Thursday, May 28, 2020

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft - Part 4: 10-1

We've reached the top 10 and it is time to conclude my rankings for 2020.

1. Quinton Byfield - Center - Sudbury Wolves
I admit, part of me wanted to put Drysdale at #1. I was close. However, at the end of the day, I still think that Byfield's high end potential keeps him on top. I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't impressed with Byfield's play in the second half. I'm not talking about the World Juniors either, I could care less about his performance there. I'm talking about some of the turnovers that he was more prone to post World Juniors in Sudbury. I found him less deliberate with the puck, and less aggressive in using his size to drive through traffic to draw in defenders. However, I do think that a lot of this had to do with decreased confidence coming back from the World Juniors. I also wonder if he may have been nursing an injury prior to the official diagnosis of his wrist injury in February. Look, Byfield is far from a perfect prospect, not something you always utter about a kid who looks like a lock for the top 3. So I do actually understand why some have become skeptical of him. Some of the issues he had with turnovers and processing in transition were the same ones he had at times as a minor midget player. His shot and confidence in using his size to create shooting lanes will need to improve. He needs to do a better job of driving the net, with and without the puck, more consistently. I would love to see him dominate near the crease, getting himself more "easy" goals. All of that said, it's important to remember that if you're drafting Byfield, you're drafting him for the player that he's going to be in five years, not right now. I don't think he's NHL ready and being back in Sudbury would be great for him next year, so that he can learn to dominate consistently against his peers. And dominant he can. Few players come through the junior ranks who possess the combination of size, power, and skill that Byfield possesses. When playing down low, he can control possession for nearly entire shifts, by using his size to protect the puck, and his sharp edgework to keep defenders guessing. And while his decision making can sometimes frustrate (I find this more likely to occur in transition, or on odd man rushes), he actually does have good vision when the game slows down for him. His ability to work the give and go is particularly impressive and effective. Byfield is also a better defensive player than people give him credit for IMO. He shows understanding of his responsibilities down the middle by covering for pinching defenders and hustling back to provide back pressure. As he becomes more assertive physically, I think his effectiveness will improve as a defensive player. I think if we're asking Byfield to develop into a physical beast (like say, an Eric Lindros), we're asking too much of him. He's not that kind of player. However, he is an August birthday, so it's scary to think that he could still mature further physically. At the end of the day, Byfield's ceiling as a dominant first line center is too much to look past. Even at the low end of his ceiling is a power winger who can still play in your top 6, so the floor is quite high too.


2. Jamie Drysdale - Defense - Erie Otters
As mentioned, I really did think long and hard about putting Drysdale at number one. I have the highest opinion of him. He is my favourite defensive prospect to be draft eligible from the OHL since Drew Doughty (and that's saying a lot). He is the absolute perfect defender for today's NHL because of his elite mobility and high IQ. His skating ability is breathtaking. Just so effortless, yet so explosive. Teams have such a difficult time pinning down Drysdale in his own end when he's on the ice because of how well he handles dump ins. He's so efficient switching from backward to forward stride and he takes terrific routes to the puck, allowing him to keep forecheckers on his back as he skates away to start the breakout. Drysdale is also so difficult to get around because of his mobility. He has such an effective stick when defending one on one. However, attackers in transition can exploit his passiveness at times. His confidence in being a little more physically assertive will need to improve to defend at the NHL level. He'll never be a physical player. But another year in the OHL is needed so that he can become a little more effective in net front coverage. Offensively, Drysdale is just so efficient. His head is always up leaving his own zone and he makes great decisions on when to push deep and when not to. He is starting to realize how much of an advantage his skating ability gives him because he can be more aggressive jumping up in the play, but still have the speed to recover defensively. While he does not possess an elite shot, Drysdale is very good at opening up shooting lanes with his lateral mobility. He will step into the slot when he sees an opening, using a low hard wrist shot to beat goaltenders or generate rebounds. Bottom line is that Drysdale projects as the type of defender who can play in any situation at the NHL level, and eat up a ton of minutes. I could easily see him winning a Norris or two. And even if his offensive skill set (or defensive abilities) don't translate at an elite level, I think his floor is still that of a quality second pairing puck mover. Did I also mention that he's a coveted right shot defender?

3. Cole Perfetti - Left Wing/Center - Saginaw Spirit
Sometimes I feel like Perfetti is the forgotten man in this draft class. To a certain degree, a lot of that had to do with a perceived slow start (even though if you had watched him in the opening month, you would know that he was just snake bitten). However, Perfetti had a hell of a year and is a hell of an offensive player. One thing that Perfetti really improved this year was his ability to facilitate. In his rookie season, he was more of a goal scorer and at times I found him to be a little too complacent; waiting for the game to come to him. This year, he had way more of a take the bull by the horns approach by driving the play and allowing Saginaw's offense to flow through him and his ability to create. His 33 even strength primary assists led the entire CHL this year (ahead of Alexis Lafreniere) and are a testament to that. His hands are elite. His IQ is elite. He's not big (5'10), but he is elusive. His four way mobility and agility are quite good and when you combine this with his vision and creativity, you get a player who is difficult to separate from the puck when he works the half wall area. Much has been made about his lack of explosiveness and top speed. These are legitimate concerns. Skating can certainly be improved, but Perfetti is not likely to ever be a high end forward mover. However, he thinks the game so well and I think that truly does make up for it. Once inside the offensive zone, lateral quickness and agility are more important than pure speed and Perfetti has that. These skating concerns remind me of the way people picked apart Mitch Marner's stride in his draft year. Like Marco Rossi, Perfetti is just such a well rounded offensive player. He really can do it all in the offensive end. Where Rossi is ahead, is in the defensive end. Perfetti is not a poor defensive player. He does have a good stick which is a by product of his IQ. But he's not likely to ever be a high end defensive player, so his value will come in the offensive end. Additionally, Perfetti is a winger at the NHL level for me. This is why I've got Rossi slightly ahead, but I'd be lying if I didn't flip flop them a couple times. The two of them are slam dunk top 10 prospects for me.

4. Marco Rossi - Center - Ottawa 67's
For me, the players ranked 3 through 5 here (Rossi, Perfetti, and Quinn) are all pretty interchangeable. I wouldn't be shocked at all to see them drafted in any combination of order, be it even Quinn first (he's got a way higher standing with NHL scouts than some internet scouts want to believe). This is a Marco Rossi write up though, so let's talk about him. IMO, Rossi is the best two-way forward in the entire OHL. When the puck isn't on his stick, he is just so hungry to get it back and he plays with such a high intensity level. He pushes hard to apply back pressure and uses a strong lower body and a quick stick to force turnovers. As an offensive player, Rossi is just so well rounded. His skating improved a lot this year, especially his top gear, and this made him a way more effective player in transition. He can push the pace, but has the puck skill, creativity, and poise to make calculated decisions even when pressured. His identification of passing lanes is at an elite level. Rossi can also beat you from below the goal line. He often requires two defenders to separate him from the puck in the cycle, despite being only 5'9, and that's because he has such a strong base and always keeps his feet moving. But Rossi also has eyes in the back of his head, showing such great awareness of when to spin off a check to find that streaking linemate. Rossi also has a great release and navigates the slot extremely well with the timing of a high end goal scorer. I will admit, last year I just wasn't as high on Rossi because I didn't feel like he had the creativity or skating ability to be a top 6 center. But man, did he prove me wrong this year by improving so much. The one concern that I do see is his size and whether he'll remain effective down the middle at the next level. He's as strong as an ox, but it's certainly not impossible that he will need to move to the wing to be a more successful and durable two-way presence. I think he can stick down the middle, but I have heard and understand the concerns.


5. Jack Quinn - Left Wing - Ottawa 67's
As stated, Quinn has seriously closed the gap for me between Rossi, Perfetti, and he. It wouldn't shock me at all if he was drafted before one or both. NHL scouts love this kid. IMO, Quinn was actually the better and more consistent OHL player in the second half for Ottawa, if we're comparing him to Rossi. My write up for Quinn is going to focus a lot on those who downplay his abilities for various reasons. The first is his age. Yes, he only missed last year's draft by a few days. I don't care. Human development is non linear. Quinn was playing AA hockey and was well under 6'0 before his minor midget year. Physically, this kid is a late bloomer and is the exact reason why we have the September cutoff. That extra year has allowed him to fill out his growing frame (now over 6'0), and improve his overall athleticism and skating ability. The second is the team he plays for. Quinn doesn't play with Rossi at even strength. He plays with Mitchell Hoelscher (a late round NHL draft pick), and either a converted defenseman (Belanger) or a rookie (Jack Beck). Yet, he led the OHL (with Nick Robertson) in even strength goals. He plays with Rossi on the powerplay, on the penalty kill, and when protecting a lead late. But he does not ride piggy back. Quinn is terrific at creating his own scoring chances. He is such a deceptive player in transition. He has such a high level shot that defenders have to try to be aggressive in taking away his space, so he exploits that by cutting to the middle, using defenders as a screen. He is also exceptionally intelligent without the puck. His anticipation as a goal scorer is outstanding. And his play away from the puck as a defensive player improved by leaps and bounds this year. This kid has to be considered one of the most complete wingers available this year. The third is the quality of the team he plays for. This is an easy one to refute. Maybe the 67's are as good as they are because of Quinn? Ottawa had more injuries than any team this year, and to key players, yet they found themselves on top because of kids like Quinn. Look, I won't pretend that Quinn's game doesn't have limitations. I don't necessarily think that he's a high level playmaker. He is great working the wall to prolong possession. However, in transition, he's usually very driven to score. And while his skating has improved a lot, it's still not elite. Likely equates to being slightly above average in the NHL. However, IMO, it's rare to find such a quality goal scorer, who also happens to have good size and plays a 200 foot game. This is a kid you can have on the ice if you need a goal, or are up a goal. His minutes won't have to be sheltered. For that reason, he's a candidate for the top 7 IMO.

