Wednesday, September 27, 2023

2023/24 OHL Season Preview Part 3: Award Predictions

The conclusion to my three part season preview sees me look at potential award candidates for 2023/24.

Red Tilson Trophy - David Goyette (Sudbury Wolves)
The second leading returning scorer to the OHL this year behind Matthew Poitras. The only difference is that I expect Goyette to be surrounded by better talent on a better team. Thus...he's my pick. I think he has an absolutely monster year as part of a dominant first line with Musty and Delic. Poitras is obviously a candidate too. Does he see some time in the NHL? Colby Barlow is going to have a huge year for a great Owen Sound team. He should be right up near the scoring leaders too. How about Michael Misa as an underdog? Let us not forget that other exceptional status players took big steps forward as sophomores. Based on what I saw at the Hlinka/Gretzky, I think Misa has a huge season. Could we see an Import player take it? It doesn't happen often, but it does happen (two of the last four, in fact). Maybe Sale or Haltunnen come in and become immediate impact players?

Jim Rutherford Goaltender of the Year - Dom DiVnicentiis (North Bay Battalion)
We rarely have back to back winners, but it does happen. Mike Murphy was the last to accomplish it in 2008 and 2009. I just believe that DiVincentiis is clearly the best netminder in the league and the safest bet here. We have quite a few platoons heading into the year on good teams and that obviously decreases the odds of those players. One name that really sticks out as a potential winner is Andrew Oke. He wasn't as good last year, but he has proven previously to be a solid netminder and is clearly Saginaw's guy. Even though he has no prior experience in the league, Jakub Vondras in Sudbury has to be candidate given his situation and strength of team. Lastly, Michael Simpson has to be a candidate in London after the recent trade.

Max Kaminski Trophy - Ty Nelson (North Bay Battalion)
Nic Hague is the only other OHL defender to score 30 goals in the new millennium and I think Nelson joins him in accomplishing that feat. Nelson really took a nice step forward last year and returns to the league likely even stronger. The top candidate to stop Nelson is Guelph's Michael Buchinger. Yes, he's the highest returning scoring defender along with Nelson, but he's got the keys to Guelph's offense with Cam Allen out and he is one of the league's most underrated players. I look at Rodwin Dionicio, Hunter Brzustewicz, Beau Akey, and Zayne Parekh as other options.

Emms Family Award - Matthew Schaefer (Erie Otters)
It's a really strong rookie group entering the OHL this year. But for me, the most likely winner is Matthew Schaefer. As we saw in the preseason, he's going to contribute on offense immediately. He's in a great situation to succeed and I actually think he could join a pretty exclusive club among the U17 defenders to score 50 points. My second choice would be Barrie center Riley Patterson, who's an '06. He's incredibly talented and he's going to get a ton of ice time. Don't be surprised if he scores 80+ points this year. Otherwise, guys like Brady Martin, Jake O'Brien, Mattheas Stark, Tyler Hopkins, all had strong preseasons too.

Leo Lalande Trophy - Braeden Bowman (Guelph Storm)
Like any year, lots of good candidates here. But I think Bowman is in a great position to put up some huge numbers in Guelph this season, carrying over from his positive progression last year. Barrie defender Connor Punnett is another candidate that I really like. He's one of the league's most underrated two-way players. Kitchener's Mitchell Martin, Soo's Jack Beck, Owen Sound's Sam Sedley, Peterborough's Connor Lockhart, London's Michael Simpson and Windsor's Oliver Peer are others that I'm really looking at.

Matt Leyden Trophy - Dale Hunter (London Knights)
Despite some pretty good teams, Dale Hunter hasn't won this award in over a decade. I think it's his year. I think really highly of Chris Lazary in Saginaw and he's bound to be in contention. Greg Walters in Owen Sound and Ken MacKenzie in Sudbury are also great potential candidates.

Eddie Powers Trophy - David Goyette (Sudbury Wolves)
Basically, just take all the candidates for the Red Tilson and insert them here. I think Goyette is the top candidate and in fact, I wouldn't be shocked at all of Musty and Delic were in the top 6 or 7 of scoring too. I also mentioned Michael Misa. I think he's a great sleeper for this.

Goal Scoring Leader - Colby Barlow (Owen Sound Attack)
Without question, Barlow has to enter the year as the top candidate to lead the league in goals. As long as he stays healthy, I think he's a lock for at least 50. Other candidates that I like...Kasper Halttunen in London, Michael Misa in Saginaw, David Goyette in Sudbury, Nick Lardis in Brantford, and Gavin Hayes in Flint. 

1st Team All Stars
C - Matthew Poitras
LW - Colby Barlow
RW - David Goyette
D - Ty Nelson
D - Michael Buchinger
G - Dom DiVincentiis
Coach - Dale Hunter

2nd Team All Stars
C - Michael Misa
LW - Quentin Musty
RW - Kasper Halttunen
D - Beau Akey
D - Rodwin Dionicio
G - Michael Simpson
Coach - Ken MacKenzie

3rd Team All Stars
C - Martin Misiak
LW - Easton Cowan
RW - Eduard Sale
D - Hunter Brzustewicz
D - Zayne Parekh
G - Jakub Vondras
Coach - Chris Lazary

1st All Rookie Team
C - Riley Patterson
LW - Ryan Roobroeck
RW - Brady Martin
D - Matt Schaefer
D - Jakub Fibigr
G - Jack Ivankovic

2nd All Rookie Team
C - Tyler Hopkins
LW - Mattheas Stark
RW - Sam O'Reilly (although may qualify at center)
D - Cameron Reid
D - Ben Radley
G - David Egorov

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

2023/24 OHL Preview Part 2 - Western Conference

Part two looks at the Western Conference. Just like I mentioned in the East, parity is the name of the game here. Entering the year, the London Knights have to be the favourites, but you have some really good teams in the Conference who could easily push them when all is said and done.

1. London Knights (Midwest Division Champs)
At this point, how could you not go with London? Their defense should be the best in the OHL led by Oliver Bonk, Isaiah George, and top NHL draft prospect Sam Dickinson. The first line of Denver Barkey, Easton Cowan, and Finnish import Kasper Halttunen should be among the best trios in the league. Forward depth isn't as strong as usual, but expect London to address that at some point, especially with an open OA spot on the roster. The real concern is in net. Can Zach Bowen be the guy? He was at times last year, but consistency was a major issue. If he falters, I would imagine that London looks to bring in a netminder earlier, rather than later. 

