Every year, draft eligible players use a buzz worthy finish to their CHL seasons to earn a higher selection at the NHL Draft. The one example that I can really think of in recent years was Brent Burns in 2003. Burns' improved every month, finished the season with 16 points in his last 12 games, then posted a ppg in the OHL playoffs and wound up getting drafted in the first round by Minnesota. It happens folks'
So who are the draft eligible players to really keep an eye on over the last month of the regular season and into the OHL playoffs? I've tried to select a few that I think can have positive impacts and really raise their draft stock.
10. Roman Berdnikov - Owen Sound Attack
A highly touted Import selection who missed the beginning of the season thanks to a rehabbing shoulder injury. Came back slow but was just starting to get hot (15 points in 14 games through the end of December and January) before getting injured again. Now he's returned and looks to try to regain that momentum he left with. The one Attack forward who's shown great chemistry with Joey Hishon (when he's been healthy too), Berdnikov has a high level of skill and could put himself back on the scouting map with a solid performance down the stretch for Owen Sound (who desperately need it).
9. Ivan Telegin - Saginaw Spirit
While most Imports tend to pick up steam over the course of a season, Telegin has done the opposite. He exploded out of the gate and looked like a really solid player whose size and skill combination made him someone to watch. But since struggling at the World Juniors and then getting injured, Telegin has not been the same player. Even through February, since returning from injury, he's got only 4 points in 9 games. The forward who once looked immovable in front of the net and whose size and speed made him tough to handle, now looks tentative and unimpressive. Telegin will need to regain his earlier season form if he wants to get back in the hunt for a top 60 draft position. With Saginaw competing for the playoffs, they really need him to regain that form too.
8. Freddie Hamilton - Niagara IceDogs
With the IceDogs trying to battle back in the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference, Hamilton has been a huge reason for the team's recent surge. He's improved his consistency greatly and is starting to become a goal scoring threat every time on the ice. While I'm still a little bit uncertain as to his role in the future, he's looking more and more comfortable while playing the power winger spot. With a point per game over the last two months, he's got to be drawing attention to himself. If he can take his game to an even higher level and help the Dogs get into the playoffs, he'll be even more highly regarded.
7. Philip Lane - Brampton Battalion
It seemed like Lane was so close to fully breaking out in December, but then he lost his momentum going into the break. Then at the beginning of February, he again looked poised to really explode only to fade yet again. Offensive consistency has been the name of the game for Lane this season. He's got the tools, but just can't string together consistent weekly performances. With Cody Hodgson back, the Battalion could start to make a little bit of noise in the East and Lane is bound to draw more attention if he can tag along for the ride and start burying more of his chances. A strong finish to the season for Lane could mean the difference between a Top 3 round selection and a mid-late round selection in 2010.
6. J.P. Anderson - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
The Majors are struggling right now, going through their worst stretch this season (losers of their last 4). Anderson and Chris Carrozzi continue to split playing time as the playoffs approach, which begs the question...who starts game 1 of the playoffs? Is it Anderson, who was absolutely dynamite last year? Or is it Carrozzi, the veteran who has been largely more consistent this season? Tough call, and really it probably depends on who finishes the year stronger. Anderson has been getting better as the season has gone along and is starting to show flashes of the type of play many expected from him this season. If he can string together a strong March and manage to take control in the playoffs, Anderson could really cement himself as an NHL draft selection.
5. Mark Visentin - Niagara IceDogs
While I think it's pretty clear that Mark Visentin has established himself as the top goaltender available from the OHL this year, I think he's still got lots to earn the rest of the way. It would appear that the WHL's Calvin Pickard is the consensus top Canadian goalie available and a potential first round pick, but Visentin proved at the Top Prospects Game that he's not that far off. His play down the stretch run has been excellent as Niagara has clawed back into the OHL playoff race, and he's potentially a goalie for the Under 18 Canadian team. Not only is he playing to help the Dogs get into the playoffs, but he's playing to earn a spot in the Top 60 in June.
4. Ryan O'Connor - Saginaw Spirit
Not many defenseman in the OHL had as good a January as Ryan O'Connor did. He had 9 goals and 15 points in 14 games and finally showed the Spirit fans as to why he was the centerpiece to the Brodie/Crawford trade. While undersized and slightly one dimensional at this point in time, O'Connor still has a chance of being drafted in June. His rocket point shot and offensive instincts make him an intriguing player for the new NHL. That being said, he's struggled into February thus far and will need to get back into the groove he had last month if he wants to really bring attention to himself.
3. Philipp Grubauer - Windsor Spitfires
For good or for bad, Grubauer is going to make a name for himself as the CHL season comes to a close. Acquired to be the Spits number one goalie during their run for a second consecutive Memorial Cup, Grubauer has struggled through the month of February and is starting to draw a lot of criticism from Windsor fans. Grubauer started the season with a lot of promise while in Belleville and was drawing a lot of NHL draft attention. He's got even more to gain now going forward, but just as much to lose. If he can be the backbone to another Windsor championship, he'll likely end up being a pretty high NHL draft pick. If he falters and the Spits fall in the playoffs, Grubauer's draft stock will likely take a fall. Either way, he's going to have the spotlight on him.
2. Greg McKegg - Erie Otters
Not to many players have had the success McKegg has had in the past four months, without the recognition. After a disappointing rookie season and a slow start to this season, a lot of people seemed to write off McKegg. But he's since exploded and has 61 points in 42 games since the beginning of November. Playing on an incredible line with Zach Torquato and Mike Cazzola, McKegg has turned his season around, was an OHL all star and is now the 4th highest scoring draft eligible forward from the OHL after Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall, and Jeff Skinner (company all expected to be first round picks). How long until McKegg is mentioned in the same breath?
1. John McFarland - Sudbury Wolves
You really have to wonder...how many scouts are just waiting until the Under 18's occur in order to see McFarland play against the best in the world? How many have simply written off his performance for Sudbury the rest of the way? The Wolves continue to plummet in the East standings (although have won 2 straight, but only 3 of their last 10) and look to be soon passed by the IceDogs in the Central Division. Even if they inch into the playoffs, they won't escape the first round, making McFarland eligible to play for Canada yet again at the Under 18's. He played great in last year's tournament and would likely be expected to be one of Canada's top offensive producers. For as many scouts who sit patiently and wait, how many have already written off the former first overall pick after his incredibly disappointing OHL season? I think the intrigue facing the close of McFarland's season and the potential for draft decline makes McFarland number one on this list.
Just a few names to mention as honorable mentions. Two are big power forwards who've fought injury all season long and thus have been unable to get their offensive game into a groove. Mississauga's Gregg Sutch and Plymouth's R.J. Mahalak came into the year as potential high end draft picks, but currently sit as long shots. Both need a strong finish to their season offensively to get themselves back into serious draft consideration. Peterborough's Adam Sedlak is another guy who came into the year with high expectations. A former high end Import selection, Sedlak disappointed last year but was expected to take massive leaps forward this year. While he's an atrocious -28 on the year, Sedlak has actually looked much better offensively recently and has 7 points in 8 February games. Is it too late for him to show NHL scouts that he's worthy? Lastly, Ottawa's Dalton Smith started the year so strong and really looked to be a prospect on the rise. But then he faded as the holiday months came into full swing, and got moved to the team's third line when veteran Corey Cowick returned. But he's since found himself back playing alongside Tyler Toffoli and has had an excellent February, as he looks to average over a point per game in a month for the first time this season. Smith could also have a very strong playoffs for Ottawa and really make himself an attractive NHL selection.
Anybody you think I missed?