Bring on the rats, as the Florida Panthers are next!
Vincent Trocheck - Saginaw Spirit
Truly one of the league's most underrated players. Trocheck is a jack of all trades. He's one of the OHL's finest playmakers and has terrific vision with the puck. He's also a battler and never gives up on a play. When you've got a center who is scrappy and wins battles for you along the boards, but who also sees the ice well and can set up his teammates, you've hit the gold mine. This year, Trocheck was even more effective away from the puck because he added some strength in the offseason. He also continued to round out his play in all three zones, becoming a committed two way player and a strong guy on faceoffs. This coming season will be an interesting one for Trocheck, who will have to assume command of Saginaw's offense without the help of great finishers like Brandon Saad or Josh Shalla. Without a strong cast of supporting characters, I'm curious to see how he responds and the type of offensive numbers he puts up. Even if his numbers dip a bit, it shouldn't be an indication of him decreasing his value as a prospect. Sometimes a talented playmaker can only be as good as the guys finishing off his plays. Then again, the argument could be made that a talented playmaker can turn anyone into a goal scorer.
John McFarland - Ottawa 67's
It was a tough year for McFarland, who was trying to finally establish himself as one of the league's top forwards. Needless to say he came up short in that regard. In a way, his season ending shoulder injury kind of symbolized McFarland's entire OHL career. No one was more disappointed than the 67's, who brought in McFarland to help round out their offensive attack. In Ottawa, he looked great at times, even if he wasn't hitting the score sheet. While wearing a 67's jersey, he was the most aggressive and physical that I had ever seen him. This added another element to his game, which used to be based around his speed and ability to carry the puck to the net. The bottom line is that McFarland still has a lot to prove as a prospect. He remains one of those guys who has a lot of talent, but for some reason just hasn't put it together. Maybe it's a motivation issue. Maybe it's a hockey sense issue. Whatever it is, the professional ranks, which McFarland will reach this coming year, will show us just what he's made of. I could easily see him becoming one of those rare guys who plays better as a pro than an OHL'er. Or I could easily see him fading off into the prospect abyss ala a guy like Angelo Esposito. Oh, what the future holds!
Michael Houser - London Knights
Everyone knows about the clubbed feet and all that stuff by now. The kid is a battler and I was happy to see him earn an NHL contract. He's been such a great OHL goaltender the past couple of seasons and really carried London this past year. He's unorthodox though, and is one of those reactionary, agile types who we never really know how they will translate to the next level. The Panthers could of course send Houser back down to the OHL for his overage season, but I think at this point he's proven all he can down there. It looks like he'll be battling for the back-up job behind Jakub Markstrom in the AHL. If he loses and heads to the ECHL, it won't be a big deal. At this point I'm obviously cheering him on and wish him nothing but success. Hopefully he continues to battle and prove people wrong.
Josh McFadden - Sudbury Wolves
McFadden got himself an NHL deal recently with Florida, which I kind of figured would happen eventually. Offensive defenseman like McFadden don't grow on trees. Offensively, he's a dynamo. He can skate, he's got a cannon of a shot, he's very comfortable moving the puck on the powerplay. He's also very aggressive in joining the rush, sometimes too aggressive. While his defensive game can often leave a little to be desired, the one thing that's positive is that he's a fairly physical player and isn't the type to be a push over in the defensive end. The biggest adjustment for him will come in the form of coverage in the defensive end and picking his spots better to create offense. The pace of the pro game could give him some problems to start. It doesn't look like the Panthers have a ton of defenseman ready to play in the AHL, so there's a chance he could start there in a smaller role, with some powerplay time.
*Of note, the Panthers did not sign Corey Durocher, making him a free agent.