Sunday, January 21, 2018
Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing (2018)
This is a yearly tradition (take a look at the Sunday Top 10 sidebar for other years). It's time to examine the top overagers in the OHL, available to be signed by NHL teams for the 2018 calendar year.
Only one player on this list has signed an NHL deal thus far, but they will still be included. This list intends to rank players according to the likelihood that they continue their career at the professional level.
Likely more than half of the players on this list will not end up getting a professional contract and will play in the CIS. It's the nature of the beast. The bottom line is that a few will and many will not (be signed) and those players who do not, will take advantage of their education package while continuing to play a high level of hockey at a Canadian University. This is a particularly weak crop of overage players for NHL scouts, as many of the top overage players in the league this year already have NHL affiliation.
It's important to note that this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team (for example Jeremy Helvig, Kole Sherwood, Jalen Smereck, etc). This list is for those players who are NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on their birth date).
Here's the list:
1. Aaron Luchuk - Forward - Barrie Colts
The only OHL overage free agent to sign an NHL deal thus far (with Ottawa), and quite frankly, he might be the only one on this list to actually get an NHL deal. He's improved nearly every year that he's been in the league and this year has been no different. He's already set career highs in goals and points and we've still got a third of the season to play. Luchuk is an intelligent, energetic forward who has very quick hands. Always keeps his feet moving and processes the game at a high speed. He's not the world's fastest skater straight ahead, and if you combine that with his lack of height (5'10), it helps to explain his lack of interest from NHL scouts prior to this year. But coming into his OA year, Luchuk looks quicker laterally and more explosive thanks to added size. Said bulk has also helped him to be stronger on and off the puck, where he's now able to bide more time for himself to operate in the offensive end. To go with his offensive skill set, Luchuk has always been a strong two-way player who competes just as hard defensively as he does in the offensive end. The added strength has made him that much more effective at working along the wall and winning loose puck battles. In terms of NHL potential, it's tough to say where Luchuk fits in. I think his puck skill and shot release will need to continue to improve for him to become a top 6 player. And he'll need to become a little more physically intense to play a checking line role. But he's without question the top OA available to sign this year IMO and the Sens did well taking a chance on him.
2. Nikita Korostelev - Forward - Peterborough Petes
The former Leafs draft pick has had a pretty good season for Peterborough after failing to earn a pro contract this offseason. The size (6'1, 200lbs) and skill package is going to be alluring for NHL scouts. Korostelev has a great shot with an extremely quick and powerful release. And his skill with the puck is unquestioned. He creates a lot of time and space for himself in the offensive zone, especially coming off the wall or if he can get a step on a defender coming down the wing. One on one, he can be tough to stop. But his skating just has not improved over the course of his OHL career, as he lacks separation ability, relying on his hands to create that space. And not enough of his goals are scored in the middle of the ice. A guy with his size should dominate down low, but it just hasn't been the case consistently over the course of his OHL career. There are certainly flashes, but that's been the criticism since his minor midget days. I think he plays pro somewhere next year and if a coach can truly motivate him to change the way he plays, he could be an asset to an organization.
3. Justin Lemcke - Defense - Hamilton Bulldogs
Long serving captain of the Bulldogs, Lemcke is the very definition of a "solid" defender. Does everything for the first place Bulldogs. The 6'2, 200lbs defender has to be considered one of the best in his own end in the Eastern Conference. Always in the right place at the right time, and has worked hard to improve his lateral and backwards mobility to keep pace with the league's skilled forwards. Lemcke is extremely difficult to win board battles against. He's no slouch offensively either, even if he'll never be mistaken for a speedster. Makes a good first pass and isn't very turnover prone. He also plays a bit on the powerplay where he does a good job getting a low, hard shot through to the net. Depending on how well Hamilton plays in the playoffs this year, I could see Lemcke being this year's Dakota Mermis or Jacob Graves.
4. Ryan Moore - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Speed, speed, and more speed. Moore has to be considered one of the quickest forwards in the OHL. And while his offensive production has dipped a bit from last year, I'm not sure his play has. Extremely dynamic in transition as he's very good at protecting the puck through the neutral zone and across the blueline, despite being only 5'8. And he's fearless on the ice. Attacks the net and is effective fighting through traffic to get to loose pucks in the slot and near the crease. Moore also uses his speed to be an effective forechecker. Will need to prove that he can use his speed at the pro level to create just as effectively, but I could see him earning a pro contract like Niki Petti did last year.
5. Justin Fazio - Goaltender - Sarnia Sting
Easily one of the OHL's most improved goaltenders this year. Fazio might just be the front runner for the league's top goaltender award at this point. At 6'1, he has the size that NHL teams look for in goaltenders these days and he's worked hard to improve his post to post quickness in the crease. But it's his reads and rebound control that have improved the most this year. I always found him to be the type to get caught out of position previously, over-committing or going down to early. But he's playing with more poise and control this year. Sarnia needed him to have a big season to make them contenders and he's done just that. Has been great from puck drop this year. It's pretty rare for overage goaltenders to earn pro contracts (unless they're massive), but if Fazio can lead the Sting deep into the playoffs, he could get himself a pro deal IMO. You have to applaud the improvements he's made.
