Tuesday, September 24, 2013

NHL Central Scouting Preliminary Ones to Watch List for 2014

NHL Central Scouting released their "Ones to Watch" list this week, where they break down the regions according to "A," "B," and "C," level prospects.


This should not be confused with NHL Central Scouting's preliminary draft ranking which is always released in November. That ranks the top 25 prospects for each region (as opposed to letter grades).

The OHL had 45 players listed.

In terms of "surprises," several of my Preseason Top 30 did not crack the list (even as "C" level prospects). Those would be Dylan Diperna, Patrick Sanvido, Mike Amadio, Zach Bratina, Eric Cornel, and Matt Schmalz. Definitely think those guys deserve mention.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

2013/2014 Season Preview Part 3 - Awards Predictions

Season kicks off tomorrow! My awards predictions conclude my 2013/2014 season preview.

Red Tilson Trophy (MVP) - Connor McDavid
If the Erie Otters are as good as I think they're going to be (home ice in the first round), it's going to be because Connor McDavid is an unstoppable force. He makes everyone he plays with a better player. John Tavares won this award in 06/07 as a 17 year old sophomore and I think McDavid replicates that. The toughest competition McDavid will face for this one are Max Domi and Jake Paterson IMO. But as high as Domi's scoring totals are going to be, he won't be as valuable to his team as McDavid is. The Saginaw Spirit are going to need Jake Paterson to be the best goaltender in the league, like I know he can be, if they want to compete for the division. If they, and he, have a solid year, he'll get consideration for this award. Aaron Ekblad could be a darkhorse if he has a breakout year offensively, as could OA's Zach Hall and Eric Locke. I also think Kerby Rychel could get consideration if the Spitfires perform above their projected level.

OHL Goaltender of the Year - Jake Paterson
You might have guessed this to be my selection after my glowing endorsement above. I think Saginaw will have a pretty solid year and Paterson is going to be the main reason for that. His stats have never been overwhelmingly impressive, but he gets the job done and is IMO the best goalie in the league right now. I think Franky Palazzese is the second best preseason option for this prediction. I feel like he's going to have a good year for the Wolves as he attempts to earn himself an NHL contract. Outside of that, I think you need to look at Anthony Stolarz and Alex Nedeljkovic as the other top contenders. A darkhorse could be Matt Mahalak in Kingston, if the Fronts really explode and he has a bounce back year.

Max Kaminsky Trophy (Defenseman of the Year) - Aaron Ekblad
The race for the Max Kaminsky is WIDE open this year. There are a lot of great defenseman in the league this year who could challenge for this award. I'm going with Ekblad with the assumption that his offensive numbers really explode this year. If he can hit the 50 point plateau, on top of providing terrific defense and leadership, I think he's a terrific candidate. If he stays healthy, I also expect Slater Koekkoek to have a huge year in Windsor. My other top selections are perhaps more "outside of the box." I think Adam Pelech has a great shot in Erie, if he can stay healthy and continue to improve his offensive numbers. I also like Connor Carrick in Plymouth, where he's criminally underrated. Obviously you can't forget about Darnell Nurse should he return from Edmonton. And Matt Finn in Guelph is a great candidate for a bounce back season.

Emms Family Award (Rookie of the Year) - Matthew Spencer
As I mentioned in the Eastern Conference write up, I have high expectations for the Petes this year. I think they're going to have a big year and Spencer will be a big part of that. I realize that this has traditionally been a forwards award, but Aaron Ekblad did win this two years ago. Spencer will put up some points and be a part of a winning team. Dylan Strome, Lawson Crouse, and Nikita Korostelev are also going to be put in terrific situations to score, and score big. They'll be surrounded by top flight talent and could have big statistical seasons. Of the 96's eligible for this award, I think Ryan MacInnis has the greatest potential to take this one home. He will get a ton of opportunity to shine in Kitchener.

Leo Lalande Trophy (Overager of the Year) - Zach Hall
Hall will be replacing Mark Scheifele as Barrie's go to offensive player this year and I think he's going to be right up there among the league's scoring leaders. With his personal success, combined with the team's success, I think he's the top candidate for this award. I think the two best candidates after Hall are goaltenders in Franky Palazzese and Matt Mahalak. Both will be critical to their team's success this year. If Eric Locke returns, he jumps to the top of this list, but I expect him to stick in the AHL. A wild card could be Alex Broadhurst if he's returned to the Knights this year. On defense, Alex Basso is a great candidate, if he can find a team to play for (aka a trading partner with Sarnia) early enough into the season.

Matt Leyden Trophy (Coach of the Year) - Todd Gill
If you read my East predictions, I've got the Fronts higher than other people are predicting. If Gill can get his young team to focus and play mature hockey, he's definitely going to deserve this award. Two other possible favourites for this award would be Scott Walker and Jody Hull. Walker, because the Storm should be a terrific team and could even battle the Knights for first in the division if they can get good goaltending. And Hull because he should get the Petes to continue to play well for him, as they did in the 2nd half of last year.

Eddie Powers Trophy (Scoring Leader) - Connor McDavid
I'm going with McDavid on this one...in a close race over Max Domi, because I think those extra games he gets in at the beginning of the year could be the difference. I expect Domi to be back, but not after missing a few weeks of action. Meanwhile, McDavid will be ripping up gutted OHL rosters during that time until everyone is back from NHL camps. Zach Hall and Eric Locke (if he returns) are definite candidates as overagers. I also think Kerby Rychel is a darkhorse candidate if the Spitfires play well. Should he see enough game action, Sean Monahan might also be someone to consider (as long as he returns).

