Thursday, August 29, 2019

Preseason Top 30 for the 2020 NHL Draft

With the Ivan Hlinka tournament completed and OHL preseason action around the corner, it's time for the first draft list of the season. I only started doing a preseason list a few years ago, but I enjoy it because it gives you a great perspective on where players have come from (for fun, here's the 2019 preseason list).

This is obviously a very difficult list to make. The progression for draft eligible players can often be a tad unpredictable. The player you see in a sophomore season isn't often the same player you see in a freshman year. Growth spurts occur. Strength is added. Confidence grows. Timid perimeter players can become physical beasts, etc. Or, conversely, you've got players who look great as 16/17 year olds but just don't progress in their sophomore seasons. Plus, you've got all the players who haven't yet played in the OHL (at least more than a few games), but who are projected to be impact players in their draft year (like Ruben Rafkin or Oliver Suni, etc).

This year's crop for the OHL is a sharp contrast to last year. We go from one of the weakest groups the OHL has ever produced, to potentially one of the strongest. At this point, Quinton Byfield, Cole Perfetti, and Jamie Drysdale all look like candidates for the top 5. And upwards of a dozen or so players (including those three) already look like potential first round picks. When all is said and done, the OHL could very well take up a third of the first round. I think most scouts would echo my sentiment of being excited to watch this crop grow and develop this season.

Here's my early list:

1. Quinton Byfield - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Byfield is a straight up beast. He's an August birth date, yet he's already 6'5, 220lbs. This is a man playing against boys at times. But what makes him a potential unstoppable force is the fact that he's actually a fantastic skater. He generates such power in his stride and just explodes into the offensive zone with what appears to be little effort. It's not that straight ahead speed that makes him so hard to contain though. It is his agility; stops, starts, turns. He can cut on a dime and it makes him very difficult to pin down in the offensive zone. Not only can he put you on his back, but he can skate circles around you. Byfield is also a terrific playmaker, something that was on full display at this year's Hlinka/Gretzky Cup. His reads and his anticipation are top notch, which is not something you see very often from players like him, who sometimes have a tendency to drive the net with their head down, using their size/speed advantage predominantly. An aspect of his game that really improved over the second half of his rookie OHL season and was evident at the Hlinka, is his play in all three zones. While there are no doubt times where you'd like to see him use his size more to be more assertive, his instincts and coverage are solid. In fact, you'll see him rotate back to the point and control play from there quite often in the offensive zone, to cover for pinching defenders. He swallows up so much ice with those strides, so the potential for him to develop further as a two-way player is extremely high. An area that I would like to see improve (on top of using his size more consistently away from the puck), is his shot. He can have a tendency to be too pass happy when in tight, trying to thread passes for higher percentage shooting lanes, rather than simply making that quick decision to put the puck home himself. Or he'll try to make an extra move to get the goaltender out of position, again, rather than trusting his shot. As he gains confidence here, the sky is truly the limit. He is a potential player with no flaws who is worth the price of admission to watch. 

2. Jamie Drysdale - Defense - Erie Otters
Some may be slightly surprised to see Drysdale ahead of Perfetti, but I do think Drysdale is a special player (not to say that Perfetti isn't) and I'll take a potential franchise defender over a star forward. Compound this with the fact that this year's draft isn't very deep or strong on defense and I think Drysdale has slightly more value currently. Last year in Erie, not only did he play an insane amount of minutes for a 16 year old, but he was also only the fifth U17 defender in the new millennium to hit the 40 point plateau (along with Merkley, Ellis, Del Zotto, and Ebert). At the heart of Drysdale's game is his skating ability. He is just so smooth on the ice, taking little time to hit full speed coming out of the defensive end. But his four way mobility is such an asset in the defensive end. Even though he's not exceptionally strong yet, forwards rarely get by him in transition, or escape him in coverage. Drysdale is also highly intelligent and sees the ice so well. Calm under pressure, you rarely see him make a mistake, despite his aggressiveness on the attack. Quite frankly, I don't see many flaws in Drysdale's game already, and he's only going to get better. One thing that I would like to see improve is his shot and his confidence in using it. He opens up those passing lanes with his mobility when running the point, but you rarely see him looking to exploit those gaps for shots. Also would love to see him take more chances to jump up in the play as a 3rd or 4th man in, again relying on his mobility to recover should he need to. Last year, Drysdale was 29th in the league in shots among defenders. As an elite powerplay QB, I want to see that number jump.

