Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Top 10 - Most Impressive 2000 Born Players

One of the many annual traditions I have on this blog is to rank the new batch of OHL rookies in order of the impression they left on me. Only the "true" OHL rookies have been included, thus why it's labeled the "Most Impressive 2000 born players." 

I always like to note that this isn't an early ranking for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. This ranking isn't the order in which I believe these players should be ranked for the draft, but an order of which players impressed me most. It's not a draft prognostication, it's an acknowledgment of the significant impact these players have had on their teams this season.

As mentioned, this is a tradition, so here are the previous year's lists.  

1999's, 1998's1997's1996's1995's1994's1993's1992's.

Can we take a second to acknowledge the fact that we're currently about to talk about players born in the new millennium? Wow. Anyway, here's this year's list.

1. Akil Thomas - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Probably a bit of a surprise that it isn't Ryan Merkley, but I'll explain my reasoning in Merkley's write up. For me, there hasn't been a better rookie in the league this year than Thomas. He's consistently been the straw that stirs the drink for the IceDogs and he has them in contention for a playoff spot in the East. He's proven to be exceptionally dangerous off the rush, using great speed, puck skill, and vision to be the team's top offensive catalyst (no offense meant to point leader Johnny Corneil). As early as next year, he could be one of the most exciting offensive players in the OHL. I'm excited to see what another year of offseason training can do for his game, as strength is about the only thing he's missing.

2. Ryan Merkley - Defense - Guelph Storm
Why Merkley could be number one: When he's playing well, there might not be a more dynamic offensive blueliner in the league. He's currently the rookie scoring leader in the league (for all players, not just defenders) and has consistently been one of the highest scoring blueliners in the league 5 on 5. His skating and his ability to keep the puck on a string are dazzling components to his game. Why Merkley isn't my number one: I've seen Merkley be the best player on the ice. But I've also seen him be the worst this year. Turnovers (due to poor decision making, tunnel vision, overhandling the puck) have been a big time issue. As have undisciplined penalties out of frustration. His game has some maturing to do before next year's NHL draft. But you simply can't ignore what he can bring to the table when he's on. At this point, you just have to hope that the weak parts of his game improve (which is likely given his age).

3. Giovanni Vallati - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
I've been so impressed with Vallati that I was actually considering placing him at #2 on this list above Merkley. The Rangers have had some brutal luck with injuries on the backend, losing Connor Hall and Doug Blaisdell, in addition to Frank Hora for less time. Without a guy like Vallati stepping up as one of the teams top defenders, there is no way they'd be sitting 6th in the West. First thing you notice about Vallati is his overall mobility and quickness. He skates with ease and does a great job leading the rush out of his own end. But his defensive game has been way better than anyone could have expected and he looks like a legit first round talent for next year's draft. 

4. Allan McShane - Forward - Oshawa Generals
The crown jewel of the Anthony Cirelli deal, McShane has been a consistent offensive contributor all season long, regardless of whether it's been with Erie or Oshawa. The former Toronto Marlboros captain has fit right in, in Oshawa and he's going to be a key player for them as they push for a Championship in the coming years. McShane definitely possesses elite hockey sense. He's one of those guys who the puck seems to find and he's got great vision for such a young kid. And while his first step quickness and top speed could use some work this offseason, he's definitely a shifty player who can excel in traffic by keeping his feet moving and anticipating scoring/passing lanes. In a lot of ways, he actually closely resembles that of the player he was traded for.

5. Jacob Ingham - Goaltender - Mississauga Steelheads
I say it every year because it's true, but it isn't easy being a 16/17 year old goaltender in this league. There's a reason why so few play at that age. Ingham's stats don't jump out at you, but he's been there when his team has needed him most. When Matthew Mancina was struggling through to the midpoint of the season, Ingham was helping the Steelheads climb out of the basement and his 14 wins thus far are a testament to that. He possesses the size and athleticism that pro teams covet nowadays and there's no denying that he's the goalie of the future in Mississauga. He'll take over the starting role permanently next year and it shouldn't be long before he's in the conversation as the league's best.

