Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft - Part 1: Honorable Mentions

The Under 18's have wrapped up (where Canada finished 5th). The OHL playoffs have completed; Congrats to the Erie Otters (the Memorial Cup begins May 19). The race to the draft is on. We're about a month away from the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, so that means it's time for me to release my rankings.

The top 50 will be released in four parts: Part 1 - Honorable Mentions, Part 2 - Prospects 50-31, Part 3 - Prospects 30-11, and Part 4 - Prospects 10-1.

Just for clarification, for my top 50 ranking, I haven't included any players eligible for draft re-entry, such as Stephen Dhillon. This has been consistent all the way through my lists. Instead, I did a list of the top 10 draft re-entries, which can be found here.

Also for clarification, this list is MY list of the top 50 OHL prospects, as if I were drafting for my own team. In other words, this isn't a list of where I THINK or believe players will go, but a ranking of my own opinion on the top players eligible for this draft based on my viewings this season. If you want a draft projection and information about players outside the OHL, be sure to order a product like the Future Considerations Draft Guide.

This first part includes the Honorable Mentions of my list. These are the players who received consideration for my top 50, but who fell just short. There are 19 in total. Last year, the depth available from the OHL was terrific and we had 4 players taken from my HM's, (and the top 3 re-entry candidates from my above list were also HM's). This year, I wouldn't be surprised if no one goes from this HM list. While all of these guys most definitely have potential, they remain long shots who need to put in a lot of work to be serious NHL prospects.

Here are my HM's (in alphabetical order)...

Luke Boka - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Boka is a high energy forward who plays a lot of different roles for the Spitfires. While he mostly played off of the 3rd/4th lines, he did slide up the lineup and acquitted himself adequately at certain points of the year. He also plays as a penalty killer for Windsor. Boka is only average sized (5'11, 195lbs), but he excels as a forechecker and attacker. He loves to engage physically while in pursuit of the puck and shows no fear in crashing the net and playing through traffic. He's also a very competent two-way player. Offensively, Boka is a complimentary player who is at his best when the puck isn't on his stick. Gets himself in good scoring position and flashes a very good shot and goal scoring potential. Moving forward, being able to make better decisions with the puck and improving his ability to carry it are required for him to make a bigger impact offensively. And while I understand his skating has improved from his midget days, it could stand to improve still, especially his explosiveness, to make him quicker to loose pucks and to open scoring lanes. 

Oliver Castleman - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
While I don't know if he gets drafted this year, Castleman is a guy I actually think could develop into a quality NHL prospect in the future. He has a lot of things going for him that make him a curious prospect to scouts. Firstly, he played in his first year in the OHL, after playing in the CCHL2 the year before. Secondly, he's the youngest prospect available for the draft this year, with a September 15 birth date. He was able to make a pretty big impact this year for a young Niagara team, and I think there's still some physical maturity left for him. Castleman is a high energy player who brings a lot of speed to the ice. He really attacks the slot hard and is an excellent North/South offensive player, who despite being 5'10, found a lot of success near the crease with a quick release this year. As the season went on, I think we really saw him come out of his shell physically too, as he really started to engage without the puck, and found himself in quite a few post whistle skirmishes. I guess the big question for me is, for a guy who's 5'10, I'm not sure I see enough pure offensive skill to develop into a top 6 forward at the next level. As I said, I don't think I'd draft him this year, but I'd certainly keep his name high in my notes for next year to see how his game continues to develop around a talented IceDogs roster.

Hayden Davis - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
I was definitely surprised to see Davis dealt at the deadline in exchange for fellow '99 Kirill Maksimov. At the time, this looked like a fair exchange of two young players who hadn't met expectations quite yet. But after the trade, Maksimov exploded for Niagara and looks the part of the top 6 forward he was drafted to be. Meanwhile, Davis struggled in Saginaw (like the rest of the team). Once touted to be the top defender from this age group, Davis just hasn't been able to translate his game effectively to the OHL level. He has a lot of great qualities that should make him a great defender at this level. He's got size. He's a terrific skater. He can lay the body. And he flashes some skill with the puck. But his reads defensively are still raw and his offensive game continued to take steps backward in Saginaw. At this point, I'm not sure the offensive side of things will ever develop. BUT, there's no reason to think that Davis can't develop into top notch stay at home defender at this level. Just needs to get that confidence back and improve next year with a rebuilding Saginaw squad. 

