Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2016 NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings

Past the halfway point of the season now, NHL Central Scouting has updated their rankings for 2016.

Here's a look at how the OHL players fared. A total of 67 were ranked (highest I've seen in years). And of course, if you wanted to compare, here's my midseason top 50.

1. Matthew Tkachuk (1)
2. Jakob Chychrun (2)
3. Alex Nylander (3)
4. Olli Juolevi (5)
5. Michael McLeod (6)
6. Mikhail Sergachev (10)
7. Max Jones (11)
8. Logan Brown (14)
9. Nathan Bastian (19)
10. Alex Debrincat (20)
11. Logan Stanley (23)
12. Tim Gettinger (28)
13. Boris Katchouk (32)
14. Jack Kopacka (33)
15. Taylor Raddysh (34)
16. Will Bitten (42)
17. Sean Day (43)
18. Jordan Kyrou (45)
19. Markus Niemelainen (46)
20. Ben Gleason (53)
21. Keaton Middleton (55)
22. Adam Mascherin (57)
23. Victor Mete (58)
24. Travis Barron (60)
25. Givani Smith (63)
26. Cole Candella (65)
27. Stepan Falkovsky (79)
28. Noah Carroll (80)
29. Connor Bunnaman (81)
30. Cliff Pu (83)
31. Christopher Paquette (87)
32. Riley Stillman (88)
33. Jordan Sambrook (90)
34. Dmitri Sokolov (91)
35. Brandon Crawley (96)
36. Nicolas Mattinen (103)
37. Konstantin Chernyuk (104)
38. Dante Salituro (106)
39. Kyle Maksimovich (111)
40. Cam Dineen (117)
41. Alan Lyszczarczyk (119)
42. Domenic Commisso (123)
43. Anthony Salinitri (126)
44. Jonathan Ang (137)
45. Tye Felhaber (139)
46. Drake Rymsha (143)
47. Nicholas Caamano (148)
48. Austin Osmanski (153)
49. Ben Hawerchuk (159)
50. Brandon Saigeon (160)
51. Hayden Verbeek (164)
52. Luke Kirwan (166)
53. Justin Murray (171)
54. Ondrej Kachyna (173)
55. Luke Kutkevicus (180)
56. Christian Mieritz (182)
57. Max Kislinger (194)
58. Zach Poirier (199)
59. James McEwan (202)
60. Justin Brazeau (207)

1. Joseph Raaymakers (4)
2. Dylan Wells (5)
3. Tyler Parsons (6)
4. Evan Cormier (7)
5. Troy Timpano (14)
6. David Ovsjannikov (23)
7. Stephen Dhillon (25)

For the full list, head over to NHL.com to check out (HERE).

My thoughts:

1. Biggest discrepancies between my list and NHL CSS.
Noah Carroll (+22)
Jack Kopacka (+20)
Riley Stillman (+19)
Ben Gleason (+16)
Konstantin Chernyuk (+14)
Nicolas Mattinen (+13)
Tim Gettinger (+12)
Chris Paquette (+11)
Jordan Sambrook (+11)
Boris Katchouk (+10)
Cam Dineen (-21)
Dmitri Sokolov (-19)
Tye Felhaber (-16)
Michael Pezzetta (-14) - only player in my Top 50 not on the CSS list
Jonathan Ang (-13)
Zach Poirier (-13)
Nicholas Caamano (-12)
Adam Mascherin (-10)

2. The trend lately has been to drop Jakob Chychrun in the rankings, and I'm glad to see that NHL Central Scouting didn't do that (I was actually worried he'd be lower). His season this year hasn't been as good as last, but he's looked way better since Sarnia has improved the offense around him and I think he'll have a really good second half of the season. Still the best defender from the OHL available.

3. I am absolutely befuddled by the Cam Dineen ranking. We've got an OHL rookie who leads the entire league in defensive scoring and you're telling me that there are 17 better defensive prospects from the OHL ALONE? It's more than stats too. Watch North Bay play and he drives their offense. He's also already improved defensively and is starting to see PK time under Stan Butler. The size isn't terrific, but what makes similarly average sized defenders like Ben Gleason, Victor Mete, and Riley Stillman better (and don't get me wrong as I like all three of those players too)? We've been starting to see Dineen up near the early second in rankings of late (Craig Button's comes to mind), so this is a shock. Can't agree at all.

4. I'd love to hear the reasoning behind some players being quite high despite relatively poor showings in the first half (Carroll, Kopacka, Gettinger, Paquette). I believe in the potential of these players, but the on ice performance doesn't justify the ranking at this given time. Several other players who were highly touted coming into the season have been punished for their slow starts (Felhaber, Saigeon, Sokolov). What makes them different? Again, I think that represents inconsistency.

5. Among the goaltenders, Stephen Dhillon's is also very shocking to me. Netminder with great size who has performed very well in a small sample size this year. Has some areas to improve upon, but I'd say he's a heck of a lot closer to the likes of Wells and Cormier, than he is to David Ovsjannikov (no offense meant to him).

