Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday Top 10 - Under the Radar Draft Eligibles for 2017


We're over a third of the way into the current OHL season. We've seen a lot of very strong performances from draft eligible players thus far, and we're likely to see many more as we approach the second half. The Preliminary Media/Scout Poll was recently released and that should give everyone a good idea of the top players that the OHL has to offer for 2017. But what about those who are flying under the radar thus far? The OHL has a deep crop this year IMO. I could see as many as 30 players end up within the first three rounds. This list aims to highlight a few of the guys who are bound to see their stock rise should they continue their high level of play.

Here are 10 guys (plus some HM's) that you should be keeping your eye on through the 2nd half (in alphabetical order):

Macauley Carson - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Sudbury has shown significant improvement this year and they're right in the thick of things for top spot in the Central Division. One of the main reasons has been the play of Carson, who has progressed exceptionally well and become (quite possibly) the Wolves most reliable forward this season. His 13 goals this year are 6th among first time draft eligibles and 2nd on the Wolves. He plays in all situations for Sudbury (has just as many shorthanded goals as he does powerplay goals) and all forward positions (has been seeing a lot of time at center recently). The 6'1, 205lbs forward isn't the most fleet of foot (although his skating has already improved from his rookie year), but his versatility and pro style game will no doubt draw the attention of scouts.

Morgan Frost - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Frost is a highly intelligent pivot who has been sensational as a sophomore for the Greyhounds. He's been at his best on the powerplay where his speed, vision, and understanding of spacing are on full display. His 7 powerplay goals are top 5 in the league right now and the Hounds PP is operating at over 20%. But Frost also demonstrates an understanding of how to play at both ends of the ice and has been a standout at the dot (winning 52% of his faceoffs). When all is said and done, he could be a candidate for the top 45 in June.

Kaden Fulcher - Goaltender - Hamilton Bulldogs
The stats for this late birthday '98 certainly don't jump off the page at you. His save percentage is currently under .900 and he's most definitely battled some consistency issues. But the Bulldogs have battled some injury problems and the defense has also struggled in front of him at times. Bottom line is that Fulcher is 6'3 and is easily one of the quickest goalies post to post in the OHL. He oozes athleticism. Working on the technical aspects of his game will be a must, but the basic framework is there for him to become an excellent NHL goaltending prospect and that's why, barring a disastrous second half, I would expect him to be a top 100 selection. Michael Dipietro isn't the only top quality goalie prospect that the OHL has to offer this year.

Jonah Gadjovich - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
3rd year player who has shown significant growth each year. He started off this season pretty snake bitten, but has really managed to turn things around of late (he had 12 shots and 4 points against the Steelheads recently). Creates a lot 5 on 5 by using his size to control the middle of the ice and the boards and he's got a very heavy shot that could make him a goal scorer at the next level. Like Carson (above) he doesn't have the quickest boots in the world, but he's a very effective player in all three zones and a very hard worker who's a legit NHL prospect.

Ben Jones - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Remarkable how he still hasn't found his way onto NHL Central Scouting's watch list, despite his strong play this year. But his play hasn't gone unnoticed, as Redline Report recently mentioned him as a potential top 50 selection in a recent article. Not sure what's not to like about Jones, except for his lack of elite size (6'0). Great speed and skill. Responsible in all three zones and has thrived in an agitator role. Wins faceoffs. Has emerged as a leader on a very young Niagara team that has surprised this year. This guy deserves to be a "B" rated prospect, never mind absent from NHL CSS' list altogether.

Linus Nyman - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Really put himself on the map with his performance at the Ivan Hlinka this summer where he finished the tournament with 7 points, good for 3rd in scoring. But he's been terrific in the OHL too, leading all rookie scorers with 14 goals (and leading Kingston in overall goal scoring). Nyman may not be big (5'10), but he's extremely quick and his puck skill and creativity in open ice are well above average. Colour me impressed (although I was already impressed in the summer after watching the Hlinka).

Nate Schnarr - Forward - Guelph Storm
Schnarr, an OHL rookie out of Waterloo, is definitely an impressive prospect. At 6'3, he brings the size element to the center position that NHL scouts look for now. He's also already a committed two-way player. And even though he's slowed down a bit after a hot start, he has all the tools (speed, hands, intensity) to develop into a very impressive player. Bottom line is that he needs to add some strength to a relatively wiry frame, but when he fills out, he could be a big time contributor. A ton of potential here.

Jack Studnicka - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Riding a six game point streak, Studnicka is a guy that I've received a fair amount of questions about lately. The younger brother of former stalwart Sam, Jack has emerged as one of the most important players for one of the most surprising teams in the league. Studnicka is a very complete player who plays in all situations for the Generals and demonstrates great vision and patience in the offensive zone. While he didn't get any votes for the preliminary media poll (linked above), that doesn't mean he doesn't have fans in the scouting community. If the Generals continue to play well and he continues to be a big factor, he should creep his way up draft lists.

Robert Thomas - Forward - London Knights
Thomas is another guy that I've received questions on of late. The London Knights, historically, don't give out ice time to young players very easily. But Thomas has already worked is way towards top 6 ice time and is averaging close to a point per game for the first place Knights. He's is a highly skilled offensive pivot who uses speed and creativity with the puck to create time and space to work the middle of the ice. Offensively, he has a very high ceiling and that's why he's slowly gaining momentum as a first round candidate come June.

Conor Timmins - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
On a team with two NHL drafted defenders (Colton White and Gustav Bouramman), Timmins has emerged as the Hounds' number one defender and is rocketing up NHL draft lists. The first thing you'll notice is the intensity with which he plays in the defensive end. While he's only 6'1 (relatively average sized by today's standards), he makes his presence felt by being extremely physical in the corners and in the open ice. But Timmins also has a significant offensive component to his game, quarterbacking the number one powerplay unit and displaying poise and composure with the puck at both ends. This guy is a legitimate prospect. Quite often with late birthday players, there's a slow build on draft hype, and that appears to be the case with Timmins. But if he keeps up this level of play, he'll definitely be a top 60 pick.

Honorable Mentions

Oliver Castleman & Matthew Philip - Forwards - Niagara IceDogs
Included these guys as a pair because they've formed quite the dynamic duo for the IceDogs this season. The two have been consistent secondary scoring options for one of the surprise teams in the league. They play a similar game, built on energy and skill, constantly buzzing in the offensive end and outworking opposing defenses. I think Philip might have better draft odds because he plays down the middle and is a bit bigger, but both are guys to watch and deserve mention for how important they've been for Niagara this year.

Zach Gallant - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Former 5th overall pick in the OHL priority selection, Gallant has been significantly better this year after struggling mightily as an OHL rookie (he didn't score a goal in his 16 year old season). Because of his play last year, he's going to have to work hard to put himself back on the scouting map. And he's doing just that right now. Gallant seems to be getting better and better as the season goes on. He plays the game hard and excels in driving the net from the middle. He's also really excelled in the faceoff circle at close to 60% (which is nearly top 5 in the league). Definitely flying under the radar right now.

Matthew Villalta - Goaltender - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A free agent signing by the Hounds, Villalta continues to push Joseph Raaymakers for playing time. He was recently the CHL goaltender of the week. His starts haven't come against the league's best, so I'm curious to see how he fares when (or if) the Hounds take the training wheels off a bit, but thus far he's certainly made himself someone to watch down the stretch. He's got good size and appears to be a quick learner. Admittedly, I haven't caught one of his starts yet, but I feel like he definitely deserves mention here despite that.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Preliminary Media/Scout Poll for 2017

It's time for the first consensus media/scout poll for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Even though there was a bit of deviation, it does seem like most people are set on who the top 3 players are from the OHL; Gabriel Vilardi, Owen Tippett, and Nic Hague. The order certainly isn't set but those three seem to have separated themselves from the pack right now. Outside of that, Matthew Strome seems to be on the fringe of making it a consistent top 4, but he still has some doubters. But when we're talking about the 5th best prospect from the OHL this year? Good luck finding a consensus. A remarkable 9 other players received votes for the Top 5. And an astonishing 22 players received consideration for the Top 10. Just shows how wide open this draft class is from the OHL. Definitely some quality depth, but also a lot of players with some question marks. Just how many first rounders will the OHL have this year? At this point, I could see that number being very low...or high, depending on how a lot of these players finish their seasons. 

