Thursday, December 28, 2017

Midseason Top 50 for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft

The start of the 2018 calendar year is nearly upon us and that means it is time for me to re-evaluate my rankings for the 2018 Draft. The OHL season is nearly at the half way mark (for most teams) which gives us a great indication of how certain players have developed in their draft season. Many players have stepped up to assume large roles on their club, while others have disappointed and find themselves on the outside looking in.

I think that the order of the OHL's crop this year is still not even close to being set in stone. It's sort of a down year for the OHL (and CHL) overall for first round talent. I would say that Andrei Svechnikov is really the only lock to be a pick inside the lottery. Then we've got a whole host of players who could be mid to late first round picks (or early to mid 2nd round picks). The order of these players is different depending not only on who you ask, but what day it is. Who's the top defender available, Evan Bouchard or Ryan Merkley? Who's the top forward available behind Svechnikov? Akil Thomas, Serren Noel, Barrett Hayton, or Ryan McLeod? As always, depth is pretty solid for the OHL and the league should still occupy a good portion of the 2nd and 3rd round, as well as the draft spots overall. How some of these guys finish their year (or how they perform in an event like the U18's) will hopefully give us a clearer picture of a consensus draft order.

For those unfamiliar with my lists, I only include first time eligible players. So a guy like Sean Durzi isn't listed despite the fact that I'd expect him to receive draft consideration. I do a list of "re-entries" or second/third year eligible players prior to the draft.

And for comparison's sake, here's my preliminary top 50 from October.  

Here's the list:

1. Andrei Svechnikov - Forward - Barrie Colts
In October I mentioned that Svechnikov already had the top spot on this list locked down for June. And despite missing nearly two months of action with a broken hand, that hasn't even come close to changing. This a 6'3, 185lbs bull who impacts the game on so many different levels. I would expect that his NHL playing weight would be up over 200lbs, making him as difficult to stop as a guy like Alex Ovechkin. For all his strengths, perhaps one thing that has been standing out lately is his vision and playmaking ability. Sometimes guys who possess his skill set and size, can force plays by being too aggressive in driving the net. That whole notion of "head down to the net." But Svechnikov exhibits zero tunnel vision. This is a patient player who is just as good at using his size to create for his teammates, as he is for himself. Simplified, he knows when to shoot it and when to pass it. While it's generally considered to be a 19 year old's tournament, I'm still really excited to see how Svechnikov performs at the World Juniors.

2. Akil Thomas - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
I'm a big Thomas fan and despite most scouting agencies dropping him to the late 1st round range, I'd still consider him in the middle of the first as the 2nd best OHL prospect available. I think he plays a pro style game which could translate to the next level really well once he adds some strength to his frame. Excels as a forechecker and boards player by outhustling and outworking opposing defenders for loose pucks in the offensive end. And has the vision and creativity to create plays coming off the wall. Also excels in transition where his skating ability (which continues to improve) can dictate the pace and keep defenders on their heels. I do see why scouts might see him in a lesser light though. I think he's probably more likely a winger at the NHL level, despite the versatility he's shown this year by playing center. I think the low goal scoring numbers, despite high shot numbers, are a slight cause for concern. And I wonder if he ends up as more of a complimentary second line guy as opposed to a prime time offensive creator. All that said, this is a guy who wears a letter in Niagara already and possesses great work ethic. I see him continuing to improve to the point where he develops into a prime time OHL player, if he isn't already.

3. Evan Bouchard - Defense - London Knights
Bouchard makes a jump on my list for midseason, bumping Ryan Merkley out of the top defender available spot. I've always been a fan of Bouchard (see this list from March 2016), but I just didn't think his potential for the NHL level was quite as high as others (it can often be tough to read late birthdays in that regard). However, he's a made a believer out of me that he could be a quality second pairing guy who sees top powerplay unit responsibilities. Look, not only is this guy a contender to lead the OHL in defensive scoring, but he leads the London Knights in shots (by a wide margin) and could end up leading the Knights in scoring this year. You can't scoff at those achievements. Bouchard sees the ice very well and he's really cleaned up his game at both ends. Makes a lot of smart pinches to keep pucks in, and knows when to jump up in the play. This vision (in addition to possessing a great shot) makes him an elite powerplay QB. Defensively, I don't think he'll ever be a dominant two-way player, but he's smart enough and big enough to play big time minutes at the next level. Has been playing over half the game for London of late. I think that maybe the one thing that concerns me a bit is the lack of progression we've seen in his skating ability. Bouchard is very mobile and he's far from a poor skater. But I do wonder if his straight ahead explosiveness isn't elite enough for him to be a top notch offensive contributor 5 on 5 in the NHL. Is he Alex Goligoski, or Cody Ceci/Cody Franson?

