Carolina is up next and they've got a heavy OHL influence thanks to employing former Plymouth boss Mike Vellucci.
1. Alex Nedeljkovic - Niagara IceDogs
Fantastic season for Nedeljkovic. His OHL year had a few ups and downs, but he was terrific when it counted most; in the OHL playoffs. Niagara went on a run and was eventually swept by London in the OHL final. But Niagara doesn't win the Eastern Conference without Nedeljkovic. And the U.S. doesn't win the bronze this year at the WJC's without him manning the crease too. Nedeljkovic is an absolutely phenomenal athlete. He's never out of a play because he's so quick and agile in the crease. His ability to move post to post is among the best I've ever seen in the OHL. 'Ned' is also a great puckhandler, something he was able to showcase in international play. The time has finally come for him to move on to the professional level. I think there might be an adjustment period for him, because he's a bit undersized and he's going to have to learn to be even more aggressive in challenging shooters to work down angles (giving him a better ability to defend the top half of the net). With Daniel Altshuller being the only Charlotte (AHL) goaltender returning, Nedeljkovic probably ends up splitting time with him depending on his performance. I think as long as he ends up North of .900 for his save percentage, that would be a successful first year.
2. Roland McKeown - Kingston Frontenacs
McKeown, like Nedeljkovic will begin his pro journey next year in Charlotte. It was a successful year for McKeown as he was able to improve his offensive output from the previous year and also was terrific in the playoffs for Kingston (even though they got swept by Niagara). But his offensive production doesn't really concern me to be honest. I never have, and continue to doubt that his offensive skill set will translate to the next level. I've said all along that the key to his development will be in the defensive end and if he's able to make himself an elite defensive player. And he did just that this year IMO (supported by the fact that he was named the East's best defensive defender and the 2nd best shot blocker in the coaches poll). For my money, he was the best in the entire OHL in his own end. His mobility is an asset, but he also thinks the game very well in his own end, anticipating passing lanes and closing gaps. He also upped the ante physically this year too. His play in his own end will be his bread and butter at the next level. Next year in the AHL, I think he's able to jump right into a top 4 spot (considering Charlotte's lack of depth there) and find success. Just don't expect huge offensive numbers.
3. Warren Foegele - Kingston Frontenacs
I thought Foegele's play really improved as the season went on following his transfer from UNH. There was definitely an adjustment period, as he started out as more of a complimentary player who seemed content to play second/third fiddle. But as the season went on, we saw him really start to become a guy who could lead the play and create his own scoring chances by driving the net hard. His ability to handle the puck and create coming off the half wall really seemed to gain confidence. He's a pretty complete player and I think he's got a shot to be a real good role player down the line. Has all the attributes that you'd want from your 3rd/4th liner. The question is, what does Carolina do with him next year? He's not signed yet, as Carolina doesn't have to sign him by the same deadline as other 2014 draftees. But he could most definitely still play pro next year. My guess is that if Carolina is impressed with him at camp, they'll sign him and assign him to Charlotte, or at the very least send him to Charlotte's camp and let him try to earn a roster spot (and have Charlotte sign him to an AHL/ECHL deal). And if they feel like he's not ready, he'll be back in the OHL as an overager on an average OHL team.
4. Jeremy Helvig - Kingston Frontenacs
Helvig was a very astute selection by Carolina this year. He was easily one of the most improved players in the league this year and stole the starting job away from the reigning OHL goaltender of the year. He's got great size and he's really starting to learn how to use that size to be a consistent stopper. Every aspect of his game has improved and should continue to improve as he gains more experience. Next year Kingston is losing some key players, but they should still be a playoff team if Helvig is up to the challenge. I expect a good year from him and for him to establish himself as a quality goaltending prospect. Like I said, an astute selection (and one I was lobbying hard for on twitter).
5. Steven Lorentz - Peterborough Petes
Despite being a '96, Lorentz did not need to be signed by Carolina because of the fact that he was drafted as a re-entry in 2015. At first, I found the selection to be a bit of a head scratcher. But Lorentz is slowly coming into his own as a player. He's come a long way, and still has a ways to go, but the improvement in his game was noticeable this year. He saw both time on the wing and at center, but I like him at center. He's a good faceoff man, and has improved in using his long reach and height to keep defenders on his back on his way to the net. His play away from the puck (defensively, physically) is getting better, but will need to improve even more as I don't see him having the natural offensive skill set needed to play a top 6 role at the next level. So where does he go from here? I think he's most definitely back in Peterborough as an overager. And there, he's got a really good shot of replacing Hunter Garlent (who graduated) as the team's 1st line center. He should see significantly more powerplay time and I actually think he's a darkhorse to be a point per game player (35/35).
6. Noah Carroll - Guelph Storm
Carroll was a standout as a rookie on the Storm during the 2014/2015 season. He entered this coming year with a fair amount of hype; hype that considered him a candidate for the first three rounds. But Guelph was absolutely terrible this year (rebuilding) and Carroll was asked to play a role that he just wasn't ready for. He was in over his head and it showed, and as such, his confidence really seemed to disappear. A terrific skating potential puck rusher, Carroll often got hemmed in his own end and just wasn't given the opportunity to find a lot of success. I'm happy that Carolina drafted him because I do still think that there is an NHL prospect in there once he gets that confidence back. Guelph won't be good again this year...but they SHOULD be better. As such, I really do think that Carroll will have a good year; a bounce back year. I'd expect him to hit the 30-35 point mark and re-establish himself as a solid two-way defense prospect.
7. Josh Wesley - Niagara IceDogs
I'll be quite honest in saying that I was rather surprised that Carolina signed Wesley. I know there's a deep rooted connection there with the family, but ELC's are valuable (because of the limit), and I'm just not sure I see an NHL player. Wesley does a lot of things pretty well, but nothing spectacular and that can be the kiss of death for a prospect (especially on the blueline). Wesley's offensive game never developed at the OHL level, but his defensive game did. He got better with the puck in his own end and his positional defensive hockey sense is quite strong. He knows his way around his own end. That said, he's going to have to get a little meaner for the pro game. He needs to be a tougher guy to play against. Certainly not impossible for him to achieve, given his solid size (and the gains he's already made in that area over his OHL career). Given the fact that he's signed, I think it's fair to say that the Hurricanes see Wesley starting in the AHL this year (especially since the depth there isn't terrific, as I already mentioned). He could also need some time in the ECHL, depending on how he adjusts to the speed of the pro game.
*Janne Kuokkanen - London Knights
Carolina's 2nd rounder in 2016 was drafted by the London Knights in this year's import draft. As such, he could be in for a big offensive season should he cross the pond. He'd likely jump right into the team's top 6 (with all their potential graduations) and a 30-30 freshman OHL season seems like a very distinct possibility. Excited to see him play.