6. Overall, it's good to see the OHL dominate these rankings. 7 of the first 11. 19 of the first 46. Those are pretty good percentages. More evidence that this is a great year for the Ontario Hockey League when it comes to the draft.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2016 OHL Trade Deadline Report Cards

OHL players can now sleep easy as the 2016 OHL trade deadline has come and gone. Many players have said goodbyes. But with a new team often comes new and rewarding challenges. Many of these players will get the chance to play deeper into the playoffs and perhaps win an OHL championship. While others will receive increased responsibility and ice time in hopes of catching the eye of NHL scouts.

Many of the teams in the league were active in the past month. Several teams (Sarnia, Barrie, Niagara, Kingston, etc) loaded up for deep playoff runs. Other teams (Oshawa, Hamilton, Saginaw, etc) made moves to rebuild so that they can be good again in the years to come.

For this article, I'm cutting off trades at the beginning of December. So any trades made before December won't be factored into a teams grade. No sense assessing a team's ability to trade over the course of the season (even the last month or so is a bit of a stretch).

Let's do some grading!

Eastern Conference

Barrie Colts
In: Keigan Goetz, Dylan Sadowy, Greg DiTomaso, Cameron Lizotte, David Ovsjannikov, Anthony Stefano, Draft Picks (2, 3, 4)
Out: Brendan Lemieux, Brandon Prophet, Tyler Rollo, Rocky Kaura, Draft Picks (2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Analysis: Barrie was definitely one of the most active teams in the OHL over the last month. Some pretty significant roster turnover for them. It started off with the Lemieux trade which made sense for the Colts (considering it was something both sides allegedly wanted). Value wise it probably wasn't a terrific return, but Stefano is going to be a valuable piece for Barrie this year, and next (as an OA). Then they essentially swapped Prophet for Lizotte. I thought Prophet had done a great job since being acquired by Barrie last year, but Lizotte represents a nice upgrade in the physical and shot blocking departments. And he'll be around for a couple more years too (year younger than Prophet). Even though they gave up a ton for Dylan Sadowy and Greg DiTomaso, I really like those acquisitions. Sadowy gives their second line a big upgrade (or first line if they decide to bump Justin Scott). And DiTomaso gives Barrie another good puck mover to take some pressure off of Rasmus Andersson. Lastly the Keigan Goetz move is a solid underrated pick up. His stats aren't great this year, but he's a super hard worker who will elevate the quality of their 3rd or 4th line. Overall, Barrie was super aggressive in going for the jugular in the Eastern Conference and you have to commend that. They lose a few points for value given up, but sometimes you have to give to get.
Grade: B+

Hamilton Bulldogs
In: Luke Kutkevicius, Kaden Fulcher, Evan Krassey, Kyle Locke, Jack Hidi, Draft picks (2, 2, 3, 5, 7)
Out: Stephen Harper, Mason Marchment, Charlie Graham, Maurizio Collella, Draft picks (3, 7, 10)
Analysis: The overage market can be a tricky one to assess. On one hand, the Bulldogs traded (arguably) their three best players and didn't get near the return that some other team's received for their stars (look at the haul Saginaw just got for Sadowy and DiTomaso). But, you've got to remember that all three players were overagers. The going rate just isn't as high. All things considered, the Bulldogs did decent. Picking up three 98's who have a chance to be a part of this team for a while was important. Kutkevicius has impressed me this year with his effort and hustle in the offensive zone and with his dedication to play away from the puck, he's going to quickly become a favourite of George Burnett. And Fulcher can hopefully push Connor Hicks for the starter's job (even if his first start didn't go according to plan). There has been some criticism that Hamilton should have done more (like trading Cramarossa or Trent Fox), but I disagree. This is a team trying to sell themselves to a new market (or an old one if you prefer). They have a chance to be a competitive team next year and they need to see how that works out. If it doesn't, they'll still have a chance to blow it up next year too.
Grade: B

Kingston Frontenacs
In: Michael Dal Colle, Liam Murray
Out: Robbie Burt, Brett Primeau, Draft picks (2, 2, 3, 3, 3)
Analysis: Hard to argue with the deadline activity of the team who managed to acquire the top player. Picking up Dal Colle was a coup for Kingston, a team badly in need of a pure scorer to take some of the pressure off of Spencer Watson and Lawson Crouse. The results thus far have been great too (3-1 record and Dal Colle has 10 points in 4 games). Sure the price was high, but Kingston is all in this year (especially when you factor in the Desrocher deal too). Liam Murray was also a good depth add who gives the team another solid stay at home guy who can play on the 2nd or 3rd pairing and help out the PK. My only gripe was that I felt that the Frontenacs needed to go out and get a top flight center to help with depth and perhaps push Warren Foegele and Juho Lammikko back to the wing or down in the lineup (again to give the team another solid scoring line). But the likes of Mike Amadio, Dante Salituro, and Anthony Cirelli didn't end up moving so it's not like the Fronts missed out on anyone either. Just don't know if they're the top team in the East following the deadline. Definitely the best team in their division though.
Grade: B

Mississauga Steelheads
In: Mason Marchment, Joseph Murdaca, Draft picks (3, 9)
Out: Luke Kutkevicius, Cameron Zanussi, Draft picks (4, 7)
Analysis: Not a bad deadline for the Steelheads, but not a great one either IMO. Mason Marchment is an underrated player who will give Mississauga more scoring depth on the wing and should really help to take the pressure off of Owen Tippett and Ryan McLeod, who have been (at times) asked to do too much for rookies. On the other hand, the Steelheads were already lacking depth down the middle and they dealt Kutkevicius away as part of the deal to bring Marchment in. Cant help but wonder if they would have been better off targeting a center for that open overage spot. And the Sean Day saga continues to become a distraction, as he remains a Steelhead despite heading home for over a week. Perhaps his value isn't great right now, but I still see it as a lost opportunity to move in a bit of a different direction. Are the Steelheads really a better team now (and in the future) after this deadline? Not sure. In the meantime, two division rivals greatly improved themselves. 
Grade: C+

Niagara IceDogs
In: Alex Nedeljkovic, Stephen Harper, Tyler Boston, Josh Wesley, Draft picks (7, 15)
Out: Brent Moran, Evan Krassey, Ryan Sarris, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 5)
Analysis: Kudos to Marty Williamson on this one. The IceDogs managed to address every weakness on their roster. The team's goaltending had been very inconsistent, so they went out and got one of the league's top goaltenders (who has been nothing short of sensational since the trade). The team's scoring depth was lacking, especially down the middle. So in comes Stephen Harper and Tyler Boston. And Josh Wesley helps to solidify the team's third pairing, which had previously suffered through some struggles this year. And they did it all without having to give up talented '98's Chris Paquette, and Stephen Dhillon, or either of their first rounders from this year (Davis and Jones). With a top notch defence and  star goaltender, as well as three solid scoring lines, Niagara might just be the favourite to come out of the Eastern Conference. It'll be interesting to see Barrie and Niagara fight it out for the division down the home stretch.
Grade: A

North Bay Battalion
In: Maurizio Collella
Out: Kyle Locke
Analysis: This is a tough one for me. Earlier this year, the Battalion did great in getting a solid return for Miles Liberati and bringing in Daniil Vertiy. But this is a deadline review and we need to assess based on the parameters I laid out. North Bay has been playing some great hockey of late and they currently sit 5th in the East, but are within striking distance of 4th. It's obvious that Stan Butler believes his team could be a real underdog in the playoffs and that they've got a real chance at home ice advantage in the first round. Playoff experience is valuable and Battalion teams are always a tough out in the first round. Keeping Mathew Santos and Jake Smith was the right move. But, I just wonder about the return that Mike Amadio and Kyle Wood could have brought back considering the lack of talent available at their positions. Were teams offering? Was Stan listening? If North Bay could have gotten back a first round '99 for each player, would Stan have done it? Something tells me that neither player was really on the market though, with the hopes of making that playoff push. Right now it looks to be potentially smart. But what if North Bay falters and finishes 7th in the Conference and is ousted in the first round? Do we look at not moving Mike Amadio in the same light as the mistake the Storm made with Robby Fabbri last year? Maybe a lost opportunity. The grade I give definitely comes with a huge asterisk. If North Bay makes some noise in the playoffs, Butler looks like a genius. If they don't, this looks idiotic. The grade I give is definitely still a TBD
Grade: C+ (with the chance to become a B or a D)

Oshawa Generals
In: Justin Nichols, Eric Henderson, Robbie Burt, Sean Allen, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 6)
Out: Michael Dal Colle, Matt Mistele, Jacob Graves, Liam Devine, Draft picks (3, 3, 3, 5, 10)
Analysis: I really like what the Generals did on the trade market the last month or so. They dealt the guys they needed to deal (Dal Colle, Mistele, Graves) in order to capitalize on their final year in the league. And they managed to bring back some quality young players who could excel with increased ice time moving forward. Henderson, Burt, and Allen can all hopefully grow as part of the new core of this team. And all the draft picks will go a long way to helping this team with their rebuild. Lastly, I really like the low cost acquisition of bringing in Justin Nichols. Don't let all these deal fool you, Oshawa still wants to make the playoffs and bringing aboard a veteran like Nichols can help in the dressing room. Getting this young team some more playoff experience is really important (see Kitchener last year). Oshawa has taken some criticism for not trading guys like Vande Sompel and Cirelli, but they'll both still have tons of value next year and I think they will in fact increase their value (especially Vande Sompel). No real risk in hanging on to them to maximize the return.
Grade: A-

Ottawa 67's
In: Sasha Chmelevski, Chase Campbell, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 5, 5)
Out: Travis Konecny, Sam Studnicka
Analysis: The package that the 67's got for Konecny and Studnicka was mighty impressive. Sasha Chmelevski could be a star in this league and he's a big time get, as are all the draft picks (especially that Owen Sound 2nd which could be quite early). But, I'm not sure I understand moving Konecny, if you're not going to go full fledged with the rebuild. Ottawa was clearly worried about Konecny making the Flyers next year, so they wanted to make sure they got a big return for him. But, why not move Salituro, Middleton, Addison, or any of the other OA's? With some major holes heading into next year, I can't see Ottawa being extremely competitive and I think they need to tear it down a bit. Salituro's value will never be higher. And Middleton and Addison both could play professionally next year too, and if not, will also have decreased value as overagers next year. I understand the desire to stay competitive, as they push for home ice in the first round, but I think Ottawa really missed on an opportunity to start over fresh and collect some great young assets. But you have to give them credit for the return in the Konecny deal, and they're playing good hockey lately. However, I just would have gone in a different direction.
Grade: B-

