Minnesota Wild are up next.
1, Hunter Jones - Peterborough Petes
Tale of two seasons for Jones. Started the year exceptionally well with Peterborough and was playing like one of the best goalies in the OHL. He has that prototypical combination of size and athleticism that is so alluring. And he was tracking the play really well early on and was completely dialed in for the Petes. But the team overworked him and he really hit a wall in the second half. In his first season as a starter, Jones faltered in the second half; a half that saw him fighting the puck and his confidence drastically declined. A late 2000 born, Jones will return to the OHL next year and look to put forward a full season of elite play. The Petes intend to compete for the Eastern Conference Championship and they will need Jones at the top of his game all year to do so. He has all the tools, it's just about putting it together consistently. I would expect that to happen and I think Jones enters the year as one of the favourites for OHL goaltender of the year. I would expect a save percentage north of .910 and 30+ wins.
2. Ivan Lodnia - Niagara IceDogs
Lodnia's year was interrupted by a lower body injury that kept him out for a couple months, but did see him return late in the year to be a big part of Niagara's playoff push. In Niagara, Lodnia played primarily on the wing as a change of pace attacker, who could look to push the pace and gain entry to the offensive zone. I think Lodnia's skating ability took a nice step forward this year, especially his first few strides. I also think that Lodnia was much more effective working through traffic this year, both because he had increased his strength and because he was a more willing combatant. Most of what he accomplished from a production stand point was done at 5 on 5 this year, which is impressive. As he moves to the pro level next year, I think we have a much clearer picture of the type of player that he can become. A nice complimentary middle six winger who can attack the zone and open up scoring lanes for his linemates. I would expect him to be a 15/15 guy at minimum in the AHL next year.
3. Matvey Guskov - London Knights
Guskov was a bit of a disappointment this year in London after coming to the league with a fair amount of hype through the Import Draft. He showed flashes of being an impact player, but was not able to put everything together consistently. As such, he is very much a project for the Wild. But he was also a great pick because of the potential he has, should he put everything together. He has a tall, lanky, but projectable frame and he generates a lot of power in his stride. He has that capability of grabbing the puck at his own blueline and exploding through traffic on the way to the net. He also has potential as a defensive forward for the same reasons. But adding strength will definitely be a key for him at both ends. He needs to be more of a factor away from the puck in the offensive end and use that size below the hash marks. I also wonder just how good his hockey sense is. He'll return to London for the upcoming year and should have a larger role in the team's offense. I could see him being a 25/30 player, just a shade under a point per game.
4. Damien Giroux - Saginaw Spirit
Tough as nails, competitive pivot who already serves as the captain for the Spirit, one of the youngest captains in the league. Giroux is a very intelligent player in all three zones and is utilized in all situations for Saginaw. He also is a tireless work horse who is a very effective forechecker and who buzzes around the ice looking to change and establish possession for the Spirit. Giroux also is a capable goal scorer with a quick release, which he utilizes to score a lot of goals in the slot and near the crease as he outworks defenders in the scoring area. Where Giroux is lacking still is in the skating department. As a smaller forward, this will be necessary for him to improve heading into his final OHL season. I'd also like to see him improve his faceoff percentage, as someone who profiles as a bottom 6 center at the next level. He won't be trusted in key defensive situations until that improves. Saginaw aims to be highly competitive again this coming year and I think we could see Giroux around the 35/35 mark, over a point per game.
5. Fedor Gordeev - Guelph Storm
From an accomplishment standpoint, this was a successful year for Gordeev. How could it not be? Following a trade to Guelph he was a part of an OHL Championship winning squad and got a trip to the Memorial Cup. And Gordeev played a part in that Championship, stabilizing Guelph's PK and really laying down the gauntlet physically. That said, I'm not sure his development went quite according to plan and explains why Toronto decided not to sign him, opting to deal him to Minnesota instead. Offensively, Gordeev has always seemed to be dancing around, or teasing his potential. He moves so well for a big man. And he flashes these moments of brilliance with the puck, carrying effortlessly through the neutral zone. But there are other times where his game has such a disorganization to it; skiddish if you will. Can get himself chasing the play at both ends and as such, penalties can be an issue. He's a project. The same project as when he was drafted. Huge. Mobile. Physical. But there are still rough ends. With the right coaching staff and development team, he could most definitely develop into an asset at the NHL level. So where do we go from here? Honestly, if I was Minnesota, I would send Gordeev back to the OHL for his overage season to really see if a final year could bring out the best in his offensive game. We've seen it work for other players in their OA year, especially those with a size advantage like Gordeev. But this rarely happens for players who have signed their NHL deal. Even if Gordeev doesn't crack the AHL this year, he's not someone you can give up on. Again, this is a slow play.
Thursday, August 1, 2019
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