Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Midseason Top 50 for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft

The start of the 2019 calendar year is nearly upon us and that means it is time for me to re-evaluate my rankings for the 2019 Draft. The OHL season is at the half way mark which gives us a great indication of how certain players have developed in their draft season. Many players have stepped up to assume large roles on their club, while others have disappointed and find themselves on the outside looking in.

While this is unquestionably a down year for the OHL, I do think that several players are starting to emerge as better talents than people gave them credit for. In October, I suggested that only a couple OHL'ers were likely to be first round selections come June. And while that still may be the case, the guys ranked inside the top 10 (or hovering around it) have all performed well and are making a strong case to seriously push up draft rankings in the second half. Tomasino has caught fire. Robertson and Rees are healthy. McMichael and Jones have kept the pace from their strong starts. Like I said, things are shaping up to be better than originally thought.

For those unfamiliar with my lists, I only include first time eligible players. So a guy like Nando Eggenberger isn't listed despite the fact that I'd expect him to receive draft consideration. I do a list of "re-entries" or second/third year eligible players prior to the draft.

And for comparison's sake, here's my preliminary top 50 from October.  

Here's the list:


1. Ryan Suzuki - Forward - Barrie Colts
Even though Suzuki has struggled a bit in the last few months, he's still my top rated OHL player. I continue to be amazed by some of his reads and passes in the offensive end. He possesses upper echelon vision and playmaking ability. And he can create plays in a variety of different contexts. He's effective off the rush because of his skating ability and understanding of spacing. He's effective working the cycle and coming off the wall. And he's effective working the powerplay, where the extra time and space really allows his vision to be spotlighted. But he seems hesitant to shoot the puck lately and defenses are challenging him to beat them this way, taking away passing lanes. He has only four goals in his last 18 games, with Barrie mired in a standings slump during this time as well. He certainly has the ability, but his game won't hit that next level until he becomes more aggressive looking for his own scoring chances. Another area that needs improvement is his faceoff ability. He's only winning 44% of his draws currently. 

2. Arthur Kaliyev - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Continues to light up opposing defenses and hasn't slowed down one iota. His blend of size, skill, and smarts are just too much on most nights. Especially on the powerplay where the trio of Saigeon, Strome, and Kaliyev has been absolutely dominant. The real challenge for Kaliyev will be after the OHL trade deadline, as Hamilton could be in a position to deal off some veteran players, leaving Kaliyev with less support. If it happens, how he responds to that will go a long way as to whether he's a lottery selection or a later first/early second round pick. I do think that his game gets over-evaluated at times though. His skating draws mixed reviews. IMO, his power game is complemented by a good enough top speed, but could benefit from better start ups. And his play away from the puck is definitely inconsistent, but few 17/18 year old offensive stars are consistently engaged in this regard. It is important to remember that Kaliyev is far from the polished product that he will eventually become. His innate offensive abilities (hands, shot, vision off the rush) are top notch. 

3. Philip Tomasino - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Aggressive ranking jump for Tomasino following a strong last couple of months. I had him pretty high coming into the season, so it's no surprise to see how well he has performed following a promotion to Niagara's top line. Since the beginning of November, Tomasino has 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) in 23 games. That's some of the best production of any draft eligible player in the CHL during that time period. And sure, it's great to play with two players as talented as Jason Robertson and Akil Thomas. But if you watch him play, Tomasino isn't just along for the ride, he's driving the play with those two. His speed and play with the puck is electric. His pace of attack consistently opens ups scoring lanes for Robertson and Thomas. But he's also not afraid to attack the middle of the ice or the crease. He's excelled by crashing the net as part of that trio, and just seems to have an infectious energy level. It's uncertain as to whether NHL scouts will view him as a winger or as a center (he has played both), but this is one talented young player. I can honestly say that I heavily debated putting Tomasino at #1 on this list. Playing for a Niagara team that could be loading up, he is going to get his time to shine and should sky rocket up draft lists in the second half if he keeps up this rate of production. 

4. Connor McMichael - Forward - London Knights 
Let's be real here. It's not too often that we have a draft eligible player leading London in scoring (discounting Hancock), and he's not considered a consensus first round pick. I feel like that might be about to change pretty soon. McMichael isn't slowing down after his hot start, he's actually getting better. 12 goals and 11 assists in his last 14 games. McMichael offers a pretty complete package; he checks a lot of boxes. Skating ability. Check. Ability to play in all three zones. Check. Hockey sense. Check. Goal scoring ability. Check. He's also a tenacious player in the offensive zone who does a very good job controlling the boards despite not being the biggest kid (6'0, 170lbs). Sure he may not be the flashiest or most dynamic player with the puck. But his efficiency is through the roof. Much like Hayton and Dellandrea last year (similar types of players), McMichael should climb draft rankings in the second half and be in consideration for the Top 20 by June.