4. Ryan Merkley - Defense - Guelph Storm
At this point, the book on Merkley is out. Everyone knows how talented he is offensively. And everyone knows about his inconsistencies defensively. Merkley frustrated scouts as a minor midget player. He frustrated scouts as an OHL rookie. And he's continuing to frustrate scouts as a second year OHL player and NHL draft eligible player. So where does the progression happen? Can we honestly say that Merkley is a better player this year than he was last year? I'm not sure. Look, this is a guy who leads his team in scoring by a wide margin as a defender. Watching him play can be a real treat, especially on the powerplay. The way that he creates space with his skating ability is often mesmerizing. And I think a lot of the visible frustration we see from him on the ice comes from Guelph being an inconsistent team. He's clearly an intense kid who wears his heart on his sleeve and when Guelph is struggling, that can cause some negative reactions. In a lot of ways, the NHL interview portion at the combine will be critical for him to convince teams that he should be their first round pick. And as much as I don't wish failure on teams, part of me hopes that Guelph has limited playoff success this year so that we get to see Merkley on the international stage at the U18's. Thought he played well at the Hlinka, but at the U18's, he'd have to play a more defined 5 on 5 role and it would be a great test for him. Bottom line though, if I'm an NHL scout whose job depends on making good picks, do I trust Merkley enough to draft him in a year that's filled with great defenders?

5. Serron Noel - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Is Noel currently the 5th best player on this list? No. He might not even be top 15. But it's about where he could be, not where he's at right now. The draft is about projection and Noel projects as potentially the 2nd best forward taken behind Svechnikov (from the OHL). Noel is a bit awkward to watch. Sometimes it looks like he's going to fall over when he's cutting through the offensive zone. Sometimes it looks like he's out of control when carrying the puck. Think of him like Bambi. But when this 6'5 forward is suddenly 230lbs in a few years, just how dominant could he be? The skating, despite being a bit awkward, is effective and deceptive. And his ability to control the wall is already, at times, dominant. I also think he demonstrates a good hockey IQ when it comes to tracking the play offensively, and understanding where to be without the puck. Very effective near the crease. The million dollar question is, does Noel possess the playmaking ability and puck skill to be a driving force? Or is he a complimentary, space clearer who probably settles into being more of a 3rd line player at the next level? Assessing that hockey sense and vision with the puck will be the focus for scouts in the second half.

6. Barrett Hayton - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 
I really enjoy watching Hayton play. He's a real warrior on the ice; a real puck hound. Incredibly effective player below the hash marks. Has excellent anticipation on the forecheck and forces a lot of turnovers. Isn't asked to be a prime time penalty killer right now (because SSM is that good), but eventually, he will be a prime time PK'er. Also exhibits a great understanding of lanes and spacing. Not the world's most gifted skater (only average), but he's so effective at finding open space in the offensive end. His brain operates a little quicker than the defense and he's very versatile. The type of player who seems to fit in well with any linemates. Because of a quick release and these great instincts, Hayton will be a 40 goal scorer in the OHL eventually. It will be interesting to see how his game with the puck, and in transition, progresses throughout his OHL career, to see if it can match his abilities without the puck. At the very least, he projects as a great complimentary piece on a scoring line. Reminds me a lot of Bryan Little, when he used to play in Barrie.

7. Ryan McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
It's been tough sledding for McLeod offensively since the return of his brother Michael. He has only two goals in his last 15 games and for a 3rd year player (late 1999 birth date), that's not the type of production you're looking for from a first round pick. Mississauga, as a team, has been downright horrible lately and instead of beefing up for a playoff run, they're probably more likely now to deal away veterans to rebuild. I think it all comes down to a lack of identity for McLeod, both as a player and as a performer in the Steelheads line-up. He shifts from wing to center, depending on the game. And because of that, consistency has been tough to achieve for him. As a player, what is he going to be at the next level? He has size and is a marvelous skater. But he doesn't utilize his size as well as he should. That's not to say that he's a soft player. It's that he's not a physical player who looks to engage physically to create offense or turnovers. So does he project as a checking line player at the next level if the offense doesn't develop? I would say no. Offensively, he has good vision as a playmaker and excels in a North/South role, but are the goal scoring instincts top notch? Sometimes there just seems to be something missing from his game. If the Steelheads rebuild, it will be McLeod's team again in the second half and hopefully he can get his production back on track.

8. Allan McShane - Forward - Oshawa Generals
A tough guy to project right now IMO. I've seen Oshawa a fair amount this year and McShane is consistently noticeable for one reason or another. One game you watch him and say, "man, McShane is a great playmaker. He has great vision, coming off the wall." The next game you say, "wow, McShane could be a great goal scorer in this league. He's got a very deceptive release." Then the next game you say, "wow, I'm really impressed with McShane defensively. He's got a great stick in the defensive end and he does a great job outmuscling forwards along the wall to get pucks out." The problem is, I don't think we have the sum of all those parts yet. I don't think he's quite put everything together to be the type of guy who can consistently impact the game in all facets. I think part of that also has to do with only average skating ability. But, how many young centers do have it all together? This guy is smart enough to play at the NHL level, I think it's just a matter of determining at what capacity that will be. Can he be a Ryan O'Reilly type if his game continues to take steps forward? Or is he more of a Dominic Moore?

