Friday, July 28, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Ottawa Senators

Two high quality prospects from the OHL are members of our Nation's capital's hockey team.

1. Logan Brown - Windsor Spitfires
No question, this was not a good year for Logan Brown, Memorial Cup champion or not. He battled numerous injuries (wrist, shoulder, hand) and largely took a bit of a step backward as a potentially dominant center. In the second half of his draft season, he was a dominant force, utilizing his size to carve up the middle of the ice as he wished. Putting defenders on his back, he had the opposition at his mercy. It was that aggressiveness in attacking the net that made him a lottery selection. But before that, he had been an enigma that frustrated scouts because of inconsistency in using his size to play through traffic. This year, whether it was because of the injuries or not, he didn't have that same ferocity to his game. Consistency was once again a major issue. Even in the Memorial Cup, with his team playing for the National Championship, I largely found him to be a relative non factor. Now, keep in mind all of this is coming from someone who is a big fan. If you recall, I had Brown ranked even higher than the Sens took him. And I still greatly believe in his potential as a dominating physical center in today's NHL. But, there's no question that he needs to regain his form and stay healthy next year in Windsor. Really hope he can find that tenacity again. And I think he will, and as such, he'll be a 90+ point player in his final OHL season.

2. Alex Formenton - London Knights
When in doubt, trust the development program that is the London Knights. Formenton is a player who played a lot of different roles for London this year; his first in the OHL. He saw time on the top line where he didn't look out of place, and he was buried on the 4th line for the majority of the 2nd half and playoffs. Speed is his major asset as he's one of the quickest players in the OHL. He also plays with a fearlessness that can't be taught. The rest of his game is a work in progress IMO. The hands and the brain need to catch up to the speed of which he's capable of playing. Would love to see him really develop as a dominant forechecker and penalty killer too. These are things that I think London can draw out of him. So what does next year have in store for him? London isn't graduating too many of it's main forwards, so he'll have to battle again for ice time. But he should at least be a fixture on the 3rd line, with the chance to see powerplay time and even top 6 duty if his play warrants it. I wouldn't be shocked at all if he's a 30 goal scorer next year, although I don't think he'll be a point per game player until his 19/20 year old season in 2018/19.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Philadelphia Flyers

Wish these guys still wore the Cooperalls! Thanks to an OHL heavy crop at the 2017 draft, the Flyers have a ton of talent playing in the OHL.

1. Isaac Ratcliffe - Guelph Storm
Have to stick with my draft rankings for 2017 and that puts Ratcliffe ahead of Frost for me, but it's very close. Really interested to see how both of them develop in 2017/2018. Ratcliffe is coming off of a good year, his second in the league. The 6'6 winger progressed in a lot of areas; his skating got better, he started to use his size and his shot more, and he really established himself as a budding power forward. There were most definitely some consistency issues, but that's to be expected on a very poor team. Moving forward, adding strength to his frame should be priority number one. Will make him much more difficult to stop in the corners and in front of the net, where he should dominate with his height. Also hoping that it gives him more confidence to play a power game more consistently. Continuing to improve his skating is also a priority. Guelph should be a better team in 2017/18 and Ratcliffe will be at the center of that. With his shot (among the best in his age group), I think he's a 35+ goal scorer and a point per game player next year.

2. Morgan Frost - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A surprise first rounder this year to a lot of people...but not to those who follow the OHL closely. This is a highly talented kid who was deserving of a high pick. Frost is an extremely intelligent playmaker whose speed and smarts make him an ideal candidate to play a top 6 role at the next level. He was dynamite for SSM on the powerplay this year, using his terrific skating ability to carve up the open ice and find openings. Moving forward, adding size will be critical for Frost. He has the smarts, but getting stronger will make him a better 5 on 5 player, and a better two-way player. And I think that's what we'll see next year when Frost will play a top 6 role for a Greyhounds team that should compete for the Western Conference Championship. Surrounded by a ton of talent, Frost should be an 80+ point player and establish himself as one of the league's elite playmakers.

