The New Jersey Devils are up next.
1. Michael McLeod - New Jersey Devils
McLeod got a late start to the year thanks a torn meniscus suffered in a preseason game for the Devils. He also missed time because he helped Canada win gold at the WJC's through December/January. In total McLeod only suited up for 38 regular season games (and 6 playoff games) this season. During this time we saw McLeod's point per game average drop from 1.28 to 1.16, but I think that had more to do with the lack of a supporting cast in Mississauga. McLeod's game still revolves around his ability to skate and press on the attack. He is an aggressive player, with and without the puck, and someone who can be relied upon to win battles along the wall and play in all situations. His goal scoring ability never really became a major strong suit of his in the OHL as his shot and scoring instincts remain only average. Truth be told, it was probably a status quo year for his development, which is not necessarily a bad thing given the injury and the fact that he had already taken such a nice step forward the year prior. That said, I think what we see is what we're going to get with McLeod. I see his development path turning him into a similar player to a guy like Andrew Cogliano in Anaheim. A very good 3rd line center who can move up in the line-up if needed, put up 40ish points a year, and be an elite penalty killer. These are the types of guys every team needs if they want to win in the playoffs and McLeod will be a valuable piece to a strong, up and coming Devils team. I see him splitting time between the AHL and the NHL this year, with him being a full time NHL'er by season's end.
2. Marian Studenic - Hamilton Bulldogs
A solid year developmentally for Studenic as he was a big part of a Bulldogs team that advanced all the way to the Memorial Cup. A 2nd/3rd line winger for Hamilton, Studenic was employed as a regular penalty killer and on the secondary powerplay unit. His best asset is his skating ability and his success rate at gaining the offensive zone. He really pushes the pace and jump started Hamilton's offense with his ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone and establish time of possession in the offensive end. His puck carrying ability is excellent and he has terrific edgework which allows him to possess that slippery quality. We saw huge growth in his game away from the puck this year too, being able to use his speed on the forecheck or to hustle back to the defensive end to break up a play. He loves to play the game at a high pace. His goal scoring ability is still only average. He's not an aggressive attacker in that regard. And I'm not sure he'll be an extremely effective player below the hash marks at the NHL (or AHL level). But he could be a nice change of pace, energy winger at the next level who can forecheck, make plays in the neutral zone and put pressure on opposing defenses by backing them up. He'll turn pro next season but I would imagine that he'll be eased into the AHL line-up as a 3rd/4th liner and penalty killer. A 10/10 rookie season with consistent playing time would be a success IMO, and a reasonable projection.
3. Mitchell Hoelscher - Ottawa 67's
Devils fans will likely have to be patient with this young forward, but it could pay off in the long run. Hoelscher is a highly intelligent, two-way center who is just scratching the surface of what he is capable of. Started the year off very slowly offensively, but was still making an impact on the penalty kill and as a strong defensive player. As he was given more responsibility offensively, his offensive game really grew as we saw the type of vision and hockey sense he possesses in the offensive end. He is a terrific playmaker. But Hoelscher is very physically immmature and needs to gain strength. In the offensive end, he can be muscled off the puck and is not yet able to consistently play through traffic. He could also stand to become a more explosive skater to give him more separation off the rush. This would also help him to be a dominant force in his own end and on the penalty kill. For the next two seasons, I expect the 67's to be among the best in the Eastern Conference. This year, Hoelscher will likely be the team's 3rd line center, where I would expect him to be around the 20/30 mark. The big jump could come in his Draft +2 year, where I could conceivably see him as a 30/50 guy and one of the OHL's elite two-way centers. This guy is a real wild card to watch out for.