Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Preseason Top 30 for the 2015 Entry Draft

The last few years I've been coming out with a draft list at the end of the summer, and not just the ones during the season. This is a cool exercise because it allows us to look back and see the improvements (or regressions) that certain players have made.

Of course, changes will occur because so many of these players are going to hit massive growth spurts in their game this year. Some expected, others unexpected. The jump from the 16 year old to the 17 year old season is huge. Many of the things I'm currently saying about these players could be moot come October. Timid, perimeter rookies become physically aggressive sophomores (just as one example). Not to mention all the other players who'll make this list come next June, who haven't even played a minute in the OHL yet (such as Pavel Zacha).

This is another strong group for the OHL, which seems to have only been bolstered by a strong Import Draft. Lots of high end talent available, including players at different positions. It'll be interesting to see how these players jockey for position this year.

30. Garrett McFadden - Defense - Guelph Storm
Because of Guelph's depth last year, McFadden saw limited ice time. But with significant graduations, McFadden has a chance to crack the top 4 and get powerplay time. McFadden is currently undersized as a defender, but he possesses great offensive potential. He has good speed and skill with the puck but is still learning how to play the pmd role at the OHL level. Confidence is required for this type of role. His defensive game will need to continue to evolve, especially his understanding of how to play a more structured and patient game. 

29. Noah Bushnell - Forward - Sarnia Sting
A big physical, north/south winger who should slowly start to develop more of an offensive game. Bushnell already excels on the forecheck and plays a fearless, in your face tempo. He's not afraid to drive the net and he crashes the crease looking for scoring opportunities. With great size and physical qualities, whether he gets drafted this year will depend on the development of his skating and offensive abilities. He'll need to continue to improve his acceleration to make him a more effective offensive player. And he needs to work on his ability to handle the puck at full speed and finish off scoring chances with more consistency. Potential power forward though.

28. Doug Blaisdell - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
Hard to say what type of OHL player he's going to develop into. But the size and mobility are there. During the OHL preseason (last year), he looked like he could definitely develop into a strong two-way guy and a potential puck mover. But once the regular season started, he struggled to find the confidence to involve himself offensively. His decision making and ability to evade the forecheck were sore spots. But, he's got a serious shot at top 4 ice time this year and powerplay time. He's going to get a shot to live up to his potential. We'll see how he responds. He was a part of the bronze medal winning U.S. effort at the recent Ivan Hlinka tournament.

27. Zach Wilkie - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Like Blaisdell, Wilkie was a part of the 3rd place U.S. finish at the recent Ivan Hlinka tournament. The difference was that (from what I've heard and read), Wilkie was one of the team's top defenseman. Ice time in Niagara was an issue last year, and could be again this year too, but Wilkie is a potentially very strong two-way defender. He's not overly big (~6'0), but he plays with a lot of jam in his own end and he shows good puck moving potential/can jump up in the play to create scoring chances. 

26. Andrew Burns - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Hasn't seen a ton of OHL action, but I feel confidence placing him here based on what I have seen of him. Strong two-way defender who is a fantastic skater. His skating ability allows him to jump up or lead the rush and he makes good decisions with the puck. As a defender, he lacks elite size, and he needs to get stronger, but he's intelligent and makes good reads. Windsor's defense is in near full rebuild mode and I expect him to be one of the team's top defenseman by the end of the upcoming season. 

25. Jesse Barwell - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Barwell is a high energy playmaker. Not the biggest guy (pushing 6'0), but he's got terrific speed and he's aggressive in heading to the net. Consistency was a bit of an issue last year, but hard not to go through invisible stretches on a weak team. He'll need to continue to round out the rest of his game and hopefully he's able to show more of the offensive skill he showed as a midget player on that strong Oakville Rangers OHL Cup winning team. Likely enters the season as Mississauga's second line center. 

24. Sam Harding - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Harding has untapped offensive potential that we haven't yet seen displayed at the OHL level. Coming out of midget, I had read and heard a lot about a very quick, talented puckhandler, but one who struggled away from the puck. What I like is that those are the areas that stood out on most nights in Oshawa, when he wasn't getting much playing time. He used his speed to help him develop into a quality two-way/role player. Now let's see what he can do with increased ice time and offensive responsibility this upcoming season. An offseason spent on strength training should make him a better playmaker at this level.

23. Adam Craievich - Forward - Guelph Storm
A massive breakout candidate this coming season if he's improved his skating this offseason. Despite getting little ice time, there were nights that Craievich really stood out on a deep, and talented Guelph team. The first thing you notice is his fantastic shot. With his release, he's going to score his share of goals in the OHL. What really improved as the season went on, was his ability to play the boards and away from the puck. Only thing holding him back is the laboring stride. Could be a 30 goal scorer as early as this coming season.

22. Riley Bruce - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Bruce really improved as the OHL season went on, and ended up being a reasonably important cog on the 3rd pairing for Stan Butler's Battalion. The size (6'6) is obviously the most tantalizing thing about his game at this point in time, but he has terrific defensive potential. He already shows an ability to use his reach to force forwards outside and he's not afraid to mix things up. As he gets stronger, I'm sure his game will get increasingly meaner. His mobility is a bit awkward looking, so he'll need to improve that, and he'll need to gain some confidence in his ability to make a good first pass, but he's someone who is going to be on the radar of NHL scouts this coming season.

21. David Miller - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Undersized (~5'10), but I really liked his game as an OHL rookie last year. Tons of speed. The late '96 creates exceptionally well off the rush and is a threat to take the puck down the middle, beating defenders with his first few steps. He's aggressive in attacking the net too. He and Michael Bunting seemed to have some good chemistry last year and I'm hoping the Hounds explore that further this coming year. Really like his offensive potential as his confidence grows.

20. Hayden McCool - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
This ranking is based on potential and not necessarily what we saw last year. As an OHL rookie, McCool looked physically overmatched on a lot of nights. And he wasn't getting a ton of ice time because he wasn't making an impact. Coming out of midget, he was being touted as one of the top goal scorers available, but that just wasn't the case in his rookie year. But he's still a 6'3 forward who shows a willingness to engage physically, and who does have offensive potential once he figures things out. If he comes into camp with more confidence and strength, he could play a big role on a strong Niagara team.

19. Dante Salituro - Forward - Ottawa 67's
I always find it hard to pinpoint draft rankings for late birthdays this early in the process. Salituro is probably ranked a bit lower than you'd expect given his OHL success thus far. But...he hasn't grown since his midget days and is still 5'8-5'9. He's got great speed, skill, and plays with the tenacity that you like to see in smaller players. This is a big year for him IMO. The 67's have a chance to be a middle of the pack playoff team in the East, but they'll need an even bigger and more consistent performance from Salituro. If he can manage to steal some of the thunder from Konecny, I think he's got a chance to move up despite his lack of size.

18. Kyle Capobianco - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Was an under sized offensive defender at the midget level, but he continues to grow and will probably measure in the 6'2 range to start this year. He wasn't overly noticeable as an OHL rookie and he seemed to struggle with the size of opposing forwards. But, his skating ability remains top notch and he's already good at evading the forecheck and starting the breakout. His shot will need to improve a lot if he wants to excel as a PP QB, and he'll need to continue to work on the defensive side of things. But he's going to get all the ice time he can handle this coming season and should improve. 

17. Mitchell Vande Sompel - Defense - Oshawa Generals
This is probably a bit lower than you would have expected him. And I should preface this by saying that I really liked what Vande Sompel brought to the table as a rookie last year. He's an exceptionally talented puck mover, whose skating ability and confidence with the puck is greater than most his age. He's already a capable powerplay QB and he understands the game offensively. Defensively, he shows spunk and works hard to try to overcome his lack of size. But, he remains an undersized defender who could have some issues defensively moving forward. His transition to forward at times last year, was evident of that. That said, he's going to be counted on by the Generals to be one of their top defenders this year and we'll get a good chance to see what he's made of.

16. Justin Lemcke - Defense - Belleville Bulls
One of the OHL's most underrated rookies last year. Belleville didn't have a strong team and struggled with consistency, but I thought Lemcke might have been their best and most consistent defender. At this point, he's not flashy, but he has a lot of qualities that could make him an attractive NHL draft pick. He's got good size, but is also a good skater. He covers a lot of ground on the big rink in Belleville. Lemcke also makes a good first pass and shows signs of developing into a very sturdy (and perhaps physical) player in his own end. As he matures, I'm interested to see just how much his game grows.

