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.