Wednesday, July 31, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Montreal Canadiens

Without question, the Montreal Canadiens have one of the best farm systems in the league right now and that includes a talented group of OHL players.

1. Nick Suzuki - Guelph Storm
Another solid season for Suzuki, capped off with a tremendous playoff performance and OHL Championship with the Guelph Storm. Suzuki's confidence with the puck really grew this year, especially in terms of his ability to work through traffic and his poise in the face of pressure. Previously, I had found that he could be forced into rash decisions with the puck as coverage grew tighter, but with some added strength and confidence, he now possesses the ability to really dominate time of possession in the offensive end at even strength, and not just on the powerplay. The rest of his game was relatively status quo from the year prior. He has a great wrist shot and release, and really understands how to get himself in scoring position without the puck. Suzuki is just such an intelligent player overall. I think his skating will still need to improve if he hopes to be the impact player at the NHL level that everyone is hoping he will become. He still lacks power in his stride that will make him an easier target for pro defenders, giving him less room to operate. And the consistency of his play outside the offensive zone remains a talking point. I do ultimately think that he will settle into being a good defensive player at the next level, but it may take some time. I know that some Montreal fans are hoping Suzuki can jump right into the NHL lineup next year. And that's certainly possible. But I do think that he will at least require a half a season or more at the AHL level first. 

2. Allan McShane - Oshawa Generals
Talented offensive player who had a solid D+1 year with a successful and deep Generals team. McShane is a talented playmaker who really sees the ice well and whose hands bide him time to operate. But his goal scoring ability and confidence really took a nice step forward this year. Last year I wrote that I felt that he needed to attack the middle of the ice and play between the hash marks more and he really did that this year. We saw him look to take the puck to the net, and we saw him navigate the middle without the puck, hunting for those soft spots in the defense to receive passes. Thought McShane was also more consistently engaged in the corners and in the defensive end. Moving forward, continuing to improve his skating will be the top priority. It's still a weakness, and prevents him from being a more consistently dangerous offensive player, especially with the puck on his stick in transition. His stride still lacks power. But he'll return to Oshawa next year and have a chance at having a big offensive season. I would expect him to be an 85+ point player, with a chance at the 40 goal mark. 

3. Cam Hillis - Guelph Storm
Really tough year for Hillis as he battled through injury. An MCL injury and a collarbone injury limited him to only 5 games post December (including playoffs). That means that he wasn't really able to experience the playoff run or Memorial Cup. Couple that with a slow start that had him pushed down the Storm depth chart to start the year and this is a year to forget. Just as he was getting his feet under him offensively, the injuries started. But it's way too early to write off Hillis. He has already been named the Storm's captain for next year and should be in for a bounce back year that puts him over the 75+ point mark. Anything I wrote last year still applies. I love Hillis' tenaciousness and his vision with the puck. But his skating and consistency will be the focus areas in terms of improvement. 

4. Jacob LeGuerrier - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Really liked the pick by the Canadiens. I think LeGuerrier has a lot of potential to improve and I wrote about how he was one of my favourite "sleeper" picks several times. He has that size and mobility combination on the back-end that is so appealing now. As such, I think he eventually develops into a premier shut down defender who can use his length, physicality, and fluid stride to dominate his own end. What I am less sure of is his offensive potential. He showed flashes this year of being able to use his skating ability to skate the puck out of trouble and lead the rush. He also occasionally jumps up into the play and will look to get himself into scoring position. But turnovers can be an issue as he tries to escape the forecheck or extend rushes too deep. But he will get all the ice time he can handle next year in the Soo. He should receive powerplay time and will have a chance to have a major breakout, perhaps even in the 10+ goal, 30+ assist range. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Nashville Predators

The Predators don't draft from the OHL very often, but this year they used their first round selection on a talented Ontario player.

1. Philip Tomasino - Niagara IceDogs
Big fan of Tomasino and this was a great selection by the Predators. Tomasino has a game that is tailor made for the way the NHL is played now. He excels as the pace picks up and is constantly looking to push the pace of play with his explosive stride. But Tomasino is also a skilled playmaker with great hands and finishing ability in tight. As an offensive player, I think that he has it all. His 5 on 5 production was amazing for a deep Niagara team this year and despite not getting significant ice time, he managed to be a consistent point producer. Niagara will have a different look next year though. They are graduating a lot of players and it will be Akil Thomas and Tomasino's show to run, likely as a dynamic one/two punch down the middle. Whether he finishes the year in Niagara remains to be seen, as he could be a big trade chip for them to cash in if they end up middle of the pack. I think Tomasino's strength, on and off the puck, will be the big thing to watch for improvements in next year. No question, he needs to get stronger as he can be outmuscled for the puck. And while his energy level and engagement level can be high, this is not always the case in the neutral and defensive zones. That tenaciousness on the forecheck, needs to carry over to the backcheck. But that could be a confidence and endurance thing. I think we'll see an 80+ point season from Tomasino, even with the talent drop surrounding him in Niagara.

*Egor Afanasyev - Windsor Spitfires
Really curious to see Afanasyev play in Windsor this year after it was announced that he was going to play there. A big and skilled power forward, Afanasyev will fit right in with a talented, but younger Spitfires team. They boast two potential first round picks in Jean Luc Foudy and Will Cuylle, in addition to a strong supporting cast of 2001 and 2000's. I would expect Afanasyev to get all the ice time he can handle, including top powerplay time. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect at least a 35/35 first season in the OHL.

Monday, July 29, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - New Jersey Devils

New Jersey really hit up the OHL this year with their entry draft selections and that gives us more to talk about.

1. Graeme Clarke - Ottawa 67's
A really savvy selection by the Devils this year. Clarke is one of the most talented offensive players in this Ontario age group, but his production wasn't overwhelming because he had to play a lesser role on a strong, and deep 67's team. But Clarke is a big time goal scorer with a terrific release. He also possesses some of the best hands in the league. His creativity with the puck is something that I expect will really become known with more ice time and greater confidence and strength. This kid has tried the "Mike Legg goal" more times than I can remember. I think his skating and play away from the puck have already greatly improved over his two years in the OHL. But they are the areas that will require the most attention. In addition to that, I'd like Clarke to be more assertive with the puck. At times, especially on the powerplay, he had a tendency to float near the slot looking for one time passes. With his creativity and skill level, I want to see him taking the bull by the horns more, carrying the puck and being a play creator instead of just a play finisher. The 67's will continue to be a strong team over the next few years and during that time, I do actually expect him to challenge for a scoring title. Next year, don't be surprised if he breaks out in a big way. I could see him scoring 40 goals and being well over a point per game as he'll receive (likely) top unit powerplay time in addition to top 6, five on five time.

2. Nikita Okhotyuk - Ottawa 67's
Okhotyuk is a real throwback defender. But he's a mix of the new age and the old age. He relishes in the opportunity to plant an opponent on his butt and has to be considered one of the better open ice hitters in the OHL. But he's also a very smart and staunch defender who consistently wins battles in the corners, rarely loses his man in coverage, and uses his above average mobility to keep attacking forwards in front of him. It's very rare to see him taken out of a play. As an offensive player, I think there is more than meets the eye. The second half of this year, we really started to see him jump up in the play more and take more chances leading the rush. This component to his game most definitely has the potential to improve and that will be the big focus next season when he returns to the OHL for a final year. Again, Ottawa will be strong and part of the reason for that is that they are returning their entire defensive unit intact. While he's not likely to see much powerplay time, Okhotyuk will continue to be a PK anchor and the guy out on the ice late to protect leads. I do think that his offensive production will take a nice jump, into the 8 goal, 25 assist range.

3. Michael Vukojevic - Kitchener Rangers
I think it's very interesting that the Devils took both Okhotyuk and Vukojevic this year, considering most OHL talent watchers believed them to be pretty interchangeable as potential NHL shut down defenders. Obviously, New Jersey wanted to cover their bases and target someone who could bring physicality and toughness to their blueline in the future. Few players in this OHL draft class played as much as Vukojevic this year. He was an anchor for the Kitchener Rangers. I also think that his game improved by leaps and bounds from the beginning of this year to the end. This is especially true for his skating ability and confidence with the puck in his zone. His footwork in the defensive end and overall mobility have improved a ton. And he has really cut down on his defensive zone turnovers, handling the forecheck much better, likely because his improved stride has allowed him to skate the puck out of trouble when he needs it. But his bread and butter is his defensive ability. He is just so smart and calculated in the defensive end. Allows the game to come to him, relying on his hockey sense and anticipation to make him so difficult to play against, especially when you combine that with his size and physical tenacity. Next year, I expect we will continue to see great growth for him. The Rangers are expecting to challenge for the Western Conference and he will be a big part of that. I still don't know how high the offensive ceiling is, but I would expect modest production increases, at least to the 35+ point mark.

4. Mitchell Hoelscher - Ottawa 67's
Well it's clear that the Devils have really enjoyed watching the 67's the last few years. If you follow my writing, you know that I'm a big fan of what Mitchell Hoelscher brings to the ice. He had a bit of a rough start to the year, but his game really came together after the trade deadline, when the 67's put together the Chiodo/Hoelscher/Maksimovich line. Flanked by two talented OA's, Hoelscher's game really shined and he had a fantastic finish to the year, including the playoffs. He's just such a smart hockey player. As a playmaker, he anticipates the play really well and has enough skill with the puck to bide time anddraw defenders in to open up lanes. Hoelscher is also a terrific defensive player, IMO one of the top defensive centers in the OHL. Again, it's all in his anticipation and hockey sense. That said, there are still areas that need to be improved upon. First is his skating. I don't think that really improved a ton and he really needs to get a quicker first few steps. This would make him a much more dangerous player who can be more consistent creating offense when the pace increases. I also think that he needs to get stronger. This would greatly help his shot, which at this point is not a strength. And it would allow him to be even more effective as a three zone player who can control the wall and take more advantage of his intellectual gifts. Coming into this year, Hoelscher is likely to be Ottawa's second line center and will see some powerplay time for the first time in his OHL career. I would expect him to be in the 25/50 range and above the point per game mark. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - New York Islanders

The Islanders have a few OHL prospects that we can discuss. Interestingly enough all are from the same team...the Saginaw Spirit.

