Friday, May 20, 2016

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft - Part 4: 10-1

The triumphant conclusion to my Top 50 for this year's NHL Entry Draft.

Here is my top 10.

10. Cam Dineen - Defence - North Bay Battalion
Anthony DeAngelo, Cody Ceci, Ryan Murphy, and Ryan Ellis. What do those four players have in common? Well a couple of things. They are the only defenders in the last ten years to finish in the top 2 of defensemen scoring in the league during their draft year. They were also all first round draft picks in the NHL. This year, Cam Dineen joined that elusive club, finishing a single point behind Rasmus Andersson for the lead. The question is, will he also join those 5 guys as an NHL first rounder? I honestly think he deserves it, but we'll see what happens. I suppose you'd like an actual scouting report though and less of a history lesson. Dineen's best asset is far and away his ability to see the ice offensively. His hockey sense is elite and his brain for the game is going to carry him places. I saw North Bay a lot this year and I honestly can't remember him making a bad pass out of his own end. He also distributes exceptionally well on the powerplay and does a great job of getting a low hard point shot through to the net. The physical skills are only average (size, strength), and I'm sure there are some scouts who wish he was a little more explosive in his first few steps (he moves well and has very good overall mobility, but I do think it is a legit criticism). But you just can't ignore how well he processes the game. Physical skills can be improved upon. He can get stronger. And when he does, I'm guessing he'll become a little quicker (which will make him even that more dangerous). But that innate ability he possesses can not be taught. Defensively, he improved a ton. He initially struggled, but under defensive guru Stan Butler, he became more than adequate by season's end (even becoming a fixture on the team's penalty kill). He exhibits great patience when defending off the rush, forcing forwards to make the first move and he's really learned how to anticipate plays and defend within a coverage scheme. As he gets stronger (again, physical maturity), I think he'll become even better in that area (as he can still get outmuscled). All in all, I truly believe that Dineen deserves consideration for the first round this year. Check out my Q & A with Cam from earlier this year.

9. Nathan Bastian - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Seems to have taken a big hit in the rankings the last few months, falling from late first round consideration to the mid second (or so). But I'm most definitely still a believer. Yes, he struggled down the stretch, but I think that had more to do with James Boyd's line pairings and usage than Bastian himself. I'm a believer because I see him being a very good pro player. He's 6'4, 210lbs and can play any forward position, providing a lot of versatility to a lineup. He's also a great two-way player and a physical asset who is especially effective at using his body to gain possession in the offensive end. This is impressive to me because, believe it or not, he was drafted into the OHL at 5'11, 155lbs. He hit a major growth spurt and has taken some time to get used to the added size and how to adjust his playing style. I think that actually makes him more alluring as a prospect because I think there's still room for him to grow physically (in terms of maturity) and it's scary to think about how good he could become in possession and as a physical player. Offensively, his biggest asset is his vision and playmaking ability, something that's not common for a power forward. When partnered with Alex Nylander and Mike McLeod, he was an underrated component to their success as a unit. He opened up space, but also did a great job displaying patience and poise with the puck, drawing defenders in before making a great pass to create a scoring chance. That's why I actually think he's best suited as a center long term (he looked great there with Michael McLeod out IMO). His shot and work in close to the net needs to be better, especially for a big guy, but I think that's all part of him continuing to grow as a player. If you're patient, you might have a 6'4 two-way center who can really control the possession game and be a physical nightmare to matchup against. Or you could have a Patrick Maroon type of player who can work as a complimentary power piece on a 2nd line/3rd line.

8. Max Jones - Forward - London Knights
He certainly hasn't made a lot of fans this year with his borderline reckless physical antics. There's absolutely no doubt that he needs to play more controlled and composed. Missing a big chunk of the OHL playoffs could have really hurt his team. But as much as there is now a place for a guy like Alex Debrincat in today's NHL, there will always be a place for guys like Max Jones too. He's a throwback power forward cut from the same cloth as a guy like Wendel Clark. He brings speed. He can create off the rush with deceptively good hands (ask Jakob Chychrun). His shot is heavy and has the potential to become a major asset. Oh and I guess his physicality is a major asset (when used correctly). I suppose the major question mark for me is how good his hockey sense is. That's the key to his development and potential. The physical skills are there, but I do wonder about his ability to be scoring line player at the NHL level. The other concern I have is over how he uses his physicality. I would love to see him be more of a factor on the forecheck, creating turnovers with those thundering checks (think of the impact Tom Wilson had as an OHL player). Someone will take him, and probably early. Even if the offensive game doesn't translate, you're still looking at a Jamie McGinn/Tom Wilson type of player and that still has value. Check out Max's interview from The Pipeline Show.

7. Michael McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Let me get this straight, right off the bat. I still love Michael McLeod as a prospect. His drop from 3rd (at midseason) to 7th on my list has more to do with the way guys like Nylander, Brown, Juolevi elevated their games down the stretch, than it does his play or short comings. I still think he has the potential to develop into a very good two-way center (similar to a guy like Ryan Kesler), and is more than a 3rd liner (which some people are suggesting). After returning from that knee injury, he definitely struggled a bit towards the end of the season and at the U18's, but I still really like the skill set he brings to the table. Size and skating ability down the middle doesn't grow on trees and McLeod has that in spades. He's easily one of the most explosive skaters in the OHL. He's such a dangerous player in the neutral zone, as he routinely catches defenders flat footed, unable to keep up with his ability to gain entry into the offensive zone. He also uses that speed defensively, where he's one of the better two-way players in the OHL. His positioning and intelligence level in the defensive end is fantastic. Not only is he willing to use his size to separate players from the puck, but he also does a great job of anticipating passing lanes. I think the biggest thing holding back his offensive game is his shot. Needs to work on his release and become more confident shooting the puck. He seems to hesitate at times, and I feel like later in the year, defenders started to cheat on him a bit, forcing him to shoot rather than pass. He also has a bit of tunnel vision off the rush, and while it's refreshing to see him be so aggressive to the net coming across the blueline, or off the wall, again he can't be a one trick pony. Is that a reflection of poor hockey sense? Some might argue yes. Again, I think it comes down to a player who's still learning how to slow the game down. I'm not suggesting that McLeod is going to be a 1st line, 80 point player in the NHL. But I do think he can be a consistent 50 point player who can challenge for the Selke and wear a letter, and that most certainly has value in the 8-14 range of the draft. Check out Mike's interview from The Pipeline Show.

6. Olli Juolevi - Defence - London Knights
If I'm a team picking inside the lottery, I'm drafting the player who I believe has the highest upside. And that's why I've consistently had Juolevi ranked as the 3rd best d-prospect among the big 3 (with Sergachev and Chychrun) all season long. That's not to say that I see Juloevi as some scrub who'll end up on a 3rd pairing. It's more that I see Juolevi as that reliable 2nd pairing guy. Not incredibly flashy, but super efficient. Where as I see Chychrun/Sergachev possessing first pairing upside, and both possess better physical tools. If we're talking about Juolevi's best asset, it's most definitely his puck management. Rarely makes a bad pass or bad decision with the puck in his own end. His first pass and stretch pass might be the best of any defender in the OHL. Juolevi's skating stride is ultra smooth and his first few steps are excellent, which allows him to evade the forecheck and be calm under pressure. His shot is OK and I don't think he's naturally aggressive as a puck rusher. Thus, I don't see him being a massive point producer at the next level. But those qualities could obviously improve (and I could be wrong). Defensively, Juolevi's positioning and ability to stay with players off the rush is excellent. As is his general awareness without the puck. He's definitely not mean, and he'll likely forever be a stick/positional defender. But many guys are successful playing that way in the NHL. At the end of the day, while Juolevi isn't likely to be the type of defender who wins Norris trophies, he should be the type of guy who plays 10+ years in the NHL and plays 20 minutes a night. And that's why he's considered a near lock for the lottery.

