The list today intends to highlight several draft eligible players that you should be keeping an eye on over the final two months of the OHL season. A player can do a lot (both good and bad) for their draft stock in the final months of the season. Scouts will be able to take notice of players as they assume larger roles following the OHL trade deadline. Or if they're lucky enough to suit up for Canada at the Under 18's. Or if they step up their game in the playoffs for a team with Championship aspirations. The players on this list represent many of these different scenarios, and more.
Here's the list (players in alphabetical order):
Nathan Bastian - Mississauga Steelheads
Bastian is definitely a house hold name among the OHL's draft eligible players this year. But the recent Michael McLeod injury presents Bastian with an interesting opportunity. For the next month (likely), Bastian will slide back to the middle of the ice and center the Steelheads top line with Alex Nylander and Josh Burnside. Bastian has spent most of the season at wing alongside McLeod and Nylander, where he's used his size to open up space, work the walls, and drive the net. But at center, Bastian has a chance to show scouts that he can control play in the neutral zone, be a force on zone entries, and take on more of a lead role offensively. A borderline first round talent at this point, there's no doubt that if Bastian can excel down the middle, it will elevate his value as a potential 6'4, 210lbs center and not just a power winger. The results have been pretty good thus far, as Bastian has 3 goals, 2 assists, is a +8, and has won over 50% of his faceoffs minus McLeod.
Will Bitten - Flint Firebirds
For a minute, let's forget about the mess that is happening behind the scenes in Flint this year. Let's focus on Bitten as a hockey player. Throughout the first three months, Bitten was pacing the Firebirds offensively, a bright spot on an inconsistent team. But, along with the rest of his teammates, Bitten has struggled in the new calendar year, with only 5 goals in his last 20 games. A lot of that can be chalked up to the team's struggles since the trade deadline (Bitten, alone, was a -17 in January), but there's no question that scouts would like to see Bitten finish strong (even with taking into consideration that his struggles can be linked to the turmoil in Flint). There's also no doubt in my mind that the Under 18's will be a big event for Bitten and his draft stock (ala Mitchell Stephens last year). Bitten was a key member of Canada's Hlinka team this Summer, and I think that there is a chance that he could wear a letter come April for Canada. With a strong conclusion to the season (especially at the U18's), Bitten could draw serious consideration for the late first round.
Jakob Chychrun - Sarnia Sting
The dust has settled post trade deadline and the new look Sting have overtaken Windsor for the division lead. But I think there's still room for improvement for them as a team, as they have continued to battle with consistency. Chychrun, though, has been hot, with 15 points and a +15 rating in his last 18 games. But, at this point, I'm not sure what he does the rest of the regular season will matter as much to scouts, when compared to how he performs during the post season. Over the last few years, Chychrun has missed pretty much every major event due to injury. In chronological order, he's missed the OHL Cup (in his draft year), the Under 17's, the OHL playoffs last year, the Under 18's last year, and the Ivan Hlinka this past summer. Just how will Chychrun perform when the heat gets turned up? That's the million dollar question that I guarantee every NHL scout is asking. A strong performance and he probably solidifies himself as a top 5 prospect for 2016. A weak performance (for him...and/or Sarnia), and he likely gets a chance to redeem himself at the Under 18's this year. Needless to say, all eyes will be on him as March rolls around.
Tim Gettinger - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
At the beginning of the year, Gettinger was looking like a potential first round pick, especially coming off a very strong performance for Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka. But his OHL season has had its ups and downs. The hulking forward (who checks in at 6'6) had a great month of January, but he needs to continue that for the remainder of the OHL season. When he's at his best, Gettinger is able to create havoc in the offensive zone with his combination of size and speed. With a strong finish to the OHL season, I think Gettinger's size and potential will surely entice an NHL team into using a top 45 selection on him. But if he continues to struggle with being a consistent contributor, he's probably more likely a late 2nd/mid 3rd rounder.
Ondrej Kachyna - Hamilton Bulldogs
Having seen the Bulldogs a couple of times lately, this Czech Import has really caught my eye based on the improvements that he's made this season. Thought he really struggled with the speed of the game the first couple of months. But thanks to some injuries (although they did just get captain Justin Lemcke back), Kachyna's been able to get more playing time lately and I think he's really blossoming. I've been very impressed with him defensively, where he uses his strong mobility and his 6'3 frame to stay ahead of forwards on the attack, keeping them to the outside. Also showing more willingness to engage physically. Not only that, but he's showing more confidence and poise with the puck, making good outlet passes and even joining the rush occasionally. His 6 assists in his last 11 games are evidence of that. Not only is Kachyna establishing himself as someone the Bulldogs can keep around next year, but he's also looking like a potential NHL draft pick come June. I tell you what, this Hamilton defence is going to be incredibly strong in a couple of years.
