Saturday, February 7, 2015

Midseason Media/Scout Top 10 for 2015

It's time for an update to our media/scout list. There's still lots of meaningful hockey to be played (CHL February/March, CHL playoffs, U18's), but it's always great to see how opinions change over the course of a season.

Ultimately, things haven't changed all that much from our Preliminary list in November (here). While there has been some minor shuffling, nothing outrageous has happened. Pavel Zacha drops out of the top 5. Mackenzie Blackwood cracks the top 10. And three guys who received votes last time, did not earn a single one this time (Salituro, Luff, McKenzie).

As always, it's important to note the contributors, as without them and their terrific insight, this article does not exist. For the midseason list, the following helped out:

Corey Pronman - ESPN writer (@coreypronman)
Dominic Tiano - Writer for The OHL Writers (@dominictiano)
Nathan Fournier - Writer for Maine Hockey Journal/Contributor to The Hockey News (@jrhockeywriter)
Dan Stewart - Director of Scouting for Future Considerations (@StewartFC)
Brendan Ross - Co-Manager of DobberProspects, scout for McKeens Hockey & (@RossyYoungblood)
Peter Kneulman - Writer for the OHL Writers and In the O Radio (@PeterKneulman)
Carl Maloney - OHL correspondent for TheHockeyWriters (@carlTHW)
Dennis Macinnis - Director of Scouting for ISS Hockey (@ISShockey)
Tony Ambrogio - PA Announcer for the Mississauga Steelheads & TSN editor/producer (@Tony_Ambrogio)
Mike Morreale - Staff writer for (@mikemorrealeNHL)
Anthony Mauro - Director/Founder of Draft Buzz Hockey (@draftbuzzhockey)
Sean LaFortune - Director of Scouting for & scout for McKeens Hockey (@SeanLafortune)
Ryan Kennedy - Associate senior writer for The Hockey News (@THNRyanKennedy)
Manny Paiva - Play by Play voice of the Owen Sound Attack (@paivatheway)
Mark Seidel - Scouting Director for NACS Hockey (@MarkSeidel)

and of course...myself (@BrockOtten

Here's the Top 10 with several honorable mentions:

10. Mackenzie Blackwood - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
Total Votes: 7
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 7th (3x)/Outside Top 10 (9x)
"While he hasn't been quite as good in January as he was in December, there's no question that he's playing better hockey than he did at the beginning of the year (when he was battling injuries). When he's on, his size and athleticism make him one of the most difficult goaltenders to beat in the OHL. His playoff performance for Barrie this year will go a long way in establishing his draft position. I think he could still be a late first rounder." - Brock Otten

"Huge goalie who covers the net extremely well; good NHL comparison that plays a similar style might be Carey Price or Ryan Miller. He has excellent butterfly coverage and protects the low corners and the five hole. He can make the saves while down in the butterfly, keeping his body upright and is very quick to snap his pads down to the ice when dropping in the butterfly. Strong in his crease area and very capable of coming up with huge games for his team." - Mike Morreale

"So hard to figure out when goalies will go these days, but Blackwood will be among the first thanks to his size and ability to cover the tops of the net, even when he's down in his butterfly." - Ryan Kennedy

9. Matt Spencer - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Total Votes: 11
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 6th (1x)/Outside Top 10 (5x)
Comments: "The more I watch Spencer the more I respect his game as that strong two-way defender good teams win with. While he is not the guy that will rush the puck up ice consistently or make many flashy plays he does make the small plays necessary to win and plays his role very well." - Dan Stewart

"For me, Spencer is the top ranked defenceman this year. The term “stud” defenseman has followed Spencer around for a couple of seasons now. He has elite hockey senses, very good size at 6’2”, and is an elite skater. His gap control and defensive positioning is excellent, and his first pass is matched by very few. Spencer can log large minutes and plays in any situation. Spencer is an able puck carrier able to transition from defense to offense. But he shows a lack of confidence in doing so or rather, when to. Once he gains more experience and confidence in his ability to do so, he'll do well with it." - Dominic Tiano

