Thursday, July 1, 2021

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft - Part 2: 50-31

In two straight drafts (2019 and 2020), only three players ranked in this range have been selected. 

Given the state of hockey in Ontario, I would expect that trend to continue.

Without further ado, here are the players ranked 31 through 50.
31. Avery Hayes - Center/Wing - Hamilton Bulldogs
An October born 2002 forward, Hayes has two OHL seasons under his belt, more than nearly any other Ontario based forward available this year. The problem is that Hayes’ sophomore season was mired with inconsistency and injuries. Just as he was heating up and finding his groove at the end of December, an upper body injury kept him out for a few months and killed all his momentum prior to the pandemic shutdown. Hayes, however, did head to Slovakia with a bunch of other OHL players this year (Tag Bertuzzi, Keean Washkurak, Donovan Sebrango, and Justin MacPherson) to play for HK Levice in the Slovak second league. Hayes is like a swiss army knife out there. He can play and excel in any situation asked of him. Has the ability to play all three forward positions. Can excel as F1 or handle zone entry responsibilities. I really like how he plays through the middle of the ice. He uses his speed to attack and is aggressive in trying to find his way to the net. He also possesses an excellent shot, especially from the slot because of how quick his release is. The one thing that I think has really been holding him back thus far is a lack of strength, which is very apparent when he is asked to play on the outside and on the wall. He just doesn't win enough of those 50/50 battles and is easily separated from the puck when angled off. This was especially evident in Slovakia, playing against men in the second league. At the Erie showcase, he did show some improvement in this area, while continuing to look to attack at a feverish pace. That is why it is important to look at his strength improvements versus players his own age. It should be noted that he was measured at only 5'7 at the event. But Hayes does possess the potential to be a quality and versatile middle six forward at the next level. 
32. Nick DeGrazia - Wing - Sudbury Wolves
Man...this guy can skate! DeGrazia isn't just one of the best skaters available from the OHL this year, he is one of the best available period. He accelerates to top speed within the blink of an eye and changes direction effortlessly without sacrificing speed or breaking stride. The ultimate question is, what kind of offensive potential does he have? DeGrazia has yet to really play in the OHL, spending the previous season in the NOJHL, with a few OHL games sprinkled in. A late born 2002, DeGrazia was also able to get some action in this year with Rayside-Balfour, as the NOJHL did play a bit this year. At 1.50 points per game, he was one of the highest scoring players in the league. But the NOJHL is not the OHL, and in limited sample size, his game hasn't translated quite as well, struggling to create consistent offensive chances at a higher level...and at the 2019 World Junior A Challenge (where he won silver with Canada East). A high volume shooter, DeGrazia will fire shots in from the perimeter if he is not able to penetrate the middle with speed. While his shot is good, I would like to see him use his speed to control the puck in the offensive zone and alter his pace, rather than constantly just try to beat defenders wide. He will also need to get stronger to be as effective on and off the puck at a higher level, as he has had difficulty maintaining possession when pressured in the OHL and at the World Junior A Challenge last year. However, his speed does play well on the forecheck and on the penalty kill, making him a versatile player for his coaches. In conclusion, DeGrazia has to be a draft pick this year given how much of a weapon his skating ability can be. However, I am also not sure if he has the offensive potential to be more than just a high energy depth player at the NHL level. 
33. J.R. Avon - Wing - Peterborough Petes
A lot of really strong skaters in this grouping of players in my ranking and Avon is another. Like Saganiuk or DeGrazia, Avon is an electric and dynamic mover. North/South he is extremely quick and he catches a lot of defenders flat footed in transition. The main issues causing his consistency issues in his rookie year were a lack of strength and a lack of confidence. If he was able to get the drop on defenders and catch them flat footed, he would be aggressive in cutting in to drive the net. If not, he was largely kept to the perimeter and eventually angled off the puck along the wall or he would settle for a low percentage, weak shot from the outside that would kill momentum for the Petes. Additionally, for all his speed, Avon needs to improve his strength on his skates and his ability to use his edges to be better East/West, and more elusive. A high OHL draft selection, Avon is no doubt skilled enough to be an impact player in the OHL. However, there are just so many inconsistencies in his game. When he was dialed in physically, he would start chipping and chasing when cut off, allowing him to use his speed to try to establish possession for Peterborough even when he was unable to beat defenders cleanly. Developing the ability to use his speed for positive gains without the puck will also be key for his development. Again, this is an inconsistent component of his game. At times, he is very active without the puck in the defensive end and neutral zone, applying pressure to passers and puck carriers. Other times, he is complacent. As mentioned with a few other players, Avon is a kid I look at in the later half of the draft because he does possess some elite qualities. The other areas may never improve, but the upside is high.
