Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Q & A With McKeen's Scouting Director David Burstyn

Around this time every year (midseason, and then again at the end of the season), I try to bring to you a few draft Q & A's from professionals who are right in the thick of things. The knowledge and insight that they can provide is always top notch and I know loved by you (the readers).

So I had an opportunity to chat with McKeen's Hockey scouting director (and former NHL scout) David Burstyn. We talked about some of the OHL players available for this year's draft (and a tad about 2014).

Here's the transcript...

Brock Otten - There has been a lot of talk about the strength of the 2013 Draft, some even comparing it to the depth of the 2003 Draft. Would you agree that this year's crop of OHL players is incredibly strong?

David Burstyn - The crop of OHL players is good however it is not entirely as high end as year's past as it is unlikely that a player hailing from the OHL will even rival for a top five position. Nonetheless there are a slew of good players and a modest degree of depth. There are several good defensemen with Nurse, Zadarov and Bigras leading the charge. Martin in goal has struggled from a statistical stand-point but is a strong prospect due to his size, quickness and athleticism. Up front Max Domi has shown an exciting penchant to score goals of the highlight reel variety and two-way threats such as Kerby Rychel, Bo Horvat and Sean Monahan all show the skill and ability to be first round NHL selections.

Brock Otten - At this point, is Sean Monahan still the undisputed top player available from the OHL? Or are the twin towers (Nurse and Zadorov) catching up to him?

David Burstyn - I think Monahan has proved both on the International stage and in league play that his accomplishments still need to be respected as the top OHL draft eligible prospect. Considering his line mates this season and a ten game suspension, it is remarkable that he still stands in the top 20 in league scoring. He has improved his game away from the puck and his face off skills are strong. His skating has also marked improvement since the beginning of the year and should be plausible at the NHL level as he is an extremely smart player with sharp instincts and positions himself well in connection with the play. Monahan also exhibits outstanding character and is a fierce competitor and is a clutch performer!  He showed it at the OHL Cup when he led his Rebels team to a surprising tournament win; a U17 World Challenge gold medal, he followed that up with another gold medal performance at the Hlinka tournament and was arguably the best 67 player in their semi final appearance to Niagara last season.

Brock Otten - Where do you stand on the whole Max Domi versus Bo Horvat debate that seems to be raging among Knights' fans? Who's the best draft prospect in your eyes?

David Burstyn - I think both have come prepared to tackle their NHL draft season and have done exactly what they have been asked to do. Since they play such contrasting styles it is difficult to gauge which is better as it will come down to individual team needs. I think NHL teams looking for high end offensive player will gravitate towards Domi. He has been a permanent fixture since the start of the season in the top ten of OHL league scoring. He has uncanny offensive instincts and while size has become a question mark, his rigorous off-season workout that saw him add 12 pounds to his lower body makes it virtually impossible for opponents to knock him off stride yet alone the puck. I have gone on record that he could lead the OHL in scoring as early as next season.

Horvat continues to play a steady two-way game and has been relied upon heavily by Coach Dale Hunter in all situations however he has excelled on the PK where his face off skills win many crucial defensive zone draws. He is also responsible for winning offensive zone draws and then heading off the ice. His skating holds him back but he has a tireless work ethic and also has the ability to manufacture offence. He has a wicked release and is strong on both his fore and back hand making him a dual to score.

Brock Otten - Just how much is Ryan Hartman rising up the charts? He's been on a tear since the WJC's ended.

David Burstyn - Hartman has had no problem adjusting to the OHL as he plays a surly game and marries it with skill. At the beginning of the year he was more focused on being a pest and was the recipient of taking unnecessary minors. Since the middle of the season after a lengthy conversation with Coach Velucci, he has barred down more on his chances and played a more offensive game. The end result was increased confidence heading into the WJC and a subsequent gold medal to accompany the gold medal he received at last year’s U18 World Championships with the U18 USNDTP. Hartman also thrived at the Top Prospect game playing with Drouin and MacKinnon, finishing his checks and even engaging in a fight with fellow OHL’er Kerby Rychel. Hartman is slightly under-sized to play his game at the NHL level and he needs to improve on his skating however he shows great will and determination and already has an impressive collection of International gold medals as he is a winner.

Brock Otten - Has Chris Bigras thrown himself into the same conversation with Nurse and Zadorov, or is he still a tad behind?

David Burstyn - Bigras has made improvements and has really be given free reign by the coaching staff to iron out his game. He makes his fair share of mistakes but he also contributes with solid two-way efforts and is producing modest offensive numbers. He lacks the potential upside that both Nurse and Zadarov offer as I firmly believe they could be potential top 4 NHL defenders whereas Bigras would be a good number five or a depth option.

Brock Otten - Is Jordan Subban a legitimate top 2 round prospect, or will his size/strength place him lower down the draft like it did Jesse Graham last year?

David Burstyn - I think he gets more accomplished than Jesse Graham did last year and NHL scouts will take notice due to bloodlines, which you can never discount. Jordan actually plays a more structured than PK did at the same age however his lack of size is a drawback and I am not necessarily talking about his height, more so his rather thin frame. He does a good job to skate out of the zone and make plays offensively however he is very easy to play against defensively as he has a difficult time containing size and speed. He surprisingly doesn’t play as much PP as he should and the majority of his points this season have come in 5-5 situations. Subban could benefit from a lengthy playoff drive as the Bulls have loaded up.

Brock Otten - In a similar vein, just how good of a draft prospect is the Soo's Sergei Tolchinsky? Some seem to have him in the first couple of rounds, where as NHL CSS had him ranked towards the end of the draft.

David Burstyn - You are correct in your assessment as there are some teams that absolutely love him and some that don’t even have him rated. I personally am a fan of Tolchinsky, he still looks like he can mature physically as he doesn’t even have a whisker on him. He helped Team Russia to a gold medal in 2011 at the U17 World Challenge, their first since 2000. He has great individual skills, blinding speed and a tricky release. He is more of a special team’s player. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the second half of the season and playoffs as he has started to show signs of slowing down and fatigue due to the lengthy and physically taxing OHL season.

Brock Otten - Is there a draft prospect in the OHL, who you feel has the most to gain OR lose in the 2nd half and playoffs? Someone who could really FALL or DROP depending on how they perform?

David Burstyn - Jason Dickenson is a player that immediately comes to mind. His compete and effort levels are very sporadic. Some games he can literally take over a game and in other contests this season he has been completely invisible. His skill set and skating are very attractive ingredients to NHL scouts especially his skating which is fluid, crisp and he boasts an effortless skating style that is the envy of the draft class. A strong showing with the Storm and deep playoff run could vault him into the upper echelon of the first round and help erase many consistency issues that have surrounded him this year.

Brock Otten - Always curious to talk about potential second and third year eligible players. Is there someone who really stands out in your mind as being a great draft prospect? Maybe Guelph 's Auger, or London 's Patterson?

David Burstyn - I am a big fan of Auger and felt he should have warranted a late round selection last year simply due to his potential and vast frame. He has grown another 2 inches this year and now stands a whopping 6’8. His skating is not close to being up to par, he needs to turn better and use his edges more judiciously.  The improvements he has made in a few short seasons have been encouraging. He gives the Storm some much needed size along the boards and plays an honest physical game. His puck skills have also improved and he is displaying more poise with the puck to evaluate his options better.

Another player who has had a solid OHL debut season is Henri Ikonen in Kingston . I was surprised that he did not get drafted last year especially after a highly successful junior season with Kalpa (Jr.A Sm-liiga U20) culminating in a long playoff run and then an equally effective performance at the with the U18 World Championships for Finland. Ikonen has had no difficulty to the pace of the OHL game and is a reliable and trusted option for Coach Gill. He marries skill with grit, goes hard to the net and finishes his checks.  His skating needs some refinement but considering how well he has acclimatized himself to the North American game it may be difficult for NHL teams to pass on him again.

Brock Otten - Last question. You guys were at the Under 17's. Other than Connor McDavid, is there an Ontario player whom you felt really stood out in a positive way (despite the team's disappointing performance)?

David Burstyn - Both Sean Lafortune and I attended the tournament. Despite Team Ontario ’s disappointing 6th place finish there were some bright spots as several forwards played well. I thought Sam Bennett displayed grit with a healthy scoring touch; he is a throw back player who comes at you and also has the skills to beat you on the score sheet. Michael Dal Colle could flat out take over games offensively, he has such keen awareness in the offensive zone and is a big body that is impossible to dislodge off the puck. On the back end I thought that Middleton played a good two-way game showing poise and the ability to make a play with the puck. Cummins was a staunch defender who played against all the opposition’s best forwards and was a fixture on the PK. Roland McKeown has untapped potential and a high pro ceiling and should be a virtual shoe in to make the Hlinka team and possibly the U18 World Championships as an under-ager this April however a slight separated shoulder prior to the tournament limited his overall effectiveness.

Thanks as always Brock for giving us the forum to discuss OHL-NHL prospects, more information on all draft eligible players from all the respective leagues can be found at http://www.mckeenshockey.com/

Extreme thanks to David for taking the time to answer my questions. Make sure to give him a follow on twitter (@DavidBurstyn), as well as Sean LaFortune (@SeanLafortune), who also scouts the OHL for McKeen's.

Monday, January 21, 2013

NHL Draft Picks Needing to Be Signed

The deadline for signing 2011 NHL Draft selections is still far away (June 1), but with the NHL back up and running, it shouldn't take long before teams start to try and negotiate contracts with the players they intend to keep in their system.

Let's take a look at the OHL players selected in 2011, who have yet to sign NHL deals.

Andrey Pedan - Guelph Storm (New York Islanders)
Pedan's offensive game has come a long way since being drafted. His size, aggressiveness, skating ability, and offensive potential make him an easy sign for the Islanders IMO.

Joseph Cramarossa - Belleville Bulls (Anaheim Ducks)
Sent back to the OHL for his overage season, Cramarossa's offensive game has not really developed to the point may expected it would (myself included). He has a lot of value for other reasons, but I think he'll need to finish the season very strong (including a solid playoff run) to impress the Ducks enough to sign him.

Anthony Camara - Barrie Colts (Boston Bruins)
With the offensive breakthrough he's having this season, Camara has to be an easy sign for the Bruins. Showing a scoring touch to go with his impressive and devastating physical elements.

Alan Quine - Belleville Bulls (Detroit Red Wings)
Has gotten off to a great start in Belleville. He's a very skilled offensive player, but the rest of his game still needs work. I do expect the Wings to sign him though. 

Josh Leivo - Kitchener Rangers (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Another very easy sign. Leivo has developed into one of the OHL's top two-way forwards. He's got a lot of things going for him that would suggest he could carve out a long career in the NHL.

Justin Sefton - London Knights (San Jose Sharks)
Sure, he's never developed into the type of defender you want running your powerplay or handling the puck for prolonged periods of time, but I don't think that's why San Jose drafted him. Sefton is what he is. A big, physical guy who can drop the mitts. I'm sure he is who they thought they were getting at this point. Can't see the Sharks not signing him, given that. 

*Reid Boucher - Sarnia Sting (New Jersey Devils)
Boucher was not drafted out of the OHL, so I don't believe he falls under the same category (U.S. HS or college players have a different window). That being said, Boucher is absolutely tearing up the OHL lately. He'll probably hit the 50 goal plateau. He's ready for the AHL next year and should be a lock to be signed.

Tobias Rieder - Kitchener Rangers (Edmonton Oilers)
While his offensive production has dropped slightly this year, I can't see the Oilers passing up the opportunity to sign Rieder. Too much offensive ability to let go.
SIGNED (by Phoenix after his rights were traded)

Colin Suellentrop - Oshawa Generals (Philadelphia Flyers)
I like Suellentrop. I think he's developed into a very solid stay at home defenseman. I see a lot of progression in his decision making and overall defensive ability since he was drafted. That said, would I be surprised if the Flyers chose not to sign him? Probably not. But I know I'd sign him.

Garrett Meurs - Plymouth Whalers (Colorado Avalanche)
I think he's developed well since the Avs drafted him. He's on pace for his best year yet statistically, and has really rounded out his game to become more of a complete player. I'm not really sure where he fits in at the next level, but I've certainly seen worse players get contracts.

