Sunday, January 20, 2019
Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing (2019)
This is a yearly tradition (take a look at the Sunday Top 10 sidebar for other years). It's time to examine the top overagers in the OHL, available to be signed by NHL teams for the 2019 calendar year.
Only one player on this list has signed an NHL deal thus far, but they will still be included. This list intends to rank players according to the likelihood that they continue their career at the professional level.
Likely more than half of the players on this list will not end up getting a professional contract and will play in the CIS. It's the nature of the beast. The bottom line is that a few will and many will not (be signed) and those players who do not, will take advantage of their education package while continuing to play a high level of hockey at a Canadian University.
It's important to note that this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team (for example Brandon Saigeon and Matt Brassard). This list is for those players who are NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on their birth date).
Here's the list:
1. Justin Brazeau - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Someone needs to sign this guy already. Two points back of Felhaber for the point lead (as I write this). Difference is that Felhaber gets a ton of support on one of the league's elite teams. Brazeau is, at times, a one man wrecking crew. Leads his team in goals by nearly 20 and points by over 25. All from a 6'6, 230lbs forward. Anyone who reads this blog knows how I feel about Brazeau. I've been lobbying for him since his original draft year. But the improvement since then has been astronomical. This is especially true for his skating. He's never going to be confused for Connor McDavid. His start-ups are still a little clunky. But his top speed has really improved, generating so much more power from his long strides and it's made him so hard to contain off the rush. I have seen him go through 2 or 3 defenders with ease because they just can't get the puck off him with his strength, reach, and stride power. And for as dominant as Brazeau is as a goal scorer, it has been his playmaking ability and vision that have really grown. He has become such a well rounded offensive player, the kind that makes any linemate better. At this point, it has to be a matter of when and not if, when talking about him signing an ELC.
2. Tye Felhaber - Forward - Ottawa 67's
The last three players to average over a goal per game in the OHL were John Tavares, Patrick Kane, and Alex Debrincat. Felhaber is currently well above that clip with 48 in 45. He'a also on pace for over 70 goals, and again the company there is pretty outstanding: Eric Lindros, Doug Gilmour, Ray Sheppard, Tony Tanti, and Tavares. I do have some reservations about how well his offensive game will translate to the next level. Does a lot of his damage within tight, where that time and space will be less readily available at the next level. And while Felhaber is an above average skater for the OHL level (particularly his acceleration and first few steps), would he be considered more than an average skater at the pro level? Combine that with his average size and you will have NHL teams that are skeptical. But you have to give props to Felhaber for making over his game since his time in Saginaw. He has progressed from being a one dimensional, slightly perimeter offensive puck carrier; a guy who needed the puck on his stick to be effective and who was extremely turnover prone. To being one of the best players without the puck in the offensive zone in the OHL. His ability to find space is terrific. And he's become a tireless worker in all three zones who is a reliable penalty killer. Even with some concerns as to how his game translates, he's without a doubt worthy of an NHL deal to see how he fares and I'd be shocked if he didn't get one.
3. Mitch Eliot - Defense - Sarnia Sting
The only player on this list with an NHL contract so far and Eliot has earned it. The former Michigan State defender was a standout at an early age, but his development had plateaued previously. He was the captain of the U.S.'s Hlinka team back in 2015, a team that featured some pretty terrific players (Mittelstadt, Yamamoto, Gettinger, Rymsha, Perunovich, just to name a few). This year, it seems like the light just turned on. He was very good defensively for the Sting last year after coming over, but it's his offensive game that has grown leaps and bounds this year as an OA. Eliot is average sized at 6'0, but his compete level is that of a much larger player. Not necessarily a huge open ice hitter, but he is a very intense defender in the corners and in front of the net. He makes you work for every inch against him. And he also possesses excellent mobility, which helps him at both ends. Offensively, he's currently 6th in defenseman scoring (overall) and top 5 in scoring 5 on 5. This is important IMO, because I don't see him as a powerplay QB at the next level. But he can lead the rush, again using the mobility, and he's not afraid to jump up in the play and has been aggressive in using his shot to generate scoring chances. Eliot may take some time to gain confidence at the next level next year, but he could eventually end up being a solid two-way third pairing guy for the Vancouver Canucks (the team that signed him).
4. Keegan Howdeshell - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Howdeshell has been one of the better goal scorers in the OHL this year, consistently entrenched in the top 7 or 8 and currently 5th. At this point, it seems likely that he'll be a 40 goal scorer in the league. As a goal scorer, Howdeshell knows his role. Drive the net hard. Outwork defenders. And don't hesitate when you've got the puck on your stick in tight. At 6'2, 210lbs, he uses his size very well to protect the puck and his release is quite quick. But, Howdeshell's calling at the next level might not necessarily be at the offensive end. He also happens to be one of the OHL's elite penalty killers with terrific anticipation on the forecheck and just relentless hustle in tracking down loose pucks or winning board battles. With his size, decent skating ability, a commitment to both ends, and a well rounded skill set, he profiles as a potential 3rd/4th line winger in the same vein as former OA signee Barclay Goodrow.
5. Jordan Sambrook - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Former Detroit Red Wings draft pick who didn't sign with them last year. Returned to the Soo and has had a very good year, progressing well as a player. He's been much more assertive at both ends. Defensively, I think we've really seen him become tougher to play against. More physicality to his game, especially down low. And he's been more aggressively offensively, especially as a puck carrier. Sambrook has always been the type to look for chances to unleash his good shot. But this year he looks more confident handling the puck, has reduced his turnovers and is making consistently good decisions with the puck. At 6'3, 200lbs, with good mobility and skill at both ends, Sambrook may have done enough to convince teams that he can be a pro hockey player.
