Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft - Part 1: Honorable Mentions

The time is here folks. The 2012 NHL Entry Draft is a little under a month away, which means it is time for me to unveil my rankings for the draft.

The top 50 will be released in four parts: Part 1 - Honorable Mentions (for the first time this year), Part 2 - Prospects 50-31, Part 3 - Prospects 30-11, and Part 4 - Prospects 10-1.

Just for clarification, for my top 50 ranking, I haven't included any players eligible for draft re-entry, such as Tanner Pearson. This has been consistent all the way through my lists. Instead, I did a list of the top 10 draft re-entries, which can be found here.

Also for clarification, this list is MY list of the top 50 OHL prospects, as if I were drafting for my own team. In other words, this isn't a list of where I THINK or believe players will go, but a ranking of my own opinion on the top players eligible for this draft based on my viewings this season. If you want a draft projection and information about players outside the OHL, be sure to order the Future Considerations and/or McKeen's Draft Guides.

I decided to do an Honorable Mentions list this year for the first time because I quite often get asked why I've left certain guys off my list. So to start off my rankings, here are 10 guys who JUST failed to make the cut, plus another who was injured this year.

Special Injury Honorable Mention:

Evan McEneny - D - Kitchener Rangers
I remain steadfast in my opinion that had he played this year, McEneny would be in consideration for the top two rounds of the draft. He was impressive defensively as a 16 year old rookie, and it was clear through the preseason games and the first two games of the OHL season, that McEneny had added an offensive punch to his game. He's got size, mobility, physicality, and offensive potential from the back end. But he also suffered a season ending knee injury limiting his exposure to two games this year. If I was an NHL team, I'd take a flyer on him with a 7th round pick and hope he recovers well.

In alphabetical order:

Justin Auger - F - Guelph Storm
Auger is a very interesting player. At one point this year, I was very high on him after seeing him a couple of times in January when he was riding a hot streak. Unfortunately for him, outside of that hot streak (9 points in 9 games from the end of December to mid January), he was very quiet on the score sheet. And when I saw him later in the year, he was invisible. But as I said, he's an interesting project. For one, he's 6'7 and hard to move from in front of the net. When he's been noticeable, he's working the cycle really well and using that big stick to keep possession of the puck along the boards. His skating stride is kind of awkward, but not many guys at his size are fluid skaters. The big thing for him is finding consistency away from the puck. If he can add a bit of a mean streak, he'd be a very valuable player. Definitely a long term project though.

Brandon Devlin - D - Windsor Spitfires
Devlin is another guy who I was originally very high on, and at one point this season I had him inside my top 30. But he had a very poor second half of the season, that actually saw him take a seat in the press box a few times. At the beginning of the season, I saw a defender with strong two way potential. A guy who could skate the puck well out of his own end and run a powerplay, but who also could play with some aggressiveness in his own end. When he joined the Spits, he was seeing a ton of ice time. But as the season went on, he tapered off big time. It was almost as if he was having an identity crisis. Looked tentative in trying to create things offensively, as if he was afraid of making a mistake. And defensively, he was getting caught running around a lot. I think there is still a lot of potential there based on what I saw in the first half, but like many of Windsor's younger players, he had a rough second half. He'll have the opportunity to really seize a larger role next year.

Troy Donnay - D - Erie Otters
The second 6'7 guy to appear on my Honorable Mentions list, but a guy I fully expect will go higher in the NHL draft than I have him ranked. 6'7 defenseman don't grow on trees. Donnay is definitely a project. But that size, in combination with the fact that he can actually move around pretty well for a big guy, is bound to attract interest. He'll definitely need to add some beef to his frame and get a little meaner though. As of right now, his defensive hockey sense is still very raw and he gets himself out of position at times, which sort of prevents him from being a stick defender alone. He needs to become a presence in front of the net. Offensively, I felt like he got better as the season went on, and begin taking some chances with his breakout passes, but is still primarily a chip the puck out of the defensive zone kind of guy. Just a comparison of a defender of a similar height, but a guy like Cody Sol (Winnipeg prospect), was miles ahead of Donnay physically and defensively when he was drafted.

Billy Jenkins - F - Kingston Frontenacs
I think he's got a lot going for him. Jenkins may be undersized (pushing 5'10), but he's also one of the youngest players available for the draft, which suggests he might still have some filling out to do. He's a hard worker and one of those solid complimentary energy guys. He really wasn't much different of a player with Kingston, it's just that he began getting more ice time (playing on one of the league's hottest lines to close out the season with Trevor Morbeck and Ryan Kujawinski). He certainly doesn't play small and he has the skill and hockey sense to make things happen offensively. That said, we're looking at a pretty small sample size here. With his size concerns, I can't really say one way or another whether I'm confident his style of game will translate well to the next level.

Eric Locke - F - Saginaw Spirit
Locke is kind of a hard player to get a read on. I think the main thing that concerned me was the lack of progression this year. He actually regressed in terms of offensive production (although part of that can be blamed on injuries). The trade to Saginaw did seem to re-invigorate him a little bit, but I just wasn't impressed with his growth this year, especially as a late '93. He's small and very quick, but he still primarily relies on his speed to create offense. He's also still too much of a one dimensional player, although he can be aggressive on the forecheck at times. In the playoffs with Saginaw, I felt like he was invisible the majority of the time, which should raise some red flags. Locke could easily be the type of guy who breaks out huge offensively next year, or the year after, but as of right now, he screams prolific junior scorer and not much else. Check out some videos of Eric in action over at HPTV.

