Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Top 10 - 2017 NHL Draft Re-Entries

It's that time of the year for my annual (2016, 2015201420132012201120102009) list of the top second and third year eligible OHL players for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. NHL teams continue to draft re-entry players in increasing number. This is mostly because drafting a second or third year eligible player gives NHL teams a lot of flexibility in their development under the CBA. Plus, a lot of these guys have been having success in recent years (Andrew Mangiapane, Tanner Pearson and Andrew Shaw are great examples from the OHL), which basic psychology tells us that other NHL teams will try to mimic.

Just to clarify, yet again, for those with limited understanding of the NHL draft system; North American players have either two or three years to get drafted, depending on their birth date. For those born from January 1 to September 15, they will go through three NHL drafts. For those born from September 16 to December 31, they will go through two NHL drafts. The players on this list are a mix of those having been passed over once or twice already.

Also, do not confuse this list with players drafted in 2015 who will re-enter the draft should they fail to come to a contractual agreement with their NHL team by June 1 (and whose birth date still allows them to be eligible). Quite often those too are referred to as draft re-entries. But this list does not contain them because it is not yet known who those players will be.

Last year four re-entries from the OHL were drafted (McKenzie, Helvig, Falkovsky, & Friend), but three others from last year's top 10 have since signed NHL deals (Luff, Salituro, & Smereck). This year, I think we could see more. It's not hard to find an article with quotes from NHL General Managers talking about this year's draft crop; most aren't fans. That could lead them to selecting more "overage" players who have shown progression, rather than taking chances on players that they just aren't positive about from the 1999 group. Combine that with the fact that this crop from the OHL is actually very strong, one of the strongest and deepest of any re-entry list that I've done, and I could see as many as 8-9 getting drafted.

Without further rambling, here's my list:

1. Stephen Dhillon - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
No player in the league has earned the rest of the offseason more than Dhillon. The OHL's busiest man saw a ton of pucks this year; 2312 to be precise. That's the 4th highest total in the last ten years (behind Phillipe Trudeau, Trevor Cann, and Steve Mason). Dhillon's .914 save percentage is tied for the highest among those four members of the 2300 club (with Mason's fantastic 2007 year, in which he won OHL goaltender of the year). Needless to say, there's no way Niagara sniffed the playoffs without this man in the crease. As an NHL prospect, I'd have Dhillon as the 2nd best goalie available this year from the OHL behind Michael Dipietro. You've got a 6'4 netminder who showcases a ton of athleticism. He takes away the bottom of the net as good as any goalie in the league and is incredibly quick/agile in the crease. I think there are some technical things that he needs to work on, like his glove hand and aggressiveness in challenging shooters (teams look to beat him up high), but the progression he's shown as a starter in this league definitely merits NHL attention.

2. Drake Rymsha - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Rymsha is a guy I think NHL teams could look at as early as the 3rd round. If he didn't get hurt last year, I think he would have definitely been an NHL draft pick after a solid 16 year old season in London. But he came back strong this year, first with Ottawa to start the year, and even more so after a trade to Sarnia. His 35 goals on the year were tied for the 8th most by any U19 player in the league, equivalent to or better than the likes of Cliff Pu, Adam Mascherin, and Boris Katchouk. On top of goal scoring ability, Rymsha also brings speed and tenacity and is a very complete player. His faceoff percentage of 58.4 was also the 7th best in the entire OHL of players who took more than 800 faceoffs on the year. This guy is a legitimate pro prospect.

3. Kevin Hancock - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Right up there with Rymsha for breakout player of the year in the OHL, and just the same, I wouldn't be surprised to see Hancock go as high as the 3rd round. Like Rymsha, Hancock's statistical season stands out among his peers. His 85 points was the 6th most of any U19 player in the league this year, better than Michael McLeod. Of course, a great deal of Hancock's success can be attributed to the chemistry that he developed with Nick Suzuki and Jonah Gadjovich, giving Owen Sound one of the league's best lines. But that shouldn't take anything away from the progression Hancock showed this year. He's one of the top two-way forwards in the OHL (was named the 2nd best defensive forward in the Western Conference in the annual Coaches Poll) and brings a lot of versatility to the lineup by being able to play any forward position. Hancock doesn't possess elite size or skating ability, but his hockey sense is fantastic and allows him to be a factor in all facets of the game.

