Wednesday, May 23, 2018

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft - Part 3: 30-11

This is the 3rd part of my final top 50 OHL players eligible for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Here you will find players ranked 30 through 11.

11. Kevin Bahl - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Love this kid. Behemoth 6'6, 230lbs defender who is a hybrid between being a pure throwback to the Derian Hatcher/Chris Pronger era, and a modern defender who can make quick decisions and move the puck. Thought he was Canada's best defender at the U18's this year, where his terrific work in his own end was on full display. The one thing I love about Bahl is how good his agility is for a big man in the defensive end. Lateral and backwards mobility are solid. So you've got this huge 6'6 reach, but he's also able to recover and stay with attackers as they drive the net. Also helps him recover loose pucks and dump ins quickly. Over the course of the second half, we really saw him start to use his size physically too. Becoming a lot tougher to play against and could be an absolute beast in the defensive end, if he isn't already. Offensively, he's better than he's given credit for. He's never going to win a scoring title, but his decision making with the puck in the defensive end has greatly improved, as has his exit pass. So good at preventing offenses from setting up their attack, because he's able to seal off forecheckers from getting to dump ins, and then makes a quick outlet to a wing to start the breakout. That -21 this year certainly isn't pretty, but I don't think it's indicative of his d-zone ability. He's smart in the offensive zone too. This guy's goals at the Hlinka, Top Prospect's Game, and the U18's were no fluke. He anticipates the play really well and as he gains confidence in his puck skill and shot, I think we'll see him take more chances and increase his offensive output. I just don't think you can argue against how well he's played when the stakes have been raised. Personally like Bahl better than Logan Stanley as an NHL prospect.

12. Aidan Dudas - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Hilarious that I've got Dudas and Bahl beside each other in these rankings, given the height differential. At 5'8, Dudas is like the little engine that could; an absolutely tireless worker in all three zones. He's a fan favourite in Owen Sound because of his infectious energy level. But there's a lot more to his game, especially offensively. Dudas possesses one of the best shots of any forward available this year. His wrist shot has great velocity, accuracy, and a quick release. Loves flying down the wing, cutting to the middle, using a defender as a screen and ripping one past the netminder. Dudas is also a quick strike scorer who reads gaps in the defense extremely well and is able to capitalize on rebounds or give and go's with linemates along the wall or down low. His puck skill is also underrated. Needs to get stronger to be able to utilize his creativity better, but he can keep the puck on a string. And as alluded to, Dudas is an excellent three zone player who also is great on the PK because of his anticipation and work ethic. There are areas for improvement though. He constantly keeps his feet moving and it gives him that elusiveness. But I think he needs to upgrade his stride strength to become a bit quicker. Kind of a similar skater to Alex Debrincat in that regard. Agility, stops/starts are good, but top end speed and acceleration were weaker. If Dudas can upgrade those (like Debrincat did over his OHL career), it would take his production to another level. Would also like to see him engage physically more consistently. I think we saw this in his rookie year and at this summer's Hlinka, but in his sophomore year, that "cannonball" esque style was somewhat removed from his repertoire. Another dark spot may be his performance at the U18's, where I felt he was trying to do too much after coming to the tournament late. But if NHL teams pass on Dudas outside of the opening two rounds, they'll be making a big mistake. 

13. Allan McShane - Forward - Oshawa Generals
McShane is easily one of the best playmakers available this year IMO. His vision in the offensive zone and deft passing touch are his best assets. This guy can really thread the needle. McShane is at his best working the cycle and the wall, using a wide base to protect the puck until he finds an opening for a linemate. At the U18's, where he was one of Canada's best players, this was on full display. McShane is also a terrific face-off man and an effective defensive player who profiles as a very solid two-way center at the next level. The key to his development will be in improving his skating. Lacks power in his first few strides and his top speed isn't great either. At the pace that the pro game is played at now, he'll need to really upgrade that to be effective as a playmaker. He won't always be able to slow the game down, especially if he sticks down the middle. But the way he processes the game can't be ignored and he deserves to be selected in the first two rounds because of it. The other thing I'd like to see from McShane, is a more concerted effort to attack the middle of the ice. I'm not sure that I would call him a perimeter player. But at the same time, some of those consistency issues could be ironed out if he found more success working through traffic in the slot and near the crease. Again though. This is a smart hockey player who should eventually be one of the higher scorers in the OHL.

