LA loves them some OHL players, especially overage, draft re-entries!
1. Gabriel Vilardi - Windsor Spitfires
Love me some Gabe Vilardi and the Kings made a great selection getting him outside of the top 10. He had a few problems with injuries this year and his skating is far from as dynamic as you'd like to see from a center in today's NHL. But his hockey sense is off the charts good, and he's already made gains in his skating. He gets to where he needs to be and I have confidence that he'll continue to improve his skating to the point where he can be a quality top 6 center. Calgary's Sean Monahan was an equivalent skater at the same age and he's worked out fine for the Flames. I love Vilardi's board work. His strength on the puck along the wall is the best in the entire OHL IMO. He's almost impossible to separate from the puck behind the net and draws a ton of penalties there. But he has the vision to make his linemates better and to create scoring chances from those prolonged possessions. Moving forward, hoping to see the physical side of his game continue to grow, making him a bit more aggressive in crashing the net. Also hoping to see his shot get better and to see him utilize it even more, especially off the rush. He'll return to the OHL in Windsor and should be one of the league's top scorers and a 90+ point player.
2. Spencer Watson - Mississauga Steelheads
Quite frankly, I think all the players ranked 2 through 8 on the rest of this list are pretty interchangeable. So just goes on personal preference. And I'm going with Watson second because I think his potential is the highest of the remaining players listed. He's undersized, but I think he's done a great job of improving his weaknesses throughout his five year OHL career. Sending him back for his overage season was the right call IMO, especially with him recovering from injury. Last year, I felt like his play in traffic and his skating improved, two things absolutely necessary for his success at the next level. Where as this year, I felt his play without the puck really improved, to the point where Mississauga even trusted him to play the penalty kill (where I actually liked him as a forechecker and puck hound). His playmaking ability and overall offensive IQ is still his bread and butter, but the aforementioned improvements to round out his game were critical. I also loved the way he stepped up his game in the playoffs this year for Mississauga. I must say, I'm extremely intrigued with how he'll play in the pros next year. I could see him struggling in the first half of the season as he adjusts to the size and speed of the pro game. But I think when all is said and done, he'll end up with a 15/15 season and show progression.
3. Markus Phillips - Owen Sound Attack
Big fan of this player and was shocked to see how far he fell in the draft this year. Phillips was one of the highest scoring defenders in the OHL in the second half of the season, on one of the OHL's best teams. Phillips is a stocky-wide defender, but he's also one of the league's most agile defenders. Blessed with only average straight away speed IMO, but backwards and laterally, he's as smooth as you can get. As such, he's very difficult to beat one on one and off the rush. Also shows some jam to his game without the puck, but could stand to make that more consistent to be tougher to play against in coverage. Also want to see him pick his spots better offensively, although he really limited the turnovers in the second half. But he did struggle in the playoffs, and I look forward to him learning from that experience. Next year Phillips will return to Owen Sound and will be their go to defender in all situations (with captain Santino Centorame moving on). I think he'll be one of the league's top scoring defenders and I'd expect him to be over 55 points with a terrific +/-. Owen Sound should be one of the best teams in the OHL and Phillips will likely wear a letter for them too.
4. Jacob Moverare - Mississauga Steelheads
Pretty solid first year in the OHL for Moverare who quickly established himself as a top four defender for the Steelheads. I felt like even with the team struggling at the beginning of the year, his play was pretty consistent. He plays a very safe game. Makes quick decisions with the puck in the defensive end to start the breakout, but isn't someone who looks to skate the puck out. He definitely lacks explosiveness in his stride moving forward. But he isn't turnover prone and manages to handle the forecheck well despite that drawback. Defensively, he's a solid positional defender and stick checker. And I actually think his agility is decent, certainly better than his straight away skating ability. Defensive IQ is solid too. Definitely one of the better defensive defenders in the OHL. That said, I'm not sure his NHL potential is extremely high. He's not a physical defender, so there's always the risk that his defensive acumen doesn't translate quite as well, especially given his lack of terrific foot speed. I prefer Erik Cernak who the Kings traded away. But that shouldn't take away from a solid year. Seems like he'll return to the OHL next year (even though LA could send him to the AHL). He'll resume a top four role and could be a great partner for newcomer Merrick Rippon (whom Mississauga just acquired). The Steelheads will be one of the better teams in the Conference and I'd expect a similar type of season.
