Tuesday, May 16, 2017

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft - Part 4: 10-1

The conclusion to my Top 50 for this year's NHL Entry Draft.

Here is my top 10.

1. Gabe Vilardi - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
It certainly hasn't been an easy year for Vilardi. Missed the Hlinka with a knee injury that caused him to miss the start of the OHL regular season too. Then, just as he was finding a groove, he had to have an emergency appendectomy. Through it all, he still finished with 61 points in 49 games, which was good for the third best ppg average of any '99 in the OHL (behind #2 and #3 on this list, Tippett and Suzuki). He's the prototypical center for today's NHL game which lives in the Corsi age and thrives on possession time. Vilardi might be the best player in the entire OHL below the hash marks. He has an unreal ability to extend possession in the offensive end by controlling the wall and tiring out opposing defenses. This not only draws countless penalties, but it opens up the ice for his linemates. And Vilardi's second best attribute would be his hockey sense and vision, so he consistently finds those open teammates from the wall or behind the net. In a lot of ways, Vilardi's ability to slow down the play and control the wall reminds me of Joe Thornton in his prime. In addition to having great puck control, Vilardi is also a solid two-way player who has the potential to develop into an elite two-way forward. The only real flaw in his game is his lack of explosive skating ability. To a certain degree, I think these concerns have been overblown. He's not an awful skater, just not an above average one. I'd compare him to Sean Monahan as a skater when he was drafted and that certainly hasn't limited his effectiveness in the NHL. Vilardi is too smart and too skilled to not be an impact player at the NHL level IMO and I think he deserves to be the 3rd player off the board behind Patrick and Hischier come June. Heck, if he has a dominating performance in the Memorial Cup, can he even enter the conversation with those two?

2. Owen Tippett - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
In a lot of ways, Tippett is the antithesis of Vilardi, the player he's gone head to head with all year for the top spot in these OHL rankings. He's a pure goal scorer who possesses speed and skill as a North/South player, but lacks the cerebral component that drives Vilardi's effectiveness. Tippett has the best shot of any player in the OHL, no offense meant to Debrincat, Mascherin, or Sokolov. Everything about it is elite. Lightning quick release that consistently catches defenders and goalies off guard, even though they know his reputation for shooting at any time. Great velocity on his wrist shot. Tremendous ability to protect the puck and use defenders as screens coming down the wing. And the utmost confidence to shoot from anywhere and everywhere. Tippett also possesses great speed. Once he gets going down the wing, he's very hard to stop, especially because you're also trying to take away space from him so that he can't get off his shot. I think his first few steps looked a bit slower this year as he added some weight, but I expect that as he continues to become better conditioned, he will develop into a terrific skater at the pro level. So you've got an explosive sniper with size. In a lot of ways, I see Tippett possessing a Peter Bondra esque type of ability and potential at the NHL level. The negatives have been much discussed. His defensive awareness and overall play without the puck needs to improve. But, I do think that it has improved already from his rookie year and from the start of this season. He has even flashed a desire to engage physically this year and throw his weight around. I think his play without the puck will continue to improve. I think the real area of concern is his hockey sense and ability to utilize his teammates. Too often the play dies on his stick and he's not able to extend possession in the offensive zone because he fails to find an open teammate and loses poise/patience with the puck. I think this is especially evident on the powerplay, as I find him to be a more effective 5 on 5 player right now. Is this something that will develop? That remains to be seen. Harnessing this will also make him a better goal scorer. Let's be real, the goals he scores by catching defenders and goalies off guard in the OHL, won't be goals at the next level. He's going to have to work harder to find the dirty areas and work the middle of the ice better to be a consistent goal scorer at the NHL level. But in a draft year that lacks true star potential, Tippett has to remain a top 10 pick because of the goal scoring potential he possesses and ultimately, that's what wins hockey games. You can listen to Tippett's segment on The Pipeline Show, here.

3. Nick Suzuki - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
SO glad to see him finally getting the recognition he deserves late in the season. Reminds me of Robby Fabbri in his draft year, where it wasn't until later in the season that he finally started to be considered a serious candidate for a selection in the lottery (although he did ultimately fall). The key to Suzuki's game is his combination of amazing hockey sense and non stop motor. I saw NHL.com's Mike Morreale recently say, "Suzuki plays the game like he's got red bull flowing through his veins," and I think that's a very accurate statement. Suzuki isn't the world's quickest skater, but he has great agility and it allows him to really whirl around the offensive zone like a Tasmanian devil. Plus, he's always one step ahead of his competition, which means he's outworking you and out-thinking you. His playmaking ability is top notch and it's no fluke that he was able to be one of the league's leading scorers in the regular season and post season. But his goal scoring ability is something that is underrated. He has a deceptively quick release and he's so adept at getting himself scoring chances. This is a well rounded offensive player. Suzuki also uses his motor to play defensively and on the PK, where he's developed into one of the league's premier penalty killers. One of the comparisons that is thrown around a lot is Joe Pavelski and Suzuki projects as the type of player who can excel in all situations like Pavelski does for the Sharks. Another thing that's not mentioned a lot is Suzuki's late birthday that makes him one of the younger players available. He still has some physical maturity to undergo, so it's scary to think of how good he could be if he gets stronger. To sum it up, with Nick Suzuki, you're getting one of the more complete players in the draft, who if he were a bit bigger and a bit quicker, would probably be competing with Patrick and Hischier for first overall. You can check out Nick's segment on the Pipe-Cast here.

4. Robert Thomas - Forward - London Knights
Thomas is an extremely talented playmaker who is coming off a terrific second year with an ultra talented London Knights squad. For much of this year, Thomas was the team's most effective and consistent forward and he deserves major props for that. He's deceptively quick and extremely effective off the rush, where his elusiveness is combined with his vision and creativity. He's far from a perimeter player who thrives in traffic areas despite not possessing elite size or strength. He especially excels on the powerplay, where his vision and passing ability is put on full display. Just makes great decisions with the puck in the offensive end. The only real criticism is that he needs to shoot more. I think Thomas will always be a playmaker, first and foremost, but he needs to keep teams honest by improving his shot and by being more aggressive in using it. Teams overplay him for the pass and he won't take that next step as OHL scoring leader and offensive dynamo until his shot improves and his confidence in using it improves. And while he's a pretty heady two-way player, I'd love to see him play with more consistency away from the puck, similar to the way Nick Suzuki does. As he fills out, Thomas is a guy who possesses a lot of offensive potential and I think he deserves to be considered a candidate for the Top 20 at the draft in June.

5. Nic Hague - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Originally had Timmins as the top defender available from the OHL this year, but it's incredibly close. With Hague's tremendous performance in the postseason, I think he's done enough to vault ahead. If you saw Hague in the playoffs, you've seen him at his absolute best; the best hockey he's played as an OHL'er thus far. And I think that's going to resonate pretty heavily with NHL scouts. There were times during the regular season where watching Hague play was extremely frustrating. He had become prone to defensive zone turnovers and was having a real tough time with the forecheck, as he wasn't keeping his feet moving and his decision making was a tad too slow. But he's really cleaned that up this postseason. I think it's still an area of concern for the future, but his improvement late in the year is encouraging. As an offensive player, Hague is certainly not typical. He's not the type to consistently lead an explosive rush up ice or appear dynamic in nature. But once the Steelheads gain entry into the offensive zone, he's a very, very efficient player. He's got one heck of a point shot, but he's also very good at sliding down into scoring lanes, catching opposing forwards puck watching. Hague is also not afraid to pinch in deep to maintain puck possession, similar to a 4th forward. He uses his size and strength exceptionally well along the wall to extend plays. This is similar to the way Brent Burns has become so effective as an offensive player in the NHL today. Defensively, Hague has really developed quite the mean streak and it's made him very difficult to play against. He uses his reach and mobility very well to defend the rush, but uses his size and strength to defend the corners and the front of the net. Again, this postseason, he's been absolutely hammering anyone who dares try to go to the net when he's on the ice. While I'm not entirely sure how much his offensive game translates to the NHL level, and I do think the turnovers and decision making are a concern, there's enough there to suggest that he could develop into a quality top 4 defender at the NHL level. You can listen to Hague's segment on The Pipe-Cast, here.