For those unfamiliar with how this works, I poll many of the OHL's brightest minds; those who cover the league incredibly well and know the OHL inside, and out. These contributors supply me with their top 10 available players from the OHL, in addition to some comments. I then put it all together and provide you with a cumulative list. Call it "the consensus."

As always, this list involves contributions from a rather colourful cast of characters. Contributing their rankings and thoughts to this preliminary list for 2017 were:


Corey Pronman - ESPN writer (@coreypronman)
Dominic Tiano - Writer for The OHL Writers (@dominictiano)
Dan Stewart - Director of Scouting for Future Considerations(@StewartFC)
Brendan Ross - Director of Scouting for TheScout.ca(@RossyYoungblood)
Peter Kneulman - Provides OHL coverage at OHL Writer (@PeterKneulman)
Tony Ambrogio - PA Announcer for the Mississauga Steelheads & TSN editor (@Tony_Ambrogio)
Mike Morreale - Staff writer for NHL.com (@mikemorrealeNHL)
Anthony Mauro - Director/Founder of Draft Buzz Hockey(@draftbuzzhockey)
Ryan Kennedy - Associate Senior Writer for The Hockey News(@THNRyanKennedy)
Matt Grainda - Scout for TheScoutca (@graindaiv)
Todd Warriner - CHL analyst for Sportsnet, Colour analyst for the Windsor Spitfires (@Todd_Warriner) 

Peter Harling - Managing Editor of Dobber Prospects (@pharling) 
Scott Wheeler - OHL scout with Future ConsiderationsSite Manager of Pension Plan Puppets, and writer for the National Post/Toronto Sun (@scottcwheeler)
Reed Duthie - Play by Play voice of the Hamilton Bulldogs (@rcduthie)

Mark Seidel - Scouting Director for NACS Hockey (@MarkSeidel)
  
and of course...myself (@BrockOtten


Here's the list:

1. Gabriel Vilardi - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Total Votes: 16
High/Low Ranking: 1st (12x)/2nd (4x)
Comments:
"I see him regularly and he's been remarkably consistent despite returning from a knee injury. Stronger, bigger this year. Underrated passer with a great release, and is strong on the puck in the trenches. Appendectomy will sideline him until after Xmas. Shouldn't hurt his stock. Comparable: Corey Perry" - Todd Warriner

"Has really impressed after returning to the Spits lineup following an injury he sustained in the third game of Canada's inter-squad scrimmage just prior to the Ivan Hlinka. He does possess great hockey sense, great vision and puck moving abilities. He loves to have the puck on his stick, and can maneuver the puck effectively. He's really poised can influence the game in all three zones. He really excels below the dots in the offensive end and puts that 6-foot-3, 201-pound frame to good use in generating scoring opportunities for himself and teammates." - Mike Morreale

"Dating back to his OHL draft season where he was playing with the CIH Academy in Ottawa, Vilardi has always played and thought the game at a higher level than his peers. This intelligence remains his best asset heading into the NHL Draft because it allows him to see the ice better, anticipate plays more accurately and process the game quicker. His skating has come a long ways and it’s rounded him into a dangerous two-way pivot. His handling skills are top notch and he always seems to emit a sense of confidence and control when the puck is on his stick. Vilardi is a player who elevates the level of play of his teammates and given his well-rounded skills, he should be the first OHLer off the board. He will certainly benefit from an extra-long season playing on the Windsor Spitfires, who’ll host the Memorial Cup." - Brendan Ross

“Shows no signs of injury, and fits in real well with Windsor’s talented forward lineup. Like him more as a C due to current skating lag, but can hang on the wing and perform at a high clip. Really quick, reactive stick once he hits the offensive zone and can rip the puck.” - Anthony Mauro

“Impacts the game on a consistent basis. Has the creativity to make skilled plays with the puck and the power to push his way through traffic or battle for pucks along the wall. Has excellent vision and offensive instincts knowing where his line mates are on the ice and how to best utilize them. Finds open space and takes advantage of the smallest gaps to either place the puck on a teammates stick or to fire off a deadly shot. If he can stay healthy and improve his skating he looks like a potential high end offensive winger at the NHL level.” - Dan Stewart

"Vilardi is a center with good size at 6’2” that can dominate in all three zones. The thing is, he’s been playing wing for the Spits this season. He’s not a flashy skater and not overly speedy so he may be better suited on the wing. And to date, he’s overwhelmingly succeeded. Vilardi has excellent puck protection skills. He keeps his head on a swivel and has excellent vision. His extremely high hockey sense allows him to survey the situation and make decisions quickly and accurately. Vilardi has a powerful shot with a quick and deceptive release. His net front presents is above average and has excellent hand/eye coordination at deflecting shots. He cycles extremely well and is willing to drive the net." - Dominic Tiano

"It has been an injury plagued season for Vilardi. After missing the Ivan Hlinka tournament due to injury and a chance to make a strong impression at the first scouting opportunity in his draft season, he is now out indefinitely after undergoing an appendectomy operation. Limited to just 16 games, he has managed to produce 22 points while playing out of position. Vilardi is a natural center, but has been playing wing on a line with Logan Brown. Vilardi could have played his way into contention for a top three pick in the draft, but his injuries put that into question." - Peter Harling  

2. Owen Tippett - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Total Votes: 16
High/Low Ranking: 1st (4x)/5th (1x)
Comments:
"I'm putting him first because his skating is so special and his hands are obviously pretty good, too. Tippett is burying tons of chances and that's a great harbinger for the future." - Ryan Kennedy

"NHL ready shot right now. Continues to work on other aspects of his game." - Tony Ambrogio

"Speed, speed, speed, though he has the size of an OHL power forward Owen Tippett has tremendous acceleration and top end speed that give his game a different dimension from most. Able to play physically and control the puck or beat defenders one on one there isn't much the Mississauga forward can't do. A natural goal scorer, Tippett is definitely a shoot first, shoot second, pass later kind of player and could use to diversify his game a little more to make himself more dangerous with and without the puck but having already surpassed his goal total from the 15-16 campaign (15 through 48 games last year to 16 through 21 this year) he will certainly have the eye of many around the NHL." - Reed Duthie

"If you’re looking for speed, he’s got it. Power? Check. Pure sniper? Probably the best available from the OHL. Tippet has an explosive first step and top end speed to go with it. He’s a possession monster once the puck is on his stick. He can slow up and survey or he can keep on driving towards the goal. He has an accurate, hard shot that he gets off his stick quickly. He plays with a shoot first mentality. He started off slowly but took off like gangbusters. His production has dropped a bit in November, but is still producing at a point per game. He’s made improvements in his own zone but continues to be a work in progress." - Dominic Tiano

“Ultra-fast skating winger with an absolutely lethal shot. Great power and balance to his stride. Drives down the wing, knows where the high percentage scoring areas are and gets to those areas. Has good size and a frame to continue to build upon. Works the wall, engages in battles, and gets his nose dirty. Has big time goal scoring potential with a firecracker release but there are some questions about his hockey sense.”  - Dan Stewart

“Pure shooter can blitz or lay back and find seams with good awareness of the field. Has really settled into his draft year this fall and taken a big step forward as far as being a consistent offensive presence. Has more room to develop into a dominant scorer than 2016 12th overall teammate McLeod.” - Anthony Mauro

"NHL shot and a scorers mentality. There is no doubt he will score at the next level but I do question how some of his other attributes will play at the next level. At the end of the day he has an elite skill that makes in intriguing." - Peter Kneulman 

"Best pure goal scorer in the Draft. Combines a pro shot with great feet to be able to beat guys wide. Defensive game still needs work but you aren't drafting him to be Bob Gainey." - Mark Seidel 

