Friday, July 28, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Ottawa Senators

Two high quality prospects from the OHL are members of our Nation's capital's hockey team.

1. Logan Brown - Windsor Spitfires
No question, this was not a good year for Logan Brown, Memorial Cup champion or not. He battled numerous injuries (wrist, shoulder, hand) and largely took a bit of a step backward as a potentially dominant center. In the second half of his draft season, he was a dominant force, utilizing his size to carve up the middle of the ice as he wished. Putting defenders on his back, he had the opposition at his mercy. It was that aggressiveness in attacking the net that made him a lottery selection. But before that, he had been an enigma that frustrated scouts because of inconsistency in using his size to play through traffic. This year, whether it was because of the injuries or not, he didn't have that same ferocity to his game. Consistency was once again a major issue. Even in the Memorial Cup, with his team playing for the National Championship, I largely found him to be a relative non factor. Now, keep in mind all of this is coming from someone who is a big fan. If you recall, I had Brown ranked even higher than the Sens took him. And I still greatly believe in his potential as a dominating physical center in today's NHL. But, there's no question that he needs to regain his form and stay healthy next year in Windsor. Really hope he can find that tenacity again. And I think he will, and as such, he'll be a 90+ point player in his final OHL season.

2. Alex Formenton - London Knights
When in doubt, trust the development program that is the London Knights. Formenton is a player who played a lot of different roles for London this year; his first in the OHL. He saw time on the top line where he didn't look out of place, and he was buried on the 4th line for the majority of the 2nd half and playoffs. Speed is his major asset as he's one of the quickest players in the OHL. He also plays with a fearlessness that can't be taught. The rest of his game is a work in progress IMO. The hands and the brain need to catch up to the speed of which he's capable of playing. Would love to see him really develop as a dominant forechecker and penalty killer too. These are things that I think London can draw out of him. So what does next year have in store for him? London isn't graduating too many of it's main forwards, so he'll have to battle again for ice time. But he should at least be a fixture on the 3rd line, with the chance to see powerplay time and even top 6 duty if his play warrants it. I wouldn't be shocked at all if he's a 30 goal scorer next year, although I don't think he'll be a point per game player until his 19/20 year old season in 2018/19.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Philadelphia Flyers

Wish these guys still wore the Cooperalls! Thanks to an OHL heavy crop at the 2017 draft, the Flyers have a ton of talent playing in the OHL.

1. Isaac Ratcliffe - Guelph Storm
Have to stick with my draft rankings for 2017 and that puts Ratcliffe ahead of Frost for me, but it's very close. Really interested to see how both of them develop in 2017/2018. Ratcliffe is coming off of a good year, his second in the league. The 6'6 winger progressed in a lot of areas; his skating got better, he started to use his size and his shot more, and he really established himself as a budding power forward. There were most definitely some consistency issues, but that's to be expected on a very poor team. Moving forward, adding strength to his frame should be priority number one. Will make him much more difficult to stop in the corners and in front of the net, where he should dominate with his height. Also hoping that it gives him more confidence to play a power game more consistently. Continuing to improve his skating is also a priority. Guelph should be a better team in 2017/18 and Ratcliffe will be at the center of that. With his shot (among the best in his age group), I think he's a 35+ goal scorer and a point per game player next year.

2. Morgan Frost - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A surprise first rounder this year to a lot of people...but not to those who follow the OHL closely. This is a highly talented kid who was deserving of a high pick. Frost is an extremely intelligent playmaker whose speed and smarts make him an ideal candidate to play a top 6 role at the next level. He was dynamite for SSM on the powerplay this year, using his terrific skating ability to carve up the open ice and find openings. Moving forward, adding size will be critical for Frost. He has the smarts, but getting stronger will make him a better 5 on 5 player, and a better two-way player. And I think that's what we'll see next year when Frost will play a top 6 role for a Greyhounds team that should compete for the Western Conference Championship. Surrounded by a ton of talent, Frost should be an 80+ point player and establish himself as one of the league's elite playmakers.

3. Matthew Strome - Hamilton Bulldogs
I think at this point, everyone knows about Strome's skating weaknesses. What people don't realize is how smart Strome is as a playmaker. With his size, he's able to maintain possession along the wall and he's able to manufacture a lot of scoring chances with excellent vision. His gap recognition and anticipation are terrific. Strome also has excellent finishing ability and can be a very complete offensive player. The skating will need to improve though, as he's really only effective below the hash marks. And I'd love to see him play a more consistent power forward game, something he flashed at times this year. Adding a physical element to his game would help to offset some of those skating deficiencies. I do believe in this player though and I think we'll see him progress a lot over the next two years. He'll return to Hamilton and continue to be their offensive leader. I think the Bulldogs will have a good offense next year and I could realistically see Strome hitting the 80+ point mark.

4. Connor Bunnaman - Kitchener Rangers
What a great draft +1 season for Bunnaman. Jumped from 16 goals to 37 and really established himself as one of the league's most dangerous players near the crease. With his size at 6'3, 215lbs, Bunnaman is a near immovable object in front of the net and he understands his role well. Shows very quick hands in close and he's really worked on his shot to become the quality goal scorer that he is. Next year, I think there are still some things to work on. Would love to see him become an even more dominant power forward, who is consistently physical on the forecheck and as a defensive player. Would also love to see his puck skill continue to improve to make him more of a factor off the rush and as a playmaker coming off the wall. Lastly, his skating still needs to continue to improve, especially those first few steps. But as mentioned, it was a very good year for Bunnaman. If he can replicate his goal scoring success and inch close to the 40 goal mark, but improve his assist totals and become a more well rounded offensive player, that would really elevate his status as a prospect further. 

5. Anthony Salinitri - Sarnia Sting
Another player who had a great draft +1 year. Salinitri almost doubled his production from the year prior and looked good doing it. He figured out a way to harness his speed as an asset at both ends and really emerged as a solid player away from the puck. One of the league's better penalty killers and he really attacks loose pucks with urgency. Thought he looked noticeably stronger on the puck too, working the cycle game well. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how much more he can improve his offensive production. Can the hands continue to catch up to the pace that he plays at? Also really want to see him improve his faceoff percentage next year, especially if he wants to stick down the middle as an undersized center. Ultimately, I think his game profiles better on the wing for the next level anyway. With Drake Rymsha and Adam Ruzicka down the middle already, I actually think Sarnia would be smart to move Salinitri to wing too (where he saw some time on the powerplay). We shall see I guess. Would love to see him hit the 30 goal and ppg marks next year.

6. Maksim Sushko - Owen Sound Attack
Solid mid round selection by the Flyers here. Sushko flashed some interesting skills this year in a rather limited role. Quite frankly, of all the guys drafted from the OHL this year, Sushko is one of the few that I just don't have a great read on yet. Solid speed. Flashes one on one skill. Looked good attacking on the penalty kill and plays with a chip on his shoulder at times. But what's the upside? How good is his shot and how good are his scoring instincts? These are questions that could very well be answered next year. The Attack are losing their two best players on the right side in Petrus Palmu and Matt Schmalz, which should mean a top 6 role for Sushko, including maybe some powerplay time. The Attack will be one of the best teams in the Western Conference, so if he sticks in the top 6, I could see Sushko coming close to a 30/30 season, so long as he proves himself capable.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Pittsburgh Penguins

A rough year for the lone prospect of the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

1. Connor Hall - Kitchener Rangers
As mentioned, a tough year for Hall who was limited to just 17 games and was shut down in November with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Not going to bother evaluating Hall based upon those 17 games, but instead let's focus on next year. Hall has had some problems with injuries during his OHL career and he needs to just stay healthy next year. The Rangers will be relying upon him to be a top 4 defender on a club with aspirations for a top 4 spot in the Conference. His physicality and size are a major asset in the defensive end, as is his mobility. Really hoping to see him stay healthy and become one of the OHL's elite stay at home defenders. Of course, there's always been the hope that his offensive game would develop eventually too, because of his strong skating. At this point, given how little he's played over the last few years, I think a year really focusing on the defensive side of things wouldn't be a bad thing. I'd expect a year of about 25+ points from Hall, with some major steps forward as a defensive stopper.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - San Jose Sharks

Small group of OHL'ers for the Sharks who have used a few late rounders of late on players from the league.

1. Sasha Chmelevski - Ottawa 67's
Chmelevski was one of the year's most disappointing prospects for me. Loved what he brought to the table offensively as a rookie (in limited action) in 2015/16 and had very high hopes for him coming into the year (as a potential top 2 round pick). But it was not a strong year for his development and as such he fell pretty heavily in the draft. He's definitely a talented offensive player. Has a great shot and release. Great agility and the potential to be a very good skater if he can get stronger. Very skilled with the puck and can make defenders miss. But consistency was a major issue, especially when it comes to his play away from the puck. Needs to be fully engaged and willing to battle in traffic to make plays. The coaching staff in Ottawa was also visibly frustrated with him, as his ice time fluctuated in addition to a few media call outs. Ultimately, mind set is going to be a big factor when it comes to Chmelevski improving. Ottawa has a new coaching staff in place for next year (Andre Tourigny) and we'll see how they're able to motivate him. The 67's have a very young, but talented team. They're probably another year away from a breakout, so if Chmelevski can get himself to the point per game mark next year and then breakout massively in 2018/19, that would be ideal.

