The St. Louis Blues are up next.
1. Tyler Tucker - Barrie Colts
Maybe a surprise to Blues fans to see Tucker ahead of Toropchenko, but I'm a big fan of the progression he showed last year (and I'm quite frankly, not as high on Toropchenko). I think one of the main reasons for that was Tucker's improved skating and puck skill. The skating will still need to be refined. He still needs to get quicker and improve his overall agility. But, it's come a long way. Needless to say, if he could skate the way he does now, in his draft year, he would not have been a 7th round selection. The progression of his skill with the puck has been perhaps even more surprising. It's something that has caught even myself off guard. Now, I'm not saying he's now Erik Karlsson. But he has become a way more creative player who is able to be a factor in transition and deep in the offensive zone. Tucker's goal totals were bound to improve. He had a hard shot, but didn't really know how to use it, or have the footwork necessary to use it. That changed this year. And his work on the point of the powerplay was quite solid. Defensively, Tucker remains a real throwback to yester-years. He is one of the most physical players in the OHL, but has refined his approach a bit. He doesn't take himself out of position as much to go for that big hit and seems more comfortable with his skating ability to be more patient and out-wait attackers. This is a kid who has clearly put the work in to improving his game and he has established himself as one of the top defenders in the OHL heading into next year. I would expect him to be over the point per game mark, with a stronger Colts' team around him.
2. Alexei Toropchenko - Guelph Storm
For Toropchenko, the regular season was, quite frankly, status quo for the talented Russian forward. Consistency issues continued to plague him. Just like in his rookie season, there were times where he would dominate, using his size and power to be a near unstoppable force off the rush. And I felt that we also saw him dominate at times in different ways than previous too, working harder without the puck to be a factor in puck pursuit and on the forecheck. But again, this was mixed with lackluster efforts. But...that all changed in the playoffs where Toropchenko was one of the best players in helping Guelph take home an OHL Championship. He flat out took over the Ottawa 67's series and continued that into the Memorial Cup. While he remains a player with a lot of potential, I still have questions about his hockey sense. A player with his skill set should have still been able to pot 30 goals easily this year (especially given his size/speed advantage), yet, that was not the case. Too often he appears out of the play in the offensive end and the chances that he finishes off are often the ones that he creates. When his linemmates have the puck, he's not someone who consistently finds those scoring lanes. And his playmaking vision remains a work in progress. At his best, he is a dynamic North/South power forward. But, when he's not able to over power players at the pro level, what will he turn to? That's my question. Would it shock me if Toropchenko turned pro, the light bulb went off and he scored more goals as an AHL rookie than he did as an OHL veteran? Nope. But I do think there will be an adjustment period for him.
3. Keean Washkurak - Mississauga Steelheads
I saw one post draft analyst refer to Washkurak as a "gnat." And that is meant in an endearing way. He's just such a high energy player. The strength of that lies in his skating ability. Washkurak can really fly. This makes him a very effective forechecker and penalty killer. Washkurak also plays a lot bigger than his size and is fearless on the ice when it comes to challenging larger defenders. He'll do anything to make a play. As an offensive player, it remains to be seen how high his ceiling is. With Owen Tippett and Ryan McLeod now gone, top line ice time and powerplay time will be Washkurak's for the taking. I'm curious to see just how much his hands can catch up to his skating ability. There's no question that right now, he's quicker without the puck than with it. He's actually a more effective player in the offensive zone, working below the hash marks. But I'd like to see him really take off in transition, using his speed to create more offensive chances and being someone who can really drive the pace of play. Also want to see him continue to ramp up his physicality. While he won't back down from a physical challenge and had his share of fights this year, Washkurak's physical play wasn't consistent. I want to see him take over games in his regard too. Really liked this selection by St. Louis and I would expect Washkurak to be in the 25/40 range this year for Mississauga.