Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sunday Top 10 - Under the Radar Draft Eligibles for 2019

We're over a third of the way into the current OHL season. While this is unquestionably a down year from the OHL, we've still seen some strong performances from draft eligible players thus far, and we're likely to see many more as we approach the second half. The Preliminary Media/Scout Poll was recently released and that should give everyone a good idea of the top players that the OHL has to offer for 2019. But what about those who are flying under the radar thus far? The amount of depth that the OHL has to offer for this year remains to be seen, even if the top end talent appears to be weaker. This list aims to highlight a few of the guys who are bound to see their stock rise should they continue their high level of play and could end up being Top 100 picks come June.

Here are 10 guys (plus some HM's) that you should be keeping your eye on through the 2nd half (in alphabetical order):

Mitchell Brewer - Oshawa Generals
Mobile defender with good size (6'1, 200lbs) who projects well as a pro defender. Brewer is a top three defender for the Generals, switching between Nico Gross and Matt Brassard as his partner. He is also one of the main reasons why Oshawa has a top 3 penalty killing unit in the OHL. Brewer is the type of defender who can do it all (plays physical, blocks shots, makes smart plays with the puck). And I think he's been really gaining confidence in his offensive abilities too, looking to use his skating ability to jump up in the play more and has been more aggressive in looking for his own scoring chances. With Oshawa poised to be a top 3 team in the Eastern Conference, he's going to get a ton of looks down the stretch.

Petr Cajka - Erie Otters
Cajka entered the year as a potential top 50 prospect on some lists and had a decent amount of hype attached to his arrival in Erie. But he struggled out of the gate, which isn't uncommon for rookie Imports. But Cajka has been considerably better of late with four multi goal games in his last ten. While he doesn't possess elite size at 5'11, he's actually terrific at protecting the puck, using his strong skating ability and balance to keep plays alive in the offensive end. Works the wall very well and plays a relatively fearless game. Consistency is going to be an issue with Erie's struggles (especially of late), but this is a guy teams should be looking at in the later rounds come June, if not earlier depending on how he responds after Erie makes some inevitable trades in January.

Daniel D'Amico - Windsor Spitfires
Snake bitten to start the season and given his lack of size at 5'9, the lack of production was bound to correlate with a drop in draft rankings. But he's really found his stride; 10 goals in his last 12 games. D'Amico has a real nose for the net and has one of the best releases of any OHL player eligible this year. Seems like whatever line he's placed on, is consistently Windsor's best on any given night. Originally thought he could be a long shot to be drafted, but scouts won't be able to ignore his production if it keeps up. Just needs to continue to prove that he can play at a higher tempo given his lack of size.

Jacob LeGuerrier - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Was happy to see LeGuerrier get his first OHL goal the other night after going 100+ without one. That said, my stance so far this year has been that LeGuerrier is a better offensive player than the numbers might suggest. With his size, reach, and skating ability, he is good for about one impressive rush deep into the offensive zone per game. It's just not something that he looks to do very often. Will that confidence get there one day? Will he explode next year when Sambrook and Hollowell move on? In the mean time, he at least profiles as a modern day stay at home defender. 6'3, mobile, can make plays with the puck, and is a willing combatant in the defensive end.

Kari Piiroinen - Windsor Spitfires
All eyes on Piiroinen now that he has fully taken over the crease in Windsor after the Dipietro trade. He's been pretty good this year as a rookie, but he'll now be given a chance to get into a groove with consistent starts. Without a doubt, the most impressive part of Piiroinen's game is his athleticism. He's very quick post to post and I think scouts will like how aggressive he is in challenging shooters given his lack of elite size. That glove hand is great too. Where he has struggled (from my viewpoint) is in refining his movements. Pucks have a tendency to squeak through him when he's moving and he can have trouble holding his post. That could stem from a lack of strength though. But he's going to have the spotlight down the stretch and it will be interesting to see how he responds.

Mason Primeau - North Bay Battalion
Sometimes a change of scenery is all you need. Since being dealt to North Bay, Primeau is averaging a point per game and has given North Bay a quality 2nd line behind the Brazeau/Struthers unit. At 6'5 and with NHL bloodlines, there is absolutely no doubting that the big power forward is going to draw a ton of interest from NHL scouts if he keeps producing for the Battalion. He can be an absolute force below the hashmarks and while he's not Serron Noel, I think that there is a lot of potential for his skating to improve as he matures. Stan Butler (who has recently returned to GM duties and perhaps will return to coaching duties soon) has proven to be great working with guys like Primeau over his career.

Jamieson Rees - Sarnia Sting
It is going to take some time for Rees to get back into a groove after missing two months with a kidney laceration. Came into the year as a possible top 60 pick (especially after a strong Hlinka performance), but now has some ground to make up. Saw him play recently and thought he looked great, using his speed to play in all three zones. Was forcing turnovers and made a couple terrific passes to set up prime scoring chances. Jacob Perreault and he are the future in Sarnia and as the trade deadline approaches, they may have to elevate their play even further if the Sting continue their rebuild and move more veterans.

Cole Schwindt - Mississauga Steelheads
Offensive production has really declined (has not scored in 12 games), and the Steelheads are mired in a slump (even with beating Oshawa recently). But Schwindt's versatility is going to be attractive to NHL scouts. In a way, Schwindt is similar to Hamilton's Mackenzie Entwistle. 6'3 forward who plays any forward position and who can be relied upon in any situation. Even though the Steelheads PK hasn't been terrific this year, I've really liked Schwindt in that situation where he can use his length and skating ability to disrupt passing lanes and track down loose pucks. The offensive potential at the next level may not be extremely high, but given his size and coachability, he will draw a lot of interest.

