Thursday, August 27, 2015

Preseason Top 30 for the 2016 NHL Draft

With the Ivan Hlinka tournament completed and OHL preseason action around the corner, it's time for the first draft list of the season. I only started doing a preseason list a few years ago, but I enjoy it because it gives you a great perspective on where players have come from (for fun, here's 2015's preseason list).

This is obviously a very difficult list to make. The progression for draft eligible players can often be a tad unpredictable. The player you see in a sophomore season isn't often the same player you see in a freshman year. Growth spurts occur. Strength is added. Confidence grows. Timid perimeter players can become physical beasts, etc. Plus, you've got all the players who haven't yet played in the OHL, but who are projected to be impact players in their draft year (Max Jones, Matt Tkachuk, etc).

Face value, I think this looks like a solid group for the OHL, which is only going to get better when you add in a ton of draft eligible talent that's entering the league this year. Once again, the league will provide a challenger for first overall, in addition to several other top 10 candidates.

I will also add that this looks like it could be the best draft crop of goaltenders that the OHL has produced in years.

Here's a look at my early list:

30. Connor Bunnaman - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Excellent in a checking line role with the Rangers last year, as he demonstrated an ability to be very strong without the puck. Looks like he could develop into an excellent puck possession type of center who can control the wall and make plays behind the net. Also a hard worker who is active on the forecheck and not afraid to mix things up. Showed a pretty decent shot last year and could have even more scoring potential. He should get more ice time this year and could be an important piece of Kitchener's veteran laden lineup.

29. Drake Rymsha - Forward - London Knights
High energy, well rounded center who did everything asked of him in a limited role with London last year. He skates quite well and plays the game with little fear, involving himself on the forecheck, back check, and crashing the net. Also showed well as a penalty killer when called upon. While he doesn't possess ideal size for the role, he looks like he could develop into an excellent two-way forward. Just remains to be seen how much offensive potential he has.

28. Noah Carroll - Defence - Guelph Storm
Reminds me a bit of Travis Dermott after his first OHL season, but not quite as naturally talented offensively. A late '97, Carroll made himself a valued member of Guelph's blue line in his first OHL season, improving nearly every month as he slowly gained more ice time and responsibility. Intense and intelligent in his own end, Carroll could develop into a real shutdown defender at the OHL level. His first pass continues to improve and he even flashed an ability to jump up in the rush late in the season. Should see even more ice time this year and perhaps that will give us a better read of his offensive potential.

27. Tyler Parsons - Goaltender - London Knights
A free agent signing by the Knights last year, Parsons proved himself to be a very capable OHL net minder and a great find. Not blessed with ideal size at the position, but Parsons is very athletic and makes a lot of second, third saves using his quickness and reflexes. Will need to learn to make himself bigger in the net and continue to work on his positioning, but he looks like a starter in the OHL. As of right now, he'll be the starter for London in his draft year and if he plays well, he could really draw attention to himself in a positive way.

26. Anthony Salinitri - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Ultra quick forward who was the main component to the Anthony DeAngelo deal last year. He went from playing sparingly with the Greyhounds to seeing all the action he could handle in Sarnia. Salinitri is great at using his speed to gain entry to the zone, and once his hands catch up to his feet and he gets a bit stronger, he could be a beast to handle off the rush. He also doesn't shy away from contact and is a competent two-way player for his age. Because of his speed and intelligence, he profiles as an above average penalty killer. Should definitely see a spike in production this year on a good team.

25. Zach Poirier - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Poirier is sort of your typical Battalion forward. Hard nosed, loves to attack the net, works well off the wall. Poirier has a terrific shot which deftly profiles him as a goal scorer. At this point, he just needs to add quickness, especially in his first few steps, to get himself those scoring chances consistently. Played a depth role for his coach at the Ivan Hlinka tournament.

24. Christopher Paquette - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Has proven to be a great find by the IceDogs in the 2nd round thus far, after a solid first season in the league. Highly skilled forward who works very well in traffic, using his puck skill to create time and space for himself to unleash a great shot. Works very well off the rush, even though he could upgrade his skating a tad bit. Will need to round out his game, becoming more active away from the puck, but his ceiling is very high offensively and he could be a big time breakout star in the league this year with added strength to an already big frame.

23. Troy Timpano - Goaltender - Sudbury Wolves
It's certainly not easy being the starting goaltender on a last place team. The Wolves were bad, but the important thing is that they weren't bad because of Timpano. Any time the team put up a fight against a better team, it was because Timpano was exceptional between the pipes. He's your typical butterfly goaltender in the sense that he's quick, agile, and athletic. Can tend to drop down in the butterfly a bit early, and will need to do a better job of fighting through traffic to make saves, but he's a quality goaltending prospect trapped on a rebuilding club. Already in his 3rd season (a late '97), if Timpano continues to improve, the Wolves could compete for a playoff spot this upcoming season.

22. Adam Mascherin - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Super stocky, competitive, yet highly skilled forward. Mascherin had a solid rookie season with Kitchener, however struggled with consistency like most of the other Rangers forwards. Is only 5'9, but  is incredibly strong along the wall and shows great poise and patience in the possession game. Needs to continue to improve his play away from the puck, and should develop into a beast in the dump and chase because of his ability to gain positioning using his skill and strong lower body. With his lack of size, he'll need to put up some offensive numbers to be heavily considered come June 2016

21. Joseph Raaymakers - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
At times, Raaymakers was absolutely fantastic for the Hounds in his rookie season. If Halverson was struggling or needed a night off, the team felt confident going to the Chatham native for a start. Inconsistency was an issue, but he has all the tools in the toolbox to develop into a quality starting net minder. Whether that's this season or not depends on whether the Hounds end up dealing Brandon Halverson in what could be a bit of a retooling season.

20. Keaton Middleton - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
Absolutely behemoth defender who I like a lot (despite some short comings). Is already a very difficult player to match up against defensively. Is physically intimidating, does a great job of winning one on one battles, and has a great stick. Skating is average, but he has good enough instincts to over come that. Does occasionally get caught flat footed off the rush though. The real key will be the development of his puck skills. Can struggle with the forecheck and needs to make a better first pass. But once he's out of his own zone, his offensive game shows some potential. If he can clean things up a bit, and add an offensive element, he could be a first round candidate. Really excited to see his development this year.

19. Jonathan Ang - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Super speedy and skilled forward who recently looked very good at the Ivan Hlinka camp (but was ultimately cut). Ang is very dangerous in transition as he controls the puck very well at high speed and has dynamic puck skills which he can use to make defenders look silly. Strength is the key for him as last year he was too easily pushed off the puck and wasn't given the opportunity to extend plays. But he looked stronger at the Hlinka camp. Also needs to be better away from the puck and learn to use his speed as a weapon defensively, which was another thing I noticed positively from the Hlinka camp. Could be in for a big year offensively.

18. Evan Cormier - Goaltender - Saginaw Spirit
The Spirit definitely look to have their next goaltending star in Cormier, taking the reigns from the terrific Jake Paterson. Cormier looks poised and confident in the crease and does a very good job of tracking the play and shoring up to shooters. Just needs to make sure he doesn't drop to the butterfly too early and will need to continue to work on his post to post movement. But he was recently the 2nd youngest net minder at Hockey Canada's U20 camp and he has a bright future ahead of him.

17. Dylan Wells - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
Right now the top net minder available from the OHL and I don't expect that to change this season. Wells has the size and athleticism in the crease that NHL scouts crave. Moves exceptionally well in his crease and does a good job of tracking the play for a young net minder. Needs to develop his rebound control though, as he has a tendency to put juicy ones back into play. Was terrific at the Ivan Hlinka tournament for Canada and I expect him to take control of the starter's job in Peterborough pretty quickly into the 2015/2016 season.

16. Nathan Bastian - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Big, powerful forward who has grown a lot in the last two years and is still learning to utilize his size to his advantage. The late '97 forward had a very solid first OHL season last year, playing a secondary scoring role for the Steelheads. He protects the puck well with his body and is starting to develop into someone who can be very dangerous driving the net. Bastian might be at his best near the crease where he has great hands and finishing ability. Hopefully he continues to get quicker, and continues to learn to use his size away from the puck (especially physically), but he's an intriguing player.

