Friday, May 22, 2015

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft - Part 4: 10-1

My list reaches an end. I bring to you my top 10 OHL players for this year's NHL Entry Draft.

10. Mackenzie Blackwood - Goaltender - Barrie Colts
Super inconsistent this year. He's likely still one of the first goalies drafted in 2015 though. The overall package is going to be too tantalizing for NHL teams to pass up. The good thing is that he finished the year strong with a good playoffs, ultimately the final impression he made on scouts. At 6'4, 215lbs, Blackwood has NHL size and then some. He plays a traditional butterfly style and takes up a ton of the net still when he's down on his pads. Blackwood also moves well and is capable of some great saves going post to post. With his positioning, he really takes up the bottom of the net well and swallows up shots from the perimeter. When he's on, he's probably the most difficult goaltender in the OHL to beat. His positioning, focus, and rebound control will need continued refinements, but he's a very solid net minder and likely a very solid 2nd round pick this June. Be sure to check out Blackwood's appearance on "The Pipeline Show." Also check out Mackenzie's draft tracker segment on Yahoo.

9. Vince Dunn - Defence - Niagara IceDogs
Dunn started slowly (like the rest of the IceDogs), but his game improved every month. In his final 32 games (including the playoffs), he had 41 points (including 17 goals). Prorate that to a full season and you're looking at some pretty ridiculous numbers. The 0.5 goals per game rate is particularly impressive. Offensively, Dunn is a juggernaut. His ability to handle the puck at top speed rivals that of some of the best forwards in this draft. He's able to create a lot of extra time and space for himself with his slick puck handling skill. Dunn is also super aggressive in jumping up in the play, which is where a lot of his goals come from. He's adept at sneaking behind defences and jumping into the slot. His skating is also a big time strength, as he pushes the pace of play. Defensively, there are some things to like for sure. He's not big, but he's not afraid of mixing things up and he does a good job of hustling to get back to the defensive end after rushes. And he uses his mobility to his advantage defensively. I think the one negative is his decision making at times. Because he's ultra aggressive offensively, he can be prone to some poor choices when it comes to forcing passes up ice, or bad pinches. But as he gains experience, these types of mistakes could be limited. Might be one of the top pure offensive blue liners available this year and that could have him drafted inside the first round. Be sure to check out Vince's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."Also check out Vince's draft tracker segment from Yahoo.

8. Travis Dermott - Defence - Erie Otters
Easily one of the most underrated prospects for this year's draft. He's the number one defender for the top team in the Western Conference and that has to count for something. He was also one of the best defenders in this year's OHL playoffs, again something that deserves recognition. Is he the biggest defender available this year (at 5'11)? No. Is he the best offensively? No. But his intelligence at both ends, overall mobility, and high intensity level make him a near sure bet to be an NHL defender. Think Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers. Dermott is the type of player every good team needs. While his offensive skill level isn't flashy, he gets the job done by making a great first pass, being confident with the puck and running the point on the power play effectively. Defensively, he's incredibly reliable. He rarely gets beat to loose pucks and is almost always in the right position. He also blocks shots with the best of them. As the year went on, he played more and more aggressively in his own end and really seems to excel when he's engaged physically. The battle for top defender from the OHL was a close one this year, but I give the slight nod to Dermott because of how well rounded he is and because I believe he's going to be a longtime NHL player. Be sure to check out Travis' draft tracker segment on Yahoo.

7. Zachary Senyshyn - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
It's all about upside when it comes to Senyshyn. Size and speed on the wing is not the easiest thing to find in the draft. At 6'2 (and likely still growing an inch or two), Senyshyn is not just quick, he's one of the OHL's best skaters. He explodes down the wing, needing only a few steps to hit full speed. And he's not a perimeter player either. He uses that speed to drive the net, generating not only a lot of scoring chances for himself, but for his line mates too. On paper his production this year was inconsistent, but I think that had more to do with wavering ice time on an incredibly deep Sault Ste. Marie club. Senyshyn is still a raw player though. His work without the puck offensively needs some improvement and as he gets stronger, I'd expect him to develop even more of a power game. And under Sheldon Keefe, I also expect his two-way game to develop to the point where his speed can be used as an asset defensively and on the PK. I do truly believe in his potential though and I think he's the perfect player for today's NHL. When he gets more ice time next year, I expect his game to really explode. All it takes is one NHL team to really like you and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him drafted in the 25-35 range. Be sure to check out Zach's draft tracker segment on Yahoo.

6. Travis Konecny - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Konecny is a hard prospect not to like. He plays the game the right way and is a very well rounded player. At the beginning of the year, he struggled to find his game, and seemed to be putting too much pressure on himself. His speed is electric, but the creativity was being stifled because he was forcing plays that weren't there. Towards the New Year (including a fantastic showing at the CHL Top Prospect's Game), the light really seemed to turn on for him. He's at his best using his speed in short bursts offensively, dictating pace by stopping and starting quickly. He's also at his best when he's engaging physically, throwing big hits and agitating on the forecheck. Konecny also possesses a fantastic wrist shot with a pro calibre release. As the captain of the 67's, it goes without saying that his leadership qualities are also significant. I think that, really, the only strike against Konecny is size. At 5'10, Konecny plays a much larger game (and needs to play that way to be successful). And he's run into some injury issues, including a shoulder injury that kept him out late in the year and in the playoffs. So there are durability questions. In a lot of ways, it resembles Robby Fabbri's situation last year. Come draft day, watching where Konecny goes is one of the things I'm most curious about. Be sure to check out Travis' appearance on "The Pipeline Show."Also check out Travis' draft tracker segment on Yahoo.

5. Pavel Zacha - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Such a difficult player to get a read on this year for me. I saw Sarnia live only twice this year and Zacha did not play in either game. So I have to go off of what I've seen televised (OHL, Under 20's & 18's), which isn't ideal for me. Because of injuries, suspension, and the U20's, Zacha played in only 37 regular season games this year. First the good. I was completely surprised by just how physical of a player Zacha was. He plays the game very hard and is already very adept at using his size to gain and maintain possession in the offensive end. His speed is only OK, but his overall skating ability is quite good for his size (his balance is terrific). As such, he can be very difficult to separate from the puck. Zacha actually seems to be most effective off the rush, generating chances by driving wide to the net. He also has above average hands and possesses the ability to make defenders miss, in addition to driving through them. Zacha's shot is a weapon for him and he definitely projects as a goal scorer at the next level. Now the bad (or at least my concerns). While Sarnia is not blessed with the most talented offensive roster, I felt like Zacha struggled in using his line mates in my viewings. He's able to create chances using his size, but I rarely saw him make a great pass or demonstrate above average vision. In a lot of ways, I'm getting flashbacks to Radek Faksa in his OHL draft year and he certainly has not developed the way people thought he would. All that said, the size and skill package of Zacha is going to be very alluring. Up until about a month ago I had Konecny ahead of him, but with Konecny's injury and Zacha's strong play at the U18's, I swapped them for my final list. In a lot of ways, they are similar players, but different sizes. Be sure to check out Zacha's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."

4. Lawson Crouse - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Perhaps the most polarizing draft prospect this year. In a lot of ways, he's not polarizing though. If you look at the lists of scouting agencies, he's been consistently high all year. And I'm sure that's the case with NHL scouts too. It's the general fan base (the armchair scouts) who don't seem to be too fond of Crouse. They see the average statistical output and wonder why he's rated so highly. Watch him play for more than a couple of games and you'll see why. Crouse is a coaches dream. He's already one of the most complete players in the OHL. His defensive awareness and anticipation is fantastic and he uses his size very effectively to defend on the back check. Crouse is also a real throw back power forward who actually plays the way he's built (at 6'3, 210lbs) and is only going to become increasingly more difficult to play against when he gets even stronger (he probably suits up as an NHL'er at 6'4, 230+lbs). Offensively, his game is not flashy, but it is effective. He's become a very good player below the hash marks and uses his skating ability to take pucks hard to the net. He's certainly capable of creating his own scoring chances and that's what he's had to do most of this year (with Kingston lacking a true playmaker when Bennett and Watson were injured). Crouse's hands and wrist shot profile him as a goal scorer at the NHL level. He's certainly more than just a scrub. When Bennett and Watson did return, just look at the spike in his numbers. In his final 27 games (including playoffs), Crouse put up 15 goals (prorated to a 38 goal season) and had over a point per game. While he certainly didn't make any fans at the end of the season with his actions at the end of the playoffs (and subsequent suspension), you can't ignore his potential to play in the National Hockey League. I think a guy like Andrew Ladd is a perfect comparison and in today's NHL, if you want to win in the playoffs, you need guys like Crouse. Be sure to check out Lawson's appearance on "The Pipeline Show." Also check out Crouse's draft tracker segment on Yahoo.

