With a full month of OHL action under our belts, I think it's fair to take an early look ahead to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Over the coming weeks, you'll start to see a lot of scouting lists thrown at you, eventually leading up to the release of the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's Preliminary list in November.
This list is of my own personal opinion, from seeing these guys in action and hearing things about them. It's not intended to be a prognostication of the unfolding of the NHL entry draft (from the OHL's vantage point), but a personal ranking of what order I'd select or rank the available players. Basically how I see things right now.
Keep in mind though, that it is very early. At this time last year, guys like Jared Knight and Dalton Smith were ranked very low and Mark Visentin, Greg McKegg, and Devante Smith-Pelly didn't even crack my top 30. However, all five managed to be ranked in my final Top 20. (My early season 2010 rankings can be found here btw). Point is, there will be a lot of moving and shaking as the season progresses. Some guys will prove to be having more than just a hot start, or a cold start.
This year's crop of Ontario Hockey League players is incredibly star studded in my opinion. As you may have seen in an article I wrote at the beginning of the year, one CHL scout I talked too had nearly half the first round as OHL players. As the season progresses, that's not looking like an exaggeration at all, as the top end talent available from this league is phenomenal. While there doesn't seem to be a contender for first overall (which the OHL has had a strangle hold over the past four years), there is a strong group of players who could contend for the top 10.
One last thing to mention is that I have not included any "draft re-entry" players. No second or third time eligible players on this list. Just going with first year eligible players at this point.
Anyway, here it is...My Early Season OHL Top 30 for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft!
1. Ryan Murphy - D - Kitchener Rangers
Where do I even start? He's currently tied for the league lead in scoring...and he's currently doubling the next closest defenseman in scoring from the blueline (Mike MacIntyre) with 16 points through his first 7 games. Will he keep up this torrid pace? Probably not, but he's looking pretty impossible to stop right now. Sure he's slightly undersized (5'11), but he's the perfect defenseman for today's NHL. At the beginning of the season, I read a quote from Kirk Luedeke's awesome blog (here). ""If you don't stop this kid at your own blue line, you're ****ed." How true that is. But the biggest developments are that he's improved defensively, he's improved his play on the powerplay and he's learning how to control the pace of the game in all situations. Pretty hard to ignore him at this point.
2. Gabriel Landeskog - F - Kitchener Rangers
The Kitchener Rangers haven't missed a beat without Skinner and Morin, and while Murphy has been a big part of that, Landeskog has had an equal part. I think a lot of people who hadn't seen him play assumed he was riding the coattails of those two last year, and might not have the same potential offensively. I have to admit, I wasn't sure the extent of his offensive ceiling either. But he's proven that he can carry the load offensively and has become one of the most well rounded players in the OHL. At any point in time he can fill a different role. He can play the power game. He can play the finesse game. He can be a goalscorer or a playmaker. He's continuing to improve defensively and might be the leading candidate to be the next captain in Kitchener.
3. Brandon Saad - F - Saginaw Spirit
Another complete package player offensively. He hasn't missed a beat in his transition to the OHL and has the Spirit playing at a real elite level right now. He's got size, speed and skill and could develop into a big time goal scorer moving forward. While he's got the body of a power forward (6'2, 210lbs), I'm not sure I'd label him as that. There's potential to grow into a more dominating physical presence, but right now he's probably more along the lines of a Rick Nash, Jeff Carter type of player. There's certainly nothing wrong with that though.
4. Alexander Khokhlachev - F - Windsor Spitfires
I've been incredibly impressed with this OHL rookie. He's a very explosive player who possesses high end skating ability and a very high skill level. He's been fantastic for the Spitfires and has come completely as advertised thus far. The most impressive thing about him is that while he isn't big (5'10), he's fearless in driving to the net and working in high traffic areas. He definitely has a little bit of sandpaper to his game, which complements his high skill level nicely. Can you just see it now, NHL fans with signs at the draft saying "We want the Khok!"
