Friday, November 7, 2008

My Early Season Top 30 OHL Players for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft

I intend to do three of these lists. This is the first. Around the midpoint of the season, maybe slightly after, I will do the second. And after the playoffs have completed, I will compile the final list.

This list is meant to be the order in which if I were drafting for an NHL team, I would take these players. It is not meant to be a prognostication of where these players will go or should be ranked. This is my own personal opinion on seeing these guys play this year and last year.

Here is my early season top 30 of 2009 draft eligible OHL players.

1. John Tavares
F - Oshawa Generals - 6'0, 198lbs - DOB: 1990-09-20

The more games this guy plays in the OHL, the more he gets scrutinized at every turn. At different times over the past few years, we've heard: "his skating sucks," "he's forgot how to score," "he is terrible defensively," among others. Reminds me of when Jason Spezza was playing in the O. He was hyped as a top pick for so long that people began to pick apart his game. That's not saying that Tavares is the perfect hockey player, but in the times I've seen him this year so far, he definitely looked like he had worked on all three of those criticisms. His skating looked improved, in particular his first step. He'll never be a speedster, but he's no worse a skater than Spezza was in his junior days, and he has been fine in the NHL. Tavares looked more determined to score. Had a real fire in his eyes and was taking the puck to the net at every opportunity. And defensively, considerable improvement. He's been playing with Kory Nagy on the top penalty killing unit and he looked great covering the top of the box. John Tavares is a great talent and people need to realize this. Even if he doesn't go number 1, he's a damn good hockey player with an incredibly bright NHL future ahead of him. That being said, he has only one goal in his last 5 games, perhaps he's starting to get frustrated playing for one of the worst teams in the OHL this season. Personally, I think a trade to another team would do him wonders. He needs better talent to play with.

2. Ryan Ellis
D - Windsor Spitfires - 5'10, 173lbs - DOB: 1991-01-03

Hands up, honestly, if you thought Ryan Ellis would be leading the OHL in scoring 19 games into the season. Mine sure isn't up. Ellis is currently on pace (barring no injury or world junior appearance), to score 125 points. The last OHL defenseman to hit the 100 point plateau? Jamie Rivers for Sudbury in 1993-94, where he had 121. The last OHL defenseman to lead the league in scoring? The late Bryan Fogarty in 1988-89 for Niagara Falls, where he had 155 points. The difference between Ellis' and Fogarty and Rivers' seasons? Fogarty was playing in his 19 year old season, two years after being drafted, and Rivers was playing in his 18 year old season, one year after being drafted. Ryan Ellis is stepping on some unchartered territory as far as the history of the Ontario Hockey League is concerned. No first time draft eligible defenseman has ever lead the league in scoring, or come close for that matter. Ellis is a special talent. He has his shortcomings. He can make some bad pinches. He can make some bad reads defensively. He can put himself out of the play going for the big hit. But his offensive skills are so outstanding. He runs the point on the powerplay like it's art. He has a cannon of a shot and he can rush the puck up ice with ease. He also is physical and not afraid to get his hands dirty. His defense can be improved, as he has the intangibles to become a better defensive player with more experience. But his natural offensive ability from the backend just can't be taught.

3. Matt Duchene
F - Brampton Battalion - 5'11, 196lbs - DOB: 1991-01-16

Duchene is a very talented player. Every time I've seen him play, I've come away impressed by his abilities. He's just a solid all around player. He has good speed which he uses to fly down the wing and has the hockey sense to be able to create a scoring chance for him or his linemmates nearly every time he's on the ice. He's got a great wrist shot that he is not afraid to use in the slot, but he's also a very good playmaker. Duchene may not be a defensive stud, but he is also fairly good in his own end for a draft eligible forward. Just the total package.