3. Dylan Strome - Forward - Erie Otters
The OHL's leading scorer this year (thanks to a magnificent 6 point effort on the final day), Strome is a fantastic prospect. Any team who drafts one of the top 3 rated guys from the OHL is getting a potential superstar talent. But you've got to rank them and I've got Strome 3rd. Ultimately, I think what puts Strome behind Marner is that he's not quite as tenacious without the puck, and is not as good of a skater. Marner impacts the game on a few more levels. But that shouldn't take anything away from Strome's accomplishments this year. The true test for Strome was playing without McDavid in the lineup this year. Having to go up against the top defensive units of the opposition. And while his numbers did dip in December, he still managed to average over a point per game and he kept the Otters afloat. Strome's best assets are definitely his hands and his hockey IQ. Offensively, he's not incredibly flashy, but he's just downright effective. Like his Erie teammate Mr. McDavid, Strome thinks the game on a different level than his peers and as such, he's able to see scoring lanes open up before they open. He's one of those "always in the right spot," kind of guys. And while he may not be a power forward, he's exceptional at operating in traffic because of how good his hands are. NHL teams are all about centres with size and skill these days and Strome has that in spades. The things Strome lacks in (skating, aggressiveness away from the puck) can be improved. His best assets can not be taught and it makes him a coveted player. Be sure to check out Dylan's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."Also check out Strome's draft tracker segment on Yahoo.

2. Mitch Marner - Forward - London Knights
At this point, the only concerns about Marner are his size and the concussion he suffered at the end of the year. His late season injury seems to have raised some questions about his durability, given his tenacious style of play. Let me remind people. This is a guy who has missed only 9 games the last two years, and some of those were not from injury. Hockey is a physical game. People get hurt. Pavel Zacha is a 6'3 and he had way more difficulty with injuries this year than Marner did. A players size is not as important as it once was, and besides, it's not like Marner is 5'8. We're talking about a player who is pushing 6'0. He'll be fine. Like Strome, Marner's production is driven by his terrific hockey sense. He's an exceptional playmaker based on how well he reads situations in the offensive end, particularly below the goal line. But unlike Strome (to a certain degree), Marner's success also comes from his motor. He's a tireless worker who plays the game at a very high tempo. Whether he has the puck or not, speed and energy is the name of the game. Darting in across the blue line off the rush; flying into the offensive zone on the forecheck; working hard on the back check. Marner is a force to be reckoned with in all situations. The hands, shot, vision, creativity are all well above average. In any other year, he's the type of guy who garners attention for first overall. But c'est la vie, an NHL team choosing 3rd or 4th is just going to have to settle for him. And I don't think they'll be disappointed. Be sure to check out Marner's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."

1. Connor McDavid - Forward - Erie Otters
Seriously, at this point do I even have to complete a write up on McDavid? I feel like I'm beating a dead horse here. Everyone knows about his blazing speed. His ability to go zero to 60 in the blink of an eye is rivalled by few pro players, let alone junior prospects. Everyone knows about the hands, stick handling ability, and creativity. His ability to make players miss is impressive, but the way he does it at top speed is what is truly impressive. Everyone knows about the hockey IQ. I swear that sometimes it's like he has eyes in the back of his head. His ability to see the ice and create scoring chances from nothing is unrivalled. The way he thinks the game is at a level of which I have never seen in a junior prospect (including Crosby). Perhaps what is not known is his work ethic, which is also among the best of any player in junior hockey. While many of his skills are natural in nature, that does not mean that he's unmotivated. He continues to improve every year (which is saying something) because of the work he puts in every offseason to get better. Look at how he's elevated his game in recent years when he has needed to. He's led Canada to international gold at the U18 and U20 level. And this year he finished only a few points away from breaking the OHL playoff scoring record. Every challenge is met head on by McDavid and I expect that to continue as he moves on to play for (you'd have to assume) the Edmonton Oilers next year. Oilers' fans probably won't have to wait too long for their first recipient of the Art Ross since the Great 99. Crosby took two years to win one, let's see how quickly McDavid can do it. Be sure to check out McDavid's appearance on "The Pipeline Show." Also be sure to check out McDavid's draft tracker segment on Yahoo.

Good luck to all the OHL players at the draft this year!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft - Part 3: 30-11

Here is part 3, players ranked 30 through 11.

30. Michael McNiven - Goaltender - Owen Sound Attack
In the first half of the year, McNiven was one of the OHL's top net minders. Even though he was spitting time with Jack Flinn, McNiven was incredibly impressive and seemed to be shooting up the draft charts. Then the CHL Top Prospect's Game came. McNiven was not sharp in the event and it appeared to shatter his confidence. He went back to the OHL and struggled mightily for a few months, which caused the Attack to go with the surging Jack Flinn on a full time basis. By the the time McNiven seemed to right himself (the final month of the year), Flinn had established himself as the starter for the playoffs. McNiven is still a solid goaltending prospect and I think someone is going to get a good one in him, later than they would have been able to had he not gone through his rough spot. He's a big kid who really fills up the net, but he's also athletic and is able to play the butterfly style effectively. He also had a tremendous glove hand. When he was off, his positioning and rebound control really hurt him (was simply fighting the puck), but that's correctable. A steal (IMO) if he goes later than the 5th. Be sure to check out McNiven's draft tracker segment on Yahoo.

29. Anthony Cirelli - Forward - Oshawa Generals
A tough guy for me to get a read on this year. When you're watching the Generals, he's not a guy that stands out because he's consistently had the opportunity to play with some fantastic players (like Michael Dal Colle). But he finds a way to reach the score sheet and do things to help his team win. His hockey sense is strong, as is his play away from the puck. I think the thing I have a tough time guaging is his offensive potential, because he doesn't play a ton with the puck on his stick. In 2008, I found it similarly difficult to gauge the potential of a young Windsor forward named Adam Henrique (because of the role he was asked to play). And he's turned out OK. Next year will certainly be telling for Cirelli.

28. Matt Luff - Forward - Belleville Bulls/Hamilton Bulldogs
Luff is a good sized winger who does most of his damage in close. He has very good hands and he's great at using his size to protect the puck. He works the cycle well and is aggressive in attacking the crease when he doesn't have the puck. His skating does need some work and it limits his effectiveness off the rush, but he has the potential to be a great power forward once that improves (because of his ability to maintain puck possession). His goal scoring numbers are a little low for the type of player he is, but I think he was just a little snake bitten this year. His shot and hands in close project him as a goal scorer as he gains more confidence IMO (and gets quicker to loose pucks).

27. Justin Lemcke - Defence - Belleville Bulls/Hamilton Bulldogs
An underrated player for this year's draft. Seems to be left out of the conversation among OHL blue liners because his stats aren't as sexy. But Lemcke was a horse for the Bulls this year, playing a ton of minutes in all situations. He's got great size at 6'2, 200lbs and really gained the confidence to play with more of an edge as the season went on. With his terrific mobility and his increasing desire to assert himself physically, he profiles as a big time player in his own end. But his offensive skills are improving as well. He really seemed to get better in this regard as the season went on, especially when it came to using his skating ability to jump up in the play as the 3rd or 4th man in. He's still got some work to do with his first pass and decision making with the puck, but the necessary skills are present for him to develop into a quality defender at both ends.

26. Jeremiah Addison - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Addison was pretty good all year for the 67's, but he was absolutely sensational in the opening round of the OHL playoffs. He's only average sized (6'0), but he plays a power game. He drives hard to the net, with and without the puck and really opens up the ice for his line mates. Addison is also a very effective forechecker, often entering the zone like a freight train. Overall, he's proved himself to be a very capable complimentary offensive player. The next step is obviously for him to improve his puck skills to create more of his own chances, but all things considered, he's a nice power forward prospect for the middle rounds of the draft. Be sure to check out Addison's draft tracker segment from Yahoo.