6. Connor Timmins - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The true definition of a jack of all trades defender. Timmins excels at both ends of the ice. Defensively, he plays much bigger than his 6'1 frame. He's ultra aggressive in the corners and in front of the net, and while he's not the type to lower the boom with a huge open ice hit, he's adept at engaging physically to win one on one battles. He also makes very good decisions with the puck in his own end, utilizing a great first pass or good mobility to get the puck out of trouble. Offensively, he has great vision and has really grown as a powerplay QB. While I don't think his point shot will ever be a massive weapon, he shows enough as a puck mover to suggest that his offensive abilities could translate to point production at the NHL level. I think really adding an extra gear to his skating ability could help him with that production as he moves forward. When it comes to Hague versus Timmins, I think Hague gets the advantage because of his size and unorthodox offensive contributions. But don't be surprised if Timmins goes first because he's a right shot defender who just screams pro defender because of his all around abilities. 

7. Michael Dipietro - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
No question, Dipietro is one of the better goaltending prospects to come out of the OHL in recent years. About the only thing he doesn't have going for him is size. At 6'0, Dipietro lacks the height and length NHL scouts desire at the position these days. What he lacks in physical stature, he makes up for with elite athleticism, quickness, and intelligence in the crease. Dipietro is easily one of the quickest goalies post to post that I've seen play in the OHL. He gets excellent push offs and he does such a good job reading and anticipating plays that he makes highlight reel saves on a nightly basis. Dipietro also does a great job of controlling his rebounds, limiting second and third chances. You also have to applaud his mental make-up. Since coming into the league, he hasn't missed a beat. As a rookie last year he was already one of the better netminders in the league and has continued that this year, where he was a stabilizing force for an injury prone and inconsistent Windsor team. It'll be exciting to see how he elevates his game for this year's Memorial Cup. The one thing that I will say is that as a "smaller" goalie, he needs to do a better job challenging shooters more consistently. He can't get caught deep in his net, where he's susceptible to being beaten high. There were times this year where that was happening and it's really the only flaw to his game. But he's more than deserving of being a top 45 pick come June. Just a matter of whether NHL scouts can look past his lack of size.

8. Jason Robertson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
As the year went on, Robertson just kept getting better, and better. The Frontenacs were far from an offensive juggernaut, but Robertson was one of the league's premier performers in the second half of the year and the playoffs. In his final 25 games of the year (including the playoffs), he had 18 goals and 27 assists for 45 points or very nearly two points per game. Overall on the year, if you combine the regular season and playoffs, Robertson was in on nearly 48% of his teams goals this year. That's just insane. Even with the top defensive players of the opposition keying in on him, he managed to remain consistently productive. Robertson is extremely difficult to separate from the puck and that's one of the things that makes him so effective. He's aggressive in driving the net and despite lacking elite speed or acceleration, manages to find his way there with, and without the puck. He's also very intelligent. The puck just seems to find him in the offensive end, especially in the slot and near the crease. His excellent release and hands makes him a great goal scoring prospect, but also his ability to control the cycle makes him a terrific playmaker. While he's far from a pest, his offensive game (the way he contributes offensively) reminds me a lot of Corey Perry. They have similar body types, similar skating strides and found success at the OHL level the same way. Outside of improving his skating, adding that consistent physical element and intensity level (like Perry possesses) is the key to his development. While he's a determined player with the puck, I find that his engagement without the puck lacks consistency. Would love to see him use his size to dominate in puck retrieval and on the backcheck, but he has a tendency to float in the offensive zone, hanging out in the slot. You simply can not ignore his production this year though, even with a few warts.

9. Jonah Gadjovich - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
A '98 October birth date who was one of the OHL's most improved players in his 3rd year in the league. Went from 14 goals to 46 this year. Gadjovich is a really big kid who plays a throw back style of game. It's built on power and he's most effective within 5 feet of the net. He's an absolute bull to deal with in front of the net because he's as strong as an ox, but also smart. Does a really good job shielding off defenders and keeping them on his back. He's also got sensational hands in close. Adept at tip ins, but also has a very good shot that exhibits power and accuracy. Gadjovich is also a very good two-way player who is just as effective without the puck as he is with it. He plays the game hard and relishes in the opportunity to throw his body around. His skating has gotten better every year he's been in the league, and I would actually say he skates reasonably well for a big man now. He'll never be a burner, but he definitely exhibits more power than a guy like Jason Robertson. His overall puck skill, creativity, and playmaking ability are still works in progress. His offensive potential at the NHL level will depend on the continued development of his shot, and the development of his play with the puck. His production dipped a bit in the OHL playoffs, and I'm sure he'd be the first to tell you that he could have done more to try and get Owen Sound to the West finals. But he had a pretty damn good year overall. Best case scenario you're looking at a guy like James Neal, and at worst a guy like Joel Ward. I feel like Gadjovich is a pretty safe bet to be an NHL player.

10. Isaac Ratcliffe - Forward - Guelph Storm 
Ratcliffe is a very interesting prospect that is available this year. I could see him being drafted anywhere from 15 to 50. He has some extremely alluring qualities to NHL scouts. First thing you notice is his size at 6'6. And he skates very well, with good speed and acceleration. But he's also not even 200lbs yet. As he fills out, I don't think we truly know how good he could be. Ratcliffe's other best quality is his shot. He has an absolute rocket of a wrist shot and I think he's got big time scoring potential. Once he's able to add that aforementioned strength, he'll be able to generate more scoring chances for himself as he can protect the puck better and look to be aggressive in driving the middle of the ice. His physical game is inconsistent and that's another area of his game that will need to improve. Ditto for discipline. Anyone who watched the U18's can tell you that he struggled with some lazy stick penalties and it was the same in Guelph too. He has the potential to be an excellent defensive player though with his size and skating ability. Playing for Guelph is a wild card all in itself. Because of how bad Guelph was at times this year, he had a propensity to disappear at times. He went an entire month without scoring a goal later in the year. And when he's not scoring, that's when the physical game and the cycle game really need to activate to make him more noticeable. Bottom line, the key word with Ratcliffe is potential, which I've already used several times to describe him. Huge kid who could develop as a scoring power forward under the right tutelage and with improvements to his conditioning. You can listen to Ratcliffe's segment on The Pipe-Cast, here

Monday, May 15, 2017

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft - Part 3: 30-11

This is the 3rd part of my final top 50 OHL players eligible for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Here you will find players ranked 30 through 11.

11. Matthew Strome - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Strome takes a bit of a tumble in my final rankings, falling outside of my top 10. The reason for that is two fold. I think Strome struggled a bit down the stretch, in the playoffs and at the U18's, and some of the other guys in that range (like Jason Robertson), did a bit more to edge him out. I'm still a believer in his abilities and NHL potential, I just think that he's more of a mid second round pick and not a first rounder. Outside of the fact that his two brothers were high NHL picks (Ryan and Dylan), I think the thing most people talk about with Matthew is his skating. It's not great, but it's definitely improved since he started in the OHL. While his top end speed may not have improved, his overall agility and balance definitely have IMO. If we're comparing Matthew to his brothers, he's sort of a different breed. He has his brothers' elite vision and playmaking ability, but he plays much more of a North/South power game than either Ryan or Dylan do. This is the part of his game which I really want to see continue to develop. He's at his best when he's physically aggressive, throwing his body around in the corners and driving the net with authority. He can be a tough player to stop then because of how soft his hands are and because of how smart he is.He sees the ice exceptionally well. But this disappears from his game at times and it limits his effectiveness because when he's not aggressive and using his size to slow the game down, his deficiencies in the skating department become evident. This is what happened at the U18's IMO, where he looked a touch behind the play on the bigger ice surface. Even if his skating never becomes an asset, he's smart enough, skilled enough, and big enough to make an impact as a complimentary scoring line option (think of a guy like Justin Williams or RJ Umberger).

12. Mackenzie Entwistle - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Easily one of my favourite players available in this draft class. His offensive abilities are vastly underrated IMO. Not to the point where I think he can be a first line player in the NHL. But I think he could easily have the same sort of impact a guy like Boone Jenner is having in the NHL currently, as a 2nd/3rd liner, 40 point player. When he's played against his peers on the big stage, this guy has consistently elevated his play. He was terrific at the Top Prospect's Game this year. And he was easily Canada's most consistent and dangerous forward at the U18's, where he led Canada in scoring. His stats with Hamilton this year weren't terrific. But he was consistently receiving 3rd line minutes and saw very little powerplay time. He also went through a bout of mono towards the end of the year that really limited his effectiveness down the stretch, leading into the playoffs. Bottom line is this, Entwistle is an incredibly complete player that coaches at the next level are going to love. He's got size at 6'3. He skates exceptionally well. He competes at both ends. He kills penalties. He can play all three forward positions. He throws his body around and is an effective player along the boards. There are so many things to like about his game. As an offensive player, he flashes great skill with the puck in transition, but doesn't utilize this enough, often deferring to teammates. I truly do believe that once he gains confidence, we'll start to see the points pile up.

