Monday, August 28, 2023

Preseason Top 30 for the 2024 NHL Draft

It's the end of August and that means a new OHL season is right around the corner. It also means that it's time for me to release my first draft ranking for 2024. To assess these players we've seen them in the OHL (mostly) and for some we've seen them at the U17's and at the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup. Unfortunately, the lack of training camp for the Hlinka (due to Hockey Canada budget cuts) has prevented us from getting a glimpse of improvements made by other players on this list heading into the season, but thems the breaks. 

Of course, a ton is going to change between now and the actual 2024 draft. A lot will likely change before I make my first in season list in October/November. Here was last year's preseason list, as an example.

How would I classify this year's potential OHL crop? Very strong. The defense for this group is outstanding, possessing the potential to be among the best group of blueliners ever from the OHL, rivaling the 2008 draft when the OHL had five first round picks from the back-end. I mean, the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup was evidence of this as nearly all of Canada's blueline came from Ontario. The forwards are not quite as strong, but I'm sure a few will really step up and emerge as first round candidates. 

Here's the list:

1. Sam Dickinson - Defense - London Knights
Honestly, prior to the Hlinka/Gretzky, it was a toss up for me between Dickinson and Henry Mews. But Dickinson was so unbelievably good at that event, he made this a no brainer for me. This is a defender who has pretty much everything going for him. Think if Darnell Nurse and Alex Pietrangelo merged via cloning. He skates very well for a bigger defender. He is so poised in the defensive end with the puck, starting the breakout with ease, even in the face of pressure. He competes hard physically. He has a great stick in the defensive end. He has a booming point shot. He has first pairing NHL workhorse written all over him. This year in London, it will be interesting to see how his confidence as a puck mover grows. Will he be given a leash to take chances in transition, using his feet and hands to lead the breakout? I believe yes. Last year we saw Cam Allen start the year in this position and then falter under high expectations. I don't expect that to happen to Dickinson. I'll be shocked if he's not a top ten pick in June.

2. Henry Mews - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Mews may not be quite as polished as Dickinson, but his upside as a top pairing NHL defender is similar. A coveted right shot defender, Mews is extremely skilled. He has an aggressive offensive mindset and is constantly looking to push the tempo from the back-end. Does that lead to some miscues? Absolutely. He'll need to look to improve his decision making this year. He can be turnover prone in the defensive end as he tries to force things. Sometimes the high percentage, but "boring" play is the right move, especially in the face of a heavy forecheck. I do believe that Mews sees the ice well though and that with experience, he'll develop into a top notch playmaker. From a defensive perspective, he can be a high end player. He doesn't have the elite reach that Dickinson does, but he is mobile, competes hard, and shows strong understanding of how to defend the middle already. This year, as mentioned, it will be completely about assessing Mews' ability to process the game under pressure.

3. Beckett Sennecke - Wing - Oshawa Generals
Let's forget the puzzling Hlinka/Gretzky omission. I think Sennecke enters the year as the top forward available from the OHL. What I love most about his game is his sense and vision. He's such a quick processor in the offensive end. That was evident even as an OHL rookie. At times, he seems a step ahead of the competition, making quick one touch passes or finding those soft spots as a passing option. He's got great hands, flashes high end creativity, and is a strong finisher. Throw all that in a 6'2 frame and you have a potential top six winger at the next level. So what am I looking for this year? The first thing would be improving his skating. I wouldn't classify Sennecke as a poor skater. However, I think a lack of a dynamic burst was evident last year and it prevented him from getting consistent separation from defenders. Additionally, I'm looking for him to improve the consistency of his physical intensity level. Can he be stronger on pucks down low? Can he turn himself into a strong three zone player? Given that I expect Oshawa to improve this year, I have high expectations for Sennecke.

4. Zayne Parekh - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Parekh was already one of the most exciting defenders in the OHL last year as a rookie. He set a new league U17 goal scoring record by a defender with 21 goals. Parekh is pure chaos on the ice with how aggressive he is offensively. He scored a few breakaway goals last year and I think that tells you everything you need to know about him. The Saginaw system, which encourages free flow (essentially experimenting with positionless hockey), is perfect for him, just as it was for Pavel Mintyukov, encouraging his creativity with the puck. As a result, his offensive upside is immense. Outside of his puck skill and vision, Parekh's four way mobility is also an asset. He's terrific on his edges, giving him that elusiveness in tight spaces to help him evade pressure. The million dollar question is, how does Parekh's game transition to the next level? Given his lack of size, can he defend at the NHL level? Will he be as successful in the NHL in a different system that does not promote the kind of freedom that he has in Saginaw? I know that there is skepticism in the scouting community, even if he has his fans too. Right now, the talent is too strong to ignore and he deserves to be ranked accordingly. The points will be there again this year, but the real test will be the improvements that he makes in the defensive end. 

5. Anthony Cristoforo - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Cristoforo is kind of a similar player to Parekh. He shines most in the offensive end currently thanks to his combination of high end skill and high end vision. Even as an OHL rookie, it was rare to see Cristoforo make a poor decision with the puck. He's calm under pressure. He trusts his feet and his vision, always keeping his head up and on a swivel. His upside as a powerplay quarterback is terrific. And while he's certainly a bit bigger than Parekh, there are similar concerns over his ability to defend at the next level. Can he find consistent success in high traffic areas as an OHL sophomore, becoming more difficult to play against? Given his high IQ and his quick feet, he doesn't have to be a bruiser, but increasing his aggressiveness is a must. Given Canada's depth at the Hlinka/Gretzky, he didn't have a great opportunity to show how good he is to a larger audience, but he should have a really strong year with the Spitfires as a lead defender.