34. Connor Punnett - Defense - Barrie Colts
I think Punnett is a real wild card this year, given how little ice time he received at the OHL level last year (split between Saginaw and Barrie). I felt like he was one of the best defenseman at the 2019 World Under 17's, living up to his hype as a former OHL first round pick. However, at the OHL level, we only saw bits and pieces; fragments of his potential. I think he is an extremely well rounded player who projects as a two-way defender at the NHL level. He is a strong skater and possesses a powerful point shot, giving him some weapons to utilize from an offensive perspective. He is a very physically intense competitor in the defensive end, with the penchant for delivering the big hit and stepping up on attackers near the blueline. At the very least, I think he has the skill set to develop into a rock solid, stay at home type given his mobility, decent size, and tenacity. The key to unlocking his offensive potential will be in his ability to improve his decision making with the puck and his ability to start the breakout cleanly. The precision of his passing was a noticeable weakness in his rookie OHL year, especially under pressure. And this led to a fair share of turnovers in the face of the forecheck. Punnett needs to trust his skating ability can create space for him to open up those exit lanes, taking better angles to loose pucks and shoulder checking more consistently before approaching retrievals or accepting passes. Getting that puck off his stick quicker is a necessity. I will say that I was disappointed with his play in Erie, as I felt some of the other draft eligible defenders at the event over shadowed him. I didn't see a ton of progression from him offensively. But the bare bones are there for him to develop into a real dynamite OHL defender. Again, go back and watch the U17's and you'll see what I mean.
35. Isaac Enright - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Unlike Punnett, Enright saw a ton of ice time in his rookie season with the IceDogs. However the IceDogs just were not a great team, especially post trade deadline and that forced Enright to play probably more than he should have. There were certainly struggles. However, with the right mindset, this can help players evolve and improve and like almost everyone else on this list, we were not able to see those improvements this year. At the heart of Enright's game is his strong skating ability. He is one of the more mobile defenders in the age group and he uses that to his advantage at both ends of the ice. Enright is also a pretty physical defender, something that I expect to continue to become a more consistent part of his game as his confidence grows and he gets stronger. That means his projection is, at least, that of a strong defensive player at the OHL level and perhaps beyond. However, he had some bad defensive habits as a rookie that will need to be cleaned up (getting caught flat footed, getting caught watching the puck, etc). As an offensive player, it's tough because as a rookie, he played a very safe game. Hard to judge just how skilled he is and how the offensive side of his game develops further. If an NHL team bites, it is because they believe that his skill set could make him an effective third pairing type, with the potential for his confidence to grow with the puck, allowing him to take better advantage of his skating ability.
36. Braden Hache - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
This is another kid that I really liked in his U17 season with Kingston. Even as a 16 year old, he was one of the most physically consistent defenders in the OHL. As he continues to gain confidence and gets stronger, just how physically dominant could he become? He is just such a suffocating presence in the defensive end already, in a way that reminds me of how Kevin Bahl looked as an OHL rookie. I guess the concern is that he's not as big as Bahl and did not have the opportunity to show us this year that his skating had taken the necessary next steps the way Bahl's did in his NHL draft year. So while he has a chance to be a dominant stay at home defender at the OHL level, are we talking Kevin Bahl or are we talking about Zach Bell? Additionally, how much potential does Hache have as an offensive contributor? He showed flashes of being able to lead the rush and make clean breakouts as a U17 player, but he also struggled with his decision making in the face of defensive pressure, with turnovers becoming more likely the further he got from his own end with the puck. I would have loved to have seen how his skating improved this year (especially his lateral and backwards fluidity and transition from backwards to forwards stride), in addition to his play with the puck. All that said, this is also an impressive young man who is already quite the philanthropist. He was the only U17 player nominated for the Dan Snyder Humanitarian of the Year award and his work with Hockey Fights Cancer and Hockey Gives Blood should be applauded. He also took home the Dayna Brons Award thanks to his contributions to blood and stem cell awareness. It certainly speaks volumes about his character. Hard to see him not becoming the captain of the Frontenacs at some point.  