15. Givani Smith - Forward - Guelph Storm
Power winger who enjoyed a lot of success with the Storm after the trade from Barrie (Harpur deal). Plays a solid North/South game and he might be the most physical forward on this list right now. Attacks the offensive end with vigour and shows a great ability to protect the puck off the rush and create by driving the net wide. Skating will need to continue to get better, but if his play late last year is any indication, he's a prospect on the rise.

14. Luke Kirwan - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
This upcoming season is a huge one for Kirwan. The late '97 was a massive disappointment last year for Windsor after transferring from the USDP. At one time, was considered a possible top 5 pick for the 2016 draft, but after last year his stock has plummeted. But not so fast. We all know how much USHL transfers tend to improve in their second year in the league. Kirwan dominated the U17's not too long ago and I'm not ready to give up on him. Kirwan is a potential power forward who can control the game in a variety of different ways. He's a potential 30 goal scorer this year and will probably need to be to regain his first round status.

13. Travis Barron - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Barron is a character forward who likes to play at a high tempo. A solid complimentary piece on a scoring line because he's a good finisher and is intelligent away from the puck. Already a solid two-way player, Barron loves to mix things up and should develop into a very physical forechecker. As he gets quicker, I expect him to be more of a factor off the rush, which would add a lot of value to him as a player. Perhaps not mentioned enough, he's a potential captain at this level and the next and should be a  rock for the 67's moving forward.

12. Will Bitten - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Undersized, but extremely talented, Bitten is a center who loves playing the game at top speed. He's got the slippery quality to him because his puck skill is so good and it creates time and space for himself to operate in the middle of the ice. Bitten also plays bigger than his size, and is eager to engage without the puck and should eventually develop into a terrific penalty killer. The one thing I did notice last year was that he had a tendency to over handle the puck and as such was a bit turnover prone. Needs to learn to use his teammates better. But he was great at the Ivan Hlinka, playing within Stan Butler's system which bodes well for the type of season he's going to have.

11. Alex Debrincat - Forward - Erie Otters
How the times have changed. A few years ago, despite being exceptionally talented, a kid like Debrincat wouldn't have drawn any attention from the NHL. But small players have found a ton of success in the league today and as such, a pint sized forward like Debrincat (5'7, perhaps a few inches taller going into this season) will be given a chance. Credit has to be given to him though. For as small as he is, he's absolutely fearless. Would he have scored over 100 points without McDavid by his side? I don't think so. But he also made McDavid a better player because of the things he does on the ice. Is incredibly elusive, constantly slipping behind defences for scoring chances. Keeps plays alive along the wall despite being undersized, and is great at driving the net. If he were 6'2, we'd be talking about him as a potential top 10 pick.

10. Tim Gettinger - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Could be a big time riser this year if he puts everything together. 6'5, 200lbs, but skates very well for a big man. As such, he can be an absolute load to handle off the rush. Without the puck, he loves to drive the net and has great hands in close, for deflections and tap ins. As he gets stronger, I expect the rest of his game to really develop. In particular, I'd love to see him use his size to play a physical game and really disrupt on the forecheck (especially with his speed). The U.S. didn't have the best Ivan Hlinka tournament, but he was one of their best and most productive players which bodes well for the upcoming season when he's going to get more ice time and responsibility in the Soo.

9. Victor Mete - Defence - London Knights
Undersized defender who has the potential to be one of the OHL's elite offensive playmakers. Struggled mightily at the beginning of last year, but got better each month in the league and was probably London's best defender by the time the playoffs rolled around. Mete is an elite skater, and as good as he is at creating offence using his speed, he's learning to use his mobility as an asset defensively, closing out on forwards off the rush. There's no question that he's a high risk player though and still makes his share of mistakes. He'll need to iron those out this year as London will need him to be a top 3 defender on a potential Memorial Cup contending squad. Was a member of Canada's Ivan Hlinka team this year, seeing pretty significant ice time.

8. Taylor Raddysh - Forward - Erie Otters
A pure finisher who had a great rookie year in Erie, leading all '98 born players in goal scoring with 21. Is a very smart player in the offensive end who has that innate ability to find holes in the defence and get himself in scoring position. Is not afraid of doing the little things that need to be done to attain or maintain possession and is the perfect complimentary scoring line player. Will be interesting to see if his play with the puck becomes a little more dynamic, or is it more of a case of, what we see, is what we get?

7. Brandon Saigeon - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Cut from the same cloth as the Scott Laughton, Mike Richards types. Saigeon is a competitive two-way center who should be a cornerstone of the new Bulldogs franchise. I expect that as he gets stronger, he'll become a force along the wall and working the cycle, and that he'll become quite a physical player. Offensively, he sees the ice well and makes things happen when the game slows down a bit. Last year, his skating was a bit of a weakness, but he looked quicker at the Ivan Hlinka camp and should be in for a big draft season.

6. Jordan Kyrou - Forward - Sarnia Sting
A great find by the Sting at the back of the 2nd round, Kyrou has emerged as one of the top 98's in the country, let alone Ontario. He was the 3rd highest scoring '98 in the OHL last year and was consistently one of Sarnia's best players in the 2nd half. Kyrou plays the game with a ton of energy, constantly buzzing around, with and without the puck. When it's on his stick, his creativity and vision make him a terrific playmaker. When it's not on his stick, he's battling hard to get it back and can be relentless in puck pursuit. Overall, just a terrific playmaking center who makes those around him better. Was great for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and as of right now, he looks like a first round pick.

5. Tye Felhaber - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Felhaber is an elite offensive player who could one day be the scoring leader of the OHL. Felhaber plays and excels at a high tempo, using his speed to drive the center of the ice. He has great skill with the puck in transition and creates space to unleash a nasty wrist shot off the rush. Last year he struggled with the size of some defenders, but he was an offensive force at the Ivan Hlinka camp (and a massively surprising cut IMO) who looked considerably stronger on the puck. He also looked more dedicated to playing without the puck, a key to his development moving forward. He just might be the most gifted offensive player on this list and he's poised for a big year.

4. Sean Day - Defence - Mississauga Steelheads
Perhaps the most talked about player on this list because of his exceptional status with Hockey Canada. While his development hasn't gone completely according to plan, he remains a solid prospect because of his size and skill set. The most obvious component to that is his effortless skating ability, which he uses to his advantage at both ends of the ice. Then there's the 6'2, 230lbs frame and the potential to develop into a dominating force in his own end. But…there's also the lack of intensity that can be frustrating. Just seems to be lacking that killer instinct. With his skill set, he should be jumping up in the play and pacing the action, but instead seems hesitant to do so. Then there's the cut at the Ivan Hlinka camp where he failed to stand out (and apparently had some conditioning issues). This is a huge year for him. There's no guarantee he's even a first round pick at this point, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until the season starts. If he doesn't put things together, he'll drop heavily on my preliminary list in November.

3. Logan Brown - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Gigantic center (6'5) who is coming off a terrific rookie season in the OHL where he led all '98's in scoring. Has the ability to dominate in the offensive end because of the way he can maintain possession and work the wall. But he also has great speed, especially for his size, and could dominate off the rush, if he learns to be more aggressive in attacking the net and the middle of the ice. With good hands in close, and vision, Brown is the type of center NHL teams drool over now. The only negative is that he's not necessarily a physical player and his overall intensity without the puck needs to improve. This was noticeable at the Ivan Hlinka camp, where he was cut (all be it, Canada was loaded down the middle). If he can turn up the dial on the aggressive meter and continue to put up points, he'll be highly coveted by the NHL.

2. Michael McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Had him at number 4 on my list until the Ivan Hlinka tournament. At the camp and at the tournament itself, he was one of Canada's top players and seems to have really taken that next step in his development. McLeod is an explosive skater who is fearless in driving the net and who is great working off the rush, or coming off the wall. He's got a great scorer's touch in close too. It seems like he's really added strength this offseason and he's going to be a very difficult player to stop in the offensive end. I also really like how physical he played at the Ivan Hlinka and I hope that continues into the OHL. The Steelheads have long needed a game breaking offensive star to kickstart their offence and McLeod could be that guy.

