Monday, December 26, 2011

Trade Deadline Preview

I thought about doing this article as a Sunday Top 10, but decided against it. Mostly because the trading situation in the OHL this season is bound to be incredibly complicated and difficult to predict. There are as many as 10 teams who could be legitimate sellers, depending on what direction they take. Just the same, some of those very teams could actually end up as buyers (like the Oshawa Generals or Owen Sound Attack). Too many teams on the bubble, which also leaves us with an interesting buying scenario. The parity in the league is quite fascinating.

As any of you who follow the OHL know, trading can also be complicated due to the restrictions on overage players. Teams can dress only three every game. So the first thing I'll breakdown is who has the room to acquire an overager. RED means they won't (in all likelihood) be acquiring an overager. Green means they could. Only going with possible buyers here.

Barrie Colts - They have an excess of overagers, but really Daniel Erlich and Colin Behenna are the only key ones. Even if Norm Ezekiel is a favourite of Dale Hawerchuk, he's by no means a surefire OHL'er.

Belleville Bulls - Three overagers playing a key role already, including captain Luke Judson.

Brampton Battalion - They'll already have too many when Ian Watters returns from injury.

Kitchener Rangers - Three solid OA's including captain Mike Catenacci.

London Knights - Playing with only one overager right now, the newly converted to defense Colin Martin. If they decide to buy, they've got a ton of wiggle room.

Niagara IceDogs - Already have three of the best overage forwards in the league.

Oshawa Generals - Just acquired Peter Hermenegildo to fill their remaining OA spot.

Ottawa 67's - Are currently carrying three OA's, but only Marc Zanetti is a truly worthy one. Ben Dubois is useful too, but Daniel Broussard is expendable.

Owen Sound Attack - Three solid OA's, but Scott Stajcer is still a possible trade target. Too complicated to give a green light.

Peterborough Petes - Yogan, West, and Jasper make up a solid OA group.

Plymouth Whalers - Maybe the best OA group in the league with Bathgate, Devane, and Schmitz.

Sarnia Sting - Acquiring Brett Thompson earlier this season maximized their OA situation.

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds - Three contributing OA's, but if an upgrade over Mike Schwindt is available, they could likely be enticed.

Examining the above would suggest that, at the very most, it is possible that 5 overagers could be moved between now and the deadline. Let's look at some names.

Mike Cazzola - Injuries have killed him this year, and he's out again with a broken wrist. But he's scheduled to come back after the Xmas holiday. He's a very talented offensive player and would generate interest if the price tag isn't too high (because of the injury woes this year). He'd look great in a place like Ottawa, where he could help provide secondary scoring.

Stephen Gaskin - Playoff experience with Barrie two years ago, Gaskin is a solid defender who could provide leadership to a defense that may need it. He might look good in London, or as an upgrade over Schwindt in the Soo.

Tyler J. Brown - Solid two way player who's upped the offensive ante this year. He'd look good in any of the above destinations (except London where he's ineligible to go due to a trade restriction).

Andy Andreoff - ONLY if the Generals are selling, which I don't think they will. But obviously he'd provide a huge boost to any of the above lineups, especially a team like London who could use the size.

Scott Stajcer - None of the above teams need a goaltender, which makes trading Stajcer hard. Which is probably why it hasn't happened yet. Oshawa is the most talked about destination, but they'd have to move a guy like Andreoff or Maggio first (or in exchance for Stajcer).

Josh Shalla - I'm not convinced Saginaw is selling because their playing well again. But if they do, Shalla's goalscoring talents would look great in any of the above destinations, especially in a place like the Soo...who desperately need goal scoring help.

Josh McFadden - McFadden's pure offensive ability make him a terrific powerplay QB and an effective 5 on 5 player if paired with a stay at home guy. Doubt he moves though.

Adrian Robertson - Even if he's become the whipping boy of Spits fans, he's still a solid defenseman who's being asked to do too much right now. He can play in all situations and has the playoff experience with Windsor from last year. He'd be a perfect pick up for a team like Barrie who could use another experienced defender.

Outside of OA's, you've got the three BIG guns on bad teams that everyone has been talking about moving for the past few months.

Greg McKegg - With how bad Erie is this year, they'd be absolutely insane to not move McKegg. In return, they'd likely get at least one very solid young player to help build a solid young core for the future.

Ryan Spooner - Ditto for Spooner in Kingston. However, his bout with mono complicates things. It might have lowered his trade value a bit, but he should still bring back a King's ransom.

Brandon Saad - Again, I'm not convinced Saginaw is a seller, but if they are, Saad is a damn attractive piece for any team to add. So long as he can avoid the injury bug like he hasn't been able to this year so far.

Then we have two teams who COULD be sellers...or even buyers. The Mississauga Majors got off to such a strong start, but have floundered lately (more like come back to Earth). But they have some solid pieces if they want to start the youth movement early. While the Oshawa Generals have been the biggest disappointment in the league. They too have some VERY attractive pieces, if they decide to start a rebuild (already mentioned Andy Andreoff above).

Riley Brace - While he's cooled lately, Brace has had an excellent season and has turned himself into one of the better two way forwards in the league. He should definitely be back for an overage season, making him a guy who should have a fairly high price tag.

Joseph Cramarossa - While he's a 92 and a recent draftee, I'd be surprised if he wasn't back in the OHL next year. Like Brace, he's a solid two way forechecker and a guy who could definitely help fill out a line up in a second or third line role.

J.P. Anderson - The market for goaltenders isn't exactly there right now. But if made available, I'm sure he'd generate interest...such as if Oshawa decides to buy.

Devante Smith-Pelly - Does he go back to the NHL after the WJC's? Or return to Mississuaga? Who really knows. If he does come back to the OHL (If I was a betting man, I'd bet against it), he would likely be among the most attractive trade pieces in the league.

Christian Thomas - Dynamic scorer who finally turned a corner in December. He could bring back quite the load in a trade.

We'll all know soon enough, when the trade deadline hits us in a few weeks. Any predictions from the readers out there?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2012 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Rosters Announced

As the headline suggests, the participants of the 2012 CHL Top Prospects Game were announced today.

You can find the rosters HERE.

Remarkably enough, the OHL has 21 players involved in the prestigious event. That's just over 50%. Just for comparison sake, The QMJHL has 9 players involved, while the WHL has 10. Pretty crazy stuff.

Really no surprises on the roster. Great to see Tanner Pearson get an invite.

Which team looks stronger on paper? Orr or Cherry?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Team Canada Named for the 2012 WJC's

The final cuts were made this morning, leaving us with the finalized Team Canada roster for the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships.

The roster includes 10 OHL Players. You can find it HERE

What makes the selection camp and team unveiling so exciting, is the unpredictability about it. Three guys I had identified as longshots prior to camp (Wedgewood, Jenner, Harrington), all cracked the final roster.

Congrats to all those that made it and good luck in Edmonton/Calgary. Be sure to tune in on Boxing Day (Dec. 26) when Canada takes on Finland to open the tournament!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Team Canada Selection Camp - What are the Odds?

The selection camp for the 2012 version of Team Canada at the World Junior Championships will begin next week. Last week, Hockey Canada announced the roster of those who will be competing for spots (HERE).

So let's take a closer look at it. Who has the best odds of making this team? Who are the longshots? Let's not forget that there are no locks. Anybody who follows the World Juniors knows that nobody's spot on this team is guaranteed.

Virtual Locks (While nobody is a lock, these guys have to be considered as close as you can get).

Mark Visentin
Some may be surprised to see Visentin in this category. But here's my thinking. Visentin has a lot of things going against him. He hasn't played terrific this year. And everyone still blames the Gold medal game collapse on him from last year. But let's not forget he was the team's starter last year. And he was the goaltender of the year in the OHL last season. He is talented. And as rough as his start to this season has been, he's been much better lately (.927 Sv % and a 5-2 record in his last 7). And if there is one thing that Mark Visentin is, it's mentally tough. He's a very focused young man and he'll be determined to get that starter's job again and prove all of his doubters wrong.

Dougie Hamilton
Not only does he have a terrific chance of making this team, he has a chance to be the team's top defenseman. Hamilton is having an absolutely fantastic year. He's running away with the defenseman scoring race in the OHL...and he's tied for 6th in the entire OHL in scoring. He's also stepped up his defensive game and is playing like a man among boys out there on most nights. His fantastic mobility and ability to play both ways make him a terrific option from the back end.

Mark Scheifele
Good enough to start the year in the NHL...good enough for team Canada? That argument likely holds some ground. But you can add to the fact that since returning to the OHL, Scheifele is up near the top of the league in points per game and has looked fantastic at both ends of the ice. His versatility makes him that much stronger of an option. He's a likely fit for one of the top two lines, but his strong play away from the puck also makes him an option on a checking line should Hockey Canada feel that they have too many pure scoring options.

Ryan Strome
I'm not sure he's as much of a lock for this team as many people are suggesting, but he's still a pretty good bet. He hasn't had a terrific year thus far and it appears that he hasn't made the significant strides from last year that many expected. He's going to have to win a spot on one of the team's top two lines to be effective. One thing that is heavily in his favor is that he is fully capable of playing the wing, and looks comfortable there at times...which is more than you can say for some centerman.

Good Chance

Ryan Murphy
He's back...and he's dangerous. Murphy's puck carrying ability and offensive production from the back end would be a huge boost to Team Canada. Now that he's fully healthy, a lot of people are just assuming he'll be on the team and probably should be on my above list of virtual locks. But let's not forget that Hockey Canada has never been the biggest fan of Murphy and that his offensive style can be a bit risky at times. When you have guys like Hamilton, Nathan Beaulieu, Brandon Gormley, Ryan Murray, etc, who can play both ends of the ice equally, you wonder if Hockey Canada is interested in a purely offensive guy? Or at least...a guy still developing his defensive game.

