Thursday, May 30, 2013

Why Banning European Goaltenders is a Terrible Idea

Recently CHL commissioner (and OHL boss) David Branch announced that the Canadian Hockey League (in partnership with Hockey Canada) is considering the banning of European goaltenders. That is to say that CHL clubs would no longer be able to select and utilize European born netminders.

Obviously this comes as a response to the poor goaltending Canada has received at the WJC's in recent years. Fewer and fewer of the NHL's top young netminders hail from Canada, and Hockey Canada (and the CHL) sees this as a way to help rectify that.

Here's why it's a terrible idea:

Firstly, the CHL tries to promote itself as the premier developmental hockey league in the World. By preventing the best talent in the World from playing in your league, doesn't that taint the product? Wouldn't Canadian players develop the best by playing against the best? By my count, 12 CHL teams utilized European born goaltenders as their starters this year. Some, like Andrei Makarov, Mathias Niederberger, and Patrik Bartosak, were among the best goaltenders in their league. Several years ago, it was all about how Canadian forwards lacked skill and offensive ability, so reforms were put in place to "improve" that. Well, I want our Canadian forwards shooting against the best goaltenders possible, Canadian or not. But, I'll admit that I'm a bit biased in this area because I think we should increase the Import number by one, not put restrictions on it.

Secondly, the CHL, as much as it's a critical developmental league, is also a business. CHL teams want to put the best possible product on the ice . If a team has a need in net, they've been able to fill that need with an Import goaltender. For example, I can't imagine where the Brampton Battalion would have been the past few years without Matej Machovsky. Or...where the Ottawa 67's would have been the prior two years without Petr Mrazek. Fans want to be entertained by the best, that's the bottom line.

Lastly, isn't the whole concept of banning European goalies silly, when American goalies are in fact nearly as prevalent? While 12 CHL teams used European starting netminders, 8 used goaltenders born and raised in the United States. That includes two of the top goalies in the CHL; John Gibson and Mac Carruth. How is the CHL and Hockey Canada going to guarantee that CHL clubs fill those 12 spots with Canadian goaltenders, and not American goaltenders? Like I said, it's a business; a business that requires the best product be put on the ice. You think the Hunters or Rychel's of the OHL care about developing Canadian goaltenders? They'll take the best goalie available to them, regardless of whether he's purple, brown, red, or yellow.

So, why is Hockey Canada and the CHL "picking on" the players hailing from Europe? Simple. In a perfect world, I'm sure Hockey Canada would love the CHL to place restrictions on American goalies too, but Branch would scoff at that idea. It's all about trying to "stick it to the NCAA." If restrictions start being placed on American players entering the league, they could limit their draw to American born players. That means, less talent in the league; or MORE talent to the NCAA. And the CHL would never go for that. I'm sure that US hockey is very thankful to the Kitchener Rangers for helping to develop their Gold medal winning World Junior goaltender, and Bronze medal winning World Championship goaltender (Gibson). But Gibson (and Niederberger) are great for the league, not the other way around.

If Hockey Canada really wants to improve goaltending in this country, they should look at reforms to minor hockey development. They should be looking at the reason why kids don't want to play goaltender anymore. Is it cost related? There's no secret that the position places pressure on parents to meet cost requirements. It's not cheap to play goal. Maybe we look at donations or cost adjustments to those players who play net. You know, similar to the way your rec hockey league works because you're so desperate for a goaltender!

Bottom line is this; those extra 3-4 spots in each CHL league, freed up by excluding European netminders, are not going to help Canadian goaltenders develop. The reforms need to be done at a much lower level in order to truly cause change. You want to improve Canadian goaltending? How about you get more kids to play the position at a young age, and teach them the fundamentals that will increase their competency and confidence at the position.

So don't worry Mathias Niederberger and Matej Machovsky, it's not your fault Canada is no longer a goaltender factory! I hope you haven't lost any sleep.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dobber Nation Podcast

John Gilbert (Dobber Hockey) had me on the Dobber Nation podcast recently, to talk about the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

Be sure to check it out here

Monday, May 27, 2013

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft - Part 4: 10-1

I bring you the epic conclusion to my Top 50; the top 10! Hope you've enjoyed the ride.

10. Jimmy Lodge - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Lodge was definitely one of the largest risers in the entire draft this year, not just the OHL. At the beginning of the season, he would have been nowhere close to the top 10 of OHL players (at least on my list). But, as the season progressed, he got better and better. The real breakthrough came after the trade of Vincent Trocheck to Plymouth. Dating back to the end of December (when Trocheck was gone at the WJC's), Lodge finished the season with 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in his final 31 games. That type of production prorated for the entire season would give him a 99 point season. The second half production was also the best of any '95 in the league (including Max Domi), and the second best production of any draft eligible player (behind Kerby Rychel, but ahead of Sean Monahan). Needless to say, he was a beast in the 2nd half. Playing with Eric Locke and Garret Ross, Lodge was part of a dynamite offensive unit which kept Saginaw afloat in the playoff race post Trocheck. Lodge is a terrific skater who is excellent with the puck. He's great in transition and does very well to beat defenders off the rush. He's also got a great shot and profiles well as a goal scorer at the next level. There's no question that he did benefit from playing with Locke and Ross, two terrific players without the puck. They did a lot of the work for Lodge in the corners and to create space for him. But he does well to get himself in scoring position and has a good head for the game. I've read some criticisms about his lack of desire to engage in traffic and without the puck. I certainly haven't seen that. Any time I've seen him play, he's seemed engaged in that area of the game. Was he successful in winning loose puck battles? Not particularly. But he's also a slender kid who needs to put on muscle. Right now, he's more of a finesse type forward. But I'd like to think that his game could evolve once he gets strong enough to win battles. As a skilled offensive player, I think he's proved enough to warrant this high of a ranking.
Lodge on "The Pipeline Show" 
My article on Lodge and Q & A, "Jimmy Lodge Elevates Saginaw's Spirit" 

9. Chris Bigras - Defenseman - Owen Sound Attack
Bigras can definitely be called a "steady Eddie." He's a solid two-way defender cut from the same cloth as guys like Matt Finn and Stuart Percy. This probably profiles him as a late first/mid 2nd round selection. Offensively, he makes a good first pass and is generally very calm with the puck in his own end. He doesn't panic under the pressure of the forecheck and is often confident enough to skate the puck out of the defensive zone. I wouldn't necessarily call him a dynamic puck rusher, but he is smart in picking his spots to jump up in the play. As a powerplay quarterback, he's still growing. Once Cody Ceci joined Owen Sound, their powerplay improved significantly from when Bigras was the general. Bigras does have underrated skill with the puck though, and I think with increased confidence he'll put up better numbers and become more aggressive. Defensively, he's a solid positional defender. By that I mean, he's not the type to plant you on your butt, but he's a good stick defender who angles forwards away from the net and who ties up forwards well. He's got decent mobility and he's able to beat the opposition to their spot more often than not. While I was a bit underwhelmed by his performance in this year's playoffs, I thought he redeemed himself with a solid performance at the U-18's for Canada (finishing the tournament with a 2nd best +8). As such a consistent performer, I think you know what you're getting if you draft Bigras.
Bigras' Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager

8. Zach Nastasiuk - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Zach Nasty has been a favourite of mine since he debuted in the OHL last season. The work ethic he brings to the ice makes him a very valuable player for the Attack (and endures him to fans). Early in the season, he excelled in a checking role for Owen Sound; killing penalties, forcing turnovers off the forecheck, and crashing the net for scoring chances. He was also seeing powerplay time as a net presence; looking for deflections and screens. As the season went on, he started looking more and more confident with the puck and began creating his own scoring chances by driving hard to the net with possession. He also got more confidence in using his shot and was more patient with the puck in the cycle. By the end of the season and into the playoffs, I felt like Nastasiuk was possibly Owen Sound's top offensive player, or at least in the same conversation as Dan Catenacci. In his final 22 games (including the playoffs), he had 10 goals, and 12 assists (a ppg). He then went off to the Under 18's where he put in a solid performance, scoring 2 goals and adding 2 assists. I've had a few people ask me about Nastasiuk's late season rapid rise up the rankings. I think it probably has to do with a change in the perception of Nastasiuk's potential. I think some people probably viewed Nastasiuk as a nice checking prospect early on in the season, but when his offensive game really started to blossom, it caused a shift in that perception. I see him as a comparable player to the Rangers' Ryan Callahan and I'd have to think many teams would be happy to nab that kind of player in the late first/early 2nd.
Nastasiuk's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager

7. Ryan Hartman - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
He came as advertised this year; Hartman was a very exciting player to watch play in 2013. While he was a pretty consistent player all the way through, I felt Hartman really took off following the WJC's. At the U-20's, Hartman was a contributing member of that gold medal winning U.S. squad. When he returned, he was more confident and more assertive with the puck. In his 24 games post the WJC's, Hartman had 31 points. I think he'll be a player who is very attractive to NHL scouts because of the complete nature of his game. The first thing you notice about his game is how relentless his physical game is. He hits everything, and he hits everything hard. If you want to battle with him for a loose puck, you better get ready to be hit. For that very reason, he's an extremely effective forechecker. Hartman is also a very smart defensive player who doubles as an important penalty killer for Plymouth. Even though you immediately notice his high tempo physical game, don't discount his offensive capabilities. He's definitely got the skill and smarts to play a top 6 role at the next level. He knows how to play without the puck offensively and does well to find holes and get himself into scoring positions. With the puck, he loves to drive the outside and will occasionally catch defenseman flat footed with surprising speed. I also like his vision with the puck and I think he profiles as a good playmaker at the next level. The only negative would be that his undisciplined penalties can cost his team, so he'll have to learn to control himself more effectively. But Hartman is a solid (close to pro ready) prospect.
Hartman on "The Pipeline Show" 
Hartman's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager
6. Kerby Rychel - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Even though I was slightly disappointed with Rychel's 2013 season, I still like him enough to rank him 6th and I do believe in his NHL potential as a goal scoring forward. At the beginning of the season, Rychel came under a pretty solid amount of scrutiny for not being able to create his own offensive scoring chances minus Alex Khokhlachev. In 39 games without Khokhlachev, Rychel had 39 points (including 23 goals). Not exactly terrible production, but not at the rate many people desired. With Khoklachev (after he returned from Russia), Rychel was the highest scoring draft eligible player in the OHL in the 2nd half. He had 17 goals, 31 assists and 48 points in 29 games. The question you need to ask yourself is, is there anything wrong with the fact that Rychel is more effective when he's playing with a strong puck carrier and distributor? When you can finish plays like Rychel can, I'm not sure there is. When he's playing at the next level, Rychel will get the opportunity to play with guys who are as talented at creating plays as Khokhlachev. And Rychel's bread and butter is his shot (which has to be considered one of the strongest in this draft class), in addition to reading plays and getting himself open for scoring chances. His hands in close are also tremendous and because of his size, he's incredibly difficult for defenseman to contain near the crease. Guys like John Leclair and Kevin Stevens made a living in the NHL, doing the things Rychel does well, while possessing some of his lesser qualities. At this point, I'm not terrifically bothered by the fact that he was inconsistent without a puck distributor. The one thing that does concern me is the wavering consistency of his physical game and overall interest in engaging without the puck. Sometimes he looks like a power forward, while other times he looks lazy. The key to unlocking his potential at the next level will be whether he can play more of a consistent physical game.
Rychel on "The Pipeline Show" 
Rychel's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager
5. Nikita Zadorov - Defenseman - London Knights
When you're 6'5, 230lbs, you can hit like a truck, and you have no issues with mobility, you're going to get consideration inside the lottery. That's the case for Zadorov. The size he possesses is obviously awesome, but when you combine it with a slick, effortless, skating stride it becomes even better. He's incredibly difficult to beat off the rush because he can skate with you, but also has that long stick and aggressive nature which makes him hard to get around. That aggressive nature is also very appealing. He's definitely become one of the most physical players in the OHL. His hits hurt and he strikes a lot of fear into opposing forwards. He'll plant you on your butt in the neutral zone, he'll rub you out in the corners, and he'll stick you in the back in front of the net. He's simply a physical beast. I do feel at times that he becomes too physically focused though. He can be prone to taking himself out of position in order to go for a big hit and at times, he'll get caught scrambling in the defensive end after engaging too long in the corners. He needs to learn that he can be effective sometimes by just using his reach and positioning and that occasionally that big hit just doesn't need to happen. In order to become a truly terrific defensive player, he'll also need to tighten up his coverage reads. Sometimes he can get caught standing around watching the play. In terms of his offensive game, I think he can be a fairly effective player at the next level. I don't see a future 40-50 point guy. But, if he continues to work on his breakout, gains confidence in his ability to skate with the puck, and improves the accuracy of his shot, he could be a second powerplay guy and possible 30 point dman. He has enough skill with the puck to make things happen off the rush, but he's not incredibly aggressive and doesn't usually break the opposing blueline. Towards the end of the season and into the playoffs (and Memorial Cup), he was starting to be more aggressive without the puck offensively; taking chances by jumping up in the play or trying to slip in the backdoor. Bottom line is that Zadorov has the skill set to be a very solid two-way guy at the next level and someone who can log 20 minutes a night for your team.
Zadorov on "The Pipeline Show"

4. Max Domi - Forward - London Knights
Domi finished the season as the highest scoring '95 in the OHL, and there's a reason for that; his incredible skill level with the puck. Forget the size concerns. Forget the inconsistencies in his two-way game. Forget the health issues (diabetes). When you get down to the heart of it, Domi knows how to create offensive scoring chances and he can put points on the board. He is such a terrific stickhandler, that he's able to create scoring chances without requiring little space. And if he needs space, he uses his outstanding skating ability to create it. As a finisher, he's got a great wrist shot and is able to use it at top speed. As a playmaker, he has great vision and is able to dictate the pace at which he wants his line to play. He can thread the needle with a pass. I've seen/heard some people question his poise with the puck and playmaking ability. I simply don't agree. Does he sometimes force plays and overhandle the puck? Yes, he does. But there are other times where he's able to create a scoring chance because he draws defenders to him and then fires off a beautiful pass to an open teammate. Domi just needs to learn that he can't do everything himself. And let's not forget, he is Tie's son, which means he can play an extremely physical game when he wants to. While he's not a physical force every game, he can turn that switch and really get under the skin of opponents. In terms of the aforementioned concerns over size, defense, and health; I don't think they're as big of a concern as some people make them to be. Sure he's not tall (5'10), but he's very stocky and has terrific lower body strength. He has no problems in the corners. And his speed makes him elusive and hard to check. Defensively, he needs work. He channels most of his energy into the offensive side of things, but coaching and development can improve one's defensive game. And health, well there are lots of professional athletes who have diabetes (including hockey players Cory Conacher, B.J. Crombeen, and the retired Bobby Clarke). So in my humble opinion, the good with Domi far outweighs the potential bad. I think he's going to be an impact player.
Domi on "The Pipeline Show" 
Domi's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager

3. Bo Horvat - Forward - London Knights
The complete package. Other than being only an average skater, he brings it all. I had a reader make a hilarious (but awkward) comment to me about him the other day, stating that he has a "Bo-ner for Horvat." Maybe that should be his draft marketing slogan at the combine. People are talking about Horvat like he suddenly appeared out of nowhere to take home the MVP of the OHL playoffs. He didn't just come on in the playoffs, he's been building up to that level of play by improving every month of the season. In his final 40 games of the season, Horvat had 25 goals and 20 assists. Prorate that and it's a 40+ goal season. That type of production, plus physical play, two-way ability, face off skill, penalty kill ability, AND leadership capabilities and you've got yourself one hell of a player. As an offensive player, Horvat is an incredibly hard worker. He wins battles in the corners, he forces turnovers, he is effective in the cycle, and he gets himself in great scoring position. Best of all, he's a terrific finisher, as he possesses a great wrister and great hand-eye. Horvat is also terrific in all three zones. He anticipates plays incredibly well defensively and he forces many turnovers in the neutral zone. He also is a terrific shot blocker and penalty killer. I'm not particularly sure what position I see him playing at the next level, but I do know that he's one of the best face-off men in the OHL. And lastly, he oozes leadership potential and could be London's captain as early as next season. I'm not a huge fan of comparisons, but I see Horvat as a Shane Doan type of player at the next level. Someone who will lead and be the face of his team for many years, even if he's not leading them in scoring. That type of player doesn't grow on trees and it's why Horvat has seen his name pop up close to the Top 10 now.
Horvat on "The Pipeline Show Part 2"
Horvat on "The Pipeline Show Part 1"
Horvat's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager
2. Sean Monahan - Forward - Ottawa 67's
While Horvat has certainly closed the gap with Monahan, I think I'd still take the 67's center. People forget that Monahan, himself, is also a solid three zone/complete player who should have a lengthy professional career. I don't think there's any secret to the fact that Monahan did have a bit of a tough year. The 67's were awful. He wasn't able to eclipse the point production he put up last year as a sophomore. He didn't make the U-20 Canadian squad. Similar to Sean Couturier, Monahan suffered from the fact that he has a late birthday and scouts had an extra year to dissect his body of work. That overexposure factor does seem to hurt certain prospects, mostly guys like Monahan who are solid all around players, but not flashy guys who'll "wow" you. Monahan's bread and butter is his patience and poise with the puck. He's an excellent and intelligent playmaker who reads and reacts to defenses exceptionally well. He does have good finishing ability, but I think he'll best profile as a playmaking center at the next level. Monahan certainly isn't a "burner," like a Max Domi, who creates mostly off the rush. He's more effective once possession of the zone is gained and he's able to work at a slower pace. He's got good size and is a pretty strong kid, so he's effective along the wall and in the cycle. And while Monahan was a -18 this year, I actually think that's quite a feat considering how bad Ottawa was (and second line center Dante Salituro was a -44). He's still a very smart two-way center who works hard on the backcheck and profiles as someone who can play in any situation at the next level. One thing I actually liked in his game this year was an increased involvement physically. He'll never be an elite checker, but he did start to use his size more to his advantage this year. Heck, he was suspended for 10 games for a head check in November. All in all, I think you know what you're getting in Monahan; a smart offensive general who'll be able to lead your first or second line for many years. The one thing I will say is that, like Couturier, I could see Monahan falling a bit at the draft. He could be one of those guys teams really like, but don't love. And if they're more enamored with someone else at their draft position, he could slide a bit. Still a great prospect though wherever he gets selected (and someone who I feel is NHL ready).
Monahan on "The Pipeline Show" 
Monahan's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager

1. Darnell Nurse - Defenseman - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
At this point, Nurse is definitely my top prospect available from the OHL. All season long, I wrestled back and forth between Monahan and Nurse. But it's clearly Nurse now IMO. He possesses so much potential at the next level. He could be a perennial Norris candidate IMO. The thing I like most about Nurse is how much he improved this season from the last. You need to look at that progression and think about just how good he could be, if he continues to tap into his athletic bloodlines (father was a CFL player), and continues to improve. He's certainly a potential dynamo at both ends of the ice. His size (6'5, pushing 200lbs), makes him an asset in the defensive end. As does his skating ability. He's incredibly difficult to get around and he's physical enough to intimidate. As he gets stronger, I expect his physical game to become more consistent and more effective. He certainly has the mentality to be a bruiser. In the defensive end, he's still learning a bit. He can get caught out of position at times, but with strong coaching I think this improves. Offensively, he went through the biggest transformation this season. He looked very poised and confident with the puck and took chances in leading and joining the rush. His skating ability makes him a threat offensively. He's also got an absolute cannon of a shot that will only get better as he gets stronger. His play on the powerplay is improving. This year, with Ryan Sproul and Colin Miller on the point, Nurse was relegated to the 2nd unit. Next year, it'll be his show to run and I expect very big things from him. When all is said and done, Nurse has the potential to be one of those defenseman who doesn't really have any holes in his game. He's the complete package and I think he's the 2nd defenseman off the board after Seth Jones.
Nurse on "The Pipeline Show" 
Nurse's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager
My article on Nurse and Q & A, "Nursing the Greyhounds Back to the Top"

That's all folks! Best of luck to all of the draft eligible players come June 30th. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft - Part 3: 30-11

I bring you part 3 of my rankings as we delve inside the top 30.

