Friday, September 20, 2019

2019/20 OHL Season Preview: Award Predictions

The conclusion to my three part season preview sees me look at potential award candidates for 2019/20.

Red Tilson Trophy - Cole Perfetti (Saginaw Spirit)
The last draft eligible player to win the Red Tilson was Connor McDavid in 2015 and I think Perfetti enters the year as the favourite for the award. I think the Saginaw Spirit might just be the best team in the OHL heading into the season and they are going to score a lot. Perfetti will be front and center in the offense. And there's a chance that he doesn't make the Canadian WJC team too, which means he won't miss a month of action. Fellow draft eligible forward Quinton Byfield is a very real contender too if the Wolves are as good as we are all expecting them to be. I look at 2000's Riley Damiani and Akil Thomas as contenders, in addition to OA's Greg Meireles and Austen Keating, and 2001's Nick Robertson and Arthur Kaliyev. I think Ty Dellandrea is going to be one of the best players in the OHL this year, but I also think that we won't see him play more than 50 games due to being in the NHL and at the WJC's. Likely puts him out of the Tilson race with so many great contenders.

Jim Rutherford Goaltender of the Year - Cedrick Andree (Ottawa 67's)
Now named the Jim Rutherford award, this was a tough one to predict this year. I think Ottawa's Cedrick Andree is the front runner based on last year's performance, predicted team success, and the strength of the defense in front of him. And, I think Andree is a great goaltender. Peterborough's Hunter Jones is a natural fit too. I think the Petes will be solid and with another year of experience under his belt, he should be able to overcome the fatigue he suffered in the second half last year. Tristan Lennox is a serious candidate too, so long as he can stay healthy. It's actually not as rare to see a U18 player win this award, although he would become the first U18 goalie to win the award since Alex Nedeljkovic. I also see Jacob Ingham being primed for a breakout season with Kitchener and he certainly has a nice team in front of him. 

Max Kaminski Trophy - Jamie Drysdale (Erie Otters)
I'm really making a bold prediction here. But the fact that I have Perfetti winning the Tilson and Drysdale winning the Kaminski tells you what I think of the 2020 draft crop from the OHL. Look, I already told you that I think the Erie Otters will be better than people are predicting. And Drysdale should be close to a point per game player this year. If the production rates of defenders are similar and Drysdale is a leader for the Otters and gets them back to the upper half of the Conference, he's going to be a popular pick here. After Drysdale, I see Noel Hoefenmayer being a top candidate. The OA is going to put up a ton of points for the 67's and is probably the favourite to lead in blueline scoring. After that, I see Tyler Tucker, Declan Chisholm, Thomas Harley, Giovanni Vallati, Kevin Bahl, and Vladislav Kolyachonok as serious contenders. Ryan Merkley probably deserves mention here, but there is just so much uncertainty surrounding him right now.

Emms Family Award - Brandt Clarke (Barrie Colts)
This was a really strong draft year in the Priority Selection, so we could see some terrific performances from first year U17 players. Based on strength of supporting cast, role within that cast, and preseason performance, I'm going with Brandt Clarke here. He has a great shot of being a 40+ point defender for a solid team and that could give him the nod. Fellow U17's Shane Wright, Brennan Othmann, Connor Lockhart, Mason McTavish, and Francesco Pinelli are all potential candidates too. Imports Oliver Suni and Ruben Rafkin are likely to receive a lot of playing time and responsibility and could be potential winners. I also look at goaltender Joe Vrbetic here, since he will be carrying the load in North Bay. If he can get them into the playoffs, he is a strong candidate.

Leo Lalande Trophy - Greg Meireles (Kitchener Rangers)
As mentioned, I see Meireles as a strong candidate for the Red Tilson so that means he is a natural fit for this award as OA of the year. He probably finishes the year top 5 in scoring, given he shouldn't miss much time (although he is currently in AHL camp). Austen Keating and Noel Hoefenmayer in Ottawa are two other guys that I think will put up a ton of points. Meireles' teammate in Kitchener, Jonathan Yantsis, has a chance to lead the league in goals and that puts him in the hunt for the Lalande. Oshawa's Brett Neumann, Barrie's Jacob Tortora, and North Bay's Matt Struthers are also strong candidates.

Matt Leyden Trophy - Chris Lazary (Saginaw Spirit)
I thought Lazary deserved more recognition from voters of this award last year for the way that he turned the Spirit's season around. And voters won't forget that, if he can get the Spirit to the top of the Western Conference. Andre Tourigny is someone who could become the first repeating winner since Bob Boughner in 2008 and 2009. Jay McKee, Dale Hunter, Cory Stillman, Eric Wellwood, Chris Hartsburg, Greg Walters, and Rob Wilson also have to be considered in the mix. What about Warren Rychel as a wild card if the Colts really surprise and become a top 4 team in the Conference?

Eddie Powers Trophy - Cole Perfetti (Saginaw Spirit)
Already alluded to this with my prediction of him winning the Red Tilson, but I see Perfetti being the first U18 player to lead the league in scoring since Dylan Strome. I look at Greg Meireles and Austen Keating as serious contenders too, considering that they won't be missing much time like others will for the WJC's. That goes for guys like Akil Thomas, Nick Robertson, Ty Dellandrea, and Riley Damiani. Quinton Byfield is also a contender here.

Goal Scoring Leader - Jonathan Yantsis (Kitchener Rangers)
This accolade has gone to an OA player the last two years (Brazeau and Luchuk), and I think Yantsis makes it a three peat. He is one of two returning 50 goal scorers (Kaliyev is a the other), so he seems like an obvious choice here. Speaking of Kaliyev, he is likely to have a better year with an improved supporting cast in Hamilton and that could mean the 60 goal mark. Here are some other guys that I think have a shot at the 50 goal mark: Nick Robertson, Graeme Clarke, Cole Perfetti, Jacob Tortora, Brett Neumann, Connor McMichael, Serron Noel, and Liam Kirk. 

1st Team All Stars
LW: Nick Robertson 
C: Cole Perfetti
RW: Jonathan Yantsis
D: Jamie Drysdale
D: Noel Hoefenmayer
G: Cedrick Andree
Coach: Chris Lazary

2nd Team All Stars
LW: Arthur Kaliyev
C: Greg Meireles
RW: Serron Noel
D: Tyler Tucker
D: Thomas Harley
G: Tristan Lennox
Coach: Eric Wellwood

3rd Team All Stars
LW: Austen Keating
C: Akil Thomas
RW: Jan Jenik
D: Declan Chisholm
D: Mason Millman
G: Hunter Jones
Coach: Andre Tourigny

All Rookie Team
LW: Brennan Othmann
C: Shane Wright
RW: Oliver Suni
D: Brandt Clarke
D: Ruben Rafkin
G: Joe Vrbetic

Thursday, September 19, 2019

2019/20 OHL Season Preview: Western Conference

Part two of my season preview brings us to the Western Conference.

Similar to the East, I think we have three tiers in the West this year. The first tier is made up of Saginaw, Kitchener, and London. I think these three teams head into the year as the cream of the crop and have to be considered the favourites for the Conference and the divisions. Then the second tier is made up of Flint, Erie, Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie, Owen Sound, and Sarnia. I think these teams are pretty interchangeable and all have question marks that could prevent them from making the playoffs. Then the third tier is Guelph. Don't get me wrong, I'm not sure Guelph is going to be as bad as some people think they will be. But I think that they want to be. Adam Fantilli is a hell of a prospect and catch and I think the teams at the bottom will do everything they can to try to secure his rights. While he's not an exceptional status player, he is a late birth date, which means whoever drafts him will be guaranteed three years of him before he leaves for the NHL. That's a big jump start to a rebuild like the one Guelph is attempting.

1. Saginaw Spirit (West Division)
This is a really strong group in Saginaw this year. They have some great depth at forward, in addition to some high end talent. This is going to be the Cole Perfetti break out party as I see him being the first draft eligible player to lead the league in scoring since Dylan Strome. I also see guys like Jenkins, Porco, Giroux, Busdeker, Coskey, etc continuing to improve. They may want to look at adding some size up front at some point, but for now I really like the make up of the forward group. Another strength is in net. While there is some mystery surrounding the possible return of Ivan Prosvetov, I have the utmost confidence in Tristan Lennox being a top flight goaltender in this league already as a 17 year old. Either way, they're going to get great goaltending. And they may need it some nights. This defense group does have some holes, especially if Bode Wilde sticks in the AHL as many are anticipating. Import pick Solovyov is the real wild card here. They are going to need a few guys like him to really step up. I see the Spirit upgrading their defense pretty quickly into the year if things are rocky. This is their year.