5. Mikhail Sergachev - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
The following players have won the Max Kaminsky trophy (as the league's top defenseman) in their (original) draft year since 1990: Aaron Ekblad, Ryan Ellis, Drew Doughty, Bryan Berard, and Chris Pronger. Pretty damn good company. Bust rate = zero. Take that for what it's worth. Sergachev is an absolutely electric offensive player. Youtube and the OHL plays of the week are littered with Sergachev highlights. He's such an explosive skater and when you combine that with his puck control, creativity, and aggressiveness in jumping up in the play, you've got a defender who constantly pushes his way across the blueline to create scoring chances. I also love Sergachev's ability and poise when running the point on the powerplay. He possesses an absolute laser of a shot, specifically his one timer, which resulted in a league leading 17 goals from the blueline. Defensively, there are no doubt holes. His reads off the rush and in coverage are a work in progress. And he could stand to pick his spots a bit better when he chooses to jump up in the play. But here's the thing. The physical tools that he possesses suggest that his defensive game can and will improve. He's a willing physical combatant and can really lay the boom on forwards who try to go through him to the net. He's also a fantastic skater, which often covers up a lot of his errors at this level. If you're taking Sergachev early, you believe in his potential to be a perennial NHL all star, and I definitely see that. Bob McKenzie has stated several times that he could see Sergachev as the first defender drafted for that reason. And don't even bring up the U18's. Not a good gauge of the type of player he is, as he was asked to play a shutdown defender role on a team that had to play the majority of the time in their own end. Bottom line...I agree with Bobby Mac. Don't be surprised if this guy goes in the top 6 or 7.

4. Logan Brown - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Unlike many seem to be insinuating, Brown did not come out of nowhere these last few months. Has he risen with a strong second half and U18's? Absolutely. But we can't forget that Brown was a projected top 10 pick coming into the year. He led all 1998's in scoring in the OHL last year (as a rookie). But a poor showing at the Ivan Hlinka camp, followed by an average start (and poor middle) to the OHL season saw him drop to the late first round on many lists. But he was flat out dominant late in the year. In the final 24 games he had 38 points, including 12 multi point games. Then he put up 12 points for the U.S. at the U18's to help them capture the Bronze. But the rise is more than just production based. It's how he was doing it. The knock on Brown has always been his inability to use his size to dominate the middle of the ice consistently, in addition to a wavering intensity level without the puck. He's always been fantastic along the wall, and off the rush, using his size to protect the puck. But the second half of the year, it was like the light finally went on and Brown realized how dominant he could be if he started attacking the net with consistency. Currently listed at 6'6, he might even be bigger than that now. When he makes that power move to the middle of the ice, putting defenders on his back, he's nearly unstoppable. And he has great vision, so when he starts drawing extra attention, it opens up so many opportunities for his linemates. Better yet, I think there's even more potential there, when he improves his confidence in his shot, as he's got a good one. Not a huge fan of comparisons, but sometimes when I watch Brown play, I get a real Mats Sundin vibe from him. It'll be really interesting to see where Brown lands on draft day, that's for sure. Check out Logan's interview from The Pipeline Show.

3. Jakob Chychrun - Defence - Sarnia Sting
The race between Chychrun, Sergachev, and Juolevi has been close all year and it remains that way to close out the season. I'm a fan of all three players and a sound argument can be made for either of the three being the best defender available. So here's why Chychrun is tops for me. It comes down to potential. While I do believe that Sergachev has the highest offensive ceiling Chychrun isn't too far behind (and is IMO ahead of Juolevi). Meanwhile, Chychrun is also the best defensively of the three, but also possesses the highest defensive ceiling of the three too. In essence, I see Chychrun as having the potential to develop into a dominant two-way defender who could challenge for multiple Norris trophies. Defensively, Chychrun has so many strong characteristics. Firstly, his positioning and ability to seal off forwards from chasing down loose pucks is among the best of any draft eligible defender that I've seen. If he was an NBA player, he'd be one hell of a rebounder. Part of that is because of his mobility. Part of that is because of his strength. Both are fantastic. Chychrun toys with playing physical and seems to be most willing to lower the boom when defending the rush. Adding a more consistent physical component to his game, especially when near the crease, would elevate his defensive ability even further. Offensively, his game runs off his skating. When he wants to, he can carry the puck deep into the offensive zone with ease. But that's the key. No question his offensive game regressed a bit this year. Could be a variety of reasons for that (Hatcher asking him to play more of a defensive role, feeling the pressure in his draft year, confidence, etc), but it did happen. He didn't seem as confident in jumping up in the play, or unleashing his slapshot (which is a good one). Chychrun also struggled at times with his decision making with the puck in his own end. Too many turnovers from trying to force plays up the ice. He needs to trust his skating ability to be able to create time and space for him to make better decisions. And, he needs to regain the confidence he showed in year one, that had him constantly looking to push the attack by skating the puck out of trouble. Quite frankly, I'm not concerned about any of the issues I've outlined. I think a lot are confidence and experience related and not competence. The physical skills are too good to pass up and he flashes so much brilliance that I refuse to believe that he has hockey sense issues, or limited offensive potential. That said, I wouldn't at all be surprised if he was the 3rd defender picked at the draft this year.

2. Alex Nylander - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Nylander is an absolutely dynamic offensive player. Quite frankly, I don't think there is a major weakness in his game in the offensive end. He has the potential to be a 40/40 guy in the NHL, and we know how rare those are. The hands are elite. One of the best puck handlers in the league. He creates so much time and space for himself and he really opens up the ice for his linemates. The shot is elite. He's used on the point of the powerplay in Mississauga because of how heavy his shot is. He's also dangerous off the rush though, as his quick release catches defenders off guard as they try to negate his quickness and creativity. The skating is elite. The playmaking ability and vision are elite. He'll make some passes that really make your jaw drop, and it's another reason why he plays the point on the powerplay. So where are the weaknesses? Everywhere else. I'll give him credit, his ability to play through traffic and his engagement level without the puck really improved over the course of the season. By the end of the year, he had become active along the wall and had begun to use his speed to win loose puck battles too. Where he really struggles is in the defensive end. That part of his game will require a lot of work before he reaches the next level. If you're going to play a high risk game, and take chances with the puck, you have to maintain energy and effort if you give the puck up (which will happen). His overall awareness level in his own end needs to improve too. But there may not be a player in this draft outside of the big three, who possesses as much potential as Nylander. While I've got Tkachuk ranked ahead of him (barely), I wouldn't be surprised if he went first among OHL players. Check out Alex's interview from The Pipeline Show

1. Matthew Tkachuk - Forward - London Knights
That brings us to number one. And quite frankly, it's a really, really close year. I'm actually super excited to see what my year end media poll looks like. Honestly, I think an argument could be made for any of my top 6 ranked players to be considered the top player available from the OHL. But I'm going with Tkachuk. He's by no means the flashiest prospect around. And he's not likely to be the world's flashiest NHL player either. He has some limitations. But, I have confidence that his skill set will translate to the NHL; that it will translate to him being an extremely productive offensive player (think perennial 30/30 guy). Tkachuk plays a very pro style game. His size, his smarts, and his skill allow him to dominate below the hash marks. He's going to be the perfect compliment on an NHL 1st/2nd line, to a pair of quicker, higher skilled guys (thus the recipe for success with Marner and Dvorak). He'll do the dirty work on the line in terms of winning battles in the corners, or fighting in front of the net, but he's also a massively underrated playmaker who seems to have eyes in the back of his head. I don't know how many times I saw him this year draw a couple defenders in near the boards to try to separate him from the puck, only to find Marner or Dvorak cutting to the net, wide open. Tkachuk is also really strong in close, using his size, and his smarts, to get good scoring chances near the blue paint. Is he the world's best skater? No. He's only average in that area and I do think he'll need to become a tad more explosive to be a better player 5 on 5. Is he a true power forward like his father? No, I wouldn't classify him as that. He doesn't really throw his body around, but he will use his size to his advantage offensively. Is he the most dynamic of puck handlers? No. But he produces. Size, smarts, and hands will take you a long way at the NHL level and Tkachuk has that. If I'm picking inside the top 5, I want to make sure I get an impact NHL player and Tkachuk is the guy that I think is the most guaranteed to be that. Check out Matthew's interview from The Pipeline Show.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft - Part 3: 30-11

This is the 3rd part of my final top 50 OHL players eligible for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Here you will find players ranked 30 through 11.

