Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sunday Top 10 - 2020 NHL Draft Re-Entries

It's that time of the year for my annual (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015201420132012201120102009) list of the top second and third year eligible OHL players for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. NHL teams continue to draft re-entry players in increasing number. This is mostly because drafting a second or third year eligible player gives NHL teams a lot of flexibility in their development under the CBA. Plus, a lot of these guys have been having success in recent years (Joey Keane and Sean Durzi as legitimate NHL prospects and Andrew Mangiapane, Tanner Pearson, Colin Miller, and Andrew Shaw as legitimate NHL players are great examples from the OHL), which basic psychology tells us that other NHL teams will try to mimic.

Just to clarify, yet again, for those with limited understanding of the NHL draft system; North American players have either two or three years to get drafted, depending on their birth date. For those born from January 1 to September 15, they will go through three NHL drafts. For those born from September 16 to December 31, they will go through two NHL drafts. The players on this list are a mix of those having been passed over once or twice already.

Also, do not confuse this list with players drafted in 2018 who will re-enter the draft should they fail to come to a contractual agreement with their NHL team by June 1 (and whose birth date still allows them to be eligible). Quite often those too are referred to as draft re-entries. But this list does not contain them because it is not yet known who those players will be.

Last year only two re-entries from the OHL were drafted (Meireles and Coskey). But, as you know, it was a significant down year for the OHL across the board. This year, I think that number will be significantly higher. I am going to guess that we'll see 6-7 of these guys drafted. It's a very strong group led by Nico Daws, who should be a top 75 selection.

Without further rambling, here's my list:

1. Nico Daws - Goaltender - Guelph Storm
It should come as no surprise to see Daws as the top ranked player on this list. He had a heck of a year for the Guelph Storm in his first season as a starter in the OHL, finishing tops in save percentage at .924%. This also led to an appearance for Canada at the WJC's (although his performance was less than stellar at the event). The Guelph Storm were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the OHL this year, but thanks to the remarkable play of Daws (and several other players), they managed to have a successful season that saw them near the top of the Western Conference for a good chunk of the year. A lot of Daws' success, from a personal standpoint, can be attributed to his dedication to improved conditioning this past offseason. He lost 25lbs on the Keto diet and the effect on his abilities was profoundly positive. It made him much quicker post to post, and gave him better overall agility. This allowed him to use his 6'4 frame more effectively to challenge shooters, and to still be able to recover and track the play. Guelph had one of the stronger penalty killing units in the OHL this year because of how well Daws fights through traffic to make saves, how well he squares to shooters, and how well he takes away the bottom part of the net while being forced to move and cover his posts. Daws is also a terrific puckhandler who is ultra aggressive in playing the puck, a bit of a lost art in today's trapezoid age. One thing Daws will have to clean up is his rebound control, especially on higher shots. He can give up too many second chance opportunities on point shots because of this. However, he is the likely OHL Goaltender of the Year, and the top ranked goaltender in North America by NHL Central Scouting for a reason. The progression he showed this year, matched with his size and athleticism, makes him a very intriguing option for the first three rounds in 2020.

2. Yevgeni Oksentyuk - Left Wing - Flint Firebirds
He may be pint sized (5'7, 160lbs), but the Belarussian import is a highly effective offensive player. He finished just outside the Top 10 in the OHL in even strength points per game this year (0.83), and was the leading scorer for Flint, a team that had earned home ice advantage in the West had the playoffs actually occurred. While Oksentyuk may not possess the elite top end speed that you like to see from a smaller player, he makes up for it in other areas. The first is in his overall agility. His edgework is both powerful and fluid, allowing him to change direction on a dime. He's also very sturdy on his skates for a 5'7 kid, with a strong lower body that allows him to protect the puck. When you combine these things with elite hands and playmaking ability, you have a very dynamic player who is difficult to pin down in the offensive end. He is far from a perimeter player too, finding a lot of success from driving the net and playing through the middle of the ice, something that scouts will no doubt like and bodes well for success at the higher levels. This is a kid that I'd have a lot of time for inside the top four rounds this year. The underlying statistics match the eye test, which he passes. His five on five production was better than the likes of Akil Thomas, Ryan Suzuki, and Phil Tomasino this year, all players considered to be among the best playmakers in the OHL.