14. Cam Hillis - Forward - Guelph Storm
There was a lot of hype surrounding Hillis heading into his rookie OHL season and he didn't disappoint, posting extremely close to a point per game. He's a well rounded player who plays with a lot of fire and energy. Undersized at 5'11 (and 165lbs), he's never met a one on one battle he would back down from and that tenaciousness makes him fun to watch. Hillis also is an extremely slick puck handler who creates time and space for himself in the offensive zone. Prolonging possession with his hands, he exploits gaps in the defense with good vision. He's definitely a great playmaker. From what I understand, his skating has already improved a ton, but as an undersized center, it will need to continue to improve. Because of how skilled he is, having that extra gear would really help to give him more separation. This is especially true considering he currently lacks strength down low. The effort is always there, but he can be too easily separated from the puck in close quarters. At this point, he's definitely better on the powerplay than he is 5 on 5 because of this. As he gets stronger, and quicker, he profiles as a very complete center who's hustle and hockey IQ make him a potential 2nd/3rd line forward at the next level. Hopefully scouts don't hold his poor performance at the U18's against him. Seemed like he was just trying to do too much there and ended up being very penalty prone. His lack of elite skating ability also was evident. His performance in Russia wasn't indicative of the player he's capable of becoming.

15. Alec Regula - Defense - London Knights
Been on the Regula train nearly all season long and have tweeted about him many times. Kid was a first year player and managed to play a top pairing role alongside Evan Bouchard nearly all season long. He's 6'4 and has excellent mobility, especially straight ahead where his long strides help him gain the neutral zone with relative ease on some occasions. He's raw though. Physically, he's not developed yet. He's an August birth date and he needs to add bulk to that wiry frame. That will help him be a more effective defensive player. Offensively, he oozes potential. Has the ability to go end to end and his mobility is an asset. But it's picking his spots and limiting his turnovers that he will need to improve upon. Late in the year, he started to become a little turnover prone, but he also had 12 points in the final 17 games of the regular season. Was taking more chances and as such, things started to get a little sloppy. You watch London play and this kid will make at least one head scratcher per game. Pass up the middle, bad read or pinch, you name it. BUT, he also made two great plays for every bad one and his reach is a MAJOR asset in the defensive end. I don't think those errors stem from a lack of hockey sense. I think they stem from a lack of experience. This kid will get elite instruction from the Knights' coaching staff and he's going to get all the ice time he can handle over the next two years. Especially next year if Evan Bouchard makes an NHL roster. He's the type of player you roll the dice on in the 2nd round/3rd round in hopes that everything comes together and you get a high end player.

16. Pavel Gogolev - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Tough to stand out on a poor Peterborough squad this year, but Gogolev did just that on most occasions. His 30 goals were 3rd among first time draft eligible players from the OHL this year. Best of all, 26 of those came 5 on 5 which was 6th best in the entire OHL. Flat out, Gogolev can put the puck in the net. Has an absolutely terrific release, especially at top speed, which is excellent. Gogolev has great wheels and he is constantly looking to push the pace across the opposing blueline. Speed, skill, and finishing ability makes Gogolev a potential sniper at the NHL level. The rest of his game is a work in progress though. Intensity in all three zones and away from the puck needs to be more consistent. Should be using his speed more to be a forechecker and to help get pucks out of his own end, but can get caught floating or watching the play when it's not on his stick. Can also be turnover prone in the offensive zone as tunnel vision gets a hold of him. Coming out of minor midget, he was billed as a terrific boards player, but that's something we haven't seen much of at the OHL level. He's listed at 170lbs right now, which is quite slight. If he can really work to add some muscle and improve his play away from the puck, he could be a real asset, dare I even say a star, in this league. Hopefully the new Petes coach can light a fire under him even further. 

