Thursday, May 23, 2019

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft - Part 4: 10-1

We've reached the top 10 and it is time to conclude my rankings for 2019.

1. Arthur Kaliyev - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Going to throw some names at you: John Tavares, Steve Stamkos, Alex Debrincat, Jeff Skinner. I'll throw another name at you: Sidney Crosby. The first list is comprised of the U18 players to score 50 goals in the OHL in the new millennium. The second list is comprised of all U18 players to score 50 goals in the rest of the CHL in the new millennium. Success rate in the NHL = 100%. Now am I saying that Kaliyev is guaranteed to be an impact player in the NHL? Absolutely not. There is certainly a bust factor involved here. What I'm saying here is that even with his faults, prior history suggests that his ability to score should translate. Is Kaliyev the most explosive skater? No. But he's not a terrible skater either. When required, he does possess some power in his stride that allows him to beat defenders as he drives wide, and he is strong enough to keep these defenders on his back once he gets ahead of them. Is Kaliyev a complete offensive player? I actually think that his playmaking ability really took massive steps forward this year. Sure, he is a shoot first kind of player, but he exhibited a lot more patience with the puck this year, especially when working down low or when on the powerplay. There is a reason why the Bulldogs employ him on the point of the powerplay at times. And even though he does prefer to slow the game down, his ability to produce when the pace picks up did also improve. He became an extremely versatile offensive player this year. Realistically, I think the biggest concern is his wavering intensity level away from the puck. Kaliyev is not the type of player who competes hard on the forecheck, nor is he someone who consistently uses his size (at 6'2) to win loose puck battles. His play in the neutral zone and defensive zone is equally mild mannered. How much that improves moving forward remains to be seen and will be the biggest impetus as to whether he becomes an impact NHL player. But players with his size, shot, and goal scoring instincts do not grow on trees. To give you an idea, I think Kaliyev is a more well rounded offensive player than Owen Tippett, and he went 10th overall. Even if Kaliyev becomes a Thomas Vanek kind of player at the NHL level, that's still a guy who has scored close to 400 goals in his career. Outside the top 10, Kaliyev is worth the risk considering his upside to be a dominant goal scorer.

2. Philip Tomasino - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Tomasino had such an impressive sophomore season in the OHL. He received little powerplay time and was even buried in a deep lineup at times, but still managed to produce over a point per game. His 30 even strength goals this year were tops in the OHL among U18 players. He was also second to only Nathan Legare in the entire CHL. And considering the fact that I think Tomasino's shot could actually stand to improve and his goal scoring ability is one of his weaker areas, that's mighty impressive and speaks to how well rounded of a player he truly is. At the heart of Tomasino's game is his explosive skating ability. While he may not possess the high end top speed of a guy like Liam Foudy or Alex Formenton, his first few steps are among the best in the OHL and gives him that quick strike/separation ability. This allows him to be excellent in transition. It also allows him to be a puck hound in the offensive end who is a very effective forechecker. NHL teams are always looking for guys who can succeed in the new age NHL, and Tomasino is just that; he gets better as the pace picks up. Tomasino also has great hands and skill with the puck. He is extremely illusive in traffic and has that ability to make defenders miss him as he cuts through the middle of the ice. At the U18's this year, I thought Tomasino was excellent for Canada and he really showcased his playmaking ability and motor. At times, Tomasino can be too easily pushed off the puck, so improving his strength is going to be necessary. But it's important to note that with a late July birth date, he's one of the younger players available this year. Additionally, I'd like to see Tomasino use his speed and tenacious nature to be more of a consistent factor in the defensive half of the ice. But at this point, I do expect him to be a first rounder in June.

3. Thomas Harley - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Without question, Harley is one of the most athletic defenders available for the NHL Draft this year. His skating ability is top notch and he has to be considered one of the best skaters in the OHL. Harley is such an asset in transition because of how quickly he is able to start the breakout. Can grab a loose puck in his own end and be across the opposing blueline in a matter of seconds. And because of his size, he is so difficult to separate from the puck as he is cutting through the neutral zone. Once he gets that head of steam going, he is almost a sure bet to gain access to the offensive zone. Harley is also very aggressive in his rushes. Few defenders in the OHL ended up with as many partial breaks as Harley this year, after spitting defenses on end to end rushes. Harley is also a good powerplay QB, who can use his length to hold the line and his skating ability to open up passing lanes. His shot is still developing and is not yet a consistent weapon, but it could be one day as he adds strength and becomes more aggressive in attacking those lanes that he opens up with his mobility. Harley's vision is also excellent. He is just as efficient making a breakout pass as he is skating the puck out and that makes him such a dangerous offensive weapon. Defensively, there are some warts though. Harley really needs to become more assertive physically. He will allow attackers into the offensive zone too easily and leaves too large of gaps, hoping to use only his length to keep them at bay. At 6'3, he should not be losing as many battles along the boards as he does currently, and again that's from a lack of intensity. But with his size and mobility, once he adds some strength, there's a good chance that this could improve. Harley is a mid August birthday, meaning he's one of the younger players available. Like Tomasino, I thought Harley had a good U18's, actually showing more intensity defensively than he did at times during the OHL season. With his size, skating ability, and offensive prowess, Harley will be a hot commodity in June.

4. Ryan Suzuki - Forward - Barrie Colts
If I am being completely blunt, I actually wanted to have Suzuki lower on this list. But his offensive potential was too great for me to move lower than 4. Let's start with the positives. There are not many kids who see the ice as well as Suzuki does in this entire draft, let alone just the OHL. His vision and passing ability are top notch. He makes such quick decisions with the puck and processes the game at the pace that is required of top 6 forwards at the NHL level. Few players can thread the needle, cross ice, with a saucer pass the way Suzuki can. Also understands how to utilize his skating ability and puck skill to draw defenders in, only to pass off at the last second. Like his brother, (Nick), he is great at using stick fakes and shoulder fakes to keep defenders guessing. Ryan has that similar profile and potential as his brother, but is slightly bigger and quicker. But he did not have a terrific draft season, even if he was over a point per game. Firstly, there just seems to be a real lack of confidence in his shot and he has become a pass first player to a fault. Opposing defenses keyed in on that in the second half, forcing him to shoot and it neutralized his effectiveness. Second, he needs to play between the dots and be more aggressive playing through traffic. He seems hesitant to attack the middle with speed, preferring to stay to the outside and it really limited his effectiveness 5 on 5. Kaliyev, Tomasino, McMichael, and Ethan Keppen all produced greater primary points per game at even strength than Suzuki, with Rees and Keegan Stevenson having identical production and Nick Robertson and Blake Murray not far behind. Too often when I saw Barrie later in the year, Suzuki was a non factor because when the puck is not on his stick, he's just not a very noticeable player. Throw in the fact that he was unable to make an impact at the U18's because of an injury and you have a player who looks more like an early second round pick to me, and not a first rounder. All that said, the offensive potential is still high and in a weak draft year for centers outside of the lottery picks, Suzuki is still extremely alluring because of his high boom potential.

5. Jamieson Rees - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Easily one of my favourite draft prospects available this year, in any league. He's such an endearing player because of how hard he plays the game. His outstanding performance at this year's U18's was most definitely his coming out party. On a team with potential top 10 picks like Dylan Cozens and Peyton Krebs, he was a consistent force and proved that he has the talent to be taken in the first round of the NHL draft. Whether he is or not...remains to be seen. Scouts do have very real concerns over his durability considering his lack of size (5'10, 170lbs), and his abrasive style of play. These concerns are brought to light because he's missed large chunks of time the last two seasons due to significant injuries (ankle injuries, lacerated kidney). A guy like Robby Fabbri isn't doing him any favours because he's a similar player with a similar build who scouts had durability concerns about. And he's had two knee surgeries already, on top of other injuries. Rees also needs to tow the line more effectively. His play can, at times, be deemed reckless. This was evident at the U18's where his undisciplined penalties did hurt the team at times. He was also suspended 8 games this year in the OHL for a blind side hit. All of that said...I think he's a heck of a hockey player. His speed is a big time asset. He hits full speed in only a few strides and can create daylight behind opposing defenders. He uses his speed to be a tireless workhorse in all three zones, be it retrieving loose pucks, or racing back to break up an odd man rush. Rees is also extremely skilled with the puck and has the ability to make moves at full speed. As he gets stronger on the puck, I would expect that we'll see even more of this on display, in addition to him shooting the puck more. He possesses all of the qualities that you would want in a future top 6 forward. As long as he stays healthy, he will definitely become an NHL forward IMO.