30. Brody Silk - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Silk starts off our top 30, but has had sort of a roller coaster OHL career thus far. As a late '94, he just finished his 3rd full OHL season, but has yet to take that giant leap forward offensively. During the 2012 season, he missed large chunks of time due to suspension and injury. This year, he started off very strong, but cooled massively towards the end of the season; then got injured in the playoffs. For a 3rd year player, his offensive numbers certainly don't jump out at you. But Silk does a lot of things well, things that project him as a possible 3rd/4th line player at the NHL level. He brings a lot of sandpaper to the ice and is a very effective offensive player below the hash marks. He can force turnovers on the forecheck and is a very effective player along the boards and with the cycle. Silk is also a pretty good defensive player and does a great job of getting under the skin of opponents. So what's holding Silk back from being more of a consistent impact player? He needs to get quicker. Silk isn't yet a dangerous player off the rush and he's not a threat to carry the puck from the neutral zone on. He has the puck skill, but lacks that separation ability. Adding that speed component to his game would make him that much more dangerous.

29. Jeff Corbett - Defenseman - Sudbury Wolves
There's no question that Corbett is much higher on this list if he could stay healthy. But the constant trips to the infirmary scare me (as I'm sure they scare NHL scouts). Corbett has played only 69 games over the past two seasons, missing time for a variety of reasons (including a couple of dreaded "upper body injuries"). Anytime he appears to get a head of steam, he gets injured again. After the trade of Frankie Corrado this year, he looked tremendous in an increased role (with 7 points in 14 games to start 2013), but then got injured. Corbett has a ton of potential. He's definitely a complete defenseman who has a lot of offer. He's got size (6'1) and is a very smooth skater. This helps him at both ends of the ice. In particular, he's a very impressive and safe player in his own end. He defends off the rush well, is smart in coverage, but also makes smart passes and can skate the puck out of trouble. As an offensive, puck mover, I think there's a lot of upside there, as he continues to gain confidence. But this can only happen if he stays healthy. Sudbury is going to rely on Corbett as (possibly) their top defenseman next year. I hope he's up to the task.

28. Nick Paul - Forward -  Brampton/North Bay Battalion
When analyzing Paul's rookie OHL season, it's hard to ignore the fact that he went scoreless in his final 24 games (including playoffs). But I think it's important to point out that Paul makes an impact on games even when he's not scoring. Firstly, like most players under Stan Butler, he's a very solid player in his own end. He definitely works hard at both ends of the ice. This is especially the case along the boards, where his size (6'2, 202lbs) makes him a difficult guy to win battles against. He's very adept at creating offensive chances off the wall. Basically, Paul might not yet be hitting the score sheet consistently, but that doesn't mean he's not noticeable on the ice. Moving forward, improving his skating has to be his primary focus. He's definitely got some heavy feet and it prevents him from being more of a factor (at least consistently) offensively. I'd also like to see him play with an edge more consistently. He has the size to be a very intimidating player on the ice and in front of the net, but just isn't there yet.

27. Michael Giugovaz - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
Stole the starting gig away from Andrew D'Agostini at the start of the year and did a very admirable job, despite the Petes' struggles. However, once Jody Hull took over, he began to lose starts to the red hot D'Agostini as the Petes' tried to salvage their season and make the playoffs. Giugovaz only got 8 starts in 2013 (an average of just under 3 per month), so it was pretty hard to evaluate him down the stretch. It's not as if he was playing poorly, it's just that D'Agostini was playing great and Hull decided to run with his veteran netminder. Giugovaz isn't a huge goaltender (~ 6'1), but he makes himself big in the net and plays his angles well. He never gives up on the play and has great agility in the crease; making many 2nd and 3rd saves. Like any young netminder, he needs to improve his ability to control and direct rebounds. Next year it'll be interesting to see what happens with Giugovaz. Hull returns (after doing a terrific job in the 2nd half), and so does D'Agostini as an overager. Does that mean Giugovaz goes into next season as the back-up yet again?

26. Josh Burnside - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Burnside is easily one of the best and quickest skaters on this list. And he uses this speed to be a very effective three zone player, as well as forechecker. The fact that he's so terrific defensively should come as no surprise, he actually just started playing forward after his minor midget season (transitioning from defense). His ability to read plays, especially in the neutral zone, makes him a very valuable commodity on the ice. Offensively, he's a very fearless player. He loves to play near the crease and will pay the price to score a goal. On the season, he scored several goals on re-directions in front of the net, which shows great hand eye skill. I feel like sometimes he skates around a little aimlessly in the offensive zone, but he's still learning how to play the position and managed to play on the Steelheads first line with Riley Brace and Dylan Smoskowitz nearly all season. The one aspect of his game that I'd like to see him improve is his physicality. He's definitely got to add more muscle to his frame, but when he does, I think becoming more physical without the puck is going to be key to his potential at the next level. If he's going to develop into a scrappy-two way forward, becoming a consistently physical forward is a necessity.
Burnside's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager

25. Brent Pedersen - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
A former first rounder, Pedersen was receiving a lot of criticism for his lack of production and development at the start of the season. But as he started to play with more aggression, the rest of his game slowly came around. Towards the middle part of the season, he was playing some terrific hockey. When he's on, Pedersen is a power winger who can skate reasonably well and has the ability to take the puck hard to the net. He gets involved in the corners, in the cycle, and can have a very positive impact on the game by exhausting opposing defenses. The key is consistency. He didn't start the season well, and he actually didn't finish the season incredibly well. He was pretty invisible in the playoffs, a time that Kitchener needed his secondary scoring ability the most. But the potential (and size) is there for him to develop into a power forward, if the physical effort/consistency is there 100% of the time.

24. Charlie Graham - Goaltender - Belleville Bulls
Graham has drawn a lot of comparisons to former Bulls netminder (and one of the best OHL goaltenders ever IMO) Mike Murphy, and with good cause. He plays a very similar style and has a similar build to Murphy. Graham has terrific reflexes and agility and makes a lot of acrobatic saves. Just when you think you've got him beat, he finds a way to make the save. As Malcolm Subban's back-up this year, Graham was tremendous and gave Belleville a chance to win every time he started. In fact, when Subban returned from the WJC's with a bit of a hurt ego, Graham was splitting starts with the talented Bruins' first rounder. In today's NHL scouting community, Graham doesn't really have the size that scouts look for in the position. But he's definitely talented. I'm sure he gets drafted lower than where I have him ranked (if he gets drafted, something Mike Murphy didn't do the first time around), but he's a very talented and entertaining goaltender who is going to have a lot of success in this league.

23. Cole Cassels - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Growing up, Andrew Cassels was always one of my favourite players. I always admired his ability to set-up his teammates and how he could hit the tiniest hole with a pass. Well Cole is Andrew's son and he has a pretty similar skill set. Cole's best attribute is his playmaking ability. He's a very skilled passer and was a pretty consistent contributor all season long for Oshawa. He is turnover prone though. I find that Cassels tries to force plays occasionally; attempting to hit holes that aren't there. He has this tendency to make bad passes to the middle of the ice. Patience is a virtue and it's something Cassels will have to learn in order to take that next step as an offensive pivot. Cassels will also have to work on becoming a more explosive skater. His father was never a burner, but without elite size, having that extra gear could make him a more difficult player to contain. The one thing that Cole possesses that his father never really did, is a mean streak. Cole is already a solid three zone player who is actually a bit of a pest on the ice. He'll drop the gloves, throw hits, is aggressive on the forecheck, and he'll get his nose dirty in the corners. This truculent side of his game is something I expect to grow even more as he gets older and stronger.

22. Greg Betzold - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Anytime I saw Peterborough this year, Betzold was one of the best players on the ice. And this sentiment is echoed among others I talk to and trust in the league. So it sort of boggles my mind how he only ended up with 32 points this season. Betzold has good size at 6'2, 195lbs and has a consistent motor. If he gets the puck, he's aggressive in trying to take it wide to the net. If he doesn't have the puck, he's in on the forecheck and working hard to get it. Most of his offense, at this point, is generated through hard work. It doesn't hurt that he's a very solid skater with deceptive quickness either. He closes the gap fast without the puck. I'm not entirely sure what his potential is at the next level because I feel his offensive upside might be slightly limited. He doesn't yet possess a terrific shot and he's not going to dazzle you with puck skill. But he will work hard, force some turnovers and create offense from havoc. Not bad for a free agent walk on this offseason!

