Thursday, August 27, 2015

Preseason Top 30 for the 2016 NHL Draft

With the Ivan Hlinka tournament completed and OHL preseason action around the corner, it's time for the first draft list of the season. I only started doing a preseason list a few years ago, but I enjoy it because it gives you a great perspective on where players have come from (for fun, here's 2015's preseason list).

This is obviously a very difficult list to make. The progression for draft eligible players can often be a tad unpredictable. The player you see in a sophomore season isn't often the same player you see in a freshman year. Growth spurts occur. Strength is added. Confidence grows. Timid perimeter players can become physical beasts, etc. Plus, you've got all the players who haven't yet played in the OHL, but who are projected to be impact players in their draft year (Max Jones, Matt Tkachuk, etc).

Face value, I think this looks like a solid group for the OHL, which is only going to get better when you add in a ton of draft eligible talent that's entering the league this year. Once again, the league will provide a challenger for first overall, in addition to several other top 10 candidates.

I will also add that this looks like it could be the best draft crop of goaltenders that the OHL has produced in years.

Here's a look at my early list:

30. Connor Bunnaman - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Excellent in a checking line role with the Rangers last year, as he demonstrated an ability to be very strong without the puck. Looks like he could develop into an excellent puck possession type of center who can control the wall and make plays behind the net. Also a hard worker who is active on the forecheck and not afraid to mix things up. Showed a pretty decent shot last year and could have even more scoring potential. He should get more ice time this year and could be an important piece of Kitchener's veteran laden lineup.

29. Drake Rymsha - Forward - London Knights
High energy, well rounded center who did everything asked of him in a limited role with London last year. He skates quite well and plays the game with little fear, involving himself on the forecheck, back check, and crashing the net. Also showed well as a penalty killer when called upon. While he doesn't possess ideal size for the role, he looks like he could develop into an excellent two-way forward. Just remains to be seen how much offensive potential he has.

28. Noah Carroll - Defence - Guelph Storm
Reminds me a bit of Travis Dermott after his first OHL season, but not quite as naturally talented offensively. A late '97, Carroll made himself a valued member of Guelph's blue line in his first OHL season, improving nearly every month as he slowly gained more ice time and responsibility. Intense and intelligent in his own end, Carroll could develop into a real shutdown defender at the OHL level. His first pass continues to improve and he even flashed an ability to jump up in the rush late in the season. Should see even more ice time this year and perhaps that will give us a better read of his offensive potential.

27. Tyler Parsons - Goaltender - London Knights
A free agent signing by the Knights last year, Parsons proved himself to be a very capable OHL net minder and a great find. Not blessed with ideal size at the position, but Parsons is very athletic and makes a lot of second, third saves using his quickness and reflexes. Will need to learn to make himself bigger in the net and continue to work on his positioning, but he looks like a starter in the OHL. As of right now, he'll be the starter for London in his draft year and if he plays well, he could really draw attention to himself in a positive way.

26. Anthony Salinitri - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Ultra quick forward who was the main component to the Anthony DeAngelo deal last year. He went from playing sparingly with the Greyhounds to seeing all the action he could handle in Sarnia. Salinitri is great at using his speed to gain entry to the zone, and once his hands catch up to his feet and he gets a bit stronger, he could be a beast to handle off the rush. He also doesn't shy away from contact and is a competent two-way player for his age. Because of his speed and intelligence, he profiles as an above average penalty killer. Should definitely see a spike in production this year on a good team.

25. Zach Poirier - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Poirier is sort of your typical Battalion forward. Hard nosed, loves to attack the net, works well off the wall. Poirier has a terrific shot which deftly profiles him as a goal scorer. At this point, he just needs to add quickness, especially in his first few steps, to get himself those scoring chances consistently. Played a depth role for his coach at the Ivan Hlinka tournament.

24. Christopher Paquette - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Has proven to be a great find by the IceDogs in the 2nd round thus far, after a solid first season in the league. Highly skilled forward who works very well in traffic, using his puck skill to create time and space for himself to unleash a great shot. Works very well off the rush, even though he could upgrade his skating a tad bit. Will need to round out his game, becoming more active away from the puck, but his ceiling is very high offensively and he could be a big time breakout star in the league this year with added strength to an already big frame.

