Friday, August 16, 2019

Top 25 OHL Prospects - Summer of 2019

As has become regular practice now, following the conclusion of my NHL team write ups ('31 Teams in 31 Days'), I give you a list of the top prospects who played in the OHL during the previous season. In this case, it was the 2018/19 season. The list is capped at 25, with some honorable mentions. I'm also going to keep the write ups slightly short. If you want to read more about these guys, simply click on their NHL team in brackets and you'll be taken to the team's '31 in 31" from this summer and you'll get a detailed write up on their skill set and progression.

1. Evan Bouchard - Defense - London Knights (Edmonton Oilers)
You could make a case for any of the guys in my top 5 to be the top prospect from the OHL currently. And on a different day, I might give you a different answer. In fact, I think I changed the order of the top 5 multiple times before settling on this. So here's why I have Bouchard first: I think his vision, poise, and overall play with the puck should translate well to the NHL level. While he'll never be a truly dynamic defender like an Erik Karlsson, nor will he be the league's best in his own end, I do think that he'll grow in those areas over his career and become a very solid top 4 defender and number one powerplay QB for the Oilers.
NHL Comparison: Larry Murphy

 

2. Adam Boqvist - Defense - London Knights (Chicago Blackhawks)
Kind of the antithesis of Bouchard from an offensive perspective, even though the two were teammates this year. Boqvist is electric with the puck on his stick and aggressive as hell as an offensive defender. He plays a high risk game, but it works at this level. Defensively, he has a ways to go, but this is a guy made to be an impact player in today's faster paced NHL game.
NHL Comparison: Sergei Gonchar

 

3. Barrett Hayton - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Arizona Coyotes)
Hayton is a very safe prospect IMO because of how well rounded his game is and how competitive he is in the offensive end. His finishing skills in tight are top notch and he processes the game well in any situation. His game is pro ready and it seems quite unlikely that we see him back in the OHL for his 19 year old season.
NHL Comparison: Bryan Little

 

4. Morgan Frost - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Philadelphia Flyers)
A cerebral playmaker, Frost and Suzuki are almost 4A and 4B here. But I've given the slight nod to Frost because I think that he's elevated the power in his stride to be a little quicker than Suzuki is. He can really keep the puck on a string and his offensive upside is quite high. As he gets stronger at the pro level, I think he eventually becomes a pretty solid two-way player too. It just may take time.
NHL Comparison: Logan Couture

 

5. Nick Suzuki - Forward - Guelph Storm (Montreal Canadiens)
Like Frost, Suzuki is a top notch playmaker. He is a creative puckhandler whose strength on the puck and ability to operate through traffic really improved this year. After winning an OHL championship and taking his game to another level in the playoffs, he's ready for the next challenge. I do think that there could be a learning curve for him as he adjusts to the pace of the pro game. And I do have questions as to whether he stays down the middle. But he's a terrific young offensive player.
NHL Comparison: Joe Pavelski

 

6. Ty Dellandrea - Forward - Flint Firebirds (Dallas Stars)
I seem to be higher on Dellandrea than my contemporaries, but I have the utmost faith that he will be a long time impact NHL player. He may not have the potential of some others on this list, but he is the type that you win Stanley Cup's with, anchoring your second line. He will prove this year that he is more skilled than people give him credit for. As much as there is hype surrounding him sticking in Dallas this season, I really think another year in the OHL would be best for him and his development as an offensive player.
NHL Comparison: Daymond Langkow

 

7. Jason Robertson - Forward - Niagara IceDogs (Dallas Stars)
Best player in the OHL between and below the dots. Has the ability to dominate time of possession because of how well he protects the puck. But it's the improvement to his skating that has him this high and helped him win a scoring title last season. I no longer have concerns that this will hold his game back. Just a matter of how well his puck skill and creativity translate to the NHL level. Might end up more as a quality second line supporting winger.
NHL Comparison: Andrew Brunette

 


8. Bode Wilde - Defense - Saginaw Spirit (New York Islanders)
Wilde is someone that you just can't take your eyes off of when he has the puck. He has such power in his stride and seems to gain entry to the offensive zone at will. He may have averaged an end to end rush per game from my viewings of Saginaw this year. He is just an electric player. Like Boqvist, he plays a high risk game and he will need to clean some things up with his decision making and defensive play. But he is such a pure athlete with a very high ceiling.
NHL Comparison: Brent Burns

 

9. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen - Goaltender - Sudbury Wolves (Buffalo Sabres)
Hip surgery be damned, what UPL did in the OHL this year was remarkable; one of the best goaltending performances that I have seen in the league. First European goaltender to win the Top goaltender award and first European at any position to take home the Red Tilson. He is so composed in the crease. With his size, he is just a wall in the net with how well he tracks the play. Goalies are tough to project, but I'd be shocked if he doesn't become a starting netminder in the NHL.
NHL Comparison: Frederik Andersen

 

10. Owen Tippett - Forward - Saginaw Spirit (Florida Panthers)
Tippett's two-way game has improved a lot over his OHL career, and that was the one area that the Florida Panthers really asked him to focus on when they sent him back rather early this past season. His bread and butter will always be his shot and ability to score goals and his North/South attacking style should translate well. Not sure if he sees the ice well enough or has the puck poise to be a driving force at the NHL level though. More likely a supporting winger who can play shotgun with a good playmaking center.
NHL Comparison: Scott Young

 

11. Dmitri Samorukov - Defense - Guelph Storm (Edmonton Oilers)
Few prospects on the planet have seen their star rise the way that Samorukov has this past season. What he did in the second half of the season and in the OHL playoffs was just, flat out, a treat to watch. He dominated at both ends of the ice with his mobility, skill, and tenaciousness. Is this the real Samorukov or was it just a hot streak? Remains to be seen. He'll have to prove himself at the pro level, but I am a believer in what I saw. He's always possessed that kind of potential, and the light bulb finally went off.
NHL Comparison: Niklas Kronwall

 

12. Arthur Kaliyev - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs (Los Angeles Kings)
Yes, he fell to the second round, but in these summer rankings, I tend to stick with my own personal rankings for the previous draft. I had Kaliyev ranked first among 2019 eligibles from the OHL so he remains there. There are concerns over the pace at which he plays and his engagement level without the puck. But you can't argue with his production. And who's to say that he won't improve some of his weaker areas? He certainly looked pretty good at the world junior summer showcase.
NHL Comparison: Thomas Vanek

 

13. Philip Tomasino - Forward - Niagara IceDogs (Nashville Predators)
Love the pace at which Tomasino plays. He is constantly buzzing; constantly looking to attack the offensive zone. His skating will play at the next level. His decision making with the puck will need to improve and he needs to get stronger on the puck too. But he was a standout for Niagara this year in his draft year, producing without consistent ice time or special teams play. He's only going to get better.
NHL Comparison: Andy McDonald

 

14. Thomas Harley - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads (Dallas Stars)
Modern day NHL defender who possesses elite mobility and size. Harley is a little bit like Bode Wilde in that regard. He can be electric in transition and very difficult to stop from gaining the offensive zone. He's a project though who will require some patience as he matures mentally and physically. High upside here though.
NHL Comparison: Thomas Chabot

 

15. Ryan Suzuki - Forward - Barrie Colts (Carolina Hurricanes)
Suzuki is an absolutely elite playmaker. His vision with the puck in the offensive zone is probably the best of any player on this list except Evan Bouchard. But he struggled at times this year, both with being the focal point of Barrie's attack, and with playing through checks. As he learns to navigate and attack between the dots more, he'll breakout just as Morgan Frost and his brother Nick did, once upon a time ago.
NHL Comparison: David Krejci

 

16. Ryan Merkley - Defense - Peterborough Petes (San Jose Sharks)
On talent alone, he probably deserves to be higher. Few defenders in the OHL can create offense the way that he does. But everyone knows that already. He's a high risk, high reward defender in the same vein as Boqvist and Wilde. But the same issues keep creeping up with his on and off the ice distractions; the same issues that saw him dealt to Peterborough by a team that just won an OHL championship. He's a competitive kid, but as of right now, these things aren't improving. Until they do, he'll be ranked lower on lists like this.
NHL Comparison: Steve Duchesne

 

17. Isaac Ratcliffe - Forward - Guelph Storm (Philadelphia Flyers)
Hulking goal scorer who had a terrific year winning an OHL championship with Guelph. Was excellent in the playoffs and the Memorial Cup too. His shot and release are lethal, especially when you consider his reach and strength. He'll need to make quicker decisions with the puck at the pro level, and continue to improve his agility, but he could be a perfect linemate for Morgan Frost in the future.
NHL Comparison: Fredrik Modin

 

18. Jack Studnicka - Forward - Niagara IceDogs (Boston Bruins)
A "jack" (pun intended) of all trades forward whose versatility will likely see him rise to the NHL level quicker than some others on this list. Can be on the ice in any situation, and similar to Jason Robertson, has really improved his skating over his OHL career. Projection not quite as high as some others, but could still be a very solid and longtime middle six center. This is the type of player who helps you win Championships.
NHL Comparison: Matt Cullen