4. Justin Brazeau - Forward - North Bay Battalion
If you recall, Brazeau was one of my personal sleepers heading into last year's NHL draft. The hulking, 6'5 winger didn't get drafted, but he returned to the OHL a much improved player. He ended up finishing 3rd on the Battalion with 22 goals, but was first in powerplay goals with 9. He's still very much a work in progress. The skating will still need to get better. He still needs to get stronger on and off the puck. And he needs to be more assertive and confident in utilizing his size to be a force down low. BUT, I feel that there is a lot of potential here for a guy who could develop into a monster in the offensive end. He shows flashes of being able to absolutely dominate the wall and in the second half, we saw him start to try to be more aggressive in attacking the net (which caused a spike in goal production). He reminds me a lot of former Guelph Storm forward Justin Auger, who has since developed into a quality prospect for the Los Angeles Kings. 

5. Matthew Timms - Defense - Peterborough Petes
What a great season for Timms, who emerged as one of the top offensive defenders in the OHL this year (finishing 3rd in scoring). His 63 points were also 2nd on the first place Peterborough Petes. He did suffer a shoulder injury in the playoffs, which limited his participation and production, but this should not taint a terrific season. There are definitely some things working against him as an NHL prospect. First is his size at 5'10 (in fact, he hasn't really grown since being drafted to the OHL two years agao). The second is that he lacks dynamic skating ability. Those two combined can often be the kiss of death for a defense prospect and NHL attention. But, I feel that Timms has so many other things going for him that he deserves a look and a place on this list. His vision is top notch and it makes him one of the league's elite powerplay QB's. He moves the puck so well and rarely makes a mistake. He's also come a long way defensively, increasing his intensity in the corners and in front of the net. In a lot of ways, Timms compares pretty well to a guy like Darren Raddysh who should most definitely be signed by an NHL team this year

6. Matt Brassard - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Brassard is a really interesting prospect eligible for this draft. Played sparingly for Barrie last year, but exploded with more ice time this year. Also changed teams at midseason, finishing the year with Oshawa. He's got a lot of things going for him. First is size and aggressiveness at 6'2, 200lbs. Second is overall mobility, which is pretty decent. Third is a big point shot. Brassard finished 5th in the OHL among shots by defenseman with 203. I suppose my question is...what type of player is he at the next level? Being pretty much a first year player (after playing only 28 games with Barrie in 2015/16), Brassard is still pretty raw. He's still learning as a defensive player, and I'm not sure he's a natural offensive blueliner (in terms of vision and playmaking ability). But he's shown enough this year to warrant a selection in the mid/late rounds in hopes that his game continues to round into form.

7. Brandon Saigeon - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
One of the most improved players in the OHL this year from start to finish. The former 4th overall pick struggled last year in his NHL draft year, but really broke out and emerged as a potential front line talent in 2017. In particular, his play in the second half showed great promise for the future. In the final 37 games of the regular season, he had 17 goals and 17 assists (nearly a point per game). It's clear that he's worked hard to improve his skating, which was definitely one of the things holding him back. It still needs more work, but he most definitely looked quicker this year. In Saigeon you've got a potential two-way center who can put the puck in the net and play with intensity. On the downside, he did have a bit of a lackluster playoff performance which could hurt his chances of being drafted this year.

8. Brandon Crawley - Defense - London Knights
Crawley has long been a favourite of NHL Central Scouting, and in his final year of draft eligibility, he's finally made a fan and believer of me. He's one of the most physically intense defenders and players in the OHL who has also really improved his composure and abilities at both ends of the ice. His +53 was among the league's best and was the best among Knights' defenders by 17 points. He's just a very difficult player to line up against. But his play with the puck really took a step forward this year. He did a much better job of handling the forecheck and his first pass has really come a long way, as has his confidence in carrying the puck out of trouble, utilizing his solid skating ability. Can't help but get Dan Girardi flashbacks when I watch Crawley play and he's obviously worked out in the NHL after being a late bloomer.