Liam Maaskant - D - Erie Otters
I think the main problem for Maaskant this year was the fact that he's a physical stay at home type playing on the worst team in the league. Pretty hard to stand out in that situation. He had good size and a strong build and isn't afraid to toss forwards around in the defensive end. In particular, I was impressed with his ability to separate forwards from the puck along the boards. But it was tough to get a read on just how strong of a defensive player he is. Erie was largely a defensive disaster this year, and the structure of their play in their own end was practically non existent. Offensively, there's a lot of room for improvement, especially on his first pass out of the zone. Based on his size and aggression package, he might be worth rolling the dice on in hopes that he can reform his defensive game.

Luke Mercer - D - Niagara IceDogs
A really smart defenseman. When the Dogs acquired Oleksiak, they shifted their pairings around and Luke Mercer actually became Dougie Hamilton's partner on the top line for the rest of the season. And he quietly did a great job in that role. He played a safe game and well within himself. But in some ways, I think that was the problem. I can't say I really got a good read on what Mercer's potential is because I don't think he ever really pushed himself or took chances this year. It was Hamilton's show while he stayed back and played it safe. And don't get me wrong, he did a great job with what he was asked to do and looked very mature as a defenseman, but what's his high end potential? He's also a little undersized at 5"11, and needs to add more bulk to his frame. If a team is convinced he has offensive potential he didn't show us this year, he could get taken. Next year will be big for him to truly show his stuff.

Cody Payne - F - Plymouth Whalers
Payne is an intriguing power forward prospect. He was supposed to be one of the Generals youth backbones for the future, but wasn't happy there and ultimately wound up in Plymouth. He didn't have a great year though and certainly didn't progress the way many anticipated he would. But he's still a 6'2, 200lb winger who is willing to throw his weight around or drop the gloves. He has some puck skill and can take the puck to the net, but as of now, he's having trouble putting the puck in the net. I think some of that can be attributed to a possible lack of offensive hockey sense. He'll drive to the net or hang out around the crease, but just isn't finding scoring opportunities. At times this year he saw action with higher end skilled players and looked a step behind the play in all facets. If you draft him, you have to hope that his hands find him.

Matt Rupert - F - London Knights
I've got twin Ryan ranked inside my top 50, but Matt on the outside looking in. At the beginning of the year, I was actually having a tough time separating them as players, but as the year went on, I felt like Ryan proved himself to be the better player and NHL draft prospect. Matt isn't as polished of a player away from the puck, and while he's aggressive on the forecheck and along the boards, it seems like he wastes a lot of energy on his shifts doing things that aren't benefiting his line. He does have good hands in close to the net and makes good decisions with the puck in the offensive zone. The big sticking point is his size at around 5'8. While he's tenacious, I feel like his brother's defensive ability, face off ability, and playmaking ability down the middle, make him a better and safer bet to become an NHL player.

Clint Windsor - G - Saginaw Spirit
Windsor is a big goaltender who takes up a lot of the net. At 6'4, 200lbs, his size will be intriguing to NHL teams. But he's very much a work in progress. I felt like he was much better in Saginaw than he was with Barrie, but his rebound control and ability to read the play still needs improvement. As a '93, he has less of a window to make those improvements. Add in the fact that he's stuck behind a more talented, younger goaltender in Jake Paterson, and it makes his situation complicated. By starting Paterson in the playoffs, it's obvious the team has more confidence in him moving forward.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chat With Future Considerations Chief Scout Dan Stewart

Recently, I had a chance to talk with Future Considerations chief scout, and blog friend, Dan Stewart about the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. FC just released their final ranking for the 2012 Draft, as well as their Entry Draft Guide (information below on how to purchase).

Dan always has great input on the OHL, so I hope you enjoy the below transcript where he talks about guys like Galchenyuk and Olli Maatta, as well as the Under 18's and OHL playoffs.

Brock Otten - Dan, since I know you're based out of Sarnia, it only makes sense to start off by asking you about Yakupov and Galchenyuk. Let's talk Nail first. Evaluate the year he had for us. Did his game really make significant strides this season?

Dan Stewart - Last year Nail was very impressive as an OHL rookie goal scorer with his flashy moves, quick feet, lightning quick shot release and his electric goal celebrations but this season he really turn himself into a better all-round hockey player. That is not to say he was not already an elite player his first year in the league as many in the business would have jumped at the chance to draft Yakupov second overall last season.

This season however, Nail’s game switched from where he would patrol the wing waiting for a scoring opportunity to materialize to one where he generated much of his own chances or generated chances for his line mates with strong playmaking skills. His game had some of the rough edges rounded off as he played a more complete game. He would consistently come back to help defensively, played with more consistent energy levels, looked for his passing options instead of taking 10+ shots a game himself, etc. In my opinion Nails progression has been consistently moving in the right direction.

BO - Do you have any concerns over his lackluster playoff performance?

DS - His playoff performance, as well as the remaining regular season games after the big hit he took from Owen Sounds Mike Halmo, has led many to believe Nail was playing with some concussion symptoms to end the year. You could tell the sharp decision making was not there nor was his willingness to engage in physical play like he normally would without hesitation. His playoff does nothing to diminish the body of work that was his previous two seasons in the league. Whether Nail will admit it or not he was held to limited ice against Saginaw because he looked off and to be still suffering some injury issues.