Alex Lepkowski - Barrie Colts (Buffalo Sabres)
He's finally been able to have a fairly healthy season and is playing a pretty crucial top 4 role for the Colts. Like Sefton, Lepkowski is what he is. A bruising crease clearer. When the Sabres drafted him, I'd be surprised if they envisioned him becoming anything else. Probably a 50/50 guy.

*Simon Karlsson - Oshawa Generals (Nashville Predators) 
Never really fit in or excelled in Plymouth, and is now in Oshawa. Nothing really screams NHL prospect to me, if I'm being honest. Karlsson was drafted out of Europe, but those players have the same parameters around them now. Can't see him being signed.

Austen Brassard - Belleville Bulls (Winnipeg Jets)
He's having a massive down year offensively. After last year's big step forward, he's gone backward now. Since the arrival of Tyler Graovac on the top line (with Gaunce), he's looked much better. It'll probably depend on how he finishes out the season. He's definitely a big body with offensive potential at the next level.

Andrew Fritsch - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Phoenix Coyotes)
I liked Fritsch a lot in his draft year. Great speed and goal scoring ability. But he's had a tough time with injuries in his OHL career. It's kind of stunted his development. I'd be surprised if the Coyotes sign him. That being said, I think he's a candidate to break out massively if he returns for an overage year. That could be his meal ticket.

Matt Mahalak - Plymouth Whalers (Carolina Hurricanes)
One of the reasons Plymouth hasn't quite been as good as everyone had anticipated they'd be this year, is Mahalak's erratic play. As the true number one this year, he's struggled (to some degree). Plymouth is going to need him to be at his best in the playoffs, and I think that's where he's going to determine whether Carolina offers him a contract. The one thing working in his favor is the fact that Carolina isn't exactly brimming with goaltending prospects.

*Peter Ceresnak - Peterborough Petes (New York Rangers)
While he's proven to be a fairly capable OHL defenseman, I don't think he has any particular stand-out abilities that cause him to be projectable as a future NHL player.  At this point, he seems like a long shot to earn a contract.

Mitchell Theoret - Barrie Colts (New York Islanders)
Always been a big fan of Theoret. He's had an absolutely fantastic season. I think he brings enough to the table in other areas to suggest he could be a decent role player at the next level. I'd be surprised if the Isles didn't reward his breakthrough with a contract. Helps that he had such great chemistry with Ryan Strome too (prior to his trade to Barrie)

Garret Sparks - Guelph Storm (Toronto Maple Leafs)
I think the Leafs sign him. He's had a solid season, even earning the role as 3rd stringer on Team USA's gold medal winning WJC team. Scrivens is up with the big club now, and Owuya and Rynnas are free agents after this year. Looks like there's definitely an opening for him to slide into an AHL role next year (or at the very least, an ECHL starter's job).

Tyler Graovac - Belleville Bulls (Minnesota Wild)
Breakthrough year. Already set career highs in goals and points. Size and tangibles. Easy sign, 'nuff said. No brainer.

*Alex Broadhurst - London Knights (Chicago Blackhawks)
I've liked what I've seen from Broadhurst this year. A lot of offensive talent, but he's also quite the sparkplug, and an excellent penalty killer. Reminds me a lot of Alex Friesen of the IceDogs. Similar to Reid Boucher, he wasn't drafted out of the OHL so falls under different rules. If the Hawks sign him, he could always return for his overage year...or go to the AHL to play with brother Terry (signed with the Hawks through next year).

*Michael Schumacher - Saulte Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Los Angeles Kings)
Drafted out of Europe, similar to Simon Karlsson, but Schumacher does need to be signed by the June 1st deadline. Even though I'm not particularly sure I see an NHL player in him, I would be surprised if the Kings didn't sign him. He's absolutely massive and does have some intriguing skills.

It'll be interesting to track these players to see if and when they earn their ELC.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Game Recap of the 2013 CHL Top Prospect's Game

Last night was the 2013 CHL Top Prospect's Game. Anyone who watches/covers/loves junior hockey has this game circled on their calendar. And for that matter, anyone who loves hockey in general should watch these games each year. ALWAYS one of the best and most entertaining games of the year.

The question is, how does the game affect the draft stock of its participants. The answer is sort of two fold. Does a bad performance cause your stock to plummet? Absolutely not. Professional scouts might see these players more times than you can count on two hands. One game isn't going to cause them to drastically alter their opinion (in a negative way). However, I do believe that a strong performance in this game CAN help a player's stock. For players who play well, it can be a "wow, this guy's so consistent and I love how he elevates his game against tough competition." Or, it can be a "wow, I didn't know that guy had that in him. I'm impressed." When evaluating the performances in these games, it's important to remember that they're playing with guys (for the most part) who they aren't familiar with. Chemistry is such a huge part of team sports. If you're not gelling with a linemate, or a defensive partner, it can have drastically negative effects on your play. It's obviously still fun to evaluate how certain individuals performed though.

Before I start breaking down the performances of OHL players, I just want to talk a bit about Seth Jones. I can honestly say that I haven't been this impressed with a draft eligible defenseman in quite some time. I think back to the times I saw Drew Doughty and Jay Bouwmeester play as juniors and I'd honestly put him on par with them...perhaps even above them. He controls the game at both ends of the ice in a way that makes him a special player. He was the best player on the ice in the game, and it wasn't even close. I do love Nathan MacKinnon, but if the NHL team who drafts first overall this year, doesn't take Jones, I think they should give their head a whack. What a truly amazing prospect.

On to some thoughts of individual performances (OHL players only).


Max Domi - London Knights
Definitely not the best game I've seen Domi play. Hopefully, those who were unimpressed by his performance do not consider that to be the norm (although I'm sure it triggers a ton of "he's overrated" chants on internet message boards). It just seemed like he was trying to do too much out there. Had a couple of bad turnovers in the offensive end, one that lead directly to a three on two rush the other way and nearly a goal for Team Cherry. There were a few bright spots, in particular a beautiful, partially blind, backhand pass to an open Bo Horvat for a wide open scoring chance in the slot. Even though Domi is an electric and explosive skater, I actually find him to be at his best when he slows the game down and takes his time in the offensive end.

Kerby Rychel - Windsor Spitfires
Offensively, it wasn't Rychel's best performance. He wasn't a huge factor in the offensive end. But, I was impressed with his increased intensity in his own end and in the neutral zone. He blocked a few shots, he won a few board battles. He even dropped the gloves with Ryan Hartman to stop him from running around hitting people. Those are the types of things he needs to do on a consistent basis in Windsor to really elevate his draft ranking. Everyone knows he can score goals, it's the intensity away from the puck (that he did show in this game IMO) that needs to be brought up to snuff.

Sean Monahan - Ottawa 67's
Not the best performance from Monahan either. He looked sluggish, and actually fairly invisible through the first two periods. Then he turned it on a bit in the third, making a few nice passes, forcing some turnovers in the offensive end. I felt like he seemed to lack chemistry with his linemates and that affected his game.

Chris Bigras - Owen Sound Attack
I thought he started off a little shaky. Couple near misplays/reads with the puck in the first period. But as the game went on, he got stronger and stronger. By the end, I thought he had one of the more impressive performances of a defenseman in the game. Team Cherry tried to put a lot of pressure on him, but he was able to skate the puck out of trouble a few times and start the breakout quickly. He also made a couple of very nice defensive plays in the third period. I'm sure he has to be proud of the fact that he got to be Seth Jones' partner for the game.

Bo Horvat - London Knights
I thought Horvat had a terrific game. He got a chance to show a wider audience why he's starting to rocket up the draft charts. He was effective in all areas of the game, from defending and winning battles in his own end, to creating offensive chances the other way. He had a couple of dynamite opportunities to get on the board, even showing off some nifty stick handling a few times. The one that really stuck out in this game, was how intelligent of a player he is in the neutral zone. He's going to rack up a ton of "takeaways" at the NHL level. He anticipates the breakout so effectively and gets his stick in there to break up passes. Those ol' school trapping New Jersey Devils' teams would have loved to have had Horvat.

Nikita Zadorov - London Knights
I thought he had a terrific game. Showed how much of a defensive beast he is. Such a hard guy to get around because he's so big and because his agility is great for a big guy. I absolutely loved the back and forth he had with Nathan MacKinnon in front of the net at one point. He hits, and he hits hard. Perfect example of that was on the 2nd goal for Team Orr. He stood up an attacker at the center line, forcing a turnover that resulted in Laurent Dauphin's goal. He does have to be careful to not go around looking for the hit though. At one point, he took himself out of the play to stand up a forward in the neutral zone and it caused a dangerous odd man rush the other way. Offensively, he was fairly quiet too. But defensively, he showed what he's made of.

Justin Bailey - Kitchener Rangers
He had a couple of good shifts, but other than that, I felt like he was a relative non factor. His bread and butter is being able to work in the slot offensively, and he just didn't get much of an opportunity to do that.

Spencer Martin - Mississauga Steelheads
He wasn't really tested all that much (with the majority of those 16 shots against him, coming from well outside), but Martin was solid none the less. He's had some trouble with controlling his rebounds this year (particularly on longer shots), but he did a good job this game of holding the puck and kicking pucks to the corners. He's a very athletic guy and he made a couple of great point blank saves, anticipating the play well and making himself as big as possible in the butterfly. I'm hoping he catches fire again in the 2nd half of the OHL season.


Jordan Subban - Belleville Bulls
Kind of a tale of two stories here. Offensively, I thought Subban was great. He was excellent and calm with the puck in his own zone, and transitioned the other way very quickly. He was also aggressive (but smart) about joining the attack and was one of the few Team Cherry defenseman able to create offensively on the night. Defensively, I thought he struggled a bit and showed why he's ranked a little bit lower down. He's just not strong enough or big enough to handle some of the larger forwards at this time. On the 2nd Team Orr goal by Laurent Dauphin, there was definite miscommunication between he and partner Eric Roy, as neither took Dauphin, allowing him to just walk into the slot and rip home a shot. Then, the 3rd Team Orr goal, he was soft on the forward entering the zone (Anthony Duclair), which allowed Duclair to get the puck to Nic Petan for a nice goal (although his partner Samuel Morin should have done a better job tying up his man too). Reminds me so much of IceDog defenseman Jesse Graham.

Zach Nastasiuk - Owen Sound Attack
Thought he (and his line of Ryan Kujawinski and Cole Cassels) had a solid game. They knew their role and played it to a tee. Zach Nasty (as Owen Sound fans affectionately call him) was a physical presence in the offensive end, and did well to force a few turnovers. He was also solid on the penalty kill. Basically what he does for the Attack on the nightly basis.

Jason Dickinson - Guelph Storm
I was disappointed with Dickinson in the game. He was pretty much a non factor. He's been playing some better hockey of late in Guelph, and had really amped up his physical consistency in the OHL. But in the Prospect's Game, he wasn't throwing his weight around and wasn't entirely involved in the play a whole lot. Definitely seen him much better. 

Ryan Kujawinski - Kingston Frontenacs
Like Zach Nasty, Kujawinski was a factor physically and on the forecheck. He helped to generate some offensive chances thanks to hard work in the offensive zone. And, like Nastasiuk, he was also good on the penalty kill. Played it simple, and safe. And it worked for him. Hopefully he continues to ramp it up offensively with Kingston in the second half.

Cole Cassels - Oshawa Generals
A late add, I thought Cassels was the least effective player on his line (with Nastasiuk and Kujawinski). He had a few bad turnovers, in particular one in his own end where he blindly passed the puck up the middle, only to have it picked off and fired on net. The last couple of times I've seen him, even though I've generally been impressed, he's made some bad passes. Like the other two members of his line, he did a good job attacking in the offensive end and was responsible on the backcheck.

Stephen Harper - Erie Otters
Was really disappointed in Harper's performance. Based on my observations of him over the last two years, I've come to one conclusion. When he's playing physical and attacking hard, it translates to success offensively. It's like his offensive game receives life from laying the body. When he's not engaged physically, he's generally a non factor. That was the case in the Prospect's Game. He really wasn't noticeable, save for a lazy stick penalty (a trip in the neutral zone) during the third period. The last couple of times I'd seen him, it seemed he was turning his season around. But he totally came up flat in this affair.

