Friday, May 27, 2011

The Goaltending Carousel in Owen Sound

Like many of you, I was quite surprised to see Scott Stajcer starting the tie-break game between Owen Sound and Kootenay last night. The decision really didn't (and still doesnt) make a ton of sense to me.

Inspired by a discussion with a co-worker today, I decided to send out a few feelers around the league to get some more feedback on the decision. Here's what I got...

"I think I understand why it was done. No Hishon. No Wilson. With the two best players and leaders of the team out, Stajcer was probably put in for a veteran moral boost. But I don't think it was the right decision."

"An obvious ploy to rally the Attack around a veteran player giving it his all, it's just too bad that Stajcer just wasn't up to the task. He can't be solely blamed for the loss, but he certainly wasn't as good as Binnington was previously."

"The decision to start Stajcer was a real head scratcher. What was Reeds thinking? You play the goalie who gives you the best chance of winning the game and that goalie wasn't Scott Stajcer. Binnington has been standing on his head all the way back to Game 6 of the OHL Final. I don't get it."

Basically, these people have summed up what I've been thinking. I think I understand the reasoning behind it, but I certainly don't agree with it. It all comes down to the fact that I'm not convinced that Scott Stajcer is completely healthy and rehabbed, because he hasn't looked very good in these playoffs. With Binnington playing sensationally, why would you not ride the hot goalie?

I also feel pretty bad for Stajcer. It's been a damn tough year for him and to give up 6 goals (why did it take so long for him to get the hook too?) in a season ending game, you could just tell how frustrated and upset he was.

So what are your thoughts OHL fans? Why do you think Stajcer started? Did you agree with the decision?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Apperance on The Pipeline Show

Was fortunate enough to be on "The Pipeline Show" again last night.

Chatted with Guy about a bunch of things, like the 2011 NHL Draft, and players from the OHL still without an NHL contract.

Check out the audio clip here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Who STILL Needs to Be Signed by June 1

Back in February, I took a close look at all the prospects from the OHL who needed to be signed by NHL clubs by June 1st, in order for their rights to be retained.

Well we're about a week and a half away from that deadline, so let's revisit that post and see who's been signed and who still needs to be.

For reference sake, here's the original post from February.

Of the players appearing on that list...the following have signed contracts:

Ethan Werek (With Pheonix after a trade from New York)
Richard Panik
Ben Chiarot
Scott Stajcer
David Shields
Tyler Randell

Of the players appearing on that list...the following still need to be signed:
Casey Cizikas
Marcus Foligno
Garrett Wilson
Kenny Ryan
Jordan Szwarz
Andy Bathgate
Brandon Maxwell
Scott Valentine
Phil Varone
Michael Zador
Daniel Maggio
Cody Sol
Barron Smith
David Pacan (uncertain he has to be signed)

As you can see there is a lot of solid talent without a contract.

Here is what I'm thinking.

I'd be really surprised if Casey Cizikas and Garrett Wilson aren't signed following the completion of the Memorial Cup. My hunch tells me it's a case of two players not wanting to be distracted with contract negotiations during the playoffs. Both are solid NHL prospects who had excellent years and their NHL teams (Islanders and Panthers) would be foolish not to get their signature on the dotted line.

Given how Marcus Foligno developed this season, and his father's long standing connections to Buffalo, I'd also be shocked if he isn't signed. I'm pretty surprised it hasn't happened yet actually.

Then things get murky.

Kenny Ryan developed pretty well this year as a grinder type/two way forward. Considering he was such a high draft choice and the Leafs don't have the league's most talented farm system, it would seem odd if they don't sign him IMO. I don't think he has a high NHL ceiling, but everyone needs players like Ryan in their line up (think of the things a guy like Darroll Powe does for Philly).

Scott Valentine has NHL potential and I think he's developed very well since he was drafted. I know I'd sign him if I was an NHL organization.

The rest kind of seem long shots at best right now. Szwarz is a good player who does a lot of things well, but I'm just not sure he's a guy you look at and say "future NHL player." Brandon Maxwell just never really developed much consistency in his OHL career, and the Avs already have two solid goaltending prospects (Calvin Pickard and Trevor Caan) slated for the AHL next season. Andy Bathgate was given an ATO with Pittsburgh's AHL team to close out the season, but didn't really do anything with it. I'm guessing that was his final test.

I'll be sure to recap and discuss this further when June 1st arrives, for now, just keep checking a site like CapGeek for your latest contract news.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft - Part 3: 10-1

Drum roll please...I present to you my top 10.

10. Boone Jenner - Forward - Oshawa Generals
While some prospects can suffer from overexposure, Jenner is the type of guy you have to see a ton to appreciate. Quite often draft players like him are looked at as potential third line centers. But why is that? Why is it that a draft eligible player who's already a very complete player, is always pigeon held as a future third liner? If it's me, I'm betting on a guy who scored over a point per game in his draft season to improve offensively and become a little bit more than that. Which is why drafting a guy like Jenner is smart. Here you've got a very smart, hard working player who could definitely play in the NHL in the future, but who also has room to grow offensively. People said the same things about Mike Richards in his draft year...Anyway, enough ranting. Jenner is a really intelligent player who makes good decisions with and without the puck. He is intense and will do anything to win (he'll definitely wear a letter sometime in his career). Look no further than his performance in this year's playoffs, where he upped his game. He is the complete package. Yes, his skating is a little choppy and he'll need to improve his explosiveness (something he even admits with Neate Sager in his Draft Tracker segment). And yeah, he's not the most offensively creative player available. But he's efficient. Jenner is a safe pick, but also someone with upside and that's why he'll go in the NHL first round (IMO). Be sure to have a listen to his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

9. Matt Puempel - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Puempel's an interesting player available for this draft. I think the fact that he hasn't slid further in most rankings, is a testament to his talent level and potential. The Petes had a dreadful season and Puempel has to shoulder some of that blame (a large reason CSS has him lower on their list). Puempel also had to have season ending hip surgery, causing him to miss the Under 18's. But the good news is that the surgery on his hip isn't for a debilitating condition and he will recover. If Brett Connolly can still go high in the lottery with his injury trouble, Puempel has a chance too. Puempel is definitely one of the better goal scoring forwards available in this draft. Some guys were just born to be goal scorers. He's got a great shot and he can unleash it anywhere on the ice. He's also a very intelligent player and seems to find his way to loose pucks in front of the net. The next step for him will be improving his ability to take the puck to the net and create offense from any good goal scorer does. He'll also need to refine the rest of his game (play along the boards, backchecking, intensity). But you can't teach the skills he has. I think whoever takes Puempel will need to be patient with him (much like the Coyotes have been with a guy like Brett MacLean), but he definitely has top 6 NHL ability. Be sure to listen to his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

8. Brandon Saad - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Perhaps the player who disappointed me most this season. Maybe the expectations were set too high, but a lot of people (myself included) expected him to transition rather flawlessly to the OHL. But after failing to post a point per game, I really did come away (on the whole) rather underwhelmed by a guy originally thought to be a potential top 10 pick. Saad does have a lot of strengths. For one, he's already a committed two way player who kills penalties. He's also not afraid to take the puck to the net and obviously has the speed and skill to create offense for himself and his teammates. Perhaps he was a bit unlucky. He had a lot of games this year when he looked good, but failed to hit the score sheet. A lot of people see him as a future power forward, but I think that's a misnomer. He's big, but he's not a power forward. And perhaps that's where some of the disappointment comes from. He needs to improve his play away from the puck offensively by getting more involved in the cycle down low, by winning more battles for loose pucks, and by being a big body presence in front of the net. He had a very good series against Windsor to close out Saginaw's season, which definitely helped save his stock a little bit. I think more than anything, I'm a little bit confused as to the type of player he'll be in the NHL. Is he offensively talented enough to be a consistent top 6 forward? Does he battle hard enough to be a good 3rd liner? Perhaps next year, we'll get to know a little bit more about who the real Brandon Saad is. To find out a bit more, check out his Draft Tracker 5 questions segment with Neate Sager. Also, check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

7. Nicklas Jensen - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Jensen intrigues the heck out of me. I really like a lot of the things he brings to the table. For one, he's an absolute bull on the puck. I'd be really surprised if when the NHL combine results are released, he doesn't grade incredibly high on all the leg strength tests. His balance and ability to protect the puck are outstanding. He's also a very agile guy and it allows him to not only be strong on the puck, but elusive with it (check out this awesome goal). Secondly, he's got a terrific shot and has good goal scoring instincts. While he is a pretty solid two way player (in terms of the backcheck), it's his play away from the puck that leaves the most to be desired IMO. For a guy who's so strong with the puck, I'd love for him to be more aggressive on the forecheck and in retrieving dump ins. Often times, he'll be coasting in front of the net looking for a pass, instead of doing the dirty work in the corners. To be fair, there are times when he's a factor in those areas, but it's a work in progress. Once that part of his game comes around, I'm really not sure how good he could be offensively. I think there is a lot of potential to his game and he could definitely go higher than many currently predict. Here is his Draft Tracker segment with Neate Sager. Also, check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

6. Alexander Khokhlachev - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
The real wild card of the NHL Draft. He's a guy you either love or you hate, depending on how you think his game will translate to the NHL level. He's not big and he definitely needs to add strength. While fearless, he does get pushed off the puck rather easily at times and it can really limit his effectiveness and creativity. But he's one of the youngest players available in the draft, so there's a ton of time for him to mature physically. He has a ton of fire to his game and he's always going hard to the net (almost in a pest like capacity) and isn't afraid to take a beating to score a goal. He's a complete offensive player who can put it home with a good wrister, but also has the vision and ability to make a good pass. The real question is whether you think he's able to play this feisty offensive game, at his size in the NHL...and survive. And if he has to change his game to being more of a finesse player, will he be as successful. I always look to see how those guys with size concerns, perform in the playoffs because the games are closely checked. And The Khok was one of Windsor's best players in the postseason. As I said, he's the real wild card of the draft. He could go as high as the top 15 (where Redline has him), but also fall deep into the second round (where CSS has him). We'll find out in June, but I'm a believer.