Jamie Oleksiak
From what I've seen of him this year, I'm really not sure he deserves to be in this category. But I've got him here based on what I'm hearing. And Hockey Canada apparently loves this guy and the simplicity with which he plays the game. He's huge and can actually skate, which makes him a potential defensive stalwart at the international level. He's also smart in using his size, which makes him less of a penalty risk than some of the hulking defenders Canada has brought in the past.

Freddie Hamilton
I think Hamilton has a terrific chance of making this team because of his versatility. He has the hands and offensive smarts to play in the top 6, but he could also be a terrific role player for this team on the checking lines. Hockey Canada has traditionally loved these types. Pair this with his excellent performance at the Subway Super Series event, and I think Hamilton could definitely be on the final roster.

Tanner Pearson
He's got a better chance than people are giving him credit for. And I'd absolutely love to see him make the team because of the story it would supply. Pearson has become just a terrific offensive player. When he's on the ice, things happen. Plain and simple. He'd also make the team's powerplay that much stronger. Couple that with the chemistry he has with Mark Scheifele and I think we could easily see him, not just on the team, but on a scoring line.

Christian Thomas
Thomas has a lot of things going for him. He's obviously one of the best pure goal scorers at the camp and could easily slot on one of the team's top lines. But he's also a tenacious forechecker and energy guy who could just as easily slot in on one of the team's checking lines to provide speed and energy. Again, his versatility makes him a very attractive option. He hasn't had a terrific year, with his slow start and suspension, but he's picking it up as of late (with 6 goals and 4 assists in his last 5 games).

Tyler Toffoli
Toffoli is an interesting case. On a lot of prognostications for the team, I'm seeing him on the first or second line...or I'm not seeing him on the roster at all. I'd say that's probably pretty accurate. Toffoli is what he is. He can score with the best of them, but he's not someone who will likely find success on your checking line. So he'll need a strong camp to make this team (but then again, who doesn't).


Scott Wedgewood
There is no doubt that the goaltending spots for Team Canada this year are wide open. But there is also no doubt that Wedgewood is the biggest underdog among those attending. He's a solid goaltender and he's been better as of late (after starting the year slow). But I just can't help but think he could be a bit over his head.

Cody Ceci
Ceci is a terrific NHL prospect for this year's draft. He's also older than most of the other 2012 eligibles (with a 1993 birth date). But I just don't think he's ready for the prime time yet. His defensive game has come a long way, but it's still developing. And offensively, there are better options right now...or at least more experienced options (like Ryan Murphy).

Scott Harrington
I'll relate Harrington's situation to Ceci's. Harrington is having a solid bounce back year, as he's simplified his game again and found his confidence. But he won't be on this team for offensive reasons. At this point, he's strictly a defense first guy. But does Canada have better (and bigger) options for the stay at home spots. Or do they have more well rounded guys who can play defense, but also chip in offensively. I would say yes.

Boone Jenner
Jenner is a solid checking line center. But he's playing for a position on the team that is the hardest to achieve. Canada is always deep at the center position and despite all things Jenner can do for you...there are currently guys available who can do more and have more experience.

Ryan Spooner
I think he's probably less of a longshot than the guys I've got listed ahead of him. I originally had him in my "Good chance" category...but I switched him at the last second. Why, you ask? I think Spooner is a bit of a tweener on this team. He's been red hot lately, but I think there are guys who are better offensively available to this team. And while he works hard away from the puck, I think there are guys available who are better defensively and away from the puck. In essence, he seems like a guy without a role.

What do you think?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Top 10 - Draft Players to Watch

Today's Top 10 looks at some under the radar draft eligible players to watch as we inch closer to the half way point of the 2011/2012 OHL season.

Last month, I released my Early Season Top 30 for the 2012 Draft. It's definitely safe to say that in just a month, that list has changed a lot. But you'll have to wait until the new Year for an abridged version (my midseason list).

Until then, the following 10 guys (actually 11, I'm cheating today) are starting to make a name for themselves. And none of them appeared on my early season top 30. Just a year ago, the likes of Ryan Sproul, Andrew Fritsch, and Alan Quine did not appear on my early season top 30...and all three were NHL draft picks (Sproul and Quine inside the first three rounds). So there's a great chance that a couple of these guys will end up being significant NHL draft picks.

Here's the list (in alphabetical order)...

Joseph Blandisi - Owen Sound Attack
An OHL rookie, Blandisi earned his spot on the Attack roster this season by showcasing a work ethic on the ice similar to that of some other great Attack forwards in recent years (Gemel Smith, Mike Halmo, Andrew Shaw, etc). He's not the biggest guy, but he's always in on the play and works hard at both ends of the ice. Despite not getting a ton of offensive responsibility this season, he's currently 8th in scoring for the Attack. Instead of centering the third line, he's actually seen some time on the wing with Dan Catenacci and Jarrod Maidens of late, and he's got 2 goals and 2 assists in his last three games. He's definitely got some offensive ability and the hands to score in close. If he continues to get a chance on a top line, he could end up with a nice little season.

Brandon Devlin - Windsor Spitfires
How do the Spitfires keep stealing players from other teams? I never understood why the Colts weren't playing Devlin (or playing him at wing), because every time I saw him on defense, he looked strong. No co-incidence that since moving to Windsor he's blossoming into a solid two-way defenseman. I think he has the make up and skill set to develop into a very strong defensive first guy. He moves well and defends off the rush well. He's gaining more confidence in his physical game. And he can make a solid first pass out of his zone. As he gets more comfortable, it's definitely possible we see him taking more chances offensively. But with how many minutes he's playing in Windsor right now, he won't be under the radar for long.

Artur Gavrus - Owen Sound Attack
He's become "the guy Tie Domi's kid rocked," but that shouldn't be why we were talking about him. It's unfortunate for Gavrus that people are only talking about him now because of his injury, and not because of his offensive creativity and ability. For my money, Gavrus has scored the best goal in the league thus far, against the Spitfires in October. (FIND THE GOAL HERE, Watch the video labeled "Attack Beat Spits"). Offensively, he has it all. He's got speed to burn. He's not big, but he's certainly not afraid of the front of the net. And he has very good hands that allow him to make moves (like the above), that create time and space for himself and his linemates. Here's hoping he recovers from his concussion soon and returns to the ice in full form.

Max Iafrate - Kitchener Rangers
Iafrate has the toolbox to develop into a great stay at home defenseman. He's got the size, intensity and physical ability, and the skating ability to be a dominant defensive first guy. The problem, thus far, is that people compare him to his father. Thus far into his OHL career, Iafrate has looked like a guy without a real role. He's been trying to use his skating ability and shot to be an offensive guy, but it hadn't been working out. Since coming to Kitchener, Steve Spott has had Iafrate working on being a defensive first guy and there have been massive improvements to his game. He's looking more and more comfortable, and that confidence has translated to his offensive game of late. He's picking his spots better to turn on the offensive game and making better decisions with the puck in his own end. Now all he needs is a mullet.

Ben Johnson - Windsor Spitfires
What a difference a month can make for an OHL rookie. Johnson is proof that it can take a little while to get used to the speed and strength of this game. It took him 24 games to score his first OHL goal, but since he's got 4 goals and 4 assists in his last 5 games. He's got a ton of speed to burn and is starting to gain the confidence to utilize it offensively, as opposed to just being a forechecker. Johnson is also a complete player who thrives on the physical game. He's developed some massive chemistry with Alex Khokhlachev in the past two weeks, so look for him to continue to put up points.

Kristoff Kontos - Sudbury Wolves
Another player with strong NHL bloodlines (son of former Ranger and King, Chris Kontos), has been playing well with the Sudbury Wolves this year. A late 1993, Kontos' problem has been consistency. He started well last year too, but then fizzled. This year, he had a terrific October (averaging a point per game). But now he's only got 2 goals in his last 11 games and has gone cold again. His offensive production is directly correlated to his determination away from the puck. He'll need to find a way to get things back on track offensively and become more of a consistent front of the net presence, using his size to put points on the board.

Zack Leslie - Guelph Storm
A talented offensive defenseman, Leslie has slowly established his place on Guelph's blueline. He's now playing a top four role and seeing time with both Matt Finn and Andrey Pedan on the powerplay. He's also improving his defensive game to the point where he's seeing some penalty kill time. He skates well, has some size and can move the puck. All things NHL teams love in their blueliners. The key will be confidence in rushing the puck and taking some chances, without sacrificing the work he's put in to improve play in his own end. He has six points in November and should continue to put up some points so long as he sees powerplay time.

Eric Locke - Barrie Colts
It's been a tough season for the speedy Colt's winger. After such a promising year last year, which saw him put up over 50 points between Windsor and Barrie and play a key role for Canada at the Under 18's, Locke has been injury riddled this season. He started the year on the shelf with a concussion. Then returned, scored two goals, and injured his knee. He's only recently returned again, hopefully for good this time. Since returning from the knee injury, he's got only one assist in three games, but he's seeing a lot of ice time. With Barrie's strong supporting cast, it's only a matter of time until Locke starts scoring again. The question surrounding Locke is, just how much does his speed and skating ability offset his lack of size? I know Redline Report are HUGE fans of his (I think they have him in their first round), but I haven't seen anyone else with him nearly that high. Locke is definitely a wild card.

