To the Big Apple we go!
1. Brandon Halverson - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I felt like this was a terrific year for Halverson's development. Part of that is because he struggled at times. His inconsistency caused him to lose some playing time to rookie Joseph Raaymakers, and his struggles in the playoffs against Erie (was a whole team effort) were a topic of discussion. Yet, I think these things were good for him. It's shown him what it takes to be an effective starting netminder in this league and it's bound to make him more hungry for success next year. A year when he'll have to be a bit better as the Hounds defence is taking a bit of a hit. His athleticism and size remain major pluses, but he's still learning the mental side of the game and how to read plays and position himself. It will be interesting to see if he's actually a Greyhound all of next year. The Hounds have another top prospect in Joseph Raaymakers who will be pushing for playing time (he's one of the top 98's in the province). There are some that believe the Hounds will trade Halverson if Raaymakers proves he's worthy of starting (as the goaltending market will be hot). No matter where he's playing, I expect Halverson to iron out some things and establish himself as one of the OHL's best.
2. Ryan Mantha - Niagara IceDogs
He was very bad at the beginning of the year. Then he suffered a shoulder injury and upon returning, he got better and better each month. In the final three months of the season, he had 21 points in 33 games. But he was actually very solid defensively too. He slowly gained the trust of the coaching staff and found himself paired with Blake Siebenaler in Niagara's top 4 by the end of the season. He's a big kid, and his mobility is a tad awkward, but his positioning isn't bad and he does a good job using his reach defending the rush. He's not afraid of mixing things up in front of the net too. Next year Niagara should have one of the better teams in the East, and one of the stronger defences in the OHL. Mantha could be in for a big year in 2015/2016, as long as he continues to improve. He'll play in all situations for the Dogs and a 40 point season is a logical expectation.
3. Troy Donnay - Erie Otters
Donnay improved a lot this year. He was a defensive workhorse for the Otters, eating a ton of minutes in key defensive situations and on the penalty kill. His penalty minutes declined, but not because he was less physical. Because his mobility improved (especially agility, turns), he took less hooking, tripping, etc calls because he was able to stay with forwards more effectively. But his defensive positioning also improved, as he's learned to use his reach and size to give himself more time and space. His first pass and overall puck handling ability also improved. He cut down on the defensive zone turnovers and improved his confidence in making first passes, or even skating the puck up to the blue line to make an outlet. But keep in mind that he was playing as an overager with a massive physical advantage. Graduating to the pros will be a big challenge for him. He's finally figured out how to neutralize the speed factor at the OHL level and now will be moving to an even faster pace. I could see him struggling a bit next year (could even be in the ECHL), and he remains a project that will require time and patience. But as long as he slowly improves and doesn't lose confidence, he could still be a defensive 3rd pairing guy down the line.
*Of note, two of the Rangers 2015 selections were chosen in this year's Import Draft. Robin Kovacs by North Bay, and Daniel Bernhardt by London. If either, or both come to the OHL, they'll get top 6 ice time and should be good candidates to have strong seasons.