Goal Scoring Leader - Kerby Rychel
For the second year in a row, I'm going with Rychel in this category. Last year he burned me. This year I'm hoping that's not the case. I truly think his goal scoring prowess, in combination with his size and experience will make him a 50 goal scorer (possibly more) this year. Outside of that, I look at Scott Kosmachuk as another great candidate as a pure sniper and someone who is going to be playing with a lot of talented playmakers. And obviously Max Domi and Bo Horvat are going to score their share of goals while setting each other up. A darkhorse could be one of Connor Brown or Andre Burakovsky, thanks to the McDavid factor.

All Star Teams

1st Team All Stars
C - Connor McDavid
LW - Kerby Rychel
RW - Scott Kosmachuk
D - Aaron Ekblad
D - Slater Koekkoek
G - Jake Paterson
Coach - Todd Gill

2nd Team All Stars
C - Max Domi
LW - Bo Horvat
RW - Connor Brown
D - Matt Finn
D - Darnell Nurse
G - Franky Palazzese
Coach - Scott Walker

3rd Team All Stars
C - Zach Hall
LW - Andre Burakovsky
RW - Spencer Watson
D - Adam Pelech
D - Connor Carrick
G - Anthony Stolarz
Coach - Jody Hull

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2013/2014 Season Preview Part 2 - The Western Conference

This is part two of my season preview for the 2013/14 campaign, as I breakdown the Western Conference.

The West has an incredibly interesting dynamic this season. IMO, the three best teams in the conference are all in the same division (London, Guelph, and Erie). Because that division is so stacked, I think it'll make life very hard for Kitchener and Owen Sound as they try to play keep up. Meanwhile the West Division is a toss up between the Whalers, Spits, and Spirit (IMO). I could see either of those three teams taking it, depending on how certain players develop.

As I mentioned in my Eastern Conference article, I don't see the West being as strong this year. London is the best team in the league, but only Guelph (IMO) holds a candle to some of the East's best, and even they have the same question marks as a team like Barrie. One thing worth mentioning is that the quality of the bottom four teams (Kitchener, Sault, Sarnia, and Owen Sound) is significantly better than the likes of Mississauga, Oshawa, and Ottawa. This does make the conference more unpredictable and challenging to play in.

Let's look at my breakdown of the West:

1. London Knights (Midwest Division Champs)
Pretty hard to argue against at this point. They're deep and talented at pretty much every position. The biggest weakness is probably on defense, where they're going to have to rely on some fresh faces (Centorame, Jamieson) or inexperienced veterans (Leroux, Stewart) for their third pairing. But, you know in a year where they host the Memorial Cup, that they're going to go out and add at the position at some point (hello Alex Basso?). Offensively, they're just as talented and deep as last year. Max Domi will most definitely be back, and I'd be surprised if Bo Horvat isn't too. Fresh faces like Mike McCarron, Christian Dvorak and Mitch Marner will only add to the team's ability to score goals and wear down opposing defenses. In net, Anthony Stolarz should emerge as the starter and I think he's going to have a big year. He showed flashes of brilliance last year and should be better and more consistent this year. One thing is for certain, this Knights team is going to play to win the OHL crown, instead of entering the Memorial Cup through the backdoor.

2. Plymouth Whalers (West Division)
As I mentioned above, I think the West Division is very wide open. Every team in that division has warts, but also varying levels of talent. None of the teams are as strong as the top 3 teams of the Midwest though. If I'm a betting man, I'm going with the Whalers. For one, Mike Vellucci just gets it done year after year. He gets players to buy into his system and generally gets the best out of them. I also think they're the most well balanced team in the division. While they've lost a lot of talent at forward (and may lose more if Tom Wilson sticks in Washington), they still have a quite a few up and coming talents. Hartman, Mistele, Chatham, Vilardi, Crus-Rydberg are all talented offensive players who are also capable of excelling in Vellucci's hard nosed style. After strong preseason performances, it looks like Zach Lorentz and Carter Sandlak are poised to be strong OA leaders too. The defense will be anchored by two of the more underrated players in the league; Connor Carrick and Gianluca Curcuruto. Nick Malysa, Alex Peters, and Josh Wesley are all solid players too and should come together to make Plymouth a tough team to win one on one battles against. That leaves arguably the strength of this team; goaltending. I have very high expectations for Alex Nedeljkovic this year. He was so good as a rookie last year and I think he's only going to get better. He plays calm and consistent and should help the team through some scoring lulls while the new offensive pairings develop chemistry. While it's not a slam dunk, the Whalers' overall make up makes them the favourite to take the division IMO.

3. Guelph Storm
The Storm are easily the 2nd best team in the Conference, but aren't likely to oust the Knights from the top spot. The obvious question mark is in goal. Matthew Mancina and Jason DaSilva have a combined 7 games of OHL experience and look pretty "green" at this point. Both had some struggles this preseason. Mancina is the likely candidate to start in the long run because I think he's the more talented goalie. But there could be some rough patches along the way. Maybe Guelph considers acquiring a goaltender at some point (a guy like Daniel Altshuller). The good news is that the rest of their team is incredibly solid. Their defense should be able to hold steady and make the job a bit easier for their young goaltenders. NHL draft selections Matt Finn, Zac Leslie, and Ben Harpur form a solid top 3, while up and comers like Kyle Locke and Phil Baltisberger will provide depth. Offensively, the team is as good (on paper) as any team in the league. They will run three lines that will be very dangerous offensively, possibly even four. They're also very well balanced at the forward position with a mix of skilled grinders (McGinn, Bertuzzi, Kosmachuk), and more finesse types (Dickinson, Fabbri, Mitchell, Garlent). You won't be able to take a shift off against this team. Even if their goaltending is only average, the offensive firepower alone should be enough to slingshot the Storm to home ice advantage in the first round.

