Friday, November 12, 2021

Preliminary Top 50 for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft

It's time for my first official ranking for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. I say official because I release a preseason ranking in the summer (which can be found here). 
The OHL is finally back and man is it awesome.  That said, it's important to limit overreactions to hot or cold starts. Some of those currently disappointing, will most definitely pick up their play. And some of those off to blazing starts won't be able to hold that production. This is especially true considering the division heavy approach the league took to start the year as a precaution. With the schedule opening up more starting this week, we should get a better idea of where players (and teams) are at. At the end of the day, it is a cool exercise to go back and look at my first list of the season.

The list includes detailed reports on the Top 30 and small snippets on the other 20 that make up the Top 50. 

The strength of this draft crop from the OHL is obviously difficult to truly assess right now. Other than Shane Wright, we're looking at a group of players in their rookie seasons, going through the ups and downs of playing their first OHL year against players who have pro level experience and European league experience (after last year's cancellation and exodus). Right now, I'd probably only grade two OHL players as true first round players (Wright and Poitras), which is similar to what NHL Central Scouting currently has. Will it stay that way? No chance. But I want to see more from a lot of players and I want to see some others sustain their hot starts. That said, I see a lot of people on social media stating how bad this OHL draft crop is. I also don't believe that. I think what people need to remember is that these guys (again minus Wright) are playing their first dozen games above the AAA level. There are going to be bumps in the road. Of course players in other leagues are looking more polished right now.
It's also important to note (for those that aren't familiar with my lists), that I don't include 2nd and 3rd year eligible players on the list (like Peterborough's Tucker Robertson or North Bay's Kyle Jackson). I do a year end list for those players and there are bound to be many of them this draft year.

Without further ado, here's my early season top 50.
1. Shane Wright - Center - Kingston Frontenacs
A lot has been made about his slow start...even if he just captured the league's player of the week. Were we unfair to hype Wright as the preseason favourite for the Red Tilson Trophy? I don't think so. So the fact that he's not Top 10 in league scoring currently is a surprise and is underwhelming. To me, he looks a little hesitant out there. I think that line (with Chromiak) is really missing a physical, high energy player in Zayde Wisdom who can open space and back down defenders. I also think that Kingston's lack of a true top notch offensive defender is hurting the production of all the forwards on the roster (especially on the powerplay where they are routinely using five forwards on the top unit). Does this " above average" start concern me or change my perception of Wright? Not one bit. He's still one of the most intelligent and most complete players that I've seen come through the OHL. His attention to detail is something that can only truly be admired through live viewings, as you see how strong his positioning and anticipation is away from the puck. He's not a Connor McDavid kind of player who will bring fans out of their seats with electric one on one moves. He takes a much more subtle approach. The comparisons to the likes of Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews types are apt. I have faith that when all is said and done, Wright will be top 5 in league scoring.

2. Matthew Poitras - Center - Guelph Storm
I can't say enough good things about this strong potential two-way center based on his terrific start to the season. There are a few guys that I'm concerned won't be able to sustain their hot starts. Poitras is not one of them. He is really elevating the play of those around him and his performance this year has been remarkably consistent (in the offensive end), even if he's not hitting the scoresheet. He does pretty much everything at a high level and I think he thinks the game at a high level too. His play away from the puck has the potential to be a major strength as he improves his consistency in the defensive and neutral zones. He shows the ability to make terrific plays with his stick to force turnovers in the neutral and defensive zones. And with his quickness and vision, he can start the breakout quickly and turn things around for the Storm, flipping the script. It's just about finding the endurance and drive to be "on" at all times when he doesn't have the puck. I also have been very impressed with Poitras' ability to navigate traffic and work through it. There is certainly room for him to add strength to be more difficult to separate from the puck, but his edge work and ability to move East/West really creates space for himself and helps him shed defenders. When defenders lose him, he has a high level shot too. Again, I don't see a lot of weaknesses in his game (other than the two-way consistency part) and I think he projects as a high end second line center who can play in all situations as a pro.

3. Bryce McConnell-Barker - Center/Left Wing - Soo Greyhounds
While the consistency hasn't always been there this year so far, I'm still a big fan of BMB and his future NHL potential. I think he's done a pretty good job of adjusting to playing the wing, simplifying his approach to use his quickness to be a factor on the forecheck and to drive the net. He has shifted back and forth between center and the wing, but has shown the ability to lead the charge into the offensive zone with control in either instance. I'm really curious to see how he looks in the second half as right now I think he's still building up his confidence with the puck. There are instances where I wish he was more aggressive, peeling off or dumping in, even though he has a window. And I do think his shot is a major asset, but he needs to do a better job of moving his feet more consistently in the offensive zone to earn those looks, especially in the slot. At his highest potential, I do think McConnell-Barker can be a quick, goal scoring, two-way center who can play through an NHL team's middle of the lineup. At worst, his speed should still play as a potential Blake Coleman type on the wing as he learns to become a little more aggressive away from the puck. After a bit of a slow start, he's coming on strong of late.