15. Thomas Schemitsch - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Brother of former NHL draft pick Geoffrey, Thomas is a late '96 who is coming off a very strong rookie season in the OHL. In a lot of ways, he resembles his brother, with a good head for the game offensively and defensively, in addition to being a good skater. But, the big difference is that he's significantly bigger at 6'3, 200lbs. Schemitsch is just scratching the surface of what he's capable of at both ends and he's going to get even more playing time this year as a sophomore. 

14. Vince Dunn - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Pairing with Blake Siebenaler, Dunn was one of the integral components to Niagara's playoff bound season, scoring 33 points and playing very solid hockey for an OHL rookie. By season's end, Dunn and Siebenaler were Niagara's top pairing IMO. A late '96, Dunn has seemingly come out of nowhere to become one of the OHL's top young offensive blueliners. He's very aggressive in jumping up in the play and he's a good enough skater to start and lead the breakout. As a defender, he's not intimidated in the corners or in front of the net. Niagara will have an even better team this year and I'm excited to see where Dunn's game goes to.

13. Mitchell Stephens - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Stephens is an exceptionally talented offensive center who had a very inconsistent rookie season in the OHL. I don't think he was ready physically to really make a significant impact. But, if his Ivan Hlinka performance is any indication (6 points in 5 games), he could be in for a big year with Saginaw, where he'll have the opportunity to earn tons of ice time. Stephens doesn't have terrific size (pushing 6'0), but he's lightning quick and has great ability to drive the net to create scoring chances. Improved confidence and the ability to round out his game will make him jump up draft lists.

12. Graham Knott - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Love this kid's game. Already a very mature player who has an understanding of how to play with and without the puck. Knott is already a great defensive player and penalty killer, in addition to a solid forechecker and boards player. He knows how to drive the net and has underrated hands in close. With his 6'3 frame and his growing physical confidence, he has power forward potential. Only thing lacking in his game right now is quickness, which he'll have to continue to work on. After a solid Ivan Hlinka, he could be poised for a very solid year in Niagara (think 20/30).

11. Mackenzie Blackwood - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
A late '96, Blackwood was everything and more for the Colts last year in his rookie season. The 6'4 netminder emerged as the team's starter, leading them to the playoffs and earning OHL all first rookie team honours in the process. Blackwood is the prototypical NHL goaltender that scouts are now looking for. He takes up a ton of the net, even when he drops to the butterfly. He's agile and has the ability to make second and third saves. He also shows mental composure and confidence in his ability to improve. It's tough ranking goaltenders this far in advance, but it seems safe to assume that Blackwood is one of the top available guys that the CHL has to offer for 2015. 

10. Blake Speers - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Speers continues to grow, which is a great sign for the highly talented offensive forward. He grew two inches from his midget year to last year and should probably be over 6'0 by the time the NHL draft rolls around. Size (in terms of height) isn't an issue. Strength, on the other hand, is something he'll need to continue to add, as he looks to make a more consistent impact in the offensive end. Right now, he's a terrific complimentary offensive player who uses great speed and a high hockey IQ to get himself behind defenses and into scoring lanes. He reads plays very well, and despite not being massive, does a great job finishing off plays near the crease. An opportunistic scorer. I really like his offensive potential and I think he'll have a big year surrounded by some great offensive players.

9. Brett McKenzie - Forward - North Bay Battalion
The perfect Stan Butler center and someone who had a very solid, if not understated rookie season in the OHL. I say he's the perfect Butler player because he's a very complete player who is already fully adept at playing in Butler's defensive system. He takes care of the puck at both ends of the ice, wins faceoffs, engages physically and does all the little things that Butler demands. Within all that, hides a terrific offensive player who could really explode offensively this year. His speed, skill with the puck and hockey IQ are all excellent and weren't shown off in the role he was asked to play last year. A year stronger and more confident, I expect McKenzie to have a big year.

8. Travis Dermott - Defense - Erie Otters
Neck and neck right now between Dermott and Spencer for the top defenseman available from the 'O' IMO. Slight nod to Spencer because he's got more size and has a higher ceiling IMO. But we'll see how the season plays out. Dermott, a late '96, was not only one of the top rookies in the OHL this year, but was in fact one of the better two-way defenders in the league IMO (and was a first team all rookie member). Dermott has few flaws in his game. He takes care of the puck, he moves well, he makes good decisions defensively, he blocks shots, and he engages physically. If we're nitpicking, he'll need to improve his shot to become a better powerplay QB. And he doesn't have elite size (5'11), but everything else is there. 

7. Matt Spencer - Defense - Peterborough Petes
As mentioned, Spencer and Dermott are neck and neck. I gave the nod to Spencer based what I think he's capable of becoming this year. He got better and better as the season went on last year and I think he's just scratching the surface of what he's capable of becoming. With size, skill, and tenacity, Spencer can impact the game at both ends of the ice. I think we'll really see him become a defensive beast next year, with the offensive game (and confidence in it) a bit of a step behind. But with his size, mobility, and tool set, he's bound to be a high pick in 2015. 

6. Nikita Korostelev - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Korostelev is a massively talented player who can be quite electrifying to watch. His ability to handle the puck and maintain possession is a sight to behold. One of those guys you can say "can stickhandle in a phonebooth." Offensively, his game revolves around his own ability to create with the puck on his stick, whether it's for a shooting attempt, a drive to the net, or a a good pass to a streaking teammate. It's his game without the puck and finding scoring lanes that is still a work in progress. But he's not just a one dimensional offensive player. Korostelev plays with an edge and has the size at 6'2 to continue to explore that physical part of his game. Sarnia will be a very exciting, young team to watch next year. Their goaltending and defense could be iffy, but offensively, they could have some real game breakers. This could lead to some big stats for Korostelev.

5. Lawson Crouse - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Man, I wanted to put Crouse ahead of Strome. They're so close for me at the moment and I really like both players. Ultimately I felt like Strome being a center with size gave him a bit more value. But that shouldn't devalue Crouse. At 6'4, 210lbs, he's a throwback power forward who plays the game with a mix of skill and brawn. Last year he was very noticeable as a north/south winger who could impact the game with a big hit, or a good drive to the net. Even as a rookie, he demonstrated confidence in his ability to play in transition. He has great speed and I look for him to really start to use that to become a dominant forechecker. He also had good hands in close and I think he could score 30 goals this year. He's coming off a terrific Ivan Hlinka tournament where he led the tournament with 6 goals. Depending on how Crouse's offensive game develops, he could end up a lottery selection.

4. Dylan Strome - Forward - Erie Otters
As mentioned, Strome is just a smidge ahead of Crouse for me. At this point, you have to give the advantage to a 6'3 center who can do the things offensively that Strome can do. In a lot of ways, he's like his brother Ryan, but bigger. Strome was very inconsistent last year as a rookie in Erie, but with all the other talent, it was tough for him to really stand out without the puck on his stick. He was stuck playing more of a complimentary role, something he definitely had to adjust to. But he's going to get stronger. He's going to get quicker. And he's going to gain confidence. He's entering this OHL season after a very strong performance at the Ivan Hlinka and looks poised for a breakout. He's going to be in tough this year though. There's no doubt that he'll center the second line behind Connor McDavid. The question is, who will be his wingers? The Otters depth isn't nearly as good as it was last year and Strome is going to have way more pressure on him to perform. I look at his situation being very similar to Michael Dal Colle's last year. If he can really elevate his game the way Dal Colle did (making others around him better), he'll cement himself as a top 10 prospect.

3. Mitchell Marner - Forward - London Knights
Love this kid. Has that rare mix of undeniable skill with the puck and a high hockey IQ/vision. He's also got a terrific motor that never stops working. He's going to have the same impact on London's lineup this year as Robby Fabbri did on Guelph's this past year. Not only can he make things happen with the puck and prolong posession in the offensive end, but he also demonstrates the patience and vision to find open teammates for scoring chances. Such a terrific playmaker. Previously, the only thing that was really missing from his game was size, but he's hit a major growth spurt over the last year and a bit. As a midget player, he was playing around 5'9. But now he's playing close to 6'0, and is probably already there already when the Knights do their preseason vitals. Without the "size flaw" working against him, he's going to rocket up draft charts. London might be re-tooling a bit this year, but if anything, that could give him the chance to put his stamp on the team and make it his own in his draft season.