4. Erie Otters
Probably a bit higher than some people have the Otters placed, but I'm a McBeliever. That is to say, I see the Otters having enough top end talent to make them a force to be reckoned with on most nights. A Connor McDavid, Connor Brown, and Andre Burakovsky first line should wreck havoc on the OHL and feast upon the lower quality netminding the league seems to have this year. But it's not just that first line, the Otters have supporting talent at forward. Dane Fox, Michael Curtis, Dylan Strome, and Stephen Harper should definitely be able to do some damage against 2nd/3rd defensive units, taking pressure off that dangerous first line. In particular, if Stephen Harper can regain the mojo he demonstrated in his rookie year, that'd be a HUGE boost to the secondary scoring unit and powerplay. It's a big year for him developmentally. While it'll be the offense under McDavid that draws most of the attention, the strength of this team might actually be in preventing goals. Oscar Dansk and Devin Williams might be one of the best tandems in the league this year. In particular, I expect a big year for Dansk now that he's more accustomed to the league and has a stronger supporting cast. And a veteran laden defense lead by Adam Pelech will be there to help him. Last year, fans flocked to see the Otters to get a glimpse of McDavid. This year, they'll be flocking to see a better and more competitive Erie squad...oh and I guess that McDavid kid again too.

5. Windsor Spitfires
I'm pretty confident in Plymouth's distinction as the best in their division right now, but I really had a tough time deciding between Windsor and Saginaw. I flip flopped them several times. But I'm going with Windsor ahead of them because I think their offense and defense will be better, more dynamic, and more consistent. Goaltending is the big question mark, as they'll be looking to Jordan DeKort as a starter. He had a rough year last year and is still a big work in progress, but he's going to have a much improved defense in front of him. A healthy Slater Koekkoek and Pat Sieloff will do wonders for this team and make them a MUCH more consistent defensive team than they were last year. Nick Ebert should be motivated to earn an NHL contract too. The thing I like about Windsor's blueline is that they will be able to move the puck well and should really help to get things started for their dangerous offense. Guys like Koekkoek and Ebert will have to step up their defensive intensity, but in their final OHL year that shouldn't be too much of a stretch. And as teams found out this preseason, the Spits are going to be able to score goals. Kerby Rychel will return and be near the top of the league's goal scoring list, while Josh Ho-Sang looks motivated to climb draft charts. Fresh faces Nikita Yazkov and Ryan Moore also fit in very well this preseason and seem primed for fairly significant roles. While Windsor isn't perfect, they've got enough talent to overcome some possibly shaky goaltending to still make the playoffs and possibly contend for their division.

6. Saginaw Spirit
One of the other teams who will be in a dog fight for the West Division, the Spirit's strength is in net, where Jake Paterson is possibly the top goaltender in the league. He's coming into the OHL season with a ton of confidence after winning the Traverse City tournament with the Detroit Red Wings' group. He'll also be looking to impress Team Canada WJC staff in hopes of being the team's starter. The defense in front of him is an unheralded group. They're relatively solid, but not spectacular. A bounce back year for Justin Sefton, and a breakthrough year for Brandon Prophet are definite keys. I must say that I'm a tad concerned about their blueline's ability to move the puck out of their own end, and quarterback the powerplay. With Dalton Young gone, the team will likely turn to Marselis Subban for that role, but I'm just not sure if he's going to be capable of giving them what they need. Offensively, the burning question is whether Eric Locke returns as an overager. Buffalo could have him play in Rochester of the AHL, a possibility that's looking more and more likely after his performance at the Traverse City tournament. Losing Locke would be a big blow to this team at the forward position. Guys like Jimmy Lodge, Nick Moutrey, Zach Bratina, Cody Payne and Justin Kea are solid players, but I don't think they're capable of taking over games the way Locke did last year. If the Spirit are forced to move on without him, they'll still have a fairly deep forward group, but they'll also be pretty young and will be relying upon a group of 95's and 96's to inflict most of the damage. How far the Spirit go this year will depend on how far Jake Paterson takes them.

7. Kitchener Rangers
In reality, I think Kitchener is probably right there with the likes of Saginaw, Windsor, and maybe even Plymouth, but because of the strength of their division, I see them finishing a bit lower in the standings. The key for Kitchener will most definitely be the development of their young forwards. Radek Faksa is really the only guaranteed consistent contributor, and even then he didn't have the best of years last year. Guys like Matia Marcantuoni, Justin Bailey, Brent Pedersen, Josh Sterk, and Darby Llewellyn will really have to step up their games. The real wildcards, of course, are new comers Ryan MacInnis and Nick Magyar, who come in with high expectations. As long as half of the names I've listed above can improve, the Rangers should still be a shoe in for a playoff appearance. The strength of this team will likely be on defense with a veteran core of Ben Fanelli, Evan McEneny, and Max Iafrate leading the charge. Rookies Doug Blaisdell and Dmitri Sergeev should also play key roles and look like/sound like solid players. I expect big things from McEneny, as he tries to replace Ryan Murphy's production on the powerplay. In net, Tyson Teichmann is a veteran and should provide at the very least, a semblance of consistent goaltending. As I mentioned earlier, this Rangers team will only go as far as their forward group takes them. If they don't step up as a group, this team could be in tough in the league's most difficult division.

8. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Without question, the Hounds need a huge year from Matt Murray in net. He's got his NHL contract and it's time for him to be (consistently) one of the top goaltenders in the league. Thanks to graduations, the Hounds offense is going to be hard pressed to score goals this year. They've lost their top 5 scorers from last year and don't have a lot in the form of depth at the forward position (at least scoring line depth anyway). The preseason (in this case) wasn't a fluke. The Hounds are going to struggle to score goals. That really puts the pressure on Murray to perform. The defense could be a strength if Darnell Nurse returns (which he should IMO). He'll play over 30 minutes a night for this team and should pair well with either Alex Gudbranson or Tyler Ganly on the team's first unit. If Nurse somehow sticks in Edmonton, I think they're going to have a tough time making the playoffs. As mentioned, the forward unit is definitely weaker this year, but it doesn't lack elite level talent. Sergei Tolchinsky could have a really big year, and I have very high expectations for Jared McCann as a draft eligible player. As long as Nurse returns (as mentioned), I think the Hounds are still talented enough to make the playoffs, but it'll still be an up and down year.

9. Owen Sound Attack
It's not that Owen Sound is a particularly bad hockey club, it's more that they're going to be playing in such a tough division and I don't see them being able to keep up. The troubling thing for them is that it's looking more and more like Chris Bigras could be starting the year in Colorado. He's been turning heads in training camp and was signed to his ELC today. The Avs are going to be without former OHL'er Ryan Wilson for a bit, which opens up a spot for Bigras to at least earn a small audition. He might not be back in Owen Sound until mid October, if at all. And this is a defensive unit that badly needs his leadership and two way ability. With a defense that could be a little shaky, the Attack are also relying on Brandon Hope to be a starter for the first time. While he was solid as Jordan Binnington's back up last year, starting is a whole different story...especially when it's behind a defense that could experience some serious ups and downs. At forward the Attack will continue to be a team that's tough to match up against. There are no game breakers, but Gemel Smith, Cameron Brace, Zach Nastasiuk, Jaden Lindo, Kurtis Gabriel (likely), amongst others will form a solid core that should be able to produce offensively. But most of the teams in the West have an equally formidable, if not deeper, group of forwards. It's the team's weakness in the defensive end that could cost them against the absolutely dynamic offenses of London, Guelph, and Erie.

10. Sarnia Sting
The Sting are going to be able to score some goals this year, as evidenced by their performance in the preseason. Young stars like Nikolai Goldobin, Nikita Korostelev, and Brett Hargrave are all on the road to improvement and should be able to put some points up on the board. But, outside of Nick Latta and Bryan Moore (he himself, only a second year player), the team doesn't have a ton of veteran presence at the position. That will put a lot of pressure on the '95 and '96 age group to improve...and in a hurry. Defensively, the team was dealt a big blow when it was announced Alex Basso would be staying at home awaiting a trade. While Anthony DeAngelo provides the flash, Basso has unquestionably been the Sting's best overall defenseman. Replacing him will be difficult, especially when it comes to giving DeAngelo assistance in moving the puck (both 5 on 5 and on the powerplay). The plus side is that the team does have some good size at the position and guys like Tyler Hore do have the potential to contribute more. The bad news is that goaltending is going to be a sore spot between Dupuis and Barrick. Having a young and inexperienced forward unit, combined with inexperienced goaltending can often lead to the cellar in this league, which is where I envision the Sting ending up...even if I want to believe their preseason record will hold up.

Stay tuned for the final part of the season preview tomorrow; awards predictions.

Monday, September 16, 2013

2013/2014 Season Preview Part 1 - The Eastern Conference

The 2013-14 season opens up on Thursday, which means it's time for every prognosticator to look into their crystal ball to predict the future. As always, I'll be releasing my season preview in three parts; a breakdown of the East, West, and concluded with an awards prediction. 

The OHL will certainly undergo a power shift this year, with how strong the Eastern Conference is. There are 4 or 5 teams in the East who would be 2nd best team in the West (behind London), which definitely hasn't been the case in recent years. Having said that, it should go without saying that the East is going to be very competitive and hard to predict this year. There are a lot of strong teams, but also teams with question marks. How will Barrie and North Bay's goaltending be? Will the Petes stay healthy and finally live up to expectations? Can the youthful Frontenacs play like a veteran squad?

Here's how I think it will all play out...

1. Barrie Colts (Central Division Champs)
Their dominance this preseason was no fluke. The Colts are a team that will be a force to be reckoned with at the top of the Eastern Conference for the third year in a row. The big question mark is how will their goaltending be? Alex Fotinos is returning and is a former higher draft selection by the team. But with Mathias Niederberger holding down the fort the last few years, his development hasn't really gone the way they might have anticipated. That's why they've brought in another Import, Daniel Gibl, who has apparently looked very strong so far. Between the two of them, I think the Colts will at least get adequate goaltending, that will be slightly masked by the strength of their forward and defensive groups. At forward, it's a heavily veteran group lead by one of the strongest OA groups in the league; Mitchell Theoret, Zach Hall, and Tyson Fawcett. I also expect Andreas Athanasiou to have a huge season, after last year's breakout. Their forwards all play the game hard, protect the puck well, and excel at both ends. The Colts' defense is obviously anchored by Aaron Ekblad. He'll be flanked by Jonathan Laser, and the two of them have developed terrific chemistry. Jake Dotchin is the real key on the backend, as for the first time in his OHL career, he'll have to play a critical role. I think he's up to the challenge. The overall experience level of Barrie's core players is the reason why I've got them pegged for first in the Conference.
2. Kingston Frontenacs (East Division Champs)
Sort of the opposite of the Colts, the Frontenacs are a largely young team who relies on a solid group of 95's and 96's to do most of their damage. The rebuilding process has certainly come along quicker than anticipated due to some great drafting in Kingston. I do admit that this might be an aggressive ranking, but I have a lot of faith in the Fronts young leadership group. Offensively, they're about as deep and talented as any group in the league. They'll be able to roll out three scoring lines who can do damage. The best of the bunch will obviously be the re-united Bennett, Watson, and Ikonen line, which should be one of the best in the entire OHL this year. All three players could eclipse the 80 point mark this year IMO. Defensively, this team is as strong as it's been in years. The thing that I really like about this group is that they're all capable of moving the puck. That will help their transition game a lot and should limit turnovers in their own end. I'm particularly interested to see how Roland McKeown develops this year and whether he becomes the team's leader on the backend, as he showed flashes of becoming already last year. In goal, the acquisition of Matt Mahalak was a good one. Not too long ago, he was an excellent goaltender in this league. Last year was one for him to forget, but he should be motivated to try and earn an NHL contract as an overager. I think he'll do a fine job for them. Despite the inexperience this team has compared to some of their competitors, I think the talent level is too high to keep them from earning home ice in the first round.