2. Kitchener Rangers (Midwest Division)
The Rangers are just a very well rounded team. Not really any holes in this group. They did a great job jumping on the weak goaltending market early to bring in Jacob Ingham from Mississauga. He should be the reliable starter that they need. They also did a great job shoring up their defense, especially from a puck moving perspective, by bringing in Axel Bergkvist and Ville Ottavainen in the Import Draft. Vukojevic should continue to be a rock here too and I'd look for him to take a step forward offensively this year. Up front, the loss of Joseph Garreffa is a bit of a blow as he attempts to turn pro. Even with his departure, the Rangers are fine up front. Greg Meireles and Riley Damiani are contenders to lead the league in scoring and should be a dynamic duo. Ditto for Jonathan Yantsis and Liam Hawel, whom the Rangers just picked up from Guelph. If some of the younger forwards like Valade, Langdon, Stepien, Pinelli, McDonnell, etc don't step up and provide consistent secondary scoring, things could get a little rocky. But look for GM Mike McKenzie to be aggressive in the trade market to improve that.

3. London Knights
How successful London is this year will depend totally on how well their young, experienced defense comes together. Alec Regula is really the only returning core player with Keane seeing sporadic playing time previously. There's a ton of talent, no doubt. Between Skinner, Winslow, Steklov, Montgomery, Mailloux, and Roger, there is a ton of potential. But there are bound to be growing pains. Rome was not built in a day and you can't completely overhaul your defense without expecting some bumps in the road. That's going to put a lot of pressure on Jordan Kooy to be better than he was last year. It's also going to put pressure on their deep forward group to score, and score a lot to cover up some weaker defensive nights. But they are certainly capable of that. Good mix of veterans and younger players here. I think guys like Gruden, Cotter, Dunkley, and Moskal could have big years. I also think Antonio Stranges emerges as a big time point producer to match Foudy and McMichael. This team will bring speed and grit up front and should dominate possession time enough to help out their defense early on until they get comfortable.

4. Flint Firebirds
This is, admittedly, totally dependent on Ty Dellandrea coming back from Dallas' training camp. I think he's going to get a few games, but ultimately I do see him returning in October sometime. And I think Flint has built up their roster to the point where they can keep their heads above water until that time. The Anthony Popovich acquisition was such a smart move for the franchise. He has a ton of experience in this league and can be a real leader, on and off the ice. Having that stability in net will be big. This Firebirds defense group is also very solid, pending they actually stay healthy this year. I think Dennis Busby is going to have a real breakout season offensively, and he and Kolyachonok could form a terrific first pairing. At forward, they have a lot of depth and it's only a matter of time before their young players take that next step. Guys like Evan Vierling, Cody Morgan, Hunter Holmes, Connor Roberts, etc should be able to take big steps forward. And I think Brennan Othmann is an immediate impact player. Of course, upon his return, I expect Dellandrea to be among the best players in the league and a real leader in the second half. This is going to look like a pretty bad prediction if things go south again in Flint, but I have a lot of faith that they have turned the corner.

5. Erie Otters
If you remember in my East write up, I mentioned how the Petes had among the highest returning goals totals for 18/19 year old players in the OHL. Another team that is right at the top of that list is Erie. They may not have any stars up front, but they have a lot of very efficient players who play hard and put the puck in the net. I think Hayden Fowler is going to have a big year offensively if he can stay healthy and Connor Lockhart should make an immediate impact as a rookie. Of course the crown jewel here is Jamie Drysdale on the back-end. I think he can emerge as one of the OHL's best defenders and help this group to be quietly very effective. In net, things are a little more murky. But Daniel Murphy did a solid enough job last year to the point where you have to expect that he could take that next step forward from a consistency perspective. And Aidan Campbell comes into the league with a fair amount of hype. A lot of people are sleeping on this team right now, but I think that they can be quietly very effective.

6. Windsor Spitfires
I think there are some things to like about this Windsor roster this year. Their forward group is very strong and they are going to score a ton of goals. Egor Afanasyev and Matt Maggio being added this offseason, to the likes of Foudy, Cuylle, Douglas, Angle, Boka, D'Amico, Playfair, McDonald, and first rounder Wyatt Johnson. That's a deep group. This Windsor team will be able to roll three scoring lines, and even if the group is younger and still trying to find consistency, they should be able to count on a few breakouts. D'Amico is one guy in particular that I really see coming into his own as a possible point per game player this season. Defensively, I think a lot hinges on the impact of newcomers Rafkin and Robinson. But overall, even with the loss of Staois, this group is a tad underrated because they don't possess any current stars. Where I am worried is in net. Kari Piiroinen struggled last year as a rookie and Xavier a rookie. When you consider that this is a relatively young team at it's core, there are going to be nights where a lot of premium scoring chances are given up. But I do think that they'll score enough to be a playoff team.

7. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
It kind of doesn't feel right to have the Greyhounds ranked this low. So let me preface this by saying that I expect Barrett Hayton to spend the year in the NHL. If he returns, the Hounds could be a top 4 team in the West. But without him, I just don't see enough star power to overcome some greenness defensively. Christian Propp is an underrated goalie who I think can do a solid enough job for the Greyhounds. But defensively, I just don't see the high end depth necessary to be a top team in the deep Western Conference. That said, the Hounds have done such a great job developing young players in recent years and their 3rd and 4th year players have a tendency to overachieve and breakout when you least expect it. And they will need those breakouts from guys like Joe Carroll, Zach Trott, Rory Kerins, Ryan Roth, Cullen McLean, etc. I think that the Greyhounds are a playoff team, but without Hayton, I don't see them being a force.

8. Owen Sound Attack
I'll probably take some flak for this one. I know that a lot of preseason prognosticators have the Attack much higher. And it could very well happen. As I said, I could see 4 through 9 being pretty interchangeable among my predictions. But here's my thinking. The Attack haven't been able to keep the puck out of their net with any consistency the last few years, and I just don't see them having the depth of firepower to make up for that. I also see them capitalizing on the trade market and continuing their rebuild by moving guys like Aidan Dudas, Brady Lyle, or Carter Robertson if the deals are right. That would leave the team in worse shape post deadline and cause them to fall lower down the standings. Of course, Mack Guzda could find his game and be the starter that the team needs. He was fantastic in the preseason. Nolan Seed could explode in his draft year. Previously disappointing high picks like McMaster, Nizhnikov, and Popov could finally break out. But it just seems like there are more what if's with this Attack team than some of the other franchises in the West.

9. Sarnia Sting
This was a tough one to rank. Of any team in the Conference, I feel like the Sting are the hardest to predict this year. I like the makeup of their potential top 6 (Rees, Perreault, Bitten, Guy, Josling, McGregor). That's a hard working group who could be difficult to play against. But I am concerned with their lack of depth and if the Sting decide to continue their rebuild and deal Josling/McGregor, than that depth takes a further hit. Defensively, the team is going to rely a lot on Import pick Eric Hjorth, but just how effective can he be? There's some good size on the blueline, but I could see them having some trouble moving the puck and getting the transition game started. And in net, well there's a three headed monster of Gaudreau, Langevin, and Lamour. Just how much Gaudreau plays remains to be seen. He's one of the most impressive draft picks at the position that I have seen in years, but asking him to come in and lead this team to the playoffs will be a tall order. But it's not impossible. Again, I just don't know how this year shakes out for Sarnia. 

10. Guelph Storm
Look, the Guelph Storm are not going to be as bad as people think they will be. Cam Hillis, Pavel Gogolev, Keegan Stevenson, Eric Uba, Cedric Ralph, Danny Zhilkin. And they just got word that Fedor Gordeev is back too. These guys are going to score and put up points. But just how long will they be on the roster? It's obvious that management sees this as a rebuilding year and Hillis, Gordeev, and Ralph will be big time trade assets. Ditto for number one defender Owen Lalonde. Once Lalonde and Gordeev move, that defensive group is going to be very, very inexperienced. Add in the fact that the Storm are rolling with a goaltending tandem of Daws and Bennett, and you have a recipe for the bottom of the standings. They won't be Kingston or Flint bad from last year, but I see them around the mid 20 win mark and that likely puts them at the bottom in the Western Conference. They'll likely battle Kingston for that top overall pick.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

2019/20 OHL Season Preview: Eastern Conference

It's that time again! The 2019/20 season starts this week so it's time to make some predictions.