6. Ryan O'Rourke - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
How many draft eligible players that aren't late birthdays, play as captains in their draft years? It's a rare feat, but one that O'Rourke pulled off and it speaks volumes about his high level of character. He's a projected shutdown defender at the next level who hasn't received the same kind of hype as other similar defenders like Kaiden Guhle, Braden Schneider, and Justin Barron because he doesn't possess the same raw athleticism that they do. However, O'Rourke is far from a poor skater. His forward stride isn't necessarily explosive, but his four way mobility is very sound. His gap control is terrific and he is equal parts stick defender and assertive physically, selecting the right time and situations to play the body aggressively. When looking to seal along the wall or protect his crease, O'Rourke relishes in the opportunity to be physical and intimidating. However, again, O'Rourke is intelligent about it. It's rare to see him caught out of position. IMO, he's one of the best shot blockers in the OHL because of how well he anticipates the play and gets himself in position. As he gets even stronger, his effectiveness in the defensive end will hit even higher heights. But people understand how good O'Rourke is in the defensive end, at least IMO. What is more misunderstood and underrated is O'Rourke's offensive awareness and potential to improve as a play creator. I'm not going to come out and tell you that I think O'Rourke can be a first unit powerplay QB or a high end point producer. What I am going to tell you is that O'Rourke can confidently start the breakout, handle the forecheck, and jump into the play when required. His shot is very heavy and a great weapon, and he shows high level scoring instincts by jumping into the slot when the opportunity presents itself. By the time his OHL career is over, I think he gets into the 15-18 goal range. Because his puck skills are sound, O'Rourke is a potential second pairing defender who does not have as many limitations as some would lead you to believe.

7. Jan Mysak - Center/Left Wing - Hamilton Bulldogs
There wasn't much of an adjustment period for this talented Czech forward. The Bulldogs needed Mysak to come in and replace Jan Jenik after he got injured at the WJC's, and he did just that. 15 goals in 22 games is a very impressive pace. He proved to be a very versatile player too. Was terrific killing penalties. Switched between the half wall and running the point on the powerplay. Was used to protect leads late in the game. Played both center and the wing. Mysak is most impressive when he is driving wide and using his size and skill to cut back in. His stride may not be the cleanest, but it is effective and he does a great job shielding the puck on his drives. His hands are very quick too. I would say that he averaged at least one blow by net drive per game that netted him a goal or resulted in a high end scoring chance. I think his vision with the puck could improve slightly in transition, as I do think that he has a tendency to put his head down and force drives. Part of me wonders if he might be better suited for the wing at the NHL level because of his skating style and his effectiveness playing off the wing, more so than driving down the middle. Mysak is definitely a multi-faceted goal scorer. He finds those soft spots in the slot with relative ease and is quick to gather and shoot. He also has a big slapshot and one timer, which he uses when running the point or half wall on the powerplay. As a defensive player, Mysak is excellent in coverage, applying pressure to the point and along the wall. He forces a lot of turnovers with his anticipation and quick stick. IMO, this is a kid who deserves consideration for the top 30 because I see a high upside because his puck skill, creativity, and finishing skills are all top notch. But a also a higher floor of a goal scoring third line winger who can contribute in a variety of situations.


8. Martin Chromiak - Left Wing - Kingston Frontenacs 
Chromiak is the type of player who requires a few viewings to truly appreciate. And considering he played less than half a year after coming over to Kingston in January, it had to be challenging for some clubs. Although they can at least rely on both their European and Ontario based scouts for an opinion. The more I saw Chromiak, the more value I attached to his skating ability. This is an underrated component to his game. His first step quickness is quite strong, as is his edgework. He is very quick to loose pucks and is able to keep up with Shane Wright stride for stride, not the easiest thing in the world. I also believe that Chromiak thinks the game exceptionally well. His vision and anticipation in the offensive end are very good. He's especially effective as a playmaker coming off the wall. He can come out of a scrum with the puck and find that open teammate in the slot after he draws in a second defender. As part of that very strong Wright, Chromiak, Wisdom line, Chromiak shows a ton of versatility. He can lead the rush when he needs to. He can be the first man in on the forecheck. He operates equally well as a triggerman as he does a facilitator. He works hard on the backcheck and can cover for a pinching defender. Needless to say, there is a lot to like here. His game has many different facets to it. As a pro player, I think he's more likely a complimentary piece on a scoring line as his creativity and puck skill are not extremely high end. However, I also don't think Chromiak is a completed puzzle. He's a late August birthday and I don't think we've seen the best of him at the OHL level yet. I am extremely excited to see him progress moving forward with Wright and Wisdom, as I believe that this could be one of the best lines in the CHL next year.

9. Jacob Perreault - Right Wing - Sarnia Sting
Honestly, Perreault is going to be one of the most difficult players for NHL scouts to formulate a concise opinion on this year. There are so many good components to his game that could translate to him becoming a high end and dynamic goal scorer at the NHL level. And there are some more alarming components that could scare teams away or prevent him from living up to his potential. It really depends on what night you see him. I also think that not having the U18's really hurt Perreault because it would have been his chance to show scouts that he can handle a lot of offensive responsibility against the best of his peers after being cut from the Canadian Hlinka/Gretzky squad in the summer. Let's start with the positives. At his best, Perreault is a dynamic skater who is both explosive and fluid, possessing the ability to beat any defender coming down the wing. Like JL Foudy in Windsor, the Sting use Perreault to handle zone entries, especially on the powerplay where he'll circle back to his own end and lead the charge from behind his own blueline. Perreault is also a skilled goal scorer because he possesses many weapons to find the back of the net. He is most at home working the half wall and below. You can't give him daylight down there, because he won't hesitate to gather and shoot, even from bad angles, yet he manages to still beat goalies clean. He can also set up at the dot and work one timers similar to Ovechkin/Stamkos. Perreault has some jam to his game too. I certainly wouldn't classify him as a perimeter player. Alright now the negatives. For such a dynamic skater, Perreault gets bottled up in the neutral zone a lot because he stops moving his feet. I had one scout tell me that they think it's a conditioning issue, which I could see. But turnovers can be problem in this area of the ice for him. I also think that he has yet to truly master the ability to use his speed to his advantage as an offensive player. He is very much North/South, but not as much East/West. A guy like Jack Quinn is able to be so consistently effective because of how deceptive he is in transition. Perreault's ability to use change of pace/direction is something he is still mastering. Lastly, Perreault is not a strong defensive presence at this moment in time. His turnovers can become more magnified when he's not effective in applying back pressure. This could, again, be a conditioning issue. The offensive skill set is top notch and Perreault is far from a finished product, however he's more of a project than some of the other high end offensive players available as potential first round selections.

10. Tyson Foerster - Right Wing - Barrie Colts 
Without question, Foerster possesses one of the best shots in the OHL and was one of the league's most improved players this year. He is the master of the faceoff dot set up, cranking off one timers on the man advantage the same way Alex Ovechkin does. He beats goaltenders clean up top, even without a net front screen. Foerster also exhibits great scoring instincts, sliding his way into the slot to get open in that home plate area so that he can use his quick release. Foerster is also strong without the puck as a support player in the offensive end. He protects the puck well along the wall and despite being only an average skater, is great at applying pressure on the forecheck because he uses his stick well to take away passing lanes. He's just a really smart hockey player. The concern is obviously his production at even strength. Foerster led the entire CHL with 18 powerplay goals this year. But at even strength, he was tied for 50th in the OHL...let alone the CHL. So what's causing the disconnect here? The skating has improved from last year, but his first step quickness will need to improve further. Additionally, his speed while carrying the puck will need to improve, as right now he's quicker without the puck than with it. He can get bottled up for this reason. Foerster also needs to be better at battling through traffic in the middle of the ice; finding his way to the net more consistently. Look, these things can be improved. The perfect example of this is a kid like Tyler Toffoli. The same concerns were said about him in his NHL draft year. The same things were said of Brett MacLean and Jeremy Morin too. So the difference maker will be Foerster's ability to progress further, both physically and creatively. Some players can, some can not. However, you'd be hard pressed to find a kid outside of the first round who can shoot the puck and think the game like Foerster does. That's precisely why you take the chance on him continuing to improve.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft - Part 3: 30-11

This is the 3rd part of my final top 50 OHL players eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Here you will find players ranked 30 through 11.