1. Bode Wilde - Saginaw Spirit
What an impressive prospect Wilde is. He not only met my expectations this year, he exceeded them. Wilde is such a powerful skater and competent puck handler. He skates just as well with the puck as he does without it. There were numerous times this year where Wilde picked up the puck in his own end, exploded up ice, and ended up creating an odd man rush for the Spirit. Once he gets that head of steam through the neutral zone, he is so difficult to stop. Wilde also has a really good shot. Both his slap shot and his wrist shot have a lot of power behind them and he does a great job of using his explosiveness to find gaps in coverage. This is especially true in transition as he jumps up in the play as a trailer. There is a lot of Brent Burns in his game from an offensive stand point. Defensively, he was better than I expected him to be. Turnovers were not nearly as much of an issue as one would have been led to believe after his fall in the draft. He does a good job of protecting the puck in his own end and is such an asset in starting the breakout. And he is a relatively composed defender who uses his length to push attackers to the perimeter. Of course, his speed helps him to recover positioning when needed too. One thing that I did notice on multiple occasions is that Wilde can have difficulty with his footwork when handling dump ins. He needs to take better routes to the puck and work on his transition from backwards to forwards stride in order to prevent forwards from getting behind him. This is true, at times, when defending off the rush as forwards can get the drop on him as he stops moving his feet. But with his natural athletic ability, I would imagine that these issues will be corrected moving forward. The million dollar question is...where does Wilde play next year? Drafted out of the USDP, he is eligible for the AHL next year and that's actually where I expect him to play (even if that sucks for Spirit fans). In the AHL, I would expect him to be an impact player and be up around the 40 point mark. If he returns to the OHL, he becomes the favourite for OHL Defender of the Year (Max Kaminsky).

2. Blade Jenkins - Saginaw Spirit
Jenkins is definitely an interesting prospect. Saginaw used him as a center at times this year, especially later in the season and into the playoffs, and I don't think he looked out of place there. Which begs the question, is Jenkins a winger or a center long term? I liked his ability to control the pace of play when he lines up down the middle. His skating ability has improved to the point where he can be a factor off the rush, but also possesses the ability to play the wall, down low and can extend possession with his strength on the puck. That said, there are still some limitations in his game preventing him from being a more consistent contributor. His shot is still a weakness. In particular, his release needs work. In traffic, he has a tendency to struggle getting shots off, despite his size advantage. And in transition, his vision with the puck still needs work as he's more of a North/South attacker who can be predictable in his efforts. I would imagine that Jenkins stays down the middle next year for Saginaw and will have the opportunity to earn top line minutes and powerplay time. I would be shocked if he was not a point per game player for the first time. His development next year is something that I am very curious about.

3. Cole Coskey - Saginaw Spirit
The third Spirit prospect added to the Islanders stable, it's obvious that the Islanders like what the program in Saginaw brings. Coskey is a pesky player. He is active on the forecheck and is a very competent penalty killer and three zone player. He is especially effective along the wall where he is difficult to separate from the puck while working the cycle. He is also great at separating defenders from the puck and forcing turnovers that can lead to scoring chances for the Spirit. He skates well and can make skilled plays in transition. Coskey is definitely at his best when he keeps things simple. He can be turnover prone from trying to force drives to the net and will attempt to beat defenders one on one, only to be stripped of the puck. When he focuses most of his energy on being a complimentary piece on a scoring line, he is very effective. What the Islanders' plans are for him next year remains to be seen. With 14 players under NHL or AHL contract (for Bridgeport next year), it seems likely that Coskey will be sent back for his overage season. That way he can be a part of a potentially solid team and improve further as an offensive playmaker. As an OA, I could see him being a 40/40 player.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - New York Rangers

While the Rangers' prospect group is considered one of the better ones in the NHL, their presence in the OHL is not currently very strong.

1. Joey Keane - London Knights
If you read this site regularly and follow me on social media, you know how big of a fan I am of Joey Keane. I think he's the prototypical defender for today's NHL game. That said, I don't think he had the best year from a developmental stand point. The trade to London really killed his ice time and offensive responsibility and I thought he actually struggled with London, especially in the playoffs. It seemed like he was never incredibly comfortable with the role (at least 5 on 5) that London asked him to play and some bad habits crept into his game. This included some sloppy decision making with the puck. At his best, Keane can be a dominant puck mover because of his skating ability. But picking better times to extend rushes deep, and picking the right time to skate the puck out of the zone versus making a clean exit pass are things he will need to work on. His shot is also something that I think he needs to improve on, especially if he wants to be a consistent powerplay QB at the next level. Defensively, I am less worried. He plays with intensity. He uses his mobility well to control gaps. He can really prevent teams from establishing possession with how quick he is to dump ins. At the AHL level next year, he's going to have to battle players for consistent ice time, especially from an offensive point of view (with a guy like Adam Fox and veteran Darren Raddysh in the fold). I still have hope that he develops into a quality #4-5 defender in the same vein as a Calvin de Haan. 

2. Nico Gross - Oshawa Generals
I think there were some steps forward in Gross' game this year, even if the lack of offensive production probably alarms Rangers' fans. I think this was by design. I found him to be less willing to take risks with the puck this past year. Previously, he could be forced into turnovers by trying to skate the puck through the neutral zone. But he was less aggressive offensively, instead opting to make quicker exit passes or passing off upon crossing his own blueline. Defensively, he remains a very physical player, and one of the more physical defenders in the OHL. He really relishes in the opportunity to plant an attacker on their ass. And I found him to be way more patient this year, chasing the play less, using his mobility as an advantage. But, there are still some limitations to his game that will need correcting if he wants to earn an NHL contract next year. In the defensive end, he needs to take better routes to dump ins. He has that great mobility. And he has that physical advantage. But attacking forwards routinely get behind him on the forecheck to establish possession in the offensive end. And he can be prone to turnovers from that same forecheck if he does manage to get possession. Of course, the Rangers (and the Generals) will be looking for Gross to take a step forward as an offensive player too. Hopefully he can find the confidence to become more aggressive again in using his mobility to his advantage. I am still skeptical of him developing into an NHL player, but he'll have another year in the OHL to prove me wrong.

Friday, July 26, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Ottawa Senators

Only one OHL prospect for the Senators at this time, although another will debut in the league next year.

1. Alex Formenton - London Knights
A bit of a disjointed and difficult year for Formenton this year. Obviously got the 9 game cup of coffee to start the year with Ottawa before being sent back to London. Then just as he was truly getting things going, he suffered a knee injury at Team Canada's World Junior camp, causing him to not only miss the WJC's, but also OHL time. I kind of felt that with his late start to the year, Formenton never really found chemistry with anyone in London's lineup this year. To a degree, I think that contributed to his somewhat disappointing production (such as his drop in goals per game). Formenton is, without question, at his best when he keeps things simple. At times this year, I found him to be turnover prone, trying to force plays into traffic with his speed, rather than making the safer play. But when he uses his speed to attack intelligently, and is aggressive without the puck, causing havoc as a physical pest, he is so effective. Formenton does have good hands and is able to finish off plays in tight. But I think he will be someone who requires a competent playmaker down the middle to really get the most out of his goal scoring ability. I look at Formenton a lot like Jason Chimera when he first broke into the NHL. He was someone who really got under the skin of the opposition and could use his speed and hands to finish off plays. He was such an effective North/South attacker, on top of being a great penalty killer. I would imagine that with Ottawa's rebuilding position, Formenton probably breaks into the NHL full time next year. I would actually love to see him in the AHL for a year to really gain confidence in his offensive abilities first (getting powerplay time, key minutes). But I guess we shall see.

* Jonathan Gruden - London Knights
I am really excited to see Gruden play with the Knights next year after leaving Miami University. I really liked him in his draft year and thought he was an underrated component of that US U18 team. He should get top 6 minutes in London and see ice time in all situations. I think his tenacity and playmaking ability will translate really well to the OHL and he'll certainly have no shortage of talent surrounding him. I would imagine that he could be a point per game player, if not more.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers have a very strong farm system right now and that includes a heavy OHL presence.

1. Morgan Frost - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Another good year for Frost as he finished tied for 3rd in OHL scoring. In a way, I think his offensive performance was way more impressive this year with defenses really keying in on him thanks to Sault Ste. Marie's lack of depth at the forward position. Frost played a lot and drew a lot of attention from the opposition's shutdown units. Yet, he found a way to be a consistent play creator. I think Frost's skating and his strength on the puck greatly improved this year, two areas that were identified as weaknesses previously. In particular, I thought Frost's top end speed looked considerably better as he showed a greater ability to carve up the neutral zone and lead entry into the offensive zone. And with a good head for the game, Frost's improved strength allowed him to be a more effective defensive player. Talking to some people, there were some concerns with Frost being a little turnover prone this year as he tried to force plays or go through one too many defenders on his own. I did see some of this. But I also think that it was a by product of taking on the brunt of the offensive workload (especially when Hayton was injured). That said, as he turns pro this year, that will be an area of focus as he adapts to the speed of the pro game. He will need to make quicker decisions with the puck. Additionally, his first few steps are still only average IMO, which could also make the transition a little more difficult for him. All that said, I'm a fan. Frost is such a skilled playmaker and I think that as he continues to gain strength, his game will really round into form at the pro level as a cerebral pivot. At the AHL level this year, I would expect him to be around the 18/30 mark.

2. Isaac Ratcliffe - Guelph Storm
The beast. A very strong season for Ratcliffe as he hit the 50 goal mark and led the Storm to an OHL Championship. We really saw Ratcliffe take advantage of his physical gifts this year, driving the net with confidence, and displaying way more intensity in the corners. He just flat out refused to give up the puck along the wall in most instances, bullying defenders and keeping them at bay. His shot remains a big time asset too, as it is without question, one of the hardest in the OHL. He is so good at using his size and reach to corral passes only to quickly blast a hard wrist or snap shot on net. For a bigger guy, his release is quite quick. His skating is another area that continues to get better. North/South, I don't think it's ever been a huge issue. But East/West, his agility and lateral movement have really improved. It will still be something that he needs to work on, but it has come a long way. He now has the ability to cut to the middle to create room for his shot, rather than simply relying on beating defenders out wide. Another area that has grown immensely over his OHL career is his defensive play. This was something that I really noticed most in the playoffs and Memorial Cup this year. With that long stick, he can really be a pest in the defensive zone when he's focused. One area of his game that never really developed a ton is his vision with the puck and overall passing ability. He's still very much a shoot first kind of player and even when he's able to prolong possession along the wall, he doesn't have a terrific feel for finding teammates. He will be the type who needs to play with that elite playmaker. But his progression as an OHL player has been terrific and he is ready for the pro level. I think he'll be a 20+ goal scorer in the AHL next year and could actually be an NHL regular earlier than Frost.

3. Matthew Strome - Hamilton Bulldogs
I've seen some concerns over Strome's drop in goal scoring this year, but I think it's simply a result of him taking on a different role in the offensive scheme of the Bulldogs. The emergence of Arthur Kaliyev made Strome more of a "grunt," for lack of better term. He was the guy sent into the offensive zone to get or maintain possession deep, below the hash marks. This was actually really good for his development as a player IMO, as it forced him to use his size and strength advantage more and made use of his greatest strength, his vision and hockey sense. No question, Strome is one of the smartest players in the offensive zone in the OHL. He's not the most creative with the puck. And he's not the fleetest of foot. But he stays one step ahead of opposing defenses with his brain. He's so good at working behind the net or coming off the half wall, and finding an open teammate with a tape to tape pass. It will certainly be interesting to see how Strome's game adapts to the AHL next year though. His skating, while it has improved, is still going to be a weakness at the pro level. He's not the type to play with pace. But I absolutely refuse to count out players who think the game as well as he does. Sometimes those guys just find a way, even if they may not possess the raw power or athleticism of contemporaries. I won't make a prediction for next year because I wouldn't be surprised if he struggled initially. However, I also wouldn't be shocked if he put up better numbers than Frost and Ratcliffe. Call him a wild card.

