Tuesday, June 14, 2022

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft - Part 4: 10-1

 We have reached the end and it is time to conclude my Top 10 for the 2022 NHL Draft.
1. Shane Wright - Center - Kingston Frontenacs
Whether you're someone who has Wright at first overall or not, there's absolutely no questioning that he's the top prospect from the OHL this year. It hasn't been the easiest year for Wright, but I still have faith that he will become a quality NHL player who has a long career. Did he truly take a step forward this year in his progression? I don't believe so. Stagnation is never a great thing to see from a prospect, but when you're already a terrific player, I don't think it's the end of the world. The criticisms of Wright this year are one hundred percent warranted. Yes, his pace of play needs to increase. He became too predictable to cover this year with his habit of altering pace to a crawl. This was not always an approach he used. He used to attack the offensive zone and his ability to quickly alter pace (either way) was a standout quality and allowed him to keep defenders off balance. But since altering his approach, team defensive approaches have been able to take away his space early inside the blueline and make him less effective. Yes, his physical intensity level needs to increase. His defensive instincts are fantastic. But he will never be a standout defensive player at the pro level without becoming more difficult to play against. He doesn't need to be Mike Peca. But even Patrice Bergeron can suffocate and is more than just a positional, stick oriented defender. Yes, he had a disappointing playoffs and under-performed from a statistical perspective all season. I think part of that had to do with the construction of the Frontenacs and how much he was asked to do (without a high end puck mover, Wright was responsible for starting the breakout himself on many occasions, which leaves him the trailer on a lot of occasions, or zapped his energy). All that said, Wright is still an incredibly intelligent playmaking center. His game is tailored to the pro level with how quick he makes decisions with the puck, operating a step ahead of the opposition (and unfortunately ahead of his own teammates). His shot is elite. His skating ability is great (even if he doesn't always use it to his advantage). How quickly we forget how he dominated the U18's in Texas one summer ago. Do I think Wright will be a generational level talent? No. Do I think that Wright will be a fixture as a first or second line center, consistent 60+ point guy, future team captain, and one of the better defensive forwards in the NHL? Yes, I believe that he has that potential.
2. Pavel Mintyukov - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
I've said this several times this year but I truly believe that Mintyukov has the highest upside of any defender available this year (including Nemec and Jiricek). Is he a safe pick? No, I don't believe so. But the upside is massive. You simply do not see many defenders who possess the hands and creativity that Mintyukov does. He consistently makes something out of nothing, blending strong four way mobility with a soft touch - you just can't box him in. I've seen some criticism of his vision and decision making with the puck, but I would not agree with that. His passing ability is a highlight. Yes, he can turn the puck over, but look at the situation he was in with Saginaw this year. He was given the green light and he took it and ran, playing about as aggressive as an offensive defender as you can get (it's not uncommon to see Mintyukov as the F1 on the forecheck). When you are constantly activating and asked to take chances, turnovers will happen. More often than not, he escapes pressure and is able to create scoring chances or keep plays alive. Defensively, that's where things get a little murkier. The profile is good. Size. Mobility. Reach. Physicality. He has that in spades. He looks great defending transitional attacks and he is at his best when he can play aggressive to shutdown attackers early, then flip the script and start the offensive attack. When asked to defend in zone coverage, that's when things get dicey. He can cheat to leave the zone early (a big no-no for a defender), he can miss assignments near the net, and he can chase the puck. He will require a lot of coaching. But let us not forget that Mintyukov did not play last year. Doesn't matter that he's a late 2003. He's behind the learning curve. The athletic tools are there, it's a matter of how they are developed. There's a very real chance that he becomes Ryan Sproul. There's a chance that he is asked to refine his game so much that he becomes Dmitri Kulikov. But IMO, the greatest odds are that he becomes a top flight top three defender who can impact the game in a lot of different ways. IMO, he's a top ten pick. 
3. David Goyette - Center/Wing - Sudbury Wolves
One of the most misunderstood players in this draft class IMO. Early on, it was all offense for Goyette and he struggled as a three zone player. But his defensive play and engagement away from the puck improved dramatically over the course of the year. So did his consistency, but perhaps too many people stopped watching Sudbury down the stretch with them out of the playoff picture. Don't get me wrong, his play off the puck still needs to improve. But, to call him a one dimensional player is wrong. The best part of Goyette's game is his skating ability. Wouldn't call him the fastest player in the class, but his skating habits and his understanding of how to alter pace are among the best in the class. His edgework is a masterclass and he is very explosive out of cuts, with or without the puck. This makes him very elusive and unpredictable. As he matures physically, I think he can get even quicker and be better at sustaining his speed. Jordan Kyrou level skating ability is attainable for Goyette. Goyette is also highly skilled and does not need to alter his speed to make plays. He can play at a feverish pace. Improving his strength on the puck is a must because his effectiveness at playing through traffic is inconsistent, but the hands are top notch. His vision with the puck and passing touch are also top notch and this should help him stay down the middle at the pro level. To a certain extent, Goyette falls through the cracks because of how many similar average sized, quick, and skilled forwards there are available this year, but he has as much offensive upside as any of them.
