The COVID pandemic may be rearing its ugly head again, however the OHL remains committed to playing through it and getting this season in. Considering that we're almost at the half way point of the 2021/22 season (or are we past it if the OHL decides to shorten the season?), that means it is time for me to re-evaluate my rankings for the 2022 Draft. The fact that the OHL season is near the half way mark gives us a great indication of how certain players have developed in their draft season, especially given the gigantic layoff many experienced with last year's cancelled season. Many players have stepped up to assume large roles on their club, while others have disappointed and find themselves on the outside looking in.
Truthfully, evaluating the strength of this year's crop is still a major work in progress. The damage the layoff did to individual development was significant and I'm not sure we'll have a great indication of how it has affected this OHL group for a number of years still. It is easy to forget that the vast majority of the players listed here are playing in their first OHL seasons. The adjustment is real. While it is not reflected in this list (obviously), the one thing that I'll really be looking for is how well certain players close out this OHL season. By then, players should be comfortable and confident enough to show us their true stripes and year end performances should give us a great idea of how certain players may look moving forward. At this point, I would say that only two OHL players are definitive first round selections (Wright and Mintyukov). There are several others who I think should and could be first rounders, but they are not locks. This has led to many suggesting that it is a down year for the OHL. Again, I do think it is too early to make that assertion.
For those unfamiliar with my lists, I only include first time eligible players. So a guy like Tucker Robertson isn't listed despite the fact that I'd expect him to receive very heavy draft consideration. I do a list of "re-entries" or second/third year eligible players prior to the draft.
And for comparison's sake, here's my preliminary top 50 from November. Additionally, here is the preliminary media/scout poll from late December.
Here's the list:
1. Shane Wright - Center - Kingston Frontenacs
The former exceptional status player and CHL rookie of the year came into the season riding an extreme high after dominating the IIHF U18's in Texas, leading Canada to an elusive gold medal as an "underager." Yet many have been highly critical of his play this year with Kingston, as he has not been the consistent play driver and focal point that many expected him to be. His production is down, while others in Kingston have stepped up. Is this a cause for concern and is Wright still the top player available in 2022? Honestly, these are great questions. I still believe that he is, but I've become less critical and judgmental of those who believe otherwise. Look, I do believe that Shane Wright is going to become a long time NHL player and someone who will be an integral part of his future NHL team's success. He does too many things well to not be. However, I also would not be surprised that when all is said and done, he is not the highest scoring and/or best player from this draft class (from outside the OHL, obviously). When you compare Wright's play this year versus previous years (his rookie OHL year, his U16 year with Don Mills), the one thing missing from Wright's game is pace. Deliberate or not, Wright is not attacking the offensive zone with the same feverish pace that he has previously. In a way, it has made his game somewhat predictable. He leads the charge across the blueline, gains the zone, uses a c-cut or a pivot to alter his pace and assesses the ice to find a passing lane. What teams are doing now, are doubling him as he crosses the blueline, using the defender to cut off his advance and a support forward to take away his time and space quickly. Part of the issue for him here is that while he is certainly a strong skater (his top linear speed is excellent), his explosiveness and ability to use linear crossovers to build speed while altering direction are only average to slightly above average. This is causing the play to bottle up for Wright a lot. The good news is that Wright is incredibly intelligent...easily one of the smartest players that I've seen come through the OHL. He finds a way to crack this coverage with quick touch passes and quick hands. He plays a very mature game and a very pro ready game inside the opposing blueline; most of his decisions are made quickly and efficiently and are predicated on his linemates making necessary reads and finding those openings in coverage. Wright also possesses a fantastic wrist shot that should see him score his fair share of goals in the NHL, especially when you combine it with his instincts. Defensively, the awareness is top notch. The physicality is not. He has the potential to develop into a Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews type of player, but he'll need to learn to be harder on puck carriers than he is to become an elite two-way force at the NHL level. To summarize, I still believe Wright should be ranked first overall and I still believe that he should become a high end NHL player, but this season has brought to light some inefficiencies in his game that need to be corrected before he can reach that potential.
2. Pavel Mintyukov - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Mintyukov has easily become one of my favourite prospects eligible this year (among any league). He is just such a fun player to watch. The skill level he possesses is extremely high. When you combine his mobility, skill, and size together, you have a player who dominates touches in the offensive zone and who has become extremely aggressive in playing deep to create offense. For those in the scouting community who are calling him one dimensional and bringing to light his defense inadequacies, I would disagree. It's easy to forget that Mintyukov started the year for Saginaw in more of a shutdown role and looked like a rock in his own end. As his confidence with the puck has grown, we have seen lapses in coverage and in judgment at the expense of trying to create offense. However, the beginning of the year tells us that he can be an asset in the defensive end with his skating ability, length, and aggressiveness. It's about finding that balance. I do truly believe that his potential as a dominant two-way defender may be the highest of any defenseman available in this draft class.