9. Artur Tyanulin - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Tyanulin, a top 10 scorer in the OHL this year, is an absolutely fantastic offensive player. He's easily one of the best playmakers in the league, utilizing great speed and creativity to be extremely dangerous off the rush. And even though he had only 24 goals, I feel like he has the potential to score more because of a great release which he is able to get off at top speed. I also admire Tyanulin's tenacity. He's far from a soft player. And even though he's not incredibly effective as a player without the puck, the effort is there to play through traffic. At only 5'10, size is going to work against him. But he's shown enough in the OHL to warrant a look at the next level. Would love to see what he can do in the AHL next year, although could also see him return to the KHL if he doesn't get drafted or a deal.

10. Petrus Palmu - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Let's get this out of the way; Palmu is 5'7. OK, now for his other flaws...there aren't any. Palmu is one of the most exciting players to play in the OHL in recent years. When he's on the ice, you instantly become drawn to him. His play with the puck, his effort without the puck. His shot. His hockey sense. His smooth, yet powerful skating stride. He's just such a complete player. I really hope that an NHL team gives him a chance to play pro next year. He certainly deserves the chance. And while he's a long shot at best because of his size, if there's a guy who can play in the league at under 5'8, it's Palmu. 

Honorable Mentions (organized by position):

I don't think there's another re-entry at goaltender besides Dhillon who deserves to get selected. But Troy Timpano & Olivier Lafreniere would be the two who I could mention. Timpano had a solid year for Erie after coming over from Sudbury. After some tough years for Wolves, he's re-established himself as a quality starter in the league. Lafreniere is in an opposite position. Playing in his first year in the league, he had some ups and downs. But he'll likely be the team's starter next year if the team decides to move on from overager (next year) Leo Lazerev. He has potential. I would have expected the Soo's Joseph Raaymakers to be on this list at the beginning of the season, but he had such an up and down year (losing his starter's job to Matt Villalta for a time). He had a fantastic playoffs though, which bodes well for the future.

A pair of Hamilton defenders, Ben Gleason & Justin Lemcke deserve mention here. Lemcke, the Bulldogs' captain, had a great bounce back year after a gruesome broken leg last year. He's a real battler who blocks shots and plays exceptionally hard in his own end. He'll be one of the better overage defenders in the league next year. While Gleason is a smooth skating two-way defender who I thought would get drafted last year. Has he really improved from last year though? Another guy worth mentioning is Erie's TJ Fergus. He took massive steps forward this year in his own end, paired with likely Max Kaminsky winner Darren Raddysh. He's average sized, but he makes a great first pass and, as mentioned, has really improved his awareness and anticipation in the defensive end. Last guy to mention is Owen Sound's Trenton Bourque. Listed on NHL Central Scouting's final list and deservedly so. Massive improvements from last year and crept into Owen Sound's top four this year. Developing into a premier shutdown defender with good mobility and size.

London's leading goal scorer this year was Sam Miletic, a fact that would probably surprise a lot of people. He deserves a lot of credit for returning to the OHL this year (after taking a leave last year), refocused and improved. He's a hard nosed player who has played a ton of different roles for London this year. The surprise Oshawa Generals have two forwards who deserve mention; Domenic Commisso & Eric Henderson. Commisso is an interesting player who is very versatile. He likely would have been #11 on this list if I extended it. Extremely skilled with the puck and slippery in the offensive end. Makes him a great playmaker. Improvements this year can be attributed to improved strength. Henderson is a solid North/South speed guy who has worked out very well for the Generals since a trade from London. Flint's Ryan Moore was one of the highest scoring players in the league this year. The 5'8 center is a terrific skater and a tireless worker. I think Palmu has him beat in the skill department, but he deserves a shot at the next level. That could come next year after his OA year (where he'll be one of the better players in the league IMO). Ottawa's Tye Felhaber is a guy I thought could have been drafted last year. This year, he had a tough go of it with injuries and a trade. But moving forward I feel that eventually he'll be among the league's leading scorers. He's just too talented offensively. Lastly we've got three undersized players who play a similar style. Erie's Kyle Maksimovich, Niagara's Johnny Corneil, & Peterborough's Logan DeNoble. All three are under 6'0, but they're among the hardest working players on their teams and rely on great hockey sense to put up points. Of the three, I think DeNoble has the most pro potential. He's got one of the better shots in the OHL.

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