Monday, December 26, 2016

Midseason Top 50 for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft

The start of the 2017 calendar year is nearly upon us and that means it is time for me to re-evaluate my rankings for the 2017 Draft. The OHL season is nearly at the half way mark (for most teams) which gives us a great indication of how certain players have developed in their draft season. Many players have stepped up to assume large roles on their club, while others have disappointed and find themselves on the outside looking in.

I think we're really starting to get a good grasp on the type of crop the OHL has to offer this year. It's certainly not high on first round talent. We may only see around 6 OHL players go in the first round, which would be the lowest total since 2007 (when the league only had 3 NHL first rounders). But, I really like the depth and potential outside of that. Quite a few guys who could make excellent 2nd round picks. I could actually see the OHL occupying a third of all picks by the end of the 2nd round. Certainly not unrealistic. 

For those unfamiliar with my lists, I only include first time eligible players. So a guy like Stephen Dhillon isn't listed despite the fact that I'd expect him to receive draft consideration. I do a list of "re-entries" or second/third year eligible players prior to the draft.

And for comparison's sake, here's my preliminary top 50 from October.  

Let's start it off with a change at the top.

1. Owen Tippett - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
We've got a new number one. Here's why. Tippett's play has been way more consistent the last month and a bit, and his effort level in all three zones has also greatly improved. The last few times I've seen Mississauga play, Tippett has used his size and speed to dominate all three zones and has been the best player on the ice. His shot and release are just so good and are already NHL caliber. I think that the questions surrounding his hockey IQ and vision are legitimate to some degree, because he can struggle at times with his decision making in the offensive end. However, I think even that area of his game has shown growth. I think he's finally starting to put it all together and looks like a legitimate franchise winger. He and Vilardi are definitely going to go back and forth the rest of this year.

2. Gabriel Vilardi - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Has only played 16 games this year so far because of a knee injury, and most recently an appendectomy. When he's been on the ice, he's been great. But with the way Tippett has played of late, holding on to that top spot would have been tough. Let's be honest, Vilardi will still be number one among OHL players for a lot of people. It's extremely close. It's interesting too, because he's quite the contrast from Tippett. Rangy center with a great head for the game who excels when the game slows down in the offensive end. His vision off the cycle is especially impressive. His skating isn't nearly as dynamic, but he uses his head and size to gain leverage over defenders. I'm extremely curious to see how he performs when he comes back, and how he plays down the stretch and into the Memorial Cup. As I said, these guys are pretty much 1A and 1B for me right now.

3. Nic Hague - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
His 12 goals are 2nd most in the OHL among defenders. That's an impressive feat for a draft eligible defender (even a late birthday '98). Offensively, he plays the game a lot like Brent Burns. He loves to utilize his big point shot, and he is extremely aggressive in his pinches, staying down low and looking to use his size to drive the net. Defensively, he's an impressive prospect because of his reach and potential physically. One thing I have noticed recently though, is that Hague has had some problems with the forecheck. His footwork in receiving passes in the defensive end could use some work and teams are keying in on this. Because of this, he's been a bit turnover prone. This is something he's going to have to continue to work on. But Hague is a hard worker and a very intelligent kid (defending academic player of the year), which will appeal to scouts.

4. Matthew Strome - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Has slowed down a bit offensively since the start of the season, but so have the rest of the Bulldogs. He remains their most consistent player and a very intriguing prospect. I love his combination of size and hockey sense. He's a big man who really sees the ice well and understands how to play without the puck in the offensive end. The skating concerns are real, but they were with Dylan and Ryan too. I'd actually say that Matthew has improved his skating to the point where he might be the best of the three of them in their draft years. That's impressive considering he was definitely the worst of the three in his OHL draft year (from minor midget). 

5. Nick Suzuki - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Huge fan of Suzuki as a player. He's going to be a real fan favourite for whatever team ends up drafting him. Never takes a shift off. Gets after it on the forecheck, plays way bigger than his size and just always seems to make the right play. His league leading 4 shorthanded goals this year are no fluke. He's a real pain in the ass to play against. Really, the only thing Suzuki doesn't have going for him is the size you want from a center in today's game. If he had that, we'd be talking about him for the top 5 IMO. 

