Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday Top 10 - 2015 NHL Draft Re-Entries


It's that time of the year for my annual (201420132012201120102009) list of the top second and third year eligible OHL players for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. This is always one of the most read articles I put out each year. It's also the topic which I receive the most questions on, whether through email or blog comments. For whatever reason, the concept fascinates people. Of course, I'm referring to the concept of the "draft re-entry." A shift in drafting philosophy has seen an enormous rise of these players getting drafted in recent years. This is mostly because drafting a second or third year eligible player gives NHL teams a lot of flexibility in their development under the new CBA. Plus, a lot of these guys have been having success in recent years (Tanner Pearson and Andrew Shaw are great examples from the OHL), which basic psychology tells us that other NHL teams will try to mimic.

Just to clarify yet again, for those with limited understanding of the NHL draft system; North American players have either two or three years to get drafted, depending on their birth date. For those born from January 1 to September 15, they will go through three NHL drafts. For those born from September 16 to December 31, they will go through two NHL drafts. The players on this list are a mix of those having been passed over once or twice already.

Also, do not confuse this list with players drafted in 2013 who will re-enter the draft should they fail to come to a contractual agreement with their NHL team by June 1 (and whose birth date still allows them to be eligible). Quite often those too are referred to as draft re-entries. But this list does not contain them because it is not yet known who those players will be.

Last year was a down year for players selected from the OHL, which was definitely to be expected. Hunter Smith went early though (second round), and the trend still continued across the other CHL leagues. This year, I would be absolutely shocked if the number didn't increase again. I'd be willing to bet a decent amount of money that the top four guys on my list this year all get drafted and then there's usually a couple others from my list or HM's that get the call.

Without further rambling, here's my list:

10. Ken Appleby - Goaltender - Oshawa Generals
While he had to be very patient, Appleby finally got his chance to start for the Generals this year; his second last year in the OHL. That means it's his final chance to get drafted. It's certainly more rare for goaltenders to be drafted (and signed) out of the CHL after their first year of eligibility, but it does happen. And Appleby has the characteristics that NHL scouts look for. For one, he's a very big net minder who takes up a lot of space by being aggressive in his crease. He's really worked on his agility too and is making more second/third saves, refining his motion/agility. He's also worked to improve his ability to swallow up original shots, especially high to prevent rebounds. Is he a product of Oshawa's terrific defence this year? I do think so a bit, but that shouldn't take anything away from his accomplishments this year and he definitely has pro potential.

9. Stephen Desrocher - Defence - Oshawa Generals
A very interesting player who's still earning ice time and an increased role on a deep Oshawa club. He's a 6'4 defender who flashes ability at both ends of the ice. He's got a big shot and has the potential to grow as a power play catalyst if he continues to work on his distribution and puck carrying skills. Defensively, he's quite solid and plays a pretty refined game, flashing the ability to play quite physical. If he can use his size even more consistently, he could be a very good defensive player. If an NHL scout has an idea of what type of player he could become (right now I'd want to see another year from him to see what type of defender he becomes with increased ice time), he'll be an attractive late round option.

8. Brandon Robinson - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
I've always had a soft spot for this particular player and have believed in his potential for some time. Robinson has always had all the prerequisite skills necessary to become a dominant power forward in the OHL, but for various reasons (injuries, consistency), he just hasn't been able to reach that level. This year, though, he did take some massive steps forward. He largely avoided injury and was one of Kitchener's most consistent forwards. He really seemed to embrace the physical aspects of the game this year and it helped his game get to another level. If he's not drafted this year (his final year of eligibility), I fully expect him to have a great overage season next year (with some talented playmakers flanking him) and for him to be a hot commodity on the NHL free agent radar.

7. Stephen Harper - Forward - Belleville Bulls/Hamilton Bulldogs
Is he a forward? Or a defender? I think it's safe to say that the defence experiment is finally over, after Harper switched back to center in the last few months of the season. As a forward, his stats were actually quite decent and close to the point per game mark. But stats aren't everything and I actually think he played even better than the statistics would indicate. In the games that I saw of Belleville late in the year, Harper was consistently one of the best players on the ice. He looked re-energized at center and played with conviction and a high motor. Of course, the skill level has always been there too. NHL teams are looking for big centres with skill and Harper is definitely that. Like Robinson, if he's not drafted, I expect Harper to return to Hamilton and have a great overage season that would make him a coveted signing option for NHL teams.

6. Damir Sharipzyanov - Defence - Owen Sound Attack
I think that there is a lot to like about Sharipzyanov and he certainly had a breakout season in Owen Sound. He's a big defender and he loves to use his size in the open ice. He is certainly not afraid to lower the boom on forwards crossing the blue line or driving to the net. Sharipzyanov is also a good offensive defender. He has very underrated puck skill and does a great job of leading the rush out of his zone and gaining entry into the opposing end. He's also got a big point shot and has improved as a power play QB. The question mark IMO is probably the hockey IQ. He'll take himself out of position at times, either on a bad pinch or on a missed hit and is a bit of a scrambler still defensively. That said, he's improved a lot already and I think there's definite potential there for him to develop into a two-way player.

5. Nick Betz - Forward - Erie Otters
While he was certainly more effective (and noticeable) offensively at the beginning of the year, Betz remains an attractive option for NHL teams because of his ability to create space for his line mates. His skating has also improved, which is making him more of a factor without the puck (especially retrieval). Offensvely, he knows his role. Keep the puck alive along the wall and go hard to the net. His hands are pretty good in close. His shot/release isn't terrific and I don't think he'll ever be a goal scorer at the next level. But with his size, tenacity, and ability to operate offensively near the crease, he could be an NHL 4th liner and the type of guy a team takes a chance on based on his progression this year. If not, like Robinson and Harper, Betz will return to the 'O' and make a trio of quality power forward overagers NHL teams may fight to sign.