23. Troy Timpano - Goaltender - Sudbury Wolves
It's certainly not easy being the starting goaltender on a last place team. The Wolves were bad, but the important thing is that they weren't bad because of Timpano. Any time the team put up a fight against a better team, it was because Timpano was exceptional between the pipes. He's your typical butterfly goaltender in the sense that he's quick, agile, and athletic. Can tend to drop down in the butterfly a bit early, and will need to do a better job of fighting through traffic to make saves, but he's a quality goaltending prospect trapped on a rebuilding club. Already in his 3rd season (a late '97), if Timpano continues to improve, the Wolves could compete for a playoff spot this upcoming season.

22. Adam Mascherin - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Super stocky, competitive, yet highly skilled forward. Mascherin had a solid rookie season with Kitchener, however struggled with consistency like most of the other Rangers forwards. Is only 5'9, but  is incredibly strong along the wall and shows great poise and patience in the possession game. Needs to continue to improve his play away from the puck, and should develop into a beast in the dump and chase because of his ability to gain positioning using his skill and strong lower body. With his lack of size, he'll need to put up some offensive numbers to be heavily considered come June 2016

21. Joseph Raaymakers - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
At times, Raaymakers was absolutely fantastic for the Hounds in his rookie season. If Halverson was struggling or needed a night off, the team felt confident going to the Chatham native for a start. Inconsistency was an issue, but he has all the tools in the toolbox to develop into a quality starting net minder. Whether that's this season or not depends on whether the Hounds end up dealing Brandon Halverson in what could be a bit of a retooling season.

20. Keaton Middleton - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
Absolutely behemoth defender who I like a lot (despite some short comings). Is already a very difficult player to match up against defensively. Is physically intimidating, does a great job of winning one on one battles, and has a great stick. Skating is average, but he has good enough instincts to over come that. Does occasionally get caught flat footed off the rush though. The real key will be the development of his puck skills. Can struggle with the forecheck and needs to make a better first pass. But once he's out of his own zone, his offensive game shows some potential. If he can clean things up a bit, and add an offensive element, he could be a first round candidate. Really excited to see his development this year.

19. Jonathan Ang - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Super speedy and skilled forward who recently looked very good at the Ivan Hlinka camp (but was ultimately cut). Ang is very dangerous in transition as he controls the puck very well at high speed and has dynamic puck skills which he can use to make defenders look silly. Strength is the key for him as last year he was too easily pushed off the puck and wasn't given the opportunity to extend plays. But he looked stronger at the Hlinka camp. Also needs to be better away from the puck and learn to use his speed as a weapon defensively, which was another thing I noticed positively from the Hlinka camp. Could be in for a big year offensively.

18. Evan Cormier - Goaltender - Saginaw Spirit
The Spirit definitely look to have their next goaltending star in Cormier, taking the reigns from the terrific Jake Paterson. Cormier looks poised and confident in the crease and does a very good job of tracking the play and shoring up to shooters. Just needs to make sure he doesn't drop to the butterfly too early and will need to continue to work on his post to post movement. But he was recently the 2nd youngest net minder at Hockey Canada's U20 camp and he has a bright future ahead of him.

17. Dylan Wells - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
Right now the top net minder available from the OHL and I don't expect that to change this season. Wells has the size and athleticism in the crease that NHL scouts crave. Moves exceptionally well in his crease and does a good job of tracking the play for a young net minder. Needs to develop his rebound control though, as he has a tendency to put juicy ones back into play. Was terrific at the Ivan Hlinka tournament for Canada and I expect him to take control of the starter's job in Peterborough pretty quickly into the 2015/2016 season.

16. Nathan Bastian - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Big, powerful forward who has grown a lot in the last two years and is still learning to utilize his size to his advantage. The late '97 forward had a very solid first OHL season last year, playing a secondary scoring role for the Steelheads. He protects the puck well with his body and is starting to develop into someone who can be very dangerous driving the net. Bastian might be at his best near the crease where he has great hands and finishing ability. Hopefully he continues to get quicker, and continues to learn to use his size away from the puck (especially physically), but he's an intriguing player.

15. Givani Smith - Forward - Guelph Storm
Power winger who enjoyed a lot of success with the Storm after the trade from Barrie (Harpur deal). Plays a solid North/South game and he might be the most physical forward on this list right now. Attacks the offensive end with vigour and shows a great ability to protect the puck off the rush and create by driving the net wide. Skating will need to continue to get better, but if his play late last year is any indication, he's a prospect on the rise.

14. Luke Kirwan - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
This upcoming season is a huge one for Kirwan. The late '97 was a massive disappointment last year for Windsor after transferring from the USDP. At one time, was considered a possible top 5 pick for the 2016 draft, but after last year his stock has plummeted. But not so fast. We all know how much USHL transfers tend to improve in their second year in the league. Kirwan dominated the U17's not too long ago and I'm not ready to give up on him. Kirwan is a potential power forward who can control the game in a variety of different ways. He's a potential 30 goal scorer this year and will probably need to be to regain his first round status.