3. Matthew Strome - Hamilton Bulldogs
I think at this point, everyone knows about Strome's skating weaknesses. What people don't realize is how smart Strome is as a playmaker. With his size, he's able to maintain possession along the wall and he's able to manufacture a lot of scoring chances with excellent vision. His gap recognition and anticipation are terrific. Strome also has excellent finishing ability and can be a very complete offensive player. The skating will need to improve though, as he's really only effective below the hash marks. And I'd love to see him play a more consistent power forward game, something he flashed at times this year. Adding a physical element to his game would help to offset some of those skating deficiencies. I do believe in this player though and I think we'll see him progress a lot over the next two years. He'll return to Hamilton and continue to be their offensive leader. I think the Bulldogs will have a good offense next year and I could realistically see Strome hitting the 80+ point mark.

4. Connor Bunnaman - Kitchener Rangers
What a great draft +1 season for Bunnaman. Jumped from 16 goals to 37 and really established himself as one of the league's most dangerous players near the crease. With his size at 6'3, 215lbs, Bunnaman is a near immovable object in front of the net and he understands his role well. Shows very quick hands in close and he's really worked on his shot to become the quality goal scorer that he is. Next year, I think there are still some things to work on. Would love to see him become an even more dominant power forward, who is consistently physical on the forecheck and as a defensive player. Would also love to see his puck skill continue to improve to make him more of a factor off the rush and as a playmaker coming off the wall. Lastly, his skating still needs to continue to improve, especially those first few steps. But as mentioned, it was a very good year for Bunnaman. If he can replicate his goal scoring success and inch close to the 40 goal mark, but improve his assist totals and become a more well rounded offensive player, that would really elevate his status as a prospect further. 

5. Anthony Salinitri - Sarnia Sting
Another player who had a great draft +1 year. Salinitri almost doubled his production from the year prior and looked good doing it. He figured out a way to harness his speed as an asset at both ends and really emerged as a solid player away from the puck. One of the league's better penalty killers and he really attacks loose pucks with urgency. Thought he looked noticeably stronger on the puck too, working the cycle game well. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how much more he can improve his offensive production. Can the hands continue to catch up to the pace that he plays at? Also really want to see him improve his faceoff percentage next year, especially if he wants to stick down the middle as an undersized center. Ultimately, I think his game profiles better on the wing for the next level anyway. With Drake Rymsha and Adam Ruzicka down the middle already, I actually think Sarnia would be smart to move Salinitri to wing too (where he saw some time on the powerplay). We shall see I guess. Would love to see him hit the 30 goal and ppg marks next year.

6. Maksim Sushko - Owen Sound Attack
Solid mid round selection by the Flyers here. Sushko flashed some interesting skills this year in a rather limited role. Quite frankly, of all the guys drafted from the OHL this year, Sushko is one of the few that I just don't have a great read on yet. Solid speed. Flashes one on one skill. Looked good attacking on the penalty kill and plays with a chip on his shoulder at times. But what's the upside? How good is his shot and how good are his scoring instincts? These are questions that could very well be answered next year. The Attack are losing their two best players on the right side in Petrus Palmu and Matt Schmalz, which should mean a top 6 role for Sushko, including maybe some powerplay time. The Attack will be one of the best teams in the Western Conference, so if he sticks in the top 6, I could see Sushko coming close to a 30/30 season, so long as he proves himself capable.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Pittsburgh Penguins

A rough year for the lone prospect of the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

1. Connor Hall - Kitchener Rangers
As mentioned, a tough year for Hall who was limited to just 17 games and was shut down in November with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Not going to bother evaluating Hall based upon those 17 games, but instead let's focus on next year. Hall has had some problems with injuries during his OHL career and he needs to just stay healthy next year. The Rangers will be relying upon him to be a top 4 defender on a club with aspirations for a top 4 spot in the Conference. His physicality and size are a major asset in the defensive end, as is his mobility. Really hoping to see him stay healthy and become one of the OHL's elite stay at home defenders. Of course, there's always been the hope that his offensive game would develop eventually too, because of his strong skating. At this point, given how little he's played over the last few years, I think a year really focusing on the defensive side of things wouldn't be a bad thing. I'd expect a year of about 25+ points from Hall, with some major steps forward as a defensive stopper.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - San Jose Sharks

Small group of OHL'ers for the Sharks who have used a few late rounders of late on players from the league.