3. Pavel Gogolev - Left Wing - Guelph Storm
I continue to be a big Gogolev supporter. He was #1 on this list a year ago (despite suffering through injuries and having a down year), and would be there again if not for the remarkable seasons and potential of Daws and Oksentyuk. I do think sometimes that you have to be weary of kids who take huge steps forward in their 19/20 year old seasons. But let's not forget that Gogolev was a 30 goal scorer in his original draft year. He's always had the talent. But other areas of his game were lacking. This year, those areas took massive steps forward to the point where he is a much more projectable player. Run down the list. His skating looked much better this year. More power in his stride, stronger East/West. His playmaking ability took a huge step as he learned to utilize his strong hands and creativity to be more than just a goal scorer. This meant less turnovers from trying to force plays or shots through traffic. Instead, he exhibited poise and patience, using his hands to draw in defenders before dishing off, but remaining assertive in hunting down open ice to utilize his shot. His play away from the puck was more consistent. He'll never be a defensive stalwart, but he was much more active hunting down loose pucks (especially as a forechecker), and was more aggressive on the backcheck. At the end of the day, we also should not forget that Gogolev is a premium goal scorer who has one of the best shots in the OHL. Most promising, a lot of his production came at even strength and consistency really wasn't much of an issue for him. Like Nico Daws, he put the Storm on his back and should be drafted this year because of it.

4. Robert Calisti - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Have to say, Calisti's development really took me by surprise this year. He was easily one of the most improved players in the league after getting passed over in last year's NHL Draft. The first thing you notice about Calisti is his skating. In my opinion, he is one of the better skaters in the OHL and he uses this mobility to his advantage at both ends of the ice. He is very effective leading the rush because of his explosiveness. He does not take long to build up speed from his own end, making him very difficult to pin down on the forecheck. And he is ultra aggressive in pushing across the opposing blueline, constantly on the attack, pushing the pace. Calisti also does a great job of using his mobility to create shooting lanes, which helps to explain his 18 goals on the year. He identifies gaps well and is aggressive in jumping up in the rush, hitting the middle with the authority. Defensively, while undersized at 5'10, he is physically aggressive and will not allow himself to get pushed around. That said, his aggressiveness can hurt him at both ends of the ice. He does play a high risk game that sees him caught up ice. And his defensive coverage is a little erratic because he gets himself caught out of position because he's trying to get back, or simply overplaying puck carriers. However, Calisti is only a 2001 born who just finished his second year in the league, his first as a top four defender. It would be foolish to suggest that his game can't be reigned in a bit as he gains more experience. Like the three others listed ahead of him, I believe Calisti should be looked at as a top four round selection.

5. Ilya Solovyov - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Made a ton of noise to start the year as he found himself near the top of the scoring charts in the OHL. That sort of production was just not sustainable though. It was inevitable that he would crash back down to Earth a little bit. However, his point totals took a nose dive in the final month, which is causing him to fall off draft lists completely (like NHL Central Scouting). While I do think that he hit a bit of a wall in the second half, causing a slight dip in his play, you also have to take into account Bode Wilde's arrival, which corresponds with his lack of production in the final month. Less opportunity for him in key offensive situations, such as the powerplay. What you have to think about here is the projection of his skill set. You've got a 6'3, 210lbs defender with good mobility, good hands and an aggressive style at both ends of the ice that allows him to play in all situations. Offensively, he uses his size really well to protect the puck and is no stranger to pushing deep below the hash marks. He has quick hands that allow him to evade stick checks, both in the neutral zone and inside the blueline. His top speed is only average, but his lateral mobility is very strong for a big kid. Defensively, he is generally solid. Can get lost in coverage from overplaying, but his size and lateral quickness can be a real asset. For a 2000 born kid, his game is still so raw, with the potential for him to improve. I'm hoping that regardless of whether he gets drafted or not, he returns to the OHL as an overage Import (a rarity). Would be interesting to see how his game improves with another year in the league.

6. Billy Constantinou - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
One of the highest ranked players to go undrafted in 2019, Constantinou had a terrific year after a trade to the Greyhounds. For whatever reason, things just didn't click in Kingston, both this year, and to close out last year. He can be a real exciting player to watch though. He's not quite as explosive as his teammate Calisti, but his overall mobility is excellent. He is very elusive when attacking off of the rush, and when working the point on the powerplay, because of how fluid he is in changing pace and direction. I think Constantinou's defensive game did make some strides by season's end too. There is still work to be done, no doubt, but his awareness and effectiveness defending the crease and winning those battles in the corner did improve. And it's not like Constantinou is drastically undersized too. He comes in at 6'0, 190lbs. I do know that there are some concerns over his vision and hockey sense though. At times, he can be turnover prone, especially when trying to escape the forecheck in the defensive end. But there's still a lot to like here, from a puck moving defender who continues to improve. I know the LA Kings had or have interest in him especially. 