Peterborough Petes
In: Brandon Prophet, Tyler Rollo, Troy Henley
Out: Cam Lizotte, Draft picks (4, 8)
Analysis: When Cam Lizotte walked away from the Petes, it definitely came as a big shock. And I think that Peterborough did a great job handling that deal. Brandon Prophet is a solid OHL defender who can replace Lizotte's toughness and size on the backend. He's a bit older and only has one more year in the league (pending he returns as an OA, which seems like a slam dunk), which obviously hurts compared to Lizotte being a year younger. But you've got to do what you've got to do to win now. Which brings me to my next point. At one point this year, Peterborough was right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference and competing for the division. But poor play the last month or so has caused them to slide to 7th in the Conference. To compound things, the Petes seemed content to sit back at this year's deadline. Where's the sense of urgency? This team is guaranteed to lose their top 3 scorers next year (Garlent, Betzold, Cornel), as well as their top defenseman (Masin). With 11 2nd rounders at their disposal over the next 6 years, wouldn't it have made sense to go out and improve this club which has reached the climax of a few years of rebuilding? Another offensively oriented defender (someone to start the breakout and do a better job quarterbacking the league's worst powerplay) could have gone a long way. Ditto for another scoring option to give the team more depth. With Kingston, Barrie, Niagara, and even to an extent, Mississauga getting better through trade, I just don't think you can sit back and watch. Especially when you've got the necessary ammo to make a move. The Petes are a team that just seems content to be mediocre. This grade might be an "F" if it weren't for doing a good job of salvaging the Lizotte situation.
Grade: D+

Sudbury Wolves
In: Ryan Valentini, Jarett Meyer, Draft picks (4, 7)
Out: Chad Heffernan, Matthew Menna, Trenton Bourque, Draft picks (2)
Analysis: Sudbury didn't do a whole heck of a lot, save for a few minor moves. And to be honest, that was expected. The Wolves didn't have much to deal, save for some overagers. And the OA's that Sudbury has really didn't have a ton of value. In that sense, it's better to keep them around as leaders of a young group that has been playing better lately and who has definite playoff aspirations next year. I will say that this grade is influenced by giving up a 2nd rounder for Ryan Valentini. Sure it's a pick in 2019 (a year where the likes of David Levin, and this year's top pick will be in their prime, so Sudbury should be highly competitive), but it's still a 2nd rounder for a '97 who had yet to even prove himself as an OHL player and who was a free agent signing by London. Take a chance on players like that...sure. But not at that price.
Grade: C+

Western Conference

Erie Otters
In: Mitchell Webb, Draft picks (10)
Out: Frankie Pucci, Draft picks (10)
Analysis: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. At least that's the mantra Erie seemed to take on at the deadline this year. The OHL's top team stood pat and chose not to make any additions. Problem is, all of their rivals did and have made themselves better because of it. Keep in mind that Erie didn't have a ton of assets to work with (only 2 2nd round picks over the next 6 years), but I'm still somewhat surprised that they didn't go out and upgrade their forward unit. The first two lines have been firing on all cylinders all season long, but if history means anything, it's those teams that are 3 or even 4 lines deep that are capturing league crowns (and the Memorial Cup) these days. And I don't think Erie is that. If an injury happens, they just don't have the depth to make up for it. In the playoffs depth is king. A guy like Hayden Hodgson (who moved at the deadline) would have looked great alongside Betz and Pettit on a physical, veteran 3rd line. While Erie is a great team, I don't think they're good enough to be as content as they were to remain status quo.
Grade: C

Flint Firebirds
In: Luke Kirwan, Brent Moran, Matthew Menna, Keenan Reynolds, Brendan Johnston, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 3, 3)
Out: Alex Nedeljkovic, Josh Wesley, Connor Chatham, Draft picks (2, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Analysis: The circus in Flint this year continued towards the deadline, as GM Terry Christiansen was let go pretty quickly after the Connor Chatham/Luke Kirwan deal. Coach John Gruden was subsequently promoted to GM. Firing your GM right around the trade deadline just doesn't seem like a great idea. Then there were the actual trades themselves. I actually don't have as much of an issue with the Luke Kirwan deal as others seem to. People are quick to forget that Kirwan was once thought to be a Top 10 player among his age group (not just in the OHL, but as a potential NHL draft pick). He has been a huge disappointment in the OHL thus far, but he's obviously a talented player working through some things. You don't finish 2nd in scoring at the U17's by accident (which Kirwan did in 2014 on the way to a gold medal). Coincidentally, John Gruden was the head of the US Development Program that year, so he's obviously extremely familiar with Kirwan's game and has a relationship with him. I think the two areas that Flint really messed up on were the Nedeljkovic/Wesley deal, and not dealing Alex Peters. When you look at the returns for some of the players around the league, Niagara got an absolute steal of a deal from Flint. By not getting back a quality 99 (one of Davis or Jones) in the Nedeljkovic deal, I think Flint really messed up. And even if Alex Peters is their captain, this is a rebuilding team who looks to be missing the playoffs. The return for Peters could have likely been pretty high (have to figure at least a couple high end draft picks). You've got to capitalize on that and move forward with the rebuild. Give Will Bitten the captaincy and let the team build around him. Then there's the fact that Flint gave up a 6th to bring in Brendan Johnston for depth, only to then give up a 7th for Matthew Menna and demote Johnston. I understand the Johnston deal was made prior to the WJC's to cover for Nedeljkovic. And I also understand that Kyle Keyser is injured and is out for the season, but in hindsight, it's still poor asset management. All in all, just not a strong first year for the franchise.
Grade: D

