Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Midseason Top 30 for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

The start of the 2016 calendar year is nearly upon us and that means it is time for me to re-evaluate my rankings for the 2016 Draft. The OHL season is past the half way mark (for most teams) which gives us a great indication of how certain players have developed in their draft season. Many players have stepped up to assume large roles on their club, while others have disappointed and find themselves on the outside looking in.

I really like the crop for this year's draft from the OHL. The top end talent is very good, with IMO, upwards of 8-9 guys vying for spots as lottery selections. This includes three guys (Chychrun, Tkachuk, and McLeod) who could be top 5 picks. The depth is very solid too, with some real potential diamond in the rough guys who look like they could end up being solid mid-late round selections. I will say that the goaltending crop has disappointed me. I thought that this would be a banner year for OHL goaltenders, but many have struggled with consistency and as such haven't established themselves as top flight prospects (at least not yet). 

Before I get to the list, it's worth mentioning that second and third year eligible players are not included (the likes of Brett McKenzie, Dante Salituro, etc). I produce a separate list for those towards the end of the season.

Also to compare, here's my preliminary top 50 from October.

1. Jakob Chychrun - Defence - Sarnia Sting
The critics have been out in full force lately, especially after his early dismissal from Canada's WJC camp. After looking so dominant as a rookie last year, this was inevitable (especially with so many top 10 candidates playing well). And while I do think that Tkachuk and McLeod are closing the gap, Chychrun is still my number one for a reason. I think he's got number one defender upside at the next level. Offensively, especially in terms of jumping up in the play and looking backdoor, he hasn't been nearly as aggressive this year. The reason for that? I'm not entirely sure. But he's got offensive potential. Don't let the critics convince you otherwise. Defensively, he remains a rock. He's so smart positionally, and is such a good skater. This makes him very difficult to gain position over (he's so good at winning races and angling out forecheckers in loose puck battles). Would I like to see him be more aggressive with the puck? Absolutely. Would I like to see him play a little more physical? Sure. But he's still a top flight defensive prospect with a great head on his shoulders. 

2. Matthew Tkachuk - Forward - London Knights
The thing that really stands out for me with Tkachuk is his hockey sense and vision. He's so good at gaining/keeping possession in the offensive end, and subsequently finding teammates with a pass to create scoring chances. Seems to have eyes in the back of his head in this regard. Of course, he's also very good in front of the net. He's not a behemoth, but he battles hard near the crease and has very good hands in close. Other than the speed component, he's really the complete package offensively. While his first few steps could certainly use an upgrade, I don't think he's terrible in this regard either. Keeping up with Mitch Marner isn't exactly an easy task. And because he's so good at using his body and because he's so intelligent, Tkachuk is able to slow the game down and I think that makes him look a little more sluggish than he actually is. Keith's son has proven himself to be a legitimate contender for the OHL scoring title.

3. Michael McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Honestly, I love this guy just as much as I do Chychrun and Tkachuk. I do think the upside is a shade lower offensively and thus the 3rd place ranking. McLeod is your prototypical NHL center for today's game. Great size/power, great quickness, and a solid two-way game. McLeod might be the most powerful skater in the entire OHL. His first few steps are so explosive and it makes him very hard to contain in the offensive end. I also love his aggressiveness in going hard to the net; a real relentless player. His playmaking has improved a lot, especially when working the boards. In terms of his other tangible assets, McLeod is one of the OHL's top face-off men, is already a terrific two-way player, and will engage physically to force turnovers. Really, the only thing missing from his game is an elite shot. If he can really work on his release and velocity, he could be an incredible force off the rush. As is, he's a lock for a top 10 pick IMO.

4. Alex Nylander - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
The skill level of Nylander is incredible. Every game of his that I've seen has come with at least one electrifying one on one move to embarrass an opposing defender. Having two big power forwards like McLeod and Bastian flanking him certainly helps to give him more time to operate, but a lot of the credit is owed to Nylander for creating his own space with his hands. Outside of that, second most noticeable asset is his shot. He possesses an absolute rocket and that's why he's been seeing a ton of time on the point of the Steelheads' powerplay this year. His slapshot, in particular, has a ton of velocity. While his play and intensity without the puck is inconsistent, he certainly can not be called a perimeter player. He will attack the net and has no trouble having to fight through traffic/checks to make a play. It's his board work/defensive play that will continue to need to be worked on. But the Swedish winger is every bit the NHL prospect his brother William is.

5. Mikhail Sergachev - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
Came to Windsor with a ton of hype and has lived up to all of it. One of the main reasons why the Spitfires are currently leading the West Division. Sergachev has stabilized a defensive unit that had major struggles last year. He's certainly a potential first pairing defender who is the complete package. 6'3, 200+lbs, but moves very well and is not afraid of using his size to play physical in the defensive end. Offensively, he seems to get better and more confident every game. He's now creating a least one good chance a game by going end to end and flashes terrific hands in the open ice. Most impressive IMO, has been how well he's run the point on the powerplay. Makes very good decisions with the puck and is excellent at creating shooting lanes to get his hard slapper to the net. Honestly, at this point, the top 5 as I have it, has really started to separate themselves from the others in this OHL class. All 5 look like top 10 picks come June. 

6. Max Jones - Forward - London Knights
The punishing power forward started off the year very cold, but he's really turned things around the last two months. In particular, I really love how he's elevated his game with the likes of Marner, Tkachuk, and Dvorak away at the WJC's. He's keeping things simple in the offensive end and has proved to be a real load for opposing defences to handle below the hash marks. His strength along the boards and on the puck (in general) helps to open up space for linemates as he draws second defenders in. And unlike the beginning the year, Jones is doing a much better job of getting his shots to the net and not trying to force things. Jones' ability to disrupt physically has also been very evident. He's just a powerful guy. That said, I think there's still more room for him to grow as a forechecker and overall nuisance without the puck. That would really take his game to the next level IMO.

