The Flyers are up next.
1. Morgan Frost - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Runner-up for the scoring title this year, it goes without saying that Frost had a heck of a year. He more than doubled his production from his draft year and established himself as a star in the making. Digging deeper brings even more perspective to his terrific season. His 45 primary assists were tops in the OHL and his 75 points 5 on 5 were the most in the OHL by 11! Bottom line, we saw Frost improve in nearly every way imaginable. He looked noticeably stronger which helped him to be more explosive as a skater, helped him be a more effective player away from the puck (especially defensively), and it helped him to be stronger on the puck in the offensive zone. His vision in the offensive end is elite and he's so good at drawing in defenders by attacking the middle, only to dish it off once that opening appears. Perhaps most surprising to me was the improvement we saw in his shot and goal scoring ability. Way more aggressive in looking to shoot the puck and create his own scoring chances, which only helped to make him a more effective overall offensive player. So what's next for Frost? With a good summer in the gym, I actually think Frost could be ready to make the jump to the NHL. However, the Flyers are quite deep down the middle (Giroux, Couturier, Patrick, Laughton). It will be tough for him to crack that line-up unless they take him on as a winger or shift someone like Giroux to the wing. If he does return to the OHL, he's going to light it up and I see him being close to the 2 point per game mark with a key appearance for Canada at the WJC's.
2. Isaac Ratcliffe - Guelph Storm
Ratcliffe is such an interesting prospect, given his size and goal scoring ability. 6'6 forwards who can shoot the puck like Ratcliffe can, don't grow on trees. Personally, I thought his skating looked improved this year. I think he'll have to continue improve his first few steps and overall agility, but it's definitely coming along. Saw him be way more of a consistent force off the rush because of this. With his size, he can really drive the net and defenders have to respect his lethal release so it makes him a tough player to match up against one on one. Next step for me is Ratcliffe's play East/West. His board work is decent, but he needs to become a better playmaker, identifying gaps and showing more patience in the offensive end. Being able to use his size to control the wall, tiring out defenses and working until those gaps can be exploited. Overall though, a solid draft +1 year for him and I'm intrigued to see where his game goes next year. He'll return to Guelph where the Storm are hoping to take that next step as a serious contender in the West. Hopefully Ratcliffe can hit the 45+ goal mark and come close to the 80 point mark, becoming a more well rounded offensive player.
3. Matthew Strome - Hamilton Bulldogs
Only modest improvements for Strome this year as it was mostly a status quo season developmentally. That's not necessarily a bad thing because Strome is a player I like as a prospect. And you have to appreciate the role that he played in getting the Bulldogs to the Memorial Cup. His work down low in the offensive end is excellent, where he can use his size and vision to make plays that result in a lot of scoring chances for he and his linemates. Strome's hands are terrific and below the hash marks, there aren't too many forwards in the OHL who are as effective as he is. I know that he's been working hard on his skating and he will need to continue to do so. He still has heavy feet that limit his effectiveness as a puck carrier. I think it also limits his effectiveness away from the puck. Again though, at 6'4, 210lbs, you have to love the size and skill package. Strome will return to Hamilton next year and I expect a big jump in production from him. I think he's a 40 goal scorer and an 80+ point player. And with a good offseason, hopefully we see him really take that next step forward as a skater.
4. Maksim Sushko - Owen Sound Attack
A terrific year for Sushko that saw him nearly double his production from his draft year. He has developed into a terrific 3rd line winger prospect IMO. Really love Sushko's tenacity with and without the puck. He's ultra aggressive in attacking the net and is almost always the first man into the offensive zone; a true puck hound. Sushko loves engaging along the wall and he's very effective at using his body to gain leverage to win loose puck battles. This, along with his speed, makes him a great defensive forward and penalty killer. Offensively, I think he's a solid complimentary piece. Good enough hands to finish off plays in tight. Good enough with the puck to use his speed to push the attack. Next year, I think we'll get a good idea of what he's capable of offensively. Just how good is his hockey sense? Can his shot and scoring instincts improve? Is there more creativity to his game? He'll return to Owen Sound and be a key player for them. I'd expect modest production increases, to the 35/35 mark.
5. Connor Bunnaman - Kitchener Rangers
Sort of a tough year to evaluate Bunnaman. He served as the captain of the Kitchener Rangers this year and helped them reach the Western Conference finals. He's the type of kid who'll do anything to help his team win. Blocks shots. Mucks it up in the corners. Fights for position near the crease. Takes important face-offs. Offensively, his game seemed to hit a wall this year though. He was pushed down the line-up thanks to acquisitions like Kole Sherwood and Logan Brown and his production suffered playing in a lesser role and receiving less powerplay time. His skating remains a weakness and limits his overall effectiveness as a three zone player and consistent offensive contributor. At the next level, I do wonder how he'll fit in...to some degree. He could make a great candidate to be a 3rd/4th line forward, but his lack of footspeed may hinder him as someone who can forecheck, or kill penalties effectively. At this point, I think best case scenario has him developing into a Chris Thorburn type of player who can be a solid role player and space clearer. At the AHL level next year, I think we'll see Bunnaman play that 4th line role to start, so his offensive production could be fairly muted.
Monday, August 6, 2018
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