5. Matt Puempel - F - Peterborough Petes
The Peterborough Petes have just been awful so far this year. But Puempel has been one of the lone bright spots, picking up from where he left off last season. He's an elite goal scorer and he has that Jeff Skinner like quality of finding the open ice and being in the right spot at the right time for scoring opportunities. He's very elusive in the offensive end. He's also clearly added strength in the offseason and looks more confident in taking the puck to the net which is helping him to be a bigger presence on the ice.
6. Dougie Hamilton - D - Niagara IceDogs
Hamilton has stepped up huge so far this season and has really rounded out his game. He started to generate a lot of attention at the Ivan Hlinka for his solid play, but has carried that over to the new OHL season. As the saying goes, you can't teach size and Hamilton has that at 6'4, pushing 200lbs. But he's greatly improved on the offensive side of the puck and looks way more confident running the powerplay and skating the puck out of his own zone. The improvements offensively help him to become a real solid two way defenseman as he's already a solid defensive player with a nasty edge. Hamilton is looking like the total package.
7. Lucas Lessio - F - Oshawa Generals
The Oshawa Generals have had a great start to the year (especially offensively) and the addition of Lessio (amongst others) has greatly helped. Lessio is a very dynamic player. He might just be one of the fastest skaters in the league and he uses that speed to create offensive scoring chances. But he's just as effective when the game slows down, where he takes over on the cycle. He draws a lot of penalties from his hard work along the boards and in puck possession. The one criticism I might have is that I'd like to see him use his teammates more, as he can suffer from tunnel vision at times on the rush, which can lead to turnovers and squandered opportunities.
8. Ryan Strome - F - Niagara IceDogs
Maybe the biggest surprise so far this season. Strome is actually currently tied for the league lead in scoring (16 points). I'd probably have him a little higher if I was completely certain that he could sustain this level of play. If he continues to play like he has, he'll continue to shoot up the list. Offensively, he's the total package. Good size, excellent skater, creative offensively, great vision and not afraid to pay the price to make a play. It's only a matter of time until people take notice of who he is.
9. Vincent Trocheck - F - Saginaw Spirit
Similar to Strome, Trocheck doesn't receive a lot of attention for a couple of reasons. One, he plays in Saginaw, and two he's American. But he's the real deal. He doesn't have elite size (5'11), but everything else in his game is above average. He skates well, protects the puck, uses his linemates and finds the scoring lanes. Best of all, Trocheck has a lot of grit to his game and even though he's not the biggest, he's in their battling on the forecheck, along the wall and in front of the net. With Saginaw playing so well, like Strome, it's only a matter of time before people start to talk about Vincent Trocheck.
10. Boone Jenner - F - Oshawa Generals
The OHL has become so loaded with offensive talent for this draft, it's almost like people have forgotten about Jenner and how well he played as a rookie last year. He's your prototypical power center with the size to clear some room for himself offensively and the skill to take advantage of it. Ultimately, I think his lack of elite skating talent slots him a bit lower as it may be a concern for NHL scouts as I'm not convinced he has enough natural offensive talent to allow them to overlook that. On the plus side, he looks more determined to be a consistent physical factor this year.
11. Scott Harrington - D - London Knights
The London Knights have been a big disappointment to me so far this season and Harrington's lack of offensive improvement is just as disappointing. He's taking more initiative offensively and he's using his strong skating stride to bring the puck out of the defensive zone, but the results just haven't been there. He's solid defensively and he's increased his intensity this year, making him tougher to play against. But I'm always weary of shutdown defenseman who don't have "elite" size. Bottom line, he has to start showing something at the offensive end.
12. Daniel Catenacci - F - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
After performing strongly at the Ivan Hlinka, Catenacci has carried over his strong play to Sault Ste. Marie this year. The former first overall OHL selection currently leads the Hounds in scoring, but the team as a whole has struggled (and currently sit last in the Western Conference). But Catenacci is a pretty complete player. He's a very explosive player and creates a lot of opportunities for his teammates through his hard work on the ice. That speed and grit could make him a solid 3rd line player in the NHL, but there are still some questions. Does he have the offensive potential to be more than that? Does his lack of size (5'10) affect his draft status?