7. Logan Brown - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
No question there are holes in Brown's game. But, they're easier to forgive when you remember that he's a 6'6 center with the potential to control the game in all facets. He loves taking the puck just inside the redline and bullying his way into the offensive zone. He's just so hard to separate from the puck. His speed isn't terrific, but it doesn't make him a less effective player off the rush. I do think that it prevents him from being more explosive in the offensive end though. He works the boards so well, but he doesn't have the separation ability that a guy like Mike McLeod does to go hard to the net. I'd also like to see Brown shoot the puck more and find more time to hang out near the crease for garbage goals/deflections. But that's part of the warts with Brown. The speed and the intensity need to improve, yet, he's still a point per game player who's growing into his frame. Where will his game be when he's filled out? That's why he's still a definite first round pick IMO. 

8. Alex Debrincat - Forward - Erie Otters
The little engine that could. His goal scoring numbers have dropped off from that torrid pace he started the year at, but that was to be expected. At the end of the day, Debrincat is still a offensive dynamo who leads the OHL in goal scoring as a draft eligible player. His shot and release are the best in the OHL. Generates such enormous velocity on his wrist shot and is so quick to loose pucks that goaltenders often don't even see the puck coming. Sure he's small, (5'7 is really small by NHL standards), but players like Tyler Johnson and Johnny Gaudreau are proving that small players can succeed in today's NHL. Debrincat possesses the two most important qualities that small players need. Speed and tenacity. Speed to beat defenders one on one, to get to loose pucks, and to evade checks. And tenacity to win battles that they shouldn't win on paper, and to play the game harder, and to want the puck more than the opposition. Despite the size concerns, he's still a first round pick IMO.

9. Olli Juolevi - Defence - London Knights
While some scouts still seem to favor Juolevi to Sergachev, I just don't see it. IMO Sergachev's potential is far greater. That said, Juolevi is still a very solid prospect (otherwise I wouldn't have him inside the top 10). He's a very calm and collected player who operates at both ends very efficiently. I really like how he starts the transition game. Can evade the forecheck with good mobility, or make a great first pass out of the zone and that's critical for the Knights' juggernaut offensive attack. He picks his spots to jump up in the rush, but I don't think he's got a ton of scoring potential. Defensively, he's proved to be a very solid one on one defender who uses his stick and mobility to stay ahead of attacking forwards. He'll use that same smarts to gain position over forwards in the corners, or to deflect passes in the slot. All in all, Juolevi is just a very solid two-way defender who's not flashy, but is very effective. Does that put him at risk of falling before June though?

10. Will Bitten - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Bitten has had an absolutely fantastic first half to his season in Flint. He's emerged as the offensive leader of the Firebirds, pacing them in scoring by a large margin, and keeping them in the hunt for a playoff spot. Bitten reminds me a lot of Spirit forward and Lightning draft pick Mitchell Stephens. Plays the game with a ton of energy, regardless of the situation. He gets his nose dirty on the forecheck and the backcheck and is a very good player without the puck. I love how active his stick is in the neutral zone and while working the penalty kill. But Bitten's best quality is his speed. He might get the most breakaways of any player in the league because of his first step quickness and game breaking speed. Bitten also has very good hands and a great wrist shot to finish off plays that he creates with his speed. I expect him to continue to battle hard for a rebuilding Flint team, but then really explode at the U18's where he could play a critical role (and his speed will look fantastic on the big ice).

11. Nathan Bastian - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
The big power forward has been one of the league's most improved players this year. Since being elevated to the first line with Mike McLeod and Alex Nylander, he's been an absolute force. His skating has improved greatly from last year and it's allowing him to be a big time factor both offensively and defensively. He creates a ton of space for McLeod and Nylander, by barrelling his way into the zone and by winning a ton of battles along the wall. He's become a very physical player on the forecheck and has no issue with throwing defenders to the ice to gain possession. While his physical gifts are no doubt impressive, I actually love the decisions he makes with the puck off the rush. He's got great vision and poise for a big power forward, which makes him the perfect compliment to Nylander and McLeod. As mentioned, Bastian is also a very solid two-way player who also uses his size to disrupt on the backcheck and to win battles in his own end. I wanted to put him higher, but I'm just not sure the goal scoring ability is top notch to the point where he could be a big time producer at the next level. Reminds me a lot of Nick Paul and I think he could be a solid second/third line winger and powerplay guy.

12. Adam Mascherin - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Mascherin, a former 2nd overall pick, has been a consistent force all season for the Rangers. Small, but stocky, he's built like Max Domi, so I don't think there's any concern over him being 5'9. Mascherin is terrific in every area of the offensive zone. I love his ability to use his low center of gravity to keep defenders on his back, in order to utilize his killer wrist shot. I also really like his energy when battling for loose pucks and working the corners. He moves the puck very well in the cycle and exhibits patience and vision to create plays when the hole opens up. His skill level with the puck and his drive to make his linemates better, is a perfect compliment on the wing to a guy like Ryan MacInnis. 

13. Taylor Raddysh - Forward - Erie Otters
Not flashy at all, just efficient. Raddysh is a big bodied winger who is a terrific complimentary offensive weapon because of his hockey sense and ability to play without the puck. He does a really good job of finding open space in the offensive end, filling lanes and going hard to the net without the puck. Similar to Nathan Bastian, he is also a great playmaker who demonstrates poise along the wall and off the rush. His speed and overall skating ability is only average (and that will hold back his draft position), but you can't teach the cerebral components to his game. When you combine that with his size and potential as a puck protection player, you've got a solid second round pick IMO. As he gets even stronger, I think we'll see an increase in his goal scoring numbers. 

