Thursday, September 20, 2012

2012-13 Season Preview Part 3 - Award Predictions

As I write this, we're about 2 hours from puck drop, commencing the 2012-2013 OHL season. Perfect timing for the final installment of my season preview; a look at this year's awards.

Enjoy (and flame away).

Red Tilson Trophy (MVP) - Mark Scheifele
Too be honest, I was a bit disappointed in Scheifele's play last year. After coming back from Winnipeg, I felt like he never really found his groove, or terrific chemistry with his linemates. His progression as a player didn't hit the point that I expected it to (which is a pretty high level). This year, he doesn't have to worry about the NHL (for now) and I have very high expectations for Barrie as a Conference contender. Even when the NHL resumes, I think he'll end up spending another year in Barrie to hone his skills and grow into his body. Needless to say, I expect a huge year. If I were to have a second choice, it'd be Ryan Murphy in Kitchener. The Rangers are going to have a monster year and I expect Murphy to have a bounce back season (after last year's mild disappointment). A Ryan Ellis-esque year could be in order for the new Rangers captain. Others to consider would be Ryan Strome or Dougie Hamilton in Niagara (if they stick around), Malcolm Subban in Belleville, Sean Monahan in Ottawa (if he gets the 67's to overachieve), and Vincent Trocheck in Saginaw (again if he gets the Spirit to overachieve).

OHL Goaltender of the Year - Malcolm Subban
As much as I want to go with John Gibson here, I'm taking Subban because I expect him to play more of a crucial role in his team's performance. The Rangers are a great team without Gibson, and he's going to lose starts to Franky Palazzese so that they can keep him fresh. Subban has little competition in Belleville and, as long as he's healthy, he should see a substantial amount of the starts. Not to mention he's extremely skilled and is going to have a lot of motivation to play well so that he can earn the starter's role for Team Canada at the WJC's. Both Subban and Gibson have had tough times staying healthy in their OHL careers thus far, so it's probably worth noting a few other contenders. I think Matt Mahalak in Plymouth has a great shot as an underdog, as does overager JP Anderson, as he tries to bounce back from a bit of an off year.

Max Kaminsky Trophy (Defenseman of the Year) - Ryan Murphy
This one is Murphy's to lose IMO. If, or when, the NHL heats up again, Dougie Hamilton should be gone to Boston. Meanwhile, Murphy should still be in Kitchener leading the Rangers to the top of the Western Conference standings. I think he's got a lot to prove after last season's mild misfire and he's got way too much talent to not progress and dominate in his final year in the league. Heck, maybe he can even crack the WJC team this year! A darkhorse could be Ryan O'Connor in Barrie. I think the Colts are going to have a big year and he's their new captain. As an overager, he'll be playing for a contract and should be able to pretty up pretty gaudy numbers. Ryan Sproul and Slater Koekkoek are two others I think will have big years. Another dark horse? Connor Murphy if he can stay healthy.

Emms Family Award (Rookie of the Year) - Connor McDavid
Come on, would you expect anyone else? I've seen McDavid play a few times now and he's the real deal folks. And while Erie may have stunk the joint up last year, they've got a fair amount of talent at forward. McDavid will have people to play with. An 80+ point season isn't outside the realm of possibility. Joshua Ho-Sang seems to be the other big contender among the 2012 Draft class. He'll get a lot of opportunity to put up points in Windsor. A dark horse from the recent draft crop might be Robby Fabbri in Guelph who appears to be getting every opportunity to play in tough offensive situations. As far as Imports go, Sergei Tolchinsky could have a big offensive year in the Soo.

Leo Lalande Trophy (Overager of the Year) - Ryan O'Connor
I said he was my dark horse pick for the Max Kaminsky, so I'm sticking with him for this. I've always been a fan and have long thought him to be an underrated player. He had a monster preseason, is the new captain of his team and is motivated to earn an NHL contract. A few others to consider; Charles Sarault (who should put up a ton of points in Sarnia this year), Colin Miller (who I think will breakout offensively this season), Alex Aleardi (took a big step forward last year and should do the same this year), and Steve Shipley (who'll be looking for an NHL deal after being spurned by Buffalo).

Matt Leyden Trophy (Coach of the Year) - George Burnett 
Maybe a bit of a surprise here, but the Bulls have been near the bottom of the East for the last few years. They certainly have the talent this year to make run for the Eastern Conference, and if they do, Burnett should be commended for the club's improvement (despite having pretty much the same personnel). The big boys up near the top like Steve Spott, Mike Vellucci, Stan Butler, etc, should all garner attention. The other big one for me could be Scott Walker, if he's able to turn the Storm into a top 4 team this year (they're young but they have the talent).

Eddie Powers Trophy (Scoring Leader) - Seth Griffith
Traditionally, the trophy has been won by players who don't play at the WJC's. Griffith is someone I don't expect to do that, and he's going to have a TON of talent to play around in London. After his breakout year last season, he's my early pick for the scoring lead. Overager Charles Sarault could also make a charge up the charts. And some of the top talent in the league like Mark Scheifele, Alex Galchenyuk, and Ryan Strome should all be up there too (even if they're locks for the the WJC's). I expect Sean Monahan to be up there, if he can get some scoring help. Ditto for Vincent Trocheck and Nick Cousins. Perhaps a sleeper? How about Max Domi in London and Zach Mitchell in Guelph? Or Stefan Noesen in Plymouth?

Goal Scoring Leader - Kerby Rychel
Seth Griffith would probably be the easy pick here, but I'm taking Rychel because he doesn't always have to score the pretty goals. He could be having an off night, but still pot 2 because of his ability to work near the crease. Other than the aforementioned Griffith, I expect Tobias Rieder to be up near the top again. I also expect Stefan Noesen to be for the same reason as Rychel. Zack Mitchell has a great release and should score a ton of goals this year. I also expect Lucas Lessio to have a monster year and hit the 40 goal mark, inching closing to the top of this list. After the preseason he had, Sarnia's Reid Boucher could also get up there.

All Star Teams

1st Team All Stars
C - Mark Scheifele
LW - Kerby Rychel
RW - Seth Griffith
D - Ryan Murphy
D - Ryan O'Connor
G - Malcolm Subban
Coach - George Burnett

2nd Team All Stars
C - Sean Monahan
LW - Stefan Noesen
RW - Tobias Rieder
D - Ryan Sproul
D - Dougie Hamilton
G - John Gibson
Coach - Steve Spott

3rd Team All Stars
C - Alex Galchenyuk
LW - Lucas Lessio
RW - Zach Mitchell
D - Connor Murphy
D - Scott Harrington
G - Matt Mahalak
Coach - Scott Walker


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

2012-2013 Season Preview Part 2 - The Western Conference

As promised, here is my Western Conference preview for the 2012/2013 season.

This too, was very difficult to predict and decide upon. For similar reasons as the East actually. I think there are a handful of teams who could emerge as front runners for the Conference, and then another handful who are a step below and could battle for the playoffs. I could see any team in this conference making the playoffs. It'll be a close race I think. Erie is certainly significantly improved over last year.

Let's take a look at the predictions.