6. Kevin Hancock - Forward - London Knights
This is Hancock's third consecutive season at over a point per game, yet he still has not linked up with an NHL organization. As an OHL player, he is as smart as they get. Hancock is fantastic in almost all areas and can excel in any situation. His positioning in all three zones is fantastic. Seems like he is always in the right spot on the backcheck, rarely missing an assignment. In the offensive end, Hancock is the type of guy that the puck follows around. He has great patience with the puck and has the confidence and vision to excel as a premier playmaker, especially coming off the wall. Hancock also excels as a faceoff man. Since coming over to London, Hancock has won a remarkable 68% of his draws. But Hancock is average in two areas that mean a lot to NHL scouts; size and skating. As such, there are concerns as to how well his game translates, and if he isn't producing offensively in the pros, does he have the make-up of an effective role player? If Hancock can have a great playoffs and help London reach the Memorial Cup, he could still earn that contract, otherwise he may have to work his way up from a lower pro level.
7. Nic Mattinen - Defense - Oshawa Generals
The second former NHL draft pick to make this list. Mattinen was unsigned by the Leafs last summer and returned to the OHL as an OA. He has had a fantastic year thus far, mostly with Hamilton and only recently with Oshawa. He possesses one of the larger point shots in the league, placing him in 2nd in goals among defenders. His ability to run the point on the powerplay has really improved. While he's most certainly a trigger man first and foremost, his decision making and patience have improved. Of course, his 6'5, 215lbs frame is also going to be alluring for pro teams. I think that his defensive game has improved too. We're seeing him use his size more consistently, playing less passive. His mobility is still only average, but his size and shot are major pluses. Oshawa is a team that has aspirations of capturing the Conference this year and if Mattinen can manage to win back to back Championships (after Hamilton last year), he could earn himself a contract.
8. Anthony Salinitri - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Originally drafted by Philadelphia, Salinitri returned as an OA after failing to sign with the Flyers last summer. For the first time in his OHL career, he's averaging over a point per game. And since the trade to Oshawa, he's been nothing short of outstanding (nearly a goal per game). The best part of Salinitri's game is definitely his versatility. He can play the wing or down the middle. He can take important faceoffs. He is one of the OHL's best penalty killers. His play without the puck is a strength. He brings energy, tenaciousness. And he can score goals. Salinitri also is a strong skater, part of what makes him such an effective energy player. Like Mattinen, Salinitri's pro contract odds likely depend on how he performs in this year's playoffs, as he has yet to have a deep playoff run as an OHL player. Could he be this year's Justin Scott?
9. Stephen Dhillon - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
Dhillon has had an excellent bounce back season for the IceDogs after a disappointing 2017/18 performance that saw him take a step back from his breakout the year prior. He covers up so much of the net with his 6'5 frame. He's an athletic netminder who also likes to challenge shooters, but actually has refined his approach a bit this year to play a bit more conservative, relying on his size to keep him in position. As such, improvements in consistency have been noticeable. Dhillon is also a noted student of the game and his work ethic is always mentioned as a strength by his coaches. At the end of the day, NHL teams want winners though. Niagara has a ton of pressure on them this year to capture an OHL Championship. If Dhillon can be that leader, such as a guy like Ken Appleby previously, he could finally get that NHL contract.
10. Kyle Maksimovich - Forward - Ottawa 67's
With a deep run in this year's playoffs, Maksimovich has a chance to crack the top 5 in OHL playoff games played all time. It has seemed like he has always played second fiddle during his time in the OHL as part of those strong Erie Otters teams featuring the likes of McDavid, Strome, Debrincat, etc. With Erie rebuilding, he finally got his chance to shine and has posted the best offensive numbers of his career by a wide margin. Always a terrific support player on a scoring line because of his tenacity and skill combination, Maksimovich has shown this year that he can be a driving force and offensive schemes can run through him. Similar to a guy like Hancock, I think he'll have to work his way up the ladder should he choose to go pro rather than the CIS route. But Maksimovich deserves the #10 spot on this list because of his overall body of work in the league the last few years.
Honorable Mentions (By Position)
While he's splitting time with Jordan Kooy, Joseph Raaymakers has had a very good season in London, building off of his breakout last year. He stands to be the likely starter in the playoffs for the Knights, where he has always been a strong performer. Raaymakers has some good size and his mental makeup and general stability in the crease could make him an attractive option for a team looking to fill out it's depth at the pro level.
There are two excellent stay at home defenders in their OA years in Saginaw's Justin Murray and London's William Lochead. Both are hard nosed, but intelligent blueliners who have to be considered among the OHL's best in their own zone. They both have good size too, although I would say that Lochead's mobility is a tad better. Sudbury's Cole Candella is a former NHL pick who went unsigned, but he's having a very good year for the Wolves, helping them to finally emerge as a solid playoff team again. His offensive production has decreased, but his defensive play has improved, making him an every situation type of defender.
Worth mentioning a couple of undersized scoring forwards here in Ottawa's Lucas Chiodo and Mississauga's Cole Carter. They are similar types of players who rely on energy and hockey sense to be consistent factors in the offensive attack. Chiodo is a tireless worker in the offensive end, and manages to be excellent in puck protection despite his 5'6 frame. Where Carter is a great goal scorer who has an excellent release.