6. Michael Dipietro - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
Dipietro is having one heck of a draft season so far. He leads the league in goals against average, is 2nd in save percentage and 4th in wins. All this despite his team, the Spitfires, going through some serious injury issues to top players this year. At this point, he'd be a serious candidate for first half MVP of the OHL. He doesn't have the ideal size NHL scouts look for in the position these days, but I don't really care. He's so athletic, but his approach is already incredibly refined. It's rare to find him out of position and he covers angles exceptionally well for an average sized goaltender. If he continues to play this well and plays well at the Memorial Cup, it's hard to imagine that he's not a top 50 selection come June.

7. Robert Thomas - Forward - London Knights
Massive riser and with good reason. He's emerged as one of the catalysts for London offensively in the last month or so. You could probably even make a case for him being the team's best player in that run. His speed is such an asset. And he's a very creative and intelligent player with the puck too. The combination of that makes him an incredibly dangerous player off the rush. But he's also a well rounded player who has become an asset in the defensive end and on the PK. I've also really liked him on the powerplay, where he's seen an increase in ice time. So patient with the puck, which is really an asset for his line's puck movement. If he continues to play at this level, he's challenging the likes of Hague and Strome for the 3rd spot from the OHL IMO.

8. Ivan Lodnia - Forward - Erie Otters
Lodnia seems to be a bit of a forgotten man in this draft class right now. But he's been an offensive workhorse for the top team in the OHL, with the 5th highest point per game average among first year draft eligible players. A lot of that likely has to do with his lack of elite stature (5'10) and because he plays the wing and not down the middle. But his skill level with the puck and smarts in the offensive end are incredibly good. And he's battler who is far from a perimeter player. Of note, only one of his 15 goals and 8 of his 32 points have been on the powerplay. If he was getting the time with the man advantage, his stats would be even more impressive.

9. Isaac Ratcliffe - Forward - Guelph Storm
Now the leading scorer in Guelph thanks to a terrific run the last month or so. In his last 12 games, Ratcliffe has 10 goals. At 6'6, that's going to draw a lot of intrigue from NHL scouts. Ratcliffe is a very solid north/south player who's definitely a pretty good skater for a big man. I really like his scoring instincts and his willingness to find his way to the front of the net. That hockey sense is displayed at both ends too, making him a pretty well rounded player. I think he's definitely more likely a complimentary offensive piece at the next level, but I'm sure there are lots of teams salivating over his potential once his 6'6 frame fills out. 
10. Mackenzie Entwistle - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Entwistle slips a bit from my preliminary rankings. The reason for that is a combination of a drop in offensive production and improved play from some other guys rated around him. Entwistle has only one goal in his last 15 games. The rest of his teammates are really struggling right now too though and I think he's been a bit snake bitten. I've seen Hamilton play a few times in that stretch and he's still had some good scoring chances. At the end of the day, Entwistle is still 6'3, can play any forward position, can skate, can kill penalties, and has better hands and scoring potential than some give him credit for. But there's no question his production will need to increase if he wants to get himself back into 1st round consideration.
11. Morgan Frost - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Frost is another guy really rocketing up draft lists. In a lot of ways, he's a similar player to Robert Thomas in London. Average sized, but skilled, smart, and contributing in a multitude of ways for a team right up near the top of the OHL standings. I really like the way Frost operates on the powerplay for the Soo. He opens up a lot of ice due to his patience with the puck and his aggressiveness in attacking lanes, when the time comes for it. Overall decision making is top notch. Seems like he's really gaining confidence in attacking off the rush lately too. Could just be seeing the tip of the iceberg here.
12. Jack Studnicka - Forward - Oshawa Generals
I seem to be higher on Studnicka than others are (considering that the guys I've got ranked behind him are all going to the Top Prospect's Game). His offensive ceiling may not be as high as a guy like Chmelevski or Formenton, but I just see him making a really solid pro hockey player. Certainly not flashy, but you can't overlook the way he's performed for the first place Generals this year. He plays in all situations. He's been good on the draw. He has size. He has a very good head for the game and is an above average playmaker IMO. I've said this a million times, but guys like Studnicka can often be perceived to lack offensive upside just because they're already solid two-way players. Don't see any reason that he can't develop into a Jarrett Stoll type at the next level.