4. Liam Herbst - Goaltender - Ottawa 67's
I love his story. I was really hoping he'd have a great year this year and he definitely did. Herbst was one of the youngest players eligible last year, when he was passed over (two days away from being first time eligible this year). But his draft neglect last year was no surprise. Herbst was coming off double hip AND knee surgery. And quite frankly, didn't play well. But all of that was to be expected. The road to full recovery was bound to be a slow one and Herbst was put behind the developmental eight ball. In fact, he's already ahead of where I expected him to be this year. The great news is that there doesn't seem to be any lingering effect from his surgeries which allows him to focus on his conditioning and continuing to improve upon his agility and quickness in the crease. But he's a big guy who puts himself in position to make the first save and who is likely only scratching the surface of his ceiling. He is an absolute sure fire NHL pick this year IMO. While one game isn't everything, I think his performance at the Top Prospect's Game (where he was an injury fill in) really helped his cause.

3. Matt Schmalz - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Easily one of the most improved players in the OHL this year. At 6'6, 210lbs, Schmalz can be a very difficult player for opposing defences to stop. A lot of defenders had a difficult time stopping Schmalz off the rush this year, where he's excellent at using his size to drive the net coming down the wing. His skill with the puck has greatly improved and it's allowed his offensive game to blossom. He's also a physical player who thrives on taking the body. Once the key piece of the Corrado/Leivo deal, Schmalz is finally living up to expectations. That said, he's still a work in progress (which is something that I think some NHL scouts might actually find exciting). He's currently a one trick pony offensively. He'll need to learn to use his teammates more effectively, and improve his vision coming down the wing. He'll also need to become better and more consistent away from the puck. But when you consider that he'll probably be up to close to 225lbs come training camp next year, it's exciting to think of how far his game could grow if he fine tunes some things and continues to get better.

2. Pius Suter - Forward - Guelph Storm
Suter really was sensational for the Storm this year, and he needed to be for a team that was asking him to be one of their key offensive pieces (after playing a depth role last year). He's not big, but he's such a hard worker that I'm not worried about him being under 6'0. Here's a stat to back it up. Suter had 46 goals this year (including playoffs). Of those 46, only 11 were on special teams (6 power play, 5 shorthanded). His even strength goal total was actually second to Connor McDavid this year. Pretty impressive. Suter has an excellent release on his shot and I think it projects him to score some goals at the next level. When you factor in his ability as a penalty killer and two way player, it only strengthens his argument as a legitimate draft prospect. Worst case scenario, you could be getting a high energy role player who can chip in a goal here and there. Best case scenario, you get a high energy goal scorer who  can play a variety of roles. If he's not drafted, rumours are suggesting that he'll return home to play professionally in Switzerland. Guelph fans have to be crossing their fingers.

1. Andrew Mangiapane - Forward - Barrie Colts
Like Suter, Mangiapane is a smaller guy who plays a lot bigger than he is. For all the skill level he possesses, he's certainly not a perimeter player. The key to Mangiapane's game is his vision and hockey sense. He's so smart when operating off the rush and sees passing lanes before they open up. He also exhibits great patience with the puck and doesn't force plays. His confidence this year is much higher than it was last year. When the puck's not on his stick, he's fighting hard to get it back and has evolved as a 200 foot player. That said, he's still undersized. And there's no question that he's more effective on the power play with more room to operate. But as he gains strength and gets even quicker, he'll no doubt be a more effective player 5 on 5. The top 4 guys I've listed on this list are all pretty interchangeable IMO, and all four have a chance of being top 100 draft picks come June.

Honorable Mentions (organized by position)

Goaltender
Behemoth Owen Sound netminder Jack Flinn is obviously an intriguing prospect based on his size alone (6'8), but he also happens to be a pretty solid net minder. He struggled at the start of the year, but was very good in the second half. He's a better prospect than former OHL'er Jason Missiaen IMO, who was an eventual NHL signing (by the New York Rangers). Kingston's Lucas Peressini also deserves mention here. Much like Appleby, he was very good in his first year as an OHL starter. Goaltending was supposed to be a sore spot for the Fronts this year, but Peressini was a stabilizing force for the club, even if he didn't have a terrific playoff performance.

Defence
Trevor Murphy, the 4th highest scoring defenceman in the OHL this year, was probably the last player cut from this list (he or Flinn). Murphy really broke out this year and has become a very dynamic player. He leads the rush well and can really fire the puck. He also plays a lot bigger than his 5'10 height. He's certainly not afraid to mix it up. But, he's still a high risk/high reward type of player who can be prone to mistakes at both ends. If he can return as an overager and continue to refine his game, while playing for a good team, I think NHL teams will take more notice. Erie's Darren Raddysh is a very interesting player. He really broke out this year as an offensive defender. He's a very quietly effective player at both ends. To some degree I think that works against him as an NHL prospect for the draft. With only average size, I don't think I've got a great handle on the type of player he could become  at the next level. And I assume I'm not alone.

Sarnia's Kevin Spinozzi should be a really intriguing player to NHL teams IMO. He has size, plays well at both ends, and made great strides this year. A very underrated player who did a good job of 'somewhat' shutting down Connor McDavid in round one of the playoffs. Guelph's Phil Baltisberger is a rock solid defensive player who blocks shots and takes the body. The skating may not be strong enough for NHL teams though. The last guy worth mentioning is Saginaw's Greg DiTimaso. After the trade from Mississauga, he really blossomed as a player and will go into next year as a top 4 guy for the Spirit. He definitely has potential as an offensive defender. NHL teams are likely to want to see a full year of production from him though.