3. Nic Hague - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Total Votes: 16
High/Low Ranking: 2nd (4x)/5th (1x)
Comments:
"Scouts drool over big defensemen who can skate and too often size becomes more of a factor than it should be. With Hague, already a hulking 6’6 and well over 200-pound defender, the fawning is well-earned because he’s also an excellent offensive option who can play the powerplay and contribute. While Hague could stand to improve his puck-handling, his heavy slapshot and above-average vision make him a dynamic presence with and without the puck." - Scott Wheeler

"The NHL is clearly trending towards a fast game, and favours defencemen that can move the puck in transition from the defensive zone. By looking at the tale of the tape, you may think Hague is a throwback to the old days where defencemen had to be big hulking physical defensive defencemen. At 6-6, 214 pounds it would be easy to see Hague fit that mould. However, skating is far from a deficiency in his game and he is equally adept offensively as he is defensively. He has a cannon of a shot from the point and can run the power play. Defencemen with his skill set are simply next to impossible to acquire outside of the draft, and as such he should be a top ten pick as the should be the second defenceman off the board come June." - Peter Harling

"The reach and size of Hague obviously stand out, but the offensive dimension really helps his stock. He can help a team at both ends of the ice." - Ryan Kennedy

“Has the type of point direction to lead as defender in offensive situations. Huge shot, knows how to position himself in prime areas, and even travels out of most D’s comfort zone to score. Gangly, and desperately needs to gain strength/coordination over this season and even past that.” - Anthony Mauro 

"I'm big on big mobile Dmen, and Hague has all the tools. 6'6' rangy, and still figuring out his body, he an excellent passer, plays physically with an edge, heavy shot and improved skater. A big part of Missy's transition game. Nothing missing from his game. Comparable: Brent Seabrook" - Todd Warriner

“Big, mobile, strong and flashes a little physically nasty side at times. Extremely difficult to get around for opponents and can really shut you down with his wingspan and positioning; getting his stick on the puck or his body on an attacker. Has a booming shot that makes goalies question their choice to play the position and solid vision. Kid has loads of upside but needs to improve his pivots and first step quickness to reach his potential of a top four NHL blueliner.” - Dan Stewart

"Something that isn't said about prospects enough...on top of all the skills that this guy brings to the ice, he's even more impressive off of it. Was the OHL's Bobby Smith Trophy (Scholastic Player of the Year) winner last year. Check the history of that award. Not a lot of duds on it. He's got leadership qualities moving forward and will no doubt interview extremely well come time for the combine. Just an impressive young man, on and off the ice." - Brock Otten

4. Matthew Strome - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Total Votes: 16
High/Low Ranking: 2nd (1x)/9th (1x)
Comments:
"A different player than his brothers Ryan and Dylan. The skating strides are similar, but Matthew is more of a rugged, power winger. Really utilizes his size well in the offensive end, protecting the puck in traffic and is aggressive in driving the net. Flashes a physical game too, that could most certainly grow with added strength and confidence. Like his brothers though, the hockey sense and vision with the puck is top notch. I will say that IMO, his skating has already come a long way since his last year and may even be better than Dylan's and Ryan's in their draft seasons." - Brock Otten

"I'm not as worried about his skating as some others – he's got time to work on that. What I see is a big, smart kid who can really produce offense." - Ryan Kennedy

"Describing Matt Strome as a poor skater would have been a compliment in his OHL draft season but his advancement in his skating has been damn impressive. While he’s not yet a strong skater, Strome has erased a lot of concerns as he finds success at the junior level. Kudos for his efforts. His skilled hands, smart awareness and ability to play and execute in tight spaces are his calling cards. His touch on the puck and playmaking acumen certainly allow him to exploit opponents’ weaknesses." - Brendan Ross

"An electric to the start has cooled off a bit of late for the Bulldogs but not for the 17 year old power forward. At 6'3'' and over 200 lbs, Strome combines power forward size with silky hands with a lightning quick release & heavy, accurate shot. Responsible at both ends of the rink Strome is a trusted member of the Bulldogs penalty kill group seeing frequent time on the ice in those situations. A staple of the first power play unit Strome can use his shot to play the perimeter or net front where he is very difficult for OHL defenders to move aside. Strome has also showed a continuing resolve to improve his skating game which will pay off as he moves towards the next level." - Reed Duthie

"He's the biggest in terms of size and strength of the three Strome siblings. The common bond among them is the fact they're e players who persevere and play with determination and grit. Matt is strong down low and at protecting the puck. He's very hard to check, and has excellent IQ. He's a proven finisher." - Mike Morreale

"As with both of his older brothers, Matthew Strome’s skating is largely the only major concerns have with the two-way forward. And while he may not be quite as gifted as his two older brothers are with the puck, Matthew is a dynamic scorer and passer who can create through the neutral zone into the slot and off the cycle. His strong possession style game, and his NHL size could make him a versatile top-six option at the next level." - Scott Wheeler    

5. Mackenzie Entwistle - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Total Votes: 14
High/Low Ranking: 4th (2x)/Outside of the Top 10 (2x)
Comments:
"Perhaps a bit of biased on this one but Hamilton's hulking centre may be the most improved player in the OHL from his debut in the 15-16 season opener until now. With tremendous offensive instincts and a willingness to get to high traffic areas Entwistle can create offence for himself and his linemates but his biggest contributions may come through his high hockey IQ. Able to think the game at a high level Entwistle made his initial impact with the Bulldogs (much as Matthew Strome did) as a 16 year old on penalty kill duty where he was able to thrive in the high intensity situation. Now learning to use his size to shield the puck and ward off defenders to help his offensive creativity, Entwistle's development curve points straight up." - Reed Duthie

“Versatile forward is a man’s man, period. Right now, does everything and looks like he’s gonna have a long NHL career. Bleeds intensity as he hits, passes, scores, defends, and dangles.” - Anthony Mauro

"He is a very versatile player who is perhaps a jack of all trades, but a master of none. He has size at 6-3, 181 and is can play either center or the wing. He can play up and down the lineup in either offensive or defensive situations because he is a smart two-way player. Hamilton uses him on the first penalty kill unit and he has a shorthanded goal to his credit. With his size, he can play the net presence as well and is effective on the powerplay. His skating skills are strong and he can drive the net with power. Projecting him to higher levels, he may be best suited as a third or fourth line center with offensive upside." - Peter Harling

"A high energy player who has really developed in the past year. Drives the net hard and isnt afraid to go into the dirty areas. Really intriguing projectability. His size and physicality mixed with his energy gives him a really high floor at the next level. If his development continues at the same rate it has the past season it makes his ceiling very exciting." - Peter Kneulman

"A blue-collar, hard-working, body banging power winger. Uses his size well to protect the puck, win battles or just to lay out a devastating hit. Hard to check off the puck. Plays a heavy game that will only grow as he adds more strength. Possesses a good shot release with high velocity; accuracy is a little iffy. Skating is just average. Makes good decisions. Shows flashes of high end puck skills where he dangles around an opponent but can also play the chip and chase game. Not a high end skill guy but can complement one in a secondary or supporting role.” - Dan Stewart

"Has a lot of Nick Paul in him. Can play really well in all 3 zones and is already a premiere pk guy. His offensive game is developing and he will score his share but Coaches will LOVE him." - Mark Seidel 
 
6. Nick Suzuki - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Total Votes: 14
High/Low Ranking: 4th (1x)/Outside of the Top 10 (2x)
Comments:
"The former London Jr. Knight is enjoying himself a great draft season to date as he impresses scouts with his outstanding two-way play. At the time of this writeup, Suzuki sits atop the leaders in short-handed goals (3) and is a key offensive part of the Owen Sound offence, chipping in on 37% of team goals. Much like Bo Horvat in his draft season, Suzuki owns good NHL certainty due to his work ethic, natural hockey sense and versatility." - Brendan Ross

"Good sense and vision and is versatile along the front line. A really good passes and poised with the puck; can execute skilled plays in traffic. Scouts tell me he's an under-rated finisher and anticipates well to get himself in prime scoring areas. He's as a complete a player as you'll find in the draft." - Mike Morreale

"A very underrated prospect right now IMO. Currently the leading scorer among draft eligible prospects in the OHL...and that includes an extremely slow start that had him put up only 1 goal and 1 assist in his first 5 games. While his skating ability is definitely an asset, I think his biggest strength is his hockey sense. Allows him to be an excellent 200 foot player and a constant offensive threat. The physical skills aren't great (which would help to explain his lack of hype), but the rest of his game is legit. He's one heck of a hockey player." - Brock Otten

