential to impact the game in every way (offensively, defensively, physically) and he might have been able to convince an NHL team to use a late round pick on him with his playoff heroics.

Pavel Zacha - Sarnia Sting
While it's hard for someone like Zacha to be considered a "riser," I feel comfortable lumping him in this category. Because of injuries, suspensions, and international tournaments, Zacha played in only 42 OHL games this year (including the playoffs). This limited his exposure to scouts and caused his draft status to fall a bit. At the beginning of the year he was receiving top 10 consideration, by late April, it seemed like he could even fall out of the top 20. But Zacha reaffirmed the opinions of those who always believed in him by putting forth a great showing at the Under 18's. It was at the tournament that he showed how dominant he can be with his size and skill. As such, it seems like he's solidified his status as a lottery pick in 2015.

Stay tuned this week as I release my top 50 for 2015 in four instalments!

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