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.