Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Top 10 - Unheralded Rookies Who Could Make an Impact in 2013-14

There's no denying that this is one of my favourite yearly lists to put together. This is the 5th year I've done it and I always love looking back at this one. Of course, I'm referring to the examination of some rookies who could make an impact in the OHL next season.

Now, by rookies I don't mean fresh faced, newly drafted 1997's. We're talking about some of the 1996's (and possibly even 1995's) who didn't make the OHL full time last year, but who have the potential to make a real big impact in 2013/2014. Every year, players like this emerge to become quality, even star players, in this league (see Mark Scheifele, Remi Elie, Matt Clark, Trevor Carrick, etc). And every year, I put together this list with the help of someone who's able to see the Tier 2 and midget level a hell of a lot more than I do. Scout/Writer for and McKeen's, Sean Lafortune, helped me put together this list. If you haven't been reading them, make sure you check out the Top 10 Prospect lists Sean has been doing for each OHL team on 'The Scout' (here's one such example, The Owen Sound Attack's list).

Here's 10 guys you should really keep an eye on (in alphabetical order), plus a few Honorable Mentions and a few wildcards.

Travis Dermott - Defense - Erie Otters 
Dermott is considered one of the top '96's not playing in the OHL currently. He was a 9th round pick of Erie, but fell in the draft due to injury issues in his draft year. He's a talented two-way defenseman who could slot right into Erie's top 4 potentially and should help to anchor one of their powerplay units. He helped Newmarket to within a game of winning the OJHL championship this year and posted great numbers and played a ton of minutes over the course of the season. 

Kyle Jenkins - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A 4th rounder by the Hounds, Jenkins is a very talented offensive defenseman who'll make a big push for joining Sault Ste. Marie's top 6 this season. With the absences of Ryan Sproul and Colin Miller, the Hounds are going to need some serious help on the powerplay and with bringing the puck up ice, both areas Jenkins can help with. 

Stefan Leblanc - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
Leblanc was actually Jenkins' partner in crime with the Oakville Blades this past year, as the two of them did a terrific job running their powerplay. Like Jenkins, he's a very solid offensive defenseman who could potentially really energize a Sudbury powerplay that lacks a top end powerplay QB. If he plays well, he has a chance to earn a ton of ice time this year on a wide open Wolves' blueline.

Kyle Locke - Defense - Guelph Storm
A 2nd round pick in 2012, Locke saw minimal ice time with Guelph last year and finished out the year with Cambridge of the GOJHL. He's a potentially strong two way defender who plays bigger than his 6'0 frame would suggest. Locke could work his way up to as high as the 2nd pairing next year with strong play.

Owen MacDonald - Forward - London Knights 
The latest young player who will try to crack a deep London forward group this year. Each year, the Knights become an incredibly difficult team to earn playing time from, but if you work hard and bide your time, you'll get rewarded (see Chris Tierney, Remi Elie, Kyle Platzer, etc). MacDonald is a smaller, but feisty offensive center who played with St. Mary's of the GOJHL last year. Of all the players trying to earn 4th line minutes next year, MacDonald seems like the best bet to get consistent ice time, because he plays the high tempo, physical style that Dale Hunter likes from his depth guys.

Joe Manchurek - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Manchurek had a heck of an OHL debut last year when he scored a goal and an assist while playing with Scott Laughton and Scott Sabourin on the first line during the holiday season. But he spent the vast majority of his year with Leamington of the GOJHL. He's a hard working, grind it out type of winger who should be able to earn a top 9 spot on the Generals this year, thanks to the departure of a lot of their veteran forwards from last year's squad.

Matthew Mancina - Goaltender - Guelph Storm
A teammate of Manchurek's in Leamington last year, Mancina is more well known for starting for Team Ontario at last year's Under 17's. He is a traditional butterfly style goaltender who is calm and patient in his crease, but like any young goaltender, battles inconsistency. There is a very strong possibility that by the end of the 2013/2014 season, Mancina is the starter for Guelph.

David Miller - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Miller is a slightly undersized playmaking center who saw some limited success with the Hounds last year. After a very strong season with Georgetown of the OJHL (named to the first all prospect team), he'll look to crack Sault Ste. Marie's line up full time in 2013/2014. Miller definitely has a good shot to be the team's 2nd or 3rd line center next year.

Anthony Stefano - Forward - Peterborough Petes
After leading the GNML in scoring last year (with 99 points), Stefano will look to break into a scoring role with Peterborough next year. The Petes won't have a ton of openings, but he'll get his shot to play a possible top 9 role at some point during the year. 

Marc Stevens - Forward - Guelph Storm
Even though he saw limited playing time in Guelph last year, Stevens made his mark on the Storm fan base by being an energetic 4th liner who flashed potential to be a very hard player to go up against. He has more offensive potential than he showed in brief stints with Guelph and could be a top 9 forward for them next year, showcasing strong two-way play, a physically aggressive nature and the ability to put up a few points. 

Honorable Mentions

Graeme Brown - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
Brown could be hard pressed to get ice time again in Windsor, after playing a few games with the Spits last year. But the 3rd round pick has the potential to play in this league as a solid two-way guy.

Santino Centorame - Defense - London Knights
Centorame saw 3 games of action last year with London when they had a bunch of players missing over the holidays, but otherwise spent his year with Georgetown of the OJHL. He's a solid two-way defender who plays bigger than his size. He has a good shot of earning a 3rd pairing spot in London this year.

David Eccles - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
A big, rangy blueliner, Eccles saw a few games of action at the end of last year, even drawing into a few playoff games with the Wolves. He's got size and is showing signs of knowing how to use it in his own end. Like Leblanc, he should slot into a rebuilding Wolves blueline this year.

Owen McDade - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Like Joe Manchurek, McDade is a 2012 draft pick who hopes to get top 9 ice time in Oshawa this year. He's a feisty two-way center who's terrific skating ability makes up for his lack of elite size. 

Lucas Peressini - Goaltender - Kingston Frontenacs
Acquired by Kingston late in the year with the hopes that he'd compete for a goaltending spot in 2013/2014. Peressini played with Newmarket last year and could be the back-up to Matt Mahalak this year.

Frankie Vilardi - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
The Whalers acquired Vilardi from Kingston for a 3rd rounder, and he should be able to help them in a 3rd/4th line role next year. He's a talented offensive center who got better as the year went on with Kingston of the OJHL.

Matthew Watson - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Twin brother Spencer is already an anchor for Kingston, so Matthew will try to jump on board full time next year. He's an undersized, but skilled offensive defenseman who could play on Kingston's 3rd pairing next year, and maybe even their 2nd powerplay unit.

Patrick White - Forward - Sarnia Sting
White made the CCHL All Rookie team last year, playing with Gloucester. Sarnia's top 6 forward group might have some openings heading into next year, so the talented offensive center might have a shot of seeing time in that role.

Kyle Wood - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Wood finished out the year with North Bay, even seeing time in the playoffs for them. He could be the next solid two-way defender to work his way into Stan Butler's good books. He's got great size and is a possible Cam Wind replacement next year.


Jake Evans - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Evans is definitely one of the top 96's not in the OHL, if not the best. At this point, despite an aggressive pursuit from Kitchener, he looks to be committed to going to Notre Dame. He's got a ton of options next year, be it Kitchener, or Indiana of the USHL, or going back to St. Mike's in the OJHL. He's a fantastic two way center who could fit right into Kitchener's top 9 right now should he change his mind.

Liam Herbst - Goaltender - London Knights
A first rounder by London, Herbt didn't play a single game last year due to knee and hip surgery. It was looking like his OHL career might be in jeopardy , but he's apparently recovered exceptionally well and is ready to get his career back on track. Hopefully he can draw into an OJHL or GOJHL line up at some point this year, with an aim of seeing some time with London should Anthony Stolarz make Team USA at the WJC's.

Connor Murphy - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
The GOJHL rookie of the year last year seems uncertain about his hockey future. Could play in Owen Sound next year where he could be a big factor offensively. Or he could return to the GOJHL. Or he could play with Chicago of the USHL. TBD if he's going NCAA or OHL.

Hunter Racine - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Racine is an undersized offensive forward who was a member of the CCHL all rookie team last year after a great season with Ottawa. While his rights are owned by Peterborough, it's looking like he's leaning towards the NCAA route.

Jared Walsh - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Along with Jake Evans, Walsh played a huge part on the St. Mike's OJHL Championship squad last year. He's a strong two-way defenseman who would likely slot right into Mississauga's top 4 should he change his mind about the NCAA. Is committed to the U. of Michigan.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Preseason Top 30 for the 2014 Entry Draft

Last year was the first year that I posted a ranking before the start of the next season, due to the fact that I was being asked where I had certain players slated going into the year. I've decided to keep that going and make it a tradition. In a lot of ways it's fun to look back at your early list and see what changes occurred (here's 2013's preseason list).

