The triumphant conclusion to my Top 50 for this year's NHL Entry Draft.
Here is my top 10.
10. Cam Dineen - Defence - North Bay Battalion
Anthony DeAngelo, Cody Ceci, Ryan Murphy, and Ryan Ellis. What do those four players have in common? Well a couple of things. They are the only defenders in the last ten years to finish in the top 2 of defensemen scoring in the league during their draft year. They were also all first round draft picks in the NHL. This year, Cam Dineen joined that elusive club, finishing a single point behind Rasmus Andersson for the lead. The question is, will he also join those 5 guys as an NHL first rounder? I honestly think he deserves it, but we'll see what happens. I suppose you'd like an actual scouting report though and less of a history lesson. Dineen's best asset is far and away his ability to see the ice offensively. His hockey sense is elite and his brain for the game is going to carry him places. I saw North Bay a lot this year and I honestly can't remember him making a bad pass out of his own end. He also distributes exceptionally well on the powerplay and does a great job of getting a low hard point shot through to the net. The physical skills are only average (size, strength), and I'm sure there are some scouts who wish he was a little more explosive in his first few steps (he moves well and has very good overall mobility, but I do think it is a legit criticism). But you just can't ignore how well he processes the game. Physical skills can be improved upon. He can get stronger. And when he does, I'm guessing he'll become a little quicker (which will make him even that more dangerous). But that innate ability he possesses can not be taught. Defensively, he improved a ton. He initially struggled, but under defensive guru Stan Butler, he became more than adequate by season's end (even becoming a fixture on the team's penalty kill). He exhibits great patience when defending off the rush, forcing forwards to make the first move and he's really learned how to anticipate plays and defend within a coverage scheme. As he gets stronger (again, physical maturity), I think he'll become even better in that area (as he can still get outmuscled). All in all, I truly believe that Dineen deserves consideration for the first round this year. Check out my Q & A with Cam from earlier this year.
9. Nathan Bastian - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Seems to have taken a big hit in the rankings the last few months, falling from late first round consideration to the mid second (or so). But I'm most definitely still a believer. Yes, he struggled down the stretch, but I think that had more to do with James Boyd's line pairings and usage than Bastian himself. I'm a believer because I see him being a very good pro player. He's 6'4, 210lbs and can play any forward position, providing a lot of versatility to a lineup. He's also a great two-way player and a physical asset who is especially effective at using his body to gain possession in the offensive end. This is impressive to me because, believe it or not, he was drafted into the OHL at 5'11, 155lbs. He hit a major growth spurt and has taken some time to get used to the added size and how to adjust his playing style. I think that actually makes him more alluring as a prospect because I think there's still room for him to grow physically (in terms of maturity) and it's scary to think about how good he could become in possession and as a physical player. Offensively, his biggest asset is his vision and playmaking ability, something that's not common for a power forward. When partnered with Alex Nylander and Mike McLeod, he was an underrated component to their success as a unit. He opened up space, but also did a great job displaying patience and poise with the puck, drawing defenders in before making a great pass to create a scoring chance. That's why I actually think he's best suited as a center long term (he looked great there with Michael McLeod out IMO). His shot and work in close to the net needs to be better, especially for a big guy, but I think that's all part of him continuing to grow as a player. If you're patient, you might have a 6'4 two-way center who can really control the possession game and be a physical nightmare to matchup against. Or you could have a Patrick Maroon type of player who can work as a complimentary power piece on a 2nd line/3rd line.
8. Max Jones - Forward - London Knights
He certainly hasn't made a lot of fans this year with his borderline reckless physical antics. There's absolutely no doubt that he needs to play more controlled and composed. Missing a big chunk of the OHL playoffs could have really hurt his team. But as much as there is now a place for a guy like Alex Debrincat in today's NHL, there will always be a place for guys like Max Jones too. He's a throwback power forward cut from the same cloth as a guy like Wendel Clark. He brings speed. He can create off the rush with deceptively good hands (ask Jakob Chychrun). His shot is heavy and has the potential to become a major asset. Oh and I guess his physicality is a major asset (when used correctly). I suppose the major question mark for me is how good his hockey sense is. That's the key to his development and potential. The physical skills are there, but I do wonder about his ability to be scoring line player at the NHL level. The other concern I have is over how he uses his physicality. I would love to see him be more of a factor on the forecheck, creating turnovers with those thundering checks (think of the impact Tom Wilson had as an OHL player). Someone will take him, and probably early. Even if the offensive game doesn't translate, you're still looking at a Jamie McGinn/Tom Wilson type of player and that still has value. Check out Max's interview from The Pipeline Show.