13. Sasha Chmelevski - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Highly skilled offensive player who loves to play up tempo, using his speed to cut through the middle of the ice. His hands and ability to create are definitely top notch and will only get better as he gets stronger on the puck. That said, he drops a bit for me because I think he needs to really improve his play away from the puck. Too often he floats around, rather than engaging in the backcheck or in scrums along the wall and he needs to use his speed to be more aggressive in attacking the net. The production has continued to be there, but I see a lot of players ranked around him that have similar skill sets but bring more to the table in other areas.
14. Adam Ruzicka - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Got off to a really slow start to the year, but that's not uncommon for first year Imports. Moving away from home, and playing in a new league can be quite an adjustment. The last month or so, Ruzicka is showing signs that he's finally getting comfortable. He's been a lot more aggressive with and without the puck, looking to utilize his size to control play in the offensive zone. He's a pretty tough customer to separate from the puck in the corners and he's proven to be very adept at coming off the wall to create scoring chances. Good shot and release that should profile him as a goal scorer moving forward. Hopefully he keeps it up.
15. Alex Formenton - Forward - London Knights
I'm slowly getting on the Formenton train, although I'm obviously still not on it as much as others are. His speed is a major asset. He might just be one of the quickest players in the OHL. I've seen quite a few defenders have trouble with him driving wide of late, as he gains more confidence in attacking with the puck. Like the overall energy level without the puck too. He can be a major factor on the forecheck with that speed. At this point, I hesitate to rank him higher still because I don't feel like I've got a good grasp of his offensive potential for the next level. Given his lack of ice time, is he this year's Christian Dvorak?
16. Jason Robertson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Really like this player, even if he has some short comings. Size and skill from the wing. His skating could use some work, but I think it has also been overblown a bit. His top speed isn't bad. It's his start ups that are a bit sluggish. Once he gets going though, he can be really tough to stop because he protects the puck really well. I really like his aggressiveness in driving the net and his hands in close. Definitely a potential goal scorer at the next level. His two-way play could become a bit more consistent, as could his play without the puck (in general), but I think that as his skating improves, he will improve in this area. Overall, I just like his potential to develop into a pro style power winger who can play a solid north/south game.
17. Conor Timmins - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
This is a guy who is really growing on me. He's passed Paquette, Samorukov and Phillips as the 2nd best defender available behind Hague for me. The late '98 blueliner is only average sized (6'1), but he's extremely effective at both ends of the ice. Love the intensity he plays with in the defensive end. Really loves giving opposing forwards the gears in the corners and in front of the net. Like how he runs the point of the powerplay too. Walks the line well and does a good job getting his point shot through to the net. Also makes good decisions with the puck exiting the zone. Like I said, just a really solid two-way defender. Think an Alec Martinez type.
18. Jacob Paquette - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
The offense hasn't really been there this season (he got a late start to the year recovering from an UBI), but I still think he's a quality NHL prospect. Defensively, he's been an absolute stud. He's got size, mobility, smarts, and he plays aggressively. Paquette is such a tough guy to get around off the rush. All that points to him having the potential to be a real lock down defender at the next level. There were times last year (as a rookie) that he showed offensive potential as a puck mover, but that hasn't really been the case this year. Remains to be seen how much he's got there. If he can find confidence in his offensive game in the 2nd half, he'll rocket up my list again, but until then, I see him more as a solid 2nd rounder.
19. Dmitri Samorukov - Defense - Guelph Storm
Samorukov has been really up and down for me this year. Was absolutely fantastic the first few times I saw him play. Then he was downright awful the next couple. I saw Guelph again last week and he looked really good again. Just depends what night you catch this guy on. Consistency issues are certainly not uncommon for a rookie import so I think patience is critical. When he's on, Samorukov looks like a world class two-way defender who does a great job playing the body to separate his man from the puck, and leading the rush to kick start the offense. But when he's off, he can be turnover prone and gets caught running around in the defensive end. One thing he really needs to improve on is his ability to get his point shot through to the net on the powerplay. He has an absolute howitzer, but he misses wide way too often. Love the potential though, but like Paquette, he looks more like a solid 2nd/3rd rounder.
20. Nate Schnarr - Forward - Guelph Storm
Has missed the last month with a shoulder injury, but should return following the Xmas break, or at least shortly after the new year. The only concern being that this shoulder injury doesn't become nagging or effect his performance offensively moving forward. An OHL rookie, Schnarr has been inconsistent in my viewings of Guelph. Ultimately, I think it comes down to a strength thing. Schnarr is lanky at 6'3, 180lbs and I think that's preventing him from making a consistent impact. But the potential is super high as a puck protection/possession type of center who can control play in all three zones and be an offensive workhorse. Definitely a long term project, but one that could pay off.
21. Greg Meireles - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
An undersized, but scrappy center (who I think might be better suited for the wing at the next level), Meireles has had a pretty successful first season in the OHL. He plays with a lot of energy, using his speed and tenacity to be disruptive on the forecheck and push the pace of attack. He's taken a bit of a hit on my midterm rankings, but I think a lot of that has to do other players around him elevating their play. I also have found myself wondering about his offensive upside at the NHL level. And if he's being considered an energy 3rd line type of player, is he undersized for that role? Lots of question marks that are sure to make Meireles a polarizing prospect come June.