25. Dante Salituro - Forward - Ottawa 67's
A fearless offensive player who plays much larger than his 5'9 frame. Excels in high traffic areas, especially near the crease, where the puck is magnetically drawn to him. His motor is very high, as he consistently beats defenders to loose pucks and has excellent vision and hockey sense to create scoring chances below the hash marks. Salituro also has a great shot/release which projects him as a goal scorer at the next level. Basically, he has everything you want in an offensive player but size. The question is whether his size hinders his ability to perform at the NHL level? At the OHL level, his game is built around energy and timing, so will he be able to beat NHL defenders to pucks the way he does OHL players? I can understand why some scouting agencies have him low, but I think he's worth a shot in the mid rounds to see how he develops. You can't teach some of the things he possesses. Be sure to check out Salituro's draft tracker segment from Yahoo.

24. Gustav Bouramman - Defence - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Bouramman is a smart and slick offensive defenseman who had a very good first year in the OHL. The Swedish born defender finished 14th in the OHL in scoring from the backend this year. He's not huge (6'0), but he makes very smart decisions with the puck. He is able to start the rush with a good first pass, but can also push the tempo by leading the rush out of the zone himself. His skating stride is very smooth and it aids him in a variety of ways. Despite being fairly slight, Bouramman does a great job of evading the forecheck by using his strong mobility. He rarely makes mistakes with the puck in his own end. That said, he isn't the most aggressive player in jumping into the rush and isn't a huge threat to score at this point in time. Defensively, he's a solid stick defender who has pretty good positioning defensively. But he needs to add size and can be overmatched at times in front of the net (part of the reason why he was scratched towards the end of the Erie/SSM playoff series). While the physical tools aren't incredibly impressive, the intelligence with and without the puck makes him a great candidate to be a point producer from the backend at the next level.

23. Chris Martenet - Defence - London Knights
Behemoth defender who was a big (no pun intended) riser over the course of this year. The 6'7 blue liner took some time adjusting to the OHL level after transferring from the USHL (where he won a championship with Indiana). He looked stiff and rigid early in the year, but as he gained confidence, his game really took off. By season's end, he was active at both ends of the ice and flashed surprising offensive talent. He moves well for a big man and can jump up in the play to use his big shot from the point. He's still learning how to use his size more effectively, but with his reach he's a very tough guy to get around (especially when you factor in his mobility). And by season's end, he was really playing quite physical. Once he adds some bulk to his frame, he won't be a fun guy to play against. While I've got him 27th, don't be surprised if he's off the board by the end of the 2nd round. There's bound to be one NHL team who is enamored with his size and potential.

22. Cameron Lizotte - Defence - Peterborough Petes
Absolutely love this player. He improved a ton from the beginning of the season to the end. He has all the makings of developing into a defensive beast. He's already one of the league's most feared body checkers (as displayed in the coaches poll). But as the season went on, he chased the hit less and less and has learned to let the play come to him more. A physical player who can pick his spots is very valuable. He's also one of the OHL's top shot blockers (again, as voted on by OHL coaches) and is a fearless defensive player. Best of all, he has good mobility, the key to defending in the NHL now. His offensive skill set is very raw (decision making, puck skill, confidence), but there is potential there too. Bottom line, Lizotte has everything you want in a shutdown defender prospect.

21. Colton White - Defence - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Absolutely massive potential. White is just scratching the surface of what he's capable of in the OHL. He's a fantastic skater who only needs a few strides to get to full speed when exiting his own zone. At times this year, he showed an ability to gain entry into the offensive end with ease, but simply needs to gain the confidence to do this with regularity. I think he also profiles as a power play quarterback based on his ability to keep pucks in at the blue line and by how well he sees the ice on the point. Improving his shot will be critical though. Defensively, he uses his mobility to stay ahead of forwards off the rush and is not afraid of taking the body to take forwards out of the play. Adding strength is a priority to make him more efficient in the corners, but he shows great determination in his own end. Really all he needs is greater ice time. Once he starts getting consistent power play time and off the 3rd pairing, he could breakout in a big way. Could be part of the top pairing in SSM next year with Gustav Bouramman (a guy he showed great chemistry with this year).

20. Brett McKenzie - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Another personal favourite of mine for this year's draft. Anyone who is familiar with the OHL knows that Stan Butler eases in young forwards, making sure that they're responsible two way players before unleashing them offensively (see Nick Paul, Mike Amadio, Barclay Goodrow, etc in recent years). McKenzie is no different. A former 1st rounder of the Battalion, McKenzie has done exactly what Butler has asked of him thus far, but has more offensive potential than he has shown to the naked eye. As a midget player, he was known as one of the most skilled offensive players in the GTA, showcasing terrific skill with the puck and a tremendous release. As an OHL player, he's developed into a great two-way player who uses his speed to chase down loose pucks and go hard to the net. He has excelled playing down low, working the cycle and does a great job of opening up ice for his line mates. He's also become increasingly involved physically. Best of all, he was terrific in the playoffs this year, where I thought he was one of the Battalion's most consistent performers. Next year, I expect him to breakout big time when the leash comes off (so to speak) and he's able to utilize his creativity with the puck more.

19. Rasmus Andersson - Defence - Barrie Colts
Andersson is perhaps the OHL draft eligible who perplexes people the most. The general public sees a reasonably sized defender who finished 3rd in scoring from the blue line this year and wonders why he's not being considered a shoe in for the first round of the draft. There's obviously more than meets the eye here. First the good. Andersson is a smart player with the puck on his stick, who's stick handling ability creates time and space for him to cut through the neutral zone to create scoring chances off the rush. He's also a terrific power play QB who has a knack for getting his shot through to the net and who exhibits poise and patience walking the blue line. Andersson is also a willing physical combatant at times who is not afraid of throwing his weight around. All that said, here are the concerns that I think make him more a 2nd/3rd round guy (and not a first rounder). One, his overall mobility is only average and he really needs to upgrade his first few steps. It can be hard for "slower" offensive defence man to put up points in today's fast paced NHL. Secondly, his decision making without the puck is questionable. His decisions to pinch at times can put his team at a disadvantage defensively, especially when you consider he can be slow getting back. His intensity level in his own end also wavers. In particular, I thought he struggled in this year's playoffs for Barrie and was one of the main reasons for their relatively early exit. The offensive skills are too much to overlook, but he has some warts in his game which lowers his draft ranking. Be sure to check out Andersson's draft tracker segment from Yahoo.

18. Thomas Schemitsch - Defence - Owen Sound Attack
Schemitsch is a late '96 defender who had an absolutely fantastic season for Owen Sound. From start to finish, he was one of the most integral components to the Attack's strong season. He plays in all situations for Owen Sound and sees a ton of ice time. Offensively, he does a great job of reading the play and is very effective at jumping up into the play to get himself scoring opportunities. He spent some time at forward in his minor hockey days and you can see how beneficial that's been for his vision and smarts in the offensive end. Defensively, he's also a very smart player who does a great job of getting his stick in passing lanes and tying up forwards in front of the net. At 6'4, I think there is some room for him to use his size a bit more to his advantage in his own end, but that could come with increased confidence. Schemitsch will also need to upgrade his skating to give himself more time and space offensively, and to improve his ability to defend off the rush. But 6'4 defenders who have a high hockey IQ and two-way potential are still very valuable prospects. Be sure to check out my interview and article on Schemitsch from earlier this year. 

