Thanks to the influence of Stevie Y, the Lightning are another team that just loves to draft players from the OHL.
1. Mikhail Sergachev - Windsor Spitfires
A new addition to the Lightning prospect crop after being the return for Jonathan Drouin. First, the bad news (or at least, not great news) Lightning fans. Sergachev didn't have a great year in the OHL this past year. From the minute he came back to the OHL after a month long stint in the NHL, it seemed like the intensity level that he had played with as a rookie (and dominating force) just wasn't there. This is certainly not uncommon. That NHL hang over can last weeks, months, or even an entire season for prospects once they get a taste of the pros. Sergachev's production wasn't bad at all, but for those that saw him play regularly, he just wasn't as effective at either end as he was in 2015/2016. Poor decisions with the puck. Poor reads defensively. Sprinkled in with some jaw dropping plays that made you remember just how good he can be. This came to a head in the OHL playoffs where he was very ineffective against London in round one. But then came the Memorial Cup where Sergachev clearly elevated his play to finish the year extremely strong (winning the Mem Cup). Truthfully, I wouldn't be worried. As mentioned, this type of thing is pretty common for elite prospects in the CHL. And most end up becoming pretty damn good NHL players. I still believe Sergachev's potential is higher than Juolevi's and is that of a first pairing all star. And I do think that he'll play in the NHL next year with Tampa. Of course, because of his age, it's Tampa or the OHL. If he does come back to the OHL, hopefully he returns more motivated (similar to the way Dylan Strome was surprisingly sent back this year and looked like a man on a mission).
2. Mitchell Stephens - London Knights
Stephens is proof why it's important to do more than just stat watch when evaluating prospects. Stephens' production did decrease a fair amount upon his trade to London, but anyone who watches London will tell you that he was consistently one of their best and most dangerous forwards this year. This was especially true in the playoffs when some of their other players really laid eggs. He's an incredibly complete player who competes hard (using his great speed) at both ends of the ice and who uses his hockey sense to make consistently smart plays and reads. I think he's definitely going to be an NHL player. It's just a matter of where he'll eventually slot into the lineup. I could see that being anywhere from the second line to the 4th line. It all depends on how well his offensive abilities carry over to the pro level and whether his lack of elite size hurts him. He'll turn pro next year and play in the AHL where I would expect him to be a 20/20 player and in the top 20 of rookie scorers.
3. Anthony Cirelli - Erie Otters
What a great way for Cirelli to finish off his OHL career, the way it began with an OHL Championship. Honestly, Cirelli might be one of the most clutch players to ever play in the league. His penchant for big goals is legendary. A Memorial Cup winning OT goal two years ago. And an OHL Championship winning goal this year. Not too shabby. Cirelli was fantastic for Erie after coming over from Oshawa (where he was equally fantastic). It was a great year overall. His offensive game really took a solid step forward, gaining confidence in his ability to carry the puck and drive the net to match his great vision and hockey sense. And I also felt his skating really improved this year too. Looked a lot more explosive. All in all, the Lightning are getting a very intelligent two-way player who projects as a very good third line forward at the NHL level. Like Stephens, he'll turn pro next year and likely suit up in the AHL. I would expect his offensive production as a rookie to be similar to Stephens', likely in that 20/20 range. Neither player should need long at the AHL level before becoming NHL'ers.
4. Taylor Raddysh - Erie Otters
What a breakout season for Raddysh, in his post draft year. Many around the league expected his numbers to jump as he got more responsibility (and still got to play with some great players), but I don't think anyone expected him to be a 100+ point player and one of the most consistent offensive performers in the league. Pretty much every facet of his game took a step forward this year. Really noticed a difference in his strength on the puck, as he was able to be a big factor in traffic and working the wall. It's clear he really worked on his shot and finishing in close too, His skating is still a work in progress and I think that was evident at the WJC's (where he struggled a bit), but it too improved. So what's the next step for Raddysh then? Next year, it will be his show to run in Erie and he'll have to prove (yet again) that he's able to produce offensively despite Erie incurring some losses. To do that, I think he'll have to improve his skating even more so that he can create more time and space for himself (although he could pair with a quick guy like Ivan Lodnia). He could also be traded if Erie decides to rebuild and recoup some of their losses (thanks to trading a TON of draft picks in recent years). Either way, I'd expect him to be hovering around that 90-100 point mark yet again next year. Even if his production dips a bit, I don't think that will necessarily mean he's had a poor year as he's facing a different situation.