1. Kitchener Rangers (Midwest Division Champs)
It's pretty hard to argue with the type of depth they have at all positions. The strength of this team will be goaltending though. John Gibson is the league's best goaltender (IMO) and his health will be crucial to this team's success. I'm not sure how long I expect Franky Palazzese to be with the team. He's too good to play second fiddle to Gibson. And there are a few teams out there with goaltending concerns. Offensively, this team has a lot of weapons and did well to acquire some vets like Matt Puempel, Dominic Alberga, and Nick Czinder. Rookie Justin Bailey also has a lot of potential to become a top contributor. Radek Faksa and Matia Marcantuoni/Josh Sterk, will hold down the center spots. It's hard to imagine MM not having a big bounce back season. On defense, Ryan Murphy returns, looking to have a better season after last year's mild disappointment. The return of Evan McEneny will help tremendously too. The Canucks were smart to sign him before he plays this year because I think he'll break out in a big way. Truthfully, it's pretty hard to find a fault with this team. Depth, goaltending, leadership, and quality coaching. Sounds like a recipe for success to me.

2. Plymouth Whalers (West Division Champs)
I definitely love the make-up of this year's Whalers' team, however I do have to admit that I feel like they're probably only the 4th or 5th best team in the Conference behind the Midwest division powerhouses (London, Owen Sound, and maybe even Guelph). The forward group is incredibly strong and built to have success under Mike Vellucci. They will work you to the bone, and then beat you with skill. Look at it this way, they're returning every key forward from last year's strong team, minus Devane and Bathgate, but they've replaced them with Ryan Hartman, who could be better than both. In particular, I expect Stefan Noesen to have a huge year, possibly to the point of being the league's leading scorer. In goal, Matt Mahalak is ready to take the ropes full time after being eased into the role last year. He's a quality netminder who I have a lot of faith in. It's on the defense side of things where I think this team should have some concerns. While the players they've brought in to fill holes are all potential impact players (Carrick, Karlsson, Curcuruto), you never truly know what you're getting until the regular season starts. The one thing that this team does have going for it is how committed the team's forward group is to playing both ways. That should help to take some of the pressure off the new look defense to start the season.

3. London Knights 
It's going to be great watching the Knights and Rangers battle for the division this year. Everyone knows about the team's depth at forward. Just like last year, they'll be sitting kids good enough to play in the top 9 of other teams in the league. While many of the team's veterans are moving on to the professional ranks (like Jared Knight, Vlad Namestnikov, and Austin Watson), the returning members of last year's team are all top quality and ready for the prime time (like Seth Griffith for example). It'll be really exciting to see the progression of some of the team's younger forwards like Maxi Domi, Bo Horvat, and the Rupert twins. This team is going to be explosive not just next year, but for the next few years. That said, the strength is definitely on defense. Scott Harrington, Olli Maatta, and newcomer Nikita Zadorov (a potential first round pick) will be so hard to match up against. Throw in some veteran roughions like Tommy Hughes, Kevin Raine, and Tyler Ferry and you've got a tough task ahead of you when you enter London's end. The big question mark will be replacing Michael Houser in net. The defense is great, but having at least adequate goaltending will separate London from Kitchener and Owen Sound. Kevin Bailie was brought in, but I'm not sure he's the answer. I think the reigns should be tossed to Jake Patterson to see what he's capable of. Don't be surprised if London's hunting for a goalie by Christmas.

4. Owen Sound Attack
Quite honestly, I wouldn't be surprised one bit if this team ended up running neck and neck with London and Kitchener for the division. They are stronger than they were last year (IMO), and that team was pretty damn good. It all starts on defense, where the Attack might have the best top 6 in the league (Cutting, Chiarlitti, Dotchin, Bigras, Hope, MacDermid). That's not even counting their first rounder Jacob Middleton. They should also get strong goaltending from Jordan Binnington who'll finally be looking to take that next step forward and become a top netminder in the league. He'll have the team in front of him to give him confidence, that's for sure. Up front, the consistency of their offensive game will depend on the development of the team's younger players IMO. We know that Dan Catenacci and Gemel Smith will bring it every game. But will Joseph Blandisi, Zach Nastasiuk, Holden Cook, among others, step up and bring their "A" game. The wild card is obviously the return of Jarrod Maidens. He won't be ready for the start of the season, but he should come back at some point. If he can come back strong, this team would receive a huge boost. The Attack are also still waiting on Artur Gavrus to get his VISA situation sorted out. They'll need him in the lineup (and healthy) too.

5. Guelph Storm
I'm going to just flat out and say it. I love this team this year. While I don't think they're strong enough (yet) to make a run to the top of the standings, they'll be mighty entertaining to watch. So much heart. So much grit. But also a lot of skill. I think Tanner Richard is going to end up near the top of the league's scoring race if he can stay healthy. He has so many talented goal scorers to play with. I'm also incredibly excited to see the development of draft eligibles Jason Dickinson, Hunter Garlent, and Tyler Bertuzzi. This team is also deep at forward though. Some talented young players like Justin Auger, or Brody Milne, could be playing 4th line roles to start the year. On defense, newly appointed captain Matt Finn is the anchor. But he's got a talented running mate in Andrey Pedan who took massive steps forward last year. Depth wise, they're not quite as strong defensively. A lot will depend on the improvements made by players like Ben Harpur,. In net, Garret Sparks is a vastly underrated goalie. He was solid last year, but tired a bit throughout the final months of the season. He should be better prepared to handle that in his 2nd year as a starter. While you never truly know how a young team is going to play, I think the Storm will go a long way to reaching their vast potential this season. I know I'll be cheering for them.

6. Sarnia Sting
While I'm not particularly sold on the team's forward situation (even with the likes of Galchenyuk in the mix), I think their defense and goaltending is going to be plenty good enough to vault them into the mix for home ice advantage in round one. Overager JP Anderson is back for another year and I think he's going to have a good one. He struggled at times last year (which is why he's back in the OHL as an overager with an NHL contract), but I hope he's re-focused himself and found the proper motivation to get his game back on track. He'll certainly have a solid defense in front of him. This is led by Connor Murphy, who if he can stay healthy, has a chance to be the league's best defenseman this year (IMO). Supporting him is a cast of veterans like Alex Basso, Craig Duininck, and Jack Kuzmyk. Throw in sophomore Anthony DeAngelo and you've got a great mix. As mentioned, I'm a tad worried about their depth at forward. They'll be relying on several rookies (Davis Brown, Nikolai Goldobin, Bryan Moore, to name a few) to play big roles. But they certainly have a strong veteran nucleus to teach them the ropes. Alex Galchenyuk and Charles Sarault should be up near the top in league scoring. And Reid Boucher had a heck of a preseason. Teams with veterans usually win in this league (save the Oshawa Generals last season), and I think that will be the case in Sarnia.

7. Windsor Spitfires
I see the Spits being in a very similar position to the Storm this year. Great depth at forward, but a lot of younger players still working towards consistency. I absolutely loved the team's pickup of Derek Schoenmakers this offseason. He's the perfect compliment to some of the younger skilled players in this line up. The one development I'm curious to watch is who ends up centering the Kerby Rychel line. Is it the new hot shot in Joshua Ho-Sang? Is it the inconsistent but skilled Michael Clarke? Or is the strong, dependable Brady Vail? Not a bad problem to have in terms of their depth at center, but it will make for an interesting internal battle. Throw in Jordan Maletta who's a natural center too and looking to have a strong sophomore year. I could see Ho-Sang shifting to the wing to start, until he learns to play more of a complete game. On defense, I'm hoping that Flames pick Patrick Sieloff can help Nick Ebert find his game again. His aggressive, stay at home style could help to stabilize Ebert's efforts at both ends. Captain Sav Posa is also a true glue guy and one of the league's underrated defenders. Just like last year (post Campbell trade), the question mark is in goal. Import Jaroslav Pavelka returns but he'll need to be more consistent this year. He does have a lot of talent though. Rookie Jordan DeKort will likely be given every chance to try and steal the starting job, or at least share it. If Windsor can't get consistent goaltending, I wouldn't be surprised to see them make a play for someone like Palazzese in Kitchener.

8. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
While I think the Hounds are definitely better this year, it'll be hard for them to climb higher in the standings than they finished last year. The competition is that stiff. The key to victory will be the play of Matt Murray in net. It's his show to run this year (even if Justin Nichols seems to have a lot of potential moving forward) and he'll have to be way better and more consistent than he was last year. He has all the talent in the world, but just needs to put it together. Once again, the Hounds aren't going to be a team who will light the lamp with ease, which makes their ability to prevent goals all that more important. Defensively, I love the team's make-up. Ryan Sproul is going to have a huge year. Ditto for overager Colin Miller. It'll also be interesting to see Darnell Nurse's development at the offensive end. If he can really ratchet it up offensively, that's give the team 3 solid options on the powerplay. Offensively, Nick Cousins and Andrew Fritsch are going to try and put this offseason's mishaps behind them and focus on putting this team on their back. Of course, everyone is talking about Import Sergei Tolchinksy. The little offensive dynamo could be the spark plug this team has badly needed up front. And while not the most skilled, there is some great size to crash the net (Broll, Alderson, Schumacher, Dempsey, etc). This team should be improved. But it won't prevent them from battling for a playoff spot IMO.

9. Erie Otters
The Otters are hard to peg this year. The team was so woefully awful last year. Can they really avoid the basement this year? I think yes and let me explain why. Firstly, Connor McDavid is the real deal. His playmaking ability is going to elevate the capability of any forward he plays with. And once Dane Fox comes back from a broken foot, the team is going to have a formidable one/two punch down the middle. Both are capable of putting up 80 point seasons. Surrounding them are a handful of capable goal scorers, including captain Connor Brown, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. On defense, Adam Pelech is going to have to play over 30 minutes a night again because the quality just isn't there. Guys like Troy Donnay, Jimmy McDowell,. Liam Maaskant and Travis Wood are going to have to step it up if the Otters want to have any hope of making the playoffs. For as difficult as things could be defensively again, Oscar Dansk will be there to make everything OK. While I'm hesitant to suggest he'll steal game after game for the team (based on the consistency problems I've read and heard about), he was a high NHL draft pick for a reason. He should be able to come in and supply quality goaltending, perhaps even terrific goaltending. The Otters will be improved, but I don't quite see them as a playoff team...not yet. 

10. Saginaw Spirit
At this point, I just don't see the high end depth to allow this team to consistently compete against the big guns of the Western Conference. Vincent Trocheck is a dynamite player and one of my favourites in the league (anyone who reads the blog knows that), but I don't see him getting enough help. Eric Locke and Garret Ross are solid secondary scoring options, but they aren't going to help take the pressure off Trocheck. Nor do I believe the likes of Justin Kea, Nick Moutrey, Jimmy Lodge, David Perklin, are ready for prime time roles (even if I love Kea's long term potential). On defense, I don't see a true first pairing defenseman. Someone who can put this team on his back and lead them. Brandon Archibald, Steven Strong, Dalton Young and Frank Schumacher are solid defenders, but they aren't guys you build your defense around. Even Erie has Adam Pelech. In goal, I'm a big fan of Jake Paterson (and the overall depth the team has at the position), but I don't think he's going to get enough help to ease the pressure of his first true starting gig. He's not ready to steal games on a nightly basis. So many of the teams in the West are balanced deep and I don't see that from Saginaw this year.

Stay tuned for the Award Predictions tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2012-2013 Season Preview Part 1 - The Eastern Conference

The 2012-2013 season is right around the corner (opening night is Thursday people!), so I suppose it's about time I put up a season preview.

The OHL is going to be one tough league to predict this year. For one, IMO, the races for divisions are so incredibly tight. Heck, the entire Eastern Conference is wide open. Quite frankly, I could see one of about 6 teams taking it as of right now. And even then, the other four teams really aren't THAT far behind. It's wide open, which means a lot of people will be made to look like fools with their predictions this year.

Secondly, the NHL lockout leaves us with a lot of questions. Questions surrounding the availability of players. Take the Niagara IceDogs, for instance. Right now, they've got Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton. Without them, I figured they'd probably look to move a few veterans and end up finishing out of the playoffs in the East. With them, guys like Brett Ritchie, Brock Beukeboom, and Steve Shipley will probably stick around and the Dogs are a contender for their division. Will the Dogs get to keep Strome and Hamilton for the whole year?

Just the same, the AHL is going to be MIGHTY crowded this year with all the young NHL talent filling up rosters. Will teams elect to send back players (like Phil Lane and Sam Carrick in Brampton) to give them more playing time/to avoid the ECHL? These are all legitimate questions. Again, questions that make this year so tough to predict (can't you tell I'm already setting up my excuse for being extremely wrong this year).

None the less, every hockey fan in Ontario should be damn excited to watch some hockey this year. Quality hockey, at that. Let's get this baby rollin'.

I bring you the Eastern Conference!

1. Barrie Colts (Central Division Champs)
Last year, I greatly underrated the Colts. I'm not making that mistake again. While, depth wise, I don't think this team is as strong as a few others in the East (on paper), the top end talent they possess makes them a serious threat to take the Conference. Not just talent, but veteran talent. The obvious wildcard is whether Mark Scheifele sticks around all season. My gut says he probably will (I think the Jets made a mistake keeping him last year for as long as they did). And he's surrounded by some great veteran offensive players like Zach Hall, Anthony Camara, and Steve Beyers. The Colts also have a lot of younger players who've been chomping at the bit for greater opportunity, such as Erik Bradford and Josh MacDonald. Throw in a motivated Andreas Athanasiou and you've got a solid group. My only concern is that they may be a bit small up front, which could hurt them in the injury department. On defense, newly appointed captain Ryan O'Connor looks hungry for an NHL deal and should have a monster year. Aaron Ekblad will also be a year stronger and better. Alex squared (Lepkowski and Yuill) make up the rest of the top four (in all likelihood). In goal, I think they've got one of the best tandems in the league. Mathias Niederberger got better and better as the season went on and I think he's going to be very good this year. And if he isn't, I've got a lot of confidence in Fotinos developing into a star netminder in this league. Always bank on a team with a ton of veteran talent going far.