6. Dennis Busby - Defense - Flint Firebirds
Much like Vallati, Busby's impressive skating ability makes him a focal point when watching the Firebirds play. He consistently eludes the forecheck and has become more aggressive in leading the rush as the season has gone on. Again like Vallati, I've been impressed with his defensive game too. He's certainly not a strong physical combatant, but he always seems to find himself in good defensive position and doesn't chase the puck as much as most rookie defenders. Flint has been one of the biggest surprises this year. And while the new coaching staff and improvement from veteran players have been huge reasons for that, you can't undervalue the contribution from the team's rookies. There's a reason most experts were quick to hand out an "A" grade to the Firebirds after last year's Priority selection.

7. Danil Antropov - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Not eligible until 2019, Antropov is one of the youngest players in the OHL this year. The son of former Maple Leaf Nikolai, Danil is definitely an impressive physical specimen. The big winger is already pretty tough to stop off the rush, displaying great puck protection potential. He also has a very good shot, which has a lot of weight behind it. He's most definitely still a work in progress as a complete player, and as a skater, but the potential is definitely alluring and I think he's been a very impressive first year player this year.

8. Ty Dellandrea - Forward - Flint Firebirds
Another piece of evidence in regards to Flint's excellent draft in 2016. Dellandrea is a big center who has excelled in a scoring line role for the Firebirds this year. Hyped as one of the top puckhandlers and one on one players in the age group, Dellandrea has actually struggled in that regard because he doesn't yet possess the size/strength to consistently beat defenders. Where he has impressed is everywhere else though. Shows a willingness to fight in front of the net and in the corners and his hands are definitely top notch in close. He's also been a great presence at both ends for such a young player. At this point, I actually think Dellandrea could be the top challenger to Ryan Merkley for top OHL'er for next year's draft (given the NHL's infatuation with big, power centers).

9. Nathan Dunkley - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Dunkley is a high energy forward who has been a big part of Kingston's success this season. He's a terrific skater and I love his tenacity on the forecheck and in the corners, where he displays a great playmaking touch. One of those guys who always seems to be in the thick of things at both ends of the ice. As he gets stronger next year, I'm going to be really interested to see how his offensive game grows. There's definitely some Sam Bennett to his game.

10. Liam Foudy - Forward - London Knights
Tough to make an impression with such inconsistent ice time, but every time I watch the London Knights play, Foudy makes an impact in one way or another. And that's why he's on this list despite ranking 50th in rookie scoring. Like Dunkley, he plays with a lot of energy and is an impressively quick skater. He really gets after it on the forecheck and is aggressive in going to the net off the rush. You can just tell that he's got a ton of offensive skill in there waiting to come out when he gets the chance (like all London Knights prodigies from the past). 

Honorable Mentions (alphabetically)

Semyon Der-Arguchintsev - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Like Antropov, one of the youngest players in the league this year (he'll miss the 2019 draft by one day). Has incredibly slick mitts and is a noticeably impressive puckhandler and playmaker. Big part of Peterborough's future.

Aidan Dudas - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Really impressed with Dudas' hockey sense at both ends of the ice. Occasionally dazzles with a really nice, creative play in the offensive end, but has played within the system in Owen Sound and knows his role.

Damien Giroux - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Probably would have been number 11 on the list. Undersized guy who competes really hard and actually has had a lot of success in possession this year, despite lacking size. Has that low center of gravity that a guy like Max Domi had. Top notch playmaker.

Kirill Nizhnikov - Forward - Barrie Colts
Didn't report to Mississauga, was traded to Barrie and has had a tough go of it with injuries this year. But you can't deny the offensive talent that he possesses, which he has shown by scoring 10 goals in limited action. Elite shot and scoring instincts. He's going to be a player in this league.  

Connor Roberts - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Hulking kid who impresses with his combination of size and skating ability. As a 17 year old, he has moments where he dominates coming off the wall, putting defenders on his back. A lot of things offensively do need refinement, but the offensive potential is sky high.

Tyler Tucker - Defense - Barrie Colts
Was the other guy who could have been #11 with Giroux. Barrie has been a relative train wreck defensively this year, but Tucker most definitely hasn't been. He's shown a real moxie on the back end, playing with a confidence and physical bravado that you rarely see in such a young defender. Definitely has the makings of being a top notch shut down guy. His skating has also improved a lot since September.

No comments: