San Jose is up next.
1. Ryan Merkley - Guelph Storm
At this point, Merkley is probably the most discussed prospect in the OHL and he was only recently drafted. Everyone knows about his talent offensively. His skating ability, particularly in his change of direction and edgework, is absolutely elite. He creates so many lanes with his agility and smoothness. As a playmaker, there are very few rivals with Merkley's ability to jump up in the play and create scoring chances. One of five defenders in the OHL to average over a point per game this year. Of course, everyone also is familiar with his shortcomings as an overall player. The volatility of his on ice persona makes him an unpredictable prospect. Be it the negative body language on the ice. Be it the late season scratches. Be it the snub from Hockey Canada at this year's Summer showcase. Be it the defensive inadequacies. All have been discussed at length. The good news is that Merkley still ended up being an NHL first round pick and one who already has an ELC after impressing at San Jose's development camp. Merkley will return to Guelph next year where I would expect him to, again, be among the league's leaders in defenseman scoring. Considering it seems like he's a long shot to play at the WJC's, a 70+ point year is very realistic. Guelph will be looking to establish themselves as a top 4 team in the West and in order to do so, they'll need Merkley to really improve in the other areas and become the team's number one. Defensive consistency will be a big priority. Important to remember that young men mature and there's no reason to think that Merkley can't over the next two seasons in the OHL.
2. Sasha Chmelevski - Ottawa 67's
What a great bounce back year for Chmelevski after a pretty disastrous draft year that saw him drop from being a potential first rounder to a late round pick. Last year (here) I wrote that his play away from the puck really needed to improve, as did his intensity level. I also wrote that a new coaching staff could be a good thing for Chmelevski and ultimately it was as Andre Tourigny and he seemed to click almost immediately. Quite frankly, Chmelevski was a different player this year. Not only did he lead the 67's in scoring, but he was relied upon in all situations. Pretty much every part of his game improved. Skating looked way better, especially on the explosiveness front. He's now developed a level of separation that was greatly needed. He's quicker to loose pucks and quicker to scoring lanes. Chmelevski was way more effective working through traffic too, looking to attack the middle to open up shooting lanes for himself. This was something that he was super aggressive with too, perhaps more than I figured would ever develop in him. His 280 shots on goal were 6th in the entire league this year. So what are the next steps? Continued improvement as a three zone player, especially if he wants to stay down the middle. And continued improvement as someone who can control possession along the wall and show improved strength on the puck. But this is a player trending in the right direction. Ottawa should be one of the best teams in the East this year and I see Chmelevski right up in the 90+ point range. Could even be a sneaky contender for the scoring championship.