17. Matt Spencer - Defence - Peterborough Petes
Originally talked about as the top defender available from the OHL this year, but several factors have caused Spencer to slip. Firstly, he didn't have a terrific year, which highlighted some current holes in his game. Secondly, some of the other defenders available from the 'O' had fantastic years and leapfrogged him. It's important to note that Spencer is still a very solid prospect and a guy who deserves to be a 2nd/3rd round draft pick. Early on in the year, he was quite solid at both ends, but he seemed to lose confidence (particularly offensively) in the second half. Late into the year, he had a lot of trouble getting the puck out of his own end and his decision making with the puck did not look strong. This was also evident at the Under 18's, where I felt he struggled with this particular aspect too. I think at this point it's strictly a confidence issue, because as a midget player, he was a fantastic puck rusher and power play QB. As mentioned, he has a lot going for him. Size and mobility are both a plus and he's shown a willingness to play a tenacious brand of hockey in his own end. Keeping things simple will need to be a necessity moving forward until he's able to gain his confidence back offensively. Be sure to check out my interview and article on Spencer from earlier this year. Also be sure to check out Spencer's appearance on "The Pipeline Show." And his draft tracker segment from Yahoo.

16. Kyle Capobianco - Defence - Sudbury Wolves
Interestingly enough, the three guys I interviewed this year are all ranked next to each other. Certainly didn't play as much as Matt Spencer did at the U18's, but I thought he looked great in limited ice time (which did increase as the tournament went on). The key to Capobianco's game is how well he gets the puck out of his own end. He generally makes great decisions with the puck. His decision making in his own end is very quick and he has excellent vision up ice. His ability to use the stretch pass to start the breakout is invaluable and underrated. His mobility is also excellent and he has gained a lot of confidence in his ability to carry the puck to start the breakout also. As the season went on (and this was evident at the U18's), he started to jump up in the play more to get/look for scoring opportunities. Defensively, his positioning is solid and he has a good head for the game. He's not timid in his own end and he battles hard. Don't let the -49 fool you, he's a solid two-way prospect. Strength is the big thing moving forward. Adding velocity to his shot. Getting more comfortable defending the front of the net. Being able to use his body to shield the puck. He consistently improved all year and that's what has elevated him into the conversation for the 2nd round. Be sure to check out my interview and article on Capobianco from earlier this year. Also check out Kyle's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."

15. Blake Speers - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Kind of up and down this year, but some of that had to do with circumstances beyond his control. He started off the year on fire, but following the deadline, he struggled a bit to stand out with decreased ice time (thanks to the acquisitions of Ritchie and Bailey). To quantify that, he had only 6 goals in his final 25 regular season games. I think the second half of the year saw him trying to do a little too much with the puck, feeling like he had to stand out in comparison to the other high profile guys on the Hounds. He reverted a bit back to the perimeter game that he played at times during his rookie year. Speers may not be large (5'11), but he's at his best when he's using his speed to drive the net. He is very dynamic off the rush and he's got great vision and poise. But without the puck, he has to get his nose dirty more consistently. Speers has such a quick release, and he should be a great goal scorer in this league (especially when you factor in his quickness to scoring lanes). But he needs to attack the middle of the ice. Defensively, he's adequate and his hustle is admirable. With his speed and skill level, his potential is quite high as long as he continues to round out his game and plays more aggressive (with consistency).

14. Graham Knott - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
An under appreciated player IMO. I think he has an excellent shot of developing into a solid pro. There's certainly a lot to like about his well rounded game. Knott excels away from the puck in the offensive end. He's aggressive in puck pursuit/on the forecheck and does a great job of gaining and maintaining possession along the wall. He also understands his role as a big body who needs to be near the crease. He gives up his body to cause havoc in front of the net and has become adept at redirecting pucks and is quick to rebounds. At 6'3, he plays the power game that he should. Off the rush, his puck skill is actually above average and he's able to make defenders miss. However he'll need to improve his first few steps to make him more adept at creating scoring chances coming down the wing. Knott is also an excellent penalty killer who will block shots and does well to use his size to separate players from the puck. However, 5 on 5, he needs to improve his defensive focus to apply those PK skills to make him a consistently solid defensive forward. The potential is there for him to develop into a very well rounded power forward type winger who can chip in 20 goals a year at the next level. I'm not usually a fan of comparisons, but I think Knott could have a similar impact to a guy like Dwight King (with the Kings). Be sure to check out Graham's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."Also check out his draft tracker segment from Yahoo.

13. Mitchell Stephens - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Was already trending upwards before his behemoth performance at the Under 18's. He started exceptionally slow, but in his final 40 games of the OHL regular season, he had 37 points. Then he captained Canada to a bronze medal at the U18's, finishing the tournament 7th in scoring with 10 points (2nd on Team Canada). Let's not forget that he was also one of Canada's top players at the summer Ivan Hlinka tourney too. Stephens is a real heart and soul kind of player. He uses his speed to attack the offensive zone with determination. He's not the biggest, but he's aggressive with the puck and relentless in pursuit. He's also a smart player at both ends, who is able to force a lot of turnovers in the neutral zone by reading passing lanes. He struggled at times in Saginaw, but the team as a whole was young and inconsistent too. Tough being the focal point down the middle in that situation when you're playing a ton in your own end. I think based on the results that Stephens has achieved internationally this year (when he's played with other talented players), you have to believe that his potential is sky high. When you factor in his leadership capabilities, it only strengthens his argument as a selection inside the first 45 selections of the draft.

12. Nikita Korostelev - Forward - Sarnia Sting
A tough player to gauge this year. I don't think he had a terrific season, but you have to factor in a few things when evaluating him. Firstly, Sarnia was far from a juggernaut offensively and when Zacha was out of the lineup, Korostelev was counted on as the go to guy offensively. This was something he was not ready for. Secondly, his potential remains sky high. I think for me, the most disappointing aspect of his game this year was his lack of growth away from the puck. As a rookie last year, there were times where he was physically dominant, flashing power forward potential. But he largely shied away from playing that way this year. He'll need to learn that playing that way is going to be the most effective way for him to create room to use his fantastic shot/release. As a goal scorer, the potential is limitless because of how little room he needs to get shots off. When he upgrades his skating, he's going to be a hard player to contain coming down the wing, where he can use defenders as screens. Overall, you draft Korostelev hoping that his skating improves and that he's able to play more aggressively when he upgrades his strength. This is the chance that the Kings took on Tyler Toffoli back in the day and Korostelev's skill level profiles in a similar way. Be sure to check out Nikita's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."

11. Mitchell Vande Sompel - Defence - Oshawa Generals
Vande Sompel was very impressive as an OHL rookie last year and managed to improve even more this year. The biggest improvements have come at the defensive end. Vande Sompel's certainly not a big guy (5'10), but he plays a lot bigger than that. He's shown a very high compete level this year, especially in the corners where he'll initiate contact to gain possession of the puck. His awareness defensively has really improved too, which is promising considering he hasn't been playing defence all that long. He's still far from a perfect defensive player, but the progression is very promising and I think he's more than just an offensive guy. However, it is the offensive aspect of his game which is the highlight. His skating is fantastic and it allows him to start the breakout as quick as anyone not named Tony DeAngelo (in the OHL). He doesn't need many strides to hit full speed, and as such he's a very difficult player to hem in his own zone. Vande Sompel is also aggressive offensively, showing little fear in attacking across the opposing blue line. As a power play QB, he makes quick and smart decisions on the point and is a large part of why Oshawa's power play was 4th best in the league this year. Interestingly enough, Vande Sompel excels as a forward on the penalty kill, where he uses his speed and tenacity to break up plays. The size factor will hurt him at the NHL draft, but I think teams will admire his courage on the ice and appreciate his potential enough for him to not slip too far down the board. Be sure to check out Mitchell's draft tracker segment from Yahoo.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft - Part 2: 50-31

Here's part 2, with players ranked 50 through 31.

50. Liam Dunda - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
With two goals on the year, the stats certainly don't scream NHL prospect. But I think that there is a lot more to Dunda than the stats would suggest. In watching Plymouth/Owen Sound this year, Dunda always stuck out as being noticeable, using his size and tenacity to work the cycle effectively and play a physical game. He's 6'4, 215lbs and one of the youngest players eligible for this year's draft (born one day later and he's a 2016 pick). I can't help but think that he's got some serious potential to put things together, especially when given increased ice time. A guy like Hunter Smith was actually way less noticeable/effective in his draft year and look at the way his game blossomed (another big kid with a September birthday). 

