Sunday, March 13, 2016
Sunday Top 10 - Most Impressive 1999 Born Players
One of the many annual traditions I have on this blog is to rank the new batch of OHL rookies in order of the impression they left on me. Only the "true" OHL rookies have been included, thus why it's labeled the "Most Impressive 1999 born players."
I always like to note that this isn't an early ranking for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. This ranking isn't the order in which I believe these players should be ranked for the draft, but an order of which players impressed me most. It's not a draft prognostication, it's an acknowledgment of the significant impact these players have had on their teams this season.
As mentioned, this is a tradition, so here are the previous year's lists. 1998. 1997. 1996. 1995's. 1994's. 1993's. 1992's.
1. Michael Dipietro - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
This is the 8th edition of this list, and Dipietro is only the 3rd goalie to make an appearance (Alex Nedeljkovic & J.P. Anderson). Dipietro is also the first goalie to be ranked in the top three, let alone first. Bottom line, it's hard for 16/17 year old goalies to stand out and earn ice time in this league. Dipietro has been so good for Windsor this year. His consistently strong presence in net has been one of the main reasons why the Spitfires have been in the hunt for the division title all season long. He's super athletic, but his positioning and rebound control are way better than the average rookie netminder. Colour me impressed. If the Spits lose in round one of the OHL playoffs, I really hope that Hockey Canada brings in the underage Dipietro for a goaltending spot on the U18 team.
2. Owen Tippett - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
What a shot this kid possesses. Has insane goal scoring potential because of the way he can shoot the puck. He uses his speed to drive wide and not only gets great velocity on his shot, but he's got a very quick release too. Like his compete level without the puck too, as he'll battle in the corners and get his nose dirty on the forecheck. Unfortunately, it looks like he'll miss the rest of the year with a high ankle sprain (UPDATE - he has returned this weekend). He was just hitting his stride in terms of confidence too (IMO). But he'll come back strong next year and should be a candidate for the 30 goal mark.
3. Nick Suzuki - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Suzuki is a really smart player who has actually gotten better as the season has gone on (not usually the norm for 16/17 year olds). Reminds me a lot of how Jordan Kyrou looked in Sarnia last year. Suzuki does a nice job being a factor away from the puck, despite not possessing elite size or strength. He's a really good playmaker who exhibits patience and poise in the offensive end. Owen Sound has been relying on him heavily lately and he's delivered for them. Definitely a future cornerstone for the organization. Really excited to see where his game gets to once he adds size/strength.
4. Gabriel Vilardi - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Like any true OHL rookie, Vilardi has had his ups and downs. Stretches of strong play, stretches where he just isn't much of a factor. To be fair, his offensive production has decreased in the second half of the season because he's found himself further down the Windsor line-up (with the additions of Chatham and Eller). The powerplay time he was seeing at the beginning of the season just hasn't been there lately. However, he's high on my list because he's been one of the only guys (IMO) who has shown an ability to take over a game. The skill level is very high, and he seems to have that innate ability to slow the game down in the offensive end . At 6'2 (and growing), Vilardi has the potential to be a franchise center and that's why NHL teams are likely to be lined up for his services in 2017. While Vilardi is not number one on my list of the most impressive 99's, I do believe that he's currently the top option from the OHL for next year's draft.
5. Jason Robertson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Robertson is a big winger with decent speed and good skill, who really excels in driving the net and playing up tempo. Has really slowed down in the second half (partially due to decreased ice time and an injury), but for most of this season, he's been a key contributor on a first place team. Not bad for a 4th rounder! If he continues to add strength this offseason, he could easily be a top 20 selection at next year's entry draft. Wingers with his size, creativity, hands, and overall skill level do not grow on trees.
6. Matthew Strome - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Like Suzuki (and opposite of Robertson), Strome is another guy who has gotten better and better as the season has gone on. Like all his brothers (early in their careers), Strome's skating isn't great. But, you can't argue with the results. Matthew has scored the most of any of his three brothers in their 16/17 year old years. He's actually quite a different player. He plays a power game, driving the net, working the corners, and laying the body. I'm really interested to see how his game develops next year. He definitely has power forward tendencies and could develop into a very complete player if he puts the work in.
7. Evan Bouchard - Defence - London Knights
Absolutely fantastic young offensive defenceman who has forced himself into pretty consistent playing time in London. Skating and puck handling ability are top notch. Goes through some growing pains with his decision making, but what young offensive blueliner doesn't? When he was drafted, his defensive game was supposed to be a major work in progress, but it's actually been way better than I thought it would be based on everything I had read. With a late birthday, Bouchard isn't eligible for the NHL draft until 2018, which gives him tons of time to develop.
