Tons of OHL talent for the rebuilding Coyotes. Not just depth, but high end talent. Arizona might have the best crop of OHL prospects in the NHL.
1. Dylan Strome - Erie Otters
Hard to argue with the type of season Strome had. Any time you can win a scoring title, let alone in your draft year, speaks volumes to your talent level. Even though I preferred Marner as a prospect, that doesn't mean that I don't believe in Strome (which is obvious because I've got him ranked ahead of Domi). Big, skilled, centerman just don't grow on trees. Strome's hands are insanely good in close, right up there with the best in the OHL. He's able to make skilled plays in traffic, despite yet being physically mature, because of this, and because of how good his hockey IQ is. One of those guys that the puck just seems to follow. Over the course of this year, his defensive game really improved too and he's learning to use his size (and reach) to be a major factor on the back check. The skating is obviously the most talked about drawback, but it's not awful. He'll need to improve it, but his brother Ryan was able to, so I can't see any reason he won't. Besides, a guy like Sean Monahan had similar knocks against him and look at the early success he's had at the NHL level. Is Strome NHL ready though? I don't think so. Against the Generals in the Championship last year, he really struggled with the size and speed of Oshawa and I think he needs another year to physically mature. In Erie next year, he could be the offensive focal point with McDavid gone, but he'll still have a fair amount of talent on the wing supporting him. I expect big numbers yet again and for him to challenge for the scoring race. I'm also assuming he makes the Canadian WJC team and becomes a major offensive player in that tournament.
2. Max Domi - London Knights
After I was quite critical of his game two years ago, I was very impressed with Domi's play this past season. He was much better, much more focused and motivated, and as such the Knights had a surprisingly strong year. Domi played much more unselfishly this year, utilizing his teammates better, especially off the rush. With his speed and low center of gravity, he's like a little wrecking ball coming across the blue line. As such, he's a very challenging guy to stop one on one because of how well he protects the puck and creates distance with his stick handling ability. Domi's play away from the puck also returned to the form it showed in his draft year, when he was a relatively physical player on the forecheck. While he's not his father, he will surprise you with his physical play. I actually expect him to be more physical as a pro player too, as it will help him create space against bigger players. Next year Domi will finally get to start his pro career (it seems like he's been an OHL'er forever) and it will be exciting to see how he produces. As he transitions to the pro game, he'll definitely have to learn to be less cute with the puck, making quicker decisions in traffic. He'll also have to continue to improve his defensive game. But the offensive numbers should be there immediately. With the Coyotes rebuilding a bit, I think Domi will be in the NHL and there looks to be an opening on the team's 2nd line. A 20/20 season in the NHL would be a great success IMO, but if he's in the AHL, I expect him to be close to a point per game player.
3. Brendan Perlini - Niagara IceDogs
Didn't make his season debut until December because of a broken hand, but Perlini definitely had a solid season. The IceDogs struggled mightily without him, without an offensive leader. It should come as no surprise that their turnaround this season correlated with his return to the ice. His size and speed opens up ice for his line mates, as he stretches opposing defences wide because they fear his shot and hands. Perlini has one of the best wrist shots in the league coming down the wing, with a ton of velocity and accuracy and the ability to use defenders as screens. Perlini's engagement without the puck improved this year too, as he showed an increased willingness to battle in the corners and use his size to play the cycle game. I think he still has a ways to go in this regard (he could be a beast in the offensive zone if he learns to harness an ability to create off the wall) before becoming an NHL scorer, but it's improving. Next year, Niagara will look to compete for the Eastern Conference crown and Perlini will be one of the most important players in the OHL. With a healthy season and offensive talent around him, I think Perlini cracks the 40 goal mark and could be a candidate to lead the league in goal scoring.