2. Travis Konecny - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Such an electric player. His speed makes him a weapon every time he's on the ice. And he has such confidence with the puck. Even as an OHL rookie, he had no issue entering the zone, cutting into the slot, and firing off a wrister. His release is pro caliber and, in combination with his skating ability, will get him a lot of goals as he catches goaltenders and defenders flat footed. Konecny also uses his teammates well and shows the ability to slow the game down in the offensive end, on top of playing the transition game. Perhaps the most underrated part of Konecny's game is his leadership capability/potential. He was the captain of his minor midget team, Elgin Middlesex, leading them to a bronze at the OHL cup. He captained team Ontario at last year's U-17's. And, most recently, he captained Canada to gold at the Ivan Hlinka. The only real knock against him at this point, is size. He's around 5'10, but could still grow. If he doesn't, it'll be interesting to see how the scouts view him (Robby Fabbri certainly deserved to be drafted higher this past year).

1. Connor McDavid - Forward - Erie Otters
Do I really have to write something here? I think we all know about McDavid and his talent by now. Nearly everything he brings to the table offensively is off the charts good. Skating. Hockey sense. Puck handling. Shot. He's just an incredible talent. Obviously, we'll look for him to continue to evolve as a two-way player, and for him to get stronger along the boards. But with his hockey sense and work ethic, that will come. The real question will be, what's in store for him this year in Erie? If Burakovsky doesn't return, McDavid is going to have to make 30 goal scorers out of the likes of Nick Betz and Joel Wigle. There's going to be a ton of pressure on him this year, with it being his draft year. If he's not getting the offensive support, yet still performs well, it will be a testament to his talent. Of course, the Otters could obviously cash in and deal him too. Let's not forget, John Tavares was dealt in his draft year.

Honorable Mentions (alphabetical order):

Jeremiah Addison - Forward - Ottawa 67's 
A former first round pick of Saginaw, Addison (a late '96) hasn't improved a ton over his two seasons in the OHL thus far. He plays a relatively aggressive game and can be a factor away from the puck, but he has yet to develop any sort of offensive consistency. He has blazing speed, but still hasn't learned how to use it best to create offensive chances at this level. The confidence in handling the puck and finishing off plays isn't there either. With an offseason trade to Ottawa, he'll have a chance at a fresh start. He'll get his share of playing time in Ottawa, with a chance of moving up into the top 6. Hopefully he can turn things around.

Mike Davies - Forward - Kitchener Rangers 
Kitchener's first rounder in 2013, Davies looked largely overmatched in his first OHL season. He didn't appear to have the strength to fight through traffic for scoring chances, and scoring goals is the biggest part of his game. But, he's got some good things going for him. He's got size. He's very quick. And he does have the hands and the potential to develop into a more aggressive player. We'll see how things go this year when he gets a shot at a larger role in Kitchener.

Austin Gerhart - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Hard working, role player who is part of a young forward group in Mississauga. Gerhart works hard without the puck, demonstrating potential as a strong forechecker and boards player. Not sure about the high end offensive upside, but he's an interesting prospect. An offseason spent on getting quicker and stronger could really help his energy based game.

Troy Henley - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Probably number 31 on this list right now based on what he's capable of becoming and not where he currently is (or was last year). The 67's were not good last year because their defense was quite poor, and Henley was a part of that. He went through the growing pains of a 16/17 year old defenseman. That said, things could get much better for him this year as he has the chance to take on a top 4 role. As a terrific skater and a potential two-way defender, he's one to keep an eye on.

Matthew Kreis - Forward - Barrie Colts
Super quick, slightly undersized forward who had a decent rookie year with Barrie. Kreis brings a lot of energy to the ice, and even though he had some issues in puck possession because of lack of strength, he wasn't discouraged or kept to the outside. Once he learns to use his speed and simplifies the game a bit, he could be a great playmaker at the OHL level.

Tyler MacArthur - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
MacArthur oozes potential. At 6'4, he moves quite well and developed as a solid stay at home guy last year as a rookie. As the season went on, he really started to assert himself physically. The offensive game was pretty much non existent last year, but coming out of midget, he was billed as a potential puck mover which suggests that there could be potential in that part of his game once he gains confidence. He'll get a chance this year as he'll probably be playing in a top 4 role on a younger club.

Ryan Moore - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
A very hard working, high energy forward. Moore may be undersized (around 5'9/5''10), but his quickness and his work ethic elevate him above some of his peers. Moore showed great flashes of developing into a quality scorer last year, but ultimately just wasn't strong enough to compete consistently. He'll get more ice time this year and be a fan favourite in Windsor.

Ryan Orban - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Orban is a big, physical, potential shut down defender. At 6'3, 215lbs already, he has pro size. He makes good reads in the defensive end and has the potential to be a physical behemoth. The skating is not bad either for a player of his ilk. There will be lots of younger defenseman vying for larger roles in Saginaw this year, so we'll see where he fits in.

Ethan Szypula - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Sort of a different mold than the players Owen Sound has been drafting over the last few years. Szypula is more of an undersized scoring prospect than the burly power forwards they've been developing lately. In a lot of ways, he looked overmatched last year and he'll need to show way more with & without the puck this year to gain the trust of scouts. He'll get his shot though, with Owen Sound likely set to give him more responsibility and powerplay time next year.

Will be Appearing Soon (Yet to play in the OHL)

Pavel Zacha - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Rasmus Andersson - Defense - Barrie Colts
Gustaf Franzen - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Artem Artemov - Forward - Saginaw Spirit

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Top 10 - Unheralded Rookies Who Could Make an Impact in 2014-15

I mention this every time that I write this piece, but it truly is one of my favourites to write and look back on. This annual article looks at some of the rookies who could make an impact in the OHL next year. And by that I mean players not selected in the Import Draft or the recent priority draft. I'm talking about 1997 (possibly even '96) born players who should finally crack their respective teams this year. The list of successful players of this ilk is long (see Mark Scheifele, Remi Elie, Matt Clark, Trevor Carrick, Travis Dermott, etc).

Here are 10 guys (in alphabetical order) that you should keep an eye on, plus a few honorable mentions.

For full lists for each team (of their top prospects), be sure to head on over to to read Sean LaFortune's awesome team write ups (Prospect Watch series). Here's the London Knights as an example.

Andrew Burns - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Big fan of his after seeing him play a bit in the OHL Cup. The Windsor 3rd rounder had an excellent season for Lasalle last year, even earning some playing time later in the season with Windsor where he looked good. Burns seems like the type of kid who can impact the game at either end of the ice and I think when all is said and done, he'll end up as Windsor's top defenseman this year.

Josh Coyle - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Coyle is a big, rangy, playmaking forward who is coming off a very good year with St. Thomas. The former 3rd rounder is now set to join the Petes' lineup full time this coming season where he has a chance to make an impact in the top 9. A natural center, it seems likely that he'll start on the wing because of Peterborough's depth down the middle. 

Marcus Crawford - Defense - Saginaw Spirit 
While slightly undersized, Crawford seems like he has a chance to be an important player for the Saginaw Spirit this year. The offensively talented blueliner is a candidate to fill the skates of Jesse Graham as Saginaw's primary powerplay QB. He's coming off a strong season in the Junior A where he was named to the second all prospect team. 

T.J. Fergus - Defense - Erie Otters
If Erie returns some of their bubble pro guys (Donnay, Macdermid), there might not be a ton of room on the blueline for talented newcomers (like Fergus and Saban), but somewhere down the line, room will be made for them. Fergus is a potentially solid two-way guy who could impact the game similar to the way Travis Dermott does. As an 8th round pick, Fergus seems to be progressing incredibly well, coming off a season where he was named as a member of the second all prospect team in Junior A.

Jeremy Helvig - Goaltender - Kingston Frontenacs
A 3rd rounder in 2013, Helvig is poised to make his OHL debut this coming year after playing last year with Toronto Lakeshore of the OJHL. Helvig is a big, athletic netminder who has a lot of potential in the league. And Kingston is definitely counting on him hitting that potential, as they've long needed a homegrown talented starter. He'll get his chance as early as this season when he battles Lucas Peressini for the starter's gig.

Leo Lazerev - Goaltender - Ottawa 67's
I think his story is an awesome one. A Russian player, Lazerev came to play in the GOJHL with Waterloo this year to circumvent the CHL's new import goalie ban. It was rather genius and I'm sure it's going to be something that others try to emulate. Lazerev had a terrific year in Junior B where he was amongst the league leaders in all categories (and was also one of the youngest goalies in the league). He's going to come into Ottawa 67's camp with a terrific chance to be their starting netminder. He'll battle Liam Herbst for the job. 