3. Sudbury Wolves
There is absolutely no question that the key to this season's success for the Wolves is the development of their defense. The rest of the pieces are there, but their defense definitely have some question marks. The team's potential top defenseman, Jeff Corbett, isn't even incredibly experienced and he's been unable to avoid injury during his young career. And the likes of Stefan LeBlanc, Kyle Capobianco, David Eccles, and Conor Cummins are all young and lacking OHL experience. OA veterans Jimmy McDowell and Kevin Raine, while solid, have also never been workhorses in their OHL careers. Having said all that, I'm cautiously optimistic that they'll figure it out. I think Corbett will stay healthy and he'll have a big year. I also really like their young defenseman, in particular LeBlanc and Capobianco. And it's not like they've got to be perfect, since the Wolves might have the best goaltender in the Eastern Conference in Franky Palazzese. I think he's going to have a terrific year. Offensively, this team has a balanced attack. If his performance at the Traverse City tournament is any indication, Nick Baptiste is ready to take that next step forward and be a more consistent player. "The Dominik's", Sudbury's returning imports, should also be better with a year of OHL experience on their belt. Adding Connor Crisp was also a great move, as he's going to bring some size and truculence to the top 6 that this team was previously lacking IMO. He could be a big asset on the powerplay this year. As long as their defense comes together, I think the Wolves will have a solid year.

4. Peterborough Petes
Making this prediction, I have to ask myself, "are you really putting the Petes this high again after they've burned you the past two years?" Maybe I'm nuts, but I couldn't help but do it again. I think this team is just too talented on paper to suggest otherwise. And the way that this group played for Jody Hull down the stretch last year was incredibly encouraging. The key to their season will be the health of Nick Ritchie. Offensively, they're going to run through him. If he can stay healthy, he's going to have a monster season and as their sole game breaker, he's going to take a lot of pressure of their 2nd and 3rd offensive units. The development of Eric Cornel will also be critical, as he's going to need to be the team's 2nd or 3rd line center this year. Just how effective their secondary scoring is will be dependent on how far he's come. Judging from what I've heard from sources I trust, he's looked good this preseason and at the Ivan Hlinka camp (even though he didn't make it), which suggests he should be ready for that aforementioned larger role. I think goaltending will also be a strength for this team as Andrew D'Agostini will return as an overager and Michael Giugovaz will be a year more experienced. Between the two of them, Peterborough's goaltending should be in good hands. Like Sudbury, their defense is a bit of a question mark, but I do have faith in Brandon Devlin and his ability to develop into a top flight OHL defender. I also think Matt Spencer is going to come in and be an immediate impact player, giving the Petes a solid top four with Seymour, Boland and Trojanovich (some combination of the three). While they've got some warts, I firmly believe that Hull will get this team playing top flight hockey and put them in contention for a top four seed.

5. Belleville Bulls
The Bulls are certainly the one team that I might be underselling here. They certainly have the talent to be higher on this list. They have a great depth at center (Gaunce, Quine, Cairns, Hooey, Petti, etc), which is very important in this league. In particular, Gaunce (should he return from Vancouver, which I anticipate he will) and Quine (assuming he returns) could be two of the top centers in the league and will instantly make any winger they play with better. The problem (for me) is the lack of depth on the wings, even if a few of the guys I mentioned above play out of position on the wing. I don't see a ton of goal scoring potential on this team and I think they could struggle to be a consistent offensive force, at least in comparison to the other top teams in the East. Defensively, they're going to need Brady Austin to be much better this year, after last year's disappointing step backwards. He needs to be the team's rock defensively, while Subban and Worrad run the offensive side of things. All in all, it's a younger defense that could struggle at times on the big ice, with more space for opposing forwards to operate. In net, Charlie Graham should be good. With Malcolm Subban gone, the crease is his now and it'll be interesting to see how he handles the increased workload. With the inconsistencies I expect from this team offensively, and the shakiness defensively, he's going to really have to be on his game, night in and night out. Overall, the Bulls have some strong veteran talent and that will take them pretty far, I just don't think they're as talented and deep as some of the other top contenders in the East.

6. North Bay Battalion
Like any good Stan Butler squad, the strength of the Battalion will be on defense. Only Cameron Wind is gone from last year's already strong defense. Workhorses Zach Bell, Marcus McIvor, Dylan Blujus, and Brendan Miller (likely) return to give North Bay a very solid and veteran oriented blueline. Blujus and Miller will anchor the powerplay, while Bell and McIvor will hold down the fort shorthanded. One thing to keep an eye out for is Bell's situation in the Winnipeg organization. He was recently assigned to St. John's camp (their AHL affiliate) with the chance to crack that roster. He's obviously impressed Jets management enough to earn a longer look. His loss would be felt hard. Another question is, just how much can this defense make up for inexperienced (and perhaps weak) goaltending? Butler's system will mask this deficiency to some extent, but I don't think it will be good enough to vault this team to the upper echelon of the conference. Up until today, the real question mark has been what's going on with Barclay Goodrow? The team's captain has been a no show thus far and was trying to earn a pro contract in the Detroit system. But he's informed Stan Butler that he's returning for his overage season. While the likes of Blake Clarke, Brandon Robinson, Nick Paul, Mike Amadio, and rookie Brett McKenzie are all terrific players and key offensive cogs, none bring the leadership capabilities and overall game that Goodrow does. So his return comes with a sigh of relief. But I still wonder if Stan's system can work without an elite and confident goaltender. Offensively, this team could still struggle to be consistent and that could hurt them in higher scoring games. But...if the goaltending ends up being surprisingly strong, and the young forwards all take steps forward, the Battalion could be a lot stronger than I'm predicting. My only goal this season is to avoid calling them Brampton.