4. Hunter Haight - Center - Barrie Colts
The production hasn't consistently been there as of yet (didn't I just start the previous write-up like that?), but Haight still has among the highest offensive potential of any player eligible from the OHL this year because of his speed and creativity combination. Haight's quickness is extremely evident when you watch him play. He loves to push the pace and has the hands to play with the puck at full speed already. I have been impressed (mostly) with Haight's ability to use his speed to breakup plays in the defensive zone too. Highly skilled players who show potential buy-in in the defensive end do not grow on trees. Offensively, Haight has all the tools. The shot is high end. He can keep the puck on a string to make defenders miss down low and prolong possession. The vision and playmaking ability is good. I think the lack of strength and size is the biggest issue right now with his game. There are times where he's getting bullied down low or near the net and just isn't able to finish plays or avoid turnovers. Against his peers at the U18 camp for Hockey Canada in the summer, he was able to dominate the high traffic areas with his skill, but that has been harder for him against bigger and older defenders to start the year. In a year where the OHL may not have a ton of high upside offensive players, Haight still stands out as a possible first rounder.

5. Ty Nelson - Defense - North Bay Battalion
There are times where Nelson looks like a young Ryan Ellis out there for the Battalion, controlling play in the offensive zone with his mobility and ability to get pucks through to the net. He absolutely loves to shoot the puck and he has a cannon. Physically, the two are very similar to each other; stocky and compact. Nelson is at his best when he is controlling the point on the powerplay as he identifies passing and shooting lanes well and always seems to keep his feet moving to help create gaps in coverage. He is aggressive in trying to slide down low to get himself a look from the slot and, as mentioned, the shot is a weapon. As far as defensive play and decision making, that's where things have been a little more inconsistent. He has had some really strong games at both ends. He has had some not so great performances. Nelson needs to do a better job of ID'ing those breakout lanes early in the defensive end. Whether that means an opportunity to escape with his feet or with a clean exit pass, it doesn't matter. However, forecheckers have given him a bit of a tough time and turnovers have been an issue. Physically, he always competes, but at times this over assertiveness takes him out of the play and leads to him running around the defensive zone. Yes, Nelson needs to play with fire because of his lack of stature. However, his mobility is something he needs to do a better job of utilizing as a defensive player, keeping tighter gaps rather than always trying to bully. He needs to keep himself more square to the play in the defensive end. He has a tendency to overcommit and put his back to the other side of the ice. Additionally, he has a habit of leaving his feet and sliding to try to make plays. There is a time and a place for that, of course, but other times he gets himself completely taken out of the play. All that said, Nelson is playing a huge role for one of the better teams in the Conference so far and he is one of the higher scoring defenders in the league right now. I guess my issue is that I'm still not sure what role he plays at the NHL level at five on five. We have lots of time to figure that out.

6. Pavel Mintyukov - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Is this an aggressive ranking? Perhaps. But I have been incredibly impressed with this Russian rookie import. He was obviously supposed to play in the league last year but his November birthday makes him first time eligible this year. First thing that immediately jumps out at you about his game is his mobility. He might be the best skating defender on this list. His four way mobility and quickness is a major asset at both ends of the ice. He has proven to be nearly unbeatable in transition because of his ability to maintain strict gaps skating backwards and moving east/west. He's not overly physical, but he does not need to be with his skating ability and reach. He is unafraid of being aggressive defensively too, attacking early to squash plays in the neutral zone before they develop, again knowing that his quickness affords him the opportunity to be assertive. Offensively, he is capable of starting the breakout with his feet or with a strong exit pass and seems to be getting more comfortable and confident with the puck on his stick with each passing game. He looks particularly strong manning the point, where he can use his lateral quickness to open up shooting lanes. His point shot is very heavy and has the potential to be a real asset for him. Considering the long lay-off for him, I feel like we're only scratching the surface of his overall potential as a two-way defender. Curious to see how he plays now that the Spirit will start playing games outside of the US group.

7. Paul Ludwinski - Left Wing/Center - Kingston Frontenacs
A natural center, Ludwinski has seen time on the wing with Shane Wright and Martin Chromiak this year, although recently has shifted to playing a middle six center role as the focal point of his own line. Ludwinski was my favourite player of this OHL draft class a few years ago, but I don't think he has found that confidence with the puck yet. I think his vision is his best quality, particularly when he can use his speed to get possession behind the net or anywhere down low. I think Ludwinski is also already a strong defensive player and someone who does have the skill set to stick down the middle. As the season goes on, we just need to see him become more comfortable being that offensive leader with the puck on his stick to truly assess how high his ceiling is. There is lots to work with and I do think that his game will improve drastically by March/April.

8. Gavin Hayes - Right Wing - Flint Firebirds
I am honestly flummoxed at the way that Flint is utilizing Hayes so far this year. I figured that he would be a main fixture in their top six with significant powerplay time. Instead, he's floundering on the team's fourth line (or the press box). This is a talented young man who should be playing more. The great Tony Ferrari of THN pointed out that the Firebirds did use Brennan Othmann in a similar way early on, but it's still odd. I'm going to stay high on Hayes for now, even though we clearly need to see more from him. I've watched a few of his games this year and I don't think he is playing poorly. He is bringing the physical element that we expected him to. He is creating havoc on the forecheck and is finding success entering the zone with speed. At times, he is a little slow to react to the play, parked in the slot. And his defensive intensity has wavered. But he is an OHL rookie. I could say the same thing about many of those listed here. I still really like his combination of size, speed, physicality, and skill and I am keeping him here in the belief that he will turn things around at some point and force Flint to play him more.

