Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Preseason Top 30 for the 2023 NHL Draft

Ah...normalcy. After having to make last year's preseason list based on U16 performances (because the larger part of the group had yet to play in the OHL), we can make this year's list based on actual OHL performance. This group of players has played in the OHL and we also have a Hockey Canada camp and a Hlinka/Gretzky Cup to base rankings off of. The only thing missing is the World Under 17 Challenge, which will thankfully return this year. As an FYI, here were last year's preseason rankings.
Heading into the season, I would classify this group from Ontario as very top heavy. I think it's a really strong group in terms of potential top two round selections. After that, I'm unsure of the depth. This is magnified by the lack of Imports currently slated to beef up said depth. Of course, that can change a lot over the year too. But, having a crop that is top heavy is not a bad thing either. I see several players that I think can challenge for the Top 10 (in a very strong draft year) and several others who could be Top 50 selections.
Here's my early list:
1. Cam Allen - Defense - Guelph Storm
I've alluded to Allen being my top ranked OHL player heading into the season a few times on social media. I've lobbed high praise in his direction by stating that I believe he was the best 16 year old defender in the league since Aaron Ekblad. Not only was Allen terrific for the Storm last year, but he was great as captain of Canada at the Hlinka/Gretzky. Quite honestly, I see a player that doesn't really have a weakness...or at least projects that way. He can quarterback the powerplay with his big shot and mobility/vision. He can lead the attack in transition with his quickness and skill. He is deceptive, but also intelligent in picking his spots. There might even be more room for him to take chances to jump up in the play. Defensively, he has an edge. He is physically engaged and is terrific at defending pace thanks to his strong four way mobility. I think that as he gets stronger, we'll see that physical element really ratchet up. He can struggle at times to win 50/50 battles along the wall and does need to do a better job of engaging and sealing his man more consistently. But, let's see how that develops this year. The defensive IQ is strong, though, and he has a great stick and instincts. Like I said, not really much in the way of a true weakness and a lot of areas that I would grade out as well above average. He's my number one because I think he has a chance to be a right shot, top pairing defender and could end up similar to someone like a Charlie McAvoy, who many would have as one of the top defenders in the NHL.
2. Calum Ritchie - Center - Oshawa Generals
I'm probably in the tiniest of minorities when it comes to having Ritchie ranked behind Allen, and there's a reason for that too...Ritchie is a great prospect in his own right. I thought his rookie OHL season had its ups and downs (connected with Oshawa's ups and downs), but he was very good for Canada at the Hlinka/Gretzky. He projects as the kind of top line center who can play in any situation and that is also a rarity. He can play the power game. He is skilled. His passing ability is a strength. His shot is also a strength, but he doesn't use it enough. That's a big next step for IMO. He needs to keep defenders honest. I think his decision making with the puck could stand to be a little more consistent too. He's a creative player...and a confident one. However, at times, some of those high risk passes end up hurting his team. I think all of that works itself out this year and, he too, becomes a prospect at the top end of the draft with very few weaknesses. For me, it comes down to the fact that I think finding that #1, right shot defender, is a little more difficult. Thus Allen entering the year at #1. 
3. Colby Barlow - Wing - Owen Sound Atack
How could you not love what Barlow brought to that Canadian Hlinka/Gretzky team? His performance was, quite frankly, extremely eye opening. After posting a list earlier in the summer that had Barlow a few spots lower, a person in OHL management and I chatted and he let me know that I had missed the mark on Barlow's spot. He was correct. I was not. As an OHL rookie, I had wondered how Barlow's game would come together in a few years and the hesitation came from seeing some similar qualities to Owen Tippett (not a terrible young player by any means, but not someone I would take in that top 10 range). I still am very curious to see how Barlow develops as a more complete offensive player; more specifically how his playmaking and passing touch develops. However, there's enough there to make him a lottery selection already. He's big and quick. He was one of the better skaters at the Hlinka IMO. His shot and scoring instincts are great. And his work as a penalty killer and overall defensive presence was mighty impressive. Quite frankly, he projects similar to someone like Cutter Gauthier and we just saw him go in the top five in 2022. I have said this a lot over the years, but finding goal scorers whose zone starts and overall minutes do not need to be sheltered is very difficult. 
4. Quentin Musty - Wing - Sudbury Wolves
Oh Musty going to frustrate scouts this year. His OHL rookie year was mired by some injuries, but also inconsistency. Most of that inconsistency stemmed from issues with his decision making with the puck and with playing through traffic. Playing for the U.S. at the Hlinka/Gretzky, we saw those same issues creep up. Now I say that he's going to frustrate scouts because he is incredibly talented. He combines immense skill and creativity with a big frame. For every poor read he makes with the puck, he makes a terrific play or read to set up a teammate for a scoring chance. His first step quickness needs to improve; in all directions (he particularly seems to struggle making quick directional changes). However, his top speed is pretty good for a bigger winger and when you combine that with his puck protection ability and skill, you have a player who can really create chances in transition. Really, the profile is going to be extremely enticing. But then you come to these holes in his game that make you question the likelihood of him reaching his extremely high upside. Is Musty going to have a draft year like Brandon Saad? All eyes will certainly be on the former first overall selection.
5. Carson Rehkopf - Center/Wing - Kitchener Rangers
Rehkopf is a big forward with a real projectable frame/skill combination. It's easy to see him becoming an NHL player in some capacity. I think we'll learn a lot more about his offensive potential this season in Kitchener, but as of right now, he needs to be ranked highly as a potential first round pick. The big, power forward skates well. He plays through defenders but possesses enough skill to also play around them. He protects the puck well down low and consistently finds his way to the net. He can play in any situation. The questions that I have this year are; a) is he a center or wing long term? b) can his shot and shooting mechanics develop further? and c) can he elevate the players around him as a playmaker? The Rangers should be pretty good this year and I'm hoping Rehkopf can find his way into an integral role amongst that deep group.
6. Ethan Miedema - Wing - Windsor Spitfires
Miedema was probably the biggest disappointment for me at the Hockey Canada U18 camp this summer for the Hlinka. I thought that he would be a near lock going in, but his performance at camp was quite underwhelming. And I say this as someone who really believes in Miedema as a prospect. It is not too often you find a big winger with the vision and offensive awareness that he possesses. As he continues to add strength and becomes more difficult to separate from the puck, he is going to be lethal down low with how he sees the ice. I think the skill level and creativity are also quite high. What I'm now concerned with is his skating ability and his aforementioned strength. Those were the two areas that he really needed to improve upon this offseason, and at that HC camp, those were the two areas that held him back from performing better. If he can show growth, I think his offensive upside is high enough for him to be a first round selection. If not, he probably slips a great deal because of concerns over his mobility hindering his NHL potential.
7. Beau Akey - Defense - Barrie Colts
I was really disappointed that Akey end up getting injured at the Hlinka camp and was unable to participate. I thought he had a great chance of making the team. Few 2005 born players improved over the course of last year the way that Akey did. His mobility is a real asset for him. He's a naturally gifted skater. Due to his quickness and agility, he can lead the attack and push deep into the offensive zone with control, something we saw him start to do late in the year last season. However, I also like Akey's sense and feel in the defensive end. A potentially mobile two-way defender, I think he has great upside and I think that if he has a good year, he'll end up a potential first round selection in a weaker draft pool for defenders. I just hope that the injury he suffered is minor and does not linger this season because he should play a key role for the Colts.
8. Matthew Mania - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Maybe a bit shocking to some to see Mania ranked this high considering his production was mediocre. However, I am a big fan of his game. Among the defenders on this list, his offensive upside is the highest. He is electric leading the attack. His ability to blend skill with quickness to evade checks is impressive and I think he can be a big time point producer on the back-end. How will his defensive game develop this year? Will he be more consistent? Will he be more confident? So many questions, but I just can't ignore the upside here. In many of Sudbury's games last year, Mania would be fairly quiet except for a few dynamic plays every game. It's those dynamic plays that lead me to believe that he can do those types of things on the regular with more experience.
9. Coulson Pitre - Wing - Flint Firebirds
The top late born 2004 from the OHL (at least currently IMO), Pitre is a skilled power winger. He's consistently dialed in physically and is excellent in puck pursuit. He's not the biggest (6'0, 165lbs last year), but he is scrappy as all hell. If he had a good offseason conditioning program, he could be a very, very good OHL player this year with added strength on the puck and the chance to finish on more of the chances that he is creating. The skating is good. It could get better. The offensive ceiling remains a bit of a mystery. However, these are the types of players that I really like (if you know anything about me) and I have high expectations for Pitre this season.

