Sunday, February 20, 2022

Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing (2022)

This yearly tradition (take a look at the Sunday Top 10 sidebar for other years) returns this year after a one year hiatus (thanks to the league's one year hiatus). It's time to examine the top overagers in the OHL, available to be signed by NHL teams for the 2022 calendar year. We've already had one sign with an NHL team (Mack Guzda), but he will be included in this list for continuity. It should also be noted that Lucas Edmonds is NOT included in this list because he is still NHL draft eligible (deemed a European player by NHL Central Scouting).
This list does intend to rank players according to the likelihood that they continue their career at the professional level. Likely more than half of the players on this list will not end up getting a professional contract and will play in the CIS. It's the nature of the beast. The bottom line is that a few will and many will not (be signed) and those players who do not, will take advantage of their education package while continuing to play a high level of hockey at a Canadian University.

It's important to note that this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team. However, there are no such players in the league this year (with Brandon Coe signing his ELC in December). This list is for those players who are NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on their birth date).

Here's the list:
1. Mack Guzda - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
Guzda recently signed an NHL ELC with the Florida Panthers and it is much deserved. The 6'5 netminder turned around the season for the Barrie Colts by shoring up their goaltending and he has been about as consistent as you can be this year between Owen Sound and Barrie. Guzda has steadily improved in each of his OHL seasons following a disastrous NHL draft year that saw him fall from being a potential top two round selection to going undrafted. But in 2020, he worked hard to improve his positioning and rebound control, transforming from more of a straight stopper (who only uses his size) to someone who can get out and track the play to be more aggressive in the crease. And then this year, after the year off, he's finally taken that next step by improving his consistency and mental focus to become one of the OHL's best netminders. Guzda has also worked hard to improve his quickness in the crease, especially moving laterally to help him cover his posts. So what's next for Guzda? I saw some people suggest that Guzda was silly to sign with Florida. I'd strongly disagree. Behind Spencer Knight, who should be in the NHL full time next year, the team has zero depth. That means that Guzda will have a great chance to play a lot in the AHL next year. He's still a ways away from being an NHL netminder. He's going to need to continue to get quicker, but there's a chance he can develop into a quality backstop in a few years.
2. Daniel D'Amato - Winger - Erie Otters
The Erie captain is already on the pro radar after playing a few games in the AHL this year on a PTO with Henderson. He actually had three points in five games with Vegas' farm team. I believe D'Amato should get, at the very least, an AHL deal for next season and I do think that he has a chance of becoming a solid pro player in North America. He has worked very hard to improve his skating over his OHL career and now has to be considered one of the quickest players in the OHL. He is a zone entry machine because of this; always looking to push the pace and attack. However, D'Amato is also a pretty well rounded player who provides versatility. He is engaged on the forecheck and on the backcheck and does play a fairly physical game. He finds a way to get inside positioning near the crease and will use his size (6'1) to drive the net. If he can continue to improve his play away from the puck and his ability to blend skill/pace, he has a chance of becoming a quality bottom six winger at the NHL level because of his size and speed combination. 
3. Tye Kartye - Center/Winger - Soo Greyhounds
No question, Kartye is not the most gifted skater in the OHL. He's worked hard to get quicker over his OHL career, but he's still only an average mover. However, he does so many other things well that an NHL team (or AHL team) may overlook this; or should overlook this. Kartye leading the league in powerplay goals is no fluke. Firstly, his release is among the quickest of any player in the OHL. Second, his awareness and anticipation; his ability to navigate traffic and get open looks, is also among the best in the OHL. He is just a high-end goal scorer. However, Kartye is also a versatile player. He can play both center and the wing. He kills penalties and is a sound defensive player with a strong stick and awareness. He plays hard without the puck and battles to keep plays alive along the wall. He is just a very sound support player. No question the skating will need to improve further for him to be a long time pro, but more and more players like Kartye are finding success in the NHL these days.
4. Robert Calisti - Defense - Soo Greyhounds
If you read my work regularly, you would know that I've always had a soft spot for Calisti. That soft spot still exists. I still believe that he has a chance to be a quality pro player because of how well he skates. Calisti is easily one of the best skating defenders in the OHL and he loves to jump up in the play or lead the attack. He also has one of the best shots in the OHL from the back-end. There are a lot of tools offensively. Defensively, he's far from a physical player. He's definitely more of a stick on puck defender who looks to use his quickness to maintain gaps and keep players to the outside. However, he is a solid player in transition who can really help a team's breakout because of his ability to escape the forecheck. He is still a bit of a high risk/high reward offensive player whose decision making can be questioned with the puck. And he will need to be more aggressive defensively at the next level. However, I'd be willing to give him a chance to see how I could use his mobility to my team's advantage.
5. Nathan Staios - Defense - Hamilton Bulldogs
The son of Hamilton Bulldogs president (and former NHL defender) Steve Staios, Nathan has been in the OHL for what seems like forever. Immediately upon entering the league, Staios played a lot (for Windsor as a 16 year old) and he's been a minute eater since. Much like Calisti ranked ahead of him, Staios is an undersized defender who moves very well. He quarterbacks the top powerplay unit for the Bulldogs and uses his lateral quickness well to help hold the line and move the puck. Staois also competes hard in the defensive end to make up for his lack of size. He's put in the work to improve his decision making with the puck this year, which has improved his ability to exit the defensive zone. I'm still not one hundred percent certain the "hockey IQ" is extremely high. And I'm also not sure he is a fit for the powerplay at the next level. However, again, he has shown progression at both ends and is an extremely fluid mover. An NHL team may see that and believe that he can be a pro in some capacity. I would expect him to nail down an AHL deal at the least.
6. Jordan Frasca - Center - Kingston Frontenacs
One could easily argue that Jordan Frasca is the Frontenacs number one center this year and not Shane Wright, given how well the Edmonds/Frasca/Arcuri line has played this year. Not the world's most blessed skater, Frasca uses his size really well to protect the puck. He is a tough player to separate the puck from, especially down low. He is also a smart player who makes quick decisions with the puck and is quite effective in transition despite lacking elite separation as a skater. While he is big (6'2, 185lbs), I wouldn't necessarily say he plays a pure power game. Yes he can drive the middle and yes he shields the puck well, but he's not an overtly physical player. He relies on quick touches and strong positioning more than physical bravado. That said, big centers who can control the pace of play well are always highly coveted. The big test for Frasca this year will be his performance in this year's OHL playoffs. If that Edmonds/Frasca/Arcuri line can continue it's strong play and help Kingston make a deep run, Frasca will almost certainly attract pro attention.
7. Nathan Allensen - Defense - Barrie Colts
Brandt Clarke's defensive partner in Barrie, Allensen would best be described as a jack of all trades type on the back-end. He doesn't have any true standout qualities, but he also does everything quite well. That's why he has been such a great partner for Clarke this year. A lack of an elite quality or two could make him a more likely candidate for the CIS (could see him attracting attention from a strong program like UNB), however his steady play at both ends could also help him land an AHL deal too.
8. Mitchell Russell - Center/Wing - North Bay Battalion
Easily one of the most improved players in the OHL from two seasons ago. Russell went from being an inconsistent complementary goal scorer who struggled with pace and the ability to play through traffic, to someone who can drive pace and bring physicality. He has become one of the OHL's most consistent offensive players this year. He's always had great potential as a goal scorer. However, he's finally realizing it now in his OA year because of the upgrades that he has made to his skating. Russell has just turned into this classic Stan Butler kind of player who can be trusted in any situation. Two years ago, I would have told you that Russell's chances of being a pro, outside of maybe a lower European league, were slim. Now, I think he could easily earn himself a pro contract in North America for next season.
9. Andrew Perrott - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Perrott has had just a really solid season in his final year in the league. The stocky, physical defender has put in the work to improve his four way mobility and it has allowed him to be more of a factor offensively. He's never going to be a natural powerplay quarterback, but his ability to escape the forecheck and start the breakout is noticeably improved from two years ago. He also looks more confident skating and handling the puck and this added offensive element has helped him to become one of the better two-way defenders in the OHL this year. His calling card at the next level will definitely be his physical brand of defense (especially from the right side), but improving his play with the puck was a must. I could see him earning an AHL/ECHL deal next year, but he'll probably need to continue to work on his four way movement and quickness to be a serious NHL prospect.
10. Louka Henault - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Henault is a heady two-way defender who continues to excel as a puck mover because of his mobility and game management skills. He won't wow you with individual skill or creativity from the back-end. But he makes quick and efficient decisions and is a real asset in starting the breakout. To give you an idea, according to InStat, Henault has one of the best CORSI ratings of any player in the OHL this year. Similar to Nathan Allensen, I suppose my question is, what is Henault at the next level? Those jack of all trades types can be tough to project, even if they are as efficient as Henault. And considering that his game remains as steady as it did two years ago when NHL teams chose not to draft him, you have to wonder how much interest there will be. That said, he deserves the final place on this list and is certainly capable of having a long pro career somewhere should he want it.