21. Sergei Tolchinsky - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A highly skilled little guy, Tolchinsky is an electrifying talent. He is both quick, and elusive. His ability to handle the puck at top speed makes him a serious threat every time he's on the ice. Outside of being a very skilled creator, Tolchinsky is just a solid all around offensive player. The thing that I like about his game is that he's relatively fearless and will battle hard to keep plays alive. He's certainly not a perimeter player. That said, at this point in time, he gets pushed off the puck too easily. A lot of times, he's able to gain access to the offensive zone relatively easily, but he's just not strong enough yet to outmuscle OHL defenseman on a consistent basis. If he can't beat them with speed, he's usually not able to create a significant scoring opportunity. A lot of flash and dash, but the results are thus far inconsistent. I will say that I was relatively impressed with his playoff performance; or should I say surprised. I expected him to have trouble in the post season, but he stepped up his game and played among his best hockey of the year. The million dollar question is, how will NHL scouts view his lack of size?
20. Remi Elie - Forward - London Knights
Elie has really grown on me as the season has gone on. Originally, I liked him for the energy and physicality he brought to the ice, but I didn't see someone with a lot of offensive potential at the next level. But the more I've watched him play, the more my opinion has changed. In the 2nd half of the season (and in the playoffs), he's been creating his own offensive opportunities through puck possession skills I didn't know he possessed. When he has possession of the puck in the offensive end, he has the skill to drive to the net and beat defenders. His goal scoring ability and shot is still developing, but he's able to create scoring chances for linemates with these surges. On top of his improving offensive skills, he remains a physical force. He's a very aggressive forechecker and a very effective player along the wall. He's hard to win battles against, and difficult to separate from the puck once he gets it. He's a terrific body checker (maybe the best of any player on this list) and is also improving as a three zone guy. He hasn't seen nearly as much ice time as other players on this list, but manages to make himself noticeable in some way when you watch London. I bet he probably goes higher than I have him ranked. Think of Dalton Smith (from a few years ago), except Elie is a significantly better skater.

19. Carter Verhaeghe - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Easily one of the most underrated prospects available from the OHL. Verhaeghe is just a solid all around player. For most of the season, he served as Niagara's 2nd line center and did a very admirable job. He's a very hard worker in all three zones who knows how to play without the puck. He's aggressive on the forecheck, effective along the boards and works hard on the backcheck. He's also a cerebral centerman who is adept at finding linemates off the rush or below the hash marks. He's smart with the puck on his stick and has great vision. He's also got good size and I think profiles well as an aggressive two-way centerman at the NHL level (think Windsor's Brady Vail). He was the final add to the Canadian Under 18 team this year and I thought he did a fantastic job given the depth role he received. He killed penalties well for Canada and was a factor in outworking opposing defenses. Next year, Niagara will need a new captain and I believe he's a serious candidate for that position. Verhaeghe is just a solid meat and potatoes guy who I think plays in the NHL in the future.

18. Stephen Harper - Forward - Erie Otters
Harper is probably the biggest enigma on this list. He came into the season as a possible first round selection, but finishes it as a probable mid rounder. Known as a potential power forward/goal scorer, Harper's goal production actually dropped this year from his rookie season; from 24 to 18. That's not the type of progression you'd expect from someone who looked so strong as an OHL rookie last year. Quite frankly, the lack of production is pretty easy to explain. It's completely tied to effort and consistency. Of the games I saw Erie play this year (several), Harper had one good game. And it was a tremendous game where he was maybe the best player on the ice. The other times he was invisible (as in...if I wasn't looking for his number, I wouldn't have noticed him). His production and level of play is directly correlated with his level of physical intensity; at least from what I've noticed. If he's engaged physically and throwing his weight around, it translates to more confidence with the puck and an increased engagement in the offensive end. But when he's playing small, that's when he disappears. So why is Harper 18th still? Because I believe in his potential and I think it's too grand to pass up over some of the other players I've ranked behind him. They may work harder and may have had better years, but they don't have a chance of becoming as good of a pro as Harper. If he can figure it all out and get himself back on the right track, he could be a very solid top 6 power forward. The physicality, size, skating, puck skill, and scoring ability are all present.
Harper on "The Pipeline Show" 
Harper's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager

17. Jordan Subban - Defenseman - Belleville Bulls
Obviously, Jordan is the 3rd of the three Subban brothers to play for the Belleville Bulls. Like his brother P.K., Jordan is a slick skating offensive defenseman. Offensively, they have very similar skill sets. Jordan uses his terrific and effortless skating ability to both skate the puck out of traffic in his own end, and to jump into the rush as a 3rd or 4th man in. He's got very good vision and makes tape to tape passes to start the breakout. He is definitely very good with the puck in his own end. As a powerplay quarterback, he's got a great, low, and hard shot which he does a great job of getting through to the net. He also demonstrates patience in setting up plays from the point. But that's where the similarities to P.K. end. In terms of stature, they're built differently. P.K. was a very stocky 6'0 when he played in the OHL. He had terrific leg and core strength and was a difficult player to beat one on one. He also was a physical player who thrived on the big hit. Jordan is 5'9 and wiry and can have difficulty defending bigger forwards in this league. He's also not a physical player. That's not to say that he backs down from physical confrontation, it's that he doesn't actively seek it. Jordan, as of now, can be outmuscled in the corners and in front of the net. He relies strictly on his skating ability defensively, to keep him in good position to make stick checks. I worry about his ability to defend consistently at the NHL level. He reminds me a lot of former star WHL defenseman Kris Russell, whose size has held him back from being more than a third pairing/powerplay kind of guy. Offensively, Jordan is a star. Defensively, I have reservations about his physical limitations.
Subban's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager

16. Nick Moutrey - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Moutrey hasn't received a ton of recognition this year, but I know there are some who feel that he's actually a better pro prospect than teammate Jimmy Lodge. He certainly has a tantalizing skill package. Moutrey is 6'3, 208lbs and plays a power/skill game. I do see some inconsistency in his power game though. At times, I feel like he's not aggressive enough with the puck. A guy his size should be looking to create by driving hard to the net, but he's too often kept to the outside, where he circles, looking pass first. There are times when he takes over shifts thanks to his wall work and puck possession skill, but the power part of his game requires an injection of confidence. I'd also like to see him become more consistently physical. All that said, I think he's a terrific prospect. He's got pretty good vision on the ice, especially for a big guy and he's a hard worker in the offensive end. I could see him being a very difficult player to contain eventually and he's certainly got enough skill to play a top 6 role at the next level, if everything progresses the way it should. There's probably an argument to be made that he's closed ground on the likes of Jason Dickinson and Ryan Kujawinski as a prospect for this draft (thus their close ranking on my list).
15. Spencer Martin - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
With the way he started the season, it looked like Martin was on the fast track to being a potential top 30 selection. Mississauga was playing inspired hockey and Martin looked tremendous in net. But as the season wore on, things started to come apart a bit for Martin. He battled some minor injuries and consistency and saw his draft ranking take a hit. I thought he might have had a chance of salvaging his ranking by getting the starter's job at the U-18's, but he fulfilled the role of back-up to Philippe Desrosier. Martin remains a goaltender who has a lot of potential. He's got good size and is very athletic, which allows him to challenge shooters well and move post to post quickly to cover angles. He's a very difficult goaltender to beat in the shootout for this reason. But at this point, his rebound control needs major work. He kicks way too many shots back out into the slot and gives teams too many second and third chances on weaker shots. He's also prone to giving up weak goals and collapsing after. There seems to be some mental focus issues at play there. But...he played well enough at times this year (like the CHL Top Prospect's Game) to show he's capable of better. Martin is still unquestionably the top goaltending prospect available from the OHL this year.
Martin on "The Pipeline Show" 
Martin's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager

14. Jason Dickinson - Forward - Guelph Storm
I had such high expectations for Dickinson this year, especially since he came out gangbusters to start the season. But it just was not meant to be. After starting the season with 9 goals in his first 16 games, he scored only 9 goals in his final 50. For a guy that's being touted as a skilled goal scorer for the next level, that type of production isn't going to cut it. And unfortunately for Dickinson, he got hurt at the U-18's, which prevented him from showcasing his talents on a greater stage. There is still a lot to like about Dickinson. He's a committed two way player and flashes a physical game which could project him as a high energy checker at the next level. He's also got size and is a terrific skater, which will only further aid him play a scrappy role moving forward. The issue is his lack of offensive production this year, as well as his consistency. In the second half of the season, I saw Guelph play a few times and I wouldn't have noticed Dickinson on the ice had I not been looking for his number. Just not enough urgency in the offensive end. He needs to have more drive with the puck and look to create by using his size and speed down the wing. And he's got to involve himself more consistently without the puck in the offensive end in order to earn more scoring chances. These criticisms are coming from someone who loved Dickinson's game last year and who had him as a first rounder in the first couple of months. But his lack of drive in the second half really hurt his draft stock. The great news is that there is still lots of time for him to improve. I remember another former Guelph player who was equally as frustrating to watch in his draft year; Dustin Brown.
Dickinson on "The Pipeline Show"

