Sunday, March 1, 2020
Sunday Top 10 - Most Impressive 2003 Born Players
One of the many annual traditions I have on this blog is to rank the new batch of OHL rookies in order of the impression they left on me. Only the "true" OHL rookies have been included, thus why it's labeled the "Most Impressive 2003 born players."
I always like to note that this isn't an early ranking for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. This ranking isn't the order in which I believe these players should be ranked for the draft, but an order of which players impressed me most. It's not a draft prognostication, it's an acknowledgment of the significant impact these players have had on their teams this season.
A quick note. Shane Wright is not listed here because he is a 2004. He will appear (and most likely be number one) on next year's list. I like to separate the age groups to make it easier to compare players to their age equivalent peers (this has been consistent with previous exceptional players)
As mentioned, this is a tradition, so here are the previous year's lists.
2002's, 2001's, 2000's, 1999's, 1998's. 1997's. 1996's. 1995's. 1994's. 1993's. 1992's.
Here is this year's list:
1. Brandt Clarke - Defense - Barrie Colts
Clarke has come as advertised this year, stepping right into a top four role with Barrie, seeing a ton of minutes in all situations. His game has really taken a step forward in the last few months too, after the Tyler Tucker deal and the dismissal of Warren Rychel. He has a great shot of hitting the 40 point mark as an U17 year old defender, generally used as the benchmark for an elite rookie season (Drysdale, Merkley, Pietrangelo, Ellis, some of the more recent ones to hit the mark). He really is the complete package as a defender. I've actually been most impressed by his play in his own end. Probably the most advanced defensively as a U17 player since Aaron Ekblad. As a right shot defender and with a blossoming offensive skill set, Clarke should be a top 5 selection at next year's NHL draft.
2. Ben Gaudreau - Goaltender - Sarnia Sting
It is so tough for U17 goaltenders to come into this league and play well. Takes a lot of mental toughness and Gaudreau has needed that, playing sparingly early on in the year. But in the second half, he's been good. The Sting allow a ton of rubber to get through, yet Gaudreau has had some remarkable performances in the face of many high end scoring chances. There's a reason why many scouts were telling me that Gaudreau was the best goaltending prospect to come through the OHL in years. The thing that has impressed me the most is the refinement in Gaudreau's movement and his strength in holding his post for a young kid. You don't see him out of position very often. I would say that Gaudreau has a real shot of being one of Canada's goaltenders at the U18's this year as an underager (if the event happens in the face of the coronavirus).
3. Mason McTavish - Forward - Peterborough Petes
While McTavish definitely looks to have hit a bit of a rookie wall in the second half, we can't discount how impressive he looked in the first half. His shot and release are truly a thing of beauty. His hands are elite and he is able to create those scoring chances with subtle moves/fakes. He has a very real possibility of being a 40+ goal scorer in his NHL draft year next year, especially if he's able to improve his conditioning and continue to round out the rest of his game. This is a top end NHL draft prospect for next year.
4. Brett Harrison - Forward - Oshawa Generals
The Generals have done a great job of developing their high end forwards in recent years by putting them in a position to succeed and giving them ice time in all situations. Not only has Harrison been very noticeable this year, he's done it by playing through traffic and excelling near the crease and below the hash marks. I have also really liked his play in all three zones. Very smart two-way forward already. Harrison's success this year was one of the reasons that Oshawa felt that they could move Serron Noel, as quite frankly, Harrison has played his role just as well, if not better.
5. Brennan Othmann - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Speaking of strong two-way forwards, look no further than Othmann. His attention to detail in all three zones is so advanced for his age. This was noticeable to me as a minor midget player and it has carried over seamlessly to the OHL. His anticipation and IQ without the puck is elite. But his offensive game has improved from start to finish this year and he is gaining confidence in his ability to play with the puck and be someone who can drive possession in the offensive end. As he gets stronger, I look for him to be one of the toughest players to knock off the puck in the OHL.
6. Francesco Pinelli - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Not an NHL draft ranking, but when my first 2021 rankings come out next summer, Pinelli will be high. Consistency has been a bit of an issue this year, but he seems to have at least one or two moments every game that really make you take notice of his explosiveness and offensive skill. He has an elite level shot. He can play the power game. He shows dedication to all three zones. He is, and has the potential to be a very complete player. Really looking forward to seeing that power game and physicality take a step forward next year, as it was the thing I loved most about his game in MM.
7. Wyatt Johnson - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
After a very slow start, Johnson has steadily improved over the course of the season. 25 points in his last 32 games. But like Othmann, I've been very impressed with Johnson's attention to detail and IQ without the puck. He's got a real active stick in the neutral zone and is already effective and consistent in applying back pressure. It is obvious that his ability to process things on the ice is elite. It will be interesting to see how his offensive skill set develops next year in his NHL draft year as I think he has even more in the tank to show us as he gains confidence in his ability to be a driving force with the puck, especially as a center.