9. Spencer Sova - Defense - Erie Otters
Sova is a highly mobile offensive defender whose defensive game has already improved from the start of the season. No question the highlight of his game is his ability to walk the line or lead the attack with lateral quickness and edgework reminiscent of a recent former Otter (Drysdale). However, he is becoming an aggressive stick on puck defender who is stepping up early on attackers at the blueline to disrupt entries, knowing that his mobility affords him this opportunity to play assertively. The offensive production hasn't been significant (except for a recent game against Niagara), but he is generating chances and playing well. The two biggest things for him are learning to pick his spots a little more efficiently when he jumps up in the play. He's been burned a few times this year. You want to see a defender with his quickness take those chances, but there is a fine line between reckless and aggressive. Additionally, I want to see him use his feet more to skate the puck out of trouble in the defensive end. He is too talented to settle for chip outs or blind sweeps around the boards. Part of that is taking better routes to dump ins so that he can keep his feet moving. As his confidence grows, I am hoping that we see him take that next step as a puck mover.

10. David Goyette - Center - Sudbury Wolves
Without question, Goyette is one of the best skating and most skilled forwards on this list. He has that knack for escaping pressure that you want to see from highly skilled and creative playmakers. I think what has impressed me most is his ability to be noticeable with the puck in a variety of different situations. He looks good in transition, often leading the charge across the blueline. However, he also looks good when the pace slows because he constantly keeps his feet moving in the offensive zone and is tough to pin down. Admittedly, I haven't seen Sudbury quite as much as some other teams thus far, for whatever reason. That could certainly be influencing this ranking. The two things I want to see Goyette work on is the consistency of his defensive engagement, being able to utilize his speed to be consistent with his back pressure and his strength on the puck. While he is elusive, he can be knocked off stride rather easily and separated from the puck. When you watch Goyette, it's not uncommon to see him make the first defender miss only to run into the second and lose possession or skate himself into trouble. But players like Goyette are bound to rise over the course of the year if he continues to improve because his offensive ceiling is among the highest in this OHL draft class.

11. Vinzenz Rohrer - Center - Ottawa 67's
I mentioned on twitter early in the season that I was really impressed with Rohrer's skill and creativity despite his lack of production. Pretty much right after I posted that, the points started coming fast. While it is early in this rookie import's OHL career, I feel pretty confident in this aggressive ranking of him (compared to what I've seen from others). In terms of pure skill and poise with the puck, I think he's right up there with the likes of Hunter Haight and David Goyette in that tier behind Shane Wright. It seems like every game Rohrer is able to make OHL defenders look silly with his ability to blend skill and pace. In particular, his ability to play laterally, pivot, stop, start (overall agility, if you will) is very impressive and it allows him to keep that puck on a string. Additionally, I think he plays hard in all three zones and is buying into the way Dave Cameron likes his forwards to play. I see a lot of upside here and I am curious to see if he can sustain the level of play he has shown lately. He's also one of the youngest players eligible this year, so there is reason to believe that further physical development may still occur.

12. Matyas Sapovaliv - Center - Saginaw Spirit
Really impressed with this lanky center from the Czech Republic, who is playing in all situations for the Spirit and may already be the team's best forward. Watching some of his play previous to the OHL for my annual Import Draft review, I found that his balance, lateral mobility, and overall agility was lacking. However, I have been very impressed with the improvements that he has made in this regard. I think they're very visible. You kind of expect a player of his build (6'4, 190lbs) at his age to be a little awkward and stiff in his movements, but it's not the case. This really helps him in two places. The first is when he is controlling the half wall in the offensive zone. He does a great job of keeping plays alive along the wall and can spin off checks and use his size to protect the puck. This really drives time of possession for the Spirit when his line is on the ice. The second is his play in the defensive end. Not only does he have great reach and length, but his footwork and defensive instincts are excellent. His takeaway metrics are very, very impressive (nearly 5 per game, close to Shane Wright's takeaway numbers). Over the course of the season, I think we'll get a better idea of his offensive ceiling as he gains confidence in his ability to play through open ice, but thus far he has been very impressive for Saginaw.

13. Liam Arnsby - Center - North Bay Battalion
After a bit of an underwhelming rookie year with the Battalion, the former 9th overall pick (and late born '03) and Don Mills Flyer has done pretty much everything scouts asked him to do this year. He has taken his offensive game to the next level while maintaining his strong play away from the puck (defensively and physically). He looks way more confident with the puck on his stick in the offensive end. While he is certainly most at home near the crease, he is creating in transition thanks improved puck control at full speed. At this point, he can play any role the Battalion coaching staff asks him to. He's out there to protect leads late or earn them and his physicality and tenacity are real assets in all three zones. He is a very difficult player to match up against and the kind of guy who really gets under the skin of the opposition. Is the offensive upside significant? Probably not. There are limitations to his simplistic, straight line approach. However, Arnsby is safe. He does so many things well. There's a lot of a guy like Scott Laughton in his game and it seems likely that he could carve out a similar career as a high end third line center at the NHL level. The one thing that Arnsby will need to continue to improve is his quickness. Considering his average stature and reach, scouts will be looking for him to improve his explosiveness so that his high energy approach translates well.

