Stevie Y loves his OHL players.
1. Mitchell Stephens - Saginaw Spirit
All things considered, it wasn't a bad year for Stephens. He missed a good chunk of time at the beginning of the year with a broken foot, then missed even more time...but with good reason (an appearance at the WJC's). For what it's worth, I thought he was excellent at the World Juniors for Canada and he should figure to be an integral part of the team next year. Stephens plays with a big heart and a ton of energy. He's a solid two-way player and faceoff man, which obviously bodes well for his eventual progression to the pro ranks. One part of Stephens' game that took a step forward this year was his confidence in using his shot, especially off the rush. His speed is such an asset, that if he can continue to develop that shot, it will be great for him in terms of opening up more ice as teams have to respect that, his speed, and his playmaking ability. Stephens will return to Saginaw next year where he's a lock to be their next captain IMO. Saginaw should be a better team next year and Stephens will be at the forefront as the team's most important player. Even with another WJC appearance, I think Stephens hits the 70 point mark.
2. Boris Katchouk - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Considering I thought Katchouk would be a first round pick, it goes without saying that I'm a fan of Tampa's selection of him in the 2nd. At this point in time, Katchouk is a terrific complimentary winger because of how hard he plays the game. Does all the little things well on a scoring line, from puck retrieval, to board battles, to crashing the net (with and without the puck). He has a very underrated set of hands and did a very good job of capitalizing on his scoring chances this year (had the 6th best shooting percentage in the league among those who played nearly a full season). The thing is, I think there's more to his game than being a grunt. I think he's got more skill with the puck than he showed this year (is a terrific lacrosse player) and as he gains confidence, I think he can be the go to offensive weapon on his line. While he's already a good skater, adding even more power to his stride would make him that much more dangerous too. Next year, SSM should be one of the better teams in the Western Conference. And if Blake Speers slides to center permanently, a line of Speers/Senyshyn/Katchouk could be one of the better first lines in the league. I honestly believe that Katchouk is a 35/35 player next year.
3. Dominik Masin - Peterborough Petes
Really liked Masin this year and felt like he took some massive steps forward in his second OHL season. That's not to say that he was bad in his first year, just that he was so much better in his second. Masin really took control of his own end this year, establishing himself as one of the toughest players to beat one on one in the entire OHL. He really relishes in the opportunity to lay out opposing forwards and does a great job of interrupting timing and using mobility and positioning to stay ahead of the attack. He played with a lot more composure this year too, picking his spots better to play physical and chasing the play a lot less. Offensively, he showed a lot more than I thought he would. I actually really liked his vision and ability to quarterback the powerplay. And he really did a good job to improve his breakout pass and the confidence in his ability to start the breakout by skating the puck out of trouble. He really did establish himself as a strong two-way defender. He'll move to the pros next year and I expect him to be a regular in the AHL. I'm still skeptical of the offensive numbers translating, so I think if he can play every day and put up 20+ points, it would be a great first year professionally for him. Definitely on the track to developing into a solid number 4 for the Bolts.
4. Anthony Cirelli - Oshawa Generals
I thought Cirelli had a very good year for a rebuilding Oshawa team. He ended up leading the team in scoring, and as captain, led them to a playoff appearance (which was impressive considering their rebuild). He showed at times this year that he can be a go to offensive player after playing more of a secondary role on that Memorial Cup champion team in his draft year. He still does a lot of little things well (good two-way player, penalty killer, faceoff man, net presence), but he displayed more confidence when handling the puck and as such, was able to create scoring chances with regularity by either driving the net, or displaying patience and poise off the rush. This poise with the puck was also evident on the powerplay where I think he showed great vision as a playmaker. As we move to next year, I think the one thing that would really elevate his game further is to continue to improve his skating. Being a more explosive player will help his transition to the next level eventually, especially if he ends up falling back into a checking line role. I actually think Oshawa could be pretty good next year and Cirelli should be in for a big year. With a better supporting cast, a 75 point season is a good mark to aim for. Because of his strong two-way play and faceoff ability, I could also see him as a darkhorse for a WJC spot.
5. Matt Spencer - Peterborough Petes
The offensive numbers regressed this year, which isn't what you'd like to see. But I do think that his defensive game really benefited from that. Spencer was a rock defensively this year and he really, really stepped it up when it comes to playing tough in his own end. He did a great job of playing tough, without playing reckless. He makes life hard in front of the net and in the corners and some added strength seemed to really increase his confidence in throwing his weight around. One of the more consistently physical defenders in the league IMO. Offensively, he took way less chances in terms of rushing the puck or jumping up in the play, electing to make safe exit passes instead. Quite often, players like Spencer need to take a step backwards offensively first to shore up their defensive game first. Then the next year, they really find that confidence with the puck. This is certainly possible for Spencer next year in Peterborough. The Petes could be a contender for the East and Spencer will be an integral part. Not only will he see key defensive situations, but he should see more powerplay time. Getting back to the 35+ point mark would be great for him. I also think he has a great chance of being the captain of the Petes.
6. Taylor Raddysh - Erie Otters
Raddysh has definitely had a strong start to his OHL career statistically. He's had the opportunity to play alongside some very talented offensive players, but it takes talent to keep up. Raddysh is a very smart player. He's not flashy in the sense that you'll see him dazzle with the puck, or fly up the wing, blowing past defenders. But he finds scoring lanes well, is great along the wall, and uses strong anticipation to be a great playmaker. Essentially, the perfect complimentary offensive player. He's been able to be the guy who does the dirty work for the Strome's, Debrincat's, McDavid's, etc in his time in the OHL. Moving forward, his skating definitely needs to get better if he wants to be the driving force of his line and create his own scoring chances more consistently. Next year, Erie could be facing a bit of a regression depending on what happens with Dylan Strome. They may need Raddysh to be more of a creator. If he can be a 70 point player again, despite some of the losses they'll incur, I think that would be great.
7. Christopher Paquette - Niagara IceDogs
Paquette was one of the most disappointing players in the league for me this year. After being impressed with him as a rookie, I expected him to really breakout and establish himself as a candidate for the top 3 rounds. But he really struggled to find a consistent place in Niagara's lineup. A lot of the time he was asked to play more of a checking line center role and I don't think that suits his skill set at this current time. The confidence that he showed previously in his puckhandling ability just wasn't there as a sophomore. Niagara has gone with a new coaching staff to help them through a rebuild this year. They aren't likely to be a top flight team, but there should be way more ice time for Paquette. He should definitely play in the Dogs' top 6 and should see lots of powerplay time. A mini break out season, 20/30, is a realistic expectation.
*Jonne Tammela - Peterborough Petes
Was drafted as an Import the year prior but did not come over to play for Peterborough. But after signing with Tampa Bay recently, it's been stated that Tommela will be heading to the OHL this coming season. As mentioned, Peterborough could be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference and they'll likely count on Tommela to be a top 6 forward. He could definitely be a 60 point player in his first year in the league.