At this point, I see the Eastern Conference as having three tiers. The first tier is made up of Ottawa, Sudbury, Peterborough, and Oshawa. I think any of these teams could end up first in the East and in their respective divisions. Then you have the second tier made up of Barrie, Mississauga, Hamilton, Niagara, and North Bay. These teams have some holes or youth filled lineups that could cause them to be inconsistent, but they should still be competitive and push for the playoffs. Then we have the third tier which is Kingston. Love the Frontenacs draft in 2019, but this is a young team that will still face an uphill battle. Shane Wright is terrific, but I don't think he helps the Frontenacs make the playoffs.

1. Ottawa 67's (East Division Champions)
Heading into the season, the defending Eastern Conference Champions are not without question marks. This is a team that has lost a lot of veteran talent at forward (Chmelevski, Clark, Maksimovich, Felhaber, etc) and replacing those goals is going to be difficult. Yes, the team's first line nearly returns intact with Rossi and Keating flanked by someone like Graeme Clarke. But secondary scoring is a big mystery right now. Can Cam Tolnai, Jack Quinn, and Mitchell Hoelscher take those next steps forward? Can the team's terrific 2019 draft class make an immediate impact? No doubt, this team will end up bringing in veterans at forward if they are as competitive as they should be. Where the team does not have concerns is on defense and in net. The 67's will return their entire defense from last year and that group will be even stronger this year. Cedrick Andree is also back and he proved to be a capable starter who could steal games early in the year. They held the OHL to the lowest goals against per game then and that has a chance of being repeated. So while I do have some concerns with how consistently the 67's can put pucks in the net, at least to start, I have no concerns about how effective they will be defensively. As such, I think they have to enter the year at the favourite to recapture the Eastern Conference.

2. Sudbury Wolves (Central Division Champions)
No doubt, Ukka-Pekka Luukkonen was a huge part of Sudbury's success last year. He helped to carry a younger club to home ice advantage in the first round. But this Wolves team is largely intact from last year and led by some terrific young players who are bound to improve by leaps and bounds. Quinton Byfield is a star. I think he is going to have an absolutely dynamite year that sees him push for the OHL scoring title. Their young defense has some real standouts like Liam Ross, Jack Thompson, and Isaak Phillips. And they have some great veterans up front who can provide grit, scoring, and two-way play (Carson, Bulitka, Hutcheson, Levin, etc). I'm also interested to see how Leafs' draft pick Kalle Loponen elevates their defense group. Adding Christian Purboo as the team's starting goaltender was a real savvy move too, after Canadiens' draft pick Frederik Dichow was a no show to camp. I don't think Purboo can match UPL's greatness, but the team around him is better and he just has to be "good enough." I also see the Central Division being a little worse than the East, which means some easier division matchups. 

3. Peterborough Petes
I know one of the things that OHL teams use to predict success heading into the next year is returning goals from 18 and 19 year old players (discounting OA's). Peterborough has among the highest number in this regard of any OHL team, let alone the Eastern Conference. They should score goals and have the ability to roll three solid scoring lines that blend experience and youth. They also have some room to make deals with only two OA's on the roster currently (Gallant and the recently acquired Jacob Paquette). I expect Nick Robertson to have an absolutely massive year and I also expect Cameron Butler and Liam Kirk to have breakout seasons. In goal, Hunter Jones is one of the OHL's best. His second half wasn't great, but he should be better equipped to deal with in season fatigue now that he has a full year of starting under his belt. I am concerned about their defense; no question. IMO, Declan Chisholm is the only legitimate top three OHL defender on the roster, with Paquette being more of a quality #4. And I am concerned about the trade distractions swirling around the team (Merkley, possibly SDA). But this team is too talented to not succeed on some level. And, again, they have some pieces to trade (such as three second round picks in 2020) that could elevate them to near top of the conference status.

4. Oshawa Generals
When you don't get consistent goaltending in this league, no matter how talented your roster is, wins can be hard to come by. Just ask the Owen Sound Attack the last few years (which is ironic considering their recent deal). No doubt, the Oshawa Generals have a great make-up at forward and on defense. Vallati, Brewer, Gross, Moore, and Ennis is as solid a top 5 group as you'll find in the Eastern Conference. And the team's top two lines consisting of McShane, Neumann, Noel, Tullio, Antropov, and Suni will be dynamite. But depth up front is an issue, as the Generals will be relying on a mishmash of unproven talent in this area. This can be addressed through trade if Oshawa decides to go for it. That brings us to the goaltending dilemma. Aidan Hughes is still around as an OA goaltender, but he has yet to prove himself as a competent starter. And Sbrocca/Paputsakis have a combined zero OHL starts. Meanwhile new acquisition Andrew MacLean had a very up and down rookie year in Owen Sound and is far from a sure thing. And unfortunately for the Generals, the OHL goaltending market is razor thin right now. So if the goaltending falters, as expected, does Oshawa sell off some talent to regroup for next year? It's a serious possibility. But as far as preseason predictions go, I do think that the Generals need to be rated this high even with some holes.

5. Barrie Colts
This is where it really starts to get interesting in the East and I think Barrie is the team that could surprise and make the most noise. Yes, I know Dale Hawerchuk is no longer the coach and Warren Rychel has been brought in. That could mess with chemistry, or at the very least cause the team to get off to a bit of a slow start. But I really like the make up of this group. Between Jet Greaves and Canucks' pick Arturs Silovs, one of them should provide quality goaltending and emerge as the starter. I think Brandt Clarke is an immediate impact player and joins Tyler Tucker to form a dynamite one/two punch likely spread out among two pairings. And while I think the offense may go through some peaks and valleys because of their youth, there are enough veterans sprinkled in there (Tortora, Willms, Pekar, Suzuki, Bignell) to help steady the ship. The forward group will also bring a lot of intensity and I think this group will be a tough one to play against. Ryan Suzuki is probably the real catalyst here. This team will go only as far as he can take them this year because they will need him to emerge as a consistent first line center. If he takes those steps forward, he could help the Colts secure home ice in the first round. 

6. Mississauga Steelheads
This isn't the most innately skilled group in the Conference. But I like their potential to prevent goals and I think that they will bring a lot of energy and tenacity to the ice that could make them surprisingly dangerous. Their defense is a potential strength with Harley, Ham, and Davis making up a terrific top three. Then it's just a matter of one of Penman, Del Mastro, Bjorgvik-Holm stepping up and securing that fourth spot. And I really liked the team's acquisition of Kai Edmonds. I think he can be a solid starter this year and next year (as an OA). The question is, will they score enough? They will rely heavily on their 2001's and 2002's to provide the bulk of the offense and that can be dangerous in a league dominated by 19 and 20 year olds. But that group blossomed in the second half with Tippett and McLeod out of the picture. I think that they can continue to grow and use their speed and physicality to wear down some defenses. Like the other teams in this range, they could be 5th to 9th and I wouldn't be surprised either way.

7. Hamilton Bulldogs
The Bulldogs are going to score goals. Arthur Kaliyev is going to have another monster season. I think Jan Jenik breaks out and emerges as an OHL star. Logan Morrison is going to have a great draft year. And there are some nice supporting pieces in place. But, I do really think that Hamilton is going to struggle keeping the puck out of their net. I'm not confident in their young goaltenders being ready to face a barrage. And I think this defense lacks strength and assertiveness in their own end. If the Bulldogs want to win consistently, they will need to win a lot of 5-4 games. And that's never a recipe for success in this league. Now, of course, the defense could end up being better than we anticipate. Ditto for the goaltending. And if Hamilton is scoring like I think they can, they could be a dangerous team. But I think more likely they end up hovering around the middle part of the Conference and explore the option of trading guys like Kaliyev, Nurse, Landry, and Jenik to help the rebuild post Championship.

8. North Bay Battalion
A lot of North Bay's success is going to be reliant on Joe Vrbetic. The talented young netminder is going to see a ton of rubber with a relatively inexperienced defense in front of him. But, I do think that he is a legitimate star in the making and will be able to steal his share of games, even in his rookie year. I also think that North Bay has enough weapons at forward to score their share of goals. Matthew Struthers should have a big OA year. And between he and Mason Primeau, both scoring lines have the size to dominate down low. I'm looking at Brandon Coe to have a good draft year and for Liam Arnsby and Kyle Jackson to have strong rookie seasons. Again, this defense is going to give up shots and goals, but I don't see North Bay really selling off assets the way Niagara will and it should give them the advantage in the second half. 