5. Mark Scheifele - Forward - Barrie Colts
There's no bones about it. No player did more for their stock than Scheifele at this year's Under 18's. He was consistently Canada's best forward and showcased a real complete offensive ability. He can really do it all. At the beginning of the year, he was definitely more of a playmaking, possession center. But as the year wore on and he gained confidence, he became a much more complete player. By season's end, he was a beast at both ends of the ice (just like he was at the Under 18's). He'll take the puck and drive hard to the net, and stay there taking abuse. He's become a physical player who will participate on the forecheck and fight for pucks along the wall. He can score. He can set up teammates. He plays both ends of the ice. His skating is good for a big guy, but can get even better with added strength and conditioning. Scouts always say, they look for guys with an upward trajectory. Well Scheifele got better and better with each passing month. I have to say, in a wide open year, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him go in the top 10. Here's his Draft Tracker segment with Neate Sager. Also, check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

4. Ryan Murphy - Defenseman - Kitchener Rangers
Don't take my ranking of Murphy at fourth to be a slight towards him. If I could, I'd probably rank Murphy, Hamilton, and Strome as 2 a, b & c. But nobody likes a cop out! I put him fourth because I do still have some reservations as to whether he'll be able to excel at both ends of the ice. I have confidence that his defensive game will improve to the level it needs to, for him to be a big time minute eater (and so does Murphy, as stated in his 5 questions segment with Neate Sager). But I don't think it'll take him to that level where he's going to be considered among the most valuable defenseman in the league. Hopefully that made sense. Murphy's dynamic performance at the Under 18's, had to make believers out of even his toughest critics. Dynamic is the word to use too. He has that innate ability that allows him to dictate the pace at which the game is played. It's not just his skating, but his poise with the puck and ability to create offensive opportunities for his teammates. He's not just a flashy guy who skates the puck in, only to have nothing come of it. He's patient with the puck and almost always creates a scoring chance from his rush. His powerplay quarterbacking ability really improved this season too, as his shot from the point improved and he stopped forcing passes and let the play come to him. Defensively, a lot of people compare him to Ryan Ellis. I don't think that's a fair comparison. Ellis is a much gritter player and isn't afraid to push people around. Murphy uses his skating to keep forwards in front of him so that he doesn't have to be physical. In today's NHL, elite puck moving defenseman are at a premium. So why not draft one? Be sure to check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

3. Dougie Hamilton - Defenseman - Niagara IceDogs
There have been some tremendous defenseman to come out of the OHL in recent years, from Alex Pietrangelo to Drew Doughty. And Hamilton is right there with them at the same age. He's built for today's fast paced, yet physical NHL. He's big, yet agile. There's a reason he was named the best skater in this year's OHL Coaches Poll (for the East). Not only can he stay with forwards off the rush, but he's mean and physical and hard to elude in coverage. With that size comes a long stick, which he uses in an almost Chris Pronger like fashion, to separate a lot of forwards from the puck. Defensively, he could turn into a real stalwart at the NHL level. But offensively, he's very strong too. He's a very smart player who makes good pinches and is a very sneaky player. I don't know how many goals he scored this year by sneaking in from the point to receive a cross ice pass around the net. He's worked hard to improve his first pass, and can also skate the puck out of his end. To cap it all off, he's got a cannon from the point that creates a lot of offensive chances for his team off rebounds. The only negative, is that he had a weak Eastern Final performance against Mississauga, which could have possibly left a bad taste in some scouts mouths (if they're discussing a tough decision). But Hamilton should develop into a top pairing minute eater (like a Brent Seabrook) at the NHL level. Check out his Draft Tracker segment with Neate Sager. Also, have a listen to his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

2. Ryan Strome - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Few players have had the meteoric rise that Strome had this season. From offensive depth player to nearly winning the OHL scoring title in one year. Strome is an absolutely electrifying offensive player. He can make moves at top speed and will make one defenseman look like a fool nearly every game. He is a very complete offensive player who can really wire the puck (especially on the one timer ala Steve Stamkos), but he's also a very good playmaker. He works hard in the offensive end and really slows the game down to give his linemates good opportunities to score. Strome is tenacious away from the puck and goes hard into the corners looking for loose pucks. He'll even drop the mitts if he has to (and has some general pest like qualities to him). But he's not without his flaws. He'll need to improve his two way play in order to play center at the NHL level. I think he could also stand to add another gear to help create even more offense off the rush. Strome was also a little bit disappointing in this year's playoffs for me. He never really found a groove offensively. That being said, I see him having a TON of offensive potential at the NHL level. He's the type of dynamic player you build your first line around. Check out his Draft Tracker segment with Neate Sager. Also, be sure to listen to his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

1. Gabriel Landeskog - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Compare him to whoever you want to compare him to (be it Jarome Iginla, Mike Richards, Brenden Morrow), Landeskog is the most complete draft prospect I've seen come out of the OHL. I have a lot of confidence that he'll walk right into the NHL next season and make a consistent impact. His offensive game improved leaps and bounds this season. Yeah, he can hit (one of the best and hardest hitters in the OHL). Yeah, he can kill penalties and play both ends of the ice. Yeah, he wears the "C' for Kitchener. But he developed into, at times, a very dominant offensive player. On a lot of dump and chase opportunities, he looked like a man among boys out there. Once he gets going, he's pretty damn hard to slow down. His wrist shot really improved, especially off the rush. He handles the puck well and takes passes at full speed. He's become smarter with the puck and is patient when setting up teammates. Is he going to challenge Crosby for the Art Ross? Probably not. But when you get the opportunity to draft a player who can impact your team on so many levels, you don't pass up that chance. For more, have a listen to his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

Well that's it folks. Have at it!

Monday, May 16, 2011

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft - Part 2: 30-11

The second part of the unveiling of my Top 50 eligible OHL prospects for the 2011 NHL entry draft.

Here are prospects 30 through 11:

30. Craig Duininck - Defenseman - Windsor Spitfires
Duininck doubled his point total from last year on route to a solid developmental season. This included some playing time alongside Ryan Ellis in critical situations for the Spits. He's built well to be a solid stay at home guy in the NHL, already at 6'0, 200lbs. While he can be a physical player, he'll have to continue to refine this part of his game. Learning how to pick his spots for big hits, and becoming more consistent in punishing forwards in front of the net. But he skates well for a stay at home guy, and can really handle forwards off the rush with solid backwards and lateral mobility. He's also pretty smart with the puck in his own end and transitions well up the ice. He'll break up an offensive chance and get the puck to a forward quickly to turn the play up ice. He also saw some powerplay time (in a secondary role) and is improving offensively. He has a pretty hard shot and is learning how to get it on net more effectively. While he may not profile as a high end offensive defenseman at the NHL level, he'll likely be a pretty productive offensive player by the time his OHL career is over (think Jacob Muzzin, Marc Cantin, etc). There are a lot of quality stay at home types like Duininck available this year, but I think he's done enough to put himself at or near the top of this group.

29. Matt Mahalak - Goaltender - Plymouth Whalers
IMO, Mahalak is the top goaltender available from the OHL this year. If you saw him in the first four months of the season, you probably left with a sour taste in your mouth. Through December, Mahalak was 1-6 with a 4.86 GAA and a .848 SV%. And since the New Year (January), Mahalak has been 7-6 with a 3.05 GAA and a .924 SV%. Talk about a boost in production. Mahalak is a big athletic goaltender at 6'3, again something NHL scouts love. He makes himself big in the net and when he goes down in that butterfly, he's tough to beat. He's still a bit unrefined in using that size and can give up some big rebounds. And he'll also need to work on getting down his angles and anticipating plays better. But the athleticism and size are there to work with, and judging by the midseason improvements, there is a lot of potential there. If you want more info on Mahalak, check out Neate Sager's Draft Tracker 5 Questions segment.

