Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday Top 10 - 2018 NHL Draft Re-Entries




It's that time of the year for my annual (2017, 2016, 2015201420132012201120102009) list of the top second and third year eligible OHL players for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. NHL teams continue to draft re-entry players in increasing number. This is mostly because drafting a second or third year eligible player gives NHL teams a lot of flexibility in their development under the CBA. Plus, a lot of these guys have been having success in recent years (Andrew Mangiapane, Tanner Pearson and Andrew Shaw are great examples from the OHL), which basic psychology tells us that other NHL teams will try to mimic.

Just to clarify, yet again, for those with limited understanding of the NHL draft system; North American players have either two or three years to get drafted, depending on their birth date. For those born from January 1 to September 15, they will go through three NHL drafts. For those born from September 16 to December 31, they will go through two NHL drafts. The players on this list are a mix of those having been passed over once or twice already.

Also, do not confuse this list with players drafted in 2016 who will re-enter the draft should they fail to come to a contractual agreement with their NHL team by June 1 (and whose birth date still allows them to be eligible). Quite often those too are referred to as draft re-entries. But this list does not contain them because it is not yet known who those players will be.

Last year five re-entries from the OHL were drafted (Rymsha, Brassard, Crawley, Palmu, and Bourque), with another (Miletic) signing an NHL deal. This year, I think we could see more. This might be the strongest list of this type that I've ever put together. That also means that it was the most difficult to pare down. Many of the players listed as HM's would have made previous year's lists and have an excellent chance of being drafted. I honestly wouldn't be shocked at all if we had 8 (or more) guys from this article drafted come June.

 
Without further rambling, here's my list:


1. Joey Keane - Defense - Barrie Colts
Some (or many) will probably be surprised to see Keane at #1 on this list and not Sean Durzi. I am sure many will disagree. And I do love Durzi too and believe both deserve to be top 3 round NHL picks this year and have the potential to be longtime NHL defenders. But those who follow me on twitter will know how impressed I've been with Keane this season. I just see him as potential impact defender at both ends. Last year, coming over from the USHL and playing for such a poor team, he just wasn't a noticeable player for the right reasons. But it's been the exact opposite this season. He's the #1 defender for one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and emerged as one of the better defenders in the entire OHL (is a finalist for the Max Kaminsky). And he's a year younger than Durzi. Keane finished 13th in the league in defenseman scoring, but was 1st in +/- at +45. The next closest Barrie defender was Tyler Tucker at +27. That's why he was not only named the top defensive defender in the Eastern Conference in the Coaches Poll, but also the East's most improved. I look at Keane and see a defender made for today's NHL. Smooth skater who can push the pace of attack, but also solid and dependable in his own end. He makes a great outlet pass and rarely seems to turn the puck over. Keane also has a bit of a mean streak and he makes himself difficult to beat in all one on one situations. I mean, it's not like we're talking about a guy who has come out of nowhere either. Keane is a former highly touted prospect who was one of the 17 players invited to the U.S. NTDP U17 tryouts a few years ago and he finally seems to have figured it all out. I just see Keane as the complete package and teams would be crazy to pass on him again.

2. Sean Durzi - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
As I said, I love Durzi too. Consider him 1(B). I actually had Durzi listed on my draft list last year, ranked 41st among OHL players (here). As I said then, he was actually one of the higher scoring defenders in the 2nd half last year and he simply just continued that into this year. Also, I mentioned that his shot was a heck of a lot better than his 2 goals last year might have made you believe. That high ankle sprain certainly stunted his production in the 2nd half, but it was a very impressive year with Durzi having the 2nd highest point per game rate in the league among defenders (behind Evan Bouchard). Last year I mentioned how I couldn't really envision a defined role for Durzi at the next level, and that's likely why he wasn't drafted. But I think he worked hard to make himself a more dynamic player this offseason and now he's made a believer of scouts (and myself) that he can be a puck mover at the next level. His acceleration is much more crisp this year and he's really made himself a better skater overall. When you combine that with improved puck skill and confidence leading the rush, you've got a guy who can generate offense at a high rate. Smart, positional defender too who generally makes good reads. I think that he'll need to be a little stronger away from the puck at the next level, but the improvements he has made to his game has made him a legitimate NHL prospect. As I said, I wouldn't hesitate to take either he, or Keane, in the first three rounds.