And changes will occur because so many of these players are going to hit massive growth spurts in their game this year. Some expected, others unexpected. The jump from the 16 year old to the 17 year old season is huge. Many of the things I'm currently saying about these players could be moot come October. Timid, perimeter rookies become physically aggressive sophomores (just as one example). Not to mention all the other players who'll make this list come next June, who haven't even played a minute in the OHL yet (such as a U.S. Import like Ryan MacInnis, a Euro import like Alex Lintuniemi, or a 2012 draft pick who had yet to make his debut like Matthew Mancina).

One thing I will say is that RIGHT NOW, I feel like this is one of the strongest crops of talent the OHL has produced in some time, possibly even since 2003. There are so many high end talents available. I've seen some lists suggesting that the OHL could make up about half of the first round in 2014. This is no exaggeration, as the talent level is that strong.

On to the list!

30. Dylan Diperna - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs 
DiPerna has a lot of potential moving forward. He could be a very complete defender if he develops properly. He's a bigger guy, but moves well for his size and doesn't seem to have a lot of issue defending off the rush or skating the puck out of his own end. He's got a howitzer of a point shot, but he's still learning how to use it/get it on net. He showed flashes of being a very difficult defender to play against last year and I think he can develop into a very physical player who can clear the net and the corners. His decision making in his own end could use a bit of work and he went through some stretches where he struggled this year. But, I see a defender with potential to be a solid player at both ends of the ice.
29. Patrick Sanvido - Defense - Windsor Spitfires
I really liked what I saw from this rookie defender last year. It certainly wasn't an easy season for blueliners in Windsor, but he definitely held his own. He's got great size (~6'5, 220lbs) and he uses it well in the defensive end. He's already a physical player who will only become more effective as he gets stronger and more confident. He also moves well and can defend off the rush. Offensively, he's a work in progress right now. He seemed to have a bit of issue getting the puck out of his own end last year and will need to add an extra gear if he wants to become more effective at skating away from the forecheck. But I definitely love the upside he has defensively.

28. Devin Williams - Goaltender - Erie Otters
It's pretty tough for a netminder on a last place club to stand out, but Williams did that this year IMO. He's a late '95, so he's a bit more experienced than the other goalies on this list, but I think he has just as much potential. Williams isn't the biggest goalie (~6'0), but he's very aggressive in challenging shooters. He's very agile and athletic and makes a lot of "highlight reel" esque saves. In the games that he played, I thought he kept his team in a few that they had absolutely no business being in. Erie should be better this year and hopefully he's still able to find playing time alongside Oscar Dansk.

27. Mike Amadio - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Amadio is an offensive forward who didn't get a ton of ice time with Brampton this past year. He did enough to impress me though and I think he's got a lot of offensive potential. He's certainly a creative puckhandler and is able to make decisions and plays with the puck at top speed. He needs to get stronger though, as he was often overmatched physically this year in the offensive end. The rest of his game also needs work, as he'll need to learn to play without the puck. But if there's a coach in the league who can teach a forward how to play defense and in the corners, it's Stan Butler.
26. Zach Bratina - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
It was an interesting season for Bratina, as he was traded (in the Trocheck deal) from Plymouth, and also battled some injuries. But he did enough to impress me. I thought he showed a willingness to compete for the puck and play hard that was supposed to be lacking in his game (call it the Mike Vellucci effect). He's clearly a very talented offensive player, as he'd occasionally make a play with the puck, to create a scoring chance, that would make you take notice. His skating is also very strong and makes him a weapon off the rush. He definitely needs to add strength to make him more effective away from the puck, but I think Saginaw got a good one in the Trocheck deal.

25. Brent Moran - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
Quite frankly, I thought he really struggled last year. He's a big guy, but he's still got a lot of holes in his game as OHL shooters were able to pick him apart with relative ease. BUT, he's certainly still scratching the surface of his potential. Once he gains some confidence at this level, and works on his angles and timing, he has the makings of becoming a quality netminder. He's certainly agile for a bigger guy and flashed the ability to make big saves. I remember thinking the same thing about Spencer Martin last year at this time, so I'll give Moran the benefit of the doubt for the time being. He'll certainly get a lot of starts in Niagara this year if he's up to it.

24. Eric Cornel - Forward - Peterborough Petes
One of the most underwhelming performances of a 2012 Priority selection last year was Cornel's in Peterborough (after being taken 3rd overall). It was said that he was a work in progress and someone who'd take time to adjust, but I don't think scouts figured it'd be that severe. Cornel does have a lot of potential though. He's a big center who skates very well and who sees the ice well and projects as a playmaker. But he's got a lot to work on (getting stronger, becoming more aggressive, gaining confidence) before he lives up to that draft spot. There's no question that he wasn't one of the top 30 most impressive rookies in the OHL last year, but he's got too much to offer to leave him outside of a preliminary Top 30. It'll certainly be interesting to see his progression this coming year.

23. Alex Peters - Defense - Plymouth Whalers
The type of defender who was born to play for Mike Vellucci in Plymouth. He's a big guy (6'4) who is already physical and mean in his own end. As he gains strength, this aspect of his game will only get better. I thought he also showed excellent defensive awareness and confidence for a rookie and he seems like the type of guy Vellucci can lean on in important defensive situations moving forward (call him the Austin Levi, Colin MacDonald replacement). There were a few times I saw him this year where he looked like he might have some issue defending off the rush, so his overall agility and mobility will need to improve. But he was pretty poised with the puck in his own end and seems to have a good head for the game. Not sure how much offensive potential he has, but he certainly looks like a very solid defender.

22. Jaden Lindo - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Lindo was very impressive in the first half of the season, but seemed to tire in the second half. He's a workhorse on the ice who battles hard without the puck to create scoring opportunities for his linemates. He has the potential to develop into a very good board player and forechecker at this level. Offensively, I'm not sure how much potential he has. He certainly looks to have a pretty good head for the offensive end, but didn't show a ton of skill or shooting ability this year. Could be a crash and bang type of guy who gets points out of hard work and energy.

21. Brendan Lemieux - Forward - Barrie Colts
A chip off the ol' block is the expression that fits Brendan, son of Claude Lemieux. He plays the game very hard, just as his father did. As a rookie this year, he showed absolutely no fear in the corners, in front of the net, or after the whistle. He projects as a terrific energy player, but he's also got a fair amount of skill and hockey sense in the offensive end. I think he's got goal scoring potential at this level because he seems to know how to get open and where to find scoring chances. His skating did look a bit rough last year, but he works so hard that you don't really notice it too much. I think he's got more potential than just a 3rd line checker.

20. Matt Schmalz - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
It wasn't until the deal to Sudbury (in the Frankie Corrado swap with Kitchener) that his game really started to blossom. He looked a little overwhelmed in Kitchener (and under utilized), but was much more confident in Sudbury. He's a big center (6'4) who looks to have the potential to control the pace of play. He seems to like to have the puck on his stick and certainly has enough skill to make things happen in the offensive end. He flashed some aggressiveness at times and I think he does have the potential to be a more physically engaged player. But as of right now, he can be a bit too invisible without the puck. A lot of standing around waiting for things to happen. But once he gains more confidence, he could have a lot of potential as a big, power center.

19. Brandon Prophet - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Prophet showed signs of strong two-way potential this year. Defensively, he's physically aggressive and wasn't afraid to push forwards around in front of the net or in the corners. I thought his defensive zone coverage was also solid. Offensively, he's a good puckhandler who has confidence in skating out of his own end and was at times aggressive in jumping up in the play. His overall mobility could stand to improve as he can have some issues defending off the rush, and I think it also limits his effectiveness as a puck carrier. He can also be prone to making a bad pass in his own end and will need to improve his decision making with the puck. But overall I thought he showed flashes of being a terrific two-way defender and a guy to keep an eye on.

18. Brandon Robinson - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Robinson (a late '95) didn't have quite the second year in the OHL that many people expected (myself included), but I still have a lot of confidence in his abilities moving forward. He's a big winger who flashes a good power forward game. While this aspect of his game is not yet consistent, he will throw his body around and look to go hard to the net with and without the puck. He's also got a very good shot and profiles as a goal scorer at the next level. As he gets stronger, he's going to become even more difficult for defenders to handle in close to the net. His skating still needs some work and I think holds back his game to some extent, but I did see some improvement from the start of last year to the end. I think he needs to be a 25 goal scorer this year to really keep his name in the top 20.

