Friday, October 28, 2016

Early Season Top 50 for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft

It's time for my first official ranking for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. I say official because I release a preseason ranking in the summer (which can be found here). Now that the 2016/17 season has started (well under way in fact), updating that list to reflect changes of opinion is a priority. That said, it's important to not over react to hot or cold starts. Some of those currently disappointing, will most definitely pick up their play. And some of those off to blazing starts won't be able to hold that production. At the end of the day, it is a cool exercise to go back and look at my first list of the season. For instance, here's last year's early season draft list.

The list includes detailed reports on the Top 30 and small snippets on the other 20 that make up the Top 50. 

Lots of room for movement on this list IMO. I think at this point, the top 3 are pretty set...although not necessarily their order. After that, it's very wide open. Lots of talent, but not a ton of guys I'd consider sure fire first round picks. Honestly the top 18-20 are all very, very close. Not a ton separating them IMO. Should be fun to watch as the season progresses. Events like the U18's, the top prospect's game, etc could be huge for many of these guys to try to gain an upper hand.

It's also important to note (for those that aren't familiar with my lists), that I don't include 2nd and 3rd year eligible players on the list (like Ottawa's Artur Tyanulin or Sault Ste Marie's Joseph Raaymakers). I do a year end list for those players.

Without further ado, here's my early season top 50.

1. Gabriel Vilardi - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Vilardi has been terrific since returning from the knee injury that kept him out of the Ivan Hlinka. He's a natural center but has been playing on the wing (alongside Logan Brown) thanks to Windsor's depth down the middle. His two best assets are his puck control ability and his vision/hockey sense. He really controls the puck well, especially along the wall and keeps his head up to survey the play. He certainly doesn't have elite speed or overall skating ability, but he manages to be effective despite these short comings because he reads the play so well. In a lot of ways, that ability is similar to a guy like Dylan Strome. Vilardi certainly should be a high pick come June because he has the size (6'2, 193lbs) and ability to control all three zones from down the middle.

2. Nic Hague - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Very tough between he and Tippett, but I'm giving the slight edge to Hague. Yes he's a late '98, but it's only his 2nd year in the OHL and he's done nothing but improve since coming into the league. Not only is he near the top of defenseman scoring, but he's transformed himself into one of the top defenders in the OHL. He possesses a very unique skill set that makes him a potential impact player at both ends of the ice at the next level. I wouldn't necessarily call him the most graceful player to watch. Offensively, he's not going to explode up the ice and dangle through everyone. But he uses his size exceptionally well to protect the puck coming through the neutral zone and makes great decisions on pinches and high risk passes. Hague also possesses a booming point shot and he's really improved his ability to run the point on the powerplay, exhibiting patience and intelligence. Defensively, he's just a very solid player who makes good reads, and is physical when he needs to be. I've seen and read a lot of split opinions on his skating ability. But I think it's fine. He's not an explosive player, but I think he moves quite well for being a 6'5 defender and should become an even stronger skater as he adds more strength to his frame. 

3. Owen Tippett - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Coming out of the Ivan Hlinka (where I felt he really struggled), Tippett started the season off pretty slowly. But that's a thing of the past after posting 11 goals in his last 6 games (with 40 shots). Tippett's game is built around his speed and power coming down the wing. With his solid frame and puck protection ability, he's incredibly difficult to stop when you consider how explosive his first few steps are. Then you throw in a great wrist shot and release and you've got a true "sniper" prospect. The rest of his game is a work in progress, but so long as he continues to put up offensive numbers and displays improvement in his physical game, he's going to garner a ton of interest. 

4. Matthew Strome - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Matt is definitely a different player than his brother's Ryan and Dylan. I don't mean that in a bad way. But I feel like some people watch him expecting to see Ryan or Dylan and they come away unimpressed. Matt is a borderline power forward who lives in the high traffic areas of the ice and finds a ton of success within 3 feet of the crease and wall. He has absolutely terrific hands in close and he does a very good job of keeping defenders on his back and beating them to the net. But he's also a solid overall offensive player who displays potential as a playmaker just as much as a goal scorer. As he continues to add strength, I wonder how difficult he'll be to stop. Unfortunately, he did inherit his brother's skating strides, but they both improved theirs and there is no reason to think that he can't also (and already has since his rookie season).