8. Vanya Lodnia - Forward - Erie Otters
Erie's done very well with undersized offensive forwards in recent years and Lodnia is cut from the same cloth. His compete level without the puck is top notch. Just a buzzsaw who creates scoring chances off the rush very well. As I write this, Lodnia is the second highest top scoring '99 in the OHL, which obviously needs to be applauded. I'm sure others might argue he should be higher, but he hasn't made quite as much of an impact on me as the others above him have.
9. Jacob Paquette - Defence - Kingston Frontenacs
The Kingston Frontenacs' recent priority selection performance has to definitely be considered one of the main reasons that the team has emerged as the cream of the crop in the East. Grabbing Robertson in the 4th, Paquette in the 2nd, and using 1st rounder Robbie Burt to acquire Michael Dal Colle exemplifies this. Paquette has been a key member of Kingston's blueline all season long and has formed a great duo with Stephen Desrocher on the team's second pairing since his arrival. He's incredibly intelligent and already plays the game like a 2 or 3 year veteran. Right up there with Nic Hague as the top defender available from the OHL for next year's draft.
10. Jack Studnicka - Forward - Oshawa Generals
The younger brother of Sarnia's Sam, Jack Studnicka has the potential to be a very solid player in this league. Even though he clearly needs to add strength, I was impressed with his intelligence away from the puck and ability to make plays in traffic. Definitely has a good head for the game and excels as a playmaker. When you look at the way Sam's game has flourished over the course of his OHL career, and how complete of a player he's become, you have to get excited about Jack. He has those same tendencies already but seems to be a more naturally gifted offensive player.
Sasha Chmelevski - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Like Owen Tippett, Chmelevski's OHL season is done following a broken collarbone, but that shouldn't take away from the impact he had made previous to that. The center piece of the Travis Konecny trade, Chmelevski is a very slick offensive player who flashed great speed and hockey sense this year. Really seems to find scoring lanes well and should be a really good offensive player in this league.
David Levin - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Pretty rare that you don't have the reigning Jack Ferguson award winner on this list. Levin definitely flashed a high skill level at times. Great hands on him. But I just don't think he was one of the most impressive 99's in the league this year. Needs to learn to make the safer play with the puck and strength was a big issue. He was one of the younger 99's in the league this year though and he certainly doesn't have the experience of some other players. He'll be fine in the long run.
Austen Keating - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Very skilled offensive player who also shows good hockey sense, making him a very valuable secondary scoring option for Ottawa this year. Missed a good chunk of time after a dirty hit from Steven Lorentz, but has definitely cemented himself as a cornerstone for the 67's.
Ryan McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Plays a similar game to his brother, bringing speed, tenacity, and skill to the ice. His ice time has certainly been inconsistent, which definitely is reflected in his production. I don't think he's been one of the top 10 most impressive 99's, BUT, I do think that he's one of the best pro prospects of this group. With a late birthday though, we'll have to wait until 2018 for that. Gives him tons of time to develop.
Morgan Frost - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A 4th rounder, Frost was a surprise to make the Hounds out of camp, but he's been a mainstay in the lineup and continues to get better. Not blessed with great size or speed, Frost processes the game at a high level and has proven to be a very good playmaker.
Robbie Burt - Forward - Oshawa Generals
The offensive production hasn't necessarily been there, in Kingston or Oshawa, but Burt has been noticeable as a physical specimen. He's already established himself as one of the better body checkers in the league. And I've been impressed with his overall play without the puck (hustle, forechecking, backchecking, etc). Just how good can he become offensively though?
Macauley Carson - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Like Burt, Carson has already established himself as a strong two-way player who can play the power game. The skating isn't great, but it's early. While the ice time has been inconsistent, his play has not been. You could certainly make a case that Carson has been one of Sudbury's most consistent players this year as an OHL rookie.
Elijah Roberts - Defence - Kitchener Rangers
Really like the confidence level Roberts has displayed offensively already. Not afraid to go end to end and he uses his strong skating ability to push the pace of play. Still has a lot to learn about picking his spots and defending his own end, but Roberts has stood out in a way that most 16/17 year blueliners do not.
Mackenzie Entwistle - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Entwistle has been extremely noticeable the last few months and as such, he deserves to be on this list based on the progression he's shown. High energy guy who's really shown confidence in his offensive game, in particular his shot, of late. 8 points in his last 14 games for the 2015 2nd rounder.