17. Brendan Perlini - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Really liked what I saw from Perlini at the end of the year with Niagara. Mind you, he was playing a lot with Strome and Ritchie, but he more than held his own. He's a big winger but has the potential to be a very good north/south type player. He skates very well for his size and flashes the ability to be a very good puck carrier, and the type of guy who could be a load for defenseman to handle off the rush. He's also got a good and heavy shot which profiles him as more than just a crash and bang guy. Would like to see him play a bit more physical and use his size without the puck, but he's got a lot of potential and will see a ton of ice time in Niagara this year.

16. Robby Fabbri - Forward - Guelph Storm
An absolutely terrific offensive player who thrives with the puck on his stick. He is effective both off the rush and below the hash marks because he works hard without the puck too. In particular, Fabbri is a fantastic skater who really can push the pace of play and put pressure on opposing defenses. He profiles best as a playmaking center, but I think he has more goal scoring potential than he showed last year. Really the only thing going against him at this point is size, as he's only about 5'10. He'll definitely need to bulk up without sacrificing his speed, in order to draw the attention from scouts and get consideration for the first round.

15. Aaron Haydon - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
I thought he improved so much from the start of the season to when his season was cut short in Febuary with a broken jaw. Haydon provided way more offensively than I thought he would, after he was billed as primarily a shutdown type of defender at the draft. He showed flashes of being able to carry the puck, lead the rush, and jump up in the play effectively. And all this is gravy since he was also very strong in his own end. Haydon has great size and is already a terrific player in his own end, who is physically aggressive but also smart positionally. I'm really looking forward to seeing how his game develops this year, perhaps most out of any player on this list.

14. Joshua Ho-Sang - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
I'll admit that this ranking is probably a little lower than others might have him, but I do stand by it. While Ho-Sang is undeniably a terrific offensive talent, his game requires a lot of growth before he deserves to be up with the other top end forwards from the OHL this year (Clarke, McCann, Ritchie, Dal Colle, Bennett, etc). With the puck on his stick, Ho-Sang can be an electric player whose speed and skill combination makes him very difficult to contain off the rush. But, I found him to be way too narrow centric this year and he was forced into a lot of turnovers by hanging on to the puck too long and not using his linemates effectively. I also thought his game without the puck left a lot to be desired. If he shows improvement in these areas, he has the potential to rocket up this list, but as of right now, I think he deserves a lower ranking.

13. Jake Middleton - Defense - Ottawa 67's
It certainly wasn't a terrific year for Middleton, as he battled injuries, got traded and played only 29 games in the league. In the OHL, he certainly wasn't incredibly effective looking. It was at the Under 17's that I thought he really shined, as one of Team Ontario's best defenseman, and as one of the top defenseman in the tournament. This year he'll be able to start fresh in Ottawa and get a ton of playing time, where his game will undoubtedly grow. He has the potential to be a complete package on the back end. He has size, physicality, skating ability and offensive instincts. 

12. Alex Nedeljkovic - Goaltender - Plymouth Whalers
Can't say enough about the job Nedeljkovic did for Plymouth last year. One of the more impressive performances I've seen from a 16/17 year old netminder in the league. There's no coincidence that once Nedeljkovic established himself as the team's starter, the Whalers' started to play their best hockey. His play at the Ivan Hlinka tournament also showcases how important he can be to team success. He's a calming influence in the net who has a terrific confidence level for a young netminder. He's not the biggest goalie, but he's very solid in all aspects and projects as a top flight starter in this league.

11. Matthew Mistele - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
Mistele is a budding power forward prospect who has just played his 2nd year in the OHL (late '95) where he put up 34 goals on a deep and talented Plymouth team. He's a very hard worker away from the puck who's aggressive in the corners and in attacking the net. He reads plays well offensively and gets himself in good scoring position. As he gains confidence, I expect his ability to be a factor off the rush to improve and for him to develop into a great all around offensive player. This is of course on top of the physicality he brings, and the effort level at both ends of the ice. A terrific all around player.

10. Anthony DeAngelo - Defense - Sarnia Sting
Oozes offensive talent from the backend. As a late '95, he finished third in defenseman scoring last year, and lead the league in assists from the back end (49). He has a ton of confidence bringing the puck out of his own end and is incredibly aggressive in trying to gain access to the opposition's zone. He's also aggressive offensively without the puck and will look to pinch and join the breakout whenever he can. He controls the point well on the powerplay, but could stand to improve the consistency with which he gets his point shot on net. And while he's not the biggest (a shade under 6'0), he plays larger than that in the defensive end and will look to engage physically. There's no question that he does have some concerns in the defensive end though. His aggressive offensive nature will occasionally leave his d-partner to cover for him. He can also be prone to mistakes in defensive coverage. And at times, he can try to force plays up ice (be it a rush or a pass) that lead to turnovers. But as an offensive defenseman, there are few in the OHL who can match his ability.
9. Spencer Watson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Fresh off leading the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial in scoring (10 points), Watson will return to Kingston to build off of a solid rookie season. He's one of the most exciting and dynamic young scorers in the league. He skates very well and is most effective when he has the puck on his stick entering the zone. He's very elusive with the puck, and despite being undersized and lacking strength, did a good job to be a consistently effective offensive threat in his rookie year. His play without the puck is solid offensively, as he works hard to get himself open and doesn't need much room to operate in close to the net. His hockey sense in the offensive end is fantastic. The rest of his game needs some filling out, as he'll look to improve his defensive play, as well as his ability to fight in the corners. While he's definitely undersized (~5'11), his size didn't seem to hurt him a ton in his first OHL season. I expect big things from him this year.

8. Nikolai Goldobin - Forward - Sarnia Sting
While he wasn't able to beat out Connor McDavid for the Emms' (ROY), he did edge him in the rookie scoring race. Goldobin is a highly electric offensive player who'll be entering his 2nd season in the OHL as a late '95 Import. His hands and ability to beat defenders one on one are among the best in the entire OHL. He's incredibly elusive and very effective off the rush. What I liked about him is that he's also not a perimeter player and will look to go hard to the net without the puck. While his defensive game and physical components need work, he's certainly a fantastic offensive player. It'll be interesting to see how he does in Sarnia this year as the go to offensive guy.

7. Sam Bennett - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
One of the most complete players of his age group, Bennett is a treat to watch. He is an incredibly aggressive player without the puck who looks to attack on the forecheck and engage in the corners. And while he's certainly effective and eager to do the grunt work on a line, he's also incredibly skilled. He is a terrific skater who has excellent acceleration and separation ability. He can handle the puck in traffic and does a great job to create space for himself to use his shot, which is terrific. Defensively, he improved a lot over the course of the season and has the makings of developing into a great two way player. Quite frankly, the top 7 on my list are all pretty interchangeable at the current moment. I could see any of them challenging for a position in the top 10 of the 2014 draft.

6. Roland McKeown - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
A jack of all trades defender, and I mean that in the best way possible. McKeown can do it all and he makes it look relatively easy. Defensively, he's already very solid and logged a ton of minutes for Kingston this past year. He is excellent in coverage and has a really high IQ in his own end. He's not the most physical guy, but he has terrific positioning and is already tough to beat one on one. McKeown is also calm with the puck in his own end and doesn't make many bad passes or decisions, even if the forecheck is putting pressure on him. He's still learning how to be a good offensive defender in the OHL, but that's to be expected I think. He's not really a dynamic offensive player though, nor do I think he'll ever develop into one. But he can still be a solid offensive defenseman who can control a powerplay and help start the breakout.

5. Michael Dal Colle - Forward - Oshawa Generals
While I might not agree with the power forward tag some people are throwing around, Dal Colle is certainly an interesting package of skill and size. He's already incredibly strong on the puck and hard to separate from it. In close to the net, his size, strength, and hands make him very difficult to contain. This is especially true when you consider his ability to think the game and get himself in good scoring position. The one thing holding him back a bit at this moment is that he's not the world's best skater. His first few strides could use some work and would make him a much more dangerous player in taking defenders to the net. But the rest of his game is elite. It'll be interesting to see whether the Generals let him return to his natural position of center this year, or continue to play him on the wing where he had a lot of success as a rookie.

4. Nick Ritchie - Forward - Peterborough Petes
To be honest, I wanted to put Ritchie a bit further down on this list because of all the trouble he's had staying healthy. But I just couldn't, considering the potential he possesses. He's the complete package and a true forward prospect. Think Brett Ritchie (a terrific player in his own right), but a better skater and puckhandler. When he's on, Ritchie can control all facets of the game, offensively, physically, and on the backcheck. He's incredibly difficult to contain with the puck in transition and is very aggressive in looking towards the center of the ice. His hands in close are fantastic, but he's also a great playmaker who sees the ice and can make his linemates better. For Ritchie, it's all about staying healthy in his 3rd OHL season (he's a late '95). If he's forced to play the game with less conviction to avoid injury, he'd lose his some of his effectiveness.