11. Luke Evangelista - Right Wing - London Knights
For as good as the London Knights are at developing players, they can be slightly frustrating when it comes to evaluating their draft eligible talent. Enter Luke Evangelista this year. 61 points in 62 games, only four of which were not at even strength. London utilizes their first powerplay unit nearly the entire two minutes of every man advantage. Additionally, within the structure of their system, the Hunters have high expectations when it comes to their young players playing in all three zones and playing mistake free with the puck. I find that this can, at times, hide the true offensive potential of some of their young prospects until they are fully confident to take more chances. As a minor midget player, Evangelista was billed as being one of the most creative players with the puck available. As an OHL player, this is not something we consistently see. However, he does flash the ability to make defenders miss, especially when keeping plays alive working the half wall. Subtle self passes, spins, and tucks allow him to play keep away from defenders looking to separate him from the puck. Occasionally, we will see him surprise by taking the puck to the net. Most of the time, Evangelista works as a complimentary piece, most often with Connor McMichael and Liam Foudy. He works to retrieve dump ins, establish possession, play the half wall, and cut to the net, all while showing good hands and good vision as a playmaker. Some may point to most of his assists being secondary (his 20 even strength secondary assists were second only to Marco Rossi) as being a negative and that he's not driving play enough. I would argue that it shows that he is intelligent and skilled enough to succeed in the role asked of him and that he IS indeed capable of being a go-to play creator. As he gets stronger and quicker, I think he has the qualities that could make him a high end middle six forward at the next level. I think you also have to trust the Hunters and London's coaching staff, given how much Evangelista improved from last year to this year. Assessing his high end potential may be slightly difficult, but identifying him as a potential NHL player is easy.


12. Will Cuylle - Left Wing - Windsor Spitfires

Honestly, I think the real allure of Cuylle is that he plays a game that isn't very common among draft eligible players these days. Skill and speed is such an integral component of the NHL game, but there is still a place for guys like Tom Wilson who can physically intimidate, but have the skating ability and skill to play as complimentary wingers on a scoring line. For comparison's sake, here was my draft write up on Wilson. There's a reason why Wilson was getting lottery consideration (and went 16th), and why Cuylle is thought of as more of a second round target. Wilson was a better skater, which allowed him to impact the game on more levels than Cuylle does currently. So the first priority for Cuylle is improving his skating. I think that it's already improved from a year ago. But working on his first step explosiveness, in particular, has to happen so that he can hit gaps quicker, be more consistently effective on the forecheck, and be a more useful player in transition. You look at a guy like James Neal and his rapid drop in effectiveness, and you have to point to his inability to keep up. Once we get past that, Cuylle is actually a better goal scorer than Wilson was as a draft eligible player. One of his best qualities is his shot. His wrist shot is extremely heavy, and he has very good hands in tight to be able to corral passes or loose pucks and release quickly. So why did he have only 22 goals this year? I think a lot of that has to be blamed on the skating. However, I know there are some who wonder if the scoring instincts are good enough. I think it's a valid question. I think Cuylle demonstrates a high IQ  in some areas (working the wall, on the backcheck), but at other times, seems to be unable to find those soft spots near the crease. Obviously, we need to discuss Cuylle's effectiveness as a physical player. While it's not completely consistent, he continues to gain confidence in his ability to throw his weight around and is about as close to a modern day power forward as you're going to find. Bottom line, Cuylle's game currently has some limitations. And that's why he's fallen out of most first round projections. That said, his blend of power and skill is rare to find, and if he were to develop properly, he would be a great asset on a scoring line. We always used to say, power forwards take the longest to develop. And because we don't have many anymore, I think we've forgotten that a little bit.

13. Jean Luc Foudy - Center/Right Wing - Windsor Spitfires
Foudy has become an extremely polarizing player for this draft. There are still some who vouch for him as a first round selection. There are others who have him ranked as more of a mid round selection. I probably fall in the middle of that as my ranking demonstrates. Let's start with the positives. Foudy's an electric athlete. He is not only of the best skaters eligible this year, but he's one of the best in the OHL, period. He generates so much power, and so quickly, that teams have a difficult time preventing him from penetrating the blueline if he's able to take those first few strides. As such, Windsor utilizes Foudy are their primary option for zone entry, with him skating back into his own end to retrieve pucks, allowing him the runway that he requires. And once he gains the blueline, he is generally pretty effective with the puck, demonstrating the ability to maintain possession even while at full speed. He will circle the offensive end, until an opportunity arises for him to make a pass to a teammate. That speed and skill with the puck can be a great combination. Thinking back to his brother Liam, Jean-Luc's ability to harness his speed as an offensive weapon is certainly ahead of where Liam's was as a draft eligible player. Here are the negatives. While Jean Luc is a terrific skater, when he is not given that runway, he is not as effective. By that I mean, when Foudy is asked to try to break in or facilitate starting in the neutral zone, or deeper, defenders take away his space quickly and he's not strong enough to fight through that traffic to be a consistent play creator. Additionally, when he is able to break in, he's generally kept to the perimeter where his rushes, while impressive, fail to generate a significant scoring opportunity for his team. As he currently lacks the strength to fight through traffic and make plays through the middle (consistently), Foudy can also struggle when the puck is not on his stick; not quite the force he could be on the forecheck, backcheck, or PK because of his speed. Another thing to consider is whether he is able to stick down the middle at the next level. While he mostly lines up at center, he has played the wing and his skill set may be best utilized on the wing moving forward. Again, comparing him to Liam, there were questions about his ability to play beneath the goal line, and be a three zone player when he was drafted, and he has developed extremely well to be a more complete player. So if you're drafting Jean Luc high, you're hoping that he rounds out his game the way that Liam has, all while possessing more individual skill and vision with the puck. If you're passing on Jean Luc, it's because you feel that his offensive game is too easily neutralized and that he doesn't possess the high end IQ to be a consistent play creator at the next level.

14. Evan Vierling - Center - Barrie Colts
It's not that Vierling was playing poorly in Flint to start the year. He had shown some progression from the year prior. It was not until the deal to Barrie, where the former 2nd overall really found his groove. Playing closer to home, Vierling looked more comfortable and found almost instant chemistry with fellow draft eligible Tyson Foerster. An intelligent playmaker, Vierling is a very well rounded pivot who plays larger than his 6'0, 170lbs frame. He excels playing through traffic, using strong hands and puck protection skills to create in transition, and to prolong possession along the wall. He is very poised and calculated with the puck while attacking, showing good heads up vision to find trailers or open teammates cross ice. He is adept on both his forehand and his backhand as a passer, something we saw a lot of on Tyson Foerster's later season goals. Very common to see him finishing off a cross ice pass from Vierling. As mentioned, he is a complete player who works hard on the backcheck and has a good stick in the neutral zone. Quite frankly, there were times in the second half where Vierling was more consistently noticeable than Foerster, especially five on five. Ultimately, he will need to bulk up. For the type of game that he plays, he'll need to get stronger to be more consistent. I think that this could also help his skating, which is not necessarily a weakness, but is certainly not a strength. Additionally, NHL teams will likely do their due diligence on what happened in Flint and why he went home. I never hold it against a kid when they get homesick and want to play closer to home, but some NHL scouts will have a different opinion on that. With no NHL combine, I would guess that he has had a few (or will have a few) good interviews with teams before the draft. However, I think Vierling is a player who is being underrated in scouting circles currently. He projects as a quality middle six center who exhibits a high IQ and can impact the game in a variety of ways.


15. Brandon Coe - Right Wing - North Bay Battalion
Coe's development has certainly been a little slower than the Battalion would have liked, given his third overall designation. But the December born 2001 winger has improved in each of his three years in the league, with this past year being by far his best in the OHL. Consistency does remain an issue. There are times where his effort and engagement level as a defensive player, and as a forechecker are lacking. You'd certainly like to see him playing more aggressively at all times given his 6'4 frame. However, I think that this year he did take some very positive steps forward towards being a top shelf player in this league. If we're talking about his strengths, the greatest is his skating ability. Coe is an absolutely dynamic and explosive mover. Not just for a big kid, but for any size. When he's dialed in, he can be such an effective player in transition because of how he can back down defenders and plow across the blueline. And when he's driving wide, he is aggressive in cutting back in towards the net. He finishes well and has both good hands and a quick release. It is very easy to see Coe becoming a pro player given his size and speed advantages. However, he will need to continue to round out his game to be more effective when the game slows down. He is still learning how to use his size effectively to dominate down low. And he is still learning how to use his size and speed to be a true puck hound who forces turnovers and wrecks havoc in all three zones. The high end upside is not likely to be a top line player at the next level. But, given his skill set, he could definitely be a quality middle six winger, even if his offensive IQ may have some limitations.


