Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Top 10 - Unheralded Rookies Who Could Make an Impact in 2015-16

I mention this every time that I write this piece, but it truly is one of my favourites to write and look back on. This annual article looks at some of the rookies who could make an impact in the OHL next year. And by that I mean players not selected in the Import Draft or the recent priority draft. I'm talking about 1998 (possibly even '97) born players who should finally crack their respective teams this year. The list of successful players of this ilk is long (see Mark Scheifele, Remi Elie, Matt Clark, Trevor Carrick, Travis Dermott, Zach Senyshyn, etc).

Listed are 10 guys (in alphabetical order) that you should keep an eye on, plus some honorable mentions.

In addition to my write ups, I've also included brief scouting reports from the guys over at, in addition to a couple other great minds who see the Tier 2 ranks often (Steven Ellis and Conor Mulligan).

Thanks to the following (and give them a follow on twitter)

Andrew Sykes (@ASykes_hockey)
Matt Grainda (@graindaiv)
Nathan Didone (@NathanDidone)
Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisNHL)
Conor Mulligan (@ConorMulliganFC)

Here's the list:

Blake Coffey - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
The son of the great Paul Coffey, Blake spent this past year with Pickering of the OJHL. He lead the Panthers in defenseman scoring with 25 points. The Spits 5th rounder is still not guaranteed to report to Windsor, but I'd be surprised if he's not in the OHL next year. In Windsor, Coffey could definitely help Trevor Murphy with the creation of offence from the blue line and run the team's 2nd power play unit. But there are several other young defenders who will be vying for more playing time next year (Burns, Stanley, Murray, etc), so he'll have to bring his 'A' game.

"The son of legendary defenseman Paul Coffey, Blake also a plays a smart, two-way game that results in a lot of assists during the year. A draft pick of the Windsor Spitfires, Coffey really improved his game as the season went on for the less-than-stellar Pickering Panthers, even leading his team in points for a defenseman despite being a rookie in the league. Coffey's one-timer is destructive from anywhere on the ice, and his ability to run a power-play was better than almost everyone else in the OJHL last season. He doesn't have the ideal size for a defenseman, standing at just 5'11 and 185 lbs, but he does have some solid speed and has gained around 15 pounds since his OHL Draft year in 2014." (Steven Ellis)

Logan DeNoble - Forward - Peterborough Petes
DeNoble is an undersized scoring forward who already spent a good chunk of time with the Petes last year. When he wasn't in Peterborough, he was leading Lindsay of the OJHL in scoring and was named to the OJHL's First Team All Prospect. Last year, Peterborough struggled offensively and they desperately need players who can be dynamic in the offensive end. Perhaps that's DeNoble next year (as a late '97, he'll be draft eligible for the first time).

"DeNoble played a decent amount with Peterborough last year in a depth role, but with added strength this offseason, he should be able to make more of an offensive contribution this year. He's undersized, but he's a hard working player who attacks the offensive zone and wants the puck. Also seems to be a smart player who understands how to read defenses to create scoring chances. Adding that strength going into this year is essential for him to be able to maintain puck possession and show us what he's capable of." (Brock Otten)

Owen Guy - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Last year the Hounds got great production from a first year player coming off a great season in the CCHL (Zach Senyshyn). This year, they hope the same can be said about Guy, the league's reigning Rookie of the Year. The CCHL All Rookie team has some pretty impressive alumni (Senyshyn, Kelly Summers, Mackenzie Weegar) in recent years. Like Senyshyn, Guy will have to work his way on to, and then up, the Hounds line up, but he looks like he could be a contributor.

"I remember his first game he played for Kemptville against Nepean as a 15 year old and you could tell that he was going to be a very good player. He's very skilled offensively and makes plays at a high speed. Has a tendency to look hesitant and not engage in the play. Without the puck he can be hard to find on the ice and you wish he played a more complete game. That said he was one of (if not) the best 16 year olds in the CCHL last year. His brother was a late bloomer as well but he's shown more promise at a younger age." (Conor Mulligan)

Nicolas Hague - Defence - Mississauga Steelheads
Loved what I saw at the Ivan Hlinka camp, where I thought he was a surprising cut. An absolutely mammoth defenceman (already 6'6) and not eligible until 2017, Hague played last year with Kitchener of the GOJHL and was the rookie of the year. With his potential to contribute at both ends of the ice, there's no question he'll make an immediate impact in Mississauga. His recent signing by the Steelheads was a major coup.