13. Ryan Kujawinski - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Similar to Dickinson, Kujawinski saw his draft stock crumble this year due to consistency issues. Going into the season, I had him as the 3rd best prospect available from the OHL and figured he was a lock for the first round. There was just too much not to like about his game. After coming over from Sarnia last year, Kujawinski was a force for Kingston to close out 2012. And he was playing very well to start this season too. But like Dickinson, things fell apart after that. I think a lot of it had to do with confidence and having to deal with not being "the man" offensively for Kingston. As the season went on, the Watson/Bennett/Ikonen trio became Kingston's go to offensive unit and top powerplay, pushing Kujawinski to the back burner a bit. When that trio was absent near the holidays for the U-20's and U-17's, Kujawinski looked like a new man as the go to guy. The other thing that hampered his season a bit (I think) was the shift between center and wing. From what I've seen, his skill set seems more suited to play the wing at this time. The last blow to his season was the omission from the Canadian U-18 team (shockingly so), which prevented him from earning back some brownie points with scouts. All in all, it just wasn't the type of year many people expected him to have. That said, I still like him and his potential a lot. When he's on, he's the complete package. He's got size, speed, puck skill, two-way awareness, and physicality. He can be a beast. It's about simplifying his game at times, and looking to create more with his size, rather than trying to be fancy or over think with the puck. He's also got to work harder, more consistently, to get himself into scoring position. Again, with his size and hands, he should find a comfort level in working close to the net. If he can overcome the identity crisis that hurt him this season, I have a ton of faith in him as a player and prospect.
Kujawinski's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager

12. Justin Bailey - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Bailey is a very raw prospect. This was his first OHL season and he went through some growing pains. But...he's got a very high ceiling, if the team that drafts him is willing to be patient. Bailey has size at 6'3, but is currently very lanky. He can be pushed off the puck too easily right now and needs to add strength to be a more effective player in traffic. But at his size, he's a terrific skater. He changes direction very well and has an extra gear. He's a bit of an awkward skater though, sort of wide strides similar to Wayne Simmonds when he played in the OHL. Offensively, his biggest weapon is his shot. He's got massive goal scoring potential at the next level. His snap and wrist shot are fantastic; both hard and accurate. But, I think there has to be some concern that he scored only 2 goals in his final 21 games (including playoffs). He looked gassed towards the end of the year, further proof that conditioning is an area of concern. The rest of his game is also a work in progress. For his size, he could stand to play more physical and engage in traffic more consistently. His two-way game is evolving and has potential because of his size and skating abilities. When he becomes the sum of his parts, Bailey could be a very good player and that's what has drawn the interest of scouts.
Bailey's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager

11. Nicholas Baptiste - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
At this point, Baptiste has to be a massive riser for the draft. He was lumped together with the likes of Dickinson, Bailey, Kujawinski, Moutrey, etc as a potential power forward, sometimes even at the back of that pack. But with the way he finished the season, I think he deserves to be moved to the forefront. If you ignore his slow start to the season, Baptiste was a near point per game player in the 2nd half. He's got good size at 6'1, pushing 200lbs, but he's also one of the premier skaters in the OHL. He moves effortlessly on the ice and possesses a serious extra gear. And he uses that speed pretty effectively to be a nuisance on the forecheck/without the puck. I thought he was fantastic for Team Canada at the U-18's, where he finished 2nd in scoring to Connor McDavid on the team. At the event, he was a very important player in all situations for the Gold medal winning team. In particular, I was impressed with his performance defensively and without the puck, forcing a lot of turnovers that translated to scoring chances. Like some of the similar players listed behind him, he needs to use his size more consistently. I'd love that physical component of his game to be present more often. I think he also needs to learn how to slow the game down in the offensive end and be patient with the puck. But there's a lot to like about Baptiste and the skill set he brings to the ice. The way he finished the season has to be encouraging.
Baptiste on "The Pipeline Show" 
Baptiste's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft - Part 2: 50-31

Here's Part 2 of my Top 50, with players ranked 50 through 31.

50. Sam Pavorozniouk - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Following a trade to Kingston, Pavorozniouk (one of the hardest names in the OHL to spell by memory) was a completely different player. In Saginaw, he struggled to get much ice time and didn't really develop an identity. In Kingston, he was given time on a scoring line and with the man advantage. This allowed for his production to significantly increase. He's not a big guy (~ 5'10), but he's a pretty hard worker in the offensive zone. He started to develop a bit of a pesky streak in Kingston, digging in the corners and playing the role of crease disturber. I'm not sure he's particularly skilled in any one facet, but his hockey sense allows him to be a pretty solid complimentary guy with skilled players. I think size is probably an issue moving forward, but he at least seems like he'll develop into a very solid OHL player.

49. Sergey Kuptsov - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Kuptsov is a big Russian forward who I thought would perform much better this season. I liked what I saw from him as a rookie with Mississauga last year, but he failed to progress much this season, with either Belleville or Ottawa. In Ottawa, he managed to see some time with Sean Monahan on the top unit, but consistency remained an issue. He's a pretty good skater for a big guy, and he can carry and move the puck pretty well, but he seems a step behind in the hockey sense department. One of those guys who should be better than he is based on his natural abilities. He seems to have some trouble finding open space on the ice or anticipating the opening of passing lanes. His finishing skills are also suspect and his wrist shot and slapper lack accuracy. He can play physical at times, but is not nearly consistent enough in this area. I think he's still got a lot of potential, but as a late '94, time is running out for him to figure it out.

48. Mike Vlajkov - Defenseman - Ottawa 67's
Vlajkov was just starting to play better when he suffered a season ending upper body injury at the end of February. Vlajkov started the season very poorly and often looked lost through the opening months of the season. His skating still not improved from his rookie season, and he was having a lot of issues with reads in the defensive zone and with turnovers with the puck. But as 2013 came around, he was slowly gaining confidence, especially with the puck. In January and February, he was playing much better, but then he got injured. Moving forward, I think Vlajkov still has a fair amount of potential. He's got good size and has flashed an ability to perform at both ends of the ice. But he's going to need to continue to improve his skating, continue to gain confidence (what 67 player had confidence this season?), and learn to play more physically in his own end.

47. Tyler Ganly - Defenseman - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Ganly was a surprise workhorse for the Hounds this season, playing in his first OHL campaign. He played a bevy of roles for the Soo and was quite dependable for the team, especially during the time of Ryan Sproul and Colin Miller's injuries. He's got good size at 6'2 and he uses it well in the defensive end. He's physical in front of the net and in the corners and will drop the gloves to protect teammates or to try and swing momentum (lead the club with 8 fights). Ganly can also make a pretty good first pass out of the zone and was fairly reliable with the puck in his own end. Moving forward, skating is going to be an area of focus. He can get beat by quicker forwards off the rush and his lack of overall speed and acceleration prevents him from being a big part of the transition game offensively. But he's a safe pick right now and he'll definitely get more ice time next year with Sproul, Miller, and Buonomo gone.

46. Michael Webster - Defenseman - Barrie Colts
I think Webster is a real interesting and intriguing defensive prospect. He's a very raw player who only played his first season above the midget level this year. He's a terrific skater and he can handle the puck, but he's still learning how to play the game at this level. He can be prone to some mistakes and can get caught running around a bit in his own end, but I felt like he got better and better as the season went on. This is especially true for the playoffs, where I felt like he was one of the defenseman who really stepped up his game with Ryan O'Connor out of the line-up. Webster also shows flashes of being an effective physical player in his own end and doesn't show fear against some of the bigger forwards in the league. As he gets more experience, I think he's got a shot to develop into a pretty solid two-way defender. Could surprise some people.

45. Erik Bradford - Forward - Barrie Colts
Bradford is a solid two-way center, who has been an important cog in the Colts' long playoff run this year. He's a late '94, but is only playing in his 2nd full OHL season. Because of the Colts depth, he was asked to play more of a 3rd line checker role this season, but next year he'll have to be one of the remaining forwards who steps up and fills in the shoes of Scheifele, Beyers, Camara, and possibly Theoret. He's got great speed and he's a very valuable player on the backcheck for Barrie. He's not an overly physical player or anything, but he anticipates plays well and has an active stick which disrupts passing lanes, especially in the neutral zone. Offensively, he's a smart player and is the type of guy you can put with any player and he'll be able to make things work. He was actually excellent in the playoffs for Barrie this year too. I really like him as a player, certainly more so than some of the players I have ranked ahead of him. But his ranking is 45th because I'm not sure about his potential at the next level. I wonder if he's got enough offensive ability to play a top 6 role, and whether his lack of size and physical abilities prevent him from fulfilling a checker role at the NHL level. Could be a tweener.

44. Trevor Murphy - Defenseman - Windsor Spitfires
Was significantly better in Windsor after a trade from Peterborough. Murphy is an undersized, offensive defenseman who can run the point on the powerplay and lead the rush. He's got a very heavy shot from the point and is very aggressive in jumping into the rush as the trailer. He really re-invigorated Windsor's powerplay after the trade and he's definitely going to end up near the top of the defenseman scoring race by the time his OHL career is over. Murphy does come with his warts though. Defensively, he can be way too aggressive and is prone to mistakes in his own end. He also gets himself caught up ice a fair amount with some poorly timed pinches, or by trying to lay the body and missing. On a positive note, he is a physical player for a smaller guy and doesn't back down from bigger forwards. He's just still very raw as a defensive player, as he focuses on trying to put points on the board.

43. Dominik Kahun - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Kahun is a speedy little German forward with a lot of skill. Loves to pick up the pick behind his own blue line and just explode into the offensive zone. As of now, he's not quite strong enough to consistently create using his speed, but he can be hard to contain if defenses are caught standing still. He's a crafty playmaker too and is able to keep plays alive in the offensive zone by keeping his feet moving with the puck. The rest of his game (defensively, in the corners, in traffic) is a work in progress, but he's certainly an exciting player to watch and was a great find by Sudbury in the import draft this year. On top of having a solid season in Sudbury, Kahun was also solid internationally this year. He finished top 10 in scoring at the Under 18's (7 points) and was a contributor for Germany at the Under 20 WJC's too.

