Like Edmonton before them, the Florida Panthers have a nice group of prospects playing in the OHL.
1. Owen Tippett - Mississauga Steelheads
Certainly a busy year for Tippett; a year that saw him start the season with Florida (for a 7 game trial), be returned to Mississauga, and finish the year with Springfield of the AHL. Back in the OHL, he managed to improve his points per game average to 1.47, which was just inside the top 10 of the league. Developmentally, I think it was a pretty good year for Tippett. Thought his defensive game and effort in all three zones was definitely improved. The Steelheads even used Tippett on the penalty kill fairly regularly, where he can use his speed to apply pressure on the forecheck, and he's really improved his play and engagement level along the wall. There's still continued room for improvement, but no question Tippett has made strides to be a more complete player in nearly every year in the league. Of course, his bread and butter is still his shot and release, which is among the best in the OHL. He has no conscience when it comes to shooting; he'll fire it from anywhere. He is definitely learning to use his teammates better too, committing less turnovers off the rush and showing better vision and identification of openings. I think he'll still need to be more aggressive in driving the net and looking to find those "easier" scoring chances, and his play below the hash marks; being able to work the cycle and create scoring chances from it, will still need to be improved before he turns pro. Next year, it'll be the NHL or OHL again for Tippett. Considering he earned a look last year, it's safe to assume that he could again in 2018/19. However, the Panthers brought in Mike Hoffman and their top 6 looks pretty set. They also have a fair amount of depth for their bottom six. Is there actually room? Wouldn't surprise me either way. But another year in the OHL wouldn't hurt and would allow Tippett to continue to round out his game. Would have to think he would be bet to make the Canadian WJC team too. And if Mississauga chooses to rebuild, he'd be one of the biggest trade targets in the OHL this year. Back in the OHL, I'd love to see him inch closer to that goal per game mark, like a 45 in 55 kind of year.
2. Serron Noel - Oshawa Generals
Getting Noel in the 2nd round this year was great for the Panthers as pretty much everyone expected him to go in the first because of his size and raw offensive abilities. The 6'5 winger had a breakout draft season that saw him triple his goal production and become a top 6 player for the Generals. One of Noel's biggest strengths is his skating ability, which is crazy considering his size. He is a very explosive skater North/South and he is a very effective player off the rush because of his size and speed combination. Also really like how Noel tracks the play without the puck in the offensive end. His hockey sense will allow him to be a very consistent offensive contributor once everything else comes into place. Really want to see him start to use his size consistently in all three zones, especially asserting himself physically in the offensive zone. He can be very good in puck protection along the wall, but too often he seems content to be a passenger. And while his skating is great north/south, working on his edge work, stops/starts, would help him to be a bit more illusive because at times he can be a little bambi-ish. Noel will return to Oshawa where he'll be part of a Generals club that could challenge for the Eastern Conference title. I think he's a 35 goal scorer and a point per game player next year.
3. Riley Stillman - Hamilton Bulldogs
Tale of two seasons for Stillman. He started off the year so poorly in Oshawa that I think many were beginning to right him off as a prospect and a long shot to sign with Florida. He was really struggling with his decision making with the puck in Oshawa and had become extremely turnover prone. His confidence looked shot. But after a trade to Hamilton, his game nearly immediately found itself again. In fact, I would say that he was playing the best of his OHL career. In Hamilton's run to the Memorial Cup, I would actually go as far as to say that he was the best defender in the OHL playoffs this year. He really elevated his game. In Hamilton, we saw the return of his confidence as a puck carrier and the type of defender who could use his mobility to jump up in the play to create scoring chances. Looked the most confident working the point and walking the line in Hamilton too. Defensively, he's a very effective player. Stillman relishes in the opportunity to lower the boom on incoming forwards. Without a doubt, he's one of the OHL's most physical players from the neutral zone to blueline. But he really improved his defensive zone play below the hash marks, chasing the play less, winning more battles in the corners and really making himself one of the OHL's elite in the defensive zone. As he turns pro next year, it will be interesting to see how Stillman's two-way game translates. Springfield has several vets slated to play on the back-end in the AHL, which likely pushes Stillman to a third pairing role to start. While I would expect modest production next year, I think eventually we see him settling into a Johnny Oduya type of role in the NHL if he develops properly.
4. Jonathan Ang - Sarnia Sting
Speed, speed, and more speed. Ang plays the game with relentless energy. He is one of the OHL's elite skaters and he uses that speed to be a disruptive force on the ice. His play away from the puck and his effectiveness as a two-way player really improved over the course of his OHL career. He's a very effective player on the penalty kill because of his speed, and has really upped his physical intensity level to the point where I would classify him as a pest and a very effective forechecker. Offensively, I'm not sure his game really developed to the point that we all thought it would. His vision in the offensive end and his shot and goal scoring ability remain average. He can still be forced into turnovers and is best when he keeps the game simple, using his speed to push the pace and open up holes. Even though he has played some center in the OHL, I feel his pro future is on the wing because of this. He'll turn pro next year and should be a bottom six player in the AHL. He'll need to gain the confidence to play physically and play with energy as that will be his key to becoming an NHL player IMO, as I'm not sure I see someone with top 6 scoring line potential. He should be a 25+ point guy if he gets regular playing time, with the chance to slowly increase that.