5. Thomas Harley - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Harley really hasn't done too much to fall in these rankings, it's more about what Tomasino and McMichael have done to pass him. I continue to love what Harley brings to the table offensively. Really love his aggressiveness running the point of the powerplay. Not afraid to use his size and reach to step out into the slot, or pinch down deeper to keep plays alive. Doesn't yet possess the elite point shot that you like to see from a top notch QB, but that could come given his size. But 6'3 defenders with his type of mobility can impact the game on so many different levels. He's so difficult to separate from the puck as he glides through the neutral zone. Not only does he do a good job of leading the breakout, his rushes are impactful because he's able to extend them deep and establish o-zone time. Defensively, I do think he needs to be more aggressive though. The last few times I've seen Mississauga, I've noticed some passiveness defending off the rush. Needs to step up and be more aggressive in using his size, especially his reach. I'm not an analytics expert, but his controlled entry prevention stats are probably pretty poor. But it's important to remember how much progression this kid has already shown this year. Baby steps. Rome wasn't built in a day. 

6. Nick Robertson - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Finally seems to be fully healthy and recovered from that wrist injury. Has 12 goals and 11 assists in his last 16 games. Size is going to be an issue for some people (5'8, 156lbs), but he possesses that elite escape ability that you want from smaller offensive forwards. You can't hit what you can't catch. Robertson has a bit of an awkward skating stride too. Keeps a really wide base as he darts in and out of traffic. It's very distinctive on the ice and makes him instantly recognizable among Peterborough's players. But given his brother's size, I do think that there's a chance he could still mature more physically, especially when you consider that he'll be one of the youngest available this year (September 11 birth date). Robertson also has that ability to keep the puck on a string. His hands are lightning quick and his ability to maintain possession through traffic is impressive. He is the complete package as an offensive player. 

7. Jamieson Rees - Forward - Sarnia Sting
After missing some time with a lacerated kidney, Rees is finally healthy. He's not only hitting the score sheet with regularity, but he's hitting the highlight reel too. An electric player with speed to burn; Rees is able to make moves at top speed. His hands are excellent. This summer we saw him embrace a pest like, energy role for Canada at the Hlinka and he's back playing that way in Sarnia too. Watched the Sting play recently and really liked the patience he showed in the offensive end, especially while working the wall. He's only 5'10, but he makes his presence felt all over the ice. Since the start of December, Rees has 6 goals and 8 assists in in 13 games. And he's more than capable of keeping that production rate up. 

8. Hunter Jones - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
Always tough to rank goaltenders, but with his consistent play this year, Jones deserves to be up with the other players receiving top 60 consideration. He's beyond simply a hot start and remains in the top 5 in save percentage and wins in the OHL. He's also been an absolutely workhorse for the Petes, with only Jacob Ingham of Mississauga playing more so far. It will be interesting to watch Jones down the stretch to see if he tires. He's only a second year goaltender who played 15 games last year, and 16 the year before with Stouffville (OJHL). But Jones has the size at 6'4, 200lbs that NHL scouts want in goaltenders now. And he looks a lot quicker post to post this year, tracking the play well and showcasing his athleticism. Rebound control can still be a bit of an issue from what I've seen, but that's usually one of the last things to come around for a bigger goaltender. He should be right up there as one of the first goalies off the board from the CHL this year.

9. Blake Murray - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Yup, I'm still on the Murray train. I get it, he can be a frustrating player to watch. Shift to shift, there are some consistency issues. And for a 6'3 kid, he needs to do a better job attacking those higher traffic areas, winning more physical battles in the corners and near the crease. But he's got the size and skill combination that NHL teams are going to desire from their centers. His skating is good. I think he has big time potential as a goal scorer, as his release is excellent and as he gets stronger and increases his intensity level, we'll see an ability to create more scoring chances for himself. Before a recent 6 game goalless drought, he was 3rd behind Kaliyev and McMichael in goal scoring by first time draft eligible players in the OHL and would have been top 10 in the entire CHL. Even if the stats haven't truly shown it, he's also been way better the last month and a half or so, since they paired him up with Quinton Byfield. Shot generation is up. He's playing with more fire. He's establishing position down low and dominating below the hash marks at times, the way that he's capable of. When I watch Murray, I actually am reminded slightly of Jeff Carter as a draft eligible player back in 2003. I remember how he frustrated scouts the same way at times. Not saying Murray is Carter or will be drafted top 11 in one of the best NHL drafts ever. Just that sometimes bigger kids take longer to figure out how to put everything together and that Murray should absolutely still be in consideration for the Top 60.

10. Billy Constantinou - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
We knew that there would be an adjustment period for Constantinou after the deal from Niagara. It can be tough to go from one of the top teams in the OHL to one of the worst. Having to play more in his own end has both limited Constantinou's effectiveness as a puck mover, but also highlighted areas of growth required defensively. But this is a talented kid. Effortless skater who's edgework and overall agility are excellent, allowing him to slither through the neutral zone to lead the attack. Also uses that mobility to man the point on the powerplay where his vision and overall playmaking ability are improving. Defensively, he just needs to learn to make better reads, relying on his mobility to give him that advantage over attacking forwards. I will say that I do think Constantinou needs to add a little more explosiveness to his stride to take that next step as a puck mover. As mentioned, backwards and laterally, he's terrific. This could be a strength thing. The big event for Constantinou this year will likely be the U18's, where he'll (again) likely have a chance to be a key contributor for Canada, showcasing that offensive ability on the big stage.