10. Denver Barkey - Center - London Knights
There is a good group of talented, but slightly smaller forwards in this 2005 Ontario crop and I think Barkey has a chance to be the best of the bunch. He was actually really impressive through the first two months of last year, but then he hit a wall and found himself buried on a deep London team. When he played later in the year, it looked like he had lost confidence in his ability to create; the same confidence that was impressive early on. However, he had a very strong Hlinka/Gretzky for Canada and I hope that really gets him going heading into this season. The Knights won't be quite as loaded up front as usual, so there's an opening for him to grab a top six spot. As he proved as the Hlinka/Gretzky, Barkey is tenacious. He's quick. He's intelligent. However, he's also more skilled and creative than he showed while playing that PK, high energy role. I'm very excited to see how Barkey plays this year. Is he a low key candidate to lead the Knights in scoring?

11. Nick Lardis - Wing - Peterborough Petes
There's a lot to like about Lardis' game. He's lightning quick and he loves to take the puck wide to beat defenders one on one. I think he projects best as a complementary goal scorer who can use his speed to play well off the puck and to get himself into scoring position. To do that, his off puck play and physical engagement level will need to increase...or at least become more consistent. I thought he played well enough at the HC Hlinka camp to crack that team, so that's encouraging. I also want to see how Lardis' game rounds out this year. Can he be a difference maker when the game slows down and when he's not able to use his speed on the puck?

12. Matthew Soto - Wing - Kingston Frontenacs
Speaking of speed, insert Matthew Soto. Like Lardis, he is at his best when he can fly down the wing with the puck and look to take the puck to the net or cut to the middle. I think his off puck play has a little more potential too. Later in the year we saw Soto more consistently engaged in all three zones and at the HC camp, I liked the increase in physical intensity. That should serve him well. My concern is whether the hands are good enough to play at the blistering pace that he wants to play at. The same could be said about his shot and finishing ability. This year in Kingston, where Soto will get lots of ice time, we should get a better idea of whether he projects as a top six winger or more of a bottom six, change of pace, high energy guy.

13. Oliver Bonk - Defense - London Knights
Bonk looked very good in limited games with London last year, so it really wasn't all that surprising to see him perform well at the HC camp to grab a spot on the Hlinka team. There is a very well rounded profile here. I like the IQ at both ends a lot; you can tell that he's the son of a former high end player (Radek Bonk). He is really strong and consistent at starting the breakout and has great scanning habits with the puck. Defensively, his positioning is sound and I liked the increase in physical intensity shown at the Hlinka/Gretzky. I hope this carries over to the OHL season. The million dollar question this year will be...does he have a true standout quality that makes him a potential top four NHL defender? I think there's room for him to improve his four way mobility and his quickness. It's not poor, but it's not an extreme strength either IMO. London seems to be headed for a bit of a transition year, so it does look like he'll get some quality ice time this season.