16. Ty Tullio - Right Wing - Oshawa Generals
I am always willing to bet on a kid who thinks the game well and who plays the game hard, but who doesn't possess elite physical tools. Tullio is not the biggest kid in this draft class. He is not the best skater in this draft class. He is not the most innately skilled with the puck in this draft class. He is not always the most visible player in transition, instead relying on his usual linemates Phil Tomasino and Brett Neumann to handle the majority of zone entries. What Tullio is, is the perfect complimentary offensive player on a scoring line. He may only be 5'11, but he is such an effective player along the wall because he always keeps his feet moving and shows little fear in attacking larger defenders. He is willing to take a hit to make a play too. However, Tullio's playmaking ability is solid. He has good vision coming off the wall and is not the type to force plays. Additionally, Tullio is a very smart player without the puck. He seems to find ways to consistently sneak behind or away from his defender, giving him a ton of scoring opportunities from that home plate area. And his hands and finishing ability are excellent. I guess the question scouts have, is how much those physical attributes can be improved. And how much of his skill set was hidden based on him deferring at times to older and quicker linemates? In a way, Tullio is similar to Luke Evangelista in this regard. Personally, I'd have a lot of time for Tullio as a second round selection because there's room for improvement in a lot of areas of his game, yet he also has some great innate abilities that make him a potential third line forward at the very least.

17. Donovan Sebrango - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
I think Sebrango has a chance to be drafted higher than I am have in the OHL (maybe in that 10-13 range of OHL players). He definitely projects as an NHL player. While he is a jack of all trades kind of defender (which is occasionally the kiss of death for defensive prospects), it is easy to project his defensive game to the next level. His four way mobility is superb and he plays a lot bigger than his 6'0 frame would lead you to expect. He makes up for his lack of reach by being aggressive in denying zone entries and by asserting himself physically down low. His offensive game is more raw and not as easy to see carrying over to the next level. While his lateral and backwards mobility is excellent, his first step acceleration could use added quickness. I would not call Sebrango an extremely aggressive puck mover. He picks his spots to lead the rush and he does a good job holding the line. He does a good job utilizing shot fakes and his lateral quickness to open up shooting lanes. But I'm not sure I see the high end creativity with the puck, or the high end point shot necessary to be a powerplay QB or a big time point producer. It's interesting because last year Sebrango really impressed me with his offensive game as a 16/17 year old, especially his decision making with the puck. And then this summer, he took on a shutdown role for Team Canada at the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup and his defensive game really stood out. But this OHL season, I don't think we saw a ton of progression in him as an offensive player. Obviously, a lot of that could have been intentional as he focused more on becoming a stout defensive player. As he grows more confident, we could certainly see him flash more individual skill as an offensive player. I feel like I'm selling Sebrango short in this write up a bit, he's a terrific two-way defender. And, as I said, I think he's going to be an NHL defender. There is a lot of Travis Dermott in his game, especially the wide base that he keeps.

18. Zayde Wisdom - Right Wing - Kingston Frontenacs
Honestly, how can you not root for this kid, after all he's persevered through? This article from Scott Wheeler of The Athletic is a must read if you haven't done so already. But the NHL is also a business that doesn't give hand outs. I'm not ranking Wisdom 18th (as a potential second round selection) out of pity. He flat out deserves it. He impressed the hell out of me last year as a rookie, with his energy and in your face abrasive style of play. This year, he was one of the most improved players in the OHL, establishing himself as a scoring line presence and not just a puck hound. I've seen some state that because he plays with Shane Wright (and later in the year Martin Chromiak), that his offensive numbers should be less respected. I call bull crap on that. Anyone who has actually seen Wisdom play knows that Wisdom is just as much of a facilitator for the Frontenacs. He's active leading the charge over the blueline, with his skating improving a lot over the course of the year. And he can create his own scoring chances by using sharp cuts to penetrate the middle of the ice, opening up shooting lanes for himself. And sure, he's the recipient of some of Wright's magic as a playmaker near the crease and in transition. But Wright is also the beneficiary of Wisdom's ability to open up space in the offensive zone, and his ability to keep plays alive in the offensive end with his relentless bulldog mentality. Wright, Chromiak, and Wisdom play off of each other so well and that's what makes them dangerous. They are all well rounded players who can lead the charge and it makes them that much more difficult to defend. At 5'9, Wisdom might be a little on the small side for the type of role he plays at the NHL level, but I wouldn't bet against him. I honestly don't know if he's the kind of kid that you can put a true cap on. More than likely, he's a solid third liner who can slide up if necessary. But with the way that his skill set has progressed, I don't think it's out of the question to believe that he could play higher in the lineup more consistently as a complimentary player on a scoring line.

19. Jack Thompson - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Thompson's season can be divided into three parts. The opening act saw him start extremely strong out of the gate, carrying the puck with confidence and anchoring the powerplay. The second act, through the middle part of the year saw him struggle considerably, both in his execution and in his confidence. This in turn led to a reduction in his powerplay ice time (with the Wolves going in favor of a five forward set up at times). The third act saw him paired back up with fellow draft eligible Isaak Phillips, which, in turn, allowed him to regain his confidence and his rightful position on the powerplay. While this sort of roller coaster ride may be somewhat alarming, it's not uncommon for draft eligible defenders who see a lot of ice time. Yes, I do have some concerns over Thompson's decision making with the puck. His higher risk offensive style can lend itself to turn overs at this moment in time. Yes, Thompson will need to improve his consistency in his own end, and become a more difficult player to match up against. However, his upside is extremely high and as such, I'm still pretty bullish on him despite the majority of my contemporaries dropping him in their rankings. Thompson is a high level skater who possesses great puck skill and a booming point shot. He projects as both a competent puck mover and powerplay QB. He also is a right shot defender with decent size at 6'0. There is certainly a higher risk in drafting Thompson, as he's far from a safe selection. However, when you're drafting in the second and third round, and you can take a mobile right shot defender with the potential to anchor your powerplay, I think you need to ponder long and hard about it.

20. Oliver Suni - Right Wing - Oshawa Generals
I thought Suni had a very solid first year in the OHL, despite battling through some injury issues. One thing that I believe improved greatly over the course of the season was his skating ability. I think that he got noticeably quicker and more explosive by season's end, and this was allowing him to be much more of a factor with the puck in transition. Early on, he was being utilized as a crash and bang, possession type winger almost entirely. But by the end of the year, we were seeing him lead the charge across the blueline, looking to use his size and speed to drive the net and create scoring chances. I think there are definitely some limitations to his skill set. I don't think he possesses the hands or creativity to be a consistent facilitator East/West. I also don't think that he is a high quality finisher, lacking elite level shooting ability or scoring instincts. But he does possess the ideal skill set of a terrific third line winger at the NHL level. Think along the lines of someone like Mikkel Boedker (although obviously not quite as quick). As I said, at 6'2, he moves quite well and I think that given the improvements already made to his skating, one could reason that he has the potential to improve even more in the area. He protects the puck well along the wall and is a very effective forechecker who can help recover dump ins or force turnovers. His ability to gain inside leverage on defenders is excellent, almost like a defensive lineman in the NFL. Suni is also a very effective three zone player, though there's room for him to develop more of a mean streak and use his size even more effectively. One thing that is a little concerning is Suni's low production against the better teams in the OHL (in Jerome Berube's amazing annual look at how players fared against higher and lower end competition). The fact that he struggled to produce against better teams may further prove that he has limited upside and skill. But I have him ranked fairly high because I believe that he has a very good chance of developing as an NHL player, even if he doesn't have the upside of some players who are less likely to succeed.


21. Jaromir Pytlik - Center/Right Wing - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I went back and forth in my head about Suni versus Pytlik in these rankings. But I ultimately decided to put Suni first because I think that they possess similar upside at the NHL level, but that Suni is the better and more explosive skater and that means he's more likely to reach that upside. Pytlik is certainly an interesting player. By playing both center and wing this year, he showed positional versatility. He is at his best when operating down low. He is very difficult to separate from the puck at 6'2, 192lbs and is great at getting inside defenders to win those battles below the hash marks a good majority of the time. He plays a heavy game. Pytlik is also a very intelligent player without the puck. He has a great stick that sees him deflect or intercept passes in all three zones. Pytlik's skating, especially his top speed and his ability to create in transition, definitely improved this year. However, I think he could still stand to become more explosive. Additionally, I don't see a player who is skilled enough to be a high end playmaker from the middle of the ice. He has good vision coming off the wall. And he makes sound decisions with the puck. But I see him sticking on the wing at the next level. And because I don't see him as a top end facilitator, I think his upside is that of a quality third liner who can be a big part of your penalty kill. I know there are many who will see this as a very low ranking for Pytlik (in the third round range and not the second), however as a late born 2001 who showed less progression than his peers this year, I think there are limitations to his game that make him more ideal to be a mid round selection.