3. Jared McCann - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Along with Sam Bennett, McCann is the best and most complete player of his age group. His hockey sense is ridiculously good at both ends of the ice, as he's already terrific on the backcheck and a great penalty killer. In the offensive end, he has great vision and is able to create opportunities for his linemates, both off the rush and below the hash marks. While McCann is a great playmaker, he's also a potential goal scoring threat with a great wrist shot which he requires little room to release. Lastly, he's a fantastic skater who looks to put pressure on the opposition through the forecheck. I expect big things from him in SSM this year.

2. Blake Clarke - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Clarke is a big power forward who is just starting to scratch the surface of his abilities. For such a big guy, he has a terrific finesse touch with the puck and is able to make defenders miss off the rush, or on the way to the net. He's also a great playmaker for a power forward, who doesn't just barrel his way to the net when he has the puck, but instead looks to create in other ways and has great vision. In general his hockey sense in the offensive end is very good and he finds himself in scoring position quite often by reading and reacting well to the play. His skating is only average at this point, but it could definitely get better. I'd also like to see him play physically more consistently, as it adds another element to his game. Very high ceiling with Clarke.

1. Aaron Ekblad - Defense - Barrie Colts
What more is there to say about Ekblad? Fresh off captaining Team Canada to a gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka, I think it's clear that Ekblad is still the top rated prospect of his age group. I was left particularly impressed by the way he played during last year's playoff run, where he really put the Colts' on his back defensively. He's an absolute rock in his own end and is already one of the most difficult players to beat one on one in the league because of his size, mobility, and physicality. And while he's certainly not a natural offensive player, he has enough skill and sense to put up points and be an effective offensive player at the next level. His shot and first pass are both still above average, even if his ability to rush the puck never really translates. This year, I want to see him really up the physical intensity in his own end and start tossing people around in the corners and in front of the net. 

Honorable Mentions

Damian Bourne - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
A mammoth forward at about 6'4, 210lbs, I expected more from him in Mississauga last year. He was really only noticeable as a punishing checker, but struggled to find his way in the offensive end. His skating really needs work as he looked a step behind in a lot of situations. High potential still as a power forward.

Darby Llewellyn - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
He drew in and out of the Rangers' line up this year, but showed enough to suggest that he's got a pretty high ceiling. While I don't think he was given the opportunity to really show what he was capable of offensively, I did notice him as a forward who can have some success in the corners and on the forecheck. I think there's more than meets the eye here.

Brett Hargrave - Forward - Sarnia Sting
A big potential power forward who came into the year with higher expectations. Really wasn't very noticeable when I saw Sarnia play last year and will need to up his physical intensity. Will get more ice time this year, let's see what he does with it.

Niki Petti - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Petti had a very inconsistent first season with Belleville. On some occasions, he looked like an aggressive, high energy offensive player, while on others he was invisible and seemed to have trouble outmuscling older players. With a summer of strength training, we'll likely be able to tell how effective of an offensive player he can be.

Tyler Hore - Defense - Sarnia Sting
Hore is an interesting late '95 defender who played well with Sarnia after the trade from Oshawa. He's got great size (6'3), moves well, and has potential to play at both ends of the ice. Still very raw but could be a player.

Will Be Appearing Soon (Haven't Played in the OHL yet)

Ryan MacInnis - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Kevin Labanc - Forward - Barrie Colts
Connor Chatham - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
Alex Lintuniemi - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Alexander Protapovich - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Adrien Kempe (if he reports) - Forward - Barrie Colts

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday Top 10 - Jumping Ship to the OHL - Fifth Edition

This entry has become a tradition at the blog, where we look at some of the U.S. players leaving their current teams or commitments to play in the Ontario Hockey League. Some are certain, others are not.

Just a very quick disclaimer. While some research has been done for this article, some of the players listed here are not DEFINITELY coming to the OHL. And in some cases, some of them haven't even been mentioned in rumours as to be considering the OHL. The purpose of this article is to inform OHL fans of possible players that could be joining their line up in the future. It's all here say, and is in no way (for the most part) substantiated.

Let's look at the list.

(Special Addition) 11. Tyler Hill - Ottawa 67's
It was announced after I released this article that USHL forward Tyler Hill would be joining the 67's. Hill is a '95 that was passed over in the 2013 NHL draft. At one point, he was highly ranked (inside Redline's top 10) and was thought to be one of the top prospects available from U.S. high school hockey. He had a disappointing season, including a stop with Chicago of the USHL. He's a hulking forward at 6'6, 225lbs and does obviously bring scoring potential to Ottawa's lineup. He's apparently got to work on his skating and overall game but should jump right into Ottawa's top 6. A very intriguing add by them.

10. Jeremy Brodeur - Oshawa Generals
An excellent and calculated risk by the Generals to draft Jeremy Brodeur, son of Martin. Jeremy is a '96, but because of his late birthday, he's not eligible for the NHL draft until 2015. He's been playing at Shattuck St. Mary's and will continue to do so this season. He has no college commitment as of yet, which bodes well for him eventually ending up in Oshawa. Anthony, his older brother (and fellow goaltender), is playing in the QMJHL next year after graduating from Shattuck this past year. Another connection is that Brodeur's head coach in New Jersey is Peter DeBoer, who is part owner of the Generals. The only real interesting kink is that Jeremy has a twin named William, who also plays for Shattuck, but is a forward. Would he leave his twin to play in the OHL? I'd say all signs point to Jeremy eventually ending up there, but we won't know for another year.

9. Dakota Joshua - Plymouth Whalers
Without a college commitment, the Whalers took a chance by drafting Joshua this year in the 8th round after he wasn't selected in 2012. The '96 forward is eligible for the NHL draft this year and could bring some much needed offensive punch to the team down the middle (where they took a big hit this offseason). He played for several teams last year, including a few call ups with the U.S. Under 17 team, and for Sioux Falls of the USHL (who also hold his rights). It remains to be seen what direction he plans on taking, but if he does go to the OHL, he could be a nice sleeper for the Whalers' and a possible top 9 forward.

8. Matt Greenfield - Kitchener Rangers
The OHL free agent signing has played midget hockey for Team Illinois the past couple of years and has been brought in to compete for the starting job in Kitchener. The '95 born goaltender doesn't have much experience at the higher levels, but maybe Kitchener has found a diamond in the rough. With only Tyson Teichmann (an OA) and Jack Moylan fighting him for a spot, the competition is wide open. Besides, when was the last time the Rangers didn't have a starting goaltender from the U.S.?

7. Conor McGlynn - Kingston Frontenacs
A 2011 draft pick of the Fronts, McGlynn is leaving Sioux City of the USHL for Kingston this year. Greater things were expected of him offensively in the USHL, so it'll be interesting to see if he can find his scoring touch in the OHL. The '95 forward can slot in at any forward spot and is a solid all around player with a high compete level. So even if he doesn't make a big impact on the score sheet, he should at least be a physical presence who can kill penalties for Todd Gill.

6. Nick Magyar - Kitchener Rangers
Magyar de-committed from Ohio State to sign with Kitchener after playing last year in the USHL with Sioux City, as well as a few call up games with the U.S. Under 17 squad. He's a big playmaking center who is eligible for this year's draft. Kitchener has a lot of depth at the forward position heading into next year, so there's no question he's going to have to battle for ice time. It'll be interesting to follow his progression.

5. Connor Chatham - Plymouth Whalers
Chatham could quietly be a terrific find for the Whalers. Two years ago he was a member of the U.S. Under 17 team, but left the program to play for Omaha of the USHL last year where he was the team's leading goal scorer. He's a late '95, which makes him eligible for this year's NHL draft. He's a big bodied winger who plays hard and can put the puck in the net. With some of Plymouth's losses this year, I wouldn't be surprised if he slots into their top 6 this upcoming season.

4. Josh Wesley - Plymouth Whalers
A terrific add by the Whalers, Wesley is the son of former terrific NHL defenseman Glen Wesley. The 6'2 defender played for the U.S. Under 17 team last year and should make an immediate impact in the Whalers' line-up. He's eligible for this year's NHL draft. While Plymouth may be losing a lot on offense, their defense and goaltending situation should still allow them to be up near the top of the Western Conference standings.

3. Kevin Labanc - Barrie Colts
A 6th round pick of Barrie in 2011, Labanc was set to go to Notre Dame when he apparently ran into some academic issues. This was ultimately Barrie's gain as he'll now suit up in the OHL next year. The hard nosed winger played the last two years in the U.S. Development program, winning a Silver medal with the U.S. at last year's Under 18's. He's not the biggest or the most skilled offensively, but the 2014 NHL draft prospect (late '95) works hard away from the puck and brings a solid two-way game to Barrie.