“A skilled, well-rounded, hard-working and fluid skating playmaker. This always aware centre really has jumped out to a strong start this season for the Attack. Impressive ability to make quick decisions with the puck and put his line mates in situations to succeed with well-timed passes. Plays that two-way role well and I see him growing that aspect of his game where he will be a strong 200-foot player at the next level.” - Dan Stewart   

"A bit of a bowling ball type player, Suzuki can go around or through his opposition to set the play or hit the back of the net himself. High hockey IQ will also keep Suzuki on the rise in addition to a tremendous work ethic. Suzuki is the type of player who appears to get stronger as the games move along." - Reed Duthie 

7. Ivan Lodnia - Forward - Erie Otters
Total Votes: 11
High/Low Ranking: 3rd (1x)/Outside of the Top 10 (4x)
Comments:
“A smallish but immensely skilled prospect. Impressive possession skills and slick hands. Always involved showing an attack mentality to his game. Despite his less than impressive size he can be strong, balanced and hard to take off the puck. Drives to the net and battles with bigger defenders when there. Skating and size combo are a question mark for me as he is shifty but not overly fast. I want to push him higher on my list after a view but he has just not convinced me to do so yet.”  - Dan Stewart

"Lodnia falls into that ever growing category of smallish forward that can skate and has skill which is a growing commodity in the NHL. Along with his high level skating, he possesses high end hockey IQ, vision and playmaking abilities. As long as he keeps his feet moving when he has the puck he’s an excellent puck possession guy. Despite his size, he’s not afraid to go to the net, He’s actually quite strong. He has a quick shot and release so he becomes a threat to score himself." - Dominic Tiano

"Undersized but skilled, speedy and crafty. Lodnia likely has some refining to do to his game to continue his development as a three zone player but may be the most dangerous of the OHL draft crop with the puck on his stick, with a great release, tremendous vision and moves to make defenders miss in a phone booth Lodnia can fire or distribute and render opposition helpless." - Reed Duthie

"Another skilled player on the smallish side but one who oozes upside. Great skater who is very creative with the puck and can succeed in a multitude of situations." - Peter Kneulman

"Seems to be a polarizing prospect, likely because of his lack of elite size. But he did hit a growth spurt and is about 5'10/5'11 now. I think one of the most important statistics to point out about Lodnia is that of his 10 goals, only one has been on the powerplay. He does a lot of damage 5 on 5 and is very strong for a kid his size. Navigates traffic extremely well and just seems to understand the game. High offensive upside IMO." - Brock Otten 

8. Sasha Chmelevski - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Total Votes: 12
High/Low Ranking: 5th (2x)/Outside of the Top 10 (3x)
Comments:
"An extremely fast skater and difficult to contain 1-on-1. He's from Huntington Beach, Calif., and is really putting up the points for the 67's this season. He's all about offense; give him the puck and watch him go." - Mike Morreale

"A player I expect to continue to rise as the season goes along Chmelevski was moved as part of the Travis Konecny deal last season and looks like he will make the 67's very happy about that trade. Offensively dynamic and improving in other parts of his game, Chmelevski will be one of the smoothest player to be drafted in the '17 class overall. Looking effortless with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone I believe he has only begun to scratch the surface of what he could become." - Reed Duthie

"Despite lacking size, Chmelevski has proven himself again and again early on this season as an offensive threat, and someone who can score whenever he gets the puck in the slot. His line with Austen Keating and Artur Tyanulin has been even better than many expected it to be and his creativity with the puck is a major factor in their success. Few can score in tight like Chmelevski can." - Scott Wheeler

“A constant threat to put the puck in the net whenever his skates touch the ice. A magician with the puck on his stick. Utilizes explosive burst and strong protection skills to go where he wants on the ice.  A big time goal scorer with impressive shot release and escapability. Impressive natural instincts to know where to be on the ice. Sets up and can unload a wicked one-timer in a flash. Could improve the level of commitment in the defensive zone as well as his overall consistency shift to shift. Has some big NHL upside that pushes him higher up my list than most.” - Dan Stewart

"Chmelevski is another “undersized” speedy forward who is at his best when he has the puck on his stick. He had an excellent Hlinka tournament and has carried that over to the OHL this season. He has very good hockey smarts and thinks the game ahead of his peers. He has a good shot with a very good release but is also an above average playmaker. The downfall with Chmelevski is that he doesn’t always put the effort in defensively or when he doesn’t have the puck on his stick. He’s going to have to put in a better effort and find consistency in that effort." - Dominic Tiano

9. Michael Dipietro - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
Total Votes: 7
High/Low Ranking: 5th (1x)/Outside of the Top 10 (8x)
Comments:
"Good athlete, competitor who's moving less in the net and stopping the puck more. Consistent this year, improved puck moving skills. Never quits on rebounds, and will be centrepiece in net for Mem Cup hosts. Comparable Jonathan Quick." - Todd Warriner

"Best goalie I have seen in the OHL in quite a few years. Anticipation, positioning and athleticism all make him elite. I would love to seem him make Team Canada as a 3rd goalie for the WJC as I feel he is the future of the team between the pipes for the next 2 seasons. Very projectable at the next level and is a treat to watch." - Peter Kneulman 

"I’m not a fan of ranking a goaltender this high but DiPietro is deserving, so far, of being the first OHL goaltender to be selected in the first round since the Boston Bruins chose Malcolm Subban 24th overall in 2012. Only two things that DiPietro needs to work on, size and rebound control. The latter he’s shown improvement on over last season and he continues to improve. The question now becomes: can NHL scouts get over the size question they covet so much for a goaltender with number one potential written all over him? If not, many teams will be sorry to have missed out on him and one team will be ecstatic that he dropped to them. If he is deserving of first round consideration though, I should have him number 5 on this list as I don’t see anymore than 4 or 5 OHL’ers being selected in the first round." - Dominic Tiano

“Athletic, quick and aggressive but sub monster sized puck stopper. Extremely talented at reading and reacting to the developing play. Very smart. Gets up high in his crease to close off angles but can also stand tall deep in his crease when the play gets greasy. His recovery and lateral movements are impressive. Can make flashy saves as well as look very efficient in his play similar to Carey Price. Has the calmness yet confidence to succeed at the next level.” - Dan Stewart

10. Greg Meireles - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Total Votes: 6
High/Low Ranking: 5th (1x)/Outside the Top 10 (9x)
Comments:
"There's tons of upside here. He has high-end speed and quickness and an ability to create separation with his first three strides. He's extremely elusive in the open ice and possesses very good hockey sense." - Mike Morreale

"Despite being 5’10 and 173 pounds, Meireles battles fiercely along the walls for pucks, often against bigger players, and comes away with the pucks in those battles more often than not.  He’s brought an element of physicality to his game that can only improve with added bulk to his frame. His speed, anticipation and work ethic make him relentless on the forecheck. Meireles is a very good skater with excellent speed and a first step that rockets him to top speed. Combined with his abilities to anticipate, he can get into lanes quickly often taking away attempted passes. He has very good vision and playmaking skills and while he projects as a playmaker first, he possesses an above average shot that can beat goaltenders. He has an extremely high hockey IQ and thinks the game one or two steps ahead." - Dominic Tiano

"After playing his 16 year old season in the CCHL Meireles has been as advertised in his first full season in the OHL. On the smallish side but his scrappy and fearless play in the dirty areas allows him to succeed inspite of this. High end skills and playmaking ability who can create offence and make those around him better." - Peter Kneulman

"Certainly not the biggest (a bit of a theme among many of the top forwards available from the OHL this year), but you can't help but notice Meireles when you watch Kitchener play. Plays with a ton of energy, grit, and heart, but also clearly possesses a lot of skill. His skating is definitely a top notch asset as he's got a terrific extra gear which he uses to win a lot of loose puck battles and push the pace cutting through the neutral zone. As he continues to get stronger, he could turn out to be a real beast. Let's not forget that it's his first year in the OHL." - Brock Otten