28. Joshua Leivo - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Call me a believer. I was absolutely blown away by Leivo's play towards the end of the regular season and into the OHL playoffs. If you include the playoffs, in Leivo's final 40 games of the season, he had 15 goals, 20 assists and was a +20. This type of production from a 6'2 winger who plays both ends of the ice? You might ask, what was he doing in those first 35 or so games? The answer; becoming a complete player. He worked hard in a checking line role, developed his two way game and eventually got the chance on a scoring line. Leivo is a good skater with an extra burst that he uses to beat defenders to loose pucks in the offensive zone and on the forecheck. He'll drive hard to the net with the puck on his stick and creates scoring opportunities for his teammates from good board work. And as mentioned, he's a very good two way player who's the first one back in the defensive zone and seems to have a knack for intercepting passes and anticipating the opposition's next move. I've heard a few people call him a power forward prospect. I'm not sure I'd go that far, as I don't see him developing in that capacity. But he's certainly someone with a huge learning curve and a lot of potential as a two way scoring threat. How Central Scouting left him off their list, I'll never understand.

27. Scott Harrington - Defenseman - London Knights
Perhaps the player who fell the loudest from the OHL this season. Projected to be a first round pick at this time last year, Harrington is now finding himself in that mid round range after a rather disastrous season. I think it's the classic case of a prospect trying hard to be something he's not...or at least not ready to be yet. Now granted, I put a lot of blame on the Knights in this instance because it was they who failed to go out and get a quality puck moving defenseman and thrust Harrington into that role to start the year. When he's focusing on his defense, Harrington is a valuable defenseman. He's got the size, mobility and intensity to be a quality stay at home guy at the NHL level. But he's limited offensively (at the current moment). Through the first half of the season, he struggled trying to be the primary puck rusher and just didn't look comfortable in the role. Just the same, because he was trying to do too much offensively, it took away from his defensive game. It's not often that a defenseman is better defensively in his 16 year old season, but that was the case with Harrington. Next year will be huge for him. He needs to spend the first half of next year getting his confidence back and really focusing on becoming a premier, physical shut down defender. Check out Harrington's Draft Tracker 5 questions with Neate Sager. Also, check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

26. Alan Quine - Forward - Peterborough Petes
No one has ever doubted Quine's offensive abilities. It's his play away from the puck and in traffic that often leaves scouts wanting more (and he's the first to admit that in Neate Sager's Draft Tracker 5 Questions). That being said, I thought he had an excellent Under 18's, where he showed an increased dedication to play without the puck. He was great along the boards, battled for loose pucks and was attacking the net with and without the puck. If he can carry over that style of play to the OHL next season, he'll be a much improved player. As it is, Quine's best asset offensively is his shot, which he can get off quickly and in traffic. He's a very elusive player, but could definitely benefit from a summer in the weight room to make himself stronger on the puck. To be successful, I think Quine's going to have to develop a waterbug style of play. If he can find that edge, in combination with his skill, he could make the NHL team that takes a chance on him quite happy.

25. Tobias Rieder - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
The tale of Tobias Rieder can be divided into two parts. The first part was the Rieder from the first part of the season who was a highly skilled energy player. He was dangerous on the forecheck, got his nose dirty to score goals, and showed a lot of skill in the offensive end. The Rieder from the second part of the season (including the playoffs) was largely invisible, easily muscled off the puck and largely ineffective. Playing in his first OHL season, it seemed Rieder really tired. He definitely has skill and could be a big time point producer in this league. It's his size (5'10) that will likely scare off some teams, in combination with how ineffective he was later in the year when teams became more physical with him. Hopefully a summer of offseason training will allow Rieder to have the conditioning necessary to play the style of game which makes him effective. Kitchener will definitely be counting on him offensively next season. Here's his Draft Tracker 5 questions segment with Neate Sager. Also, check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

24. Andrew Fritsch - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
You'd think an offensive winger with over a point per game, playing for the Western Conference champions, would generate a bit more draft buzz. Perhaps it's because he's not really a flashy player, but Andrew Fritsch is effective. Playing with Joey Hishon for a large portion of the year, Fritsch was not just a piggy back. He's a hard working offensive player and a very good goal scorer. He makes smart plays in the offensive end and he gets himself in great scoring position. One of those guys the puck just gravitates too as he gets open in the slot. Fritsch is actually a very good skater too and has some serious wheels. The next step for him will be to improve his strength and ability to protect/handle the puck to capitalize on that offensively and begin to generate more offense himself. He also needs to improve his play away from the puck (defensively, along the wall). Unfortunately for him, he's been injured most of the playoffs and hasn't had an opportunity to show his stuff on a larger stage. But he remains a quality pick anytime after the 2nd round IMO, as a potential secondary scorer at the next level. Here's his Draft Tracker 5 questions segment with Neate Sager.

23. Seth Griffith - Forward - London Knights
I'm kind of torn on him personally. I like him, but I don't love him. Why I like him: He's a very intelligent offensive player who can line up at any forward position and look good/make things happen. He's definitely more of a playmaker than goalscorer, and he's got great vision. His skating is good too, which is the first thing you look at in a smaller forward. I wouldn't say he's a burner or anything, but he's strong on his feet and can play both off the rush and once the offense sets up in the zone. He's also a very dedicated two way player and plays the PK for London. Just a solid all around forward. What's preventing me from "loving" him? I think it's that far too often we've seen players like Griffith in the OHL who have struggled to find a niche at the NHL level. He's one of those "good at everything, but not great at anything" kind of guys for me. While he's definitely a solid two way player, I'm not sure I see him as a 3rd or 4th line center at the NHL level because of his lack of size and because he isn't a physical player. Which means (IMO) he has to profile as a top 6 forward. And while he's a very intelligent offensive player and he definitely has skill, I'm not sure it's enough to slot him in for a future 50-60 point NHL player. He could fall into that "tweener" category that kills so many NHL prospects. That being said, would I draft him? Absolutely.

22. Nick Cousins - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I have to admit. Before the Under 18's, Cousins was much lower on my list (in the 30's). His performance there opened up a lot of eyes, not just mine. I was previously a little unsure as to what type of player Cousins would be at the NHL level. But the tournament helped to give me that vision, I think. He doesn't have elite size (5'11), but he's a scrappy little player with a big motor. He's a tireless worker in the offensive end and does well to get himself open in front of the net. He'll also pay the price to score a goal and doesn't get pushed around in the slot despite his lack of height. In the OHL this year, his defensive game left a lot to be desired at times (a tendency to float a bit), but at the Under 18's, I felt like he did a great job backchecking. Again, carrying that over to next year would be great for his development. The key to Cousins' development will be the maturation of his play without the puck. As an energy player with hands, he'll have a lot of value. But in order to do that, he'll need to make a concentrated effort to improve his board play and forechecking consistency. Here's his 5 questions segment with Neate Sager. Also, check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

21. Joseph Cramarossa - Forward - Mississauga Majors
Definitely a favourite of mine for this year's draft. He managed to put up 32 points this year, despite playing largely on the 4th line with the likes of Jamie Wise, Mika Partanen, Corey Bureau, Gregg Sutch, etc (no offense guys). Cramarossa is your prototypical grinder, but he's damn good at it. He's a quick skater and he uses his speed to play both ends of the ice very well. His speed really helps him negate odd man rushes defensively. I don't know how many times this season, I saw him skate back to lift the stick of a player on a 2 on 1 or 3 on 2. He's physical and punishes defenders on the forecheck. He'll drop the gloves to protect a teammate, or increase his team's energy level. Best of all, he's actually a pretty good offensive player. He can skate with the puck and has very good vision. He's also got a good wrist shot and creates space for himself in the offensive zone. There's a reason Central Scouting has had a guy with his offensive stats, around the top 60 all year. Check out his Draft Tracker 5 questions with Neate Sager to find out more about him.

