Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sunday Top 10 - Most Improved Players of 2014/2015

As is the case every year in junior hockey, there are many players who improve from one year to the next. There are many reasons for this. Increased growth/strength. Improved confidence. Another year of experience. An increased role in the lineup. Whatever the case is, you'll find that teenagers seldom get worse as they go along in this league.

With today's list, I intend to highlight some of the players whom I feel have taken the biggest steps forward this year. This was an incredibly hard list to pare down, because so many players got better. That's why I've got several 'Honorable Mentions' today, and quite frankly, could have included many more.

Here's the list; the OHL's most improved players for 2014/2015

10. Matt Schmalz - Sudbury Wolves
The Wolves haven't had a lot to cheer about this year, but the progression of Schmalz stands out. A former OHL first rounder and the main piece of the Corrado/Leivo return, Schmalz struggled in his first year and a half in Sudbury. His draft year last year certainly did not go as planned. But this year, the 6'6 forward looks like a different player. He's gone from 3 goals a year ago to already 19 this year and he currently leads Sudbury in scoring. His skating has always been a strength, but he's now using it to be more aggressive in driving the net and is playing with a serious chip on his shoulder. The power forward should be a lock to be drafted this year in his second year of eligibility.

9. Pius Suter - Guelph Storm
Excelled as a depth player last year for Guelph, playing 3rd/4th line minutes and working as a penalty killer. But the Storm needed him to step up and play a top 6 role this year. He's responded very well to the increased ice time. He continues to play a high energy game that made him a fan favourite last year, but his offensive abilities have grown by leaps and bounds. He looks stronger on the puck and has excelled with higher skilled linemates, showcasing good vision and playmaking ability. Like Schmalz, Suter is another player passed over in the draft last year, that should be a lock to be taken this year.

8. Joseph Blandisi - Barrie Colts
After the Avalanche chose not to sign Blandisi last year, he came into his overage season with the right mind set; motivated to prove them wrong. As part of a potent Barrie Colts first line (which contains another player on this list), Blandisi has broken out in a big way and has consistently been among the league's leading scorers this year. He's always been a great secondary player in this league, but he's developed into a star who looks way more confident in leading drives and working with/without the puck. Blandisi has already parlayed his strong season into an NHL contract with the New Jersey Devils.

7. Nick Moutrey - North Bay Battalion
Hasn't had quite the impact yet that I expected from him in North Bay, but a lot of that can be attributed to an ankle injury. Regardless, Moutrey has been one of the league's most improved for me. While the jump in stats hasn't been overwhelming (although he's finally a point per game guy), Moutrey does look like a different and more engaged player. Inconsistency has always been something that's plagued him, but every time I've seen him play this year, he's been the best player on the ice. He looks way more explosive as a skater and that's helping him make a larger impact at both ends of the ice. I've been particularly impressed with the way he's transformed his game as a forechecker and general pain in the butt without the puck. His game is very well suited to play a 3rd line role at the NHL level.

6. Dylan Strome - Erie Otters
Just because the development was expected, doesn't mean that Strome doesn't deserve to be on this list. Near the top of the league scoring race, Strome has been a beast since game one this year. He's become better in nearly every asset of the game and he looks more confident (and is now strong enough) to lead the play. He's creating his own scoring chances now and is no longer the secondary option he was in his rookie year. His defensive game has also grown, to the point where I would consider him a solid two way forward. He deserves the top 5 consideration he's received thus far for 2015.

5. Tyler Bertuzzi - Guelph Storm
Amazing what staying healthy can do for a player. Bertuzzi certainly showed flashes of being at this level the last couple of years, but injuries kept stalling his development. Now that he's healthy...he's second in the league in goal scoring. I've been incredibly impressed by his ability to create scoring chances this year. He operates so well in traffic and excels in the dirty areas of the ice. Even without Robby Fabbri, his game hasn't skipped a beat. The Detroit Red Wings just keep finding these guys.

4. Chris Bigras - Owen Sound Attack
Lots of people were hard on Bigras last year after his offensive numbers declined and he struggled a bit at the WJC's. I didn't have a ton of issue with his development last year though, as I felt he really made a consistent effort to improve his defensive game. With the increased confidence in his defensive game, it's allowed the offensive side of his game to grow by leaps and bounds this year. He's always possessed the potential to be a big time offensive contributor, but he's been hesitant to join/lead the rush consistently. This year, he's taking chances offensively and has also greatly improved his point shot on the powerplay. If I were voting, he'd have my vote for OHL defender of the year.

3. Michael McCarron - Oshawa Generals
McCarron just wasn't very good last year. The Canadiens first rounder came in with high expectations which he failed to meet. But this year has been a completely different story. Players transferring from the USDP or the USHL tend to take a year to adjust to the OHL (which is why it's important for Windsor fans to be patient with Luke Kirwan) and McCarron was no different. He looks infinitely better in puck possession, using his size and speed to dominate near the boards and in the cycle. He's also making better decisions with the puck and has demonstrated more poise/patience in the offensive end. In front of the net, he's an absolute beast. I would assume Montreal is very happy with the way he's played this year. A stat I mentioned on twitter. As I write this, London was 18-7 with him in the lineup and are 13-16 without him.

2. Kevin Lebanc - Barrie Colts
File this under the same situation as McCarron (a USDP player taking a year to adjust). Lebanc was not incredibly impressive in his first OHL season, and draft year. This year, he's been one of the OHL's best players and is a guy that not many people are talking about despite his fantastic year. Biggest difference I've noticed is in his skating. He's much more explosive now, which has suited his high energy game very well. He's also much stronger on the puck and is having a lot of success leading the rush across the blue line and controlling the pace in the offensive end. His ability to make one on one moves in the offensive end was certainly not completely apparent last year. He's on pace to triple his production of 2013/2014.

1. Christian Dvorak - London Knights
With his ACL injury and London's depth last year, Dvorak just didn't have a chance to showcase his true abilities in 2013/2014. The potential was always evident though. And boy has he lived up to it this year. From 14 points last year to 95 points (and counting) this year. Dvorak has exploded as an OHL star and top NHL prospect. He has also developed into a very complete player. He's a guy who can create offensive chances in a variety of ways (off the rush, on the forecheck, from the cycle) and who's speed on the outside gives many OHL defenders trouble. He's also a terrific defensive player who's fully committed to playing at both ends of the ice. The Coyotes got a good one.

Honorable Mentions

Mitchell Marner - London Knights
Marner has exploded this year, in his NHL draft year. He doesn't crack the main list because I was so impressed with his play last year. Marner's breakout this year is due to the fact that he's gotten stronger and more confident in his abilities. In particular, his shot and goal scoring ability has greatly improved, as last year I found him to be a little pass happy.

Lucas Peressini - Kingston Frontenacs
Really the main reason that Kingston has been able to stay in the playoff conversation this year. Peressini has gone from a guy who may have had a questionable long term future in the league, to one of the top (and most underrated) goaltenders in the league. His consistency in the crease has helped to counteract some of the injury issues that the Fronts have had to deal with this year.

Nick Betz - Erie Otters
Playing with the talented centres that Betz has at his disposal certainly doesn't hurt, but he deserves credit for the way he's improved his game this year. The big power forward has done well to improve his skating and it's making him a more dangerous player as he's finding scoring lanes and beating opponents to loose pucks with more consistency. With a 25 goal season in his sights, the big winger may have put himself on the NHL draft radar.

Kyle Platzer - Owen Sound Attack
Platzer has most definitely taken his game to the next level this year. He looks considerably stronger on the puck and it's helped to give him more time to operate and use his high end vision/hockey sense to make plays. He's also been more aggressive in playing in traffic and along the boards. He'll end up doubling his own personal best in points.

Dylan Sadowy - Saginaw Spirit
Has emerged as Saginaw's top offensive threat this year. Last year he was applauded for his strong two-way play and work away from the puck (that led him to a 27 goal year). This year, his offensive game has grown substantially. He looks quicker and is creating his own scoring chances by looking to drive the net and being more patient in the cycle game. Like Platzer, Sadowy is likely to double his personal best in points.

Mitchell Vande Sompel - Oshawa Generals
I add Vande Sompel on this list because the improvements that he's made defensively. His offensive game was very impressive as an OHL rookie last year, but his defensive game was quite raw. This year, he's proved to NHL scouts that he can play in all situations and that despite his lack of size, he can be a competent NHL defender. When mixed with his terrific (and also improved) offensive skill set, you've got a great OHL blue liner (in the mold of a Dan Boyle).

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Midseason Media/Scout Top 10 for 2015

It's time for an update to our media/scout list. There's still lots of meaningful hockey to be played (CHL February/March, CHL playoffs, U18's), but it's always great to see how opinions change over the course of a season.

Ultimately, things haven't changed all that much from our Preliminary list in November (here). While there has been some minor shuffling, nothing outrageous has happened. Pavel Zacha drops out of the top 5. Mackenzie Blackwood cracks the top 10. And three guys who received votes last time, did not earn a single one this time (Salituro, Luff, McKenzie).