Forward
Sault Ste. Marie's Keigan Goetz was no sure thing to even be in the OHL this year, after struggling in a limited role last year with the team. But he battled hard in training camp to secure a spot and has since been a pleasant surprise for the Greyhounds. He's played a variety of different roles for the Hounds this year (depending on injuries, suspensions, etc) and has excelled in all of them. He plays the game hard, creates space for his line mates and has shown surprising skill in close. He's bound to take on a larger role next year and could breakout even further. Cut from the same cloth is Ottawa's Sam Studnicka. He wears an "A" for the 67's and does a bit of everything for them. Even though the offensive numbers aren't eye popping, his contributions are not always measurable. I think he has the potential to be a 4th line energy guy if his offensive game continues to grow.

Oshawa's Bradley Latour plays a similar style to Goetz and Studnicka, but lacks the size that they possess. Regardless, he plays much larger than he is and has a constant motor on the ice. His offensive instincts below the hash marks are good too and he finds scoring lanes. Could have a big year as an overager next year. Last guy to mention is North Bay's Zach Bratina. He's had some injury issues, but Stan Butler has really gotten the most out of him thus far in North Bay. I think that as long as he stays healthy, he's going to develop into a pro prospect under Butler. He plays a power game, is active physically and on the forecheck, and he's actually quite skilled with the puck. Even if he's not drafted this year (given his lack of games played this year, this will probably be the case), I think he'll be an NHL prospect by the time his OHL career is over.



Wednesday, April 8, 2015

NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings for 2015

NHL Central Scouting has released their final ranking for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

Here is a breakdown for OHL players.

Skaters

1. Connor McDavid (1)
2. Dylan Strome (4)
3. Lawson Crouse (5)
4. Mitch Marner (6)
5. Pavel Zacha (8)
6. Travis Konecny (14)
7. Vince Dunn (32)
8. Mitchell Vande Sompel (34)
9. Zach Senyshyn (38)
10. Kyle Capobianco (44)
11. Travis Dermott (46)
12. Blake Speers (49)
13. Nikita Korostelev (50)
14. Graham Knott (57)
15. Anthony Cirelli (67)
16. Matt Spencer (68)
17. Pius Suter (74)
18. Gustav Bouramman (75)
19. Chris Martenet (81)
20. Andrew Mangiapane (85)
21. Thomas Schemitsch (91)
22. Rasmus Andersson (93)
23. Matt Luff (96)
24. Cameron Lizotte (99)
25. Brandon Crawley (102)
26. Roy Radke (104)
27. Dante Salituro (109)
28. Mitchell Stephens (112)
29. Brett McKenzie (120)
30. Colton White (128)
31. Jeremiah Addison (129)
32. Justin Lemcke (137)
33. Trent Fox (139)
34. Brandon Lindberg (140)
35. Stephen Desrochers (145)
36. Hayden McCool (147)
37. Artem Artemov (150)
38. Matt Schmalz (167)
39. Adam Laishram (168)
40. Tyler MacArthur (175)
41. Gustaf Franzen (178)
42. Mike Davies (185)
43. Ethan Syzpula (194)
44. Jarett Meyer (201)
45. Marcus Crawford (207)
46. Riley Bruce (210)
LV. Connor Schlichting

Goalies

1. Mackenzie Blackwood (1)
2. Liam Herbst (11)
3. Connor Hicks (20)
4. Michael McNiven (21)
5. Jack Flinn (25)
6. Lucas Peressini (26)

If you want to see the full list, you can check it out here.

If you want to compare the final rankings to the midseason rankings, you can do so here.

Some Notes:

Biggest Risers

1. Cameron Lizotte +72
2. Brandon Crawley +71
3. Andrew Mangiapane +62
4. Matt Schmalz +43 (not listed on midseason)
5. Pius Suter +42
6. Dante Salituro +36
7. Stephen Desrochers +36
8. Colton White +26
9. Mike Davies +25 (not listed on midseason)
10. Kyle Capobianco +23
Others: Vince Dunn (+21), Anthony Cirelli (+21), Zach Senyshyn (+18), Adam Laishram (+18), Brandon Lindberg (+13), Travis Konecny (+12)

Biggest Fallers

1. Ethan Syzpula -98
2. Nick Betz -81 (not listed on final)
3. David Miller -52 (not listed on final)
4. Tyler MacArthur - 40
5. Hayden McCool -30
6. Petrus Palmu -30 (not listed on final)
7. Gustaf Franzen -27
8. Justin Lemcke -18
9. Matt Spencer -17
10. Garrett McFadden -17 (not listed on final)
Others: Michael McNiven (-15), Jeremy Helvig (-13), Marcus Crawford (-12), Connor Hicks (-10), Nikita Korostelev (-9), Rasmus Andersson (-9)

- My first inclination was, "NHL CSS seems much higher on the OHL crop than they were earlier this season." But upon further review, that isn't really the case. Only a few more OHL'ers inside the top 100. But many of the OHL's top prospects did make some significant gains on the list (as you can see), and all of them are pretty justified IMO.

- In terms of surprises, I'd say Jesse Barwell not squeaking on to the list somewhere is pretty surprising considering how well he finished the season in Saginaw. Sam Harding is another name that continues to be missing in comparison to my own personal list.

- Great to see some of the OHL's top re-entry guys rising on the list as Suter, Mangiapane, Schmalz, and Liam Herbst all rose on the list pretty significantly. Much deserved.

