Monday, May 28, 2018

2018 NHL Mock Draft

Third year that I've done a mock draft. As I always mention, while I cover the OHL extensively, I'm a hockey prospect nut in general and as such, have a fair amount of knowledge of the other players available.

Scouts seem to be universally in agreement that is a strong and deep draft year. A few potential franchise players available early. And potential high impact players available all the way into the mid second round. That said, there does seem to be a relative consensus for the players most likely taken in the Top 20 or so. There will always be surprises. Some years more than others. But this year, it just feels like everyone has a pretty good handle on most guys who will go early. It's that 20-31 range that seems quite unpredictable.

And well, because it's Vegas, I've got them winning the cup and selecting last (or at least Detroit with their pick).

Here's my first round mock draft.

1. Buffalo Sabres - Rasmus Dahlin (Frolunda, SHL)
At this point, this seems like a no brainer; Dahlin is the slam dunk first overall pick. Projected by some to be the next Nik Lidstrom, Dahlin will be deemed the savior of the Sabres franchise, who seem to be stuck in a rebuilding carousel. But Mittelstadt looks like a great pick at this point, and now they've added Dahlin. Could those two pieces be the key to progression for this once storied franchise? Was so incredibly impressed with Dahlin at the U18's, especially as a draft eligible player. I think the one thing that's not talked about enough is his size. This guy is 6'2 and possibly still growing. Can't wait to see what he does in the NHL next year.

2. Carolina Hurricanes - Andrei Svechnikov (Barrie, OHL)
Carolina definitely hit the jackpot winning the lottery and moving up into the 2nd spot where they can take Svechnikov. The Svech vs Zadina debate seems to have cooled a bit and it really appears almost set in stone that Svechnikov is the #2. He's the perfect hybrid for the way the game used to be played, and how it is played now. Has great size, but also dynamic skating ability. Has that killer instinct as a power winger and tremendous goal scoring potential. But his two-way game is underrated and could develop to the point of being elite IMO. Marian Hossa is the comparison that I've thrown around. It just so happens that he fits perfectly into Carolina's lineup. They've got a terrific young defense and some very talented young playmakers up front. But size and power from a guy who can drive possession on the wing is just what the doctor ordered. I think he can be a 30-30 guy next year in the NHL.

3. Montreal Canadiens - Filip Zadina (Halifax, QMJHL)
I know there has been a lot of talk lately about Montreal drafting someone other than Zadina; opting to take a center like Kotkaniemi instead. But I just don't think the Canadiens can pass up on what they have been gifted in Zadina. This is a team that looks to be on the cusp of a rebuild, who is working hard to overhaul their prospect cupboard. In that scenario, and when you're drafting in the top 3, you need to take the player you think can be the best and that seems to nearly unanimously be Zadina. And look, sure Montreal could use a franchise center. But they also had only two 20 goal scorers this past year. And if there's one thing Zadina can do, it's light the lamp. This kid is a dynamic goal scorer who also plays hard in all three zones and should be a long time NHL player and 30+ goal scorer.

4. Ottawa Senators - Oliver Wahlstrom (USDP, USHL)
Yes, I know that the Senators are faced with the task of dealing with the inevitable move of Erik Karlsson. Because of that, it seems like some people want the Senators to try and replace his ability to move the puck with one of the elite puck movers available. And Brady Tkachuk seems like a potential pick too because of the intensity level he plays with. But I think Wahlstrom is the 4th best player available this year, and I think his goal scoring potential fits in extremely well with what Ottawa is building. That is, of course, if you see him on the wing and not down the middle, like I do. I look at guys like Logan Brown and Colin White, possession based centers who will need that trigger man in the future. And the one thing this draft has a lot of is quality defense prospects. The Sens choose again at 22 in the first and can likely find a quality defender there. But they won't find a potential top line forward in Wahlstrom.

5. Arizona Coyotes - Noah Dobson (Acadie-Bathurst, QMJHL)
It does seem likely that the Coyotes go defense at #5. When they've drafted high (in the lottery), they've gone forward in recent years and the depth they have up front is insane right now. But on the backend, it's a different story. Jakob Chychrun is just starting to find himself after some injury issues and OEL isn't getting any younger. The question is, what defender do they go with? The elite skating, but undersized Quinn Hughes? The poised and confident Evan Bouchard? The athletic and dynamic Adam Boqvist? It could be any of those. But I put my money on Noah Dobson. He had a heck of a QMJHL playoffs and Memorial Cup and looks like a potential Alex Pietrangelo type of defender at the NHL level. And while the Coyotes would love to have a dynamic puck mover on the backend, I think Dobson is the best of the bunch in his own end and that two-way ability fits in very well with what they currently they have and need.

6. Detroit Red Wings - Brady Tkachuk (Boston University, NCAA)
I know that the consensus of Wings fans seems to be that they draft one of the talented young defenders available. And that could very well happen. But I'm just not sure I see it, especially if a guy like Tkachuk is still available. The Wings have some potentially solid puck movers on the blueline in the system already in Hronek, Saaraijarvi, and Cholowski. I also realize that the Wings drafted a big net presence last year in Michael Rasmussen. But this is a team who is drafting inside the top 6 for the first time since 1990! They need to take the best player available and I think that player is Tkachuk. He can impact the game in so many different ways, more ways than Rasmussen can. And if anything, having guys like Rasmussen, and Tkachuk (and Givani Smith) there to support the likes of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Evgeni Svechnikov, should only help the team progress. Could also see them taking Kotkaniemi or Barrett Hayton here. Although who am I kidding, maybe they do take another puck mover with local kid Quinn Hughes there.

7. Vancouver Canucks - Quinn Hughes (Michigan, NCAA)
I feel like given the glut of young forward talent the Canucks have accumulated (Boeser, Pettersson, Gaudette, Horvat, etc), it would make sense for Vancouver to go defense here. Olli Juolevi had a solid year in Finland, but I'm not sure his progression and path has gone as smoothly as Canucks' brass would have hoped. And there will be a top notch puck mover available to them. Whether it's Bouchard, Hughes, Dobson, Smith, or Boqvist, the Canucks have options. So which one makes the most sense for Vancouver? I'd put my money on Hughes. The lack of size is a concern, but I feel like they might like his high end skating ability and potential as a dynamic puck rusher. A guy who can push the pace and get the puck to the likes of Boeser and Pettersson. The others are great options too, but they probably end up being pretty similar players to Juolevi when all is said and done. Hughes has that game breaking ability. And they'll be pretty familiar with his game having kept tabs on Will Lockwood this year.

8. Chicago Blackhawks - Jesperi Kotkaniemi (Assat, Liiga)
Kotkaniemi is definitely one of the draft's bigger risers in the 2nd half of the season thanks to some strong international performances and the overall weakness of the center crop this year. Given his strong puck skill and two-way ability, he seems like the perfect fit for the Blackhawks organization based not only on need, but also the traits that they value in their top end draft picks. Given the team has spent the majority of their high end picks recently on defenders, I believe that they will look for a higher upside forward, someone to eventually replace a guy like Jonathan Toews as they go through what looks to be a possible rebuild. I could also see them having a lot of interest in Barrett Hayton here. Probably early for him to go, but again, he seems like the type of player that Hawks brass really seems to covet.

9. New York Rangers - Evan Bouchard (London, OHL)
The Rangers are another team I look for to go defense with their top 10 pick. Such a great year for offensive defenders and this team is slowly rebuilding their prospect depth. Went with two forwards last year in the 1st forward (and both look like great picks), so why not jump on the opportunity to get a potential top pairing defender here? Again, the question remains...which one? The Rangers have used the OHL a lot in recent years to grab their draft picks and to sign prospects, so I think Bouchard would be their guy if still available. His poise, playmaking abiity, and PP QB skill set would be a perfect fit for a Rangers team that finished in the bottom half of the league in goals scored. And at this point, I also think that he would be the best player available, as on Bobby Mac's most recent list, he was listed as almost unanimously the 5th best player available this year. Skating and upside drop him below Dobson and Hughes on draft day though, at least IMO.

10. Edmonton Oilers - Adam Boqvist (Brynas, Superelit, SHL)
At this point, I think the Oilers need to look at drafting the best player available at #10. I know that sounds crazy, because shouldn't all teams do that always? I think sometimes you do need to take into account organizational weaknesses. The Oilers want to be a competitive team next year again and I think it's likely they use young assets to try and do that through trade. That means any weakness they have currently, may not be one in the near future. With the players I have available at this spot, I think Boqvist checks off a lot of boxes for Edmonton. He's the best player available with the highest upside. And he's also a competent powerplay QB and puck mover who can be a big part of the team's defense in the future.

11. New York Islanders - Barrett Hayton (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL)
Almost had the Hawks taking Hayton at 8th overall, but ultimately went with Kotkaniemi. I just feel like Hayton is the type of kid that NHL scouts and franchises are going to value more than armchair scouts. He does so many things well and plays a mature game. But he also has offensive upside and plays a position that doesn't have great depth in this draft. Hayton seems like the perfect pick for the Islanders, given their current group of players. That perfect contrast to Matt Barzal down the middle. Can potentially slot up and down their lineup and bring more defensive stability to their forward unit. And like I said, people selling his offensive upside short are definitely wrong. This kid has skill and he will show that when he's given a leadership role within the Soo's system next year.

12. New York Islanders - Rasmus Sandin (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL)
A team drafting two players from the same team, back to back? Is this too far fetched? I personally don't think so. Both of these players provide good value in this range. With Uncle Lou taking over in Long Island, coming from the model that the Leafs put together around advanced stats and hockey sense, Sandin is the perfect player for that. His relatively mistake free game and upside as a modern two-way defender has to alluring to a team like New York who have had a tough time developing quality defenders in recent years. Of course, if they opt to go defense, they could go for the higher upside offensive player in Ty Smith, but I just see Sandin being the type of player Lou and his new people (like...maybe Mark Hunter) will want to bring in.