22. Markus Phillips - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Phillips is a stocky, two way defender who brings a ton of leadership potential to the ice. I really like his positioning in the defensive end. You rarely see him get beat, despite his lack of reach. Defends a lot like a Travis Dermott, using a low center of gravity and bravado to keep guys honest. I don't see him as, as natural an offensive player as Dermott though. His decision making when jumping up into the rush isn't great and he's at his best when he's making safer plays with the puck. That can certainly improve, but I don't know how that will translate moving forward. Definitely a future potential captain though and that will go a long way to ensuring he's a top 100 pick.

23. Eemeli Rasanen - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Rasanen is a guy that's REALLY growing on me as a prospect (no pun intended, thanks to his 6'6 frame). Saw him at the beginning of the year a bunch and thought he looked a bit awkward out there. But I've seen Kingston a few times lately and he's improved a lot already. Love how aggressive he is in using his size to crush the rush defensively. He really seems to revel in putting guys on their asses. And he's doing a better job getting the puck out of his own end and is showing some pretty decent mobility on the attack. When all is said and done, it wouldn't surprise me at all if he's the 2nd OHL defender off the board come June.

24. Zach Gallant - Forward - Peterborough Petes
The Peterborough Petes are absolutely rolling lately, winning 8 in a row. One of the main reasons for that has been the improved play of former 5th overall priority selection, Zach Gallant. He's been getting better and better every month and during that 8 game win streak, he's got 11 points. Gallant plays the game hard and finally seems to be gaining confidence in his offensive game, to be more of a catalyst than a bystander. A center with size who could be a solid two-way contributor, if Gallant keeps up this level of play, he's going to be much higher on this list come the end of the season.
25. Austen Keating - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Keating is definitely a polarizing prospect at this point of the season. Some really like him and he'd be a heck of a lot higher than 25th on their lists. Others (like NHL CSS) seem to see him as more of a mid round prospect. I suppose I'm in the middle here. I like Keating's hockey sense and ability to play without the puck. He's just a really smart player who works hard out there and has a pretty significant amount of skill. He can also slide pretty much anywhere in your lineup. But, he's an average sized forward who lacks game breaking speed. Think of him as this year's Taylor Raddysh. I know what you're saying, look at how well Raddysh is doing this year. Skating can be improved. Point is...these are the types of guys who can struggle to find a role in the NHL.
26. Jonah Gadjovich - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Gadjovich is criminally underrated for the draft right now IMO. Yes, he's a late '98. And yes, he got off to a miserable start to the year. But, he's been absolutely fantastic the last month or so. Since Remembrance Day (15 games), he's got 11 goals. In that span, he has two games where he registered 12 shots on net! At 6'2, 200lbs, with good hands and a good head for the game in the offensive end, Gadjovich has the potential to be a dominating force. Skating is only average, but it hasn't stopped him from taking over games of late. His stock has to be on the rise (especially if there were any scouts in the building on those 12 shot nights).
27. Kaden Fulcher - Goaltender - Hamilton Bulldogs
After a hot start, Fulcher definitely hasn't been great of late. Hamilton has been down in the dumps and Fulcher has to take some of the blame for that. During that stretch, he's been prone to giving up some bad goals, where the focus and confidence seems to be lacking. But, the problem is, for every bad goal he gives up, he makes an incredible athletic save and dominates for periods at a time. He has all the tools that NHL teams look for in potential goaltenders, but he just can't seem to put it all together right now. Continued coaching could iron out some of those issues, and that should still make him a potentially attractive option for someone come June. Few goalies in the OHL are as quick, post to post, as Fulcher.