4. Maksim Sushko - Owen Sound Attack
A step back for Sushko last year in Owen Sound, where he struggled to match the production that he put up in 2017/18. The talent around him in Owen Sound was not as strong, especially after the Suzuki deal, which in turn I think tells us what we need to know about Sushko. He is a great energy player. He gets after it on the forecheck. He is effective on the penalty kill and in all three zones. His hands are pretty good in tight. He skates well. But he is not the type to be able to create his own scoring chances consistently. And his vision and anticipation in the offensive zone without the puck are not extremely strong traits. All that said, there is definitely still hope for Sushko to become a bottom 6 player at the NHL level. Right now, he's probably on the bubble to play in the AHL next year versus playing in the ECHL. But his tenacity could endear him to the coaching staff and earn him consistent 4th line minutes.

5. Mason Millman - Saginaw Spirit
Millman's draft selection did surprise me slightly this year, but that does not mean it is a poor selection. There are components of Millman's game that will translate very well to the pro level. His skating ability is above average as he possesses a very fluid stride that allows him to be quick to get the puck up ice. Millman also sees the ice well. He runs the point of the powerplay well and is able to make a consistent, clean first pass. The rest of his game is a work in progress. Can he learn to use his skating ability to be a dominant force in transition and become more confident carrying the puck and leading the rush? Can Millman improve his point shot to give him another weapon as an offensive player? How good can Millman's game be in his own end? Right now, he profiles as one of those good at everything types; the jack of all trades defender. But in order to earn an NHL contract within the next two years, he will need to prove that he can at least become a dominant offensive player at this level. Again, there are some very redeeming characteristics, so let's see how he puts it all together. He'll return to a solid Saginaw team next year. If Bode Wilde does not return and plays in the AHL, he will be given significantly more offensive responsibility. I could easily see him over the 40 point mark.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Pittsburgh Penguins

No OHL prospects for the Pittsburgh Penguins at this time.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - San Jose Sharks

The San Jose Sharks may not have many OHL prospects, but the talent is top end.

1. Ryan Merkley - Peterborough Petes
I'd be lying if I told you that I thought Merkley's 2018/19 season should be considered a success. The statistical output was certainly there again, with Merkley establishing new career highs in goals and points. And quite frankly, I don't think anyone is going to question what Merkley can do with the puck and as an offensive contributor. With his skating ability and his aggressiveness, he is an electric player. He opens up lanes so well by drawing defenders in and taking them out of position. This is not news to those who follow the league (or to Sharks fans). But the other parts of his game really are still a work in progress. And that's why he was traded to Peterborough from Guelph this year. At some point Guelph management grew tired of his lack of progression in other areas and his lack of cohesion with the coaching staff was no secret (scratches, benchings, etc). Peterborough offered him a chance for a fresh start. Now...I think a lot of this is just co-incidence (a hot team cooling down, younger players hitting a wall, etc), but it's worth mentioning that prior to acquiring Merkley, the Petes were near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. What followed was a collapse in the second half and a drastic slide down the standings. In Peterborough, things didn't really change. His defensive composure and effort still wavers. And his frustration still boils over in negative ways. There just hasn't been much growth in these areas since he arrived in the OHL three years ago. So where do we go from here? This year will be a massive test for Merkley. He is entering his final OHL season and will be looked upon to provide veteran leadership on a team that has aspirations to capture the Eastern Conference. In order to do so, they will need him to completely buy into his defensive responsibilities and for him to find a way to channel his competitiveness in mostly positive ways. Merkley is always going to be a high risk/high reward kind of player. He's not M.E. Vlasic. But that's OK, so long as the good consistently outweighs the bad. I think it's safe to predict that Merkley will be up over the point per game mark again. But the success that his team experiences will be more important, especially in the playoffs (where Merkley was not strong this year and has yet to win a round in his career).

2. Sasha Chmelevski - Ottawa 67's
Chmelevski got off to a bit of a disappointing start to this OHL season. Found him to be gripping his stick a little tight and thought that he wasn't quite as aggressive as he had been the year prior, especially in terms of creating his own scoring chances and working to create shooting lanes. But in the second half of the year he really turned things around and by the playoffs, he had become one of the most dangerous players in the league. His strong playoff performance and leadership was one of the many reasons that Ottawa made it to the OHL finals. As a player, I really don't know that Sasha improved a ton. That's not a knock on him, because I love what he brings to the ice. But I think the big leap forward for him occurred last year and now, what we see is what we are going to get. Chmelevski is a tenacious worker in all three zones with a terrific shot and the type of guy who profiles to be a middle 6 forward in the NHL. I think his skating will continue to be an area that he will want to upgrade for the next level. It has improved a lot over his OHL career to the point of being above average in the league. But in the NHL, with the style of game he plays it may benefit him to become slightly more explosive. I could actually see Sasha going right to the NHL next year, given the wide open nature of San Jose's forward depth right now. He's the type of guy who wouldn't be hurt by playing a 4th line center role right now and I think he could be ready for it. 

3. Zach Gallant - Peterborough Petes
A recent signing by the Sharks after an impressive development camp performance. Gallant was initially a high pick of the Detroit Red Wings, but injuries really derailed his development and as such Detroit believed that he was not worth signing. When he's at his best, Gallant is a hard working two-way center who does a lot of the little things well. He plays a very physically intense brand of hockey. He is one of the better defensive forwards in the league. He is one of the better face-off men in the league. But as an offensive player, he has stagnated. His skating ability, especially his power and top speed, remains an area needing improvement. And his puck skill is still quite unrefined. He can struggle having to making quick decisions and quick plays. San Jose has already announced that they will be sending Gallant back to Peterborough for his OA year and that is very much the correct decision. It worked out really well for them in regards to Kevin Labanc recently and I am guessing they are hoping to work the same magic. In the OHL, Gallant will get to captain the Petes again and hopefully lead them to an Eastern Conference title. I would look for him to really gain confidence in his ability to play with the puck, and to use his size more effectively in the offensive end. I think a 35/35 season is very probable, so long as he can stay healthy.

Monday, July 22, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - St. Louis Blues

The St. Louis Blues are up next.

1. Tyler Tucker - Barrie Colts
Maybe a surprise to Blues fans to see Tucker ahead of Toropchenko, but I'm a big fan of the progression he showed last year (and I'm quite frankly, not as high on Toropchenko). I think one of the main reasons for that was Tucker's improved skating and puck skill. The skating will still need to be refined. He still needs to get quicker and improve his overall agility. But, it's come a long way. Needless to say, if he could skate the way he does now, in his draft year, he would not have been a 7th round selection. The progression of his skill with the puck has been perhaps even more surprising. It's something that has caught even myself off guard. Now, I'm not saying he's now Erik Karlsson. But he has become a way more creative player who is able to be a factor in transition and deep in the offensive zone. Tucker's goal totals were bound to improve. He had a hard shot, but didn't really know how to use it, or have the footwork necessary to use it. That changed this year. And his work on the point of the powerplay was quite solid. Defensively, Tucker remains a real throwback to yester-years. He is one of the most physical players in the OHL, but has refined his approach a bit. He doesn't take himself out of position as much to go for that big hit and seems more comfortable with his skating ability to be more patient and out-wait attackers. This is a kid who has clearly put the work in to improving his game and he has established himself as one of the top defenders in the OHL heading into next year. I would expect him to be over the point per game mark, with a stronger Colts' team around him.

2. Alexei Toropchenko - Guelph Storm
For Toropchenko, the regular season was, quite frankly, status quo for the talented Russian forward. Consistency issues continued to plague him. Just like in his rookie season, there were times where he would dominate, using his size and power to be a near unstoppable force off the rush. And I felt that we also saw him dominate at times in different ways than previous too, working harder without the puck to be a factor in puck pursuit and on the forecheck. But again, this was mixed with lackluster efforts. But...that all changed in the playoffs where Toropchenko was one of the best players in helping Guelph take home an OHL Championship. He flat out took over the Ottawa 67's series and continued that into the Memorial Cup. While he remains a player with a lot of potential, I still have questions about his hockey sense. A player with his skill set should have still been able to pot 30 goals easily this year (especially given his size/speed advantage), yet, that was not the case. Too often he appears out of the play in the offensive end and the chances that he finishes off are often the ones that he creates. When his linemmates have the puck, he's not someone who consistently finds those scoring lanes. And his playmaking vision remains a work in progress. At his best, he is a dynamic North/South power forward. But, when he's not able to over power players at the pro level, what will he turn to? That's my question. Would it shock me if Toropchenko turned pro, the light bulb went off and he scored more goals as an AHL rookie than he did as an OHL veteran? Nope. But I do think there will be an adjustment period for him.

3. Keean Washkurak - Mississauga Steelheads
I saw one post draft analyst refer to Washkurak as a "gnat." And that is meant in an endearing way. He's just such a high energy player. The strength of that lies in his skating ability. Washkurak can really fly. This makes him a very effective forechecker and penalty killer. Washkurak also plays a lot bigger than his size and is fearless on the ice when it comes to challenging larger defenders. He'll do anything to make a play. As an offensive player, it remains to be seen how high his ceiling is. With Owen Tippett and Ryan McLeod now gone, top line ice time and powerplay time will be Washkurak's for the taking. I'm curious to see just how much his hands can catch up to his skating ability. There's no question that right now, he's quicker without the puck than with it. He's actually a more effective player in the offensive zone, working below the hash marks. But I'd like to see him really take off in transition, using his speed to create more offensive chances and being someone who can really drive the pace of play. Also want to see him continue to ramp up his physicality. While he won't back down from a physical challenge and had his share of fights this year, Washkurak's physical play wasn't consistent. I want to see him take over games in his regard too. Really liked this selection by St. Louis and I would expect Washkurak to be in the 25/40 range this year for Mississauga.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Tampa Bay Lightning

Believe it or not, the Lightning have not drafted an OHL player the last two years. Crazy to believe after the team went so heavy on OHL players previously.

1. Alexey Lipanov - Kitchener Rangers
Another disappointing season for Lipanov, a player who really failed to live up to expectations in the OHL. After an offseason deal to Kitchener, it was thought that perhaps Lipanov could get his game back on track (after struggling in Sudbury to close out 2018). But his production actually decreased, posting worse offensive output than the year before. Now, part of that comes from the fact that Lipanov's ice time in Kitchener did fluctuate. From first line to fourth line. From wing to center. He was sort of the universal tool for Kitchener. Lipanov is a hard worker. He's hard on loose pucks. He works the wall well. He backchecks well and has a good head for the game in the defensive end. But offensively, there isn't a ton there. His skating would still be best classified as "average." He lacks the explosiveness to be big time factor in transition or leading play across the blueline. And his shot, puck skill, and vision in the offensive end all failed to progress in his time in the OHL. Quite frankly, if he had not received a contract from Tampa in 2017 after being drafted, I doubt he would have received one after his two years in the OHL. That's the risk you run when you sign players so early. As he steps forward into the pro game next year, Lipanov may need to spend some time in the ECHL, as he did to close out last year. If he is in the AHL, I would expect him to be on the 4th line or killing penalties. At this point, I would classify him as a long shot to have an NHL career.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Toronto Maple Leafs

Not quite as much of a novel as is usually the case when reviewing Toronto's OHL prospects.