7. Ottawa 67's
I don't think it's going to be quite as bad of a year in Ottawa as some are predicting. This is a better team than last year's last place squad. Even if Sean Monahan sticks in Calgary (and if he doesn't, he's probably trade bait), I have faith in Ottawa's ability to make the playoffs. They've got a couple of talented young centers in Dante Salituro and first overall pick Travis Konecny and they're going to flank them with some great size on the wing (Van Stralen, Hill, Bell, Fielding). Based on his preseason performance, it looks like Clint Windsor is determined to end his OHL career on a high note. If anything, having a very experienced goaltender can help calm a younger and developing defense. And while this defense is young and inexperienced, it's not without talent. The likes of Jake Middleton, Alex Lintuniemi, Mike Vlajkov, and Troy Henley can play both ends of the ice and should only get better as the season goes on. All that said, the obvious and largest question looming over the Capital right now is, "will Monahan return?" I expect him to at least stick for a few games, which would delay his return until a month into the season. And should that happen, the 67's would be incredibly smart to deal him and get assets back that can make this team better next year and the year after. The core of this team is 95-97 based, so getting players back in that age group would be great for them.

8. Niagara IceDogs
The Dogs are an interesting squad this year. They've got a lot of talent, but are incredibly inexperienced. In a lot of ways they remind me of the Frontenacs last year, who managed to squeak into the playoffs. I think the strength of this team will be in goal. I think Brent Moran will take a big step forward in his 2nd year in the league (just as Spencer Martin did last year), and if he doesn't Chris Festarini will continue to be a solid and reliable veteran. The two of them should team up to give Marty Williamson consistent goaltending. Offensively, the Dogs will undoubtedly be very inconsistent. A lot of younger players (like Carter Verhaeghe, Perlini, DiFruscia, Maletta, Protapovich, etc) are being thrust into roles that they're likely not ready for. But that doesn't mean they're void of talent. They will go through their ups and downs. Defensively, this team will lean heavily on Jesse Graham and Luke Mercer as a number one pairing. The two will have to eat a ton of ice time until Aaron Haydon is completely healed up and talented youngsters like Mikulovich and Wilkie get more confidence. One thing is for certain though, the Dogs look well on their way to having a terrific team when the new arena opens up and the ups and downs this team experiences this year will only help them be better in the future.

9. Oshawa Generals
I think it'll be a trying year in Oshawa after last year's mass exodus of talent. That mass exodus will pack even more of a wallop when Scott Laughton sticks in Philadelphia (as I'm expecting him to), leaving Oshawa with a ton of question marks on the offensive side of things. Michael Dal Colle and Cole Cassels are great young players, but they aren't ready to carry an offense. Similarly, the defense lacks top end talent and I think could struggle, especially when it comes to moving the puck and escaping the forecheck. Josh Brown and Colin Suellentrop are going to have to take massive steps forward in order for this team to play above it's predicted level. The one plus is that the team is returning Daniel Altshuller in net. He should be a relatively stabilizing force, even if he's facing a ton of rubber. But, will he be in Oshawa all year? There are several teams (in the East and West) with goaltending concerns and he's likely to generate a ton of interest. Trading him would be the smart thing to do, in order to aid the rebuilding effort. A guy like Suellentrop could also be a target for a team looking to fill an OA spot on the blueline. Even if Scott Laughton is miraculously returned, I still can't see this team escaping the bottom rung of the Eastern Conference.

10. Mississauga Steelheads
It's going to be a very ugly year in Mississauga. When all is said and done, I'll be very surprised if they don't finish with the worst record in the Eastern Conference and the entire OHL. With the strength of the Conference this year (and their division), the Steelheads will be hard pressed to crack the 15-20 win total. Offensively, there isn't much in the form of a gamebreaker. While they've got a lot of guys who'll work hard and battle, it won't be enough to put pucks in the back of the net on a consistent basis. On the defensive end, Trevor Carrick is going to have to be MUCH better this year, now that he's the team's number one defenseman. I am incredibly excited to see Sean Day play a lot though. I just hope he's given some freedom to reign a bit and gain confidence as an offensive defender. In net, Spencer Martin is going to be VERY busy. Last year he started so strong, but faded down the stretch due to some lingering injury issues. He's a good goaltender and he should be able to steal a few games. But ask the Otters last year if Oscar Dansk was able to prevent them from losing nearly 50 games. The Steelheads just have to keep drafting well and build up a solid group of '98 players around Day. The future looks bright, just not the present.

Stay tuned for the Western Conference tomorrow!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Top 10 - Performers of the 2013 Preseason

The 2013 Preseason wrapped up today and the OHL season is right around the corner (kicks off Thursday).