Post Edit: London has acquired Michael Simpson solidifying their hold on preseason prognostications. 

2. Saginaw Spirit (West Division Champs)
We already know that the Spirit will be present at the end of the year as Memorial Cup hosts. Obviously, the strength of their roster was one of the reasons for their selection and I would expect them to add to that over the year. Like many teams in the OHL, goaltending is the question mark. Can Andrew Oke step up with Tristan Lennox finally out of the mix, leaving him the keys to the house? Like London, I would expect them to be active on the trade market if he struggles. Otherwise, look for Michael Misa to take a huge step forward as one of the OHL's leading scorers, and if the Matyas Sapovaliv from last years playoffs shows up, look out.

3. Owen Sound Attack
Look out London, this Owen Sound team will be right on you all season long. This is a veteran laden roster that was constructed for a deep run this year. Colby Barlow is the star, but this team is deep at every position, returning nearly every key player from a year ago. I'm very curious to see what they end up deciding at the OA spot, with four really good options and only three spots (Goure, Burroughs, Lawrence, and Sedley). The big thing that I'm looking for is who steps up to replace Nolan Seed, aiding Sam Sedley as a puck mover and minute eater on the back end.

4. Windsor Spitfires
How much will the Spitfires miss Matt Maggio? He was by far the team's best player last year, leading them to a division title. Thankfully, the framework of that same team returns. The roster has a solid mix of veteran talent, and good young players. I have little faith that this team will score goals. Dionicio, DeAngelis, and Cristoforo will anchor the backend. The forward group is deep. Expect Oliver Peer to have a monster OA year. Also expect Ryan Abraham to have a big year if he can stay healthy. I'd also expect Joey Costanzo to be more consistent this year, especially down the stretch.

5. Erie Otters
My surprise team in the Western Conference. I see this team as being super hungry to finally progress after five straight years at the bottom of the division. The Misiak addition should pay major dividends; look for him to be a difference maker. Ditto for rookie Matthew Schaefer. He is electric and gives the Otters two really good puck movers on both top pairings. Look for this team to really push the pace, which might seem weird to say given Stan Butler is their coach. However, because of Stan, they will also be highly detail oriented. I just have a good feeling about Erie this year.

6. Soo Greyhounds
I actually really wanted to put this Soo team higher. Especially after they picked up Jack Beck, a player I expect to be highly motivated to earn a pro deal as an OA. I really like the defensive make-up of this team and it helps to alleviate some concerns over their goaltending. Gibson, Kudryavtsev, Virgillio, and Karki is a heck of a top four. I think Bryce McConnell Barker has a monster season too. I'm just not necessarily convinced that this team has the high end depth at forward to truly compete in the Western Conference. Pace is going to be a bit of an issue too, as this forward group is not the most fleet of foot.

7. Kitchener Rangers
The early results under new coach Jussi Ahokas have been great this preseason. Important to's preseason. Erie was among the best in the Western Conference last year in the preseason and they selected first overall. That said, I have faith that Ahokas can bring a refreshing new outlook to the OHL and bring out the best in this group. They don't have the depth of some other Western Conference squads, but they do have some potential star talent. Carson Rehkopf looks poised for a big year. I'd expect the same from Mitchell Martin as he tries to earn a pro deal as an OA. 

8. Guelph Storm
I don't know what to think about the Storm. Part of me believes that they can contend in the Western Conference if all the chips align well. The preseason OHL power rankings poll (which I contributed to) definitely alludes to that with the Storm being quite high. But what if they don't? Matthew Poitras has been turning heads in Boston and they have some openings. Cam Allen will be out until Christmas. Michael Buchinger is a legit contender for the Max Kaminsky, but he can't do it all himself on the backend. In net, the Storm have pushed all their chips in on Import rookie Damian Slavik. It just seems like everything would have to go really well for this team to be a contender. 

9. Flint Firebirds
It feels weird to have the Firebirds this low, given that I really like certain players and components of their roster. Again, the parity in the league is real this year. What I'm concerned about is the lack of a primary play driver without Lombardi this year. I really like Hayes and Pitre, but I'm just not crazy about the team's centers this year. Ditto for the defensive depth behind Tristan Bertucci. According to InStat, Flint doesn't have a defender returning outside of Bertucci who played more than 17 minutes per game last year. That's asking a lot of some of these younger guys.

10. Sarnia Sting
I know, I know. They had a tremendous preseason. But, like I said earlier, so did Erie last year before they ended up picking first overall. The Sting are losing their top six scorers from last year, which amounts to almost 200 goals. For those keeping track, that's over 60% of the teams production from last year. That's just never a good sign for success in the cyclical OHL. It's time for a rebuild in Sarnia and they do have some nice trade chips, including Ben Gaudreau if they can get him playing well. The one guy that I'm most curious about is Sandis Vilmanis. He impressed me a lot last year and I think he can do a lot more with significant ice time and responsibility this season.

Monday, September 25, 2023

2023/24 OHL Preview Part 1 - Eastern Conference

The start of the 2023/24 OHL season is right around the corner. That means it is time to make some predictions and to preview each conference. As always, prognosticating the OHL (and the CHL in general) is extremely difficult. You never know which players surprise and make the NHL or the pro level. You never know which are surprisingly returned. In fact, I would say that this year is one of the most difficult to predict in recent memory due to the likely parity in the league. There are are lot of strong teams, but none without perceived weaknesses. Lots of veteran laden rosters hoping that this year is their year. Lots of younger teams hoping to take that next step in their development. 

First up is the Eastern Conference. I see the Central Division as clearly superior heading into the season. It's going to be a dogfight, which could hurt the records of some teams given inter divisional play. That's probably good news for Ottawa as they try to repeat as East Division champions. 