13. Ivan Lodnia - Forward - Erie Otters
You're probably going to be surprised to hear this, considering his poor playoff production offensively, but Lodnia is a guy I've actually gained a real appreciation for in the postseason. I saw a lot of the Otters in the postseason and I consistently came away impressed with Lodnia's awareness and effort at both ends of the ice. In particular, he had so many quality defensive plays and reads that prevented goals or at least disrupted great scoring chances. Offensively, you just know that this guy is going to explode next year when the Otters' big guns graduate. But it's that increased effort without the puck that is going to make him a favourite of NHL scouts despite his lack of size. My only other concern is that I'm not sure he's got a great "top" speed for an undersized player. His first few steps and ability to alter pace is terrific though, so if he could really elevate that top gear, he'd be that much more dangerous. The hands, intelligence and shot are all top notch too, and point to him becoming a potential game breaker at the OHL level, at the very least. Like I said, this is a guy who has really grown on me late in the year.

14. Adam Ruzicka - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Ruzicka has kind of become a polarizing prospect for this draft. When the season started, he was considered a potential lottery selection, but his down year offensively in adjusting to the OHL has dropped him more to the mid second round range. The real issue at play is consistency. I saw him have some very, very strong games this year where he completely dominated shifts with his power and skill. This was especially true at the U18's, where I thought he had an excellent tournament for Slovakia. But there were also a couple games this year where he was completely invisible, and I think that's a bit alarming. We're talking about a 6'4, 200lbs forward who should be able to dominate more than one shift a game, or at the very least be noticeable. But his physical intensity really seems to waver. He's got a heck of a shot and release, but too often he's kept to the perimeter. He's at his best working the wall, and exploding to the net to create scoring chances, but again, this aggressiveness isn't shown nearly enough. I've also seen, read, and heard some question his hockey sense and overall offensive potential for the next level. I think those criticisms can also be considered valid. Is it a lack of effort in finding consistent scoring lanes, or is it a lack of vision? However, we also need to remember that we're talking about a young kid playing away from home for the first time. Consistency issues do tend to plague most imports playing in their first CHL season. Ruzicka looked mighty impressive at international tournaments this year, where he was able to play for his country. I have a hard time seeing Ruzicka dropping out of the top 50 come draft day, considering his size and skill package.

15. Alex Formenton - Forward - London Knights
The next Christian Dvorak? That's definitely what the NHL GM who drafts him will be hoping for. To gain an appreciation for Formenton, one really has to have seen the Knights play a lot this year. There are times where Formenton barely sees the ice and is used sparingly (like the OHL playoffs). And there are other times where he's slotted higher in the lineup and is able to showcase his speed and skill playing with other highly skilled playmakers. There's no question that he's one of the quickest players in the OHL. He can truly fly. He's also aggressive in using that speed to attack the middle of the ice and shows little fear in playing near the crease, showing a great release which suggests great scoring potential. Another thing to factor in is physical immaturity. Formenton is one of the youngest players available in the draft this year and he's coming off only his first season in the OHL. This could be a guy who is just scratching the surface of what he's capable of. I think the one thing that I question is his vision and overall playmaking ability. I see the goal scoring potential, 100%. And I think he impacts the game in a lot of different ways. But I'm not sure I see a future top 6 difference maker at the next level. But I think there will be more than one NHL GM out there who does. Saw the Hockey News recently compared him to Jason Chimera and that's an interesting comparison if the offensive game never truly develops.

16. Morgan Frost - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Frost, like Entwistle, has also been a favourite of mine among this crop of OHL prospects. He isn't blessed with the physical skills that Entwistle has been, but there are a lot of things to like about his game. He has the speed and agility you like to see in smaller/average sized centers. He also really processes the game well. Right now, his game is most noticeable on the powerplay where he makes such quick decisions with the puck and is fearless in using his speed to attack open lanes in the defense. And despite lacking in the strength department, Frost does a good job as a defensive player and faceoff man. Once he gets stronger, I think you'll see his production really increase. Thought he played very well in the playoffs, and finished the season off quite well. One thing that could also really benefit his game is improving his shot. Needs to get more velocity behind it and keep defenders guessing, preventing them from playing the pass off the rush. But I really like Frost's potential as a two-way top 6 center at the NHL level. Think David Krejci, Vincent Trocheck.

17. Dmitri Samorukov - Defense - Guelph Storm
Up and down year for Samorukov. Started off the year very well, but really hit a wall through the middle of the season, up until the final couple of months. Then he finished the year exceptionally well, including a very strong performance for Russia at the U18's. This is the type of inconsistency I was talking about in Adam Ruzicka's write up. When he's off, Samorukov looks lost on the ice. Turnovers a plenty and a lot of puck chasing defensively. A lot of that can be attributed to the team he played on this year in Guelph though, who struggled as a team with turnovers and consistency in effort. But when he was on, which was the vast majority of the second half, he looked like a legitimate NHL prospect. Samorukov is an excellent skater who showcases a great ability as a puck rusher. But he also has a big point shot, which he was able to really improve the accuracy of later in the year. Defensively, I really like his intensity. Sure, he runs around a little too much sometimes. And sure, his reads could use some work. But, he plays the game hard in his own end and really makes opposing forwards keep their heads up. There's a lot of potential to develop into a quality two-way defender with Samorukov IMO, and as such I think he's really worked himself back into the conversation as a 2nd round pick come June.

18. Nate Schnarr - Forward - Guelph Storm
I'm a big believer in Schnarr's potential. If he puts it all together, he could be the guy from this draft where people say, "how on earth was this guy a 3rd round pick?" He did a lot of great things in his first OHL season, considering how badly Guelph struggled. Big, rangy centers (6'3) with offensive skill are hard to find and Schnarr definitely could end up as a top 6 player at the next level if he develops properly. He's got good speed. He shows a lot of promise as a puck carrier with the skill to beat defenders one on one. He also shows a lot of promise as a possession darling, who can control the wall and play below the hash marks with his size. Schnarr also plays hard and flashes a power game. Problem is he just hasn't been able to put all of that together to dominate games. But there are shifts where you say, "man, this guy could be really good one day." I think it all comes down to a lack of strength. He gets knocked off the puck too easily and really needs to improve his balance. At the U18's, I think this was evident. Schnarr is going to be a big part of a Guelph team that could dominate the OHL in a few years. I really see him as an underrated prospect for this year's draft.

19. Sasha Chmelevski - Forward - Ottawa 67's
On talent alone, there's no way that Chmelevski should have been the 24th highest scoring U18 player in the OHL this year. He oozes offensive swagger and charisma. His skating is top notch. His skill with the puck and creativity is top notch. His shot is pro caliber and a major weapon. So why the lack of production? There are major consistency issues related to intensity levels, with and without the puck. Former 67's head coach Jeff Brown was very critical of Chmelevski at different times this year because of it. He needs to be more aggressive in using his speed to attack the net, and be more engaged away from the puck. If he can flip that switch, he has among the highest offensive potential of any player on this list.

20. Markus Phillips - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Believe it or not, Phillips is the highest rated '99 Ontario born defender on this list, however there's no denying that his draft status took a bit of a hit this year. Came into the year as a potential first round candidate, but now looks more like a 2nd-3rd rounder. I think a lot of that has to do with his slow start to the year. I thought he struggled early on in the year with trying to do too much, and as such was a little too turnover prone in his own end and the neutral zone. But, he got better and better as the season went on. His play was a big reason why the Attack were the best team in the OHL in the second half. In the final 27 games of the regular season, Phillips had 31 points (including 9 goals). Pro-rate that kind of production and you've got a Max Kaminsky candidate. His confidence offensively really soared and the production matched it. He really cut down on his turnovers by making smarter decisions with the puck, picked his spots better to lead or jump up in the rush, and looked better running the point on the powerplay. Defensively, I thought Phillips also really improved. He has fantastic mobility and as such is a terrific one on one defender who is very hard to get around. And he uses his wide base (6'0, 200lbs) to play tough in the corners. Phillips is built very similarly to Leafs pick Travis Dermott and possesses the same type of potential at the next level. The only blip later in the year was a poor performance in the playoff series against Erie, but I don't think that should take away from a fantastic second half. You can listen to Phillips' segment on The Pipeline Show, here.