30. Tye Felhaber - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
I realize that this ranking of him is higher than most seem to have him. And quite frankly, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he went undrafted. But I definitely still believe in his long term potential and as such I have him ranked accordingly. Felhaber is one of the most offensively gifted players in his age group in the OHL. He was a high draft pick and he had a very good rookie season last year. But this year wasn't terrific for him. He was cut from the Hlinka team and when he returned to the OHL, he was not effective. It seemed like he was trying to do way too much. Way too many offensive zone turnovers from over handling the puck or trying to force lanes that weren't there. But I felt like he started to turn it around towards the end of 2015 and the statistics show that. In his final 36 games, he had 14 goals and 18 assists, good for almost a point per game. A lot of that success coincided with a shift to the wing where he was able to simplify his game a little bit. Felhaber is extremely quick and his explosive stride allows him to dart in and out of traffic and catch defenders flat footed. He has a terrific shot and release and is still adding the strength necessary to create space for himself to use it more. Right now he relies on his speed and hands to make plays, but as he gets stronger, he should be able to be better in puck protection scenarios. He's not big (5'11). And he had his issues this year. But IMO his late season surge should be enough to convince an NHL team that his potential is alluring enough to warrant a selection.

29. Cole Candella - Defence - Hamilton Bulldogs
A big fan of Candella's game. He's just a very solid two-way defender. Early on in the season he was thrust into the role of Hamilton's #1 defender thanks to injuries and he did well to be the leader of a young blueline (in only his second year). But unfortunately, he too succumbed to the injury bug after fracturing his wrist. This caused him to miss the rest of the season. So we've got to base our assessment on what we saw in the first half. Candella has good size, moves well, defends well, and makes a good first pass. A defender without a lot of flaws. The issue is, just how good can he be? What's his overall potential at the next level? Is his offensive hockey sense and skill level with the puck good enough for him to develop into a solid offensive defender and powerplay QB? Can he develop more of a mean streak and be a more difficult player to play against in his own end, on top of being a solid positional defender? If I had a more definitive answer for those questions, Candella would likely be higher than 29th for me. But that's the problem with playing only half the year. Could definitely be a diamond in the rough for whatever team selects him (I could see him going as early as the 3rd).

28. Ben Gleason - Defence - Hamilton Bulldogs
Candella's injury (among others like Justin Lemcke), opened up a massive opportunity for Gleason and he ran with it. While he most definitely had nights where he struggled with the increased responsibility, I did see a lot of progression in his game from the beginning of the season to the end. If you look at the stat lines, you'd probably assume the opposite (only 5 points in his final 24 games). But I saw a player who was more dedicated to playing strong in his own end and took less chances offensively (compared to what he was doing earlier in the season). Gleason's best quality is his mobility. He's a very smooth skater who does a good job of starting the breakout and began to limit his turnovers as the season went on. I also felt like his positioning defensively really improved over the year, using his mobility to stay ahead of the play. He exhibited more patience rather than chasing the play. Also saw him trying to play more physical and I think that's a component to his game that will be key to his development. Offensively, the hockey sense is a work in progress (picking his spots to pinch/activate, working the point of the powerplay), but the underlying skills are there (puck skill, shot, etc). Overall, Gleason most definitely possesses potential to be a solid two-way defender.

27. Markus Niemelainen - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
I'm definitely not as high on this defender as others are. I certainly respect the general consensus (I still see him going early 2nd on mock drafts), but there are some red flags for me. At 6'6, 205lbs, the size is certainly alluring. As is the potential at both ends because he skates reasonably well and has pretty good overall defensive awareness. He also exhibits some offensive potential as a puck rusher, and at 6'6, he could be very difficult to separate from the puck. But the major red flag for me is the turnovers in his own end. I don't think there was a Saginaw game that I saw this year where Niemelainen didn't have multiple turnovers. At the beginning of the year, I chalked it up to adjusting to the speed of the North American game. But as the season wore on, it made me wonder about his hockey sense and vision. Defensively, he's a solid positional defender and his reach makes him hard to beat one on one, but I want to see more intensity away from the puck, especially in the corners and in front of the net. Because of the size and mobility, the potential is worth taking a gamble on. But I'm just not as much on board as others seem to be.

26. Sean Day - Defence - Mississauga Steelheads
No question he didn't have a great year. And I actually had him lower on my list up until about the last month and a half of the season. I thought he closed out the season exceptionally well. The two biggest reasons for that were an increased intensity level in the defensive end, and an increased propensity for starting the rush and looking to use his speed to push across the neutral zone. For me, I don't actually believe Day has a ton of offensive potential. While the skating ability obviously makes you hope that's the case, I just don't see a player who possesses a natural ability for creating offence. IMO, his future at the next level rests on his ability to defend his own end; using his size and mobility to be a shutdown type of defender. Thus why I think his increased desire to play the body and play mean in his own end towards the end of the year is a major step forward. Certainly you have to look at the overall motivation levels (with everything that came out this year in the media), and NHL teams will do their homework at the combine (I'm guessing he'll be one of the most interviewed players). But on the ice, I think he's finally realizing what his role is and the way he needs to play to be successful. You're not looking at the next Drew Doughty. He's not going to be that type of guy. But can he be a successful NHL player? Absolutely. Check out Sean's interview from The Pipeline Show.

25. Jack Kopacka - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Kopacka is a smart offensive winger who had a very good finish to his OHL season. While he was somewhat quiet in the postseason, he did close out the regular season on quite a roll. In his final 27 games, he had 12 goals and 11 assists, operating at near to a point per game. This was all the while seeing 3rd line ice time (forming pretty good chemistry with '99 Morgan Frost). Kopacka is an excellent complimentary offensive player. He makes smart decisions with the puck, especially off the rush where he can be especially dangerous. His speed is an asset and he also has good hands in close. Over the course of the season his play without the puck definitely improved, although his wavering intensity levels can help explain some of the inconsistency he had early on. I know that he's a big time favourite of many in the scouting community (look no further than his extremely high ranking by NHL Central Scouting). For me, I'm just not sure how high his overall offensive potential is, but there's certainly a lot to like about a winger with size, skating ability, and smarts. Check out Jack's interview from the Pipeline Show.

24. Riley Stillman - Defence - Oshawa Generals
Massive fan of this young kid, especially after talking to him for an article I wrote on him. Was named as one of the OHL's most improved players this year in the Coaches Poll and it was completely deserving. At the beginning of the year, he was struggling to find ice time. By season's end, he was arguably Oshawa's top defender and was wearing an "A" on his chest (mighty impressive for basically a first year player). Stillman has average size (6'0), but he plays much bigger than that in the defensive end. Stillman is an extremely efficient open ice hitter and he's great at timing up hits as forwards cut across the blueline. Stillman is also very mobile, exhibiting strong lateral and backwards agility, which makes him a tough guy to get around one on one, despite being only 6'0. Offensively, he keeps things simple. Can be effective at leading the rush and has already improved as a powerplay QB, exhibiting an excellent point shot. His hockey sense is also excellent at both ends of the ice. As he becomes more comfortable and continues to add strength and power to his forward stride, I think we'll see the offensive numbers jump. With a great attitude and an improving skill set (to go with good NHL bloodlines), I wouldn't hesitate to use a top 75 selection on Stillman. Check out my Q & A with Riley from earlier this year.

23. Victor Mete - Defence - London Knights
If he were over 6'0, we'd be talking about Mete as a surefire NHL first rounder. But as it stands, the undersized (5'10) defender is still a pretty special player. It all starts with his fantastic skating ability. Offensively he's almost impossible to pin in his own end because of how explosive he is. Starts the breakout with the blink of an eye. Defensively, he's learned to use his speed and overall mobility as an asset and has become a very difficult player to beat one on one. And he's never out of a play and has worked hard to really increase his intensity level in his own end. In terms of being a PMD, Mete is as good as it gets. He rarely turns the puck over in the neutral zone and does a great job with his entries. And when he does get trapped, his skating ability allows him to quickly recover. He doesn't yet possess an elite shot and as such isn't incredibly aggressive in looking to shoot (especially on the powerplay). Teams play him to pass and that limits his offensive effectiveness at times, but he's still got lots of room to grow in that area. I suppose how you view Mete depends on how well you think he'll defend at the NHL level. Personally, I think there is enough evidence to suggest that he could easily develop into a Kris Russell kind of player. His performance in the OHL playoffs was exemplary and I think should have gone a long way to prove to NHL scouts that he can be an NHL player.

22. Tyler Parsons - Goaltender - London Knights
Hands down the top goaltender available from the OHL this year. Parsons had an excellent season in London that saw him finish first in SV% and GAA, and 2nd in wins. He was particularly excellent in the 2nd half and in the playoffs. Parsons doesn't exactly possess the size that NHL teams covet in the position these days (6'1), but he's a true competitor who never gives up on a play. He tracks the puck exceptionally well and as such, his reaction time and ability to make that "highlight reel" save is fantastic. Over the course of the year, Parsons has also worked hard to improve his rebound control and ability to fight through traffic to make a save. When he gets in trouble it's because he scrambles too much and gets himself out of position, but again, he's worked hard to refine his approach and stay in the butterfly. Not all that different from Alex Nedeljkovic, who was a high 2nd round pick.