1. Sasha Chmelevski - Ottawa 67's
Chmelevski was one of the year's most disappointing prospects for me. Loved what he brought to the table offensively as a rookie (in limited action) in 2015/16 and had very high hopes for him coming into the year (as a potential top 2 round pick). But it was not a strong year for his development and as such he fell pretty heavily in the draft. He's definitely a talented offensive player. Has a great shot and release. Great agility and the potential to be a very good skater if he can get stronger. Very skilled with the puck and can make defenders miss. But consistency was a major issue, especially when it comes to his play away from the puck. Needs to be fully engaged and willing to battle in traffic to make plays. The coaching staff in Ottawa was also visibly frustrated with him, as his ice time fluctuated in addition to a few media call outs. Ultimately, mind set is going to be a big factor when it comes to Chmelevski improving. Ottawa has a new coaching staff in place for next year (Andre Tourigny) and we'll see how they're able to motivate him. The 67's have a very young, but talented team. They're probably another year away from a breakout, so if Chmelevski can get himself to the point per game mark next year and then breakout massively in 2018/19, that would be ideal.

2. Mark Shoemaker - North Bay Battalion
Truthfully, didn't see what the Sharks saw in Shoemaker to draft him in 2016 and this past year provided more evidence to that. Look, Shoemaker has good size and he has some decent mobility, but the rest of his game would classify as average. If he's going to make it at the next level, he's going to need to develop into a dominant stay at home defender at the OHL level and that just hasn't happened yet. Still needs to play more aggressively in his own end. His reads and understanding of defensive positioning still requires work. Gets beat too much one on one right now. Makes a decent first pass, but again, this area of his game is limited. Shoemaker will return to the OHL, this time with a new team as he's been dealt to the Guelph Storm. In Guelph, they'll be looking for him to be that dominant stay at home defender in their top 4. Offensive statistics won't mean much, but if he's able to play consistently in Guelph's top 4 and help them make the playoffs, he'll put himself in a better position to earn a contract. That said, he's probably a long shot at this point. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - St. Louis Blues

St. Louis continues to draft heavily from the OHL.

1. Jordan Kyrou - Sarnia Sting
Fantastic year for Kyrou, who has emerged as one of the most dynamic playmakers in the OHL. He's such a slippery player because of his skating ability. Off the rush, he's explosive and difficult to contain, but his play within the offensive zone really improved this year as he added strength. Much more effective at maintaining puck possession and playing through traffic, especially looking to use his speed to attack the middle of the ice. Also was more aggressive in looking to shoot the puck this year, something I highlighted in last year's write-up. Moving forward, I think Kyrou still needs to make some improvements to his two-way game. Would love to see him using his speed to be more of a factor on the forecheck and on the PK. Kyrou finished just outside the top 5 in scoring this year, so next year it's reasonable to think that he could crack the top 5 and the 100 point mark. He's a legitimate offensive talent who could be an impact top 6 forward at the NHL level within a few years.

2. Robert Thomas - London Knights
The Blues made a great pick with Thomas in the first round this year. If you read my draft rankings, I'm a huge fan. Thomas is already an excellent two-way player who shows a great head for the game and dynamic skating ability. Now I'm interested to see how his offensive game grows over the next two years in London. Thomas is an excellent playmaker who shows great vision, especially off the rush. But his shot will need to improve to keep teams honest. Gaining more confidence in this is a major next step for him (Thomas finished 12th in shots per game among Knights' players this year, behind three defenders). An offseason spent on getting stronger to be able to win puck battles more consistently will also help. Being able to maintain possession longer will only make him more dangerous because of his vision. Thomas will be a go to offensive player yet again in London and I would expect a numbers jump. An 80+ point season with 25+ goals is definitely a realistic expectation IMO.

3. Luke Opilka - Kitchener Rangers
Another tough year for Opilka in Kitchener. He once again battled consistency issues and some injuries, actually posting worse numbers than the year before. He remains an enigma. There were a few games that I caught this year (including one in the playoffs), where Opilka was absolutely fantastic, utilizing his athleticism to be a brick wall. But then there were a few other times where he couldn't seem to stop a beach ball. Positioning is still a weakness for sure. Quite frankly, he just needs to play consistently. I still believe there is potential for him to develop as a pro goaltender. The question is, where will that journey take him next year? He could return to the OHL as an overager, but that's if there is a team that wants him. Kitchener has some young goaltenders and may not want to use an OA spot on Opilka, especially given that Luke Richardson largely outplayed him this year. Would another OHL team take him? It's possible. The Blues also have Opilka under contract and could choose to play him in the ECHL. I guess we'll see.