7. Michael McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Let me get this straight, right off the bat. I still love Michael McLeod as a prospect. His drop from 3rd (at midseason) to 7th on my list has more to do with the way guys like Nylander, Brown, Juolevi elevated their games down the stretch, than it does his play or short comings. I still think he has the potential to develop into a very good two-way center (similar to a guy like Ryan Kesler), and is more than a 3rd liner (which some people are suggesting). After returning from that knee injury, he definitely struggled a bit towards the end of the season and at the U18's, but I still really like the skill set he brings to the table. Size and skating ability down the middle doesn't grow on trees and McLeod has that in spades. He's easily one of the most explosive skaters in the OHL. He's such a dangerous player in the neutral zone, as he routinely catches defenders flat footed, unable to keep up with his ability to gain entry into the offensive zone. He also uses that speed defensively, where he's one of the better two-way players in the OHL. His positioning and intelligence level in the defensive end is fantastic. Not only is he willing to use his size to separate players from the puck, but he also does a great job of anticipating passing lanes. I think the biggest thing holding back his offensive game is his shot. Needs to work on his release and become more confident shooting the puck. He seems to hesitate at times, and I feel like later in the year, defenders started to cheat on him a bit, forcing him to shoot rather than pass. He also has a bit of tunnel vision off the rush, and while it's refreshing to see him be so aggressive to the net coming across the blueline, or off the wall, again he can't be a one trick pony. Is that a reflection of poor hockey sense? Some might argue yes. Again, I think it comes down to a player who's still learning how to slow the game down. I'm not suggesting that McLeod is going to be a 1st line, 80 point player in the NHL. But I do think he can be a consistent 50 point player who can challenge for the Selke and wear a letter, and that most certainly has value in the 8-14 range of the draft. Check out Mike's interview from The Pipeline Show.
6. Olli Juolevi - Defence - London Knights
If I'm a team picking inside the lottery, I'm drafting the player who I believe has the highest upside. And that's why I've consistently had Juolevi ranked as the 3rd best d-prospect among the big 3 (with Sergachev and Chychrun) all season long. That's not to say that I see Juloevi as some scrub who'll end up on a 3rd pairing. It's more that I see Juolevi as that reliable 2nd pairing guy. Not incredibly flashy, but super efficient. Where as I see Chychrun/Sergachev possessing first pairing upside, and both possess better physical tools. If we're talking about Juolevi's best asset, it's most definitely his puck management. Rarely makes a bad pass or bad decision with the puck in his own end. His first pass and stretch pass might be the best of any defender in the OHL. Juolevi's skating stride is ultra smooth and his first few steps are excellent, which allows him to evade the forecheck and be calm under pressure. His shot is OK and I don't think he's naturally aggressive as a puck rusher. Thus, I don't see him being a massive point producer at the next level. But those qualities could obviously improve (and I could be wrong). Defensively, Juolevi's positioning and ability to stay with players off the rush is excellent. As is his general awareness without the puck. He's definitely not mean, and he'll likely forever be a stick/positional defender. But many guys are successful playing that way in the NHL. At the end of the day, while Juolevi isn't likely to be the type of defender who wins Norris trophies, he should be the type of guy who plays 10+ years in the NHL and plays 20 minutes a night. And that's why he's considered a near lock for the lottery.