14. Markus Niemelainen - Defence - Saginaw Spirit

Behemoth defender at 6'6, who plays a very safe game. The Finnish import is great at using his stick defensively and is already a very solid positional defender. I really like how quickly he starts the breakout, and does a fantastic job with his first pass. As the season has gone on, we're slowly starting to see him take chances offensively where he jumps up in the play or leads the rush out of his end. With good mobility, I wonder if the offensive potential is higher than what we're currently seeing. The point shot will definitely have to improve in order for that to happen, but at 6'6, as he gains strength, I'd be surprised if that didn't become a weapon eventually. He certainly makes good enough decisions with the puck to quarterback a powerplay. Is there really all that much separating Niemelainen from Olli Juolevi? 

15. Dmitri Sokolov - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Admittedly, a tough player for me to peg still. I don't feel like I've got a great idea of his game yet, nor his potential at the next level. And I'm sure I'm not alone in that, after all the blowouts the Wolves have been on the other end of this year. That said, I do expect the young team to be better in the second half and that will give us a better read on guys like Sokolov. Here's what I've determined thus far. His potential as a goal scorer is quite high. He protects the puck very well in traffic and has a great wrist shot. However, he doesn't seem to play with consistent intensity, especially without the puck. I also can't tell if his sluggish appearance on the ice at times is due to conditioning, effort, or skating ability (or all three). But when he's on, he can be a force with the puck and that has me intrigued. 

16. Victor Mete - Defence - London Knights
Like any smaller defender, he seems to create quite polarizing opinions. I continue to be a supporter. I think he's made great gains this year, compared to where he was last year. I see a player with more intensity in his own end, and who is doing a better job of using his skating ability to defend off the rush. I also see him playing more intelligently offensively, limiting his reckless pinches, and poor choices with the puck. At the same time, he's continued to be an offensive catalyst who can transition very quickly from his own end. And he's looked great on the point of the powerplay this year. The scouts who don't like him seem to question his ability to defend the corners and in front of the net, and also question his overall hockey sense and effort defensively. Again, I'm seeing a player who has made great strides in all areas of his game since entering the league. 

17. Givani Smith - Forward - Guelph Storm
I really believe in this player's potential. A pure, throwback power forward who looks to make a big hit every shift. Despite Guelph's struggles this year, I've found him to be a noticeable player no matter the score and I admire that. Without an incredibly talented playmaker to skate with, I don't think we've seen all that Smith is capable of offensively. He's a solid North/South guy, and he's got very good hands, but he's not yet ready to be the go to guy on his line. That's not to say that he won't develop that ability, but his inconsistent output can be credited to that IMO. I think the potential for him to be one of those picks who emerges as a top flight talent is very high. That said, I'd like to think that he's a lock for the U18 team at the end of the year, where he'll get a chance to show his stuff with better offensive players. He could be a monster at that tournament (cough, a perfect linemate for Will Bitten, cough).

18. Sean Day - Defence - Mississauga Steelheads
At this point, it's hard to rank Day this high. I've got three defenders behind him that are having (without question) better seasons than Day. But, I think you've got to look at the big picture still. And the big picture says that Day still possesses immense potential at the next level based on his physical gifts. On a midseason ranking, I think you bump him down (which I have from 13 to 18), but you don't discredit his ability completely. Still have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Come May/June, if things haven't changed, then make a more drastic change. Day is still a 6'3, 230lbs defender who possesses elite mobility. He's shown an increased willingness to use his body to punish opposing forwards this year and does seem to be developing a mean streak. It's offensively that he remains frustrating to watch. Can be very casual with the puck at times and seems hesitant to really take over games the way he's capable of. When, if at all, does that killer instinct kick in?

19. Cam Dineen - Defence - North Bay Battalion
Thanks to playing at over a point per game over the last two months, Dineen is now 2nd in league scoring among defenders as an OHL rookie. The New Jersey native has been a revelation for Stan Butler and the Battalion. His quickness and overall ability to rush the puck is already among the best in the OHL. He is really driving North Bay offensively, by starting the breakout quickly and efficiently. Has proven to be very aggressive in jumping up in the rush and I love how Butler has taken the reigns off of him a little bit. I think the best thing about Dineen is that he's still learning and improving as a powerplay QB, which means he could be even better offensively when he gets more confidence in using his shot. Since his return from injury, Dineen and Avs prospect Kyle Wood have formed a very formidable number one pairing. Defensively, I already think that there have been improvements made, especially in his reads. He's actually seeing some PK time now, when paired with Wood. Being that he's a shade undersized, and he's an OHL rookie, strength needs to be upgraded in order to be more effective in his own end. But based on the projection we're already seeing, and the fact that Stan Butler is his coach, I think Dineen is a prospect who is seriously on the rise. 

20. Logan Stanley - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
Stanley has been making a lot of waves lately as scouts and scouting agencies have begun ranking him inside the first round. I'm not there yet, even if I have been impressed with the improvements he'd made in his sophomore season. My feeling is, teams haven't had much success over the last ten years taking hulking, stay at home types in the first round. In fact, you're just as likely to hit on those players with mid round picks (or even FA signings). That shouldn't take anything away from Stanley. He's a solid prospect. I just don't see him as a first rounder right now. Defensively, he's a very impressive player. I love his aggression in using his size and reach to prevent entry into the offensive zone. He loves stepping up into the neutral zone, or at the blueline, using his long reach to break up plays. His above average mobility makes him a tough guy to get around one on one too. Offensively, I do see potential. He's starting to look more comfortable skating the puck out and he's generally pretty calm under the pressure of the forecheck. But, I'm not sure the offensive hockey sense or puck skill is good enough for him to develop that side of his game to the point where it will be an asset at the next level. Can be prone to turnovers when he tries to do too much. At the end of the day, he's a terrific prospect trending upwards. I'm just not sold on him being a first rounder. 

21. Cole Candella - Defence - Hamilton Bulldogs
Was playing some fantastic hockey before breaking his wrist (has there been a team in the East with worse injury luck than Hamilton this year?). He should return sometime soon in the New Year, where he'll be looking to pick up where he left off. Candella is a solid two-way defender who plays a ton of minutes for the Bulldogs. Following the gruesome injury to captain Justin Lemcke, Candella really stepped up to become the leader of the defensive corps (an impressive thing for a sophomore defender). He can impact the game in a lot of ways, whether it's with a great outlet pass, or a strong pokecheck of an incoming attacker. Just a very smart player who should only get better as he gets stronger and is insulated by better players. 

