This is the final Canadian stop on our 30 day tour.
1. Sam Bennett - Kingston Frontenacs
Seems kind of cheap to be reviewing Bennett based on the 15 total games he played in the OHL this year, but ces't la vie. The crazy thing is that Bennett was able to dominate the OHL without even being on his "A" game (at least IMO). The Bennett we (the OHL) got to close out the season was not as quick, not nearly as involved away from the puck (especially physically), and not as strong on the puck as the one who ripped up the league as an 18 year old in 2013/2014. And of course, that's to be expected coming off of major shoulder surgery. Yet, despite these short comings, he managed to score a goal per game and put up over 2 points per game. It shows just how well he thinks the game. He doesn't have to be at his best physically to find holes in the defense and create off the rush. His skill with the puck is also undeniable and electrifying and it helped to create the time and space that his body wasn't yet able to. So what does the future hold for Bennett? Definitely not the OHL. As his late season playoff performance for Calgary proved, Bennett is ready for the prime time. And he's likely fully recovered this offseason and then some. Expect a healthy, motivated, and exceptionally talented Bennett to come to training camp and do everything in his power to earn a spot in Calgary's top 9. I fully expect him to be an early Calder trophy candidate.
2. Hunter Smith - Oshawa Generals
The Big Rig is just that. A monster on skates whose sole mission is to power his way down the wing and obliterate any and everything in his way. While the numbers aren't eye popping on the offensive side of things, his impact on the ice is measured by more than that. And besides, he really stepped up his game in the playoffs and in the Memorial Cup. His shot has never really developed and that does likely hinder his scoring potential a bit, but his hands in close are underrated and he does a very good job of maintaining scoring position near the crease and reading defenses to get himself scoring chances. He's more than just a "power" player in that regard (although driving the net hard is his bread and butter). His skating continues to improve and it will likely do so at the pro level too. Of course physically he changes the landscape of the game by being generally terrifying on the forecheck. I'm very excited to see what he brings to the pro level next year. Even if he could make an immediate impact on Calgary's 4th line, I think a year in the AHL would do him wonders. Let him get some powerplay time and slowly get used to the speed at which he needs to process things offensively (and defensively). I think he has a 15/15 year in him for his first year of pro.
3. Rasmus Andersson - Barrie Colts
The Colts took a chance drafting Andersson in the Import Draft last summer, hoping he'd come over and be able to fill a vacant hole left by someone named Aaron Ekblad. Andersson absolutely proved up to the challenge, finishing 3rd in league defenseman scoring and helping the Colts finish 2nd in the Conference. He's still got some holes to patch though. He's already worked hard on his conditioning and will likely continue to do so this offseason. His skating needs to be better for him to be a more effective defender, and a dominant offensive player. In particular, if he can improve his first few steps, he could be incredibly difficult to stop because of how well he sees the ice entering the neutral zone. And his focus in the defensive end needs to improve, especially if he wants to be the defensive leader for a team that moves beyond the 2nd round of the OHL playoffs (where the Colts were ousted this past year). But all in all, a very successful first season in the league for the talented Swede. Barrie should be one of the teams to beat in the entire OHL next year and I expect Andersson to have a monster season (considering the talent at his disposal on the powerplay). He could definitely hit the 70 point marker and be a candidate for OHL defender of the year.
4. Andrew Mangiapane - Barrie Colts
Undrafted (even though he shouldn't have been in his original draft year, Mangiapane came back completely motivated and was one of the OHL's top offensive players this year. He was definitely a great pickup by Calgary at the most recent draft. Mangiapane is an exceptionally intelligent player in the offensive end. Not necessarily the most flashy (although he can be creative off the rush), he knows how to read defences and find holes and is a great playmaker for his line mates. This is why he's such a great player on the power play. But that does bring me to the next step for him and that's becoming a better player 5 on 5. Mangiapane finished the season 13th in total points per game. Yet, he was 32nd in the league in even strength points per game. Quite honestly, I'm not too worried about him being just a power play specialist. He's quick enough to be an impactful player 5 on 5 once he gets stronger and is able to work his way through contact more consistently. As mentioned, Barrie could be a contender in the East next year and Mangiapane will be the offensive focal point. With guys like Marner, Strome, Fabbri, Dal Colle, all set to be WJC participants (if they're not in the NHL), Mangiapane could be a contender for the OHL scoring race and he could break 110 points IMO.
5. Riley Bruce - North Bay Battalion
When NHL teams opt to take a chance on players with immense size, it should never shock people. Happens every year. Bruce is about as raw as you can get. This year, I actually felt like he may have regressed a bit from his rookie year in the OHL, playing a bit role on the team's 3rd pairing (or was at least part of a carousel of younger defenders there). In a lot of ways, Bruce just looks awkward on the ice. Offensively, he still doesn't look comfortable or confident. Often opts to differ to his defensive partner to start the breakout. Defensively, the size is alluring but he's still learning how to use it. Mobility needs to improve and at times he gets caught standing still, in between playing the body and using his reach. The good news? Stan Butler is great at developing players defensively. If Bruce is willing to put in the work, he will improve under Butler. I'm sure that's what the Flames are banking on. Next year North Bay's defence will need a face lift as they've got McIvor and Miller graduating. That opens up an opportunity for Bruce to slip into the top 4. But Butler won't just hand out ice time. He's going to have to show improvements to get increased responsibility.