3. Cole Perfetti - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Tough to rank a player as good as Perfetti third, but someone has to be 3rd in this elite OHL class. Even in ranking him 3rd, I do think that Perfetti deserves to be in discussion for a top 5 selection along with Byfield and Drysdale. As an offensive winger (a projection, as I know he can lineup at center too), I do think that Byfield and Drysdale could be more complete players, and that's why I've got them ahead by a hair right now. This year, his game is bound to be dissected at times as is the case for any draft eligible player. And the first thing likely to be picked on is Perfetti's skating and size combination. He's not the biggest at 5'10, and he's not the quickest player on the ice. But I'm not worried at all about that. I actually think his start ups and edgework are improving greatly, and when you combine that with his elite hockey IQ, you have a dynamic offensive player. You saw what he is capable of at the Hlinka. Well second half of the previous OHL season, he was doing those things pretty regularly too. His anticipation, be it as a goal scorer or a playmaker, is top notch. And he just has this poise with the puck on his stick that can not be taught. He'll work the cycle, keep his feet moving, and eventually find an opening that he believes can create a high end scoring chance. And of course, he has a fantastic shot with a quick release that makes him equal part goal scorer and playmaker. At the Hlinka, I saw Perfetti be a lot more aggressive without the puck, especially as a forechecker and this is something that I really hope caries over to the OHL season this year. Don't be surprised at all if this kid is top 5 in OHL scoring this year.

4. Marco Rossi - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Here's a stat for you (courtesy the great pick224.com) that summarizes Rossi's impact beautifully. His even strength goals for percentage last year was a remarkable 85%, tops in the entire OHL by a pretty significant margin. He is such a strong overall player and a testament to that, is the fact that he was named the East's smartest player in last year's coaches' poll. He creates so much time and space for his wingers because of how well he dictates pace and how well he works below the hash marks. He's not a huge kid at 5'9, 175lbs, but he's very strong on the puck and comes away with the puck in so many of those 50/50 battles. That's because he anticipates the play well and is great at using his body to gain inside leverage on defenders. Rossi is also aggressive in attacking the net, using his strong skating ability and strength on the puck to fight through traffic to generate scoring chances. And as I alluded to earlier, he's a very strong three zone player who projects as a terrific two-way forward at the next level. This is a very complete player who is bound to generate buzz inside the Top 10 if he continues to improve next year as part of another strong Ottawa team.

5. Jacob Perreault - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Perreault was very impressive as a rookie in the OHL last year. The son of former NHL'er Yanic, Perreault is a multi-faceted offensive player. He does a lot of things well. His best asset is a terrific shot. Perreault's elite release allows him to be effective in traffic. He is also a good skater whose first few steps are quite impressive. His quick feet allow him to be a quick strike player who can find those soft spots and beat defenders to gaps or loose pucks. At the Hlinka Camp, we saw him be a lot more confident and aggressive as a puck carrier and this is something that I am really looking forward to seeing from him in his second OHL season. Last year, he was more of a supporting character who relied on his smarts and skill to finish off plays that his linemates created for him. But I want to see how well he creates his own chances this year. And speaking of the Hlinka, still shocked that he did not make that team. He would have been the perfect linemate for Quinton Byfield, who could use his speed and elusiveness to finish off the plays that he was creating.

6. Antonio Stranges - Forward - London Knights
Stranges is a tough player to rank heading into the new year. I had debated putting him lower, but ultimately settled on him here because of his high end upside. There are some things that I really liked last year and some things that concern me about his game. First the positives. Stranges' hands are so good. He is such a creative offensive player who can make multiple defenders miss on any given shift. He really can keep the puck on a string. Stranges is also an explosive skater who has such power in his stride. He has this 10/2, surfing style skating stride that allows him to cut and change direction so efficiently. When you combine his hands and skating, you have a very dynamic player in transition who can attack the offensive zone and really push the pace of attack. Stranges also has an absolutely lethal backhand. He generates just as much power on the backhand as he does with his wrist shot and as such, he goes to it a lot. Now some negatives. First is his ability to work through traffic. The majority of the "electricity" that I saw from Stranges last year occurred in the neutral zone and not the offensive end. So while it looked great, did it really create a scoring chance? I think this is part of why Stranges' ice time fluctuated so greatly in London last year, as the Hunters worked through getting Stranges to be more assertive and a willing combatant in the offensive end. Second is some of the negative things that I have heard about his demeanor, especially stemming from his surprise cut from the U.S. Hlinka team this offseason. Is he the type that will be willing to work on improving some of his weaker areas? But the potential here is sky high.


