Sunday, May 5, 2013
Sunday Top 10 - 2013 NHL Draft Re-Entries
It's that time of the year for my annual (2012, 2011, 2010, 2009) list of the top second and third year eligible OHL players for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. This is always one of the most read articles I put out each year. It's also the topic which I receive the most questions on, whether through email or blog comments. For whatever reason, the concept fascinates people. Of course, I'm referring to the concept of the "draft re-entry." A shift in drafting philosophy has seen an enormous rise of these players getting drafted in recent years. This is mostly because drafting a second or third year eligible player gives NHL teams a lot of flexibility in their development under the new CBA. Plus, a lot of these guys have been having success in recent years (Andrew Shaw is a great example from the OHL), which basic psychology tells us that other NHL teams will try to mimic.
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 2011 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.
Last year was a crazy year for the selection of 2nd and 3rd year eligible players. We had one go in the first round (Tanner Pearson). We had four go inside the top 60. And we had 12 go inside the top 100. All together, 48 players who could be classified as "draft re-entries" were selected. That made up about 23% of all players selected in 2012...or close to one quarter. 9 of those 48 were OHL players.
This year, I could easily see another 9/10 players of this ilk selected from the OHL. Any of the players that I've listed below (either on the list or as HM's) could develop into NHL players IMO.
Without any further rambling, here's my list:
10. Mathew Campagna - Sudbury Wolves
Finally started showing signs of living up to his high draft selection in the 2010 Priority draft. He's always been incredibly skilled with the puck, but there had been reservations about the rest of his game. This year was a breakout campaign for him. He was voted as the 3rd most improved player in the East in the Coaches poll and he deserved it. While there's still room for improvement in his "overall game," he definitely looked more hungry without the puck and more engaged in high traffic areas this year. Previously he was kept to the perimeter a lot, but this year he was getting his nose dirty more in the slot and looking to take the puck hard to the net on rushes. He's a very skilled player with the puck and is able to create offensive opportunities for his linemates through creativity and poise. You definitely have to give him credit for making some necessary refinements to his game this year.
9. Zach Hall - Barrie Colts
Exploded offensively this year, playing alongside Mark Scheifele in Barrie. But Hall is not simply a by product of Scheifele. When Scheifele was at NHL camp at the beginning of the season, and at the WJC's, Hall put this Colts team on his back and has been a consistent contributor all season long. He's a terrific playmaker and is at his best off the rush where he's got great hockey sense to make plays at high speed. He definitely sees the ice well and makes those around him better players. An underrated aspect of Hall's game is his play in the neutral zone and in his own end. He's a very competent defensive player and a very hard worker on the backcheck. He's not the biggest guy (pushing 6'0 ft), so he's not going to outmuscle anyone, but he does work hard at both ends and has enough offensive skill to contribute on the score sheet at the next level.
8. Dakota Mermis - London Knights
I may not be as enamored with Mermis as NHL Central Scouting is, but he was definitely a solid contributor to the Knights line up after joining the team midseason from the U of Denver. He's just a very solid defenseman. There isn't one aspect of his game that REALLY jumps out at you, but he's very well rounded. He does a good job of skating the puck up ice and out of trouble, and is developing well as a powerplay quarterback. Even though he was billed as more of an offensive defenseman, I think I was most impressed with him defensively. He closes gaps well and does a great job of defending off the rush. And he's a more physical defender than I expected him to be. He's small and stocky. Reminds me a lot of former Spitfire Mark Cundari.
7. Barclay Goodrow - Brampton Battalion
I've always felt like despite his skating deficiencies, he should have been drafted these past few years; I've always been a fan. But this year I truly think is his year. The skating looked much improved and it allowed Goodrow to be a better player in all three zones. He was able to be more active and effective on the forecheck, and was also more explosive coming off the wall with the puck. His defensive game really improved this year too, to the point where he was one of the better two-way forwards in the league. He's very aggressive in his pursuit of the puck. Scouts also have to love the fact that he wore the C in Brampton this year and led the team to another playoff appearance. And even with all the improvements in the rest of his game, he can still shoot the puck (which has always been his bread and butter). Goodrow set a career high with 38 goals this year. As I said, I think this will finally be his year.
