Saturday, January 21, 2023

Midseason Top 50 for the 2023 NHL Entry Draft

What an unbelievable OHL Trade Deadline it was this year. We saw over a half dozen teams across the league really load up and this is going to make the stretch run and the playoffs incredibly exciting.

As is the case each year, the passing of the deadline signals that it is time to update my draft rankings. Recently you saw NHL Central Scouting release their rankings. You'll see several differences in my rankings, but also some similarities. 

At this point, I would probably call this draft crop from the OHL a little underwhelming. This is especially true given the strength of some other regions. There are only a couple of players that I would consider first round locks and it's conceivable that the OHL does not have a player selected inside of the lottery. Additionally, I'm not crazy about the depth the league has to offer this year. I wouldn't be shocked if the number of players selected from the league hovers around 30. 

For those unfamiliar with my lists, I only include first time eligible players. So a guy like Spencer Sova isn't listed despite the fact that I'd expect him to receive very heavy 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 November. Additionally, here is the preliminary media/scout poll from late December.

Here's the list:

1. Colby Barlow - Wing - Owen Sound Attack
I'm in the midst of writing my report on Barlow for McKeen's (look for that in the next week or so), which would ultimately be a much deeper dive than this write up. However, here's why Barlow is my number one. I see a prospect with a very safe NHL projection. All the things he does well, he should continue to do well at the next level because of his combination of size, quickness, physicality, and IQ. At the very least, he is going to end up as a quality middle six player who can play in any situation. That safety in a year where the OHL does not seemingly have many safe bets is attractive. I think Barlow's playmaking and vision is extremely underrated. His goal scoring production this year has been impressive, but he can pass the puck too. It's rare to see him make a poor play or read in the offensive zone. He's probably one of the better forecheckers in the OHL already. He finishes plays off in a multitude of ways. He's defensively reliable and intelligent. I'm not worried in the least about him being too physically mature. It's not like Barlow is 6'4, 220lbs, or dominating because of his sheer strength in the absence of skill. If anything, I think his game could hit another level still with better conditioning and strength. I see three things being key to him unlocking his upside as a top six player. One; improving his ability to blend speed and skill. He can struggle to cleanly corral pucks when he's at full speed or trying to pick up speed. This leads to missed opportunities. Two; Improving his hands and shot even further. This sounds ridiculous to say given that Barlow is currently third in the league in goal scoring as a U18 player, but I actually think he's capable of being an even more dangerous goal scorer with some adjustments. That would include improving his catch ability on imperfect passes, in addition to blending his skating and shooting ability to create better angles for his wrist shot. Third; becoming a more consistent physical presence. Barlow is unquestionably a hard worker, but I'd love to see him really punishing people on a shift by shift basis. If he could become that true power forward, he becomes an even more valuable player.

2. Quentin Musty - Wing - Sudbury Wolves
Just when you think you've got Musty figured out, it seems like a poor performance throws a wrinkle in that. My live viewings of him this year have been poor. While my video viewings of him have been terrific. I was really starting to grow to like him but then I saw him play in Hamilton recently and he had a very poor game. Now...granted he played through a hand injury in that game (which has kept him out of action since), so it's probably measured with a grain of salt. Point being, he's a tough player to form a steady opinion on. There's so much good...especially under new coach Derek MacKenzie. He is highly skilled. He shows well as both a scorer and playmaker. His decision making with the puck has slowly started improving; his turnovers are being limited. He is playing with more physical tenacity and finding his way to the middle of the ice more consistently. His upside is, without question, the highest of any OHL player eligible this year. Yet...I'm just not sure an NHL scout will be willing to risk their neck for him as a first rounder. His defensive game is nearly non existent. He is often the last player back to the defensive zone and the first to exit. His first step quickness is not terrific. His ability to utilize his shot and get himself in scoring position remains a work in progress. And, while it has shown progress, his puck management remains a development target. I had a scout ask me the other day about what Musty can do to shake his reputation as a "risky selection" (we actually answered this on the THN podcast). It's a great question. The answer is probably continue to show the positive growth that he has the last month or two. When he returns from his injury, hopefully he can continue to show progress. If he's able to improve on the above areas, the upside truly is that of a first line player.

3. Calum Ritchie - Center - Oshawa Generals
Speaking of consistency, insert Cal Ritchie. He came into the year as a potential top 7/8 pick, but is now looking more like a mid to late first rounder. Given Oshawa's rebuilding status, it has to be tough on Ritchie and I understand how he's probably not ready to be the true focal point of an offense. But what scouts have to be asking themselves is "how do we view Ritchie's high end potential?" I've had a few tell me about how his projection may have shifted to that of a middle six guy instead of a true, top center. Even through his offensive struggles at even strength, Ritchie's defensive effectiveness has remained consistent. He's an intelligent two-way player. As an offensive player his two most valuable assets are his hands and his playmaking sense. He's shooting the puck more and hesitating less this year, but he's still a pass first player with the puck and always will be IMO. As a transitional attacker, Ritchie's skating limitations have prevented this from being a consistent part of his game. I think his top speed is actually good, but his boots are a little heavy. Adding that quickness would really help him shed defenders at even strength more consistently. It seems like every time he falls into a bit of a lull in production and performance, he breaks out in a big way (like his performance in the first TSN game of the year against Kitchener). It makes him tough to truly peg. I kind of want to move him down further , but then I'm sucked back in by that package of size and skill from the middle. It feels like a trap...that if we underappreciate Ritchie as a draft prospect, he's going to burn us in the future.

4. Carson Rehkopf - Center - Kitchener Rangers
I am firmly on the Rehkopf bandwagon (see this twitter thread on him). IMO, he's going to be an NHL first round pick so long as he can continue to produce down the stretch on a deep Kitchener team. Similar to Colby Barlow, I see a real safe projection here. Rehkopf is a very powerful skater and he uses this in so many different ways to be effective across all three zones. His quickness is a real problem for OHL defenders considering his length and puck protection ability. He's starting to realize this too and is looking for situations to exploit this advantage more consistently. Rehkopf also has a deceptive and quick release, perhaps among the best of any forward in this OHL class. His potential as a goal scorer is huge. Lastly, he's a disruptive defensive force because of his length, quickness, and physicality. Really, he's been great all year and I don't think he's getting the kind of respect he deserves. He started the year off with a great Hlinka/Gretzky and he's just continued to perform well. I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility that Rehkopf is even higher on my year end list at the expense of Musty/Ritchie. However, I want just a little more time to analyze his puck skill and overall ceiling. Production for him down the stretch will be critical, especially if he continues to be more of a third line option. He needs to make the most of his ice time.

5. Beau Akey - Defense - Barrie Colts
Oliver Bonk has emerged as the top defender available from the OHL in the eyes of many, but for me it's still Beau Akey. I think Bonk is the better two-way defender now, but I think Akey has the higher NHL upside of the two. Akey is among the best skaters in this OHL draft class and the best of the defenders. His impact on the transition game is profound when he's being aggressive as a transporter. He can carve up space and really put pressure on opposing defenses thanks to his elite level top speed and effortless four way mobility. His hands are excellent and his small area skill is good enough to help him weasel his way out of pressure at both ends. Even with Brandt Clarke back in Barrie, I would expect Akey continues to produce offensively (he has so far). However, I think Akey can be a solid defensive player too. The IQ is there, but he just loses too many battles for positioning right now. As he gains strength, I see him becoming a quality two-way player. His elite four way mobility will eventually become an asset at both ends. Depending on how his year finishes out, Akey could be a borderline first rounder for me too. He just seems like the kind of player who doesn't yet realize how truly good he could be.

6. Carey Terrance - Center - Erie Otters
I feel like Terrance is flying under the radar right now because the Otters just aren't great and because his production is fairly modest. But he leads the team in goal scoring as of writing this and is a player who I like better every time I watch him play. Similar to a few of the other players listed so far, I think Terrance has a very safe NHL projection. He's one of the best skating forwards in this OHL crop and he's a solid defensive center/forechecker. He also has an underrated shot and release. At the very least, there's a path to being a Cody Eakin type. But, his offensive tools, as raw as they are, could easily continue to improve as the Erie team improves around him. These days, I don't bet against athleticism. I think the other thing I really like about Terrance is how he already understands how to weaponize his speed. He changes pace well to be deceptive and he's very effective exploding off the wall and out of the cycle. Thus far, I'm still trying to get a read on his processing and vision as a distributor. I think it's a required area of growth. The same could be said for his skill blending ability, not dissimilar from Barlow and Rehkopf. Maybe he ends up having to play the wing at the next level where his speed, tenacity, and goal scoring touch could make him a really good complimentary piece? At the end of the day, I'm confused as to why he's not on more lists as a top two round pick.

7. Coulson Pitre - Wing - Flint Firebirds
Pitre is my kind of player. If you've followed my work for a long time, you'd know that power forward types like Pitre are my jam. I thought he started the year pretty poorly; he seemed a bit lost with trying to carve out a role on a deep forward group and he got away from the things that made him successful last year. But the last few months, he's been outstanding. The physicality is consistent. He understands how to play without the puck. He's a solid skater. But what I like most about Pitre's game is his vision with the puck. It's rare to find power forward types who see the ice the way that Pitre does. His IQ grade is quite high. As a late 2004, I do understand that some may believe he has less room for development and what you see might be what you get here. No question, I do believe there are players ranked below Pitre who have higher upside. But if I'm drafting in the second round, Pitre is an attractive target because he does so many things well and already has a pro style game. It's not far fetched to say that he develops into a Nick Foligno, Jason Zucker type. 

8. Oliver Bonk - Defense - London Knights
Yes, he's moving up my list finally. And no...it's not out of peer pressure. But I've had to watch a lot of the Knights and lot of isolated videos of Bonk to really develop more of an appreciation for how he is playing this year. He's probably the best defenseman (in London) on one of the best teams in the OHL. That's an impressive feat for (essentially) a first year player. Bonk's best attribute is unquestionably his IQ/processing ability at both ends. He's got a great stick in the defensive zone and always seems to be in the right spot to break up plays. He doesn't chase the play and has the poise of a five year OA. This is evident at the offensive end too, where he is great at picking his spots to jump up in the play. Yes, he's got a great point shot, but he's scoring a lot from the backend because he times pinches well and finds those soft spots in coverage consistently. I had someone mention to me the other day that Bonk could be a Devon Toews type at the NHL level and that's certainly possible if he can continue to upgrade his four way mobility. However, as I have been all year, I'm still a little weary regarding his projection. I think the skill, skating, and physicality components of his game grade out as average. There have been so many similar OHL defenders who have failed to take that next step because they aren't athletic enough/skilled enough to take advantage of their high end IQ. That said, he is growing on me because he does so many of the little things well. Is he Matt Finn? Is he Travis Dermott? Is he Calvin de Haan? Is he Devon Toews? The range of outcomes is vast and I just need to see him even more. However, I do feel like he will continue to rise on my list.

9. Luca Pinelli - Wing - Ottawa 67's
It was not shocking to see Pinelli lower on NHL Central Scouting. Undersized and not a dynamic skater can be a tough combination to overcome. For that reason, I see Pinelli as more a second/third round prospect. But I know he has his fans in the scouting community. Even if his production has slowed a bit, he's still playing well for the 67's. He's such a smart player who has a very well rounded offensive profile. He can get after it on the forecheck and makes great reads without the puck. He's skilled enough to be a play driver at the junior level and he uses deception to help him carry in transition, overcoming his lack of explosiveness. Pinelli has a good shot. He competes hard at both ends. Like I said, just a well rounded profile. The flip side of this is that there may be some projection issues here. What is Pinelli at the NHL level? I don't see him as a true offensive catalyst there without significant improvements to his skating. So is he then more of a complimentary piece then? Probably. Looking at someone like Michael Bunting is probably the best case scenario for Pinelli. Worse case, he ends up as more of a tweener like Nic Petan. 

10. Cam Allen - Defense - Guelph Storm
Great to see him return from his shoulder injury. I was worried that his participation in the Top Prospect's Game was in doubt Interestingly enough, Guelph had been playing their best hockey as of late without Allen. That's certainly not a criticism, but it means that now that he has returned, he should have a little less pressure on him to perform and he can work to keep things simple and play within the flow of the game. Coming into the year, I had him ranked first in Ontario. I loved him as a U17 player and I loved him at the Hlinka/Gretzky. But his play this year has pointed to some limitations in his processing at both ends. When he keeps things simple, he's at his best. Does that mean that his potential as an offensive defender might be limited? Lots of questions and not a ton of answers right now. All signs point to the U18's this year being a huge event for Allen. That is if the projection of the standings remains about the same and Guelph ends up losing in round one or missing completely. Some of the concerns scouts have with Allen this year were the same that they had with Spencer Sova last year who went through a similar curve. Hopefully Allen's draft stock doesn't take a similar dive. And if it does...look at how well Sova is playing this year, proving that he should have been drafted last year.

