Off to the Island we go. Your turn New York Islanders.
Ryan Strome - Niagara IceDogs
At first glance, Strome's drop in production might be deemed disappointing. But, his point per game average was actually 7th best in the league. If he had played all 68 games, he would have had another 100 point season. The one thing that I really liked from Strome this year was that he was a little more selfish with the puck. He's got a terrific shot, but in his draft year he passed up a lot of opportunities to use it. This year, he was shooting from everywhere and looking good doing it. That isn't to say that he wasn't also making his linemates better and generating scoring opportunities for them too. What I'm trying to say is that he became a well rounded offensive player this year. Actually, in general he was more well rounded, improving his intensity in the defensive end and away from the puck. There were a few things that did disappoint me mildly though. I don't think his skating really improved from his draft year, and he still lacks that explosiveness which would make him that much more dangerous a player. I also thought he'd develop more of a mean streak and pest like qualities. I'm not really sure what to expect this year. My gut says he'll probably end up sticking in New York, with some of the holes they have in their top 9. I'm not entirely sure he's ready, but at the same time, I don't know what he has to gain from heading back to the OHL for another year. Niagara will be in mega rebuild mode (most likely), so if he does come back, I'd expect him to be dealt to a powerhouse at some point.
Andrey Pedan - Guelph Storm
Massive breakout year for Pedan. He was a much more confident player this year and was a key cog for the Storm in their surprisingly competitive season. He became a physical beast this year and IMO, one of the most physical defenders in the entire OHL. His size, mobility, and physicality make him very tough to beat off the rush. Offensively, he looked like a different player. Rushing the puck with a lot of confidence and taking some chances to produce offensively. He's actually quite good at protecting the puck and is very hard to strip once he hits the neutral zone. The only thing that's still a bit of a work in progress is his discipline level. While I didn't see it much this year, I've been told he's still prone to taking bad or lazy penalties in his own end. This coming season, Guelph should be a very solid team. They could surprise a lot of people. Pedan should continue to improve his offensive output and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he inches closer to the 50 point mark, while turning that +/- into a "+." He has the potential to be one of the league's premier two-way defenseman this season.
Mitchell Theoret - Niagara IceDogs
I was very disappointed with Theoret's play this season. I really thought he'd take that next step and become a capable offensive player and someone who was even capable of playing a top 6 role. Instead, I actually think he regressed. He wasn't nearly as physical of a player, nor as effective on the forecheck. Instead, he floated around at times and didn't really take the bull by the horns. I'm not ready to give up on him quite yet though. This coming year will be a big one for him. The Dogs will be losing a ton of talent and they will need Theoret to step up and perform. He'll be given every opportunity to play a top 6 role and on the powerplay. Hopefully he's motivated and ready to go. If he is, it's not far fetched to assume he'll have a breakout year. At the very least, with increased ice time and responsibility, he should be able to muster a 20-20 year.
Mike Halmo - Owen Sound Attack
What a terrific season for Halmo, emerging as an offensive star in the league. The best thing was that while his offensive numbers improved (and skill level), he never neglected the things that made him such a useful OHL player prior to his overage year. He was still a strong two-way player, an on ice leader, and one of the most feared hitters in the league. Offensively, the biggest difference for me was the improvement of his shot and his puck carrying ability. Maybe it was just a confidence thing, or a strength improvement. Either way, a huge difference was made. Obviously he'll be moving on to Bridgeport this year, where I think he can be an everyday player. I wouldn't expect a ton of offense from him, as he gets used to the league, but he should be a fan favourite and a fun guy to watch moving forward.
Adam Pelech - Erie Otters
I was surprised that Pelech fell to the 3rd round where the Isles scooped him up. He had an injury shortened season in Erie last year, where he had to suffer through playing on the league's worst team. But he stepped it up at the Under 18's where he was one of the tournament's strongest defenders. I have very high expectations for Pelech this year. I think the Otters will be competitive again and Pelech will be the team's workhorse, playing upwards of 30 minutes a night. He's going to play in all situations too, including lots of powerplay time. While his bread and butter is his defensive play, I think he can honestly put up a 35+ point season this year and make teams wish they had taken him earlier in the draft.
Jesse Graham - Niagara IceDogs
The undersized offensive dynamo is coming off a very good 2nd half of the season with the Dogs, where he and partner Jamie Oleksiak were among the league's top pairings post WJC. He's an absolutely dynamic offensive defender. He's one of, if not the best skater in the entire league and he makes things happen off the rush. This year will be interesting for Graham. I don't expect Dougie Hamilton to be back in the OHL, and neither will Oleksiak. This means that Graham will have to carry the load. I'm not sure if he's ready for that, but we'll certainly see what he's made of. I could see it going one of two ways. I could see him putting up 50+ points and being one of the league's top scoring defenseman. Or I could see him struggling to balance the responsibility of being the team's top defenseman, which could result in a slight drop in his offensive numbers. I guess we'll see, although part of this depends on who the Dogs get returned from the pro ranks.