5. Dmitri Samorukov - Defense - Guelph Storm
This is where it starts to get interesting. You're going to see a lot of variance in lists around this point (from an OHL perspective anyway). Number 5 for me is Samorukov, a first year Russian defender for Guelph. His stats haven't been eye popping, but watching him play, you just get the feeling he's scratching the surface of what he's capable of. Once he truly gets comfortable, we could see him explode. But he's still an impressive prospect as it is. I love the physical intensity that he plays with. Every time I've seen Guelph play, he's had at least one big hit, whether it be standing up a forward at the blueline, or rubbing them out along the wall. He also displays excellent mobility and has largely been able to evade the opposition's forecheck by skating out of his own end, rather than using a stretch pass. But he doesn't yet really push things offensively or take chances. But I definitely think that there is offensive potential. Looks like a legit prospect to me, even if the last game I saw him play was a bad one.

6. Ivan Lodnia - Forward - Erie Otters
Undersized, but just so offensively talented. Lodnia has it all as an offensive player. Skating, smarts, creativity, skill. Erie hasn't missed a beat despite losing Dylan Strome and much of that has to be attributed to Lodnia and the improvement he's shown. At this point, size is the only thing Lodnia lacks, but 5'10 isn't exactly small by today's standards. With so many players finding success at that size, it's only a matter of time before the NHL catches on.

7. Sasha Chmelevski - Forward - Ottawa 67's
On production alone, he probably doesn't deserve to be this high. There are still a lot of inconsistencies to his game (be it at the defensive end, without the puck, or just overall offensive chance creation). But when he's on, it's impressive to watch. He was so good at the Ivan Hlinka and has certainly flashed that to start this OHL season. Chmelevski has that combination of speed and smarts with the puck that can be rare to find down the middle. Being able to process the game at high speed is something a lot of players struggle with. For him, the key is being able to make an impact when he isn't going 100 miles an hour or with more open ice with the man advantage (similar to the criticisms of Tippett's game). 

8. Mackenzie Entwistle - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Toolsy forward who has really improved a lot over his OHL career thus far. In particular, Entwistle's size (6'3) and skating combination is incredibly alluring as it makes him a major factor in all three zones. He's already a committed defensive player who is not afraid to engage physically, as such he's become one of Hamilton's go to penalty killers. Offensively, he's aggressive in attacking the net and plays that "grunt" style of game. But I think he possesses underrated hands. I've seen him make a few moves while trying to drive the net that made me raise my eyebrows and think "this kid could have more offensive potential than people give him credit for." 7 goals in 12 is nothing to scoff at. Just want to see him keep up that production.

9. Michael Dipietro - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
Such a huge fan of this young man. He was absolutely sensational at the Ivan Hlinka and he's carried that into this OHL season as the starter on a team with Memorial Cup aspirations (considering that they're hosting). He's among the league leaders in every goaltending category thus far. Dipietro reminds me so much of a guy like Jonathan Quick. He's among the quickest goaltenders I've ever seen at the OHL level. His ability to move laterally and track the play is second to none, but he doesn't give up a ton of rebounds either. It's important that he continues to be aggressive in challenging shooters considering his lack of elite size (5'11). Undersized goalies will always face scrutiny from the NHL scouting community, but I think Dipietro is legit.

10. Nick Suzuki - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
I'm sure Suzuki isn't incredibly happy with a bit of a slow start to his OHL season, but I'm still a big believer in his abilities. He's had a few very solid showings the last few weeks that would show he's starting to wake up offensively. I like Suzuki because he's a real cerebral player. He doesn't have elite size (5'11-ish) but he's a real warrior on the ice. He battles hard for every loose puck at both ends and is a factor on the forecheck and the backcheck. He has the potential to drive the play offensively because of good speed and skill with the puck. I would suspect that his numbers only continue to increase. That said, I think he's more likely a solid 2nd round prospect come June and not a first round candidate.  

11. Greg Meireles - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Another one of those talented, slightly undersized forwards that the OHL has to offer this year. Meireles, playing in his first full OHL season, has been sensational so far this year for Kitchener. He plays in all situations for them and has already become a serious workhorse. He definitely plays a lot bigger than his 5'10 frame though. He's a really scrappy guy. Loves to get his nose dirty in the corners and brings a ton of energy to the ice. As he gets stronger, this side of his game could really continue to grow and he could become a very good, physical two-way center. Meireles also exhibits good vision though and has, thus far, been able to create scoring chances through his effort and energy. Could definitely end up higher as the season goes on, but at this point, I'm still asking myself how much potential he has at the NHL level.

12. Jack Studnicka - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Just a really solid two-way center. In a lot of ways he brings the same qualities to the ice that his brother Sam did. Great two way instincts. Physical intensity. Strong faceoff ability. But he's also a lot more naturally talented at the offensive end than his brother and that's why he's a strong candidate for the first two rounds come June. Think of a guy like Jarret Stoll. There's no reason to think that Studnicka can't develop into that terrific 2nd/3rd line center at the next level.

