Thursday, August 17, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Anaheim Ducks

Last summer review article. It's the Anaheim Ducks.

1. Max Jones - London Knights
Kind of a tough year for Jones. He started the year out so well, then suffered an arm injury and a lower body injury that kept him out for a few months (causing him to miss the World Juniors too). Then upon returning, he was suspended 10 games for a vicious cross check. In total he only got into 33 regular season games. The production was decent though. Tough to say he really progressed a ton as a player though. Looked a bit quicker IMO; a little more explosive to the net. And we did see an uptick in goal scoring production (per game), but I think that had more to do with a larger role (although still without key powerplay time). Jones still needs to work on dialing in his aggression and physical game. It's 100% an asset when utilized properly, but he has lapses of poor judgment. And he's got a target on his back now, with refs having a short leash or little tolerance for him. Still want to see how much more his offensive game can grow too, in particular his shot and his ability to create plays for linemates from the cycle. He likely returns to London next year (I don't think he makes Anaheim) and should finally get powerplay time, which should really increase his production. A full year, I see him being a 40 goal/80 point player. On the right track to becoming a physical force in the same vein as Nick Ritchie (although I think Ritchie's has better vision and more natural playmaking ability).

2. Jack Kopacka - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Very good year for Kopacka as he established himself as strong two-way goal scorer. He's up to 6'3, 200lbs now and even with the jump in size, he actually looked quicker. Really explodes down the wing and is aggressive at driving the net, looking for loose pucks. Operates exceptionally well off the rush. Really stepped up as a quality two-way player this year too, using that speed to chase down loose pucks and work hard on the back check. Was a big part of the Soo's excellent penalty kill. Next step for him, IMO, is to use his size more effectively in the offensive end without the puck. Working the cycle, and slowing the game down a bit. Want to see his playmaking ability and vision continue to develop too. Ultra aggressive at driving wide with speed, but having the vision to find trailers or find streaking teammates would make him that much more dangerous. Would elevate him from being more of a secondary scoring option, to being a primary one. He hit the 30 goal mark last year and jumping to 40 next year, on a strong SSM team, is certainly not far fetched. At this rate, I think it's actually reasonable to ask the question, who scores more goals next year, Jones or Kopacka?

3. Julius Nattinen - Windsor Spitfires
Disappointing season for Nattinen who saw himself fall well below the point per game mark, with his production nearly cut in half. It was not as if he didn't play with talent either, consistently seeing time with guys like Jeremiah Addison, Gabe Vilardi, and Jeremy Bracco. Now, I will say that I don't think he was as bad as the numbers would indicate. He's still a solid two-way center who controls the wall well and is effective near the crease. Excellent face-off man too. But, his lack of elite skating ability still hinders him from being a consistent threat off the rush. I think, in a way, it will limit his effectiveness as a two-way player at the next level too. Certainly not too late for this to be improved, but I don't think I saw much improvement over his two years in the OHL. He'll move on to the AHL level next year, where I would expect very modest offensive production as he adjusts to the speed of the pro game. Maybe an 8/15 kind of year on a 3rd/4th line. Likely a few years away from developing into an NHL player IMO.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Arizona Coyotes

Second last team to cover this summer, the Arizona Coyotes.

1. Dylan Strome - Erie Otters
Strome struggled in limited NHL action and with how deep their young talent pool is, Arizona decided to send him back to the OHL for his final year. From an OHL stand point, it was great to see Strome back to finish what he started and earn an OHL Championship with the Otters. He improved upon his point per game average and was fantastic in the playoffs during Erie's run. Pretty much what you'd expect him to do. Strome's skating remains average, but he's such a smart player that he's able to dominate the OHL level with his vision and puck skill. Consistently makes quick decisions with the puck and is able to create scoring chances in any situation (off the rush, off the cycle, on the PP). Thought he was noticeably stronger and harder to separate from the puck this year. Also saw an improvement in his two-way game, playing with a little more jam on the back check, using his size to force turnovers. As he finally graduates to the pro level for good next year, his skating will need to continue to improve and I'd say it's likely that he adds even more muscle this offseason. The question is, will he be in the NHL or the AHL? The Coyotes have a ton of young depth, especially down the middle. He's going to battle the likes of Clayton Keller and Christian Dvorak for a roster spot. Wouldn't shock me at all if he started in the AHL, to get his confidence up offensively before he takes over a spot in the NHL for good by midseason. Between the AHL and NHL, I bet he's a 50 point player this year.

2. Mackenzie Entwistle - Hamilton Bulldogs 
Fantastic pick up by the Coyotes this year at the draft. Was one of my favourite OHL'ers heading into the event. This kid is a coaches dream. Size, competitiveness, skating ability, ability to play multiple positions, two-way awareness. His offensive game is still growing as he gains confidence in his abilities. We've seen terrific offensive output from him when paired against his peers (top prospect's game, Under 18's). And I do truly believe that there is more offensive upside to his game than people give him credit for. He flashes the ability to drive the net and beat defenders one on one and I think his hands in close are quite good. In Hamilton this past year, the offensive production wasn't great, but he also wasn't given powerplay time or top line ice time. That should improve next year as he'll look to be a top 6 forward and should most definitely see powerplay time. I would expect that his offensive production at least doubles to being a 25/25 guy, and could even see him as a 60 point player on a relatively strong Hamilton team. Like I said, I'm a big fan.

3. Cam Dineen - North Bay Battalion
Tough year for Dineen as he succumbed to a knee injury early in the year that required season ending surgery. North Bay wasn't great but after he went down, their season really went in the dumps. They greatly missed his ability to start the breakout and make quick decisions with the puck in the defensive end. Truthfully, didn't see enough of him to really evaluate any progression before the injury. So let's focus on next year. He'll return to North Bay and look to be one of the OHL's better defenders. His hockey sense and vision is off the charts good, but hopefully his physical skills and skating have caught up a bit. If the Battalion struggle again, wouldn't shock me at all if they looked to move him to a competitor. Want to see Dineen back up above the 50+ point mark, with improvements made in the defensive end. 

4. Kyle Capobianco - Sudbury Wolves
Definitely some good things for Capobianco in (likely) his final OHL season. Sudbury took some minor steps forward as a team and Capobianco's play was definitely a big reason for that. Thought he was more aggressive as an offensive player this year, looking to extend his rushes deeper into the offensive zone to help Sudbury's forwards gain and maintain a semblance of dominance in the offensive end. Also saw a step forward in defensive intensity. Thought he made himself a bit harder to play against and flashed an ability to step on forwards as they tried to drive the net. That said, I think his defensive game still needs to develop a lot more for him to become an NHL defender. Still needs to add strength to win more battles in the corner and in front of the net. Continuing to up his intensity level will help. There are still times when he seems too complacent in his own end. While there's always the chance Arizona returns him for an OA season, I'd say that's very unlikely. He'll start his pro career next year in the AHL. Likely is eased into the lineup slowly and will probably post pretty modest numbers in his first year as he adjusts. 

5. Nate Schnarr - Guelph Storm
Solid rookie season for the lanky, two-way center and well worth an NHL draft pick where Arizona took him. Despite Guelph being a pretty poor team, I was always impressed by Schnarr's effort level and there were games where he looked like their best player. Strength is definitely an issue, but work ethic is not. Solid skater who has the potential to develop into a quality power center who can drive the net and work well within the possession game. To a certain degree, I think it remains to be seen how good his hands are and how much goal scoring potential he has. But I do think that this is a kid who's only scratching the surface of what he's capable of. He'll return to Guelph next year and will be one of their top 2 line centers, with a good amount of powerplay time. Guelph should also be better next year, which will only improve his odds of increasing his production. I see him being a 25 goal/60 point player. The question is, who will produce more next year, he or Entwistle?

6. Noel Hoefenmayer - Ottawa 67's
Hoefenmayer, IMO, is actually a pretty similar prospect to Capobianco when he was drafted. Good mobility. Good offensive instincts. Good puck skill. Asked to play a large role on a young, rebuilding club where he was forced to look overmatched defensively at times. The difference is that Hoefenmayer was actually a pretty hard nosed defender before coming to the OHL. Just hasn't seemed to have found the confidence (or physical maturity) yet to become that sort of a defender playing against older competition. Also think he possesses a better shot than Capobianco. Really interested to see how his game progresses over the next two years. Ottawa should be better next year, or at least equivalent. Hoefenmayer will be a top pairing defender for them and he should be able to produce similarly to his draft year, while improving his defensive play.

7. Jalen Smereck - Flint Firebirds
Smereck actually possesses a lot of the qualities that you like to see in pro defenders. Decent size. Good mobility. Smart with the puck. Physical intensity in the defensive end. He's a very well rounded defender and was a smart sign by the Coyotes. In particular, I really like how Smereck quarterbacks the powerplay. Adept at keeping pucks in and getting pucks to the net and plays very composed. Also love how he plays bigger than his size in the defensive end and isn't afraid to mix things up. I don't think his upside is incredibly high, but he does a lot of things well and has a chance to develop into a solid third pairing guy. Next year the Coyotes could send him back to the OHL for his overage year or they could play him in the AHL. Based on how he played in a small sample size to end last year (for Tuscon), I'd be surprised if he goes back. I actually think he's more pro ready than Capobianco and will have a better first year than him, even if the potential is not as high. Probably a 20 point player in his first pro season.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Boston Bruins

Third last stop on the review tour this summer! Boston.