14. Alexis Daviault - Defense - Sarnia Sting
No question, Daviault was one of the best 2005 born defenders in the OHL last year. He played a lot for Sarnia and showed positive progression over the course of the year. His confidence with the puck really seemed to blossom by the end of the year and we saw him extending his rushes and trying to create in transition. The overall mobility is solid, which is good given that he's not the biggest defender out there. I also like the tenacity he brings to defending, key for a slight defender. He wasn't always winning battles last year, but he was consistently engaged. Like Bonk, I think Daviault is intelligent at both ends and should have a good year for the Sting. But is Daviault dynamic enough offensively? That's the question I'm looking to have answered this year. I think he's someone who is going to have to prove that he can be a consistent play creator to remain in contention for a high draft pick. His value would be less as a "safer" two-way guy given that he's not the biggest or longest. Easier to project him to the pro level if he can be a high end puck mover.

15. Donovan McCoy - Defense - Peterborough Petes
The second late born 2004 to be listed, McCoy was one of my favourites in his OHL draft crop. However, his rookie year had a lot of ups and downs. Even within games, there were consistency issues with his decision making and effectiveness. But, much like Matthew Mania, I believe in the potential because if those really good moments become more prevalent, he's going to be a very good draft prospect. Later in the year we did see McCoy break out of his shell as a puck carrier. He can be impactful as a puck mover because he skates well and can escape pressure. I think he has good potential in the defensive end too because he's got good size, plays physical, and uses his mobility as an asset. It's just a matter of how everything comes together for him this season.

16. Alex Pharand - Center - Sudbury Wolves
Yes...I am a sucker for power forwards. The production for Pharand was only mediocre, but I'm really interested to see how he plays over a full year with his hometown Wolves. Like I mentioned with Rehkopf, Pharand has many potential pro qualities. Big kid who plays a power game but who also shows potential to be an above average skater. He can drive the net. He can play physical and apply pressure in puck retrieval scenarios. He can hold the wall. How skilled is he as a distributor? Can he be an offensive leader? Is he truly a center long term or does he project better as a winger? Lots of questions, but I really like his physical potential. 

17. Luca Pinelli - Wing/Center - Ottawa 67's
Really liked the progression that Pinelli showed over the course of the previous OHL season. Early on in the year, he was a complete non factor. But by season's end, he looked like a different player. There are a lot of similarities between he and his brother Francesco. Both are skilled. Both are tenacious. There's a nice middle six ceiling here if he can continue to evolve as a two-way player and off puck threat. I loved the energy he brought at the HC Hlinka camp. He was very effective on the forecheck and embraced the high-energy role that they seemed to be auditioning him for. How Pinelli's draft season goes will depend on the progress of his skating development. Like his brother, Luca needs to improve his quickness and top end speed. 

18. Angus MacDonell - Center/Wing - Sarnia Sting
Effort and energy are the name of the game here. MacDonell was always noticeable for Sarnia with how he used his speed to attack, no matter the score. He's not huge, but he sure is tenacious. A former captain with the Toronto Marlboros, it's not going to be long before he's wearing a letter for the Sting too. I think MacDonell also has potential as a goal scorer. He tracks the play well, has good hands, and can really rifle the puck. But what's the upside here? Is he a potential, all situations center who can be an offensive leader? Is he a scoring, complementary winger who can open up space? Or is he more of a bottom six, high energy, PK type? Let's see how this year goes.

19. Carey Terrance - Center/Wing - Erie Otters
Speed is the name of the game here. Terrance is a dynamic mover who can be deadly in transition. The rest of his game? I'm just not sure. I thought that the Hlinka/Gretzky would give us a good indication of his development and how he might look this year, but that wasn't the case as Terrance didn't have a terrific tournament. He looked good when he could attack with speed or support the rush, but inside the offensive zone, he was mostly a passenger. Is Terrance a center or a winger? Can he develop the other parts of his game to give him significant offensive upside? I think he still needs to be rated pretty highly given his speed and transitional abilities, but I have more questions than answers right now.

20. Adam Zidlicky - Wing - Kitchener Rangers
Every time I saw Kitchener play last year, I came away impressed with Zidlicky's energy and effort from the fourth line. It was great to see him get a good chance with the Czech Hlinka team, playing a first line role (even if his performance was inconsistent). Like some of the other guys in this range, I'm just unsure of the high end offensive potential. The Rangers are going to be good this year and Zidlicky is not likely to be more than a bottom six winger. Can he show progression in a limited role?

21. Tristan Bertucci - Defense - Flint Firebirds
If Bertucci can show more offensively this season, he is going to move up this list quickly. He is an excellent athlete on the blueline. His four way mobility is a real strength. He showed well as a defense first type of defender as a rookie, rarely looking to take chances offensively, but rarely making errors either. I think the IQ at both ends is really good. But is Bertucci a true NHL prospect or more likely a solid five year junior player? 

22. Cole Brown - Wing - Hamilton Bulldogs
Brown didn't play a ton last year due to the Bulldogs' excellent depth, but when called upon to play up in the lineup, he was good. He is a big winger who already has a clear understanding of how to use his size at the OHL level. He takes up position net front and he works the wall well. He also shows potential as a carrier in transition. I think the first step quickness needs to improve. As does his four way mobility (being more deceptive instead of straight North/South). I'm also uncertain of his true offensive ceiling and overall skill level. But there are some pro qualities here and I'm curious to see how he handles more ice time this season.

23. Juan Copeland - Wing - Niagara IceDogs
One of the youngest players eligible this year with an early September birthday, Copeland is a speedy, scoring winger who played well for a rebuilding Niagara team last year. The focus for him has to be adding strength to play through traffic more effectively. Additionally, he needs to be able to show that he has the IQ and awareness to be a difference maker when the game slows down (like several other "speedy" types listed here).

24. Marco Mignosa - Wing - Soo Greyhounds
Mignosa could be in line for a big breakout year if he was able to improve his athletic tools over the summer. He's intelligent. He's skilled. However, there is a need to upgrade his quickness and his strength. He is going to get a chance to play big minutes on a rebuilding Greyhounds team this year and he could move up lists quickly if he can show that the skating has improved.

25. Alex Assadourian - Center - Sudbury Wolves
Another high energy, tenacious attacker, there's a lot to like about Assadourian. He's a real spark plug who can impact the game with his speed. He showed flashes of high end skill last year too, especially as a playmaking pivot. At his size, he's going to have to put up offensive numbers though. I think he has the capability to do it, but this serves as a moderate ranking for now.

26. Luke McNamara - Center - Saginaw Spirit
McNamara didn't have the kind of season he was probably capable of, but few on Saginaw did last year. I think he needs to be listed due to his offensive potential and combination of size and skill. The tools are all there. Adding strength and increasing his physical intensity level are musts.

27. Owen Outwater - Wing - North Bay Battalion
Similar to McNamara. Outwater is very intriguing because of his combination of size and speed. But he got lost in the shuffle on a fairly deep North Bay team and he struggled with consistency due to a lack of strength. What's the offensive ceiling? If he takes a step forward as a skilled player this year, he'll move up rankings quickly.
28. Ethan Hay - Center - Flint Firebirds
A standout on the penalty kill for the Firebirds last year, Hay is one of the most intriguing 2005 centers heading into this year IMO. He did a lot with a limited role last year. Showed flashes of speed, skill, a big shot, and physicality. I'm just not sure how it all comes together and what the upside is. But he could move quickly if he shows well early. There's a lot to like.

29. Michael Podolioukh - Center - North Bay Battalion
Maybe an inclusion on this list that might catch some off guard because the late born 2004 didn't put up great numbers last year. However, I thought he was great in a bottom six role for the Battalion and I think he showed a lot of potential as a two-way, power center. Maybe the offensive upside is limited. It's possible. However, he showed flashes of being a skilled attacker last year and I could see him being the next in line of bigger North Bay forwards who develop slowly...but well. 

30. Konnor Smith - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Another late born 2004, Smith proved himself to be one of the OHL's most feared body checkers last year. Yeah, he needs to be more disciplined, but his physicality and size (6'5, 205lbs) will be intriguing to scouts. I thought he also showed some intriguing puck skill and flashed the ability to carry too. Improving his mobility further will be the focus, but I like the size and tools.
Honorable Mentions
Matthew Jovanovic - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
People have forgotten about Jovanovic, once considered to be one of the best 2004 born defenders in Ontario. He was a high profile signing by Saginaw, but has yet to play due to injuries. The late born defender is first year eligible in 2023 and can hopefully hit the ice at some point this year. He is currently listed as still injured on the Spirit training camp roster.

Jackson Parsons - Goaltender - Kitchener Rangers
Smaller, but athletic netminder who has a chance to be the starter in Kitchener this year. Another late born 2004.

Matthew Mayich - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Another late born 2004. Mayich is a physical, stay at home defender. Not the biggest, but he competes. How his offensive game develops this year will be key to his draft odds.

Joseph Costanzo - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
Probably the best 2005 goaltender in the OHL. Looked really good at times for a bad Niagara team last season. Curious to see how he looks this year. Another goalie on the smaller side, so will need to be fantastic to be on the draft radar.

Valentin Zhugin - Wing - Guelph Storm
Late born 2004 winger from Russia shows dynamic offensive ability at times. Consistency was a major issue as a rookie. If he irons that out, he could move quickly.

Sebastien Gervais - Wing - Saginaw Spirit
Winger was a surprise to make the Spirit last year after being a 12th round selection. But he was excellent. Shows great offensive awareness. Has potential to develop a competitive two-way game. He was honestly close to making my Top 30 (last player I cut from the list).

PJ Forgione - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Big, physical, two-way defender shows a lot of promise at both ends. Curious to see how his game improves this year. 

Justin Cloutier - Wing - Soo Greyhounds
Undersized winger who competes hard and skates well. Offensive upside is significant. However, strength deficits really limited his impact as a rookie. At 5'7 (although hopefully he's hit a bit of a growth spurt), he's going to need to produce significantly to be on the draft radar.

Cal Uens - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Entered the league as a hybrid forward/defender, but has settled in on the blueline. Not a big kid, but he's an intelligent puck mover with good offensive upside. He's also going to have to put up points to be on the draft radar.

Calem Mangone - Wing - Saginaw Spirit
I really like Mangone. He always caught my eye when I saw Saginaw. Oozes skill. Really fun player to watch. A late born 2004 who is also undersized, I want to see how he performs this year before ranking him in the Top 30.

Chris Barlas - Center - Ottawa 67's
The former #12 pick didn't really have a great rookie year. He competes hard. But I'm not sure the offensive upside is significant. We'll see how he plays this year.

Bronson Ride - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Massive defender didn't play a ton as a rookie on a strong Windsor team, but definitely has pro potential. Very intriguing athletic skill set. Adjusting to the pace and gaining confidence with the puck are still focal points.