Cole Fraser - Defense - Peterborough Petes
If I had to put money down on the one guy from this HM list who gets drafted, it would be Fraser. He's an interesting prospect who had an interesting year, bouncing back and forth between defense and 4th line forward. His physicality is immediately noticeable when you watch him play and that's precisely why the Petes' coaching staff made sure to keep him in the lineup, even if it meant putting him on the wing. The real question is, what type of potential does he possess as a defender? Adequate skater who definitely improved offensively as the year went on, but can still struggle with decision making with the puck. The forecheck can definitely give him problems. But with some decent mobility and the potential to be one of the OHL's most physical players (if he isn't already), he has the profile of a future shut down defender at this level. Peterborough is likely losing 3 of their top 4 defenders next year, opening up the door for Fraser to not just stick permanently on the blueline, but to grab a top 4 spot if he has a good summer. I could definitely see a team using a 6th or 7th round pick on him to see if he's up to that challenge.

Brady Gilmour - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
The former 6th overall pick in 2015, Gilmour hasn't exactly become the dominant offensive player many thought he would become. That's not to say that he's been a complete disappointment, just that he's not truly a high impact player quite yet. Gilmour is a smart offensive player who shows a good feel for the game in the o-zone. This makes him a good playmaker. He also has good puck control off the rush and has a deceptively quick release which he has learned to utilize quite effectively. But at 5'10, lacking elite skating ability, and without a true position (shifted back and forth between center and wing this year), Gilmour is a long shot to earn NHL attention. Moving forward, if he can truly improve his explosiveness and get stronger, he could be that impact player by the time he's an overage player, and as such, earn serious NHL consideration then. 

Jacob Golden - Defense - London Knights
The question much do you trust the Knights' scouting and coaching staff? If you're drafting Golden, the answer is...a lot. This is a kid with a lot of potential as an offensive defender because of his terrific overall mobility. But he's also a kid who saw very little playing time this year, especially in the second half. In terms of the times I saw London play, I think I actually saw him at forward this year more than I did on defense. If you're an NHL scout, how do you project Golden, considering you may not have gotten much of an opportunity to see him play? The harsh reality is that even next year, playing time isn't guaranteed for him with London, as they'll only lose Vande Sompel and possibly Juolevi (if he makes the Canucks). If I'm an NHL scout, I wait another year to see what his offensive game looks like next year. 

Tom Hedberg - Defense - Barrie Colts
Tough year for Hedberg and for the Barrie Colts. Hedberg was initially ranked as a potential first round pick for 2017 prior to the OHL season and was thought to have been a fantastic import selection who had a chance to be a big time impact player. But that wasn't in the cards. Quite honestly, I think a lot of that had to do with Barrie's lack of offensive talent this year. Hedberg struck me as a quiet, cerebral offensive player when I saw Barrie this year. The type of guy who's only as good offensively as the players he plays with, if that makes sense. While his mobility looked good, he was never the type of be a massive risk taker offensively and as such, he didn't stand out much on a Barrie team that mostly played from behind. Throw in a lack of size and elite physical attributes and you've got a long shot to be drafted. Rumour is Hedberg will be returning to Sweden next year too, which might be best for his development. If he had played that quiet, effective game, putting up say, a 3-7 line in the SEL, we'd probably still be talking about him as a potential top 100 pick. Proof that coming over to the OHL isn't always the best option for some of these kids.  