14. Danny Zhilkin - Center - Guelph Storm
I think Zhilkin has been better than the production has been (and even that hasn't been awful). On a lot of his shifts he is driving play for the Storm. A bit more puck luck and he could be one of the scoring leaders in the league IMO. That said, isn't that something we've always said about Zhilkin? Impressive drives are common, but they often have come up empty in terms of scores. I found that to be the case in the GTHL, in his OHL rookie year, and now in his NHL draft year. So where's the disconnect? I think there is a bit of a tendency for tunnel vision when he is taking the puck across the blueline. And while his shot is a powerful weapon, I wonder about his scoring instincts and anticipation in the offensive end without the puck. I think his "checking line" role at last year's U18's was great for his development as it proved that he could be a competent two-way player. However, I still have a bit of trouble figuring out what his role at the NHL level would be. I'm just not confident that he is a good enough processor to play a top six role at the NHL level. I kind of see a lot of similarities between he and Leafs' forward Pierre Engvall, a player going through a bit of an identity crisis at the NHL level right now despite some terrific physical tools.
15. Owen Beck - Center - Mississauga Steelheads
No relation to Ottawa's Jack Beck, Owen does have some of the same cerebral qualities. A highly intelligent pivot, Beck plays on the top PK unit in Mississauga, as well as the secondary powerplay unit. He has been absolutely terrific to start this season operating behind Luca Del Bel Belluz as the team's number two center. He has a terrific stick in the neutral zone and is very active in the defensive zone, making him a highly effective defensive forward already. However, he has also has the speed/quickness to turn those turnovers into scoring opportunities quickly. Poised and confident as a puckhandler at full speed, Beck can create in transition and has excellent vision. This vision is also showcased down low in the offensive zone, where he works behind the net or near the half wall (his spot on the powerplay) and can often thread the needle to one of his linemates for a great opportunity. This is just a really well rounded player who is bound to rise up the rankings so long as he continues to play well. There's definitely a middle six projection here as an NHL player. 

16. Pano Fimis - Center - Niagara IceDogs
Fimis has a really well rounded profile and that is part of the allure. The former second overall selection is a highly cerebral center and it translates to success in all three zones. His anticipation and awareness without the puck is a major strength and he's one of the those players who just always seems to be at the right place at the right time. He's not big (5'11, 176lbs), but he's not afraid to play through traffic and has some pest like qualities to his game. I think it's awesome that the Dogs have paired him with Aidan Castle and Brice Cooke (his former JRC teammates) at times this year. I guess the issue is that cerebral playmakers without elite physical tools can be difficult to project to the NHL level. Fimis seems to have one or two really great shifts a game right now, but that consistency (like others on this list) is not there currently. I want to see him take the bull by the horns a little more. Fimis has a really strong shot, but he's not using it enough yet, or looking to use it. I want to see him be more determined and active with the puck. There is a lot of room for him to move up or down the next time I do this ranking. 

17. Luca Del Bel Belluz - Center - Mississauga Steelheads
Admittedly, I was convinced that Del Bel Belluz was eligible last year and originally did not include him in this ranking. But he is, indeed, a late born 2003 and therefore first time eligible. The Steelheads first line center (developing great chemistry with James Hardie), Del Bel Belluz has been terrific this season. His skating mechanics aren't terrific; there is certainly room for improvement in his stride length and power. However, there is a lot to like about his game in the hope that skating coaches can continue to work with him to make the necessary adjustments. Del Bel Belluz's creativity with the puck affords him the time and space that his skating does not, and he does a great job of shielding defenders from the puck and using his size to maintain possession. His overall offensive game is very well rounded. He has a quick shot release and he has been working hard to get himself into the slot and into scoring position. He sees the ice well and has learned to limit the turnovers that often plagued his game in U16 with the Toronto Red Wings. Bottom line, centers with size, creativity, and vision do not grow on trees.

18. Kirill Kudryavtsev - Defense - Soo Greyhounds
There are a lot of things to like about this aggressive offensive defender out of Russia. He absolutely loves to jump up into the play and is not afraid to play deep down low in the offensive end. His hands are very good and he is a strong enough skater to be able to consistently lead the charge with his feet. Sure, his aggressive offensive nature has led to a few bad turnovers, but he is the kind of high risk/high reward player that you expect that from and account for. Defensively, he has some things to learn still, but I think he defends well enough in transition to suggest that he is workable. The big question mark for me right now is the defensive zone decision making with the puck. Again, he's a high risk/high reward player. I'll take my chances when he's pinching deep to try to make a play and trust that my forwards can provide support. However, he needs to pick his spots better with the puck in the defensive zone. Maybe it's an adjustment to the smaller ice surface, but he's had some really bad exit pass attempts into traffic from trying to force plays up ice that just aren't there. Will this improve as he adjusts or does it point to some issues in his vision and processing with the puck? But I love the Calisti/Kudryavtsev pairing that the Hounds are using this season.

19. Servac Petrovsky - Center - Owen Sound Attack
Really like the energy that Petrovsky brings to the ice in all three zones. In terms of his linear stride, he's very quick and it allows him to be very effective chasing down loose pucks or gaining the offensive zone. He has been excellent as a penalty killer for the Attack and his overall defensive zone play has been terrific. Offensively, he has quick hands down low and good vision with the puck, allowing him to excel as a playmaker at the half wall and below the hash marks. I'm not confident the ceiling for him as an NHL player would be extremely high, but given his speed, playmaking ability, and two-way effectiveness, I feel very good about his odds of making it in some capacity. Over the course of the season, we should get a better idea of his overall potential but he has been very impressive so far.