13. Dallas Stars - Rasmus Kupari (Karpat, Liiga)
Dallas appears to have had some good luck drafting out of Finland last year with Miro Heiskanen, so why not double dip? In Kupari, they are adding greatly to the team's center depth in the future. He has high upside thanks to his speed and skill and could greatly compliment guys like Jason Robertson and Riley Tufte in the future. Could also see Dallas look at Joseph Veleno here as a solid two-way center who can be a playmaker in the same vein. Again though, I look at how well the Stars' draft picks out of Finland have fared in recent years and believe they'll lean in that direction if given the choice of comparable players value wise.

14. Philadelphia Flyers - Joel Farabee (USDP, USHL)
The Flyers have done a very good job rebuilding their young talent pool in recent years. They're solid down the middle. Solid on the back-end. Have some great prospects in goal. This is a team who needs to really look at taking the best player available and at this point I see it being Farabee. Highly competitive winger who could be a great complimentary piece to guys like Couturier, Patrick, Frost, etc because his hockey sense and skill level is high. He's headed to Boston University next fall so he'll have time to grow as a player. But he seems like a good fit for the Flyers at this time. Was tempted to go with Serron Noel too because of upside and similar projection. But after taking Ratcliffe last year, I feel like they may look at a differently profiled forward this time around. They could also go defense too and take a guy like Ty Smith, if they feel he's the best available, despite an already crowded young blueline.

15. Florida Panthers - Serron Noel (Oshawa, OHL)
Could easily see this guy going earlier because of his projection and upside. Even though the game has changed, the combination of elite size and speed still plays, and always will play. Just how good he can be offensively remains to be seen. It all depends on how Noel grows into his body and whether the hands catch up to the feet. But this guy seems like the perfect pick for the Panthers at this point. High upside forward who can hopefully be the player they thought they were drafting in Lawson Crouse. The difference being that Noel can skate with guys like Barkov, Malgin, Tippett, etc. Watching Florida play, they could really use wingers with size to open up some space for their more skilled players and Noel is just that.

16. Colorado Avalanche - Vitali Kravtsov (Traktor, KHL)
Thanks to a tremendous KHL playoff performance, Kravtsov is a big, offensive winger who seems to be rocketing up most draft boards lately. Russian factor be damned, this guy would appear to have among the highest upside of any winger in the draft. And I'm sure Colorado would love to add more scoring depth to their top 6 in the future. Colorado has also been a team far from shy in signing or drafting Russian players. I actually think that this guy could go even higher than 16. If it's not Kravstov, I actually think a guy like Akil Thomas could be a tempting pick for the Avs. Again, another terrific support winger, although Kravtsov appears to have greater upside as a scorer.

17. New Jersey Devils - Ty Smith (Spokane, WHL)
I will admit that I am lower on Smith than most, and that is reflected in this mock draft where I have Smith going outside of the lottery. I know some scouts do have concerns over his poor performances on bigger stages this year (TPG, U18's) and have questions about why his decision making with the puck seems to suffer when the pace increases. But he remains a solid defensive prospect with a great deal of offensive potential. New Jersey looks to take the best player available here in Smith, and have been no stranger to the WHL in recent years. Smith also fits in well with their young roster as a potential powerplay QB.

18. Columbus Blue Jackets - Dominik Bokk (Vaxjo, Superelit)
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen is a man of the world. Under his leadership, Columbus has drafted players from nearly every country in the world. Bokk, a German playing out of Sweden this year, seems like the type of player he would covet. Bokk is a winger with a lot of offensive upside thanks to his strong puck skills and playmaking ability. Maybe he's too similar to Vitaly Abramov, but it still feels like a player that Blue Jackets brass would value. Could also see them rolling the dice on a raw but projectable defender like Miller or Wilde here.

19. Philadelphia Flyers - K'Andre Miller (USDP, USHL)
The Flyers go back to the US-18 team for their second pick of the first round. They took Joel Farabee first, a safe prospect whose game is built around hockey sense. Here, they swing for the fences with Miller, a high upside and raw defense prospect who is most definitely a long term project. The Flyers have a very good young defense built currently, so they can afford to really swing for the fences here with a guy who may not contribute until 2022. If they roll the dice on a defender, maybe they go for Isaac Ratcliffe's teammate in Guelph too, Ryan Merkley.

20. Los Angeles Kings - Martin Kaut (Dynamo Pardubice, Czech)
Kaut is a smart offensive winger who excelled internationally this year for the Czech Republic. The late '99 was definitely one of the biggest surprises of this year's World U20's. He is a very well rounded player in the offensive end which makes him the perfect complimentary piece on a scoring line moving forward. This guy could be the perfect fit on a future line with last year's first rounder Gabe Vilardi. Could also see the Kings looking at Akil Thomas here if they feel like he fits better on the wing than he does down the middle. We know LA loves their OHL kids.

21. San Jose Sharks - Akil Thomas (Niagara, OHL)
San Jose grabs one of the most skilled playmakers available in the draft this year, Akil Thomas. Remains to be seen whether he's a wing or a center at the next level, but his speed, vision and puck skill will play. And Thomas has a competitive edge too. Just needs to get stronger but should eventually become one of the OHL's leading scorers. Thomas presents a nice contract to a guy like Josh Norris, who the Sharks took in the first round last year; a high upside pick with versatility and lots of room for growth.

22. Ottawa Senators - Ryan Merkley (Guelph, OHL)
Part of me wants to predict that Merkley ends up falling in the draft because of all the red flags surrounding him. But the other half believes that with the way the NHL is played now, a team will take a chance on him sometime in the first in hopes that he figures things out. If it's the later, it's likely to be a team with multiple firsts who is aiming to grab a high upside player and roll the dice. Ottawa seems like a perfect fit with an eventual hole on the powerplay when Erik Karlsson moves on and they have some decent young defenders in the system which can allow them to be patient with Merkley.

23. Anaheim Ducks - Bode Wilde (USDP, USHL)
Anaheim rolls the dice too, on an athletic defender who didn't really have the kind of season many expected he would. At this time last year, Wilde was discussed as a possible top 5 selection. But now finds himself ranked outside the lottery by most scouting agencies. While his decision making has come under question, you simply cannot deny the raw talent and potential that he possesses. I think Anaheim has played it safe with their top picks in recent years and they need to really swing for the fences here.

24. Minnesota Wild - Jared McIssac (Halifax, QMJHL)
Like Wilde, McIssac is a defender whose stock has taken a bit of a hit this year. Perhaps his top end potential may not be as high as everyone originally envisioned, but he's still a solid prospect who seems to be universally considered a first round talent. Can potentially develop into a quality second pairing defender who can play in all situations and have a long NHL career. The Wild haven't used a top 2 round pick on a defender in the last four years and considering the number of quality defenders available this year, it would make sense for them to be targeting one here.

25. Toronto Maple Leafs - Ty Dellandrea (Flint, OHL)
The Leafs don't really have a ton of center depth beyond what they have at the NHL level right now, so it makes sense for them to look down the middle with their first this year should a quality prospect be available. In this scenario, they could go Joseph Veleno, a former highly touted prospect whose top end potential has been questioned. But I see them fancying a guy like Ty Dellandrea more. And before you say, "isn't Dellandrea's potential capped?" I would disagree. I think this guy has a chance to be a better pro than most give him credit for. Coaches dream who can do everything, provides leadership and has an extremely underrated skill set offensively.

26. New York Rangers - Joseph Veleno (Drummondville, QMJHL)
Speaking of Veleno, the Rangers jump at the opportunity to select him, preventing him from falling further. Veleno is one of the better center options available this year with size, skating ability and potential as a top notch playmaker. He drops a bit because it seems like whenever you watch him play, he leaves you wanting more. I know the Rangers went with a similar prospect in Lias Andersson last year, but when you've got three first round picks, going BPA is never a bad strategy.

27. Chicago Blackhawks - Jay O'Brien (Thayer Academy, USHS)
With their second first rounder, the Hawks opt for a raw, high risk, but potentially high potential high school center. The Providence commit has apparently impressed scouts this year with his goal scoring ability. Could also see the Hawks rolling the dice on Russian forward Grigori Denisenko with this pick. They've had better luck with Russians than other organizations and again should look to go high upside with their other first rounder.

28. New York Rangers - Jonatan Berggren (Skelleftea, Superelit)
With the third of their three first round picks, the Rangers opt for a speedy, offensive winger out of Sweden. Berggren was sensational at the U18's this year where he really put himself on the map as a potential first round pick. The speed with which he plays and his energy on the attack would make him a perfect complimentary piece to guys like Andersson, Chytil, (and Veleno). Probably ends up being a similar player to current Ranger Chris Kreider.

29. St. Louis Blues - Jacob Bernard-Docker (Okotoks, AJHL)
The Blues have one of the top farm systems in the NHL right now, with a bevy of young players chomping at the bit to join the big club. As such, they probably have the luxury of rolling the dice on a guy who may be a ways away from the NHL, but who could pay off big when he's finished developing. Insert Jacob Bernard-Docker, a North Dakota commit and defender out of the AJHL. Could be a terrific two-way defender when all is said and done and the last defender the Blues took out of the AJHL turned out pretty well. Have to think one (or maybe both) of he and Johnny Tychonick end up as first rounders because of their upside.