7. Joe Carroll - Left Wing/Center - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
From what I understand, Carroll is a player that has been teasing scouts dating back to his days in minor hockey. The inconsistencies in his game are the reason that he was not drafted last year in the NHL, despite being fairly highly ranked. I was certainly higher than most on him last year, but I understood why he was not selected. This year, I don't think he started strong. But around the new year, we saw a much different Carroll. A Carroll who was using his size (6'3, 200lbs), skating ability, and skill level to be an impact player on a more consistent basis. The proof is in the pudding too. In the final 21 games of the year, Carroll had 15 goals and was averaging 3.5 shots per game, which would be right up there with other high end goal scorers in the league. Plain and simple, when Carroll is fully engaged in all areas of the ice, he has the talent to be the #2 player on this list behind Daws. When he's not, he's a near non factor. Which player is the real Carroll? The one who appeared to turn a corner late this year, or the inconsistent one in every other year? All it takes is for one NHL organization to truly believe in Carroll. If he plays the way that he's capable of, he could be an 80+ point player next year for the Soo and with his size and skating ability, that would make him a potential Brett Leason. Do you pick him now in the later rounds to be ahead of the curve? 

8. Tag Bertuzzi - Left Wing - Hamilton Bulldogs
After missing the majority of his draft year last year, Bertuzzi bounced back strong this year for the Bulldogs, finishing third in team scoring, and second in goals. While he has yet to fully live up to the hype attached to being the second overall selection in the priority draft, he did make great strides this year. Son of former NHL'er Todd, Tag is a budding power forward at 6'1, 200lbs. I thought that he looked noticeably quicker this year, and had become more confident with the puck on his stick. He is especially effective down low, where he can spin off the wall and drive the net with the authority. And he has a very powerful wrist shot that he was more aggressive in using. There were a few games this year that he just completely took over. That said, no question he still has more to give. I'd love to see him get even quicker to be more effective driving the net in transition. I'd love to see him be more consistent as a physical threat. And I'd love to see him dominate near the crease, spending less time along the wall or on the outside. Again, though, Bertuzzi remains an interesting prospect with his bloodlines and potential as a middle six goal scorer. 

9. Tye Kartye - Center/Left Wing - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I heavily considered putting Kartye as high as number 5 on this list, because I do think that he has the fifth best chance to be drafted among the players that I have listed. But settled at number 9, only because I think that the players I have ranked ahead of him possess a little more offensive potential if their development curve continues upward. However, there are a lot of things to like about Kartye's game. He is an extremely versatile player; that classic coaches dream type. He can play the wing or down the middle (finished the season very strong at center). He can be a net front presence on the powerplay or work the top of the box/diamond on the penalty kill. He brings a physical intensity to all three zones and is a tireless worker. He's got good size and is a good enough skater to be a high quality bottom six player at the next level. Like I said, there's not much that he can't do on the ice. Offensively, there will likely be limitations for him at the next level. He has a good skill set, but not a great one, and as mentioned doesn't possess the upside of his teammate Joe Carroll, as an example. But NHL scouts love kids like Kartye, who have size, can skate, work hard, and show great progression. I think he's a draft pick in the later rounds.

10. Louka Henault - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
I had a very tough time selecting #10 for this list. Quite frankly, you could probably make a case for a number of guys that I have listed as honorable mentions. But here's why I went with Henault. Firstly, he's a very good overall skater. He shows good explosiveness and top speed as a puck mover, but is also a great four way mover which helps him hold the blue line, and helps him as a defensive player. The underlying statistics really help to show how good his vision with the puck is too. His 17 even strength primary assists were third among blueliners in the entire OHL this year, behind only Noel Hoefenmayer and Declan Chisholm. Henault is just really good at using his mobility to open up passing lanes, drawing defenders to him before finding an outlet or an open forward in the offensive zone. I thought he really improved a lot in his own zone this year too. A little more assertive physically. A little more confident in his reads. Not sure that he'll ever be a true powerplay QB; he's not necessarily dynamic in that regard. But, what he is, is a very effective, heads up puck mover whose all around game continues to improve. 

Honorable Mentions:


Mack Guzda - Owen Sound Attack
While I'm not really expecting Guzda to be drafted this year, it would be a shame to ignore the improvements that he made this year. One of the bigger disappointments last year in his draft year, Guzda really struggled. But this year saw a 22 point swing in his save percentage (.878 to .900). He's still got elite size at 6'5 and he has done a good job to improve his positioning and rebound control. However, consistency is still an issue, something that Guzda has battled throughout his OHL career. Nice to see him trending in the right direction though.