6. Zac Leslie - Guelph Storm
Leslie should have been drafted last year following a solid rookie campaign in Guelph. This year, his sophomore season, Leslie really took off as a player (2nd most improved in the West in the Coaches poll). Nearly every facet of his game improved and he was one of Guelph's top defenseman. I actually felt like he was better than Matt Finn this year. Leslie ran the point on Guelph's powerplay well and does a good job of keeping pucks in at the line. His overall confidence with the puck greatly improved and he was willing to take more chances offensively. Defensively, he remained solid but was more consistently physical and was able to do a better job of winning battles in the corners and moving bodies in front of the net. Teams should be angry that they didn't jump on him in the 7th round last year.
5. Cameron Brace - Owen Sound Attack
A speed demon; Brace is definitely one of the fastest north/south players in the league. He's got a very high motor and is always working hard to make things happen. Brace has actually lead the league in short handed goals the past two years, a testament to his ability to use his speed to disrupt plays in the neutral zone and on the forecheck. He's also got a very good wrist shot that he can fire coming down the wing. The key to Brace's game is playing with consistent ferocity. He's definitely not the biggest (5'10), so he needs to outwork and outskate the opposition. In the playoffs, I felt like he was completely ineffective following the hit on Jared McCann and subsequent suspension. It was because he was playing cautious after that and it limited his effectiveness. Hopefully his finish to the season didn't leave a sour taste in the mouths of scouts.
4. Henri Ikonen - Kingston Frontenacs
I really liked what I saw from this first year Import this season. Ikonen found great chemistry playing with two other rookies this year, 16 year olds Sam Bennett and Spencer Watson. Ikonen was like the middle ground/well rounded offensive playmaker on that line. Bennett was the feisty workhorse, Watson the skilled finisher, and Ikonen the smart distributor/catalyst. I was impressed with his ability to work the cycle and make things happen from behind the net and off the wall. He's got a great hockey IQ and seems to be a very well rounded offensive player. He wasn't one to shy away from playing physical at times either, and working hard on the backcheck. After leading Kingston in scoring this year, I'm hoping he returns again next year to continue to develop his bond with Bennett and Watson.
3. Dane Fox - Erie Otters
I had him ranked 18th from the OHL last year, but he ultimately went undrafted, which unfortunately didn't seem to surprise too many people inside the NHL realm. He's had some issues with the authorities in the past and that seemed to hurt him on draft day. I did a feature on Dane last year and in my relations with him, he seemed like a really great kid, so I'm going to continue to support him and my opinion of him as an NHL prospect remains unchanged. The year didn't start off great for Dane (thanks to a broken foot), but when he returned, he did play well. He's got the skill and potential to develop into a solid 3rd line NHL center (think David Bolland). He's got speed, skill with the puck, good vision with the puck and a real edge to his game. If he doesn't get drafted again this year, I hope he comes back to Erie strong as an overager next year and really takes his game to the next level to earn a contract.
2. Justin Auger - Guelph Storm
Auger is still a massive project, but one who could be worth the risk of drafting. He improved a lot in his 2nd year in the league, which I think is a great sign of things to come as he continues to grow into his body. At 6'7, he can be a real load for defenseman to handle in the corners and in front of the net. In particular, his work on the cycle is impressive. His long reach and improving strength make him a very difficult player to separate from the puck. I'd still love to see him be more aggressive and use his size more to be a crease presence though. His skating is still an issue, but it DEFINITELY improved this year. Last year, I felt like he was one of the ugliest skaters in the league. This year, he looked better and more stable on his skates. Improving those first few steps will be the key to increasing his offensive production. You need to look down the line with a player like Auger. Right now, he's still trying to find his game. But you have to be impressed with his development thus far and take a chance on a big 6'7 forward with some skill.