Honorable Mentions:

Jason Robertson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs (5 votes)
Highest Ranking: 6th (1x)
Comments:
"Robertson is a prospect on the rise. The Frontenacs second round pick raised some eyebrows when he cracked a loaded Kingston roster last year as a 16-year-old rookie. Robertson was invited to play in the All-American Prospect game where he scored a goal and turned some heads again. Robertson is very good at carrying the pace of the play using his size, puck skills and offensive instincts. At 6-2, 194 he could use his size more aggressively as he is a very calm and passive player. The knock on Robertson is his skating, he has heavy feet and is slow getting up to speed, but once he gets going he can move." - Peter Harling 

"Growing into a leadership role on a team having a down year can't be an easy task but Robertson is making it look fairly simple as he continues to grow his game in all three zones, serving as a leader at even strength, penalty kill and power play. Roberston is able to use his size at 6'2'' 194 lbs. to be a net front presence but has soft enough hands to cash in from the doorstep making him even harder to play against. Not afraid of the physical side nor commitments in his own zone, Robertson may not have the offensive upside of some on the list but projects as a good all around character player that teams will love to have." - Reed Duthie

"Was really interesting to see him in the top 10 of the ENTIRE draft in the latest Redline Report article. Definitely was a bit shocking (and this is coming from someone who likes Robertson). Drives the net well and has good hands, but I'm still wondering what his high end potential would be for the next level. Can he be a guy who is a driving force on an offensive line or is he more of a secondary option/complimentary piece?" - Brock Otten

" Kid has heavy boots but he is a pure scorer. Finds seams in the offensive end and seems to always capitalize. His skating has to improve but he his scoring will make teams happy." - Mark Seidel


Isaac Ratcliffe - Forward - Guelph Storm (4 votes)
Highest Ranking: 4th (1x)
Comments:
“Big, lanky power winger in the making with good puck skills. Impressive skater for a big towering guy who is still growing. Has soft hands and is dangerous anywhere around the crease. Screens the goalie well and can clean up any rebounds with his long reach and strength. Fights for his space, is physical and plays with a mean streak. Finishes checks and is hard to contain along the wall. Consistency is what will define him going forward; right now he can look like a top prospect on one or two shifts but then comes the inevitable handful of shifts where he is disengaged. If he can sort that out he will be a riser on my list.” - Dan Stewart

“Big kid who thinks and acts like he’s 5’10 – giving him an offensive arsenal that makes you double take. More of a high-end winger than most probably label him, he has really soft hands and flexibility to make plays in all types of situations.” - Anthony Mauro

"Was hurt most of last year so he is a revelation for some guys. Big kid that will top out at 225 pounds and has soft hands and can make plays." - Mark Seidel

Markus Phillips - Defense - Owen Sound Attack (4 votes)
Highest Ranking: 7th (2x)
Comments:
"He hasn't progressed as much as I thought he would by this point, but I still like his upside." - Tony Ambrogio

"I think he's a very solid prospect. Oozes leadership potential. Plays the game the right way in his own end. Doesn't have great size, but has a strong lower body that he uses to get leverage (think Travis Dermott). I think my concern is over his offensive potential at the next level. Shows flashes of being a solid offensive contributor, but can be prone to turnovers when he tries to push the pace of play. I don't know if he's a "naturally" gifted offensive player." - Brock Otten

Alex Formenton - Forward - London Knights (3 votes)
Highest Ranking: 4th (1x)
Comments:
"Formenton is definitely high on my personal list and he’s always been one of my favourite prospects. After falling to the 11th round to the Knights (I personally I had ranked in Top 50), London criminally scooped up the tenacious, skilled winger and have reaped the rewards after he sprouted up 9 inches in half a year. Size is no longer a concern as the six-foot-one winger now his range well to hold onto pucks in possession and create off the rush. He’s owns a great sense of awareness and I really like how he leaves an impact each and every shift. He’s a sleeper of sorts but I’m fairly confident he will become an impact NHLer down the road." - Brendan Ross

"Slightly built and snake bit around the net but is a fantastic skater. Fearless driving net, good hands, good lateral movement. With strength should be able to make transition to speed of pro game." - Todd Warriner

Dmitri Samorukov - Defense - Guelph Storm (3 votes)
Highest Ranking: 8th (1x)
Comments:
"Liked him a lot in my early season viewings, but have come away disappointed the last few times that I've seen Guelph. I think that just means we're looking at a kid that's very raw right now. Great physical gifts and an interesting skill set, but still trying to find a consistent role on an inconsistent (and young) Guelph team. Starting to look more like a 2nd/3rd rounder and not the 1st rounder many were hyping him as in the 1st month." - Brock Otten

"“Drew Sergachev comparisons in his pre-draft year, but the only thing that’s comparable really is the fall slump. Slender and more of a teen, less of a rusher, hasn’t used his bomb from the point to the same effect yet. Some have given up on him more, but you just don’t throw away the success he has had internationally.” - Anthony Mauro 

"The big defender from Guelph is slowly adapting to North America. Our job is to figure out who will be good in 5 years and this kid has all of the tools and will become a good NHL'er. He should soar in the 2nd half." - Mark Seidel

Austen Keating - Forward - Ottawa 67's (3 votes)
Highest Ranking: 6th (1x)
Comments:
"If there is one player in this OHL class, one that is widely underhyped, who doesn’t get enough attention it’s Austen Keating. After the 67’s lost their three top offensive threats in Travis Konecny, Dante Salituro and Jeremiah Addison, Keating stepped up not only as a dynamic playmaker but also as a two-way option on an otherwise weak 67’s team. If he continues to progress as he has, he should be a lock for the first round." - Scott Wheeler

"Ive been a fan of his ever since his minor midget days with the Guelph Gryphons. Hockey IQ is through the roof and his elite anticipation gives him a leg up on his compeition. Always in the right spot it seems and he has the skills to take advange of that on the scoreboard." - Peter Kneulman

Adam Ruzicka - Forward - Sarnia Sting (2 votes)
Highest Ranking: 7th (1x)
Comments:
"“Import horse has struggled with Sarnia in the early going despite showing flashes of his capability. Doesn’t look gelled, comfortable and has way more potential offensively than he’s showing. At his best when he’s the team’s focal point and the puck is glued to his stick.” - Anthony Mauro

Jacob Paquette - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs (2 votes)
Highest Ranking: 8th (1x)
Comments:
"Another player I’ve liked since his minor midget playing days, when Paquette was playing with the Ottawa Jr. 67’s squad. He’s always processed the game at a high level, taking smart routes and applying his studious training abilities to the game. His low-maintenance style doesn’t always excite you but there’s an appreciation for his efficiency and ability to succeed in whatever role he’s thrusted into. A plus skater with good heads-up puck moving ability, Paquette has also shown good physical elements to his game and never makes the game easy for his attacking opponents." - Brendan Ross

"Paquette had such an impressive rookie season on the Kingston Frontenacs playing a top four role as a 16-year-old on a contending team and he looked like a seasoned veteran on most nights. Paquette does everything well, he is a very fluid skater both forwards and backwards with an efficient stride and top gear. He has missed the Ivan Hlinka and a good chunk of the start of the season recovering from an injury and had a slow start to the season. Despite a slow start he still is so calm under duress with the puck and a smart player who reads plays both defensively and offensively and reacts with quick smart decisions. Paquette could develop more of a physical presence and some offensive flair to his game, which should develop as he gains experience. He is still only 17-years-old despite looking like a veteran." - Peter Harling

Kaden Fulcher - Goaltender - Hamilton Bulldogs (2 votes)
Highest Ranking: 10th (2x)
Comments:
"Late round pick, vastly improved this year since coming to Hamilton from Sarnia. Tall, stable, prototypical pro goalie. Strong work ethic with lots of upside. Comparable John Gibson." - Todd Warriner 

"The more I watch Fulcher the more excited I become about him. His ability to read the puck off of the shooters stick seems to always have him in position to make the save and make it look easy. Has NHL size at 6'3” and the athleticism that NHL teams are looking for. I expect him to continue his upward trend through the season and really cement himself as a top 3 goalie in the league by the end of the season." - Peter Kneulman