2. Ryan MacInnis - Kitchener Rangers
While it has yet to be made official, all signs point to MacInnis ending up in Kitchener next year, just like his father Al. A member of the U.S. Under 17 team last year, MacInnis was recently left off the Under 18 team for this season, suggesting it's all but certain he'll be in the OHL in 2013/2014. The big offensive winger was recently ranked 6th by McKeen's on their preliminary list for 2014, so he'll be a terrific addition to the Rangers' line up. Could be a good compliment to a guy like Josh Sterk on the team's 2nd line.

1. Michael McCarron - London Knights
A huge coup for the Knights (no pun intended), as they've added the Montreal Canadiens first rounder to the fold for next year. The hulking winger played the last two years with the U.S. Development program and was one of the U.S' leading goal scorers at the Under 18's. McCarron is expected to pay immediate dividends with London, where it's rumoured that Dale Hunter intends to use him on a first line with Max Domi and Bo Horvat. Talk about scary.

Honorable Mentions

Jordan Greenway (Plymouth), Zach Werenski (London), Luke Kirwan (Guelph), Jeremy Bracco (Kitchener)
All four were highly touted prospects for the 2013 OHL priority draft and will be suiting up for the U.S. Under 17 team this coming season. Outside of Bracco, none of them have college commitments as of yet, which suggests that at SOME point, they could be OHL bound. All four have the potential to be impact players in the league should they decide to come.

Connor Clifton - Peterborough Petes
A 5th rounder of Phoenix, Clifton is committed to Quinnipiac for 2013/2014. The former U.S. development program defender is a solid and physical two way player who could be a terrific add for Peterborough, should they convince him to de-commit. They did draft him in the 4th round this year, which suggests that they do feel they have a chance to add him into the fold.

Evan Allen - Windsor Spitfires
Over the course of the last year, there had been a lot of talk of the U.S. Under 18 program forward joining Windsor. But he seems steadfast on joining the U. of Michigan next year after being passed over in the 2013 NHL draft.

Nick Schmaltz - Windsor Spitfires
One of the leading scorers at the current U-18 Ivan Hlinka tournament, Schmaltz has also been a long rumoured target of the Spits. The talented offensive forward has played the last two years with Green Bay of the USHL and is committed to North Dakota for 2014/2015. While he'll be in the USHL this year again, perhaps a high selection at the 2014 NHL Draft could steer him towards Windsor.

Cody Milan - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A teammate of Schmaltz's at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka tournament, Milan is also a USHL player with a 2014/2015 college commitment (Michigan State). Like Schmaltz, he plans to play his NHL draft season in the USHL with Sioux Falls. If he reported, he could jump right into SSM's top 6.

Dylan Larkin - Erie Otters
One of the top '96's in the U.S., Larkin is a skilled offensive forward who currently plays for the U.S. Development program and will suit up with the U-18 team this coming season. He's slated to attend the U. of Michigan in 2014/2015. Maybe just maybe, he could be convinced to join Connor McDavid next year by the NHL team that drafts him in 2014.

Alex Tuch - Guelph Storm
Like Larkin, Tuch is one of the top performers of the U-18 team. He's a hulking forward who bares resemblance to Mike McCarron, but who has committed to Boston College for 2014/2015. He's currently ranked inside the top 30 by McKeen's for the 2014 draft, so he'd be a great add to the Storm line-up in the future.

Sonny Milano - Plymouth Whalers
Milano is also a top player for the U.S. development team and a critical scoring threat for the U-18 team this coming season. Like Tuch, he's ranked inside Mckeen's top 30 for the 2014 draft. He's set to attend Notre Dame in the future, but Plymouth has had some pretty good luck recruiting American players of late, so you never know.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days - Winnipeg Jets

This is the END! Last stop, Winnipeg!

Mark Scheifele - Barrie Colts
Scheifele had a terrific season, undoubtedly his last in the OHL. I was actually reasonably critical of his play in 2011/2012, after I felt like he was not consistently noticeable enough for a top 10 pick. At the time (August 2012), I said, "If he does return to Barrie, I'm hoping he can really dominate and come back like a man on a mission. In order to do that, he's going to have to take that next step in using his size aggressively on offense, taking over the boards and being a load to stop on the way to the net." Well, that's EXACTLY what he did this year. Scheifele was an absolute load to handle for opposing defenses in 2012/2013. With the puck, he was aggressive in looking to the middle of the ice and consistently drove to the net looking to create. Without the puck, he did the same thing, trying to open up space for linemates, in addition to looking for scoring opportunities in close to the crease. He was more aggressive physically without the puck and transformed himself into a very difficult player to win battles in the corners against. Offensively, he became a multi-faceted player, a guy who could beat you off the rush, but also below the hash-marks. Scheifele also had significantly more confidence in his shot this year, looking to use it whenever he could. His release looked much improved and he had no trouble burying his share of chances (next to OHL leading goal scorer Reid Boucher, he had the best goals per game average in the league). On top of the improvements offensively, Scheifele also looked stronger defensively as he brought more intensity to his backchecking assignments. To sum it up, the Jets made the right choice sending him back for another year. In 2013/2014, Scheifele can play in the AHL or the NHL. I'd be surprised if he doesn't make the Jets at this point, where I suspect he'll have a pretty decent first season. IMO a 20/20 year is well within his grasp.  

Scott Kosmachuk - Guelph Storm
Another solid year for Kosmachuk, playing his brand of in your face offensive hockey. He's definitely what you would refer to as a "crease crasher." He's constantly buzzing without the puck and is relentless in puck pursuit. His play with the puck is an underrated component of his game, as he has enough skill to take defenders one on one and loves to try and get past them on the outside. I think he'll still need to add another gear to his stride in order to be more effective at this, but the effort level is there. Even though the goal numbers didn't improve considerably, I did think his shot looked better this year. He had more power behind it and looked more confident doing it. In a lot of ways, Kosmachuk plays the game like his coach in Guelph, Scott Walker. He's certainly the perfect guy to be teaching him the ropes. Next year, Kosmachuk will return to Guelph and should have a big year. After leading the Storm in scoring this year, I expect that to grow even more, perhaps to the tune of a 40 goal, 80 point season in 2013/2014. 

Austen Brassard - Belleville Bulls
Truthfully, I was a little surprised that Brassard got a contract offer from the Jets after he posted the worst offensive numbers since his 16 year old season. Now numbers don't tell the whole story, but they do tell some of it. This year, Brassard did play the most aggressively that he has as an OHL player. He was a consistent physical threat and grew into a quality player without the puck, at both ends of the ice. But he wasn't able to get a whole lot done with the puck this year. While he was aggressive in trying to drive to the net, his puck skills nor his acceleration have ever really ever improved to the point where he's a consistent scoring threat from the outside. His shot is also not terrific and he needs time and space to get it off. With his size, he should be scoring a lot more goals in close to the net, but that wasn't the case this year as he often found himself out of scoring position. After last year's breakthrough offensively, I had high expectations for him but was left underwhelmed. Next year he'll be in the AHL where I imagine he'll start on a checking line. At this point, it's hard to imagine him putting up large offensive numbers and I think he'll take some time adjusting to the speed of the pro game. A 10-10 first year would be a realistic expectation.  

Jimmy Lodge - Saginaw Spirit
I thought Lodge was a steal and a half where the Jets picked him up. He needs to fill out his frame, but he oozes offensive potential (as I've mentioned in a previous article, Lodge finished the season with 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in his final 31 games). He's a great skater and can be aggressive coming down the wing, whether it be looking to go hard to the net, or finding space for his above average shot. He's also got good offensive instincts and seems to find himself in good position to make offensive plays. He'll need to continue to round out his game by working harder in his own end and in the corners. And he'll need to get stronger so he's not pushed off the puck as easy, and to make him more effective along the wall. But the potential is very high. Next year he'll continue to play on Saginaw's first line. This could include Eric Locke (who he's built up great chemistry with) if he's returned by Buffalo for his overage year. I think he'll have an excellent season and can crack the 70 point mark. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days - Washington Capitals

We've done the Canadian capital, but now it's time for the American one. Bring on the Washington Capitals.

Tom Wilson - Plymouth Whalers
All in all, Wilson had a terrific season with Plymouth. I felt like he was one of Plymouth's most consistent forwards (even during their stretch at the beginning of the season when the team wasn't playing so hot). His confidence offensively grew a lot and he became nearly as much of a factor with the puck as he is without it. He's starting to learn how much success he can have by driving hard to the net with the puck and that few OHL defenseman can stop him once he puts his head down. I think the other noticeable improvement was his shot release. His shot itself might still lack some accuracy and strength, but I felt like he was more apt at getting rid of shots in close quarters and fending off checks better in front of the net. And of course, there's still all the positives he brings without the puck (like forechecking, physicality, pugilism, backchecking). He's a hard working guy who has a long NHL career ahead of him. The question remains, what does Washington do with him next year. I've seen some suggesting that he could crack their roster this year (especially given his cup of tea during the 2013 NHL playoffs). I personally think that would be a mistake. I think Washington needs to be patient with him to really allow his offensive abilities to blossom. If he's in the NHL now, I think he'll struggle to keep up with the pace of the game in the offensive end and I don't think his confidence with the puck (as much as it grew this year) is quite up to that level. Could he contribute in other ways? Absolutely. But in order to get the best out of him in the long run, I think he needs to be back in junior for another year. If he's back with Plymouth, I think he's got a shot at 30 goals and 70 points.