6. Liam Greentree - Wing - Windsor Spitfires
Speaking of the Spitfires, insert big winger Liam Greentree. He was so good as an OHL rookie last year. He has really good hands for a bigger winger and his skating is a non issue. He plays well in transition and finishes off plays well in tight with a quick release. Last year, he already showed an ability to fight off checks and pressure to make plays down low, and as he gains further strength, he could be a really tough player to separate from the puck. So what's the next step this year? Like most second year forwards it's proving that he can be a primary play driver and not just a complementary piece. Can he be a consistent force with the puck who can create by driving the net with speed and power? Can he continue to develop physically and incorporate power forward esque tendencies into his approach? 

7. Parker Von Richter - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Definitely a personal favourite of mine early in this 2024 scouting process. Improved by leaps and bounds over the course of his rookie season and was playing top four minutes, well over 20 minutes a night by the playoffs for Mississauga. His strength lies in his play in the defensive end. He shows a really strong understanding of how to defend. Von Richter is one of those players who is always in the right position, showing great poise and anticipation already as a young defender. As the season went on, he gained confidence in his ability to use his size/strength down low and near the crease too. Critical for any strong defensive presence, Von Richter also showed well with the puck in the defensive end, especially in the second half. He started the breakout effectively and was calm in the face of forecheckers. There are two big questions though. 1) Can his skating improve further? I wouldn't call it a weakness, but there were instances last year where a lack of quickness/efficiency in his stride hurt him. Improving his footwork will be the key to him becoming a true defensive standout. 2) What's the offensive upside? We saw him start to gain confidence in his puck moving abilities late last year and I do believe that he has the ability to contribute offensively. But is that a skill that has the potential to carry over? Can't wait to see how he looks this year.

8. Frankie Marrelli - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Late last season, it was like the light bulb switched on for Marrelli. He was better than Henry Mews in the playoffs last year and that carried into this summer's Hlinka/Gretzky when I thought Marrelli was one of Canada's best defenders. He's not a huge defender, but he's tough to play against already. He's very competitive and has a penchant for the big hit, as he looks to step up on attackers early. His lateral and backwards mobility are excellent and it allows him to be a terrific rush defender, when you combine that with his aggressive, suffocating approach. Offensively, I think Marrelli has more to offer us thanks to strong vision and decision making. How skilled is he? That will be the big question mark this year. Given his average size, NHL teams will be looking for him to become a strong two-way presence as 6'0 stay at home types are not the most coveted. 

9. Ben Danford - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Danford didn't have the best Hlinka/Gretzky Cup, but you can't overlook how steady he was for the rebuilding Generals last year. A lot of those weak puck plays that we saw at the Hlinka did not happen last year and I think that points to a young man who was pressing a bit under the pressure of the event and the scouting presence. If anything, I thought Danford's decision making with the puck, especially in the offensive zone, was a strength as a rookie. He holds the offensive blueline well. Danford also defends well, using strong skating ability to stay ahead of attackers. Like a few others on this list, he doesn't have elite size/reach, but he showed well as a rookie with a good stick and anticipation. The key for Danford will be shaking that dreaded, "jack of all trades" label. Here we have an average sized defender who looks good at both ends, but who currently lacks a tool that I would label as well above average. Those can be the types that look great as OHL rookies, but who then fail to take that next step as others catch up to them physically. Right now, he very much deserves to be ranked in this range, but progression will be needed at both ends in order for him to hold this spot.

10. Cole Beaudoin - Center - Barrie Colts
The surprise of the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup as one of Canada's best and most consistent players. Last year as an OHL rookie, I thought he largely looked over his head. His lack of dynamic skating really held him back and kept him behind the play. But the player we saw at the Hlinka/Gretzky looked like a potential NHL first round selection. Firstly, it's obvious that improving his skating was a focus this offseason. His linear quickness and speed looked considerably improved. It allowed Beaudoin to be a dynamite forechecker and penalty killer. There's definitely still room for him to improve his agility and East/West movement, but Rome wasn't built in a day. What Beaudoin is, is a potential all situations, two-way center. I'm very curious to see how he carves out a larger role in Barrie this season.

11. Jack Van Volsen - Center/Wing - Mississauga Steelheads
The need for Van Volsen is simple. Get stronger. Get quicker. Anyone who saw Van Volsen play for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens knows that he is one of the most skilled players in the age group. However, I felt that he wasn't able to truly play his hard working style of game last year because he was consistently outmuscled off the puck. This resulted in him being primarily a complementary piece who relied on others to make plays for him, which certainly wasn't the case as a U16 player. Let's see if he put in the work this offseason to take his game to another level. Can he get back to dominating shifts in the cycle, dominating the net front, and being a primary play driver? It should also be noted that Van Volsen has a terrific shot and high end scoring potential. Among any forward on this list, his offensive upside might be the highest. 

12. Luke Misa - Center - Mississauga Steelheads
Admittedly, I came away disappointed in Misa's development last year as a sophomore. Part of it was ice time related, but I also felt like his game didn't truly take that next step. Luckily for him, he's a late birthday, which means he is first time NHL draft eligible this year and that gives him another year to prove his chops. The backbone of Misa's game is his skating ability. He is absolutely dynamic in transition because of his speed. Misa is also a competent two-way player who is committed on the backcheck and who has the opportunity to develop into a really good penalty killer because of his speed and tenaciousness. Can Misa's offensive game take that next step this year though? Will the hands catch up to the feet? Can he be stronger on the puck to create when the game slows down and show an ability to get to the net consistently? Surrounded by some great young talent in Mississauga, he's going to be set up with a really nice opportunity to show that he deserves to be highly thought of for this draft.

13. Nathan Villeneuve - Center - Sudbury Wolves
A true power center in every sense of the word. Villeneuve was as advertised as an OHL rookie for Sudbury. The tenacious style that he was drafted for translated perfectly, even if the offensive production was inconsistent (mostly due to inconsistent ice time/responsibility). He loves to throw the body and is relentless in his pursuit of the puck. This work ethic translates to the defensive end where he is already an asset as a young center. Offensively, Villeneuve's best asset would probably be his shot, but he flashes high end skill on net drives and is very middle of the ice/attack oriented. The big thing for me is improving his skating. With a bit of a wide stride, Villeneuve doesn't have elite speed or quickness currently. It will be curious to see how that's improved this year. With improvements to his strength and quickness, he could move quickly up draft boards, especially with the second line center role in Sudbury all but locked up.