11. Hunter Brzustewicz - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
There are a lot of things that I like about Brzustewicz's game. His four way mobility is an asset. His edgework and lateral quickness help him at both ends and give him escapability to start the breakout. It also helps him when he's running the point in the offensive end. He keeps pucks in well and he pushes laterally well to open up lanes that he can exploit. I also really like the way he processes the game with the puck on his stick. Similar to a guy like Oliver Bonk, he keeps things simple. Quick outlets. Safe dump ins. He always seems to have his head up and his puck management is sound. I guess the question I have is what's the upside? He's not a dynamic or explosive mover, which will limit his ability to impact the game offensively at the next level. He has struggled defensively at times, both in his reads and in handling physicality. He will ultimately become a quality two-way defender IMO, but will that be at the NHL level? Earlier I mentioned a guy like Travis Dermott and if you go back and look at Dermott's scouting report from junior, you'll see a pretty similar player. Dermott has had some trouble carving out a niche at the NHL level without a true standout skill. Lots of pressure on the Rangers in the second half and I want to see how Brzustewicz handles that.

12. Matthew Mania - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Upside, upside, and more upside. Playing under Derek MacKenzie, Mania has been terrific as an offensive defender. He skates really well. He's starting to take more chances with the puck, jumping up into the play. He's very skilled and is the type of offensive blueliner who can seemingly go end to end when he wishes. Mania is also doing a much better job in the offensive end, getting pucks on net, making better decisions on his pinches, etc. Defensively, he's a work in progress. There needs to be an increase in physical intensity. He can be pushed around too easily along the wall and near the crease and it puts the Wolves at a disadvantage. He, flat out, needs to be more difficult to play against. However, you just can't ignore what he's been able to do with the puck on his stick in recent months. As said, his offensive upside is significant. Can the defensive game show growth by the end of the year? 

13. Andrew Gibson - Defense - Soo Greyhounds
I'm really coming around on Gibson. He's a slow burn and he really requires many viewings to gain an appreciation of. I recently did a long thread on twitter on Gibson (here). In a nutshell, Gibson is a raw, potential two-way defender. 6'3, right shot defenders with decent mobility and an all around game do not grow on trees. Gibson is terrific in the offensive zone. He's not the most innately skilled or flashy; he keeps things simple. However, he supports the play really well and is gaining confidence in his ability to play deep in the offensive zone. Defensively, he is physical and has the kind of length that makes him a disruptive force to transitional attackers. His footwork isn't always clean, but I have faith that Brendan Taylor and the Hounds coaching staff can really bring the best out of him. The track record is there. I think the most concerning thing for me is his puck management in the defensive end. He can get bottled up in the defensive zone and turnovers have been an issue. He doesn't shoulder check enough and he doesn't yet have the confidence to use his feet consistently to help him clear forecheckers. Again, though, I would harbour to guess that this gets cleaned up eventually. Over the rest of the year my focus will be on determining Gibson's NHL upside. 

14. Ondrej Molnar - Wing - Erie Otters
He has only played a handful of games in the OHL, but I've been impressed with many components of his game. He's an electric skater who can really put pressure on opposing defenses. He has elite level elusiveness with his agility and ability to stop/start in the offensive zone. He's actually been a little better without the puck than I expected too. He can be effective on the forecheck with his speed. On the man advantage, his vision and passing ability has been very noticeable. However, at even strength, he's been a lot less effective. He's struggling to find ways to get to the inside and is getting pushed off the puck too easily. There are some strength deficits here. He seems hesitant to really take control too. He's passing up shooting opportunities and seems to be lacking confidence in that area. Unquestionably, his offensive upside is high. As he gets stronger and becomes more confident on North American ice, he could be a really electric player. I hope he sticks it out in Erie moving forward and into next year because they're building something good with guys like him, Terrance, Pano Fimis, Malcolm Spence and whoever they select early in 2023.

15. Ethan Miedema - Wing - Kingston Frontenacs
The big piece moved in the Shane Wright to Windsor deal, Miedema hasn't had the best start to his time in Kingston. But it's obviously very early. The issue with Miedema has been consistency this year. He's big and skilled. He can be a physical presence. I've always been impressed with his passing ability and vision with the puck, especially coming off the wall. But there's a definite need to improve his quickness and balance so that he can shed defenders more consistently. And it would be great to see him take the bull by the horns more often. There's a passiveness to his game at times that you don't like to see from a 6'4 forward. Can he put it all together? There will be a lot of eyes on him in the second half to see how he plays in Kingston where he will be expected to be more of a focal point of the attack. 

16. Quinton Burns - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
IMO, Burns is one of the most underrated players in this OHL crop right now. He's played incredibly well for Kingston this year and is playing a lot for the Fronts across a variety of different situations. He's very mobile and is a strong skater. He's extremely physically aggressive and makes life difficult for opposing forwards; there's a real edge to his game. He moves the puck well inside the offensive zone. He's learning to be better as a carrier in transition and will eventually be the type who consistently looks to push pace and use his legs to start the breakout. Similar to Andrew Gibson, his puck management in the defensive zone has been a weakness at times. Additionally, I'm still trying to figure out just how skilled Burns is. What's the true upside here? But a defender with good mobility, size, and physically who isn't a liability with the puck? Sign me up.

17. Denver Barkey - Center - London Knights
Similar to Pinelli, it's not shocking to see Barkey disrespected by scouting agencies given that he's undersized and not the world's most dynamic skater. I don't think he's a top two round selection, but he's definitely someone I have a ton of time for in the mid rounds. There are a lot of paths to the NHL for Barkey if he can work to improve his quickness/speed. He's already a great defensive player who is a valuable penalty killer. He plays much bigger than his size and never backs down from a battle. He's also a skilled and deceptive playmaker whose quick hands afford him the time and space that his lack of quickness does not. I ultimately see him becoming a very versatile player as a pro who can slide up and down the lineup. Maybe he's a tweener. Maybe he's not more than a fourth liner and PK'er. Maybe he's a lot more than that. The range of outcomes is wide. Don't doubt the London development model. London has some reinforcements now, but for most of the year Barkey has been the straw that stirs the drink for the Knights. There's no way you can let him get outside the top 120 or so.

18. Joey Willis - Center/Wing - Saginaw Spirit
Is Willis truly an NHL prospect? There's no way you're watching Saginaw games and not coming away impressed with his play. He's been so good as a rookie, even if the production hasn't been consistent. He plays both ends. He's smart. He's an excellent playmaker. He's got great hands. He makes a couple really impressive plays every game, even if it's not showing on the score sheet. Yet, I do understand the concerns over his projectability. In a lot of ways, it's similar to the Barkey situation and thus I've lumped them together. Willis is not a dynamic skater. His strides lack power. He's also not the biggest at 5'10. That combo can be difficult for scouts. Additionally, he's kind of a player without a position. I'm not sure if he's a winger or a center long term. Sometimes as an analyst you have to try to separate the great junior players from the great NHL prospects. All that said, I have to trust my eyes here. I'm banking on processing ability here. I think it's important to realize that Willis is playing his first year above the AAA level. He's going to be behind the eight ball from a conditioning and strength perspective. I believe there is room for his athletic tools to improve and I'm happy to look his way in those middle rounds, banking on long term upside.

19. Brad Gardiner - Center - Ottawa 67's
Gardiner is a creative and intelligent pivot who has proven to be a versatile, swiss army knife for the 67's this year. He's been everywhere from the first line to the fourth line and he's played in every situation imaginable. I really like how he plays through traffic. His game is predicated by quick touches and quick feet and for that reason he's a tough cover. He protects the puck really well by spinning off checks and keeping his feet moving. While his first step quickness is not impressive, he builds up to a solid top speed which he can use to apply pressure on the attack. I've seen him pretty high on some lists lately, like Craig Button's. I've been impressed, but I'm also still trying to get a read on the high end upside here. 

20. Easton Cowan - Wing - London Knights
Similar to Barkey, Cowan has been really good for London this year. The two have developed remarkable chemistry with each other. Cowan loves to play at a breakneck pace. His motor is really good. He's hard on pucks. He drives the net. Yeah, he's not big, but he plays the way you want smaller players to play; fearless. I love how quickly he makes decisions too. High IQ player who can pass it off, but also has a quick release to help him finish off plays. I don't think he's got fantastic upside as a scoring line option at the NHL level, but I see someone who could carve out a long career as a high energy checking line player. Hopefully he doesn't get buried down the stretch by London's depth. 

21. Alex Pharand - Center - Sudbury Wolves
Pharand is a big bodied center who knows his role. He is aggressive in pursuit of the puck, he protects it well in the cycle, and he heads to the net as a screen option. His hands are actually quite good. You don't score as often as he has this year if they weren't. He can put pucks home under pressure and finishes equally well on his backhand as he does his forehand. The boots are a bit heavy. He's not a strong puck carrier at this time. The overall ceiling might be a little limited. But he's still a 6'3 natural center with good hands and physicality who shows potential as a two-way player. These are the types that NHL scouts love. 

22. Nick Lardis - Wing - Hamilton Bulldogs
Lardis sure is enjoying life with the Bulldogs so far with the opportunity to operate as a primary scoring option and the focal point of an attack. He's at nearly two points per game with Hamilton. I'm going to need a ton of views on Lardis in the second half because I, admittedly, don't feel like I have a good read on him at this time. In Peterborough, it felt like he was too often simply a passenger, despite possessing the quickness and skill to be a difference maker with the puck. But in Hamilton, the early returns have been great as he can be the one leading the charge over the blueline, with the flow of the game being dictated by his actions. He's a strong skater, which is critical given his lack of size. That much has always been obvious. But can he work his way into the middle of the ice? What kind of upside does he have as a goal scorer? I'm sure I'll have a more concrete opinion by season's end, especially given the kind of ice time he's getting in Hamilton.

23. Tristan Bertucci - Defense - Flint Firebirds
There is definitely a path to the NHL for a defender like Bertucci. Good size. Good mobility, especially laterally and backwards. Plays with physicality. Has a good stick in the defensive zone and tracks the play well. He's been a stalwart in the defensive end. The offensive production actually has been pretty good too. Bertucci makes a good first pass and does have good scanning habits. He's not the kind of defender who is skilled enough to be a powerplay QB at the next level, but he can start the breakout efficiently and that counts for something. John Marino comes to mind as a comparison and a best case scenario for Bertucci. More likely, he probably has less potential than some of the other defenders from the OHL this year, but he has the intangibles that NHL scouts are really going to like. It's early, but it would not shock me if he's a top three round selection come June.

24. Matthew Soto - Wing - Kingston Frontenacs
Soto is a high energy, chance of pace attacker who loves to play up tempo. Feels like I'm describing an NBA point guard prospect, but that's kind of how I see Soto. Even though he loves to push pace and is at his best in transition, he's also got great vision. His decision making with the puck always stands out as a positive for me. Quick wingers who can make quick decisions transition well to the next level. He's far from the tunnel vision type. I guess my concerns with Soto are upside related. Consistency has been an issue for him. Part of that is related to playing on a young Kingston team. Part of that stems from the fact that he needs to improve his strength/conditioning to be better playing through contact. Is he skilled or creative enough to be a top six winger? Can other parts of his game improve with experience and strength, rounding him into a more complete two-way presence? Love him as a mid round candidate.

25. Cooper Foster - Center - Ottawa 67's
Foster is quietly having a really good year in a middle six role for the 67's. He was the NOJHL MVP last year as a U17 player and his transition to the OHL has been pretty seamless. He has a really well rounded profile. Good skater. Good skill. Intelligent. Competitive. Equal parts playmaker and scorer. The issue I have had so far is trying to figure out what Foster would be at the next level. I have zero doubt that he will be a really good OHL player, perhaps even next year. But the lack of a true standout attribute, in combination with average size makes his projection a bit murky. I really like him at this point as a mid/later round option. Higher than that, I'm just not sure. 

26. Cole Brown - Wing - Hamilton Bulldogs
The production isn't great, but Brown is the kind of intriguing athlete that teams have been selecting in the mid rounds a lot lately. There is a wide range of outcomes regarding Brown's development because I feel like he's still finding his way in the league. It will be interesting to see how he plays in the second half with a ton of ice time and powerplay responsibility. At this point, Brown is very much a North/South winger who knows his role is to get to the net. He relishes in this and he finds success in it. He flashes an ability to drive wide, using his length/frame to protect the puck too. However, he disappears for stretches and needs to find a way to impact the game more consistently without the puck. Maybe that's as a forechecker. As a physical component. As a two-way winger (using that length). The skating isn't terrible for a player of his size at this age, but adding more explosiveness would definitely be key moving forward. It would help him to be better in pretty much every facet. 

27. Owen Outwater - Center - Kingston Frontenacs
Since acquiring Outwater, it's been interesting to see the chemistry develop at this level between he and Soto, former minor hockey teammates with the Oakville Rangers. I kind of see them as polar opposites to be honest and perhaps that's why it's working well. Outwater is this athletic, but raw pivot who is currently at his best when he can push pace. He's quite quick for a big, lanky pivot and he uses his speed to drive the middle. At times, this is to a fault, as he can try to drive through people when he should be dishing off; there is some tunnel vision at play here. I'm actually not completely convinced that he's a center long term. But, for now, he is being developed as such. I'm also not completely sold on the high end skill level, which means the rest of his game is going to really need to round into form, but there is definitely an intriguing package of athleticism here. Kind of like Brown, the range of outcomes is vast.

28. Lucas Moore - Defense - Hamilton Bulldogs
Moore is an undersized, right shot defender who has quietly been very good for the Bulldogs this year. There's a real simplicity to his game as a puck mover. He transitions quickly and is comfortable making an exit pass or using his feet to clear the defensive zone. He's not a completely dynamic linear attacker, but his four way mobility is sound. His decision making in the offensive zone is solid too. Makes quick decisions, uses his feet to get clearance, gets pucks on net. Defensively, I like the intensity level to make up for his lack of size. But he can chase the play at times and for a player with good mobility, his footwork can get sloppy defending attackers with pace. I'm not entirely convinced that he's more than a really good OHL defender in the future, but there's enough positives that I'd still look at him in the mid to late rounds. 

29. Angus MacDonell - Center - Mississauga Steelheads
One of the many new pieces brought in by the Steelheads, I really like MacDonell. I think he's a future captain in the league and someone who will be a really good OHL player. His energy level on the ice is infectious and consistent. It's go, go, go. He's not a big kid at 5'10, but he competes hard and is just a solid all around player. The rest of the skill set probably grades out as average. His shot is probably the best of that; there's a solid goal scoring ceiling here. Would he be better as an attacking winger? Hard to say. I'd say yes, but we'll see how Mississauga develops him. The upside likely isn't very high, but he's an easy player to like and cheer for. His intangibles should get him a look in the later rounds.

30. Valentin Zhugin - Wing - Guelph Storm
At this point of my rankings, I see most of the guys listed as long shots to be drafted this year. So I'm going to rank a guy like Zhugin pretty high. His upside is quite high. He is extremely quick and he is very skilled. Zhugin is a dynamic transitional attacker. When you watch Guelph play, he always seems to stand out, but the production just doesn't match the eye test. Why is that? I'm not sure the processing ability is great. A lot of his impressive rushes end up not really creating much in the way of a dangerous opportunity. Additionally, he needs to find a way to work between the hash marks more consistently. There is a need to add strength and physical intensity to his game. I could see a team taking a swing at him late because of his speed and skill combo.

31. Matthew Mayich - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Mayich has been really good for the 67's this year; one of the team's unsung heroes thus far. He's a 6'2 defender with good mobility and a strong defensive IQ. His projection at the next level would definitely be as a stay at home type, however he shows flashes of being a capable puck mover too. Is there offensive upside? Tough to say.

32. James Petrovski - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Another good sized defender (6'3), Petrovski is definitely a lot more raw than Mayich. He hasn't really found that niche in the league that many expected he could carve out. His four way mobility is pretty decent for a big kid and he shows flashes of being very good at both ends of the ice. However, consistency has been an issue. Puck management has been an issue. Kind of a similar player to Nolan Collins last year when the Pens took him in the sixth round.

33. Donovan McCoy - Defense - Peterborough Petes
McCoy has been a disappointment for me this year. Really thought he'd have a monster breakout year, but that just hasn't happened. I like the mobility. I like the defensive zone intensity. He's playing a lot for the Petes, which is great, but the fact that his offensive game and decision making haven't taken that next step is concerning in regards to his upside. Way too early to give up on him, but as a late born 2004, the expectations were going to be higher. 

34. Joey Costanzo - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
It is bizarre to me that Costanzo was not listed at all by NHL Central Scouting. Do I think he's a lock to be drafted? No. But I think he's the better goaltender and a better goaltending prospect than the other four OHL goalies they listed. Costanzo has been terrific for Windsor since coming over from Niagara. This is especially true of late. He never quits on a play. He's athletic. He could be the starter for one of the main contenders in the OHL. 

35. Konnor Smith - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Massive stay at home defender is one of the most physical players in the OHL. The 6'5 behemoth is one mean customer. He truly suffocates in the defensive end. But his play with the puck is pretty weak at this point. Turnovers are an issue in the defensive end. Four way mobility is a concern too. But, I'd bet on him being drafted late because of how he could project as a depth, shutdown crease clearer.

36. Adam Zidlicky - Wing - Mississauga Steelheads
Very curious to see how Zidlicky does with more ice time and responsibility in Mississauga. Decent results so far. Look, I don't think the upside is high. But Zidlicky is a hard worker, has a nose for the net, and I think could potentially develop into a useful role player at the next level if his skill development can take that next step. The bloodlines are great.

37. Anthony Romani - Wing - North Bay Battalion
Romani is another guy that I think eventually becomes a really good OHL player. He's pretty skilled. His hands in tight are particularly impressive. I think he sees the ice pretty well and is a responsible two-way player. Romani is versatile. If he were a better skater, he'd be a more consistent offensive contributor and that's the next step for him. Could be the kind of guy who suddenly explodes with greater conditioning, or he could be more of a solid OHL player only type.

38. Matthew Andonovski - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
Another defender with good size, mobility, and physicality. But another guy I'm not certain has the skill or sense with the puck to be a longtime NHL defender. How he plays down the stretch for the Rangers will dictate where he ends up slotting in for the draft, especially in comparison to the likes of Mayich, Petrovski, Smith, etc.

39. Chris Barlas - Center/Wing - Ottawa 67's
Honestly, Barlas is probably not an NHL draft prospect this year, but I'm listing him anyway. He's not big, but he competes hard. He knows his role on this 67's team is to provide energy from the bottom six and he does just that. His combination of quickness, physicality, ability to protect the puck, and shot should make him a quality goal scorer at some point during his junior career. Can he be a high energy, bottom six guy in the NHL too if he develops accordingly?

40. Luke McNamara - Center - Saginaw Spirit
Center with good size who just hasn't put it all together consistently in the OHL. He can have a few shifts every game where he flashes impressive potential as a play driver, but mixes that in with too many where he's not visible. Would love to see him use his size to attack the net more consistently and be more assertive. Was originally touted as one of the better goal scorers in this age group and in order for that to happen, he'll need to increase his intensity.

41. Ethan Hay - Center - Flint Firebirds
Really good defensive center who can take key faceoffs. Solid enough skater. Intelligent. I'm just not sure he's skilled enough to be a true offensive catalyst. Can he have a similar trajectory to a guy like Tyler Gaudet (a blast from the past who ended up earning an NHL contract but now plays in Germany)?

42. Marco Mignosa - Wing - Soo Greyhounds
At this point the physical tools just haven't caught up to the brain. Mignosa is very clearly a smart player. He understands how to position himself in the offensive zone and his anticipation/reads are usually spot on. I think he looks quicker this year too. However, there's still work to be done as a skater and in terms of his strength on the puck. He's too easily kept to the perimeter and that limits his production and his projection.

43. Calem Mangone - Wing - Saginaw Spirit
I really like Mangone. He's really fun to watch when he's on his game because of how quick and skilled he is. He's tenacious too, which is good for his long term projection. However, the last few months he just hasn't been quite as effective. Maybe partially snake bitten, but also not noticeable enough as a late born 2004, who also happens to be undersized. 

44. Juan Copeland - Wing - Niagara IceDogs
Hard for players on this Niagara team to look good at this point of the season. It's been a rough year for the franchise. Copeland is the team's best hope at the NHL Draft IMO. Good speed and creativity on the wing. Is at his best when he's attacking wide and looking to get to the net. His decision making with the puck leaves some to be desired, but he's going to be a point per game player in this league and probably a 35+ goal scorer by the time he graduates. Not sure he's a true NHL prospect, but I've always been intrigued by him.

45. Charlie Robertson - Goaltender - North Bay Battalion
Big goalie who is going to play in the CHL Top Prospect's Game this year. Other than Bjarnason and Ratzlaff, it's not a strong year for goalies in the CHL, so that's Robertson's gain and a great opportunity to impress scouts considering his back-up role in North Bay this year. Tall and lanky, Robertson kind of resembles a young Matt Murray in the crease from an appearance perspective. He's actually very aggressive in challenging shooters, something you don't often see from big, young netminders who usually seem more comfortable playing deep. His agility and quickness is a work in progress, as you might expect. Consistency has also been a bit of an issue, which is not a surprise. Bottom line, Robertson is getting a look because he's big, shows some positive play tracking ability, and could have great potential if he can continue to get quicker in the crease.

46. Nic Sima - Wing - Saginaw Spirit
Sima is a big winger with good speed; he's an intriguing athlete. The rest of his game remains a work in progress. North/South, he looks good. He can operate as the F1. He uses his length well on the backcheck. He shows promise as a transitional leader. But the hands and finishing ability need to improve for him to score consistently in this league. If you draft Sima, you're banking on unlocking his potential based on his athletic build and traits.

47. Declan Waddick - Wing/Center - Niagara IceDogs
Not the biggest. Not the quickest. Maybe that means I've lost you already. But Waddick is an impressive thinker on the ice. Always puts himself in good position to make a play. Has a good compete level. I think he's eventually going to be a very good player in this league. But an NHL prospect? That will be reliant on whether he can get quicker.

48. Alex Assadourian - Center - Niagara IceDogs
He's been fantastic since the trade to Niagara. I love to see this because I was a big fan of his heading into the year. He's ultra quick, but I feel like he's still learning how to use his speed to be a truly effective all around, impact player in the OHL. Getting more ice time in Niagara hopefully unlocks that and the early returns are great. At his best, Assadourian is a feisty, speedy, play driving pest. There's NHL upside there if he can prove that he has the skill to play at the next level.

49. Alexis Daviault - Defense - Erie Otters
It's been a pretty disappointing season for Daviault. He came into the year as one of the better defenders in the age group, but he's been very underwhelming this year. As a U17 player, we saw someone who was aggressive (for his size) in the defensive end, but who also showed promise as a puck mover. This season, I don't think he's been as aggressive defensively and thus, not as effective given that he's only average sized. And he's been fairly timid with the puck, especially in his time with Erie. The big return of the Christian Kyrou trade needs to turn things around.

50. Bronson Ride - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Massive defender who is now going to get significantly more ice time with Niagara after a move from Windsor. His potential as a defensive stalwart is great. His mobility isn't terrible considering his size and when combined with his reach, he can be very disruptive. The key for Ride is simply to become more difficult to play against physically. For a big guy, his ability to win those 50/50 battles has been pretty inconsistent. Additionally, decision making with the puck...especially under pressure, has been an issue. Could see an NHL team looking his way late banking on defensive upside, but let's see how he closes out the year.



Friday, January 13, 2023

2023 NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings

NHL Central Scouting has released their first official draft ranking for 2023. Let's see how the OHL players were ranked. In total, 55 were listed. I'll be releasing my own midseason rankings very shortly (likely by the end of the month). See below for some commentary on these rankings.