11. Vladislav Kolyachonok - Defense - Flint Firebirds
Still not full on the Kolyachonok train. No question I see him as a top 3 round selection. But I'm just not sure I see the first round rating that some scouting organizations are giving him. There is a lot to like though. The size (6'2) and mobility combination is a major plus. His offensive game is very much raw, but there is potential there for him to develop into someone who can lead the rush with a powerful stride. His mobility really helps him in the defensive end. Shows excellent gap control. Kolyachonok is also physical and could be a terrific asset in his own end in the future, if he isn't already. But the last couple of times that I've seen Flint play, he's really struggled with his decision making with the puck in the defensive end. I see the high end potential, but I have some questions as to how high his offensive ceiling really is. If you're drafting Kolyachonok in hopes that he develops into a shut down defender, I may prefer a guy like Mitchell Brewer who is, IMO, a little more consistent with his decision making. As I said with Constantinou, tough for defenders on poor teams to truly stand out though.

12. Nicholas Porco - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
A tough player to rank right now because of some consistency issues. I think part of that has been because of the coaching change and fluctuating ice time in Saginaw too. Porco is at his best when he can use his speed to drive the net, and drive the attack. A very dangerous offensive player when the Spirit are playing up tempo. IMO Porco has some of the highest offensive potential of any forward on this list because his hands are also terrific. Has a quick release on his shot and is able to fire it while coming down the wing at full speed, or while making a sharp cut to the middle. The rest of his game is a work in progress. Being able to operate a little more efficiently when the game slows down. Finding that physical intensity to be a little better East/West, and to win more battles along the wall. I'm happy that Saginaw has been playing him on the PK at times as this will really help him learn how he can use his speed to be effective in all three zones. At the end of the day, his 15 goals are more than Blake Murray. A big finish to the year would probably solidify a spot in the top two rounds for Porco.

13. Graeme Clarke - Forward - Ottawa 67's 
Tough break for Clarke after he dislocated his shoulder at the beginning of November, keeping him out of action until recently. Hopefully he's fully healed and back playing well before the Top prospect's game at the end of January. One thing is certain, Clarke will be a fantastic OHL player and someone who will challenge for a scoring championship before his OHL career is finished. The challenge is determining whether he's also a top notch NHL prospect. For some scouts, his average size and average skating ability will prevent him from being a guy that they look at in the opening rounds. Coming into the year, I didn't know how I would rank him. I was getting Spencer Watson vibes at times. But, I think this kid put in a ton of work this offseason to change his game. His skating and explosiveness will still need work, but it's definitely improved. And he's become way more engaged without the puck, attacking the net and getting after it on the forecheck. But Clarke's bread and butter is his shot. Right up there with Kaliyev as the best in this OHL class. Because of the lack of elite physical tools, he probably stays around this area, even if he produces at a high level in the second half. But he's impressed me this year more than I thought he would.

14. Matvey Guskov - Forward - London Knights
Another guy that I'm still not on board with being a first round pick, even though I'm still seeing him ranked that high on some boards. Guskov is a solid player. There are definitely some things to like. Good size. Good skater. Works the wall well. Shows little fear playing through traffic. Strong on the puck. Shows good defensive understanding and is active in all three zones. Overall, he's proven to be a very nice complimentary player on a scoring line. But I don't see him possessing any elite qualities and I do have some question as to what type of player he projects to be at the next level. Is he innately skilled enough to play that complimentary scoring line role at the NHL level? I just want to see him flash an ability to take over a game, or even a shift at the OHL level. Looks more like a 3rd-4th round pick to me, in hopes that as he gains more confidence (Guskov is a first year import, after all), his production will greatly increase.

15. Mitchell Brewer - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Definitely a fan of Brewer's game. Projects as a modern day NHL shutdown defender, perhaps more so than Vukojevic (who I've got ranked a little lower). At 6'1, 200lbs, I actually think Brewer possesses some of the best mobility of any defender on this list. And it's that mobility that consistently makes him first to dump ins, allows him to maintain terrific gap control, and helps him come away on the winning end of 50/50 battles along the wall. Brewer is also tenacious. He'll do what it takes to help Oshawa win, be it blocking shots or pushing bodies in front of Kyle Keyser. Just a very good and intelligent player in his own end. The question is, just how much can his offensive game grow? Is there potential there? Brewer will lead the rush and is starting to become more aggressive in pushing deeper into the offensive zone. His puck skill is not poor. Might just be a matter of gaining more confidence. Best case scenario, Brewer becomes a quality two-way defender like an Alec Martinez. Worst case scenario, Brewer settles into more a strictly stay at home type. He's a top three round prospect for me though.

16. Michael Vukojevic - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
Very rare to see a 17 year old playing as a #1 defender in the OHL, even if Kitchener is barely hanging on to the 8th spot in the West. Vukojevic is poised beyond his years in the defensive end. His -16 on the year indicative of the fact that he consistently gets matched up against the opposition's best and Kitchener's supporting cast just isn't incredibly strong this year. At 6'3, 200lbs, Vukojevic is definitely a big boy, and he excels when he is engaged physically. He's tough to win one on one battles against and is great on the penalty kill where he can use his smarts to break up passes, and his size to move bodies. His mobility is only average though. It's not an issue, but it's not an asset like say, Mitchell Brewer or Kolyachonok, two similar players. And I think Vukojevic has shown less offensively than those two, as well. His play with the puck really has not progressed this year, especially of late where turnovers have been a bit of an issue when trying to start the breakout. Vukojevic is someone who will need to have a great U18's (assuming he goes), as he could be a candidate for a leadership role for that Canadian entry. 