14. Kevin He - Wing - Niagara IceDogs
Turbulent times for the IceDogs these days, but He was a serious bright spot for them last year. His combination of speed and goal scoring prowess makes him a very interesting prospect heading into this draft year. Along with Misa, he's the best skater of the forwards available in this OHL crop. Everything about him screams high end goal scorer. He can really fire the puck. He can score in multiple ways. He creates his own chances by driving wide. He gets to the net and is not a perimeter player. Can the playmaking ability take that next step this year? What about the off puck play? How will he handle playing in a difficult environment in Niagara in his NHL draft year? Lots of question marks, but He possesses significant upside.

15. Matthew Virgillio - Defense - Soo Greyhounds
It wasn't easy for Virgillio in his first year given the Soo's position at the bottom of the standings. But he played a lot for them and largely held his own. The highly touted former St. Andrew's College product has immense potential, probably more than some of the defenders I've got ranked ahead of him. He is a strong skater who can have a positive impact on the transition game. He can quarterback the powerplay. He defends well and should develop into a quality two-way player as he adds strength. It's about putting it all together consistently as the Greyhounds improve. I thought about putting him higher, especially given the Soo's track record for developing defenders, but I think it's important to see what he shows this year first. I want to see how his game evolves around an improving Greyhounds team.

16. Jakub Chromiak - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Thought it was fitting to have Chromiak and Virgillio back to back here given their upsides as offensive defenders. The difference for me is that Virgillio is a year younger. The younger brother of former OHL standout (and LA prospect) Martin Chromiak, Jakub is a skilled puck moving defender who will be entering his second OHL season thanks to his late 2005 birth date. His rookie year was mired by inconsistency. But that's the case for a lot of OHL rookie defenders, and even more so for rookie Import defenders. So we're giving Chromiak a bit of the benefit of doubt here that those flashes turn into something more significant this year. The hype is certainly there and rightfully so given his offensive upside thanks to his combination of skill and mobility. However, I'm going to need to see significant improvement at both ends in order for him to hold this position. And given that I've got him 15th, I'm obviously lower on him than some of my contemporaries who have him in their first round currently.

17. Luca Marrelli - Defense - Oshawa Generals
The cousin of the 67's defender of the same name also appearing on this list, Luca is actually a similar kind of defender. He shows promise as a two-way defenseman and is a little ahead of some of the other players on this list due to his late 2005 birthday. He was probably Oshawa's best defender from start to finish last year. Love his poise in the offensive end when he's working the point. He shows great anticipation and vision holding the line and he generally keeps things simple to help Oshawa keep pressure on. Defensively, he's solid. Not as physical as his cousin Frankie, but he has a bit more length to help him apply stick pressure. I'm also not sure that he's as strong a skater as Frankie, but I wouldn't call it a weakness for Luca either. Like any later born player entering the draft year, it can be tough to evaluate him in comparison. I'm sure we'll get a better idea about his upside this season. 

18. Lukas Fischer - Defense - Sarnia Sting
Played a little over a half a season with Sarnia after coming over from the USHL and he seemed to get better with each passing month. The athletic tools are going to be very intriguing this year given his bloodlines (son of former NHL defender Jiri) and his late birthday (September 9th, making him one of the youngest players eligible this year). The 6'4 defender shows great potential at both ends. But his game and decision making are very raw, making it difficult to truly ascertain what kind of player he can become as of now. This is someone who is still trying to figure out how to get the best out of his tools. It would have been great to see him make the U.S. Hlinka team, but he was ultimately cut. I think the key for him is improving his skating, especially the fluidity of his four-way movement. If he plays well for Sarnia this year, he'll move quickly up draft lists.

19. Riley Patterson - Center - Barrie Colts
I loved Patterson as a U16 player with the Mississauga Sens and he proceeded to have one of the better U17 seasons in recent memory in the OJHL last year. He left his commitment to Michigan State to sign with Barrie following a trade from Flint and should be a big part of Barrie's plans the next few years. But what can we expect this year in his draft year and where should we rank him? This seems like a pretty safe ranking given how he has yet to prove himself in the OHL, but if he plays well, I can tell you right now that I'll be moving him up my list pretty aggressively. He brings speed. He brings tenaciousness as a two-way player. He is skilled. He makes his linemates better with his vision and creativity. Patterson has the upside to be the best forward from the OHL from this crop. But for every Mark Scheifele who has transitioned seamlessly from the OJHL as a 17/18 year old, there have been others who struggled (such as Brenden Sirizzotti recently). 

20. Gabriel Frasca - Center - Kingston Frontenacs
It almost feels criminal to have Frasca this low coming into the year. He was solid as a rookie for Kingston, earning a spot on the second all rookie team. And of course, he was terrific with the same Mississauga Sens team others on this list came from. Gabriel is unquestionably the best skater at the same age of the talented Frasca brothers. Still, that will be the focal point of improvement for Gabriel as he enters his sophomore season with the Frontenacs. Frasca is an intelligent and well rounded player. He shows well at both ends already. He has a great touch as a passer. He is a dual threat as a goal scorer. However, I also feel that his athletic tools may be a little less refined than some of the other forwards on this list. Is he the next Logan Morrison, Austen Keating type? Frasca isn't quite as physical and powerful as the likes of Villeneuve, Beaudoin, and Greentree. And he's not as quick as the likes of He and Patterson. Let's see how everything comes together for him this season. 

