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.