Aaron Luchuk - Forward - Windsor Spitfires 
A slightly undersized, but very talented offensive forward, Luchuk has a chance to be a big contributor in Windsor this coming season. He could certainly work his way up to their top 6 by season's end. He's got a great compete level  and will battle hard to make plays, even if he still needs to add strength. He's coming off a very good year with LaSalle and will battle the likes of Ryan Foss and Ryan Moore to get significant playing time down the middle.

Michael McNiven - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
After a fantastic season in the OJHL last year (was named as part of the first all prospect team), the Attack will need to try to find some playing time for the potential starter this coming year. It's no secret that Brandon Hope is looking to get a pro contract next year, and if he's successful, McNiven will battle Jack Flinn for the starter's job. If Hope returns for his overage year, I could see the Attack trading Hope or Flinn to make room for McNiven, as he's the goaltender of the future for the club.

Ted Nichol - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs 
Nichol is an undersized, offensive center who got a cup of tea with Kingston last year and certainly did not look out of place. Coming off a great year with Listowel, Nichol will battle for a depth spot on Kingston this year. He's not likely to get a ton of ice time because of Kingston's depth up front, but he could develop into a quality contributor over time.

Jesse Saban - Defense - Erie Otters
Saban has the distinction of being the highest drafted player (outside of the uncommitted Jordan Greenway) who did not suit up in the OHL last year (21st overall). Instead, the big, physical rearguard had a solid year with Newmarket and is now poised to make an impact with Erie. Like Fergus (and the not mentioned Cole Mayo), Saban could struggle to find consistent ice time as there could be a bit of a logjam on Erie's defense. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out and whether certain players are used as trade chips.

Honorable Mentions

Nathan Bastien - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Bastien has improved a lot since being a 7th round pick by the Steelheads. He actually played in 19 games this past year. But he also played for Brantford (Junior B) where he performed quite well and is poised to have a larger role for the upcoming year. 

Kris Bennett - Forward - Saginaw Spirit 
A former high draft pick of the Spirit (3rd rounder, 2012), Bennett had yet been able to crack Saginaw's lineup full time. But this could certainly be his year with a lot of roster spots open. He's coming off a great year in Junior A, where he led Oakville in goals despite playing in only 37 games.

Tyler Boston - Forward - Guelph Storm
Boston might be undersized, but he plays the game the way Scott Walker likes it played. His speed and energy level should endear him to his coach and allow Boston to get playing time on the team's 4th line this coming year.

Evan Cormier - Goaltender - North Bay Battalion 
North Bay's goaltender of the future, Cormier will be the team's back up this coming year behind Jake Smith. He was excellent in limited action last year after a solid season in the NOJHL and it should be an easy choice to have him be the back-up instead of bringing back Brendan O'Neill for an overage year. 

Trent Fox - Forward - Erie Otters
One Fox out, another in. After Dane graduates to the pro ranks this year, his younger brother Trent seems like a good bet to make Erie's roster this coming season. After a good year with Ridley College, Fox could certainly slide into a top 9 role with the Otters this year if he can prove his scoring ability resembles that of his brother. 

Austin Hall - Defense - Guelph Storm 
The Storm will have a slew of graduations from their defense going into this coming season and Hall is one of a few players with a great chance of holding down a regular roster spot. He's a solid offensive blueliner whose stats from this past year were very similar to the impressive Andrew Burns (see above) on LaSalle.

Steven Harland - Forward - North Bay Battalion
The Greyhounds did it last year with Michael Bunting, and the Battalion are hoping to strike gold this year with Harland. A 2014 draft pick (but a '96), Harland was one of the top major midget players in Ontario last year and had a very strong Telus Cup. He could definitely surprise and earn a spot on North Bay's roster.

Connor Hicks - Goaltender - Belleville Bulls
After the trade of Michael Giugovaz, the Bulls seem pretty content to hand Hicks the back-up job behind Charlie Graham. The Kanata, Ontario native played this past year in the EOJHL.

Mark Manchurek - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
The second of the Manchurek triplets to be able to reach the OHL (after brother Joe secured a spot with Oshawa last year), Mark seems poised to do that with Windsor this coming season. While he's not under contract yet, he is on their protected list and I'm sure will be attending training camp. He's coming off a great year with LaSalle and should be able to eventually develop into a quality OHL player.

Nathan Todd - Forward - Ottawa 67's 
While it remains to be seen about Todd's intentions, the 67's did select the talented forward in this year's priority draft. A '95, and one of the leading scorers in the CCHL, Todd tried to make the Peterborough Petes last year but failed. After another strong year, he could certainly try again with Ottawa and if successful, could end up being a solid offensive contributor for the 67's.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Top 10 - Jumping Ship to the OHL - Sixth Edition

With the news that Sonny Milano IS actually coming to Plymouth after all, there's probably no better timing for this annual article. This has certainly become a tradition of the blog (thus this being the sixth edition). In these entries, I look at some of the players leaving other substantial leagues (USHL, NCAA, QMJHL, etc) to come to the OHL. Usually it just so happens to be American players. Import selections are not included in this article.

This year, all of the players in the top 10 have already confirmed to be coming to the OHL. There are some players listed in the HM section who have not. They currently have other commitments but have long been rumoured to be coming to the OHL. History would suggest (if you look at previous editions of this article) that one or two of these guys usually end up showing up at some point.

10. Jarrett Meyer - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
An absolute behemoth of a defender (6'8) who will be transferring from the EHL (Eastern Hockey League). Former London Knights John Carlson and Jarred Tinordi are alumni of the league. That said, they put up significantly better stats, so don't go expecting that caliber of player. The Attack already have a pretty deep and young blueline, so it will be interesting to see where Meyer slots in and how much playing time he actually gets. But I'm sure Owen Sound is hoping he can add a physical edge to a defense that currently lacks that component (at least consistently).

9. Chris Martenet - Defense - London Knights
The Knights are bringing in some new faces next year to their defense, thanks to the graduation of several key players. And Martenet is one of them. He played last year for the USHL champion Indiana Ice, but saw little playing time in the playoffs. Like Meyer (10th on this list), he's a real big kid (6'6) who I'm sure the Knights are hoping can add some size to a relatively small defense. He's going to get his chance to show he can play as the defensive spots behind Bergman and Mermis (and Zadorov if he's around) all are up for grabs. 

8. Brandon Shea - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Shea is a big roll of the dice by the Spitfires. He's coming from the QMJHL after stops in Moncton and Quebec. He's a former first round pick in the Q and was once a highly touted player. He has the size and skill to play a power forward game, but hasn't been able to put together consistent performances. As a '95, this is probably his last chance to prove what he's capable of. Hopefully he comes into camp with a fire lit under his butt and has a positive impact on Windsor's season. Secondary scoring will be key to their success.

7. Chad Duchesne - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
The local boy is coming home. After playing two years for Kingston of the OJHL, Duchesne joined Sioux Falls of the USHL last year, where he led them in defensive scoring. He was set to attend Northeastern University, but backed out of his commitment to join Kingston instead (following a trade from Mississauga). Kingston has some serious holes to fill on their defense, so Duchesne is likely to jump right into their top 4 and help run the secondary powerplay unit. He can potentially impact the game at both ends of the ice and plays bigger than his 5'11 frame would lead you to believe.

6. Roy Radke - Forward - Barrie Colts
Radke appears to be a very good signing for the Colts. The 6'2 power winger played at Shattuck St. Mary's last season and based on what I'm hearing from scouts in that region, he's a player on the rise who got a lot better as the season went on. He's a late '96 which makes him eligible for this year's NHL draft. He likely signed on with Barrie in hopes that he can raise his draft stock. Barrie does have some openings up front and if he plays well, he has a shot to get into the top 6 and earn some powerplay time.

5. Jeremy Brodeur - Goaltender - Oshawa Generals
A teammate of Radke's, Brodeur also comes to the OHL after playing with Shattuck St. Mary's. However, more famously, he's the son of Devils' legend Martin Brodeur. He's also a late '96 who'll come to the OHL hoping to get attention from NHL scouts in his initial draft year. In Oshawa, he does have a good shot of earning significant playing time. While Ken Appleby has to be considered the favourite to earn the starter's job, he's not yet a proven talent in the league as a starter. 

4. Gabe Guertler - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Guertler has a chance to be a real impact player for the Greyhounds after defecting from the University of Minnesota this offseason. He has previously been a high scorer at the USHL level before a disappointing freshman season at Minnesota. He likely jumps right into a top 6 role with significant powerplay time. As an undersized player, he does bring some tenacity to his game too, a quality that will help him fight right into the Hounds lineup. 