13. Austen Keating - Forward - Ottawa 67's
At some point you have to respect production. Keating has been one of the best point producers of any '99 in the league thus far. In terms of being an NHL prospect, he's certainly not going to be the most glamorous. He's a winger who doesn't possess elite size or speed, two things that NHL scouts obviously favor in forwards who don't play down the middle. But his hockey sense is extremely good. He understands how to move without the puck in the offensive end, and consistently finds himself with scoring chances due to his anticipation and reads. One of those guys the puck just seems to follow. He'll need to keep up this level of production though if he wants to be considered a candidate for the first two rounds, considering his lack of physical gifts.

14. Jacob Paquette - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
I want to put him higher, because I liked him so much as a rookie last year, but with his injury issues to start the year, I'm going to be relatively conservative with my initial ranking. Paquette is most noticeable as a player in his own end first. He has great size at 6'3, 210lbs and has great mobility. He also makes great reads in the defensive end and is the type of player who rarely seems to make a mistake inside his own blueline. The real question I have at this point is...just what type of offensive potential does he have? He's still trying to find his legs after recovering from an upper body injury (that kept him out of the Ivan Hlinka), so it may not be until midseason or so until we get a good indication of that.

15. Markus Phillips - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Stocky two-way defender who has already put together quite the resume in his young junior career. Played at the U18's as an underager. Then was the captain for Canada's Ivan Hlinka team this summer. In a lot of ways, I see Phillips similar to Paquette in value and potential, thus why I've got them back to back. Phillips excels in his own end, and does a very good job with his gap control IMO. He defends very similar to the way a guy like Travis Dermott did. My concern is that I'm just not sure he's a naturally gifted offensive player. Can be turnover prone when he tries to do too much offensively. Like Paquette, we'll see how his game grows as the year goes on.

16. Nate Schnarr - Forward - Guelph Storm
First year center who is bound to be a fast riser if he continues to play as well as he has to start the year. He's playing in all situations for Guelph and is really excelling. He's got a lot of things going for him. He's 6'3, skates well, plays hard in all three zones, and has thus far demonstrated a ton of poise with the puck for a rookie. I can't help but get a little bit of a Mark Scheifele vibe from him when I've watched Guelph play thus far. For what it's worth, I had Scheifele rated 17th at this point in 2011.

17. Adam Ruzicka - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Tough prospect to rank at this point. Entered the season with a lot of hype as a potential first round talent. But his production and overall play has been somewhat disappointing thus far. His big frame and ability to control the puck is definitely noticeable. But I haven't been incredibly impressed with his skating ability and he looks a bit sluggish away from the puck. I will say that I think he's been a bit snakebitten thus far though, as in the couple Sarnia games that I've seen, he's had some glorious chances that he just couldn't bury. Too early to drop him too much, as we have to remember that he's playing in his first year in the OHL, as a rookie import away from home.

18. Kaden Fulcher - Goaltender - Hamilton Bulldogs
Perhaps a bit of an aggressive ranking for the late '98 starter for the Bulldogs, but I really like his potential in the crease. He's 6'3 and is exceptionally athletic. His quickness in the crease is extremely evident. But there are definitely going to be some ups and downs for him as he continues to work on his fundamentals (rebound control, angles). It certainly helps to explain his inconsistencies thus far. But he's Hamilton's starter and they're a great team, so he's going to get his chance to really shine as the year goes on.

19. Jason Robertson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs 
Was one of my favourite rookies last year and IMO he's been Kingston's best player so far this year. Good sized winger who plays a really solid North/South game, using speed and skill to drive the net. I think he's got a lot of potential as a goal scorer as he continues to add strength. Will need to improve his play away from the puck, but he's a very noticeable player when he's attacking the offensive zone.

20. Isaac Ratcliffe - Forward - Guelph Storm
Massive winger who's gotten off to a good start for Guelph thus far. At 6'6, he's one big kid. Kind of reminds me of Tim Gettinger last year. By that I mean, big kid, decent skater for a guy his size, but possesses an extremely raw skill set. Once he gets stronger, he could be one heck of a monster in front of the net and in the cycle. But he'll need to really increase the consistency of his intensity level without the puck and look to try to dominate the crease. But good hands and his size could take him places as he fills out.

21. Noel Hoefenmayer - Defense - Ottawa 67's
One of the most improved players in this OHL so far this year. He's playing with a ton of offensive confidence thus far and has been extremely noticeable as a puck mover and play creator. In particular, he's excelled on the powerplay where he's shown an ability to make good decisions and get his shot through to the net. Defensively, I think there are some holes and he doesn't possess elite size (6'0), but you have to be impressed with the way he's looked so far.

