Sunday, January 3, 2016

Sunday Top 10 - Overagers Worth Signing (2016)

This is a yearly tradition (take a look at the Sunday Top 10 sidebar for other years). It's time to take a look at the top overagers in the OHL, available to be signed by NHL teams.

For the first time in a few years, none of the players on this list have signed an NHL contract already, but even if they had, they would still be included. This list intends to rank players according to the likelihood that they continue their career at the professional level. 

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

It's important to note that this list does not include overagers who have yet to sign NHL contracts, despite having their draft rights owned by a team (like Matt Mistele). This list is for those players who are NHL free agents after going through the draft two or three times (depending on their birth date).

Here's the list:

10. Sam Studnicka - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Fits the mould of the "lunch pail player." That's certainly not meant to be a knock on him either. Studnicka plays the game the right way, with his heart on his sleeve. The 6'1, 200lbs center is used in all situations by the 67's and has been one of the team's most important players the last two years. Currently serving as the team's alternate captain, Studnicka is one of the league's top faceoff men and is also terrific away from the puck. Offensively, he's got good hands in close to the net and he knows his role is to go hard to that area (with or without the puck). He could certainly serve as a solid energy guy at the next level, who can kill penalties and tire out opposing defenses below the hash marks.

9. Jack Flinn - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
I don't think there is any doubt that his size is going to intrigue NHL teams. At 6'8, Flinn covers a TON of the net. His movements in he crease are a little awkward, but when he drops down into the butterfly, he's very hard to beat. He's also improved a lot in terms of his rebound control over the course of his three year OHL career, progressing from a pure puck stopper, to a guy who can control the play and swallow up rebounds. He's been very consistent for Mississauga this year, the stabilizing force the team needed between the pipes. I could definitely see an NHL team taking a chance with him, to see if their goaltending coaches can continue to improve his athleticism, and positioning. 

8. Nick Betz - Forward - Erie Otters
Betz is a hulking power winger who has succeeded greatly since being elevated to a scoring line in Erie last year. This year, he's been doing a lot of damage on the second line of the Otters, so it's not as if he's been riding the coattails of Debrincat or Strome. His skating is only average, but his ability to control the boards and move without the puck makes him a valuable complimentary offensive piece. With his size (6'5, 220lbs), he could be a valuable net presence on a 3rd or 4th line at the next level, especially if he continues to improve his skating. Spent a lot of time at Detroit's camp this offseason (rookie tournament and main camp), so perhaps they'll still have interest in him.

7. Brandon Robinson - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Started off the season guns a blazing with 7 goals in the first 7 games, but has been mired in a bit of a scoring funk since. He also missed pretty much the entire month of December with an upper body injury. Robinson was once a highly thought of draft prospect, but injuries and inconsistency have prevented him from really establishing himself as a serious NHL prospect. However, he had a very solid year last year (might have been Kitchener's best forward), and I've long believed in his NHL potential. He's got great size at 6'3, 215lbs, has deceptive speed, especially coming off the wall, and he can be a real physical force out on the ice. Depending on his health, and how he finishes off his last OHL season, he could certainly move up on this list too (even if I only put out one). 

6. Greg Betzold - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Betzold's offensive explosion has been long overdue, expected by OHL followers several years ago, and not just in his overage season. But, better late than never. Peterborough's leading goal scorer this year, Betzold is a very powerful player who excels in a North/South game. He's very strong on the puck, and with an above average skating ability, is great at taking the puck to the net. He's also got a solid wrist shot, which he has learned to utilize coming down the wing. Without the puck, Betzold is a very effective forechecker who relishes in the opportunity to play physical in puck pursuit. I definitely think that he's got the potential to play as a 3rd/4th liner at the next level based on his physical gifts and improving offensive game. 

5. Devin Williams - Goaltender - Erie Otters
I don't think there's any doubting that Williams has been one of the top two netminders in the league this year (along with Mackenzie Blackwood). After a rough year last year, where he battled major inconsistency issues, Williams has re-established himself as a frontline starter in the OHL (after emerging as one in 2014). Williams doesn't have the elite size that NHL teams covet in the position now, but he does have terrific athleticism, as he moves very well in his crease. As such, he's able to be aggressive in challenging shooters, with the opportunity to recover quickly. His rebound control and ability to fight through traffic to see pucks has improved this year, after being a bit of a sore spot last year. 

4. Lucas Peressini - Goaltender - Kingston Frontenacs
Last year's OHL goaltender of the year, Peressini has been nearly as good this year, backstopping the Frontenacs to a division lead thus far (a place many people did not expect them to be). Over the last 20 years, only one winner of the OHL goaltender of the year has not gone on to sign a professional contract immediately following the conclusion of his OHL career (Michael Ouzas), so the odds are certainly in Peressini's favor. He's got good fundamentals in the crease (positioning, rebound control, reads, etc), and he also has good size. Would be really surprised if he's not playing in the AHL/ECHL next year.