"Hague is a very large defender who seems to have made great strides in using his size to his advantage defensively. He's not afraid to step up on players at the blueline and he'll play aggressively in the corners and when protecting his crease. Biggest asset though appears to be his strong skating ability for a big man, as he's able to stay with defenders off the rush, and when coupled with his good reach, allows him to be a very difficult player to beat one on one. He's also intelligent with the puck in his own end and his confidence in using his skating ability to lead the rush is slowly growing. Hague could certainly impact the game at both ends of the ice and looks like a serious draft prospect for 2017." (Brock Otten)

Boris Katchouk - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A 2nd rounder by the Hounds in 2014, Katchouk saw limited time with the club last year. The rest of his year was spent with the Soo Thunderbirds of the NOJHL, where he was one of the better players on a Championship winning team. The Greyhounds have set themselves up for continued success, year after year, because of how well they've drafted recently. Even though they're losing the likes of Tolchinsky, Ritchie, Bailey, Moore, etc, they should still be fine because of all the talented forwards they're adding (3 on this list).

"Boris became one of the most threatening players in the NOJHL by the end of the year. Hungry for the puck he used his foot speed and size to get in on pucks quickly and cause havoc. Dynamic on the rush he attacks with speed, strength and has the puck skills to finish in tight. He will be ready to push for a top 9 role this year starting off as a high energy checker and showing more offence as the season progresses." (Nathan Didone)

Nicolas Mattinen - Defence - London Knights
Another member of the CCHL all rookie team (with the aforementioned Owen Guy), Mattinen played for Cumberland last year. London will have a very crowded blue line next year (which likely means some moves are in order), but the 6'3, 220lbs stay at home defender looks to be a serious contender for a roster spot and key minutes.

"I never realized he was only 16-years old last season until a few months into the season. Every time I watched Cumberland play he looked like a veteran. He's very composed with the puck and has the ability to slow the game down. Cumberland was not a very good team last year so he played a lot of minutes in a top-4 role. He's got a very heavy shot and he's not afraid to lead the rush. He has excellent gap control and uses his long reach to take away shooting lanes from opponents." (Conor Mulligan)

Kyle Moore - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Kyle appears to be cut from the same cloth as his older brother Bryan, who was an impact player in the league. Slightly undersized at 5'11, but he plays with his heart on his sleeve, which should endear him to Coach Stan Butler. Last year, Moore saw limited time with North Bay, but was one of the better players in the NOJHL with Powassan. Could see top 9 minutes this year.

"Moore plays a hard, competitive game and mixes in a nice amount of high-end skill. He has some strong, quick hands and protects the puck well with his body. His vision and hockey sense are solid even with pressure bearing down on him. He can finish a player into the boards hard and follow that up by setting-up a quality chance on net. Moore’s compete level is tough to match and his thick, powerful frame makes it difficult to move him around. Moore also made it to the USA Select U17 Development Camp and was among the final cuts for the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial team after making the All-Star Game." (Matt Grainda)

David Sherman - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Played in 30 games with the Battalion last year, splitting the year between the OHL and the NOJHL (also with Powassan). In the NOJHL, Sherman was well over a point per game and the 6'3 forward will be looking to replicate that success with North Bay next year. Despite losing the likes of Nick Paul, Nick Moutrey, and Ryan Kujawinski, the Battalion seem to have a fair amount of young talent in the pipeline to remain competitive. 

"A big forward with soft and deceiving mobility. Smooth and skilled in possession, knows how to protect the puck, aided by his long reach. An adept shooter, boasts a quick, efficient release and a flair for opening up better lanes by drawing the puck laterally into his body. Misses a natural mean streak, yet still thrives as a create crasher, willing to drive the net and take up residence. Subtle and stealth like in the offensive zone, positioning himself intelligently an is quick to identify opportunities to execute. Unique skater, appears gangly and awkward yet generates deceiving speed and dexterity in diagonal cuts and crossovers, aided by long limns. Must improve his footwork and getting stronger on his edges while further developing his overall agility and quickness." (TheScout Draft Guide, 2014)

Riley Stillman - Defence - Oshawa Generals
This 4th rounder by Oshawa in 2014 played sparingly for the Generals last year but seems poised to take on a much larger role this upcoming season (especially with the Generals defence taking a big hit from graduations). Last year Stillman was named to the OJHL all second prospect team after a great season with Cobourg. Of course, Riley is the son of former NHL'er Cory Stillman.