Guelph Storm
In: Draft picks (3, 3, 3, 5)
Out: Tyler Boston, Justin Nichols, Rights to Robby Fabbri
Analysis: Tough sledding for Guelph this year. Not trading Robby Fabbri last year is going to be a decision that haunts this franchise for a few years I think. Somehow they did manage to get a 3rd out of him this year (craziness), but it pales in comparison to what his value would have been at the deadline last year. But, we've got to grade them based on this year alone. Finding homes and getting back solid draft picks for Boston and Nichols was good. However, we're also looking at a team without many quality draft picks over the next two years (they don't own their 2nd this year or next). Not exactly great for a rebuilding team. Going to put a TON of pressure on the scouting staff to hit on every draft selection in order to make this current rebuild a successful one. I don't see the Storm being much better next year either. And what 96's or 97's will be of interest to competitive teams at a premium cost then? Honestly, not many and that's not a good thing. Guelph management certainly isn't leaving much room for error when it comes to working it's way through this rebuild (and let's be honest, this season has already contained several errors, like two wasted Import draft selections).
Grade: C

Kitchener Rangers
In: Rights to Robby Fabbri, Liam Devine, Draft picks (3, 10)
Out: Sean Allen, Draft picks (3, 6)
Analysis: Kitchener did it's damage on the market earlier this year when they picked up Miles Liberati, and signed Jeremy Bracco. The team has also had MAJOR issues on the injury front this year and hasn't really yet had the opportunity to play together as a full unit. In a lot of ways, it's been incredibly impressive that they've managed to maintain the league's 3rd best record in spite of all of this. Offensively, this team has a ton of depth and now that they're healthy, we should see them roll three fantastic scoring lines and really put a dent on score sheets. I don't blame them for not making a move there. And defensively, the team is underrated and the Liberati move really addressed the need for a puck moving defender. Tough to give the Rangers a top grade (because it's not like they did anything), but it's certainly not a failure for them either. That said, trading an unconditional 3rd for Robby Fabbri was absolutely asinine. Sonny Milano is worth a conditional 15th rounder, yet Fabbri is worth 10x that? Just not a good use of assets. There's no chance St. Louis sends Fabbri back considering how well he's played lately (recently upgraded to the first line), with all the injuries they've had, and the fact that they've already burned a year off of his ELC. Conditional deal...sure. But the unconditional terms just didn't make sense. But I guess if by some miracle Fabbri does come, I'll be the one who looks like an idiot.
Grade: B-

London Knights
In: Jacob Graves, Chad Heffernan, Rights to Sonny Milano, Draft picks (2, 3, 10)
Out: Jack Hidi, Eric Henderson, Ryan Valentini, Draft picks (4)
Analysis: I have to be honest. I'm a little bit shocked that London didn't do anything major at the deadline. Now I know that most people expect next year to be their year, but that's not a guarantee. Christian Dvorak will be gone (the player I consider to be the glue to this year's team), and Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk are no guarantees to return (with the chance of cracking NHL rosters). If that's the case, there's no chance London is as good next year as they currently are. Picking up Jacob Graves wasn't a bad move (especially since it only cost them Eric Henderson, who didn't look like he was going to be given much of a role in London), because they also got a 3rd back. But, is he really much of an upgrade over what they were putting out there on a nightly basis? Mattinen and Bouchard have been looking more comfortable lately. Kind of a redundant deal. Why not use that OA spot to go out and get a top notch forward who could add some experience to the 3rd line? Of course, the wild card is Daniel Bernhardt, a New York Rangers 4th rounder, but his production in Sweden has been less than stellar this year and there's certainly no guarantee that he jumps into London's lineup and provides a spark. The Sonny Milano gamble was also smart (because it was conditional), but that's already been squashed as not happening. So did London get better? I really don't think so. And will it be enough for them to succeed in the playoffs? Again, I'm just not sure. Seems like the team really is banking on next year being their year. Better hope Tkachuk and Marner return. Their grade is still decent because of the draft pick value they got back in dealing spare parts, but at the end of the day, the deadline grade is all about team improvement (now and in the future).
Grade: B-