Warren Steele - Kingston Frontenacs
After starting the year so poorly, the Fronts are actually playing .500 hockey of late. Steele has been a huge part of Kingston's improvement. He's playing a ton of minutes as (essentially) an OHL rookie and looks like a four year vet on most nights. He seems to be one of those jack of all trades guys. Can do a little bit of everything and do it well. The key for Steele, to earn serious draft attention, will be to take his offensive game to the next level. He's not a big guy, so putting up some more points on the board will be key. Working under Todd Gill can't be a bad thing, for how many years he patrolled an NHL blueline.

Brady Vail - Windsor Spitfires
Vail has been a model of consistency this year. His tenacity with and without the puck is contagious, and whatever line he's on, always seems to be among the best on the night. He definitely profiles as a very strong two way winger at the next level and is starting to really increase his physical output as he gains more and more confidence. With guys like Vail, Clarke, Johnson, among others, playing so well, it's no coincidence that a Windsor rebuild isn't exactly the same as any other team's rebuild in this league.

Daniil Zharkov - Belleville Bulls
While the wait was substantial (after suffering a broken collarbone in the exhibition season), Zharkov appears to have been worth the wait. He's been absolutely fantastic since joining the Bulls' lineup. He has developed instant chemistry with Brendan Gaunce on the team's first line and looks like an unstoppable force at times. Zharkov is the complete package. He has size, speed and skill and just oozes potential. If he continues to put up close to a point per game, and the Bulls continue to win, he might just start creeping up into consideration for the first round. He's right up there with Radek Faksa and Olli Maatta.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Great Article on Head Checking in the OHL

If you've got the time and you want a great read, check out Yahoo's Sunaya Sapurji's article about the state of body checking in the Ontario Hockey League. One of the best and most thought provoking articles I've read in a while.


What are your thoughts on the state of physical play in our great league?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Top 10 - Early Season Media Top 10

It's time for the first edition of our media/scouting agency top 10 for 2012.

Helping out for the early season list are Dominic Tiano (2012 OHL Draft Eligible Players), Future Considerations Chief Scout Dan Stewart and contributor Sean Lafortune, Corey Pronman (Hockey Prospectus), Scott Campbell (The Scouting Report), and Nathan Fournier (The World of Junior Hockey). I also incorporated my list into the discussion.

10. Matt Finn - Guelph Storm
Received Votes From: 4 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 5 (twice)/Outside of the Top 10 (thrice)
Comments: Finn still seems to be flying under the radar, despite his solid start to the OHL season. One contributor loves the maturation of his offensive game this year. "Already known for his defensive work from his rookie season, he has found the offensive side of his game this year. He's calm under pressure in his own zone never seeming to panic. He gets quality power play time, has an accurate shot and a great passer." However one contributor says he needs to prove that his offensive performance thus far isn't just a hot start. "He has helped the upstart Storm to a far better record than most predicted they would have coming in. The real trick is sustaining that nice start through the Christmas break which at that point he will start to prove to scouts that this is not just a hot start where he is playing above his head." Another contributor agrees. "He and Andrey Pedan have been a HUGE reason as to why the Guelph Storm are playing way better than people thought they would. How he's not getting a ton of credit for that from the scouting community, I don't know."

9. Andreas Athanasiou - London Knights
Received Votes From: 4 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 4 (once)/Outside of the Top 10 (thrice)
Comments: One contributor said it best. "I just love the skating and puck skills as both are high-end traits, but he does need some work around the edges." No question Athanasiou has gotten off to a slow start and has the potential for more. The question is why hasn't he performed better this year? "I've been unimpressed by the lack of development in his overall game," says one contributor. "He's still a one trick pony to some extent and he'll need to figure out how to adapt to get the most out of his innate offensive abilities." But one contributor says "you just have to be enticed by the type of ceiling he has several years down the road." Another used the word "untapped potential." Now it's just a matter of whether he can start tapping.

8. Gianluca Curcuruto - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Received Votes From: 5 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 7 (once)/Outside of the Top 10 (twice)
Comments: The Hounds are playing well and their defense has been a big part of that. But Curcuruto's offensive game hasn't really played a large part of that. Expected to really take that next step this year, he's on pace for well under what he did offensively as a rookie last year. One contributor isn't worried. "Curcuruto is a real smart, do-it-all type of defender that could see his name really rising up draft lists fast if he starts producing more offense on a consistent basis. He is a real competitor, and the rest of his game is pretty strong already as he improved his mobility and consistency from last season." Another contributor says "he's getting better every time I see him." One contributor praises his defensive game. "He's a beast in his own zone and quite possibly the best of the bunch listed here defensively." Definitely high praise. But there is one contributor who is slightly concerned with his lack of offensive production. "I'm starting to wonder about his high end potential. He's a rock solid defender, but there are so many quality defenders available this year. He's starting to look more like a second rounder than a first for me."

7. Brendan Gaunce - Belleville Bulls
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2 (once)/ 9 (twice)
Comments: Gaunce is the type of guy where what you see is what you get. "Quite possibly the best power forward available from the OHL in 2012. Has made improvements where he's needed to, although I think he could work on his skating a little more. Plays a solid two way game and his defensive game is as close to NHL ready as they come," says one contributor. Another describes him as "a potential beast at the next level. I think he's got more potential than people are giving him credit for." But not everyone is convinced. "Everything that I have seen suggests that he will be a strong NHL player, but I may not be as high on him as others are. I’m still concerned about his consistency and his ability to always bring his best level of play, but the potential is there." Another contributor agrees. "Gaunce is one of those prospects that you either really like him or you have your doubts about his projected role at the next level. I tend to lean to the later as he does have the size, and willingness to be involved but I am just not sure that he has high end offensive potential or that his skating will not be a detriment at the next level. Right now he looks like a potential solid third liner to me, if he improves those feet." I'll end with a strong statement made by another contributor. "What is it about draft eligible players who are already strong two way players? We always hear the same crap about them and their lack of offensive potential. Heck, it happened with Landeskog last year. At the end of the day, we've got a second year player leading his surprisingly good team in scoring...and we're talking about his lack of potential? Please."

6. Nick Ebert - Windsor Spitfires
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 3 (once)/ 8 (once)
Comments: Pretty good timing on our part to rank Ebert 6th among OHL players, considering NHL Central Scouting doesn't believe he's part of the top 25...let alone knocking on the door of the top 5. One contributor sums it up well. "It’s been a disappointing season so far for Ebert who is struggling with the loss of Ryan Ellis, among others. Ebert hasn’t really played well defensively, and his offensive game has suffered as well. He’s still a very talented player but he needs to simplify his game and avoid trying to do to much. There’s a lot of hockey left, and if he can focus on making better decisions with the puck and playing within his means, he’ll see a lot more progress in his play." However one contributor is still a believer. "I know a lot of people have been frustrated by Ebert's progression this season, but to be honest I view his as another Sean Couturier. A player who has been in the spotlight for 3-4 years who we have had the opportunity to nitpick. His intelligence with and without the puck, his puck skills and his projectable tools make him one of the best defenceman in the draft." Another somewhat agrees. "Hes not off to the season he wanted and thats why I have him where I do. With that said, I think this is another case of a kid being in the spotlight and under the mircoscope for two full years now onto his third year."

5. Olli Maatta - London Knights
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 3 (once)/ 8 (once)
Comments: Here's a guy who has definitely lived up to the hype. "He's got way more offensive talent than the numbers suggest right now. He's the real deal at both ends of the ice," says a contributor. Another applauds his hockey sense. "I really like how advanced his mental game is and how well he controls possession from his end outward." And while many of the contributors talk about his high end skating ability and puck rushing poise, one contributor feels the smoothness of his skating is masking a lack of high end speed. "The more I see him the more I like the quiet Finn and his understated game. He is a smooth, yet slow footed skater that needs to pick up the pace skating wise before he can be considered one of the top defenders in 2012." A few other contributors use the phrases "safe" and "not sure about his high end potential." But one contributor loves him and thinks people are underrating his offensive ability. "Maatta has become an early favorite of mine. Coming into the season, We all knew of his high end intelligence and his strong positional play. What we wondered about was his offensive abilities. In early viewings, Maatta has eased a lot of those concerns. He shows strong vision with the puck and makes strong, crisp outlet passes. He skates well both with and without the puck. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time."

4. Slater Koekkoek - Peterborough Petes
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 3 (once)/ 8 (twice)
Comments: As many know by now, Koekkoek oozes potential. "Koekkoek is a player who brings a high upside. He can do whatever you want. He can play a strong defensive game, an elite puck moving game or a shut down style. He is at his best with his head up, skating the puck out of his end and distributing it on the rush. Of all the players that I have seen this year, he may have the highest ceiling / potential level," says one contributor. But it's all about consistency. If he were to put it all together by the end of the year, he could go very high. "Has shown the potential at times that he could be the best defenseman taken in the draft and other times you'd think he was a late rounder. But no question the talent is there. The question really is can he put it all together consistently? Going to go with a yes here and say potential wins out." Another contributor agrees. "You watch a Peterborough game and Slater really jumps right out at you as a skilled two-way defender with impressive upside. His potential is that of a top pairing guy at the next level, however, he slips a little because much of his game is still a work in progress. Consistency in his play in both zones will go a long ways in improving his draft stock." One contributor makes an interesting comparison. "Zach Bogosian was the 4th pick in 2008, and in my opinion, Slater Koekkoek is a better player. He played 30 minutes a night at 16, and it looks like he’s pushing 35 a night at 17. I think Koekkoek is a pretty complete package who is only going to get better as he continues to fill out his frame. The ceiling is very high with this player."