3. Ryan Mantha - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
The signing of Mantha was finally announced this week after it had long been rumoured that he was going to Niagara this season. A 4th round pick of the New York Rangers in 2014, Mantha has the size and skill to impact the game at both ends of the ice. At 6'4, 225lbs, he's a big kid, but there are concerns over the consistency with which he plays with an edge. But he moves the puck well and should be able to help QB the Dogs' powerplay. How much ice time he'll get 5 on 5 remains to be seen. Niagara is returning both of their top two pairings (Mercer/Haydon & Siebenaler/Dunn), so I wonder if they'll want to break those up or not. 

2. Luke Kirwan - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
By far, one of the top coups of this offseason by any OHL team. The Kirwan signing was absolutely massive for Windsor. The talented power winger was one of the top players on the U.S. Under 17 team and is considered a potential top 10 pick in 2016 (NHL). He's going to be a very good OHL player. This gives a guy like Josh Ho-Sang another extremely talented player to run with and that will make Windsor an exciting team to watch next year...and moving forward.

1. Sonny Milano - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
The million dollar question has finally been answered. The last few months seems to have been a war on twitter and the media, with some experts stating Milano was coming to Plymouth regardless of his commitment to BC, while others believed what Milano was saying and refuted all rumours. That's all in the past now after Milano announced his intention to sign with Columbus and play for Plymouth. The Blue Jackets first rounder is obviously a big add for Plymouth (duh). Along with the addition of Campagna, this could bump the Whalers from potential middle of the pack team in the West to potential front runners. It remains to be seen whether Milano will play down the middle or the wing as a Whaler (he can play both), but either way he's a high octane offensive player who will elevate the play of those around him. 

Honorable Mentions

Michael Prapavessis - Defense - London Knights
It's not too often you see a player spurn the London Knights, but Prapavessis has done that after they acquired his rights. When London does that, that's usually code for "done deal." But, he seems strict on his commitment to RPI, where he'll play next year. The Dallas 4th rounder would be a MASSIVE addition to a London blueline that badly needs help. He's an incredibly talented offensive defender and would be an impact player in the league.

J.J. Piccinich - Forward - London Knights
A Maple Leafs 4th rounder, Piccinich is slated to be headed to Boston University next year after a great year in the USHL. The talented, yet slightly undersized playmaker would be a great fit in London where he could help get the puck to guys like Horvat and McCarron. 

Zach Werenski - Defense - London Knights
The last of London's HM's on this list, Werenski is a real interesting situation. A '97, he's fast tracked his studies so that he can attend the University of Michigan next year, his NHL draft year. Not too often you see players jump right from the Under 17 portion of the USDP to the NCAA. A high pick of London, Werenski has long be courted by the Knights because he'd instantly become one of the better defenders in the league. He's a potential first rounder in 2015 and he seems very set on staying at home to play in Michigan.

Jordan and James Greenway - Plymouth Whalers
The Greenway brothers are both Plymouth draft picks, with Jordan being the former first rounder. If the Whalers' can't get him to come, it'll be a pretty big loss for them. Jordan will be playing with the U.S. Under 18 team this year (after playing U17 last year). Meanwhile James will be playing with the U17 program. Jordan recently announced a commitment to Boston University, but who knows how concrete that is. He'll be eligible for the NHL draft this coming year and has a great shot of being a 1st round pick. If that's the case, the team that drafts him could definitely steer him towards Plymouth, in which case you'd have to assume James follows suit. But, there's also a pretty strong chance neither wears the Whaler green.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Winnipeg Jets

We've reached the end of our journey. Winnipeg is the final article for my "30 Teams in 30 Days" feature. Hope you've enjoyed the ride!

Scott Kosmachuk - Guelph Storm
What a year for Kosmachuk. He was just phenomenal for Guelph, in both the regular and post season. In a lot of ways, Kosmachuk's terrific season can be contributed to an increased confidence level and improved strength. Any time he had the puck, he was aggressive in trying to drive the net, which is nothing new to him. But this year, he had the confidence to slow the game down at times, finding passing lanes and becoming a much more well rounded offensive player. His speed and first few steps also improved further, to the point where he had to be considered one of the quickest players in the OHL. His skating certainly improved over his OHL career and is now an asset. His shot, as I mentioned last year, is also a big time asset and he has definite goal scoring potential at the next level because he can score in such a variety of ways. Definitely not a one trick pony. His OHL career is now done and he'll turn pro next year. In the AHL, I see him continuing his success. I think off the bat, his game will be simplified to being more of a dump and chase, crash the crease style goal scorer, but as he gains confidence (just as he did in the OHL), it should evolve into something bigger and better. I see him scoring 20 in the AHL next year though.

Jimmy Lodge - Saginaw Spirit
Not a good year for Lodge. The Spirit did struggle as a team offensively this year (consistency wise anyway), and they had some unfortunate other things to deal with. Definitely not an easy season to play for any of Saginaw's players. That said, Lodge did struggle to establish himself as a primary offensive weapon. He's definitely got skill, but still struggles with the more higher traffic areas on the ice. He needs to continue to add strength to find consistent success in the corners and in front of the net. And on drives across the blue line, he needs to be more assertive in getting the puck to the net to create consistent scoring chances. He's kept to the outside far too often. He also looked to lack confidence in his shot this year. He's got great goal scoring potential because he has a good shot (as he showed in his draft year), but wasn't getting himself in scoring position as consistently and, at times, seemed to develop more of a pass first mentality. Not uncommon for players to suffer growing pains in the year after being drafted, so there's absolutely no reason to write off a talented young man. Next year is a HUGE one for him though. He'll need to be the offensive leader for Saginaw, who'll be going through a bit of a rebuild. But, if some of their younger players step up, who knows what could happen. I think considering the circumstances, if he can get back to being over the point per game mark, that'd be great.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals are the 2nd last entry on our trip this year and they've only got one prospect currently playing in the OHL.

Andre Burakovsky - Erie Otters
I was quite impressed by Burakovsky's first year in the OHL. He does a lot of things very well. The most noticeable thing about him is definitely his shot. He has an absolute howitzer and he uses it in a variety of ways. He can fly down the wing and rip one off, using the defender as a screen. He'll set up shop in the slot and on the wing and look for one timers. He creates his own space with speed and puck control in order to get it off. He's a very impressive potential goal scorer. But he's also a pretty smart offensive player too, who works the give and go well and is learning how to create below the hashmarks (when the game slows down a bit). I think I'd like to see him use that speed and skill to drive the net harder, as sometimes he settles for shots from further out instead of finishing drives. And while his 200 foot game wasn't bad at all, he'll need to continue to improve the consistency of his play away from the puck. Next year, two things could happen. He could return to Erie. In Erie, he would jump up to play with Connor McDavid and see a ton of ice time in all situations. In Erie, I'd fully expect him to be a 50 goal man and I think it would be great for his development to continue to gain confidence and round out his offensive repertoire. The second thing that could happen (and is probably the more likely scenario, the more I've thought about it) is that he'll play in the AHL. While he is only 19, he's eligible to play in the AHL because he was drafted out of Europe and not the O. His goal scoring and skating ability is already pro ready and I think he'd be able to jump into Hershey's lineup and score 20 goals next year. I guess we'll see where he ends up. Selfishly, you know what I'm hoping for!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks have been drafting a lot out of the OHL in recent year, taking an OHL player in the first round the last 4 years. Here's Vancouver's review.

Bo Horvat - London Knights
I thought Horvat had a good, but not great year in London. He remained a solid two-way presence who can impact the game in a variety of different ways. He's one of the top faceoff men in the OHL and continues to be someone who is terrific in the neutral zone, forcing turnovers by anticipating passes. But, to Horvat's credit, these were all things he did in his NHL draft year too. Offensively, I don't think there was a ton of growth. Not necessarily a bad thing, because he's a solid player, but he didn't elevate his game to become one of the OHL's top offensive players, something he's capable of doing by the time his OHL career is over. His skating is solid, deceptively so, but I do think he could stand to improve his first few steps to make him more explosive to gaps and in rushes to the net. I'd like to see him develop a bit more confidence in his ability to shoot the puck. He's got a good shot, and he has goal scoring potential, but he's not yet the type of player who can completely take over a game. Next season is a big one for Horvat's development. There has been some rumbling about him making the Canucks, but I think that would be a mistake. He needs to go back to London for another season and continue to develop confidence in his offensive abilities. I still think he's on the path to becoming a solid 2nd line NHL player who can play a variety of roles. A 90 point season (even with a WJC appearance) would be a great step forward (I think of the way Scott Laughton really emerged this past year).