Owen Sound Attack
In: Trenton Bourque, Draft picks (5)
Out: Keenan Reynolds, Jarret Meyer
Analysis: I think Owen Sound really dropped the ball on this one. This is a team that has a very solid young core thanks to drafting very well the last two years (this past year especially). The Attack also have some veteran players (Schemitsch, Sharipzyanov, Lindo, their OA's) who should have had some serious value on the trade market. The team could have dealt these players for picks and more quality young players to continue a short rebuild and help the team moving forward. Of course, maybe the Attack have been told that the aforementioned three will all be returning as OA's next year, but it seems unlikely to me. At the end of the day, Owen Sound runs the risk of losing in the first round badly (no guarantee that they hold on to that 6th spot) and losing some of their key players without getting anything back in return. When you factor in the fact that the Attack don't have a 2nd rounder this year, it becomes even more concerning. There's a real solid young base here and I think management has done a great job of building that up, but I also think that they should have continued to build by dealing away a few quality veterans to help make this team as strong as it can be next year and the year after. 
Grade: D

Saginaw Spirit
In: Hayden Hodgson, Rocky Kaura, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10)
Out: Dylan Sadowy, Greg DiTomaso, Devon Paliani, David Ovsjannikov, Mitchell Webb, Troy Henley, Draft picks (2, 3, 4)
Analysis: I definitely like what the Spirit did leading up to the deadline. First let's look at the addition of Hayden Hodgson. While the value was higher than I thought it would be, it's still a smart move. He'll be back next year as an OA and should be a valuable top 6 net presence. He's definitely the type of player who experiences a massive breakout (size and decent hands in close) in their OA season. Second, let's talk about the Sadowy/DiTomaso deal. While I would have loved to see Saginaw pick up another quality '99 (considering how good their 3 recent draft picks have played this year), beggars can't be choosers when you look at the sheer number of high quality picks they got back. This Spirit team is a very talented young group who should eventually become a top team in the Conference over the next two years. And now Saginaw has a ton of draft selections (11 2nd rounders alone) at their disposal to try and make upgrades to allow the team to take that next step. Very smart asset management.
Grade: A-

Sarnia Sting
In: Travis Konecny, Sam Studnicka, Matt Mistele, Charlie Graham, Devon Paliani, Draft picks (2, 3, 4)
Out: Hayden Hodgson, Sasha Chmelevski, Chase Campbell, Kaden Fulcher, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 5, 5)
Analysis: As I mentioned in the Niagara write up, I always commend teams for going for it in this league. Success is so cyclical and you never know what can happen with players returning/not returning, so when you've got a good team, I feel like you need to be aggressive on the market to improve. Sarnia has done just that. They needed to upgrade their goaltending with a veteran presence. Check: Charlie Graham (although I would have preferred Justin Nichols with his playoff experience). They needed to badly upgrade the scoring talent surrounding Pavel Zacha. Check: Konecny, Studnicka, and Mistele. And they managed to recoup some draft picks by dealing Hayden Hodgson. The early returns have been excellent too. I think this team has geared itself up for a strong push in the playoffs with the specific players they brought in. Mistele won a Memorial Cup last year. Travis Konecny is one of the top, on and off ice, leaders in the league and gives it all every shift. And Sam Studnicka is one of the league's top faceoff men, obviously an important skill in the playoffs. The best part is that Sarnia managed to make all these moves and should still be quite competitive next year too (especially if Konecny returns). Only gripe is the fact that they didn't make a move to improve their defense with another veteran presence. Maybe a top flight offensive guy to take some pressure off of Jakob Chychrun? Let the race for the West Division begin!
Grade: A-

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
In: Frankie Pucci, Draft picks (2, 6)
Out: Keigan Goetz, Draft picks (10)
Analysis: A pretty quiet deadline for the Greyhounds, which was a bit surprising considering all the rumours surrounding the team in the recent month. Ultimately, I think the Hounds made the right choice hanging on to Guertler and Hore, to help mentor some younger players during the push for the playoffs. They've still got a shot at 6th in the Conference and that would be great for their talented group of 98's and 99's to experience. This SSM team has positioned itself incredibly well for another run next year. Getting back a quality draft pick for depth player Keigan Goetz was a very shrewd move. My only issue is that the Soo's cupboard in terms of draft picks is pretty bare moving forward. They don't have a 2nd until 2021. So if they want to improve their roster next year, where will the return ammo come from? Ultimately I would have moved Brandon Halverson, if there was a serious market for him (of course). Joseph Raaymakers would get the reigns next year anyway and I think it would be great for him to experience the starter's role the rest of the way (especially in the playoffs). Would London, Windsor, or Sarnia have given up significant assets for him? At least the Hounds have drafted well in recent years which means they'll have some good young players to deal should they want to use them in deals instead of draft picks. Not every team has that luxury.
Grade: C+

