Alright, so this is a new concept for me. I've never done a "preseason" draft list. I've always felt the concept was a tad ridiculous. After all, so many of these players are going to hit massive growth spurts in their game this year. Some expected, others unexpected. The jump from the 16 year old to the 17 year old season is huge. Many of the things I'm currently saying about these players could be moot come October. Timid, perimeter rookies become physically aggressive sophomores (just as one example). Not to mention all the other players who'll make this list come next June, who haven't even played a minute in the OHL yet (such as a U.S. Import like Ryan Hartman, a Euro import like Nikita Zadorov, or a 2012 draft pick who had yet to make his debut like Justin Bailey).
Yet, I find myself making this list and posting it. I've had a few emails this summer asking about specific players and where I had them ranked. This lead me to putting together this list. I figured, if I'm getting emails the readership demand is probably there for this list to be published. If anything, it'll be a fun exercise to look back on come, even January. When I've got a potential first round pick on my honorable mentions list!
But, without further ado (and complaining), I bring you my current top 30 (preseason) players from the OHL, available for the 2013 NHL Draft. Just for clarification, no players who did not play in the OHL last year are present on this list. So even though a guy like Hartman is slated to be a first round pick, I haven't ranked him for this reason.
30. Jimmy Lodge - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
There were times that I really liked what I saw from Lodge last year. It's obvious that he has good offensive instincts and skill with the puck. I think he could have the touch of a future solid goal scorer in this league. It was also obvious that he was very light and physically immature as he'd have a hard time stringing together noticeable appearances, and was easy to push off the puck most times. But I also liked that he seemed to be a fairly responsible two-way guy for a 16 year old. This bodes well for him staying down the middle. There will be a ton of opportunity to grab scoring line time down the middle in Saginaw this year. Lodge could certainly take advantage of that.
29. Scott Teskey - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Teskey had some minor injury problems last year which effected his ice time and stat line, but I did like what I saw. He looks to project as a high energy winger with a goal scoring touch. While he didn't see a ton of ice time (how many 16 year olds do?), I felt like he was often noticeable on the forecheck and in trying to make things happen away from the puck. I also thought he showed good speed and looks to have the potential to be a very good skater. Mississauga will have some openings in their top 6, which he could easily grab.
28. Ben Harpur - Defense - Guelph Storm
He was definitely brought along slowly this year, as the Storm handled him with kit gloves. He did have some minor injury problems, but was also a healthy scratch. But I saw him play a few games last year and I thought he showed a ton of promise. At 6'4, he has the chance to be a real imposing defender. I saw a touch of nastiness from him, which suggests that could evolve as he gets bigger and stronger. I also thought his skating looked decent for a big guy. The puck skills weren't very evident, but I don't know if he was really given the chance to gain confidence in that area. I think he's got a real shot to play in the Storm's top 4 this year, perhaps flanking an offensive guy like Zach Leslie.
27. Jake Evans - Forward - Erie Otters
Admittedly, it was tough to notice positives when watching the Erie Otters last year. But Evans was often a bright spot. He impressed with his play down the middle, as a solid all around guy who battles hard. I often admired his tenacity away from the puck and he seemed to have an idea of how to create offensive chances for his linemates. With Connor McDavid and Dane Fox down the middle, Evans is going to have to battle for ice time, but I think he does enough things to get noticed, even if he's only playing a 3rd line role.
26. Cole Cassels - Forward - Oshawa Generals
When I saw Cassels play last year, I was actually a bit surprised that he was the son of playmaking legend Andrew Cassels (who was one of my favourite players growing up). Some similar qualities for sure, in that neither is big. And Cole seems to have the hockey sense his Dad did. But Cole is also a more physically aggressive player, and an already committed two way center. While the offensive stats aren't eye popping, he's got more potential than he showed last year on an inconsistent Oshawa team. Cole will likely be the 3rd line center behind Boone Jenner and Scott Laughton, which will give Oshawa a terrific trip down the middle.
25. Tyler Bertuzzi - Forward - Guelph Storm
He's certainly not the biggest forward on the ice, but he's very noticeable. Even as a 16 year old, he was often one of the most aggressive and tenacious players on the ice when I saw Guelph play. He just loves to get his nose dirty and has serious potential as a physical, forechecking energy guy. He'll drop the mitts too and has a lot of pest like qualities. Size will always be the question moving forward, but I like the potential.
24. Josh Sterk - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
I absolutely loved the energy Sterk brought to the ice. He was always noticeable for how hard he worked away from the puck. Not the biggest guy (seems to be a trend near the bottom of this list), but it didn't seem to hurt him. I felt like he had some untapped potential as a puck carrying center too. Speed and the ability to use it to enter the zone will be his calling card I think. The Rangers are going to need someone to grab hold of the 2nd line center spot this year, and Sterk could easily be that guy.