13. Travis Barron - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Barron is a character forward who likes to play at a high tempo. A solid complimentary piece on a scoring line because he's a good finisher and is intelligent away from the puck. Already a solid two-way player, Barron loves to mix things up and should develop into a very physical forechecker. As he gets quicker, I expect him to be more of a factor off the rush, which would add a lot of value to him as a player. Perhaps not mentioned enough, he's a potential captain at this level and the next and should be a  rock for the 67's moving forward.

12. Will Bitten - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Undersized, but extremely talented, Bitten is a center who loves playing the game at top speed. He's got the slippery quality to him because his puck skill is so good and it creates time and space for himself to operate in the middle of the ice. Bitten also plays bigger than his size, and is eager to engage without the puck and should eventually develop into a terrific penalty killer. The one thing I did notice last year was that he had a tendency to over handle the puck and as such was a bit turnover prone. Needs to learn to use his teammates better. But he was great at the Ivan Hlinka, playing within Stan Butler's system which bodes well for the type of season he's going to have.

11. Alex Debrincat - Forward - Erie Otters
How the times have changed. A few years ago, despite being exceptionally talented, a kid like Debrincat wouldn't have drawn any attention from the NHL. But small players have found a ton of success in the league today and as such, a pint sized forward like Debrincat (5'7, perhaps a few inches taller going into this season) will be given a chance. Credit has to be given to him though. For as small as he is, he's absolutely fearless. Would he have scored over 100 points without McDavid by his side? I don't think so. But he also made McDavid a better player because of the things he does on the ice. Is incredibly elusive, constantly slipping behind defences for scoring chances. Keeps plays alive along the wall despite being undersized, and is great at driving the net. If he were 6'2, we'd be talking about him as a potential top 10 pick.

10. Tim Gettinger - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Could be a big time riser this year if he puts everything together. 6'5, 200lbs, but skates very well for a big man. As such, he can be an absolute load to handle off the rush. Without the puck, he loves to drive the net and has great hands in close, for deflections and tap ins. As he gets stronger, I expect the rest of his game to really develop. In particular, I'd love to see him use his size to play a physical game and really disrupt on the forecheck (especially with his speed). The U.S. didn't have the best Ivan Hlinka tournament, but he was one of their best and most productive players which bodes well for the upcoming season when he's going to get more ice time and responsibility in the Soo.

9. Victor Mete - Defence - London Knights
Undersized defender who has the potential to be one of the OHL's elite offensive playmakers. Struggled mightily at the beginning of last year, but got better each month in the league and was probably London's best defender by the time the playoffs rolled around. Mete is an elite skater, and as good as he is at creating offence using his speed, he's learning to use his mobility as an asset defensively, closing out on forwards off the rush. There's no question that he's a high risk player though and still makes his share of mistakes. He'll need to iron those out this year as London will need him to be a top 3 defender on a potential Memorial Cup contending squad. Was a member of Canada's Ivan Hlinka team this year, seeing pretty significant ice time.

8. Taylor Raddysh - Forward - Erie Otters
A pure finisher who had a great rookie year in Erie, leading all '98 born players in goal scoring with 21. Is a very smart player in the offensive end who has that innate ability to find holes in the defence and get himself in scoring position. Is not afraid of doing the little things that need to be done to attain or maintain possession and is the perfect complimentary scoring line player. Will be interesting to see if his play with the puck becomes a little more dynamic, or is it more of a case of, what we see, is what we get?

7. Brandon Saigeon - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Cut from the same cloth as the Scott Laughton, Mike Richards types. Saigeon is a competitive two-way center who should be a cornerstone of the new Bulldogs franchise. I expect that as he gets stronger, he'll become a force along the wall and working the cycle, and that he'll become quite a physical player. Offensively, he sees the ice well and makes things happen when the game slows down a bit. Last year, his skating was a bit of a weakness, but he looked quicker at the Ivan Hlinka camp and should be in for a big draft season.

6. Jordan Kyrou - Forward - Sarnia Sting
A great find by the Sting at the back of the 2nd round, Kyrou has emerged as one of the top 98's in the country, let alone Ontario. He was the 3rd highest scoring '98 in the OHL last year and was consistently one of Sarnia's best players in the 2nd half. Kyrou plays the game with a ton of energy, constantly buzzing around, with and without the puck. When it's on his stick, his creativity and vision make him a terrific playmaker. When it's not on his stick, he's battling hard to get it back and can be relentless in puck pursuit. Overall, just a terrific playmaking center who makes those around him better. Was great for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and as of right now, he looks like a first round pick.