21. Dmitri Sokolov - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
I seem to be the only one moving him up my list in the 2nd half, rather than dropping him. And I don't really understand why. Was he the top 10 talent that many thought he'd be prior to the season? No. But does his potential, size, and skill set make him a valuable top 75 pick? I certainly think so. Let's examine the facts. He was the only rookie in the league this year to hit the 30 goal mark (even over Nylander and Jones), and he did it with little help in Sudbury. He finished the year with 12 goals in his final 15 games. He lost over 20lbs over the course of the year and dedicated himself to being in better shape. And he battled a shoulder injury all season long that limited his effectiveness and required offseason surgery. At the beginning of the year, I was not impressed. He looked slow. He looked disengaged without the puck. But I thought he was much better in the second half, especially late in the year. He has the potential to be a real load for opposing defenders to handle based on the way he can protect the puck. And boy can he fire the puck, with a quick release. Does he still need to get quicker? Yes. Does he still need to improve his overall play? Yes. But I'm pretty curious to see how he does next year with a good shoulder, a better supporting cast, and (likely) even better conditioning. You have to give it up for the way he battled this year and the improvements he was able to make in a tough environment.

20. Tim Gettinger - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Consistency is the name of the game for Gettinger. Right now, he can be either one of the more noticeable players on the ice, or completely invisible. But the potential is sky high. Gettinger is one of the bigger forwards available this year (at 6'6), but he is also a fantastic skater and therein lies the potential. When he gets going, he can be a very difficult player to stop. Problem is, he can overextend himself and is prone to hanging on to the puck too long. Needs to get away from that mentality of putting his head down and driving the net, and learn to use his skating and puck possession ability to create for teammates off the rush. Gettinger also has to use his size away from the puck. He doesn't spend enough time near the crease, where he could be a big time factor for screens, tips, and garbage goals. Instead, the majority of his scoring chances are created off the rush and not through the cycle game. But there are shifts where he'll dominate the wall that make you wonder why he doesn't do it more often. As such, Gettinger is the ultimate boom/bust selection. You've got a huge winger with a great skill set, but a guy who's still got a lot to learn about being a truly effective hockey player. Potential is sky high though.

19. Givani Smith - Forward - Guelph Storm
Definitely a player scouts seem to be pretty split on this year. And that's because he battled major consistency issues. Now, admittedly, every time I saw Guelph this year he was a big time factor. Thus explaining my high ranking of him. When he's on, Smith is a powerball. Easily one of the most physical players in the league, Smith excels on the forecheck where he enters the zone like a missile. He forces a lot of turnovers and is able to maintain possession of the puck through good footwork along the boards. He definitely does the majority of his work offensively below the hash marks, where he also attacks the net looking for rebounds. I think his hands and vision with the puck are underrated and I do see upside as a 2nd line winger at the next level. But he does have some warts. His explosiveness needs to improve so that he can be a bigger factor entering the zone and on net drives. His defensive game needs work, as he needs to find a way to translate his energy and physicality in the offensive zone to the backcheck. And he needs to be more disciplined and refrain from taking bad penalties. But true power forward prospects don't come around all that often anymore and Smith is a true throwback player.

18. Taylor Raddysh - Forward - Erie Otters
Raddysh is just a really hard working complimentary offensive player who has excelled doing the "dirty work" for a guy like Dylan Strome. He has great size at 6'2/200lbs and uses that to drive the net, win battles in the corners, and open up space for his linemates. Raddysh just has that knack for finding open space in the offensive zone, which points to him having terrific hockey sense. I particularly love his vision coming off the wall. Creates a lot of scoring chances by making great passes after gaining/maintaining possession along the boards (similar to a guy like Matthew Tkachuk). His overall puck skill and skill set is not flashy, but he does whatever is needed on a scoring line and that's why he's a valuable player and could make a valuable pro. If he can really improve his skating (particularly power), he could be more of a driving force on a line.

17. Cliff Pu - Forward - London Knights
Every year there's a player who makes a late push up the draft board with a strong late season and playoff performance. This year that player is Cliff Pu. Started the year as part of a carousel of players on London's checking lines, but finished the year as one of the biggest reasons for London's playoff success. Counting the playoffs, Pu had 21 points in his final 26 games. Pu is at his best off the rush where he's a deceptively quick skater. He does a great job with puck control and possession in close to defenders, and uses quick turns and pivots to create space. He demonstrates a really good head for the game, and plays in all situations for the Knights, especially excelling as a penalty killer. As a center, he could definitely develop into an excellent two-way player who could anchor your 2nd/3rd line. I would definitely not be surprised if he's one of the first few picks off the board in the 2nd round. This year's Christian Dvorak/Remi Elie?

16. Adam Mascherin - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
The stats would definitely suggest that he's a high end draft pick. Among first year eligible players, Mascherin finished 3rd in the OHL this year (with 81 points). And only Alex Debrincat had more goals. That's the type of production that you would typically associate with a 1st round pick. So why isn't Mascherin generally considered a first rounder? I think there are a variety of reasons. But the most obvious reason is his lack of size coupled with his only average skating ability. Mascherin darts in and out of traffic well, but he lacks true explosiveness. He's only 5'9, but he is 200lbs, so it's not the size alone (he's built similar to Max Domi). It's the combination of the two (as he's more than strong enough to handle the rigours of the pro level). I think the other strike is his wavering intensity level on the backcheck and in the defensive end. But offensively, you've got a very competent player. Mascherin possesses one of the hardest shots and quickest releases of any player in the draft class. He pounces on loose pucks and doesn't hesitate a wink when it comes to firing the puck. He's also an effective player below the hash marks who can really work the possession game using great lower body strength. Reminds me a little bit of Tyler Toffoli from his draft year, as they had similar concerns and strengths. Of course Toffoli managed to figure things out (but did fall a bit in the draft before that). Check out Adam's interview from The Pipeline Show.

15. Logan Stanley - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
Probably a little bit shocking to see him this low for most people. But if you follow my lists, you'd know that I've had Stanley lower than the consensus all season long. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot to like and the progression he's shown this year is incredibly impressive. I just don't like the track record of using high picks on players like Stanley. That being, huge defenders who project as stay at home defenders at the next level. The game is evolving and while size will likely always be King, it's built on speed more than anything now and I think that negates some of the impact that a guy like Stanley can have. That said, as I mentioned, there are things to like. He's 6'7, and 220lbs and he actually moves reasonably well. He's worked very hard to improve his skating and his stride is a lot more fluid and powerful. His lateral and backwards agility still needs work, and he needs to keep his feet moving off the rush, but a lot of the times his reach and aggressiveness help to negate some of the issues he has. He's also very aggressive in using his size in the corners and in front of the net. He's one mean customer. Offensively, there are underrated components to his game. He shows upside as a puck rusher. And I really like the patience and poise he exhibits on the blueline when trying to get shots through to the net. I suppose when making a final call about Stanley it comes down to where you feel his upside lies. Will his skating and offensive game continue to improve to the point where he's an Erik Gudbranson type of player? Or will he be more of a Matt Greene type of 3rd pairing/PK guy? Check out Logan Stanley's interview from The Pipeline Show.

14. Jordan Kyrou - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Kyrou is a better player than his numbers would indicate. His 51 points had him 14th among draft eligible forwards from the OHL this year and only a few points ahead of the likes of Jonathan Ang and Alan Lyszczarczyk. But you have to watch him play to truly realize what he brings to the table. Kyrou is one of the best skaters in the OHL, demonstrating not only elite speed, but agility too. He cuts/changes directions as quick as any player in the league. It's that, that allows him to be a true puck hound defensively, and an offensive dynamo off the rush. Kyrou's skill with the puck is also among the best in this draft class, as he possesses the ability to make defenders miss and create a ton of time and space for himself to operate. At times he can be prone to overhandling the puck and needs to make safer plays, but his creativity is refreshing. So what's holding him back? Well Sarnia was a pretty low scoring team this year so you have to take that into account. But Kyrou does have his flaws. He needs to shoot the puck more and will need to work on his shot if he wants to be a more complete offensive player. Defenders tend to play him for the pass and he needs to be less predictable. Kyrou also needs to continue to add strength so that he doesn't have to rely on his speed alone to win loose puck battles. The best way to evaluate Kyrou is against his peers. And at the Hlinka in the Summer, and at the U18's, I thought Kyrou was one of Canada's top performers. That has to count for more than his average production this year. Check out Jordan's interview from The Pipeline Show.

