Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sunday Top 10 - Most Impressive 2001 Born Players


One of the many annual traditions I have on this blog is to rank the new batch of OHL rookies in order of the impression they left on me. Only the "true" OHL rookies have been included, thus why it's labeled the "Most Impressive 2001 born players." 

I always like to note that this isn't an early ranking for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. This ranking isn't the order in which I believe these players should be ranked for the draft, but an order of which players impressed me most. It's not a draft prognostication, it's an acknowledgment of the significant impact these players have had on their teams this season.

As mentioned, this is a tradition, so here are the previous year's lists.  

2000's, 1999's, 1998's1997's1996's1995's1994's1993's1992's.

Here is this year's list:

1. Arthur Kaliyev - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Without a doubt, this year's most impressive 2001 born player. If he hits the 30 goal plateau (very possible), he'll be one of only 25 players in OHL history to score 30 under 17 years of age. And the names on that list are pretty special (John Tavares, Taylor Hall, Steven Stamkos, Bryan Little, Alex Galchenyuk, to name some recent ones). And he'd be the first to do it in 7 years (since Galchenyuk in 2011). The Bulldogs got themselves one special player. Love Kaliyev's power game on the wing. Looks to drive the net any chance he can get and uses an explosive first few steps to create separation and put defenders on his back. Also has a ton of confidence in his shot, and it's a good one. Plays the point on the powerplay a lot for the Bulldogs because his slapper is exceptionally hard. Also owns a terrific wrist shot coming down the wing. Flashes the potential to develop into a physical beast too. Already wins battles along the wall and shows no fear playing through traffic. He's going to be very hard to stop as he gains strength because of his power and skill combination. Next year, I want to see his vision and playmaking ability improve. But right now, he's the top prospect from the OHL for the 2019 NHL Draft and is a definite top 10 candidate IMO.

2. Blake Murray - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
No question, the Sudbury Wolves have struggled at the draft in recent years and it helps to explain the organization's struggles since the Foligno years ended. But last year I know many scouts who felt the Wolves had one of the best drafts in the league and the early results would indicate that. First rounder Blake Murray has been that crown jewel. Actually owns the best point per game average among any 2001 in the OHL this year and has had the best U17 season of any Wolf since John McFarland in 2009. Murray is that prototypical power center that every OHL (and NHL) team covets now. Already plays in all situations for the Wolves and definitely does not look or play like a 16 year old. Like Kaliyev, I love Murray's combination of speed and shooting ability. This guy gets a ton of power already behind his wrist shot and he's deadly from the slot. But he has that rare ability to be a factor leading the rush and dominating down low. Really excited to see how his game develops next year and if he can lead Sudbury back to prominence in the Eastern Conference.

3. Ryan Suzuki - Forward - Barrie Colts
The most recent first overall pick, Suzuki has had an excellent rookie season in the OHL. He's been terrific in a supporting role for a talented, and deep Barrie team. Being surrounded by great players has helped Suzuki ease into a top 6 role without the pressure to perform night in, and night out. Sometimes that's a curse that befalls recent 1st overall picks because their supporting cast just isn't that strong. The first thing I noticed about Ryan is that he's a much better skater than his brother Nick. Both are extremely talented playmakers, but they operate differently, with Nick preferring to slow the game down and Ryan preferring to speed it up and operate off the rush. Ryan Suzuki also owns some really slick puckhandling skill and as he gains strength, his ability to create and extend possession could be lethal. Going into next year, we'll need to see an improvement in his shot and shot creation, but I'm not sure you could have asked for more from him in his first OHL year.

4. Nick Robertson - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Another brother of an elite OHL player (Jason) who plays a different game than his sibling. Jason is a power winger with elite possession and goal scoring skills, who excels in the cycle game down low. Where as Nick is an undersized (5'7), slick skating center who is ultra competitive and tenacious. Robertson has been one of the lone bright spots for Peterborough this year in a disaster of a season. Really impressed with his speed and hockey IQ. Very elusive in the offensive end and because of his compete level, seems to beat defenders to open space in the slot for scoring chances despite his lack of size. Next step will be adding strength to allow him to be more effective with the puck and to bring some consistency to his game. Next year he'll be one of the youngest players available for the 2019 NHL draft, so maybe he can add few inches and a few pounds. Likely a threat for the OHL scoring title by the time his OHL career is done. 

5. Andrew Perrott - Defense - London Knights
Might be surprising to see Perrott this high for some. But I think he's been the most impressive defender of this age group in the OHL this year. Has slowly gained the trust of Dale Hunter and is playing big time minutes now. Perrott is probably the most physical, aggressive, and fearless 16 year old defender that I've seen play in the OHL in recent years. This kid is already extremely difficult to play against and makes his presence felt. No surprise given his father is former NHL'er Nathan Perrott. At the start of the year, I thought he spent too much time skating around the defensive end trying to hit people. But his game has really evolved and I think he has big time potential as a stay at home blueliner in this league. Better yet, last couple of times I've seen London, he's been taking more chances offensively and has actually been flashing some serious skill with the puck. Skating will need to continue to improve, but coming into this league as a young defender and making an impact is a tough thing to do. And Perrott has done that IMO.

6. Nick Wong - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Even though Wong was much more impressive in the first half of the season, I think he still deserves to be ranked highly on a list like this. Wong is undersized, but I've been impressed with how dangerous he's been in the slot, working through traffic to generate scoring chances. Isn't the world's most dynamic skater, which could be an issue when it comes to his NHL draft ranking come 2020 (late birthday). But as far as smarts, effort, and skill, Wong has shown a ton this year for Oshawa. Been able to slide up and down the lineup and make a positive impression. Interestingly enough, I remember him being billed as one of the top playmakers in the 2001 age group coming out of minor midget, but it has been his scoring prowess that has been most visible to start his OHL career. As he gets quicker and stronger, perhaps we'll start to see that ability to dominate possession. 