Nathan Allensen - Barrie Colts
Allensen is one of the guys that I highly considered at #10. He took some really nice steps forward from his draft year. Looked way more confident with the puck, while remaining assertive and confident in his own end. His skating, while not elite, is strong too. Just a solid all around defender. Consistency was still a bit of an issue though. Started the year really strong. Then through the middle part, I thought he hit a wall. This was followed up by a strong finish post coaching change. I think there's potential for him to play pro though.

Mitchell Brewer - Oshawa Generals 
I had championed Brewer pretty hard last year as a draft eligible player. I felt like he had more offensive potential than scouts were giving him credit for. However, I'm not sure he had the best year from a development standpoint. He's still a staunch defender who will do anything necessary to make the right play in his own end. But I felt like his offensive game actually regressed and not progressed. Currently, his game lacks that dynamic quality that sees him as a potential pro. I listed him still because I do feel like he's one of the better stay at home defenders in the league and that has value. But I have lost some hope that his offensive game improves to the point that it needs to.

Riley McCourt - Flint Firebirds
No question, McCourt has emerged as one of the top offensive blueliners in the OHL, perhaps even in the CHL. His ultra aggressive style helps to really kick start the Firebird's offense. He is constantly on the attack and loves to play deep within the offensive zone. He's a quality skater which helps him recover and play that high risk/high reward style. I guess the question is, does he defend well enough to be an NHL player? I'm just really not sure. That said, he's certainly talented enough to warrant a look. 

Justin Nolet - Sarnia Sting 
On numbers alone, Nolet isn't really someone who stands out; only 18 points from a player that I would classify as more of an offensive oriented player. But every time I saw Sarnia this year, Nolet stood out for all the right reasons and IMO, was the Sting's best defenseman, in his first season in the league (after starting the year in the OJHL with the Toronto Patriots). While I'm doubtful that he gets drafted this year, he's someone worth mentioning. I think his vision with the puck is quite strong and that his hockey sense overall is very good. His four way mobility is pretty good too. As he gets stronger and adds another gear to his skating, I'm really curious to see what he can do. This can also be said for Sarnia improving as a team around him. He's someone to really keep an eye on IMO.

Andrew Perrott - Owen Sound Attack 
If you recall, I was a Perrott fan last year. And I still really like the kid. He plays the game hard and I really admire that in a defender. I think his offensive game took nice steps forward this year. A lot more sure handed and confident with the puck in all three zones. His skating is likely still viewed as not strong enough to be an NHL prospect though, especially with him not having elite reach at 6'0. But I felt it necessary to include him because I think he brings a lot to the table as an OHL player.

Merrick Rippon - Ottawa 67's 
A really tough year for Rippon with a lot of time missed. Missed his chance at Carolina's prospect camp because of injury. Missed a few months towards the end of 2019. Missed six games due to suspension towards the end of the year. Just a very disjointed year. Yet, when he played, Rippon was an impact player for the 67's. He is one of the most physical defenders in the league and he uses his mobility to try to impact the game at both ends. That said, decision making remains an issue and I don't think he had enough of a chance to show scouts that he's making better decisions with the puck. Curious to see how he develops as an OA next year. Could have a monster year.

Arber Xhekaj - Kitchener Rangers
Admittedly, I actually considered putting Xhekaj at #10. No, I haven't lost my mind. Hear me out. IMO, Xhekaj was one of the most improved players in the OHL this year, because I wasn't even sure he had the ability to stick in the league again after a rough rookie year. He's only a 2001 born and has a lot going for him now. I think his skating looked much better this year. Still room to grow, but he was doing a much better job defending off of the rush and activating as an offensive player. His puck skill has grown considerably. He'll never be confused with Erik Karlsson, but turnovers were much less of an issue. And he's one of the league's top hitters and shot blockers. There is a reason that he is such a fan favourite in Kitchener, because he makes the Rangers more difficult to play against. Seeing the improvements that he made this year, I'm curious to see how he continues to improve moving forward, as he is given more responsibility. Starting to get a Brandon Crawley vibe here. 


Daniel D'Amico - Windsor Spitfires
Not really sure his game improved a ton this year, but he's still a player worth mentioning on this list because of his high end hockey sense and hands. Be it next year, or his overage season, D'Amico will break out and be a considerable offensive threat in the league. Just not sure that the skating will ever be at a high enough level to compensate for his average size. Likely another Austen Keating.