6. Vladislav Kolyachonok - Defense - Flint Firebirds
A very tough year to be able to evaluate Kolyachonok in the OHL. First the fiasco with London and his waiver transfer to Flint, which took him because of immigration issues. Second, the fact that he played for Flint, a team which was on the wrong side of their share of beat downs this year. But this kid just kept on trucking through it all. I've talked to people and read a fair amount about this kid's work ethic. It's at a pro level. He takes his development very seriously and I do not think you have to worry about him not working hard enough to reach that next level. I would imagine that he will interview and perform extremely well at this year's NHL combine. On the ice, the U18's were an extremely important event for him to show scouts what he could do outside of Flint. And his play was the main reason Belarus had such a remarkable tournament, making it to the quarter finals and avoiding relegation. His size (6'2, 190) and mobility are impressive traits. He glides around the ice with ease and generates a lot of power in his stride. As a confident two-way defender, Kolyachonok's positioning in the defensive end is excellent, as he is calm and poised. He can use his mobility to track down loose pucks to start the breakout. He can use his size to shield off attackers on the forecheck and win board battles. He will block shots and take the body when he needs to. Offensively, I think the U18's were huge in showing off his ability to run the point on the powerplay, something that wasn't really on display consistently in Flint. It really made me reconsider my opinion of his long term NHL potential. He did a terrific job of creating shooting/passing lanes with his mobility and showed excellent vision and decision making. When you combine his character, raw physical skill and power, and growing skill level, you have a kid who could be a solid top 4 NHL defender and maybe even a potential first round pick in June.

7. Nick Robertson - Forward - Peterborough Petes
After a very strong showing at the summer Hlinka/Gretzky tournament for the United States (he led the team in goals), Robertson's OHL season got off to a bit of a rocky start thanks to a wrist injury. The injury took some time to heal fully and Robertson got off to a slow start from a production stand point. If you remove his first 10 games from his stat line, his production looks a lot more impressive (25 goals, 26 assists, in 44 games, or a near 80 point projection over a full season). Robertson is an absolutely dynamic play maker and creator. His puck skill and creativity are among the best in this OHL draft class. His edge work and agility are also excellent, keeping a wide base as he eludes defenders. Even though he's undersized at 5'9, Robertson is tough to separate from the puck because of how quick his hands are and because of how he always keeps his feet moving. This makes him a very dangerous player on the powerplay, as he often draws multiple defenders to try to take the puck off of him. Robertson also has a fantastic shot; a wrist shot which he can get off very quickly and without hesitation. I also really like Robertson's competitiveness without the puck in the offensive zone. If he does happen to turn it over, he's aggressive in pursuit to get it back. In the defensive end, his awareness and energy level is not quite as consistent and his lack of strength limits his effectiveness here. I also think Robertson could stand to improve his first step explosiveness and his top speed, considering his lack of elite size. It's not at the same level as his brother Jason's at the same age (in a negative way), but Jason was also considerably bigger. That said, Nick is one of the youngest players eligible for the draft this year (September 11th birth date). There is likely still a lot of physical maturation in store for him, especially when you consider that his brother is 6'2, 200lbs. If you're looking for a high upside winger, Robertson is your man.

8. Connor McMichael - Forward - London Knights
I may take a bit of flak for this one, as most lists seem to still have McMichael much higher among OHL players. And most lists have him in the first round. By ranking him 8th among OHL players, I'm not saying that I don't like him. I do. I think he's a solid NHL prospect who has had a terrific year in London. He may have been London's most consistent offensive player this year. He led all draft eligible players in primary assists at 5 on 5. He also finished 3rd among draft eligible players in point per game at 5 on 5. He was equally dangerous on the powerplay and at even strength. He kills penalties. This is just a well rounded kid. His skating ability is top notch. McMichael has great top end speed. And because he processes the game so well, especially in the offensive end, he can use that speed effectively to track down loose pucks or get behind defenders to create or finish off scoring chances. McMichael is one of those players who isn't extremely flashy, so you don't notice him quite as much as other players on the ice. But by the end of the game, he finishes with a goal and assist. He has that quiet effectiveness about him. Another underrated component to McMichael's game is his versatility. Can line up at center or the wing. And when he's down the middle, he's a great faceoff man. Because of his high end hockey sense, I actually prefer him down the middle. All of that said, I do find that at times his game lacks urgency. I'd like to see him be more aggressive with the puck. I think some of that has to do with a lack of strength, and as he gets stronger we may seem him be a little more consistent through the middle of the ice and below the hash marks. I also have some concerns about his high end upside as an NHL player. There is always that concern with heady guys who do a lot of things well, but nothing exceptionally. IMO, he more than likely settles into a 2nd or 3rd line center role as a pro (think Valtteri Filppula, Antoine Vermette, etc). The guys I have ranked ahead of him I feel have a greater chance of being concrete top 6 players, even if their "bust" potential is higher.

9. Graeme Clarke - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Here's where things get interesting. At this point, I think it's safe to say that "most" scouts that I've chatted with have the same top 8 from the OHL (obviously in different orders). That number 9 spot is where we'll see some stronger differences in opinion. For me, that guy is Clarke. I think you need to look at the team that he played for in Ottawa and how they deep they were. He did not get a ton of ice time, yet he managed to hit the 23 goal plateau. He also really stepped up his game in the playoffs, upping his production to 14 points (7/7) over 18 games. I also love how Clarke really transformed his game this year. He really improved his play away from the puck and became a much more engaged player in all three zones. In his MM year and in his OHL rookie year, I found him to be too complacent and really only a factor when the puck was on his stick. I don't think that's necessarily the case anymore. Kudos to him for recognizing that as a fault and fixing it. On individual skill level, Clarke is near or at the top of this age group in the OHL. His creativity and hands are elite. I don't know how many times I've seen him do the Mike Legg lacrosse goal over the years. Clarke also has one of the best shot releases in the age group and projects as a big time goal scorer at this level and the next. So with all this skill level, why is Clarke 9th and not, say top 5? I think there are very realistic concerns over his skating ability. His stride doesn't generate a ton of power and we have seen how difficult it can be for goal scorers to transition to the NHL without that elusiveness. Additionally, I wonder how good his vision is as a playmaker. The hands and puck skill are so good, yet they mostly create openings for himself and not necessarily his teammates. Turnovers in the offensive zone can be an issue. However, this is a kid who has clearly worked hard already to improve his faults. No reason to suggest that he can't keep working and improving. Next year, he'll be a huge part of another strong Ottawa 67's team and could easily be a 40 goal scorer in the OHL. You'll be hard pressed to find a player with as high of a ceiling in the second round.

10. Blake Murray - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Murray has been on the periphery of most rankings nearly all season long despite being a 6'3 center who put up 30 goals this year and was an offensive leader for the upstart Sudbury Wolves. Part of that is because Murray doesn't really have a standout quality. He's a good skater, but not a great one. His physical game is inconsistent. He has a good shot, but at times he hangs on to the puck too long. There are just too many shifts where he is not a factor. Yet...he still scored 30 this year. And that's why he's ranked at #10 for me. I just think that the best is yet to come for Murray. He's got a July birth date and is still relatively physically immature. I think that as he fills out his 6'3 frame, he could develop into a real beast in the offensive zone. Adding strength is going to be key for him, as it will allow him to be more effective below the hash marks and allow him to be more effective cutting through the neutral zone as a force in transition from down the middle. Another key is finding more consistency in his physicality and overall effort without the puck. At times this year, he looked really engaged and that was when he was at his best. But bringing that effort along the wall, in puck pursuit, and in all three zones, every shift and every game is a different story. I think whatever team drafts him will need to be patient. It could take him some time to put it all together. And I do wonder how much his playmaking ability with the puck develops. But as I said, 6'3, goal scoring centers do not grow on trees. If you're drafting outside the first round, aren't these the type of guys you take a chance on in hopes that they can put everything together? The upside is just too tantalizing, especially when you consider how weak the OHL crop is this year. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft - Part 3: 30-11

This is the 3rd part of my final top 50 OHL players eligible for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Here you will find players ranked 30 through 11.

This might be the weakest group, 30-11, that I have had to rank since I started covering the OHL over a decade ago. First time I can remember ranking guys in this part three that I felt were more likely to go undrafted, than drafted. Also the first time I can remember thinking so few of the guys on this list could end up as top 3 round selections. Hind sight is 20/20, so it will be interesting to look back on this list in a few years. But right now, this draft just does not look great for the OHL, something scouts have been preaching all season long.

11. Hunter Jones - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
It was a tale of two seasons for Jones. In the first half, he looked like a front runner for OHL goaltender of the year and looked to have emerged as one of the OHL's elite netminders in his first year as a starter. But the second half was the exact opposite. We saw him revert back to the goalie that fought the puck and battled with consistency issues in his rookie OHL season a year ago. A couple things worth noting though. The first is that fatigue likely played a major factor. Only two other goaltenders in the OHL saw more action this year. That's just insane considering that he had only played 15 games the previous year, his first in the OHL. The second is how poor Peterborough played in front of him in the second half, especially defensively. This is a kid who has the complete package in net and is everything NHL scouts look for now; size, athleticism, and poise. Was so impressed by the gains he had shown early on, especially in terms of movement and puck tracking. But later in the year he looked slower, had trouble controlling rebounds and fighting through traffic. I do truly believe that the goalie that we saw in the first half is the more likely true version of Jones and his pro potential. But, goaltenders can be tricky to rank and his later season troubles are enough to push him out of the top 10 in the OHL for me. 