3. Cody Ceci - Ottawa 67's
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2 (thrice)/ 6 (once)
Comments: Ceci definitely received some high praise from our contributors. "In my opinion, without question the best all around defenseman available from the OHL at this point. He is playing with confidence in the offensive zone and has put up points at a better pace than I expected without hurting his defensive game," says one contributor. Another contributor loves the fact that he just continues to get better. "Ceci is a player who's progression year over year continues to impress. He always has been strong in his own end both positionally and physically, however we always wondered about his offensive ability and mobility. When I originally saw him at his years NHL Prospect Combine, he looked to really have improved on both of those issues. His footwork and lateral movement looked quite improved, while he was much more aggressive and assertive with the puck. His progression this year has been excellent, and easily is the highest riser of the group." But he's not without some bruises. One contributor wonders about his ability to use his size in the defensive end. "The only thing now holding him back in the eyes of scouts is his lack of consistency with his physical play despite his impressive stature. But he has the size, the mobility and the on-ice awareness to be a top-four NHL defender before too long."

2. Alex Galchenyuk - Sarnia Sting
Received Votes From: 7 out 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2 (thrice)/ 4 (twice)
Comments: I'm sure the comments here will be pretty predictable and pretty much everyone said the same thing about him. It's a case of weighing his serious knee injury and lost year of development, against his insane offensive talent level. Nearly every contributor said "it was really hard to place him." As another contributor said, "it will really depend on the medical reports teams and scouts get closer to the draft." A lot of contributors also point to his poor performance at the Ivan Hlinka tournament this summer. "Based on pure talent and offensive ability, it could be argued that he is the second best player in this draft, and should be a top five draft selection. However, given his knee injury and his iffy performance at the Ivan Hlinka earlier this year, projections will be all over the board on him. That said, I'd be shocked if he fell out of the top 10." But scouts do have a long memory as another contributor says. "If NHL scouts have on thing it is a long memory for exquisite talent and the thoughts of Alex dashing up and down the ice making plays and using his frame and hands to beat d-men should be enough to keep him in the top five overall of this impressive draft class." In the end, it's all about his projection at the next level, injury or no injury, as one contributor says. "I see a lot of Evgeni Malkin in Galchenyuk, and while he’s going to miss most (or all) of the season, I would still take him in the Top 5 right now. Galchenyuk has a strong presence on the ice and has that deceptive ability that Malkin has to drift in and out of traffic. Has a great shot, terrific offensive instincts, and a ton of potential moving forward even with the ACL injury."

1. Nail Yakupov - Sarnia Sting
Received Votes From: 7 out of 7
Highest Placement: 1 (seven times)
Comments: Come on, we've all heard it by now. This dude can play the game and he has the potential to be right there with some of the best players the OHL has had to offer in recent years (Stamkos, Tavares, Hall, Seguin, Kane, etc). So instead of boring you with the same ol' comments. I did something interesting. I took all the comments I got about Yakupov and put them into WORDLE (a very cool program if you've never used it) to give us a collage highlighting the most consistent words used to describe the Sarnia Sting rocket.

Honorable Mention:
Jarrod Maidens (two votes)
Matia Marcantuoni (two votes)
Tom Wilson (one vote)
Dylan Blujus (one vote)
Matthew Murray (one vote)
Michael Clarke (one vote)

Thanks to all those that contributed!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Preliminary Central Scouting Rankings for 2012

On Thursday, NHL Central Scouting released their preliminary league rankings for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

There were some rather large surprises related to the OHL list, which I'll talk about more below. But for now, here are the rankings in case you haven't already seen them.

1. Nail Yakupov
2. Alex Galchenyuk
3. Olli Maatta
4. Radek Faksa
5. Jarrod Maidens
6. Andreas Athanasiou
7. Brendan Gaunce
8. Scott Kosmachuk
9. Skater Koekkoek
10. Cody Ceci
11. Thomas Wilson
12. Gemel Smith
13. Trevor Carrick
14. Dane Fox
15. Matthew Finn
16. Matia Marcantuoni
17. Gianluca Curcuruto
18. Michael Clarke
19. Brady Vail
20. Chris Tierney
21. Dylan Blujus
22. Tanner Pearson
23. Kristoff Kontos
24. Joel Wigle
25. Artur Gavrus
LV - Adam Pelech
LV - Evan Mceneny
LV - Daniil Zharkov

1. Malcolm Subban
2. Jake Peterson
3. Matthew Murray
4. Clint Windsor
5. Daniel Altshuller
6. Andrew D'Agostini
7. Jake Patterson

Some comments:

- Obviously the biggest surprises are the omissions of Nick Ebert, Scott Laughton and to a lesser extent Jesse Graham. Ebert just doesn't make a lot of sense. Yeah, he hasn't had a great start to the year and there are whispers of some attitude/work ethic concerns. But let's not forget what this guy did last year as a rookie and the skill set/potential he brings to the table. How can he be considered a first rounder by so many other scouting organizations (ISS, Craig Button's list, FC, etc) and then NOT be considered among the top 25 of what the OHL has to offer by Central Scouting? Something doesn't add up.

- Really surprised to see Cody Ceci listed so far down still, considering how tremendous of a start he's had.

- Obviously the biggest surprise among goaltenders is how low Daniel Altshuller is ranked. He hasn't been able to live up to the hype this year in Oshawa and is actually riding the pine to Kevin Baillie right now.

- I don't really get Trevor Carrick being so high. I've been impressed with his composure as a rookie this year, but he doesn't jump out at you as having the type of potential some of the other defenseman ranked below him do (Curcuruto, Finn, Blujus, Ebert).

- Awesome to see Tanner Pearson on the list. He's had a tremendous year and looks like a legit NHL prospect. He was fantastic during the two Super Series games.

- Also cool to see Evan Mceneny's name on the limited viewing list. As you know from my preliminary rankings, he's out for the year following knee surgery. But he's a legitimate prospect. If I was an NHL team, I'd totally use a 7th on him (after checking out his knee closer to the draft to make sure everything looks great).

What are your thoughts on them?

Here is the link to the official release, in addition to the rest of the rankings.

Team Ontario for Under 17 Challenge Named

This past week, Team Ontario's roster for the 2012 World Under 17 Hockey Challenge was named. The tournament is being played in Windsor this year and begins on December 29. Team Ontario is the defending champion, on top of winning gold 3 of the past 4 years.

Here is the roster (from Hockey Canada's website).

Jordan Dekort
Spencer Martin

Darnell Nurse
Chris Bigras
Jordan Subban
Aaron Ekblad
Trevor Murphy
Alex Yuill
Adam Bateman

Brandon Robinson
Stephen Harper
Bo Horvat
Hunter Garlent
Nick Baptiste
Jordan Maletta
Max Domi
Ryan Kujawinski
Brent Pedersen
Cole Cassels
Nicholas Ritchie
Mitchell Dempsey.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Game Report: Bulls and Generals from November 13

I decided to watch this one on the OHL Action Pack hopes that I'd see a terrific goaltending match up between two of the league's top draft eligible netminders (Subban vs. Altshuller). Not to mention that sole possession of 5th place in the East was on the line too. But Kevin Baille started for Oshawa, ruining my initial hopes (although the goaltending match up was still solid).

Overall, the game wasn't very good. Not really a lot of solid scoring chances, some undisciplined penalties, and a general lack of pep. But the Bulls hung on to get the win in the shootout (thanks to Subban) and have now won 4 in a row and are suddenly one of the hottest teams in the East.

Some player reports:

Belleville Bulls

#10 - Austen Brassard (Drafted by Winnipeg)
Liked what I saw from Brassard. I had heard he had become a lot more committed to his play away from the puck and had improved his consistency from shift to shift...and I saw evidence of that tonight. While he wasn't great offensively in terms of creating chances (what player was tonight?), he worked hard away from the puck and was up on the forecheck forcing a few turnovers, throwing some good hits and working well along the boards for loose pucks. He also made a couple of very nice plays on the backcheck. We know he's got offensive skill and can bury pucks around the crease, but the progression of his overall game is very encouraging for his NHL potential.

#14 - Luke Judson (Overage Free Agent)
I've always been a fan of Judson's and I'm at the point now, where I'm just not sure if he'll end up earning a professional contract (be it NHL, AHL, or what have it). But he's had a solid start to the year, in a season where he had a lot to prove as Belleville's captain...after last year's disappointment. Always a hard worker and one of the best two way wingers in the league...Judson has added an element of speed this season. This is promising for his future as a hockey player, because with the type of hard nosed game he plays, it was crucial that he improve his footspeed, which it looks like he has this offseason. He scored Belleville's lone goal (non shootout) by taking a pass from Brendan Gaunce, beating Colin Suellentrop to the outside with speed, and cutting back towards the net to tuck it under Kevin Baille's legs.

#16 - Brendan Gaunce (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
I've had some questions about Gaunce's ranking on my early season top 30. A lot of people just don't see him being as high as I have him. And that's fine. But he does so many little things well. He's not flashy, and perhaps that's the reason he doesn't get as much respect. He definitely needs to work on his ability to carry the puck at top speed and receive passes in motion. He's not going to dipsy doodle around defenders like Ryan Strome or Nail Yakupov. But he's just a very solid, power center. I think of a guy like Keith Primeau when I see Gaunce play. Just a very smart player. His passing game is very underrated. A lot of people talk about his ability to score close to the net...and his heavy shot. But he's a center for a reason...and he's very patient with the puck and he knows how to create offensive chances for his linemates. He's also a stalwart on the penalty kill and a terrific backchecker. He forechecks hard, finishes his checks and wears an A already. His skating isn't an issue like many are saying it is. Without the puck, he moves very well and is quick to close on defenders on the forecheck. With the puck, he moves a little slower because he isn't the world's most confident looking puck handler...which is perhaps where this lack of skating talk comes from (or maybe it's that his brother Cameron was never the world's most gifted skater from the blueline). I look at Gaunce and see a guy who'll probably play 1000 games in the NHL and make someone very happy.