20. Shane Prince - Forward - Ottawa 67's
While I'm not the most staunch Prince supporter, I do see the value of him as a 2nd or 3rd round draft pick. Prince is definitely skilled with the puck and has the vision to be a valuable playmaker on an offensive line. He's certainly not the best skater (not the worst either), but he also gets a lot of flak for being the third wheel on a line with Tyler Toffoli and Ryan Martindale. On a lot of nights, Prince was the motor that made that line tick though. I think the main concern I have with Prince, is the transfer of his skill set to the NHL. It's just not that common you see a winger who's primarily a playmaker at the next level. And just the same, while Prince isn't tiny (5'11), he's not strong enough or quick enough to create the space for himself required to make those feeds (IMO). He'll have to be paired with a big center who creates space for his linemates, like Ryan Martindale did for Prince this season. He's a smart player and he competes hard, but I'm just not convinced he can be an effective scoring option in the NHL. But just like Seth Griffith, yes I'd absolutely draft him. There are always exceptions to every rule and Prince has certainly performed well enough this year for someone to roll the dice on him. For more, have a listen to his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

19. Vincent Trocheck - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Trocheck's ranking might be a bit misleading. I definitely like him as an NHL prospect. But his faults...and ultimately high end potential, keep him from being a bit higher. Trocheck is a very smart, hardworking center who was probably Saginaw's most consistent player this season. He's not big (5'11, 180lbs), but he's tenacious, fearless and even has a bit of grit to his game. Despite that lack of size, he's actually effective in the corners and is able to create plays for his linemates through persistence and good vision. He kills penalties very effectively and he's strong on the draw. Basically, a very solid all around player. His biggest flaw is his lack of extra gear to give him separation off the rush (which he admits to Neate Sager in this 5 questions segment). That lack of dynamic speed, combined with his average height could cause him to drop on draft day. Especially when considering that he doesn't have a truly remarkable characteristic and probably profiles as a 2nd/3rd line tweener. Wherever he ends up getting drafted, that team should feel happy with the selection. Be sure to check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

18. Lucas Lessio - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Right now, he's probably the most "raw" forward available from the OHL this year. What I mean by that is, you're looking at a player with all the tools, but who just hasn't put things together yet. The consistency in his game definitely picked up in the second half of the season, but he remains an enigma to a degree. Just what does the future hold for Lessio? He can be quite the dynamic player. He can skate with the best of them and has an absolutely explosive first few steps. He uses that speed quite effectively in taking the puck to the net. He'll be aggressive on the forecheck and at times, looks very good protecting the puck along the wall. He's prone to overhandling the puck a bit and could definitely stand to use his linemates better. He shows flashes of being a more complete player, both defensively and physically. But I'd love to see that tenacious spark more consistently. I think it all comes down to whether you believe the hands will catch up with the skating, and whether he has the hockey IQ to be a consistent scoring threat. Worst case scenario, I think you draft him anticipating you're getting a guy who'll develop into a solid 3rd line energy guy. Best case scenario, he figures everything out and you get a budding offensive contributor on a scoring line. For more on Lessio, check out his 5 questions feature with Neate Sager.

17. Rickard Rakell - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
He seems to be stereotyped as one of those future grinders by a lot of scouting companies. But I think he's got offensive potential at the next level. He definitely has hands (check out this goal) and he is very skilled with the puck. That puck skill was on full display at this year's World Junior Championships, where he performed very well. For whatever reason, some of those slick moves and the offensive skill hasn't translated to eye popping offensive numbers. Some people suggest it could be a lack of hockey sense, which at this point might be a valid argument. The reason he's getting that grinder tag is because he actually is a hard working player at both ends of the ice and he does take the body and forecheck hard. It remains to be seen as to whether he'll play center or wing down the line. He looked pretty good down the middle in the new year for Plymouth on a line with Stefan Noesen. I think another thing that hurt him was that he only scored 2 goals in his final 15 games...and then missed pretty much the rest of the season (save a game in the playoffs where he came back too early) with an ankle injury. It's the, what have you done for me lately tag. He definitely looks like a pretty safe pick in that early 2nd round range though, but he's got more potential than some are giving him credit for.

16. Daniel Catenacci - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Anytime you watch Catenacci play, you see how much passion he has for the game. He's definitely a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. Depending on when you catch him, he can wow you with his speed, tenacity and skill. Or you can come away a little disappointed as he becomes a little self centered and struggles to generate offense. I think he definitely hurt himself with his performance at the Under 18's. It was a tough tournament for him as he started out in an important scoring role, but some undisciplined penalties dropped him to the 13th forward spot. That was a big tournament to show people what he could do outside of the Soo. But while that tournament was a bust for him, scouts shouldn't forget how well he played at the Top Prospect's Game. Bottom line is this...if Catenacci's offensive skill level never really translates to a scoring line forward in the that really that poor of a selection in the round 2? Would you not take a Darren Helm (who has been fantastic for Detroit this year) in that area? I can totally see where scouts get the lack of hockey sense and selfish play from. When things aren't going well for him offensively, he can tend to overhandle the puck, or force things. But I think he makes a great selection somewhere in round 2, as a player who may mature offensively and become a complete player...or at the worst is a tenacious forechecking third line center. For more on the Cat, check out his Draft Tracker segment with Neate Sager.

15. Stuart Percy - Defenseman - Mississauga Majors
Just call him steady Eddy. Percy is one of the most consistent and reliable players available in this draft. Defensively, he is a rock. He's hard to beat off the rush (and he'll sit you on your ass if you try to get by him), and he's equally difficult to lose in zone coverage. While playing on such a strong team, his +/- (+50) is no fluke. The best thing about Percy is not that he's so strong defensively, it's that he also makes good decisions with the puck and gets it out of his zone very quickly. That transition from good play on defense to puck up the ice to start the offense is the key to Dave Cameron's success in Mississauga and Percy does it as quickly and efficiently as anyone. Offensively, I think he has more potential than many give him credit for. He can lead the rush and skate the puck out of his zone and his powerplay quarterback skills improved this season. Cameron's system doesn't exactly inspire it's defenseman to be flashy, or to take chances offensively, so that's a big part as to why his numbers are lower. Check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

14. Ryan Sproul - Defenseman - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
One of the biggest risers of this OHL season, Sproul had a fantastic second half that really made him a curious target for NHL scouts. Let's be honest, 6'4 offensive defenseman with great wheels do not grow on trees. As a defenseman, he's raw. He has a ways to go defensively in this league (as he admitted in his interview with me), but the improvements he made in just one OHL season point to Sproul being a very teachable player. His biggest asset would definitely be his booming shot from the point. He scored 14 goals this year, and that was pretty much in half a season. As mentioned, he's also a terrific skater who can take the puck end to end, but he's still learning when to pick his spots and can get sucked in by a two man forecheck (leading to turnovers). While he'll probably never be a physical defender who takes advantage of his natural gifts, his height and long stick could make him a very effective defender if he's taught to play the angles well. This is especially true given that strong skating ability. Keeping forwards in front of him so that he can utilize that long reach will be a key to his defensive game moving forward. That and settling down in defensive zone coverage. I know I've got Sproul higher on my list than others (have for the majority of the season), but I believe strongly that he has a ton of potential is the type of gamble that could make a scouting director look like a genius in a few years.

13. Brett Ritchie - Forward - Sarnia Sting
The tale of two seasons for Brett Ritchie. Through the opening months, he did not look great. But just around the holidays, things really started to heat up for him. I saw him play during that extreme hot streak and he was a beast. He was physical, playing both ends of the ice, driving hard to the net and putting home the puck. But then came the bout with mono that really crushed the momentum he had created for himself. The Under 18's were a great tournament for him though. He started a bit slow, but by the end of the tourney, he was one of Canada's top forwards. He looked great along the wall and was really working hard to create havoc in front of the net. He has the hands to be a terrific power forward scoring threat in the NHL. The question for scouts is, have I seen enough of him (playing well) to spend a high selection on him? I think the answer will be yes for at least one team. Bottom line is this...if Ritchie doesn't get mono and continues that hot streak through to the end of the year, we're talking about Ritchie as a sure fire first rounder. Sometimes you've got to roll the dice. For more, check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

12. Vladislav Namestnikov - Forward - London Knights
Namestnikov is a very crafty player. His playmaking ability is definitely his biggest asset. He has the stickhandling ability to slow the game down in the offensive end, is patient enough to allow the right play to develop, and has the vision to find open teammates. He is also very deceptively quick. He'll skate casually down the wing with the puck, and then all of sudden turns on the afterburners and will beat defenders to the outside. In terms of his overall ability, it's not bad. He has some feistiness to him and is generally unwilling to become physically intimidated. He's also a fairly solid two way player and will make an effort to backcheck. That being said, I found that he could become invisible during stretches. He's not an incredibly "flashy" player and a guy you're going to notice on every shift. To be honest, being a late birth date, I thought he would have had a more consistent season in London. Moving forward, I'm just not sure he'll develop into an elite offensive talent. Being slightly undersized, and lacking a pure dynamic ability in his game, I don't see him becoming a number one offensive center you can lean on. But he has enough talent and smarts to be that number 2 guy every team needs. A guy you can pair with a bigger forward and a talented goal scorer and have a productive unit.