13. Vladislav Namestnikov - F - London Knights
There's a lot to like about Namestnikov. He seems to be a very good playmaker with the vision and stickhandling ability to help create scoring chances for his linemates. But I can't help but compare him to some of the similar players ranked ahead of him, and in comparison he lacks the explosiveness that they possess. But then again, he's not getting a lot of help offensively in London.
14. Nicklas Jensen - F - Oshawa Generals
More than likely, we're probably just seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Oshawa's Jensen. The Danish forward has size and skill package that makes him an attractive selection. Pretty much everything is there except the consistency. At times he seems like he wants to really be involved physically too. If he can continue to round out his game and put up close to a point per game, he'll likely start moving up the list.
15. Tobias Rieder - F - Kitchener Rangers
Has been a pleasant surprise for the Rangers who were expecting him to produce offensively, but not be a top 10 scorer in the league. He's not incredibly big (5'10), but he's very quick and very elusive coming down the wing. One of those really slippery players who's hard to contain because he keeps the motor running. He definitely has a lot of offensive skill, but he'll need to get stronger and round out his game to further catch the attention of scouts.
16. Stuart Percy - D - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
He's only played two games so far this year, missing action due to an apparent neck injury, but had 2 assists and was a +5. And I saw enough of him last year to know he's worthy of this high a spot on the list. Percy is just a solid all around defenseman. He's smart at both ends and hopefully he returns from injury soon so that he can continue to progress. The only negative I've heard is that some scouts believe his skating to be only average, which could ultimately affect his effectiveness as a puck rusher at the next level.
17. Mark Scheifele - F - Barrie Colts
There's a lot to like about Scheifele. There's also a lot to be learned about him. As an OHL rookie who played Tier 2 last year, 7 games in the OHL is a pretty narrow spectrum to make a judgment on. But he's got the size, skill, and smarts to put up points from the center position. While Barrie's defense has been a nightmare this year, the offensive production from players like Scheifele has to help keep some level of team (and fan) confidence.
18. Brandon Francisco - F - Sarnia Sting
With all the offensive talent that's come on to the scene in Sarnia, it's almost as if Francisco has been placed on the back burner. While he hasn't quite started the year as strong as he finished last season, he remains a top flight offensive talent with the hands, speed, and creativity to be a top flight scoring threat. His size (at 5'10) might be a bit of a deterrent in comparing him with the other offensively talented players in this draft crop, if he can continue to improve his strength and consistency, he could still find himself in the first couple of rounds.
19. Stefan Noesen - F - Plymouth Whalers
I really liked what I saw from Noesen last year...when he played. A really hard worker and generally pesky forward. It's great to see that he's taken full advantage of the increased offensive opportunity he's been given this year. Through the preseason and the start of the season, he's shown that he can be relied upon to produce offensively and that he has the hands and hockey sense to create off the chances he creates from his dirty work.
20. Rickard Rakell - F - Plymouth Whalers
I look at Rickard Rakell similarly to Oshawa's Nicklas Jensen. A forward with good size who's starting to look like a real complete player. Again, there's that hint of more coming, especially in terms of his physical play.
21. Brett Ritchie - F - Sarnia Sting
Perhaps this ranking is more a reflection of what he's capable of and not what he's achieved, but I had a hard time ranking Ritchie any lower...even if he might deserve it for his poor start to the OHL season. From what I've seen, he's made strides in improving his speed (in particular his acceleration), so that should be helping his offensive game. But with only 1 goal and 2 assists through 8 games, he's getting completely overshadowed by the likes of Yakupov and Galchenyuk. With his size, Ritchie needs to start pushing people around and start to put the puck in the net.