1. Zach Senyshyn - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A bit of a deja vu year for Senyshyn. Hits the 40 goal plateau again, with exactly 65 points. Senyshyn remains one of the OHL's elite skaters. And when you pair that with his size and puck protection ability, you've got one of the toughest wingers to stop one on one in the league. Also possesses an extremely heavy wrist shot. It's rinse/repeat for him. Use his speed to drive the net, with and without the puck, and get to those scoring lanes. Felt he improved his physical intensity a little bit this year. Saw him be more aggressive in front of the net, using his size to gain positioning. But the things I mentioned in last year's article (playmaking/vision, two-way game) remain works in progress IMO and will need to continue to improve as he moves to the pro level next year. That North/South game definitely will work and his speed will play, but he will need to utilize his teammates better at the pro level, as beating defenders one on one will not be as easy. And I'd still love to see him develop as a forechecker with his size and speed. I still think he'll be a 20 goal scorer as an AHL rookie next year, but he may take a few years before he's ready for a top 6 role on the big club.

2. Jack Studnicka - Oshawa Generals
Great pick by the Bruins this year. Studnicka is a hard working, two-way center with offensive upside. Got better and better as the year went on, gaining confidence in his offensive abilities. Finished the year with a great OHL playoffs and an impressive appearance at the Under 18's. Really like how Studnicka sees the ice and well effective he is without the puck. He's certainly not the quickest, but he consistently beats defenders to loose pucks and to scoring lanes because he works harder, and because he anticipates the play well. It will be interesting to see how his offensive game develops over the next two years. He will need to get quicker, especially his first few steps, to make him more effective driving the middle of the ice to create plays off the rush. Would also love to see him become a little more physically intense, upping that grit element to his game to really take that two-way ability to the next level. Lastly, adding strength will make him a more effective puck carrier and should improve his shot. Next year in Oshawa, he'll be a go to offensive player and should be a point per game player. In fact, I'm betting he cracks the 70+ point mark.

Monday, August 14, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Buffalo Sabres

Getting down to the end here. Buffalo up next.

1. Cliff Pu - London Knights
Fantastic year for Pu's development. Nearly tripled his point production from a year ago, taking his game to another level and becoming a go to player for the Knights. Last year, I wrote "At this point, his overall offensive game is a work in progress. As a center, his vision and playmaking off the rush will need to continue to develop. Same goes for his shot and confidence in using it." Well those were the parts of his game we saw the biggest improvements in. This is a player who can put defenders on his back, driving the net. Has always had the speed, but now has the strength to match it. When he gets going on the way to the net, he's one of the more difficult forwards to stop in the OHL. Overall playmaking ability and vision was much better too. Using his size and speed to open up lanes and then deftly finding teammates, rather than just driving the net with his head down. Lastly, the shot was much better. Looks confident driving wide, using defenders as a screen for a heavy wrist shot. A lot more velocity behind those wristers now. And of course, Pu's two-way game and faceoff prowess remain strengths. Only negative I can think of was Pu's disappointing play in the playoffs this year. He struggled to be an impact player, almost as if he hit a bit of a wall. As a budding power center with another year in the league, I'm excited to see how he can take his game to yet another level next year when he returns to London. I'd expect him to be a 40 goal scorer and a 90+ point producer, although I'm not sure London will be quite as strong next year. 

2. Austin Osmanski - Mississauga Steelheads
Stagnant year for Osmanski's development. Spent the majority of the year on the third pairing again, with similar ice time to his draft year. He's a big defender who flashes an ability to dominate physically. Has decent mobility but his defensive reads and confidence with the puck remain works in progress. As does his decision making with the puck in his own end. Can be forced into turnovers in the defensive end by a heavy forecheck. Next year, he has a chance to earn top four ice time and will likely battle overager Stephen Gibson for that spot (as a potential partner for newcomer Merrick Rippon or 2nd rounder Nic Hague). To earn a contract from Buffalo, he's going to need to emerge as a top flight defensive defender in this league and improve his play with the puck.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Calgary Flames

The last Canadian team to be covered this year.

1. Tyler Parsons - London Knights
What more can you say about Parsons at this point? This kid is a winner. An OHL Championship and Memorial Cup last year. And a World Junior Championship this year. Not to mention another terrific OHL season under his belt.  First thing you immediately notice about his game is how quick he is in the crease and how he never gives up on a play. His lateral movement is fantastic. Just a really tough guy to beat low with how well he tracks the play. Did a really good job working on his positioning this year, scrambling a little less and being more conservative in his movements. He's not a huge goaltender, but he's ultra aggressive in challenging shooters, trusting his athleticism to keep him in the play. He's ready for his next challenge, which looks like it will be the ECHL. Certainly not uncommon for top flight goaltending prospects to spend time there. Calgary has Jon Gillies and David Rittich already manning the pipes in the AHL. Doubt he supplants them (unless they move Eddie Lack and use a guy like Rittich as their back-up). Would expect Parsons to be the best or one of the best goalies in the ECHL and for him to play well in his inevitable spot AHL duty as well. He's a top flight goaltending prospect and the best one from the OHL currently.

2. Adam Ruzicka - Sarnia Sting
An excellent 4th round pick by the Flames this year. He certainly has his warts and things to work on as a prospect. But he's also a kid with a lot of potential. Big forward with skill and decent skating ability. At times, he looks like he can dominate the possession game and could develop as a really tough guy to stop from getting to the net. Certainly has the puck skill to drive the play. But there's a wavering intensity level, especially away from the puck. Want to see a big guy want to go after loose pucks, but he's stagnant in the offensive end too much. I think the concerns about his hockey sense and vision are legitimate too. Want to see him get himself in better scoring position because he has a big wrist shot and a great release. Internationally, I thought he looked quite good this year, better than he did in the OHL. Obviously, it's an adjustment to playing on a smaller ice surface in a different country. He'll return to Sarnia next year and will be a big part of their offense. Likely their 2nd line center again and will see lots of powerplay time. I think he's likely a point per game player and a 30 goal scorer.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Carolina Hurricanes

Some quality OHL prospects in the stable for the Hurricanes.

1. Warren Foegele - Erie Otters
What a great decision by the Hurricanes to send Foegele back for his OA year. His game grew exponentially. He developed into one of the best, if not the best, two way player in the OHL. Such a complete center and has the makings of developing into a fantastic 3rd line center for the Hurricanes in the near future. Offensively, he's very adept at winning loose puck battles and is exceptional at using his body along the wall. He's also very aggressive in driving the net. We saw a massive confidence shift in terms of his shot this year. Way more aggressive in looking to shoot the puck and getting himself in good scoring position in the slot. Defensively, his anticipation and reads are terrific. He's become quite the excellent penalty killer. He's also fantastic on faceoffs. I also really liked how Foegele elevated his game in the playoffs this year during Erie's championship run. Was one of their best players on a pretty stacked team. He'll turn pro next year and I think he'll have an excellent rookie pro season. I see him putting up 15/20 in the AHL and fighting for a 3rd/4th line spot as early as 2018. Blog friend Matt Karash (of Canes and Coffee) actually feels Foegele could compete for a job as early as this season, based on what he saw at prospect camp. Either way, Carolina has a good one on their hands.

2. Janne Kuokkanen - London Knights
Solid rookie season for Kuokkanen with the Knights as he quickly established himself as a terrific secondary scoring option. Really like how he operates off the rush. A very dynamic, quick strike player. His skating is excellent and he really likes to use it to drive the net wide. Even though he only had 26 goals in the regular season, I think the playoffs (10 goals) better exemplified his goal scoring potential. He has a great wrist shot and as the year went on, he really started to become more aggressive in attacking the middle of the ice looking for scoring opportunities. As a complete player (play away from the puck, physical game, two-way awareness), I think his game still has some growth. Would love to see him use that speed to be more active on the forecheck. But this is a fun player to watch. Next year he'll be in the AHL with the Knights releasing his rights (before this year's import draft). As a '98 drafted from Europe, he can play in the league as a 19 year old. Might be a bit of an adjustment period for him as he learns to use his speed to be aggressive at the pro level. I see him as probably a 15/15 guy as an underager, which would still be a terrific season.

3. Jeremy Helvig - Kingston Frontenacs
Was a pretty solid season for Helvig, his first as a starter in the OHL. The Frontenacs were one of the better defensive teams in the Conference and he had a lot to do with that. He's a really big goaltender and he's worked hard to become more than just a stopper. Did a much better job swallowing up rebounds this year and limiting second chance opportunities, using that size to be aggressive and stopping pucks through traffic. There were some consistency issues at times, and he seemed to tire a bit by the playoffs (where he wasn't terrific). I think moving forward he needs to continue to work on his agility in the crease to make him more effective moving side to side, that way he can be even more aggressive in using his size to challenge shooters, but have better recovery ability. It's already been announced that he'll be returned to Kingston for his OA season. That's huge news for the Frontencas and a smart decision for his development IMO. Kingston has a chance to be a top 4 team in the East and Helvig should be a top 5 netminder in the league. Really want to see that save percentage in the .915 range next year and could be paired with 30+ wins.

4. Steven Lorentz - Peterborough Petes
Because he was a draft selection as a re-entry, the Canes had another year to decide on whether to sign Lorentz and thus returned him to Peterborough for his overage year. He rewarded them with an excellent season and they rewarded him with a contract. Last year I mentioned that the key to his development was improved play away from the puck; using his size to become a good two-way player. And we really saw that part of his game improve this year. Consistently winning battles along the wall. Consistently working hard on the backcheck as the first guy back. He's not the most physical player, but he does use his size well to give him leverage. Offensively, I think one of the biggest improvements I noticed was in his skating. Looked a lot more explosive this year and he used that to be aggressive in driving the middle of the ice, looking to create and push the pace. Saw a lot more confidence in his puckhandling ability and overall effectiveness off the rush. With size, improved skating, an improving two-way game and great faceoff ability, Lorentz certainly has the potential to develop into a solid 3rd/4th line center for Carolina in the future. He'll start his pro career this year. Would love to see him be a full time AHL player, but wouldn't be shocked if he split time between the A and the ECHL. As he adjusts, I wouldn't expect huge offensive production, but if Carolina is patient, this is a kid who possesses the work ethic required to be a quality pro.