20. Jorian Donovan - Defense - Hamilton Bulldogs
Maybe a bit surprising to see that I have Donovan this low. I know several of my contemporaries would have him in the top 7-8 of this OHL crop. Unquestionably, he has the talent to be there. Jorian has his father's (Shean) speed and explosiveness and he is very aggressive in jumping up or leading the attack. Once he gets that head of steam out of his zone with the puck, he's very difficult to stop in the neutral zone. Donovan is also a skilled puckhandler who can create extra time and space for himself, both in transition and when manning the point. His offensive upside is significant. But in my viewings of Hamilton, his decision making and overall defensive play has not been strong. Can that improve? For sure. Did I just catch him at his worst? Perhaps. Are there flaws in his processing ability and his decision making that could hold him back from reaching his potential? Also perhaps true. I wanted to put him higher, but he needs to show me more to leapfrog a few others first. 

21. Beau Jelsma - Left Wing/Center - Barrie Colts
After a breakout performance at the PBHH (Erie) invitational prior to the beginning of summer, Jelsma had a bit of a slow start this year, trying to figure out a way to standout despite limited ice time on a stacked Barrie offense. However, he seems to be heating up now and is now visibly playing with the kind of energy he was at the PBHH. An electric skater, Jelsma is most dangerous in transition because of his ability to back down or beat defenders one on one. He also has a really powerful wrist/snap shot that he doesn't need much time or space to get off. No question, his combination of speed and shot will make him a goal scorer in this league in the future. The question is can he continue to improve his consistency (especially given his ice time) while rounding out the other areas of his game? If he can elevate his defensive intensity further, and improve his passing touch, his draft stock would rise even further. This is a player I have a lot of time for though.
22. Evan Konyen - Right Wing - Sudbury Wolves
The Sudbury Wolves definitely have something great in their young first line this year (Musty, Goyette, and Konyen). This has already emerged as one of the top lines in the OHL and not one member of that line is older than 17. The three rookies are only going to get better and wreck havoc on the OHL for at least the next year and a half. Konyen is more than just a bit player as part of that threesome. His speed and skill combination makes him deadly in transition, where the majority of chances are created by this group. With open ice, Konyen is really difficult to stop. Equal parts playmaker and scorer, his offensive skill set (in general) is very well rounded. Even though he's not the biggest (5'10, 160lbs), his quick hands create time and space for himself, especially along the wall as he is tough to pin down. As he becomes stronger, he has the potential to be someone who really drives time of possession down low. Right now, you have to live with the odd turnover from him being pushed off the puck or from trying to squeeze through a trap in the neutral zone. If Konyen can continue to be a high end offensive weapon this year and sustains his high level of play, he'll put himself in contention for the Top 75.  
23. Jake Karabela - Center/Left Wing - Guelph Storm
After a really strong preseason, Karabela has carried that success into the regular season where he has been a consistent contributor for the Guelph Storm (mostly as a unit with Poitras and Braeden Bowman). Simply put, Karabela is a very skilled player with the puck. A quick and shifty skater (very confident and smooth on his edges), Karabela can make plays at full speed and he and Poitras have been really fun to watch together because of it. Karabela's quick hands allow him to operate well in traffic where he can manipulate limited space to create openings to shoot the puck or dish off. The goals haven't been there this year, but he is getting his chances and has been a little snake bitten. But several of his assists this year are rebounds from his shots or put back attempts that someone else is finishing off. I think what holds me back from putting him a little higher is that his two-way game and physical intensity is not quite as consistent as some of those similar players that I have ranked higher. Guys like Fimis and Beck are equally as skilled, but are more consistently dialed in without the puck. 

24. Aidan Castle - Right Wing/Left Wing - Niagara IceDogs
Wingers with decent size, speed, and the ability to shoot the puck are often highly coveted on NHL draft day and Aidan Castle certainly fits that description. I really like how Castle uses his size to shield the puck on his drives and he uses his speed to consistently drive the net, with and without the puck. His wrist shot and scoring instincts combine to give him high end potential as a goal scorer. With only two assists on the year, you might expect him to be a purely shoot first kind of player, but that's not the case. His vision and decision making with the puck also stand out as positives, his chemistry with Pano Fimis extremely noticeable. For Castle to start producing a little more consistently, it comes down to providing a little more consistent effort in all three zones and for him to use his size to play a little more physical in the offensive zone, especially down low. However, I could really see him and Fimis (and possibly Brice Cooke) really improving as a group as the season goes on.

25. Isaiah George - Defense - London Knights
Heading into the season, it was anyone's guess how the crowded blueline in London would sort itself out. Lots of talented young players vying for ice time. One of those defenders who has risen to the top is Isaiah George. He's firmly in London's top four and has been anchoring the team's top penalty killing unit. The main key to his effectiveness is his mobility. An effortless mover, George is quick and stable in all four directions. This helps him to be a rock defending in transition, but it also helps him escape the forecheck to start the breakout. In U16 with the Marlboros, he was always deemed as a player with high end physical tools, but scouts questioned his decision making, especially with the puck. In the times I've seen London, he's managed the puck pretty well, certainly better than he did in U16. The growth in his reads is impressive. The question is, what kind of offensive upside does he have? Has he been able to limit turnovers because he is keeping things simple? Is there room for him to use that skating ability to be more of an engaged and dangerous offensive player? I'm not yet certain of the answer to those questions. But I do love what he has brought to the table defensively. He has the tools to be the perfect modern day NHL defender. Just how much his offensive game grows will dictate whether he's a top 75 guy or more of a mid/later round selection.