2. Mark Shoemaker - North Bay Battalion
Truthfully, didn't see what the Sharks saw in Shoemaker to draft him in 2016 and this past year provided more evidence to that. Look, Shoemaker has good size and he has some decent mobility, but the rest of his game would classify as average. If he's going to make it at the next level, he's going to need to develop into a dominant stay at home defender at the OHL level and that just hasn't happened yet. Still needs to play more aggressively in his own end. His reads and understanding of defensive positioning still requires work. Gets beat too much one on one right now. Makes a decent first pass, but again, this area of his game is limited. Shoemaker will return to the OHL, this time with a new team as he's been dealt to the Guelph Storm. In Guelph, they'll be looking for him to be that dominant stay at home defender in their top 4. Offensive statistics won't mean much, but if he's able to play consistently in Guelph's top 4 and help them make the playoffs, he'll put himself in a better position to earn a contract. That said, he's probably a long shot at this point. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - St. Louis Blues

St. Louis continues to draft heavily from the OHL.

1. Jordan Kyrou - Sarnia Sting
Fantastic year for Kyrou, who has emerged as one of the most dynamic playmakers in the OHL. He's such a slippery player because of his skating ability. Off the rush, he's explosive and difficult to contain, but his play within the offensive zone really improved this year as he added strength. Much more effective at maintaining puck possession and playing through traffic, especially looking to use his speed to attack the middle of the ice. Also was more aggressive in looking to shoot the puck this year, something I highlighted in last year's write-up. Moving forward, I think Kyrou still needs to make some improvements to his two-way game. Would love to see him using his speed to be more of a factor on the forecheck and on the PK. Kyrou finished just outside the top 5 in scoring this year, so next year it's reasonable to think that he could crack the top 5 and the 100 point mark. He's a legitimate offensive talent who could be an impact top 6 forward at the NHL level within a few years.

2. Robert Thomas - London Knights
The Blues made a great pick with Thomas in the first round this year. If you read my draft rankings, I'm a huge fan. Thomas is already an excellent two-way player who shows a great head for the game and dynamic skating ability. Now I'm interested to see how his offensive game grows over the next two years in London. Thomas is an excellent playmaker who shows great vision, especially off the rush. But his shot will need to improve to keep teams honest. Gaining more confidence in this is a major next step for him (Thomas finished 12th in shots per game among Knights' players this year, behind three defenders). An offseason spent on getting stronger to be able to win puck battles more consistently will also help. Being able to maintain possession longer will only make him more dangerous because of his vision. Thomas will be a go to offensive player yet again in London and I would expect a numbers jump. An 80+ point season with 25+ goals is definitely a realistic expectation IMO.

3. Luke Opilka - Kitchener Rangers
Another tough year for Opilka in Kitchener. He once again battled consistency issues and some injuries, actually posting worse numbers than the year before. He remains an enigma. There were a few games that I caught this year (including one in the playoffs), where Opilka was absolutely fantastic, utilizing his athleticism to be a brick wall. But then there were a few other times where he couldn't seem to stop a beach ball. Positioning is still a weakness for sure. Quite frankly, he just needs to play consistently. I still believe there is potential for him to develop as a pro goaltender. The question is, where will that journey take him next year? He could return to the OHL as an overager, but that's if there is a team that wants him. Kitchener has some young goaltenders and may not want to use an OA spot on Opilka, especially given that Luke Richardson largely outplayed him this year. Would another OHL team take him? It's possible. The Blues also have Opilka under contract and could choose to play him in the ECHL. I guess we'll see.

4. Trenton Bourque - Owen Sound Attack
Interesting pick by the Blues at the recent draft. He improved a ton this year in Owen Sound, emerging as a borderline top 4 defender on a quality club. He was an anchor of their PK and really plays a safe, defensive first game. Has good size and mobility and definitely possesses the qualities that could make him a solid stay at home defender at the next level. Will return to Owen Sound next year and should see a similar role, with the chance at an increased role if Jacob Friend turns pro. Not sure I'd expect much of an increase in offensive production (maybe 20 points and hopefully his first OHL goal), but if he can really start using his size more in the defensive end and become a dominant shut down force, that would be promising for his pro future. Owen Sound will be one of the best teams in the OHL next year and they'll be relying on Bourque to take that step.

5. Filip Helt - Sarnia Sting
Not a good season for the Import. Looked largely over matched in the OHL. Shows some good speed and puck skill at times, but just didn't appear strong enough or intense enough to make much of a consistent impact. As such, he was pushed further and further down Sarnia's depth chart, eventually finding himself on the 4th line with limited ice time. His rights were released by Sarnia and he'll return to Europe next year.

*Alexei Toropchenko - Guelph Storm
 A 4th rounder of the Blues this year, Toropchenko was a pick of Guelph's in the import draft and is apparently coming over. He should see top 6 ice time in Guelph. They've got a quality young team with a ton of offensive talent. I would expect him to have a good year. He could most definitely be a 30 goal scorer, based on all the reports I've received on his play. Excited to see him in person.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Tampa Bay Lightning

Thanks to the influence of Stevie Y, the Lightning are another team that just loves to draft players from the OHL.

1. Mikhail Sergachev - Windsor Spitfires
A new addition to the Lightning prospect crop after being the return for Jonathan Drouin. First, the bad news (or at least, not great news) Lightning fans. Sergachev didn't have a great year in the OHL this past year. From the minute he came back to the OHL after a month long stint in the NHL, it seemed like the intensity level that he had played with as a rookie (and dominating force) just wasn't there. This is certainly not uncommon. That NHL hang over can last weeks, months, or even an entire season for prospects once they get a taste of the pros. Sergachev's production wasn't bad at all, but for those that saw him play regularly, he just wasn't as effective at either end as he was in 2015/2016. Poor decisions with the puck. Poor reads defensively. Sprinkled in with some jaw dropping plays that made you remember just how good he can be. This came to a head in the OHL playoffs where he was very ineffective against London in round one. But then came the Memorial Cup where Sergachev clearly elevated his play to finish the year extremely strong (winning the Mem Cup). Truthfully, I wouldn't be worried. As mentioned, this type of thing is pretty common for elite prospects in the CHL. And most end up becoming pretty damn good NHL players. I still believe Sergachev's potential is higher than Juolevi's and is that of a first pairing all star. And I do think that he'll play in the NHL next year with Tampa. Of course, because of his age, it's Tampa or the OHL. If he does come back to the OHL, hopefully he returns more motivated (similar to the way Dylan Strome was surprisingly sent back this year and looked like a man on a mission).

2. Mitchell Stephens - London Knights
Stephens is proof why it's important to do more than just stat watch when evaluating prospects. Stephens' production did decrease a fair amount upon his trade to London, but anyone who watches London will tell you that he was consistently one of their best and most dangerous forwards this year. This was especially true in the playoffs when some of their other players really laid eggs. He's an incredibly complete player who competes hard (using his great speed) at both ends of the ice and who uses his hockey sense to make consistently smart plays and reads. I think he's definitely going to be an NHL player. It's just a matter of where he'll eventually slot into the lineup. I could see that being anywhere from the second line to the 4th line. It all depends on how well his offensive abilities carry over to the pro level and whether his lack of elite size hurts him. He'll turn pro next year and play in the AHL where I would expect him to be a 20/20 player and in the top 20 of rookie scorers.

3. Anthony Cirelli - Erie Otters
What a great way for Cirelli to finish off his OHL career, the way it began with an OHL Championship. Honestly, Cirelli might be one of the most clutch players to ever play in the league. His penchant for big goals is legendary. A Memorial Cup winning OT goal two years ago. And an OHL Championship winning goal this year. Not too shabby. Cirelli was fantastic for Erie after coming over from Oshawa (where he was equally fantastic). It was a great year overall. His offensive game really took a solid step forward, gaining confidence in his ability to carry the puck and drive the net to match his great vision and hockey sense. And I also felt his skating really improved this year too. Looked a lot more explosive. All in all, the Lightning are getting a very intelligent two-way player who projects as a very good third line forward at the NHL level. Like Stephens, he'll turn pro next year and likely suit up in the AHL. I would expect his offensive production as a rookie to be similar to Stephens', likely in that 20/20 range. Neither player should need long at the AHL level before becoming NHL'ers.

4. Taylor Raddysh - Erie Otters
What a breakout season for Raddysh, in his post draft year. Many around the league expected his numbers to jump as he got more responsibility (and still got to play with some great players), but I don't think anyone expected him to be a 100+ point player and one of the most consistent offensive performers in the league. Pretty much every facet of his game took a step forward this year. Really noticed a difference in his strength on the puck, as he was able to be a big factor in traffic and working the wall. It's clear he really worked on his shot and finishing in close too, His skating is still a work in progress and I think that was evident at the WJC's (where he struggled a bit), but it too improved. So what's the next step for Raddysh then? Next year, it will be his show to run in Erie and he'll have to prove (yet again) that he's able to produce offensively despite Erie incurring some losses. To do that, I think he'll have to improve his skating even more so that he can create more time and space for himself (although he could pair with a quick guy like Ivan Lodnia). He could also be traded if Erie decides to rebuild and recoup some of their losses (thanks to trading a TON of draft picks in recent years). Either way, I'd expect him to be hovering around that 90-100 point mark yet again next year. Even if his production dips a bit, I don't think that will necessarily mean he's had a poor year as he's facing a different situation.

5. Boris Katchouk - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
It was an excellent year for Katchouk and you know your prospect pool is pretty damn strong when he's the 5th best on a list for one league. He started off a little slowly, but really picked up his play as the season went on, capped off with an 8 goal in 11 playoff games performance. Katchouk is one of the hardest working players in the OHL, who is an absolutely relentless forechecker and crease crasher. He also possesses a terrific shot that helped him finish second to Senyshyn in goals on the Hounds with 35. When you combine that with the fact that Katchouk also grew a few inches this year and now stands 6'3, you've got a speedy, power winger with a real pro style game, waiting in the wings. I was very tempted to put Katchouk ahead of Raddysh, but I think you have to respect the draft +1 year that Raddysh had, even if I'm a little less convinced his game translates to the NHL as well as Katchouk's does. It will be really interesting to see how these two compare next year in their 20 year old seasons. Sault Ste. Marie will be one of the better teams in the OHL and Katchouk could very well be a 40/40 player. If he can really improve his vision and playmaking ability (to go with his tenaciousness and finishing ability), that would make him an even more dangerous player.

6. Erik Cernak  - Erie Otters
The main return in the Ben Bishop deal, Cernak is a legit defensive prospect and has a very good chance of becoming a solid, shut down defender in the NHL. He's just an incredibly solid player. Defensively, it's rare to see this guy make a mistake in coverage. And his gap control is excellent when defending the rush, so he's tough to get around. He's also very tough to win battles against in the corners and in front of the net. Truth be told, he was the best defensive defender in the OHL this year. I felt his offensive game was better this year too. Did a better job with his exit passes and looked a lot more sure handed when trying to avoid the forecheck. This guy is pro ready. He'll head to the AHL next year, where I wouldn't expect much from him offensively (Roland McKeown had 11 points as a rookie this year and I'd expect similar from Cernak), but that won't measure his value. Like Cirelli and Stephens, I don't think Cernak is far from an NHL spot.

7. Matt Spencer - Peterborough Petes
Projects similarly to Cernak, but isn't quite as polished yet IMO. Spencer was drafted into the OHL as a potentially dominant two-way defender. But the offensive side of things never developed for him in the OHL and I think it's safe to say that, that part of his game likely won't develop as a pro in the future either. What you see is what you get in that regard. Defensively, he's a great skater with excellent mobility. He also really took a step forward in playing "meaner" this year and really seemed to enjoy playing the tough guy role for the Petes. His intensity in front of the net was always noticeable when you watched Peterborough. But his reads and overall defensive IQ is not as good as Cernak's IMO. There is still some growth that needs to be made there for him to develop into a quality NHL shutdown defender. With some guys like Sergachev and Cernak ahead of him (at least IMO), he'll have a few years to develop in the AHL and I think he eventually develops into a dependable 5-6 guy (think the recently retired Kevin Klein).

8. Christopher Paquette - Peterborough Petes
Last year, in this article, I wrote that a 20/30 season was a realistic expectation. Paquette finished 19/29 combined between Niagara and Peterborough, so needless to say, he performed up to my expectations...which weren't incredibly high. Peterborough brought him in to provide more scoring depth down the stretch and they paid a pretty high price for him. His performance for the Petes was pretty underwhelming and I think they expected more from him. He definitely added some weight this year and was stronger on the puck. With his size down the middle, there's the potential for him to develop as a pretty good playmaker. But his play without the puck still needs work. With his size, he has a lot of potential as a two-way, power center. He has some skill with the puck, but he's just not aggressive enough. Would love to see him look to drive the net more and use his size more consistently in the corners. Evidently, he still has a lot of growing to do as a player. But, he'll return to a Peterborough team that could be the favourite to win the East next year. It'll be a deep team though, especially down the middle. So there's no guarantee that he's given top line responsibility. I think in order to get signed by Tampa, he's going to need to be a point per game player for the first time in his career.

9. Jonne Tammela - Peterborough Petes
Who? Played two games in November for the Petes and disappeared thanks to a patella tendon injury that required surgery. It's a real shame too, as he likely would have been an impact player for the Petes. The question is...what do the Lightning do with him next year? Having not really played a lot of hockey the last year, do they send him back to the OHL for an overage season? I know the Petes still have him on their protected list. Or does he play in the AHL? Or...does he get loaned to Europe for a season? Would likely be great for him to play in the OHL to get his confidence back post injury. Will likely depend on how he looks in camp.

*Alexei Lipanov - Barrie Colts
Worth noting that 2017 selection Alexei Lipanov will be suiting up for the Barrie Colts this coming season. He should be an immediate impact player on a strong (but rebuilding) Barrie team. Along with his running mate Andrei Svechnikov, Lipanov could easily be an 80 point player in the league IMO. I have very high expectations for him after seeing him play internationally.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs love them some OHL players, so this will be quite the lengthy write up. Although, their higher end players from the league have recently graduated.

1. Jeremy Bracco - Windsor Spitfires
An interesting year for Bracco. His production really dropped after the trade from Kitchener, but that was quickly forgotten after his performance in the Memorial Cup. After a first round loss to London in the OHL playoffs, many were left wanting more from Bracco and were wondering where the production was. But the Spits brought him in to help win a Mem Cup title (as hosts) and he did just that. Before I talk about his progression on the ice, I think it's worth mentioning that Bracco visibly matured this year as a young man. Body language, the way he conducted himself in interviews, and overall attitude on the ice was noticeably different (for the better). On the ice, I think there are still some consistency issues that need to be ironed out. His skating took a massive step forward this year IMO and that was the most noticeable difference. Really added some explosiveness to his stride to make him more difficult to stop off the rush. And his vision and creativity as a playmaker remain his bread and butter. There are still some consistency issues away from the puck, as a fully engaged player at both ends, but hopefully that is something that can be improved as he moves to the pro level. Bracco remains a high upside offensive player, although admittedly, I still have some reservations as to how well his game will translate to the AHL next year.

2. Eemeli Rasanen - Kingston Frontenacs
Rasanen, the Leafs 2nd rounder in 2017, is the very definition of a project. He's an absolutely hulking defender at 6'6 and he has some real intriguing qualities (big point shot, projection as a puck rusher, great reach defensively, great open ice hitter). But there are also some areas of his game that need a lot of work (decision making under pressure, physical intensity in high traffic areas, overall mobility). Good news is that Rasanen hasn't been playing at a high level of hockey for very long and he's a kid who is very moldable. He'll have a few years to really gain confidence in his puck skill and his ability to defend. An adjustment to having to make quicker decisions on the small ice is also likely. We could start seeing a big improvement as early as next year when Kingston will once again be a solid team in the Eastern Conference. Rasanen will be a top 3 defender for them and a big part of their powerplay (someone has to replace Desrocher). As such, I really see him getting close to that 10 goal mark and over 45 points. But more importantly, I think we need to see a step forward at the defensive end. Really want to see him become a physical beast in his own end.

3. J.J. Piccinich - London Knights
Even though the offensive production didn't really take a step forward, I don't necessarily think it was a poor year for Piccinich. I think the rest of his game really took a step forward this year. He served as the captain for the Knights this year and most definitely became a more engaged player without the puck. He developed into a quality penalty killer and his overall defensive awareness improved a lot. This was critical IMO, as Piccinich is going to need to prove that he can be a reliable energy guy to make the NHL. That said, I think the Leafs were smart to have him sign an AHL deal rather than give him an NHL deal right away. They still retain his rights but have a chance to see how his skill set translates to the pro level first. You can't overlook the fact that he had one goal in this year's playoffs and his goal production was overall disappointing this year. Don't know if he's skilled enough to play as a top 6 player at the next level, which means that the rest of his game will really need to continue to improve (as I alluded to). I would expect he splits the upcoming season between the AHL and the ECHL and we'll see how he performs and whether Toronto ends up offering him a contract.

4. Fedor Gordeev - Flint Firebirds
Like Rasanen, Gordeev is a hulking, raw defender. But, unlike Rasanen, Gordeev is actually a very good skater for a big defender. His plus mobility, in combination with his reach and his physical bravado, could make him a terrific stay at home defender down the line. His defensive game (IQ) is still a work in progress, but his game really progressed late in the year with Flint as he emerged as a top four defender for them. How much offensive upside he possesses remains to be seen. I know those who watched him in minor midget contend that he can be a quality offensive player at the OHL level, but I'm not quite as sold. I think his puck skill and decision making will need to improve for that to happen. But it's certainly possible. He'll return to Flint and push for a top four spot again on a quality young team. If he can really improve defensively and chip in a bit more offensively (maybe 30 points), I think that would be a very successful season for Gordeev next year.