1. Barrie Colts (Central Division Champs)
Yes, the Colts have lost their top two scorers from last year, in addition to their best player in the second half (Brandt Clarke). But, adding Eduard Sale and Riley Patterson was huge for this club who still has terrific depth. Cole Beaudoin looks ready to take a huge next step too. This group does have an OA problem, depending on certain players returning from the pro level. But that's a great problem to have and maybe they can flip one for a talented '04 who can play a role this year. Look for the Beau's to have huge years (Jelsma and Akey). The only real question is in net. Ben West was excellent in preseason action, but he's an OA in an already crowded '03 group. 

2. Ottawa 67's (East Division Champs)
Let's not forget how good the 67's were last year in the first half before they made some moves to bolster their roster. So while I am concerned about depth following some roster losses, especially after moving a disgruntled Jack Beck, I do have faith that this young team can put together another really good season in a weaker East Division. They return their strong goaltending platoon of Donoso and MacKenzie, and they should be able to roll out two very good scoring lines. Their young defense is solid, but I am most concerned with the loss of Jack Matier, forcing the likes of Henry Mews and Frankie Marrelli into significant roles in their draft years. Their plenty talented, but we saw what that pressure did to Cam Allen last year. I'd look for the 67's to dip into the OA market early from teams facing a roster crunch.

3. Sudbury Wolves
This Sudbury team should be really, really good if they can get good goaltending from either Nate Krawchuk or Import Jakub Vondras. They are one hundred percent a contender for an OHL Championship this year. The line of Musty, Goyette, and Delic should be one of the best in the league and all three could be top ten in OHL scoring. However, their scoring depth is solid too, especially if Nathan Villeneuve takes that next step like many expect. One of the keys for this team is undoubtedly Jakub Chromiak. He needs to be much better than he was as an OHL rookie, giving this team four really solid defenders in he, Mania, Anania, and Collins. Losing Toure to the pro level (after signing a deal with the Senators) hurts, but it does solve their OA problem.

4. Mississauga Steelheads
The Steelheads have a chance to be this year's truly surprise team. They're very young, but boy are they talented. Getting Jakub Fibigr to report was huge for them as he will provide an offensive spark on the blueline that was missing. He's looked great in the OHL preseason and should transition seamlessly. Up front this team is three lines deep and has so many talented play drivers. Porter Martone is going to be a go-to guy and is a darkhorse to finish top ten in OHL scoring IMO. However, Luke Misa and Jack Van Volsen are probably the key to the Steelheads having a successful year. Both have to take that next step in their NHL draft years...and I think they will.

5. Kingston Frontenacs
Kingston is the best bet to be the second best team in the East Division IMO and they could even challenge Ottawa if everything goes according to plan. I hate to put a ton of pressure on one player, but this needs to be a breakout year for Paul Ludwinski, now that he is healthy. There is good depth, especially at forward, but he needs to be the straw that stirs the drink and finally reach his upside. Look for Tyler Hopkins to have a great year as a rookie too. Big fan of this young man and he should fit in seamlessly, as he showed in the preseason. Other than that, the key is getting healthy (with Frasca already banged up), and staying healthy.

6. North Bay Battalion
If you've got the best defender (Ty Nelson) and the best goaltender (Dom DiVincentiis) in the OHL heading into the season, you should be a playoff team. Granted, I'm a bit concerned about whether this offense will be dynamic enough after losing their top four scorers at the forward position; there really isn't a dynamic play driver. Yet, the depth is solid. And if there's anything that I've learned from covering the OHL the last few decades, it's that star power can carry you pretty far. Would North Bay consider moving Nelson or DiVincentiis for a King's ransom if they find themselves in the middle of the pack?

7. Oshawa Generals
I still see the Generals as being one year away from being considered among the best teams in the OHL. They're set up nicely for a monster run next season with so many good '05's, 06's, and 07's in the mix. That said, I do think a lot would have to go perfectly for them to find themselves in the hunt this year. First, and foremost, Cal Ritchie needs to heal up and return from shoulder surgery last year. A Ritchie/Kumpulainen one/two punch down the middle could be among the best in the OHL in the second half once one gets healthy and one adjusts to the OHL. The development of NHL draft eligible defenders Ban Danford and Luca Marrelli is definitely one of the keys to success. The Generals need them to be two-way anchors.

8. Brantford Bulldogs
I really wanted to put the Bulldogs higher, but I just don't know what to expect from this team. I really disliked the way that they handled the Import Draft this year. Taking Adam Jiricek was a waste of a pick. He wasn't going to come and it was an opportunity to add a high end player to this roster that I see lacking depth at some positions. Badinka may still come at some point, but right now it's a huge miss. Throw in the fact that this team is moving cities and playing in a new environment; that can be tough. Nick Lardis and Patrick Thomas should continue to cook as a feared twosome, but who will be their Panwar this year? Will one of the team's three netminders step up and emerge as a solid starter? Rookie Jake O'Brien was great in the preseason, but it seems unfair to be counting on him to be one of the team's largest offensive weapons.

9. Niagara IceDogs
I might have been one of the only people out there who didn't hate some of the recent moves by the Dogs. You've got some good young players on this roster and you want to make sure that they are surrounded by high character, veteran players. Ryan Humphrey is that. Gavin Bryant is that. You want this Niagara team to be competitive enough to win some games and keep most games close. I actually really love the look of the team's first line of Kevin He, Alex Assadourian, and Ryan Humphrey. That is a line that brings speed, skill, and competitiveness. I actually wouldn't be shocked at all if this team makes the playoffs if they can get good goaltending.

10. Peterborough Petes
By far the most difficult team to prognosticate this year. If they keep their current roster, they have enough star power (Owen Beck, Connor Lockhart, Sam Mayer, Michael Simpson) to be competitive and in the playoff hunt. I would actually expect that through the first part of the year. I don't think we'll see any truly bad teams in the Eastern Conference this year. But, with a bare cupboard from playoff runs, the Petes need to sell off the above assets to try to rebuild. And once that happens, they'll easily be the worst team on paper in the Conference and should fall below the others in the second half...thus my last place prediction. 

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.

Monday, July 10, 2023

2023 CHL Import Draft Review

On July 5th, the Canadian Hockey League held its annual Import Draft. It is here, CHL teams get the opportunity to add import talent to their roster. There are two rounds of the draft, and a team can pass on their pick at any time.