Here are the Preseason standings for this year:

Eastern Conference

1. Barrie Colts - 5-0 - 1.00%
2. Kingston Frontenacs - 5-0 - 1.00%
3. Sudbury Wolves 3-0 - 1.00%
4. Ottawa 67's - 3-1 - .750%
5. Peterborough Petes - 4-2 - .666%
6. Oshawa Generals - 2-3-1 - .417%
7. North Bay Battalion - 2-3 - .400%
8. Mississauga Steelheads 1-3 - .250%
9. Niagara IceDogs - 1-4-1 - .250%
10. Belleville Bulls - 1-4 - .200%

Western Conference

1. Sarnia Sting - 4-2 - .666%
2. Plymouth Whalers - 2-1-1 - .625%
3. Kitchener Rangers - 3-2 - .600%
4. Windsor Spitfires - 2-2-1 - .500%
5. Guelph Storm - 2-2 - .500%
6. London Knights - 2-2 - .500%
7. Erie Otters - 3-3 - .500%
8. Saginaw Spirit - 1-2-1 - .375%
9. Owen Sound Attack - 1-4 - .200%
10. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds - 0-3-1 - .125%

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

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

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

OK, enough of the set-up. Let's look at the ten best performers of this year's preseason.

10. Nikita Korostelev - Sarnia Sting
Many rookies had terrific preseasons, but Korostelev was likely the best of the bunch and is the only 2013 Priority selection to crack this list. He lead the Sarnia Sting to a 4-2 record in the preseason with clutch scoring, showcasing the dynamic offensive abilities he had in midget. His 5 goals and 1 assist lead Sarnia in scoring this exhibition season. Sarnia will need some of it's younger players (like Korostelev and Hargrave) to step up and replace the losses of Sarault and Boucher. This preseason seemed to indicate that they're capable.

9. Zack Lorentz - Plymouth Whalers
After bouncing around three different teams last year, Lorentz looks primed to have a big overage season in Plymouth this year. He had 5 goals and 2 assists this preseason and was by far the team's most consistent player. With a lot of roster turnover, Plymouth will need Lorentz to be a strong contributor, in addition to a strong leader.

8. Tyson Fawcett - Barrie Colts
The little engine that could. Fawcett may not be large, but he was an important role player for Barrie last year, his first year in the league. This season he's going to get an opportunity to play more of an offensive role and it looks like the overager is up to the challenge. Fawcett had 5 goals and 2 assists in the preseason for the Colts, who went perfect.

7. Brandon Devlin - Peterborough Petes
The only blueliner to crack this list, Devlin had a terrific preseason for the Petes, posting 1 goal and 5 assists in 6 games. Devlin has always possessed great potential at both ends of the ice, but had yet to really put it all together in his stops with Barrie and Windsor. As an experienced player, he's going to be counted upon to lead a Peterborough blueline on a team with high expectations.

6. Brendan Lemieux - Barrie Colts
The Colts went a perfect 5-0 this preseason, and there wasn't a more consistent contributor to that than Lemieux. His tenacious in your face style is always effective at creating energy, but it was his offensive game that showed great improvement this preseason. He had 4 goals and 3 assists to tie for the preseason scoring lead on the Colts. He looks poised to have a great draft year.

5. Joshua Ho-Sang - Windsor Spitfires
Perhaps no draft eligible player in the OHL will be under the microscope as much as Ho-Sang. Incredibly talented, but there have been questions surrounding his attitude and ability to play a more complete game. This preseason was the first step in his quest to prove doubters wrong, after he posted 4 goals and 4 assists this preseason.

4. Sam Bennett - Kingston Frontenacs
The Fronts had a terrific preseason and look poised to have a terrific regular season too. At the center of that will be their trio of top 96's (Bennett, Watson, and McKeown). All three had solid preseasons, but Bennett was tops with 3 goals and 5 assists. He should have a breakout season and establish himself as a top 10 selection in 2014.

3. Darcy Greenaway - Kingston Frontenacs
As already mentioned, many of the Fronts had strong preseasons. One of the things that they'll need in order to take that next step as a team, is increased scoring consistency from their 2nd and 3rd lines. They got that this preseason. The leader of that group was unquestionably the overager Greenaway, who's 5 goals and 4 assists put him 2nd in total preseason scoring behind Connor McDavid.

2. Nick Ritchie - Peterborough Petes
If not for injuries, it's likely that Ritchie would have already established himself as a superstar in this league. He has all the tools to be a dominant performer, but just hasn't been able to stay in the line-up for long enough stretches to establish himself. In his ever important draft year, he's going to need to be a big time contributor. He was just that this preseason with a preseason leading 6 goals. 

1. Connor McDavid - Erie Otters
McDavid was a beast this preseason, there is no other way to put it. His 2 goals and 9 assists lead the league in preseason scoring and he elevated the play of any forward who was placed on his line. At this point, he looks poised to be the league's leading scorer this season.

Honorable Mentions (Organized by Team)

Barrie Colts
Matthew Kreis - 4 goals, 3 assists
Kevin Labanc - 3 goals, 3 assists
Andrew Mangiapane - 3 goals, 2 assists
Josh Carrick - 1 goal, 4 assists

Belleville Bulls
Niki Petti - 3 goals, 2 assists
Michael Cramarossa - 3 goals, 2 assists

Erie Otters
Michael Curtis - 5 goals
Andre Burakovsky - 2 goals, 1 assist
Connor Brown - 3 goals, 3 assists

Guelph Storm
Justin Auger - 2 goals
Pius Suter - 2 goals

Kingston Frontenacs
Spencer Watson - 4 goals, 3 assists
Ryan Kujawinski - 4 goals, 2 assists
Matt Watson - 1 goal, 3 assists

Kitchener Rangers
Nick Magyar - 4 goals, 1 assist
Doug Blaisdell - 2 goals, 2 assists

