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1. Logan Brown - Kitchener Rangers
Even though he played even less regular season games than the year before (32), you have to consider this year a successful one for Brown and a nice step forward. He got a late start to the year due to spending some time with Ottawa. And he missed some time for the World Juniors (and a minor knee injury that he suffered there). But he was in top form for this year's OHL playoffs where he helped the Kitchener Rangers make it to the Western Conference finals. Thought Brown looked more explosive this year as a skater and it really helped him be more of a factor off the rush, creating scoring chances by driving the middle of the ice and putting defenders on his back. The consistency of his physical intensity was much higher. He really became a beast along the wall, using his size to prolong possession in the offensive end and he has good vision to identify streaking teammates. I suppose my one concern remaining is the lack of scoring chances generated within 5 feet of the crease. He scored only 5 powerplay goals all year and this is an area where he should dominate given his size and skill combination. He's shown flashes before, but being able to find those dirty areas and win battles in tight will be something he will have to continue to focus on. Ditto for his play in all three zones. As a center at the next level, he's going to really need to work on this. He'll turn pro next year and I would imagine he sees at least some time in the NHL. He likely battles guys like Colin White and Drake Batherson for a 3rd line center role, but I see him needing some time in the AHL to adjust. But I do see him excelling at that level and establishing himself further as a quality top 6 forward prospect.
2. Alex Formenton - London Knights
Excellent year for Formenton as he was able to nearly double his goal production in 17 less games. He was also London's best player in their first round playoff loss to Owen Sound. Last year I wrote, "Would love to see him really develop as a dominant forechecker and penalty killer too." And Formenton did just that. His speed is such an asset away from the puck and his physical intensity level was significantly higher this year. He developed a lot of pest like qualities this year, engaging physically to get under the skin of his opponents. This was critical for his development. His shot and confidence offensively were also much better this year. He attacks the net and the middle of the ice with reckless abandon. While his ability to carry the puck and create plays was definitely improved, there is still room for development in this department. His vision with the puck could stand to improve, being able to use his speed to push the pace, but slow the game down when needed to make a nice drop pass or find a linemate skating the middle. The development of that part of his game will be crucial for him if he wants to be more than a very good 3rd line energy player. Even though I think that there's a significant chance he ends up in Ottawa for the year, I'd like to see him back in London. He grew so much this year as a player and I think it's worth being patient to see how much more his game can grow, especially offensively. The Knights should be a quality team again and I think he'd be a 35-40 goal scorer.
3. Aaron Luchuk - Barrie Colts
Solid signing by the Senators, inking the Eddie Powers trophy winner (scoring champ). Luchuk has a very high compete level, which is required given his average size (5'10). He's a very effective offensive player because that motor never stops running and he consistently beats defenders to loose pucks or to scoring lanes. He also has a very good head for the game in all three zones. He can play in any situation and find success. One of his best assets as an offensive player is a very good release on his wrist shot. Doesn't need much time or space to get it off, and despite being somewhat undersized, I felt like he transformed himself into one of the OHL's elite within 3 feet of the net. The million dollar question regarding any prospect who explodes in their overage season is, can it be replicated? Will his game translate to the next level when he'll no longer be able to simply out hustle the opposition and when he's not stronger/faster/more experienced? I honestly am not sure I have an answer. Luchuk could very well be a tweener whose offensive game never translates the way that you want it to, and who may not be physically suited for a depth role. But I could also see him adapting and developing if Ottawa is patient with him. Of any of the players graduating from the OHL this year, Luchuk is one of the ones I'm most curious to see how he fares in the AHL next year. I'll go out on a limb and say he's at least a 15-18 goal scorer.
Sunday, August 5, 2018
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