Connor Carrick - Plymouth Whalers
I was incredibly impressed by Carrick in his first year in the league. I thought he was a wonderful and key addition to Plymouth's already solid roster and he was arguably their number one defenseman this year. He plays in all situations and excels. He may not be a big guy, but he's visibly stocky and doesn't back down from anyone in the defensive end. He's feisty in front of the net and in the corners, and he'll lower the boom on you in the open ice. Offensively, he makes smart decisions with the puck and is capable of starting the breakout with a rush or a solid first pass. He's also growing as a powerplay quarterback and is learning how to use his shot as a weapon. I think the Caps have a real diamond in the rough with Carrick. Next year he'll return to Plymouth where he'll continue to play a critical role for the team. I expect him to have a big year and he should crack the 50 point plateau. He's also a serious candidate to wear the "C" for Plymouth, given his role as alternate this past year.

Monday, August 5, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days - Vancouver Canucks

Off to the West coast, as Vancouver is the next team evaluated.

Brendan Gaunce - Belleville Bulls
As big a fan as I am of Gaunce, I will admit that I was a tad disappointed by his development this year. He's certainly still a terrific two-way player whose reads, anticipation and ability to tie up opposing players in the defensive end remained top notch. His work along the wall at both ends of the ice is among the best in the entire OHL. Offensively, that's still where the majority of his chances are generated. He works the cycle well, and creates openings for himself and teammates. His vision and playmaking ability remain an underrated aspect of his game. The one aspect of his game that I did feel took a step forward was his play in front of the net. He was more aggressive in going to the net looking for scoring opportunities this year. He picked up a lot of "garbage" goals near the crease and in the slot by outworking opposing defenders. He's very strong and is hard to prevent from getting shots off. But, as I mentioned I was a bit disappointed by his offensive development. And with that I mean his ability to generate scoring chances off the rush. He remains a dangerous player below the hash marks, but when the tempo is quicker he loses effectiveness. With his size and ability to distribute/handle the puck, he should be controlling the tempo and pace of the game and creating more chances by driving hard to the middle of the ice with the puck on his stick. Next year Belleville should remain a pretty solid team, but I'm really looking for Gaunce to put this team on his back and start taking over games on a consistent basis (the way he played in this year's playoffs). I'm thinking an 80 point season is a solid and realistic goal for him.

Frank Corrado - Kitchener Rangers
It was quite the year for Corrado, seeing time at the OHL level (duh), but also the AHL and NHL levels, including a few games in the NHL playoffs. I don't think there's any question that he's one of the more underrated prospects out there. He's a terrific two-way player who does pretty much everything well, including playing more physical in front of the net and in the corners this year. He makes smart reads in the defensive end and uses his terrific skating ability to keep ahead of forwards on the rush. Offensively, he can skate the puck out of his own end, but is also a factor running the point on the powerplay. He has a deceptively hard shot from the point, even if he doesn't use it a ton. In Kitchener, I thought his play dropped a bit, but only because he didn't really seem to find a partner he had great chemistry with. I particularly didn't like when Kitchener paired Murphy and Corrado together occasionally. Next year, he'll be turning pro and playing in the AHL or the NHL. If he's in the AHL, I could see him having a very solid season, reaching the 30 point plateau. If he's in the NHL, I don't think he'll contribute much offensively but should be able to hold his own defensively. 

Evan McEneny - Kitchener Rangers 
It was definitely great to see McEneny play this entire year injury free after his disastrous 2nd season that ended with a knee tear. The Canucks were definitely smart to sign him when they did (as I've mentioned before). McEneny got better and better as the season went on (completely confidence related). He saw time in all situations for Kitchener, and looked very solid running the 2nd powerplay unit. I particularly love the way he eludes the oncoming forecheck in his own end. He's a very smooth skater and he doesn't panic in his own end. He sees the ice very well in that regard and rarely gets himself trapped. I'd like to see him push things a little bit more and be more aggressive in jumping up in the play, but I think that's still a confidence thing coming to him. He's also got to improve his point shot before he takes over the primary powerplay QB duties next year. Defensively, he makes smart reads and is a solid positional defender. But he does need to be more aggressive, particularly in the corners and in front of the net. This was something he flashed in his 16 year old season, but not nearly as much last year. I'm incredibly excited to see his progression next year when the Kitchener defense is essentially his to run. I think he's going to have a big breakout season and surprise a lot of people by being up near the top of the defensive scoring in the O. I've said it before and I'll say it again, if he doesn't get injured in his draft year, I think he's a top three round pick.

Bo Horvat - London Knights
If you read this blog a lot, you'll know how much of a fan I am of Horvat. He's Mr. Everything for the Knights and had way more potential than people give him credit for. There's a reason why the Canucks felt comfortable trading Cory Schneider for him. I won't speak to everything (because you can just read my 2013 draft rankings for that), but I'll talk briefly about his goal scoring and defensive abilities. As a goal scorer, he has a ton of potential because he can do it in a lot of different ways and he has terrific instincts without the puck. Defensively, his intelligence is off the charts. He forces so many turnovers in the neutral zone by forcing players into bad passes or pick pocketing them. Next year, who really knows. I think he SHOULD go back to London for another year, to get quicker, stronger, and more confident with the puck. But I also think he has a legitimate shot of making the Canucks because of his complete game. If he's in the OHL, I think we're looking at an 80+ point season. If he's in the NHL, I could see him potting 15 goals and being a quality member of a checking line.

Cole Cassels - Oshawa Generals
Cassels had an up and down 2nd season in Oshawa, but few draft eligible players do find consistency during that year. His ice time fluctuated with the bevy of stars Oshawa had at forward, but he did manage to stand out on some occasions. He's both a similar player and different player than his father Andrew. Similar in the sense that he isn't blessed with terrific size or skating ability. Similar also by way of being an excellent playmaker (even if he tries to force too many plays and can be prone to bad passes in the offensive end). Different in the sense that he's an in your face pest who thrives on the forecheck and by playing hard in the corners. Next year in Oshawa, the Generals will be going through a bit of a rebuild, especially if they lose Scott Laughton to Philadelphia. He's certainly going to get increased ice time and offensive responsibility. The Gennies will still have some good wingers to work with (especially if Michael Dal Colle stays on the wing and doesn't shift to center), so I think he'll have a shot at a solid season. I'd expect him to be around the 50-55 point mark.

Jordan Subban - Belleville Bulls
I think at this point everyone knows what Jordan brings to the ice offensively. He's an effortless skater who exudes confidence when avoiding the forecheck and when leading the attack. He makes good decisions with the puck and does a good job of running the point on the powerplay. While he may be smaller in stature, his shot is terrific and he's aggressive in jumping up in the play to try and get a chance to use it. Defensively, he can be overmatched. He needs to get stronger in the corners where a lot of OHL forwards have their way with him. It's not a lack of effort, but a lack of physical ability. I think he's still learning how to read situations in the defensive end too and will occasionally make gaffes in coverage. As mentioned above (with Gaunce), the Bulls should still be a competitive team this year and Subban will be a big part of that. I expect his confidence to be even higher next year and I could see him being among the defensive scoring leaders in the league (+ 60 points).

Miles Liberati - London Knights
Liberati didn't get much ice time this year, but he certainly did enough to warrant a look from an NHL team. Heck, to stay in the lineup at the end of the year, he even played games at forward and looked good doing it. I have a lot of faith in Liberati developing into a quality OHL player and NHL prospect as he has all the tools and he's going to learn from a good coach. His skating ability in combination with his instincts at both ends of the ice, make him a two-way threat. This year in London, he should easily draw into the line-up. How much ice time he gets will be dictated by his play, but he has a chance to work his way up to the 2nd pairing and even 2nd powerplay unit. I'd expect a mini breakthrough for him around the 25 point mark.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days - Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs are up next (and have half the prospects playing in the OHL).