9. Niagara IceDogs
Depth is going to be this team's biggest issue this year. They obviously still have Akil Thomas, Phil Tomasino, and some nice pieces on the back-end (Roberts, Hunter). But this is, without a doubt, a team in the middle of a rebuild year after dealing so many assets recently to make their push. As such, I'm operating under the impression that the four guys that I just named could all see themselves dealt at some point this year so that Niagara can recoup some of those assets and move forward with a strong group of 2002 and 2003 born players. They already moved Paquette so the others are probably on borrowed time. Additionally, Christian Sbaraglia is the veteran in net and he has played a total of 4 OHL games. Considering the amount of youth being employed, there are bound to be a lot of quality scoring chances given up as these players adjust and grow. And such green goaltenders are going to have a tough time adjusting to seeing so many scoring chances against them. In the second half of the OHL season, Kingston may end up being better than the IceDogs if they sell like I expect.

10. Kingston Frontenacs
Look, Kingston will not be as bad as they were last year, when the Frontenacs had one of the worst offenses that the OHL has ever seen. They will win more games. I look for Billy Constantinou and Jake Murray to breakout on the back-end and Jakob Brahaney will be around long enough to be a veteran presence. Of course, all eyes will also be on the exceptional Shane Wright, even if he won't have a ton of help. But the Fronts have drafted well the last couple of years and it seems likely that a few of Kingston's 2002's and 2003's should breakout up front. In net, Ryan Dugas will look to bounce back from injury and establish himself as an OHL starter and the Fronts goaltender who can see this rebuild through. There will be a lot of ugly nights again, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Sunday Top 10 - Performers of the 2019 Preseason

The 2019 preseason is over and the regular season is just around the corner. It's time to take a look at some of the top performances of this year's exhibition action.

As always, this list is populated by players without NHL affiliations (first or second year players, and undrafted veterans), because they get into more games.

Here were the preseason standings (ignoring divisions):

Eastern Conference
1. Mississauga Steelheads (3-1) - .750%
2. Barrie Colts (4-2) - .667%
3. Peterborough Petes - .600%
4. Ottawa 67's (2-2) - .500%
5. Sudbury Wolves (2-2) - .500%
6. Oshawa Generals (2-2) - .500%
7. Hamilton Bulldogs (2-2) - .500%
8. Kingston Frontenacs (1-2) - .333%
9. Niagara IceDogs (1-4) - .200%
10. North Bay Battalion (0-5) - .000%

Western Conference
1. Windsor Spitfires (3-1) - .750%
2. Flint Firebirds (3-1) - .750%
3. Owen Sound Attack (3-1) - .750%
4. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (2-1) - .667%
5. Saginaw Spirit (3-2) - .600%
6. Kitchener Rangers (3-2) - .600%
7. Erie Otters (2-2) - .500%
8. London Knights (2-2) - .500%
9. Guelph Storm (2-3) - .400%
10. Sarnia Sting - (1-4) - .200%

Here are your top 10 OHL preseason performers, with several HM's and a team by team breakdown of some other standouts. 

1. Brandt Clarke - Barrie Colts
The 4th overall pick in this year's priority selection, Clarke tied for the preseason lead in scoring despite being a first year defender. This is no short feat. He was also tied for second in shots (although the recording of said stat is a little sketchy in the preseason). Needless to say, Clarke's play met expectations. Last year, Jamie Drysdale was a standout for the Otters as a rookie, playing a ton of minutes. If Clarke's early play is any indication, he will be filling the same type of role for the Colts and could be a candidate to join the elusive 40 point mark as a 16 year older defender.

2. Jonah De Simone - Niagara IceDogs
There always seems to be a performance like this every preseason; a younger, relatively un-hyped player who explodes offensively. A 4th rounder in 2018, De Simone did play all of last year with Niagara. But he had 2 less shots in 5 games in the preseason than he did in 47 games last year. He led the preseason in goals and points, scoring in all five games for the IceDogs. This is a team that is rebuilding this year, so if they have found a scoring star in De Simone, that would be tremendous for the franchise. 

3. Cole Perfetti - Saginaw Spirit
Probably no surprise to see Perfetti on this list. In fact, I would have been disappointed if he was not among the leaders in preseason scoring. At almost three points per game, Perfetti dominated on the ice and after a strong summer at the Hlinka/Gretzky, he looks poised for a massive draft year. As part of a strong Saginaw team, I actually think that Perfetti could be the first draft eligible player to lead the OHL in scoring since Dylan Strome. 

4. Cameron Butler - Peterborough Petes
6'4, 200lbs and probably still growing, Butler had a massive preseason for the Petes (pun intended). In his NHL draft year, Butler looks poised for a big season. He scored in 4 of the 5 games and led the preseason in shots. The Petes have some skilled players who are on the undersized spectrum, so if Butler can really emerge as a top flight offensive player, that would be great for their success with his ability to open space. 

5. Mack Guzda - Owen Sound Attack
Perhaps no goaltender in the OHL last year had as disappointing of a season as Guzda did. He went from a potential top 3 round selection to undrafted and even lost his starting job for a time with the Attack. This preseason, no goaltender was better than Guzda as he helped the Attack to 3 wins. I'm sure the Attack organization and Attack fans are tired of goaltending issues in the organization, so if Guzda can find his game and emerge as the goaltender everyone thought he'd be, then Owen Sound has a chance to be better this year than many are expecting.

6. Mitchell Smith - Saginaw Spirit
A rookie defender who also happens to be a hometown kid, Smith was fantastic for Saginaw this preseason. He had a point in every game and finished +6. Saginaw needed a young defender to really step up this year to help with the loss of Bode Wilde and Smith looks like he could be that guy for the organization. 

7. Jet Greaves - Barrie Colts
With a fantastic preseason, Greaves is trying to show the Colts that he deserves to be the starter in Barrie and not Canucks' draft pick and Import selection Arturs Silovs. The Colts, as a whole, looked great during the exhibition schedule and even with new bench boss Warren Rychel coming in late, the team seems poised to have a much better year than a year ago. Greaves will be at the forefront of that it would appear.

8. Ville Ottavainen - Kitchener Rangers
The only Import selection to crack this list, Ottavainen finished second to Clarke, and tied with Smith in defensive scoring this preseason. From talking to people, there were some suspect moments in the defensive end. But he also apparently improved each game and the offensive production is impressive for a 2002. Imports usually take time to adjust to the league, so let's see if Ottavainen can keep this up when the season starts. 

9. Brendan Sellan - Erie Otters
Another one of those, "whoa, I wasn't expecting that" kind of performances this preseason. An undersized second year forward, Sellan was a guy that I thought came into Erie camp as a bubble player to return after an indifferent rookie season. But he led the Otters in preseason scoring and looks like a breakout candidate on a team that I feel is being vastly underrated in preseason rankings.

10. Graeme Clarke - Ottawa 67's
A guy on pretty much everyone's breakout candidate list, Clarke did not disappoint this preseason. He had 4 goals and 15 shots in just 3 games and looks like he is going to have an absolutely monster D+1 year on one of the best teams in the OHL's Eastern Conference.

Honorable Mentions

Tyson Foerster - Barrie Colts
With 7 points in 5 games, Foerster had an excellent preseason and looks poised for a breakout in his sophomore season after showing well as a rookie last year. 

Mason Millman - Saginaw Spirit
Speaking of breakout candidates, Millman is another routine response to that question as he looks to steal most of Bode Wilde's offensive responsibility in one of the OHL's top offenses. Millman was great this preseason and should be a big time point producer.

Antonio Stranges - London Knights
Alright, he didn't have a goal this preseason. But he did have 5 assists and finished third in shots on goal. And from talking to those that saw him, the buzz is electric for his start to the season. Expectations are very high for his sophomore effort, so let's see if he can match them.

Jonathan Yantsis - Kitchener Rangers
5 goals in 3 games for this OA of the Year (Leo Lalande) candidate. There is a very real possibility that Yantsis leads the OHL in goal scoring this year, should he not get a contract from the LA Kings following their training camp.