4. Trenton Bourque - Owen Sound Attack
Interesting pick by the Blues at the recent draft. He improved a ton this year in Owen Sound, emerging as a borderline top 4 defender on a quality club. He was an anchor of their PK and really plays a safe, defensive first game. Has good size and mobility and definitely possesses the qualities that could make him a solid stay at home defender at the next level. Will return to Owen Sound next year and should see a similar role, with the chance at an increased role if Jacob Friend turns pro. Not sure I'd expect much of an increase in offensive production (maybe 20 points and hopefully his first OHL goal), but if he can really start using his size more in the defensive end and become a dominant shut down force, that would be promising for his pro future. Owen Sound will be one of the best teams in the OHL next year and they'll be relying on Bourque to take that step.

5. Filip Helt - Sarnia Sting
Not a good season for the Import. Looked largely over matched in the OHL. Shows some good speed and puck skill at times, but just didn't appear strong enough or intense enough to make much of a consistent impact. As such, he was pushed further and further down Sarnia's depth chart, eventually finding himself on the 4th line with limited ice time. His rights were released by Sarnia and he'll return to Europe next year.

*Alexei Toropchenko - Guelph Storm
 A 4th rounder of the Blues this year, Toropchenko was a pick of Guelph's in the import draft and is apparently coming over. He should see top 6 ice time in Guelph. They've got a quality young team with a ton of offensive talent. I would expect him to have a good year. He could most definitely be a 30 goal scorer, based on all the reports I've received on his play. Excited to see him in person.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Tampa Bay Lightning

Thanks to the influence of Stevie Y, the Lightning are another team that just loves to draft players from the OHL.

1. Mikhail Sergachev - Windsor Spitfires
A new addition to the Lightning prospect crop after being the return for Jonathan Drouin. First, the bad news (or at least, not great news) Lightning fans. Sergachev didn't have a great year in the OHL this past year. From the minute he came back to the OHL after a month long stint in the NHL, it seemed like the intensity level that he had played with as a rookie (and dominating force) just wasn't there. This is certainly not uncommon. That NHL hang over can last weeks, months, or even an entire season for prospects once they get a taste of the pros. Sergachev's production wasn't bad at all, but for those that saw him play regularly, he just wasn't as effective at either end as he was in 2015/2016. Poor decisions with the puck. Poor reads defensively. Sprinkled in with some jaw dropping plays that made you remember just how good he can be. This came to a head in the OHL playoffs where he was very ineffective against London in round one. But then came the Memorial Cup where Sergachev clearly elevated his play to finish the year extremely strong (winning the Mem Cup). Truthfully, I wouldn't be worried. As mentioned, this type of thing is pretty common for elite prospects in the CHL. And most end up becoming pretty damn good NHL players. I still believe Sergachev's potential is higher than Juolevi's and is that of a first pairing all star. And I do think that he'll play in the NHL next year with Tampa. Of course, because of his age, it's Tampa or the OHL. If he does come back to the OHL, hopefully he returns more motivated (similar to the way Dylan Strome was surprisingly sent back this year and looked like a man on a mission).

2. Mitchell Stephens - London Knights
Stephens is proof why it's important to do more than just stat watch when evaluating prospects. Stephens' production did decrease a fair amount upon his trade to London, but anyone who watches London will tell you that he was consistently one of their best and most dangerous forwards this year. This was especially true in the playoffs when some of their other players really laid eggs. He's an incredibly complete player who competes hard (using his great speed) at both ends of the ice and who uses his hockey sense to make consistently smart plays and reads. I think he's definitely going to be an NHL player. It's just a matter of where he'll eventually slot into the lineup. I could see that being anywhere from the second line to the 4th line. It all depends on how well his offensive abilities carry over to the pro level and whether his lack of elite size hurts him. He'll turn pro next year and play in the AHL where I would expect him to be a 20/20 player and in the top 20 of rookie scorers.

3. Anthony Cirelli - Erie Otters
What a great way for Cirelli to finish off his OHL career, the way it began with an OHL Championship. Honestly, Cirelli might be one of the most clutch players to ever play in the league. His penchant for big goals is legendary. A Memorial Cup winning OT goal two years ago. And an OHL Championship winning goal this year. Not too shabby. Cirelli was fantastic for Erie after coming over from Oshawa (where he was equally fantastic). It was a great year overall. His offensive game really took a solid step forward, gaining confidence in his ability to carry the puck and drive the net to match his great vision and hockey sense. And I also felt his skating really improved this year too. Looked a lot more explosive. All in all, the Lightning are getting a very intelligent two-way player who projects as a very good third line forward at the NHL level. Like Stephens, he'll turn pro next year and likely suit up in the AHL. I would expect his offensive production as a rookie to be similar to Stephens', likely in that 20/20 range. Neither player should need long at the AHL level before becoming NHL'ers.