21. Zach Gallant - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Former 5th overall pick in the OHL Draft, Gallant was one of the most improved players in the league this year after going goalless last year. Love the intensity level that this guy plays with. One of the toughest defensive forwards in the OHL, in addition to being one of the league's premier body checkers and faceoff men. He's no slouch offensively either. Has very good hands in close and he has good vision off the cycle, creating through patience and strength in puck protection. If he can improve his shot and improve his ability to play in transition (carrying/receiving a top speed), he could definitely be a quality 2nd/3rd line player at the next level. And if his offensive game stagnates, you've still got a prospect who profiles as a top notch defensive center and penalty killer if he continues to upgrade his skating ability. There's a lot of current Leaf Leo Komarov in Gallant's game. You can listen to Gallant's segment on The Pipe-Cast, here.

22. Jack Studnicka - Forward - Oshawa Generals
For those familiar with the OHL, Jack is a very similar player to his brother Sam (a former captain of the Sarnia Sting and current member of St. FX), in the sense that he's a jack of all trades type. But I think it's fair to say that Jack is a more dynamic player, which explains why Jack's 18 year old season was better offensively than any season Sam ever produced in the league. I think his smarts, with and without the puck, is Jack's best attribute. This was evident at the U18's, where he showed an excellent ability to find scoring lanes and finish off chances. Before a strong performance at the U18's, he had a terrific OHL playoffs, where his 15 points was 3rd highest of draft eligible players (behind Suzuki and Robertson). And before that, he finished the regular season very strongly with 23 points in his final 20 games. We've got a good sized center with good production, so why isn't he rated higher? At this point, Studnicka is only an average skater. Lacks an elite top speed and acceleration, relying on awareness to be one step quicker than the opposition. I think there's also a sense from scouts that he's probably more of a 3rd line center at the next level and not a top 6 forward. But if you're drafting in the 3rd round and on and you can get yourself a quality, intelligent pivot, you've got to jump on it. Studnicka is a very solid prospect who I think has some upside if he can continue to make improvements to his skating and creativity.

23. Noel Hoefenmayer - Defense - Ottawa 67's
Hoefenmayer is an interesting defender available for this year. He had a very strong season offensively for the 67's, and finished very strongly with a great performance against Mississauga in round one of the playoffs. He has a lot of potential as a puck rusher, showcasing great skill cutting through the neutral zone. He's aggressive in jumping into the rush as the 3rd or 4th man in and has great scoring instincts for a defender. When coupled with an excellent point shot, it gives Hoefenmayer good offensive potential for the next level. Defensively, he has good positioning and smarts, but I do wish that he was more aggressive in attacking the corners and defending the front of his net, especially given his average size. This is particularly interesting because Hoefenmayer was actually touted as a very physical, hard nosed defender at the midget level, but that hasn't translated to the OHL level yet. Could be a confidence/strength thing. I think the other issue is that I see Hoefenmayer as only an average skater. Certainly not below average, but I think he lacks true elusiveness as a rusher, and smoothness laterally/backwards. Good potential here once the physical skills improve and a guy well worth a 3rd/4th round selection IMO. 

24. Eemeli Rasanen - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Not as high on Rasanen as some of my fellow draft prognosticators are, but I do see the allure. 6'6, 210lbs, right shot defender with offensive potential. Skates well moving forward and with his reach, actually is a pretty good puck rusher. Tough to separate from the puck once he gets across the blueline. He also possesses a big point shot and has definite potential as a powerplay QB. Rasanen also flashes great ability as a physical player, and has the ability and desire to really lay out forwards cutting across the blueline. But, I actually find him to be lacking defensive intensity in the corners and in front of the net. I want to see him be much harder to play against, utilizing that size to win more one on one puck battles. He's also extremely turnover prone in the defensive end and really struggles to cope with the forecheck. Lastly, his footwork defensively needs work as his overall agility/lateral movement is awkward and causes him to be an occasional pylon off the rush. However, something worth noting is that Rasanen is a very raw player who is still growing into his body and lacks experience. With the right wok ethic, he could be quite the player. Just a few too many warts for me to consider him with a top two round pick, but that's likely where he goes.

25. Kirill Maksimov - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
What a difference a change of scenery can make. With Saginaw, the formerly highly touted OHL draft prospect was floundering and looked like a long shot to hear his name called in June (6 goals in 37 games). But a midseason deal to Niagara completely changed his fortunes and brought out the best in Maksimov. Including the playoffs (where he had 4 goals in 4 games), Maksimov had 19 goals in 33 games. Pro-rate that production and you've got a 6'2, speedy winger with 35+ goals on the season. That would put him right up there with the production of others in this draft class receiving first round consideration. Not saying that Maksimov deserves first round consideration. But with the way he finished the year and with his strong performance at the U18's, I think he deserves to be selected in the first three rounds. His potential is sky high. Consistency has always been the issue with him, but the light bulb really did seem to go off in Niagara. Finally saw him using his size to drive the net, with and without the puck, where he could use his great hands and great release to be a consistent goal scorer. We also finally saw him using his speed in puck pursuit and to be a major factor on the forecheck. This was something that was very evident at the U18's. His skill level and goal scoring potential is through the roof, so if he's finally put it all together, he could look like an eventual steal for whatever team drafts him. A true draft wild card.

26. Jacob Paquette - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
It was a tough year for Paquette, who was initially my favourite OHL defender for this draft heading into the season. Started off by missing the Ivan Hlinka with an arm injury. When he eventually started playing with Kingston, he just never really seemed to find a groove. I expected his offensive game to really blossom this year, but instead it regressed. He's an excellent skater and as a rookie, he would occasionally take chances by leading the rush. But this year, he played too reserved. Even his breakout passes took a hit and he's become the type that looks hesitant to play with the puck at times. I know he considers himself a stay at home defender, but he is 100% capable of involving himself more in the offensive side of things. Defensively, he wasn't as effective as he was as a 17 year rookie either. Looked unsure of himself at times, whether to take the body or play the puck and because of it, was a passenger way too much. At 6'3, 200lbs, he needs to be a tough guy to play against. So why is he ranked 26th still? Because I still really believe in him as a player and prospect. There were games this year where he was still the most effective defender on the ice. And he's still a big kid with great mobility, who has excellent potential as a shutdown defender. He just needs to regain his confidence in his abilities and take charge out there. Showed way too much promise as a rookie last year to give up on him.

27. Greg Meireles - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Tale of two seasons for Meireles. First half of the year, he was an aggressive, in your face winger who played at a high tempo and showed great skill. As such, he was garnering praise and attention for the draft, despite being undersized at 5'10. Second half of the year, his game really seemed to lose focus. The aggressiveness and truculence in his game slowly dissipated and it seemed like he was trying too hard to be an impact offensive player, losing sight of what made him such an effective contributor in the first half. There's no question that Meireles is a talented offensive player. He's a great skater and can be an impact playmaker. But the key to his development moving forward is the rediscovery of the power and intensity in his game. Being that shift disturbing, tenacious wall presence that can be a forechecking demon. That's the guy who was the 12th overall pick in the OHL Draft, a member of the CCHL all rookie team in 2016, and a consistent force to start this year. As an undersized player, his poor second half will probably hurt him at the draft, but the potential is there for him to bounce back in a big way in 2017/18. One other thing that I'll add is that he also needs to work on his shot and release in order to capitalize on the scoring chances he was creating early on in the year. You can listen to Meireles' segment on The Pipeline Show, here.

28. Linus Nyman - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
All things considered, Nyman (pronounced "Newman") had a good first year in the OHL with Kingston. Considering his lack of stature (5'10, 160lbs), I think some would have liked to have seen better offensive production. This is especially true given his dominance at the Hlinka in the summer. But one has to take into the account how low scoring the Frontenacs were this year. His 51 points were 2nd most among forwards on the team. He did average a point per game in the playoffs though (where he was excellent), and continued his dominance internationally at the U18's. He truly is an offensive sparkplug and had he been on a better offensive team with more skill up front, I think we would have seen him well over the point per game mark. He's got speed, skill, smarts. Moves the puck with precision and makes quick decisions in the offensive end. This was extremely noticeable at the U18's, playing with Vesalainen and Ikonen, two players who could match his speed and skill. Only thing he's missing is strength. Gets pushed off the puck too easily in the offensive end and as such, he's not able to sustain possession long enough to put his vision or creativity to use. Hopefully an NHL team recognizes his talents and uses a pick at some point on him, because the offensive potential is very high.