9. Kevin Bahl - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Really like this kid. Each month, I think we're seeing him become more comfortable and confident in his abilities. At 6'6, 231lbs, he has the potential be a dominant defensive player and physically he's really starting to assert himself consistently. He's transforming into one of the toughest defenders to play against in the league and I can't imagine what he'll be like as a 20 year old in two years. He's never going to be confused for Ryan Merkley, but he has impressive mobility for a big man, especially laterally and backwards. Anything you can get from him offensively is just gravy, because of the impact he could have defensively. And Bahl is more than competent as a puck mover, even playing on the powerplay (although sometimes as a net presence and not a QB). I'm not usually one to advocate for taking big defenders high (if you have read this blog over the years), because the success rate is so low. But I believe in Bahl and I wouldn't hesitate at using a mid to early 2nd round pick on him at this point.

10. Cam Hillis - Forward - Guelph Storm
Here are the splits. Hillis' first 13 games: 1 goal and 5 assists. Hillis' last 19 games: 13 goals and 10 assists. It took the former St. Andrew's College alum some time to adjust to the league, but he's been the Storm's best and most consistent forward since. And that's on a team with 5 NHL drafted forwards (including two early 2nd rounders). Hillis' elusiveness and creativity in the offensive end can be fun to watch. Not the biggest kid at 5'11, 163lbs, but he darts around and plays relatively fearless. He possesses a lightning quick release and creates a lot of time and space for himself with his skating ability and puck skill. Hillis definitely possesses a lot of offensive potential. His play away from the puck and in his own end was billed to be a strength (entering the league), but it's been pretty inconsistent. I think it comes down to the need to add strength. Don't be surprised if Hillis is this year's Robert Thomas and Morgan Frost, a guy who slowly builds momentum and ends up a first round pick.

11. Alec Regula - Defense - London Knights
If you hadn't guessed from my comments on social media, I'm fully on the Regula train. This guy is a legitimate NHL prospect. Has emerged to become the Knights' 2nd best defender behind Evan Bouchard and looks to be just hitting the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he's capable of doing. He's 6'4, 190lbs, but also one of the youngest players available this year (could he possibly grow more?). And he possesses excellent mobility, gliding up ice with ease. He's been starting to explore his ability to lead the rush and has looked pretty good doing it. Defensively, he's definitely raw. Makes some questionable reads. But also makes some great plays by using his mobility to keep forwards wide or break-up plays. Would like to see him use his size more to be physical, especially in the corners, but that could come. As I said, this guy is very raw. But you'd be blind to ignore the potential that he's demonstrating in his first OHL season. 

12. Ty Dellandrea - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Came into the year as one of the top OHL prospects available. But has slowly slid down the rankings and a lot of that has had to do with how inconsistent Flint has been as a team. And Dellandrea isn't a flashy player. He's not going to dangle around two defenders and hit the highlight pack consistently. But he's a very honest player who does a lot of little things well. He's an excellent two-way player and has the best understanding of his own end of any forward on this list. He also makes really good decisions with the puck in the offensive end. Doesn't force plays. Works the wall well and rarely turns the puck over. Dellandrea also has a good shot and hands in close, which profiles him as a goal scoring center. I think the only thing that I'd say is I wish he were a bit bigger for the type of game he plays. The track record for the average sized, two-way center hasn't been great in recent years. Will be a shoe in to be a leader for Canada at the U18's this year and will have his chance to solidify himself as a 2nd rounder then.

13. Kody Clark - Forward - Ottawa 67's
One of the most improved players in the league this year, Clark has exploded to become a focal point of Ottawa's offense. The 6'1 power forward doesn't throw the body around as hard as his father did (Wendel), but he's an extremely hard worker at both ends who uses his size to win battles and create scoring chances. The thing I love about Clark is that he's noticeable even when he's not hitting the score sheet. You can't say that about every player on this list ahead of him. Seems to have a couple shifts a game where the defense just can't take the puck off of him below the hash marks. His skating really has improved a lot from last year too and it's making him way more of a factor off the rush. Moving forward, I think the area of his game that needs the most work is his playmaking and vision with the puck. Can dominate in the cycle, but sometimes not a lot comes of it. As he continues to gain confidence in his ability to handle the puck, it's certainly not impossible for this area to grow.

14. Rasmus Sandin - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Late arrival to the league but has come as advertised, stepping right into the top 4 of the best team in the OHL. Skating has been better than many said it was, IMO. Certainly not an elite skater, but he's quite mobile and has been able to lead and extend rushes at this level. Been quite impressed with his overall two-way ability and smarts. Not sure I've really seen him make a boneheaded play with the puck this year. And he has very good positioning defensively, which is needed given his lack of size (5'11) and lack of physicality. Just a very heady player. I guess my only concern is projecting him as an NHL player. Does he possess top 4 potential? Can the skating continue to improve? Will his shot from the point improve to make him a better powerplay QB? Will he continue to grow as a physical player in his own end? A solid late 2nd/early 3rd round pick IMO because of those questions.

