Second last team and this is a long one!
1. Barrett Hayton - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Kind of a disjointed season for Hayton that saw him play under 40 regular season games for the Hounds. He got a late start due to sticking around late with Arizona. Then came an extended absence because of the World Junior Championships. Follow that up with a lower body injury that cost him a month. But it would be hard to argue against Hayton looking good when he did play. The Hounds record with him in the lineup, versus with him out of the lineup was quite different (just over 0.75 with him in the lineup and nearly below 0.60 with him not). And that's because he has such an effect on all aspects of the game. Hayton is an all situations kind of player who projects as that at the next level too. He has a very pro ready game. Where Hayton remains the most effective is down low, using his quick feet and strength on the puck to really drive possession time. But he is so good without the puck too and has terrific hands in tight, making him a very opportunistic scorer. Hayton's skating has come a long way over his OHL career too. He generates more power now and it has helped him in all aspects of the game. So what happens next year? The Coyotes, with the additions of Kessel and Soderberg have a more crowded forward group now. That means Hayton would have to beat out someone like Conor Garland or Christian Fischer for a roster spot. Of course, injuries can happen too. I'd be shocked if Hayton doesn't get an audition, be it a couple games, or 8-9 games. How he does in that audition likely dictates whether he stays the season. Of course the Greyhounds would love to have him back at some point, so that they could move Hayton to a contender for a king's ransom and help their retool. Back in the OHL (if it happens), I would expect Hayton to be in the 1.8 points per game range. In the NHL, he's probably a 20 point guy with limited ice time.
2. Kevin Bahl - Ottawa 67's
Behemoth defender who had a very good year for the first place 67's. No offense meant to the other members of Ottawa's terrific defense, but I thought Bahl was their most valuable blueliner. He is just such an asset defensively because of his size, physicality, and mobility, (which continues to improve). He has great gap control and uses his reach so effectively to neutralize the attack. But as the action gets tighter, he is a fiercely intense competitor who just makes you pay for the time and space you desire. He just doesn't lose many loose puck battles in the corner. As an offensive player, Bahl has improved greatly. He can still get caught flat footed at times with the puck and it can lead to the odd turnover in his own end from heavier forechecks. But his first pass and confidence in handling the puck has definitely improved. Also seeing him jump up in the play more and doing a better job holding the blueline in the offensive end. I think there is even more potential offensively in there and I suspect we'll see even better offensive production from him this upcoming season. A 13-14 goal, 35 assist season is definitely possible, even if he doesn't get a ton of time on the powerplay (although don't be surprised if the 67's try Bahl as a net front presence as so many teams are doing these days with imposing, yet skilled defenders).
3. Jan Jenik - Hamilton Bulldogs
Absolutely loved what I saw from Jenik this year in Hamilton. I figured that he would be a skilled player and someone who could be counted on to push the pace and attack in transition. But I did not expect him to be as pesky and as physical as he was. Jenik is a real pest out there, constantly buzzing around the offensive zone. He can get a little careless with the puck at times, as he tries to beat defenders one on one, especially when cutting to the middle. But when he turns it over, he is quick to battle to get it back and has a real bulldog mentality on the ice. As he gets stronger, especially on the puck, I think that we'll see his game reach even higher levels. I would expect that next year he could end up as Arthur Kaliyev's center and on the first powerplay unit. This could mean a big year for him from a production standpoint. A 35 goal, 55 assist kind of year is a very real possibility. This is a prospect that I am very excited to watch next year as typically European players take massive steps forward in their second CHL season.