23. Carter Verhaeghe - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Considering the amount of talent the Dogs had last year, it's got to be considered a pretty big feat that Verhaeghe stood out as much as he did. Even though he often played little, I always found myself noticing him. A very solid playmaker down the middle who can win battles in the corners, and who appears to have the hockey sense to create for his linemates. Not really a physical player, but someone who does get involved on the forecheck and away from the puck. With the Dogs going through a bit of a rebuilding year, I'm expecting big things from Verhaeghe.
22. Trevor Murphy - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Murphy is built very similarly to Dogs defenseman Jesse Graham. He's not tall or large, which will no doubt bring about a lot of negative judgments from NHL scouts (just as what happened to Graham this year...although thankfully he was drafted). But Murphy is definitely skilled and composed with the puck. He has a ton of potential as a powerplay quarterback. I think there is a lot of room for him to grow defensively too, because he shows intensity and a willingness to battle against bigger players. In terms of talent, he's higher on this list, but this is a top 30 for the NHL Draft, so he has to be ranked accordingly.
21. Mike Vlajkov - Defense - Ottawa 67's
I like the potential here. Good size, and, from what I saw last year, good all around skills. Pretty good mobility, and some inclination to play physical, which suggests he could be a solid player in his own end. I also saw some puck skill and the ability to make some good breakout passes and I think he could even develop more offense with added confidence. I think he'll find a place in Ottawa's top four and be a guy they can rely on this year. Call him Marc Zanetti's replacement.
20. Jordan Subban - Defense - Belleville Bulls
I'm sure I'll take some flak for this one. Subban is going to be a very productive OHL player. He has many of the same qualities as P.K. did when he played for the Bulls. He's elusive with the puck and can make things happen offensively. He's also not afraid of anyone in his own end and is willing to battle for space and loose pucks. The problem is that he's currently 5'9. There certainly aren't many defenseman that get drafted (especially high) at that height. It doesn't look like he grew over the summer either since HC had him listed at 5'9 for the Ivan Hlinka roster. He has the potential to be an electric player, but the size questions have to keep him down this low for now IMO.
19. Hunter Garlent - Forward - Guelph Storm
His nod in last year's coaches poll as one of the hardest workers in the West was no fluke. This dude brings so much energy to the ice, it's impossible not to root for him. He's certainly small (by NHL standards at 5'8), but he outworks and even outmuscles the competition regularly. For such a small guy, he's incredibly effective in the corners and in battles for loose pucks. He's also very skilled with the puck and actually is quite effective at driving the net, despite his lack of stature. Reminds me a ton of Gemel Smith in his rookie year with the Attack. If he were 6'0, he'd be easily in my top 10. But at 5'8, it's just not logical to have him that high, even if I'm a big fan. I expect big things from him this year though.
18. Alex Fotinos - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
It's pretty rare for 16 year old goaltenders to stand out in this league. But Fotinos did that last year. Once Clint Windsor was dealt, Fotinos got his shot and never looked back as Niederberger's back up. When he played, Fotinos was calm and composed. I thought he always did a good job of controlling his rebounds, which is something that usually comes last for young goalies. With the rumour that the "Bergermeister" is headed back to Germany to play this year, Fotinos could find himself the starter in Barrie. The gap between Fotinos and Spencer Martin isn't nearly as large as Hockey Canada or NHL Central Scouting would lead you to believe (with CSS rating Martin as an A prospect).
17. Spencer Martin - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
There's no question that Fotinos was more impressive as a 16 year old in the OHL. But, I'd be a fool if I ignored Martin's potential. He's got everything that NHL scouts look for in today's netminders. Size and athleticism are the building blocks and Martin has that. Everything else is very raw, and at times he looked overmatched in the OHL. This year he'll have the starting job in Missy and will get every opportunity to show what he's capable of. At this point, I just don't like the idea of rating either Fotinos or Martin incredibly highly.
16. Jordan Maletta - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Maletta had some bad luck with injuries last year, but he's got a lot of potential as a power forward. He seemed to get better and better as the season went on, learning to use his size more in the offensive end. For guys like Maletta, it's all about being able to put everything together on a consistent basis. He'll likely get his chance this year as Windsor tries to get back up near the top of the West after a disappointing season. The progression of players like Maletta will be crucial to that.
15. Stephen Nosad - Forward - Peterborough Petes
He's kind of flown under the radar a bit, but Nosad is definitely a talented offensive player. He was able to help provide some secondary offense for the Petes in his rookie year. He's not someone I would consider a dynamic player, but more of a smart opportunist. He definitely works hard to be a solid complimentary player. This year, I look for him to be more of a true catalyst, someone who can finish off the scoring chances he creates.