- The big one that's generating a lot of buzz is the ranking of Lawson Crouse over Mitch Marner. I love Crouse, but I'm with people in disagreeing about that one. Marner is second on my list right now.

- Central Scouting continues to love Anthony Cirelli. I think he's a solid young player who has been a pleasant surprise for Oshawa this year. But I don't get his ranking in comparison to some of the other guys lower than him.

- Tough fall for two of the OHL's second tier of draft eligible net minders. McNiven and Hicks took a big tumble. McNiven was a different player after his bad showing at the Top Prospect's Game. I still believe in his long term potential though. And Hicks has size and could also be a quality net minder. Both are still late round NHL picks IMO.

Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 OHL Playoff Predictions: Conference Semi-Finals

We're on to the second round of the OHL playoffs, as action in the Conference semi finals kicks off on Wednesday. The opening round didn't really provide us with a ton of drama as every series but two wrapped up in 5 games or under. And none went the distance (7 games). Quite frankly, I'm not sure I see any of the series' being incredibly close this round either. I think we've got a clear hierarchy in the league this year (in terms of teams built for the playoffs) and I'm very excited for the following round; the Conference finals.

After round one, my prediction record is 7-1, so I'm off to a good start.

Here's how I see round two shaking down.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Oshawa Generals vs. 5. Niagara IceDogs
Season Series: 2-0 (Niagara)
Analysis: The Dogs swept the season series, but those results don't mean a lot to me. Both games occurred prior to 2015 and the Generals didn't have McCarron, Mistele, Pedersen, Cassels, or Mermis in the line up for either game and Michael Dal Colle only played in one. So you can take the regular season matchup as worth a grain of salt. Everyone knows that the Niagara IceDogs were a better team than 5th in the East and they'll give the Generals a good fight. But I think that Oshawa is just too large for Niagara's defence to contain. And despite advancing to round two, goaltending was an issue in the opening round for the IceDogs. Brandon Hope will have to play much better if he hopes to give his team a chance of winning the series. The Generals are not only a well balanced scoring team, but they're the league's top defensive team too. Too much for Niagara to handle.
Prediction: Oshawa in 5

2. Barrie Colts vs. 3. North Bay Battalion
Season Series: 3-3 (TIE)
Analysis: I think this definitely has the potential to be the closest series among the four of this round. North Bay's sweep of Kingston in the first round was incredibly impressive. I expected them to win but not in that fashion. When you look at these two teams, they are built in very different ways. Barrie relies heavily on their top line and the speed and energy they bring. And they rely on Mackenzie Blackwood to make big saves (which he did in round one). Where as North Bay is a three line team who plays a grind it out, trapping approach. They look to use their size to wear down the opposition and they hope to stifle the creativity of opposing forwards by playing tough team oriented defence. Ultimately, I see North Bay taking this one. I think this team is built for the playoffs (just like last year's squad). McIvor and Liberati did such a great job shutting down the Bennett line against Kingston and they'll draw the Blandisi/Mangiapane/Lebanc assignment. I also think the size of North Bay's forward group is going to give Barrie's relatively undersized forward group difficulty. The wildcards for Barrie are obviously the return of Brendan Lemieux (which could happen sometime during this series) and the play of Blackwood. I still don't see it being enough.
Prediction: North Bay in 5

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 4. Guelph Storm
Season Series: 4-0 (SSM)
Analysis: I was surprised with the result of the Storm/Attack series. I give Guelph credit for battling hard to get that win. They were outplayed in several games of that series but Justin Nichols really was sensational and the difference maker. No offence to Nichols, but I don't think there is anything he can do in this battle with the Greyhounds. Sault Ste. Marie is big, fast, poised, and experienced. Realistically, they've got four lines that can hurt you and they'll just pound you into submission. With the way this team is playing right now, I don't think anyone in the West competes with them. That said, Justin Nichols seems to be on a mission right now so I'm sure he'll steal a game (probably one of the Guelph home games).
Prediction: Sault Ste. Marie in 5

2. Erie Otters vs. 3. London Knights
Season Series: 5-1 (Erie)
Analysis: This one won't be a goaltending battle, that's for sure. Two high powered offences duking it out for a chance to get beat up by the Hounds (only partially sarcastic). Erie faced a bit of adversity in round one against Sarnia and I think it was good for them. Their balanced offensive attack is going to be a lot for London's inexperienced defence to handle. It was that way during their regular season match ups and I see the trend continuing. London just doesn't have the depth to compete with Erie in a shoot 'em up type of series. If anything, this experience will be fantastic for the Knights' young defenders as they'll get an opportunity to see the level they'll need to be at in the future. The only way Erie has trouble in this series is if they get into penalty trouble and give London's big guns a chance to play with the man advantage.
Prediction: Erie in 5

What do you think? Will all these series' be closer than I'm predicting?

Monday, March 23, 2015

2015 OHL Playoff Predictions: Round One

As is the annual practice, it's time for my playoff previews to begin. The OHL regular season wrapped up yesterday and the match-ups are set. Round one is set to kick off Thursday.

Last year I went 10-5 (which is somewhat disappointing to me, coming off a 12-3 record the year prior). Maybe this is the year I go a perfect 15-0?

