I bring you the epic conclusion to my Top 50; the top 10! Hope you've enjoyed the ride.
10. Nikolai Goldobin - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Goldobin is one of, if not the most talented offensive player available from the OHL. This year's top prospect's game was a perfect example of the way he can take over a game with his dynamic offensive ability. His skating, stick handling, scoring and hockey IQ are all well above average. He's at his best off the rush where he explodes across the blue line and catches a lot of OHL defenseman flat footed, as they're not able to keep up with his ability to carry the puck at top speed. He's not incredibly strong, but he manages to avoid most checks as he's very slippery and elusive. For as bad as Sarnia was this year, Goldobin was pretty consistent, averaging over a point per game in every month. So what's the drawback? Why is Goldobin being talked about as a late first/early 2nd pick instead of a lottery selection? As consistent as his offensive production was this year, his play in every other facet is anything but consistent and productive. There were several games of Sarnia that I saw this year where Goldobin looked completely disengaged away from the puck. A floater, if you will. He's never going to be the type of player who excels in the corners, but he needs to increase his intensity level in order to find success in the NHL. If there's one thing that history has taught us, it's that offensive players who sit back and let others get the puck for them, tend to not have long careers. I also found him to be a perimeter player at times, choosing to stay to the outside instead of attacking the net. As an offensive player, he's not going to be able to put up consistent numbers at the next level by living on the outside. For as talented as he is, there are definite red flags about whether his skill set will translate to the NHL.
9. Alex Nedeljkovic - Goaltender - Plymouth Whalers
The last time a first time draft eligible goaltender won OHL goaltender of the year was Brian Finley in 1998-1999. Finley ended up going 6th overall to Nashville. Needless to say his NHL career never materialized. Nedeljkovic isn't going to go 6th overall. He may not even go in the first round. But he's still a heck of a goaltending prospect. Nedeljkovic doesn't have the size that NHL teams are looking for these days (pushing 6'0), but he's got everything else. His mental make up is fantastic and he has fantastic composure for a young net minder. Just look at what he was able to accomplish this year. He was terrific for the U.S. at the Ivan Hlinka this summer. Then he had a great year for Plymouth and pretty much carried that team into the playoffs (thus the GOY nod), and then he backstopped the U.S. to a gold medal at the U18's. His positioning and athleticism are his two biggest assets. It takes near perfect shots to beat him high, even if he's not huge. He's very athletic and moves well side to side, which allows him to challenge shooters and recover if need be. I know some people prefer Brent Moran because of the size and raw potential, but give me reliability and psychological make up that Nedeljkovic brings to the table. I'd take him second among goalies after Thatcher Demko.
Alex Nedeljkovic on "The Pipeline Show."
Alex Nedeljkovic's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."
8. Josh Ho-Sang - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
I was quite rough on Ho-Sang last year, after what I would consider to be a disappointing rookie season (considering the hype he entered the league with). He played with a lot of frustration in his freshman year, forcing plays, committing turnovers, and demonstrated a severe case of tunnel vision. This year, most of those concerns were improved upon considerably. Quite frankly, I was very impressed with the progression of his game in 2013/2014. He was a danger to create scoring chances nearly every time he hit the ice because he was able to display more poise and utilize his teammates better. His stick handling ability is so terrific, that he's able to draw a lot of attention to himself and he bides time for his line mates to find holes in the defence. He is starting to develop patience with the puck and is more comfortable letting defenders come to him, rather than constantly attacking in a north/south style of way. His play away from the puck and effort on the back check got better as the season went on and it's clear that Windsor's coaching staff was harping on him to improve in that area. He's still got a ways to go, but the effort made towards improving is encouraging. All that being said, the way he finished the season looms over him like a black cloud. In his first round playoff series against London, he was awful and he reverted back to the way he had played last year as rookie, forcing plays and playing recklessly. This came to a head when he sent Zach Bell hard into the boards, breaking his leg. Ho-Sang (whether you agree with it or not) received a 15 game suspension for the act and will miss the first couple of months next year. Then there's the mystery of Hockey Canada leaving him off the U18 team, which you can perceive as them not liking his attitude because he's certainly skilled enough. When you add it all up you've got one heck of a talented player who has some issues surrounding him which could scare off some teams. That said, I was impressed (save for the end of the year) with the improvements he made to his game this year.
Josh Ho-Sang on "The Pipeline Show."
Josh Ho-Sang's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."
7. Jared McCann - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
McCann is one of the top two-way players available in the draft this year. How high he goes will depend on how much potential you think he has at the next level. There are definitely components to his game that point to a player with the potential to produce offensively at the NHL level. Firstly, he's a terrific skater who is both explosive to holes, but also has a great top end speed. He can also carry and receive passes at top speed and can be a dangerous player in transition Secondly, his shot and release are top notch. He's terrific in the slot and has no trouble playing through traffic. McCann is also a terrific player away from the puck who's great in puck retrieval and plays with a high energy level. He can play a physical game at times, but it's not a consistent part of his game at this time. I can see the other side of the argument though (about a perceived lack of potential). There are times when the play dies on his stick in the offensive end because he over handles the puck or tries to force a pass. He also has trouble slowing the game down sometimes and can play with tunnel vision, skating with his head down coming across the blue line with speed. McCann's production this year was definitely impressive though considering the Soo's balanced attack and I think that as he matures he'll become a more consistent offensive threat. He's a safe bet to play in the NHL, even if you aren't convinced he has top 6 potential.