21. Carter George - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
George was excellent for Canada at the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup, stepping in for Gabriel D'Aigle to assume the starter's role. He provided the security and consistency the team needed in helping them capture gold. In reality, this should have come as no surprise as George was excellent in limited OHL action last year too. He's quick in the crease and is a great play tracker. He already does a good job of controlling his rebounds and limits second chances accordingly. It seems pretty likely to me that he's going to end up being an annual Jim Rutherford candidate (top OHL goaltender of the year) until he graduates. However, is he going to be highly coveted at the NHL draft? He's definitely on the smaller side for netminders, coming in at 6'0 currently. I would also say that having watched him last year and at the Hlinka, one of the things that he needs to work on is playing more aggressive in the crease to challenge shooters and fight through screens. He's definitely worthy of being listed on this preseason list, but is he going to get the Thomas Milic treatment?

22. AJ Spellacy - Wing/Center - Windsor Spitfires
One of my absolute favourite OHL rookies last year. It was a real shame that his season was cut short due to a knee injury. It was surprising to see him return so early as he made the U.S. team for the Hlinka/Gretzky...but surprising in a good way. Do I think he was great at the tournament? It certainly wasn't the best that I've seen him. However, it's only one small blip on the scouting radar and I think you need to take into account that this was his first action coming off a significant injury. So what do you get in Spellacy? You get an aggressive and tenacious forward who loves to throw the body and who loves to push the pace of play. He has a clear understanding of how he wants to play and how he needs to play in order to be effective. It will be interesting to see how the knee injury affects his skating upon his return. I liked his top speed as a rookie, but there's no question that there was room for improvement in explosiveness and agility. Additionally, I think we'll need to get a better read on his offensive upside and skill level with the puck. But he's entering the year as a personal favourite. Easy to see him developing the very Austin Watson type of player at the pro level (also a former U.S. based Spitfire).

23. Jett Luchanko - Wing - Guelph Storm
Another guy (similar to Spellacy) that I wanted to put higher, but just couldn't justify it at this current moment given the uncertainty surrounding his offensive upside. I love the effort and engagement without the puck. He stepped into the league and had an immediate impact as a forechecker with his speed. He just needs to get stronger to be able to use that speed more effectively in all three zones, something that I imagine we'll see this season. Is he more than just a high energy, checking type? I think so. I saw enough flashes of offensive ability, specifically his vision and ability to create plays for his linemates as a playmaker, to suggest that he can take his game to another level. He's not the biggest guy in the world so he'll need to produce to hold down a spot as a draft candidate.

24. Ryerson Leenders - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
He played a ton as an OHL rookie. It's pretty rare to see a U17 goalie play as much as he did. In fact, his 35 games were the fifth most all time by a U17 netminder. Leenders was the third goalie for Canada at the Hlinka/Gretzky, but he didn't get into any game action unfortunately. Like Carter George, he's an athletic kid who shows great promise as a play tracker. Has that ability to make the highlight reel save. And like George, he's not blessed with great size at a position where size seems to be extremely critical for NHL scouts. Additionally, I'm not sure the technical components of Leenders game are quite as advanced as George's. He's still working to improve his positioning and control to improve his consistency. He should split starts with fellow highly touted netminder Jack Ivankovic this year, a great position for the organization to be in having two terrific young goalies in the fold.

25. David Egorov - Goaltender - Brantford Bulldogs
I definitely believe that Egorov deserves to be listed alongside George and Leenders as a preseason contender to be in the NHL draft mix. He might be the most athletic and the quickest of the three. While he didn't play much in the OHL last year, he was sensational for the Hamilton Kilty B's last year (GOJHL) in trying to help them capture a Sutherland Cup. He's also the biggest of the three netminders. There's definitely still a bit of mystique here as we wait to see how he can translate to a full year of OHL hockey, so for that reason he's third among the three goalies. However, it wouldn't shock me at all if by next June we were talking about Egorov as the top ranked goalie from Ontario. The real question is will he get the ice time that he needs given Brantford's goalie depth? Personally, I'd roll with Drobac and Egorov and work to find a new home for Malboeuf.

26. Kieron Walton - Wing - Sudbury Wolves
The upside here is enormous. You've got a big winger (6'5 already) with soft hands, creativity, and a scorer's touch. For a big kid, he also moves pretty well. Raw is the best way to describe him, but if/when he puts it all together...look out. The concern lies within the physical intensity level. It was the knock against him as a U16 player (causing him to fall to the second round). It was also evident in his rookie OHL year. He needs to use that size to find the middle and play through traffic more consistently. He doesn't have to be Mason McTavish. He just has to play with a little more tenaciousness. If he can up that dial and improve his production this year, he'll move up draft lists quickly.

27. Ethan Procyszyn - Wing - North Bay Battalion
Procyszyn is another player who will move up the board quickly if he can find that next level of production. He has a projectable frame. He competes hard at both ends. He skates well. He had a great scorer's touch in U16 and flashed a high end shot as an OHL rookie. There is lots to like. In reality, he's the kind of player that North Bay has developed well historically. I thought about putting him higher and I feel confident in saying that he'd be higher on the early list of NHL scouts, but I just want to see if he can secure a larger role and produce at a greater clip first.

28. Marek Vanacker - Wing - Brantford Bulldogs
Power winger who showed great flashes last year as an OHL rookie with limited ice time. It's obvious that he wasn't strong enough to play the way that he wanted to play last year, so it will be interesting to see how the offseason treated him. However, he's a bit similar to Procysyn in that he's a potential two-way, high energy, goal scorer. He should get a larger role this year with Brantford and he's someone to monitor closely early on.

29. Kaden Pitre - Center/Wing - Flint Firebirds
If you liked Coulson Pitre, you're bound to like his brother Kaden. They play pretty comparable games revolved around power, IQ, and tenaciousness. Kaden has played some center and it seems likely (given Flint's depth) that he does play there full time this year. I think that probably increases his value. Let's see how kind the offseason was to him in terms of improving strength and quickness. 

30. Alex Kostov - Wing - Soo Greyhounds
I could have gone in a variety of different routes with #30. I saw the top 29 as pretty set, and then deciding on number 30 was tough. However, I settled on Kostov (over more hyped former first round selections) because I think he has a solid NHL projection given his size and skill combination on the wing. Improving his skating and strength will be needed this year, but the frame and raw athletic tools are extremely intriguing.