5. Keaton Middleton - Saginaw Spirit
Not a lot of players had great years in Saginaw this past year. The team was a disappointment in a stacked Western Conference. That said, Middleton was one of the few players on that team that had a good year IMO. It speaks volumes to Keaton's character that he was named captain already as an 18/19 year old. He was a great partner to Filip Hronek (another player who had a solid year), playing the stay at home role so that Hronek could utilize his offensive gifts without truly hurting the team. Middleton's mobility took a step forward this year, as did his decision making with the puck. And with his reach, he's a tough player to match up against offensively. I think there are still some limitations to his game (which is why I rank a guy like Gordeev ahead of him right now), but he's progressed relatively well. It will be very interesting to see if Saginaw wants more out of him offensively next year with Hronek and Niemelainen gone. I think it's likely we see a jump in production. Nothing substantial, but I could see him hitting the 30 point mark. Then again, Saginaw could ask him to play a similar role, paired with OA Marcus Crawford. We'll see I guess.

6. Ryan McGregor - Sarnia Sting
Early on in the year, I felt like McGregor could be on track to be a top 100 selection in 2017. He had a great rookie year and started strong this year too. But he ultimately hit a wall and his production fell off a cliff. He's got speed to burn and the hands to be a good goal scorer. But he needs to get stronger, on and off the puck, so that his energy can consistently create scoring chances. I think it also remains to be seen just how good his hockey sense is in the offensive end. Just what type of upside are we looking at as a scoring winger? These are all questions that could be answered as early as next season where McGregor should have an inside track at a top 6 role with some quality linemates (like Jordan Kyrou or Adam Ruzicka). That could mean an uptick in production. Heck, if he can just sustain the type of production he had in the first half, with some minor tweaks, a 25/25 year is a very realistic expectation. Anything more would be gravy IMO.

7. Nicolas Mattinen - London Knights
On the positive side, Mattinen got into the Knights' lineup every day. Even if it was as a third pairing defender with some sheltered minutes, it was still consistent playing time, something he did not get in his draft year. Mattinen is a huge defender, just like Rasanen, Gordeev, and Middleton, but IMO, he's not at the same level as those three quite yet. His play with the puck is not as smooth as Rasanen and he doesn't possess the offensive potential that he does. His skating is not as good as Gordeev's. And his defensive IQ is not as good as Middleton's. With Mattinen, we've still got a work in progress who needs to grow at both ends to be a solid NHL prospect. But he's going to get great coaching in London and if he's willing, he will continue to improve. Next year, depending on what happens with guys like Juolevi or Crawley, he could easily be a top 4 defender for the Knights. It's worth noting that Mattinen paired with Evan Bouchard a lot this past year and Bouchard is a guy who is going to get an increased role next year. The coaching staff may choose to keep them together as part of a top four pairing. Like Middleton, I could see Mattinen in that 30 point range next year. 


Friday, July 21, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Vancouver Canucks

Now here's a team with a lot of OHL content! Vancouver went very heavy on OHL players at the 2017 draft.

1. Olli Juolevi - London Knights
Was it a bad year for Juolevi? 100%, most definitely not. Did his game truly progress though? That, I'm not so sure about. Quite frankly, I'd say he's probably close to the same player that the Canucks drafted in 2016. Last year I wrote, "If Juolevi is returned to London he'll have another year to get stronger, to improve his play in his own end (like his ability to win battles in the corners and become a dominant one on one stopper), and to gain confidence in his offensive abilities (particularly his point shot)." Well, that's probably still where he needs to improve, especially if he wants to make the NHL next year. That said, what I wrote last year also still rings true, "His game is built for the way the NHL plays today. Speed, quick decision making, strong positioning and the ability to start the breakout." From what I've read, he's really worked hard to put on some more weight since the OHL season finished and that's going to give him a very good chance to make the Canucks next year, as his decision making is NHL ready. I'd be shocked if he didn't at least start the season in the NHL. If he can prove that he can handle his responsibilities defensively (especially winning one on one battles in front of the net and in the corners), he'll stick. And if not, Vancouver can send him back to the OHL where he'll try to get London back to the OHL Championship. In the NHL, I think he's probably a 20-25 point player.

2. Michael Dipietro - Windsor Spitfires
Fresh off a Memorial Cup victory, Dipietro was the Canucks 3rd rounder in 2017 (but should have gone earlier if you ask me). In fact, Dipietro had a great year overall, performing consistently for the Spitfires (he kept them afloat while injuries ravaged them through the mid point of the season). He also was terrific at the Ivan Hlinka in the summer (even if Canada failed to medal for the first time since 2007). Bottom line, this kid is a winner. Moving forward, I suppose the biggest thing Dipietro needs to do is continue to refine his positioning and reads, so that he has to rely less on his athleticism and quickness...thus scrambling less. This is really important for him being a smaller goalie, so that he doesn't get beat high in close quite as much. Next year Windsor should have a good team yet again and will challenge for home ice in the West's first round. I'd expect him to be one of the top goalies in the league yet again and should be a front runner for goaltender of the year. I'd also expect him to end up on Canada's WJC team, perhaps as the starter. Then all of Canada can see what all of Ontario already knows.

3. Jonah Gadjovich - Owen Sound Attack
One of the league's most improved players this past year. Jumped from 14 goals to 46 as part of Owen Sound's dynamite first line of Gadjovich, Nick Suzuki, and Kevin Hancock. That line will remain intact next year (so long as Suzuki doesn't make Vegas) and should carve apart the OHL. Gadjovich is a physical beast, but it's not just his physicality and size that makes him a 40 goal scorer. His smarts and hands in close are fantastic. If he can continue to upgrade his skating, especially his first few steps, he's going to become an even more dynamic offensive player to go with all the other things he brings to the table. Next year should be Gadjovich's last in the OHL (he's a late birthday '98) and I could see him hitting the 50 goal plateau, especially if Owen Sound is as good as I expect them to be. 

4. Petrus Palmu - Owen Sound Attack
Was so happy to see Palmu get drafted this year. Kid emerged as one of the most exciting players to watch in the OHL this year. Plays at such a high tempo and oozes skill with the puck. He's most definitely undersized in terms of height, but he's built like a tank and does well to fight through traffic and be elusive at the OHL level. But he's going to need to continue to get stronger and quicker for the next level. Will also need to simplify his game offensively so that he limits his turnovers. But if there's going to be a small player who makes it, it's Palmu. Next year it seems like returning to the OHL is a long shot. He's got a contract with TPS back in Finland, but could also play in the AHL if the Canucks think he's ready. 

5. Brett McKenzie - North Bay Battalion
Was a tough year in North Bay for the Battalion as they missed the playoffs. No question McKenzie was their best player and he did get himself to the point per game mark. Not really sure how much his game progressed though. He certainly was more assertive in shooting the puck and trying to take charge offensively. But he didn't dominate the game physically as I expected he could and in fact, I think his "overall" game might have taken a bit of a step backward this year in an effort to try to create more offensively. Without an NHL contract yet, where McKenzie plays next year remains to be seen. Vancouver will likely see how he looks at camp before deciding whether to play him in the AHL or send him back to the OHL for his overage season. I think sending him back would be the right thing to do, to see if his game can take another step forward. We saw what an overage year can do for a guy like Warren Foegele this year. Could see North Bay using him as a trade chip to go into a rebuild mode. If he's back in the OHL, a 35+ goal and 75+ point season would be a realistic expectation.

6. Jalen Chatfield - Windsor Spitfires
Solid signing by the Canucks. His game really evolved over the course of his three year OHL career, after he signed with Windsor as a free agent. Started out as a very raw defender, blessed with athleticism and skating ability. But he's actually developed into a terrific two-way blueliner, who actually probably sways more towards a stay at home type. His offensive game regressed slightly this year, with him taking less chances in jumping up in the rush or leading it. But that appeared to be by design, so that he could become a better defensive player. And that he did. His mobility makes him a very tough guy to shake in coverage; his gap control is excellent. This was very evident at the Memorial Cup IMO. In terms of NHL potential, I don't think we're looking at a guy who can be a top four defender. But he could definitely develop into a quality third pairing guy who can eat up minutes on the PK (think Matt Hunwick) and make smart, simple plays with the puck. Apparently looked great at Canucks development camp so hopefully he can get into the lineup at the AHL level consistently this year.

7. Cole Candella - Hamilton Bulldogs 
Really disappointing season for Candella IMO. I was a huge fan of his in his draft year and I expected him to come out this year and establish himself as Hamilton's go to defender, a role he played last year when the Bulldogs were depleted by injuries. And while he did consistently play a second pairing role, his production was not terrific and I don't feel as if he really developed at either end. Offensively, he needs to gain more confidence in his skill with the puck and look to make things happen. Would love to see him work on his point shot and look to shoot the puck more too. Defensively, he needs to get more aggressive. Needs to be a much more difficult guy to match up against. He has the intelligence in his own end and his positioning is solid, but the intensity needs to increase. In order for him to get a contract from Vancouver next year, he's going to need to grab the bull by the horns and take charge at both ends of the ice. Would love to see him hit that 40 point mark that I suggested he would hit this year (in last year's article). Like I said, I'm still a fan and I feel like his IQ at both ends of the ice is high. Just needs to apply it.

