Monday, October 19, 2015

Early Season Top 30 for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

It's time for my first official ranking for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. I say official because I release a preseason ranking in the summer (which can be found here). Now that the 2015/16 season has started (well under way in fact), updating that list to reflect changes of opinion is a priority. That said, it's important to not over react to hot or cold starts. Some of those currently disappointing, will most definitely pick up their play. And some of those off to blazing starts won't be able to hold that production. At the end of the day, it is a cool exercise to go back and look at my first list of the season. For instance, here's last year's early season draft list.

Just as I started doing last year, I will do a top 50 for every ranking, not just the final one. I'll only write in detail on the top 30, but will include quips on the other 20 as part of my honourable mentions (with ranking).

The OHL looks strong again this year thanks to many of the new faces entering the league. 5 of my top 14 players did not play in the OHL last year. I think that as the season goes on, this crop will look even greater too, when guys like Felhaber, Kyrou, Wells, etc pick up their play. 

It's also important to note (for those that aren't familiar with my lists), that I don't include 2nd and 3rd year eligible players on the list (like North Bay's Zach Bratina or Ottawa's Dante Salituro). I do a year end list for those players.

Without further ado, here's my early season top 30.

1. Jakub Chychrun - Defence - Sarnia Sting
Chychrun is off to a good, but not great start so far this season. The biggest takeaway is that the Sting are currently playing great hockey and Chychrun is one of the main reasons for that. As I've said before, Chychrun is the most complete defender that I've seen in the OHL since Drew Doughty. Controls the play at both ends with his skating ability and has top notch offensive instincts. Would still like to see him play the body more, but it's coming. Not a big one for comparisons, but I see a lot of Rob Blake in Chychrun.

2. Matthew Tkachuk - Forward - London Knights
One of the OHL's leading scorers right now and has come completely as advertised. Top notch skill level and is incredibly dangerous below the hash marks. He's not a huge guy (6'1), but he's so good in close to the net and is fearless in the area. He's able to maintain possession near the crease and doesn't panic when scoring opportunities present themselves, utilizing good vision to find open teammates instead of forcing shots. Already a very pro ready prospect IMO.

3. Alex Nylander - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Honestly couldn't be more impressed with what Nylander has brought to the OHL this year. His hands are just incredible and he's able to extend plays in the offensive zone with how unpredictable he is. Nylander is just a terrific offensive talent. That said, I've actually been incredibly impressed with his compete level away from the puck. He's not one to shy away from contact, even initiating on the forecheck and the backcheck. While it's not an ideal comparison (pro league versus junior league), I've been way more impressed by Alex than I have William thus far.

4. Michael McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
McLeod is the center that the NHL game is built around today. Size, skill, and grit. McLeod is lightning quick, but he's also very strong on his skates. He's particularly explosive coming off the wall and has created a ton of chances on net drives this year. He's carried his terrific performance at the Ivan Hlinka into the start of this OHL season and it's got him in the conversation for the top 10 of the draft. Easily one of my favourites from the 'O' this year.

5. Olli Juolevi - Defence - London Knights
Certainly doesn't look like a rookie defender. Incredibly composed for a guy with only a handful of OHL games under his belt. Juolevi is just a very solid two-way defender. He's able to squash the incoming rush, using great mobility and positioning, and then quickly turn play up ice the opposite way with a strong outlet/breakout pass. Always seems to keep his head up in the defensive end. I've seen London play a few times already and I don't think I've seen him make a mistake yet.

6. Max Jones - Forward - London Knights
Stats aren't everything. This dude has been way better than the stat line would indicate thus far (just scored his first OHL goal this weekend). If it's December and we're still talking about his lack of production, than I'll re-evaluate my position. For now, I'm still bullish on Jones. He's getting and generating a ton of scoring chances, but he's got to get the puck on net. Way too many shots high and wide. Once those start going on net, we're going to see the goals and the assists (generated from his rebounds) pile up. Jones controls the boards exceptionally well and is every bit the physical agitator/aggressor he was built up to be. Right now I'm just seeing a guy gripping the stick a little tight. Maybe that first goal opens up things for him.

7. Mikhail Sergachev - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
Another first year defender that certainly doesn't look like a rookie. Has jumped into Windsor's lineup as their number one defender and the Spits are playing terrific hockey. I actually think that Sergachev might have more potential than Juolevi, once we start to see him become more comfortable taking risks with the puck. Two things have jumped out so far for me. First is his physical bravado in the defensive end. He's already established himself as a tough guy to match up against and he utilizes his size very well, especially when defending off the rush. Second is his ability to run the point on the powerplay. Makes quick decisions and does a good job of getting the puck through to the net.