"Ability to move the puck and read the play and defend and I thought as the season went on, his ability to defend got much better.”(Jeff Twohey, from this article)

Emanuel Vella - Goaltender - London Knights
This Knights goaltending prospect won an OJHL Championship with Toronto Lakeshore last year, and like Stillman, was named to the all second prospect team. He saw a bit of action in the OHL last year too, and struggled, but that's not all that uncommon for 16/17 year old netminders. He'll be competing for the backup job behind Tyler Parsons this year and seems to be the likely candidate to land it, considering I doubt London goes into the year using an overage spot on a backup netminder (Giuogovaz).

"A year after Jeremy Helvig made the jump from the Toronto Patriots to the OHL, Emanuel Vella is looking to do the same. A big goalie that can stretch to cover pretty much any angle, Vella doesn't offer up a lot of rebuild opportunities, and if he does, he doesn't waste a lot of energy trying to cover up his flaws. This allows him to be very competitive at the end of games, and if his 2014 OHL Cup effort with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens was any bit of proof, he's good when the going gets tough. Playing behind Peterbourgh Petes prospect Mat Robson with the Patriots last year should be beneficial to his OHL playing time, as he wasn't overworked yet still looked very good whenever he was called upon." (Steven Ellis)

Honorable Mentions

Luke Kutkevicius - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
2nd highest drafted player (behind Max Jones) from 2014 to not play a game in the OHL. Kutkevicius will suit up for the Steelheads next year though, after playing with North York (OJHL) last year. Offensive output wasn't terrific, but he's a high energy guy who could bring value in depth.

"Kutkevicius fits the energetic forward stereotype rather well. Not a big time scorer, Kutkevicius has proven himself to very useful at top speed, something he's able to achieve in just seconds. He's not the biggest guy on the ice, but Kutkevicius isn't afraid to mix it up and defend himself or his teammates. He could work on his overall defensive game a bit more, and at 6'1, 154 lbs, he could fill out his frame a bit more to pair up his speed with the ability to check harder." (Steven Ellis) 

Jake Lawr - Goaltender - Erie Otters
3rd highest goaltender taken in 2014, Lawr saw limited action with the Otters last year, instead playing with Brampton of the GOJHL. Stats weren't pretty, but there's more to the story. Brampton was one of the worst teams in the league. Lawr's save percentage of .892 was significantly better than that of his platoon mate (.856). Not sure what Erie's plan is this year, but my guess is he beats out Daniel Dekoning for the backup role.

"Big, positional goaltender who takes up significant net space. Plays a good, calm, poised style with a clean butterfly technique. An economical goaltender with strong fundamentals and good reflexes. Key to his game is staying up and being patient with shooters. Intimidates with his smothering lower net coverage, his quick, fluid pads flashing out instantly. Good positional sense, keeps his shoulders square while at the top of the crease, eliminating shooting angles. Calm and cool, never looks phased by a goal against or a poor play by his defenders, maintains neutral body language. Can overcommit at times and gets pulled away from the middle of the net on his pads. Not as quick moving laterally from his pads and can be vulnerable backdoor when he drops down prematurely. Projects as a starting goaltender at the next level, one who has the ability to make key saves while managing his body language and staying efficient." (TheScout Draft Guide, 2014)

Stephon Dhillon - Goaltender - Niagara IceDogs
Played very little as the 3rd string goalie in Niagara last year, but Dhillon appears ready to secure the backup position behind Brent Moran for this upcoming year. He's fresh off backstopping the U.S. to a 5th place finish at the Ivan Hlinka. 

