Monday, May 21, 2018

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

The Under 18's have wrapped up (where Canada finished 5th for the second straight year). The OHL playoffs have completed; Congrats to the Hamilton Bulldogs. And the Memorial Cup is under way. The race to the draft is on. We're about a month away from the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, so that means it's time for me to release my rankings.

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

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

Also for clarification, this list is MY list of the top 50 OHL prospects, as if I were drafting for my own team. In other words, this isn't a list of where I THINK or believe players will go, but a ranking of my own opinion on the top players eligible for this draft based on my viewings this season. If you want a draft projection and information about players outside the OHL, be sure to
check out McKeens Hockey (who will be releasing a draft guide soon) or order a product like the Future Considerations Draft Guide.
This first part includes the Honorable Mentions of my list. These are the players who received consideration for my top 50, but who fell just short. There are 17 in total. Last year, 4 players were taken from my HM's. This year, I would be shocked if more than 2 go from this HM list. While all of these guys most definitely have potential, they remain long shots who need to put in a lot of work to be serious NHL prospects.

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

Andrew Bruder - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
A free agent signing by the IceDogs from the PJHL (formerly Junior C), Bruder appears to be a classic late bloomer. Played AA a few years ago. Lower level last year. Now a 4th liner for the Dogs this year who slid back and forth between the wing and center. He's an August birth date and is definitely physically immature. But he shows potential as a power center who can use his size to create some offense. Will be interesting to see where he's at in a few years if he continues to develop his skating and confidence. NHL Central Scouting is certainly high on him, ranking him 36th among OHL skaters this year.

Nick Donofrio - Goaltender - Hamilton Bulldogs
Massive goaltender at 6'4, 200lbs who takes up a ton of the net when down in the butterfly. Wouldn't necessarily call him the most athletic netminder, but he's efficient. As he learns to track the play better, improves his rebound control, and gets a bit quicker post to post, this is a guy with starting netminder potential in the OHL. Lost only one game all year, although played sparingly behind Kaden Fulcher. If Fulcher sticks at the pro level next year in the Detroit system, he could be the starter for the Bulldogs next year.

Kai Edmonds - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
Another back-up netminder on one of the Eastern Conference's best teams this year. Edmonds is an athletic goaltender who loves to get out at the top of the crease to challenge shooters. Has grown 4 inches since his OHL draft year, giving him ideal size at the position now at 6'2. Rebound control is an issue. Can get himself out of position and will need to refine his movement. Like Donofrio, Edmonds has a chance to be an OHL starter as early as next season when Leo Lazerev graduates from the league. 

Alex Gritz - Forward - Erie Otters
With a September 15th birth date, Gritz is officially the youngest player eligible this year. The playmaking center is a tenacious worker and is at his best when he's ferocious and aggressive without the puck, looking to create turnovers and be a factor on the forecheck. Had a pretty good year after coming over from the Soo this offseason and firmly entrenched himself as the team's 3rd line center. I think strength is a major issue. Has moments where he flashes his skill level with the puck and looks like a potential force to be reckoned with. But he can be too easily pushed off the puck and just isn't strong enough to win those one on one battles that he actually initiates in the corners. Potential is there for him to slowly develop like Hayden Verbeek did in the Soo.

Max Grondin - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
At 6'3, 200lbs, Grondin has the size NHL teams look for down the middle. The big, power center can be a load to handle down low and is certainly not afraid of mixing it up physically. I guess the question is, how much offensive potential does he actually possess? Occasionally flashes some good puck skill and hands in close, and makes the odd impressive move while driving the net. But his lack of foot speed definitely hurts him. That lack of explosiveness makes him appear lumbering at times and really prevents him from making a more consistent impact in the offensive end. I do think that he's one of the guys on the list with a chance of being a later round pick though because that power game at the center position can be hard to find and skating can be improved.

Daylon Groulx - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Competitive scoring winger who really improved as the season progressed; his first in the OHL. The son of former OHL superstar Wayne Groulx, Daylon is a competitive scoring winger who really shows a knack for operating within 5 feet of the net. Seems to have a really good head for the game. I think that eventually this guy will be a 30 goal scorer at the OHL level. As an NHL prospect, he's average sized and does not possess elite skating ability. That will be a big strike against him, even if his compete level is quite high. Bound to receive more responsibility next year and I think I would want to see how he handles that first before throwing a draft pick at him.

Brady Hinz - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Got off to a crazy good start this year in Sarnia but really faded after the opening few months and was subsequently dealt to Peterborough for Jonathan Ang. Hinz has consistently been one of the higher scoring forwards in this Ontario age group, but consistency has been an issue so far in the OHL. Later in the season, Peterborough used Hinz down the middle and I think that shift could really help him. Looked good in the one game that I caught where he centered Logan DeNoble and Adam Timleck. Has a fair amount of puck skill and is most effective with the puck on his stick. Playing center could allow him to drive the play instead of playing passenger where his lack of size and strength is more evident. At 5'8, he's going to need to score more to become an attractive option for NHL teams.

Hunter Holmes - Forward - Flint Firebirds 
Tough draft year for Holmes, a player who I had very high hopes for coming into the season. Missed the majority of the 2nd half of the year with mono, although did have 4 goals in 5 games to close out the season. Holmes definitely has offensive potential at this level. Has very good hands and a good release on his shot in tight. Can drive the net and shows good puck skill cutting through the middle of the ice. But his skating lacks explosiveness and his intensity level without the puck is not consistent. Tough situation in Flint this year with how bad they were and in those situations, it can be tough for a kid like Holmes to standout in a positive way. Look at all those Barrie players who showed significant improvement this year after horrible seasons the year prior. Holmes is likely a big part of this organization's future moving forward and should be better next year.