Ryan Hartman - Plymouth Whalers
Hartman won the lottery and got to play with Nate MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. And he made sure that he took full advantage of it. One of the strongest performers in the game. He set the tone physically right off the bat, destroying Laurent Dauphin with a hit near the blueline. It was one of several gigantic hits he made on the night. But, he also created offense. He was right in there being disruptive on the forecheck and it seemed like every time he went after the puck along the wall, he came away with it. If there's one negative (perhaps), it's that he seemed a bit snake bitten. He was set up with a couple of tremendous scoring chances in close and just couldn't finish on them. But, hats off to Hartman for a strong performance. He's certainly been riding a high since returning from the WJC's. Look for it to continue into the second half.

Darnell Nurse - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
He was fantastic in the game. I just don't see how anyone can have this guy outside of the lottery right now. The thing I absolutely LOVE about Nurse is that he comes to play for big games. He's been tremendous at the Under 17's. At the Under 18's (both last year and this summer). And now at the Top Prospect's Game. He knows how to elevate his game when it counts. Defensively, he was fantastic. In particular, I loved how physical he was in front of the net. Because of his long reach, his aggressiveness and his skating ability, he's practically impossible to beat off the rush. Just ask Anthony Duclair who tried to take him outside in the third, and got driven off the puck and demolished into the boards. Offensively, he picked his spots well in jumping up into the rush and had a few scoring chances in the slot. I love Sean Monahan, but I'm going to be honest with you, I'm starting to become very close to putting Nurse at the top of my OHL draft list.

Anyone else watch the game and have some thoughts?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

NHL Central Scouting's 2013 Midterm Rankings

Today, NHL Central Scouting released their midterm rankings for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

Here's the breakdown on how OHL players placed:

1. Sean Monahan (4)
2. Darnell Nurse (9)
3. Bo Horvat (15)
4. Jason Dickinson (16)
5. Kerby Rychel (18)
6. Chris Bigras (19)
7. Max Domi (23)
8. Ryan Hartman (25)
9. Jimmy Lodge (29)
10. Nikita Zadorov (30)
11. Zach Nastasiuk (33)
12. Justin Bailey (37)
13. Stephen Harper (38)
14. Nick Moutrey (48)
15. Remi Elie (56)
16. Cole Cassels (60)
17. Jeff Corbett (66)
18. Ryan Kujawinski (69)
19. Justin Auger (71)
20. Ben Harpur (80)
21. Jordan Subban (81)
22. Hunter Garlent (82)
23. Miles Liberati (88)
24. Josh Burnside (92)
25. Cameron Brace (101)
26. Nick Paul (102)
27. Nicholas Baptiste (105)
28. Nick Betz (106)
29. Brody Silk (107)
30. Kyle Platzer (116)
31. Carter Verhaeghe (122)
32. Erik Bradford (126)
33. Brent Pedersen (127)
34. Zach Hall (128)
35. Sergey Kuptsov (131)
36. Dominik Kubalik (146)
37. Mark Raycroft (147)
38. Sergey Tolchinsky (149)
39. Josh Brown (151)
40. Dakota Mermis (156)
41. Michael Webster (157)
42. Greg Betzold (159)
43. Jean Dupuy (183)
44. Anthony DiFruscia (184)
45. Stephen Nosad (189)
46. Landon Schiller (193)
47. Aaron Berisha (199)
LV (Limited Viewing) - Tyler Bertuzzi

1. Spencer Martin (5)
2. Michael Giugovaz (8)
3. Frank Palazzese (14)
4. Jordan DeKort (15)
5. Jake Patterson (16)
6. Charlie Graham (21)
7. Brandon Hope (22)
8. Jacob Blair (24)
9. Alex Fotinos (29)

For the full rankings, CLICK HERE

Alright here are my thoughts:

  1. Everyone seems to be up in arms about the Max Domi ranking. Do I agree with it? Absolutely not. Am I surprised? Not at all. Central Scouting isn't the only scouting agency to have Domi a little farther down in the first round. ISS just recently put him in their first round. The reasoning? I'm not entirely sure. Could be his lack of stature. Could be his raw two-way approach. Could be his diabetes. While I've often disagreed with CSS, the one thing I've always respected about them is their candidness (at least under EJ McGuire) when discussing their rankings. I'm sure if we listen carefully (to a show like The Pipeline Show), we'll get an explanation on Domi that makes some sense.
  2. The one ranking that really jumped out at me was Nikita Zadorov's (and not Domi's). Zadorov seems to be universally considered a top 15 selection at this point (or at least around that mark). I know blog friend Dominic Tiano (of the OHL Writers) has had Zadorov lower on his list all season because he doesn't see the offensive upside in his game (at least to the extent that others do). I have to admit, the last few times I've seen Zadorov play, he actually hasn't played well (starting to chase the hit defensively, and turnovers with the puck). But I still think he has too much upside for where they have him ranked.
  3. The other big discrepancy between Central Scouting's list and mine is Ryan Kujawinski's ranking. He's been wildly inconsistent this year, no question about it, but his potential is just way too high for him to be ranked as a borderline 3rd rounder. He's been playing inspired hockey of late and if he keeps it up, I can't see any way he's ranked that low in June. The question I find myself asking is, what separates Kujawinski from an equally inconsistent (but very talented) big guy like Jimmy Lodge or Stephen Harper, who CSS has ranked 30 spots above him?
  4. Another head scratcher for me is Charlie Graham's ranking. In fact, I think that's probably the biggest head scratcher of all from the OHL (and not the above gripes). Here's a kid who has stepped in for Malcolm Subban in Belleville and kept up their winning ways. Heck, he's still starting since Subban returned from the WJC's because George Burnett wants to ride his hot hand. He may not be the biggest goalie, but his athleticism is supremely high on the charts. I honestly can't see a justification for his ranking, unless they just haven't seen him much.
  5. In terms of "no shows," none of my current top 30 are missing from the list. That said, a few guys I had as HM's, like Tyler Ganly, Danny Vanderwiel, Trevor Murphy, and Dominik Kahun did not place. Surprised with all four of those and I certainly believe they deserve a ranking over some of the players CSS has listed. 
  6. I have to be honest, the Jeff Corbett ranking was surprising. I've seen a lot of Sudbury this year and I haven't really noticed him as more than just a "solid OHL stay at home guy." He's a late '94, so this is his 3rd year in the league. I don't see the justification for having him so high. BUT, I'll certainly pay closer attention to him the next time I watch Sudbury (which is the sole purpose of CSS' list).
  7. Love the amount of "re-entries" listed. If you read this blog a lot, you know how much I love the concept of drafting 2nd and 3rd year eligible players. Justin Auger, Franky Palazzese, Jake Patterson, and Cameron Brace are indeed the cream of the crop in that department this year (from the OHL), so I applaud CSS for getting that right, and for their rather aggressive rankings of those players. 
  8. I also love the aggressive ranking of Bo Horvat. Every time I see the Knights play lately, I come away even more impressed with this young man. He's playing some truly exceptional hockey right now. I'm not a HUGE fan of comparisons, but one guy continually comes to mind when I see Horvat play; Shane Doan.
Would love you hear your thoughts on the list!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing (2013 Edition)

 This list has become a yearly tradition of this blog. In fact, back in March of 2009, this list was the very first "Sunday Top 10" that I wrote. Now we're on to the 5th annual.

A quick look back at the previous four lists (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012) tells you that the top player on my list has received an NHL contract each time (Chris Chappell, Bryan Cameron, Darren Archibald, Mike Halmo). That's a fairly impressive streak that I hope to maintain.

The problem is that this year, I don't see one or two players who I think are guaranteed to get NHL contracts (which has been the case in previous years). I'm just not sure that the overage crop of players from the OHL this year is going to be incredibly enticing to NHL scouting staffs. But, with the NHL up and running again, it won't be long until NHL teams start trying to sign overage players (the new year has traditionally been when the NHL has started to scoop up players, like Jacob Muzzin, Luke Pither, and Darren Archibald). As I stated, though, I'm just not incredibly confident many of these players receive NHL contracts. That doesn't mean that they are bad players, it just means that I'm not sure I see NHL scouts salivating at the thought of adding them.

In a lot of ways, I think that's a reflection of the NHL's improved scouting strategy. With an increased focus on drafting second and third year eligible players, the overage crop just isn't as strong. Look at the players drafted last year who are overagers this year; Garret Ross, Mitchell Heard, Colin Miller (and Tanner Pearson who lighting up the AHL as a first round pick). You add those three (or four) to this list, and it looks significantly stronger.

Lastly, here's the speech I give every year about this list.

Likely half of the players on this list will not end up getting a professional contract and will play in the CIS. It's the nature of the beast. The bottom line is that a few will and many will not and those players will take advantage of their education package while continuing to play a high level of hockey at a Canadian University.

Secondly, this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team (like Joseph Cramarossa). This list is for those players who are (or were) NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on birth date).

Here's the list:

10. Brandon Alderson - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
His goal scoring ability never quite developed in the league like many predicted it would (myself included), but he's turned himself into a very well rounded player. He plays in all situations for the Hounds and has become one of their most important offensive contributors this year. The evidence of that lies in the fact that he's on pace to set a career mark in points (by a good margin). What will attract NHL scouts is the fact that he's a 6'4, 200lbs kid who skates very well and who is aggressive physically. The fact that he's become a valuable two-way player also helps his cause. Teams may see him as a potential 4th liner. His shot never really improved to the point where he's going to get a lot of goals at the next level, but he has value in other areas.

9. Steven Shipley - Niagara IceDogs
I don't think it came as too much of a shock to OHL experts when the Sabres chose not to sign Shipley last year. His draft year remains his best season to date and he has never really taken that next step in being able to use his size to his advantage offensively. He's more of a finesse playmaker who happens to be 6'3, 210lbs. This year, I think there has been some gains in that. He's changed his game a bit, to become more of a presence in front of the net. And is looking more for goal scoring opportunities in the slot. He's also become more of a defensively responsible centerman and is seeing some time on the PK for the Dogs. If Ryan Strome makes the Islanders, Shipley will get his chance to shine as the team's number one center. The subtle changes he's made to his game this year may bring NHL scouts back to him for a second chance.

8. Nathan Chiarlitti - Owen Sound Attack
Chiarlitti has been nothing short of fantastic for the Attack this year. There's no question in my mind that he's one of the league's premier defensive defenseman. He defends well in every aspect; staying with defenders off the rush, winning battles in front of the net and outworking forwards for positioning. He's also someone who can take care of the puck in his own end and who makes smart decisions to limit turnovers. With all that being said, he does not possess the "traditional" size that NHL scouts look for in stay at home defenseman, at only around 5'11. He's shown no issue handling OHL forwards this year, but when the game gets faster and the forwards get stronger, would he be able to adjust and excel? That's the million dollar question.

7. Geofrrey Schemitsch - Oshawa Generals
Thanks to some injury issues and the lack of development in his offensive game, the Lightning chose not to sign Schemitsch last year. But he's managed to stay healthy this year and is having his best season since his draft year with Owen Sound. If you watch Oshawa play, it's as if Schemitsch never leaves the ice. He logs well over 30 minutes a game (especially lately with all the injuries they've encountered). Even though he matches up against the opposition's best on a nightly basis, he's managed to stay at a +12 clip. He's not a physical defender, but is effective at playing the angles. You rarely see him getting beaten defensively. Offensively, he moves the puck well, although conservatively. Like Shipley, it'll be interesting to see if an NHL team gives him a second chance.

6. Riley Brace - Mississauga Steelheads
Brace exploded offensively last year for Mississauga and he's continued that strong production this year. He's a very valuable player for the Steelheads in the sense that he plays in all situations, excelling especially as a penalty killer. He's a very good skater and stickhandler, and is often a tenacious forechecker who excels when the game gets physical. Anyone who watches the Steelheads would call him a "pest." He loves to yap and try to get under the skin of the opposition. The only issue with this is that he can be prone to bouts of frustration that lead to undisciplined penalties. Brace's issue may be that he could be a "tweener." In that sense I mean that he isn't skilled enough offensively to play a top 6 role at the next level, but he also doesn't possess the size and sheer physicality of someone an NHL team would want in their bottom six.