BO - What about his immediate future? What are the odds he's back in the OHL next season?

DS - Nail’s offensive game is NHL ready. The only way Nail Yakupov puts on a Sting jersey and steps on the RBC ice to play in the fall is if the NHL/NHLPA can not come to an agreement on a CBA. Nail has no option for AHL play so back to the OHL or a trip to Europe would be his only options. If he did not return, Sarnia would need to fill his import spot. They need to make a critical and calculated decision on whether to release his rights before the June import draft, similar to what the Kitchener Rangers did with Gabriel Landeskog before they picked Radek Faksa last year, or hold on to Nail and risk playing with an open import spot if the CBA is signed and the NHL opens on time.

BO - Alright let's shift to Galchenyuk. Just how big is the gap between Yakupov and Galchenyuk. If he plays all season, is there a chance he pushes Nail for first overall?

DS - In my opinion the gap between the two is not that vast. We have them ranked No. 1 and No. 2 overall in our final rankings. Yakupov is the more consistent offensive player but Galchenyuk is no slouch at putting pucks in the net himself.

I remember two years ago in Sarnia while they were playing the Erie Otters toward the end of the regular season, Alex put the team on his back, took control of the game, drove the net showing off his elite skills and scored three goals while adding a primary assist as he dominated the game in all three zones. He played physical and strong in that game showing his sky high NHL upside. He has that ability to take control and be dominant using his hands, size and offensive creativity.

BO - In your opinion, how did Galchenyuk do in his brief return from the knee injury?

DS - The return was more about the process of Alex getting on the ice than his actual performance in those few games. It takes a lot of mental strength and hard work to fight back from an injury like that and he earned the respect of scouts and NHL personnel everywhere with his determination during this time. On the ice he looked off as was to be expected but did show flashes of his elite abilities and with more ice time he could have done more damage in the playoffs.

BO - What do you make of Olli Maatta's terrific playoff performance for London? Has he thrown himself into consideration as the top defender available from the OHL?

DS - Maatta has really raised his game offensively this post season. He is hitting his breakout passes more consistently and jumping into the rush with more vigor. He has improved his draft stock with those who saw him as too vanilla earlier in the season and will likely be selected higher than most expect if he keeps up this pace. Very impressive play and has been a key part of London’s success.

Maatta is in the conversation for top OHL defender although Cody Ceci in Ottawa is still top on lots of lists. Matt Finn in Guelph is another top end guy from Ontario who should hear his name called in the first round as is wildcard Slater Koekkoek of Peterborough, who FC has ranked ahead of both Finn and Maatta. Koekkoek missed much of the season with a shoulder injury but we like the grit, skating ability and two-way upside he brings.

BO - What about the rest of the first year draft eligible Knights? How do you think Andreas Athanasiou, Chris Tierney, and Josh Anderson did in the playoffs and did they raise their draft stock?

DS - All of the draft eligible prospects looked good at one point or another with Anderson looking strong during the early rounds, Tierney standing out later and even Athanasiou turning up the play and working harder along the boards in the post season, an area of extreme frustration for some scouts this season when watching Double A.

The Rupert twins also had a nice post season playing their gritty, high energy style and producing well on the score sheet for Mark Hunter. Still not 100% convinced that they will translate to the NHL tempo or size playing their style of games but they are intriguing and I would not be surprised to see Ryan and maybe Matt as well selected in Pittsburgh.

BO - Do you think Michael Houser finally gets drafted this year? I mean, he had one heck of a season and has been just as dynamite in the playoffs.

DS - I really do not see Houser being picked his third time through even though he likely deserves to be. I think he is more likely to get a few invites after the draft and sign on with a minor league team to start his pro career.

BO - Are there any other draft eligible guys you feel really improved their stock with their performance in the OHL postseason?

DS - Back in London Seth Griffith, approaching his second entry draft after being passed over, really put an exclamation mark on his season with strong play producing ten goals and twenty-three points in nineteen games. NHL teams are still concerned with his size but not enough that his offensive skill will go unnoticed this time.

Tom Wilson of Plymouth turned his game up and scored at a point per game clip, something scouts were anxious to see. He likely drove his draft stock into the middle of the first round because of his impressive post season play.

Niagara’s Jesse Graham played well on the Ice Dogs blue line, manning the Power Play and playing a strong offensive generating role with his passing ability and heady reads.

Puck stoppers Jake Paterson of Saginaw and Barrie’s Mathias Niederberger both played huge for their squads in the post season as well. Niederberger is in tough to hear his name called in Pittsburgh as he lacks ideal size and net coverage despite being acrobatic and making flashy saves due to his quickness and athleticism. After being passed over he could get a pro camp invite this summer.

Paterson on the other hand will get drafted and it could be rather high after he turned in a strong post-season performance. He is a strong positional stopper who makes the first save and shows solid rebound control, dramatically limiting opponents second or third changes.

BO - Let's shift to the Under 18's really quickly. Did any OHL players really improve their stock at the event in your opinion?

DS - Unfortunately for me, I was unable to attend this event but Future Considerations was in attendance as our Slovakian guy, Pavol Balaz, was in attendance and also shot some video which he sent to me as this is a big time scouting event.