8. Matt Brassard - Oshawa Generals
Shrewd draft pick by the Canucks. Brassard was one of the OHL's most improved players this year. Among defenders, he had the 5th highest shot generation total in the league. This guy just loves to fire the puck and he's got a cannon. He's also a pretty mobile defender. But the rest of his game is pretty raw. Still learning how to best use his size and mobility in the defensive end. Still learning about how to pick his spots offensively and how to make better decisions with the puck. But this guy has potential for sure. He'll go back to Oshawa this year where he'll be a top 3 defender on a good team and can build off the breakout season he's coming off of. Could easily see him hitting the 15 goal/30 assist mark on a team that is most definitely going to score their share of goals. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Vegas Golden Knights

The team responsible for the renaming of this segment! The Vegas Golden Knights make their debut on the blog.

1. Nick Suzuki - Owen Sound Attack
Great pick-up by the Golden Knights in the 1st round this year. I think that in the future, they're going to be very happy with this selection. Suzuki gives it his all, every shift and every game. His work ethic is fantastic. And when you combine it with his great hockey sense, vision, and playmaking ability, you've got a great hockey player. The progression he has shown every year since minor midget has been incredible and there's no reason to believe that he can't continue to get better. This offseason, he'll likely focus on getting stronger, like every OHL player. But more specifically, his leg strength to increase the power in his stride to make him a more explosive and dynamic skater (a weakness of his). Next year, Owen Sound should be one of the top teams in the OHL's Western Conference (so long as they can get a starting goaltender). They return the majority of their star players. As such, I don't think it's outside of the realm of possibility for Suzuki to lead the OHL in scoring next year. A lot of the guys he'll be competing with will also likely lose time to the WJC's, and a 105+ point season (even with missed time during the holidays) is very likely. Of course, I've seen some on social media recently suggesting that they think Suzuki could steal a spot on Vegas' roster next year. I think that's a long shot given his need to get a little quicker. One more year in the OHL and he should be ready, given his already great head for the game. Physical skills just need to catch up.

2. Nic Hague - Mississauga Steelheads
Another great selection where the Golden Knights took him in the second round. Gigantic blueliner is a very solid prospect. His season had some ups and downs, but he finished very strong with a great performance in the playoffs for Mississauga. A late '98, Hague is still only a two year OHL veteran and will need that third (and likely final) year to continue to develop. His footwork in the defensive zone will need some refinement so that he's better suited to handle the forecheck and defend off the rush. But he really took a step forward in using his size to make himself tough to play against this year. By the playoffs, he was tossing guys around with regularity. Offensively, he's got that heavy point shot and he's great at picking his spots to jump up. But I do want to continue to see his overall vision with the puck improve, as well as his confidence in leading the rush (using his size and decent forward mobility). Mississauga will likely be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference next year and Hague will be a big factor for them once again. They're losing Saarijarvi and Leblanc, their two best offensive defenders outside of Hague, which means he'll have to take on an increased role offensively. I think he hits 20 goals next year and finishes with close to 60 points.

3. Ben Jones - Niagara IceDogs
Was really happy to see Jones get drafted this year as he was one of my favourite under the radar prospects heading into June. Hard nosed forward who's only scratching the surface of his ability as a pest. Jones is also a talented playmaker who's going to be a big part of very talented young IceDogs team moving forward. Like most prospects, Jones just needs to get quicker and stronger; with an emphasis on the last one. As he gains strength, I really expect him to start throwing his body around and becoming a tough player to match up against at both ends. The smarts are definitely there. Would also love to see Jones shoot the puck more and gain confidence in his ability to carve up the neutral zone. I fully expect him to take a nice step forward next year (along with the rest of his teammates). I'd be shocked if he wasn't a point per game player with a chance for a much bigger breakout in his 19/20 year old season.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days - Washington Capitals

Well another year down for the Washington Capitals without an OHL player. That's 5 years now after not taking one in the 2017 Draft. Longest streak in the NHL after Nashville finally took an OHL player at this year's draft.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

31 Teams in 31 Days: Winnipeg Jets

Summer has arrived and that means that it's time for my annual '31 Teams in 31 Days' segment (well I guess it's the first annual because of the addition of Vegas bumping it to 31 teams). I review the progress of each NHL team's OHL Prospects and provide some level of prognostication as well.

Each year I alternate which way I start the list. Last year was Anaheim, so this year we'll do reverse alphabetical order and start with Winnipeg.

Here's Winnipeg's (limited) review.

1. Logan Stanley - Windsor Spitfires
Can you really say it was a "tough year" for a prospect when he wins a Memorial Cup? Certainly open to debate. A torn meniscus in his right knee cost him the last three months of the OHL season, but he worked hard to return for the Memorial Cup (a testament to his work ethic). And at the Memorial Cup, he might have played the best hockey that I've ever seen him play (again, a testament to the work he put in off the ice). Not easy to go from a four month layoff to playing against the best teams in the CHL; no rehab assignments. I still have reservations about Stanley's offensive impact at the next level, but it's clear that he's worked hard to continue to improve his mobility. His skating just keeps getting better. And he's still a physical beast who's one of the toughest guys to compete against below the hash marks in the OHL. Next year, he'll return to Windsor where I'm sure the Jets front office staff would love to see him improve his offensive output. And with the way that he's improved every year in the league, I wouldn't be shocked if he did. I could easily see him with 10 goals and 40+ points next year for a Windsor team that will be in tough to mimic this past year's success.

Friday, July 7, 2017

2017 CHL Import Draft Review

On Tuesday, June 28, the Canadian Hockey League held its annual Import Draft. It is here, CHL teams get the opportunity to add import talent to their roster. There are two rounds of the draft, and a team can pass on their pick at any time. Import picks can not be traded. Goalies are not allowed to be selected.

Just to remind you, CHL clubs are permitted to carry only two import players on their team or protected list every year. However, if a CHL team has an Import who was an NHL first round pick (such as London with Olli Juolevi), they receive the opportunity to add another player to their protected list to cover should that first round import (like Juolevi) make the NHL. There are other scenarios which can allow you to carry the rights of three (such as having an OA Import, having an Import on their protected list who didn't show the year prior, etc). Overall, it's pretty complicated.

While the Import Draft can be a bit of a crap shoot, many of the players drafted do come over and can have an impact. Let's breakdown the results of previous five Import Drafts.

In 2012
22 of 27 players selected came to the OHL (81%)
17 of 27 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (63%)
9 (open for debate) of the 20 players had a significant impact on their OHL teams (33%)

In 2013
22 of 25 players selected came to the OHL (88%)
20 of 25 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (80%)
7 (open for debate) of the 25 players had a significant impact on their OHL teams (28%)

In 2014
19 of 25 players selected came to the OHL (76%)
18 of 25 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (72%)
11 (open for debate) of the 25 players had a significant impact on their OHL teams (44%)


In 2015
23 of 28 players selected came to the OHL (82%)
17 of 28 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (61%%)
10 (open for debate) of the 28 players had a significant impact on their OHL teams (36%)


In 2016
23 of 30 players selected came to the OHL (76%)
21 of 30 players selected lasted the entire OHL season with their clubs (70%)
12 of 30 (open for debate) of the 28 players had a significant impact on their OHL teams (40%)

This article will provide you with some information and scouting reports on those selected.

Of course this article wouldn't have been possible without the help of these experts:


The Guys over at Future Considerations. Make sure you give them a follow. More specifically...

William Hogberg (@whoegberg)

Dennis Schellenberg (@ScoutingFactory)

Matt Grainda (@graindaiv)

Anton Vasyatin (@Av1376)

Chapin Landvogt (@Csomichapin)

also...

Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst  (@TheDraftAnalyst)

Marco Bombino of McKeens Hockey and FinnProspects (@marco_bombino)

Jakub Homola (a former contributor to slovakprospects.com) (@Jakub_Homola)

Karel Malek of juniorskyhokej (@karl_karlsson)

1. Barrie Colts - Andrei Svechnikov - Forward
The worst kept secret in the CHL; the Barrie Colts selecting Svechnikov 1st overall in the draft. Long been rumoured and it finally came to fruition. This is a massive get for the Colts. Svechnikov is a potential 1st overall candidate for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and immediately fast tracks the clubs rebuilding phase. I watched this kid play at the U18's this year and he was easily one of the most impressive players in the tournament. Last year in the USHL (as a 16/17 year old 2000 born), he won the rookie of the year, finished top 5 in goal scoring and doubled the point totals of the next closest age equivalent. Impressive stuff. Can't wait to see this kid in the OHL.
Scouting Report: Matt Grainda says, “Andrei Svechnikov is without a doubt a very high-end hockey player. After signing a tender with the Muskegon Lumberjacks last season, Svechnikov came into the USHL as a 16 year-old and proceeded to put up 58 points over 48 games. He earned USHL Rookie of the Year honors and was a member of the USHL First All-Star team and the USHL All-Rookie team. He also had fantastic showings in the U17 World Hockey Challenge and the U18 World Championships. Svechnikov plays with all the tools you are looking for in a big-time prospect and is one heck of a natural-born scorer. He’s got great speed that is enhanced by a quick motor and he packages those tools with highlight-reel puck skills. His superb playmaking ability and excellent shot release help him generate chances on most shifts. He is often unpredictable when the puck is on his stick as his puck-handling allows him to keep defensive players off balance. It is unwise to leave him alone in the offensive zone due to his scoring capabilities and he is also incredibly dangerous on the rush. Not only does he play with skill, Svechnikov also plays a very physically strong game and he has no fear driving the net for an opportunity. He should develop into a very good NHL player down the road.” Future Considerations has Svechnikov ranked second right now for 2018 and here's a few snippets from their draft guide. "An electrifying, shoot first winger with an explosive, and powerful stride, especially for a larger player. Possesses edge of your seat puck skills and can dangle around opponents or drive through them. Goes to the gritty areas and thrives in traffic. Has near unlimited potential."