1. Nick Robertson - Peterborough Petes
Loved the value of this pick where the Leafs got him this year (53rd overall). I thought for sure that he would be a top 40 selection. There are some warts, for sure, but the things he does well, he does very well. Let's focus on those first. His skill level with the puck is terrific and is among the best in the OHL. His ability to maintain possession through cuts, turns, stops, and starts makes him such an elusive player in the offensive zone. His edgework and agility also play a role there. As good of a playmaker as he is, Robertson also possesses a wicked wrist shot with a lightning quick release. As we look forward to next year in Peterborough, where the Petes could be contenders in the East, here are the things that I'm looking for from Robertson. First to improve his top end speed. He's slippery, but I'd like to see him really add an extra gear to give him more time and space to operate given his smaller stature. Second is to improve the consistency of his energy level in the neutral zone and defensive zone. He's a puck hound in the offensive zone, but that's not always the case in all three zones. I expect it will be by the time his OHL career is over though. Third is just to continue to add strength. He's a pretty physically immature kid, so this is something that should undergo a transformation over the next two years. Fully healthy, I'm expecting him to be in the 80+ point range next year.

2. Mac Hollowell - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Hollowell definitely has to be classified as a personal favourite of mine. You'd be hard pressed to find a player who has worked as hard to improve himself over his OHL career as Hollowell. He met the lofty expectations that I had placed on him (contending for OA and defender of the year as he went over a point per game). He is undersized, but he's so steady at both ends and he outworks bigger forwards at the OHL level so his size never really prevented him from being an impact player. One thing that really improved this year was his shot. Scored more goals this past year than he did his other OHL seasons combined. Thought he had really worked on both his release and his footwork to be ready to shoot when opportunities arise. And of course, his mobility is a big asset in terms of finding space in the offensive zone. Was also great to see him earn a spot in the AHL playoffs as someone that Sheldon Keefe could trust. That trust should only grow next year, even with Toronto (AHL)'s insane amount of depth. The biggest adjustment for Hollowell will obviously be the size and strength of pro players. In the OHL, he defends fine because, again, he is a real bulldog out there who just never backs down. Think of him like Rudy. But in the AHL, it will need to be more than that. He won't be able to just rely on hustle and tenacity to win battles, especially near the crease. I do think that Hollowell will eventually be an NHL defender and I could easily see him over the 30 point mark as an AHL rookie next year, depth, learning curve, and all.

3. Semyon Der Arguchintsev - Peterborough Petes
Unfortunately, this was really not a strong season for SDA in Peterborough. Last year I wrote, "The rest of his game is a work in progress. His skating needs to get better. His play without the puck needs to get better. He needs to become more confident in using his shot. His play in all three zones needs to improve." Well...I would say that all of those things are still glaring weaknesses that need to improve for him to become a consistent impact player in the OHL...let alone the pro level a year from now. He still is so physically immature (I would go as far as to say that he makes Nick Robertson look like an old man). And that obviously plays a part. But he needs to find a way to add bulk and strength to his frame (not always the easiest thing for some guys). This is preventing his shot from being a weapon, as it's just not hard and really not a threat. As such, he has become a pass first player to a fault, and defenders know this. They keep him to the outside and neutralize his puck skill by driving him to the wall where he does not have the strength to maintain possession. So the question is, can SDA turn things around next year? Obviously, this is still possible. He's a very talented kid. And Peterborough should be a strong team with some good size to help insulate him. However, given his skill level and style of play, I would say that he needs to be in the 25/55 - 80+ point range in order for the season to be a success...even if he already has a contract from the Leafs.

Friday, July 19, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver is the second Canadian team analyzed here.

1. Michael Dipietro - Ottawa 67's
Kind of a tale of two seasons for Dipietro. In Windsor, he was having a fantastic year, perhaps his best yet in the OHL behind a pretty young defense. Then he went to the World Juniors and performed well, even if Canada had a disappointing result. But all of that changed after Vancouver had to recall him on an emergency basis and he had a truly nightmare appearance. Upon being sent back to the OHL, Dipietro's confidence was clearly shot and his play with Ottawa really never got up to the standard that we were used to. He seemed to be second guessing himself a lot, or guessing instead of reacting to plays with his athleticism. As such, he found himself out of position and really fighting the puck. Then just as he started to get his game going again in the playoffs, he suffered that season ending ankle injury. I'm very intrigued to see how Dipietro does at the pro level next year. I could see there being some initial struggles. Like any "smaller" goalie who relies on his athleticism a lot, Dipietro will need to figure out how to best position himself to make saves. By that I mean, working on staying square to shooters longer, trying to find a balance between challenging shooters and not overcommitting, and making himself bigger when down in the butterfly deeper in his crease. The Canucks have four goalies signed for the AHL/ECHL level so where Dipietro starts remains a mystery. Could see him starting in the ECHL to build his confidence, especially after last year. But this is one of the most driven and hard working kids to ever come through the OHL. Even if it doesn't come to him right away, have faith that he will figure things out. I still believe that he will be an NHL netminder down the road.

2. Ethan Keppen - Flint Firebirds
A very astute selection by the Canucks this year, getting Keppen in the 4th round. This is a kid who I feel should have gone earlier. His 5 on 5 production was among the best for draft eligible players this year in the OHL. And his effort was consistent all year long for a team that struggled to hit the win column with regularity. Keppen's more than just a north/south power winger. Yes, he drives the net well, has a powerful shot, and brings physical intensity to the ice. But he also possesses good vision and hockey sense in all three zones. This is a very well rounded kid. As he gains confidence in his ability to handle the puck, and as he gets a little quicker, he could truly be a force out there. In Flint next year, he'll likely get top line ice time and responsibility in every situation. As the Firebirds look to remove themselves from the basement, I think a 35/35 draft +1 year is very possible and realistic. 

3. Mitch Eliot - Sarnia Sting
The Canucks signed Eliot after a strong OA season with the Sarnia Sting. This signing is very similar to their Jalen Chatfield signing a few years prior. They are similar types of players with a similar projection as a pro player. Eliot is a smooth skater who plays both ends well. He also brings some jam to his game, willing to take the body. He will catch forwards with their head down as they cross the blueline and he is aggressive in denying zone entry. Eliot also possesses a big point shot and he is aggressive in jumping up in the play to find holes to create scoring chances for himself. As he starts his pro career next year, I would expect he could find himself in the ECHL to start. The Canucks have 13 defenders under pro contract, and I suspect that means Eliot could find himself playing a prominent role in the ECHL, or as a 7th defender/scratch in the AHL to start. He is a longer term project, but does have some nice skills that could make him a third pairing defender in the NHL eventually.

*Arthurs Silovs - Barrie Colts
Silovs was an import selection by Barrie this year. In the OHL next year, he will likely split time in a platoon with Jet Greaves until one, or the other, establishes themselves as the better and more reliable goaltender. This is a good situation for Silovs' development as the Colts should be a relatively decent team next season after a short rebuild. I wouldn't expect Ukke-Pekka Luukkonen type numbers, but a save percentage north of .910 is certainly possible and a good target for a goalie spending his first season in North America.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Vegas Golden Knights

Vegas is up next!

1. Ben Jones - Niagara IceDogs
Very successful final season in the OHL for the IceDogs captain as he broke the 100 point mark for the first time, establishing new career highs in all categories. He remains such a work horse who can play in any situation for his team. He's the type of guy who can be out on the ice whether you're one goal down or one goal up with a minute to go. He also plays with such a high intensity level. Jones is tenacious in puck pursuit, always buzzing and circling to force turnovers. He also has a great IQ in all three zones, and that makes him one of the OHL's elite defensive forwards. Offensively, the biggest difference for me was him gaining another step in his skating stride. More explosive this year, allowing him to be more of a factor in transition, leading the rush instead of consistently being the trailer. He was also way more difficult to separate from the puck, something that made him more dominant overall in the offensive zone. Needless to say, he took the necessary steps forward. Moving to the pro level next year, Jones is a very underrated prospect in NHL circles. I like his odds of at least developing into a quality 3rd/4th line center, but I would not rule out more given his terrific progression. I think continuing to improve his skating will be key for him, as in order to continue to be that strong two-way pest, further improvement will be needed. 

2. Jordan Kooy - London Knights
Decent year for Kooy as he entered a platoon with Joseph Raaymakers on a solid Knights team. He also saw the bulk of the playoff starts, a good thing for his development. As a player, I'm not sure there was a ton of progression from his draft year. Consistency issues still plagued him. I think a lot of that still has to do with his reads and coverage (can be prone to some 'poor' goals), in addition to sloppy rebound control. But Kooy is that big (6'3), athletic netminder that teams are looking for. There is still potential there. Next season will be a big one for him as he takes on the starting role in London. The defense for the Knights could be a bit raw and that means Kooy is really going to have to step up his game to stabilize things, especially early in the season. If he does not and consistency issues continue to plague him, I could see London making a move to shore up their goaltending, which would obviously not be great for his development.

3. Connor Corcoran - Windsor Spitfires
There were some positives to take from Corcoran's season for sure. Corcoran received a significant amount of powerplay time for the Spitfires, which was terrific for his growth as an offensive defender. We saw his confidence in his shot really grow and he generates a fair amount of power in his slap shot. His distribution skills at the point and overall vision took a nice step forward too. Defensively, things were not as bad for him as his -45 would indicate. Corcoran is a smart player and he knows how to use his mobility to his advantage in the defensive end. That said, he will still need to increase his intensity in the defensive end, something that I wrote about last year. Working harder to win those one on one battles in traffic. When he's not able to use his mobility to stay ahead of the play, when the play gets tighter, he is not as effective. Would also like to see him clean up his play with the puck in his own end. Later in the year, I thought he struggled with his decision making and became a tad turnover prone. Would like to see him really use that skating ability to start the breakout and evade pressure. Next year, Corcoran will likely need a big year to get a contract from Vegas. I would say that he would need to get himself over the 45/50 point plateau, in addition to becoming a more dominant defensive player. Windsor having more success as a team would help too.