13. Will Bitten - Forward - Flint Firebirds
All things considered, Bitten had a pretty fantastic year. Remember the disaster that Flint was this year? Well Bitten played through all of it, and found a way to get the job done. He lead the Firebirds in scoring by a pretty wide margin and managed to be one of the top scoring 98's in the league this year (second only to Mascherin and tied with Sokolov with 30 goals). Bitten is most definitely undersized at 5'10 and pushing 170lbs, but you wouldn't know it watching him play. He excels in traffic, consistently winning battles behind the net, along the boards, and near the crease. One of the reasons for that is that he always keeps his feet moving in the offensive end, and is a terrific skater. Another reason is that he processes the game very well and anticipates exceptionally well. One of those guys that always finds himself in the right place at the right time. Bitten's speed is a major asset when it comes to stretching out opposing defences. He may have led the league in breakaways this year. But he's more than just a speedster. His skill with the puck is terrific (an accolade he was recognized for in the Coaches Poll) and he's able to create time and space for himself in other ways than with speed. Other than size, perhaps the biggest concern for Bitten is the wavering intensity in the defensive end. He's a sparkplug in the offensive end, but he needs to find a way to transfer that to the backcheck and to play in his own end. He definitely has the potential to be a major asset on the PK and as a two-way player. Added strength may help, but the desire needs to be there too. Overall, Bitten is a great prospect. His performance (like Kyrou's) at the U18's was also excellent and should help to win over fans in scouting community who didn't get the chance to see Flint all that often.

12. Boris Katchouk - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Quietly one of the most effective draft eligible players in the OHL this year. Efficient is great word to describe him. Complete is another. Katchouk is just a really solid all around winger who can help you win hockey games in a variety of different ways. He's a tenacious forechecker and an absolute puck hound who's energy level at both ends of the ice is contagious. His quickness allows him to be first to loose pucks. It also makes him a very effective offensive player off the rush, where he has an underrated ability to accept passes and carry the play at full speed. He also demonstrates good vision. Going back to that word "efficiency," Katchouk is a darling when it comes to the analytic types. He finished in the top 60 of scoring in the league, but was down near 150th for shot attempts. He capitalizes on his scoring chances by anticipating the play well and just seems to really understand how to play without the puck. The question is, how good of a goal scorer can he be and how good are his hands? As a world class lacrosse player, I'm not sure we've seen the best of what he's capable of in that department. I think the key is adding velocity to his shot and becoming more confident in using it. Don't be surprised if this guy sneaks into the late first round. Was terrific in the OHL playoffs and was good at the U18's too.

11. Alex Debrincat - Forward - Erie Otters
Truly an offensive sparkplug. Debrincat is so hard to contain in the offensive end. Blink and he's behind you, or has positioning over you. He's so elusive. It's not often that you see 5'7 guys do the majority of their work 10 feet from the crease and in, but that's Debrincat. As alluded to, his skating ability, in particular his ability to stop and start and get a quick burst of acceleration is fantastic and allows him to be so quick to open lanes or loose pucks. But he's a battler too. If he doesn't beat you to the spot, he'll fight you for it. And he's deceptively strong. That low center of gravity really helps him to acquire positioning near the crease. His shot is probably his biggest weapon in the offensive end. Velocity is good, but it's the release that's exceptional. On his stick and off it within a flash. With the way the game is played today, there's most definitely room for a player like Debrincat (just like Johnny Gaudreau). That said, there is a slight hesitation that would prevent me from using a Top 20/25 selection on him. Call it a mild seed of doubt. This is something I mentioned as a strength; the fact that he does the majority of his work near the crease. At the OHL level, he's able to out smart and out hustle defenders. At the NHL level, there are 6'4 defenders who can skate as well as he does. Will he be able to have that same sort of success? He might be forced to adapt his game a little bit (say the way a guy like Jeff Skinner has). But, I do most definitely like him as a player and I do believe strongly in his offensive potential at the next level. If you're a competitive team picking at the very back of the first round, would you be willing to roll the dice on Debrincat knowing that his offensive ceiling might be as high as the guy someone else took in the Top 5? Check out Alex's interview from The Pipeline Show.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft - Part 2: 31-50

The 2nd part of my Top 50 OHL players available for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. This is where we actually dive into the Top 50, with players ranked 50 through to 31.

I should add that I think that this is a very solid year for the Ontario Hockey League. Last year only 31 OHL players were drafted, which was significantly lower than previous years. But it was no surprise to those who follow the league closely. This year, the depth available is much better and I would expect that number to be well over 40, perhaps close to 45. There are several players in this 50 through 31 range that could develop into quality NHL prospects.

50. Eric Henderson - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Proved to be a great pickup by the Generals in the Jacob Graves deal. Henderson is a good sized winger (6'1) who seemed to get better and better every game with Oshawa. He's got good speed and showed an ability to create off the rush, where he can use his size to protect the puck. I felt like his intensity away from the puck also increased with Oshawa and he was finding a lot of success near the crease, working as a net presence. Would love to see him add even more intensity to his game and for him to use his speed to create more away from the puck, but I think he's a guy that NHL teams could look at late. He should be a top 6 player for the Generals next year and could easily be a 25 goal guy for them in 2016/2017. Upgrades to his shot and strength would do wonders for his NHL potential.

49. Justin Brazeau - Forward - North Bay Battalion
This is a player that really caught me eye later in the season. Makes the most of his limited ice time to be a noticeable player. Finished the year with 3 goals and 3 assists in his final 11 regular season games. At 6'4, he's got great size and he shows a ton of potential as a beast in the cycle and the type of guy who could be very difficult to contain below the hash marks. His shot shows some velocity too and I definitely think there is goal scoring potential. As he makes upgrades to his skating, and strength, he could be quite the player. This is something Stan Butler mentioned to me in our conversation earlier this year too, when he said "Brazeau could be the kind of guy who surprises people in a few years." Reminds me a lot of Justin Auger, who has turned himself into a very solid prospect in the Kings organization.

48. Brandon Saigeon - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Probably the single most disappointing draft eligible player from the OHL this year. The former 4th overall pick saw his numbers decline from his rookie season and he looked like a different player. As a rookie, I saw a potential Scott Laughton/Mike Richards clone. A guy who could control both ends of the ice from down the middle, and who could really disrupt play with his physical intensity. But this year, that wasn't the player I saw. He looked to be really pressing offensively all season long and as such he got away from the things he did well, like being active on the forecheck or playing the body. He registered 21 games this year (out of 43) where he had only one or no shots on net. And unfortunately, when it looked like he might finally be turning things around (post Stephen Harper trade, 6 points in 9 games with increased ice time), he suffered a season ending arm injury (broken forearm). It's certainly not too late for him to turn things around. He's a notoriously hard worker and NHL scouts will find value in that. Going into next year, he's got to upgrade his first step quickness and he's got to get back to the basics of playing the game hard and in your face.

47. Hayden Verbeek - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Verbeek is, hands down, one of the hardest working forwards in the OHL. Undersized at 5'10, Verbeek plays the game like he's 6'3. Constantly keeps his motor running in the offensive end where he controls play along the boards and is an extremely effective forechecker. Verbeek also has great vision and a playmakers touch, as he's able to create scoring chances for linemates coming off the wall and flying down the wing. He's also a very good two-way player, faceoff man and penalty killer. His shot needs to add velocity and he's certainly not the most flashy player on the ice. I'm not sure there is a ton of offensive potential for the next level. But you'd be hard pressed to find a better checking line prospect this year, size concerns aside.

46. Joseph Raaymakers - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Inconsistent is the title of Raaymakers' scouting report. But many young netminders in this league share that title. Consistency is usually the last component that a netminder finds (although some never find it). When Raaymakers is on, he does a great job of tracking the play, using good agility and footwork to get himself in position to make saves. He also fights through traffic well and does a good job of controlling his rebounds. But when he's off, his positioning is often at fault and he gets exposed over or under committing to shooters. He also needs to remember to be aggressive in challenging shooters to make himself bigger than his 6'1 frame. But he's shown enough the last two years to warrant a draft selection. Next year he'll get a chance to be the starter in Sault Ste. Marie, on a team which should compete for the Western Conference title. Check out Joseph's interview from The Pipeline Show.

