Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday Top 10 - Under the Radar Draft Eligibles for 2017


We're over a third of the way into the current OHL season. We've seen a lot of very strong performances from draft eligible players thus far, and we're likely to see many more as we approach the second half. The Preliminary Media/Scout Poll was recently released and that should give everyone a good idea of the top players that the OHL has to offer for 2017. But what about those who are flying under the radar thus far? The OHL has a deep crop this year IMO. I could see as many as 30 players end up within the first three rounds. This list aims to highlight a few of the guys who are bound to see their stock rise should they continue their high level of play.

Here are 10 guys (plus some HM's) that you should be keeping your eye on through the 2nd half (in alphabetical order):

Macauley Carson - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Sudbury has shown significant improvement this year and they're right in the thick of things for top spot in the Central Division. One of the main reasons has been the play of Carson, who has progressed exceptionally well and become (quite possibly) the Wolves most reliable forward this season. His 13 goals this year are 6th among first time draft eligibles and 2nd on the Wolves. He plays in all situations for Sudbury (has just as many shorthanded goals as he does powerplay goals) and all forward positions (has been seeing a lot of time at center recently). The 6'1, 205lbs forward isn't the most fleet of foot (although his skating has already improved from his rookie year), but his versatility and pro style game will no doubt draw the attention of scouts.

Morgan Frost - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Frost is a highly intelligent pivot who has been sensational as a sophomore for the Greyhounds. He's been at his best on the powerplay where his speed, vision, and understanding of spacing are on full display. His 7 powerplay goals are top 5 in the league right now and the Hounds PP is operating at over 20%. But Frost also demonstrates an understanding of how to play at both ends of the ice and has been a standout at the dot (winning 52% of his faceoffs). When all is said and done, he could be a candidate for the top 45 in June.

Kaden Fulcher - Goaltender - Hamilton Bulldogs
The stats for this late birthday '98 certainly don't jump off the page at you. His save percentage is currently under .900 and he's most definitely battled some consistency issues. But the Bulldogs have battled some injury problems and the defense has also struggled in front of him at times. Bottom line is that Fulcher is 6'3 and is easily one of the quickest goalies post to post in the OHL. He oozes athleticism. Working on the technical aspects of his game will be a must, but the basic framework is there for him to become an excellent NHL goaltending prospect and that's why, barring a disastrous second half, I would expect him to be a top 100 selection. Michael Dipietro isn't the only top quality goalie prospect that the OHL has to offer this year.

Jonah Gadjovich - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
3rd year player who has shown significant growth each year. He started off this season pretty snake bitten, but has really managed to turn things around of late (he had 12 shots and 4 points against the Steelheads recently). Creates a lot 5 on 5 by using his size to control the middle of the ice and the boards and he's got a very heavy shot that could make him a goal scorer at the next level. Like Carson (above) he doesn't have the quickest boots in the world, but he's a very effective player in all three zones and a very hard worker who's a legit NHL prospect.

Ben Jones - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Remarkable how he still hasn't found his way onto NHL Central Scouting's watch list, despite his strong play this year. But his play hasn't gone unnoticed, as Redline Report recently mentioned him as a potential top 50 selection in a recent article. Not sure what's not to like about Jones, except for his lack of elite size (6'0). Great speed and skill. Responsible in all three zones and has thrived in an agitator role. Wins faceoffs. Has emerged as a leader on a very young Niagara team that has surprised this year. This guy deserves to be a "B" rated prospect, never mind absent from NHL CSS' list altogether.

Linus Nyman - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Really put himself on the map with his performance at the Ivan Hlinka this summer where he finished the tournament with 7 points, good for 3rd in scoring. But he's been terrific in the OHL too, leading all rookie scorers with 14 goals (and leading Kingston in overall goal scoring). Nyman may not be big (5'10), but he's extremely quick and his puck skill and creativity in open ice are well above average. Colour me impressed (although I was already impressed in the summer after watching the Hlinka).

Nate Schnarr - Forward - Guelph Storm
Schnarr, an OHL rookie out of Waterloo, is definitely an impressive prospect. At 6'3, he brings the size element to the center position that NHL scouts look for now. He's also already a committed two-way player. And even though he's slowed down a bit after a hot start, he has all the tools (speed, hands, intensity) to develop into a very impressive player. Bottom line is that he needs to add some strength to a relatively wiry frame, but when he fills out, he could be a big time contributor. A ton of potential here.

Jack Studnicka - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Riding a six game point streak, Studnicka is a guy that I've received a fair amount of questions about lately. The younger brother of former stalwart Sam, Jack has emerged as one of the most important players for one of the most surprising teams in the league. Studnicka is a very complete player who plays in all situations for the Generals and demonstrates great vision and patience in the offensive zone. While he didn't get any votes for the preliminary media poll (linked above), that doesn't mean he doesn't have fans in the scouting community. If the Generals continue to play well and he continues to be a big factor, he should creep his way up draft lists.

Robert Thomas - Forward - London Knights
Thomas is another guy that I've received questions on of late. The London Knights, historically, don't give out ice time to young players very easily. But Thomas has already worked is way towards top 6 ice time and is averaging close to a point per game for the first place Knights. He's is a highly skilled offensive pivot who uses speed and creativity with the puck to create time and space to work the middle of the ice. Offensively, he has a very high ceiling and that's why he's slowly gaining momentum as a first round candidate come June.

Conor Timmins - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
On a team with two NHL drafted defenders (Colton White and Gustav Bouramman), Timmins has emerged as the Hounds' number one defender and is rocketing up NHL draft lists. The first thing you'll notice is the intensity with which he plays in the defensive end. While he's only 6'1 (relatively average sized by today's standards), he makes his presence felt by being extremely physical in the corners and in the open ice. But Timmins also has a significant offensive component to his game, quarterbacking the number one powerplay unit and displaying poise and composure with the puck at both ends. This guy is a legitimate prospect. Quite often with late birthday players, there's a slow build on draft hype, and that appears to be the case with Timmins. But if he keeps up this level of play, he'll definitely be a top 60 pick.

Honorable Mentions

Oliver Castleman & Matthew Philip - Forwards - Niagara IceDogs
Included these guys as a pair because they've formed quite the dynamic duo for the IceDogs this season. The two have been consistent secondary scoring options for one of the surprise teams in the league. They play a similar game, built on energy and skill, constantly buzzing in the offensive end and outworking opposing defenses. I think Philip might have better draft odds because he plays down the middle and is a bit bigger, but both are guys to watch and deserve mention for how important they've been for Niagara this year.

Zach Gallant - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Former 5th overall pick in the OHL priority selection, Gallant has been significantly better this year after struggling mightily as an OHL rookie (he didn't score a goal in his 16 year old season). Because of his play last year, he's going to have to work hard to put himself back on the scouting map. And he's doing just that right now. Gallant seems to be getting better and better as the season goes on. He plays the game hard and excels in driving the net from the middle. He's also really excelled in the faceoff circle at close to 60% (which is nearly top 5 in the league). Definitely flying under the radar right now.

Matthew Villalta - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A free agent signing by the Hounds, Villalta continues to push Joseph Raaymakers for playing time. He was recently the CHL goaltender of the week. His starts haven't come against the league's best, so I'm curious to see how he fares when (or if) the Hounds take the training wheels off a bit, but thus far he's certainly made himself someone to watch down the stretch. He's got good size and appears to be a quick learner. Admittedly, I haven't caught one of his starts yet, but I feel like he definitely deserves mention here despite that.