22. Antonio Stranges - Left Wing - London Knights
Oh Antonio, how do we rank you? The upside is tremendous. The likelihood of him reaching that upside certainly seems less likely than it did a year ago. I think nearly all of us in the scouting community had very high expectations for Stranges this year, but it was Luke Evangelista who broke out as a top scoring line option because of his more well rounded game. This saw Stranges relegated to the third and fourth line at various points of the year, and even saw him riding the bench at times as a consequence for turnovers or poor play. By now, everyone is familiar with Stranges' skill level. His puckhandling ability and creativity are near the top of this OHL draft class. His unique skating style (think Jeremy Bracco, but more powerful) allows him to protect the puck as he cuts his way across the blueline. Stranges also possesses one of the better backhands that I've seen come through the OHL. It might honestly be his preferred method of shot release and he scores a lot this way, elevating the puck quickly and with a velocity that surprises goaltenders. But there are a lot of warts here. Not everyone believes that Stranges' skating style will translate well (just as they were skeptical of Bracco). Additionally, he can be very turnover prone, especially in the neutral zone. Aggressive defenders step up to stop him before he can cross the blueline and he will often attempt to play through, rather than dump the puck in. His overall vision and decision making need work. Additionally, Stranges' defensive zone work needs a major upgrade and is one of the reasons why Hunter just wasn't able to trust him consistently. I also think he's going to need to interview really well with NHL teams who are going to ask him tough questions, such as why he believes he was cut from the U.S.' Hlinka/Gretzky team this summer. Again, the upside is very high. But there are also so many question marks. For that reason, Stranges is more of a fourth round selection for me.


23. James Hardie - Left Wing - Mississauga Steelheads
Simply from a production standpoint, Hardie had a terrific year, especially in the second half. If you take away a stretch of 14 games in October and November where he was not very productive, Hardie had 33 goals and 60 points in 45 games. That would put him in line with the likes of Jacob Perreault and Tyson Foerster, two players receiving first round attention this year. Without question, Hardie did improve this year. I think his skating took some very nice steps forward. I would still call him an average skater (in terms of a projection at the next level), but he looked more explosive this year which allowed him to hit those gaps and close on the forecheck more effectively. At his core, Hardie is a high volume shooter. Sometimes that works to his benefit and sometimes I feel like he could demonstrate a little more patience with the puck. You'll see him spin off the wall and rifle a puck on net, even if there aren't teammates out front for a rebound. Shot selection is something that he'll need to improve on. Additionally, Hardie will need to improve his consistency away from the puck and get stronger to win more battles near the half wall where he likes to operate. At times he is aggressive on the forecheck, playing with fire. And at other times, he is too complacent, relying on the highly underrated Cole Schwindt to win those battles down low to get him the puck in the slot. Hardie could also stand to be more consistent getting to the middle of the ice, playing through traffic to score more "greasy" goals. As it stands, he doesn't get to the net enough considering how good his hands and release are. However, Hardie does have a heck of a shot. His ability to gather in traffic (when he gets there) and his release are also very strong. I guess my concern is that I'm just not as confident in his offensive abilities translating to the next level, as I am the players I have ranked ahead of him. I don't hesitate to look his way in the middle rounds though.


24. Nick Malik - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Malik, the son of former NHL'er Marek, was a late addition to the Greyhounds this year, coming over in mid January. There was certainly an adjustment period and unfortunately the season ended just as it seemed like Malik was settling in. That said, I think Malik was much better than his .886 save percentage would lead you to believe. It is important to note that the Greyhounds play an aggressive offensive style and their defenders activate and pinch quite often. This can lead to a lot of higher end scoring chances (odd man rushes, forwards having to cover for defenders, etc). He did his best to mitigate the storm quite often, but you're just not going to stop all those high danger scoring chances. Malik has good size at 6'2 and he does well moving post to post, showing an ability to cover his crease. He also has a very good glove hand and is difficult to beat to on that left side because of it. He certainly possesses that size and athleticism combination that you like to see. However, his positioning and technique are very raw. He can overcommit to one to side, taking him out of position. He can go down too early and have a tough time finding pucks through traffic. His puck handling ability is an absolute adventure, as he may be one of the most nervous goalies that I've seen leaving their crease. But that's why there are goaltending coaches. He definitely has the potential to be an NHL netminder if he can reign in his movements and learn to cover his angles more efficiently. In a lot of ways, Malik reminds me of watching Petr Mrazek with the Ottawa 67's, something that I've mentioned several times this season. Mrazek was able to figure things out and Malik can too.


25. Ruben Rafkin - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
I mentioned the term jack of all trades defender earlier and I think Rafkin fits that bill. I think he is quite good at a lot of things, but not elite at any of them. Rafkin is a physically assertive player who loves to step up on attackers in the neutral zone and at the blueline to stop them dead in their tracks. And he plays much larger than his 6'0 frame when it comes to defensive zone coverage. However, I don't think he's as good of a mover as Sebrango, who I have a few spots ahead. Rafkin's forward stride is good and it does make him a pretty competent puck mover as he is able to escape the forecheck and start the breakout. He is not an aggressive offensive defender who extends his rushes deep, but he can clear the defensive zone effectively. Rafkin is also comfortable on the point, showing good vision as a distributor, even if he doesn't possess a big point shot. He makes quick decisions with the puck and does a good job holding the line. He is also a right shot defender, which we know is a valuable commodity. Unfortunately (at least from my perspective), he's already signed on back home in Finland and will be leaving the Spitfires next year, so I won't be able to track his progression as well. Ultimately, I have Rafkin ranked in the fourth round range because I'm just not sure I see high end upside. I don't think he's a natural offensive player. And while his mobility is good, it's not elite. And given that he is only 6'0, it may be more difficult to project him as a high end player in his own end too. There are still a lot of things to like, but if we're comparing him to a guy like Sebrango, I think he's harder to project and that subsequently pushes him slightly down my draft board.


26. Ethan Cardwell - Right Wing - Barrie Colts
Cardwell had a terrific second half of the year with Barrie following the deal from Saginaw (the Ryan Suzuki deal). Not part of the Foerster/Vierling top line, Cardwell managed to be a point per game player with Barrie on a second unit centered by Josh Nelson. To be fair, Cardwell looked good in Saginaw too, but was just a little more buried by their offensive depth. Cardwell's best asset is his hockey sense. I really like how he plays without the puck and how quick he makes decisions with the puck. He is a very good three zone player as his anticipation is excellent. He's not a big kid at 5'11, but he is very effective at separating players from the puck on the backcheck. He does a really good job of getting himself in shooting position in the offensive end by keeping his feet moving and predicting passing lanes. And he is deliberate with the puck. If he's got a shooting lane, he's getting that puck to the net. If he doesn't, he makes a quick pass and always seems to have his head up looking to get it back. He's not a dynamic offensive player IMO. And he's not the world's best skater. However, as a late August birth date, there is a lot of room for physical maturation with Cardwell, a kid who is coming off only his first full year in the OHL. As he gets stronger, quicker, and more confident with the puck, I think he projects as a quality two-way winger who can slide up and down the lineup as a complimentary piece. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Ottawa's Mitchell Hoelscher in his draft year because of how well they think the game. Hoelscher's physical skill set never progressed to the point that I thought it would in the OHL, but Cardwell does have a ton of room to improve. Betting on a player with a high IQ is never a poor decision. While I see Cardwell as more of a fourth round prospect, I could see him going higher if an NHL team is convinced that his puck skill and creativity have room for improvement as he improves physically.


27. Will Cranley - Goaltender - Ottawa 67's
One of the biggest risers in the second half from the OHL with good reason. In a down year for the position across North America, it's easy to see why a 6'4 goaltender, who showed significant improvement, would rocket up some lists. His starts were certainly sheltered a bit as Ottawa's back-up (lots of games against Niagara, North Bay, Kingston, Hamilton, etc), but in his final ten games he had a save percentage of .925. I managed to catch a couple of those games and he was terrific. You obviously know we're talking about Cranley because he has that size and athleticism combination. He moves quite well in his crease for a big kid. He covers a ton of the net when he drops down to the butterfly and is being aggressive in challenging shooters. While his positioning remains inconsistent and slightly unrefined, I felt like his rebound control and vision through traffic really was the thing that improved the most over the course of the year. This can be a real challenging thing for larger goaltenders to master, but I think Cranley has taken great steps in this area. With his starts being sheltered and with Ottawa's terrific defense in front of him, he'll be a difficult player for scouts to evaluate. And he's a long term project because he's probably not a starter until 2021/22 once Andree ages out. But you know NHL scouts will be all over Cranley based on his size and trajectory in a down year for the position.


28. Declan McDonnell - Right Wing - Kitchener Rangers
Early in the year, McDonnell was noticeable for the Rangers even if he wasn't hitting the score sheet consistently. His speed, tenacity, and work as a puck hound were evident and impressive. But as the first year player became more comfortable, the production really started to come. In his final 23 games, McDonnell had 13 goals and 23 points (averaging a point per game). He's not a big kid at 5'10, but he does so many things well. He shows the ability to lead the charge across the blueline because of his skating ability and puck control, and it is not uncommon to see McDonnell break up a play on the backcheck, and turn it around quickly the other way for a significant scoring chance. His shot is also an asset. He has a hard wrist shot that he shows an ability to utilize coming down the wing, beating goaltenders clean. But he can also get his nose dirty by battling down low, being assertive on the forecheck, and opening up space for his linemates. It is definitely easy to see McDonnell progressing as a third line, energy player at the NHL level because of his well rounded skill set. At different points this year, I thought he showed terrific chemistry with top 2021 draft eligible prospect Francesco Pinelli, which bodes well for the two developing together as a scoring line in the coming years.