4. Zack Kassian
F - Peterborough Petes - 6'3, 205lbs - DOB: 1991-01-24

True power forward prospects are definitely rare these days. And Kassian fits that bill to a tee. He's big, he loves to drop the mitts, he can burry the puck and work the cycle and he's not the world's best skater. Kassian actually doesn't get enough credit for how good of a playmaker he is too. Possesses a great hockey sense and knows where to be on the ice. Defensively he needs some work, and his skating is going to have to improve. But the size and skill combo is going to be pretty hard to pass up.

5. Nazem Kadri
F - London Knights - 6'0, 177lbs - DOB: 1990-10-06

I was tempted to put Kadri a little lower on my list simply because any time I've seen him play, I've never really come away impressed by him. However his offensive stats are hard to ignore. He definitely needs to bulk up, but the one criticism you can't levy at him is becoming more involved physically. Kadri isn't afraid to get under the skin of opponents and he'll work in the corners. The most impressive thing about Kadri is easily his hands and puck handling ability. In terms of OHL players, not many can match the offensive creativity that Kadri possesses. This alone makes him a potential top 15 selection in the NHL draft. That being said, he obviously needs to become a more consistent player. He's been relatively invisible in the games I've seen him play and was invisible in the game fellow contributor Ryan Yessie saw last week.

6. Peter Holland
F - Guelph Storm - 6'2, 190lbs - DOB: 1991-01-14

Holland is the guy I was very close to switching with Kadri. I'm a big fan. He's a solid all around centerman who plays both ways and puts in a lot of effort. He's great on the cycle, he's got a great hockey brain, he creates chances off the rush using his speed or from behind the net using his awareness, and he makes an attempt to get back defensively. As I said in an earlier post, he reminds me a lot of the way Cody Hodgson looked last year, and Hodgson ended up being a high NHL draft pick. Time will tell.

7. Calvin de Haan
D - Oshawa Generals - 6'0, 170lbs - DOB: 1991-05-09

De Haan definitely doesn't look like a guy who's playing his first season in the OHL. When I saw him play at the beginning of the season, he was very impressive. He moved the puck very well out of the zone, and was very smart with the puck at both ends. He showed good speed and acceleration while rushing the puck, but also a very calming presence on the powerplay. Defensively he got pushed around a few times, but he showed a willingess to compete and looks like the type of guy who's going to keep improving. The only thing going against him is that he plays for Oshawa who's goaltending and defense could use vast improvements. A bit of a raw selection, but I think he's got serious potential.

8. Taylor Doherty
D - Kingston Frontenacs - 6'8, 218lbs - DOB: 1991-03-02

The tower of power, Doherty just seems to keep on growing. Listed at 6'6 last year, Doherty is now up to 6'8 according to the OHL and Kingston websites. The biggest selling points on Doherty are that he's 6'8, but skates like he is 6'0, and that he's a big man who plays like a big man. Doherty is a very fluid skater who has the ability to join the rush (although rarely does) but also get back on defense. He is also a mean mother on defense who drops the gloves and pushes people around at will. Offensively he can make a good first pass, but his puck skills could still use some improvement. For such a big guy, I'd like to see him work on his shot more too, since he's likely to get a lot on it. Also, he needs to start using his stick more defensively. At 6'8, he's got the wingspan to really be an effective stick checker, yet he tends to go for the body everytime. He can also get frustrated and take some bad penalties. Definitely a project and work in progress, but Doherty has the intangibles NHL teams are looking from in their defenseman.

9. Marcus Foligno
F - Sudbury Wolves - 6'2, 202lbs - DOB: 1991-08-10

Yup another Foligno, and he plays a similar game to his brother Nick too. Marcus Foligno is definitely the hottest riser of any OHL draft eligible player. As one of the youngest players eligible for the 2009 draft, Foligno took a little time to get going this year, but he's gotten better every week. In fact, in his last three games he's got 4 goals and 2 assists. I think he's only going to get better as the season goes along. Foligno is a great forechecker who plays the game hard and is constantly looking to drive hard to the net. He's got a good set of hands and an average set of wheels. He's also very strong for his age and can look like a bull out there sometimes. I'm hoping he rides his hot streak into Niagara in a few weeks so I can see him at his best. If I had to label one player from this list to watch and to rise over the next few months, it would definitely by Foligno.

