The final installment of my Top 50 eligible OHL prospects for the 2010 NHL entry draft.
Here is the top 10...
10. Stephen Silas - Defense - Belleville Bulls
Silas is another guy I seem to be a lot higher on than most. I think a lot of that has to do with the poor team he played on in Belleville this year. As a defenseman, it's always hard to stand out when you're team is giving up 4-5 goals every game. But make no mistake about it, Silas is an excellent two way defenseman. He's a good skater and can carry the puck into the offensive end. He runs the powerplay well and has an underrated stretch pass (which he uses to his advantage on the big ice in Belleville). Heck, Silas nearly finished in the top 10 of defenseman scoring this year and had more assists than Columbus first rounder John Moore this year (among others). Defensively, I think he's a rock. He took steps forward in being more physical this year, but he's definitely more of a positional defender who likes to use his stick to break up plays. Go back to the CHL Top Prospects Game and I thought Silas did a tremendous job in the game against Taylor Hall and some of the other great talent the league had to offer. He may not be flashy, but he's incredibly effective. I have a lot of confidence in his potential moving forward.
9. Ryan Spooner - Forward - Peterborough Petes
I think the tough thing with Spooner is that the last memories we have of his season were the post injury comeback in the playoffs and the under 18's where he was largely ineffective and rusty, and the January before his injury when he was going through a bit of a slump. How soon we forget how good Spooner was through the first part of the season when Peterborough was rolling and tops in their division. He's undersized for sure, but he's very quick. That shiftyness gives him time to operate in the offensive zone. He's also very aggressive with the puck and seems to excel at driving to the net with the puck on his stick. His play away from the puck is inconsistent, but when he's on, he's like a litter waterbug out there and can be ferocious on the forecheck. On top of the above average skating and puck skill, Spooner also has very good vision on the ice and behind Alex Burmistrov, he may even be the second best playmaker on this list (even ahead of Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin). Once he gets stronger and plays with more consistency without the puck, he'll be a threat for the scoring title in this league.
8. Tyler Toffoli - Forward - Ottawa 67's
I'm not sure a player on this list grew on me as much as Toffoli did this year. From 13 at the beginning of the year, to 8th now. That may not seem like a huge jump, but the talent in that range is pretty high, so I think it shows progress. I was particularly impressed with Toffoli in this year's playoffs where I think he took his game to another level. Sure, he's not a strong skater. We've all heard that before. His speed and acceleration really need to improve for the next level. But he's easily one of the smartest players on this list and seems to always make the right play in the offensive end or find himself in good position for a scoring opportunity. The thing I really liked about his play towards the end of the season was how aggressive he had become. He was taking the puck to the net with authority and developed some pesky habits. Good habits. Like finishing his checks, showing aggression after the whistle and being a general pain in the butt to play against. If he can continue to harness some of these qualities moving forward and make this a consistent part of his game, he'll develop into a quality NHL player.
7. Austin Watson - Forward - Peterborough Petes
While he's ranked 7th by me, I think Watson, Burmistrov and Skinner are all pretty interchangeable. Realistically these three could go in any order and even as high as the top 10. Watson is your classic case of projection moving forward. He's got great size, can skate, is aggressive and finishes his checks, and is already a determined two way player. But how far do his offensive skills develop? If his play with Peterborough to close out the season is any indication, he'll do just fine. Worst case scenario, Watson develops into a potential Selke candidate who uses his size, skating and drive to be a very useful NHL third liner. Best case scenario, his offensive game and confidence develop to the point where you've got one heck of a complete player and a potentially dominant force around the crease.
6. Alexander Burmistrov - Forward - Barrie Colts
Burmistrov is without a doubt one electrifying player. Every time he's on the ice, he has the ability to bring the crowd to its feet. He's a dynamic skater. His agility is top notch and he can handle the puck at high speeds, which gives him the ability to weave in and out of high traffic situations. But for the most part, he doesn't try to rush the play and is patient and poised. His passing ability is the best among any forward available from the OHL. I also like his compete level and the fact that he's already an excellent two way forward and penalty killer. The only real downfall that people can bring up is the so called "Russian factor." Does the KHL (and the actions of some other Russian players) pose a threat to the draft status of all Russians; even those who traveled to North America this season? Here's a tremendous article on Burmistrov's positive experience in North America this year (including some great quotes).