5. Noah Carroll - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Probably not the season the Hurricanes had hoped for from Carroll at this point. We did see him improve his offensive production, but I'm not entirely sure he improved a whole lot as a player and prospect. First half of the season in Guelph, it was a lot of the same that we had seen the year before. Trouble with decision making in his own end and an overall indecisiveness defensively. The mid season trade to Sault Ste. Marie did seem to help a bit though. Was able to slide into a different role in the Soo, where he wasn't being asked to be a significant offensive contributor. Was able to simplify his game and as such, the turnovers decreased. Skating has never been a problem, which has always made you wonder if there's some offensive upside trapped in there. Next year is a big season for Carroll as an OA. He's going to need to have a good year to earn a contract from Carolina. At this point, I think it's a matter of developing an identity for Carroll. Focus on using your skating ability to develop into a quality defender. Increase the intensity level in the defensive end and make yourself a really tough player to match up against. Then find the confidence in your ability to handle the puck and use your skating ability to start the transition game and limit those turnovers. If Carroll can be a 30+ point defender but really improve defensively, he probably gets a contract. And he'll be counted on to be a top 3 defender for the Hounds (a contender in the West), so the opportunity is there. 

*Martin Necas - Saginaw Spirit
Looks like Canes' first rounder Martin Necas is indeed going to commit to the Spirit next year (or at least signs are pointing towards that). Big add for that franchise and for the league, if true. From what I've seen, Necas' speed and ability to drive the middle of the ice should play well in the OHL. He'll likely be Saginaw's top line center and should be a good bet to be a point per game player. The Spirit have mired in mediocrity for a few years, so hopefully he can elevate them back to being a quality team in a tough Conference. Excited to see him play.

Friday, August 11, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Chicago Blackhawks

Have I ever mentioned how much I enjoy the city of Chicago? Kuma's Corner; one of the best burgers I've ever had in my life.

1. Alex Debrincat - Erie Otters
I guess it was a good year for Debrincat...leading the league in scoring and winning the Red Tilson Trophy as the league's most outstanding player. Oh...and his team won an OHL Championship. Yeah...I guess a pretty good year. Debrincat has obviously reached a point where he has absolutely nothing left to prove at the OHL level. Over the course of his career, his skating and strength have improved greatly, two things pundits have pointed as being potential downfalls given his lack of stature. Bottom line is this, you can't teach hockey sense and Debrincat has it in spades. Believe me, teams know when this guy is on the ice. Yet, they can't stop him because he's a step ahead of everyone else. Even without Dylan Strome to start the year, and all the reinforcements the Otters brought in for the stretch drive, Debrincat showed an ability to dominate and that's another thing doubters pointed to. So now it will be about proving that his game can translate to the pro level next year. Can he get to those spots the same way? Will he have the time and space to get his great shot off? I think the answer to those questions is yes. In fact, I think Debrincat forces himself on to the Blackhawks roster this year at some point and becomes a permanent fixture in their top 6 by the end of the year.

2. Graham Knott - Windsor Spitfires
Quite frankly, I think the stats were misleading. Certainly not impressive seeing your 20 year old, 6'4 center scoring 15 goals this year. But after that trade from Niagara, any time I saw the Spitfires play, Knott was one of the better players on the ice. He doesn't score because he doesn't shoot. Just over 100 shots this year. His shot is not a weapon. But what Knott does have is physical skill. His skating has improved a ton over the course of his OHL career IMO. He was a very effective player at both ends and he plays the game hard away from the puck. Knott also has really underrated hands as a puck carrier and is capable of making moves in transition that can create space for him to make plays for his linemates. Also continues to show a penchant for driving hard to the net. Knott will turn pro next year and play in the AHL. I actually think he'll find some immediate success at the pro level as his game is very transferable. Could take a bit of time for him to adapt to the speed of the pro game, but I think he'll be a 25 point guy at the very least (maybe 8/17-ish). I could definitely see Knott developing into a quality 3rd/4th line center in time.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Colorado Avalanche

Breathe in that mile high air!

1. Conor Timmins - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Good pick by the Avs in the 2nd round this year. Timmins is a player who actually closely resembles current Avs prospect and former OHL'er Chris Bigras. Has good two-way tendencies and a solid head for the game. Not overly big, but he moves pretty well and for the most part, plays with a high intensity level in the defensive end. Really like the way he quarterbacks the powerplay. Has very good vision on the point. He's a late birthday, but he's coming off only his second year in the league. Still has some learning to do. Sometimes I feel like Timmins can try to force things offensively and can make a few questionable decisions on his breakouts (something that was very evident at the World Junior Summer Showcase IMO). And he'll need to continue to improve his reads defensively, as well as his first few strides skating forward. Also would love to see him work on his point shot. But this is a quality defense prospect who's going to get better under a great coaching staff in the Soo. He'll return there for his 19 year old season and will be the leader of their blueline. The Greyhounds have aspirations of being the best in the West and Timmins' development will be crucial. I see him putting up pretty similar offensive numbers, but increasing his goal totals. Could be a candidate for the Max Kaminsky (OHL Defender of the Year).

2. Travis Barron - Ottawa 67's
On one hand, you want to be critical of Barron's season based on the fact that his offensive production decreased. But on the other hand, it's important to note that Barron's contributions aren't all measured on the score sheet. Firstly, he was named captain of the 67's as an 18 old. That's an impressive feat and speaks volumes to his dedication and effort level. Secondly, his physical game really upped itself this year. He was consistently engaged and was a very effective player in the defensive end and on the PK. That said, we do have to talk about the fact that his offensive game still hasn't found itself at the OHL level. Doesn't seem to be able to find those scoring lanes because the effort is there. And his ability to carry the puck in transition and create space for himself still lacks polish. Next year he'll return as captain of the 67's, a young team which will continue to look to improve. At this point, I'm not sure it's realistic to expect a massive breakout offensively. But if he could get to the 25 goal/55 point mark, that would give him a serious shot at earning a contract from the Avs because of the other great things he does.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Columbus Blue Jackets

Just one OHL prospect for the Jackets again this year, and he was signed before he played in the league. The Jackets haven't drafted a player out of the OHL the last three years (although they have been active in the FA market).

1. Kole Sherwood - Flint Firebirds
A breakout season for Sherwood following a trade to Flint from London. Big surprise, a talented player flourished with more ice time! Sherwood has always possessed a ton of talent. Great speed. Ability to handle the puck and make creative plays. A powerful shot. The potential to play a power game. But he's lacked the strength to really make consistent use of his skill set. Let me tell you, it's obvious Sherwood put in the work this offseason to get bigger. In the offensive zone, this guy was tough to stop. His ability to control the puck and work the cycle was one of the best in the OHL (IMO). With his skating ability and that added strength, defenders had a really tough time separating him from the puck, especially behind the net. As such, he was able to extend a lot of plays and his playmaking ability really became elevated. Also, his ability to utilize his shot and his confidence in it really increased. Loves flying down the wing and rifling a shot through a defender, or coming off the wall and using his wrister. This kid has really become a complete player. Moving forward, I'd expect him to turn pro this coming season, even though the Jackets could return Sherwood for his OA year. The one thing that I'm still not sure about is his overall goal scoring potential. Not sure how well he reads the play in the offensive end without the puck and whether he can consistently get himself in good scoring position in the pros. But, I'm very curious to see how he does next year. I look at the mild success that Justin Scott had this year as a rookie and IMO Sherwood is a better player leaving the OHL and a better prospect than Scott was. So I'm going to say Sherwood is a 15/15 guy or better as a rookie.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Dallas Stars

Off to Texas, as the Dallas Stars are next.

1. Jason Robertson - Kingston Frontenacs
One of the more polarizing draft eligible players this year. Those that love him, love Robertson and had him inside the lottery of their rankings. Where as others believed his lack of elite skating ability and inconsistency away from the puck made him more of a 2nd/3rd rounder. In reality, Robertson ended up being an early 2nd rounder of the Stars, who probably feel like they got a steal. I'm certainly a fan, especially where they ended up getting him. Robertson WAS Kingston's offense this year. Didn't have a ton of help, yet was a consistent offensive force. Yes, his skating needs to improve. But his hockey sense is top notch. He really understands how to work in the offensive zone without the puck. Finds gaps in the defense and is always a step ahead of the opposition. But he's also terrific in puck protection, using his size to drive the net. And his shot and release are top notch. On top of skating, I want to see his play away from the puck (in terms of a defensive standpoint) improve. He shows flashes of developing as a physical player, but that needs to be more consistent. Robertson will return to Kingston and should be one of the OHL's leading scorers this year as I see the Fronts offense being a tad better around him. I think he's a 90+ point player and 45+ goal scorer.

2. Nicholas Caamano - Flint Firebirds
Fantastic season for Caamano. The Stars couldn't have asked for better. Nearly doubled his production from his draft year and improved in almost every way. Caamano is up to 6'3 now and he uses that size advantage to drive the net with authority. He's got quick feet and is a very effective player without the puck. Felt he really stepped up his game as someone who can forecheck and win battles for the puck consistently. His shot and his confidence in using it really improved too. In his draft year, felt he was more of a crash and bang winger who showed a great ability to score garbage goals near the crease. But this year he added a great wrist shot as a weapon and he scored a lot of goals from the slot with a quick release. Also felt like he got a lot better as a puck carrier, that added length improving his ability to protect the puck and drive the middle. IMO, Caamano is one of the most underrated prospects in the OHL right now. His breakout season was hidden because he plays in Flint. But the Firebirds were surprisingly decent last year and they'll look to improve even more next year. I see Caamano right in the thick of that and I expect him to be a 40 goal scorer and 80+ point player.