22. Jordan Kyrou - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Has really picked up his game of late after struggling mightily to start the year. Since the acquisition of Matt Mistele, the two have found very good chemistry and it's allowed Kyrou to simplify his game a little bit and get back to the things he does well. Early on, I felt like he was trying to do too much offensively and had developed a bit of tunnel vision. And he also wasn't displaying the type of energy we had become accustomed to away from the puck. But, as I said, all of that has changed in the last month or so. He's back to being a major factor on the forecheck and in the neutral zone, forcing turnovers and looking to be aggressive with his entrances to the offensive zone. Having a guy like Mistele on his line has opened up a bit more room for him to operate and he's back to showcasing that terrific vision and playmaking ability that he did as a rookie. His December production has been very impressive (especially since most of that damage was 5 on 5 because he sees little powerplay time), and if he continues that production over the rest of the year, he'll move back up into early 2nd round consideration.

23. Boris Katchouk - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The rugged rookie winger has proved to be an excellent addition to the Greyhounds lineup this year. One could actually argue that he's been their most consistent offensive player. Katchouk plays a solid North/South game, attacking well on the forecheck, working the boards, and going hard to the net (with and without the puck). Because of his hard work in the offensive end, he's quite often the beneficiary of scoring chances and he's done well to capitalize on most of those, showing great hands in close. With size, speed, grit, and an improving skill set, Katchouk looks like a solid 2nd/3rd rounder with the upside to develop into a terrific energy guy at the NHL level.

24. Tim Gettinger - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
One of the more disappointing draft eligible players this year for me. I expected the gigantic forward to have a huge year (pun intended), and that just hasn't been the case. At 6'6, and with great speed, Gettinger's potential package is still too big to ignore. But his play on the ice this year has been pretty indifferent (save for a great performance at the Ivan Hlinka). I think he's a player still in search of an identity; a guy who has yet to realize how to use his size most effectively at the OHL level. Too often he tries to play the skill game, trying to beat multiple defenders, instead of dumping it in and using his size to gain and maintain possession. Last year as a rookie, he showed a lot of promise as a net presence, but I haven't seen him parked out near the crease enough in my viewings of the Soo this year. I've seen some people question the hockey sense, but I honestly don't think that's it. I truly believe we're just looking at a very raw player who's yet to find his niche and confidence at this level. 

25. Keaton Middleton - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
It's interesting to compare Middleton to Windsor's Logan Stanley, considering Stanley is currently receiving first round consideration from many. Right now, Stanley is most definitely the superior player. But is their NHL potential really all that different? Both are hulking defenders with raw offensive games with the potential to be big time shutdown defenders at the NHL level. The real difference IMO, is Stanley's aggressiveness and confidence in jumping up to the neutral zone/blueline to use his size to make plays. Too often, IMO, Middleton allows the attacking forwards to bring the battle to him, engaging them too late and playing too passive one on one. He's super aggressive in the corners and in front of the net, which is great. But to really take his game to the next level, I'd love to see him be harder to play against in all facets of the game. Offensively, he's still relatively passive with the puck, so it remains to be seen just how much that part of his game can grow. I do honestly believe that the potential here is very great.

26. Connor Bunnaman - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
A natural center, Bunnaman has been playing a lot on the wing this year and he's looked good doing so. At 6'3, 200lbs, he's a real big body and I love how he controls the boards and the cycle game. His ice time has definitely fluctuated with the depth of Kitchener's lineup, but he's always noticeable on the ice because of how hard he works away from the puck. There's definitely an element of skill to his game though. I think he is a very cerebral player, and I see a lot of potential as a goal scorer with his heavy shot. I suppose the question is, moving forward, is he a winger or a center? If he can continue to upgrade his skating, I think he could be a very dominant two-way center who can control the possession game. In that role, he'd have a ton of value to an NHL team, at least more than he does as a North/South energy winger.

27. Travis Barron - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Like the rest of his teammates, Barron has had a very tough month of December. There's no question his game is more than what he contributes on the score sheet. But, with how little he's been able to find the net this year, I do think that you have to wonder just how high is NHL potential is. A great forechecker, two-way player, and overall energy guy, Barron is also a potential future captain at any level he plays it. But, at times, he seems unsure of what to do with the puck on his stick. His confidence offensively really needs a big boost. When you compare him to a guy like Boris Katchouk, Barron is the more hyped player, but Katchouk brings similar qualities to the table, yet is proving to be the better offensive player right now.

28. Cliff Pu - Forward - London Knights
Doing a lot right now without quality ice time (no powerplay time, fluctuating ice time 5 on 5). London has certainly been no stranger to having their 3rd/4th line players drafted, only to develop them into fantastic NHL prospects (cough, Christian Dvorak, cough). Pu is a potential power forward who really excels at driving the net, coming down the wing. He's already quite strong on the puck and is able to operate very effectively off the rush. Away from the puck, he engages physically and has really gained the trust of the coaching staff as a dependable role player in a very deep lineup. In particular, I think he's got a ton of potential as a goal scorer because the hands are good and his wrist shot has great velocity. 

29. Tye Felhaber - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Small sample size (8 points in his last 4 games), but it really looks like Felhaber has finally awoken from his slumber. Easily one of the most talented 98's in the OHL, Felhaber looked (quite honestly) lost to start the year. Not sure if the cut from the Ivan Hlinka team crushed his confidence, but he certainly did not look like the same player who often dazzled as a 17 year old rookie last year. Way too many offensive zone turnovers from trying to do too much with the puck and not enough effort without the puck to make him noticeable for the right reasons. But, as mentioned, he's really turned things around of late. He's been utilizing his speed to buzz around the offensive zone again and has been working harder without the puck to get himself in great position to use his fantastic wrist shot. He can really dominate shifts with his ability to control the puck. But the effort level working the boards and the backcheck has been increasing too. Let's hope that this a return of the real Felhaber, and that he continues this torrid pace to close out the year. He'll certainly move back up draft boards quickly if that's the case.

