The Los Angeles Kings have been big fans of the OHL the last few years and that gives us a ton to talk about.
1. Mike Amadio - North Bay Battalion
His game is really blossoming under Coach Stan Butler. In his draft year, Amadio showed flashes of being a go to offensive player, but his inconsistencies and somewhat one dimensional game really held him back. But this past year, he's really worked hard to iron out those deficiencies. Amadio's puck skill is vastly underrated, as he's a terrific puck handler and it helps him be a factor in a variety of different ways. He can create off the rush, using his size down the middle to take the puck hard to the net, but he's also become an effective player along the wall, assimilating with Butler's grind it out style of play. Amadio also sees the ice really well and has great vision as a playmaker. As a puck protection center with size, he shows a lot of potential. Defensively, he's come a long way and is now a committed two-way player who kills penalties. Considering all the graduations in North Bay, Amadio should be a good bet to wear a letter next year. He'll also be needed to increase his offensive production even more with Nick Paul graduating. In Butler's system, the offensive numbers are often a little lower than some of the other teams in the OHL, but if Amadio can crack the 80 point barrier, that would be a great accomplishment. A prospect on the rise.
2. Matthew Mistele - Oshawa Generals
After a disastrous draft season, Mistele definitely got himself back on track this year. Splitting time between Plymouth and Oshawa, Mistele re-established himself as a power winger who can fill the net consistently. Biggest reason for that IMO was re-found confidence. In 2013/2014, he looked lost at times, gripping his stick too hard and putting too much pressure on himself. This year, he kept things simple, playing a strong North/South game. He knows his role on the ice is to go hard to the net and he's got great hands in close and a great wrister coming down the wing. He also re-established himself as a physical player, especially in the corners where he's very effective at winning one on one battles. I thought he was absolutely terrific for the Generals in the playoffs and at the Memorial Cup, helping them to win a Championship. Next year, where he plays remains to be seen. The Kings don't have to sign him until next year, but he's eligible to play in the pros this year thanks to a late birth date. With continued work on his skating and overall strength this offseason, he's probably ready for a top 9 role in the AHL. The Kings will likely give Mistele a chance to win an AHL role in training camp, and sign him if he proves to be ready (as they have done with several other prospects over the years). If he's in the AHL, I could easily see him hitting 15+ goals. If he's back in the OHL as an overager, he should be a strong candidate for the 40 goal mark, although it might be on yet another team as Oshawa goes through a bit of a rebuild.
3. Alex Lintuniemi - Ottawa 67's
Unlike Mistele, Lintuniemi already has an NHL contract, which suggests that they might see him taking on a pro role next year. This past year in the OHL, Lintuniemi was pretty solid. He was a work horse for the 67's, playing in all situations for the playoff team. His skating continues to improve and he's a very difficult player to beat off the rush because of his reach and his desire to plant you on your ass. But I would like to see him play with as much intensity in the corners and in front of the net, as he does in the middle of the ice and the neutral zone. Offensively, he can start the rush and did a better job evading the forecheck this year. Cutting down on the defensive zone turnovers must have been a goal of his and he succeeded. He's still not a natural offensive player though, and I think his calling card at the next level will be in his own end. As mentioned, Lintuniemi's got a contract next year, but the Kings do have options. They've got depth in the system, so he'd have to really compete hard to earn a spot in the AHL. If they elect to send him back to the OHL for his overage year, he'd be leading a 67's team which expects to compete for the Eastern Conference.
4. Zac Leslie - Guelph Storm
Leslie had an OK year, after being sent back to the OHL by the Kings to play as an overager. It was sort of a status quo year for him, perhaps even a slight step backwards. The Storm were not as good of a team this year and I think that will always prevent a player from looking consistently strong as a prospect. And Leslie was also troubled by a shoulder injury this year that eventually required season ending surgery, which obviously negatively impacted his production. I didn't see him as being as aggressive of an offensive player this year, specifically in jumping in on the rush (or leading it). Still did a good job running the point on the power play, but his offensive game just wasn't as sharp (possibly because of the shoulder, possibly because the Kings asked him to focus more on the defensive side of things). Defensively, he's a solid player who plays bigger than his size. Honestly, it wasn't a bad year for Leslie, it's just that I don't think there was any progression over the year prior. Next year he'll turn pro and with the depth in the AHL, he could find himself in the ECHL to start.
5. Jacob Middleton - Ottawa 67's
I think his game made great strides this past year. Offensively, he's still a work in progress (and is behind in his development compared to where I figured he would be at this point in his OHL career). But defensively, he really established himself as a tough guy to play against. His lateral mobility and overall skating ability has improved, making him a better defender off the rush, and quicker to dump ins and corner battles. He's a very physical player and already exceptionally strong, making him difficult to compete against along the wall and in front of the net. Offensively, he plays a simple game, often electing to let Lintuniemi (his partner) start the rush. So where does his game go from here? Obviously, the Kings would probably like to see him maintain his defensive play, but also improve his offensive production. Whether it's improving his breakout pass, or taking more chances up ice, Middleton should be able to contribute more if he can make even bigger strides in his skating. I know that I've always felt that there is hidden potential offensively there and we'll see if that comes to fruition. Next year, as the 67's gear up for a run at the Eastern Conference title, I'd like to see Middleton hit the 35 point mark, while continuing to establish himself as one of the league's elite defenders below the hash marks.