As always, it's important to note the contributors, as without them and their terrific insight, this article does not exist. For the midseason list, the following helped out:

Corey Pronman - ESPN writer (@coreypronman)
Dominic Tiano - Writer for The OHL Writers (@dominictiano)
Nathan Fournier - Writer for Maine Hockey Journal/Contributor to The Hockey News (@jrhockeywriter)
Dan Stewart - Director of Scouting for Future Considerations (@StewartFC)
Brendan Ross - Co-Manager of DobberProspects, scout for McKeens Hockey & TheScout.ca (@RossyYoungblood)
Peter Kneulman - Writer for the OHL Writers and In the O Radio (@PeterKneulman)
Carl Maloney - OHL correspondent for TheHockeyWriters (@carlTHW)
Dennis Macinnis - Director of Scouting for ISS Hockey (@ISShockey)
Tony Ambrogio - PA Announcer for the Mississauga Steelheads & TSN editor/producer (@Tony_Ambrogio)
Mike Morreale - Staff writer for NHL.com (@mikemorrealeNHL)
Anthony Mauro - Director/Founder of Draft Buzz Hockey (@draftbuzzhockey)
Sean LaFortune - Director of Scouting for Thescout.ca & scout for McKeens Hockey (@SeanLafortune)
Ryan Kennedy - Associate senior writer for The Hockey News (@THNRyanKennedy)
Manny Paiva - Play by Play voice of the Owen Sound Attack (@paivatheway)
Mark Seidel - Scouting Director for NACS Hockey (@MarkSeidel)

and of course...myself (@BrockOtten

Here's the Top 10 with several honorable mentions:

10. Mackenzie Blackwood - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
Total Votes: 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 7th (3x)/Outside Top 10 (9x)
Comments:
"While he hasn't been quite as good in January as he was in December, there's no question that he's playing better hockey than he did at the beginning of the year (when he was battling injuries). When he's on, his size and athleticism make him one of the most difficult goaltenders to beat in the OHL. His playoff performance for Barrie this year will go a long way in establishing his draft position. I think he could still be a late first rounder." - Brock Otten

"Huge goalie who covers the net extremely well; good NHL comparison that plays a similar style might be Carey Price or Ryan Miller. He has excellent butterfly coverage and protects the low corners and the five hole. He can make the saves while down in the butterfly, keeping his body upright and is very quick to snap his pads down to the ice when dropping in the butterfly. Strong in his crease area and very capable of coming up with huge games for his team." - Mike Morreale

"So hard to figure out when goalies will go these days, but Blackwood will be among the first thanks to his size and ability to cover the tops of the net, even when he's down in his butterfly." - Ryan Kennedy

9. Matt Spencer - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Total Votes: 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 6th (1x)/Outside Top 10 (5x)
Comments: "The more I watch Spencer the more I respect his game as that strong two-way defender good teams win with. While he is not the guy that will rush the puck up ice consistently or make many flashy plays he does make the small plays necessary to win and plays his role very well." - Dan Stewart

"For me, Spencer is the top ranked defenceman this year. The term “stud” defenseman has followed Spencer around for a couple of seasons now. He has elite hockey senses, very good size at 6’2”, and is an elite skater. His gap control and defensive positioning is excellent, and his first pass is matched by very few. Spencer can log large minutes and plays in any situation. Spencer is an able puck carrier able to transition from defense to offense. But he shows a lack of confidence in doing so or rather, when to. Once he gains more experience and confidence in his ability to do so, he'll do well with it." - Dominic Tiano

"A player who’s draft ranking seems to change depending who you talk to. Some have him as high as a late first rounder while some have him going in the third round. His true spot should likely bbe somewhere in the middle and the mid second round. Spencer is an excellent skater who plays a very well rounded game. He has added more muscle and a more physical aspect to his game this year. Has been asked to do a lot for Peterborough in a disappointing season on a team that vastly underachieved." - Carl Maloney

"Two way defender that works hard and competes. Size and skating were fine. Did a good job physically down low and in front of the net. Thought he was better keeping it simple but over all decisions were poor. Needs to simplify his game." - Dennis MacInnis

8. Mitchell Vande Sompel - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Total Votes: 13
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 5th (1x)/Outside Top 10 (3x)
Comments:
"I continue to be very impressed with the improvements that he's made defensively this season. Everyone knows how good his offensive game is, and how well he transitions up ice. But at his size, scouts are going to be even more concerned with whether he's going to be able to be a minutes eater at the next level. I think he's shown enough maturity, intelligence, and gumption to suggest he could be a Dan Boyle type of player at the NHL level." - Brock Otten

"Mitchell Vande Sompel endured a mid season injury in January that broke up his exceptional draft year season. The encouraging sign is he picked up right where he left off and produced immediately as if he weren’t gone. The not so exciting idea is that he may lack in durability, having piled up various injuries at different points over his OHL career so far. MVS will be a tough projection as his explosive skating and puck rushing exploits will be marred by an ability to stay healthy." - Anthony Mauro

"The slick skating puck moving blue liner has had no problems filling the stat sheet on a talented Oshawa roster but make no mistake, this team wouldn't be scoring at their pace without his services. His vision, creativity and ability to quarterback their powerplay are reasons that this team has become one of the CHL's most potent teams. Assuming he can avoid injuries, I expect Mitchell Vande Sompel to have a strong finish and it'll be reflected in the final rankings." - Brendan Ross

"He played forward as a kid, but has been an offensive defenseman for the Generals. Makes up for his smaller frame by possessing a superior hockey IQ and making great decisions with the puck." - Ryan Kennedy

7. Nikita Korostelev - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Total Votes: 13
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 6th (1x)/Outside Top 10 (3x)
Comments: "Korostelev enjoyed a great first half before being sidelined with injury. He remains one of the OHL's most opportunistic shooters and has been a big part of Sarnia's offense. However, I still questions whether he can show more consistency in his ability to create offense. At this point in time, Korostelev appears to be destined to be selected somewhere in the middle of the second round." - Brendan Ross

"Pro-caliber shot to go along with a good, solid frame. Shoulder injury has taken him out of the spotlight, but the kid can produce." - Ryan Kennedy

"While he has not been as dominant offensively as I would have hopped he would be this season, Korostelev still has some interesting abilities that he flashes on and off each game that will translate well to the pro game. His quickness, creativity, size, shot velocity and shot release are all traits he has going for him. He just needs to bring it more consistently or risk falling down draft lists." - Dan Stewart

"Pretty high skill level, good physical game, good shot, but skating is a bit of a concern for me in terms of his speed and it doesn't help that his defensive game isn't great either in terms of getting back." - Corey Pronman

6. Pavel Zacha - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Total Votes: 15
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 3rd (1x)/Outside Top 10 (1x)
Comments:
"Clearly, Zacha is ranked much higher in my list than others edging out both Crouse and the high-scoring Strome. Despite mediocre production, Zacha is a toolsy player that has yet to gain momentum in his draft class (due to suspensions, his WJC participation and now a lengthy injury). An outstanding skater with elite level hands, Zacha can make defenders miss due to his blazing speed or clever and unexpected passing ability. As he learns to slow the game down and blend his speed, vision, passing abilities and outstanding shot to give him multiple layers of attack, we will then see why I have him ranked this high." - Brendan Ross

"Good size and skating ability to go along with physical play. He was good for Czech Republic at the world junior, but not dominating.  TSN's Craig Button makes the comparison to Eric Staal." - Tony Ambrogio

"He's that prototypical forward the scouts are looking for at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. He's an offensive talent that hasn't gotten to breakout offensively this year. His ultra competitiveness has cost him a few times this year." - Nathan Fournier

"Big power forward still getting the hang of the game over here, but his size, shot and speed are tantalizing. I loved his drive at the world juniors, even if the results weren't there." - Ryan Kennedy

"The poor guy can't get himself on track this season. Derailed by suspension(s) and injury this season he seems to just get going before another setback happens. His enviable blend of size, smarts and skill is not a skill set that can be ignored no matter how little game action he sees this season as he has vey impressive pro-potential." - Dan Stewart

"Here's the concern I have: With the elbow injury, he likely won't return until the last few weeks of the regular season. And that time will be spent trying to find his footing again. Even with his tantalizing potential, he's going to need a heck of an OHL playoff performance and an even better U18's to really cement his draft status, at least as a lottery selection." - Brock Otten  

" I like his "Nasty Quotient"...Tremendous acceleration & extra gear...North Americam "Team First" mentality..." - Mark Seidel

5. Travis Konecny - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Total Votes: 16
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 3rd (1x)/9th (1x)
Comments:
"Really came on after a slow start and has looked much better leading the Ottawa 67's attack over the last few weeks. He does need to pick his spots better physically due to his limited size but with his impressive traits such as speed, creativity, quick release, and overall tenacity he is a sure mid-first rounder in my eyes." - Dan Stewart

"Competes hard and explodes through all three zones. Great puck skills and solid awareness. Plays aggressive for his smaller size/strength. Quality shooting skills with a nice quick stride." - Dennis MacInnis

"Travis Konecny delivered in the most crucial situation possible by taking the already nice January he was having and kicking it into overdrive at the TPG. He took conceptions of a poor year and completely obliterated them with a star performance at the BMO TPG. In the 3GP following, he has kept up his play with 7PTS in those 3GP. Konecny’s speed, drive, and unbelievable shot are now back on radar for a top selection this June." - Anthony Mauro

"An up-and-down season is starting to turn around for the young 67's captain. If the Top Prospects Game showed us anything, it's that his highly competitive motor and elite shooting abilities would be assets to any team's scoring lines. Despite his smaller stature, Konecny thrives playing the physical game and relies on it to gain separation. He may need to adjust his style in order to avoid injuries at the next level. " - Brendan Ross

"Lots of heart, character and skill with this kid. You can tell scouts want him to succeed, though his smallish frame is an obvious question mark at this point." - Ryan Kennedy 

"Travis Konecny is jumping up my rankings. We already know he is an elite skater who can control the puck along the boards or in open space. I think his shot has improved as the season has progressed, and he already possessed a pro shot. Travis is scoring goals from all angles and in many different ways. He also has great vision and passes with precision to teammates. Strong work ethic with a great compete level." - Manny Paiva 

4. Lawson Crouse - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Total Votes: 16
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2nd (3x)/5th (3x)
Comments:
"Crouse is still a curious player to me. Will he be a consistent top-six or bottom-six player in the NHL? The guess here is that the team selecting him at the 2015 NHL Draft will expect him to play a top six for sure. He's succeeded on every level and played a significant fourth-line role for Canada at the WJC. Crouse is a physical presence who is extremely tough for opponents to handle in battles. He goes to the net hard and crashes around in front. He has an incredibly powerful wrist/snap shot." - Mike Morreale

"I'm a big believer in his offensive potential. Since returning from the U20's, Crouse is averaging over a point per game (6 goals, 6 assists). Keep in mind that he's doing this without Sam Bennett or Spencer Watson. Crouse is creating his own scoring chances and is succeeding as the focal point of an offensive attack. As he gains confidence and gets more skilled linemates, his offensive contributions will only increase. Everything else about his game is a coaches dream." - Brock Otten

"The more I see him play, the more he does to make an impression. A solid skater with good puck skills. Strikes me as a smart player. He rarely is out of position. I think playing at the world junior only made him more confident" - Tony Ambrogio

"Good offensive instincts and defensive capabilities. Very tough to play against. Strong puck possession. Shields the puck well. Quality total package player." - Dennis MacInnis

"After juggling him around on this list a few times, Crouse lands among the OHL's best and for good reason. He was one of Canada's most consistent players at the recent World Juniors showing scouts that he's not only a great defensive player but also owns skills conducive to top-six upside. His production may scare some people but he's the lone wolf (due to injuries) on a Kingston team struggling to score. Blessed with good offensive instincts, soft hands (particularly in traffic) and a pro-level shot, Crouse has the offensive tools to flank a top-six pivot and produce at the next level." - Brendan Ross 