Honorable Mentions
Caden Kelly - Wing - Ottawa 67's
Antonio Tersigni - Wing - Owen Sound Attack
Luca Testa - Center - Brantford Bulldogs
Carter Lowe - Wing - Barrie Colts
Charlie Paquette - Wing - Guelph Storm
Christopher Thibodeau - Center - Kingston Frontenacs
Zach Sandhu - Defense - Guelph Storm
Noah Roberts - Defense - Brantford Bulldogs
Callum Cheynowski - Defense - Brantford Bulldogs
Ben Cormier - Wing/Center - Owen Sound Attack
Sam O'Reilly - Wing - London Knights

Monday, August 21, 2023

Top 25 OHL Prospects - Summer of 2023

The 2022/23 season was a great one to cover. We had some terrific individual performances, like Matt Maggio's Red Tilson winning run with the Spitfires and Brandt Clarke's post Christmas dominance, in addition to some interesting storylines like the Petes' loading up at the deadline, helping them to capture an OHL title. But the time for reminiscing is over as we will soon look ahead to the start of the 2023/24 OHL season.

As per the usual, I'm ranking the Top 25 NHL prospects who played in the OHL this past year. This was a really tough list to create this year. I felt very comfortable with that Top 20, but settling on the final five names was very arduous. 

1. Pavel Mintyukov - Anaheim Ducks
The Max Kaminsky trophy winner this year as the OHL's top defender, Mintyukov is now the top prospect in the OHL for me. He's just so skilled and creative. Hemming him in the defensive zone is a near impossible task; he's like an eel who always finds a way to slip away to start the breakout. I thought his decision making improved a ton this year and in simplifying his game/approach at times, he actually became even more effective as a playmaker. I also thought that his defensive game improved a ton this year. He can still have the odd brain fart and he'll likely always be a river boat gambler who wants to jump up into the play, but his defensive zone coverage and understanding of how to use his length as a rush defender did show great progress. I don't think he'll need much time in the AHL...if any. 

2. Shane Wright - Seattle Kraken
I'd be lying if I wasn't a little concerned about Wright. The upcoming season and the uncertainty around where he plays makes things even more complicated. Nothing official on whether he's going to be given an exemption to play in the AHL because he failed to play 25 games in the OHL last year. That means it could be the OHL or NHL...yet again. And with Seattle suddenly a very competitive, playoff worthy team, they simply can't afford to have him on their roster for babysitting purposes. He needs to earn it, even if its only in a fourth line role. Based on his play in the OHL last year, I'm not sure he's ready for the NHL. The concerns we had over his game last year remain the same. There's the pace and killer instinct issues. Hopefully the summer has allowed him to really reset and find himself again, because anyone who saw Shane play a few years ago knows that he is capable of more. And therein lies why he's still number two for me. I still believe that Wright is smart enough and skilled enough to be a long time NHL contributor. At some point, at the pro level, the light bulb will go on for him and things will click. When that happens, I think he becomes a consistent 30/30 guy. Not a superstar like we all thought he'd become when he was younger. I'm not sure I have those hopes any longer. But I think he can be a long time second line center who really helps Seattle create a solid 1/2 punch with Matty Beniers...a very different kind of pivot.   

3. Brandt Clarke - Los Angeles Kings
He was just so bloody good upon returning to Barrie this year. He completely took over play when on the ice in the way that we wanted Shane Wright to do. So why is Wright ranked ahead of him still? It's because I still have some worries about how Clarke's game transitions to the NHL level. I'm not convinced that he'll ever be a high end defender in the NHL, which means that he's going to need to rely on his offensive game. Mind you, his offensive game is fantastic, but the feet and how that affects his ability to create at the NHL level is a concern. Now I say all that and I've still got him ranked third for a reason. Brandt Clarke is terrific. He has improved his skating, especially his first step quickness and speed. He was more of a factor physically in the OHL this year and he'll need to continue to turn up that intensity dial to help him take away space at the NHL level without elite mobility. The hands and sense have always been top notch. A lot of the players on this list have flaws that could prevent them from being slam dunks in the NHL and Clarke is no different. However, I like his odds of being a solid contributor a lot more now than I did last year.

4. Colby Barlow - Winnipeg Jets
If you read my draft coverage this year you'd know that I love Barlow. For me, the #4-5 spots come down to Barlow vs. Othmann. They're kind of similar power wingers with similar projections. But I do prefer Barlow slightly. I think he does a better job of playing without the puck and finding those soft spots in coverage a little more consistently. He doesn't have Othmann's hands IMO, but he does project as a better defensive player and someone who can consistently play the net front. The key for Barlow is improving his overall agility the way that Mason McTavish did in his post draft year. Barlow skates well North/South, but he can be neutralized as his attacks becomes too predictable. In order to be more than just a complementary piece at the NHL level, he'll need to find ways to be more creative this year in the OHL. I think he will. Barring injury, he's a slam dunk for 50 goals this year.

5. Brennan Othmann - New York Rangers
Othmann had a pretty up and down year, but when his team needed him the most (in the OHL playoffs), he was there for them and really stepped up his game. He is such a dangerous player when he's dialed in and focused physically. He derives energy from playing that pest like role. When he becomes too complacent and floats a bit to try to get open to use his shot, he becomes way less effective. I know that sounds obvious, but as a pro, Othmann is going to need to become a Dustin Brown type to be an impact player for the Rangers. A guy who just consistently brings it without the puck and who can bring value outside of having those good scoring chops. I would expect him to start at the AHL level this year. He may need a couple of years at that level, especially given New York's depth.

6. Cal Ritchie - Colorado Avalanche
As I said in my work for McKeen's post draft (and during the draft), I loved Ritchie to Colorado. It's such a great spot for his development given the kind of player I expect him to become. He should be fully healthy next year and I have really high expectations for him. Don't be shocked if he pulls a Wyatt Johnston and explodes next season, then ends up pushing for a spot on the Avalanche the year after. He makes others better the same way Wyatt did as an OHL player. He is at his best when he plays with other elite level players who think the game the way that he does. The key for him is improving his skating and improving his physical intensity level to be more middle of the ice focused at all times. 