Centre Scott Laughton of Oshawa was my top OHL performer eligible for the 2012 draft with 2013 eligible winger Kerby Rychel right behind him. Laughton was a bull in all three zones finishing checks and fighting for pucks. Laughton will make a Scouting Director look like a genius one day as he brings all the elements every team needs to win in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

BO - The Draft combine is approaching. Here's an interesting question for you. If you could sit in on any OHL player's interview, who's would it be and why?

DS - I would love to be a fly on the wall for a few OHL’ers interviews like the injured guys Galchenyuk, Koekkoek, Owen Sounds Jarrod Maidens and Kitchener’s Matia Marcantuoni. Also, those whose character has been questioned like a Dane Fox in Erie as well as those who might have left something to be desired with their on ice play over the season such as Andreas Athanasiou. It would also be real interesting to see the teams try and stump Yakupov with off the wall questions.

BO - Earlier I asked you about the defenseman from the OHL, but what about the forward group. Who's the best forward behind the Sarnia duo?

DS - After both Yakupov and Galchenyuk the potential for many high scoring forwards coming out of the Ontario Hockey League looks a little thin this year. The likes of Kitchener’s Radek Faksa, Belleville’s Brendan Gaunce, Plymouth’s Tom Wilson, and Oshawa’s Scott Laughton all have some nice second and third line, two-way talent but look to lack the high end skills needed to be a big point producers at the next level.

The depth at forward however is good as there does not look like there will be much that separates a Brady Vail who ranks fifty-first and a Scott Laughton ranked thirty-first when evaluating what role they will likely play at the NHL level. While there are many other wildcards who have nice potential as top six forwards, there are also multiple holes in these same prospects games that could hold them back. This lack of high end talent at the forward position has kept our scouts optimism tempered throughout the season.

BO - Injuries have obviously been a big theme of this year's draft. What are your thoughts on the guys who played little this year; Matia Marcantuoni, Slater Koekkoek, Jarrod Maidens?

DS - While these prospects are somewhat wildcard types because of their limited ice this year, these guys have been under the microscope since their midget days so we all know what they can do on the ice already. The real question is what the missed time might have done to them psychologically. It can really do a number on a kid who has been consumed by hockey 24/7 for the majority of their lives to suddenly be on the sideline for an extended period of time. If these guys can come back strong it speaks volumes with regards to their strong mental makeup and character.

BO - Are there any "sleepers" you're really high on this year from the OHL; guys who are flying under the radar right now?

DS - Sure there are always sleepers in every draft crop. For most the season London’s Josh Anderson was a sleeper but his late season play squashed that notion as many see his development trajectory in a sky high direction. Guelph’s big man Justin Auger with his size, reach and hands around the net. Saginaw’s Justin Kea is another fellow who showed flashes but not consistently enough. Warren Steele in Kingston and Zach Leslie in Guelph are two defenders who could really make scouts look back and wonder why they did not rate them higher. Per the above question Jarrod Maidens is also a sleeper, only because of his injury and what will his game look like when he gets back to playing.

BO - Thanks for taking the time to do this Dan. Always love chatting with you and getting your insight. Tell us how we can order the Future Considerations Draft Guide.

Thanks for asking Brock, always a pleasure.

FC’s 2012 NHL Entry Draft Guide will include a ranking of the top 210 prospects eligible for the draft, including in depth profiles on the top-125 eligibles and extended profiles on the remaining 75 players.
The Guide will also include features on Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Tom Wilson of the Plymouth Whalers, Indiana Ice standout Cristoval ‘Boo’ Nieves, as well as NTDP teammates Miles Koules and Steffan Matteau. Subscribers will also get a special look inside the Future Considerations war room, where FC scouts battled over the rankings, as well as a special look at the art of drafting goaltenders from The Goalie Guild‘s Justin Goldman.

The draft’s top sleepers, overagers and our always highly anticipated 2012 NHL Entry Draft mock will also be included in ‘The Guide. As always, subscribers will also get an extensive and exclusive look at what tomorrow brings, with an in-depth look at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and a preview of what 2014 has to offer.

Just head on over to to order the guide for just $19.99 and get your chance to win Griffin Reinhart’s game-worn helmet from the 2012 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Top 10 - Who's Significantly Raised Their Draft Stock?

First off, congrats to the London Knights for capturing the OHL Championship. I certainly didn't expect the series to be over so fast. Kudos to their perseverance and effort which were crucial in their win.

With the OHL playoffs over and the Under 18's in the rear view mirror too, this week's Top 10 looks at ten guys who really did well to showcase their abilities at the right time. Highlighted will be draft eligible players whose performance in this year's playoffs, or at this year's Under 18's, really helped to elevate their stock for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.

Obviously, there are going to be a fair amount of London Knights on this list. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched this team dominate this year's OHL playoffs.

Let's look at the list.

10. Justin Kea - Saginaw Spirit
He finished much stronger than he started the year, that's for sure. While he only finished with three goals on the season, his performance to close out the regular season and into the playoffs provided scouts with enough evidence to suggest he's a much better player than his stats would suggest. He was very effective in the postseason working on the Spirit's 3rd line (with rotating linemates like the underrated Garret Ross). He was also instrumental on the team's penalty killing unit. Big centerman who can clear space for their linemates don't grow on trees. And Kea definitely showed enough guts, determination, and even skill to warrant a higher draft selection.