17. Mitchell Hoelscher - Forward - Ottawa 67's
First 37 games of the season: 2 goals and 6 assists. Final 30 games: 8 goals and 12 assists. That's a pretty significant jump in production and helps to explain why Hoelscher was one of the greater risers among OHL'ers in this year's draft rankings. But even when he wasn't hitting the score sheet at the start of the year, he was still a noticeable player (check out my description of him in my midseason rankings). Brought energy in all three zones, tenaciousness on the penalty kill, and a real effectiveness on the backcheck and in the defensive end. As he was given more responsibility as the 2nd line center later in the year, we really started to see him come out of his shell. Confidence with the puck improved ten fold and we started to see the type of offensive potential that he possesses. Not only is his hockey sense excellent, but he has good hands too. We also saw him play with a lot more intensity; dare I say almost pest like. This kid has everything and is such a well rounded player. He's just so slight right now. Strength is an issue. But that's going to improve and as it does, just how much better can this guy get? Ottawa is going to be crazy good (likely) over the next two seasons and Hoelscher will be a critical component. Watching him later in the season, sometimes Hoelscher reminded me of the way Morgan Frost looked last year. The only difference is that Frost had a little more experienced talent to play with on a much better team.

18. Blade Jenkins - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Jenkins is a good sized forward who came over from the U.S. Development Program this summer. He started the year at center, but struggled mightily there. After moving to the wing, his game improved drastically and he became one of Saginaw's most reliable offensive players. Jenkins definitely plays a power game. Aggressive in trying to take the puck to the net and the vast majority of his goals are scored within a few feet of the net. Jenkins is great at putting defenders on his back and using his size to protect the puck. His skating will need to continue to be upgraded, but it is also way better than it was advertised to be before he came over. Physically, Jenkins flashes an ability to dominate down low and at times really looks to punish opposing defenders in the corners and attack on the forecheck. But that part of his game will need to become more consistent. Jenkins will also need to continue to improve his play in all three zones, learning to use his size to his advantage as a defensive player. At this point, I see Jenkins as a very solid complimentary piece on a scoring line who can play that power game to open up space for his linemates, but is also skilled enough and has good enough hands to finish off chances in tight. 

19. Kody Clark - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Power forward prospect similar to Blade Jenkins in Saginaw. The son of former Leafs' great Wendel Clark, Kody is terrific in puck possession. He's so good at working the cycle and keeping plays alive along the wall. Clark is also a sneaky quick and is able to catch defenders flat footed off the rush as he drives wide to create scoring chances. Like Jenkins, his physical game is inconsistent, but he is the better two-way player. A part of Ottawa's PK unit and does a good job on the backcheck using his size to separate attackers from the puck. There are a few things that have me questioning his offensive upside though. Is able to extend possession quite well, but seems to have trouble finding linemates to create scoring chances. Yes, it works to wear down defenders, but quite often his zone time results in a turnover, rather than a scoring chance. I think we also need to talk about the fact that he had only 2 goals in the final 25 games of the season (including the playoffs). And they came in the same game. That said, I do like Clark and I think he was one of the draft prospects who improved the most from 2016/17 to 2017/18. The progression he has shown is great and I love his North/South, attacking game. I'm just not sure about his playmaking ability and overall potential.

20. Riley Damiani - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Even though I have him rated 20th, without question Damiani is one of my favourite players from this draft crop. This is a kid that is willing to go through a wall for his team. He's most definitely one of the best penalty killers in the age group. Has a great few first steps which makes him so quick to loose pucks. And while he may not be big, his anticipation and hockey sense is through the roof and it allows him to be one step ahead of his opponents. Offensively, his game is better than the stats would indicate. Only 37 points this year, but that was largely from the 3rd line on a deep Kitchener team. In the playoffs, he really stepped up his game too and was one of Kitchener's most reliable and important contributors. Again, it all comes down to his hockey sense and ability to exploit gaps in opposing defenses. That quick burst of speed allows him to overcome his size disadvantages and be a major factor on the forecheck and along the wall. As Damiani gains strength, he'll be able to prolong possession greater than he currently does and that will ultimately make him a very dangerous offensive player. He's also got a sneaky good wrist shot that has a quick release. In terms of being an NHL draft pick, I think there are a few things that will go against him. Firstly, I don't know what position he ends up playing at the next level. His faceoff ability greatly needs to improve and I think his skill set might be better suited for the wing. Secondly, I think while his first few steps are good, his top speed will need to improve to make him more dangerous off the rush. And thirdly, I do wonder what the overall ceiling is. Is he more than a 3rd line player at the NHL level? Lots of question marks. But also tons to love. Just a player you can tell coaches are going to love too. Probably goes lower in the NHL draft than I have him, but he's a gamer.

