Off to sunny Florida. This is a long list (Stevie Y loves his OHL talent)
1. Anthony DeAngelo - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
What a terrific season for DeAngelo. I had previously been quite hard on him in my write ups, but his progression this season defensively, and his maturation as a player (attitude wise) was noticeable. DeAngelo has never had any issue offensively. He rushes the puck up ice with ease and because of his explosive stride and puck skill, he gains entry to the blueline whenever he wants at this level. But his rushes were more purposeful this year and he was way more confident in finishing off plays or using his great shot from the slot/point. As mentioned, defensively there were some improvements. His engagement level in his own end, especially post trade to the Soo, was much higher and he plays a lot bigger than his size. He was a more willing combatant in the corners and in front of the net and his form of scrappy, in your face defence worked well at the OHL level this past year. Moving forward to the professional ranks, his positional awareness and zone coverage still will need refining. But as long as the effort remains there in his own end and his body language remains positive, he could transform himself into an ice time eater at the NHL level. If I'm comparing him to a guy like Ryan Murphy, I think DeAngelo's defensive game is ahead of where Murphy's was upon his graduation from the league.
2. Mitchell Stephens - Saginaw Spirit
After captaining Canada to a bronze medal at the U18's, Stephens' stock shot up the charts at the draft and the Bolts used an early 2nd on him. Well deserved and Stephens is a terrific prospect. He got better and better as the season went on this year. His speed, tenacity, and hockey sense will be put to good use offensively as he gains strength and becomes a more consistently dominating force. Saginaw should be a better team next year and Stephens will be right in the thick of that. Through the 2nd half this past year, he was a point per game player, so a 70 point season would be a realistic expectation. I think he's also a dark horse to earn a spot on the Canadian WJC team because of how well he's performed internationally for Canada.
3. Dominik Masin - Peterborough Petes
Masin really struggled in the first couple months of the season. He looked a bit lost at both ends of the ice and I think he was trying to do too much. In the 2nd half, his game was much more controlled and he was more the type of guy I saw at the U18's in his draft year. He's very difficult to beat off the rush defensively, using mobility, reach and truculence to keep forwards away from the net. His willingness to engage physically makes him a difficult guy to play against. His offensive game is actually better than I thought it would be too, and at times this year he really flashed an ability to lead the rush and even quarterback the powerplay. Next year, he needs to focus on staying healthy (had a brutal season ending injury this year), and he needs to have a more refined approach, letting the game come to him. Definitely could be one of the better defenders in the OHL next year though; a 40 point season, combined with hard nosed defence.
4. Matt Spencer - Peterborough Petes
Spencer remains a fractured player. He has all the pieces, but just hasn't put it all together yet. Similar to Masin, Spencer struggled with trying to do too much in Peterborough this year. This was especially true when Masin was out of the lineup. When he simplifies his game, sticks to his guns defensively, and makes good outlet passes, he's a very valuable defender. But when he's forcing plays up ice, he can be a bit of a turnover machine. This was very noticeable at the U18's this year too. I'm hoping that next year, Spencer returns to Peterborough with confidence. I'd actually like to see him focus more on the defensive component to his game (the way Chris Bigras did post draft year), before he starts to take more chances offensively. Play physical in his own end, work on his outlets and play within himself. If his offensive numbers were to regress next year, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if it meant cutting down on the turnovers and becoming a defensive stalwart. There's a reason he'll get two more years in the league and not just one.
5. Anthony Cirelli - Oshawa Generals
Que the rebuild! Thankfully for Tampa, Cirelli will be right in the thick of it. Cirelli, an undrafted OHL free agent, worked his way up the Generals line up this year (and obviously up NHL draft boards too). I don't think we've quite seen what he's capable of offensively yet, because of the complimentary role he was asked to play this past year. He gets his nose dirty in the corners and in front of the net, and really excels without the puck. Lets see how he does with the puck on his stick, where he's responsible for creating chances and not finishing them off. If Michael Dal Colle returns (and isn't traded), the Generals will at least have some fire power. If not, they could struggle a bit offensively. I'd love to see Cirelli hit the 25 goal/55 point marker on a rebuilding team.
6. Cristiano DiGiacinto - Windsor Spitfires
A hard nosed player who wears his heart on his sleeve. DiGiacinto is one of the OHL's top agitators. Windsor struggled offensively this year, and that was partially because players like DiGiacinto were asked to do a little too much. There just wasn't a center to control the play and dictate pace and the supporting cast had trouble creating their own scoring chances consistently. DiGiacinto's hands in close remain his best asset, on top of the things he does away from the puck. Hopefully this offseason he continues to work on his skating, and his ability to carry and receive the puck, which would open up his game offensively. For Lightning fans, they should also hope that DiGiacinto ends up on a line with Logan Brown next year, as he's the real deal. A 30 goal season should not be a far fetched goal for him.
*of note, Tampa's 4th rounder Jonne Tammela was taken by Peterborough in the Import Draft and could possibility report to play there next year, where he'd receive top 6 ice time.