I bring you the epic conclusion to my Top 50; the top 10! Hope you've enjoyed the ride.
10. Jimmy Lodge - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Lodge was definitely one of the largest risers in the entire draft this year, not just the OHL. At the beginning of the season, he would have been nowhere close to the top 10 of OHL players (at least on my list). But, as the season progressed, he got better and better. The real breakthrough came after the trade of Vincent Trocheck to Plymouth. Dating back to the end of December (when Trocheck was gone at the WJC's), Lodge finished the season with 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in his final 31 games. That type of production prorated for the entire season would give him a 99 point season. The second half production was also the best of any '95 in the league (including Max Domi), and the second best production of any draft eligible player (behind Kerby Rychel, but ahead of Sean Monahan). Needless to say, he was a beast in the 2nd half. Playing with Eric Locke and Garret Ross, Lodge was part of a dynamite offensive unit which kept Saginaw afloat in the playoff race post Trocheck. Lodge is a terrific skater who is excellent with the puck. He's great in transition and does very well to beat defenders off the rush. He's also got a great shot and profiles well as a goal scorer at the next level. There's no question that he did benefit from playing with Locke and Ross, two terrific players without the puck. They did a lot of the work for Lodge in the corners and to create space for him. But he does well to get himself in scoring position and has a good head for the game. I've read some criticisms about his lack of desire to engage in traffic and without the puck. I certainly haven't seen that. Any time I've seen him play, he's seemed engaged in that area of the game. Was he successful in winning loose puck battles? Not particularly. But he's also a slender kid who needs to put on muscle. Right now, he's more of a finesse type forward. But I'd like to think that his game could evolve once he gets strong enough to win battles. As a skilled offensive player, I think he's proved enough to warrant this high of a ranking.
Lodge on "The Pipeline Show"
My article on Lodge and Q & A, "Jimmy Lodge Elevates Saginaw's Spirit"
9. Chris Bigras - Defenseman - Owen Sound Attack
Bigras can definitely be called a "steady Eddie." He's a solid two-way defender cut from the same cloth as guys like Matt Finn and Stuart Percy. This probably profiles him as a late first/mid 2nd round selection. Offensively, he makes a good first pass and is generally very calm with the puck in his own end. He doesn't panic under the pressure of the forecheck and is often confident enough to skate the puck out of the defensive zone. I wouldn't necessarily call him a dynamic puck rusher, but he is smart in picking his spots to jump up in the play. As a powerplay quarterback, he's still growing. Once Cody Ceci joined Owen Sound, their powerplay improved significantly from when Bigras was the general. Bigras does have underrated skill with the puck though, and I think with increased confidence he'll put up better numbers and become more aggressive. Defensively, he's a solid positional defender. By that I mean, he's not the type to plant you on your butt, but he's a good stick defender who angles forwards away from the net and who ties up forwards well. He's got decent mobility and he's able to beat the opposition to their spot more often than not. While I was a bit underwhelmed by his performance in this year's playoffs, I thought he redeemed himself with a solid performance at the U-18's for Canada (finishing the tournament with a 2nd best +8). As such a consistent performer, I think you know what you're getting if you draft Bigras.
Bigras' Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager
8. Zach Nastasiuk - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Zach Nasty has been a favourite of mine since he debuted in the OHL last season. The work ethic he brings to the ice makes him a very valuable player for the Attack (and endures him to fans). Early in the season, he excelled in a checking role for Owen Sound; killing penalties, forcing turnovers off the forecheck, and crashing the net for scoring chances. He was also seeing powerplay time as a net presence; looking for deflections and screens. As the season went on, he started looking more and more confident with the puck and began creating his own scoring chances by driving hard to the net with possession. He also got more confidence in using his shot and was more patient with the puck in the cycle. By the end of the season and into the playoffs, I felt like Nastasiuk was possibly Owen Sound's top offensive player, or at least in the same conversation as Dan Catenacci. In his final 22 games (including the playoffs), he had 10 goals, and 12 assists (a ppg). He then went off to the Under 18's where he put in a solid performance, scoring 2 goals and adding 2 assists. I've had a few people ask me about Nastasiuk's late season rapid rise up the rankings. I think it probably has to do with a change in the perception of Nastasiuk's potential. I think some people probably viewed Nastasiuk as a nice checking prospect early on in the season, but when his offensive game really started to blossom, it caused a shift in that perception. I see him as a comparable player to the Rangers' Ryan Callahan and I'd have to think many teams would be happy to nab that kind of player in the late first/early 2nd.