Donovan Sebrango - Kitchener Rangers
Coming off a solid, yet unspectacular Hlinka/Gretzky performance this Summer, Sebrango had a very good offensive preseason for the Rangers with over a point per game. As a team, the Rangers really struggled to move the puck last year, but their rebuilt defense has shown well early, around their Imports and the improvement from Sebrango.  

Nathan Allensen - Barrie Colts
Allensen played all 6 of Barrie's preseason games and finished +10, which was first in the OHL. He also posted 4 assists, including 3 powerplay assists, which was also tops in the OHL. Barrie needed a big step forward from him as a top 4 defender and it appears they may have gotten it.

Christian Purboo - Sudbury Wolves
Sudbury has to be encouraged by the two games that their new starter played this preseason. His .943 save percentage was third during the exhibition schedule and he looks like he can provide the stability that they wanted from him.

Daniel Murphy - Erie Otters
Murphy was another goaltender to play exceptionally well this preseason. Two games and two wins, including a shutout of Hamilton. He could be a breakout candidate manning the crease in Erie.

Marco Rossi - Ottawa 67's
Second year Import who was just named to Bob McKenzie's preliminary top 20 for the 2020 NHL Draft. He was terrific this preseason, among the top scorers. He will be the number one center on one of the top teams in the league. Expect a monster season.

Team by Team Breakdowns

Barrie Colts
Victor Hadfield - 2 goals, 3 assists
Jacob Tortora - 3 goals, 1 assist

Erie Otters
Emmett Sproule - 3 goals, 2 assists
Austen Swankler - 1 goal, 3 assists

Flint Firebirds
Brennan Othmann - 4 goals, 2 assists
Jake Durham - 4 goals
Riley McCourt - 2 goals, 2 assists
Ty Dellandrea - 4 assists (in one game)
Evgeny Oksentyuk - 5 assists

Guelph Storm
Pavel Gogolev - 2 goals, 2 assists
Cedric Ralph - 2 goals, 2 assists
Keegan Stevenson - 2 goals, 2 assists
Andrei Bakanov - 2 goals, 2 assists
Jacob Roach - 2 goals, 2 assists
Daniil Chayka - 1 goal, 3 assists

Hamilton Bulldogs 
Navrin Mutter - 2 goals, 1 assist
Logan Morrison - 1 goal, 2 assists
Marco Costantini - 2 wins, .925 Sv%

Kingston Frontenacs
Lucas Rowe - 3 goals, 1 assist
Jakob Brahaney - 4 assists

Kitchener Rangers
Riley Damiani - 2 goals, 3 assists
Reid Valade - 2 goals, 3 assists

London Knights
Paul Cotter - 3 goals, 1 assist
Gerard Keane - 1 goal, 2 assists

Mississauga Steelheads
William Portokalis - 3 goals, 1 assist
Cole Schwindt - 1 goal, 3 assists
Aidan Prueter - 3 goals
Nick Isaacson - 3 goals

Niagara IceDogs
Lucas Theriault - 5 assists
Tynan Tucker - 1 win, .919 Sv%

North Bay Battalion
Brad Chenier - 4 goals
Simon Rose - 1 goal, 2 assists

Oshawa Generals 
Oliver Suni - 2 goals, 4 assists
Allan McShane - 5 goals
Ty Tullio - 1 goal, 4 assists

Ottawa 67's
Jack Beck - 2 goals, 3 assists
Noel Hoefenmayer - 4 assists

Owen Sound Attack
Kaleb Pearson - 3 goals, 2 assists
Kirill Nizhnikov - 2 goals, 2 assists

Peterborough Petes
Dustin Hutton - 1 goal, 5 assists
Mason McTavish - 2 goals, 3 assists
Liam Kirk - 3 goals, 1 assist
Nick Robertson - 3 goals (in one game)

Saginaw Spirit
Camaryn Baber - 1 goal, 5 assists
Jake Goldowski - 4 goals, 1 assist
Nicholas Porco - 3 goals, 1 assist

Sarnia Sting 
Jacob Perreault - 3 goals, 3 assists
Owen Saye - 2 goals, 1 assist

Soo Greyhounds
Tye Kartye - 2 goals, 3 assists
Tanner Dickinson - 1 goal, 2 assists

Sudbury Wolves
Shane Bulitka - 2 goals, 4 assists
Quinton Byfield - 2 goals, 2 assists
Phil Caron - 2 goals, 1 assist

Windsor Spitfires
Cole Purboo - 4 goals, 1 assist
Luke Boka - 2 goals, 3 assists
Matt Maggio - 2 goals, 3 assists
Ruben Rafkin - 1 goal, 2 assists

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Preseason Top 30 for the 2020 NHL Draft

With the Ivan Hlinka tournament completed and OHL preseason action around the corner, it's time for the first draft list of the season. I only started doing a preseason list a few years ago, but I enjoy it because it gives you a great perspective on where players have come from (for fun, here's the 2019 preseason list).

This is obviously a very difficult list to make. The progression for draft eligible players can often be a tad unpredictable. The player you see in a sophomore season isn't often the same player you see in a freshman year. Growth spurts occur. Strength is added. Confidence grows. Timid perimeter players can become physical beasts, etc. Or, conversely, you've got players who look great as 16/17 year olds but just don't progress in their sophomore seasons. Plus, you've got all the players who haven't yet played in the OHL (at least more than a few games), but who are projected to be impact players in their draft year (like Ruben Rafkin or Oliver Suni, etc).

This year's crop for the OHL is a sharp contrast to last year. We go from one of the weakest groups the OHL has ever produced, to potentially one of the strongest. At this point, Quinton Byfield, Cole Perfetti, and Jamie Drysdale all look like candidates for the top 5. And upwards of a dozen or so players (including those three) already look like potential first round picks. When all is said and done, the OHL could very well take up a third of the first round. I think most scouts would echo my sentiment of being excited to watch this crop grow and develop this season.

Here's my early list:

1. Quinton Byfield - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Byfield is a straight up beast. He's an August birth date, yet he's already 6'5, 220lbs. This is a man playing against boys at times. But what makes him a potential unstoppable force is the fact that he's actually a fantastic skater. He generates such power in his stride and just explodes into the offensive zone with what appears to be little effort. It's not that straight ahead speed that makes him so hard to contain though. It is his agility; stops, starts, turns. He can cut on a dime and it makes him very difficult to pin down in the offensive zone. Not only can he put you on his back, but he can skate circles around you. Byfield is also a terrific playmaker, something that was on full display at this year's Hlinka/Gretzky Cup. His reads and his anticipation are top notch, which is not something you see very often from players like him, who sometimes have a tendency to drive the net with their head down, using their size/speed advantage predominantly. An aspect of his game that really improved over the second half of his rookie OHL season and was evident at the Hlinka, is his play in all three zones. While there are no doubt times where you'd like to see him use his size more to be more assertive, his instincts and coverage are solid. In fact, you'll see him rotate back to the point and control play from there quite often in the offensive zone, to cover for pinching defenders. He swallows up so much ice with those strides, so the potential for him to develop further as a two-way player is extremely high. An area that I would like to see improve (on top of using his size more consistently away from the puck), is his shot. He can have a tendency to be too pass happy when in tight, trying to thread passes for higher percentage shooting lanes, rather than simply making that quick decision to put the puck home himself. Or he'll try to make an extra move to get the goaltender out of position, again, rather than trusting his shot. As he gains confidence here, the sky is truly the limit. He is a potential player with no flaws who is worth the price of admission to watch. 

2. Jamie Drysdale - Defense - Erie Otters
Some may be slightly surprised to see Drysdale ahead of Perfetti, but I do think Drysdale is a special player (not to say that Perfetti isn't) and I'll take a potential franchise defender over a star forward. Compound this with the fact that this year's draft isn't very deep or strong on defense and I think Drysdale has slightly more value currently. Last year in Erie, not only did he play an insane amount of minutes for a 16 year old, but he was also only the fifth U17 defender in the new millennium to hit the 40 point plateau (along with Merkley, Ellis, Del Zotto, and Ebert). At the heart of Drysdale's game is his skating ability. He is just so smooth on the ice, taking little time to hit full speed coming out of the defensive end. But his four way mobility is such an asset in the defensive end. Even though he's not exceptionally strong yet, forwards rarely get by him in transition, or escape him in coverage. Drysdale is also highly intelligent and sees the ice so well. Calm under pressure, you rarely see him make a mistake, despite his aggressiveness on the attack. Quite frankly, I don't see many flaws in Drysdale's game already, and he's only going to get better. One thing that I would like to see improve is his shot and his confidence in using it. He opens up those passing lanes with his mobility when running the point, but you rarely see him looking to exploit those gaps for shots. Also would love to see him take more chances to jump up in the play as a 3rd or 4th man in, again relying on his mobility to recover should he need to. Last year, Drysdale was 29th in the league in shots among defenders. As an elite powerplay QB, I want to see that number jump.