Nate Schnarr - Forward - Guelph Storm (1 vote)
Highest Ranking: 4th (1x)
Comments:
"Right hand centre with good size, strong in all three zone, gaining confidence, plays the right way. Good shot, excellent on face offs. When he fills out will be a force. Adapted quickly and has a strong work ethic. Comparable: Travis Zajac" - Todd Warriner

Eemeli Rasanen - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs (1 vote)
Highest Ranking: 7th (1x)
Comments:
"Big and mobile.  Qback's Frontenac PP. Smart, efficient and understands positioning in all three zones. Good stick, moves puck crisply, and has size to handle pro game. Comparable: Colton Parayko" - Todd Warriner

Morgan Frost - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (1 vote)
Highest Ranking: 10th (1x)
Comments:
“It’s very easy to mix up #16 and #18, as the younger Greyhound plays exactly like Speers. Fantastic hands that aren’t just for show – he routinely slips his checks and fights through resistance while pulling off swift moves. Has instant appeal for the type of possessions he manages.”  - Anthony Mauro 

Robert Thomas - Forward - London Knights (1 vote)
Highest Ranking: 7th (1x)
Comments:
"Kid is one of the smartest players in the Draft. Always in great positions and way more skilled offensively than anyone gives him credit for." - Mark Seidel
   

Friday, October 28, 2016

Early Season Top 50 for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft

It's time for my first official ranking for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. I say official because I release a preseason ranking in the summer (which can be found here). Now that the 2016/17 season has started (well under way in fact), updating that list to reflect changes of opinion is a priority. That said, it's important to not over react to hot or cold starts. Some of those currently disappointing, will most definitely pick up their play. And some of those off to blazing starts won't be able to hold that production. At the end of the day, it is a cool exercise to go back and look at my first list of the season. For instance, here's last year's early season draft list.

The list includes detailed reports on the Top 30 and small snippets on the other 20 that make up the Top 50. 

Lots of room for movement on this list IMO. I think at this point, the top 3 are pretty set...although not necessarily their order. After that, it's very wide open. Lots of talent, but not a ton of guys I'd consider sure fire first round picks. Honestly the top 18-20 are all very, very close. Not a ton separating them IMO. Should be fun to watch as the season progresses. Events like the U18's, the top prospect's game, etc could be huge for many of these guys to try to gain an upper hand.

It's also important to note (for those that aren't familiar with my lists), that I don't include 2nd and 3rd year eligible players on the list (like Ottawa's Artur Tyanulin or Sault Ste Marie's Joseph Raaymakers). I do a year end list for those players.

Without further ado, here's my early season top 50.


1. Gabriel Vilardi - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Vilardi has been terrific since returning from the knee injury that kept him out of the Ivan Hlinka. He's a natural center but has been playing on the wing (alongside Logan Brown) thanks to Windsor's depth down the middle. His two best assets are his puck control ability and his vision/hockey sense. He really controls the puck well, especially along the wall and keeps his head up to survey the play. He certainly doesn't have elite speed or overall skating ability, but he manages to be effective despite these short comings because he reads the play so well. In a lot of ways, that ability is similar to a guy like Dylan Strome. Vilardi certainly should be a high pick come June because he has the size (6'2, 193lbs) and ability to control all three zones from down the middle.

2. Nic Hague - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Very tough between he and Tippett, but I'm giving the slight edge to Hague. Yes he's a late '98, but it's only his 2nd year in the OHL and he's done nothing but improve since coming into the league. Not only is he near the top of defenseman scoring, but he's transformed himself into one of the top defenders in the OHL. He possesses a very unique skill set that makes him a potential impact player at both ends of the ice at the next level. I wouldn't necessarily call him the most graceful player to watch. Offensively, he's not going to explode up the ice and dangle through everyone. But he uses his size exceptionally well to protect the puck coming through the neutral zone and makes great decisions on pinches and high risk passes. Hague also possesses a booming point shot and he's really improved his ability to run the point on the powerplay, exhibiting patience and intelligence. Defensively, he's just a very solid player who makes good reads, and is physical when he needs to be. I've seen and read a lot of split opinions on his skating ability. But I think it's fine. He's not an explosive player, but I think he moves quite well for being a 6'5 defender and should become an even stronger skater as he adds more strength to his frame. 

3. Owen Tippett - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Coming out of the Ivan Hlinka (where I felt he really struggled), Tippett started the season off pretty slowly. But that's a thing of the past after posting 11 goals in his last 6 games (with 40 shots). Tippett's game is built around his speed and power coming down the wing. With his solid frame and puck protection ability, he's incredibly difficult to stop when you consider how explosive his first few steps are. Then you throw in a great wrist shot and release and you've got a true "sniper" prospect. The rest of his game is a work in progress, but so long as he continues to put up offensive numbers and displays improvement in his physical game, he's going to garner a ton of interest. 

4. Matthew Strome - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Matt is definitely a different player than his brother's Ryan and Dylan. I don't mean that in a bad way. But I feel like some people watch him expecting to see Ryan or Dylan and they come away unimpressed. Matt is a borderline power forward who lives in the high traffic areas of the ice and finds a ton of success within 3 feet of the crease and wall. He has absolutely terrific hands in close and he does a very good job of keeping defenders on his back and beating them to the net. But he's also a solid overall offensive player who displays potential as a playmaker just as much as a goal scorer. As he continues to add strength, I wonder how difficult he'll be to stop. Unfortunately, he did inherit his brother's skating strides, but they both improved theirs and there is no reason to think that he can't also (and already has since his rookie season).

5. Dmitri Samorukov - Defense - Guelph Storm
This is where it starts to get interesting. You're going to see a lot of variance in lists around this point (from an OHL perspective anyway). Number 5 for me is Samorukov, a first year Russian defender for Guelph. His stats haven't been eye popping, but watching him play, you just get the feeling he's scratching the surface of what he's capable of. Once he truly gets comfortable, we could see him explode. But he's still an impressive prospect as it is. I love the physical intensity that he plays with. Every time I've seen Guelph play, he's had at least one big hit, whether it be standing up a forward at the blueline, or rubbing them out along the wall. He also displays excellent mobility and has largely been able to evade the opposition's forecheck by skating out of his own end, rather than using a stretch pass. But he doesn't yet really push things offensively or take chances. But I definitely think that there is offensive potential. Looks like a legit prospect to me, even if the last game I saw him play was a bad one.

6. Ivan Lodnia - Forward - Erie Otters
Undersized, but just so offensively talented. Lodnia has it all as an offensive player. Skating, smarts, creativity, skill. Erie hasn't missed a beat despite losing Dylan Strome and much of that has to be attributed to Lodnia and the improvement he's shown. At this point, size is the only thing Lodnia lacks, but 5'10 isn't exactly small by today's standards. With so many players finding success at that size, it's only a matter of time before the NHL catches on.

7. Sasha Chmelevski - Forward - Ottawa 67's
On production alone, he probably doesn't deserve to be this high. There are still a lot of inconsistencies to his game (be it at the defensive end, without the puck, or just overall offensive chance creation). But when he's on, it's impressive to watch. He was so good at the Ivan Hlinka and has certainly flashed that to start this OHL season. Chmelevski has that combination of speed and smarts with the puck that can be rare to find down the middle. Being able to process the game at high speed is something a lot of players struggle with. For him, the key is being able to make an impact when he isn't going 100 miles an hour or with more open ice with the man advantage (similar to the criticisms of Tippett's game). 

8. Mackenzie Entwistle - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Toolsy forward who has really improved a lot over his OHL career thus far. In particular, Entwistle's size (6'3) and skating combination is incredibly alluring as it makes him a major factor in all three zones. He's already a committed defensive player who is not afraid to engage physically, as such he's become one of Hamilton's go to penalty killers. Offensively, he's aggressive in attacking the net and plays that "grunt" style of game. But I think he possesses underrated hands. I've seen him make a few moves while trying to drive the net that made me raise my eyebrows and think "this kid could have more offensive potential than people give him credit for." 7 goals in 12 is nothing to scoff at. Just want to see him keep up that production.