42. Alex Fotinos - Goaltender - Barrie Colts 
When you're a back up goaltender, sometimes it can be hard to get noticed in your draft season. It really depends when and how often a team has seen you play. It also causes wild fluctuations in your draft ranking. In the case of Fotinos, he's not currently even ranked by NHL Central Scouting, yet he's ranked as the 8th best goalie in North America by ISS. Talk about a difference of opinion. I fall somewhere in the middle. I've seen Fotinos play great and I've seen him play awful the past couple of years. Inconsistency (especially this season) has definitely been something that has plagued him. But what young goaltender doesn't battle that? When he's on, Fotinos plays calm and collected in net. He's not a big goalie, but he does well to make himself bigger and is aggressive in challenging shooters. I also think he does a pretty decent job of controlling his rebounds for a younger goalie. The one thing that does concern me slightly is the lack of obvious progression from last year to this year. But without an increase in playing time, is it even possible for him to greatly improve? At the very least, we'll see what he's made of next year when he's the Colts' starter.

41. Jordan Maletta - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
A former first rounder by Windsor, Maletta just never progressed with the Spits so they decided to give him a change of scenery (back home to St. Catharines). In Niagara, he was a different player than he was in Windsor, even if the offensive numbers he put up aren't terrific. With the Dogs, he was much more aggressive in using his size and the consistency in his effort level was much better. Offensively, he remained a bit tentative (would love to see him use that size more consistently to take the puck to the net) and even a bit unlucky. But I think he's still got a lot of potential moving forward as a power forward in this league. He just needs to gain some confidence in his ability to handle and shoot the puck and learn to get himself in better scoring position without it. If I was an NHL team, I'd probably use a late round pick on him in hopes that he can develop in an environment he's more familiar with.

40. Dominik Kubalik - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Kubalik got better and better as the season went on, right up until the playoffs, where I felt like he was one of Sudbury's best players (especially in the series against Brampton). At this moment, he's more of a complimentary offensive player. He gets himself in good position to earn scoring chances and he improved his ability to play the cycle game as the season went along. I particularly enjoyed the chemistry that he and fellow Import Dominik Kahun showed by season's end. Kubalik won't really WOW you in any area on the ice, but he's a smart guy who will certainly put up some points in this league as he gains more confidence. What he needs to do is learn how to make himself more visible without the puck and do more to create his own scoring chances. I'd like to see him more engaged in going to the net (especially if he's playing with a guy like Kahun) and by working harder to play both ends effectively. Right now, he's that guy you only really notice when he hits the score sheet.

39. Hunter Garlent - Forward - Guelph Storm
The 2013 season was filled with many ups and downs for Garlent. I found him to be one of the best 1995's in the league last year; his tenacious playing style and high energy level made him a very exciting player to watch. This year, he had a regression, which has to be a bit concerning. He started off the year pretty well and was even named player of the week at the end of October. But then he suffered an ankle injury and he just wasn't the same in the 2013 calendar year. He wasn't playing with as much fire (at least consistently) as he did last year. I felt like he was trying to do too much with the puck at times, and wasn't as effective or hungry without the puck. Garlent needs to get back to keeping things simple and creating offense from energy and effort. On the plus side, I was happy to see him get the call to the Under 18's. He may have played a bit role, but I thought he played pretty well and was able to get back to doing some of the little things he did well last year in Guelph (being very active on the forecheck, playing physical, working hard on the backcheck). Hopefully he can take that confidence back to Guelph next year. As a little guy (5'9), he's got to be hungrier than the opposition.

38. Anthony DiFruscia - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
I found DiFruscia to be wildly inconsistent this year. When he's at his best, he looks like a quality, pesky goal scorer who can win battles for loose pucks, find openings in the slot/near the crease, and work the cycle. He also has the potential to play a pretty physical game, especially on the forecheck. But he went through disappearing acts, where that aggressive style turned into more of a passive/puck possession approach. And this sort of game just didn't fit him, where he's still somewhat easily pushed off the puck. I think the issue is that his conditioning and strength just isn't at a level yet that allows him to play that attacking winger role with consistency. DiFruscia was only playing in his first OHL season after playing last year with Salisbury Prep. On the plus side, I did feel that he ended the season well and was one of Niagara's best players in the Oshawa series. He definitely has potential to develop into a quality goal scorer in this league.

37. Danny Vanderwiel - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
I haven't really seen Vanderwiel on any scouting lists this season and I'm not particularly sure why. I like him. He reminds me a lot of Cody Payne last year in Plymouth. Not getting a ton of ice time (including in and out of the press box in the playoffs), but making the most of it. He's a big guy who I think has power forward potential. He skates well for a big guy and has the ability to carry the puck. Once he gets going, he can be tough to stop. He just needs to work on his shot to improve his finishing skills. He throws the body around and is pretty active on the forecheck too, although I think he could be even more aggressive in this area (might have to fill the shoes of Tom Wilson next year). Plymouth was so deep at forward this year, it was definitely difficult for Vanderwiel to make a consistent impression. But I saw enough to believe he's a diamond in the rough and possible late round gem for someone.

36. Bradley Latour - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Latour has to be the youngest player available for this year's NHL draft (a Sept.13, 1995 birth date); in just before the cut-off. He's a scrappy winger who was playing in his first OHL season. One thing I really liked about Latour is that he got better and better as the season went on; even saving his best for the playoffs. He's not large (5'10), but he's a real battler in traffic and by season's end, was starting to win more battles for the puck. He's also got a great nose for the net and gets himself in good scoring position. While he's not a physical winger, he does work hard without the puck and has a very active stick. Oshawa had a very deep forward unit this year and I think we're only beginning to see what Latour is capable of. As one of the youngest guys available in this draft, I think he's worth a late round flyer, given how he performed down the stretch.

35. Miles Liberati - Defenseman - London Knights
A very tough player to gauge because of his lack of playing time. Towards the end of the year, he was even seeing time up at forward to keep him in playing shape (where he actually didn't look out of place). London's defensive unit was just so deep this season, it was hard for Liberati to find consistent playing time once everyone was healthy. He's a big part of London's future on the back end though, and he played enough this year to show pro potential. Liberati can be categorized as a puck moving defenseman who possesses great mobility and the poise to create plays off the rush. As a puck rusher, he's still learning and can be prone to getting caught up ice, but his skating was good enough to cover those mistakes most of the time. Defensively, he's definitely still learning, but I think his mobility and intelligence will allow him the opportunity to develop into a solid two-way guy at some point. In terms of the NHL draft, I think it will come down to whether teams saw him enough to feel confident in the fact that he could be a future NHL player.
34. Jordan DeKort - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
DeKort is a huge goaltender who remains a work in progress. At 6'4, he's going to get a long look from NHL clubs. He's also one of the younger players available for the draft, with an August birthday (meaning he could still grow some more). He shows a solid ability to drop down into the butterfly and take away the bottom of the net, but he's still learning how to track the play and work his angles. His rebound control is also still a big work in progress, especially when trying to control/swallow higher shots, or directing pad saves away from the slot. Bottom line; DeKort is a big athletic goalie who's still learning his position. He's the type of guy NHL teams take a chance on.

33. Kyle Platzer - Forward - London Knights
Platzer did absolutely everything London's coaching staff asked him to do this year, including seeing some time on the blueline to cover for injuries. That's why he managed to (mostly) avoid the carousel many of London's other younger players had to ride (like Jammes, Liberati, Pawley, etc) in 2013. His numbers don't jump out at you, and they won't with the barely 10 minutes of ice time he saw a game. But you have to assess him based on what he was able to do with that ice time (similar to Remi Elie who's rated higher). Platzer may not be huge (pushing 5'11), but he's a skilled player who also can provide energy and persistence away from the puck. You might notice Platzer outworking opposing defenses along the boards, or beating them to loose pucks, but he's also clearly a very intelligent offensive player who is capable of putting up higher point totals. He did lead his Waterloo GOJHL team in scoring as a 16 year old in 2012. The one thing I admire about London is their ability to make younger players work hard to stay in the line-up. Ice time is earned, not given. And Platzer earned every second of time he received this year.

32. Tyler Bertuzzi - Forward - Guelph Storm
I think Bertuzzi is a very interesting prospect. He missed over two months of action this year with a concussion/neck injury, suffered mid season after a fight with fellow Top 50 recipient Tyler Ganly. Once he returned to action, he actually played pretty well (although tired toward the end of the season). He plays the game similarly to his uncle Todd. He's most effective as a crease crashing winger who works his butt off without the puck. Bertuzzi can be a dangerous forechecker and is still learning how to become a complimentary goal scorer. I think he has the hands to develop into a pretty solid finisher at some point. The other thing to note is that Bertuzzi grew this year. He was about 5'10 entering the league last year, but probably measures in at about 6'1 now. The bigger he gets, the more effective he'll be at playing the role of offensive pest.

31. Ben Harpur - Defenseman - Guelph Storm
Harpur is a hulking defenseman who was much better in the second half of the season than he was the first. That sort of progression has to be encouraging. In the second half, he looked much more comfortable handling the puck (especially in his own end) and really improved his breakout pass. Defensively, he looked more confident using physical force, in addition to his long reach, to break up plays. By the end of the season, he looked more comfortable in his role as a shutdown type of defenseman. He certainly has the size to be a force in his own end. His skating is a bit of an issue, but it's not awful, especially for a defender of his size. He'll just need to work on his lateral and backwards agility in order to become a more reliable defender off the rush. And obviously, he'll also need to continue to get stronger and become more of a physical force, especially in front of his net. But I think he's trending upwards.