Here are my thoughts on the opening round:


EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Oshawa Generals vs. 8. Peterborough Petes
Season Series: 6-2 (Oshawa)
Analysis: Division rivals, these two teams are incredibly familiar with each other. As you might have expected, the Generals largely dominated the season series between the two. With their stockpiling at the trade deadline, the Generals are such a deep team offensively. The Petes, a talented young team in their own right, just aren't ready or equipped for this type of test. Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the Generals this year has been how good they are defensively. They gave up the fewest goals in the league by a pretty wide margin. Oshawa is just too big, too strong and too deep for Peterborough to handle. Unfortunately, I don't even see Peterborough winning a game here.
Prediction: Oshawa in 4

2. Barrie Colts vs. 7. Belleville Bulls
Season Series: 2-0 (Barrie)
Analysis: These two teams haven't played each other in the new calendar year, if that means anything. On paper, Barrie should probably have little difficulty with Belleville. But, I think this one could be a bit closer than people are suggesting for a couple of reasons. 1. The "hype" factor of this being Belleville's last series. They are going to be amped up to put on (perhaps) a final show for their crowd. 2. Barrie hasn't been playing terrific hockey the last few months. Ultimately, I do see Barrie taking this series though. The Colts' first line is too skilled/quick and I think Mackenzie Blackwood will really step up his game. But don't expect the Bulls to roll over and play dead.
Prediction: Barrie in 6

3. North Bay Battalion vs. 6. Kingston Frontenacs
Season Series: 3-1 (North Bay)
Analysis: No offense to the other series, but I expect this to be the crown jewel of the first round. The reigning Eastern Conference champs take on one of the hottest teams in the entire Canadian Hockey League. The Frontenacs have been a different team since the return of Sam Bennett. Defensively, the Battalion get the edge (especially when you consider Stan Butler's system). In goal, I give the edge to the Fronts with Peressini, who has been sensational this year. Up front, Sam Bennett can obviously be a massive difference maker and he's obviously the best player in the series. But I think the Battalion are a deeper team who's second/third lines are going to be able to score more consistently. This one truly could be a coin flip. My gut says Kingston because of how hot they are. But I'm going with logic and North Bay. I think their deadline acquisitions (Moutrey/Kujawinski) really become critical.
Prediction: North Bay in 7

4. Ottawa 67's vs. 5. Niagara IceDogs
Season Series: 3-1 (Ottawa)
Analysis: Ottawa took the season series, but that's skewed because the majority of those games were played in 2014, before the "real" Niagara IceDogs showed up. The only game played in the new calendar year was dominated by Niagara. The real question mark heading into the series is the health of Travis Konecny. He's going to play, but just how effective will he be? I expect this to be a very high scoring series; goaltending fans beware. Ultimately, I think Niagara's depth gives them an edge here. And I think between one of Brandon Hope or Brent Moran, they'll have one netminder elevate their game. Niagara keeps their hot streak going and moves on.
Prediction: Niagara in 6

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 8. Saginaw Spirit
Season Series: 5-3 (Sault Set. Marie)
Analysis: Similar to the 1 versus 8 matchup in the East, I don't see this one being much of a contest. The Hounds are fully healthy again and as they proved in their last two meetings, Sault Set. Marie's offence is too much for Saginaw to handle (19 goals in those 2 games). In particular, Nick Ritchie has been on fire lately (goals in 4 straight games) and his presence at the top of his game is critical for the Soo's run through this year's playoffs. Like Peterborough, I don't think Saginaw has the ability to get a single victory here.
Prediction: Sault Ste. Marie in 4

2. Erie Otters vs. 7. Sarnia Sting
Season Series: 3-1 (Erie)
Analysis: I'm so excited to see how Connor McDavid elevates his game during this year's playoffs. He has answered the bell in every way this year, so you'd have to assume he'll meet his next challenge head on. The Sting will be his unfortunate victim in the first round. In the later rounds, the Otters are going to need Devin Williams to step up, but I don't think Sarnia has the firepower to put a ton of pressure on him this series. Defensively, the Sting will need Jakob Chychrun at full power, but he's been nursing a shoulder injury and won't likely be at the top of his game. For as hard as the Sting battle,  they don't have the depth or skill to compete with Erie. I can see the Sting surprising the Otters in one game though.
Prediction: Erie in 5

3. London Knights vs. 6. Kitchener Rangers
Season Series: 3-3 (TIE)
Analysis: This is the reason the Rangers brought in Jake Paterson. To help them steal a series against a somewhat superior opponent. Since coming to Kitchener, Paterson has been sensational (.929 save percentage) and he'll have to continue to be that for the Rangers to have a chance here. For the Knights, they NEED secondary scoring options to step up. It just can't be the Dvorak/Domi/Marner show. If they can get some production from their other lines, they should eventually wear down the Rangers defence and increase the number of quality scoring chances they get on Paterson. Regardless of the outcome, Kitchener's '96-'98 core is going to get the necessary experience to make them a better team next year. Ultimately, I do like London's chances in a seven game series. Their overall skill level should prevail.
Prediction: London in 7

4. Guelph Storm vs. 5. Owen Sound Attack
Season Series: 5-3 (Guelph)
Analysis: I see this one being just as much of a toss up as the North Bay/Kingston series in the East. Two very evenly matched teams duking it out. For Guelph to win, they will need their defence to step up against a hard pressing Attack forecheck/cycle game. The loss of Zac Leslie still seems to be hurting the consistency of the backend's performance. The key to Owen Sound's victory will be in net. Whether it's the gigantic Jack Flinn or the inexperienced Michael McNiven, one will need to be at the top of their game. Otherwise both forward groups possess two quality scoring lines who work hard to wear down the opposition. I'm going with the Attack based on the fact that they are a riding a hot streak into the playoffs and have a better overall defensive unit to fall back on.
Prediction: Owen Sound in 7



So...what do you think? How do you see round one shaking down?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015 OHL Coaches Poll Results

Yesterday, the OHL released the results of the 2015 OHL Coaches Poll.