3. Liam Hawel - Guelph Storm
Project pick by the Stars. Tall, lanky center who has some redeeming qualities. Moves well for a big center. Flashes the ability to drive the net. Also flashes a strong two-way ability and some physical skill. Started the year with the Soo but was dealt to Guelph for Hurricanes draft pick Noah Carroll. Depending on the development of others, Hawel could be Guelph's 2nd or 3rd line center next year. But he needs to have gotten a lot stronger in order to put up consistent offensive numbers. The Storm are looking to take that next step as a playoff team next year and they need players like Hawel to really progress. Not sure I'd expect him to be a point per game player yet, but if he can hit the 20 goal and 50 point mark, that would be a great step forward IMO.

4. Chris Martenet - Ottawa 67's
Never a great sign when you get dealt from a team competing for an OHL Championship in your 20 year old, overage season. Shows a lack of trust in the player to be a key cog for a competitive team. The Knights dealt Martenet to Ottawa where he provided leadership to an extremely young blueline. But I don't think it was a great year for his development. Yes, he's a physical defender with great reach. And he's got a good head on his shoulders as a defensive player. But, the same limitations that affected him last year (skating and puck skill) are still evident. As he moves on to the pro level next year, I think he'll initially struggle with the speed of the pro game. The Stars have a ton of defenders signed on to play pro next year so my guess would be that he spends the year in the ECHL. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Detroit Red Wings

Detroit is another team who seems to really love drafting from the OHL. A ton of content here.

1. Filip Hronek - Saginaw Spirit
Fantastic rookie season for this one and done in the OHL. From first puck drop, Hronek established himself as one of the league's best offensive blueliners. The adjustment period was very minimal. As an offensive defender, Hronek has little to no flaws. Makes very good decisions with the puck in his own end and picks his spots well on when to lead the rush or make a safe pass. But he's also exceptionally aggressive in jumping up in the play, using his strong skating ability to be the third man in. Really like his vision overall, both 5 on 5 and as a PP QB. Also really like how he gets his point shot through to the net. Has a very accurate wrister and does a great job of using his skating ability to open up shooting lanes. Defensively, I thought he got better and better as the season went on. Was actually surprised with his physical intensity in the defensive end. Makes very solid reads in coverage and is a solid stick defender off the rush. It'll be interesting to watch him develop at the pro level, as he learns how and when to be aggressive against quicker and larger players. He'll start that pro journey next year at the AHL level, but I don't think he'll take long at that level. If he plays the whole year there, I can see him putting up 40+ points, just as Vince Dunn (an equivalent player and prospect IMO) did this past year.

2. Givani Smith - Guelph Storm
Quite frankly, I don't think it was a great year for Smith's development. On the good side (let's start there), I thought his skating looked better this year. Seems to have worked hard to improve his first few steps. And he's still a physical monster who can dominate the cycle game and wall pretty much whenever he chooses. But, his game is still largely the same as it was in his draft year. Bad penalties still plague his game. His physicality is a major asset. But he needs to learn how to walk that line so he's not putting his team at a disadvantage (especially since it seems like his penalties occur far too often in the offensive zone). Also still want to see him be more assertive with the puck. He has skill and he has good hands, better than his stats would indicate. But at what point do we question the goal scoring sense? Will his ability to carry the puck improve? All of that said, I'm still a big fan of this power forward. Players who play the game like Smith often take longer to develop than others because there are a lot of elements to their game and finding a way to balance them often comes with experience and confidence. Guelph should take a small step forward as a team this year and Smith will be at the fore front. I really think he ends up with 35+ goals and is a point per game player for the first time.

3. Vili Saarijarvi - Mississauga Steelheads
His season got off to a late start after offseason wrist surgery. Upon returning though, he didn't miss a beat. His skating ability is absolutely fantastic and there's a reason why Mississauga struggled without him in the lineup. They had a tough time getting the puck out of their end with him absent. When he came back, he really opened up the game for their offense because of his ability to transition up ice; Saarijarvi is a dynamic puck rusher. Defensively, I think his game did make strides this year, in particular his reads and ability to use his stick to disrupt passing lanes. Much more aware this year, less deer in the headlights. That said, I do think that his defensive game is going to continue to need work at the pro level next year. He still loses too many battles in the corners and in front of the net. He needs to do a better job of trying up his man near the crease and can be pushed around a bit. With stronger players in the AHL, he's going to have a tough adjustment. Lots of offensive potential though. I'd expect him to be at least a 30+ point player at the AHL level next year, even if they shelter his usage and minutes to get him acclimatized.

4. Zach Gallant - Peterborough Petes
Solid draft pick by the Wing this year. Really like the way Gallant plays the game. Also really like the progression he showed as a player this year. He struggled pretty mightily as a rookie in 2015/16, after being a high OHL draft pick. But he came back this year and really established himself as a great OHL player and cornerstone for the Petes. Gallant is already one of the toughest players to go up against in the OHL. He's one of the best body checkers in the league and is a terrific two-way player who's consistently one of the first forwards back into the d-zone and consistently wins one on one battles. He's also a great face-off man. Offensively, Gallant keeps things pretty simple. Drives the net hard. Works the cycle. Good hands in close. As he progresses in the league, it will be interesting to see his offensive game develop more. In particular, would like to see him get a bit quicker and improve his ability to handle the puck in transition. Peterborough will be one of the league's better teams this year and Gallant will once again be a key player for them. I could see him being a point per game player, or close to it.

5. Jordan Sambrook - Erie Otters
Sambrook responded very well to the increased responsibility he received from the Otters coaching staff this year.  He played a top four role for the OHL Champions and was a solid contributor at both ends. Makes a lot of smart, simple plays in the offensive and defensive end. At the same time, he was a lot more aggressive in looking to jump up in the rush for scoring chances. He possesses a really solid point shot and does a great job finding holes back door for scoring chances. His 15 goals this year were no fluke. Defensively, he's a solid positional defender who will also throw his weight around and win battles in the corners. Moving forward it will be about improving his foot speed. I know that was something he came into the year looking to improve and I'd say that it's still a weakness. Next year, Sambrook returns to Erie where he'll be penciled in on the team's top pairing. He'll get first unit powerplay responsibility and a ton of ice time. I also see him as an eventual trade target as the Otters rebuild and look to recoup draft picks. My guess is he ends up around the 45-50 point mark.

6. Reilly Webb - Hamilton Bulldogs
Really savvy pick up by Wings brass. Webb is a highly touted young OHL player who has missed the vast majority of the last two seasons due to shoulder and ankle (laceration) injuries. The Wings are going to have to be very patient with Webb, but this is a big defender who is very mobile and possesses a lot of potential as a defensive stalwart. Just how much his offensive game can develop remains to be seen. Ditto for his ability to play a physical game and utilize his size. But big defenders with mobility don't grow on trees. Webb returns to Hamilton this year where he'll look to stay healthy, first and foremost. Otherwise he'll be part of a veteran d-corp, but the organization is high on him so he'll see a lot of ice time, likely especially shorthanded. In his first full year, I wouldn't expect a ton offensively, but if his defensive game can really grow, that's a start.

7. Brady Gilmour - Saginaw Spirit
Not the best draft year for Gilmour as he battled consistency and a juggling of younger linemates. The rebuilding Spirit weren't the easiest team to be on for your draft year and I'm actually a little shocked Gilmour got drafted. He's not a big kid, but he battles hard. Has potential to develop into a solid two-way playmaking center. In particular, his puck control can dazzle at times and he's certainly not shy about taking the puck to the net. That said, he needs to get quicker, especially as a smaller forward. If he can add that extra gear, it will make him more effective away from the puck and should improve his offensive consistency. He'll return to a Saginaw team which is in a bit of a cross roads; in between a rebuild and trying to make the playoffs. I suspect he'll have a pretty decent season and I could see him cracking the 55-60 point mark.

8. Cole Fraser - Peterborough Petes
Fraser is a real throwback player to the days of old. Not too many guys left in the OHL who really enjoy dropping the mitts regularly, but Fraser is one. He plays the game hard and loves to lay a big hit or stick up for a teammate. He saw time at both forward and defense this year, but defense is his natural position. Actually think he possesses some offensive potential back there. Makes the odd play with the puck, especially on the point, that makes you say..."hmm." Has a big point shot too. Puck skill and decision making will need to improve. Ditto for mobility. But he's an interesting draft selection. He'll return to Peterborough, who have aspirations of being one of the East's best yet again. And he'll get regular ice time on defense. He should be a part of the team's 3rd pairing, but could even be a solid #4 for them with a lot of PK time. Could see him hitting the 25 point mark as a defender only.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Edmonton Oilers

For my man Allan Mitchell aka Lowetide.

1. Dylan Wells - Peterborough Petes
What a bounce back season for Wells as he has re-emerged as the front line goaltending prospect that many people expected he would become. With a 30+ win season, Wells was one of the OHL's best netminders from start to finish this past season. Was given the reigns as the team's starter (after the trade of Mancina to Mississauga) and the confidence Peterborough showed in him, resulted in greater confidence on the ice. The weak goals that plagued him in his draft season were a thing of the past. Wells is a very athletic goaltender who moves well post to post, using his size to be aggressive in cutting off angles. His positioning looked much better this year. As did his rebound control (I think a confidence thing largely), spitting out less second chances. Right now, I'd put him in a tie for the 3rd best goaltending prospect in the OHL (behind Parsons and McNiven and tied with Dipietro). Next year, he'll return to Peterborough, a team with aspirations of being at the top of the Eastern Conference yet again. He's probably a front runner for goaltender of the year and should continue to build off the improvements he showed this year. Also think he has a great shot of being one of the three netminders Canada takes to the WJC's.