17. Joe Carroll - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Truthfully, I did want to put Carroll higher. I think there is definitely the potential for him to develop into power forward who could be a big factor offensively. But, I think we also need to be realistic given his production thus far. He's on pace to be below the 40 point mark on the season But if you watch him play, he does catch your eye. Powerful skating stride for a big kid (6'3). Has a couple shifts per game where he dominates along the wall and keeps play in the offensive zone for a good 45 seconds. But consistency has been an issue. And you have to wonder what the disconnect is between his ice time, scoring chances that he creates, and his lack of production. Stats aren't everything. But I know the same issues plagued Carroll in his minor midget year (from talking to those who watched him), so is this a trend? One of the key players to watch in the second half. With his physical tools, if he starts producing consistently, he will rocket up draft lists.

18. Keean Washkurak - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Another tough player to rank because I love the way he plays the game. But is he a serious NHL prospect? Washkurak started out the year gangbusters and was one of the leading scorers of draft eligibles the first few months. But he's gone ice cold offensively since then; recently snapping a 17 game goalless drought. But even when he's not scoring, Washkurak makes his presence known. He's one of the more explosive skaters available from the OHL and is constantly on the attack without the puck, looking to put pressure on the opposition. Washkurak is also fearless on the ice and plays the game with a near reckless abandon. In the last few weeks he's fought DJ King and Jordan Sambrook, two defenders that he gives up about 5 inches and 30-40lbs on. Which brings me to my next point, his lack of size at 5'10. If he's not scoring at that size, even if he's engaged in every other area, will NHL teams look at him seriously? And just how much offensive potential does Washkurak have? Again, I love him as a player and I have him at 18 because I feel like he can recover his production. But if he doesn't, he'll be much lower than 18 in my final rankings. Let's see how he fares without McLeod and Tippett in the lineup now.

19. Cole Mackay - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Mackay is kind of similar to Graeme Clarke in the sense that he lacks the elite physical tools that some scouts want to see. He's 5'11 and skating is most definitely not his best asset. He will definitely need to upgrade his first few steps, in particular, to give him that escapability that he'll need at the next level. But what he lacks in those areas, he makes up for everywhere else. Mackay's hockey sense is one of the highest of players available from the OHL IMO. One of those guys who just seems to find scoring lanes or passing lanes in the offensive end; who seems to be one step ahead of the opposition. He's also very solid in his own end and he forces turnovers with a quick stick and anticipation. Mackay has also embraced the role of crease crasher this year, showing no fear of larger defenders and doing what he needs to do to be a scoring line player. Right now, Mackay is a solid complimentary piece. Can he be the straw that stirs the drink though? Is there enough puck skill and will his skating ability get to where it needs to? These are good questions. As I've said a few times, Mackay reminds me a lot of former Otter and current Maple Leaf Connor Brown. 

20. Petr Cajka - Forward - Erie Otters
The scoring has come in bunches this year, but that's what happens when you don't see much powerplay time. Cajka is a kid that's really starting to grow on me. He's fourth among draft eligible OHL'ers in even strength goals behind Kaliyev, Tomasino, and McMichael. He's sixth in primary points at even strength. That's pretty solid production. Cajka isn't huge at 5'11, 170lbs, but he controls the boards really well. He has terrific edgework and always keeps his feet moving, making him difficult to pin down. As such, Cajka is also dangerous in transition and he's gaining confidence in his ability carry the puck. But most of all, I like Cajka's two-way game. Active on the penalty kill and makes a concerted effort in his own zone to win one on one battles. He's engaged in every aspect. I don't think that he's a future top 6 player at the next level. But he could definitely develop into a quality third line option who could be a consistent 15 goal scorer and PK option. There's a lot of value in that. Will be interesting to see if Cajka gets more powerplay time in the second half if Erie moves some pieces at the deadline.

21. Cole Schwindt - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Like his teammate Washkurak, Schwindt has seen his offensive production slow down after a blazing hot start. But like Washkurak, Schwindt is noticeable even if he's not hitting the score sheets. I think that this kid is going to develop into one of the OHL's best shutdown defensive forwards by the time he graduates from the league. He has the length at 6'3, he engages physically, and his anticipation and reads are excellent. As he gets stronger, he will be an absolute force on the penalty kill. Offensively, Schwindt keeps things simple and from center, I think he does a good job controlling play in the offensive end and projects as a playmaker who can drive possession time. Again that size is going to be an asset below the hash marks. His skating is the one area that I'm not sure I've got a good read on. He has this wide base that makes him look a little awkward. But he gets to where he needs to and definitely flashes the occasional burst that makes you say "hmm." But I do think that he could stand to get more power in his start ups, which would make him better at carrying the puck through the neutral zone to gain the offensive zone. Like Washkurak, all eyes will be on Schwindt to see how he finishes the season offensively with Tippett and McLeod out of the picture.