1. Jakub Chychrun - Defence - Sarnia Sting
Just stay healthy. That's all I've got to say. At the same age, I actually think Chychrun is ahead of where Aaron Ekblad was. As a rookie, he was a top 5 defender in the league IMO and he can heavily influence the game at either end. Solid defensively, physical, mobile, intelligent. Aggressive offensively with a fantastic point shot, and great vision. Most complete defender I've seen in the league since Drew Doughty (and that includes Ekblad). But, as I said, only obstacle in his way is his health, in particular a wonky shoulder. Missed the OHL Cup with a shoulder injury. Then missed time this year with a shoulder injury. Then had shoulder surgery that prevented him from playing at the Hlinka. Hopefully this surgery has cleaned things up and he can now focus on staying on the ice where he is a candidate for OHL defenseman of the year…and the first overall pick.

Honorable Mentions:

Cliff Pu - Forward - London Knights

Cole Candella - Defence - Hamilton Bulldogs

Ben Gleason - Defence - London Knights

Ben Hawerchuk - Forward - Barrie Colts

Logan Stanley - Defence - Windsor Spitfires

Michael Pezzetta - Forward - Sudbury Wolves

Appearing Soon (Have yet to play in the OHL):

Matthew Tkachuk - Forward - London Knights

Max Jones - Forward - London Knights

Dmitri Sokolov - Forward - Sudbury Wolves

Mikhail Sergachev - Defence - Windsor Spitfires

Markus Niemelainen - Defence - Saginaw Spirit

Olli Juolevi - Defence - London Knights

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Top 10 - Unheralded Rookies Who Could Make an Impact in 2015-16

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 1998 (possibly even '97) 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, Zach Senyshyn, etc).

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

In addition to my write ups, I've also included brief scouting reports from the guys over at, in addition to a couple other great minds who see the Tier 2 ranks often (Steven Ellis and Conor Mulligan).

Thanks to the following (and give them a follow on twitter)

Andrew Sykes (@ASykes_hockey)
Matt Grainda (@graindaiv)
Nathan Didone (@NathanDidone)
Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisNHL)
Conor Mulligan (@ConorMulliganFC)

Here's the list:

Blake Coffey - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
The son of the great Paul Coffey, Blake spent this past year with Pickering of the OJHL. He lead the Panthers in defenseman scoring with 25 points. The Spits 5th rounder is still not guaranteed to report to Windsor, but I'd be surprised if he's not in the OHL next year. In Windsor, Coffey could definitely help Trevor Murphy with the creation of offence from the blue line and run the team's 2nd power play unit. But there are several other young defenders who will be vying for more playing time next year (Burns, Stanley, Murray, etc), so he'll have to bring his 'A' game.

"The son of legendary defenseman Paul Coffey, Blake also a plays a smart, two-way game that results in a lot of assists during the year. A draft pick of the Windsor Spitfires, Coffey really improved his game as the season went on for the less-than-stellar Pickering Panthers, even leading his team in points for a defenseman despite being a rookie in the league. Coffey's one-timer is destructive from anywhere on the ice, and his ability to run a power-play was better than almost everyone else in the OJHL last season. He doesn't have the ideal size for a defenseman, standing at just 5'11 and 185 lbs, but he does have some solid speed and has gained around 15 pounds since his OHL Draft year in 2014." (Steven Ellis)

Logan DeNoble - Forward - Peterborough Petes
DeNoble is an undersized scoring forward who already spent a good chunk of time with the Petes last year. When he wasn't in Peterborough, he was leading Lindsay of the OJHL in scoring and was named to the OJHL's First Team All Prospect. Last year, Peterborough struggled offensively and they desperately need players who can be dynamic in the offensive end. Perhaps that's DeNoble next year (as a late '97, he'll be draft eligible for the first time).

"DeNoble played a decent amount with Peterborough last year in a depth role, but with added strength this offseason, he should be able to make more of an offensive contribution this year. He's undersized, but he's a hard working player who attacks the offensive zone and wants the puck. Also seems to be a smart player who understands how to read defenses to create scoring chances. Adding that strength going into this year is essential for him to be able to maintain puck possession and show us what he's capable of." (Brock Otten)

Owen Guy - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Last year the Hounds got great production from a first year player coming off a great season in the CCHL (Zach Senyshyn). This year, they hope the same can be said about Guy, the league's reigning Rookie of the Year. The CCHL All Rookie team has some pretty impressive alumni (Senyshyn, Kelly Summers, Mackenzie Weegar) in recent years. Like Senyshyn, Guy will have to work his way on to, and then up, the Hounds line up, but he looks like he could be a contributor.

"I remember his first game he played for Kemptville against Nepean as a 15 year old and you could tell that he was going to be a very good player. He's very skilled offensively and makes plays at a high speed. Has a tendency to look hesitant and not engage in the play. Without the puck he can be hard to find on the ice and you wish he played a more complete game. That said he was one of (if not) the best 16 year olds in the CCHL last year. His brother was a late bloomer as well but he's shown more promise at a younger age." (Conor Mulligan)

Nicolas Hague - Defence - Mississauga Steelheads
Loved what I saw at the Ivan Hlinka camp, where I thought he was a surprising cut. An absolutely mammoth defenceman (already 6'6) and not eligible until 2017, Hague played last year with Kitchener of the GOJHL and was the rookie of the year. With his potential to contribute at both ends of the ice, there's no question he'll make an immediate impact in Mississauga. His recent signing by the Steelheads was a major coup.

"Hague is a very large defender who seems to have made great strides in using his size to his advantage defensively. He's not afraid to step up on players at the blueline and he'll play aggressively in the corners and when protecting his crease. Biggest asset though appears to be his strong skating ability for a big man, as he's able to stay with defenders off the rush, and when coupled with his good reach, allows him to be a very difficult player to beat one on one. He's also intelligent with the puck in his own end and his confidence in using his skating ability to lead the rush is slowly growing. Hague could certainly impact the game at both ends of the ice and looks like a serious draft prospect for 2017." (Brock Otten)

Boris Katchouk - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A 2nd rounder by the Hounds in 2014, Katchouk saw limited time with the club last year. The rest of his year was spent with the Soo Thunderbirds of the NOJHL, where he was one of the better players on a Championship winning team. The Greyhounds have set themselves up for continued success, year after year, because of how well they've drafted recently. Even though they're losing the likes of Tolchinsky, Ritchie, Bailey, Moore, etc, they should still be fine because of all the talented forwards they're adding (3 on this list).

"Boris became one of the most threatening players in the NOJHL by the end of the year. Hungry for the puck he used his foot speed and size to get in on pucks quickly and cause havoc. Dynamic on the rush he attacks with speed, strength and has the puck skills to finish in tight. He will be ready to push for a top 9 role this year starting off as a high energy checker and showing more offence as the season progresses." (Nathan Didone)

Nicolas Mattinen - Defence - London Knights
Another member of the CCHL all rookie team (with the aforementioned Owen Guy), Mattinen played for Cumberland last year. London will have a very crowded blue line next year (which likely means some moves are in order), but the 6'3, 220lbs stay at home defender looks to be a serious contender for a roster spot and key minutes.

"I never realized he was only 16-years old last season until a few months into the season. Every time I watched Cumberland play he looked like a veteran. He's very composed with the puck and has the ability to slow the game down. Cumberland was not a very good team last year so he played a lot of minutes in a top-4 role. He's got a very heavy shot and he's not afraid to lead the rush. He has excellent gap control and uses his long reach to take away shooting lanes from opponents." (Conor Mulligan)

Kyle Moore - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Kyle appears to be cut from the same cloth as his older brother Bryan, who was an impact player in the league. Slightly undersized at 5'11, but he plays with his heart on his sleeve, which should endear him to Coach Stan Butler. Last year, Moore saw limited time with North Bay, but was one of the better players in the NOJHL with Powassan. Could see top 9 minutes this year.