5. Mikhail Sergachev - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
The following players have won the Max Kaminsky trophy (as the league's top defenseman) in their (original) draft year since 1990: Aaron Ekblad, Ryan Ellis, Drew Doughty, Bryan Berard, and Chris Pronger. Pretty damn good company. Bust rate = zero. Take that for what it's worth. Sergachev is an absolutely electric offensive player. Youtube and the OHL plays of the week are littered with Sergachev highlights. He's such an explosive skater and when you combine that with his puck control, creativity, and aggressiveness in jumping up in the play, you've got a defender who constantly pushes his way across the blueline to create scoring chances. I also love Sergachev's ability and poise when running the point on the powerplay. He possesses an absolute laser of a shot, specifically his one timer, which resulted in a league leading 17 goals from the blueline. Defensively, there are no doubt holes. His reads off the rush and in coverage are a work in progress. And he could stand to pick his spots a bit better when he chooses to jump up in the play. But here's the thing. The physical tools that he possesses suggest that his defensive game can and will improve. He's a willing physical combatant and can really lay the boom on forwards who try to go through him to the net. He's also a fantastic skater, which often covers up a lot of his errors at this level. If you're taking Sergachev early, you believe in his potential to be a perennial NHL all star, and I definitely see that. Bob McKenzie has stated several times that he could see Sergachev as the first defender drafted for that reason. And don't even bring up the U18's. Not a good gauge of the type of player he is, as he was asked to play a shutdown defender role on a team that had to play the majority of the time in their own end. Bottom line...I agree with Bobby Mac. Don't be surprised if this guy goes in the top 6 or 7.
4. Logan Brown - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Unlike many seem to be insinuating, Brown did not come out of nowhere these last few months. Has he risen with a strong second half and U18's? Absolutely. But we can't forget that Brown was a projected top 10 pick coming into the year. He led all 1998's in scoring in the OHL last year (as a rookie). But a poor showing at the Ivan Hlinka camp, followed by an average start (and poor middle) to the OHL season saw him drop to the late first round on many lists. But he was flat out dominant late in the year. In the final 24 games he had 38 points, including 12 multi point games. Then he put up 12 points for the U.S. at the U18's to help them capture the Bronze. But the rise is more than just production based. It's how he was doing it. The knock on Brown has always been his inability to use his size to dominate the middle of the ice consistently, in addition to a wavering intensity level without the puck. He's always been fantastic along the wall, and off the rush, using his size to protect the puck. But the second half of the year, it was like the light finally went on and Brown realized how dominant he could be if he started attacking the net with consistency. Currently listed at 6'6, he might even be bigger than that now. When he makes that power move to the middle of the ice, putting defenders on his back, he's nearly unstoppable. And he has great vision, so when he starts drawing extra attention, it opens up so many opportunities for his linemates. Better yet, I think there's even more potential there, when he improves his confidence in his shot, as he's got a good one. Not a huge fan of comparisons, but sometimes when I watch Brown play, I get a real Mats Sundin vibe from him. It'll be really interesting to see where Brown lands on draft day, that's for sure. Check out Logan's interview from The Pipeline Show.
3. Jakob Chychrun - Defence - Sarnia Sting
The race between Chychrun, Sergachev, and Juolevi has been close all year and it remains that way to close out the season. I'm a fan of all three players and a sound argument can be made for either of the three being the best defender available. So here's why Chychrun is tops for me. It comes down to potential. While I do believe that Sergachev has the highest offensive ceiling Chychrun isn't too far behind (and is IMO ahead of Juolevi). Meanwhile, Chychrun is also the best defensively of the three, but also possesses the highest defensive ceiling of the three too. In essence, I see Chychrun as having the potential to develop into a dominant two-way defender who could challenge for multiple Norris trophies. Defensively, Chychrun has so many strong characteristics. Firstly, his positioning and ability to seal off forwards from chasing down loose pucks is among the best of any draft eligible defender that I've seen. If he was an NBA player, he'd be one hell of a rebounder. Part of that is because of his mobility. Part of that is because of his strength. Both are fantastic. Chychrun toys with playing physical and seems to be most willing to lower the boom when defending the rush. Adding a more consistent physical component to his game, especially when near the crease, would elevate his defensive ability even further. Offensively, his game runs off his skating. When he wants to, he can carry the puck deep into the offensive zone with ease. But that's the key. No question his offensive game regressed a bit this year. Could be a variety of reasons for that (Hatcher asking him to play more of a defensive role, feeling the pressure in his draft year, confidence, etc), but it did happen. He didn't seem as confident in jumping up in the play, or unleashing his slapshot (which is a good one). Chychrun also struggled at times with his decision making with the puck in his own end. Too many turnovers from trying to force plays up the ice. He needs to trust his skating ability to be able to create time and space for him to make better decisions. And, he needs to regain the confidence he showed in year one, that had him constantly looking to push the attack by skating the puck out of trouble. Quite frankly, I'm not concerned about any of the issues I've outlined. I think a lot are confidence and experience related and not competence. The physical skills are too good to pass up and he flashes so much brilliance that I refuse to believe that he has hockey sense issues, or limited offensive potential. That said, I wouldn't at all be surprised if he was the 3rd defender picked at the draft this year.