Skaters:
1. Colby Barlow (10)
2. Quentin Musty (11)
3. Calum Ritchie (17)
4. Oliver Bonk (18)
5. Beau Akey (25)
6. Cam Allen (29)
7. Carson Rehkopf (31)
8. Andrew Gibson (32)
9. Hunter Brzustewicz (33)
10. Quinton Burns (37)
11. Coulson Pitre (41)
12. Brad Gardiner (43)
13. Ethan Miedema (45)
14. Ondrej Molnar (48)
15. Luca Pinelli (49)
16. Carey Terrance (50)
17. Tristan Bertucci (51)
18. Alex Pharand (54)
19. Matthew Mania (62)
20. Cooper Foster (74)
21. Easton Cowan (75)
22. Owen Outwater (76)
23. Denver Barkey (84)
24. Konnor Smith (87)
25. Matthew Soto (88)
26. Ethan Hay (90)
27. Luke McNamara (92)
28. Nick Lardis (96)
29. Florian Xhekaj (103)
30. Cole Brown (105)
31. Matthew Andonovski (115)
32. James Petrovski (116)
33. Matthew Mayich (122)
34. Blake Smith (123)
35. Nic Sima (133)
36. Spencer Sova (136)
37. Djibril Toure (156)
38. Alexis Daviault (169)
39. Anthony Romani (170)
40. Chris Barlas (171)
41. Angus MacDonell (172)
42. Joey Willis (174)
43. Calem Mangone (176)
44. Marco Mignosa (191)
45. Donovan McCoy (192)
46. Lucas Moore (207)
47. Bronson Ride (210)
48. PJ Forgione (214)
49. Wyatt Kennedy (216)
50. Valentin Zhugin (219)
51. Adam Zidlicky (220)

Goaltenders:
1. Charlie Robertson (12)
2. Nathan Day (14)
3. Charlie Schenkel (23)
4. Zach Bowen (29)

For the full list, see here.

Comments:

1. When we compare this to my own rankings (nearly solidified) the following players would be ranked higher by me: Carey Terrance, Luca Pinelli, Matthew Mania, Denver Barkey, Joey Willis, Easton Cowan, Nick Lardis, Angus MacDonell.

2. When we compare this to my own rankings (nearly solidified) the following players would be ranked lower by me: Oliver Bonk, Brad Gardiner, Cooper Foster, Konnor Smith.

3. This list looks similar to what I expected it to look like given NHL Central Scouting's track record. I expected guys like Barkey, Willis, Lardis, etc to be lower. I expected Bonk to be ranked quite high. The only real surprise for me is Carey Terrance. He's the type of player that NHL CSS typically really likes. I think they're underrating him because of the quality of the team he's playing on and subsequent production deficits. Similarly, the fact that so few OHL players ranked highly is not surprising. At this point, I'd set the over/under at 3.5 for the number of OHL players selected in the first round this year.

4. Good to see Spencer Sova ranked. I think he's the top re-entry guy from the OHL currently. I'd even be more aggressive with that ranking than 136. A bit surprised to see Linus Hemstrom not on the list. I think he deserves to be. 


Thursday, December 29, 2022

OHL Trade Deadline Preview 2022/23

Some traditions are worth keeping up. An OHL Trade Deadline preview is a piece that I have been writing here for many years. And, quite often, my predictions have been fairly accurate. 

The difference this year is that the vast majority of the deals have already happened. It's been a very busy year in the OHL for blockbuster trades, with most OHL teams getting things done prior to the deadline. We've seen the Kitchener Rangers load up in recent weeks. Sarnia and Peterborough have made their big moves previously. Few teams have room for an OA without drastically shaking up their locker rooms (by swapping out a player wearing a letter...for example). So who's left to move?

I'm going with a slightly different format this year. I'm going to break things down by the big players remaining that I expect to move...with some different scenarios that I could see happening. Of course, I will also make a final prediction as to what actually DOES happen.

Let's begin...

Pavel Mintyukov - Saginaw

I do think that there is a chance Saginaw does not move Mintyukov, who IMO has been the best player in the OHL this year. The Spirit are well positioned in the Western Conference and could make a nice run in the playoffs. That said...this is also a team that moved on from Josh Bloom in order to get assets to acquire Hunter Haight; a move that made them better next year. The Spirit are, IMO, the top contender to host the Memorial Cup next year. They are going to want to have the best team possible for that run. Mintyukov will not be a part of that run as he will turn pro. So if you can move Mintyukov for a player who can still contribute this year, but also make the Spirit better next year, it's going to be a move that Saginaw management explores. Zayne Parekh and Mitchell Smith can handle the puck moving and powerplay duties this year. 

Ideally, I could see Saginaw targeting a high end '04 or '05 defender for Mintyukov because they would be closer to contributing now and in the future. Problem is, what team that is trying to compete would be willing to make that swap, or has a player who fits that bill? Additionally, what team has Import room and/or would be willing to swap out Imports? The restrictions on moving imports complicates things. Peterborough for example has Tommy Purdeller contributing decently for them and he would need to be waived if they brought in Mintyukov (assuming Brian Zanetti is not swapped instead).

I see five teams as true contenders for Mintyukov's services, should Saginaw decide to move him. Barrie, Ottawa, London, Windsor, and Peterborough.

Here are the scenarios:
#1A - Pavel Mintyukov to Peterborough for Jack Van Volsen & Brian Zanetti (straight up)
#1B - Pavel Mintyukov to Peterborough for Donovan McCoy & Draft Picks (also waive Tommy Purdeller)

Here we have two different scenarios involving Peterborough who really could use Mintyukov to beef up their middling powerplay and improve their transition game. Both of these options would make a lot of sense for Saginaw. #1 gives them another quality defender who can contribute now and a really, really good young player in Van Volsen. #2 gives them a quality young defender who can contribute now and who should be even better next year when they hope to host the Memorial Cup. Both of these scenarios also make the Petes better.

#2 - Pavel Mintyukov to Ottawa for Frankie Marrelli & Draft Picks

I really do think Ottawa is the perfect place for Mintyukov. This team has been so good this year and Mintyukov would make them that much better. Because of their depth on defense, Marrelli hasn't played a ton this year. Additionally, because of their young depth on defense, his loss wouldn't be massive for the future. For Saginaw, they get a really good young defender (I've been very impressed with Marrelli) who can be a large part of their future, but who also should be able to handle a larger role this year. 

#3 - Pavel Mintyukov to Windsor for Anthony Cristoforo

I just can't see Windsor doing this. Cristoforo has been so good this year as an '06. Yes, Mintyukov would be an upgrade, but at this cost? There's also no way that Saginaw trades Mintyukov to a division rival without getting Cristoforo or say...Ethan Miedema in return. I see this as very unlikely.

#4 - Pavel Mintyukov to London or Barrie

I can't see this happening either. London already has some very talented puck moving defenders and I don't see them moving someone like Isaiah George or Jackson Edward to appease the Spirit. They are more likely to bring in a strong defensive presence IMO. Where as Barrie, I see them making moves to correlate with Brandt Clarke's likely return. But, they don't need Mintyukov if Clarke is coming back. They'd already have a nice collection of puck movers. Mintyukov and Clarke on the same team would be outrageously entertaining to watch, but also extremely volatile defensively.

MOST LIKELY SCENARIO
#2 - Pavel Mintyukov to Ottawa for Frankie Marrelli & Draft Picks

Brett Harrison - Oshawa

While there's no guarantee that Mintyukov moves, I think it's nearly certain that Brett Harrison does. The Generals already moved Lleyton Moore and they're committed to re-tooling. Harrison is one of the top veteran forwards available. He has flexibility from a positional perspective as he can play center or the wing. He can play all situations. He is a goal scorer. Pretty much every team who wishes to compete in the playoffs could use him and will likely be competing for his services.

No question, Oshawa will be looking for a quality young player in return, especially based on the market value set by other trades this year. I don't think a collection of draft picks gets this done. They're going to be looking for a quality '05 or '06 (first rounder).

I see five teams who truly make sense for Harrison; London, Ottawa, Windsor, Barrie, and Peterborough.

Here are the scenarios:
#1 - Brett Harrison to London for Luca Testa 

This just makes too much sense right? The Knights pick up a home town kid in Harrison who also happens to fill a need of another veteran goal scorer in their lineup. Harrison maybe isn't the kind of hard nosed player that Dale Hunter normally likes, but he can coax that out of young players. In Testa, the Generals would be getting a high upside offensive forward. London probably doesn't want to move him, but they've seen positive development from their '05's this year and could afford to move Testa. There's a chance that the Knights hold firm and actually don't make moves; we did speak of them as sellers when they started the season so poorly. But, I think the Hunters realize the wide open nature of the Western Conference currently and will seek to make themselves better.

#2 - Brett Harrison to Ottawa for Frankie Marrelli 

It just seems inevitable that Marrelli moves doesn't it? The 67's will want to make themselves better and he's their top trade chip. This one for one would work for both teams. Ottawa gets a bigger bodied goal scorer to support their smaller, high IQ playmakers. The Generals get another quality young defender to build around with Danford and Luca Marrelli (not brothers).

#3 - Brett Harrison to Windsor for Chris O’Flaherty & Draft Picks

Windsor gets another quality top six forward to help them with their run. He can also help improve their penalty kill. Oshawa gets O'Flaherty, a power forward type with goal scoring potential whose high energy game would fit in well with what the Generals usually like in their players. 

#4 - Brett Harrison to Barrie for Cole Beaudoin 

This scenario sees the Generals acquiring another high end '06 in Beaudoin who could be a big part of their future down the middle. He has struggled with pace a bit this year, but the upside is high. Barrie could be getting another forward with positional flexibility (like they already have). He'd probably play the wing for the Colts and help anchor their second line to improve their scoring depth.

#5 - Brett Harrison to Peterborough for Justin DeZoete & Draft Picks

I see this scenario as the least likely. If the Generals are going to trade Harrison to a heated rival like Peterborough, they would probably want a bigger fish in return than DeZoete. And I just don't see the Petes moving Van Volsen for Harrison. I think they'd want a bigger fish. DeZoete is a high energy goal scorer who could likely be a General for another few years, but does he really fit their timeline? I think they'd prefer an '05 or '06.

MOST LIKELY SCENARIO
#1 - Brett Harrison to London for Luca Testa 

Danny Zhilkin - Guelph

Does Zhilkin move? The Storm have shown some signs of life lately. The swap of Namestnikov for Pastujov has really worked well. The preseason favourite Storm have been massively disappointing this season but if they can get themselves into the playoffs, there's a chance that they could still make noise. On the other hand, I think that the Storm have realized that this team isn't built for a run this year and instead will trade a veteran like Zhilkin in hopes of trying again next year. That means, they'd want a player back who can contribute now and in the future...similar to the Pastujov deal.

Zhilkin's speed and tenacity down the middle will be highly coveted. He wasn't good in last year's playoffs, but someone will take the chance that he can be better the second time around. 

So who needs a pace pushing center who can do a little bit of everything?

Here are the scenarios:
#1 - Danny Zhilkin to Sarnia for Easton Wainwright & Draft Picks

I really like this scenario for both teams. Zhilkin would fit in really nicely in Sarnia. I think they'd really like to add another high end center to pair with Nolan Burke. Zhilkin would increase their team speed quotient too. Wainwright has been forced down the depth chart in Sarnia this year but I think he's got great potential in this league and could find a lot of success with the Storm. However, as much as I like the concept of this trade, I see it as far fetched. The Storm and Sting have already made a big trade. The odds of them making another is slim. The Storm have disappointed greatly this year. Would the Sting really want to bring in TWO of their veteran players when they have had trouble with consistency themselves?

#2 - Danny Zhilkin to Peterborough for Justin DeZoete, James Guo, & Draft Picks

A kind of mish mash offer from Peterborough for Zhilkin. Of course, it could involve Van Volsen, but again I'm not sure they offer him up for Zhilkin given that he's been only average this year and was not strong in last year's playoffs. DeZoete and Guo give the Storm two pieces who could play prominent roles down the line. But would Guelph want more?

#3 - Danny Zhilkin to London for Luka Testa (straight up)

We talked about the Knights and a possible desire to add a quality forward. Zhilkin fits the London Knight model. He plays with pace. He's tenacious. He can be utilized in a variety of roles. I also love the return for Guelph of Testa. Or even if it's an '05 like Mathieu Paris. This could be a good fit. 

#4 - Danny Zhilkin to Windsor for Chris O’Flaherty & Bronson Ride

On one hand, I think Windsor could be better off looking for a high end winger. They're fairly deep down the middle already. On the other hand, players like Oliver Peer have positional flexibility. And they could consider moving Maillet or Abraham to the wing. Or even using Zhilkin there. This Windsor team could use another difference maker up front and Zhilkin could definitely be that. I like the fit in Sarnia the best, but I think this is the most likely landing spot. As for the return, Guelph is getting two quality young players back who could help them re-tool for next year.