30. Washington Capitals - Ryan McLeod (Mississauga, OHL)
What? The Washington Capitals draft an OHL player? They haven't taken a player out of the OHL since 2012, when they drafted Tom Wilson in the first. But at this point, McLeod is likely considered the best player available and someone most consider a near lock for the first round given this year's lack of top end center prospects. His size, speed, and skill package fits in nicely with a Capitals team that hasn't developed a center since Evgeny Kuznetsov. Could also see them rolling the dice on Grigori Denisenko here too, given the success they've had with Russians.

31. Detroit Red Wings - Kevin Bahl (Ottawa, OHL)
Might take a bit of flak for this one, but here's my thinking. Firstly, the Wings have drafted some excellent potential puck movers in recent years (Hronek, Cholowski, Saarijarvi) and having someone like Bahl, with his size and physicality, in the system could be a major asset. The Wings have looked to draft players with high compete levels in recent years in hopes of making their team harder to play against. Lastly, Logan Stanley was a first round pick and I think Bahl is the better NHL prospect. I just think that the Wings may look to grab a top notch potential shut down defender at some point early in this draft (with two early 2nd's as well) and if they're interested in Bahl, they feel like Buffalo may grab him with the first pick of the 2nd round (another organization who could use a player like Bahl). I could see them being interested in a guy like Jett Woo too, for similar reasons.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft - Part 4: 10-1

We've reached the top 10 and it is time to conclude my rankings for 2018.

1. Andrei Svechnikov - Forward - Barrie Colts
It obviously will come as no surprise to see Svechnikov as the top rated player available from the OHL. It's been that way since puck drop this season. After winning the USHL rookie of the year last year, Svechnikov lived up to the hype in his first (and likely last) OHL season, winning the OHL rookie of the year (and becoming the first player to accomplish both feats). Truth be told, Svechnikov had a draft season for the ages in the CHL and if it weren't for Rasmus Dahlin, we're probably talking about him as the 1st overall pick. His even strength production was the best of any CHL draft eligible player in a very long time (better than McDavid, Tavares, Stamkos, Crosby, etc) with a 0.68 ES goals per game rate (stick tap to Steve Kournianos for the advanced data). He's the perfect hybrid of how the game used to be played and how it is played now. He's got size at 6'3 and plays a power game, but he's also a fantastic skater. His ability to drive the net and gain inside positioning on defenders off the rush is among the best I've ever seen in the OHL. He's just so powerful. The shot is NHL quality already too. He's so strong on the puck and even with defenders draped all over him, he can manage to get great power behind his wrist, snap, and backhand. But Svechnikov plays just as effectively east/west as he does north/south. His creativity, puck skill, and vision are all top notch. He's actually a very good playmaker who has that innate ability to read defensive coverages to know when he should dish off or finish his drives himself. It's what makes him so dangerous because defenders have to respect his passing ability, which in turn gives him the time and space to dominate. I think the part of Svechnikov's game that doesn't get enough credit is his defensive game. This guy has great awareness in all three zones and is (mostly) willing to use his size and speed to engage on the backcheck. There are times where his defensive focus could be a bit more consistent, but I think he profiles as a solid two-way player in the NHL. I really think this kid is NHL ready and he could be a 30/30 player in the NHL next year. Gabriel Landeskog put up 50 points in his first NHL season, and I see them being built very similarly, only I think Svechnikov has more offensive skill. In all honesty, the guy Svechnikov most reminds me of is Marian Hossa and I think he ends up being a similar kind of player in the NHL.

2. Evan Bouchard - Defense - London Knights
Have to admit, I thought Bouchard should have won the Max Kaminsky trophy this year as the league's top defenseman (and that's not meant to be offensive to Nic Hague who also had a terrific year). I just look at what Bouchard was able to do with such a young team through the 2nd half, as the captain, and think it deserved more respect. His 87 points were the most for a first time draft eligible defender since Ryan Ellis put up 89 in his. His ability to start the breakout is his best asset, with his vision off the rush and his booming point shot a close 2nd and 3rd. Bouchard just has unreal vision from the defensive end and pinpoint accuracy with his stretch passes. When he's on the ice, the Knights can go from being under attack in the defensive end to a 3 on 1 within a matter of seconds thanks to Bouchard's ability to get the puck out. While he does lack the top end speed you'd like to see from a dynamic puck rusher in the NHL, his agility and puck protection ability (thanks to his 6'2 frame) are top notch and allows him to evade forecheckers and carve through the neutral zone extremely effectively. Bouchard also is a terrific powerplay QB, because he is a duel threat. Defenders have to respect his booming point shot and his vision and passing ability, which is a dangerous combination. Do you overplay him to take away his shot at risk of him exploiting a hole in coverage, or do you give him the shot and have trust in your goaltender? Defensively, Bouchard is solid positionally and in getting his stick in passing lanes. But he definitely needs to increase his intensity level in the defensive end, particularly below the hash marks. He can be too soft on forwards near the crease and needs to do a better job taking away space from the opposition and winning more tough battles behind the net. Is he going to be a top notch #1 defender? I'm not entirely sure he has that skill set. But can he be a solid #2 or #3 who can lead your powerplay and eat big minutes? Absolutely. 

3. Barrett Hayton - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Consistency needs to be applauded because it can be hard for these kids to achieve. But Hayton has been a rock for the Hounds all season long. Between the regular season and the playoffs, he played in 87 games this year and he made an impact in nearly all of them. You just know what you're going to get from him. He's relentless in his puck pursuit and is a terrific forechecker. As such, he's a very effective three zone player because of how hungry he is for the puck. At the same time, he has the skill level to create from the turnovers he creates. In fact, his puck skill and creativity are areas of his game that are extremely underrated. If there's a criticism about Hayton, it's that he seems to defer to teammates to make those creative plays, even though he's capable himself. I think it's where some people get the perception of his lack of potential. But as he gains confidence and gets a larger role in the offensive scheme, this guy will put up points. Another aspect of Hayton's game that needs to be applauded is his awareness away from the puck in the offensive zone. Consistently finds holes and beats defenders to scoring areas where he can take advantage of his extremely quick release, IMO, one of the quickest in the age group. At the end of the day, Hayton stands out in a draft devoid of center depth because he's such a well rounded player who projects to be a very good pro. I've had some asking about the Bo Horvat comparisons lately, but I see him more as a Bryan Little type of pro.

4. Ty Dellandrea - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Speaking of well rounded centers, that brings us to Dellandrea, one of the most underrated players in this year's draft. 2018 just isn't a strong year down the middle and Dellandrea presents a great draft option for team's looking to pick up a potential top 9 center. The Flint Firebirds just weren't very good this year and I think that's why Dellandrea seems to be flying under the radar for a bit, but he was the straw that stirred their drink and he was terrific at all other major events (Hlinka, TPG, U18's). Like Hayton, Dellandrea is the type of player who impacts the game on so many different levels. He's physical and is aggressive on the forecheck and backcheck, always hungry for the puck. He uses that physicality to be a very effective defensive player. He's a good skater and has some size, which helps him be a very solid north/south play creator. But he also possesses the hands and vision to play east/west. In particular, I like how he controls the boards and shows patience and poise in the offensive end. If we're talking about his performance at the U18's, I felt like he was Canada's best and most consistent forward. He was able to show his effectiveness without the puck as it seemed like he forced a couple turnovers in the defensive zone every game. I think Dellandrea has a chance to have a career similar to a guy like Mike Fisher and if you can get that in the later part of the first round, you're doing very well at the draft.

5. Serron Noel - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Raw. No better word to describe Noel than that. 6'5, 210lbs, but skates North/South as well as any player in the draft. That explosive stride allows him to be so dangerous off the rush because of his size and puck protection ability. Does such a good job of shielding the puck and is already very difficult to separate from the puck. At times though, he does look like a baby deer on the ice. His lateral agility and edgework will need to get better as he can trip himself up trying to change directions, or looking to cut inside. I also think that his hands need to catch up to his speed a bit, because at times he can overhandle the puck and end up turning the puck over. I think Noel is also still figuring out how to play without the puck and best use his size and speed to be a factor at all times. He's very good along the wall, but at times you're more likely to see him camping out near the crease or in the slot, waiting for the puck. With his skill set, he needs to be the one winning those battles to create for others and not necessarily the other way around. But the hands in tight are quite good and he has massive potential as a goal scorer. I thought he showed quite well at the U18's this year and gave scouts a glimpse of how his size and speed can play against the best in his age group. Whoever drafts him will need to be patient as he figures out how to become a consistently dominant player. But the boom potential is very high and it could be why he hears his name earlier than we think.

6. Akil Thomas - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I'm a big Thomas fan. He's one of the best playmakers in the age group and I just love how he sees the ice. The improvements he made to his skating ability this year really helped to open up the ice for him. Exploits gaps so well and can use his speed to drive wide and create space. This is part of why he's so effective with the man advantage. But Thomas is also a competitor without the puck and the type of kid who will do anything to help his team win. His board work is a work in progress though. I know some feel that he needs to play with more consistency away from the puck and I'd probably agree. Being able to be consistent from shift to shift and not having that intensity level drop will be the big next step for him. I think finding a permanent position will be big too. Played the wing as a 16 year old. But played mostly down the middle this year. I don't really know where he profiles best moving forward. The one component of his game that really needs to improve is his shot. Needs to improve the velocity behind it and the release, as teams tend to play him for the pass. Getting stronger will also be needed. At his best with the puck on his stick because of his skill and vision, but he can be muscled off the puck too easily and needs to be become more effective in traffic, especially in the slot. But this is a kid with a very good head on his shoulders (wears a letter already in Niagara), who has the skill level and hockey sense to be a very good pro. As he matures physically, I think we'll see him become a dominant offensive player in the OHL.

