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.


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