Nastasiuk's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager
7. Ryan Hartman - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
He came as advertised this year; Hartman was a very exciting player to watch play in 2013. While he was a pretty consistent player all the way through, I felt Hartman really took off following the WJC's. At the U-20's, Hartman was a contributing member of that gold medal winning U.S. squad. When he returned, he was more confident and more assertive with the puck. In his 24 games post the WJC's, Hartman had 31 points. I think he'll be a player who is very attractive to NHL scouts because of the complete nature of his game. The first thing you notice about his game is how relentless his physical game is. He hits everything, and he hits everything hard. If you want to battle with him for a loose puck, you better get ready to be hit. For that very reason, he's an extremely effective forechecker. Hartman is also a very smart defensive player who doubles as an important penalty killer for Plymouth. Even though you immediately notice his high tempo physical game, don't discount his offensive capabilities. He's definitely got the skill and smarts to play a top 6 role at the next level. He knows how to play without the puck offensively and does well to find holes and get himself into scoring positions. With the puck, he loves to drive the outside and will occasionally catch defenseman flat footed with surprising speed. I also like his vision with the puck and I think he profiles as a good playmaker at the next level. The only negative would be that his undisciplined penalties can cost his team, so he'll have to learn to control himself more effectively. But Hartman is a solid (close to pro ready) prospect.
Hartman on "The Pipeline Show"
Hartman's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager
6. Kerby Rychel - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Even though I was slightly disappointed with Rychel's 2013 season, I still like him enough to rank him 6th and I do believe in his NHL potential as a goal scoring forward. At the beginning of the season, Rychel came under a pretty solid amount of scrutiny for not being able to create his own offensive scoring chances minus Alex Khokhlachev. In 39 games without Khokhlachev, Rychel had 39 points (including 23 goals). Not exactly terrible production, but not at the rate many people desired. With Khoklachev (after he returned from Russia), Rychel was the highest scoring draft eligible player in the OHL in the 2nd half. He had 17 goals, 31 assists and 48 points in 29 games. The question you need to ask yourself is, is there anything wrong with the fact that Rychel is more effective when he's playing with a strong puck carrier and distributor? When you can finish plays like Rychel can, I'm not sure there is. When he's playing at the next level, Rychel will get the opportunity to play with guys who are as talented at creating plays as Khokhlachev. And Rychel's bread and butter is his shot (which has to be considered one of the strongest in this draft class), in addition to reading plays and getting himself open for scoring chances. His hands in close are also tremendous and because of his size, he's incredibly difficult for defenseman to contain near the crease. Guys like John Leclair and Kevin Stevens made a living in the NHL, doing the things Rychel does well, while possessing some of his lesser qualities. At this point, I'm not terrifically bothered by the fact that he was inconsistent without a puck distributor. The one thing that does concern me is the wavering consistency of his physical game and overall interest in engaging without the puck. Sometimes he looks like a power forward, while other times he looks lazy. The key to unlocking his potential at the next level will be whether he can play more of a consistent physical game.