29. Isaak Phillips - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Those who follow my work know that I'm a big fan of Phillips, as I've written and tweeted about him a decent amount over the last two years. He is precisely the type of player that teams should be taking a chance on in the middle rounds. His game is very raw. He is very much a project, even as a late born 2001. However, he possesses some qualities that could make him a very good NHL defender. The first is his size and mobility combination. Phillips is an exceptional mover for a bigger (6'3, 195lbs) defender. He has long smooth strides that also generate power. This gives him such good recovery ability and allows him to cover all areas of the ice so effectively. With his reach and stride, his gap control is terrific and he's incredibly difficult to beat in transition. And his zone coverage and reads have improved greatly. He's already a very good defensive player at the OHL level. To be a good one at the NHL level, he'll have to learn to use his size more assertively to be a more effective crease clearer and boards player. A mean streak is something that he has flashed, but it is not consistent. Offensively, Phillips' game shows great potential because of his mobility. He doesn't need to be the world's most dynamic puck carrier to be effective as a puck mover because of his ability to protect the puck while in full stride. I think his shot could become a weapon too. But his confidence in his offensive abilities is still a work in progress. At times he is hesitant to lead the rush or take a chance as an offensive player, opting to defer or use chip outs. As mentioned, an NHL team is going to need to be patient with Phillips. But his raw athleticism and size are hard to find on the back-end and the wait could be worth it.


30. Andrei Bakanov - Left Wing/Right Wing - Guelph Storm
I swear, I must be the only person seeing something in Bakanov given that I'm not seeing him appear on rankings leading up to the draft. Yet, here I am ranking him inside the Top 30 as a potential mid round selection. I do understand that consistency is a major issue here. There were a few games of Guelph this year where I had to really look for Bakanov on the ice. But there were others where he was quite good. Maybe not for an entire game, but for stretches. I think his conditioning is an issue (at 6'2, 220lbs). I think it definitely is something that is contributing to his consistency issues and some of his skating flaws. There are times where Bakanov accepts a pass in the neutral zone and really turns it on, showing some good explosiveness as a power winger who can drive the net to create his own scoring chances. There are other times where he looks sluggish. Just the same, there are times where Bakanov is great at using his size without the puck, battling down low, playing as a net front presence, and clearing space. Then there are others where it seems like he is disengaged. I know I'm probably not selling you on him here, but I think he possesses a lot of potential as a power forward who can really shoot the puck. Bakanov's shot is extremely heavy. He can really fire it. His release will need to become quicker, but he can beat goaltenders clean. He also needs to improve his accuracy, as not enough of these shots hit the net. But again, here's a big kid with a high skill level and the potential to be a goal scorer. Sure, he might be a longer shot to hit that high end potential, but I'm all for swinging for the fences later in the draft and few players available in the back half will possess the upside of Bakanov. He had enough moments this year for me to really believe that.


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft - Part 2: 31-50

The 2nd part of my Top 50 OHL players available for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. This is where we actually dive into the Top 50, with players ranked 50 through to 31. Last year, only three players ranked in this range were selected. Needless to say, way more players will be drafted off of this list this year.

31. Mitchell Smith - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
The numbers don't jump out at you. We're looking at a 5'10 defender who put up only 16 points this year on one of the top teams in the OHL. Normally, that doesn't equate to being a potential draft prospect. However, you have to watch Smith play to truly appreciate what he brings to the table. Even though he was placed in a role that saw his offensive responsibility somewhat limited, he still managed to stand out as a potential puck mover. I think every time I saw Smith play, he had at least one good end to end rush that resulted in a scoring chance or a zone entry with prolonged possession. A lot of the year, he paired with older and more confident offensive defenders like Ilya Solovyov, DJ Busdeker, Mason Millman, and to close out the year, Bode Wilde. I think this masked his true abilities offensively. What it did showcase was his strength as a defensive player and his mind. He's not a big kid, but his high end mobility and hockey sense help him to be a quality stick on puck defender already. I felt like he and Bode Wilde really developed nice chemistry together as a pairing and I was really looking forward to seeing how he handled heavier minutes in Saginaw's playoff run. Unfortunately, we didn't get that chance. Another thing worth mentioning is that not only was Smith a first year OHL player who more than held his own, but he's also the youngest player eligible for the draft with a September 15th birthday. I see a lot of a kid like Travis Dermott in Smith (a fellow later birth date) and I could easily see him following a similar trajectory. If someone asked me which player eligible this year could surprise next year and make us wonder "why did this kid go so late," it would be Smith.

32. Cameron Tolani - Center - Ottawa 67's
I'm telling you right now; if the rest of the OHL season hadn't been canceled (including the playoffs), Cameron Tolnai would have shot up the draft rankings (similar to the way that Brent Burns did back in 2003 after a terrific end to the year). Be it a lack of ice time. Be it a lack of confidence. Whatever the reason; Tolnai just couldn't find his groove in the first year and a half of his OHL career. The former 6th overall pick in the OHL Priority selection has always had the talent package, and showed flashes, but wasn't able to put it all together. But each month, we saw Tolnai get a little bit better. And when Graeme Clarke returned at the end of the year, giving Tolnai a formidable winger, it was like an awakening. 11 points in his final 10 games, but it was how he was creating those, as 8 of those 11 points were primary points. He was driving play from down the middle by using his size (6'1) and skill package. Putting defenders on his back. Clearing space. And making skilled plays below the hash marks to create time and space. This kid, when he is on, is the complete package and has as much upside as many of the players in my top 20. Power centers with size and skating ability are highly coveted by the NHL. The only issue is that sample size. I'm still slightly concerned about whether his hockey sense offensively is high end. And I think that will be the biggest deterrent for teams. Like I said, if he continued to play well and was a near point per game player in the playoffs for Ottawa's long playoff run, we're talking about Tolnai as a top 60 selection. Do you roll the dice, hoping the year end was not the aberration, but the real Cam Tolnai? 

33. Reid Valade - Left Wing - Kitchener Rangers
Valade may not be the biggest guy on the ice, but he makes up for it by being one of the hardest workers. A powerful and quick skater, Valade brings consistent energy on and off the puck by working hard on the forecheck and the backcheck to gain or maintain possession. He is a little bit like the little engine that could out there. As such, he brings a lot of versatility to Kitchener's lineup by having the ability to play a scoring line role or more of a shutdown role. He also is an integral penalty killer for the Rangers. From an offensive stand point, Valade's best attribute, in my opinion, is his shot release. He has a terrific wrist shot that should see him develop into a high quality goal scorer at the OHL level. The biggest thing for Valade is just adding size to his frame. He had some difficulty with injuries this year and given his abrasive style of play, he's going to need to bulk up his 5'10 frame. This would also help him be a more consistent play creator in transition as he would be more difficult to separate from the puck. While Valade's projection at the NHL level would more than likely top out as a quality 3rd line winger, he would still be a quality selection at the draft because of all the things he does well and can bring to the table. A relatively safe bet with goal scoring upside.

34. Tanner Dickinson - Center/Left Wing - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Speed, speed, and more speed is the name of the game for Dickinson. He is an effortless and powerful skater. Has these really nice long strides that allow him to build up speed quickly coming through the neutral zone. He can be a real asset in terms of gaining entry to the offensive zone. Dickinson also shows great vision in transition, keeping his head up once across the blueline and identifying open linemates. He also understands how to alter his pace to open up passing lanes, exhibiting poise and confidence with the puck. The rest of his game is quite raw though. A lot of that likely has to do with physical immaturity. He needs to add strength. He can be too easily pushed off of the puck or driven into the corners and he just isn't strong enough to win those board battles to keep possession. His shot is not of high quality either and as such, he is very much a pass first player. If you're an analytics driven person, Dickinson's numbers aren't likely to impress you. His even strength primary points per game average (0.1875) was 60th in the OHL among first time draft eligible players (behind the likes of George Diaco, Jonah De Simone, and Elias Cohen, players that I didn't even rank as HM's). But, I do think a lot of that has to do with his lack of strength and does not represent his overall potential. He's pushing the pace and deferring after, but if you can get him to be able to push deeper, there's a lot of upside here. The eye test is better than the underlying numbers here.

35. Rory Kerins - Center - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Interesting to compare and contrast Dickinson and Kerins, considering that I have them back to back from the same team and they play the same position. Kerins is a jack of all trades type who is relied upon to play a shutdown role for the Hounds a lot of the time. Of course, that means he's great in all three zones. He's not huge at 5'10, but he's strong off the puck and is great at gaining inside leverage on puck carriers on the backcheck, and great at winning those board battles. In the offensive end, while Kerins is a goal scoring center, first and foremost, I actually think his vision is good, especially in the cycle or coming off the wall. But as said, it's his hands in the slot and his quick release which are his best assets. He operates extremely effectively as a net front presence despite not being a big kid. He really is a well rounded player and that's why I know some are quite high on him. That said, there are some things that I am slightly worried about. Kerins' shooting percentage of 22.73 was the highest of any draft eligible player in the OHL (ahead of the likes of Quinn, Perreault, Mysak, etc). It's likely not sustainable, which means those goal scoring numbers could be inflated a bit. He's more of an opportunistic scorer than a driver. Additionally, while a good skater, Kerins is not a great one. NHL teams are looking for size and skating ability down the middle these days, especially from players who fit Kerins' profile and potential. However, the season he had deserved attention. He's a smart, hard working two-way center who can put the puck in the net.