26. Jackson Edward - Defense - London Knights
Seems fitting to put these two defenders together given how they have moved up the London depth chart together and have similar profiles. Edward is a little bigger and a little more physical, has received a fair amount of powerplay time, and he's not quite as smooth of a skater as George, however he has been equally impressive. Edward has shown well at both ends of the ice. He shuts down the transition game well and makes quick decisions with the puck in the defensive end to start the breakout (similar to George). His ability to make a heads up exit pass cleanly has surely helped him win over Dale Hunter. One thing I have noticed is that he has to be more decisive in the offensive zone with the puck. He has had trouble keeping the puck in at times and turnovers have been an issue when working the powerplay because he stops moving his feet. Like George, I also wonder what the offensive upside is here. But he's in good hands with the Knights and he was one of my favourite defenders in the age group going back to the priority selection out of YSE.
27. Michael Buchinger - Defense - Guelph Storm
I see Buchinger as a bit of a similar prospect to Jorian Donovan right now. At times, he looks great and is one of the better defenders on the ice. And at other times, he's a liability. I certainly don't see the first round grade that Sportsnet recently gave him. Buchinger's best asset is his mobility. In particular, his ability to pivot and change direction really benefits Guelph's ability to start the breakout. Buchinger takes really good routes to dump ins and because of his quickness and heads up mentality, he rarely gets beat to loose pucks and quickly makes an exit pass so that the Storm don't get pinned down. Buchinger also quarterbacks the Guelph powerplay and really loves to shoot the puck, generally doing a good job of getting pucks on net, using his mobility to create those shooting lanes. However, when he's on the move and looking to carry the puck, his decision making leaves some to be desired. Turnovers have been an issue. Additionally, I'd like to see him play with a little more jam in the defensive end. I think the potential is there for him to develop into a strong two-way puck mover and his high end skating ability is going to be very alluring to scouts, however, I want to see more consistency in his reads before he moves up higher. 

28. Ryan Abraham - Center - Windsor Spitfires
How can you not love the constant energy that Abraham brings to the ice? He is tenacious in his pursuit of the puck and consistently dialed in away from the puck. He's not huge (5'10, 164lbs), but he always seems to come away with the puck in jousts and battles below the hash marks. At the beginning of the year, he was a bit snake bitten and was having some problems with turnovers (from trying to force plays to the middle), but he seems to be playing better lately. Abraham uses the mohawk stride a lot to create separation and to help him protect the puck on drives and entries. Some may not like that given the lack of success similar players have had transitioning that style to the pro level. Additionally, I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about Abraham's potential as a skill player. Can he be a top two center at the NHL level? I'm not confident in that assessment right now. However, I really enjoy watching him play and I think he really elevates the play of those lined up with him when he's dialed in. One last nugget...he really needs to improve his percentage in the faceoff circle and then I think coach Marc Savard would use him more on the penalty kill.

29. Dalyn Wakely - Center/Right Wing - North Bay Battalion
Wakely is a strong two-way forward who has had a great start for the Battalion this year. His offensive profile is very diverse. He can play the power game by driving the net or winning battles down low. That is why North Bay uses him as a net front presence a lot on the powerplay. However, he is also highly skilled with the puck and is able to create time and space for himself in transition or when spinning off the wall. His shot is a weapon and he really has a nose for the net that helps him earn scoring chances pretty consistently. I was shocked when he fell as far as he did in the 2020 priority selection (I think everyone was), and he's certainly proving now that he should have been taken higher. Wakely's overall agility is strong and he uses his edges well to escape pressure in the offensive zone. However, I think there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to his linear quickness and top speed. This lack of separation prevents him from being even more dangerous. 

30. Tnias Mathurin - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Big 6'3 defender who has been a real pleasant surprise for the Battalion this year. He has been a defensive anchor for North Bay and has some raw physical tools that will really interest NHL scouts. He carves up open ice with big powerful strides moving forward and it allows him to play pretty aggressively defensively, trusting that he can recover quickly. There is some room for improvement in his four way mobility and footwork, but I think given his size and reach there is a lot potential for him to develop into a high end shutdown defender. This is especially true as he becomes more confident asserting himself physically more consistently. I actually think he has some offensive potential too. While his exit pass does need a bit of work, I see it as more of an experience and confidence thing. When he learns to use his quickness to create space for himself and takes better routes to loose pucks, he should be able to limit his turnovers. He flashes skill carrying the puck too and will occasionally jump up in the attack, suggesting that there could be more there. Really curious to see how his game improves over the course of the season.
31. Cedrick Guindon - Center/Left Wing - Owen Sound Attack
I think Guindon has made a lot of positive improvements to his game since we last saw him. His first few strides look more explosive and he looks a lot more fluid on the ice, which is allowing him to really push the pace offensively. His effort level and overall engagement in the defensive zone also looks more polished and consistent. His stick placement and positioning in his own end makes him a strong defensive presence and he certainly fits the mold of the typical Owen Sound Attack player. Guindon is a talented offensive player, more talented than his offensive production would indicate. A few things I believe are holding him back from being a little more consistent. The first is making better decisions with the puck. Guindon loves to play fast, but at times he's a bit out of control and he settles for low percentage shots or dump ins when he gets pressured, rather than utilizing his linemates or altering his pace to allow passing lanes to open up. Guindon's shot is a major asset, so I'm not sure Owen Sound has a problem with him being a high volume shooter, however a little more patience couldn't hurt. The second is a lack of strength. It's clear that Guindon wants to play a particular way. He wants to play the body, dump and chase, and be a bit of a pest, but he's not winning enough of those one on one battles to gain or keep possession. I expect him to get a lot better as the season goes on, but right now I think the production needs to be more consistent to rank him higher. 

