Sunday, March 3, 2019

Sunday Top 10 - Most Impressive 2002 Born Players

One of the many annual traditions I have on this blog is to rank the new batch of OHL rookies in order of the impression they left on me. Only the "true" OHL rookies have been included, thus why it's labeled the "Most Impressive 2002 born players." 

I always like to note that this isn't an early ranking for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. This ranking isn't the order in which I believe these players should be ranked for the draft, but an order of which players impressed me most. It's not a draft prognostication, it's an acknowledgment of the significant impact these players have had on their teams this season.

A quick note. This has been one of the best rookie crops that I have seen come through the OHL. The league has never had three 16 year old players hit the 30 goal mark and it looks like that could happen with Perfetti, Perreault, and Byfield hitting the mark. Not to mention Drysdale having one of the better statistical seasons of a U17 defender in the new millenium. As much as scouts are down on the OHL crop for the 2019 NHL Draft, they must be salivating over what could be available in 2020.

As mentioned, this is a tradition, so here are the previous year's lists.

2001's, 2000's, 1999's, 1998's1997's1996's1995's1994's1993's1992's.

Here is this year's list:

1. Quinton Byfield - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Tough choice to put Byfield ahead of Perfetti, considering Perfetti has posted a top 10 ppg average of any rookie in the new millenium and put up the best statistical season of a rookie since Travis Konecny 5 years ago. But, any time that I've watched Sudbury play, I've come away absolutely enamored with Byfield's physical skills. He's an absolutely electrifying player to watch. 6'5, 215lbs and one of the best skaters in the OHL. He plays all situations for the Wolves and isn't surrounded by the same level of talent as Perfetti is (not to take away from his amazing accomplishments, however). It just seems like that at any given time, Byfield can do as he wishes on the ice. Coming into the league, there were some that felt his vision and playmaking ability were weak spots, but I've been impressed with the way he uses his teammates. Way less selfishness in his game than I was expecting. This kid is the real deal, complete package and could even enter the conversation for first overall next year (due to the physical gifts that he has over Lafreniere). 

2. Cole Perfetti - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
As mentioned, Perfetti has had the best statistical season by a U17 player in the last five years. He is just so smart in the offensive end. His hands and overall skill with the puck give him so much extra time to process the play around him. The skating and speed component is only average and will be something that needs upgrading in the offseason as he prepares for the NHL Draft. But the way he controls the pace in the offensive end is a sight to behold. Very Mitch Marner like in that regard. Best of all, Perfetti just seems to be getting better and better. Since the start of the new calendar year, he has 32 points in 23 games (nearly a 1.40ppg pace). It seems like a pretty safe bet to assume that Perfetti could have at least one Eddie Powers trophy win in his future. 

3. Jamie Drysdale - Defense - Erie Otters
Seems so weird to have Drysdale down at number 3, considering in many other years he would have been number one. I couldn't be more impressed with Drysdale this year and what he has done in Erie. The amount of minutes he plays in Erie and the fact that the Otters have been slightly better than people were expecting, points to how important he is to his team. Drysdale has everything you look for in a future number one defender at the next level; tremendous mobility, puck skill, poise, vision, and positioning. He's not 6'3, but you don't have to be to succeed as a defender in today's NHL. That overtime winner he scored against London recently was a perfect example of the ice water flowing through Drysdale's veins. Right up there with the likes of Drew Doughty and Ryan Ellis as some of the best 16 year old defenders I've seen in the OHL. 

4. Jacob Perreault - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Son of former NHL'er Yanic, Jacob has had one heck of a rookie season in the OHL and is proving to be the steal of the 2018 OHL Priority selection (where he went 19th overall). Is close to joining the illusive 30 goal club as a 16 year old, which is no easy feat. Perreault is best described as a quick strike kind of player. His hockey sense is incredibly high and despite not being the most physically mature, he finds gaps in coverage that he can exploit. He's also a competitive kid who plays a fearless kind of game, showing no hesitation in playing through traffic to make plays for a rebuilding Sarnia club. This kid can also really shoot a puck. Terrific release. Perreault is going to be a star in the OHL.

