The Columbus Blue Jackets are next. Strangely enough, only one of Columbus' OHL prospects have been drafted. The rest signed.
1. Blake Siebenaler - Niagara IceDogs
Without question, I think it's fair to say that Siebenaler's offensive game never really developed the way that people thought it might (myself included). Don't get me wrong, he moves the puck well, but with his fantastic skating stride, I thought he would eventually develop the confidence and the ability to be a fantastic puck mover. That's not the case and I don't think it ever will be. But what Siebenaler is, is a terrific two-way defender who makes smart decisions in his own end, is a fantastic positional defender, and can make a great first pass. In that sense, he's built for the way the game is played in the NHL today and I'm sure that's why Columbus signed him despite the perception that his development "might" have stalled. At this point, I think all he needs is to get stronger, but even then, he relies on his mobility to defend mostly. He won't be anything flashy, but I could definitely see Siebenaler as a solid third pairing guy and it will start next year when he turns pro.
2. Dante Salituro - Ottawa 67's
Happy for him that he was able to earn that contract after going undrafted through two NHL drafts, despite posting some pretty terrific offensive numbers. Yes, he's undersized, but given his talent level, he deserved a look at pro hockey. Do I have my doubts as to whether his game will adapt? Yes. And I'm sure that's exactly why he's slipped through two drafts. Salituro, despite being undersized, does the majority of his damage offensively in the middle of the ice and near the net, and I'm not sure he's an explosive enough skater to play that role effectively at the NHL level. BUT, that doesn't mean he can't continue to improve. The Blue Jackets will have a decision to make with Salituro next year. Send him back for his overage year in Ottawa? Or let him start his pro career? Quite frankly, I think that as long as he performs adequately at camp, he'll be in the AHL. He's ready for a new challenge and he needs to start adjusting to the speed and size of the players playing pro. As mentioned, I think it will be a tough adjustment, but it needs to happen some time.
3. Jordan Maletta - Niagara IceDogs
Not many players in the OHL were more deserving of a contract this year than Maletta. Here's a kid who completely revamped his game from when he broke into the league, making the necessary adjustments and working hard to improve every year. He started out as a big, soft, forward who lacked consistency in his effort. But his game slowly transformed into becoming a dominant two-way center who can do everything pretty damn well. He's one of the OHL's better faceoff guys. He's extremely hard to play against because of how well he uses his size on the backcheck and in the corners. And he's got a great wrist shot that makes him a threat to score when he barrels down the ice. He won't be a big time scorer at the next level, but he could definitely become a valuable role player at the NHL level who can be a consistent contributor on the PK and in taking key faceoffs.
4. Justin Scott - Barrie Colts
Scott had a great final two seasons in the OHL, establishing himself as a consistent scoring line player. But there's no doubt that he earned his NHL contract with his 17 goal playoff performance this past year where he was a near unstoppable force. Scott's skill set doesn't really jump out at you. But he has great hockey sense and he possesses a great wrist shot and release and that's allowed him to be a fantastic complimentary offensive weapon for the Colts. Honestly, I don't know what to expect of him at the next level. I do imagine that he'll struggle initially because he'll need to adjust to the speed of things, but he's a hard worker and could eventually develop into a nice piece if the Jackets are patient with him. He's also the type of guy I could see developing into a checking line player at the next level, improving upon his play away from the puck and doing anything he can do help the team win.
5. Kole Sherwood - London Knights
Started out the year very well and I often came away incredibly impressed when I saw London early on. But as the year went on and London accumulated big assets, he slipped down the line up (and even out of it at times) and as such, his game really declined. I think it came down to Sherwood lacking the strength to excel in the role London wanted him to play this year (checking line energy guy). There's still a lot of potential here. The skating is great. Ability to handle the puck and create off the rush shows great flashes. His shot and finishing ability also shows well. And there's some pest like, physical capabilities hidden in there too. He needs to come into London next year and really show them that he's ready for a larger role, because there is one available for him. I actually am insanely intrigued to see how his game develops next year because I think he could really explode. I won't make a prediction here, but I will say that I think he really steps up next year.
6. Jacob Graves - London Knights
A little surprised that Graves earned an NHL deal, but you'd be hard pressed to find a harder worker in the OHL, so ultimately it's not a bad decision by any means. Graves was excellent for London this year after being acquired from Oshawa. He was especially great in the playoffs and the Memorial Cup, where his in your face defensive style and his willingness to give up his body to make a play, obviously endeared him to Columbus' scouts. He's not going to put up offensive numbers at the next level. That's not his game. But he will work hard to stay in the AHL lineup next year, and could definitely develop into a quality third pairing defender who can play the PK (potential d-partner for Blake Siebenaler?).