The Minnesota Wild are today's feature.
1. Dmitry Sokolov - Barrie Colts
Really good year for Sokolov as he hit the 50 goal mark for the first time in his OHL career; tying Aaron Luchuk as the leading goal scorer in the league. We all know what Sokolov can do in terms of putting the puck in the net. His shot is deadly. But it was his playmaking ability and vision that improved the most this year. Making much quicker decisions with the puck, keeping defenders honest and preventing them from playing just his shot. They had to respect his ability to work the give and go, and his ability to drive the net to create scoring chances. His skating continues to improve, to the point where I would say it's no longer a major issue. He'll never be confused with Connor McDavid, but he's worked hard to improve his skating and conditioning. This is a big time offensive player. After the midseason trade to Barrie, Sokolov scored at a goal per game clip and was also solid in the playoffs for the Colts; impressive feats. This is a player who is most definitely ready for the next challenge in the AHL next year. He'll need to continue to improve his play without the puck and he'll need to adjust to the speed of the pro game. But his shot and goal scoring instincts should play relatively immediately. I think he can be a 25 goal scorer at the AHL level next year.
2. Ivan Lodnia - Erie Oters
Tough year for Lodnia given what the Otters went through as a rebuilding team. As the focal point to the team's offense, Lodnia struggled big time following the Taylor Raddysh deal. From January 14th on, this was Lodnia's stat line: 20 games, 3 goals, 6 assists. During this time period, we also saw him shift back from center to the wing. Lodnia remains a very versatile player who can play in any situation, and who can line up at any forward position. He brings a high energy level without the puck and has become a very good penalty killer. Offensively, there was definitely a level of frustration present in his game later in the year. On the wing, without the puck on his stick, he still lacks the strength to be a lethal player in traffic. With the puck, he can use his good mobility to prolong possession; he has that elusiveness to him. But getting to those scoring areas, winning consistent battles along the wall and avoiding turnovers off the rush are areas of focus. As I said last year, would love to see him upgrade his explosiveness too. Needs that to create more separation. He'll return to Erie next year, where he'll be a go to offensive player. Whether he finishes the year in Erie remains to be seen (if they continue their rebuild which I expect they will). Would love to see him in that 80 point range next year, for whatever team he ends up playing for.
3. Damien Giroux - Saginaw Spirit
Giroux is kind of a similar player to Lodnia in that he's an average sized offensive forward who plays with his heart on his sleeve. Giroux was a go to player for the Spirit this year and is definitely future captain material. Like Lodnia, Giroux plays in all situations and is a very intelligent player in all three zones. Forces a lot of turnovers in the neutral zone with great positioning and an active stick. Giroux's big drawback right now is his skating. That part of his game needs a major upgrade in order for him to take that next step forward as an elite offensive player. And again, like Lodnia, Giroux needs to be more aggressive attacking the middle of the ice and playing through traffic. I know people in the league applaud this kid's work ethic and mentality and because of that, he's a good bet to improve. Saginaw aims to be a contender in the Western Conference next year, and Giroux should be a point per game player.
4. Jacob Golden - London Knights
With the Knights retooling and dealing off veterans, Golden was given the opportunity to log more minutes in his first full OHL season (after playing sparingly in his rookie season). His skating ability remains his best asset as he glides around the ice with ease. The rest of his game remains a major work in progress. Decision making with the puck is a major issue at this point. He can be very turnover prone in his own end and in the neutral zone. When pressured by the forecheck, he can be a frustrating player to watch. Defensively, he needs to play with a little more bravado. Winning loose puck battles and tying up larger forwards near the crease are areas that lack consistency. I think it's important to remember that Golden is coming off his first true season in the OHL though. The London coaching staff has a great track record working with defenders and he'll return to the OHL for another year in 2018/19. Under their tutelage, I expect his game to grow. I'm not entirely sure that he's a serious NHL prospect, but let's see if he can gain some confidence heading into next season. To earn a contract from the Wild, Golden will likely need to be in the 40+ point range (a massive jump) and really improve his play in his own end.