#24 - Garrett Hooey (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
After the amazing preseason he had, I think a lot of people expected Hooey to really break out offensively. But he hasn't been terrific thus far...and was pretty unnoticeable in this game.

#26 - Stephen Silas (Drafted by Colorado)
He's having a very good season thus far and is really starting to blossom as a defensive leader. The Bulls were relying on him to be that last year, but I just don't think he was ready...and as a result...he took a lot of flak. But the Bulls are playing strong defensive hockey this year and Silas is right in the middle of it. He looked very solid tonight. Moved the puck quickly and efficiently. Covered off in his own end. He's increased his physical output this year too and seems more confident in pushing forwards around near the net (maybe as a result of improved conditioning?). He's not one of those guys you notice a lot, but on the back end that's a good thing sometimes. He needed a solid year to get signed by Colorado (in all likelihood)...and he's doing a great job of making an impression thus far.

#30 - Malcolm Subban (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
Since returning from that ankle injury that caused him to miss a month of action, Subban has been a brick wall. He's given up 5 goals in 4 games and hasn't lost. And that includes his solid performance in Oshawa tonight. He's definitely an unorthodox goaltender. One of those hybrid types of relies on his pure athleticism to stop pucks (not quite as wild as a Tim Thomas, but perhaps more like LA's Jonathan Quick). He's a fantastic skater in the crease, and that's one of the first things you always notice about him. He moves laterally, and north/south very effortlessly. And he's also very quick to get down in that butterfly...which combined with his flexibility and quickness, make him damn near impossible to beat along the ice (think former Bulls goaltender Mike Murphy). But he definitely cheats a bit at times and can go down early and leave space up high. It's obvious that this "scouting report" has gotten around the league because when teams play the Bulls with Subban in net, they spend all night trying to go high...just as the Generals did tonight. They finally beat him in the 3rd when Nicklas Jensen weighted him out at the side of the net, got him to commit to the butterfly and roofed a wrister over his shoulder. As he moves forward to the NHL level, they'll have to get him to stay up longer otherwise NHL forwards will feast on him. But the athleticism is the obvious draw. Nothing shows this off more than the shootout. Subban stopped all six shooters tonight and is now a perfect 9 for 9 this year. He moves so well in his crease that he's hard to beat one on one. With the way he's returned from his injury, it might be hard to argue against the fact that he's reclaimed his goaltending crown from Altshuller and Murray as the league's top draft eligible netminder.

Oshawa Generals

#12 - Mark Petaccio (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
I saw the Generals play a few weeks ago when Petaccio first returned from injury and he was a lot better in that game...but he still wasn't terrible tonight. He played on a pretty effective third line with Sebatian Uvira and Cole Cassels. The line did well to work the cycle along the boards and even drew a penalty or two from their consistent pressure. As a guy with size, he's intriguing. I'm just not sure how much offensive potential he has.

#15 - Andy Andreoff (Drafted by Los Angeles)
I've heard some criticism about Andreoff's play since he came back from Kings (and Monarchs) camp (although I think Oshawa fans have been pretty disappointed by the play of most of their players this year). And to be honest, I wasn't incredibly impressed with him tonight. I loved the way Andreoff played last year. Simple, hard, and straight through people. His power game and tenacity generated his offensive scoring chances. Tonight he seemed to be playing too cute with the puck at times. And while he remains a solid two way forward, I felt like he was trying to do too much.

#17 - Nicklas Jensen (Drafted by Vancouver)
Jensen had a solid game. Generated a few solid scoring chances using his solid puck carrying/protection ability. Shook off a few checks while maneuvering behind the net with the puck, and put a pass right on Andy Andreoff's stick in front of the crease, but he rifled it high. Jensen scored on the powerplay to send the game to overtime. He took a pass from Andreoff at the side of the net, took his time, baited Subban to the butterfly and rifled it top cheese over Subban's shoulder. I'd still love to see him become more involved without the puck (on a consistent basis)...and more physical. But he's a solid goal scoring prospect for the next level.

#21 - Scott Laughton (NHL Draft Eligible in 2012)
Laughton had an excellent game and was probably Oshawa's most dangerous offensive player on the night (despite being held scoreless). He had a couple of very dangerous rushes, where he used his speed to beat defenders across the blueline and to the net. One in particular in the first period gave Oshawa one of its best chances to score on the night, when he grabbed the puck, flew past Brady Austin and put a snap shot on Subban who just got a piece of it. He was physical. He played well on the penalty kill. The criticism about Laughton I was hearing at the beginning of the year was that he was focusing too much on trying to put up points and as such was not as effective as an all around player. But he seems to have gotten back to playing a more straight ahead game, while keeping that intensity level high. If he continues to play hard, the points will start to come.

#38 - Lucas Lessio (Drafted by Phoenix)
Lessio has been great so far this year, one of the few players who hasn't underachieved on Oshawa to start 2011. He appears to have figured out how to harness his speed to his advantage and is finishing off his scoring chances with more consistency. Part of that comes from an increased willingness to play that dirty role in front of the net...the prototypical crease crasher. He had a couple of nice rushes tonight, although nothing that created a serious scoring chance. Although one did draw a penalty, as he got hauled down on a partial breakaway. As long as he continues to play with high energy every shift, Lessio will continue to be an impact player.

That's it for the game. Stay tuned this week as NHL Central Scouting will release their preliminary rankings...and I'll have the first version of the Media poll rankings I always do.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

An Argument to Raise the Number of Imports

I can already hear you saying it. In fact, I'm prepared to read your comments that tell me just that. I'm going to try and convince you that the OHL (and CHL) should increase the number of Import players allowed on each team's roster.

Let's take a look at the straight facts. OHL teams are allowed to carry two Import players on their roster (or even just their rights). That's just under about 8% of the players in the league.

As of Thursday night (the 10th), Import players made up 10 of the top 50 scorers in the league. That's 20%. Now I realize that's bias by simply examining the skaters. So how about the goaltenders? Imports held three of the top ten spots in SV%, G.A.A, and wins. That's 30%. Considering that Import players make up only 8% of the league...the fact that they are so heavily saturating the league's top performance charts speaks volumes as to their talent quality.

The question is, would the league not benefit from increasing the quality of its talent base? If every team was allowed to carry just one more Import player, they would now make up about 13% of the league's players. If that happened, could you not expect to at least have 15 guys in the top 50 of league scoring instead of 10? And maybe another goaltender in the top 10 of SV% and wins?

I know, I know. That's under the assumption that those extra players coming over from Europe are actually half decent. The league has a hard enough time drafting in the second round of the Import draft, let alone adding a third. But, if we allowed more Import players to come over, would more of Europe's top talent look to come over to join their buddies? Would the draw be larger, especially since so many players coming over are finding success and are drawing the gaze of NHL clubs? If the London Knights, or the Windsor Spitfires, or the Kitchener Rangers were given an extra pick, would they be able to lure those players over?

I can already hear you traditionalists though. In the vein of Donald S. Cherry; by creating another Import spot, we're taking away a spot from a good Ontario (or Canadian) boy. But is that really the case anymore? Let's be honest...if the Ontario Hockey League was concerned about the good ol' Ontario boy losing his spot in the league...wouldn't we have restrictions on the amount of American players in the league? Before the trades of Jack Campbell and Craig Duininck last week, the Spitfires had half their roster "imported" from the United States.

Now I'm not arguing that we should have a cap on the amount of players in the league from the United States. I'm simply asking, what makes an import from Europe different than one from the United States? The fact that we have teams based in the United States? It's still the Ontario Hockey League though...a branch of the Canadian Hockey League. I just think it's a tad ridiculous to limit the amount of Europeans on a team when certain teams can already ice a nearly entirely "non Canadian" team.

Would the league not benefit from the potential of adding more talent? Watching this Subway Super Series and enjoying the contributions of this year's outstanding Import crop certainly makes me believe so.

What do you think?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Early Season Top 30 for the 2012 NHL Draft

It's been a really interesting season in the OHL so far. The two teams everyone (including me) expected to be leading the pack at this point (Niagara and Plymouth) are hovering around the .500 mark. Meanwhile, the upstart and young London Knights are the best in the league. There have been serious injuries, large suspensions and myriad of surprises and disappointments.

But with a full month of OHL action under our belts, I think it's fair to take an early look ahead to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Over the coming weeks, you'll start to see a lot of scouting lists thrown at you, eventually leading up to the release of the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's Preliminary list in November.

There will be a lot of changes on this list over the course of the season. For instance, Mark Scheifele was 17th on my October list last year. A list like this is simply meant to outline some of the strong contenders to this point.

Here's the list!

1. Nail Yakupov - F - Sarnia Sting
This really should come as no surprise. Yakupov is an electrifying talent and right up there with some of the best the league has produced in recent seasons (Stamkos, Kane, Tavares, Hall, etc). Everyone knows how good of a goal scorer he is, but he's really improved the rest of his offensive game this season. With defenses focusing in on him, it's allowed his passing game to really come to life and it's made him one heck of a complete offensive threat...and his team (the first place Sarnia Sting) that much better.

2. Brendan Gaunce - F - Belleville Bulls
Perhaps a bit of a surprise, I think there is a lot of parity between this number two spot (with Galchenyuk's injury) and the rest of the top 10. At any point this season, 2 through 10 could easily flip upside down. For now, I'm going with a big, strong, power center who was made to play in today's NHL. He's improved his skating a lot from last year and it's made him that much more of a dynamic threat. He plays hard, hits hard, plays both ends of the ice and is slowly becoming quite the load to handle for OHL defenses. Considering how much his brother improved over his OHL career (Cameron), I think you have to assume that things will only continue to get better with Brendan too.