8. Connor Lockhart - Forward - Erie Otters
Stats don't tell the whole story. The third overall pick last year is only 14th in rookie scoring, but he's been better than that IMO. His skating ability and overall skill level is very noticeable if you watch the Erie Otters. The fact that he only has 9 goals this year is somewhat shocking considering how quick his release is. He just really needs to get stronger. Too easily pushed off the puck at this point in time. But his skill level is so high and his hands can create the space that he needs to operate. The one thing that I'm curious about from an NHL draft perspective is, will he be a center long term, or a winger?
9. Ethan Del Mastro - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Like Wyatt Johnson, Del Mastro has been one of the most improved players on this list from start to finish. On numbers alone (only 7 assists this year, no goals), he doesn't sniff this list. But again, it's more than stat watching. In the second half, Del Mastro has emerged as a top four defender for the Steelheads, who have been playing some great hockey during that time. His confidence with the puck has really improved and he is starting to use his mobility more to his advantage. Defensively, he has been a physical presence and has shown well as someone who can consistently win those battles in the corners and in front of the net. Let's see how the offensive game develops next year.
10. Chase Stillman - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Feel a little bad about having Stillman this far down, considering the excellent year he has had. But its a strong crop of OHL rookies and someone has to be number 10. Chase has proven to be a terrific support player for the Wolves, already capable of winning those battles in the corners and in front of the net. Much like his brother Riley, he definitely brings a physical element that I expect to continue to blossom. Stillman also has a terrific shot and should develop as an elite goal scorer in this league. I would expect him to have a great year next year with more playing time, especially on the powerplay.
Honorable Mentions (Alphabetical)
Liam Arnsby - Forward - North Bay Battalion
The offensive production hasn't really been there so far, but Arnsby has brought it physically, something he was known for last year with the Don Mills Flyers. Has shown no fear in terms of challenging older or larger players and as he gains confidence, the offensive side of his game should improve.
Jack Beck - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Along with Ryan Winterton, Beck was the other player that I really wanted to get inside the Top 10. He is such an intelligent offensive support player. Finds those soft spots in the middle of the ice. Understands spacing. Is great along the wall and on the forecheck already. There is a reason why Andre Tourigny has had Beck in the top 9 all season, recently with Jack Quinn and Mitch Hoelscher.
Josh Bloom - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Big winger with a nice offensive skill set who can play through the middle of the ice. Has made the most of inconsistent ice time on a strong Saginaw team. I think he could breakout in a big way next year with some openings in the top 6.
Ethan Burroughs - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Competitive winger who plays all out, every shift. Attacks on the forecheck. Drives the middle of the ice. Wins board battles. Backchecks. Brings it physically. Burroughs is the type of player that Owen Sound has been developing well during their solid run the last decade.
Maddox Callens - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Not quite sure what the high end upside is, but he has impressed as a bottom six workhorse in the same way that Zayde Wisdom did last year. Plays a strong North/South game and is always looking to drive the net.
Paul Christopoulous - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Probably cruel for me to have Paul and not twin brother Alex on this list (who is one of several other players I could have listed as HM's), but I remain such a big fan of this defender's game. Was one of my favourite MM draft prospects last year and I think he's had a solid first year despite that ugly plus/minus (-40). His ability to start the breakout and his fearlessness as a defensive player make him noticeable on a nightly basis.
Isaac Enright - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Similar to Del Mastro, Enright has been better than the stat line indicates, playing a consistent role for the rebuilding IceDogs. Smart, two-way defender with high end offensive potential. He definitely has a chance to be one of the better defenders in this OHL age group.
Deni Goure - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Goure is a quick strike offensive player who plays with pace and makes plays in transition. Has a quick release and should develop as a high end goal scorer in the OHL. Like Lockhart, I do wonder whether he is a center or wing long term. But Goure possesses high end offensive potential.
Braden Hache - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Getting some Kevin Bahl flashbacks watching Hache this year. Not really hitting the score sheet, but he's made a difference in the defensive end with his size and physical engagement level. Has had some trouble with injuries this year, but I think his kid has a bright future on the Kingston blueline.
Teddy Sawyer - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Man, the 67's blueline is in good hands in the future. Sawyer, Jack Matier, and Ranvir Gill-Shane have all played very well as U17 rookies. Sawyer has impressed me the most though with his mobility, puck carrying ability, and intense physical play.
Ty Voit - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Undersized forward who has had a strong start to his OHL career in Sarnia. He is very slick with the puck and possesses an inordinate amount of skill. He's like a waterbug out there at times. Will be very interesting to see how his game develops next year. Massive upside here.
Ryan Winterton - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
I really wanted to squeeze Winterton inside the Top 10. He would be #11 on this list, without a doubt. Like Johnson and Del Mastro, the improvement in his game from September to now has been very noticeable. Love that Hamilton has played him with Lawson Sherk most of the year too (who probably could have been on this list as an HM too). Really like how Winterton controls the half wall and is able to make plays in traffic, despite being a U17 player. Very intrigued to see how develops next year.