7. Jean Luc Foudy - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Like his brother Liam, Jean Luc's game is built around his elite skating ability. He is just so much fun to watch glide around. If he picks up the puck in his own end or neutral zone and is given some daylight, you aren't preventing him from gaining the opposing blueline. And he does a better job than Liam does, at times, in terms of not forcing plays or turning the puck over. Jean Luc is a good playmaker who will circle the offensive zone and continue to keep his feet moving until he feels confident distributing. With the NHL game getting faster and faster, Foudy could most definitely be an offensive asset. There are some things that I am looking for from him during the upcoming year though. The first is attacking the middle of the ice more with his speed. He can be kept to the perimeter currently, and while his speed is impressive, teams neutralize it by challenging him to bring the puck to the net, keeping him to the outside rather easily. I want to see him driving the net to open those lanes for his linemates more effectively, forcing defenders to actually come to him. I also want to see him identifying passing lanes more effectively in his own end and neutral zone. Late in the year (and this was evident at the Hlinka too), teams were really keying in on Foudy early, taking away his time and space before he could get a head of steam and turnovers were a bit of an issue. Lastly, like his brother Liam, Jean Luc's shot will need to improve. Again, teams will cheat when defending against him because they give him that space knowing that he is looking to pass. But his skating ability and skill make him a very exciting player to watch and it will be interesting to see if he can become more of a well rounded offensive player this year.

8. Will Cuylle - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Cuylle has a lot of things going for him as a prospect. Good sized winger who plays a power game. Good skater who can generate power on his net drives and who protects the puck well through traffic. Cuylle also has a very good release on his shot and projects as a goal scorer at the next level. I really respect the direct approach he takes on the ice. You give him an inch and he knows where he's going, straight through to the net. The rest of his game is pretty inconsistent. In minor midget, he showed an ability to take over games off of the rush, but this was not as easy for him (obviously) in the OHL last year and it led to some turnover issues at times. Want to see his vision with the puck improve, where he can use his power and strength to dominate possession time and really identify those passing lanes a little more effectively. I thought that this was evident at the Hlinka camp and at the Hlinka too. And obviously with his power and strength, seeing him dominate in all three zones is something that is very possible. But power forwards take time to develop and patience is going to be required here. Rome was not built in a day and Cuylle has all the parts necessary to make a terrific all situations power winger.

9. Jaromir Pytlik - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I really liked what I saw from Pytlik towards the end of last year and I'm extremely curious to see how this carries over to 2019/2020. This is especially true for his ability to create off the rush and show off an ability to be creative with the puck. He won't have Morgan Frost or likely Barrett Hayton (at least to start) to assist in this regard and Pytlik is going to be counted on heavily to be an impact player. I think his development in this regard will tell us a lot about the type of potential he possesses at the NHL level. What he is already, though, is a strong offensive player down low who operates well in traffic. Really liked how willing he was to take a beating in front of the net to make a play or score a goal. And his hands are quite smooth. It can be tough to evaluate him given how few games he played last year after joining the OHL late, so it will be interesting to see him more comfortable this year.

10. Ryan O'Rourke - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Hard nosed defender who was a standout in the defensive end, even as a 16 year old last year. Has that size, mobility, and physicality combination that you look for from potential defensive stalwarts these days. Really like O'Rourke's aggressiveness in the corners, especially, as you can tell that this is a kid who does not like losing a single battle along the wall. Where he can struggle at times (and I think this was evident at the recent Hlinka camp and at the Hlinka) is in his gap control. Can be forced to take some penalties if his feet aren't moving or if he's not hedging his man correctly. But this will come with experience as he learns to balance aggressiveness with his mobility and reach. Offensively, his point shot can be a weapon. He can really wind up and fire a puck. I'm hoping that we get a chance to see what he is capable of doing running the point of the powerplay in the Soo this year. And hopefully we get a chance to see him explore his ability to lead the rush too. What he does offensively this year will dictate just how high he can go at the draft as I'm fairly certain teams will love the potential he possesses defensively. 