3. Linus Nyman - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Had Nyman ranked as the 28th best OHL available last year after his rookie OHL season (here). I was impressed with his play last year on an offensively challenged Frontenacs team. A true offensive spark plug with a clear head for the game. But as I wrote, a lack of strength hindered his ability to produce consistently. This year, he looked much stronger. OK, he's not Zdeno Chara and he's still undersized. But he was much more effective along the wall, showcasing an ability to prolong possession, which made him a more dynamic player. He can really break down opposing defenses and is just so slippery in the offensive zone. That perfect complimentary offensive player and it's why whatever line he has been on, has been Kingston's most effective one. Played the first half of the year with Robertson, and the second half with Vilardi. I don't think there's any guarantee that his offensive production will translate to the NHL level. But with his effort in all three zones, solid skating, and hockey sense/vision in the offensive zone, he deserves to be an NHL draft pick this year.

4. Justin Brazeau - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Hulking winger became a force to be reckoned with this year in North Bay. Last year, after going from 6 goals to 22, I felt like an NHL team would give the 6'5 forward a chance at the draft. In fact, I had him 4th on this very list last year. It wasn't the case, but his game grew even more this year and I'd honestly be shocked if Brazeau isn't drafted this year or signed this summer. For me, there were three distinctive improvements made in his game. The first and most noticeable was an improvement in his playmaking ability. With his size and ability to dominate down low, this was a necessary adjustment if he wanted to take that next step as an elite player. He now exhibits poise and vision to find open linemates when teams try to play him too aggressively in order to try to stop him coming off the wall or driving the net. The second improvement was in his confidence. No longer a secondary scoring option, Brazeau drives the play offensively; comfortable taking charge in the offensive end and running the offense through his unique skill set. The third improvement was in his skating. It's certainly not the best in the league, but it's far from the worst. His first few strides, in particular, look more explosive now and it's really made him a load to handle for opposing defenders who lack the reach to keep him at bay. You'd be hard pressed to find a player who was more important to his team this year (plays in all situations) and you have to be impressed with the progression each year of this unique 6'5 power winger. 

5. Jakob Brahaney - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Brahaney was unquestionably one of the league's most improved players this year. In his rookie year last year, Brahaney looked overmatched quite often and his playing time was limited as a result. But the former high pick and highly touted prospect (was an invite to the Hlinka camp in 2016) came back strong this year and has looked like a completely different player. His biggest strength is in his mobility. He's a very smooth skater and uses this mobility to be an effective two-way defender. He's always been billed as a potential puck mover, but it was his defensive game that really took shape this year for Kingston, emerging as a top 4 defender on a potential Championship squad. Has really learned to be more patient, using his mobility to help him cover ground in his own end and his upgraded strength has helped him play with a little more truculence. Offensively, he's great at starting the breakout. Has a high panic threshold in the defensive end and has really learned to use his mobility to create time and space for himself to make a smooth exit pass. As he gains confidence further, I would look for his offensive game to continue to evolve, although his point shot will need to improve to make himself as true threat working the powerplay. Like Joey Keane and Durzi, Brahaney's game is suited for the way the pro game is played now. Mobility, puck movement, and smarts.  

6. Mac Hollowell - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Talk about unheralded stars and Mac Hollowell has to be one of the first names you mention. Consider this. Hollowell broke his fibula at the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect camp and yet, played in 63 games this OHL, missing only the first 5 games of the year. If that doesn't speak to the type of work ethic and character that Hollowell has, I don't know what will. I also ask you this question. What Greyhounds defender posted the highest point totals this year? Not Timmins. Not Sandin. Not Sambrook. Mac Hollowell. Been huge in the postseason too, with nearly a point per game and a +10 rating. Yes, he's only 5'9. But this is a new NHL where undersized defenders can succeed so long as they have three things. The first is elite skating ability, which Mac has. The second is poise with the puck, which Mac has. Very rarely does he make a mistake with the puck and his ability to start the breakout is integral to the Soo's success. The third is character and toughness to compete through contact in the defensive end. Being a key cog on the top team in the OHL (and CHL), Hollowell deserves to be drafted this year. 