Rychel on "The Pipeline Show"
Rychel's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager
5. Nikita Zadorov - Defenseman - London Knights
When you're 6'5, 230lbs, you can hit like a truck, and you have no issues with mobility, you're going to get consideration inside the lottery. That's the case for Zadorov. The size he possesses is obviously awesome, but when you combine it with a slick, effortless, skating stride it becomes even better. He's incredibly difficult to beat off the rush because he can skate with you, but also has that long stick and aggressive nature which makes him hard to get around. That aggressive nature is also very appealing. He's definitely become one of the most physical players in the OHL. His hits hurt and he strikes a lot of fear into opposing forwards. He'll plant you on your butt in the neutral zone, he'll rub you out in the corners, and he'll stick you in the back in front of the net. He's simply a physical beast. I do feel at times that he becomes too physically focused though. He can be prone to taking himself out of position in order to go for a big hit and at times, he'll get caught scrambling in the defensive end after engaging too long in the corners. He needs to learn that he can be effective sometimes by just using his reach and positioning and that occasionally that big hit just doesn't need to happen. In order to become a truly terrific defensive player, he'll also need to tighten up his coverage reads. Sometimes he can get caught standing around watching the play. In terms of his offensive game, I think he can be a fairly effective player at the next level. I don't see a future 40-50 point guy. But, if he continues to work on his breakout, gains confidence in his ability to skate with the puck, and improves the accuracy of his shot, he could be a second powerplay guy and possible 30 point dman. He has enough skill with the puck to make things happen off the rush, but he's not incredibly aggressive and doesn't usually break the opposing blueline. Towards the end of the season and into the playoffs (and Memorial Cup), he was starting to be more aggressive without the puck offensively; taking chances by jumping up in the play or trying to slip in the backdoor. Bottom line is that Zadorov has the skill set to be a very solid two-way guy at the next level and someone who can log 20 minutes a night for your team.
Zadorov on "The Pipeline Show"
4. Max Domi - Forward - London Knights
Domi finished the season as the highest scoring '95 in the OHL, and there's a reason for that; his incredible skill level with the puck. Forget the size concerns. Forget the inconsistencies in his two-way game. Forget the health issues (diabetes). When you get down to the heart of it, Domi knows how to create offensive scoring chances and he can put points on the board. He is such a terrific stickhandler, that he's able to create scoring chances without requiring little space. And if he needs space, he uses his outstanding skating ability to create it. As a finisher, he's got a great wrist shot and is able to use it at top speed. As a playmaker, he has great vision and is able to dictate the pace at which he wants his line to play. He can thread the needle with a pass. I've seen/heard some people question his poise with the puck and playmaking ability. I simply don't agree. Does he sometimes force plays and overhandle the puck? Yes, he does. But there are other times where he's able to create a scoring chance because he draws defenders to him and then fires off a beautiful pass to an open teammate. Domi just needs to learn that he can't do everything himself. And let's not forget, he is Tie's son, which means he can play an extremely physical game when he wants to. While he's not a physical force every game, he can turn that switch and really get under the skin of opponents. In terms of the aforementioned concerns over size, defense, and health; I don't think they're as big of a concern as some people make them to be. Sure he's not tall (5'10), but he's very stocky and has terrific lower body strength. He has no problems in the corners. And his speed makes him elusive and hard to check. Defensively, he needs work. He channels most of his energy into the offensive side of things, but coaching and development can improve one's defensive game. And health, well there are lots of professional athletes who have diabetes (including hockey players Cory Conacher, B.J. Crombeen, and the retired Bobby Clarke). So in my humble opinion, the good with Domi far outweighs the potential bad. I think he's going to be an impact player.
Domi on "The Pipeline Show"
Domi's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager
3. Bo Horvat - Forward - London Knights
The complete package. Other than being only an average skater, he brings it all. I had a reader make a hilarious (but awkward) comment to me about him the other day, stating that he has a "Bo-ner for Horvat." Maybe that should be his draft marketing slogan at the combine. People are talking about Horvat like he suddenly appeared out of nowhere to take home the MVP of the OHL playoffs. He didn't just come on in the playoffs, he's been building up to that level of play by improving every month of the season. In his final 40 games of the season, Horvat had 25 goals and 20 assists.
Prorate that and it's a 40+ goal season. That type of production, plus
physical play, two-way ability, face off skill, penalty kill ability,
AND leadership capabilities and you've got yourself one hell of a
player. As an offensive player, Horvat is an incredibly hard worker. He wins battles in the corners, he forces turnovers, he is effective in the cycle, and he gets himself in great scoring position. Best of all, he's a terrific finisher, as he possesses a great wrister and great hand-eye. Horvat is also terrific in all three zones. He anticipates plays incredibly well defensively and he forces many turnovers in the neutral zone. He also is a terrific shot blocker and penalty killer. I'm not particularly sure what position I see him playing at the next level, but I do know that he's one of the best face-off men in the OHL. And lastly, he oozes leadership potential and could be London's captain as early as next season. I'm not a huge fan of comparisons, but I see Horvat as a Shane Doan type of player at the next level. Someone who will lead and be the face of his team for many years, even if he's not leading them in scoring. That type of player doesn't grow on trees and it's why Horvat has seen his name pop up close to the Top 10 now.