10. Alex Hutchings
F - Barrie Colts - 5'10, 179lbs - DOB: 1990-11-07

Hutchings is kind of a hard guy to get a read on. As a talented late 1990, I really expected him to become an offensive leader in the league this year. Especially since I expected Barrie to be a very solid team. However, neither has happened and one can't help but think if they are inter-related. Hutchings is definitely a talented offensive player. He's got great speed and he drives to the net. He has good puck skills and can work the cycle. He's a smart player with great on ice vision and playmaking skills. So how come he hasn't been lighting up the scoresheet as much. Perhaps it's a relfection of Barrie's struggles as a team, or maybe he's snake bitten. The talent is there, but I really would like to see him scoring more.

11. Ryan O'Reilly
F - Erie Otters - 6'0, 205lbs - DOB: 1991-02-07

O'Reilly has not had a great start to the year and subsequently has fallen a bit from where he would have been on a list at the end of last season. At 6'0, 205lbs, O'Reilly should really be using his size more to create offensive chances for himself. Instead he tends to stick to the perimeter at times and is definitely a pass first player. As good of a playmaker as he is, he needs to be more aggressive in shooting the puck. O'Reilly is also not the world's most blessed skater. He's not terrible, but being only average is a concern enough considering the type of game he plays. He needs to become better at working the cycle and becoming more dangerous inside the blueline because at the next level, his skating could hold him back from becoming an effective point producer if he remains a player who only creates off the rush. Hopefully he's able to turn it around, otherwise I'd have to consider dropping him even further on my list.

12. Michael Latta
F - Ottawa 67's - 5'11, 197lbs - DOB: 1991-05-25

Latta is one of the most complete players eligible from the OHL. He may not be the biggest or the fastest but every aspect of his game is solid. He drives to the net and has a really good hockey sense which allows him to be very involved offensively. He works the cycle well and despite being only 5'11, is an effective player in the corners and along the boards. He's also the first guy back defensively and will lay the body and be aggressive on the forecheck. Had a great start to the season but has cooled off of late. Hopefully he can pick his offensive game back up.

13. Taylor Beck
F - Guelph Storm - 6'1, 207lbs - DOB: 1991-05-13

I've only seen Beck once this season so far, and was not heavily impressed with his offensive abilities. But he was very aggressive on the forecheck, forcing a few turnovers, was physical and took the body, and was responsible defensively. But he's averaging a point per game so he has to be doing something right offensively. That being said, he definitely appears to be the type of player who's offensive production is directly related to his effort level and how hard he plays the game. Has had a great start to the season and Holland and Beck have been greatly responsible for the Storm's ranking in the CHL top 10. Despite the fact that his offensive ability underwhelmed me, it's hard to put him any lower.

14. Casey Cizikas
F - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors - 5'11, 184lbs - DOB: 1991-02-27

Another guy who has had a very underwhelming start to the OHL season. A lot more was expected of Cizikas coming into the season after a successful rookie season last year. Cizikas is a hard working forward who plays a pretty solid all around game. In the times I've seen him, he's not necessarily flashy but he knows where to be on the ice to put himself into scoring opportunities. He forechecks well and he'll come back defensively, however he needs to start finding the scoresheet more often. If he continues to underwhelm offensively, he could find himself even lower down on this list next time.

15. Ethan Werek
F - Kingston Frontenacs - 6'2, 195lbs - DOB: 1991-06-07

Werek is another guy who's been relatively underwhelming so far this season. While it is his rookie OHL season, a lot was expected of Werek after he decided to go the OHL route instead of attending Boston University. He's a bigger winger who can play an effective up and down game. He'll work hard in the corners and he'll head to the net. He's also not afraid to muck it up physically. But how much offensive skill does he truly have? In his latest report, one of our contributors believed that Werek might be slightly in over his head at this point in his OHL career. But no reason to give up on him yet, as he's still getting his feet wet in Kingston.