22. Ethan Keppen - Forward - Flint Firebirds
If I were to tell you that Keppen leads all OHL draft eligible players in primary assists 5 on 5, would you be surprised? I certainly was surprised to find that out because I think of Keppen as more of a goal scorer first and foremost. Admittedly, I've had a tough time getting a read on Keppen this year because of Flint's struggles. And I'm sure I'm not alone there; part of the problem with playing on a poor team. But the thing I always have admired about him is that no matter the score, his compete level and motor never seem to waver. He creates offense through physicality, by driving through people and not around them, using his 6'2, 220lbs frame to wreck havoc below the hash marks. Tough player to separate from the puck already. Imagine how difficult that could be in two years when he's bigger, stronger, quicker, and more confident? Could be the perfect future linemate for the cerebral Shane Wright, if he gets exceptional status and becomes a Firebird. I think a guy like Keppen will have a ton to prove at an event like the U18's, where he could be a key player for Canada. A strong performance there could solidify him as a top 3 round prospect.

23. Jacob LeGuerrier - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
In October I told you that it was only a matter of time before this guy started putting up points. Now 4 goals and 5 assists in his last 17. Not ground breaking, but a 30+ point pace that is impressive for a kid who projects more as a quality stay at home type. LeGuerrier is the kind of kid you really have to see play to appreciate him. 6'3, 200lbs, but his mobility is a big asset. And as I mentioned in October, we're really seeing him start to use that mobility for offense. There is potential there. But defensively, he's a stud. +17 is second best among Greyhound blueliners. But he uses that size so effectively in the defensive end. With his reach and mobility, he's so difficult to get around. He defends the rush as well as any player on this list. But LeGuerrier is also physical and makes his presence felt in the corners and in front of the net. Every time I see the Hounds, it seems like he gets better; as his confidence grows. Wouldn't be surprised if I had him ranked inside my Top 18 or so by the end of the year.

24. Daniil Antropov - Forward - Oshawa Generals
I remain lower on Antropov than some, despite him being a bit of an analytical darling currently. He's tied with Cajka for sixth in 5 on 5 primary points for draft eligible players. And he's fifth in primary assists (right there with the likes of Kaliyev, McMichael, Tomasino, etc). He also has the bloodlines (son of Nik) and the size (6'2). But for whatever reason, he just doesn't seem to pass the eye test for me as much as the others that I have ranked ahead of him. I'm just not as confident that his skill set translates well to the next level because I think his skating lacks power, and I'm not crazy about his engagement level without the puck. He's just kind of present in the offensive end. But the hockey sense is definitely good, especially his vision. That's evident on the powerplay where he operates very efficiently as a playmaker. Maybe I'm just not seeing his best games. But right now, Antropov is more of a mid round pick for me.

25. Kari Piiroinen - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
Consistency has been a major issue for Piiroinen, especially since he took over the reigns from Dipietro for good. But there are a lot of things to like and I do think that he will eventually develop into very good netminder. He oozes athleticism. Moves very well in the crease and makes a lot of acrobatic saves moving post to post. Also have been impressed with his glove hand. Has very quick reflexes and does a good job taking away the upper part of the net with a quick glove, rarely giving up rebounds on higher shots. I think a lot of Piiroinen's issues this year have come from a lack of strength. Seems to have trouble holding his post and I've seen a lot of wrap around goals scored on him, or pucks going in at awkward angles fired from near the dot. Pucks also seem to squeeze through his body on longer shots or when teams get him moving side to side. But Windsor is committed to Piiroinen as their goalie of the future (and now) and he's a quality draft prospect even if there are some holes.

26. Daniel D'Amico - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Started the year extremely slowly; although was probably more snake bitten than playing poorly. But since the start of November, he's been one of the better offensive players in the age group. 14 goals and 11 assists in his last 25 games. He's driving the play with his energy. Never seems to stop moving his feet in the offensive end. He's always in attack mode. D'Amico also possesses one of the better releases in the age group. Quick strike player who gets himself in scoring position, which is thanks to his great hockey sense. Just a very good offensive player. I think NHL scouts will ding him for his lack of size (5'9) and his lack of truly dynamic skating ability. D'Amico is certainly not a poor skater, but I don't think he possesses elite acceleration. His energy level and non stop motor make him appear to be a better skater than he is IMO. But if he keeps producing like he has been, and if he continues to be Windsor's best player down the stretch, he'll endear himself to disbelievers.  

27. Nikita Okhotyuk - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Tough to rank Okhotyuk any higher than this given that his offensive game has regressed this year. Last year, we saw him take some chances, leading the rush or jumping up into the play. This year, we just haven't seen that quite as much. That isn't to say that he struggles with the puck. I don't see him committing a ton of turnovers or fumbling the puck. It's just that he keeps things simple. Chip outs, deferrals, etc. I really expected that part of his game to grow more this year, but it just hasn't. Defensively, he's still a rock. Good mobility. Plays physical. Has a really good stick that breaks up a lot of entry attempts and/or scoring chances deep in the defensive zone. I just don't know if he ends up being more than a mid-late round pick because of a lack of offensive upside. I know he still has his fans though.