 

19. Serron Noel - Forward - Oshawa Generals (Florida Panthers)
What a remarkable athlete Noel is. The power he generates in his stride is a thing of beauty to watch, as he carves through the neutral zone and puts defenders on his back on the way to the net. His hands are still catching up and his agility/balance still needs work, but he has a very high upside. Took a massive leap forward this year as a puck carrier and distributor. Look forward to seeing further growth this coming season.
NHL Comparison: Glen Murray

 

20. Liam Foudy - Forward - London Knights (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Speed, speed, and more speed. Foudy is one of the OHL's premier skaters. And he is starting to learn to use his speed to be a greater factor without the puck. But his shot is still a weakness as he needs to be in tight to score. His high end upside depends on the development of said shot, and his vision with the puck as he takes on a larger role with London this upcoming season.
NHL Comparison: Andrew Cogliano

 

21. Michael Dipietro - Goaltender - Ottawa 67's (Vancouver Canucks)
Was tough to see Dipietro's season end the way that it did. From the disastrous emergency recall to Vancouver, to the injury in the playoffs. His second half was one to forget. But let's NOT forget all the great things that he had done previously to this. And let's not forget that Dipietro is a top shelf individual who has the work ethic and attitude to improve. There may be some growing pains as he will need to adjust his style to excel at the pro level. In a way, similar to Alex Nedeljkovic in Carolina. But I do still feel that he will be an NHL netminder down the road. When he's dialed in, he can be absolutely unbeatable with the way he tracks the play and with his athleticism.
NHL Comparison: Jonathan Quick

 

22. Sasha Chmelevski - Forward - Ottawa 67's (San Jose Sharks)
Chmelevski had an excellent second half to the year in Ottawa and was, without a doubt, one of the top forwards in the league post trade deadline (including the playoffs). He's developed into such a competitive player over his OHL career and that competitiveness will help him move quickly through San Jose's system. Let's not forget that Chmelevski also has a great shot and release. Should become a solid middle six forward.
NHL Comparison: Alex Steen

 

23. Akil Thomas - Forward - Niagara IceDogs (Los Angeles Kings)
Quick strike offensive player who has excellent vision in the offensive end and should be one of the OHL's leading scorers next year (as he was this year). Has the skating ability and offensive talent to be a top 6 player at the NHL level. But still needs to get stronger and be a more willing and successful combatant in tighter checking games.
NHL Comparison: Mikael Granlund

 

24. Alex Formenton - Forward - London Knights (Ottawa Senators)
Like Liam Foudy, Formenton's game is built around his skating ability. He can flat out fly. Formenton is also very aggressive physically and will assert himself in all three zones to make a play on the puck. At this point, I'm just not convinced that his vision with the puck, nor his hands are good enough to be a top 6 player at the next level. But, he will still provide a lot of value to the Senators and could be an elite third liner.
NHL Comparison: Martin Gelinas

 

25. Sean Durzi - Defense - Guelph Storm (Los Angeles Kings)
Kind of a tough year for Durzi as he dealt with shoulder issues. I felt like his game wasn't quite right until the playoffs and Memorial Cup when we truly saw him at his best. But he's a great offensive defender because of his mobility and vision. You just don't see him turn the puck over. There are definitely questions as to whether he'll be able to defend at the NHL level, but his offensive upside is enough for me to have him as the last player on this list.
NHL Comparison: Nick Leddy

 

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Kevin Bahl - Defense - Ottawa 67s (Arizona Coyotes)
Behemoth defender who had a very good year for a first place Ottawa team. As good as you'll find in the OHL in his own end, but his puck skill and confidence offensively are growing.
NHL Comparison: Braydon Coburn

 

Riley Damiani - Forward - Kitchener Rangers (Dallas Stars)
Competitive, high energy offensive forward who was one of the OHL's most improved players this past season. Needs to continue to get quicker and stronger, but this is a prospect on the upswing.
NHL Comparison: Valtteri Filppula

 

Mackenzie Entwistle - Forward - Guelph Storm (Chicago Blackhawks)
A Swiss army knife who can do pretty much anything to help his team win. And win they have, with back to back OHL Championships. Upside at the pro level is similar to Formenton's, but I do think Alex is a better goal scorer which sees him in the Top 25 over Entwistle.
NHL Comparison: Austin Watson

 

Tye Felhaber - Forward - Ottawa 67's (Dallas Stars)
Not too often I include OA breakout stars in these lists (even as HM's), but Felhaber deserves to be mentioned. He possesses the speed and skill to be an NHL player and this year made the necessary adjustments to improve other areas of his game.
NHL Comparison: Chris Kunitz