http://www.ontariohockeyleague.com/article/2014-15-ohl-coaches-poll-winners

Of course, a few weeks ago I released my annual coaches poll predictions. Fun to compare.

http://ohlprospects.blogspot.ca/2015/03/ohl-coaches-poll-my-ballot-2015.html?m=1

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Brotherly Love in Owen Sound; Thomas Schemitsch Follows His Brother to Grey County

The OHL is a well documented family affair. Fathers and sons. Brothers and cousins. There are numerous examples of each of these every year in the league. In Owen Sound, the name Schemitsch has been an integral component to the success of the Attack over the last few years. Geoffrey Schemitsch played a total of two and a half years for the Attack, highlighted by the 2011 OHL Championship (where he was a key cog). Now his younger brother Thomas is fulfilling the same role. "It was great to have Geoffrey play for the Attack (and win an OHL championship) and then be drafted by them. I felt a little more comfortable knowing a few of the guys through him. He had nothing but positive things to say about the organization, so it was an easy decision to sign with Owen Sound, " says Schemitsch.

Aaron Bell/OHL Images
While the name on the back of the jersey may be the same, Thomas is not a carbon copy of his brother. The most obvious difference between the two is size. Geoffrey played in Owen Sound at about 6'1, 180lbs, while Thomas is already 6'4, +200lbs. Geoffrey was a smooth skating puck mover, while Thomas plays a heavier game with a heavier shot and goal scoring ability. That's not to say that they're complete opposites though. "I think we both have a high hockey IQ and read the ice well," says Thomas. "We both make a good first pass and I think we are both good teammates who put the team on the ice first before ourselves."

After a great rookie season in 2010, Geoffrey was a 4th round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was never offered a contract from Tampa and finished out his OHL career with Oshawa before moving on to Acadia (where he now plays in the CIS). Having gone through ups and downs during his hockey career, Geoffrey has been a positive influence over Thomas thus far. "Geoffrey’s influence on my hockey career has been substantial. Whenever I need advice, or just bounce something off him he’s always there," says Thomas. "In a nutshell he has said that I should just play the game, because everything else is out of my control," continues Schemitsch.

Of course by "everything else," Thomas is referring to the NHL Entry Draft. He is first time eligible this year and is having a very strong season for the Attack. Currently ranked 98th by NHL Central Scouting, Schemitsch's value for the draft is trending upward and he looks like a possible top 3 round selection in 2015. In fact, Thomas's 13 goals equals the amount that his brother scored over his entire four year OHL career. And his 43 points defeats Geoffrey's personal season best of 40. With his brother drafted 96th overall, a top 3 round selection would give Thomas bragging rights over what he calls "a friendly rivalry."

So what will Thomas bring to the NHL team that drafts him? "I have a high hockey IQ, make a good first pass, read the play well, and have a good stick," says Schemitsch. He does admit that his skating is an area that requires improvement though. When you've got a 6'4 defender with a good head for the game and offensive ability, he's bound to have more fans than detractors among NHL scouts. In particular, his progression as a player in his own end has been incredibly impressive considering that he's only played defence for a few years (after switching from forward in minor midget).

For now though, Thomas's focus is on trying to bring home an OHL Championship to Owen Sound, just as his brother did in 2011. "I try not to think about getting drafted or anything I can’t control. I’m just focusing on doing everything I can do to contribute to the team and help us be successful," says Schemitsch. Currently the Attack are fighting for spots 4 through 6 in the Western Conference, which means that a potential second round match up against powerhouse Sault Ste. Marie looks inevitable (should they advance past the first round of course). Thanks in part to a great leadership group and a hard working attitude, the Attack should be feared as an underdog by any Western Conference team. "We have a belief in our room that when we are at our best we are playing Owen Sound Attack hockey. It is our identity. When we do that as a team we are a tough team to play against.  When we play our game we give ourselves a shot to compete against the tougher teams in our conference."
Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Regardless of how this year plays out, the name Schemitsch will always be synonymous with good hockey; with playoff hockey in Owen Sound. The question is, will Thomas be able to match Geoffrey's ability to bring a Championship to Grey County? We've got a few years (or playoff appearances) to find out.


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Otten - You still took on a pretty big role in Owen Sound as a rookie last year. What was the biggest adjustment for you coming from playing midget and a few games at Junior A level?

Schemitsch - I’d have to say the biggest adjustments coming in from midget and a few games of Junior A, was the size and strength of the players, and the speed of the game. These factors were magnified because I moved from forward to defense half way through minor midget because a defenseman left the team.  In minor hockey players are born in the same year, whereas in this league players can be up to 5 years older and therefore size and strength differences are not as dramatic in minor hockey. The game in the OHL is also faster and played at higher skill level. Another adjustment was being away from home and not seeing family and friends was definitely a difficult adjustment. However, my billets and teammates have been awesome so that was a smooth transition.

Otten - So what's been the biggest difference for you this year, your 2nd in the OHL? Your offensive numbers have certainly improved dramatically.

Schemitsch - The biggest difference for me this year has been the increased responsibility I’ve been given to play in key situations.

Otten - Everyone talks about the Greyhounds and Otters in the West. Do you feel like the Attack are being underrated going into the playoffs, considering you guys can still grab the 4th seed?

Schemitsch - We have a belief in our room that when we are at our best we are playing Owen Sound Attack hockey.  It is our identity.  When we do that as a team we are a tough team to play against.  When we play our game we give ourselves a shot to compete against the tougher teams in our conference.

Otten - How cool was it to get a chance to play for Owen Sound after your brother starred for the Attack (I actually interviewed him and wrote a piece on him too in his draft year)?