9. Josh Anderson - London Knights
Has improved so much since the start of the season. And it's easy to see why. Anderson is one of the hardest working guys on the ice. And while he was a little quiet in the OHL Championship against Niagara, I felt he was outstanding in the first three series for London. Anything you need done, Anderson can do it. He digs in the corners. He backchecks hard. He creates space for his linemates. But he also has skill and can contribute offensively. There's a reason this guy jumped up so much in the Central Scouting Rankings. He's turned himself into a terrific player and with increased ice time next year, we could see big things from him. Where as previously I felt like he might be someone a team targeted in the late rounds, I could see teams fighting for him earlier now.

8. Jake Paterson - Saginaw Spirit
If anything, the vote of confidence from Saginaw management gave him by starting him in the playoffs should be enough to impress scouts. But his performance in this year's postseason was even better. While his numbers don't jump out at you (a barely .900 save percentage), Paterson was good for a rookie netminder. Especially when you consider that he was the only 94 starter to see the second round. He had some bad games, no doubt about it. But he also dispatched of the powerful Sarnia Sting, and took two games against London in the second round. If anything, his losing effort in the pivotal game 5 against the Knights was his most impressive performance. He stopped 46 shots, but lost in overtime 2-1. He gave his team a chance to win that game, and take a 3-2 lead in the series. Even more impressive was that, that performance followed his worst performance in the postseason. Showed great mental toughness. I think Paterson has thrown his name into the ring with Murray and Altshuller to see who's the second OHL goalie taken behind Malcolm Subban.

7. Adam Pelech - Erie Otters
While central scouting might not be high on him, thanks in part to a bit of an injury plagued season on the worst team in the league, I think most NHL scouts still were even before his performance at the Under 18's. The thing is, it's difficult to standout as a top notch shut down defenseman on a terrible team. Playing for Canada and occupying that role was a significant opportunity for Pelech and he took full advantage of it. He was named as one of Canada's top 3 players in the tournament and was fantastic defensively, going against the opposition's top lines. I think he vaulted himself from a guy team's might have been looking at in the 3rd round, to someone who could hear his name called early in the 2nd.

6. Chris Tierney - London Knights
A definite unsung hero for London. While I've been high on Tierney all season long, I think his performance in this year's playoffs really helped him to get NHL scouts to take notice. He was one of London's best players in their first series against Windsor, and again in the OHL Championship against Niagara. He took key faceoffs, he was great defensively (especially in helping shadow Ryan Strome), and he scored some really big goals for the team. Like teammate Josh Anderson, I think Tierney has jumped from being a late round candidate to a guy team's may look at the in the mid rounds.

5. Scott Laughton - Oshawa Generals
It was kind of tough for Laughton to get recognition this year in Oshawa. He was overshadowed at times by the team's struggles for consistency, and by the team's veteran forwards. And while he did have a great second half of the season, it was his performance at the Under 18's that really caught people's attention. He was one of the Canada's best and most consistent performers. And he did everything for the team. From killing penalties, to grinding it out along the boards, to putting points on the board. I've said it before, but Laughton reminds me a lot of Mike Richards at the same age and I think there's a chance he's put himself in conversation for the back end of the first round.

4. Ryan Rupert - London Knights
I'm not sure what Central Scouting has against this guy, by not ranking him, at the very least, towards the back end of the draft. Sure, he's small. But he plays way bigger than he is. Too big at times. Rupert was absolutely fantastic in this year's playoffs, playing with OHL playoff MVP Austin Watson on the team's best defensive and offensive line. He's already fantastic defensively (as his coaches poll accolades would suggest), he works his butt off in the offensive end, and he's fearless out there. I don't know how many times in the OHL Championship, I saw the smaller Rupert in there winning board and loose puck battles against bigger Niagara forwards and defenseman (not sure what that says about Niagara though). If Rupert goes all seven rounds in June without getting selected, something is wrong with the system.

3. Matt Murray - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I felt really bad for Murray this year. Things were looking great for him at the start of the season, with the Hounds playing well and him starting. But then the Jack Campbell trade happened (easily one of the worst trades in recent memory). Not only did it kill team chemistry, but it appeared to kill Murray's confidence. And while he was absolutely fantastic at the Top Prospect's Game, it was going to take a truly terrific performance at the Under 18's to save his draft season. And he delivered just that. Murray was nothing short of brilliant in most of Canada's games, showcasing an ability to make the highlight reel save to keep his team in the game. His performance at the event reminded me of when in 2008, Jake Allen came into the Under 18's as a relative unknown (8th rated CSB goalie in NA), and left a high 2nd rounder in June. I could easily see a team taking Murray early and banking on his athletic ability to take him far.

2. Tom Wilson - Plymouth Whalers
All season long, it was the same with Wilson. "Why is a guy with only 9 goals on the season being considered a first round pick?" He was being lambasted for his lack of offensive production, despite the other things he brought to the table. But the OHL playoffs were a different story for Wilson. He ended up with a point per game, finished second in team scoring (on a team with a ton of high draft picks), and lead the team in goal scoring. He was absolutely fantastic. Any scout who would have previously been on the fence as per his offensive potential, can now point to his performance in the playoffs if he wants to convince his boss to draft Wilson. While I'm personally still warming up to the idea of him as a first rounder, it honestly wouldn't surprise me at all if Wilson is drafted way earlier than people are expecting. I could easily see a team banking on his potential inside the Top 20...or even 15.