4. Taylor Raddysh - Erie Otters
What a breakout season for Raddysh, in his post draft year. Many around the league expected his numbers to jump as he got more responsibility (and still got to play with some great players), but I don't think anyone expected him to be a 100+ point player and one of the most consistent offensive performers in the league. Pretty much every facet of his game took a step forward this year. Really noticed a difference in his strength on the puck, as he was able to be a big factor in traffic and working the wall. It's clear he really worked on his shot and finishing in close too, His skating is still a work in progress and I think that was evident at the WJC's (where he struggled a bit), but it too improved. So what's the next step for Raddysh then? Next year, it will be his show to run in Erie and he'll have to prove (yet again) that he's able to produce offensively despite Erie incurring some losses. To do that, I think he'll have to improve his skating even more so that he can create more time and space for himself (although he could pair with a quick guy like Ivan Lodnia). He could also be traded if Erie decides to rebuild and recoup some of their losses (thanks to trading a TON of draft picks in recent years). Either way, I'd expect him to be hovering around that 90-100 point mark yet again next year. Even if his production dips a bit, I don't think that will necessarily mean he's had a poor year as he's facing a different situation.

5. Boris Katchouk - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
It was an excellent year for Katchouk and you know your prospect pool is pretty damn strong when he's the 5th best on a list for one league. He started off a little slowly, but really picked up his play as the season went on, capped off with an 8 goal in 11 playoff games performance. Katchouk is one of the hardest working players in the OHL, who is an absolutely relentless forechecker and crease crasher. He also possesses a terrific shot that helped him finish second to Senyshyn in goals on the Hounds with 35. When you combine that with the fact that Katchouk also grew a few inches this year and now stands 6'3, you've got a speedy, power winger with a real pro style game, waiting in the wings. I was very tempted to put Katchouk ahead of Raddysh, but I think you have to respect the draft +1 year that Raddysh had, even if I'm a little less convinced his game translates to the NHL as well as Katchouk's does. It will be really interesting to see how these two compare next year in their 20 year old seasons. Sault Ste. Marie will be one of the better teams in the OHL and Katchouk could very well be a 40/40 player. If he can really improve his vision and playmaking ability (to go with his tenaciousness and finishing ability), that would make him an even more dangerous player.

6. Erik Cernak  - Erie Otters
The main return in the Ben Bishop deal, Cernak is a legit defensive prospect and has a very good chance of becoming a solid, shut down defender in the NHL. He's just an incredibly solid player. Defensively, it's rare to see this guy make a mistake in coverage. And his gap control is excellent when defending the rush, so he's tough to get around. He's also very tough to win battles against in the corners and in front of the net. Truth be told, he was the best defensive defender in the OHL this year. I felt his offensive game was better this year too. Did a better job with his exit passes and looked a lot more sure handed when trying to avoid the forecheck. This guy is pro ready. He'll head to the AHL next year, where I wouldn't expect much from him offensively (Roland McKeown had 11 points as a rookie this year and I'd expect similar from Cernak), but that won't measure his value. Like Cirelli and Stephens, I don't think Cernak is far from an NHL spot.

7. Matt Spencer - Peterborough Petes
Projects similarly to Cernak, but isn't quite as polished yet IMO. Spencer was drafted into the OHL as a potentially dominant two-way defender. But the offensive side of things never developed for him in the OHL and I think it's safe to say that, that part of his game likely won't develop as a pro in the future either. What you see is what you get in that regard. Defensively, he's a great skater with excellent mobility. He also really took a step forward in playing "meaner" this year and really seemed to enjoy playing the tough guy role for the Petes. His intensity in front of the net was always noticeable when you watched Peterborough. But his reads and overall defensive IQ is not as good as Cernak's IMO. There is still some growth that needs to be made there for him to develop into a quality NHL shutdown defender. With some guys like Sergachev and Cernak ahead of him (at least IMO), he'll have a few years to develop in the AHL and I think he eventually develops into a dependable 5-6 guy (think the recently retired Kevin Klein).