15. Nathan Dunkley - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Deserves more attention from the scouting community than he's receiving thus far. He's been a very solid first liner for the Fronts for the last few months and has developed great chemistry with Jason Robertson. He's kind of an interesting player to watch. He actually has terrific speed and was billed as one of the best skating forwards in this age group coming out of minor midget. But he seems to prefer slowing the game down in the offensive end. Not too often you see him try to exploit defenders with his speed, instead opting to play more of a dump and chase, cycle/possession style of game. He and Robertson really tire out opposing defenses by how well they work the cycle. Where he does use his speed is on the backcheck. Dunkley is an excellent defender and is consistent and reliable as the first forward back. He also has a physical edge to his game. At this point, what's really separating Dunkley from a guy like Dellandrea?

16. Riley Damiani - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Probably going to be consistently higher on Damiani than the professional scouting community and I'm OK with that. Yes, he's a bit undersized at 5'10. And his offensive production has been inconsistent, as there are times where his lack of strength can be evident. But no one will ever question this guy's motor. Just a non stop worker out there. Uses his speed well to attack all loose pucks with vigor. Is an excellent penalty killer and defensive player. Does a little bit of everything for the Rangers. Offensively, I really like how he uses his speed cutting through the neutral zone to push the pace. Very aggressive in attacking across the blueline and has a lot of confidence in his puck carrying ability. Not entirely sure he's going to be more than a potential quality 3rd line center, but man this guy needs to be rewarded for working his ass off. Probably more of a 4th or 5th rounder, despite my ranking of him around the 3rd (roughly).

17. Pavel Gogolev - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Roller coaster year for the 2nd year winger. Started off exceptionally well and was rated in my top 10 (from the OHL) in October. But then went ice cold. Now suddenly, he's heating up again. So what do we have in Gogolev? Will the real one please stand up? I definitely love Gogolev's speed. Quick strike player who involves himself in a lot of odd man rushes when he's hot. Also think he has the potential to develop into a solid boards player who can create coming off the wall and use his speed to drive the net. The problem is, his ability to play through traffic is definitely inconsistent. Throughout his dry spell in November, he really wasn't much of a factor at either end and wasn't aggressive enough with or without the puck. His game lacked intensity. That intensity is going to be key to his progression moving forward, as I'm not sure he's going to be able to get by on skill alone. Potential goal scorer for the next level though.

18. Blade Jenkins - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Like Gogolev, Jenkins is another player whose production has been very inconsistent this year. Had a rough transition to the league as it took him 10 games to score his first OHL goal. But then he couldn't be stopped and went on a tear. Which has since been followed up by another dry spell (only one goal in his last 9). When he's got the puck, I really like how aggressive Jenkins is in attacking the net. The shift from center to wing really jump started the increase in production and performance. Simplified the game for him and allowed him to be more of a North/South player. His skating is better than it was billed to be, (although far from elite) and he could be a tough player to stop below the hash marks once he fills out (and continues to work on his explosiveness). Away from the puck, his game lacks consistency though. I've seen him throw a few really nice checks to separate his man from the puck in the defensive end, but there are other times where he looks a bit lost. I do also wonder about how good his hands are in close too. Can he be a quality goal scorer (now that he's switched to the wing)? An interesting prospect none the less.

19. Caleb Everett - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Like Cam Hillis, there was bound to be an adjustment period for Everett, a highly touted defender coming from midget with the Compuware program. But he's getting better by the month. In fact, he hasn't been a (-) player in any game since October 29th. That's damn impressive. Everett was supposed to be a dominant stay at home defender, but he's been way better offensively than anyone could have expected. Looks confident and comfortable moving the puck up ice and is even showing off some potential PP QB skills on the point. Outside of Bouchard, Merkley, and Sandin, this guy has the best ppg of any draft eligible defender. We've got a 6'2 defender who is mobile, demonstrates an ability to play both ends, and is really starting to explore how dominant he can be in the defensive end through physicality. Right up there with Regula as a fast riser. If he didn't play in Saginaw, I think he'd be getting a lot more love.

20. Giovanni Vallati - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
For me, Vallati is still a guy with some real projectable tools, but who hasn't yet figured out an identity as a player and prospect. Last year, I was very impressed with his ability to use his mobility to defend his own end, in addition with his ability to start the breakout with crisp, clean exit passes. But he was not good at the Hlinka camp this summer and started off the OHL season equally poorly. It was as if he was trying too hard to make an impact offensively and had become very turnover prone. Problem was, this also limited his effectiveness in the defensive end. He's definitely been better the last two times that I've seen Kitchener and appears to be back to playing a relatively safe game at both ends, built around his terrific skating ability. I wonder if he's running into the same problem Jacob Paquette did last year though. Good size and mobility, but lacking an identity a prolific NHL prospect. Will his offensive game improve to the point where he can be a powerplay QB and puck mover? Will his intensity in the defensive end increase to the point where he can be a stalwart and the type of guy you want on the ice in the last minute protecting a lead? Again, the tools are there, it's just tough to figure what they end up creating.