5. Scott Sabourin - Oshawa Generals
Sabourin has proven to be one of the league's most improved players this season. With 16 goals on the year, he's already set a new career high, and he's second on the Generals. He's been playing in the top 6 practically all year for Oshawa, showing great chemistry with Scott Laughton of late. He's got great size and he uses it well with the puck and without. With the puck, he has enough puck skill to generate scoring chances with drives to the net. And without the puck, he's a huge factor along the wall and is terrific in the cycle. He'll drop the mitts, back checks well, and is a reliable penalty killer. In a lot of ways Sabourin reminds me of Adam Payerl last year, who ended up getting an NHL deal from the Penguins. He could certainly be an effective role player at the next level.

4. Charles Sarault - Sarnia Sting
I've always been a big fan of Sarault going back to his Kingston days. There's no denying that he's one of the league's premier playmakers. He's not the biggest (pushing 5'11), but he brings a ton of energy to the ice. He's a little spark plug out there. He's especially effective on the forecheck. Obviously, his vision and passing ability are his bread and butter and his meal ticket to the next level. Sometimes he can be guilty of holding on to the puck a bit too long, which could hinder his effectiveness at the next level. But Sarault is a speedy, energetic playmaker who deserves a look.

3. Mathias Niederberger - Barrie Colts
He's not the biggest goaltender in the world, but he makes up for that in athleticism. He's incredibly quick and agile in the crease. He goes post to post about as well as any goaltender in the league. This athleticism allows him to be a little more aggressive in challenging shooters than the average goalie (trying to compensate for his lack of size). It also makes him one of the best goalies in the league during the shootout. Last year, in the playoffs for Barrie, he was dynamite. If he can put together another strong postseason performance, I don't see how he doesn't get a serious look from NHL teams.

2. Matt Petgrave - Oshawa Generals
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I've been a big fan of Petgrave since he entered the league as an undrafted free agent. He's such an athletic defenseman who has a ton of great tools. He can carry the puck up the ice with ease thanks to his skating ability. He runs the powerplay well. He is one of the most feared and aggressive hitters in the league. He has pretty good size at about 6'1, 190lbs. That said, there are some areas of his game that have never really improved during his time in the league. He's still prone to turnovers in his own end, and his ability to defend in zone coverage situations never really took that next step. This could point to some deficiencies in the hockey sense department. But the athletic tangibles are there and I think he's still striving to reach his potential. Josh McFadden got an NHL contract last year and I certainly think Petgrave is the better prospect.

1. Ryan O'Connor - Barrie Colts
At the beginning of the year, O'Connor was my pick for overage player of the year, and he's certainly staking a claim to that. He currently leads all OHL defenseman in scoring (including goal scoring with 14) with 42 points. He also captains one of the East's best teams and provides a terrific effort at both ends of the ice. In particular, his defensive play has grown a lot during his time in the league. He's not the biggest (5'10), but he's gotten stronger to the point where he can do some pushing around. He has also learned how to anticipate in the defensive end and has become a quality one on one defender off the rush. Obviously, it'll be his booming shot and ability to move the puck that will get him a look at the next level though. It's not too often that NHL teams take a look at undersized defenseman, but I think O'Connor is worth the gamble.

Honorable Mentions

Former Plymouth, now Windsor forward Alex Aleardi could get a look from NHL scouts based off of his speed and skating ability alone. He'd have to change his game to become more of a "grinder" in order to make any sort of headway at the next level though. Sudbury Wolves captain Michael Kantor is an interesting player. At the beginning of the year, I thought he was a lock for this list, but he's had some injury problems. He's kind of a jack of all trades kind of guy, who could actually be a potential enforcer at the next level. But he's got more skill with the puck than people give him credit for.

Stephen Silas and Brock Beukeboom are two overagers who both went unsigned by NHL clubs after being selected in the 2010 Entry Draft. Silas' game has never really developed the kind of consistency you'd like to see from a big minute defenseman. This year, he's changed his game a little bit to make himself more of a cautious stay at home type. He does have some redeeming defensive qualities. And Beukeboom has always caught the injury bug. He has the NHL genetics, but has yet to find his niche in the OHL. He has good size, but I wouldn't necessarily call him an elite shut down defender,

Two stay at home guys could garner some interest and that's Brampton's Cameron Wind and Sudbury's Charlie Dodero. They are similar players in the sense that they gave good size, can play physical, but can also make a solid first pass out of the zone.

And that's it for this year's issue folks!

Friday, January 11, 2013

OHL Trade Deadline Review

The OHL trade deadline has come and gone. And what a busy one it was. Over the past week, big names like Tyler Graovac, Cody Ceci, Frankie Corrado, Josh Leivo, Alex Aleardi, Alan Quine, Justin Sefton, Mitchell Theoret, Vincent Trocheck, Slater Koekkoek, and many more changed addresses.

Let's take a look at how each team did:


Barrie Colts
The Colts were definitely active, adding Mitchell Theoret, Jake Dotchin and Devon Rymarchuk. I think they definitely addressed some needs here. Theoret gets ragged on a lot for "riding the coattails of Strome and Ritchie," but he's been great this year. There's no doubt that playing with those two has elevated his production slightly, but he's done his part on that line to help them too. He's a very difficult player to contain in puck protection down low, and he helps to tire out defenses and open up space for more skilled linemates. I'm interested to see where he slots into their lineup. At the price they gave up, I can't see them using Theo on the 3rd line. He might look good as a running mate for Andreas Athanasiou. But there are suggestions he's going to start on the top line with Scheifele and Camara. Dotchin gives Barrie some much needed experience and physicality on the blueline. He'll slot into the top four with O'Connor, Ekblad and Lepkowski. And Rymarchuk is a good buy-low candidate. Big kid with a high motor whose offensive game hasn't really grown in the league thus far. For all those three, the only player given up on the roster was recent first rounder Brendan Perlini. He's got lots of skill but hasn't been much of a factor this year because he's not strong enough yet. Barrie fans didn't seem to be too happy with giving up Perlini for Theoret, and I would agree it's a bit of an overpayment. But I also think Barrie fans are underrating Theoret and the types of things he can bring to their hockey club. He wore an "A" on Niagara and was a serious candidate for their captaincy. He also averaged a point per game (4 goals and 3 assists) while Strome and Ritchie were away at the WJC's. Now they just need to see the Jets send back Mark Scheifele and everything will be OK.

Belleville Bulls
Belleville was able to significantly boost their offense with the acquisitions of Tyler Graovac and Alan Quine. Graovac has already fit in incredibly well, forming a dynamic first line with Brendan Gaunce and Austen Brassard. That will be a very tough line for defenses to contain because of how big they are. Quine should fit in well on the big ice and will give their second line a much needed boost (the Bulls have scored the least amount of goals in the Eastern Conference this year). Quine probably sees action with some combination of Zharkov, Curtis, Cramarossa, Sandlak, or Hooey. It certainly makes them a deeper team. It did cost them Sergey Kuptsov, who I do like and who I think was one of their more consistent forwards this year. But he's not as much of an impact player as Graovac is, so that trade was a no brainer for them to make. Much like Barrie, the Bulls have made themselves a better team. They also don't run the risk of losing their best player to the NHL.

Brampton Battalion
The Battalion weren't expected to make a ton of moves, but I'm glad they pulled the trigger on a deal to improve their OA situation. They picked up Francis Menard from Peterborough (one of three deals I predicted correctly in my trade deadline preview), which is a very underrated move. Menard has been (arguably) Peterborough's best player this year. He put up 60 points in the league last year and is on pace for similar production this year. He deepens Brampton's forward group, giving them another skilled forward to generate offensive chances. Menard's work ethic and two-way abilities also fit well into Stan Butler's system. You take Menard's 15 goals this year and add them to the Battalion line up, and Brampton becomes the third highest scoring team in the East (hypothetically). Love the move, as subtle as it was.

Kingston Frontenacs
Kingston made a few minor moves. They dealt Mitchell Fitzmorris to Niagara. Fitzmorris is a former 3rd rounder who was playing in his first OHL season. He gets a fresh start, although the return Kingston got for him is a bit underwhelming (has to hurt to trade a recent 3rd rounder for a 7th and a 12th). They also acquired goaltender Lucas Peressini from Saginaw for a 4th. He's a '95 who has played very well for Newmarket in Junior A this season. This is a move for next year, as I'm assuming the Fronts believe Peressini can contend for a roster spot and provide competition to Colin Furlong and Blake Richard. Could end up being one of those subtle moves that makes a big impact. The starter's job in Kingston, going into next season, is definitely up for grabs.

Mississauga Steelheads
There seemed to be a lot of rumours surrounding the Steelheads being possible sellers (the likes of Brace, Percy, etc) going into the deadline, but I never really believed it. I'm certainly not surprised that they stood pat. With a new owner and new "product" on the ice (Steelheads name change), it's pretty clear that Mississauga intends to make the playoffs and try to generate fan interest and revenue. Next year, they'll be the only team in the GTA and hopefully will gain some fans from Brampton. If you put the season tickets holders together from both teams, you'll actually have a semi-respectable turnout to the Hershey Center! The only negative thing to affect the team recently was the announcement that 2nd rounder Jared Walsh has committed to the University of Michigan. He's one of the top 96's not playing in the league this year.

Niagara IceDogs
All things considered, I thought the Dogs did incredibly well for themselves this deadline. They got the screw job thanks to the new NHL CBA. There was no way anyone was going to give up anything significant for Strome and Hamilton, since there's a good chance they'll be in the NHL. And Brett Ritchie apparently gave Marty Williamson a pretty short list of teams he'd be willing to go to. Dealing Mitchell Theoret hurts a bit, since he was a great locker room presence and one of the team's most consistent players this year. But the return was too good to pass up. Getting back first rounder Brendan Perlini is a coup for the Dogs. He's a little over-matched in the league right now, but the skill set is there (which obviously brings about the Ryan Strome analogies). The Dogs also picked up Jordan Maletta and Mitchell Fitzmorris, two former high draft picks who haven't exactly worked out well for their former clubs (Windsor and Kingston). A change of scenery might bring out the best in them, and as '95's, they'll have a long time to develop (and get the ice time to do it). The Dogs also dealt Joel Wigle to Erie for a 2nd and a 4th. Wigle is a former high selection too, and someone I've always liked. But he's had a pretty dreadful year and hasn't been getting the ice-time he needs. It's a win-win for him and for the Dogs. Niagara recoups a few high draft picks for a player who hasn't working out. And Erie gets an underachieving potential goal scorer. Niagara should be commended for making the best out of a bad situation.

Oshawa Generals
The Generals made a few moves right close to the passing of the deadline. They picked up pugilist Johnny McGuire from Erie, which was a good deal. They've got a very physical group of skilled forwards, and it'll be important to protect them should the need arise. The Generals also swapped imports with Plymouth, acquiring Simon Karlsson for Sebastian Uvira. Uvira never really found his offensive game in Oshawa, and the Generals badly needed to add defensive depth to their line-up. They've been ravaged by injuries this year. Finally, along the same lines of the McGuire pick-up, Oshawa added Justice Dundas from Sarnia (for Tyler Hore). Dundas is more than just a scrapper. He's a hard worker and a good forechecker. By the time he's finished his OHL career (he's only a '94), I think he'll be a 20 goal scorer in this league. The only other move Oshawa made was dealing the underachieving John Urbanic to Ottawa for a late round pick. Oshawa only really needed to address two areas, depth on defense and toughness at forward. They did both of those today and should be commended for it.

Ottawa 67's
I absolutely love what the 67's were able to do in the past week. Ottawa isn't in a position to rebuild very often, but they did it right. Out are Cody Ceci, Tyler Graovac, Steven Janes, and Remy Giftopoulous. In are Jacob Middleton, Sergey Kuptsov, Joseph Blandisi, and three high draft picks (2nd, 3rd, 4th). Middleton is an absolutely terrific prospect IMO. He impressed the hell out of me at the recent Under 17's. Once he gets stronger, he could be a big factor at both ends of the ice. Kuptsov and Blandisi are two 94's who'll jump right into Ottawa's line up and help produce offense. They'll make the team deeper and better next year too. Right now, the 67's are skating them on a line with Sean Monahan. Speaking of Monahan, Ottawa ultimately decided to keep him around, hoping that he doesn't crack the NHL next year. Ottawa also picked up a couple of forwards, John Urbanic and Mark Petaccio, pretty cheaply. They will be given a look the rest of the year and do have the potential to be contributors down the line.