49. Mike Davies - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Davies is an interesting prospect. Big kid with good wheels who definitely has the potential to develop into a good goal scorer. He was terrific in stretches this year for Kitchener, and then completely invisible at other times. You look at a guy like Zach Senyshyn in SSM, and Davies' skill set isn't really that much different from his. But Davies doesn't have the same moxie at this point in time. He's more of a supporting character when he should be leading the rush down the wing, using his size and speed to drive the net. When he played with a chip on his shoulder and increased his physical intensity, he was at his best. I could see someone using a late pick on him, hoping he develops that consistency.  

48. Tyler MacArthur - Defence - Owen Sound Attack
MacArthur is a big, slick skating defender who possesses potential at both ends of the ice. At 6'4, his mobility is actually his best characteristic. He stays with forwards very well off the rush and is learning how to use his body consistently. He could certainly be a physical force on the backend. But offensively he struggles. He's prone to turnovers in his own end and will try to force passes into coverage. His overall decision making skills leave some to be desired. But when you've got a big defender who skates well, there will always be interest from NHL teams who hope they can carve out a niche. 

47. Brandon Lindberg - Forward - Sarnia Sting
A late '96, Lindberg is a big power forward who excels when he plays a crash and bang type of game. Through the middle part of the year, he was among Sarnia's best forwards. He has good overall skill level for a big guy and has shown in bunches that he can be a top 6 forward at the OHL level. But IMO 3rd year players need to be held to higher standards. At times, he seemed to try and force things offensively and got away from keeping things simple, driving hard to the net. If he can figure out how to make his power game more consistent, he could be a good find. 

46. Noah Bushnell - Forward - Sarnia Sting
A real solid North/South forward who brings it every night. I always come away impressed with his compete level. He's an aggressive and effective forechecker and he excels with the physical components of the game. In close, he actually has good hands and has worked hard to improve his shot and overall finishing ability. With good size, he could make a good NHL checker. But the downside is his skating. His lack of explosiveness hinders his ability to contribute offensively (more than he does) and I'd have a lot more confidence in him as an energy player at the next level if he was a tad quicker. I'd still take a chance on him late though. Skating can be improved.  

45. Garrett McFadden - Defence - Guelph Storm
Tale of two seasons for McFadden. First half, he struggled mightily. Seemed to struggle with his confidence. He's a fantastic skater, but he wasn't having much success in creating offense because he seemed hesitant to really let loose. And defensively, his lack of size was hurting him in the corners and in front of the net. But after the injury to Zac Leslie, McFadden really turned his game around. In the final two months he looked like a different player. He was using his speed to lead the rush and was aggressive in jumping up in the play to create scoring chances. And defensively, his intensity level increased and he was more effective. A former first rounder, I feel like the McFadden we saw at the end of the year (and in the playoffs) was more indicative of the player he really is.

44. Connor Hicks - Goaltender - Belleville Bulls/Hamilton Bulldogs
Like many young netminders, Hicks struggled with consistency this year. One game he'd be unbeatable (like his 62 save performance to close out the season versus Oshawa), and the next he'd be below par. Hicks is cut from the cloth that NHL scouts are looking for right now. Size (6'3) and athleticism. As a first year OHL netminder, he's still got a lot to learn. But there's certainly potential there, as he proved at various times this year. Next year it will be interesting to see if the Bulldogs give him a chance to earn the starting job and subsequently move Charlie Graham (the team's OA starter).

43. Zach Wilkie - Defence - Niagara IceDogs
This is probably an aggressive ranking for him, based on his performance during the regular season. He had trouble staying in the lineup for Niagara this year (because of both depth reasons and a lack of development). But later in the year he really started to show signs of life. This culminated with a terrific performance in the playoffs where I thought he was one of Niagara's top defenders. I thought he had a ton of potential coming into this year (was a highly touted prospect and he performed very well at the Ivan Hlinka for the U.S.), but just wasn't given a chance to play a larger role. In the playoffs, he was an impact player at both ends of the ice. In particular, his offensive game looked as good as it's ever been. He was aggressive in jumping up in the play and leading the rush, without sacrificing play in his own end. Defensively, he's a very physically aggressive player who thrives on taking the body (despite being average sized). Massive amount of potential here.

42. Adam Laishram - Forward - Belleville Bulls/Hamilton Bulldogs
If only Laishram was bigger. The 5'9 center hasn't really grown since his minor midget days, which of course makes him undersized for NHL scouts. But he's a supremely hard worker who has a very well rounded game. He's very quick and uses that to be aggressive on the forecheck. He excels as a playmaker below the hashmarks, where he's slippery and hard to defend. Laishram is also a terrific faceoff man and has the potential to develop into a hard nosed, shutdown defensive forward. If he was 6'2, we'd be talking about him as a potential top 3 round selection. But for the style he plays, there will be questions as to whether it can translate to the next level at his current size.

41. Artem Artemov - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Admittedly, kind of a hard player for me to get a read on this year. He was relatively quiet in the Spirit games I saw. He's a stocky guy who seems to excel when operating close to the net. He can be bullish around the net and certainly has the potential to develop into a goal scorer. But he's not the type of guy who seems to stand out in a flashy way, whether it's with the puck on his stick or physically. With only average size, the concern would be, can he be in tight goal scorer in the NHL? Again though, I feel like, of any player on this list, I feel the least comfortable talking about his potential and ability.

40. Trent Fox - Forward - Belleville Bulls/Hamilton Bulldogs
Certainly not the same player as his brother Dane was in the OHL. More of a calculated playmaker who shows patience and poise in the offensive end, than an agitating winger with a big shot (which Dane was). The skating concerns are similar to that of his brother at the same age though. He lacks explosiveness, which prevents him from utilizing his strong puck skill and offensive talents. He also needs to get stronger to be able to work more effectively in traffic. But he's a smart player who shows good vision and smarts in close, who I think will develop into a real quality OHL player.

39. Jesse Barwell - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Barwell in Saginaw was night and day from the Barwell we saw in Mississauga. That's obviously a good thing for him. In Saginaw, he excelled playing with other skilled players in more of a high tempo system. Barwell has great speed and skill with the puck and is capable of consistently creating scoring chances off the rush. When the game slows down in the offensive end, he's less noticeable because he's not strong enough to win battles for the puck consistently. His intensity level and overall willingness to engage can also waver, although it was more consistent in Saginaw. The development of his "overall" game will be the key as to whether he develops into anything more than a high scoring OHL forward.

38. Sam Harding - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Harding is a player who I think should be getting more credit than he currently is from the scouting community. He's done everything that's been asked of him in Oshawa the last two years. He's jumped up to center scoring lines when needed, but has also proven to be a responsible two-way player who can find success in more of a depth role. Because of Oshawa's depth the last two years, he hasn't really had an opportunity to show what he's capable of offensively. When he's jumped up to play with the likes of Michael Dal Colle, he certainly hasn't looked out of place. While not large, he excels in the open ice because of great speed and he's got soft hands which allows him to make quick decisions with the puck in the offensive end. Strength is an issue as he can get outmuscled off the puck, but that's something that can obviously be added. Next year he's going to take on a top 6 role and should be a capable contributor. Be sure to check out Sam's appearance on "The Pipeline Show."  

37. David Miller - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Still a big fan of his, even if he didn't have a terrific season (by the standards of what I expected). 48 points certainly isn't awful. But you have to take into account the type of player Miller is; an undersized energy/offensive player. He fell 52 spots on NHL Central Scouting's final list and wasn't even listed. But I don't think that's fair. It took him some time to adjust to his new surroundings in Kitchener, but he was fantastic in the final month and the playoffs. Miller may not be big (5'9), but he makes up for it by playing a high tempo, in your face game. He looks to engage contact, not shy away from it. The key to his game is his speed. He's a fantastic skater who explodes through the neutral zone, catching defenders flat footed. And he's aggressive in using his speed to drive the net, excelling in the middle of the ice. He needs to get stronger to be more effective in the cycle and I'd like to see his speed and energy be put to better use without the puck. But I think he's going to be a big time player for Kitchener next year. Be sure to check out his draft tracker segment from Yahoo

36. Marcus Crawford - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
Crawford, a first year blueliner, was so good for Saginaw at the beginning of the year. His poise and vision on the point of the powerplay was much needed for the Spirit. But after returning from injury in December, he was never really the same player. His confidence offensively wasn't at the same level as it was earlier in the season when he seemed eager to jump up in the play offensively and was making smart decisions with the puck. He also struggled defensively down the stretch and needs to bulk up. His defensive intelligence and ability to contain forwards off the rush isn't bad, but he had difficulty containing bigger/physical forwards this year. I've still got him high because I believe in his potential to bounce back. I think he's a smart offensive blueliner with the potential to play at the next level.