2. Belleville Bulls (East Division Champs)
There's no denying that the key for the Bulls will be Malcolm Subban this year. If he's able to stay healthy and play like he's capable of, the Bulls are a Conference contender. If he's not, I seriously worry about the strength of their defense. Stephen Silas and Brady Austin will be fine. But relying on Jordan Subban, Jake Worrad, or a few others to play large roles could be difficult. On those Mike Murphy led quality teams of recent years, the Bulls had terrific defenses (led by PK Subban and Shawn Lalonde). On the big ice, it's hard to cover up your mistakes. Subban is going to be have to be really big. Offensively, the Bulls should be fine. They've got a very deep forward group led by captain Brendan Gaunce. I also think Austen Brassard is going to have a monster year. Last year, his overall game improved greatly. This year, he should have the confidence (and strength) to really earn a spike in his goal scoring production. I think he's capable of a 40 goal year. I think Belleville's two Russian imports (Daniil Zharkov and Sergei Kuptsov) will be incredibly important to the team's success. They are possibly Belleville's two most dynamic offensive players and they'll need to keep the opposition guessing. Consistency will be the name of the game for them. But as I said, if Subban stays healthy, this team should achieve great things this year. They have the right recipe for success IMO.

3. Oshawa Generals 
I expect the race between Belleville and Oshawa to be very close this year. I like both of these teams a lot. The funny thing is, after losing the likes of Christian Thomas, Nicklas Jensen, and Andy Andreoff, who would have thought that this year's Oshawa team would actually be better. It's pretty clear that something was rotten in the Shwa last year, so it's all about new beginnings. This year's forward group is going to be VERY tough to play against. So many scrappy players who can also put the puck in the net (Boone Jenner, Scott Laughton, Lucas Lessio, Tyler Biggs, Scott Sabourin, etc). Lucas Lessio is going to have a very big year IMO. I felt like he was one of Canada's best players during the Summer challenge with Russia and I think he's finally figured out how to harness his energy. On defense, Matt Petgrave and Geoffrey Schemitsch have already won an OHL championship together and know what it takes to win. I think Colin Suellentrop is ready to take that next step as a top 3 defender too. And in goal, I expect Daniel Altshuller to bounce back in a big way. He's got the talent to carry this team a long way. But, if he runs into those consistency issues again, it'll be the difference between the Gennies being a division contender and being a 7/8 seed in the East. Last year, it wasn't just Altshuller though. The entire team had issues with consistency and effort level. Sounds like a tough atmosphere for a young goalie. This year's skater group will be much more consistent which I think will translate to better results for Altshuller.

4. Brampton Battalion
You've got to hand it to Stan Butler. Honestly, every year the Battalion manage to put together a winning team based off of a team that (on paper) looks like it'll be challenged to make the playoffs. This year, is no exception. Heck, not only is Barclay Goodrow the only forward to have scored 20 goals in this league before, but he's also the only forward to post a 40 point season. Every year, the Battalion are starved for offense, but they manage to play within Butler's system and just flat out, out work teams for wins. Although, I actually don't expect Goodrow to lead the team in goals this year. I think it'll be Brandon Robinson as one of the league's breakout stars. The key to victory for Brampton is always their defense and their goaltending. The Troops return their entire defense of last year (minus Jordan Auld) and also their starting netminder in Matej Machovsky, who was consistently one of the league's best last year (even if his numbers don't suggest it). And even if I don't expect Phil Lane and Sam Carrick to be back, stranger things have happened. And they've happened in years where there isn't an NHL lockout crowding the AHL talent pool. Of course, I'm finally predicting the Battalion to have a good year, so maybe I've jinxed them!

5. Peterborough Petes
I have to admit, I'm scared by the Petes' preseason record. I don't put a lot of faith in the preseason, but they just couldn't get anything done. And after last year's massive disappointment, I have to wonder if it's becoming a bit of a routine. On the other hand, I like the team's potential too much to completely count them out. Up front, I think they could very well have the deepest group of forwards in the league. Best of all, so many of these guys are coming into their prime (Alan Quine, Nick Ritchie, Brett Findlay, Stephen Nosad). Even if they had a heck of a time scoring goals in the preseason, I don't expect that to continue into the regular season. Defensively, they're also pretty deep and Slater Koekkoek will be around for a full year. Don't forget that the Petes didn't start to falter last year until Koekkoek got hurt. The real question mark is in goal. Andrew D'Agostini started last year quite well, but fell into a major slump in the second half. Hopefully he's figured out how to maintain composure. Anyway you slice it though, he's yet to prove himself capable of being a quality starting netminder in this league. Back-up and goalie of the future, Michael Giugovaz is a wild card as someone who could steal some starts and take over the role if D'Agostini falters. I like this team a lot of paper, which scares me a bit because "paper" is the key word. Hopefully they can back it up!

6. Niagara IceDogs
As I mentioned in my intro, the NHL lockout has certainly changed my outlook on the Dogs season. People don't realize the positive impact that Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton can have on this line up. They will force some of the younger players to step up their game...elevating it in the process. And it's not like they're surrounded by chumps. Brett Ritchie, Steve Shipley, Brock Beukeboom, and Jesse Graham know exactly what it takes to win in this league. In particular, Shipley and Beukeboom should have big overage years as they try to earn NHL contracts after having their NHL rights released in the offseason. Nothing like playing with a chip on your shoulder (as Beukeboom proved this preseason). I also really like the young forward make up of this team. Joel Wigle, Carter Verhaeghe, Trevor Peterson, and Anthony DiFruscia are excellent talents. With Hamilton, Beukeboom, Graham, and Luke Mercer, the team's top 4 is going to be really solid. In goal, it's hard to know what to expect from Christopher Festarini. He was terrific after being plucked from the scrap heap by the Dogs last year and he should have the starting job this year. He's a former highly touted netminder who never put it together. Has always had the talent, so maybe he finally puts it all together. So what happens if Strome and Hamilton head to the NHL eventually? I think they'll ultimately stick around long enough to make a lasting positive impact on the culture of this young, but talented team.

7. Ottawa 67's
Some people might be surprised by the 67's being this low. And as much as I love Sean Monahan and Cody Ceci as players, I just don't see them being surrounded by enough talent to push them closer to the top of the standings. That isn't to say that I expect them to miss the playoffs (or even be in serious consideration for it), it's just that I see better teams in this Conference right now. The defense is solid enough, but I think they are also a tad on the slow side. Players like Mike Vlajkov and Sean Callaghan are going to have to take big steps forward to help out Ceci and Jake Cardwell. In goal, Keegan Wilson, is looking to take on his first starting an overager. A shaky defense, matched with unproven goaltending can often be a recipe for inconsistency. This leaves the strength of this team at forward. Sean Monahan will improve whoever is lucky enough to play with him, but I just don't see Tyler Graovac being able to carry the second line, or at least elevate it enough to the point where he's taking pressure off of the Monahan line. If anything, the key to this year's season (outside of maybe Wilson's performance) is the progression of Graovac and Steven Janes as dependable offensive players. Perfection in the preseason just isn't good enough for me apparently.

8. Sudbury Wolves
I think my main concern with Sudbury is their lack of a true top line force down the middle. As much as I think Michael Kantor is underrated as an offensive player, he's not a top line center. And Matthew Campagna just hasn't progressed enough to be considered an option for that either. The line of Kantor, Leivo, and Pancel gained a lot of steam overseas in that Junior World Cup, but has been quite quiet during the preseason. There's some young talent up front like Nicholas Baptiste, Brody Silk and Sam Schutt, but if there's one thing we know about young talent, it's inconsistent. I just don't see this offense scaring anyone on a consistent basis. Defensively, the team will be very solid, which will take a lot of pressure off overager Joel Vienneau and rookie Taylor Dupuis. In fact, Frankie Corrado, Justin Sefton, Charlie Dodero, and Mackenzie Braid might be the strongest "stay at home" top four in the league. Physical and tough to play against. But the Wolves are going to miss Josh McFadden's presence offensively. His ability to run the transition game and the powerplay will be hard to replace this season. The key to victory will actually be head coach Trent Cull and his ability to get his players to buy into a strong defensive system which will protect his weakness in goal and offensively, but also focus on the team's strength on the blueline.