1. Olli Maatta - London Knights
This should come as no surprise after Maatta's playoff performance. He finished the playoffs tied for 4th in playoff scoring with 23 points, and had just as many points as lottery pick and OHL defenseman of the year Dougie Hamilton. Bottom line is, none of it surprised me. Every time I saw Maatta this year, I came away asking myself "how is this guy not putting up more points?" He's clearly had this in him all season long but his offensive confidence peaked at the right time. Best of all, Maatta was still fantastic defensively (+11). You couldn't have asked for more from him. So the question you have to ask yourself now is...just how high has he vaulted himself? I think we could definitely see him in the top 10 now and he's certainly closer to Cody Ceci now than he was 2 months ago.

Honorable Mention:

Alex Galchenyuk - Sarnia Sting
I think you've got to mention Galchenyuk here, even if he didn't really increase his stock; more solidified it. Working his way back to play at the end of the season and in the playoffs shows great determination. And even though he wasn't fantastic, he showed enough glimpses of brilliance to suggest to NHL scouts that he'll be just fine once he gets his legs under him again.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Top 10 - 2012 NHL Draft Re-Entries

It's that time of the year for my annual (2011, 2010, 2009) list of the top second and third year eligible OHL players for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. This is always one of the most read articles I put out each year. It's also the topic which I receive the most questions on, whether through email or blog comments. For whatever reason, the concept fascinates people. Of course, I'm referring to the concept of the "draft re-entry." A shift in drafting philosophy has seen an enormous rise of these players getting drafted in recent years. This is mostly because drafting a second or third year eligible player gives NHL teams a lot of flexibility in their development under the new CBA. Plus, a lot of these guys have been having success in recent years (Andrew Shaw and Matt Hackett as examples from the OHL), which basic psychology tells us that other NHL teams will try to mimic.

Just to clarify yet again, for those with limited understanding of the NHL draft system; North American players have either two or three years to get drafted, depending on their birth date. For those born from January 1 to September 15, they will go through three NHL drafts. For those born from September 16 to December 31, they will go through two NHL drafts. The players on this list are a mix of those having been passed over once or twice already.

Also, do not confuse this list with players drafted in 2010 who will re-enter the draft should they fail to come to a contractual agreement with their NHL team by June 1 (and whose birth date still allows them to be eligible). Quite often those too are referred to as draft re-entries. But this list does not contain them because it is not yet known who those players will be.

It's always fun to see the results of past year's lists:

2009 = 4 drafted, 9/10 with NHL contracts
2010 = 2 drafted, 4/10 with NHL contracts
2011 = 3 drafted, too early to evaluate NHL contracts

So history would suggest that a handful of these players appearing on my list will get drafted. But I'm going to go one step farther. I think that we'll see more of these players drafted this year than the past three years. I think this year's crop of players is the best one that I've ever ranked. Heck, we've got a rated as being a potential first round pick, one of the league's regular season and playoff scoring leaders, and the Red Tilson Trophy winner.

Let's look at my list:

10. Riley Brace - Mississauga Majors
Easily one of the most improved players in the league this year. After playing a checking line role last year for the Memorial Cup hosts, Brace was thrust into a larger offensive role this season and took every advantage of the opportunity. He's pretty solid overall player and I think he definitely has the potential to be an NHL player. Brace skates pretty well and while he isn't big, he's protects the puck very well and has very good hands. He's got good "hockey sense" and really does well to find openings in the offensive end. A lot of his goals are scored right around the crease. He's definitely an in your face player who wears his heart on his sleeve. This is something that can cause him to get into penalty trouble from time to time, but he plays the game hard. This intensity makes him a very valuable penalty killer and forechecker. I think scouts really have to like the fact that he took this Majors team (without a definitive identity to start the year; new head coach, new players, etc) on his back right from the get go and finished just as strong as he started.

9. Frank Palazzese - Kitchener Rangers
While John Gibson stole most of the headlines in Kitchener this year as the higher profile player, it was actually Palazzese who appeared in more games for the Rangers. This is a great reason why he was named one of the West's most underrated players in the coaches poll. After a rough draft season (Palazzese is a 93) in Kingston last year, Palazzese asked for a trade this offseason and was shipped to Kitchener. Having two strong goaltenders definitely worked out for Kitchener as Gibson missed a lot of time due to the WJC's and injuries. Franky is a very sound goaltender, similar to Gibson in that he makes a lot of saves look easy. He challenges shooters well and really improved his positional play this year. I thought he also improved his rebound control over the course of the season and played with a lot of confidence. It should come as no surprise that Palazzese is receiving more draft praise this season than he did last year (his original draft year).

8. Matt Petgrave - Oshawa Generals
Petgrave appears on this list for the second year in a row. He improved his offensive numbers yet again, finishing in the top 10 of defenseman scoring for the first time in his OHL career. He remains a high risk, high reward defenseman, which has probably scared NHL teams off thus far. He'll take chances on the rush and he'll turn the puck over in his own end occasionally, but he also creates a lot of offense from the back end and skates well enough to cover his pinches in most instances. He's not only aggressive with the puck, but without it too. He's definitely one of the better open ice hitters in the league and isn't afraid to toss you around in the defensive end. He can go through some tough stretches defensively though. That being said, I think he looked much better with Oshawa to close the season than he did with Owen Sound to start. I've been a fan since his draft season in Niagara and I think he's got a lot of raw potential for the next level, if you believe that you can work with him.