16. Andrew Agozzino
F - Niagara Ice Dogs - 5'9, 188lbs - DOB: 1991-01-05

Agozzino has taken a huge step forward offensively, after being thrust into a larger role in Niagara this year. Needless to say, if Agozzino was a little bigger, he'd be in consideration for the top 10 of this list, or even higher. But at 5'9, he still plays a lot bigger than he is. Firstly, he's an outstanding skater with great acceleration, especially coming down the wing. He's also not afraid to get physically involved and with sacrifice his body to make a play or get into scoring position. He's got an outstanding shot, as evidence by his 13 goals this year. He's also a very effective penalty killer and greta defensively. The only negative thing I can say about Agozzino's game is that he tends to overplay the puck at times. It's almost as if he doesn't know what to do with it, or tries to be too cute. He's at his best when he plays an up and down game and uses his speed to go hard to the net. At 5'9, I'm not sure hes a potential first rounder, but then again in today's NHL there is a place for players like Agozzino.

17. Edward Pasquale
G - Saginaw Spirit - 6'2, 216lbs - DOB: 1990-11-20

Pasquale is a big goalie who's having a very good start to the 2008-09 season. He's got the Spirit playing great hockey and they currently sit 4th in the conference. At 6'2, 216, Pasquale covers a lot of the net, especially when he's active in challenging shooters. At that size, he also moves effectively in his crease and does a good job with rebound control. I always find it difficult to rank goaltenders in a comprehensive list, but as of now, I don't get excited enough about him to place him any higher than 17th.

18. Michael Fine
F - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds - 6'0, 191lbs - DOB: 1991-05-10

With the graduation of some the Soo's offensive stars from last year, Fine has come forward to fill the gap. He's already nearly passed his point totals from last year. Fine is a solid all around offensive player. I've yet to see him play so far this season, but from all accounts he's drving hard to the net and getting involved in all aspects of play. He's even dropped the mitts a few times this year and looked great doing so. Offensively, he keeps things simple and can both finish off scoring chances but create them for his linemates. Definitely a guy to keep an eye on as we could see him advancing higher on this list.

19. Peter Di Salvo
G - Barrie Colts - 6'0, 180lbs - DOB: 1990-11-14

Di Salvo has put up some very impressive numbers this year. He's currently 2nd in SV% and GAA behind all star Mike Murphy. I saw him play last night and he looked pretty good. Did a good job with rebound control, was calm and cool in the net and made the easy saves. He also looks quick in his net. The only concern I have is that he's a small goalie who can tend to play even smaller in his crease. I feel he needs to challenge shooters more, although he doesn't exactly appear to be your typical butterfly goalie either. Considering our other contributor Ryan Yessie was not incredibly impressed by him earlier this year, I have trouble putting him ahead of Pasquale. An interesting prospect whom I would need to see more to get a better handle on.

20. Jordan Szwarz
F - Saginaw Spirit - 5'11, 186lbs - DOB: 1991-05-14

Very quick forward who is elusive on the ice and finds his way into scoring lanes. He moves the puck well and appears to have a pretty good shot. However, he is a bit of an enigma. Invisible one shift, and creating chances the next. He also needs to become more involved physically. That doesn't mean he needs to start banging bodies left and right, but he needs to play in traffic more and enter danger areas to make a play. He also needs to put in a better effort defensively. But he definitely seems to have a nice combination of speed and skill.

21. Brandon Foote
G - Brampton Battalion - 5'11, 168lbs - DOB: 1991-04-26

Haven't seen Foote in action yet this year, so I can't comment on anything first hand. I can only go off of what I've heard. Foote is playing in his first OHL season and has practically stolen the starting job away from NHL draft pick Patrick Killeen. He's undersized but I've heard that he makes himself look bigger in net by being aggressive and challenging shooters. He's posted some solid numbers this season, however he appears to be wildly inconsistent. At this point, he's either bang on or he's way off. Foote needs to find that consistency in order to put himself at the same level as Pasquale and Di Salvo.