5. Jeff Skinner - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Let me tell you right now. I'm a Jeff Skinner fan. Watching this guy play this year, he's going to be a fan favourite wherever he plays. Anybody who watches him play instantly falls in love with his ability to battle and put the puck in the net. The skating concerns? HUGELY overrated in my opinion. His acceleration could use some improvement to give him better separation off the rush and make him more explosive as he takes the puck to the net. But his agility and balance are outstanding. He's very slippery (at least that'd be the term I'd use). I have no qualms about whether his lack of size effects him negatively at the NHL level. He's built like former Barrie Colt Bryan Little, from the legs up. He's already very strong and has no trouble battling against bigger defenders. And if he does, you wouldn't know it because his compete level is so high. Moving forward, he's going to need to improve his play away from the puck and transfer that compete level to both ends of the ice, but there isn't a better pure goal scorer available than Skinner. Just ask those who played him in this year's playoffs. By the way, here's an article I wrote on Skinner for School Your Pool.
4. Cam Fowler - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
At the beginning of the year, I was enamored with the way Fowler moved the puck fluidly up ice. The way he calmly ran the point on the powerplay and defended off the rush. But the more I saw him, the more his faults became obvious. And as the scouting report got out on him, he went through some rough patches as teams began to zero in on them, taking away his time and space and limiting his effectiveness in rushing the puck. He can be very prone to turnovers in his own end, especially against teams with a solid forecheck. He'll try to force the play if he's not able to skate his way out of the problem using his way above average mobility. But you take the opportunity to skate away from him, and he has problems. While his shot does need to improve if he intends to run an NHL powerplay, I think some of these concerns were overrated simply by the fact that he rarely shoots because he's the triggerman for Ryan Ellis. Hard to evaluate something that is rarely seen. Defensively, I think he's actually further along than he is offensively (even if the point totals say otherwise). His mobility make him an asset. In combination with his size and reach, he's tough to beat off the rush. He's not physical and definitely needs to improve his play in the corners and in front of the net, but he covers a lot of ground and is good at breaking up passes to the center of the ice. I'm not as sold on his ability to become a high end offensive defenseman at the next level, but if he can become an elite two way guy like a Ryan Suter, whatever team selects him will be happy.
3. Erik Gudbranson - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
The battle between Fowler and Gudbranson is incredibly close for me. Even if Gudbranson struggled at times this year, I like his high end potential and mental make up more than I like Fowler's. Gudbranson is a future NHL captain and is mature beyond his years for an 18 year old. He took huge steps forwards in using his size to become a physical force this season, and with added strength, it will become increasingly tougher to play against him. He skates very similarly to former Battalion Brent Burns in that he's very fluid despite being such a big guy. Offensively, I think this year made his potential at the other end a tough read. Just when it looked like he was going to start gaining confidence in rushing the puck, he got injured or sick. One thing is for sure though, he's got a cannon from the point and has the potential to be quite a valuable powerplay piece in the future. On the downside, I thought the Under 18's were a disaster for him (and most of team Canada). He looked like he was trying to do too much and was playing outside his limits. But it's one tournament in a year that was so tumultuous for him. Bottom line is this. If the offensive game never develops, you've got a top three defenseman in the mold of the Flyers Braydon Coburn. If it does, you're looking at a guy who can control the pace at both ends of the ice.
2. Tyler Seguin - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
There really isn't anything to dislike about Tyler Seguin, and that's what makes him a contender for first overall in this year's draft. He can skate. He can score. He can thread the needle with a pass. He can take the puck to the net hard or deke around a defender. And he's a valuable two way centerman who has leadership characteristics. The battle between he and Taylor Hall has been fierce all season. They shared the scoring title and they split the opinion of many scouts. So why do I have Seguin second? Let me explain that with Hall's write up.
1. Taylor Hall - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
While I agree that Hall and Seguin are close, if I'm picking first overall, I take Hall 100/100 times. Look no further than his performance at this year's Memorial Cup. This guy is a winner and he's determined to make an impact every time he's on the ice. Dude get's absolutely laid out by Travis Hamonic in the opening minutes of the game against Brandon. What separates a superstar from just a good offensive player is what Hall did after that. He came back, scored two goals and was a force all game long. When you hit him or try to stop him, it only causes him to elevate his game even higher. I've also been so impressed by the quality of his play without the puck in this year's playoffs. He's blocking shots, fighting in the corners and backchecking as hard as any of Windsor's top defensive forwards. When you have a player so committed to winning, especially one who is as dynamic as Hall, you've found yourself a franchise player.