Schemitsch - It was great to have Geoffrey play for the attack (and win an OHL championship) for two and half years, and then be drafted by them. I felt a little more comfortable knowing a few of the guys through him. He had nothing but positive things to say about the organization, so it was an easy decision to sign with Owen Sound.

Otten - How influential has Geoffrey been for your hockey career thus far?

Schemitsch - Geoffrey’s influence on my hockey career has been substantial. Whenever I need advice, or just bounce something off him he’s always there.

Otten - Has he given you any advice in regards to the draft, considering he was once a 4th rounder? In particular, has he tried to help you prepare for a chance at the professional level, since he never signed that ELC and moved on to the next level?

Schemitsch - Yes, Geoffrey has given me advice.  In a nutshell he has said that I should just play the game, because everything else is out of my control.

Otten - How are you guys similar and different players (other than the obvious size differences)?

Schemitsch - Yes, there is an obvious size difference, but similarities as well.  I think we both have a high hockey IQ and read the ice well.  We both make a good first pass.  I think we are both good teammates and put the team on the ice first before ourselves.   Geoffrey is a smooth skater, but I have a heavier shot and a bit of a scoring touch (from being a forward previously) that he doesn’t.

Otten - Do you guys have a little rivalry going in the sense that you're trying to get drafted higher than he was (in the NHL)?

Schemitsch - Geoffrey and I are each other’s biggest fans.  To this day, I watch the games he plays for Acadia University when I can, and follow the team.  We are brothers and we are close, so yes, there is a friendly rivalry going on.  Having said that, I’m very happy for and proud of everything my brother has accomplished.  I try not to think about getting drafted or anything I can’t control.  I’m just focusing on doing everything I can do to contribute to the team and help us be successful.

Otten - If I were to ask an NHL scout about your biggest strengths as a player, what do you think they would say?

Schemitsch - I think an NHL scout would say that I have a high hockey IQ, make a good first pass, read the play well, and have a good stick.

Otten - Conversely, what would they say if I asked them about your biggest weaknesses, or what you need to improve upon?

Schemitsch - I think an NHL scout would say that I need to continue to work on my skating, and continually try to get stronger.

Otten - Is there a player in the NHL that you really try to model your game after? Maybe a guy you'd love to be compared to?

Schemitsch - I think a player in the NHL that I try to model my game after Alex Pietrangelo. He’s a player who has an impact on the game in all areas of the ice. He is responsible defensively and contributes offensively. He is a smart puck moving defenseman.

Otten - I remember talking to your brother about him being a huge Leaf fan. Did you grow up the same? If so, how do you feel about the losing right now?

Schemitsch - Growing up, my family and I were, and still are huge leafs fans.

Otten - Who's the toughest forward to go up against in the OHL (If it's Connor McDavid, maybe you could give us a second one)?

Schemitsch - After Connor McDavid, I’d have to say Max Domi. He is very quick shifty and highly skilled.

Otten - Last question. I asked this one to your brother over 5 years ago. Curious to hear your answer. Choose one. Stanley Cup. Memorial Cup. Gold Medal.

Schemitsch - Presently, I want to win the Memorial Cup with the Owen Sound Attack.  This organization and fabulous fan base deserve that much. However, I have to go with winning the Stanley Cup. It’s something you dream of.

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Thanks to Thomas Schemitsch and Brent Fisher for making this article possible. If you're curious, be sure to check out my feature and Q & A with Geoffrey Schemitsch from his NHL draft year (6 years ago). You can find that <HERE>

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Top 10 - Most Impressive 1998 Born Players


One of the many annual traditions I have on this blog is to rank the new batch of OHL rookies in order of the impression they left on me. Only the "true" OHL rookies have been included, thus why it's labeled the "Most Impressive 1998 born players." However, with the whole exceptional status thing, this means that Sean Day will be included on this list (just as Connor McDavid and Aaron Ekblad were previously). I think it's important to compare these guys to what their age appropriate peers are accomplishing in the league.

I always like to note that this isn't an early ranking for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. This ranking isn't the order in which I believe these players should be ranked for the draft, but an order of which players impressed me most. It's not a draft prognostication, it's an acknowledgment of the significant impact these players have had on their teams this season.

This was a tough list to compile this year actually. Many of the league's 98's had very impressive rookie seasons where they played key roles. The guys listed as honorable mentions are also terrific prospects who show great promise and who also impressed me a great deal this season. The future of the OHL is very bright. I do believe that if the U17's had been played in the traditional format of year's past, Ontario's entry would have done quite well.

As mentioned, this is a tradition, so here are the previous year's lists. 1997. 1996. 1995's. 1994's. 1993's. 1992's.

10. Jordan Kyrou - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Was a tough battle between Kyrou, Ang, and Mete for the final spot on this list, but you have to appreciate how important Kyrou has been to Sarnia. He is a ball of energy who's not only noticeable offensively, but who makes some solid defensive plays in the neutral zone and who gets in there on the forecheck. Currently 2nd to Logan Brown in assists for the '98 age group.

9. Keaton Middleton - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Massive defender and the younger brother of Ottawa's Jacob Middleton. I've been really impressed by the confidence he displays in his own end. He's already quite physical, using his size to step up on forwards at the blue line and to rub out the opposition in the corners. His puck skills and overall playmaking ability is a work in progress, but when you've got a big kid who's already dominating shifts in his own end, you've got to be impressed.

8. Taylor Raddysh - Forward - Erie Otters
The CY Young award winner in the OHL this year, with his goal totals quadrupling his assist totals. His ability to find open lanes and capitalize on scoring chances in the slot has made him a very valuable secondary scoring option for a deep Otters team. In a lot of ways, he's playing the role Dylan Strome did last year, in the sense that he's not being asked to do too much. Play within himself, make smart plays with the puck and go to the net to create space for his line mates. Next year he should be given more of a chance to be an offensive leader and a guy who creates more scoring chances for himself.

