With that being said, many players have failed to live up to expectations thus far, just as many teams have. Adversely, many players have gotten off to great starts and several teams have been huge surprises (Brampton Battalion I'm looking at you).
Today's list looks at several of those "surprise" players; the guys who've really stepped up their game early in the season. But more specifically, it looks at the 2011 NHL Draft Eligible players who've exploded out of the gate and DESERVE your attention. Call them what you want, "sleepers," or "under the radar guys," the following players are showing signs of being worthy of NHL draft attention.
10. John Chartrand - Niagara IceDogs
None of the bigger name OHL netminders for the 2011 draft have had tremendous starts to the season (Teichmann, Riley), which means maybe someone comes out of nowhere to lead that pack. Insert Dogs goaltender John Chartrand who's actually looked better than Coyotes first rounder Mark Visentin so far this season. With Visentin nursing a minor injury, Chartrand played both games this weekend, winning both.
9. Rickard Rakell - Plymouth Whalers
One of the two import selections by the Whalers this year, Rakell has gotten off to a very strong start for the Whalers. His 3 goals and 4 assists put him 4th in team scoring so far and he seems to be settling in nicely. Rakell is pretty complete winger who gets up and down the ice well and has some offensive skill. He's also got pretty good size at 6'1 and seems to be willing to throw his body around a bit.
8. Tyler Graovac & Steven Janes - Ottawa 67's
6'4 wingers with goal scoring ability do not grow on trees. So far this season, both of these beanstalk wingers have been impressive for Ottawa, providing secondary scoring (Janes with 4 goals, Graovac with 3). Both are also hard workers who put in their time last year, playing energy/forechecking roles on the 4th line. It'll be very interesting to see how these guys grow over the course of the year.
7. Mark Scheifele - Barrie Colts
While the Barrie Colts have been hard pressed to keep goals out of their own net, they haven't had a ton of trouble putting pucks in the net. Newcomer Mark Scheifele has been a big part of the offense so far, as the 6'3 center has 3 goals and 5 assists. Scheifele could probably stand to round out the rest of his game, but offensively he seems like a heady playmaker who makes his linemates better.
6. Justin Thomas - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
After spending minimal time with the Hounds last year, Thomas looked to solidify his place in the line-up this year. He has done that and more. The 6'2, 200lbs winger is an in your face crasher who looks to hit and score. His 3 goals and 3 assists thus far put him 5th on the team in scoring. When he's not scoring, Thomas is a very physical player who crashes the net hard and isn't afraid to drop the gloves (with already one this year against Michael Latta). If Dalton Smith's draft position last year might indicate, the NHL loves players like Thomas.
5. Stefan Noesen - Plymouth Whalers
Noesen is another guy who saw little ice time last year. But when he did, he brought a lot of energy and physicality to his shifts. This year, he's harnessing that energy into offensive production, with 5 goals and 4 assists. That's good for 3rd in scoring on Plymouth. The Whalers needed some young offensive players to step up this year, and it's great to see Noesen continuing his strong preseason play into the regular season.
4. Spencer Abraham - Brampton Battalion
So the Brampton Battalion currently have the best powerplay in the OHL? Put your hands up if you would have guessed that (I'm guessing the number is zero)!. One of the biggest reasons for Brampton's strong start, both in the standings and on the PP, has been the play of OHL rookie Spencer Abraham. While he's slightly undersized for a defender (5'11), Battalion fans have been incredibly impressed with him at both ends of the ice. His 1 goal and 5 assists tie him for 6th in defenseman scoring, and three of those points have been with the man advantage. A 15th rounder in 2009, this looks like a real diamond in the rough. Perhaps this year's Geoffrey Schemitsch?
3. Shane Prince - Ottawa 67's
A late 1992, this is Prince's third year in the Ontario Hockey League. With speed to burn, Prince has grown a bit (up to 5'11 now) and added size which has helped him immensely on the offensive side of things. The speedy playmaker currently leads the Ottawa 67's in scoring with 2 goals and 9 assists (of which ties him for 2nd in the OHL). Considering the 67's feature the likes of Toffoli, Martindale, and Lindsay, who would have figured that Prince would be the turning the most heads.
2. Tobias Rieder - Kitchener Rangers
With fellow import Gabriel Landeskog being billed as a potential top 5 pick in 2011, German winger Tobias Rieder is starting to get lost in the shuffle. In reality, Rieder is neck and neck with Landeskog in scoring, with 6 goals and 6 assists (tied for 5th in the OHL scoring race). Rieder is insanely talented offensively and has a lot of speed to burn. The only downside is that he's pushing 5'10 in the height department, which means he's going to face size questions moving forward.
1. Ryan Strome - Niagara IceDogs
The main piece of the Alex Pietrangelo deal last year, I think many were expecting bigger things from Strome this year. But what he's achieved thus far might be considered exceeding expectations. Strome has paced the Dogs offensively with 3 goals and 9 assists, with his 12 points putting him in the top 5 of league scoring. Strome has decent size (6'1), but is showing elite vision, creativity with the puck and overall outstanding offensive skill.
Dylan Smoskowitz - Barrie Colts
With 4 goals so far (although 3 were in one game), Smoskowitz has shown bull in the china shop qualities as he'll power to the front of the net and bang bodies. Considering how much of a scoring threat he was last year in Tier 2, Smoskowitz could only get better.
Steven Strong - Belleville Bulls
While the Bulls have had a really rough start to the season, Strong is showing some qualities that could get him noticed by NHL scouts. His outstanding skating ability from the back end makes him a weapon on the big ice in Belleville.
Clark Seymour - Kingston Frontenacs
A big (6'4, 200lbs) defenseman who is really rounding out his game as a freshman. Not only has he remained a physical shutdown guy, but he's stepped it up offensively and already has 2 goals this year from the point.
Joseph Cramarossa - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
A late 1992, Cramarossa is an energy player who's been given more offensive responsibility this season. He'll do a little bit of everything, including drop the gloves, but as long as he keeps providing secondary scoring (2 goals and 2 assists thus far), he might generate some interest as a potential NHL'er.