30. Tyler Parsons - Goaltender - London Knights
Have to give credit where credit is due. To start the year, Parsons would definitely not have been my top rated goaltender from the OHL. And I must say, I'm still a little bit leery of it. But, you have to commend him on the way he's played this year. He's been without a doubt, the best of those first time draft eligibles. Sure, he plays for the London Knights, but he's been getting better and better as the season has gone on, gaining confidence (and should be applauded for his invite to the U.S. WJC camp). I don't think he's the most athletic netminder available, and he's definitely not the biggest, but he does a good job of making tough saves look easy because he tracks the play well and is solid positionally. And his rebound control has already improved a lot from his rookie season. Early on, I thought that London might upgrade in net, but I think that with his play of late, the Knights seem confident that Parsons can be their guy to lead them to the Memorial Cup. Again, he deserves credit for that.

Honorable Mentions
31. Jonathan Ang - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Just on the cusp of being inside my Top 30. Extremely quick and skilled, and his play away from the puck has improved, but I do still have questions as to how well his game will translate to the next level.

32. Dylan Wells - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
Canada's starter from the Ivan Hlinka has had a downright awful start to the season. Seems to have really lost his confidence, giving up bad goals, not tracking the play well. Still has the most potential of any goaltender in this OHL class though and that needs to be reflected in the rankings.

33. Evan Cormier - Goaltender - Saginaw Spirit
Figured he'd be right there with Wells, neck and neck for the top goalie available. And while his year hasn't been as bad as Wells', it hasn't been great either. Has been playing better of late, even if the stats don't necessarily show that. Gets hung out to dry a lot by Saginaw's inconsistent defence.

34. Jack Kopacka - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Started the year very well, but has slowly been pushed down the depth chart thanks to indifferent play. Certainly has potential as a strong two-way player, but seems both hesitant to engage physically at times, and to take chances with the puck. 

35. Nicholas Caamano - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Definitely moving up my list. Big body who has shown great chemistry with Will Bitten on Flint's top line. Excels near the crease and knows and accepts his role on the line with the speedy Bitten. If he keeps it up, he'll crack my top 30 come season's end.

36. Ben Gleason - Defence - Hamilton Bulldogs
Trade to Hamilton has done wonders for his game. Is really excelling as an offensive defender and has really improved his ability to lead the rush. Defensively a work in progress, but I think he's also being asked to do too much on a weak Bulldog's team.

37. Alan Lyszczarczyk - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
I guess we better learn how to spell his name. Has proved to be an excellent FA signing by the Wolves. Speed and skill off the wing and plays the game with little fear. Inconsistencies can be explained by a lack of strength. 

38. Kyle Maksimovich - Forward - Erie Otters
Another undersized offensive firecracker on the Otters. While not as small as Debrincat (5'9), he's still undersized by NHL standards. Is a terrific energy guy who is the perfect compliment on a scoring line (blocks shots, kills penalties, goes to the net). I do wonder what the offensive potential for the next level is though.

39. Domenic Commisso - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Since being elevated to the top line in Oshawa, Commisso has been a revelation. He's not huge, but he's impacting the game in a lot of ways. He's showing great hands in the open ice and creating off the rush. He's playing physical on the forecheck and winning big faceoffs. If he keeps up this level of play, there's no question that he continues to rise on my list.

40. Stephen Dhillon - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
Gained some confidence at the Ivan Hlinka and has carried that into the OHL season. Good sized goaltender who's shown flashes of brilliance for the inconsistent IceDogs. After the WJC's, isn't likely to see many starts, but has probably done enough to be a late round pick.

41. Austin Osmanski - Defence - Mississauga Steelheads
Tall, lanky defender who has been a real surprise for the Steelheads. Protects the crease and is smart defensively. Has shown flashes offensively too. Definitely some potential there.

42. Christopher Paquette - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Struggling a bit with the role that Marty Williamson is asking him to play this year. A highly skilled center who's in more of an energy/defensive role right now. Has good size down the middle and could explode if the Dogs upgrade their secondary scoring on the wing. 

43. Joseph Raaymakers - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Interesting player to watch in the second half depending on what happens with Halverson. Definitely a potential starter. Inconsistency has kept his draft ranking down this year, but he should eventually be a solid OHL starter. 

44. Jordan Sambrook - Defence - Erie Otters
When he's gotten the chance to see more ice time (injuries, WJC's, etc), the OHL rookie has done a lot with it. Solid at both ends of the ice. Could be a potential late round steal depending on how much we see him in the second half.

45. Zach Poirier - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Hard nosed center has been better lately. Not ideal size for the type of game he plays, but he is the prototypical Butler esque two-way center. Development of his goal scoring ability key moving forward.

46. Troy Timpano - Goaltender - Sudbury Wolves
Has returned from injury and is playing some good hockey. Still gets hung out to dry a lot by a weak Wolves defence, but is making more big time saves and is getting his confidence back. Likely still the goalie of the future for the Wolves.

47. Michael Pezzetta - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Big bodied center who has some speed and potential as a puck protection beast. Has upped his physical game this year, but goes through stretches of disappearing completely offensively. He's been out for a few weeks now with an upper body injury.

48. Luke Kutkevicius - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Has been making the most of his 3rd/4th line ice time. Hard working center who battles for every inch on the ice and actually has good playmaking instincts IMO. Could be a tad undersized for the type of game he plays (in the NHL's eyes), but as he gets stronger, he could be a force at both ends.

49. Nicolas Mattinen - Defence - London Knights
Has been making the most of increased ice time as of late. Could be the team's biggest trade chip at the deadline. Great size at 6'4, 220lbs and I've been impressed with how much he's already improved this year. Could be a guy to watch in the second half.