35. Ethan Szypula - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Szypula is not a big guy (5'11, 170ish), but he plays a big man's game. Szypula was always noticeable when I saw Owen Sound play this year. Particularly late in the year, that Attack 3rd line did such a good job of wearing down opposing defences. Szypula keeps his feet moving in the corners and he's very shifty in the sense that he's able to elude checks to keep the cycle going. And when he doesn't have the puck on his stick, he's in attack mode to get it back. That's not to say that he's an overly physical player, but he plays with a ton of energy. Szypula also has a high skill level with the puck and great speed coming down the wing, but his ability to generate scoring chances with it is inconsistent. As he gets stronger, I think he's going to be a guy who can make a pretty big impact. Reminds me a bit of Jordan Szwarz back from his draft year and he's gone on to have a pretty good pro career thus far.

34. Hayden McCool - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Came out gangbusters after the trade from Niagara to Windsor. Finally started using his size more effectively to get to the net and to track down loose pucks to set up scoring chances for his linemates. But as the season went on, he really seemed to wear down. In his final 18 games he went goalless. That type of production to close out the season probably cost him a chance to represent Canada at the Under 18's and it certainly dropped him a bit on my list. It goes without saying that McCool is at his best when he's playing an aggressive game. At 6'3, teams will be looking for him to use his size more consistently, but I'm just not sure it's in his nature. While he showcases skill as a boards player (good vision coming off the wall), his natural skill level with the puck has yet to show a high grade at the OHL level and it's limited his overall offensive contribution. He also needs to improve his first few steps to make him quicker to the net, especially if he isn't going to be the type to be intimidating. High potential remains as a strong, big, two-way forward. 

33. Gustaf Franzen - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Was better this year than the numbers would suggest. But he definitely didn't live up to the hype that followed him here from Sweden. Before the start of this year, he was being hyped as a potential late first round pick after captaining Sweden at the U18's. But the late '96 center struggled to find consistency offensively. There are definitely some things to like. 9 of Franzen's 15 goals this year were on the powerplay, where he does a great job of setting himself up for a wicked one timer near the dot. He has goal scoring potential. Franzen also battles hard in the offensive end and has good lower body strength which he uses to keep pucks alive along the boards. But he seemed a step behind the play at times this year. All the scouting reports I gathered in my annual Import Review, suggested he was a great skater, but that wasn't something Rangers fans saw this year. I thought he struggled with the ability to be explosive and it hindered his game offensively and defensively. In a lot of ways, his game mirrors that of Kevin Lebanc's last year. His improved skating this year was the reason for his breakout. Perhaps Franzen can make similar adjustments. 

32. Brandon Crawley - Defence - London Knights
Crawley is a first year player that the Knights plucked out of New Jersey as a free agent signing. He's been a real find for them, with a thin defence heading into the season. His play really improved this year as the season went on and that type of progression is what you like to see. He's only average sized (6'0), but he plays much bigger than that in his own end. Crawley is aggressive in the corners and in front of the net and does a great job of making opposing forwards work hard to gain position over him. Crawley also has good mobility, which he uses to be an effective defender off the rush. Offensively, he makes a good first pass and is gaining the confidence to jump up in the play a little more. That said, I think he's a guy who scouts could be torn on when it comes to projecting his future role. Is he more of a defensive first guy (who is undersized for that role)? Will his offensive game continue to develop to the point where he can be a powerplay QB? At this point, his progression over the course of the season should be enough to make an NHL team use a late pick on him to find out.

31. Roy Radke - Forward - Barrie Colts
Way better player than the numbers would suggest. The late '96 was a first year player who transferred from Shattuck St. Mary's. He went through his ups and downs this year, but I thought he finished the year very strong and was one of Barrie's most dangerous players in the playoffs. He's a big body who has the potential to really dominate down low because he possesses terrific puck control. He uses his size to shield the puck and is quite strong coming off the wall. His finishing ability needs work (which could raise questions to his overall offensive ceiling), but his ability to create chances for himself and his linemates is quite good. If he could add more of a physical element to his game, he could be an even more valuable player. As of right now though, Radke is all about projection. Big guy who skates reasonably well, who can control the puck and make things happen. As he gets more ice time (particularly on the powerplay), I'd expect him to start to put up numbers.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My Final Top 50 OHL Players for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft - Part 1: Honorable Mentions

The Under 18's have wrapped up (and Canada earned its 4th straight medal). The CHL playoffs are nearing completion (the Memorial Cup begins May 22). The race to the draft is on. We're about a month away from the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, so that means it's time for me to release my rankings.

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

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

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

This first part includes the Honorable Mentions of my list. These are the players who received consideration for my top 50, but who fell just short. There are 20 in total. I'm not sure I see many of these guys generating NHL draft interest. However, many could get training camp/rookie camp invites and generate interest from there.

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

Mike Baird - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Baird is a hard nosed forward who played a limited role for the Battalion this year. His role is to come out crashing/banging and to be active on the forecheck. He skates well North/South and it makes him a valuable energy player. But the offensive side of his game is a major work in progress. May have limited goal scoring potential because the hands in close and ability to find scoring lanes are currently below average. He's a former high draft pick who remains a project under Stan Butler.

Doug Blaisdell - Defence - Kitchener Rangers
Along with Medric Mercier, Blaisdell was the final cut from my top 50. I had high hopes for him this year after he performed quite admirably as a rookie for Kitchener last year. But his development wasn't terrific this year. He's got great size and he has decent mobility, but he can get caught flat footed and is still learning how to use his size effectively defensively. Offensively, his first pass is OK, but he lacks confidence with the puck. Still lots of time for him to reach his potential.

Tyler Boston - Forward - Guelph Storm
An OHL rookie this year (after playing last year for Aurora), Boston was a pleasant surprise for the Storm. Through stretches this year, he proved himself to be an adequate secondary scoring option who can use speed, energy, and intelligence to create scoring chances. He's not big though and his lack of strength was evident. As he fills out, he could be a guy who slowly gets better in the OHL and draws the interest of NHL scouts (reminds me a bit of former Storm Zach Mitchell).

Riley Bruce - Defence - North Bay Battalion
A behemoth defenceman (6'6) who does have potential, especially playing under defensive genius Butler. Right now he's still a major work in progress though. Defensively, he's a bit awkward and he can be exposed by quicker forwards off the rush. As he upgrades his mobility and ability to use his reach, he could develop into a solid defensive prospect. He also needs to play with more intensity, especially in the corners. Offensively, he keeps things simple and seems hesitant to attack. A player to monitor as he develops (and fills into his frame).

Andrew Burns - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
Had seriously high hopes for Burns, but his development did not go as expected this year. Windsor even shuffled him to forward at times to get him in the lineup. When he was at forward, he actually looked the best he did all year. His offensive IQ is very strong, but the speed of the game seemed to overwhelm him on defense. He struggled with turnovers and will need to get stronger/quicker to fight off the forecheck. I still have a lot of faith in him developing into a quality offensive blueliner in this league. It wasn't an easy year to be a defensive rookie on a rocky Windsor team.

Johnny Corneil - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
A fan favourite in Niagara, Corneil is a battler who saw ice time in a variety of different roles this year. He's not large (height wise), but he can be strong on the puck thanks to good lower body strength. His playmaking ability shows a lot of promise. However, I think he needs to develop into a more consistent energy player to find success. At times I felt like he struggled with an identity. If he can become a consistent physical player, and create space on a scoring line, he may earn NHL attention.

Adam Craievich - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Like Burns, Craievich was another player I had very high hopes for this year. Ultimately, his skating was not upgraded enough to make him a consistent offensive threat. And his play away from the puck remains inconsistent. He has a fantastic shot and offensive skill, but he'll need to put in some serious work this offseason to come back strong next year in Ottawa. The 67's are likely to give him another shot on a scoring line next year, but he'll need to show gains.

