Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday Top 10 - Defensive Forwards

First off, thanks to those that wrote in or commented with possible list ideas. Some outstanding ideas. This week, and next week, I'll be covering the top defensive players in the OHL. This Sunday will be forwards, next Sunday will be defenseman. Thanks to "back2back" on Local Sports Report for the idea.

For some of the other ideas I received, thanks to "Tunisian Tsar" for a couple great ones. As for the top 10 players to watch from the Priority draft, unfortunately, I don't really know a whole lot about any of those guys, other than what I've read. The only guy I've really seen play is Daniel Catenacci. So ultimately, I don't want to make a list of those guys just based on what I've read and not seen. Here is an interesting little article on "5 to Watch" from the OHL. Also, great idea on the 2010 eligible players. I'm going to put that one in my back pocket for later, probably would be a great top 10 for before next season starts.

Also, to the anonymous commenter about the top draft risers and fallers; the two Sunday Top 10's before the NHL Entry Draft (June 13 and 20th) will be dedicated to just that. So stay tuned.

Back to today's, which focuses on the top defensive forwards in the OHL. As "back2back" so eloquently put it, "We hear so much about the guys who get the points but sometimes its nice to recognize players who are good at keeping the puck out of their own net." One important thing to consider is that this list is of the top defensive forwards, not penalty killers. There are a lot of really good penalty killing forwards in the OHL, but quite a few them aren't as focused defensively when play is five on five. So let's not confuse penalty killing ability with overall defensive and two way ability.

Here are your Top 10 Defensive Forwards

10. Cody Hodgson - Brampton Battalion
Anytime you see a player of Hodgson's calibre on a list like this, I think that's pretty impressive. For all his skill and offensive ability, Hodgson has rounded himself into an excellent two way forward who has developed a strong desire to back check. The fact that he has developed into such a complete player, can be linked to his rise on most top prospect lists. I also think that ultimately, his increased two way ability will be his ticket to Vancouver next season. I don't see Cody back in the OHL next season, since now, not only can he help Vancouver offensively, but he's not going to hurt them defensively, like a lot of 19 and 20 year old's would.

9. Tyler Murovich - Saginaw Spirit
Looking back, I think that Murovich should have definitely had a place in my "Mini Mights" Top 10. This little guy made massive improvements this season, his second in the OHL after transferring from the USHL. He finished third in scoring for the surprisingly good Spirit this season, and was their second best playoff performer behind Jack Combs. He plays with a lot of heart and isn't afraid of anyone, qualities that make him an excellent two way player. Despite his size, he anticipates the play very well and makes a consistent effort in being the first forward back to the defensive zone. With Combs and Chris Chappell off to the professional ranks next season, Saginaw will be looking to Murovich to lead the show.

8. Matthew Lyall - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
While Lyall may not be a significant professional prospect, this overager and Soo Captain leaves it all on the ice. Lyall was solid at both ends of the ice for the struggling Greyhounds, leading the team in goals and being a defensive presence on a team with few of them. Likely CIS bound next year, unless he earns a pro contract at an NHL prospect camp, Lyall's tenacity and two way game will be surely missed by a young Greyhounds team who will be looking to improve.

7. Matt Kennedy - Guelph Storm
Not only was Kennedy named the most underrated and hardest working player in the OHL Coaches Poll (for the West), but he also got a nod as a third team All Star this season. Not many players improved as much as Kennedy did this season, a fact that could see Kennedy's name get called at the NHL Entry Draft as a draft overager. Kennedy also got a nod in the Coaches Poll for being an excellent defensive forward. He plays within the Guelph system as well as anyone and plays the game hard. He sticks with his man and makes their job as hard as possible.

6. John Kurtz - Sudbury Wolves
This Oakville, Ontario native somehow managed to finish +15 on the Wolves this season, a feat which literally boggles my mind, considering how bipolar Sudbury was. Kurtz's play this season earned him a nod as the most underrated player in the Eastern Conference by the Coaches Poll. Kurtz is a hard working forward who does a great job in backchecking and is just an overall solid and intelligent player. Likely returning as an overager, Kurtz will be looked upon to help Sudbury improve next season.

5. Logan Couture - Ottawa 67's
Similar to Hodgson, Couture is an elite level player who stepped up defensively this season. However, I did have some conflicts about including Couture on this list at all, considering his niche for being a bit of a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. At times, Couture can be a dominating two way presence, while at other times, he can be a complete disappearing act at both ends. At the beginning of this season, he was taking a lot of flak for being a non existent factor on a team that needed him to be its biggest factor. As the season went along, he got better and better. By the time the OHL Playoffs rolled around, Couture was undoubtedly playing some of the best hockey of his OHL career. If Couture wants to be, he can be a tremendous player, especially at the defensive end, where he uses his strong hockey intelligence to anticipate plays like very few. Hopefully, the San Jose Sharks organization can get the best out of him.

4. Ryan O'Reilly - Erie Otters
Admittedly, O'Reilly is currently a better penalty killer than he is a defensive stalwart. I'm not sure there is a better penalty killing forward in the OHL than O'Reilly, who's active stick, anticipation, and physical abilities allow him to control the pace of opposing powerplays. Look no further than to the reason for Erie's league leading penalty killing unit this season. That being said, O'Reilly isn't quite as dominant a force defensively. A lot of that has to do with his skating ability and being able to get back quickly to the defensive end. That being said, once the offense sets up shop at the other end, O'Reilly does too, and he's able to be a very strong defensive presence. It's in the transition game that he can have some trouble. But with the skating improvements I'm sure he's likely to make, O'Reilly has the potential to top this list.

3. Thomas Kiriakou - Ottawa 67's
With his play and improvements this season, this overager did a lot to show NHL scouts that he's worth an NHL contract this offseason. Previously considered a strong defensive forward, Kiriakou exploded offensively this season with 29 goals and was a big reason for Ottawa's strong season. While he may not be the best skater, Kiriakou works hard and is always the first forward back, doing a great job of anticipating plays at the offensive end. I'm not sure how many times in watching Ottawa this season, I saw him come back to the defensive zone in order to break up an odd man rush. While it remains to be seen where he'll be playing next season (AHL, ECHL, CIS?), one thing is for certain. The 67's are going to really miss the strong two way abilities of guys like Couture and Kiriakou.

2. Scott Timmins - Windsor Spitifres
Timmins is a solid all around player with very few weaknesses. There is no question that his acquisition by Windsor, was a big reason they were able to win the Memorial Cup this season. With a 35 goal season, and a strong two way ability, there is reason to believe Timmins could hear his name called at the NHL entry draft, as a draft overager. Our own Sean Keogh strongly believes that Timmins has the makings of a solid NHL prospect and that he's more than worthy of a late round selection. While I tend to disagree slightly on his NHL potential, I do believe Timmins to be one of the best two way forwards in the league and a guy who concertedly makes an effort on the backcheck.

1. Cory Tanaka - Belleville Bulls
This overager and OHL career games leader has long been considered one of the best defensive forwards in the Ontario Hockey League. A little ball of tenacity, Tanaka is constantly buzzing around the ice. His excellent skating ability allows him to be elusive on the ice, and he constantly outworks the opposition for loose pucks. Tanaka's conditioning and hard work make him such a strong two way player, as he beats forwards to the puck in his own zone and uses an active stick to be a defensive pest. While it remains to be seen whether Tanaka's defensive abilities can get him an NHL contract, I highly doubt he's in the CIS next year, as I'm certain he'll earn himself at least an AHL/ECHL contract to work his way up the ranks.

Stay tuned for next week's Top "Defensive" Defenseman.

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