4. Mason Primeau - North Bay Battalion
Primeau definitely looked better with North Bay than he did with Guelph to start the year. With a greater role and some special teams time, Primeau was able to showcase his skill set more effectively. The son of former NHL'er Wayne, Mason is definitely going to be a project for Vegas...and for Stan Butler and the Battalion. There are certainly some things to work with. Primeau shows massive potential down low because of his 6'5 frame. That reach and size plays well below the hash marks as he looks to establish and maintain possession along the wall. I think Primeau sees the ice well for a big man too and has potential as a big, rangy playmaker. But like any raw player, the list of things for him to improve is likely greater. His skating isn't terrible for a man of his size. I think he moves reasonably well straight. But his start ups and agility will need to improve. His ability to receive the puck and carry through the neutral zone will also need to improve, especially as a center. Would also like to see him assert himself physically near the crease to score more goals. Hopefully he learned a thing or two from fellow big man Justin Brazeau in that regard. Primeau will likely be North Bay's second line center this year behind overager Matthew Struthers. I would love to see him in the 55 point range next year (or greater), with the big improvement coming in his 19/20 year old season.

5. Paul Cotter - London Knights
The Golden Knights 4th rounder transferred from Western Michigan early in the year to the Knights. Initially upon his arrival, Cotter was getting pretty good ice time and was looking pretty good as a first or second line center, playing with guys like Foudy and Formenton. I was impressed by his tenaciousness on and off the puck. Not sure I expected Cotter to be such a pain in the ass for the other team to play against. He's very effective along the wall. But as the season went on, and after the Knights brought in Kevin Hancock, Cotter found himself buried in the lineup. By the time the playoffs rolled around, he was centering the fourth line. He may not be as innately skilled as some of the others in London's lineup, but I was kind of shocked to see how he sort of fell out of favour with the coaching staff given his physicality. I would be shocked if he is returned to London for his OA year, given how things were at the end of the year. He has an NHL contract with Vegas. And I think he's a good enough skater and strong enough away from the puck to play a 3rd/4th line role in the AHL with Chicago. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Washington Capitals

After ignoring the OHL for several years, Washington has selected an OHL player high in the NHL Draft the last two years.

1. Connor McMichael - London Knights
A breakout season by McMichael, his second in the OHL, helped to propel him into the first round where the Capitals selected him 25th overall this year. McMichael led the Knights in scoring, surely an impressive feat. A lot of that is thanks to his hockey sense, which is among the best in the OHL. He processes the game at another level and when you combine that with his strong skating ability, you have a kid who consistently pounces on offensive opportunities when they arise. McMichael also has a great shot and release, and operates mostly as a shoot first center. Next year, he has a chance to lead London in scoring again and could be in the 85-90 point range. But I would love to see a few things happen. First is attacking the middle of the ice more with the puck, all the while becoming a more consistent distributor. If he wants to stay down the middle as a pro (something that scouts have concerns about), this will be crucial. Second is improving his consistency away from the puck. I'm less worried about this as he gets stronger and looks to use his head to become an impactful two-way forward. 

2. Kody Clark - Ottawa 67's
First the good. I thought Clark's physicality really reached a new level this year. The consistency of this was something I had criticized before, because he had the potential to dominate every shift with his size and ferocity. And, for the most part, that was true this year. Clark transitioned into being one of the OHL's most physical forwards. He can really make an impact in all three zones with his tenaciousness and ability to separate his man from the puck. He had some of the biggest hits in the OHL this year and many were in puck pursuit. From an offensive stand point, however, his game hit a bit of a plateau. There were times that I felt he struggled with the pace at which Ottawa (and it's dynamic offense) wanted to play. He can be a factor when zone time is established and he can use his strength on the puck to work the cycle and open up room/space for his linemates. He is especially good at spinning off checks along the wall, cutting to the slot to make plays with defenders on his back. But his puck skill and decision making with the puck are lacking the touch that you would want from a truly dynamic offensive player. I'm just not sure that this will develop further as he looks to start his pro career next season. I do think that Clark can be an effective NHL player, but as more of a 4th line energy guy. Likely his ability to further improve his skating and his defensive play will be the key to this.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

31 Teams in 31 Days - Winnipeg Jets

We start at the end of the alphabet again this year which means that the Winnipeg Jets are the first team with a write-up.

1. Giovanni Vallati - Oshawa Generals
What a nice step forward for Vallati this year after he went from Kitchener to Oshawa in a late summer deal that saw him switch teams. In Oshawa, he emerged as a top flight two-way defender on a strong Oshawa team. If you ignore midseason acquisition Nic Mattinen, Vallati led the Generals in defenseman scoring, playing in all situations for them. His mobility is still a major asset, and is the foundation of his game. Defensively, I felt like he took some very nice steps forward, especially in terms of establishing himself physically. Saw him more consistently engaged, especially in the corners and in front of the net. Really liked how he handled DZ retrievals, using his quickness and length to get to loose pucks, but also using his improved strength to win more one on one battles to prevent the opposition from setting up in his zone. Offensively, we saw him use his skating ability to jump up into the play more. Vallati definitely looked more confident with the puck. He has a big point shot too and has worked hard to improve his accuracy and decision making on when to use it. Moving forward to next year, I think there is more room for improvement in his ability to QB the powerplay, making slightly quicker decisions with the puck. I also thought that he struggled a bit in the playoffs, especially with turnovers. There are times when he can become a little erratic with the puck, so cleaning that up will be a priority. The Generals will look to establish themselves as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, but they will need even better and more consistent efforts from their defense with Kyle Keyser turning pro. If Vallati can crack the 50 point plateau, become a little more consistent with the puck and turn in a better playoff performance, I would say that would be a major success.

2. Declan Chisholm - Peterborough Petes 
The stat line for Chisholm was very impressive this year, finishing in the top 10 of defenseman assists. But his play would have to be deemed inconsistent. For stretches, he was fantastic. And for stretches, he really struggled (along with his teammates in Peterborough who saw themselves plummet in the second half). Chisholm's confidence with the puck really grew this year. And he looked more explosive too. The combination of those two things really allowed him to be a big time playmaker off the rush, leading Peterborough's transition game. I also thought his exit pass and decision making in his own end really improved, especially in the face of pressure. Defensively, there were definitely steps forward. There were times that I saw Peterborough this year where I was actually surprised by how physical Chisholm was. But then there were other times where I felt he was too passive. Finding that consistency is going to be key for him if he wants to be an impact player at the next level. Chisholm will also need to improve his point shot as someone who will be more offensively oriented at the pro level. He shot more this year, but his shot can still add velocity. I'd also like to see him use his skating ability to take more chances by jumping up into scoring opportunities, looking to get himself in those shooting positions. The dynamic in Peterborough next year between Chisholm and Merkley will be interesting. Will they co-anchor the first powerplay unit or will the Petes employ a four forward system? Will a full season of Merkley cut into Chisholm's offensive responsibilities? Peterborough, like Oshawa, will be hoping to be a top team in the Conference and Chisholm will need to be a more consistent player. He has a realistic shot at being a high 50's point player.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

2019 CHL Import Draft Review

On Thursday, June 27, the Canadian Hockey League held its annual Import Draft. It is here, CHL teams get the opportunity to add import talent to their roster. There are two rounds of the draft, and a team can pass on their pick at any time.

Just to remind you, CHL clubs are permitted to carry only two import players on their team or protected list every year. However, if a CHL team has an Import who was an NHL first round pick (such as London with Adam Boqvist), they receive the opportunity to add another player to their protected list to cover should that first round import (like Boqvist) make the pro level. There are other scenarios which can allow you to carry the rights of three (such as having an OA Import, having an Import on their protected list who didn't show the year prior, etc). Overall, it's pretty complicated.

While the Import Draft can be a bit of a crap shoot, many of the players drafted do come over and can have an impact. Let's breakdown the results of previous five Import Drafts.

In 2014
19 of 25 players selected came to the OHL (76%)
18 of 25 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (72%)
11 (open for debate) of the 25 players had a significant impact on their OHL teams (44%) 

In 2015
23 of 28 players selected came to the OHL (82%)
17 of 28 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (61%%)
10 (open for debate) of the 28 players had a significant impact on their OHL teams (36%) 

In 2016
23 of 30 players selected came to the OHL (76%)
21 of 30 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (70%)
12 of 30 (open for debate) of the 28 players had a significant impact on their OHL teams (40%) 

In 2017
18 of 25 players selected came to the OHL (72%)
16 of 25 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (64%)
10 of 25 (open for debate) had a significant impact on their OHL teams (40%) 

In 2018
24 of 27 players selected came to the OHL (88%)
20 of 27 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (74%)
10 of 27 (open for debate) of the 28 players had a significant impact on their OHL teams (37%)

Of course this article wouldn't have been possible without the help of these experts:
Jimmy Hamrin (@jimmyhamrin)
Dennis Schellenberg (@ScoutingFactory)
Viktor Fomich (@RUSProspects)
Chapin Landvogt (@Csomichapin)
Marco Bombino (@marco_bombino)
Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst)
Czech Prospects (@CZprospects)
Lassi Alanen (@lassialanen)
Thomas Roost (@thomasroost)
Christoffer Hedlund (@ChrHedlund)
Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen)

Here are the reports:

2. Kingston Frontenacs - Martin Chromiak - Left Wing
The Frontenacs needed to hit a home run with this second overall import selection in order to add even more skill to their lineup this coming season. And for all intents and purposes, it looks like they have. Chromiak is a top prospect eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. He already saw action in the Slovakian men's league this year as a 16 year old. And he suited up for Slovakia as an underager at both the Hlinka and the U18's, performing very admirably at both events to boot. This definitely looks like a potential linemate for Shane Wright this year and moving forward.

Scouting Report:  
Jimmy Hamrin says, "Martin Chromiak stood out at the U18's, consistently had some strong plays. He has good skating and individual skills. He scored a great shorthanded goal that I saw, came in on the left side with his right shot, he faked a shot and scored high on Rowe’s glove side against the U.S. He has been putting up good numbers in their U20 league so he looks interesting for next years draft." 

Steve Kournianos says, "Martin Chromiak is a speedy Slovakian winger with a powerful stride who scores goals in a variety of ways. He owns a nasty wrister that he can wire off the rush with maximum velocity, but his slapper off the pass also gives goalies the shakes. He stays in constant motion with the hammer cocked, and he seems to anticipate puck travel well enough to minimize the time it takes between pass and shot execution. Chromiak is not only a goal scorer, however, as he is utilized in all situations and can dominate the puck in the possession games. He also has very good vision and passing skills, and his decision-making and execution during odd-man rushes is advanced for his age. Chromiak is versatile on both special teams and improved his defensive-zone play as the season progressed."


5. Flint Firebirds - Yevgeni Oksentyuk - Winger
This is more than just a favour to Vladislav Kolyachonok, to bring in a fellow Belarussian to Flint. Oksentyuk was a star at the most recent U18's, where, along with Kolyachonok, he helped Belarus make the quarterfinals. He finished the tournament as Belarus' leading scorer. While this did not help him get drafted in this year's NHL draft, it did obviously put him on the map for the Import Draft. He's certainly small (at 5'7), but he was extremely noticeable at the U18's, certainly catching my eye with his skating ability, consistent energy level, and skill with the puck. I am very excited to see how he fits into Flint's plans this year.