50. Noah Carroll/Brandon Saigeon - Defence/Forward - Guelph Storm/Hamilton Bulldogs
Decided to lump these two together. Probably the two most disappointing players in this draft crop thus far. Both "B" rated prospects before the season and now looking like long shots to get drafted. Carroll appears to have lost all confidence in his offensive game and struggles to get noticed defensively when his team is constantly battling in their own end. And Saigeon has been largely invisible. Inconsistent in every way imaginable. Needs to get back to playing physical and keeping the game simple in the offensive end. Thought he looked like a Mike Richards clone last year, but this year looks like a borderline OHL player, let alone an impact guy. Still time for both to turn things around.

Monday, December 7, 2015

OHL Trade Deadline Preview

The 2016 OHL Trade deadline is set for January 8 and 11. January 8th is the deadline for overage players to be dealt. January 11th is the deadline for all other deals.

We've already had several high profile players move, but I think we're far from done. The Eastern Conference is completely wide open. Barrie, Niagara, Kingston, Ottawa, Peterborough, and Mississauga are all in the running and should be looking to make the upgrades necessary to take home the Conference. In the West, there isn't quite as much parity, but we've still got a few teams who surely believe that this year is their year. More importantly, we've got a lot of teams who will look to sell to recoup assets in non competitive years.

To sum it up, I expect this to be a very busy deadline.

I present to you a look at some of the high profile players who could be (and likely will be) trading places before the 8th/11th. I've also tried my hand at predicting the most logical destination for said players.

Connor Chatham - Flint Firebirds
New Jersey Devils draft pick who was sent back for his overage season in Flint. Chatham has had a decent season and would be a great depth add for a competitive team looking for more physicality from their 2nd or 3rd line. If paired with a great playmaking center, I could see Chatham doing even better offensively too. In terms of possibilities, London (if they move Hidi/Burke), Mississauga, Niagara, Sarnia, and Windsor (if they move Soberg/Hughson) would be the only realistic destinations for overage players (competitive teams with openings). There's no certainty that the Firebirds do look to make moves, but I think it makes sense. I really could see him in London (perfect Knights player) or Niagara/Mississauga. He was already rumoured to be part of that Niagara deal, but since that didn't happen, I doubt he goes there.
Prediction: Chatham goes to the London Knights for 3rd rounders in 2017 and 2018 (then London waives Jack Hidi).

Alex Peters - Flint Firebirds
In his return from a serious knee injury, Peters hasn't had the type of season Flint was expecting of him this year. While he is currently their captain, Peters' offensive game just hasn't progressed to make him a dominant defender at both ends. A high end NHL draft pick, Peters could certainly use a fresh start to convince the Dallas Stars to sign him by June 1st. Combine the Firebirds opportunity to rebuild, with (perhaps) pressure from the Stars organization, and I think Peters is definitely a candidate to move. His size and physical ability could make him a valuable asset to a contender looking to upgrade their top 4 and PK before the deadline. I could see Barrie and Ottawa really looking at him. Of course, the Firebirds could also choose to not deal their captain in a season that has had some interesting ups and downs.
Prediction: Peters goes to Barrie in exchange for Justin Murray and draft picks (3rds in 2016 and 2017).

C.J. Garcia - Guelph Storm
This is an interesting one. Garcia is a terrific defender and currently the captain in Guelph. They need his leadership in an incredibly tough season for young players. He's also a guarantee to return for his OA season next year. However, here's something to consider. Guelph isn't likely to be much better next year. If Garcia's value is at it's highest (before being an OA), would it be smart to deal him now and really capitalize on a great return? There's no question that teams would be lining up to add him. In particular, I could see London and Mississauga being very interested. Definitely a conundrum.
Prediction: Garcia goes to London in exchange for Nicolas Mattinen, Eric Henderson, and a 3rd in 2016.

Justin Nichols - Guelph Storm
If there is one player who is guaranteed to go at the deadline it's Nichols. The Storm are currently carrying 4 overagers, one of which is Michael Giugovaz. Nichols wants to finish his OA season competing for an OHL championship and his vast experience in the league should make him the top goaltender available behind Alex Nedeljkovic (who has already been dealt). I definitely think Sarnia is the top contender based on the fact that they have an OA spot available and are definitely looking for an upgrade in net. London, and Windsor could also be candidates.
Prediction: Nichols goes to Sarnia in exchange for 2nds in 2016 and 2017.

Stephen Harper - Hamilton Bulldogs
I see Harper being one of the most coveted players at the deadline, despite being an overager. He's having a fantastic season and his size down the middle is often a necessity for team's vying for a Championship. As mentioned above, London, Windsor, Mississauga, Niagara, and Sarnia all make the most sense right now for OA players. In particular, Mississauga could really use the size down the middle behind that fantastic McLeod, Nylander, Bastian line. 
Prediction: Harper goes to Mississauga for Brendan Harrogate, a 2nd in 2016 and a 2nd in 2019

Mason Marchment - Hamilton Bulldogs
Marchment is having a very good season as an overager. He brings grit and skill on the wing and could be a great depth add who also has playoff experience with Erie. Problem is, is there a team out there with OA room that would be willing to add Marchment over some of the other players out there? London could certainly upgrade their top 9 by acquiring Marchment and management would be very familiar with him. Windsor is also a possibility. As is Niagara, where his size and physicality would look great on their 2nd line.
Prediction: Marchment goes to Niagara in exchange for a 3rd rounder in 2017 and a 4th in 2016. 

Charlie Graham - Hamilton Bulldogs
Make no mistake, Charlie Graham is a terrific netminder. Unfortunately, he's never really had top notch support in front of him during his OHL career. Finally an overager, Graham could certainly be secretly hoping a contender wants his services for the stretch run. Sarnia, Windsor, and London could all be candidates if they view Graham as an upgrade over what they currently have. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that ends up happening. Justin Nichols is most certainly going to be the highly coveted OA goaltender and Jake Smith is probably 2nd. Just isn't enough open spaces around the league for him. But you never know. 
Prediction: Graham stays in Hamilton.