Stuart Percy - Mississauga Steelheads
I thought Percy had a very solid final OHL season. He rebounded nicely from last year's concussion filled campaign. He's a very steady and reliable defender. He continued to play solid defense this year, with his greatest asset being his head. He reads situations very well in the defensive end and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He rarely loses his cover in the zone. He also defends well off the rush and keeps forwards in front of him. It's off the rush that you'll see a little piss and vinegar in his game, as he's not afraid to plant an opposing forward coming in on him. Without question, the biggest improvement made to his game this year was his shot. He looked way more confident using it from the point, where in previous years I always felt he was hesitant to unleash it. He was also more active in jumping up in the rush and looking for ways to use his shot. I think, at the next level, he'll probably fall back a bit more and won't be as active of a puck carrier, but his play on the powerplay this year suggests he could be a factor there. I think he'll also need to be a bit more rough in the corners and in front of the net to succeed defensively at the next level, which is something that he's capable of. With the Marlies (AHL), I'd expect him to have a solid first season. I think he'll be a big part of their line-up and should crack the 25 point plateau.

Matt Finn - Guelph Storm
A bit of a tough post-draft year for Finn. He missed good chunks of action with mono and a knee sprain (separately). As such, I don't think he was ever able to get into a good groove on the ice and I don't think his game took any major steps forward this year. He's still a very smart player with the puck and a guy who's not afraid to jump up in the rush to create offense. His first few steps and top gear still need a bit of work to make him a greater threat off the rush offensively. Defensively, he's a similar player to Stuart Percy, in the sense that he has good positioning and reads and reacts well to situations. He's not the type of guy who'll be caught running around. I'd like to see him become tougher to play against in the corners and in front of the net. Next year, Finn should be one of the top defenseman in the OHL and I'd be very surprised if he's not among the top 10 in scoring among blueliners.  

Tyler Biggs - Oshawa Generals
I'm a little torn on Biggs' season this year. There were certainly things I really liked about his game, and things that left me a tad disappointed. I'll start with the positives. He's a pretty effective skater for a big guy and it allows him to be a factor off the rush offensively. It also makes him an effective player in puck pursuit, as he's not only able to outmuscle opposing defenders for the puck along the wall, but is often the first man there. Biggs is also already a very solid defensive player and penalty killer. He backchecks hard and is very effective in his own zone at winning one on one battles. He's also got pretty good hands in close to the net and has some ability to carry the puck and make things happen with it. Now the negatives. I was actually disappointed with the consistency of his physical game. There were a few of Oshawa's games that I saw where he was out there hitting anything and everything. And others where I truthfully didn't really notice him. His game is tailored around being a physical force, so that aspect needs to be there consistently. I'm also not sure how much offensive potential he has at the next level. I don't think he has a terrific shot or goal scoring instincts, as he can generate chances but doesn't finish a ton of them. In the playoffs this year, he pulled a major disappearing act, which is a tad alarming for a 19 year old first round draft pick. All in all, he looks like a pro prospect, just not one who can contribute in the top 6. With the Marlies this year, I don't know if I would anticipate a lot of offensive output. I think he'll probably be around the 30 point mark. As long as he can up that physical intensity, it would still make him an effective player.

Josh Leivo - Kitchener Rangers
For as much as I like Leivo as an NHL prospect, I was actually a little underwhelmed by his OHL season this year. In 2011/2012, he emerged as one of the top two-way forwards in the OHL with Sudbury. His ability to work the boards, drive the net hard, and get himself into passing lanes made him a very effective player. This year, I felt like he got away from that a bit. He strayed away from his hard nosed, power winger approach to try and play more of a finesse, strictly offensive game. I think this was especially the case in Kitchener where he seemed like he was trying to hard to give the team the offensive spark it badly required. When the playoffs came around, I did feel like he was playing much better and had simplified his game, but for large chunks of the season his "overall" game did lack some consistency. That being said, I'm still a big fan of his NHL potential as a 2nd/3rd line winger. There's a lot of talk from Leafs nation about him being ready to push for a roster spot with the big club, after an impressive performance at the development camp. I don't think that's the case. I think he's definitely going to need at least a year in the AHL to get used to the strength and speed of the pro game, and to figure out just what type of player he wants to be at this level. I think he'll have a solid first pro year with the Marlies (20-20 possibility) and work his way up from there.

David Broll - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The Brolldozer, as Hounds fans affectionately call him, had a very nice little breakout season. Many parts of his game took big steps forward in his final OHL year. He looked much quicker and as such was faster to loose pucks and more of a factor offensively in transition. He also looked substantially more confident with the puck on his stick and was looking to create whenever he could, whether it was coming off the wall, from behind the net, or taking the puck hard down the wing. He's not blessed with terrific hands or a terrific shot (which will limit his upside at the NHL level), but he certainly has a high motor that will endear him to fans. He hits everything, and hits it like a truck. I thought his defensive game also took a step forward this year too, as he was more effective on the backcheck and was reading plays in his own end with more efficiency. This bodes well for his future role as a 3rd/4th liner in the NHL. Like Leivo and Biggs, Broll will likely suit up for the Marlies this coming year. I wouldn't expect much of anything offensively to start, but he'll continue to hit and bring energy and hopefully learn to create offensive chances from that at the pro level.

Garret Sparks - Guelph Storm
Sparks definitely had a good year for Guelph in 2012/2013. He was consistently a factor that aided the Storm's ability to win hockey games. Previously, I'd always found him to be a little inconsistent, but that was mostly corrected this year. He's a very controlled netminder who plays to his strengths. He's a bigger kid who really fills up the net. Plays sort of a hybrid style but drops down to the butterfly occasionally. He swallows up rebounds well and keeps himself square to shooters. He's not flashy or incredibly athletic, but he uses positioning to make big saves when their needed. Next year, he'll be battling for a job in the AHL. It seems likely that Drew MacIntyre will be the starter for the Marlies, which leaves Sparks battling the newly signed Chris Gibson for the back-up job. A little competition never hurt anyone!

Ryan Rupert - London Knights
Rupert's journey this year was a tale of two seasons. The first was not pretty and had a lot of London fans calling for his head. It took him 21 games to score his first goal of the year. In the 20 games previous to that, he had 8 assists. In those games, he looked a little lost and was perhaps trying too much to be a big time offensive contributor. In the final 34 games of the regular season, he put up 36 points, and continued that production into the playoffs where he averaged just under a point per game. In a nutshell, if you throw away that terrible start, he actually had a good year. The thing I love about Rupert's game is that he always takes it to another level in the playoffs. Definitely a clutch performer. He remains one of the top two-way players in the league, as well as one of it's premier forecheckers and overall pests. His vision and ability to find open teammates in the offensive end is an underrated aspect of his game. He's not just a grunt who can attack defenders and come away with loose pucks, he has enough skill and sense to create chances from those turnovers. I think this offseason he really needs to focus on getting quicker. It would make his game even more effective. It's pretty hard for guys his size to play the role that he does while being only an average skater. Next year in London, he's likely to take on a similar role, but could definitely see increased powerplay time. I think he'll put up 60 points (20-40 type year) and establish himself as a solid prospect for the next level.

Connor Brown - Erie Otters
Even though I think Brown still has a ways to go as a prospect, I think he did have a very good year that saw some improvements in his game. He was a lot more noticeable without the puck this year, and began to go after pucks in the corners and opened up space for his linemate Connor McDavid by attacking the net. He's certainly not the biggest guy, but he did look stronger this year and was a lot more difficult to contain/knock off the puck. And even though his goal scoring numbers didn't increase a ton, I felt like his shot looked heavier and he was more confident using it. He transformed himself from a purely complimentary offensive player to the type of guy who can be the focal point of his line. He still needs to get quicker, especially if he wants to continue to play with Connor McDavid. Adding more explosiveness to his first few strides would make him a significantly more dangerous offensive player. And I'd still like to see him continue to round out his overall game and become more involved in the defensive end. But, Erie's captain did have a solid year. Next year Erie should be a better hockey team. They'll have a lot of offensive firepower and I could see Brown really exploding. An 80 point season is not out of reach.

Carter Verhaeghe - Niagara IceDogs
A very savvy pick up by the Leafs in the 3rd round of this year's draft. Verhaeghe is a jack of all trades kind of guy who plays in all situations for Niagara. He forechecks hard and is already a very solid board player. He's also a smart player who has a lot of potential as a playmaker. Outside of Strome and Ritchie, I thought Verhaeghe was Niagara's most consistent player this past year. Next year will bring significantly more responsibility for him. He'll be the team's top line center and expected to produce against the opposition's best. I see Niagara going through a bit of a rebuild/inconsistent year so I wouldn't expect ridiculous numbers for him. But if he can crack the 50 point mark, on top of providing leadership (has a chance of being Niagara's next captain IMO), I think that would be a successful season.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days - Tampa Bay Lightning

Time to enjoy the sun in Tampa Bay.