"Dhillon is a tall goaltender who absolutely uses his size to his advantage. He plays more of a positional or technical style as he controls his movements around the crease very well. His lower net coverage is strong and allows him take away the bottom portion of the net. Dhillon really does a good job staying large when in the butterfly position and reacts to shots quickly from all angles. He’s got really good poise in net and a strong glove-hand.  Dhillon participated in the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament for Team USA after making the squad out of the USA Select U17 Development Camp." (Matt Grainda)

Eric Henderson - Forward - London Knights
There's no denying that the Knights have a logjam at forward heading into next year. Never a bad thing to have, but a guy like Henderson will be knocking down the door for a roster spot. He saw action in 4 games last year (and scored), and had a highly successful season in the GOJHL with Leamington (top 5 scorer on team, and a member of the rookie all star team). 

"Ever since he concluded his Minor Midget season with the Sun County Panthers, Henderson has proven that he is an OHL calibre player. The Kingsville native excelled in parts of two seasons with the Leamington Flyers where he was a key figure during the team's back-to-back GOJHL Western Conference Championships. A third round pick in 2014, Henderson was called up for four games with the Knights this past season and had a memorable debut, picking up a goal and an assist in his first OHL game. On top of having the size and strength to protect the puck and play a possession game, he has a well-rounded offensive repertoire which includes smart ice awareness and vision, a skillful passing ability, and a goal-scoring touch around the net. The big question for him now becomes whether or not he will get enough ice time in what projects to be a loaded Knights forward group." (Andrew Sykes)

Nicholas Sicoly - Forward - Guelph Storm
Undersized scorer who had an absolutely terrific year in the NOJHL where he won a championship with the Soo Thunderbirds (he was the team's 3rd leading scorer, Boris Katchouk was 5th). There's no question he'll be a member of the Storm next year, just remains to be seen in what capacity.

"Sicoly had his moments but size and lack of explosiveness stopped him from gaining any separation. Showed some creative play-making ability but largely from the outside and passed up too many shots. Consistency would wavier throughout the game going to have to be more consistent to make an impact at the OHL level." (Nathan Didone)

Domenic Commisso - Forward - Oshawa Generals
The Gennies are losing a lot of talent up front heading into next year, which opens up a spot for a guy like Commisso to come in an earn ice time. He's not the biggest kid, but he's coming off a solid season with the Mississauga Chargers (OJHL) where he scored 25 points in 43 games.

"Commisso was a member of the poor Mississauga Chargers club, a team that struggled to have any real success throughout the season. Despite that, the team did find the net quite a few times, and Commisso was one of the bright spots. A small kid with the ability to jet end-to-end effortlessly, Commisso can be the best player on the ice in more cases than not. Commisso made the most out of playing for a weak team last year, and it wouldn't be unrealistic to peg him as a third liner with the Oshawa Generals this season. He's got the skill, he's got the speed, and as long as he doesn't get roughed up or pushed around, he could be a pleasant surprise at the OHL level." (Steven Ellis)

Jack Kopacka - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Got into 4 games with the Greyhounds last year, spending the majority of the year with the Compuware Major Midget team. He was the 2nd leading scorer on the team and seems poised to at least play a 4th line role for the Soo this year. Fell in the 2014 draft to the 8th round over signability concerns, but he's a legit prospect.

"Kopacka is a very competitive, all-around player who works his tail off in every opportunity. He plays a fast, high paced game and can skillfully drive the net or battle hard to create a turnover. He utilizes a powerful skating stride to get up the ice and makes smart decisions with the puck on his stick. Kopacka can shoot with accuracy and loves to get chances on the net at every opportunity. He’s got a slick set of hands and is an underrated set-up man. Kopacka made it to the USA Select U17 Development Camp and was among the final cuts for the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial team after making the All-Star Game." (Matt Grainda)

Brett Primeau - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
A '97 forward and 2013 priority selection, Primeau finally seems poised to crack the Frontenacs lineup full time this year. He spent last year with Lasalle (GOJHL) and was the Vipers' 3rd leading scorer. Kingston's going to need scoring depth and that opens up an opportunity for a guy like Primeau.