7. Brandon Saigeon - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Another repeat appearance on this list, and just as Brazeau was, Saigeon is actually ranked in the same position as last year. And its due, not just to another jump in production (nearly doubling his goal and point totals), but also to continued improvement in his skating and play away from the puck. Saigeon is a terrific two-way center who really plays with a chip on his shoulder. Loves to play below the hash marks and is willing to take punishment near the crease. He's developed into sort of a pest for the Bulldogs; a guy who really gets under the skin of the opposition. His shot looks way better this year too. Was lethal on the powerplay, working the slot and dot as a one time option. The other thing that shows progression has been his playoff performance thus far. The goose egg he laid last year might have cost him a draft spot, but this year he leads the Bulldogs in post season goals. There will be concerns about how much of his production came with the man advantage. And even though his skating has improved, he will still need to become more explosive to be successful at the next level. But with his complete game, uptick in production and goal scoring potential, he could finally hear his name called this year.

8. Brady Lyle - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Really like the progression Lyle's game showed after a move to Owen Sound at the start of the season. Lyle went undrafted last year despite starting the season ranked as a potential top 3 round selection. But his season in North Bay was too bland for scouts. Size and mobility, but what was he? Neither his offensive or defensive approach showed enough urgency and that vanilla style prevented him from really standing out. In Owen Sound, he was given a little more freedom offensively and it really seemed to invigorate him and his game. Seeing time on both the second and third pairing, as well as on the powerplay, Lyle excelled. However, it was not until Sean Durzi went down with an injury, thrusting him into the top 4 with more powerplay time, that Lyle really started to showcase just how much he had improved. A lot more aggressive in using his speed to lead or jump up into the rush. And looks way more confident running the powerplay, while also upgrading his point shot. Defensively, he's getting caught flat footed a lot less and is way more of an active participant, rather than a passenger. He didn't have an identity last year. But this year, I think it was a lot easier to see him as a potential NHL puck mover. In my Owen Sound viewings this year, Lyle was the better player between he and Markus Phillips (who was an NHL draft selection last year).

9. Jason Willms - Forward - Barrie Colts
One of the unsung heroes of the surprise of the Eastern Conference, the Colts, Willms is an easy player to like. The effort always seems to be consistent for him and he's transformed himself into one of the league's top two-way forwards. Along with Jaden Peca (and a rotating cast of other wingers), that 3rd line has been a consistent force who provides energy and grit for Barrie. For as intelligent as he is as a penalty killer and three zone presence, we can't overlook Willms' offensive contributions. More than doubled his production from last year and was nearly a point per game player this year in only his 2nd OHL season. In fact, his 27 goals this year were 2nd only to Linus Nyman among undrafted 99's, and were 14th overall among 99's. Ultimately, the key to Willms' success will be the upgrades he can make to his skating and overall puck poise and creativity. His top speed is alright, but that first step quickness is mediocre. And there will be concerns over his overall potential at the next level. But, I love seeing this kind of progression from 99's on good teams, who can make the necessary improvements to help their team take that next step. 