3. Jordan Maletta - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
You have to really give it up to Maletta. He has worked extremely hard to transform his game after struggling in his first two years in the league. The former Windsor Spitfires first rounder has improved every year since a trade to Niagara and has become an integral player for them the last two years. Maletta has become a very complete player who uses every inch of his 6'3 frame to play in all three zones. His puck protection ability has become a real asset and his wrist shot and release are pro caliber. Maletta also happens to be one of the best faceoff men in the OHL. With his size and skill set, he should certainly attract attention from NHL scouts hoping to find a quality 3rd/4th line center. 

2. Miles Liberati - Defence - Kitchener Rangers
There's almost always a player like Liberati on this list. Last year it was Joseph Blandisi. That is, a player who returns to the OHL as an overage free agent after having his rights let go by an NHL team. The Vancouver Canucks let his rights expire and Liberati returned to North Bay for his overage season (only to be traded to Kitchener for a king's ransom). Liberati appears to have used this as motivation to be better as he looks like a different player this year. He's always been a solid OHL player; a guy who can lead the rush, or make a nice defensive read. But he's never been a dominant player. On many shifts this year, he's been just that, especially since coming to Kitchener. He's been super aggressive in leading the rush and jumping up in the play, showcasing an added extra gear to his stride. Defensively, he looks stronger and is playing with more confidence in the corners and in front of the net. If he continues to dominate shifts in Kitchener and leads them into the playoffs, I'd be surprised if an NHL team didn't give him a second chance.

1. Stephen Harper - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Without a doubt, Harper is the top OA free agent available. He's really the only guy on this list that I'd be willing to bet on getting an NHL contract. Has everything NHL teams are looking for. Plays a coveted position; center (check). Has terrific size; 6'3, 215ls (check). Has improved his agility and top speed greatly over the last two years, and has ironed out the issues he's had with consistency away from the puck. He's now a puck hound who's very aggressive on the forecheck and who uses his size exceptionally well to gain possession and keep it. Harper is aggressive in driving the net and is both a solid playmaker with good vision, and a good finisher with nifty hands near the crease. Put everything together and you've got a solid power center prospect built to play in today's NHL. Just don't move him back to defence. 

Honorable Mentions (according to position)

We've got two goaltenders who have nearly 70 games of playoff experience between them. They also battled against each other in the 2014 OHL Championship. Of course, I'm referring to Justin Nichols (GUE) and Jake Smith (NB). You'd be hard pressed to find two goaltenders who've had as much success as these two. As much as they battle in the crease, and do anything they can to make a save, both are undersized for the position by NHL standards. While I certainly hope both get a professional opportunity, I'm not sure it's likely. 

Michael Webster (BAR) is just a solid two-way presence who has improved a lot over his OHL career. The captain of this year's Colts' team, Webster has solid mobility, plays an intelligent game in his own end, and could continue to improve if given a chance at the next level. Will Petschenig (SAG) is a big bodied stay at home defender who relishes in the opportunity to throw his weight around in the defensive end. You'd be hard pressed to find a tougher guy. Lastly, Tyler Hore (SSM) makes this list despite not having the best of years. Still lots of time for him to turn it around. He's got the size and mobility to be an NHL defender and his offensive game has always shown potential (even if he's never really developed confidence in it).

At forward, it might be easiest to group some of the honorable mentions according to their playing style/size. We've got two undersized offensive forwards who bring great vision as playmakers to the table; Hunter Garlent (PTBO) and Gabe Guertler (SSM). We've got two big powerful wingers who play a strong North/South game; Mason Marchment (HAM) and Mathew Santos (NB). Marchment also possesses a great wrist shot, while Santos is one of the hardest working forwards in the league. Then we've got a collection of slightly undersized wingers who bring somewhat different qualities to the ice. Aaron Berisha (LDN) is a sniper who is great at finding open space on the ice. Bradley Latour (WSR) and Anthony DiFruscia (NIA) are both hard nosed forecheckers who absolutely love battling for position near the crease. And Josh Burnside (MISS) is a speedy two-way presence who has proved to be incredibly valuable to the Steelheads thanks to his ability to play defence when needed. Lastly, we've got Barrie's Justin Scott (BAR). He's been one of the most improved players in the league the last few years. He is a great complimentary offensive player because he can work the boards well, drive the net, and has finishing ability in close. Scott would have been number 11 on this list had I extended it to that.


Anonymous said...

Just curious: does Stephen Harper play C and D, or does he only play C now? When did he make the switch in positions?

Brock Otten said...

Harper started in the league as a forward, then after the move to Belleville (from Erie), they began experimenting with him on the backend. Half way through last year he moved back to forward and won't be going back to defense any time soon. His future is at center.

Anonymous said...

I've followed Betz since he was a mt Clemens wolves.Ive watched him excel in Erie to a great player.unfortunatley he was hurt with a ruptured appendix his first draft yr then the next yr looked over,he has skated with the best " McDavid" And "Debrincat" and still is putting up great numbers as a 2nd liner,He is 6'5 and 228 lbs quick,has a great slap shot,won't think twice to drop the gloves to protect a teammate and has a great attitude,nhl teams would be fools to not want him as a player.I,m starting a movement. "Fans for BETZ"! GO NICK!