Brendan Gaunce - Erie Otters
I'm sort of on the fence as to how I feel about Gaunce's development as a player over his OHL career. On one hand, I did expect him to eventually put up better offensive numbers as an OHL player. He never really got to the point where he was able to take over games offensively. His ability to create offense in the transition game (off the rush) never really became consistent either. He is what he is. A solid two-way player who creates offense from outworking the opposition in their own end. He plays the dump and chase game exceptionally well and rarely turns the puck over in the offensive end once he's got possession. He's a very smart player and playmaker in the cycle and coming off the wall, using excellent vision to set up scoring chances. He's also a good goal scorer from below the hash marks, with a quick release and an ability to use his size to create space. As a two-way player, he excels as a penalty killer and does a great job of winning battles for the puck in his own end. Definitely a workhorse. As mentioned, I'm sort of left asking myself the same questions as I was when he was drafted. Is he a 2nd line center, or a 3rd/4th line guy? Part of me thinks that his offensive game, because of his intelligence level might be better suited to the pro game. Another part of me worries because I'm not sure he'll succeed as much in an uptempo scheme, like most teams play in the NHL right now. His skating did improve a lot over his OHL career, but it will continue to need to improve before he hits the NHL. He'll turn pro next year and likely play in the AHL. I think we'll get a pretty good indication of how well his offensive game will translate in his first season, as long as he gets some playing time with skilled finishers.

Jared McCann - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Like some of the scouting agencies out there, I'm not sure what type of NHL potential he has. He's either a 2 or a 3, but there's a big difference between the two. His speed is terrific. His shot and release are terrific. He's a great two-way player already and he really competes away from the puck. But, I'm just not sure how much hockey sense there is offensively. He became pretty predictable by the end of the year. Skate in hard across the blueline, then try to cut down the middle and head to the net. Defenses started keeping him more to the outside, giving him space, and it seemed like he didn't know what to do at times. And other times, he'd try to force plays and end up turning it over. And while the shot and release are great, he doesn't seem to have developed a knack for finding loose pucks yet. He's very effective in the slot, yet doesn't always seem to find himself there. As he gains confidence (and adds muscle), it'll be interesting to see how his offensive game grows. At the end of the first, he was a great pick up by the Nucks. I think he'll definitely play in the NHL. Just depends on whether that's as a Daniel Paille (3/4) kind of guy or a David Bolland (2/3), or a Bryan Little (legit 2). Next year in SSM, he'll assume the same role he did this past year, with likely more powerplay time, assuming he can be a more consistent contributor. I think he's a good bet to be around the 75 point mark.

Cole Cassels - Oshawa Generals
Absolutely fantastic year for Cassels who emerged as a legitimate NHL prospect IMO. Every aspect of his game improved this year. He was significantly more confident with the puck, and creates a lot of scoring chances from his high energy level. As a forechecker, he's one of the best in the OHL. He attacks the offensive zone with a purpose and is great at forcing turnovers. But he has the smarts and confidence to consistently make things happen once he forces those turnovers. Cassels also attacks the net hard and shows no fear in taking punishment near the crease for a scoring opportunity. His skating looked much improved this year too, as he was a greater factor off the rush and more explosive to loose pucks. As a penalty killer and defensive player, he's terrific and is relied upon in Oshawa to preserve leads and shutdown the opposition's best. Can't say enough how impressed I was with his progression as a player this past year. Next year he'll return to Oshawa where he'll assume an even greater role with Scott Laughton gone. I think an 80 point year is a definite possibility.

Jordan Subban - Belleville Bulls
Belleville was not very good this year and that means it wasn't a terrific year for Subban's development. He was counted on to play in all situations and I'm not sure he was ready for the amount of ice time he received. Defensively, he looked overmatched on a lot of nights and Belleville ended up getting hemmed in their zone a lot. As an undersized defender, he'll need to continue to add strength in order to compete with the league's best in the defensive end. He did show some more piss and vinegar this year and showed a higher compete level than he did in his draft year, but, as mentioned, lacks the strength/size to make a consistent plays in the defensive end. Offensively, Belleville wasn't great so he wasn't able to be as effective as he could be. Some of the times I saw Belleville, he struggled with the forecheck, because he was trying to force plays because he was playing from behind. I think Belleville should be better next year and Subban will need to be an integral part of that. Towards the end of the year, he partnered with the converted Stephen Harper on D, and I'm curious to see if that's something they continue. Hopefully Subban is able to have a year similar to the one that Jesse Graham had this past year, improving on the defensive side of things, but also finding more confidence offensively too.

Dane Fox - Erie Otters
Hard to not be impressed by the season Fox had, as the OHL's leading goal scorer. I've long been a fan of his and have long been lobbying for him to be drafted/signed. There's no question that his game really did improve this past year. It was't a matter of playing with high end talent like McDavid and Brown. He was equal in their success too. Bottom line is that he made his own scoring chances this year by driving hard to the net with the puck and having a ton of confidence in his terrific shot. His shot is already pro ready, especially his release which is lightning quick. He needs little room to get his shot of, and if he needs it, he creates it with his body. As a physical player and a difficult guy to play against, he's also a factor on the forecheck and along the boards where he's terrific at maintaining possession. His skating will continue to need to get better, but it's come a long way in his OHL career already. As he moves to the AHL this coming year, I have high expectations for him to put up good numbers. A 20 goal first pro year is definitely an attainable expectation.

Evan McEneny - Kingston Frontenacs
McEneny really blossomed in Kingston this year, emerging as a quality two way defender. He's a very intelligent positional defender who uses good mobility to keep forwards to the outside. But he also has the size to win battles in the corners and in front of the net, although he's not an overtly physical player. His offensive game is all about his first pass and his ability to start the breakout. He's not an aggressive offensive player in the sense that he jumps up in the play a lot, but he will pick his spots. I don't really see the offensive game translating massively to the pro level, but I think he has the chance to be a quality positional defender who can move the puck efficiently and provide quality play in all situations. Kind of a jack of all trades kind of guy. Either way, his confidence as a defender really grew this year. I'm assuming he'll be in the AHL next year where I doubt he'll have a huge impact on the score sheet, but if he can play good defence and get himself in the line-up regularly, that'd be a big positive.

Miles Liberati - North Bay Battalion
The trade from London was definitely a good thing for Liberati so he could get consistent playing time, especially at his natural position. In North Bay he was able to be part of a long playoff run, which is always grew for your development. But he didn't see a ton of ice time (on the Battalion third pairing), so I didn't feel like his game made huge strides this year. Towards the end of the regular season, he started jumping up in the play more and seemed to be on the verge of breaking out as an offensive defenseman. Under Stan Butler, his defensive game should continue to really improve too. Next year in North Bay, he'll have a shot at some power play time with Dylan Blujus (likely) gone to the AHL. But his 5 on 5 time may end up being roughly the same, because of the depth of returning players. He's certainly going to be in a dog fight to earn the chance and I hope he's up to the task.

Kyle Pettit - Erie Otters
Pettit is a big center who I was slightly surprised got drafted. He didn't get a ton of ice time with Erie this year and wasn't able to make much of a significant impact. But he has potential as a physical, dump and chase, puck possession kind of guy. It'll be interesting to see how his play with the puck develops as he slowly earns more ice time. With some significant players leaving the Otters, he'll have a chance at increased ice time next year, but he'll have to battle some other players who've also waited a while to get that chance. I think the jury is still out on the type of player he could really become.

Monday, August 4, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Toronto Maple Leafs

The new home of former SSM General Manager Kyle Dubas is our next stop. While we're in Toronto, maybe we'll stop at Real Sports for a beer and a burg.

Matt Finn - Guelph Storm
Finn rebounded exceptionally well from an injury riddled season two years ago. He was fantastic from start to finish this year, ending up 2nd to Anthony DeAngelo in defenseman scoring. As an offensive player and power play QB, Finn exuded confidence in his ability to skate with the puck and jump up in the play. His skating has improved to the point where he takes chances offensively, knowing that he can get back to his own end in time. His point shot also looked harder and stronger this year. In his own end, he rarely makes a mistake with the puck and is terrific at starting the breakout and evading the forecheck. His improved skating ability has definitely helped in this regard. Defensively, he's always been a very smart player who is terrific in coverage and rarely blows assignments. He defends off the rush well and has gotten stronger to the point where he's confident using his body to win battles in the corners and in front of the net. He also blocks shots well and does a terrific job anticipating passes into the slot. At the OHL level, Finn is about as well rounded of a defender as you'll find. As he turns pro next year, Finn will continue to make improvements to his skating and first few steps. He should be able to assume a role on the power play right away, but I think it will take some time before he's producing a ton offensively 5 on 5. Stuart Percy put up 25 points in his first AHL year, and I think Finn is a more naturally talented offensive player. I think he can crack the 30 point plateau.