28. Macauley Carson - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Carson is definitely an interesting prospect for the Wolves. One of those coaches' dreams kind of players. He's already wearing an "A" and he plays the game very hard. Big kid who really gets after it on the forecheck, along the wall, and in front of the net. He's got good hands and his skating and play with the puck continues to improve. This is especially true considering he's been playing center for the better part of the last couple months (although I think he most definitely profiles as a winger moving forward). Just a really solid player who continues to produce offensively and has really put himself on the scouting map for June.
29. Ben Jones - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Another guy who seems to really have caused a split among scouts so far this season. Some (like Redline) really like him. Others, (like NHL CSS), don't seem to have him on the draft radar. I'm definitely much closer to the fan side, and that dates back to his minor midget days too. There are definitely consistency issues, but I think a lot of that has to do with a lack of strength, and the fact that he plays on a very young team. I just think that once he fills out, Jones could be a very good two-way center who can use his speed to be a solid playmaker and energy guy. 
30. Adam Thilander - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Late '98 import who came into the season as a player receiving early consideration for the first round. But his production has been a bit disappointing thus far. As mentioned with Ruzicka, it can take import players some time to make adjustments to playing on the smaller ice (and being away from home in a new country). I think the biggest problem I have right now when it comes to evaluating Thilander is, I just don't know what to make of his NHL potential and future role at the next level. Not sure he's naturally gifted enough offensively to be a powerplay guy and offensive catalyst. And he doesn't have the ideal size or make-up of a "shutdown" guy. In a way, he's kind of vanilla. Makes smart plays with the puck, seems to make good reads in the defensive end and could be generally classified as a "solid" two-way defender. But the physical skills aren't sexy and he's not a guy who'll blow you away when you watch him.
31. Hayden Davis - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
I've liked his play of late as he's making the simple play and not trying to force things offensively. Big kid with solid mobility who plays the game hard in his own end. If the offensive skills improve, he could be a top 90 selection.
32. Brady Lyle - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Thought long and hard about ranking him ahead of Thilander. I think the potential is definitely higher than Thilander. Shows flashes of being a very good two-way defender (and solid PP QB), but is still very raw IMO. Certainly working with the right coach.
33. Ryan McGregor - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Speedy, energy winger who plays a solid North/South game for the Sting. Has lots of potential as a goal scorer as he fills out and is able to be more of a catalyst than a complimentary finisher.
34. Dylan Seitz - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Consistency is the name of the game for the OHL rookie. One game he looks great, then the next 3-4 he's pretty invisible. When he's on, he contributes in a lot of different ways and has some real sand paper to his game. Could be a mid round gem.
35. Noel Hoefenmayer - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Thought he looked great early in the season when he was being aggressive offensively. But lately, he seems hesitant to commit to taking chances and it's caused a decrease in production. Not big enough or strong enough defensively yet to have a ton of value when he's not producing offensively.
36. Albert Michnac - Forward - Guelph Storm
The stats don't jump out at you, but if you watch Guelph play, you'll no doubt notice #20 for the Storm. Like a little water bug out there, darting in and out of traffic. Type of guy I could really see producing once he gains confidence in his ability to play with the puck at this level.
37. Linus Nyman - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Hard to truly ignore a guy leading OHL rookies with 16 goals at the holiday break. He's undersized, but I like his fearlessness in attacking high traffic areas and finding scoring lanes. High upside, but I wish he was a little quicker. Certainly not slow, but for his size, he's not elite IMO.
