Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing to an NHL Contract

One of the blogs I follow and read is "Coming Down the Pipe," by Guy Flaming and Dean Millard. The blog serves as a venue for great junior hockey discussion, in particular for the Western Hockey League.

One feature that Guy and Dean bring to their blog is something called "Top 5 Tuesdays." Every Tuesday, Guy and Dean compile a list of the top 5 of a specific category. For example, here is the latest top 5 Tuesday post where they looked at the top 5 draft eligible players who are small in size but big on skill.

I think that this idea is absolutely fantastic, so every Sunday, I'll be posting a Sunday Top 10 during the playoffs and offseason. Guy and Dean, hopefully you guys don't sue me, since I'm giving you credit for coming up with the idea!

For the first Sunday Top 10, I'll be looking at the Top 10 OHL Overagers this season who absolutely deserve a chance to play professional hockey, at least in my opinion.

10. Matthew Kang - Brampton Battalion
Kang is an absolute wizard with the puck. He could dangle inside a phone booth. He uses his strong puckhandling ability to help maintain puck possession in the offensive end and is especially effective on the powerplay. Kang isn't the biggest player, but he's generally not afraid to get his nose dirty too. The main drawback to Kang is his somewhat one dimensional play. He's not going to be confused for John Madden any time soon. And while Kang has always had the talent, he's never really been able to become a top point producer in the OHL. Either way, you have to admire the speed, energy and creativity he can bring to the table and maybe that gives him a chance to earn a professional contract next season.

9. Thomas Kiriakou - Ottawa 67's
One of the strongest defensive forwards in the OHL, Kiriakou took big steps forward offensively this season too. He's a great penalty killer and very strong on faceoffs and could make an NHL 4th line some day as a penalty kill specialist. He's not the most blessed skater or offensive player, but he can bury chances when they arise, and he's strong on his skates. Kiriakou is also having a strong first round for Ottawa in the OHL Playoffs.

8. Ben Shutron - Windsor Spitfires
Originally a top 100 selection of Chicago in 2006, Shutron was not signed after a poor and injury plagued 2007/08 season. However, he has bounced back very well this season, splitting the year between Kitchener and Windsor. Shutron is a smart puck moving defenseman who is a valuable powerplay quarterback. Over the course of his OHL career, he's also proven that he can play strong defensive hockey as well. While his skillset likely doesn't translate to becoming a top 4 NHL defenseman, he could at least be a solid depth player one day. Now that he's proven he's healthy again, I wouldn't be surprised to see him latch on to a professional team next season, whether that be an NHL contract or an AHL contract.

7. Rob Kwiet - Windsor Spitfires
Exploded offensively this season on Windsor's blueline and I would think that a lot of people could have Kwiet higher on a list like this. A big body, Kwiet has shown a willingness to use it well. He's also obviously very talented offensively. However, I think Kwiet's average skating ability, questionable decision making and lack of defensive ability may ultimately hold him back from becoming much of an NHL defenseman. However, with a solid skill set, and size, I'd be willing to bet he at least gets a few looks from an NHL team this summer. He does deserve it.

6. Jared Gomes - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Once a very promising young OHL player, Gomes had failed to take that step forward throughout his OHL career...until this season. Prior to 2008/09, Gomes best offensive season was still his rookie year in 2005-06 with Sarnia. But he had never taken that step forward and went from being a promising NHL draft prospect, to now an unheralded overager. However, Gomes exploded offensively this season, potting 31 goals, and has been outstanding for Mississauga in the playoffs thus far. He's a strong two way player who works hard, isn't afraid to take a hit to make a play and actually has good goal scoring instincts. His skating isn't the greatest, and he likely doesn't have the skill to be anything more than a depth player at the NHL level, but I still expect him to get some looks.

5. Jack Combs - Saginaw Spirit
Combs will never be described as a speedster, but he brings other things to the game. Good size, aggressiveness, outstanding playmaking ability and a quality shot. He'll also never be described as a strong two way player, but his ability to generate offense can not be overlooked. Combs almost caught on in the AHL this season instead of returning as an overager, but I'm sure he will next year. A big body who can move the puck, generate offense and control the tempo in the offensive end can be a good commodity to have.

4. Cory Tanaka - Belleville Bulls
At a generous 5'10, 188, Tanaka certainly doesn't bring size to the table. What he does bring is energy, energy and more energy. Tanaka is widely considered to be the best defensive forward and penalty killer in the OHL. He anticipates the play incredibly well and is a tenacious forechecker. Offensively, he isn't likely to bring a whole lot to the table at the next level, but his work ethic and ability to play both ways should translate to a shot at the NHL somewhere down the line.

3. Matt Caria - Plymouth Whalers
The OHL's hottest player down the stretch, as he averaged over 2 points a game in January and February, as the red hot Plymouth Whalers stormed into the playoffs. Caria has long been a player I had expected to be drafted into the NHL, but he never got the call. Caria is not the best skater in the world, but he's a scrappy little player who'll do anything to make a play. He's a very talented all around offensive player and he makes those around him better too. With the outstanding second half he had, and the strong playoffs he's having thus far, I would be incredibly surprised to see Caria not earn an NHL contract.

2. Brandon Mashinter - Belleville Bulls
The only player on this list who has actually already signed an NHL deal earlier this month (link) Mashinter is a former OHL heavyweight who has turned himself into a very respectable threat at the offensive end. He's an effective big body to plant infront of the net, and his skating vastly improved over the course of his OHL career. He's also a strong two way player. As the complete package, Mashinter has the chance to develop into a serviceable NHL 3rd liner similar to another former Kitchener Ranger, David Clarkson.

1. Chris Chappell - Saginaw Spirit
Named as one of the West's most underrated and improved players, this Saginaw Spirit forward and captain has come a long way this season. At 6'4, 210, Chappell is a load to handle for opposing defenseman, as he uses his strength to outmuscle defenders for the puck. At his size, Chappell is also actually an excellent skater who loves to take the puck hard to the net and whose overall offensive ability has taken huge steps forward. Chappell has definitely been the most impressive overage player I've seen this season, and I'd be very surprised if a big man with the talent he has, does not get an NHL contract this offseason.

Stay tuned for the next Sunday Top 10!

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