Nick Isaacson - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Isaacson is an interesting prospect. Big, lanky winger who plays a solid North/South game. In the second half, particularly, if you watched Peterborough play, you probably noticed Isaacson make at least one nice play or rush a game, yet the offensive numbers just weren't there (5 goals on 94 shots this year). Is it a case of a first year player (who also happens to be one of the younger players available this year), just not fully developed yet? Or is his offensive upside limited, and he's just an energy player? I don't think we know the answer to that question just yet and as such, I think he's another one of those guys that NHL scouts may take and wait and see approach with.

Zach Jackson - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
I look at Jackson similarly to the way I do Isaacson. Here's a big, lanky winger who shows flashes of being an impact player despite limited ice time. Jackson is a noticeable physical presence who really seems to relish in the opportunity to take out an opposing player along the wall and as such, was a very effective forechecker at times this year. Offensively, he plays a North/South game and looks to drive the net without the puck to get a pass or bang home a rebound. For a big kid, he seems to skate pretty well, which contributes to his effectiveness as an energy guy. I suppose the thing holding him back from making the Top 50 is the same as Isaacson. How much offensive upside does he possess?

Ondrej Machala - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
A really tough player to gauge this year because of his inconsistency. He's clearly a talented offensive player and he showed flashes of being an impact offensive contributor, but too often when I saw Niagara this year, did I have to search for his number. That said, I thought he looked terrific for the Czech Republic at the U18's and was one of their better players. On the big ice, his speed was more noticeable, as was his ability to get open for a great wrist shot. It'll be interesting to see if he returns to the OHL next year or not. I would imagine that the Dogs would keep him and ditch Demin to utilize their solid pick for this year's Import Draft.

Kyle MacLean- Forward - Oshawa Generals
Kyle is the son of former NJ Devil John MacLean and his game is pretty similar to his old man's. He's a solid two-way contributor who played the role of 3rd/4th line center for the Generals this year and saw a fair amount of time on the penalty kill. He battles hard for every square inch of ice, but doesn't yet seem to have the strength to be a consistent offensive contributor. He's grown a lot since his OHL draft year (about 3 inches) and as such, I think everything needs to catch up to his growth spurt. With the smarts, pedigree and an occasional flash of skill off the rush, MacLean has more potential than he showed this year. A future Sam Studnicka kind of player in the OHL IMO.

Nick McHugh - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Massively effective energy player for the Rangers this year. What McHugh lacks in size (5'10), he makes up for in hustle and speed. Because of his tenacity without the puck, McHugh has become of the OHL's top penalty killers. For him, it's all about adding strength on the puck so that he can create more from his energy. At times, he gets pushed off the puck too easily, or is forced to make abrupt decisions that lead to turnovers. Purely a complimentary energy guy at this point, and considering his lack of size, that makes him a long shot to be drafted. But because of his effectiveness this year in a depth role, he deserves mention on this list.

Albert Michnac - Forward - Guelph Storm
Michnac was a fixture in my top 50 all season long, but thanks to a pretty rough second half, I've dropped him to the HM list. Don't get me wrong, I still like Michnac as a player, but I'm less convinced he's an NHL prospect than I was in November or December. He's like a little waterbug out there. He's deceptively quick and very elusive in traffic, showcasing quick hands and creativity to make plays. But he had only 2 goals in his final 19 games, and developed a bad habit of overhandling the puck and making poor decisions in the offensive end in the second half (although that might sum up the entire Guelph roster). Just not sure I see high end hockey sense. And when you add in the fact that he's a late '98 and undersized, I think that likely equals an undrafted prospect. Would love to see him stick in the OHL, but with a high Import pick and Dmitri Samorukov outplaying him, I think we've also seen the last of him in the league.

Matthew Philip - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
At one point this year, I liked Philip's game better than Castleman's and felt like he was trending towards being an NHL draft pick. But then he suffered a shoulder injury in January that put an end to his year. Philip is a very quick center who uses his speed to be a factor off the rush, and who has a good compete level at both ends. Seems to have a lot of potential as a playmaker, but he really needs to get stronger. The effort was always there, but was too easily pushed off the puck at times and, despite his speed, kept to the perimeter. Considering it was his first year in the OHL, I think Philip has a bright future in the OHL as a strong two-way center. And again, if he hadn't gotten injured and continued to improve, I could have seen him as an NHL pick.