10. Adam Thilander - Defense - North Bay Battalion

Tough choice for me at #10. There were several guys that I really deliberated about. But ultimately, I settled on Thilander. At face value, you're probably asking yourself, what's the big deal? This guy went undrafted last year, is a '98, and only modestly improved his production (35 to 42 points). But to me, he looked like a different player than last year. Despite rebuilding by dealing Cam Dineen and Brett McKenzie, the Battalion actually improved in the second half and a lot of that had to do with the play of Thilander IMO. Last year I talked about how I didn't really see a role for him at the next level because of a lack of identity and a lack of a standout skill. The production was decent, but I just didn't see a guy who was dynamic enough to be an offensive blueliner at the NHL level. But I think I saw that this year. Looked a bit quicker, but more importantly, looked way more confident in his ability to make plays with the puck. Extended rushes. Qb'd the power play. Exhibited poise starting the breakout. Heck, this guy was one of the league's best shootout players this year as a defender (4 for 4). And I thought his defensive game was definitely better, especially in the corners where he was more effective engaging physically and separating his man from the puck. Some of the other candidates for the #10 spot, had great starts but fizzled down the stretch. Where as Thilander did the opposite and elevated his game when his team really needed him. I'm not sure that he's ever a high impact player at the next level, but he could be a steady third pairing puck mover who won't hurt you. 

Honorable Mentions (listed alphabetically and positionally)

Goaltender

Stephen Dhillon - Niagara IceDogs 
Kind of a tough season for Dhillon after becoming one of the league's breakout goaltending stars last year (was the top player on this very list a year ago). His play was up and down, although he did finish the season exceptionally well (especially in the playoffs). Huge goaltender who definitely has pro potential. Will backstop a very strong Niagara team next year as an OA. 

Anthony Popovich - Guelph Storm
One of the guys that I considered at 10. Guelph's defense was a nightmare some nights, but Popovich was cool as a cucumber and really provided consistently strong goaltending this year for a team that needed it, and wasn't sure it was going to get it. Definitely one of the league's most improved players. Looked a lot more athletic this year. Guelph should be even better next year and he'll likely see another numbers spike then.

Christian Propp - North Bay Battalion 
Brought in from Barrie, Propp was outstanding for the Battalion this year. North Bay badly needed to develop another young netminder and Propp looks like the one. The '99 has size, athleticism and composure in the crease. Really aggressive goalie who plays a bit of an unorthodox style. Raw, but has a lot of potential. Another guy I heavily considered at 10.
 
Joseph Raaymakers - London Knights
I'll admit that I don't see Raaymakers getting drafted. But I think that he deserves mention on this list. London turnaround this year correlated with bringing him into the fold and he was calming, veteran influence on the team (and Jordan Kooy). Raaymakers is a traditional butterfly style goalie who is aggressive in looking to cut down angles. He'll be a starter in the OHL next year for someone, whether it's London or not remains to be seen.

Defense

Theo Calvas - Sarnia Sting
Hulking stay at home defender who emerged as a top 4 defender in the OHL this year for the Sting. 6'4, 200lbs and mean. Calvas' +29 was second best on the team. Moves the puck reasonably well for a big man too. Skating isn't terrific, but he's an asset in the defensive end and has that pro frame. 
 

Ben Gleason - Hamilton Bulldogs 
A tough player to gauge. Has long been a guy who you look at and watch play and wonder why he hasn't already been drafted. Extremely mobile defender who starts the breakout quickly and has some size. Defensive game continues to get better. I guess the sticking point is, are his offensive talents strong enough to be a top flight offensive defender and powerplay QB at the next level? Because he doesn't exactly profile as a defensive first guy. Not sure he gets drafted again, but could be a top flight free agent option next year as an OA if he can take his offensive game to that next level. 

Liam Ham - Niagara IceDogs
Probably not a serious draft option at this point, but felt Ham deserved mention because of how much he improved this year and because of how critical he was to Niagara's success this year. Plays in all situations for Niagara and logs a ton of minutes on an unheralded defense. He's only 5'10. And he's not the world's most dynamic skater. But he plays with a ton of heart and grit. And he's very intelligent at both ends. If the skating keeps improving, he's going to draw NHL interest by the time his OHL career is over 

Hudson Wilson - Ottawa 67's
A guy you have to watch play a decent amount to really appreciate. Offensively, he's not the most effective player. But defensively, he's an absolute rock. Skating continues to improve and by season's end, he was seeing first pair ice time on a young 67's blueline. At 6'3, 200lbs, Wilson is intriguing because of his defensive pedigree and potential. 