4. Owen Beck - Center - Mississauga Steelheads
I saw some folks mention how surprised they were to see Beck ranked just outside the first round (33rd) at McKeen's given they know how much I like Beck and how much influence I have over those rankings. The reality is, as much as I love Beck, I don't see him as a future first line player at the next level. I think he settles in as a reliable middle six center who can bring a lot of versatility to his future coaches. There are just so many home run swings available (especially on the back-end) in that late first round range, that I have no problem with Beck being ranked a little lower because I perceive his upside to be somewhat limited. However, I have a hard time finding things that I don't like about Beck's game. The skating ability is among the best in this class. His use of linear crossovers makes him so difficult to cover as he leads the attack because he is constantly deceiving his intentions while also gaining speed. Beck is also a complete player who competes hard in all three zones; his work on the penalty kill is extremely impressive. On the powerplay, Beck's vision and IQ are on full display as he shifts around the offensive zone, working down low and in the middle of the ice. If I am nitpicking (and it's what I think limits Beck's potential), his decision making with the puck in transition leaves some to be desired. He has these impressive rushes to gain the zone, but often they fail to produce high end scoring chances. Part of that is confidence and strength related, as he gains the zone and dumps it down low. But, turnovers can occur as he tries to force his way through defenders. There isn't a real ability for him to alter pace while maintaining possession at this current time. When he's working down low in the cycle, the vision shows well. But when the pace increases, there seems to be a lull. Again though, I have a ton of time for this player in the late first, early second range. He's a slam dunk NHL player for me.
5. Matyas Sapovaliv - Center - Saginaw Spirit 
I don't think Sapovaliv had a terrific finish to the year, but how many Saginaw players did given the injuries the team was going through? More concerning for me was his play at the U18's, where he looked a little sluggish in transition. However, if you follow my work, I've been on the Sapovaliv hype train all year and that continues to this day. I think he has a solid upside as a second line center, and a nice floor as a bottom six checking line player. The athletic tools are just so intriguing. His reach and massive frame gives him such high upside as a defensive forward once he fills out and is better at engaging physically. He closes down passing lanes to the slot and defends coming off the wall about as well as any forward in this draft class. Offensively, the key for him will be continuing to improve his agility and edgework. He has already improved his quickness and balance from a year ago, but there is still work to be done in this area for him to be a truly consistent playmaker. Too often can he be angled to the perimeter. The offensive profile is really nice, though. He has good hands. He has good instincts. His shot can be a weapon when he learns to use it more and get himself in scoring position more consistently. He sees the ice well coming off the wall and from down low. I don't see how you can't see his profile as a rangy, two-way pivot and not rank him fairly high.
6. Luca DelBelBelluz - Center - Mississauga Steelheads
DelBelBelluz is a tough call for me. I'm kind of torn on him to this day and I've seen him play a ton this year. I can relate with those who really like him and have him ranked as a first rounder. I can relate with those that do not. I see both sides of the equation and I'm truthfully still not sure where I stand. Here's what I love. I think the hands are fantastic. He is terrific at manipulating the space around him with his hands...you just don't see him turning the puck over much when he plays through the middle of the ice. His linear quickness is not good, but his agility, puck control, and ability to build speed out of cuts is impressive. This is why he is so dangerous working the half wall area on the powerplay. I also think DelBelBelluz shows potential as a strong two-way center given his size and awareness. This is an inconsistent part of his game currently, but as he adds strength, my hope is that it becomes a standout quality. LDBB's shot is also impressive. He will score at the next level. OK, so here's what I don't love. The skating mechanics are not great. An awkward stride prevents him from truly building or sustaining speed. At the OHL level this does not affect him much because of how good he is at protecting the puck through the neutral zone, but it will affect him at the NHL level. I also think that he goes through stretches of not being very noticeable. Even when he's not hitting the score sheet, teammate Owen Beck is noticeable for his speed and tenacity. But LDBB goes through stretches where he is just kind of there and fails to make an impact at even strength. What if the skating does not improve? What if the two-way engagement does not become more consistent? Is he an NHL player? I wouldn't hesitate to select him in the second round somewhere, but the questions I have about him would make me hesitate in the first. 