3. Ty Nelson - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Nelson has grown a lot on me over the course of this season and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that he's already made a ton of necessary adjustments to his game to become a more consistent player at both ends. He's not big, but you have to love his compete level and aggressiveness defensively. At times, it does get him into trouble, but he has learned to pick his spots better as the season has gone on and is doing a better job of defending the slot and net front by keeping his focus and chasing the puck less. Offensively, I think his vision is top notch and I really like the way he quarterbacks the powerplay. As the season has gone on, he has improved his ability to hold the line and is keeping his feet moving more to help open up those lanes...especially shooting lanes for his monstrous point shot. There is a lot to like here. The one thing that concerns me is that I don't think he's a dynamic four way mover. His lateral and backwards stride and transitions are not as smooth as you would like for a smaller defender, given his lack of reach. This leads to him having trouble defending attackers with pace at times. When he is able to make a correct read and jump the play, he shuts down attacks early in the neutral zone or at the blueline. However, when he is forced to stay back and back peddle, it becomes more of an issue for him. This has to be priority number one moving forward. For that reason, I do think that there is a chance that many NHL scouts do not have him as a first round selection. However, I have seen enough progression in his game this year to know that he is capable of making adjustments and is willing to put in the work to improve himself.
4. Owen Beck - Center - Mississauga Steelheads
What drives Beck's game is his speed. For my money, he has to be considered one of the best skaters in this draft class. However, I have been extremely impressed by Beck's ability to see the ice and make plays at top speed, something many other draft eligible speedsters have a tough time with. There's really a lot to like about his game overall. He can play in any situation and his compete level is solid. He is terrific on faceoffs. His shot is a major asset and it truly rounds out his offensive skill set. At first, I wasn't as sure that I saw significant offensive potential in him at the next level, but the more I have watched, the more I have come to believe that he is skilled and intelligent enough to be an eventual second line center. The key for Beck is to become stronger. He does disappear in stretches when he is not able to use his speed to force turnovers or lead the attack, but it's not from a lack of effort. Once he is able to play through contact more sufficiently and hold the wall more consistently, he should develop into an offensive force at the OHL level and beyond. With the NHL game predicated on speed today, you could do a lot worse than Owen Beck at the back half of the first round.
5. Matyas Sapovaliv - Center - Saginaw Spirit
Credit to Sapovaliv. It's pretty clear that this young man has put in the work to improve his overall stride and mobility. Watching him previous to his time in the OHL, he was a little stiff and it forced him to be mostly a linear attacker. However, by improving his agility, he is able to control the puck through pivots and lateral pushes, allowing him to prolong possession down low and weave through traffic in transitional attacks. Much like Owen Beck, Sapovaliv is equal parts playmaker and goal scorer, however I have been most impressed with his vision and poise in the offensive end. Sapovaliv also shows great potential to become an asset defensively with his long reach and anticipation. He forces a lot of turnovers in the slot and is very disruptive. The only thing truly missing from his game is physical intensity. That's not to say that he is soft. However, I would love to see him use that size to hold position near the crease or drive the net more consistently. Additionally, it would truly elevate his defensive potential. That said, I think he is an underrated gem available this year, whose production is only recently starting to match his effectiveness. He passes the eye test a lot more than he passes the stat test.
6. Matthew Poitras - Center/Wing - Guelph Storm
Poitras has been a guy that I've been pretty high on since the beginning of the OHL season. There's just a lot to like about his game. He's a true micro play driver in the sense that he always seems to have his hand in significant offensive chances when he is on the ice. Be it his original forecheck securing possession for the Storm. Be it a nice play along the wall that prolongs possession. Be it a good read into open space to receive a pass or get a shot on net. Poitras is a player who understands the finer components to the game and is skilled enough and tenacious enough to take advantage of it. I'm not entirely convinced that he is a center at the next level, but his shot, tenacity, and vision could play well in any position. The one thing I wish is that he was a little better skater given his size. He's not a poor skater by any means, but right now his quickness and top speed would grade out as average at the next level. And given that he also lacks the strength to consistently maintain possession through contact, it has led to inconsistent production for him. That is why he has fallen a little bit in my rankings from someone I saw early on as a Top 25 guy, to now being more of a 35-50 guy.
7. Paul Ludwinski - Center/Wing - Kingston Frontenacs
The million dollar question surrounding Ludwinski is whether you believe that he is individually skilled enough to be a top six player at the NHL level. There's no doubting the skating ability. There's no doubting the effort level. He is a consistent source of positive energy on the ice. However, he has yet to show a consistent ability to drive play with the puck on his stick. Too often do his forays through the neutral zone, where he is attacking with speed, result in little truly created. He is currently at his best when he can use his quickness and hustle to hunt down loose pucks and make plays in the slot to set up or finish off chances. As I said in the media/scout poll, Ludwinski was a player that I felt like I had the best grasp of coming into the year (based on his time in the GTHL), but now I am the most confused about. I really like the player still, but I am also hesitant to believe that he can be a consistent offensive producer at the next level.