11. Stefan Noesen - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
Sometimes guy's get that "underrated" tag so much, that calling them that becomes a little redundant. I will admit that Noesen's lack of prime time exposure for this draft is a little bit confusing. He's really progressed this season, from energy 4th liner last year to prime time offensive force this season. He's another guy who's been unfairly tagged as a future 3rd liner at the NHL level. He is a very talented offensive player and definitely has scoring line potential. For one, he has tremendous hands. He scores more tip in goals than anybody I can think of. That shows a willingness to stand in front of the net, taking abuse and I think it's a precursor to the type of goal scorer he'll be in the NHL. But he's also a smart goal scorer and understands how to read and react to situations on the ice (especially without the puck). His skating is also a strong suit, as he can explode down the wing and has really developed into a solid puck carrier. That part of his game is underrated (here I go using that word). He has one on one moves and can dangle, but he also has power and does well to protect the puck from defenseman. I think the other parts of his game are inconsistent right now. He can be a solid defensive player, but can also get caught cheating up ice. He can play a physical game and can be a disruption on the forecheck, but at times he looks more interested in trying to be a goal scorer. He can overhandle the puck and turn it over in the offensive zone. When Noesen can combine his offensive skill with the puck and the ability to be a consistent tenacious force, creating scoring chances off of turnovers, he'll be an even better player. Check out Neate Sager's Draft Tracker 5 questions with Noesen. Also check out his appearance on The Pipeline Show.

Stay tuned for the Top 10!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft - Part 1: 50-31

With the World Under 18's wrapped up and the OHL playoffs coming to an end (although not the Memorial Cup), it seems like a fitting time to release my final top 50 for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. I've had two previous lists this season; a preliminary one in October (here) and a midterm one in December (here).

The top 50 will be released in three parts: Part 1 - Prospects 50-31, Part 2 - Prospects 30-11, and Part 3 - Prospects 10-1.

Just for clarification, for my top 50 ranking, I haven't included any players eligible for draft re-entry, such as Andy Andreoff or Michael Houser. This has been consistent all the way through my lists. Instead, I did a list of the top 10 draft re-entries, which can be found here.

Also for clarification, this list is MY list of the top 50 OHL prospects, as if I were drafting for my own team. In other words, this isn't a list of where I THINK or believe players will go, but a ranking of my own opinion on the top players eligible for this draft based on my viewings this season. If you want a draft projection and information about players outside the OHL, be sure to order the Future Considerations Guide (here). Our pal and FC's scouting editor Aaron Vickers has told me the guide should be ready in the coming month. There are various other avenues out there as well, such as THN, Redline, and HockeyProspect (where former OHL Prospect Blogger Ryan Yessie now works).

Without further ado, here are prospects 50 through 31 (with a special honorable mention)...

Special Honorable Mention: Justin Thomas - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Alright, so I'm breaking all the rules here. Yes, this truly is a top 51. But, Thomas' inclusion on this list is a separate entity. Do I think he'll be drafted? No, I doubt it. But would it be a shrewd move for an NHL scouting team? I can think of worse ways of spending a 7th rounder. Thomas got off to a very exciting start to the 2010-2011 season after spending most of last year in the NOJHL (where he averaged over a ppg). He's got great size at 6'2, 210lbs and he's definitely a power forward prospect. He throws his weight around, drops the mitts (and can be a little hotheaded at times). But he's also a talented player offensively who has soft hands in front of the net and good goal scoring instincts. Here's the problem...Thomas injured his shoulder after just 11 games. If he would have played the entire OHL season, he'd likely be in serious discussion as a top 3 round pick (as perhaps the most pure power forward the OHL has to offer). But can an NHL team roll the dice on a player who has played a total of 19 OHL games the past two seasons? And better yet, is there an NHL team who has a good enough read on him after that few games? The answer to both of those questions is likely no, which makes Thomas a great candidate for a high draft selection next year should he rebound well from injury.

50. Colin Suellentrop - Defenseman - Oshawa Generals
Definitely a prospect who made great strides this year, after being thrust into a larger role on an improving team. He's a stay at home type defender with good size at 6'2, 190lbs (probably fills out into the 210lbs range as a pro), but he's also fairly mobile. That mobility on the back end is definitely something NHL scouts look for in physical, stay at home types. While Suellentrop certainly profiles as a physical, shut down type, he will need to become a bit meaner and use his size in front of the net. He also will need to improve his positional defense, as at times he can get caught flat footed by forwards attacking off the rush. But on the plus side, his offensive game started to make strides later in the year and he even began to use that mobility by skating the puck out of his own zone, instead of making simple chip plays. He'll likely have to play on Oshawa's top pairing next year (because of graduations) so that makes him a likely breakout candidate given the improvements he made this year.

49. Ben Thomson - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
I had to admit, I expected bigger things from Thomson this year. He was so dependable as a 16 year old, in a checking and cycling role. And don't get me wrong...he played that same role this year for Kitchener. But the offensive game never really found its stride. He scored the same amount of goals this year (6) and failed to live up to the offensive expectations many Kitchener fans had for him. None the less, he remains an intriguing prospect. He's literally a man child. He's already 6'4, 205lbs and will probably be upwards of 220lbs by the time his OHL career ends. He's hard to contain on the cycle, as he keeps his feet moving and plays a large role in tiring out the opposing defense each night. But his lack of improvement in skating and puck carrying ability really hampered his offensive production this season. Obviously, a lack of ice time played a part too, but this can't be the sole excuse. What you're drafting is a current legit physical grinder who'll drop the gloves and work his butt off in the offensive zone. What you're hoping he'll develop into is a serious power forward with some goal scoring ability.

48. Spencer Abraham - Defenseman - Brampton Battalion
This season, Abraham has drawn a lot of comparisons to Owen Sound's Geoffrey Schemitsch as an undersized offensive defenseman playing in his first OHL season. Schemitsch obviously ended up going fairly high in the NHL draft (4th round). But there's a reason why Abraham isn't being as highly touted. He's nowhere near as polished as Schemitsch, who was playing on the penalty kill and in important defensive situations for Owen Sound last year (on top of being a key offensive contributor). That's not to say that Abraham is some scrub, it's just that he's a lot rawer. He definitely made a big impact on the powerplay this year and looks very comfortable as a powerplay quarterback (nearly 70% of his points were accumulated with the man advantage). He displays good vision and makes a lot of clean, crisp passes. He also does a good job of getting low, hard shots off towards the net. And while his solid skating ability allows him to defend relatively well off the rush, he needs a lot of work in his own end. He can get caught running around a bit and is out muscled by bigger forwards in the corners. He actually saw limited action 5 on 5 this season, at times playing solely as a powerplay quarterback, with the occasional 5 on 5 shift. But there's definite potential there from a player who shows a lot of intelligence offensively and was playing in only his first season above the midget level. Check out Neate Sager's Draft Tracker 5 questions with Spencer.

47. Carter Sandlak - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Sandlak has a few things going for him. For one, he's the son of former NHL first round pick Jim Sandlak (even if Jim never lived up to his draft hype). Second, he's a sandpaper type of guy who always holds value in the middle to later rounds. Sandlak is a maturing two way winger who'll attack on the forecheck, work the cycle and get his nose dirty in front of the net. I really don't think there's a ton of offensive upside there, but he could certainly profile as a bottom liner and penalty killer at the next level. On the other hand, he did improve his offensive production with Belleville (after the trade with Guelph) which includes a stretch of 7 goals and 6 assists in his final 19 games. Maybe there's some power forward potential hidden deep in there. While I probably wouldn't look at him until the mid-later rounds, I expect there's an NHL team who thinks enough of his NHL potential (offensively) to take him as high as the 3rd round.

46. David Broll - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Broll is a big bruiser who is definitely one of the most physical players available from the OHL. And while he might be best known from his brutal knockout at the hands of Justin Sefton this year, Broll is a solid power forward prospect. His skating improved a bit this year (although still needs work), and he might even be more effective cutting some of that 225lbs frame down. One criticism I've heard, and I've actually witnessed first hand, is that he can be too cute offensively. Not really something you hear about power forwards too often. But he can prone to overhandling the puck and spending too much time away from the net. He'd be better suited in simplifying his offensive game to the point of crashing the net and being that BBP (thanks Pierre McGuire) in front of the opposing goaltender. You don't like to stifle the offensive creativity of a forward, but I think he'd be better for it. There's also the mysterious one game team suspension he got towards the end of the season. Depending on the specifics of the event, that might scare NHL teams off. I really could see him going anywhere in the draft; from as high as the 2nd round (see Dalton Smith last year) to late rounds.

45. Colin Miller - Defenseman - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Miller is cut from the same cloth as Mississauga's Stuart Percy. The difference? Percy plays for the Memorial Cup host Majors and Miller plays for the last place Greyhounds. He's a very quietly effective defenseman who keeps things simple and reads and reacts well defensively. He's also a good skater and it allows him to skate the puck out of the zone, rather than making simple chip plays off the glass. A testament to his strong play in his own end? He finished a +2 on a team that gave up 277 goals on the season. Towards the end of the season, he started to really pick up his offensive production, with 2 goals and 8 assists in his final 12 games. He was taking more chances offensively and I think showed that perhaps there's a bit more to him than I previously thought. He'll have to beef up a bit and become a little more physical in his own end, but I think there's a lot to like about Miller's game.