Just to remind you, CHL clubs are permitted to carry only two import players on their team or protected list every year. However, if a CHL team has an Import who was an NHL first round pick they receive the opportunity to add another player to their protected list to cover should that first round import make the pro level. There are other scenarios which can allow you to carry the rights of three (such as having an OA Import, having an Import on their protected list who didn't show the year prior, having a player signed to an NHL contract on your list, etc). It is a pretty complicated process.
With the continued banning of Russian/Belarussian players from the draft, the talent pool available is obviously not quite as large as it once was. However, there are still impact players. When we look at last year's selections, several could join the league this upcoming season such as Kasper Halttunen or Eduard Sale. For more information on last year's crop, check out last year's review (found here). Given that many teams won't know what to expect from so many of their players, predicting how imports succeed next year seems very difficult. 

Let's check out the data on the last five Import Drafts.

In 2018
24 of 27 players selected came to the OHL (88%)
20 of 27 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (74%)
10 of 27 (open for debate) had a significant impact on their OHL teams (37%) 

In 2019
22 of 28 players selected came to the OHL (79%)
20 of 28 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (71%)
10 of 28 (open for debate) had a significant impact on their OHL teams (36%)
In 2020
14 of 23 players selected came to the OHL (61%)
11 of 23 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (48%)
7 of 23 (open for debate) had a significant impact on their OHL teams (30%)
In 2021
17 of 27 players selected came to the OHL (63%)
16 of 27 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (59%)
8 of 27 (open for debate) had a significant impact on their OHL teams (30%)

In 2022
13 of 24 players selected came to the OHL (54%)
9 of 24 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (38%)
6 of 24 (open for debate) had a significant impact on their OHL teams (25%)
As you can see, the number of import players that actually come over is declining rapidly. This trend was started because of the pandemic, but it has continued post pandemic. Part of it is the aforementioned ban on Russian/Belarussian players. Part of it is the fact that the USHL and NCAA is stealing a considerable amount of the CHL's thunder attracting top end European talent (especially netminders). And part of it is just the fact that European leagues have restructured their models to make sure younger players are being developed properly and afforded ice time. Will these numbers ever go back up to the 80+ percent that we used to see?  

Of course this article wouldn't have been possible without the help of these experts:
Steven Graves (@German_Spitfire)
Czech Prospects (@CZprospects)
Matej Deraj (@MatoDeraj)
McKeen's Hockey (@mckeenshockey)
Here are the reports:

1. Erie Otters - Martin Misiak - Center/Wing
The Saginaw Spirit's misfortune is the Erie Otters gain. The Spirit were not able to hold on to Misiak's rights last year and he re-entered the Import Draft this year allowing Erie to take him first. On one hand, you might have expected Erie to take an '05 or '06 who better fit their timeline, however on the other hand, Misiak is a potential impact forward coming off a USHL championship with Youngstown. The addition of Misiak probably moves Carey Terrance to the wing, giving Erie a one/two punch of Misiak and Fimis down the middle. They have to be hoping that Misiak can reconnect with former national team teammate Ondrej Molnar to bring out the best in his game too. The Chicago Blackhawks second round is a lock to report.
Scouting Report:
Misiak projects as a versatile middle six forward thanks to his strength on and off the puck, his strong skating, and his solid two-way awareness. Playing both at center and the wing, Misiak competes hard at both ends and will use his size to help win battles along the wall. With a powerful stride, he can be effective on the counterattack and he is middle of the ice focused, always looking to get the puck and himself to the net front. More of a playmaker than a goal scorer, Misiak’s decision making and confidence with the puck grew significantly later in the USHL season as he developed chemistry with fellow draft eligible forward William Whitelaw. All in all, Misiak’s safe floor will make him intriguing to NHL teams. His strong play down the stretch suggests that there is further room for growth in his power game and play driving ability. Does he have the vision or creativity to be a top of the line-up player? Likely not, but with his versatility, he should find a role at the pro level. - McKeen's Draft Guide 2023

4. Niagara IceDogs - Urban Podrekar - Defense
The IceDogs need players, plain and simple. A Slovenian defender, Podrekar spent a lot of time in the AlpsHL last year, a mid-tier pro league in Central Europe that OHL fans might remember as the preferred destination of OHL players during the covid shutdown. What are the Dogs going to get from Podrekar? That remains to be seen, but he almost assuredly will report. 
Scouting Report:
- pretty hard finding a lot of information about Podrekar, so how about hearing from him on his game?

7. Soo Greyhounds - Arttu Karki - Defense
With the selection of Karki, a player that I've been told is very serious about coming over, one has to think that the dreams of Julian Lutz or Noel Nordh coming to the OHL are all but squashed. Regardless, Karki is a strong offensive defender with the tools to become a quality two-way under the right development. Adding another high end player to this blueline is a great decision by management. The top four of Kudryavtsev, Gibson, Virgillio, and Karki could be very solid net year. A Vegas 3rd round selection this year, Karki should be a lock to come over.
Scouting Report:
He's a rangy, fluid defenseman who can also move the puck well. His physical development took a big step last season compared to the one before it and spikes in points and overall on-ice impact followed. Does a great job consistently staying in motion, easily shifting his weight and changing directions, and usually only needs to use a few of his long steps to get where he wants to go in the play. He is very elusive at the offensive blueline for a big man, using his feet and hands to open up lanes. Usually elects to pass first, but his wrist shot, and slap shot are also legitimate weapons, and he has finally started to trust them more. There are still times where he defers to his teammates for play-driving and sits back a little too much overall, and some improvement there would go a long way. It's almost scary to think of what he could look like if he ever finds a mean streak and gets more pep in his step. Despite being a little older for this class his game is still growing quickly, and with no end in sight for his developmental runway it doesn't look like it's going to slow down any time soon. - McKeen's Draft Guide 2023

10. Kingston Frontenacs - Emil Pieniniemi - Defense
Definitely a strong decision by Kingston to use this selection on a defender. Definitely the weakest component of the roster on paper, Pieniniemi was a recent third round selection of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 6'2 blueliner is intelligent and mobile. He's not likely to be a massive offensive presence, but he should be able to log some big minutes for Kingston should he come over. He did sign an extension with Karpat in December of last year, so it remains to be seen whether he does, in fact, report. But Kingston will be recruiting hard (similar to how they'll also be pushing for Gavin McCarthy).
Scouting Report:
Pieniniemi is one of those “jack of all trades” defenders who is solid enough at everything but does not have a true standout quality. For a 6-foot-2 defender, he does move quite well, and his strong mobility is the key to his success as a composed two-way player. He plays a generally mistake free game and is solid in coverage with good defensive zone awareness. However, without high end skill or physicality, what’s the upside? Is this a player with a true NHL projection? We feel comfortable with selecting him in this range, but not earlier. A potential bottom pairing defender who could provide solid depth at some point. - McKeen's Draft Guide 2023