"A player who’s draft ranking seems to change depending who you talk to. Some have him as high as a late first rounder while some have him going in the third round. His true spot should likely bbe somewhere in the middle and the mid second round. Spencer is an excellent skater who plays a very well rounded game. He has added more muscle and a more physical aspect to his game this year. Has been asked to do a lot for Peterborough in a disappointing season on a team that vastly underachieved." - Carl Maloney

"Two way defender that works hard and competes. Size and skating were fine. Did a good job physically down low and in front of the net. Thought he was better keeping it simple but over all decisions were poor. Needs to simplify his game." - Dennis MacInnis

8. Mitchell Vande Sompel - Defense - Oshawa Generals
Total Votes: 13
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 5th (1x)/Outside Top 10 (3x)
"I continue to be very impressed with the improvements that he's made defensively this season. Everyone knows how good his offensive game is, and how well he transitions up ice. But at his size, scouts are going to be even more concerned with whether he's going to be able to be a minutes eater at the next level. I think he's shown enough maturity, intelligence, and gumption to suggest he could be a Dan Boyle type of player at the NHL level." - Brock Otten

"Mitchell Vande Sompel endured a mid season injury in January that broke up his exceptional draft year season. The encouraging sign is he picked up right where he left off and produced immediately as if he weren’t gone. The not so exciting idea is that he may lack in durability, having piled up various injuries at different points over his OHL career so far. MVS will be a tough projection as his explosive skating and puck rushing exploits will be marred by an ability to stay healthy." - Anthony Mauro

"The slick skating puck moving blue liner has had no problems filling the stat sheet on a talented Oshawa roster but make no mistake, this team wouldn't be scoring at their pace without his services. His vision, creativity and ability to quarterback their powerplay are reasons that this team has become one of the CHL's most potent teams. Assuming he can avoid injuries, I expect Mitchell Vande Sompel to have a strong finish and it'll be reflected in the final rankings." - Brendan Ross

"He played forward as a kid, but has been an offensive defenseman for the Generals. Makes up for his smaller frame by possessing a superior hockey IQ and making great decisions with the puck." - Ryan Kennedy

7. Nikita Korostelev - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Total Votes: 13
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 6th (1x)/Outside Top 10 (3x)
Comments: "Korostelev enjoyed a great first half before being sidelined with injury. He remains one of the OHL's most opportunistic shooters and has been a big part of Sarnia's offense. However, I still questions whether he can show more consistency in his ability to create offense. At this point in time, Korostelev appears to be destined to be selected somewhere in the middle of the second round." - Brendan Ross

"Pro-caliber shot to go along with a good, solid frame. Shoulder injury has taken him out of the spotlight, but the kid can produce." - Ryan Kennedy

"While he has not been as dominant offensively as I would have hopped he would be this season, Korostelev still has some interesting abilities that he flashes on and off each game that will translate well to the pro game. His quickness, creativity, size, shot velocity and shot release are all traits he has going for him. He just needs to bring it more consistently or risk falling down draft lists." - Dan Stewart

"Pretty high skill level, good physical game, good shot, but skating is a bit of a concern for me in terms of his speed and it doesn't help that his defensive game isn't great either in terms of getting back." - Corey Pronman

6. Pavel Zacha - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Total Votes: 15
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 3rd (1x)/Outside Top 10 (1x)
"Clearly, Zacha is ranked much higher in my list than others edging out both Crouse and the high-scoring Strome. Despite mediocre production, Zacha is a toolsy player that has yet to gain momentum in his draft class (due to suspensions, his WJC participation and now a lengthy injury). An outstanding skater with elite level hands, Zacha can make defenders miss due to his blazing speed or clever and unexpected passing ability. As he learns to slow the game down and blend his speed, vision, passing abilities and outstanding shot to give him multiple layers of attack, we will then see why I have him ranked this high." - Brendan Ross