Jared McCann on "The Pipeline Show."
Jared McCann's Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."
Jared McCann's Q and A with me.
6. Brendan Perlini - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
I'm not normally a fan of comparisons, but Perlini reminds me so much of Jeff Carter when I watched him in his draft year (2003). Same kind of body type and skill set, and the same kind of concerns about consistency and physical intensity. Perlini has three great things going for him. Size, skating and one heck of a shot. Once he gets going down the wing, he's incredibly difficult to stop and he has both a great slapper and a terrific wrist shot, which he needs little space to get off. He does a great job of getting himself in scoring position to use his shot and has gotten better at fighting through traffic to get open. All that said, the other components of his game are not consistent. For as strong as he is with the puck off the rush, he needs to drive the net with more consistency and really use his size to give defenses a hard time. Playing with Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony DiFruscia (two terrific board players), he was often guilty of standing around watching the play far too much, instead of getting his nose dirty in the corners. I will give him credit though. His effort on the back check and overall defensive awareness really improved as the season went on. He's now a capable penalty killer and does a good job of tying up opposing forwards in the slot. Even though he wasn't scoring a ton in the playoffs, his effort defensively helped to keep Niagara in that series. Perlini was also solid at the U18's and certainly didn't hurt his cause in the event.
Brendan Perlini on "The Pipeline Show."
Brendan Perlini's Draft Blog on "Coming Down the Pipe. (Part 1), (Part 2)
Brendan Perlini's Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."
5. Michael Dal Colle - Forward - Oshawa Generals
This is probably a lower ranking for Dal Colle than people are used to. But let me preface this by saying the next three guys (Dal Colle, Ritchie, Fabbri) are all very interchangeable and I think all are top 10 selections (worthy of it anyway). I just have some small preferences and that's why Dal Colle is ranked 3rd among that group. Dal Colle was as consistent as can be offensively this year. His wrist shot is phenomenal, more specifically it's release. And he uses his body (6'2) to shield the puck well to create the space he needs to get it off. Dal Colle is going to score his share of goals in the NHL. He's improved his skating a lot since joining the league and is now terrific at coming off the wall and creating chances, showcasing a more explosive stride. He'll likely still put work into his skating too, and it should only continue to improve. Dal Colle also has good vision for a big man and is a very effective player with the man advantage, as he draws defenses to him only to find open linemates. While Dal Colle can play either center or wing, I think it's safe to assume he projects as a winger because it's been his primary position the last few years. So why the lower ranking than Ritchie and Fabbri? I don't think Dal Colle will ever be the type of player who impacts the game more than just offensively. He's big, but I don't ever see him being the physical brute that Ritchie is, or the forechecking puck hound that Fabbri is. And while I'm sure he'll put in work to be better defensively, again, I think the other two have greater potential in that area. Offensively, he might be a touch better and has a more dynamic skill set, but if were talking about choosing between an 80 point one dimensional player, or a 60 point two-way player, I'm taking the 60 point guy.
Michael Dal Colle on "The Pipeline Show."
Michael Dal Colle's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."
4. Nick Ritchie - Forward - Peterborough Petes
When on top of his game, Ritchie is a monstrosity that wrecks havoc on opposing defenses. He's battled injuries and consistency issues over his three years in the OHL (late '95), but he finally put it all together in the final 3-4 months of the OHL season. Once the Petes acquired Hunter Garlent, they had finally found a playmaker for Ritchie, which simplified things for him and allowed him to really take over games with his physicality and scoring ability. In the final 29 regular season games of the season, Ritchie had 24 goals. He had a terrific playoffs too (although was considerably better against Kingston than Oshawa). The goal production is no fluke. On top of overpowering defenders near the crease for garbage goals, Ritchie also possesses one heck of a shot (rated as 3rd best in the East in the coaches poll). Like Dal Colle, he's great at using his size to create room for himself to use it. When you think of what a solid prospect his brother Brett has become, you have to wonder what Nick is capable of considering he's the better skater, has a better shot, and is better with the puck. I've read comments from people talking negatively about Ritchie, comparing him to some of the failed power forward projects of recent years (guys like Hugh Jessiman). We're talking about a 6'3, 230lbs winger who can lead the rush across the blueline. That's a special player. He's not a plug. Ritchie has the hands and skill to match everything he's capable of physically. And we haven't even talked about how effective he is without the puck, as a steamroller on the forecheck. He hits and he hits hard. Bottom line is you're looking at a throwback power forward. They don't make many like this anymore (think Kevin Stevens). Are the consistency issues legitimate? Yes. Does he have some conditioning issues? Likely. But those are very correctable things that can't overshadow the massive potential (no pun intended) that Ritchie possesses.