14. Brent Pedersen - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
I always liked what I saw from Pedersen. He never really got a ton of ice time, but made the most of it by being an overall solid player. He has the look of a very solid complimentary winger who can create scoring chances, play both ends of the ice, and mix things up physically. There will definitely be an opportunity for some of the younger forwards in Kitchener to step up and take on more responsibility offensively and I'm excited to see what Pedersen does with it.
13. Brody Silk - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Between injuries and a suspension (for sucker punching Ryan Strome and breaking his jaw), Silk only played 39 games last year. But when he did play, he was a factor. He's a hard nosed, pesky center who can create offense off the rush with good speed, but who is also very involved without the puck. He's got the potential to be a very hard guy to play against in the future. Silk has the distinction in being the first 1994 to crack the list, a November birthday. Sudbury is going to rely on him for offense this year and he's going to likely need to be near the point per game mark to get inside the first couple of rounds.
12. Sergey Kuptsov - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Traded from Mississauga to Belleville this offseason, I think the big ice will do wonders for him. As will a fresh start. He had a lot of consistency issues last year, but I blame a lot of it on his enigmatic ice time. He'd look great out there, then suddenly fall back to the fourth line. He also rarely saw powerplay time in Mississauga, despite being a big net presence. Kuptsov is big, can skate with the puck and I think has a lot of potential as a goal scorer in this league. The big ice will allow him more time and space, and once he gets going, he's hard to contain. Just has to increase his intensity away from the puck. Definitely a wild card here, especially as a late 94.
11. Zach Nastasiuk - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Not sure if Owen Sound fans call him the "Big Nasty" yet, but they should. Huge power forward potential here. Last year he was incredibly inconsistent, but when he was on, he was on. I was very impressed by his puck protection ability for a 16 year old, and the effectiveness with which he created scoring chances by driving to the net. His play away from the puck and his ability to put the puck in the net will need to improve this year, but if he puts it all together, he could be one to watch for this year's draft.
10. Nicholas Baptiste - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Like Kuptsov, the way the Wolves used Baptiste last year frustrated me. It seemed like every time I saw them play, he was on a different line. There's no question though, that he was at his best when he was on a scoring line with Michael Sgarbossa. He's big and he creates a lot of space for his linemates with his size and speed combination. He was also more physically involved than I thought he'd be, which leads me to believe there could be some power forward potential there. Hopefully he's able to find more consistent ice time this coming season.
9. Chris Bigras - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
By the end of last year (including the playoffs), Bigras may have actually been Owen Sound's best defenseman. He impressed me early in the season with his defensive ability and calmness with the puck. He just seemed like a very smooth player, very effortless (kind of like Guelph's Matt Finn). Then as the season went on, he really gained confidence offensively and was jumping up in the rush and taking more chances. He actually has very good offensive instincts and the puck handling ability to make things happen on the score sheet. After cracking the Ivan Hlinka roster, I expect big things from him this year.
8. Bo Horvat - Forward - London Knights
A very pro ready player. Horvat is a real workman like player who does it all on the ice. He got better and better as last season went on, and proved himself to be a very capable dump and chase type player. A guy who can win battles along the boards and turn them into scoring chances. He's also a very strong two-way player already, and can play any forward position (I wonder if the Knights will play him at center this year?). Moving forward, it'll be about seeing how much offensive potential he has, especially as a creator off the rush. But there's no denying the fact that Horvat is one of those guys you can say NHL scouts will love.
7. Jason Dickinson - Forward - Guelph Storm
After Max Domi, Dickinson could be the most offensively gifted forward in this age group. His skill with the puck, offensive creativity/vision, and ability to finish off plays is tremendous. He struggled at times with consistency last year, but I put that to a lack of strength in his rookie year. This year, he should be stronger and quicker, making it easier for him to protect the puck and make things happen. Guelph has a dynamite young team and they could really surprise people if all their cards fall in the right places. I'll be very surprised if Dickinson isn't a point per game player this year.
6. Darnell Nurse - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Truthfully, I was never really all that impressed by his play in the OHL last year. I found him to be a bit tentative and at times even, over matched. But his play internationally, especially at the Under 18's as an underager, really opened some eyes. His natural gifts must have scouts drooling. A big kid with a great skating stride who has terrific athletic bloodlines. Defensively, he already looks solid and I look for him to really cement himself as a great shutdown guy this year. Offensively, the jury is still out. He can skate with the puck, but does he have the offensive awareness to consistently make things happen. The progression of his offensive game will be key to how high he goes in this year's draft.
5. Stephen Harper - Forward - Erie Otters
I'm not sure what it is about this year, but there seems to be so many potential power forwards. So many guys who play a similar power game offensively (Nastasiuk, Baptiste, Horvat, Kujawinski). Harper is right in that mix. While Erie was awful last year, I actually felt like Harper might have been their most consistent offensive player. I loved his fearlessness on the ice and his tendency to crash the net looking for rebounds or tip-ins. He's a big kid and he knows what his role is. And he excelled in that role. Playing with a dynamic playmaker like Connor McDavid (or even Dane Fox) for a full season is going to be great for Harper.