7. David Goyette - Seattle Kraken
It was a great year for Goyette in Sudbury. Not a lot of people are talking about it, but he was one of the best offensive players in the OHL last season. His strength on the puck was considerably better and it allows him to control play in the offensive zone, even when he wasn't able to beat defenders purely with his speed. His play away from the puck improved too; he even developed a bit of a pesky side that saw him become an annoying player to play against. The upside is still significant and the more he grows as a player, the more likely he hits that upside. Don't sleep on Goyette.

8. Nick Lardis - Chicago Blackhawks
My ride or die from the NHL draft season. I had him ranked as a first rounder even though I knew that he was going to be drafted much later than that (and he was). So I'm not about to shy away from that and this ranking is evidence of that. Yes, Lardis needs to improve his strength on the puck and play away from the puck. He needs to become better at weaponizing his speed as more than just a North/South attacker, given his lack of size. But, the shot, hands, and skill are all very real. Like Goyette, the upside is top level. Really interested to see how he performs in the OHL this year with Brantford. 

9. Quentin Musty - San Jose Sharks
As critical I was of Musty's game at times this year, I still understand the immense upside that he possesses. He's one of the most creative and skilled players on this list. His off puck play did unquestionably improve over the course of the year. However, it still needs to improve further. Quite frankly, I wouldn't care quite as much about Musty's off puck play if I wasn't also concerned about his skating. That combo can be a tricky one to overcome. I think Musty does have a good chance of doing it though. Expect him to have a monster OHL season alongside Goyette.

10. Ethan Del Mastro - Chicago Blackhawks
Del Mastro rounds out the top ten thanks to some really positive progression, yet again this year. His skating continues to get better and he has a very real chance of becoming a top four defensive stalwart at the NHL level. I'm not sure the offensive game translates a ton, that's obvious when Del Mastro gets boxed in and lacks the creativity to escape those situations. He'll have to majorly simplify his approach with the puck. There will be growing pains. But his combination of size, length, and mobility will make him an immediate asset in his own zone. 

11. Logan Mailloux - Montreal Canadiens
I thought about putting Mailloux ahead of Del Mastro, I think it's neck and neck. And even though they're similarly sized, they are quite different players and prospects. Mailloux's offensive game and skill set is very impressive. He has great hands and that massive point shot. That combination makes him very dangerous inside the offensive zone and when he jumps up into the rush. His offensive upside is very high. The defensive game has a ton of potential too. He CAN be a hard guy to play against. He can have really dominating shifts in the defensive end. However, the decision making can still make you scratch your head at times. While his development has been disrupted at times (thanks in no part to his own undoing), I would have expected those defensive miscues and poor reads to be worked out by now. That said, the upside is still too high for him to be ranked any lower than this. Sometimes guys like Mailloux, with that raw physical potential, figure it out like K'Andre Miller has recently. And other times, the lack of true high end sense inhibits them.

12. Ty Nelson - Seattle Kraken
Nelson had a very strong post draft year that saw him reach the heights we expected of him in his NHL draft year. We saw the return of his confidence as a transitional leader, while maintaining his strong play as a powerplay QB and triggerman. I think many of us expected the offense to come back around. It was the rapid progression of his defensive play that really impressed those that cover the OHL. He upped the physical intensity to higher levels. He improved his defensive zone reads. His footwork when defending pace improved. The margin for error for him is different than a guy like Del Mastro because of that lack of size/reach, so those were improvements that needed to be made. Quite frankly, I'm really excited to see even further progression next year. 

13. Amadeus Lombardi - Detroit Red Wings
Might shock some to see Lombardi ranked this high, but I believe in the player and prospect. There are so many components of his game that are high end; the skating, the playmaking, the creativity, the tenaciousness. There are a lot of comparisons to be made between Lombardi and Vincent Trocheck IMO and that's the kind of player that I think he can turn himself into. Don't be shocked at all if he moves quickly through Detroit's system. One of the most underrated prospects around IMO.

14. Matvey Petrov - Edmonton Oilers
It was another good year for Petrov as he returned to the OHL and helped the Battalion advance far into the OHL playoffs. Honestly, pretty much everything I said about him last year is still true. The playmaking ability is legit. However, he's still very much a boom/bust kind of prospect IMO. If he makes it, it will be in a top six role for the Oilers. If he doesn't, he'll end up in the KHL as a top six player. His game is just not tailored to the bottom six. However, his upside does move him into the top 15.

15. Owen Beck - Montreal Canadiens
Beck's post draft season was unquestionably a stagnant year for him IMO, even if he won an OHL Championship. I had much higher expectations for him. I think he's still learning how to slow the game down for himself. Unless he's able to attack with pace, he can struggle to create. Finding his way consistently to the middle will be difficult for him unless his ability to maintain possession through contact improves. I was a huge believer in his draft year, and I still really like Beck. But I'm also starting to grapple with whether I think his upside is higher than that of a really good third line center at the NHL level. This is going to be a huge year for his development. I'm kind of hoping that Beck gets sent back to the OHL right away, rather than get a half dozen games like I expect him to. The Mason McTavish, Brandt Clarke way is just not the right one for Beck IMO. He needs to get reps at the top of a lineup all year long. Otherwise, I'm worried he becomes another Liam Foudy.

16. Matthew Poitras - Boston Bruins
I didn't even list Poitras as an HM last year after getting drafted in the second round by Boston. Needless to say, I've come around. No player improved more in the OHL last year IMO. He was so good for Guelph, even when they were struggling early in the year. I was concerned with his lack of athletic tools in his draft year, but the skating improved a lot last year. He looked noticeably quicker and was much more difficult to knock off stride last year. He often controlled the puck for long stretches in the offensive end and this helped him prolong possession to help him set up scoring chances. His vision is top notch and those athletic/strength upgrades have made him better equipped to use it. This is looking like a great pick for Boston.