2. Dmitri Samorukov - Guelph Storm
Loved this pick by the Oilers this year. Samorukov has one of the highest ceilings of any defender taken from the OHL this past draft. He can impact the game at both ends of the ice. The start to his year was rough and he appeared to be going through quite the learning curve; playing in a new league and for a poor team. But, he got better and better every month and saved his best performance for the U18's. He's really the complete package in terms of possessing a skill set. Mobility, physical aggressiveness, big point shot, puck skill. It's just about putting it all together and learning the position. When to go for the big hit. Making better reads in coverage and chasing less. Picking his spots offensively. Getting his shot through to the net more effectively on the PP. I suppose what I'm saying is that over the course of the next two years, we'll get to see what type of hockey sense Samorukov possesses. Guelph will aim to be better next year in a tough Western Conference. Their younger (but extremely talented) players will all be a year older and if they progress well, this is a team that should make the playoffs. I see Samorukov doubling his points totals from last year and hitting the 40+ point mark.

3. Ryan Mantha - Niagara IceDogs 
Fantastic signing by the Oilers in Mantha. In 2015/16, Mantha just didn't look terrific and failed to take that next step forward at both ends. As such, the New York Rangers elected not to sign him (and that appeared to be the right decision). He lacked ideal mobility for today's NHL, he showed a lack of confidence and ability at the offensive end, and he just didn't use his size effectively enough in his own end. But the 2016/17 Mantha was a different player. Stronger, quicker, and more confident in almost all aspects of the game. Yes, he was an overager and you do expect that, but let's not forget that Mantha was once a highly touted prospect from the USHL who had previously failed to live up to expectations. Mantha's OA season reminded me a lot of Jake Muzzin's breakout OA year. It's like the light bulb finally went off and he realized how good he could be because of his size advantage and skill set. Mantha possesses an absolutely lethal point shot; just a booming cannon from the point. And he shot often this year (he led the entire OHL in shots). But he was aggressive in attacking the offensive zone, using his size to barrel down the ice to drive across the opponent's blueline. It's clear he really worked on his skating. And defensively, he was much more aggressive in using his size in the corners and in front of the net. His overall agility will never be a major strength, so being able to put himself in the right position and being able to really physically punish guys was an important step forward for him to take. I'm really interested to see how Mantha fares next year in the AHL. Hopefully he's really turned a corner and attacks a new challenge the way that he attacked his OA season to earn an NHL contract. If that's the case, I expect him to be a 25+ point player and a guy who can eat up quality minutes right away.

4. Markus Niemelainen - Saginaw Spirit
One of the prospects I was most disappointed in this year. I felt like his game really took a step backwards. The offensive production really dipped, but I also think that has to do with the role Saginaw asked him to play; stalwart to Filip Hronek's roving tendencies. That said, I felt like his confidence with the puck in terms of avoiding the forecheck and starting the breakout, really suffered. Turnovers were an issue...when he wasn't deferring to Hronek to get the puck out. And defensively, he still needs to learn to use his size better. Gets caught between using his reach, or trying to play his man. But he's just not a defender who seems confident in throwing his weight around. As such, he's not as effective as he could be IMO. Overall, just not a strong year for his development. He's heading back to Finland next year to play in the HPK program. Hopefully he's able to regain his confidence and get his development back on the right path.

5. Kirill Maksimov - Niagara IceDogs
Another pick I was a massive fan of this year by the Oilers. I think when all is said and done and I'm writing this article next year, Maksimov won't be this far down the list (although with graduations of Mantha and Niemelainen leaving...he HAS to move up...lol). What I'm trying to say is that I really like this prospect and think he's going to have a big year in Niagara. Maksimov is a big winger who has great hands and a finisher's touch. He skates well and really excels when driving the net. Struggled in Saginaw to start the year, but the trade to Niagara really invigorated him. He kept his game simple in Niagara, playing North/South and using his size and speed. Will be interesting to see how the rest of his game develops next year. Want to see him turn into a great forechecker and look to add more physicality. Also, would be great to see him showcase the puck skill and creativity he did in minor midget and become a better playmaker. Niagara is a young team on the rise and Maksimov will be a big part of that. I think he's a 35+ goal scorer next year.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers have drafted very well from the OHL in recent years. Lots of talent on their roster from the league.

1. Owen Tippett - Mississauga Steelheads
If having one of the league's best shooters in Adam Mascherin wasn't enough, the Panthers went and drafted Owen Tippett this year in the first round. Tippett has everything you want in a potential 30 goal scoring winger; size, speed, and...that shot. Tippett can and will shoot from anywhere on the ice. His wrister has such great velocity and his quick release still catches goalies off guard even though they expect it. Since he's come into the league, his two-way play has most definitely improved. But it's not perfect. There are other parts of his game that need work too. Would love to see him score more easy goals, within a few feet of the crease and in order to do that, he needs to use his size to drive the middle of the ice more consistently. I think his vision and ability to utilize his teammates also needs to improve, as he can be prone to tunnel vision. As long as you believe a lack of hockey sense is NOT the culprit, than these are all things which can be improved. There's been a lot of talk lately about Tippett potentially making Florida's roster next year, but I just don't think he's ready. Want to see him back in the OHL to improve on the areas I mentioned above. Mississauga will be great again and he'll have a chance to make a deep playoff run and play for Team Canada at the WJC's. If back in the OHL, I think he's a 50 goal scorer and a 90+ point player.

2. Adam Mascherin - Kitchener Rangers
Mascherin had an excellent draft +1 season with Kitchener this year. Firstly, his skating looked to have become more explosive this year and was definitely noticeable as he was quicker to loose pucks and more effective off the rush. But the biggest difference for me was the increased intensity level away from the puck and the overall difference in ability to maintain puck possession. It's obvious that he put in the work in the offseason to add strength. Seeing him battle consistently along the boards to secure and maintain possession was something that was lacking in his draft year. Of course, he's still got that shot which is one of the league's best. So why only 35 goals? I think one of the reasons for that is similar to Tippett. Needs to find himself in position to score more easy goals near the crease and look to drive the net without the puck. I think his two-way game is something that still needs to continue to improve too. But, again, a great year for Mascherin. Next year he'll return to Kitchener who should be a solid team. I think he cracks the 100 point mark yet again, but this time does it with 45+ goals.

3. Riley Stillman - Oshawa Generals
Might be a bit of a surprise that I've got Stillman ranked ahead of Ang (I actually really like both players), but I feel as though Stillman is one of the most underrated prospects around. He just screams pro defender to me and I think he had a great year for the Generals. Was a go to player in all situations for Oshawa and saw a ton of minutes for them, especially after the Mitchell Vande Sompel trade (was fantastic in the playoffs). Stillman's reads in the defensive end really improved this year IMO, and when paired with his penchant for the big hit, it made him a terrific asset in his own end. His mobility is also an asset at both ends, although he still seems a tad shy when it comes to trying to skate deep into the offensive end. He's got a big point shot and I'd love to see him use it more next year too. Could see first unit powerplay time so that could help him breakout. I think the Panthers have a good one on their hands. Stillman will return to Oshawa where the Generals will look to be the best in the Eastern Conference. I see a breakout season on the horizon, with 45+ points and continued strong defensive play.

4. Jonathan Ang - Peterborough Petes
Still like Ang's game a lot, even if I'm not extremely confident in saying his game progressed massively this year. I would say the biggest difference we saw was increased consistency away from the puck, and an increased intensity level. Ang has really emerged as a tenacious two-way forward who looks to use his speed to be a pest at both ends. And with added strength, he was more effective at winning those loose puck battles he's often first to. And speaking of his speed, it's no secret that Ang is one of the OHL's best skaters. Lightning quick. Also love the way he drives the net, with and without the puck. Ang was used primarily on the wing this year in Peterborough and I think that's a smart decision and where he'll end up as a pro player too. Moving forward, I'd like to see Ang use his teammates a little better. Has a tendency to overhandle the puck a bit as he attempts to use his speed to create. Also would like to see him improve the velocity of his shot and be more aggressive in shooting the puck. He'll return to Peterborough next year where he'll be a go to offensive weapon and should be a lock to hit the point per game mark for the first time in his OHL career. Peterborough is possibly the cream of the crop in the East and I see him with around 75+ points.

Friday, August 4, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Los Angeles Kings

LA loves them some OHL players, especially overage, draft re-entries!

1. Gabriel Vilardi - Windsor Spitfires
Love me some Gabe Vilardi and the Kings made a great selection getting him outside of the top 10. He had a few problems with injuries this year and his skating is far from as dynamic as you'd like to see from a center in today's NHL. But his hockey sense is off the charts good, and he's already made gains in his skating. He gets to where he needs to be and I have confidence that he'll continue to improve his skating to the point where he can be a quality top 6 center. Calgary's Sean Monahan was an equivalent skater at the same age and he's worked out fine for the Flames. I love Vilardi's board work. His strength on the puck along the wall is the best in the entire OHL IMO. He's almost impossible to separate from the puck behind the net and draws a ton of penalties there. But he has the vision to make his linemates better and to create scoring chances from those prolonged possessions. Moving forward, hoping to see the physical side of his game continue to grow, making him a bit more aggressive in crashing the net. Also hoping to see his shot get better and to see him utilize it even more, especially off the rush. He'll return to the OHL in Windsor and should be one of the league's top scorers and a 90+ point player.

2. Spencer Watson - Mississauga Steelheads
Quite frankly, I think all the players ranked 2 through 8 on the rest of this list are pretty interchangeable. So just goes on personal preference. And I'm going with Watson second because I think his potential is the highest of the remaining players listed. He's undersized, but I think he's done a great job of improving his weaknesses throughout his five year OHL career. Sending him back for his overage season was the right call IMO, especially with him recovering from injury. Last year, I felt like his play in traffic and his skating improved, two things absolutely necessary for his success at the next level. Where as this year, I felt his play without the puck really improved, to the point where Mississauga even trusted him to play the penalty kill (where I actually liked him as a forechecker and puck hound). His playmaking ability and overall offensive IQ is still his bread and butter, but the aforementioned improvements to round out his game were critical. I also loved the way he stepped up his game in the playoffs this year for Mississauga. I must say, I'm extremely intrigued with how he'll play in the pros next year. I could see him struggling in the first half of the season as he adjusts to the size and speed of the pro game. But I think when all is said and done, he'll end up with a 15/15 season and show progression.

3. Markus Phillips - Owen Sound Attack
Big fan of this player and was shocked to see how far he fell in the draft this year. Phillips was one of the highest scoring defenders in the OHL in the second half of the season, on one of the OHL's best teams. Phillips is a stocky-wide defender, but he's also one of the league's most agile defenders. Blessed with only average straight away speed IMO, but backwards and laterally, he's as smooth as you can get. As such, he's very difficult to beat one on one and off the rush. Also shows some jam to his game without the puck, but could stand to make that more consistent to be tougher to play against in coverage. Also want to see him pick his spots better offensively, although he really limited the turnovers in the second half. But he did struggle in the playoffs, and I look forward to him learning from that experience. Next year Phillips will return to Owen Sound and will be their go to defender in all situations (with captain Santino Centorame moving on). I think he'll be one of the league's top scoring defenders and I'd expect him to be over 55 points with a terrific +/-. Owen Sound should be one of the best teams in the OHL and Phillips will likely wear a letter for them too.

4. Jacob Moverare - Mississauga Steelheads
Pretty solid first year in the OHL for Moverare who quickly established himself as a top four defender for the Steelheads. I felt like even with the team struggling at the beginning of the year, his play was pretty consistent. He plays a very safe game. Makes quick decisions with the puck in the defensive end to start the breakout, but isn't someone who looks to skate the puck out. He definitely lacks explosiveness in his stride moving forward. But he isn't turnover prone and manages to handle the forecheck well despite that drawback. Defensively, he's a solid positional defender and stick checker. And I actually think his agility is decent, certainly better than his straight away skating ability. Defensive IQ is solid too. Definitely one of the better defensive defenders in the OHL. That said, I'm not sure his NHL potential is extremely high. He's not a physical defender, so there's always the risk that his defensive acumen doesn't translate quite as well, especially given his lack of terrific foot speed. I prefer Erik Cernak who the Kings traded away. But that shouldn't take away from a solid year. Seems like he'll return to the OHL next year (even though LA could send him to the AHL). He'll resume a top four role and could be a great partner for newcomer Merrick Rippon (whom Mississauga just acquired). The Steelheads will be one of the better teams in the Conference and I'd expect a similar type of season.

5. Matt Luff - Hamilton Bulldogs
Probably interesting to see Luff this high given his lack of hype and lack of impressive offensive numbers. But I'm a big fan and believer of his NHL potential. Has everything you look for in an NHL winger these days. Size, shot, physicality, and he's worked hard to improve his skating. Love Luff's aggressiveness in driving the net and he's excellent at using defenders as a screen for his shot coming off the wing. Even with a shoulder injury this year that kept him out for almost two months, he didn't seem to miss a beat upon returning. That said, I'd love to see the Kings send Luff back for his overage year. Let him continue to improve his skating and his consistency offensively. Let him continue to improve his play away from the puck. Let him dominate using his size and shot. If he were to return to the OHL, I think he's a 40 goal scorer. But if he's in the AHL, he'll probably have to start on a checking line and learn the ropes there. We'll see what happens come training camp.

6. Matthew Villalta - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A shrewd pick by the Kings in the 3rd round this year. I knew he had his fans in the NHL community and there were a lot of rumblings that a team would take him that high (despite his lower rankings from scouting agencies). A former free agent signing by the Hounds, Villalta came out of nowhere to emerge as a potential starter. He and Joseph Raaymakers formed a very effective platoon this year. Villalta is a very technically sound goalie whose positioning is excellent for someone with so little experience at the higher levels. As he continues to add strength to his lower body, his explosiveness post to post will only get better and as he gains experience, his reads and ability to challenge shooters will also improve. Next year, he'll continue in a platoon role with Raaymakers as the Hounds look to take home the Western Conference crown. Puts the Greyhounds in a great spot eventually to move one of he or Raaymakers. That could happen next year, or (IMO) more likely the year after. I would expect Villalta to post solid numbers, likely a .915 save percentage or better and he should be good for another 20+ victories as he splits time with Raaymakers.

7. Drake Rymsha - Sarnia Sting
Another great pick by the Kings, getting Rymsha this year. Thought he was one of the best re-entries available (in any league). Missed a lot of time in his draft year due to injury, but rebounded nicely this year. He's a quality two-way forward who is a very well rounded player overall. Brings energy, skating ability, finishing ability, faceoff prowess, physicality. I guess the million dollar question is, how good can he be offensively? If he can continue to add strength to his frame and get stronger on the puck, we'll get to see how good his hockey sense, playmaking ability, and overall creativity are. His overall vision with the puck and decision making is the area I'm most concerned about. He'll return to Sarnia next year and will be one of their go to offensive players. If he plays with Jordan Kyrou (likely IMO), he could have a massive breakout year. A 40/40 season is not at all impossible.

8. Jacob Friend - Owen Sound Attack
Just because I've got Friend ranked 8th, doesn't mean that I don't believe he can be an NHL player. He remains one of the league's most feared defenders because of his physicality. He lives for the big hit, but is also smart about it and doesn't chase the play looking for it. Friend missed a big chunk of the year with an UBI, but returned in time for Owen Sound's stretch drive and playoffs. In the playoffs, I thought he was one of their better defenders and really took his game to the next level. I still think there's some offensive upside hidden in there and that's why I'd love to see the Kings send Friend back for his overage season. As mentioned, the Attack will be one of the best teams in the league and Friend would get increased responsibility (and perhaps the captaincy). If he's back in the OHL, I could see him being a 35+ point player. But if he's in the AHL (or ECHL), I think we'll see extremely modest offensive production as he looks to adjust by playing it safe.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild are today's feature.

1. Dmitri Sokolov - Sudbury Wolves
Fantastic season for Sokolov as he emerged as one of the league's elite goal scorers, jumping from 30 to 48. Thought his skating definitely looked improved this year, as did his conditioning. It's obvious that he's worked on both. His hands are so good, that even making some minor improvements to his explosiveness, made him that much more difficult to contain off the rush. Love how aggressive he is at driving the net too. Just attacks the middle of the ice and a lot more of his goals were scored there this season, which is encouraging because that's where he's going to need to score at the next level. And his shot looked even better this year; harder and more accurate and he is doing a better job getting it off while at top speed. Next year he'll return to the OHL and to Sudbury. Sokolov will look to continue to improve his skating and conditioning. I'd also like to see him utilize his creativity and skill with the puck to be a better playmaker, using his linemates a little more effectively. I think he'll be a 50 goal scorer and I'd love to see him with 35+ assists too.

2. Ivan Lodnia - Erie Otters
Lodnia did absolutely everything asked of him this year by Erie. When needed, he performed very well on a scoring line. And when needed (like during Erie's strong Championship run), he showed a lot of guts as a two-way energy player on the 3rd line. His versatility was one of the main reasons Erie captured the OHL Championship. But with so many graduations heading into next year, the Otters are going to need Lodnia to be a top line player now; a role I think he's ready for (if he stays in Erie...as there have been a lot of rumblings about a possible deal as the Otters start their rebuild). One thing I'd really like to see is for Lodnia to upgrade his top speed and acceleration even further. He's got terrific agility and edgework, but I think as a straight line skater, he's good, but not great. And as an undersized player, I think he needs to get even quicker. Also want to see that tenaciousness that he showed late in the year as a 3rd liner kept as he transitions to a first liner. Keep that intensity and energy to help him utilize his strong puck skill and hockey sense. I see a huge jump in offensive production coming next year, perhaps even as a high as 85+ points.

3. Gustav Bouramman - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Have to admit that I don't think it was a great year for Bouramman. After finishing the 2015/16 season so strongly, I had high expectations for him. But I actually felt his game regressed this year. His defensive game didn't really improve (he still needs to play with more intensity in the defensive end), but his offensive game wasn't nearly as sharp. When I saw the Hounds this year, he was very turnover prone and his decision making with the puck really wasn't terrific. Also thought he wasn't nearly as aggressive rushing the puck or jumping up in the play to try to use his skating ability to make things happen. The dip in production certainly gives merit to that. His point shot never developed as much of a weapon either. So we're left with an average sized defender with good mobility and puck skill, but who's vision and playmaking ability, and whose defensive ability remain average. He'll turn pro next year and play in the AHL. I'd assume he'll probably take turns rotating in and out of the lineup and play a third pairing role to start. Maybe a 15-20 point season from the back end is a reasonable expectation.

4. Dante Salituro - London Knights
Kind of feel bad for Salituro. He left the league as an impact player in 2015/16. Turned pro to start this year, seeing time in the AHL and ECHL. But ultimately was sent back to the OHL for his overage year when the London Knights acquired him. Tough to get that taste of pro hockey and then go back to junior. Also tough when you're heading to such a strong team that's asking you to play an extremely limited depth role. Was a 4th liner during London's stretch drive and playoff appearance. And quite frankly, Salituro isn't the type to excel in that sort of energy line role. He's at his best when he's driving the play offensively and featured on the powerplay (although he did see some powerplay time in London). I think a lack of elite skating ability still hinders Salituro from being a dominant offensive force. The hockey sense is strong, but undersized offensive players who lack explosiveness can often struggle in the pros. That was the case to start this year and I'm worried it could be the case next year too. I'd expect him to play most of the year in the ECHL, where he should put up some decent numbers to give himself a chance to be an AHL'er the year after.