Peterborough Petes
It'll be absolutely impossible to know how well Peterborough did, for quite a few years. Most of Peterborough's haul (from trading Koekkoek, Quine, Menard, and Schoenmakers) came in the form of draft picks. But you do have to love the amount of high end selections they acquired. 5 second rounders, 1 third, and 1 fourth. If the Petes draft well, that will certainly help to get this team back to respectability. Peterborough also acquired Michael Clarke in the Slater Koekkoek deal, who will jump right into their top 6. He hasn't had the best of years in Windsor, but when he's on his game, he's a potential impact two-way center who can mix things up physically. He's just been incredibly inconsistent thus far in his OHL career. I have to admit that I'm a tad underwhelmed by the return for Koekkoek, and that I think Peterborough would have been better served trying to pick up a top end 95 or 96 born player. But, all in all, hard to argue with the amount of draft selections picked up.

Sudbury Wolves
The Wolves made two trades, both pretty big ones. The first one was the blockbuster deal with Kitchener that saw Frankie Corrado, Josh Leivo, and Joel Vienneau head to the Rangers. In return, the Wolves got back first rounder Matt Schmalz, solid goaltender Franky Palazzese, and physical defender Cory Genovese. I have to admit, I like this deal a lot more for Kitchener than I do Sudbury. That's not to say that it's a terrible deal. I'm just not sure I think Sudbury got the value they could have gotten if they had split up Corrado and Leivo on the trade market. Schmalz is a talented first rounder and he'll get more of an opportunity in Sudbury than he did in Kitchener. And Palazzese will provide steady goaltending this year, and likely next year as an overager. And Genovese is a solid depth defender. It's too bad that Jacob Middletown refused to report to Sudbury, because I would have much preferred that deal for the Wolves. They could have then dealt Leivo for likely another quality young player, perhaps a younger goaltender. In the other deal, the Wolves picked up Kevin Raine and a 4th for Justin Sefton. Don't like this deal at all. Raine is an OK defender, but based on what a few other players brought back, the return is underwhelming. Raine and Sefton are the same age, but Raine is a guarantee return as an OA, while Sefton is a long shot. The only real explanation for these trades by the Wolves is that they believe they can contend for the Eastern Conference title next year. So they deal some big guns who won't be back for some players who can make their team better next year, and not in 2-3 years. We'll see if they're right.


Erie Otters
Erie made a few minor moves, picking up Joel Wigle and Jack Kuzmyk, while dealing off Johnny McGuire. Kuzmyk has never really found his niche in the league, but he does give the Otters another experienced defenseman to help them with their late playoff push. He'll have a chance to battle it out with the likes of Spencer Abraham and Jimmy McDowell for an overage spot next year on the blueline. Wigle was impressive in a checking line role last year for Niagara, but hasn't been able to replicate that success this year. A change of scenery could do him well, as he does have some goal scoring potential. As a '94, he'll have a few years still to try to realize that. I'm not sure I like the amount the Otters gave up for him though. A 2nd and a 4th is a steep price to pay for a '94 with three goals this year. By comparison, the IceDogs gave up slightly less to get Jordan Maletta, a younger forward with more potential. I'd expect Erie to be more aggressive on the trade market this offseason and into next year as they gear up for a push to earn home ice advantage in round one.

Guelph Storm
The Storm were relatively quiet, as I think most people expected them to be. 2013/2014 is going to be their big year, so they were smart to play it safe. That said, they did make a few small moves which I think can be beneficial. Picking up Saverio Posa from Windsor for relatively cheap was a savvy move. He was Windsor's captain and brings great work ethic to Guelph. He'll be able to slide onto their 3rd pairing and help out a guy like Ben Harpur. He also gives them better defensive depth. With the addition of Posa, the Storm cut Keegan Wilson loose (OA limit), and brought in former OHL goaltender Michael Nishi to serve as Garret Sparks' back-up. I think Nishi is capable of doing a better job as the back-up than Wilson or DaSilva have been doing. That said, if the Storm intend to contend next year (which they should), they'll have to really look at their goaltending situation going into next year. Quite frankly, I think they'd be better served sticking with DaSilva as their back-up, or signing Matthew Mancina, to give either of them the development time and experience they'll need to lead next season's ship.

Kitchener Rangers
I absolutely loved what Kitchener did at the deadline. It was smart for them to realize that this is their year to really make a run, thanks to the goaltending of John Gibson. Let's examine the Corrado/Leivo deal first. HUGE win for the Rangers in this one. They trade Franky Palazzese, who wasn't going to help them in the playoffs this year (although who would have provided solid goaltending next year as an OA), Matt Schmalz (their first round pick from 2012, but a guy who has been their 2nd best '96 behind Darby Llewellyn this year), and Cory Genovese (a solid depth defenseman, but someone who wasn't going to play in their top 4 this year, or next year). In return, the Rangers add, IMO, one of the top five defenseman in the entire league, and one of the premier two-way forwards in the entire league. Corrado will help to stabilize the blueline and take some pressure of Ryan Murphy offensively. Leivo is an incredibly underrated player. His ability to disrupt on the forecheck and to create offensive chances off the rush will fit in well in Kitchener's line-up. It's no secret that some of Kitchener's best players (like Murphy, Radek Faksa, and Tobias Rieder) haven't had the best of seasons, so I'm also hopeful that this trade wakes them up a bit and lights a fire under their ass. Another thing that's not being talked about much from that deal was Kitchener being able to flip Plymouth's import selection for Sudbury's in 2013. This is a great move for the Rangers, as that pick could end up being a 30 or so spot improvement. The Rangers will need to fill at least one spot next year with Tobias Rieder leaving for the pro's, and possibly two if Radek Faksa doesn't return. In addition to the above trade, the Rangers also picked up overager Derek Schoenmakers from Peterborough for Nick Czinder and a 4th. Schoenmakers is a very valuable player, and he'll bring more energy and goal scoring ability to the line-up than Czinder did.

London Knights
I honestly expected London to do a bit more, after so many of their competitors improved. Did London really need to do anything? Probably not. You don't go on an extended winning streak without having one of the league's most talented rosters. That said, I figured the Hunters would want to keep that competitive advantage over their rivals. Not filling that final OA spot is a huge mistake IMO. And I also think London should have tried to get a bit bigger at the forward position. Josh Anderson is really the only guy who can physically outmuscle opposing defenses on a consistent basis. Bo Horvat has the potential to do that, but he's not that dominant power forward yet. Once the playoffs hit, that lack of size up front could hurt. And yes, I know, that many of the Knights forwards are tenacious and hard working (see the Ruperts, see Chris Tierney, Broadhurst, Welcyhka, etc), but adding just one more bigger forward with skill (like Saginaw's Garret Ross, or Josh Leivo) could have really put this team over the edge. That's not to say London stood by and did nothing. Adding Justin Sefton for practically nothing was a great move. His physicality and size makes this London defense even more difficult to play against. A top 6 of Maatta, Harrington, Zadorov, Hughes, Mermis, and Sefton is the best in the league. That brings us to the additions of Mermis and Anthony Stolarz. Mermis is already paying dividends on the back-end since leaving Denver. He looks like the offensive defenseman that the Knights have needed this year. Where as Stolarz can push Jake Patterson in future years. He's an NHL 2nd rounder and a recruit from Nebraska-Omaha with a ton of potential. From the conversations I've had with people, we shouldn't expect a ton from him this year, but the potential is sky high. Overall the future remains bright in London, I just wonder if some of the other teams in the West were able to make moves to shorten the gap and really give London a run for their money this year.

Owen Sound Attack
Owen Sound made their big splash a few days prior to the deadline by adding Cody Ceci and Steven Janes. They also picked up a 3rd rounder in the deal. Going the other way were first rounder Jacob Middleton and Avalanche draft pick Joseph Blandisi. Honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about this deal for the Attack. I'd rather have Blandisi in the line-up than Janes, but I do understand their desire to inject more size into their forward group. The obvious factor is how well Ceci plays in Owen Sound. He`s had a rough year in Ottawa (too much pressure on him to lead a lacklustre defensive unit). And Middleton is going to be one of the league`s top defenseman by the time he graduates from the league. If Ceci begins to round into form, this definitely addresses a need for Owen Sound, by injecting more offense into their blueline. This is particularly important for improving the Attack`s woeful powerplay. I just can`t help but ponder how much better the Attack would be if the deal for Corrado had gone through. He would have improved their offensive situation and the powerplay, but at the same time provided a more steady defensive approach than Ceci. On top of adding Ceci and Janes, the Attack improved their roster through the return of Artur Gavrus and the defection of Daniel Milne from the University of Michigan. Gavrus is a very skilled player and someone who already has chemistry with the team, having played last year. But he needs to stay healthy. Milne was a 3rd rounder of the Attack in 2010, who McKeen`s scout and TheScout.ca director Sean LaFortune calls ``a hard working, intelligent forward who can play multiple roles, who has a great snap shot, is willing to block shots, and can play both ways.`LaFortune also says he expects Milne to jump right into Owen Sound`s top 9. Can`t argue with improvements in depth. The other movement the Attack were involved in, was sending Jake Dotchin to Barrie. They were able to recoup some quality draft picks in exchange for him. He had fallen down a bit on the depth chart this year, so it`ll be a great opportunity for him to have a fresh start. The addition of Ceci made him a bit expendable. Overall, like what the Attack have done, but I'm not sure I love it.

Plymouth Whalers
The Whalers were faced with an interesting predicament when Mitchell Heard was sent back to the OHL, as it left them with four overagers. Heard's return is a blessing for the Whalers, as he's a terrific and very valuable player at both ends of the ice. His faceoff ability is also a key factor to their penalty killing and defensive efforts. But someone had to go, and that someone was Alex Aleardi. Aleardi has been a solid offensive contributor for Plymouth since being acquired from Belleville several years ago. It ultimately came down to Aleardi or Austin Levi, but the Whalers decided they needed the defensive depth over forward depth and I think they made the right decision. Coming back for Aleardi was forward Zach Lorentz, who moves to his 4th OHL team THIS season. He's proven before to be a capable secondary scoring option, but he never really fit in, in Windsor. Hopefully he's able to find more of a comfort zone with the Whalers. Next came the big one, with Plymouth acquiring Vincent Trocheck from Saginaw in exchange for draft picks and first rounder Zach Bratina. I think Bratina has a bright future in this league, but this was absolutely the right move to make. The one thing I've felt the Whalers have been missing this year is a true playmaker at the center position. Someone to help get pucks to, and create chances for Plymouth's bigger scoring forwards. Trocheck is absolutely that guy. He's also a very valuable two-way player, and a guy who fits well into Vellucci's aggressive system. With the return of Heard, and the acquisition of Trocheck, you could make a pretty good argument that Plymouth has the best group of forwards in the entire league (as long as Rakell returns from Anaheim). Being aggressive at the deadline was the right call too, because the Whalers' window for a Championship is closing after this year IMO. They should still be a solid team next year, but not a Championship contender IMO. Lastly, towards the passing of the deadline, the Whalers flipped imports with Oshawa, acquiring Sebastian Uvira for Simon Karlsson. Karlsson hadn't been great for the Whalers this year, and Uvira hasn't been great for Oshawa. Consider it a change of scenery for both players. Uvira is at least a big, physical guy who can fit in somewhere on Plymouth's 3rd or 4th line.

Saginaw Spirit
I'm torn on how I felt the Spirit did at the deadline. I do like the deal with Plymouth involving Vincent Trocheck. Trading him was the smart move. I think they did well, value wise for him. I like Zach Bratina and I've been impressed with his play in small sample sizes this year. I think he has a lot of offensive upside. It also gives Saginaw one of the strongest groups of 96's in the league, with Bratina, Brandon Prophet, Jeremiah Addison, and Brandon Lindberg. The reason I'm torn is that they decided to (or at least couldn't find the right deal) keep Garret Ross. I understand that he's setting a positive example for some of their younger forwards and that Saginaw still has a chance to make the playoffs this year. But by not dealing Ross for another player who can help them next year and beyond, they've done a disservice to their partial rebuild. This Spirit team could be VERY good next year. They'll have two very strong overagers in Eric Locke and Dalton Young. They'll have great goaltending from Jake Paterson. They've got a lot of young players on the upswing. Why not deal Ross and get another player who can contribute to that upswing next year? I think Spirit management dropped the ball on that one.