8. Bryce McConnell-Barker - Center/Wing - Soo Greyhounds
I view BMB similar to the way that I view Ludwinski at this point. There is a real solid foundation there. He skates well. He can push the pace. He is a committed three zone player. His shot is an asset. Yet, the production and creation has not been consistent offensively. Part of that can be attributed to an ever-changing role with the Greyhounds, a veteran laden squad. But, I do wonder if some of it can be attributed to skill related and/or awareness related deficiencies that could prevent him from being a top six, or even top nine NHL player. I'd love to see BMB attack the middle of the ice with more consistency to get himself those looks in the slot to utilize his high end shot. I think there's also a hesitancy to take creative liberties with the puck on the attack, as he falls back to playing more of a safe game. I've seen enough skilled plays with the puck this year to suggest that he is capable of more. Much like Ludwinski, I'm still ranking him highly because I believe in the potential of the overall package. Even if he develops into more of a Blake Coleman type, that has terrific value where he is slotted to be taken currently in that 35-60 range.
9. Danny Zhilkin - Center - Guelph Storm
No question, Zhilkin is blessed with high end physical tools. He is an entry machine with his ability to attack and make skilled plays at top speed. When you combine this attacking mentality with his improving defensive awareness and effort, you have a true quick strike player who can be a difference maker in the blink of an eye. However, my issue with Zhilkin is that I just don't see high end vision with the puck. There's a lot of flash, but at times the substance and results are lacking. This has been true dating back to his Toronto Marlboros' days. He is someone who can skate himself into trouble and has trouble adjusting to reads on the fly. That said, there is a very high floor here with Zhilkin because of his tools and because of the way that he has re-invented himself (to an extent) to become a quality three zone player. NHL teams will see someone who can be a high end bottom six player even if his decision making doesn't improve with time because of his skating ability, hands, and tenaciousness. High floor, high ceiling centers with decent size do not grow on trees. Thus why he is ranked inside the first round by some publications (and I would assume some NHL organizations). For me, I just like the sense and touch of a few others more.
10. Luca DelBelBelluz - Center - Mississauga Steelheads
Seriously, how could you not be impressed by DelBelBelluz thus far? The late born '03 has been one of the OHL's most improved players from a few years ago. The Mississauga Steelheads have been one of the OHL's best teams this season and he is a large reason for that. Not only can he dictate pace and consistently create scoring chances, but he has also been exceptional in the defensive end too. Good sized centers with a two-way acumen are difficult to find and it is likely why DelBelBelluz hears his name called inside the first two rounds in July. So why don't I have him higher? The skating concerns me. DelBelBelluz has been able to be a factor in transition because of his quick hands and how well he protects the puck through traffic, and not because of his quickness. His stride mechanics are a little wonky and it prevents him from generating significant power and quickness. So much of what LDBB does on the ice is predicated on his ability to penetrate the middle of the ice and attack and I'm concerned that he won't be able to do that as effectively at the next level without improvements made to his ability to generate speed. Again, I love the player and the complete package and for that reason, I still look at him in the second round. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who can make the type of overall impact that he can outside of the first round. Think of LDBB as the anti-Danny Zhilkin with a similar projection.
11. David Goyette - Center - Sudbury Wolves
Sudbury has been a tough team to get a read on this year because of the covid issues that they have had. But Goyette is a very interesting player. He is right up there with Owen Beck as one of the elite skaters in this draft class. His ability to stop, start, pivot (all on a dime) is electric and it makes him extremely elusive. His individual skill level is also quite high, as he consistently beats defenders one on one to create advantageous situations in the offensive end. As such, Goyette's offensive ceiling is very high. This is why a few scouts I know have him ranked as a potential first rounder. However, I'm still trying to get a good grasp of how well he sees the ice for being a player who is most effective when the puck is on his stick. Turnovers have been an issue for him at times. The question is...are those a result of a lack of strength on the puck and an inability to consistently play through contact? Or are they a result of a lack of awareness that leads him being prone to over-handling and over-complicating things? Or is it a little of column A and a little of column B? Again, Sudbury is a team that I need to see more of (and many need to see more of).
12. Isaiah George - Defense - London Knights
I was a little bit concerned that with London getting Mailloux and Steklov back, that George's ice time and responsibility would fade a bit. The early returns would suggest that would not be the case, as Dale Hunter clearly trusts George to still handle high end minutes on a potential Championship club. If you're a stat watcher, you probably don't understand this high ranking for George. The production isn't eye popping. But this is a player who consistently passes the eye test and who has a skill set that could easily translate to the NHL level. Firstly, he's an effortless mover, perhaps the best four way mobility of any player on this list. Secondly, he's shown considerable growth in his decision making since his minor hockey days, when he was a little bit more of a river boat gambler on the back-end. He always seems to be in the right position to make a defensive play and he is gaining confidence in his ability to lead the exit and push deep across the blueline. It is only a matter of time before the points start piling up for him with the way he is playing. Is the upside significant? I don't think we're looking at a top pairing defender, no. But I do think that George profiles as a steady two-way, #4 at the NHL level with how efficient his game is.