9. Mississauga Steelheads
I definitely think the Steelheads are going to be better than people are giving them credit for. That defense is so strong with Percy, DeMelo, Carrick, and Cord playing in the top four. And goaltender Spencer Martin is a star in the making. Scoring goals against the Steelheads will be a chore. However, scoring goals against the opposition will also be a chore. Riley Brace is back. Kris Kontos is back. Outside of that, it's a rag tag group of unproven talent. As much as I believe in the likes of Josh Burnside, Scott Teskey, Andrew Godlberg, and a few others, I don't think they're ready to be consistent offensive difference makers. And as we all know, consistency is what separates the playoff teams from the playoff wannabees.

10. Kingston Frontenacs
Last but not least, Kingston. Again. I actually really liked what the Fronts did this offseason. Bringing in two imports (Vainonen and Ikonen) who can contribute in a big way has been missed in recent years. And while the team still doesn't have a goaltender of the future, they did acquire a veteran stop gap in Mike Morrison, who has at least handled the load as a starter before. The rest of the team is young and will go through serious growing pains. I look for Ryan Kujawinski to have a big year. I also think Roland McKeown will be a stand out rookie on the defensive side of things. But I just don't see enough difference makers in this line up. That said, would I be surprised if this team ended up making the playoffs as a bottom seed? Absolutely not. Like I said in the intro, these 10 teams are all pretty close.

Stay tuned for the Western Conference tomorrow!  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Top 10 - Performers of the 2012 Preseason

 The 2012 Preseason wrapped up today and the OHL season is right around the corner (kicks off Thursday).

Here are the Preseason standings for this year:

Eastern Conference

1. Ottawa 67's - 3-0 - 1.00%
2. Niagara IceDogs - 4-1 - .800%
3. Brampton Battalion - 4-1 - .800%
4. Barrie Colts - 4-2 - .667%
5. Mississauga Steelheads - 4-2 - .667%
6. Oshawa Generals - 3-2 - .600%
7. Sudbury Wolves - 2-2 - .500%
8. Belleville Bulls - 2-2 - .500%
9. Kingston Frontenacs - 1-2 - .333%
10. Peterborough Petes - 0-5 - 0.00%

Western Conference

1. Saginaw Spirit - 4-1 - .800%
2. London Knights - 3-2 - .600%
3. Sarnia Sting - 3-3 - .500%
4. Guelph Storm - 3-3 - .500%
5. Plymouth Whalers - 2-2 - .500%
6. Owen Sound Attack - 2-3 - .400%
7. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds - 1-3 - .250%
8. Erie Otters - 1-3 - .250%
9. Windsor Spitfires - 1-4 - .200%
10. Kitchener Rangers - 1-5 - .167%

It's always pretty tough (some might say foolish) to make assumptions based on preseason play. So many factors go into the records of these teams. Some teams elect to sparingly play their star players, where others play them every game. Goaltenders move in and out of the line up. It's tough to gauge. One thing is for certain though, no team who finished at the bottom of the preseason standings is happy going into the season. That isn't to say that Peterborough, Windsor, and Kitchener are going around pushing the panic button. I'm sure they remain confident in their ability to perform this year. But, I'm also sure that the coaching staff isn't happy with the performance of their players. To put it in perspective, Erie and Peterborough had among the worst records of last year's preseason and ended up missing the playoffs. Although Sudbury went winless and ended up making the playoffs. It's a crap shoot.

Just the same, individual player results can sometimes be deceiving. Who are these players racking up points against? A team full of first year OHL players? Against a goalie who was just drafted and has never faced OHL competition? It's a mix bag. Accumulating correct stats is also mind numbing and excruciating. Some teams post full box scores. Others don't even mention who scored all the goals in a game. So consider the below accumulation of stats to be extremely unofficial.

That being said, the preseason does often give us some great indications of players who'll have big years in the OHL...who aren't already attached to NHL teams. This generally means overagers (who aren't at a camp on a tryout), draft eligible players looking to break out, and rookies looking to establish themselves. Last year, some of the league's top preseason performers were Nail Yakupov, Tanner Richard, and Scott Laughton. So it does give us some idea of who's going to "explode" if you will.

Another interesting observation, after looking at these articles dating back to when I first started doing them (2011, 2010, 2009), is that (for the most part) draft eligible players who have strong preseasons end up getting drafted inside the first three rounds. Last year, the 2012 NHL selections who appeared on the list were Brock McGinn, Josh Anderson, Scott Laughton, Tanner Richard, and Nail Yakupov. Oh, and Garrett Hooey, who failed to get drafted (but let's call him an outlier). There definitely seems to be a correlation between strong preseason performances (go back to those previous lists and find Ryan Strome and Jeff Skinner), and high NHL draft selection.

OK, enough of the set-up. Let's look at the ten best performers of this year's preseason. Interestingly enough, there are more 1996's (2) on this list than 1995's (1).

10. Austen Brassard - Belleville Bulls
One of my picks for a breakout season, Brassard paced the Bulls in preseason scoring with 4 goals in 4 games. He looked so much better last season and developed into a solid all around player. I look for him to really amp up the power forward juice this year and possibly even score 40 goals. The Bulls are going to need that type of production from him if they intend to challenge for the East.

9. Alex Broadhurst - London Knights
A surprise 2nd round selection by the Knights in this year's priority draft, Broadhurst had a solid preseason with 4 goals and an assist. The Chicago Blackhawks 2nd rounder finished 3rd in USHL scoring last year and looks to be able to replicate that offensive success in the OHL this year. It certainly seems like he's cemented a role in London's top 6 and could be one of their go to guys.

8. Vincent Trocheck - Saginaw Spirit
Saginaw had the best record in the West during the preseason and a lot of that was due in part to their offensive leader, Vincent Trocheck. Trocheck had 4 goals and 2 assists and seems ready to push for the scoring title in the league this year. There's no question that the Panthers draft pick is one of the league's most underrated players.

7. Michael Dal Colle - Oshawa Generals
The 7th overall pick in the 2012 priority draft had a terrific preseason with 3 goals and 5 assists. Oshawa had a few holes in the line up thanks in part to the departure of Nicklas Jensen, Christian Thomas, and Andy Andreoff. But it looks like Dal Colle could be capable of shouldering a heavy load earlier than expected. Wouldn't it be something if Oshawa had a better season this year (after losing so much talent)?

6. Michael Amadio - Brampton Battalion
Brampton's 2nd rounder in 2012 is the second 1996 born player to crack this list. Interestingly enough, Amadio performed better in the preseason than any of the 35 players taken ahead of him. This product of the Great Canadian North (SSM), had 4 goals and 3 assists and gives Brampton yet another talented forward.