4. Guelph Storm - Alexei Toropchenko - Forward
The Storm take a teammate of Dmitri Samorukov's at the recent U18's in Alexei Toropchenko. A 6'3 winger, Toropchenko (a '99 born) was selected in the 4th round by the St. Louis Blues in the 2017 NHL Draft. His draft rankings were a little all over the place, but you have to think that he has the potential to be a top 6 forward for Guelph this year. His reports from St. Louis Blues prospect camp were very encouraging, especially reading about how impressive his speed was. Sounds like a great fit for the Storm.
Scouting Report: Steve Kournianos (of the Draft Analyst) had Toropchenko rated 62nd heading into the draft and says "Toropchenko is super-talented scoring winger who uses his speed, length and tenacity to cause matchup problems. He makes his living causing havoc in front of the net, and his finishing skills off rebounds and loose pucks are among the best the 2017 draft has to offer. Toropchenko is both physical and has game-breaking skills with top-line upside."



7. North Bay Battalion - Filip Chytil - Forward
North Bay opened up an import spot by dealing forward Max Kislinger to Flint and made a pretty big gamble with that open spot. They selected NY Rangers first rounder (in 2017) Filip Chytil. A lanky forward from the Czech Republic, Chytil was very impressive Internationally this year and if he comes to the OHL, he could be an impact player. His agent has already said that it's AHL or back to Europe for Chytil this year, so it looks very unlikely. Bottom line is that I loved what I saw of this kid at the Hlinka and the U18's this year and hope he (or the Rangers) change his mind.
Scouting Report: Future Considerations had Chytil at 70th heading into the draft (which was low compared to other scouting agencies), and had this to say: "Chytil is a terrific skater with excellent balance and edgework. Very effective at carrying the puck into the zone and he uses his good vision to quickly find open lanes. A sneaky good forechecker and stronger on the puck than he looks." The Hockey News had him rated 63rd and said, "strong, two-way pivot who does all the right things."



10. Saginaw Spirit - Martin Necas - Forward
The Spirit continued the trend of OHL teams swinging for the fences with their import selections. Necas is a highly touted prospect who was selected 12th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes at this year's NHL draft. He struggled a bit internationally this year, but was solid in the Czech league against men and should he decide to come over to the OHL, he would be an impact player who could slot on to Saginaw's top line. His speed would play well in the OHL's Western Conference.
Scouting Report: Steve Kournianos of the Draft Analyst says, "Dynamic offensive threat with an exceptional understanding of nearly every facet of the game. He’s an excellent skater with a smooth, graceful stride, using quick bursts and lateral movements to not only breach an opposing zone, but hang onto the puck long to enough for support to arrive. Necas is a two-way player who can be used on the top unit of either the power play or penalty kill, and all plays generally run through him. He is an accurate passer and can create or finish plays with a high degree of difficulty. Slight of frame, Necas has very good balance and is difficult to knock off the puck. He is a fierce competitor who plays with emotion and enthusiasm. A star in the making." The Hockey News had Necas rated 12th and said, "His skating is as good as anybody's. He has high end offensive touch. Necas plays a responsible, mature game and takes care of defense first."



13. Niagara IceDogs - Timothy Liljegren - Defense
Leading up to the draft, Liljegren was rumoured to be the target of the London Knights. Shockingly, the IceDogs swooped in and grabbed him instead. Of course, immediately the Liljegren camp took to the media to say that he would not be coming and that the OHL was not in consideration. The NHL 1st rounder of the Maple Leafs would be a huge get for the IceDogs and the league, but it does seem far fetched at this point. Only hope is that the Leafs (and their OHL heavy front office staff) convince Liljegren to come over to develop.
Scouting Report: Future Considerations, who had Liljegren as the 22nd ranked player for the 2017 draft, says, “Top-tier puck slinger leans towards offense and does well managing the pace of the game. Elite skater that has all the gears and the lateral/transition technique to be shifty on the line or defend the rush. Puck skill and protection ability to hold onto pucks for extended periods of time. Gets rangy defensively a bit to cut men off early and pressure gap control. Not a physical guy, relies on offensive stick skill to turn play around.”



16. Ottawa 67's - Nikita Okhotyuk - Defense
The 67's head to Russia for their first selection in the draft. A 6'1, 2000 born, defender who played at both the Under 17's and the World Junior A (U19) Challenge for Russia this past year. He's got a December birth date, so he's not eligible for the NHL Draft until 2019. Just another piece of a talented, but young, 67's blueline.
Scouting Report: Anton Vasyatin says, "Okhotyuk is one of the most promising Russian defensemen of the 2000 year of birth. Hockey school from Chelyabinsk is known as the best in Russia, and that's why Okhotyuk has increased attention from fans and scouts. He played at least at 10 international tournaments with Russian national teams U16, U17 and U18 (And in one of them he was a team Captain for U17) in last two years. He was one of the key d-men for Belye Medvedi in the MHL (Primary junior league in Russia), has good first pass and doesn't shy to shoot the puck a lot. Needs to be more confident in his defensive game. Likely to become a solid two-way defender in the future. Has a chance to make the Russian Hlinka team this summer."



19. Sudbury Wolves - Zack Malik - Defense
Bloodlines can often be a good thing for the game of hockey, and the Wolves' Import pick hopefully exemplifies that. Zack Malik is the son of former NHL'er Marek Malik. He played a lot for the Czech Republic this year, including the World U17's. Only 6 players under 17 played more than 20 games in the Czech U20 league this past year and Malik was one of them. So he looks like a great pick for the Wolves, who we all know could use an upgrade on the backend.
Scouting Report: Karel Malek says, "Zack is quite a good skater, moves his feet really quick for a tall guy. He should add pounds over the summer to improve his physical game. He has sweet hands, likes to carry the puck and isn't afraid to play even under pressure. Usually makes good decisions. Needs to work on his shot accuracy - shoots really hard but often misses the net. Great character, does everything for a win and team mates also like him off the ice."



22. Sarnia Sting - Hugo Leufvenius - Forward
With the success of Adam Ruzicka this past year, the Sting opt for another huge forward in Swedish center Hugo Leufvenius. The 6'3, 220lbs, 1999 born forward went undrafted in 2017 and will be looking to use the OHL as a way to draw interest from NHL scouts. Possibly looking at a big kid whose game is better suited for the small ice in North America. That said, Leufvenius did not make Team Sweden's roster for the Hlinka or the U18's this past year, so not sure how much of an impact he'll be able to make.
Scouting Report: William Hogberg of FC says, "Thick and sturdy power-winger with an Ovechkin-like build: measuring in at 6'3 and weighing close to 220 lbs. Leufvenius has above-average speed in a straight line but everything else about his skating leaves a lot to be desired, his edgework and overall agility in particular. More of an honest north/south player as he lacks high-end creativity and hockey sense. Is responsible defensively and can be relied upon in his own zone to break up plays and transition up the ice. Has a hard shot, but is not as much of a goalscorer as you would expect as he is too predictable when it comes to shot selection. A power forward in the sense that he plays every shift with intensity and a purpose, but he has not yet learned how to use his big frame fully to his advantage. With the tools at his disposal, Leufvenius could be an impact forward if he refines his skill set, but he has his work cut out for him."



25. Flint Firebirds - Nikita Alexandrov - Defense
Hilariously one of two Nikita Alexandrov's drafted in the Import Draft this year (the other was a forward who went to Charlottetown, QMJHL). The Firebirds version is a massive, 6'6 blueliner who was passed over in this year's NHL Draft (a '99 born) after playing in the MHL this year. Like Leufvenius, here's a kid looking to come over to try to draw the ire of NHL scouts. However, like Leufvenius, Alexandrov did not make any of Russia's international teams this year (like the Hlinka or the U18's), so it looks like a bit of a long shot for him to be an impact player.
Scouting Report: Anton Vasyatin says, "didn't ever play for Team Russia. He was one of the worst HK MVD d-men this season. But I like his skating and consider that he may become a strong stay-at-home defenseman. He also has a very hard shot. Dynamo (HK MVD is its' junior team) has financial problems right now, so maybe he will try to come overseas this summer (but it's only my guess)."