13. Vinzenz Rohrer - Center/Wing - Ottawa 67's
Talk about a versatile player. Rohrer has been a revelation for the 67's this year as someone that Dave Cameron can rely on in any situation. He is an excellent forechecker and penalty killer. He might be one of the best shot blockers among forwards in the OHL at the top of the box/diamond. He can make skilled plays in transition and lead the charge across the blueline. He digs out pucks along the wall and keeps plays alive with his feet. He has shown an ability to play center and the wing. He can play physical. There's really not much Rohrer can't do. I'd have him higher on my list, but I do think that there are some limitations to his stride and skating ability the more that I have watched him. I think he is more the case of a player who has quick feet and great energy, rather than being a true "burner." His first step quickness is only average and given his lack of elite size, that does bring into question whether his skill set will translate to the next level. But I like him too much to not believe in him. He's firmly inside my first two rounds at this point.
14. Ruslan Gazizov - Wing - London Knights
Gazizov is a bit of a frustrating player to watch. It is clear that he is still finding his way in his new surroundings. Even Dale Hunter is seemingly perplexed on how to best utilize his offensive gifts, considering that his role seems to be ever-changing on the Knights. His skill level and creativity have been as advertised. His vision and awareness with the puck are top notch. This gives him a very high ceiling as an offensive player. He has certainly looked most at home on the powerplay where that extra time and space has allowed him to showcase his skill. However, other parts of his game are a work in progress. The physicality and two-way effort has been very inconsistent. Coming into the OHL he was billed as a pretty tenacious player (and that was certainly the case in the international viewings I've had of Gazizov), however as a Knight, the engagement has not always been strong. Additionally, he grades out as only an average skater overall. He will need to get a little quicker to be able to consistently utilize space at even strength. But he is ranked this high because those issues are correctable and because his upside is quite high. Curious to see how he finishes the OHL season.
15. Hunter Haight - Center - Barrie Colts
Speaking of tough to get a read on...insert Hunter Haight. He came into the year with a lot of momentum on the back of a very strong performance at Team Canada's summer camp, but has had trouble making a consistent impact with the Colts. At times it has been because of a lack of ice time and responsibility. He also got injured and missed some time. However, with the Colts re-tooling a bit, he is going to get more ice time in the second half and it will be very interesting to see what he does with it. The basic foundation is there. He skates well. He is one of the more creative and individually skilled players in the age group. The effort in the defensive end has been positive. However, his reads and ability to play through traffic in the offensive end has left many wanting more. Like Goyette, Haight's offensive upside is significant. But what is holding him back?
16. Gavin Hayes - Wing - Flint Firebirds
Just when Hayes seemed to be really turning a corner with the Firebirds and earning significant special teams responsibility, the team gets back overager Ethan Keppen from the AHL. It's a tough blow for Hayes, whose play in November and December was certainly trending upwards. I was a huge Hayes fan heading into the year because he's the exact type of player I typically gravitate towards; physically abrasive, yet quick and skilled. However, this year in the OHL he has had a tough time putting those two things together. When he's played hard, he's disappeared offensively. When he's been scoring and finding the scoresheet, I've found him to be more of a passenger and less of a pain in the ass to play against. He has a high end shot. He has quickness. He can make plays in transition. And he can be a physical force. He just has not put all of those things together each shift. As such, for me he is more of a 75-90 prospect for the time being.
17. Jorian Donovan - Defense - Hamilton Bulldogs
Donovan has slowly been trending up on my list based on his improved play since the start of the season. The physical tools are near elite. He is Shean Donovan's son after all and he has inherited his dad's quick feet and speed. There aren't many defenders Jorian's size (6'2) who can move as well as he does. He's also a pretty skilled player who can lead the charge in transition and dominate puck touches. However, his overall effectiveness has been a real work in progress. He struggled with reads early on and was committing a ton of neutral zone turnovers that were killing his team. He also looked lost defensively, unsure of how aggressive to be and how to best utilize his mobility to mind gaps and take away space. However, with each viewing this year he has looked better. He has upped his physical intensity in the defensive end and is learning that he can be aggressive with his length and ability to recover quickly. He is also picking his spots better offensively, keeping things simple when they need to be. He's far from perfect, but the progression has been sound. How much further the decision making can improve remains to be seen. One thing I would really love for him to do is incorporate shoulder checks into his puck retrieval routines. Too often he retrieves blindly and this limits his overall effectiveness to find lanes and start the breakout quickly. I will be keeping a very close eye on him in the second half because as I said, the physical tools are first round rated.