Scouting Report: 
Dennis Schellenberg says, "Oxentyuk is a gifted offensive catalyst who plays with a lot of energy and a high work rate and compete level. Quick on skates and with explosive strides, he is an exciting player to watch who can combine speed and skill. Loves to play an active game with the puck on his stick. Can use his quick hands and good puckhandling skills to create havoc offensively. Needs to add to his frame, which will make him more effective in physical battles." 

8. Erie Otters - Marat Khusnutdinov - Forward
One of the top 2002 players in Russia, the Otters certainly swung for the fences in selecting Khusnutdinov. He was a star at the U17's, where he helped Russia capture the gold medal, and suited up at the U18's too, where he was also noticeable. Unfortunately, it sounds like he wishes to stay in Russia for his draft year. But it is still early in the recruiting process and anything can obviously happen (especially when we're talking about the world of the CHL Import Draft).

Scouting Report
Viktor Fomich says, "Khusnutdinov is a top prospect, already made the U18 WJC this year despite being a year younger, He is a rather smallish center (yet pretty stocky built), got very good hands and really can skate."

11. Barrie Colts - Arturs Silovs - Goaltender
Large goaltender (6'4, 200lbs) who was a 6th round pick by the Vancouver Canucks in 2019. The Latvian netminder performed well in the notorious Riga program this year and was a standout at the U18's too (which likely helped him get drafted). After dealing Kai Edmonds, and the failure of Maksim Zhukov last year, it is surprising to me that Barrie took a goaltender. I figured that they would be handing off the reigns to Jet Greaves. But, ultimately having a strong tandem is never a bad thing and this could push Greaves to be better in the long run, or at the very least give Barrie more options for consistency between the pipes.

Scouting Report:
Jimmy Hamrin says, "Silovs has quick feet and moves well across the crease. He is fast in getting up and down and in changing position. He is acrobatic, smooth and has good athleticism. Butterfly style with an aggressive touch to it. He plays high in the crease as his standard position with about 3-4 inches to the top of the goal crease and in. His positioning for the first shot is good, but his aggressiveness can give him some trouble on the second shot. He plays calm but can get very aggressive to the shooter which can help make a strong save and with his speed he is strong on shots from near range and in front of him. Something that really stands out in his game is his glove hand. He has a fast glove hand and can make spectacular saves with it. I was more impressed by him than most of European goalies I have seen for the 2019 NHL Draft."

14. Windsor Spitfires - Ruben Rafkin - Defense
Rafkin is one of those Import selections...who isn't necessarily an Import. He has already been playing in North America for several years, although does suit up for Finland internationally. Last year he played with Tri-City of the USHL and performed quite admirably for a 16 year old defender in that league (10 points, 90 PIM in 38 games). He recently had his rights traded to Lincoln and he does have a commitment to the University of Denver. So his arrival to Windsor is far from a sure thing. But, if they can get him, he could be a big part of their blueline in the future, as he is considered a potential top 2 round selection in 2020.

Scouting Report:
Jokke Nevalainen says, "An average-sized two-way defenseman who likes to play a physical brand of hockey. A good puck-mover who isn't afraid to join the rush, and he has a powerful shot as well." 

Lassi Alanen says, "Rafkin has been highly-touted Finn in his age group for a long time and left to play in North America when he was 14 years old. He plays a solid two-way game, creating breakout opportunities with his skating and skill. His first few steps and top speed are both pretty good and he does have above-average puck skills for a defenceman. Rafkin has a heavy shot from the point. He plays with an edge and is rather physical in his own end." 

Marco Bombino says, "I have only seen Rafkin in international tournaments where he has consistently stood out. He moves the puck well up the ice and gives smart, simple enough passes to the forwards. He has a heavy slap shot with good wind up and velocity. What I really like about Rafkin is his competitiveness. He delivers heavy hits, he's not afraid to play rough and has a strong physical presence. He is versatile and can do a little bit of everything."

17. Sarnia Sting - Eric Hjorth - Defense
6'3 defender who was a 4th round selection by Columbus in this year's NHL draft. He barely played this past year due to a knee injury, but in 2017/18, his production was actually eerily similar to #11 overall selection Victor Soderstrom. So this could prove to be a very savvy selection by the Sting.

Scouting Report:
Jimmy Hamrin says, "Only played a handful of games last season. Tall, agile with good vision. Nothing spectacular and no clear elite weapons but a solid puck-mover with good reach. Has a good shot as well."

Christoffer Hedlund says, "Hjorth is an offensive defenseman with a big frame that missed almost the whole last season due to a knee injury. Despite his size Hjorth is still quite mobile, he has good first steps with the puck which helps him around the offensive blue line. His acceleration is also above average and once he has some speed is very hard to knock off the puck due to his size and strength. He uses his skating well to generate offense as he can both lead and join the rush, it’s not uncommon to see him as the first player to enter the offensive zone. He also has a knock for joining as the second wave to be able to skate into more ice before shooting or making a play. Hjorth mostly uses his wrist shot when he shoots, and it’s a good one; he quickly pulls the puck back to give his release more power and he is often able to combine that with good precision. Hjorth’s wrist shot enables him to beat the goaltender from far out but also a bit further into the zone, as he sometimes leaves the blue line in order to create odd man advantages closer to the slot. His slap shot from the point is very heavy and something that he should utilize more than he currently does. Hjorth is also a decent playmaker, he has good hands for a defenseman of his size and his puck skills are also above average, so he is able to create time and space for himself to make passing lanes open up. The best part of his passing game is his accurate first pass from the defensive zone, with it he can quickly start the transition game for his team and it’s not uncommon for him to create odd man rushes for his team all the way from his own zone. In his own zone Hjorth is no slouch either, with his size and mobility he can put good pressure on the puck holder, and he is strong along the boards and in front of his own net. He could work on his positional play and awareness while playing in his own zone. It’s also important to note that due to his injury this season Hjorth has barely played against competition older than 18 years old, so he might require some time to transition his game to playing against older and more developed opponents."

20. Hamilton Bulldogs - Jan Mysak - Left Wing
Mysak is considered to be one of the top prospects eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft, and a potential first round pick. The Czech native played primarily in the Czech men's league this year as a 16 year old and did exceptionally well. His production there compares favorably to guys like Pavel Zacha, Radek Bonk, and Michal Frolik. Mysak was also a standout at this year's U18's as an underager. I am sure Hamilton is hoping to use fellow country man Jan Jenik to help them recruit him.

Scouting Report:
Czech Prospects says, "Mysak has a good shot (accuracy, timing), vision, puckhandling skills, great hockey sense, getting himself into a good positions without puck, sees the ice well, can lead his team’s offense. He has solid frame for a player his age. Showed his offensive skills among men this season, put up some points in Extraliga. Missed two months due to injury, but it didn’t slowed him. Needs to work on his skating skills - agility, acceleration." 

Future Considerations, who has Mysak ranked 35th for the 2020 NHL Draft, says "One of the most promising prospects out of the Czech Republic leading up to the 2020 NHL Draft, Mysak displays great vision and can handle the puck nicely thanks to his good hands and playmaking abilities. He needs to work on his overall skating skills. There are some different elements to improve on there. Although his top speed is already decent, he can still work on his agility and acceleration. He understands the game well and displays great hockey sense. Without the puck, he gets himself into good positions for scoring chances and sees open ice well. He has a solid frame for a player his age and shows the ability to drive offensive rushes. He possesses a good shot in both accuracy and timing."

23. North Bay Battalion - Martin Hugo Has - Defense
Outside of having one of the best names of any draft eligible player this year, Hugo Has is a big defender (6'4) who was a 5th round pick of Washington. Czech born, Hugo Has has played the last few years in Finland, so he's already no stranger to playing away from home. He has performed very well for the Czech national team over the last few years and would likely jump right into North Bay's top 3 defenders should he report. The only issue is that Hugo Has recently signed an extension to stay in Finland with Tappara. So it will likely take some pressure from his draft team, the Washington Capitals, for Hugo Has to come to the OHL.

Scouting Report:
Lassi Alanen says, "Has’ D -1 season with Tappara’s U20 team was excellent but I didn’t see desired progression in his game last season. He has intriguing physical tools (6-foot-4) and utilizes his size well but lacks high-end offensive attributes. His shot from the point is very heavy, though, and he plays pretty responsible two-way game." 

Jokke Nevalainen says, "A big two-way defenseman who is very raw but has good potential. He has decent speed but needs to improve his agility and acceleration. He likes to join the rush and use his powerful shot but isn't overly creative offensively and doesn't have great passing skills either." 

Marco Bombino says, "I liked the way Has played at the U18 World Championship in April. I thought he was the number one defenseman for the Czech team and he clearly made in impact at both ends of the ice. He can move the puck with crisp, accurate passes and his heavy shot is a real threat from the point. Needs to work on his skating - mobility, acceleration and balance all require improvement. Has is quite solid in the defensive zone and his long reach is an asset. I would like to see better defensive anticipation at times, though."

26. Owen Sound Attack - Stepan Machacek - Forward
The Attack took Czech forward Stepan Machacek, a late birthday 2002 (not eligible for the NHL Draft until 2021). He has already been named a candidate for the Czech Hlinka team this summer, which is obviously a promising sign as to his talent level. However, he did finish only 20th among U17 players in scoring in the Czech U19 league last year. You would obviously like to see slightly better production. 

Scouting Report:
Czech Prospects says, "Machacek is skilled player with playmaking ability. He always rather finds his teammates than shoots, his shot really needs to improve. He has a strong position game and he is very responsible defensively. I like his compete level and tenacity. He is strong on faceoffs and has a good size."


29. Peterborough Petes - David Maier - Defense
Well here's a familiar name! Maier was a member of the North Bay Battalion last year, but they relinquished his rights in order to select new players this year. At times, Maier found himself in North Bay's top four last year and profiles as a puck moving defender. While I would not hold out hope for him to break into Peterborough's top four defenders, he does represent a solid option as a puck mover on the third pairing who can also see secondary powerplay time. 

Scouting Report:
I can give a report on Maier here. His strength definitely lies in his ability to move the puck up ice. He skates quite well and can be a factor in transition, either by leading the rush or by jumping up in the play. Maier also shows a natural feel for quarterbacking the powerplay, even if his point shot is not a major threat. He sees the ice well from the point. Where Maier struggled was handling his defensive responsibilities. Plays too timid at times in the defensive end and lacks the strength to consistently win one on one battles in traffic. He also went through phases of lacking confidence in his offensive abilities, struggling with his decision making in his own end. There is definitely more potential for him to be a difference maker on offense. But he needs to be more assertive with the puck.

32. Mississauga Steelheads - Ole Bjorgvik Holm - Defense
Ironically, Bjorgvik Holm is in a similar position to Spitfires draft pick Rafkin, as a defender who played last year in North America who holds a commitment to the U of Denver. The Norwegian born blueliner has played for the Norway U18 team the last two years, as both a double underager and underager last year. Pretty impressive. In 2018/19, he played mostly for the Colorado Thunderbirds midget program, but did see a cup of coffee in the USHL with Tri-City (also Rafkin's team).

