Thursday, May 21, 2015

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft - Part 3: 30-11

Here is part 3, players ranked 30 through 11.

30. Michael McNiven - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
In the first half of the year, McNiven was one of the OHL's top net minders. Even though he was spitting time with Jack Flinn, McNiven was incredibly impressive and seemed to be shooting up the draft charts. Then the CHL Top Prospect's Game came. McNiven was not sharp in the event and it appeared to shatter his confidence. He went back to the OHL and struggled mightily for a few months, which caused the Attack to go with the surging Jack Flinn on a full time basis. By the the time McNiven seemed to right himself (the final month of the year), Flinn had established himself as the starter for the playoffs. McNiven is still a solid goaltending prospect and I think someone is going to get a good one in him, later than they would have been able to had he not gone through his rough spot. He's a big kid who really fills up the net, but he's also athletic and is able to play the butterfly style effectively. He also had a tremendous glove hand. When he was off, his positioning and rebound control really hurt him (was simply fighting the puck), but that's correctable. A steal (IMO) if he goes later than the 5th. Be sure to check out McNiven's draft tracker segment on Yahoo.

29. Anthony Cirelli - Forward - Oshawa Generals
A tough guy for me to get a read on this year. When you're watching the Generals, he's not a guy that stands out because he's consistently had the opportunity to play with some fantastic players (like Michael Dal Colle). But he finds a way to reach the score sheet and do things to help his team win. His hockey sense is strong, as is his play away from the puck. I think the thing I have a tough time guaging is his offensive potential, because he doesn't play a ton with the puck on his stick. In 2008, I found it similarly difficult to gauge the potential of a young Windsor forward named Adam Henrique (because of the role he was asked to play). And he's turned out OK. Next year will certainly be telling for Cirelli.

28. Matt Luff - Forward - Belleville Bulls/Hamilton Bulldogs
Luff is a good sized winger who does most of his damage in close. He has very good hands and he's great at using his size to protect the puck. He works the cycle well and is aggressive in attacking the crease when he doesn't have the puck. His skating does need some work and it limits his effectiveness off the rush, but he has the potential to be a great power forward once that improves (because of his ability to maintain puck possession). His goal scoring numbers are a little low for the type of player he is, but I think he was just a little snake bitten this year. His shot and hands in close project him as a goal scorer as he gains more confidence IMO (and gets quicker to loose pucks).

27. Justin Lemcke - Defence - Belleville Bulls/Hamilton Bulldogs
An underrated player for this year's draft. Seems to be left out of the conversation among OHL blue liners because his stats aren't as sexy. But Lemcke was a horse for the Bulls this year, playing a ton of minutes in all situations. He's got great size at 6'2, 200lbs and really gained the confidence to play with more of an edge as the season went on. With his terrific mobility and his increasing desire to assert himself physically, he profiles as a big time player in his own end. But his offensive skills are improving as well. He really seemed to get better in this regard as the season went on, especially when it came to using his skating ability to jump up in the play as the 3rd or 4th man in. He's still got some work to do with his first pass and decision making with the puck, but the necessary skills are present for him to develop into a quality defender at both ends.

26. Jeremiah Addison - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Addison was pretty good all year for the 67's, but he was absolutely sensational in the opening round of the OHL playoffs. He's only average sized (6'0), but he plays a power game. He drives hard to the net, with and without the puck and really opens up the ice for his line mates. Addison is also a very effective forechecker, often entering the zone like a freight train. Overall, he's proved himself to be a very capable complimentary offensive player. The next step is obviously for him to improve his puck skills to create more of his own chances, but all things considered, he's a nice power forward prospect for the middle rounds of the draft. Be sure to check out Addison's draft tracker segment from Yahoo.

25. Dante Salituro - Forward - Ottawa 67's
A fearless offensive player who plays much larger than his 5'9 frame. Excels in high traffic areas, especially near the crease, where the puck is magnetically drawn to him. His motor is very high, as he consistently beats defenders to loose pucks and has excellent vision and hockey sense to create scoring chances below the hash marks. Salituro also has a great shot/release which projects him as a goal scorer at the next level. Basically, he has everything you want in an offensive player but size. The question is whether his size hinders his ability to perform at the NHL level? At the OHL level, his game is built around energy and timing, so will he be able to beat NHL defenders to pucks the way he does OHL players? I can understand why some scouting agencies have him low, but I think he's worth a shot in the mid rounds to see how he develops. You can't teach some of the things he possesses. Be sure to check out Salituro's draft tracker segment from Yahoo.