37. Max McCue - Center - London Knights
Tough, two-way center who played well in a fourth line role for London two seasons ago. McCue loves to throw the body on the forecheck and brings energy at both ends of the ice, helping to force turnovers. As an offensive player, he shows well as a playmaker, with the ability to alter the speed of his attacks and a comfort level when he has the puck along the wall. Because of his strong processing ability, skating ability, and physicality, he projects to be, at the very least, a quality middle six center at the OHL level. The question is, how much upside does he have from an offensive standpoint? It was really tough to evaluate that based on limited minutes in London and limited minutes with the Canadian U17 team. His finishing ability did not inspire a ton of confidence at the OHL level last year, and as part of that role he was asked to play in London, he was rarely tasked with carrying the puck for prolonged stretches, instead playing a dump/chase, North/South attacking style. I know of a few that really love his game though. 
38. Artem Guryev - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Big (6'3, 200lbs), physical defender who split last season between Peterborough and Lindsay of the OJHL. Coming out of U16 with the Toronto Marlboros, Guryev was billed as one of the most physically intense players available, in addition to possessing some untapped offensive potential due to a big point shot and adequate puck skill. In spot time at the OHL level in 2019/20, Guryev was a tough player to get a read on. He seemed hesitant to really throw some of those big hits that he is known for, fearing that he would mistime it or take himself out of the play, so he kept things simple, minding his gaps, using his stick, and rarely leaving the net front area in the defensive end. Offensively, he struggled with his breakout passes when he did attempt them, and seemed to get himself bottled up a lot. But, I don't believe we have seen the best of Guryev, not even close. He actually skates pretty well for the type of game he plays and this gives him a lot of potential as a defensive player. Anything he is able to add as an offensive player would then be gravy. At this point, I am just not sure we have seen enough of him to truly list him highly. However, there is no doubt that NHL scouts will be keeping an eye on him in the near future.
39. Maddox Callens - Left Wing - Kingston Frontenacs
Callens is just my type of player. You know what you are getting each and every night with him. Not often are U17 forwards able to be consistent physical presences, but Callens was just that. A high energy player, he never seems to stop skating and it makes him so effective away from the puck. He forces turnovers on the forecheck. He forces turnovers on the backcheck. 100% effort every shift. Offensively, his game is simple. Attack North/South and beat defenders to the puck. And you know what? He actually got himself a ton of high end scoring chances as a rookie, he just couldn't finish on them. Is that lack of finish a representation of his skill limitations? Was it bad luck? Was it inexperience and nerves? Could honestly be all three. But, I could not help the fact that Callens reminded me so much of watching Zayde Widsom in his rookie year with the Fronts. Obviously, he was able to bury more of those chances in his second season and has become a quality NHL prospect. I just see someone in Callens who could profile as the ideal bottom six player at the NHL level. He's quick. He's energetic. He's physical. He's consistent. And as long as the finishing ability improves, some of those limitations in his individual puck skill can be overlooked. I would love to see Callens play with Shane Wright or Paul Ludwinski next year and be that perfect compliment to their quickness and creativity.