12. Nikita Okhotyuk - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Okhotyuk is the kind of guy who grows slowly on you. Originally, I was disappointed in his progression this year, after liking him a lot as an OHL rookie last year. In the first half, I felt that his offensive game hadn't progressed enough and that I did not see enough upside. But the more that I have watched him this year, the more that I have learned to appreciate all of the great things that he does and how valuable he is to the 67's. And even though the production doesn't support it, I feel like he really gained more confidence in his offensive abilities in the second half and into the playoffs. Okhotyuk definitely projects as more of a stay at home defender at the next level though. He has good size at 6'1, 200lbs, but his mobility is excellent in all four directions. He is also a true throwback in the sense that he is consistently looking to wreck havoc physically. One of the best open ice hitters in the OHL, Okhotyuk plays with such a high intensity level in the defensive end. But the thing that always impresses me about Okhotyuk is how disciplined he is for the type of game he plays. He does not take many bad penalties and exhibits great control and poise in the defensive end. From an offensive stand point, Okhotyuk is willing to use his smooth stride to lead the rush and he will jump up in the play from time to time. He also flashes a booming point shot that he should use more. Early in the year, I thought he struggled with his decision making with the puck in his own end, but that greatly improved as the year went on and turnovers became much less of an issue. I don't see a ton of upside with Okhotyuk, but I do think that he could be a quality #4 at the NHL level who can be a prime time penalty killer and defensive work horse.

13. Michael Vukojevic - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
I thought Vukojevic had a very good U18's for team Canada, where he took on a shut down role for the 4th place Canadians. This raised him a bit in my year end rankings because I think it showed how far his mobility has come on the big ice. He'll never be a blazing skater moving forward and it will limit his offensive potential at the NHL level. But his lateral and backwards mobility has really improved, as has his understanding of gap control and how to utilize his reach and size. At 6'3, 200lbs, Vukojevic will eventually develop into a physical beast in his own end. He can be one mean customer and his intensity level near the crease and along the wall, makes him such a difficult player to win one on one battles against. I also think that Vukojevic's first pass and decision making with the puck have greatly improved over the course of this season. Turnovers were an issue at times early on, but much less so later in the year. He really has adapted well. Like Okhotyuk ranked before him, Vukojevic likely does not possess the highest potential of defenders available. But you would be hard pressed to find a more reliable defender in his own end, who also possesses leadership capabilities who could be a long time NHL defender and penalty killer. Few players in this top 50 played as much for their OHL team as Vukojevic did this year, if any.

14. Ethan Keppen - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Here are Keppen's ranks among OHL draft eligible players for 5 on 5 production. Goals: 3rd (24), Primary assists: 2nd (18), Primary points: 4th (42), Shots: 2nd (171). That's pretty impressive and actually quite shocking. Keppen is a big kid at 6'2, 210lbs who would definitely be considered a power winger. He excels when he is aggressive in attacking the offensive zone, forcing his way to the net, and really bringing energy on the forecheck. He is a very dangerous player below the hash marks because of his size, but also because he processes the game well. Keppen's 2nd ranking in primary assists (as noted above) is no fluke. He is terrific at winning battles along the wall, only to spin off his check to find a driving teammate. And he is aggressive in driving the net, which also creates second chance opportunities that his linemates can take advantage of. Keppen also possesses a terrific shot, one of the heavier ones in the age group. All things considered, Keppen is one of the most well rounded wingers available from the OHL this year. So why is he at 14? I do have some concerns about his high end upside at the next level. I am not confident that his puck skill is as good as it will need to be to be a top line player. And while his skating is not an issue at the OHL level, I do think that there is room for improvement as he looks to establish himself as more of a factor in transition. But even if you end up with a Zach Hyman kind of player, isn't that worth a second or third round selection?

15. Billy Constantinou - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Unfortunately for him, a trade to Kingston (for Jason Robertson) really killed his draft stock after a hot start with Niagara on a solid team. Playing on one of the weakest OHL teams in recent memory, especially from an offensive point of view, really highlighted Constantinou's required areas of growth, without taking advantage of his strengths. The Frontenacs were so consistently hemmed in their own end that his reads and lack of strength in the defensive end were magnified. And it seemed like every time he managed to escape his own end with his impressive skating ability, nothing came of the play and he would get trapped up ice with the opposition heading back the other way. All that said, Constantinou is ranked 15th on this list still for a reason and will be ranked even higher, likely, by some of my contemporaries. He is one of the best movers in the age group among defenders. His agility and ability to cut on a dime are extremely impressive and it makes him a very elusive puck rusher when he finds those seams up ice. His overall puck skill is impressive too. But I do think that his decision making with the puck needs refining. When he works the point on the powerplay, he needs to be a little more assertive in trying to create shooting or passing lanes, utilizing his strong skating ability to do so. And as mentioned, there are some flaws defensively that were certainly magnified by Kingston's inadequacies as a team. So you roll the dice here on a kid with a lot of offensive potential. At some point I am sure that he will be a top notch point producer from the back end in this league. It's just a matter of how much his defensive game grows in that time span.

16. Matvey Guskov - Forward - London Knights
A seriously raw, "toolsy" type of forward who was just so inconsistent this year, his first in the OHL. It seemed like every time he had a couple of great shifts, you just waited with baited breath for his breakout. But it never really happened and his ice time was cut towards the end of the OHL season (goalless in the final 14 games of the regular season, and only 2 goals in the final 25 if you count the playoffs). But in a down year for the OHL, a boom or bust type of player like Guskov is going to still be ranked highly. So what type of tools are we talking about? Well Guskov is a 6'1 winger with very impressive mobility. His acceleration is impressive and he has that ability to carve up the neutral zone to gain entry to the offensive zone when he is playing well. I saw my share of end to end rushes from him this year. He also flashes terrific puck skill that allows him to protect the puck well through traffic. I also think that Guskov projects as a quality two-way player eventually, as he gains strength and learns to play with a little more intensity without the puck. He has that long reach that could be a major asset in the neutral zone or his own end, be it on the penalty kill or otherwise. But consistency was a major issue. I'm just not sure I have a good read as to how good his hockey sense is in the offensive zone and whether that will limit his potential as a top 6 player at the next level. He also needs to play with more urgency through the middle of the ice as he can be kept to the perimeter too often. But there's just something to his game that is alluring, especially when you consider that he was a first year Import. Sometimes it takes longer for these guys to get it. Patience will be key with Guskov, but the potential reward is there.

17. Joe Carroll - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Another raw forward project who has a lot of potential if he can put it all together. Carroll comes in at 6'3, 195lbs, and skates quite well for a big man. He saw time down the middle and on the wing this year. At times, he can be physically dominant out there. He controls the wall very well and can be a very difficult player to separate from the puck. Is the type of player who is able to prolong possession all by himself by keeping his feet moving and by using his size and strength to protect the puck. He can also be a real load to handle down low. When he's fully engaged physically and looking to park himself near the crease, he looks like a potential power forward who could be a great goal scorer in this league. But consistency is a big time issue. When he plays center position, I see him as too passive at times, especially when looking to attack off the rush. He needs to be more decisive with the puck on his stick and make quicker decisions. I am just not certain he has the vision or creativity to be a center. That said, I do wonder if he has the shot or goal scoring instincts to be a strong goal scoring power winger, even if he looked better on the wing IMO. It's just a matter of how his game develops and if he can find a way to use his size a little more consistently. This has been a critique of his game going back to his minor midget OHL draft year, and it has yet to change. Like Guskov ranked before him, Carroll will require patience from the team that drafts him, but he could be a real strong player in the long run and is most definitely a better player than his 9 goal, 31 point season would indicate.

18. Jacob LeGuerrier - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Tired of me mentioning the term "tools" yet? Well don't read this profile then. These are the types of guys who are going to be ranked highly in a down year because everyone is going to try to find that "diamond in the rough." LeGuerrier is a very interesting player, who also happens to be in a very interesting situation in the Soo. This year, SSM deployed the third year defender (late 2000 birth date) in a top four role, but he was primarily used in defensive situations and asked to be a stay at home presence. But next year, there will be an opportunity for more offensive responsibility. Can LeGuerrier follow in the footsteps of the likes of Mac Hollowell and Conor Timmins as Greyhounds defenders who explode with more ice time and powerplay responsibilities? I actually think he can. At 6'3, LeGuerrier is actually a terrific skater who can cover a lot of ground. Flashed an ability at times this year to lead the rush or jump up into the play as that 3rd/4th man in. I think there is definitely potential for this area of his game to really improve. Even if it doesn't, you've got a 6'3 defender who fits the mold perfectly of the modern day shut down defender who can skate with the best of them, but also possesses the reach, physicality, and IQ to match up against the opposition's best (think Brandon Carlo). I had him a little higher on my list at times this year, but I thought that he struggled with turnovers and decision making with the puck at times in the second half and that made me lower him behind guys with similar projection like Okhotyuk and Vukojevic, whose play with the puck improved over the year.