7. Rasmus Sandin - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Really gained an appreciation for Sandin as the season went on. He's the type of player that you really need multiple viewings of to grasp what he brings to the table. He's definitely not extremely flashy. But he is extremely effective. He's fantastic with the puck in his own end and rarely seems to make a mental mistake with the puck. Always makes that safe play and starts the breakout with a stretch pass as well as anyone in this draft (including Bouchard). His hockey sense is just terrific. Has a good, low point shot and is very good at picking his spots to jump up into the rush. Really started to gain confidence in this by season's end and we saw him taking more chances in looking to create with his shot. But Sandin is also a very effective defensive player. Not the biggest at 5'11, but he is fearless and will take the body, something that surprises the opposition at times. But I like his positioning and ability to stay ahead of attackers on the rush. He uses his body and strong lower half to box out forecheckers extremely well and as such, he prevents teams from gaining and extending possession in the Hounds zone. For me the only real drawback is a lack of dynamic skating ability. Sandin is far from a poor skater. He's mobile, especially laterally. But I don't think he possesses the elite separation that you'd like to see from a 5'11 defender who's primary skill is puck movement. How will he do when he has less time in the defensive end? That is of course assuming that his skating doesn't improve considerably. But I see Sandin as, potentially, a very serviceable second pairing defender who can play in all situations and have a long time NHL career. 

8. Ryan Merkley - Defense - Guelph Storm
Every draft there are a few players who really polarize scouts. And this year, one of those guys is Ryan Merkley. The slick skating blueliner is one of the most naturally talented offensive players available. His playmaking ability from the back-end can be incredibly valuable. But concerns over his attitude and lack of defensive growth have scouts questioning if he possesses what it takes to be an NHL player. Let's start with the good. Merkley has some of the best edgework and overall agility I've ever seen from a defender at the OHL level. With the way he walks the line and is able to stop/start/change direction, he's so elusive in the offensive zone. Combine that with his puck skill and vision and you have a guy who has endless potential as an offensive player. Merkley also demonstrates a desire to be physically engaged at times. That intensity serves him well at times in the defensive end. Alright now the negatives. Merkley's play without the puck remains a major work in progress. Quite often, he looks disengaged or bored in the defensive end and loses focus quite consistently. That means missed defensive assignments, lazy backchecks, and lost battles in the corners and in front of the net. And more alarmingly, I'm not sure this has improved in his two years in the OHL. Merkley has also raised flags over his attitude on the ice and the frustration he shows when things go awry. Competitiveness is great, but it can also be negative thing when it's a fixation and that appears to be the case with Merkley. Turnovers from trying to force things offensively. Bad penalties when players antagonize him. This came to a head towards the end of the year when he was a healthy scratch for the Storm. I also think his point shot and confidence in using it needs to improve so that he can be a better powerplay quarterback. This was evident at the U18's where Canada's powerplay was dreadful under his direction. Those who love him believe that with maturation and tutelage, his raw talent can be harnessed and that he possesses some of the highest upside of any player in the draft. Those who dislike him (guaranteed there will be some NHL teams who have him as a no draft), point to the immaturity as the reason why his faults will remain faults, preventing him from being an NHL player. For me, he provides great value in the second round, but not the first. The combine interviews will be huge for him to convince NHL teams otherwise.

9. Ryan McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Admittedly a tough player to rank for me. Seemed like every time I saw the Steelheads this season, McLeod had an off game. But it's those consistency issues that have caused other scouting agencies to drop him in their rankings too, to the point where he's a borderline first round selection on some lists. The position he plays will definitely help his odds of remaining a first rounder, because as I mentioned earlier, this is not a strong draft for centers. McLeod has size, speed, and skill; the three S's. His speed is a big factor off the rush and his skill with the puck allows him to make moves at top speed that creates even more space for himself or his linemates. His playmaking ability and vision with the puck are definitely strengths. On the powerplay, he's a major threat because of this. But the consistency with which he uses his size is a tad concerning for me. He can be kept to the perimeter 5 on 5, and at times he struggles with his board play to extend possession. I'd love to see him be way more of a factor when the puck isn't on his stick. Using that size consistently to be more of a factor on the forecheck and in his own zone. On the penalty kill, he can be effective, but 5 on 5, that hunger isn't always there. And as a 3rd year player (late birthday), I do wonder how much growth remains. Size and skill down the middle is a great combo and if he can continue to round out his game, McLeod should be an NHL player. I just prefer others from the OHL a little more at this point.

10. Liam Foudy - Forward - London Knights
At this point, I'm not sure how much separates Foudy from McLeod. No player showed greater growth in the second half of the season than Foudy. He had 33 points in the final 32 games of the regular season, where as McLeod had 32 points in the final 32 games of the year. Remember, Foudy is a year younger and didn't have the same type of talent surrounding him. The big difference, of course, is position. While he is a natural center, Foudy has found success on the wing at the OHL level. It remains to be seen where his future lies positionally. But this is why I have McLeod ranked slightly higher. The first thing you notice with Foudy is his skating ability. Foudy is easily one of the league's elite skaters already. A remarkable athlete (a competitive hurdler as well), Foudy generates so much strength and power in his strides which helps him hit top speed very quickly. But Foudy can also carry the puck at his top speed, and he really started to gain confidence in his ability to generate off the rush in the 2nd half. He was averaging 2-3 end to end rushes a game by season's end. If you didn't stop him by the redline, you weren't preventing him from gaining your blueline. Foudy also has a sneaky good wrist shot and I think he has excellent goal scoring potential as he gains strength. Of course, his speed plays exceptionally well on the penalty kill, where he's a shorthanded threat at all times. 5 on 5, though, I'd like to see him be more consistent away from the puck. He's great North/South, but he needs to be better playing through traffic, working East/West and looking to use that speed to fill more gaps in the middle of the ice. Obviously, added strength will help him be more effective along the wall too and below the hash marks. This was evident in the first round of the OHL playoffs, where he really struggled to find space because of how physical Owen Sound played his line. In today's NHL, speed and skill kills. Look at what the Vegas Golden Knights have been able to do this year. And Foudy plays right into that. Combine his rapid rate of improvement with his raw skill set, and I think you'll see someone take a chance on him inside the top 40 come June. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft - Part 3: 30-11

This is the 3rd part of my final top 50 OHL players eligible for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Here you will find players ranked 30 through 11.

11. Kevin Bahl - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Love this kid. Behemoth 6'6, 230lbs defender who is a hybrid between being a pure throwback to the Derian Hatcher/Chris Pronger era, and a modern defender who can make quick decisions and move the puck. Thought he was Canada's best defender at the U18's this year, where his terrific work in his own end was on full display. The one thing I love about Bahl is how good his agility is for a big man in the defensive end. Lateral and backwards mobility are solid. So you've got this huge 6'6 reach, but he's also able to recover and stay with attackers as they drive the net. Also helps him recover loose pucks and dump ins quickly. Over the course of the second half, we really saw him start to use his size physically too. Becoming a lot tougher to play against and could be an absolute beast in the defensive end, if he isn't already. Offensively, he's better than he's given credit for. He's never going to win a scoring title, but his decision making with the puck in the defensive end has greatly improved, as has his exit pass. So good at preventing offenses from setting up their attack, because he's able to seal off forecheckers from getting to dump ins, and then makes a quick outlet to a wing to start the breakout. That -21 this year certainly isn't pretty, but I don't think it's indicative of his d-zone ability. He's smart in the offensive zone too. This guy's goals at the Hlinka, Top Prospect's Game, and the U18's were no fluke. He anticipates the play really well and as he gains confidence in his puck skill and shot, I think we'll see him take more chances and increase his offensive output. I just don't think you can argue against how well he's played when the stakes have been raised. Personally like Bahl better than Logan Stanley as an NHL prospect.

12. Aidan Dudas - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Hilarious that I've got Dudas and Bahl beside each other in these rankings, given the height differential. At 5'8, Dudas is like the little engine that could; an absolutely tireless worker in all three zones. He's a fan favourite in Owen Sound because of his infectious energy level. But there's a lot more to his game, especially offensively. Dudas possesses one of the best shots of any forward available this year. His wrist shot has great velocity, accuracy, and a quick release. Loves flying down the wing, cutting to the middle, using a defender as a screen and ripping one past the netminder. Dudas is also a quick strike scorer who reads gaps in the defense extremely well and is able to capitalize on rebounds or give and go's with linemates along the wall or down low. His puck skill is also underrated. Needs to get stronger to be able to utilize his creativity better, but he can keep the puck on a string. And as alluded to, Dudas is an excellent three zone player who also is great on the PK because of his anticipation and work ethic. There are areas for improvement though. He constantly keeps his feet moving and it gives him that elusiveness. But I think he needs to upgrade his stride strength to become a bit quicker. Kind of a similar skater to Alex Debrincat in that regard. Agility, stops/starts are good, but top end speed and acceleration were weaker. If Dudas can upgrade those (like Debrincat did over his OHL career), it would take his production to another level. Would also like to see him engage physically more consistently. I think we saw this in his rookie year and at this summer's Hlinka, but in his sophomore year, that "cannonball" esque style was somewhat removed from his repertoire. Another dark spot may be his performance at the U18's, where I felt he was trying to do too much after coming to the tournament late. But if NHL teams pass on Dudas outside of the opening two rounds, they'll be making a big mistake. 