8. Logan Brown - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Like McLeod, Brown is going to attract attention because of how well suited his game is for the way the NHL is played now (centers with size who can control possession). At 6'6, 220lbs, Brown is an absolute behemoth and he's deceptively quick through the neutral zone. Once he gets going, he's very tough to stop because of how well he protects the puck. But he's also got good vision at top speed and is able to draw defenders in and find teammates off the rush for high percentage scoring chances. The 200 foot game needs work and the intensity level without the puck needs to increase, but you can't ignore his potential offensively at the next level. A lot of Ryan Getzlaf in his game.

9. Alex Debrincat - Forward - Erie Otters
Connor McDavid who? The OHL's scoring leader right now, Debrincat has been an absolute machine thus far. Those 13 goals are no accident with one of the best wrist shots in the league. He's heavily undersized (5'7). So what? This isn't the NHL that your father grew up with. In today's NHL, smaller, skilled players long as they have two things. The first is strong skating ability, which Debrincat has. He's incredibly quick to loose pucks. The second is the willingness to get their nose dirty and play bigger than their size. Debrincat possesses that too. He's an absolute puck hound who seems to be involved in every battle in the corners and in front of the net. When you combine those two factors with his skill level, you've got a great prospect. Deserves Top 20 consideration, even with his size disadvantages.

10. Victor Mete - Defence - London Knights
Couldn't be more impressed with that I've seen from Mete so far this season. Last year I thought he struggled with his decision making offensively, but he's shown a much more refined approach this year, selecting his spots to jump up in the rush more effectively. He's also been much better defensively. He's not a big guy (about 5'10), but his defensive positioning off the rush is exceptional and as such he's been able to neutralize even the bigger forwards in the league. At this point, the only strike against Mete is size IMO.

11. Tim Gettinger - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Really like Gettinger as a prospect for the first round this year. With his size and skating ability, it's only a matter of time before he starts getting consistent love there. At 6'6 and with terrific quickness, he's explodes through the neutral zone, across the blue line, to create scoring chances. He's also not afraid to go the net and has great hands in close for tips/garbage goals. I've also been impressed with his work on the penalty kill this year, using his size to separate from the puck. On the negative side, he's got to learn how to extend plays in the offensive end. I've seen too many plays die on his stick, where he's trying to make his way to the net, only to be eventually stripped of the puck. The decision making should improve though.

12. Will Bitten - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Another undersized forward who has been exceptionally good so far this season. Bitten played a key role for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka as an energy guy and penalty killer, but he's returned to the OHL a way more confident offensive player. Most pegged Flint for the bottom of the conference this year, but thanks to guys like Bitten, the team is playing well above expectations. Bitten is a terrific skater who excels as a forechecker, doing well to create off turnovers. Off the rush, he's got great hands when operating at full speed and he does a really good job creating shooting lanes for himself. And even though he's undersized, he battles hard in all areas of the ice and has grown substantially as a two-way player over his OHL career thus far. A potential first rounder IMO, who's not all that different than Saginaw's Mitchell Stephens.

13. Sean Day - Defence - Mississauga Steelheads
Because of the exceptional status thing, he's obviously always one of the more talked about draft eligible players from the OHL. The critics have been hard on him, but I think he's been pretty good so far this season. The offensive numbers aren't there yet, but they should come eventually. I think he's made gains defensively and is using his size and mobility to be a more consistent player in his own end. He's also using his mobility to be more aggressive leading the breakout. That said, he's still relatively reserved when it comes to jumping up in the play to look for scoring chances and his ability as a powerplay QB hasn't really evolved since he came into the league. At this point, because of the potential package, he still needs to be ranked relatively high. But if the offensive numbers don't turn around, his draft ranking will need to be adjusted accordingly. For what it's worth, I remember people had the same sort of reservations about Jay Bouwmeester when he was draft eligible.

14. Dmitri Sokolov - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
At this point, still a tough guy to get a read on. Scouting agencies still have him high (first round), but so far I just haven't seen it. But, a couple of things to keep in mind. Firstly, his ice time hasn't been significant thus far (the Wolves have been leaning heavily on their veteran players Schmalz, Jenys, and Harris, as well as rookie David Levin thus far). Secondly, the Wolves just haven't been very good. That said, Sokolov just hasn't been noticeable enough. He's scored twice, but both occurred half way through the 3rd period of blowout games. The shot and release are great, but I just haven't seen enough intensity from him. And this was something that was supposed to be a strength of his. I do expect the young Wolves to get better as the season goes on, but we'll see how much of that Sokolov involves himself in.