"Good size and skating ability to go along with physical play. He was good for Czech Republic at the world junior, but not dominating.  TSN's Craig Button makes the comparison to Eric Staal." - Tony Ambrogio

"He's that prototypical forward the scouts are looking for at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. He's an offensive talent that hasn't gotten to breakout offensively this year. His ultra competitiveness has cost him a few times this year." - Nathan Fournier

"Big power forward still getting the hang of the game over here, but his size, shot and speed are tantalizing. I loved his drive at the world juniors, even if the results weren't there." - Ryan Kennedy

"The poor guy can't get himself on track this season. Derailed by suspension(s) and injury this season he seems to just get going before another setback happens. His enviable blend of size, smarts and skill is not a skill set that can be ignored no matter how little game action he sees this season as he has vey impressive pro-potential." - Dan Stewart

"Here's the concern I have: With the elbow injury, he likely won't return until the last few weeks of the regular season. And that time will be spent trying to find his footing again. Even with his tantalizing potential, he's going to need a heck of an OHL playoff performance and an even better U18's to really cement his draft status, at least as a lottery selection." - Brock Otten  

" I like his "Nasty Quotient"...Tremendous acceleration & extra gear...North Americam "Team First" mentality..." - Mark Seidel

5. Travis Konecny - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Total Votes: 16
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 3rd (1x)/9th (1x)
"Really came on after a slow start and has looked much better leading the Ottawa 67's attack over the last few weeks. He does need to pick his spots better physically due to his limited size but with his impressive traits such as speed, creativity, quick release, and overall tenacity he is a sure mid-first rounder in my eyes." - Dan Stewart

"Competes hard and explodes through all three zones. Great puck skills and solid awareness. Plays aggressive for his smaller size/strength. Quality shooting skills with a nice quick stride." - Dennis MacInnis

"Travis Konecny delivered in the most crucial situation possible by taking the already nice January he was having and kicking it into overdrive at the TPG. He took conceptions of a poor year and completely obliterated them with a star performance at the BMO TPG. In the 3GP following, he has kept up his play with 7PTS in those 3GP. Konecny’s speed, drive, and unbelievable shot are now back on radar for a top selection this June." - Anthony Mauro

"An up-and-down season is starting to turn around for the young 67's captain. If the Top Prospects Game showed us anything, it's that his highly competitive motor and elite shooting abilities would be assets to any team's scoring lines. Despite his smaller stature, Konecny thrives playing the physical game and relies on it to gain separation. He may need to adjust his style in order to avoid injuries at the next level. " - Brendan Ross

"Lots of heart, character and skill with this kid. You can tell scouts want him to succeed, though his smallish frame is an obvious question mark at this point." - Ryan Kennedy 

"Travis Konecny is jumping up my rankings. We already know he is an elite skater who can control the puck along the boards or in open space. I think his shot has improved as the season has progressed, and he already possessed a pro shot. Travis is scoring goals from all angles and in many different ways. He also has great vision and passes with precision to teammates. Strong work ethic with a great compete level." - Manny Paiva 

4. Lawson Crouse - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Total Votes: 16
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2nd (3x)/5th (3x)
"Crouse is still a curious player to me. Will he be a consistent top-six or bottom-six player in the NHL? The guess here is that the team selecting him at the 2015 NHL Draft will expect him to play a top six for sure. He's succeeded on every level and played a significant fourth-line role for Canada at the WJC. Crouse is a physical presence who is extremely tough for opponents to handle in battles. He goes to the net hard and crashes around in front. He has an incredibly powerful wrist/snap shot." - Mike Morreale

"I'm a big believer in his offensive potential. Since returning from the U20's, Crouse is averaging over a point per game (6 goals, 6 assists). Keep in mind that he's doing this without Sam Bennett or Spencer Watson. Crouse is creating his own scoring chances and is succeeding as the focal point of an offensive attack. As he gains confidence and gets more skilled linemates, his offensive contributions will only increase. Everything else about his game is a coaches dream." - Brock Otten

"The more I see him play, the more he does to make an impression. A solid skater with good puck skills. Strikes me as a smart player. He rarely is out of position. I think playing at the world junior only made him more confident" - Tony Ambrogio

"Good offensive instincts and defensive capabilities. Very tough to play against. Strong puck possession. Shields the puck well. Quality total package player." - Dennis MacInnis

"After juggling him around on this list a few times, Crouse lands among the OHL's best and for good reason. He was one of Canada's most consistent players at the recent World Juniors showing scouts that he's not only a great defensive player but also owns skills conducive to top-six upside. His production may scare some people but he's the lone wolf (due to injuries) on a Kingston team struggling to score. Blessed with good offensive instincts, soft hands (particularly in traffic) and a pro-level shot, Crouse has the offensive tools to flank a top-six pivot and produce at the next level." - Brendan Ross 

``A combination of Brendan Shanahans game with Jeff Carters feet...Can play any way you want to play...Will continue to evolve offensively`` - Mark Seidel

3. Dylan Strome - Forward - Erie Otters
Total Votes: 16
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2nd (4x)/4th (3x)
"Strome has been progressively more impressive in each of my views this season and is someone who really does not yet know how dominant he can be in this league. His game will only become more impressive as he learns to fully utilize his great size, reach and adds more strength to his frame. This kid will breakout eventually and will be almost impossible to contain once he does." - Dan Stewart

"That big center every team wants. Strome still has to fill out his frame, but once he does so he'll be an all-around force who can put up points and take care of his duties in the defensive zone, too." - Ryan Kennedy

"Ryan Strome told me that his brother plays with a little more of an edge than he did his draft year. Similarly, both Ryan and Dylan have that competitive edge and grittiness. Dylan wants the puck and wants to score and wants to win. He's driven and has that competitive edge. I think a fair comparison is a Ryan Kesler or a Cory Perry type; a guy who's a strong skater, has agility and that reach that scouts love to see." - Mike Morreale

"This is one list you will not see Dylan Strome take back seat to more ‘toolsy’, unproven players, which has happened in consensus reports. Strome’s strong IQ is locked in at a high level, nearly guaranteeing NHL status. He has proven success without #97, has size, and offensive vision, so really all scouts have to question is if he can be a top line center without all the flash.” - Anthony Mauro

"Dylan Strome possesses a strong skill set. Strome has a great pro shot, love his wrist shot. He knows how to find open space too and passes the puck well. The puck seems to always find him, a strong sign of a good player." - Manny Paiva

2. Mitchell Marner - Forward - London Knights
Total Votes: 16
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 2nd (9x)/5th (1x)
Comments: "Leading the OHL in scoring and looking like a human highlight reel most nights has him rising up my personal list. He has the elusiveness you want in a smaller dynamic scorer but this recent injury does provide evidence that he will always have a bit of risk factor to him as well." - Dan Stewart

" In my opinion, next to McDavid, Marner has the best vision and creativity of anyone available in the draft. What separated Strome and Marner for me at number two was that Strome's production slipped slightly with the absence of McDavid while Marner carried his Knights in the absence of Max Domi." - Dominic Tiano

"Elite production from an elite player. A game changer who who mixes elite vision and hockey sense with speed and an ability to finish. On pace for 135 points which would be the most since Patrick Kane got 145." - Peter Kneulman

"So much upside with his speed and offensive talent. Needs to make simple plays and avoid getting hit as much as he does; otherwise the Patrick Kane comparisons are close." - Ryan Kennedy

"Marner has been high in my ranks for quite some time mainly due to his elite possession and playmaking game, which elevates every linemate around him. He's shredding the OHL scoring charts apart and is starting to challenge Noah Hanifin for the draft's third slot." - Brendan Ross

