The Carolina Hurricanes have been no strangers to drafting out of the OHL.
1. Alex Nedeljkovic - Plymouth Whalers/Flint Firebirds
While statistically this was Nedeljkovic's worst season in the OHL, this does not tell the whole story. Plymouth was ravaged by injury, especially on the blue line and Nedeljkovic was forced to defend a ton of high quality scoring chances every night. He went through a bit of a lull the first half and seemed to be visibly frustrated by the lack of support he was receiving. But in the 2nd half he was fantastic and the fact that he was able to finish the year with a top 5 save percentage in the league speaks volumes. Nedeljkovic is certainly not a big goaltender, but he's so positionally sound. He reads plays very well and knows how to challenge shooters and cover angles to make up for being only 6'0. His rebound control and overall agility in the net also continues to improve. Flint (formerly Plymouth) will be looking to improve next year and could potentially be a playoff club. However, it also wouldn't surprise me at all if one of the early OHL favourites pulls the trigger on a deal for the Firebirds net minder. There are some really good teams out there that could use the upgrade in goal if they're serious about making a Memorial Cup push. Either way, I expect Nedeljkovic is challenging for the goaltender of the year award (an award that's only had one repeat winner in it's history; Mike Murphy).
2. Sergei Tolchinsky - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
It was definitely a good year for Tolchinsky. Even though his offensive output was similar to the year prior, I did feel that his game developed well in a bunch of different areas (again a tale of stats not telling the whole story). Tolchinsky was noticeably stronger this year and as such he was able to maintain possession without having to over handle the puck. This cut down on his turnovers and made him a more confident player. When combined with his speed entering the zone (and the aforementioned creativity), it made him a very difficult player to stop in the middle of the ice, despite being undersized. Tolchinsky was also more consistently engaged without the puck, making a more conscientious effort to attack on the forecheck and disrupt on the back check. If he lost the puck, he was motivated to get it right back. With his creativity, vision, and skill, he should definitely find success at the pro level in today's fast paced game. It'll be exciting to see him finally start his pro career next year in the AHL. I do expect there to be some learning curves at the beginning, but as he slowly gains confidence and gains chemistry with line mates, I think his production will increase.
3. Roland McKeown - Kingston Frontenacs
One of the main pieces of the Sekera deal. Last year at this time, I said that McKeown would be best suited to focusing on his defensive game next year at the expense of his offensive production. And that's just what he did. I wouldn't be too concerned about the offensive regression this year. McKeown really focused on being a strong defensive presence this year by getting stronger and playing with more intensity in his own end. With his mobility and defensive intelligence, he has the chance to develop into a real quality workhorse on the back end. Offensively, I still don't think he's a natural fit. He has puck skills and he makes smart decisions with the puck, but he's never been an aggressive puck rusher, nor the type of guy who jumps up into the play to get himself chances to shoot. Next year, the Fronts will probably be about as good as they were this year, perhaps even slightly worse. As captain, it will be McKeown's job to steer the ship in the right direction. I must say though, I could see him as a trade target for teams looking for help on defence. After focusing on his defensive play this year, let's see if he's gained the confidence to be more aggressive offensively next year (sort of the way Chris Bigras did in 2015).
4. Tyler Ganly - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The bottom 4 guys on this list for Carolina are all pretty close, but I have them rated in the order of likelihood of developing into NHL players (even though all four are long shots IMO). Ganly missed a good chunk of the 2014/2015 season with a broken finger (suffered in a fight), but has developed into a very solid stay at home defender and was Darnell Nurse's defensive partner for most of the season. He makes a good first pass and will even occasionally skate the puck out of the zone. Overall, he's not the type to be turnover prone in his own end and generally makes good decisions. But defence is his bread and butter and his ticket to the NHL. Good mobility, decent size, intelligent positionally, and can play physical when he needs to. Next year Ganly should start his pro career in the AHL (or the ECHL). His production won't be flashy, but if he can stay in the lineup that will be a plus. Not a high ceiling here, but could develop into a solid 3rd pairing guy down the line.
5. Kyle Jenkins - Peterborough Petes
Was having a solid year in the Soo prior to the big trade to Peterborough (for Nick Ritchie). But after the trade to Peterborough, I felt he struggled a bit with more responsibility defensively. Jenkins has decent size, but he still needs to get stronger to be more effective in his own end. Winning more battles in the corners and in front of the net is a necessity, and the fact that the Hounds (playoff bound) gave him up, tells me that they felt that they couldn't win in the playoffs with him playing a significant role. Offensively, Jenkins does do a great job running the power play and sees the ice well. But he needs to be more aggressive 5 on 5, especially since the offensive side of things will be his ticket to the pros. Next year Peterborough hopes to be better, and they should be. They'll have a veteran team, but will need to score more in order to be a contender in the East. A guy like Jenkins could really help them there, as the club's most natural offensive defender and power play trigger man. If he wants an NHL contract, I think he's got to crack the 40 point mark and really help Peterborough get passed the 2nd round.
6. Josh Wesley - Plymouth Whalers/Flint Firebirds
In his draft year, I certainly wasn't a huge fan, but even I thought he would have been better this year than he was. With all the injuries that the Whalers suffered on the back end, they really needed Wesley to step up and play a ton of minutes. And he certainly didn't look ready for that. He's got great size and his mobility is pretty decent, but outside of that, he doesn't have a ton going for him at this current moment. He continues to struggle with his breakout pass and is very susceptible to turnovers from the forecheck. Offensively, there just isn't much to his game. Defensively, he tends to lose focus at times and can be caught flat footed, off the rush, and when chasing down pucks in the corner. He will assert himself physically, which is a plus. But as of right now, he has a below average impact offensively, and only a moderate impact defensively. Next year the Firebirds are really going to need him to play a top 4 role, perhaps as the shutdown guy with Import Vili Saarijarvi. If the offensive side of things never develops, so be it. But he needs to be better with the puck in his own end and he needs to really become a dominant force defensively.
7. Steven Lorentz - Peterborough Petes
There's no question that the lanky 6'3 center improved a lot this year from his rookie year in the OHL, and initial draft year (2013/2014). But that doesn't make his draft selection this year by Carolina any less surprising. Lorentz isn't necessarily the type to use his size to inflict physical damage. But he does show flashes of being very strong in puck protection, using his size to control the middle of the ice off the rush. He has a decent playmaker's touch and has pretty good vision coming off the wall. And while he's not a physical player, he's also not a strictly perimeter player and will go to the net where the majority of his goals are scored. Lorentz's future is tied to his ability to get stronger I think. At this point, I don't see an NHL prospect. But as he adds size, how does his skill set develop? Does he become more physical? Does his shot and scoring ability improve? Does he become a terrific two-way guy? There are worse guys out there to spend a late round pick on I suppose, even if this one did come a bit out of left field. Next year, Peterborough is going to have great depth down the middle, but not a lot on the wings. It'll be interesting to see if they try Lorentz on the wing of a scoring line to try and give him more responsibility. He'll at the very least receive powerplay time on the 2nd unit, as he did this year. I'd like to see him hit 25/30 on the season and inch closer to the point per game mark.