5. Boris Katchouk - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
It was an excellent year for Katchouk and you know your prospect pool is pretty damn strong when he's the 5th best on a list for one league. He started off a little slowly, but really picked up his play as the season went on, capped off with an 8 goal in 11 playoff games performance. Katchouk is one of the hardest working players in the OHL, who is an absolutely relentless forechecker and crease crasher. He also possesses a terrific shot that helped him finish second to Senyshyn in goals on the Hounds with 35. When you combine that with the fact that Katchouk also grew a few inches this year and now stands 6'3, you've got a speedy, power winger with a real pro style game, waiting in the wings. I was very tempted to put Katchouk ahead of Raddysh, but I think you have to respect the draft +1 year that Raddysh had, even if I'm a little less convinced his game translates to the NHL as well as Katchouk's does. It will be really interesting to see how these two compare next year in their 20 year old seasons. Sault Ste. Marie will be one of the better teams in the OHL and Katchouk could very well be a 40/40 player. If he can really improve his vision and playmaking ability (to go with his tenaciousness and finishing ability), that would make him an even more dangerous player.
6. Erik Cernak - Erie Otters
The main return in the Ben Bishop deal, Cernak is a legit defensive prospect and has a very good chance of becoming a solid, shut down defender in the NHL. He's just an incredibly solid player. Defensively, it's rare to see this guy make a mistake in coverage. And his gap control is excellent when defending the rush, so he's tough to get around. He's also very tough to win battles against in the corners and in front of the net. Truth be told, he was the best defensive defender in the OHL this year. I felt his offensive game was better this year too. Did a better job with his exit passes and looked a lot more sure handed when trying to avoid the forecheck. This guy is pro ready. He'll head to the AHL next year, where I wouldn't expect much from him offensively (Roland McKeown had 11 points as a rookie this year and I'd expect similar from Cernak), but that won't measure his value. Like Cirelli and Stephens, I don't think Cernak is far from an NHL spot.
7. Matt Spencer - Peterborough Petes
Projects similarly to Cernak, but isn't quite as polished yet IMO. Spencer was drafted into the OHL as a potentially dominant two-way defender. But the offensive side of things never developed for him in the OHL and I think it's safe to say that, that part of his game likely won't develop as a pro in the future either. What you see is what you get in that regard. Defensively, he's a great skater with excellent mobility. He also really took a step forward in playing "meaner" this year and really seemed to enjoy playing the tough guy role for the Petes. His intensity in front of the net was always noticeable when you watched Peterborough. But his reads and overall defensive IQ is not as good as Cernak's IMO. There is still some growth that needs to be made there for him to develop into a quality NHL shutdown defender. With some guys like Sergachev and Cernak ahead of him (at least IMO), he'll have a few years to develop in the AHL and I think he eventually develops into a dependable 5-6 guy (think the recently retired Kevin Klein).
8. Christopher Paquette - Peterborough Petes
Last year, in this article, I wrote that a 20/30 season was a realistic expectation. Paquette finished 19/29 combined between Niagara and Peterborough, so needless to say, he performed up to my expectations...which weren't incredibly high. Peterborough brought him in to provide more scoring depth down the stretch and they paid a pretty high price for him. His performance for the Petes was pretty underwhelming and I think they expected more from him. He definitely added some weight this year and was stronger on the puck. With his size down the middle, there's the potential for him to develop as a pretty good playmaker. But his play without the puck still needs work. With his size, he has a lot of potential as a two-way, power center. He has some skill with the puck, but he's just not aggressive enough. Would love to see him look to drive the net more and use his size more consistently in the corners. Evidently, he still has a lot of growing to do as a player. But, he'll return to a Peterborough team that could be the favourite to win the East next year. It'll be a deep team though, especially down the middle. So there's no guarantee that he's given top line responsibility. I think in order to get signed by Tampa, he's going to need to be a point per game player for the first time in his career.
9. Jonne Tammela - Peterborough Petes
Who? Played two games in November for the Petes and disappeared thanks to a patella tendon injury that required surgery. It's a real shame too, as he likely would have been an impact player for the Petes. The question is...what do the Lightning do with him next year? Having not really played a lot of hockey the last year, do they send him back to the OHL for an overage season? I know the Petes still have him on their protected list. Or does he play in the AHL? Or...does he get loaned to Europe for a season? Would likely be great for him to play in the OHL to get his confidence back post injury. Will likely depend on how he looks in camp.
*Alexei Lipanov - Barrie Colts
Worth noting that 2017 selection Alexei Lipanov will be suiting up for the Barrie Colts this coming season. He should be an immediate impact player on a strong (but rebuilding) Barrie team. Along with his running mate Andrei Svechnikov, Lipanov could easily be an 80 point player in the league IMO. I have very high expectations for him after seeing him play internationally.