45. Ondrej Kachyna - Defence - Hamilton Bulldogs
I really, really liked the development of Kachyna's game over the course of the season. He really struggled in the first few months of the season. He was forced into more ice time than he could handle (because of injuries) and really seemed to lack confidence in his abilities with the puck, in addition to struggling with the processing speed required of him at the OHL level. But around midseason he really seemed to turn the corner and by season's end, he had become an extremely effective two-way defender for the Bulldogs. He shows good speed and overall mobility and that helps him at both ends. I particularly love the way he stays ahead of forwards on the rush and he's very composed and patient, allowing the play to come to him so that he can use his size and reach to defend. He also really improved his confidence with the puck and began to lead or jump up in the play to create scoring chances. I think his future is probably as a strong stay at home kind of guy, but there might be some hidden offensive potential in there. While NHL teams love any player who shows the type of progression that Kachyna did this year, I think they like it even more when it happens with CHL Imports. Shows a commitment to learning in a new environment.

44. Zach Poirier - Forward - North Bay Battalion
An underrated player for this year IMO. Poirier, a former OHL first rounder, got off to an extremely slow start this year (especially after competing at the Ivan Hlinka), but he was significantly better in the second half of the year. He can play all three forward positions, but I like him best at the wing where he can use his speed, aggressiveness, and quick release to be a solid goal scoring option. He closed out the regular season on a nice little roll at wing, with 7 goals in his final 13 games. But when he shifted back to center in the playoffs, he struggled again. When the game is kept simple, Poirier can be a solid North/South type of player and I think there's value in that as an NHL draft pick. The size isn't ideal (5'11), but he plays much bigger than that. Long story short, I like his potential as a hard nosed goal scoring winger, but not as a two-way center.

43. Noah Carroll - Defence - Guelph Storm
Thought to be a potential top 3 round pick at the beginning of the year, Carroll really struggled on a rebuilding Storm this year. A late '97, Carroll was asked to play top line minutes and he struggled with that. He's a solid young player, but his confidence seemed quite down, especially when it came to moving the puck and creating offence. He has a lot of things going for him. He skates well. He has good size. He is a smart positional defender. He shows good vision on the point of the powerplay. But as mentioned, his confidence seemed pretty low from the get go this season. Most of the time I saw Guelph this year, he looked visibly frustrated and overwhelmed with his team's inability to get out of their own zone. He seemed content to make the safe play and wasn't nearly as active in trying to start a rush or push past the neutral zone. I still think he can be a solid pro and I expect him to bounce back next year, but I do wonder if his team's lack of success this year (and his mediocre play) cost him a draft spot.

42. Evan Cormier - Goaltender - Saginaw Spirit
I definitely had higher expectations for Cormier going into this season. But he continues to battle consistency issues. It was his first full year as a starter though, and there are definitely a lot of things to like about his game. He's a big guy and fairly athletic despite his size (6'3, 200lbs). He's definitely capable of making those highlight reel saves and a lot of the time he's better than his stat line would indicate. That said, he tends to have some trouble finding pucks through traffic and he needs to do a better job of shaking off weak goals. He finished the year pretty poorly and he'll need to be better next year if he wants to keep Brendan Bonello from stealing his job. I'd still use a mid round pick on him in hopes that he figures it out, but he's definitely got some work to do.

41. Anthony Salinitri - Forward - Sarnia Sting
A former first rounder by the Soo Greyhounds (part of the Anthony DeAngelo deal), Salinitri is an extremely quick forward who can play down the middle or on the wing. He excels off the rush, where he has the speed to blow by defenders and is definitely aggressive in attacking the net. Salinitri also has a good shot and does a great job of using his speed to create space for himself to get it off. I think the true key for his progression is adding strength. He's not the biggest kid, so he can get pushed around a bit. Getting stronger would allow him to become more of a factor away from the puck and would make him a more consistent offensive player.

40. Kyle Maksimovich - Forward - Erie Otters
Undersized offensive spark plug. Was a consistent offensive contributor this year whether he saw first line minutes with Dylan Strome, or second line minutes with Jake Marchment. Maksimovich has already grown a lot since his OHL draft year (where he was listed at 5'6). Now stands 5'9, could easily grow more still. Maksimovich reminds me a lot of Andrew Mangiapane in his original NHL draft year (when everyone was shocked he didn't get selected). His best asset, IMO, is his hockey sense in the offensive end. Just seems to always make the smart play, with or without the puck and he's got great positioning and anticipation. Skating is solid (a necessity for a smaller player) and I think that he eventually develops into a top 10 scorer at this level. I will say, though, that I had him a little higher on my list until the playoffs. I was disappointed with his play in the 2nd and 3rd rounds and I think that given his size, he needed to show that he could handle the toughness of the Greyhounds and Knights.

39. Connor Hall - Defence - Kitchener Rangers
Definitely one of the biggest risers over the course of the season. Struggled out of the gate then missed over a month with a broken jaw. But when he returned to the lineup in the new year, things started to slowly turn around for him. And his strong performance in the playoffs really earned him that spot on Team Canada at the U18's as the 7th defender. Hall is a solid stay at home defender prospect for a lot of reasons. He's got good size and he is quite aggressive in using it. He's especially effective at pinning on the wall and comes away with the majority of loose pucks in one on one battles. Hall is also a pretty good skater, although he needs to keep his feet moving when defending off the rush as he can be caught flat footed at times. Offensively, he plays a relatively simple game. Can make a solid first pass, but does struggle when he tries to do too much with the puck (which was evident at the U18's IMO). But he's definitely a solid stay at home guy with the potential to be an effective third pairing defender at the NHL level.

38. Travis Barron - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Hard nosed winger who operates as a complimentary player on a scoring line for the 67's. The 3rd overall pick from 2014, Barron's offensive skill set definitely hasn't translated as well to the OHL as many anticipated it would. In particular, his shot, which was considered a weapon in minor midget, hasn't progressed to the point where it could be considered a weapon at the OHL level. While he operates exceptionally well away from the puck to create space for his linemates and win battles along the boards, with the puck, he's just not nearly as effective. For as hard as he works away from the puck, he seems to struggle with getting himself in solid scoring position and reading offensive situations. It certainly makes me wonder about his overall offensive potential at the next level. Will he ever be more than a solid two-way winger who engages physically and provides leadership? Even a guy like Daniel Paille showed more in his NHL draft year. Still lots of time for him to figure things out though.

37. Dylan Wells - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
No doubt about it. Wells did not have a good year. Originally pegged to be the next star OHL goaltender, Wells struggled mightily this year. Of his 27 appearances this year, 16 of those saw him post a save percentage below .875. And he didn't play for a weak team either. I managed to catch a few of those games this year and he really seemed to be fighting the puck, struggling with his positioning and rebound control in particular. Is there light at the end of the tunnel though? Absolutely. Wells remains a talented goalie. He was great at the Ivan Hlinka this past summer. He was excellent at the Top Prospect's Game. I would have liked to have seen him at the U18's instead of Stuart Skinner too. He's got size and athleticism and he shows flashes of brilliance. Let me remind you that Matt Murray had a save percentage of .876 in his NHL draft year. Look at him now. I could see Wells turning the corner in similar fashion and that's why I think he'll still be a fairly high NHL draft pick. Check out Dylan's interview from The Pipeline Show.

36. Domenic Commisso - Forward - Oshawa Generals
If you eliminate his first 13 OHL games where he saw limited ice time, Commisso finished the year with 44 points in 53 games (including the playoffs). That's pretty good production. But it's more than that. If you watched the Generals in the second half, Commisso was consistently noticeable and was quite often their best player on any given night. There's definitely a lot to like. Commisso is a very smart player in the offensive end. He is a great playmaker because of this and it's why he was the perfect compliment to Michael Dal Colle before he left for Kingston. Commisso is also a very hard worker without the puck, active on the forecheck and always digging in the corners. And despite being under 6'0, he battles hard in front of the net and plays a fearless game. I know NHL teams want their centers to be big now, but Commisso is a legit NHL prospect with the chance to be a solid pro.