Windsor Spitfires
In: Connor Chatham, Brendan Lemieux, Mads Eller, Ryan Sarris, Brett Primeau, Draft picks (2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 6)
Out: Luke Kirwan, Anthony Stefano, Liam Murray, Brendan Johnston, Draft picks (2, 3, 15)
Analysis: Tale of two sides for me when analyzing Windsor's deadline. On one hand, I love the deals that they made. They brought in three veteran players who can help push this young team deep into the playoffs and make sure that they hold on to that West Division lead. Chatham, Lemieux, and Eller all play the game hard and will be valuable in the playoffs. The Spits also managed to bring in some decent draft picks that they can use next year when they should be one of the league's top teams. And it cost them a few guys who weren't really working out on the current team anyway. Now, on the other hand, I think Windsor dropped the ball a bit by not using that final OA spot on a veteran goaltender (like Justin Nichols) to mentor Michael Dipietro for the rest of the year. Mads Eller should be a valuable player, but he's not likely to be a top 6 guy. Using a spot on him, instead of an OA goaltender just wasn't smart IMO. As good as Dipietro has been this year, I don't think you want to risk over working him down the stretch. You want to give your team the best chance they have to win every night (to ensure the division crown). You want to make a push in the playoffs, and you want to make sure your goaltender of the future develops great habits and is ready for next year's starting role on a potential Memorial Cup team. Again, love the moves they did make, but just wish they had brought in that goaltender.
Grade: B

Who do you think were this year's winners and losers?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing (2016)

This is a yearly tradition (take a look at the Sunday Top 10 sidebar for other years). It's time to take a look at the top overagers in the OHL, available to be signed by NHL teams.

For the first time in a few years, none of the players on this list have signed an NHL contract already, but even if they had, they would still be included. This list intends to rank players according to the likelihood that they continue their career at the professional level. 

Likely half of the players on this list will not end up getting a professional contract and will play in the CIS. It's the nature of the beast. The bottom line is that a few will and many will not (be signed) and those players who do not, will take advantage of their education package while continuing to play a high level of hockey at a Canadian University.

It's important to note that this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team (like Matt Mistele). This list is for those players who are NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on their birth date).

Here's the list:

10. Sam Studnicka - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Fits the mould of the "lunch pail player." That's certainly not meant to be a knock on him either. Studnicka plays the game the right way, with his heart on his sleeve. The 6'1, 200lbs center is used in all situations by the 67's and has been one of the team's most important players the last two years. Currently serving as the team's alternate captain, Studnicka is one of the league's top faceoff men and is also terrific away from the puck. Offensively, he's got good hands in close to the net and he knows his role is to go hard to that area (with or without the puck). He could certainly serve as a solid energy guy at the next level, who can kill penalties and tire out opposing defenses below the hash marks.

9. Jack Flinn - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
I don't think there is any doubt that his size is going to intrigue NHL teams. At 6'8, Flinn covers a TON of the net. His movements in he crease are a little awkward, but when he drops down into the butterfly, he's very hard to beat. He's also improved a lot in terms of his rebound control over the course of his three year OHL career, progressing from a pure puck stopper, to a guy who can control the play and swallow up rebounds. He's been very consistent for Mississauga this year, the stabilizing force the team needed between the pipes. I could definitely see an NHL team taking a chance with him, to see if their goaltending coaches can continue to improve his athleticism, and positioning. 

8. Nick Betz - Forward - Erie Otters
Betz is a hulking power winger who has succeeded greatly since being elevated to a scoring line in Erie last year. This year, he's been doing a lot of damage on the second line of the Otters, so it's not as if he's been riding the coattails of Debrincat or Strome. His skating is only average, but his ability to control the boards and move without the puck makes him a valuable complimentary offensive piece. With his size (6'5, 220lbs), he could be a valuable net presence on a 3rd or 4th line at the next level, especially if he continues to improve his skating. Spent a lot of time at Detroit's camp this offseason (rookie tournament and main camp), so perhaps they'll still have interest in him.

7. Brandon Robinson - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Started off the season guns a blazing with 7 goals in the first 7 games, but has been mired in a bit of a scoring funk since. He also missed pretty much the entire month of December with an upper body injury. Robinson was once a highly thought of draft prospect, but injuries and inconsistency have prevented him from really establishing himself as a serious NHL prospect. However, he had a very solid year last year (might have been Kitchener's best forward), and I've long believed in his NHL potential. He's got great size at 6'3, 215lbs, has deceptive speed, especially coming off the wall, and he can be a real physical force out on the ice. Depending on his health, and how he finishes off his last OHL season, he could certainly move up on this list too (even if I only put out one). 

6. Greg Betzold - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Betzold's offensive explosion has been long overdue, expected by OHL followers several years ago, and not just in his overage season. But, better late than never. Peterborough's leading goal scorer this year, Betzold is a very powerful player who excels in a North/South game. He's very strong on the puck, and with an above average skating ability, is great at taking the puck to the net. He's also got a solid wrist shot, which he has learned to utilize coming down the wing. Without the puck, Betzold is a very effective forechecker who relishes in the opportunity to play physical in puck pursuit. I definitely think that he's got the potential to play as a 3rd/4th liner at the next level based on his physical gifts and improving offensive game. 

5. Devin Williams - Goaltender - Erie Otters
I don't think there's any doubting that Williams has been one of the top two netminders in the league this year (along with Mackenzie Blackwood). After a rough year last year, where he battled major inconsistency issues, Williams has re-established himself as a frontline starter in the OHL (after emerging as one in 2014). Williams doesn't have the elite size that NHL teams covet in the position now, but he does have terrific athleticism, as he moves very well in his crease. As such, he's able to be aggressive in challenging shooters, with the opportunity to recover quickly. His rebound control and ability to fight through traffic to see pucks has improved this year, after being a bit of a sore spot last year. 