5. Brock Beukeboom - Niagara IceDogs
There's no question that it had to have hurt to not be signed by the St. Louis Blues this offseason. After a couple of injury plagued seasons, it seemed like Beukeboom's development had stalled. But he seems hungry to prove the doubters wrong. I recall another injury plagued, inconsistent defender who was left for dead by the NHL before having a monster (and award filled) overage season. His name, Jake Muzzin. Just sayin'. Beukeboom had 4 goals and at least one assist this preseason.

4. Josh Burnside - Mississauga Steelheads
If you remember correctly, I've told you Burnside was a player to watch for this year, despite playing sparingly in the OHL last year and failing to register a point. I went so far to put him on my HM list for my preseason top 30. Well, he's looked pretty damn good this preseason with 6 goals and an assist. The speedster is apparently way bigger, and way stronger and it's translated to offensive success. And you know what, the Steelheads are going to need it this year!

3. Charles Sarault - Sarnia Sting
Unofficially, Sarault led the OHL preseason in scoring with 3 goals and 8 assists. The talented playmaker was up to the tricks that made him one of the league's breakout stars last year. OHL fans should probably get used to seeing him up near the top of league scoring as the overager is poised to be a candidate for the scoring lead during the regular season too.

2. Reid Boucher - Sarnia Sting
Back to back Sting, Boucher checks into 2nd place on the list after a 7 goal, 2 assist preseason. I was a little bit disappointed with Boucher's play last year, his first in the league. With a full season under his belt, the Devils draft pick seems poised to make a run at the league's goal scoring lead.

1. Ryan O'Connor - Barrie Colts
The Colts were one of the top teams in this year's preseason, and much of that had to do with the play of their veterans like Mark Scheifele, Anthony Camara, and this guy, Ryan O'Connor. Being counted on to be one of the leaders on this year's Barrie team, O'Connor was a beast this preseason with 4 goals, and 4 assists. If the Colts can get consistently good goaltending, they could be the team to beat in the East.

Honorable Mentions (organized by team):

Barrie Colts
Veteran forwards Mark Scheifele (4 goals, 1 assist), Zach Hall (6 assists), and Anthony Camara (3 goals, 1 assist) all were large contributors this preseason. New addition Andreas Athanasiou was also impressive with 3 goals and an assist.

Belleville Bulls
Michael Curtis is entering his 4th OHL season and is trying to finally take that next step offensively. He had 2 goals, and 2 assists this preseason and seems to be ready to breakout.

Brampton Battalion 
Brandon Robinson had a 4 goal preseason and the 2nd year power forward seems poised for a breakout season. Too bad he's not eligible for the NHL draft until 2014. Veteran Barclay Goodrow had 3 goals and an assist.

Erie Otters
New captain Connor Brown was one of three players to register 2 goals and 2 assists in 4 preseason games. The other two were draft eligibles Stephen Harper and Jake Evans. Rookie phenom Connor McDavid registered 3 assists.

Guelph Storm
Several of the Storm's terrific young forwards had strong preseasons. Scott Kosmachuk, Zach Mitchell, Hunter Garlent and Brody Milne all had 3 goals and 2 assists.

Kingston Frontenacs
Import Henri Ikonen had a strong preseason with a couple of goals and a couple of helpers. He looks like he could be a solid contributor for them this year. 2012 pick Spencer Watson was also strong with a goal and a couple of assists.

Kitchener Rangers
The dynamic Ryan Murphy had 1 goal, and 3 assists during preseason action. He should obviously be among the league leaders in defensive scoring. New addition Matt Puempel registered 1 goal and 3 assists, and appears to be fitting in well.

London Knights
Draft eligible forward Bo Horvat had 3 goals and looks ready to have a breakout year. This after a terrific performance at the Ivan Hlinka tournament.

Mississauga Steelheads
Forward Justin Rasmussen had 4 goals during the preseason and will look to have a larger role this season after being relegated to a depth role the past few years.

Niagara IceDogs
Rookie forward Anthony DiFruscia had 4 goals and seems like a talent to watch (as Sean Lafortune pointed out). Veterans Ryan Strome (1 goal, 5 assists), and Brett Ritchie (2 goals, 3 assists) also had strong preseasons. Sophomore Carter Verhaeghe had 1 goal and 4 assists and could have a breakout year. If the lockout continues, the Dogs could surprise this year.

Oshawa Generals
I think Lucas Lessio is poised to have a massive breakout season and he was terrific in the preseason with 4 goals, and an assist. Sophomore Cole Cassels was also very strong with 2 goals, and 4 assists. Veteran forward and overager Scott Sabourin is looking for an increased role this year and proved he might be capable of just that with 3 goals and an assist. When Tyler Biggs finally got into game action, he was also strong posting 3 goals.

Ottawa 67's
The diminutive Brett Gustavsen had an excellent preseason with 4 goals and a couple of assists. He'll need to be a big part of Ottawa's attack this year. Someone has to help Sean Monahan. 

Owen Sound Attack
Gemel Smith and Holden Cook each had 3 goals for the Attack. Smith could be among the league's leading scorers this year, while Cook is looking to improve upon the single goal he scored last year.

Peterborough Petes
Hard to pick a standout on a team that finished winless, but three new Petes forwards all had 2 goals; Greg Betzold, Jonatan Tanus, and Brett Findlay. Now if only the rest of the players could step up.

Plymouth Whalers
Veteran forward Garrett Meurs had a strong preseason with 3 goals and will look to continue to improve. Meanwhile, new defenseman Gianluca Curcuruto added a couple of goals and an assist and looks to be ready to play a large role in Plymouth.

Saginaw Spirit
Eric Locke had 4 goals and will look to finally cement himself as a top line offensive talent in this league. After failing to get drafted this year, he will certainly be motivated. Goaltender Jake Paterson was also solid and helped the Spirit to the best record in the West during preseason play.

Sarnia Sting
The charismatic Alex Galchenyuk had 2 goals and 4 assists and looks healthy and ready to dominate. Meanwhile, a couple of new faces also made big waves for Sarnia. Former USHL player Bryan Moore had 3 goals and 2 assists, while Russian import Nikolai Goldobin was fantastic in limited action with 3 goals and 3 assists.

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The newly acquired Mitchell Dempsey had 3 goals and will look to show an offensive side to his game to match his physical play. The draft eligible forward was acquired from Plymouth in the Curcuruto deal.

Sudbury Wolves
Tryout Jake Ryan was fantastic and had 3 goals and 2 assists, earning a spot on the team. It remains to be seen whether this '93 can continue this success, but it's a great story none the less.

Windsor Spitfires
For all those who say Kerby Rychel mooched off of Alex Khokhlachev last year, the 3rd year player (and draft eligible forward) had a strong preseason with 3 goals and 3 assists. Avalanche draft pick Michael Clarke was also solid with 3 goals and 2 assists. He'll look to be more consistent this year.

Stay tuned for my 2012/2013 Season Preview this week!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday Top 10 - Unheralded Rookies Who Could Make an Impact in 2012-13

 There's no denying that this is one of my favourite yearly lists to put together. This is the 4th year I've done it and I always love looking back at this one. Of course, I'm referring to the examination of some rookies who could make an impact in the OHL next season.