38. Cole Coskey - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Playing better of late after a slow start. I think he's definitely a good NHL prospect and the best draft eligible guy on Saginaw. I've always liked his vision and playmaking ability from the wing. Just needs to play with more consistency, like the rest of his team.
39. Daniil Vertiy - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Had extremely high hopes for Vertiy coming into this season, but man did he struggle out of the gate. 2 goals in his first 24 games. But he's been way better lately (6 in his last 8) and seems to be turning a corner. Stocky winger who drives the net well and has good hands in close.
40. Maksim Sushko - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Has missed some time with injury and with Belarus at the Division 1A World Juniors (where he helped them win gold), but curious to see how he plays upon returning. Winger with skill who has played in all situations for the Attack. Impressive when looking to drive the net.
41. Tom Hedberg - Defense - Barrie Colts
Like Thilander, Hedberg entered the year with some draft hype. But he's struggled at times for a rebuilding Barrie team. Offensive skill set is good, but he's struggled to cope defensively. One of the youngest players eligible for 2017 though.
42. Kyle Keyser - Goaltender - Oshawa Generals
Looks like a solid mid-round option at this point. Lots of athleticism, but has a tendency to over commit and give out some big rebounds. Goalie of the future in Oshawa and well worth what they gave up to acquire him from Flint.
43. Matthew Villalta - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Who? An undrafted free agent find by the Hounds who has emerged to push Joseph Raaymakers for playing time. Admittedly have only seen one of his starts so far this year, but was impressed by his composure and positioning. Still going through a feeling out process.
44. Jacob McGrath - Goaltender - Sudbury Wolves
This year's Dylan Wells IMO. McGrath was a guy who I thought would challenge for the 2nd round this year, but he's really struggled to put everything together. Has given up some real stinkers. Or he's posted a 44 save shutout. No biggie. Point is, everything is there but consistent performance. 
45. Nick Grima - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Not the biggest guy, but I've been impressed with his decision making offensively. I think he's got a lot of potential as a powerplay QB and puck carrier. Doesn't hurt you defensively either, although could stand to play a little tougher in his own end.
46. Cole Fraser - Defense - Peterborough Petes
A guy who might just be scratching the surface of his potential. Great size on the backend and he's really starting to gain confidence in his ability to push people around at this level. Puckhandling ability getting better too. A prospect trending upwards.
47. Cole Purboo - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
First year player who continues to catch my eye. Has been good when asked to fill in on a scoring line. Big body who excels at driving the net and demonstrates good hands to finish off plays. A complimentary piece, but intriguing because of his size.
48. Liam Hawel - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
This year's Tim Gettinger for the Hounds. Huge kid (6'5) with a lot of potential, but just doesn't play hard enough on every shift. Would love to see him use his size more. Has been better lately though IMO.
49. Reagan O'Grady - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Not sure how much higher he'll get on my list by season's end. What you see is what you get IMO. But he'll be an NHL draft pick (also IMO). Good size, mobility and defensive acumen.
50. Elijah Roberts - Defense - Kitchener Rangers 
Has fallen pretty far down my list after a great rookie season and Hlinka performance. Big thing holding him back is his lack of shot. Undersized defender who is starting to run the risk of falling off this list, despite how much I've liked him at times.

Honorable Mentions:
Oliver Castleman & Mathew Philip - Forwards - Niagara IceDogs
Wanted to squeeze these two guys in, but just couldn't find the room. Both have done great things as OHL rookies for the Dogs this year. They play hard with, and without the puck and definitely have skill. Just don't know what type of players they'd make for the next level.

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