5. Jacob Golden - London Knights
Golden is an extremely tough guy to evaluate at this time. Saw limited action in his first season in the OHL. And when he did see action, a lot of it was as a 4th line forward. Skating is definitely an asset for Golden. That's extremely obvious when you watch him play. But how much potential does he have as a puck mover and offensive player? How will he progress as a two-way defender? His potential is a mystery right now IMO. Next year he'll return to London and should finally see consistent playing time as part of London's third pairing. If he performs well, he could likely see some secondary powerplay time too. Getting into consistent action and putting up 25-30 points would be a terrific year for Golden IMO, and would give us a great idea of what he's capable of moving forward. Those who saw him play in minor midget contend that he's got a lot of offensive potential, so let's see!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Montreal Canadiens

Even with the trade of Mikhail Sergachev, the Canadiens still have a decent crop of OHL prospects.

1. Michael McNiven - Owen Sound Attack
What else can you say? The OHL Goaltender of the Year this year...and the CHL Goaltender of the Year. McNiven is only the 5th OHL goaltender ever to take home that award (although the list of OHL winners certainly didn't have a ton of NHL success; Mike Murphy, Mike Houser, Andrew Raycroft, and Ray Emery). The Attack were consistently one of the league's top teams this year and McNiven was definitely a major reason for that...obviously. Looked more confident. Looked quicker post to post. Looked more composed in the crease, challenging shooters and covering angles. Seemed like he so rarely got caught out of position this year. Continues to have a great glove. Improved rebound control was probably the biggest difference I saw. Really worked hard to make more saves through traffic and kicked out way less to the slot for second chance opportunities. So where does that leave McNiven for next year? Like a lot of graduating CHL goaltenders, he might have to spend some time in the ECHL. Have to assume Charlie Lindgren will be guaranteed a spot in the AHL. So it comes down to battling Zach Fucale for that other AHL spot. If I'm Montreal, I probably want Fucale in the AHL (at least to start) to see what they have there. That would leave McNiven in the ECHL, where I would expect him to put up good numbers. Has emerged as the 2nd best goaltending prospect in the OHL behind Tyler Parsons IMO.

2. Victor Mete - London Knights
Mete had a tremendous season for London and has emerged as one of the OHL's best two-way defenders. The improvement in his defensive game over the course of his OHL career thus far has been remarkable and is a true testament to the terrific London Knights program. In 2015/16, his ability to defend off the rush, using his mobility to his advantage really took a step forward, but his reads in coverage still needed work. But this year, that part of his game took a step forward, making him a complete defender in his own end. Also saw an even higher compete level without the puck, despite his lack of size. Obviously, his skating ability and offensive game have never been questioned and remains a major asset. His ability to start the breakout is something that will really help him transition to the pro game eventually. Next year, Mete returns to the OHL for his final year. He's the likely favourite to be the next captain of the Knights and is a favourite for the Max Kaminsky (OHL Defender of the year). I think he's a point per game player and probably gets close to or passes the 60 point mark (depending on whether he makes the Canadian WJC team...which IMO he should). Progressing incredibly well and looks like a potential Jared Spurgeon type.

3. Will Bitten - Hamilton Bulldogs
Probably not the year that Bitten imagined he'd have, nor the year the Bulldogs imagined he'd have after they gave up a lot to acquire him from Flint. His numbers took a step back from his draft year. I think a lot of that has to do with how inconsistent Hamilton was as a team, but Bitten needs to wear that just as much as guys like Matt Strome, or their other veteran core do. Bitten continues to shift between wing and center, so I don't know what that's doing for his development. His speed remains his biggest asset as he's tough to stop off the rush, especially when he's being aggressive in attacking the net. But that next step in adding strength and improving his play along the wall and in traffic didn't really happen. In the times I saw Hamilton this year, Bitten looked better when he was playing center and the numbers reflect that. I think that can be explained with what I just mentioned. When he's at center, he's able to drive play with the puck on his stick, using his speed. When he's on the wing, he needs to win more battles in traffic and has less room to operate. I look for him to really add that strength this offseason and return to the OHL next year as a man possessed. I believe highly in his talent level and I see him having a breakout season; in the 85+ point range.

4. Jeremiah Addison - Windsor Spitfires
Looking back at my Canadiens article from last year, Addison failed to live up to the expectations I placed on him (the 30 goal mark). I don't know if that necessarily means he had a poor season though. But I would say that he didn't progress much this year either. I think at this point, what you see is what you get. A power winger who can crash and bang, drive the net for put backs, and can play both ends of the ice. What you're not getting is a super skilled player in transition or with the puck, nor are you getting the world's best skater. Addison did have a great Memorial Cup though and I really liked how he elevated his game in the playoffs, in general (was great in Windsor's round one loss to London too). He'll join the pro ranks next year and should be able to take a regular shift on the 4th line in the AHL. Wouldn't expect much offensively in his first year though.

5. Michael Pezzetta - Sudbury Wolves
We saw a regression, not a progression from Pezzetta this year and that's certainly not a good thing. The power center put up only 19 points this year, down from 28 in his draft year. Pezzetta remains a bit of a mystery to me. You watch him play and you wonder why he's not scoring more or impacting the game more offensively. He has size, speed and definitely some measure of skill. But it just doesn't add up to production. A lack of hockey sense? I think that could be part of it for sure. I think another part of it was the fact that Pezzetta focused too much on the physical side of things this year. Spent a lot of time in the penalty box for the wrong reasons. He needs to find that line between being an effective physical player, and one who costs his teammates. Next year Sudbury is going to rely on him to have a big jump offensively. This is a franchise who wants to take the next step as a top 4 team in the Conference, but they won't do that if their former high picks continue to flounder in mediocrity. At this point, I think Pezzetta will improve, but I don't know how much. Would a 20/25 year be enough for him to get a contract from Montreal? Probably not. But that's about what I'd expect. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Nashville Predators

The Preds did it! They drafted an OHL player this year (their first in five years).

1. Jacob Paquette - Kingston Frontenacs
Coming into the season, I thought Paquette had a chance to be an NHL first rounder after an excellent rookie year (in 2015/16) with the Fronts. But the year started on a sour note when Paquette had to miss the Hlinka with an injury and it continued on that note through to the end of the 16/17 season. Paquette's offensive game failed to show any progression from his rookie year, opting for safe chip outs, rarely taking any chances by carrying the puck or pushing the pace with a quality stretch pass. His confidence in the area really seems to have suffered. The problem is, I feel like his defensive game also took a step back too. Kingston was a solid defensive team, one of the best in the OHL this year, but Paquette struggled at times within the defensive structure of the team. Again, looked like a bit of a confidence issue for me. Uncertainty at whether to play the man, or the body and as such, had some difficulty defending the rush despite excellent mobility. Coverage errors and inconsistency in his physical game also were causes for concern. That said, I think he can right the ship and I think the Predators made a great draft pick getting him as late as they did. With great size at 6'3, 200lbs and good mobility, Paquette has the potential to develop into a very good shut down defender for the next level. Really hoping he regains his confidence next year, where he'll remain a top 4 defender for a strong team in Kingston. I think a 25 point season, paired with the rediscovery of his defensive game would get him back on track and is a realistic expectation. I still have high hopes for this player.

Monday, July 31, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - New Jersey Devils

New Jersey certainly has one of the NHL's best crops of OHL prospects.

1. Michael McLeod - Mississauga Steelheads
Tale of two seasons for McLeod really (and the Steelheads in general). Struggled mightily the first half of the season. But after returning from the World Juniors (where I thought he was criminally under utilized), he played like a man possessed. Used his speed to drive the middle of the ice with a ferociousness that we had yet to see from him consistently in the OHL. Everything about his game improved. Increased consistency physically as he really started to throw his weight around. Showed more poise and patience in the offensive end with the puck (showcasing an ability to slow the game down and not play at 100mph constantly). And even his shot looked a bit better (although comes from him getting more chances in close by attacking the crease and slot). Of course, his two-way game and ability as a penalty killer remained on point. Now the main question is, what happens to McLeod next year? Lots of talk among Devils fans and the organization that he might be looked at for a 3rd or 4th line center role next year. While I do think he's 100% ready for the NHL in a lot of way and wouldn't look out of place, I also don't think he's the type of prospect you can rush at risk of limiting his offensive growth at the NHL level. Last year the Devils had Pavel Zacha make the team as a 19 year old in a similar situation. I had no issue with that because Zacha's issues in the OHL were directly correlated to consistency and intensity level IMO. Skill set and IQ were never in question. AND he was also coming off a year where he was a dominant force any time I saw him. McLeod is coming off a good year, but one that still leaves room for growth. A full year dominating at the OHL level, learning to improve his shot, learning how to fully utilize his speed as a weapon, improving his vision further with the puck. The NHL will provide a challenge to him in other areas, and I worry that the above could be neglected in favor of learning systems. If he's back in the OHL, I would expect him to be a 90+ point player as the Steelheads could end up as the cream of the crop in the East. BUT, I also wouldn't be shocked at all if he was in the NHL, where I'd expect him to be a 7/8 goal/15 or so assist guy. 