``A combination of Brendan Shanahans game with Jeff Carters feet...Can play any way you want to play...Will continue to evolve offensively`` - Mark Seidel

3. Dylan Strome - Forward - Erie Otters
Total Votes: 16
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2nd (4x)/4th (3x)
Comments:
"Strome has been progressively more impressive in each of my views this season and is someone who really does not yet know how dominant he can be in this league. His game will only become more impressive as he learns to fully utilize his great size, reach and adds more strength to his frame. This kid will breakout eventually and will be almost impossible to contain once he does." - Dan Stewart

"That big center every team wants. Strome still has to fill out his frame, but once he does so he'll be an all-around force who can put up points and take care of his duties in the defensive zone, too." - Ryan Kennedy

"Ryan Strome told me that his brother plays with a little more of an edge than he did his draft year. Similarly, both Ryan and Dylan have that competitive edge and grittiness. Dylan wants the puck and wants to score and wants to win. He's driven and has that competitive edge. I think a fair comparison is a Ryan Kesler or a Cory Perry type; a guy who's a strong skater, has agility and that reach that scouts love to see." - Mike Morreale

"This is one list you will not see Dylan Strome take back seat to more ‘toolsy’, unproven players, which has happened in consensus reports. Strome’s strong IQ is locked in at a high level, nearly guaranteeing NHL status. He has proven success without #97, has size, and offensive vision, so really all scouts have to question is if he can be a top line center without all the flash.” - Anthony Mauro

"Dylan Strome possesses a strong skill set. Strome has a great pro shot, love his wrist shot. He knows how to find open space too and passes the puck well. The puck seems to always find him, a strong sign of a good player." - Manny Paiva

2. Mitchell Marner - Forward - London Knights
Total Votes: 16
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2nd (9x)/5th (1x)
Comments: "Leading the OHL in scoring and looking like a human highlight reel most nights has him rising up my personal list. He has the elusiveness you want in a smaller dynamic scorer but this recent injury does provide evidence that he will always have a bit of risk factor to him as well." - Dan Stewart

" In my opinion, next to McDavid, Marner has the best vision and creativity of anyone available in the draft. What separated Strome and Marner for me at number two was that Strome's production slipped slightly with the absence of McDavid while Marner carried his Knights in the absence of Max Domi." - Dominic Tiano

"Elite production from an elite player. A game changer who who mixes elite vision and hockey sense with speed and an ability to finish. On pace for 135 points which would be the most since Patrick Kane got 145." - Peter Kneulman

"So much upside with his speed and offensive talent. Needs to make simple plays and avoid getting hit as much as he does; otherwise the Patrick Kane comparisons are close." - Ryan Kennedy

"Marner has been high in my ranks for quite some time mainly due to his elite possession and playmaking game, which elevates every linemate around him. He's shredding the OHL scoring charts apart and is starting to challenge Noah Hanifin for the draft's third slot." - Brendan Ross

1. Connor McDavid - Forward - Erie Otters
Total Votes: 16
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 1st (16x)
Comments:
"I think the most impressive thing about McDavid is just how good he's been this year. Quite often players in his position (spotlight for too long) tend to fade a bit in their draft years. And as such, they bare the brunt of unnecessary criticism. Call it, over analyzing due to over familiarity. With Tavares and Spezza it was their skating. With Taylor Hall, it was his play away from the puck, etc. Yet, McDavid hasn't given scouts the opportunity to question him. He's taken every challenge this year and conquered it. His play at the U20's this year is a perfect example of that. I think this points to his unflinching desire to be the best he can be. He just keeps improving aspects of his game that could possibly be questioned. Last year, it was that he needed to shoot more. Check. This year, it was his play away from the puck and defensive ability. Check (at least IMO). I can't wait to see how he handles himself in this year's OHL playoffs." - Brock Otten

"The golden ticket of the 2015 draft class, McDavid has somehow put space between him and the stellar Jack Eichel as the top ranked player. He put on a show during the Top Prospects Game on and off ice testing, doing things that veteran scouts haven't seen in all of their days of scouting. He began his OHL career as a rare "exceptional" player and somehow has made that term look ordinary. At this point in time, I'm asking myself, how many times can this kid keep raising his game to another new level? His progression seems endless." - Brendan Ross

"Amazing how he has come back after sitting out six weeks with a right hand injury. He starred for Canada at the World Junior Championship and is lightning it up again as the captain for the Otters. Director of NHL Central Scouting, Dan Marr, told me McDavid possesses a natural quickness in all areas of his game that sets him apart from the pack. All components of his game are performed with a quickness that is unmatched in this draft class. He said his ability places him in the company of [Wayne] Gretzky and [Sidney] Crosby." - Mike Morreale

"McDavid is McDavid, is described as a generational talent by many outlets. Has a target on his back every night and is able to shake defenders with ease. With him on the ice, space opens for his teammates to put goals on the board. " - Dennis MacInnis

"What more can be said? Preternatural skills, speed and drive make him a near-impossible force to contain against his peer group. Generational hockey sense and vision." - Ryan Kennedy

Honorable Mentions

Blake Speers - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (5 votes)
Highest Placement: 6th (1x)
Comments:
"Speers has some strong leadership qualities and experience. He was a captain in Bantam and Midget and this season the Greyhounds named him an Alternate Captain. Very few players possess Speers’ work ethic as well. He never seems satisfied where he’s at and works hard at improving. He worked hard in the offseason and added 15 pounds to his frame. Perhaps it’s that work ethic that allows Speers to raise his game to another level. Or maybe it’s the seemingly limitless hockey IQ that he possesses. But that IQ itself isn’t beneficial if he doesn’t have the ability – and he has that in spades. His vision is excellent and he has an uncanny ability to hold on to the puck as he sees things happening one or two step ahead." - Dominic Tiano

"A candidate to be buried amongst an all-star OHL lineup, Blake Speers is a highly intelligent, versatile forward that just does his job. At risk for looking ordinary amongst the best of his peers, one really needs to watch him over a string of games to see how smart he is. Speers won’t blow doors off, but don’t sleep on his overall prospect value having .65PPG as a rookie back up his now near top 20 OHL scoring draft year season." - Anthony Mauro

"What really stood out to me in my viewings of Speers was his increased willingness to drive the net. He may not be the biggest guy but he has a knack for winning battles and races for loose pucks near the front of the net. Part of it is his strong hockey sense that allows him to get into position before the opposition and part of it is a relentless motor that never stops running." - Peter Kneulman

Graham Knott - Forward - Niagara IceDogs (4 votes)
Highest Placement: 8th (1x)
Comments:
"When I first watched him he really didn't stand out. But the last few times, he has as he gets more comfortable in his draft year. Best way to describe him is this way: A solid all-around player. There is nothing flashy just consistency.' - Tony Ambrogio

"Knott's points haven't been great this year but he's the kind of guy you have to watch closely. He skates very well, is very good off the puck and on the PK. Not exceptionally skilled, but I see some offensive potential in his game." - Corey Pronman

"Good size, should continue to fill out. As he does, and if he gets more 'involved', he could be a really dangerous player. Needs to improve on his focus in the defensive zone. However, he definitely has skills, particularly offensively, including an excellent shot." - Dennis MacInnis 

``Not flashy but very effective...Will be able to play in all 3 zones in the NHL...Offensive game still has to evolve.`- Mark Seidel

Zachary Senyshyn - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (4 votes)
Highest Placement: 10th (4x)
Comments:
"Zach Senyshyn’s draft stock is summed up with his December – 1.3PPG when Bunting was out. Now that the team is flooded with already drafted talent, such as Bailey, Ritchie, McCann, etc, expect Senyshyn to be vastly underrated. If you are into projections, chew on this one: an underutilized, strapping rookie winger with mind-blowing acceleration who can finish." - Anthony Mauro

"After a slow start Zachary really picked up the pace in December. He has high end speed and has shown an ability to both create and finish. Will be interesting to see how he adjusts to a new role and less icetime as the Greyhounds have geared up for the stretch run." - Peter Kneulman

"I think he's got better upside than his teammate Speers." - Brendan Ross 

``Tremendous footspeed & loves to drive the net...Takes some nights off but that should change with maturity...Will become a tough guy to handle as a Power Forward when he fills out.`- Mark Seidel

Travis Dermott - Defense - Erie Otters (2 votes)
Highest Placement: 7th (1x)
Comments:
"Projected as a riser from the last preliminary list, Travis Dermott moves up the board with excellent puck management. Staying healthy after a rocky start, Dermott has had 4G and 19A for 23PTS in 22GP from the beginning of December. He looks disgustingly smooth in his movements, with processing that could handle the pro game now." - Anthony Mauro

"A true puck manager who makes those around him more effective by getting them the puck with accurate passes and at the right times. He is not big but built stalky like smaller defenders need to be to be effective in their own zones. The best part of his game is his processor as he makes quick decisions that are usually the correct decisions." - Dan Stewart

Vince Dunn - Defense - Niagara IceDogs (2 votes)
Highest Placement: 8th (1x)
Comments:
"I was very impressed with him at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects on- and off-ice testing and then the game. He's an exceptionally smart offensive defenseman with excellent decision making with the puck. He's an accurate passer, and moves and dishes the puck well. He's very fast and agile and good in 1-on-1 situations using excellent body positioning. He placed first among all defensemen in the on-ice testing prior to the top prospects game, including first in the weave agility, and finished fourth among all 40 players participating." - Mike Morreale

"He's a late bloomer that has come into his own the last two years. He has put some solid offensive numbers in his first two years. I see him ore as a a steady defenseman at the next level. He will be a solid selection in the 2nd-3rd round. " - Nathan Fournier 

Thomas Schemitsch - Defense - Owen Sound Attack (2 votes)
Highest Placement: 9th (1x)
Comments:
"He skates well for a player of his size but needs to improve agility. Very composed and smart with puck and has good instincts on PP. Must be more of a physical presence and assert himself in order to maximize potential." - Dennis MacInnis

"Not that Schemitsch is falling at all, just the guys ahead of him have pushed themselves ahead of this two-way defender.  Great size, fluid feet, willingness to join the attack and the smarts to know where to go in the offensive zone are all positive attributes. He is no slouch defensively either as he uses his positioning, long reach and size to eliminate opponents." - Dan Stewart 

Rasmus Andersson - Defense - Barrie Colts (1 vote)
Highest Placement: 8th (1x)
Comments:
"Conditioning is an issue for scouts, but assuming he gets that squared away, Andersson brings quick feet, a good shot and power play acumen." - Ryan Kennedy

Mitchell Stephens - Forward - Saginaw Spirit (1 vote)
Highest Placement: 10th (1x)
Comments:
"Need to see more of him but from what I have seen -- very good skater, excellent shot." - Manny Paiva

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings for 2015

NHL Central Scouting released their midterm rankings today. Here's a look at how they ranked OHL players. And here's my midterm top 50 as a comparison.