"Moore plays a hard, competitive game and mixes in a nice amount of high-end skill. He has some strong, quick hands and protects the puck well with his body. His vision and hockey sense are solid even with pressure bearing down on him. He can finish a player into the boards hard and follow that up by setting-up a quality chance on net. Moore’s compete level is tough to match and his thick, powerful frame makes it difficult to move him around. Moore also made it to the USA Select U17 Development Camp and was among the final cuts for the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial team after making the All-Star Game." (Matt Grainda)

David Sherman - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Played in 30 games with the Battalion last year, splitting the year between the OHL and the NOJHL (also with Powassan). In the NOJHL, Sherman was well over a point per game and the 6'3 forward will be looking to replicate that success with North Bay next year. Despite losing the likes of Nick Paul, Nick Moutrey, and Ryan Kujawinski, the Battalion seem to have a fair amount of young talent in the pipeline to remain competitive. 

"A big forward with soft and deceiving mobility. Smooth and skilled in possession, knows how to protect the puck, aided by his long reach. An adept shooter, boasts a quick, efficient release and a flair for opening up better lanes by drawing the puck laterally into his body. Misses a natural mean streak, yet still thrives as a create crasher, willing to drive the net and take up residence. Subtle and stealth like in the offensive zone, positioning himself intelligently an is quick to identify opportunities to execute. Unique skater, appears gangly and awkward yet generates deceiving speed and dexterity in diagonal cuts and crossovers, aided by long limns. Must improve his footwork and getting stronger on his edges while further developing his overall agility and quickness." (TheScout Draft Guide, 2014)

Riley Stillman - Defence - Oshawa Generals
This 4th rounder by Oshawa in 2014 played sparingly for the Generals last year but seems poised to take on a much larger role this upcoming season (especially with the Generals defence taking a big hit from graduations). Last year Stillman was named to the OJHL all second prospect team after a great season with Cobourg. Of course, Riley is the son of former NHL'er Cory Stillman.

"Ability to move the puck and read the play and defend and I thought as the season went on, his ability to defend got much better.”(Jeff Twohey, from this article)

Emanuel Vella - Goaltender - London Knights
This Knights goaltending prospect won an OJHL Championship with Toronto Lakeshore last year, and like Stillman, was named to the all second prospect team. He saw a bit of action in the OHL last year too, and struggled, but that's not all that uncommon for 16/17 year old netminders. He'll be competing for the backup job behind Tyler Parsons this year and seems to be the likely candidate to land it, considering I doubt London goes into the year using an overage spot on a backup netminder (Giuogovaz).

"A year after Jeremy Helvig made the jump from the Toronto Patriots to the OHL, Emanuel Vella is looking to do the same. A big goalie that can stretch to cover pretty much any angle, Vella doesn't offer up a lot of rebuild opportunities, and if he does, he doesn't waste a lot of energy trying to cover up his flaws. This allows him to be very competitive at the end of games, and if his 2014 OHL Cup effort with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens was any bit of proof, he's good when the going gets tough. Playing behind Peterbourgh Petes prospect Mat Robson with the Patriots last year should be beneficial to his OHL playing time, as he wasn't overworked yet still looked very good whenever he was called upon." (Steven Ellis)

Honorable Mentions

Luke Kutkevicius - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
2nd highest drafted player (behind Max Jones) from 2014 to not play a game in the OHL. Kutkevicius will suit up for the Steelheads next year though, after playing with North York (OJHL) last year. Offensive output wasn't terrific, but he's a high energy guy who could bring value in depth.

"Kutkevicius fits the energetic forward stereotype rather well. Not a big time scorer, Kutkevicius has proven himself to very useful at top speed, something he's able to achieve in just seconds. He's not the biggest guy on the ice, but Kutkevicius isn't afraid to mix it up and defend himself or his teammates. He could work on his overall defensive game a bit more, and at 6'1, 154 lbs, he could fill out his frame a bit more to pair up his speed with the ability to check harder." (Steven Ellis) 

Jake Lawr - Goaltender - Erie Otters
3rd highest goaltender taken in 2014, Lawr saw limited action with the Otters last year, instead playing with Brampton of the GOJHL. Stats weren't pretty, but there's more to the story. Brampton was one of the worst teams in the league. Lawr's save percentage of .892 was significantly better than that of his platoon mate (.856). Not sure what Erie's plan is this year, but my guess is he beats out Daniel Dekoning for the backup role.

"Big, positional goaltender who takes up significant net space. Plays a good, calm, poised style with a clean butterfly technique. An economical goaltender with strong fundamentals and good reflexes. Key to his game is staying up and being patient with shooters. Intimidates with his smothering lower net coverage, his quick, fluid pads flashing out instantly. Good positional sense, keeps his shoulders square while at the top of the crease, eliminating shooting angles. Calm and cool, never looks phased by a goal against or a poor play by his defenders, maintains neutral body language. Can overcommit at times and gets pulled away from the middle of the net on his pads. Not as quick moving laterally from his pads and can be vulnerable backdoor when he drops down prematurely. Projects as a starting goaltender at the next level, one who has the ability to make key saves while managing his body language and staying efficient." (TheScout Draft Guide, 2014)

Stephon Dhillon - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
Played very little as the 3rd string goalie in Niagara last year, but Dhillon appears ready to secure the backup position behind Brent Moran for this upcoming year. He's fresh off backstopping the U.S. to a 5th place finish at the Ivan Hlinka. 

"Dhillon is a tall goaltender who absolutely uses his size to his advantage. He plays more of a positional or technical style as he controls his movements around the crease very well. His lower net coverage is strong and allows him take away the bottom portion of the net. Dhillon really does a good job staying large when in the butterfly position and reacts to shots quickly from all angles. He’s got really good poise in net and a strong glove-hand.  Dhillon participated in the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament for Team USA after making the squad out of the USA Select U17 Development Camp." (Matt Grainda)

Eric Henderson - Forward - London Knights
There's no denying that the Knights have a logjam at forward heading into next year. Never a bad thing to have, but a guy like Henderson will be knocking down the door for a roster spot. He saw action in 4 games last year (and scored), and had a highly successful season in the GOJHL with Leamington (top 5 scorer on team, and a member of the rookie all star team). 

"Ever since he concluded his Minor Midget season with the Sun County Panthers, Henderson has proven that he is an OHL calibre player. The Kingsville native excelled in parts of two seasons with the Leamington Flyers where he was a key figure during the team's back-to-back GOJHL Western Conference Championships. A third round pick in 2014, Henderson was called up for four games with the Knights this past season and had a memorable debut, picking up a goal and an assist in his first OHL game. On top of having the size and strength to protect the puck and play a possession game, he has a well-rounded offensive repertoire which includes smart ice awareness and vision, a skillful passing ability, and a goal-scoring touch around the net. The big question for him now becomes whether or not he will get enough ice time in what projects to be a loaded Knights forward group." (Andrew Sykes)

Nicholas Sicoly - Forward - Guelph Storm
Undersized scorer who had an absolutely terrific year in the NOJHL where he won a championship with the Soo Thunderbirds (he was the team's 3rd leading scorer, Boris Katchouk was 5th). There's no question he'll be a member of the Storm next year, just remains to be seen in what capacity.

"Sicoly had his moments but size and lack of explosiveness stopped him from gaining any separation. Showed some creative play-making ability but largely from the outside and passed up too many shots. Consistency would wavier throughout the game going to have to be more consistent to make an impact at the OHL level." (Nathan Didone)

Domenic Commisso - Forward - Oshawa Generals
The Gennies are losing a lot of talent up front heading into next year, which opens up a spot for a guy like Commisso to come in an earn ice time. He's not the biggest kid, but he's coming off a solid season with the Mississauga Chargers (OJHL) where he scored 25 points in 43 games.