24. Gustav Bouramman - Defence - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Bouramman is a smart and slick offensive defenseman who had a very good first year in the OHL. The Swedish born defender finished 14th in the OHL in scoring from the backend this year. He's not huge (6'0), but he makes very smart decisions with the puck. He is able to start the rush with a good first pass, but can also push the tempo by leading the rush out of the zone himself. His skating stride is very smooth and it aids him in a variety of ways. Despite being fairly slight, Bouramman does a great job of evading the forecheck by using his strong mobility. He rarely makes mistakes with the puck in his own end. That said, he isn't the most aggressive player in jumping into the rush and isn't a huge threat to score at this point in time. Defensively, he's a solid stick defender who has pretty good positioning defensively. But he needs to add size and can be overmatched at times in front of the net (part of the reason why he was scratched towards the end of the Erie/SSM playoff series). While the physical tools aren't incredibly impressive, the intelligence with and without the puck makes him a great candidate to be a point producer from the backend at the next level.

23. Chris Martenet - Defence - London Knights
Behemoth defender who was a big (no pun intended) riser over the course of this year. The 6'7 blue liner took some time adjusting to the OHL level after transferring from the USHL (where he won a championship with Indiana). He looked stiff and rigid early in the year, but as he gained confidence, his game really took off. By season's end, he was active at both ends of the ice and flashed surprising offensive talent. He moves well for a big man and can jump up in the play to use his big shot from the point. He's still learning how to use his size more effectively, but with his reach he's a very tough guy to get around (especially when you factor in his mobility). And by season's end, he was really playing quite physical. Once he adds some bulk to his frame, he won't be a fun guy to play against. While I've got him 27th, don't be surprised if he's off the board by the end of the 2nd round. There's bound to be one NHL team who is enamored with his size and potential.

22. Cameron Lizotte - Defence - Peterborough Petes
Absolutely love this player. He improved a ton from the beginning of the season to the end. He has all the makings of developing into a defensive beast. He's already one of the league's most feared body checkers (as displayed in the coaches poll). But as the season went on, he chased the hit less and less and has learned to let the play come to him more. A physical player who can pick his spots is very valuable. He's also one of the OHL's top shot blockers (again, as voted on by OHL coaches) and is a fearless defensive player. Best of all, he has good mobility, the key to defending in the NHL now. His offensive skill set is very raw (decision making, puck skill, confidence), but there is potential there too. Bottom line, Lizotte has everything you want in a shutdown defender prospect.

21. Colton White - Defence - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Absolutely massive potential. White is just scratching the surface of what he's capable of in the OHL. He's a fantastic skater who only needs a few strides to get to full speed when exiting his own zone. At times this year, he showed an ability to gain entry into the offensive end with ease, but simply needs to gain the confidence to do this with regularity. I think he also profiles as a power play quarterback based on his ability to keep pucks in at the blue line and by how well he sees the ice on the point. Improving his shot will be critical though. Defensively, he uses his mobility to stay ahead of forwards off the rush and is not afraid of taking the body to take forwards out of the play. Adding strength is a priority to make him more efficient in the corners, but he shows great determination in his own end. Really all he needs is greater ice time. Once he starts getting consistent power play time and off the 3rd pairing, he could breakout in a big way. Could be part of the top pairing in SSM next year with Gustav Bouramman (a guy he showed great chemistry with this year).

20. Brett McKenzie - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Another personal favourite of mine for this year's draft. Anyone who is familiar with the OHL knows that Stan Butler eases in young forwards, making sure that they're responsible two way players before unleashing them offensively (see Nick Paul, Mike Amadio, Barclay Goodrow, etc in recent years). McKenzie is no different. A former 1st rounder of the Battalion, McKenzie has done exactly what Butler has asked of him thus far, but has more offensive potential than he has shown to the naked eye. As a midget player, he was known as one of the most skilled offensive players in the GTA, showcasing terrific skill with the puck and a tremendous release. As an OHL player, he's developed into a great two-way player who uses his speed to chase down loose pucks and go hard to the net. He has excelled playing down low, working the cycle and does a great job of opening up ice for his line mates. He's also become increasingly involved physically. Best of all, he was terrific in the playoffs this year, where I thought he was one of the Battalion's most consistent performers. Next year, I expect him to breakout big time when the leash comes off (so to speak) and he's able to utilize his creativity with the puck more.

19. Rasmus Andersson - Defence - Barrie Colts
Andersson is perhaps the OHL draft eligible who perplexes people the most. The general public sees a reasonably sized defender who finished 3rd in scoring from the blue line this year and wonders why he's not being considered a shoe in for the first round of the draft. There's obviously more than meets the eye here. First the good. Andersson is a smart player with the puck on his stick, who's stick handling ability creates time and space for him to cut through the neutral zone to create scoring chances off the rush. He's also a terrific power play QB who has a knack for getting his shot through to the net and who exhibits poise and patience walking the blue line. Andersson is also a willing physical combatant at times who is not afraid of throwing his weight around. All that said, here are the concerns that I think make him more a 2nd/3rd round guy (and not a first rounder). One, his overall mobility is only average and he really needs to upgrade his first few steps. It can be hard for "slower" offensive defence man to put up points in today's fast paced NHL. Secondly, his decision making without the puck is questionable. His decisions to pinch at times can put his team at a disadvantage defensively, especially when you consider he can be slow getting back. His intensity level in his own end also wavers. In particular, I thought he struggled in this year's playoffs for Barrie and was one of the main reasons for their relatively early exit. The offensive skills are too much to overlook, but he has some warts in his game which lowers his draft ranking. Be sure to check out Andersson's draft tracker segment from Yahoo.