Skaters

1. Connor McDavid (1)
2. Lawson Crouse (4)
3. Dylan Strome (5)
4. Mitchell Marner (7)
5. Pavel Zacha (8)
6. Travis Konecny (26)
7. Mitchell Vande Sompel (33)
8. Nikita Korostelev (41)
9. Blake Speers (41)
10. Travis Dermott (47)
11. Matt Spencer (51)
12. Vince Dunn (53)
13. Graham Knott (54)
14. Zachary Senyshyn (56)
15. Kyle Capobianco (67)
16. Gustaf Bouramman (68)
17. Rasmus Andersson (84)
18. Anthony Cirelli (88)
19. Chris Martenet (92)
20. Matt Luff (95)
21. Ethan Szypula (96)
22. Thomas Schemitsch (98)
23. Roy Radke (111)
24. Mitchell Stephens (113)
25. Pius Suter (116)
26. Hayden McCool (117)
27. Justin Lemcke (119)
28. Brett McKenzie (124)
29. Jeremiah Addison (127)
30. Nick Betz (129)
31. Tyler MacAthur (135)
32. Trent Fox (143)
33. Dante Salituro (145)
34. Andrew Mangiapane (147)
35. Gustaf Franzen (151)
36. Brandon Lindberg (153)
37. Colton White (154)
38. David Miller (158)
39. Artem Artemov (159)
40. Cameron Lizotte (171)
41. Brandon Crawley (173)
42. Petrus Palmu (180)
43. Stephen Desrocher (181)
44. Adam Laishram (186)
45. Garrett McFadden (193)
46. Marcus Crawford (195)
Limited Viewing - Connor Schlichting
Limited Viewing - Jarett Meyer

Goaltenders

1. Mackenzie Blackwood (1)
2. Michael McNiven (6)
3. Connor Hicks (10)
4. Liam Herbst (14)
5. Jeremy Helvig (17)
6. Jack Flinn (26)
7. Zack Bowman (27)

To see the full list, GO HERE.

My thoughts…

1. Lots of banter about Lawson Crouse being ranked so high. It's not a surprise. As I've said, he's one of those guys that scouts are going to rank higher than the general opinion (because of his size and how well rounded his game is). That said, I still take Mitchell Marner ahead of him (where as Strome is debatable). Marner's ranking isn't a huge surprise, as Central Scouting has long been the type to value size more than anything.

2. Biggest discrepancies between my list and NHLCS:
Higher:
Anthony Cirelli (+23)
Chris Martenet (+29)
Ethan Szypula (+18)
Brandon Lindberg (+15)
Lower:
Sam Harding: (-24)
Jesse Barwell (-17)
Justin Lemcke (-12)
Brett McKenzie (-10)
Colton White (-12)
Marcus Crawford (-17)

3. Of those discrepancies, I'm really surprised about a few of them. Sam Harding not being listed is a bit of a shocker, especially when they've ranked Adam Laishram (another guy I really like), who's a pretty similar player but smaller. I don't get why Justin Lemcke is so low too. He's a really solid prospect IMO and there's no question that I would take him over some of the other guys listed ahead of him. Ditto for Colton White. He deserves to be much higher. Anyone who follows the OHL closely is extremely high on him because of his high potential. In terms of the higher ranked guys, Chris Martenet is an intriguing  project because of his size, but he doesn't deserve to be ranked that high right now.

4. Central Scouting really isn't a fan of what the OHL has to offer this year it seems. Only 16 OHL skaters in the top 80. Compare that to last year where the OHL had 28 players ranked inside the top 80 (at midterm). The drop from Zacha to Konecny is also quite large according to their scouts.

5. Some quality "re-entry" guys on the list this year. And that's deserving. The OHL has some quality second and third year eligible prospects with a shot at getting drafted. A bit shocked to not see Damir Sharipzyanov, Matt Schmalz, and Ken Appleby listed though, as I'd consider them just as strong of candidates as the others listed.



Saturday, January 10, 2015

2015 OHL Trade Deadline Report Cards

OHL players can now sleep easy as the 2015 OHL trade deadline has come and gone. Many players have said goodbyes. In January alone, 46 OHL players traded places. But with a new team often comes new and rewarding challenges. Many of these players will get the chance to play deeper into the playoffs and perhaps win an OHL championship. While others will receive increased responsibility and ice time in hopes of catching the eye of NHL scouts.

Many of the teams in the league were active in the past month. Several teams (Erie, SSM, Oshawa, North Bay) loaded up for deep playoff runs. Other teams (Kitchener, Owen Sound, Peterborough, etc) made moves to help solidify a playoff spot and give their younger players much needed playoff experience.

For this article, I'm cutting off trades at Christmas. So any trades made before Christmas won't be factored into a teams grade. No sense assessing a team's ability to trade over the course of the season.

Let's do some grading!

Eastern Conference

Barrie Colts
In: Stephen Nosad, Ben Harpur, Chadd Bauman
Out: Draft picks (2, 2, 5, 10, 10), Givani Smith, CJ Garcia
Report: Quite frankly, I'm a bit surprised that the Colts didn't do more. They're playing such good hockey lately, I figured that they'd really go for it in the Eastern Conference. Mackenzie Blackwood is playing as good as any goalie in the league right now and on any given night, they've got a chance to win. They did do a good job of bringing more size to their blue line with Harpur and Bauman (if he sticks on the blue line) and they realize that, that will be necessary to beat the likes of Oshawa and North Bay (who got much bigger up front). That said, I wasn't crazy about the price they paid. Barrie has traded away their first rounder nine times in the last twelve years. In that time frame they've got 2 Eastern Conference titles, but zero OHL Championships to their name. With many of their top players set to move on next year (Blandisi, Laser, Hooey, Harpur, and possibly Lebanc), I thought that they'd do more if they traded away one of, or both of their former firsts (Smith and Kreis)
GRADE: B-

Belleville Bulls
In: Trent Fox, Jesse Saban, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 6)
Out: Remi Elie, Jake Marchment
Report: The Bulls only made one deal but boy was it a big one. They sent out their former captain (was expected) and their offensive leader and got a massive return. The Bulls are right in the middle of the Eastern Conference right now so I'm sure there are questions as to why they would make this type of move. But I'm sure they realize that they're not going to beat one of the top teams in the East this year and they've got a solid group of '96's and '97's to build on moving forward. For Elie and Marchment, they got back just that. Two quality 97's in Fox and Saban who fit right in with their core. They've got some young players like Laishram, Saigeon, and Luff, who are ready for increased responsibility and should be able to fill in adequately. The Bulls will likely still make the playoffs this year, all the while building for the future. Definitely a WIN.
GRADE: A-

Kingston Frontenacs
In: Draft picks (2, 2, 3, 4, 5), Cody Caron, Jared Steege, Nathan Billitier
Out: Reagan O'Grady, Draft picks (6, 6), Ryan Kujawinski
Report: Not very often you see a team fighting for the playoffs move their recent first rounder (O'Grady), but he had asked for a trade so Gilmour's hands were tied. They ultimately got a decent return for the former captain of the OHL Cup champion Toronto Marlboros. The quality of the return for Ryan Kujawinski remains a bit of a mystery. Nathan Billitier is the key to this, as the former U.S. Development team member left Notre Dame for the Fronts. He's a '96 and has several years left in the league. If he can develop into a top four defender for Kingston, this trade is a win for the Fronts. Ultimately, I do think that Kingston should have moved Evan McEneny as they're not going to be much a playoff team this year (even if Sam Bennett makes a miraculous recovery) and their roster is built for a run next year and the year after.
Grade: B-

Mississauga Steelheads
In: Jacob Brennan (off waivers from the Q), Draft pick (6)
Out: Lucas Venuto
Report: I don't quite get this one. Earlier this year the Steelheads went all in, giving up a boatload of draft picks (and a quality younger player in Barwell) for Jimmy Lodge and Brandon Devlin. Then they do nothing at the deadline and settle for mediocrity (at best). Sure, it was AWFUL luck losing Spencer Martin. But after you've already dealt prime assets for 1 and done players (in their final year in the league, at least likely in Lodge's case), you can't throw in the towel. I'm sure Jacob Brennan will supply the team with some stability in net and he at least has playoff experience in the Q. But, who is going to play goal next year? The team missed the opportunity to acquire a '95 like Alex Fotinos, who not only could provide decent goaltending this year, but could also tend the net next year as an overager. They could have then used their other overage spot on a quality blue liner like Jeff Corbett from Sudbury, who could help to stabilize a very inconsistent (and somewhat soft) defensive unit? This Steelheads team is no guarantee to make the playoffs this year and even if they do, they're going to set themselves up to face a team they can't beat in the first round. By making some subtle moves, they could have given themselves the edge for the 4th spot in the East and at least had the opportunity to get into the 2nd round.
GRADE: D

Niagara IceDogs
In: Draft pick (6)
Out: Cody Caron
Report: The Dogs made most of their moves earlier this year when they acquired Josh Ho-Sang and Brandon Hope. And don't look now but Niagara has 7 wins in their last 10 (including 4 in a row). With the return of Brendan Perlini, the Dogs look much more dangerous and are poised to make a run up the Eastern Conference standings. In fact, I'd be surprised if they don't end up in the top 6 of the Conference by the end of the season. That said, this is a trade deadline review and the Dogs remained relatively silent. The team still lacks the depth and size up front to battle with the big boys of the East right now. I'm surprised that Marty Williamson didn't acquire another top 9 forward with size who could help the team make that playoff push. The team has a defensive surplus and could have used that to improve their team. A guy like Ryan Kujawinski, for example, would have looked great in an IceDogs uniform. The good news is, that the majority of the team will remain intact next year when they'll have another go at taking the East.
GRADE: C+

North Bay Battalion
In: Ryan Kujawinski, Nick Moutrey, Draft pick (6)
Out: Evan Cormier, Jared Steege, Nathan Billiiter, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4)
Report: The Battalion went into this trade deadline with really only one need. Adding depth and skill to their top 6. And they accomplished that…and then some. Nick Moutrey was one of the most improved players in the league this year. His size, speed, and two way play make him the perfect Stan Butler player. And Kujawinski has that same potential, which he was never really able to fully realize in Kingston. Last year, North Bay was able to capture the East with the same formula that they're employing this year. None of their top 6 forwards are under 6'1 and they're going to battle you to the end. And while the package for Moutrey was insane…the team really didn't give up a ton for Kujawinski. Steege was a role player for the team and Nathan Billitier was an NCAA player with no intent to suit up for North Bay. It was definitely a terrific deadline for Stan Butler and co.
GRADE: A