5. Tye Felhaber - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Felhaber is an elite offensive player who could one day be the scoring leader of the OHL. Felhaber plays and excels at a high tempo, using his speed to drive the center of the ice. He has great skill with the puck in transition and creates space to unleash a nasty wrist shot off the rush. Last year he struggled with the size of some defenders, but he was an offensive force at the Ivan Hlinka camp (and a massively surprising cut IMO) who looked considerably stronger on the puck. He also looked more dedicated to playing without the puck, a key to his development moving forward. He just might be the most gifted offensive player on this list and he's poised for a big year.

4. Sean Day - Defence - Mississauga Steelheads
Perhaps the most talked about player on this list because of his exceptional status with Hockey Canada. While his development hasn't gone completely according to plan, he remains a solid prospect because of his size and skill set. The most obvious component to that is his effortless skating ability, which he uses to his advantage at both ends of the ice. Then there's the 6'2, 230lbs frame and the potential to develop into a dominating force in his own end. But…there's also the lack of intensity that can be frustrating. Just seems to be lacking that killer instinct. With his skill set, he should be jumping up in the play and pacing the action, but instead seems hesitant to do so. Then there's the cut at the Ivan Hlinka camp where he failed to stand out (and apparently had some conditioning issues). This is a huge year for him. There's no guarantee he's even a first round pick at this point, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until the season starts. If he doesn't put things together, he'll drop heavily on my preliminary list in November.

3. Logan Brown - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Gigantic center (6'5) who is coming off a terrific rookie season in the OHL where he led all '98's in scoring. Has the ability to dominate in the offensive end because of the way he can maintain possession and work the wall. But he also has great speed, especially for his size, and could dominate off the rush, if he learns to be more aggressive in attacking the net and the middle of the ice. With good hands in close, and vision, Brown is the type of center NHL teams drool over now. The only negative is that he's not necessarily a physical player and his overall intensity without the puck needs to improve. This was noticeable at the Ivan Hlinka camp, where he was cut (all be it, Canada was loaded down the middle). If he can turn up the dial on the aggressive meter and continue to put up points, he'll be highly coveted by the NHL.

2. Michael McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Had him at number 4 on my list until the Ivan Hlinka tournament. At the camp and at the tournament itself, he was one of Canada's top players and seems to have really taken that next step in his development. McLeod is an explosive skater who is fearless in driving the net and who is great working off the rush, or coming off the wall. He's got a great scorer's touch in close too. It seems like he's really added strength this offseason and he's going to be a very difficult player to stop in the offensive end. I also really like how physical he played at the Ivan Hlinka and I hope that continues into the OHL. The Steelheads have long needed a game breaking offensive star to kickstart their offence and McLeod could be that guy.

1. Jakub Chychrun - Defence - Sarnia Sting
Just stay healthy. That's all I've got to say. At the same age, I actually think Chychrun is ahead of where Aaron Ekblad was. As a rookie, he was a top 5 defender in the league IMO and he can heavily influence the game at either end. Solid defensively, physical, mobile, intelligent. Aggressive offensively with a fantastic point shot, and great vision. Most complete defender I've seen in the league since Drew Doughty (and that includes Ekblad). But, as I said, only obstacle in his way is his health, in particular a wonky shoulder. Missed the OHL Cup with a shoulder injury. Then missed time this year with a shoulder injury. Then had shoulder surgery that prevented him from playing at the Hlinka. Hopefully this surgery has cleaned things up and he can now focus on staying on the ice where he is a candidate for OHL defenseman of the year…and the first overall pick.

Honorable Mentions:

Cliff Pu - Forward - London Knights

Cole Candella - Defence - Hamilton Bulldogs

Ben Gleason - Defence - London Knights

Ben Hawerchuk - Forward - Barrie Colts

Logan Stanley - Defence - Windsor Spitfires

Michael Pezzetta - Forward - Sudbury Wolves

Appearing Soon (Have yet to play in the OHL):

Matthew Tkachuk - Forward - London Knights

Max Jones - Forward - London Knights

Dmitri Sokolov - Forward - Sudbury Wolves

Mikhail Sergachev - Defence - Windsor Spitfires

Markus Niemelainen - Defence - Saginaw Spirit

Olli Juolevi - Defence - London Knights

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