The Edmonton Oilers are up next. A very strong group of OHL prospects.
1. Evan Bouchard - London Knights
Tough to have a better draft season than Bouchard did for London this year. Highest point total by a draft eligible defender in 9 years (since Ryan Ellis), all while captain of a very young Knights' team. His ability to run the powerplay and his ability to start play up ice with an exit pass or rush are nearly unrivaled by his peers. This guy is as cool as a cucumber with the puck; his vision outstanding and his composure rarely shaken. He just doesn't make many mistakes with the puck. When you pair that with a big time point shot, you have one heck of an offensive defender. His skating does take some heat, as he's a good mover, but not an elite one. His defensive play, especially intensity level near the crease and along the boards, does also. And neither criticism is unfounded. But he's already improved so much as an OHL player, there's no reason to think that his game can't continue to evolve. So what happens with Bouchard in 2018/19? Is he in the NHL with Edmonton, or is he back in the OHL with London? Even though Edmonton could use his talents on the powerplay, it's tough to see where he slots in, on a defense with 6 NHL defenders already. Will he be able to push a guy like Matt Benning out? Using him as a 7th defender probably isn't the most ideal either, as you want him to play. A guy like Ryan Ellis is actually a pretty good comparison in this regard. He was touted as someone who had to work on his defensive game and improve the dynamic nature of his stride, so he went back to junior for a few years despite previously dominating offensively. And his game improved so much. Look at him now, as he has to be considered one of the NHL's premier two-way defenders; an absolute warrior (and a beard to match). If Bouchard returns to junior, he still has things he can work on and he will still be challenged to be a better player. I do expect that he gets a few games (at least) at the NHL level to give him a taste, but I also do think he ends back up in London where he could be up near the 1.5 points per game mark (tough to predict a point outcome given he'll start late and likely miss time due to the WJC's too).
2. Ryan McLeod - Mississauga Steelheads
Predictably, McLeod fell a little bit at the NHL draft after an indifferent draft year that saw him go through stretches of inconsistency; his third year in the league as a late birth date. But in the 2nd round where Edmonton grabbed him, it was a savvy pick. McLeod's speed and skill level are definitely NHL quality. This guy can absolutely fly down the wing. And his hands are terrific, especially in tight quarters and under pressure (something he puts to good use on the powerplay, excelling within 5 feet of the crease). Also think he's a natural playmaker who sees the game pretty well and can make his linemates better. However, McLeod needs to attack the middle of the ice with greater frequency; using his size to take defenders head on and drive the net with his speed. Too often he is a passenger and not the director. Given his skill set, that leaves an underwhelming taste in some mouths. This upcoming season, McLeod will return to Mississauga and I would really like to see him take the bull by the horns more consistently. Look to create more scoring chances for himself. Shoot the puck more. Drive the net more. Play with greater urgency. Mississauga is likely to rebuild this year (unless by some miracle they land Jack Hughes), which will make McLeod a prime trade target for other teams. I'd really like to see him with 35+ goals and 90+ points in his last OHL year.
3. Kirill Maksimov - Niagara IceDogs
Was very close to ranking Maksimov ahead of McLeod, but I'll be a bit more conservative at this point. However, no doubting that Maksimov had a better season in the OHL this past year. Nearly every aspect of his game improved and he's really put himself on the map as a premier prospect. His bread and butter is his shot and release. This guy can fire a puck. But he also works very hard to get himself in scoring position. In the offensive end, he doesn't stop skating and is consistently first to loose pucks in the slot or goal area. Just a true goal scorer. His size certainly helps here too, and he played with so much more fire this season. He's actually starting to develop into a power forward, a guy who exerts himself physically and gets under the skin of opponents. This has really helped him to be a better player in all three zones and a good penalty killer. But there are still things to work on. His skating is good, but it would be great to see him work on his first few steps; making him more explosive. This is especially true as he tries to drive wide toward the goal area. And he needs to improve his decision making with the puck in the neutral zone and in the offensive zone. Can be turnover prone from overhandling the puck and needs to keep things simple sometimes. Next year he'll return to the OHL where he'll be a part of a quality Niagara team that could take home the East. I see him hitting the 40 goal mark and tickling the 90+ point mark.
4. Dmitri Samorukov - Guelph Storm
Samorukov had a nice second season in Guelph which saw his development take a predictable path. The Storm struggled to take that next step forward as a team, but Samorukov largely did his part. Liked the progression of his game in both ends. Thought his decision making with the puck was much improved this year, as he cut down on his turnovers in the defensive end. He's learning to trust his skating ability to help him get pucks out and to help him evade the forecheck. Defensively, thought he played more in control. He chased the play less, took less sloppy penalties, and, again, learned to harness his plus mobility as a defensive asset. Next year in Guelph, he'll be a go to player again and I expect him to take another leap forward. I want to see him get more powerplay time (even with Ryan Merkley in Guelph) and I want to see him use his skating ability to take more chances offensively; jump up in the play, extend his rushes deeper into the offensive zone. And defensively, hopefully his decision making can continue to evolve and we'll see his physical game really hit that next level. I'd like to see Samorukov around the 45+ point mark and for him to be a '+' player for the first time in his OHL career.
5. Dylan Wells - Peterborough Petes
Such a tough year for Wells...and the Petes. The team's young and inexperienced defense couldn't keep up and Wells had to face a ton of rubber. A lot of those pucks were the result of prime scoring chances too (odd man rushes, breakaways, players left alone in the slot, etc). You could tell that it was tough mentally for Wells. After such a strong breakout in 2017, the air got taken out of his sails in 2018. There were some games where Wells battled to keep his team in games, making big save after big save. And there were others where he was prone to bad goals, especially due to poor positioning/reads. By season's end, he just looked tired and had a tough time making the saves he did easily the year prior. But it's way too early to give up on this talented young netminder. A summer off will do wonders to refocus him. The question is, where does he play in 2018/19? He's going to battle the likes of Shane Starrett and Stuart Skinner for the back-up job in the AHL, with the two losers ending up in the ECHL. But would Edmonton rather he get a full workload in the OHL as an overager? I would harbor a guess that after this past season in Peterborough, the Oilers would prefer it be for another team, so a trade is possible. Or they could have the two pro rookies, Skinner and Wells, split time in the ECHL. I think that's the most likely outcome.
Friday, July 27, 2018
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