Scouting Report:
A scout who wishes to remain anonymous and who saw Holm with the Thunderbirds says, "In watching his midget games, I'd say he's a very smart and complete two-way player. I wouldn't say he has elite flash and skill but he is certainly a skilled player who makes plays with and without the puck. He's a tall, lean kid who will certainly benefit from adding some muscle and strength to his frame. Put up some gaudy numbers as a D ... not sure how he will handle not playing on a top PP unit, etc. Good gap control, really good stick on puck defender. Again, will all come down to how he adjusts to the speed of the OHL. Not much panic in his game at this level, not really in a hurry, pretty calm, calms down his partner."


35. Kitchener Rangers - Ville Ottavainen - Defense
Probably comes as no surprise to see the Rangers opt for a defender with their import selection, as it fills a hole in their lineup. Ottavainen is a Finnish defender who plays in the Karpat organization and put up some pretty solid numbers overseas and has been named to the preliminary Finnish roster for this summer's Hlinka/Gretzky. Remains to be seen what he can bring to the table.

Scouting Report:
Lassi Alanen says, "Ottavainen was Kärpät U18 team’s top defenceman as Kasper Puutio and Topi Niemelä played with the U20 team for the most part. I got the vibe that he plays bigger than his size would suggest. His defensive play at the U18 level was solid and he can make a good opening pass. Notable release. I need to see more of him to get a better read on his offensive upside." 

Marco Bombino says, "Ottavainen was one of the many standouts on a very strong Kärpät team which finished second in the Finnish U18 league in the past season. He is a well-rounded right-shot defenseman with good offensive skills. Both his slap shot and wrister feature good power and accuracy. He can start the attack with long and precise diagonal passes from his own end. He started to be more active in the offensive zone as the season progressed. He plays a stable physical game along the boards and in front of the net, competes in every shift. He is a decent skater with good mechanics and balance, could add quickness to his first few strides, though."

38. Guelph Storm - Andrei Bakanov - Forward
If you recall, Bakanov attempted to make himself eligible for the 2018 OHL priority selection, along with fellow countryman and eventual Storm pick Daniil Chayka. But his application was denied and he played in the USHL this year with Cedar Rapids as a 16 year old. Previously, Matt Grainda had some very positive things to say in our draft primer for 2018 (found here). Even though he does have a commitment to the U of Michigan, I would be shocked if Bakanov did not report to the OHL next year.

Scouting Report
Steve Kournianos says, "Andrei Bakanov is a big-bodied winger with a ton of skill who had a rough rookie season with Cedar Rapids. His shot is his money maker, and he skates and stickhandles very well for his size. The main issues are his intensity and compete level, as he relies far too much on his puck skills without venturing inside more often or winning the tough battles along the wall or in the low slot. He spent most of the season on the fourth line and saw his power-play time decrease. A change of scenery may help him, especially in a draft year."


41. Sudbury Wolves - Frederik Dichow - Goaltender worked last year right? A 6'5 netminder from Denmark, Dichow was a 5th round pick by the Montreal Canadiens in this year's NHL draft on the back of a strong performance at the second division U18's where he was named the event's top goaltender. The Wolves have to be hoping that Dichow can fill the large void left by UPL and help get this team back near the top of the Eastern Conference standings this year.

Scouting Report:
There is some terrific information from "Habs Eyes on the Prize," where they spoke to Jimmy Boejgaard, a Danish commentator (found here). He says,”he is a big goalie and that’s the reason that he is one of our young goalies that we believe most in. Together with Mads Søgaard, they are the two guys we believe will be best to back up or follow Freddie Andersen. Boejgaard says that his strongest quality is that he is very strong mentally and is a “good kid” with his feet on the ground.”


44. Oshawa Generals - Oliver Suni - Forward
Suni, a 2002 born forward from Finland, would be potentially a great add for the Oshawa Generals this coming year. He is considered to be one of the better talents in the '02 age group in Finland (currently ranked 79th by Future Considerations for 2020) and could definitely fit into the top 9 of a strong Generals group next year.

Scouting Report:
Lassi Alanen says, "Another player from Kärpät U18, Suni is a big-bodied winger with a good release and vision. He reads the game well and is often in the right position in the offensive zone. Suni’s skating is a bit of an issue for me as his stride is a bit heavy and his speed is nothing special. Despite that he produced at a high level last season." 

Jokke Nevalainen says, "An offensive winger with decent size. He has a strong and accurate shot but he's also a good playmaker with good vision. Uses his size well to protect the puck." 

Marco Bombino says, "Suni has been one of the top 2002 born Finnish forwards for already quite some time. He is a talented goal-scorer with a very good, heavy shot. The release is quick and he can pick his spots well. His passing is precise in all three zones, he sees the ice well and uses his teammates effectively. He's strong and uses his body well to protect the puck. He needs improve his skating and speed. With more explosiveness, he would be able to pull away from opponents and create more separation. All things considered, I think Suni could be a very good add to the Generals next season."


47. Niagara IceDogs - Giancarlo Chanton - Defense
No, the IceDogs did not draft the power hitting New York Yankees outfielder. But they did select a Swiss defender who looks like he could be a quality addition. A late birthday who is not eligible until 2021 in the NHL, Chanton served as the captain of the Swiss U17 program this year and played at the U18's as well (one of only two defenders to do so, along with Acadie-Bathurst 3rd overall pick Noah Delemont). 

Scouting Report:
Thomas Roost says, "Giancarlo Chanton is probably the best SUI d-men of his age-group... ok, this age group is actually very bad, but still... I like him even more than No.3-taken Noah Delémont, I was very high on Delémont 2 years ago but since then his learning-curve was very flat. Coming back to Chanton: He is good in transition, good puck-mover, solid passer and also has the eye for the spectacular break-out pass. He is pretty smart and takes usually the right decisions. However, he is not high-end skilled and also not a high-end skater and he is a bit undersized and def. "understrengthed" he can get overpowered too easy too many times. I think he will be good in Major Junior but probably not spectacular." 


50. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds - Nick Malik - Goaltender
Another goaltender, and quite frankly, not shocking to see the Greyhounds grab a top flight one to hopefully be their starter this year after the graduation of Matthew Villalta. And they got a good one. Nick Malik has long been considered one of the top 2002 born goaltenders in the world. He is the son of former NHL'er Marek Malik, and former OHL'er Zach Malik. He already played pro in the Czech second league last year and should be able to come in and have a big impact for the Greyhounds in his NHL draft year.

Scouting Report:
Czech Prospects says, "He’s a big athletic goalie. He is fast on his feet and has great reflexes. What impresses me most about Malik is his stick work. He wants to play a lot with the puck and he’s doing pretty good job. This season he was gaining experience in Frydek (CZE-2) and he was great as a 16-year-old goalie. At the end of the season he came back to Trinec and was superb in the Czech U19 league’s playoffs, as he led his team to the title. He made 58 saves in the first of two final games against Sparta."

53. Saginaw Spirit - Ilya Solovyov - Defense
The Spirit, hoping to challenge for an OHL championship next year, opt for an older player at this year's Import draft. Solovyov is a 2000 born who has experience after playing in the Belarussian men's league this past season. He was also a member of the Belarussian World Championship team as a 19 year old, the youngest defender on the team by four years. I'm sure Saginaw is hoping that with his age, he can come in and be an impact player right away.

Scouting Report
Tough to track down a scouting report on Solovyov, but here's what Dave Drinkill had to say (in an article here), “One of the things that attracted us to Ilya was the fact that he played against men in the World Championships this past spring. We felt like we needed to add a veteran defenseman to our group. We are excited to bring Ilya to Saginaw, and get him started with us in training camp.” Additionally, here's a great video from youtube on Solovyov.

56. London Knights - Kirill Steklov - Defense
This is an odd one for me. I expected London to go after a player with a higher profile. Instead, we have Steklov. He was not a member of the U17 team for Russia that won gold last year, but he does have good size. Steklov is listed at 6'4 and the hope is that he can come in and take a spot on a rebuilt London Knights blueline, so long as Adam Boqvist turns pro as anticipated.

Scouting Report: 
Tough to get any information on Steklov, but here's what Mark Hunter had to say in an article by Ryan Pyette (found here), “He’s a young man who can skate, has good size and sure looks like the package,” GM Mark Hunter said. “We’ve watched him and saw lots of video on him. He’s kind of like (former Knight and NHL first-rounder Nikita) Zadorov. He can make good plays and move pucks. He’s a good defenceman.”


62. Kingston Frontenacs - Vitali Pinchuk - Center
With their second selection in the Import Draft, the Frontenacs went to Belarus to select Pinchuk, a 2002 born center who was a standout at the U18's with Belarus (I feel like a broken record saying that) as an underager, named as one of the team's three best players. To put it in perspective, only Lucas Raymond and Alex Holtz had more goals than Pinchuk as U17 players at the event. Seems like a potentially savvy selection to me.

Scouting Report:
Dennis Schellenberg says, "Pinchuk’s biggest strengths are his skating and creativity. Is an overall good skater, who is mobile and displays good top speed. Likes to have the puck and plays an active game in the offensive zone. Takes the puck into high-traffic areas and can show nice dangles and moves while keep maintaining puck possession. Great in splitting opposing defences while taking the puck directly to the net. Possesses good hockey IQ and understanding of the game. Needs to gain strength. One of the better 02-born Belarussian players." 


71. Barrie Colts - John-Jason Peterka - Forward
This one screams "next year," to me. I believe the Colts intend to go with Matej Pekar and Arturs Silovs as their Imports. Peterka is considered to be a solid prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft and could be a stash away, someone that Barrie could convince to come over next year to play in the OHL at the direction of the NHL team that drafts him. A German, Peterka has played in the Red Bull Salzburg program the last two years, a very prestigious program. In the Czech U19 league, Peterka led the league in scoring. His numbers for that team compare favorably to a guy like Jeremy McKenna, who was the 4th leading scorer in the QMJHL this past year. Peterka also finished 4th in scoring at the second division U18's as an underager, helping Germany advance to the main group next year. 

Scouting Report:
Thomas Roost says, "I'm pretty high on Peterka, at this point I give him 2nd-round NHL-potential. He tries to be open all the time and this is one reason why he is a good scorer. He works hard off the ice and wants to improve all the time. He is definitely a guy who goes this extra mile. He has decent or even good skills and also improved his skating what was always a question-mark with him. He is pretty fast now on the move but has some problems with "stop and go", The defensive part is also an area to improve, he acts too often too optimistic when he doesn't have the puck."