Forward

Luke Burghardt - North Bay Battalion
What a difference a change of scenery can make. Fell out of favor in Guelph and North Bay thanks them for that after he put up over a point per game for the Battalion this year. Burghardt is an extremely quick skater who loves to push the pace. In North Bay, he's figured out how to become an effective three zone player who also excels along the wall and gets under the skin of the opposition. Could definitely be a future bottom sixer at the next level.

Tyler Burnie - Kingston Frontenacs 
Really like Burnie, despite the modest stat line. First half of the season, I thought he was fantastic and a lock to make this list (15 goals in his first 33). But when Kingston started loading up, he got pushed down the depth chart a bit and the offensive production dipped (2 goals in his last 22). Thought his physical game wasn't as consistent after the suspension either (8 games for a head check to Sean Durzi). But we're looking at a 6'4, 200lbs center with good hands, the potential to dominate down low, and who has shown to be a very imposing physical threat who looks to drive the net hard. Probably the Fronts 1st line center next year IMO (he or Neumann) and the numbers should jump yet again then. As he continues to improve his skating, he could definitely be an NHL player IMO.

Cole Coskey - Saginaw Spirit 
The leading goal scorer for the Spirit this year with 27 and the team's most improved player after his disappointing draft season last year. Heavily considered him at #10. But his slump down the stretch (4 goals in the final 22) hurt his draft stock IMO. He really faded. I do like Coskey though. Really knows his role on the ice and is an excellent support player in the offensive end. Gets after it on the forecheck. Digs out pucks along the wall. Works the cycle. Drives the net. Has good hands in close and is a generally smart player. Could see him being this year's Sam Miletic. A guy who goes undrafted again, but impresses at a development camp and earns a contract.

Kevin Hancock - Owen Sound Attack 
Hancock is an excellent OHL player. He's one of Owen Sound's most important players, without a doubt. He's also one of the OHL's elite two-way forwards. His awareness in all three zones is top notch and he's really increased his physical intensity this year to make himself that much more difficult to play against. But his skating is still only average and he's not going to win any size contests. And in reality, he's probably not a top 6 player at the next level and teams are looking for speed from their bottom 6 these days in the NHL. If he doesn't get drafted yet again, I'm guessing teams will want to see what he can do in his overage year, with less support around him. If Suzuki makes Vegas, can he be an offensive leader for the Attack? 

Sean Josling - Sarnia Sting
Proving to be a tremendous free agent signing by the Sting at this point. Nearly doubled his goal totals this year and played in every situation imaginable for Sarnia. Such a hard working and intelligent player. Huge part of that elite penalty killing group this season. Love how much he's elevated his game in this year's playoffs too. He's the type of guy who is going to keep getting better and eventually draw interest from NHL scouts IMO. 
 
Austen Keating - Ottawa 67's 
Hard to imagine Keating getting drafted this year after his offensive production took a dip from last year. No question he was a surprising no draft last year after being a near point per game player in his draft year. But his average size, combined with his average skating ability definitely scared off NHL teams from being able to project him as an NHL player. Even with the offensive production decrease, he deserves mention on this list for the improvements he made away from the puck. Emerged as a terrific penalty killer and defensive zone presence. Much improved play along the wall. I'm sure the offensive numbers increase again next year.

Renars Krastenbergs - Oshawa Generals
Quite frankly, had higher expectations for Krastenbergs this year. Was still a 20 goal scorer, but feel that he's capable of more. Strong on the puck. Good in tight. Good skater. As a '98, probably needed to produce more to be an NHL draft pick, even if the Generals spread their ice time around pretty evenly and 19 of those goals came 5 on 5. Hope he returns for an OA season, even if it's rare for an Import. Could be a 30 goal scorer in that scenario.

