Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sunday Top 10 - 2019 NHL Draft Re-Entries

It's that time of the year for my annual (2018, 2017, 2016, 2015201420132012201120102009) list of the top second and third year eligible OHL players for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. NHL teams continue to draft re-entry players in increasing number. This is mostly because drafting a second or third year eligible player gives NHL teams a lot of flexibility in their development under the CBA. Plus, a lot of these guys have been having success in recent years (Andrew Mangiapane, Tanner Pearson and Andrew Shaw are great examples from the OHL), which basic psychology tells us that other NHL teams will try to mimic.

Just to clarify, yet again, for those with limited understanding of the NHL draft system; North American players have either two or three years to get drafted, depending on their birth date. For those born from January 1 to September 15, they will go through three NHL drafts. For those born from September 16 to December 31, they will go through two NHL drafts. The players on this list are a mix of those having been passed over once or twice already.

Also, do not confuse this list with players drafted in 2017 who will re-enter the draft should they fail to come to a contractual agreement with their NHL team by June 1 (and whose birth date still allows them to be eligible). Quite often those too are referred to as draft re-entries. But this list does not contain them because it is not yet known who those players will be.

Last year four re-entries from the OHL were drafted (Durzi, Keane, Saigeon, Hollowell), with two others signing NHL deals (Gleason, Magwood). This year, I think that number will be significantly lower. It wouldn't shock me at all if not a single player from this list was drafted. Odds suggest that a couple will have their name called, but it wouldn't surprise me either way. There also isn't a clear top one or two. If you asked ten different people who the top "re-entry" is this year from the OHL, you could probably get ten different answers.

Without further rambling, here's my list:

1. Pavel Gogolev - Forward - Guelph Storm
I had Gogolev ranked 16th last year among OHL players and he ultimately went undrafted in June, which was a big surprise IMO. Not too many kids who score 30 goals in their draft year go unselected. This year, well it was a tough year for him so maybe it's a surprise to see him ranked 1st on this list. Traded from Peterborough to Guelph. Suffered a fractured ankle as he was working his way into Guelph's rotation (and playing extremely well). Returned before the playoffs and has been active during Guelph's postseason run. All of that said, I still believe in him as an NHL prospect, and given a bit of a down year for re-entries, he's still my number one here. He still possesses some nice speed, which he actually started using to be effective on the forecheck this year. His play without the puck definitely took a massive step forward. Even though the production hasn't been terrific, I think that he has performed very well in this year's playoffs. He is a very skilled player and as he continues to improve his strength, and continues to improve his engagement level without the puck, he could be a very strong OHL player. Next year, he'll return to Guelph and likely see first line ice time with Cam Hillis as a his center, along with significant powerplay time. Even though Guelph could struggle, it wouldn't shock me at all to see him in the 70+ point range. 

2. Nando Eggenberger - Forward - Oshawa Generals
The one guy on this list that I think has the best chance of being drafted. The offensive production has definitely been inconsistent in the OHL; a very streaky player. But, he does a lot of little things well that keep him engaged in the play even when he's not scoring. Eggenberger is a solid two-way player who is consistently one of the first Generals back to his own zone, and he has done well on the penalty kill when asked to play that role (Oshawa has a few slightly quicker players who see more PK time). He uses that size well to open up space for his linemates and does a good job of protecting the puck down low. We'll call him a real workhorse. His skating is better than I thought it would be too. He's certainly not the best skater on his team, but he has some long strides that do allow him to cover ground well given his 6'3 frame. Explosiveness and first step quickness are not terrific, but once he gets going, he does have a decent top gear that allows him to close gaps well or carry the puck through the neutral zone with some effectiveness. As an NHL player, there likely isn't a ton of upside. But with his size, two-way awareness, and willingness to battle down low, he could be a 3rd/4th line option some day. The only thing NHL teams may want to see more of from him is physicality. Perhaps that's a mindset that can be coached into him at the next level. 

