Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing (2020)

This is a yearly tradition (take a look at the Sunday Top 10 sidebar for other years). It's time to examine the top overagers in the OHL, available to be signed by NHL teams for the 2020 calendar year.

No players on this list have signed an NHL deal as of the current moment (which is a tad rare). This list does intend to rank players according to the likelihood that they continue their career at the professional level. 

Likely more than half of the players on this list will not end up getting a professional contract and will play in the CIS. It's the nature of the beast. The bottom line is that a few will and many will not (be signed) and those players who do not, will take advantage of their education package while continuing to play a high level of hockey at a Canadian University.

It's important to note that this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team (for example Greg Meireles or Cole Coskey). This list is for those players who are NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on their birth date).

Here's the list:

1. Noel Hoefenmayer - Defense - Ottawa 67's
When the Arizona Coyotes chose not to sign Hoefenmayer last June, you could say that the writing was on the wall for him to appear on this list. You knew he was going to have a big OA season on what was likely to be one of the best teams in the country. But, I get why they didn't sign him. Despite putting up near a point per game last year, nothing really screamed "future NHL'er" about Hoefenmayer. Great head for the game with the puck on his stick, but average size, average skating ability, and average defensive ability meant that his skill set offensively just wasn't as likely to translate. But, without question, he has shown enough improvement this year to warrant an NHL deal. Yes, the 67's are great and the environment/skill he is surrounded by does elevate his game. But Hoefenmayer is on pace to be the first OHL defender since Ryan Ellis (2011) to hit the 90+ mark and seems to be heading towards capturing both the Max Kaminsky (Defender of the Year) and the Leo Lalande (OA of the Year). One could argue that the 67's are only so good because of Hoefenmayer and his ability to move the puck. I think his skating is noticeably improved this year. His stride looks a lot more explosive and it has helped him create more consistently at even strength (even if half of his points have come with the man advantage). Additionally, I think he has improved a lot in his own end. His intensity level has increased and we're seeing him be more difficult to play against as he has become more physically engaged. At this point, there's certainly a chance that he could eventually develop into a powerplay QB and third pairing defender at the NHL level and I would be shocked if he does not receive a contract.

2. Brett Neumann - Center - Oshawa Generals
Neumann is an undersized, scoring center who is one of the quickest skaters in the OHL. He can flat out fly out there. His skating ability will play at the next level. Neumann is also a terrific goal scorer who seems like a lock to break the 45 goal mark for the second season in a row (on top of competing for the goal scoring title). His shot is a major asset as his release is excellent, especially while in full stride. He scores a lot in transition, be it off breakaways or odd man rushes. He also has a penchant for jumping into the slot quickly. But Neumann can score dirty too. He is a very effective forechecker with his speed and he plays a relatively fearless game, crashing the net and finding those soft spots near the crease. He's not necessarily a creative player. His game is straight forward; up and down. But it works. And I think an NHL team could take a chance on him to see how effective his speed can be at the pro level. This is especially true if he can have a little better playoff performance for the Generals this season. As teams try to take away his space a little more aggressively, can he adjust, or better yet, can he continue to blow by them?

3. Joseph Garreffa - Left Wing - Ottawa 67's
Speaking of good skaters, look no further than Garreffa. He's certainly quite small (5'7), but because of his elite skating ability, his lack of size does not prevent him from being an impact player in the OHL. His season got a bit of a late start this year due to the fact that Garreffa tried to crack a pro roster, but his point per game average is among the best in the league. Now fully focused on playing forward, Garreffa has found great chemistry with Marco Rossi and Austen Keating on the top line in Ottawa. As mentioned, his skating and puck control are his best assets. He is very elusive because of his ability to use his edges, or stop and start quickly, all while maintaining possession of the puck. He can be dangerous in transition, but also works the half wall well, while cycling with Rossi and Keating. While I do think an NHL contract is not extremely likely, I would be shocked if Garreffa does not earn an AHL/ECHL deal this offseason, where he can prove to NHL scouts that his lack of size will not hinder his ability to produce offensively at the next level.

