Time to visit the Shark Tank.
1. Kevin Labanc - Barrie Colts
As the winner of the OHL's Eddie Powers Trophy (league top scorer), it was obviously a successful season for the Barrie overager. Quicker, stronger, and more confident, Labanc set the league on fire this past year. He's improved his skating a lot over the course of his OHL career. He's by no means the quickest player in the league, but he's done well preparing himself for the quicker game at the NHL level. His hockey sense is terrific and he does a great job of finding holes in the opposing defence, especially off the rush. And he's very poised with the puck when operating in traffic, making him a great playmaker. An underrated component to his game is his two-way play and the energy he brings to the backcheck. Labanc had a remarkable 13 points shorthanded this year (including 8 goals). Moving forward, he's established himself as a very solid NHL prospect. Even if his scoring skills don't translate exceptionally well to the next level, he brings a lot of other things to the ice that could make him a valuable checking line player. He'll play in the AHL next year with San Jose. I think he'll have a solid, but unspectacular first pro season. Perhaps a 15/20 year where he's able to finish top 10 in team scoring. Ultimately the key to his development will be the continued improvement of his skating.
2. Mark Shoemaker - North Bay Battalion
Shoemaker's selection definitely caught me by surprise. A late '97, it was Shoemaker's second season in the league and first seeing significant minutes. He was a consistent member of the Battalion's 2nd pairing and saw time on the 2nd powerplay unit and penalty killing unit. He has good size and good mobility, and demonstrates good positioning defensively. Shoemaker also possesses a good first pass, but has a rather unspectacular skill set when it comes to the other areas of the game. And if he's to develop into a shut down type defender, he needs to up the mean factor in his own end. However, with increased playing time and confidence, it's certainly possible for Shoemaker to improve. This is especially true when you consider that he's operating under the tutelage of Stan Butler. Next year, Shoemaker will likely continue to play on the 2nd pairing (perhaps with Brady Lyle) and could see more time on the powerplay. A modest numbers increase is certainly probable, perhaps in the range of 25-30 points.