9. Michael Dipietro - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
Such a huge fan of this young man. He was absolutely sensational at the Ivan Hlinka and he's carried that into this OHL season as the starter on a team with Memorial Cup aspirations (considering that they're hosting). He's among the league leaders in every goaltending category thus far. Dipietro reminds me so much of a guy like Jonathan Quick. He's among the quickest goaltenders I've ever seen at the OHL level. His ability to move laterally and track the play is second to none, but he doesn't give up a ton of rebounds either. It's important that he continues to be aggressive in challenging shooters considering his lack of elite size (5'11). Undersized goalies will always face scrutiny from the NHL scouting community, but I think Dipietro is legit.

10. Nick Suzuki - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
I'm sure Suzuki isn't incredibly happy with a bit of a slow start to his OHL season, but I'm still a big believer in his abilities. He's had a few very solid showings the last few weeks that would show he's starting to wake up offensively. I like Suzuki because he's a real cerebral player. He doesn't have elite size (5'11-ish) but he's a real warrior on the ice. He battles hard for every loose puck at both ends and is a factor on the forecheck and the backcheck. He has the potential to drive the play offensively because of good speed and skill with the puck. I would suspect that his numbers only continue to increase. That said, I think he's more likely a solid 2nd round prospect come June and not a first round candidate.  

11. Greg Meireles - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Another one of those talented, slightly undersized forwards that the OHL has to offer this year. Meireles, playing in his first full OHL season, has been sensational so far this year for Kitchener. He plays in all situations for them and has already become a serious workhorse. He definitely plays a lot bigger than his 5'10 frame though. He's a really scrappy guy. Loves to get his nose dirty in the corners and brings a ton of energy to the ice. As he gets stronger, this side of his game could really continue to grow and he could become a very good, physical two-way center. Meireles also exhibits good vision though and has, thus far, been able to create scoring chances through his effort and energy. Could definitely end up higher as the season goes on, but at this point, I'm still asking myself how much potential he has at the NHL level.

12. Jack Studnicka - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Just a really solid two-way center. In a lot of ways he brings the same qualities to the ice that his brother Sam did. Great two way instincts. Physical intensity. Strong faceoff ability. But he's also a lot more naturally talented at the offensive end than his brother and that's why he's a strong candidate for the first two rounds come June. Think of a guy like Jarret Stoll. There's no reason to think that Studnicka can't develop into that terrific 2nd/3rd line center at the next level.

13. Austen Keating - Forward - Ottawa 67's
At some point you have to respect production. Keating has been one of the best point producers of any '99 in the league thus far. In terms of being an NHL prospect, he's certainly not going to be the most glamorous. He's a winger who doesn't possess elite size or speed, two things that NHL scouts obviously favor in forwards who don't play down the middle. But his hockey sense is extremely good. He understands how to move without the puck in the offensive end, and consistently finds himself with scoring chances due to his anticipation and reads. One of those guys the puck just seems to follow. He'll need to keep up this level of production though if he wants to be considered a candidate for the first two rounds, considering his lack of physical gifts.

14. Jacob Paquette - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
I want to put him higher, because I liked him so much as a rookie last year, but with his injury issues to start the year, I'm going to be relatively conservative with my initial ranking. Paquette is most noticeable as a player in his own end first. He has great size at 6'3, 210lbs and has great mobility. He also makes great reads in the defensive end and is the type of player who rarely seems to make a mistake inside his own blueline. The real question I have at this point is...just what type of offensive potential does he have? He's still trying to find his legs after recovering from an upper body injury (that kept him out of the Ivan Hlinka), so it may not be until midseason or so until we get a good indication of that.

15. Markus Phillips - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Stocky two-way defender who has already put together quite the resume in his young junior career. Played at the U18's as an underager. Then was the captain for Canada's Ivan Hlinka team this summer. In a lot of ways, I see Phillips similar to Paquette in value and potential, thus why I've got them back to back. Phillips excels in his own end, and does a very good job with his gap control IMO. He defends very similar to the way a guy like Travis Dermott did. My concern is that I'm just not sure he's a naturally gifted offensive player. Can be turnover prone when he tries to do too much offensively. Like Paquette, we'll see how his game grows as the year goes on.

16. Nate Schnarr - Forward - Guelph Storm
First year center who is bound to be a fast riser if he continues to play as well as he has to start the year. He's playing in all situations for Guelph and is really excelling. He's got a lot of things going for him. He's 6'3, skates well, plays hard in all three zones, and has thus far demonstrated a ton of poise with the puck for a rookie. I can't help but get a little bit of a Mark Scheifele vibe from him when I've watched Guelph play thus far. For what it's worth, I had Scheifele rated 17th at this point in 2011.

17. Adam Ruzicka - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Tough prospect to rank at this point. Entered the season with a lot of hype as a potential first round talent. But his production and overall play has been somewhat disappointing thus far. His big frame and ability to control the puck is definitely noticeable. But I haven't been incredibly impressed with his skating ability and he looks a bit sluggish away from the puck. I will say that I think he's been a bit snakebitten thus far though, as in the couple Sarnia games that I've seen, he's had some glorious chances that he just couldn't bury. Too early to drop him too much, as we have to remember that he's playing in his first year in the OHL, as a rookie import away from home.

18. Kaden Fulcher - Goaltender - Hamilton Bulldogs
Perhaps a bit of an aggressive ranking for the late '98 starter for the Bulldogs, but I really like his potential in the crease. He's 6'3 and is exceptionally athletic. His quickness in the crease is extremely evident. But there are definitely going to be some ups and downs for him as he continues to work on his fundamentals (rebound control, angles). It certainly helps to explain his inconsistencies thus far. But he's Hamilton's starter and they're a great team, so he's going to get his chance to really shine as the year goes on.

19. Jason Robertson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs 
Was one of my favourite rookies last year and IMO he's been Kingston's best player so far this year. Good sized winger who plays a really solid North/South game, using speed and skill to drive the net. I think he's got a lot of potential as a goal scorer as he continues to add strength. Will need to improve his play away from the puck, but he's a very noticeable player when he's attacking the offensive zone.

20. Isaac Ratcliffe - Forward - Guelph Storm
Massive winger who's gotten off to a good start for Guelph thus far. At 6'6, he's one big kid. Kind of reminds me of Tim Gettinger last year. By that I mean, big kid, decent skater for a guy his size, but possesses an extremely raw skill set. Once he gets stronger, he could be one heck of a monster in front of the net and in the cycle. But he'll need to really increase the consistency of his intensity level without the puck and look to try to dominate the crease. But good hands and his size could take him places as he fills out.

21. Noel Hoefenmayer - Defense - Ottawa 67's
One of the most improved players in this OHL so far this year. He's playing with a ton of offensive confidence thus far and has been extremely noticeable as a puck mover and play creator. In particular, he's excelled on the powerplay where he's shown an ability to make good decisions and get his shot through to the net. Defensively, I think there are some holes and he doesn't possess elite size (6'0), but you have to be impressed with the way he's looked so far.

22. Alex Formenton - Forward - London Knights
Certainly not ready to put him up as high as some people are (have seen him up near the first round on a couple lists), but I do think there is a lot to like. Brings a lot of energy to the ice and his speed is extremely noticeable. It's certainly made him an asset on the PK thus far. His play away from the puck is great and he's got a nice quick release from the slot. But he definitely needs to get stronger in order to become a more consistent contributor. Seems to get muscled off the puck quite easily so long as defenders can keep pace with him and keep him to the outside. 

23. Morgan Frost - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Heady center who's become an extremely important player for the Greyhounds this year. Doesn't possess terrific size, but he's solid in all three zones and has also transformed himself into a great faceoff man. Really excels as a playmaker as he displays great vision and poise with the puck, especially in traffic. Definitely not the most flashy guy on the ice, but the son of radio legend Andy Frost, is certainly a notable prospect for this year's draft.

24. Robert Thomas - Forward - London Knights
Very slick offensive center who has great hands and creativity. Can make moves at top speed and has the potential to be a real good playmaker at the next level. Right now his hands, puckhandling ability, and skating ability are creating time and space for him, but he's going to need to get stronger on the puck in order to be a more consistent contributor. But Thomas is a guy that IMO possesses a lot of potential.