13. Allan McShane - Forward - Oshawa Generals
McShane is easily one of the best playmakers available this year IMO. His vision in the offensive zone and deft passing touch are his best assets. This guy can really thread the needle. McShane is at his best working the cycle and the wall, using a wide base to protect the puck until he finds an opening for a linemate. At the U18's, where he was one of Canada's best players, this was on full display. McShane is also a terrific face-off man and an effective defensive player who profiles as a very solid two-way center at the next level. The key to his development will be in improving his skating. Lacks power in his first few strides and his top speed isn't great either. At the pace that the pro game is played at now, he'll need to really upgrade that to be effective as a playmaker. He won't always be able to slow the game down, especially if he sticks down the middle. But the way he processes the game can't be ignored and he deserves to be selected in the first two rounds because of it. The other thing I'd like to see from McShane, is a more concerted effort to attack the middle of the ice. I'm not sure that I would call him a perimeter player. But at the same time, some of those consistency issues could be ironed out if he found more success working through traffic in the slot and near the crease. Again though. This is a smart hockey player who should eventually be one of the higher scorers in the OHL.

14. Cam Hillis - Forward - Guelph Storm
There was a lot of hype surrounding Hillis heading into his rookie OHL season and he didn't disappoint, posting extremely close to a point per game. He's a well rounded player who plays with a lot of fire and energy. Undersized at 5'11 (and 165lbs), he's never met a one on one battle he would back down from and that tenaciousness makes him fun to watch. Hillis also is an extremely slick puck handler who creates time and space for himself in the offensive zone. Prolonging possession with his hands, he exploits gaps in the defense with good vision. He's definitely a great playmaker. From what I understand, his skating has already improved a ton, but as an undersized center, it will need to continue to improve. Because of how skilled he is, having that extra gear would really help to give him more separation. This is especially true considering he currently lacks strength down low. The effort is always there, but he can be too easily separated from the puck in close quarters. At this point, he's definitely better on the powerplay than he is 5 on 5 because of this. As he gets stronger, and quicker, he profiles as a very complete center who's hustle and hockey IQ make him a potential 2nd/3rd line forward at the next level. Hopefully scouts don't hold his poor performance at the U18's against him. Seemed like he was just trying to do too much there and ended up being very penalty prone. His lack of elite skating ability also was evident. His performance in Russia wasn't indicative of the player he's capable of becoming.

15. Alec Regula - Defense - London Knights
Been on the Regula train nearly all season long and have tweeted about him many times. Kid was a first year player and managed to play a top pairing role alongside Evan Bouchard nearly all season long. He's 6'4 and has excellent mobility, especially straight ahead where his long strides help him gain the neutral zone with relative ease on some occasions. He's raw though. Physically, he's not developed yet. He's an August birth date and he needs to add bulk to that wiry frame. That will help him be a more effective defensive player. Offensively, he oozes potential. Has the ability to go end to end and his mobility is an asset. But it's picking his spots and limiting his turnovers that he will need to improve upon. Late in the year, he started to become a little turnover prone, but he also had 12 points in the final 17 games of the regular season. Was taking more chances and as such, things started to get a little sloppy. You watch London play and this kid will make at least one head scratcher per game. Pass up the middle, bad read or pinch, you name it. BUT, he also made two great plays for every bad one and his reach is a MAJOR asset in the defensive end. I don't think those errors stem from a lack of hockey sense. I think they stem from a lack of experience. This kid will get elite instruction from the Knights' coaching staff and he's going to get all the ice time he can handle over the next two years. Especially next year if Evan Bouchard makes an NHL roster. He's the type of player you roll the dice on in the 2nd round/3rd round in hopes that everything comes together and you get a high end player.

16. Pavel Gogolev - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Tough to stand out on a poor Peterborough squad this year, but Gogolev did just that on most occasions. His 30 goals were 3rd among first time draft eligible players from the OHL this year. Best of all, 26 of those came 5 on 5 which was 6th best in the entire OHL. Flat out, Gogolev can put the puck in the net. Has an absolutely terrific release, especially at top speed, which is excellent. Gogolev has great wheels and he is constantly looking to push the pace across the opposing blueline. Speed, skill, and finishing ability makes Gogolev a potential sniper at the NHL level. The rest of his game is a work in progress though. Intensity in all three zones and away from the puck needs to be more consistent. Should be using his speed more to be a forechecker and to help get pucks out of his own end, but can get caught floating or watching the play when it's not on his stick. Can also be turnover prone in the offensive zone as tunnel vision gets a hold of him. Coming out of minor midget, he was billed as a terrific boards player, but that's something we haven't seen much of at the OHL level. He's listed at 170lbs right now, which is quite slight. If he can really work to add some muscle and improve his play away from the puck, he could be a real asset, dare I even say a star, in this league. Hopefully the new Petes coach can light a fire under him even further. 

17. Mitchell Hoelscher - Forward - Ottawa 67's
First 37 games of the season: 2 goals and 6 assists. Final 30 games: 8 goals and 12 assists. That's a pretty significant jump in production and helps to explain why Hoelscher was one of the greater risers among OHL'ers in this year's draft rankings. But even when he wasn't hitting the score sheet at the start of the year, he was still a noticeable player (check out my description of him in my midseason rankings). Brought energy in all three zones, tenaciousness on the penalty kill, and a real effectiveness on the backcheck and in the defensive end. As he was given more responsibility as the 2nd line center later in the year, we really started to see him come out of his shell. Confidence with the puck improved ten fold and we started to see the type of offensive potential that he possesses. Not only is his hockey sense excellent, but he has good hands too. We also saw him play with a lot more intensity; dare I say almost pest like. This kid has everything and is such a well rounded player. He's just so slight right now. Strength is an issue. But that's going to improve and as it does, just how much better can this guy get? Ottawa is going to be crazy good (likely) over the next two seasons and Hoelscher will be a critical component. Watching him later in the season, sometimes Hoelscher reminded me of the way Morgan Frost looked last year. The only difference is that Frost had a little more experienced talent to play with on a much better team.

18. Blade Jenkins - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Jenkins is a good sized forward who came over from the U.S. Development Program this summer. He started the year at center, but struggled mightily there. After moving to the wing, his game improved drastically and he became one of Saginaw's most reliable offensive players. Jenkins definitely plays a power game. Aggressive in trying to take the puck to the net and the vast majority of his goals are scored within a few feet of the net. Jenkins is great at putting defenders on his back and using his size to protect the puck. His skating will need to continue to be upgraded, but it is also way better than it was advertised to be before he came over. Physically, Jenkins flashes an ability to dominate down low and at times really looks to punish opposing defenders in the corners and attack on the forecheck. But that part of his game will need to become more consistent. Jenkins will also need to continue to improve his play in all three zones, learning to use his size to his advantage as a defensive player. At this point, I see Jenkins as a very solid complimentary piece on a scoring line who can play that power game to open up space for his linemates, but is also skilled enough and has good enough hands to finish off chances in tight. 

19. Kody Clark - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Power forward prospect similar to Blade Jenkins in Saginaw. The son of former Leafs' great Wendel Clark, Kody is terrific in puck possession. He's so good at working the cycle and keeping plays alive along the wall. Clark is also a sneaky quick and is able to catch defenders flat footed off the rush as he drives wide to create scoring chances. Like Jenkins, his physical game is inconsistent, but he is the better two-way player. A part of Ottawa's PK unit and does a good job on the backcheck using his size to separate attackers from the puck. There are a few things that have me questioning his offensive upside though. Is able to extend possession quite well, but seems to have trouble finding linemates to create scoring chances. Yes, it works to wear down defenders, but quite often his zone time results in a turnover, rather than a scoring chance. I think we also need to talk about the fact that he had only 2 goals in the final 25 games of the season (including the playoffs). And they came in the same game. That said, I do like Clark and I think he was one of the draft prospects who improved the most from 2016/17 to 2017/18. The progression he has shown is great and I love his North/South, attacking game. I'm just not sure about his playmaking ability and overall potential.

20. Riley Damiani - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Even though I have him rated 20th, without question Damiani is one of my favourite players from this draft crop. This is a kid that is willing to go through a wall for his team. He's most definitely one of the best penalty killers in the age group. Has a great few first steps which makes him so quick to loose pucks. And while he may not be big, his anticipation and hockey sense is through the roof and it allows him to be one step ahead of his opponents. Offensively, his game is better than the stats would indicate. Only 37 points this year, but that was largely from the 3rd line on a deep Kitchener team. In the playoffs, he really stepped up his game too and was one of Kitchener's most reliable and important contributors. Again, it all comes down to his hockey sense and ability to exploit gaps in opposing defenses. That quick burst of speed allows him to overcome his size disadvantages and be a major factor on the forecheck and along the wall. As Damiani gains strength, he'll be able to prolong possession greater than he currently does and that will ultimately make him a very dangerous offensive player. He's also got a sneaky good wrist shot that has a quick release. In terms of being an NHL draft pick, I think there are a few things that will go against him. Firstly, I don't know what position he ends up playing at the next level. His faceoff ability greatly needs to improve and I think his skill set might be better suited for the wing. Secondly, I think while his first few steps are good, his top speed will need to improve to make him more dangerous off the rush. And thirdly, I do wonder what the overall ceiling is. Is he more than a 3rd line player at the NHL level? Lots of question marks. But also tons to love. Just a player you can tell coaches are going to love too. Probably goes lower in the NHL draft than I have him, but he's a gamer.