18. Thomas Schemitsch - Defence - Owen Sound Attack
Schemitsch is a late '96 defender who had an absolutely fantastic season for Owen Sound. From start to finish, he was one of the most integral components to the Attack's strong season. He plays in all situations for Owen Sound and sees a ton of ice time. Offensively, he does a great job of reading the play and is very effective at jumping up into the play to get himself scoring opportunities. He spent some time at forward in his minor hockey days and you can see how beneficial that's been for his vision and smarts in the offensive end. Defensively, he's also a very smart player who does a great job of getting his stick in passing lanes and tying up forwards in front of the net. At 6'4, I think there is some room for him to use his size a bit more to his advantage in his own end, but that could come with increased confidence. Schemitsch will also need to upgrade his skating to give himself more time and space offensively, and to improve his ability to defend off the rush. But 6'4 defenders who have a high hockey IQ and two-way potential are still very valuable prospects. Be sure to check out my interview and article on Schemitsch from earlier this year. 

17. Matt Spencer - Defence - Peterborough Petes
Originally talked about as the top defender available from the OHL this year, but several factors have caused Spencer to slip. Firstly, he didn't have a terrific year, which highlighted some current holes in his game. Secondly, some of the other defenders available from the 'O' had fantastic years and leapfrogged him. It's important to note that Spencer is still a very solid prospect and a guy who deserves to be a 2nd/3rd round draft pick. Early on in the year, he was quite solid at both ends, but he seemed to lose confidence (particularly offensively) in the second half. Late into the year, he had a lot of trouble getting the puck out of his own end and his decision making with the puck did not look strong. This was also evident at the Under 18's, where I felt he struggled with this particular aspect too. I think at this point it's strictly a confidence issue, because as a midget player, he was a fantastic puck rusher and power play QB. As mentioned, he has a lot going for him. Size and mobility are both a plus and he's shown a willingness to play a tenacious brand of hockey in his own end. Keeping things simple will need to be a necessity moving forward until he's able to gain his confidence back offensively. Be sure to check out my interview and article on Spencer from earlier this year. Also be sure to check out Spencer's appearance on "The Pipeline Show." And his draft tracker segment from Yahoo.

16. Kyle Capobianco - Defence - Sudbury Wolves
Interestingly enough, the three guys I interviewed this year are all ranked next to each other. Certainly didn't play as much as Matt Spencer did at the U18's, but I thought he looked great in limited ice time (which did increase as the tournament went on). The key to Capobianco's game is how well he gets the puck out of his own end. He generally makes great decisions with the puck. His decision making in his own end is very quick and he has excellent vision up ice. His ability to use the stretch pass to start the breakout is invaluable and underrated. His mobility is also excellent and he has gained a lot of confidence in his ability to carry the puck to start the breakout also. As the season went on (and this was evident at the U18's), he started to jump up in the play more to get/look for scoring opportunities. Defensively, his positioning is solid and he has a good head for the game. He's not timid in his own end and he battles hard. Don't let the -49 fool you, he's a solid two-way prospect. Strength is the big thing moving forward. Adding velocity to his shot. Getting more comfortable defending the front of the net. Being able to use his body to shield the puck. He consistently improved all year and that's what has elevated him into the conversation for the 2nd round. Be sure to check out my interview and article on Capobianco from earlier this year. Also check out Kyle's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."

15. Blake Speers - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Kind of up and down this year, but some of that had to do with circumstances beyond his control. He started off the year on fire, but following the deadline, he struggled a bit to stand out with decreased ice time (thanks to the acquisitions of Ritchie and Bailey). To quantify that, he had only 6 goals in his final 25 regular season games. I think the second half of the year saw him trying to do a little too much with the puck, feeling like he had to stand out in comparison to the other high profile guys on the Hounds. He reverted a bit back to the perimeter game that he played at times during his rookie year. Speers may not be large (5'11), but he's at his best when he's using his speed to drive the net. He is very dynamic off the rush and he's got great vision and poise. But without the puck, he has to get his nose dirty more consistently. Speers has such a quick release, and he should be a great goal scorer in this league (especially when you factor in his quickness to scoring lanes). But he needs to attack the middle of the ice. Defensively, he's adequate and his hustle is admirable. With his speed and skill level, his potential is quite high as long as he continues to round out his game and plays more aggressive (with consistency).