Mike Amadio - North Bay Battalion
North Bay has already lost Zach Bratina (retirement) and Miles Liberati (trade) which points to them trying to recoup some of the assets that they traded away last year. Amadio is one of the league's most underrated stars. He's having a fantastic season and would be able to jump into any team's top line or provide elite secondary scoring on the 2nd. He's also a tremendous penalty killer. He has 4 goals and 4 assists on the penalty kill this year (which is insane). I could see Peterborough, Kingston and Erie really going hard after him. Only issue is that I don't know if Erie would have the assets to get it done (and I can't see them wanting to trade Lodnia which it would likely take). 
Prediction: Amadio goes to Peterborough for Zach Gallant, and three 2nd's (in 2016 and 2017).

Mathew Santos - North Bay Battalion
An incredibly hard working overage winger who would be a valuable addition to a competitive team's 3rd line. Question is, is there a market for him? So few teams have the OA room. In reality, if the Battalion do trade Amadio, they would need a new captain and Santos would be the ideal candidate for that. After all, the Battalion will likely still be a playoff team after any trades they make.
Prediction: Santos stays in North Bay

Kyle Wood - North Bay Battalion
Wood missed the start of the season with an injury but has since returned. He's got great size, but is actually more of an offensive defender who could really elevate a team's powerplay unit. A team like Ottawa would be a great fit, as he would fit very nicely into their lineup. Ditto for a team like Mississauga, Erie, or Barrie. North Bay has the depth on defence to deal him and still survive (just as they did at the beginning of the year).
Prediction: Wood goes to Ottawa in exchange for Ben Fanjoy, 2nds in 2016 and 2018.

Jake Smith - North Bay Battalion
As I've mentioned a bunch of times already, the OA market isn't great this year. Especially when we're talking about a goaltender. Smith is a great one though and has a ton of playoff experience. The question is, which player would a team like Sarnia want, Smith or Nichols? At the end, I see Smith finishing out his OHL career in North Bay, helping the Battalion try to upset someone in the opening round.
Prediction: Smith stays in North Bay.

Michael Dal Colle - Oshawa Generals
At this point, I think it's inevitable that Dal Colle moves. Oshawa has committed to the sell now mode and Dal Colle is a piece that they need to use to regain the assets that they've traded away in recent seasons. The interest is no doubt going to be massive. Regardless of need, any team in the league could use his services (even if he's not having the best of seasons by his standards). Kitchener and London seem to be generating the most rumours. Then there's the rumour out there that he'd only accept a deal to London, Barrie, or Erie. I think Erie could use him the most, but they just don't have the assets (again unless they move Lodnia). It goes without saying that anyone trading for Dal Colle is going to have to give up a top quality '98 or their first rounder from this previous priority selection (a top '99). Don't sleep on Peterborough jumping into the conversation. They've got the assets (guys like Gallant, Ang, and TONS of draft picks). I guess we'll see.
Prediction: Dal Colle goes to Kitchener for Connor Bunnaman, and 4 seconds (2016 and 2017).

Jacob Graves - Oshawa Generals
Veteran overage defender is tough as nails and could provide great depth to a contending team looking to upgrade in that department. Problem is, I'm not sure I see any of the competitive teams, currently with OA spots open, looking to add in that department. Of course, we could always see a team surprise by moving a forward OA out in order to shore up their defence (say maybe a Sarnia with Davis Brown, or Kingston with Conor McGlynn), but I don't see it happening.
Prediction: Graves stays in Oshawa

Anthony Cirelli - Oshawa Generals
Perhaps a surprising name for people to see here. But a few things to ponder. One, Cirelli is one of the only non overage centres who could be available outside of Mike Amadio, which means he'd have a ton of value. Oshawa seems pretty committed to the rebuild and Cirelli isn't likely to be around for that (as Oshawa should be even worse next year). By the same logic, Mitchell Vande Sompel could be available (although I see him moving next year). There are a few teams who could really use some help down the middle, in particular Kingston, Peterborough, Erie, and Sarnia. Kingston looks like a great suitor for Cirelli, as they'd love to add his grit and playoff experience to their lineup as they look to lock down the East. 
Prediction: Cirelli goes to Kingston in exchange for Robbie Burt, and 2nd's in 2017 and 2019.

Thomas Schemitsch - Owen Sound Attack
Owen Sound is still in the loop to finish 6th in Conference and they've got the talent to do so. However, there's no question that they lack the offence to compete with the big boys in the West. So does that mean that they retool and sell off a couple of big assets? Schemitsch isn't likely to be around next year and there's no question that he would fetch a ton in a trade. A team like Sarnia, Kitchener, or Kingston could make a huge splash by going to get a player of his ilk. The Peterborough Petes are another team who could target Schemitsch to help their struggling powerplay. I could definitely see him staying, however I'm going to operate under the assumption that someone out that makes an aggressive offer for him.
Prediction: Schemitsch goes to Peterborough in exchange for Matthew Timms, a 2nd in 2016 and a 3rd in 2017.

Jaden Lindo - Owen Sound Attack
Like Schemitsch, Lindo is an integral part of the Attack, a team currently battling for 6th in the Conference. His grit and scoring ability are crucial to Owen Sound's already thin offensive attack. If a contending team came knocking, I could see them moving him. However, I also think he could be a candidate to return for his OA year (to continue to grow his offensive game). As such, I think Owen Sound hangs on to him.
Prediction: Lindo stays in Owen Sound

Damir Sharipzyanov - Owen Sound Attack
Sharipzyanov hasn't had a terrific year after signing his NHL contract with Los Angeles this summer. The rugged Russian defender can impact the game at both ends, but hasn't found his groove yet this year. But he'd be a great add for any contending team, where he could quarterback a secondary powerplay unit, provide physicality and solidify a top four. As an Import, his list of possible destinations is obviously short. Sarnia and Peterborough are two contenders with Import spots open who could look to improve their backend. 
Prediction: Sharipzyanov goes to Sarnia for a 2nd in 2016 and a 3rd in 2017.