 

Mac Hollowell - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Toronto Maple Leafs)
One of the most underrated prospects on the planet because of his lack of size and the position he plays. But this kid is a gamer. He was the leading defenseman scorer in the OHL this year for a reason. And he took a regular shift in the AHL playoffs, for a reason.
NHL Comparison: Jared Spurgeon

 

Jan Jenik - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs (Arizona Coyotes)
Took very little time adjusting to the OHL level after coming over half way through the season. Was a player I really enjoyed watching this year. Skilled, yet plays with a big time edge. I have high expectations for him this coming season and I'd be shocked if I don't include him in next summer's Top 25.
NHL Comparison: Travis Green

 

Ben Jones - Forward - Niagara IceDogs (Vegas Golden Knights)
Another jack of all trades kind of forward, Jones doesn't get a ton of hype but he is a legitimate NHL prospect. Intelligent, competitive, and skilled, Jones could move quick through Vegas' system.
NHL Comparison: Lars Eller

 

Joey Keane - Defense - London Knights (New York Rangers)
Keane didn't have the best of seasons; as he never really fit in with London post trade deadline. But I still believe in his NHL potential because he plays an all around game and skates extremely well.
NHL Comparison: Bret Hedican

 

Kyle Keyser - Goaltender - Oshawa Generals (Boston Bruins)
Athletic netminder who was one of the OHL's best this past season. Few move post to post as quick as Keyser does. A longer term project for the Bruins (what goalie isn't?), but he could be a good one.
NHL Comparison: Corey Crawford

 

Vladislav Kolyachonok - Defense - Flint Firebirds (Florida Panthers)
I don't think we truly know what we are getting in Kolyachonok. Every time you watch him play, he shows you a different element to his game. Just a matter of how he puts all those elements together to go with his elite mobility. His first few steps are really good.
NHL Comparison: Brett Pesce

 

Kirill Maksimov - Forward - Niagara IceDogs (Edmonton Oilers)
Was a little disappointed by Maksimov's development this year and a knee injury kept him from contributing in the playoffs. But this power forward is a goal scorer. He just needs to be separated from some bad habits.
NHL Comparison: James Neal

 

Ryan McLeod - Forward - Saginaw Spirit (Edmonton Oilers)
McLeod checks a lot of boxes. He skates well. He has size. He has a good stick in all three zones. He can keep the puck on a string. But his lack of offensive production at the OHL level concerns me. He still lacks that killer instinct on the ice.
NHL Comparison: J.T. Miller

 

Connor McMichael - Forward - London Knights (Washington Capitals)
Not too often you see a recent first round selection off my top 25, but again, I'm going to be consistent with my recent draft rankings where I had McMichael lower. I want to see improvements made to his aggressiveness with the puck and for him to be a more consistent factor away from the puck.
NHL Comparison: Bryan Smolinski

 

Ivan Prosvetov - Goaltender - Saginaw Spirit (Arizona Coyotes)
One of the most entertaining players in the OHL because of his exuberance and zest for life (just youtube his cartwheel celebrations). But he's a big goalie who just happens to be extremely athletic. That combination, with the right development at the pro level, could turn him into an NHL netminder.
NHL Comparison: Ben Bishop

 

Jamieson Rees - Forward - Sarnia Sting (Carolina Hurricanes)
I've used the word competitive a lot to describe players on this list, but few personify it the way Rees does. Needs to be more consistent offensively and improve his decision making with the puck. He also needs to stay healthy. But I love him as a player and a prospect.
NHL Comparison: T.J. Oshie

 

Nick Robertson - Forward - Peterborough Petes (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Robertson recently turned some heads at the World Junior summer showcase where he was a standout for the Americans with his skill and tenacity in the offensive end. Just want to see that more consistently with Peterborough before he's added to the list. I'm a fan though.
NHL Comparison: Slava Kozlov

 

Nate Schnarr - Forward - Guelph Storm (Arizona Coyotes)
One of the OHL's most improved players this year, Schnarr has a projectable frame and skill set for the NHL level. Rangy, playmaking center who excels below the hash marks. Just a matter of how much upside he possesses as he can not be classified as a "flashy" player.
NHL Comparison: Nick Bjugstad

 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Anaheim Ducks

We have reached the end, 31 days later!