18. Liam Arnsby - Center - North Bay Battalion
No question, Arnsby looks like a pro hockey player. His game has evolved and improved significantly since his rookie year (as a late born '03). This is particularly true of his confidence level and skill with the puck. He struggled mightily to receive passes and maintain possession through dynamic cuts as a rookie, but he is now able to drive pace and create in transition. There is certainly still room for improvement in his quickness and overall dynamic qualities of his stride, however you have to appreciate the large steps forward that he has taken offensively. This is especially true when you consider that Arnsby is a difficult player to match up against because of his physicality and determination. I don't think the upside is significant, but that's why I have him ranked where I do (in that third round range). Not every selection can be a swing for the fences and Arnsby does project as a valuable Scott Laughton, Daniel Paille type at the next level who can make your team better. If the skating and hands continue to improve, maybe he develops an ability to play up further?
19. Spencer Sova - Defense - Erie Otters
Coming into the season, I thought Sova could push to be the top defender available from the OHL this year. He hasn't been bad. But he hasn't matched my expectations either. The skating ability is a major plus. He is an effortless and explosive mover. However, he doesn't use this enough to move the puck and be a difference maker in transition the way that he is capable of. Could be a confidence thing. Could be an inability to make plays and maintain possession at full speed. Same could be said of Sova's play inside the offensive zone. There are times where he looks like a capable quarterback and other times where he is not assertive enough with the puck. Defensively...there are issues with...you guessed it...assertiveness. I think his overall positioning and awareness is sound. However, he loses too many battles near the crease and along the wall and simply needs to do a better job of being more difficult to play against. I have him ranked relatively highly still because I do still like his potential to develop into a competent puck mover. I have a lot of time for defenders who can move like he does. However, he's more of a mid round, longer shot, than a high draft pick for me right now.
20. Kirill Kudravtsyev - Defense - Soo Greyhounds
Kirill Kudravtsyev is definitely an interesting prospect. He shows flashes of brilliance, particularly for his ability to lead or join the attack and make creative plays when navigating traffic. Once he gets moving, his top speed is solid and it does allow him to rush out of his own end. He still gets bottled up at times because his first few strides are only average, and because he doesn't correctly identify his exit lanes or forecheckers, however he has learned to limit his turnovers as the season has progressed. Defensively, I see him similar to how I see Sova. I think the key is learning to be harder on puck carriers and more diligent when dealing with forwards at the net front. That sort of brings me to my overall thesis here and that is...I'm not sure what Kirill Kudravtsyev is at the NHL level. He is skilled, no doubt, but I am not sure he sees the ice well enough to be someone who can be the focal point of an attack at the next level. And he certainly does not profile as a high end defensive presence. However, I do like the skill package and I have seen improvement already. It's a huge adjustment for import players and he is doing his best to make it. Let's see how he finishes the year.
21. Pano Fimis - Center - Niagara IceDogs
Make no mistake, I feel very confident that Fimis will eventually become an elite OHL point producer. One thing that I really like about Fimis is how he manipulates traffic. He's not a big kid, nor the fastest, but he has very soft hands and has that elusive quality to him by way of deception and creativity. He makes a lot out of nothing on some plays where you think he might be bottled up. I also like how he sees the ice at both ends of the rink. He is consistently scanning and aware of what is happening and does seem to be one step ahead of the other players on the ice on a lot of occasions. He really does make the best out of the fact that he does not have elite physical tools. Which brings me to my next point and my concern. He does not have elite physical tools. For a smaller player, I would qualify him as only an average skater. There is a lot of room for him to get quicker, which would make him a more consistent facilitator. Additionally, he has not been able to live inside the hash marks the same way he did in the GTHL because he simply isn't strong enough to play the way that he wants to play...again consistently. The good news is that physical tools can be improved if you're willing to put in the work. Some of the things that Fimis does well are innate. He could easily take on a similar trajectory to someone like Adam Beckman out West. Additionally, he could easily be another Austen Keating.
22. Beau Jelsma - Center/Wing - Barrie Colts
I absolutely love Jelsma's game. There is this dogged determination to make things happen every time he steps on the ice. He has basically forced the Colts' coaching staff to play him more, and with them now re-tooling a bit, he is going to get a huge chance to improve his production (playing on the first line lately). He is certainly small. But he possesses the qualities required of small players to succeed at the next level. He's quick. He's explosive. He's tenacious. This is a strong kid (maybe from working on the farm every summer) who manages to fight through contact and consistently win battles against bigger players. I also really like how he shoots the puck. Lots of upside here as a goal scorer. The one question I still have, and it's what is holding him down in my rankings a bit, is how well does he see the ice and anticipate the play around him? He does have a tendency to have tunnel vision at times when he is driving into the offensive zone. Sometimes no matter how hard you force the square peg, it won't go through the round hole. Speed and power won't solve every problem. I want to see him problem solve his way out of congestion more effectively, and now that he will get a chance to play with more experienced and skilled players, he should have more trust in his linemates. Ultimately, smaller players like him need to produce consistently too.