19. Cole Mackay - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Back to back to back Greyhounds? Really? Yes. Mackay is such a likeable player. He is the type of forward who would go through a wall to make a play for his team. He is such an effective player without the puck because of his high end hockey sense. Always seems to get behind defenders, even though he doesn't possess above average skating ability. Knows his role on a scoring line is to work the wall, retrieve loose pucks, and find his way to the net. But Mackay also has great hands and a very quick release, which means that he is quite effective at working through traffic and checks, despite being only average sized at 5'11. Mackay is also a great two-way player who will block shots, kill penalties, and is consistently one of the first forwards on the backcheck. He is just a very well rounded player and one of the top two-way forwards available from the OHL this year. But there are bound to be questions about projection given his lack of elite size and lack of athleticism. His stride does lack power/explosiveness. In a lot of ways, Mackay reminds me a lot of former Erie Otter Connor Brown. Brown, obviously, has gone on to an NHL career without possession of elite physical tools and Mackay could certainly do the same. 

20. Keean Washkurak - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Really likeable player and a fan favourite in Mississauga because of his non stop motor. Measures in at only 5'10, but Washkurak is one of the toughest kids in the OHL and plays way bigger than his size. He does not back down from any challenge. Washkurak is a terrific forechecker, who can use his speed to cause havoc in puck retrieval scenarios. As such, he's a fantastic penalty killer, which was on full display at the U18's, where he suited up for Canada in a depth role. I love his effort level in all three zones. He's the type of kid who really is hungry for the puck in the sense that if his line turns it over, he will battle to get it back as soon as possible. But it's important to not undervalue his offensive abilities either. Washkurak is a great playmaker who can use his speed to push the pace in transition, or he can work down low with great vision from behind the net. He also has good hands that allow him to finish off the plays in tight after he crashes the net. Washkurak is just a very well rounded, high energy player. That said, I don't think the upside is extremely high, but he could be a very valuable 3rd/4th line player who can provide your lineup with a lot of versatility. 

21. Cole Schwindt - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Big, lanky center (6'3, 175lbs) who really came on strong in the second half after the Steelheads dealt Tippett and McLeod. He had 21 points in 20 games to close out the regular season (from February on). I look at Schwindt as a similar type of player to Guelph's Mackenzie Entwistle. Any time that I've watched him, I've come away super impressed with his defensive ability, first and foremost. He has such a big reach and he uses it to get his stick in passing lanes. Forces a lot of turnovers in the neutral zone and in his own end. As such, he's become a very good penalty killer too. Schwindt is also a pretty good skater for a big guy. Maybe not as good as Entwistle, but his mobility is good even if he has a bit of a wide stride that looks a little awkward or imbalanced. Like his teammate Washkurak, Schwindt is a playmaker first. Loves working down low and spinning off the wall to open up lanes. As he gets stronger, he is going to be a very difficult player to separate from the puck. I would, however, like to see him play with a little more pace and use his size more to drive the net. But we saw flashes of that late in the second half. Like Washkurak, I'm not sure we're looking at a player with a high upside, but he could definitely develop into a quality NHL player down the line.

22. Keegan Stevenson - Forward - Guelph Storm
Very valuable depth player for the powerhouse Guelph Storm this year. Born on NYE, Stevenson is a day from being a 2001, but even as a late 2000, he's coming off only his second year in the OHL. Was so versatile for Guelph, playing in virtually all situations for them. And here's a stat for you. Primary points 5 on 5, Stevenson had a higher point per game average than Nick Robertson and Blake Murray, and equal to Jamieson Rees and Ryan Suzuki. With his size and strength down low, Stevenson is someone that an offense can run through. His puck skill is underrated and he makes very good decisions with the puck in the offensive zone. He's quite often the first man into the zone on puck retrievals and he is able to recover loose pucks to establish offensive zone time for the Storm. Stevenson is also an improving skater, which is helping him to be quicker to gaps in coverage (especially near the net), and helping him to be more of a factor in transition. In addition to his offensive skill set, Stevenson is a good penalty killer and three zone player who can force turnovers with his size (6'1). As he fills out his frame, I would expect the physicality in his game become even more consistent and he could be a real power forward. Like some of the other guys ranked in this range, the high end offensive potential at the NHL level likely isn't extremely high. But his versatility and raw physical skill set make him a very alluring player to NHL scouts hoping he can be a great complimentary 3rd line winger moving forward.

23. Mitchell Brewer - Defense - Oshawa Generals
I continue to be befuddled by NHL Central Scouting's lack of respect for Brewer, leaving him unranked in their final rankings for 2019. I do understand that he has some limitations, and I think his offensive game took a step backward in the second half. But he also was a top defensive performer for one of the best teams in the OHL, and was excellent in this year's playoffs. At 6'1, 205lbs, Brewer is a physically imposing stay at home defender. Like Okhotyuk, Vukojevic, and LeGuerrier ranked before him, he has to be considered one of the best young defensive defenders in the OHL. He blocks shots. He wins one on one battles in traffic. He uses his good mobility to have good gap control and is physical when he needs to be. His +11 rating in the playoffs this year was no fluke; he is terrific in his own end. As an offensive player, I think that there is room for improvement. Early in the season, I saw a lot of potential in his puck carrying ability, as he was taking chances with the puck and jumping up in the play. But, either due to a lack of confidence or coaching staff request, this really disappeared from his game in the second half. I also noticed an increase in turnovers in his own end and a bit of a panic level with the puck. But, I do still feel that his puck skill and offensive game can improve. And you pair that with his defensive acumen, you've got someone who could have an impact similar to Kevan Miller in Boston. 

24. Nicholas Porco - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
High potential offensive forward who was forced into a depth role with Saginaw this year due to their depth up front. The former 4th overall OHL pick is a slick skating, North/South type of player who can really push the pace with creative puck skill and an explosive stride. But the rest of his game is a big work in progress. He can be too easily pushed off of the puck in the offensive zone, and as such struggles to play through traffic consistently. If he can't beat you with his speed, he can be neutralized. If he can learn to play more East/West; be more aggressive without the puck and look to attack the middle with more consistency, he could be a real strong offensive player. Again, this kid has above average skating and skill, it's just about becoming stronger and more assertive. As such, he is one of those selections that we could look back on in a few years and say, "man, how did this guy go so late?" There's a lot of former Spirit Tye Felhaber in Porco, at least in terms of comparing them in their NHL draft years. Sometimes they put it all together like Felhaber. And sometimes they don't. Porco is the very definition of a high risk, high reward selection later in the draft.

25. Liam Ross - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Going back to his minor midget year, Ross has always been one of my favourite players in this age group. He's a competitive two-way defender with good size at 6'2, 200lbs who eats up a ton of minutes for the upstart Sudbury Wolves. In his own end, he is a big asset. He takes away space well, exhibiting good gap control despite some skating limitations. He's also excellent along the wall, where he is quick to engage and use his size to separate forwards from the puck. But it's his offensive game that is grossly underrated. 5 on 5, Ross was actually the leader in points and goals among draft eligible defenders (and not Thomas Harley). He has excellent vision up ice and is able to make very quick decisions with the puck in his own end. He is also great at jumping up in the play and finding holes as the 3rd/4th man in. Consistently catches forwards sleeping who are tasked with defending him at the point. I just see him as a real rock back there with the potential to develop into one of the OHL's best defenders by his graduation. But the main draw back is his skating ability. He lacks explosiveness in his forward stride, and his lateral and backwards mobility is not as fluid as his contemporaries. If he had the skating stride of a guy like Harley, or Okhotyuk, he'd be in my top 15. But as many players before him have proved, skating can be improved, especially when you consider that it's the only thing holding him back IMO.

26. Petr Cajka - Forward - Erie Otters
Late 2000 born Czech center who is coming off his first season in the OHL. Cajka is an excellent skater, in particular he has great power and balance in his stride. Is able to really explode coming off of the wall and his agility is really strong, which makes him a tough player to contain in the cycle. The production isn't overwhelming, especially for a late 2000 born player, but the Otters were a rebuilding club and Cajka is the type of kid who really passes the eye test. In addition to his skating, I really like his smarts and compete level in all three zones. Is a solid penalty killer and rarely seems to miss an assignment on the backcheck. I do think that there is more that he is capable of, especially offensively. As he gains strength, he will be more effective driving the middle of the ice where he can utilize his skating ability and good hands to create scoring chances at a more consistent rate. However, I'm not convinced that he is a center long term. I see him more effective working the half wall in the offensive zone, and using his speed in puck pursuit. His faceoff percentage was one of the worst in the OHL this year too (under 40% for a guy who took 700 draws). Hoping he sticks with Erie next year too as I could see a Rickard Hugg style explosion from him next year on a better Erie team.