1. Mathew Hill - Barrie Colts
Was a bit surprised to see Hill drafted this year. The big 6'3 defender does have some promising pro qualities though. He moves well for a bigger defender and he's already quite solid in his own end. With that reach, mobility, and likely a burgeoning physical game, he could end up developing into a very good stay at home defender at the OHL level. Where I am less convinced is in his offensive potential. Mind you Barrie was a rebuilding club this year and Hill was thrust into some bigger minutes later in the year, I thought he struggled with the puck and his decision making. How much skill he possesses and whether he can be someone who can eventually use his mobility to move the puck remains to be seen. He'll return to Barrie next year and likely continue to play a top 4 role, although isn't likely to receive any powerplay time. With an improving team around him, I'd like to see Hill in the 25 point range next year.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Arizona Coyotes

Second last team and this is a long one!

1. Barrett Hayton - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Kind of a disjointed season for Hayton that saw him play under 40 regular season games for the Hounds. He got a late start due to sticking around late with Arizona. Then came an extended absence because of the World Junior Championships. Follow that up with a lower body injury that cost him a month. But it would be hard to argue against Hayton looking good when he did play. The Hounds record with him in the lineup, versus with him out of the lineup was quite different (just over 0.75 with him in the lineup and nearly below 0.60 with him not). And that's because he has such an effect on all aspects of the game. Hayton is an all situations kind of player who projects as that at the next level too. He has a very pro ready game. Where Hayton remains the most effective is down low, using his quick feet and strength on the puck to really drive possession time. But he is so good without the puck too and has terrific hands in tight, making him a very opportunistic scorer. Hayton's skating has come a long way over his OHL career too. He generates more power now and it has helped him in all aspects of the game. So what happens next year? The Coyotes, with the additions of Kessel and Soderberg have a more crowded forward group now. That means Hayton would have to beat out someone like Conor Garland or Christian Fischer for a roster spot. Of course, injuries can happen too. I'd be shocked if Hayton doesn't get an audition, be it a couple games, or 8-9 games. How he does in that audition likely dictates whether he stays the season. Of course the Greyhounds would love to have him back at some point, so that they could move Hayton to a contender for a king's ransom and help their retool. Back in the OHL (if it happens), I would expect Hayton to be in the 1.8 points per game range. In the NHL, he's probably a 20 point guy with limited ice time.

2. Kevin Bahl - Ottawa 67's
Behemoth defender who had a very good year for the first place 67's. No offense meant to the other members of Ottawa's terrific defense, but I thought Bahl was their most valuable blueliner. He is just such an asset defensively because of his size, physicality, and mobility, (which continues to improve). He has great gap control and uses his reach so effectively to neutralize the attack. But as the action gets tighter, he is a fiercely intense competitor who just makes you pay for the time and space you desire. He just doesn't lose many loose puck battles in the corner. As an offensive player, Bahl has improved greatly. He can still get caught flat footed at times with the puck and it can lead to the odd turnover in his own end from heavier forechecks. But his first pass and confidence in handling the puck has definitely improved. Also seeing him jump up in the play more and doing a better job holding the blueline in the offensive end. I think there is even more potential offensively in there and I suspect we'll see even better offensive production from him this upcoming season. A 13-14 goal, 35 assist season is definitely possible, even if he doesn't get a ton of time on the powerplay (although don't be surprised if the 67's try Bahl as a net front presence as so many teams are doing these days with imposing, yet skilled defenders).

3. Jan Jenik - Hamilton Bulldogs
Absolutely loved what I saw from Jenik this year in Hamilton. I figured that he would be a skilled player and someone who could be counted on to push the pace and attack in transition. But I did not expect him to be as pesky and as physical as he was. Jenik is a real pest out there, constantly buzzing around the offensive zone. He can get a little careless with the puck at times, as he tries to beat defenders one on one, especially when cutting to the middle. But when he turns it over, he is quick to battle to get it back and has a real bulldog mentality on the ice. As he gets stronger, especially on the puck, I think that we'll see his game reach even higher levels. I would expect that next year he could end up as Arthur Kaliyev's center and on the first powerplay unit. This could mean a big year for him from a production standpoint. A 35 goal, 55 assist kind of year is a very real possibility. This is a prospect that I am very excited to watch next year as typically European players take massive steps forward in their second CHL season.

