This week's Top 10 will take a look at the top big forwards who could have breakout offensive seasons in 2009-2010. I alluded to this in last week's Top 10 (2010 rankings), by mentioning that guys like Greg Sutch and Austin Watson could have monster years. So I decided to create a hole list around it.
In order to narrow down the search, I've given the list some parameters. To be "big" a player had to be 6'2 and taller. And in order to have a potential "breakout" season, this player had to have less than 40 points last season.
Here are your top 10 forwards with size who could breakout offensively next season:
10. R.J. Mahalak - Plymouth Whalers
A late 1991 birthdate, Mahalak isn't eligible for the NHL draft until 2010. If he wants to get drafted, he's going to have to step up offensively next season. With Plymouth Captain Chris Terry moving on, a wing spot will open up on the team's first line with Tyler Seguin. Does Mahalak have what it takes to seize that spot? Not to mention that with Terry and Caria gone, the Whalers are going to have to become more than a one line team. Mahalak has some good hands and he's shown a willingness to do everything the team needs of him so far in his OHL career. Now the team needs him to start becoming a force in front of the net, can he step up to the challenge?
9. Jason Wilson - London Knights
Wilson played his first OHL season last year as a 1990 birth date. As an "overaged" rookie, he potted 12 goals and saw limited time on offensive lines. With London's offensive lines a bit up in the air right now, Wilson could play himself on to an offensive role. He has one thing going for him, his size. Wilson is one of the few Knights forwards with good size and a physical nature to his game. With London getting roughed up a bit by Windsor last year, don't be surprised if Wilson gets the call to be a big body in front of the net on a scoring line, or at least on the powerplay. He demonstrated some ability to put the puck in the net last season, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him pot 20 this year.
8. Dalton Smith - Ottawa 67's
Smith saw very limited time with Ottawa last season, playing the majority of the year closer to home. However, when he did play, he made an impact. Smith is the son of former 67 and Buffalo Sabre, Derrick Smith. Dalton impressed me most in the playoffs against Niagara, where he made things happen every time he was on the ice. While he didn't put up any points, he showcased an ability to win battles in the corners and take the puck to the net. This budding power forward is eligible for the 2010 draft and could be one of those surprise players who shoots up the draft rankings. With Ottawa's top three scorers likely moving on (Couture, Cowick, Kiriakou), the opportunity will be there for Smith to seize a top 6 scoring role.
7. Steven Shipley - Owen Sound Attack
I think it's safe to say that more will be expected of this 3rd overall pick in the 2008 Priority draft. Shipley showed glimpses of the capability to produce points, however he needs to continue to learn to use his size to his advantage offensively. With 39 points last year, Shipley sneaks under the parameters set for this list. If Shipley wants to be drafted high to the NHL in 2010, he's going to need to step up next season. Owen Sound could be fairly deep offensively next year, with some returning OA's, so Shipley is going to have to earn his minutes. I'm thinking he does.
6. Garrett Wilson - Owen Sound Attack
Back to back Attack. Wilson is a big Owen Sound forward who does use his size to his advantage. He loves being that presence in front of the net. In 2008-09, he had a bit of a weird season. He got off to a blazing start, but was then suspended for a suspect slewfoot on the Rangers Dan Kelly. The suspension definitely took him out of his groove, as he was never able to regain that consistency the rest of the season. This 4th round pick by Florida in 2009 should be able to secure a spot playing with Joey Hishon next year and he could benefit huge being Hishon's "garbage man."
5. Kyle Clifford - Barrie Colts
After getting drafted 35th overall (to LAK), I think it's safe to say the pressure is on for Clifford to step it up offensively. While I do question his overall offensive potential, he does have the size and skating ability to be a force in this league. Many NHL teams feel he has the hands too. Next year he's going to have to prove it. Barrie is assembling quite the offensive team next season, and Clifford is going to be expected to be right in the middle of it. Last season, Stefan Della Rovere took that step forward from grinder to scorer for Barrie. But can Clifford?
4. Marcus Foligno - Sudbury Wolves
I will repeat what I said a few weeks ago about Foligno in relation to the NHL draft. "I think what needs to be remembered is that Marcus is one of the youngest players eligible for the draft. Nick, when he put up 70 points and went in the first round, was almost a full year older than Marcus was in his 2nd OHL season. At the same age, Nick actually put up pretty similar OHL stats." So if Nick Foligno took that step forward offensively when he was 18, I think we can expect Marcus to as well. Sudbury is going to be expecting him to be more involved on a consistent basis and even though he's playing for his father, he's going to have to earn his ice time. Judging by what Sabres fans are saying about his performance in their Development Camp, I'd say there is a pretty good chance he takes some big steps forward next season.
3. Gregg Sutch - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
This former 11th overall pick played in a checking line role for Sarnia last season, where he showcased his excellent skating, as well as his ability to crash and bang. However, he requested a trade this offseason and was recently shipped to Mississauga. The Majors will be losing 4 of their top forwards going into next season (Pelech, Gomes, Daugavins, Messier) and will be expecting Sutch to carry the torch. Judging by how much they gave up to get him, I think it's safe to say they have high expectations. What a lot of people don't know about Sutch is that he's hearing impaired and wears a hearing aid in both ears (here is an excellent article on it). I think this speaks wonders about Sutch's hockey sense, since he relies so heavily on reading and reacting to the plays. I expect Sutch to have a very good year in Mississauga where could establish himself as a potential first round selection for 2010. That is, if the NHL can look past his empairment.
2. James Livingston - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A lot of people, including myself, expected last year to be Livingston's coming out party. He has everything going for him; size, speed, skill, and physical aggression. Yet, he actually regressed offensively, suffocated by a terrible Greyhounds team. This NHL 3rd rounder (STL in 2008), will need to be a leader in the Soo's surge to get back to the playoffs. The Greyhounds should be a better team next year. They've picked up veteran talent in T.J. Battani and Vern Cooper, drafted Daniel Catenacci first overall, and selected Robin Lehner in the import draft. Now they need there returning players to step up to the plate and Livingston is their clean up hitter.
1. Austin Watson - Windsor Spitfires
With only a few forwards not returning for the defending Memorial Cup champions, the battle for ice time will be just as fierce as it was this season. In 2008-09, this Michigan rookie played well in a limited role for Windsor, giving us only a glimpse of his offensive potential. He skates exceptionally well for a big man and is not afraid to use his size to help him get the puck to the net. I'm hoping that he gets an increased role in Windsor next season and that he really explodes offensively. If he does, he could very well end up a high draft pick in 2010.
Anybody on your team you expect to take that step forward? Anybody you think I missed?