Friday, May 24, 2013

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft - Part 1: Honorable Mentions

The race to the draft is on. We're about a month away from the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, so that means it's time for me to release my rankings.

The top 50 will be released in four parts: Part 1 - Honorable Mentions, 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 Eric Locke or Cameron Brace. 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.

This first part includes the Honorable Mentions of my list. These are the players who received consideration for my top 50, but who fell just short. There are 13 in total.

In alphabetical order...

Aaron Berisha - Forward - Belleville Bulls
One of several players to join the OHL from Salisbury Prep this season (DiFruscia, Nichols, Welsh), Berisha had a pretty decent rookie OHL season. I had heard great things about him going into the season, but he wasn't able to make as big of an offensive impact as people expected. He's got some offensive skill, in particular as a goal scorer with a quick release, but I felt like strength wise he was a bit overmatched in the OHL at times this season. Although I will say that later into the season and into the playoffs, I was impressed with his dedication to embracing his role as an energy guy. He upped his intensity level without the puck and even became a bit of a factor on the forecheck. Next year, he'll get a chance to be a more critical component to Belleville's offense and I'll be interested to see if he improves.

Nick Betz - Forward - Erie Otters
A real project. The 6'5 forward was never able to find a groove this year after contracting appendicitis early in the season. The size is obviously very appealing, but I feel like he's yet to fully figure out how to use it to be an effective player. He can play physical, but isn't consistent in that area. His ability to receive passes and carry the puck is also still a work in progress and it prevents him from being more of a contributor offensively. There's obviously potential for him to develop into a terrific board player and a guy you can put in front of the net, but he's not yet the sum of his parts. I felt like I was more impressed with him last year as a 16/17 year old and that his development stalled this season (perhaps because of the abdominal surgery). Could still be a solid pick later in the draft for a team willing to be patient.

Jean Dupuy - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Dupuy finished tied for 2nd in the OHL in fighting majors this year with 13. He's got great size at 6'3 and is a real heart and soul, character type of guy. While he's certainly no stranger to dropping the mitts, I wouldn't necessarily call him a terrific enforcer at this point. In a couple of the fights I saw him engaged in this year, I don't really remember him clearly winning any. But he plays hard at both ends of the ice, will block shots, smash bodies and come to the aid of his teammates. At this point, his offensive upside appears limited but his work ethic should be applauded.

Jake Evans - Forward - Erie Otters
Evans is a player that I had high expectations for this season. I was very impressed with him as a 16/17 year old, but he just didn't take that next step forward in 2013. If anything, I felt like he regressed a bit and was less noticeable on the ice. He's a hard worker at both ends of the ice, and he became a more physical player this season. But his offensive game just failed to progress. He's able to work the cycle on some occasions, but still lacks the strength to consistently win one on one battles and it limits his effectiveness to create scoring chances for his linemates. Erie's depth at the center position continues to get better and better, so Evans might be running out of time to impress.

Ryan Hutchinson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
I felt like Hutchinson was having a very solid sophomore season in the OHL before things started to unravel for him. First was the suspension due to his temper tantrum (which went viral and can be found here). Then, he was sent home by the Fronts for a curfew related incident. But when he played this year, Hutchinson provided a lot of value as a rugged, stay at home defender. He's got size and he's a very physical guy who can help to intimidate the opposition. He'll also drop the mitts and was no stranger to fighting or sticking up for teammates. Hopefully he's able to resolve things in Kingston, or at least find a new home in the OHL next year.

Mitch Jones - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
While he didn't play a ton this year (missed two months with an undisclosed injury), Jones impressed me a lot every time I saw the Whalers and he was in the line-up. He's a real stocky defenseman who I saw make a lot of very solid defensive plays this season. He's got great positioning while defending the rush and keeps forwards to the outside. I also liked how physical he played, despite not being the biggest defender (a shade under 6'0). I think he's got a lot of potential in this league and I see him taking on a much larger role in Plymouth next season.

Justin Nichols - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Looked a bit overmatched at the beginning of the season, when he earned the back-up job behind Matt Murray. But he got better as the season went on (save his two awful performances at the very end of the year). Nearly every facet of his game took a step forward from beginning to end and he looks like he could be a solid starter some time in the future. That said, he's not the biggest goalie and he was prone to giving up some softer goals as he's still learning his angles at OHL speed.

Daniel Nikandrov - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Nikandrov is a smooth skating center with some size and offensive ability. He was used primarily as a depth player by Sarnia this season (his first full one in the OHL), but did see some time on the penalty kill where he was fairly effective. NHL Central Scouting has him ranked a lot higher than I do, but I'm not entirely sure where he fits in at the next level. I didn't see a ton from him this year that would suggest he's a future top line player. But I also didn't see much that would suggest he could be the type of role player an NHL team would want on their bottom 6. Admittedly, I didn't get a terrific read on him this season.

Stephen Nosad - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Not really sure what happened to Nosad this year. I thought he was going to have a great year after contributing so much as a rookie in 2012. But he took a step back this year and not forward. He has some offensive skill and is a pretty cerebral player, but the skating, strength, and play without the puck didn't improve enough to make him a consistent offensive contributor. He was actually quite invisible in the times I saw Peterborough this year. A big disappointment in 2013 (kind of like the rest of his Peterborough teammates).

Mark Raycroft - Defenseman - Brampton/North Bay Battalion
Raycroft is not flashy at all, but he is an effective stay at home defender at this point in his development. He's not a physical player by any means, but he is a good skater and he has some size, which allows him to defend pretty well off the rush. He'll need to continue to get stronger (and maybe a little meaner) in order to take his defensive game to that next level. He barely played this year, as I felt like Butler preferred to role his top 5 defenseman out there more often (with all of them being very solid players). With Cameron Wind gone, he'll have a chance to earn more icetime next year, especially on the penalty kill and in important defensive situations.

Mathew Santos - Forward - Brampton/North Bay Battalion
A walk-on to the Battalion this year, Santos proved to be a pretty effective energy guy who saw ice time in a lot of different roles this season. He's got some speed coming down the wing and he works his butt off in the offensive end to gain and keep possession. Not sure he's the most skilled guy in the world, but if you put him with some solid playmakers, I think he's got offensive potential in this league. As the season went on, I felt like he was also more confident in throwing his weight around and playing physical (something he'll have to do more consistently).

Jonatan Tanus - Forward - Peterborough Petes
A speedy little guy who was definitely one of the more consistent players in Peterborough this year. He's got lot of skill with the puck and is a very effective north/south type of guy. Likes to dart in and out of traffic and can be elusive in coverage. He's also not afraid of playing in traffic despite being smaller and will even get his nose dirty from time to time. He was also a solid contributor for team Finland at the Under 18's this year. I think some might be surprised that he's not in my top 50, but I'm not sure I see enough in him to suggest he'll be anything more than a solid scorer in Europe (when he eventually returns).

Thomas Welsh - Defenseman - Mississauga Steelheads
Welsh joined Mississauga about half way through the year, coming over from Georgetown (Junior A). He was a pretty highly touted prospect for Mississauga, who struggled a bit with adapting to the speed of the OHL game. He's a smaller/stocky defender, but he can look slow out there. He'll need to work on his mobility, especially if he wants to involve himself more offensively in transition. But, I saw some things in his game to suggest there could be a lot of potential in there. He's a very physical player, and he'll be effective in a defensive role when he learns to pick his spots better and improves his agility. I don't think he's a draft prospect now, but I like his potential to develop into something down the road.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Podcast with Talking Red

David Sarch of the podcast "Talking Red," had me on the program to talk about some OHL prospects recently.

You can check it out HERE.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sunday Top 10 - 2013 NHL Draft Re-Entries

It's that time of the year for my annual (2012, 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 is a great example 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 2011 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.

Last year was a crazy year for the selection of 2nd and 3rd year eligible players. We had one go in the first round (Tanner Pearson). We had four go inside the top 60. And we had 12 go inside the top 100. All together, 48 players who could be classified as "draft re-entries" were selected. That made up about 23% of all players selected in 2012...or close to one quarter. 9 of those 48 were OHL players.

This year, I could easily see another 9/10 players of this ilk selected from the OHL. Any of the players that I've listed below (either on the list or as HM's) could develop into NHL players IMO.

Without any further rambling, here's my list:

10. Mathew Campagna - Sudbury Wolves
Finally started showing signs of living up to his high draft selection in the 2010 Priority draft. He's always been incredibly skilled with the puck, but there had been reservations about the rest of his game. This year was a breakout campaign for him. He was voted as the 3rd most improved player in the East in the Coaches poll and he deserved it. While there's still room for improvement in his "overall game," he definitely looked more hungry without the puck and more engaged in high traffic areas this year. Previously he was kept to the perimeter a lot, but this year he was getting his nose dirty more in the slot and looking to take the puck hard to the net on rushes. He's a very skilled player with the puck and is able to create offensive opportunities for his linemates through creativity and poise. You definitely have to give him credit for making some necessary refinements to his game this year.