Sarnia Sting
The trade deadline just wasn't very kind to the Sting IMO. First came the news that the NHL lockout was over. That means, potentially, no more Alex Galchenyuk. It seems that he has a pretty good shot of making the Canadiens and that has to be a scary thought to Sarnia fans. Then came the news that defenseman Connor Murphy would be lost for the season thanks to another knee injury. That means that the Sting could be playing out the rest of the season without their (arguably) two most important players. Very tough. The Sting did make a couple of minor trades, sending out Justice Dundas and Jack Kuzmyk, and bringing in Tyler Hore. The Hore acquisition, obviously made in response to the news about Murphy. But there was nothing major done to help offset these potential losses. Considering that I can't see the Sting being a very solid team next year (no more Charles Sarault or JP Anderson, likely no more Reid Boucher and Connor Murphy), I think this team is missing their window.

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Don't look now, but the Hounds are surging (no thanks to the strong play of Ryan Sproul, who has only been held pointless during one game in the past 3 months!). They've got a legitimate chance at capturing the West Division if they can continue to play well down the stretch. A lot of people were talking about them as sellers, but I never bought it. Just didn't make sense considering how well they'd been playing lately. Ultimately the Hounds stood their ground, save for sending Mark Petaccio to Ottawa; a minor depth move. The other big news in Hound land lately was the signing of defenseman Kyle Jenkins, who many seem to believe is one of the top 96's not playing in the OHL this year. He'll finish the year off with Oakville in Junior A though. I think Kyle Dubas was right to play things conservative this year, after last year's Jack Campbell debacle.

Windsor Spitfires
I have to admit, I absolutely loved what Windsor was able to accomplish this deadline. A lot of people seemed to expect them to be sellers, but they went and did the opposite of that. Perhaps the main reason for that was the confirmed return (long rumoured) of Alex Khokhlachev. This makes Windsor better in so many ways. They've really been missing that dynamic, playmaking center this year. His presence will also help to take some of the pressure of Kerby Rychel. The blockbuster that they involved themselves in was the acquisition of Slater Koekkoek for Michael Clarke and draft picks. With the return of The Khok (if you read the blog regularly, I've always liked this nickname better than Koko), Clarke would have moved down the depth chart. And he hasn't had a terrific year either. A change of scenery will do him well. Meanwhile, the acquisition of Koekkoek helps to take the pressure of Nick Ebert (and to some extent Trevor Murphy) offensively. He has the potential to be one of the OHL's top defenseman, a feat he could still achieve next season, when he returns to a Windsor defense that will be returning all of its members. The Spits also acquired Remy Giftopoulous from Ottawa. He's had a good year for Ottawa and will provide some depth and grit to Windsor's forward unit. Also acquired was Alex Aleardi, who IMO, is a much better fit offensively than Zach Lorentz was. Lastly, the Spits sent out captain (and overager) Saverio Posa to Guelph for a 4th rounder. The Spitfires managed to make themselves significantly better this season, without sacrificing much in the way of Rychel's push for a Memorial Cup bid in 2014. It's a pretty hard feat to make yourself better this year and next, in this league. So Bravo Windsor.


1. Kitchener Rangers - I think they've really pushed themselves to the top of the West by adding the players they did. You just can't waste having a goaltender like John Gibson.
2. Windsor Spitfires - As I mentioned, it's a pretty impressive feat to make yourself better this year and next. I certainly wouldn't want to play Windsor in the first round.
3. Ottawa 67's - I really like what they were able to do with their trades, both in the players they acquired for next year, and in the draft picks.

1. Niagara IceDogs - I feel a bit guilty putting the Dogs on here. On one hand, Marty Williamson did a great job with the hand he was dealt. But on the other, the hand they were dealt (the NHL lockout ending) killed their opportunity to add pieces for a push towards being competitive when the new arena opens.
2. Sarnia Sting - Potentially losing their top two players for the rest of the year, without really adding much. I can't see them hanging on to the division lead.
3.Sudbury Wolves - I think the Wolves blew an opportunity to really help their rebuild by combining Corrado and Leivo in one deal. With Middleton refusing to report, that hurts.

What are your thoughts on how things shook down?

Monday, January 7, 2013

How Will the NHL's Start-Up Influence the OHL?

Is it wrong that the first thing that popped into my head following the announcement of the NHL's new CBA (and ultimately the end of the lockout), was not "Oh, yay! The NHL is back," but "damn, that's going to suck for a bunch of CHL teams?"

There's no question that the return of the NHL is great for the sport. And for anyone that's a fan of hockey. But there's also no denying that the end of the lockout could spell disaster for a few of the teams in the OHL.

Let's take a look at the CBA-CHL call-up list that teams had to submit during the lockout. It is my understanding that only these players are eligible to be invited to training camp (however short it may be) with the opportunity to make their NHL club.


Let's break down the list by the OHL teams that it influences (potentially).

Barrie Colts
The Colts obviously have among the most to lose of any OHL club. It's already been made public that their leading scorer Mark Scheifele will be attending Winnipeg's camp, and the consensus seems to be that he's got a very good shot of making that team (after all, he cracked camp last year for a brief stint). There's sort of two sides to this story. On one end, if the Colts lose Scheifele, that's obviously a major blow. He's been one of the best players in the OHL this season and a gigantic reason as to why the club is considered the favourite out of the Eastern Conference. On the other end, the Colts did just go 5-4 without him at the WJC's (and without Aaron Ekblad and Anthony Camara), although three of those wins were against the 67's, Petes and a devastated IceDogs line up. Do the Colts have a competitive enough and deep enough team to win the Central Division without Schefiele? Absolutely. Do I think they can do major damage in the OHL playoffs without him? I'm not nearly as certain. That leaves us with the question, will the Colts make a move to bolster their line-up down the middle in anticipation of Scheifele's departure? I think that appears to be a pretty strong option. A guy like Vincent Trocheck would look great in Barrie and represents a lot of the same characteristics as Scheifele does (minus the size). As would Sean Monahan. One thing is for certain, Colts GM Jason Ford will likely make more than his share of calls to Kevin Cheveldayoff (Winnipeg's GM) over the next couple of days.

Sarnia Sting
Sarnia's situation mimics very closely to that of Barrie's. They'll potentially be losing their most important offensive player, Alex Galchenyuk, to the NHL. The Montreal Canadiens have also come out and stated that Galchenyuk will be given a look in camp and has the chance to crack the team's roster. With the way he's looked in the OHL the past few months, I'd say the chances are probably as high as Scheifele's. The good news, of course, is that Sarnia's actually been riding a high lately without Galchenyuk, winning their last four games (including the triumph over London to disrupt their streak). In Galchenyuk's absence, rookie Nikolay Goldobin was phenomenal. Also, the Sting still sit at the top of the West Division. The problem for the Sting is that the Plymouth Whalers are knocking on the door and are likely only going to get better during the home stretch (plus they're likely to make a move or two to improve). Without Galchenyuk, are the Sting viable contenders in the Western Conference. Even WITH Galchenyuk, I didn't think they stood a great chance against the likes of London and Owen Sound, so without him, their situation becomes even more dire. So, like the Colts, do they make a move to bolster their team in case Galchenyuk makes the Canadiens? I could certainly see them doing so, and I think they'd be smart to. At least shoring up their overage situation, to provide a tad more veteran leadership at likely a lower cost.

Niagara IceDogs
This is obviously the big one. Ryan Strome, Dougie Hamilton, and Brett Ritchie are all on the above CBA list. Strome and Hamilton have the greatest chances of cracking their respective NHL rosters. This hurts them in more ways than one. It places them in a horrific limbo. They can no longer rebuild, nor contend. Without Strome, Hamilton, and Ritchie, the Dogs went 3-6. Even if Ritchie returns, the Dogs aren't going to be good enough to maintain their current standing and are likely to limp into the playoffs in the 7th or 8th seed. They just won't have the depth to compete in the postseason. However, they also won't be able to trade off significant pieces due to the fear of the NHL. No OHL GM is going to give up significant assets for Hamilton and Strome, knowing full well that they could be in the NHL. The OHL ruled they won't be pushing back the trade deadline either, which makes the likelihood of them bringing back a return even smaller. And even though Brett Ritchie probably still returns from the NHL, it likely lowers his trade value (or at the very least complicates any deal involving him). Other players like Mitchell Theoret or Steven Shipley could also go, but they wouldn't bring back near the return many Dogs fans were hoping for. Unfortunately, the ending of the lockout so close to the trade deadline, really negatively impacts this franchise.

London Knights
London has both Olli Maatta and Scott Harrington on this list. Both are draft picks of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Losing either one of those players would be a monumental loss to the Knights and their Memorial Cup hopes. However, I think Knights' fans can sleep easy. I've read that Ray Shero is only expecting to have a small training camp and that no junior players will be attending. With a few holes, I'm actually a tad surprised they wouldn't bring Harrington in for a look, but what do I know? I guess we won't know until the camp actually starts, but it seems likely that the new CBA does not effect London.

Plymouth Whalers
The Whalers have three players on the above list; Rickard Rakell, Stefan Noesen and Tom Wilson. At this point, I can't see Wilson making the Capitals. His offensive game needs to gain more confidence. But Rakell is a very real possibility to make Anaheim. On paper, that would be a big loss. Rakell is one of the league's premier two-way forwards and a grizzled playoff veteran by now. That said, the Whalers just got Mitchell Heard back from the AHL, a player who can do many of the things that Rakell can on the ice. They would essentially cancel each other out. Conversely, I'm sure the Whalers would rather have both in their line up heading into the playoffs. That leaves us with Noesen. The Sens seem pretty set at forward, and while Noesen might have a shot, I don't think it's a large one. Even with some minor uncertainty, I expect Plymouth to be active near the deadline and to really go for it this year.

Kitchener Rangers
According to the CBA call-up list, the Rangers could "potentially" be playing with the roster they have been for the past two weeks, for the rest of the season. Ryan Murphy, Radek Faksa, and John Gibson are the three eligible to participate in NHL camps. Without those three, the Rangers went 3-5. Not exactly terrific results. That said, I don't think Rangers fans have to sweat very much. John Gibson won't be playing in Anaheim, even if he's a tremendous goaltender. Radek Faksa isn't likely to make Dallas with all the high priced acquisitions they made this offseason (Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy, and Ray Whitney). Plus he hasn't had the greatest of seasons and I don't think he's ready, even if the Stars had an opening. And Ryan Murphy would have to beat out one of Hurricanes returning top 6 to gain a spot. Even if he's made strides defensively during his OHL career, he's not ready to defend NHL forwards yet. If anything, the best is yet to come for Kitchener who is apparently trying to be very active on the trade front in order to put the best team they can in front of John Gibson in his final OHL year.

Oshawa Generals
The Generals have their top two centerman available to the NHL. I'd bet a lot of money against Scott Laughton making the Flyers. Their top 9 at the forward position is set, and there's no chance they take Scott to have him rot on the 4th line. However, I'd be equally as surprised if Boone Jenner DIDN'T make Columbus. He's been one of the best players in the OHL this year, and the Jackets could use his physicality and two-way play (what couldn't the Jackets use?). Do Generals fans need to panic as they try to compete for the East Division? Absolutely not. Without Jenner at the WJC's, Oshawa played some pretty inspired hockey under the leadership of Laughton. He has been absolutely fantastic of late. And things will only get better for Oshawa when they get Lucas Lessio back from that tendon injury in (likely) the next month or so. Does losing Jenner hurt (I'm talking as if it's a formality, I know)? Absolutely. But can the Generals still win the division and/or home ice advantage in the first round. Absolutely.