27. Jet Greaves - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
Average sized, but very athletic netminder who really emerged as one of the top young goalies in the OHL this year, forcing NHL draft pick Maksim Zhukov out of the league. At 6'0, he doesn't have that size that NHL teams seem to want in their goaltenders these days. But you can't argue with his performance this year. I really like how Greaves tracks the play and squares himself to shooters. Very quick post to post and aggressive in challenging shooters and working through traffic to make himself bigger in the net. Had some difficulty holding his post at times and will need to work on his ability to limit rebounds and second chances. But for a first year OHL goaltender, I thought he looked terrific. Moving forward for Barrie, he'll likely continue to platoon with Kai Edmonds until one of them really establishes themselves as the starter. But I would anticipate that to be Greaves. With his athleticism, he has that game stealing ability that could one day see him as a serious candidate for OHL goaltender of the year.

28. Tag Bertuzzi - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Disastrous draft season for Bertuzzi, who came into the year as a potential top 50 pick because of his size and skill package. The son of former NHL'er Todd, Tag has a similar skill set to his Father. He plays the power game to a tee, attacking North/South, using his size to the drive the net and his skill to create scoring chances. But his production was not up to par in Guelph and he was not happy playing in a checking line role, so he was granted a trade to Hamilton. Upon arriving in Hamilton, Bertuzzi injured his shoulder, an injury that ended his season. That's now two years in a row that Bertuzzi has had to deal with serious injuries (after being limited to 41 games in his rookie years), and brings into question his durability given his tenacious style of play. Production issues. Character issues. Durability issues. That's a lot question marks. But in a down year for the OHL, I still feel that Bertuzzi needs to be ranked around this level and I do expect a team to throw a draft pick at him late. He still possesses a ton of potential and will get a ton of offensive responsibility for the Bulldogs moving forward. 

29. Mack Guzda - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
Really not a good year for Guzda, who I thought would be the top rated OHL netminder this year and someone who could be a potential top 60 selection. But he really struggled to find his game yet again, and behind a weaker Owen Sound team than a year ago, his confidence seemed to leave him by season's end. Normally a sub .880 save percentage isn't likely to get you drafted, but I still think Guzda ends up a late round pick. Let's not forget that Penguins star Matt Murray had an .876 save percentage in his NHL draft year for the Greyhounds. At 6'5, 220lbs, Guzda is a real big kid. But he's also very athletic and moves very well in the crease. On natural physical tools alone, Guzda is an impressive specimen. But there are some real flaws in his game right now that prevent him from being a consistent stopper. First is his ability to fight through traffic to locate pucks. He has a tendency to play too deep in his net and as such, isn't able to track the play as well as he should. He's such an athletic kid. He could stand to be more aggressive and still be confident that he can recover through a bad read. Second is his rebound control. Is currently too much of a stopper and not enough goaltender. High shots in particular tend to bounce off of him back into the slot and second/third chance opportunities are an issue. It really seems like he's fighting the puck at times. Third thing is his positioning, especially when moving. He has a tendency to over commit on shooters, taking himself out of the play and can be prone to giving up bad goals through holes that open up as he drops to his butterfly. All of that said, I have seen Guzda at his best and it's impressive. The potential is there for him to develop into an NHL netminder. It just may take a few years for him, as it did with Murray, a similar kind of physical specimen who had similar issues at a young age. 

30. Daniel D'Amico - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
After going his final 18 regular season games, in addition to 4 playoff games, without scoring a goal, D'Amico probably doesn't deserve to be ranked inside the Top 30. This is especially true when you consider that he's an undersized winger (at 5'9), who is also only a slightly above average skater. But the entire Spitfires team struggled mightily down the stretch, and I don't think that should completely take away from D'Amico's potential as one of the top offensive 2001's in the OHL. Through the middle part of the season, he was playing some terrific hockey and that's the D'Amico that I think will eventually emerge as a go to player in this league. His hands are so quick and his release is excellent. As he continues to upgrade his strength and skating, he should develop into a very good goal scorer. D'Amico is also a hard worker without the puck who can play East/West as well as he plays North/South. Will look to go hard to the net and has proven to be effective in traffic, even despite his lack of size. For a while there, the Spitfires lines were in a blender and it seemed like whatever line D'Amico was on, was their best. At this point, I'm not entirely sure he gets drafted. But I do like his potential to eventually develop into a player who gets onto the NHL radar because of his skill level and high energy level. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft - Part 2: 31-50

The 2nd part of my Top 50 OHL players available for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. This is where we actually dive into the Top 50, with players ranked 50 through to 31.

31. Jack York - Defense - Barrie Colts
Split the year between Kitchener and Barrie after a three team deal that saw him go to the Colts in December. The trade really allowed him to get more ice time, especially on the powerplay and his game blossomed as a result. York is excellent running the point. He has great instincts and really identifies passing and shooting lanes well. Doesn't force shots through traffic and makes very quick decisions to ensure that puck movement is fluid. York also has a terrific point shot that will see him score his share of goals in the OHL before he graduates from the league. Defensively, I think York's play can best be described as inconsistent. At times he can become complacent back there and lose sight of the play. At times he doesn't keep his feet moving and his average mobility can be exploited. And at times, turnovers can be an issue from not being assertive enough. But, the flip side is that at other times, York looks like a great two-way defender who exhibits good positioning in the defensive end and who is great at getting his stick in passing lanes. With his vision up ice, he can start the breakout quickly and should eventually develop into a great offensive asset 5 on 5. York, of course, also has great bloodlines, being the son of former NHL'er Jason York. The biggest issue that scouts may have with York though, is his average feet. He's an average mover and with his average size, there may be projection issues moving forward, especially with him being, primarily, an offensively oriented defender. If he could find a way to improve his acceleration, in particular, it would really help him to be a bigger part of the transition game and would see him take more control of the game. York finished the season extremely well in Barrie and is definitely trending in the right direction from a development standpoint, even if he's a little older than your average draft eligible player (missed the 2018 cut off by a few days).

32. Mason Millman - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Millman had an excellent year for the Spirit, his first full season in the OHL. He was particularly good in the playoffs for Saginaw, as they pushed their way to the Western Conference finals. One of Millman's best assets is his skating ability. He is very fluid and covers ground very well. Tough to get by him in the defensive end, as his backwards and lateral mobility are excellent. And his forward stride is smooth and allows him to quickly skate the puck out of trouble in his own end when needed. Also like how he uses his feet when running the point on the powerplay. Will open up passing and shooting lanes with quick cuts or stops and exhibits patience with the puck. All that said, I do have some questions as to Millman's overall offensive potential. At times, I do think he lacks urgency with the puck and seems hesitant to extend his rushes or take chances. He also does not currently possess a point shot that could be deemed as a major scoring threat, nor does he shoot the puck very often. Now, both of these things could be related to the fact that this was Millman's first year in the OHL and he just needs a little more confidence at this level. Millman offers well as a mobile two-way defender with intrigue over just how much his production can improve.

33. Mason Primeau - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Massive center at 6'5, with some NHL bloodlines (son of Wayne Primeau). Moved from Guelph to North Bay this year, which allowed him to get more ice time down the stretch and into the first round of the playoffs. If there is a coach out there in the OHL who does well with big and raw forwards, it's Stan Butler. In North Bay, I thought Primeau's compete level without the puck was significantly higher and that is going to be key for his development moving forward. If he can learn to use his size consistently to engage in the offensive end, (forcing turnovers, dominating the wall, dominating near the net), he could turn into a real player. There is definitely some puck skill there and he shows well at times, moving across the blueline as he looks to attack the middle of the ice. Obviously with his size, he can be difficult to separate from the puck, especially as he draws nearer to the crease. As he adds bulk to his frame and becomes even stronger, it will be interesting to see just how unstoppable he can become below the dots. I also wonder just how much room for improvement there is in his skating. Primeau is alright once he gets going, but his slow starts allow him to be pinned in the neutral zone sometimes, and really prevent him from being a consistent offensive contributor. Again, in North Bay, he's in good hands for the type of player he should become. He was also one of the few Battalion players to show up in the first round of the playoffs. While size is less important in today's NHL, there will always be room for 6'5 centers who can play like Primeau.