2. Blake Speers - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Delayed start (due to an NHL appearance) and wrist injury aside (upon returning from the NHL), Speers had a good year IMO. Biggest difference for me was in strength and confidence in carrying the puck. Saw him play much more of a power game this year, looking to put defenders on his back when driving the net. His speed and skating ability is an asset that he looks to exploit and now that he's gotten stronger, he's able to be a much more consistent offensive force. Speers also remains an extremely intelligent player who displays great vision in the offensive end, something that makes me believe he could stick at center as he moves on to the pro game next year. With his brief appearance in the NHL this year, one would think he has a good shot to make the Devils out of camp this coming season. I think spending a year in the AHL would be good for him though. Let him adjust to the speed and strength of the pro game. Let him play down the middle and see if it works. If he's in the NHL next year, would have to imagine that it's at wing and not center. If he's in the AHL, I'd expect him to be a 20/25 guy and one of the better rookies in the league, but if he's in the NHL, I'd expect him to hover around that 10/15 mark.

3. Nathan Bastian - Mississauga Steelheads
While the majority of his Mississauga teammates picked it up in the 2nd half of the season, Bastian's struggles continued throughout the entire season IMO. He was one of the most disappointing players in the OHL this year, for me. Mississauga continued to shift him between wing and center (wing to start, center to finish the year) to try and get him going. A lack of dynamic skating ability really still seems to hinder him from being a consistent offensive contributor. But with his size, he should be dominating in front of the net and he has yet to figure out how to do that. His play in the corners remains strong and he works the cycle well, but there's no chance a guy with his skill set and size should have only 16 goals this year. I think we also saw his physical game decline a bit, although I wonder if that was in favour of trying to do more offensively? Bastian does remain an excellent two-way player who is an effective penalty killer (really does a great job getting his stick in passing lanes). I just think more needs to be expected of him offensively. Next year, the Devils have an option. They've already signed him. But he can play in the AHL or return to the OHL for his overage season. If I were them, I'd return him for his OA year where he can be a big part of a good team and really try to dominate his own age level before moving on. Trying to get to that point per game mark and the 20 goal mark for the first time in his OHL career, two things that would be a necessity for his overage season to be considered a success.

4. Colton White - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Was a pretty solid year for him. I would say that his offensive game probably didn’t develop as well as many thought it would. I’d even say that he took a bit of a step backward offensively this year. But I think that was by design so that he could really focus on improving in his own end. And he definitely did that. White’s mobility has always been an asset, but his defensive positioning and reads have really improved, and he played with a lot more physical bravado this year, engaging way more without the puck. Offensively, he can still be prone to some turnovers, so I think he’ll need to really simplify his game at the next level, but major steps forward were taken defensively to the point where I’d call him one of the better defensive defenders in the OHL. He'll likely move on to the AHL next year where he'll try to be a solid third pairing guy, while getting his feet wet in the pro game. Don't expect much offensively, but hopefully he can play well in his own end and see some PK time.

5. Evan Cormier - Saginaw Spirit
Cormier is a big goalie who had a pretty decent season for a weak Spirit team. Kept them in a lot of games that they didn't deserve to be in. Big goalie who relies on positioning and his size to make saves. Takes away the top part of the net well and has worked hard to improve his rebound control. Still needs to get quicker side to side to take away the bottom of net and work to shake off some bad goals. Consistency remains an issue. We’re looking at a goaltending prospect who has yet to produce a save percentage above .900 in a season. Needs to take a step forward for New Jersey to offer him a contract next year IMO. He'll return to Saginaw for his overage season where I think he needs to turn into one of the better goalies in the league, especially if Saginaw wants to make the playoffs. This is a kid who’s seen a lot of rubber over his OHL career and now is the time to take that next step.

6. Marian Studenic - Hamilton Bulldogs
Studenic had an up and down first season in the OHL. Some games I saw of Hamilton, he was completely invisible. Other games (especially later in the year), he was terrific. He did see only 3rd line ice time mostly, with little powerplay time, but that has a chance to improve next year. Studenic is a slick skating, offensive winger with goal scoring potential. He’s got very good hands in transition and can make defenders miss. Needs to be more aggressive in attacking the middle of the ice though and get stronger to be able to use his speed and hands, as he’s too easily pushed off the puck right now. As a late ‘98, he’ll need to take a massive step forward next year as a prospect to really give himself a shot at an NHL career, IMO. I see him as a top 6 winger for the Bulldogs next year and would love to see him hit the 30 goal mark.

*Jesper Bratt - London Knights
Worth noting that Bratt was taken in the 1st round of the Import Draft by London this year. Considering he has an NHL contract, it seems likely that New Jersey will send him to the OHL this year, rather than play him in the AHL as a 19 year old (considering he didn't exactly light up the Allsvenskan). In London, he'll get ice time on one of the first three lines and should see time on special teams as well. He could easily be a 25/35, point per game player for the Knights next year.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - New York Islanders

The Islanders only had one prospect play in the OHL this year.

1. Mitchell Vande Sompel - London Knights
Have to admit, the trade to London this year definitely didn't do much for Vande Sompel's development. He was having quite the year for Oshawa, averaging a point per game and really looked like a top flight, first pairing OHL defender. But in London, his ice time and role really fluctuated. As a defender, he saw powerplay time, but his 5 on 5 time was limited at times. He was also used as a forward a fair amount, especially on the penalty kill, where his skating ability can be an asset. Was great for London to have him as depth for their playoff run, but I don't think it was great for Vande Sompel's on ice progression as a player. Size is always going to be the issue for Vande Sompel, although I think it's obvious that he's filled out and as such, he's having more success winning one on one battles in the defensive end. And his skating ability and point shot make him a lethal weapon from the back end offensively. But just how well that translates to the next level remains to be seen. Quite frankly, he and former Isles prospect Jesse Graham, are probably comparables and Graham certainly struggled to adapt to the AHL level defensively. Of course, the Islanders could always convert Vande Sompel to a forward if he struggles, but that's likely a last resort. Of all the players graduating to the pros next year, Vande Sompel is one of the guys I'm most curious about seeing how he fares. If he excels offensively and is among the league's leading scorers among rookie blueliners, I wouldn't be surprised. But if he struggled and had to see time in the ECHL, I also wouldn't be surprised. Needless to say...I don't know what to expect!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - New York Rangers

Off to Broadway for the New York Rangers' review.

1. Sean Day - Windsor Spitfires
Really liked the way Day's game progressed this year. The trade to Windsor was great for him, just to get a fresh start. Even though his skating has always been the alluring part of Day's game, I've consistently said that the key to him playing in the NHL will be his ability to defend. I still don't think he's a natural offensive player and as such, I've said all along that I feel he could develop into a very good, physical, stay at home defender at the NHL level. His ability in the defensive end progressed massively this year IMO. With his size and mobility, his reads and defensive IQ don't even have to be elite. But he showed great growth in understanding how to defend off the rush, and how to be a human cloak in defensive coverage. I don't think we saw him be as aggressive physically as he was the year prior, but that didn't detract from his effectiveness in his own end. I think his play with the puck really took a step forward this year too, cutting down on his turnovers and playing it a little more safely after exiting the defensive zone. He can use his skating to escape pretty much any forecheck, so long as he identifies the correct route. And that vision has come a long way over his OHL career. Of course, he also dazzles with the occasional end to end rush which leaves you wondering what he could be capable of offensively...but again, I just don't think that's in the cards. Maybe we'll see next year. It will be (likely) his last in the OHL and I think we'll continue to see gains. I think we'll see him around the 45 point mark on a pretty good Windsor team, but most importantly, I want to see that physicality creep back into his game, now that his reads have improved.

2. Tim Gettinger - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Like Day, I think Gettinger also had a great year. Last year I wrote, "I'm going to predict a breakout year. I'm going to say that he scores 30 and is close to a point per game player." And he did just that, scoring 31 as part of a very well balanced attack in SSM. More importantly, the areas of his game that needed to improve...did. He's a good skater for a big guy, and he's finally starting to be aggressive in driving the net, looking to play in close, using his size to put defenders on his back. And he was noticeably stronger on the puck this year; much better working the wall and fighting through traffic. His finishing ability and the velocity behind his shot also looked much improved. Lastly, Gettinger took steps forward as a two-way player, seeing time on the PK, where he can use his length to disrupt passing lanes. Heading into next year, the Hounds should be one of the better teams in the OHL and Gettinger should continue to feature highly. I would suspect he'll see more powerplay time next year too, in place of a guy like Zach Senyshyn. A 40 goal season is not far fetched at all IMO. Want to see him continue to grow as a power forward too, using his size to play a little more physical (even though I'm not sure that's a natural part of his game).

3. Brandon Crawley - London Knights
Really liked the Rangers taking Crawley this year. Felt like he deserved to be drafted after the solid year that he had. Had him on my top re-entries available list. Crawley has always been a fun player to watch in the OHL because of how physical he is. A real throwback defender who loves to throw the big hit and is far and away, one of the toughest defenders to match up against in the OHL. But his defensive reads and overall skill with the puck was lacking and I think that's why NHL teams had previously shied away. But this year, his overall defensive game really improved, (heck he was a +55), as did his first pass and overall ability to handle the forecheck. His confidence in his skating ability to give himself time and space with the puck really increased and as such, so did his ability to start the breakout, limiting turnovers. I definitely see the makings of a solid pro defender now. In fact, I think you can draw a lot of parallels between Crawley and the way Marc Methot looked as an OHL defender for London some time ago. So what's to become of Crawley next year? Well the Rangers have some options. Could sign him and play in the AHL/ECHL. Could have their AHL affiliate sign him and play him in the AHL/ECHL. Or they could send him back to the OHL for his overage season. New York signed a lot of young defenders this offseason, shoring up an organizational weakness. I think that means Crawley will ultimately end up back in London and that's what is best for him IMO. He took such a nice step forward this year, let him continue to improve at both ends before he moves to the pro level. As an overage defender, I think we could see him around the 35+ point mark, to go with (likely) another insanely high +/-.