15. Taylor Raddysh - Forward - Erie Otters
Doesn't get a ton of attention because he's not the world's most flashy player. But throughout his OHL career thus far, he's proven to be incredibly efficient. Was the leading goal scorer among 98's last year. And this year he finds himself in the top 5 of OHL scoring. It's all about hockey IQ with Raddysh. So effective in the offensive zone because he finds holes in the defence and knows how to play without the puck. He's one of those guys who always finds himself in the right place at the right time (but it's no accident). His finishing ability is very strong, but he's looked much more confident with the puck this year and he's using his vision to become a solid playmaker too. Skating ability isn't dynamic, so he'll have to continue to use his head to put up points.

16. Adam Mascherin - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
The former 2nd overall OHL pick has gotten off to a tremendous start to this season, leading the Rangers in scoring. Mascherin certainly isn't tall (~ 5'9), but he's very stocky (built very similar to a guy like Max Domi), so I'm not quite as concerned about his lack of size. He brings a high energy level from the wing and is aggressive in attacking the middle of the ice when he's got the puck, and hungry in the corners when he doesn't. Mascherin might also possess the best wrist shot in this group after Alex Debrincat. It will be interesting to see if he continues to pace Kitchener offensively, considering the slow start many of the team's veterans have had.

17. Tye Felhaber - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
A preseason favourite of mine, Felhaber has really struggled to start the year. Has only registered a single goal and 2 assists thus far and is a -8. Way too many offensive zone turnovers as he tries to force plays that just aren't there right now. Needs to really simplify things and utilize his teammates more off the rush. I think that the Hlinka cut (he was actually great at the training camp) seems to have gotten into his head and he's just trying too hard to make an impression. Saginaw (as a team) is slowly looking better and I suspect that Felhaber will get better too. He's too talented of an offensive player to be held quiet all year.

18. Jordan Kyrou - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Another faller from my preseason list, Kyrou's struggles this year mimic those of Felhaber's. Kyrou is a very energetic player who has terrific playmaking qualities, but he's been prone to turnovers in the offensive end. This is because he's either hanging on to the puck too long and not being aggressive enough, or because he's forcing plays that just aren't there. I think he really needs to be more aggressive in shooting the puck as defenders are taking away the pass on him, which seems to be taking him out of his comfort zone. He's still working hard without the puck, but as an average sized pivot, he's going to need to find his offensive game in order to stay in consideration for the first three rounds.

19. Nathan Bastian - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Bastian is a big center who does a very good job of operating down low. He uses his size well to protect the puck in the offensive end and does a great job of shielding off defenders near the crease to get his shot away. As a boards player, he's greatly improved this year and seems much stronger. His skating also looks better, as he seems to have really improved his first few steps to be more dangerous off the rush. Would still like to see him play a bit more aggressively away from the puck, but he's actually pretty committed on the back check where he uses his reach to get his stick in passing lanes. Just a solid overall player who looks like a surefire top 100 pick come June.

20. Dylan Wells - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
Looked great in leading Canada to gold at the Ivan Hlinka and has carried that success nicely into the start of this OHL season. With the struggles of some other goalies in this draft class, he might have a shot to be the top NA net minder selected this year. Like most top picks these days, Wells brings both size and athleticism to the crease and he's worked hard to improve his rebound control and positioning. He can still overcommit when you get him moving side to side, but he's a really solid goaltending prospect and I think that by season's end, he'll be the starter in Peterborough.

21. Keaton Middleton - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
Absolutely behemoth defender (6'6, 235lbs) who is slowly developing into a dominant force in his own end. When you combine his solid mobility and reach with his desire to throw his weight around, you've got a potential shutdown defender. Offensively, he's a work in progress. He shows potential as the type of guy who can skate his way out of trouble, but his decision making with the puck is questionable. Can make some boneheaded plays with the puck in his own end, especially when under pressure from the forecheck. But, he makes the odd play that makes you believe there is offensive potential in that big frame.

22. Givani Smith - Forward - Guelph Storm
Still looking for his first goal of the year, but he's been better than the stats would suggest. Guelph just isn't a very good team this year, so their offence is going to be incredibly inconsistent. And that means Smith's stat line isn't likely to be very impressive all year. But you've got to look at the big picture. He's a budding power forward who can take the puck hard to the net and who excels when throwing his weight around in all three zones. Considering how well he finished out last year with more talented players, I do think that he's got Top 6 potential. And if he were surrounded by better playmakers, I bet we'd be talking about him as a potential first round pick.