7. Paul Ludwinski - Center/Wing - Kingston Frontenacs
Ludwinski was not in my top ten as of around late March. However, late in the year I think we saw him take massive strides forward that I believe can carry into the future. Ludwinski has a really solid floor as an NHL role player. He skates really well. He brings it physically. He is a solid three zone player. Easy to see him becoming a Paul Byron type. However, there are so many flashes of higher offensive upside that you have to jump on him earlier if you really like him and believe that he's just scratching the surface of what he is capable of. Early on in the year, the hands just had not caught up to his feet and a lot of plays died on his stick as he tried to gain the offensive zone. However, as the year went on, his transportation skills really improved and he became a real asset in transition offensively. The hands and finishing ability were equally difficult to truly assess. At times this year, he struggled to finish off chances in the slot, despite earning many great looks. However, later in the year, he was finishing on more of those and showed that his release had improved and that his confidence was growing. Ludwinski was my favourite player in the 2004 OHL Priority Selection Draft class. I thought he had the package to become an elite and complete NHL center. Thanks to a strong finish to the year, I'm ever closer to believing that again...even if I'm not convinced that he is a center moving forward.
8. Ty Nelson - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Tale of three seasons for Nelson. He started the year extremely well and I believed that he had a chance of being a first round pick. Then he really struggled in the second half of the OHL regular season and seemed to lose all confidence in his offensive abilities. This was followed up by a very strong performance in this year's OHL playoffs, where he helped North Bay reach the East finals. So what do we make of all of this? Honestly, much like LDBB, I'm a little flummoxed. The four way mobility is a major positive. The shot is one of the best in this draft class. His breakout pass is excellent and he has great scanning habits with the puck. His physical intensity level is extremely admirable given his lack of height (but not width; Nelson is built like a brick **** house). He has the makings of being a very good two-way defender. There are just a lot of application issues that I see that I think could limit his potential if not corrected. He has some bad habits when defending in transition. He gets caught flat footed a lot, way more than he should given his strong mobility. This leads to a lot of blow-byes and penalties against. His footwork inside the offensive zone isn't terrific either. He has this booming shot, but he does not clear space for himself well enough by using his edges. He's just too stagnant running the point right now and he needs to do a better job of using space inside the offensive zone. This is something that all elite powerplay QB's do to help break down coverage and he does not have those habits yet at a consistent level. Late in the year, when Nelson seemed to lose his confidence, he wasn't even taking chances offensively either. Lots of dump ins and low percentage plays, even though he has the skill to try to make plays. Given how many puck moving defenders eligible this year had terrific second half performances (Korchinski, Havelid, Rinzel, etc), it's going to be tough for Nelson to find a spot inside the Top 45 or so IMO.
9. Gavin Hayes - Wing - Flint Firebirds
The 2021/22 season didn’t exactly start off according to plan for Hayes. A former first round pick of Flint, Hayes started off the year playing a fourth line role and was even scratched, thus obviously limiting his production and ability to stand out. Slowly, but surely, he worked his way into the favour of the coaching staff and finished the season extremely strong as a top six contributor and special teams regular. Once Hayes’ ice time increased, the points started to come consistently, putting up 49 points in the remaining 54 games of the regular season. He also had a very strong playoff performance. Hayes' shot is a real standout quality. Much like teammate Brennan Othmann, he can absolutely rifle the puck; possessing both a strong wrist shot and one timer. Hayes also can be a real intimidating physical presence, even if that part of his game is wildly inconsistent. The skating stride is good and he generates good power and speed for the type of North/South game he plays. He will never be the world's most creative player and his vision with the puck and overall decision making will need to improve. But power wingers with a goal scoring touch do not grow on trees anymore. In a lot of ways, watching Hayes this year reminded me a lot of watching Dustin Brown as a draft eligible player. A lot of the same concerns and strengths.

10. Danny Zhilkin - Center - Guelph Storm 
I find it kind of weird that I've got Zhilkin rated this high even though I don't love him as much as other scouts do. To an extent, I think that points to how this draft class from the OHL has shaped up to be a bit below average. I'm not convinced that Zhilkin has a high upside as an NHL player. I don't love how he sees the ice with the puck, especially when he is attacking with pace. I think his IQ without the puck is also slightly concerning as he does not always find himself in strong scoring position, despite having elite level physical/athletic tools. This helps to explain his production inconsistency this year, despite being one of the oldest first time eligibles. All that said, those same athletic tools give him the opportunity to develop into a very good third line center. His play in the defensive end has improved greatly since his time in the GTHL and he really can suffocate opposing players along the wall to stymie creativity and eliminate space. With his quickness and explosiveness, he can really start the counter attack too. By altering his approach to become more work-man like in the offensive zone (chip and chases, give and go's, pivots to invite contact inside the blueline), Zhilkin could become a more than adequate playmaker to go with his potential impact in the defensive and neutral zones. The skill level is certainly there too. Think of Lars Eller in a best case scenario from a two-way perspective.

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