Columbus is the next team up.
1. Sonny Milano - Plymouth Whalers/Flint Firebirds
Was very impressed with Milano in his first (and likely only) season in the OHL. The Whalers struggled pretty mightily this year, but Milano was certainly a bright spot. He's got tons of speed to burn and his puck skill and creativity was among the best in the league this year. He was most dangerous off the rush, showcasing a terrific ability to dart in and out of traffic while extending plays in the offensive end with his ability to "dangle." He also seems to have good vision and playmaking ability, although the Whalers lacked an elite finisher post Mistele trade, so a lot of the chances he created failed to find the back of the net. Safe to say that if Milano played on a team with a more dynamic forward group, he would have been an 80-90 point player IMO. But for all his skill, Milano doesn't come without his warts. He definitely needs to upgrade his strength, as he struggled in the corners and below the hash marks. The motor is certainly there, but he was too easily pushed off the puck at times. Adding strength would also upgrade the quality of his shot, which is only average right now. Lastly, the strength would also make him more effective on the back check, as he had some trouble in his own end. Tons of talent here and as he matures physically, I see Milano developing into a terrific NHL'er. The question is, what happens next year? All signs would point to Milano being in the AHL, despite being only 19. Of course, he was drafted out of the NTDP which means he can join the AHL earlier than other OHL'ers (ala JT Miller). It seems that would be Columbus' intention, especially since he apparently has bulked up this summer. If (and this seems like a big "if") he comes back to the OHL (now Flint), it would be huge for the Firebirds as they try to improve next year (they could be a middle of the pack team in the West).
2. Nick Moutrey - North Bay Battalion
A fantastic year for Moutrey who really took a step forward in his development this past year. His season started with Saginaw, where he was a consistent offensive contributor on a younger club. Post trade to North Bay, Moutrey's numbers took a bit of a dip, but his play did not. I thought one of the most noticeable differences in Moutrey's play was his increased desire to use his size offensively. Previously, I'd found him too much of a perimeter player for a guy who possesses his skill set, but this past year he became a much more aggressive player. And with the improvements he made to his skating, it made him a very difficult player to stop coming down the wing, as he created a ton of chances driving the net. His puck protection and retrieval ability is top notch and that's the main reason why the Battalion wanted him in the first place. Moutrey's defensive ability and focus really improved under Butler in a short period of time too. Armed with a decent shot, size, and improving focus away from the puck, Moutrey looks to be on track to developing into a quality 3rd liner at the NHL level. Moutrey is set to make his pro debut next year and I would assume he starts off in more of a limited role in the AHL level. A solid 10/10 first year seems like a logical projection as he adjusts to the speed of the pro game.
3. Blake Siebenaler - Niagara IceDogs
A solid, yet unspectacular year for Siebenaler. There were a few things I really liked about his season. Firstly, he became a much better defensive player this year, getting better nearly every month of the season. His skating ability is so good, so smooth and he's identified that this can make him a great player in his own end. His reads and coverage ability have really improved and he's become a more effective player in the corners, utilizing his mobility to gain positional leverage. Secondly, his shot gained velocity this year and he's become a more effective power play QB because of it. Teams no longer play him just for the pass and it's opened up the ice for Niagara on the power play. But there's no question that there is still more in there for Siebenaler. To truly be a more effective defensive player, he needs to continue to increase his intensity level and get a bit stronger to be more effective near the crease. When he's not in a situation to use his mobility to help him defend, he can be vulnerable. And there's definitely more offensive potential in him. Would love to see him be more aggressive in jumping up in the play with his improved shot and his skating ability. Niagara is set to be one of the top teams in the league next year on the strength of their terrific defence. Siebenaler could be in for a big season next year and I'd expect him to be in the 45+ point range.
4. Markus Soberg - Windsor Spitfires
Honestly, was disappointed with Soberg this year in Windsor. The Jackets ultimately elected not to sign him, but they still retain his rights because he was drafted out of Europe (at least according to Columbus bloggers). Windsor was not a good team and they really struggled offensively, but part of that can be explained by the lack of consistent production from players like Soberg. He's certainly got some speed to burn, but he's not strong enough to maintain puck protection. Because he's so easily pushed off the puck, he's not able to get himself many scoring chances, nor able to create them with his speed down the wing. Defensively and away from the puck, his game leaves a lot to be desired too. He needs to learn to use his speed as a weapon away from the puck, especially on the forecheck. Ultimately, many of the times I saw Windsor this year, Soberg was not a visible player. The Spitfires still hold his rights and he'll likely be given a chance to make the team again as an overager. However, OHL teams don't often like using an OA spot and an Import spot on the same player. If Soberg does not prove to be an improved contributor, he won't last long. As an OA, anything outside of a 30 goal season would be a disappointment IMO.