"Coming off a successful first junior season with the LaSalle Vipers where he was one of the top rookie scorers in the GOJHL, Primeau will head into the 2015-16 season with the confidence that he will again see some OHL action. The Belle River native was called up for three games with the Frontenacs last year, and as long as he continues to be a top producer with LaSalle in the early going, he will be a candidate for further call-ups should he not make the team out of training camp. An eighth-round selection in 2013, the 18-year-old is an offensive threat who does his best work inside the attacking zone. While not the quickest of skaters, he makes up for it through smart positioning and ice awareness, and then follows with good vision, sharp passing instincts, and accurate shooting. Primeau is not someone you look at for his two-way ability, but he is someone who has a knack for producing offense and could be an option on the wing on one of the Fronts lines." (Andrew Sykes)

Kevin Hancock - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
The Attack are another team who will have some voids to fill in a scoring role, and they're hoping a guy like Hancock can come in and provide that. Last year he had a solid season with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens (of the OJHL), where he had 30 points in 44 games. 

"Hancock is a two-way centre that likes to pass first, but still isn't afraid to put up some solid scoring numbers. Hancock was a standout at the Owen Sound Attack training camp a year ago, even earning himself a nine game stint during the season that saw him find the net for the first time. His OJHL rookie season proved to have a bit of learning curve, but after playing with some of the best sharpshooters in the league, Hancock really made himself known by the time the season was over. He continuously works to get much better all the time, and it really showed once the season came to a close." (Steven Ellis) 

Brendan Harrogate - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
A 7th rounder by the Steelheads in 2014 out of the Chatham-Kent area, Harrogate is coming off a terrific season with Lasalle of the GOJHL. He averaged over a point per game and was the team's leading scorer in a long playoff run. The Steelheads are always searching for offensive contributors and they may have that in Harrogate next year.

"Having recently signed with the Mississauga Steelheads, Harrogate will look to build off a stellar first junior season and continue to trend towards success in the OHL. In his rookie season with the LaSalle Vipers in the GOJHL, the Chatham native turned in one of the most impressive first-year junior eligible performances among those playing outside the OHL in Ontario in helping the Vipers reach the Sutherland Cup Finals. What Steelheads management were sure to like most is the fact that Harrogate was  an impact player in the playoffs against some of the top junior B teams in the province. He scored eight goals in 16 Western Conference playoff games and further caught fire in the Sutherland Cup playoffs where he tallied nine goals in 13 games against league champions Elmira and Caledonia. The 17-year-old has the smarts, skill and intangibles to play well as a rookie in the OHL, and while he doesn't wow with any one attribute, he is someone who does everything well and brings confidence and competitiveness to every shift. He skates with a purpose, is a smooth and deceptive puck-carrier in motion, and uses his body well to protect in the corners and along the wall. Evidenced by the clip he scored at with LaSalle, Harrogate has a real knack for scoring goals as he intelligently reads the ice and his linemates to put himself in positions to finish off plays." (Andrew Sykes)

Jacob Drobczyk - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
A '97 drafted by the Frontenacs in the most recent Priority selection, Drobczyk appears to be a bit of a late bloomer. Was among the leading scorers of the Canadian high school hockey scene last year, attending the prestigious Hill Academy (alumni includes Brenden Miller, Devin Shore). The Fronts struggled getting scoring from multiple lines so if Drobczyk can add some scoring depth to the lineup, he'll be a valuable addition.

"“Jacob is a power forward with great size, skill, and exceptional skating,” said Gilmour. “We’re thrilled to have Jacob.  We’re continuously looking to add size and skating to the team, and he possesses those attributes.” (Doug Gilmour, from this article)
Likely NCAA Bound

Cameron Morrison - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Would be an immediate, high impact player for the Battalion, but the Notre Dame commit seems set on the NCAA route. The reigning OJHL rookie of the year would be a perfect fit with Coach Stan Butler, but the 2016 eligible forward is likely to suit up for Aurora again, or Youngstown of the USHL next year.

Jack LaFontaine - Goaltender - Kitchener Rangers
Even though the Rangers hope they've found their goalie of the foreseeable future in Luke Opilka, there's no doubt that they'd still love to see LaFontaine report. Was senational for Georgetown (OJHL) last year and was a member of the first all prospect team. Hasn't committed anywhere yet, but he seems headed to the NCAA.

Matthew Cairns - Defence - Peterborough Petes
A 3rd rounder by Peterborough in 2014, Cairns won an OJHL Championship with Toronto Lakeshore last year, where he was an integral part of their defense. He'd be a valued member of the Petes' blueline, adding size and toughness, but he has also yet to commit and seems likely destined for the NCAA.

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