23. Brady Stonehouse - Wing - Ottawa 67's
I absolutely love the way this kid plays the game. If I'm picking in the mid-later rounds, I am pounding the table hard, advocating for him to be a selection. He is fearless. He is a high end skater. He kills penalties. He can play the net front on the powerplay with quick hands in tight. At the very least, Stonehouse is someone who can make a living being a great fourth liner for many years (think Cal Clutterbuck). However, as he becomes more confident, we are seeing him showcase some puck skill, creativity, and the ability to create his own scoring chances by beating defenders one on one. Everything else is there. If he can continue to show improvement in his puck skill and ability to be an offensive leader, rather than just a spark plug, he will move up my list for year end. You can take that to the bank.
24. Servac Petrovsky - Center/Wing - Owen Sound Attack
I wanted to put Petrovsky a little higher, but couldn't justify having him ahead of the others on my list. I do think he's an impressive potential bottom six player at the NHL level. His top gear is impressive and it allows him to be a factor on the forecheck and in puck pursuit. He is a solid penalty killer and two-way player because of his awareness and stick placement. He has not shown a consistent ability to drive the play offensively, but he has shown that he can be an excellent complementary piece who does the dirty work for more individually skilled players. His vision down low and coming off the wall has been particularly impressive. Again, this points to his above average awareness and sense. I just don't know the ceiling is higher than being a fourth liner at the NHL level.
25. Michael Buchinger - Defense - Guelph Storm
Buchinger is a player that I've had, admittedly, a tough time truly assessing this year. The four way mobility is a plus, although there is room for improvement in his explosiveness to get clearance from the forecheck. Overall, though, he is smooth through his transitions and pivots and it does allow him to be very effective in starting the breakout. However, I kind of see Buchinger in that Stuart Percy, Matt Finn, mold in the sense that he's solid and dependable at this level, but may not have the kind of standout skills necessary to be a full time NHL player. Sometimes being called a jack of all trades defender is a kiss of death. I just don't see the first round grade that Sportsnet continues to give him. 3rd-4th round? Absolutely. He's been very effective this year for the Storm. However, I think he'll need to make big strides at both ends to be truly called a high end two-way puck mover.
26. Jake Karabela - Center/Wing - Guelph Storm
Karabela started the season red hot, but has cooled significantly in the last six weeks or so (when the Storm have actually played and not had games postponed). Karabela is a quality support player. Does a lot of things well. Can open up space for his linemates and is skilled enough to work the cycle and do his part offensively. I'm just not sure the upside is significant, similar to some of the other players I have ranked in this range. Much like Petrovsky, I really like how Karabela controls the wall and is able to distribute under pressure. He is a player that I'll have a closer eye on in the second half.
27. Zak Lavoie - Wing - Mississauga Steelheads
Speaking of complementary players, Lavoie has proven to be an excellent one when paired with Owen Beck this season in Mississauga. The two have shown great chemistry, with Lavoie working as a forechecker and triggerman. He has been red hot the last month or so, finally breaking out of his scoring slump. His shot has long been considered one of the best in this Ontario class and he is starting to show it by earning himself better looks in the home plate area. One area of his game that I have really liked this year, too, is that he has added a greater physical element to his game and it has made him effective in all three zones. I'm still not completely convinced that he is skilled enough to be more than a triggerman or that he can consistently create his own looks, but he has been hitting the score sheet with determination lately and deserves attention. A player that is trending up and probably one that could be higher if I was higher on him as a player heading into the season.
28. Tnias Mathurin - Defense - North Bay Battalion
It's a real shame that Mathurin got injured just as he was really finding some confidence with the puck. But he has returned recently and if he can continue to elevate his offensive game, he'll make a move up rankings (mine included). Mathurin is the prototype of the modern day shutdown defender. Big, mobile, and assertive. I really like his combination of lateral and backwards mobility as it makes him very difficult to beat one on one. He just swallows up transitional attacks. His play with the puck has been inconsistent, but has shown flashes as alluded to. I really want to see how he progresses this year if he stays healthy. I could see him being much higher on my final list if all goes well for him and the Battalion.
29. Evan Konyen - Wing - Sudbury Wolves
What I wrote about Goyette earlier goes for Konyen too. Sudbury players have just been hard to truly assess this year given the interruptions. Konyen isn't big, but he has proven to be an excellent complementary piece on a scoring line because of his quickness and finishing ability. He can drive pace with the puck on his stick and in a lot of ways is similar to Beau Jelsma in Barrie. In the second half I want to see how he continues to round out his offensive game. Additionally, he can sometimes struggle to receive passes or maintain possession at full speed. At the very least Konyen could be a top notch goal scorer in the OHL riding third fiddle to Goyette and Musty.
30. Ryan Abraham - Center - Windsor Spitfires
Not the biggest. Not the strongest. Not the quickest. But Abraham is a lot of fun to watch because of how he blends a high work rate with individual skill and strong anticipation in the offensive zone. Your opinion of Abraham likely depends on how you view the mohawk stride and its effectiveness at the next level. Abraham relies on it a lot to create separation from attackers while protecting the puck. I have no doubt that Abraham will develop into a high level OHL player as he gets stronger. The question is, can he be an offensive contributor at the next level?