21. Giovanni Vallati - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
Back to back Kitchener Rangers listed. Vallati had an interesting year. Coming into the season, I felt like he could be a potential first round draft pick. Great size and mobility on the blueline. The modern shutdown defender who can use his mobility and smarts to get the transition game going and keep teams from maintaining pressure in their team's end. But it started rocky. Vallati had an awful Hlinka camp in the summer and that carried into the start of the regular season where he also struggled. Seemed to me like he was trying to do too much offensively and was trying to show that he could be a prime time puck mover. Unfortunately, it made him turnover prone and took away from his effectiveness as a defensive stalwart. But every month the season progressed, he seemed to get his game further on track. Yes, that meant playing a much safer offensive game. But it also transformed him back into a shutdown defender that the Rangers could rely on, and they did that late in the year with Connor Hall injured again. Because of his fantastic mobility, he is able to defend off the rush so well. And with that 6'2 frame, it makes him so hard to get around because of that reach. His play in traffic will need to continue to improve, increasing that intensity level a little bit. But the potential is there for him to develop into an ME Vlasic kind of defender at the next level. I guess the real question is, will the offensive side of his game end up developing? With that mobility and size, it's tantalizing to think about what he could be capable of as he learns to pick his spots better. Potential two-way defender with at least a strong likelihood of playing in the NHL in some capacity.

22. Merrick Rippon - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Similar kind of player to Vallati, at least in terms of projectability and that's why they're back to back on this list. Vallati is the better skater, but Rippon is the more physical player. That's definitely a major strength of Rippon's. This guy hits hard. Routinely catches opposing forwards cutting across the blueline and loves finishing his checks when opponents try to get through him off the rush. He'll angle you off and put you through the boards. His mobility is definitely solid too, at least in terms of lateral and backwards agility. His forward stride may not be as powerful and may limit his offensive potential. But defensively, this guy could be a rock. Really felt like his decision making with the puck improved over the course of the season; turnovers in the defensive end became less and less of an issue. I don't really think he'll ever be a huge contributor offensively, but his work in his own end will be very valuable potentially.

23. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev - Forward - Peterborough Petes
SDA is definitely one of the more intriguing players available from the OHL this year. Not the biggest (5'10, 170lbs), but in terms of playmaking ability and skill with the puck, Der-Arguchintsev is right near the top. This guy creates so much time and space for himself by keeping the puck on a string, spinning off checks along the wall and prolonging zone time. Strength is definitely an issue, but he's also the youngest player eligible this year (Sept. 15 birthday) and it's scary to think about how good he could be offensively once his conditioning improves. Those 39 assists on a poor Peterborough team really stand out as a positive. Another thing holding him back is a lack of game breaking speed. He's not slow, but without question, SDA relies on his hands and skill to create elusiveness rather than his feet. It explains why he's not more of a factor creating off the rush. If that speed improves, it would really add that dynamic ability to his game. And would help him become a little more effective cutting through the middle of the ice. Der-Arguchintsev also needs to get better in the defensive end, especially if he wants to stay down the middle. The effort isn't always there on the backcheck and he lacks the strength to consistently win battles along the wall. But I reiterate, this is one of the youngest players available and he has a very high ceiling if everything gets put together. It's the type of pick you make in the 3rd or 4th round and perhaps look like a genius.

24. Curtis Douglas - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
With the speed the game is played at today, it's not too often you see a 6'8 forward finding a ton of success. Defenders? Absolutely. But forwards? Quite rare. But Douglas breaks the mold. He's been one of the league's bigger surprises this year and his emergence allowed the Barrie Colts to parlay him into Overager of the Year and Eddie Powers winner Aaron Luchuk. As you may have guessed, Douglas is at his best below the hash marks. Is great near the crease where his hands are a lot quicker than you might guess. Great at spinning off checks and using his size to get inside position. His effectiveness as a net presence likely went into Windsor's decision to move him to the wing for the second half of the year (his poor faceoff percentage likely weighed in on that decision too). I actually think his vision is underrated and a big part of what makes Douglas a successful player. Works that cycle but is able to peel off the wall and recognize when a linemate has found an opening. As you may have guessed, the skating is a work in progress. It limits his effectiveness as a three zone player, even if he plays with the type of physicality and grit you like to see. Douglas is going to be a huge (pun intended) part of Windsor's solid young core moving forward and I think it's exciting to think about where his game could be in a couple years. Size, strength, and skill. And I think he can stay down the middle too. A guy you'll have to be patient with, but one who could pay off in the long run.

25. Nico Gross - Defense - Oshawa Generals
A tough guy for me to rank because I'm admittedly lower on him than some of my scouting counterparts. I absolutely recognize the fact that the things he does well could potentially translate extremely well to the NHL level. I love the physical edge that he plays with in the defensive end, especially with him being average sized at 6'1. He absolutely loves stepping up on attacking forwards at the blueline and his ability to disrupt zone entries with his skating ability and aggressiveness is impressive. He also flashes great skill as a potential puck rusher who has the ability to go end to end and whose impressive mobility helps him gain the opposition's blueline. But at the end of the day, offensive production is important and his 14 points were only 3 more than William Ennis, who's a stay at home draft eligible teammate. Lots of flash, but how many prime time scoring chances are really created? Does that point to an inability to create through good vision? Just the same, he can be turnover prone in the defensive end (he struggled mightily at the U18's with this), which could be linked similarly to his issues at creating once he gains the zone. Defensively, he's extremely raw. The physicality and mobility are pluses, but he has a tendency to chase the play and can get himself out of position rather easily. So why do I still have Gross at #25? Because I like the raw skill set. As I said, there are definitely things to like. But I would feel a lot more comfortable taking a chance on him in the mid rounds and not the early ones where some scouting agencies seem to have him.

26. Caleb Everett - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Everett is a very intriguing blueline prospect for me. He really stood out positively in early season viewings. First year player coming out of the Detroit Compuware midget program, he looked like a potential top 3 round candidate the opening months. Good size. Showed well at both ends. Pretty solid overall mobility. Showed potential as a powerplay QB. But the second half, he just wasn't as visible. I think a lot of that may have come from the coaching staff, asking him to play more of a defensive role and having him limit the amount of risks he took. Everett was actually billed as a potential shut down defender coming into this year, so it does make sense to groom him for that role. For as vanilla as he did look in the second half, there was definitely an uptick in the physicality department, which is a plus. Can we completely ignore the 4 points in the final 37 games (including playoffs) though? I guess what I'm getting at is I don't think we truly know what Everett will turn into at this point. I think there is potential at both ends and there are a lot of different paths that his development could take. For that reason, he's one of my favourite "sleepers" for the mid rounds this year. I think this guy could become the defensive leader and workhorse of one of the stronger OHL teams in the league in a few years.

27. Carter Robertson - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Robertson is a defender I view very similarly to Everett and thus why I have them ranked side by side. And like Everett, Robertson is one of my favourite mid round sleepers for this year. I see so much potential in his ability to develop into a solid two-way defender. He's very raw and there's a chance that he's not able to put it all together. But if he does, he's going to be one of those types that makes us say "how did this guy go so late in 2018?" Robertson has good size at 6'2 and solid mobility. He shows glimpses of being a great puck rusher who can use his size and skating ability to gain the offensive zone with ease. But there seems to be a hesitation to extend his rushes at times and that lack of confidence or indecisiveness can lead to turnovers in the defensive end and neutral zone. And while he is 6'2, he still looks quite slight on the ice and can struggle physically at times. That hurts his ability in the defensive end, even though I think he has very good defensive instincts and positioning. I also think Robertson possesses a good point shot and has the potential to be a good powerplay QB. But again, confidence in it needs to grow and I'd love to see him take more chances to jump up into the rush or sneak back door to play down low. All things be told, Robertson is the type of kid who has a great toolbox, but is still figuring out how to use all the tools. The 67's are going to be a very, very good team in the coming years and Robertson has a chance to be a big part of that. Will be very interesting to see him develop over that time.

28. Billy Moskal - Forward - London Knights 
Like most of London's young players, Moskal's 2nd half was a lot different than his first half; a tale of two seasons. 23 points in the final 34 games of the season (excluding playoffs) is a solid way to end the year. Moskal is a very well rounded player, a pesky center who is willing to do the little things on a scoring line to make his linemates better. Controls play well below the hash marks and has very good vision coming off the wall. Shows good playmaking ability off the rush too, keeping up with linemate Liam Foudy. Moskal profiles as a potentially excellent defensive player too. Great on the faceoff dot and plays with a high intensity level. He will only become more effective away from the puck as he gets stronger. He's definitely going to need to improve his shot to become a more effective offensive player. But I like his potential as a two-way center as he gets stronger, quicker, and further gains confidence. Reminds me a lot of the way Chris Tierney looked in his draft season in London.

29. Nathan Dunkley - Forward - London Knights
May shock some to see Dunkley rated below Moskal on my list, since most seem to prefer Dunkley among Knights' prospects this year. In all honesty, I think I prefer Moskal's raw potential, but that's not to take away from Dunkley's abilities as a player. He's a solid prospect in his own right. He was a perfect compliment to Foudy and Moskal on that "kid" line that London assembled in the second half. He opens up space for his linemates really well because of his physicality and his ability to work the wall and play down low. Really gets after it on the forecheck and despite being under 6'0, he uses a strong lower body to shield the puck and work the cycle to wear down defenses until holes open up. The physical component is something that I expect will continue to grow as he gains strength and I would suspect that by the time he graduates, he'll be one of the more physically feared forwards in the OHL. This will help him to become a solid defensive player as he already possesses terrific understanding of how to play without the puck in all three zones. Dunkley is consistently the first forward back in the defensive end. Ultimately, I guess the thing I'm unsure of is Dunkley's high end offensive potential. Does a lot of things well in the offensive end (vision, shot, puck protection), but none of those would be truly above average IMO. I also think his skating is tough to evaluate. Sometimes it looks like he's coasting when he could be letting loose. Seems to prefer playing the game at a slower pace and isn't nearly as effective operating off the rush. Being a sub 6'0 player, I'd like to see him upgrade that skating ability or at least learn to play the game at a higher tempo to change pace. I see Dunkley being a similar prospect to Travis Barron in Ottawa. Lots of things to like as a potential on ice leader and energy player, but probably profiles as a 3rd/4th liner at the next level.