Appearing Soon

Hunter Brzustewicz - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
Kimo Gruber - Center - Oshawa Generals
Joseph Willis - Center - Saginaw Spirit

Monday, August 29, 2022

Top 25 OHL Prospects - Summer of 2022

It certainly was great to have the OHL back playing again this past year. It was a remarkable season with some standout individual performances (like Wyatt Johnston exploding to capture the Red Tilson), and standout team performances (how about Hamilton's dominant run and Windsor capturing the West?). 
As per the usual, I'm ranking the Top 25 NHL prospects who played in the OHL this past year. Usually it serves as the culmination of my '32 Teams in 32 Days" segment, but this year it stands alone. Unfortunately, I just don't have the time anymore (especially with my role as director at McKeen's Hockey) to continue that series. But many of the traditions that I have done for years will remain; this being one of them.
1. Mason McTavish - Anaheim Ducks
It is just so easy to see McTavish becoming a long time NHL player. And not just as someone who's hanging around the bottom six. He is going to be a quality front line option. He is just so powerful. His skating has come such a long way, especially his confidence on his edges and his balance. It has made him so difficult to separate from the puck. Pro defenders will have the same issues once McTavish's conditioning and strength improves further. His shot is such a valuable weapon for him too. Really, McTavish has morphed himself into a prospect without a true weakness and for that, he is my number one. I can't wait to see he and Trevor Zegras on the first powerplay unit for years to come in Anaheim. 
2. Shane Wright - Seattle Kraken
Honestly, I think falling to fourth overall might just be the best thing that could have happened to Wright. This is a player who has not really had to play with adversity on the ice (off the ice in Don Mills, of course, is another story), and who I think really needed to be challenged; to be given a chip. Plus, Seattle is such an amazing spot for him. Matty Beniers is going to be a very good role model for him as a fellow young player because that is the way scouts have been asking Wright to play. There was certainly some disappointment in Kingston this year, but I've written at length about that already. I do think it was structural and strategy a degree. There is nothing wrong with his tool set. It's about finding that playing identity again. Not sure he's ready for the NHL next year, but wouldn't shock me at all if he did crack the Kraken roster.
3. Wyatt Johnston - Dallas Stars
Holy moly...what a development curve. Happy to say that I was wrong about Johnston last year, when I said I was unsure of his upside. Johnston was the only choice for the Red Tilson this year (he certainly got my vote). Biggest difference for me was in his skating. He clearly worked very hard to become more explosive and the results spoke for themselves. He did whatever he wanted on the ice for the majority of this year and flat out dominated the majority of his shifts. Does he have a shot to make Dallas this year? Yeah I think he does. Would another year in the OHL hurt him? Absolutely not. I do think that he could continue to improve his shot and the consistency of his physicality. Scary as it sounds, I think he has yet another gear that he could get to. 
4. Brandt Clarke - Los Angeles Kings
Would I truly say that Clarke improved a ton this year? Not quite sure. Easy to forget that his draft year was a mess for him though and that his development may have been altered because of it. He's still extremely skilled and such an intelligent player. The defensive game will come, I still believe that. The skating and its growth will be the true hindrance between him being a top pairing NHL defender or someone who plays lower down the lineup in a more sheltered role. There's definitely an opening for Clarke to seize in LA this coming season. I'd be shocked if he didn't get a look to some degree in training camp and was a late return to the OHL (if returned at all). But, as I said with Johnston, returning to the OHL for another year wouldn't be the worst for Clarke.
5. Pavel Mintyukov - Anaheim Ducks
I thought about putting Mintyukov ahead of Clarke. They're very close for me as NHL prospects. However, I do think that Mintyukov is just a notch behind Clarke as a processor. But you know how highly I think of Mintyukov if you read my draft coverage this year. He is just such a fun player to watch because of how skilled he is and because of how assertive he is. As the Spirit improve as a team around him, I think Mintyukov is going to really improve his overall game too. His upside is through the roof as an offensive defender.
6. Brennan Othmann - New York Rangers
I really like the progression that Othmann showed this year in Flint. He really didn't disappoint and led that team to a pretty special year. His shot is fantastic. He is such a weapon on the powerplay...and from anywhere on the ice really, because of it. I'm always a sucker for players who can impact the game physically like he can too. There's still some things for him to work on. His game management and decision making in the offensive end remains inconsistent. He also needs to find a way to be more disciplined. However, I like the trajectory he is on right now; one that could see him becoming a quality top six NHL forward, and goal scorer.
7. Luke Evangelista - Nashville Predators
What a fantastic season for Evangelista, his final year in the OHL. Due to the way that they did the Red Tilson Trophy voting this year, he got robbed as in my opinion, he should have been the runner up to Johnston. He really put London on his back this past year and became the dominant offensive force that we expected him to. Biggest difference was his strength on the puck. His hands in tight quarters have always been good, but by being more sturdy and physically assertive, he was able to excel playing through traffic consistently. His play away from the puck and attention to detail defensively really improved too. Excited to see what he does at the pro level next year.
8. David Goyette - Seattle Kraken
I was honestly shocked to see Goyette fall the way he did at the NHL draft. And I'm still going to rank him aggressively in this list. Does his consistency need to improve? Yes. Does he need to do a better job of finding his way to the inside? Yes. Is there room for him to improve his play away from the puck? Yes. But, we had those concerns about a player named Jordan Kyrou before too. He is coming off his first year in the league and on a young team. He will improve. His skating ability is impressive and his offensive ceiling is very high. If he doesn't take a step forward this coming year, then I'll be more concerned about those faults.
9. Owen Beck - Montreal Canadiens  
The Canadiens did very well to grab Beck in the early second round this year. His game is tailored for the way that the game is played in the NHL these days. It's easy to see him becoming a quality middle six center for many years. What I really want to see from him this season is the ability to alter his pace to keep plays alive. He can impress with his ability to gain the zone, but quite often those rushes do not result in prolonged possession for Mississauga. As he gains confidence in his skill with the puck and improves his ability to play through contact, he should be able to slow the game down and subsequently become more consistent.