3. Cole Perfetti - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Tough to rank a player as good as Perfetti third, but someone has to be 3rd in this elite OHL class. Even in ranking him 3rd, I do think that Perfetti deserves to be in discussion for a top 5 selection along with Byfield and Drysdale. As an offensive winger (a projection, as I know he can lineup at center too), I do think that Byfield and Drysdale could be more complete players, and that's why I've got them ahead by a hair right now. This year, his game is bound to be dissected at times as is the case for any draft eligible player. And the first thing likely to be picked on is Perfetti's skating and size combination. He's not the biggest at 5'10, and he's not the quickest player on the ice. But I'm not worried at all about that. I actually think his start ups and edgework are improving greatly, and when you combine that with his elite hockey IQ, you have a dynamic offensive player. You saw what he is capable of at the Hlinka. Well second half of the previous OHL season, he was doing those things pretty regularly too. His anticipation, be it as a goal scorer or a playmaker, is top notch. And he just has this poise with the puck on his stick that can not be taught. He'll work the cycle, keep his feet moving, and eventually find an opening that he believes can create a high end scoring chance. And of course, he has a fantastic shot with a quick release that makes him equal part goal scorer and playmaker. At the Hlinka, I saw Perfetti be a lot more aggressive without the puck, especially as a forechecker and this is something that I really hope caries over to the OHL season this year. Don't be surprised at all if this kid is top 5 in OHL scoring this year.

4. Marco Rossi - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Here's a stat for you (courtesy the great that summarizes Rossi's impact beautifully. His even strength goals for percentage last year was a remarkable 85%, tops in the entire OHL by a pretty significant margin. He is such a strong overall player and a testament to that, is the fact that he was named the East's smartest player in last year's coaches' poll. He creates so much time and space for his wingers because of how well he dictates pace and how well he works below the hash marks. He's not a huge kid at 5'9, 175lbs, but he's very strong on the puck and comes away with the puck in so many of those 50/50 battles. That's because he anticipates the play well and is great at using his body to gain inside leverage on defenders. Rossi is also aggressive in attacking the net, using his strong skating ability and strength on the puck to fight through traffic to generate scoring chances. And as I alluded to earlier, he's a very strong three zone player who projects as a terrific two-way forward at the next level. This is a very complete player who is bound to generate buzz inside the Top 10 if he continues to improve next year as part of another strong Ottawa team.

5. Jacob Perreault - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Perreault was very impressive as a rookie in the OHL last year. The son of former NHL'er Yanic, Perreault is a multi-faceted offensive player. He does a lot of things well. His best asset is a terrific shot. Perreault's elite release allows him to be effective in traffic. He is also a good skater whose first few steps are quite impressive. His quick feet allow him to be a quick strike player who can find those soft spots and beat defenders to gaps or loose pucks. At the Hlinka Camp, we saw him be a lot more confident and aggressive as a puck carrier and this is something that I am really looking forward to seeing from him in his second OHL season. Last year, he was more of a supporting character who relied on his smarts and skill to finish off plays that his linemates created for him. But I want to see how well he creates his own chances this year. And speaking of the Hlinka, still shocked that he did not make that team. He would have been the perfect linemate for Quinton Byfield, who could use his speed and elusiveness to finish off the plays that he was creating.

6. Antonio Stranges - Forward - London Knights
Stranges is a tough player to rank heading into the new year. I had debated putting him lower, but ultimately settled on him here because of his high end upside. There are some things that I really liked last year and some things that concern me about his game. First the positives. Stranges' hands are so good. He is such a creative offensive player who can make multiple defenders miss on any given shift. He really can keep the puck on a string. Stranges is also an explosive skater who has such power in his stride. He has this 10/2, surfing style skating stride that allows him to cut and change direction so efficiently. When you combine his hands and skating, you have a very dynamic player in transition who can attack the offensive zone and really push the pace of attack. Stranges also has an absolutely lethal backhand. He generates just as much power on the backhand as he does with his wrist shot and as such, he goes to it a lot. Now some negatives. First is his ability to work through traffic. The majority of the "electricity" that I saw from Stranges last year occurred in the neutral zone and not the offensive end. So while it looked great, did it really create a scoring chance? I think this is part of why Stranges' ice time fluctuated so greatly in London last year, as the Hunters worked through getting Stranges to be more assertive and a willing combatant in the offensive end. Second is some of the negative things that I have heard about his demeanor, especially stemming from his surprise cut from the U.S. Hlinka team this offseason. Is he the type that will be willing to work on improving some of his weaker areas? But the potential here is sky high.

7. Jean Luc Foudy - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Like his brother Liam, Jean Luc's game is built around his elite skating ability. He is just so much fun to watch glide around. If he picks up the puck in his own end or neutral zone and is given some daylight, you aren't preventing him from gaining the opposing blueline. And he does a better job than Liam does, at times, in terms of not forcing plays or turning the puck over. Jean Luc is a good playmaker who will circle the offensive zone and continue to keep his feet moving until he feels confident distributing. With the NHL game getting faster and faster, Foudy could most definitely be an offensive asset. There are some things that I am looking for from him during the upcoming year though. The first is attacking the middle of the ice more with his speed. He can be kept to the perimeter currently, and while his speed is impressive, teams neutralize it by challenging him to bring the puck to the net, keeping him to the outside rather easily. I want to see him driving the net to open those lanes for his linemates more effectively, forcing defenders to actually come to him. I also want to see him identifying passing lanes more effectively in his own end and neutral zone. Late in the year (and this was evident at the Hlinka too), teams were really keying in on Foudy early, taking away his time and space before he could get a head of steam and turnovers were a bit of an issue. Lastly, like his brother Liam, Jean Luc's shot will need to improve. Again, teams will cheat when defending against him because they give him that space knowing that he is looking to pass. But his skating ability and skill make him a very exciting player to watch and it will be interesting to see if he can become more of a well rounded offensive player this year.

8. Will Cuylle - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Cuylle has a lot of things going for him as a prospect. Good sized winger who plays a power game. Good skater who can generate power on his net drives and who protects the puck well through traffic. Cuylle also has a very good release on his shot and projects as a goal scorer at the next level. I really respect the direct approach he takes on the ice. You give him an inch and he knows where he's going, straight through to the net. The rest of his game is pretty inconsistent. In minor midget, he showed an ability to take over games off of the rush, but this was not as easy for him (obviously) in the OHL last year and it led to some turnover issues at times. Want to see his vision with the puck improve, where he can use his power and strength to dominate possession time and really identify those passing lanes a little more effectively. I thought that this was evident at the Hlinka camp and at the Hlinka too. And obviously with his power and strength, seeing him dominate in all three zones is something that is very possible. But power forwards take time to develop and patience is going to be required here. Rome was not built in a day and Cuylle has all the parts necessary to make a terrific all situations power winger.

9. Jaromir Pytlik - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I really liked what I saw from Pytlik towards the end of last year and I'm extremely curious to see how this carries over to 2019/2020. This is especially true for his ability to create off the rush and show off an ability to be creative with the puck. He won't have Morgan Frost or likely Barrett Hayton (at least to start) to assist in this regard and Pytlik is going to be counted on heavily to be an impact player. I think his development in this regard will tell us a lot about the type of potential he possesses at the NHL level. What he is already, though, is a strong offensive player down low who operates well in traffic. Really liked how willing he was to take a beating in front of the net to make a play or score a goal. And his hands are quite smooth. It can be tough to evaluate him given how few games he played last year after joining the OHL late, so it will be interesting to see him more comfortable this year.

10. Ryan O'Rourke - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Hard nosed defender who was a standout in the defensive end, even as a 16 year old last year. Has that size, mobility, and physicality combination that you look for from potential defensive stalwarts these days. Really like O'Rourke's aggressiveness in the corners, especially, as you can tell that this is a kid who does not like losing a single battle along the wall. Where he can struggle at times (and I think this was evident at the recent Hlinka camp and at the Hlinka) is in his gap control. Can be forced to take some penalties if his feet aren't moving or if he's not hedging his man correctly. But this will come with experience as he learns to balance aggressiveness with his mobility and reach. Offensively, his point shot can be a weapon. He can really wind up and fire a puck. I'm hoping that we get a chance to see what he is capable of doing running the point of the powerplay in the Soo this year. And hopefully we get a chance to see him explore his ability to lead the rush too. What he does offensively this year will dictate just how high he can go at the draft as I'm fairly certain teams will love the potential he possesses defensively. 