Connor Brown - Erie Otters
Obviously a pretty good year for the OHL's scoring champion and MVP. His game really did improve leaps and bounds this past year. I felt like his lack of speed and strength on the puck prevented him from being a consistent performer in previous years, despite having the talent. He must have put in a lot of work over the summer because he came back with a vengeance. His speed looked much better and it made him a way more effective player off the rush, where he was aggressive in looking to drive wide on defenders to open up lanes to use his great wrister. And he was noticeably stronger, winning battles in the corner and in front of the net. And he was able to protect the puck much better and wasn't as susceptible to turnovers in the offensive end. With his skill level with the puck, hands, and offensive instincts, those two subtle improvements really allowed his game to blossom. Of course, he also served as Erie's captain and leads by example. He's not a physical player, but he plays the game hard. He's ready for the next step in the AHL and I think he'll find immediate success there. I could definitely see him around the 45-50 point mark.

Carter Verhaeghe - Niagara IceDogs
Absolutely fantastic year for Verhaeghe who exploded as the offensive leader for the upstart IceDogs. Without consistent secondary scoring, opposing defences often keyed in on Verhaeghe's line (with Perlini and DiFruscia), but they often did a great job keeping play going in the opposing end. Verhaeghe excels as a forechecker and a puck possession guy who creates offense in a variety of different ways. His skating and first few steps looked much improved this year and it made him and Perlini a load to handle off the rush. Verhaeghe's confidence with the puck also greatly improved as he showcased some highlight reel moves on occasion, showing the ability to beat defenders one on one. He's also a complete player who battles just as hard in the defensive end and is a capable penalty killer. Next year that first line will remain intact and I think they'll be one of the better lines in the OHL. I expect the Dogs to be one of the best teams in the East and I see Verhaeghe cracking the 90 point mark.

Ryan Rupert - London Knights
I think Rupert had a pretty good year after some struggles in 2012. I think the most noticeable improvement made to Rupert's game was his improved discipline. While he's still quite the pest (and probably isn't the most well liked player in the league), he played with a lot more composure this year, forcing the opposition into bad penalties instead of taking them himself. He still plays the game hard and excels the most in a dump and chase scheme, going hard in the forecheck and winning battles deep in the offensive zone. I think his skating has improved, but still remains a concern moving forward as he tries to establish himself as a 3rd line/energy guy at the professional level. Offensively, he's still more of a pass first guy who's content to win the battles and feed teammates for chances in the slot or near the crease. He's now eligible for the AHL and has his ELC, but I'm not sure he's a sure bet to play in the AHL next year. The Leafs do have considerable depth at the forward position with the Marlies. If it comes to playing in the ECHL or going back to London for an overage year to play with his brother, I think they send him back. After all, the Leafs did send Jamie Devane back for an overage year after he had his ELC so I don't think it'd be that surprising.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Tampa Bay Lightning

Steve Yzerman certainly seems to love his OHL players and that's why Tampa has among the most OHL prospects in the league. The Lightning are up next.

Slater Koekkoek - Windsor Spitfires
No bones about it, Koekkoek had a fantastic year. The main reason was that he was finally able to stay healthy and that really allowed his game and confidence to blossom. Windsor was an inconsistent team who had a mediocre year, but Koekkoek's consistency as a stabilizing force was one of the big reasons that the team got the 5th spot in the West. Think about this. Koekkoek finished the year +44. The Spits were only +14 as a team. Without him on the ice, the team was a bit of a mess. I actually think it was a positive that he turned down a trade near the deadline that would have sent him to a contender (presumably Guelph). I think it showed courage and a mature understanding of how much Windsor needed him. He didn't want to abandon ship and the Spits young players will be better for his contributions. OK, let's talk about his progression as a player. He dominated at both ends of the ice, showing poise and confidence leading the rush and starting the breakout, but also a firm understanding of his role as a defensive player. He uses his excellent mobility to keep forwards in front of him and he has a terrific understanding of gap control. He's not overtly physical, but will battle for loose pucks and uses his body well to seperate forwards from the puck in traffic. As a powerplay QB, he runs the point very effectively, making good decisions at the point and has a great low point shot that he gets through to the net with consistency. All things point to his career being on the right track now after a couple of rough seasons. He'll turn pro next year and play in the AHL, where I assume he'll get a fair amount of ice time. Barring he stays healthy (let's hope), I think he'll be among the rookie leaders in defensive scoring and should have at least a 30 point year.

Dylan Blujus - North Bay Battalion
Blujus' progression as a prospect has been an interesting one. When he was drafted, he was drafted based on his ability to run the point on the powerplay and move the puck. His defensive game was certainly a work in progress. Fast forward two years and I'd argue that Blujus has turned himself into more of a defensive guy than an offensive blueliner. I can't say I expected it to go that way, but it has. As an offensive player, he now remains fairly restrained. He has the confidence to skate the puck out of his zone, but he's not one to breach the opposing blueline with a rush, instead opting to start/finish the breakout with a pass to a streaking forward. He moves the puck effectively on the powerplay, but he's never developed much of a point shot and isn't one to jump up in the play for scoring chances. Defensively, he's made major strides. His mobility has improved and he has a good understanding of how to use his reach to keep forwards honest. He's developed some sandpaper to his game, especially in the corners where he's happy to engage and use his size to win battles. He's not one to lay a big hit, but he battles hard to make life difficult for the opposition (a requirement if you want to play for Stan Butler). Moving forward, I'm not really sure what to expect with Blujus. He has the potential and smarts to develop into a good two-way guy, but I'm also slightly worried he could be a bit of a tweener. His offensive game stagnated to the point where I don't see him being a significant point producer at the next level. And while his defense has made great strides, will it ever be an elite quality? We'll have to see. His first pro season next year could and should give us a pretty good indication of the type of player he's going to become moving forward.

Jake Dotchin - Barrie Colts
I've always been a fan of Dotchin and there's no question that he had his best season in the OHL this past year. He was a critical component to Barrie's solid season, playing on the 2nd pairing behind Aaron Ekblad. As a defensive player, he's incredibly physical and takes advantage of every opportunity to lay down a hit. He's made strides in picking his spots better, although will likely need some time to adjust at the pro level, finding the timing and confidence to make big hits. Offensively, he finally started taking some chances by jumping up in the play to help create scoring chances. He's always had some decent skill with the puck and a heavy shot, but before this year, he didn't quite have the confidence to use them. While I think his calling at the next level will be that of a defense first guy, it's great having a physical defender who can still confidently move the puck and fill in on the powerplay when needed. The Lightning will have a bit of a logjam defensively at the AHL level, so they'll have to decide on what to do with Dotchin. Perhaps he and Blujus battle it out for an AHL job while the other goes to the ECHL. I don't see either heading back for an overage year though.

Henri Ikonen - Kingston Frontenacs
Love Ikonen. Such a battler. And a very smart player. Ikonen isn't huge, but he's very effective in traffic, using his body to keep or win possession of the puck in the corners and behind the net. He works hard on the forecheck and goes hard to the net, looking to open up space for his linemates. He's not an overtly physical presence, but he does engage in the corners and on the backcheck. When he has the puck, Ikonen is a very intelligent playmaker who sees the ice well and rarely turns it over. In a lot of ways, he resembles current Lightning pick and former OHL's Tanner Richard (who didn't have the best first pro year, but I still believe in as a player). Ikonen will play in the AHL next year after signing his ELC. If the Lightning were smart, they'd play him on a scoring line, where he can be effective opening up and creating lanes for skilled linemates.

Anthony DeAngelo - Sarnia Sting
I made my concerns over DeAngelo pretty aparent in my draft rankings (where I had him lower than most). He's about as electric offensively as any player in the OHL, regardless of position. His skating ability, combined with his puck handling ability and confidence, make him a threat to go end to end every possession. As a powerplay QB, he is incredibly efficient and he's got one heck of a point shot. As a defensive player, he's non existent. And being that he's a third year OHL player (a late birthday), I found that concerning. And there were times this year where I saw him standing around after rushes, rather than skating hard back to his end to play defense. Then there's all the other stuff, which caused him to get suspended (but I won't get into). When you throw in his lack of size, I think that needs to throw up some red flags. Next year will be his fourth (and likely final) year in the OHL. He's probably a sure bet to lead the league in defensive scoring again. But if his defensive game doesn't improve, it'll all be for not. And Sarnia won't be THAT much better of a team next year, so things aren't likely to get any less frustrating as the team goes through the growing pains of a rebuild. I hope he proves me wrong and I'll be the first one to jump for joy if his defensive game does improve.