13. Oshawa Generals - Rasmus Kumpulainen - Center
All of your Finns belong to us! The run on top end Finnish prospects from the 2023 NHL draft continued with the selection of big center Kumpulainen. The idea behind this selection is to give Oshawa a great one/two punch down the middle with Cal Ritchie and Kumpulainen, who's kind of a similar player. With this pick and the selection of Svozil in the second round, the writing is on the wall to bid adieu to Kimo Gruber, who failed to live up to the high expectations placed on him coming into the year. A second round selection of the Minnesota Wild, I would expect Kumpulainen to report without a guaranteed spot in the Pelicans Liiga team.
Scouting Report:
A large, rangy center who plays with some artistic flair, Kumpulainen’s star has been rising steadily this winter. Strong on his edges and a master at entering the offensive zone against similarly aged peers, Kumpulainen likes to establish the play and get things set up. Great posture and effortless strides make this seem like kids play and he has a knack for slowing down the game to fit his schedule. Interestingly, his powerplay spot on the right face-off circle benefits from such play-inducing puck control, but also because he’s shown a knack for taking accurate one-timers. Some strong showings for the national team throughout the winter led to a showcasing at the U18 Worlds, where his five points and +5 in five games didn’t quite reflect how he, at times, played for the Leijonat. What we saw was a player with a quick release who was noticeable in his economic movement in a number of situations, coming out of corners with pucks, and placing considerable emphasis on backchecking while maintaining his assignments in the defensive zone, time and again ready to get his big body involved. A number of opposition plays ended with Kumpulainen pinning a puck-carrier against the boards or him poke-checking the puck away and furthering it to his teammates. Had he learned from the situations back home that had garnered him that team-worse -9 rating? At the end of the day, players his size who can masterfully weave on their edges and glide around the ice with the puck so effortlessly will always leave suitors with visions of grandeur. - McKeen's Draft Guide 2023

16. Mississauga Steelheads - Jakub Fibigr - Defense
It was very smart of the Steelheads to target a defender at this year's Import Draft as it is clearly the team's weakness heading into the year. Fibigr is considered to be one of the top defenders in a strong 2006 born Czech defense class. NHL Draft eligible this year, the team will look to convince him to come over to join an already loaded young group that will have a TON of eyeballs on them this season.
Scouting Report:
Fibigr is a strong two-way defender. Skating is very much a strength of his currently. He has great mobility. He also has a great shot from the point that gives him powerplay quarterback potential. - Czech Prospects

19. Brantford Bulldogs - Adam Jiricek - Defense
The optimist in me says, "man I love this pick and I hope Jiricek comes over." The younger brother of Columbus' prospect (and former 6th overall pick) David Jiricek, Adam is a potential top ten pick in 2024. He was a standout at the most recent U18's despite being an underager and has already debuted in the Czech men's league. But the pessimist in me says, "there's no chance that he comes over." The reality is that David was drafted into the CHL and did not come, electing to stay in Czechia. Adam is all but guaranteed to receive top ice time for HC Plzen. That does not bode well for Hamilton's chances. Though I do respect the home run swing.
Scouting Report:
Adam plays a very similar game to his brother David. He offers a ton of skill from the blueline and his point shot is a major weapon. He can play with tempo thanks to strong skating ability. He loves to play aggressively and jump up or pinch. His defensive game does need some work, not unlike his brother in his draft year. - Czech Prospects

22. Sudbury Wolves - Jakub Vondras - Goaltender
The goaltending position was an absolute nightmare for the Wolves last year, as they tried out a few OA's to help solidify the role. So opting to select Vondras, a recent Carolina Hurricanes draft pick, makes a ton of sense. A 2004 born player, Vondras would likely only be a one year player, but if he performs well, it would be the difference between Sudbury having home ice in round one or being more of a pretender. 
Scouting Report: 
Vondras has solid size at 6'4. He's quite athletic for a larger netminder. Quick reflexes. Quick pads. His play tracking has improved a lot to become a strength. - Czech Prospects

25. Kitchener Rangers - Tomas Pobezal - Center
Pobezal found his way into the limelight this year after playing for Slovakia at the U18's as an underager. With a mid September birth date, he's actually not NHL draft eligible until 2025. There is a lot of hope that Pobezal can grow into the next lottery pick for the Slovaks. Would he entertain the idea of playing in the OHL? I'd say this year is pretty unlikely. He has signed with HK Nitra of the Slovak men's league and the expectation is that he, at least, starts the year in Slovakia. After that? Who knows. But this is a shrewd pick by the Rangers in what is likely to be a rebuild year. If Pobezal doesn't come until next big deal.
Scouting Report:
Skilled offensive forward with great hands and a slick shot. He´s a bit undersized (5´10”) and needs to gain more weight to be more competitive along the boards, but plays bigger than his size and has an edge to his game. One of the oldest players eligible for the 2025 NHL Entry Draft, but definitely displays first-round talent, at least for now. He led the Slovak U18 National Team in scoring for two straight years. He didn´t show very much at the last U18 World Championship, but it was mainly due to him recovering from a serious injury. He´s not very likely to join the Kitchener Rangers now, since he´s expected to play for HK Nitra in Slovak top tier league, the same team Šimon Nemec, Adam Sýkora and Juraj Pekarčík got drafted from. - Matej Deraj

28. Owen Sound Attack - Martin Matejicek - Defense
Nolan Seed and Teddy Sawyer won't return to Owen Sound this year and that leaves some ice time to be had on the back-end. Thus the use of an import pick on Matejicek to go with now OHL veteran Servac Petrovsky. Matejicek was a fixture on the Czech U18 team this player, playing a key role at the Hlinka/Gretzky and U18's. He was not drafted, but he was ranked by NHL Central Scouting.
Scouting Report:
Kind of a defense first defender who is smart, but also hard to play against. He plays a physically aggressive game. Matejicek can move the puck efficiently too. - Czech Prospects