7. Mitchell Heard - Plymouth Whalers
I was actually surprised that Heard didn't earn a contract from Toronto this offseason following a pretty impressive showing at their rookie camp and tourney. Heard is cut from the same cloth as other guys who've gotten themselves drafted as "re-entries" in recent years, like Andrew Shaw, Andy Andreoff, and Rob Flick. He's really a jack of all trades kind of guy. One thing that should garner a lot of attention from scouts is his faceoff ability, which is among the best among centerman in the league. On top of that, he plays in all situations for the Whalers and is an aggressive in your face forward. His offensive skills are pretty average overall, but I do think his playmaking ability is quite underrated. Bottom line is that he profiles pretty well as a potential checking line player in the NHL with his ability to win face-offs, work hard defensively, and protect the puck in the offensive zone. He'd probably get a few more points if he was bigger, but the fact that he's so fearless (in an Andrew Shaw kind of way) has to help his cause. I certainly wouldn't be surprised if the Leafs tabbed him in the later rounds.

6. Michael Houser - London Knights
Quite frankly I thought Houser would get drafted last year after a breakthrough season as London's starter. Like Petgrave, he was high on last year's list. Some might say, "how the hell did he fall on this list after having an even better year and winning the Red Tilson?" While it's more to do with the quality ahead of him, I'd reply. But after seeing Houser play so much this season, I can see why NHL teams have avoided him thus far. As great as he's been for London, he's an unorthodox goaltender who makes saves due to his athleticism. There's always this perceived fear that these types won't fare as well at the next level where NHL shooters pick their spots better and rebounds are deposited with greater efficiency (example A being former Belleville goaltender Mike Murphy and his low draft position). At the same time, I think NHL team's would be absolutely insane to not give Houser a look in the later rounds this year. He had such an absolutely fantastic season, and is having an equally good playoff showing. Plus, if an NHL team drafts him this year, they'll have at least a year of professional hockey to see if they want to sign him (they can influence their AHL team to sign him).

5. Alex Basso - Sarnia Sting
A trade from Belleville to Sarnia was fantastic for Basso this year. After a really disappointing draft season in Belleville last year, he was given a fresh start and really took off because of it. Basso is a very smooth skating offensive defenseman who would have likely been in the top 5, or at least top 10 of OHL defenseman scoring had he managed to stay healthy this season. He has excellent wheels and is very good at skating the puck out of his own end. He also possesses high end stick skill which aids him in his rushes to avoid defenders. Basso controls the point on the powerplay well and has a heavy shot which he does well to get through to the net. Basically, he has big point potential from the back end. Defensively, he plays bigger than he is, but there are some things he needs to work on. He gets out muscled in the corners a fair amount and can be a bit too much of a gambler in his own end. But his skating ability covers up for his mistakes more often than not. While his lack of games played this season might point to his size catching up to him, his injury was to his hand and not something that I think should worry NHL teams (in terms of his durability).

4. Zack Mitchell - Guelph Storm
Mitchell had one of the largest point improvements in the OHL this season, from 19 last year, to 75 this year. In essence, he came out of nowhere. But once you got a chance to see him play, it was easy to see why he was producing offensively. The first thing you notice about Mitchell is his high end stickhandling ability. He keeps the puck on a string in the offensive end and is very elusive. He's also got a very good shot and doesn't need a lot of room to get it off. Lastly, despite not really being a physically aggressive player, he's not afraid to take the puck hard to the net or go digging for pucks in the crease. The rest of his game is a little raw, but his offensive skill set forces you to take notice. There's no doubt that when NHL teams went to Guelph to check out the likes of Matt Finn or Scott Kosmachuk, they didn't leave without Mitchell having made an impression on them.

3. Tanner Richard - Guelph Storm
In the games if Richard I did see, I came away quite impressed. The sample size was smaller because it seemed every time I saw Guelph, he was out of the lineup. But again, the couple times I did manage to catch him, he was good. He's definitely a very good playmaking center who's got a high hockey IQ. Keeps plays alive in the offensive end by keeping the play moving and is patient with the puck. Seems to be a hard worker away from the puck and a good forechecker, which obviously aids in his ability to set up plays for his linemates. The skating seemed pretty good too, as did his overall game and defensive play. The only issue I have is the durability one. But I'm sure there were a few teams out there who saw enough of him to form an opinion. He could definitely have potential as a 2B/3A kind of guy.

