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.

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