1. Connor McDavid - Forward - Erie Otters
Total Votes: 16
Highest Placement/Lowest Placement: 1st (16x)
"I think the most impressive thing about McDavid is just how good he's been this year. Quite often players in his position (spotlight for too long) tend to fade a bit in their draft years. And as such, they bare the brunt of unnecessary criticism. Call it, over analyzing due to over familiarity. With Tavares and Spezza it was their skating. With Taylor Hall, it was his play away from the puck, etc. Yet, McDavid hasn't given scouts the opportunity to question him. He's taken every challenge this year and conquered it. His play at the U20's this year is a perfect example of that. I think this points to his unflinching desire to be the best he can be. He just keeps improving aspects of his game that could possibly be questioned. Last year, it was that he needed to shoot more. Check. This year, it was his play away from the puck and defensive ability. Check (at least IMO). I can't wait to see how he handles himself in this year's OHL playoffs." - Brock Otten

"The golden ticket of the 2015 draft class, McDavid has somehow put space between him and the stellar Jack Eichel as the top ranked player. He put on a show during the Top Prospects Game on and off ice testing, doing things that veteran scouts haven't seen in all of their days of scouting. He began his OHL career as a rare "exceptional" player and somehow has made that term look ordinary. At this point in time, I'm asking myself, how many times can this kid keep raising his game to another new level? His progression seems endless." - Brendan Ross

"Amazing how he has come back after sitting out six weeks with a right hand injury. He starred for Canada at the World Junior Championship and is lightning it up again as the captain for the Otters. Director of NHL Central Scouting, Dan Marr, told me McDavid possesses a natural quickness in all areas of his game that sets him apart from the pack. All components of his game are performed with a quickness that is unmatched in this draft class. He said his ability places him in the company of [Wayne] Gretzky and [Sidney] Crosby." - Mike Morreale

"McDavid is McDavid, is described as a generational talent by many outlets. Has a target on his back every night and is able to shake defenders with ease. With him on the ice, space opens for his teammates to put goals on the board. " - Dennis MacInnis

"What more can be said? Preternatural skills, speed and drive make him a near-impossible force to contain against his peer group. Generational hockey sense and vision." - Ryan Kennedy

Honorable Mentions

Blake Speers - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (5 votes)
Highest Placement: 6th (1x)
"Speers has some strong leadership qualities and experience. He was a captain in Bantam and Midget and this season the Greyhounds named him an Alternate Captain. Very few players possess Speers’ work ethic as well. He never seems satisfied where he’s at and works hard at improving. He worked hard in the offseason and added 15 pounds to his frame. Perhaps it’s that work ethic that allows Speers to raise his game to another level. Or maybe it’s the seemingly limitless hockey IQ that he possesses. But that IQ itself isn’t beneficial if he doesn’t have the ability – and he has that in spades. His vision is excellent and he has an uncanny ability to hold on to the puck as he sees things happening one or two step ahead." - Dominic Tiano

"A candidate to be buried amongst an all-star OHL lineup, Blake Speers is a highly intelligent, versatile forward that just does his job. At risk for looking ordinary amongst the best of his peers, one really needs to watch him over a string of games to see how smart he is. Speers won’t blow doors off, but don’t sleep on his overall prospect value having .65PPG as a rookie back up his now near top 20 OHL scoring draft year season." - Anthony Mauro

"What really stood out to me in my viewings of Speers was his increased willingness to drive the net. He may not be the biggest guy but he has a knack for winning battles and races for loose pucks near the front of the net. Part of it is his strong hockey sense that allows him to get into position before the opposition and part of it is a relentless motor that never stops running." - Peter Kneulman

Graham Knott - Forward - Niagara IceDogs (4 votes)
Highest Placement: 8th (1x)
"When I first watched him he really didn't stand out. But the last few times, he has as he gets more comfortable in his draft year. Best way to describe him is this way: A solid all-around player. There is nothing flashy just consistency.' - Tony Ambrogio