3. Cody Ceci - D - Ottawa 67's
Is Cody Ceci the perfect example of how an extra year of development can really benefit those late birthday guys in the draft. Last year, Ceci probably would have been a borderline first round pick. This year, he's pushing himself into top 10 consideration. He's playing with a lot more confidence this year, especially offensively, and it's showing up on the stat sheet. He's got the size, mobility and strong two way presence that NHL teams look for in their top pairing defenseman. At this point, the only thing holding him back from being a virtual lock for the top end of the draft, is his inconsistency in using his size to push people around.

4. Alex Galchenyuk - F - Sarnia Sting
In terms of talent, I don't think there is any question that Galchenyuk is number 2 on this list. He's a magician with the puck and a bonafide offensive superstar in the making. If he were playing this year, I have no doubts that he'd be right up there with Yakupov in the OHL scoring race. But, as you probably know, he's more than likely lost for the season with a torn ACL. At this point, I just can't possibly put Galchenyuk at number 2 with the likelihood that he never plays a game this season. Not to mention, the recovery to a serious injury looming over him. For me, it'll be really interesting to see just how far he falls (if at all), when some of the other draft eligibles start to turn it on and impress. The NHL Draft is totally all about, "what have you done for me lately."

5. Matt Finn - D - Guelph Storm
Last year, Finn was one of the best rookies in the OHL...despite not really getting a lot of fan fare for it. He was so poised in his own end and looked like a very solid and reliable defensive first kind of guy. This year, he's taken his game to a whole different level. He's been a fixture on the powerplay and he's fifth in defenseman scoring (with 4 goals and 8 assists). While he doesn't have elite size, he's stocky enough and such a smart all around player, that he deserves to be near the top of the fantastic defenseman crop available from the OHL this year.

6. Olli Maatta - D - London Knights
I've been extremely impressed with this Import this season; he's come as advertised. Very solid at both ends of the ice. Very calm and cool. His addition to London's back end has been a big reason as to why they're sitting at the top of the league right now. His offensive statistics have been a little deceiving up to this point, as he can really carry the puck and is aggressive in jumping up in the play.

7. Nick Ebert - D - Windsor Spitfires
Another great two way defenseman you can throw right in there with the above guys. Defensively he's become a rock and he's definitely not afraid to throw his weight around. I've been a little disappointed with his offensive play so far this season, as he does not have his first goal of the season yet (after 11 last year). He's got a lot of pressure on him right now, trying to replace Ryan Ellis on the Windsor powerplay (which has been off to a slow start). But he's a great prospect and someone I expect will get better as the season goes along, and he becomes more comfortable being that go to guy.

8. Slater Koekkoek - D - Peterborough Petes
Unlike the defenseman listed above him, Koekkoek is still a bit of a work in progress. IMO, he's definitely the least refined of the top end defenseman available from the OHL. But he may also have the most potential. To start the season, he's been as inconsistent as the Petes team he plays for. Some nights he looks like a perennial all star, and others he looks like he's out there trying to do too much. But with his skating ability (which may be among the best of this high end group), in combination with his size, aggression and two way potential, he could easily creep up to the top of this list.

9. Gianluca Curcuruto - D - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
While I've definitely been a little disappointed with his offensive production this year, there's no question that Curcuruto's defensive game is garnering him notice. He makes such smart decisions in his own end and is quickly becoming one of the better shut down defenseman in the league. I'd love to see him take more chances offensively, because he does have a lot of talent with the puck.

10. Andreas Athanasiou - F - London Knights
At this point, I think Athanasiou is this high based on his potential to get better. I've been disappointed with his lack of progression this year. He's damn fast and he can really play with the puck on his stick. That combination of speed and puck skill is lethal coming down the wing. But it's his play without the puck and his shot quality that haven't really improved much, making his game still solely based on his speed. Not that, that's a totally bad thing, it's just that he needs to round out his game a bit if he wants to be a first round pick in June.

11. Matia Marcantuoni - F - Kitchener Rangers
Another guy off to a really disappointing start. He's certainly getting his offensive chances (currently playing on arguably Kitchener's top line with Radek Faksa and Tobias Rieder). But things just aren't going his way. He remains a very alluring prospect because of his speed, energy and tenacity. It's the skill level that hasn't really shone through quite yet. At this point, he's a almost a glorified energy forward. At this point, I just can't say that he looks like a future scoring line center at the NHL level. But that's why we play 68 games. He's got a lot of time to turn things around.

12. Adam Pelech - D - Erie Otters
Out with a wrist injury since the beginning of the season, maybe Pelech has been lucky (draft stock wise) that he hasn't been a part of the wretched mess that is the Otters right now. But then again, maybe they're just missing the steady influence he brings to the back end. He's got the size and mobility to become a real quality stay at home defenseman. But he can move the puck too, a quality I really want to see shown this year. Here's hoping that when he returns, the Otters are playing a bit better and he's given a fair shake.

13. Dylan Blujus - D - Brampton Battalion
A very intriguing prospect, is this tall, lanky, Brampton defender. He can look kind of awkward at times, and definitely needs to improve his mobility, but he has a lot of interesting qualities that scouts look for. Raw would be the correct word. As evidenced by his 4 goals and 6 assists so far this season (good for top 10 in defenseman scoring), Blujus can move the puck and can run a powerplay. I'm sure scouts would tell you that they'd like him to use his size more defensively though. An interesting prospect for sure.

14. Jesse Graham - D - Niagara IceDogs the rest of the off to a very slow start this season. But he's turned things around lately. With 2 goals, 3 assists, and a +6 in his last 7 games, he's starting to show why people like me might have him rated so highly. As as regular readers of this blog know, Graham is one of my favourite prospects from this draft class. He may not be huge (5'11), but he's one of the best skating defenseman in the OHL. He'll have to keep making strides defensively, and begin to turn some of those mesmerizing rushes up ice into legitimate scoring chances to keep draft momentum in his favour.

15. Michael Clarke - F - Windsor Spitfires
I saw a comparison made recently to former Spitfire Adam Henrique. I'm not one for comparisons usually, but I really liked that one. Clarke may not be the flashiest draft prospect available this year, nor is he the quickest, but he's certainly getting the job done. He's playing in all situations for Windsor right now, and looking like a 4 year veteran while leading the team in goal scoring thus far. This, when he's really playing in his first OHL season. Definitely impressive.

16. Daniel Altshuller - G - Oshawa Generals
Oshawa definitely hasn't been as good as many thought they would be, but I don't think that's really been the fault of Altshuller. He's definitely raw, but there is a lot of potential in him. He's quite big so he takes up a lot of the net. But he needs refinement in some of the finer aspects of goaltending, and can be beaten low. Scouts won't forget his performance for Canada at this summer's Ivan Hlinka and he hasn't played bad enough for Oshawa thus far to really condemn him.

17. Radek Faksa - F - Kitchener Rangers
Faksa is off to a solid start in the OHL and there is a lot to like about him. He's quite big (6'3, 200lbs) and he uses every inch of that size. He takes the puck hard to the net, he's a good forechecker and he works the boards well. And he's actually a pretty good skater for a big man, which makes him hard to contain in the offensive zone. Definitely a guy to keep an eye on for the rest of the season.

18. Gemel Smith - F - Owen Sound Attack
I have to admit, I don't really know what to make of Smith as this point. He's a pure energy guy who's hard work, speed, and hockey sense have lead him to a tremendous statistical start to the season (almost a ppg). He's not the biggest, but he doesn't back down from anyone. Perhaps a future potential pest. I'm just not sure how much offensive potential he's got at the NHL level, because he's never really wowed me with his skill level. But if he continues to score and generate scoring chances the way he has, can we not say that he'll continue to do that at the NHL level?

19. Thomas Wilson - F - Plymouth Whalers
It's not too often anymore that you see that "traditional" power forward come through the junior ranks. Wilson is certainly that. He's one of the hardest hitters in the league, and at 6'4, 200lbs, he hits damn hard. He'll drop the mitts too (with 4 already this year). He's creating offense this year with his size, and while you'd like to see the goal total higher, he's got the skill to score.

20. Jarrod Maidens - F - Owen Sound Attack
Just a real meat and potatoes kind of player. He works hard, is smart and he capitalizes on his scoring chances. I've seen him quite high on a lot of lists lately, which I'm not sure I totally get because I'm not sure he has the high end potential of some of the guys I've listed above him. But he's certainly a very solid player who's deserving of consideration in the first two rounds come June.

21. Matt Murray - G - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Like Altshuller, Murray is an absolute behemoth in the net. At 6'4, he's pretty hard to beat when he's got the angles covered. The Hounds are playing some inspiring hockey and a lot of that has to be contributed to the improvements made by this sophomore. At this point, perhaps the only thing separating Murray and Altshuller is exposure.

22. Dane Fox - F - London Knights
Fox doesn't come without his baggage. There was an incident this summer that caused him to be sent home from London, leaving his OHL career in limbo. But he was eventually allowed to rejoin London and looks great this year (this third in the league as a late 1993). He's a physical, energy guy who can do a little bit of everything. He's playing in all situations for London (similar to a guy like Michael Clarke) and playing hard.

23. Malcolm Subban - G - Belleville Bulls
Unfortunately for Subban, so far this season we're left with a bit of a sour taste in our mouths. He started off the season blandly and then injured his ankle and hasn't played in a month. With two bigger and younger goaltenders playing...and playing well, it's hard to argue that Subban should be right up there with him at this point. But he remains an athletic specimen with great potential. We just need him to play to see it.