Kyen Sopa - Niagara IceDogs
Sopa, a late 2000 born Import like Cajka (on this list earlier), has found himself in a nearly opposite situation. As part of a Championship contender in Niagara, Sopa has seen his ice time cut in recent weeks with the addition of Jason Robertson and the emergence of Philip Tomasino. Playing on the 3rd and 4th line is not a kiss of death for your draft value, but it does mean that he will have to find a way to stand out consistently with the time he does get. I continue to admire the energy that Sopa brings to the ice. Undersized, but he attacks the net and seems to revel in that pest role. Has very quick hands in tight. But playing with less talented players, he will need to create more of his own scoring chances and show more of a dynamic ability with the puck in transition.

Keean Washkurak - Mississauga Steelheads
Another Steelhead who is struggling big time lately; one point in his last 10 games. Unlike Schwindt, Washkurak doesn't possess elite size at 5'10, so a lack of production will have a big time negative influence on his draft stock. It's no co-incidence that the Steelheads are mired in a slump as their secondary scoring has disappeared. The Steelheads need Washkurak to pick it back up. But I do really like him as a prospect. Washkurak is one of the best skaters among OHL draft eligibles this year. He plays at such a quick pace, and is at his best when he's a big factor without the puck (backcheck/forecheck). I think he's got great potential to be a consistent impact player in this league and a top three round pick come June. Let's see how he responds to a drought.

Honorable Mentions:

Nathan Allensen - Barrie Colts
If the move of Justin Murray is just the beginning, and Joey Keane is next out the door, then Allensen could see his ice time increase substantially in the second half. Thought he was great as a rookie last year, but with a sheltered role this year, he hasn't been able to show a ton of progression. More ice time may be his chance to show his offensive skill set, which is needed given his average size.

Brayden Guy - Sarnia Sting
Hard nosed Guy (pun intended) who has proven to be a terrific complimentary offensive piece in Sarnia. Don't have a great grasp of what his offensive ceiling is at this point, but he keeps producing and could take on an even larger role once Sarnia moves more veteran forwards out.

Mason Millman - Saginaw Spirit
Has pushed himself into Saginaw's top three, even earning some time with Bode Wilde recently. Also quarterbacks the powerplay for the Spirit. Good size (6'1). Good mobility. Just a solid all around defender who should have a lot of eyes on him as Saginaw battles for a top 3 spot in the Conference down the stretch. With the addition of Justin Murray, one has to wonder if that affects his ice time.

Lucas Peric - Ottawa 67's
An anchor of the 67's 3rd pairing, which wouldn't be as impressive if the 67's weren't the top rated team in the OHL and he wasn't +15. His mobility is extremely impressive on the back-end and like Mitchell Brewer, he's going to have a ton of eyes on him down the stretch.

Liam Ross - Sudbury Wolves
One of my favourites in the age group dating back to MM. Solid two-way defender who leads Sudbury in defensive scoring and has been critical to their turnaround this year as a top defender for them. A lack of dynamic skating ability will hurt him in draft rankings, but look at the improvements that Tyler Tucker has made this year in Barrie.

Eric Uba - Flint Firebirds
While Ethan Keppen will be the draft eligible forward who will receive the most attention in Flint this year (and rightfully so), Uba has been impressive as of late. Yes, he's a late 2000 born player, but he's also an OHL rookie thrust into a tough situation. His speed and pace are noticeable every time I see Flint play. This kid will be a big scorer in this league by the time his OHL career is finished. 14 points in his last 14 games.

Bonus - Five Re-Entry Candidates to Watch (in alphabetical order):

Cole Coskey - Saginaw Spirit
Recently named to the U.S. training camp roster for this year's WJC's. Coskey is a competitive winger who is a very versatile player. Does it all. Is at his best working the wall, tiring out opposing defenders. Very difficult to separate from the puck and has good vision along the half wall. Can be a bit turnover prone though, so he just needs to keep things simple. With his size and continued improvement in production each year, it's only a matter of time before the NHL comes calling.

Nando Eggenberger - Oshawa Generals
Big Swiss Import who has come as advertised this year. He was one of the highest ranked players to go undrafted in 2018, and given his strong performance in the OHL this year, it seems unlikely that, that will happen again. Eggenberger's skating has been much better than I had anticipated after reading reports prior to him coming over. I've also been impressed by his commitment level at both ends. Has been one of the more efficient players in the OHL at 5 on 5 this year.

Hugo Leufvenius - Sarnia Sting
Another big bodied Import, Leufvenius has been a difference maker in his 2nd year in the OHL. Has already surpassed his goal total from last year (19) in less than half the games. Currently leads Sarnia in scoring and is riding a 16 game point streak. He won't be winning any skating competitions, but he's an extremely intelligent player who is also hard to separate from the puck. That gives him time to operate in the offensive zone.

Matthew Struthers - North Bay Battalion
Has cooled off after a terrific start (2 goals in his last 12 games), but has still been a much improved player over a year ago. Using his size more to his advantage down low and when paired with Justin Brazeau, the two have been terrorizing opposing defenses. His size and playmaking ability down the middle are going to be very attractive to NHL scouts this year, pending he can get his production back on track.

Jacob Tortora - Barrie Colts
The former first round priority selection finally came to the OHL recently and has paid immediate dividends. 7 goals in 7 games, proving that he is an impact player in this league. At 5'8, he's going to have to continue to put up big numbers like that to interest NHL scouts, but he appears more than capable. I don't believe that this is just a hot start. Tortora has proven to have a real nose for the net and he excels as the pace picks up. What a terrific pick up for the Colts.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Rickard Hugg
Austen Keating
Billy Moskal
Brett Neumann
Merrick Rippon
Cole Tymkin
Jonathan Yantsis

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