4. Kerby Rychel - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Needless to say, I think Kerby surprised a lot of people with his offensive production last year (myself included). From 7 goals in his rookie year, to 41 in his second. Pretty remarkable jump. Rychel is (IMO) one of the most dangerous players near the net in the OHL. He's like a bloodhound. His hockey sense near the crease is fantastic. He also has great hands in close. Those two things make him very hard to contain, and those loose pucks always seem to find their way to him. But Rychel is also a good playmaker and someone who can create off the wall or the rush. His overall game lacks consistency though. He'll need to really step up his intensity away from the puck and defensively this year. I want to see a little more Warren in his game.
3. Max Domi - Forward - London Knights
Incredibly talented, no other way to put it. Hard to believe he's Tie's son (no offense to Tie). The thing that always struck me with Domi last year, was his patience with the puck. I felt like he rarely forced plays off the rush and always seemed to make the right decision. He definitely has a lot of confidence in his puck handling ability. His shot is also top notch and will make him a terrific all around offensive player. But there are some red flags in terms of his NHL draft status. One, he's not big. As much as people hate to admit it, size does matter. Two, his overall game (especially defensively) needs work. And three, he really tired down the stretch last year and will need to improve his consistency. We know he can create offense. But to emerge as a top talent for the draft (at his height), he's going to have to become more than that.
2. Ryan Kujawinski - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Let's just ignore what we saw in Sarnia and focus what happened in Kingston. What I saw in Kingston was a guy who has the potential to be one of the best players in this league. A big, powerful center who does it all. He's got great wheels, and with his size he really opens up the ice for his linemates. He can carry the puck and has a big booming shot. He plays physical and looks to throw his weight around. He improved defensively. He looked great on faceoffs. And, there's talk he could wear a letter this year. When I saw this guy a few times later in the season, one name came to mind (and you know I'm not a fan of comparisons). Jason Arnott. Let's see him do it over the course of a full season now.
1. Sean Monahan - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Number one should come as no surprise at this point. Monahan has done it all already. Heck, he was one of the best players at the recent Under 20 Challenge with Russia. IMO Monahan might be one of the most complete players I've seen at the OHL level. Truthfully, I don't think there are any major flaws in his game. He plays hard in all three zones, he has terrific offensive awareness, and he elevates the play of those around him. The big challenge will be producing offensively all on his own this year in Ottawa. No Toffoli. No Prince. It will be his show to run. I'm hoping and anticipating that he'll respond in a big way. And if he rises to the occasion, this will be his last year in the OHL.
Adam Bateman - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Never really stood out for me in the times I saw Windsor. Seems to have some potential as a puck rusher, but without ideal size (5'10), I don't think he's top 30 at this point. He certainly wasn't as effective as guys like Murphy and Subban last year).
Mitchell Dempsey - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Potential power forward who didn't show much offensively last year. Big and physical, but just how good are his hands? Gets a fresh start in the Soo this year, where his ice time and opportunity should increase big time.
Nick Betz - Forward - Erie Otters
Big behemoth who also seems to have some power forward potential. Truthfully, it was hard to get a read on him last year. Could be a big riser if he can put up points.
Steven Varga - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Looked pretty good for Peterborough last year, but didn't stand out quite as much as the defenseman I've got ranked ahead of him. Could be a solid two-way guy.
Alex Yuill - Defense - Barrie Colts
I really liked what I saw from Yuill last year; thought he was solid at both ends of the ice. But he's quite undersized and doesn't project as well as a guy like Subban IMO (at least at this point).
Josh Burnside - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Didn't score a goal last year in limited time, but every time I saw him play, he was a factor in creating chances off the forecheck and with good speed. Call him my sleeper pick.
Will be Appearing Soon (aka they haven't played in the OHL yet)
Ryan Hartman - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
It's pretty likely that he'll be in the top 5 by the time October rolls around. A late 94, Hartman plays a power forward game, but also has the skill to produce offensively. He should fit right in, in Plymouth.
Nikita Zadorov - Defense - London Knights
I've heard a lot of great things about him and his potential. Seems to be a solid two-way guy who brings a bit of everything to the ice (including some physicality). If all goes well, he too could be a top 10 guy on this list come October.
Justin Bailey - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Fresh off a strong showing for the disappointing Americans at the Ivan Hlinka, Bailey seems poised to make an offensive impact in Kitchener. He's apparently cut from the same cloth as the other budding power forwards on this list. Size, speed, and skill.
Sergei Tolchinsky - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Will he or won't he? That seems to be the million dollar question these days. If he's in the OHL, the little Russian offensive dynamo should make a big impact. Just how much his size is held against him remains to be seen.