21. Merrick Rippon - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Rippon is a player who is really starting to grow on me. Not surprisingly, there was an adjustment period for him coming over from the CCHL to start the year. Was a big acquisition for the Steelheads and he came in with high expectations. But he has gotten better and better (even if Mississauga has gotten worse and worse) as the season has gone on. Really love the physicality that he plays with. Very difficult player to beat one on one because of his mobility and his desire to take away space from you. Can still make some questionable decisions with the puck and in his reads near the crease, but I think he's a potentially solid #4-5 for the next level. I'm sure that he has more offensively than he's shown so far, and if the Steelheads sell off, he could get a chance in the second half to see more ice time.

22. Aidan Dudas - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Love watching Dudas play. When he hops over the boards, it's like he's shot out of a cannon. Just a little ball of energy. Dudas is a very complete player too, who is equally engaged in all three zones. Loves to play with the puck on his stick and possesses the skill and creativity to be a top notch playmaker. But if he turns the puck over, he gets on his horse and is one of the first guys back in the defensive end, looking to make a play on the backcheck. Dudas is gaining a ton of confidence in his shot too, and is starting to look to be aggressive in driving the middle of the ice to use his shot. Not really a ton of bad things to say about him. So why is he ranked 22nd? He just hasn't really grown since minor midget (still only 5'8), and I'm not sure his skating is elite enough for him to be heavily considered by NHL scouts within the first couple of rounds. Heck, my ranking at 22nd might even be higher than we see from a group like NHL Central Scouting come January. He'll need to keep up the production and then some to be a top 100 pick come June, but I'm confident he can do it.

23. Kirill Nizhnikov - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
The early results in Sudbury have been fantastic, but this is a midseason list and we can't discount how poor Nizhnikov looked in Barrie. Disengaged without the puck, perimeter focused, and turnover prone. This is a guy who possesses as good of puck skill as any player on this list. But he needs to play with a high level of intensity in order to be consistently successful. So far in Sudbury, as mentioned, all of those things have looked much better. One play in particular comes to mind in a game I saw. Blazed in on the forecheck, forced a turnover by separating the defender from the puck behind the net and made a beautiful pass to Sokolov for an easy goal in the slot. These are the types of plays Nizhnikov is capable of consistently. And if he continues to play at this level in Sudbury and the consistency in his game returns, then I'll gladly move him back up the list. But before then, I was getting flashbacks to how Nikita Korostelev looked in his draft year.

24. Curtis Douglas - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Recent acquisition of the Spitfires in the Aaron Luchuk deal and the early return has been great (2 goals in 2 games). The 6'8 center is an absolute behemoth who looks like a near immovable object in front of the net at times. With his reach and size, there are times where he is a dominating force along the wall. And you don't need to worry about Douglas not using his size. This guy has a clear vision of how he needs to play and he's certainly not shy about throwing his weight around. Now that he's in Windsor, he's going to see all the ice time he can handle, especially on the powerplay. And that's a great thing. I do wonder if his skating will ever be able to improve to the point where he can be a consistent NHL contributor. And I want to see more from him in transition, as I feel like he can struggle accepting passes at full speed. But this is a monster who has a lot of potential to dominate in the offensive end. If the production picks up in Windsor, he's going to move up this list by June.

25. Carter Robertson - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Robertson has all the tools you look for in a potential two-way defender for the next level. This year, his defensive game has taken big strides forward. Uses his mobility to defend the rush well and is having a lot more success winning one on one battles near the crease and along the wall. Offensively, his game still hasn't taken that next step though. Even though he possesses the skating ability to be an impact puck rusher, he's been more content to make quick exit passes or simply chip the puck out. Want to see him jump up into the play more and take more chances offensively, even if it means a turnover here and there (which was a bit of an issue in his rookie season). Some people will simply look at the stats and wonder what all the fuss is about, but Robertson possesses all the tools to become an NHL defender. It's just a matter of putting everything together.

26. Jacob Ingham - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
Has definitely been one of the more disappointing draft eligible players from the OHL this year. Mississauga's defense has not been good. But neither has Ingham IMO. Yes, he does get hung out to dry a lot. Faces a ton of odd man rushes, and wide open forwards near the crease. But there have been a few games where he's just really fighting the puck. Seems to be getting beat low a lot this year. Leaving gaps while going post to post, not reading angles correctly. That .879 save percentage isn't going to get you drafted very high, bad team in front of you or not. This is starting to remind me a lot of Dylan Wells' draft year. Ingham has all the talent and the size NHL scouts are looking for. But he needs to clean some things up and re-find his confidence. If Mississauga can't right their ship, he's probably a top candidate to be the starter for the U18 team this year, which could help him save his draft year. Definitely not a banner year for the OHL in terms of goaltenders available.