1. Eric Locke - Saginaw Spirit
It's like the lightbulb finally went off or something. Previously, I'd always been hard on Locke as a player. I didn't even rank him inside my top 50 last year, despite the fact that he had previously been a fairly high profile player. I just felt like he hadn't really improved during his time in the OHL up to that point. He was still just trying to get by on being a speedy wing scorer, with little else to his game. This year, Locke was a completely different player. He was an obvious choice for most improved player in the West in the Coaches poll. He suddenly started using his speed to help him be a factor without the puck. And he added a mean streak and truculence to his game that wasn't previously there. Basically, Locke was no longer satisfied with being a complimentary player who let others do the hard work for him. He began taking over shifts by being all over the ice and getting involved in all facets of the game. He's always been a skilled player, but now the effort level and play in all three zones was improved to match it. If Locke would have played this way last year, he would have been a lock (no pun intended) for the first three rounds. This year, I think it remains to be seen where he goes, but I'd be VERY surprised if he doesn't go somewhere.
London's Jake Patterson was very close to cracking this list. At midseason, he would have been on it, but his play slipped a bit in the second half and he lost his starter's job to Anthony Stolarz. For someone playing in their first full OHL season, Patterson acquitted himself quite well this year. Yes, he had some rough patches, but he has the potential to develop into a quality netminder. The one thing I like about him as a goalie is how aggressive he is in challenging shooters. He comes out as far as any goalie in the league. He can be a bit slow post to post though and will need to work on his general agility, as well as his rebound control moving forward.
Franky Palazzese cracked this list last year, but is just on the outside looking in for this year's installment. It's his last chance to be drafted, before becoming a free agent, so we'll see how he does. I felt like he probably had a better season last year when he failed to get drafted, so I'm not sure what to expect. Palazzese is just a solid netminder.who gives his team a chance to win every night. He moves well in his crease and has a penchant for that "highlight reel" save. If he doesn't get drafted this time, I think he'll have a big overage year with the Wolves next year.
Saginaw's Dalton Young is a very underrated player in this league. He had a real breakout season from the back-end. He skates as well as any defender in the league and he's got good size for a PMD. Defensively, he's pretty solid and won't hurt you either. I think he profiles well as the type of defenseman an NHL team could look at as a puck rushing option.
Brenden Miller didn't see a ton of time with Brampton last year, playing on the team's third pairing and receiving few responsibilities. This year he earned more ice time and really saw his game grow. He was on the Battalion's top powerplay unit with Dylan Blujus and I actually think he did a better job of running the point than the Lightning high selection did. Defensively, he's also pretty solid and isn't afraid to use his size either. His skating needs some work, especially if he wants to play more of an offensive role at the next level, but there's some potential there.
Another guy who cracked last year's list, but not this years is Sarnia blueliner Alex Basso. I'm still a big fan of Basso's, but I don't think there was a ton of progression this year (from last year), other than staying relatively healthy. He's still a terrific offensive blueliner who moves the puck well, skates well, and who has a big shot from the point. Defensively, I think there's still room to grow, but I do really like how he keeps forwards honest by delivering a big hit from time to time. Just don't know if he gets drafted this year, considering he's basically the same guy who went unselected last year.
A sort of under the radar name is Barrie's Jonathan Laser. He got better and better as the season went on, which is something you love to see from a player playing in his first full OHL season. He's developed some great chemistry with Aaron Ekblad and plays a really simple, yet effective game. At the same time, I think there's real offensive upside in his game once he learns to move and skate with the puck more confidently. With Ryan O'Connor out in these playoffs, I felt like he stepped up hugely.
Erie's Connor Crisp is one name that could certainly draw some interest from NHL scouts. He makes for a great story. He barely played last year, save for an embarrassing emergency goaltending performance against Niagara, but this year he really made himself a big part of Erie's offense. He's a massive kid at 6'4, 225lbs and he loves to drop the gloves. But he's also got good hands in close (as evidenced by his 22 goals) and has potential as a crease crasher/garbage guy at the next level.
If one Rupert twin gets drafted, you have to think the odds are good that the other one draws some interest. Ryan went in the 7th last year to Toronto, maybe this year the Leafs select Matt Rupert? Matt plays the game very similarly to his brother Ryan, except he's more of a finisher than a playmaker like Ryan.