7. Philip Tomasino - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Tomasino is exhibit A as to why it's important to watch hockey games and not just stat watch. His production has been way down in the second half, but I've actually felt that he's been way more noticeable of late compared to the start of the year. Really starting to show just how skilled he is with the puck, as he gains the confidence to try to beat defenders one on one and be creative off the rush. Tomasino possesses an explosive first few strides too, which allows him to really utilize change of pace well on the attack. Has gone back and forth between the wing and center this year, but I think he has the skating ability and puck possession ability to play down the middle moving forward. I look for his production to jump big time next year with added strength and a larger role.

8. Graeme Clark - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Quite frankly, I thought he would struggle a bit this year given all the knocks against him coming out of minor midget (lack of dynamic skating ability, poor defensive awareness, inability to play through traffic). But I think it's fair to say that all of those things have been better than they were advertised to be and it's obvious that he's put in the work to be a better hockey player. His skill level is legitimate and is especially on display with the man advantage. How many times can he score that lacrosse style goal from behind the net before defenses catch on? He'll still need to improve a lot going into his draft year if he wants to be a top 3 round pick (think Spencer Watson), but Clark's offensive abilities in combination with his improved play away from the puck deserve mention.

9. Cody Morgan - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Thought he was noticeable at times playing a depth role with the Fronts, but since the move to Windsor, his game has really exploded. Is playing some truly terrific hockey down the stretch. Really like how he thinks the game, with and without the puck. Makes quick decisions in the offensive end and is a terrific playmaker. Impressed with how strong he is on the puck already and could be a big time player in terms of prolonging possession and dominating down low. I see some similarities between he and former Spitfire Gabe Vilardi (the guy he was traded for). 

10. Billy Constantinou - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Perhaps another surprising one, but I stand by it. It hasn't been a perfect rookie season for Constantinou. At times his decision making at both ends has been questionable. But man can this kid make plays with the puck. Super impressed by his skill level and hands. Walks the line and does a great job keeping pucks in and making crisp clean passes up ice. And while his defensive game still has room to improve, he's made some big plays in his own end too. From what I've seen this year, outside of Mike Vukojevic, Constantinou has the highest potential of any 2001 age group defender in the OHL. 

Honorable Mentions (alphabetically)

Nathan Allensen - Defense - Barrie Colts
Has been an extremely steady player for the Colts this year. Paired with Chris Cameron, the two have been one of the OHL's most dependable third pairings IMO. Seems to have excellent hockey sense at both ends of the ice. Makes a solid outlet pass too and looks to have some offensive potential to go with his solid play in his own end. 

Joe Carroll - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A big surprise this year as a 4th round pick who has come in and performed well. Big winger with some terrific offensive skills. Really like his ability to create in tight. The hands are great and he has some big time scoring potential. Given his depth role, he still manages to stand out positively and allows the Hounds to rest their big guns when needed. He and Cole Mackay have been terrific and the reason why the Hounds didn't hesitate to trade first rounder Fowler in the Raddysh deal.

Luke Cavallin - Goaltender - Flint Firebirds
Quite frankly, when a 16 year old goalie comes in and is able to play pretty regularly, I'm always impressed. The stats aren't great, but I think you need to look past them a little bit. Really like how Cavallin squares up to shooters and follows the play. Sees the puck through traffic well for a young goalie too. Everything else will have to tighten up a bit (especially going down too early), but this kid has done a great job, all things considered this year.

Brandon Coe - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Already a big kid at 6'3, so it's crazy to think that he's not eligible for the NHL Draft until 2020 (late birthday). Already owns great puck protection skills and could develop into an absolute beast in the offensive zone because of his size and skating ability. Moving forward, it will just be about finding consistency in his play away from the puck and improving his creativity and playmaking ability. 

Mack Guzda - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
Like Cavallin, the stats aren't pretty. But you need to look past them. Put in a tough spot this year at times with Owen Sound's goaltending carousel. But there's a lot to like. His size is the first thing you need to mention (6'4), but he's athletic too and has a ton of potential to develop into an NHL netminder. Just needs to become less of a stopper and more of a goaltender as rebound control is an issue. 

Ethan Keppen - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Big, power winger who has been better this year than the stats would indicate. This kid can flat out shoot the puck. Love his competitiveness in the offensive end too. Skating just needs to improve so that he can get to spots quicker to take advantage of his skill set.

Cole Mackay - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Will need to improve his skating, but this guy has prime time scoring potential in this league. Hockey sense appears to be excellent and really like how he works down low. Like Carroll, Mackay was a slightly later pick (5th round) and the fact that SSM continues to find talent outside of the first three rounds is part of why this organization has become a dominant talent manufacturer of late.

Nicholas Porco - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
I look at Porco as performing at a similar level to Graeme Clark. The warts that were talked about coming out of the draft (decision making, play away from the puck) have been visible at the OHL level. But man can this kid skate and play with the puck. It will be about harnessing that ability, but he has dynamic potential. Will be curious to see how does with added strength next season.

Jamieson Rees - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Durability, given his lack of size, could be an issue. And he needs to get stronger. But like Porco, Rees has impressive potential that has been on display at times this year. Love his competitiveness and willingness to try to drive the pace of play and I think he possesses big time offensive potential. Should be an offensive leader for the Sting next year when they are rebuilding.