10. Tyson Foerster - Philadelphia Flyers
He didn't spend much time in the OHL this year, but he needs to be included in this list after finishing the year in Barrie thanks to an injury at the pro level. Honestly, I thought that he would look a bit better upon returning to Barrie...but it's also hard to hold that against him considering the injury issues and late start. He should have been sent back right from the get-go like O'Rourke. His skating and pace of play, in addition to his ability to create his own chances, still needs to improve. However, the other players ranked around here have their own faults. Foerster can rifle the puck and he's intelligent enough away from the puck to be a long time complementary goal scorer at the NHL level. I thought he also showed quite well at the WJC's, helping Canada capture gold recently.
11. Luca Del Bel Belluz - Columbus Blue Jackets
Affectionately known as LDBB, Del Bel Belluz is coming off of a breakout season with the Steelheads that saw him drafted in the second round of the NHL Draft. There is lots to like about his game; size and puck protection ability from the middle, a high IQ, and strong finishing skill. I do believe that aspects of his skating made great strides over the year. He can be tough to pin down with his agility and ability to pick up speed out of cuts/pivots. However, his straight line speed, ability to maintain speed, and confidence moving East/West still need to improve. Excited to see those potential improvements this year. He's definitely a potential middle six center at the NHL level. He already looked better at the Hockey Canada summer camp recently.
12. Ben Gaudreau - San Jose Sharks
Maybe a shock to see Gaudreau ranked this highly. Maybe I'm crazy. But I still think that he's a potential NHL starting netminder. The stats last year weren't great, but they don't tell the whole story. Sarnia gave up a lot of high end scoring chances and he was consistently left out to dry. I think Gaudreau is going to prove this coming season that he is one of the better goaltending prospects in the NHL. I think he has a great year for Sarnia and I think he ends up being the starter for Canada at the 2023 WJC's (in December).
13. Ethan Del Mastro - Chicago Blackhawks
There were few players in the OHL this year that raised their prospect stock as much as Del Mastro, in my opinion. He was fantastic for a surprising Steelheads team. He should have never fallen to the 4th round. Every aspect of his game just continues to improve; skating, poise with the puck, offensive and defensive reads, physicality. At the Hockey Canada summer camp, he was the best defender there...including Brandt Clarke and some other highly touted prospects. That's why he was added to the August WJC team (even if he struggled a bit at that event). If his steady rate of improvement continues, he could become a top four NHL defender.
14. Ryan O'Rourke - Minnesota Wild
At this point, I think we know what O'Rourke is. He had a good year as the captain of the Hounds, returning from the pro ranks. He's mean. He has a big shot. He's smart. However, I do think that there are some limitations to what he'll be able to do at the NHL level. He's still only an average four-way mover for a defender of his size. He makes up for that with good positioning and a tenacious mindset. But it likely limits what he'll be able to do offensively. O'Rourke likely settles into a #4-6 role with Minnesota in the next few years and should be a long time pro.
15. Francesco Pinelli - Los Angeles Kings
The Rangers captain had a good, but not great year this past season. I think we definitely saw some areas of improvement, but I also think that there is still room for him to get quicker, stronger on the puck, and for his decision making with the puck to be more consistent. This is going to be a really big year for Pinelli to prove that he can be one of the best players in the OHL. 
16. Matyas Sapovaliv - Vegas Golden Knights
I had Sapovaliv ranked slightly ahead of Del Bel Belluz in my final draft rankings, but based on the improvements that I saw from LDBB at the Hockey Canada summer camp, I'm flip flopping them. I really like Sapovaliv's potential to develop into a quality middle six, two-way center. He can really have a positive influence on the game with his reach and ability to protect the puck. This coming year, I'm going to be looking for him to improve his first step quickness, his physical tenacity, and his offensive consistency on a better Saginaw team.

17. Paul Ludwinski - Chicago Blackhawks
Will Ludwinski be this year's Wyatt Johnston? Someone who comes out of nowhere to become one of the OHL's best? I've seen and heard the comparison. I think it's possible. The only thing is that Kingston doesn't project to be as good as Windsor was this season. I think Ludwinski is definitely capable of being well above the point per game mark and really raising his stock. At some point, the hands will catch up to the feet and he'll be able to consistently push the pace as an offensive lead. I still think that his projection is that of a quality third line piece, but I would have said the same thing last year about Wyatt Johnston.

18. Ty Nelson - Seattle Kraken
Bit of a tough year for the former OHL first overall selection. His performance was a bit erratic and as such, he fell down to the third round of the NHL draft. He can be an exciting player, but I do agree with some of the projection concerns. He has an intriguing skill set at both ends. His big shot, puck skill, and quick feet make him a candidate to be one of the best powerplay QB's in the league, but he's finding his way as a game manager. Defensively, he makes up for a lack of reach/height by being extremely tenacious. However, he has some bad defensive habits that will need correcting; this should come as he gains experience. Without question, Nelson is a project, but one who could pay off down the line for Seattle.

19. Will Cuylle - New York Rangers
Cuylle had a pretty terrific year for the Spitfires, emerging as the top flight, high scoring, power forward that we thought he had the potential to become. However, it was his play away from the puck that really took a nice step forward IMO. It gives him a safer floor as a pro because he's now a pretty versatile player who can be utilized in a lot of different roles (see his performance for Canada at the WJC's). The skating has improved, but his explosiveness will need to improve further for him to be a top six player in the NHL. 
20. Jack Thompson - Tampa Bay Lightning  
I feel pretty confident that Thompson will carve out a niche at the NHL level at some point. Maybe it will take him time at the AHL level. He may not make the NHL until he's 23-24, but I do think he's a safe bet. Sometimes defenders like him can struggle because they do so many things well, but nothing at an elite level to help them stand out. But I do think Thompson projects as an above average skater at the next level and his shot and offensive instincts are going to help him put up some points. The key will be the continued improvement in his defensive game, which has already improved a ton. He's ready for the next level.