40. Matthew Maggio - Right Wing - Windsor Spitfires
A late born '02, Maggio has been a bit of a disappointment in the OHL thus far with both Ottawa and Windsor. A highly touted offensive player before entering the league, Maggio was not strong for the Spitfires the last time the OHL played, even ending up a healthy scratch at times. When he is at his best, the 5'10 winger plays an up tempo, attacking style and shows good vision in the offensive end, especially when working down low and driving time of possession with his quick feet. But the consistency just has not been there for him, with turnovers and lackluster defensive zone play creeping into his game. He went overseas this season to play with Logan Mailloux in the HockeyEttan with SK Lejon and had a pretty good year. He was able to showcase some of his offensive talents, demonstrating the capacity to create scoring chances for himself and his linemates...even if SK Lejon spent a large chunk of their time defending their own goal (they weren't very good). No doubt Maggio would have been given a chance to secure a top 6 role with Windsor this year had they played and it will likely be the case again next season. At the Erie showcase, Maggio's skating talents were on display. His edgework truly is terrific, as he starts and stops on a dime to create separation. He was good at the event and it certainly gave me more hope that he would hit his potential, as at least an OHL player.
41. Paul Christopoulos - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Anyone who reads my work or follows me on social media knows that I am a huge fan of this player. He was one of my favourites to watch in U16 as part of that dominant Don Mills Flyers team. Christopoulos is a highly effective puck mover and play creator from the back-end because of his four way mobility, vision, and big point shot. Even though he had one of the worst plus/minus ratings in the OHL two years ago (-41), his season was obviously not that bad since he was named to the OHL second all rookie team. So I guess the million dollar question is...if I like the player so much why is he ranked 41st? I guess the answer to that is...I am not quite sure if Christopoulos' skill set will translate well to the NHL level, or if he ends up becoming just a really good OHL defender. While his four way mobility is impressive and Christopoulos is great with his pivots and lateral movement when holding the line, his North/South quickness may not be as good as you would like to see from a 5'10 defender. Additionally, Christopoulos did struggle mightily in defensive zone coverage two years ago, especially when it came to defending the slot and net front. So what we have is, an undersized defender who struggled defensively, but who also did not light the world on fire from an offensive perspective either due to some limitations in physical tools. Ranking him was probably the hardest thing I had to do this year, based solely on what we saw two years ago. I know he would have looked better in 20/21, but how much better and in what areas? So tough.
42. Lawson Sherk - Center - Hamilton Bulldogs
A good sized (6'1, 180lbs) power center, Sherk made an immediate impact in the OHL as a rookie, centering Hamilton's third line and earning secondary powerplay time as a net front presence. Sherk has good hands in tight to finish and supports the play well in all three zones, bringing an occasional physical element too. As a U16 player with Halton, Sherk was a very dangerous player in transition because of his blend of size, power skating, and skill. However, at the OHL level two years ago, Sherk had some trouble creating when the pace increased, occasionally struggling to make skilled plays with the puck when at full speed. This limited his effectiveness as a driver of the play from the middle, forcing him to be more of a complimentary, dump and chase player. I have the utmost confidence that Sherk can develop into a good OHL player, but I do wonder about whether he is skilled enough to progress further than that. He is definitely a player NHL teams should be keeping close tabs on though.
43. Pavel Cajan - Goaltender - Kitchener Rangers
One of those Import players that I mentioned was being included, Cajan committed to Kitchener but did not play a game this year. So how do we rank him or evaluate him? Part of it is talking to some European scouts who have seen him more. Part of it is watching limited video available from two years ago. As a late '02, Cajan does have a little more experience. He was a backup at the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup. He started at the Five Nations. There is some International pedigree and as such, there was significant hype that he could come in and be the starter for the Rangers this season. At 6'2, Cajan does have the size. And he is clearly an athletic netminder who moves well post to post. He is definitely more refined in his approach than a guy like Nick Malik, who was more of a scrambler. That said, some of the finer technical components need to improve. His rebound control looks fairly weak. He also seems to struggle with finding pucks through traffic consistently, something that he would have really needed to improve to find success in North America. But the bare bones are there and scouts will have notes on him from some International performances where he performed admirably.  