11. Hayden Fowler - Forward - Erie Otters
A forgotten man, to a certain extent, due to the fractured clavicle that he suffered last year. Additionally, late birthdays entering their third year in the league can also be pushed out of the spotlight. But it's my job, sort of speak, to help you remember that Fowler is an explosive offensive player with serious offensive potential. His skating, hands, and creativity off the rush make him a very dangerous player in transition. When he's playing at the top of his game, he can be a really dangerous attacker who is aggressive and hungry through the middle of the ice. Strength on the puck in the corners, and having a little more confidence in his shot (which is good), are areas that I'm really looking for as he is finally healthy. Going to be a big part of Erie's resurgence moving forward.

12. Evan Vierling - Forward - Flint Firebirds
I'm sure his first OHL season didn't go exactly as planned after being selected second overall in 2018. But I thought there was some growth from beginning to the end of last year. And I saw even more growth at the Hlinka camp this summer. He is still a potentially strong two-way forward who can skate and that has value. He looked way stronger on and off the puck at the Hlinka, which allowed him to really drive possession in the offensive end, in addition to forcing some turnovers with great backchecks. On a list like this, I think we need to balance performance and expectation. Some kids get it right away like Perreault. And others need time. Vierling was a high OHL selection for a reason and those reasons will also make him a coveted player at the NHL draft should his game improve; and I think it will. We'll get a really good idea early on of where he is at when Ty Dellandrea is at Dallas' camp.

13. Ty Tullio - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Tullio personifies the term energy...or grit. He is like the energizer bunny on the ice. He just keeps going, and going, and going. His play away from the puck is often the first thing you notice about him. Forecheck, backcheck, driving the net. He is ultra aggressive in pursuit of the puck in any zone and any situation. And he's a good enough skater to close ground quickly, which means that he's quite often successful in his attempts to force turnovers. But Tullio is also a fairly skilled and confident puck carrier who works very well in transition, using power and cuts to remain unpredictable in his attacks. Like Vierling, I thought Tullio was terrific at the Hlinka camp and he should be in for a very good season in Oshawa. It's easy to see his game translating well to the NHL level. It's just a matter of how good his offensive game can become, and how high his potential is.

14. Logan Morrison - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
One thing I really like to see from 16 year old rookies is that they finish their rookie season strong. And that was definitely the case for Morrison. Injuries derailed his start, but in the final 31 games of the year, he had 28 points. Prorate to an entire season and that would have put him in line with Byfield and Perreault as the top scoring 02's behind Perfetti. Morrison is an extremely intelligent pivot who controls the middle of the ice well, dictating pace and using his strength on the puck to gain entry in the offensive zone. I see a very well rounded player who could develop into an elite two-way, all situations type of center in this league and moving forward. Where Morrison lacked a bit last year was in his skating. Not enough power in his stride to really drive the play consistently. But at the Hlinka camp this summer, I thought his skating definitely looked improved. It will obviously be a focal point moving forward for him, but he could be in for a big year with Hamilton. 

15. Donovan Sebrango - Defense - Kichener Rangers
I'm usually pretty cautious ranking defenders on my first ranking for the draft, so the next three guys (Sebrango, Moore, Thompson) are probably a little lower than they should be, even though I really like all of them. Sebrango really impressed as a 16/17 year old defender last year. He uses his good mobility to make clean exits out of the defensive zone, handling the forecheck well. He quarterbacks the powerplay well and has great potential manning the point. And he showed little quit in the defensive end. Even though he didn't win every battle against bigger forwards, he was aggressive and assertive. He should become a very solid all around defender as he gains strength. For the Hlinka team this summer, he was utilized more in a stay at home role, excelling as a penalty killer. This really showed how effective he can be in his own end. I'm most curious to see this year, how his puck skill and ability to create in transition develops. He had some trouble with turnovers at times last year, but the potential for him to improve greatly is present.

16. Lleyton Moore - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Maybe not the rookie season that Moore would have imagined, between injury issues and a trade to Oshawa. But that should not diminish Moore's potential to be an impact defender in the OHL. Of any defenseman on this list (Drysdale included), Moore's offensive skill set and potential as a point producer are tops in this OHL class. Yes, he's undersized at around 5'8, which will no doubt impact his draft stock if he does not produce consistently from the back-end. However, size is less important in today's NHL and more smaller players are being drafted, and drafted high than ever before. A defender at 5'8 is going to be heavily critiqued. But, this kid is a potential elite powerplay QB and puck mover. His four way mobility is excellent, especially his ability to cut on a dime. This makes him extremely elusive and difficult to pin down. And I thought that at the Hlinka camp, his stride had more power which made him a more effective offensive player 5 on 5. I'm pretty confident that Moore will produce for Oshawa this year, so it will come down to how effective he is in his own end.

17. Jack Thompson - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
One of the most underrated prospects from the OHL currently. Would not shock me at all if Thompson ends up as the second OHL defender drafted in June behind Drysdale. This is a kid with massive pro potential who improved greatly over the course of his rookie OHL season in Sudbury. Uses his skating ability very effectively to be involved in transition, be it as a leader or trailer. And shows great poise and promise as a powerplay QB, something he did regularly on the top unit in Sudbury. He has a very powerful point shot that will see him score his share of goals in the OHL. He's aggressive in sliding into the high slot to get himself those looks too. With his size (6'1 and growing), and his mobility, there's a chance that his defensive game could eventually become quite good too. If he gets off to a good start with the Wolves (who I expect to be a solid team), I will likely move him up pretty aggressively. This is a solid pro prospect who I know some teams are already looking at as a potential first rounder.

18. Cameron Butler - Forward - Peterborough Petes
The forward version of Thompson in the sense that I feel like Butler is underrated by the scouting community right now and could move up lists quickly if he starts the season well. This is a 6'4 power winger with speed and great potential as a goal scorer. Even as a 16 year old, defenders had a difficult time stopping him in transition, at times, as he powered his way to the net. But he also has a terrific and explosive wrist shot that he can unleash while in full stride. As the season progressed, we really started to see him assert himself physically without the puck too and I look forward to that area of his game being more consistent this year. What I am unsure of currently is just how well rounded Butler's offensive game can become. As someone who can drive the net and use his speed and power combination, how good can he be when the game slows down? I didn't see a player with terrific vision last year, nor someone with dynamic puck carrying ability. But as he gains confidence, this could change/improve. Raw but explosive player with a very high ceiling as it stands now.

19. Jack Quinn - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Always tough to rank late birth date players from the previous year in a list like this. So I tend to be a little tentative with them too, at the start, as you'll see with several of them in the back half of this top 30. Quinn is a very talented offensive playmaker who possesses dynamic puck skill and creativity. He can prolong possession in the offensive end because he keeps the puck on a string and is able to maneuver in and out of traffic, keeping defenders off balance. Quinn also has good vision and identifies passing lanes well, anticipating where his linemates will be. The motor is strong here, but his skating would be classified as average right now. Can have trouble creating the space he needs to in order to drive the play consistently. And as a player under 6'0 and slight of build, he can have trouble being an effective player in the middle of the ice. Because the hands and vision are quite good, and because he is going to get an increased role this year, he could really explode offensively. But a lot of that will be dependent on whether he was able to become a little more explosive and strong on his skates this summer.

20. Brandon Coe - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Another late born 2001, Coe's biggest issue at this point is consistency. He flashes an ability to dominate on the puck in the offensive zone with his blend of power and skill. At 6'3, he can be a real load for defenders below the hash marks. He has these shifts where he's able to maintain possession for extended periods and is able to create by driving the net with an explosive push that catches defenders off guard. In a nut shell, I think all the tools are there. He has shown a strong wrist shot and an ability to score in a variety of ways. He has shown strong vision and playmaking ability in the offensive end. He has shown a strong motor and an ability to impact the game in all three zones without the puck. But what he has not been able to show is an ability to string together strong consecutive periods or games, or his entire toolbox throughout a game. Will he be able to put things together this year in North Bay, considering that the team is going to rely on him to be a go to player? And even if the puck skill and productivity never develop fully, can he still be a valuable NHL prospect as a forechecker and two-way power presence? 