22. Garrett Wilson
F - Owen Sound Attack - 6'2, 199lbs - DOB: 1991-05-30

Wilson would very likely be higher on this list had he not been suspended for 15 games for a slewfoot on Rangers defenseman Dan Kelly that resulted in a broken ankle. He was off to a great start this season scoring in five of Owen Sound's first seven games. He's a big kid who drives hard to the net and can finish off plays. Again, he's a player I have yet to see play this season, but according to one of our contributor's, he uses his size to his advantage and can be a physical player. The main question I always have about bigger forwards is whether their skating is up to par. Because he's a bit of a mystery to me, I can't rank him any higher than this as of this moment. But perhaps next time he rises if he comes back strong from the suspension, which is almost completely served.

23. Matthew Tipoff
F - Belleville Bulls - 5'11, 180lbs - DOB: 1990-10-04

Tipoff is a late 1990 who has found a lot of success this year in Belleville after they lost some of their key forwards to the professional ranks. While he's cooled off a little bit lately, I was able to see him at the beginning of the season when he was hitting the scoresheet early and often. He looked like a really smart player who had the hockey sense to go to scoring areas and create chances for his linemates. He also worked the boards and played the penalty kill effectively. He seemed like a really solid all around player. That being said, he recently went 10 games without a goal, which tells me I may have caught him on a really good night. Would like to see him hit the scoresheet on a more consistent basis, especially as a late 1990 in his third OHL season.

24. Phil Varone
F - London Knights - 5'10, 187lbs - DOB: 1990-12-04

Varone had a real tough start to the season, registering only 2 assists in his first 6 games. Since then, he's been averaging over a point per game. Still, I think a lot of people expected more from him offensively this season, especially with the way he played after the trade from Kitchener. The main concerns I have with Varone lie in the fact that for his size, he's only an average skater, and that as a late 1990, I expect him to put up better numbers. Still, he's a solid little sparkplug who hustles every shift, can play the powerplay and the penalty kill, and will pay the price infront of the net to finish off a scoring opportunity. Maybe he really catches fire and can move himself up this list.

25. Peter Hermenegildo
D - Sudbury Wolves - 5'10, 196lbs - DOB: 1991-02-15

Hermenegildo is a stocky little defenseman that caught my eye last year. I haven't seen him play yet this year, but his stats look similar to what he was doing last season. While shorter and stocky, Hermenegildo isn't a pushover in the defensive end, and will battle you for position. He can run the powerplay and he can jump into the rush as a good skater. If he was 5'10 and skinny I'd be concerned, but at close to 200lbs, Hermenegildo can hold his own against some of the bigger boys in the OHL. I'll be seeing Sudbury in a few weeks, hopefully get a better read on his progression at that time.

26. Marc Zanetti
D - Ottawa 67's - 6'2, 200lbs - DOB: 1991-05-20

Zanetti is a big physical defenseman who loves to drop the mitts and take the body. Zanetti was able to lay some big hits when I saw him earlier this season. He's a fairly good skater for his size and does a good job in not letting forwards beat him one on one. Occasionally he puts himself out of position for a big hit, but that will come with the experience he will gain from his first full OHL season. Offensively, he's been improving as the season goes along, although he's never going to be known as a big point producer. But you can never under estimate the value of a big physical defenseman who can make a good first pass.

27. Tyler Randell
F - Belleville Bulls - 6'1, 195lbs - DOB: 1991-06-15

Randell is a good checking line forward who's been able to chip in offensively so far this season. He's actually a good fighter and can do a good job of getting under the skin of opposing players. While he forechecks hard and digs well in the corners, Randell has been able to score some goals this year too. For a hard nosed winger, he does need to improve his defensive play though, at least in my views he tended to float a bit. But similar to the need for big, physical defenseman, NHL teams are always going to be looking for bigger banging wingers who have good speed and can chip in offensively. This is Tyler Randell.