Tyler Parsons - London Knights
When London did not go out and acquire another goaltender at the OHL trade deadline, it gave Parsons a vote of confidence as the Knights' starter moving forward. An average sized netminder by NHL standards, Parsons has been mostly terrific this season, using his quickness and athleticism to make big saves, night after night. But the OHL playoffs will be another story for Parsons. His performance in the post season will go a long way in determining where he's drafted. While guys like Dylan Wells, or Joseph Raaymakers seem to be getting more press, with a strong playoff performance, Parsons could very well make himself the first goaltender selected from the OHL come June.
Michael Pezzetta - Sudbury Wolves
Before the start of the OHL season, several people (whose opinion I trust) told me that they expected Pezzetta to have a breakout season. The former 11th overall pick struggled in his rookie season, but the expectation was that he would be a go to player for the Wolves this year. That just hasn't been the case...at least until lately. His ice time has greatly increased and he's formed a very strong scoring line with Danny Desrochers and Matt Schmalz where he has 3 goals, and 3 assists in his last 7 games. Now I realize that this is a very small sample size. But it's also the first time this year that Pezzetta has shown life for more than just a couple of games. If he's turning the corner, NHL teams will definitely take notice. Pezzetta is the type of big, power center that NHL scouts fall in love with.
Drake Rymsha - Ottawa 67's
Great to see Rymsha back in the Ottawa lineup after missing three months with a broken femur. I didn't expect him to be back this year, but his return is a testament to his rehab dedication and overall work ethic. And upon his return, he's jumped right back into a scoring line role and is seeing all the ice time he can handle. I loved Rymsha's energy and tenacity last year with London as an OHL rookie, and I had high expectations for him heading into the year. With a strong finish to the OHL season, Rymsha could definitely still see his name called in June.
Jordan Sambrook - Erie Otters
Has been an incredibly valuable member of the Otters in his rookie season. At different points this year, Sambrook has drawn considerable ice time, filling in for the likes of Travis Dermott, Erik Cernak, and T.J. Fergus. At the beginning of the year, Sambrook looked great in the top four before the arrival of Cernak. But he slipped to the 3rd pairing when the Otters got to full strength. However, with T.J. Fergus ill, Sambrook has jumped back into the top four and his production has again increased (nearly a point per game in February). Bottom line, when he's been called upon, Sambrook has been stellar. There's a lot to like about his game. He's got good size, is not afraid to play physical, and has shown the ability to move the puck and even quarterback the powerplay. There's no doubt that the eyes of scouts have been on Erie this year, and that means there's also no doubt that they've had a chance to see Sambrook show his stuff.
Riley Stillman - Oshawa Generals
You have to absolutely love the progression that this first year OHL player has shown this season. It took him 21 games to earn his first OHL point, but don't let that fool you. He's gone from a bit player, to arguably Oshawa's top defender (over Mitchell Vande Sompel) in a matter of months. He's showcasing a very strong two-way ability and plays a much bigger game than his 6'0 frame would suggest. He's also already wearing a letter (an "A") for Oshawa and has great bloodlines to boot (son of former OHL'er/NHL'er Cory Stillman). Stillman might just be the best OHL prospect that the general public doesn't know about. Come April (pending Oshawa fails to make the playoffs/falters in the first round), don't be surprised to see Stillman suit up for Canada at the Under 18's.
Luke Kirwan - Flint Firebirds
Again, let's avoid talking about the off ice situation here. On the ice, Kirwan has been a different player since joining Flint in the Connor Chatham deal. Part of that has been the increase in ice time, but Kirwan has deserved it and passed his audition with flying colours. In his last 14 games, he's got 4 goals, 3 assists, and 51 shots on net. That's not exactly terrific production, but he's creating way more scoring chances in Flint than he did in Windsor. The former highly touted late '97, might just be saving his NHL draft stock with a strong finish to the season. After all, we're talking about a player who dominated the Under 17's a few years ago. The potential is there. At the very least, Kirwan looks to have really turned the corner in his OHL career.