11. Hayden Fowler - Forward - Erie Otters
A forgotten man, to a certain extent, due to the fractured clavicle that he suffered last year. Additionally, late birthdays entering their third year in the league can also be pushed out of the spotlight. But it's my job, sort of speak, to help you remember that Fowler is an explosive offensive player with serious offensive potential. His skating, hands, and creativity off the rush make him a very dangerous player in transition. When he's playing at the top of his game, he can be a really dangerous attacker who is aggressive and hungry through the middle of the ice. Strength on the puck in the corners, and having a little more confidence in his shot (which is good), are areas that I'm really looking for as he is finally healthy. Going to be a big part of Erie's resurgence moving forward.

12. Evan Vierling - Forward - Flint Firebirds
I'm sure his first OHL season didn't go exactly as planned after being selected second overall in 2018. But I thought there was some growth from beginning to the end of last year. And I saw even more growth at the Hlinka camp this summer. He is still a potentially strong two-way forward who can skate and that has value. He looked way stronger on and off the puck at the Hlinka, which allowed him to really drive possession in the offensive end, in addition to forcing some turnovers with great backchecks. On a list like this, I think we need to balance performance and expectation. Some kids get it right away like Perreault. And others need time. Vierling was a high OHL selection for a reason and those reasons will also make him a coveted player at the NHL draft should his game improve; and I think it will. We'll get a really good idea early on of where he is at when Ty Dellandrea is at Dallas' camp.

13. Ty Tullio - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Tullio personifies the term energy...or grit. He is like the energizer bunny on the ice. He just keeps going, and going, and going. His play away from the puck is often the first thing you notice about him. Forecheck, backcheck, driving the net. He is ultra aggressive in pursuit of the puck in any zone and any situation. And he's a good enough skater to close ground quickly, which means that he's quite often successful in his attempts to force turnovers. But Tullio is also a fairly skilled and confident puck carrier who works very well in transition, using power and cuts to remain unpredictable in his attacks. Like Vierling, I thought Tullio was terrific at the Hlinka camp and he should be in for a very good season in Oshawa. It's easy to see his game translating well to the NHL level. It's just a matter of how good his offensive game can become, and how high his potential is.

14. Logan Morrison - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
One thing I really like to see from 16 year old rookies is that they finish their rookie season strong. And that was definitely the case for Morrison. Injuries derailed his start, but in the final 31 games of the year, he had 28 points. Prorate to an entire season and that would have put him in line with Byfield and Perreault as the top scoring 02's behind Perfetti. Morrison is an extremely intelligent pivot who controls the middle of the ice well, dictating pace and using his strength on the puck to gain entry in the offensive zone. I see a very well rounded player who could develop into an elite two-way, all situations type of center in this league and moving forward. Where Morrison lacked a bit last year was in his skating. Not enough power in his stride to really drive the play consistently. But at the Hlinka camp this summer, I thought his skating definitely looked improved. It will obviously be a focal point moving forward for him, but he could be in for a big year with Hamilton. 

15. Donovan Sebrango - Defense - Kichener Rangers
I'm usually pretty cautious ranking defenders on my first ranking for the draft, so the next three guys (Sebrango, Moore, Thompson) are probably a little lower than they should be, even though I really like all of them. Sebrango really impressed as a 16/17 year old defender last year. He uses his good mobility to make clean exits out of the defensive zone, handling the forecheck well. He quarterbacks the powerplay well and has great potential manning the point. And he showed little quit in the defensive end. Even though he didn't win every battle against bigger forwards, he was aggressive and assertive. He should become a very solid all around defender as he gains strength. For the Hlinka team this summer, he was utilized more in a stay at home role, excelling as a penalty killer. This really showed how effective he can be in his own end. I'm most curious to see this year, how his puck skill and ability to create in transition develops. He had some trouble with turnovers at times last year, but the potential for him to improve greatly is present.