22. Alex Formenton - Forward - London Knights
Certainly not ready to put him up as high as some people are (have seen him up near the first round on a couple lists), but I do think there is a lot to like. Brings a lot of energy to the ice and his speed is extremely noticeable. It's certainly made him an asset on the PK thus far. His play away from the puck is great and he's got a nice quick release from the slot. But he definitely needs to get stronger in order to become a more consistent contributor. Seems to get muscled off the puck quite easily so long as defenders can keep pace with him and keep him to the outside. 

23. Morgan Frost - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Heady center who's become an extremely important player for the Greyhounds this year. Doesn't possess terrific size, but he's solid in all three zones and has also transformed himself into a great faceoff man. Really excels as a playmaker as he displays great vision and poise with the puck, especially in traffic. Definitely not the most flashy guy on the ice, but the son of radio legend Andy Frost, is certainly a notable prospect for this year's draft.

24. Robert Thomas - Forward - London Knights
Very slick offensive center who has great hands and creativity. Can make moves at top speed and has the potential to be a real good playmaker at the next level. Right now his hands, puckhandling ability, and skating ability are creating time and space for him, but he's going to need to get stronger on the puck in order to be a more consistent contributor. But Thomas is a guy that IMO possesses a lot of potential.

25. Jacob McGrath - Goaltender - Sudbury Wolves
Has been wildly inconsistent thus far for Sudbury, but when he's been on, he's been remarkable (like a big win in SSM). Loved his play at the Hlinka camp, where he could have easily been the back-up behind Michael Dipietro. Has great athleticism and reflexes, but much like Kaden Fulcher, he needs to play under more control. That only comes with good coaching and more experience, which McGrath will get. I expect that by season's end he'll be Sudbury's number one and should push Fulcher to be the 2nd goalie off the board from the OHL behind Dipietro.

26. Conor Timmins - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Have to tell you, didn't really see this one coming. Timmins was a solid performer for the Hounds last year, sliding between the 2nd and 3rd pairing, but I never really saw a serious NHL prospect. This year, he's shown remarkable progression and has been the Hounds number one defender ahead of the likes of NHL draft picks Colton White and Bouramman. The late '98 has been great at both ends; playing physical in the defensive end, but also doing a fantastic job running the point on the powerplay. If he can keep up this level of play the whole year, he rises on this list without question.

27. Adam Thilander - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Saw North Bay play early on and I felt like he really struggled. But seems to be finally settling in of late and showing the promise that had been suggested when the Battalion selected him in the Import draft. Has long been considered a candidate for the first round, however I think that looks like a stretch. That said, Thilander appears to be a solid two-way guy who could continue to get better as he gains confidence in this league. 

28. Tom Hedberg - Defense - Barrie Colts
Not an overly large defender at 5'11, 160lbs, but he's also one of the youngest players available in the draft this year so there is a lot of physical maturation to go. Really like his mobility and vision up ice thus far. His ability to run the point on the powerplay has also been superb. As he gains more confidence, it will be interesting to see if he takes more chances offensively 5 on 5, using his mobility to push deeper into the offensive end. His shot will have to improve too. Defensively, he's not going to win a lot of one on one battles right now, but he can use his quickness and agility to stay ahead of forwards and learn to be a solid positional defender.

29. Reagan O'Grady - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
A former first rounder by Kingston a few years ago, O'Grady (a late '98) has finally come into his own in the league, emerging as a first pairing defender for the surprising Wolves. He's formed a terrific partnership with Kyle Capobianco, being the rock defensively that allows Capobianco offensive freedom. O'Grady has been excellent in his own end, making few mistakes in coverage or with the puck. Good size, mobility and instincts make O'Grady a legit candidate for the first three rounds come June.

30. Ben Jones - Forward - Niagara Icedogs
I liked Jones a lot back in his minor midget year with the Toronto Marlboros. I felt like he had the potential to develop into a quality two-way center who had a good head for the game. Niagara made him the 7th overall pick, but he struggled to make much of an impact last year on a very strong Niagara team. This year Niagara is rebuilding and Jones is getting top 6 ice time. He's already missed some time due to a minor injury, but he's been effective when in the lineup. He's got great speed and brings energy to the ice in all three zones. His size isn't ideal, but I think he's a guy who deserves to be just inside the top 30 at this point.

31. Eemeli Rasanen - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Certainly an interesting prospect. Import selection this year. Size is definitely alluring at 6'6, and his reach is evident in the defensive end. Don't feel confident about his skating or offensive skill set yet though to put him higher.