Oshawa Generals
In: Matt Mistele, Jason DaSilva, Michael McCarron, Dakota Mermis, Brent Pedersen
Out: Cliff Pu, Josh Sterk, Chase Pearson, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4 6, 10)
Report: Talk about loading up. Wow. I don't think I've ever seen a team give up so many draft picks in one small time frame. But the talent they brought in is legitimate. All three of Mistele, McCarron, and Pedersen have been better this year and represent massive bodies who can also create offence. I wasn't crazy about the package they gave up for Pedersen, but he's a likely candidate to return as an overager so that will help ease some of the pain. Between the likes of Mistele, McCarron, Dal Colle, and Hunter Smith, the Generals have four massive wingers who will be hard to contain down low. And Mermis definitely helps to solidify the back end, a unit which was talented, but also relatively inexperienced. This team is going to be a monster to battle with in the playoffs. Look out Eastern Conference. On the downside, what are the Generals' scouts going to do in the next 3 years?
GRADE: A

Ottawa 67's
In: Curtis Meighan, Draft picks (2, 3), Adam Craievich
Out: Draft picks (8, 8), Erik Bradford, Tyler Hill
Report: Quite frankly, I'm surprised that the 67's moved Bradford. The 67's have been playing some good hockey of late and seem to have the inside track on the 4th spot in the East. That said, I don't mind them doing it. There's no way that the team will be able to beat one of the beasts of the East in the playoffs, so why not pick up some assets for players who won't be around next year, when the team has a chance to capture the East? The acquisition of Craievich is definitely an astute one. He continues to show flashes of developing into a quality OHL player, but his ice time and development in Guelph seemed to have stalled. He could be a big time player down the road if a new team really lights a fire under him (improving skating is the key).
GRADE: B

Peterborough Petes
In: Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 10), Nathan Pancel, Kyle Jenkins
Out: Nick Ritchie, Anthony Stefano, Connor Boland, Jason DaSilva, Stephen Nosad, Draft pick (2, 2, 3)
Report: I actually kind of like what Peterborough did. Here's the question you have to ask yourself. Did Peterborough really get worse by adding Jenkins and Pancel, while trading all the players they did? I don't think so. Jenkins is a quality OHL defender who'll be around for another year and Pancel replaces the goal scoring ability of Ritchie. Yet, they acquired a boat load of draft picks which they can use to either acquire pieces next year, or draft players in the future (the one 2nd they picked up will likely be one of the first of the round). I was a bit disappointed in the Ritchie return (considering what Nick Moutrey brought back), but that's nitpicking. Bottom line is that the Petes picked up a ton of youth (a couple of seconds), made their team better next year (with Jenkins), and really didn't get much worse this year. They've got a chance to squeak into the playoffs to give their young (but talented) defence some experience.
GRADE: B+

Sudbury Wolves
In: Charley Graaskamp, Draft picks (2, 3), Reagan O'Grady
Out: Draft picks (2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 5), Nathan Pancel
Report: Sort of an odd deadline for the Wolves. As a rebuilding team, they actually traded out draft picks and acquired more players than they sent packing. That said, it's not like they went and picked up overages. They took a chance on a couple of young players looking for a fresh start. Graaskamp has the potential to be a top 6 player eventually and was a good low buy. O'Grady was Kingston's first rounder  and they got him without giving up a really early pick (the 2nd they gave up is Plymouth's in 2017 and isn't likely to be an early one in the round IMO). Considering that the team's weakest area is on defence, it's a solid gamble. And they got those picks back in the Pancel trade. So it's almost like exchanging Pancel for O'Grady. Not bad. I do think that they messed up by not dealing Jeff Corbett, even if it was just for a 3rd (not sure how large the market was for him).
GRADE: B


Western Conference

Erie Otters
In: Remi Elie, Jake Marchment, Draft pick (12)
Out: Joel Wigle, Trent Fox, Jesse Saban, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 6)
Report: Really like the forwards that Erie brought in (especially when you consider the Baptiste acquisition earlier in the year). The Otters knew that they had to get bigger and more skilled on the wing and they did that. Guys like Elie, Marchment, and Baptiste are going to help to clear space for McDavid, Strome, Debrincat, etc. In the playoffs, that's going to go a long way to helping Erie get to the Western finals. Their defence is fine and didn't need upgrades, but I know most people were expecting the Otters to go after a goaltender. Devin Williams hasn't been consistently sharp this year, at least not to the level that he played last year. Hopefully he's able to turn his game around by the time March rolls around. Meanwhile, Remi Elie may finally get the respect he deserves as an NHL prospect, while playing with a more talented playmaker (he's lining up beside Dylan Strome right now).
GRADE: B+

Guelph Storm
In: CJ Garcia, Givani Smith, Tyler Hill, Ryan Foss, Draft pick (2, 2, 5, 8, 10)
Out: Ben Harpur, Chadd Bauman, Adam Craievich, Draft pick (5)
Report: I like what the Storm did this year at the deadline. They saw no reason to jump into the arms race with the other teams in the West, so they capitalized on a sellers market and got great value for Harpur and Bauman. Garcia has improved this year and will be a top 4 defender in the OHL for the next couple of years. And Smith, if he can develop into something similar to his brother, he'll be an incredibly valuable asset for Guelph. Add in Tyler Hill and Ryan Foss, and you help with the team's lack of depth at forward (which I think has been an issue this year). They're still a strong enough team to compete for 3rd in the Western Conference and should still have a good chance of making it into the 2nd round of the OHL playoffs.
GRADE: B+

Kitchener Rangers
In: Jake Paterson, David Miller, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, 8)
Out: Curtis Meighan, Justin Bailey, Brent Pedersen, Draft picks (2, 3)
Report: The Rangers have taken a lot of flak for their moves at the deadline (or non moves) and I don't agree with it. Look at it this way…would you trade Brent Pedersen for Jake Paterson, a 2nd, and conditional 3rd and 4th? I sure as hell would. The 3rd spot in the Western Conference is still completely up for grabs and the Rangers goaltending just has not been getting it done. By bringing in Paterson, the Rangers give themselves a chance to grab that spot and maybe even get themselves into the 2nd round of the playoffs. If you intend to make noise next year (which I'm sure the Rangers intend to do with a solid group of '96's), you want guys like Ryan MacInnis, Nick Magyar, Gus Franzen, Adam Mascherin, etc, to get playoff experience. Was I surprised that the Rangers were the eventual destination of Paterson? Big time. Do I disagree with management's intent? Not at all. The same reason they acquired Paterson is the same reason that they didn't deal Max Iafrate. And not only did the Rangers do amazon in the Pedersen deal, but I thought they did great in the Bailey deal too. I'm a big fan of David Miller and I think he's going to flourish with increased ice time.
GRADE: A-

London Knights
In: Josh Sterk, Cliff Pu, Joel Wigle, Draft picks (2, 2, 3, 7)
Out: Mike McCarron, Dakota Mermis, Josh DeFarias, Draft pick (12)
Report: The Knights made some small moves surrounded by the big one that sent McCarron and Mermis to Oshawa. If I'm being quite frank, I was slightly disappointed by the return that the Knights received in the deal. That's not saying that Sterk and Pu are bad players. Sterk is a great pick up because he's a likely overage candidate in a few years and will continue to be a top 6 player. And Pu is a former first rounder. But when you look at the amount of picks guys like Bailey and Moutrey brought back (on top of including young players in the deals), I don't think the Knights did quite as well. And while Wigle is a very sound and cheap pick up (to hopefully replicate McCarron's success on a scoring line), I do think that their overage spot would have been better spent on a defenseman who could help shore up their inexperienced blue line. The Knights do have one of the best farm systems in the league right now, but I'm not sure they maximized their ability to rebuild a bit. Meanwhile, they're going to have to really play well to keep home ice advantage, especially since their a worse team after the deadline and others stayed the same or got better. I know that it's not about this year for London (who have already overachieved over what people expected them to), and Sterk and Pu are good players, so maybe it's just nitpicking too.
GRADE: B-

Owen Sound Attack
In: Erik Bradford, Liam Dunda
Out: Draft picks (2, 3, 3, 4)
Report: Two subtle pick ups by the Attack, but I absolutely love them. Bradford gives the Attack another top 6 forward, especially while Holden Cook heals. He has tons of playoff experience and is a very responsible two-way player. And Dunda, a late '97 (eligible for next year's draft) is a big kid who has a ton of potential. He's a little awkward right now, but could develop into a top 6 power forward given the right nudge. For what they gave up for him, it was a worthy gamble. I think at this point, I expect Owen Sound to surge in the second half, possibly even gaining the 3rd spot in the West. This is a team that has good goaltending, and a lot of size and tenacity up front and on the blue line. In a lot of ways, they remind me of North Bay last year. I wouldn't want to play them in the playoffs.
GRADE: A-

Plymouth Whalers
In: Ryan Moore, Draft picks (2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 6)
Out: Liam Dunda, Matt Mistele
Report: It's been quite the year for Plymouth…and I mean that in the worst possible way. Just about nothing has gone right for them this year. The season ending injury to Alex Peters. The constant injury problems. The inconsistent play from Alex Nedeljkovic. This was supposed to be one of the best teams in the Western conference and instead they may finish dead last. So what do they do? Sell off prime assets and build for the future? Pick up a few pieces in hopes that when people return to health, the team plays better? Quite the crossroads. The Whalers didn't really do either. I'm underwhelmed by the return on Mistele, who is the same calibre of player as Moutrey and Bailey. He actually has a chance to return as an overager too. And dealing Dunda was a mistake IMO. Now, I do expect Plymouth to play better in the second half. In fact I wouldn't even be surprised if they slipped into the playoffs. But they won't be beating Erie or Sault Ste. Marie in the first round. I think they would have been better off dealing a few other guys like Chatham, Curcuruto, Jones, Campagna, and even Milano (who I could see in the AHL next year ala JT Miller). The only thing I agreed with was not dealing Alex Nedeljkovic, as I think they could get way more for him in the offseason when more teams will need a goaltending upgrade. Just a lost season for Plymouth.
GRADE: D+