21. Jake Murray - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Pretty tough for Murray to standout last year on such a poor Kingston team. He definitely went through some growing pains adjusting to the pace of play and the strength of opposing forwards. No question, he's a "raw" player. But the pro potential is quite strong here. This is a 6'3 kid who projects well as an offensive defender because he flashes strong four way mobility, vision, and a big point shot. Based on what I saw last year, his intensity level will need to be consistently higher. And his decision making with the puck under pressure will need to improve. Additionally, I'd like to see him become a little more explosive in his pushes, even if he has that sort of smooth stride that looks like he's coasting, but in reality, he's coasting past people. All of that said, I saw improvements in all of those areas at the Hlinka camp this summer. If he can carry that over to the OHL this year, he could move quickly up draft lists. Kingston is still going to be in tough most nights, but Murray should have a better season.

22. Alec Belanger - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Small sample size, but Belanger was quite impressive for the 67's as a 16 year old last year. You don't have to spend much time watching Belanger to see how intelligent he is. Really liked some of the decisions he made as an offensive player, be it holding the blueline, making quick decisions in his own end to start the breakout, or cutting to the middle to open up shooting or passing lanes. He also showed well defensively with that strong IQ, taking good routes to dump ins and succeeding in coverage with an active stick. But, at this point, I do think that there are some limitations with his mobility. He can look a little stiff at times when moving laterally and backwards, and his forward stride isn't the most powerful, which can limit his effectiveness as a puck mover. I've read a few articles recently talking about this and how Belanger dedicated his summer to really improving his skating. I'm very excited to see how he looks this year because I was a fan last year.

23. Isaak Phillips - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
I really wanted to put Phillips higher on this list. The late 2001 is a very interesting player. He's a 6'3 defender, but I actually think he may be one of the better skaters on this list. His mobility is a big time asset on the back-end. With his reach and an improving skill set, it's pretty hard to put a limit on his high end ceiling. This kid is a pure athlete. But his game will need refinement. When he looks to attack with the puck, he can get himself bottled up in the neutral zone, even with his skating ability. And defensively, he relies a lot on his mobility, but will need to improve his reads and decision making with the puck to limit turnovers. So is he a two-way defender? Is he a future stay at home stalwart? Can his vision with the puck develop further? How well does he think the game? I think these are all questions that will be answered this year. If he plays well, you can bet that I will be moving him up pretty aggressively. Like Cameron Butler above, this is a kid that NHL teams are going to be very curious about.

24. Cameron Tolnai - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Admittedly, this placement is based solely on potential. Due to Ottawa's depth, Tolnai wasn't really able to show what he was capable of last year. In a lot of my viewings of Ottawa, he just wasn't noticeable for good or bad. But a lot of people I trust still vouch for him and as a former 6th overall pick, he still deserves to be ranked. This is especially true when you consider that Tolnai is the big power center with the potential to dominate in all three zones that every NHL team is looking for. As a minor midget player, Tolnai was one of the most complete prospects in the age group; equally dominant with and without the puck. So what does this season hold for Tolnai? He likely enters the year as Ottawa's 3rd line center behind Rossi and Hoelscher, and will most definitely receive more playing time. What he does with that playing time remains to be seen. One of the prospects on this list that I am most excited to see progression from this year, especially after not getting a great read on him last year.

25. Gerard Keane - Defense - London Knights
Given how much of a fan I am of Joey Keane, it should probably come as no surprise to see me rank his brother Gerard inside this top 30. Like Belanger, Keane showed well in limited action with London last year. He profiles as a similar player to his brother. He has a very impressive skating stride and overall mobility. And even though he's 5'10, he's stocky and was fairly successful in his own end. Defends in a similar way to former OHL'er Travis Dermott. Keane also flashed some real nice skill with the puck that makes me think he could be a point producer and powerplay QB one day. London is going to have some serious battles for defensive playing time this year, but the field is wide open for Keane to grab playing time if he plays well, which I think he will.

26. Reid Valade - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Valade is an aggressive attacking winger who possesses good speed and an understanding of how to play without the puck. He's undersized at 5'10, but he's actually quite successful in the corners and near the crease already. He keeps his feet moving well and can be a major asset in the cycle. I have some questions as to his offensive upside and whether he can truly be an impact offensive player. His shot and release looked to be only average last year. And I wonder how good his hands are and whether he can be a consistent playmaker off of the rush. Is he someone the Rangers will plug into Joseph Garreffa's role now that it's been announced that he won't be returning?

27. Mark Woolley - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Again, tough to rank late birthdays, especially ones with Woolley's particular skill set. 6'2, 200lbs and solid in his own end, Woolley definitely will be a quality stay at home defender in the OHL for the next several years. He has the entire toolbox that you like to see from players of this ilk; good mobility, physical tenacity, heart, and defensive awareness. But offensively, things haven't progressed quite as well. While he will use his mobility to jump up in the rush at times, his skill with the puck and general decision making would have to be considered quite raw. No question, his ability to start the breakout and his confidence with the puck will need to improve. But I have seen enough from him to believe that the potential for him to develop into a two-way defender still exists. 

28. James Hardie - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Hardie has high end goal scoring potential because he owns one of the best shots and releases in the age group. Possesses the ability to generate a lot of power on his shot while in full stride too, not just while setting up in the slot. Also liked Hardie's aggressiveness in attacking the net, looking to find those soft spots. Thought he looked good as a skater without the puck, but with the puck on his stick, he seems to lose a step. Additionally, I found that he struggled receiving passes while in stride, in addition to playing through the neutral zone. I also wonder just how good of a playmaker he is, as that vision in the offensive zone was not something I noticed. But, all of these things can be attributed to strength and confidence deficits that are normal for rookies. As one of the top goal scorers available, he deserves to be on this list with the hope that other parts of his game greatly improve.

29. Aidan Prueter - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Another late 2001 born player, Prueter is a high energy forward who can have an impact in all three zones with his energy and tenacity, on and off the puck. In the offensive end, he always keeps his feet moving and can be tough to pin down. Working the cycle, he also exhibits good vision and can create coming off of the wall. When he doesn't have the puck, he is hungry to get it and plays with a fire that can be infectious for his linemates. But I'm just not sure if he's a good enough skater at 5'10 to really draw serious NHL attention. He can have difficulty creating separation off the rush and is more dangerous operating at a slower pace. Additionally, I wonder about his high end offensive potential and whether his hands and finishing ability are good enough. We'll learn more about that during the upcoming season when Prueter can settle in with consistent ice time in Mississauga for a full year.

30. Alex Johnston - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
This one may surprise some people. And I could have probably gone with any one of the HM's at the 30 spot. But in a preseason list, I'm going to go with a player that really impressed me, even if the production wasn't terrific, especially from a late birth date 2001. I just felt that every time I saw the Hounds in the second half of the season, this guy was was noticeable in a limited role. And by the time playoffs rolled around, his role had increased, but his play had not dropped. He skates quite well and I was always impressed by his ability to carve up the neutral zone and gain entry to the offensive zone. And while he wasn't always effective at playing through traffic or maintaining possession through the middle of the ice, it did not stop him from trying. I think this guy has a real high upside once he fills out and adds that strength. I think he's a top 6 center and an important player for the Greyhounds this year.

Honorable Mentions

Riley Piercey - Forward - Barrie Colts

Luke Evangelista - Forward - London Knights

Tyson Foerster - Forward - Barrie Colts

Rory Kerins - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Kyle McDonald - Forward - Windsor Spitfires

Nick Wong - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs

Colton Kammerer - Defense - Sarnia Sting

Zayde Wisdom - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs

Dylan Robinson - Forward - Oshawa Generals

Isaac Langdon - Forward - Kitchener Rangers

Nolan Seed - Defense - Owen Sound Attack

Will Cranley - Goaltender - Ottawa 67's

Appearing Soon

Ruben Rafkin - Defense - Windsor Spitfires

Oliver Suni - Forward - Oshawa Generals

Kirill Steklov - Defense - London Knights

Declan McDonnell - Forward - Kitchener Rangers

Aidan Campbell - Goaltender - Erie Otters

Clark Hiebert - Defense - Guleph Storm

Dylan Robinson - Defense - Windsor Spitfires

Ethan Cardwell - Forward - Saginaw Spirit

Elias Cohen - Forward - Erie Otters