Slater Koekkoek - Windsor Spitfires
It was another tough year for Koekkoek after he had to have his shoulder operated on for the 2nd season in a row. Koekkoek played only 26 games in his draft year, then 42 this year (only two with his new team in Windsor). The majority of the games he played were with Peterborough, when they were struggling pre Jody Hull. In the games I saw of Koekkoek this year, he looked like a player who was still trying to find himself post injury (the first labrum surgery). His skating and aggressiveness with the puck managed to create scoring chances, just as it has done previously. But he looked tentative defensively and was still making some questionable decisions with the puck and with his pinches. I'll be honest in saying that I wasn't a big fan of the pick (10th overall) when it happened, so I think Koekkoek has a long way to go to prove he deserved to be drafted in the top 10. Reports suggest that he'll be fully ready to go in September and shouldn't miss any further time. In Windsor, he'll be counted upon to be a go to defender. I can't see him pairing with Nick Ebert (because they're too similar), but he should play a ton. The key for him (it should go without saying) is staying healthy and getting confidence back in his abilities. He's still a very raw player and he'll have to grow a lot next year, in likely his final OHL season, in order to be fully ready for the pros. If he stays healthy, I'd expect a very solid offensive campaign of upwards of 50 points. 

Dylan Blujus - Brampton Battalion
Blujus' development this year was interesting. First, the positive. I thought he was much better in his own end this year. His lateral and backwards mobility looked improved (although still needs work) and he did a better job of staying in front of opposing forwards off the rush. He was also significantly more physical and began to really gain confidence using his size in his own end. On the negative, his offensive game regressed due to the fact that he was clearly focusing on improving his play in his own end. He took very few chances with the puck and rarely jumped up in the play looking to be a 3rd or 4th man in. On the powerplay, he looked hesitant at times to use his shot, which was a weapon from the point in his draft year. He's still poised running the point though and does move the puck quickly and confidently. Next year in North Bay, I'll be looking for him to continue to grow defensively, while getting back to the things he did offensively in his draft year. In his 4th (and likely final OHL season), he should have the confidence to do this. I think he'll rebound nicely and post the best offensive numbers of his OHL career (35+ points).

Tanner Richard - Guelph Storm
One of the most "pass first" players I've ever seen. He is a playmaker in the purest sense of the word. Richard is incredibly confident with the puck on his stick and does not force plays in the offensive end. He has terrific hockey sense and makes any player on his line a better offensive player. He's effective whether the game is going full speed (in transition) or whether it's slow (working the cycle). He's also a very complete player who added a physical/aggressive element to his game this year. He looked to attack defenders on the forecheck and was way more active in the corners. Moving forward, I do think he'll need to gain more confidence in his shot to become a more dynamic offensive player. He'll occasionally pass up good openings to use his shot in order to pass. There's no doubt he'll be in the AHL next year where I expect him to put up some pretty decent numbers. His game is very well suited for the professional level and I think he'll definitely crack the 40 point plateau.

Jake Dotchin - Barrie Colts
Truthfully, I was a little disappointed in Dotchin's progression this year. His year was spent between Owen Sound and Barrie. Dotchin was shipped to Barrie after the Attack acquired Cody Ceci, which pushed him down the depth chart. However, considering the strength of Barrie's squad this year, he actually took on a third pairing role there too. Truthfully, there weren't a ton of improvements made over his draft year. He remains a solid two-way defender who flashes offensively ability, but doesn't do it consistently enough. Defensively, he's pretty solid, but could still stand to develop more of a consistent mean streak. With Ryan O'Connor and Alex Lepkowski moving on, Dotchin will be counted on to anchor the team's second pairing next year (Ekblad and Laser are the first). He'll also have to be a big part of Barrie's special teams success. For the first time in his OHL career, he's going to play an integral role on the backend and it'll be interesting to see how he handles it. I still have faith in his ability to improve and I think he'll have a good year. I'd expect him to have a 30 point year on top of being a solid defender in his own end.

Henri Ikonen - Kingston Frontenacs
Really liked what I saw from Ikonen this year in his first OHL season. He joined with rookies Sam Bennett and Spencer Watson to form one of the better and most consistent lines in the OHL this year. He's the glue guy on that line; a very well rounded offensive player. Does a lot of little things well (playing in the corners, working the cycle, backchecking, forechecking) on top of being a pretty skilled player. In particular, he seemed to flash a pretty high hockey IQ this year and I was impressed with his patience in the offensive end. Next year, it seems like he'll be back in Kingston (despite earlier reports suggesting he was returning to Finland) where he'll likely rejoin Bennett and Watson on the team's first line. I have very high hopes for that trio this year and I actually could see Ikonen cracking the 75 point mark. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days - St. Louis Blues

Up next are the St. Louis Blues (and their lone OHL prospect).

Jordan Binnington - Owen Sound Attack
The 2012/2013 OHL goaltender of the year, and well deserved. Binnington was terrific for Owen Sound, from start to finish, this year. Previously, he'd have dominating stretches, but could never put together a truly consistent season. In his 4th, and final OHL season, that finally happened. He looked significantly more confident in all aspects of the game. He was tracking the puck better, challenging shooters, and making consistently big saves for Owen Sound. The Attack did not score a lot of goals this year, so Binnington was absolutely crucial to their success; his margin for error was not large. In addition, I thought Binnington's game really grew in the rebounding department. There might not be a better goaltender in the OHL at swallowing up shots, or kicking out rebounds to the corners. All in all, he's made himself into a terrific goaltending prospect. Next year, he's likely ticketed to a back-up role in the AHL with Chicago or as a starter in the ECHL. The Blues already have top prospect Jake Allen in the AHL, plus Chicago also has veteran AHL netminder Matt Climie signed to a contract. So as of right now, Binnington looks to start the year as an ECHL starter, with a chance to get in some AHL games due to injuries and/or trade. I'd expect his success to carry over rather easily and I'd be surprised if he posted a sub .900 save percentage.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days - San Jose Sharks

The San Jose Sharks are up next.

Chris Tierney - London Knights
Numbers don't tell the whole story. Tierney was considerably more valuable to the Knights than his 57 points indicate. You have to love his progression as an OHL player over the course of his three years in the league. In his rookie year, he struggled to stay in the line-up and looked largely over-matched at this level. Then in his draft year, he embraced a different role (a third line role) and did whatever it took to stay in the lineup and get consistent ice time. Then last year he finally got some time on special teams and saw his offensive role increase. He excels as a playmaker and has terrific vision and poise with the puck, be it off the rush or below the hash marks. I thought Tierney looked visibly quicker and stronger this year and it lead to a more consistent offensive contribution. It also made him a stronger defensive player, where he often makes plays on the backcheck, or breaks up plays in the middle of the ice. Next year, I'd like to see his physical game develop more consistency. He'd be an even more dangerous player if he was more aggressive away from the puck. He could stand to win more battles in the corners and go harder to the net to make plays. I don't know if his offensive numbers we'll go up MUCH more, considering the talent ahead of him in the line-up, but I do think he'll crack the point per game mark for the first time in his career.

Dylan DeMelo - Mississauga Steelheads
DeMelo has improved immensely every year he's been in the league. He used to be a turnover machine in his own end, but he has become a secure and confident puck distributor who rarely makes mistakes with the puck. His first few steps have improved a lot the last few years, which has helped him elude the forecheck and cut down on those turnovers. He's also become more confident with the puck and has no issue going from blueline to blueline. The one thing I said last year about him is that I wanted him to work on using his shot more to generate scoring chances. Well he definitely did that this year. DeMelo was more aggressive in jumping up in the play, looking for opportunities to score. He also looked to shoot more on the powerplay and read shooting lanes better. Defensively, he continued to look relatively solid and was pretty aggressive in the corners and in front of the net. He's ready to turn pro and I think he'll be able to make an immediate impact with Worcester. In his first full pro season, I'd expect him to crack the 25-30 point mark and be a factor on their powerplay. The key for him will be whether he's able to play physically at the AHL level. He'll need to try and intimidate people in the defensive end. 

J.P. Anderson - Sarnia Sting 
The Rodney Dangerfield of OHL goalies. He gets no respect. This despite becoming the OHL's all time winningest goaltender this year (his 126 victories is now first to Kyle Gajewski's 114). All Anderson has done is win. He's certainly played for some pretty good teams over the course of his career, but you have to give him credit for being consistent. He may not dazzle you with highlight reel saves. He's certainly not flashy. And his numbers have never been fantastic. But he makes the saves when he needs to, and he doesn't give up a ton of bad goals. He's a very focused guy who always seems to keep his team in games. Because he's not the biggest, nor the most dynamic, I'm not sure what that means for his professional career. But I'm sure he'll work his butt off. It seems like he'll be battling NCAA signing Troy Grosenick to be Harri Sateri's back-up in Worcester. Whether he's in the AHL or ECHL, I could see him struggling to adjust at first, but few goalies don't go through growing pains when they hit pro. Still has NHL potential.

*of note, the Sharks did not sign Justin Sefton, making him a free agent.