Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday Top 10 - An Early Look at 2010

With the 2009 NHL Entry Draft behind us, I'd like to take a closer look at the OHL prospects eligible for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Obviously, with another full year of OHL hockey ahead of us, and three major tournaments (Ivan Hlinka, Under 20 WJC's, Under 18 WJC's), a top 10 list could be conceived as premature. That being said, I think a lot of 1992 born (and late 1991) players had excellent seasons and it gives us at least an early indication of who we can expect to see at the top of a list like this a year from now.

In making a list like this, it's obvious how talented this crop of players is. I had a lot of trouble narrowing it down to a Top 10. The top end talent is there, as is the depth. It may seem early to say, but I think this may be the best and deepest OHL talent crop since 2003.

Another astute observation sees a lot of average or undersized forwards in this top 10. Part of me sees this as asinine because of the emphasis put on size in 2009. When a talented guy like Alex Hutchings can fall to the 4th, and a big "project" like Jamie Devane can go in the 3rd, you know that NHL scouts see size as important in today's NHL. However, I just couldn't ignore the talent level of these players, and subsequently I left out a lot of bigger forwards (Austin Watson, Andrew Yogan, Greg Sutch, etc). Is this likely to change next year? Who knows.

Here is my very early look at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft Top 10 (from the OHL of course).

10. Jared Knight - London Knights
Knight has the makings of a dominant power winger. He doesn't have the ideal size of a power forward at pushing 6'0, but he brings all the other intangibles. He's aggressive on the forecheck, he works the corners, he takes the body, he drops the gloves. On top of that, he's actually got a lot of skill. I think he has the potential to put up high offensive numbers in this league. And I think that could happen as early as next year when he's surely a lock to move into London's top 6.

9. J.P. Anderson - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
I look at the emphasis put on goaltender size in this years entry draft, and it makes me wonder where a guy like Anderson will fit in next year. At 5'10, he's definitely an undersized goalie. However, he impressed me a ton this year. In the playoffs for Mississauga, he was unbelievable. And at the Under 17's, he was great in backstopping Team Ontario. Clearly, Anderson is a big game goalie. Getting off to a quick start next year is going to be crucial for him. He's still going to be in a platoon battle with Chris Carrozzi and he'll need to play a high level of hockey to emerge as the true number one. But when a 92 born goalie performs as well as he did in the playoffs, people take notice.

8. Tyler Toffoli - Ottawa 67's
Toffoli is another one of those averaged sized forwards. Listed at pushing 6 feet, Toffoli is an offensively talented winger who caught my eye with his determination this year. He's a slick offensive player, but he's not afraid of the danger areas. He isn't afraid of the front of the net or the slot and he takes the punishment associated with occupying that space. However, he's also a very elusive player. He's one of those forwards who finds open space well, despite not being a speedster. Ottawa's coaching staff seemed to have a lot of confidence in him this season and in particular the playoffs. When Ottawa played Niagara in the first round, Toffoli was often used as an offensive catalyst. He would be placed on a line that wasn't performing well offensively, in order to give it a boost. I think he's a guy we see a lot of progression in next year, as he gets more confident in having the puck on his stick, and as he gets stronger.

7. Tyler Seguin - Plymouth Whalers
Seguin is one of those guys that is flying under a lot of people's radar right now. He doesn't get mentioned with the best of this draft class, perhaps because he isn't as flashy or because he's isnt the biggest. However, Seguin is very talented. A lot of people look at the season he had (67 points) and comment on how he was part of one of the best lines in the OHL with Chris Terry and Matt Caria. I think most people also assume that Terry and Caria did the majority of the heavy lifting and his stats may be inflated because of that. That assumption won't be proven wrong or right until next season. But keep in mind that Seguin was fantastic for Team Ontario at the Under 17's, finishing 2nd in tournament scoring. Seguin is an exceptionally talented playmaker and next season I think he proves to a lot of people that Terry and Caria's success may have in fact been a by product of Seguin's performance.