27. Nico Gross - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Certainly an interesting prospect. Was a bit shocked that he got the invite to the Top Prospect's Game. But I do get it. Gross is all potential. Super raw, but the upside is very high. He's very noticeable as a puck rusher and is very aggressive in pushing the pace. Also looks quite comfortable running the point on the powerplay. Also noticeable is his physical play. Plays hard in the defensive end and is not afraid to stand up forwards coming across the blueline. But his decision making with the puck has been quite questionable. Lots of bad pinches, and plays where he tries to force shots through only to have them blocked and the play go back the other way. Also can be caught chasing the puck in the defensive end. His reads will need big time work. But, he's a high upside guy who will be part of a great Oshawa team moving forward. Patience will be key. Really curious to see how he plays at the World Juniors this year on a Swiss squad with relatively low expectations.

28. Declan Chisholm - Defense - Peterborough Petes
A tough player to get a read on for me. Peterborough hasn't been very good in the times I've seen them this year and in games like those, it can be tough to assess defenders. I like the way Chisholm transitions up ice. Makes good decisions with the puck in his own end and uses his skating ability to escape forecheckers. Like how he moves the puck on the powerplay too. Defensively, he uses his mobility to stay ahead of attackers and is a solid stick checker. Would like to see more physicality though as I've seen him lose his share of board battles. Currently out for a good chunk of time with a high ankle sprain. Hopefully by the time he comes back, Peterborough has made a few trades to bolster their blueline, allowing him to ease back into action. 

29. Tyler Tucker - Defense - Barrie Colts
Throwback defender who relishes in the opportunity to physically punish opposing forwards. Tucker has emerged as one of the OHL's most physical players, something that has made him a difficult player to match up against. Possesses the size at 6'1, 200lbs to go with his appetite of destruction and that makes him a solid stay at home defender prospect. Offensively, I think he's capable of a bit more than he's shown too. Saw him more involved at the beginning of the year, but lately seems more content in keeping things safe. But moves the puck better than your average bruising defender. Anyway you slice it, he's been a big part of Barrie's resurgence this year. Just needs to continue to improve his skating, as becoming more mobile will be the key to his progression as a legitimate stay at home rock.

30. Damien Giroux - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Highly intelligent center who has been one of the most consistent offensive performers on this list. Not the type to wow you with speed or creativity, but he has been extremely effective this year for an inconsistent Saginaw team. Rarely makes a poor play in the offensive end and seems to have eyes in the back of his head. Creates a lot of scoring chances out of nothing by exhibiting patience and poise with the puck. And even though he's only 5'10, he seems to come out on the right side of a lot of one on one battles. Also have to love how complete his game is. Equally intelligent in all three zones and plays in all situations for the Spirit. I guess the real concern is Giroux is an undersized center who lacks dynamic skating ability. That can be a tough sell for NHL scouts. Even with some drawbacks, Giroux deserves praise for how well he's performed this year.

31. David Levin - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Just returning from a lower body injury that kept him out for a month and a half. I feel like some scouts/writers have given him too much leeway because he was the first overall pick in the OHL. But we're looking at a 3rd year player who is still under a point per game. Almost 60% of his production this year has come in two games. That means he's been held off the score sheet in 9 of his 16 games. Puck skill is through the roof, but I wonder about everything else. Especially the fact that he's undersized and not a dynamic skater. Will need to have a big second half to stay on the draft radar IMO. John Hughes was the last first overall pick in the OHL to go undrafted (2006 was his draft year) and I personally think Levin might be dangerously close to reaching that territory.

32. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Extremely talented playmaking center who is also extremely immature physically. His hands are golden and he makes defenders miss with ease. But if he's not able to create that space with his hands, he has difficulty because he's not strong enough to fight off checks consistently. He needs that room to operate. Because of this, I feel like he's been turnover prone in the games that I've seen this year. However, it's important to note that Der-Arguchintsev is THE youngest player available this year (born on the Sept. 15 cutoff). Has a lot of potential once he gets stronger. Would improve his shot, his ability to create space, and his skating. 

33. Adam Liska - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
The offense has finally started to come for Liska, with 8 points in his last 5 games before leaving for the WJC's (where he'll play for Slovakia). Liska has been an effective forward all season long, as an OHL rookie, even if he wasn't hitting the score sheet. Really impressive boards player who is very tough to separate from the puck. And he's aggressive in attacking the crease too. Was only a matter of time before the production matched his effort level. I guess the question I have is, is his skating ability good enough to be an NHL player? Definitely lacks explosiveness in his stride. And I'm not sure the offensive potential is sky high. However, as long as he continues producing upon returning from the WJC's, he should start to generate more drafted buzz because of how effective he is without the puck.