5. Matt Luff - Hamilton Bulldogs
Probably interesting to see Luff this high given his lack of hype and lack of impressive offensive numbers. But I'm a big fan and believer of his NHL potential. Has everything you look for in an NHL winger these days. Size, shot, physicality, and he's worked hard to improve his skating. Love Luff's aggressiveness in driving the net and he's excellent at using defenders as a screen for his shot coming off the wing. Even with a shoulder injury this year that kept him out for almost two months, he didn't seem to miss a beat upon returning. That said, I'd love to see the Kings send Luff back for his overage year. Let him continue to improve his skating and his consistency offensively. Let him continue to improve his play away from the puck. Let him dominate using his size and shot. If he were to return to the OHL, I think he's a 40 goal scorer. But if he's in the AHL, he'll probably have to start on a checking line and learn the ropes there. We'll see what happens come training camp.
6. Matthew Villalta - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A shrewd pick by the Kings in the 3rd round this year. I knew he had his fans in the NHL community and there were a lot of rumblings that a team would take him that high (despite his lower rankings from scouting agencies). A former free agent signing by the Hounds, Villalta came out of nowhere to emerge as a potential starter. He and Joseph Raaymakers formed a very effective platoon this year. Villalta is a very technically sound goalie whose positioning is excellent for someone with so little experience at the higher levels. As he continues to add strength to his lower body, his explosiveness post to post will only get better and as he gains experience, his reads and ability to challenge shooters will also improve. Next year, he'll continue in a platoon role with Raaymakers as the Hounds look to take home the Western Conference crown. Puts the Greyhounds in a great spot eventually to move one of he or Raaymakers. That could happen next year, or (IMO) more likely the year after. I would expect Villalta to post solid numbers, likely a .915 save percentage or better and he should be good for another 20+ victories as he splits time with Raaymakers.
7. Drake Rymsha - Sarnia Sting
Another great pick by the Kings, getting Rymsha this year. Thought he was one of the best re-entries available (in any league). Missed a lot of time in his draft year due to injury, but rebounded nicely this year. He's a quality two-way forward who is a very well rounded player overall. Brings energy, skating ability, finishing ability, faceoff prowess, physicality. I guess the million dollar question is, how good can he be offensively? If he can continue to add strength to his frame and get stronger on the puck, we'll get to see how good his hockey sense, playmaking ability, and overall creativity are. His overall vision with the puck and decision making is the area I'm most concerned about. He'll return to Sarnia next year and will be one of their go to offensive players. If he plays with Jordan Kyrou (likely IMO), he could have a massive breakout year. A 40/40 season is not at all impossible.
8. Jacob Friend - Owen Sound Attack
Just because I've got Friend ranked 8th, doesn't mean that I don't believe he can be an NHL player. He remains one of the league's most feared defenders because of his physicality. He lives for the big hit, but is also smart about it and doesn't chase the play looking for it. Friend missed a big chunk of the year with an UBI, but returned in time for Owen Sound's stretch drive and playoffs. In the playoffs, I thought he was one of their better defenders and really took his game to the next level. I still think there's some offensive upside hidden in there and that's why I'd love to see the Kings send Friend back for his overage season. As mentioned, the Attack will be one of the best teams in the league and Friend would get increased responsibility (and perhaps the captaincy). If he's back in the OHL, I could see him being a 35+ point player. But if he's in the AHL (or ECHL), I think we'll see extremely modest offensive production as he looks to adjust by playing it safe.