31. Peterborough Petes - Rio Kaiser - Defense
A massive German defender (6'7) playing in Austria (at the Red Bull Academy), Kaiser is one of the youngest players selected this year. With an October, 2006 birth date, he's not NHL draft eligible until 2025. It's pretty clear the direction that Peterborough wants to take this year with this selection as Kaiser will be joining a defense group that already has the 6'5 Konnor Smith and 6'3 Samuel Mayer. I suppose the hope is that Kaiser can come in and be a solid #4-5 option on a Petes team that is likely headed for a rebuild. 
Scouting Report:
This selection puzzled me a bit, not that I don’t think highly of Kaiser, but more so that when most imports are selected, they’re expected to have an immediate impact. Kaiser is a project, and the best word to describe him would be RAW - he’s a late birthday that has so much growth still left to do with his game, and that’s going to take time - I’m not sure how patient the Petes will him and I’m afraid they’ll see lack of production from this big, German kid and hit the reset button come the next import draft. So if I think this, why did the Petes select him? Well simple, his profile is crazy as a 16 year old, he is 6’7” & 210lbs; when he steps on the ice, he looks like a man amongst boys. Now, although he’s a big guy, Kaiser hasn’t fully learned how to utilize his size to his advantage, he often times shies away from contact and gets out muscled in front by weaker competition. Offensively, he has a bomb from the point, he can rip the puck from the blueline, and this often causes panic in front of the net and leads to second chance opportunities for his team. His decision making leaves some to be desired however, and he tends to throw away pucks when pressured at the blueline. That being said, he does have upside, if he can grasp the speed of the North American game quick and use his size to his advantage, he could very well look like an excellent selection down the line. - Steven Graves

34. Guelph Storm - Vilmer Alriksson - Wing
A fourth round selection by the Vancouver Canucks this year, Alriksson wasn't really on our radar at McKeen's Hockey. He's an absolutely massive young man at 6'6, 215lbs, but his offensive production in the J20 wasn't exactly eye popping. The Scott Walker and Todd Harvey connection in Vancouver probably means that Alriksson will be coming over. The question will be...can Alriksson be more of an impact player than Valentin Zhugin, who Guelph gave up the rights to in order to select Alriksson? 
Scouting Report:
- I read through a lot of reports on Alriksson following his selection by the Canucks and the consensus seems to be that Alriksson is intriguing because he's actually a strong skater for a guy his size. There's a need to use his size more to his advantage and a need to improve his puck skill in order to be more consistently involved offensively. Here's a terrific article about Alriksson with some scouting tidbits.

37. Flint Firebirds - Markas Samenas - Wing
It seems that Simon Slavicek will be back in Flint this year, which I actually think is a good thing given how well he started to play later in the year and into the playoffs. He could be an impact player this year. So with their other Import spot, Flint opted to take a player out of the QMJHL who was released. Samenas played for Acadie-Bathurst last season and the big bodied winger (6'5, 215lbs) largely struggled to be anything more than a depth piece. We'll see how he fits in the Firebirds lineup.
Scouting Report:
Here's a link to Flint's press release on the selection which has some quotes on the player.

40. Saginaw Spirit - Valentin Zhugin - Wing
The Spirit stayed close to home by selection former Guelph Storm winger Valentin Zhugin. I've seen some criticism of the selection online, but I actually really like this for Saginaw. His run and gun style of play fits Saginaw a lot better than it did Guelph. There's no denying his skill level. If he can bulk up and become a little stronger on the puck this offseason, he could really help Saginaw in their Memorial Cup season. Now...will he be as much of an impact player as Misiak who they had to let go of? Doubtful.
Scouting Report:
From a production standpoint, Zhugin does not deserve to be drafted. This is especially true when you factor in that he's a late born 2004 playing in his second OHL season. Yet, I find myself ranking him fairly high still because his offensive upside is pretty significant. When you are talking about drafting players late, you want to highlight and find guys who can be difference makers if everything goes according to plan...even if that's unlikely. Zhugin oozes skill and he is an electric skater. He blends the two well too, making him a difficult cover when he gets time and space to skate with the puck. The problem is the application of said speed and skill. For one, he lacks the strength to consistently play through traffic and can be easily angled off to or kept to the perimeter. For two, his decision making with the puck leaves a lot to be desired. He, quite frankly, skates himself into trouble way too often. This is why the production does not match the skill. If he is able to add strength and become more middle of the ice focused, do we see him show more poise and patience knowing that he can fight through checks or take contact to make a play? It's a risky gamble, but the upside may be worth the risk for an NHL team. - Brock Otten, 2023 NHL Draft Rankings

43. Sarnia Sting - Roman Kukumberg - Wing
The Sting are searching for another high end import to pair with Sandis Vilmanis next year and they are hoping Kukumberg can be that guy. He was drafted by the Chicoutimi Saguenéens of the QMJHL in last year's Import Draft, but did not come over for his NHL draft year. That may have been a mistake as Kukumberg ended up not getting a ton of ice time back home and ultimately went undrafted. Perhaps he can be persuaded to come to the OHL to help him get back on the draft radar. 
Scouting Report:
Competitive two-way winger who likes to play hard. Strong along the boards, solid skater and a great forechecker. He didn´t show much offense in the recent season, but he mainly played with men and had a limited ice time. Went undrafted in the recent NHL Entry Draft, but might gain some attention as an overager if he has a successful season. Kukumberg definitely has some bottom-six potential. His situation is less clear, since his current team (Slovan Bratislava) would like to keep him in Slovakia, but Kukumberg might be tempted by having more ice-time and offensive responsibilities in the OHL. - Matej Deraj