21. Ryan Winterton - Seattle Kraken
Man, Winterton just needs to stay healthy. I've always been a fan and I continue to be a fan. When he played this year, he was great. He has so many strong pro attributes. He looked quicker this year too and was really strong leading the charge in transition. There were so many times later in the year where I thought he was McTavish (both of their numbers start with "2"). That's a major compliment. It's a shame that he got pretty banged up again by the Memorial Cup. He stays healthy next year and I think he has a chance to be one of the better players in the OHL.

22. Matvey Petrov - Edmonton Oilers
Wow, what a statement by Petrov in his first year in the league. I honestly didn't know what to expect after his disappointing draft year in the MHL. He exceeded everyone's expectations and has really put himself on the map as an NHL prospect to watch. His shot is electric and he is more skilled with the puck than I thought he was. Additionally, his vision with the puck is pretty good. He's more than just a scorer. He flashes a real high intensity level at times, but it needs to be more consistent. And he's a bit of a mess in the defensive zone and in the neutral zone. However, this is a player with significant upside. He could lead the OHL in goal scoring next year. 

23. Daniil Chayka - Vegas Golden Knights
Did Chayka really take that next step this past year? I would argue no. He's still a solid pro prospect and he didn't have a "poor" year, but I thought we would see significant strides taken, with him emerging as one of the OHL's top defenders. That just wasn't the case. He struggles with his decision making under pressure at times. He still needs to increase his physical intensity in the defensive zone. There's still room for improvement in his four way mobility. Vegas may need to be patient with him as he starts his pro career next season.
24. Sasha Pastujov - Anaheim Ducks
I just wish the skating was better. I thought about keeping him outside of the Top 25, but there are a lot of components to his game that I really like. Once he gets into the offensive zone, he's a real weapon at this level. He can really shoot the puck. His offensive instincts are good. He competes hard and can be difficult to separate from the puck. He escapes pressure along the wall and keeps plays alive with good agility and edgework. But the explosiveness and speed deficits are real. He needs to improve that going into next season. There's still a strong chance that his development arc could be similar to someone like Tyler Toffoli.

25. Arber Xhekaj - Montreal Canadiens
There's obviously quite a few guys that I could have included at the final spot. Lots of good NHL prospects didn't crack the list. I just have to go with my gut and list Xhekaj. I've been on the Xhekaj train for quite some time. I've watched him improve from fringe OHL player to OHL star and Champion. This year, he commanded attention. There were many games, especially late in the year and in the playoffs, where he was the best player on the ice for either team. He is a legitimate NHL prospect. He obviously needs to be more disciplined...without sacrificing the way he plays. He also will need to clean up his decision making with the puck at the NHL level. Turnovers are an issue as he tries to force things exiting the defensive zone. But, I think he can make those adjustments. He's made many others over his OHL career and there's no reason to suggest that he can't continue to improve.
Honorable Mentions (listed alphabetically)
Jack Beck - Calgary Flames 
A bad kidney injury kept Beck out of action for a while this year, but when he played, I thought we saw some very positive steps forward from him, worthy of placing him on this list. He's just such an intelligent player. His instincts in both the offensive and defensive zone are outstanding, among the best of any player in the OHL. The good news is that I think he improved his skating a lot, to get it at least into that average range. Can it improve even further next year?

Josh Bloom - Buffalo Sabres
Anyone who reads my work knows that I'm a huge Bloom fan. I wanted to get him in the Top 25, but I just couldn't justify it...yet. This is a hard working, two-way winger who also happens to be an intelligent playmaker. He transformed himself into more than just a complementary winger this year too. He showed that he could create his own scoring chances and be dangerous with the puck on his stick on a more consistent basis. I think he has a monster season this coming year.
Tyler Boucher - Ottawa Senators 
Look, it's not Tyler Boucher's fault that Ottawa took him as high as they did. In his short stint with Ottawa to close out the year, he showed some promising things. The physicality is a highlight. However, I think he will score in this league next year and become a point per game player. Just how high his upside is will likely be shown to us in the OHL this coming season.

Martin Chromiak - Los Angeles Kings
To be honest, I was little disappointed by Chromiak's play this past season. This is coming from someone who has always been a big fan. Though this is kind of a theme for many of the Fronts players this year. Chromiak is a solid player. He's smart. He's a solid complementary option. But, I didn't see a huge improvement in his athletic tools this year to make him a real game changer. I still like his odds of being a potential middle six option down the line, but it may take a bit.

Brandon Coe - San Jose Sharks
The OHL arc of Coe was quite fascinating. Drafted as a project because of his speed and size combination, it was looking like he was slowly morphing into more of a checking line prospect. Then the offensive explosion happened this year where his hands caught up to his feet and he became one of the most creative offensive players in the league. He was downright impossible for a lot of defenders to handle in transition. A lot of this came as the expense of his play away from the puck. If we could find a way to really make him a complete player, he'd be a top prospect.

Lucas Edmonds - Tampa Bay Lightning
What a great story Edmonds was this year. Came to Kingston from Sweden, had a tremendous season, and became an NHL draft pick. No question the skating will need to continue to improve. He'll also have to find a way to be consistently effective in the slot, improving his ability to play through traffic. Yet, he's highly skilled & highly intelligent. This is a great combination.