16. Lleyton Moore - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Maybe not the rookie season that Moore would have imagined, between injury issues and a trade to Oshawa. But that should not diminish Moore's potential to be an impact defender in the OHL. Of any defenseman on this list (Drysdale included), Moore's offensive skill set and potential as a point producer are tops in this OHL class. Yes, he's undersized at around 5'8, which will no doubt impact his draft stock if he does not produce consistently from the back-end. However, size is less important in today's NHL and more smaller players are being drafted, and drafted high than ever before. A defender at 5'8 is going to be heavily critiqued. But, this kid is a potential elite powerplay QB and puck mover. His four way mobility is excellent, especially his ability to cut on a dime. This makes him extremely elusive and difficult to pin down. And I thought that at the Hlinka camp, his stride had more power which made him a more effective offensive player 5 on 5. I'm pretty confident that Moore will produce for Oshawa this year, so it will come down to how effective he is in his own end.

17. Jack Thompson - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
One of the most underrated prospects from the OHL currently. Would not shock me at all if Thompson ends up as the second OHL defender drafted in June behind Drysdale. This is a kid with massive pro potential who improved greatly over the course of his rookie OHL season in Sudbury. Uses his skating ability very effectively to be involved in transition, be it as a leader or trailer. And shows great poise and promise as a powerplay QB, something he did regularly on the top unit in Sudbury. He has a very powerful point shot that will see him score his share of goals in the OHL. He's aggressive in sliding into the high slot to get himself those looks too. With his size (6'1 and growing), and his mobility, there's a chance that his defensive game could eventually become quite good too. If he gets off to a good start with the Wolves (who I expect to be a solid team), I will likely move him up pretty aggressively. This is a solid pro prospect who I know some teams are already looking at as a potential first rounder.

18. Cameron Butler - Forward - Peterborough Petes
The forward version of Thompson in the sense that I feel like Butler is underrated by the scouting community right now and could move up lists quickly if he starts the season well. This is a 6'4 power winger with speed and great potential as a goal scorer. Even as a 16 year old, defenders had a difficult time stopping him in transition, at times, as he powered his way to the net. But he also has a terrific and explosive wrist shot that he can unleash while in full stride. As the season progressed, we really started to see him assert himself physically without the puck too and I look forward to that area of his game being more consistent this year. What I am unsure of currently is just how well rounded Butler's offensive game can become. As someone who can drive the net and use his speed and power combination, how good can he be when the game slows down? I didn't see a player with terrific vision last year, nor someone with dynamic puck carrying ability. But as he gains confidence, this could change/improve. Raw but explosive player with a very high ceiling as it stands now.

19. Jack Quinn - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Always tough to rank late birth date players from the previous year in a list like this. So I tend to be a little tentative with them too, at the start, as you'll see with several of them in the back half of this top 30. Quinn is a very talented offensive playmaker who possesses dynamic puck skill and creativity. He can prolong possession in the offensive end because he keeps the puck on a string and is able to maneuver in and out of traffic, keeping defenders off balance. Quinn also has good vision and identifies passing lanes well, anticipating where his linemates will be. The motor is strong here, but his skating would be classified as average right now. Can have trouble creating the space he needs to in order to drive the play consistently. And as a player under 6'0 and slight of build, he can have trouble being an effective player in the middle of the ice. Because the hands and vision are quite good, and because he is going to get an increased role this year, he could really explode offensively. But a lot of that will be dependent on whether he was able to become a little more explosive and strong on his skates this summer.

20. Brandon Coe - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Another late born 2001, Coe's biggest issue at this point is consistency. He flashes an ability to dominate on the puck in the offensive zone with his blend of power and skill. At 6'3, he can be a real load for defenders below the hash marks. He has these shifts where he's able to maintain possession for extended periods and is able to create by driving the net with an explosive push that catches defenders off guard. In a nut shell, I think all the tools are there. He has shown a strong wrist shot and an ability to score in a variety of ways. He has shown strong vision and playmaking ability in the offensive end. He has shown a strong motor and an ability to impact the game in all three zones without the puck. But what he has not been able to show is an ability to string together strong consecutive periods or games, or his entire toolbox throughout a game. Will he be able to put things together this year in North Bay, considering that the team is going to rely on him to be a go to player? And even if the puck skill and productivity never develop fully, can he still be a valuable NHL prospect as a forechecker and two-way power presence? 