MOST LIKELY SCENARIO
#4 - Danny Zhilkin to Windsor for Chris O’Flaherty & Bronson Ride

The Hamilton Bulldogs OAs - Logan Morrison, Avery Hayes, & Gavin White

The Bulldogs are suffering from a post championship hangover this year and simply don't have the depth to compete in the Eastern Conference. As such, look for at least two of their excellent overage players to move. They are all among the best players at their position in the OHL and they would hold great value, even if they are overagers with a limited market. Best of all, these are proven playoff performers with championship experience. All three could be huge difference makers for any team in the league.

But who actually has room for an OA? There's Ottawa. There's Peterborough. That might be it unless a team is really willing to shake up their OA situation. One example of this would be Windsor, if they choose to move on from goaltender Mathias Onuska. But that would require them to go out and make another deal to acquire a non OA goaltender (maybe Patrick Leaver? Josh Rosenzweig? Another netminder?). 

Here are some scenarios:
#1 - Logan Morrison & Gavin White to Peterborough for Jack Van Volsen, Sahil Panwar, & Draft Picks
#2 - Logan Morrison & Avery Hayes for Jack Van Volsen, Sahil Panwar, & Draft Picks

A package deal involving two of these OA's makes the most sense for maximizing return value. I've actually heard that Hamilton has explored packaging them for such a reason. In this scenario the Petes are going absolutely all in. They have one open OA spot and move Panwar (who they acquired earlier this year) for an upgrade too. I've mentioned a few times about the Petes only moving Van Volsen for a true difference maker and Morrison and White/Hayes are just that. If you're going to go all in, this is the type of move you make. That's why I see Peterborough as the top contender for at least one of these OA's services. For Hamilton, acquiring a young difference maker like Van Volsen would be huge and a no brainer. For Peterborough, I like the Morrison and White package best. White gives them another high end puck mover who can help their powerplay and Morrison gives them an incredible one/two punch down the middle with he and Tucker Robertson. They can then shift Avon and Lockhart to the wing. 

#3 - Avery Hayes to Ottawa for Jack Dever & Draft Picks

Ottawa has an open OA spot and Hayes would be absolutely perfect for them. He plays the game similar to the way the rest of their forwards do. He would be a Dave Cameron player for sure. Jack Dever is a depth player for the 67's this year but he does have solid middle six potential in the future. Likely some higher end picks would need to be included here.

#4 - Avery Hayes to Windsor for Chris O'Flaherty & Draft Picks

This seems the most far fetched, even if Hayes is someone that Windsor could really use. But would Windsor be willing to make this move and then have to make another by moving Onuska out for another goaltender? 

MOST LIKELY SCENARIOS
#1 - Logan Morrison & Gavin White to Peterborough for Jack Van Volsen, Sahil Panwar, & Draft Picks
#3 - Avery Hayes to Ottawa for Jack Dever & Draft Picks

Artyom Grushnikov - Hamilton

If Hamilton is going to go full rebuild, why would they hang on to Grushnikov? The defensive stalwart would be one of the top defensive options on the market and could really help a contending team with an import spot available. For that reason, I do see him moving.

So who are the contenders?

Ottawa, London, Windsor, and Barrie seem like the most likely candidates who also have available import spots (or who have imports who are underperforming). 

Here are the scenarios:
#1 - Artyom Grushnikov to London for Mathieu Paris & Draft Picks

I could see London being the top contender for Grushnikov. We know how much the Hunters value defenders like Grushnikov who have length, mobility, and physicality. They have an open import spot currently, although they've been holding out hope that Kasper Halttunen comes. Grushnikov could be a veteran that the team could pair with one of their puck movers, such as Logan Mailloux (given his roving tendencies). In Paris, the Bulldogs would be getting a young center with potential who has been pushed down the depth chart in London as a rookie.

#2 - Artyom Grushnikov to Windsor for Bronson Ride & Draft Picks

This scenario sees the Spitfires waive Tomas Hebek in order to bring in Grushnikov. They saw him first hand in last year's playoffs and know that he could bring a ton of value to their back-end. Wouldn't he be a terrific partner for young offensive blueliner Cristoforo?

#3 - Artyom Grushnikov to Barrie for Grayson Tiller & Draft Picks

Grushnikov would be a great add for Barrie if they end up getting Brandt Clarke back. They could immediately pair the two together to form a terrific top four pairing. In Tiller, the Bulldogs get a quality young defender who can play an immediate top four role for them as they rebuild.

#4 - Artyom Grushnikov to Ottawa for Jack Dever & Draft Picks

The 67's are bound to have their hands in every cookie jar. He'd be a great add for them. I could even see him being a part of a package with someone like Avery Hayes, which would increase the deal to likely involving someone like Frankie Marrelli. 

MOST LIKELY SCENARIO
#1 - Artyom Grushnikov to London for Mathieu Paris & Draft Picks

Nolan Dann - Niagara

Nolan Dann is a better player than he has shown in Niagara this year. The IceDogs gave up a couple of second rounders for him in the offseason, but we know that they've already moved out other players that they've recently acquired. Why not Dann too? For his sake, I hope he moves and I think that interest in him would be high as a middle six depth option. This is especially true considering that teams likely wouldn't have to give up as much to acquire him, yet his impact could be quite high with a change of scenery.

Two teams that I think could be really interested in Dann are Barrie and Mississauga. The Steelheads need more scoring depth and these two teams have been consistent trade partners in the last 24 months. It also allows Mississauga (under performing recently) to make a low key move to improve without giving up the farm. Barrie could use Dann as a second line winger to improve their scoring depth. Of course, lots of teams could use Dann in a similar role. Would North Bay be interested? What about Windsor? Bill Bowler has spoken out about the team's desire to improve, but not sacrifice the farm or next year's success. Adding Dann at a lesser cost could make a ton of sense. What about one of those bubble seller/buyer teams like Owen Sound or Flint?

Here are some scenarios:
#1 - Nolan Dann to Barrie for Draft Picks
#2 - Nolan Dann to Mississauga for Draft Picks
#3 - Nolan Dann to North Bay for Draft Picks
#4 - Nolan Dann to Windsor for Draft Picks
#5 - Nolan Dann to Flint for Draft Picks
#6 - Nolan Dann to Owen Sound for Draft Picks
#7 - Nolan Dann to London for Draft Picks
#8 - Nolan Dann to Ottawa for Draft Picks

Let's discuss this all together. IMO the most likely scenario sees him going to Mississauga. They need to do something to capitalize on their final year with James Hardie, LDBB, Kasper Larsen, etc. This is a great low key move that could really pay dividends. Dann would fill out their secondary scoring. Barrie would be the second most likely destination IMO. They have a need for another scoring line winger. I'd put Windsor as third most likely and they'd be familiar with him from his time in Sarnia.

MOST LIKELY SCENARIO
#2 - Nolan Dann to Mississauga for Draft Picks

Other Potential Moves

Here are some other players that I anticipate could draw trade interest between now and the deadline: Andre Anania, Ethan Larmand, Ryan Gagnier, Kalvyn Watson, Patrick Leaver, Alec Belanger, Ben Roger, Josh Rosenzweig, David Jesus, Liam Gilmartin, Kaleb Lawrence, and Tristan Lennox.

There's also obviously the chance that a team like Flint becomes a surprising seller by moving someone like Amadeus Lombardi for a King's ransom, but I don't see it. Ditto for Mississauga or Owen Sound going full rebuild. Mississauga could easily blow up this piece if they decide to push their chips into a full rebuild. Move Del Bel Belluz. Move Del Mastro. Look for spots for their OA’s. Maybe even move Owen Beck for a massive package. It’s definitely possible and I have heard rumblings. We shall see.

Kaleb Lawrence could make sense for Owen Sound to move. He's been OK this year in his first truly healthy year, but they'll be in a serious numbers crunch next year with a bunch of quality 03's and only so many OA spots. I feel like he could be the odd man out (assuming he's not signed and placed in the AHL). If they can get good value for him now, they could move him and give more ice time to players like Brennan and first round pick Ben Cormier. 

Andre Anania and Ethan Larmand could move in Sudbury. They too will have a numbers crunch next year as they figure out their OA's. Both players could have some decent value right now and would help alleviate that numbers crunch next year. Anania, in particular, could be a great #5 for playoff bound teams. 

Ryan Gagnier would be a great OA acquisition as a high energy guy who can play a variety of different roles. He's had a really good year. But would Ottawa or Peterborough look at him for their final OA spot(s) or go to a slightly bigger fish?

What about the goaltenders? Would any of them move? As mentioned, if Windsor decides to "upgrade" their OA spot, Onuska could be the odd man out causing them to have to bring in another netminder. It does seem pretty unlikely IMO.

MOST LIKELY SCENARIOS
#1 - Andre Anania to North Bay for Draft Picks
#2 - Kaleb Lawrence to Barrie for Draft Picks

Here we have the Battalion bringing in Anania to give them better defensive depth thanks to the injuries to Mathurin and Avery Winslow. Winslow should be back relatively soon, but Mathurin won't be back until the playoffs, if at all. We would also see Barrie bringing in a big body to support their somewhat smaller forward group, plus there's a strong chance that they'll be able to fit him into their lineup next year as an OA. 

Shane Wright - Seattle (NHL)/Kingston

One last player to mention and that's Shane Wright. As the deadline draws near, the debate as to whether Wright is returning to the OHL is heating up. Either way, I would expect his rights to be dealt. In that situation, the return will be entirely draft pick based and contingent on his arrival (a massive haul of conditional picks). 

Firstly, I'm still not convinced Wright returns. Seattle has been pretty steadfast in the media saying that they feel comfortable with him playing limited minutes in the NHL to get his feet wet and that they heavily value the practice and development time he is getting at the pro level. I feel much better about Brandt Clarke's return than Wright's. I'd honestly put it at 50/50 and others I've spoken to feel the same way.

Secondly, as mentioned, his rights WILL move. So who is going to be aggressive in his pursuit? I would expect every competitive team in the OHL. But, it will get complicated. The Wright camp (himself and agency) and the Kraken management group will have great influence on this decision, especially if they are truly entertaining the idea of sending him back. If Kingston wants to cash in on those conditional picks, they'd be wise to listen. If the Kraken don't like his destination, they definitely won't be sending him back.

With that in mind, here are the three teams that I expect to be the front runners. The first two are obvious in Ottawa and London. Ottawa is at the top of the standings and they've been a great program for development during the last few decades. London is at the top of the standings and they've been a great program for development during the last few decades. See the pattern? But what about the third team?...and this one could surprise you; the North Bay Battalion. Now, I already see your faces...Wright's not going to agree to go to North Bay. Hold your horses. One; the Battalion may just be the best team in the OHL right now. Two; there is a lot of faith in Stan Butler, Ryan Oulahen, and Adam Dennis' ability to prepare young centers for pro hockey by becoming better and more aggressive two-way players. Three; The Kraken already have two prospects playing for North Bay in Ty Nelson and Kyle Jackson. Four; Both Ron Francis and Dave Lowry in Seattle are Northern Ontario boys at heart and would definitely pitch North Bay as an attractive location to finish the year. That's a lot of checkmarks.

So where does Shane Wright's rights (tongue twister) end up? I'm not making a prediction on this one outside of the three teams that I mentioned.


Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Preliminary Media/Scout Top 10 for 2023

Time for the first media/scout poll for the 2023 NHL Draft!

For those unfamiliar with how this works, I poll many of the OHL's brightest minds; those who cover the league incredibly well and know the OHL inside, and out. These contributors supply me with their top 10 available players from the OHL, in addition to some comments. I then put it all together and provide you with a cumulative list. Call it "the consensus."

At this point, this OHL crop does appear to be on the weaker side. Coming into the year, there was a lot of hope for it. Cal Ritchie was being discussed as a possible top 7-8 selection. Cam Allen was in consideration to be the top defender available. There was some hope that a few high end Imports would come over. Instead, it now appears that there is no guarantee that an OHL player will be selected inside the lottery and there may not be more than two or three taken in the first round. Additionally, the depth available does not appear to be strong either. That said, it's still quite early in the scouting season. Lots of time for players to turn things around.