29. Marian Studenic - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Really took me a long time to get on the Studenic train. Through the first half, he was invisible when I saw Hamilton play. I couldn't, for the life of me, see the hype surrounding him and couldn't understand why he was receiving high draft grades. But later on in the year, it was opposite. Every time I saw him play, he was terrific. Needless to say, consistency is the main issue here. Studenic is an exceptionally talented offensive player with speed to burn, great skill with the puck, and a great shot release. But when he's not producing scoring chances, he's a relatively invisible player. As a late '98, he needs to take massive steps forward next year if he's back in the OHL with Hamilton. But the potential is there.

30. Maksim Sushko - Forward - Owen Sound Attack 
Sushko is a really interesting prospect available this year. As a native to Belarus, he came to the OHL as a relative unknown, but ended up having a pretty good season for the Attack. He's only average sized, but I was consistently impressed by Sushko's ability and desire to drive the net. Has good puck skill too and can make defenders miss one on one. Overall, he's a pretty good two-way player too. Has good effort on the backcheck and was a good penalty killer this year, using his speed and energy to be disruptive. Considering he played a depth role for the majority of the year, Sushko's stat line was pretty impressive, especially in the playoffs. Even still, I don't know if I have a good read on him as an NHL prospect. Does he have top 6 potential? Is his game suited for a checking line role at the next level? He has a lot of interesting qualities to him as a player, but I don't know where I would draft him or what to make of his future. Is there an NHL team out there with a more concrete opinion of him?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft - Part 2: 31-50

The 2nd part of my Top 50 OHL players available for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. This is where we actually dive into the Top 50, with players ranked 50 through to 31.

There are some really interesting players in this grouping. It honestly wouldn't shock me if only half the guys listed here get drafted, as I don't think the depth from the OHL is terrific this year. But, there are some real diamonds in the rough, who if they put it together could really turn into great pro hockey players.

31. Austen Keating - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Keating is consistently among the highest scoring forwards of his age group. Last year, his 32 points were 5th most of any '99 rookie. This year, his 63 points were the 5th most of any '99. The key to this is his terrific hockey sense. He has a great understanding of how to play and move without the puck. He finds scoring lanes and is adept at finding open teammates off the wall. He's certainly not flashy and he's not the type of guy you'll overtly notice from shift to shift. But when all is said and done, you'll check the score sheet and he'll have 2-3 points. Keating has also come a long way as a two-way player and has become a very responsible backchecker who also flashes a physical game. So why on earth is he rated 31st among OHL'ers? I think there are projection issues at play here. Keating is only average sized at 6'0, but is far from an elite skater. He really lacks that explosive first step. And while the hockey sense is good, I think there are some questions as to whether the individual skill level is high enough for him to be a top 6 forward at the NHL level. Which would make him a classic tweener in the eyes of NHL scouts. This explains his consistently low ranking (across most draft rankings) despite the production. That said, skating can be improved and I like the improvements he has made to become a more complete player. I wouldn't hesitate to take a chance on him in the mid rounds. Could easily be this year's Taylor Raddysh.

32. Macauley Carson - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Still shocked that NHL Central Scouting didn't list him in their final rankings. Carson is a big power forward who was one of only 5 '99's to score 30 goals in the league this year. Usually scouts drool over that type of production from a big kid. This is especially true when you consider that the Wolves have been grooming Carson to play center (even though his NHL future probably lies on the wing). And is even more impressive when you factor in his 4 shorthanded goals this year (more than he scored powerplay goals). Carson is as complete a player you'll find available for this draft, with goal scoring ability, physicality, defensive intelligence, and leadership potential. So why on Earth is he left unranked by NHL CSS? I think it comes down to skating and projecting his offensive tools at the next level. He's definitely got some "heavy boots," in the sense that he struggles to get separation off the rush and coming off the wall. He's able to use his size very effectively at this level, but ultimately the skating will need to improve for him to be an NHL player. In a lot of ways, Carson reminds me of Nick Paul in his draft year. The same concerns were raised about him, and he's turned into a pretty quality NHL prospect.

33. Matthew Villalta - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Exploded onto the scene in the OHL this year after signing as a free agent this offseason. Guys like Villalta are the reason why the OHL chose to install a midget draft. He went an astounding 25-3 this year with some impressive statistics (like a .918 save percentage). I will caution you that these stats should come with a bit of an asterisk though, as he played the vast majority of his games against the OHL's weaker competition (the Hounds gave the tougher assignments to Raaymakers). And he did struggle in the playoffs. But, anyway you slice it, he had a solid rookie year. Villalta is your typical butterfly goalie, with economical movements. He does a great job tracking the play and taking away the bottom of the net. He's grown a lot the last two years, so he's still learning how to use that in the net, but this guy has everything you look for in a netminder nowadays. Moving forward, rebound control and ability to fight through traffic are the two biggest areas that I've seen need improvement. 

34. Jacob McGrath - Goaltender - Sudbury Wolves
In a lot of ways, McGrath is a lot different than Villalta. Almost an antithesis. He's a highly touted goaltending prospect who's consistently been considered among the best goaltenders of his age group in Ontario. His game is built around his quickness and athleticism. Moves exceptionally well post to post and as such, makes a lot of "highlight reel" type saves. When he's on and tracking the play, he can be very, very difficult to beat. But when he's off, he gets himself out of position and can have a tendency to give up soft goals that spiral into more soft goals. Call McGrath the Dylan Wells of this year's draft. But he's shown glimpses of being so good that he has to be drafted this year, with someone taking a chance that he's able to find consistency in his game, behind an up and coming Sudbury team. He has the potential to be one of the best goaltenders in the OHL in the coming years.

35. Ryan McGregor - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Tale of two seasons for McGregor. I thought he was quite strong the first half of the year, but he really, really struggled in the 2017 calendar year. He had only one goal in the final 27 games of the regular season and ultimately barely bested his offensive output from his rookie year. But I still like him as a prospect and believe in his abilities. For McGregor it's all about adding strength. He has absolutely fantastic speed (probably top 5 for his age group in the OHL), but he struggles with being able to utilize it to be an impact offensive player because he's too easily pushed around with and without the puck. And it's not a matter of effort either. I find him to have a high motor and the type of player who attempts to engage physically at both ends. But it's that lack of bulk that prevents him from being consistently noticeable. I think he has the skill level to put up points and play in the top 6 too and I think we'll see that at some point during his OHL career. 

36. Brady Lyle - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Lyle is a mobile two-way defender who plays for his hometown OHL team (as a North Bay native). He was drafted into the OHL as an offensive defender, but his defensive game has improved a lot; more than his offensive game has IMO. At times, he gets caught standing still in the defensive zone and plays a little too soft defending the rush, but his reads and overall defensive positioning has improved a lot. Offensively, he's been pretty conservative and hasn't yet found the confidence to fully utilize his terrific skating ability to be a factor leading the rush; to be an impact playmaker. As a powerplay QB, his actions are still a little stiff too and he really needs to work on his point shot. Overall, Lyle is a raw defensive prospect. Good size and excellent mobility, but unrefined in other areas. The potential is high if he's able to put everything together under the tutelage of Stan Butler.

37. Ben Jones - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Easily one of the more underrated players available for the draft this year IMO. Jones isn't a huge kid at 6'0, 185lbs, but he plays a lot bigger than that. He definitely revels in playing the pest type role and consistently gets himself involved in scrums and is generally a tough player to go up against. He's also a committed two-way player whose effort, in combination with his smarts, makes him effective on the backcheck. Adding strength would definitely improve that effectiveness away from the puck even more, as the will is certainly there. Offensively, this guy was one of the most important players on a young IceDogs team this year. His scoring came in bunches and consistency will need to be improved upon, but the potential is there for him to be a big time scorer in this league. Again, it all comes down to his smarts and playmaking ability. Has great vision and really makes good decisions with the puck in the offensive zone. As the physical attributes improve (bigger, stronger, faster), this is a guy that could really look like a steal in a few years.

38. Fedor Gordeev - Defense - Flint Firebirds
I can almost guarantee you that Gordeev is going to get selected higher than I have him ranked come June. This is a 6'6 defender who plays mean and who is quite mobile for his size. He also improved drastically in the second half of the season. It seemed like his play in his own end improved every month, with him becoming increasingly comfortable using his size to be patient in the open ice, but aggressive in close quarters. By season's end, I think most Flint fans would tell you that Gordeev had become one of the team's best defenders. Offensively, I'm not sure how  much potential there is outside of a big point shot. He still struggles with making clean exit passes and can be prone to defensive zone turnovers. But even those were fewer in the second half, as he looked to keep things simple. Kind of this year's Keaton Middleton.   

