The Minnesota Wild are today's feature.
1. Dmitri Sokolov - Sudbury Wolves
Fantastic season for Sokolov as he emerged as one of the league's elite goal scorers, jumping from 30 to 48. Thought his skating definitely looked improved this year, as did his conditioning. It's obvious that he's worked on both. His hands are so good, that even making some minor improvements to his explosiveness, made him that much more difficult to contain off the rush. Love how aggressive he is at driving the net too. Just attacks the middle of the ice and a lot more of his goals were scored there this season, which is encouraging because that's where he's going to need to score at the next level. And his shot looked even better this year; harder and more accurate and he is doing a better job getting it off while at top speed. Next year he'll return to the OHL and to Sudbury. Sokolov will look to continue to improve his skating and conditioning. I'd also like to see him utilize his creativity and skill with the puck to be a better playmaker, using his linemates a little more effectively. I think he'll be a 50 goal scorer and I'd love to see him with 35+ assists too.
2. Ivan Lodnia - Erie Otters
Lodnia did absolutely everything asked of him this year by Erie. When needed, he performed very well on a scoring line. And when needed (like during Erie's strong Championship run), he showed a lot of guts as a two-way energy player on the 3rd line. His versatility was one of the main reasons Erie captured the OHL Championship. But with so many graduations heading into next year, the Otters are going to need Lodnia to be a top line player now; a role I think he's ready for (if he stays in Erie...as there have been a lot of rumblings about a possible deal as the Otters start their rebuild). One thing I'd really like to see is for Lodnia to upgrade his top speed and acceleration even further. He's got terrific agility and edgework, but I think as a straight line skater, he's good, but not great. And as an undersized player, I think he needs to get even quicker. Also want to see that tenaciousness that he showed late in the year as a 3rd liner kept as he transitions to a first liner. Keep that intensity and energy to help him utilize his strong puck skill and hockey sense. I see a huge jump in offensive production coming next year, perhaps even as a high as 85+ points.
3. Gustav Bouramman - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Have to admit that I don't think it was a great year for Bouramman. After finishing the 2015/16 season so strongly, I had high expectations for him. But I actually felt his game regressed this year. His defensive game didn't really improve (he still needs to play with more intensity in the defensive end), but his offensive game wasn't nearly as sharp. When I saw the Hounds this year, he was very turnover prone and his decision making with the puck really wasn't terrific. Also thought he wasn't nearly as aggressive rushing the puck or jumping up in the play to try to use his skating ability to make things happen. The dip in production certainly gives merit to that. His point shot never developed as much of a weapon either. So we're left with an average sized defender with good mobility and puck skill, but who's vision and playmaking ability, and whose defensive ability remain average. He'll turn pro next year and play in the AHL. I'd assume he'll probably take turns rotating in and out of the lineup and play a third pairing role to start. Maybe a 15-20 point season from the back end is a reasonable expectation.
4. Dante Salituro - London Knights
Kind of feel bad for Salituro. He left the league as an impact player in 2015/16. Turned pro to start this year, seeing time in the AHL and ECHL. But ultimately was sent back to the OHL for his overage year when the London Knights acquired him. Tough to get that taste of pro hockey and then go back to junior. Also tough when you're heading to such a strong team that's asking you to play an extremely limited depth role. Was a 4th liner during London's stretch drive and playoff appearance. And quite frankly, Salituro isn't the type to excel in that sort of energy line role. He's at his best when he's driving the play offensively and featured on the powerplay (although he did see some powerplay time in London). I think a lack of elite skating ability still hinders Salituro from being a dominant offensive force. The hockey sense is strong, but undersized offensive players who lack explosiveness can often struggle in the pros. That was the case to start this year and I'm worried it could be the case next year too. I'd expect him to play most of the year in the ECHL, where he should put up some decent numbers to give himself a chance to be an AHL'er the year after.
5. Jacob Golden - London Knights
Golden is an extremely tough guy to evaluate at this time. Saw limited action in his first season in the OHL. And when he did see action, a lot of it was as a 4th line forward. Skating is definitely an asset for Golden. That's extremely obvious when you watch him play. But how much potential does he have as a puck mover and offensive player? How will he progress as a two-way defender? His potential is a mystery right now IMO. Next year he'll return to London and should finally see consistent playing time as part of London's third pairing. If he performs well, he could likely see some secondary powerplay time too. Getting into consistent action and putting up 25-30 points would be a terrific year for Golden IMO, and would give us a great idea of what he's capable of moving forward. Those who saw him play in minor midget contend that he's got a lot of offensive potential, so let's see!