Saginaw Spirit
In: Vladislav Kodola, Evan Cormier, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4)
Out: Jake Paterson, Nick Moutrey, Draft pick (5)
Report: If you're going to rebuild, you should probably do it right. The Saginaw Spirit did that this year. They fully committed to the rebuild, traded all valuable veterans, and set themselves up well for the foreseeable future. The haul for Moutrey was legendary. Evan Cormier is a great young goaltender who should blossom with more responsibility in Saginaw. He definitely has the potential to be the team's future starter. And while I'm not supposed to talk about previous trades, it should be noted that the Spirit did exceptionally well in the Jimmy Lodge deal too. The Spirit may not be very good for the rest of the year, but they've set themselves up to be VERY good in a couple of years. And isn't that what a rebuild is all about. If you're going to do something right, you've got to fully commit to it. The only thing worth mentioning is that I was a bit underwhelmed by the Paterson return. But the market just wasn't huge for him (as an overage goaltender) and they probably did well under the circumstances.
GRADE: A-

Sarnia Sting
In: Anthony Salinitri, Josh DeFarias, Draft picks (2, 2, 4, 5)
Out: Anthony DeAngelo, Vladislav Kodola, Draft pick (7)
Report: Similar to Guelph, the Sting realized that their young line up just wouldn't be ready to battle the cream of the Conference. They may be a playoff team, but that doesn't mean they are serious contenders to go far in the playoffs. It's the notion of one step back, but two steps forward. Dealing DeAngelo made sense for Sarnia, given that nearly everyone in their line up (save Taylor Dupuis and Josh Chapman) is set to return next year. In return, they get Salinitri, a quality young center who gives the Sting two quality '98 centres to built around (along with Kyrou).
GRADE: B+

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
In: Anthony DeAngelo, Nick Ritchie, Connor Boland, Justin Bailey, Draft picks (4, 4)
Out: David Miller, Anthony Salinitri, Kyle Jenkins, Charley Graaskamp, Draft picks (2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4)
Report: You have to applaud first year GM Kyle Raftis. He showed some serious cajones by going all in, in his first year as GM. Hopefully it goes better than Dubas' first big deal (Jack Campbell). That said, I do love what the Greyhounds did. The biggest weakness of the Hounds was their lack of size up front and Raftis addressed that with Ritchie and Bailey. This will definitely help to clear room for Tolchinsky, Speers, McCann, Guertler, etc. I think both players will fit in extremely well. Their defence was already fantastic, but adding DeAngelo and Boland makes them incredible. DeAngelo gives the Hounds another puck mover to take some of the pressure off of Darnell Nurse and first year player Gustaf Bouramman. And Boland gives them a veteran presence and more leadership. He will continue to help the PK too. All in all, a great deadline on paper for the Hounds. Now that just leaves Hounds management with the challenge of continuing to find diamonds in the rough in the draft.
GRADE: A

Windsor Spitfires
In: Chase Pearson, Anthony Stefano, Lucas Venuto, Draft picks (2, 2, 3, 5)
Out: Ryan Moore, Ryan Foss, Draft picks (2, 2, 4, 4, 6, 8)
Report: The draft picks are nearly a wash, so you have to think about it as, would you rather have Anthony Stefano and potentially Chase Pearson, or Ryan Moore and Ryan Foss? Pearson is obviously the big coup here. If the Spits can get him to report (he currently plays for Youngstown of the USHL), he could be a big part of Windsor's future. The big center was a "C" rated prospect in November's Central Scouting rankings and looks like a potential mid round pick in June. The Spits could have went further into the rebuild, but some of the 95's they have (Murphy, Fotinos) figure to play big roles for the team next year as overagers. So I'm fine with the team standing pat in that regard. Let's just see how these new younger players fit into the line up and whether their development goes better than Foss' or Moore's.
GRADE: B-

How do you think your team did at this year's deadline?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing (2015)


This is a yearly tradition. It's time to take a look at the top overagers in the OHL, available to be signed by NHL teams.

One of the players on this list has already signed an NHL contract, but he is still included because it's meant to be a guide of the top OA free agents this season in the OHL.

Likely half of the players on this list will not end up getting a professional contract and will play in the CIS. It's the nature of the beast. The bottom line is that a few will and many will not (be signed) and those players will take advantage of their education package while continuing to play a high level of hockey at a Canadian University.

Secondly, this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team (like Josh Brown). This list is for those players who are (or were) NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on birth date).

Here's the list:

10. Gianluca Curcuruto - Defence - Plymouth Whalers
It's been a tough year for the former highly touted Soo Greyhound. Inconsistency has been the name of the game during his OHL career. A fantastic 16-17 year old (rookie) season had him being mentioned as a first round pick. But a brutal sophomore season saw him fall to the 7th round. He followed that up with a fantastic third season, after getting a new start in Plymouth. But last year was not pretty again and the Columbus Blue Jackets chose not to sign him. This year, things got off to a great start for him and he was playing some terrific hockey. Then the big suspension hit (12 games for leveling Travis Konency). And upon returning from that suspension, he injured his shoulder (in November) and hasn't played since. Bottom line is that Curcuruto still has pro potential. Hopefully he's able to return from the shoulder injury and help push the Whalers into the playoffs. As a solid two-way presence, he can impact the game in a lot of ways (as long as he keeps things simple), and he's got the size for the pro game.

9. Max Iafrate - Defence - Kitchener Rangers
The Colorado Avalanche's interest in Iafrate has been no secret. That said, they still haven't signed him (or drafted him previously) after working him out several times. When the year started, I thought Iafrate would be at the top of this list, but his development this year hasn't exactly blown me away. The physical tools are all there. The size (6'2, 220lbs). The skating ability. The ability to play physical. The big shot from the point (he is his father's son). But, the mental lapses still happen, especially with the puck. I think part of the issue has been Kitchener's coaching staff's inability to use him properly (why isn't he on the power play?). If Iafrate attracts pro attention (which he most certainly will), that team would be smart to simplify Iafrate's game, making him more of a stay at home defender. In that role, he could find success.

8. Erik Bradford - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Bradford got off to a slow start this year, but that's to be expected from someone who's rebounding from a broken leg (in the final stretch of last year). Bradford is an accomplished two-way player from his days centering the 3rd line in Barrie. But in Ottawa, he's been allowed to blossom offensively, showcasing his skill set and terrific hockey sense. Over the last few months, he's been one of Ottawa's most consistent forwards and I expect that to continue (and then some) as the season goes on. As a professional, it's a bit unclear as to what type of role he'd play, but given his hockey sense and two-way ability, I'd say there's a chance someone brings him on to figure that out.

7. Matt Rupert - Forward - London Knights
Brother Ryan has enjoyed a lot of success so far at the pro level this season (10 points in 17 games since he was called up to the AHL). So who's to say that Matt isn't capable of being just as effective? Truthfully, their games are modeled very similarly. Work the forecheck and the boards. Create turnovers. Agitate. Finish off plays in close. Size was obviously a big factor as to why Matt was never drafted, but Ryan has done just fine and I expect an NHL team to use that as motivation to sign Matt. Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if that NHL team was the Toronto Maple Leafs. #brothersreunited

6. Holden Cook - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
The Attack's leading scorer last year, Cook was off to a great start this year before getting injured. He's been out since October with the dreaded "upper body injury." I'm sure that Cook will return at some point this year and when he does, he'll resume his responsibility as Owen Sound's top center. Cook is a well rounded player who has the potential to be successful as a pro because he could excel in a variety of roles (similar to the way his Owen Sound career has gone). 

5. Bryan Moore - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Moore is a hard nosed scoring winger who has really come into his own the last two years. He fits incredibly well in the Greyhounds attacking style of play, as he's got great speed and a scorer's touch around the net. Moore also plays the game hard, battling in the corners and taking the body. His game hasn't been quite as consistent this year, as it was last year, but he remains a solid pro prospect IMO. He's the type of guy who is built for the NHL game today, with speed and tenacity being his best attributes.
  
4. Jean Dupuy - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The only player on this list who has already signed an NHL contract this year (with Buffalo). Dupuy has been excellent for the Greyhounds this year. While his NHL potential is not significant (we're not talking about a future 30 goal scorer), he could definitely develop into a useful role player. Dupuy has evolved his game from being more than just a "scrapper." He's become a very effective forechecker who's able to create turnovers with his size and tenacity. He's also become a very responsible two-way player who can block shots and battle hard to get pucks out. Needless to say, he knows his role and plays it to a tee. 

3. Marcus McIvor - Defence - North Bay Battalion
For the past three seasons, McIvor has been a workhorse for Stan Butler's stingy Battalion defence. McIvor is a defensive monster. His size, in combination with his skating agility and aggressive nature, make him one of the toughest defenseman to get around in the OHL. Last year, coaches voted him the 3rd best defensive defenseman in the East, and he's almost assured a spot on the coaches poll again this year. Perhaps an underrated component of McIvor's game is his ability to move the puck and evade the forecheck. I think (and have always thought) that he has the characteristics of a solid stay at home defender at the pro level.

2. Joseph Blandisi - Forward - Barrie Colts
I wonder if the Colorado Avalanche regret not signing Blandisi now? After letting him go this past offseason, Blandisi has come back to Barrie as a man on a mission. Currently 5th in league scoring, he's been one of the OHL's most consistent offensive players this year. I think one of the biggest reasons for that has simply been increased confidence. Previously, Blandisi was the type to be content playing second fiddle to more "talented" offensive players on a scoring line. The cliched, "secondary" offensive player. The guy who opened up space, fought along the boards, and went to the net. Well he's continuing to do those things, but he's also taking charge offensively and creating his own chances by showing off skill and creativity with the puck that I didn't know he possessed. I think there's still some question marks as to the type of player he'll be at the next level (and that's why he's 2nd and not 1st on this list), but I definitely think he deserves a second chance with an NHL organization.

1. Brenden Miller - Defence - North Bay Battalion
Brenden Miller has slowly blossomed into one of the OHL's best and most well rounded defenders. Each season his game has improved, and this year has been no exception. Two years ago, his offensive game really exploded as he became the premier power play QB for the Battalion. Last year, it was his defensive game that took a step forward. This year, it's both. He currently finds himself 6th in defenseman scoring, but has also improved his defensive consistency. In particular, he's shown marked improvement at being able to handle forwards in front of the net, as he's increased his intensity level. Based on the progression he's shown over the years and his ability to contribute in multiple ways, Miller is my top overage free agent this year.