Isaiah George - New York Islanders
Was pretty shocked that George fell at the NHL Draft the way that he did. There are certainly some valid questions about his decision making with the puck. He needs to clean some things up. However, he's already one of the better skaters in the OHL and I feel like he's going to be taught by London's coaching staff how to unlock his potential thanks to that skating ability. George is already a better defensive player than Victor Mete was at the same age and the Hunters worked magic with him as an OHL player (even if his NHL potential has not been reached).
Daniil Gushchin - San Jose Sharks 
It was pretty hard for anyone to stand out on Niagara this year given the team's state of rebuild. But Gushchin did manage to do that on a lot of occasions. He is extremely skilled and I think he's more competitive than a lot of people given him credit for. He's still a long term project for San Jose. He's going to take a few years in the AHL to truly assess. But the upside is high.

Mack Guzda - Florida Panthers
Florida jumped on Guzda early in the year as a free agent signing. He was one of the OHL's most improved players this season and one of the league's top goalies. He was so good for Barrie all year long. He's got great size and he has worked really hard to improve his play tracking ability and quickness. I could definitely see him becoming an NHL netminder at some point in the future.
Hunter Haight - Minnesota Wild
Expectations were pretty high for Haight coming into his NHL draft year, but consistency ended up being an issue for him. However, he was still a high second round selection for a reason; he has the skill set to eventually develop into a top six NHL player. Lots to like here and I would expect him to take a nice step forward this coming year. 
Gavin Hayes - Chicago Blackhawks
Hayes was a personal favourite of mine from this recent NHL draft class from the OHL. I think the Hawks got a good one where they selected him. The shot is top notch and he has such great potential to impact the game physically, playing a high energy role. He just has to keep improving his ability to play with the puck and his confidence in carrying to be a more consistent presence.
Rory Kerins - Calgary Flames
There are a lot of reasons to like Kerins. He competes at both ends. He has a good scoring in touch in tight and good instincts in the offensive zone (in general). He will need to continue to improve his speed and quickness to be an impactful pro, but I like his odds of carving out an NHL career in some capacity. He will find a niche.

Logan Mailloux - Montreal Canadiens
Evaluating him as a hockey player and a hockey player alone for a list like this. As an NHL drafted player (and highly), he needs to be discussed. Overall, tough to evaluate the progress he made considering how little he played between his suspension and his shoulder injury. Upside remains high because of his combination of skill and length on the blueline. 

Leevi Merilainen - Ottawa Senators
Came into the OHL season with a fair amount of hype and I don't think he really lived up to it. He was solid on a lot of nights, but I didn't see a ton of ability to truly steal least not like he had shown internationally and in Finland. IMO, his play tracking ability and overall positioning needs to improve. Worthy of being listed as an HM here though.
Jan Mysak - Montreal Canadiens
It was kind of a tough year for Mysak IMO, despite playing for such a strong team in Hamilton. Once Mason McTavish arrived, he kind of took a back seat. Truthfully, I'm not sure I saw a ton of development over his OHL career. He can still drive the net and beat defenders with power, and he's still a solid presence in the slot area, however, his upside could be limited IMO. Interested to see how his development goes the next few seasons in the AHL.
Oskar Olausson - Colorado Avalanche
One of the biggest disappointments for me this year. Has a good shot and skates with power in a straight line, but I'm just not sure how well he sees the ice and thinks the game. He just was not the consistent impact player many expected him to be as an NHL first rounder. There are definitely some qualities of a solid pro, but he may take some patience.
Tucker Robertson - Seattle Kraken
Was really happy to see Robertson get selected fairly high this year by Seattle. Huge fan of his and what he brings to the table. He's just such a versatile player and I don't think people truly realise how good he was for Peterborough this past season. His versatility is impressive. Really excited to see if he can take his game to yet another level this season.
Nathan Staios - Florida Panthers
While I do have some concerns over how his game translates to the pro level, it's hard not to include the year's Max Kaminsky winner in a list like this. Florida made a solid acquisition by signing him. His skating can be a real asset and he has worked hard to become better and more consistently engaged in the defensive end. Can the decision making continue to improve?
Antonio Stranges - Dallas Stars
Another guy that I'm sceptical of as a pro, but you obviously can't deny the skill and skating combination. You also can't deny that he took his game to another level this year and was more dialed in physically.  The Stars have drafted so many quality forwards the last few years, it may be tough for him to truly earn a chance in the next few years. 
Ty Tullio - Edmonton Oilers
Tullio had a really solid year for the Generals, putting them on his back on a lot of nights. His hard work and determination are standout traits that will make him a quality pro. He's small, but he finds his way to the inside and that is key for projection. His ability to continue to improve his explosiveness and top speed will be the key to whether he becomes an NHL player.
Ty Voit - Toronto Maple Leafs
Much like Bloom, I wanted to find a spot in the top 25 for Voit. Again, if you follow my work, you know I'm a huge Voit fan. His ability to play with pace and create chances for his linemates is among the best in the OHL. I think he's going to have a monster OHL season and really put himself on the map as a legitimate NHL prospect.
Zayde Wisdom - Philadelphia Flyers
Wisdom is a player that I have a lot of time for. I don't think he had a terrific year. He looked sluggish at times and wasn't able to bring that speed and hustle in the same way that he did previously. However, I think he's earned a pass given his injury, rehab, and adjustment from the AHL. I'm willing to bet that he has a great offseason and rebounds nicely in the AHL this coming season. Such an easy young man to cheer for.
Danny Zhilkin - Winnipeg Jets
I was actually surprised that Zhilkin fell to the third round of the draft. Given his size, versatility, and speed from the center position, I thought he would go higher. However, perhaps NHL clubs had the same concerns that I had about how he sees the ice with the puck on his stick. Really curious to see how he improves this coming year on a very talented Guelph team.