4. Nate Schnarr - Guelph Storm
It was a real breakout season from Schnarr who hit the 100 point mark, significantly more than he had accumulated over his previous two OHL campaigns. More significantly, he was also a key member of an OHL championship team in Guelph. Anytime a 19 year old breaks out in a big way, the obvious question is...what was the difference that saw such a large jump in production? For Schnarr, I think there were a few things that really stood out. The first was his strength on the puck, especially down low. He's always been a good playmaker and had good vision operating behind the net. But he didn't have the balance or strength to prolong possession or win those one on one battles consistently. He does now and he was actually quite dominant both between the dots and below them this year. With his length, he can be a real magnet for the puck and he works very hard in the offensive zone. Schnarr is far from a "soft" player. The second thing was an improvement to his skating. This is especially true for his agility and ability to pivot/cut. He looked much more fluid, especially when attacking and looking to drive the net. Lastly, confidence obviously plays a part, in addition to greater offensive responsibility and special teams ice time. So what does next year hold for Schnarr? He'll start his pro journey in the AHL and remains a project for the Coyotes. He's not the most innately skilled player with the puck, so he'll have to find a way to be productive even without as much time and space. Additionally, he'll need to improve his consistency in all three zones, especially if he wants to stay down the middle at the pro level. I would expect a 10 goal, 20 assist kind of performance as he adjusts. But the potential is there for Schnarr to eventually develop into a useful middle six forward.
5. Ivan Prosvetov - Saginaw Spirit
Going to miss watching the gigantic Russian netminder who was a real hit in his one year in the OHL. He is a real personality out there, cartwheel post game celebrations and all. On the ice, Prosvetov had a very good year backstopping the Saginaw Spirit to a strong finish and appearance in the Western Conference finals. His athleticism and quickness in the crease are his most noticeable and standout traits. At 6'5, and with those long legs, he takes away the bottom of the net so well with his pushes and makes a lot of acrobatic saves. He plays a bit of an unconventional style too, part stand up, part butterfly. He does what he can to use his big frame to stop pucks. With his athleticism, he's never out of a play, but at times he can get himself caught out of position. Rebound control can be a bit of an issue too. At the pro level, it would be about transitioning from a stopper to a goaltender who can truly control the play out there. With Adin Hill having the AHL starting gig wrapped up, Prosvetov will battle Madsen and newcomer Kallgren for the back-up/platoon role. As it is, it seems likely that he starts the year in the ECHL. Of course, there's always a chance that he gets returned for an OA year in Saginaw and his ELC slides. But this is a very rare occurrence and I doubt it happens.
6. Liam Kirk - Peterborough Petes
Not uncommon for Import players to take time adjusting to the OHL and Kirk was no different. Through his first 23 games, 2 goals and 7 assists. In his final 40 games, 24 goals, and 14 assists. Pro-rate that to an entire season and you have a 40 goal campaign, which would have been pretty remarkable. Kirk is still a pretty gangly kid who did struggle fighting through traffic at times and wasn't the most effective along the wall. But he has terrific hands and really good scoring instincts. He also skates quite well and can be a real asset in transition. As the year went on, he really gained confidence in his shot and was working harder to get himself into those shooting lanes. I have high expectations for the Petes this upcoming year and Kirk is going to be an integral component to that team. With another year of strength training and improved confidence, I think he's a 40 goal scorer. I'm most curious to see if we see a little more creativity from him with the puck this year as it is something that he flashed at times last year.
7. Dennis Busby - Flint Firebirds
Quite frankly, the main focus for Busby this year was just to stay healthy and be in the Flint lineup after missing his draft year with shoulder injuries. But a spell of bad luck hit him at Coyotes prospect camp in the way of a puck to the foot. A broken foot kept Busby out until January, but he was largely able to stay in the lineup until the end of the year. Tough to review Busby's season given his late start, Flint's lackluster play, and overall rust. His skating just didn't look as fluid or powerful as I had remembered and he kept things pretty basic as he re-adjusted to the tempo and physicality of the OHL's Western Conference. But this is a kid who still possesses the potential to be the impact player that Arizona saw and caused them to draft him despite missing nearly his entire draft year. He just needs to stay healthy and regain his confidence. He'll be a big part of Flint's team this year as they make a playoff push and he should get ice time in all situations. In order to earn a contract from Arizona, Busby probably needs to be in the 40-45 point range, which is something that I expect him to do.
*Axel Bergkvist - Kitchener Rangers
Very excited to see what Bergkvist can do in Kitchener this year after being drafted in the Import draft and recently signing on with the Rangers. Kitchener intends to compete for the OHL title this year and they expect Bergkvist to be a top four defender for them, including being a powerplay quarterback. He's going to get a ton of ice time and a big offensive year is very possible. While it is tough to project Import players, he could very well be a 50 point defender this year based on what European scouts have told me about his game.