32. Marian Studenic - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Slick offensive winger who has displayed good speed and puckhandling ability thus far. Needs to become more engaged without the puck in order to have a more consistent impact.

33. Maksim Sushko - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Has been a big time surprise for the Attack thus far. Belarussian forward excelling in all situations, using good speed to drive the net. Not big, but looks good in puck protection. Want to see sustained production to move him up.

34. Brady Lyle - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Has had an OK start to the year thus far. He entered the year as a candidate to be one of the higher ranked defenders from the OHL, but I do have some questions. He's a smart defender and doesn't make a ton of mistakes with the puck, but I'm not quite sure what his upside is at the next level.

35. Hayden Davis - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Hard nosed rearguard who is definitely more of a stay at home type for the next level IMO. Can struggle when he tries to activate offensively. But he moves well and shows lots of potential as a shutdown defender.

36. Macauley Carson - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Not sure why he wasn't on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary watch list. At least deserved to be a "C" skater. Big, power forward who isn't the fleetest of foot, but deserves credit for his two-way game and play away from the puck. Has been a major surprise offensively thus far.

37. Albert Michnac - Forward - Guelph Storm
A real sparkplug. Michnac has been extremely noticeable every time I've seen Guelph thus far. Like a little waterbug out there, darting around through traffic. Definitely has some skill too. Would love to see him on the PP more.

38. Kyle Keyser - Goaltender - Oshawa Generals
While his play hasn't been terrific since the trade to Oshawa, I think he still deserves mention here. Has had a few good performances of late and certainly has the potential to be a quality goaltending prospect.

39. Nick Grima - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Currently out with an upper body injury, Grima has had a solid start to the season for the Petes. He's not a big kid but he looked to be building off of a solid rookie season last year, by contributing more offensively and looking comfortable on the powerplay.

40. Zach Gallant - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Hard nosed center who has progressed a lot from his rookie year. The former 5th overall pick has been better than his stat line would indicate IMO. I've found him to be a noticeable presence in all three zones and he's playing physical, which is also noticeable. With an uptick in production, he could easily slide up this list.

41. Elijah Roberts - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
A guy who I definitely feel is better than his stats so far this year would indicate. Elite skater and puck mover. But needs to improve his shot to be a more complete offensive weapon. And his lack of size (pushing 5'10) will hurt him with NHL scouts if he's not producing.

42. Jonah Gadjovich - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Power forward who's a late '98. Very effective at driving the net, working the cycle, and engaging in the forecheck. Has been snake bitten this year so far and is another guy who is better than the numbers you're seeing IMO.

43. Cole Purboo - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
OHL rookie who started off very well, but has drifted off of late with Windsor getting players back. But he's got great size at 6'3, 215lbs and uses that size to be a big factor near the crease. Not generating a ton of chances, but has proven to be a good complimentary, space clearer.

44. C.J. Clarke - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Big bodied forward who isn't really a power forward per say. But he does look good in puck protection and has shown flashes of developing as a goal scorer. Among the shot leaders on the Petes thus far.

45. Brady Gilmour - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
It's going to be tough for Gilmour to really climb the draft board this year, so long as the Spirit continue to play poorly. He's leading the team in scoring thus far, but that's not saying a whole lot either. Gilmour is a solid offensive player who has a well rounded skill set, but he's also undersized. 

46. Kiril Maksimov - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Very talented offensive player who has gotten off to a very disappointing start, along with the rest of his teammates (see above). Too early to drop him off completely. Hopefully he's able to turn things around.

47. Cole Coskey - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
See above...and above. Another guy I had high hopes for coming into the season. A smart offensive player who should definitely not be without a goal thus far. Like Maksimov, too early to drop him off the list completely.

48. Jacob Golden - Defense - London Knights
I definitely see why NHL Central Scouting rated him so highly. He's certainly noticeable when you watch London play because of his mobility. But he's also clearly super raw. Deserves to be on this list despite posting only two assists...but doesn't deserve to be a 'B' rated player IMO.

49. Gera Poddubnyi - Forward - Erie Otters
Ice time has been inconsistent thus far, but the first year import has shown flashes of being a very capable offensive contributor. Size and skill down the middle. Just need to see more of him.

50. Ryan McGregor - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Quick winger who does a lot of the little things on the ice well. Plays well without the puck. Just not sure if I see NHL level offensive capabilities. Also wish he was a bit bigger for the energy game he plays.                
Honorable Mentions:
Matyas Svoboda - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Robbie Burt - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Linus Nyman - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Ian Blacker - Defense - London Knights
Robert Proner - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Liam Hawel - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Nick McHugh - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Cedric Schiemenz - Forward - Kitchener Rangers