Ben Fanjoy - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Fanjoy is a meat and potatoes kind of player who saw action in a variety of roles for the 67's this year (including some first line ice time). He has goal scoring potential and will take a hit or make a hit to create a scoring chance. He's only averaged sized though and doesn't really have any standout characteristics. 

Justin Fazio - Goaltender - Sarnia Sting
The goaltender of the future for the Sting, Fazio had some good performances this year, but was largely very inconsistent. It was his first full year in the league and he seemed to struggle at times with some mental lapses. Next year he should be the starter in Sarnia (for an improved team) so he'll have a chance to make a bigger impact on the scouting community.

Jeremy Helvig - Goaltender - Kingston Frontenacs
Lucas Peressini won the starter's role and was a workhorse for the Fronts this year, leaving Helvig on the sidelines for the majority of the season. When he did see game action, the first year OHL'er struggled. He has everything scouts look for in a goaltender (size and athleticism), but just wasn't able to build any confidence this year. Potential exists to develop into a strong OHL starter down the line.

Michael Holmes - Defence - Saginaw Spirit
Physically imposing blue liner (6'3) who is still learning how to use his size to become a strong stay at home defender. There are certainly times where he looks like he could develop into a quality shut down guy. He'll need to improve his skating and his first pass out of the zone though.

Mason Kohn - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Undersized forward who brings a ton of energy and tenacity to the ice. He made the most of his inconsistent ice time this year and had a very strong performance in this year's playoffs (when he actually received quality ice time). May not be a serious NHL prospect, but could develop into a very valuable OHL player.

Matthew Kreis - Forward - Barrie Colts
The Colts' first rounder from 2013, Kreis' development stagnated this year. He has good speed and shows flashes of being able to create off the rush. But he still lacks the strength to excel with the puck on his stick and will need to show improvements next year in order to earn more ice time.

Troy Lajeunesse - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Undersized, but very intelligent offensive player. Lajeunesse was a free agent signing by the Sting this offseason and he's worked his way into their long term plans. He's not the fastest or most skilled guy on the ice, but he's a hard worker who seems to find his way on to the score sheet. I'm interested to see how he develops with a young (and talented) Sting roster.

Medric Mercier - Defence - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Wouldn't be surprised at all if an NHL team takes a chance on him late in the draft. He's a real wild card. Mercier is a late '96, but is only in his first OHL season. Because of the Soo's terrific depth on the backend, his ice time and responsibility has been minimal (especially later in the season and in the playoffs). But he did well to make an impression despite limited opportunity to do so. He's got great size (6'4) and has the potential to impact the game at both ends of the ice. Has a chance to earn top 4 ice time next year.

Liam Murray - Defence - Windsor Spitfires
Big, physical, stay at home defender who was a bright spot for the Spitfires this year. Keeps the game relatively simple and could definitely develop into a premier shutdown guy. IMO he was more impressive than Patrick Sanvido this year, who was an NHL draft pick last year.

Petrus Palmu - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Pint sized forward (5'6) who was a consistent performer all year for Owen Sound. Because of his lack of size, he's not likely on the NHL radar, but I thought he still deserved mention on this list. He has tremendous skill with the puck and doesn't back down from playing in traffic.

Jesse Saban - Defence - Belleville Bulls/Hamilton Bulldogs
A good sized defender who was one of the key pieces of the Remi Elie/Jake Marchment deal. Saban has the potential to develop into a quality OHL defender, but I don't think he's developed a true identity yet. His confidence with the puck needs to improve if he wants to be an offensive defender. And he needs to assert himself physically and make quicker decisions in the defensive end if he wants to be a strong stay at home guy. 

Artem Vladimirov - Defence - Peterborough Petes
An import who should have been better this year given his skill set. He's got an absolute rocket of a shot, can skate with the puck and will look to throw a big hit. But he seemed to struggle with the speed of the OHL game this year and had some difficulty with his decision making at both ends of the ice. It will be interesting to see if the Petes keep him next year. He could breakout ala Damir Sharipzyanov next year.

Bryce Yetman - Forward - Plymouth Whalers/Flint Firebirds
Missed over half the season with an upper body injury. Potential to be a talented goal scorer, but still too slight and needs to add strength to be more effective in close. With limited viewings this year, he's not likely to be a guy NHL teams look at. But, he could certainly bounce back next year if he stays healthy. I know the Whalers (now Firebirds) franchise had high hopes for him coming into this year.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Top 10 - Draft Risers for 2015

Congratulations to the Oshawa Generals for taking home the OHL Championship on Friday. Their size and skill package was too much for the Otters to handle. G.M. Roger Hunt did such a great job of assembling that team this year, making the big moves when they needed to be made.

With the OHL season technically done (Memorial Cup starts May 22), it's time to shift our focus to the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. My final rankings are complete and I'll start releasing my top 50 after the Victoria Day weekend. As a precursor to that, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the players who have made the biggest jump in the rankings this year. Whether it be a strong finish to the regular season, a great push in the playoffs, or a big performance at the Under 18's, these guys completed their seasons the right way. And there's no question that scouts take notice of that.

Here are 10 OHL draft prospects who improved their draft status over the final couple of months (in alphabetical order).

Jeremiah Addison - Ottawa 67's
Even though the 67's were bounced in the opening round of the playoffs this year, you have to applaud Addison's effort in round one. His 6 goals and 10 points led Ottawa (tied with Salituro and Konecny) and his power game gave the IceDogs all they could handle. He also closed out the regular season on a 5 game point scoring streak. Overall, Addison had a very solid year in Ottawa, establishing himself as a power forward who can be a nice complimentary piece on a scoring line. With his size, physicality, and scoring potential, NHL teams could come calling sooner, rather than later.

Travis Dermott - Erie Otters
I've had Dermott high all season, so I'm not sure he's rising on my list. But with his play in this year's OHL playoffs, I hope he's rising on the list of NHL scouts. Dermott's 17 points led all defenceman in scoring during the playoffs and he showed a ton of poise with the puck. But it's Dermott's defensive game that excelled, eating up a ton of minutes and doing anything he could to help the Otters reach the OHL finals. He's not the biggest guy, but he's wide and has terrific balance that helps him stay strong on opposing forwards. IMO, his strong two-way game and intelligence on the ice makes him the top ranked defender available from the OHL this year.

Stephen Desrocher - Oshawa Generals
Came out of nowhere to pace the Generals in the final three rounds of the OHL playoffs (against Niagara, North Bay, and Erie). Well that's not exactly true, as Desrocher has been on my radar (and scouts' radar) all year based on the improvements he'd shown during the OHL's regular season. I had him 9th on my mid April draft re-entry list (here), but there's no question that he'd be higher if I re-did that list now (I'd have him 3rd). In the final two rounds against North Bay and Erie, Desrocher had 9 points in 11 games (including 3 goals). His confidence is at an all time high heading into the Memorial Cup and he's showing an aggressiveness offensively that was not there in the regular season. At 6'4, 200lbs, he has the size. And now scouts have seen a glimpse of what he's truly capable of offensively. I think there's a very good chance he goes in the top 3 rounds come June.

Vince Dunn - Niagara IceDogs
In his final 32 games (including the playoffs), he had 41 points (including 17 goals). Prorate that to a full season and you're looking at some pretty ridiculous numbers. The 0.5 goals per game rate is particularly impressive. Dunn was easily one of the OHL's top defenders in the second half of the year. His offensive potential is through the roof based on how well he skates and handles the puck. The size isn't amazing, but NHL teams aren't likely to ignore his ability to create offence. At this point, I think he's elevated himself into the conversation for the late first round.

Cameron Lizotte - Peterborough Petes
Lizotte's climb up the draft rankings has been steady all year, as the hard nosed rearguard improved nearly every month of the OHL's regular season. His size, mobility, and penchant for playing physical makes him a candidate to develop into a stud, shutdown defender. His acknowledgment in the OHL Coaches Poll this year (3rd in shot blocking and 2nd in body checking) shows the respect that he's gained around the league in a short amount of time. Over the course of this season, he's gone from not sniffing my top 30, to being on the cusp of my top 20.