24 & 25. Ryan Rupert & Matt Rupert - F - London Knights
At this point, it's still hard for me to tell he and his brother apart on the ice. So I've put them together. Both are off to tremendous starts and have tons of offensive talent, to go with an extreme tenacity (which has landed them in the doghouse a few times for undisciplined penalties). But when you're only 5'9, you've got to play with a chip on your shoulder to get noticed by NHL scouts. Hard to imagine that they aren't looking.

26. Scott Laughton - F - Oshawa Generals
Another guy who's kind of earned the benefit of the doubt up to this point, despite his lack of offensive production. He really hasn't taken hold of a scoring line spot as many thought he would, and he should be shouldering some of the blame for the team's cold start. He's a hard nosed center who can play both ends of the ice, but he'll need to step it up offensively soon.

27. Scott Kosmachuk - F - Guelph Storm
Another meat and potatoes kind of guy, Kosmachuk is a hard working, net crashing winger who's off to a great start for Guelph. He currently leads them in goal scoring and is starting to make a name for himself. He probably deserves to be up with the likes of Gemel Smith and Jarrod Maidens, but I'm just not as familiar with him as of yet. Another guy to really look out for.

28. Matthew Campagna - F - Sudbury Wolves
Another guy who's kind of working off his reputation and hype at this point. He hasn't been terrible to start the year, but he hasn't been great either. We're all still waiting for that elite skill level to translate to consistent point production. Sudbury could certainly use the secondary scoring he has the potential to provide. The fact that he's a little undersized won't go in his favor either, if he continues to under produce.

29. Chris Marchese - F - Erie Otters
Forget the fact that he's nearly a league worst -17 to start the year...Marchese is a good player. He has real power forward potential, and despite his -17, he can actually play both ends of the ice. He hits, he'll fight, and he can score goals around the net. Hopefully Erie can start playing a bit better so he doesn't get buried by the "bad team itis" that can plague quality draft eligible players on terrible teams.

30. Patrik Machac - F - Brampton Battalion
There were truly a handful of guys I considered to close out this list. So I went with the one whom I've maybe been the most impressed by...even if I'm not yet convinced NHL scouts are drooling over this guy. He's small (5'9), but he's very quick and elusive. He can handle the puck with the best of them and he's been the main reason Brampton has been off to a great start IMO. Brampton had been lacking a true skilled forward to create scoring chances for some of it's hard working guys (like Carrick, Lane, Watters and Goodrow), and Machac is that guy. This little water bug deserves some attention.

Honorable Mention:
Artur Gavrus - F - Owen Sound Attack
Brady Vail - F - Windsor Spitfires
Chris Tierney - F - London Knights
Erie Locke - F - Barrie Colts
Warren Steele - D - Kingston Frontenacs
Marcus McIvor - D - Brampton Battalion
Troy Donnay - D - London Knights
Kristoff Kontos - F - Sudbury Wolves
Garrett Hooey - F - Belleville Bulls

Special Honorable Mention (for bad luck)

Evan McEneny - D - Kitchener Rangers
One of the most underrated defenseman from this draft crop, I thought McEneny had a real chance to show that he was a potential quality NHL draft pick. Size, smarts, and two way play make him an asset on the blueline. He was off to a great start too, but then he torn his ACL and is now done for the season. Without the high profile attached like Galchenyuk, I doubt someone takes a chance on him in June. A real bummer.

Stay tuned soon for the first Media Poll Draft list of the season. It'll be interesting to see how it compares to my list (which might be unconventional at this point).

OHL Arena Review

Every so often I get an email from someone who is looking to go to an OHL game, but doesn't know where to go to watch one. This brings me to a link I was supplied with recently that would help out the casual fan who's looking for that ideal OHL experience.

Over at Stadium Journey, they review arenas for that purpose. Their most recent one was of the Sleeman Centre in Guelph.

Head over and check it out!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Game Report: Majors & Knights from October 19

The first game report of the year comes from this beauty of a match up between the top two rated teams in the country right now (according to this week's BMO CHL rankings). London and Mississauga clashed at the Hershey Center (in front of a very weak crowd), with the top rated Knights coming out on top by a score of 6-3.

It was a great game that was a lot closer than the 43-26 shot advantage (for London) would make you believe. Turnovers and stupid penalties cost the Majors big as the Knights were able to capitalize on both. London looked fantastic offensively. Their forwards forced turnovers, created off the rush and controlled play along the boards. And the Knights came through with the win despite being severely undermanned on the backend. Captain and Habs first rounder Jarred Tinordi remains out with an eye injury suffered in a fight, while Kyle Flemington is suspended. Overage forward Colin Martin played a regular shift on the blueline (which isn't a crazy thought considering he's been quarterbacking the powerplay for a few years now).

Some player reports:

London Knights

#2 - Olli Maatta (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
My first real look at Maatta and I was impressed. Seems like a really solid two way defenseman. Engaged forwards in the corners and in front of the net. He was able to win one on one battles in the corner and was composed with the puck. In the offseason, when I spoke to a European scout for my Import Draft review, I was told his skating needed some work. It looked pretty solid tonight, I thought. He's not to be confused with Ryan Murphy, but he seems to move pretty well. He had a few nice rushes up ice with the puck and was fine moving backwards and laterally on his defensive assignments. I was actually surprised with how involved he was offensively, considering his somewhat modest stat totals thus far. He was very aggressive in jumping up on the rush, in one case creating a goal finished off by Matt Rupert. He crept up into the slot area, showed some nice hands by sticking with a bit of a sloppy pass from Ryan Rupert and getting it to the front of the net following a 360 spin, which allowed the other Rupert to finish off the play in front of the net. The only negative was a bad turnover of his that resulted in a goal. He cut up the middle of the ice to rush the puck, but was stripped at the blueline by Sergey Kuptsov leading to a goal by Derek Schoenmakers.

#6 - Scott Harrington (Drafted by Pittsburgh)
A pretty solid game for Harrington who seems to have gotten back to the things that made him such a strong player in his first OHL season. Just keeping things simple. Played solid defensively, and didn't force plays up ice. Playing with a confident puck mover like Maatta probably helps a lot because it takes the pressure off him to be a big time offensive contributor.

#16 - Max Domi (Eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft)
The best player on the ice tonight. Domi was simply fantastic. He's going to be a star in this league, if he isn't already. Was incredibly impressed with all facets of his offensive game. He reminded me a lot of Steve Stamkos in the way that his quickness, elusiveness and skill combination makes him a threat to go from gliding around to putting a puck in the back of the net. He has those quick bursts of energy that make Stamkos such a special player. While Domi finished with only one assist, he set up numerous scoring chances and was constantly buzzing. The assist was actually on his least flashy play of the game, was he wristed a shot on net that generated a big rebound for Jared Knight to capitalize on. Perhaps the most impressive play was on a 3 on 2 where he showed tremendous poise with the puck. He took a drop pass at the blueline, carried the puck in, sucked in one of the defenders (showing tremendous patience) and then fed a beauty pass to Scott Harrington with the defender draped over him, to which Harrington blasted a shot on net that nearly beat Anderson. The only negative (which I'm sure he heard about on the bench after) was a play that you just can't make at the OHL level. Coming around the net with the puck in the offensive end, he threw a blind pass through the legs to the front of the net. Problem was none of his teammates were there, which lead to the puck escaping the zone for a 2 on 1 for the Majors (which fortunately for Domi, did not result in a goal).

#18 - Vladislav Namestnikov (Drafted by Tampa Bay)
Namestnikov had a very good game. He looks stronger on the puck this year to match his great speed and puck carrying ability. Namestnikov is especially dangerous on the powerplay, where he gets more room to work and he does such a good job of finding holes in the zone and his patience with the puck makes him very dangerous. He finished with an assist on Matt Rupert's second goal of the game.

#46 - Matt Rupert (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
If I wasn't looking for numbers, I don't think I would have been able to tell Matt and Ryan apart on the ice. They seem to play very similar games and have a similar skill set. Both were excellent on the night. Matt finished with two goals and an assist, the one off the aforementioned Olli Maatta 360 pass. He seems to be at home in front of the net and in the slot, which is great considering he's undersized. He also showed a real solid passing touch. The Rupert's combined for the first goal of the game on the powerplay on a very nice give and go. Ryan passed off to Matt at the side of the net, who then returned the favor to a cutting Ryan for the one timer.

#64 - Ryan Rupert (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
As mentioned, tough to tell the two apart when they're on the ice. Ryan had a goal and an assist. The goal was off the aforementioned give and go with his brother. Showed some great hands finishing off the play. He was also making some good passes with the man advantage, moving the puck quickly and efficiently. He earned his assist on the aforementioned play to Olli Maatta, finding him cutting to the net with a hard pass (that was a little behind him). The Rupert twins have definitely carried over their strong play from last season when they exploded onto the scene in London.

#71 - Chris Tierney (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
I was actually impressed with Tierney in the minimal time I saw him play last year in an injury plagued season. This is like his first OHL season, essentially. He's had a great start to this season and he had a very good game. The one thing that always stands out to me about Tierney is his stickhandling ability. He really has the puck on a string and is constantly maneuvering around the opposition. He was very active on the forecheck tonight and was out there forcing turnovers. He had a big role in Dane Fox's unassisted goal, even if he didn't get an assist on the play. Tierney did draw an assist on Andreas Athanasiou's third period goal though. He also saw substantial penalty killing time and looked good doing it.