London Knights
Mitch Marner - 2 goals, 4 assists
Remi Elie - 2 goals

Mississauga Steelheads
Spencer Cobbold - 2 goals

Niagara IceDogs
Brendan Perlini - 3 goals, 1 assist
Mitchell Fitzmorris - 3 goals, 1 assist
Matt Gillard - 3 goals, 1 assist

North Bay Battalion
Calvin Gomes - 3 goals, 1 assist

Oshawa Generals
Bradley Latour - 4 goals, 2 assists
Joe Manchurek - 2 goals, 3 assists

Ottawa 67's
Andrew Abou Asaly - 2 goals, 1 assist
Clint Windsor - 2 wins, 2 goals against

Owen Sound Attack
Jaden Lindo - 3 goals, 2 assists

Peterborough Petes
Matej Paulovic - 5 goals
Steven Lorentz - 2 goals, 5 assists

Plymouth Whalers
Francesco Vilardi - 3 goals, 3 assists

Saginaw Spirit
Zach Bratina - 1 goal, 2 assists
Terry Trafford - 2 goals, 1 assist

Sarnia Sting
Daniel Nikandrov - 2 goals, 3 assists
Brett Hargrave - 2 goals, 4 assists
Nikolai Goldobin - 5 assists

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Justin Nichols - 1 tie, 2 no decisions, 2 GA's

Sudbury Wolves
Jeff Corbett - 3 goals

Windsor Spitfires
Ryan Moore - 3 goals, 3 assists
Steven Janes - 4 goals
Nikita Yazkov - 1 goal, 5 assists
Slater Koekkoek - 2 goals, 3 assists

Stay tuned for my 2013/2014 Season Preview this week!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

OHL Free Agent Invites to NHL Rookie Camps

If you follow me on twitter, you'd know that I've been trying to keep everyone up to date on which OHL players have received free agent invites to NHL rookie camps/tournaments. We all know that the drafted players will be attending, but it's great to know which other OHL players will be leaving their teams for the time being.

With nearly all of the rookie camp rosters announced, I've decided to accumulate a master list of all the free agent invites from the OHL (organized according to OHL team). I'm not including graduated OA's (like Matt Petgrave, Alex Cord, etc), although I have been tweeting news about them receiving invites.

Barrie Colts:
Mitchell Theoret - Winnipeg Jets
Erik Bradford - Columbus Blue Jackets (injured and can't attend)
Zach Hall - Vancouver Canucks

Belleville Bulls
Scott Simmonds - Pittsburgh Penguins

Erie Otters
Stephen Harper - Philadelphia Flyers
Dane Fox - St. Louis Blues

Guelph Storm
Ryan Horvat - Anaheim Ducks
Hunter Garlent - Carolina Hurricanes
Zach Mitchell - Carolina Hurricanes

Kingston Frontenacs 
Jean Dupuy - Winnipeg Jets
Michael Moffat - Nashville Predators

Kitchener Rangers
Ben Fanelli - New York Rangers
Max Iafrate - San Jose Sharks

London Knights
Matt Rupert - Toronto Maple Leafs
Dakota Mermis - Columbus Blue Jackets
Paxton Leroux - New York Rangers
Brett Welychka - Tampa Bay Lightning

Mississauga Steelheads
Dylan Smoskowitz - Calgary Flames

Niagara IceDogs
Jordan Maletta - Detroit Red Wings
Luke Mercer - Columbus Blue Jackets (injured and can't attend)
Chris Festarini - Montreal Canadiens

North Bay Battalion
Barclay Goodrow - Detroit Red Wings
Marcus McIvor - Los Angeles Kings
Zach Bell - Winnipeg Jets
Brendan Miller - St. Louis Blues

Oshawa Generals
Justice Dundas - San Jose Sharks

Ottawa 67's

Owen Sound Attack
Cameron Brace - Pittsburgh Penguins
Kyle Hope - Vancouver Canucks

Peterborough Petes
Greg Betzold - St. Louis Blues
Stephen Pierog - Carolina Hurricanes
Connor Boland - Buffalo Sabres

Plymouth Whalers
Carter Sandlak - Minnesota Wild

Saginaw Spirit
Justin Sefton - Columbus Blue Jackets

Sarnia Sting
Alex Basso - Minnesota Wild

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Alex Gudbranson - Florida Panthers

Sudbury Wolves
Matthew Campagna - Los Angeles Kings
Brody Silk - Boston Bruins
Kevin Raine - Toronto Maple Leafs
Franky Palazzese - Edmonton Oilers

Windsor Spitfires
Ty Bilcke - Edmonton Oilers
Trevor Murphy - Toronto Maple Leafs
Jordan DeKort - Columbus Blue Jackets
Remy Giftopoulos - New Jersey Devils

It's possible that a couple more names could be added to this list in the coming days as the tournaments begin. We're also missing the rosters of a couple teams (NJD, PHX, NYI).

Of course, if these players perform well, they could earn an invite to the main camp, which would delay their return to their OHL club. It's also possible that the OA players listed above could earn a tryout to an AHL camp, which could also delay their return...or even prevent it permanently should they receive a contract offer.

If you want to follow these prospect tournaments to see how these players above, and the ones drafted, are doing, here are the links:

Traverse City Prospect Tournament (CAR, DET, BUF, DAL, DET, MIN, NYR, STL)

Toronto Rookie Tournament (TOR, OTT, PIT, CHI)

Penticton Young Stars Tournament (VAN, CGY, EDM, SJ, WPG)

Coral Springs Rookie Tournament (FLA, BOS, NSH, TBL) - no link found yet

Los Angeles' and Anaheim's rookie teams will play each other in two exhibition games separate from any tournament. You're best to follow those through the bevy of blogs on either club, or at hfboards.