28. Tag Bertuzzi - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Unfortunately we won't be able to see how the move to Hamilton helps Bertuzzi, as he's now out for the year with a shoulder injury. The former #2 priority selection just has not lived up to expectations thus far. Bertuzzi is at his best when he's driving the play physically and creating through hard work and determination. Is effective along the wall and does show a nice playmakers touch, especially when working behind the net. But I have found him to struggle when trying to create with the puck off the rush, where he can force plays and commit turnovers. His hands just haven't caught up yet and he struggles as the pace increases. I still think he ends up getting drafted, but probably not until later now. Where he ends up in my final rankings probably depends on how the players currently rated below him perform in the second half.

29. Lucas Peric - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Peric has been fantastic for the 67's this year. I would argue that he's one of the best third pairing defenders in the OHL. His skating is extremely noticeable. Glides around the ice effortlessly. Have noticed him being consistently first to dump ins. Don't have access to the analytics data, but I would guess that his dump in recovery rate would be extremely high. With his mobility, he's also quick to start the breakout and escapes forecheckers well. He's the perfect fit for the way coaches want to play the game now. Like any player on a good team, playing a relatively limited role, it's tough to get a read on what his high end potential is. How good can he be offensively? Can he quarterback a powerplay? What is his ceiling as a defensive player? Can he match up against bigger forwards and win one on one battles when he's not able to use his skating to his advantage? Lots of questions. 

30. Mason Primeau - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Primeau has played well in North Bay since leaving Guelph. Operating at near a point per game with the Battalion, Primeau has excelled with 2nd line minutes and more special teams responsibility. At 6'5, his size is a big time asset in the offensive end and if there is someone who is good at harnessing offensive skill in bigger players, it's Stan Butler. Primeau looks a lot more confident with the puck in North Bay. Seeing him now try to use his size to drive the middle with the puck, attempting to open up scoring lanes for either himself or teammates. And he's a force below the hash marks, controlling the wall. There's still work to be done with his ability to work in transition, especially being able to receive and control passes at full speed. And his skating will need to improve. But Primeau has some nice NHL bloodlines and is trending in the right direction.

31. Keegan Stevenson - Forward - Guelph Storm
I've mentioned previously that I'm a fan of Stevenson's game, so naturally I'm happy to see him having a nice little breakout season. Problem is, no one is talking about it. His 12 goals are currently top 10 among draft eligible OHL players. The fact that he's flying under the radar a bit is likely due to his late birth date, in combination with his relatively unexciting style of play. Stevenson is the kind of guy who knows his role on the ice. It's that classic North/South power game. Drive the net with the puck. Drive the net without the puck. Bang bodies. Dig out loose pucks. Create space for his linemates. Kill penalties. He's a work horse for George Burnett in those regards. But Stevenson actually has good hands for a big guy who plays that role. As he gains more confidence and continues to upgrade his skating, I think he could develop into an even more dangerous player off the rush and a more consistent goal scorer. We're not talking about a future top 6 player here at the next level. But, I do feel that Stevenson could develop nicely as a checking line player and be an NHL'er in the future.

32. Liam Ross - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
I love Liam Ross the same way that I did Tyler Tucker last year. He's not the most economical of defenseman in terms of his skating ability. And it's likely to hurt him on NHL draft boards (the same way it did with Tucker last year). But, Ross is already a solid OHL defender and is a kid who seems to improve nearly every time I see the Wolves play. Just a really smart player at both ends who is an extremely important player for Sudbury and has to be considered one of the reasons why they've had a resurgence this year. Even without a terrific top gear, Ross is able to start the breakout effectively because he identifies lanes well and has great vision up ice. He uses this same hockey sense to defend in his own end. Has good size at 6'2 and will use that size to his advantage. Although that physical component does need to be a little more consistent. I think by the time his OHL career is over, Ross could be one of the league's top two-way defenders. At the same time, I see him as a great candidate for the mid-late rounds of the draft because his skating will still need to improve to be a pro, and he still will need to carve out a niche at one end or the other. 

33. Eric Uba - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Every time I see Flint play, I come away impressed by Uba. Plays the game at such a high tempo. Always driving. Always pushing. Very much a straight up and down player, but he's effective driving the middle of the ice. Has been extremely effective 5 on 5 this year. Among U19 players (so 2000 born and younger), Uba is top 10 in primary points and shots. Factor in the fact that this is Uba's first season in the OHL, I think that's pretty impressive, regardless of the fact that he's a late born 2000. And Uba isn't a small kid either. At 6'0, his game is projectable to the next level. When all is said and done, I could see this kid being among the leading scorers in the OHL, pending that Flint can eventually pull it together as a team.

34. Kyen Sopa - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Feel a little bit bad for Sopa. Started the year in Niagara's top 6, but has been pushed down the lineup in recent weeks. As a result, his offensive production has suffered, as has his exposure. I do actually really enjoy watching Sopa play. He's like the little engine that could out there. Not the biggest at 5'9, but he is in there on every play. Has a lot of pest like qualities. He's also strong on the puck for a smaller guy and it has made him a very effective player in traffic, especially within 5 feet of the net. Sopa is also a strong skater, and it allows him to be a real puck hound out there. Seems like he's constantly buzzing. I'm still not quite sure what his high end potential is though. And for an undersized, late 2000 born player, I see that as a reason to have him lower in my rankings. He's great without the puck and I like his release. But how good is he with the puck? Can he drive the play consistently while playing with more skilled players? Or is he purely a high energy, change of pace complimentary piece? As Niagara adds more pieces down the stretch, it will be difficult to ascertain that.

