Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Top 20 (not 10) - Draft Eligibles to Keep an Eye on in the Final Two Months

I've gotten a few emails lately saying, "Otten, when's the next Top 10 going to be? You're slacking." I've been pretty swamped lately, so you're right to call me out. It's been three weeks since the last top 10 article (the midseason media top 10). As a treat, I thought today I might return with a Top 10 article and amp it up a bit. Today I bring you a Sunday Top 20!

The list today intends to cover those players you should be keeping a close eye on as the OHL regular season winds down (less than two months to go). Every NHL draft, players climb the rankings late in the season and make a push for the first round (mostly due to play in the Under 18's, but my point remains). I could cite numerous examples, but I'll give you two. In 2009, Kyle Clifford was rated 177th in Central Scouting's Midterm rankings, but a strong second half (and a solid Under 18's) really vaulted him up the list and he ended up an early second round pick by Los Angeles. In 2003, Brent Burns had a fantastic final two months to the OHL season (and a great playoffs with Brampton) and turned that into a surprise first round selection by Minnesota.

This list covers players for both the right and the wrong reasons. Some players are on this list because they're playing lights out hockey and have really stepped up their play. Others are on it because they're injured or they're playing below expectations of late. In essence, we're looking at possible risers and fallers for the final two months of the OHL season.

20. Alex Lepkowski - Barrie Colts
The centerpiece of the Dalton Prout to Saginaw trade, Lepkowski has been getting a lot more ice time in Barrie and is starting to blossom. He has the size NHL teams want in their stay at home defenseman (6'4, 210lbs) and he's becoming more comfortable positionally (has a smart stick to go with a physical game). There's a lot of potential here for an NHL defenseman. Scouts may be coming to Barrie to see Mark Scheifele, but they might leave impressed with Lepkowski.

19. Michael Curtis - Belleville Bulls
It's been a tough year for Curtis and Bulls. Things just haven't come together for the young squad and they're in serious contention to miss the playoffs. After a fantastic rookie season where he scored 19 goals, many were expecting big things from Curtis this year (myself included). But he's on pace to have a worse offensive season in his sophomore year. Curtis has 2 goals in his past 3 games and is starting to drop the mitts this month too (against Kerby Rychel and Chris Van Laren). He's obviously trying to show scouts he's a versatile player who deserves to get picked despite a disappointing season.

18. Dario Trutmann - Plymouth Whalers
I thought he had an excellent World Junior Championships for Switzerland and he's come back and played some fantastic hockey for the red hot Plymouth Whalers. He's a +11 with 5 assists in January and currently leads the team with a +20 rating. He's definitely a solid two defenseman on the up swing.

17. Frankie Corrado - Sudbury Wolves
Has anybody noticed how well the Sudbury Wolves have been playing lately? What about Frankie Corrado, who's a +3 with 7 points in his last 11 games. The slick skating offensive rearguard was left off of Central Scouting's midterm rankings, but if he keeps playing like this (and Sudbury keeps up their strong play), I'll be shocked if that is the case in the Final rankings.

16. Steven Trojanovic - Peterborough Petes
The trade from Windsor to Peterborough has been fantastic for Trojanovic so far. He's playing very well for the Petes and playing a lot. He's got 6 assists in 10 games thus far, but has also upped his defensive intensity and physical play making him an even more attractive NHL draft selection.

15. Justin Sefton - Sudbury Wolves
As mentioned, the Wolves have been playing some really good hockey as of late and some of that has to come from the improved play of former high draft selection Justin Sefton. He's starting to look more comfortable out there and has been a plus player the past two months. He also recently scored his first OHL goal of the season in a 7-6 win over Guelph. With the size and physicality to attract NHL attention, is the rest of his game rounding into form?

14. Mike Morrison - Kitchener Rangers
The Kitchener Rangers are 5-6 in 11 January games. Brandon Maxwell is 1-5 in the month, where as Mike Morrison is 4-1. The Rangers are starting to go with Morrison more and more lately as Maxwell struggles with consistency between the pipes. It's given Morrison ample opportunity to show off what he's made of. If he keeps winning, could he supplant Maxwell as the team's number one heading into the playoffs?

13. Barclay Goodrow - Brampton Battalion
While the first two months were disappointing for Goodrow, the big power forward has been much better the past two. He's got 11 goals in his last 20 games. That's a pro-rated 37 goal pace. The skating concerns are no doubt what kept him so low in the Central Scouting rankings, but a strong offensive performance to end the season should help to get him drafted a bit higher.

12. Ryan Sproul - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
6'4 offensive defenseman do not grow on trees. This guy just oozes potential. He's starting to see a ton of ice time for the Hounds and is now on the team's top powerplay unit. He can skate, and he can shoot the puck. He's coming off a hat trick against Belleville and has 6 goals and 14 points in his last 20 games. If he keeps up this level of play, look for him to rocket up the rankings.

11. Jordan Binnington - Owen Sound Attack
He's been hot and cold lately, but the Attack are Binnington's team right now. With Scott Stajcer still out from knee surgery, it's his load to carry. After a solid Top Prospect's Game performance, he'll look to lead the Attack to first place in the Western Conference (with the Saginaw Spirit faltering lately). Could he be this year's Mark Visentin?

10. Matt Mahalak - Plymouth Whalers
Mahalak was nearly every scout's favourite goalie from the OHL for the 2011 draft at the start of the season. He came over from the USHL with high expectations and just didn't live up to them. But he's really starting to settle in. In the month of January, he's played 4 games with a 1.36 GAA and a .962 save percentage. At 6'3, Mahalak has the size and athleticism NHL scouts want in their goaltenders today. Now he's starting to put up the numbers.