23. Travis Barron - Forward - Ottawa 67's
I have to admit, I don't really know what to make of Barron at this point. Hard-nosed North/South type winger who can affect the game in a lot of ways. Solid at both ends, physical, goes to the net, works the boards and is potential captain material. But, just how high is the offensive upside? Again, at this point I just don't have a good read on whether he's a checking line prospect (and more of a 4th-5th round guy), or a hard working scoring line complimentary piece (and subsequently a 2nd/3rd round pick). Did close out the weekend with a hat trick though.

24. Connor Bunnaman - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
I really like this kid and thought about ranking him even higher, but I want to see him maintain his current pace before I do that. Bunnaman and Adam Mascherin have led the Rangers this year as draft eligible players on what was supposed to be a veteran driven group. He's a very strong, puck possession type of center who does a great job of working the boards, demonstrating patience and poise in the cycle. As such, he's a tiring force for opposing defences. His offensive game is really growing and I think he's a very solid pro prospect. Again though, still making up my mind about the type of role he'd have at the next level.

25. Brandon Saigeon - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
I don't think anyone expected the Bulldogs to be great this year, and to make matters worse, they've had some serious problems with injuries thus far. But the expectation was that former top 5 pick Brandon Saigeon would be one of the team's offensive leaders. That hasn't been the case (with a single point thus far). Saigeon is at his best when he's an aggressive player (think Scott Laughton/Mike Richards), but I haven't seen that same intensity level thus far from him. Way too early to give up on him making adjustments, but he's certainly in jeopardy of falling out of the Top 30.

26. Jonathan Ang - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Extremely quick pivot who is excellent in transition because of his elite speed and hands. Darts in and out of traffic and has the potential to be a very dynamic offensive forward. He's clearly worked hard over the summer to add strength as he's doing a better job of fighting off checks when driving to the net. That said, there are some areas that need work still. When he's on, he's using his speed to engage without the puck, especially on the forecheck, but this is an inconsistent component to his game. And for as dangerous as he is off the rush, he's not yet a great player below the hash marks because he lacks the strength to consistently win board battles. Loads of potential though because of the skill level. Just needs to get bigger.

27. Markus Niemelainen - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
The 2nd of our 6'6 defenders. An OHL rookie from Finland, the adjustment for Niemelainen hasn't been terrific thus far. Unlike teammate Keaton Middleton, he doesn't seem as confident or eager to use his size defensively. And while he is mobile, he's had some difficulty defending the rush thus far because he seems to be getting caught in between using his stick and trying to play the body (getting caught flat footed). Offensively, he seems to possess good vision and makes a good breakout pass, but he hasn't shown much desire in jumping up in the rush or utilizing his shot. Just how much upside is there? Let's say it's too early to make that designation. At this point, might not be much separating Niemelainen from Windsor's Logan Stanley as the 2nd best 6'6 defender available this year.

28. Jack Kopacka - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
At this point, Kopacka vs. Katchouk might be a toss up. Right now, slight nod to Kopacka from me because I've been a little more impressed with his skating ability, and work without the puck. Kopacka shows a great shot too, which I've seen him utilize pretty effectively coming down the wing. As mentioned, I really like his compete level without the puck. Seems to be the type of guy who's able to create turnovers and provide a lot of energy (although he's not as physical a player as Katchouk). The Soo just keeps these guys coming.

29. Boris Katchouk - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Hard nosed, North/South type of winger who excels in driving the net and working to win battles along the wall. Katchouk has also shown a pretty good hockey IQ thus far and has excelled playing in a scoring line role, opening up space for guys like Zach Senyshyn to operate. Katchouk has also shown himself to be a physical player who brings energy on the forecheck. Has already been suspended this year for starting a 2nd fight (at the time of another). Does remain to be seen how high  his offensive potential is though.

30. Cam Dineen - Defence - North Bay Battalion
Has already shown remarkable improvement thus far in his OHL career. Started the preseason and regular season pretty rough, but is getting better every game. Dineen is a very mobile, puck moving defender who has done a great job as the Battalion's primary offensive catalyst from the backend (with Kyle Wood out). He's also looked very comfortable on the power play, where he's quarterbacking the top unit. He's not huge (5'11), but I think this is a guy who continues to get better and eventually climbs up the draft board.

Honorable Mention:

31. Joseph Raaymakers - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Has certainly been the better goaltender in the Soo thus far and despite not being huge, I like how he finds the puck in traffic (speaks to positioning). Just needs to find consistency. 2nd best goalie prospect behind Wells right now IMO.