As always, this list involves contributions from a rather colourful cast of characters. Contributing their rankings and thoughts to this preliminary list for 2023 were:

Corey Pronman - NHL Prospects Writer for TheAthletic (@coreypronman)

Dominic Tiano - Writer for The OHL Writers (@dominictiano)

Ryan Kennedy - Editor in Chief for The Hockey News (@THNRyanKennedy)

Scott Wheeler - NHL Prospects Writer for TheAthletic (@scottcwheeler)

Will Scouch – Founder of Scouching Draft Analytics & Contributor to McKeen's Hockey (@Scouching)

Peter Baracchini - Draft Content at The Hockey Writers (@PBaracchini)

Mike Morreale - Staff writer for NHL.com (@mikemorrealeNHL)

Mat Sheridan - OHL Regional Scout for Future Considerations (@sheridan_mat)

Dylan Krill - OHL Regional Scout for McKeen’s Hockey (@dylan_krill)

Matt Young - OHL broadcaster (@mattyoung71)

Josh Tessler - Director of Scouting for Smaht Scouting (@JoshTessler_)

Tony Ferrari – NHL Draft Content for The Hockey News (@theTonyFerrari)

Olivia Carter - OHL Regional Scout for Future Considerations (@oliviamcarter)

Joely Stockl – OHL Regional Scout for Drafts Prospects Hockey (@joelystockl04)

Jared Brown - Head Scout for Drafts Prospects Hockey (@JaredBrownn97)

and of course...myself (@BrockOtten)

 

Here's the List:

1. Cal Ritchie – Center – Oshawa Generals
Total Votes: 16
Highest Ranking: 1st (10x)
Lowest Ranking: 2nd (6x)
Comments:
I really, really struggle with Calum Ritchie to this point. I know I’ve seen better than what he’s shown so far this season, but I do see some good application of his size to protect pucks, move them up the ice and move them to teammates in effective ways, but the results just haven’t been there. He’s still in my first round, but to me, other talented players have surpassed him so far this year. I’ll keep my eye on him, and his tracked data isn’t bad, but it ain’t on the same level as my #1 OHLer, and is simply lagging behind many top junior prospects in my prior years of experience in a variety of areas.” - Will Scouch

He's just smart and skilled and once he has the puck, it's hard to get it off him. He can get to the net, and plays that power forward game so he can score. I think he's going to create a lot of interest just because a lot of what he does will translate to the next level. He's excellent on the power play too.” - Mike Morreale

A full package and complete centreman, Calum Ritchie can do it all whenever he’s on the ice. He’s extremely skilled and has great IQ and awareness to be a highly effective playmaker at the next level. He can find the seams very well and can execute plays perfectly with tape to tape or long stretch plays. He has soft hands in tight spaces, great control to maintain possession and provides excellent support for his teammates. While he has average speed, he has strong edges to weave his way through traffic and his body positioning allows him to gain the inside edge on his opponents. He has a high end compete level and work ethic and does a great job engaging on the forecheck to force turnovers. Defensively he’s very sound, forcing the opposition to the outside in order to regain possession. Having all the tools and qualities of an NHL centre already, Ritchie should hear his name early on in the draft.” - Peter Baracchini

Despite the lack of production and not meeting his high expectations, I still believe Ritchie should be in consideration for going top 10 in the NHL Draft. Ritchie is a very responsible two-way centre who possesses elite hockey sense and high-end tools in both his shot and vision. He reads and anticipates play very well in all three zones and is highly effective at pick pocketing opponents. He’s not the most dynamic player, but there are flashes where he pulls you out of your seat with his blend of skill and creativity with the puck. I believe Ritchie’s skill-set and all-around game will allow him to adjust to the NHL very well.” - Dylan Krill

Calum Ritchie plays very conservatively at times, especially in the neutral zone. Often, he is the last forward into the offensive zone. In situations in which he is the F1, he quickly distributes the puck once entering the zone (out of his hands before the perimeter). When the Generals are mid-cycle, Ritchie is completing quite a few cross perimeter passes instead of driving into dangerous areas. I’d like to utilize his handling and reach to skate around attackers at the perimeter to try to acquire space down low. If he can use his stick-handling to open up separation and drive into the slot, his 5v5 production will go up.” - Josh Tessler

A smart and cerebral player, it is hard to argue that Calum Ritchie is not deserving of the top draft-eligible player in the OHL. While he had his ups and downs in his rookie season last year, he showed glimpses of his potential and has started the year off well in Oshawa. Ritchie is dangerous with the puck on his stick, capable of driving the middle of the ice to gain an offensive zone entry or getting a quick wrist shot off through multiple layers of defence. Ritchie’s off-puck play makes him a threat as well. He takes smart routes in the defensive zone and is routinely in position to support his defencemen. He plays with pace, always moving his feet, to disrupt defensive zone breakouts for the opposition and causing havoc below the hashmarks. Ritchie could serve to add some quickness to his step as he lacks top-end acceleration, but he's easily been one of the Generals best players so far this season.” - Mat Sheridan

2. Colby Barlow – Wing – Owen Sound Attack
Total Votes: 16
Highest Ranking: 1st (3x)
Lowest Ranking: 7th (1x)
Comments:
The reason why Barlow is #1 on my list right now is that I see him as both a safe NHL contributor and a bit of a unicorn. Players like Barlow are pretty rare to find. Wingers with good size, speed, physicality, and the ability to play both ends well do not grow on trees. How many strong goal scorers can also be counted on to be on the ice in the final minute to protect a lead? Many prominent goal scorers in the NHL need to have their zone starts sheltered because they can't be trusted in the defensive end. That's far from the case with Barlow. Am I concerned about his ability to create his own chances at the NHL level due to some inconsistencies in his transitional skill set? Yeah...a little bit. But I do think that the hands will catch up to the feet at some point and I think he does so many other things well that it's easy to see him being a long time complementary piece. A modern day Steve Larmer?” - Brock Otten

Barlow’s just one of those players who, in skill, shot, makeup, build, and approach, just looks like a pro already. He plays a very projectable, consistent, intentional, direct game that blends scoring with competitiveness.” - Anonymous

Mainly shines in the defensive end and shows good efforts in taking up space when challenging his opponents in all areas of the ice. His stick work is really good, he’s able to block passes and intercept in the defensive zone to turn the play offensive. Able to make those smart puck handling decisions for passing lanes and creating good shot opportunities.” - Olivia Carter

A hot take has Colby Barlow well into my 2nd round. He’s got a great shot in a variety of scenarios, but that’s about all I’ve really been able to put down as a positive. His tracked data across both games is bad. His ability to get chances at 5v5 seems to be very limited whenever I’ve seen him, but perhaps I’m just not watching the right games. He has isolated moments where I’m really taken with his one on one skill and finishing ability, but more often than not, I find myself wondering what all the fuss is about. He’s scored his even strength goals off of rebounds and tips rather than creating his own chances, and has a few empty netters at time of writing. He brings back memories of how enamored I was with Matt Puempel’s ability to shoot the puck, ignoring other key areas of the game that required attention. Similar to Cam Allen, there are just other players who have impressed me more to this point that knocks Barlow down that bring other traits to the game that I believe are more important in the context of an NHL Draft.” - Will Scouch

Barlow is closing the gap on Ritchie for me with his outstanding play as of late. He possesses the athletic tools scouts drool over. He’s a strong power forward with high-end finishing ability. He plays the game at a high tempo and pushes the pace with his explosive linear speed with or without the puck. Consistently displays the ability to find open space between the dots where he’s ready to receive the puck and deliver his powerful one-timer toward the net. His shooting technique, power, and off-puck scoring instincts give him the potential to be a 30 goal scorer in the NHL. He’s equally effective on the forecheck and in defensive roles, showing that he’s a versatile, ultra-competitive player. Utilizes his size to play a physical forechecking game and create turnovers. Barlow can shoot, skate, play physical, and defend. What’s there to dislike? He’s going to have a promising NHL career as a top six forward.” - Jared Brown

The scoring is undeniable. He gets to the net and has some really nice hands in tight. He and Pinelli have gone back and forth as the OHL points leader among draft eligibles. So why am I constantly left asking for more from Barlow? He is a great complimentary player who goes to the net, puts himself into position for his teammates to set him up. Barlow is the definition of a “meat and potatoes” player, who just does the right thing most of the time and gets rewarded for it. The problem is that he doesn’t carry the play himself or create for his teammates. The Owen Sound captain is a hard worker but lacks the play-driving ability of a Pinelli. His tools are good but not great all around and his playmaking is average. Dynamism, facilitation, and the transition game are areas that leave you wanting more.” - Tony Ferrari

3. Quentin Musty – Wing – Sudbury Wolves
Total Votes: 16
Highest Ranking: 3rd (5x)
Lowest Ranking: 9th (1x)
Comments:
Musty is having a great start to the season. His overall skill set – shot, vision, passing – all scream NHL potential. The knock on Musty has been the lack of consistency not just from game to game, but shift to shift. Others argue that the effort is lacking as well. I think we are seeing less and less of that and I expect Musty to be higher on this list by the end of the season after he’s put those knocks behind him.” - Dominic Tiano

Quintin Musty is definitely an interesting prospect. The 2021 first overall pick in the OHL Priority Selection Draft has some of the best hands and skillset in this year’s draft class. He’s got excellent control of the puck and has the knack to constantly drive hard to the net, utilizing his size to his advantage. Combining the high-end skill and power forward like game will definitely attract a number of teams. While he has the dazzling skill and hands, his decision making and lack of IQ with and without the puck has hurt his draft stock. There are times where he tries to do too much and ends up turning the puck over or makes some questionable decisions with the puck. He is definitely a high-risk, high-reward kind of player.” - Peter Baracchini

Quentin has solid north-south speed and size that allows him to move the puck past traffic with ease. He has excellent puck protection and uses his reach to push the puck away from oncoming pressure while driving through the neutral zone on the rush. While Musty has quality north-south speed, he seems to be struggling with east-west speed and that presents challenges when Musty is on the forecheck as he struggles to keep pace with attackers who are looking to skate laterally around Musty. When Musty has the puck in the offensive zone and is facing tight pressure, he struggles to push the puck past the attacker and then recapture possession. If Musty can further develop his handling in high pressure situations, he will be difficult to contain for attackers.” - Josh Tessler

Although Musty was projected as a first round pick after the Hlinka Gretzky Tournament, he has had more negatives than positives this season. A one dimensional player with his lethal scoring and offensive intelligence, lots of development needed in the other aspects of his game. Potentially comparable to an 18 year old Arthur Kaliyev.” - Joely Stockl

I’m not the biggest fan of Musty. I’ve had too many rather poor or frustrating viewings than positive ones. There’s no denying his high-end level of skill with the puck to be a dynamic playmaker and threat on the powerplay. But when things aren’t going his way, he can give off horrible body language, force plays, or be selfish and try and do too much with the puck which leads to turnovers. I also think he’ll struggle with the pace of the NHL level as his first few steps still need further development. His ceiling is very high but I view him as a boom-or-bust pick.” - Jared Brown

Musty has been hit or miss depending on the game you’ve seen. In one game, he will be a dominant offensive force, attacking defenders with the puck and using his strength and skill to overwhelm them. In others, he will fade to the background and allow himself to be outplayed by lesser talent on his team. He’s begun to find some consistency recently, especially as a facilitator, which hasn’t always been his forte. The American is a July birthday so he is on the younger side of the draft class as well, making his high-end tool set even more attractive if a team thinks they can get him to put it together more consistently.” - Tony Ferrari

4. Cam Allen – Defense – Guelph Storm
Total Votes: 16
Highest Ranking: 2nd (1x)
Lowest Ranking: 9th (1x)
Comments:
Allen is still second on this list and one of the top defencemen available in this draft. While a little undersized, he's a right-shot defenceman with excellent puck-moving ability, and those are always sought after at the next level. Add in Allen's leadership ability as he was Captain of Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and you have a pretty complete player. The fact that he got off to a slow start in Guelph this year was a bit worrisome but it was a slow start across the board for a Storm team just now finding its legs. I think Allen could have a big second half of the year, but he's still the second-best OHL player available.” - Matt Young

Allen is in a similar boat as Calum Ritchie, playing on a below-average team and tasked to log huge minutes on the backend for Guelph. He’s a well-rounded defenseman who can play in all situations and does a bit of everything. He’s an athletic skater with great power and agility off his edges. He cuts and changes directions swiftly with effective weight shifts on the puck. His offensive instincts are at a high level and he has the ability to create offense inside the offensive zone. He’ll be able to score goals here and there at the pro level due to his heavy point shot and active shooting. I love the way he defends the rush, forcing puck carriers to dump the puck with his tight gap control. Has a bit of that old-school nastiness in his game to play “playoff hockey”. I still see him as a top 20 pick despite his struggles this year.” - Jared Brown