8. Christopher Paquette - Peterborough Petes
Last year, in this article, I wrote that a 20/30 season was a realistic expectation. Paquette finished 19/29 combined between Niagara and Peterborough, so needless to say, he performed up to my expectations...which weren't incredibly high. Peterborough brought him in to provide more scoring depth down the stretch and they paid a pretty high price for him. His performance for the Petes was pretty underwhelming and I think they expected more from him. He definitely added some weight this year and was stronger on the puck. With his size down the middle, there's the potential for him to develop as a pretty good playmaker. But his play without the puck still needs work. With his size, he has a lot of potential as a two-way, power center. He has some skill with the puck, but he's just not aggressive enough. Would love to see him look to drive the net more and use his size more consistently in the corners. Evidently, he still has a lot of growing to do as a player. But, he'll return to a Peterborough team that could be the favourite to win the East next year. It'll be a deep team though, especially down the middle. So there's no guarantee that he's given top line responsibility. I think in order to get signed by Tampa, he's going to need to be a point per game player for the first time in his career.

9. Jonne Tammela - Peterborough Petes
Who? Played two games in November for the Petes and disappeared thanks to a patella tendon injury that required surgery. It's a real shame too, as he likely would have been an impact player for the Petes. The question is...what do the Lightning do with him next year? Having not really played a lot of hockey the last year, do they send him back to the OHL for an overage season? I know the Petes still have him on their protected list. Or does he play in the AHL? Or...does he get loaned to Europe for a season? Would likely be great for him to play in the OHL to get his confidence back post injury. Will likely depend on how he looks in camp.

*Alexei Lipanov - Barrie Colts
Worth noting that 2017 selection Alexei Lipanov will be suiting up for the Barrie Colts this coming season. He should be an immediate impact player on a strong (but rebuilding) Barrie team. Along with his running mate Andrei Svechnikov, Lipanov could easily be an 80 point player in the league IMO. I have very high expectations for him after seeing him play internationally.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs love them some OHL players, so this will be quite the lengthy write up. Although, their higher end players from the league have recently graduated.

1. Jeremy Bracco - Windsor Spitfires
An interesting year for Bracco. His production really dropped after the trade from Kitchener, but that was quickly forgotten after his performance in the Memorial Cup. After a first round loss to London in the OHL playoffs, many were left wanting more from Bracco and were wondering where the production was. But the Spits brought him in to help win a Mem Cup title (as hosts) and he did just that. Before I talk about his progression on the ice, I think it's worth mentioning that Bracco visibly matured this year as a young man. Body language, the way he conducted himself in interviews, and overall attitude on the ice was noticeably different (for the better). On the ice, I think there are still some consistency issues that need to be ironed out. His skating took a massive step forward this year IMO and that was the most noticeable difference. Really added some explosiveness to his stride to make him more difficult to stop off the rush. And his vision and creativity as a playmaker remain his bread and butter. There are still some consistency issues away from the puck, as a fully engaged player at both ends, but hopefully that is something that can be improved as he moves to the pro level. Bracco remains a high upside offensive player, although admittedly, I still have some reservations as to how well his game will translate to the AHL next year.

2. Eemeli Rasanen - Kingston Frontenacs
Rasanen, the Leafs 2nd rounder in 2017, is the very definition of a project. He's an absolutely hulking defender at 6'6 and he has some real intriguing qualities (big point shot, projection as a puck rusher, great reach defensively, great open ice hitter). But there are also some areas of his game that need a lot of work (decision making under pressure, physical intensity in high traffic areas, overall mobility). Good news is that Rasanen hasn't been playing at a high level of hockey for very long and he's a kid who is very moldable. He'll have a few years to really gain confidence in his puck skill and his ability to defend. An adjustment to having to make quicker decisions on the small ice is also likely. We could start seeing a big improvement as early as next year when Kingston will once again be a solid team in the Eastern Conference. Rasanen will be a top 3 defender for them and a big part of their powerplay (someone has to replace Desrocher). As such, I really see him getting close to that 10 goal mark and over 45 points. But more importantly, I think we need to see a step forward at the defensive end. Really want to see him become a physical beast in his own end.

