The Under 18's have wrapped up (where Canada finished 4th). The CHL playoffs are nearing completion (the Memorial Cup begins May 20). The race to the draft is on. We're about a month away from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, so that means it's time for me to release my rankings.
The top 50 will be released in four parts: Part 1 - Honorable Mentions, Part 2 - Prospects 50-31, Part 3 - Prospects 30-11, and Part 4 - Prospects 10-1.
Just for clarification, for my top 50 ranking, I haven't included any players eligible for draft re-entry, such as Jeremy Helvig. This has been consistent all the way through my lists. Instead, I did a list of the top 10 draft re-entries, which can be found here.
Also for clarification, this list is MY list of the top 50 OHL prospects, as if I were drafting for my own team. In other words, this isn't a list of where I THINK or believe players will go, but a ranking of my own opinion on the top players eligible for this draft based on my viewings this season. If you want a draft projection and information about players outside the OHL, be sure to order the Future Considerations, ISS, or McKeens Draft Guides.
This first part includes the Honorable Mentions of my list. These are the players who received consideration for my top 50, but who fell just short. There are 19 in total. Last year, the depth in the OHL just wasn't terrific and only one of these HM's got drafted (Riley Bruce). This year, I actually could see a few of these guys get drafted. If they were eligible last year, a good number of them would have made my top 50. Some good raw talent here that could definitely develop into NHL prospects.
Here are my HM's (in alphabetical order)...
Sean Allen - Defence - Oshawa Generals
Allen is a hard nosed stay at home defender whose game had ups and downs this year. He has size, mobility, and plays the game exceptionally hard. He really relishes in the opportunity to throw his weight around and is a difficult player to beat in loose puck battles in his own end. Where Allen struggles is in his positioning, as he can be taken out of position looking for the big hit, or chasing the puck carrier. His offensive skills have yet to really develop too, and he can have difficulty with the forecheck and making a solid exit pass. But he's definitely got potential as a stay at home defender at the next level because he's big, agile and mean. It'll depend on if someone can coach him into being more patient and composed in his own end.
Mitchell Byrne - Defence - Erie Otters
I think Byrne is a very good young defender who wasn't really able to showcase his true abilities this year because of Erie's depth on the backend. The first year defender showed a lot in spurts while playing on the team's third pairing, and even looked good when he was asked to move up in the lineup. He skates well, can lead or jump up in the rush and flashes an ability to control the point offensively. Defensively, he keeps things simple and plays a pretty solid positional game. As he gains experience, he could become a quality offensive defender at the OHL level. That could be as soon as next season depending on the losses Erie incurs on the backend.
Ryan Cranford - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Cranford is an interesting forward who had a successful first season in the OHL with Kingston. He reminds me a lot of Niagara's Anthony DiFruscia and I see him developing into a similar type of OHL player. Cranford excels in close to the net, where despite not being huge (~6'0), he gets good positioning and is able to put home rebounds and finish off plays thanks to a quick release. He also works hard away from the puck and involves himself on the forecheck and the cycle. His overall skill set is still evolving, as he can look a bit uncomfortable with the puck on his stick and isn't a major factor off the rush, but there's goal scoring potential there.
Stephen Dhillon - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
Likely the top HM on this list (aka #51) for me. Dhillon is certainly an intriguing goaltending prospect because of his size (6'4). He's also one of the youngest players available for the draft (missing the cutoff for next year by a few days). As a back-up this year, Dhillon battled some consistency issues, but it had to be tough for the first year (sort of) netminder seeing sporadic starts. He's a bit of an unorthodox goaltender, as he plays a hybrid style, utilizing his size to keep upright until he needs to go down to take away the bottom of the goal. The technical aspects of his game are definitely raw (rebound control, movement side/side, reading his angles), but as I said, there's potential there. He'll likely be the starter in Niagara next year and I'd be surprised if an NHL team didn't use a late round pick on him come June.
Kevin Hancock - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
It took him 22 games to score his first OHL goal and in his first 27 games, he had a goal and an assist. Needless to say, it took him some time to get going. But he was a really big factor in the 2nd half of the season for Owen Sound as they made their playoff push. He had 26 points in his final 39 regular season games and solidified his spot in the top 6 for Owen Sound (developing great chemistry with Ethan Szypula). Moving forward he's going to be a very important player for the Attack and should be a point per game player in the league (perhaps as early as next year). As an NHL prospect, his average size and lack of a standout characteristic may hurt his draft chances, but he's certainly someone to watch the next few years.