35. Keaton Middleton - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
Hulking defender (6'6, 235lbs) who is still scratching the surface of his potential. Even if he didn't have the greatest of seasons, I'm still a fan. Look at it this way. If both players reach their high end potential, is there really much separating Middleton and Logan Stanley? Stanley is without a doubt progressing quicker and demonstrating more now, but is that a guarantee 5 years from now? You'll have to use a 1st or 2nd on Stanley, but you could have Middleton in the mid rounds. Keaton, the brother of 67's defender Jacob (and one of the best defensive defenders in the OHL), has so much potential as a stay at home blueliner. He's got a great stick and he does a great job of using his long reach to disrupt passing lanes. Middleton is also an incredibly physical player who loves to engage forwards cutting across the blueline or in front of the net. The key to his development moving forward is his lateral and backwards mobility, and his puck distribution ability. These two areas of his game remain works in progress and they are why he struggled at times this year. But, it's not impossible to improve (look at Stanley this year versus his rookie year).

34. Jordan Sambrook - Defence - Erie Otters
A great find for the Otters this year, as Sambrook quickly established himself as a core piece of their lineup. When needed, he saw a ton of ice time on the back end. And when he wasn't, he happily slid down the depth chart and played his role. Sambrook is a solid two-way defender. Defensively, he engages physically and is already a very good boards player. He's still learning as a coverage defender, but he shows a lot of gusto in his own end, which I like. Offensively, he showcases good puck skill and makes a very solid first pass. He can lead the rush and has good vision in the open ice. Possesses a good point shot too, and should develop into a PP QB. Sambrook is probably a higher ranked prospect if he's on a team with less depth than Erie, but there's no doubt that an NHL team out there sees him as a diamond in the rough.

33. Nicholas Caamano - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Good sized winger who possesses a lot of redeeming qualities. Has good speed and is able to create space for his linemates by pushing the tempo. But he's also a very effective player in close to the net, where he's not afraid to battle for position and shows good hands in close. Caamano also is a solid two-way player who is dedicated to the backcheck. I think I do have questions about just how much offensive potential he has, particularly as a goal scorer. But there's definitely enough to like about his play this season to warrant, at least, a mid round selection. Just where will he be when he adds strength? Will that make him a dominant force off the rush? Will that improve his shot? Will that allow his physical game to evolve even more?

32. Jonathan Ang - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Closed out the season exceptionally well and I was really disappointed that he didn't get an invite to the U18's. In his final 22 games (including the playoffs), Ang had 10 goals and 13 assists, averaging over a point per game. While he saw a lot of time at center early in the year, it wasn't until he shifted to the wing where he found a lot of success. Playing the wing allows him to use his speed (among the best in this draft class) to his advantage and play a simpler game. I give him a lot of credit for improving his play away from the puck as this season progressed too. By season's end he was using his speed to be disruptive on the forecheck and the backcheck. To go with blinding speed, Ang also possesses terrific hands and stick handling ability, which makes him very difficult to stop one on one. Really the only thing he's missing is strength and size. I'm definitely way more convinced of him being a serious NHL prospect than I was 4 months ago. His performance in the playoffs is indicative of that. But I'm hoping he stays on the wing.

31. Connor Bunnaman - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Bunnaman is a really good checking line prospect who had a very strong year for Kitchener in his sophomore season. While he can play center, I think he's better suited to the wing where he saw the majority of action this year. He's got great size at 6'3, 211lbs and he plays a very pro style game. He works the possession game very well in the offensive end, controlling the boards and maintaining positioning near the crease. He knows his role and he plays it to a tee. But he's not just a grunt. Bunnaman has good hands in close and I like his vision as a playmaker as he'll surprise you with the things he can do coming off the wall. His skating is only OK, but it's already better than it was in his OHL rookie year. The one thing I'd really like to see from him is more physicality; using that size to be disruptive on the forecheck/backcheck. While he engages, he's not necessarily a big hitter. Would love to see him become more physically active in that regard.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft - Part 1: Honorable Mentions

The Under 18's have wrapped up (where Canada finished 4th). The CHL playoffs are nearing completion (the Memorial Cup begins May 20). The race to the draft is on. We're about a month away from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, so that means it's time for me to release my rankings.

The top 50 will be released in four parts: Part 1 - Honorable Mentions, Part 2 - Prospects 50-31, Part 3 - Prospects 30-11, and Part 4 - Prospects 10-1.

Just for clarification, for my top 50 ranking, I haven't included any players eligible for draft re-entry, such as Jeremy Helvig. This has been consistent all the way through my lists. Instead, I did a list of the top 10 draft re-entries, which can be found here.

Also for clarification, this list is MY list of the top 50 OHL prospects, as if I were drafting for my own team. In other words, this isn't a list of where I THINK or believe players will go, but a ranking of my own opinion on the top players eligible for this draft based on my viewings this season. If you want a draft projection and information about players outside the OHL, be sure to order the Future Considerations, ISS, or McKeens Draft Guides.

This first part includes the Honorable Mentions of my list. These are the players who received consideration for my top 50, but who fell just short. There are 19 in total. Last year, the depth in the OHL just wasn't terrific and only one of these HM's got drafted (Riley Bruce). This year, I actually could see a few of these guys get drafted. If they were eligible last year, a good number of them would have made my top 50. Some good raw talent here that could definitely develop into NHL prospects.

Here are my HM's (in alphabetical order)...

Sean Allen - Defence - Oshawa Generals
Allen is a hard nosed stay at home defender whose game had ups and downs this year. He has size, mobility, and plays the game exceptionally hard. He really relishes in the opportunity to throw his weight around and is a difficult player to beat in loose puck battles in his own end. Where Allen struggles is in his positioning, as he can be taken out of position looking for the big hit, or chasing the puck carrier. His offensive skills have yet to really develop too, and he can have difficulty with the forecheck and making a solid exit pass. But he's definitely got potential as a stay at home defender at the next level because he's big, agile and mean. It'll depend on if someone can coach him into being more patient and composed in his own end.

Mitchell Byrne - Defence - Erie Otters
I think Byrne is a very good young defender who wasn't really able to showcase his true abilities this year because of Erie's depth on the backend. The first year defender showed a lot in spurts while playing on the team's third pairing, and even looked good when he was asked to move up in the lineup. He skates well, can lead or jump up in the rush and flashes an ability to control the point offensively. Defensively, he keeps things simple and plays a pretty solid positional game. As he gains experience, he could become a quality offensive defender at the OHL level. That could be as soon as next season depending on the losses Erie incurs on the backend.

Ryan Cranford - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Cranford is an interesting forward who had a successful first season in the OHL with Kingston. He reminds me a lot of Niagara's Anthony DiFruscia and I see him developing into a similar type of OHL player. Cranford excels in close to the net, where despite not being huge (~6'0), he gets good positioning and is able to put home rebounds and finish off plays thanks to a quick release. He also works hard away from the puck and involves himself on the forecheck and the cycle. His overall skill set is still evolving, as he can look a bit uncomfortable with the puck on his stick and isn't a major factor off the rush, but there's goal scoring potential there.

Stephen Dhillon - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
Likely the top HM on this list (aka #51) for me. Dhillon is certainly an intriguing goaltending prospect because of his size (6'4). He's also one of the youngest players available for the draft (missing the cutoff for next year by a few days). As a back-up this year, Dhillon battled some consistency issues, but it had to be tough for the first year (sort of) netminder seeing sporadic starts. He's a bit of an unorthodox goaltender, as he plays a hybrid style, utilizing his size to keep upright until he needs to go down to take away the bottom of the goal. The technical aspects of his game are definitely raw (rebound control, movement side/side, reading his angles), but as I said, there's potential there. He'll likely be the starter in Niagara next year and I'd be surprised if an NHL team didn't use a late round pick on him come June.

Kevin Hancock - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
It took him 22 games to score his first OHL goal and in his first 27 games, he had a goal and an assist. Needless to say, it took him some time to get going. But he was a really big factor in the 2nd half of the season for Owen Sound as they made their playoff push. He had 26 points in his final 39 regular season games and solidified his spot in the top 6 for Owen Sound (developing great chemistry with Ethan Szypula). Moving forward he's going to be a very important player for the Attack and should be a point per game player in the league (perhaps as early as next year). As an NHL prospect, his average size and lack of a standout characteristic may hurt his draft chances, but he's certainly someone to watch the next few years.

Ben Hawerchuk - Forward - Barrie Colts
The son of head coach Dale Hawerchuk, Ben is a scrappy, undersized forward who's been an integral part of the Colts' fourth line the past couple of seasons. He certainly doesn't possess his father's skill level and goal scoring ability, but he's a very pesky player who gives it 110% every shift. He's particularly effective on the forecheck where his speed is an asset. As he continues to gain strength, that speed and tenacity will be put to better use offensively, where he can be a more consistent contributor. 