14. Graham Knott - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
An under appreciated player IMO. I think he has an excellent shot of developing into a solid pro. There's certainly a lot to like about his well rounded game. Knott excels away from the puck in the offensive end. He's aggressive in puck pursuit/on the forecheck and does a great job of gaining and maintaining possession along the wall. He also understands his role as a big body who needs to be near the crease. He gives up his body to cause havoc in front of the net and has become adept at redirecting pucks and is quick to rebounds. At 6'3, he plays the power game that he should. Off the rush, his puck skill is actually above average and he's able to make defenders miss. However he'll need to improve his first few steps to make him more adept at creating scoring chances coming down the wing. Knott is also an excellent penalty killer who will block shots and does well to use his size to separate players from the puck. However, 5 on 5, he needs to improve his defensive focus to apply those PK skills to make him a consistently solid defensive forward. The potential is there for him to develop into a very well rounded power forward type winger who can chip in 20 goals a year at the next level. I'm not usually a fan of comparisons, but I think Knott could have a similar impact to a guy like Dwight King (with the Kings). Be sure to check out Graham's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."Also check out his draft tracker segment from Yahoo.

13. Mitchell Stephens - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Was already trending upwards before his behemoth performance at the Under 18's. He started exceptionally slow, but in his final 40 games of the OHL regular season, he had 37 points. Then he captained Canada to a bronze medal at the U18's, finishing the tournament 7th in scoring with 10 points (2nd on Team Canada). Let's not forget that he was also one of Canada's top players at the summer Ivan Hlinka tourney too. Stephens is a real heart and soul kind of player. He uses his speed to attack the offensive zone with determination. He's not the biggest, but he's aggressive with the puck and relentless in pursuit. He's also a smart player at both ends, who is able to force a lot of turnovers in the neutral zone by reading passing lanes. He struggled at times in Saginaw, but the team as a whole was young and inconsistent too. Tough being the focal point down the middle in that situation when you're playing a ton in your own end. I think based on the results that Stephens has achieved internationally this year (when he's played with other talented players), you have to believe that his potential is sky high. When you factor in his leadership capabilities, it only strengthens his argument as a selection inside the first 45 selections of the draft.

12. Nikita Korostelev - Forward - Sarnia Sting
A tough player to gauge this year. I don't think he had a terrific season, but you have to factor in a few things when evaluating him. Firstly, Sarnia was far from a juggernaut offensively and when Zacha was out of the lineup, Korostelev was counted on as the go to guy offensively. This was something he was not ready for. Secondly, his potential remains sky high. I think for me, the most disappointing aspect of his game this year was his lack of growth away from the puck. As a rookie last year, there were times where he was physically dominant, flashing power forward potential. But he largely shied away from playing that way this year. He'll need to learn that playing that way is going to be the most effective way for him to create room to use his fantastic shot/release. As a goal scorer, the potential is limitless because of how little room he needs to get shots off. When he upgrades his skating, he's going to be a hard player to contain coming down the wing, where he can use defenders as screens. Overall, you draft Korostelev hoping that his skating improves and that he's able to play more aggressively when he upgrades his strength. This is the chance that the Kings took on Tyler Toffoli back in the day and Korostelev's skill level profiles in a similar way. Be sure to check out Nikita's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."

11. Mitchell Vande Sompel - Defence - Oshawa Generals
Vande Sompel was very impressive as an OHL rookie last year and managed to improve even more this year. The biggest improvements have come at the defensive end. Vande Sompel's certainly not a big guy (5'10), but he plays a lot bigger than that. He's shown a very high compete level this year, especially in the corners where he'll initiate contact to gain possession of the puck. His awareness defensively has really improved too, which is promising considering he hasn't been playing defence all that long. He's still far from a perfect defensive player, but the progression is very promising and I think he's more than just an offensive guy. However, it is the offensive aspect of his game which is the highlight. His skating is fantastic and it allows him to start the breakout as quick as anyone not named Tony DeAngelo (in the OHL). He doesn't need many strides to hit full speed, and as such he's a very difficult player to hem in his own zone. Vande Sompel is also aggressive offensively, showing little fear in attacking across the opposing blue line. As a power play QB, he makes quick and smart decisions on the point and is a large part of why Oshawa's power play was 4th best in the league this year. Interestingly enough, Vande Sompel excels as a forward on the penalty kill, where he uses his speed and tenacity to break up plays. The size factor will hurt him at the NHL draft, but I think teams will admire his courage on the ice and appreciate his potential enough for him to not slip too far down the board. Be sure to check out Mitchell's draft tracker segment from Yahoo.

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