21. Giovanni Vallati - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
Back to back Kitchener Rangers listed. Vallati had an interesting year. Coming into the season, I felt like he could be a potential first round draft pick. Great size and mobility on the blueline. The modern shutdown defender who can use his mobility and smarts to get the transition game going and keep teams from maintaining pressure in their team's end. But it started rocky. Vallati had an awful Hlinka camp in the summer and that carried into the start of the regular season where he also struggled. Seemed to me like he was trying to do too much offensively and was trying to show that he could be a prime time puck mover. Unfortunately, it made him turnover prone and took away from his effectiveness as a defensive stalwart. But every month the season progressed, he seemed to get his game further on track. Yes, that meant playing a much safer offensive game. But it also transformed him back into a shutdown defender that the Rangers could rely on, and they did that late in the year with Connor Hall injured again. Because of his fantastic mobility, he is able to defend off the rush so well. And with that 6'2 frame, it makes him so hard to get around because of that reach. His play in traffic will need to continue to improve, increasing that intensity level a little bit. But the potential is there for him to develop into an ME Vlasic kind of defender at the next level. I guess the real question is, will the offensive side of his game end up developing? With that mobility and size, it's tantalizing to think about what he could be capable of as he learns to pick his spots better. Potential two-way defender with at least a strong likelihood of playing in the NHL in some capacity.

22. Merrick Rippon - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Similar kind of player to Vallati, at least in terms of projectability and that's why they're back to back on this list. Vallati is the better skater, but Rippon is the more physical player. That's definitely a major strength of Rippon's. This guy hits hard. Routinely catches opposing forwards cutting across the blueline and loves finishing his checks when opponents try to get through him off the rush. He'll angle you off and put you through the boards. His mobility is definitely solid too, at least in terms of lateral and backwards agility. His forward stride may not be as powerful and may limit his offensive potential. But defensively, this guy could be a rock. Really felt like his decision making with the puck improved over the course of the season; turnovers in the defensive end became less and less of an issue. I don't really think he'll ever be a huge contributor offensively, but his work in his own end will be very valuable potentially.

23. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev - Forward - Peterborough Petes
SDA is definitely one of the more intriguing players available from the OHL this year. Not the biggest (5'10, 170lbs), but in terms of playmaking ability and skill with the puck, Der-Arguchintsev is right near the top. This guy creates so much time and space for himself by keeping the puck on a string, spinning off checks along the wall and prolonging zone time. Strength is definitely an issue, but he's also the youngest player eligible this year (Sept. 15 birthday) and it's scary to think about how good he could be offensively once his conditioning improves. Those 39 assists on a poor Peterborough team really stand out as a positive. Another thing holding him back is a lack of game breaking speed. He's not slow, but without question, SDA relies on his hands and skill to create elusiveness rather than his feet. It explains why he's not more of a factor creating off the rush. If that speed improves, it would really add that dynamic ability to his game. And would help him become a little more effective cutting through the middle of the ice. Der-Arguchintsev also needs to get better in the defensive end, especially if he wants to stay down the middle. The effort isn't always there on the backcheck and he lacks the strength to consistently win battles along the wall. But I reiterate, this is one of the youngest players available and he has a very high ceiling if everything gets put together. It's the type of pick you make in the 3rd or 4th round and perhaps look like a genius.