5. Jean Luc Foudy - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Going to throw a stat at you that shows how good of a playmaker Foudy is. He has posted the highest number of primary assists by a U17 player in the OHL since Connor McDavid and Mitch Marner both had over 30 in 2013/14. In fact, he's top 20 in the entire OHL in primary assists. Foudy is so good at being able to use his speed to open up lanes for his linemates, drawing in extra defenders to try to contain him. But he has great vision and is able to identify open teammates even while at full speed or when facing pressure from a defender in his face. The tempo at which he plays is just insane. Once he improves his shot, he could be even more dangerous as defenders will no longer be able to give him larger gaps to try to contain his speed.

6. Ryan O'Rourke - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Along with Perreault, O'Rourke has to be considered the steal of the 2018 OHL priority selection first round. I remember during the draft hearing some reactions of the pick, claiming it was a steal even at the time, questioning how O'Rourke managed to fall that far. Well that certainly proved to be true. O'Rourke has been nothing short of fantastic for the Greyhounds this year. Not only is he getting great ice time in all situations, but he's doing it on a great team that has a chance to win the OHL's Western Conference this year. First thing that stands out about O'Rourke is his physicality. He has a penchant for the big hit and as he gets stronger, he could be a physical beast in his own end. Second thing that's noticeable about O'Rourke is his decision making with the puck. For an OHL rookie, he's been great with limiting his turnovers. Really like how he holds the line in the offensive end and it's helped him get secondary powerplay time this year. Of course, O'Rourke's mobility is also an asset. The future is very bright for this kid and it looks like the Hounds have themselves another great young defender on their hands.

7. Antonio Stranges - Forward - London Knights
Honestly wanted to put Stranges higher. This kid is fun to watch. But I just felt that the players that I've put ahead of him have had a little more consistent of an impact. A lot of that has been beyond Stranges' control though, as he finds himself with inconsistent ice time on a stacked London roster. But man, Stranges' hands are electrifying. He can keep the puck on a string and is just so difficult to check if you give him space to operate. IMO, he should be getting more time on the powerplay for London. If you had to choose any three players in the OHL for a shootout attempt, would you take Stranges? Honestly, I would, regardless of his age. Stranges' edgework as a skater is also very impressive. His stops, starts, and changes in direction are very crisp and when you combine that with his puck skill, you've got a player who is very hard to contain. Just a matter of Stranges adding strength to make him a little more explosive and better through traffic. As someone who covers the OHL, I'm extremely happy that London was able to convince Stranges to take the OHL route.

8. Logan Morrison - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Rocky start to the year for Morrison after missing a large chunk of time with a shoulder injury. But he's been nothing short of sensational in the 2019 calendar year since returning. With the Bulldogs moving some veteran players out, he has really capitalized with additional ice time and powerplay responsibility. Since the beginning of January, Morrison has 21 points in 25 games, an extremely impressive stat line. I really like how Morrison creates off the rush and how he processes the game from the middle of the ice. I think he's made great gains in his skating from the start of the year and is really starting to make a consistent impact as a playmaker. Morrison also shows a nice release on his wrist shot and with the right gains, could be a very complete offensive player. From the start of the year to now, he might be the most improved 2002 born player in the OHL.

9. Will Cuylle - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Big power winger who was a high OHL draft selection for a reason. Was a fantastic pick up by Windsor to add him into the fold alongside Foudy. With his size and speed, he's terrific at driving wide and taking the puck to the net. And his shot is electric, perhaps the best pure shooter of any player on this list. A case could definitely be made to have Cuylle higher, but as I've mentioned, this is a pretty star studded list. As he finds a little more consistency in his physical game (like any budding young power forward), Cuylle could be an absolute beast in this league and a potential first round pick in next year's draft. 