Sudbury Wolves, Owen Sound Attack & Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I've lumped all these teams together because the three remaining players on the above list that I've talked about, have zero to little chance of sticking in the NHL (Frankie Corrado, Cody Ceci, and David Broll). If the Attack were worried about Ceci making the NHL, they wouldn't have acquired him (and Steven Janes) for Jacob Middleton and Joe Blandisi today. He isn't going to make the Sens. Ditto for Frankie Corrado and the many rumours surrounding him. He was apparently already dealt to Owen Sound, but Middleton used his no trade to block a move to Sudbury. And he's now rumoured to be heading to Kitchener. The interest wouldn't be there if word was coming from Vancouver about the possibility of him making the Canucks; even if he's been dynamite this season. And Broll, well as much as he's having a nice bounce back season, I can't see him making the Leafs. He sticks out a bit on the list for obvious reasons.

Every Other Team Not On This List
Nearly every other team on this list has the potential to be positively impacted by the NHL resuming play. It has the chance to weaken division rivals and strengthen playoff hopes. If the Colts lose Mark Scheifele, and the Generals lose Boone Jenner, don't tell me the Belleville Bulls won't be salivating over the thought of a more wide open Eastern Conference (especially with the early success of their Graovac deal). Just the same, the teams in the Western Conference's West division must love the concept of the Sarnia Sting losing Alex Galchenyuk. On the opposite end of things, a contender like London, or Plymouth, or Belleville (amongst many others) could be upset over the fact that Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton aren't likely to be available on the trade market and can't provide that over the top boost for a Memorial Cup run.

One thing is for certain, the OHL trade deadline is going to be a hoot to watch this year!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Midseason Top 30 for the 2013 NHL Draft

The holiday break is over and we're now past the halfway point in the 2012/2013 OHL season. It's been an interesting year, filled with disappointing starts, inconsistent play, and a boatload of talented players who were robbed of their chance to play in the NHL this season.

With no NHL season (to date), it seems more and more likely that the draft lottery will occur just as it did in 2005, with every team given an equal chance to get the first overall selection (aka the Sidney Crosby draft). This draft crop looks very strong. Looking at comprehensive draft lists, nearly every league in North America has a strong crop of players and nearly every country in Europe is offering up top end talent. There are guys being rated at the back of the 2nd round, that normally would have had the chance to be late first rounders. In the OHL, specifically, I feel like it's very top heavy. There are a handful of guys who have a chance to be top end NHL players, with as many as 8 having the shot to go inside the top 20 (by season's end). Depth wise, I think there have been stronger years. If I had to put together a list of 50 guys (right now), who I thought had a serious shot at being NHL draft picks come June, I don't think I could. That could change by season's end though.

Below, my midseason draft rankings can be found. For those unfamiliar, I only rank first year eligible players, so don't expect to see guys like Justin Auger, Dane Fox, or Jake Patterson on this list.

Here are the rankings:

1. Sean Monahan - Ottawa 67's
What else is there to say about Monahan, that most people don't already know? He's one of the more complete draft eligibles that the OHL has had to offer in recent years. His vision with the puck and his hockey sense are top notch. The thing that I'm loving is the increased physical element he's bringing this year. He's getting his nose dirty and turning himself into more of a power center. As some people have pointed out, he's not the most blessed skater out there, but I don't see it being a hindrance. He's able to slow the game down to a level that works for him. I think he's definitely in the NHL next year, if they finally figure out their labour issues by then. The real question is, will he still be a 67 come January 10?
2. Darnell Nurse - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
It's a damn close race between Nurse and Zadorov at this point. Similar sort of players. I've got Nurse ahead right now because I think the offensive side of his game has a bit more potential, while possessing the same potential physically and defensively. He's slowed down a bit since the return of Ryan Sproul (as to be expected), but it gives him a chance to settle down his defensive game and really refine his zone coverage ability. The other thing is, Zadorov has about 25lbs on Nurse right now. When Nurse fills out to that size, he's going to be quite the physical monster.

3. Nikita Zadorov - London Knights
He's rocketing up a lot of lists of late, and with good cause. Defensively, he's an absolute rock. 6'5, 220lbs. He is a very physical player who makes his presence known and felt in the defensive end. He absolutely wallpapers opposing forwards along the wall and really deters the cycle. Offensively, he's still gaining confidence. He definitely has the ability to lead the rush and is starting to take more chances in jumping up in the play. His work on the powerplay is also taking steps in the right direction. Like I mentioned above, he and Nurse are almost 2a) and 2b) at this point.

4. Max Domi - London Knights
Domi seems to be a bit of a polarizing player. You either love him or you don't (for instance, ISS does not have him in their top 30, but McKeen's has had him firmly inside their top 20). He doesn't come without his warts. I don't think his defensive game has evolved to the point many had hoped it would this year. He's also not the biggest guy. But his skill level is through the roof. His patience and poise with the puck is his most impressive attribute IMO. Off the rush, he creates opportunities out of nothing, by sucking defenses in, using his strength on the puck and by making great passes. The things he lacks can be taught and improved upon. His skill and poise/vision with the puck can not.

5. Bo Horvat - London Knights
Continues to grow on me. He has been absolutely on fire lately, with 10 goals and 7 assists in his last 12 games. He's still learning how to balance all the things he does on the ice. He's so involved in the play away from the puck, and that can sometimes take a bite out of a younger player's offensive output. But in the last few games of his I've seen, he's looking more confident with the puck and is looking to take it hard to the net. He's becoming more of a leader and seems no longer satisfied with being the 3rd option on his line. I also think he's starting to improve his positioning away from the puck in the offensive end and is getting himself in better scoring position. He's a true complete player, and if he can keep up the offensive production, he'll be throwing his name into the ring for top 15 contention.

6. Jason Dickinson - Guelph Storm
Tons of skill. Has the potential to develop into a truly explosive offensive player. The total package offensively, who can make things happen with his hands, acceleration, and creativity. He shows signs of developing a nastier side and will sometimes mix it up in the corners or in front of the net. That side of his game does need to continue to grow though. There are those I talk to who have concerns over his consistency and compete level. To some degree, I agree. But, at the same time, he's the type of guy who can be relatively invisible all night, until a few shifts where he takes over and helps to put the puck in the net. Putting together whole periods of offensive control is the next step.

7. Kerby Rychel - Windsor Spitfires
Rychel behind Horvat (and Dickinson) might surprise a few people, but I've been a bit disappointed in Rychel's development this year. Don't get me wrong, I still think he's a first round pick and someone with an NHL career ahead of him. He's got one of the better shots in the OHL and doesn't need a lot of room to get it off. He's also very good in front of the net, working as a screen, and as someone who has the hands to put in rebounds. He's very good in tight. I also think his passing ability and vision is underrated. He'll make some nice plays coming off the boards, or behind the net on the cycle. But he's had trouble trying to create his own offensive chances this year. His play away from the puck and intensity level also seems to waver. He has some power forward tendencies, but his physical game isn't consistent enough. Rychel is a good player, but I think he's being passed by some of the players in the '95 age group.

8. Ryan Kujawinski - Kingston Frontenacs
Had him ranked number 2 on my preliminary list. Now he's number 8. Just hasn't had a terrific year. He was riding a 15 game goalless drought before exploding post holiday break. Kujawinski has all the talent and loads of potential for the next level, but he has looked a tad lost at times this season. He's been pressing offensively and it's causing him to lose sight of his strengths on the ice. He's at his best when he's playing physical and involved heavily along the wall, but his game has become a tad one dimensional in that sense that he's trying to do too much with the puck off the rush. He's still playing well defensively and is a competent two-way guy, but he needs to simplify things offensively and get back to outworking the opposition in opposing end. It's worth stating that he's taken a bit of a backseat to the Spencer Watson, Sam Bennett, and Henri Ikonen line this year. It should come as no surprise then, that his current hot streak post break (4 goals, 3 assists in 3 games) comes with Watson and Bennett at the World Under 17's. Hopefully he can keep his confidence level high once those two return to their staring role post tournament.

9. Spencer Martin - Mississauga Steelheads
He's going through a bit of a rough stretch lately, but that isn't uncommon for a young goaltender in this league. It's even possible he's fighting through an injury right now (been rumours of a knee ailment). That said, he's a terrific prospect. He's got good size and follows the play really well. He gets himself in good position to makes saves and is very quick going to his butterfly. The biggest thing he needs to work on is his rebound control. He has a tendency to kick pucks back out into the slot and gives teams too many second chances on long shots. Again though, the transformation from puck stopper, to puck absorber is one all goaltenders go through in junior.

10. Ryan Hartman - Plymouth Whalers
Cut from the same cloth as the Rick Tocchet/Darcy Tucker's of old, or the Steve Ott/Steve Downie's of new. A real hard working, in your face forward. He's playing down the middle right now, but I could see him at any forward position. He excels on drives to the net, where he has a  surprising burst of speed and controls the puck well with his body. He's very aggressive in going to the net without the puck too and capitalizes on rebounds. He works the cycle well and is improving his play defensively. He'll lay the body hard too, and isn't afraid to drop the mitts (5 fights this year). Think of him like a power forward in a smaller guy's body (about 5'11). The only player on this list participating at the WJC's.

11. Justin Bailey - Kitchener Rangers
Raw. Very raw. Think Brent Burns back when he was playing forward for the Battalion in his draft year. But has a lot of potential. His biggest weapon is his shot. It rivals Kerby Rychel for the best on this list. Very hard and he does not need much room to get it off. He's also still learning how to use his size to get himself in better scoring position. Everything else is a work in progress. His skating is a tad awkward (wide stride, think Wayne Simmonds), and his ability to carry the puck is improving as he gains strength. I'd like to see his intensity level without the puck increase too, using that size to win more battles along the wall and to engage physically with more consistency. I think the injuries he's suffering do have to be of some concern though. A concussion and now a sternum injury has kept him on the shelf. Needs to stay healthy.

12. Chris Bigras - Owen Sound Attack
I like Bigras a lot, I just don't see him as a first round pick at this point. He doesn't have the same NHL potential as the guys I've got listed ahead of him. Think along the lines of Stuart Percy or Matt Finn, from the past couple of years. He's a jack of all trades type who defends his end well, but who can also transition the other way and lead the rush effectively. He has pretty good skill with the puck and is able to get in deep, but he's not the type to take chances to try and score. His shot from the point also needs to improve, both in strength and accuracy. I'm not sure I see him being the type to put up a lot of points at the next level. But I do see him developing into a serviceable NHL defenseman; the type of guy who has a long career ahead of him.

13. Stephen Harper - Erie Otters
Massive consistency issues this year. Has only scored goals in 3 games, the last 2 months (two, 2 goal games ). Had 24 goals last year as a rookie, on pace for only 18 this year. The Otters have tried a lot of different things to get him going. Tried playing him with McDavid, but the chemistry wasn't there. Tried him on his own line, and the intensity hasn't been there. He's even been playing the point on the powerplay lately. Seen him play three times this year. Twice, he was invisible. The third time, he was one of the best players on the ice. That game was the most recent viewing, which comes as no surprise considering he averaged a point per game in December. But he needs to play consistently physical in order to be effective. Using his size to his benefit is his meal ticket offensively. Will need to turn it up in the 2nd half to avoid being passed by similar players who are surging offensively (Moutrey, Baptiste, etc), but it does look like he's on his way to doing that.

14. Zach Nastasiuk - Owen Sound Attack
Zach Nasty, as Owen Sound fans have become accustomed to calling him, is one of my favourites from this draft class. He's not going to wow you with his offensive skills, and I'm not sure how high his ceiling is for the next level, but he's a consistent performer for the Attack who rely on his tenacity and motor to win hockey games. He plays in all situations for Owen Sound, and is a particularly strong penalty killer already. He wins battles along the boards, blocks shots, and is a true team first guy. Offensively, he shows spurts of being able to generate offense by taking the puck hard to the net. His shot needs to get better in order to take that next step as a goal scorer. Nastasiuk represents true grit.

15. Nick Moutrey - Saginaw Spirit
Have to admit, of any player on this list, I'm least familiar with Moutrey. I've only seen Saginaw play once this year. I was impressed with Moutrey during that viewing though. And I've heard great things about him from contacts that I trust. Big power forward with hands and skill. At this point, I'm sure there are teams who have him higher than Nastasiuk and Harper on their list, but I don't feel comfortable doing that quite yet. Moutrey is certainly a player to watch though.