35. Mason Millman - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Millman has to be the player who has benefited the most from Caleb Everett's injury. Has rocketed up Saginaw's depth chart as an OHL rookie. The Spirit have used Millman a lot on the powerplay and I've liked his play there. Makes quick decisions with the puck on the point and does a great job keeping pucks in at the line. His skating ability is an asset there too, as he showcases strong lateral movement to try to open up lanes. His shot and his confidence in using it will definitely need to improve though. It's not much of a threat at this point. Defensively, Millman has potential because of his size (6'1) and that aforementioned mobility. He always seems to keep his feet moving and does a great job staying ahead of the attack. His defensive game is still raw, but you have to be impressed with what he's done in his first year. Probably profiles most as a puck mover at the next level.

36. Jack York - Defense - Barrie Colts
Moved from Kitchener to Barrie recently in the Justin Murray deal. Son of former NHL defender Jason. I think that eventually, Jack is going to develop into a very good powerplay QB in this league. His 2 goals don't necessarily say or show it, but his shot can be a real asset. He gets a lot behind it. It's just about getting himself in consistent positioning and situations to use it. And it looks like Barrie recognizes this as they are using him on the point early on. York also shows well at times as a puck mover. But turnovers can be a problem at times, especially in the defensive end. I think some of that could be improved by adding more explosiveness to his stride, as he currently lacks the ability to escape the forecheck with his skating alone. Defensively, he plays with vigor. Doesn't back down from battles and will surprise with physicality. But he can get caught flat footed at times, so gap control will be a focus area. But given his bloodlines, and some nice potential, I like York's chances of being a draft pick come June. Very curious to see how he does in Barrie down the stretch.

37. Mack Guzda - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
Guzda continues to tumble down the draft board. Started the year as one of the top goalies available in the CHL, but consistency issues continue to plague him. So much so that he's currently lost his starting gig to fellow draft eligible Andrew MacLean. The potential is still sky high because of his size (6'5, 218lbs) and athleticism combination. He flashes that for periods, or even games at a time. But Guzda seems to be struggling with the psychological components right now. Kind of reminds me of Dylan Wells in his draft year. Is having a great game, gives up a goal he probably wants back, and then it's all down hill from there. He's the type of kid who could really benefit from having a veteran goaltender to be paired with, to help him. I still think that he'll end up being drafted, but it may not be until the later rounds, (much like Wells in his draft year).

38. Andrew Perrott - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Recently acquired by the Attack in the Hancock deal. Due to London's depth, consistent playing time has been an issue for Perrott this year. He saw sheltered minutes on the third pairing or he found himself scratched. As such, he hasn't developed a ton this year. Still possesses a lot potential as a physical two-way defender. Plays a real throwback style. Is one tough customer to match up against near the crease or in the corners. From what I've seen, his skating hasn't improved a ton this year though, and that holds him back from being a more impactful player. And his confidence with the puck seems to be lower than it was last year. When he does play, he keeps things very simple, as if he's afraid to make a mistake and find himself back in the press box. I was so impressed by him last year so the lack of improvement is frustrating. Hoping the move kick starts his play.

39. Nathan Allensen - Defense - Barrie Colts
Bound to get more ice time with Joey Keane on the move; especially on the powerplay where he can show what he is capable of offensively. Has impressed me with his physical intensity this year, which is needed given that he is a little undersized (5'11). Flashes good mobility leading the rush too. At this point, I think scouts are still trying to figure out what type of defender Allensen projects to be. As someone who doesn't possess elite size, he'll need to wow in the second half with skills that are a little more projectable. This is especially true offensively.

40. Brayden Guy - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Has been excellent this year as a complimentary piece on Sarnia's scoring lines. Very effective player without the puck. Crashes the net. Works the wall. Finds scoring lanes. Has been fairly productive offensively too without significant powerplay time. Potential for the next level may be limited as his game offensively is pretty simple. Doesn't flash much in terms of one on one puck skill. Very much a dump and chase, North/South kind of player. But there is a place for guys like Guy at the next level. And there's always the chance that his confidence grows offensively eventually. 

41. Grayson Ladd - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Extremely intelligent stay at home defender. Has among the best defensive hockey sense and positioning of any defender listed here. His mobility is good for the type of game he plays too. Very much a modern day shutdown defender though; stick on puck and quick transitions. Not a ton of physicality. Offensive production has been pretty decent, but I don't see a ton of offensive potential for the next level. His pro potential lies in continuing to improve his strength in the defensive end, adding a little more sandpaper to his game to help him be more than just strong positionally. 