34. Danil Antropov - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Late December 2000 born winger is the son of former Toronto Maple Leaf Nik Antropov. There are definitely a lot of similarities in their games. Danil can be a very effective player in the offensive zone when he uses his size to his advantage. Can be a major asset in terms of puck protection because he does shield the puck well, especially coming off of the wall. He also possesses good vision when operating down low and is very much a pass first player who does exhibit poise and confidence with the puck. As such, he's an asset on the powerplay who can work that half wall or even behind the net. Danil likes to slow the game down, just as his father did, rather than play with a ton of pace. And that's likely where NHL scouts have a few concerns. I think he also needs to be more hungry for the puck and play less on the perimeter. If he used his size more to attack the middle, crash the net, and really battle for those 50/50 pucks, he'd be a more effective and consistently noticeable player. Other than an increase in ice time, I wouldn't necessarily say that his game progressed a lot from his second to third year in the league. But he is a winger with size and skill, who, if he can play with a little more urgency and pace, would become a very solid NHL prospect. Despite a disappointing year, I was surprised to see him drop out of NHL Central Scouting's rankings all together.

35. Navrin Mutter - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
The ultimate wild card. Is there a place in the game for guys like Mutter still? I think the success of the Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck line in New York this year would suggest there is. It's an extremely fine line, but if you can play the game as hard as Mutter does, but stay out of the box, you can really be an asset for your team. Mutter is possibly the most physical forward in the OHL. He is like a human torpedo out there at times. And he does use that physicality for good quite often; on the forecheck especially. But he crosses that line far too often still and finds himself in the box or suspended for hits that just don't have a place in the game anymore. So the question is, can Mutter eventually figure out a way to harness his energy level? And just how much offensive ability does he possess? At times this year, I thought Mutter looked very effective with the puck. He earned promotions to scoring lines and powerplay units and did not look out of place. His shot is heavy and if he can get himself in better scoring position, he could really develop that side of his game. I think his skating has really improved over his two years in the OHL too. There is progression as more than just a brute. Whether Mutter gets drafted or not will tell us a lot about how the game has changed in the eyes of NHL scouts. 10-15 years ago, Mutter would have been an automatic selection as a big kid with some raw skill and a ton of physicality and energy. Now, I'm just not as certain.

36. Lucas Peric - Defense - Ottawa 67's
I think that this guy possesses a ton of potential as a puck moving defender, but just was not able to showcase that on one of the top teams in the CHL, who also happens to have one of the deepest defensive corps. Peric has terrific overall mobility and is an effortless skater. He could eventually be a big time asset in the transition game as the leash comes off a bit and he starts extending his rushes deeper into the offensive zone. He escapes the forecheck very well, but is more likely to make a quick exit pass or a dump in, rather than continue with the puck through the neutral zone. As such, it was tough to get a read on his puck skill without that confidence. But there were flashes throughout the year where he would go end to end and you'd say, "man why doesn't this guy do that more often?" I also think his mobility could be a big asset as a powerplay QB. He walks the line so well and is able to keep pucks in and be that general back there. Defensively, Peric is solid too. Doesn't make a ton of mistakes and is just quietly effective, although he could stand to increase his intensity level a bit and add some strength to handle bigger forwards in front of the net. Some people may look at Peric and see a well rounded defender with not a lot of projection as a pro, but I definitely see a potential puck mover who could explode if he were given more responsibility and ice time. If I were an NHL GM, I would definitely have him circled on my list as a late round pick possibility or a camp invite, at the very least.

37. Brayden Guy - Forward - Sarnia Sing
Competitive winger who was a very effective role player for Sarnia this year, finishing fourth on the Sting with 17 even strength goals (also good for 7th among all first time draft eligible players in the OHL this year). Guy is the type of kid who knows his role on the ice. Drives the net. Battles along the wall. Competes in all three zones. Can kill penalties. Can be the net front presence on a powerplay. He's certainly not the fastest guy on the ice, nor is he the most skilled with the puck. But he knows how to play without the puck and he never seems to give up on a play. As he gains more responsibility, maybe there's room for improvement as a puck carrier. Likely room for improvement as a skater too. But, all good teams have players like Guy.

38. Andrew Perrott - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Physical, stay at home defender who is the son of former NHL depth player Nathan Perrott. Perrott was one of my favourite 2001's last year, but his game didn't progress a ton this year. Was traded to Owen Sound near the deadline in exchange for veteran Kevin Hancock. Perrott is one of the most physical young defenders in the OHL. He has the potential to develop into a real rock in the defensive end in the OHL (think along the lines of former Battalion workhorse Zach Bell). Love how aggressive he is with his zone entry denials. Loves stepping up on incoming forwards. But his skating will have to improve. Slippery forwards can really exploit his over aggressiveness and mediocre mobility off the rush. Perrott's puck skill is raw. He flashes the ability to be a puck carrier and will make some moves, especially inside the offensive zone when trying to hold the line, that make you believe he has more offensively in him. In a way, there are some comparisons to the way Tyler Tucker was last year when the Blues rolled the dice late in the draft on him only to have him really come out of his shell this year. I wonder if the same happens to Perrott. Physical defenders like him don't grow on trees anymore.

39. Cody Morgan - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Former first round pick who is already on his third organization, but he fit in like a glove after a trade to the Firebirds, posting a point per game over 30 contests and even managed to come out with a positive +/-, a remarkable feat on a last place club. Morgan does a really good job of controlling pace in the offensive end. The type of player who can slow things down and tire out opposing defenses by maintaining possession through the cycle until he sees an opening. Has that Gabriel Vilardi like quality. Later in the year, we really started to see him come out of his shell and play with more pace and creativity. That is something that we really haven't seen from him in the OHL so far. But given his average size at 5'11, this is something that he's going to have to do more often if he wants to be on the NHL radar. I do think that he's a good skater, it's just not something he shows often. But in his last 11 games he had 9 goals, 4 assists. Very encouraging. I don't think we've seen the best from him yet and I wonder if an NHL team throws a later pick at him in hopes that he continues to evolve and gain confidence as part of a solid Flint team moving forward.

40. Nathan Staois - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Really wish that Staois was bigger. But it's pretty tough for 5'8 defenders to draw serious NHL attention, even in today's faster paced game where size isn't as imperative. Staois moves exceptionally well. Has that Ryan Merkley like edgework that he uses to maintain possession of the puck, especially when escaping pressure in his own end, or when working the point of the powerplay. Staois also competes well in his own end and plays a lot bigger than his size, similar to a guy like Mac Hollowell in the Soo. Doesn't back down from any challenge, even if he doesn't always come out on the right side of them. Even though I really like watching Staois play, I find it tough to rank him much higher because the offensive production just wasn't that high. The skating ability is top notch, but I don't know if the hands/puck skill and vision are also, which could limit his offensive potential moving forward. A guy like Hollowell had to go through a draft before he was taken, after he proved that his offensive capabilities could take that next step. I wonder if Staois will have the same fate.

41. Eric Uba - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Another Firebird here, and I don't think that Morgan and Uba could be more different as players. Uba is a North/South attacker who is at his best when the pace picks up. Uba is ultra aggressive in attacking the net and has quick hands that allow him to make creative plays while at full speed. He is very effective at putting defenders on his back and plays a lot bigger than his 6'0 frame. Uba also has a sneaky wrister that he loves to shoot coming down the wing. As a penalty killer, his energy level and aggressiveness are big time assets, and having seen him a bit during his time with the Oakville Blades, I would say his skating has improved a lot. A late 2000 born, Uba was playing in only his first OHL season, but I thought that he was one of Flint's most consistent players from beginning to end (even when the team was struggling to start the year). That has to be worth something. I feel like Uba is going to develop into a very good OHL scorer at some point, just a matter of whether he has pro potential or not.

42. Camaryn Baber - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
A little bit surprised that he has flown under the radar so much this year. First year OHL player who started out as a depth player but slowly gained more ice time as the season went on and by the time the playoffs rolled around, he had fully earned coach Lazary's trust. Had 7 points in 17 games in the postseason, largely operating as the Spirit's fourth line center. Doesn't possess top end speed, but he's got good acceleration that allows him to be quick to loose pucks and quick to openings. Combine that with some tenacity and you have an effective player in all three zones who is noticeable even when the puck isn't on his stick. At 5'11, he doesn't have elite size down the middle, and his physical tools would probably be considered average. But there's a lot to like about his game and the progression he showed from September to April in his first OHL season.

43. Tyler Angle - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Angle is a competitive, high energy center who is terrific in puck pursuit and whose motor never seems to waver. Even with Windsor going through some ups and downs this year, Angle was largely a consistent performer for them and a guy that was shuffled around different lines in hopes of using him as a spark plug to get different wingers going. At only 5'9, Angle actually excels in traffic and is great along the wall where he always seems to keep his feet moving. He isn't the most creative player, but he protects the puck well and is great working the dump and chase game. With his lack of size, and late 2000 birth date, Angle seems like a long shot to be drafted. But his consistent energy is infectious and impossible to ignore.