4. Jonathan Yantsis - Right Wing - Kitchener Rangers
It's kind of funny to have Yantsis and Garreffa back to back on this list considering that they could not be more different as players. Yantsis is a 6'3, 210lbs goal scorer who plays a North/South power game and understands that he is most effective within five feet of the crease. He was a 50 goal scorer last year and could still hit that mark again this year (with 32 in 45 games currently). Yantsis is not going to win any skating competitions. But his shot, hands, and scoring instincts are major assets. He is also a great net front presence who is adept at getting under the skin of the opposition. The key for Yantsis this year will be having a good playoff run. He has struggled in the postseason previously and likely will need to be a driving force for the Rangers in the playoffs to earn that pro contract. There is still a place in the game for players like Yantsis, who can use their size to impose their will in the offensive zone, pending they are smart enough and good enough finishers. Yantsis may just fit that category.

5. Austen Keating - Left Wing - Ottawa 67's
I view Keating very similarly to Kevin Hancock last year and I suspect that he too will get himself an AHL/ECHL deal if he wants it (and doesn't go to school). The physical tools certainly don't wow you. He's not a huge kid. He's not the world's greatest skater. He's not a physically aggressive player. But what Keating is, is one of the OHL's smartest players. He plays all three zones equally well and has a lot of versatility to his game. He is fine letting Rossi and Garreffa handle most of the puck handling duties, especially for zone entry. But he can work the wall and keep plays alive with his hands. He can forecheck and force turnovers. He consistently finds those openings in the defense and has that "magnetic" relationship with the puck that all high IQ forwards have. He's not big, but he will crash the net. Basically what I'm trying to say is that Keating plays pretty much any role asked of him by coach Tourigny, and he does it well. Without those physical tools, it's unlikely he gets an NHL deal. He'll have to work his way up (like Hancock). But Keating will likely pass Tyler Toffoli for 10th place on the 67's all time scoring list, which also makes him the franchise's highest scoring player in the more modern era (none of the other 9 played post 1990). 

6. Kyle MacLean -Center - Oshawa Generals 
The son of former New Jersey Devil and Stanley Cup Champion John MacLean, Kyle has also served as the captain of the Generals the last two seasons. It was thought that he would be playing in the AHL this year with Bridgeport, after signing an AHL deal last summer. But he was returned to the Generals in October. Obviously he's still hunting for that NHL deal over the two way AHL contract. Kyle is a chip off the old block of his father. He is one of the stronger two-way forwards in the OHL. He skates well. He makes intelligent decisions with the puck. He excels working the wall and on the forecheck. His vision and playmaking ability are quite strong. The hands and creativity are only average. And his shot has never really developed into much of a weapon. But he will go through a wall for his team and is guaranteed to be playing pro somewhere next year. The offensive potential at the next level is going to be pretty limited, but he could easily end up a fourth line NHL forward and penalty killer at some point during his future career.

7. Liam Hawel - Right Wing/Center - Kitchener Rangers
A Dallas Stars draft pick in 2017, they opted not to sign him after a strong year with the Guelph Storm in 2018/19, that included an OHL Championship. I thought he was a bubble guy, considering his 6'4 frame and his still developing tools. But I did see why they didn't sign him. Has Hawel improved from last year? Not really. That's not a bad thing, because he's a quality OHL player. However he's likely going to have to work his way up the pro level. He does provide versatility with his ability to play down the middle and on the wing. He controls the wall well and is not afraid to use his size down low. He shields the puck well and operates best as a playmaker who can work the cycle to prolong possession, or spin off checks to make quick cuts to the middle. His hands and shot are definitely more in the average range. And his skating is certainly not the strongest. But he has a pro frame that should be able to add even more weight to it, making him even stronger to knock off the puck in tight and below the hash marks. The level of pro attention he gets will likely be closely tied to his playoff performance this year for the Rangers.