44. Anthony Camara - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
With 19 fighting majors on the season, Camara actually finished in the top 5 of the OHL in this category. At 6'1, 205lbs, he definitely keeps up with the majority of heavyweight fighters in the league. But he's not just a fighter (even if his offensive numbers might indicate that). He's a capable offensive player who can take the puck hard to the net and actually creates a lot of space for his linemates away from the puck. He forechecks hard, plays both ends of the ice, and is a pretty solid all around player. He's also one of the youngest players available for this draft, which is always intriguing. Like Carter Sandlak, I'm not sure there's a TON of offensive potential, but I think Camara is a pretty safe bet to be an NHL player as at least a scrapper who can take a regular shift.

43. Michael Curtis - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Had probably the most disappointing season of any draft eligible player...for me. I had very big expectations for Curtis after his rookie season when he didn't look like your average 16 year old, scoring 19 goals and playing both ends of the ice. But his ranking by scouting agencies remained pretty consistent throughout the year, which probably bodes well to him still being drafted. He's not incredibly big (about 6'0), but he's very quick and uses that speed to create things offensively. The big ice in Belleville never met a fast player it didn't like, so I think it's only a matter of time before he "breaks out." Because he's such a strong two way player, I think Belleville's ineptitude this season really hurt his offensive production. As a two way player, you have to wonder if he tired himself out in his own zone. Those 19 goals in his rookie year were no fluke, Curtis does have goal scoring potential. I think the next major step for him will be trying to use that speed more effectively on the forecheck and improving his play along the boards to transform himself into that prototypical energy guy who can chip in offensively. Here's Neate Sager's Draft Tracker 5 questions segment with Curtis.

42. Dario Trutmann - Defenseman - Plymouth Whalers
This Swiss import definitely played up to par for the Whalers this season. He's only 6'0, 180lbs, but he plays much bigger than that. He's quite physical and mixes things up in the corners and in front of the net. While he's more of a stay at home type right now, I think there's some offensive potential and a chance he develops into a more well rounded blueliner. He has quick feet and really controls gaps well. It's very hard to get by him off the rush. Obviously, there's probably some concern as to whether he can continue with that aggressive style at the NHL level, considering his lack of "elite" size. But don't tell a guy like Mark Cundari that. I'd like to see him rush the puck out of his zone more and shoot the puck more from the point, but in his first OHL season, it seemed like he was just trying to keep things simple. Taking more chances offensively might lead to greater offensive production, but I think he has the defensive intelligence and skating ability to cover up those chances that fail.

41. Frankie Corrado - Defenseman - Sudbury Wolves
Corrado is one of the more interesting defenseman eligible for 2011, in my opinion. He's definitely a project, but he's a project that could pay off big in the future should his development take the right course. Once paired with fellow draft eligible defenseman Justin Sefton, the two of them really saw great improvements in their game. By the end of the season, they were probably Sudbury's top pairing. Corrado is a high risk player. He's a very good skater who has explosive straight ahead speed, which makes him a very dangerous player when leading the rush. He's also a physical player who loves to catch guys with their head down, entering the zone. But he can be prone to frustration offensively and will force passes up ice to make things happen. He's also a work in progress defensively and has lapses where he fails to tie up his man, or gets exposed/outworked along the wall. But the intangibles are there. He reminds me a lot of Jesse Blacker in his draft season, and we all know how well he's progressed throughout his OHL career.

40. Matej Machovsky - Goaltender - Brampton Battalion
While he didn't play a ton, Machovsky certainly made an impression in his first OHL season. The Czech Import saw his stock increase after a trade to Brampton that saw him earn significantly more playing time than he was receiving in Guelph. He's got good size at 6'2 and is a very athletic goaltender (what Czech goalie isn't?). He can make those "highlight reel" saves because of his flexibility and quickness in net. But at this point, he relies primarily on his athleticism and not as much on technique and positioning. There's a lot to work with because of that "rawness" to his approach in the crease. In that way, he's a similar netminder to Czech Petr Mrazek who was a mid round pick last year. On a negative note, he was apparently only lukewarm at the Under 18's, where more was expected of a Czech Republic team that barely avoided relegation. Hopefully that doesn't leave too sour of a taste in scout's mouths.

39. Austen Brassard - Forward - Belleville Bulls
He's definitely way lower on my list than anybody else's I've seen (THN has him at 81st overall, CSS at 64th among NA skaters). I must admit, I've never seen him play a good game, so it's hard to have him ranked as high as others might have him. I'd be an idiot if I didn't see the allure to him as an NHL prospect though. I know of those who like him a lot and are confident he has NHL potential. But even those who like him admit that he has severe consistency issues. He's got size and has offensive ability, which is enough to enamor most people. But in order to take that next step offensively, he's going to have to learn to use his size more effectively...and more consistently. At this point, I'm not sure he profiles as the type of guy you're going to want on your 3rd or 4th lines, which means that you're drafting him hoping one of two things. One, that his offensive production increases and his game reaches a new level (certainly possible) and you don't have to worry about breeding a checking line player. Two, if his offensive game never finds that consistency, that his play without the puck and physicality improve to the point where he becomes a valuable mucker with some skill around the net. Brassard is definitely a project pick.

38. Justin Sefton - Defenseman - Sudbury Wolves
Sefton finds himself on the list just a few spots above his defense partner in Sudbury, Frankie Corrado. Sefton improved immensely over the course of the season. Over the first few months, fans and scouts alike were very frustrated with Sefton and his lack of development (considering his very high OHL draft selection). But the light slowly went on and he began looking more and more comfortable on the ice. His skating is a work in progress, but at 6'3, 200lbs he projects as a quality people mover at the next level. I do think his physicality is a bit overblown though, based more on his punching prowess (like the aforementioned Broll knockout) and less on his physicality on the puck and in front of the net. I think he can really take that intensity to the next level and become an even more physical player; one of the more imposing defenseman in the OHL. He'll have to take that next step to be considered a serious NHL prospect. One of Sefton's most underrated qualities is actually his point shot. He'll play on the powerplay at some point in his OHL career and he does a good job of getting hard, low shots on net. The fact that he improved so much this season is promising. As he gains further confidence, and gets even stronger, his play in his own end has the potential to be taken to a very high level.

37. Keevin Cutting - Defenseman - Owen Sound Attack
Easily one of the most underrated players available this year. I think it's primarily because a lot of people have forgotten about him. After a solid 16 year old season, there was a lot of thought he might develop into one of the stronger 1992 defenseman in the OHL. But he had a really poor sophomore season last year and fell off the radar. But, sometimes those late birthday's can really help players. This season, he's been fantastic, in something of a different role for the Attack. He's taken on the part as one of the team's primary shutdown defenseman on a pairing with Jay Gilbert. He does a little bit of everything for Owen Sound really. His +23 on the year was a definite highlight and a testament to the type of defender he's developed into. He doesn't possess elite size (6'1, 180lbs), but he's more physical than his penalty minute numbers indicate and he makes good decisions with the puck in his own end. He can also skate the puck out of trouble and has the skating ability to jump up in the rush when he's feeling randy. When Jesse Blacker and Matt Stanisz move on to the pro ranks next year, I'll be curious to see how Cutting progresses offensively, when he'll no doubt have an increased role. For more on Cutting, check out Neate Sager's Draft Tracker 5 Questions with him.

36. Barclay Goodrow - Forward - Brampton Battalion
Yes, Goodrow needs to improve his skating. He'll be the first to admit that (see Neate Sager's Draft Tracker 5 Questions with him). But how many 6'2, 210lbs wingers led their team in goals this year? Sure his 24 goals don't look impressive on paper, but when you consider that Goodrow plays for the offensively inept Battalion, things get put in a different perspective. Goodrow just knows how to score goals. He picks up garbage ones in the crease. He can fire one top shelf coming down the wing. He can handle one timers in the slot. Big guys with hands like his don't grow on trees. The rest of his game does need work. He'll need to find that next level of intensity to become a more physical player so that he's more involved in the play every shift (he can be prone to stretches of disappearing). He'll also need to start taking the puck hard to the net more consistently to create scoring chances, rather than being a "shooting specialist." But there are shifts where you can see that this player is inside of Goodrow. He doesn't come without his faults, but when you consider his size and goal scoring ability, you have to be intrigued.

35. Garrett Meurs - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
Another guy who really disappointed me this year. He's as talented offensively as many of the top guys available for this draft, but for whatever reason just couldn't put things together in 2010-2011. The same things that plagued his 16 year old season, plagued him this year (overhandling the puck, sloppy passes in the offensive end). This lack of development has led many to believe his hockey sense might be lacking a bit. Right now, he needs the puck on his stick to be most effective. He really needs to simplify things in the offensive zone and pick his spots to show off his puck skill and creativity. This is especially true as a winger. That being said, he's a prime candidate for that light bulb to finally go off upstairs. He has a ton of skill and if he ever figures out what to do with it, look out. He's a solid gamble in the mid rounds if you've seen enough of him to be sure that his offensive skill set will eventually translate to higher production.