32. Logan Stanley - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
3rd 6'6 defender on the list. Stanley has been very solid for WIndsor thus far, pairing with Mikhail Sergachev on the team's top pairing. Slowly gaining confidence in his ability to carry the puck. On the rise IMO.

33. Luke Kirwan - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Just finishing up a suspension for cross checking. Still hasn't lived up to the lofty expectations (at one point was considered a top 10 pick for 2016). But I also still think it's too early to give up on him. Playing more physical this year at least.

34. Noah Carroll - Defence - Guelph Storm
Loved his game last year and compared him to Travis Dermott. But he's struggled this year with the increased responsibility on a rebuilding team. Too many errors with the puck in his own end thus far.

35. Evan Cormier - Goaltender - Saginaw Spirit
Saginaw, in general, has looked out of sorts this year. Cormier's erratic play been one of the reasons. I really like this young net minder, but he's got to find a way to get the job done. Way too many soft goals this year so far.

36. Tyler Parsons - Goaltender - London Knights
Was a little shaky early on, but seems to be finding his groove lately. Just not sure if I see an NHL quality net minder though. I also get the sense that London might use him to upgrade in net (cough, Alex Nedeljkovic, cough).

37. Michael Pezzetta - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Former 1st rounder by the Wolves, Pezzetta is a power center who looks to use size and skill to keep possession in the offensive end. Key for him will be maintaining his physical game because the offensive contributions will likely be inconsistent.

38. Kyle Maksimovich - Forward - Erie Otters
Got off to a blazing start, filling in for Dylan Strome as Alex Debrincat and Taylor Raddysh's running mate. But since Strome has returned, his production hasn't been quite as consistent with Jake Marchment and Nick Betz.

39. Zach Poirier - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Plays much bigger than his size (5'11) and has looked good driving the net this year. Has definite goal scoring potential with a great release. Without elite size, probably not as enamouring to NHL scouts though.

40. Cole Candella - Defence - Hamilton Bulldogs
Solid all around defender who will see his role increased due to the horrific Lemcke injury. Needs to be better with the puck in his own end, but has looked good on the power play.

41. Ben Gleason - Defence - Hamilton Bulldogs
Great acquisition by the Bulldogs and he's played great for them thus far. Can really move the puck and has great mobility. Defensive game is inconsistent, but he should grow well in Hamilton.

42. Jordan Sambrook - Defence - Erie Otters
Has come out of relatively nowhere (played midget last year) to jump onto the Otters 2nd pairing. Good size and he's producing offensively. Could be a real diamond in the rough. Want to see more of him before I move him up significantly on my list.

43. Anthony Salinitri - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Doesn't have great size, but he has good wheels and a head for the game. Had a tremendous preseason but just hasn't been able to find that success in the regular season thus far. Hard working goal scorer who could still score 20+ goals this year.

44. Drake Rymsha - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Getting lots of ice time since the trade to Ottawa, but hasn't found much success yet (save for a 3 assist effort to close out the weekend). Needs to play with intensity to be successful, and I think he's gotten away from keeping his game simple and efficient.

45. Ryan Cranford - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Another OHL rookie who has been a revelation for his club. Really like Cranford's play in front of the net, showing little fear and great hands in close. Like Jordan Sambrook, I want to see more before I really bump him up.

46. Luke Kutkevicius - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Has worked very well for Mississauga in a checking line role. Does a lot of little things well and I've been impressed with his ability to come away with the puck in traffic. Again, just how much offensive upside is there though?

47. Cliff Pu - Forward - London Knights
Missed the start of the season with an upper body injury, so he looks a little rusty. But I expect him to find success as part of London's 3rd/4th lines. A potential power forward.

48. Christopher Paquette - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Niagara has started slowly yet again, and the lack of offence that they've gotten from their 2nd and 3rd lines has been a major reason. Paquette is exceptionally skilled, but he's been invisible thus far and has struggled with turning the puck over.

49. Matthew Timms - Defence - Peterborough Petes
Has actually been one of Peterborough's best defenders thus far. Moving the puck well and providing steady play in his own end from the 3rd pairing. If he were bigger, I'd probably have him higher (up with Sambrook).

50. Troy Timpano/Stephen Dhillon/Jake Lawr - Goaltenders - Sudbury/Niagara/Erie
Cheating a bit by lumping all three guys together. Timpano is the most hyped of the three, but has been quite bad so far (and is now injured). Dhillon and Lawr are rookies who have shown well with limited playing time. Dhillon could really rise if Moran continues to struggle.