Ben Hawerchuk - Forward - Barrie Colts
The son of head coach Dale Hawerchuk, Ben is a scrappy, undersized forward who's been an integral part of the Colts' fourth line the past couple of seasons. He certainly doesn't possess his father's skill level and goal scoring ability, but he's a very pesky player who gives it 110% every shift. He's particularly effective on the forecheck where his speed is an asset. As he continues to gain strength, that speed and tenacity will be put to better use offensively, where he can be a more consistent contributor.
Luke Kirwan - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Once thought to be a top 10 pick for this NHL draft, Kirwan's stock has taken quite the beating since his arrival into the OHL. His game just has not developed the way many people thought it would. I think a lot of that has to due with the fact that his skating and overall explosiveness is below average. While he's big and he uses his size effectively, he's not quick enough to loose pucks or explosive enough coming down the wing to be a truly effective offensive player. The skill level and hands are definitely there. He most certainly made strides in Flint with increased ice time and responsibility (compared to Windsor). But he's still a work in progress. Still lots of time for him to truly dedicate himself to improving his quickness and if he can do that, he could put himself back on the NHL radar.
Max Kislinger - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Big kid from Germany who I thought was a very effective role player for North Bay this year. Plays a simple game, working North to South, using his size to drive the net. Skating is only mediocre, but he has some decent hands and a pretty good release which could project him as a goal scorer. I hope he returns to North Bay next year as I think he can have a fair amount of success under Butler moving forward.
Luke Kutkevicius - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Moved to the Bulldogs at the deadline in the Mason Marchment deal, and in Hamilton I thought he looked pretty good despite not putting up terrific offensive numbers. George Burnett and the Dogs' coaching staff used Kutkevicius in a defensive role, lining him up against one of the other team's top lines, using him as a key faceoff guy, and playing him on the secondary penalty killing unit. He has great hockey sense in his own end and does a great job getting his stick in passing lanes. As he adds strength, I think he'd really benefit with playing a more physical game, more consistently, to make him an even more difficult player to line up against. Offensively, his game currently seems to be dependent on his ability to work the cycle. Despite being a pretty deceptively quick skater (not the prettiest stride), he doesn't generate a lot off the rush and I think that relates back to his need to get stronger on the puck. Definitely an interesting prospect who looks like a top 9 fixture for Hamilton next year and beyond.
Alan Lyszczarczyk - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
The stats are great and the story is even better. Lyszczarczyk has Polish roots, Canadian citizenship, but was a free agent add from the Czech junior league this past offseason. He finished second in scoring for the lowly Wolves this year and was a great surprise for the team, working his way up the lineup over the course of the season. I've certainly seen Lyszczarczyk ranked much higher than I have him, and I get that. There are a couple things at work for me. One, is exposure. It seemed like every time I saw Sudbury this year they were getting it handed to them, which can make it difficult to evaluate a player. Two, I'm just not sure if I see his game being suited for the pro ranks. Average sized. Average skater. But great motor and hands. He hit the scoresheet through hustle and determination in my viewings. But at the next level, I'm not sure that's enough. If I'm an NHL team, I wait another year to see the improvements he makes next year in his sophomore season, where the Wolves should hopefully be a little better.
Nicolas Mattinen - Defence - London Knights
A real wild card for the draft this year. Wouldn't shock me at all if an NHL team takes him inside the top 100. I think the inconsistent playing time really hurt his draft stock for me though. There were times where I'd see London play and he'd really catch my eye, then other times where he'd be visible for the wrong reasons, which I think can be chalked up to a bit of rust. He's got terrific size at 6'4, 220lbs, and moves reasonably well too. For me, I didn't really get a good read on his identity as a player. He's big, but he is inconsistent in using his size in the defensive end. But he stands out at times as a puck mover and the type of guy who has a head for the game at the offensive end. Is he a Kyle Wood type of player?
Justin Murray - Defence - Barrie Colts
Murray is a very underrated first year defender who played some important minutes for the Colts this year. He's certainly not flashy, but he's very smart and exhibits great poise for an OHL rookie. Murray, in particular, makes great decisions with the puck in his own end and does a great job starting the breakout. He's not big, but he's a very solid positional defender and he's not afraid to mix it up in the corners to win battles for the puck. I don't know how much offensive potential he has at this level and I don't know if he's a serious NHL prospect, but he's going to be a very good OHL defender and a part of Barrie's top four for the next several years.