"Commisso was a member of the poor Mississauga Chargers club, a team that struggled to have any real success throughout the season. Despite that, the team did find the net quite a few times, and Commisso was one of the bright spots. A small kid with the ability to jet end-to-end effortlessly, Commisso can be the best player on the ice in more cases than not. Commisso made the most out of playing for a weak team last year, and it wouldn't be unrealistic to peg him as a third liner with the Oshawa Generals this season. He's got the skill, he's got the speed, and as long as he doesn't get roughed up or pushed around, he could be a pleasant surprise at the OHL level." (Steven Ellis)

Jack Kopacka - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Got into 4 games with the Greyhounds last year, spending the majority of the year with the Compuware Major Midget team. He was the 2nd leading scorer on the team and seems poised to at least play a 4th line role for the Soo this year. Fell in the 2014 draft to the 8th round over signability concerns, but he's a legit prospect.

"Kopacka is a very competitive, all-around player who works his tail off in every opportunity. He plays a fast, high paced game and can skillfully drive the net or battle hard to create a turnover. He utilizes a powerful skating stride to get up the ice and makes smart decisions with the puck on his stick. Kopacka can shoot with accuracy and loves to get chances on the net at every opportunity. He’s got a slick set of hands and is an underrated set-up man. Kopacka made it to the USA Select U17 Development Camp and was among the final cuts for the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial team after making the All-Star Game." (Matt Grainda)

Brett Primeau - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
A '97 forward and 2013 priority selection, Primeau finally seems poised to crack the Frontenacs lineup full time this year. He spent last year with Lasalle (GOJHL) and was the Vipers' 3rd leading scorer. Kingston's going to need scoring depth and that opens up an opportunity for a guy like Primeau.

"Coming off a successful first junior season with the LaSalle Vipers where he was one of the top rookie scorers in the GOJHL, Primeau will head into the 2015-16 season with the confidence that he will again see some OHL action. The Belle River native was called up for three games with the Frontenacs last year, and as long as he continues to be a top producer with LaSalle in the early going, he will be a candidate for further call-ups should he not make the team out of training camp. An eighth-round selection in 2013, the 18-year-old is an offensive threat who does his best work inside the attacking zone. While not the quickest of skaters, he makes up for it through smart positioning and ice awareness, and then follows with good vision, sharp passing instincts, and accurate shooting. Primeau is not someone you look at for his two-way ability, but he is someone who has a knack for producing offense and could be an option on the wing on one of the Fronts lines." (Andrew Sykes)

Kevin Hancock - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
The Attack are another team who will have some voids to fill in a scoring role, and they're hoping a guy like Hancock can come in and provide that. Last year he had a solid season with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens (of the OJHL), where he had 30 points in 44 games. 

"Hancock is a two-way centre that likes to pass first, but still isn't afraid to put up some solid scoring numbers. Hancock was a standout at the Owen Sound Attack training camp a year ago, even earning himself a nine game stint during the season that saw him find the net for the first time. His OJHL rookie season proved to have a bit of learning curve, but after playing with some of the best sharpshooters in the league, Hancock really made himself known by the time the season was over. He continuously works to get much better all the time, and it really showed once the season came to a close." (Steven Ellis) 

Brendan Harrogate - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
A 7th rounder by the Steelheads in 2014 out of the Chatham-Kent area, Harrogate is coming off a terrific season with Lasalle of the GOJHL. He averaged over a point per game and was the team's leading scorer in a long playoff run. The Steelheads are always searching for offensive contributors and they may have that in Harrogate next year.

"Having recently signed with the Mississauga Steelheads, Harrogate will look to build off a stellar first junior season and continue to trend towards success in the OHL. In his rookie season with the LaSalle Vipers in the GOJHL, the Chatham native turned in one of the most impressive first-year junior eligible performances among those playing outside the OHL in Ontario in helping the Vipers reach the Sutherland Cup Finals. What Steelheads management were sure to like most is the fact that Harrogate was  an impact player in the playoffs against some of the top junior B teams in the province. He scored eight goals in 16 Western Conference playoff games and further caught fire in the Sutherland Cup playoffs where he tallied nine goals in 13 games against league champions Elmira and Caledonia. The 17-year-old has the smarts, skill and intangibles to play well as a rookie in the OHL, and while he doesn't wow with any one attribute, he is someone who does everything well and brings confidence and competitiveness to every shift. He skates with a purpose, is a smooth and deceptive puck-carrier in motion, and uses his body well to protect in the corners and along the wall. Evidenced by the clip he scored at with LaSalle, Harrogate has a real knack for scoring goals as he intelligently reads the ice and his linemates to put himself in positions to finish off plays." (Andrew Sykes)

Jacob Drobczyk - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
A '97 drafted by the Frontenacs in the most recent Priority selection, Drobczyk appears to be a bit of a late bloomer. Was among the leading scorers of the Canadian high school hockey scene last year, attending the prestigious Hill Academy (alumni includes Brenden Miller, Devin Shore). The Fronts struggled getting scoring from multiple lines so if Drobczyk can add some scoring depth to the lineup, he'll be a valuable addition.

"“Jacob is a power forward with great size, skill, and exceptional skating,” said Gilmour. “We’re thrilled to have Jacob.  We’re continuously looking to add size and skating to the team, and he possesses those attributes.” (Doug Gilmour, from this article)
Likely NCAA Bound

Cameron Morrison - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Would be an immediate, high impact player for the Battalion, but the Notre Dame commit seems set on the NCAA route. The reigning OJHL rookie of the year would be a perfect fit with Coach Stan Butler, but the 2016 eligible forward is likely to suit up for Aurora again, or Youngstown of the USHL next year.

Jack LaFontaine - Goaltender - Kitchener Rangers
Even though the Rangers hope they've found their goalie of the foreseeable future in Luke Opilka, there's no doubt that they'd still love to see LaFontaine report. Was senational for Georgetown (OJHL) last year and was a member of the first all prospect team. Hasn't committed anywhere yet, but he seems headed to the NCAA.

Matthew Cairns - Defence - Peterborough Petes
A 3rd rounder by Peterborough in 2014, Cairns won an OJHL Championship with Toronto Lakeshore last year, where he was an integral part of their defense. He'd be a valued member of the Petes' blueline, adding size and toughness, but he has also yet to commit and seems likely destined for the NCAA.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

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

This has certainly become a tradition of the blog (thus this being the seventh 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 (for that, check my Import Draft review)

This year, all of the players in the top 10 have already confirmed to be coming to the OHL. We've also got a high profiled Honorable Mention who has been heavily rumoured to be "jumping ship."

10. Jalen Smereck - Defence - Oshawa Generals
The last pick of the 2013 Priority Draft (#299), Smereck is an average sized defender who played for Bloomington of the USHL last year. He finished with 18 points in 51 games and saw ice time in all situations. With Josh Brown, Dakota Mermis, Chris Carlisle, Will Petschenig all gone from the team going into next year, the team will be looking to replace 4/6 of it's defence. That leaves tons of opportunity for a kid like Smereck to come in and grab a spot.

9. Jake Henderson - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Henderson is a big, physically imposing forward who has played the last two years with Omaha of the USHL. He was previously committed to Providence but decided to sign with Kitchener instead. With only 11 goals over 100+ games in the USHL, I don't think it's fair to expect a massive offensive contribution from Henderson next year. But, he's a tenacious forechecker, heavy hitter, and a solid player along the boards and that's something Kitchener really lacked consistently last year IMO. Should slot on to Kitchener's 3rd or 4th line and bring some pain.

8. Sam Miletic - Forward - London Knights
At this point, this seems like a very nice under the radar signing by the Knights. Miletic is a good sized (6'2) '97 forward who is a former high school scoring star. With Green Bay of the USHL last year, Miletic posted average offensive numbers (27 points in 58 games) in his NHL draft season. However, Green Bay struggled pretty badly and his point totals were only 5 off the scoring leader for the team as an 18 year old. Miletic apparently can play a power game and is described as a very complete player. Sounds like someone who should be comfortable in a 3rd or 4th line role to start.

7. Cam Dineen - Defence - North Bay Battalion
An 11th round pick by the Battalion, Dineen has surprisingly chosen to sign in the OHL, despite being the 3rd overall pick in the USHL draft. He's coming off a pretty sensational year in the Eastern Hockey League, in which he lead the league in defenseman scoring, was rookie of the year, and named a first team all star. This is a league usually dominated by 19 and 20 year olds (similar to the OJHL). Dineen also suited up for the United States at the Ivan Hlinka and had a couple of assists in their victory for 5th place. The Battalion definitely have ice time to delegate on the backend going into next year with McIvor and Miller graduating. If he plays well, Dineen could find himself in North Bay's top 4 and with power play time.