6. Kurtis MacDermid - Erie Otters
Definitely a fantastic year for MacDermid's development as he was able to take on a larger role for the competitive Otters. His offensive production doubled that of his previous career best, which is not uncommon for overage players. Still great to see though. Offensively, MacDermid was way more confident handling the puck, and really improved his ability to start the breakout. His first pass has greatly improved and he showed confidence in skating the puck out at times too. MacDermid even saw power play time this year and certainly did not look uncomfortable. He's got a big shot from the point and as long as his decision making continues to improve, he could even put up a few points at the next level. Defensively, he was a rock. His game has grown a lot in his own end, chasing the play less, no longer taking himself out of position to make the big hit. He's still an exceptionally physical player though, and one of the toughest to match up against in the OHL. His mobility will still need work for the next level, but his size, engagement, and positioning covered up for it at this level. Next year, MacDermid will battle with guys like Leslie for a spot on the AHL blue line. It will be interesting to see if one can crack the lineup, or whether both end up in the ECHL.
7. Jake Marchment - Erie Otters
Certainly an up and down year for Marchment. First the suspension and the stripping of the captaincy in Belleville. Then the trade to Erie where he would eventually grow to be one of their best players in the OHL playoffs. His offensive production this year certainly wasn't terrific. In Belleville he struggled to be a consistent contributor, and then after the trade to Erie, he seemed to struggle with trying to make a consistent impact with a reduced role. But he slowly gained more ice time and responsibility in Erie, and was a huge part of their penalty kill. Marchment remains a big guy; a big powerful center who thrives in traffic and loves to slow the game down in the offensive end. He's also quite defensively responsible and should continue to grow into the type of player who is difficult to match up against (your shut down center). The LA Kings have traditionally shown a desire to send players like Marchment back to Junior for their overage year, so I would definitely expect him back in Erie next year. This would be great for his development IMO. He needs another year to really get his confidence going in his offensive game. To learn how to consistently use his size off the rush, to continue to make improvements to his first few steps, and to work on finishing off plays in close. In Erie, he should assume a top 6 role with power play time and I'd expect him to be a very productive player, in the 30/30 range.
8. Matt Schmalz - Sudbury Wolves
A great draft selection by the Kings this year, as Schmalz proved to be one of the most improved 96's in the OHL. Schmalz was a previous high draft pick to the OHL who had yet to live up to that, failing to grow into his 6'6 frame. But this past year was a huge one for his development, and really one of the few bright spots during an otherwise miserable season for the Wolves. At this point, Schmalz is still quite raw. His game is pretty simple in a North/South way. The majority of his goals and scoring chances are created by him driving wide, trying to use his size and top gear to bully his way to the net. And he's got a pretty decent wrist shot that's got some life on it. His first few steps need work, but once he gets going, he's actually a good skater for a big man. He's also not afraid to use his size physically, throwing his weight around without the puck. But the rest of his game needs improvement. His vision and playmaking ability will need to improve off the rush, as he's more of a 'head down' kind of guy at this moment. I'd like to see him create more off the wall and from the cycle too. And defensively, the effort could be greater. But at 6'6, the potential is quite high if his game continues to grow like it did this year. Sudbury will improve next year and could compete for a playoff spot. Schmalz could be in for another jump in production, especially with a few more talented playmakers injected into the lineup. I think he could easily crack the 30 goal plateau, but I'd actually be more impressed if he could really get those assist totals higher (in the 25+ range).
9. Spencer Watson - Kingston Frontenacs
It was a tough year for Watson IMO, and he still has yet to take that next step forward that he's capable of. Watson missed a big chunk of time with a broken ankle this year, but when he did play, there wasn't much growth from his draft year. The one thing that I will say is that his 200 foot game has improved and his willingness to be a two-way player seems evident. But he's still undersized, and lacks that explosive skating element to his game that all smaller players need to find success at the next level. Watson is still isn't aggressive enough as an offensive player too, and needs to get stronger to be more effective in traffic. His instincts are terrific, and his hands have never been questioned, but the production just doesn't match that. With his skill level, he should be taking over games, but that's just not the case. Next year is a huge one for him. I'd like to see him really play with a chip on his shoulder. To prove to people that he should not have been a 7th round pick. To prove to the Kings that he deserves a contract. Kingston's season next year could go a bunch of different ways, depending on the development of some of their players (which has been underwhelming thus far). If they want to be in the top 4 of the Conference, they're going to need Watson in the 90-ish point range and for him to really take that next step forward as one of the league's premier offensive talents.
*Of Note, Kings 2nd round Erik Cernak was drafted by the Erie Otters in the Import Draft and it seems pretty likely that he'll be there next year. He should see a ton of playing time and I'm excited to see what he's capable of.