6. Jeff Skinner - Kitchener Rangers
Skinner is definitely not the biggest guy out there, but he's one of the most exciting to watch. He topped a past top 10, where I ranked the most impressive 92's this season. Every time I saw him play, he caught my eye for the better. He gives 100% all the time and uses his speed to be a pest to the opposition. I don't think he size holds him back because of the elusive quality he possesses, in combination with what appears to be really solid strength. He reminds me of Bryan Little in the way that he uses his lower body to protect the puck, despite not being the biggest. Skinner is also incredibly skilled and has the ability to make that electrifying one on one move. With the talent coming in to Kitchener this season, Skinner should be at the forefront of their explosion. Judging by how well he ended the season, Skinner could very well finish the season as the 2nd highest scoring forward among his draft class behind Taylor Hall.

5. Joey Hishon - Owen Sound Attack
Hishon is another little guy with little fear. He is exceptionally talented offensively, as many people saw at the most recent Under 18's. Hishon finished with 5 goals and 5 assists in 6 games, which led Canada in scoring. Much like Skinner and Toffoli, Hishon's size holds him back very little. He hits open scoring lanes, he crashes the net, and has no fear in working the corners. Being a late birthdate 91, and undersized, Hishon is going to need to have an explosive offensive season in Owen Sound in order to maintain a solid draft position.

4. John McFarland - Sudbury Wolves
Admittedly, McFarland would not have been at number 4 on this list before the Under 18's. In my viewings of him in Sudbury this year, he did not impress. The skill level was evident, however the determination, strength, team play, and two way play were absent. Anyone else I've talked to felt the same way. Perhaps that is a reflection of Sudbury's disappointing season in general. However at the Under 18's, McFarland was outstanding. He finished 1 point behind Hishon for the team lead and I felt that at times, he was Canada's best player, at a tournament largely designed for 1991 born players. His offensive skill level is incredibly high. He needs to play really well in Sudbury next year and show that he can lead a team. If he can do that, he could very well be a top 10 pick.

3. Erik Gudbranson - Kingston Frontenacs
This big and talented rearguard had an incredibly impressive season for a 1992 born player. He was solid for a disappointing Kingston team, one that probably held back his offensive production. He was probably the best defenceman for Team Ontario at the Under 17's (honorable mention to Stephen Silas), who won Gold. And he was solid for Team Canada at the Under 18's, not looking out of place at all. With the way he skates at 6'3 (and growing), and his ability to play at both ends of the ice, he's going to need to take a huge step back next year in order to NOT be a top 10 selection.

2. Cam Fowler - Windsor Spitfires
I debated this one for a while. Fowler or Hall at number 1? I think it's really close. In the end, to be honest, I gave the nod to Hall because he's actually playing in the OHL and because I know what he's capable of in that league. Fowler, of course, is a talented two way defenceman from the US Development Program who has signed on to play for the Spitfires next season. He's coming off an excellent season for the program, and an even better Under 18's where he was named the tournament's best defenceman in helping Team USA to Gold. If anyone saw that tournament, they would have seen what he's capable of.

1. Taylor Hall - Windsor Spitfires
Like I said, it was close. But I gave the nod to Hall because of my familiarity with him. And heck, if I want to give the nod to Fowler for winning Under 18 Gold, I can't forget that Hall was a crucial member of Team Canada's Gold medal winning Under 18 team the year before. He didn't play this year due to Windsor's Memorial Cup run. Everyone knows how much offensive ability they are getting with Hall, however I think his performance in the playoffs and Memorial Cup really increased his stock (if that's possible). The one knock on him previously, was that he didn't show up in big games. He didn't have a strong playoffs last year, where Windsor got bounced disappointingly early. This year, he returned determined to lead Windsor to the promised land, which he did. The only thing he's got left to prove is becoming a valuable member of Team Canada at the Under 20 WJC's, where he was cut this year. It'll be quite the battle to see teammates Hall and Fowler battle it out for the likely first overall spot in 2010.

Honorable Mentions:
I don't normally include an HM list in the Sunday Top 10, however due to the nature of the list, I felt it appropriate this week.

Keep an eye on the "big" forwards I left off. Guys like Austin Watson, Greg Sutch, Andrew Yogan, Steven Shipley, and Ryan Martindale. Yogan will try to continue his solid play with Erie next year, where I hope he continues to develop his power forward game and mean streak. Sutch was recently traded to Mississauga. He played last year with Sarnia and he has a lot of talent. He skates exceptionally well for a big man and he has offensive talent despite putting up few points last year. Watson will look to play a bigger role in Windsor and establish himself as a consistent scorer. Shipley can hopefully take a step forward next season offensively, after a slightly disappointing rookie season. And Martindale just needs to stay healthy.