46. London Knights - Daniil Ustinkov - Defense
I was really hoping that someone would take Ustinkov because I've really enjoyed watching him Internationally. That said, with London selecting him, I'm a little bit disappointed because it would appear that the writing is on the wall for him to come over in the future and not next season. London's defensive group is pretty stacked right now and the team is hopeful that Kasper Halttunen joins Ruslan Gazizov up front. Of course, if Ustinkov is interested in coming over this year, I'm sure London would make room for him by dealing defensive depth and dealing Gazizov. I believe that he would be worth it. What happens here will be something to monitor closer to the start of the season.
Scouting Report:
Ustinkov is a strange surname for a Swiss born player but he has lived in the country since the age of 5, so his entire development as a hockey player has been at the hands of the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation. Truth be told, Ustinkov is one of my favourite 2024 NHL Draft prospects at the moment, and is a potential first round selection for the upcoming draft. Ustinkov is just such an exiting player to watch create offence from the blueline - he is so poised and precise with the puck on his stick, always thinking a step ahead on what he wants to do next. This confidence paired with his creativity when handling the puck has my eyes glued to him whenever he is carrying the puck. His defensive game leaves a bit to be desired, he does have trouble boxing out players in front of his net, and he is too quick to commit to simple fakes by the opposition. That being said, he is quite the physical player, he doesn’t shy away from contact, and in many cases - welcomes it! He’s not a devastating physical player by any means but he picks his spots well and he is quite effective at spectating his man from puck. Now unfortunately for London fans, it looks like Ustinkov has committed to playing for Zurich in the top Men's league in Switzerland this upcoming season, however if things go sour with that relationship, I don’t think Ustinkov will hesitate coming to North America and joining the Knights. - Steven Graves

49. Barrie Colts - Michael Brandsegg-Nygård - Center
Barrie has opened up a whole host of options for themselves with this selection. It seems all but assured that NHL first round pick (and 2022 Import selection) Eduard Sale will be suiting up for them. But they've used this pick on another potential first round pick (in 2024), have also used their second round import pick and still have the option of keeping Artur Cholach as an OA. Nygard is a late born 2005 who already got in some action at the men's level with Mora (in the Allsvenskan) and will be likely hoping to do so full time this season. The Norwegian forward also helped Norway qualify for this year's main group of the WJC's. He could be a special player but it does seem more likely that this pick was made with next season in mind. However, never say never.
Scouting Report:
Nygård is the most hyped Norwegian prospect, probably ever. He and fellow import draft selection Stian Solberg headline what is poised to be the best draft class in Norway’s history. Both players have potential to be first rounders come draft day - A feat that would be huge for the nation of Norway who’s highest NHL draft pick was Marius Holtet, who went 42nd overall in 2002. There are 3 defining attributes to Nygård, and those are his IQ at both ends of the rink, his motor, and his shot. Nygård is an extremely intelligent forward, he reads and reacts to plays at a high level, always positioning himself well to create chances in the offensive zone, or nullify it in the defensive end. His shot is excellent, if he is able to get time and space within 10 feet of the goal mouth, he’s going to make the other team pay more often than not. Nygård is good at picking spots from in tight and isn’t afraid of getting his nose dirty. Then there is his motor, watching him, you’ll never see him give up on a play, he always has his feet moving trying to do whatever he can to help out. If Barrie is able to get Nygård over, that would be a massive get as he should come in and produce right away. He should spend the majority of the season playing against men with Mora IK, in the Swedish second division, however just like with Eduard Sale, things can change in a year's time. - Steven Graves

52. Windsor Spitfires - Josef Eichler - Defense
The Tomas Hebek selection definitely didn't work out for Windsor last season. So...why not go back to the same well this year? Eichler is a late born 2005 who played for the Czechs at both the Hlinka and U18's, although in more of a depth role. Of course, Windsor could have just kept Sobolev around, but they already have an OA crunch heading into next year, so this makes more sense. Truthfully, Eichler sounds a lot like Sobolev anyway.
Scouting Report:
Very physical defender, much more than his size would suggest (6'0). Eichler can make a solid first pass and has offensive potential. - Czech Prospects

55. North Bay Battalion - Ihnat Pazii - Center
Really interesting selection by North Bay. Pazii is a smaller Ukranian forward who has been playing in the U.S. the last few years. He played in Chicago last year, but with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks the year prior. For what it's worth, Pazii outscored WHL'er Camerin Cardona that year, and Cardona is a fairly well regarded young American player with Tri-City. There were reports that he would look towards the NCAA route and was recently drafted into the USHL, but he's already signed with North Bay. So there you go!
Scouting Report:
- Not much out there on Pazii, but here's an article with some quotes from Adam Dennis on the young forward, who is not draft eligible until 2025 (thanks to a late birthday).

57. Ottawa 67's - Tuomas Uronen - Wing
With news that Vinzenz Rohrer would be heading to Switzerland to play pro, the 67's suddenly had a huge hole to fill on their roster and they're hoping that Uronen, a Vegas 6th round pick in 2023, can do just that. Uronen did sign a pro extension with HIFK recently (in May), so that may complicate his transfer. However, I'm sure Vegas would love to see him in Ottawa, on a competitive team that could give him significant top six ice time. 
Scouting Report:
Uronen entered the year with a lot of promise as a potential high selection in the draft, however in our opinion he just failed to build on a strong Hlinka/Gretzky Cup performance in the summer. He flashes high end skill and finishing ability in transition, but he is too often a passenger kept to the perimeter. - McKeen's Draft Guide 2023

73. Oshawa Generals - David Svozil - Defense
This was a great target by the Generals. Svozil already moved away for hockey last season, transferring to Finland (in the Ilves program) from Czechia. Additionally, his older brother Stanislav, achieved great success coming to the WHL. David may not be quite the hyped prospect that Stanislav was at the same age, but he did play for Czechia at the U17's and is considered a possible NHL draft candidate this season. The hope is that Svozil can grow to be an integral part of the defense moving forward along with other youngsters Danford and Marrelli.
Scouting Report:
Svozil has good size and a solid frame for his age, already bigger than Stanislav. He is a smooth skater with good offensive skills and that gives him great offensive upside. Svozil also flashes a physical game and could become a quality two-way type. - Czech Prospects

76. Mississauga Steelheads - Tomas Galvas - Defense
As mentioned, the blueline is a real weak spot for the Steelheads currently so why not use both Import spots on defenders, especially ones with the potential to be impact players. Tomas is the much younger brother of former Chicago Blackhawks prospect (now UFA) Jakub Galvas. I believe he is less likely to show up compared to Fibigr because he has already played pro in the Czech men's league. That said, perhaps convincing them to come over together could work.
Scouting Report:
Really smart defender. Hockey IQ is one of his best traits. Strong decision maker at both ends. Galvas is a really strong skater and he has good hands too, allowing him to make an impact in transition. Despite being undersized, he shows an ability to play in tight spaces, excelling in traffic. - Czech Prospects