22. Nick Cousins - F - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Cousins has put on some size this offseason (both in height and weight), which will definitely help his draft stock. He's a pretty similar player to Daniel Catenacci, with speed and grit to go along with mild size issues. But he's not nearly as creative as Catenacci, nor is he as complete of an offensive player. But high energy guys with good hands have their value.
23. Garrett Meurs - F - Plymouth Whalers
I expected really big things from Meurs this season, as it was clear last season that he had the skill level to really explode offensively this year. But I've been disappointed thus far. He's putting up assists, but hasn't really been a big factor. He still flashes the skill to take over the game offensively, but doesn't look like he's added the strength to help him create room for himself. He still needs to take better care of the puck. It's really early in the season and if Meurs catches fire offensively, he'll shoot up this list as he has first round talent.
24. Shane Prince - F - Ottawa 67's
Prince is a great story to start the year. A late 1992 who's finally putting it together in his draft year (his 3rd year in the league). I'm still not entirely sure what to make of him though. He's got the speed and he's clearly an intelligent offensive player, but does he have the skill set to be a top 6 player in the NHL? I'll need to see him more this year and see him continue his scoring pace to shake the "tweener" tag I've got on him right now.
25. Austen Brassard - F - Belleville Bulls
The Bulls have had a miserable start to the year and Brassard has been a big disappointment thus far (like most of the Bulls younger players). He looked so good after the trade from Windsor last year and has the size and skill to make a big impact. But he's started off the year really cold and his skating doesn't look like it's improved a lot last year.
26. Spencer Abraham - D - Brampton Battalion
One of those come out of nowhere types (a 15th rounder) who's playing sensational hockey for Brampton. He's a two way defenseman with good mobility and he's really electrified Brampton's powerplay (along with fellow youngsters Marcus McIvor and Dylan Blujus). We'll see if he has the stamina to keep this up.
27. Tyson Teichmann - G - Belleville Bulls
Bulls fans are pretty frustrated with his play thus far and he's shouldered a lot of the blame for the team's poor start. He's been giving up a fair amount of weak goals and one has to think his confidence probably isn't at a high level right now. But he was the go to guy fro Canada at the Ivan Hlinka and deserves some credit for backstopping the team to a Gold medal. The question is...will the real Tyson Teichmann please stand up?
28. Barclay Goodrow - F - Brampton Battalion
Goodrow has great size and could be a real solid scoring power forward down the line. He's got a good wrist shot and manages to get himself into position for scoring opportunities. But he needs to continue to work on his footwork, especially if he wants to take advantage of his size by taking the puck to the net.
29. David Broll - F - Erie Otters
Broll is pretty similar to Goodrow and these guys rankings are probably pretty interchangeable. Broll is the more physical player right now, but he's also more prone to bouts of invisibility (IMO). He also needs to improve his quickness to become a more consistent (and visible) offensive threat.
30. Justin Thomas - F - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Last year, Dalton Smith was ranked 30th by me in my prelim rankings. Interestingly enough, Thomas is a pretty similar player. Similar build, similar skill set. Loves to crash and bang, will throw 'em down and can score too. The NHL loves guys like Thomas. He could definitely move up the list if he can prove he's not just off to a hot start.
Honorable Mentions (Others who I seriously considered):
Dylan Smoskowitz - F - Barrie Colts
Michael Curtis - F - Belleville Bulls
Steven Strong - D - Belleville Bulls
Alex Basso - D - Belleville Bulls
Zach Bell - D - Brampton Battalion
Alan Quine - F - Kingston Frontenacs
Clark Seymour - D - Kingston Frontenacs
Mike Partanen - F - Mississauga Majors
Mitchell Theoret - F - Niagara IceDogs
John Chartrand - G - Niagara IceDogs
Steven Janes - F - Ottawa 67's
Tyler Graovac - F - Ottawa 67's
Tadeas Galansky - G - Saginaw Spirit
Craig Duininck - D - Windsor Spitfires