36. Hayden Fowler - Left Wing/Center - Erie Otters
Fowler came into the year as a personal favourite of mine. I felt like he possessed great upside as a quick, yet tenacious player. 2018/19 was a tough year for Fowler because of a clavicle injury, so while he's a third year player and a late 2001, he really hadn't played as much as his peers. As such, I thought he'd have a monster year. This season started off quite well, but as the season wore on the consistency issues continued to plague him. In particular, Fowler didn't close the season off well. When he's on, Fowler is a dynamic player in transition. He is quick, yet sturdy thanks to a wide base that helps to offset his lack of elite size at 5'10. And he is very aggressive in driving the net, possessing quick hands and a quality shot. Fowler is also an ultra competitive kid who loves finishing his checks and who plays a very physically intense brand of hockey. However, he can still have a tendency to disappear from an offensive perspective. Despite being a physically assertive player, he will go stretches that see him touch the puck very little. He's kind of all over the place in that regard. The other question I have is, is he a center or a winger long term? He has played both, however, I think his skill set suits the wing better. If you're drafting Fowler, you're hoping that he can figure out how to balance his physicality and his skill with the puck, and you're hoping that his awareness in the offensive zone improves to help him find those scoring chances more consistently.

37. Logan Morrison - Center - Hamilton Bulldogs
Morrison is a kid who divides the opinion of scouts because he's a very intelligent player, but one who lacks flash and physical tools. As such, he is hard to project. On one end, Morrison thinks the game at such a high level in all three zones. He has a great stick in the neutral zone that forces a lot of turnovers. He's also such a good opportunistic goal scorer as he pounces on loose pucks or finds his way to the slot behind a defender. From there, his high quality release nets him his share of goals. On the other end, he's 5'11 and far from a high quality mover. His skating has improved over his OHL career, but it will still need to get better given his lack of elite size and reach. He's also not a dynamic puck carrier. He plays a pretty safe North/South game, but can struggle to create his own scoring chances because he doesn't have the hands, strength, or speed to create the separation he needs. As another scout I spoke to put it, "sometimes he waits for the play to come to him." The good news is those physical tools can be improved, while his hockey sense is an innate quality. That's why I'd have a lot of time for Morrison in the later rounds in hopes that he can get a little quicker and become a more dynamic player in transition.

38. Cameron Butler - Right Wing - Niagara IceDogs
The issue with Butler really is just consistency. There's definitely a top notch power forward ready to be unlocked. Butler is huge at 6'4, 200lbs, but actually skates pretty well. He has some explosiveness to his stride that allows him to get behind defenders and he's hard to knock off stride too. Additionally, Butler has a big, powerful shot. In terms of velocity, I would place it in the top 5 of those eligible from the OHL this year. And as mentioned, Butler can play with power and will look to engage physically on the forecheck to help force turnovers or recover dump ins. There are a few things right now that prevent Butler from being a more consistent offensive threat. The first is his shot release. He needs to get his shots off quicker and improve his release, especially when in traffic. He can have trouble finishing off plays in tight because of this. Second is his confidence and competence with the puck on his stick. He has the size, but isn't as effective as he could be along the wall because the hands just aren't quick enough right now. Third is his vision with the puck in transition. He can have that tunnel vision when bringing the puck over the blueline and can have trouble identifying passing lanes before being neutralized. Lastly, like a lot of young power forwards, finding that balance between physicality and finding open space offensively, is critical. Sometimes he looks a bit lost in the offensive end because he's unsure of how to attack. This comes with confidence and improved conditioning for a lot of players. I have a lot of time for someone like Butler in the middle rounds, because if he can put it together, he's an impact player and the type that doesn't grow on trees anymore.

39. Riley Piercey - Left Wing - Flint Firebirds
Piercey is a big kid (6'3, 200lbs) who plays with a real wide base that allows him to use his size to his advantage down low.  He's not the most explosive skater, but I felt like his overall mobility (especially his ability to use his edges) really improved over the course of the year. This allowed him to cut into the middle more effectively on net drives coming off the wall. Following the trade to Flint, he had some really nice success (21 points in 27 games). However, it's important to note that 10 of those points came in a four game stretch. So the consistency issues that he had in Barrie carried over to Flint too. I guess my biggest question mark is how good his hands and overall offensive skill set is. There's obviously a lot of room for growth here, but what is the maximum ceiling? Does he possess the kind of creativity or shot release to be a quality goal scorer? Does he have the vision to be a better playmaker down low? Can he improve his skating further? I'm not as confident in those answers being yes, as I am with some of the other "bigger" forwards that I have ranked ahead of Piercey. Definitely a kid worth a draft pick later on though.

40. Jake Uberti - Center - Niagara IceDogs
One of the most difficult things about playing on a poor team as a draft eligible player, is that the opportunity for you to show scouts what you're capable of is significantly reduced. Once Niagara dealt away Akil Thomas and Phil Tomasino, and without a high end draft prospect, scouts just weren't flocking to see the IceDogs get trounced by a stronger team. The unpredictability of scouting (players out of the line-up, blowouts, etc) can be frustrating if you make the drive to a rink. So generally speaking, you want to focus on games that are more likely to give you good viewings. Personally, I didn't see the IceDogs play very much in the second half, so I'm admitting that fully before this Uberti assessment. When I did see the Dogs, Uberti stood out as one of the few forwards remaining (Lodnia obviously the main draw) who had the ability to drive the play and create scoring chances. He's got good size (at 6'1) and good wheels that makes him a dangerous player off the rush. He's very adept at gaining the blueline and is not afraid of playing between the middle and driving the net. He's got good hands to finish off plays in tight too. I guess the issue I have is that, I don't have a good enough reading on him to place him much higher than this. Does he possess the vision and creativity to stick down the middle? Does he have the potential to be a top 9 forward at the next level? I have him ranked as a potential draft pick still because you have to respect a good skating center with size. However, I'd need to see him more to be more confident in his future abilities.

41. Vitali Pinchuk - Left Wing - Kingston Frontenacs
From start to finish, Pinchuk was one of the most improved draft eligibles this year in the OHL. His strong play to close out the year was one of the reasons (along with the play of that dominant first line) that Kingston was able to win more games down the stretch. He had 16 points in his final 16 games, including eight goals. Early on, we saw Pinchuk flash the ability to create in transition with his speed and puck skill, but he was too easily pushed off the puck or directed to the corners to be a consistent contributor. But as the season progressed, we saw him gain the confidence necessary to start attacking the middle more and he had clearly put in the work to get stronger as he was finding more success maintaining possession long enough get a shot off, or maintaining possession even after being directed to the corner. There is certainly some flash to his game and the offensive upside is actually quite high. My concern, I suppose, is that I didn't see high end hockey sense or vision from Pinchuk to suggest that he's extremely likely to hit that high end upside. However, the progression he showcased this year is certainly encouraging and it, no doubt, has him on the draft radar. One thing I do wonder though, is will Kingston continue with Pinchuk as an Import next year? They've got some holes in their lineup still (on defense and in goal) and they have a high Import selection this summer. Convincing high end players and agents to play in Kingston is a lot easier when you've got Shane Wright at the forefront, along with the attention he brings. It will be something for them to ponder.

42. Ole Bjorgvik Holm - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
For as much as Bjorgvik Holm struggled at times this year, he still have some real projectable qualities in his game. First is his size and reach at 6'3, 190lbs. I think he generally does a great job of using his size below the hash marks, pinning/sealing and separating players from the puck along the wall, and clearing the front of the net. I also think that his mobility shows potential. He moves well forward and backwards, it's the lateral movement that can sometimes cause him to lose his footing. And when he has time to operate, he actually makes a good heads up first pass. There is offensive potential there. But his game is extremely raw and he can have some really ugly moments. A lot of those moments occur when he's pressured by a two man forecheck. He can have trouble maintaining possession through turns, and as such turnovers can be a problem. Additionally, he can get himself in penalty trouble in the defensive end by failing to move his feet and reaching. However, it's important to remember that Bjorgvik Holm played midget hockey last year in Colorado and it would have been a heck of an adjustment for him. He was given a lot of ice time for the Steelheads this year (including time spent as Thomas Harley's d-partner) for good reason. Patience will be key, but it could pay off.