2. Alex Nylander - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Nylander is an absolutely dynamic offensive player. Quite frankly, I don't think there is a major weakness in his game in the offensive end. He has the potential to be a 40/40 guy in the NHL, and we know how rare those are. The hands are elite. One of the best puck handlers in the league. He creates so much time and space for himself and he really opens up the ice for his linemates. The shot is elite. He's used on the point of the powerplay in Mississauga because of how heavy his shot is. He's also dangerous off the rush though, as his quick release catches defenders off guard as they try to negate his quickness and creativity. The skating is elite. The playmaking ability and vision are elite. He'll make some passes that really make your jaw drop, and it's another reason why he plays the point on the powerplay. So where are the weaknesses? Everywhere else. I'll give him credit, his ability to play through traffic and his engagement level without the puck really improved over the course of the season. By the end of the year, he had become active along the wall and had begun to use his speed to win loose puck battles too. Where he really struggles is in the defensive end. That part of his game will require a lot of work before he reaches the next level. If you're going to play a high risk game, and take chances with the puck, you have to maintain energy and effort if you give the puck up (which will happen). His overall awareness level in his own end needs to improve too. But there may not be a player in this draft outside of the big three, who possesses as much potential as Nylander. While I've got Tkachuk ranked ahead of him (barely), I wouldn't be surprised if he went first among OHL players. Check out Alex's interview from The Pipeline Show
1. Matthew Tkachuk - Forward - London Knights
That brings us to number one. And quite frankly, it's a really, really close year. I'm actually super excited to see what my year end media poll looks like. Honestly, I think an argument could be made for any of my top 6 ranked players to be considered the top player available from the OHL. But I'm going with Tkachuk. He's by no means the flashiest prospect around. And he's not likely to be the world's flashiest NHL player either. He has some limitations. But, I have confidence that his skill set will translate to the NHL; that it will translate to him being an extremely productive offensive player (think perennial 30/30 guy). Tkachuk plays a very pro style game. His size, his smarts, and his skill allow him to dominate below the hash marks. He's going to be the perfect compliment on an NHL 1st/2nd line, to a pair of quicker, higher skilled guys (thus the recipe for success with Marner and Dvorak). He'll do the dirty work on the line in terms of winning battles in the corners, or fighting in front of the net, but he's also a massively underrated playmaker who seems to have eyes in the back of his head. I don't know how many times I saw him this year draw a couple defenders in near the boards to try to separate him from the puck, only to find Marner or Dvorak cutting to the net, wide open. Tkachuk is also really strong in close, using his size, and his smarts, to get good scoring chances near the blue paint. Is he the world's best skater? No. He's only average in that area and I do think he'll need to become a tad more explosive to be a better player 5 on 5. Is he a true power forward like his father? No, I wouldn't classify him as that. He doesn't really throw his body around, but he will use his size to his advantage offensively. Is he the most dynamic of puck handlers? No. But he produces. Size, smarts, and hands will take you a long way at the NHL level and Tkachuk has that. If I'm picking inside the top 5, I want to make sure I get an impact NHL player and Tkachuk is the guy that I think is the most guaranteed to be that. Check out Matthew's interview from The Pipeline Show.