Hugo Leufvenius - Sarnia Sting
Hulking Swedish Import winger who has been a standout for the Sting in this year's playoffs. 6'3, 224lbs and already on his way to the Ryan Getzlaf haircut. In all seriousness, this guy is an absolute load to handle down low. Once he gets that inside positioning on you, he's really hard to separate from the puck or remove from the crease. With more powerplay time next year, I think he's a 30 goal scorer. Skating will need to improve though. As a very physically mature '99, I think there is some untapped potential here and the playoffs have shown that. Another guy that was heavily considered at #10.

Kyle MacLean - Oshawa Generals 
The stats don't really warrant a mention for this list. And MacLean had a tough year on the injury front, missing chunks of time on multiple occasions. But I can't help but feel like MacLean has a ton of potential that he's not yet fulfilling. The son of former Devils forward John, Kyle is a very well rounded player. Good size down the middle. Plays well in all three zones. Great skater. Was excellent for Oshawa in this year's playoffs. Just feel like that MacLean will eventually be an excellent OHL player and pro prospect. Whether that happens next year or in his OA year remains to be seen.

Zachary Magwood - Barrie Colts
Another one of those unsung heroes for the Colts this year. Magwood is all energy, all the time. Type of guy who is all over the ice, using his speed to attack, with and without the puck. Very slippery in the offensive zone. Not the biggest guy (5'10), but the puck seems to find him near the net. Magwood is also a terrific penalty killer who can use that speed to be a pest. He's improved every year that he's been in the league and next year, should be a go to player for the Colts, possibly even the team's first line RW'er. One of the OHL's most underrated players IMO.

Kyle Maksimovich - Erie Otters 
After playing on some really strong Erie teams since he entered the league, this season had to be tough on Maksimovich. He finished the year as the team's leading scorer and still managed to average a point per game for the 3rd straight year. I think scouts would be impressed with his ability to be an offensive leader and not just a support player. His lack of size will factor against him, but Maksimovich has everything else that you'd look for. Just a really smart player in all three zones. Will be interesting to see if the Otters move Maksimovich to a potential contender at some point next year. The Aaron Luchuk breakout candidate next year as an OA.

Albert Michnac - Mississauga Steelheads
Probably going to surprise some people that he's not in my top 10, considering the type of press and pro scouting attention that he's received this year. Michnac was fantastic for the Steelheads to start the year. High energy offensive player who has some really slick mitts and is an excellent playmaker. Has really good edgework and agility that makes him very elusive. But for the second straight season he disappeared down the stretch. Goalless over his final 20 games (including the playoffs). Thought he especially struggled in the playoffs against Barrie, who really played him physically and he had some trouble adjusting to that. Like Krastenbergs, I'd like to see him return as an OA (a rare thing for an Import). Just needs to get stronger on the puck.

Isaac Nurse - Hamilton Bulldogs 
Cousin to Darnell, Isaac is one of the OHL's hardest workers. Relentless without the puck. Always keeps his feet moving. 17 goals on the year in a supporting role for the Bulldogs, but he's been super clutch thus far in the playoffs with 6. Kills penalties. Plays the body. Attacks the net. Does all the little things well. Probably not an NHL pick at this point, but if he can prove to have a little more in him offensively moving forward, he'll definitely draw NHL attention.

Jaden Peca - Barrie Colts
I sound a little like a broken record, but here's another one of those offensive sparkplugs for the Colts whose game took massive strides this season. 7 points in 2017. 47 in 2018. Love Peca's intensity level on the ice. He's one of the better forecheckers in the league and despite being under 6'0, he's terrific at creating space for linemates because of how well he works the wall and drives the net. There's a reason why whoever the Colts put with Willms and Peca found success. 

Cole Purboo - Windsor Spitfires
One of the most improved 99's in the OHL this year. Had the huge winger (6'3, 220lbs) as an HM in my draft rankings last year. Needed to upgrade his skating and his physical intensity heading into this year and he definitely did that. Ended up finishing the year as Windsor's leading scorer. Still at his best down low. His office is behind the net where his ability to work the cycle is extremely important to Windsor's offense (especially the powerplay). Next step is upgrading his puck skill and ability to work in transition, but there's definitely pro potential here.