28. Hamilton Bulldogs - Joni Ikonen - Forward
The Bulldogs selected one of my favourite players available for the 2017 NHL Draft this year, in Finnish forward Joni Ikonen. The Montreal Canadiens second rounder was very impressive at the U18's this year where he was among the tournament's leading scorers. His skill level and creativity would provide a massive upgrade to the Bulldogs' forward group. Unfortunately, you can add Ikonen to the list of high profile players selected who have stated that they will not be coming to the CHL and instead will stay in Europe. Again, let's wait and see as sometimes NHL teams can temper those initial shock reactions.
Scouting Report: According to Steve Kournianos, the Draft Analyst, "Ikonen is a dynamic playmaker with top line upside who excels in all three zones. He’s an inside player willing to take whatever punishment awaits as he dangles and spins his way into the tough scoring areas. Ikonen has excellent balance and is a strong puck carrier who can make high-percentage plays either off the rush or after collecting loose pucks during board battles. When the puck is on his stick, you get a sense that he wants to be in command and dictate the tempo, especially on the power play. Ikonen is both fast and incredibly shifty, going full bore to hunt down pucks off the forecheck and stopping on a dime with his head up. He’s a strong competitor and is the last kid looking for a line change as his motor enables him to maintain the same compete level from the beginning of a shift to the very end."



34. Kitchener Rangers - Adam Liska - Forward
Kitchener had an excellent Import Draft and with their first selection they nabbed a highly touted 2018 NHL Draft prospect in Slovakian forward Adam Liska. A late '99 born, Liska was Slovakia's top performer at this year's U18's (outscoring Adam Ruzicka of Sarnia). I thought he was very impressive at that event and should jump right into Kitchener's top 6. He comes into the year as a potential top three round pick (rated in the 3rd round by Future Considerations and the top 40 by Recrutes), but he could rise quickly with a strong year.
Scouting Report: Dennis Schellenberg says, "Adam Liska has captained Slovakian teams this past season and can help a team in many ways. He is a true leader on the ice and communicates very well with team mates. Can play a strong game at both ends of the ice and backchecks hard and with consequence. He has the ability to kill time when playing shorthanded as he can keep the puck away from his own zone with good puck protection and board game. He is strong on the skates and hard to knock off the puck. He does a lot of small things right, although not having high-end offensive upside. Offensively, he is somehow limited in his ability to create scoring chances, however, he possesses good awareness of his line mates and his puck protection skills are good as well and can be used to keep the puck in the offensive zone." In addition to that, Jakub Homola says, "Versatile player, really decent skater, willing to play back and forth. He's physically well-prepared but his size limits and will always limit him a bit. He might be a one of the top rookie in the league."



37. Mississauga Steelheads - Albert Michnac - Forward
Well there's a familiar name. The Steelheads take the former Guelph Storm forward after the Storm released his rights prior to the draft. It's good to see him back in the league. Thought he was great to start last year, but really lost steam in the second half of the year. I think he should be a great depth scoring option for Mississauga this year.
Scouting Report: Interesting to contrast what I wrote about Michnac early on in the year versus what I wrote at the end. Had him in the mid 30's (among OHL'ers for the 2017 Draft) for October and February. In October, "A real sparkplug. Michnac has been extremely noticeable every time I've seen Guelph thus far. Like a little waterbug out there, darting around through traffic. Definitely has some skill too. Would love to see him on the PP more." In February, "The stats don't jump out at you, but if you watch Guelph play, you'll no doubt notice #20 for the Storm. Like a little water bug out there, darting in and out of traffic. Type of guy I could really see producing once he gains confidence in his ability to play with the puck at this level." But by June he had fallen out of my top 50 and I wrote, "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."





40. Oshawa Generals - Nico Gross - Defense
The Generals went to Switzerland for their import selection, taking a highly touted '2000 born defender named Nico Gross. Gross is considered a possible top 3 round selection for the 2018 NHL Draft. This past year he was one of the only 2000 born players at the World Juniors (U20's) and also suited up for Switzlerland at the U18's and the Hlinka (as an underager). Remains to be seen whether he's coming over or not, but he looks like he could have an immediate impact.
Scouting Report: Dennis Schellenberg says, "Nico Gross is an offensive-minded defenceman who likes to join rushes and get things going offensively. He is mobile on his skates which helps him to escape from forecheckers when under pressure with quick turns and overall quickness. Good backwards skater and is pivoting nicely. Gross played pro-hockey last season in Switzerland and has a coolness in his game which is seen rarely at his age and competing against men. He keeps calm when under pressure and can make plays in tight and when pressured by opposing forecheckers as he is good in buying himself time and ice with quick turns when in puck possession. Gross possesses fine hands and can contribute offensively with crisp passes and decen puckhandling. He sometimes reminds me of 2018 top prospect Rasmus Dahlin with his rushes from the neutral zone into the offensive zone while putting up moves and going into one-on-one situations. His biggest room for improvement is definitely the physical game, which does not really exist at all. He does not show great balance on skates and gets knocked down easily when taking a hit. He also showed issues in the men’s league when opponents played the body on him. However, we need to keep in mind at that point that he was 16 and playing in a pro-league is always challenging, especially physically."



43. Peterborough Petes - Gleb Babintsev - Defense
Looking to replace the likes of Spencer, Jenkins, and Prophet, the Petes selected a young Russian defender who they hope can play in the top 6 and help out on the powerplay. He didn't make the Russian U17 team this year, but he did put up some pretty impressive offensive numbers in the Russian U17 league, where he was among the leading scorers from the blueline.
Scouting Report: Anton Vasyatin says, " is an offensive-minded defenseman and is my favourite player of the Russians selected by OHL teams. Reads plays well in his own end. Has good mobility and puck possession. Always knows where he need to be. Could be an elite player with his hockey IQ. Has a chance to make the Russian Hlinka team in the summer."



46. Windsor Spitfires - Kirill Kozhevnikov - Forward
There's no doubt that the Spitfires expect Mikhail Sergachev to stick with the Tampa Bay Lightning this year. And Julius Nattinen is moving on to the pro level. So this was an important Import Draft for the defending Memorial Cup champions. Their first pick was a '99 born Russian forward who was passed over in the 2017 NHL Draft (was ranked in the mid 90's by NHL Central Scouting among European skaters). Kozhevnikov didn't play internationally for Russia this year (e.g. the U18's), but he did play the full year in the MHL where he put up some decent stats, finishing just outside the top 10 in scoring among U18 year olds (as a comparison, Guelph's pick and NHL draft pick Toropchenko was 4th).
Scouting Report: Anton Vasyatin says, "is the only player of this five who made a professional debut. He is compared with Vladimir Tarasenko on his nature. Big, strong, skilled, likes to shoot. A very dangerous attacker who can play physical. He started 16/17 season in the KHL team Yugra, but then was assigned to junior team. They say, Kirill is a little bit lazy, and it's his main problem. Not listed as having a contract right now with Yugra."



49. London Knights - Jesper Bratt - Forward
A 2016 6th rounder by the New Jersey Devils, Jesper Bratt was the Knights' first import selection. Bratt recently signed with the Devils and the assumption was that he'd play in the AHL this year. But this gives New Jersey another option on where to assign him. This would give London a veteran forward to inject into their lineup, a guy who could play in their top 9. That said, this does scream like a "someone else took our guy," selection. Have to wonder if London had someone else in mind, like Liljegren.
Scouting Report: Before the 2016 NHL Draft, Future Considerations had Bratt as the 78th best prospect. They had this to say: "An offensively inclined winger who is dangerous with the puck in space. A strong and explosive skater who maintains possession at top speed. Can be prone to turnovers from trying to do too much at times. Effective at driving the net and has a nasty, quick release. Anticipates plays well in the defensive zone and is a solid penalty killer. Needs to work on his consistency but is a player who could become a primary scoring threat."



52. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds - Rasmus Sandin - Defense
After losing both of their imports next year, the Hounds went big with their two selections; both being top prospects eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft. The first, Sandin, was excellent for Sweden internationally this year (including the U17's) and is considered a potential first round pick next June. He's already signed a contract with Rogle for next year though, so it remains to be seen whether he's going to come over or not. Seems like a long shot right now.
Scouting Report: Future Considerations has Sandin rated 38th for 2018 and says, "Sandin is a gifted two-way defenseman. His hands are an asset, as is his confident passing ability. A decent skater with good speed, but needs to work on his edgework. Strong at fending off forecheckers and possesses excellent defensive awareness. He has some impressive potential as puck mover who can also be effective in his own zone."



55. Owen Sound Attack - Vasili Filyayev - Forward
The Attack go to Belarus for the second year in a row in the Import Draft. With the success of Maksim Sushko, it seems like a worthy gamble. That said, Filyayev's stats certainly aren't impressive. The 6'3, '99 born went pointless at the U18's and definitely didn't light the Belarussian U20 league on fire either. To give you an idea, Sushko was putting up over a point per game in the Belarussian men's second league as a 17 year old when the Attack drafted him. I'd be shocked if this pick turned into anything. Perhaps a friend of Sushko's who the team is hoping can be a diamond in the rough?
Scouting Report: None of my contacts had any real, solid information of Filyayev. So here's tome snippets of interviews with Dale DeGray, one from the Sun Times in Owen Sound, and the other from Bayshore Broadcasting. Courtesy Rob Gowan's article, "He is skilled and is an average skater, but he has very good vision and is a smart player." Meanwhile, courtesy Kevin Bernard, "He's a big body who is a presence down the middle of the ice and combines a high level of skill with great skating to make an impact on the game." DeGray later goes on to compare him to Sushko.