3. Greg Meireles - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
One of the OHL's best players in the second half of the season with a 20 game point streak to close things out (38 points in that time frame). Meireles is a very complete player who plays in all situations for the Rangers. He also wears an 'A' for Kitchener and is a potential selection as captain next season (as an overager) if he returns. First thing you notice about Meireles is his tireless work ethic. He covers a lot of ground on his shifts, attacking on the forecheck and aggressive in puck retrievals, but will hustle back to cover his own end and look to separate his man from the puck or win battles along the boards. Despite being under 6'0, Meireles is actually terrific below the hash marks and is very difficult to separate from the puck. He keeps his feet moving and draws a lot of penalties as he works the cycle. Meireles is also a very good skater, something that he has improved a lot over his OHL career. That's not to say that he was ever a poor skater, it's just that he's clearly a more explosive and dynamic mover than he was...even last year. In terms of playing at the next level, I think he probably projects as more of a quality third line center as his skill level with the puck is only average if we're comparing him to those moving on to the pro level. But after a very good season as one of the OHL's most improved players, Meireles could definitely see his name called in June.

4. Merrick Rippon - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Like Gogolev above, I had Rippon ranked pretty highly for last year's draft (22nd). But he too went unselected. This year he has returned to Ottawa a much improved player. Firstly, Rippon is one of the most physical defenders in the OHL. He is consistently looking to make his presence felt in the defensive end, by catching attackers with their head down as they cross the blueline, or by plastering forecheckers looking to come away with a dump in. But Rippon has also refined his approach and become an excellent stay at home defender; one of the best in the OHL. Another reason for this is some improvements made to his skating. Rippon looks more agile this year and is able to stay ahead of attackers to get better angles on them. He blocks shots. He clears the net. He is someone that is relied upon heavily in key defensive situations by the top team in the OHL. Offensively, there are still some limitations. He can be turnover prone when he tries to extend rushes and tries to force plays up ice. But when he keeps things simple, he has enough puck skill to avoid turnovers from the forecheck and is able to start the breakout effectively. If NHL teams are looking for a physical, stay at home defender who could kill penalties and play a quiet third pairing role at the next level, they may look to Rippon this time around.

5. Nolan Hutcheson - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
From start to finish this OHL season, few players in the league improved as much as Hutcheson did. The second year OHL player saw his goal production jump from 8 to 24 and he found some terrific chemistry with the talented Quinton Byfield. Hutcheson is a real big kid at 6'4, but his skating looked so much better this year compared to his rookie season. He showed some explosiveness in his stride that allowed him to keep up with Byfield, and allowed him to be a factor driving wide, looking to take the puck to the net. Hutcheson also understands his role on the ice, as someone who should be winning battles along the boards, who should be establishing position in front of the net, and who competes hard in all three zones. But he also possesses great goal scoring potential at this level. He has a heavy shot that he really started to use more this year and with his size, he is difficult to stop or tie up in transition. I also thought that Hutcheson had a very good playoffs for Sudbury. Size, improving skating ability, goal scoring potential. I am actually quite surprised that I have not heard Hutcheson's name much when talking about re-entry players for this year's draft. IMO, NHL teams would be smart to look at him closely with a later round pick before he explodes (potentially) next year. I mean, this is totally how guys like Brett Leason go undrafted. 