30. Jacob Ingham - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
Such a tough year for Ingham. Came into the year as potentially the top available goaltender, but ends the year as someone who may not be one of the first 10 goaltenders drafted. It all started when he was cut from the Hlinka team this summer, and spiraled into a nightmare season with the Steelheads that saw him lose his grip on the starting job. After posting an .880 save percentage, Ingham was also passed over for a spot on the U18 team. This is a 6'3 kid who is also extremely athletic. But his confidence really seemed to be crushed all season long and helps to explain how he managed to look so poor this year after such a strong rookie season. From what I've seen, Ingham really struggled with his positioning, in particular, this year. Lots of bad goals from not being in the right position that saw him get beat from bad angles. Also a lot of goals that saw him get beat from going down too early and being too aggressive, getting himself caught out of position. He'll need to refine his movements and figure out a way to use his athleticism without over-committing. Again, Ingham has everything you look for in an NHL goaltender. And he has shown before that he can be an elite goaltender in this league. Way too early to give up on him and hopefully the summer break can allow him the mental rest he needs to refocus his game. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft - Part 2: 31-50

The 2nd part of my Top 50 OHL players available for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. This is where we actually dive into the Top 50, with players ranked 50 through to 31.

31. Dennis Busby - Defense - Flint Firebirds
Might shock some people to see Busby as high as he is on this list despite barely playing this year. But I believe that strongly in his NHL potential. In his 16 year old season, I thought Busby looked like one of the best blueliners in the age group. And then I thought he was excellent at the Hlinka camp this summer. But that's where things went south thanks to a collarbone injury, which kept him out for the rest of the year thanks to a re-occurrence. Busby's game is tailored for the way the game is played now. Elite skater who can push the pace of play and start the breakout, and use his mobility to recover defensively. He's not the biggest at 5'11, and I think most would say that they were curious to see how much his defensive game would have improved this year. To see how much more aggressive he would become. Also would have been interesting to see how much his ability to QB the powerplay would have improved. Lots of questions, unfortunately none of them answered. But this is a kid with so much potential and I think you could do a heck of a lot worse than rolling the dice on him with a later pick this June. It's not like we're talking about a kid that's come out of nowhere either. Busby has consistently been one of the better defenders in this Ontario age group (was the 7th defender drafted in 2016). If he's not drafted, I would be shocked if he's not a Sean Durzi/Joey Keane at this time next year.

32. Jordan Kooy - Goaltender - London Knights
Definitely a bit of a tough player to evaluate this year. Expectations were quite high on Kooy coming into the season, but he struggled mightily early on, along with the rest of London. Forced the Knights to bring in Joseph Raaymakers for the starting job and Kooy was relegated to the bench. But as the back-up, his performance really improved with the pressure off of him having to be that go-to guy in his draft year. He's athletic and 6'2, which certainly helps. But the rest of his game in the crease is raw and that explains the inconsistency of his performances. His ability to read and react to the play seems slow at times, and his rebound control remains a work in progress. But over the last two seasons, he has flashed some brilliance in net and that has to be enough to see him drafted at some point. Kind of similar to the way Matthew Villalta looked last year.

33. Connor Roberts - Forward - Flint Firebirds
I think most would agree that Roberts hasn't developed the way many had anticipated when he was drafted 3rd overall in the 2016 Priority selection. But we need to remember that power forward types do tend to develop a little slower. Guys like Roberts are still growing into their body. He was able to dominate using his size going through minor hockey, but now has to make adjustments because size alone will not let you succeed. I think he made great strides after a deal to Flint and has developed good chemistry with fellow draft eligible forward Ty Dellandrea. Roberts is a 6'4, 215lbs winger who actually skates pretty well for his size and allows him to be an effective player off the rush. He also possesses one of the best shots of the age group and has terrific goal scoring potential because of that size and skating combination. The biggest thing for Roberts is learning how to use his size. At this point, he's not nearly as good along the wall as he should be. His intensity level really needs to increase, especially without the puck. But big guys with good hands don't grow on trees. Even if the game is changing, there will always be a place for guys like Roberts who can put the puck in the net. If you're patient, he could still blossom into a future NHL player.

34. Riley McCourt - Defense - Flint Firebirds
Another player who really benefited from a change of a scenery this season. Coming over from Hamilton at midseason, McCourt got all the ice time he could handle in Flint. Really like how he moves the puck and his ability to extend rushes through the neutral zone. Has excellent mobility and a lot of potential as a puck rushing defender and powerplay QB. Considering this was his first full season in the OHL, I think he showed pretty good progression. By the time he graduates from the OHL, I think we're looking at a 50 point defender. It's his defensive ability that will need to improve. That's not to say that he's terrible in his own end. It's just that he's raw. He'll need to learn to pick his spots better at jumping up into the rush. He's going to need to learn to improve his positioning in the defensive end. He has good mobility, but it's about being able to read plays and anticipate outcomes a little better. And he's going to need to play with a little more jam in the defensive end. Really like McCourt's offensive potential though and I would most definitely look at him later in the draft.

35. Declan Chisholm - Defense - Peterborough Petes
One thing has been consistent with NHL Central Scouting's rankings this year; they love Chisholm. They've got him at 16th among OHL'ers on their final list. That's just not something I can get on board with. Chisholm's strength is definitely in his skating ability. He's very fluid and is able to evade forecheckers to get the puck out of  his own zone. But Peterborough's struggles this year can be primarily blamed on their defensive inadequacies, of which Chisholm needs to shoulder some of the blame. It's a lot to ask of a young, sophomore defender; to be a top pairing defender. But Chisholm did struggle in a lot of my viewings of Peterborough this year. Decision making in his own end was an issue. His intensity level without the puck was also an issue. And he doesn't seem to have the confidence yet to consistently extend his rushes deep into enemy territory. Now, his season was disrupted by a high ankle sprain half way through the year, and the Petes were pretty bad. Tough to stand out for those reasons. And I get the potential that he possesses and could see why a team would take a chance on him early. But there are other defenders in this age group that I prefer more.

36. Matthew Struthers - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Big, power center who is coming off his third season in the OHL (a late '99). A midseason move to North Bay really seemed to light a fire under him as he was close to a point per game with the Battalion and had 6 points in 5 playoff games. Struthers isn't the world's greatest skater. Stride lacks power and he'll need to really work on his explosiveness in order to take that next step as an offensive player. But he's got a very good head on his shoulders. Really understands how to play without the puck in all three zones. Has excellent vision and hands in tight for a big man, and exhibits poise in the face of pressure. Definitely not flashy, but extremely effective in tight because he can put defenders on his back. Would like to see him use his size a little bit more to crash and bang, but not sure he has that "in your face" style in him. It could still develop. But I think he's a guy worth taking in the later rounds. That offensive production this year came nearly entirely 5 on 5. There's room for additional growth.

37. Tyler Tucker - Defense - Barrie Colts
Love watching this kid play. He's a real throwback defender who relishes in any opportunity he has to lay the body; easily one of the OHL's most physical players. But there's more to his game. Has underrated skill with the puck and is a capable puck mover who can also quarterback the powerplay. Has a good, low hard shot from the point that will no doubt see him score more goals in the future. Tucker also has a good stick in the defensive zone and has learned to play with more reserve when needed, rather than chase plays looking for big hits. I thought he had a really good playoffs for Barrie and was arguably the team's best defender in the postseason with two huge game winning goals. The real drawback here is his skating. I think it's improved from last year, but it still needs work. Has a tendency to get blown by off the rush and can have difficulty containing in the corners when he doesn't get body leverage. If he were 6'3 or 6'4, I don't think NHL teams would be as concerned because his reach could counteract it. But he's 6'1, far from small, but not quite big enough to be able to rely solely on reach and physicality. That said, I still love Tucker as a player and I think you have to applaud him for what he was able to accomplish this year. If he can continue to upgrade his skating and reads at both ends, there's no reason to think that he couldn't be an Adam McQuaid or Brooks Orpik style defender at the next level.

38. Connor Corcoran - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
One of the unsung heroes for a Windsor team that ended up being a lot better this year than people expected them to be. The sophomore defender was relied upon to play in all situations for the Spitfires and ate up a ton of minutes; forced to take on a leadership role for a very, very young blueline. There were nights where he definitely struggled. But that's to be expected given what he was being asked to do. There were other nights where I felt like he was the best defender on the ice. He's extremely effective in the defensive end. He blocks shots. He clears the crease. He wins battles in the corners through excellent body positioning. He uses his excellent mobility to be in great position in coverage. By the time he graduates, I would expect that he develops into one of the better stay at home defenders in the OHL. The question is, how much offensive potential does he have? This is a kid who has gone back and forth from forward to defense throughout his young hockey career and only since he joined the OHL has he played on the blueline full time. There's going to be a learning curve. As he gains confidence, could we see him use his mobility to be more of a consistent factor as a puck mover? Or does he project more as a jack of all trades type who's lack of standout qualities prevents him from being a future pro?

39. Sam Bitten - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Brother of Bulldog and Montreal Canadien's prospect Will Bitten, Sam is no doubt a project. He's very raw, but there's a lot to like. For one, he skates as well as his brother does but is a few inches taller. He shows great puck protection skill, especially coming off the wall and he's aggressive in attacking the net. The offensive production wasn't terrific this year, but he played a depth role with virtually no special teams time. And it was his first full OHL season. His strength will need to be upgraded. As will his shot and ability to receive and handle the puck at full speed. But when you combine his size, speed, and puck protection ability in tight, you could have a very intriguing center prospect for the future. Would be shocked if someone doesn't roll the dice on Bitten at this year's draft.