44. Emmett Sproule - Forward - Erie Otters
Sproule really improved as the year went on, which is obviously extremely encouraging. Undersized at 5'10, but he possesses terrific speed and is a solid North/South winger who can really be effective off of the rush. Early on in the year, it seemed like a lot of plays died on his stick because he was unable to handle the puck at full speed, or maintain possession through traffic. But his ability to operate with the puck really improved later in the year and he became extremely dangerous in transition. Also noticed a big difference in his confidence level in attacking the net and playing with more fire. Would love to see him shoot the puck a little more, but is a quick and dynamic playmaker with more offensive potential than he has shown so far. Is going to be a big part of Erie's future moving forward.

45. Kyen Sopa - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Late 2000 born, first year Import from Switzerland, Sopa was an effective role player for the IceDogs this year. At 5'9, he's like the little engine that could out there. Constantly battling for every inch of ice and shows no fear playing through traffic. For a smaller player, Sopa really protects the puck well in tight and is difficult to separate from the puck. He also shows well in puck pursuit, using his speed to attack and his strength to force turnovers. That said, I wonder about his offensive potential, both in the OHL and moving forward to professional leagues. He's not the most creative or individually skilled with the puck. And I don't think his hockey sense or vision is high end either. He works hard and he can finish, but undersized role players aren't usually high on NHL scouts wish lists. But he deserves to be on this list for what he was able to do with limited ice time this year on a deep Niagara team.

46. Kari Piiroinen - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
Highly touted Finnish netminder was supposed to be the incumbent to Dipietro in Windsor. And while he had some solid outings and flashed potential, his rookie OHL season had to be largely considered a disappointment. Piiroinen is definitely an athletic netminder. He moves well post to post and is capable of making those highlight reel saves. And his quick legs are great at taking away the bottom part of the net. But he really struggled with a few things that prevented him from being consistent. First was rebound control. I found him to have particular trouble with shots up high and he gave up way too many second chances. Second was fighting through traffic to make saves, and again, being able to secure those initial shots to make sure additional chances were limited. It will be interesting to see what Windsor does next year. They could obviously bring him back, but it also wouldn't shock me if they cut him loose in hopes that Xavier Medina and Colton Incze can run the show as a platoon.

47. Grayson Ladd - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
A quality stay at home defender, Ladd had his OHL season end prematurely after suffering a broken thumb in late January. Ladd is very much a modern day shutdown defender who uses mobility and a good stick to shutdown the opposition, as opposed to physicality. IMO Ladd is one of the more intelligent young defenders in the OHL. It's pretty rare that you see him miss an assignment or make a mistake in his own end. Ladd also has really improved his first pass and has cut down on his mistakes with the puck. If only he could use his mobility to be a little more aggressive as an offensive player, but he does not yet possesses the puck skill or the confidence. Ladd is also not a threat on the point and does seem to struggle when in the offensive zone. But as I said, there are not many OHL'ers in this top 50 that are as good as Ladd is in his own end. Compounding things is the fact that Ladd requires offseason shoulder surgery that will disrupt offseason training and perhaps even the start of next year. We've seen the trouble that a guy like Connor Hall has had with shoulder injuries, I wonder if that, along with his lack of offensive abilities, scares away NHL teams come June.

48. Ashton Reesor - Defense - Sarnia Sting
Another stay at home defender, Reesor logged some big minutes for the Sting this year, even if the statistical production isn't very glamorous. As an offensive player, he has some limitations, even more so than Grayson Ladd. Reesor opts for safe chip outs, or deferrals to his partner most of the time and will need to improve his ability to handle the forecheck and make plays with the puck. But, he has some impressive physical gifts that will catch the attention of NHL scouts. At 6'3, he has that long reach to make him very difficult to maneuver around. And he's good at using his size down low, boxing out attackers to prevent them from recovering dump ins, or preventing them from establishing position near the crease. His mobility isn't quite as good as Ladd's, but it's still pretty decent for a 6'3, first year OHL defender. Similar to Ladd, I'm just not sure if there's enough potential to warrant a draft pick, but he's going to be a very good OHL defender by the time he graduates.

49. Nathan Allensen - Defense - Barrie Colts
Compact, yet mobile two way defender who was a standout in his rookie year last year, but who failed to take that next step forward from a progression stand point this year. Allensen, while possessing only average size at 5'11, is built similar to a guy like Travis Dermott and plays a lot bigger than his size would indicate. Allensen is consistently engaged physically and shows well when he is aggressive in preventing zone entry or net drives. He also has a strong lower body which helps him to gain leverage along the wall. Allensen also has impressive four way mobility and is a fluid skater, although his forward stride does lack some power which prevents him from being more of a factor offensively. His breakout pass is solid though and he is someone who does not commit a ton of turnovers in his own end. To summarize, Allensen is just a very solid all around defender. But he's also 5'11 and lacks high end upside as a pro player. The lack of growth in his game from year one to year two speaks to that. While he should be a quality five year OHL player, and eventually a top 3 defender for the Colts, at this point he is probably a long shot to be drafted despite his well rounded game,

50. Liam Van Loon - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
It seemed like every time I thought Van Loon was going to get going this year, after a couple of strong performances, he'd disappear for stretches afterward. That lack of consistency finds him as the last player ranked inside the top 50. When he's at his best, Van Loon is someone who brings relentless energy as an attacker. He uses good speed to be an active forechecker and to track down loose pucks, and competes in all three zones. He can drive the net or work the wall and proved to be an excellent support player, at times this year, on scoring lines because of his ability to open up space for his linemates. But his puck skill lacks polish and it prevents him from being able to compete with higher skilled players right now. Too often plays would die on his stick. And for someone who has such a high compete level at times, he would go stretches of being invisible. I really like Van Loon as an OHL player and I think he will eventually develop into a terrific 2nd/3rd line winger who can chip in offensively and kill penalties. But at times this year, he really struggled to find or maintain his identity in that role. With only average size and a lack of projection as an offensive contributor, Van Loon may not be on many NHL draft lists.

Monday, May 20, 2019

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft - Part 1: Honorable Mentions

The Under 18's have wrapped up (where Canada finished 4th). The OHL playoffs have completed; Congrats to the Guelph Storm. And the Memorial Cup is under way. The race to the draft is on. We're about a month away from the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, so that means it's time for me to release my rankings.

The top 50 will be released in four parts: Part 1 - Honorable Mentions, Part 2 - Prospects 50-31, Part 3 - Prospects 30-11, and Part 4 - Prospects 10-1.

Just for clarification, for my top 50 ranking, I haven't included any players eligible for draft re-entry, such as Pavel Gogolev and Nando Eggenberger. This has been consistent all the way through my lists. Instead, I did a list of the top 10 draft re-entries, which can be found here.

Also for clarification, this list is MY list of the top 50 OHL prospects, as if I were drafting for my own team. In other words, this isn't a list of where I THINK or believe players will go, but a ranking of my own opinion on the top players eligible for this draft based on my viewings this season. If you want a draft projection and information about players outside the OHL, be sure to
check out McKeens Hockey (who will be releasing a draft guide soon) or order a product like the Future Considerations Draft Guide.
This first part includes the Honorable Mentions of my list. These are the players who received consideration for my top 50, but who fell just short. There are 20 in total. Last year, zero players were taken from my HM's. This year, I would be shocked if more than 1 goes from this HM list. While all of these guys most definitely have potential, they remain long shots who need to put in a lot of work to be serious NHL prospects.

Here are my HM's (in alphabetical order)...

Anthony Aguanno - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Tough to stand out as a defender on that Kingston squad this year, given how bad they were. Consistently hemmed in their own end, it did not give Aguanno much opportunity to show his offensive potential as a puck mover. But he did see powerplay time and holds the line well there, showing potential with a nice point shot and vision. In the defensive end, he is a very competitive player who plays much bigger than his 5'11 frame. From what I've seen, his mobility does need work, especially for a smaller defender. There were times where he was beaten wide or beaten to loose pucks by attacking forwards. And he wasn't able to consistently evade the forecheck the way his teammate Billy Constantinou did, given his advantage in the skating department.

Luke Bignell - Forward - Barrie Colts
Late 2000 born center had a disappointing season offensively, as he came into the year ranked and looked like a potential NHL draft pick. But he failed to take a step forward in progression in his second year and finds himself an extreme long shot to be taken. Bignell is a hard working player who keeps things simple with a fierce north/south style. Drives the middle of the ice with authority and is active as a forechecker. But he struggles to keep the puck on his stick at times and his hands haven't yet developed to the point where he can be considered a consistent offensive threat. Also needs to work on his faceoff ability, as he posted one of the lowest win percentages of any OHL player who took over 400 draws this year. Could be better to move him to the wing where the game would be simplified for him.

Luke Cavallin - Goaltender - Flint Firebirds
Tough year for Cavallin. Came into the year as someone who could push to be the top ranked goalie from the OHL, but he actually regressed instead of progressed. Cavallin has the physical tools to be an NHL goaltending prospect and a quality goaltender in the OHL. He has size. He is athletic. And he shows flashes of being the player that Flint thought they were getting when they drafted him so early in 2017. But this year, his confidence just seemed to be shot from the team's poor start to the year. He gets himself out of position too often, with his movements being erratic. Over commiting to the play was a big problem for him, as was going down too early, where he tried to rely on his athleticism to scramble. Tons of potential here still, so long as he can improve his composure in the crease and really refine his angles and movement.