43. Lleyton Moore - Defense - Oshawa Generals
On talent alone, Moore certainly deserves to be ranked higher. Let's not forget that we're only a few years removed from some scouts believing that Moore had the potential to be the best offensive defender in this age group (even over former teammate Jamie Drysdale). On that Marlboros team, Moore was the more effective and noticeable powerplay QB, as an example. Yet, in his second OHL season, Moore still hasn't quite found his footing/niche. Why is that exactly? I think a lot of it has to do with a lack of strength. His mobility is a major asset. He's a terrific skater. But the majority of his pushes through the neutral zone at even strength result in a loss of possession, something that caused him to be less aggressive as a puck carrier over the course of the season. Additionally, his shot is not at this point a serious weapon, nor does he have a ton of confidence in it. This takes away from his effectiveness as a powerplay quarterback. I actually think Moore defends quite well for a 5'8, 170lbs kid, by using his mobility to stay ahead of attackers. However, what is Moore moving forward? The most effective that Moore looked all year may have been during a short stretch on the wing later in the year. And his small stature and lack of confidence offensively will have NHL scouts questioning the type of role he could play at the next level. The potential is there. That's why he's still ranked in my top 50. But he's more likely a guy that I see NHL teams waiting on to see how he develops over the next two years before they look at bringing him on board.

44. Jacob Murray - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Murray is a defender that I think was a lot better than the statistics would suggest. He played key minutes for the Frontenacs this year, and was a big part of their powerplay. He combines good size at 6'2, 200lbs, with good mobility. I think he holds the line really well in the offensive end thanks to his mobility and has the potential to score his share of goals with a heavy point shot. I think his defensive game and play with the puck in his own end improved a lot over the course of the year. This is especially true for his ability to win battles behind the net, gain possession and start the breakout. I'd like to see him use his mobility a little more effectively still, especially when handling dump ins. And I think his confidence as an offensive asset at five on five is still pretty low. But Murray has the chance to be the top defender and powerplay QB on a team that is going to score a ton of goals over the next few seasons. He has a chance to develop as a real asset at both ends. Whether he does or not, remains to be seen. But this is a kid with size, mobility, offensive talent and a good opportunity to develop moving forward. We're not seeing him on a ton of draft lists right now, but that doesn't mean that he's not on some NHL lists.

45. Ville Ottavainen - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
Ottavainen proved to be a pretty difficult player to evaluate this year in Kitchener. He started the year off quite well. He looked fantastic in the preseason and I think most scouts would agree that it set the bar high going into the year. Unfortunately, as the year progressed, Kitchener got healthy and they improved drastically as a team. I say unfortunately because this caused Ottavainen to drop down the depth chart to the point where he was pretty sparsely used on the third pairing. Early in the year, we saw him be aggressive as an offensive defender, using his long strides to break through stick checks and push through the neutral zone. And we saw him on the powerplay. His mobility is pretty good for a huge defender (6'4, 200lbs), and he can cover a lot of ground in all three zones with that and his reach. He doesn't have much power in his strides so his acceleration and forward speed isn't terrific. That limited his effectiveness to some degree. However, later in the year, we saw him fall back more into a shell. Chipping pucks out and not showing as much skill with the puck. Struggling at times in his own end. Moving forward, he's very much a project. He's signed in Finland for next year, but the plan is for him to be loaned back to Kitchener for another year (at least). The only issue is that Kitchener isn't graduating many defenders; the only one being Axel Bergkvist. And as it stands, I think his role on the powerplay wouldn't be guaranteed to Ottavainen. It could very well go to Donovan Sebrango, Simon Motew, or a veteran like Mike Vukojevic. The way I see it, he'd still be a third pairing defender. Where's the ice time for his development, given that he's a longer term project?

46. Tucker Tynan - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
Let me assure you, Tynan is not being ranked simply as a "feel good story" because of his gruesome injury. In fact, had he not suffered that deep laceration, I'd probably have him quite a bit higher. I have some reservations about his recovery and the smaller sample size of his rookie year, thus a more moderate ranking. However, from September to the beginning of December, Tynan was performing as one of the best goaltenders in the OHL. He wasn't getting credit for it because the IceDogs weren't in the spotlight, but he was the goaltender in 11 of Niagara's 18 wins...and he didn't play past December 7th. I know, I know, Niagara dealt Akil Thomas, Phil Tomasino, and Kyen Sopa. But they weren't a great defensive team even with those guys, and Tynan was keeping them in games that they didn't deserve being in. He flat out stole some of those victories. At the time of his injury, Tynan was seeing among the most rubber of any goalie in the league, yet he held firm with a .910 save percentage. Not a huge goalie at 6'0, Tynan relies a lot on his quickness and athleticism. There's a lot of Mikey Dipietro in his game with how well he takes away the bottom part of the net with his pushes laterally and backwards. And even though he has a tendency to go down a little early, he keeps himself in the play by holding his positioning/angles and tracking pucks through crowds. Yes, smaller goaltenders do have a greater margin for error because it means their positioning needs to be that much better. However, Tynan showed enough to me that I would use a later round selection on him, even with a steep recovery ahead of him. I really wish he had managed to play a full year.

47. Kirill Steklov - Defense - London Knights
I would be willing to guarantee that Steklov is drafted higher than I have him ranked. Defenders who are 6'4 and can skate like Steklov are highly coveted by NHL teams and scouts hoping to uncover the next great shut down defender. He's raw, but there is certainly that kind of potential for the next level. A stick on puck defender, Steklov is difficult to get around because he covers so much ground with his reach and his quickness. He also does flash some ability to be an asset in transition, occasionally going for the odd jaunt beyond his blueline. That said, I think his game is just a little too raw for me to have ranked higher personally. Too many of these types just don't work out because teams reach based on a projection that is likely far fetched. While Steklov is a good mover, I don't see enough skill as an offensive player for him to be a capable point producer at the next level. And he's not really a physical player (as mentioned, he prefers using his reach), so he's not as difficult to play against as he should be. He defends well off the rush, but lacks the strength and fierceness to be a top notch defender in zone coverage. Again, there are some pieces there so I can see why an NHL team would draft him high. I just find the success rate for players like Steklov is so low that I prefer reaching for other types in the later rounds.

48. Brett Brochu - Goaltender - London Knights
I admit it, I was wrong about Brochu this year. I was highly skeptical that this undersized rookie straight out of Junior C, would be able to keep up the level of play that he established early on. But he actually got better as the year went on and really was the saving grace of London's season, in a year where the lack of quality goaltending early on hurt the team's success. Much like Cedrick Andree, Brochu is going to be a high quality goalie in the league and someone who could win an OHL goaltender of the year award by the time his career is finished. But much like Andree, I wonder if Brochu is just too small to be considered an NHL draft prospect. As mentioned with Tucker Tynan, smaller goaltenders have their work cut out for them at the next level because their positioning and rebound control has to be so much better. The margin for error is that much greater. That said, Brochu, currently 5'11, is one of the youngest players available this year (September 9th). There's room for him to mature further physically. The athleticism, reads, composure, confidence. It's all there. As he gets stronger, he'll be a little better at holding his posts, but he's just a solid netminder. Again though, I just find it tough to rank him higher considering how few smaller goaltenders have found success after junior hockey. I'd love to get him into a development camp (will they even happen?) and see how he does against the cream of the crop, including some first/second year pro players.

49. Alec Belanger - Defense/Left-Right Wing - Ottawa 67's
Talk about a difficult player to assess this year. Is he a forward? Is he a defenseman? Up front, he looked good playing alongside Jack Quinn and Mitchell Hoelscher on the 67's second line. On the backend, he saw himself routinely paired with one of Ottawa's rookies on the third pairing. I do think that he is a defender long term. Next year, it is conceivable to see him as part of a top pairing with Merrick Rippon. But what about his potential as a future pro? And as an NHL draft selection? I think if Belanger was a more dynamic skater, it would be easier to envision his skill set translating. But as is, he's just an average mover who relies more on his vision and hockey sense than he does speed and creativity. Belanger is at his best as a defender when working the point in the offensive end. He holds the line well because he has great anticipation and, again, his vision is quite good. Rarely do you see him force plays. But I'm not sure I see him as a dynamic puck mover at even strength. And with his shuffle back and forth positionally, it's hard to get a read on his defensive capabilities. Overall, the production and IQ are great, but projecting him as a pro player is more difficult because of his situation. I'd probably want to see him play a full year at one position before making him a draft selection.

50. Mark Woolley - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
To be honest, I had higher expectations of Woolley coming into the year as a late 2001 born defender. While I never expected Woolley to be a huge offensive contributor, his play and confidence with the puck did not take the necessary steps forward in order to make him a serious contender for the top 100. Additionally, Woolley's skating is only average and did not improve to make him a better two-way defender. What Woolley is though, is a staunch stay at home defender. He is one of the most feared open ice hitters in the OHL and is aggressive in stepping up to deny zone entry. He wins battles along the wall. He has the size to defend the crease (6'3, 210lbs). He blocks shots. He anchors the Owen Sound Attack penalty kill and is out there against the best offensive players of the other team in important situations. Additionally, Woolley's humanitarian efforts should be mentioned here. As part of Woolley's Warriors, he helped raise $40,000 towards helping children with Type 1 diabetes. That type of stuff does not go unnoticed by NHL scouts, as it shows the type of character he has (if the 'A' on his chest this year, and likely 'C' next year, did not give that away). If you're drafting Woolley, you're hoping that over the next two years in the OHL (including his OA year), he can improve his mobility and his breakout pass so that his physical skill set and defensive acumen can translate to the pro level.