Honorable Mentions

Three goaltenders make the HM list. Flint's Luke Cavallin, Sudbury's Mitchell Weeks, and Oshawa's Zachary Paputsakis. I could easily see all three of these netminders in the ECHL next season. Cavallin is a steady and consistent netminder who makes up for a lack of elite size with strong positioning and awareness. Weeks is bigger and quicker, but doesn't have the same consistency in his game reading abilities. Where as Paputsakis probably has the highest pro ceiling because of his size and athleticism combination. I thought Paputsakis would be a contender for OHL goaltender of the year this year, but he's lost the starting gig (they are platooning) to Patrick Leaver in Oshawa, even though he's played quite well this season.
While I'm not sure he earns a pro deal, I believe Owen Sound's Mark Woolley is worth mentioning as an HM. His offensive game is nearly non-existent, but he is a real throw back kind of defender. He's big. He's mean. He blocks shots. He eats tough minutes. His mobility has improved over his OHL career (but will still need to improve to play pro). Given his pedigree, it wouldn't shock me to see him playing pro somewhere next year.
Peterborough's Joe Carroll has long tantalized scouts with the capability of doing more. The trade to the Petes has been a good one for him. He still has that package of size and skill and teases with the ability to dominate down low. However, the awareness and feel in the offensive end has never developed for him. He could still be a project for someone. His Peterborough teammate Emmett Sproule is kind of the opposite. He's been a later bloomer in the league who competes hard, skates well, and pushes the pace of play. He should be a high end CIS player next year, although he could earn an ECHL deal likely too and could have a long career overseas on a larger ice surface. I had higher expectations for Erie's Brendan Hoffman this year. Big forward who has put in the work to improve his quickness. Shows flashes of an ability to create in transition by driving the net. However, the small area skill and finishing ability never developed to the point of being a serious NHL prospect. The Soo's Cole Mackay is a solid OHL player. Highly intelligent offensive player. However, his physical tools have never really developed over his OHL career. I think he could have a long pro career somewhere though. Lastly, Owen Sound's Nicholas Porco has the quickness and speed of an NHL player, but the rest of his game simply never caught up (why Dallas elected not to sign him). Maybe he eventually figures it out when the processing and hands catch up to the feet, but right now he's still a longer shot, even if he has played better since the trade to Owen Sound.