Cristiano DiGiacinto - Windsor Spitfires
Started off red hot after signing with the Spits a good month into the season. But cooled off dramatically as the year went on. His playing time was decreased later in the year because of his inability to stay out of the penalty box (and he's suspended the first five games of the OHL season next year). He plays the game hard, but will need to learn how to reign it in. As an offensive player, he's very good in the slot and near the crease as he has good hands and a scoring instinct. He's fearless in traffic and that makes him an effective crease crasher. The development of the rest of his offensive game will depend on the improvements he makes to his skating. He needs to add that extra gear to make him a more consistently effective player (at both ends of the ice). But as a player playing in his first OHL year, he flashed some exciting things and I think he was a smart pick up. Next year in Windsor, he's likely to assume a top 6 role and will receive ample powerplay time. I could definitely see him scoring at least 25 next year.

*Of note, Lightning 2nd rounder Dominik Masin will be suiting up for the Peterborough Petes next year. He's going to get a ton of ice time in all situations and will be counted on to be one of the team's top defenders. Based on what I saw at the U-18's, I have high expectations for him.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - St. Louis Blues

The St. Louis Blues are up next and their only two OHL prospects were players acquired at this year's entry draft.

Robby Fabbri - Guelph Storm
Anyone who reads this blog knows how highly I think of Fabbri (had him rated of Dal Colle and Ritchie for this year's entry draft). While I might be the only one with that opinion, I'm certainly not his only fan. Anyone who watches Fabbri is instantly mesmerized by the energy, effort level, and skill that he brings to the ice. He creates offensive chances in so many different ways. He forechecks as hard as anyone in the league and has the patience and poise to set up plays off of turnovers, rather than force things. He uses his speed and stickhandling ability to create room for himself to operate off the rush. Despite his smaller stature, he's incredibly slippery and a difficult player to check. That "elusive" quality exists because his hockey sense and vision are superior qualities. He does have a tendency to take some big hits, but that's because he plays hard and isn't afraid to take a hit to make a play for his team. With how smart of a player he is, matched with his skill level, I just don't see his size as an issue moving forward. As he returns to Guelph next year, he'll be counted on to run the show and be an offensive leader for a team that is losing the vast majority of it's top 6 players. Defenses will be allowed to key in on him a little more than they were this year. I think he'll be up to the challenge though and I see him cracking the 80 point mark yet again. For all of his strengths, I would like to see him work on his game inside his own zone though. A lot of the turnovers he forces occur in the neutral zone or in the opponent's end. He has the brains and the intensity level to be a terrific two-way player and I think that's something he'll look to improve next year.  

C.J. Yakimowicz - London Knights
Yakimowicz was an interesting selection by the Blues. Truthfully, I'm not sure OHL fans (and scouts) were able to get a terrific grasp this year on the types of things he's capable of doing in the future. He came to the Knights around midseason after bouncing around a few different teams (USHL, Tier 2). He didn't see a ton of ice time, but made his presence felt physically. He's a really big kid who seems to thrive in the "dirty" areas of the ice. That said, he looks like the type of player who could develop a power game and become a pretty solid puck possession type of center. Truthfully (as I alluded to), I don't think I got a great read on his offensive skill set. There looked to be some skill with the puck, especially off the rush and with his size he could develop into a finisher around the net. Next year in London, there will be heavy competition to replace a few spots in the line-up (of players turning pro). I'd expect Yakimowicz to receive a bit more ice time and to give us a better idea of what type of player he's going to become (other than just a physical workhorse).

Friday, August 1, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - San Jose Sharks

With some recent draft picks and signings, the Sharks have greatly increased their influence in the OHL. They are next for the '30 in 30' treatment.

Chris Tierney - London Knights
Can't say enough good things about Tierney and the way he developed as a player since he was drafted. This year he was one of the best players in the OHL IMO. While it's guys like Domi, Zadorov, Horvat who get all the press, it was Tierney (the captain) who stole the show this year and led London to another solid year. His overall game really improved this year and he was just as much of a factor defensively as he was offensively. His tireless work ethic was refreshing and contagious and was terrific to see from a player who was criticized for a lack of intensity in his draft year. He also was significantly more confident with the puck. Previously, he'd be a strictly pass first kind of guy who'd enter the zone or force a turnover and then look to pass it off. But this year, he demonstrated confidence in his ability to finish off his own creations and was looking to go to the net with more aggressiveness. He's always possessed a good shot, but had never really utilized it until this past year. With all the improvements he made this year I'm very excited to see him perform in the AHL next year. I think he's got a very bright future and I expect him to produce offensively right away (similar to the way Seth Griffith did this past year).

Barclay Goodrow - North Bay Battalion
I'd been lobbying for him to be a draft pick in every single draft he went through. And then I lobbied hard for him to be a free agent signing, of which he FINALLY was. So glad to see the Sharks take a chance on him. I don't think they'll be disappointed. Look at how he took over this year's OHL playoffs and led the Battalion to a surprise Eastern Conference victory. He impacts the game on so many different levels. He works the boards and the possession game. He forechecks hard and forces turnovers. He's physical. He's one of the top penalty killers and two-way forwards in the OHL. His skating has come a very long way since he entered the league. He'll never be mistaken for Mike Gartner, but he's really improved his first few steps to make him more explosive coming off the boards and in driving to the net. Now, I don't think we're talking about a guy who's going to be an Art Ross trophy winner at the NHL level. But with all the things he brings to the ice, I think he can develop into a real asset on a checking line. I'm very excited to see how he performs in the AHL this year, an opportunity that he's truly earned.

Nikolay Goldobin - Sarnia Sting
There's absolutely no questioning Goldobin's offensive talents. When he wants to be, he is a dynamo with the puck who creates scoring opportunities with his ability to play the middle of the ice. Look no further than the Top Prospect's game, a spectacle which properly showcased his potential. Problem was, there were too many times this season in Sarnia where he floated, looked disengaged and stuck to the perimeter. Granted, Sarnia was not a good team. But, that's no excuse. Sarnia has an exceptionally talented group of young players who need Goldobin to be a leader. Sarnia could be better next year if their younger players take steps forward. But they'll also need Goldobin to lead by example and to put forth a consistent effort every game. To battle just as hard without the puck on his stick as he does with it. The development of his overall game will be the key to his development moving forward. And as a late '95, this could be his final year in the league, hopefully he can make it a memorable one. 

Dylan Sadowy - Saginaw Spirit
I really like Sadowy. He's the type of guy who does all the little things on the ice; the things that help you win hockey games. He's already a committed two way player who is one of Saginaw's top penalty killers. He battles hard in the corners and in front of the net. He brings a consistent physical presence on the forecheck. As such, he profiles very well as an NHL player, barring he improves his skating. At this point, that's what is holding him back from having a more consistent and profound impact on the offensive side of things. As it stands, he's already got good hands and scoring instincts. If he can add that extra gear, it will really help to open up the game for him. Saginaw could be pretty poor this year, but his goal scoring numbers should stay around the 25-30 mark.

Kevin Lebanc - Barrie Colts
Admittedly, I was a tad underwhelmed by Lebanc this year. I had heard great things about a potential elite checking line player, but did not exactly see that in 2013, his rookie season in the OHL. As a late '95, I also figured he'd have a bit of a leg up, but his age certainly didn't help him. While he was a competent backchecker and proved to be a decent two-way player, he didn't appear strong enough, or willing enough to consistently win battles in the corners. He wasn't much of a physical threat or someone noticeable on the forecheck either. A lot of Barrie's games that I saw this year, he just wasn't a consistently visible player. This upcoming year, the Colts are going to need him to step up. They'll need to replace four of their top forwards and Lebanc will be counted on to produce as a top 6 forward and powerplay guy. I look for him to play with a little more confidence, considering it will now be his second year in the league.

*Of note, Sharks 2nd rounder Julius Bergman will be suiting up for the London Knights next year after being chosen in the Import Draft. He's going to get all the ice time he can handle (possibly on the first pairing and the first powerplay unit). Hopefully he's up to the challenge!