Cole Purboo - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Hulking winger (6'3, 215lbs) who had a good first year in the league for Windsor. Purboo is at his best below the hash marks, where he is good at using his size to protect the puck and work the cycle. He has already shown to be quite difficult to separate from the puck. He also has decent hands and has shown the ability to finish off plays near the crease. But there are other parts to his game that are works in progress. His skating isn't pretty and lacks power. It prevents him from being a contributor off the rush and without the puck. Also, for a guy his size, his play without the puck needs more urgency. Would love to see him use his size to play more physical, especially near the crease and on the backcheck. Has potential as a power forward though.

Luke Richardson - Goaltender - Kitchener Rangers
Tough player to gauge this year because he didn't play a ton with Kitchener juggling three goalies for a good chunk of the year. After the move of Carty, he saw more ice time, but consistency was an issue. Admittedly only saw Richardson once this year, where he looked good. Big goaltender who plays a bit deeper in his net and with composure, rather than relying on athleticism and scrambling. I did happen to notice that he looked a little bit slow post to post and from talking to a few people, that seems to be the concern moving forward. Needs to get quicker to play more aggressively. But big goaltender with a solid fundamental base. Likely the starter in Kitchener next year if Opilka doesn't return as an OA (or get injured/sick again).

Elijah Roberts - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
One of the biggest disappointments for me this year. Was a huge fan of his last year as a rookie and I thought he had a very good Hlinka tournament this summer. But he struggled to be an impact player this year in Kitchener, and failed to show any progression to his game. His skating ability and overall mobility remains fantastic. And his hands in cutting through the neutral zone and evading the forecheck are top notch. But he had some trouble extending his rushes into the offensive zone and his lack of point shot really limits his ability as a powerplay QB. Teams play him to pass and challenge him to shoot, taking away his options. Defensively, the effort is there, but his size (5'10), coupled with some rover tendencies, limits his effectiveness. In order to make it to the next level, he's going to need to be an offensive defenseman. And in order to do that, he's got to improve his shot, get stronger, and get his confidence back as a puck rusher. Still lots of time for him to figure it out and I'm confident that he will at some point during his OHL career.

Daniil Vertiy - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Vertiy is another guy I was massively disappointed with this year. He had a great half a year with North Bay last year after a trade from Windsor, but just couldn't find consistent success this year. Vertiy, a stocky winger (5'11, 205lbs), is at his best when he's engaged physically and aggressive at driving the net. When he's keeping things simple and looking to drive the middle of the ice, he can be very effective. But it seemed like his physical intensity wavered way too much this year and he got away from being a power winger in favor of more of a finesse game. I saw him play a couple of very strong games this year where he was one of the better players on the ice and Vertiy possesses that type of potential. But those types of games were far to few in nature for him to be an NHL draft pick this year IMO, especially as a 3rd year OHL'er (late '98). 

Reilly Webb - Defense - Hamilton Bulldogs
A real wildcard for the draft this year because he missed the vast majority of the last two years. Last year, he suffered a dislocated shoulder and a lacerated ankle. As such, he was subsequently sent down to Junior B upon his return. This year, he suffered an injury to the same shoulder and had to have surgery on it to prevent it from reoccurring. 27 OHL games in two years (including this year's playoffs). Not exactly great for your development. But when he returned this year (end of the year and playoffs), I actually thought he looked pretty good for a kid who has gone through everything he has. At 6'3, and a physical combatant, Webb has a lot of potential as a shutdown defender. A converted forward, his hands and offensive potential might be underrated too. Next year is a big one for him. If he's not drafted this year, and has a great year next year, he could be one of the top re-entries available in 2018.

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