#74 - Dane Fox (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
I was actually really disappointed when Fox was sent home this offseason because I was quite impressed with his play at times last year. But fortunately, he was welcomed back to the team and has gotten off to a great start this season. Like Chris Tierney, Fox was very active on the forecheck and helped to force a lot of turnovers. He capitalized on some terrific work by his line (Tierney and Horvat) at the tail end of the first, when he took a terrible dump attempt from Stuart Percy and put it to the back of the net with a nice top shelf back hand. He's always in on the rough stuff too and plays the game on the edge. He's a very effective player and definitely a potential top 3 round draft pick this year IMO.

#77 - Josh Anderson (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
While he was held scoreless, I liked what I saw from Anderson tonight. He looks to definitely have some offensive potential at this level (as his preseason performance would indicate). He's definitely got some speed coming down the wing and he's not afraid to pay the price in front of the net for scoring chances (he looks a little bigger than the 6'1 he's listed at). He had a bit of a tough time controlling the puck at times and is going to need to add some strength to make him a more consistent offensive threat, but there's definitely potential there.

#86 - Andreas Athanasiou (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
I was a little bit underwhelmed by Athanasiou tonight. At this point, I'm not seeing a huge progression from him last year, to him this year. That's not necessarily a terrible thing. But I was kind of hoping he'd round out his game a little bit. He's still most effective off the rush where he can use his speed to beat defenders to the outside. But he wasn't as visible when the offense set up in the zone. He also got outmuscled off the puck in the corners a few times. He's a terrific goal scoring prospect, but I think there's a reason why he's gotten off to a bit of a slow start (at least slower than what many had anticipated, myself included). And that reason is that he hasn't really rounded out his game to the point where he can be a consistent offensive threat. He'll need to find a way to use his speed when the game slows down/bogs down.

#97 - Jared Knight (Drafted by Boston)
Knight was definitely terrific tonight. He was typical Knight. Buzzing around the puck, throwing the body around, and putting the puck in the net. He found a juicy rebound in the slot off a Max Domi shot to deposit his lone goal in the game. A definite highlight was his thunderous bodycheck on Dylan Demelo in the neutral zone. You could have measured the distance DeMelo flew with a walking meter stick. Knight looks quicker and stronger this year and is going to have a monster season.

Mississauga St. Michael's Majors

#2 - Dylan DeMelo (Drafted by San Jose)
DeMelo had a really rough game with his partner Stuart Percy. The first goal was his fault, as he failed to follow his man (Ryan Rupert) to the net on the give and go. He had a really rough time with the Knights' forecheck and just couldn't get the puck out of his zone or win a battle along the boards.

#4 - Trevor Carrick (Eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft)
Liked what I saw of Carrick tonight. He kept things simple and did a good job of moving the puck quickly out his zone to avoid the London forecheck. He was also relatively sharp in running the point on the Mississauga powerplay. While the points haven't really been there yet, if he keeps playing well, they should come. He certainly has the bloodlines (Jake and Sam) to be a legitimate OHL player.

#13 - Sergey Kuptsov (Eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft)
Wow, this guy is a beast. He is absolutely huge. And as a late birth day, he's got the potential to get even bigger. His first few steps aren't incredible, but once he gets going, he's actually quite an elusively quick player. Not to mention that he's damn hard to stop. He had a couple of plays where he just powered himself to the front of the net with the puck, generating a scoring chance. He seems to love parking himself in front of the net and makes a giant screen for the opposition. But he's also got hands and made a few really nice passes. He was physical, played both ends of the ice (including the PK), and earned an assist by forcing a turnover by cutting off Olli Maatta as he cut up the middle of the ice and feeding the puck to Derek Schoenmakers for the breakaway. Very impressive performance.

#28 - Stuart Percy (Drafted by Toronto)
I'm a huge Stuart Percy fan. This was the worst game I've ever seen him play. I'm sure he'd be the first one to tell you that he flat out stunk tonight. He had three bad turnovers in his own end, one of which lead to the Dane Fox goal. He had a ton of trouble with the Knights forecheck and speed. He also took a bad penalty when Andreas Athanasiou got him flat footed and took him to the outside, leaving Percy no choice but to trip him up. Just not a typical Percy performance. On the positive, he looked much better on the powerplay where he seems to be doing a better job of getting his shot on net and making quicker decisions with the puck.

Also on a Majors note, it is now obvious to me as to why Riley Brace has gotten off to such a good start this year. He's grown possibly the greatest mustache in the league (visual evidence here, although I'm not sure it does it justice). A little Movember power?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Top 10 - Surprises of the Opening Weeks

The 2011-2012 OHL season is now almost three weeks old. Many teams have played around 10% of their season thus far, and things in the league are starting to round into form.

So let's take a look at some of the things that have caught everyone by surprise and opened up some eyes so far. There isn't any order to this week's list, just a collection of ten facts that may be interesting about the start to the new season.

The Guelph Storm Are Winning Games
The Storm were the preseason favourites to be the worst in the West after losing Taylor Beck, Peter Holland, and Michael Latta (among others). They had a good preseason, but I'm not sure a lot of people put stock into it. But now Scott Walker (new assistant for Canada at the WJC's) has the Storm playing well to start the regular season. The team's collection of hard working forwards are wearing down opposing defenses and they're actually the second highest scoring team in the league (per game) behind London right now. I'm not even sure Guelph fans anticipated this type of start.

Niagara and Oshawa Struggling
In pretty much any preseason prognostication, one of three teams were bend pegged to win the East. The 67's, who are off to a great start. And the IceDogs and Generals who have looked quite poor thus far. For Niagara, it could be the absence of Ryan Strome (NHL) and Mark Visentin (injury). For Oshawa, who knows. Both teams could be suffering from the post NHL camp malaise that often plagues players who return to the OHL from long stays in NHL/AHL camps. Either way, these two beasts of the East have looked more like basement dwellers thus far and that has to be a surprise.

Joey Hishon Still Not Healthy
After suffering a concussion at last year's Memorial Cup, Owen Sound's star center Joey Hishon is still out with post concussion syndrome. There is no time table for his return. In a lot of ways, this has been a bit of a surprise in the past month or so because of how well hidden the extent of Hishon's malaise was. If Hishon is able to recover at some point this season, it may actually be a blessing to the well as Hishon. Many were expecting he would turn pro this season and play in the AHL. But with no NHL camp time and a long recovery ahead of him, if he comes back at all this season, you'd have to assume it'd be with Owen Sound (instead of throwing him straight to the wolves in the AHL/ECHL). Which would give their line up a HUGE boost.

Christian Thomas' Slow Start
Yes, the Generals are struggling, as has already been mentioned. But maybe part of that lies with Christian Thomas who hasn't looked great (save the last game) since returning from New York Rangers camp. As a popular preseason pick to lead the league in scoring (as he came close to doing last year), it has to be surprising that prior to yesterday's two goal effort, Thomas had only 1 goal in 5 games to start the year. It looks like he's turning things around now, which is great news. But his slow start is definitely still news worthy.

Kerby Rychel, Scorer Extraordinaire?
If I had said to you that one of the top scoring 1994's in the OHL after the first three weeks would be Kerby Rychel, would you have called me crazy? Considered a hard nosed player with limited upside, Rychel has exploded offensively this season and is still top 10 in league scoring, and 2nd in goals scored. Would anybody care to call him a reach in the OHL Priority Draft first round anymore?

Peterborough Petes, East Division Leaders
Granted, a lot of people expected the Petes to be much better this season (myself included), but leading their division thus far has to be considered a solid feat. Even more surprising has been the play of goaltender Andrew D'Agostini. Offseason acquisition and supposed starter Mike Morrison has been shaky thus far and D'Agostini has taken the bull by the horns.

What's Going On With the Draft Eligible Players?
Some of the OHL's supposed top talent for the NHL Draft this year have struggled out of the gate statistically. In fact, thus far, only 2 of the league's top 20 scorers thus far are first year draft eligible players (Yakupov and Rychel). The likes of Matia Marcantouni, Scott Laughton, Andreas Athanasiou, Jesse Graham, among others are struggling to find their groove. In net, Malcolm Subban is losing starts to offseason acquisition John Chartrand, who is outplaying him by leaps and bounds. Now I'm sure that most of these guys turn it around, but it wouldn't be shocking if a few continued this into a year long funk.

The Perfect Mississauga Majors
Memorial Cup hangover? Loss of the team's top 8 scorers from last year? Devante Smith Pelly in the NHL. Yet...the Mississauga Majors have been the best team in the league thus far with a perfect 7-0 record. Many of the team's veteran players have stepped up huge, and the team's young/inexperienced defense have looked like a group of 4 year veterans. If the team gets Smith-Pelly back eventually...and even gets a surprise OA return (Flemming, Shugg?), could they be Memorial Cup contenders yet again? A 68-0 season?

7 Players Stick in the NHL
If this list were in a specific order, this fact would likely be number one or at the top of the list. It was assumed many of the league's top picks this season were simply not NHL ready. That certainly hasn't been the case. Gabriel Landeskog (who was a lock to make the NHL), Ryan Strome, Ryan Murphy, Mark Scheifele, Brandon Saad have stuck from the 2011 Draft, while Erik Gudbranson (another lock) and Devante Smith-Pelly have made it from the 2010 crop. Who knows how many or who sticks past the maximum games requirement, but some of these players are significant losses to their OHL teams. If Niagara doesn't get Strome back until sometime in November, they could already be out of the Division race by then.

Tanner Pearson, Zach Hall, and Colin Behenna
Mark Scheifele who? These three linemates in Barrie are absolutely tearing apart the league. Pearson is on pace for a 200 point season, and the three amigos are on pace to score close to 200 goals alone, as a unit. Talk about finding a first line with chemistry to start the year. Best of all, Barrie is in 4th place in the East and look to be a force to reckon with. Now that's a quality rebuilding effort.