7. Tye Felhaber - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Felhaber is definitely one of the most purely skilled forwards of this age group. He creates time and space for himself and line mates and already displays a lot of confidence with the puck. He's not a perimeter player either and has shown a willingness to play in traffic, especially near the crease. The development of his 200 foot game and ability to add strength/bulk will determine just how high he goes in the NHL draft next year.

6. Tim Gettinger - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
When you consider just how deep the Hounds are this year, it's impressive that Gettinger has been able to make an impression at all. But he's done a marvelous job of filling in on scoring lines when needed (WJC's, injuries). Gettinger is a really big kid, but he doesn't really play a power forward game. He's more of a skilled winger who happens to be 6'5. Obviously scouts are going to want to see him use his size more effectively next year, but for now you have to appreciate Gettinger's ability to work in transition and keep pace with some of the quicker forwards in the league.

5. Brandon Saigeon - Forward - Belleville Bulls
Really like Saigeon's intensity level and "complete" game already. To some degree, I get a Mike Richards vibe when I watch him play. As he gets stronger, I think we'll start to see how high his skill level is too, as he'll have the opportunity to really blossom under George Burnett. Could definitely be a future captain in the league.

4. Logan Brown - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Like Gettinger, Brown is a massive forward, but one who doesn't really play a power forward game. That said, he's very skilled and does do a good job of using his size to protect the puck and create scoring chances for himself and teammates. He's already a very difficult player to contain along the wall and as he gets quicker/more explosive, he's going to be very hard to stop off the rush too. Big centres like Brown just don't grow on trees and that's why he'll be a hot commodity at the draft in 2016.

3. Michael McLeod - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Like Jonathan Ang, McLeod took a few months to really adjust to the speed and size of defenders at this level. But in the second half of the season, he's been sensational for Mississauga. His ability to create off the rush is exceptional, in particular because of his explosive stride. But he doesn't stick to the perimeter either and has made a conscious effort to take the puck to the net, despite lacking in size/strength. If the Steelheads had some better finishers, McLeod would have better production, as I've seen him create a ton of scoring chances this year that just haven't been put in the back of the net.

2. Sean Day - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Day has his critics. And to some degree, the criticism is warranted. Does his intensity level need to be more consistent? I think so. Are there legitimate question marks surrounding his vision/hockey sense with the puck? Again, I think so. BUT, you have to look at him in context and remove the whole exceptional status label. He's still a super young kid trying to figure things out. What you do have though, is an athletic freak. At 6'2, 230lbs, he's one of the best skaters in the league and when he learns just how dominant he could be at both ends, look out. All the pieces of the puzzle are there, and for that reason, he's still high on this list.

1. Jakob Chychrun - Defense - Sarnia Sting
Easily the top player on this list for me (no offence meant to the others). This kid is unreal. IMO, he's already a top 10 defenseman in the league. He makes an impact at both ends of the ice in a big way. It's certainly not hard to compare him to Aaron Ekblad, in terms of the impact they've had in their first year. BUT, I'd actually say Chychrun is ahead of where Ekblad was offensively at the same age. The confidence he displays in leading the rush and jumping up in the play is very exciting. Sky is the limit for this kid.

Honorable Mentions

Will Bitten - Forward - Plymouth Whalers
Consistency isn't there yet because he's quite undersized and just isn't able to fight through checks effectively. But, he's super skilled and creates very well off the rush when he's able to build up speed. Excited to see how he fares next year.

Jonathan Ang - Forward - Peterborough Petes
It was between him and Kyrou for #10. At the beginning of the year he was invisible and really seemed to be struggling to find his confidence with the puck. But he's really exploded in the second half. His ability to create off the rush, using speed and stick handling ability offers up a much needed change of pace for a Peterborough team who largely is more successful working the cycle.

Adam Mascherin - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Short, but not small winger who has fit right into the Rangers line-up this year. Similar to Kyrou, he brings a lot of energy and I've been impressed by how he works the boards, keeping plays alive.

Dylan Wells - Goaltender - Peterborough Petes
Pretty tough to stand out as a 16/17 year old goaltender in this league. But Wells has had some really standout performances this year and looks like a potential star in the making.

Joseph Raaymakers - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
See Dylan Wells. The consistency hasn't been there (especially lately), but he's had flashes of brilliance and Brandon Halverson is going to need to step up his game next year to hold on to the starter's gig.

Victor Mete - Defense - London Knights
Like Kyrou, Mete probably deserves to be on the list. Offensively, I've really liked what I've seen. He really knows how to lead a rush and he's got great vision up ice. But defensively, there is a lot to work on. Really needs to add size this offseason.

Travis Barron - Forward - Ottawa 67's
I think he's been better this year than the stats have indicated. The production hasn't really been there, but I've liked his performance as a complimentary piece on a scoring line. He knows how to drive the net and does a lot of the little things well.

Ben Hawerchuk - Forward - Barrie Colts
I always like including a few under the radar guys on this list and Hawerchuk is the first of two. Dale's son hasn't been getting a ton of ice time, but he does a lot with it. The Colts' 4th line is always very noticeable because of their tenacity and forechecking ability and Hawerchuk is one of the main reasons. Hopefully he grows a bit.

Jonah Gadjovich - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
A potential power forward who's not eligible until 2017. Gadjovich has had an impact physically in a lot of the Attack games that I've watched and I think he's got a lot of potential as a big winger who can drive the net and score.