17. Oliver Bonk - Philadelphia Flyers
I'm really interested to see how Bonk's game progresses this season in his post draft year. I have a lot of confidence in his defensive capabilities. His instincts in his own end are so good. What I'll be looking for this year are improvements made to his quickness/mobility, in addition to his confidence with the puck. How high is his offensive ceiling? For now, I like this placement of Bonk, behind some players who I perceive to have safer upsides, but ahead of those I deem to be riskier.

18. Filip Mesar - Montreal Canadiens
Part of me wanted to list Mesar lower. He just wasn't very impressive this year with Kitchener. It's easy to see why he was selected so high. He can create in transition with his speed and creativity, however he had a really hard time getting to the middle in the OHL and was largely kept to the perimeter. If that's the case in the OHL, what's it going to be like for him at the pro level? It seems that we'll find out this year too as the writing is on the wall for him to play in the AHL, or at the very least back in Europe. He has a long ways to go IMO.

19. Christian Kyrou - Dallas Stars
Another guy that I didn't list as an HM last year, but who cracks the list this year thanks to some big improvements. I still have some concerns over his ability to defend at the NHL level, but I have way more confidence in his offensive ability translating thanks to improvements made to his quickness and linear speed. Kyrou's four way mobility has always been impressive; his edgework is a sight to behold. However, I found that he struggled to be a consistent factor in transition without that top gear and over-reliance on c-cuts and mohawking. This past year, he became way more dynamic and was consistently looking to attack because of it. He still has that huge point shot, but he's no longer just reliant on that to create offense at even strength. He'll turn pro this year and I would expect him to put up points in the AHL as a rookie.

20. Michael Buchinger - St. Louis Blues
I was skeptical of Buchinger in his draft year because I was worried that outside of his skating ability, he lacked other standout qualities that could make him an NHL defender. His game evolved considerably this past year at both ends and I think that has really improved his outlook. He's now using his skating ability to lead the attack and is trusting his feet more to help him make plays under pressure. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, his defensive game has become one of his strengths. He never seems to get beat one on one and rarely does Guelph get hemmed in with him on the ice. Quite honestly, he and Ty Nelson would be my preseason favourites for the Max Kaminsky next year and I think he's got a real outside chance of being on Canada's WJC team in December.

21. Ty Voit - Toronto Maple Leafs
Even if I understand that Voit is more of a long shot prospect with the Leafs, I can't help but rank him in this range because I love him as a prospect. I've been a fan since his draft year and I will continue to be one as he starts his pro career. He's certainly not the most physically gifted offensive player, but he's just so elusive because of his quick feet and quick hands. He has the potential to be a top six playmaker and I do believe he can fulfil that down the line. Toronto may need to be patient with him.

22. Ryan Winterton - Seattle Kraken
Honestly, all Winterton needs to do is stay healthy. We saw that in the playoffs where he (and his line) practically carried London to the finals on their back. He's so hard to separate from the puck. He works the wall about as well as any player in the OHL and I think he can definitely be a middle six workhorse in the NHL too. But again, the health is the concern as his shoulder remains a lingering issue. If he's put that behind him, I think he could move through Seattle's system quickly.

23. Gavin Hayes - Chicago Blackhawks
One of the most underrated prospects around IMO. He scored 41 this past year, improving drastically in almost every facet. His shot is a real weapon and he plays a power game that is translatable to the NHL level. His forechecking ability is a real asset too. He's probably just a complementary piece at the next level, but I'm excited to see further improvement in his game this coming year.

24. Bryce McConnell Barker - New York Rangers
The Soo Greyhounds weren't very good last year. It was a tough year to rebuild in a difficult conference. But captain BMB was one of the few true bright spots as his game reached another level in his post draft year. Everything sort of tightened up for him and his play/effort was so much more consistent. I still think his upside is that of a middle six guy for the Rangers, but I see him as much more likely to hit it now.

25. Francesco Pinelli - Los Angeles Kings
It was a good year for Pinelli, even if it had a bad ending after he was suspended in the playoffs, ultimately leading to the Rangers losing to the Knights in round two. But he was the straw that stirred the drink for Kitchener all season long, leading them in scoring. He does a lot of things well. The shot will play at the next level. His small area skill improved a lot over his OHL career. He brings intensity and effort in all three zones. While the skating has improved, I do wonder how it will play at the pro level. Next year will be telling as he suits up in the AHL. 

Honorable Mentions (sorted in alphabetical order)

Beau Akey - Edmonton Oilers
Really curious to see how Akey develops this year without playing in the shadow of Brandt Clarke on what should be an exciting Barrie team. The skating is obviously top notch and it's only a matter of time before his confidence with the puck grows.

Francesco Arcuri - Dallas Stars
I think Arcuri has turned himself into a sneakily good NHL prospect. The skating has improved a lot over his OHL career and I felt like the increase in production this year was correlated with an improved ability to play with pace. Shot is high end too. His first pro season will be telling.

Tristan Bertucci - Dallas Stars
We saw how good Bertucci was in the second half of last year's OHL season. If he can move forward and sustain that level of play over a full year, he'll emerge as one of the best defenders in the OHL. Tightening up his decision making, and when to be aggressive are the key next steps.

Josh Bloom - Vancouver Canucks
I've long been a Bloom supporter and I believe that the Canucks did a great job acquiring him for Riley Stillman (ironically an exchange of two of my favourite interviews ever). Bloom is the kind of player whose skill set will translate really well to the pro level because he's so highly detail oriented. Probably not more than a solid third liner, but he should move quickly through the system.

Tyler Boucher - Ottawa Senators
I feel bad for Boucher because he's not likely to ever live up to the draft spot he was selected in. However, too many people are writing him off based solely on stat watching. You really need to see Boucher live to appreciate all the ways that he can make an impact. He just needs to stay healthy, especially given the way that he needs to play. Again, upside likely capped but he's going to be an NHL player.