Tyler Nother - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
Nother improved a lot over the course of this past OHL season. His development in London (as a 3rd round pick) had appeared to have stalled and the trade to Windsor was a good one for him Even in Windsor, he struggled initially. But as mentioned, towards the later half of the season, he really started to turn things around. 6 of his 8 assists this year came in his final 15 games. And the reason for that was his increased confidence in making decisions with the puck. In London as a rookie, and in Windsor initially, Nother's decision making in his own end and ability to handle the forecheck was really hurting him. But he's learned to use his solid mobility to create space for himself and as such he appears to have turned a corner. Defensively, he has a lot of potential because he is 6'4 and he does skate well. But he needs to get meaner and really increase his intensity level. A work in progress who is not close to the finished product yet. Because of that, he might be an attractive late round option for an NHL team.
Austin Osmanski - Defence - Mississauga Steelheads
Osmanski is actually a similar player and prospect to Tyler Nother. He's another big defender (6'4) with decent mobility and puck skills, but who remains a bit of a project. Towards the beginning and into the midseason, I had Osmanski pretty firmly in my top 50 (41 at midseason). But some poor late season showings, combined with some other players really stepping up, caused Osmanski to take a bit of a hit in my rankings. At times, he showcases strong offensive potential and an ability to skate the puck out of his own end. But then at other times, he seems to struggle with overhandling the puck and making poor decisions. Defensively, he has excellent gap control and a great reach which he uses to keep forwards to the outside. But late in the season I saw him losing too many loose puck battles for a bigger defender. That being said, like Nother, I wouldn't be surprised if an NHL team rolled the dice on him late. There were definitely times this year where I thought to myself, this guy could be an NHL player.
Christopher Paquette - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Had such high hopes for Paquette this year, but the progression in his development just wasn't there IMO. At 6'2, and nearly 200lbs, he has the size that NHL teams want at the center position now. At times this year, Marty Williamson tried to utilize Paquette in a shutdown type of role, but I thought he struggled with that. Offensively, he has great hands and can be a very dangerous player in close, but he just doesn't seem to get himself in good scoring position and he's not strong enough on the puck to maintain possession in the offensive end. It all comes down to the fact that he needs to make some improvements to his skating. I will say that he was very noticeable in the playoffs for Niagara in a checking line role.
Michael Pezzetta - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Another player I was very disappointed with this year. A former first rounder, Pezzetta should have been a go to offensive player for the Wolves this year, but he continues to struggle with consistency (which I'm sure can be attributed to the team's lack of success this year). Pezzetta is the type of player NHL team's really covet; a power center with size. Pezzetta is noticeable as a physical player and forechecker because he's quite quick and closes in on opposing defenders with deceptive speed. But in the offensive end, he has a tendency to overhandle the puck and he needs to keep things simple. Tons of potential still here, as a player who could be a very good two-way center.
Drake Rymsha - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Tough year for Rymsha. Going into the year, I had him ranked pretty highly. He was extremely noticeable as a rookie for London last year. Early this year he was traded to Ottawa and shortly there after he broke his leg in a game against Kitchener. He managed to return to Ottawa's lineup for the end of the season, but he (understandably so) didn't seem to have the same jump in his step. Rymsha is a very high energy player though who excels off the rush and who works very hard at both ends of the ice. I think he'll come back next year and have a really good season, fully healthy and motivated.
Matthew Timms - Defence - Peterborough Petes
If he were bigger, there's no question that he'd be in my top 50. Timms is an ultra competitive defender who had a great second season for Peterborough. He engages physically and is generally a very difficult player to match up against. For an undersized guy, I love how he competes in front of the net and in the corners. Timms also makes good decisions with the puck and flashes some offensive potential. I think he'll need to continue to upgrade his skating to improve his gap control and to make him a better offensive player. When you combine his lack of elite size (5'10), with some skating concerns and (perhaps) limited offensive upside, you've got a player outside my top 50.
Troy Timpano - Goaltender - Sudbury Wolves
Feel a little bit bad for Timpano. I do truly believe that he's a good goaltender. But his confidence appears to be at an all time low. It's not easy being the starting goaltender on a team who has won a combined 28 games the past two seasons. He consistently gets left hung out to dry and is consistently peppered with shots. There are times where he stands on his head early on in games, only to give up multiple goals later on. It seems that he can be prone to some bad goals too, and once that happens, he seems to have trouble recovering. Quite frankly, I think he could use a change of scenery. He's still an athletic kid who could be a very capable goaltender in this league (and even a solid pro prospect).