The year hasn’t gone well for Allen or the Storm. Allen approached 40 points last season and then was named captain of Canada’s Hlinka team, setting up a year in which the young defender could grab hold of the status as the draft’s top defender. Now, he’s in a battle for the top defender coming for the OHL. He has the mobility and raw tools that should make him a high-end prospect but he hasn’t been effective this year and his ranking reflects that.” - Tony Ferrari

If you recall, I had Allen ranked at #1 on my preseason list and I thought he was the best defender available in this draft class. His play at the Hlinka/Gretzky largely backed that up. Since then it's been all downhill. I think he's slowly turning things around and playing better, but he still looks like a different player than the one we had seen previously; slightly lost and without a true identity. To me, it looks like he has succumbed to the pressures of being a potential high pick in his NHL draft year. The fact that Guelph has been bad hasn't helped either. So he's feeling draft pressure and the pressure to turn around his team. As such, a lot of the errors being made have come from forcing things. Forcing breakouts. Picking bad times to pinch or activate. Chasing the puck in the defensive end. He just looks like he's trying to do too much out there. In the last month or so, I have found his puck management has been better, but it's been at the expense of not really taking chances either. Is his upside limited? I don't think you can really rank him extremely low at this point given previous performances, but he's going to need a strong second half (and potentially a strong U18's) to save his chances at being a top 50 pick.” - Brock Otten

I’ve really struggled with Cam Allen, even going back to last year with the Guelph Storm. His skill level and deception from the offensive blueline is undeniable, and the shot he can let go is probably among the best in the draft this year, but whenever I’ve seen and tracked him this year, I just can’t bring myself to see him as a top defender in this class. He’s not managing gaps well, he’s not moving pucks with his feet or hands particularly effectively outside the offensive zone, and there are a lot of players that have been more intriguing to me playing outside the OHL that knocks him down into my second round. He could easily be higher on this list in the future, but so far, I just do not see it with Allen and would let someone else take him in the first round.” - Will Scouch

5. Hunter Brzustewicz – Defense – Kitchener Rangers
Total Votes: 16
Highest Ranking: 3rd (1x)
Lowest Ranking: 10th (3x)
Comments:
I liked Brzustewicz’ s game so much at the start of the season I named him my Draft Eligible Defenceman of the Month for October. I think the most impressive thing I’ve found so far is his decision making. I can’t, through 20 plus games, remember a bad decision he’s made. He’s not flashy like some others, he’s just steady eddie going about eating huge minutes for the Rangers and doing the right things right the first time.” - Dominic Tiano

Hunter Brzustewicz’s overall upside may not be as high as other defenders in this draft. However, his offensive production of 18 points in 22 games says otherwise. Even though he doesn’t stand out or is flashy with his play, he still manages to make the right decision with or without the puck. He displays great playmaking abilities as he’s always scanning the ice to make a play or stretching the play up with a strong breakout pass. He’s a very mobile skater and possesses a responsible game within his own end. While he won’t wow you at any point, he does catch your attention with his simplistic style.” - Peter Baracchini

Brzustewicz has been a strong player for the Rangers so far this season. He has the ability to create in the offensive zone with the puck on his stick, drawing in opponents to find teammates in open space and does well to get shots through traffic. His ability to make a clean first pass allows his team to transition quickly and create offensive odd man rushes. He keeps a good gap when defending and uses his strength to close off opponents in front of the net and in the corners. I think he projects as an impact defenceman at the next level and will continue to be an important part of the Rangers core moving forward.” - Mat Sheridan

Confidence, confidence, and more confidence with Brzustewicz. Not many defenders in this draft class can handle the puck and drive the play from the back end like he can. He quarterbacks each Kitchener powerplay and moves the puck around with tremendous intelligence and awareness. I would argue him as the best offensive defenseman in this draft class, at least from the OHL.” - Joely Stockl

He’s one of the older defenders in the draft class and he’s racked up some points this year but he hasn’t been able to truly put himself ahead of the pack as a blueliner. He lacks defensively and his offensive game has been predicated on making a high-quality first pass and allowing teammates to work their magic. The flair in the offensive zone hasn’t quite come out as of yet but he has a history of it so the hope is that he continues to gain confidence and brings more of it to the table.” - Tony Ferrari

6. Luca Pinelli – Wing – Ottawa 67's
Total Votes: 13
Highest Ranking: 1st (3x)
Lowest Ranking: Outside of the Top 10 (3x)
Comments:
The 67’s would not be having the kind of season that they are without Pinelli taking the leap forward that he has. He plays hard, he’s got skill, he’s always around the puck in the offensive zone, he’s much stronger than his listed height and weight suggest, and he has become a driver on a top team night-in and night-out. He deserves mid-round attention because of it.” - Anonymous

We’re already getting off the board here, but I absolutely have loved what I’ve seen out of Luca Pinelli. Huge production, but his game goes so far beyond offense in my opinion. He’s an excellent analyzer of play all over the ice, causing turnovers and headaches for opponents without the puck. If he were a couple inches taller, he’d probably be among the top C’s in this draft and he’s steadily worked his way into my top 20, which I certainly didn’t expect coming into this season. He’s creating, he’s finishing, he plays hard, he brings so many tools that I look for and the tracked data backs that up. He’s been by far the most consistently impressive OHL player to me so far this season.” - Will Scouch

Pinelli is constantly looking to find space in medium and high danger areas to key up dangerous passing lanes for the 67’s to exploit. His desire to grab open ice down low has led to many quality one-timer shots on net. Pinelli also will take over the cycle and look to distribute the puck to dangerous areas. When driving up the ice, Pinelli won’t force the puck into highly pressured areas. He will peel back, regroup and find an open teammate to pass towards. There is a lot to like in Pinelli’s game and I could see him as a top six contributor down the road.” - Josh Tessler

Pinelli has been one of the most impressive draft-eligible players this season to date. While he plays on a strong Ottawa 67s team, he has been one of their most dangerous players in every game. His ability to find open space in the offensive zone is impressive, as he is able to go undetected through multiple layers of defence and strike with a quick shot. With the puck on his stick, he is eerily calm. He never forces a play and is able to maintain the puck even when he is being pressured by numerous players on the opposing team. While he can stand to add more strength to his frame, if Pinelli continues to play like he has, he is going to continue to rise on many scouts’ lists.” - Mat Sheridan

Not only is Pinelli fighting Barlow for the scoring lead amongst draft-eligible OHL'ers but the 67’s forward is the creative and driving force on his line. He brings the dynamism and skill that is required to be an offensive difference-maker at the NHL level but Pinelli is also incredibly intelligent. His biggest knock is size but he isn’t afraid to outwork bigger players and plays a sound two-way game, intercepting passes and disrupting puck carriers defensively. Pinelli is a true dual-threat attacker who can make his teammates better.” - Tony Ferrari

7. Beau Akey – Defense – Barrie Colts
Total Votes: 14
Highest Ranking: 3rd (1x)
Lowest Ranking: Outside of the Top 10 (2x)
Comments:
Among the defenders from the OHL available this year, Akey has emerged as my personal favourite. I think his offensive upside is the highest because of his creativity and escapability, and his skating ability is already one of the best in the OHL. The defensive game is inconsistent. He needs to increase his physical intensity. He needs to learn to use his strong mobility better to his advantage in the defensive end. But, at the end of the day, I think he can be a very strong two-way contributor eventually in the same mold as Toronto's TJ Brodie.” - Brock Otten

Skilled defenseman who can skate. He's trending, more natural offensive touch than someone like Allen.” - Anonymous

If you like raw defenders who can really skate and play with skill, Akey is your guy. I really have enjoyed watching him through last season and into this one, but he’s a pretty raw player that has some shortcomings in his game. If he’s got the puck or a chance to jump into a rush, the skating ability comes out, he finds space, and can generate production. Without the puck, he sits back. Lets opponents come to him, and far too often lets them through without consistent pressure to turn pucks over. Akey is a guy that looks impressive, and certainly could be in time, but has holes that will need to be patched. Still, the mobility, skill and upside as a transitional defender that leans offensive has left him as my top OHL defender this year so far.” - Will Scouch

Despite Akey being my 10th ranked OHL player and 4th ranked defenseman, I still believe he has the highest potential out of the 4 defensemen. I also believe he has the most refining to do in order to reach that potential. Akey is a highly mobile defenseman who is very effective in transition because of his ability to drive play from the back. His 4-way mobility is high-end and he has very good skill that he displays consistently, being able to beat opponents 1-1 and open up space for himself. I think Akey’s defensive game is where I want to see him improve the most. He has a very active stick, but I don’t think he’s always in control of it. He kind of just throws his stick out and creates chaos. I believe opponents at the next level will be able to take advantage of that and it will become more and more difficult to defend, making him less effective. Akey has a lot of room to move up this ranking and I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up being my 5th ranked OHL player by the end of the year.” - Dylan Krill

8. Carson Rehkopf – Center/Wing – Kitchener Rangers
Total Votes: 13
Highest Ranking: 4th (1x)
Lowest Ranking: Outside of the Top 10 (3x)
Comments:
Rehkopf has a solid all-around game but his best asset might be his shot; he's one of the better goal scorers of this draft class. He's got good size (6-3, 195), skates really well and has good hockey IQ.” - Mike Morreale

I might be a lot higher on Kitchener Rangers forward Carson Rehkopf than others, but I just love what he brings to the table. He’s a highly competitive, two-way centre that plays with an edge and has a wicked release with his wrist shot. He has great hands and with his long reach with his stick, he has no problem making moves at a quick pace to get around defenders with such ease. He’s a smooth skater with great speed to beat players to the outside or get the jump on a breakaway and can make moves in tight on goalies with no problem. He’s quick, in your face and can play a sound defensive game as well. Having that high-end skill and smarts should make him highly sought after.” - Peter Baracchini

Rehkopf has a lot of tools that many scouts are looking for in first round candidates. He has the size, skating, skill, but also the defensive awareness that makes him so valuable. The one thing that may keep Rehkopf outside of the first is that although there aren’t any glaring weaknesses to his game, none of his strengths are considered elite at this time. However, he has a very solid all-around game and is very effective on both sides of the puck. He reads and anticipates play very well, having great positioning to stay in the play and make it difficult on opponents to find open space. He suppresses many chances in transition and displays great compete on back checks. I believe Rehkopf is still quite raw and has a lot of room to grow offensively, making him someone to keep an eye on.” - Dylan Krill

Though his production hasn’t been through the roof thus far, Rehkopf certainly has all of the tools to be an impact player. He has the shot, the confidence, the hands, but it hasn’t seemed to come together for him yet this season. He needs to become a game changer for Kitchener, and it has been difficult for him because of the older, elite talent ahead of him in the lineup. There is still lots of time for him to get it together, but as of now, his stock is certainly dropping out of the first round.” - Joely Stockl

Rehkopf has tons of raw potential when you put together his size and skilled hands. I like his elusiveness and deceptive body language while controlling the puck. I find his skating to be fluid and agile for a big man and allow him to be an effective puck transporter through the neutral zone. Carries the puck with confidence and soft hands. He possesses high-end handling skills. His hands are always free off his hip allowing him to take a quick shot on net or a quick pass that opponents aren’t expecting. He’s got a very quick release on his wrister and is an accurate shooter between the dots. He will utilize his size to knock players off the puck and be physically abrasive. He has the potential to be a power forward with above average puck skills which aren’t all that common in the NHL.” - Jared Brown

9. Oliver Bonk – Defense – London Knights
Total Votes: 9
Highest Ranking: 5th (1x)
Lowest Ranking: Outside of the Top 10 (7x)
Comments:
As is often the case with London Knights, Bonk has come into his own as the season — and his role — has progressed. He’s the two-way right-shot defenceman that every team covets. While his game isn’t dynamic, he can comfortably make plays and influence the game in all three zones.” - Anonymous

A real good understanding of the game due in large part to the tutelage of his father and former NHL forward Radek. He skates really well, and is good at distributing the puck on transition. He's got a decent ceiling and is improving. Oliver was named OHL Rookie of the Month for November after leading all rookies with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 12 games.” - Mike Morreale