34. Dennis Busby - Defense - Flint Firebirds
Really tough year for Busby so far, and it probably isn't going to get any easier. Injured in the preseason with an upper body injury, then finally returned at the end of October, only to get injured again. I'm hearing that it could be season ending, which would mean that Busby's draft season will include two games played. Now why is he still ranked 34th? Because I thought he was sensational last year for Flint as a rookie (was my 6th most impressive 2000 born last year). And coming into the year (after a great Hlinka camp), I had high expectations for him. His game is tailored for today's NHL. Built on sensational skating ability and puck movement. At this point, he's going to stay around this range for me unless other guys below him step up their games. Wouldn't hesitate to use a draft pick on him. Great example is Josh Mahura, who has become one of the top defensive prospects in the CHL and only played two regular season games in his NHL draft year (although did make it back by the playoffs). 

35. Matthew Struthers - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
His offensive production hasn't been nearly as good as I thought it would be this year. The 3rd year center is already close to passing his career best in goals and points, but I did expect him to be a bit closer to a point per game. Struthers is a big, power center who plays both ends quite well and shows potential to be an excellent possession based player who can dominate down low and along the walls. Seems to struggle at times with the puck in transition and I wonder if there's enough offensive skill there to be an NHL player. But power centers don't grow on trees and he's probably worth a look in the mid to late rounds.

36. Connor Roberts - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Has been better since the trade to Flint (the big piece in the Nic Caamano and Ryan Moore deal). I think part of that has to do with increased ice time and part of it has to do with a position change (has shifted from center to the wing in Flint). Even though you hope he can eventually be a center with that 6'4 frame, he looks a lot more comfortable on the wing right now where he's been able to simplify his game. He certainly has skill and I think there's a fair amount of offensive potential to his game. But he needs to play bigger and use that massive body to his advantage. Bullodogs' fans grew frustrated watching him play because he'd lose puck battles and give up positioning far too easily for a 6'4, 215lbs guy. If he could add some physicality to his game, and become a more consistent offensive contributor, we'd be talking about a guy much higher than 36th on this list. Lots of time for him to evolve and he'll get every opportunity to do so in Flint.

37. Brady Hinz - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Highly skilled, but undersized (5'8) forward. Hasn't been able to keep up the torrid pace he started the year on, but that was to be expected. Has remained a productive secondary scorer for the Sting. Really effective near the crease and in the slot, despite being undersized. Has that elusiveness to him. And he's got very quick hands which allows him be a quick strike player in the middle of the ice. Not as convinced as I am with Dudas that his game will translate to the next level as a winger. But he's consistently been one of the higher scoring players of this age group and that should get him drafted. 

38. Connor Corcoran - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Has emerged as a top four defender for the Spitfires this year and has been impressive at both ends of the ice. Been really impressed with his decision making with the puck this year and is displaying good vision. But has also become a very steady influence in the defensive end, who uses his 6'2 frame to battle hard and come away with loose pucks. An interesting player as he's bounced around between forward and defense previously, so now that he's firmly on the back-end, it's interesting to see his game develop. If the Spits go full rebuild and Day and McEneny move out, Corcoran is going to get all the ice time he can handle and that could greatly benefit his draft stock.

39. Hunter Holmes - Forward - Flint Firebirds
An interesting prospect who I think has a fair amount of offensive potential if he could increase his compete level. His game really lacks consistency and I think a lot of that stems from being able to play through traffic a little more effectively. Holmes is a good skater, has good hands, and flashes creativity in the offensive end. If he were on a better team, I think we'd see him putting up better stats, but you can't make excuses and have to make the best of the situation you're in. Will need to improve his production in the second half to stay this high.

40. Sam Bitten - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Brother of Hamilton's Will Bitten, Sam is a bit of a different player. Will's game is built around his ability to create time and space with his fantastic stick work. Where as Sam is a rangy center who looks to use his size to shield the puck, and has excelled in a 3rd line role for the 67's this year. The only true similarity is their skating ability. Sam can fly. Even though his impact on the score sheet has been inconsistent, I feel like he makes a lot of very good plays at both ends that don't show up in the box score. If he were given more ice time, I think he would flourish. 

41. Justin MacPherson - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Mobile defender who escaped a rough patch (that saw him earn a few scratches) around the quarter mark. But seems to be really gaining confidence of late, especially offensively. Have really liked his ability to keep pucks in the offensive end and makes a lot of smart pinches. Definitely has potential as a powerplay QB because of his vision and anticipation, so long as he can improve his shot from the point. Defensively, he uses his mobility well to aid him. But he was known as a very physical, throwback player in midget, and that's something we haven't really seen yet at the OHL level. With added strength, maybe that part of his game starts to shine through? A player to watch for the second half IMO.

42. Zack Malik - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
The son of former NHL'er Marek, Zack is an extremely raw defender. Possesses a ton of tools, but the toolbox might be a tad questionable. Skates pretty well and has the size at 6'2 to make an impact as a puck rusher. And he can make some impressive rushes for Sudbury, but for whatever reason, they rarely end up creating serious scoring chances. Defensively, he plays the game hard and isn't afraid to throw his body around. But his reads and zone coverage need a lot of work. The adjustment period for imports can be long, so the second half will be big for him. Unfortunately it sounds like he'll be out for a little while with an upper body injury. 