6. Hugo Leufvenius - Forward - Sarnia Sting
As a fellow bald man (who went bald early), I have a lot of love for Leufvenius. The hulking Swedish winger was such an important player for the Sting this year as they exceeded preseason expectations. In all seriousness, Leufvenius has a lot going for him. He is very skilled for a 6'3, 225lbs kid. A very complete offensive player, Leufvenius has one of the heaviest wrist shots in the OHL, and he loves to shoot the puck coming down the wing. But he is also a very good playmaker who can use his size to protect the puck or spin off checks, only to find an open teammate with a crisp pass. His poise with the puck in the offensive end is very impressive. He does not turn the puck over much. With his size and IQ, he is very effective with the man advantage as he works down low. As a defensive player, Leufvenius is only average. And he's not the most physical given his size. Those are two things that he would need to work on should he get a chance at being a pro in North America. And his skating is certainly not the prettiest. But there is just this quiet effectiveness to his game that should be admired. Not sure he gets drafted, but I think he gets quite a few camp invites this summer. Unfortunately he is headed back to Sweden next year (likely even if he gets drafted), but he's been a fun player to watch in the OHL. 

7. Rickard Hugg - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Back to back Swedes on the list, as Hugg is another Import who made massive improvements to his game in his second OHL season. Found Hugg to be too much of a passenger last year and too passive with the puck. This year, he exhibited so much more confidence with the puck and was way less of a perimeter player. Like his Kitchener teammate in Meireles, Hugg is a tireless worker who excels down low despite being on the smaller side. He has very good hands and is able to make very quick decisions with the puck under pressure. He also possesses a quick release on his wrist shot and doesn't need a ton of space to get shots off, which allows him to be a factor in the slot and near the crease. Hugg is also an excellent penalty killer who is very smart in his own end and has an excellent stick that he uses to force a lot of turnovers. I wish Hugg was a little better skater as he is only average in that department. If he were a little more explosive, he could be even more of a consistent factor. Like Leufvenius, Hugg is Sweden bound next year and has played his last OHL game. But given his performance at this year's WJC's, his strong motor, and high hockey IQ, he could find himself on a few draft boards.

8. Cole Coskey - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Coskey is an aggressive, attacking winger who is a huge part of Saginaw's offense; one of the top teams in the OHL this year. He is a terrific forechecker who excels at puck retrievals and who never seems to give up on a play in the offensive end. Always keeps his feet moving and as such, he is great at forcing turnovers, or working the cycle along the wall. Coskey also is extremely effective driving the net, with or without the puck. Scores a lot of his goals below or between the dots. Coskey also possesses good puck skill and is able to excel in transition with above average skating ability. His profile is definitely that of a quality 3rd or 4th line winger at the next level. That said, there are still some things that could use some improvement. While he is relentless without the puck in the offensive end, his play in his own zone is best described as inconsistent. Being able to translate that effort across all three zones is critical to his development. He also can be turnover prone in the offensive end as he tries to force net drives, or play through traffic. Coskey is at his best when he keeps things simple and plays that attacking North/South kind of game.

9. Jonathan Yantsis - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
From 5 goals to 50; talk about improvement. Without a doubt, the most improved player in all of the OHL this year. The 6'3, 210lbs winger is a near immovable object in front of the net for Kitchener. He led the OHL in powerplay goals, by camping out in his office near the crease. According to Prospect Stats (here), 43 of his 50 goals this year were scored from below the dots. Look, Yantsis has his limitations. He's not the world's best skater. He doesn't possess terrific skill with the puck or creativity. He isn't a terrific playmaker. But the kid just knows how to score. He's got very good hands in tight, for redirections, or for put backs. And he is so good at using his body and size to gain inside position on defenders. He is very difficult to tie up and his anticipation in the offensive end is very good. Yantsis is also a very physical forward who helps to establish possession in the offensive end by retrieving loose pucks and who can maintain possession by working the cycle. He is the perfect complimentary player to someone like Greg Meireles (who he played with most of this year). Of course, NHL teams may look at him next year as an OA in hopes that he can continue to improve other areas of his game. Or they could jump on him now with a later round pick. I could see either being the outcome.

