The Vancouver Canucks are next.
1. Michael Dipietro - Windsor Spitfires
Anyone who reads this blog knows how big of a fan of Dipietro I am. He's one of the most competitive netminders that I've ever seen come through the OHL. He never gives up on a play, is always talking to his defenders, and just flat out hates to lose. He's a gamer. Mentally, his focus is terrific too. If he gives up a bad goal, he always seems to straighten himself out and shut the door. Very rarely do you see the wheels come off for him. His confident level in his abilities is evident. Given the state of Windsor's blueline this year, and the young team in front of him, Dipietro was sensational this season and that's why he was named the OHL goaltender of the year. His athleticism is off the charts good. And given his lack of elite size at a position that demands it now, it needs to be. Makes a lot of highlight reel saves moving post to post, but also has a good glove hand and does a good job of controlling rebounds and limiting second chances for an unconventional goaltender. The next step for him will be refining his movements so that his positioning is better. Can get beaten high, especially in close when he goes down too early. As he moves through the levels, players will look to exploit that lack of size and he'll have to find ways to make himself bigger in the crease, rather than just relying on his athleticism and anticipation. Next year, Dipietro will return to Windsor and he will have a good chance of repeating as OHL goaltender of the year. Whether he finishes the year in Windsor will depend on how well the team starts the year. If they find themselves in the middle, they may look to deal him to get assets back. I would also expect him to be Canada's starter at the World Juniors. With another solid year under his belt, he has to be considered one of the top goaltending prospects on the planet.
2. Jonah Gadjovich - Owen Sound Attack
Kind of a tough year for Gadjovich, as he battled injuries (back and wrist) that limited him to just 42 regular season games and prevented him from being effective later in the year and in the playoffs. But, he did battle hard at the World Juniors for Canada in a depth role, where he performed admirably as a forechecker, penalty killer, and energy presence. Gadjovich is, without question, a man child. At times, he just tosses bodies around to get to the puck or to the front of the net. Physically, there are few who can match up with him in the OHL. I love how he plays the game, definitely a throwback. But he's underrated offensively because of how complete the rest of his game is. Gadjovich has good hands in tight and is a very adept finisher. He also has a very powerful wrist shot that he uses effectively coming down the wing. As a playmaker, his game has grown a lot, as he shown a lot more poise in the cycle and in puck possession, waiting for defenders to make a mistake; waiting for the right opportunity to strike. The big question is, did his skating improve? I think it definitely did a bit. I thought earlier in the year he looked a lot quicker to loose pucks and definitely more explosive coming off the wall. But it will continue to need to improve as he turns pro this year. I look at what guys like Matt Luff and Mason Marchment were able to do this past season as AHL rookies and can't help but think that Gadjovich should be able to be a 15 goal scorer and a 30 point player, at the very least. Key will be staying healthy this year and really establishing himself as someone who can push for a roster spot on the Canucks for the 2019/2020 season.
3. Matt Brassard - Oshawa Generals
Tale of two seasons for Brassard this year. First 24 games of the year, 0 goals, 8 assists for a ppg average of 0.33. Last 43 games of the year, 16 goals, 27 assists and a 1.00 ppg average. I saw him early on a few times and he looked sluggish, had trouble with turnovers, and really was not very effective at either end. But watching him later in the year, he had returned to the form that he had shown the year prior...and then some. Completely different player. Confident. Poised. This guy can rifle the puck and is one of the most aggressive offensive defenders in the league as he never hesitates when presented with an opening to step in from the point. His 218 shots were 4th among defenders this year. But what caught my eye later in the year was Brassard's ability to skate the puck out of his own end and push the pace deep into the offensive zone. His forward skating stride looked much improved this year. Defensively, he remains a pretty solid player. Not spectacular, but he uses his size effectively at 6'3, 200lbs. Engagement level isn't an issue in traffic. Can get caught up ice or caught out of position at times. And off the rush, sometimes he gets caught flat footed. But there's potential for him to emerge as one of the OHL's best two-way defenders. With him remaining unsigned, it would appear that the Canucks would like to see him repeat his second half performance over an entire year as he returns as an overager to Oshawa. The Generals are going to be a contender for top team in the East and Brassard will be a contender for OA of the year and the Max Kaminsky. I think we'll see him in the 20 goal, 40 assist range next year. That would be enough for him to earn a contract IMO.