Nolan Hutcheson - Forward - Sudbury Wolves 
6'4, 200lbs winger who played a checking line role for the Wolves this year. Actually generates a fair amount of scoring chances by driving the net and getting inside body position on defenders near the crease. Skating is a work in progress, but it's not as bad as you might expect from such a big kid. I guess the question I have is, does he have offensive potential at this level and the next? I do question just how good his finishing skills are and his overall skill with the puck would be classified as average at best. Will need to find a way to consistently dominate physically down low and become a space clearer for more skilled players who he can clean up the garbage for. Lots of good players make a living doing that and Hutcheson could make himself an intriguing NHL prospect somewhere down the line.

Matthew MacDougall - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Undersized forward who has a terrific motor in the offensive end. Really good down low and along the wall, where he keeps his feet moving to prolong possession and work the cycle. Has great vision too. Felt like he really hit a wall physically in the 2nd half of his rookie OHL season though. Just wasn't as effective later in the year. Is going to be a very good OHL player eventually. But as an undersized winger, I wonder how NHL scouts project him. Possibly not built to be a checking line player, but may not be inherently skilled enough to be a top 6 player. Will be interesting to see him develop as part of a potentially exciting young Windsor team.

Luke Moncada - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Big bodied forward who played both wing (early in the year) and center (later in the year) this season for the Battalion. Knows his role on the ice as a front of the net presence and strong boards player. Plays a very simple game but can be an effective player with more skilled linemates who can use the space he opens up. Just not sure that he's more than a future 3rd line center at the OHL level, as I don't see enough individual skill. If the skating improves further and he makes some upgrades in being able to play with the puck, he could definitely be a valuable OHL piece, at the very least.

Chris Playfair - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Playfair is definitely an interesting prospect available for this year's draft and probably isn't given enough credit, even by me because he's an HM. Playfair is one of the top defensive forwards and penalty killers of any OHL'er eligible. He has speed and is a tenacious worker away from the puck who really excels along the wall. After shifting to center later in the year, he really developed chemistry with captain Luke Boka, a similar type of player. I guess it comes down to the fact that I'm just not sure I see a ton of offensive upside. He's going to be a big part of this Windsor team moving forward and his game could most certainly grow. Just not sure I draft him...yet.

Sergei Popov - Forward - London Knights 
Speaking of young players who will grow with a rebuilding franchise, Popov is exactly that. Acquired from the Kingston Frontenacs, Popov is an extremely skilled offensive player. His skill with the puck is top notch. You watch London play and this guy makes a lot of slick plays with the puck on his stick. Has excellent lateral agility and edgework which gives him that elusive quality. But as of right now, a lot of those plays just don't end up resulting in top notch scoring chances. There's certainly a tendency to over handle the puck. And he needs to shoot the puck more. But this could be a Sergei Kostitsyn situation all over again, as Popov gets stronger and learns how to properly utilize his god given talents.

Ryan Roth - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Undersized (5'8), but speedy winger who played a scoring line role for the Hounds the majority of this season. Didn't see a ton of special teams action, but plays 5 on 5 with fellow draft eligible forward Barrett Hayton and Anaheim pick Jack Kopacka. On that line, he uses his speed to try to be first to loose pucks, and is good at prolonging possession despite lacking size. Definitely a high energy guy with some good puck skill. At this point, with him being so undersized, I think we just need to see even greater offensive production from him before he gets serious NHL consideration.

Peter Stratis - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Jack of all trades defender that the Wolves acquired from Ottawa this season. Stratis' game is built around his good mobility and he likely develops into a quality puck mover at the OHL level by the time he graduates from the league. I suppose the problem for Stratis is that he doesn't rate as above average or elite in any particular category. And he's only average sized at 6'0. So projecting him as a future NHL defender is tough. He'll need to improve his ability to run the point on the powerplay, especially, if he wants to increase his point production and subsequently draw more attention from NHL scouts. If the Wolves are going to finally turn this ship around in the next two years, Stratis is going to need to be a big part of that as a top 3 defender.

Olivier True - Forward - Ottawa 67's 
Extremely raw Import from Denmark who definitely has potential to develop into a great player. Showed glimpses of that this year. Kind of looked like he was turning the page around midseason and had a very good month or two. But then finished the season fairly poorly. He's 6'3. He skates reasonably well. He has some puck skill. But the hockey sense, play away from the puck, strength, and confidence are all works in progress. Explains the consistency issues (with wavering ice time). The question is, will he be back next year? Ottawa already has Okhotyuk on the back-end and I don't think he goes anywhere. This team hopes to compete for the Conference next year. Can they do that and pass on the chance to bring in another top shelf import at the Import Draft and hope that True figures it out?

Quinn Yule - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Another 67's forward who is extremely raw. This one even bigger. Yule is a 6'5 winger who eventually projects as a physical, power forward. Felt like he got better as the season went on, at least in the physicality department. Started to see the confidence grow in being able to use his body. Key for him will be the development of his skating ability. Definitely lacks power in his stride and it prevents him from being consistently involved in the play offensively. If he can get a little quicker, improve his ability to handle the puck in traffic, and get stronger, he could eventually be a force down low who could play a crucial support role on a scoring line. Definitely a project, but the type that NHL teams sometimes take a chance on.

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