The Big Apple!
1. Joey Keane - Barrie Colts
Huge fan of this young defenseman and he was someone that I hyped big time on social media all season long. Easily one of the most improved players this year, emerging as one of the candidates for the Max Kaminsky trophy and one of the OHL's elite two-way defenders. Hard to believe that it was only his second year in the OHL and that he's only recently 19. First thing you notice about Keane is his skating ability. His stride is effortless and he generates a ton of power to make him a very noticeable and effective leader of the rush. He's a hard guy to pin in his own end. Keane is also one of the better defensive defenders in the OHL, as he uses his mobility in combination with some tenacity to be a tough player to beat one on one. He was a +45 this year, 13 points better than any other Colts player and 18 points better than any other Colts defender. I'm super excited to see how he can continue to elevate his game next year. I'm looking for his ability to run the point on the powerplay to improve. Want to see him become more aggressive offensively, looking to get in better shooting position and to use his solid point shot more when quarterbacking. Barrie could still be a solid team next year (especially if they can get Zhukov and/or Pekar to report) and I think Keane is a 55+ point player and a Max Kaminsky candidate yet again. I think he's a sneaky candidate for a spot on the U.S. blueline at the WJC's too. His mobility would play very well in International competition.
2. Sean Day - Kingston Frontenacs
I thought Day had a very good final OHL season, split between Windsor and Kingston. I don't think I have to tell you that his mobility is a major asset. This guy gets up ice so quickly and is extremely valuable in starting the breakout. That said, he's never really developed into the type who is super aggressive offensively. While he will take chances with the puck to try to create scoring chances, he's not one to pinch in without the puck or try to jump up in the play as a 3rd or 4th man in. He plays a relatively cautious game in this regard. And he's never really developed into a terrific powerplay QB. With his mobility, he should be able to create a lot of lanes, but he's not very aggressive in looking to shoot the puck. But his play with the puck in his own zone has improved over his OHL career as he has really cut down on the turnovers. Defensively, you'd like him to play a little more physical given his size, but he's turned himself into a pretty effective defensive player at the OHL level. Again, his mobility is a big asset here. Tough guy to get around off the rush because he moves so well and he has a long reach. But his reads have improved when the game slows down and he's a much more willing combatant near the crease and in the corners. All of that being said, I'm very curious to see how his game translates at the AHL level next year. Might seem silly to say given how well he moves, but I think there might be an adjustment period in terms of decision making and the pace of play. Having to make quicker decisions with the puck and increase his physical intensity further could make for a steep learning curve. I've said all along that I could see Day developing into more of a stay at home defender at the NHL level and I stick to that. I think he'll be around the 20 point mark as an AHL rookie, with a stronger 2nd half than 1st.
3. Tim Gettinger - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Big winger with an interesting skill set who took another step forward this past season, reaching the point per game mark for the first time. He kind of glides around the ice, or at least it looks that way given his 6'6 frame. He covers a lot of ice pretty efficiently. That has really allowed him to be an effective player without the puck. Wins a lot of battles to loose pucks and has become a very difficult player to separate from the puck because he protects it well and he moves well. Gettinger definitely was one of the OHL's elite penalty killers this season. One of the things I really highlighted last year was a lack of physicality given his size, but I think we saw improvements in that. This was definitely the most physical we had seen Gettinger as he attacked the net and looked to disrupt on the forecheck and in the neutral zone. I guess my question is, does Gettinger have the vision and hockey sense to be a top 6 forward in the NHL? We may get a good indication of that next year when he turns pro as I think he is physically ready for the pro level. I could see him being a 15/15 guy in a 3rd line role, but if he produces more, it could mean that there is hope for him to be a 2nd line power forward.
4. Nico Gross - Oshawa Generals
Before I write this, I will admit that I'm not the biggest fan of Gross' game in comparison to my other contemporaries. The mobility is impressive. He generates a lot of power and is able to exit the zone with relative ease when he has a clear lane. Is also able to extend his rushes deep across the blueline. And I love the physicality that he shows in the defensive end. He plays with a lot of passion and is willing to battle for every inch of ice. He puts a lot of forwards on their asses as they attempt to get by him off the rush. But the rest of his game is very raw. Decision making with the puck was a major issue this year as he was very turnover prone in trying to avoid the forecheck and start the breakout. Is this a hockey sense thing or a guy adjusting to play on the smaller ice surface? And even though he has some offensive gifts, the production just wasn't there. Lots of impressive rushes, but few that actually generate prime time scoring chances. And defensively, he'll really need to settle down and chase the play less. He has a tendency to skate around like a chicken with its head cut off. It's a true boom or bust pick, so using a 4th rounder on him isn't a bad pick. If the head catches up with the skill set, he has a lot of potential as a two-way defender. But the Rangers will have to be patient with him. He'll return to the OHL again next year and I look for him to improve his production on an Oshawa team with aspirations of winning the Conference. The 30+ point mark is a very realistic expectation, but a lot of that will depend on whether Matt Brassard returns as an overager to run the team's first powerplay unit.