4. Nate Schnarr - Guelph Storm
It was a real breakout season from Schnarr who hit the 100 point mark, significantly more than he had accumulated over his previous two OHL campaigns. More significantly, he was also a key member of an OHL championship team in Guelph. Anytime a 19 year old breaks out in a big way, the obvious question is...what was the difference that saw such a large jump in production? For Schnarr, I think there were a few things that really stood out. The first was his strength on the puck, especially down low. He's always been a good playmaker and had good vision operating behind the net. But he didn't have the balance or strength to prolong possession or win those one on one battles consistently. He does now and he was actually quite dominant both between the dots and below them this year. With his length, he can be a real magnet for the puck and he works very hard in the offensive zone. Schnarr is far from a "soft" player. The second thing was an improvement to his skating. This is especially true for his agility and ability to pivot/cut. He looked much more fluid, especially when attacking and looking to drive the net. Lastly, confidence obviously plays a part, in addition to greater offensive responsibility and special teams ice time. So what does next year hold for Schnarr? He'll start his pro journey in the AHL and remains a project for the Coyotes. He's not the most innately skilled player with the puck, so he'll have to find a way to be productive even without as much time and space. Additionally, he'll need to improve his consistency in all three zones, especially if he wants to stay down the middle at the pro level. I would expect a 10 goal, 20 assist kind of performance as he adjusts. But the potential is there for Schnarr to eventually develop into a useful middle six forward.

5. Ivan Prosvetov - Saginaw Spirit
Going to miss watching the gigantic Russian netminder who was a real hit in his one year in the OHL. He is a real personality out there, cartwheel post game celebrations and all. On the ice, Prosvetov had a very good year backstopping the Saginaw Spirit to a strong finish and appearance in the Western Conference finals. His athleticism and quickness in the crease are his most noticeable and standout traits. At 6'5, and with those long legs, he takes away the bottom of the net so well with his pushes and makes a lot of acrobatic saves. He plays a bit of an unconventional style too, part stand up, part butterfly. He does what he can to use his big frame to stop pucks. With his athleticism, he's never out of a play, but at times he can get himself caught out of position. Rebound control can be a bit of an issue too. At the pro level, it would be about transitioning from a stopper to a goaltender who can truly control the play out there. With Adin Hill having the AHL starting gig wrapped up, Prosvetov will battle Madsen and newcomer Kallgren for the back-up/platoon role. As it is, it seems likely that he starts the year in the ECHL. Of course, there's always a chance that he gets returned for an OA year in Saginaw and his ELC slides. But this is a very rare occurrence and I doubt it happens. 

6. Liam Kirk - Peterborough Petes
Not uncommon for Import players to take time adjusting to the OHL and Kirk was no different. Through his first 23 games, 2 goals and 7 assists. In his final 40 games, 24 goals, and 14 assists. Pro-rate that to an entire season and you have a 40 goal campaign, which would have been pretty remarkable. Kirk is still a pretty gangly kid who did struggle fighting through traffic at times and wasn't the most effective along the wall. But he has terrific hands and really good scoring instincts. He also skates quite well and can be a real asset in transition. As the year went on, he really gained confidence in his shot and was working harder to get himself into those shooting lanes. I have high expectations for the Petes this upcoming year and Kirk is going to be an integral component to that team. With another year of strength training and improved confidence, I think he's a 40 goal scorer. I'm most curious to see if we see a little more creativity from him with the puck this year as it is something that he flashed at times last year.

7. Dennis Busby - Flint Firebirds
Quite frankly, the main focus for Busby this year was just to stay healthy and be in the Flint lineup after missing his draft year with shoulder injuries. But a spell of bad luck hit him at Coyotes prospect camp in the way of a puck to the foot. A broken foot kept Busby out until January, but he was largely able to stay in the lineup until the end of the year. Tough to review Busby's season given his late start, Flint's lackluster play, and overall rust. His skating just didn't look as fluid or powerful as I had remembered and he kept things pretty basic as he re-adjusted to the tempo and physicality of the OHL's Western Conference. But this is a kid who still possesses the potential to be the impact player that Arizona saw and caused them to draft him despite missing nearly his entire draft year. He just needs to stay healthy and regain his confidence. He'll be a big part of Flint's team this year as they make a playoff push and he should get ice time in all situations. In order to earn a contract from Arizona, Busby probably needs to be in the 40-45 point range, which is something that I expect him to do.

*Axel Bergkvist - Kitchener Rangers
Very excited to see what Bergkvist can do in Kitchener this year after being drafted in the Import draft and recently signing on with the Rangers. Kitchener intends to compete for the OHL title this year and they expect Bergkvist to be a top four defender for them, including being a powerplay quarterback. He's going to get a ton of ice time and a big offensive year is very possible. While it is tough to project Import players, he could very well be a 50 point defender this year based on what European scouts have told me about his game.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Boston Bruins

Third last team to go!