Honorable Mentions

Forward

If you had asked me at the beginning of the year, Ottawa's Brendan Bell would have been on this list. The big, physical winger had a terrific offensive season last year, but just hasn't been able to replicate that. He's still an important part of the 67's, but I'm not sure about his pro potential anymore. Guelph's Chris Marchese has had a tough OHL career, battling injuries. No one has ever questioned his skill level though. Plymouth's Mathew Campagna was supposed to be one of the leading scorers in the league this year, but he's had an incredibly disappointing season (like most of the Whalers). He remains a terrific playmaker, but hasn't performed enough to warrant a contract this year. That leaves us with Sudbury's Nathan Pancel, who has been a 20 goal scorer every year he's been in the league. But I'm just not sure I see his offensive talents translating to the NHL level (which is likely the case from NHL teams too, since they chose to remain uninterested in him despite a 42 goal season last year).

Defence

Peterborough captain, Connor Boland is a solid stay at home defender who has the size to play that role at the next level. He's bound to draw some interest similar to the way Kevin Raine did last year. Mississauga's Brandon Devlin is a terrific offensive defender, and his size is alluring, but his defensive game remains a serious drawback. Oshawa's Dakota Mermis has become a very solid OHL defender, but with only average size and an undefined role, he remains an honourable mention.

Goaltender

No goaltender had to be happier to see December come to an end than Niagara's Brandon Hope (Hope gave up 29 goals in 8 December games), but consider that a small blip on the radar. Last year, his first as an OHL starter, Hope was quietly one of the most consistent goaltenders in the league. He continued that strong play into this season and with Niagara following a trade from Owen Sound. If Hope can get the Niagara IceDogs into the playoffs and help them do some damage (this was supposed to be a team fighting for 1st in the East), he could be a hot commodity for pro teams. Sarnia's Taylor Dupuis has been fantastic for them this year, and has been one of the main reasons why the team sits a surprising 2nd in their division. It's his first year really displaying a high level of play, but goaltenders are notorious late bloomers.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Midseason Top 30 for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft

The start of the 2015 calendar year is upon us and that means it is time for me to re-evaluate my rankings for the 2015 Draft. The OHL season is past the half way mark which gives us a great indication of how certain players have developed in their draft season. Many players have stepped up to assume large roles on their club, while others have disappointed and find themselves on the outside looking in.

It's another great year for top end talent in the OHL. We've got 5-6 guys vying for spots in the Top 10, and another handful who look like potential first round picks. Depth wise, however, I don't think it's a tremendous year for the 'O.' There is some solid talent available for the top 90, but I don't see as many mid/later round picks coming from the OHL as there have been recently. Usually, I could make an argument for upwards of 50 players having draft potential. And as such, I find it difficult to limit my list (to 50). This year, I have a hard time hitting the 40 mark, let alone 50. There's still tons of time for players to find their game (or work to increase their ice time), so it will be interesting to see how the bottom part of this list compares to the final one at the end of the year.

A couple things to note before I start the list. Firstly, I've started doing a Top 50 (with 20 HM's) for each this year. Makes for a more compelling read (and reflection at season's end). Secondly, for those unfamiliar with the blog, I don't include second and third year eligibles (re-entries) in my list (like Matt Schmalz, Ken Appleby, or Damir Sharipzyanov).

Here's the list:

1. Connor McDavid - Forward - Erie Otters
What more is there to say at this point? For as good as he is, his game continues to evolve. Everyone knows about his offensive talents (elite speed and vision), but his overall game has really improved too. He makes a concerted effort to break up plays on the back check and he's been way more involved without the puck, especially in the corners. Previously, he's been a guy who forces turnovers in open ice, using his "sense" to intercept passes or strip players of the puck. But he's now very involved on the forecheck and is winning more battles along the boards. His continued improvement as a player is a testament to his work ethic and elite status as a prospect.

2. Mitch Marner - Forward - London Knights
Really rising in my eyes. His play with London has been absolutely exceptional the last few months. Such a high energy player who can affect the game in a variety of ways. In puck pursuit, he's quite relentless and he forces a lot of turnovers on the forecheck. But he's got the vision and hockey sense to find teammates, while playing at a high tempo. He makes such quick decisions and rarely turns the puck over in the offensive end. His skill level is also incredibly high and I think he's the perfect type of player for today's run and gun NHL. With his tenacity, and as he continues to add strength, I don't see his average size being an issue.

3. Dylan Strome - Forward - Erie Otters
Leapfrogged by Marner because of how good Marner has been, not because he's played poorly. If anything, Strome has proven the last few weeks just how good of a prospect he is (without Connor McDavid in Erie). Strome is the prototypical 2015 NHL centerman. Big, strong, and skilled. He's still learning how to use his size to slow down play and dictate pace, but when he masters this art, his skill level with the puck could make him a puck possession beast. Much like his brother Ryan, Dylan also possesses a terrific shot, which he's gaining more and more confidence using. He's not a power forward, and he'll never be a speedster, but his skill set is still rare and incredibly appealing to NHL scouts.

4. Pavel Zacha - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Zacha is such an interesting prospect. Every time I've seen Sarnia this year, he's been one of the better players on the ice. With his size, speed, and desire to involve himself physically, he impacts the game in so many different ways. Zacha is definitely most dangerous off the rush, where his speed and ability to use his size to protect the puck, makes him difficult to contain. As I've mentioned before, I had no idea just how physical of a player he'd be too. He plays the game very hard (see his suspension). That said, his game is less effective when things slow down in the offensive end. He needs to channel his size to be more effective in creating from the cycle. In a lot of ways, this makes me wonder about his high end playmaking potential. BUT, he's a very impressive prospect with a lot going for him.

5. Lawson Crouse - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Those who follow the draft, but don't watch the OHL always seem to have the same reaction to Crouse; "how is he rated so high?" Easy question to answer. In fact, it's the same answer as to why he made the Canadian WJC team (over the likes of Marner and Strome). Crouse is a coach's dream. He does almost everything well on the ice. He could probably step on to an NHL 4th line right now and not look out of place. His two-way game is incredibly polished and he makes so many plays (whether it be a good pass, a forced turnover, a check to separate his man from the puck) that don't make it on the score sheet. Crouse also happens to be a very big kid who plays big and has no fear of throwing his weight around. The offensive skill set is definitely still developing. His confidence in using his shot and driving the net is still evolving. He certainly doesn't have the offensive potential of a guy like Strome. But, he's about as sure a bet to play in the NHL as you'll find in this draft.

6. Travis Konecny - Forward - Ottawa 67's
The top 6 of this OHL group is very tight right now. This is definitely thanks to the improved play of Konency the last month or so. After starting the season off slowly, Konecny is back up around the point per game mark. Like Crouse, Konecny's game is a lot more than what you see on the score sheet. As captain of the 67's, his leadership qualities won't go unnoticed by NHL scouts. And he's already a solid two-way forward who competes hard without the puck. Konecny's speed is his best asset, as he's able to transition quickly. He's also not afraid of using his shot off the rush. Really, the only knock against Konecny is his size. At 5'10, will he be able to play the game as hard as he does and remain durable in the NHL?

7. Nikita Korostelev - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Korostelev is a super skilled winger with a lot of potential at the pro level. There are a lot of levels to his game, but the pieces aren't consistently together yet. At times he can be prone to turnovers from doing too much. His physical game and play without the puck has not looked as strong this year as it did last year (perhaps concentrating too much on trying to hit the score sheet?). And his speed and first few steps are only average. But, his skill level with the puck and ability to create time and space for himself is elite. If he were to improve his speed, he could be scary good. He's got a terrific shot and massive goal scoring potential at the next level. He'll need to continue to improve his consistency to secure a spot in the first round this year.

8. Matt Spencer - Defence - Peterborough Petes
It's getting damn close, but Spencer is still the top defender available IMO. Defensively, he's already a very steady player who projects to be an even better defender at the next level because of his size and mobility. He's still learning how to use his size consistently, but he breaks up a lot of passes and is very difficult to get through. An underrated component to his game is his ability to transition from defence to offence. Spencer makes a great first pass and is very calm, and cool while avoiding the forecheck. He doesn't yet have the confidence in his offensive abilities to consistently jump up in the rush, but he's very steady. Spencer will be a high NHL pick because he's still scratching the surface as to how much he could impact the game at both ends.

9. Mitchell Vande Sompel - Defence - Oshawa Generals
Has impressed me so much this year. His defensive game has improved a ton from last year. Vande Sompel's defensive positioning is outstanding and it helps to alleviate the concerns his lack of size may generate. Because he's constantly moving his feet and anticipates the play so well, he's not putting himself in many positions where he's susceptible of being out muscled. And when he's able to make a good play defensively, he uses his great speed to get the puck up ice quickly. Whether it be in transition, or on the power play, Vande Sompel's head for the game in the offensive end is on display. I'm not usually a fan of rating undersized defenseman highly, but Vande Sompel has definitely won me over.

10. Graham Knott - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Knott is a terrific two-way forward who, like Lawson Crouse, impacts the game in a lot of ways that don't end up on the score sheet. He's Niagara's top penalty killer and he uses his size exceptionally well to separate aggressors from the puck. He also is very effective on the forecheck and along the wall. Offensvely, his speed isn't terrific, but he has very underrated hands and he's able to make the skilled plays in close. As he gets stronger, I think he develops into a very good goal scorer. Size, aggression, and developing skill make Knott the type of player NHL scouts like more than the average fan.

11. Travis Dermott - Defence - Erie Otters
Criminally underrated. Dermott is as solid as it gets. His defensive game is terrific. He has great positioning and competes very hard in his own end, whether it's to tie up a forward in front of the net, or winning a battle in the corners. Dermott also makes a terrific first pass and rarely turns the puck over, exhibiting patience and poise in his own end. He skates well and is mobile, which helps him to jump up in the rush when it's necessary. As a power play QB, he's starting to gain some confidence and I think he'll eventually end up as a big point producer from the back end. Does he have a ton of NHL potential? He's not going to be a first pairing/NHL all star. But because of his well rounded game, he could definitely carve out a long career.

12. Blake Speers - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Speers has been terrific all year for the Hounds, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been getting better and better as the weeks have gone on. Speers possesses terrific speed, but he's starting to look to use that speed to create more in the middle of the ice and is being kept less and less to the perimeter. His rushes and ability to work in transition help to open up space for his line mates and he has the hockey sense to find them. His goal scoring ability is the other highlight of his skill set, as he does a great job of finding open space and rarely hesitates to put the puck on net. His size will be a drawback in terms of NHL draft ranking, but as long as he continues to attack the net, he'll slowly gain respect.