6. Kole Sherwood - Forward - London Knights
Sherwood, a '97 forward, is property of the Columbus Blue Jackets after signing a contract with them recently. He went undrafted in 2015, but earned himself a contract with strong play at Columbus' developmental camp. Last year, Sherwood played in the Tier 1 EHL (a major midget league in the U.S.) and he finished 2nd in league scoring. The Knights are looking incredibly deep next year, but it seems fair to assume that Sherwood should earn some ice time so long as his play dictates it (at least on the 3rd line with some power play time).

5. J.J. Piccinich - Forward - London Knights
A 4th rounder of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2014, Piccinich is a highly skilled offensive player who struggled last year in his freshman NCAA season. At Boston U, he just couldn't crack a very talented and deep lineup on a consistent basis. Thus, him leaving school to sign in London. There were rumours that this move would happen last year, before his freshman season, but a year later isn't bad either. A former USHL scoring star, it's safe to say that the Knights expect Piccinich to play in their top 6. As a '96, Piccinich is likely playing for an NHL contract with Toronto. If he plays well, his stop in London could only be a year long.

4. Luke Opilka - Goaltender - Kitchener Rangers
After some bad goaltending from September 2013 to the Jake Paterson trade in 2015, the Rangers hope to have finally found a more permanent answer in the crease. Kitchener hopes to be a contender in the Conference this year, with a veteran laden lineup, and they hope Opilka can be a steady presence in net. The St. Louis Blues 5th rounder in 2015 was the starting net minder for the U.S. Development Team (although did lose his starting gig at the U18's to the WHL's Evan Sarthou). He's got good size, moves well in his crease and challenges shooters. He has drawn some criticism for inconsistency and the mental side of things, but Kitchener is going to need him to be solid if they hope to challenge the likes of London.

3. Josh Jacobs - Defence - Sarnia Sting
A bit of a surprise to see him jump to the OHL this year after a great freshman year with Michigan State (where he was a member of his Conference's all rookie team), but I don't think the Sting are complaining. Jacobs, a 2nd round pick by the NJ Devils in 2014, is at the very least a solid stay at home defender who can eat up a ton of minutes for the improving Sting. But, he's also bound to get some power play time and it wouldn't be surprising to see him put up better offensive numbers than he did in the NCAA last year. The question is, will Sarnia use Jacobs are a partner for Jakob Chychrun or will they keep them separate?

2. Max Jones - Forward - London Knights
Jones is a hulking power forward prospect who is currently considered to be a potential top 5 pick at the 2016 NHL Draft. At the Under 17's last year, Jones was a near unstoppable force, leading the tournament with 7 goals and helping the U.S. win a Silver medal. Cut from the same cloth as the power forwards of old, Jones should jump right into the Knights' top 6 and be an impact player. I'm incredibly excited to see him in the OHL as he was a treat to watch at the U17's.

1. Matthew Tkachuk - Forward - London Knights
Tkachuk is another player that I can't wait to see in an OHL uniform. Growing up, his father Keith was one of my favourite players and Matthew is not a dissimilar player. He plays a power game and is incredibly gifted near the crease. At the U18's last year, Tkachuk finished the tournament 3rd in scoring on the way to a gold medal. The late '97 is eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft and should be a top 5 pick (along with Jones). London could be scary good this year.

Honorable Mention:

Jeremy Bracco - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Will he or won't he? Boston College or Kitchener? The Toronto Maple Leafs 2nd rounder in 2015 is apparently still committed to go the NCAA route next year, but twitter rumours seem to suggest otherwise. Bracco, an undersized offensive dynamo, would give a massive boost to a Kitchener lineup which struggled to score consistently last year. At the U18's last year, Bracco finished 2nd in scoring behind the awesome Austin Matthews. If he comes to the OHL, he could certainly be a candidate to lead the league in scoring.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - Anaheim Ducks

Last stop! The Ducks conclude my annual mission. Only one prospect!

1. Nick Ritchie - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The best thing I can say about Ritchie's season is that he's left a great lasting memory upon his graduation from the league. During the regular season, both with Peterborough and Sault Ste. Marie, it was much the same from Ritchie. A player who had yet to really become the sum of all his parts. OHL fans had long been waiting for him to truly breakout and dominate the league the way they knew he could. Thankfully, that time did come in this past year's playoffs where Ritchie looked like a man among boys, and a man possessed, as the Hounds best player in the postseason. He completely took over games with his size, physicality, speed, and skill the way that we thought he would. Does it mean we should completely overlook the fact that his regular season numbers declined and he went through periods of disengagement? No. But, it does prove how good of a prospect Ritchie could be. With his size and puck control ability, he can be impossible to separate from the puck when he attacks the middle of the ice. And with his lethal wrist shot, it sets him up nicely to score goals at the next level. Plus, he's downright scary as a forechecker and can force a turnover without even making contact (fear and pressure). He can swing the outcome of a game in a variety of ways and that's what makes him dangerous. I think he'll find instant success at the pro level, which is likely to be the AHL with the forward depth Anaheim has accrued. Brother Brett had a 22 goal first AHL season and I think Nick is the better player exiting the league (no offence meant to Brett who's a great prospect too). That means a 25 goal rookie season should definitely be possible.

*Of Note, Ducks 2nd rounder in 2015 Julius Nattinen was drafted by the Barrie Colts in the Import Draft this year. If he suits up in Barrie, he'll be counted on to be a go to offensive player on a team that could contend for the Eastern Conference title.

Monday, August 10, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - Arizona Coyotes

Tons of OHL talent for the rebuilding Coyotes. Not just depth, but high end talent. Arizona might have the best crop of OHL prospects in the NHL.

1. Dylan Strome - Erie Otters
Hard to argue with the type of season Strome had. Any time you can win a scoring title, let alone in your draft year, speaks volumes to your talent level. Even though I preferred Marner as a prospect, that doesn't mean that I don't believe in Strome (which is obvious because I've got him ranked ahead of Domi). Big, skilled, centerman just don't grow on trees. Strome's hands are insanely good in close, right up there with the best in the OHL. He's able to make skilled plays in traffic, despite yet being physically mature, because of this, and because of how good his hockey IQ is. One of those guys that the puck just seems to follow. Over the course of this year, his defensive game really improved too and he's learning to use his size (and reach) to be a major factor on the back check. The skating is obviously the most talked about drawback, but it's not awful. He'll need to improve it, but his brother Ryan was able to, so I can't see any reason he won't. Besides, a guy like Sean Monahan had similar knocks against him and look at the early success he's had at the NHL level. Is Strome NHL ready though? I don't think so. Against the Generals in the Championship last year, he really struggled with the size and speed of Oshawa and I think he needs another year to physically mature. In Erie next year, he could be the offensive focal point with McDavid gone, but he'll still have a fair amount of talent on the wing supporting him. I expect big numbers yet again and for him to challenge for the scoring race. I'm also assuming he makes the Canadian WJC team and becomes a major offensive player in that tournament.

2. Max Domi - London Knights
After I was quite critical of his game two years ago, I was very impressed with Domi's play this past season. He was much better, much more focused and motivated, and as such the Knights had a surprisingly strong year. Domi played much more unselfishly this year, utilizing his teammates better, especially off the rush. With his speed and low center of gravity, he's like a little wrecking ball coming across the blue line. As such, he's a very challenging guy to stop one on one because of how well he protects the puck and creates distance with his stick handling ability. Domi's play away from the puck also returned to the form it showed in his draft year, when he was a relatively physical player on the forecheck. While he's not his father, he will surprise you with his physical play. I actually expect him to be more physical as a pro player too, as it will help him create space against bigger players. Next year Domi will finally get to start his pro career (it seems like he's been an OHL'er forever) and it will be exciting to see how he produces. As he transitions to the pro game, he'll definitely have to learn to be less cute with the puck, making quicker decisions in traffic. He'll also have to continue to improve his defensive game. But the offensive numbers should be there immediately. With the Coyotes rebuilding a bit, I think Domi will be in the NHL and there looks to be an opening on the team's 2nd line. A 20/20 season in the NHL would be a great success IMO, but if he's in the AHL, I expect him to be close to a point per game player.