44. Deni Goure - Center/Right Wing - Owen Sound Attack
Coming out of U16, Goure was billed as one of the top goal scorers available to OHL teams, but it may have been his playmaking ability that shone the most as an OHL rookie. Goure is the kind of player who alters his pace to manipulate defensive coverage, and shows well already protecting the puck and negotiating traffic. There were times that he showed off that great wrist shot last year, but he didn't seem to have the kind of confidence yet to really open things up as a U17 player. He certainly projects as the kind of player you can use in that half wall spot on the powerplay because of how well he sees the ice and how good his release is. NHL scouts will probably have some concern over his pace though, as for a smaller player (5'10), his skating ability is not quite as dynamic as you would like. When he builds speed, he can attack and create in transition. However, his first step quickness will need to improve, as will his lateral quickness and comfort level on his edges. Part of why he was not able to transition his goal scoring talents was that he had some difficulty evading coverage in the slot area and getting himself the type of time and space he needed. I also found him to have had a pretty disappointing performance at the Erie showcase even before he got hurt (which is really unfortunate). Just like he did as an OHL rookie, he had difficulty getting that separation in the middle of the ice to get himself those good lucks consistently. That said, Goure is a very talented kid and one who does have a pro level skill set if it develops properly.  
45. Ethan Burroughs - Right Wing - Hamilton Bulldogs
Burroughs may not be big (5'10, 165lbs), but he is strong on his skates and strong on the puck. He is already very good at protecting the puck through traffic and really does well to recover loose pucks and drive time of possession in the cycle. He also profiles well as a goal scorer because of a good wrist shot and scoring instincts, especially in that slot area. Like former Halton teammate Sherk, Burroughs struggled at times playing with pace, especially when it came to receiving passes or making skilled plays with the puck in the attack. Burroughs also faded hard in the second half of the season, with his ice time cut in Owen Sound down the stretch. I don't read much into that other than fatigue over the course of his first year. Some U17 players get better and some fade out depending on usage and conditioning. I would have loved to have seen Burroughs this year with Owen Sound just to see if his first step quickness had improved and if he was able to capitalize on more of those scoring chances he was earning. At the Erie showcase, I thought his skating definitely looked improved. However, I did see some of the same issues with his ability to finish and create with pace, in particular his ability to receive passes and maintain possession through contact in open space (not along the wall). 

46. Tucker Robertson - Wing - Peterborough Petes 
A player who finds his way into my Top 50 with a strong performance at the Erie showcase. He brings a ton of energy and really keeps his feet moving in the offensive end. I like how he protects the puck in traffic by altering his pace and putting defenders on his back to make sure he maintains possession. I think he became more comfortable as the Erie event went on with being creative with the puck and creating more in transition. At the OHL level he has proven that he can be a change of pace, high energy attacker, but can he consistently drive time of possession down low with skill? I am just not sure what the high end upside is as an NHL player. I feel pretty confident based off of his OHL rookie year and his performance in Erie that he will become a quality OHL contributor. But can the speed continue to improve and does he have the hands and finishing ability to excel in that energy role at the NHL level?
47. Giancarlo Chanton - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
I thought Chanton struggled in his rookie season with the IceDogs. He came to the OHL with a fair amount of hype, but the pace of play and the strength of opposing players really seemed to give him trouble. Playing advanced minutes on a rebuilding team that was constantly hemmed in their own zone didn't do him any favours either. It was certainly trial by fire. However, having broken down his game overseas this year for an earlier article for McKeen's, he has had a much better year in Switzerland. This included a strong performance for Switzerland at the WJC's, where he was arguably one of their better players. Chanton's biggest strength lies in his transitional abilities from an offensive perspective. He makes a real clean exit pass and has excellent vision up ice, while also possessing the skating ability to escape pressure and clear the zone with a strong push up ice. Speaking of Chanton's skating, it looked much improved this year in Switzerland, both more fluid in all four directions and more explosive moving forward, allowing him to make those occasional successful jaunts up ice. At this year’s World Junior Championships, Chanton was among the defensive leaders in controlled exit percentage, a testament to his ability to find that open man down the ice. However, there are other areas that remain a work in progress. While he has become more effective in defending transitional attacks, he still loses too many battles down low and needs to get stronger, especially if he wants to find success in North America. Additionally, I do wonder what the overall ceiling for him is. He is clearly an intelligent puck mover. But, I have some reservations about him being a high end offensive contributor. Additionally, I am not sure if he projects as the type who can play more of a safe, defensive role. If an NHL team drafts him it is because they like the IQ and want to see how the physical tools continue to evolve. 