25. Jacob McGrath - Goaltender - Sudbury Wolves
Has been wildly inconsistent thus far for Sudbury, but when he's been on, he's been remarkable (like a big win in SSM). Loved his play at the Hlinka camp, where he could have easily been the back-up behind Michael Dipietro. Has great athleticism and reflexes, but much like Kaden Fulcher, he needs to play under more control. That only comes with good coaching and more experience, which McGrath will get. I expect that by season's end he'll be Sudbury's number one and should push Fulcher to be the 2nd goalie off the board from the OHL behind Dipietro.

26. Conor Timmins - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Have to tell you, didn't really see this one coming. Timmins was a solid performer for the Hounds last year, sliding between the 2nd and 3rd pairing, but I never really saw a serious NHL prospect. This year, he's shown remarkable progression and has been the Hounds number one defender ahead of the likes of NHL draft picks Colton White and Bouramman. The late '98 has been great at both ends; playing physical in the defensive end, but also doing a fantastic job running the point on the powerplay. If he can keep up this level of play the whole year, he rises on this list without question.

27. Adam Thilander - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Saw North Bay play early on and I felt like he really struggled. But seems to be finally settling in of late and showing the promise that had been suggested when the Battalion selected him in the Import draft. Has long been considered a candidate for the first round, however I think that looks like a stretch. That said, Thilander appears to be a solid two-way guy who could continue to get better as he gains confidence in this league. 

28. Tom Hedberg - Defense - Barrie Colts
Not an overly large defender at 5'11, 160lbs, but he's also one of the youngest players available in the draft this year so there is a lot of physical maturation to go. Really like his mobility and vision up ice thus far. His ability to run the point on the powerplay has also been superb. As he gains more confidence, it will be interesting to see if he takes more chances offensively 5 on 5, using his mobility to push deeper into the offensive end. His shot will have to improve too. Defensively, he's not going to win a lot of one on one battles right now, but he can use his quickness and agility to stay ahead of forwards and learn to be a solid positional defender.

29. Reagan O'Grady - Defense - Sudbury Wolves
A former first rounder by Kingston a few years ago, O'Grady (a late '98) has finally come into his own in the league, emerging as a first pairing defender for the surprising Wolves. He's formed a terrific partnership with Kyle Capobianco, being the rock defensively that allows Capobianco offensive freedom. O'Grady has been excellent in his own end, making few mistakes in coverage or with the puck. Good size, mobility and instincts make O'Grady a legit candidate for the first three rounds come June.

30. Ben Jones - Forward - Niagara Icedogs
I liked Jones a lot back in his minor midget year with the Toronto Marlboros. I felt like he had the potential to develop into a quality two-way center who had a good head for the game. Niagara made him the 7th overall pick, but he struggled to make much of an impact last year on a very strong Niagara team. This year Niagara is rebuilding and Jones is getting top 6 ice time. He's already missed some time due to a minor injury, but he's been effective when in the lineup. He's got great speed and brings energy to the ice in all three zones. His size isn't ideal, but I think he's a guy who deserves to be just inside the top 30 at this point.

31. Eemeli Rasanen - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Certainly an interesting prospect. Import selection this year. Size is definitely alluring at 6'6, and his reach is evident in the defensive end. Don't feel confident about his skating or offensive skill set yet though to put him higher.

32. Marian Studenic - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Slick offensive winger who has displayed good speed and puckhandling ability thus far. Needs to become more engaged without the puck in order to have a more consistent impact.

33. Maksim Sushko - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Has been a big time surprise for the Attack thus far. Belarussian forward excelling in all situations, using good speed to drive the net. Not big, but looks good in puck protection. Want to see sustained production to move him up.

34. Brady Lyle - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Has had an OK start to the year thus far. He entered the year as a candidate to be one of the higher ranked defenders from the OHL, but I do have some questions. He's a smart defender and doesn't make a ton of mistakes with the puck, but I'm not quite sure what his upside is at the next level.

35. Hayden Davis - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Hard nosed rearguard who is definitely more of a stay at home type for the next level IMO. Can struggle when he tries to activate offensively. But he moves well and shows lots of potential as a shutdown defender.

36. Macauley Carson - Forward - Sudbury Wolves
Not sure why he wasn't on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary watch list. At least deserved to be a "C" skater. Big, power forward who isn't the fleetest of foot, but deserves credit for his two-way game and play away from the puck. Has been a major surprise offensively thus far.

37. Albert Michnac - Forward - Guelph Storm
A real sparkplug. Michnac has been extremely noticeable every time I've seen Guelph thus far. Like a little waterbug out there, darting around through traffic. Definitely has some skill too. Would love to see him on the PP more.

38. Kyle Keyser - Goaltender - Oshawa Generals
While his play hasn't been terrific since the trade to Oshawa, I think he still deserves mention here. Has had a few good performances of late and certainly has the potential to be a quality goaltending prospect.

39. Nick Grima - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Currently out with an upper body injury, Grima has had a solid start to the season for the Petes. He's not a big kid but he looked to be building off of a solid rookie season last year, by contributing more offensively and looking comfortable on the powerplay.

40. Zach Gallant - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Hard nosed center who has progressed a lot from his rookie year. The former 5th overall pick has been better than his stat line would indicate IMO. I've found him to be a noticeable presence in all three zones and he's playing physical, which is also noticeable. With an uptick in production, he could easily slide up this list.

41. Elijah Roberts - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
A guy who I definitely feel is better than his stats so far this year would indicate. Elite skater and puck mover. But needs to improve his shot to be a more complete offensive weapon. And his lack of size (pushing 5'10) will hurt him with NHL scouts if he's not producing.

42. Jonah Gadjovich - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
Power forward who's a late '98. Very effective at driving the net, working the cycle, and engaging in the forecheck. Has been snake bitten this year so far and is another guy who is better than the numbers you're seeing IMO.

43. Cole Purboo - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
OHL rookie who started off very well, but has drifted off of late with Windsor getting players back. But he's got great size at 6'3, 215lbs and uses that size to be a big factor near the crease. Not generating a ton of chances, but has proven to be a good complimentary, space clearer.

44. C.J. Clarke - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Big bodied forward who isn't really a power forward per say. But he does look good in puck protection and has shown flashes of developing as a goal scorer. Among the shot leaders on the Petes thus far.

45. Brady Gilmour - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
It's going to be tough for Gilmour to really climb the draft board this year, so long as the Spirit continue to play poorly. He's leading the team in scoring thus far, but that's not saying a whole lot either. Gilmour is a solid offensive player who has a well rounded skill set, but he's also undersized. 

46. Kiril Maksimov - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Very talented offensive player who has gotten off to a very disappointing start, along with the rest of his teammates (see above). Too early to drop him off completely. Hopefully he's able to turn things around.

47. Cole Coskey - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
See above...and above. Another guy I had high hopes for coming into the season. A smart offensive player who should definitely not be without a goal thus far. Like Maksimov, too early to drop him off the list completely.

48. Jacob Golden - Defense - London Knights
I definitely see why NHL Central Scouting rated him so highly. He's certainly noticeable when you watch London play because of his mobility. But he's also clearly super raw. Deserves to be on this list despite posting only two assists...but doesn't deserve to be a 'B' rated player IMO.

49. Gera Poddubnyi - Forward - Erie Otters
Ice time has been inconsistent thus far, but the first year import has shown flashes of being a very capable offensive contributor. Size and skill down the middle. Just need to see more of him.

50. Ryan McGregor - Forward - Sarnia Sting
Quick winger who does a lot of the little things on the ice well. Plays well without the puck. Just not sure if I see NHL level offensive capabilities. Also wish he was a bit bigger for the energy game he plays.                
          
Honorable Mentions:
Matyas Svoboda - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Robbie Burt - Forward - Oshawa Generals
Linus Nyman - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Ian Blacker - Defense - London Knights
Robert Proner - Defense - Saginaw Spirit
Liam Hawel - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Nick McHugh - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Cedric Schiemenz - Forward - Kitchener Rangers