13. Mackenzie Blackwood - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
Finally healthy and confident again, Blackwood is shaking off a slow start and playing some exceptional hockey of late. He's got 10 wins in the month of December and has raised his save percentage over 20 points. Big, and athletic, Blackwood does an exceptional job of taking away the bottom of the net in the butterfly. He moves well post to post and is conscious of staying big in his net and challenging shooters. If he continues to play this well, he could easily be the first North American goaltender off the board this June.

14. Thomas Schemitsch - Defence - Owen Sound Attack
Schemitsch has been consistently excellent this year for Owen Sound at both ends of the ice. Defensively, he's a cog on the Attack's penalty killing unit and he uses his size well to defend the crease and win battles along the boards. Offensively, he has a great understanding of how to get the puck through to the net from the point and he's really developing as a power play QB. Considering all the things he does well, and the fact that he possesses great size, I don't really understand his lack of love and hype for this draft thus far.

15. Justin Lemcke - Defence - Belleville Bulls
I really like Lemcke and I think he definitely deserves to be in the same conversation at the Spencer's, Dermott's, etc for top OHL defender available. He's not putting up a ton of points because he sees limited power play time behind Jordan Subban, but he's a very reliable two-way defender who is only scratching the surface of his potential. For a big kid (6'2, 200lbs), Lemcke skates very well and moves around effortlessly on the big ice in Belleville. He's also really learning to play more aggressively and it's made him a more effective defensive player. He's the type of guy who has the potential to really surprise people and be the type of guy scouts debate about how they missed him.

16. Rasmus Andersson - Defence - Barrie Colts
Andersson continues to perform for the Colts, operating at around the point per game mark (4th among OHL defenders with 33 points). So what's putting him 6th among defenders on my list (admittedly all very close to each other, along with Dunn)? I see Andersson as having a similar skill set to all those listed above him, which is great. But he's also the worst skater of the group and I think that makes him a bit less likely to to develop into an NHL player compared to the others. I do like his ability to run the point on the power play, and he is definitely a very feisty defender. I think it's just a matter of personal preference here (and how much emphasis you put on mobility).

17. Vince Dunn - Defence - Niagara IceDogs
Interestingly enough, Dunn is one of 3 OHL defenders participating in the CHL Top Prospect's Game (over the likes of Dermott and others I have ahead of him). He clearly has his fans. And don't get me wrong, I think he's a solid pro prospect…otherwise I wouldn't have him inside my Top 20. He skates well. He is a creative puck distributor who also has potential to improve his defensive game. That said, I've got him 7th (among OHL defenders) because I've seen him make some very questionable decisions with the puck and in his pinches. In terms of being a complete player, I see him being behind the others I've listed and there's still some rawness to his game. However, I will say that he is one of the few players who shouldn't be criticized for Niagara's extremely skittish start to the year.

18. Brett McKenzie - Forward - North Bay Battalion
McKenzie has been quiet offensively so far this season, but that has a lot to do with the fact that he's not seeing tremendous amounts of ice time in offensive situations. McKenzie centres North Bay's 3rd line, whose job is to grind down the oppositions best. For those that saw him play in midget, we know that there is significant offensive potential in there though. Stan Butler typically eases his young players into high pressure offensive situations after they exhibit an understanding of how to play at both ends. With terrific center depth, the Battalion have been patient with McKenzie. However, he's slowly starting to produce more offensively (has had a good month of December) and could be a massive riser if the offensive output increases in the second half (cough, Nick Paul, Brent Burns, etc).

19. Kyle Capobianco - Defence - Sudbury Wolves
You have to feel for Capobianco. He's one of the few reasons to watch the Wolves this year, yet I wonder how many people are. Sudbury is just horrific (and they'll probably be worse after they move some pieces after the deadline). They've given up nearly double the amount of goals than they've scored. However, Capobianco is in the midst of a breakout season. He's third on his team in points, and he's actually (somewhat remarkably) been a plus player the last two months. He's developed into a quality two way defender who can lead or join the rush with a solid skating stride. He's also a solid positional defender who's improving his confidence in playing with an edge. Admittedly, maybe he deserves to be in consideration with some of the other guys I've listed above him. But I've only seen Sudbury a couple of times this year (see my opening sentence for this paragraph).

20. Zachary Senyshen - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Senyshen is really growing on me the more I watch him play. You have to appreciate a big winger who can drive the net the way he does. He is aggressive in attacking the net and is a great skater for a big guy. He also creates a lot of room on the ice for the other players on his line, as he draws defences in. As he gets stronger, and improves his shot (more so his confidence), he could be a big time scorer in this league. I said on twitter recently that his game reminds me of Josh Leivo's and I see his progression following a similar path.

21. Michael McNiven - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
He has only let in more than two goals in a game once this year (his most recent start against Barre), and if he qualified, his save percentage would be almost 20 points higher than the best in the league (.944). I think Blackwood's size advantage gives him the nod over McNiven, but he's making it a damn close race. McNiven squares up to shooters so well and he's got a heck of a glove hand. He gives up a decent amount of rebounds, but he's quite athletic and quick and is terrific at recovering. If he keeps this up, the OHL could have the top two net minders available in North America.

22. Mitchell Stephens - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
It's still early, but I expected more from Stephens this year. He performed so well at the Ivan Hlinka and I expected that to carry over to the OHL this year. But, that hasn't necessarily been the case. Yes, he does have 13 goals. But 10 of those have come in 4 games. The consistency just hasn't been there. A few times I've seen Saginaw this year, Stephens has been completely invisible. And with him being undersized, that can't be a knock against him. His speed, ability to create in transition and overall skill level are too high for him to not be a consistent offensive threat. Hopefully he's able to have a better (at least more consistent) second half.

23. Gustaf Franzen - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Franzen is really starting to come into his own with Kitchener. He's definitely a hard worker and I've been impressed with his ability to control the boards despite being relatively undersized (5'10). He's got a great/strong center of gravity and he's very strong on the puck. We're starting to see him shoot the puck more, especially on the power play, where he's setting up shop at the dot for the one timer. I'm not sure how much potential he has at the NHL level, and his acceleration and top gear do need some work, but I like the growth he's shown so far this year.

24. Gustaf Bouramman - Defence - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Back to back Gustafs! Bouramman has been a pleasant surprise for the Hounds this year, helping to run their power play. I really like his composure on the backend. He makes smart decisions with the puck in his own end, whether it's a good first pass or a rush up ice. And while he's not going to be confused with Adam Foote any time soon, I've actually been impressed with his defensive awareness and that he's not backing down in the defensive end (criticisms that I had read about prior to his OHL debut).

25. Colton White - Defence - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
White is more than what his numbers suggest. I see an incredibly raw product who has massive potential. He's an absolutely terrific skater and as he gains confidence in his ability to rush the puck, I see that becoming a big part of his game. It's a numbers game and the Hounds have an exceptionally deep defence. Eventually, he's going to be counted on to play a larger role and that's when we'll see his game grow. But with size and mobility, this young defender could be a real diamond in the rough.

26. Dante Salituro - Forward - Ottawa 67's
While Konecny was struggling at the beginning of the year, it was Salituro who kept the 67's afloat. He had 12 goals in October. And while he hasn't exactly maintained that pace, he hasn't been a slouch either. His 23 goals put him 7th in the OHL currently. If he were bigger, there's no question that Salituro would be higher on this list. He plays a lot bigger than his 5'8 frame and is fearless in attacking the net and playing without the puck. But, I do have questions as to how his game would translate to the pro level. Will he be as effective near the crease as he is in the OHL? I take a chance in the mid rounds to find out, even if there aren't many 5'8 forwards getting drafted these days.

27. Sam Harding - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Harding is a solid two-way center who's starting to find confidence in his offensive game. While he's not exactly a physical player, he does battle hard in the corners, in front of the net and on the back check. I wish he were a bit bigger for the type of game he plays (I think he's best suited as a puck possession guy in the offensive end), but I like his hockey sense and dedication to both ends of the ice. Even after the Generals load up at the deadline, I expect his offensive totals to continue to increase.

28. Matt Luff - Forward - Belleville Bulls
I think Luff is a very interesting prospect. Really big kid who is still figuring out what type of player he wants to become. He seems to be most effective near the crease, where he can use his size to gain scoring position. His skating is only adequate, so that will need to improve. And I'd like to see him become more aggressive and noticeable without the puck. But he has offensive skill and he has size, two things that will make him attractive to NHL teams. I'm intrigued to see how his game evolves in the second half (it's only his first season in the OHL and he doesn't have a ton of experience above the midget level).

29. Marcus Crawford - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
Has missed some time due to injury, but Crawford has had an excellent first season in the OHL. He has really helped to elevate the quality of Saginaw's power play, as he moves the puck quickly at the point and has good vision and poise. I've actually been impressed with his play in his own end too. He defends well off the rush and has good positioning and mobility. Adding strength to be more effective in traffic areas is a must, but that will come. Hopefully he can stay healthy in the second half and find a groove.

30. David Miller - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I'm definitely a fan, but if 5'9 guys with late birthdays ('96) aren't producing offensively, they won't be ranked highly for the draft. He's losing some playing time to the Hounds younger players and he's got to step up his game. Playing with lesser talented players, it's up to Miller to elevate their game. Miller has so much speed to burn, he needs to use it more effectively to create offence at a consistent rate, whether its from driving to the net, or creating turnovers on the forecheck. The Hounds will definitely be loading up at the deadline (IMO) and I think Miller could really explode again in the second half after he gets some better wingers.

Honorable Mention

31. Hayden McCool - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
32. Jeremiah Addison - Forward - Ottawa 67's
33. Roy Radke - Forward - Barrie Colts
34. Jesse Barwell - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
35. Trent Fox - Forward - Erie Otters
36. Tyler MacArthur - Defence - Owen Sound Attack
37. Artem Artemov - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
38. Adam Laishram - Forward - Belleville Bulls
39. Ethan Szypula - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
40. Jesse Saban - Defence - Erie Otters
41. Anthony Cirelli - Forward - Oshawa Generals
42. Garrett McFadden - Defence - Guelph Storm
43. Noah Bushnell - Forward - Sarnia Sting
44. Johnny Corniel - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
45. Adam Craievich - Forward - Guelph Storm
46. Tyler Boston - Forward - Guelph Storm
47. Medric Mercier - Defence - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
48. Chris Martenet - Defence - London Knights
49. Michael Holmes - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
50. Petrus Palmu - Forward - Owen Sound Attack