39. Adam Thilander - Defense - North Bay Battalion
As a late '98, I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that Thilander under performed this year. I know that there is a learning curve for players coming from Europe, regardless of age. But Thilander's fall from potential first round pick, to being rated in the mid rounds is a justified one IMO. So here's the thing, Thilander is a solid defender. Has good mobility. Makes reasonably smart decisions with the puck in his own end. Does a good job keeping pucks in at the line and moving the puck on the powerplay. Shows good awareness and positioning in the defensive end. But he's lacking in stand out qualities. He's average sized and I'm not sure he's good enough offensively to be a true puck mover or PP guy at the next level. And he's not going to be a shutdown defender with his lack of physical skills. So where does that leave him? He could easily be a serviceable third pairing guy who doesn't hurt you (think Matt Hunwick), but I'm just not sure I see a lot of upside.

40. Dylan Seitz - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Big, physical forward who is coming off his first year in the OHL. Largely played as a checking line forward for the Rangers this year, but when he jumped up in the lineup, he did not look out of place on a scoring line. Overall, he was incredibly inconsistent offensively this year. Saw him play a few games this year where he was one of the better players on the ice (like a 6 shot, 1 goal performance against the Wolves in December). But then he disappears in stretches where he's a non factor offensively. Needs to find balance in his physical game and being able to generate scoring chances. That's often something that power forward type prospects have trouble doing at this level. But as mentioned, Seitz is a very determined physical player. He relishes in the opportunity to plaster an opponent along the boards on the forecheck, is active and effective along the wall, and will even drop the mitts. The question is, how much offensive upside is there? 

41. Sean Durzi - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Believe it or not, among draft eligibles, Durzi was actually one of the better performers from the backend in the second half. In the final 51 games of the year (including the playoffs), Durzi had 41 points. That's impressive production for one of the better teams in the OHL. After splitting time between forward and defense last year as a rookie, the late '98 Mississauga native emerged as a top 4 defenseman for the Attack this year and moving forward. He's got a good point shot, even if the 2 goals this year doesn't suggest it. Does a great job with the puck in his own end too and really makes a good first pass. Skating is good, but he does lack elite speed that would make him a major factor as that "dynamic" sort of puck rusher. And without elite size, he relies on good positioning and smarts in the defensive end. Similar to Thilander, I see Durzi as a potentially dependable defender at the next level, but I'm just not sure what potential he has to develop as a dominant force at either end.

42. Liam Hawel - Forward - Guelph Storm
Hawel is a high potential center with great size at 6'5. Tons of opportunity for him to grow into a terrific playmaker. A former first rounder to SSM, Hawel was moved to Guelph this year in the Noah Carroll deal. He played a bit better for Guelph and was a surprising addition to the Canadian U18 team (where I felt he struggled with limited ice time). With Hawel, I think it's all about adding strength. He's 6'5, but listed at under 180lbs. He gets pushed off the puck way too easily for a big guy and his effectiveness below the hash marks is severely limited. He has skill with the puck and I think there's definitely hockey sense at both ends, but he's not physically engaged enough to be a difference maker. And added strength would also add power to his stride, allowing him to get separation to utilize that size on net drives. In addition to that, Hawel has to improve at the dot if he wants to stay down the middle. Among players with over 500 draws this year, Hawel's faceoff percentage was one of the worst (43%). But as I said, Hawel has potential because there is skill in a 6'5 center package. Definitely a guy I'd take in the mid-late rounds to see how his game develops.

43. Nick Deakin-Poot - Forward - Guelph Storm
A favourite of mine, even if I don't think there is a ton of NHL potential there. You're drafting Deakin-Poot in hopes that he can develop into a solid 3rd-4th line energy guy. But there's no doubt in my mind that if he continues to improve, there could be a place for him at the NHL level. He's 6'4, 200lbs and is extremely quick. He closes in on defenders very quickly on the forecheck and as his reads get better, he could be the type of guy who generates a ton off turnovers. Plays a physical game too and knows his role is to muck it up in the corners and in front of the net. The stat line isn't impressive, but if you watch the Storm play regularly, you'd know that this guy could have easily potted 20 goals this year if he could bury his chances. Gets himself in scoring position, but just couldn't finish on a lot of plays. That needs to improve. As does his defensive zone awareness. With his size and speed, he should be a terrific penalty killer, but that part of his game is a work in progress. Listed as a center, but he played on the wing mostly this year, which is where I think he'll stay. Like I said, you're not looking at a potential scoring line player at the next level, but if he can improve his finishing ability and find more consistency in his overall game, this is a guy who could easily be a solid NHL role player.

44. Kyle Keyser - Goaltender - Oshawa Generals
Admittedly, one of the guys I had a really tough time getting a read on this year and I wonder if NHL scouts will be the same because of his lack of playing time, (it was largely Jeremy Brodeur's show in Oshawa this year). Only saw him play twice this year, although one was a terrific performance in the playoffs. He's your standard butterfly goalie who tracks the play well and is aggressive in challenging shooters. Moves well in his crease too. Rebound management has been a bit of an issue, but that's correctable. But are we looking at a future NHL netminder? Honestly, I just don't know. But what I do know is that Keyser is going to get a chance to be the starter for a very good Oshawa team next year. 

45. Gera Poddubnyi - Forward - Erie Otters 
Erie's version of Alex Formenton, although not quite as dynamic. Poddubnyi has been buried on a very strong Erie team this year, but I don't think there's any question that his game improved leaps and bounds from start to finish, even if the stats don't show it. If you watch the Otters play, this guy makes one play a game in the offensive end that really catches your attention and makes you think that if he wasn't on the 4th line, he could be putting up some pretty good numbers. In particular, I thought he had an excellent playoff run for Erie. Poddubnyi showcases some slick puck skills in transition and his ability to play through traffic really improved in the second half and playoffs. Really hoping that the Otters keep him around next year and only utilize one of their Import picks. I think he's a real sleeper. 

46. Kaden Fulcher - Goaltender - Hamilton Bulldogs
Even as a late '98, Fulcher remains a prospect with a lot of potential who just hasn't put everything together quite yet. He's got size at 6'3. He's one of the most athletic goaltenders in the OHL and is lightning quick post to post. But he struggles rebounding from bad goals and still struggles from bad reads. He started the year quite well and looked to be on track to be a top 100 pick come June. But his second half was a disaster. Mind you, the Bulldogs brought in Dawson Carty so his playing time was cut, but the stat line wasn't pretty. In his appearances after January 11 (11 of them), he posted an .876 save percentage and a GAA of over 4. But this guy is still the goaltender of the future for a talented Hamilton team and if he could ever figure it out, we'd be talking about a front line goaltender in the OHL.  

47. Cole Coskey - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Coskey was one of the more disappointing '99's in the league this year. Showed a lot as a rookie and was highly regarded, but I'm not sure he took a major step forward this year on a disappointing Saginaw squad. Coskey is a quality playmaking winger who shows potential as a high scoring forward who can make quality plays off the wall and off the rush. But consistency in fighting through traffic and maintaining sustained pressure really limited his effectiveness in the offensive end this year. Coskey also really needs to improve his shot and willingness to play the middle of the ice if he wants to score more goals in this league. Quite honestly, kind of reminds me of the way Spencer Watson looked in his draft year and I think Coskey projects as a similar prospect moving forward. 

48. Joseph Gareffa - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Tiny kid at 5'7, but this is the year 2017, not 1999. More and more, small players are proving that they can play at the NHL level pending that they have the right combination of talent and will. And I think Gareffa has the things that you look for in finding successful smaller players. For one, he's one of the better skaters in the OHL. He's extremely quick and his ability to play in transition is one of the best in this OHL draft crop IMO. Secondly, he's pretty fearless and attacks high traffic areas as if he were 6'3 and not 5'7. Lastly, he's strong on the puck and wins his share of loose puck battles despite giving up a few inches on most matchups. This is a high skilled guy who I believe will one day be a top 5 scorer in the OHL. I don't think he gets drafted, but he definitely deserves notice on a list like this for being one heck of a hockey player.