4. Christian Dvorak - London Knights
Not too often do you see a player jump from 14 to 109 points in junior hockey. Fully healthy, and surrounded by offensive talent, the intelligent Dvorak exploded in London this past year. Easily one of the league's most improved. Dvorak is just a very well rounded player. Can do pretty much anything that is asked of him (work the rush with Domi/Marner, control the boards, dig in near the crease) offensively. His hands are terrific in close and while he's not huge, he's quite strong and it helps him win a lot of battles near the crease. Dvorak is also a terrific two-way player who is fully engaged in the back check. Coming off a serious knee injury, it was also great to see him play nearly the whole season and avoid injury. Next year in London, the Knights could be a Memorial Cup contender again and Dvorak will be a key player. Along with Mitch Marner (likely), I expect Dvorak to be one of the league's leading scorers yet again. Would also be great to see him make the U.S WJC team and play an important role there too. There's no hiding the fact that Dvorak is the least talked about Top 50 Prospect in the NHL.
5. Michael Bunting - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Huge fan of Bunting as a prospect. Was really excited to see him sign his NHL deal recently. Not the biggest guy, but he plays with his heart on his sleeve. Fearless in driving the net and playing in traffic and is especially effective near the crease as a garbage man. Bunting continues to work on his speed, and it makes him a very effective player on the forecheck. Creates lots of turnovers this way. Bunting also works as a bit of an agitator, getting under the skin of the opposition because of his constant motor (and perhaps a few extra curricular activities). He really stepped up his game in the playoffs for SSM for the second straight year and I think that tells a lot about his workhorse attitude. So what does next year hold for Bunting? Seems likely at this point that he plays in the AHL next year, or at least he'll be given the opportunity to make that team. In the AHL, he is probably brought along slowly in an energy role, but a 15/15 year would be great in that scenario. If he's back in the OHL, he'll be a go to guy for the Greyhounds as an overager and a 40 goal season is probable.
6. Ryan MacInnis - Kitchener Rangers
Statistically, it wasn't a bad year for MacInnis. Nearly doubled his production from his draft year as he led Kitchener in scoring. But I'm still looking for more from him. Looks great one game, using his size and skill to dominate down the middle. Puck protection ability could be dominant as he continues to add strength. Flashes great vision when operating off the rush and coming off the wall. But, then the next game he's not visible, seems unengaged away from the puck and plays too soft for his size. His top end speed continues to need improvements IMO, and I think it explains some of that inconsistent play. Would also really like him to play a little more physical, especially on the back check. On the plus side, I did think he was consistently excellent in the first round of the playoffs against London and really gave them all they could handle. Next year Kitchener hopes to compete in the West with a very veteran laden team and they'll need MacInnis to be a dominant player. In his final year of the OHL, he needs to live up to the hype. The Rangers are going to need him to be a 35+ goal scorer and an 80+ point guy. We'll see.
7. Kyle Capobianco - Sudbury Wolves
Capobianco is a very good defensive prospect and a fine selection from the recent draft. The Wolves were not a good team this year. But don't let his -49 fool you, he was excellent for them. He played in all situations, and saw a ton of ice time (often 30 minutes a night) for an 18 year old. Capobianco makes smart decisions with the puck and flashes the potential to develop into an above average offensive defenseman. This is especially true when you take into account his terrific skating stride and outstanding mobility. Once he gains confidence, he'll be able to lead the rush, and jump up into the play with a lot of effectiveness. In his own end, Capobianco is still learning, but he's certainly not passive. Despite lacking strength, he engages physically and could be a tough guy to play against down the line. Overall, we're looking at a raw player who needs to get stronger in order for us to see what he's really capable of. As Sudbury gets better, he'll be at the forefront. That starts next year when the Wolves will look to push for a playoff spot. I expect him to have a great year and be among the scoring leaders of defenders.
8. Dakota Mermis - Oshawa Generals
A solid signing by the Coyotes. Few players have had as successful an OHL career as Mermis did. Played in three straight Memorial Cups (with London, then Oshawa), finally winning this year. He won a USHL title before joining the OHL too. Just a proven winner. Mermis is not a flashy player, but more of a well rounded guy who just gets the job done. Average sized, but he plays a lot bigger than that. With good mobility, he does a great job defending off the rush, and is able to start the breakout very quickly with a rush or a good first pass. Profiles as a solid third pairing, depth guy who can do a little bit of everything. Could be, and should be in the AHL next year with the lack of defensive depth at that level for Arizona. Could work his way up the lineup as he gains the trust of the coaching staff and showcases his calm, error free approach.