The Tampa Bay Lightning are next and are no strangers to the OHL.
1. Boris Katchouk - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Easily one of my favourite prospects in the OHL right now. This guy would go through a wall for his team and he demonstrated that at this year's World Junior Championships where he helped Canada to a gold medal. He was also phenomenal in the OHL playoffs this year, even if the Hounds fell short of a Championship. Katchouk has so much going for him as an NHL prospect too. Such a well rounded player. Size. Speed. Skill. Grit. Plays in all situations. His anticipation in the neutral zone and at the top on the penalty kill is outstanding. Makes him such a valuable asset in forcing turnovers and starting the breakout. Creates a lot of odd man rushes. Katchouk also forces a lot of turnovers on the forecheck, using his speed to track down defenders and his size to outmuscle them on dump ins. Katchouk also is a major factor driving the net, and has terrific hands in close. His shot and ability to carry the puck at full speed really improved this year, as did his vision off the rush. Like I said, there isn't much this guy can't do well and I see him settling into a 2nd line complimentary winger role at the NHL level, similar to a guy like TJ Oshie or Dustin Brown. Next year, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Katchouk get some NHL playing time, even with Tampa's depth. More than likely he's in the AHL for the majority of the year and should be a 20 goal scorer there and make an immediate impact.
2. Taylor Raddysh - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Saw a slight dip in production this year from Raddysh but that was to be expected given the loss of talent that Erie went through. And then with the Soo, he played more of a complimentary role on a team that balances their three scoring lines pretty evenly. Raddysh's strength remains his hockey sense in the offensive zone. He has great vision and is very good at working the wall until he sees an opening to attack. Is a very big asset on the powerplay where that playmaking ability is on full display. Makes such quick decisions and it seems like he's always one step ahead of defenders. Even with only average speed, he manages to find gaps and beat defenders to loose pucks or to scoring lanes. Raddysh has gained a lot of confidence in his ability to carry the puck over these last two years, making him equally dangerous with or without the puck. Raddysh's defensive game has also grown over his OHL career. I would say it's still not fantastic, because his speed is only average, but it's at least league average now. I guess the question I still have is, how well will Raddysh's game translate to the next level? It's been my question since he was drafted and I still have some of those concerns. Guys who rely on hockey sense as much as Raddysh does are so hard to predict. I'm just not sure his game profiles well as a bottom 6 player, and will his lack of elite skating ability hinder his offensive effectiveness? When other players are equally smart, but have greater physical gifts, how will he adapt? I also wonder where he fits in, in the Tampa organization in the long run, given I see guys like Cirelli, Katchouk, Mitchell Stephens as being ahead of him as a pro. Of course, I could be wrong too. Raddysh is obviously still a terrific prospect who has accomplished a lot as an OHL player, and I'm excited to see him play pro next year. I would expect him to be at least be a 15/20 guy as a rookie in the AHL.
3. Alexey Lipanov - Sudbury Wolves
Definitely one of the more disappointing players in the OHL this year for me. Had pretty high expectations for him coming into his first season in North America, but he struggled to find a consistent groove, part of why the Colts decided to upgrade on him with Dmitri Sokolov. In Sudbury, Lipanov's production really suffered too. His skating definitely needs to be upgraded upon. As does his intensity level, shift to shift. Because of those two inefficiencies, Lipanov was kind of along for the ride most times I saw him play. Adequate with the puck and the hockey sense appears to be pretty strong. Was pretty effective working on the penalty kill, getting his stick in passing lanes. But I expected more of "bull by the horns" kind of player who played a more abrasive style and who was consistently aggressive with and without the puck. His faceoff ability really needs to improve too, especially if he wants to be out late in games protecting leads. We do have to remember that this was Lipanov's first year in NA though, and there is always an adjustment period. For some players, it's a month and for others it is a full year. Tampa has some options for Lipanov though next year. He could play in the AHL as a 19 year old because he was drafted out of Europe. Already got in some games after the OHL season ended last year. Or they could send him back to the OHL, however if that's the option they select I doubt he sticks with Sudbury. Mystery surrounds the 2018/19 season. If he's back in the OHL, I'd be looking at him being a point per game player and an impact player.