Now, by rookies I don't mean fresh faced, newly drafted 1996's. We're talking about some of the 1995's (and possibly even 1994's) who didn't make the OHL full time last year, but who have the potential to make a real big impact in 2012/2013. Every year, players like this emerge to become quality, even star players, in this league (see Mark Scheifele, Matt Clark, Trevor Carrick, etc). And every year, I put together this list with the help of someone who's able to see the Tier 2 and midget level a hell of a lot more than I do. Last year, I had's Sean Lafortune write this piece for us. I've brought him back to do it again. Below you can find Sean's list. I've also added a few other guys I think could make an impact based on what I'm hearing at training camps.

Davis Brown / Left Wing / Sarnia Sting / 5'9"  / 185 / Jul. 1, 1995
Davis Brown has always been a goal scorer. I first saw him as an underage forward playing with the London Jr Knights Gold three years ago; usually playing with current Windsor Spitfires centre Michael Clarke. Even though he was a year younger than his peers, he was one of the better offensive player that year, showing strong finishing skills around the net. Three years later, Brown continues to be one of the better Ontario based players that not many fans know about. His release and shot could already be one of the better ones in the Ontario Hockey League. He is a strong skater who shows good footwork and acceleration. Despite having a smaller body size, he works through checks in the offensives zone, finding open ice in the offensive zone. He is excellent at getting lost in defensive coverage and putting himself in a position to finish off plays. If he is teamed with a centre who can get him the puck in the offensive zone, he could be one of the best rookies in the OHL this year. Expect him to play top 9 minutes initially, but could find himself on one of the top two lines if he adapts quickly to the league.

Anthony DiFruscia / Left Wing  / Niagara Ice Dogs  / 5'10" / 180 / Apr. 20th, 1995
DiFruscia is a skilled forward who I had rated extremely high in his OHL Draft year. He showed strong mobility and footwork, teamed with great work ethic and a very strong, accurate shot. I had him rated as a late first round pick, however he fell a bit due to the fact that he was headed to Salisbury Prep School for a year. Now that he is signed with the Ice Dogs, he could be a real wildcard this year. He is a strong, high compete forward who has some impressive puck skills. His first few steps and footwork are impressive, and he has the potential to be a very effective top six forward for the Ice Dogs, perhaps as early as this season. The Biggest question for DiFruscia moving forward will be how he transitions to the strength and skill levels of the OHL. He has always been a player who uses his size and strength to his advantage, but being 5'10/180 at the OHL level may see that advantage be limited.

Jordan DeKort / Goaltender / Windsor Spitfires  / 6'4" / 192 / Aug. 8th, 1995
DeKort was rated as my second best goaltender for the 2011 OHL Draft. The former Markham Major was a second round selection of the Windsor Spitfires, and spent last season in LaSalle of the GOJHL. He is an impressive 6'4/192 lbs, which is a big asset for goaltenders. His best assets are his positional play, his body size, his focus and his ability to take away space from opposition shooters. He is extremely strong positionally. When he is on, he keeps his skates at the top of the crease, challenging shooters and gives them little to no space to shoot at. He shows good mental focus, and never seems to be phased when facing a high amount of shots or traffic in front of him. He will have some room to work on his lateral mobility and agility, but it has yet to really hold him back in either the GTHL or GOJHL. The key this year will be how quickly he adjusts to the level of play in the OHL. He has high potential; however the first year in the OHL is a huge step, especially for a goaltender, and how he manages that step will be a key for him. Realistic expectation have him as a goaltender who plays 30 - 35 games next year. He has the ability to be a starter in this league, but patience will be important.

Jacob Jammes / Right Wing / London Knights / 5'10" / 172 / Nov. 30, 1995
The London Knights used their 2011 2nd round pick last year on skilled forward Jacob Jammes, a player who really looked to be one of the better 95 born players in the OEMHL in his draft year. The graduate of the Ottawa Jr. 67's program spent last season with the Gloucester Rangers, where he developed his already strong puck skills and vision, but also his core and upper body strength. Jammes could have played in the league last year as a 16 year old, however he did have NCAA options and chose to play a year closer to home before determining his next course of action. He was signed by the Knights back in March , and is expected to join their strong core of young, skilled forwards this year. What I like about Jammes is pretty simple. He has excellent hands, sees the ice well and makes strong decisions with the puck. He is a great skater who shows excellent four-way mobility and transitional footwork. He has great vision and has the ability to make a crisp take to tape pass, or simply uses his strong outside speed to drive the net with the puck. He has put on roughly 10 lbs in the past year, but still needs to continue to work on his core strength, as he can struggle down low against bigger, stronger defenceman. A big challenge for him will be his ice time. As mentioned, he will be joining one of, if not the deepest forward core in the OHL, and he will need to show a willingness to play 4th line minutes initially.

Justin Scott / Centre / Barrie Colts / 6'1" / 185 / Aug. 13, 1995
Justin Scott is one of the more improved OHL prospects that I have seen over the past 12 months. When I first saw him play with Burlington of the OMHA, he looked like a player who could be a smart, two way depth player at the OHL level, but one who had some work to do. Last year he made the Burlington Cougars of the OJHL as a 16 year old, and in doing so, he really took a huge step forward in his development. Scott is a two way, high complete forward who who has some real untapped offensive potential. He is not the most skilled player in his age group, but he has some nice puck skills, which we found out last year in Burlington. He is strong down low and along the boards, working pucks into open space and making good tape to tape passes in the offensive zone. He respects his defensive zone responsibilities and doesn't cheat offensively. Expect him to initially play a depth role with the Colts this year, but could work his way up the depth charts quickly given that the Colts are missing some key offensive players from last year.

Ken Appleby / Goaltender/ Oshawa Generals / 6'5" / 190 / Apr. 10, 1995
Of all the players on this list, Ken Appleby is one that I have seen the least. Drafted out of the GNML, I had the opportunity to see him play 5-6 times in his OHL Draft year, and really liked his upside. He is extremely well sized and strong positionally, showing focus and composure in the face of a high amount of shots. He had some room to grow with his lateral movement and footwork in the crease, but you loved the potential that he brought to the table. Last year, he recieved some extremely high praise for his play with Kirkland Lake last season in the NOJHL. He will play a backup role behind Carolina Hurricanes selection Daniel Altshuller, but I could see him really turning some heads in this league, and giving the Generals some depth in between the pipes.

Remi Elie / Left Wing / London Knights / 6'0' / 180 / Apr. 16th, 1995
Elie is another forward who has come a long way in a very short time period. The former Eastern Ontario Wild winger was a fairly good minor midget player, however one that didn't look to be a high-end OHL prospect. That appears to have changed this past year in Hawksbury, as he has really grown in the past 12 months, and the argument could be made that he is the most improved player in the 95 age group in the past 12 months. In training camp and exhibition games this year with London, he looks much more poised with the puck, with improved individual puck skills and vision. He looks confident in himself, and you can see the difference that it makes as he skates the puck into the offensive zone. He doesn't throw the puck away when he is challenged, and has developed an elusive aspect to his game, one that was not there last year. He has also really improved his footwork and acceleration. He still has some room to grow with it, but he's improved significantly from where he was 12 months ago. He, like Jacob Jammes, will have to prove himself in London against a very deep group of forwards. He could mesh well with Ryan and Matt Rupert if the Knights choose to move Ryan back to his natural centre position.