I’m a big fan of Bonk for many reasons, but what makes him my top defensemen from the OHL is his defensive game and how well his tools will translate to the NHL. There have been many games where Bonk is by far the most effective player in the defensive zone. He has a very active stick and has excellent stick positioning, quickly taking away space and time from opponents. He’s consistently timing his stick checks perfectly, making it very difficult for opponents to get a clear shot off. He’s able to use his size and strength well to clear the net-front and pin opponents to the boards. His defensive game alone makes him an intriguing prospect, but he is starting to gain more confidence and is showing more of his offensive abilities by driving play in transition, being a strong puck mover and utilizing his cannon of a shot more. He’s relied on heavily and can eat minutes for his team. His offensive game is still raw, but I really like the foundation of his game and the potential he has to become a middle-pair defensively minded defenseman who can contribute offense and compliment his teammates very well.” - Dylan Krill

My first (but not last) London Knights player on the list and the son of a former NHLer in Radek Bonk. He's got good size at 6'2" and is yet another right-handed shot on defence in this list. Bonk is also a first-year player in the OHL having spent his 16-year-old season in junior B with the exception of a small 10-game stint in the OHL. In a world where everyone is raving about Logan Mailloux's offensive game this year, Bonk is roughly posting a similar points-per-game pace at a younger age and flying under the radar doing it and getting a lot of rope from Dale Hunter who is usually far more reliant on his veterans.” - Matt Young

10. Denver Barkey – Center – London Knights
Total Votes: 7
Highest Ranking: 3rd (2x)
Lowest Ranking: Outside of the Top 10 (9x)
Comments:
Very strong positioning around the defensive zone, strong efforts to disrupt the plays and possesses strong anticipation. He’s quick and tight on his edges, quick cuts when being challenged and puck handles very well.” - Olivia Carter

I’ve had my eye on Barkey since last year in the preseason, and in a similar vein to Pinelli, I’m highly drawn to his style of play. He’s got skill and speed, sure, but he also utilizes it very well off-puck. He drives great transition results going both directions, but involves himself defensively at a huge rate relative to other forwards, especially those that may lack some size. He gets his chances from dangerous areas through his sneaky positioning and ability to quickly change angles and spots on the ice, but also can create chances offensively and has done so in both games tracked to this point. He’s a skilled, feisty player that could slip in the draft due to being undersized and perhaps not the best under pressure with the puck, but he’s been an excellent puck transporter through his carries to this point, and he checks a ton of boxes in my books.” - Will Scouch

After a nine-game point streak with 13 in that span, Denver Barkey’s offensive creativity and awareness is what stands out and has put him on the map for the draft. He’s a quick and agile skater as he’s got a really strong burst of acceleration and speed. He’s quick and shifty in transition with great hands as he’s a dynamic playmaker. He has the vision to draw opponents, create space for his teammates and find the seams with crisp passes. His smarts and positioning allows him to always be in the right spot on the ice, with or without the puck. He isn’t afraid to attack the net and use his soft hands in tight to beat goaltenders. If Barkey wasn’t on your radar before, he should be now as he continues to make a name for himself.” - Peter Baracchini

Barkey is a highly efficient puck mover. He does a good job of finding tight passing lanes in transition and using them quickly without deliberation. When he doesn’t have control of the puck and his teammates do, he is constantly looking to establish open ice near them in every zone to open up quality outlet passing lanes. Barkey will utilize speed nicely on the rush. When entering into the offensive zone as the F2, he uses his speed to get past the defense and provide his teammates with quality passing lanes. Once Barkey gets control of the puck, he activates quickly and drives to the net. When facing tight pressure in low danger, he will complete quality passes underneath the attacker’s stick. He uses whatever space he has.” - Josh Tessler

The London Knights center has been one of the most entertaining draft eligibles in the OHL this season. He plays with incredible offensive instincts. You can find him rolling off defenders and darting toward the net, working the puck off the wall before finding a teammate in a pocket of space, or pulling off any number of crafty offensive maneuvers. He has a good shot and could stand to use it a bit more. His vision and passing ability to go along with his quick hands has been what's made Barkey such an effective player. He works the give-and-go as good as anyone in the OHL, understanding the geometry behind beating defensive structures. Barkey has a high work rate to go with his skill and pace, making him worth discussing among the top end OHLers.” - Tony Ferrari

Honorable Mentions

Matthew Soto – Wing – Kingston Frontenacs
Total Votes: 5
Highest Ranking: 7th (2x)
Comments:
I had no idea who Matthew Soto was going into the season but between he and Owen Outwater, I’ve liked those Kingston linemates quite a bit. Soto brings tenacity, pace, fierce one on one confidence, and offensive creativity that gives him a spot at the tail end of my list. I question his NHL likelihood as an offensive player due to his lack of true footspeed relative to how much effort it looks like he’s putting out there, but with some efficiency improvement in his skating and playing with a bit more dynamic pace, he could be a nice energy forward you could snag in the mid to late rounds. He’s also among the younger players in this year’s draft, and that bodes well for future development in my view.” - Will Scouch

Soto has excellent spatial awareness. He will pass the puck underneath the attacker’s stick when he is driving the rush and an attacker is closing in on him and in between a teammate of Soto’s. If he runs out of options in the offensive zone and an attacker has put tight pressure on him, he will once again go underneath the stick. When pressure has tightened up on him, he constantly shows that he can navigate out of pressure. He has been able to showcase his escapability on the regular against OHL defensemen.” - Josh Tessler

One of the younger players available in the draft and just making the 2023 draft by 16 days, Soto is averaging a point per game in Kingston. The 2021 fifth-overall pick is an intelligent player with a strong work ethic and has become a terrific playmaker since coming to the league. His acceleration could use work but as we've seen in the past, skating is something that can be improved as players get bigger and stronger; his overall IQ makes up for that deficiency right now but it is something that will need to improve in order to play with the pace at the next level.” - Matt Young

Soto’s dynamic skating and fast-paced offensive style are extremely fun to watch when he’s on his game. The issue is when he isn’t on his game, he can be invisible due to his lack of effectiveness without the puck. His transition speed is elite and has confident puck handles in full flight. He can explode up ice with the puck and also possesses the edgework to spin off pressure and maintain control of the puck along the boards. I love his ability to quickly identify passing options and move the puck accurately in motion. I’d like to see him attack the middle of the ice more consistently off the wall instead of staying stuck on the perimeter with the puck. I can see Soto driving play in transition with his blazing speed and above average hands as a middle six winger in the NHL, but needs to develop more consistency in his game.” - Jared Brown

Coulson Pitre – Wing – Flint Firebirds
Total Votes: 5
Highest Ranking: 8th (3x)
Comments:
NHL teams are always looking for the next Tom Wilson types, and that's a tall order. He's a pretty unique player. But Pitre does have some similar qualities. He plays that power game but also skates well enough to be a factor in transition and has high end vision/smarts with the puck that make him a strong playmaker. Consistency has been a bit of an issue to start the year, but it's important to note that he's counted upon to be more of a secondary threat for Flint and his ice time/responsibility has fluctuated to a degree.” - Brock Otten

Pitre is just a good player. That has been clear in each of the last two seasons. If you watch the Firebirds, it doesn’t take long to recognize that he’s driving play as a young player on that team (and the proof is in his goal differential results). Pitre is a smart player who understands where to be to support play and how to use spacing to his advantage. He’s also got more of a goal-scoring touch than we’ve seen so far this season. I expect him to push for 40 goals next year.” - Anonymous

I’m not sure how many to-10 lists Pitre will make either and I admit I thought long and hard about it. I just like where his game is at right now. He can be a physical force who moves pretty well. He’s not shy about mixing it up either. He’s a power forward from yester-year. But he also has pretty good vision and playmaking skills. If he could add a touch more scoring ability to his repertoire, he would be intriguing. But I am putting him in my top-10 anyway.” - Dominic Tiano

Ethan Miedema – Wing – Windsor Spitfires
Total Votes: 4
Highest Ranking: 4th (1x)
Comments:
A strong paced playmaker who is able to safely create cross ice passes and set up well around the offensive zone to set his linemates up for scoring opportunities. He’s able to create decent offensive rushes, possesses an accurate shot and has okay positioning overall.” - Olivia Carter

Big forward with skill. His skating is rough but there's a pro toolkit here. He'd score more on a different team.” - Anonymous

A 6'4" winger averaging nearly a point per game that played in a long playoff run in his first year in the league. There's a lot to like here and he's playing for Marc Savard in Windsor who has helped take several players to the next level in their game. I'm excited about what Miedma can become later on as players of his size always take a bit longer. He could take some time once he becomes a professional player but the wait could be worth it for a team that is patient for the former fourth-overall OHL selection.” - Matt Young

After a very slow start, Miedema is starting to get his game going. He’s got a big frame and great hands that give him a chance to put himself on a highlight reel at a moment's notice. He isn’t using his shot nearly enough which has affected his point totals but he has developed as a playmaker this season. If he can develop a bit more consistency and help Windsor get back on track, it would go a long way toward making him a riser among OHL draft eligibles.” - Tony Ferrari

Nick Lardis – Wing – Peterborough Petes
Total Votes: 4
Highest Ranking: 7th (1x)
Comments:
Lardis has impressed me this year more than a number of OHLers. Coulson Pitre and Owen Outwater really pushed for this last spot too, but Lardis’ ability to use his edges to find space, keep up with play, and gain scoring chances with an excellent release on his shot has been really fun to watch. He’s determined, pretty skilled, and has offensive tools that could project with some time and patience.” - Will Scouch

I don’t know how many top-10 lists Lardis will make, but he should make them all and I say that with all the bias I can muster because I just love the way he plays. He’s constantly flying down his wing taking on defenders and driving wide, but he will also take it right to the net. And he’s a natural goal scorer who can score in multiple ways. I wonder if he would get more attention if he wasn’t playing in Peterborough.” - Dominic Tiano

Lardis’ speed and scoring ability have stood out to me. His start to the year was impressive but the trade acquisition of Brennan Othmann by the Petes has limited his offensive opportunities and ice time. He’s got the speed and top-notch acceleration to be a threat off the rush and drive defenders off their blueline. He should look to drive the middle of the ice more in transition and not stick only to the outside lane. He’s dangerous in the slot as he possesses a quick release off the pass and is excellent at finding the soft spots in coverage to get lost and open for his teammates. He still has lots of physical maturing to be had so he can be heavier on pucks and withstand contact better, but the speed and finishing touch give him a high ceiling.” - Jared Brown

Carey Terrance – Center – Erie Otters
Total Votes: 2
Highest Ranking: 7th (1x)
Comments:
With every viewing, I become more intrigued by Terrance. I think he's just scratching the surface of his potential. What I have really grown to appreciate about his game is that he works through traffic really well down low with great small area quickness and puck protection habits. For such a strong skater, he's actually more consistently effective inside the blue line, IMO. Once he learns how to truly harness his speed to be a full length playmaker and pace pusher, look out. And even if the transitional puck skill never really develops, he still brings a lot to the table as a potential two-way center and workhorse. At worst, he could be a Cody Eakin type. At best, he's a much more involved offensive player. Really curious to see how he closes out the year as he gains confidence.” - Brock Otten

Terrance is an elite skater with a solid two-way game and his offence has taken a step forward from a year ago. Terrance is a team-worst -12 but he's also lining up most nights as the Otters' number-one centre in his draft year which is never an easy task. The fact that he heads up the penalty kill in Erie and wears a letter at 17 years old tells me all I need to know about the character and two-way game at his age. There's a lot to like and I think Otters' fans should be excited for the future with Terrance and Malcolm Spence yet to play their best hockey in the league.” - Matt Young

Andrew Gibson – Defense – Soo Greyhounds
Total Votes: 2
Highest Ranking: 9th (1x)
Comments:
He's big, can skate and works hard. His offensive sense is a question though.” - Anonymous

A two-way right-handed defenseman who exhibits a lot of patience, a good first pass and smarts on the back end. He'll just need to improve his decision-making.” - Mike Morreale

Easton Cowan – Wing – London Knights
Total Votes: 1
Highest Ranking: 10th (1x)
Comments:
Cowan is your definition of a utility player. He brings tremendous playmaking ability, but also plays big penalty kill minutes and covers for the defense often. Cowan is a player you want on the ice in the last minute of the game, whether your team is down a goal, or up a goal. This is a player that is being overlooked, and is one of my sleeper picks in this draft.” - Joely Stockl