49. Shaw Boomhower - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
One of the hardest working players in the OHL. Upside is most definitely limited at the next level, but he plays the game consistently hard and that's made him an endearing player. The late '98 forward was an OHL rookie this year after signing with Mississauga as an FA (after a solid year with Wellington of the OJHL). Only average sized at 5'11, but Boomhower plays the game much larger than that. Extremely active on the forecheck and the backcheck. He's one on the more physical forwards in the league. And he knows his role is to drive the middle of the ice to create plays. Again, offensive upside is limited, but there's definitely enough there to suggest that he could be a quality energy/role player at the next level. As he gains confidence, we could even see his offensive game grow as he occasionally flashes some pretty nifty skill with the puck. Going to be a long summer for him though after taking that bad boarding penalty in OT of game 5 that gave Erie the OHL Championship.

50. Zach Roberts - Forward - Owen Sound Attack 
Nephew of Leafs' legend and notorious strength coach Gary Roberts. Plays the game pretty similar to his Uncle. Roberts is a hard nosed winger who excelled in a depth role for the Attack this year. Really does a good job driving the net and shows good hands in close that suggests he could be a potential goal scorer at this level. Also does a good job of opening up space for his linemates, despite only being 6'0. Roberts is just a really solid lunch pail type. Moving forward, I would say improving his speed and overall skating ability would do wonders for increasing his offensive output. With his tenacity and skill near the crease, being able to be quicker to loose pucks would really make him a more dangerous all around player. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft - Part 1: Honorable Mentions

The Under 18's have wrapped up (where Canada finished 5th). The OHL playoffs have completed; Congrats to the Erie Otters (the Memorial Cup begins May 19). The race to the draft is on. We're about a month away from the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, so that means it's time for me to release my rankings.

The top 50 will be released in four parts: Part 1 - Honorable Mentions, Part 2 - Prospects 50-31, Part 3 - Prospects 30-11, and Part 4 - Prospects 10-1.

Just for clarification, for my top 50 ranking, I haven't included any players eligible for draft re-entry, such as Stephen Dhillon. This has been consistent all the way through my lists. Instead, I did a list of the top 10 draft re-entries, which can be found here.

Also for clarification, this list is MY list of the top 50 OHL prospects, as if I were drafting for my own team. In other words, this isn't a list of where I THINK or believe players will go, but a ranking of my own opinion on the top players eligible for this draft based on my viewings this season. If you want a draft projection and information about players outside the OHL, be sure to order a product like the Future Considerations Draft Guide.

This first part includes the Honorable Mentions of my list. These are the players who received consideration for my top 50, but who fell just short. There are 19 in total. Last year, the depth available from the OHL was terrific and we had 4 players taken from my HM's, (and the top 3 re-entry candidates from my above list were also HM's). This year, I wouldn't be surprised if no one goes from this HM list. While all of these guys most definitely have potential, they remain long shots who need to put in a lot of work to be serious NHL prospects.

Here are my HM's (in alphabetical order)...

Luke Boka - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Boka is a high energy forward who plays a lot of different roles for the Spitfires. While he mostly played off of the 3rd/4th lines, he did slide up the lineup and acquitted himself adequately at certain points of the year. He also plays as a penalty killer for Windsor. Boka is only average sized (5'11, 195lbs), but he excels as a forechecker and attacker. He loves to engage physically while in pursuit of the puck and shows no fear in crashing the net and playing through traffic. He's also a very competent two-way player. Offensively, Boka is a complimentary player who is at his best when the puck isn't on his stick. Gets himself in good scoring position and flashes a very good shot and goal scoring potential. Moving forward, being able to make better decisions with the puck and improving his ability to carry it are required for him to make a bigger impact offensively. And while I understand his skating has improved from his midget days, it could stand to improve still, especially his explosiveness, to make him quicker to loose pucks and to open scoring lanes. 

Oliver Castleman - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
While I don't know if he gets drafted this year, Castleman is a guy I actually think could develop into a quality NHL prospect in the future. He has a lot of things going for him that make him a curious prospect to scouts. Firstly, he played in his first year in the OHL, after playing in the CCHL2 the year before. Secondly, he's the youngest prospect available for the draft this year, with a September 15 birth date. He was able to make a pretty big impact this year for a young Niagara team, and I think there's still some physical maturity left for him. Castleman is a high energy player who brings a lot of speed to the ice. He really attacks the slot hard and is an excellent North/South offensive player, who despite being 5'10, found a lot of success near the crease with a quick release this year. As the season went on, I think we really saw him come out of his shell physically too, as he really started to engage without the puck, and found himself in quite a few post whistle skirmishes. I guess the big question for me is, for a guy who's 5'10, I'm not sure I see enough pure offensive skill to develop into a top 6 forward at the next level. As I said, I don't think I'd draft him this year, but I'd certainly keep his name high in my notes for next year to see how his game continues to develop around a talented IceDogs roster.

Hayden Davis - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
I was definitely surprised to see Davis dealt at the deadline in exchange for fellow '99 Kirill Maksimov. At the time, this looked like a fair exchange of two young players who hadn't met expectations quite yet. But after the trade, Maksimov exploded for Niagara and looks the part of the top 6 forward he was drafted to be. Meanwhile, Davis struggled in Saginaw (like the rest of the team). Once touted to be the top defender from this age group, Davis just hasn't been able to translate his game effectively to the OHL level. He has a lot of great qualities that should make him a great defender at this level. He's got size. He's a terrific skater. He can lay the body. And he flashes some skill with the puck. But his reads defensively are still raw and his offensive game continued to take steps backward in Saginaw. At this point, I'm not sure the offensive side of things will ever develop. BUT, there's no reason to think that Davis can't develop into top notch stay at home defender at this level. Just needs to get that confidence back and improve next year with a rebuilding Saginaw squad. 

Cole Fraser - Defense - Peterborough Petes
If I had to put money down on the one guy from this HM list who gets drafted, it would be Fraser. He's an interesting prospect who had an interesting year, bouncing back and forth between defense and 4th line forward. His physicality is immediately noticeable when you watch him play and that's precisely why the Petes' coaching staff made sure to keep him in the lineup, even if it meant putting him on the wing. The real question is, what type of potential does he possess as a defender? Adequate skater who definitely improved offensively as the year went on, but can still struggle with decision making with the puck. The forecheck can definitely give him problems. But with some decent mobility and the potential to be one of the OHL's most physical players (if he isn't already), he has the profile of a future shut down defender at this level. Peterborough is likely losing 3 of their top 4 defenders next year, opening up the door for Fraser to not just stick permanently on the blueline, but to grab a top 4 spot if he has a good summer. I could definitely see a team using a 6th or 7th round pick on him to see if he's up to that challenge.

Brady Gilmour - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
The former 6th overall pick in 2015, Gilmour hasn't exactly become the dominant offensive player many thought he would become. That's not to say that he's been a complete disappointment, just that he's not truly a high impact player quite yet. Gilmour is a smart offensive player who shows a good feel for the game in the o-zone. This makes him a good playmaker. He also has good puck control off the rush and has a deceptively quick release which he has learned to utilize quite effectively. But at 5'10, lacking elite skating ability, and without a true position (shifted back and forth between center and wing this year), Gilmour is a long shot to earn NHL attention. Moving forward, if he can truly improve his explosiveness and get stronger, he could be that impact player by the time he's an overage player, and as such, earn serious NHL consideration then. 

Jacob Golden - Defense - London Knights
The question is...how much do you trust the Knights' scouting and coaching staff? If you're drafting Golden, the answer is...a lot. This is a kid with a lot of potential as an offensive defender because of his terrific overall mobility. But he's also a kid who saw very little playing time this year, especially in the second half. In terms of the times I saw London play, I think I actually saw him at forward this year more than I did on defense. If you're an NHL scout, how do you project Golden, considering you may not have gotten much of an opportunity to see him play? The harsh reality is that even next year, playing time isn't guaranteed for him with London, as they'll only lose Vande Sompel and possibly Juolevi (if he makes the Canucks). If I'm an NHL scout, I wait another year to see what his offensive game looks like next year. 