40. Damien Giroux - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
The old adage, "if this guy were 6'2 and a better skater, he'd be a candidate for the first three rounds." Giroux is an exceptionally well rounded center. He's a terrific defensive player and penalty killer. He's future captain material and plays with his heart on his sleeve. Has a real great head for the game in the sense that he always seems to put himself in the right position to make a play in the offensive end. His anticipation and ability to read defenses is terrific. Giroux is also an excellent playmaker because of this. One of Saginaw's best players this year, even if the offensive numbers aren't eye catching. Giroux is bound to be a top 10-15 scorer in this league by the time he graduates. However, as alluded to, the skating is only average and when you combine that with his 5'10 frame, you probably don't have an NHL draft pick at this time. This is especially true given how much he faded down the stretch (4 points in the final 17 games including playoffs). He's a guy to watch down the line though and that's why I still have him ranked ahead of some guys I think probably get drafted.

41. Maxim Golod - Forward - Erie Otters
With the Otters rebuilding this year (and likely next year too), there was room for some young players to step into the line-up and take hold of critical roles. One of those to do that was former 13th rounder Maxim Golod. The late bloomer is an August birthday who made the jump from major midget to the OHL this season. Took hold of a top 6 spot pretty early on and never let go. Golod is undersized at 5'10(ish), but he has good speed and is a good skater which is definitely a plus considering his lack of size. Golod has some skill with the puck too. He's most noticeable flying down the wing, looking to drive the net, or coming off the wall looking to catch defenders flat footed. Now I have to admit, Erie was the team that I saw the least of this season. As such, I'm not sure I have a good handle on Golod compared to some other players in this draft class. I know there are some in the scouting community who really like him and feel like he has some great offensive potential. 

42. Adam Liska - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Grind it out winger who was probably better than the stats would indicate this year. Really strong boards player who is excellent at keeping his feet moving to retain possession and create off the cycle. Not the biggest at 5'11, but he's stocky and does a great job protecting the puck by staying wide and using a strong lower body to keep defenders on his back. Liska is also a good defensive player who provides max effort in all three zones. Through the middle part of the year, he started to find the back of the net a little bit, but was pushed down the line-up when Kitchener was fully healthy. Playing mostly 4th line minutes in the playoffs, he went scoreless in 19 games. His individual skill level isn't more than average though, giving him a relatively low ceiling as a pro player. And his skating is a work in progress. As a sub 6 footer, his lack of dynamic skill and skating ability are major strikes against him from NHL scouts. If he stays in Kitchener next year, (which I hope he does), he'll receive more playing time and could be a 25/25 guy.

43. Kirill Nizhnikov - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
A player many had high hopes for coming into his NHL draft season. A former high pick in the priority selection (7th OV) and long considered one of the most talented offensive forwards in this age group. But his draft year just wasn't very spectacular. Got moved from a contender (Barrie) to a last place team in Sudbury. It did modestly improve his production, however he went scoreless in the final 14 games of the season.  For Nizhnikov, it's all about the consistency of his intensity level. He has games that showcase how truly talented he is offensively. Slick with the puck. Sneaky quick. Has a great release on a hard wrist shot. Will look to engage physically. But too often is he a passenger who floats around the offensive zone in hopes that others will get him the puck in the slot. Should be the driving force on a line, yet, quite often he's invisible and goes shifts without possessing the puck. Next year will be a big one for him. He's going to get to play with either Blake Murray or Quinton Byfield. He has the chance to really blossom on their wings. But will he?

44. Jake Goldowski - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
6'3 forward who left the U.S. Development program for Saginaw in December. Played both wing and center for the Spirit. Good support player who knows his role on the ice. Saginaw used him as a net presence on the powerplay, where he definitely shows potential. Uses that big frame well to gain inside position near the crease and has good hands in tight. Skating is definitely raw. As are his puck skills in transition. But with his size and comfort level playing below the hash marks, I think he's got a lot of potential to develop into an intriguing NHL prospect. Really curious to see how he looks next year, in his 2nd OHL season. A player to keep an eye on who I think really only gave us a glimpse of what he's capable of in the league.

45. David Levin - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
At this point, everyone knows the story with Levin. Immigrated from Israel to pursue his dream of becoming a professional hockey player. Former 1st overall pick by the Wolves. And now it looks like he could become the 1st Jack Ferguson winner (1st overall OHL pick) since John Hughes (in 2006) to go undrafted into the NHL. Look, Levin is a talented offensive player. Without question, his skill with the puck and creativity is among the best of any player eligible this year. And I know the Wolves organization was relatively happy with the progression he made as a three zone player this year. Saw him block a few shots this year and that's not something we saw previously. That said, he's coming off his third year in the league and also posted his lowest point per game total as of yet. There were injury issues, but for all his talent, it just hasn't translated to consistent production yet. Combine that with the fact that he's undersized and his skating remains a weak spot. Like Nizhnikov, Levin will have the chance next year to play with a talented center (either Murray or Byfield). I'd be shocked if by the end of his OHL career that he's not well over a point per game player. I'm just not sure he'll ever be a serious NHL prospect.

46. Justin MacPherson - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Really intriguing defender with upside who had some really good games for the IceDogs this year. Good size at 6'1. Skates well. Shows a good head for the game offensively, especially on the point where he makes skilled plays to keep the puck in at the line. Not afraid to jump up into the play and has pretty good vision. Defensively, solid positionally and in coverage. Has the potential to be a very efficient player at both ends. But he's raw. Could be a powerplay QB if his point shot improves and he gains confidence in his distribution ability. Will also need to get stronger to win more one on one battles in the defensive end. At this point, gets beat too often down low. And can be a tad turnover prone in the defensive zone. But, the skeleton of a pro defender is there. Seasoning is needed, but I like this kid and think that he'll turn into a pretty solid player within the next couple of years.

47. Adam McMaster - Forward - North Bay Battatlion
Speed, speed, and more speed. McMaster is one of the quicker players available among OHL draft eligibles this year. Takes only a few strides to get to top speed, which is very good. Naturally a center, but his game really took off this year after a permanent move to the wing around mid January. In 29 games after that point (including the playoffs), he had 18 points. I think playing on the outside really suits his game, allowing him use his speed to be a factor away from the puck. Can be the first man into the zone and really push the pace. Simplifies things for him and his lack of strength on the puck (at this time), doesn't become as much of an issue. At 5'10, he's certainly not the biggest. But if his skill set catches up to his skating ability and he continues to round out his game as a three zone player, he could develop into a real good OHL player.

48. William Ennis - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Hulking defender at 6'3, 207lbs who actually saw a ton of ice time for the Oshawa Generals this year. Played in their top 4 and saw all the penalty killing time he could handle. A stay at home defender, Ennis excels in the role; blocking shots, winning battles down low, clearing the crease, and exhibiting composure in coverage. He will take the body when he needs to, but at this point is more of a stick on puck defender who likes to use his reach. His skating is not awful, but it's not an asset either. Does occasionally get caught flat footed off the rush. Offensively, he keeps things simple. Defers to his d-partner to make plays and will often elect to chip the puck out if he's pressured. Because of his size and defensive potential, I'm guessing he probably gets drafted. But in order to be an NHL defender, the physicality will have to increase, his skating will have to improve, and his confidence with the puck will need to grow.

49. Owen Lalonde - Defense - Guelph Storm
Very quietly finished the year strongly. No doubt, the former 2nd overall OHL pick has been a disappointment thus far in the OHL. But, you have to applaud him for improving. Slowly earned a top 4 role with the Storm and in the final 20 games of the regular season, he was a neutral player (+/- of 0) and he had 10 assists. Unfortunately he injured himself late in the year (shoulder) and had to miss the Storm's playoff round with the Kitchener Rangers. That was a big blow for the team. Maybe it's not too late for the Windsor native to turn things around. He's got size at 6'1. He's an effortless skater. And he has terrific potential at both ends of the ice. I think he's actually developed into a pretty reliable defensive player, so the development of his offensive game (especially confidence wise) will be key as to whether he becomes a serious NHL prospect. For all his skills, he's not a very aggressive player in trying to use them. Rarely jumps up in the rush. Doesn't look to get himself into scoring position very often. It's that "vanilla-ness" that has caused him to be unranked by NHL Central Scouting. But too early to give up on him, especially given the improvements he showed late.

50. Zack Malik - Defense - Sudbury Wolves 
Such a tough player to get a read on this year with all the time he missed. Seemed like every time he got going and had taken a step forward, he got injured again; the most serious of which was a broken wrist that kept him out for a few months. Son of former NHL'er Marek, Zach definitely has the potential to develop into an NHL player. Size on the back end at 6'2. Is a solid skater who shows great promise as a puck rusher who can push the pace of play and gain the offensive zone. And he flashes a penchant for the big hit and the desire to play extremely physical. But his decision making is very raw. Gets himself caught up ice at the wrong time from bad pinches and will chase the play in the defensive end, taking himself out of position. Doesn't help that Sudbury was pretty bad this year too, so he was often forced to play inside of his own end which is his biggest weakness right now. He had a chance to redeem his draft stock at the U18's, but I thought he struggled at the event. Showed that physicality, but also showed some of the same bad habits and decision making that plagued his rookie OHL season. Like I said, there is a lot of potential if he can figure things out and stay healthy. He has the bloodlines. I hope he sticks it out in the OHL next year and really shows us what he's capable of.