Also keep an eye on Ryan Spooner, the one undersized forward I left off. Admittedly, he was the last guy I cut off this list, which makes you wonder even further about a possible fascination of mine with undersized forwards. Spooner is a pure goal scorer and can hopefully establish himself as a more consistent threat this year.

Lastly, keep an eye on two defenceman. Ryan O'Connor in Barrie is an undersized defenceman cut from the same cloth as Ryan Ellis. He quietly had a very strong offensive season and is going to be quarterbacking a very solid Barrie powerplay next season. Also, Belleville's Stephen Silas. He was fantastic at the Under 17's, but didn't play a large role in Belleville. With P.K. Subban gone, Silas might be a guy who explodes next year and establishes himself as a very, very solid NHL draft pick.

That's it for our early look. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts, or even your own top 10 list for 2010. Stay tuned for next week's Top 10. Not sure what the topic will be yet though.


Guy Flaming said...

Nice work as always Brock. It should be another terrific season for the top teams in the OHL but can anybody realistically topple the Spitfires?

When's the last time the top 2 NHL picks came from the same junior team? Has it ever happened?

Windsor could be even better this year than last couldn't they?

Brock Otten said...

A quick search of hockeydb (thank god for that site) tells us that since the NHL went to the "Entry Draft" in 1979, two players from the same team have never gone 1-2 in the draft. The closest being in 1999 with the Sedins going 2-3 from Modo.

However in 1969 at the "Amateur Draft," Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif were drafted 1-2 from the Montreal Junior Canadiens. Not sure if we want to count that or not, but it is interesting.

As for Windsor, I think a lot depends. Potentially, they could be better. On the flipside, they could also be worse. It completely depends on how some of these younger or new guys fill the gaps. Austin Watson, Richard Panik, Justin Shugg, Tom Kuhnhackl (maybe?), Kenny Ryan (maybe?). With holes to fill from the likes of Mitchell, Kwiet, Loktionov, Timmins, Shutron, Macdermaid (maybe), Harry Young (maybe), they are going to need to have guys step up.

Also in goal, Engelage is gone and the starting spot is going to be Josh Unice's to handle. Whether he shows up as the Unice from 07-08 or the Unice from 08-09, remains to be seen.

THAT BEING SAID, I do expect them to be just as good next year, perhaps even better.

Dave Astles said...

I think Unice is going to have a good season in Windsor... I've felt bad for him ever since Kitchener got Steve Mason for the Memorial Cup leaving him as the number 2 after playing so well as the starter for 2/3rds of the season. He's a good goalie who hasn't really got a fair shake. What makes it worse is that he gave up his NCAA eligibility to be the starter in Kitchener and then got screwed. It is going to be really interesting to see how Windsor shapes up with some of the new guys coming in.

Brock Otten said...

Good comments Dave and I agree. I think Unice has talent and is a quality goaltender who just had a bad year. He got off to a bad start, similar to a guy like Jeremy Smith. However, unlike Smith, he wasn't really given a shot to get his confidence back.

By being handed the starters role in Windsor, he's got his shot to prove that one year in Kitchener was no fluke. For the sake of his Professional hockey potential, he needs a big year to put himself back on the map. I'm an NHL team will come calling should he perform well and the Blackhawks release will be a distant memory.

Anonymous said...

Yours is the most reasoned list I've seen even at this early stage. Expand it to top 50 when you get a chance. Would love to see what you come up with.

Brock Otten said...

A top 50 at this stage of the game would be pretty damn tough. I think that after you'd hit the top 20-25, it'd just be a random arrangement of players who saw spot duty last year. Not to mention all the likely 1992 rookies who could make an impact (for example Shayne Rover in Niagara).

But fear not, about a month into the season, I'm sure I'll have an early season top 30 list with Honorable Mentions.

Thanks for the comments though, much appreciated. And I'm sure by this time next year, this early top 10 could look like the most unreasoned list!