21. Jake Murray - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Pretty tough for Murray to standout last year on such a poor Kingston team. He definitely went through some growing pains adjusting to the pace of play and the strength of opposing forwards. No question, he's a "raw" player. But the pro potential is quite strong here. This is a 6'3 kid who projects well as an offensive defender because he flashes strong four way mobility, vision, and a big point shot. Based on what I saw last year, his intensity level will need to be consistently higher. And his decision making with the puck under pressure will need to improve. Additionally, I'd like to see him become a little more explosive in his pushes, even if he has that sort of smooth stride that looks like he's coasting, but in reality, he's coasting past people. All of that said, I saw improvements in all of those areas at the Hlinka camp this summer. If he can carry that over to the OHL this year, he could move quickly up draft lists. Kingston is still going to be in tough most nights, but Murray should have a better season.

22. Alec Belanger - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Small sample size, but Belanger was quite impressive for the 67's as a 16 year old last year. You don't have to spend much time watching Belanger to see how intelligent he is. Really liked some of the decisions he made as an offensive player, be it holding the blueline, making quick decisions in his own end to start the breakout, or cutting to the middle to open up shooting or passing lanes. He also showed well defensively with that strong IQ, taking good routes to dump ins and succeeding in coverage with an active stick. But, at this point, I do think that there are some limitations with his mobility. He can look a little stiff at times when moving laterally and backwards, and his forward stride isn't the most powerful, which can limit his effectiveness as a puck mover. I've read a few articles recently talking about this and how Belanger dedicated his summer to really improving his skating. I'm very excited to see how he looks this year because I was a fan last year.

23. Isaak Phillips - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
I really wanted to put Phillips higher on this list. The late 2001 is a very interesting player. He's a 6'3 defender, but I actually think he may be one of the better skaters on this list. His mobility is a big time asset on the back-end. With his reach and an improving skill set, it's pretty hard to put a limit on his high end ceiling. This kid is a pure athlete. But his game will need refinement. When he looks to attack with the puck, he can get himself bottled up in the neutral zone, even with his skating ability. And defensively, he relies a lot on his mobility, but will need to improve his reads and decision making with the puck to limit turnovers. So is he a two-way defender? Is he a future stay at home stalwart? Can his vision with the puck develop further? How well does he think the game? I think these are all questions that will be answered this year. If he plays well, you can bet that I will be moving him up pretty aggressively. Like Cameron Butler above, this is a kid that NHL teams are going to be very curious about.

24. Cameron Tolnai - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Admittedly, this placement is based solely on potential. Due to Ottawa's depth, Tolnai wasn't really able to show what he was capable of last year. In a lot of my viewings of Ottawa, he just wasn't noticeable for good or bad. But a lot of people I trust still vouch for him and as a former 6th overall pick, he still deserves to be ranked. This is especially true when you consider that Tolnai is the big power center with the potential to dominate in all three zones that every NHL team is looking for. As a minor midget player, Tolnai was one of the most complete prospects in the age group; equally dominant with and without the puck. So what does this season hold for Tolnai? He likely enters the year as Ottawa's 3rd line center behind Rossi and Hoelscher, and will most definitely receive more playing time. What he does with that playing time remains to be seen. One of the prospects on this list that I am most excited to see progression from this year, especially after not getting a great read on him last year.

25. Gerard Keane - Defense - London Knights
Given how much of a fan I am of Joey Keane, it should probably come as no surprise to see me rank his brother Gerard inside this top 30. Like Belanger, Keane showed well in limited action with London last year. He profiles as a similar player to his brother. He has a very impressive skating stride and overall mobility. And even though he's 5'10, he's stocky and was fairly successful in his own end. Defends in a similar way to former OHL'er Travis Dermott. Keane also flashed some real nice skill with the puck that makes me think he could be a point producer and powerplay QB one day. London is going to have some serious battles for defensive playing time this year, but the field is wide open for Keane to grab playing time if he plays well, which I think he will.