24. Curtis Douglas - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
With the speed the game is played at today, it's not too often you see a 6'8 forward finding a ton of success. Defenders? Absolutely. But forwards? Quite rare. But Douglas breaks the mold. He's been one of the league's bigger surprises this year and his emergence allowed the Barrie Colts to parlay him into Overager of the Year and Eddie Powers winner Aaron Luchuk. As you may have guessed, Douglas is at his best below the hash marks. Is great near the crease where his hands are a lot quicker than you might guess. Great at spinning off checks and using his size to get inside position. His effectiveness as a net presence likely went into Windsor's decision to move him to the wing for the second half of the year (his poor faceoff percentage likely weighed in on that decision too). I actually think his vision is underrated and a big part of what makes Douglas a successful player. Works that cycle but is able to peel off the wall and recognize when a linemate has found an opening. As you may have guessed, the skating is a work in progress. It limits his effectiveness as a three zone player, even if he plays with the type of physicality and grit you like to see. Douglas is going to be a huge (pun intended) part of Windsor's solid young core moving forward and I think it's exciting to think about where his game could be in a couple years. Size, strength, and skill. And I think he can stay down the middle too. A guy you'll have to be patient with, but one who could pay off in the long run.

25. Nico Gross - Defense - Oshawa Generals
A tough guy for me to rank because I'm admittedly lower on him than some of my scouting counterparts. I absolutely recognize the fact that the things he does well could potentially translate extremely well to the NHL level. I love the physical edge that he plays with in the defensive end, especially with him being average sized at 6'1. He absolutely loves stepping up on attacking forwards at the blueline and his ability to disrupt zone entries with his skating ability and aggressiveness is impressive. He also flashes great skill as a potential puck rusher who has the ability to go end to end and whose impressive mobility helps him gain the opposition's blueline. But at the end of the day, offensive production is important and his 14 points were only 3 more than William Ennis, who's a stay at home draft eligible teammate. Lots of flash, but how many prime time scoring chances are really created? Does that point to an inability to create through good vision? Just the same, he can be turnover prone in the defensive end (he struggled mightily at the U18's with this), which could be linked similarly to his issues at creating once he gains the zone. Defensively, he's extremely raw. The physicality and mobility are pluses, but he has a tendency to chase the play and can get himself out of position rather easily. So why do I still have Gross at #25? Because I like the raw skill set. As I said, there are definitely things to like. But I would feel a lot more comfortable taking a chance on him in the mid rounds and not the early ones where some scouting agencies seem to have him.

26. Caleb Everett - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Everett is a very intriguing blueline prospect for me. He really stood out positively in early season viewings. First year player coming out of the Detroit Compuware midget program, he looked like a potential top 3 round candidate the opening months. Good size. Showed well at both ends. Pretty solid overall mobility. Showed potential as a powerplay QB. But the second half, he just wasn't as visible. I think a lot of that may have come from the coaching staff, asking him to play more of a defensive role and having him limit the amount of risks he took. Everett was actually billed as a potential shut down defender coming into this year, so it does make sense to groom him for that role. For as vanilla as he did look in the second half, there was definitely an uptick in the physicality department, which is a plus. Can we completely ignore the 4 points in the final 37 games (including playoffs) though? I guess what I'm getting at is I don't think we truly know what Everett will turn into at this point. I think there is potential at both ends and there are a lot of different paths that his development could take. For that reason, he's one of my favourite "sleepers" for the mid rounds this year. I think this guy could become the defensive leader and workhorse of one of the stronger OHL teams in the league in a few years.

27. Carter Robertson - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Robertson is a defender I view very similarly to Everett and thus why I have them ranked side by side. And like Everett, Robertson is one of my favourite mid round sleepers for this year. I see so much potential in his ability to develop into a solid two-way defender. He's very raw and there's a chance that he's not able to put it all together. But if he does, he's going to be one of those types that makes us say "how did this guy go so late in 2018?" Robertson has good size at 6'2 and solid mobility. He shows glimpses of being a great puck rusher who can use his size and skating ability to gain the offensive zone with ease. But there seems to be a hesitation to extend his rushes at times and that lack of confidence or indecisiveness can lead to turnovers in the defensive end and neutral zone. And while he is 6'2, he still looks quite slight on the ice and can struggle physically at times. That hurts his ability in the defensive end, even though I think he has very good defensive instincts and positioning. I also think Robertson possesses a good point shot and has the potential to be a good powerplay QB. But again, confidence in it needs to grow and I'd love to see him take more chances to jump up into the rush or sneak back door to play down low. All things be told, Robertson is the type of kid who has a great toolbox, but is still figuring out how to use all the tools. The 67's are going to be a very, very good team in the coming years and Robertson has a chance to be a big part of that. Will be very interesting to see him develop over that time.