57. Erie Otters - Stephane Patry - Forward
With their only selection in the import draft, the Otters selected an undersized Swiss forward who played for Switzerland a ton internationally this year. This included the U18's, where he played as an underager, which tells you that he must be one of the more well regarded Swiss players in his age group. He was also the 3rd highest scoring U17 player in the Swiss U20 league last year. Patry, a 2000 born, looks like he could be a potential top 9 player for a re-tooling Otters team next year.
Scouting Report: Dennis Schellenberg says, "Stephane Patry is an undersized Swiss forward who possesses good offensive upside. He has good hands and can stickhandle very nicely. Patry is a player who is good around the net and can contribute offensively big time. He is smooth on his skates and can move over the ice with good speed and agility. Given his smallish size, he can outskate bigger opponents with his speed. He spent the season at U20-level and took over responsibility in important moments of games, which is good to see as he was one of the younger players on Servette’s U20 roster. He can play all game situations and also saw ice time when playing shorthanded. Although he is rather small in size and underdeveloped in his physical game, he does not shy away to go into board battles. Patry is a good skater, however, I would like to see his first steps getting more explosive."



70. Saginaw Spirit - Tom-Eric Bappert - Defense
With their second import selection (due to Markus Niemelainen heading back to Finland), the Spirit look to Germany for a potential replacement. Bappert was the highest scoring defender on the Germany U18 team that played in the 2nd division tournament (but failed to qualify for the top division next year). The '99 born blueliner wasn't selected in the 2017 NHL Draft, so he'll likely be looking to come over to play well enough to draw attention from NHL scouts.
Scouting Report: Chapin Landvogt says, "We're talking about a defenseman who is a bit of an all-rounder and has a decent frame to work with. He's undergone excellent physical development in recent years and has become a pretty nice physical specimen who brings a little bit of everything to the table. Still, he isn't going to show up in North America with expectations of having an (immediate) offensive impact. He'll need time to adjust to what will be better competition and a lot more games. The U18 national team had him firmly planted on one of the power play units this past winter and he's always produced at an above-average, but not necessarily outstanding pace. What can be expected is that he'll have a high willingness to learn and is a capable skater with decent lateral movement. Furthermore, he has shown himself ready to play with physicality and looks like the type of player who just needs to continually work on everything bit-by-bit in order to progress accordingly as an all-rounder. He'll be ready to place an emphasis on defensive assignments. There is a very good possibility that his developmental curve in the OHL will be similar to that of recent Winnipeg Jets draftee Leon Gawanke. He's also a likely candidate to be on the German U20 team next winter in France, should Saginaw release him for the event."



76. Ottawa 67's - Oliver True - Forward
The 67's choose a second time, but still retain the rights to star Artur Tyanulin, in case he decides he wants to return as an OA. If he does, only one of their picks will play. True looks like a solid player though. Was only one of three U17 (2000 born) players to see full time action in the Danish top league against men, a league which is filled with former OHL stars (like leading scorer Dale Mitchell). His father, Soren, was an NHL Draft pick and his cousin is Winnipeg Jets young gun (and former CHL'er), Nikolaj Ehlers. Good bloodlines. Good production. This guy could be a diamond in the rough.
Scouting Report: None of my contacts had solid information on True, but Chapin Landvogt did put his production into perspective for us. "He's obviously Alex True's brother and thus, also a cousin of a one Mr. Ehlers. He's not as tall as Alex, but also not as skinny as his brother was at the same stage. He played a TON of hockey last season, even slotting in for 32 games in Denmark's highest pro league which is almost at about the ECHL level. Four points in 32 games is something many of the more talented 16-year olds in recent years have achieved, but doesn't quite compare to what i.e. Rondbjerg did the season before. In 55 total games last season, he 73 penalty minutes, most of them in the junior leagues." Also, from the Ottawa 67's website, new GM James Boyd says, "“Oliver True is a right-winger with excellent skill. With a year of professional hockey under his belt in Denmark during 2016-2017 season, Oliver has experience against older and stronger players,” commented Boyd. “His brother played for WHL Champions Seattle Thunderbirds during 2016-2017.”



94. Kitchener Rangers - Rickard Hugg - Forward
As mentioned, the Rangers had a very solid import draft. Their second pick also has a chance to be a top 6 impact forward for them. Any list I saw of the biggest surprises that went undrafted in the NHL this year contained Hugg, the captain of the Swedish U18 team. He was also named the top forward in the junior U20 league this year. Hugg has long been considered one of the top forwards of his age group in Sweden and he should be a solid player for the Rangers. With a good year, he could find himself back on the NHL radar.
Scouting Report: Future Considerations had Hugg ranked 111th heading into the draft and said, "Hugg is an offensively engaged player who controls the puck well and has a strong ability to set up his linemates. He isn't the swiftest skater but has good overall mobility and balance. He makes up for his lack of speed with excellent hockey sense. He needs to improve his defensive commitment, but his reads and understanding defensively show promise. A projected two-way center but with lots of room to improve." Interestingly enough, The Hockey News has a bit of a conflicting opinion of him and has him ranked 87th, saying "heady two-way playmaker makes linemates better but needs work on his skating."



106. Windsor Spitfires - Lev Starikov - Defense
As mentioned, the Spits get a 3rd Import to protect because of Sergachev's first round status (and likely NHL exit). Starikov is a behemoth (6'6), 2000 born defender who also has a late birthday and isn't eligible until 2019 for the NHL draft. Lots of time for him to develop so Windsor may have to be patient. But among 2000 born defenders, Starikov did have the most points in the MHL, the KHL's junior feeder league. That's very promising.
Scouting Report: Anton Vasyatin says, "is a huge defender who can play clean hockey without penalties. A very consistent player who tries to be extremely useful when he is on the ice - doesn't matter it's full strength, power play or penalty kill. But his gritty game is a room for improvement."



109. London Knights - Adam Boqvist - Defense
The Knights gave up the rights to Janne Kuokkanen to make a second pick in the draft (I suppose he's definitely heading to the AHL next year). The pick was a very highly regarded defender for next year's NHL draft. Boqvist played at the U17's and U18's this year and seems to be universally ranked as a potential lottery selection in 2018. The bad news is that it seems he won't be coming. His agent stated that he'll be staying in Sweden next year, for his draft year. Maybe a stash for next year?
Scouting Report: Future Considerations has Boqvist rated 14th going into next year draft and says, "Boqvist is a confident, puck moving blueliner. Solid and efficient skater who keeps the game simple. Plays the point very well and keeps pucks in at the line. Very active stick at both ends and very active feet that help him contain the attack. Thinks the game at a high level and is a potential top four, two-way defender. Size is his only drawback."



112. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds - Rasmus Kupari - Forward
Previously mentioned, the Hounds used their second import pick on another top prospect heading into the 2018 NHL Draft; Rasmus Kupari. Kupari is a talented two-way center who played at the U17's and at the U18's (as an underager) this year. I thought he was noticeable at the U18's as a depth player for the Silver medalist Finns. Unfortunately it looks like he's staying in Finland next year with the Karpat program. Again, still early so lots of time for him to change his mind. He sounds like the perfect player for the Greyhounds program.
Scouting Report: Marco Bambino of McKeen's and the awesome FinnProspects, says, "Rasmus Kupari is a versatile two-way center with a lot of potential. He's a powerful skater with good edge work, mobility and quickness in his first few strides. He works hard away from the puck, being consistently strong on the forecheck. He takes away passing lanes effectively from opponents. A highly intelligent and responsible player defensively. He has poise, skill and awareness with the puck. Has quick hands, handles the puck well at top speed and shows puck protection skill along the boards. His offensive game seemed to get better throughout the past season and he played really well in the U20 league playoffs. He is signed with Kärpät in Finland until 2019, but would be an excellent add to the Greyhounds in the OHL. Kupari will be a top pick in the 2018 NHL Draft."



BONUS - Barrie Colts - Alexei Lipanov - Forward
I thought I would include a report on Lipanov here, considering he's signed to come over and play with the Colts after being drafted in last year's Import Draft. He was a 3rd rounder of the Tampa Bay Lightning this year (although fell in the draft as he was ranked in the early second by most scouting agencies). This Barrie Colts franchise sure has turned around their rebuild pretty quickly.
Scouting Report: Future Considerations had Lipanov as the 43rd ranked prospect for 2017 and said, "Lipanov is a speedy, slick puckhandler who is an explosive skater. His understanding of the offensive zone and on the ice is impressive. He is also a tenacious forechecker and a solid defensive player who can use his body to separate his check from the puck. He is still quite lanky so will need to add considerable strength, but he possesses sky high upside." The Hockey News had Lipanov ranked 42nd heading into the draft and said, "First jumped on the radar at the World Junior A challenge where he paired with Andrei Svechnikov to help the team to Bronze. An Igor Larianov type of player who is a playmaker, good on faceoffs and a solid team guy. He has high end hockey sense."