26. Reid Valade - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Valade is an aggressive attacking winger who possesses good speed and an understanding of how to play without the puck. He's undersized at 5'10, but he's actually quite successful in the corners and near the crease already. He keeps his feet moving well and can be a major asset in the cycle. I have some questions as to his offensive upside and whether he can truly be an impact offensive player. His shot and release looked to be only average last year. And I wonder how good his hands are and whether he can be a consistent playmaker off of the rush. Is he someone the Rangers will plug into Joseph Garreffa's role now that it's been announced that he won't be returning?

27. Mark Woolley - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Again, tough to rank late birthdays, especially ones with Woolley's particular skill set. 6'2, 200lbs and solid in his own end, Woolley definitely will be a quality stay at home defender in the OHL for the next several years. He has the entire toolbox that you like to see from players of this ilk; good mobility, physical tenacity, heart, and defensive awareness. But offensively, things haven't progressed quite as well. While he will use his mobility to jump up in the rush at times, his skill with the puck and general decision making would have to be considered quite raw. No question, his ability to start the breakout and his confidence with the puck will need to improve. But I have seen enough from him to believe that the potential for him to develop into a two-way defender still exists. 

28. James Hardie - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Hardie has high end goal scoring potential because he owns one of the best shots and releases in the age group. Possesses the ability to generate a lot of power on his shot while in full stride too, not just while setting up in the slot. Also liked Hardie's aggressiveness in attacking the net, looking to find those soft spots. Thought he looked good as a skater without the puck, but with the puck on his stick, he seems to lose a step. Additionally, I found that he struggled receiving passes while in stride, in addition to playing through the neutral zone. I also wonder just how good of a playmaker he is, as that vision in the offensive zone was not something I noticed. But, all of these things can be attributed to strength and confidence deficits that are normal for rookies. As one of the top goal scorers available, he deserves to be on this list with the hope that other parts of his game greatly improve.

29. Aidan Prueter - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Another late 2001 born player, Prueter is a high energy forward who can have an impact in all three zones with his energy and tenacity, on and off the puck. In the offensive end, he always keeps his feet moving and can be tough to pin down. Working the cycle, he also exhibits good vision and can create coming off of the wall. When he doesn't have the puck, he is hungry to get it and plays with a fire that can be infectious for his linemates. But I'm just not sure if he's a good enough skater at 5'10 to really draw serious NHL attention. He can have difficulty creating separation off the rush and is more dangerous operating at a slower pace. Additionally, I wonder about his high end offensive potential and whether his hands and finishing ability are good enough. We'll learn more about that during the upcoming season when Prueter can settle in with consistent ice time in Mississauga for a full year.

30. Alex Johnston - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
This one may surprise some people. And I could have probably gone with any one of the HM's at the 30 spot. But in a preseason list, I'm going to go with a player that really impressed me, even if the production wasn't terrific, especially from a late birth date 2001. I just felt that every time I saw the Hounds in the second half of the season, this guy was was noticeable in a limited role. And by the time playoffs rolled around, his role had increased, but his play had not dropped. He skates quite well and I was always impressed by his ability to carve up the neutral zone and gain entry to the offensive zone. And while he wasn't always effective at playing through traffic or maintaining possession through the middle of the ice, it did not stop him from trying. I think this guy has a real high upside once he fills out and adds that strength. I think he's a top 6 center and an important player for the Greyhounds this year.

Honorable Mentions

Riley Piercey - Forward - Barrie Colts

Luke Evangelista - Forward - London Knights

Tyson Foerster - Forward - Barrie Colts

Rory Kerins - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Kyle McDonald - Forward - Windsor Spitfires

Nick Wong - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs

Colton Kammerer - Defense - Sarnia Sting

Zayde Wisdom - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs

Dylan Robinson - Forward - Oshawa Generals

Isaac Langdon - Forward - Kitchener Rangers

Nolan Seed - Defense - Owen Sound Attack

Will Cranley - Goaltender - Ottawa 67's

Appearing Soon

Ruben Rafkin - Defense - Windsor Spitfires

Oliver Suni - Forward - Oshawa Generals

Kirill Steklov - Defense - London Knights

Declan McDonnell - Forward - Kitchener Rangers

Aidan Campbell - Goaltender - Erie Otters

Clark Hiebert - Defense - Guleph Storm

Dylan Robinson - Defense - Windsor Spitfires

Ethan Cardwell - Forward - Saginaw Spirit

Elias Cohen - Forward - Erie Otters

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