28. Billy Moskal - Forward - London Knights 
Like most of London's young players, Moskal's 2nd half was a lot different than his first half; a tale of two seasons. 23 points in the final 34 games of the season (excluding playoffs) is a solid way to end the year. Moskal is a very well rounded player, a pesky center who is willing to do the little things on a scoring line to make his linemates better. Controls play well below the hash marks and has very good vision coming off the wall. Shows good playmaking ability off the rush too, keeping up with linemate Liam Foudy. Moskal profiles as a potentially excellent defensive player too. Great on the faceoff dot and plays with a high intensity level. He will only become more effective away from the puck as he gets stronger. He's definitely going to need to improve his shot to become a more effective offensive player. But I like his potential as a two-way center as he gets stronger, quicker, and further gains confidence. Reminds me a lot of the way Chris Tierney looked in his draft season in London.

29. Nathan Dunkley - Forward - London Knights
May shock some to see Dunkley rated below Moskal on my list, since most seem to prefer Dunkley among Knights' prospects this year. In all honesty, I think I prefer Moskal's raw potential, but that's not to take away from Dunkley's abilities as a player. He's a solid prospect in his own right. He was a perfect compliment to Foudy and Moskal on that "kid" line that London assembled in the second half. He opens up space for his linemates really well because of his physicality and his ability to work the wall and play down low. Really gets after it on the forecheck and despite being under 6'0, he uses a strong lower body to shield the puck and work the cycle to wear down defenses until holes open up. The physical component is something that I expect will continue to grow as he gains strength and I would suspect that by the time he graduates, he'll be one of the more physically feared forwards in the OHL. This will help him to become a solid defensive player as he already possesses terrific understanding of how to play without the puck in all three zones. Dunkley is consistently the first forward back in the defensive end. Ultimately, I guess the thing I'm unsure of is Dunkley's high end offensive potential. Does a lot of things well in the offensive end (vision, shot, puck protection), but none of those would be truly above average IMO. I also think his skating is tough to evaluate. Sometimes it looks like he's coasting when he could be letting loose. Seems to prefer playing the game at a slower pace and isn't nearly as effective operating off the rush. Being a sub 6'0 player, I'd like to see him upgrade that skating ability or at least learn to play the game at a higher tempo to change pace. I see Dunkley being a similar prospect to Travis Barron in Ottawa. Lots of things to like as a potential on ice leader and energy player, but probably profiles as a 3rd/4th liner at the next level.

30. Jacob Ingham - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
Such a tough year for Ingham. Came into the year as potentially the top available goaltender, but ends the year as someone who may not be one of the first 10 goaltenders drafted. It all started when he was cut from the Hlinka team this summer, and spiraled into a nightmare season with the Steelheads that saw him lose his grip on the starting job. After posting an .880 save percentage, Ingham was also passed over for a spot on the U18 team. This is a 6'3 kid who is also extremely athletic. But his confidence really seemed to be crushed all season long and helps to explain how he managed to look so poor this year after such a strong rookie season. From what I've seen, Ingham really struggled with his positioning, in particular, this year. Lots of bad goals from not being in the right position that saw him get beat from bad angles. Also a lot of goals that saw him get beat from going down too early and being too aggressive, getting himself caught out of position. He'll need to refine his movements and figure out a way to use his athleticism without over-committing. Again, Ingham has everything you look for in an NHL goaltender. And he has shown before that he can be an elite goaltender in this league. Way too early to give up on him and hopefully the summer break can allow him the mental rest he needs to refocus his game. 

1 comment:

Peter Groeneveld said...

Thing with Dudas is that he has great endurance too. Little known fact is that in grade 9 he placed 2nd in the 1500m and 4th in the 3000m at ofsaa. Also finished 10th at ofsaa cross country.