3. Brendan Perlini - Niagara IceDogs
Didn't make his season debut until December because of a broken hand, but Perlini definitely had a solid season. The IceDogs struggled mightily without him, without an offensive leader. It should come as no surprise that their turnaround this season correlated with his return to the ice. His size and speed opens up ice for his line mates, as he stretches opposing defences wide because they fear his shot and hands. Perlini has one of the best wrist shots in the league coming down the wing, with a ton of velocity and accuracy and the ability to use defenders as screens. Perlini's engagement without the puck improved this year too, as he showed an increased willingness to battle in the corners and use his size to play the cycle game. I think he still has a ways to go in this regard (he could be a beast in the offensive zone if he learns to harness an ability to create off the wall) before becoming an NHL scorer, but it's improving. Next year, Niagara will look to compete for the Eastern Conference crown and Perlini will be one of the most important players in the OHL. With a healthy season and offensive talent around him, I think Perlini cracks the 40 goal mark and could be a candidate to lead the league in goal scoring.

4. Christian Dvorak - London Knights
Not too often do you see a player jump from 14 to 109 points in junior hockey. Fully healthy, and surrounded by offensive talent, the intelligent Dvorak exploded in London this past year. Easily one of the league's most improved. Dvorak is just a very well rounded player. Can do pretty much anything that is asked of him (work the rush with Domi/Marner, control the boards, dig in near the crease) offensively. His hands are terrific in close and while he's not huge, he's quite strong and it helps him win a lot of battles near the crease. Dvorak is also a terrific two-way player who is fully engaged in the back check. Coming off a serious knee injury, it was also great to see him play nearly the whole season and avoid injury. Next year in London, the Knights could be a Memorial Cup contender again and Dvorak will be a key player. Along with Mitch Marner (likely), I expect Dvorak to be one of the league's leading scorers yet again. Would also be great to see him make the U.S WJC team and play an important role there too. There's no hiding the fact that Dvorak is the least talked about Top 50 Prospect in the NHL.

5. Michael Bunting - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Huge fan of Bunting as a prospect. Was really excited to see him sign his NHL deal recently. Not the biggest guy, but he plays with his heart on his sleeve. Fearless in driving the net and playing in traffic and is especially effective near the crease as a garbage man. Bunting continues to work on his speed, and it makes him a very effective player on the forecheck. Creates lots of turnovers this way. Bunting also works as a bit of an agitator, getting under the skin of the opposition because of his constant motor (and perhaps a few extra curricular activities). He really stepped up his game in the playoffs for SSM for the second straight year and I think that tells a lot about his workhorse attitude. So what does next year hold for Bunting? Seems likely at this point that he plays in the AHL next year, or at least he'll be given the opportunity to make that team. In the AHL, he is probably brought along slowly in an energy role, but a 15/15 year would be great in that scenario. If he's back in the OHL, he'll be a go to guy for the Greyhounds as an overager and a 40 goal season is probable.

6. Ryan MacInnis - Kitchener Rangers
Statistically, it wasn't a bad year for MacInnis. Nearly doubled his production from his draft year as he led Kitchener in scoring. But I'm still looking for more from him. Looks great one game, using his size and skill to dominate down the middle. Puck protection ability could be dominant as he continues to add strength. Flashes great vision when operating off the rush and coming off the wall. But, then the next game he's not visible, seems unengaged away from the puck and plays too soft for his size. His top end speed continues to need improvements IMO, and I think it explains some of that inconsistent play. Would also really like him to play a little more physical, especially on the back check. On the plus side, I did think he was consistently excellent in the first round of the playoffs against London and really gave them all they could handle. Next year Kitchener hopes to compete in the West with a very veteran laden team and they'll need MacInnis to be a dominant player. In his final year of the OHL, he needs to live up to the hype. The Rangers are going to need him to be a 35+ goal scorer and an 80+ point guy. We'll see.

7. Kyle Capobianco - Sudbury Wolves
Capobianco is a very good defensive prospect and a fine selection from the recent draft. The Wolves were not a good team this year. But don't let his -49 fool you, he was excellent for them. He played in all situations, and saw a ton of ice time (often 30 minutes a night) for an 18 year old. Capobianco makes smart decisions with the puck and flashes the potential to develop into an above average offensive defenseman. This is especially true when you take into account his terrific skating stride and outstanding mobility. Once he gains confidence, he'll be able to lead the rush, and jump up into the play with a lot of effectiveness. In his own end, Capobianco is still learning, but he's certainly not passive. Despite lacking strength, he engages physically and could be a tough guy to play against down the line. Overall, we're looking at a raw player who needs to get stronger in order for us to see what he's really capable of. As Sudbury gets better, he'll be at the forefront. That starts next year when the Wolves will look to push for a playoff spot. I expect him to have a great year and be among the scoring leaders of defenders.

8. Dakota Mermis - Oshawa Generals
A solid signing by the Coyotes. Few players have had as successful an OHL career as Mermis did. Played in three straight Memorial Cups (with London, then Oshawa), finally winning this year. He won   a USHL title before joining the OHL too. Just a proven winner. Mermis is not a flashy player, but more of a well rounded guy who just gets the job done. Average sized, but he plays a lot bigger than that. With good mobility, he does a great job defending off the rush, and is able to start the breakout very quickly with a rush or a good first pass. Profiles as a solid third pairing, depth guy who can do a little bit of everything. Could be, and should be in the AHL next year with the lack of defensive depth at that level for Arizona. Could work his way up the lineup as he gains the trust of the coaching staff and showcases his calm, error free approach.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - Boston Bruins

One of my favourite cities in the U.S. to visit, Boston. Only one OHL'er and that's recent draft pick Zach Senyshyn.

1. Zach Senyshyn - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Perhaps the most talked about player at the 2015 NHL Draft, because of the trade and because the general public hadn't heard a lot about Senyshyn. As a big fan, I figured he'd be a first round pick. But going as high as he did, did surprise me (I'd be a liar if I didn't admit that). That said, I love the gamble. Word is there were a few teams in the 20's who loved Senyshyn. If he's your guy, you've got to trust your gut and take him or lose out on the opportunity. Senyshyn improved greatly from the start of this past OHL season to the end. His speed and overall skating ability is among the best in the OHL, and he flashes an above average shot coming down the wing, in addition to terrific puck protection skill. As he gets stronger, the above could become even better and he could be a very difficult power winger to stop off the rush. His play away from the puck is inconsistent. His overall offensive game (playmaking vision especially) is very raw. But…the potential is very high here. Even when the Hounds acquired some incredibly talented forwards (Ritchie, Bailey), Senyshyn continued to get playing time. He forced the hand of the coaching staff by elevating his play and that's ultimately what made him such a high pick. Next year, the Hounds should still be pretty decent despite losing a whole bunch of players to the pros (and their coach). He's going to get all the ice time he can handle in 2015/2016, especially on the power play and I expect him to have a great year. A 35/35 season is well within his grasp.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres are rebuilding the right way and have a solid collection of undervalued OHL talent.

1. Nick Baptiste - Erie Otters
Even though his numbers dipped (due to "sharing the wealth"), I think Baptiste had a great final season in the OHL. Post trade with Erie, he became an excellent winger for Dylan Strome, using his speed to create room for Dylan to work his magic. In the playoffs, I felt that Baptiste might have been Erie's second best forward behind Connor McDavid, consistently creating scoring chances. He's learned to use his speed to drive the middle of the ice, and not just stay on the perimeter. He works well in traffic and looks to engage in the corners and in front of the net. Baptiste also has a great wrist shot and has learned to get it off while at top speed, making him a very difficult player to stop off the rush. The only thing that I can say critically is that I wish his physical game would have become more prevalent. When he was drafted, I thought he might develop into a very physical player, a power forward almost. But that part has slowly worked his way out of his game. Although he's not shy to engage, he's also not one to seek out physical damage as he did in his first two OHL seasons. Next year he'll start his pro career and I think he'll find immediate success. The speed and hands should make him a weapon and I think he's a definite candidate for a 20 goal freshman campaign.