32. Zak Lavoie - Right Wing - Mississauga Steelheads
After a really strong preseason, Lavoie has been a bit snake bitten to start the regular season; he is still searching for his first official OHL goal. And for a player that has been billed as one of the best natural goal scorers in the age group, that will need to change for him to stay on the NHL draft radar. Lavoie has shown good chemistry with Owen Beck and he has been a solid complementary, support piece by playing physical and driving the net, however I want to see more offensively.

33. Jonathan Melee - Center/Left Wing - Hamilton Bulldogs
Melee is not getting a ton of ice time, but he is generally making the most of it. He kills penalties. He works the wall and drives time of possession down low by keeping his feet moving. He has four goals on the year and has shown good hands in tight and in the slot. NHL scouts might want him to get a little quicker, but there is a lot to like and he is making his limited minutes at even strength count.

34. Colton Smith - Left Wing - London Knights
The son of former OHL bench boss DJ Smith, Colton plays pretty much how you would expect him to, if you know anything about the way DJ likes his teams to play. A big winger (6'3, 195lbs), he is engaged physically and he can really shoot the puck. He used a great preseason to grab significant playing time on a deep team and he has really earned the trust of Dale Hunter already. I wanted to put him higher, but I need to see him more to get a better read on what his high end potential is. Will be interesting to see how much he can improve his skating over the course of the year.

35. Cedricson Okitundu - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Both times I have seen Owen Sound this year, I've come away really impressed with Okitundu. Brings physicality. Good mover. Looks like someone who can impact the game at both ends of the ice and who could really explode as he gains confidence. Tools are there even if he doesn't have a point this year. Unfortunately out with an injury right now.

36. Brady Stonehouse - Right Wing/Left Wing - Ottawa 67's
A little ball of energy. Stonehouse was one of my favourites in this draft class in 2020 and he hasn't disappointed as an OHL player. He is a great pest who buzzes around the ice looking to cause havoc. He forechecks hard. He crashes the net. He plays all three ends. He also has some skill and is capable of playing a larger offensive role IMO. A player who is engineered to play a bottom six role at the NHL level.

37. Andrew Leblanc - Center/Left Wing - Kitchener Rangers
After a very strong preseason, I expected Leblanc to earn a significant role on a deep Rangers team. He was one of my favourites from this draft crop because of his vision, IQ, and playmaking ability. However, he's fallen down the depth chart a bit and his play hasn't really met expectations. I feel comfortable keeping him in this range for now because I believe in his high end potential, but Leblanc needs to improve those "physical tools" (strength on/off the puck, explosiveness, etc).

38. Brice Cooke - Left Wing - Niagara IceDogs
The third member of the former JRC and now current Niagara rookie line, Cooke is 6'3, power winger with a nose for the net and the skill to be a quality attacker and offensive weapon. I want to see him apply himself physically more consistently. I also think that his added growth spurt has taken away a bit from his skating strength that he showed as a U16 player. His top speed is solid, especially for a big kid, but his first step quickness and balance on his edges to move fluidly East/West will need to improve.

39. Ethan Larmand - Center - Sudbury Wolves
Late birthday guys sometimes have a tendency to fall under the radar a bit and I think that is the case with Larmand this year IMO. One of the few first time eligibles to have OHL experience, Larmand has really elevated his game as a top six center for the Wolves and is also wearing an "A." He is a highly competitive kid who can excel in any situation and who skates well. But what is the upside? I think we need more time to figure out the skill progression ceiling.

40. Teddy Sawyer - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Another late born 2003, Sawyer was a high profile commit from the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite program who had some really strong moments as a rookie two years ago. Now he's a defensive anchor for the 67's. Sawyer is an extremely physical defender, but he also moves well and this gives him the type of profile that NHL scouts are looking for among shut down types. They will only wish he was a bit bigger (at 6'0).

41. Sam Alfano - Right Wing - Peterborough Petes
6'3, 200lbs winger who has a lot of potential to develop as an offensive weapon. I think his awareness in the offensive end is strong and he is willing to assert himself physically and do the dirty work you want a big man to do. But the production has been underwhelming so far for the Petes and I think a lot of that has to do with a need to improve his skating. 

42. Kocha Delic - Center - Sudbury Wolves
Delic has worked hard to improve his all around game and to become a pretty well rounded player. Really like his energy in the offensive zone without the puck. He's working hard in pursuit of the puck. I guess the question I have any of his particular talents grade out above average individually? In other words, is Delic the type of player who becomes a quality OHL player but a lack of standout quality prevents him from moving further up the ladder? I need to see more.