31. Aidan Castle - Wing - Niagara IceDogs
Castle has moved around the lineup a fair amount, but he has shown that he can be a solid complementary piece on a scoring line. His chemistry with Pano Fimis from minor hockey has obviously carried over. Castle won't wow you with skill; it's all about quick touches in the offensive end and the awareness to find soft spots in coverage. However, his vision and overall decision making with the puck is sound. I just wish he had another standout skill. Be it a more powerful stride. Be it a more physical approach. What he ends up becoming still seems like a bit of a mystery, as is the concept of him driving play offensively on his own.
32. Cedrick Guindon - Center/Wing - Owen Sound Attack
I feel similar about Guindon as to how I do about Spencer Sova. He hasn't been bad, but he has not met my high expectations. I still believe that Guindon has high upside as a goal scoring prospect. He sniffs out chances well by waiting in the weeds. I think he appears to have worked hard to improve the power in his stride to become more explosive too, which is important given his average stature. However, I want to see him be more assertive overall. He can be indecisive with the puck and a lack of strength prevents him from being able to consistently play through contact. That means turnovers have been an issue. He also needs to find his way to the net more consistently and work harder to fight through contact without the puck. High potential keeps him ranked in this range but performance needs to be more consistent.
33. Jonathan Melee - Center - Peterborough Petes
One of the big pieces going back to Peterborough in the Mason McTavish deal, Melee has excelled in a limited role for Hamilton this year, killing penalties, playing both ends, controlling the wall and even contributing from time to time offensively. I like how he plays the "heavy" game. Now it's time to see if he is capable of more offensively as he likely receives greater responsibility with the Petes. We should get a better indication of his overall potential in the next few months.
34. Colton Smith - Wing - London Knights
About the only time Smith is truly noticeable is on the powerplay given how he is utilized on a deep London team. But there's some Jonah Gadjovich to this young man. Heavy shot. Works hard and gets to the net. Has good awareness in the offensive end. He just needs to upgrade his skating. The first few strides aren't pretty and that lack of separation really prevents him from being a more consistent contributor in all areas. Given the pedigree (DJ's son) and the program, I'll be shocked if he's not drafted somewhere in July.
35. Rodwin Dionicio - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Speaking of players who need to upgrade their skating...insert Dionicio. I've actually really learned to appreciate what Dionicio brings to the table and I do think he is worthy of being a later round selection. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of watching Tyler Tucker in his draft year. Dionicio hits hard. He competes hard. His skill level with the puck and awareness do allow him to lead the attack in transition despite a lack of true speed. Once he gets a head of steam going, he moves well. It's the four way mobility that is the issue, especially in the defensive zone. He gets forced into penalties or is left in the dust because his lateral and backwards mobility are just not clean. Again though, there is a lot to like and as we saw with Tucker, mobility can be improved.
36. Sam Alfano - Wing - Peterborough Petes
I guess I've lumped all those with skating deficiencies together eh? In all honesty, Alfano already looks quicker than he did at the beginning of the season, which is a testament to hard work. Lots of work to go, but he's not trailing the play any longer and looks more balanced and stable through his puck possessions. He's been playing some very good hockey the last six weeks or so and a lot of that has to do with the fact that he's really gained an understanding of how he can dominate physically. He's driving the net and he's applying pressure and this hard work is paying off for him. He's not the most individually skilled or creative, but he does see the ice well and can finish. NHL teams will be impressed with his improvements so long as the trajectory continues up.
37. Kocha Delic - Wing/Center - Sudbury Wolves
I think Delic may be a bit of a misunderstood prospect. There was so much hype going into his OHL draft season and then the fall to the second round at the draft. However, he has put in the work to become a solid two-way forward. I am consistently impressed by his positioning and anticipation without the puck. He forces a lot of turnovers by reading exits or pass attempts. He also has that elusive quality in the offensive zone and he is finishing off more chances of late. The puck seems to find him in the slot a lot. Similar to Pano Fimis, without elite physical tools, it's hard to project him, but I think he deserves notice for working hard to prove doubters wrong. He really put on a show in that nationally televised TSN game recently.
38. Dalyn Wakely - Center - North Bay Battalion
Seems fitting to put Wakely and Delic back to back here given both fell hard at the 2020 OHL draft and ended up in Northern Ontario. Wakely has had a nice year playing behind the Battalion's big first line. There's skill there. He scans the offensive zone well. His two-way game and effort is really coming along. But what is he at the next level? I'm not sure there is a standout skill, nor does he possess high end skating ability or physical ability. Further views in the second half may clarify that.