Dylan Sadowy - Saginaw Spirit
Things haven't gone quite according to plan in Saginaw this year. Many people expected them to be among the best in the Conference this year and the probable division winner. Yet, their young stars just haven't taken that next step. Still with a young core, the Spirit should contend next year. That means that they'd be smart to deal off a few veteran players to get players who can help next year, and/or draft picks which they can use to add next year and beyond. Sadowy is one of the core players in Saginaw, however he hasn't had the best of years (after last year's breakout). He's a hard nosed guy who can play in all situations and he'd be a great add to any roster. In particular, I could really see whoever loves the Dal Colle sweepstakes targeting him as a cheaper option. Erie, in particular, would be a great fit. A winger with some size and grit who could help to strengthen the 2nd line.
Prediction: Sadowy goes to Erie in exchange for Jordan Sambrook and draft picks (2nd in 2016, 3rd in 2016).

Will Petschenig - Saginaw Spirit
Like Jacob Graves (mentioned earlier), Petschenig is a veteran OA defender who is tough as nails and would be a fantastic add for any team hoping to make a Cup run. The advantage he has over Graves is his playoff experience gained with Oshawa. As mentioned, a team like Kingston or Sarnia could look to bring him in and move out another overager. But, again, I just don't see it. And, of course, one of the competitive teams with overage room (London, Niagara, Mississauga) could look to bring him in and use that spot on defence. But, again, I don't see it. I see him finishing out as a Spirit, helping some young defenders there improve.
Prediction: Petschenig stays in Saginaw

Gabe Guertler - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The Greyhounds are certainly not a bad team. But they're a young one who's inconsistencies have prevented them from gaining ground in the standings. I don't see them making many moves, but I could see them trading away overage scoring forward Gabe Guertler. If they can get a couple decent draft picks for him, that would help them restock for future runs (which could include next season). I've mentioned at length the teams that have serious OA room. And it's likely his destination is one of those spots. Windsor would make a ton of sense IMO (if they jettisoned Soberg), but I just don't see them making many moves. Cost for Guertler would probably be a quality draft pick and I don't see Windsor doing that. Sarnia would also make a lot of sense. His speed and playmaking ability would really elevate their secondary scoring unit. He could be a great candidate to upgrade the production of the likes of Mistele or Korostelev. 
Prediction: Guertler goes to Sarnia in exchange for a 2nd in 2018 and a 4th in 2017 (Sarnia then waivers Davis Brown).

Tyler Hore - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Like Graves and Petschenig, Hore is an overage defender who could really elevate someone's defensive group. But, the spots for OA's are few and far between. As such, I see him staying put where he can mentor some of the Soo's great young defenders (like Colton White).
Prediction: Hore stays in the Soo.

Brandon Halverson - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Halverson is a real wild card that not many people are talking about. The Greyhounds could look to retool and Halverson could be highly coveted. SSM has Joseph Raaymakers already waiting in the wings and I don't think there is any doubt that they would have no issue handing the reigns off to him. Of course, the problem is that Halverson hasn't played incredibly well this year. Would a contending team be willing to pay top price for him considering that he may not actually be much of an upgrade over what they currently have? While he could move, I don't think he will. His play this year just hasn't been strong enough, which is a real shame for the Hounds.
Prediction: Halverson stays in the Soo.

Matt Schmalz - Sudbury Wolves
Schmalz is a hulking forward who I definitely see moving before the deadline. Big body who can drive the net and score goals. He's certainly not a playmaker and his play away from the puck remains inconsistent, but with the right linemates, he could really flourish. London is a team that could really use his size in their top 9, filling a role that big Mike McCarron did last year before the trade to Oshawa. They've lacked that dimension since he departed. Barrie is another strong candidate for his services. 
Prediction: Schmalz goes to London in exchange for a 2nd in 2017 and a 3rd in 2018.

Patrick Murphy - Sudbury Wolves
The overage defender has been great for Sudbury this year, producing at a great clip offensively. I don't think he's got a ton of value, so he could be a great buy low candidate for a team looking to add a bit of veteran leadership to the backend. One team who could really use him is Windsor. He'd be able to fill the role that they thought Trevor Murphy was going to do this year and he wouldn't cost them a lot (which is important because they're building for next year). 
Prediction: Murphy goes to Windsor for a 4th in 2017 and a 4th in 2018 (then Windsor waives Markus Soberg).

Troy Timpano - Sudbury Wolves
Once thought to be the goaltender of the future in Sudbury, things appear to have changed. Timpano wasn't playing well, then got injured. As a result, the Wolves brought in Zack Bowman, who has been fantastic. They also have Matthew Menna, and Jake McGrath (both of whom have shown potential this year, although McGrath has been in Tier 2). This could make Timpano a trade candidate. I see a team like Mississauga inquiring about him, since they don't really have much in the way of a future starting netminder. I could actually see Guelph being interested in him too.
Prediction: Timpano goes to Mississauga for a 2nd in 2018.

Nevin Guy, Evan De Haan, Nathan Todd - Ottawa 67's
Another one of those inevitable deals. Problem is, which one goes? The 67's are currently operating with 4 overagers and we know what that means. Sam Studnicka is going nowhere. That means it's between Guy, De Haan, and Todd. Quite frankly, I can't see Todd being the odd man out because he's got good chemistry with some of Ottawa's forwards and can be used in all situations. And the 67's just don't have the depth up front. That leaves us with De Haan and Guy. Flip a coin. I think Guy has been a bit better this year, so I see De Haan being the odd man out.
Prediction: The Oshawa Generals pick up De Haan off waivers from Ottawa.

Would love to hear your predictions in the comments section.