Hunter Brzustewicz - Vancouver Canucks
Brzustewicz was such a consistent offensive contributor for the Rangers last year, but it was his defensive game that improved significantly in the second half. As a late born 2004, I'm very interested to see how he can elevate his game yet again in likely his final OHL season. Is he a trade candidate for a likely rebuilding Kitchener team?

Easton Cowan - Toronto Maple Leafs
A surprise first round selection to those outside of OHL circes, but not for those dialed into the happenings of the league. He was so good down the stretch and into the OHL playoffs last year. His progression this year will help us to gain a better understanding of his high end upside.

Luca Del Bel Belluz - Columbus Blue Jackets
Not going to lie, I had higher expectations for Del Bel Belluz last year. I thought that his development stagnated a bit. I do have some concerns over how his game translates to the pro level next year. There's still a need to improve his quickness. However, the shot, scoring instincts, and small area skill are all high end.

Dom DiVincentiis - Winnipeg Jets
The OHL netminder of the year, Dom DiVincentiis was fantastic from start to finish for North Bay last year. He really worked hard to reign in his athleticism to be more consistent in his reads and positioning. The real test for him will be this year when North Bay loses a lot of their key offensive players, forcing him to be even better to help them climb the standings.

Isaiah George - New York Islanders
This is going to be a huge year for George. We're still waiting for that offensive breakout from him and he'll likely be given every opportunity by the Hunters to be a top pairing defender for London. He's still one of the best skaters in the OHL, but more than that is needed to be an NHL defender.

Andrew Gibson - Detroit Red Wings
I loved what Gibson brought to the table defensively last year for a bottom feeding Soo team. The question is, does he have significant offensive upside or does he project as more of a stay at home type? Lots of development time left and the Greyhounds should be better this upcoming year.

Hunter Haight - Minnesota Wild
While Haight was good after the trade to Saginaw, I think we're still waiting for him to truly explode and put it all together. He can play a skilled game. He can play a heavy game. But can he blend the two to truly dominate possession? With Saginaw hosting the Memorial Cup this year, Haight will have a huge opportunity.

Paul Ludwinski - Chicago Blackhawks
It was a year to forget for Ludwinski. Even before the injury, he just wasn't great. I was a huge fan of his in his draft year, but I think that the stagnation in development that we saw last year is a bit concerning. But this season is a new year. My expectation is that he'll be one of the OHL's most improved players.

Matthew Maggio - New York Islanders
The Red Tilson award winner last year as the OHL's best player, Maggio certainly got my vote. In chatting with him for the podcast, I think he has a very clear understanding of the improvements he needs to make in his game (improving linear quickness, improving two-way effort, getting to the middle more consistently) to be a solid pro. I think he can do it. Nearly had him at #25.

Jack Matier - Nashville Predators
Another player that I heavily considered for #25, Matier's development this year for Ottawa was fantastic. We saw him gain so much confidence in his ability to make plays with the puck and be more of a two-way threat. But his defensive game will be his calling card at the pro level and I have a lot of faith in him becoming an NHL defender in some capacity.

Kyle McDonald - Dallas Stars
I'm not usually the type to include overager signees in this list because I understand the uphill battle that they face. However, I think McDonald is different. Here's a player who battled injuries his entire OHL career, but finally put it together this year (even in the face of more injuries). This guy can absolutely fire a puck and he has the size to help him get those looks in the middle consistently. Can he keep up with the pace of the pro game?

Logan Morrison - Seattle Kraken
I know, I know, I just said that I don't include a lot of OA free agents on these lists. But like McDonald, Morrison is different. This is a player who should have never been a free agent in the first place. Yeah, the skating isn't terrific. But I'm always willing to bet on high IQ players like Morrison. The next Tye Kartye for Seattle?

Sasha Pastujov - Anaheim Ducks
Given his pedigree, production, and draft slot, you probably expected to see Pastujov in the Top 25. However, as you may have guessed, I have major concerns over how his game translates to the pro level. I don't think he's going to be able to dominate touches deep in the zone and along the half wall the same way that he does in the OHL and it will force him to alter his approach. Either that...or really improve his skating.

Coulson Pitre - Anaheim Ducks
2023/24 is going to be a huge year for Pitre in his draft +1, because of his late birthdate. I really want to see him take that next step as a premier offensive player in the league to match his energy and physicality. 

Carson Rehkopf - Seattle Kraken
Another player that I highly considered for #25. My hesitancy was based around his inconsistencies. If he puts things together next year for Kitchener and is well over a point per game, he's in the top 15 next year, let alone the top 25. But, given all the question marks, I think he needs to prove it first.

Tucker Robertson - Seattle Kraken
I love Robertson. He had that lull around the end of the 2022 calendar year, but otherwise, what a season for him. He just competes so hard and is such a versatile player. I guess my concern for him is that he's not the type of high end skater that you typically see in the NHL these days, playing that bottom six, high energy role. He might need a few years in the AHL, but I think he'll eventually be an NHL player.

Matyas Sapovaliv - Vegas Golden Knights
If the Sapovaliv we saw in last year's OHL playoffs shows up from the get go for Saginaw this year, look out. The big pivot has such great potential as a dominant two-way forward. Upping his physical intensity level and improving his strength are keys.

Carey Terrance - Anaheim Ducks
As that talented, but young, Erie team improves around Terrance, what kind of heights can he reach? I think the most underrated component of his game is his shot. Everyone talks about the speed and two-way engagement, but the continued development of his shot will be key in determining what kind of NHL upside he has.

Danny Zhilkin - Winnipeg Jets
The offensive game never really hit the level that we thought it might in the OHL, but it doesn't mean that Zhilkin can't be a solid pro. The size and speed combination will play. The key for Zhilkin will be the continued development of his off puck game, while simplifying things offensively. Winnipeg should probably focus on trying to develop him into a solid defensive type like a Derek Stepan.