Horvat on "The Pipeline Show Part 2"
Horvat on "The Pipeline Show Part 1"
Horvat's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager
2. Sean Monahan - Forward - Ottawa 67's
While Horvat has certainly closed the gap with Monahan, I think I'd still take the 67's center. People forget that Monahan, himself, is also a solid three zone/complete player who should have a lengthy professional career. I don't think there's any secret to the fact that Monahan did have a bit of a tough year. The 67's were awful. He wasn't able to eclipse the point production he put up last year as a sophomore. He didn't make the U-20 Canadian squad. Similar to Sean Couturier, Monahan suffered from the fact that he has a late birthday and scouts had an extra year to dissect his body of work. That overexposure factor does seem to hurt certain prospects, mostly guys like Monahan who are solid all around players, but not flashy guys who'll "wow" you. Monahan's bread and butter is his patience and poise with the puck. He's an excellent and intelligent playmaker who reads and reacts to defenses exceptionally well. He does have good finishing ability, but I think he'll best profile as a playmaking center at the next level. Monahan certainly isn't a "burner," like a Max Domi, who creates mostly off the rush. He's more effective once possession of the zone is gained and he's able to work at a slower pace. He's got good size and is a pretty strong kid, so he's effective along the wall and in the cycle. And while Monahan was a -18 this year, I actually think that's quite a feat considering how bad Ottawa was (and second line center Dante Salituro was a -44). He's still a very smart two-way center who works hard on the backcheck and profiles as someone who can play in any situation at the next level. One thing I actually liked in his game this year was an increased involvement physically. He'll never be an elite checker, but he did start to use his size more to his advantage this year. Heck, he was suspended for 10 games for a head check in November. All in all, I think you know what you're getting in Monahan; a smart offensive general who'll be able to lead your first or second line for many years. The one thing I will say is that, like Couturier, I could see Monahan falling a bit at the draft. He could be one of those guys teams really like, but don't love. And if they're more enamored with someone else at their draft position, he could slide a bit. Still a great prospect though wherever he gets selected (and someone who I feel is NHL ready).
Monahan on "The Pipeline Show"
Monahan's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager
1. Darnell Nurse - Defenseman - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
At this point, Nurse is definitely my top prospect available from the OHL. All season long, I wrestled back and forth between Monahan and Nurse. But it's clearly Nurse now IMO. He possesses so much potential at the next level. He could be a perennial Norris candidate IMO. The thing I like most about Nurse is how much he improved this season from the last. You need to look at that progression and think about just how good he could be, if he continues to tap into his athletic bloodlines (father was a CFL player), and continues to improve. He's certainly a potential dynamo at both ends of the ice. His size (6'5, pushing 200lbs), makes him an asset in the defensive end. As does his skating ability. He's incredibly difficult to get around and he's physical enough to intimidate. As he gets stronger, I expect his physical game to become more consistent and more effective. He certainly has the mentality to be a bruiser. In the defensive end, he's still learning a bit. He can get caught out of position at times, but with strong coaching I think this improves. Offensively, he went through the biggest transformation this season. He looked very poised and confident with the puck and took chances in leading and joining the rush. His skating ability makes him a threat offensively. He's also got an absolute cannon of a shot that will only get better as he gets stronger. His play on the powerplay is improving. This year, with Ryan Sproul and Colin Miller on the point, Nurse was relegated to the 2nd unit. Next year, it'll be his show to run and I expect very big things from him. When all is said and done, Nurse has the potential to be one of those defenseman who doesn't really have any holes in his game. He's the complete package and I think he's the 2nd defenseman off the board after Seth Jones.
Nurse on "The Pipeline Show"
Nurse's Draft Tracker segment with Yahoo's Neate Sager
My article on Nurse and Q & A, "Nursing the Greyhounds Back to the Top"
That's all folks! Best of luck to all of the draft eligible players come June 30th.