28. Chris Perugini
G - Ottawa 67's - 5'10, 147lbs - DOB: 1991-06-02

Following in the footsteps of his brother Andrew, Chris Perugini has developed into a very capable OHL netminder. He has taken the starting job away from NHL signee Adam Courchaine. I saw Perugini earlier this season and he stood on his head, at least for the first part of the game. He is an incredibly athletic goaltender who can make some highlight reel saves. His reaction time was also very impressive as he was able to read plays and make some big saves. Being such a small goaltender (he looks much smaller than 5'10 on the ice), he did a good job of challenging the shooters and trying to make himself look bigger. He also was able to prevent a lot of juicy rebounds. However, being so small, he also has the tendency to go down to early making the top of the net an easy target for opposing players. If he was a little bigger, I think he'd be receiving a lot more hype for the draft, but a lot of people, myself included, have a hard time seing such a small goaltender have success at the NHL level. That being said, it's not like he's Darren Pang small. If he can work on some technical things that can allow him to make a few easier saves to go with the highlight ones he makes, he'll be fine.

29. Daniel Maggio
D - Sudbury Wolves - 6'2, 197lbs - 1991-03-04

Maggio is a quality defenseman who's earning more and more icetime up in Sudbury this year. He's a solid two way defenseman with good size and good skating ability. He can be very physical at times and does a good job in his own end. He can also make a good first pass and has seen his offensive numbers increase with more offensive responsibility and powerplay time. Again, I haven't seen Sudbury yet this year, but Maggio was a guy I came away impressed with last season.

30. John Cullen
G - Niagara Ice Dogs - 5'11, 175lbs - DOB: 1991-04-20

Cullen is a guy I've seen a ton of so far this season. He's been inconsistent, but the fluctuation of his stat lines have more to do with the fact that the Dogs have been inconsistent as a team, especially defensively. He's very quick and agile and moves around his crease very well. He anticipates the play and is very vocal on the ice, which is great for such a young kid. He's made some improvements on his rebound control so far this season, as well as his ability to play the angles and challenge shooters. You can tell the goaltending coaches are really working with him. The only thing he's really struggled with thus far is shootouts. He's essentially been embarassed in the shootouts that he has participated in. He flops around and goes down way to early and gets caught out of position. Unfortunately, this area of his game can be exposed at times in regular gameplay as well. He has a tendency to hit the butterfly too early and teams have been going high on him. However, he is improving and I'm hoping becoming more consistent. At the end of the year, he's the type of guy whom I wouldn't be surprised if he was up near the top of OHL netminders available.

Honorable Mention (no particular order)
Mitch Lebar - Barrie
Bjorn Krupp - Belleville
Jordan Mayer - St. Mikes
Brett Flemming - St. Mikes
William Wallen - St. Mikes (would likely be on this list if it wasn't for a brain annuerism)
Matt Sisca - Niagara
Alex Friesen - Niagara
Chris DeSousa - Niagara
Jay Gilbert - Niagara
Taylor Carnevale - Oshawa
Robert Kousal - Oshawa
Chad Lowry - Peterborough
Vern Cooper - Plymouth
Beau Schmitz - Plymouth
Cody Sol - Saginaw
Miroslav Preisinger - Sarnia
Jesse Blacker - Windsor
Daniel Erlich - London


Louis H said...

great stuff, keep up the good work!

Pollen Nation said...

Justin Dibenedetto and Matt Martin definatley deserve to be in that top 30.

Brock Otten said...

Both Justin DiBenedetto and Matt Martin have already been drafted into the NHL, by the New York Islanders in the 2008 entry draft. This list is for 2009 draft eligibles, not for players already drafted.