34. Mike Morrison - Goaltender - Kitchener Rangers
A big time favourite of Future Considerations chief scout Dan Stewart (he's in their top 60 for the draft), Morrison had a very solid year for Kitchener, his first full season in the league after parts of two others. Morrison was especially strong in the playoffs, after spelling Brandon Maxwell. He may not have that huge frame NHL scouts are looking for in their goalies nowadays (6'0), but he is a very quick goaltender. He's also got a strong glove hand to compensate for that chunk of net he doesn't cover when down in the butterfly. Like any junior goalie, he doesn't come without flaws. Morrison will need to work on his five hole and doing a better job of taking away the lower part of the net by taking better angles. His rebound control is also inconsistent. But you have to admire his compete level and he really pushed Brandon Maxwell for playing time this year in Kitchener. While I'm not convinced he should be rated as high as FC has him, I think he's a solid mid round gamble by a team who thinks they can work with his athleticism and fix some of those holes.

33. Jordan Binnington - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
And the award for the player who was thrust in his role prematurely yet he still performed well, goes to...Jordan Binnington. With Scott Stajcer playing so strong to start the OHL season and Owen Sound looking like a Western powerhouse, scouts were probably thinking they wouldn't get much of a look at Binnington this season. But then Stajcer got injured and the, now Memorial Cup bound (and OHL Champs), Attack had to rest their laurels on their young sophomore goaltender. He certainly wasn't the most consistent performer, and had his share of off nights, but he battled hard and kept his team in most games. He has that long rangy frame (a stark contrast to the above mentioned Mike Morrison) that NHL scouts like (6'2) and he makes a lot of good reactionary saves. When he's on his game, he can be tough to beat. He can definitely be prone to giving up some bad goals. Whether that's a positional thing, or a focus thing, I'm not sure. He's definitely a work in progress, but given how well he performed under the circumstances, I'm sure he caught someone's eye (Central Scouting has been a big supporter this season). And being in net (and playing well) for Owen Sound during the final few games of the OHL Championship, has to help his cause. I'll be interested to see how he plays at the Memorial Cup.

32. Andrey Pedan - Defenseman - Guelph Storm
I'm not sure we really know what we're going to get from this tall, athletic rearguard. He came into the season hyped as a guy with strong offensive skills, but instead looked like a physical shutdown guy in Guelph. Then in the playoffs, his offensive game really emerged. Pedan is a guy who might just have a lot of hidden potential. At 6'4 and with physical tendencies, he definitely profiles as AT LEAST, a solid stay at home guy. This is compounded by the fact that he skates very well for a big man and is able to cover very well off the rush. While he looked hesitant to rush the puck or take chances offensively during the regular season, he was much more confident offensively in the playoffs and was looking like a guy who could draw some powerplay time next year. Maybe there's a solid two way defenseman down there somewhere, a guy who can provide solid defense, but also lead the rush and make good decisions with the puck out of his zone. I know blog friend Kirk Luedeke is a fan. If a team really thinks Pedan has offensive potential, he could be off the board faster than we think.

31. Mitchell Theoret - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
OK, so maybe I'm taking crazy pills, but I just don't understand why this guy gets zero love from the scouting community (not even ranked by Central Scouting). Yes, part of it could be his role on the team's 4th line and lack of exposure. But that certainly hasn't held back Joe Cramarossa from getting attention. Theoret has the size, tenacity and even skill to make an excellent 3rd line winger at the NHL level. At different times this season, Niagara had some injuries and when Theoret filled in on scoring lines, he looked comfortable and effective. And when he's crashing and banging on the 4th line, he's always a visible factor. He's an excellent forechecker and boards player who plays a pivotal role in wearing down the opposing defense for Niagara's top lines. He sticks up for his teammates, plays both ends of the ice and can also really throw a check. But most of all, he's actually got skill with the puck and has the hands to be a competent scorer in this league. He reads plays well offensively and gets himself in good position for scoring chances, and he can handle the puck at full speed, which suggests he might be able to develop a power game down the line. I know coach Marty Williamson expects huge things from Theoret next year in a scoring role (replacing someone like Darren Archibald or Jason Wilson). I hope there is an NHL team out there who saw enough of Theoret to know what he's capable of.

That's the first twenty in the books. Stay tuned for Part 2: 30-11.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

PuckLife Magazine Videos - Part 3 - Nicholas Ritchie

PuckLife has put together their next video of a top OHL Priority Selection. This time, it's the 2nd overall pick, Nicholas Ritchie.

Check it out Here

Also, in the next week or so, the blog may not have a ton of content as I work on the write ups for my Top 50 for the 2011 NHL Draft. Stay tuned for the release of those ranked 50-31, sometime next week.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday Top 10 - 2011 NHL Draft Re-Entries

This is definitely a mainstay on this blog. My annual (2010, 2009) list of the top draft re-entries that the Ontario Hockey League has to offer for the NHL Entry Draft.

Just to clarify yet again, for those with limited understanding of the NHL draft system; North American players have either two or three years to get drafted, depending on their birth date. For those born from January 1 to September 15, they will go through three NHL drafts. For those born from September 16 to December 31, they will go through two NHL drafts. The players on this list are a mix of those having been passed over once or twice already.

Also, do not confuse this list with players drafted in 2009 who will re-enter the draft should they fail to come to a contractual agreement with their NHL team by June 1 (and whose birth date still allows them to be eligible). Quite often those too are referred to as draft re-entries. But this list does not contain them because it is not yet known who those players will be.

Over the past two NHL drafts, 36 draft re-entries (in the way I've defined them above) have been selected by NHL clubs. And that's just CHL players.

Let's breakdown the options of it all and prove, essentially, why the strategy of drafting second and third year eligible players from the Canadian Hockey League is a smart idea.

If an NHL team drafts a second year eligible player, they have the following options:

1. Sign the player and play them in the NHL.

2. Send the player back to the CHL for two more seasons (including an overage year).

3. Send the player back to the CHL for one more season, sign them and play them in the AHL/ECHL the next season.

4. Send the player back to the CHL for one more season, allow them to sign an ATO with an AHL team the next season to test their pro potential.

If an NHL team drafts a third year eligible player, they have the following options:

1. Sign the player and play them in the NHL.

2. Sign the player and play them in the AHL/ECHL.

3. Send the player back to the CHL for their overage season, Sign them and play them in the AHL/ECHL the next season.

4. Send the player back to the CHL for their overage season, allow them to sign an ATO with an AHL team the next season to test their pro potential.

5. Allow them to play two seasons in the AHL/ECHL on an ATO to see what pro potential they may have.

As an NHL General Manager, using this strategy allows you to effectively cheat the drafting system. You can test the pro ability of your draft picks without having to actually sign them to an NHL deal (and wasting a 50 contact spot). Best of all you'd still keep their rights and have the exclusive opportunity to sign them if they do well. And if the struggle with the transition, as most CHL players do, you can release them without wasting a contract. Contrast this with drafting a first year eligible (born January 1-September 15) player from the CHL. You'll have to make a decision about signing them BEFORE they're professionally maybe a handful of AHL playoff games following the conclusion of their CHL season.

Of the players appearing on the 2010 list (see above), only two were drafted but 2 others have since gone on to sign NHL contracts after their overage season. Of the players appearing on the 2009 list (see above), 4 ended up getting drafted, but 9 of 10 have NHL contracts now.

So let's look at this year's list.

10. Steven Beyers - Barrie Colts
Beyers was ranked 199th by Central Scouting for last years draft after playing an injury plagued season with Orangeville of the CCHL. But the 18 year old joined Barrie this year (following former Crusher coach Hawerchuk) and showcased a very strong offensive ability in his rookie season. He's not the biggest forward, but he's a very strong skater and is very elusive around the net. He's got good puck skill and finished third in scoring for the Colts with 65 points. He's definitely one of those waterbug kind of guys who looks to create offense off the rush and tries to create space for himself with his good hands. While his OHL worst -50 (no joke) may point to serious concerns about his ability to play without the puck, this area of his game actually made great strides this year. While there is obviously still room for improvement, by the end of the season, he had become active in puck pursuit, was working in the corners, paying the price in front of the net and actually played a pretty significant role on the team's penalty kill. He'll be an offensive centerpiece for the Colts moving forward and I wouldn't be surprised if he hit the 70-80 point mark next year.