10. Matthew Struthers - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Had Struthers ranked 36th among OHL'ers for last year's NHL draft. But he was not selected. The big, 6'2 center returned to North Bay and had a terrific offensive season that saw him nearly double his offensive production from the year prior. He and overage forward Justin Brazeau developed terrific chemistry with each other, and at times they physically dominated the opposition. A quality playmaker, Struthers operates well off the rush, where he can use his size to shield the puck as he cuts through the middle and drives the net. But he understands how to draw defenders in before dishing off and isn't someone who forces plays or commits turnovers from having tunnel vision. Struthers also excels along the wall and has good vision coming off of it, with the ability to spin off checks and find streaking or open teammates in the slot or near the crease (mostly Brazeau). He is also a solid two-way player who has blossomed under Stan Butler's tutelage. The Montreal Canadiens saw fit to bring him to Laval under an ATO to close out the season, something that is pretty rare for someone still draft eligible. While I think an NHL team may wait to see how he handles his OA season and how his production fares without Brazeau, there is definitely a chance he hears his name called this time around in June.

Honorable Mentions (sorted by position)

No goaltenders are going to appear on this list this year.

Owen Lalonde - Guelph Storm  
A former second overall pick in the OHL draft, Lalonde quietly had a very good season for Guelph. He doubled his point production, posted his first positive +/-, and established himself as a quality two-way presence who could slide up when needed or mentor young Daniil Chayka on the third pairing when icing a full lineup. Lalonde's mobility is his best asset, but his decision making with the puck and defensive positioning greatly improved this year. There are bound to be questions over projection, but next year that Lalonde-Chayka pairing could be Guelph's top pairing, and he could see time on the first powerplay unit. Will be interesting to see if he can continue to improve and live up to his potential.

Kade Landry - Hamilton Bulldogs
Landry is a sharp puck mover who had a breakout season for Hamilton after coming over from Barrie last year. He didn't play in the OHL playoffs last year during Hamilton's Championship run, but emerged as one of Hamilton's go to defenders and their powerplay quarterback this year. He moves the puck well and has good vision on the back-end. Turnovers can be an issue at times and his play in his own end can be a little shaky. But Landry has some strengths that could make him attractive to NHL teams, at least as a summer tryout.

Riley McCourt - Flint Firebirds
Missed a big chunk of time this year with an upper body injury, but the smooth skating offensive defender had a good year from a production standpoint. His 0.68 points per game was Top 20 in the OHL among defenders. In the second half, when Flint had improved their performance, McCourt was one of the reasons for that because of his ability to start the breakout and prevent teams from hemming Flint in their own zone. His defensive play continues to need work, but from an offensive stand point, McCourt has the potential to one day be one of the OHL's best puck movers.

Hudson Wilson - Ottawa 67's
An unsung hero for the 67's and one of the better stay at home defenders in the OHL. Wilson has great size at 6'3, and his mobility is good enough to allow him to be a terrific modern day shutdown defender. He sees top PK time and is someone Ottawa relies on heavily late in games to protect leads. His puck skill and plays with the puck can be described as simple, but this guy does everything he can to make sure pucks don't end up in his own net.

Nathan Dunkley - London Knights
Aggressive, attacking forward who brings a lot of versatility to London's lineup. Can line up down the middle or on the wing. Can play the half wall or as a net presence on the powerplay. Can kill penalties. Dunkley can slide up and down the lineup because his work as a complimentary offensive piece fits in with any linemate. Was disappointed with his playoff performance for the second year in a row though, and I would expect his game to be perfectly suited to the postseason. 

Jake Durham - Flint Firebirds 
With everyone focused on Ty Dellandrea in Flint, Durham quietly had a heck of a season, going from 8 to 35 goals in his third OHL season. Works well in transition as he looks to attack the net and has a great wrist shot that he unleashes from the wing or when cutting to the slot. An aggressive player without the puck too. It's the breakout of players like Durham that has me inspired to believe that Flint can emerge as a playoff team next year.