43. Owen Lalonde - Defense - Guelph Storm
There's been a reason for his uptick in offensive production finally, and that's an increased role as of late. For most of the season was buried on the 3rd pairing with rookie Mark Woolley, but has recently earned a promotion to play with Garrett McFadden in the top 4 (with Mark Shoemaker getting a reduced role). This is a big test for Lalonde who hasn't been able to live up to the expectations placed upon the former 2nd overall pick. But it's not too late for him to turn things around. Defensively, I think he's underwhelmed this year, but if he can show that he has offensive potential, it could lead to him getting drafted.

44. Matthew MacDougall - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Undersized (5'9) forward with a non stop motor. Plays a lot bigger than his size, as he has shifts where he dominates along the wall against much bigger defenders. Keeps his feet moving and is excellent at protecting the puck. Also effective near the crease, where he shows a strong hockey IQ in terms of tracking the play and finding open space. Similar to Hinz, I'm not sure whether his game translates to the NHL level, but he's had a good rookie season for the Spits.

45. William Ennis - Defense - Oshawa Generals
6'3, 200lbs stay at home defender who has been a "steady eddy" for the Gens this year. Plays key defensive minutes as the partner to Canucks prospect Matt Brassard. Not an overtly physical player, but he's effective and strong in the corners and in front of the net. Of course, you'd love to see him play a little meaner, but he's a smart positional defender regardless. Puck skill is basic, and his skating will need to improve. But with his size and defensive intelligence, he could be a late round option for an NHL team who thinks they can mold him into a Josh Gorges type.

46. Alex Gritz - Forward - Erie Otters
High energy forward who plays a great up tempo game. Offensive production has been extremely inconsistent, but there are some nice tools here. Flashes good skill with the puck in transition, but needs to add strength in order to improve his scoring chance generation. Still too easily muscled off the puck. But, like SDA of Peterborough, Gritz is born on the Sept. cutoff date (the 15th), making him the youngest player available. Once the Otters sell off a few assets, it will be interesting to see if he can earn a bit more playing time, especially on special teams. 

47. Peter Stratis - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Heady defender who makes up for a lack of dynamic physical skills with a good IQ for the game at both ends. Looks comfortable running the point of the powerplay as a distributor and makes quick decisions with the puck in the defensive end. Solid positional defender who has an active stick and above average mobility. I guess the question is, does he do anything well enough to be an NHL defender? Doesn't possess great size. Doesn't have a big point shot or dynamic puck carrying ability. Isn't a physical defender and doesn't profile as a stay at home type. Confident that he'll develop into a very good OHL defender by his final year in the league, but not sure if he's a serious NHL prospect though.

48. Mitchell Hoelscher - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Better than his stats would indicate. Really enjoy watching him play because of all the little things he does well. Just a tremendous defensive player who is extremely active without the puck. Already an elite penalty killer. Once he adds strength, he'll be even more effective in this regard because his ability to read and react is top notch. If he could add more physicality to his game, he would be an even more effective energy player. Offensively, he plays a basic game and he knows his role is to win loose puck battles and go to the net. Question if there is significant offensive upside, but I know a few people I trust believe his shot is good and has potential to make him a goal scorer. Might not survive the cut for the year end top 50, but he's a personal favourite of mine even if I'm torn as to whether he's an actual NHL prospect or not.

49. Maxim Golod - Forward - Erie Otters
Tough player to get a read on. Another later birthday (mid August) who's not quite physically mature. And he's also an OHL rookie. Not the biggest kid (5'10), but he can be noticeably strong on the puck down low and shows good hands in close. Good complimentary offensive player. Can he be a driving force though? Is going to see a massive uptick in playing time once Taylor Raddysh is moved, as he's likely to take his place on the first line with Lodnia and Maksimovich. We'll get a much better read on his potential and abilities in the second half.

50. Liam Foudy - Forward - London Knights 
A frustrating player to watch IMO. Had pretty high expectations for him this year and definitely didn't expect him to be a guy on the verge of falling out of the top 50. Love his speed, but quite frankly he hasn't shown much else this year. The main reason that the Knights have been inconsistent this year has been the lack of production from their younger support players like Foudy, Moskal, Rowe, etc. Foudy needs to use his speed to play with more intensity, getting after it on the forecheck and beating defenders to the net. But I haven't seen much from him in the physicality department. If he played the game like Barrett Hayton, we'd be talking about Foudy like a potential top 2 round pick, because the potential is there.

Honorable Mentions
Adam McMaster - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Max Grondin - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Riley McCourt - Defense - Hamilton Bulldogs
DJ Busdeker - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Jake Goldowski - Forward - Saginaw Spirit

1 comment:

Martin said...

Very well displayed. Thanks for the post.