2. Seth Griffith - London Knights
I was dumbstruck when Griffith wasn't selected last year. He was firmly in the majority of the top 100 lists that I saw, so his failure to get drafted was quite surprising. But it's good to see he came back quite strong this year. I have to be honest, I think what Griffith has done this season as a "re-entry" is more impressive than what Tanner Pearson has done. Now I admit, Pearson is the better pro prospect, but it still doesn't explain what Griffith is getting practically zero love for this draft the way Pearson (or even Tanner Richard) is. In essentially his second year in the league, he's taken the reigns of a team with several high end draft picks (including two first round forwards) and lead them to first overall in the OHL regular season. He's also been said team's best forward in the OHL playoffs. Sure, Griffith isn't the biggest (pushing 5'11), but he's such a smart and skilled player that his size doesn't affect him. And he's actually very good at protecting the puck and using the size he does have. His skating isn't an issue, as I'd consider it at least above average for the OHL. He's got tremendous hands and his wrist shot has improved immensely this season. He plays hard and contributes in all situations for the Knights. Seth Griffith has turned himself into a fantastic hockey player and I hope he hears his name called this time around.

1. Tanner Pearson - Barrie Colts
This should come as no surprise and he's earned it. What a year a difference makes. From a player nobody really knows on the worst team in the OHL one year, to one of the league's leading scorers and team Canada WJC member on one of the East's best teams. I think he's going to have a fair amount of success at the next level. He's got the size needed to play a goal scorer's game at the NHL level, and the right mind set too. His smarts are definitely one of his best assets IMO. Pearson is one of those guys who people say always finds himself at the right place at the right time for scoring opportunities. But that's because he anticipates the play well ahead of the other players on the ice. And while he's not a burner in terms of top speed, his acceleration and strength on his feet is strong and allows him to be a hard player to stop on the way to the net. He's also got a fantastic shot and can shoot from just about anywhere on the ice. I felt like after the WJC's, his overall game really took a step forward too; that being his defensive play and work on the cycle. It's really too bad that he broke his leg in that last game, as it would have been fun to see him perform in the playoffs. It'll be interesting to see if Pearson can manage to be the first draft re-entry from the OHL to get selected in the first round come June.

Honorable Mentions

This was a very tough list to make this year (as I mentioned above), with a lot of strong candidates. Here's a few HM's based on position.


Brampton's Matej Machovsky was someone I had ranked for last year's draft (40th among OHL players), but failed to get selected. He had an even better year this year as Brampton's starter and really stole the show on some nights where Brampton's offense couldn't get the job done. He's cut from the same cloth as a lot of recent Czech netminders in the sense that he's a bit of a scrambler who uses his athleticism to take away the bottom part of the net well.


Last year was a tough one for Belleville's Brady Austin, as he bounced back and forth from forward to defense. But a fresh start with the Bulls really did him well. He's an absolute behemoth on the backend, but actually plays more of a finesse game as he skates well for a big guy and has some puck skill and offensive capabilities.

Sudbury's Charlie Dodero turned himself into one of the league's top defensive defenseman this year. He's got everything you'd want in a quality defender and skates well enough and handles the puck well enough to suggest that he could handle the rigors of an NHL forecheck.

Kyle Hope really exploded in Oshawa this year before being traded to Owen Sound as part of the Petgrave/Schemitsch deal. I actually think he compares fairly well to a guy like Matt Petgrave (whom I have listed above). Good size, physical, moves the puck well. But can be turnover prone and needs to simplify his defensive approach.


Sarnia's Charles Sarault is an offensive sparkplug. Lots of energy and only really knows one speed. High high assist total was no fluke as he became one of the league's premier set-up men this season. His size and two way game might scare NHL teams off though.

Saginaw's Garret Ross had a wonderful breakout season, as he nearly quadrupled his point total from last year. He was always a hard worker and tough guy to play against, but some improvement to his skating and an increased role helped him to find his offensive game.

Ottawa's Steven Janes' offensive stats may not jump out at you, but there's more to the story. Janes was a 2nd rounder and a highly touted player who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. The 6'4 power winger came back strong this year posting 16 goals and 36 points in a 3rd line role. A team could roll the dice on him improving even more with increased ice time next year.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

OHL Playoff Predictions: OHL Final

The year truly is winding down. A great season of OHL hockey has lead to this; a meeting of the first place teams in each Conference. For Niagara, their representation in the final comes as no surprise. They were pegged as one of the teams to beat this season. For London, it's probably a bit of a surprise (in terms of preseason predictions). Kudos to the Knights for continuing to win despite a carousel of younger players each season.

After going 1-1 in the Conference finals, my postseason prediction record sits at 9-5. Let's see if I can hit double digits on the prediction win column.

1. Niagara IceDogs vs. 1. London Knights
Season Series: 1-1 TIE
My Analysis: What a match up this should be. Two incredibly evenly matched clubs doing battle for the Championship. Niagara is definitely the more veteran laden team. While many of the team's players have never been quite this far in the playoffs...they are an older team who relies heavily on its overage threesome of Friesen, Agozzino, and Pacan. And Mark Visentin is no stranger to pressure situations after the past two WJC's. Defensively, these clubs match up incredibly well and are pretty damn even IMO. I think Niagara's defenseman move the puck a bit better, but London probably gets the edge in physicality and overall defensive stingyness. Goaltending is probably a bit of a wash. While Visentin is obviously talented and an NHL first rounder, Michael Houser is the reigning Red Tilson Trophy winner for a reason. The series will no doubt come down to two things IMO. 1. Can the younger forwards on London's roster come up huge against Niagara's stingy and physical forward group (in terms of match-ups)? 2. Can both of these teams channel their physical aggressiveness and energy in a positive way and stay out of the box? This one should be real close, but I'm liking Niagara's veteran forward group to seal the deal.
Prediction: Niagara in 7