Luke Kirwan - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Once thought to be a top 10 pick for this NHL draft, Kirwan's stock has taken quite the beating since his arrival into the OHL. His game just has not developed the way many people thought it would. I think a lot of that has to due with the fact that his skating and overall explosiveness is below average. While he's big and he uses his size effectively, he's not quick enough to loose pucks or explosive enough coming down the wing to be a truly effective offensive player. The skill level and hands are definitely there. He most certainly made strides in Flint with increased ice time and responsibility (compared to Windsor). But he's still a work in progress. Still lots of time for him to truly dedicate himself to improving his quickness and if he can do that, he could put himself back on the NHL radar.

Max Kislinger - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Big kid from Germany who I thought was a very effective role player for North Bay this year. Plays a simple game, working North to South, using his size to drive the net. Skating is only mediocre, but he has some decent hands and a pretty good release which could project him as a goal scorer. I hope he returns to North Bay next year as I think he can have a fair amount of success under Butler moving forward.

Luke Kutkevicius - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Moved to the Bulldogs at the deadline in the Mason Marchment deal, and in Hamilton I thought he looked pretty good despite not putting up terrific offensive numbers. George Burnett and the Dogs' coaching staff used Kutkevicius in a defensive role, lining him up against one of the other team's top lines, using him as a key faceoff guy, and playing him on the secondary penalty killing unit. He has great hockey sense in his own end and does a great job getting his stick in passing lanes. As he adds strength, I think he'd really benefit with playing a more physical game, more consistently, to make him an even more difficult player to line up against. Offensively, his game currently seems to be dependent on his ability to work the cycle. Despite being a pretty deceptively quick skater (not the prettiest stride), he doesn't generate a lot off the rush and I think that relates back to his need to get stronger on the puck. Definitely an interesting prospect who looks like a top 9 fixture for Hamilton next year and beyond.

Alan Lyszczarczyk - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
The stats are great and the story is even better. Lyszczarczyk has Polish roots, Canadian citizenship, but was a free agent add from the Czech junior league this past offseason. He finished second in scoring for the lowly Wolves this year and was a great surprise for the team, working his way up the lineup over the course of the season. I've certainly seen Lyszczarczyk ranked much higher than I have him, and I get that. There are a couple things at work for me. One, is exposure. It seemed like every time I saw Sudbury this year they were getting it handed to them, which can make it difficult to evaluate a player. Two, I'm just not sure if I see his game being suited for the pro ranks. Average sized. Average skater. But great motor and hands. He hit the scoresheet through hustle and determination in my viewings. But at the next level, I'm not sure that's enough. If I'm an NHL team, I wait another year to see the improvements he makes next year in his sophomore season, where the Wolves should hopefully be a little better.

Nicolas Mattinen - Defence - London Knights
A real wild card for the draft this year. Wouldn't shock me at all if an NHL team takes him inside the top 100. I think the inconsistent playing time really hurt his draft stock for me though. There were times where I'd see London play and he'd really catch my eye, then other times where he'd be visible for the wrong reasons, which I think can be chalked up to a bit of rust. He's got terrific size at 6'4, 220lbs, and moves reasonably well too. For me, I didn't really get a good read on his identity as a player. He's big, but he is inconsistent in using his size in the defensive end. But he stands out at times as a puck mover and the type of guy who has a head for the game at the offensive end. Is he a Kyle Wood type of player? 

Justin Murray - Defence - Barrie Colts
Murray is a very underrated first year defender who played some important minutes for the Colts this year. He's certainly not flashy, but he's very smart and exhibits great poise for an OHL rookie. Murray, in particular, makes great decisions with the puck in his own end and does a great job starting the breakout. He's not big, but he's a very solid positional defender and he's not afraid to mix it up in the corners to win battles for the puck. I don't know how much offensive potential he has at this level and I don't know if he's a serious NHL prospect, but he's going to be a very good OHL defender and a part of Barrie's top four for the next several years.

Tyler Nother - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
Nother improved a lot over the course of this past OHL season. His development in London (as a 3rd round pick) had appeared to have stalled and the trade to Windsor was a good one for him Even in Windsor, he struggled initially. But as mentioned, towards the later half of the season, he really started to turn things around. 6 of his 8 assists this year came in his final 15 games. And the reason for that was his increased confidence in making decisions with the puck. In London as a rookie, and in Windsor initially, Nother's decision making in his own end and ability to handle the forecheck was really hurting him. But he's learned to use his solid mobility to create space for himself and as such he appears to have turned a corner. Defensively, he has a lot of potential because he is 6'4 and he does skate well. But he needs to get meaner and really increase his intensity level. A work in progress who is not close to the finished product yet. Because of that, he might be an attractive late round option for an NHL team.

Austin Osmanski - Defence - Mississauga Steelheads
Osmanski is actually a similar player and prospect to Tyler Nother. He's another big defender (6'4) with decent mobility and puck skills, but who remains a bit of a project. Towards the beginning and into the midseason, I had Osmanski pretty firmly in my top 50 (41 at midseason). But some poor late season showings, combined with some other players really stepping up, caused Osmanski to take a bit of a hit in my rankings. At times, he showcases strong offensive potential and an ability to skate the puck out of his own end. But then at other times, he seems to struggle with overhandling the puck and making poor decisions. Defensively, he has excellent gap control and a great reach which he uses to keep forwards to the outside. But late in the season I saw him losing too many loose puck battles for a bigger defender. That being said, like Nother, I wouldn't be surprised if an NHL team rolled the dice on him late. There were definitely times this year where I thought to myself, this guy could be an NHL player.

Christopher Paquette - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Had such high hopes for Paquette this year, but the progression in his development just wasn't there IMO. At 6'2, and nearly 200lbs, he has the size that NHL teams want at the center position now. At times this year, Marty Williamson tried to utilize Paquette in a shutdown type of role, but I thought he struggled with that. Offensively, he has great hands and can be a very dangerous player in close, but he just doesn't seem to get himself in good scoring position and he's not strong enough on the puck to maintain possession in the offensive end. It all comes down to the fact that he needs to make some improvements to his skating. I will say that he was very noticeable in the playoffs for Niagara in a checking line role. 

Michael Pezzetta - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Another player I was very disappointed with this year. A former first rounder, Pezzetta should have been a go to offensive player for the Wolves this year, but he continues to struggle with consistency (which I'm sure can be attributed to the team's lack of success this year). Pezzetta is the type of player NHL team's really covet; a power center with size. Pezzetta is noticeable as a physical player and forechecker because he's quite quick and closes in on opposing defenders with deceptive speed. But in the offensive end, he has a tendency to overhandle the puck and he needs to keep things simple. Tons of potential still here, as a player who could be a very good two-way center. 

Drake Rymsha - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Tough year for Rymsha. Going into the year, I had him ranked pretty highly. He was extremely noticeable as a rookie for London last year. Early this year he was traded to Ottawa and shortly there after he broke his leg in a game against Kitchener. He managed to return to Ottawa's lineup for the end of the season, but he (understandably so) didn't seem to have the same jump in his step. Rymsha is a very high energy player though who excels off the rush and who works very hard at both ends of the ice. I think he'll come back next year and have a really good season, fully healthy and motivated.

Matthew Timms - Defence - Peterborough Petes
If he were bigger, there's no question that he'd be in my top 50. Timms is an ultra competitive defender who had a great second season for Peterborough. He engages physically and is generally a very difficult player to match up against. For an undersized guy, I love how he competes in front of the net and in the corners. Timms also makes good decisions with the puck and flashes some offensive potential. I think he'll need to continue to upgrade his skating to improve his gap control and to make him a better offensive player. When you combine his lack of elite size (5'10), with some skating concerns and (perhaps) limited offensive upside, you've got a player outside my top 50. 

Troy Timpano - Goaltender - Sudbury Wolves
Feel a little bit bad for Timpano. I do truly believe that he's a good goaltender. But his confidence appears to be at an all time low. It's not easy being the starting goaltender on a team who has won a combined 28 games the past two seasons. He consistently gets left hung out to dry and is consistently peppered with shots. There are times where he stands on his head early on in games, only to give up multiple goals later on. It seems that he can be prone to some bad goals too, and once that happens, he seems to have trouble recovering. Quite frankly, I think he could use a change of scenery. He's still an athletic kid who could be a very capable goaltender in this league (and even a solid pro prospect).