42. Nathan Staios - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Not much has changed here. I still love Staios' game. But I still think that he's going to need to produce more offensively to truly be on NHL draft lists come June. It's not impossible for defenders at 5'8 to be successful in today's NHL. Especially when they possess Staois' skating ability. His cuts and fluidity are fun to watch. Allows him to be difficult to hem into the defensive zone and makes him good at keeping pucks in at the line. And Staios is solid defensively and plays the game hard like his father Steve did. Plays way bigger than his size. But guys like Jared Spurgeon and Matt Grzelcyk are terrific offensive players too and I don't think Staios is that yet. I've still got him ranked, but he's probably a long shot for the draft. Cheering for him though. 

43. Jordan Frasca - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Still don't know what to make of Frasca in all honesty. I know of some that are big fans of his and believe in his potential to develop into a quality goal scorer. Has good size and has been versatile positionally (playing the wing and center this year). But every time I see Windsor play, Frasca isn't very noticeable. Consistency has been a big issue (in 8 of his 32 games this year, he hasn't registered a shot). But it's important to remember that Frasca is an OHL rookie and as he adds strength this could improve his ability to make plays with the puck (keeping possession). I'll continue to keep tabs on him in the second half.

44. Luke Cavallin - Goaltender - Flint Firebirds
Still struggling to find his footing in the OHL with only a couple good performances since the beginning of November. It has to be hard for him to gain any sort of confidence playing for a Flint team that has struggled, especially defensively. Faces a lot of premium scoring chances. And he makes some very athletic saves that show just how much potential he possesses. But he is still prone to some poor goals due to some poor positioning. Pucks that squeak through the five hole, through the body, and from over committing. Still have him ranked because I've seen enough to suggest that he could be an NHL prospect. But if he doesn't turn it around a little bit in the second half, he probably falls out of my top 50.

45. Andrew MacLean - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
Tough stretch of recent games, but a pretty conservative ranking for one of the OHL's hottest netminders through December. That stretch was certainly impressive. MacLean is definitely a bit of an unconventional netminder. Hybrid goalie who plays a mix of butterfly and stand-up. Very active in his crease and makes a lot of desperation style saves. Really like how he fights through traffic to make a save; one of the things that I've got highlighted in my rather limited notes for him. He has the size at 6'2 too. I guess I just want to see him replicate that December play, or at least some semblance of it. Could he be this year's Matthew Villalta? 

46. Tim Fleischer - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Getting better every time I see Hamilton play. Last time I saw the Bulldogs, they had him with Strome and Kaliyev and he didn't look out of place at all. I definitely wish the production was better, but I think he's been way better than the stat line indicates. Love how he can carry the puck through the neutral zone and push the pace. Perfect compliment to Kaliyev and Strome for that reason as he helps them gain entry to the zone. Strength on the puck is an issue. But Fleischer is far from a polished product, even if he's a late 2000 born player.

47. Navrin Mutter - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Probably going to take some heat for this one because Mutter may just be the most hated player in the OHL among fans outside of Hamilton. No question he plays the game reckless and the way he hits is being removed from the game. But, if you look at him with an unbias eye, he's actually turned himself into a very effective player the last few months. His offensive game has really come around. This kid can shoot a puck. And with his long frame at 6'3, he actually is hard to separate from the puck once he gets in stride in the offensive zone. If his energy can be harnessed more for good, and his puck skill continues to evolve, Mutter is a pro prospect, whether you agree with his antics or not.

48. Cullen McLean - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The ice time fluctuates, but I think he makes the most of it. Obviously the offensive production is not going to be consistent. But it's important to remember that McLean is playing in his first season above midget and strength/conditioning is something that will need to improve. But at 6'2, this kid already flashes an ability to make plays in the open ice and I think he possesses a lot of potential as a playmaker. Good in the open ice, just needs to be stronger on the puck in other areas. I trust the Greyhounds' developmental model and I think this is a kid to watch in the future, even if he doesn't truly crack the NHL scouting radar this year.

49. Mitchell Russell - Forward - North Bay Battalion
The early results following a move to North Bay have been very promising. Have yet to see him play in a North Bay uniform, so tough to comment on his play there. But the point per game average is great. Coming out of minor midget, Russell was said to possess some of the highest goal scoring potential and one of the better shots in the age group. But we haven't seen that consistently yet. Skating was an area that I felt had held him back in Owen Sound. But he does have size at 6'0. Will need to see him play with the Battalion and hope he keeps up the solid production. 

50. Ashton Reesor - Defense - Sarnia Sting
Debated a whole bunch of guys at #50 and I think an argument could be made for any of my HM's taking this spot. But here's why I went with Reesor. This is a 6'3 kid who projects as a shutdown defender and probably will end up being one of the OHL's best in the defensive end before he graduates from the league. Plays a lot of key minutes for Sarnia, especially in defensive situations. His skating will need to continue to improve. The physicality will need to be more consistent. The puck skill and his confidence in playing with the puck will need to develop. But there's just something about his quiet effectiveness that is intriguing. +/- isn't a stat that I put a lot of weight on, but it's worth noting that Reesor's +13 is the best among Sarnia's defenders by 10 points. 

Honorable Mentions
Jacob Winterton - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Tyler Angle - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Erik Cermak - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Anthony Aguanno - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Mathew Hill - Defense - Barrie Colts
Luke Bignell - Forward - Barrie Colts
Dalton Duhart - Forward - Barrie Colts
Duncan Penman - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads



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