16. Cole Cassels - Oshawa Generals
Got off to a slow start offensively, but has been better lately with 7 goals and 3 assists in his last 10 games. He's a bit of a different player than his father (one of the most underrated playmakers in the history of the game). Cole is more of a solid two-way guy, who excels in outworking the opposition. He's already a very solid defensive player and someone who will throw around his body. He's not that big, but he's effective playing that grinding role none the less. Like his father though, he does seem to have a high hockey IQ and good vision on the ice. He does well to make plays off the wall and finds his teammates with passes after coming away from battles with the puck. His skating is an area which I think could improve, particularly in the first few steps to give him more room to operate off the rush. He can also be prone to turnovers due to blind passes.

17. Josh Burnside - Mississauga Steelheads
If you read the blog regularly, you know he's a favourite of mine. Has found himself a home on the Steelheads' first line (with Brace and Smoskowitz) and hasn't looked out of place. He's a terrific player away from the puck, who is active on the forecheck, and uses his speed to create offense off the rush. He's also very aggressive in going to the net without the puck and has no problem standing as a screen in front of the crease. He's also got a pretty good shot from the slot and is able to beat defenders to loose pucks with his skating ability. He was a defenseman in minor midget, so he's also a terrific two-way player who is relied upon on the penalty kill. I like that he's starting to play with more of an edge, something he's going to need to continue to do as an energy guy. I do wish he was a bit bigger though, as it would make him a more effective player.

18. Nicolas Baptiste - Sudbury Wolves
Big guy and former high OHL priority selection. He's finally starting to see ice time in key situations for Sudbury and is making the most of it (7 goals, 8 assists in his last 15). Moves well for a big guy and does a good job of protecting the puck on the way to the net. He has good hands too, which (in combination with his size) gives him more room to operate. The physical side of his game is inconsistent. At this point, it seems like he has a bit of trouble balancing the ability to be a force on the forecheck and being physical, with being responsible for creating offensive chances. In other words, he needs to the puck on his stick to be noticeable at times. I'd like to see him use his size more to create room for his linemates and to be more of a net presence.

19. Brody Silk - Sudbury Wolves
Silk really struggled to start the season (goalless in his first 11 games), and as a 3rd year player (late '94), that just can't happen in your draft year. However, he's definitely turned it around since then. Since forming a line with Josh Leivo and Dominik Kahun, Silk has found his scoring touch and is averaging a point per game since late October. He's a difficult player to line up against. He's what you would call a pest. He's in there on the forecheck, he's a factor along the wall, and he goes hard to the net looking for rebounds. He's also a factor physically and defensively, doing a good job of tying up his man on the backcheck. The one area of his game that does need improvement is his acceleration, as he can be a little slow getting going. To some degree, this limits his effectiveness off the rush. But his tenacity often overcomes this. Just a real meat and potatoes kind of player who definitely warrants a look come June.

20. Charlie Graham - Belleville Bulls
He's been absolutely great as Subban's back up in Belleville this year. He's not a big guy, but he comes out to challenge shooters and seems to be quite athletic. His rebound control has looked pretty good too and he seems to swallow up higher shots without giving up rebounds. I've heard George Burnett compare him to former Bull star Mike Murphy, which is obviously high praise. Before we go doing that, Graham has a great chance to steal some of the spotlight when he gets the starters job with Subban away in Russia. He's 3-2 since taking over, and has played quite well (beating West powerhouses Guelph and Kitchener recently). Belleville just needs to score in front of him. The battle for the 2nd best goaltender behind Spencer Martin will be interesting to close out the season. Graham, Giugovaz, Fotinos and DeKort are all very close.

21. Jordan Subban - Belleville Bulls
The only blueliner to currently lead his team in scoring has to be worth something right? Subban is a terrific offensive defenseman. He's a great skater, which plays well within the large ice surface in Belleville. He's also very confident with the puck and is willing to take chances to jump up into the play. His play on the point of the powerplay is also improving, although there's still room to grow there as he becomes more patient moving the puck and strengthens his shot. He's a different defender than P.K. though. P.K. was built differently, much more stocky, which allowed him to be more of a physical threat. Jordan is similar to Jesse Graham in Niagara. A smaller guy who teams will question whether he's got the size to play a 5 on 5 role at the NHL level. He certainly has genetics on his side though.

22. Jimmy Lodge - Saginaw Spirit
Lodge is a bigger forward who is still growing into his body; gaining the strength to be an effective offensive player on a consistent basis. As mentioned, I haven't seen a ton of the Spirit this year, but in the game I did see, Lodge wasn't much of a factor. My contacts have said they've been a bit frustrated with him this year. He has the capability to play any forward position, but has been seeing a lot of time on the wing of late. He's got a good shot and potential to develop into a goal scorer. This might be a little lower than some others have him, but at this point, I can't justify having him higher.

23. Carter Verhaeghe - Niagara IceDogs 
Cut from the same cloth as Spitfires forward Brady Vail. Verhaeghe is a hard working center who plays both ends of the ice and has been Niagara's most consistent secondary scoring threat this year (IMO). He generates most of his offensive chances by working hard on the cycle and winning loose puck battles. He's also got good vision and does a great job of distributing the puck, particularly after tiring out defenses during the aforementioned cycling. I think he's a real underrated player for this draft class. He's really stepped up his game with Ritchie and Strome at the World Juniors. In the six games they've been absent, Verhaeghe has 4 goals, and 2 assists.

24. Michael Giugovaz - Peterborough Petes
Has been one of the few bright spots for Peterborough this year. The Petes have 8 wins, and Giugovaz has 7 of them (despite nearly splitting time with Andrew D'Agostini). And in those 7 wins, he's been the primary reason. I saw one of those wins and he was absolutely dynamite (against the 67's). I also saw another game where he got abused a bit. It'll be tough to evaluate Giugovaz because of how poor the team is in front of him. But I like the confidence he displays in net and how he squares himself to shooters. Not the biggest guy, but he certainly gets the job done. I hope that by season's end, he throws himself in the ring for contention to be one of the goalies on the Under 18 team. Would be great to see him under different circumstances.

25. Brent Pedersen - Kitchener Rangers
Was not good to start the season, leaving a lot of scouts and Rangers fans wanting a lot more from him. But he's gotten better and more involved as the season has gone on. I've seen the Rangers play a few times in the past month and it looks like he's back to basics. A big guy, Pedersen is starting to throw his weight around with more consistency, and is doing a better job of battling for loose pucks and winning battles along the boards. He's even dropped the mitts a few times in the last month. The offensive production still isn't terrific, but he's certainly playing better and worthy of a spot on this list IMO. Power forward potential.

26. Remi Elie - London Knights
Elie hasn't scored in 21 games, which I think is a tad concerning (even if he's not getting consistent ice time). But he impacts the game positively in other ways. He throws his weight around and is very involved physically, but he's learned to be smart about it and picks up few penalties in the process. He's also effective along the wall and does well to outmuscle defenseman for loose pucks. Truthfully, I'm not sure how much puck skill he has, nor do I know if he has goal scoring potential, but I like the energy he brings and the potential he has as a character player. The Dalton Smith of the 2013 draft class.

27. Alex Fotinos - Barrie Colts
As I've sort of alluded to, it's becoming a bit difficult to separate some of the goaltenders in this class behind Spencer Martin. Graham, Giugovaz, and Fotinos are all around the same size and seem to possess similar skill sets. I was impressed with Fotinos last year, but the only game I've seen him play this year was a stinker against Brampton. He squares himself to shooters, follows the play well and seems like a pretty athletic netminder. Talk to be a month from now and I may have Graham, Giugovaz and Fotinos all switched around again.

28. Sergei Tolchinsky - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
There's lots to like about Tolchinsky. He can be an absolutely electric offensive player. There's no question that he's one of the quicker and more elusive players in the OHL. He's also able to handle the puck at full speed ahead, and can catch defenseman flat footed. Loads of potential offensively. The problem is, he's only 5'7. Rocco Grimaldi proved in 2011 that little guys can get drafted high, but I see Grimaldi as a different player. Tolchinsky, when he doesn't have the puck on his stick, isn't much of a factor right now. And OHL defenses have adjusted to his tendencies off the rush, and are funneling him into traffic, where he doesn't have the strength to beat defenders one on one. He's cooled off of late (only 5 goals in his last 17 games), and that type of production won't get him drafted highly at his size.
29. Hunter Garlent - Guelph Storm
Finally back after suffering an ankle injury at the end of October. He's another little guy (pushing 5'9), but he's way more involved without the puck than a guy like Tolchinsky. He's a tenacious forechecker and someone the Storm rely on to help kill penalties. He's also not afraid to go into high traffic areas, like winning battles behind the net, or crashing the crease for rebounds. At this point, I've got him behind Tolchinsky because I want to see him return to form after a slow start. He was just starting to get going prior to his injury. If he can finish the season well, he's ahead of Tolchinsky for me. Call him the little engine that could.

30. Nick Paul - Brampton Battalion
Paul is a big winger playing in his first OHL season. He does a really good job of controlling the boards and can come away with pucks to create scoring chances. He's hard to separate from the puck on drives to the net too, but his foot speed isn't terrific so he's having a bit of a tough time creating his own opportunities off the rush. I'd also like to see him play more physical and start to throw his weight around with more consistency. A solid OHL rookie with power forward potential. Traditionally,. players in his situation have much stronger second halves, as they adjust to the speed of the OHL and gain more confidence. We'll see.

Honorable Mention (alphabetically)

Greg Betzold - Peterborough Petes
Tough to evaluate in Peterborough most nights. Big guy with power forward potential. Once he learns to use his size more to create offense he'll be more consistent.

Erik Bradford - Barrie Colts
Does everything that is asked of him in Barrie. Not a big guy, but he battles and has scorers touch. Would love to see what he could do with more ice time. A late '94, but really only playing in his second year in the O.

Jordan DeKort - Windsor Spitfires
I'm hopeful that the Spits give him more playing time as the season goes on. Really big goaltender who's still refining his technique. Only seen him play once this year, but he was solid in the game. Fotinos is ahead right now because I'm more familiar with him.

Anthony DiFruscia - Niagara IceDogs
I like him and I think he has a bright future ahead of him as an OHL player. I have trouble seeing where he fits in as a player at the next level though. Seems to want to play that feisty goal scorer role, but isn't strong enough yet to be a Ryan Callahan type of player.

Tyler Ganly - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A pure meat and potatoes type of player. Overshadowed in the Soo by their star studded defense (Sproul, Nurse, Miller). Has size, is physical and can make a breakout pass. Skating needs work though.

Ben Harpur - Guelph Storm
Great size on the backend. Still learning how to use his size confidently, but has potential to be an aggressive stay at home defender. Puck skill hasn't quite developed the way I had hoped this year, as he can have trouble with the forecheck.

Dominik Kahun - Sudbury Wolves
He's a shade behind Tolchinsky and Garlent in the little man draft race for me. Don't let the 4 penalty minutes fool you. He's not afraid to enter the dirty areas and comes away with his share of pucks off the wall. Not quite as naturally skilled as Tolchinsky or Garlent though IMO. Playing for Germany at the WJC's.

Dominik Kubalik - Sudbury Wolves
One of the younger players available from the O. Hard to get a read on, as he bounces around the Wolves line up. Seen him twice this year. Once he played on a scoring line, the other time (more recently), he barely saw any ice time on the 4th line. Has potential as a puck possession kind of winger who can create plays for his linemates.

Sergei Kuptsov - Belleville Bulls
The Bulls have had such a tough time scoring this year, it's hard to really evaluate Kuptsov's season. In the times I've seen Belleville play, he's certainly been better than Daniil Zharkov, if that means anything. I like his potential as a big body who can create offense.

Trevor Murphy - Windsor Spitfires
The trade to Windsor has done wonders for him. He looks invigorated with the Spits, running the point on the powerplay alongside Nick Ebert. He's not tall, but he's stocky and isn't afraid to rough up opposing forwards. Could develop into a similar player as Mark Cundari in Windsor.

Danny Vanderwiel - Plymouth Whalers
Still looking for that first goal of the year, but I don't care. I like him. I've seen the Whalers play a few times this year and he's had his share of scoring chances. He's big and skates well and can throw his weight around. The goals will come.