Chapin Landvogt says, "I've seen him play for the U18 and I've gotta say, I really like him. Still growing, still very average in size, this kid has some real sizzle in his game. I like his creativity and his pension for making moves when should deke or dishing off the puck when it's called for. Great understanding for putting pressure on defenses and creating offensive opportunities. Skating in tight corners/areas as well as in a straight line are strengths, although he's not a speed demon. He might actually be faster with the puck than without it. He likes to have the puck and was his team's key PP player, generating offense from behind the opposition net or on the right faceoff circle. Still, he has much to learn about the all-round game and still needs to grow. He's played at a fairly high level (with Salzburg in the Czech U19 league), but he has had a very offensive role the whole time. Very possible that an OHL coach would have spend a lot of time teaching him other aspects. Thus, other aspects of the game, primarily without the puck." 

Czech Prospects says, "Peterka was absolutely a beast in the Czech U19 league. Big offensive threat, very skilled with the puck. He has a good speed and vision. He can make plays, he can shoot, he has good hockey sense and playmaking ability. I really like him. He is a smaller forward and needs to add size. I’m curious to see how he will succeed next season among men in the DEL (if he chooses that direction)."


77. Sarnia Sting - Marek Berka - Left Wing
With their second selection, the Sting grab Berka, a 2001 born forward who went undrafted in the NHL this year. He was ranked 97th by NHL Central Scouting among European skaters. He averaged a point per game in the Czech U19 league, playing for the same Litvinov program as Hamilton Bulldogs draft pick Jan Mysak (although Mysak put up significantly better numbers in limited action despite being a year younger). To give you an idea, Greyhounds draft pick in 2018 Roman Pucek put up better numbers in the same league (well effectively, as the league was U19 this year instead of U18 previously) and was not successful in the OHL. Take that for what it's worth.

Scouting Report:
Czech Prospects says, "Berka is a player with a lot of potential. He is a great skater and goal scorer, has pretty solid accurate shot, could be deadly if he gets himself into a good position. He is skilled and competitive, he could be also used as a two-way forward thanks to his speed, but he needs to add some muscles to be more competitive against bigger stronger opponents. 

Steve Kournianos (from his draft guide) says, "An explosive skater who is a threat to score every time he hits the ice. Rather than low percentage shots from the angle, Berka exploits the room he is consistently afforded by attacking inside and changing direction to the middle. He plays bigger than his size and is by no means a perimeter player. He also works hard on the backcheck and will win races to the puck on the forecheck."

83. North Bay Battalion - Niki Korpialho - Forward
This is another pick that looks like a long shot to stick. A Finnish 2002 born forward, Korpialho was 42nd in his Finnish U18 league in U17 scoring this year and was not named to the recent preliminary Finnish roster for the Hlinka/Gretzky. 

Scouting Report:
Marco Bombino says, "I have been following Korpialho's development for the last three seasons and his game improved towards the end of the past season. He skates very well for a player of his size, he has good speed, agility and he plays with pace. Decent hockey sense, needs to work on decision making. Has some puck skills and a good wrist shot, can find the back of the net. There may not be a ton of offensive potential in his game, but he moves well and has strong on-ice work ethic."


86. Owen Sound Attack - Julian Straub - Forward
The second round of the Import Draft can often be similar to throwing darts at the board and this is another one that seems unlikely to stick given the pedigree. Straub did not suit up for Germany Internationally this year, failing to make the Germany U18 team despite being a 2001 born. So if he's not considered one of the top 12-13 forwards in his age group in Germany, can he really make an impact in the OHL? It certainly seems unlikely. Although he does have a late birthday, so perhaps he is a late bloomer.

Scouting Report:
None of my German contacts had info on Straub (not necessarily the best sign). Here is what Dale DeGray had to say (in this article): "He’s a good skater, he’s big, he plays a heavy game and most importantly he scores. He’s got good skills and he should be coming up on the radar for NHL teams.”


92. Mississauga Steelheads - Lucas Raymond - Right Wing
I mean, if you know the guy you're going to draft in the second round is not likely to be an OHL contributor, why not shoot for the stars? Raymond is a potential top 3 selection for the 2020 NHL Draft and is considered one of the top young forwards in the world. He led Sweden to U18 gold as an underager this year and would be one heck of a recruit for the future. But, unfortunately this seems extremely unlikely to happen. Raymond is scheduled to play with Frolunda of the SHL in his draft year and may step right into the NHL the year after that. Still worth the gamble though.

Scouting Report:
Jimmy Hamrin says, "A junior superstar. Haven't done a report yet but it'll look something like this: Skating: 60/65, Shot: 60, Skills: 65/70, Smarts 65, Physicality: 50. Besides his size he stands out in every asset. Drives the play, work/compete hard, reads the offensive game and is a strong playmaker with a dangerous wrist shot. On a power play he can be both the setup-player as well as the finisher. High in both intensity and creativity. I think he can be a regular in SHL or a top line player in Allsvenskan, but if he goes to CHL he's a 100 point player." 

Christoffer Hedlund says, "Lucas Raymond is the next superstar-prospect coming out of Sweden, this year he dominated Swedish junior hockey and also scored a hat trick in the final when Sweden won the gold at the U18 World Championship. He is an offensive catalyst that can carry a whole line on his shoulders, and he has the ability to win games all by himself. It isn’t one or two aspects of Raymond’s game that makes him great, there are so many different parts of his game that stands out. His skating is phenomenal; he explosive, has great acceleration and high top speed but he is also agile and very hard to catch no matter which speed he is playing at. He is also a skilled stickhandler, with great puck control that still has a great motor, very high work-rate and always gives his full effort. He is a phenomenal playmaker that can make fantastic and creative plays to set up his teammates, and he combines that with a deadly wrist shot that is as powerful as it is precise. He can score from up close and from far out, but if a defender tries too much to stop him from shooting Raymond will instantly take advantage of that and make a pass instead, his diversity makes him incredibly hard to defend against. With his puck handling and bursts of speed in the offensive zone Raymond can dictate the pace of the game to fully take advantage of the situation he is in. On top of it all Raymond has extremely high competitiveness, he plays like he always wants to win and when the stakes get higher, he becomes even better. It’s no coincidence that Raymond is the one that continually steps up for his team, whether it is in J18, J20 or against international competition he is the one that often is the difference-maker in the important games. Raymonds high work-rate and competitiveness helps him when he is off the puck as well, he works hard on the forecheck and to win the puck back if it is lost in the offensive zone and he is rarely seen floating when the game turns, instead he is often working hard on the backcheck. His major weakness is his lack of upper body strength and his size, as he can struggle along the boards or if a bigger defender manages to catch him or pin him up against the boards."

95. Kitchener Rangers - Axel Bergkvist - Defender
Another defender for the Rangers, this one much older and experienced. Bergkvist, a 2000 born blueliner, was a 7th round pick by Arizona in this year's NHL draft. He's undersized at 5'9, but he put up some impressive numbers in the Allsvenskan this year (similar to Philip Broberg, although a year older) and his experience playing against men would definitely help him transition to the OHL. However, after helping Leksands get promoted back to the SHL, one would have to wonder if he would give up playing in a pro league for the OHL. This would likely take a fair amount of pressure from Arizona to happen.

Scouting Report:
Jimmy Hamrin says, "Older player, played well against men this season. Good offensive instincts, a good sneaky shot. Small, and not that fast but smart in the offensive zone. Not consistent defensively and his mobility could use some work. Could score a ton in the CHL."

Christoffer Hedlund says, "Bergkvist is an offensive defenseman that has his main strengths in the offensive zone. Unlike many modern offensive-minded defenseman Bergkvist isn’t a puck mover, as his skating is far from the best part of his game. Instead, Bergkvist excels on the offensive blue line; he has a diverse slapshot that can be swift and powerful but also with less power but much more precise and his wrist shot has a good release and almost always seem to find its way through traffic. Bergkvist utilizes his wrist shot more than his slapshot, before shooting he often takes a few steps down from the blue line and if it is possible, he uses the blocking forward as a screen to give the goalkeeper less time to react to the shot. He reads the game well from his position on the blue line and can often be able to find a bit of open space to become available for a pass. But there’s more to Bergkvist’s offensive game than just his shot, he has above-average vision, sees the ice well in the offensive zone and can spot teammates that are changing position to set them up with the puck. One thing Bergkvist should improve is his first pass from the defensive zone, sometimes he rushes his decision and makes poor plays which can lead to his team losing possession while trying to set up the play from behind. Defensively Bergkvist isn’t great, and he struggled at times in Allsvenskan (tier 2 in Sweden) but he isn’t a huge liability in his own zone either. He occasionally makes minor mistakes and he can become too passive, not moving his feet enough and leave a too big gap between himself and his opponents while defending, thus losing control of the situation. He is decent around his own net and rarely gets caught of his position and works actively with his stick to close passing lanes or to poke the puck off his opponents stick."


98. Guelph Storm - Roman Bychkov - Defense
Bychkov is another NHL drafted player, who went in the 5th round to Boston this year. Looking to replace Dmitri Samorukov, Bychkov played for Russia at the Hlinka/Gretzky and at the World Junior A Challenge. A 5'11 puck mover, Bychkov was in the top 5 of defender scoring by U18 players in the MHL this year and won a Championship with Loko Yaroslavl. 

Scouting Report:
Viktor Fomich says, "Bychkov moves with a good overall stride and agility, although his acceleration and explosiveness is not there yet and should be a focal point of his ongoing development and training. Bychkov doesn't have the most powerful shot, but he is good at getting pucks through to the net. He is very comfortable at carrying the puck and distributing it to his teammates, a vital component of the modern transition game. Bychkov plays a high-IQ game. He is calm under pressure, and doesn't make too many mistakes in his own zone. Overall, he is a smart defenseman with the potential to be a puckmover on a second pairing in the NHL without being a headache on his own end." 


101. Sudbury Wolves - Kalle Loponen - Defense
A 7th rounder by the Toronto Maple Leafs this year, Loponen played the majority of this year in Mestis, the Finnish 2nd pro league. He also played for Finland at the U18's (although after their disastrous performance at the event, I'm not sure that is something worth bragging about). Under contract to Karpat for next year, one would have to wonder if Kyle Dubas works his magic to get him in Sudbury next year, given his love for the OHL.

Scouting Report: 
Jokke Nevalainen says, "A smallish offensive defenseman who loves to join the rush. Good on the power play where he can utilize his powerful shot. A very good skater but isn't the most dynamic player with the puck. Needs to improve his defensive game." 

Lassi Alanen says, "Maple Leafs selected Loponen in the 7th round this summer and I thought he was good value at that spot. He played in the second pro league in Finland and put up decent counting stats. Loponen’s skating is good and he can open up passing lanes with it or carry the puck by himself. His shot from the point is very heavy and he played rather physically against men last season, laying open-ice hits occasionally. He needs to refine his defensive game which got him in trouble against men last season. He’ll be a power play weapon in the OHL next season." 

Marco Bombino says, "Loponen is a mobile, offensive-minded defenseman who moves the puck well and likes to jump into the rush. He moves very well laterally at the point and he's adept at creating space for himself to shoot or distribute the puck. He played with a lot of confidence in Finland's second highest league, the same way as he did in juniors. I think Toronto got great value in the 7th round of the NHL Draft and I firmly believe that Loponen will be an impact player in the OHL if he reports."