48. Colby Saganiuk - Center/Wing - Erie Otters
There's undersized and then there are players like Alex Debrincat and Colby Saganiuk. Look at the type of production Debrincat had to put up just to get a look and now he's one of the NHL's elite goal scorers. Now, I'm not comparing the two stylistically. I'm just saying that it will be tough for Saganiuk (measured at 5'4 in Erie) to draw the kind of attention I think he deserves without having played this season. He left the US NTDP to play in Erie after falling down the lineup with the U17's later in the 2019/20 season, but never got a chance to show what he could do in the OHL with significant ice time (which he would have received). I think Saganiuk has to be considered one of the elite skaters in this draft, which is obviously going to be key for him given his lack of size. However, with a low center of gravity and really explosive edges, he generates speed so quickly and effortlessly. When he is given space in transition, look out. I also really like that Saganiuk is far from a perimeter player in the offensive zone. He will take a hit to make a play or drive/crash the net. For all the puck skill he possesses, he had a really tough time finishing in the USHL last year though. Chance after chance generated, but his shot really lacks power and polish. Additionally, he struggled mightily in the defensive end, making him a fairly one dimensional player. That said, if I am looking at which OHL players to draft in the mid to later rounds this year, it is players like Saganiuk, who are elite in one or two areas of the game. Then you hope that other things round into form and improve around that. I do feel that the number one key for him is improving that shot...on top of obviously getting stronger to help overcome his height and reach deficits. At the Erie showcase, his lack of size and strength really hurt him as he was continuously knocked off the puck in his attempts to drive wide.
49. Alex Geci - Center - Sarnia Sting
Another Import who was supposed to be sign, sealed, and delivered, but was robbed of the opportunity due to the pandemic. Geci did not even play back home in Slovakia this year or at the U18's because Slovakia did not qualify this year. A potential power center at 6'2, Geci stands out playing through the middle of the ice and driving the net. He also possesses a heavy shot that could make him a high end goal scoring option. Strong skating, power centers who can put the puck in the net do not grow on trees. That said, from watching video on him, there were areas of concern. The first was his overall engagement level and involvement without the puck. Given how much power he plays with when he has the puck, it was disappointing to see him lose so many battles along the wall and be disengaged in all three zones without it. There were certainly flashes of strong forechecking ability and two-way game, but it appears to be very inconsistent. It would have been very interesting to see him play in the OHL this year with Sarnia as his game does seem to be tailored to playing in the OHL and in North America. I doubt NHL scouts have seen enough of him to say that they feel comfortable enough in their assessments to draft him, but given his potential, I did feel it necessary to rank him inside the Top 50.
50. Kaleb Lawrence - Center - Owen Sound Attack
6'8 and nearly 220lbs center is an absolute load to contain down low. He had a really strong performance at the Erie showcase, showing an ability to control play in the offensive zone with his strength on the puck. He can play the middle and near the crease with his size and hands, finishing off plays with defenders on his back. However, he also has the puck skill to keep plays alive along the wall and spin off checks to make passes to set up scoring chances in the slot area. I guess my concern is his ability to play with pace. He was certainly much less noticeable in transition and his skating does appear to me to be a limiting factor (a reason why I had him outside my top 50 prior to the showcase). But I am definitely convinced that he has the skill and size combination to be a top six power forward at the OHL level. However, an NHL team will need to be convinced that they can work with his skating to improve it so that he can play that same role at the next level.


Anonymous said...

Just one correction on your list. Nick Degrazia is listed NOJHL Rayside Balfour Canadians on the 2021 Draft Prospect Rankings not OHL Sudbury Wovles.

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