Chris Martenet - London Knights
Like Lizotte, Martenet has had a steady climb up the draft rankings. He's looked progressively more comfortable playing in the OHL, after transferring from the USHL. NHL teams would have already been enamoured with Martenet thanks to his size and mobility on the backend (6'7), but he's shown more than just being a "project" pick. By season's end, he was one of London's top defenceman, playing physical in his own end, and even taking chances offensively. As he continues to grow (his game, hopefully not his body), he could be a a real find for an NHL team. I think he'll be off the board relatively early come June (by the end of the 2nd).

Garrett McFadden - Guelph Storm
A former first rounder of the Storm, Guelph fans had high hopes for him this year. But McFadden struggled greatly through a large chunk of the season. When Zac Leslie went down with a season ending injury, many people felt that would be the end for Guelph. But it was McFadden that stepped up his game and filled his shoes. While not blessed with great size, McFadden does possess exceptional skating ability that gives him a lot of potential to develop into one of the top offensive blue liners in the league. His play late in the year gives him a shot of being a late round pick, which I didn't think he'd have a shot at earlier this year.

Mitchell Stephens - Saginaw Spirit
Was already trending upwards before his behemoth performance at the Under 18's. He started exceptionally slow, but in his final 40 games of the OHL regular season, he had 37 points. Then he captained Canada to a bronze medal at the U18's, finishing the tournament 7th in scoring with 10 points (2nd on Team Canada). Stephens' brings lots of speed and energy to the ice and there's no doubt that scouts will be impressed with his leadership skills at the Under 18's. In a way, his draft stock has come full circle this year. Preseason, he was considered a candidate for the first round (thanks to a strong performance at the Ivan Hlinka). Then with a very cold start to the OHL season, his status plummeted. But after finishing the season strong, there are first round whispers yet again. I think he's definitely a guy that teams will look to inside the top 45.

Zach Wilkie - Niagara IceDogs
I had high expectations for Wilkie this year. For the vast majority of the year, Wilkie didn't really live up to those. Ice time was an issue with the depth in Niagara and he never really seemed to find a groove. But at the end of the year, he started to get in the lineup more consistently and his game started to come around. This came to a head in the playoffs where I felt like he was one of Niagara's top defenders. Wilkie has the potential to impact the game in every way (offensively, defensively, physically) and he might have been able to convince an NHL team to use a late round pick on him with his playoff heroics.

Pavel Zacha - Sarnia Sting
While it's hard for someone like Zacha to be considered a "riser," I feel comfortable lumping him in this category. Because of injuries, suspensions, and international tournaments, Zacha played in only 42 OHL games this year (including the playoffs). This limited his exposure to scouts and caused his draft status to fall a bit. At the beginning of the year he was receiving top 10 consideration, by late April, it seemed like he could even fall out of the top 20. But Zacha reaffirmed the opinions of those who always believed in him by putting forth a great showing at the Under 18's. It was at the tournament that he showed how dominant he can be with his size and skill. As such, it seems like he's solidified his status as a lottery pick in 2015.

Stay tuned this week as I release my top 50 for 2015 in four instalments!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

2015 Playoff Predictions: OHL Championship

We've reached the end. The 2015 season is winding down and only two teams remain. The Oshawa Generals will battle the Erie Otters in a hard fought, offensively dynamic OHL Championship. The series starts on Friday and it's bound to be a good one.

Throughout these playoffs, I'm 12-2 in my predictions. Only one more to go.

Here's my breakdown of the OHL Championship.

1. Oshawa Generals vs. 2. Erie Otters
Season Series: 2-0 (Oshawa)
Analysis: The Generals dominated the season series (outscoring the Otters 9-2), but those results can be thrown out the window. Both victories occurred in December when Connor McDavid was absent from the lineup. And both victories occurred before the Otters added Remi Elie and Jake Marchment (and before Nic Baptiste found his stride in Erie). Enough said. To properly assess this series, I think it's important to break things down at a positional level.
In goal, Ken Appleby has been fantastic and consistent for Oshawa, which has been the case this entire season. His composure in the crease creates a confidence and stability defensively. Oshawa's defenders know that they can take some chances offensively with Appleby back there. Devin Williams has largely been very solid too. The stats don't show it, but he's been a huge reason for their playoff victories. That said, he hasn't been as consistent as Appleby and thus Oshawa gets the nod here.
Defensively, with the way that both of these teams have been playing, I think it's a wash. Guys like Josh Brown, Kurtis MacDermid, and Troy Donnay add size and physicality. While the likes of Vande Sompel, Desrocher, Dermott, and Raddysh add offensive punch and push the pace of play. The way both units handled tough opponents last round was very impressive.
Offensively, I give a slight edge to Erie. Both teams have great size and skill. There's no doubt about that. But with the way Connor McDavid is playing right now, how can you not give the Otters the advantage offensively? He is an unstoppable force right now. He just went head to head with one of the best defensive prospects on the planet (Darnell Nurse) and made him look pretty average.
So what's the verdict? At this point in time, I just can't go against McDavid and the Otters. I think the teams line up fairly evenly, which tips the scales in his favour.
Prediction: Erie in 6

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2015 OHL Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

Well I hit the nail right on the head last round when I said I none of the Conference semi final match ups would go more than 5 games. North Bay, Oshawa, Sault Ste. Marie, and Erie, largely dominated on route to easy victories. Going into the playoffs, it was clear to me that these four team were head and shoulders better than the others (call it the OHL hierarchy). All four teams are built for long playoff runs with depth, size, and experience.

So that brings us to the fun of the Conference finals. Both the Eastern final and the Western final should be a treat to watch, with the action kicking off on Thursday.

Thus far in these playoffs, I'm 11-1 in my predictions. Let's keep the good times rollin'.

Here's how I see Conference finals shaping up.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Oshawa Generals vs. 3. North Bay Battalion
Season Series: 4-0 (Oshawa)
Analysis: While Oshawa largely dominated the season series, I think you can safely throw those results out of the window. This one should be tight. Defensively, you've got a matchup of the two best teams in the entire Ontario Hockey League (Oshawa at 2.3 goals against, North Bay at 2.87). Both team captains are grizzled veterans of the league, looking for an OHL championship in their final OHL season. The Josh Brown vs. Marcus McIvor matchup is certainly one of the more underrated story lines heading into this one. In net, things are a wash. While Jake Smith has the experience of last year's playoff run, Ken Appleby has been great all year. Both goalies were terrific in round number two. So that means this series comes down to the forward groups IMO. Both teams have terrific size up front. Both teams play a very physical brand of hockey and are active on the forecheck. Both teams forward groups are responsible both ways and are fully committed to the systems that they play in. So what's (or who's) the difference maker? For me, Oshawa has more natural skill and intelligence among their forward group. And I also think that they're slightly deeper (even if North Bay has been getting terrific production from their 3rd line during these playoffs). No offence meant to the likes of Nick Paul, Nick Moutrey, Mike Amadio, etc, but Michael Dal Colle and Cole Cassels are the two most skilled players in this series and they've got a chance to be the real difference makers.
Prediction: Oshawa in 7

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 2. Erie Otters
Season Series: 1-1 (TIE)
Analysis: The Soo Greyhounds still haven't lost a game in these playoffs. They've scored the most goals and allowed the least amount (in the postseason). In a word…they've been dominant. While Erie's route hasn't been as easy, they've still only dropped one game. The Connor McDavid show has been just that, thus far. No offence meant to the goaltending and defences of either team, but I don't expect this one to be a low scoring affair. Shots and goals will be a plenty. My first inclination is for Sault Ste. Marie to continue rolling. Their roster is about as good as any we've had in the Ontario Hockey League in recent years. They roll four lines who can put the puck in the net, with each line possessing size and speed. You cut off one head and you've still got to worry about three more. In particular, Nick Ritchie has been an absolute beast thus far. However, my second inclination was, hold your horses, you're forgetting about Connor McDavid. He really is that good. His influence can not be underrated. He knows this is going to be his final OHL season. And he's incredibly motivated to bring home a Championship. His series against the London Knights may have been the most dominant individual performance in a single round that I've ever seen. All that said, I do think that the Hounds are too strong. Connor McDavid will (and the Otters) will take a couple of games, but in the end, the best team will come out on top.
Prediction: Sault Ste. Marie in 6