8. Ryan McGregor - Center - Sarnia Sting
Another 2017 NHL draft pick (by Toronto) who was not signed despite a pretty solid season in 2018/19. This year started off slow due to some nagging injuries, but he has played better the last few months. I feel a little bit bad for McGregor because I think he definitely has some pro qualities, but the fact that he was not dealt by Sarnia and will finish the season with the Sting hurts his chances at a pro deal. If he had moved to a contender, he would have had a shot at a long playoff run, where he could show scouts that he can succeed in tighter checking games and play a little more effectively through traffic, a knock against him. But McGregor is a highly intelligent two-way pivot who is a strong playmaker, both in transition and at a slower pace. I think he has been more assertive with the puck this year and is shooting more. He is also a strong faceoff man. I think if he played with a little more jam, teams would look at him as a potential fourth line center, but he is more of a finesse oriented kind of player. 

9. Sean Josling - Right Wing - Sarnia Sting
Back to back Sarnia Sting players here, with McGregor and Josling being pretty interchangeable on this list despite playing different kinds of games. Josling is more of an energy winger who has a really good motor that helps him excel as a transitional attacker, forechecker, and penalty killer. Josling has had a very good year, improving each of his four years in the league, and that is something scouts do really like to see. Like McGregor, I feel bad that Josling wasn't dealt to a contender to show well in the playoffs, as his game is built for the postseason (as he showed in 2018). I've got him lower than McGregor simply because he's not quite as strong of a skater. If he were a little quicker or a little bigger, NHL teams might look at him as a potential checking line player. And they still might; he's had a great year. 

10. Brady Lyle - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Lyle is a solid offensive defender and powerplay QB with size (6'3, 210lbs). He looks most comfortable running the point, be it with or without the man advantage. Holds the line, owns a big point shot, makes quick decisions with the puck. He's actually tied for second in the OHL in shootout goals too, which is a testament to his good/quick hands. Lyle is also a pretty good skater. He doesn't possess elite power or explosiveness, but he does have good agility/edgework and that's part of why he excels so much as a point man. As a puck carrier, his effectiveness is a little more inconsistent. At times he could stand to be more decisive with the puck in transition and in starting the breakout. And while his defensive positioning is generally solid, he's never been a guy to really assert himself physically in his own end. At the end of the day, Lyle is a solid OHL defender who I think could definitely have a pro career. Just not sure he's a dynamic enough offensive player for an NHL team to offer a contract to. Like the others on this list, he may have to work his way up.

Honorable Mentions

At this point, I don't see any OA goaltenders drawing interest from professional clubs. 

Kingston captain Jakob Brahaney certainly has some pro qualities to his game. He has good size at 6'1, is not afraid to assert himself physically, and he uses his strong stride to lead the rush and move the puck. There are some limitations to his offensive ability and his decision making, but he's had a nice year leading a young Kingston team. Peterborough's Hudson Wilson is a tough, stay at home defender who is a rock in his own end. He's a terrific shot blocker and his work along the boards is excellent. Uses his size well to separate his man from the puck and rarely loses a battle for the puck. Offensively, his skill set is very limited though. Saginaw's DJ Busdeker is an interesting kid. Started his OHL career as a forward. Has played defense primarily for the better part of two months. He's a skilled player and a terrific skater. But he's undersized at 5'10 and where his future lies at the pro level remains to be seen.

I think you need to mention former first overall OHL selection David Levin here. His skating has never developed, but you can not deny his skill level with the puck. He has had a strong year; over the point per game mark for the first time. His play away from the puck has improved too, with Levin even killing penalties this year. London's Jason Willms and Owen Sound's Matthew Struthers deserve mentioning here. Both are big bodied centers. Willms is one of the league's better two-way forwards and faceoff men. Struthers is a strong playmaker who can control the middle of the ice by using his size to protect the puck. Neither are terrific skaters, but they play a heavy, pro style game. Two other similar kind of players are SSM's Jaden Peca and Sudbury's Brad Chenier. Both guys are energy players who provide a lot of versatility to their OHL clubs. They excel below the hash marks and have the hands to make plays in transition.


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