4. Lucas Peressini - Goaltender - Kingston Frontenacs
Last year's OHL goaltender of the year, Peressini has been nearly as good this year, backstopping the Frontenacs to a division lead thus far (a place many people did not expect them to be). Over the last 20 years, only one winner of the OHL goaltender of the year has not gone on to sign a professional contract immediately following the conclusion of his OHL career (Michael Ouzas), so the odds are certainly in Peressini's favor. He's got good fundamentals in the crease (positioning, rebound control, reads, etc), and he also has good size. Would be really surprised if he's not playing in the AHL/ECHL next year.

3. Jordan Maletta - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
You have to really give it up to Maletta. He has worked extremely hard to transform his game after struggling in his first two years in the league. The former Windsor Spitfires first rounder has improved every year since a trade to Niagara and has become an integral player for them the last two years. Maletta has become a very complete player who uses every inch of his 6'3 frame to play in all three zones. His puck protection ability has become a real asset and his wrist shot and release are pro caliber. Maletta also happens to be one of the best faceoff men in the OHL. With his size and skill set, he should certainly attract attention from NHL scouts hoping to find a quality 3rd/4th line center. 

2. Miles Liberati - Defence - Kitchener Rangers
There's almost always a player like Liberati on this list. Last year it was Joseph Blandisi. That is, a player who returns to the OHL as an overage free agent after having his rights let go by an NHL team. The Vancouver Canucks let his rights expire and Liberati returned to North Bay for his overage season (only to be traded to Kitchener for a king's ransom). Liberati appears to have used this as motivation to be better as he looks like a different player this year. He's always been a solid OHL player; a guy who can lead the rush, or make a nice defensive read. But he's never been a dominant player. On many shifts this year, he's been just that, especially since coming to Kitchener. He's been super aggressive in leading the rush and jumping up in the play, showcasing an added extra gear to his stride. Defensively, he looks stronger and is playing with more confidence in the corners and in front of the net. If he continues to dominate shifts in Kitchener and leads them into the playoffs, I'd be surprised if an NHL team didn't give him a second chance.

1. Stephen Harper - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Without a doubt, Harper is the top OA free agent available. He's really the only guy on this list that I'd be willing to bet on getting an NHL contract. Has everything NHL teams are looking for. Plays a coveted position; center (check). Has terrific size; 6'3, 215ls (check). Has improved his agility and top speed greatly over the last two years, and has ironed out the issues he's had with consistency away from the puck. He's now a puck hound who's very aggressive on the forecheck and who uses his size exceptionally well to gain possession and keep it. Harper is aggressive in driving the net and is both a solid playmaker with good vision, and a good finisher with nifty hands near the crease. Put everything together and you've got a solid power center prospect built to play in today's NHL. Just don't move him back to defence. 

Honorable Mentions (according to position)

We've got two goaltenders who have nearly 70 games of playoff experience between them. They also battled against each other in the 2014 OHL Championship. Of course, I'm referring to Justin Nichols (GUE) and Jake Smith (NB). You'd be hard pressed to find two goaltenders who've had as much success as these two. As much as they battle in the crease, and do anything they can to make a save, both are undersized for the position by NHL standards. While I certainly hope both get a professional opportunity, I'm not sure it's likely. 

Michael Webster (BAR) is just a solid two-way presence who has improved a lot over his OHL career. The captain of this year's Colts' team, Webster has solid mobility, plays an intelligent game in his own end, and could continue to improve if given a chance at the next level. Will Petschenig (SAG) is a big bodied stay at home defender who relishes in the opportunity to throw his weight around in the defensive end. You'd be hard pressed to find a tougher guy. Lastly, Tyler Hore (SSM) makes this list despite not having the best of years. Still lots of time for him to turn it around. He's got the size and mobility to be an NHL defender and his offensive game has always shown potential (even if he's never really developed confidence in it).

At forward, it might be easiest to group some of the honorable mentions according to their playing style/size. We've got two undersized offensive forwards who bring great vision as playmakers to the table; Hunter Garlent (PTBO) and Gabe Guertler (SSM). We've got two big powerful wingers who play a strong North/South game; Mason Marchment (HAM) and Mathew Santos (NB). Marchment also possesses a great wrist shot, while Santos is one of the hardest working forwards in the league. Then we've got a collection of slightly undersized wingers who bring somewhat different qualities to the ice. Aaron Berisha (LDN) is a sniper who is great at finding open space on the ice. Bradley Latour (WSR) and Anthony DiFruscia (NIA) are both hard nosed forecheckers who absolutely love battling for position near the crease. And Josh Burnside (MISS) is a speedy two-way presence who has proved to be incredibly valuable to the Steelheads thanks to his ability to play defence when needed. Lastly, we've got Barrie's Justin Scott (BAR). He's been one of the most improved players in the league the last few years. He is a great complimentary offensive player because he can work the boards well, drive the net, and has finishing ability in close. Scott would have been number 11 on this list had I extended it to that.