10. Donovan Sebrango - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
Was tough deciding on who would take the #10 spot on this list. Honestly, any of the guys I have listed as honorable mentions could have made this list. In the end I went with Sebrango, a defender who has been impressive at both ends this year as a rookie in Kitchener. He possesses a lot of admirable qualities. Shows good mobility and is able to escape the forecheck well and start the breakout. Has great vision up ice and while running the point of the powerplay. And shows a ton of heart in the defensive end, blocking shots, taking the body. Really interested to see what Sebrango does next year with even more ice time and responsibility.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Alec Belanger - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Smaller sample size because of Ottawa's depth on the back-end, but when he has been inserted into the lineup (which has been a lot in the second half), he's been outstanding. Such an impressive young offensive blueliner who is aggressive in jumping up into the play, or pinching in to keep plays alive in the offensive end. Moves the puck very well from his own end too. Has the potential to rocket up draft lists next year IMO if he can get the ice time. 

Cameron Butler - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Giant winger with massive goal scoring potential (pun intended). Possesses long, powerful strides that help him be effective taking the puck wide and already has a lot of confidence shooting the puck while in stride. Physical too. Playmaking ability and play recognition needs work, but this kid has been impressive with his athleticism and size package. 

James Hardie - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Along with Butler and Cuylle, Hardie has to be considered one of the top young goal scorers in the OHL. Already gets a lot of velocity behind his wrist shot and doesn't require a ton of time to get it off. Hardie has also been impressive as a forechecker and as someone who can force turnovers in the neutral zone. Just needs to get quicker and stronger to have a more consistent impact. 

Tristan Lennox - Goaltender - Saginaw Spirit
Come on, have to include a goalie on this list...right? In all seriousness, Lennox deserves to be here with the way he took over the back-up role in Saginaw. He's not eligible for the NHL draft until 2021 (Sept. 21 birth date), but is already proving to be a candidate to be one of the top netminders available. At 6'3, his athleticism is off the charts good. Like any young goalie, just needs to improve the technical components to his game (especially his positioning and reads at OHL speed).

Lleyton Moore - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Still haven't seen him play as a General yet, as he's been out with a foot injury since the deal from Niagara. Tough spot for the Generals once he returns because they're competing for playoff position and Moore will be rusty. But with Niagara, Moore was impressive as a puck mover. His vision on the point when running the powerplay is a major strength. Easily one of the best young powerplay QB's in the OHL.

Jack Thompson - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Another young powerplay QB, Thompson has been terrific for the Wolves, playing on the third pairing (with fellow rookie Isaak Phillips) and the second powerplay unit. Very agile and nimble running the point, opening up lanes. Possesses a really nice point shot too and will score his share of goals in the OHL from the back-end. Needs to improve his first step quickness to take that next step as a dominant offensive force from the blueline.

Tyler Tullio - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Easily one of the more competitive players in the age group, Tullio has been terrific for the Generals this year as a rookie. He never gives up on a play, always keeping his feet moving. It's made him an impactful forechecker and boards player, despite lacking physical maturity and elite size. But Tullio is also a very smart player in the offensive end who always seems to find himself in the right position. One of those guys who you can slot anywhere in the lineup and he'll find success and that's why he's been able to produce with a deep Oshawa team this year.

Zayde Wisdom - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
On numbers alone, Wisdom probably feels out of place on a list like this. His inclusion will probably bring about standard replies such as "stupid that player X from my team wasn't included." But every time I saw Kingston this year, Wisdom was noticeable for the right reasons. Tough to stand out on a bottom dweller, but I really like how he controls the puck and the potential he shows as a puck carrier. Stocky kid, but he has some good speed to his game and is already pretty tough to stop with that wide base cutting to the net. And he knows his role is to bang bodies, work the wall, and drive the net. Not quite sure what type of potential he possesses. Might just be as a checking line player at this level (think a guy like Isaac Nurse or Luke Boka), but I really felt like he needed to be mentioned.  

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