39. Jackson Edward - Defense - London Knights
Strong play and sound decision making earned Edward a "B" rating from NHL Central Scouting early on. It's easy to see why given that he moves well and has good size. However, I just haven't seen the kind of growth necessary, especially offensively, to warrant that kind of grade. As the season has gone on, he has struggled with the reads on his exits and overall decision making in the defensive end. Now with Mailloux and Steklov back in the fold, his ice time is going to be cut significantly. His meal ticket is probably his work in the defensive end because of his combo of mobility and size, but the results have been too inconsistent.
40. Christian Kyrou - Defense - Erie Otters
I have received a lot of questions on Kyrou this year because of his breakout season and how well his brother Jordan is playing in St. Louis. A lot of Kyrou's production stems from his heavy point shot, easily one of the best in the OHL from the back-end. Generates a lot of rebounds, tips, and clean goals. And while he's been a revelation for the Otters as a minute eater, I'm just not sure I see a significant draft prospect. He's not the blessed skater that Jordan is. His defensive play is inconsistent. He is on some kind of heater lately, so you have to respect that. His confidence with the puck is growing. Maybe I am underselling him here, but I'm not sure I see the production being able to translate.
41. Brody Crane - Wing - London Knights
A hard worker who always seems to be noticeable despite limited playing time. Sometimes he gets himself in trouble with his intensity level, but his work rate and physicality are among the reasons why he stands out. I feel good about his chances of developing into a potential role player at the next level, but given his lack of playing time, it has been hard to assess his offensive tools and potential. Does he deserve to be ranked up there with a guy like Brody Stonehouse?
42. Alec Leonard - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Leonard seems to be getting better and more comfortable as the season goes on, which is what you like to see. He's cleaned up his decision making with the puck and is playing more assertive physically. He is just a well rounded defender. However, like some of the other "jack of all trades types," he needs to show further growth at either end to show us what the upside might be.
43. Chas Sharpe - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Look, it's not often you see a late born draft eligible (in this case '03) with limited production ranked for the draft, but there is something about Sharpe's game that is intriguing and makes you believe that with greater ice time, he could be doing more. The stride is impressive for a big defender and for that reason he can lead the attack. The decision making as both ends needs to be cleaned up, but he may just be a hidden gem. With Holm and Larsen gone in December, he looked great with more responsibility.
44. Domenic DiVincentiis - Goaltender - North Bay Battlion
A goalie! I think at this point, DiVicentiis has separated himself from the pack to be the only first time eligible netminder worth ranking (even with Nolan Lalonde a recent goalie of the week). He's not playing a ton behind Joe Vrbetic, but when he has, he has played well. It's a really down year for goaltenders overall (there may not be one taken inside the top 75 this year), but DiVicentiis looks like a draft candidate. Good size. Good athleticism. The technical components (especially his rebound control and ability to fight through traffic) need fine tuning, but the shell is there.
45. Owen Van Steensel - Wing - North Bay Battlion
In the similar mold to Stonehouse and Crane in the sense that Van Steensel is a high energy, change of pace attacker. He looks great on the PK for North Bay and his quickness can be an asset in transition. Much like Crane, his lack of consistent ice time makes it difficult to determine his upside as an offensive player.
46. Connor Toms - Defense - Soo Greyhounds
Mobile puck mover who has impressed at times this year with his ability to transition the puck and hold the offensive line. There's a bit of bite to his game defensively too. However, the decision making and reads with the puck need to be cleaned up and I question about the overall sense and awareness. The Soo has done a remarkable job of developing defenders in the last decade, though.
47. Gavin Bryant - Center/Wing - Owen Sound Attack
Bryant is a high IQ, two-way forward who is similar to some other forwards that I have ranked in the back half of the Top 50. By that I mean I see him becoming a very competent and dependable OHL player, but a lack of elite physical tools and/or skill/creativity makes him difficult to project as more than a potential role player at the NHL level.
48. Max Namestnikov - Center - Sarnia Sting
Honestly, I do understand those who still rank him highly and as a potential NHL prospect. He is fun to watch. He has his stretches where he can be a very effective offensive player because of his quickness and skill. But I just don't see the hockey sense and awareness being good enough for him to be a top six forward at the next level, which is critical given his extreme lack of size. Too many turnovers, too many poor reads. I've kept him in my rankings for now because of a lack of depth in the league, but we'll see how he finishes out the year.
49. Brice Cooke - Wing - Niagara IceDogs
I actually think Cooke may have more potential to be an impact player than his teammate Aidan Castle, but his play has just been too inconsistent this year. There are times where he looks like he can lead the attack with his size and linear quickness, but others where he seems behind the play. Improving his agility and ability to maintain possession moving East/West is a must. Still has some nice raw, physical tools but has not yet put it together.
50. Justin DeZoete - Wing - Peterborough Petes
Another high energy winger with a good work rate who can get after it on the forecheck. Has the potential to be a high end goal scorer too at this level. But he has struggled to make skilled plays with the puck consistently this year. He's in the same bracket as many other high energy types on this list. Good OHL upside but is there NHL upside?