1. Jack Studnicka - Niagara IceDogs
You'd be hard pressed to find a more complete player in the OHL than Jack Studnicka. This guy really can do it all. In terms of ice time, he might have among the highest of any forward in the league. He's out there on the first powerplay unit. He's out there on the first penalty killing unit. If you need a goal or are protecting a lead late, he's on the ice. If you need a big faceoff win, he's on the ice. I mean, there really isn't anything that this guy can't do. His hockey sense is just so high. He understands how to play without the puck and rarely makes a bad play. His skating has come a long way over the course of his OHL career too, to the point where he can now be an asset in transition, bringing the puck across the blueline on the attack and pushing the pace. He won't be an elite skater in the NHL, but I don't see it holding him back. So what type of NHL future does Studnicka have and how soon can he reach it? I see Studnicka as a quality middle six center who can provide your team with extreme versatility. Think of the recently retired Matt Cullen. And I don't think he's going to need long at the AHL level either. He's a very pro ready prospect IMO. I could see him spending the first half of the year in the AHL, performing well and being one of Boston's first injury call-ups. In the NHL, I see him as a 0.25ppg kind of guy, but in the AHL, I think he's around the 0.75 mark.

2. Kyle Keyser - Oshawa Generals
Really good performance from Keyser this year, which was to be expected after a nice step forward the year prior. Keyser was also terrific in the playoffs, even if Oshawa was no match for Ottawa (and Keyser's statline wasn't the prettiest against the 67's). Keyser's athleticism in the crease is top notch. He moves so well post to post and it allows him to be aggressive in challenging shooters. He makes a lot of highlight reel saves and he's really never down and out of a play. In particular, Keyser does a great job of taking away the lower part of the net with his quick pads and has really improved his rebound control over his time in the OHL. Where Keyser will need to adjust at the pro level next year will be in his positioning and ability to take up the upper part of the net. At times, I think he gets himself out of position and relies on his athleticism too much. And as we've seen, it can take these types of netminders time to really adjust at the pro level. Where his journey begins remains to be seen. One would have to think that veteran Max Lagace has one of the AHL spots locked him, meaning that Keyser will have to battle Dan Vladar for the other spot. Given that this will be Vladar's third pro season and Boston will need to make a decision about qualifying him moving forward, I would expect they have Keyser start in the ECHL, where many a quality netminders have begun their pro experience. If he can keep his save percentage above .900 split between the AHL and ECHL, I think that would be a great start for him.

Monday, August 12, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Buffalo Sabres

Two OHL prospects for the Buffalo Sabres and both are/were Import players.

1. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen - Sudbury Wolves
Quite honestly, Luukkonen's performance this year may have been the best that I've seen in the OHL in some time. Not only was Luukkonen the first Import goaltender to win goaltender of the year in the OHL, he was only the third goalie to win the Red Tilson (player of the year) in the last 60 years and the first Import (again) ever to win the award. Talk about a season for the ages. The thing that impressed me most about Luukkonen was his composure. He was just so consistent this year. His play just never really seemed to drop. And he tracks the play so well. He's a really big kid and he makes himself that much bigger because he always seems to have his angles covered. It's so difficult to find room through him. He also does a great job controlling his rebounds for a bigger goalie, swallowing up shots and controlling shots off his pads to limit those bonafide second chances. Unfortunately, his work horse season took a toll on him and he's now sidelined after undergoing hip surgery. This will delay his pro season debut likely until well into the season. And because it's his hip, Buffalo would be smart to really be cautious in bringing him back too early and controlling his time on ice before really unleashing him in 2020/2021. I think Luukkonen has everything you want in an NHL starting netminder today and I'm excited to follow his progress as he looks to establish himself as the Sabres' starter of the future.

2. Matej Pekar - Barrie Colts
Was very impressed with Pekar's play earlier in the year before he was sidelined for the season with a broken collarbone. He is such an effective player in all three zones because of how aggressive he is. He just never seems to take a shift off and has very good instincts to force turnovers and jump into those scoring lanes. He's not necessarily the most skilled player with the puck and I don't see him being a big time goal scorer at the NHL level. But he really excels East/West and always seems to keep his feet moving in the cycle, making him a great compliment to more skilled players. He opens up the ice for them. Buffalo certainly has a decision to make next year when it comes to where he will play. As he was not drafted out of the OHL, he can play in the AHL as a 19 year old. But I know Barrie is hoping that he will return and be a big part of their top 6. So what would be best for his development? IMO, I'd like to see him back in the OHL for another year. Given his aggressive style of play, and the injury he sustained last year, I think another year of physical development in junior would really do him well. I also think that it would help him continue to improve his offensive skill set, where as if he were to turn pro, I could see the coaching staff using him in that 3rd/4th line energy role and his offensive development stagnating slightly. If he does return to the OHL, I could see Pekar being an 85 point player and a big part of an improving Colts team.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Calgary Flames

The final Canadian team to be reviewed.