9. Rickard Rakell - Plymouth Whalers
Rakell has been rocketing up the charts since his strong performance for team Sweden at the WJC's. He's the complete package of skill and grit. But since the WJC's ended, he hasn't as much of an impact for Plymouth (save a three game stretch in mid January). In fact he's goalless in his last 5 games. He was just starting to pick up steam as a potential first round pick, he's going to have to start filling the net more consistently to keep that draft momentum going.

8. Seth Griffith - London Knights
Don't look now, but the London Knights are surging. Who said they were throwing in the towel on the season? 7-3 in their last 10, the Knights look poised for a late season run at home ice advantage in the first round. No one on the Knights has been playing with as much conviction as undersized forward Seth Griffith. He's the reigning OHL player of the week and has 17 points in the month of January. Even if he doesn't have elite size (5'10), if he keeps producing offensively, he'll get a look in June.

7. Ryan Strome - Niagara IceDogs
It almost feels weird including Strome on this list. After all, he's been a riser all season long. But he's absolutely destroying the league again, averaging 2 points per game in January. He's now back up to 2nd in OHL scoring. If he can somehow take home the league's scoring title, does he enter contention for the top 3 in June (considering he was already 6th on Bobby Mac's midseason rankings)?

6. Nicklas Jensen - Oshawa Generals
15 goals in his last 15 games, Jensen remains a hot offensive player. If anything, this hot streak is more of an indication of the type of player he is, than his lukewarm offensive stats to start the year. He was snake bitten in the OHL's opening months and is finally reaping the benefits of his strong play.

5. Lucas Lessio - Oshawa Generals
One of the most interesting players in this draft IMO. Lessio has some incredible god given skills and is a potentially electrifying player. But consistency issues have plagued him most of the season. However, Lessio has been starting to put strings of good games together and has 10 goals in his last 13 games. Consistently strong play to end the season and into the playoffs could punch Lessio's ticket for the NHL first round.

4. Shane Prince - Ottawa 67's
Just when it seemed like he was finally gaining momentum in the draft, he gets dealt a shoulder injury (which the 67's are calling not serious). Still, Prince has missed two games and the 67's have already said they won't be rushing him back to action. Can Prince ease himself back into the line up and continue his torrid scoring pace, or did he lose the offensive momentum he had going?

3. Brett Ritchie - Sarnia Sting
Talk about raw deals. Ritchie had been playing some damn fine hockey the past two months. He had 13 goals and 8 assists in his last 14 games. He was asserting himself physically and looked like the player we all thought he would this season. But then he gets diagnosed with mono and is out of action indefinitely. We all know how mono can set back junior hockey players. A really tough break for Ritchie who was just starting to shine. Hopefully he doesn't lose too much weight/strength/confidence and comes back in time to finish out the season strongly.

2. Brandon Saad - Saginaw Spirit
Once thought to be a potential top 5 pick in the draft, Saad has seen his stock fall of late. It's to the point now where he might not even be a top 10 pick. And who can argue with decreased rankings he's receiving? After all, Saad has only 4 goals in his last 17 games (including a six game goalless drought) and was pretty quiet at the Top Prospect's Game. Perhaps he's been snake bitten lately (as Sean Keogh said he was the best player on the ice in a pointless effort against Ottawa), but you can't ignore the fact that he's struggling to score while so many of his OHL draft eligible peers are lighting the league on fire.

1. Alexander Khokhlachev - Windsor Spitfires
The most perplexing player in the draft. I've been impressed every time I've seen him this season. He's an absolutely dynamic offensive player, but also highly competitive and not afraid of traffic despite his lack of size (pushing 5'10). But he's not invited to the Top Prospect's Game, rated in the late second round by Central Scouting and the mid second by Bob McKenzie. He just keeps on producing and has 12 goals in his last 11 games. I think one of the most impressive things he has going for him, is that he's also one of the youngest players eligible for the 2011 Draft (Sept. 9 birth date). I just don't get what this guy's not getting love for the first round.


Thomas said...

With Trutmann, I think a team is going to get a prospect that can do a lot more than he shows in Plymouth. I saw him live at the WJC and he really did earn the accolades he was showered with there (he was named one of the three best players on Team Switzerland by the IIHF - ahead of Nino Neiderreiter).

Plymouth doesn't utilize their D in their offense very much at all. Their PP is mostly trying to cycle the puck down low, dig the puck out of the corners and (errant) centering passes. They don't "set up" like most other teams do, and they use a forward at the point on both PP pairings.

As a result, Trutmann's offensive numbers are less than impressive. On a different team, Trutmann's production would be much greater and his draft status higher.

I wonder if he's going to be back in Plymouth next season. If I were him, I might consider moving on - especially when you consider how loaded Plymouth's D is, and it's only going to become more of a logjam next year when Iafrate and Crombeen demand more ice time and especially if Schmitz returns.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but Jordan Binnigton shouldn't be on this list. I know he played the in CHL TPG, but this guy has been very average all season. Tadeas Galansky, Matej Machovsky, and Garret Sparks are better goalies IMO.

Anonymous said...

Jordan Binnington has been nothing short of solid for the attack. His defence leaves him out to dry so often. Last nite he let in 3 goals against Erie.2 of them were defensive zone turnovers which resulted in 2-on-1s adn the other was a PS. I see him play every wknd and I am not disappointed with the way he has played.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Thomas kinda... except Trutmann is a standout - regardless of numbers and who he plays with, NHL teams know who's who. Screw the rankings based on stats, they know this kid's a playa. It aint all about the offensive points on D. No need for him to move anywhere. Velucci & Steffan do an unbelievable job developing and promoting their defensemen. If I were a D-man, I'd be killing to get into Plymouth.