Erik Cermak - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Tough player to get a read on this year. Saw action on the wing and at center for Peterborough, but never really drove the play. In my viewings of the Petes, he always seemed to be a passenger on whatever line he was on. Could work the dump and chase relatively well, and moves well in the offensive end. But was too easily muscled off of the puck and struggled to make a consistent impact. Came into the year as an Import with a fair amount of hype too, so his performance was a tad disappointing. 

Nico Daws - Goaltender - Guelph Storm 
Massive goaltender with a late 2000 birthday, who measures in at 6'5, 225lbs. Daws certainly takes up a ton of the net. Is able to play a little deeper in his net with that size and follows the play pretty well. Looked more athletic to me than he did last year as an OHL rookie and I think definitely possesses the potential to be a starter in the OHL. Just needs to work on his consistency and his ability to handle rebounds. 

Ryan Dugas - Goaltender - Kingston Frontenacs
Only played 15 games this year, in his rookie OHL season, because of an ankle injury suffered over the December/January holiday break. Good sized goalie with good athleticism. When I saw him play early in the year, I was impressed with his quickness for a big kid. Definitely has a lot of potential in this league if he can come back healthy. Would have likely established himself as Kingston's starter in the second half had he not gotten injured and perhaps enters next year as likely starter for the rebuilding Fronts.

Dalton Duhart - Forward - Barrie Colts
The centerpiece of the Joey Keane deal with London, Duhart is a competitive, possession driven center who figures to be a relatively big piece of the Colts moving forward. Has a big impact on the game below the hash marks, where his drive and awareness are best utilized. Is able to prolong possession in the offensive end by working the wall and as he gets stronger, he should be a tough player to stop near the crease. His skating would be classified as only average though and limits his effectiveness in transition at this point in time. 

Tim Fleischer - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs 
Was firmly entrenched on my list most of this season, but he really seemed to fizzle out in the second half of the season. Combine that with the fact that he's a late 2000 born, and I don't think you have a guy who is an NHL draft pick at this time. Granted, Fleischer is definitely better than the 21 points he put up. He flashes some real brilliance with the puck and is someone you could classify as dynamic in transition. In some of my early viewings of him in Hamilton this year, he was one of the best and most noticeable players on the ice. But when I saw him late in the year, he just didn't have that same jump in his step. Was kept mostly to the perimeter and lacks the strength to consistently work through traffic. If he isn't able to beat you with speed and tempo, he is not much of a factor. But as has been proven with Rickard Hugg, sometimes it takes Imports a year to really adjust. Hope the Bulldogs bring him back again to give him a chance to improve.

Jordan Frasca - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Showed some nice things early on in the year with Windsor. In particular, a goal scoring touch in tight. Has a nice release. But as the year went on, his role became less prominent. Shifted back and forth between center and the wing, and found himself buried on the 3rd or 4th line through most of the second half. Again, there are some nice building blocks here. Nice skating stride. Good hands. But lacks the strength and confidence to play with the puck. Will need to take some strides forward next year to avoid being lost in the shuffle as part of a quality young forward group in Windsor.

Kyle Harris - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Had much higher expectations for Harris coming into the season. He had a very nice 16/17 year old season last year and was a former highly touted player who tried out for the U.S. National Development Program. But, like many of Flint's players, Harris didn't really take a step forward this year offensively. He did, however, close out the year well and in my final viewing of Flint this season, he had a great game. A talented two-way center who can skate, Harris' puck skill hasn't really developed to allow him to be a driving force from the middle. Flint switched him to the wing later in the year and I think that did a lot for him. Wouldn't be shocked to see him take a big step forward next year.

Louka Henault - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Jack of all trades kind of defender. Moves well. Starts the breakout well. Generally makes pretty good decisions with the puck. Shows good gap control and competitiveness in the defensive end. But the upside is difficult to project. Don't know if he'll ever be a true offensive force from the back-end, and I don't see him developing into someone NHL teams would give a look to based on his defensive play alone. He'll be an excellent OHL defender by his overage season, if not earlier. Just not sure I see NHL projection because of a lack of a dominant trait.

Mathew Hill - Defense - Barrie Colts 
At 6'3 and nearly 200lbs, Hill offers upside as a potentially elite stay at home defender at the OHL level. His defensive IQ is quite high and as he becomes more confident, I bet we will see him turn into a physically dominant player in his own end. His skating is pretty good for a defender of his size and ability too. But his puck skill is very limited right now. He will need to improve his exit pass and ability to handle the puck under pressure. He will never be an elite offensive defender, but rarely do NHL teams use picks on one dimensional defensive defenders these days, because of the speed of the pro game now.

Mason Howard - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
If Howard can find a way to improve his skating and overall mobility, he could end up being a very good defender in the OHL. He has a lot going for him. There's the size at 6'3, 220lbs. And he loves to use it. Is particularly physical in the neutral zone and near the blueline as he is aggressive in denying zone entry. Howard also has better puck skill than his 3 points on the year would suggest. Has some quick hands and could even one day play on the point of a powerplay IMO. But all of this will be tied to whether he can become quicker and more fleet of foot (or skate).

Andrew MacLean - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
Through December, it looked like MacLean could steal the starting job away from Mack Guzda, as he was playing exceptionally well. But the second half of the year was an utter disaster for him and his confidence completely left him. Really fought the puck from January on. Seemed like he was guessing too much out there and was leaving just way too many gaps for OHL shooters, and giving up too many second and third chances. But he's got size and proved, for a month anyway, that he can steal games when he's on. If he could find a way to play consistently like that, he could be a solid OHL netminder.

Cullen McLean - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
McLean looked very good early on in the year when he was occupying the second or third line center role for the Greyhounds. But as the Hounds filled out their roster with returnees and the arrival of Jaromir Pytlik, McLean found himself buried on the 4th line. And as the year went on, he even lost his spot in the playoffs due to the emergence of Alex Johnston in the energy role that he was being asked to play. McLean is a rangy pivot who has shown some nice puck protection ability, especially cutting through the middle of the ice. And I thought he showed well without the puck at times too, especially in terms of forcing turnovers. But his skating needs to be upgraded, especially those first few steps. Playing on the wing later in the year, he struggled to be noticeable without the puck on his stick.

Emmet Pierce - Forward - Flint Firebirds 
Massive forward who closed out the season really well after a trade from London. 8 goals in 24 games for Flint. That's a 20 goal season pro-rated. And at 6'5, Pierce actually has some nice straight line speed. He's quick to loose pucks and was having success beating defenders to the net later in the year. His overall agility and balance could probably use some work, but this guy's package of size, speed, and hands in tight are definitely going to be alluring to NHL scouts. Would have loved for the sample size to be bigger here, to get a better read of his skill with the puck and his effectiveness without it, especially as someone who can set the tone physically. 

Simon Rose - Defense - North Bay Battalion 
Similar player to Henault of Windsor, whom I listed above. Rose shows good mobility from the back-end, has some nice skill with the puck, and makes quick decisions in the defensive end. But does he project as a defender for the next level? The type of jack of all trades kind of defender who likely ends up as a quality five year OHL player, but not a significant NHL prospect. 

Zachary Roy - Goaltender - Hamilton Bulldogs 
The goaltender on the 2nd all rookie team for the OHL this year, Roy had a solid first season as one half of the starting platoon in Hamilton. Roy is extremely athletic and he has to be at only 5'11, undersized by today's standard for goaltenders. He shows excellent mobility in the crease and is learning to be aggressive in attacking shooters to give them less to shoot at. But consistency was an issue this year. Needs to improve his rebound control and refine his movements so that he can stay flush to shooters and not over commit. Tough for undersized goalies to get drafted these days.

Mitchell Russell - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Once thought to be one of the top goal scorers in the age group, Russell's ability to put the puck in the net has not yet transferred to the OHL level. A midseason trade to North Bay did seem to re-invigorate him for a bit, but major upgrades are needed to his skating if he wants to live up to his potential. Is a tad slow to loose pucks and doesn't possess the mobility to create separation from defenders to allow him to use that good release and shot. Needs to play with more intensity too, to attack the net and get more "greasy" goals. If there's someone who can get that out of people, it's Stan Butler though.

Jacob Winterton - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Winterton started the year really well, his first in the OHL. But the speedy winger really disappeared down the stretch. Dropped down the lineup in the second half, which obviously contributed to his lack of production. But he also looked to lose steam physically and wasn't as assertive with and without the puck as he was early on. Winterton definitely possesses some nice offensive potential because he skates well and is slippery with the puck. He can also use that speed to be a penalty killer and maybe even a solid two-way player. Perhaps an offseason focused on conditioning could help him to be more of a consistent factor.