"Knott's points haven't been great this year but he's the kind of guy you have to watch closely. He skates very well, is very good off the puck and on the PK. Not exceptionally skilled, but I see some offensive potential in his game." - Corey Pronman

"Good size, should continue to fill out. As he does, and if he gets more 'involved', he could be a really dangerous player. Needs to improve on his focus in the defensive zone. However, he definitely has skills, particularly offensively, including an excellent shot." - Dennis MacInnis 

``Not flashy but very effective...Will be able to play in all 3 zones in the NHL...Offensive game still has to evolve.`- Mark Seidel

Zachary Senyshyn - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (4 votes)
Highest Placement: 10th (4x)
"Zach Senyshyn’s draft stock is summed up with his December – 1.3PPG when Bunting was out. Now that the team is flooded with already drafted talent, such as Bailey, Ritchie, McCann, etc, expect Senyshyn to be vastly underrated. If you are into projections, chew on this one: an underutilized, strapping rookie winger with mind-blowing acceleration who can finish." - Anthony Mauro

"After a slow start Zachary really picked up the pace in December. He has high end speed and has shown an ability to both create and finish. Will be interesting to see how he adjusts to a new role and less icetime as the Greyhounds have geared up for the stretch run." - Peter Kneulman

"I think he's got better upside than his teammate Speers." - Brendan Ross 

``Tremendous footspeed & loves to drive the net...Takes some nights off but that should change with maturity...Will become a tough guy to handle as a Power Forward when he fills out.`- Mark Seidel

Travis Dermott - Defense - Erie Otters (2 votes)
Highest Placement: 7th (1x)
"Projected as a riser from the last preliminary list, Travis Dermott moves up the board with excellent puck management. Staying healthy after a rocky start, Dermott has had 4G and 19A for 23PTS in 22GP from the beginning of December. He looks disgustingly smooth in his movements, with processing that could handle the pro game now." - Anthony Mauro

"A true puck manager who makes those around him more effective by getting them the puck with accurate passes and at the right times. He is not big but built stalky like smaller defenders need to be to be effective in their own zones. The best part of his game is his processor as he makes quick decisions that are usually the correct decisions." - Dan Stewart

Vince Dunn - Defense - Niagara IceDogs (2 votes)
Highest Placement: 8th (1x)
"I was very impressed with him at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects on- and off-ice testing and then the game. He's an exceptionally smart offensive defenseman with excellent decision making with the puck. He's an accurate passer, and moves and dishes the puck well. He's very fast and agile and good in 1-on-1 situations using excellent body positioning. He placed first among all defensemen in the on-ice testing prior to the top prospects game, including first in the weave agility, and finished fourth among all 40 players participating." - Mike Morreale

"He's a late bloomer that has come into his own the last two years. He has put some solid offensive numbers in his first two years. I see him ore as a a steady defenseman at the next level. He will be a solid selection in the 2nd-3rd round. " - Nathan Fournier 

Thomas Schemitsch - Defense - Owen Sound Attack (2 votes)
Highest Placement: 9th (1x)
"He skates well for a player of his size but needs to improve agility. Very composed and smart with puck and has good instincts on PP. Must be more of a physical presence and assert himself in order to maximize potential." - Dennis MacInnis

"Not that Schemitsch is falling at all, just the guys ahead of him have pushed themselves ahead of this two-way defender.  Great size, fluid feet, willingness to join the attack and the smarts to know where to go in the offensive zone are all positive attributes. He is no slouch defensively either as he uses his positioning, long reach and size to eliminate opponents." - Dan Stewart 

Rasmus Andersson - Defense - Barrie Colts (1 vote)
Highest Placement: 8th (1x)
"Conditioning is an issue for scouts, but assuming he gets that squared away, Andersson brings quick feet, a good shot and power play acumen." - Ryan Kennedy

Mitchell Stephens - Forward - Saginaw Spirit (1 vote)
Highest Placement: 10th (1x)
"Need to see more of him but from what I have seen -- very good skater, excellent shot." - Manny Paiva

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