9. Mitchell Heard - Plymouth Whalers
Heard made great strides over the course of the season for the Whalers and became a pretty integral part of the team's offense. After failing to crack Plymouth full time last year, Heard definitely put on size (and height) this offseason. He's now 6'2, 180lbs and does a lot of things well down the middle. He's a good playmaker who can control the pace of play in the offensive end, and is aggressive in taking the puck to the net and into the slot. He's got very good hands and can finish plays off too. Heard is also very strong on faceoffs, a quality many NHL teams do not overlook. At times, he can be prone to turnovers in the offensive end, but his great improvement this season should not go unnoticed. With Robbie Czarnik moving to the pro ranks next year, Heard has a chance to start next year as the team's first line center.

8. Adrian Robertson - Windsor Spitfires
A real revelation this year for the Spitfires. While he was on his way to a career year offensively in Peterborough, it was the trade to Windsor which really allowed Robertson to blossom. Pairing with Ryan Ellis, Robertson looked great as a physical two way blueliner. He was fantastic in the playoffs and I think gave us a glimpse of what might be to come next year (his overage season), where he'll have a chance of being one of the league's top defenseman. Robertson has the size you look for in an NHL blueliner and has an intriguing blend of physicality and skill. I was definitely surprised by his offensive production in this year's playoffs, but he looked very comfortable moving the puck and might have some offensive potential at the next level. In the past, NHL teams have taken chances on re-entry defenseman like Robertson (Andrew Campbell, Dalton Prout). If he doesn't get drafted, he'll likely have a very good year next year and could be a candidate for an NHL signing (ala Marc Cantin).

7. Andrew Shaw - Owen Sound Attack
A fan favourite in Niagara, Shaw was a quality checking line player who could do pretty much everything. While he showed glimpses of breaking out offensively, he could never really get over the hump. The trade to Owen Sound really allowed him to blossom. Pairing with the hard hitting Mike Halmo (and an assortment of wingers), Shaw's secondary scoring was a main reason why the Attack had such a strong season. He's also been absolutely fantastic in the playoffs thus far, with 8 goals and a point per game. Shaw may not be an overly big player (pushing 6'0), but he's absolutely fearless on the ice. He can skate, he drops the mitts, and he plays both ends of the ice. Shaw led the Attack with 4 shorthanded goals and definitely has some offensive potential for the next level. As an energy guy with skill, NHL teams could do a lot worse in potential prospects for their checking line.

6. Taylor Carnevale - Windsor Spitfires
I had Carnevale at number 5 on this list last year and I was actually pretty surprised nobody picked him up. He's definitely a finesse player, but he's pretty well rounded. He has good offensive instincts and finds himself in good scoring positions, but he's also a good set up man and can work the cycle behind the net. He also kills penalties and is good on faceoffs. Ultimately, I wonder if NHL teams are confused as to what type of role he'd play at the next level. Is he good enough offensively to play on the top two lines? Probably not. So can he increase his intensity and improve his play away from the puck enough to be a more skilled 3rd line guy? I think he'll have a big offensive season next year as an OA (where ever he ends up playing) and is definitely a potential professional prospect.

5. Ramis Sadikov - Erie Otters
Sadikov had a heck of a second season in the OHL after struggling through last year as a back up. He was the workhorse of the OHL, leading the league in games played and minutes played. He also finished second in wins with 36 and 4th in save percentage at .912. While his performance was definitely impressive, perhaps more appealing to NHL scouts would be his size at 6'4. He covers a lot of the net in a hybrid style and does well to make himself bigger by challenging shooters at the top of the crease. Sadikov uses his stick very effectively in net too. He uses the pokecheck more than any goaltender I've seen. While he could stand to improve his rebound control and lateral quickness, both areas did improve this year and I think he's got a lot of potential for the next level.

4. Josh Shalla - Saginaw Spirit
After scoring 32 goals last year in his inaugural draft year (late birth date 1991), many expected Shalla to be a mid round pick in 2010. But he went through the draft unselected, probably due to concerns over his skating and play without the puck. This year, he came back with conviction and scored 47 goals (5th in the OHL). I'm really not sure he's done a lot to improve the areas that kept him undrafted last year. But as a pure goal scorer, there aren't many better in the OHL. He's got a deceptively fast release on his shot and doesn't need a lot of room to put the puck in the net. He's also got great scoring instincts. Shalla is one of those guys who always seems to find the garbage in front of the net. While the skating might hamper his ability to find space at the NHL level, his size (at 6'2) definitely helps to counter that. He's really not afraid to take punishment in front of the net and has the strength to have success in that area. Most promising was probably Shalla's playoff performance this year. He had a very disappointing playoffs last year, but was easily Saginaw's best forward this time around and showed a lot of leadership in trying to guide the Spirit deep into the playoffs. Bottom line; you can't teach goal scoring.

3. Matt Petgrave - Owen Sound Attack
I thought someone might take a chance on Petgrave last year, but I will admit he was quite raw as an OHL rookie. He had a penchant for turning the puck over in his own end and trying to force the play up ice. He also got caught running around, trying to play the body. I know one scout who just wasn't sure he had a heck of a lot of hockey sense to match his potential ability. But the trade to Owen Sound really helped him to blossom. While still prone to the occasional turnover, Petgrave did a great job of trying to keep things simple this season. While he didn't stop rushing the puck (using his strong straight ahead skating ability), he did pick his spots better. He also refined his physical game and focused more attention in being intense in the crease area, as opposed to running around looking for the big hit in the open ice or along the boards. He definitely became a solid two way defenseman this season and he's carried that into the playoffs with a strong performance (including a hat trick the other night). Here's hoping NHL scouts have taken notice of his progression.

2. Michael Houser - London Knights
Houser missed the cut off for the 2011 NHL draft by two days last year, making him one of the youngest players available in 2010. Despite being ranked 11th by Central Scouting, he went through the draft unselected. Taking over the starting role in London this year, Houser was absolutely fantastic from start to finish. While the numbers don't jump out at you (3.32 GAA, .904 SV%), you'd have to watch him to understand his importance to London and just how well he played. He kept his team in nearly every game he played and showed a lot of improvement in his rebound control and ability to read and react to the play around him. His athleticism really allowed him to steal some games for the Knights this year and without him, they probably wouldn't have made the playoffs.And even though the Knights lost in six games to Owen Sound, Houser was fantastic and the reason the series even went that far.

1. Andy Andreoff - Oshawa Generals
Andreoff really exploded this year, taking on a huge offensive role on a young Generals team. Others definitely took notice. Andreoff was named the East's most underrated player and the third most improved player in this year's Coaches Poll. He's a very complete player who can play any forward position (but had most of his success down the middle this year). He's 6'1, 205lbs and plays like it. He drives hard to the net with and without the puck and is a load to handle down low and in the corners. He's got a very heavy shot, but also has soft hands and in many situations will look to pass before shooting. Andreoff is also a very physical player who's involved without the puck and plays both ends. He's a factor on the penalty kill (2nd in the OHL in shorthanded points with 7). In a lot of ways, Andreoff is a very similar player to Mississauga's Rob Flick who was a draft re-entry selection last year. He could definitely be a quality 3rd line center at the NHL level and a guy who could be very valuable to an NHL roster.

Honorable Mention

There will absolutely be some other draft re-entries who get a look through the draft or through a free agent signing (following the draft or after next season). Here are some other names to consider.

Luke Judson of the Belleville Bulls is a hard working, physical winger who can also put the puck in the net. He wears the "C" for the Bulls, and plays in all situations, but he was also passed over last year after I had him ranked number 2 on my list.

Colin Behenna and Brett Thompson are two undersized scorers. Thompson has posted back to back 40 goal seasons, while Behenna exploded offensively to finish in the top 10 of scoring this year.

Marc Zanetti and Jake Cardwell are defenseman for the Ottawa 67's. Zanetti made some great strides this year at both ends of the ice. Cardwell was excellent after coming over from Sudbury, and like Zanetti is capable at both ends.

Owen Sound forward Mike Halmo was excellent when paired with Andrew Shaw this season. He's one of the hardest hitters and hardest workers in the OHL and showed he can put the puck in the net this year too.

Also from the Attack, stay at home defenseman Jay Gilbert has been a rock this season for Owen Sound (and previously Plymouth). He has the size NHL scouts covet and actually saw some time on the powerplay this year too.

Beau Schmitz is someone who always generates interest on these types of lists, but the captain of the Whalers has been passed over the past two seasons and isn't any different of a player now than he was then.

Saginaw's undersized defenseman Ryan O'Connor had an excellent offensive season this year and also improved his defensive play. But scouts shied away from him last year after an equally solid season.

Lastly, two Sudbury Wolves. Defenseman Josh McFadden is an interesting case. He's a tremendous offensive defenseman who's skill with the puck and shot from the point is matched by few in the league. But he's such a high risk player and a liability in his own end, could he survive as a defenseman at the next level? Also, forward Andrey Kuchin was fantastic to close out the season. He's undersized but really improved his play without the puck as the season went on. If he stays as an overager next year and the team keeps the Kuchin, Sgarbossa, Leivo line together, he could be among the leaders in scoring.