43. Justin DeZoete - Right Wing/Left Wing - Peterborough Petes
High energy winger who can play with pace and who works hard in all three zones. Really like his attention to detail and I think that if he keeps working hard, the offensive production will increase. I liked him a lot as a U16 player and I think he is more skilled as a finisher than he has shown us. But does he have more potential than as a fourth line, buzzsaw?

44. Rodwin Dioincio - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
I really like a lot about Dionicio's game. He's skilled. He is pretty poised with the puck. He can certainly quarterback a powerplay. He has size and plays with an edge in the defensive zone. Basically, he has stepped right in to the Niagara lineup and been an impact player. But I think his mobility or lack there of is a real hindrance. He struggles to defend transitional attacks because his backwards and lateral stride is not incredibly clean. Additionally, his lack of explosiveness in any direction prevents him from being even more active offensively. Interested to see if he can show improvement in his mobility over the course of the season. 

45. Gavin Bryant - Center - Owen Sound Attack
Typical Owen Sound Attack forward. Bryant has already shown that he can play any role asked of him (including anchoring a PK) because of his high IQ and compete level. Bryant has some quality playmaking chops too. Like a few of the other high energy guys on this list, I need to see more of him to see what the high end upside is. I could see him being someone who slowly moves up my list the more I see him play.

46. Connor Toms - Defense - Soo Greyhounds
Given that he's seeing inconsistent ice time on a strong team and not playing the powerplay (a strength of his prior to being an OHL player), it could be difficult for Toms to stand out consistently this year. But he skates well, can lead the attack and has performed admirably in his own end thus far. Have heard he has already improved a lot from the start of the year so curious to see how his game continues to evolve as he gains confidence.

47. Max Namestnikov - Center - Sarnia Sting
Maybe it was rust, maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was a combination of the two. But the 2021/22 draft year did not start well for Namestnikov. He was invisible at the U.S. Hlinka evaluation camp and was cut. And then he started the OHL year very slowly. Bottom line, 5'7 forwards will need to produce big numbers to be drafted. It's a reality. That said...he seems to be turning a corner of late and it's something to keep an eye on. Playing with more intensity physically and looking more confident with the puck. Upside is still high. 

48. Domenic DiVincentiis - Goaltender - North Bay Battalion
Definitely not the strongest goaltending crop from the OHL this year. Don't remember the last time I didn't have one ranked inside the top 45. Right now, I think DiVincentiis is the best. He's a high end athlete whose quickness in the crease is an asset. His performance has been inconsistent, but he's also only a few games into his OHL career.

49. Kyle Downey - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
You're going to notice a trend here to close out the Top 50. Downey was a very high selection by the Spits for a reason. He hasn't played quite as much as the other goaltenders on this list, but his stats have been the best. Liked his composure and positioning as a U16 player, but his reads need to be more consistent at the OHL level.

50. Jacob Oster - Goaltender - Guelph Storm
He's winning hockey games and taking home accolades, outplaying veteran Owen Bennett thus far. He also has the size advantage over the other goalies listed (at 6'3). Shows potential as a guy who can really shut down shooters by cutting off angles with positioning and control. However, getting quicker will be a priority. 

BONUS - #51. Nolan Lalonde - Goaltender - Erie Otters
The injury to veteran Aidan Campbell has opened the door for Lalonde to get a ton of playing time this year as he has started the majority of games for Erie. Coming into the year I thought he might be the best of this bunch, but his performance has been too inconsistent thus far. He has the agility/athleticism, but he needs to improve his reads and positioning. Curious to see how he improves over the season. One of these four goalies has to improve to the point where they move up this list and earn serious draft consideration right?
Limited Viewing - Ruslan Gazizov - Center - London Knights
Has just arrived recently from Russia and has apparently been very impressive, combining a high energy approach with skill as a playmaker. Want to see more of him before he makes this list, but he is a candidate to crack the Top 10 in the midseason list. 


Anonymous said...

As a Kitchener fan who has seen every game, I can tell you Leblanc has been a huge disappointment. Don't know that he possesses the talents you speak of. I expect more from a first round pick.

Jacob said...

Brock, great write-up! Always appreciate the effort that goes into these. Just wondering about the lack of inclusion of Luca Del Bel Belluz on the list. Just an oversight? Owen Beck has been very impressive in my viewings of Mississauga but Del Bel Belluz has been at least as good if not better in the three games I've watched imo.

Brock Otten said...

Thanks Jacob. No LDDB because he is a re-entry. I do a separate year end list for those players. This is for first time eligible players only.

Jacob said...

I'm seeing his birthday everywhere as Nov. 10, 2003. Would that not make him a first time entry by a couple of months? Don't want to take away from the rest of the article just was really impressed by him in my viewings and was eager to read your thoughts on him.

Brock Otten said...

Nice catch. That's a huge miss by me. I could have sworn that he was eligible last year. Appreciate it. I'll be making an edit. Stay tuned.

barclay donaldson said...

..Battalion have a 17 yr old D....Lukin from Russia..he is adjusting but by mid year I think he could be on a watch list...his hits hurt....he is 215lbs and seems to know how to use it...not shy....will watch his progress with interest....gaining confidence lately..NB defense is outstanding in potential and skill.....

Anonymous said...

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