1. Adam Ruzicka - Sudbury Wolves
I thought Ruzicka had a pretty good season, splitting time between Sarnia and Sudbury. In particular his play with Sudbury was the best that I have seen him in the OHL, as he looked to have an extra step in his stride as he helped the Wolves make a strong playoff push. In Sudbury, his play away from the puck looked way more inspired and his consistency in all three zones was significantly better. This was always something that he had struggled with, so playing with a little more intensity was great to see from him. He really seemed to feed off of Shane Bulitka's energy, a consistent linemate who has one of the bigger motors in the OHL. Moving forward, it's about continuing to progress at the AHL level next year. Continuing to find a way; continuing to find the drive to be a factor even when the puck is not on his stick. He needs to use that size below the hash marks to work the cycle and he needs to drive the net and open up space for his linemates. He's not going to be able to rely solely on his size to get the job done, so continuing to improve his skating and ability to handle the puck and make quicker decisions will also be critical. I would love to see Ruzicka in the 15/15 range in his first pro season, earning a regular shift and hopefully some special teams play. Moving forward, he is probably a few years away from being a potential middle six forward for the Flames.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Carolina Hurricanes

Time to review some future jerks.

1. Ryan Suzuki - Barrie Colts
A first rounder by the Hurricanes this year, Suzuki is one of the best playmakers in his age group. Not just among OHL players, but in the world. His vision is so elite and he seems to see the gaps and holes before they open. He quite often surprises players (especially at the OHL level) with his passes because of how precise they are. Suzuki also possesses good skating ability and creativity with the puck. This makes him a dangerous player in transition, although I would say he's better currently when the game slows down in the offensive zone. This is why he is so dangerous on the powerplay. But there are elements to Suzuki's game that need a lot of seasoning and it makes him a longer term project for Carolina, who is probably three years away as he physically matures. Suzuki goes through serious phases of invisibility and it is because he can lack urgency with and without the puck. He needs to get stronger on the puck, because quite often his attempts to gain entry to the offensive zone are shut down before the blueline. Suzuki also needs to attack the middle of the ice more aggressively. He can be kept to the perimeter and it limits his effectiveness as a playmaker because he's not drawing defenders too him, opening up those lanes for his linemates. Additionally, Suzuki's shot is currently quite weak and it is clear that he lacks confidence in it. This also hurts him as defenders give him time and space, taking away passing lanes from him and forcing him to shoot the puck. But, this is a talented kid. As he matures physically and the rest of the Colts' roster grows around him, he could be a really terrific player. Barrie should already be better next year and I believe pretty strongly that Suzuki will be an 80+ point player in the league.

2. Jamieson Rees - Sarnia Sting
Made no effort to hide my love for Rees as a player this draft ranking season and believe he was a tremendous selection by the Hurricanes in the second round. This is a kid who will go through a wall for his team and projects as a very versatile player at the pro level. His terrific skating ability is at the heart of his success as a player, as it fuels his non stop motor. Rees is an absolute puck hound who is always on the attack, looking to turn play the other way for his team. He is also a very physical player who relishes in the chance to throw his body around. All of this makes him a very effective penalty killer. But Rees' offensive skill set is underrated. He has good hands and good finishing ability in tight. There are some things that need to be improved upon though. The first is durability. Rees needs to prove that his smaller frame can stand up to playing the way that he does, because it is the key to his success. He's struggled with staying healthy so far in his OHL career. Rees also has to improve his decision making with the puck. He needs to make quicker decisions and learn that sometimes the safe play is the right play. He can be turnover prone in the offensive zone. But like Suzuki, as he gets stronger, I do think we'll see him start to take over more consistently. Staying healthy and hitting the 70 point mark would be a great year for Rees and is a very realistic possibility.

3. Blake Murray - Sudbury Wolves
Murray was a very divisive prospect in the scouting community this year. But where Carolina selected him, he was a very good pick with some high upside. Firstly, Murray has that size and skill package and he can simply score. He has both a good shot and good scoring instincts that saw him score 30 in his draft year. But consistency is an issue. There are shifts where he is engaged physically, using his size to dominate down low. And there are others where he tends to float and is just "there." His skating is good for a guy his size, but he could also stand to improve his first few steps to really give him that separation ability. This would allow him to be more of a factor in transition, looking to beat defenders to the net. For bigger forwards like Murray, consistency is often one of the last things to come to their game as they try to balance using their size and skill together. Sudbury should have one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference and I expect Murray to have a big year. I think he cracks the point per game mark and should inch close to the 40 goal plateau.