Tom Hedberg - Defense - Barrie Colts
Tough year for Hedberg and for the Barrie Colts. Hedberg was initially ranked as a potential first round pick for 2017 prior to the OHL season and was thought to have been a fantastic import selection who had a chance to be a big time impact player. But that wasn't in the cards. Quite honestly, I think a lot of that had to do with Barrie's lack of offensive talent this year. Hedberg struck me as a quiet, cerebral offensive player when I saw Barrie this year. The type of guy who's only as good offensively as the players he plays with, if that makes sense. While his mobility looked good, he was never the type of be a massive risk taker offensively and as such, he didn't stand out much on a Barrie team that mostly played from behind. Throw in a lack of size and elite physical attributes and you've got a long shot to be drafted. Rumour is Hedberg will be returning to Sweden next year too, which might be best for his development. If he had played that quiet, effective game, putting up say, a 3-7 line in the SEL, we'd probably still be talking about him as a potential top 100 pick. Proof that coming over to the OHL isn't always the best option for some of these kids.  

Nick Isaacson - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Isaacson is an interesting prospect. Big, lanky winger who plays a solid North/South game. In the second half, particularly, if you watched Peterborough play, you probably noticed Isaacson make at least one nice play or rush a game, yet the offensive numbers just weren't there (5 goals on 94 shots this year). Is it a case of a first year player (who also happens to be one of the younger players available this year), just not fully developed yet? Or is his offensive upside limited, and he's just an energy player? I don't think we know the answer to that question just yet and as such, I think he's another one of those guys that NHL scouts may take and wait and see approach with.

Zach Jackson - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
I look at Jackson similarly to the way I do Isaacson. Here's a big, lanky winger who shows flashes of being an impact player despite limited ice time. Jackson is a noticeable physical presence who really seems to relish in the opportunity to take out an opposing player along the wall and as such, was a very effective forechecker at times this year. Offensively, he plays a North/South game and looks to drive the net without the puck to get a pass or bang home a rebound. For a big kid, he seems to skate pretty well, which contributes to his effectiveness as an energy guy. I suppose the thing holding him back from making the Top 50 is the same as Isaacson. How much offensive upside does he possess?

Ondrej Machala - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
A really tough player to gauge this year because of his inconsistency. He's clearly a talented offensive player and he showed flashes of being an impact offensive contributor, but too often when I saw Niagara this year, did I have to search for his number. That said, I thought he looked terrific for the Czech Republic at the U18's and was one of their better players. On the big ice, his speed was more noticeable, as was his ability to get open for a great wrist shot. It'll be interesting to see if he returns to the OHL next year or not. I would imagine that the Dogs would keep him and ditch Demin to utilize their solid pick for this year's Import Draft.

Kyle MacLean- Forward - Oshawa Generals
Kyle is the son of former NJ Devil John MacLean and his game is pretty similar to his old man's. He's a solid two-way contributor who played the role of 3rd/4th line center for the Generals this year and saw a fair amount of time on the penalty kill. He battles hard for every square inch of ice, but doesn't yet seem to have the strength to be a consistent offensive contributor. He's grown a lot since his OHL draft year (about 3 inches) and as such, I think everything needs to catch up to his growth spurt. With the smarts, pedigree and an occasional flash of skill off the rush, MacLean has more potential than he showed this year. A future Sam Studnicka kind of player in the OHL IMO.

Nick McHugh - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Massively effective energy player for the Rangers this year. What McHugh lacks in size (5'10), he makes up for in hustle and speed. Because of his tenacity without the puck, McHugh has become of the OHL's top penalty killers. For him, it's all about adding strength on the puck so that he can create more from his energy. At times, he gets pushed off the puck too easily, or is forced to make abrupt decisions that lead to turnovers. Purely a complimentary energy guy at this point, and considering his lack of size, that makes him a long shot to be drafted. But because of his effectiveness this year in a depth role, he deserves mention on this list.

Albert Michnac - Forward - Guelph Storm
Michnac was a fixture in my top 50 all season long, but thanks to a pretty rough second half, I've dropped him to the HM list. Don't get me wrong, I still like Michnac as a player, but I'm less convinced he's an NHL prospect than I was in November or December. He's like a little waterbug out there. He's deceptively quick and very elusive in traffic, showcasing quick hands and creativity to make plays. But he had only 2 goals in his final 19 games, and developed a bad habit of overhandling the puck and making poor decisions in the offensive end in the second half (although that might sum up the entire Guelph roster). Just not sure I see high end hockey sense. And when you add in the fact that he's a late '98 and undersized, I think that likely equals an undrafted prospect. Would love to see him stick in the OHL, but with a high Import pick and Dmitri Samorukov outplaying him, I think we've also seen the last of him in the league.

Matthew Philip - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
At one point this year, I liked Philip's game better than Castleman's and felt like he was trending towards being an NHL draft pick. But then he suffered a shoulder injury in January that put an end to his year. Philip is a very quick center who uses his speed to be a factor off the rush, and who has a good compete level at both ends. Seems to have a lot of potential as a playmaker, but he really needs to get stronger. The effort was always there, but was too easily pushed off the puck at times and, despite his speed, kept to the perimeter. Considering it was his first year in the OHL, I think Philip has a bright future in the OHL as a strong two-way center. And again, if he hadn't gotten injured and continued to improve, I could have seen him as an NHL pick.

Cole Purboo - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Hulking winger (6'3, 215lbs) who had a good first year in the league for Windsor. Purboo is at his best below the hash marks, where he is good at using his size to protect the puck and work the cycle. He has already shown to be quite difficult to separate from the puck. He also has decent hands and has shown the ability to finish off plays near the crease. But there are other parts to his game that are works in progress. His skating isn't pretty and lacks power. It prevents him from being a contributor off the rush and without the puck. Also, for a guy his size, his play without the puck needs more urgency. Would love to see him use his size to play more physical, especially near the crease and on the backcheck. Has potential as a power forward though.

Luke Richardson - Goaltender - Kitchener Rangers
Tough player to gauge this year because he didn't play a ton with Kitchener juggling three goalies for a good chunk of the year. After the move of Carty, he saw more ice time, but consistency was an issue. Admittedly only saw Richardson once this year, where he looked good. Big goaltender who plays a bit deeper in his net and with composure, rather than relying on athleticism and scrambling. I did happen to notice that he looked a little bit slow post to post and from talking to a few people, that seems to be the concern moving forward. Needs to get quicker to play more aggressively. But big goaltender with a solid fundamental base. Likely the starter in Kitchener next year if Opilka doesn't return as an OA (or get injured/sick again).

Elijah Roberts - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
One of the biggest disappointments for me this year. Was a huge fan of his last year as a rookie and I thought he had a very good Hlinka tournament this summer. But he struggled to be an impact player this year in Kitchener, and failed to show any progression to his game. His skating ability and overall mobility remains fantastic. And his hands in cutting through the neutral zone and evading the forecheck are top notch. But he had some trouble extending his rushes into the offensive zone and his lack of point shot really limits his ability as a powerplay QB. Teams play him to pass and challenge him to shoot, taking away his options. Defensively, the effort is there, but his size (5'10), coupled with some rover tendencies, limits his effectiveness. In order to make it to the next level, he's going to need to be an offensive defenseman. And in order to do that, he's got to improve his shot, get stronger, and get his confidence back as a puck rusher. Still lots of time for him to figure it out and I'm confident that he will at some point during his OHL career.

Daniil Vertiy - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Vertiy is another guy I was massively disappointed with this year. He had a great half a year with North Bay last year after a trade from Windsor, but just couldn't find consistent success this year. Vertiy, a stocky winger (5'11, 205lbs), is at his best when he's engaged physically and aggressive at driving the net. When he's keeping things simple and looking to drive the middle of the ice, he can be very effective. But it seemed like his physical intensity wavered way too much this year and he got away from being a power winger in favor of more of a finesse game. I saw him play a couple of very strong games this year where he was one of the better players on the ice and Vertiy possesses that type of potential. But those types of games were far to few in nature for him to be an NHL draft pick this year IMO, especially as a 3rd year OHL'er (late '98). 

Reilly Webb - Defense - Hamilton Bulldogs
A real wildcard for the draft this year because he missed the vast majority of the last two years. Last year, he suffered a dislocated shoulder and a lacerated ankle. As such, he was subsequently sent down to Junior B upon his return. This year, he suffered an injury to the same shoulder and had to have surgery on it to prevent it from reoccurring. 27 OHL games in two years (including this year's playoffs). Not exactly great for your development. But when he returned this year (end of the year and playoffs), I actually thought he looked pretty good for a kid who has gone through everything he has. At 6'3, and a physical combatant, Webb has a lot of potential as a shutdown defender. A converted forward, his hands and offensive potential might be underrated too. Next year is a big one for him. If he's not drafted this year, and has a great year next year, he could be one of the top re-entries available in 2018.