Nick Ritchie on "The Pipeline Show."
Nick Ritchie's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."
3. Robby Fabbri - Forward - Guelph Storm
I think the cat was let out of the bag a while ago on this one. It's been no secret how much I like Fabbri as a player. His lack of size does not scare me (5'10). I don't think it prevents him from being an impact player at the NHL level. Every time I saw Fabbri play this year, he was the best player on the ice. He impacts the game on so many different levels. He's a tireless worker at both ends of the ice. He excels without the puck and is a real puck hound. If he doesn't have the puck, he's going to fight to get it and is great at forcing turnovers in the neutral zone, using his smarts and an active stick. On the forecheck, he showcases deceptive speed and despite his lack of size, wins a lot of battles along the boards. While he's not an overtly physical player, Fabbri certainly is quick to engage in battle and excels in traffic. He actually can be prone to taking some dumb penalties (usually of the retaliatory nature) as he has a tough time dialing down the intensity level. Offensively, his best asset is his smarts. He's incredible at finding holes in the defense, working give and go's and anticipating where and when scoring chances are going to develop. His 58 goals this year (including playoffs) are no fluke. He just knows how to find openings and he's got a great wrist shot which he uses to capitalize on chances (he doesn't miss often). He even saved the best for last, winning the OHL playoffs MVP (second year in a row a draft eligible player has won it after Bo Horvat did last year). To sum it up, Fabbri is an incredibly complete player who possesses all the qualities that you'd look for in a franchise center. Well...except for one (size). And if you're like me and you believe that his size won't hurt his ability to perform at the next level, you draft him and you draft him early. After the way he's played this year, I can't help but believe there are NHL teams who feel the same way about Fabbri as I do.
Robby Fabbri on "The Pipeline Show."
2. Sam Bennett - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
That brings us to Sam Bennett, who is basically the slightly bigger, slightly more physical Robby Fabbri, and that's why he's in contention for first overall. As a draft eligible player, Bennett dominated this year's OHL coaches poll, winning the smartest player, best playmaker, and best stickhandler, while finishing 3rd in the best defensive forward. All those accolades were deserving as Bennett is one of the most complete draft prospects I've ever seen. He's incredibly shifty one on one and does a great job at using his skating ability (his agility and ability to turn is exceptional) in conjunction with his terrific puck skill, to create lanes for him to shoot. His acceleration is very deceptive and he's able to beat defenders down the wing to the net, or explode off the wall to create scoring chances. As previously mentioned, Bennett is also a fantastic playmaker as he does a great job of spotting open teammates, especially off the rush and through the cycle. If the Fronts lose possession, Bennett fights hard to get the puck back and is a very effective backchecker, as well as board player. He also excels in the physical side of the game, especially on the forecheck where he's eager to make a hit to force a turnover. To put the icing on the cake, there wasn't a more consistent player in the league this year than Bennett, who had a 25 game point streak through November-January. I really can't say a bad thing about his game. He just needs to get stronger to ply his trade at the next level and you're looking at a potential captain and offensive leader for your hockey team.
Sam Bennett on "The Pipeline Show."
Sam Bennett's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."
1. Aaron Ekblad - Defense - Barrie Colts
The race between Ekblad and Bennett is incredibly close and either one could go first overall. Both have their fans and at different points this year, I flip/flopped between which one to rank first. Ultimately I'm going with Ekblad. I think what really sold me on him was his performance at the WJC's where I felt like he was Canada's top defenseman. It's been a long time since we could say that Canada's top defenseman at the U20's was an 18 year old. I think the other thing that really impressed me this year was Ekblad's development as an offensive defenseman. His ability and confidence as a puck mover really took off this year (and helped to secure his appointment as the OHL's defenseman of the year). He looks confident skating the puck out of the zone now and is actually taking chances across the opposing blueline, using his size to protect the puck. A lot of his success in doing that also has to do with the improvements he's made to his first few steps and overall top skating gear. He also grew leaps and bounds as a powerplay QB this year, doing a much better job of getting in position to use his mammoth point shot...and actually getting it through to the net. He was keeping pucks in better at the line and displayed more confidence and patience as a distributor at the point. At the same time as his offensive game was growing, his defensive game remained dominant. Because of his size and the improvements made to his skating, he's very difficult to beat on the outside, perhaps one of the toughest defenders to get around in the OHL. He also played with more piss and vinegar in the corners and in front of the net, although I'm sure scouts would love to see him play with even more aggression in those areas (to utilize his 6'4, 200lbs body). The best thing about Ekblad is how physically and mentally mature he is. IMO, he's ready to jump right into the NHL next year and have an impact at both ends of the ice. The offensive game may still take a bit of time at the NHL level (as it took him time to gain confidence at the OHL level), but he's a potential franchise defenseman and future captain who also happens to be one of the few top notch defensive prospects in a weak draft year at the position.
Aaron Ekblad on "The Pipeline Show."
Aaron Ekblad's NHL Draft Tracker segment on Yahoo's "Buzzing the Net."
That's all folks! Best of luck to all of the draft eligible players at the draft this year.