Joseph Garreffa - Kitchener Rangers
Is he a forward? Is he a defenseman? Garreffa continues to flip flop back and forth. He finished the year at forward, but he apparently prefers to play on the back-end. At 5'7, Garreffa is most definitely undersized, even by today's standards. But he is both extremely quick, and extremely skilled with the puck. I do find him to be a high risk player in the offensive end though, as turnovers can be an issue. But you can't deny how electric and exciting he can be to watch. That's why he was NHL Central Scouting's highest ranking re-entry from the OHL. I think I just want to see him settle into a position for an entire year.

Maxim Golod - Erie Otters
Tough luck year for Golod, who missed time due to injury and illness (mono and an appendectomy). NHL Central Scouting has long been a fan (ranked him highly last year and highly at midterms this year as a re-entry). He certainly shows flashes of being a top notch offensive player. He excels when using his speed to drive wide and possesses that ability to beat defenders one on one to the net. He also has a high quality shot that should see him score his share of goals in the OHL moving forward. But I just want to see more consistency, which could come next year so long as he avoids some bad luck again.

Austen Keating - Ottawa 67's 
Without a doubt, Keating is one of the smartest offensive players in the OHL. He reads the play so well in the offensive end. Rarely do you see him turn the puck over. Instead, he reads opposing defenses and is able to keep plays alive long enough until he sees an opening. Unfortunately, Keating just doesn't possess elite physical tools. His skating is average and he's not someone I would call dynamic with the puck. But efficient he is. Until he upgrades his skating, improves his shot, increases his physicality and tenacity, or all three to make him a more well rounded player, he probably doesn't get himself an NHL contract.

Kyle MacLean - Oshawa Generals
Would have been #11 on this list, so consider him the last HM. Really like MacLean (son of former Devil John) as a hockey player. He's one of the best two-way players in the OHL. He's one of the hardest workers in the OHL (with and without the puck). And his skating continues to improve. I just wonder what his offensive upside is. If he returns to the OHL as an OA, and really improves his offensive production, he would be at the top of my list of players to sign. 

Billy Moskal - London Knights 
It seems like it's only a matter of time before Moskal breaks through offensively and gets more responsibility from London's coaching staff. Tough as nails center who does a lot of little things well and produces with fluctuating ice time. Thought he was one of London's best forwards in this year's playoffs. Also one of the top faceoff men in the league. But I want to see what he's capable of offensively first, as he's nearly the same player who went undrafted last year.

Brett Neumann - Oshawa Generals
Undersized center who is also a terrific skater with a non stop motor. Hard to stop in the offensive end because he always keeps his feet moving and defenders have a tough time pinning him down. Also possesses a killer release on a powerful wrist shot that allowed him to score 45 this year. Just not sure if he's an NHL player or not. Hard worker, but not necessarily individually skilled enough to stick down the middle as a top 6 forward. Likely one of the top OA's in the OHL next year.

Jacob Tortora - Barrie Colts
Kind of tough to get a read on Tortora this year after he left Boston College to join Barrie. Started out like gangbusters, then cooled off a bit, then got injured. He's a little guy at 5'8, but man can he shoot the puck. Returning to the OHL as an overager next year, I think he scores 40+. Handles the puck well in transition and is both slippery and fearless. Can be pushed off the puck too easily at times though and needs to add strength. Too small a sample size, especially after he cooled off after a hot start, for him to be drafted IMO. But he is an overager to watch for next year because of his skill level. Excited to see what he can do fully acclimated to the league.

Chad Yetman - Erie Otters 
The unsung hero in Erie this year, in the face of a rebuild. Was the team's Red Tilson nominee and one of the OHL's most improved players. As a second year player (2000 born), Yetman nearly quadrupled his production from a year ago. He skates well and is one of those guys that just seems to find himself in the right position all the time because of high end hockey sense. Can play in all situations and is a real jack of all trades kind of player. A guy that is flying under the radar right now, but wouldn't be surprised if some time in the next two years, he ends up being a part of an NHL organization. 


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