6. Connor Schlichting - Defense - Sarnia Sting
It's great to see Schlichting put his injury woes behind him as he's played two consecutive seasons injury free after only playing 56 combined the previous two. I think that this season we're really seeing what he's capable of now that he's healthy and confident. At one point, he was considered one of the best defenders in the '97 age group in Ontario. Schlichting has been Sarnia's number one defender this year, playing a ton of minutes for the Sting in all situations. He has the size (6'3, 200lbs) to play on an NHL blueline, but his skating will need to continue to evolve. He was billed as a puck mover coming out of minor midget, but it's actually been his defensive game that has grown to become his main asset. His +24 this year is no fluke. He is extremely impressive in the defensive end as someone who can take away space below the hash marks, although I would still consider him more of a positional/stick checker. The same things I said about Justin Lemcke apply to Schlichting. If he can be the #1 defender on an OHL champion, he's going to earn an NHL deal.
7. Mason Kohn - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Trade to Saginaw has saved Kohn's season after a disappointing start to the year in Oshawa. His acquisition by the Spirit has also turned their season around, as he's been the catalyst to their run up the Western Conference standings (after a slow start themselves). He's over a point per game in Saginaw and is arguably their most important player outside of Evan Cormier. Kohn is a high energy center who does pretty much everything well. Engaged in all three zones, he's a tireless worker whose energy and effort is infectious for his linemates. Leads by example. Skates well. Has good vision and works the wall well. Kills penalties. Can finish in tight. Could definitely be a potential fourth line center at the NHL level if he continues to work and improve his game. A pro player next year IMO.
8. Owen Headrick - Defense - Erie Otters
Transfer from Lake Superior State who played a depth role for the Otters during their Championship run last year. This year he's earning big minutes and wearing a letter. Headrick is a smooth skating offensive defender who heads up Erie's powerplay. Shows excellent lateral mobility running the point and is aggressive in jumping up into the attack (top 10 in shots on goal per game). Was a bit surprised that he didn't change homes at the deadline, so he'll close out his OHL career in Erie. With the focus on moving the puck quickly and starting the transition game at the pro level, Headrick may attract attention from NHL scouts, especially since I see him being a little better defensively than a guy like Garrett McFadden or Marcus Crawford.
9. Logan DeNoble - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Hasn't had quite as good of a season as I expected he would, but he's still one of the better OA's in the OHL and the captain of the Petes this year. His goal production is a bit down this year, but he still has a chance to hit the 30 goal plateau for the second straight year. DeNoble possesses a terrific shot, one of the better wristers in the OHL IMO. Quick release and is excellent at coming down the wing and using defenders as a screen. DeNoble is also a solid two-way player who plays the penalty kill for the Petes too. Ultimately, what I think has held him back is an inability to develop his puck skill and creativity to the point where he can consistently generate his own scoring chances. Purely a trigger man in that sense. Paired with the right playmaker, DeNoble can be an asset to a pro franchise, so long as he continues to get stronger and quicker.
10. Hayden Verbeek - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Absolute warrior on the ice. Easily one of the hardest working players in the league. Doesn't have the world's most dynamic skill set but gets the most out of it possible by using his brain, his skating ability, and his lower body strength (a real bull despite being only 5'9). Always fighting for loose pucks, especially near the crease and in the slot where he's extremely elusive. Also, watch this guy in the neutral zone. Does a great job stopping advances and lifting sticks to break up plays, turning the tide the other way. Verbeek is also one of the OHL's best penalty killers. Again, not sure the offensive skill set is good enough for him to be a significant NHL player, but if the Hounds make it all the way this year, he's going to get a ton of exposure. All heart. All hustle.
Honorable Mentions (By Position)
I don't see any goaltenders other than Fazio that deserve mention as potential pro candidates.
A couple of terrific puck movers in Guelph's Garrett McFadden and Saginaw's Marcus Crawford. Similar sized guys who have similar skill sets. McFadden is the better skater IMO, where as Crawford is the better powerplay QB. I would say McFadden is the slightly better defender too, as Crawford can have some issues in his own end still (especially with decision making). Could see either as a potential pro player (more dynamic than Stefan Leblanc who signed with Montreal last year). Kitchener's new acquisition Austin McEneny is just a solid two-way defender who was a big part of Windsor's Mem Cup victory last year. Makes a good outlet pass and plays a relatively mistake free game. Lastly, North Bay's Riley Bruce, a former Calgary Flames pick, is an absolutely massive defender at 6'7. Skating remains a concern, but his size on the backend will always be attractive to NHL scouts.
Kenny Huether is the current leading goal scorer for Oshawa (as I write this). He's a little ball of energy on the ice who plays the game similar to Hayden Verbeek. Has a very quick release in the slot. Jordan Ernst is a converted defender who was originally at Bowling Green on a scholarship. The second year forward is a power winger who has a big shot and who plays the game hard, perhaps even teetering on the edge of pesky. Lastly Johnny Corneil is a hard working winger who plays a secondary role for the IceDogs, driving play with his skating ability and looking to create by driving the net and working the wall. He's also the captain of the upstart Dogs.