1. Givani Smith - Kitchener Rangers
Essentially a tale of two seasons for Smith in his final OHL year. The regular season saw him post his lowest point per game average since his rookie OHL season. A lot of that also had to do with an extremely slow start thanks to a high ankle sprain that delayed the beginning of his year until mid November. But in the playoffs for Kitchener (after a midseason trade), Smith really elevated his game and was one of the key contributors in a run to the Western Conference finals. In the playoffs, we saw the return of the Smith who could control possession in the offensive zone and who was aggressive in wanting the puck on his stick to drive the net.; creating scoring chances with his size and skill. For to much of this season, he seemed to be a passenger, so it was very encouraging to see him step up in the playoffs when he was needed most. One thing that I will applaud Smith for this year was reigning in his antics on the ice. Played with a lot more composure physically, limiting the bad penalties and using his physicality for the positive. At this point, I don't see Smith developing into a top 6 player for the Wings; although I'm not sure that was ever a serious expectation. His vision and hockey sense in the offensive zone are only average, and his skating ability never really developed to the point of being an asset. But, Smith is the type of player who can disrupt physically, go hard to the net, and cash in, in tight. As he turns pro next year, one of the main focuses for him will be improving his play through all three zones. Becoming a better defensive player will be required if he wants to play that 3rd/4th line role for the Wings in the future. In the AHL next year, I'd probably expect him to be somewhere between 10-15 goals as a rookie.
2. Alec Regula - London Knights
Really liked this pick up by the Wings this year in the 3rd round. Regula is a player that I've written a lot about on this site and is a player I believe in moving forward. At 6'4, his reach is a major asset in the defensive end, especially when you consider how mobile he is. Shows the potential to develop into a terrific player in his own end as he gets stronger and gains experience. Offensively, his mobility and puck carrying ability are potential pluses. It's a matter of confidence in leading the rush and picking his spots. Bottom line, this is a kid coming off of his first OHL season, who has already improved a ton. As he gains experience, expect his decision making to improve, especially under the tutelage of the London Knights coaching staff. So what can we expect next year? The Knights should be a contender in the Western Conference again. The addition of Adam Boqvist potentially cuts into Regula's ice time, but only if Evan Bouchard returns. Either way, he's a top 3 defender who will see secondary time on the powerplay and penalty kill and should improve his production. I would expect Regula to be in the 35+ point range next year.
3. Kaden Fulcher - Hamilton Bulldogs
A savvy signing by the Wings after last year's training camp; Fulcher was one of the better goaltenders in the OHL this year. The stat line isn't really that sexy, but you need to look at the bigger picture. Fulcher led the Bulldogs to the top of the Eastern Conference and to the Memorial Cup this year. At 6'3, he's extremely athletic and covers a lot of ground in the crease because of his agility. Post to post, he's extremely quick. His consistency from game to game really improved this year and he could be relied upon to make the big saves when needed. Unfortunately, his athleticism does make him slightly prone to being out of position, as he over commits and can go down a bit early. His rebound control will need work at the pro level too. The question for the Wings is, what to do with Fulcher next year? With Rybar and Sateri already signed for the AHL, Fulcher would be destined for the ECHL where he could start and get accustomed to the speed of the pro game. Or, like Carolina did with Jeremy Helvig this year (which was extremely beneficial), they could send Fulcher back to the OHL for his overage year. Quite frankly, I'd like to see Fulcher back in the OHL, but it's not my choice.
4. Zach Gallant - Peterborough Petes
A very tough year for Gallant that saw him take a step backwards developmentally. The Peterborough Petes were not a very good team this year and Gallant struggled when relied upon to be a leader of the team's secondary scoring unit. He remains a very physical player who can excel as a forechecker, penalty killer, and at the face-off dot. But offensively, it's safe to say that the Wings want to see more from him. One of the big things for him will be continuing to improve his skating, especially those first few steps. Needs to add that explosive element to his game in order to take advantage of his physical gifts, like his ability to work the boards and create coming off the wall. Improving his shot and his confidence in using it is also a must. Bottom line, he needs to take the bull by the horns in the offensive end and create more scoring chances, for him and his linemates (especially as a center). Next year, Gallant will be one of Peterborough's top 6 centers and he should get significant time on special teams. They will need him to really take a step forward if they want to get back to the playoffs. And he's likely playing for a contract from the Wings. In order to earn one, he'll likely need to take the same steps forward that Travis Barron did for Ottawa this year, inching close to the point per game mark, while maintaining his intensity level.
5. Brady Gilmour - Saginaw Spirit
Gilmour is another Wings' prospect who had a tough year. An upper body injury ended his season in January, a season that saw his offensive numbers take a dive. I did find that Gilmour's skating ability looked much improved this year. He brings so much energy and the improvements to his stride really helped him to be a more effective player away from the puck. Offensively, his play on the puck still needs work. Being able to control the puck at top speed and create off the rush is something that would really help his game. Being able to drive play down the middle and be the type who can gain the blueline and push the pace. He seems to prefer being the guy who gets after it on the forecheck and tries to work the boards to open up lanes. But his strength along the boards does not allow him to win those battles consistency and create from it. Next year, Saginaw will need him to be an offensive leader as they look to improve heavily. The Wings will also be watching Gilmour closely to see if he deserves a contract. Like Gallant, Gilmour will likely need to be around that point per game mark, with offensive production to match his energy and effort, in order to be signed.
6. Reilly Webb - Saginaw Spirit
The major positive for Webb this year was staying healthy after a couple injury plagued seasons. It's crazy to think that coming into the year, Webb had only 20 games of OHL experience under his belt. So health had to be the number one focus. Developmentally, it's hard to say if we saw improvement, only because we didn't have a ton to base that off of. So instead, let's just examine what we saw this past season. Webb's size and mobility can be a big asset defensively. He's 6'3, but he's a very capable mover. He's primarily a stick on puck defender who tries to stay ahead of attackers, angling them off and using his stick to keep them to the outside. But as a stay at home defensive prospect, we need to see increased intensity in the defensive end. Needs to win way more battles along the wall and be a tougher guy to match up against. Offensively, there isn't a ton to talk about. The confidence with the puck is not present currently and he tends to differ to his partner or simply chip it out. Working on his exit pass and his confidence in making decisions with the puck is huge for his development. He has that mobility, but it's not put to use in an offensive sense. Realistically, he will return to Saginaw next year and is probably a third pairing defender again for a team that has major playoff aspirations. In order to earn a contract from the Wings, Webb needs to become more assertive in the defensive end and improve his play with the puck.
7. Cole Fraser - Peterborough Petes
A throwback defender, Fraser relies on physicality and determination to be a reliable player in the defensive end. He'll block shots, push people around in front of the net, drop the mitts, and impose his will in the corners. The rest of his game does remain a work in progress though. As a puck carrier, he's more advanced than Webb, but his decision making can come into question. His skating ability is also still a bit rough. Becoming more agile would help him to stay with forwards off the rush more effectively. He can have difficulty in coverage too for the same reason. Ultimately, Fraser does look like a long shot to be signed by Detroit at this point. In Peterborough, he probably returns to anchor their second or third pairing and will be a big part of their penalty kill unit. I could also see the Petes moving him prior to the start of the season. If Fraser can improve his skating, his play with the puck and overall effectiveness in the defensive end, he could surprise and earn a contract with Detroit.