3. J.J. Piccinich - London Knights
Even though the offensive production didn't really take a step forward, I don't necessarily think it was a poor year for Piccinich. I think the rest of his game really took a step forward this year. He served as the captain for the Knights this year and most definitely became a more engaged player without the puck. He developed into a quality penalty killer and his overall defensive awareness improved a lot. This was critical IMO, as Piccinich is going to need to prove that he can be a reliable energy guy to make the NHL. That said, I think the Leafs were smart to have him sign an AHL deal rather than give him an NHL deal right away. They still retain his rights but have a chance to see how his skill set translates to the pro level first. You can't overlook the fact that he had one goal in this year's playoffs and his goal production was overall disappointing this year. Don't know if he's skilled enough to play as a top 6 player at the next level, which means that the rest of his game will really need to continue to improve (as I alluded to). I would expect he splits the upcoming season between the AHL and the ECHL and we'll see how he performs and whether Toronto ends up offering him a contract.

4. Fedor Gordeev - Flint Firebirds
Like Rasanen, Gordeev is a hulking, raw defender. But, unlike Rasanen, Gordeev is actually a very good skater for a big defender. His plus mobility, in combination with his reach and his physical bravado, could make him a terrific stay at home defender down the line. His defensive game (IQ) is still a work in progress, but his game really progressed late in the year with Flint as he emerged as a top four defender for them. How much offensive upside he possesses remains to be seen. I know those who watched him in minor midget contend that he can be a quality offensive player at the OHL level, but I'm not quite as sold. I think his puck skill and decision making will need to improve for that to happen. But it's certainly possible. He'll return to Flint and push for a top four spot again on a quality young team. If he can really improve defensively and chip in a bit more offensively (maybe 30 points), I think that would be a very successful season for Gordeev next year.

5. Keaton Middleton - Saginaw Spirit
Not a lot of players had great years in Saginaw this past year. The team was a disappointment in a stacked Western Conference. That said, Middleton was one of the few players on that team that had a good year IMO. It speaks volumes to Keaton's character that he was named captain already as an 18/19 year old. He was a great partner to Filip Hronek (another player who had a solid year), playing the stay at home role so that Hronek could utilize his offensive gifts without truly hurting the team. Middleton's mobility took a step forward this year, as did his decision making with the puck. And with his reach, he's a tough player to match up against offensively. I think there are still some limitations to his game (which is why I rank a guy like Gordeev ahead of him right now), but he's progressed relatively well. It will be very interesting to see if Saginaw wants more out of him offensively next year with Hronek and Niemelainen gone. I think it's likely we see a jump in production. Nothing substantial, but I could see him hitting the 30 point mark. Then again, Saginaw could ask him to play a similar role, paired with OA Marcus Crawford. We'll see I guess.

6. Ryan McGregor - Sarnia Sting
Early on in the year, I felt like McGregor could be on track to be a top 100 selection in 2017. He had a great rookie year and started strong this year too. But he ultimately hit a wall and his production fell off a cliff. He's got speed to burn and the hands to be a good goal scorer. But he needs to get stronger, on and off the puck, so that his energy can consistently create scoring chances. I think it also remains to be seen just how good his hockey sense is in the offensive end. Just what type of upside are we looking at as a scoring winger? These are all questions that could be answered as early as next season where McGregor should have an inside track at a top 6 role with some quality linemates (like Jordan Kyrou or Adam Ruzicka). That could mean an uptick in production. Heck, if he can just sustain the type of production he had in the first half, with some minor tweaks, a 25/25 year is a very realistic expectation. Anything more would be gravy IMO.

7. Nicolas Mattinen - London Knights
On the positive side, Mattinen got into the Knights' lineup every day. Even if it was as a third pairing defender with some sheltered minutes, it was still consistent playing time, something he did not get in his draft year. Mattinen is a huge defender, just like Rasanen, Gordeev, and Middleton, but IMO, he's not at the same level as those three quite yet. His play with the puck is not as smooth as Rasanen and he doesn't possess the offensive potential that he does. His skating is not as good as Gordeev's. And his defensive IQ is not as good as Middleton's. With Mattinen, we've still got a work in progress who needs to grow at both ends to be a solid NHL prospect. But he's going to get great coaching in London and if he's willing, he will continue to improve. Next year, depending on what happens with guys like Juolevi or Crawley, he could easily be a top 4 defender for the Knights. It's worth noting that Mattinen paired with Evan Bouchard a lot this past year and Bouchard is a guy who is going to get an increased role next year. The coaching staff may choose to keep them together as part of a top four pairing. Like Middleton, I could see Mattinen in that 30 point range next year.