9. Zach Hall - Barrie Colts
Exploded offensively this year, playing alongside Mark Scheifele in Barrie. But Hall is not simply a by product of Scheifele. When Scheifele was at NHL camp at the beginning of the season, and at the WJC's, Hall put this Colts team on his back and has been a consistent contributor all season long. He's a terrific playmaker and is at his best off the rush where he's got great hockey sense to make plays at high speed. He definitely sees the ice well and makes those around him better players. An underrated aspect of Hall's game is his play in the neutral zone and in his own end. He's a very competent defensive player and a very hard worker on the backcheck. He's not the biggest guy (pushing 6'0 ft), so he's not going to outmuscle anyone, but he does work hard at both ends and has enough offensive skill to contribute on the score sheet at the next level.
8. Dakota Mermis - London Knights
I may not be as enamored with Mermis as NHL Central Scouting is, but he was definitely a solid contributor to the Knights line up after joining the team midseason from the U of Denver. He's just a very solid defenseman. There isn't one aspect of his game that REALLY jumps out at you, but he's very well rounded. He does a good job of skating the puck up ice and out of trouble, and is developing well as a powerplay quarterback. Even though he was billed as more of an offensive defenseman, I think I was most impressed with him defensively. He closes gaps well and does a great job of defending off the rush. And he's a more physical defender than I expected him to be. He's small and stocky. Reminds me a lot of former Spitfire Mark Cundari.

7. Barclay Goodrow - Brampton Battalion
I've always felt like despite his skating deficiencies, he should have been drafted these past few years; I've always been a fan. But this year I truly think is his year. The skating looked much improved and it allowed Goodrow to be a better player in all three zones. He was able to be more active and effective on the forecheck, and was also more explosive coming off the wall with the puck. His defensive game really improved this year too, to the point where he was one of the better two-way forwards in the league. He's very aggressive in his pursuit of the puck. Scouts also have to love the fact that he wore the C in Brampton this year and led the team to another playoff appearance. And even with all the improvements in the rest of his game, he can still shoot the puck (which has always been his bread and butter). Goodrow set a career high with 38 goals this year. As I said, I think this will finally be his year.

6. Zac Leslie - Guelph Storm
Leslie should have been drafted last year following a solid rookie campaign in Guelph. This year, his sophomore season, Leslie really took off as a player (2nd most improved in the West in the Coaches poll). Nearly every facet of his game improved and he was one of Guelph's top defenseman. I actually felt like he was better than Matt Finn this year. Leslie ran the point on Guelph's powerplay well and does a good job of keeping pucks in at the line. His overall confidence with the puck greatly improved and he was willing to take more chances offensively. Defensively, he remained solid but was more consistently physical and was able to do a better job of winning battles in the corners and moving bodies in front of the net. Teams should be angry that they didn't jump on him in the 7th round last year.

5. Cameron Brace - Owen Sound Attack
A speed demon; Brace is definitely one of the fastest north/south players in the league. He's got a very high motor and is always working hard to make things happen. Brace has actually lead the league in short handed goals the past two years, a testament to his ability to use his speed to disrupt plays in the neutral zone and on the forecheck. He's also got a very good wrist shot that he can fire coming down the wing. The key to Brace's game is playing with consistent ferocity. He's definitely not the biggest (5'10), so he needs to outwork and outskate the opposition. In the playoffs, I felt like he was completely ineffective following the hit on Jared McCann and subsequent suspension. It was because he was playing cautious after that and it limited his effectiveness. Hopefully his finish to the season didn't leave a sour taste in the mouths of scouts.

4. Henri Ikonen - Kingston Frontenacs
I really liked what I saw from this first year Import this season. Ikonen found great chemistry playing with two other rookies this year, 16 year olds Sam Bennett and Spencer Watson. Ikonen was like the middle ground/well rounded offensive playmaker on that line. Bennett was the feisty workhorse, Watson the skilled finisher, and Ikonen the smart distributor/catalyst. I was impressed with his ability to work the cycle and make things happen from behind the net and off the wall. He's got a great hockey IQ and seems to be a very well rounded offensive player. He wasn't one to shy away from playing physical at times either, and working hard on the backcheck. After leading Kingston in scoring this year, I'm hoping he returns again next year to continue to develop his bond with Bennett and Watson.

3. Dane Fox - Erie Otters
I had him ranked 18th from the OHL last year, but he ultimately went undrafted, which unfortunately didn't seem to surprise too many people inside the NHL realm. He's had some issues with the authorities in the past and that seemed to hurt him on draft day. I did a feature on Dane last year and in my relations with him, he seemed like a really great kid, so I'm going to continue to support him and my opinion of him as an NHL prospect remains unchanged. The year didn't start off great for Dane (thanks to a broken foot), but when he returned, he did play well. He's got the skill and potential to develop into a solid 3rd line NHL center (think David Bolland). He's got speed, skill with the puck, good vision with the puck and a real edge to his game. If he doesn't get drafted again this year, I hope he comes back to Erie strong as an overager next year and really takes his game to the next level to earn a contract.

2. Justin Auger - Guelph Storm
Auger is still a massive project, but one who could be worth the risk of drafting. He improved a lot in his 2nd year in the league, which I think is a great sign of things to come as he continues to grow into his body. At 6'7, he can be a real load for defenseman to handle in the corners and in front of the net. In particular, his work on the cycle is impressive. His long reach and improving strength make him a very difficult player to separate from the puck. I'd still love to see him be more aggressive and use his size more to be a crease presence though. His skating is still an issue, but it DEFINITELY improved this year. Last year, I felt like he was one of the ugliest skaters in the league. This year, he looked better and more stable on his skates. Improving those first few steps will be the key to increasing his offensive production. You need to look down the line with a player like Auger. Right now, he's still trying to find his game. But you have to be impressed with his development thus far and take a chance on a big 6'7 forward with some skill.

1. Eric Locke - Saginaw Spirit
It's like the lightbulb finally went off or something. Previously, I'd always been hard on Locke as a player. I didn't even rank him inside my top 50 last year, despite the fact that he had previously been a fairly high profile player. I just felt like he hadn't really improved during his time in the OHL up to that point. He was still just trying to get by on being a speedy wing scorer, with little else to his game. This year, Locke was a completely different player. He was an obvious choice for most improved player in the West in the Coaches poll. He suddenly started using his speed to help him be a factor without the puck. And he added a mean streak and truculence to his game that wasn't previously there. Basically, Locke was no longer satisfied with being a complimentary player who let others do the hard work for him. He began taking over shifts by being all over the ice and getting involved in all facets of the game. He's always been a skilled player, but now the effort level and play in all three zones was improved to match it. If Locke would have played this way last year, he would have been a lock (no pun intended) for the first three rounds. This year, I think it remains to be seen where he goes, but I'd be VERY surprised if he doesn't go somewhere.

Honorable Mentions


London's Jake Patterson was very close to cracking this list. At midseason, he would have been on it, but his play slipped a bit in the second half and he lost his starter's job to Anthony Stolarz. For someone playing in their first full OHL season, Patterson acquitted himself quite well this year. Yes, he had some rough patches, but he has the potential to develop into a quality netminder. The one thing I like about him as a goalie is how aggressive he is in challenging shooters. He comes out as far as any goalie in the league. He can be a bit slow post to post though and will need to work on his general agility, as well as his rebound control moving forward.

Franky Palazzese cracked this list last year, but is just on the outside looking in for this year's installment. It's his last chance to be drafted, before becoming a free agent, so we'll see how he does. I felt like he probably had a better season last year when he failed to get drafted, so I'm not sure what to expect. Palazzese is just a solid netminder.who gives his team a chance to win every night. He moves well in his crease and has a penchant for that "highlight reel" save. If he doesn't get drafted this time, I think he'll have a big overage year with the Wolves next year.


Saginaw's Dalton Young is a very underrated player in this league. He had a real breakout season from the back-end. He skates as well as any defender in the league and he's got good size for a PMD. Defensively, he's pretty solid and won't hurt you either. I think he profiles well as the type of defenseman an NHL team could look at as a puck rushing option.

Brenden Miller didn't see a ton of time with Brampton last year, playing on the team's third pairing and receiving few responsibilities. This year he earned more ice time and really saw his game grow. He was on the Battalion's top powerplay unit with Dylan Blujus and I actually think he did a better job of running the point than the Lightning high selection did. Defensively, he's also pretty solid and isn't afraid to use his size either. His skating needs some work, especially if he wants to play more of an offensive role at the next level, but there's some potential there.

Another guy who cracked last year's list, but not this years is Sarnia blueliner Alex Basso. I'm still a big fan of Basso's, but I don't think there was a ton of progression this year (from last year), other than staying relatively healthy. He's still a terrific offensive blueliner who moves the puck well, skates well, and who has a big shot from the point. Defensively, I think there's still room to grow, but I do really like how he keeps forwards honest by delivering a big hit from time to time. Just don't know if he gets drafted this year, considering he's basically the same guy who went unselected last year.

A sort of under the radar name is Barrie's Jonathan Laser. He got better and better as the season went on, which is something you love to see from a player playing in his first full OHL season. He's developed some great chemistry with Aaron Ekblad and plays a really simple, yet effective game. At the same time, I think there's real offensive upside in his game once he learns to move and skate with the puck more confidently. With Ryan O'Connor out in these playoffs, I felt like he stepped up hugely.


Erie's Connor Crisp is one name that could certainly draw some interest from NHL scouts. He makes for a great story. He barely played last year, save for an embarrassing emergency goaltending performance against Niagara, but this year he really made himself a big part of Erie's offense. He's a massive kid at 6'4, 225lbs and he loves to drop the gloves. But he's also got good hands in close (as evidenced by his 22 goals) and has potential as a crease crasher/garbage guy at the next level.

If one Rupert twin gets drafted, you have to think the odds are good that the other one draws some interest. Ryan went in the 7th last year to Toronto, maybe this year the Leafs select Matt Rupert? Matt plays the game very similarly to his brother Ryan, except he's more of a finisher than a playmaker like Ryan.