Maxim Golod - Erie Otters
Really nice steps taken forward by Golod this year in Erie, which is why I heavily considered him for that #10 spot. He's not a huge kid at 5'11, but he plays with power. Skating ability really taken up a notch this year allowing him to be a real factor creating off the rush. Will look to drive the net and play through the middle of the ice. He also does well to control the wall and has good vision spinning off checks. More than doubled his offensive production from the previous year, which is impressive. He's always had the ability, it was just about becoming a little bit better of an athlete to be more consistent. I think he plays pro at some point. 

Barret Kirwan - Owen Sound Attack 
IMO Kirwan is one of the league's most underrated players. He does it all and really is a great example of why Owen Sound continues to be a winning team. He works his ass off on the ice and can be used in any situation. He's also a great faceoff man. I really don't think he ends up being heavily on the NHL radar as he doesn't have the elite skating ability of someone like Hayden Verbeek, a similar kind of player. But I felt like listing a player that I don't think gets enough credit. Should be one of the better OA's in the league next year as a possible 40/40 guy.

Cole Mackay - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
To be honest, I felt like Mackay got a little overshadowed by the progression of other Soo forwards this year (Kartye, Kerins, Trott, Dickinson). He's still a very solid OHL player. His high end hockey sense allows him to play in any situation and excel. He is just a very good complimentary winger on a scoring line. That said, I don't think his skating or ability to create his own chances really improved much this year. And that was the strike against him from NHL scouts last year. Still someone to keep an eye on as he matures physically.

Luke Moncada - North Bay Battalion
Right at the top of the list when we're discussing the most improved players this year. A checking line, energy player through his OHL career thus far, Moncada was asked to step up and be an offensive presence this year and he succeeded. But he did so without sacrificing his commitment to the defensive end, making him one of the better two-way centers in the league. His speed was noticeably improved this year, something that helped him get 7 shorthanded goals. Wouldn't be shocked at all if an NHL club used a late round selection on him considering his great size (6'1, 210lbs), his versatility, and his dedication to improvement. Like Kirwan, he'll be one of the top OA's in the league next year. 

Sergey Popov - Owen Sound Attack 
Why does it seem like Owen Sound has so many underrated players who don't get the publicity they deserve? Popov's 51 assists put him 15th in the league this year as we saw him blast away his previous career highs. Popov is an extremely skilled playmaker who has always possesses the creativity and the flash, but just wasn't strong enough on the puck to be a consistent contributor. This year, we saw that. To be honest, I don't think there is a lot separating Popov from a guy like Semyon Der Arguchintsev. 

Austen Swankler - Erie Otters
Swankler was one of the younger players eligible for the draft last year when he went unselected after a year in the USHL. He decided to forgo his scholarship to play in Erie and he had a pretty solid year. He plays a sound power game from the middle of the ice and is aggressive in driving the net and playing from the home plate area. He is physical on the forecheck and does well to create space for his linemates. As he improves his skating, he could be a real good player in this league. Given his skill set and the type of game he plays, I could definitely see him being on the NHL radar, which is reflected by his ranking in NHL Central Scouting's rankings this year.

Zack Trott - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Trott led the Greyhounds in scoring this year with 66 points in 62 games and was a much improved offensive player. He is such a good energy player. He keeps plays alive in the offensive end by keeping his feet moving and using his strong hands to evade checks. He can play in any situation and has turned himself into a really good OHL player. For as intelligent and hard working as he is, I'm not sure he'll get a serious look at the draft this year. He's 5'10 and not really someone I would call an elite skater. His agility and lateral movement is strong, but he's far from a burner. I would look for him to be a very high scoring player next year as an OA though.

Eric Uba - Guelph Storm 
Uba is essentially the same kind of player as Trott, but plays with a little more power because he's bigger and his skating is a tad more explosive. Whenever I watched Guelph play this year, Uba was always noticeable playing up in the lineup. He works hard and is the perfect compliment to Gogolev and Hillis on that top line because he goes hard to the net and can win battles along the wall. Like some of the other players on this list, I'm not sure he really attracts NHL attention, but he's worth mentioning because of the improvement he showed this year.

Chad Yetman - Erie Otters 
The final player on this list is another player that I heavily considered for the #10 spot. What is most impressive about Yetman is that he just continues to find ways to get better. In each of his three years in the league, he's improved considerably. This year his 43 goals put him 8th in the OHL. And there's a reason why he was named an underrated player in the OHL Coaches Poll. He plays in all situations for Erie and is a competent three zone player to go with being a quality goal scorer. Not sure he would be a center at the pro level, but his skating and strength continue to improve. If I'm an NHL team, I'm keeping a close eye on Yetman. If he's not drafted, he should have his pick of a few development camp offers (should they actually occur).

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