79. Brantford Bulldogs - Dominik Badinka - Defense
The strategy by Brantford here is quite bold. Their first pick was Adam Jiricek, the top defender in this Czech class. Their second pick, Badinka, may just be the second best Czech defender for the draft this year. He's not an '06, but a late born 2005. He played in Finland this past season, which IMO, means he could be persuaded to come to the OHL after already displacing himself this past season. He is much more likely to come than Jiricek.
Scouting Report:
Very mobile defender with offensive upside. Makes an excellent first pass. Has a high IQ, especially with the puck, making him a solid playmaker. He can quarterback the powerplay, taking control from the point or the half wall. - Czech Prospects

85. Kitchener Rangers - Aron Kiviharju - Defense
You have to shoot your shot. The Rangers had a chance to make a few extra picks given the unclarity surrounding their import situation and they used this one on potential top five pick in 2024, Aron Kiviharju. The smooth skating Finnish defender is ultra talented as a puck mover and has already been an impact player on the World's stage. However, there would appear to be no chance that he comes over after already playing for HIFK in Liiga.
Scouting Report:
- I've seen Kiviharju a fair amount, so I could easily write a report on him, but my friend and fellow bald podcaster, Tony Ferrari, has already done that. I thought I'd share that here.

94. Guelph Storm - Damian Slavik - Goaltender
There weren't many goaltenders taken this year, but the Storm did opt for Slavik, a big Slovak netminder who served as a backup on the U18 team this year. Guelph is facing a bit of an OA crunch heading into the year so if they can get Slavik to commit, it could allow the Storm to move Patrick Leaver to another team searching for a starter. 
Scouting Report:
Tall goalie with a solid size (6´4”), but still a bit slim. He´s quick enough, yet he´s not the fastest goalie in the world and doesn´t have the explosiveness and athleticism of smaller goalies. He´s calm and poised in the net and has a good glove. He displays solid potential. Slávik was the #3 goalie on the Slovak U18 team that lost the bronze medal game at the recent World Championships of said age category. He played well in the second men´s division with the U18 team and juniors’ levels. The goalie situation in Guelph seems less clear, but I can see Slávik jumping to the OHL. - Matej Deraj

109. Barrie Colts - Endo Meier - Wing
As mentioned, Barrie has a ton of options in regards to their import slots this season. Meier does seem like the most likely player to join Eduard Sale with the Colts. A talented offensive forward, Meier was solid for Switzerland at the most recent U18's, but due to a lack of high end physical tools, he went unselected in the NHL draft. The hope is that Meier can come in and offset some graduations up front (Vierling, Cardwell, McDonnell) by claiming a spot in the top six...or at the very least the top nine.
Scouting Report:
Passed over in the 2023 NHL Draft, Meier is an odd player. When you watch him play, he doesn’t stand out because he doesn’t have a flashy skillset, he’s not very fast, isn’t physical, his shot is average, and yet no matter where he has played he has produced offence at a respectable rate. This can be attributed to how smart of a player he is, it is truly the one attribute of his game that I would say is above average. He is so good at putting himself in spots to make something happen in the offensive zone; it’s almost subtle with how good he is at being in the right spots at the right time. Meier was actually the leading scorer for the Swiss at the most recent U18’s where he recorded 6 points in 5 games. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Barrie this upcoming season, but I don’t know how well he’ll get acclimated to the North American game. - Steven Graves

115. North Bay Battalion - Alex Cajkovic - Defense
The younger brother of former Tampa Bay Lightning third round selection Maxim, Alex is one of the few players to officially sign in the OHL already. A 2005 born defender, Cajkovic played in Sweden the last two years after a few years in Austria prior to that. Truthfully, his stats in the J18 league weren't mind blowing and he certainly wasn't on the NHL draft radar. Typically strong 17-18 year old players play up in the J20 in Sweden. Cajkovic was also not part of the Slovak Hlinka/Gretzky or U18 teams. Expectations are probably best kept relatively low here.
Scouting Report:
Čajkovič is a two-way defenseman who likes to join the attack. He´s a solid skater and doesn´t mind playing a bit more physical. He wasn´t part of the Slovak U18 National Team at the recent tournaments, but has some international experience. He spent the last two years in the Swedish U18 league. His older brother is Max Čajkovič, a former first overall CHL Import Draft pick (2018), who was recently traded with Pat Maroon to Minnesota. Alex Čajkovič was quickly signed by the North Bay Battalion, so he´s expected to join the team and spend the next season in the OHL. - Matej Deraj

117. Ottawa 67's - Kimi Korbler - Wing 
Thanks to Pavel Mintyukov and Vinzenz Rohrer moving on, the 67's had two picks in the draft to make this year. With the first pick they took Uronen, someone who should make an immediate impact in their top six. In Korbler, the 67's are taking more of a long term project. With a late October 2006 birthday, Korbler isn't NHL draft eligible until 2025. However, he is one of the more highly regarded Swiss players in the age group and should be a key player on the Swiss Hlinka/Gretzky Cup team. The hope is that he would come over and play in the bottom six next year and then progress to the point where he could be a top six player in the future.
Scouting Report:
Kimi is one of many promising players among the 2006 born age group from Switzerland. He is a late birthday so this means he isn’t draft eligible until the 2025 NHL Draft. Now the first thing you’ll notice about Körbler is how fast he is; he is great at using his speed to catch defenders flat footed so he can attack to the outside then cut to the net. He is fearless when doing this and doesn’t shy away from contact. He is deadly in transition because of his speed and could be a very good penalty killer because of it. When the game slows down, however, he tends to get lost on the ice - he isn’t the smartest player, so his decision making can be bad when he has any sort of pressure. Turnovers can be an issue. I don’t know if he’ll be an offensive force if he comes to the CHL, but he reminds me of former Ottawa 67’s import selection Vinzenz Rohrer (at the same age) so maybe the 67’s are quite good at developing these kinds of talents. - Steven Graves