2. Justin Bailey - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Most definitely a bounce back season for Bailey, as he established himself as a true top line forward in the OHL. Biggest difference for me was his strength on the puck. Bailey was able to maintain puck possession way better than previously, and as such was able to use his size to drive the net more effectively. Bailey also possesses a fantastic shot that has gotten even heavier over the years. Bailey has also become a more complete player and the type of guy who now wins battles in the corners and is able to come off the wall and beat defenders to the net. He definitely projects as a solid puck protection top 9 winger at the next level. That said, I do wonder about his overall scoring potential. He's always had the skill, but I'm not sure the scoring instincts are good enough for him to develop into something as significant as a 30 goal scorer. I see him more settling in as a complimentary piece on the 2nd/3rd line who can work the cycle and open up some room. Like Baptiste, Bailey will start his pro career in the AHL next year. I expect him to have a good year, perhaps even on a line with Baptiste (Baptiste's speed would compliment Bailey well).

3. Eric Cornel - Peterborough Petes
Cornel is sort of at a place where Bailey was in 2013/2014 as a player. Part of an inconsistent offensive team, and not yet ready to be a go to offensive force. Cornel also still needs to get stronger. He flashes some power forward ability, and can even be a physical player, especially on the forecheck. But maintaining possession, finishing off plays near the crease, and being an effective two-way player are all areas that he still needs to get better at, and adding strength will help. Continuing to get a bit quicker will also allow him to fully take advantage of his size, especially off the rush. Peterborough is a team that could either be great next year, or continue to flounder in mediocrity. It depends on whether their younger players can take that next step forward. They need Cornel to be a leader offensively and I think he's certainly capable of an 80 point season. At least, the Petes will need that type of production from him if they want to be a top 4 team in the Conference.

4. Jean Dupuy - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Good signing by the Sabres. Dupuy won't be winning any scoring titles any time soon, but he's a hard nosed player with a chance of turning into a quality NHL role player. Great size and he uses it very well at both ends of the ice. Dupuy is exceptional along the wall, keeping the cycle going in the offensive end. He is also terrific in his own end, and is very intelligent on the penalty kill. Dupuy also wins face-offs and can drop the gloves to protect teammates. All in all, he's that 4th line center at the next level who can do a lot of different things to help you win. He'll start his pro career at the AHL next year, and while I wouldn't expect much offensively, I do think he'll find a way to stay in the line up and  become a favourite of fans and coaches.

Friday, August 7, 2015

30 Teams in 30 Days - Calgary Flames

This is the final Canadian stop on our 30 day tour.

1. Sam Bennett - Kingston Frontenacs
Seems kind of cheap to be reviewing Bennett based on the 15 total games he played in the OHL this year, but ces't la vie. The crazy thing is that Bennett was able to dominate the OHL without even being on his "A" game (at least IMO). The Bennett we (the OHL) got to close out the season was not as quick, not nearly as involved away from the puck (especially physically), and not as strong on the puck as the one who ripped up the league as an 18 year old in 2013/2014. And of course, that's to be expected coming off of major shoulder surgery. Yet, despite these short comings, he managed to score a goal per game and put up over 2 points per game. It shows just how well he thinks the game. He doesn't have to be at his best physically to find holes in the defense and create off the rush. His skill with the puck is also undeniable and electrifying and it helped to create the time and space that his body wasn't yet able to. So what does the future hold for Bennett? Definitely not the OHL. As his late season playoff performance for Calgary proved, Bennett is ready for the prime time. And he's likely fully recovered this offseason and then some. Expect a healthy, motivated, and exceptionally talented Bennett to come to training camp and do everything in his power to earn a spot in Calgary's top 9. I fully expect him to be an early Calder trophy candidate. 

2. Hunter Smith - Oshawa Generals
The Big Rig is just that. A monster on skates whose sole mission is to power his way down the wing and obliterate any and everything in his way. While the numbers aren't eye popping on the offensive side of things, his impact on the ice is measured by more than that. And besides, he really stepped up his game in the playoffs and in the Memorial Cup. His shot has never really developed and that does likely hinder his scoring potential a bit, but his hands in close are underrated and he does a very good job of maintaining scoring position near the crease and reading defenses to get himself scoring chances. He's more than just a "power" player in that regard (although driving the net hard is his bread and butter). His skating continues to improve and it will likely do so at the pro level too. Of course physically he changes the landscape of the game by being generally terrifying on the forecheck. I'm very excited to see what he brings to the pro level next year. Even if he could make an immediate impact on Calgary's 4th line, I think a year in the AHL would do him wonders. Let him get some powerplay time and slowly get used to the speed at which he needs to process things offensively (and defensively). I think he has a 15/15 year in him for his first year of pro.

3. Rasmus Andersson - Barrie Colts
The Colts took a chance drafting Andersson in the Import Draft last summer, hoping he'd come over and be able to fill a vacant hole left by someone named Aaron Ekblad. Andersson absolutely proved up to the challenge, finishing 3rd in league defenseman scoring and helping the Colts finish 2nd in the Conference. He's still got some holes to patch though. He's already worked hard on his conditioning and will likely continue to do so this offseason. His skating needs to be better for him to be a more effective defender, and a dominant offensive player. In particular, if he can improve his first few steps, he could be incredibly difficult to stop because of how well he sees the ice entering the neutral zone. And his focus in the defensive end needs to improve, especially if he wants to be the defensive leader for a team that moves beyond the 2nd round of the OHL playoffs (where the Colts were ousted this past year). But all in all, a very successful first season in the league for the talented Swede. Barrie should be one of the teams to beat in the entire OHL next year and I expect Andersson to have a monster season (considering the talent at his disposal on the powerplay). He could definitely hit the 70 point marker and be a candidate for OHL defender of the year.

4. Andrew Mangiapane - Barrie Colts
Undrafted (even though he shouldn't have been in his original draft year, Mangiapane came back completely motivated and was one of the OHL's top offensive players this year. He was definitely a great pickup by Calgary at the most recent draft. Mangiapane is an exceptionally intelligent player in the offensive end. Not necessarily the most flashy (although he can be creative off the rush), he knows how to read defences and find holes and is a great playmaker for his line mates. This is why he's such a great player on the power play. But that does bring me to the next step for him and that's becoming a better player 5 on 5. Mangiapane finished the season 13th in total points per game. Yet, he was 32nd in the league in even strength points per game. Quite honestly, I'm not too worried about him being just a power play specialist. He's quick enough to be an impactful player 5 on 5 once he gets stronger and is able to work his way through contact more consistently. As mentioned, Barrie could be a contender in the East next year and Mangiapane will be the offensive focal point. With guys like Marner, Strome, Fabbri, Dal Colle, all set to be WJC participants (if they're not in the NHL), Mangiapane could be a contender for the OHL scoring race and he could break 110 points IMO.

5. Riley Bruce - North Bay Battalion
When NHL teams opt to take a chance on players with immense size, it should never shock people. Happens every year. Bruce is about as raw as you can get. This year, I actually felt like he may have regressed a bit from his rookie year in the OHL, playing a bit role on the team's 3rd pairing (or was at least part of a carousel of younger defenders there). In a lot of ways, Bruce just looks awkward on the ice. Offensively, he still doesn't look comfortable or confident. Often opts to differ to his defensive partner to start the breakout. Defensively, the size is alluring but he's still learning how to use it. Mobility needs to improve and at times he gets caught standing still, in between playing the body and using his reach. The good news? Stan Butler is great at developing players defensively. If Bruce is willing to put in the work, he will improve under Butler. I'm sure that's what the Flames are banking on. Next year North Bay's defence will need a face lift as they've got McIvor and Miller graduating. That opens up an opportunity for Bruce to slip into the top 4. But Butler won't just hand out ice time. He's going to have to show improvements to get increased responsibility.