Aaron Berisha / Right Wing / Belleville Bulls / 5'10" / 183/ Mar. 5, 1995
Berisha is a bit of a wildcard this season. The graduate of the Toronto Marlboros was the most valuable player of the 2011 OHL Cup, and showed some strong growth over the course of his OHL Draft year. That's some high praise when you look at the other players who have won that trophy. He is not as individually skilled as some of the other names on this list (including names like John McFarland, Connor McDavid and Sean Monahan), however the growth that he showed that year, partnered with his ability to elevate his game when it matters, intrigues. He is a good but not great skater who needs to continue to work on his first few steps, but I like the offensive tools that he has. He reads the ice well and is strong at making the right decision with the puck in the offensive zone. Working on his aggression, as well as his positional play in his own zone will be keys for him, but playing in Belleville under George Burnett's system will certainly help that.

Patrick Murphy / Defence / Erie Otters / 5'11 / 180 / Jan. 10, 1995
Murphy is a defenceman who played a handful of games with the Otters last year, but is expected to take a much larger role with the team in 2012. He is a smart, puck moving defenceman who shows good vision in all three zones. He makes strong outlet passes, makes effective reads of the ice, and shows some good poise on the point when running a powerplay. The biggest thing to look for in a player like Murphy is how he adapts to the pace of play in the OHL. He played fairly well last year in Port Colborne, however it's a pretty big step from the GOJHL to the OHL. How does he handle the pace of play? How poised will he be against an aggressive forecheck? How will he handle puck battles? How those questions are answered will go a long way in determining his level play this year.

Alex Robinson / Defence / Peterborough Petes / 6'2 / 185 / Feb. 13th, 1995
Robinson is a defenceman who I've always thought had what it takes to be a solid defenceman at the OHL level. Selected by the Peterborough Petes in the 9th Round of the 2011 OHL Draft, I had him rated significantly higher than that, and was surprised to see him fall into the second half of the draft.  After graduating the Ottawa Valley Titans program, he spent last season with Kanata Stallions of the CCHL. He makes strong outlet passes, and is smart when moving the puck out of his zone. He can make a crisp pass, or simply dump the puck off the glass if that's what's needed. He is not afraid to skate the puck up the ice with his head up, reading the play and making crisp tape to tape passes. He will have some room to grow with his aggressiveness, as well as his upper body and core strength. He could struggle against bigger and stronger forwards in puck battles and against the forecheck. Regardless, I like the upside that he brings to the game, and think he could make a nice impact in Peterborough this season.


Michael Downing / Defence / Dubuque Fighting Saints / 6'2" / 180 / May 19th, 1995
Michael Downing is another strong defense first defenceman with high upside. He was the Sting's 8th round choice in the 2011 OHL Draft. He is expected to play this year in Dubuque of the USHL.

Tyler Hill / Left Wing / Hotchkiss Prep. / 6'6" / 225 / Apr. 19th, 1995
Former Brantford 99er has a high ceiling. Will be playing this season with Hotchkiss, but his rights are owned by the Ottawa 67's. Could be a real gem for the 67's if he changes his mind at some point.

Charlie Pelnik / Defence / Fargo Force / 6'4" / 221 / May 15th, 1995.
Aggressive, physical defenceman from Carolina's whose rights are held by the Plymouth Whalers, however he is expected to play this season with the Fargo Force of the USHL.

Ian McCoshen /  Defence / Waterloo Blackhawks / 6'3" / 205 / Aug. 8th, 1995
McCoshen is one of the best US born prospects for the 2013 NHL Draft. He is a physical, aggressive defenceman who has developed quite well over the past two years in Waterloo. He is expected to captain the Blackhawks this year, and I would be utterly shocked to see him anywhere other than Waterloo this year. His OHL rights are held with the Saginaw Spirit.

Otten's Honorable Mention Selections

Josh Burnside - Winger - Mississauga Steelheads
I mentioned Burnside in my preseason top 30 article. He played a handful of games in the league last year but wasn't able to register a point. So far this preseason, he's used his great speed to score goals and looks to be a candidate for a top 9 spot in Missy. 

Andrew Goldberg - Winger - Mississauga Steelheads
A '94 who was an 11th rounder in 2010, Goldberg had yet to break into Mississauga's line-up full time. With a bit of a rebuild at the forward position, he's got a chance to secure his spot after a strong year in Aurora. He's displayed his solid offensive skill set thus far in the preseason (ala Burnside) and seems to be someone to keep an eye on (he's a late birthday and thus first time eligible for the entry draft this year).

Justin Bailey - Center - Kitchener Rangers
Another guy mentioned in the preseason top 30 article, Bailey comes to Kitchener with a lot of hype. He's a big power forward with offensive potential, and someone who should jump into Kitchener's top 6 by the end of the year.

Brody Milne - Winger - Guelph Storm
Has come into Guelph's camp looking for a spot on a deep and talented young roster. With a solid preseason thus far, it looks like he should be able to at least make the bottom six for now. Could be someone to keep an eye on. Good touch around the net and seems to play the game the way Scott Walker likes it.

Slater Doggett - Winger - Kingston Frontenacs
A free agent signing by the Fronts after a strong year with the Burlington Cougars. He's a 94, still plenty of time to develop, especially since last year was his first above midget. Could be a late bloomer as a slick offensive winger. Kingston does have some holes up front, so if he can bring energy and skill, he'll get ice time.

Kyle Platzer - Winger - London Knights
It's kind of at the point where you have to ask yourself where the Knights keep finding these guys. They've already got one of the deepest forward groups in the league and now they have three forwards on this list. Where will they all play? Platzer had a great year with Waterloo last year and seems to be ready to make the team. Maybe London should package a couple of these young forwards for some more size up front?

Broderick Kelly - Defense - Niagara IceDogs 
Got some time with the Dogs last year and didn't look entirely out of place. He's a bit undersized, but seems to be a smart puck mover who could give Jesse Graham a bit of help providing offense from the blueline. 

Daniel Walsh - Winger - Ottawa 67's
Had a great year for Cumberland, where he led the team in goal scoring and penalty minutes. Ottawa is going to need secondary scoring badly this year. As a '94, Walsh might be a bit more physically mature than some of his competition and could surprise to earn some serious ice time. A possible Dalton Smith replacement?

Greg Betzold - Winger - Peterborough Petes
A Shattuck St. Mary's guy, Betzold seems to be a very talented offensive player who is already making his mark this preseason. He could be someone to keep an eye on and could even start the year in the top 6 and on a powerplay unit. 

Michael Giugovaz - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
Peterborough's goaltender of the future, or so it would appear. It looks like he'll start the year as Andrew D'Agostini's back-up, but after a solid year with Georgetown, he might be able to steal some starts away by the end of the year. We'll see how slowly the Petes ease him into action.

Justin Nichols - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Wrestling time away from Matt Murray is going to be tough, but if his consistency issues don't improve this year, there might be an opportunity for Nichols to be more than a back-up. He was the starter for Salisbury Prep last year, who have two other players on this list (Barisha and DiFruscia).

Ray Huether - Center - Sudbury Wolves
Poor Ray makes this list for the second year in a row! When will he finally crack an OHL roster? After a trade to Sudbury, it looks like he's finally found a home. Seems like he's played well in training camp too and could crack the team's top 9. The offensive dynamo had a great year for Stratford last season and seems eager to move on from Barrie.

Special thanks to Sean, yet again, for putting together this year's list. It's always a great read and highly informative. Be sure to follow Sean on twitter.